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: 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

Hugo novels on special in the UK

As pointed out by Charlie Stross, his UK publisher has reduced the ebook of his Hugo-nominated novel to £1.99 for this month. I wandered off to check Orbit’s other two nominees in the Hugo novel category, and they too are reduced to £1.99. Or at least they are on Kobo and Amazon; Waterstones doesn’t seem to have got the message yet. Note that these prices are available in the UK only.

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/neptune-s-brood-1
http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/ancillary-justice
http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/parasite-3

Neptune’s Brood
Ancillary Justice
Parasite (Parasitology)

Yes, I have bought all three. They are DRMed, but that is the price point at which I’m willing to treat a book as disposable. (As in, if I saw the print version in The Works I’d be willing to buy it with the intention of recycling to Oxfam after reading to make space.)

ETA: http://readingsff.wordpress.com/ notes in comments:

Actually, the price is down for all three to 2,99 € on amazon.de. That’s a good deal, too. So it might be a good idea for fellow Europeans to check out their respective amazon sites.

I’ve just checked amazon.co.au, as it normally falls under UK & Commonwealth rights, and thus would be in Orbit’s territory. Alas, no — still standard price. :-(

book log: June 2014 part 1

As previously noted, the book log is woefully out of date. However, I want to try and write up this year’s Hugo Voting Packet while it is still of some use to other people (and indeed me, for purposes of doing my ballot), so I’m skipping straight to this month instead of trying to keep it in order. Here are the three short story nominations I’ve read so far (if it wasn’t in epub, it didn’t go on the Kobo):

35) “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”, John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)

Hugo short story finalist. The water of the title falls on anyone who lies — the less truthful what is said, the harder and colder the water falls. It’s possible to avoid the water by being careful with your phrasing, but that just makes it obvious that you’re being economical with the truth. What does it do to relationships, for both good and ill, when it becomes impossible to lie convincingly? Beautifully written character-driven short.

http://www.tor.com/stories/2013/02/the-water-that-falls-on-you-from-nowhere
http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-water-that-falls-on-you-from-nowhere
Amazon uk
Amazon US

(DRM-free)

36) “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com, 04-2013)

Hugo short story finalist. Wishes for the year are sent floating down a Thai river, and it’s one village’s duty and privilege to gather the wishes up and grant them, in exchange for the money and gifts attached to the wishes. It’s a situation that’s ripe for exploitation, but all the lives around the river are connected, and wishes can be granted in surprising ways. It’s a fun concept and there’s some nice writing in it, but the story didn’t quite gel for me.

http://www.tor.com/stories/2013/04/the-ink-readers-of-doi-saket

(DRM-free)

37) “Selkie Stories Are for Losers”, Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)

Hugo short story finalist. First person narrative by a young woman who has good reason to believe that selkie stories are for losers. It’s difficult to say much about it without spoilers. I liked it but thought it took time to get going.

http://www.strangehorizons.com/2013/20130107/selkie-f.shtml

book log July 2013 – part 3

More Hugo Voting Packet, plus an audiobook.

47) John Joseph Adams (editor) — Armored (anthology)

This anthology was included in the Hugo Voting Packet as the sample of Adam’s work for the short form editor category. As one might expect from the title, the stories are all about powered armour. However, it’s not just military powered armor. There are plenty of civilian uses, and some of them get an airing in this book.

Most of the stories are at least readable, and some are excellent. The anthology does suffer a little from the stories starting to seem too much the same after a while, but I think that could be dealt with by not reading the whole thing in a couple of sittings. If sf shorts about powered armour are your thing, this is a nice solid anthology.

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/armored-1

48) Clarkesworld

Sample issue of the zine, included in the Hugo Voting Packet as the sample of Neil Clarke’s work for the short form editor category. I enjoyed this a lot, and if I had more reading time I’d be very tempted to get a subscription.

http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/

49) Ngaio Marsh — Surfeit of Lampreys (audiobook)

The tenth Inspector Alleyn novel, abridged on 3 CDs and ably read by Anton Lesser. The Lampreys of the title are in fact titled, being of a spendthrift aristocratic family, eccentric beyond belief, broke as usual, and depending upon a handout from an extremely wealthy uncle. Who won’t play along, and of course is found murdered. An amusing listen. The novel also available as a full cast dramatisation from BBC Radio 4.

Amazon UK
Amazon US

50) Analog

Sample issue of the zine, included in the Hugo Voting Packet as the sample of Stanley Schmidt’s work for the short form editor category. Some excellent fiction in this issue.

Book log July 2013 Part 2 – Hugo novellas

I read four of the novellas on the 2013 Hugo ballot. Two of them in particular I think are worth explicitly recommending: Aliette de Bodard”s “On a Red Station, Drifting”, and Brandon Sanderson’s “The Emperor’s Soul”.

43) Aliette de Bodard – On a Red Station, Drifting

Blurb: For generations Prosper Station has thrived under the guidance of its Honoured Ancestress: born of a human womb, the station’s artificial intelligence has offered guidance and protection to its human relatives.

But war has come to the Dai Viet Empire. Prosper’s brightest minds have been called away to defend the Emperor; and a flood of disorientated refugees strain the station’s resources. As deprivations cause the station’s ordinary life to unravel, uncovering old grudges and tearing apart the decimated family, Station Mistress Quyen and the Honoured Ancestress struggle to keep their relatives united and safe. What Quyen does not know is that the Honoured Ancestress herself is faltering, her mind eaten away by a disease that seems to have no cure; and that the future of the station itself might hang in the balance…

A consequences-of-war story set on a space station that’s part of a large interstellar empire, one that’s descended from an ancient Asian empire back here on Earth. Not an uncommon theme, but what makes this story different is that although it’s inspired by a Chinese story, the empire’s ancestor is Ancient Vietnam, and it’s written by a Franco-Vietnamese.

de Bodard has built a world full of rich detail, and peopled it with strongly drawn characters, most of whom are coping with being the ones left tending the home front. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

More information on the author’s own website: http://aliettedebodard.com/bibliography/novels/on-a-red-station-drifting/

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/on-a-red-station-drifting
Amazon UK
Amazon US

44) Jay Lake — The Stars Do Not Lie

I finished it, but I found it hard going for personal reasons, and did not like it. Which is a shame, because I like Jay, and I’ve liked other work of his.

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-stars-do-not-lie

45) Nancy Kress – After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall

While I enjoyed this one and could see why it made the ballot, I find that a year on I don’t remember much about it and don’t feel any urge to re-read it, unlike the de Bodard and Sanderson novellas.

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/after-the-fall-before-the-fall-during-the-fall-a-novel

46) Brandon Sanderson — The Emperor’s Soul

Blurb: When Shai is caught replacing the Moon Scepter with her nearly flawless forgery, she must bargain for her life. An assassin has left the Emperor Ashravan without consciousness, a circumstance concealed only by the death of his wife. If the emperor does not emerge after his hundred-day mourning period, the rule of the Heritage Faction will be forfeit and the empire will fall into chaos.

Shai is given an impossible task: to create—to Forge—a new soul for the emperor in less than one hundred days while trapped behind a door sealed in her own blood.

This was absolutely stunning, one of the best things I read all year. I’ve never read any of Sanderson’s work before, but going from this I need to find some more. It’s a beautifully constructed story which demonstrates the strength of novella length. The soulstamp magic system is fascinating, and Sanderson’s exploration of the philosophical implications about identity makes for a complex story with a great deal of depth. It deservedly won the Hugo. If you like fantasy and you haven’t read this yet, check out the excerpt posted at Tor.com: http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/10/the-emperors-soul-excerpt

More information with buy links for various formats in various countries at the author’s website:
http://brandonsanderson.com/books/elantris/the-emperors-soul/

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-emperor-s-soul-1
Amazon UK
Amazon US

book log July 2013 – part 1

Back to the ever more neglected book log. I’m going to do July 2013 in several parts, because there are a lot of titles, some of which I did or can say something sensible about, and some of which I left too late.

July was Hugo Voting Packet month. I chugged my way through an awful lot of words that were up for a Hugo, and logged the short stories at the time.

3 short stories:

33) Ken Liu – Mono no Aware (Published in the anthology The World is Japanese)

A young Japanese man is sitting in the control room of a generation ship, minding the solar sail. As the story cuts between his present and his memories, the story gradually reveals how and why he came to be there, and why the choice he makes at the end of the story matters so very much. Beautifully written study of loss and survival, and made me want to read the rest of the anthology it appeared in.

34) Aliette de Bodard — Immersion

A lot of things are stuffed into this short story. Imperialism, whether economic, cultural, or in the recent past nakedly military. Class and money. Identity, and how it ties into the imperialism. The use and abuse of technology. Common themes, but handled deftly, and with a genuine sf slant to them. There’s some superb world-building done in a short story word count, and characters whose fate I care about. This one’s my pick for the Hugo, although it was a hard choice between this and Ken Lui’s story.

35) Kij Johnson — Mantis Wives

Take praying mantises, give them human intelligence and emotions so that we can identify with them — and leave them their insect behaviour patterns, described in beautiful language that heightens rather than hides the horror of what’s going on.

I can see why this made the Hugo ballot. But it really doesn’t work for me. Not voting for this one.

36-40) 5 Hugo novelettes
From the Hugo website:
“The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi”, Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
“In Sea-Salt Tears”, Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
“Fade To White”, Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
“Rat-Catcher”, Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)
“The Boy Who Cast No Shadow”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)

All well-written, although they varied in how much I actually enjoyed reading them. I’ve left it too long and would have to re-read to review.

Two of the novels:

41) Lois McMaster Bujold — Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance

A novel from the Vorkosiverse, with Ivan in the starring role. Funny, romantic and smart, just like Ivan himself.

42) John Scalzi – Redshirts

Very, very meta novel about junior starship crew members who slowly realise that in another universe they’re fictional characters, and that what the show writers do to them in that universe bleeds over into theirs. Which is not a good thing if you’re a redshirt. It’s territory that’s been trodden before, even in Star Trek itself, but Scalzi does an impressive job. The main text is a lot of fun, with some thoughtful and moving sections; but it’s the codas which really make this book something special.