Entries Tagged 'Books' ↓

The Spare Man Drinking List

Mary Robinette Kowal\’s new novel The Spare Man has a cocktail recipe at the beginning of every chapter.  I\’d like to try all the drinks as I read, but my liquor cabinet is not quite as extensive as an actual bar\’s – so I thought I\’d put together a shopping list.  Here\’s what you need to make all the recipes in the chapter headings of The Spare Man:

Alcoholic ingredients

  • ~2.1 oz absinthe
  • 0.75 oz amaretto
  • 2 oz Aperol
  • 1 oz Benedictine
  • 8 oz bourbon
  • 1.1 oz Campari
  • 2.25 Green Chartreuse
  • 2 oz cognac
  • 0.5 oz creme de cassis
  • 0.75 creme de menthe
  • 0.25 creme de violette
  • 1 oz Cynar
  • 1.5 oz Dubonnet
  • 0.5 oz Fernet-Branca
  • 20 oz gin
    • + 1.25 oz Old Tom Gin
  • 0.5 oz Grand Marnier
  • 1 oz cherry Heering
    • Can substitute maraschino liqueur or cherry brandy; add a bit of extra sweetener
  • 1.75 oz Lillet Blanc
  • 1.25 oz maraschino liqueur
  • .5 oz Ramazzotti
  • 2 oz rum
  • 6.25 oz rye
  • 1.5 oz scotch
    • + 1 oz Laphroaig
  • 0.5 oz dry sherry
  • 1 oz Southern Comfort
  • 10 oz sparkling wine
  • 1 oz Tequila Anejo
  • 0.75 oz triple sec
    • + 0.75 oz Cointreau
  • 1 oz Bianco vermouth
  • 4.5 oz dry vermouth
  • 12.25 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1.5 oz vodka
  • 2 oz Irish whiskey
  • Cardamom bitters
  • Orange bitters
  • Angostura bitters

Non-alcoholic ingredients

  • 3 oz cranberry juice
  • 1 0z honey syrup
  • 4 oz ginger beer
  • 0.5 oz grenadine
  • 5 oz lemon juice
  • 6.5 oz lime juice
  • 5.75 oz orange juice
  • 4 oz simple syrup
  • 4 oz soda water
  • 2.5 oz sparkling water
  • 6 oz tonic water

Other ingredients

  • Half yellow bell pepper
  • 5 blackberries
  • 7 cherries
  • Cilantro
  • Cucumber
  • Egg white
  • Ice
  • Jalapeno
  • 4-5 lemons
  • 1 lime
  • Fresh mint
  • 3-4 oranges
  • Cayenne salt
  • Ground pepper
  • Salt

Clearly this is not a project for the faint of heart.  I\’m hoping there are some substitutions that can be made so I don\’t end up with six bottles of slightly different Italian bitter aperitifs… More research is definitely needed.

2022 Hugo Nominees: Best Novel

I may tweak a couple rankings before the final ballot is due, but at the moment here\’s my ballot for Best Novel.

1. A Master of Djinn, P. Djèlí Clark

I first encountered Clark\’s \”Dead Djinn Universe\” in The Haunting of Tram Car 015, a finalist for the Best Novella Hugo in 2020, and I was thrilled to return to the world for a longer story.  A Master of Djinn was everything I was hoping it would be and more, giving us a deeper understanding of the djinn\’s place in this alternate Egyptian society, a few tantalizing glimpses into how the return of magic to the world has manifested in other parts of the world, and of course a high-stakes mystery weaving through the mundane and mystical realms.  I\’m really looking forward to reading more in this universe.

2. The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers\’s stories are a balm for the soul.  I first discovered her with the first Wayfarers book, and I was deeply sad to learn that The Galaxy and the Ground Within was to be the last one in the series.  Other than that disappointment, though, the novel was another comforting delight, following a small cast of characters trapped at a planetside travelers\’ inn when the local orbital traffic gets shut down due to an accident.  Each of the characters brings their own story, history, and baggage to their accidental cohabitation, and Chambers weaves their arcs together with her usual warmth, portraying once again an aspirational world where people of varied backgrounds can overcome their differences and prejudices and learn to care about one another.  We need more of that in our world.

3. A Desolation Called Peace, Arkady Martine

If the first book in the Teixcalaan series, A Memory Called Empire, hadn\’t already won a Hugo, I\’d likely have this one at the top of my ballot.  It\’s a worthy second entry in the series, broadening the scope of the series out to the edges of Teixcalaan space and further into the depths of intrigue within the imperial capital, the military, and even Lsel Station.  Fans of Ann Leckie will particularly enjoy this series, I think.

4. Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir

This novel takes a few more liberties with science and engineering than Weir\’s debut The Martian did, but fans of that novel are likely to enjoy this one as well.  It starts with a very similar feel – the lone genius solving his way out of dangerous situations with the twin powers of Science and Engineering – but the story soon takes on more depth as Weir weaves in more background and a wider cast of characters.  Overall, a satisfyingly crunchy \”hard sci-fi\” story that balances the \”science\” part with the \”fiction\” part well.

5. Light from Uncommon Stars, Ryka Aoki

This was a really fun read, weaving together a couple wildly different genres/tropes – Faustian bargains for musical talent and alien visitors living on Earth in disguise – into a story of a trans teenager just trying to survive and keep her music alive.  The genre whiplash felt weird at first but over the course of the book Aoki melded the disparate threads well, leading up to a payoff that tied everything together.

6. She Who Became the Sun, Shelley Parker-Chan

Dire and difficult but worthwhile, full of questions about what aspects of our destiny we can shape ourselves, and what is beyond our control to influence.  I don\’t even know if I\’d necessarily say I enjoyed this book – but I definitely believe it deserves a place on the ballot nevertheless.

2021 Reading List

I\’ll format this more sometime. 2021 works are organized by Hugo category, bolded if I\’m considering them for nomination. (2021 works read in 2022 are marked with an asterisk.)

2021 Novels:

  • Calculated Risks, Seanan McGuire
  • A Desolation Called Peace, Arkady Martine
  • Angel of the Overpass, Seanan McGuire
  • The Dragon Stone Conspiracy, Amanda Cherry
  • The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, Becky Chambers
  • When Sorrows Come, Seanan McGuire
  • Perhaps the Stars, Ada Palmer
  • The Liar\’s Knot, M.A. Carrick
  • Jade Legacy, Fonda Lee
  • Paladin\’s Hope, T. Kingfisher

2021 Novellas:

  • Fugitive Telemetry, Martha Wells
  • The Past Is Red, Catherynne M. Valente
  • Comfort Me With Apples, Catherynne M. Valente

2021 Young Adult (Lodestar):

  • Along the Saltwise Sea, A. Deborah Baker
  • Tristan Strong Keeps Punching, Kwame Mbalia

Series Eligible for Nomination in 2022:

  • InCryptid, Seanan McGuire
  • Terra Ignota, Ada Palmer
  • The Green Bone Saga, Fonda Lee
  • Tristan Strong, Kwame Mbalia

Non-2021 works:

  • Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer, Rick Riordan
  • Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 2: The Hammer of Thor, Rick Riordan
  • Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 3: The Ship of the Dead, Rick Riordan
  • The Relentless Moon, Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Speak Easy, Catherynne M. Valente
  • A Deadly Education, Naomi Novik
  • Dying With Her Cheer Pants On, Seanan McGuire
  • Ancestral Night, Elizabeth Bear
  • Machine, Elizabeth Bear
  • Or What You Will, Jo Walton
  • The Refrigerator Monologues, Catherynne M. Valente
  • Wanderers, Chuck Wendig
  • Too Like the Lightning, Ada Palmer
  • Seven Surrenders, Ada Palmer
  • The Will to Battle, Ada Palmer
  • The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows, Olivia Waite
  • The Hidden Oracle, Rick Riordan
  • The Dark Prophecy, Rick Riordan
  • The Burning Maze, Rick Riordan
  • The Tyrant\’s Tomb, Rick Riordan
  • The Tower of Nero, Rick Riordan
  • The Mask of Mirrors, M.A. Carrick
  • Jade City, Fonda Lee
  • Jade War, Fonda Lee

Review: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

\"CoverGideon Nav is a snarky teenage girl, abandoned as a baby at the Ninth House of necromancy, secluded on a small, dreary planet on the outskirts of the Dominicus star system.  Her possessions are few, but they include a) a passionate and mutual hatred of Harrowhawk Nonagesimus, the Ninth House\’s heir and most skilled necromancer, b) a fervent desire to escape the Ninth House and do something with her life besides be constantly tormented by Harrow, and c) a large sword and the skills (and, as a point of particular pride for Gideon, biceps) to use it well.  A gathering of representatives from the necromantic Houses may give Gideon the chance she\’s been looking for – if she can survive working with Harrow.

The gathering\’s goals are unclear and the rules seem few, and the venue is an ancient ruin filled with locked doors.  The doors conceal secrets and dangers, hinting at the potential to attain vast necromantic power.  Each of the Houses have not only their own style of necromancy but their own secrets to keep as well, and so the assembly of adepts and their cavaliers quickly ignites into intrigue, as the Houses compete and cooperate to try to solve the mysteries to which they have been summoned.

The setting is a brilliant fusion of sci-fi and fantasy, interplanetary travel and research laboratories set against reanimated skeletons and corpse divination, reminiscent of Warhammer 40K or the Craft Sequence.  Gideon herself is an entertaining viewpoint character, sarcastic and sharp-tongued, but clearly out of her depth among the more properly-trained cavaliers of the other Houses; that plus her past gives her both a drive to prove herself and a deep sense of insecurity.  Her and Harrow\’s enmity is tied into their past as well, and their need to figure out how to work together despite their history drives a sympathetic character arc that interacts well with the mystery plot.  The end of the book tees up plot elements for the sequel – Harrow the Ninth, out later this year – but Gideon the Ninth still comes to a satisfying resolution on its own, tying the plot and character arcs together in a tense and exciting climax.

My Hugo Nominees: Best Novel and Best Series

These are the 2019 novels going on my Hugo nominating ballot, as well as my one nomination for Best Series.  Header links go to the books\’ Goodreads pages, to save me the trouble of writing synopses.

Middlegame, Seanan McGuire

I\’ve previously reviewed this one in more detail, but I want to reiterate that this book utterly blew me away.  Middlegame is the best novel yet from one of my favorite authors.  Seanan McGuire deserves a whole pile of awards for this one, with a shiny rocket perched at the top of the stack.

The Priory of the Orange Tree, Samantha Shannon

This is one of those cases where judging a book by its cover worked out really well for me.  The striking cover art for The Priory of the Orange Tree (illustrated by Ivan Belikov) immediately grabbed my attention, and the novel definitely delivered.  TPotOT fits the epic scope of a multi-book fantasy series into a single (rather large) volume, weaving together multiple satisfying character arcs with a world-saving quest.  History and tradition are a strong theme throughout the book, as the characters are forced to confront the fact that the founding legends of their culture are not as reflective of reality as they\’d always thought.

My one complaint about this book is that it feels a little rushed in places; the events of the book could have easily filled out a trilogy.  Instead, a few of the plot points were resolved somewhat abruptly in order to wrap up the story in 800 pages.  All the same, there\’s something to be said for a standalone novel in a genre that seems to regard three books as the minimum possible length for a complete story arc.

A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine

A murder mystery rife with political and personal intrigue, woven together with some classic but skillfully used SF tropes.  The new ambassador to the empire of Teixcalaan arrives from her small, independent mining colony with a malfunctioning memory implant and a pile of questions about her dead predecessor, and soon gets embroiled in Teixcalaan\’s own internal politics herself.  Martine has a lot to say about the cultural and political mechanisms of hegemony and imperialism, within an empire that at once feels attractively exotic and frighteningly familiar to a modern reader.

The Sol Majestic, Ferrett Steinmetz

Two parts coming-of-age story, one part love letter to foodie culture, one part rumination on philosophy and social justice, and a generous topping of space-station shenanigans.  The Sol Majestic was just a joy to read, with a wide cast of wacky yet deeply sympathetic characters trying to simultaneously save the titular restaurant and get the main character through his increasingly imperiled philosophical rite of passage.

Gods of Jade and Shadow, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Something about the narrative voice took me a couple chapters to get used to, or maybe it was just the automatic distancing I tend to do when reading about abusive families – but then Casiopea accidentally let the Lord of Xibalba out of her grandfather\’s trap, and I could barely put it down after that.  The author blends Mayan mythology with the turbulence of 1920s Mexico to create a perfect, vivid setting for a tale in which the ancient and the modern clash in multiple different ways.

Best Series: InCryptid by Seanan McGuire

Unusually, I didn\’t read a lot of books in series that are eligible for the Best Series Hugo last year; in most cases, the books that I read were either standalones, in series that hadn\’t met the minimum length, or were ineligible due to having been nominated too recently.  The one exception is InCryptid, one of my favorite series, which has once again become eligible with the publication of Tricks for Free in 2018 and That Ain\’t Witchcraft in 2019.

The series is about the Price family, a group of cryptozoologists serving the cryptid population of North America and defending them from the murderous Covenant of St. George, an anti-cryptid organization the Prices\’ ancestors once belonged to.  The series started off with an urban-fantasy tone, but has grown into something entirely its own, blending folklore monsters with magic, ghost stories, and an abiding love of carnivals.  Much like the October Daye books – McGuire\’s longest-running series, and eligible for the award again next year – the individual novels in the series are a lot of fun to read, but the broader arc of the entire series is really where the work shines.  The saga of the Price family now stretches over at least nine novels (depending on whether you count the Rose books) and a big pile of short fiction; the novels frequently make reference to the family\’s history, which the short stories explore in more detail.  (It\’s fun getting to see some of the things that were referenced in the novels happen \”on screen\”, but none of the stories are required reading for the main series to make sense.)  With each new novel, we get more depth in both the past and present of the series\’ world, and McGuire draws on her love of folklore and her experience in wildlife rescue to create an entire fictional ecology of cryptids for her characters to study, protect, and befriend.

Anyway, I love recommending Seanan McGuire to new people, not only because I adore her work, but also because I can shove a gigantic pile of books she\’s already written at them, and assure them that there will be plenty more where those came from. McGuire publishes a new entry in each of the InCryptid, October Daye, and Wayward Children series every year, and usually at least one other novel besides.  She has also spoken previously about the precautions she takes to make sure her series won\’t get cancelled without an ending; she maintains an exit plan to wrap up each series within the remaining books currently contracted in case the contract for the series is not extended.  Luckily, I don\’t think that\’s going to be an issue any time soon.

2020 Reading List

Everything I\’ve read in 2020.  See 2018\’s list for explanations.

2020 Novels

  • Paladin\’s Grace, T. Kingfisher
  • Imaginary Numbers, Seanan McGuire
  • The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin
  • Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir
  • The Baron of Magister Valley, Steven Brust
  • Network Effect, Martha Wells
  • A Killing Frost, Seanan McGuire
  • The Tyrant Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson
  • The Relentless Moon, Mary Robinette Kowal*
  • Sixteenth Watch, Myke Cole
  • The Last Emperox, John Scalzi
  • Seven Devils, Laura Lam

 2020 Novellas

  • Finna, Nino Cipri

2020 Novelettes

  • The Alaska Escape, K.B. Spangler

2020 Young Adult Novels

  • A Wizard\’s Guide to Defensive Baking, T. Kingfisher
  • Over the Woodward Wall, A. Deborah Baker
  • Tristan Strong Destroys the World, Kwame Mbalia
  • Ikenga, Nnedi Okorafor

2020 Nonfiction/Other

  • The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking), Katie Mack
  • Beowulf: A New Translation, Maria Dahvana Headley
  • Hexarchate Stories, Yoon Ha Lee

Non-2020 works read in 2020:

  • Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, Kwame Mbalia
  • The Armored Saint, Myke Cole
  • Queen of Crows, Myke Cole
  • The Killing Light, Myke Cole
  • Gods of Jade and Shadow, Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • The Lady\’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, Olivia Waite
  • Jade City, Fonda Lee
  • Jade War, Fonda Lee
  • Sandman Slim, Richard Kadrey
  • The Curse of Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi
  • The Consuming Fire, John Scalzi
  • Stone Mad, Elizabeth Bear
  • Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir (review)
  • Magic for Liars, Sarah Gailey
  • The City in the Middle of the Night, Charlie Jane Anders
  • The Light Brigade, Kameron Hurley
  • Amberlough, Lara Elena Donnelly
  • Feed, Mira Grant
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix E. Harrow
  • “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom”, Ted Chiang
  • The Deep, Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes
  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015, P. Djèlí Clark
  • To Be Taught, If Fortunate, Becky Chambers
  • “The Archronology of Love”, Caroline M. Yoachim
  • “Away With the Wolves”, Sarah Gailey
  • “The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye”, Sarah Pinsker
  • Emergency Skin, N.K. Jemisin
  • “For He Can Creep”, Siobhan Carroll
  • “Omphalos”, Ted Chiang
  • “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, Shiv Ramdas
  • “As the Last I May Know”, S.L. Huang
  • “Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, Rivers Solomon
  • “A Catalog of Storms”, Fran Wilde
  • “Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, Alix E. Harrow
  • “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, Nibedita Sen
  • Deadline, Mira Grant
  • Blackout, Mira Grant
  • Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, Sarah Vowell
  • Feedback, Mira Grant
  • Rise, Mira Grant
  • Witchmark, C.L. Polk
  • The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson
  • The Monster Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson
  • The Dragon Stone Conspiracy, Amanda Cherry

2019 Reading List

Starting writing this a little later than usual.  See 2018\’s list for explanations.

2019 Novels

  • ☆ Middlegame, Seanan McGuire
  • ☆ The Priory of the Orange Tree, Samantha Shannon
  • ☆ A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine
  • ☆ The Sol Majestic, Ferrett Steinmetz
  • ☆ Gods of Jade and Shadow, Silvia Moreno-Garcia*
  • That Ain\’t Witchcraft, Seanan McGuire
  • The Unkindest Tide, Seanan McGuire
  • Empress of Forever, Max Gladstone
  • The Lady\’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, Olivia Waite*

2019 Novellas

  • In an Absent Dream, Seanan McGuire
  • In the Shadow of Spindrift House, Mira Grant
  • Minor Mage, T. Kingfisher
  • This Is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
  • The Killing Light, Myke Cole*

2019 Novelettes

  • The Dinosaur Heist, K.B. Spangler (unsure of word count)

2019 Graphic Stories

  • TODO

2019 YA Novels (for Lodestar Award)

  • Dragon Pearl, Yoon Ha Lee
  • Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, Kwame Mbalia*

Non-2019 works read in 2019:

  • Life Debt: Aftermath, Chuck Wendig
  • Empire\’s End: Aftermath, Chuck Wendig
  • Ardulum: First Don, J.S. Fields
  • Radiance, Catherynne M. Valente
  • The Monster Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson
  • In the Labyrinth of Drakes, Marie Brennan
  • Within the Sanctuary of Wings, Marie Brennan
  • The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal
  • The Fated Sky, Mary Robinette Kowal
  • The Tea Master and the Detective, Aliette de Bodard
  • All of Seanan McGuire\’s \”Incryptid\” short stories published to date
  • An Unkindness of Magicians, Kat Howard
  • Record of a Spaceborn Few, Becky Chambers
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling
  • The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan
  • The Sea of Monsters, Rick Riordan
  • The Lost Hero, Rick Riordan
  • The Son of Neptune, Rick Riordan
  • The Mark of Athena, Rick Riordan
  • The House of Hades, Rick Riordan
  • The Blood of Olympus, Rick Riordan
  • The Titan\’s Curse, Rick Riordan
  • The Battle of the Labyrinth, Rick Riordan
  • The Player of Games, Iain M. Banks
  • The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison
  • Consider Phlebas, Iain M. Banks
  • Shards of Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • \”Aftermaths\”, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Barrayar, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Indexing, Seanan McGuire
  • Indexing: Reflections, Seanan McGuire
  • All Systems Red, Martha Wells
  • Artificial Condition, Martha Wells
  • Rogue Protocol, Martha Wells
  • Exit Strategy, Martha Wells
  • The Warrior\’s Apprentice, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Vor Game, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Cetaganda, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Ethan of Athos, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Labyrinth, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Borders of Infinity, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Brothers in Arms, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Mirror Dance, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Memory, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Komarr, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • A Civil Campaign, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Winterfair Gifts, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Diplomatic Immunity, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Captain Vorpatril\’s Alliance, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Last Olympian, Rick Riordan

2018 Hugo Finalists: Best Short Story

This year\’s Hugo finalists for Best Short Story are a wide-ranging batch of stories, ranging from light-hearted and humorous to depressing and angry, but I enjoyed all six of them to various degrees. In order, starting from my top choice on the ballot:

1. \”Fandom for Robots\”, Vina Jie-Min Prasad

2017 seems to be a wonderful year for delightfully relatable, socially awkward machine intelligences.  \”Fandom for Robots\” is the story of Computron, a robot – the only sentient robot ever built, in fact – who is a fan of Hyperdimension Warp Record, an anime show streaming episodes once a week.  In two paragraphs (and a third consisting of a single sentence), Vina Jie-Min Prasad cuts to the core of that slightly obsessive (and only just a little alienating) feeling of fandom that so many of us are familiar with.  The story then rewinds a little to show us Computron\’s discovery of the show, prompted by an enthusiastic teenage girl who suggests (at a public Q&A session at the museum where he is an exhibit) that he might enjoy the show since he resembles one of the characters.

Then Computron runs out of episodes.  Then Computron discovers fanfiction.

\”Fandom for Robots\” is a love letter to fandom of all kinds, and the way that people who feel isolated from \”normal\” human society can find comfort and friendship within it.  The story might come across to some people as a little pandering, particularly as a finalist for a fan-voted award, but the way Computron\’s fandom and friendships develop is just so well-written, with sincere joy and love for the community.

2. \”Sun, Moon, Dust\”, Ursula Vernon

The archetype of the crotchety, wise old grandmother with no patience for anyone else\’s nonsense – particularly from her own family – may well be one of Ursula Vernon\’s favorites to write.  It\’s certainly one of my favorite categories of her characters to read.  Though in this case, the grandma manages to avoid stealing the show by dying in the first scene, and her poor potato-farmer grandson, Allpa, is left with a magic sword and no notion of what to do with it.

Reluctant, well-meaning but slightly confused heroes might be another of my favorite Vernon archetypes, come to think of it.  And then there are occasional digressions into potato varietals, and spirits whose expectations about the hero are immediately turned on their head, and goats that think they\’re far more clever than they actually are…

Basically, \”Sun, Moon, Dust\” is another classic Ursula Vernon story.  If you\’re familiar with her other work and you liked it, you\’ll enjoy this too.  If you aren\’t familiar with her other work, this is a great introduction to her distinctive and entertaining style of writing.  If you\’re familiar with her work and didn\’t like it… well, our tastes are probably different enough that you should take the rest of my recommendations with a grain of salt.

3. \”Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experienceâ„¢\”, Rebecca Roanhorse

Roanhorse\’s story discusses the tragedy of modern American Indian culture in a white-dominated society.  Jesse is a guide at a business offering virtual-reality experiences of Indian life to predominantly white tourists.  He and his coworkers package up and sell a sanitized version of their own culture, hamming up their exoticism because it\’s what their white customers expect.  They speak to their customers in broken English and adopt different names when their own names aren\’t Indian-sounding enough (Jesse Turnblatt goes by \”Jesse Trueblood\” at work).  Jesse is uncomfortable with his job and his boss\’s increasingly stereotypical ideas for experiences, but is afraid to speak up because he needs the job.

The whole situation is less an allegory than simply a fictionalized example of the problem Roanhorse writes about – indigenous people forced to cheapen their own culture and sell it to whites because the alternative is poverty and starvation.

But then a more thoughtful-seeming white man shows up, clearly dissatisfied with the cartoon-Indian experience Jesse\’s company typically offers tourists, and engages Jesse in discussion outside of work.  He just wants to know more, he says.  Get to know an actual person, not the \”How\”-saying caricature Jesse typically portrays.  They talk over drinks, multiple times, and Jesse thinks he\’s made a friend.  But here\’s where the more allegorical part of the story comes in, as his new friend insinuates himself into Jesse\’s life and starts to replace him both at work and at home, while provoking Jesse\’s own behavior to degrade into the worst stereotypes of modern-day Indians

\”Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experienceâ„¢\” is a cautionary tale for the marginalized cultures exploited by white European society, about the dangers of participating in the commoditization of your own culture for consumption by others.  Coming to it as a white reader, the story has another message as well: look what you have done to us, Roanhorse says.  Look what you continue to do, every time you appropriate someone else\’s culture for your own amusement.  Look at the lives your people have destroyed.

I suspect a lot of white American readers are going to feel attacked by this story.  Rather than getting defensive about it, I hope at least some of us can reexamine our own relationship with indigenous cultures and others that America has marginalized if not outright destroyed, and think about ways we can do better.

4. \”Carnival Nine\”, Caroline M. Yoachim

A gentle, bittersweet story about clockwork folk, measuring out their lives in the house of their maker by the turns of their mainsprings.  We follow Zee through her entire life, starting from early childhood.  Zee is blessed by the maker with a mainspring that can hold more turns of her winding key than most people, so she is naturally full of energy and inclined towards adventure and exploration; this spirit leads her to the nomadic life of the carnival, and to Vale, a carny boy she meets there.  Zee and Vale build a son together, leaving the new body on the maker\’s workbench for the installation of a mainspring, but in the morning they discover that their son, Mattan, has a particularly weak spring, only capable of a handful of turns.

Like many of Yoachim\’s stories, \”Carnival Nine\” has a folk-tale feel to it – it\’s written simply and conversationally, but still touches upon some profound concepts of human emotion. Here Yoachim addresses with her usual empathy the difficulties and sacrifices of raising a disabled child, including the tension it introduces into the parents\’ relationship and the totality with which it can consume the parents\’ lives and identities.

5. \”Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand\”, Fran Wilde

A bizarre story, deliberately disorienting from the beginning.  The narrator is a guide through some sort of museum of curiosities or circus sideshow which you, the reader, are visiting.  But the narrator is also part of the museum herself, and the reader is also somehow involved with – possibly even responsible for – some of the things on display.

As the tour goes on, the narrator\’s running tour-guide patter grows more pointed and even a little hostile towards the reader.  I expected the story to be drawing to some kind of a twist or a reversal to contextualize the menagerie of weirdness on display – but ultimately, both within the text and as a reader of it, I was escorted to the end of the story and then unceremoniously booted out of the exit.  I\’m still not sure how I feel about it, but it sure was an experience.

6. \”The Martian Obelisk\”, Linda Nagata

After catastrophic climate change, and diseases, and wars, humanity is in decline.  Susannah Li-Langford has been remotely controlling equipment from an abandoned mission to Mars to build a massive cenotaph for the human race.  She\’s lost her husband, her children, everything in her life except for this one last effort to build an obelisk on Mars, an effort which has consumed her life for the last seventeen years.

Then a vehicle from another Martian settlement – thought dead and abandoned for nearly a year – shows up at the building site.  Has an AI gone rogue, or has someone on Earth taken control of the other settlement\’s vehicles?  Is the Obelisk project at risk?

\”The Martian Obelisk\” is a pretty depressing and pessimistic story, but it does suggest that even in humanity\’s bleakest moments, life can continue and there is still some hope for an eventual better future.  However, I found the means by which the story drives this point home somewhat trite and implausible; I felt it undermined the story\’s hopeful message with its reliance on a convenient coincidence of timing.

2018 Hugo Finalists: Best Novelette

Unlike my reviews of the Hugo finalist novels and novellas, the Novelette category has works short enough that I think I can address them all in a single post – but it\’ll be a slightly longer one than usual.  That does also allow me to put them in order of my preference on the ballot, though.  So, starting from the top and working downwards…

1. \”Extracurricular Activities\”, Yoon Ha Lee

Years before Shuos Jedao massacred both the enemy and his own troops at Hellspin Fortress, and four centuries before the events of Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem, he was a commander in the Kel military.  As the story starts, he\’d already gained a mostly-deserved reputation for both infantry tactics and special operations.  He\’s assigned to an covert mission outside the heptarchate, in a neighboring real called the Gwa Reality, where he is to rescue a former classmate of his who had been in place as a spy – and who has apparently gotten into some trouble.

While the Machineries of Empire books have included occasional bits of Shuos Jedao\’s past, I\’m always up for more – he reminds me of Miles Vorkosigan in his brilliant, unconventional problem-solving abilities and also his generally brash attitude.  (He\’s not quite as good at talking his way out of situations as Miles was, but with assassin-level unarmed-combat abilities in his toolbox, he hasn\’t needed to be.)  And the Gwa Reality reminds me just a tiny bit of Cetaganda as well, with their obsession with poetry and aesthetics and their penchant for genetically engineered viruses as a weapon.

\”Extracurricular Activities\” has a wry sense of humor and an entertaining spy plot, with a few twists to keep Jedao and the reader alike on our toes.  And taking place as it does before the main trilogy, I think it\’s mostly accessible to new readers as well; though the author uses faction names (Kel, Shuos, Andan) as shorthand for certain traits, they\’re either understandable from context or not crucial to the story.

2. \”Wind Will Rove\”, Sarah Pinsker

Rosie is a middle-aged history teacher and fiddler aboard a generation ship.  She tries to connect folktales (such as the story of her grandmother playing fiddle on a spacewalk) with old Earth history, which is made particularly challenging by the Blackout, a massive data-loss incident earlier in the ship\’s own history.  She sees herself as a bridge in the ship\’s history, a conduit to old Earth history, trying to connect her memories of her grandmother (who was among the original passengers who left Earth) to the present and the future of her community.  Rosie contends with a minor rebellion in her class, led by a student insistent that learning history is pointless, as well as with memories of her own mother and others who rejected history in various ways.

\”Wind Will Rove\” is a meditation on history and the way our understanding of it changes over time and generations.  Using as an allegorical standin the evolving, branching lineage of a folk song – the lost original, \”Windy Grove\”, its offshoots \”Wind Will Rove\”, \”Wendigo\”, \”When I Go\”, and later interpretations like the hip-hop remix \”Wild Will Roam\” – Pinsker contemplates the meaning of history and the way each generation understands it anew.  The themes of the story will feel very familiar to anyone who\’s spent time thinking about the musical Hamilton and how it fits into the dialogue of American history, as a reinterpretation of past events in a modern context that makes them more accessible while simultaneously (and, in my opinion, unavoidably) eliding parts of them that don\’t fit into the narrative for various reasons.

This is the second story of Pinsker\’s that I\’ve read for the Hugo ballot this year, and while my sample size is tiny so far, I\’m definitely getting a sense that the ambiguous, open-ended conclusion is a distinctive aspect of her style of writing.  In both cases, she\’s ended the story at a pause from which it could proceed in any number of directions, and suggesting to the reader several possible ways the story could continue without dictating any of them with certainty.

3. \”The Secret Life of Bots\”, Suzanne Palmer

This was one of the novelettes on my nominating ballot (and in fact the only one to make it on to the final ballot).  I still like it quite a bit!  It\’s the story of a bot aboard a spaceship assigned to investigate a biological infestation.  9 is the oldest bot on the ship, and a little unusual by the standards of its younger comrades, but its different perspective and multipurpose functionality enables it to employ some unique problem-solving in addressing the intruder.

\”The Secret Life of Bots\” is filled with gentle humor as well as a dose of adventure and a variety of mostly sympathetic bots.  It\’s a cute story, and it succeeds at portraying the bots\’ perspective as an interesting counterpoint to our more usual human outlook; the places where the human and bot approaches to the problem come into conflict are particularly rich sources of both humor and drama.

4. \”A Series of Steaks\”, Vina Jie-Min Prasad

The story is set in an ambiguously near future where 3-D printing of biological matter is possible.  Extruded food is perfectly edible, but many people still care that their fancy beef comes from an actual cow.  Helena Li Yuanhui produces counterfeit meat to try to earn enough money to escape her life and past misfortune.  Then, someone who knows her past blackmails her into taking on an impossible job…

The unmarked transitions between the main story and the handful of flashbacks detailing Helena\’s backstory were a little confusing, but those flashbacks also helped to establish setting and background with a minimum of expository narration.  \”A Series of Steaks\” was a fun, quick story, with sympathetic characters and a satisfying ending.

5. \”Children of Thorns, Children of Water\”, Aliette de Bodard

I have been curious about Aliette de Bodard\’s Dominion of the Fallen series for a while, but for whatever reason never got around to reading House of Shattered Wings, the first novel in the series.  So unlike some readers, I went into this story – set between the first and second novels – completely new to the world.  This made the opening scenes a little disorienting, but the author did an excellent drop of dropping just enough bits of detail and explanation here and there that I was able to piece together the context in which the story took place.

The meaning of the story itself, on the other hand, I feel like I don\’t entirely get.  At the surface level the plot was relatively straightforward – Hawthorn House is testing servants to hire (and potential future members of the House), and a couple members of a rival faction intend to take the opportunity to infiltrate the House.  But beyond that, there seemed to be a lot of important details of politics and the meaning of the House within which the story takes place, and while I could tell they were there I couldn\’t really make much sense of them on their own..  The conclusion of the story looked to me to be primarily about setting up the main character for future plot complications.  Overall, while I am definitely intrigued (and will probably be picking up House of Shattered Wings soon), this story just didn\’t do much for me as a standalone novelette.

6. Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time\”, K.M. Szpara

This novelette juxtaposes the concept of vampirism with life as a transgender individual.  Unlike in many vampire stories, here the vampires are known to exist and live more or less openly in society, but with their behavior strictly regulated and often relegated to the corners of society all the same.  This slightly unusual approach to the setting enables discussion of transgenderism on multiple levels.  It\’s not that the medical establishment doesn\’t know vampires exist, for example, but rather that vampirism is a complication to normal medical issues, and one that most doctors will not address, being unqualified to do so, or unwilling to even bother, or both.  Thus also with being transgender.  The bureaucratic issues and society\’s general distrust compounds more fundamental issues of feeling betrayed by one\’s own body and struggling to gain any control over it.

Unfortunately, the story\’s approach to feeling a lack of agency included multiple scenes of actual violations of bodily autonomy, which seemed to get smoothed over far more easily than I felt was warranted.  Perhaps there\’s some additional aspect to the story\’s subject matter that I\’m missing here, but the shrug-and-move-on approach to those violations left a bad taste in my mouth.

Review: Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

\"\"Raven Stratagem is the second book in Yoon Ha Lee\’s excellent \”Machineries of Empire\” series.  The first book, Ninefox Gambit, was nominated for the Hugo last year, and I put it at the top of my ballot.  I admired Lee\’s inventive science-fiction mechanics – the \”exotic effects\” enabled by the particular configuration of the local calendar, as well as by the positional formation of troops in battle – as well as the use of game design and its pedagogical capabilities as a plot point, and the sympathetic protagonist and her mathematical genius…

The first book did a lot of worldbuilding, about not only the mathematically-driven nature of the world but also the political intrigue proceeding in the background; the second book takes all that setup and runs with it.  Ninefox Gambit\’s core theme of the hard choices made in war is carried through, of course, but Raven Stratagem dares to contemplate the possibility of another way – if not peace, then at least a world in which war isn\’t quite so terrible.

Raven Stratagem also expands the core cast of characters beyond Kel Cheris, the protagonist of the first book, and Shuos Jedao, the brilliant yet insane ghost that had been attached to her.  The narrative of Ninefox Gambit frequently made brief visits to other viewpoints to provide context or show something that Cheris and Jedao could not have directly observed.  Raven Stratagem is built almost entirely around other viewpoints, and while Cheris/Jedao still acts as the central figure in the story, we get very little time inside their shared head for most of the story.  I recognize that it was an extremely effective choice for the story, but nevertheless, this was probably my least favorite aspect of the book – I really enjoyed seeing how Cheris and Jedao thought about things in Ninefox Gambit.

On the other hand, the new characters we get in exchange are nearly as good.  Kel Brezan has a unique perspective on the Kel by virtue of his ability to resist orders from his superiors, something that most of the Kel are conditioned to be literally unable to do.  Kel Khiruev\’s conditioning is working as intended, but she faces her own set of moral quandaries and trust issues in figuring out how to serve under a person she knows only as a traitor and a madman.  Shuos Mikodez, the hexarch of the Shuos faction, is an oddly warm character for all of his merciless plotting.

Ninefox Gambit grabbed my attention in part with its flashy, weird concepts of technology.  Possibly it\’s because I was already familiar with it, but Raven Stratagem seems to calm down on that front a little bit, focusing a lot more on the relationships between the characters and the conflicts they create as they each pursue their own goals.  It\’s a more mature story in that way, and ultimately a more engaging one, particularly as it\’s easy to see two characters come into conflict and still sympathize with both of them.  There are very few places where there\’s an obvious right side and wrong side to a fight, and seeing the characters grapple with that concept as well makes for thoughtful and occasionally challenging reading.

As with the first book in the series, Raven Stratagem ends up at the top of my Hugo ballot this year.  It\’s a tough field, and I think a good argument could be made for any of the six nominees being the most deserving of the rocket, but I really do hope that Yoon Ha Lee gets some more recognition for the richly detailed and thought-provoking series he\’s put together.  (And if not this year, well, I suspect we\’ll be seeing the concluding volume Revenant Gun on the ballot next year as well…)

My final Best Novel ballot:

  1. Raven Stratagem, Yoon Ha Lee
  2. Six Wakes, Mur Lafferty​
  3. The Stone Sky, N.K. Jemisin
  4. Provenance, Ann Leckie
  5. New York 2140, Kim Stanley Robinson
  6. The Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi