Let’s Read! Gormenghast: Titus Groan, Chapters 32-35

So, it’s been a while, admittedly, but I never forgot about this project, and now is (finally) the time to get back to it. Right now, I’m hoping to finish Titus Groan by the end of the summer, at which point I’ll figure out a workable schedule for the other two books in the trilogy. I’ve also still got G. Peter Winnington’s biography of Mervyn Peake (Mervyn Peake’s Vast Alchemies) to read as well, and I haven’t decided yet if I want to read it after Titus Groan or wait until I’ve finished the entire series on my own. That is a decision for Future Bridget to make, though. Present Bridget is busy focusing on parsing all the shades of irony, melancholy and sly humor in chapters 32 through 35 of Titus Groan.

Chapter 32: ”The Fir Cones”

“The Fir Cones” is a chapter made of two distinct and disparate parts. The first is a character sketch of Steerpike, largely concerned with how he spends his nights while living with the Prunesquallors. This is followed by the story of the meeting between Lord Sepulchrave, Flay, Nannie Slagg and the infant Titus, a story which ends with a sad commentary on the character of Sepulchrave.

Much of what I call character sketch of Steerpike is, in fact, description of how Steerpike sees himself. Like Fuchsia, Ladies Cora and Clarice, and even Sepulchrave, Steerpike has an intense and active imagination that deeply informs the way he moves through his world, no matter how much he may think of himself as a man of logic with a mind “like an efficient machine.” As Steerpike spends his evenings walking the grounds of the castle, inventing poisons, reading books and polishing his [marvelously phallicly-described] “swordstick,” he’s also scheming and planning, imagining the ways in which he may manipulate Gormenghast’s other inhabitants for his own gain. However, perhaps the most compelling thing about the Steerpike passages in this chapter is the way Peake paints Steerpike as a man of deep contradictions: patient but also short-sighted, full of grandiose ideas but also self-absorbed, brilliant yet superstitious. These kinds of contradictory dual natures seem to be common in Gormenghast, but this chapter and the next are heavily focused on exploring the multitudes contained in their individual characters.

The meeting between Sepulchrave, Flay and Slagg—as observed by (read: spied upon by) Steerpike—contains just a kernel of plot: Sepulchrave wants to have a celebratory breakfast for his son. This is literally the only actual event that occurs in this chapter, and it’s really just exposition about a future event. What this section is about, to the degree that it’s about anything at all, is Sepulchrave, his depression, and his failings as a father. Sepulchrave’s idiosyncratic gift of fir cones to his infant son is about as well-received as one could expect. Nannie Slagg is effervescent in her gratitude, but the cones are of little interest to three-month-old Titus, who simply chews on them a little while the adults talk—or, rather, while Slagg and Flay listen to Sepulchrave’s specific-yet-vague instructions for Titus’s breakfast party.

The chapter ends with Sephulchrave sending Slagg, Flay and Titus away when he becomes overwhelmed with his feelings of anger and inadequacy over what he seems to understand as Titus’s rejection of the gift of fir cones. This is explicitly related to Sepulchrave’s depression, even as Sepulchrave lashes out in anger, externalizing his feelings of shame and failure in a violent outburst only to then double down on the very behaviors that caused his feelings.

“He was too proud and melancholy to unbend and be the father of the boy in anything but fact; he would not cease to isolate himself.”

Sepulchrave isn’t able to fully externalize his feelings, however. The final line of the chapter—“He sat back again in the chair, but he could not read.”—suggests that he is deeply effected by his emotions, to the point that his preoccupation is even preventing him from engaging in his most cherished activity. It’s a wonderfully effective note on which to end the chapter.

Chapter 33: “Keda and Rantel”

“When Keda came back to her people, the cacti were dripping with the rain.”

Let it not be said, however, that Mervyn Peake’s best sentences are final ones. Chapter 33 opens as marvelously as the previous chapter closes and then goes on to end as beautifully, as well. “Keda and Rantel” is Peake’s prose at its best, full of gorgeous imagery and evocative turns of phrase. Peake often subordinates story and plot to moody, atmospheric descriptions of setting, but here he balances these concerns. The story of Keda’s love triangle is a compelling exploration of Keda as a character and a thoughtful rumination on what “freedom” means for a young woman whose choices have been as constrained as hers have been.

Darkness and gloom are common features of Gormenghast, and here Peake combines them with vivid nature, seasonal and weather language to convey Keda’s emotional state as she leaves the castle and returns to the Mud Dwellings. “This was the darkness she knew of,” Peake writes, a sentence simple enough by current standards to be cliché. Similarly, Peake’s explicit way of mirroring Keda’s mood in the weather—at one point, clouds literally part as Keda’s feelings shift—feels unfashionably on the nose. Light and darkness and the changing of weather and seasons are classic natural symbols and metaphors, and Peake utilizes them, but it’s easy for any writer to slip into hackneyed phrases. It’s the less obvious ideas and words that stand out on reading this novel in 2018, such as the way Peake describes Keda’s apprehension about her homecoming and how it changes to something less bleak and more hopeful, or at least alive with possibility:

“This, the very moment which she had anticipated would fill her with anxiety—when the problems, to escape which she had taken refuge in the castle, would lower themselves over her like an impenetrable fog and frighten her—was now an evening of leaves and flame, a night of ripples.”

That last line, “and evening of leaves and flame, a night of ripples,” is particularly lovely, evoking warmth, change, and movement. With the chapter opening with an image of water (albeit not still water), this sentence also positions Keda as a metaphorical stone from whom change reverberates when she enters the place of water. She is an actor whose agency affects her surroundings, which is appropriate in a chapter that centers so closely on her and her decisions, both past and present.

This chapter also functions as an exploration of dual natures, and it’s layered with language to that effect. The Mud Dwellings are a place both comforting and frightening. The dwarf dog that Keda encounters is disgusting, yet lovable. The detailed description of the ancient horse and rider statue that is “the pride of the Mud Dwellers” paints a picture both beautiful and horrifying.

Keda’s predicament, as well—a love triangle in which she must choose between two suitors—points to duality, though Rantel and Braigon don’t represent aspects of Keda’s personality or possible paths for her life in the same heavy-handed fashion that characterizes most more modern love triangle stories. Rather, both men seem to be equally appealing options, and Keda’s preference for each of them is dependent more on which one is in front of her than on any particular qualities the men possess. Keda herself recognizes the tragedy of her situation when Rantel and Braigon determine to duel over her, and the bird motif that’s been so persistent throughout the novel reappears in the final paragraph of the chapter:

“Keda,” she said to herself, “Keda, this is a tragedy.” But as her words hung emptily in the morning air, she clenched her hands, for she could feel no anguish and the bright bird that filled her breast was still singing… was still singing.”

Chapter 31: “The Room of Roots”

This is a chapter mostly about Ladies Cora and Clarice Groan and mostly in their POV, which is an interesting perspective that provides ample opportunities for Peake to showcase his sense of slyly humorous irony. The sisters’ misdirected resentment towards Gertrude is expounded upon some more, but perhaps what’s most compelling about this chapter is the way in which it picks up and carries on the sense of uneasy nihilism that the previous chapter ended with. There’s a growing sense throughout Titus Groan that nothing means anything at all, that events in the book simply happen, that characters simply exist and that the setting—suffused as it is with a sort of timeless, dour gloom—could be any time or place or none. There’s a sort of nonsense logic to it all that obviously recalls the work of Lewis Carroll, a writer of similarly surreal landscapes and characters, though Peake seems somewhat more concerned than Carroll ever was with communicating some kind of truth about the human condition.

The theme of duality continues to be explored through the characters of the twins, and the story of the Room of Roots interestingly combines the bird motif that has continuously threaded throughout the novel with the botanical nature imagery that has appeared in the previous few chapters. The titular Room is dug out from the roots of, presumably, an enormous tree, and Cora and Clarice’s resentment of Gertrude is reiterated to be about the birds that the twins think Gertrude has stolen from them.

The showpiece of this chapter, however, is Clarice’s story about how she tried to humiliate Gertrude by throwing ink on her, only to find that Gertrude was wearing a black dress. It combines all the things that are delightful about Peake’s portrayal of Cora and Clarice: dry humor, irony, nonsense logic, and the implicit suggestion that life is meaningless and struggle against fate is futile.

Chapter 32: “Inklings of Glory”

Chapter 32 finds us back in Steerpike’s point of view as he hatches a plot with the twins to destroy Sepulchrave’s books by burning the library, which makes it about as plot-focused a chapter as any in the book. It also contains Steerpike’s realization that Cora and Clarice truly are both stupid and mad, though he still believes that he can manipulate and control them. It remains to be seen if this is true.

Miscellany:

  • One day, I want to write a book on the fantasy trope of things being ancient and unchanging for centuries. It’s one of those tropes that I never thought about as a child and young person but that always reads as absurd to me as I approach middle age. Just the idea that any culture would remain largely in stasis for hundreds of years is patently silly, whether it’s being described by Mervyn Peake or J.R.R. Tolkien or George R.R. Martin.
  • So, I guess the “old dark-skinned lady” that is Cora and Clarice’s servant might be the only person of color in the book so far. It’s not surprising, but there’s also not much to comment on here. This is a pretty run-of-the-mill example of the ways in which people of color are included in a lot of medieval-ish fantasy work, and it’s always unfortunate.

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: April 8, 2018

Well, today has been a Day, and it comes at the end of a Week. Readers, I am worn out. I’m also disappointed that I didn’t get nearly as much accomplished this week as I’d hoped to, but mostly I’m just ready to go to bed, even though it’s only 9:30. Fortunately, this coming week finally sees my availability change go into effect at the day job, which means far fewer too-early nights and hopefully much more productive time in the afternoons and evenings.

did manage to read a couple of books this week–Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation (it’s great, and you should be reading it right now instead of this) and The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg (also good)–and I watched Jesus Christ Superstar Live, which was excellent. I also managed to get out my Spring Reading List, and I’m doing some Gormenghast re-reading as well so that I can get back to work on that project this week. It was also my partner’s birthday on Thursday, as well as my day off work, so we had a nice day together and a good dinner at a good local pizza place. Mostly, though, I’ve been working and tired from work, which seems to be the story of my life so far this year, and even I’m getting bored of it.

That said, I’m stoked to be getting back to work on Gormenghast, and I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ll be able to write about The Expanse, season three of which starts this Wednesday, and Into the Badlands, which is back on in two weeks.

Speaking of Into the Badlands, I’m still kind of pissed about Veil being fridged at the end of season two, but season three looks pretty good:

And speaking of Gormenghast, it looks like it may be getting another television adaptation.

Meanwhile, Orientalism is Alive and Well in American Cinema.

Molly Ringwald looked back on the movies she made with John Hughes and how her feelings about them have changed in the era of #MeToo.

It makes sense that current criticisms of Ready Player One would be part of a cultural shift in response to Gamergate.

Tor.com is giving away the ebook of All Systems Red by Martha Wells for FREE through April 10. It’s fab, and you definitely want it if you don’t already have it.

Pre-orders are open for L.D. Lewis’s A Ruin of Shadows, a novella set in the same world as her 2017 novelette, “Chesirah.”

Check out this World Sci-Fi Storybundle. It’s fantastic.

Justina Ireland was profiled at Vulture.

Catherynne M. Valente shared her Favorite Bit of Space Opera.

Tor.com has lists of this month’s new releases:

Mythcreants points out 6 illogical genre aesthetics.

This is something I struggle with, to be honest, but it’s okay to give up on mediocre books (because we’re all going to die).

Mary Berry is going to be on a new cooking show on BBC One!

On the one hand, I don’t super care about Lost in Space, like, at all, but on the other hand, Parker Posey is playing a gender-swapped Dr. Smith:

I am very slowly starting to get hyped for this Han Solo movie, in spite of myself. Tonight, for the first time, I admitted to my partner that I want to go see it at the theater.

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: April 1, 2018

The big news this week, obviously, is that SF Bluestocking is now a TWO TIME Hugo Finalist in the Best Fanzine category. The novelty of typing those words has still not worn off yet, though from now on I’ll probably keep it to myself. Thanks so, so much to everyone who nominated me; you are all The Best, and I love you.

After a shaky start to this year, what with life things happening and so on, I’m finally starting to feel like I’m being somewhat productive. I’ve gotten together an ebook version of my 2017 Let’s Read! Gormenghast posts, so watch for that this week, with new Gormenghast content to come, if not this week as well, then next. I’m also putting the finishing touches on my Spring Reading List as well as a look at my favorite reads from the first three months of 2018. This week is my final week of 5-sh in the morning start times at my day job, so I’m not making any set-in-stone promises about content, but after this my schedule will be much more reasonable and conducive to sleeping and writing and having some work/life balance, so while I don’t think we’ll see a return to my days of covering three or four television shows (plus books and the occasional movie) each week, I am hopeful that I’ll be back to some kind of regular blogging schedule. I’m even tentatively planning to cover The Expanse and Into the Badlands when they start back up in the coming weeks; I think I can handle one Wednesday show and one Sunday show, even if my posts end up being later than I’d prefer.

My favorite thing this week has to be this absolutely perfect tweet:

My second favorite thing this week is that one of my favorite books of 2017, Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Girl Reporter, won TWO Aurealis Awards and a Ditmar Award.

R.J. Theodore shares her Favorite Bit of her steampunk first contact novel, Flotsam.

Theodore also wrote about five things she learned while writing Flotsam.

And here at SF Bluestocking, I’ve got a guest post from R.J. Theodore where we’re also giving away a copy of the book.

The Nerdist has an interesting guide to the film references and influences of The Last Jedi.

At McSweeney’s, “Excerpts from My Upcoming Novel, Ready Player Two: Girl Stuff.”

Good news: Matt Wallace is writing an epic fantasy trilogy! The bad news is that we won’t get the first book until Spring 2020.

Jane Yolen’s story in verse, Finding Baba Yaga, has a cover.

S.B. Divya’s novella, Runtime, has been optioned for film and television. Yes, please.

You owe it to yourself to listen to Christopher Walken reading “The Raven.”

Apparently Ursula K. LeGuin did a folk/electronica album.

The Fandomentals continue their indepth analysis of Game of Thrones season seven with a look at events in King’s Landing: Part 1 (Recap) | Part 2 (Analysis).

There are violent rabbits in the margins of some medieval manuscripts, and you can click this link to find out why.

“The Male Glance” is a must-read essay.

 

 

Guest Post: “How Dare We Escape” by R.J. Theodore, Author of FLOTSAM

Lately I have read heated discussions about whether Science Fiction should be political. The comment that it should not – I’m not certain of its origin – drew backlash on an epic scale.

I can understand where the complaint came from. Understanding is not agreement, mind you. Born from the almost pervasive presence of the deep humanities and call for progress which speculative fiction writers weave into our storytelling, the plaintiff recommended authors stick to pure entertainment. You can practically hear writers’ eyes rolling, right?

Political and humanitarian commentary is powerful when well-handled and I have the utmost respect for penmasters, John Scalzi and others, who can write about a near-future Earth condemning – on a shifting gradient of subtlety – the wrongs undermining our present one. I have the utmost respect, a slathering of awe, and a heaping of envy for writers who take a stand and a scalpel to these issues.

I have always felt unworthy of that task, clumsy and half-informed about issues. I have my personal stories, yes, but my personal stories are not the strong bones upon which I can stretch the muscle fibers of speculative fiction. I am far more comfortable to write my secondary world steampunk escapist tales, aware my work is less tectonic than Clarion-bred spec fic masterpieces with their biting wit and wry optimism. Aware that I run from my problems instead of wrestling them to the ground until they submit.

But hold. Avast. Just, stop it.

No, not you.

I’m talking to myself to cease this negative talk.

If this is survival, and you better believe it is, I have two options: fight or flight.

It’s programmed into me, right there along my vagus nerve, controlling the twitches in my muscles and the tattoo of my heart. I’m going to do one of two things. And I’m probably only going to do one of them with aplomb. It sounds, even to me, more noble to be the one that fights. Sounds like it accomplishes more. Society respects those who stand and fight.

Yes, the traditional hero stands their ground, and that’s important. But that others run away is important, too.

Part of the population must run to guarantee survival into the next generation. Some stand and fight to try and make the world – this world, right here, and now – better for those to come. But the rest have to retreat to safety so they can build that future world. We have to nurture the fragile beings coming forth into the sunlight. We have to hold up an ideal of a future and say, “This is what we’re working toward.”

How dare I write escapist fiction? How dare I envision a distant-future world as though disposing callously of this one with so much work yet to be done? Society would call me a dreamer and a coward.

There was a time I tried not to be a coward and didn’t run. Without getting into it, let’s say I should have, and that I learned the lesson painfully. Looking back, I wish I had acted in the most urgent, self-preservative manner and gotten the.fuck.out. The years following the resulting trauma were a blur, but I know there were books. My life was a series of dark moments of reality sprinkled with the many-hued optimism of other planets. Of portal fantasy that promised me a way out. Of improbable rockets that carried me to other places. Stories that imagined me as other people who knew when to run and when finally, to fight (because eventually we must). That escapist fiction saved me. Saved me from myself. Saved me from the alternatives I imagined for myself. The promise of somewhere else to be saved everything about me. I didn’t discover this style of science fiction after the trauma; it was already a familiar friend. But without it, I don’t think I’d be here today.

And now I write it. I create the distant worlds into which other fragile beings can escape.

Meanwhile, I hold my work up for comparison with those writing pieces that put up their dukes and sink their weight into the knees. I know how to fight. I’ve taken my punches. I’ve been bruised and betrayed and knocked down, and I’ve gotten back up. I put in my time. I took my hits, earned the permanent badges of proof across my skin, and I can do it again if I need to. But it’s not in my nature. If I accept myself, I’ve got to accept that. I have my natural talents, my quiet methods. The signals running up and down my spine give me the burst of momentum I need to leave the atmosphere and break orbit. Though I envy the others who comment on current events and political climates in a way that feels to me as though they are shifting the conversation in powerful ways, my own work has power, too.

Deer freeze in headlights. Young girls freeze when assaulted. With pen in hand, I am neither of those. I have broad, graceful wings for flight, the fuel and boost to escape orbit, shields to withstand barrage, and a ship big enough to take all of you with me if you want to come.

Regardless of which survival instinct a writer is influenced by, we pen stories for hope. We know there is work to be done, and the future we dream of may only be founded by us, and come about too late to be experienced by us. We provide stories that offer catharsis or salve to those who need to experience something other than life as it’s given to them now.

There are those writers who will stand and fight. Who will hold the line, and push back. Who will shine a light into the dark corners of society and reveal our villains for who they are. And there are others who construct the warp-drives that get the survivors to safety and the well-guarded towers within which to wait for the day when it will be safe to emerge.

There are writers who will fight for me, I know. Who keep the necessary battles engaged, here and now. And for them, I run. Guide others to safety, nurture their hope, and wait for that brighter future all writers build together.

R J THEODORE is hellbent on keeping herself busy. Seriously folks, if she has two spare minutes to rub together at the end of the day, she invents a new project with which to occupy them. She lives in New England with her family, enjoys design, illustration, podcasting, binging on many forms of visual and written media, napping with her cats, and cooking. She is passionate about art and coffee.

FLOTSAM, Theodore’s debut novel, releases on March 27, 2018 in print, digital, and audio from Parvus Press.

A fantastical steampunk first contact novel that ties together high magic, high technology, and bold characters to create a story you won’t soon forget.

Captain Talis just wants to keep her airship crew from starving, and maybe scrape up enough cash for some badly needed repairs. When an anonymous client offers a small fortune to root through a pile of atmospheric wreckage, it seems like an easy payday. The job yields an ancient ring, a forbidden secret, and a host of deadly enemies.

Now on the run from cultists with powerful allies, Talis needs to unload the ring as quickly as possible. Her desperate search for a buyer and the fallout from her discovery leads to a planetary battle between a secret society, alien forces, and even the gods themselves.

Talis and her crew have just one desperate chance to make things right before their potential big score destroys them all.

It’s not too late to preorder the book on Amazon or buy from other retailers, but you can also
ENTER HERE to win a copy of the book.

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: March 25, 2018

Well, this has been another week in the life. While I haven’t posted here, I did actually have a productive three days in a row off work (potentially the last such lucky even for a while to come) during which I have actually been writing some stuff and reorganizing my schedule and trying out a new reward/incentive program for myself in order to encourage productivity so that I can get back to writing and posting more soon.

While this new system of doing things hasn’t paid off in any big way just yet, I’m already feeling encouraged. If nothing else, my mood has immediately improved, and I’ve been steadily checking things off my to-do lists, which I’m now doing daily and limiting to just a handful of good, reasonably accomplishable tasks. I’m hoping that this is going to be the long term motivational time-management and accountability tool I’ve been so desperately in need of.

My first big project under the new system is actually the resurrection of an old project. Last year, I began a detailed read-along of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast books, but I only made it about halfway through Titus Groan before getting derailed by life stuff and a nasty bout of depression, but it’s actually the 2017 work that I’m most proud of and I think it’s worth returning to and finishing. Plus, I figure it will be good for me to work for a while on something that’s really not time-sensitive. The other most-rewarding work I do is television recaps and reviews, but I foresee it being a challenge to keep up with those while working full time.

That said, new seasons of both The Expanse and Into the Badlands are starting in April, so we’ll see how things go. In the meantime, however, GORMENGHAST. If you haven’t read my previous Gormenghast posts, I should have a convenient (and free) ebook of them out by the end of this week, and I’m hoping to have new posts starting next week.

Finally, be sure to check back here at SF Bluestocking tomorrow, where there will be a guest post by R.J. Theodore, author of the steampunk first contact novel Flotsam (out Tuesday from Parvus Press) as well as a giveaway of a copy of the book.

The finalists for this year’s Kitschies were announced.

Heroine’s Journey, the third book in Sarah Kuhn’s excellent superheroine series, has a cover, and it’s fab, but the somewhat bigger news is that there are going to be more books in the series: three more, to be precise, plus a novella.

L.D. Lewis revealed the cover for her upcoming short story, A Ruin of Shadows, set in the same world as her much-praised “Chesirah” (in the first issue of FIYAH Literary Magazine).

Margot Robbie is going to be producing a female-led Shakespearean drama series.

Last week, I shared a link to an Ada Palmer piece on Treating the Divine in Science Fiction, only to realize after posting it that I ought to have shared the other posts in that series as well because they are all interesting and worthwhile reads. Here they are:

And here’s a trailer for season three of Into the Badlands, which already looks fantastic:

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: March 18, 2018

I never did get around to writing up last week’s weekend links, though I did save the actual links to share this week. Working at 5:30 am on Sundays is really making it difficult for me to get these posts written, and I’m starting to think I ought to move them to Saturdays going forward (no doubt to find myself scheduled on Saturdays as soon as I settle into a new routine, because that’s how retail jobs work). In any case, the day job is still a major impediment to reading, writing, cooking, cleaning, and anything else fun that I might want to be spending my time doing. Booo.

That said, I’m hoping to have a more reasonable work schedule in another week or two, and I have some ideas for addressing my creative block and reorganizing my time to be more productive in the near future. Encouragingly, I think (fingers crossed) that I’m done being actually physically ill for a while, having recovered from the nasty cold I had the last two weeks, and that always bodes well for productivity.

If you’re looking for something to read in March, as always Tor.com has you covered, with comprehensive lists of this month’s new releases:

Virginia Bergen has won this year’s Tiptree Award, but there’s also a fantastic long list that’s been published for all of our edification.

A.C. Wise shares some non-binary authors to read in March.

If you want something to look forward to later in the year, be sure to check out the Book Smugglers’ announcement of their summer 2018 short fiction series: Awakenings.

If you want to support excellent short fiction, make sure you check out the Kickstarter for the next two years of The Dark Magazine:

Paolo Bacigalupi wrote about his Favorite Bit of The Tangled Lands, the new book he co-authored with Tobias S. Buckell.

Kelly Robson shares her Favorite Bit of her new Tor.com novella, Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach.

P. Djeli Clark’s upcoming Tor.com novella, The Black God’s Drum, is one of the books I’m most looking forward to this year, and it has a (gorgeous) cover.

Margaret Atwood’s Angel Catbird is now also an audio play.

Lady Business celebrated mothers in SFF.

There’s a proper trailer for season 3 of The Expanse:

Ada Palmer wrote about Treating the Divine in Science Fiction.

nerds of a feather’s Horror 101 series continued with a look at enclosed versus exposed horror.

Mythcreants opined on why the term “Mary Sue” should be retired.

The Fandomentals covered Redemption Arcs of many kinds.

The Wertzone took a look at some of the dogs of science fiction and fantasy.

Speaking of dogs:

Hugo Ballot Time!

Listen. I have been super flaky the last couple months, what with starting a new day job and being exhausted and busy with that (plus a nasty cold over the last couple of weeks that has only exacerbated the situation), but I finally managed to get my Hugo Awards ballot filled out and submitted today. Here it is, with thoughts on the categories.

Best Novel

  • Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng
  • Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
  • Jade City by Fonda Lee
  • The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
  • Null States by Malka Older

I always feel like I read far more Hugo-worthy novels than there are slots on the ballot, and that was true again in 2017. My nominations this year are definitely fantasy-heavy, and Jade City and Kings of the Wyld are pretty far and away my favorites. The Stone Sky is an obvious choice, but it really is that good a book, the author has expressed a preference for folks to nominate the book rather than the series (for the Best Series Hugo), and I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Jemisin win a third Hugo in a row. Under the Pendulum Sun is likely a (very) long shot for the Hugo, which tends to skew towards the more populist side of literary SFF, but it’s a fantastic and ambitious book that deserves to be recognized for its ambitious creativity. Null States is the only science fiction novel I’m nominating this year, but there were several others that I considered (Ann Leckie’s Provenance and Mur Lafferty’s Six Wakes in particular). Ultimately, however, the best books I read in 2017 were mostly fantasy.

Of my picks here, I’m guessing only one or two are likely to make the finalist list–probably Jade City and The Stone Sky. Last year, I had read all of the nominated novels, which was kind of neat, but this year I’m seeing a good deal of buzz about a couple of books that I didn’t get around to (most notably Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous), so I expect to have some reading to do before this year’s final round of voting.

Best Novella

  • Gluttony Bay by Matt Wallace
  • And Then There Were (N-One) by Sarah Pinsker
  • The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang
  • Girl Reporter by Tansy Rayner Roberts
  • The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente

I read an awful lot of novellas, so this category was the hardest for me to pare down to just five nominees. I said very early last year that I though Sarah Pinsker’s murder mystery novella (and the first novella ever published in Uncanny) about a convention of Sarahs from multiple universes was going to be my favorite novella of the year, and that might still be true. I adore it. However, it was an incredible year for novellas, and there are several very worthy titles (All Systems Red by Martha Wells, The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson, Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s Winterglass, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s self-published Prime Meridian) that I simply didn’t have room for here (though I fully expect to see one or two of those on the finalist list).

What I’m most excited about this year, RE: Novellas, is the likely end to Tor.com’s absolute dominance of the category. Sure, they’re still publishing great work that benefits from a formidable marketing apparatus, but I’m very happy to see so many other publishers (and self-publishers!) getting in on the novella game.

Best Novelette

  • “Cracks” by Xen
  • “Chesirah” by L.D. Lewis
  • “Down and Out in R’lyeh” by Catherynne M. Valente

Sadly, there weren’t many novelettes I was particularly passionate about this year. I found these two stories from FIYAH Literary Magazine‘s first year to be impressive, though, and Catherynne M. Valente’s Lovecraftian story is a delight. If only the novelette length could get the sort of renaissance that we’re seeing in the novella these days (hint, hint, publishers).

Best Short Story

  • “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance” by Tobias S. Buckell
  • “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience” by Rebecca Roanhorse
  • “Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad
  • “The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant” by Rachael K. Jones
  • “Home is Where My Mother’s Heart is Buried” by Wole Talabi

The obvious standouts here are “Fandom for Robots” and “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience,” both of which have been widely shared and buzzed about. “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance” is my favorite story from my favorite anthology of the year, the John Joseph Adams-edited Cosmic Powers: The Saga Anthology of Far-Away Galaxies.

Best Series

  • Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya
  • The Crimson Empire Trilogy by Alex Marshall

I’m still not sold on the whole idea of a Best Series award, to be honest, but I have been following Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya work for some years now and think it deserves to be recognized. I also have really enjoyed Alex Marshall’s grimdark pastiche trilogy; it’s smart, funny and queer as heck.

Best Related Work

I suspect that this year’s Best Related Work will go to Ursula Le Guin’s final collection of essays, which I haven’t actually gotten around to reading yet.

Best Graphic Story

  • Monstress, Vol. 2: The Blood
  • Victor LaValle’s Destroyer

I’m not a great reader of comic books, but these were the ones I read and liked most last year. I don’t expect Destroyer to make the cut, however, since the trade of it only just came out this week.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  • The Shape of Water
  • The Good Place (Season 1)
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • The Expanse (Season 2)
  • Get Out

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

  • “USS Callister” Black Mirror
  • “Twenty-Sided, Die” iZombie
  • Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets‘ Opening Credits Sequence
  • “Rocket Man” music video by Majid Adin

I predict that the only overlap between my nominations and the actual finalist list is going to be the Black Mirror episode, but I am telling you, “Twenty-Sided, Die” is an amazing bit of television. Also, I want every single person who is still nominating episodes of Game of Thrones to explain to me what exactly they think is Hugo-worthy about that garbage show at this point.

Best Professional Editor, Long Form

  • Navah Wolfe
  • Diana Pho

Best Professional Editor, Short Form

  • Lee Harris
  • Brian White
  • John Joseph Adams
  • Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas

I’d like to see Brian White’s work at Fireside get recognized. Lee Harris edits almost all my favorite Tor.com novellas. John Joseph Adams is probably the individual editor of short fiction whose tastes most often overlap with my own, and he edited a near-perfect anthology in 2017 (Cosmic Powers! Read it!). And the Thomases are consistently responsible for great content in Uncanny.

Best Professional Artist

  • Richard Anderson

Best Fan Artist

Skipped, because I don’t actually follow fan art enough to know anything about it.

Best Semiprozine

  • FIYAH Literary Magazine
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies
  • The Book Smugglers
  • Uncanny
  • Fireside Fiction

Personally, I think FIYAH is doing some of the most important work in the genre right now, debuting over 20 black authors just in their first year of publication, but this is a really competitive category.

Best Fanzine/Best Fan Writer

These are the categories that SF Bluestocking (the blog) and I (the writer) are eligible in, so I feel weird talking about my nominations and speculating publicly about how the categories will go. Let’s just say that I did nominate myself as well as some other great folks.

Best Fancast

  • Fangirl Happy Hour

Because, let’s be real, I only regularly listen to this one podcast. Renay and Ana are great.

Best Young Adult Book

  • The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

I didn’t read much YA in 2017, but this book was wonderful.

The John W. Campbell Award 

  • Rebecca Roanhorse
  • Vina Jie-Min Prasad

Sci-fi and Fantasy books, tv, films, and feminism