All posts by SF Bluestocking

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: January 14, 2018

As has become something of a mantra around here, I didn’t get nearly as much accomplished this week as I would have liked. However, the things I did accomplish are good things. I finally finished writing up my Winter Reading List, and I posted reviews of Beneath the Sugar Sky and Robots vs. Fairies. Sadly, I didn’t get around to writing about Star Trek: Discovery like I’d intended, but I just didn’t have much to say about it. I’m hoping tonight’s episode will give me a little more to work with on that score.

The best news of the week, by far, of course, is that I’m starting a new job this coming week. Nothing very exciting, but it’ll keep us afloat here until my partner finds something and will make it much easier for us to afford the professional certifications that will make it easier for him to find work. I’m very pleased and extremely relieved and feel very very lucky to have found work so quickly and easily at a time when I really need it. It’s a huge weight off my mind to have this taken care of, and I can already tell that it’s going to do wonders for my general mood, which will hopefully translate to higher levels of productivity here as well.

The other good thing that happened this week is that I realized that much of my ill feeling and exhaustion in the previous week or so was due largely to my quitting of caffeine and sugar. Well, I’ve quit drinking Red Bull, anyway, which was one of my New Year’s resolutions and, perhaps, the only thing in my life that’s gone as planned so far in 2018. And now that I’m past the headache-y, cranky, fatigued phase of quitting caffeine and sugar, my energy levels have been much higher, I’ve been sleeping better, and I’ve already noticed some clothes feeling slightly looser. Turns out that not consuming hundreds of calories per day of high fructose corn syrup and stimulants is a good thing, and now that I’m past the unpleasant part of the quitting process, I’m much more able to appreciate that.

TL,DR: After a decidedly rocky start to this year, things are already looking up. Yay!

If you’re still looking to fill out your 2018 TBR, be sure to check out this list of 95 Books Sci-Fi and Fantasy Editors Can’t Wait to Read in 2018.

Perhaps the book I’m most excited to read in 2018 is Rebecca Roanhorse’s debut novel, Trail of Lightning, and it has a cover! Gorgeous art by the amazing Tommy Arnold. The author answers several questions about the book over at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

Fonda Lee’s Jade City was my favorite book of 2017, and I am still eagerly consuming every scrap of media–blog posts, interviews, podcasts, reviews, etc.–that I come across related to it. This week, Fonda Lee was on Books & Boba to talk about her novel.

Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien did a Reddit AMA to promote their new anthology, Fairies vs. Robots.

Seanan McGuire was over at the Powell’s Books blog to talk about portal fantasy and her Wayward Children series.

The other exciting cover reveal of the week is for R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War. I’m really digging the striking simplicity of this cover, and I’m excited to read the book, which is the first in a trilogy that the author says “grapples with drugs, shamanism, and China’s bloody twentieth century.”

At Tor.com, Stubby the Rocket offered up a short history of the evolution of fantasy candy kingdoms.

The nominees for this year’s Philip K. Dick Award were announced.

For their 5th anniversary, Rosarium Publishing will be releasing a fantastic-sounding two-volume anthology, Sunspot Jungle. They’ll be running a Kickstarter for a special hardcover edition in February.

Anyone who has been following me for very long might know that I love love love mass market paperbacks and that I bemoan the ascendancy of trade paper about once a month or so. I am beyond thrilled to have learned that Kameron Hurley’s Beldame Apocrypha are getting re-released this spring/summer as mass markets to go along with her collection of Nyx stories, Apocalypse Nyx (which will probably be a trade paperback, but I guess I can’t have everything).

The Cosmos revival is finally getting a second season.

Jim C. Hines has an awful lot of receipts on Jon Del Arroz’s bad behavior. Honestly, it’s moderately surprising that this dude wasn’t banned from more parts of polite society sooner.

‘Tis the season for blog makeovers, with two of my favorites getting new looks for the new year:

And I’ll leave you with the “mad hatterpillar.” It’s a caterpillar that wears pieces of its own shed exoskeletons as a fabulous hat, and it’s surprisingly adorable:

 

Book Review: Robots vs. Fairies edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe

Robots vs. Fairies is my first reading disappointment of 2018. I loved Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe’s first anthology, 2016’s The Starlit Wood, so I was very hyped for this one when it was announced. Unfortunately, Robots vs. Fairies is a bit of a sophomore slump for the editing pair, with a theme that feels more questionable the farther one reads into the collection, stories that largely feel a little too written to spec, and not enough that’s new and interesting to recommend it on those scores. It might work as sort of comfort reading for those who find its table of contents—filled with some of the hottest short fiction writers currently working in SFF—appealing, but if you’re looking for exciting, fresh, innovative work, there’s not much of that here.

To be fair, anthologies in general tend to be a mixed bag, and one’s enjoyment of any collection is heavily dependent on the degree to which the reader’s taste’s overlap with the editors.’ However, the concept for Robots vs. Fairies is both too specific to generate a lot of variation in styles and themes between stories in the collection and broad enough (or, rather, bifurcated) to inhibit a true sense of cohesiveness. If it wasn’t for the book’s introduction and the explanations following each story of which “team” (fairies or robots) the authors chose and why, it would be easy to mistake this for a somewhat random collection of mostly-middling stories about robots and fairies. The choice to bookend the collection with stories (by Seanan McGuire and Catherynne M. Valente) that feature both is smart, but it’s not quite enough to tie the whole thing together.

It seems that every story included here was solicited for this anthology, and this has allowed the editors to collect a veritable dream team of most of my favorite writers of short fiction. However, it’s also produced an anthology where many of the stories feel more like begrudgingly-finished assignments for a high school creative writing course than the sort of vibrant and challenging work that many of these authors have built their careers upon. It’s all just on the uninspired side. There’s not much here that’s ambitious or surprising, plots and prose are just workmanlike, and there’s nothing in these pages that surprised or excited me overly much. Perhaps it’s a shift in the reasons and ways I read short fiction these days—I’m often reading short fiction on the search for new authors and ideas—but I don’t think I’m the only one who will be disappointed by the overall lack of novelty here.

Still, none of this is to say that Robots vs. Fairies is entirely devoid of good, or at least enjoyable stories. The opening tale by Seanan McGuire, “Build Me a Wonderland,” is an interesting take on how fair folk might survive and carve out a place for themselves in a changing world. Tim Pratt’s “Murmured Under the Moon” features a heroic librarian and a sentient book, which are both things that are relevant to my interests. “Just Another Love Song” by Kat Howard has a banshee, a brownie and women helping women. In “Work Shadow/Shadow Work,” Madeline Ashby uses fairies and robots in a way that’s more heartwarming than particularly compelling, but is still a pleasant read. It’s a silly story, and admittedly a little trite, but John Scalzi’s “Three Robots Experience Objects Left Behind from the Era of Humans for the First Time” was the first story in the collection that truly delighted me; I laughed aloud at it more than once. Alyssa Wong’s bittersweet “All the Time We’ve Left to Spend” is the singular really superb story in the collection, but no one writes fairies like Catherynne M. Valente, whose “A Fall Counts Anywhere” may be a bit of a lowpoint for her but would still register as a standout piece of work from almost any other author.

It’s not that Robots vs. Fairies is a terrible anthology. It’s alright, and I’m sure if I did the math and compared it to most other anthologies I read, it’s within a standard deviation of the norm for anthology quality. Perhaps it was unreasonable to expect Wolfe and Parisien to knock one out of the park twice in a row, but I still can’t help but feel a little disappointed that they didn’t after I got so excited about the possibility. If you want some easy-ish comfort reading for a cold winter’s night and find that that this volume has all your favorite authors in it, be sure to check it out. If you’re looking for something new and exciting, perhaps think about looking for something from a smaller press or look to see what’s currently crowdfunding, as that’s where you’ll find innovation.

Book Review: Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

So, I’ve finally figured out what it is about Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children that prevents me from really loving these books the way so many other people do. I just, on a fundamental level, don’t find the fantasy of this series to be an appealing one. I’m slightly distrustful of anything, in general, that smacks of radical individualism, so I’m just not especially taken with the idea that some people are just too special and different for the world they’re born into and must travel to an entirely different world to achieve self-actualization and fulfillment, with the finding and keeping of that world as their personal happy ending. It’s fine. I get it. I think I would have loved this stuff when I was a teenager. In my mid-thirties, however, I struggle with some of the broader implications of it, which impacts my overall enjoyment of the story. I don’t begrudge anyone else the escapist fantasy of a better world of their very own, but my own fantasies at this point in my life are less escapist and more about making this world a better, kinder and more just place for everyone.

All that said, Beneath the Sugar Sky is by far my favorite installment of the Wayward Children to date. Though the series may not, generally, be my cup of tea, there’s a lot to like about this volume, which both delves a bit deeper into the overall mythology of the series and gives the universe of the Wayward Children a welcome infusion of lightness after two installments that were decidedly darker in tone. Without losing any of the series characteristic gravitas and utilizing a refreshingly straightforward fantasy quest narrative, McGuire uses Beneath the Sugar Sky to explore a Nonsense world, Confection, that’s been built, layer after layer after layer, out of baked goods. It’s an altogether more purposeful-feeling story than either of the previous two books in the series, and that includes a stronger and more satisfying ending than its predecessors as well.

The book starts off by introducing a new point of view character, Cora, who has just recently arrived at Eleanor West’s school after a stint as a mermaid. She’s a likeable and engaging character, but she’s sadly not given much to do once Rini arrives and the quest kicks in to gear. If there’s any major craft problem with this novella it’s simply that there are too many point of view characters and none of them ever quite feel like main characters. At the same time, though, this ensemble quality is one of the things I enjoyed most about Beneath the Sugar Sky, as it works to offset the strong messaging about the importance of individuals and the value of individual identities and personal journeys to self-actualization. I would have liked more of Cora, mostly because I really, really like Cora, but I wouldn’t want to sacrifice a minute of time the book spends with Kade or Rini or Nadya, either.

The quest narrative and Nonsense setting makes this the most purely fantastical of the Wayward Children books yet, and it leaves behind almost entirely the mystery of Every Heart a Doorway and the Gothic-toned family drama of Down Among the Sticks and Bones. While Every Heart primarily dealt with the fallout after children are expelled from their worlds and Sticks and Bones delved into one of the doorway worlds, Beneath the Sugar Sky offers a full-on epic journey as Rini and her new friends search for the pieces of her mother, Sumi, and try to find a way to put her back together again before Rini is erased from existence. Straightforward as this quest may be, there’s still plenty of room for creative flourishes, twists and turns, and a couple of genuine surprises that let us know that McGuire isn’t sticking strictly to any storytelling formula. The worldbuilding is as at least as inventive as in the previous two books of the series, and there’s a delightfully joyous tone in McGuire’s descriptions of Confection that makes the chapters set there (and that’s most of them) great fun to read.

So, Beneath the Sugar Sky is fine. I’m still not sold on the whole premise of this series as a desirable fantasy, but I think that’s just me being curmudgeonly. Certainly, after this book, it’s started to grow on me a bit more. I like that this book is a standalone, albeit to a lesser degree than either of the first two as it deals with events from the first book in particular. Still, I’ll be recommending it to some of my similarly curmudgeonly acquaintances who weren’t enchanted by Every Heart, and I’m somewhat more excited to see what Seanan McGuire does next in this universe, especially if it involves more of Cora.

The SF Bluestocking 2018 Winter Reading List

I’m still plugging away at year-end wrap-up stuff from 2017, which I was procrastinating on a little during the end-of-year holidays and which has now been delayed by a very nasty head cold and the unfortunate news that our single-income family here is imminently going to be a zero-income family as my partner is losing his job. It’s not great, obviously, and I fully expect this to continue to affect things here at the blog over the next [hopefully not more than a] couple of months, so I’m not making any promises about how much I’ll be reading or what I’ll be writing about. My guess is “not nearly as much as I’d like” on both counts.

However, before 2018 took such a steep and immediate nosedive into horribleness, there was a ton of stuff I was (and, optimistically, still am) very excited to be digging into over the next three months.

Novels

I’m starting to scale back my reading goals and recommendations with the idea of focusing on quality rather than quantity as well as avoiding overwhelming myself with too-long reading lists. At the same time, I’m branching out again, looking to read more broadly, instead of sticking so strictly to sci-fi and fantasy (though, goodness knows, there’s more great stuff coming out in those genres than I can ever realistically read). This year, you’ll be seeing more literary, romance and horror releases, and I’m even going to experiment with reading some YA again after a lengthy break from it.

  • Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi – 1/23
    A US edition of a 2013 Iraqi novel. I love Frankenstein retellings of all kinds, and one of my goals for 2018 is to read more translated literature, so this is perfect.
  • The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory – 1/30
    I don’t read much romance, but I’ve been seeing this title talked up quite a bit over the last couple of weeks. It sounds fun, and would be a nice change of pace for me.
  • The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton – 2/6
    I haven’t been reading much YA over the last year or so, but I’m thinking of checking out a few YA titles in 2018. This is the first one on my list.
  • Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce – 2/6
    I’m not entirely sold on this series about Numair, to be honest, but I expect I will check it out anyway.
  • Blood Binds the Pack by Alex Wells – 2/6
  • Semiosis by Sue Burke – 2/6
    I’ve been increasingly into serious sci-fi lately, and this character-driven first contact novel is one that I’m very much looking forward to.
  • Moonshine by Jasmine Gower – 2/6
    Moonshine
    sounds a bit like the 2016 novel A Criminal Magic, and that’s not a bad thing.
  • Echoes of Understorey by Thoraiya Dyer – 2/13
    Crossroads of Canopy was one of my favorite books of 2017, and it features a marvelously original fantasy world that I am extremely excited to dive back into.
  • Pride and Prometheus by John Kessel – 2/13
    Victor Frankenstein meets Mary and Kitty Bennet!
  • The Tangled Lands by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell – 2/27
    I have never gotten around to reading anything by Paolo Bacigalupi, but I’ve gotten pretty into Tobias Buckell’s short fiction over the last couple of years, so I figure I will give this novel a try.
  • Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi – 3/6
    The description of this book hits pretty much all my favorite YA fantasy trope keywords.
  • Impostor Syndrome by Mishell Baker – 3/20
    The third book in the Arcadia Project trilogy. This series has been such a nice surprise, and I am very hyped for this conclusion.

Tor.com Publishing

As I’ve done for the last two years, I’ll continue to read all of Tor.com’s novellas and novels. I still love the novella length best of all for pleasure-reading, and Tor.com still puts out a pretty good selection of material. That said, their line-up for the first quarter of 2018 is fully sixty percent sequels, and with other folks catching on and getting into the novella game, Tor.com is going to need to step things up and start delivering more great standalone novellas in order to keep my full attention. Still, there’s a lot to look forward to this winter.

  • Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire – 1/9
  • Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor – 1/16
    The third and final volume of Okorafor’s Binti Trilogy.
  • The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brook Bolander – 1/23
    Elephants and radium girls!
  • The Armored Saint by Myke Cole – 2/20
  • Starfire: Memory’s Blade by Spencer Ellsworth – 2/27
    The Starfire series is actually short novels, rather than novellas, and this is the last one, which I’m pretty sad about.
  • The Warrior Within by Angus McIntyre – 3/6
  • Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson – 3/13
  • Stone Mad by Elizabeth Bear – 3/20
    A sequel/companion to her 2015 novel, Karen Memory.
  • Void Black Shadow by Corey J. White – 3/27
    I rather liked the first novella in this series, Killing Gravity, so I’m moderately excited for the second.

Magazines

I’ve really gotten into short fiction in the last year or two, especially as a way of finding new-to-me writers and young writers at the beginning of, but I’m slowly coming to terms (more or less, anyway) with the fact that I can’t read everything. Last year, I didn’t come close to reading all the short fiction, especially in magazines, that I intended to at the beginning of the year, so this year my plan is to be less ambitious in my goals but more consistent in sticking to them. To that end, I’m only planning on regularly reading the publications I subscribe to:

  • FIYAH Literary Magazine
    If you are any kind of fan of the genre, you owe it to yourself to subscribe to this quarterly publication that celebrates black-written SFF. Just in their first year (2017), they published almost two dozen new writers, an invaluable infusion of new talent to the genre.
  • Uncanny
    Even if you don’t subscribe to Uncanny, be sure to keep an eye out for their special People With Disabilities Destroy SF! Issue later this year.
  • Apex Magazone

Anthologies and Collections

  • Robots vs. Fairies edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe – 1/9
    I loved this pair of editors’ first anthology, 2016’s The Starlit Wood, and their second outing from Saga Press has been among my most anticipated 2018 reads since it was first announced.
  • The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg – 3/13
  • Dracula: Rise of the Beast edited by David Thomas Moore
    Five authors imagine Jonathan and Mina Harker’s son piecing together the story of Dracula decades after the events of Bram Stoker’s book.

Comic Books and Graphic Novels

  • Saga Vol. 8
  • Kim & Kim Vol. 2
  • Abbott #1 – 1/24
    A new original comic by Saladin Ahmed!

Nonfiction

In 2017, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to read one nonfiction title per month in the year, and I failed at it, pretty miserably. This year, I’m trying again, but I’m already not off to a great start: in the first three months of 2018, there’s only one nonfiction title that I’m already certain I want to read. Probably, a couple more will pop up, or I’ll revisit some of the titles I didn’t get around to reading last year. We’ll see, I guess.

  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo – 1/16
    I’m by no means a connoisseur of Ijeoma Oluo’s work, but I remember well her remarkable profile of Rachel Dolezal and I’m interested in this book about race in America.
  • Nonfiction I Have On My Nook and Haven’t Read (But Still Might):
    Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve/Ruin Everything by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith
    Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
    Hunger by Roxane Gay
    Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: January 7, 2018

So, this time last week, I was feeling pretty optimistic and was just beginning to get hyped up for 2018, making new plans and setting goals and so on. Two days later, my partner found out that he no longer has a job, and the rest of the week hasn’t really improved since then.

The good news is that we have made it through worse and harder times and with fewer resources and less knowledge to begin with, and we do have some ideas and potential leads already. I am very hopeful that things aren’t going to get very dire. The bad news, of course, is that going from a single income to zero income, even temporarily, isn’t great. The immediate result of it this week, for me and my partner, was several days of depression and anxiety as we quickly had to come to terms with the change in our situation. I think we’re done processing now, mostly, but I expect that dealing with job-hunting and such is going to be taking up a good deal of time for the foreseeable future, and I’m not sure how much time and energy that will leave me for blogging.

That said, I’m still trying to remain optimistic about my goals and plans for 2018 here at SF Bluestocking. I will have my first 2018 Reading List out in a day or two, and I’ve been sure the last few days to make some time for reading. There was a new episode of Star Trek: Discovery tonight, and I have some thoughts about that. I had been making plans to set up a Patreon or other system to support the blog and expand the scope of what I do here, and that is still on the agenda, though it may be pushed back a couple of months until things are more stable again on the home front.

TL,DR: It’s been a hell of a week, and I’m not okay, but I will be.

The best Star Trek turned 25 this week. Though I’m old enough that Wesley Crusher was one of my first crushes, the truth is that DS9 is my Trek.

The Verge has a great list of some of the sci-fi, fantasy and horror releases to look forward to in 2018, including a couple I hadn’t even heard of yet.

If you just want to know about January’s new releases, be sure to head to Tor.com:

The Wertzone’s Cities of Fantasy series continued with a look at Baldur’s Gate.

Tansy Rayner Roberts shared five things she learned while writing Girl Reporter.

This was the final week of Smugglivus over at the Book Smugglers, including a post by myself:

Finally, congrats to The Book Smugglers on TEN years of Book Smuggling! Here’s to ten more.

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: December 31, 2017

Well, this is the end of 2017, and thank fuck for that. I’m very busy with working on various Best of 2017 lists and looking forward to 2018 stuff that will be published over the next week or so, and 2017 seems intent on ending by giving me an absolutely splitting headache. I’ll be spending the rest of the night popping aspirin and probably going to bed well before midnight, but in the meantime, here are the last links of the year.

Twelfth Planet Press is going to start publishing novellas!

Foz Meadows has a breakdown of a writing contest scam that decided to target writers on Christmas Day.

There’s a good interview at Lightspeed with Louise Erdrich about her new book, Future Home of the Living God.

At Tor.com, Michael Livingston explains why A Knight’s Tale is his favorite medieval movie.

Also at Tor.com, a pretty comprehensive list of sci-fi and fantasy movies and television to look forward to in 2018.

Electric Literature lists 46 Books by Women of Color to Read in 2018.

Smugglivus continues (and will keep going until January 7):

There’s a new Doctor:

RIP 2017.

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: December 24, 2017

There’s so much I hate about this time of year: the financial stress, the societal pressure to conspicuously consume, the fraughtness of family gatherings, the cold and (paradoxically) the fact that we never get decent snow in Cincinnati in December. However, I’ve come to kind of love Christmas Eve. I’ve finished all my holiday baking and candy-making, so I’ve got an apartment full of delicious sweets. the shopping is all finished, and it’s almost time for my favorite part of Christmas: wrapping presents (this year’s theme: brown paper packages). Christmas wrapping means I’m FINISHED. With everything! The whole messy business! Also, I am very good at wrapping things really beautifully, and I love doing it.

So, Christmas is a bit of a mixed bag for me, but I’m glad it’s almost done with for the year. The rest of this week will be taken up with getting together my end-of-year wrap-up stuff, Best of 2017 lists and a bunch of New Year’s resolutions that, let’s be real, I’m probably mostly going to forget about sticking to halfway through February. I’m also doing some last minute short fiction reading, and I would love recommendations, so tell me what short stories and novelettes you read and loved in 2017 in the comments or shoot me an email at sfbluestocking (at) gmail (dot) com!

Speaking of short fiction, A.C. Wise has a fantastic list of her favorites of 2017, with links to a lot it that’s free-to-read.

Civil Eats lists their Favorite Food and Farming Books of 2017, just in case you wanted to make some 11th hour additions to your TBR like I did.

You can hit Literary Hub to check out the Best Reviewed Sci-Fi and Fantasy of 2017.

Space.com lists the Must-Read Space Books of 2017.

The next issue of Uncanny Magazine is out on January 3, but you can already see it’s lovely cover and read its table of contents.

Book Riot already has a list of 24 Amazing Feminist Books Coming Out in 2018.

If you’re excited about next year’s sequel titles, B&N’s Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog lists 30 of them.

There’s a new Naomi Novik book coming out in 2018: Spinning Silver, which I’m hoping is based on her story of the same title that appeared in last year’s The Starlit Wood. I can’t wait to have a copy of it to look beautiful on my shelf next to Uprooted.

Also coming up in 2018, and quickly (January 3!), is Season 11 of The X-Files, which I am kind of unreasonably excited for, even after the decidedly mixed quality of Season 10. This coming week I’ll be preparing, possibly with the aid of these lists of Gillian Anderson’s favorite episodes and/or this Mulder and Scully Ship Guide over at Syfy.

It’s just one more sleep til the Doctor Who Christmas Special and the introduction of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor. In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying this Doctor Who yule log video:

It’s been a good week for takes on The Last Jedi, now that the initial hype has died down:

All instances of “icicle” will now be replaced in my vocabulary by:

#FolkloreThursday shared an erotic folktale for the holidays: The Yule Buck and the Girl.

I learned that women in the mid-1800s used to catch on fire and die horribly with pretty alarming frequency. Not a “fun” fact, but interesting.

The Book Smugglers’ Smugglivus celebration continued: