Book log – Hugo 2017 short stories

I wrote some notes as I went along with the Hugo short story nominees, which I then failed to post soon enough to be of any help to anyone else. Never mind. Here they are anyway…

Given in the order in which I read them. I’d be happy to vote for any of these, and picking an order is going to be difficult.

A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong

Two sisters, both weather workers, both capable of bending time back on itself and trying another timeline. It starts with one burning up in her own flame; it ends with the other still searching for a timeline in which her sister can live. In between we learn much about them and the different paths they have taken. It’s raw emotion delivered in skillful prose, and not only supports but demands a second reading to understand the layers. The idea of a fan or network of timelines spreading out and being able to step from one strand to another is not new; but this use of the concept is an emotionally wrenching read.

Published by Tor.com and available free online, or for purchase as a DRM-free ebook. Kobo, Amazon UK, Amazon US

Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar

One woman is required to wear out seven pairs of iron shoes. Another sits atop a glass hill too slippery to climb. El-Mohtar considers what might happen when the woman of one fairy tale walks into the other story, and subverts the subtext of both. “Subverts” is rather too weak a word here – it dances on the subtext with hobnailed boots. Possibly too much so, but then there’s a lot of subtext in fairy stories that needs to be dragged into the light and examined. This particular happy ending is one that I can believe has a chance at being happy ever after. It’s sweet but not saccharine.

There’s a lot to like in this story, but I was especially taken with the short scene in which the women run a scientific experiment with the golden apples meant to be a reward for the Hero who manages to climb the mountain. It left me wanting to buy the anthology it was originally published in.

First published in the anthology “The Starlit Wood” . Reprinted in Uncanny Tales (available free online). There’s an interesting discussion of it at Short Story Squee and Snark.

Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies by Brooke Bolander

A short tale of a harpy’s sweet revenge. Too short to review without giving away too much, but fabulous use of language that brings the narrator to vivid life in a commentary on modern media’s portrayal of women.

Published in Uncanny Tales (available free online)

That Game We Played During the War by Carrie Vaughn

“The people of Gaant are telepaths. The people of Enith are not. The two countries have been at war for decades, but now peace has fallen, and Calla of Enith seeks to renew an unlikely friendship with Gaantish officer Valk over an even more unlikely game of chess.”

A short story that explores some of the ramifications of full telepathy, and does so through a pair of fascinating characters and their unfolding friendship. The chess game is indeed a metaphor for the war, and gives some idea of how a non-telepathic nation could have held its own against an army of telepaths, but it’s the characterisation that makes this story shine. Calla and and Valk have each been a prisoner under the control of the other as fortunes have shifted over the war; Calla working as a nurse in her own side’s military hospital treating prisoners of war that include Valk, and then as a trustee prisoner in a Gaantish hospital desperately in need of nursing staff. The chess game starts as a way to pass time, a way to take their minds off the situation they’re in, and becomes much more.

Published by Tor.com and available free online, or for purchase as a DRM-free ebook. Kobo, Amazon UK, Amazon US

The City Born Great by NK Jemesin

Great cities come alive, and in this short story they do so in a most literal fashion. But there are things out there that feed on new life, and a city needs a midwife to guard it as it struggles to birth itself. Our protaganist is a young black man in New York who half believes, half disbelieves a new friend’s tales of living cities and his role in New York’s story – right up until the monsters try to come for him. Stunning fantasy story deeply rooted in a deftly depicted metropolis.

Published by Tor.com and available free online, or for purchase as a DRM-free ebook. Kobo, Amazon UK, Amazon US

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Book log September 2016

I’m busy tidying up the notebooks I use to write on the bus, and came across my book log notes for the books I read in September last year. As it happens, two of these are in the sale at Amazon UK and Kobo at the moment. :-)

Agatha Christie — Murder on the Orient Express

There isn’t really a lot I can say that hasn’t already been said by hundreds of reviewers on LibraryThing. It’s a classic bottle mystery–a murder and a group of people in an isolated venue, in this case the Orient Express trains stranded in a snowdrift. It’s great fun watching Poirot piece together all the red herrings to find that some are clues after all.

Kobo

Amazon UK
Amazon US

Agatha Christie — The Murder on the Links

Poirot novel set in France, with Poirot butting heads with the local police investigator. Poirot is asked to come urgently by a man in fear of his life. The widow’s story does not quite hang together, and yet she is genuinely shocked and distraught by her husband’s death. Red herrings abound, and as usual Hastings repeatedly gets hold of the wrong end of the stick–or in this case, the length of lead piping. Enjoyable Poirot fare, although nothing outstanding.

Kobo
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Lindsey Davis — The Silver Pigs

First of the Falco books, a mystery series set in Ancient Rome during the reign of Vesparius. Marcus Didius Falco is a PI. That’s public informer, a role remarkably similar to that of the private investigator in the modern era. And as with the classic gumshoe mystery, Falco has an office/flats at the top of a seedy low rent tenement building.

The novel is as historically accurate as Davis could make it, but human nature hasn’t changed much over the last 2000 years. Falco rescues a damsel in distress, and finds himself sucked into a case involving theft and corruption in the silver mines of a backwards colony at the fringe of the Empire.

Excellent mystery, with an appealing lead character and careful world building. I loved this, and will be reading more of the series.

Kobo
Amazon UK
Amazon US

book log: 2016 Hugos

I’m working my way through my treeware notebook, and have found some notes from my Hugo reading stint which it appears I never posted at the time. Here, have some belated Hugo thoughts. :-)

Naomi Kritzer — Cat pictures please

Gentle, funny short about what happens when a search engine wakes up and wants to be helpful. It has more sense than to expose its existence, so it tries to do good deeds by stealth. I was smiling on every page. Lovely if slightly creepy little story about the potential benefits of AI.

Available free at http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/kritzer_01_15/

Brooke Bolander — And You Shall Know Her By The Trail Of Dead

Take one part pulp, one part cyberpunk, add a shot of very cheap bourbon, and shake well. Watch the resulting foul mouthed guttersnipe of a synthetic person take on a security AI at its own game; or maybe the reverse. Bolander sketches in some fascinating world building with a few brief sentences, but the focus is on the rescue mission Rhye’s been press-ganged into. It’s a fast moving tale with a satisfying conclusion, and deserves a spot on the Hugo ballot.

Available free at http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/shall-know-trail-dead/

Chuck Tingle — Space Raptor Butt Invasion

Okay. There’s back story on what this is doing on the Hugo ballot. It is not your typical nominee. Onwards…

Our hero is one of two men (definitely men) manning a remote observation station somewhere on a remote planet. The story opens as his teammate leaves at the end of his assignment, with no replacement arriving. Budget cuts mean the station will be solo manned from now on, and our hero will be the only living thing on the planet. So what is that mysterious space suited figure he thinks he’s seen?

So far, it’s a pitch perfect pastiche of Golden Age pulp. I have read the stories. I could make a guess at what happens next.

What happens next is that it segues into a pastiche of pulp gay porn, only with two guys stuck with solo duty on their respective nation’s planetary observation base. One of whom is a dinosaur…

Dr Tingle had far too much fun ramming every possible porn cliché into his tight virgin word processor. This is really not my taste in porn, not least because it pastiches bad pulp punctuation, but it’s very funny. My verdict as a Hugo voter is that this story gets No Awarded, but I am nominating the good Doctor’s performance art in response to its nomination for next year’s Best Related Work category.
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Book log 2015: 16) James Runcie — Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death

First of the Grantchester Mysteries series, about a Church of England vicar who solves mysteries in collaboration with one of the local police detectives. The first book is a set of six short stories, each a standalone about an individual case, but with an overall arc running through them. I bought it because I’d seen and enjoyed a couple of episodes of the tv adaptation. This doesn’t always mean I’ll like a book, but in this case I’m very glad I bought it. It’s an excellent period cosy mystery, written by someone who knows the minutiae of Anglican clerical life. The ebook for this one is often low price as a hook for the series, and well worth getting.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Kobo

book log 2015: 15) Luke Young — Friends with partial benefits

Sweetly funny milf erotic romance novel – but be warned that the characters spend an awful lot of the book being interrupted before they can actually do something about their attraction. Successful romance writer Jillian divorced her no-good husband a while back for cheating on her, and hasn’t had much luck in the dating game since then. So when her son comes home from unversity for vacation and brings his friend Brian with him, Jillian can’t help but notice that Brian’s very nicely put together. He’s also her son’s friend, which puts him off limits.

Brian thinks Jillian’s pretty hot, even if she’s old enough to be his friend’s mother. In fact, she *is* his friend’s mother, which puts her off limits…

While some of the situations they end up in are frankly implausible, the lead and supporting characters are well-written, and Jillian and Brian’s ever more frantic efforts to first hide and then give in to their attraction are entertaining. This isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste; but if it appeals to your sense of humour, it’s a lot of fun.

This is the first of a series, but there’s closure at the end of the book. The ebook is free as a hook for the series, and I think worth downloading to try it out.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Kobo

Book log 2015: 13) Sarah Pinborough — The Death House

This is my nominee for the 2015 novel Hugo.

Yes, I liked it that much. I bought this YA speculative fiction novel when I saw Gollancz tweet an opening day offer, because I’d greatly enjoyed one of Pinborough’s tie-in novels and wanted to read more by her. I started reading it that day, and was bowled over. It is a stunning portrayal of life, love and growing up under the shadow of death; a bittersweet coming-of-age novel about children and teenagers who know they will never do so.

It’s set in a near future very much like our present, save for one thing – there is an illness so terrible that all children are tested for the signs that they are carriers. If they test positive, they are taken to the Death House. There they will be cared for and given as normal a life as possible, right up until the time the sickness activates. It may be a few months, it may be years, but one thing is certain – they will die. And they will never be allowed to leave, or have contact with anyone other than each other and the staff assigned to care for them.

Toby has been in the House for long enough to have found ways to cope with the separation from his family and the knowledge of what awaits him, but the arrival of a new girl disrupts both the interactions between the Death House inmates, and Toby’s coping mechanisms. Through his eyes we see the different ways the children deal with what their lives have become; all the emotions of a lifetime compressed into a few short years, with the teenagers like Toby finding themselves being surrogate parent figures for the younger children. There’s a mystery plot as well; and the whole is a slow-burning build to a resolution where the older children decide exactly what is worth fighting for with their foreshortened lives.

Moving and beautifully written, this was one of the best things I read all year.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Kobo