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Hugo Award Nominations

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Nominations for the Hugo Awards have been open for a couple of weeks now and close on March 16. Here are the works I plan on nominating, in no particular order within each category:

Novel

Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman: Gaiman is probably the only author who, if he published his grocery list, I would read it. He does a wonderful job with the myths here.

With Blood Upon the Sand, by Bradley P. Beaulieu: This is the second book in Beaulieu’s Song of the Shattered Sands series. Not only does it avoid “middle book syndrome,” it’s downright excellent.

The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden: Probably my favorite out of all the books I read in 2017.

The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin: A stunning conclusion to the Broken Earth series.

Into the Drowning Deep, by Mira Grant: A truly unique take on the mermaid legend, and I love the thought she put into the biology and sociology of the mermaids.

 

Novella

“Mira’s Last Dance” and “Penric’s Fox”, both by Lois McMaster Bujold: Bujold and Grant/Seanan McGuire are tied for “most mentions on my Hugo Nominations list.” Bujold’s Penric and Desdemona series is wonderful; after the first one, I’ve bought each one as soon as it came out.

“Dark or Dusk or Dawn or Day” and “Down Among the Sticks and Bones”, both by Seanan McGuire: I loved the horror movie setting that most of “Sticks and Bones” takes place in, and “Dark” was a great standalone novella.

“The Doors at Dusk and Dawn” by Bradley P. Beaulieu: I love the way the novellas in the Song of Shattered Sands series add depth to the main storyline of the novels.

 

Novelette

“This World is Full of Monsters” by Jeff VanderMeer (Tor.com): An eerie story of transformation with some really stunning descriptions.

“Gravity’s Exile” by Grace Seybold (Beneath Ceaseless Skies): An interesting world and story.

“Crispin’s Model” by Max Gladstone (Tor.com): A wonderfully creepy Lovecraftian story.

“The Worshipful Society of Glovers” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Uncanny): Poignant and heartfelt, with one hell of a twist at the end.

“Concessions” by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali (Strange Horizons): An interesting setting, and the author did a good job of portraying the main character’s dilemma.

 

Short Story

“The Cold, Lonely Waters” by Aimee Ogden (Shimmer): Mermaids! In space! I liked the descriptions of the mermaids’ spaceship.

“Sasabonsam” by Tara Campbell (Strange Horizons): I loved the concept behind this story and the main character’s gradual transformation.

“The Transmuted Child” by Michael Reed (Interzone): The Buddhist concepts underlying this story were really thought-provoking, and I liked that it included truly alien aliens.

“A Nest of Ghosts, A House of Birds” by Kat Howard (Uncanny): This was an absolutely beautiful story.

“The Morrigan” by Stewart Horn (Interzone): An excellent modern update of a mythical being.

This was by far the hardest category for me to pick five nominees in. I also greatly enjoyed “The Lights We Carried Home” by Kay Chronister (in Strange Horizons) and “Men of the Ashen Morrow” by Margaret Killjoy (in Beneath Ceaseless Skies).

 

Best Series

The Song of the Shattered Sands, by Bradley P. Beaulieu

The Broken Earth, by N.K. Jemisin

Penric and Desdemona, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Bone Universe, by Fran Wilde: This is the only series of the four whose installments I haven’t reviewed on this blog. I finished the first novel, Updraft, recently, and have just started the second book, Cloudbound.

 

Best Related Work

“The Shape of the Darkness as it Overtakes Us” by Dimas Ilaw (Uncanny): A powerful essay about how stories of heroes overcoming dystopian governments have given hope to the author, whose birth country, the Philippines, is currently suffering under a dictator.

 

Best Semiprozine

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Strange Horizons

Uncanny

Interzone

All of these magazines had a number of stories I enjoyed. The first three also make all their stories available for free online. Lightspeed also features some excellent work (and can be read for free), but its content is skewed too heavily towards reprints instead of new work.

 

Best Editor, Short Form

Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, editors of Uncanny

Scott H. Andrews, editor of Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Jane Crowley and Kate Dollarhyde, editor of Strange Horizons

Andy Cox, editor of Interzone

 

Best Fanzine

Rocket Stack Rank: This invaluable website catalogues short stories, novelettes, and novellas produced by a number of different magazines and a couple of yearly anthologies. It also provides a brief summary and short review of each one to help readers find stories they’re likely to enjoy.

 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

“The Spoils of War” (Game of Thrones): This episode of the fantastic visuals of the loot train attack, as well as some brief but insightful character moments.

“Beyond the Wall” (Game of Thrones): Great banter among the men on the expedition to capture a wight, thrilling battle scenes, the uplifting arrival of the dragons, and the heartwrenching death of Viserion.

“The Bone Orchard” (American Gods): An excellent start to what I think is the standout film/TV speculative fiction presentation of this year.

“Git Gone” (American Gods): A compelling portrayal of the despair Laura felt and her relationship with Shadow.

 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

American Gods, Season 1

Game of Thrones, Season 7

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

 

As mentioned above, some of the magazines that published short stories, novelettes, and novellas on my list make the stories freely available online, including Shimmer, Strange Horizons, Uncanny, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Tor.com. The fanzine I nominated, Rocket Stack Rank, is also not monetized. All of these are great places to find new sci-fi, fantasy, and horror stories to read.

“Sailing to Sarantium” by Guy Gavriel Kay

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Many of Guy Gavriel Kay’s novels take place in a version of medieval/Renaissance Europe in which recognizable places and people are supplemented by what he calls “a quarter-turn towards the fantastic.” The first volume in his Sarantine Mosaic duology, Sailing to Sarantium, is no exception, with the magic even being a significant element of the plot.

I had previously read Kay’s Children of Earth and Sky, and while that novel stood on its own, Sailing to Sarantium shed additional light on some of its events. It also shows some hints of things to come, enriching the setting Kay has built.

Another similarity between the Sarantine stories and Children is that the protagonist is an artist. In this case, Crispin is a mosaicist who’s been commissioned to work on the largest and most magnificent temple to Jad the sun god in the world. Kay masterfully describes some of the technical details of mosaic-making without it becoming dry or boring. Activities like setting tiles and examining the angle of light through a window are invested with Crispin’s enthusiasm for his art and awe at the work of his fellow artists.

As with Kay’s other novels, there are complex political machinations going on. We see this maneuvering not just through Crispin’s eyes, but through those of various participants and bystanders. Much of what occurs in Sailing to Sarantium is setup, with the payoff presumably to come in the second half, Lord of Emperors. I’m looking forward to that book and eager to see what choice Crispin will make.

“In the Village Where Brightwine Flows” by Bradley P. Beaulieu

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Bradley P. Beaulieu’s Song of the Shattered Sands has rapidly taken its place as one of my favorite fantasy series. Its central character, Ҫeda, is a gladiator seeking to bring down the brutal rulers of her desert city. Along the way, she interacts with a number of other interesting characters: the arena owner (and smuggler) Osman, her childhood friend Emre, the apothecary Dardzada, and the scholar Davud, just to name a few. Unlike the other entries in the series, the novella In the Village Where Brightwine Flows shines its spotlight on one of these secondary characters.

Dardzada the apothecary raised Ҫeda after her mother’s death. In this story, he has to put his chosen professor aside to become an investigator when the son of a prominent nobleman turns up dead. I enjoyed seeing Dardzada interact with someone other than Ҫeda, and it was interesting to see aspects of Sharakhani intrigue that don’t revolve around the main plot of the novels.

The stories in the Shattered Sands series have gradually given the readers more insight into the culture and politics of the nations that surround the Great Shangazi Desert. Of Sand and Malice Made gave us a look at the Kundhunese social structure and religion, while With Blood Upon the Sand took us into the heart of Qaimir. Brightwine continues to expand the setting by setting a chunk of its tale in a neighborhood of Sharakhai settled by Mirean expatriates. We’re introduced to traditional Mirean medicine and a Mafia-like organization known as the Jade Masks. This further broadening of horizons is one of the things that made the novella enjoyable.

The next novel in the series, A Veil of Spears, is due out next spring, and Brightwine left me wondering whether a couple of new plot threads for that story were being set up here. The Jade Masks seem to be well-served by the status quo—will that put them at odds with the Moonless Host? Will Dardzada’s brother, a sinister captain in the Silver Spears, show up again to make trouble? Will we be seeing more action set in the Mirean quarter of Sharakhai? The story stands on its own, but also whets the reader’s appetite for what’s to come.

“Sleeping Giants” by Sylvain Neuvel

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In Sylvain Neuvel’s debut novel, young Rose Franklin is out riding her bike when she falls into a huge hole in the ground that’s appeared overnight and lands in the palm of a gigantic metal hand. Years later, she is the head of a secretive government project to study the hand, and to find other objects left behind by the same previously-unknown civilization. Eventually, it becomes clear that the hand is but a piece of a truly colossal statue…or perhaps something even more remarkable than that.

Sleeping Giants is a fairly quick read, but don’t mistake that for simplicity of plot, theme, or characterization. Neuvel’s characters are well-rounded in the sense that they have both flaws and virtues, and their reactions to the “sleeping giant” are shaped by their past experiences and their interactions with each other. As they work to figure out who built and disassembled the giant, and why, its larger philosophical and geopolitical implications unfold around them.

The novel is composed almost exclusively of interviews with the main characters by a shadowy unnamed figure, with an occasional transcript of a news report or radio transmission. While such “false forms” have been used to great effect in a number of short stories and novels, here they create a filtering effect that makes some scenes less dramatic than they should be. The reader is kept at arm’s length, and this dulls the impact of even such action-packed scenes as a fight between one of the main characters and naval officers on a submarine. This is really the only thing keeping a good book from being great, so I’m hoping that Neuvel will find a way around it in the sequel, Waking Gods, which is due out this spring.

“Every Heart a Doorway” by Seanan McGuire

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and its sequels have been described as “Harry Potter for grownups.” Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire, might similarly be described as “The Chronicles of Narnia for grownups.” It features a school for children who, like the Pevensies, went through doorways into other worlds. But the focus of the story isn’t on the childrens’ adventures in those other worlds; it’s on what happened to them after they got back. Their belief in the reality of those realms didn’t fade as they grew older, and so their parents came to believe that they were suffering from a psychiatric disorder. The school masquerades as a mental health facility; what it truly is, is a place where children who’ve been to otherworldly realms can be surrounded by people who understand and believe them.

The book is short (almost a novella) and a fast read; despite that, it takes the time to present strong world-building and characterization. The worlds that the main characters have been to are wildly different, and some of the returnees have mapped out a system of categorization for these worlds. The story also presents an intriguing chicken-and-egg dilemma: are particular children drawn to certain realms because of their personalities and traits, or are their personalities shaped by the dimensions they visit?

The story has a strong emotional core as well. Many of the characters felt more at home in the alternate worlds than they do in the “real” one, and McGuire writes poignantly about their longing for those other places and their frustration at not being believed about their experiences there.

This is all further complicated when one of the students is murdered. The mystery aspect of the plot is well-written for the most part, although I did find the final confrontation with the murderer to be a bit anticlimactic. The characters certainly faced challenges in identifying and tracking down the murderer, but they seemed to apprehend the perpetrator too easily.

This is the first book in a planned Wayward Children duology. The second book, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, is due to be published in June 2017, and I definitely plan to read it.

“The Obelisk Gate” by N. K. Jemisin

Second books in trilogies have a reputation for not being quite as good as the first and third books. They don’t have the advantage of presenting the reader with a new world, and usually they’re building up for the climax to come in the final book. While I obviously can’t compare The Obelisk Gate to the yet-to-be-released third book in N. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy, I can say that it doesn’t represent a drop in quality from The Fifth Season.

In this novel, we learn more about the nature of the conflict that was (mostly) simmering beneath the surface in The Fifth Season. We’re also given more insight into the two most mysterious factions in that conflict, the stone-eaters and the Guardians. As part of this, Jemisin extensively develops characters who didn’t get much time in the spotlight in the first book. We also spend part of the book with Essun’s daughter Nassun, whom she spent much of The Fifth Season searching for.

In addition to all of this, The Fifth Season ratchets up the stakes for the main characters and sets the stage for the final conflict that is presumably to come. As with the previous book in the trilogy, The Obelisk Gate left me eager to read the next one.

“The Fifth Season” by N. K. Jemisin

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Following the success of her Inheritance Trilogy (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, and The Kingdom of Gods), fantasy author N.K. Jemisin has begun another three-book series, The Broken Earth. The Fifth Season, the first book in the new trilogy, is set in a world where the inhabitants live in a perpetual state of readiness for Seasons, periods of time during which seismic or volcanic activity cuts off sunlight and causes other ecosystem-wide effects.

The worldbuilding in this novel captivated me. Jemisin gives her setting (a world called the Stillness) a rich history and detailed culture that make the story feel more real. One aspect I particularly enjoyed was that each chapter ends with a quote from the history texts or lore of the Stillness.

The story follows two primary characters: Damaya (later known as Syenite), a young girl; and Essun, a woman living in a small community whose son has just been murdered. Both are orogenes, people with an innate ability to stop—or start—the deadly earthquakes that everyone in the Stillness fears. Because orogeny is considered to be dangerous, most people hate and fear orogenes, and some will even kill them on sight. The only way for them to earn even a modicum of social acceptance is to undergo rigorous training to control their abilities at a place called the Fulcrum.

Jemisin’s writing draws the reader into the struggles (both internal and external) that these characters experience, and makes us care about what happens to them. As with the detailed worldbuilding, the complex relationships between the characters enhance the realism and emotional impact of the story.

While the quality of the writing is generally excellent, there’s one stylistic choice Jemisin made that I found a bit off-putting. Essun’s chapters are written in second-person POV. While this can work well for short stories, I found it getting a bit tedious over the course of a novel-length work. However, this didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the book much. Overall, I would say that this is one of the most engaging novels I’ve read in quite some time. While partway through, I pre-ordered the sequel, The Obelisk Gate. Since the last time I ordered the next book in a series before having finished the first one is when I was reading A Song of Ice and Fire, that’s a pretty big compliment.