Discussion · Miscellaneous

Looking at Three Years of Search Terms

Yesterday I saw imyril @There’s Always Room For One More‘s post about Blog Stats and Search Terms, so I thought: why not discover what mysteries my search terms hold? I’ve had this blog for three years, which means that by now I have a big enough list of them that there’ll probably be something… interesting in there. In this case, “interesting” usually means “I have no idea of why that brought you to my blog, but thanks?”.


Most Mentioned

#1

Tthe first surprise was that the books that brought more people to my blog aren’t at all the books I talk about most often; in fact, my most popular review in terms of views, the one my search terms mentioned the most, is of a YA mystery from 2018 I barely remember reading: People Like Us by Dana Mele. As with most of my reviews from 2018, I kind of hate it and can’t tell if I’d agree with anything I wrote in it now, but if you want to see how far I’ve come, it’s here.

If you read my posts fairly often: did you even know I had read this book? Because I kind of forgot about it until now. Still, I like that this happened with a book about lesbians and murder, at least that’s appropriate to what kind of blog this is. Now, let’s see if I can understand why this happened.

Most Common PLU Search Entries:

kay people like us” = Kay is the main character; in my review, I stated that she has “the personality of a drying puddle”, so I’m not surprised I forgot everything about the book. However, several people found her interesting enough to look her up on the internet, so I may be wrong.

people like us book ending explained“, “people like us book ending“, “people like us book spoilers” = there are at least ten different iterations of this in my search terms, several of which potentially spoiler-y. Which is odd, because I didn’t think it was that ambiguous of an ending? In any case, they’re coming to the wrong blog, because the scene that is considered ambiguous isn’t mentioned in the review and I… don’t remember it happening.

I’m surprised so many people were looking for answers! It’s more popular than I thought, which is a positive thing, given that this is after all a very morally gray sapphic story.

#2

The second most-mentioned book? Way more on brand: This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. I mean, it makes sense: it’s a book I liked and talked about a decent amount of times, it’s not easy to understand by any means, and it has won/been nominated for several awards. And, again, murder lesbians! I’m glad the internet recognizes this about me, at least.

Something that likely helped my review of this in getting so many views is its title, which includes the word “discussion”: I think many people finished this book looking for answers or for things to make more… tangible sense than they do (they don’t and you have to live with it! I love that about this book). While I do talk about my interpretation of the ending in my “discussion”, I mainly wrote it to draw parallels with a novelette with similar themes, That Game We Played During the War by Carrie Vaughn (one of my favorites ever), so I don’t know how helpful it was. Sorry for the unintentional clickbait?

Some of the Time War Search Entries

this is how you lose the time war discussion questions“, “this is how you lose the time war book club questions” = interesting! Maybe the discussion part of my post could be useful for this, I don’t know. By the way, if you’re reading this for a book club, definitely also read the Carrie Vaughn novelette. It’s way simpler and shorter but it’s on that topic.

this is how you lose the time war explained” = …this is the wrong book for explanations. No answers, only interpretation?

this is how you lose the time war summary” = oh, good luck with this one too.

this is lose time war” = I mean, I get it. This is pretty much how my own English felt like to me after I finished the book.

Miscellaneous Search Entries

And now we get to the very chaotic rest of the list!

From Villain Fans

I know this is all because of my How I Fell in Love With Villains, in Five Steps post and I love that it’s happening. This is my niche!

villians in love” = aw. Definitely try The Ascent to Godhood and The Stars Are Legion, and if you find that you don’t clash with the writing style, please please read The Machineries of Empire to get to Revenant Gun. It’s going to be the best kind of horrible.

villain as romantic love interest fantasy books” = I think the most romantic of my villain recs is The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard + its spin-off specifically focusing on that couple, Of Dragons, Feasts, and Murder.

books with redeemed villain romance” = I don’t really go there. If it’s not evil I don’t want it? Still, I get why that might be necessary to have a capital-R Romance (so, happy ending instead of my personal “one murders the other” fave ending). Maybe Spinning Silver might fit this? But it’s not exactly a redemption arc. And neither is Mo Dao Zu Shi, but I think it might appeal to people who are interested in villain-related tropes but very much want a happy ending

Looking For Recs

gay urban fantasy” = not as easy of a rec as I’d like because it’s not a popular genre right now, but I think Aliette de Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen could fit this.

tor.com novellas” = some that should definitely get more attention are Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney and the Persons Non Grata series by Cassandra Khaw! And, in general, I think the quality of the imprint is pretty high, so I’d recommend most of them.

ya books that deserve the hype and those that don’t 2019” = love the “those that don’t” part! Anyway: two 2019 YA books that deserved all the hype were The Weight of the Stars and With the Fire on High; two that didn’t were Girls of Storm and Shadows and House of Salt and Sorrows.

The Confused or Confusing Ones

alien assassin’s convenient wife” = …um. I’ll leave that role to someone else?

amazon” = this isn’t weird per se but I have no idea of how it got several people here; I avoid buying there if I can help it and I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this name on this blog before now.

onyebuchi n solomon” = the way this is written and the fact that there seem to be facebook results from googling this makes me think they weren’t looking for authors Tochi Onyebuchi and Rivers Solomon. Sorry? (You Should Still Read The Deep)

Looking For Clarifications

spin the dawn lgbt” = they’re about to be very disappointed, because that was one of the straightest books I’ve read last year – and it also had a cis-woman-crossdressing plotline, with all the implications going with that.

how does the book final draft by riley redgate end” = in the best possible way! trust me 🙂 [no, seriously, I don’t think it could have ended any better.]

queens of innis lear trans princess” = I guess it depends on your interpretation? It’s fake-medieval fantasy, so the characters don’t really have the words for it, but I guess you could say that. I choose not to because if it is canon, it buried its only trans character, who also has no personality apart from being brutal. [and, in any case, if that character is trans, the word you’re looking for is “prince”.]

s a chakraborty pronunciation names” = I can’t help – how does one even write down pronunciation anyway? – but what I can say is that I really liked the audiobook, so if you’re curious that could be a way?

Overall

This was… interesting and mostly unexpected. Outside of these categories, I was really glad to see several mentions of The Dark Beneath the Ice! That’s a book I want more people to find. And a lot of people found me by searching Arkady Martine, too, which is more expected than most things on this list.


What is the weirdest thing in your Search Terms section? What are you known for in the internet’s judgment?

Adult · Discussion · Sci-fi

On the Importance of Queer Worlds

As queer SFF moves from an once-in-a-while presence – seen at the same time as a weird curiosity and a revolutionary statement – to something of which we get several dozens of new titles every year, I’m seeing more and more discussions regarding the role of anti-queer bigotry in those titles, and whether it should be playing one at all.

As everything I often see on twitter, this is not a new discussion, and if you’re around in queer SFF circles at all, you’ve probably seen it many times; you might especially have seen a push for stories in which queerphobia Just Isn’t A Thing. Since I love talking about worldbuilding, I thought I’d give my opinions on this anyway.

(With footnotes. Who would have thought.)

What Is A Queer World, And Why It Matters

When I talk about SFF worlds in which various forms of anti-queer bigotry aren’t a thing, or as I will call them in this post, “queer worlds”, I don’t mean what is often phrased as “a story in which the characters just happen to be queer”, because bigotry is not a surface-level thing born from nowhere, and you can’t expect to do away with it and leave everything the same¹. For clarity, I’ll say that the “just happen” category is what I’d call “books with no on-page queerphobic aggressions”: for example, you can write books set in the contemporary US with no on-page queerphobic aggressions, but you can’t write a “queer world” book, because the society in the US has homophobia, transphobia and other connected forms of bigotry embedded in it.

I want to talk about those SFF worlds in which the author tried to portray a society completely different from our own, in which queerness isn’t only “not an issue” but an integral part of the worldbuilding.

I sometimes see worldbuilding dismissed as something secondary, not that interesting, something “white dudes who write adult fantasy are obsessed with” (seriously)², but worldbuilding isn’t so much the background of a story as it is the foundations of it. It’s vital, and in a genre that is as much about how thing are as it is about how things could be, imagining stories in which there is no place for homophobes, transphobes, other assorted bigots and the structures they support/are supported by has its own weight. So much about our notion of “important queer stories” is about “stories rooted in queer pain” (especially marketing-wise), but as an actual queer person, they aren’t the most important to me³.


The First Time I Read About One…

I remember reading the short story Extracurricular Activities by Yoon Ha Lee, a prequel to Ninefox Gambit, back in early 2017. That was my first encounter with a queer world. And when I read that short story – weeks before I could get my hands on the book – I knew that the novel would be a favorite. What are made-up worlds for if not to completely do away with homophobia, make polyamory the norm, and write an all-queer series about villainous geniuses trying to outsmart each other? I don’t think I can explain what Ninefox Gambit did to “used to only find gay people almost only in issue books” 17-year-old me, but I’m not surprised it has occupied my brain ever since.

I remember that when I read that short story, I kept getting stuck on the details. It has a short-story appropriate worldbuilding, but there was so much about it, stuff that maybe was only mentioned in passing, that just made me go you can do that? you can just do that??, like Shuos Meng and their five-people marriage; I didn’t even know polyamory could be a thing back then.

The novel was even more of a revelation because of 1) it being half written in what I call “realistically mimicking sciencespeak”, a form of communication I kind of grew up with and was therefore close to, and for 2) the way it… let queer people be evil. I know, that sounds paradoxical, but what I usually heard even only about cis gay people was:

  • “gays go to hell” – nuns in Catholic middle school
  • “homophobia is bad, some gay people are perfectly normal™” – my family
  • “gay people are gross. I’m not homophobic, I’m just old school” – high school math teacher, during a math lesson
  • “gay teens aren’t allowed to have flaws. If you’re a lesbian you don’t even get a personality” – queer YA written for the straight gaze
  • “this is a gays only event!! also flawed lgbt people are freaks and created homophobia and asexuals are the source of our oppression” – tumblr in 2016

Lovely times! Anyway, Machineries of Empire was the first time I saw only queer/trans people at the center of a story… and many of them were very competent, compelling, evil people. There was no trying to appeal to homophobes’ morality, no fears of “making us look bad”, no attempt at saying that “actually, we’re normal people too!” because the book didn’t even bother to, it was queer and it was weird and it was gloriously abnormal.
To write a queer world is to disregard bigots’ reality, which I think we should do more often, but also, you know what? Queer villains are very sexy and that’s reason enough.


Some of My Favorite Examples

Something queer worlds are great for is also examining preconceived notions about gender, especially in the context of gender essentialism and gender roles. The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley has a cast made up only of women and it’s one of the most gory, brutal things I’ve ever read, which was surprisingly refreshing – taking male characters out of the picture entirely really makes you notice the way female characters almost never get to be written, and you also get so many lesbians. [Again, the F/F/F love triangle with the villainess sex scene was the best part, because queer villains >> everything else]

Temper by Nicky Drayden has some of the most imaginative, vivid and plain out weird worldbuilding I’ve ever read. Among the many things that set it apart: in this society, there are 3 genders one can be assigned at birth (kigen for intersex people, who are very common, female, male) – and it also features a trans side character in this context. Temper isn’t many people’s concept of “queer book”, as far as I remember the mc isn’t queer, but the world certainly is – and I mean, as a whole this is a story about how being assigned some role at birth that doesn’t reflect you sets you up for a lot of struggles. [This is so underrated. Please read it.]

I want to point out that by “queer world” I don’t necessarily mean “queer utopia”: for example, in stories like the Tensorate by JY Yang, while homophobia doesn’t exist and children get to choose which gender to be confirmed as (before that, everyone uses they/them for them), most of this series is set in a strictly binarist society – you’re expected to either choose to be a man or a woman, and the Tensorate explores the life of non-binary characters in that situation. It’s really interesting to read stories about places with biases completely different from our own, with completely different bigoted ideas backing them. If you’re even marginally interested in queer worlds and haven’t read these yet, what are you doing? [By the way, The Ascent to Godhood is also a queer villainess story!]

But what if we want to talk about utopian narratives? Pet by Akwaeke Emezi is the only one I can think of, and it’s about a young Black trans girl with selective mutism discovering what it means for her “utopia” (mostly-utopia? As usual, it’s complicated) to have monsters. A beautiful story portraying a future America without transphobia and other kinds of discrimination (and no billionaries or police either!), and still not what I’d define a light book. This is the only YA on the list, because I couldn’t think of any others – YA seems to find the kind of worldbuilding necessary to lay down a queer world to be too much.

I read Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie later than many of the books on this list, but its success likely paved the way to them. In this trilogy, the characters in the Radch either don’t seem to have a concept of gender, or have a radically different one from ours; the narrator refers to everyone as “she” to translate this situation. Reading it is also an experiment in exploring your biases, if you catch yourself thinking of someone with different pronouns by accident. If you haven’t read it but the thought of backlist discourages you, I can say that it’s also an incredibly compelling story and I remember never wanting to put it down.


Footnotes! Not Sorry This Time Either
¹

Or, you could! Many successful authors of queer SFF do this. I also think it’s a very boring approach and makes the worldbuilding inherently inconsistent. You can’t have a society that is exactly like our own (or, exactly like Medieval France or Edwardian England… you get the point) just with no homophobia. That’s not how things work, but it’s common in US publishing because the idea that you can take an aesthetic and some of its core elements outside of its overall context is a popular one in all its aspects – I’m wondering if this is yet another side effect of seeing your society as the default and therefore not being able to see the parts that make it what it is, or what it’s a consequence to. This is the same fault that leads to hilarious things like books pitched as “a desert society inspired by 16th century Florence”, but then I remember that stuff like that really can get published.

²

Counterpoint: it is true that worldbuilding the way Men Have Done It is often used to gatekeep what does and doesn’t qualify as “good worldbuilding”. My post On Rules and Magic Systems was a somewhat sideways attempt at tackling part of that (oh really Brandon Sanderson writes the most realistic magic systems… according to writing advice popularized by Brandon Sanderson. Revolutionary!), but I really should have framed it in a larger context: I’m so tired of seeing unconventional worldbuilding – especially when from marginalized authors – be dismissed. Still, acting like focusing a lot on worldbuilding is a white man’s thing does a disservice to them too.

³

I’m sure I’m not the only one, and yet I’m sure that’s not necessarily true for everyone else, and more than anything I will never push for designing one type of story as the most progressive, empowering and uplifting kind of queer or want to participate in similar tiresome endeavors. One can’t on the surface push for diversity but deep down want all queer people to fit into one box.


What are your favorite queer worlds? Have you read any of these?

Discussion · Fantasy

On Rules and Magic Systems

May is Wyrd and Wonder month! What best time there could ever be for talking about what I like about magic in books?

(It will have footnotes. I’m preemptively sorry.)

Before I started reviewing, I wanted to write¹. I cared very much about writing a Good and Original Fantasy Novel, so I spent a lot of time reading fantasy writing advice on the internet. A lot of it was bad and I recognized it as such (don’t describe your character’s appearance because it doesn’t matter anyway? Yeah, no), and a lot of it was bad but I’m only recognizing that as I read more fantasy.


Rules? In My Magic System?

In those circles, there seemed to be very specific ideas about how one should write magic. Five and more years later, I’m realizing that I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of things I thought were necessary then.

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to understand everything about how the magic works. Which seems to be the main point on which me and internet writing advice disagree more every year, as I read more and more SFF with magic systems that go first in a completely wacky direction and then on my favorites list.

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Let’s first get one thing out of the way: having a kind of magic that is weird, incomprehensible, or mostly unexplained for various reasons, doesn’t mean that the author will use said uncharted and unexplained territory to get a character out of a bad situation. That’s lazy writing and I’m not interested in it, and I think that’s the main reason at first I thought I didn’t like undefined magic systems: because I was reading a lot of fantasy that exploited the loopholes. I specifically remember having a problem with the magic in Caraval because the limits were never established, but would I have had a problem with that had the author not used magic so much to push the story along? Probably not. It isn’t about breaking the rules, it’s about using “magic” as a plot point instead of having the characters make meaningful decisions. As long as the characters do that, you can spare the reader the tedious explanations that manage to take the magic out of magic.

The thing is, realistically, one can fully explain a magic system in a satisfactory way only if that magic system is relatively simple, sometimes simple enough in a way that just doesn’t ring true to me. It might be that I have the perspective of someone studying natural sciences: in ecology, a major issue is exactly trying to describe things with rules or mathematical models, as more often than not, when it comes to more than large-scale patterns, ecosystems just won’t have it. (*points at pond* this bad boy can fit so many variables in it.) Enough that we dedicated a part of the course specifically to idiosyncrasy².

42036538

So why are the mechanisms behind magic easier to understand than the mechanisms behind everyday non-magical things? If anything, it should be the opposite. I love the kind of SFF in which there’s very clearly an entire field dedicated to studying magic, and had a great time while reading Gideon the Ninth, in which the main character, a non-necromancer surrounded by necromancers, mostly understands nothing³ (and as a result, the reader’s idea of how the magic works is extremely vague) but the story still works. All we need is a very vague idea of the limits of what magic can attempt, and then we can go from there. No more explaining, I’m trying to have fun here.

Very predictably for me, I’ve always been drawn to magic that didn’t have clear rules4; in the past, I just thought that had to mean I wasn’t very critical about fantasy. Now that I always find enough reasons to complain about pretty much everything, I doubt that was the issue; if anything, there was a flaw in the idea that things can only be good if done in a very specific way. I’d much rather have a complete mess than same old elemental magic with very clear-cut rules any day, and that has always been true. (As usual, my principle for worldbuilding is “I’d rather be confused than bored”).

I’ve seen the Sanderson-coined idea of hard vs. soft magic systems, and I have a lot of doubts about that, because my reaction to the clear division between hard and soft science is already *stares in natural sciences student*, but I especially disagree with the idea that hard magic systems are for realism5 and a softer magic system’s main point would be to cause a sense of wonder in the reader. No, to me is important that the magic feels real and believable, not akin to a set of rules I could find in the explanation sheet of a board game.

But the thing is, this is a preference. I prefer the weird, unpredictable kind of magic, but I’ve never found myself thinking that a book was badly written for having neatly defined rules. Then why do we feel fine with talking about different, more unusual kinds of magic as if they were flaws or “bad writing”?

I also think a lot of authors and writing advice approach fantasy worldbuilding as if the readers needed to use the magic themselves – and it might be useful for the author to know the limits (and maybe, though not necessarily, the workings behind) more in detail. But the reader doesn’t need to, stories don’t have that constraint, and I think that’s great: you get a chance to have fun, be realistic and go with full chaos.


It Has Footnotes!

¹ it’s not that now I don’t, but then bilingualism happened, or it happened too late for it to actually work, and things got messy. Currently, I’m at the very desirable stage of being bad at not one but two languages!

² the TL;DR of idiosyncrasy in ecology: hoping to predict how an ecological community  will respond to something basing yourself on what you’ve seen in another place? Oh, good luck with that.

³ when the other characters talk about thanergy and Gideon says “that’s death juice” = accurate equivalent of the kind of sciencespeak-to-Italian translation I constantly do in my head around physicists. (Due to life circumstances, I’m often around physicists.) This is the kind of hard-hitting realism SFF needs!

Uprwoordpres4 irrelevant hill I’m willing to die on: the magic system in Uprooted was perfect as it is, how could it be any different – what, do we want plant magic to work according to easily understandable rules? When it’s about plants? *Flashback to botany course* oh I would love to get some of those easily understandable, always true rules for real plants

5 The wikipedia page on this topic says that magic systems with clear costs and limitations, of which the reader understands the inner workings, make the story feel more realistic. I think that’s quite simply wrong. There are so many things in our everyday life we don’t fully understand the workings or sometimes even limits of, and yet we use anyway. (*looks at computer.*) I don’t know what it says about my life exactly, but I find a general feeling of ignorance and lack of convenient explanation behind something more real than something that can be easily explained in two paragraphs.


What do your favorite magic systems have in common?

Discussion

Hugo Finalists 2020: Thoughts

As you might or might not know, depending on how much you’ve been following this blog and my goodreads, I love writing posts in which I talk about award finalists (here, for example, are last years’ Hugos); this time, however, I’ve also challenged myself to read as many of the finalists as possible before writing this post, so that I could write it with a more well-rounded opinion.

I love this kind of challenge because:

  • more than anything, it helps me discover new short fiction and sometimes new short fiction authors. The problem with short fiction is that there’s a lot of it but pretty much all of it gets very little visibility.
  • it makes me try books I wouldn’t have tried otherwise (sometimes with great results, as it happened this time) with a little more guarantee that the minimum threshold of objective quality won’t be too low.

I will talk about the categories I’m interested in: Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Novelette, Best Short Story, and Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book.


Best Novel

The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders – read, ★★★★½ (review)
Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir – read, ★★★★½
The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley – read, ★★★★ (review)
A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine – read, ★★★★★ (review)
Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire – read, ★★★★★ (review)
The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow – read, ★★½ (review)

I fell in love with this line-up the moment I saw it, because hello, three of my favorite books of last year made it here? That had never happened before, and prompted me to decide that, since I had liked so many of these, I also had to read the two novels I still hadn’t read by then, The City in the Middle of the Night and Gideon the Ninth.

The second was already on my TBR, the first wasn’t (I didn’t love anything I had tried by Charlie Jane Anders so far), but I ended loving them equally for different reasons – one is quiet and introspective, the other is over-the-top and fun; both are really smart books in their own way – and I wouldn’t be surprised to see either of them on my list of favorites at the end of the year.

As far as the books I already read, I’m so glad to see The Light Brigade here. It might not have been a five star read for me, but I still consider it a favorite because of how much it impacted me. Since I didn’t expect it to be here (it has been ignored by most SFF awards so far) it was the best surprise.
There’s only one book I didn’t love: The Ten Thousand Doors of January. I thought it was nothing special overall and had issues with its (incorrect) use of the Italian language.

Then there are two books that ended up on my list of ten best books of 2019: Middlegame, a weird, genre-bending book that made something not at all easy feel easy to follow (something I will never stop appreciating, because that’s difficult, and I’m glad many others agree!) and the masterpiece that was A Memory Called Empire, which talked about language (especially bilingualism) in the context of imperialism in a way I’ve never seen any other book do, and it will forever be important for me because of that and approximately a hundred other reasons.

For how much I’m glad that this shortlist had so many books I loved on it, it’s also an all-white list, which is a huge step back when compared to previous years and doesn’t reflect the genre accurately at all. Off the top of my head, Gods of Jade and Shadow should really have been here! I’m glad it’s in the Nebula line-up, at least.

Predicted winner: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
What I want to see win: this is hard and I’d be really happy with… all of them but one? But my answer is A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, my favorite book of last year.

Best Novella

Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom, by Ted Chiang – maybe
The Deep, by Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes – read, ★★★★ (review)
The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark – read, ★★★★★ (review)
In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire – read, ★★★★★ (review)
This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone – read, ★★★★★ (review)
To Be Taught, If Fortunate, by Becky Chambers – not interested

I really like this lineup as well! First, it’s not all-white, and second, so many of my favorites published in 2019 are here (sadly but expectedly, they don’t include the awesome Desdemona and the Deep nor the crackling finale that was The Ascent to Godhood).

My favorite of these is probably In an Absent Dream – not only I couldn’t see one flaw in the whole novella, I also have a lot of fond memories tied to it because I listened to it in my two best days of last year – but I’d actually prefer to see win The Haunting of Tram Car 015 (the Wayward Children series has already won awards), even though I don’t see it as likely. A more likely This Is How You Lose the Time War win would be a great step for sapphic fiction – as would be The Deep, which I also liked, though not as much as the aforementioned three (so much competition for my heart in these first two categories!)

I didn’t challenge myself to read all nominees in the novella category. Having already tried a lot of Becky Chamber’s works, all of which have managed to annoy me in some way, so I don’t see any purpose to trying To Be Taught, If Fortunate. I also probably won’t be able to read Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom anytime soon, but since Ted Chiang’s stories have been nominated in two categories this year, I’m thinking about trying the anthology Exhalation sometimes in the future, even though I haven’t read anything by this author yet.

Predicted winner: This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
What I want to see win: I’d be really happy about at least other three of these, but probably The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark

Best Novelette

The Archronology of Love, by Caroline M. Yoachim – read, ★★★★★ (review)
Away With the Wolves, by Sarah Gailey – read, ★★★★ (review)
The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye, by Sarah Pinsker – read, ★★ (review)
Emergency Skin, by N.K. Jemisin – probably not interested
For He Can Creep, by Siobhan Carroll – read, ★★★★★ (review)
Omphalos, by Ted Chiang – maybe

46301916I’m so glad to see For He Can Creep here, it’s one of my favorite short fiction piece I read this year – I read it before the finalists were announced, and it’s a story about a demon-fighting cat, full of cat logic! And while reading the other stories, I found another favorite, The Archronology of Love, which is one of the best stories I’ve read in a long while. Painful in the best way, beautifully written, and I love anything related to space archaeology so much.

I didn’t love Sarah Pinsker’s – it wasn’t my kind of horror and I didn’t find it creepy – while I surprisingly quite liked Sarah Gailey’s story about accessibility for a werewolf with chronic pain (…bad track record with the author).

I’m not interested in buying Emergency Skin (it’s not available for free online) because I’ve disliked pretty much all the sci-fi stories in How Long ‘Til Black Future Month, and again, Omphalos is in an anthology I don’t own (yet?).

Predicted winner: Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemisin
What I want to see win: either The Archronology of Love by Caroline M. Yoachim or For He Can Creep by Siobhan Carrol, I consider both of them favorites

Best Short Story

And Now His Lordship Is Laughing, by Shiv Ramdas – read, no rating
As the Last I May Know, by S.L. Huang – read, ★★★★ (review)
Blood Is Another Word for Hunger, by Rivers Solomon – DNF, no rating
A Catalog of Storms, by Fran Wilde – read, ★★★ (review)
Do Not Look Back, My Lion, by Alix E. Harrow – read, ★★★★ (review)
Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island, by Nibedita Sen – read, ★★★ (review)

48594209._sy475_Oh, this was an interesting! I didn’t discover any new favorites like I did in the previous category, but I didn’t hate any of the stories either (unlike last year). I decided to DNF Rivers Solomon’s for reasons unrelated to the quality of the story itself (magical pregnancy) and decided not to rate Shiv Ramdas’ because I have a complicated relationship with fantasy stories based on real tragedies, but that again doesn’t have to do with craft.

My favorites were As the Last I May Know, which engages with a very difficult question with grace, heart, and a lot to say, and Do Not Look Back, My Lion, which was set in one of those queernorm fantasy worlds I will always love, and was the only story I already read before the finalists were announced.

As for A Catalog of Storms and Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island, both of them were really well-written but I didn’t find them particularly memorable.

Predicted winner: And Now His Lordship Is Laughing by Shiv Ramdas
What I want to see win: As the Last I May Know by S.L. Huang

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

Catfishing on CatNet, by Naomi Kritzer – maybe
Deeplight, by Frances Hardinge – maybe
Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee – read, ★★★★★ (review)
Minor Mage, by T. Kingfisher – read, ★★★ (review)
Riverland, by Fran Wilde – probably not interested
The Wicked King, by Holly Black – maybe

My first thought when I saw these nominees was that something had gone really wrong, because only two of these are actually Young Adult NovelsThe Wicked King and Catfishing on CatNet. My second one was that the title of the award probably only means “book that isn’t adult”, which would make more sense, but I still think it’s really interesting how the YA books that interest adults/the adult SFF community (which composes the majority of the voters here for obvious reasons) are radically different from the the favorites of the YA crowd. As usual, I’m not surprised that the adult SFF crowd gets along with middle grade better than with YA (two partial truths: 1. YA is more similar to adult SFF than middle grade, which opens the ground to comparisons that are not in the young adult range’s favor; 2. a significant number of adult SFF readers won’t touch YA for the same reasons they wouldn’t even dream to look at romance, the TL;DR of it being basically the book version of girl cooties).

About these nominees: Dragon Pearl was one of my favorite books of last year, and it has I think a good chance of winning (or maybe not; I don’t know that much about this crowd’s taste in middle grade!), and I read Minor Mage out of curiosity for this post – after all, middle grade novellas go by quickly – but I don’t think T. Kingfisher’s books are for me. Every time I read something of hers, I think it’s cute/charming/somewhat fun but completely forgettable.

While I’m marginally interested in Catfishing on Catnet (because YA with a questioning main character!), Deeplight (I’ve never read anything by Frances Hardinge and anything involved with deep seas sounds vaguely interesting, even though I’ve never heard anything about this book) and The Wicked King (this is mostly curiosity due to the hype; I hate bully romances and this is very much one), I’m not particularly drawn to any of them. I may or may not read some of them before the winners are announced, I don’t know. And as I haven’t loved anything I have read by Fran Wilde and haven’t heard much about Riverland, I’m mostly uninterested in it.

Predicted winner: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
What I want to see win: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Between Catfishing on Catnet, Deeplight and The Wicked King, which one do you think would be more worth reading?


What did you think of this year’s finalists? Have you read any of them?

Book review · Discussion · Short fiction

Short Fiction Time #4: Growing Out of YA? (And More)

Welcome to the fourth post in my Short Fiction Time series! This series will include both reviews of short fiction and space dedicated to thoughts and discussions surrounding it/prompted by it.

This time, I will:

  • review all the short fiction I read in April, 14 stories (…yes I ended up reading a lot of short stories) which include 5 Hugo Award finalists.
  • review a YA anthology
  • talk about my current relationship with YA books and what said YA anthology made me understand about it

Recent Reads

Short Fiction

I read a lot of short fiction this month (short stories are so underrated and yet are doing so much and I love this format a lot) so I decided to implement emoji tags for clarity:

  • the 2020 Hugo finalists I review in this post are marked with a 🚀
  • while I recommend most of these, my new favorites are marked with 🌠

51175276._sy475_St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid by C.L. Polk (Tor.com): a bittersweet sapphic story involving magical beekepers that has an atmosphere of inevitability to it, the cost of it all looming in the distance until the end. It only makes sense that tarot reading is featured in it – so much of this story in some way involves fate – and that its title names three saints closely associated with bees. Bees as a legacy that keeps drawing you in. There’s something mysterious about it, too, because the story doesn’t tell you anything more than what you need to understand it; it doesn’t have one word out of place. I really liked it.

Escaping Dr. Markoff by Gabriela Santiago (The Dark): sometimes if you explore the motivations of the unimportant side character you get something far more interesting that the original story! This is about the horror movie Female Assistant who is in love with the Mad Scientist, and it plays with these stock characters by following someone whose only characteristic is usually the obsession for and the total devotion to the male Mad Scientist. And maybe, if you give a character the space to be something more, the story might break in very interesting ways (involving erotic and queer twists, because why not). Fun and meta and really smart – I’d probably get even more out of this if I knew anything about horror movies, but we know that’s not possible – and wow, was that An Ending.
I found it because of Hadeer’s wrap-up, so thank you!

29387827._sy475_The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho (not for free online): not my favorite from Zen Cho, also because I was told it was an f/f romance, and while it has sapphic characters, I wouldn’t describe it as such – not like I would with If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again. Still, it was a lovely read. It’s set in hell, where the main character – a Malayan girl named Siew Tsin – has been forced to marry a man; now the man has taken yet another wife, a terracotta wife. It’s a light, smart story about personhood and waking up from a paralyzed state of mind, with really interesting details in the worldbuilding and a lot of heart; I wish I could have had more of a sense of who the characters were.

A Catalog of Storms by Fran Wilde (Uncanny) 🚀: about a world in which the line between emotion and the weather is very thin, and maybe natural disasters are something more than a natural disaster, and sometimes the people are part of the weather and the weather is people. The lines in here are air-thin and it’s a story about family, about leaving or staying – and sometimes those things are their own kind of storm too. Don’t expect it to make too much sense, it’s one of those ambiguous/symbolic stories I talked about in my last short fiction time. I really liked the writing and the weirdness of it all, but it didn’t stay with me emotionally.

48594209._sy475_As the Last I May Know by S.L. Huang (Tor.com) 🚀: in this world, to use a weapon of mass destruction, the president has to kill a child himself.
This story follows the child, Nyma, and it’s about costs, the necessity of making something unimaginably difficult vs the overwhelming pressure that wars can put on a country, and as a story it doesn’t give you a clear answer about which path is worse. It has some beautiful poetry in it as well. The worldbuilding is very vague (and let’s just say that calling something “the Order” won’t help me take it seriously), but for the most part that wasn’t a problem. Powerful, hearbreaking, and thought-provoking.

The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny) 🚀: so far I haven’t found any of Sarah Pinsker’s short fiction to be particularly memorable, even though all of them are solid stories, and this one was no exception – a horror novelette about a mystery author who decides to write her new novel in an isolated cabin. The horror comes from a very unexpected place given the set-up (the premise sounds cliché? It’s not), which was clever, but I didn’t find this creepy at all – it was kind of boring, but horror is very hit-or-miss for me. Mostly a story about the importance of a good assistant.

51dwoeoslsl._sx284_bo1204203200_The Archronology of Love by Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed) 🌠🚀: new favorite. I love reading about space archaeology – the whole “the past of the future” set-up really appeals to me – and this was also a very emotional story on a human level. About grief and the subjectivity of memory, what is lost in the act of remembering, the love and understanding that are gained, the pain that slowly loses its edge but never quite stops hurting; about how destruction is so often tied with discovery. Everything related to the Chronicle technology was so interesting, and so was the answer to the mystery (mysterious mass death!). Also, women in science and side relevant gay couple.

Away With the Wolves by Sarah Gailey (Uncanny) 🚀: I thought I would never read anything by Sarah Gailey again after how angry one of their short stories made me last year (STET, which tried to tackle a heavy, ecology-related topic with so much ignorance it was appalling) but since they got nominated for the Hugo again, here I am. And… I finally liked something written by this author! It was my fifth try. Anyway, this is a story from the Uncanny special issue about disabled people in fantasy, and it’s pretty much about accessibility for a werewolf who has chronic pain in her human form, which is a great concept. It had one (…and then two) really heartwarming female friendships, a happy ending, and the atmosphere was really good as well. Really straightforward, and sometimes that’s exactly what a story needs to be.

52667367._sx318_sy475_Water: A History by KJ Kabza (Tor.com): we don’t get many stories about elderly queer characters, much less in space! This is about an old sapphic woman on an arid planet in which water is the most important thing and going outside the colony is dangerous. About the importance of intergenerational friendships and the risks that make life worth living. It hits in a very specific way when read while on lockdown after a particularly arid spring (that’s why you should research stories before reading them, Acqua), but I didn’t find anything about it particularly remarkable aside from that and I don’t think it will stay with me.

Always the Harvest by Yoon Ha Lee (in the Upgraded anthology, reprinted on Lightspeed) 🌠: Hello! I’m in love. Who knew biopunk horror could be heartwarming? Anyway, this is a weird, sweet romance between two outcasts, and it’s set in a creepy space city that rearranges itself cyclically, has a strong preference for well-intentioned body horror, and is the perfect setting for a story that involves replacing body parts. Gorgeous writing featuring artistic murder, the usual asides of weird for the sake of alliteration that I love so much about Lee’s descriptions (“a pipe, rattling as of librarian lizards realphabetizing their movements”) and the occasional very specific and cursed™ detail (of course tentacles are “ever-popular” as a replacement). Another new favorite; I will never not love stories about cities.

53284124._sy475_Of Roses and Kings by Melissa Marr (Tor.com): queer, fucked up twist on Alice in Wonderland with lots of murder and various other questionable things, because what’s morality in such a place? It really doesn’t hold back and I couldn’t have asked for a better ending, but I have to say that, as with all books that try to make Alice in Wonderland darker, a lot of whimsy is lost in the process, and I miss it. Still here for the unapologetically toxic stories about loyalty, especially since I don’t often get a sapphic version!
(Very predictably of me, I always love when we do. Please give me novels like that!)

Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny): an older story and a Hugo nominee back in 2017, because who said that newest stories should get all the spotlight. Anyway, this is as much about a supernatural (phoenix-like) creature’s revenge as it is about the way stories are always centered and making excuses for rich white men. My overall opinion is that it’s really well-written (as usual for Brooke Bolander) but that there’s such a thing as too straightforward and unsubtle in a short story, and Our Talon Can Crush Galaxies really sits on that limit.

51097037._sy475_If You Take My Meaning by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com) – you probably already know about my new favorite book The City in the Middle of the Night (if not: here’s the review!), and this is set in the same universe. This novelette isn’t going to make any sense without having read the novel, but since I recently did, this was the epilogue I wanted the book to have even though I knew it wouldn’t fit, and it was perfect. The integration with the Gelet is in progress! People mess up and try to reach for the way to right certain wrongs, which also includes more mistakes! More direct digs at Xiosphanti culture and more subtly at America’s worst points! (That line about Xiosphanti believing in repression way more than was healthy or realistic… yes.) So many things are said about culture, understanding, and the importance of community vs the corruption and relative irrelevance of the people in power. And finally we also get some insight into Alyssa’s thoughts, as one of my main disappointments had been that by the end of the book I still felt like I didn’t understand her at all.
Meanwhile I’m wondering whether what this novelette said about love a certain trio is meant to be interpreted as polyamory, a really strong friendship, or neither – because who needs to categorize things in structures that are so singularly unhelpful once one has gone through integration? Anyway, I love that for them and love that they have their priorities in order. (What’s this kind of arrangement for, if not to sleep in a pile like cats? I approve.)

36426163Why They Watch Us Burn by Elizabeth May (Toil & Trouble) – women accused of witchery find power in each other while in their prison; I listened to it on scribd. It wasn’t bad, but I wanted it to be something different from what it was once it turned out to involve religious abuse, because that aspect was used as a prop for the message (an effective-if-unnuanced exploration of how the not-like-other-girls line of thinking is misogynistic and contributes to victim blaming) instead of being explored like something in its own right. I don’t want to read a portrayal of forced penance if you’re not going to do anything with it – I’ve already had enough of that.

 Anthologies

This month’s anthology was Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food and Love, edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond. I read it for free thanks to the scribd free trial: I chose it out of all the anthologies on my TBR because it was the most expensive (12€ for an ebook? No thank you) and as it turns out, that was a good choice – for all the wrong reasons, the main one known as “at least I didn’t pay for this”.
But let me explain why.

35858798Let’s say you’re an editor with some very interesting anthology ideas, and you’re fascinated by these concepts:

🍜 an anthology of interconnected stories that all take place in the same neighborhood at the same time, in which each story is full of tiny references to the others and forms a seamless web that enhances each story’s meaning;
🍜 an anthology that spans across genres, from contemporary romance and horror to gang rivalries and ghost stories and superhero tales, in which stories have little to do with each other in tone and themes and only have a tiny thread (here, food) to tie them together

Then, please, don’t be like Hungry Hearts. Only choose one of the two. If this had stopped at the first of the two points, if it had been an anthology of interconnected contemporary stories all involving food in some way, it could have been so good. I can only describe the result of trying to do cross-genre connected stories as a complete mess.

It doesn’t help that the individual quality of the stories themselves was questionable. While it’s true that I’m realizing that this kind of YA doesn’t work for me as much as it used to, most of these stories were incredibly bland and couldn’t even be saved by the food descriptions.

The only story I loved was The Grand Ishq Adventure by Sandhya Menon, a contemporary story about a girl who decides to go to restaurants alone to face her anxiety, which was wonderful in every aspect, from a beginning that draws you in (the voice in this story was amazing) to a delicious continuation and an ending with a sweet twist. There were other stories that worked, like the bittersweet Rain by Sangu Mandanna, the fiery revenge story Sugar and Spite by Rin Chupeco, and Panadería ~ Pastelería by Anna-Marie McLemore, which was like the dessert at the end of a meal. All of these were contemporaries or contemporaries with a slight magical twist, so that I could believe they coexisted in the same universe, and were well-written. All the other stories were either a boring blur or completely outside of the tone of the rest of the anthology.

I think the editors were going for something that felt not only like a story made by many interconnected parts but also a meal with many courses, and so were trying to get as much variety inside of it as it was possible, but the result was dissonant and messy.
There’s still a lot to love about this, from the diversity to the food descriptions (you really can’t go wrong with those) and especially the celebration of foods that mainstream white, western American society would consider “too weird”, but apart from these things, most of this was forgettable.

My rating: ★★


About Me and the YA Age Range

While reading Hungry Hearts, I started wondering if my lack of interest in it was also tied to me being tired of stories about high schoolers, which I started noticing while trying out series on Netflix. I don’t think I would have liked Hungry Hearts at any point of my life, but even in the stories I liked – with the exclusion of Sandhya Menon’s – I struggled to feel interested in anything they talked about. This is usually not a problem I have with short fiction.

But I do still like YA books, so this doesn’t make sense! I thought.
Then I looked at my reading so far this year, and:

of all the 45 books I’ve read so far this year, only 5 were YA.

I didn’t expect this at all. And yes, that’s counting Hungry Hearts. It’s not like I’m not liking them, not necessarily (there was a 5 star book!), but interestingly most of them were audiobooks, because YA books are easier to follow and less intimidating for me when I started to really try out the format this year. Would I have read any YA had I not wanted to try audiobooks?

I was surprised to find this out, because this was in no way a conscious choice; my TBR is still 50% YA and 50% adult, I’m just avoiding the YA books without even realizing I was doing so.

In a way,  I thought this wouldn’t happen to me. I spent half of my teen years being a mostly-YA reader and following reviewers way older than me – way older than 20 – who read mostly YA; in a way, I grew up knowing that while it prioritizes (or at least, it should prioritize) teens, YA is in fact for everyone, and that sometimes a book’s age range depends more on the publisher’s ideas about effective marketing than on anything about its content. A lot of YA SFF is following characters who are so clearly aged down for marketing reasons that it gets kind of ridiculous.

Still, here I am, 20, tired of YA and yet not even noticing that until I tried some TV shows. But I did DNF several YA books this year, too – I just didn’t think much of it. I’m realizing that the main reason I keep coming back to YA even though it appeals to me less and less is that I don’t quite know where to find what I want in adult fiction, especially the non-SFF part of it, which I should try to explore more.

Also, it’s relevant to mention that in my experience YA-focused content gets a lot of attention on blog posts compared to adult SFF.

So, what does this mean?

  • my main response, since I am who I am, is that my TBR could definitely handle a cut! It makes no sense for it to be half YA when YA books aren’t even a quarter of what I read.
  • I will definitely still be reading YA, at the rate that feels natural to me – I’m not the kind of person who thinks excluding an entire age range from their reading on principle is a good idea. It’s just that the rate at which I reach for YA is currently really low.
  • I probably should face the truth and start considering myself an adult SFF reviewer instead of someone who reviews that and YA in equal amounts, as if I were stuck in 2018. (Thinking back, a lot of my YA reading in 2019 was due to ARCs. Not requesting/barely requesting ARCs anymore is doing a lot for making me understand what I actually want to read and I strongly recommend it.)

Have you read any of these? Has your relationship with an age range category changed over time?

Discussion · Fantasy

On That One Trope In F/F Fantasy

Hello! Today I’m writing a discussion post, something I almost never do, because I’ve read yet another F/F fantasy that featured a very specific but very common trope I hate, so I wanted to talk about it more in depth.

I’ve already mentioned this a few days ago in my short review of Crier’s War, but this is bigger than a single book and it would be unfair to make it about individual authors’ choices; I think it already starts when you look at which F/F fantasy books get acquired.


A Cliché in the Making

So far this year, I’ve read six F/F fantasy novels; in all of them but one, at least one of the two main characters is being pressured or forced to marry a man. As a queer reader of fantasy, I’ve already met this trope many times before, but now it really seems to be everywhere.

As with many clichés, it has roots in reality, in the history and sometimes in the present of sapphic women. Still, just like there’s no need for all our stories to be about facing homophobia, especially in fantasy, I don’t understand why the majority of our fantasy stories need to feature this trope, over and over and over.

We know about publishing’s tendencies not to see marginalized people outside of books whose plot directly concerns their marginalization, and we were seeing a very unsubtle reflection of that a few years ago, when most books about queer characters were still about coming out, conversion camps, and queer pain in general. Things are much better now (it was difficult to see F/F fantasy at all, back then!), but I’m starting to suspect that the prevalence of this trope is nothing more than a subtler version of publishing’s homophobia, of the idea that sapphic women can’t exist in stories that aren’t dealing with the fight against heteronormative pressure.

The idea that sapphic women’s stories, sapphic women’s romantic lives, still have to always revolve around a man.

Because that’s what this is, in the end! I’ve now read several F/F fantasy books in which the main character spends more scenes interacting with the man who really wants to marry her than with her actual love interest (happened in The Winter Duke, happened in Stormsong, happened in Girl Serpent Thorn), and no wonder the actual romances felt underdeveloped. I hope that one day F/F fantasy won’t be full of stories about “smashing the patriarchy” or “fighting against heteronormativity”, that one day our books won’t be important more than anything else; I hope that we just get to be. Still, I’ve even seen this trope in books that don’t have homophobia at all in them, like The Winter Duke and Crier’s War, which was honestly baffling. (Why do so much and yet change so little?)

Now, since I know the internet’s tendency is to polarize, I want to point out that I don’t believe this trope or the books featuring it are “problematic” (I hate this word) or “homophobic”. I obviously find it really annoying, and the prevalence of it is very likely rooted in publishing’s homophobia, but the problem doesn’t lie in the books themselves and I don’t want this post to become yet another reason for those who don’t read F/F books to hate on F/F books or for us queer people to self-police our expression even more. Fiction can be a way to talk about our reality, and the many forms heteronormativity takes are part of it.

I’ve seen this happen so many times: someone talks about an element they have a problem with just because they find it too prevalent in queer books (examples: bi characters in love triangles with a boy and a girl, queer characters in contemporary who avoid labels) but then others turn the argument and use the presence of that element as a starting point to hate on queer books they disliked. No, we shouldn’t be using the language we use to speak out against homophobia to hate on queer books just to validate our preferences. I want to point this out because I know I’ve probably done something similar to some extent in the past, as I learned this way of covering up the insecurities I had about my taste from Tumblr back in 2016. (Fandom discourse thrives on this kind of thinking.)

29774026So: I liked some of the books I read that had this trope (I loved Girl, Serpent, Thorn!); I hated others, sometimes because of this trope, which I would probably find annoying even if it wasn’t so common (preference); I wouldn’t dream to say that any of these books are homophobic, “objectively bad” or doing something bad for the genre. I might not have liked The Priory of the Orange Tree for many reasons (one of them is that Sabran is forced to marry a man and get pregnant, but it’s far from the main one) but the fact that it got translated in my country? That’s a huge step forward, actually.

I think a big part of pushing for diversity is pushing for variety inside diverse stories, for marginalized people not to be relegated to one kind of story all the time until that kind of story has become uncool “problematic” (and then we switch to another subtly bigoted cliché). I want F/F fantasy to be a genre where sapphic women can find all kinds of fantasy stories depending on what they’re looking for that day; where people like me who mostly don’t like to read about queer women in forced marriages can find many books to read anyway. (A great way to start would be not having so many fantasy stories revolve around royalty, but that’s true for the whole genre.)

Also, a shout-out to The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar! It’s a very underrated and gorgeously written F/F fantasy novel that happens to be the only one without this trope I’ve read this year, though it does still revolve around royalty.


What do you think of this trope? Which tropes would you like to see more often or less often in F/F fantasy?

Adult · Book review · Discussion · Short fiction

Short Fiction Time #3: Ambiguous Endings in Fiction (and more)

Welcome to the third post in my Short Fiction Time series! This series will include both reviews of short fiction and discussions surrounding it. In 2019, I wasn’t reading as many short stories and anthologies as I’d like, and this is my attempt to fix that.

This time, I will:

  • review four short stories, including a Nebula finalist and recently published stories by well-known SFF authors like Alix E. Harrow and Yoon Ha Lee;
  • one short story collection from a well-known horror author;
  • talk about ambiguous endings with a focus on short fiction vs novels.

Recent Reads

Short Fiction
  • 46301916For He Can Creep by Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com): this is from a completely new-to-me author; I decided to read it because it’s a Nebula Award finalist. And… it was amazing? It’s about cats fighting the Devil to protect a poet, full of delightful cat logic and very interesting cats (I’m sorry but I want an entire book about Nighthunter Moppet now). It doesn’t take itself seriously at all but it talks about the nature of temptation in a way that doesn’t feel too one-dimensional and yet makes sense even for a cat. I think I would have liked this even more had I been already familiar with Christopher Smart (as usual, everything kind of assumes you already know English classics), but that was interesting to learn anyway.
  • The Sycamore and the Sybil by Alix E. Harrow (Uncanny): this was wonderful, and yet I don’t fully love it. It’s as much of a modern witchy twist on Apollo and Daphne as it is a commentary on how society shapes women to turn our anger inwards, our problems against ourselves, so that we’re pretty much trapped by our own minds. And it’s beautifully written, but there’s something about Harrow’s complete lack of subtlety coupled with the predictable trajectory of the story that makes most of her short stories (and her book) not work for me. It’s just so obvious and there’s not much to take away from the journey. Still, I didn’t think this was bad, and I loved how the author mentioned which kinds of plants she was talking about (that’s the way to go if you’re writing about witches!), even though I spent the first third of the story wondering which kind of tree she actually meant with “sycamore”, since that can mean several wildly different species and I have very weird priorities. (I’m still not sure, by the way.)
  • The Whale Fall at the End of the Universe by Cameron Van Sant (Clarkesworld): this is from the author of one of my favorite short stories, the very trippy Super-Luminous Spiral, so I was immediately intrigued. This is set… around a space whale carcass? And I think the main characters are something like space mermaids (they/them pronouns are used for both). This is kind of sad but it’s also a story about love at the end of the world, so not completely sad? Weird, but this time not a kind of weird that resonated much with me. I don’t really know if I got it.
  • The Mermaid Astronaut by Yoon Ha Lee (Beneath Ceaseless Skies): apparently, this is Space Mermaid week! This is a story about a mermaid who wants to become an astronaut, and it’s about sisterhood, relativity, and the way learning science can shift one’s worldview. Also, now I want a scrimshaw depicting a sacrifice to eldritch gods. Apart from the descriptions, though, this is… not my kind of thing. It’s very sweet, and it reminded me of the flash fiction of The Fox’s Tower and Other Tales in its gentle, unhurried nature (…which one wouldn’t expect if only familiar with Lee’s longer works). However, this is not a flash piece and wouldn’t work as one, and it has no sense of urgency behind it. I would recommend it to fans of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, because they’re somewhat similar in nature (alien space crew!) and because I felt pretty much the same way about them: lovely message, boring story.
Collections

The collection of short stories I read this month was Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. I loved both her memoir In the Dream House (review) and her short story The Lost Performance of the High Priestess of the Temple of Horror (review) in February, so it seemed like a good idea to read this as well.

33375622Some of this was brilliant and daring, some of this really wasn’t, and most of it bored me.

There’s a running thread of unease and alienation in this collection, of things never being quite right, of details that might seem innocent becoming more and more uncomfortable as you look at them. It’s a collection about bodies, especially women’s bodies, representing the impact of the psychological violence against them as a physical manifestation. It forces the reader to look at it, to acknowledge it exists; just because a lot of it is subtler than a punch, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.

The stories are ambiguous and twisted, and there’s enough material and subtext to write pages-long reviews of most of them. But here’s where the issue comes in: I didn’t want to. I didn’t feel drawn to dissect or discuss them, or spend any more time on them. I just wanted this book to be over.

This had to do both with personal taste (this is not my kind of body horror, apparently) and because some parts were frankly overdone.
Let’s take the longest story in this collection, Especially Heinous. My biggest takeaway from it is that litfic-adjacent authors can get away with almost everything and have it praised as an incisive masterpiece, and “everything” includes bad fanfiction. Not only I didn’t care because I didn’t know the show this was rewriting (as it happens with fanfiction), it had nothing new to say – it read like a cheap fever dream with nods at twice-reheated commentary.

There were two stories that I really liked, Real Women Have Bodies, an eerie story about the damaging effects of beauty standards with an f/f relationship at the center, and Eight Bites, about the ways fatphobia and misogyny are tied, and how their impact is seen across generations. Mothers was also a really interesting piece about the double-edged nature of fantasy, but I find myself already forgetting most of what I thought about it apart from my feelings about the writing (those descriptions were… something else. I really have no complaints about the writing).

This is probably the first time the whole was less than the sum of its parts for me: individually, I only actually disliked two stories; together, I found myself thinking that again? a lot. I can’t even say it was repetitive, because it isn’t that, exactly; these stories explore an array of different experiences. It was emotionally monotonous to the extreme, however.

My rating: ★★½


On Ambiguous Endings in (Short) Fiction

As I don’t doubt many others are, I tend to be annoyed by ambiguous endings in novels. Of course, there are a lot of situations in which they can make sense, and giving the readers space to find answers themselves can sometimes be a good thing, but there’s always that undercurrent of… betrayal, in a way: the book took a certain amount of time to set up a question, and the reader dedicated a certain amount of time to reading it, but then the book didn’t give an answer. Of course it can be frustrating, especially when there isn’t going to be a sequel.

Something I realized while reading Her Body and Other Parties is that I don’t feel that way at all when it comes to short fiction. The shorter a story is, the more I appreciate what isn’t said, what is purposefully left out. While I didn’t feel compelled to dissect the stories in that collection – for reasons different from their ambiguity – I did see a lot of parts that would have been perfect for that, and if I had been reading this with others, maybe I would have. I remember having a lot of fun with the more ambiguous parts of Salt Slow just a few months ago. I want to be confused and have something to untangle.

Everyone takes away something different from a novel, it’s the fun part of reviewing; with short fiction, this is true to the extreme. People can read Machado’s short stories and come to a completely different conclusion about what they actually mean, and I’m not even really interested in knowing if there is a real answer, the truth of what the author was trying to say – more in various interpretations and how the reader got there. So, Her Body and Other Parties wasn’t necessarily the most interesting collection to read, but it was a really interesting collection to read reviews of.

I think my feelings on this topic have a lot to do with time, how much time the story required me to spend on it just to finish reading it. If it took me an hour, I’m fine with doing all the work myself, but if it took me three days (so, average book-length), I’m going to feel differently about it.


How do you feel about ambiguous endings? Have you read any of these stories?

Book review · Discussion · Fantasy · Short fiction

Short Fiction Time #2: Reading From People You Disagree With (and More)

Welcome to the second post in my Short Fiction Time series! This series will include both reviews of short fiction and discussions surrounding it. I haven’t been reading as many short stories and anthologies as I’d like, and this is my attempt to fix that.

This time, I will be reviewing four short stories, of which two are Nebula finalists, one short story collection from an acclaimed SFF author, and talk about the importance of reading from people you disagree with.


Recent Reads

Short Stories
  • The Lost Performance of the High Priestess of the Temple of Horror by Carmen Maria Machado (Granta, 2020): I will never forget this. It’s decadent, visceral, and very gory, with a thick, uncomfortable atmosphere. It’s about a messed up relationship between an actress and the young woman who basically becomes her servant, including BDSM and a dynamic that is both toxic and intoxicating. And it certainly doesn’t shy away from the grotesque! (The fantasies about vore, of course, are there just for literary purpose! If you don’t know what that means, please, don’t google it.) The points it makes about sex and violence, about what we see as depraved and oddly don’t, about body horror being something so tied into the feminine… it really is true, when our bodies are the landscapes of everyday horror themselves. I’m currently reading Her Body and Other Parties, but this new story is still my favorite short from Carmen Maria Machado.
  • 26199196Variations on an Apple by Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com, 2015): What if you were in love with a city?
    The Iliad, retold in Yoon Ha Lee’s signature math-fantasy style. Dizzying, wonderfully queer, and suffused with a quieter sadness than one would expect from a story about war, it talks about fate, and the unstoppable potential of human discord. It’s an even more remarkable experience if one is familiar with either Ninefox Gambit or Lee’s game Winterstrike, as some parts of it felt like glancing at those through a distorting glass. Also, of course cities have no concerns for something as human as gender. It’s not my favorite by Yoon Ha Lee (my favorites remain Ghostweight and The Knights of Chains, the Deuce of Stars) but really good nonetheless; some parts almost read like poetry, and the writing is sharp enough to cut.
  • Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare Magazine, 2019): cannibalism, lesbianism, and the othering, oppressive nature of western anthropology all rolled into a short horror story, one told through excerpts of fictional books and articles. Original, and manages to pack a punch in very little space.
  • His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light by Mimi Mondal (Tor.com, 2019): a story about freedom, loyalty and gay love between a human and a jinni set in India. Like the previous one, I tried it because it was announced as a Nebula finalist. I feel like the characters had a lot of backstory I couldn’t see nor feel in this space, and I didn’t feel attached to them as a result, but I did really like the escaping devadasi subplot. Overall, nice, but not that memorable for me.
Collections

40855636In February I read How Long ’til Black Future Month?, a collection of short stories from N.K. Jemisin, an author I’ve had mixed experiences with before. That didn’t change, since this collection was even more of a mixed bag than I’d usually expect. Still, it made me want to at least try both the Dreamblood duology and The City We Became; I don’t have any doubt about her skill, especially when it comes to the writing in itself – there’s hardly a word out of place.

In fantasy, I love her worldbuilding. I now want to read The Killing Moon purely because of how much I liked the world in The Narcomancer; it was so vibrant and atmospheric and intriguing. I also love the way she talks about cities – especially New York and New Orleans. The concept of a city itself having a deep, positive power despite all its flaws is one that appeals to me, and so does reading about the complicated relationships marginalized people have with the place they live in and the other people who live there with them. Of course, The Effluent Engine and The City Born Great were two of my favorites. Jemisin always has a fantastic grasp on atmosphere, which shines in this kind of stories.
Sadly, I don’t seem to get along with her sci-fi stories the same way? This is probably more on me than on her, because while sci-fi is my favorite genre, there are some subgenres of it I really can’t get into (cyberpunk and the like) and several of the sci-fi stories fell into that. The Evaluators was the main exception, and it would have been interesting if the ecology in the story had made any sense.

One particularly low point was L’Alchimista, in which the author attempted to write about Italian characters in real-world Italy without even trying to get the Italian language right.

“Mi scuza”
– N.K. Jemisin, 2006.

…that’s like having an American character apologize by saying “Hi’m sorpy”. You can’t expect your readers to take you seriously while talking about Italian food and politics after you do that! As usual, I’m left wondering what American authors have against putting effort into other languages.
Still, since it was written more than ten years ago, I hope she’d make different choices today and it doesn’t influence my interest in her other works. And I do like how she writes about food when she’s not writing about Italy; I really liked the food witchery  in Red Dirt Witch and what she did in Cuisine des Mémoires, because stories that explore the link between food and memory have always been my kind of thing.

Overall, this was very interesting, because I didn’t feel the same way about two stories. Some I loved, some I couldn’t even finish, some I finished and hated, some I liked but didn’t feel strongly about, some I liked while partially disagreeing with – it’s far from my favorite collection, but as far as reading experience, it was one of the most dynamic and I never quite knew what to expect next.


On Reading From People Who Disagree With You

The idea for this discussion was born when I read the first story in How Long ’til Black Future Month: The Ones Who Stay and Fight, which has since been reprinted on Lightspeed Magazine, where you can read it online. It’s a response to Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas (a story I’m only tangentially familiar with because of discussions on twitter) based on Karl Popper’s paradox of tolerance.

This story made me think about how we in the book community frame the idea of reading from people who we disagree with. Because I disagree with some points in the story, especially its concern with passive corruption¹ (it’s probably because it reminds me of the twisted, nonsensical book twitter ethics towards fiction²).

The Ones Who Stay and Fight is a story that celebrates diversity while underlining the importance of strong boundaries against intolerance, which can’t be just seen as a “difference of thought” – something I strongly agree with. What I don’t agree with is the process through which this story thinks people become intolerant. Reading this story gave me a reason to truly dissect why I don’t think this feels right to me, which I don’t think I would otherwise done; it means that I did get something out of it, just not necessarily what the author put on the page.

And… being able to read something I disagreed with without feeling attacked by it is something I see as a progress. I learned reviewing from looking at what other people did, and tried to use that framework to talk about my own feelings. But the thing is, we are all hobbyists, and it’s difficult to tell – especially if personal and painful topics come into play – when something stops being an interpretation and starts becoming projection. Couple that with general insecurity about one’s own opinions, and you get defensive callout mentality. There’s a lot of it in the book community, and it’s often rewarded – in places like book twitter, anger and lack of nuance get more traction than anything else – and I’m still trying to disentangle from it; I’m not completely sure I’m successful (also, the worst part about misguided righteous anger is that it feels good). But if I tried to avoid stories like these, that make me a little uncomfortable by having parts I strongly agree with and parts I don’t, and examined what my knee-jerk reactions were, I wouldn’t have reasons to realize this even was a problem.


¹ coming in contact with bigotry will make you partially a bigot? And having come in contact with it means you will spread it and need to get murdered to save the utopia? People never come up with horrible ideas on their own if you shelter them enough…? Simplistic and I don’t think people even work like that.

² Book twitter increasingly seems to operate with the assumption that fiction influences real life (concern towards possible passive harm) but what we accuse others of on the internet somehow doesn’t influence real life (lack of concern towards probable active harm). As you can imagine, it’s hell. I recommend reading this interview by Tamsyn Muir and what happened to Isabel Fall if you want to know about recent examples.

³ In case it wasn’t clear, I agree about them being dangerous, but not the “they will contaminate you” part. It’s far more complicated than that.


Have you read any of these? How did you learn to review? Have you ever gone through realizing that you were doing some parts of it badly?

Discussion · TBR & Goals

Reading & Blogging Plans

I haven’t been doing TBRs this year, but I have plans around reading and blogging, so I thought I’d talk about them and what I’ve been reading this month (spoiler: not a lot, and in a way not as much as I’d like, though I’m trying to get over that).

After all, even in the current best case scenario, I’m going to have a lot of free time this week – I live in Northern Italy, and while I’m not in one of the outright quarantined towns, university lessons have been cancelled and we’ve been recommended to move as little as possible.


↬ I’ve been slowly trying to get into audiobooks, just as I’ve been slowly trying to learn how to cook. The two things go really well together, as it turns out.

44603899._sy475_I still struggle a lot, probably for a combination of difficulties with processing sounds (how do people listen to things on 2x speed? That sounds like a squirrel blabbing in a dead language from another galaxy) and my English just being Not That Good. I posted my review of You Must Not Miss yesterday, and in the next few days I should post the one of The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake. For now, I reach only for contemporary and contemporary fantasy, but I don’t know, maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to change that.

When I’m not “cooking” (90% of the cooking I do time-wise is peeling and cutting vegetables. It doesn’t require that much attention), I’m finding that coloring books are also a good way to keep myself occupied so that I don’t drift off.

↬ I’ve also tried out the excerpts of a few audiobooks to listen to next:

  • The Deep by Rivers Solomon: I struggled with the excerpt a little at first (I’m not used to men narrating) but I got used to it fairly quickly, so I think I’m going to make it work in some way. I think this will be one of the next books I try, and it will probably be my first non-contemporary audiobook.
  • We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia: an f/f release from last year I haven’t been able to get to yet! And the sequel is already there, so this is perfect. I really liked the narrator.
  • The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave: this is an UK audiobook, which means the narrator’s accent is going to give me some trouble at first (I don’t know why American book characters seem so obsessed with British accents, they sound like they’re chewing on their words), but I tried an excerpt and it feels doable. I’m really excited for the vampire lesbians.

↬ while I said in my “what to expect from February” that hopefully I’d post a review of Machina, I ended up DNFing it

48767197._sx318_I don’t know how many of you have been following Serial Box originals – they’re collaborative serial novels (the authors involved this time were Fran Wilde, Martha Wells, Malka Older and Curtis C. Chen), and I think they’re just not for me. I had the same problems with Machina that I had with The Vela last year: it feels like the people writing it have been given an outline and are just trying to make it work, moving the characters to point A to point B while disregarding everything that would feel natural. The result feels… soulless, there’s no heart in it, and after a few chapters, the characters start feeling like puppets. Which is a shame, because I did like the premise (robot competition! going to Mars!) and the first chapters.

↬ I’ve been putting together a new Short Fiction Time post (read the last one here), in which:

  • I’ll review four short stories, two of which Nebula-nominated. Yes, Nebula awards finalists have been announced! I’m glad to see a lot of books I loved on here and I hope I’ll be able to read most of the short story/novelette categories before the winners are announced.
  • I’ll talk about what it has meant for me to read fiction from people I disagree with, what the benefits of that might be, and which kind of diverging points of view I seek out.

My goal with this series of post is to have a space to talk specifically about short fiction and associated topics, as I feel that is missing.

↬ I’m getting through rereads to get to some anticipated sequels

While sequels seem to have the habit of disappointing me as often as they can (see what happened with Girls of Storm and Shadow last year and now with The House of Sundering Flames), there are still some I really want to read. I’ve been rereading Witchmark by C.L. Polk – which, by the way, is turning out to be as good as it was the first time around –  because, after all, Stormsong is already out. I’d also love to get to The Fever King by Victoria Lee again before The Electric Heir is released, but I might not, as I’m not exactly in the right place to read about pandemics, even magical ones.

↬  In the next weeks, three books I’m anticipating that aren’t sequels are going to be out:

While this year so far I’ve been terrible at keeping up with new releases (you know how many I read? One. And it was a novella), I’m still going to talk about them, because why not. I’m not sure I’ll actually be able to read these in March, but who knows:

  • Among novellas, the only thing I’ve been marginally decent at keeping up with, I’m really looking forward to The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo. The comparisons to one of my favorite series, the Tensorate, make me really anticipate this.
  • If you’re in any way involved in adult SFF circles or circles dedicated to queer releases, I’m sure you’ll have already heard of Docile by K.M. Szpara, a story about capitalism, consent, and sexual slavery. It might be too much for me, I won’t know until I try (the comparisons with Captive Prince do not bode well, but then, I DNFed that one because I wasn’t invested enough to get through that much sexual violence, not because of the violence itself), but K.M. Szpara has been one of my favorite short fiction authors for a while. [If you want to start from his short fiction, I recommend the trans vampire novelette Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time]
  • The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett is going to be out in March as well. It’s on my TBR because it’s F/F fantasy, and while me and YA fantasy don’t get along that well anymore, I’m going to give it a chance.

↬ I’ve been getting through N.K. Jemisin’s collection How Long ‘Til Black Future Month, and it has convinced me to give another try to her novels:

As of the writing of this post, there’s only one short story left. This was overall a mixed bag for me, even more than the average collection/anthology, which reflects my experiences with Jemisin’s novels so far as well (loved The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, didn’t care at all for The Fifth Season). I’ll talk more in detail about which stories didn’t work for me and why in my next Short Fiction Time post.

However, two of my favorite short stories in here were The City Born Great and The Narcomancer, respectively set in the worlds of the upcoming The City We Became and her backlist Dreamblood duology. Maybe The Fifth Season really was the fluke for me, which seems partially confirmed by me not caring for Stone Hunger, the short set in that world. If I can explain what went wrong with The Fifth Season for me – that book is a lot like a rock. A solid read for sure! Also dull, a pain to bite into, and emotionally flat.

I might try The Killing Moon in the next Try A Chapter post; the short story I read really made me fall in love with that world.

↬ I’ve been putting together a list of adult contemporary fiction I want to try. Have I actually tried any of it yet? Of course not

Apart from some more ~literary~ adult stuff I want to try that I’ve already talked about, like Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, I’m also looking for contemporary adult fiction that should more or less be as easy to follow as YA contemporary is but doesn’t actually follow teens. So far, some interesting titles to me are Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams (I’m not sure what the story is about exactly but it follows a Jamaican-British woman and deals with mental health issues) and In at the Deep End by Kate Davies (about an abusive lesbian relationship). I’ve also been looking for adult fiction set in countries that aren’t the US or UK, and so far If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha and The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao, respectively set in Korea and Indonesia, look interesting to me. I’m not sure when I’ll actually get to any of these but they might be featured in upcoming Try A Chapter posts.

As I’m starting to move away from YA more seriously (not completely, of course; it’s just that I’m 20 and I don’t want that to be most of what I read anymore), I also want a contemporary counterpart to the amazing adult SFF I’ve been reading lately. It might take a while for me to find my niche but I hope I love it just as much.

↬ I’ve also been looking at memoirs that could be interesting to me.

I’ve already talked multiple times about In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, which I just finished yesterday (and absolutely loved; I hope to have a review up soon). However, that’s not the only memoir I’ve been interested in: I’ve also found Black Girl Unlimited by Echo Brown, a YA memoir (I didn’t even know they really existed) and two graphic novels, My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Kabi Nagata and Spinning by Tillie Walden. Both are queer and have been translated in Italian, which means I have physical copies – my favorite format to read graphic novels, of course. As usual, only the graphic novel section of the Italian book industry cares about diversity. [If by chance you’re another Italian, I have some recommendations here.] Memoirs still feel kind of intimidating to me and I hope I’ll be able to get through them easily in this format.


Have you read or are you anticipating any of these?

Discussion

BooktubeSFF Awards: Shortlist Opinions

The shortlist for an SFF award has been announced, and as usual, here’s my opinions! If you want to see the announcement, it’s here.

I’ll probably do the same for the Hugos later in the year if I have time; what doesn’t work so much for me about the BooktubeSFF is that there’s not a true “short story” category. I just want more occasions to discover interesting short fiction, really.

As far as this year’s line-up goes, I really like it! That was not the case for last year’s at all, but this time, there are several books I read and loved on here.


Novellas

Technically, this is the “short work” category; in practice, I don’t think anything shorter than a novella ever made it to the shortlist in recent years.

The Test by Sylvain Neuvel – no interest
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone – read
To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers – no interest

36516585I find it really interesting how – maybe for the first time? – there are no Tor.com novellas in this line-up. Kind of sad, because I do really think The Haunting of Tram Car 015 deserved to be on here, but understandable, as rules say books after the third of a series can’t be nominated – and two of 2019’s best Tor.com novellas were fourth installments (In An Absent Dream, The Ascent to Godhood).

As I have no interest in The Test (just really doesn’t seem my kind of thing) or To Be Taught, If Fortunate (I’ve systematically disliked everything I’ve tried from this author), I don’t think it’s difficult to imagine what book I’m rooting for. It was one of my favorite books of last year, after all, and I really do think it’s a masterpiece.

Middle Grade

34966859This is not an age range I often reach for, and my attempts usually end up in DNFs – but this time there’s an exception, as one of these happens to be one of my favorite books of 2019.

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden – no interest
Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee – read
Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez – no interest
Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab – no interest

Dragon Pearl was the only middle grade I read in 2019, so I don’t have that many opinions, nor do I know the age range enough to say anything about how it fits in a wider context.

Young Adult

This is a category I’m finding myself less and less interested in as time goes on, so this time I only read one of these (2016 me would be so disappointed) – but, surprisingly, here’s finally a book on my TBR.

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi – to read
Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson – read
Starsight by Brandon Sanderson – no interest
The Wicked King by Holly Black – no interest

I still have to read The Gilded Wolves, and I almost can’t believe that. Roshani Chokshi wrote two of my favorite YA books, but I think the amount of hype + discourse kind of put me off this one? I’ve absorbed so much of what happened, spoilers included, through book twitter. Still, I do want to get to it – I’m not sure that will happen in time for the awards but eventually it will.

I’m glad to see Sorcery of Thorns on here, though I’m not completely sure it’s award material. On one hand, it’s exactly what I think YA fantasy should be like – fun, aimed at teens, not afraid to be trope-y but without finding excuses to be bad – but apart from the characters (Silas, mostly), I didn’t find it that memorable? It might be that I’m now not the target audience at all and starting to feel it, though.

I haven’t read The Wicked King (sequel to a book I didn’t care about) or Starsight (it’s Brandon Sanderson) and don’t mean to.

Debut Novel

I often don’t even pay attention to what’s a debut in adult SFF – more often than not I already know the author from short fiction (as it was the case for two of the authors here).

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – to read
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine – read
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow – read

I mean, I think that if you’ve been here at all it’s pretty obvious what my choice would be, as one of these is literally my favorite book of 2019! That’s A Memory Called Empire. As far as The Ten Thousand Doors of January goes, I wasn’t impressed, but I didn’t hate it either.

Fantasy

I’m mostly just sad Middlegame didn’t make it. Apart from that, this looks really interesting!

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – read
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon – to read
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern – to read

I don’t know if I’ll be able to get to the two novels I didn’t read in this line-up in time for the awards – they’re so long – but I really want to read both. Gods of Jade and Shadow, the only one I read, is award-worthy, that I can say.

Sci-fi Novel

I mean, I knew Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear would have never made it here, but… I’m still kind of sad.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – to read
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine – read
Recursion by Blake Crouch – no interest

I don’t have much to say this time, as two of these are duplicates and I have no interest in the third. (If there’s one thing I don’t love about the BooktubeSFF awards as a whole, that has been true through the years, is that books are usually repeated across categories and that’s boring.) Still, I hope A Memory Called Empire makes it at least in one of the two categories!


Have you read any of these? Who would you like to see win?