2017 Hugo Nomination Thoughts: Short Stories

Oof, I started this series of posts late. It’s just two weeks until Worldcon! (Not that I’m going, though I’d love to this year for Helsinki).

Better late than never though. Without further ado, the Hugo-nominated short stories.

(The Rabid Puppy slate pick is not being reviewed.)

I love this story.

No, I don’t think you understand. I LOVE THIS STORY.

A homeless black teen is gearing up to act as midwife to the city of New York, to birth it into being, and to defend it against the Cthulhu-like Enemy lying in wait to kill it. This story pulses with life and sensation and voice and imagination. The way N. K. Jemisin writes the birth of the city and incorporates the elements that make New York its one-of-a-kind self is poetry. I love the juxtaposition of someone who is one of the most disenfranchised, vulnerable people in the city is the one destined to birth and become one with a city characterized by wealth and power, but also heterogeneity. People within the city think he’s worthless—especially the cops, especially the Cthulhu-infused cops—
yet his love for New York is as big as the city itself. I loved this story when I first read last September and I loved it again reading it a second time.

Previously reviewed elsewhere.

Previously reviewed elsewhere.

Previously reviewed elsewhere.

Interesting premise—two warring peoples have recently brokered a piece. The Gaant are telepaths; the Enithi are not. Calla, an Enithi nurse and former war prisoner, goes to visit the Gaantish Captain Valk, himself a war prisoner before he became Calla’s warden in turn. Together they play a game of chess that reflects not just the differences between the two of them and their peoples, but adaptations, and communication and connection.

For a story rooted in war, it’s unusually quiet, kind, and peaceful. The Enithi’s blase acceptance of their inability to hide their thoughts, and so not attempting to do so at all, is a different take than any I’ve read before, and it inherently changes the way the Enithi and Gaant fight, but also communicate. Their differences aren’t the reason these people fought, but they open possible doors for nurturing the tentative peace that now exists between them. A thoughtful, thought-provoking story.

My vote: “The City Born Great”, no question.

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Mini-Reviews: The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin and Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal

I have read too many books I have not written for reviews for yet, and I would like to be caught up, therefore I present you with some mini-reviews.

The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin:

the-obelisk-gateThis is the book I would love to write a full-length review for if a) I had the time and b) this book wasn’t due back at the library the moment I am writing this post. N. K. Jemisin is a phenomenal, fantastic writer—it’s true what everyone is saying that these are the best books she’s written yet—and it’s all to do with how much fine-tuned control she has over the story and its many converging threads, as well as the words and tone she uses to tell it. 10-year-old Nassun’s chapters are pieces of painful beauty, the way they balance her childness, her trauma, her cynicism, her self-loathing, and her bottomless pit of yearning for the adults in her life to love, and to have loved her, the way she wants them to, the way they were supposed to.

… [Nassun] never knows anything of his ultimate fate other than that she has killed him, which makes her a monster.

“Perhaps,” [he] tells her as she sobs these words. He holds her in his lap again, stroking her thick curls. “But you are my monster.”

The Obelisk Gate is a comparatively slower, steadier book than The Fifth Season, which doesn’t mean it’s stagnant. More is uncovered about the nature of orogeny, the obelisks and Alabaster’s plan, and Essun is running on borrowed time to understand all of them before the current Season leads to starvation and the end of all humanity. To use a geology analogy, the story, and Essun and the comm of Castrima and Nassun, are all subjected to heat and pressure on all sides, and the rising tension threatens to explode and obliterate everything around them. Essun has already had her world destroyed far too many times already, and now she has a choice to make whether she’s going to do something to prevent her grudgingly adopted world from suffering the same fate as well.

“No vote,” you say… “Leave. Go join Rennanis if they’ll have you. But if you stay, no part of this comm gets to decide that any other part of this comm is expendable. No voting on who gets to be people… This is a community. You will be unified. You will fight for each other. Or I will rusting kill every last one of you.

Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal:
ghost-talkers This novel posits a World War I that contains the all-important Spirit Corps, a group of mediums who channel the ghosts of recently killed soldiers in order to obtain crucial information about the battlefield to aid the British war effort. American heiress Ginger Stuyvesant is one such medium. Like her fellow Spirit Corps members, she is beyond exhausted from channeling the influx of soldiers and handling their death experiences. When a ghost passes on information that suggests a German plot to neutralize the Spirit Corps, Ginger embarks on a dangerous mission that carries her to the front lines of battle and back to uncover both the plot and a murder.

Ghost Talkers is a breeze of a novel to read, which is an odd thing to say about a book set in World War I during the Battle of the Somme. Mary Robinette Kowal’s prose is smooth and light, and the scenes are written with levity, kindness, and warmth while retaining the horror and senseless destruction of war, and the particular form of disillusionment that characterized World War I. The characters are fun, and Kowal’s cast is composed of more than white, male soldiers, such as female nurses and hospitality women, Jamaican and Indian soldiers and aides in the war effort, and elderly and disabled soldiers and civilians.

Ginger herself was fine as a protagonist, but she never felt as having more than surface-level characterization, demonstrating generic strength, determination, and fire-branded-ness that didn’t actually tell me much about who she was, or what kind of person she was before the war. Additionally the plot involved some too-convenient twists near the end and unconvincing revelations (namely why the spy was a spy to begin with). Ultimately the historical fiction and supernatural elements of the book were far more successful than the actual story, which is a shame, because the world-building was so good.

My Favorite Reads of 2015

I read a lot of really good books in 2015, to the point that it was annoyingly difficult to put together a “Best of” list, or even a “Favorite Books Read This Year” list. But I did manage to make some hard decisions and cobble together a list of some titles that unequivocally blew my mind. Note: not all of them were published in 2015. Links are provided for my reviews if they’re available.

Listed in chronological order of when I read them:

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

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The story of a young girl who wakes up one day to concerned parents, an insatiable hunger, cobwebs for tears, and a screaming younger sister who swears that thing isn’t human. The story of a changeling child fighting for life and to save her counterpart at the cost of her own life. Frances Hardinge’s writing is as clever and beautiful as always, and her stories are consistently top-notch.

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

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The story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses set in Prohibition-era twenties’ jazz clubs? Devastating writing and storytelling that’s brutal in its economy and how much it conveys in so few words? Hard-hearted female protagonists who make hard decisions to protect her sisters and because no one else can? Fairytale mystery and grandiose allure juxtaposed with city, real-life grittiness, drama, sweat, fear, and danger? Yes, yes, yes. Yes to it all.

The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

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The fantasy/science fiction story of a woman born and trapped in a skyscraper, a genetic experiment whose skin can burn brighter and hotter than her captors ever dreamed, a story rooted in various African peoples’ stories and magics and histories, a story rooted in anti-colonialism and survival, fear, love, and rage. Entry #1 in “Women Full of Rage Who Destroy the World.”

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

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The story of a world wracked by cataclysmic earthquakes, where apocalypses are common occurrences. The story of three women with the power to manipulate the forces of the earth, hated by everyone around them, forced to submit their bodies and their power to a body that tells them they are sub-human, isolated and controlled for their and everyone’s protection. This is a story of endings—the world itself and the individual worlds of all three women. First entry in a trilogy, and Entry #2 in “Women Full of Rage Who Destroy the World.”

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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A deeply personal letter from Ta-Nehisi Coates to his son Samori about the ins and outs of being a black man in the United States and the violent history and logic behind race and anti-black racism in the United States. It’s about a story white people have created and continue to believe and enforce, and it’s a story Coates tells his son in order for him to understand whilst condemning the necessity of the telling.

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

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The story of Sorcerer Royal Zacharias Wythe, leader of England’s Society of Unnatural Philosophers in Napoleonic England, and his erstwhile student, the polite hellion Prunella Gentleman. A hilarious and pointed Regency tale of racial, gender, and class politics, fairies, international diplomacy, manners, and Polite Society, written in pitch-perfect Regency-esque language. Fun for the whole family.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

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The story of Alison Bechdel’s exploration of her identity through the lens of her relationship with her deceased father. A beautifully and sophisticatedly written nonlinear, multi-narrative memoir that encompasses Alison’s childhood, her father and mother’s courtship, the house she grew up in and her father’s pride and joy, her father’s complicated relationship to his sexuality and sense of self, Alison’s coming out as a lesbian, and her father’s subsequent death. The book of the year where I had no clue how much it would blow me away.

Ancillary Mercy By Ann Leckie

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The conclusion to the Imperial Radch trilogy and the story we were all waiting for of how Breq, Seivarden, Tisarwat, Mercy of Kalr, and Presger Translator Zeiat integrate themselves into Athoek Station and thoroughly subvert Anandaar Minaai. Having loved the other two books to bits, this one was the perfect conclusion and I am still crying that this trilogy is over.

The Shadows Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn

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The story of Chloe, the youngest of the three Fates who spin, measure, and slice all mortals’ life threads. The story of how she falls in love with Aglaia, a mortal girl with a beautiful life thread, and the devastating truths she and her sisters learn when they entangle themselves in the fates of mortals. Written with prose that’s so crystal-clear I want to tear my hair out at how good it is. Entry #3 in “Women Who Destroy the World.

And because this year was such a good reading year for me, here’s another list of books I really enjoyed reading:

  • An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
  • Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
  • Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
  • Greenglass House by Kate Milford
  • Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
  • Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon
  • Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
  • About a Girl by Sarah McCarry
  • Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
  • Prairie Fire by E.K. Johnston
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
  • The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

One other thing I’m pleased by is how much re-reading I was able to accomplish this year. In addition to re-reading the Circle of Magic and Circle Opens quartet for Mark Reads, I re-read Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (in preparation for the third book), and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin.

Earlier this year I had committed myself to K.Tempest Bradford’s challenge to not read any books by cis straight white men for an entire year. I mostly succeeded—I slipped up a few times here and there (6 times to be exact), but the majority of authors I read did not fall into all four categories.

I also specifically tried to read more authors of color. Approximately a third of the books I read were authored by people of color, as were a third of the actual authors in question. When I started this blog, my goal was for half the books I reviewed to have been written by authors of color. In this I was not successful—only 5 of the 13 books I reviewed were written by authors of color—so my goal next year is to actually achieve and maintain equal parity.

On a professional level book-wise, I also had a good year. I worked on several books for Ooligan Press this year, including the recently-published YA novel A Series of Small Maneuvers by Eliot Treichel and the upcoming 2016 short story collection Siblings by Kait Heacock. Most excitingly for me, Allison Green’s travel memoir The Ghosts Who Travel with Me, whose publishing team I joined last fall, came out this past June. Leading up to and after the launch, I got to do publicity outreach, proofreading, and designing of the epub version of the book. The highlight of 2015 was being able to cross off “appearing on the radio” from my bucket list—in addition to arranging for Allison Green to be interviewed on the radio show Bookworm, I briefly appeared alongside her to talk about Ooligan.

Personally, I did have some setbacks. I kept getting sick the first third of the year and my mental health decided to take a hike a few months later. Thankfully the latter has been on the mend recently. (I would say the former was getting better too if not for the fact I’m currently stuck in bed with a bad cold and fever on the very last day of the year. Go figure.)

Things I’m looking forward to next year? Finishing my Master’s program and graduating (I’m ignoring for now the part where I’ll be frantically applying for jobs in the meantime.) Working on the publication of Ruth Tenzer Feldman’s as-yet untitled third entry in her YA Jewish-historical fiction-time travel series. (I’ve already read the manuscript and it’s going to be awesome.) Re-reading even more books than this past year, and maybe even throwing in some more literary and nonfiction titles amidst my fantasy, sci-fi, and YA reads.

May your 2016 not be too terrible (it’s Election Year after all) and may it be filled with lots of good books and friends in the meantime.

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

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“This is what you must remember: the ending of one story is just the beginning of another. This has happened before, after all. People die. Old orders pass. New societies are born. When we say “the world has ended,” it’s usually a lie, because the planet is fine.

But this is the way the world ends.

This is the way the world ends.

This is the way the world ends.

For the last time.”

I’m starting off this review with this quote because it’s the best description ofThe Fifth Season there is.

(Sidenote: I keep accidentally typing out The Fifth Element. I wonder if I’m not the only one doing this.)

I’ll give a bit more detail.

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