Category Archives: Books

The SF Bluestocking 2018 Spring Reading List

I’ve still got a couple of titles from my Winter Reading List that I’m hoping to squeeze in before moving on entirely to the next season of books, but there is so much that I’m excited about this spring, you guys. With the new day job, I have somewhat more disposable income, which means I’ve been buying more books, and I’m now subscribed to more magazines than I can reasonably read (not that I don’t read them, obv, but there are an unreasonable number of them).

On that note, reading more short fiction continues to be a focus of mine this year. I’m especially on the lookout for novelette length work, which I always feel is in short supply. I’m actually starting to cut back on the number of novellas I read; as much as I love Tor.com’s offerings, they release them at such a pace that I simply cannot keep up with all of them any longer, what with the day job and a couple of recent major disappointments in novella-reading, so I expect that I will be prioritizing the most promising ones from now on rather than basically reading them all. Still, a lot of them are very promising, so we’ll see.

I’m somewhat on the lookout for new and interesting YA novels. After having gone off YA for a couple of years, I’ve now gotten to a point where I feel like I’m actually missing out on things. I’m thinking of reading the Not-A-Hugo YA award finalist list over the next few months if I have time, but I’m also open to suggestions. What’s good in YA SFF these days? What are you most excited about that’s coming out this spring? Let me know in the comments if you have any must-read recs for me.

In the meantime, here’s what I’ve got on my actual TBR for April, May and June.

Tor.com Novellas

The only real must-reads on this list for me are Taste of Wrath, which will finish off Matt Wallace’s delightful Sin du Jour series, Artificial Condition, which brings back Murderboy, and C.L. Polk’s debut novel, Witchmark. I liked Margaret Killjoy’s first novella well enough, so I may try to make time for the new one, but I can’t get excited about Caitlin R. Kiernan’s Lovecraftian horror and I’m pretty sure it’s time to give up on Melissa F. Olson’s vaguely noir-ish vampires. The Shipp and McDonald titles don’t sound bad, but my absolute loathing for The Armored Saint has kind of put me off of giving any more chances to books by white dudes for a while.

  • The Barrow Will Send What it May by Margaret Killjoy – 4/3
  • Taste of Wrath by Matt Wallace – 4/10
  • The Atrocities by Jeremy C. Shipp – 4/17
  • Time Was by Ian McDonald – 4/24
  • Black Helicopters by Caitlin R. Kiernan – 5/1
  • Artificial Condition by Martha Wells – 5/8
  • Outbreak by Melissa F. Olson – 6/5
  • Witchmark by C.L. Polk – 6/19

Magazines

I have so/too many magazines to read. I am already loving getting the print edition of Apex, which I highly recommend; every issue is a little more polished than the one before, and they look nice on a shelf together. FIYAH is always excellent, and they are doing some of the most important work in the industry right now: In their first year alone, FIYAH debuted work by over twenty black writers of speculative fiction. I’ve been subscribing to Uncanny for two years now, and it continues to be one of the most consistently excellent publications available, especially when it comes to their non-fiction selections. Finally, now that I have a little more disposable income, I’ve started subscribing to both Clarkesworld and Fireside via Patreon. I’m still deciding if I want to keep reading both of those–there are only so many hours in a day, after all–but I figure I will give it a good six months or so to see if I can make all this into a manageable amount of reading. I’d like to be reading a good selection of short fiction and supporting a variety of publications, but I also don’t want to be stressing myself out by over-buying content that I don’t have time or energy to properly enjoy.

  • Apex Magazine Issues #107, #108, #109
  • FIYAH Literary Magazine #6, Big Mama Nature
  • Uncanny Magazine #22
  • Clarkesworld #139, #140, #141
  • Fireside #54, #55, #56

Anthologies/Collections

  • The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg – 3/13
    This is actually my current read and a holdover from the Winter Reading List, and it’s delightful.
  • Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore – 4/10
    There is no universe where I’m not going to read a collection of anti-colonialist stories in reaction to Rudyard Kipling’s work, and I have this on pre-order.
  • A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman – 6/26
    Reimagined folklore and mythology from East and South Asia with a fantastic table of contents.

Novels

  • Dread Nation by Justina Ireland – 4/3
    This was a title I pre-ordered, and I’ve already sped through it in just a couple of days, blowing past bedtime a couple of times to finish it. Dread Nation is excellent, and you need to be reading it right now.
  • Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente – 4/10
    Cat Valente is pretty much my favorite author, and Eurovision in space is an A+ concept for a sci-fi novel.
  • Fire Dance by Ilana C. Myer – 4/10
    I still have never gotten around to reading Last Song Before Night, but I’m thinking of reading this one, which is apparently another standalone in the same universe.
  • Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller – 4/17
  • Before Mars by Emma Newman – 4/17
    I enjoyed Planetfall but skipped 2016’s After Atlas, so I wasn’t sure about this book, but the closer it gets to its release date, the more in the mood for it I find myself.
  • A Ruin of Shadows by L.D. Lewis – 4/24
    L.D. Lewis’s novelette, “Chesirah,” was on my Hugo nomination ballot this year, so I am very excited to read this short novella set in the same world. It’s currently available for pre-order from the publisher, Dancing Star Press.
  • The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang – 5/1
    I have a feeling that The Poppy War is going to lean a little more grimdark than I’ve been interested in reading lately, but I can’t bring myself to take it off my TBR just yet.
  • Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope – 5/1
    I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this, and I loved it.
  • Medusa Uploaded by Emily Davenport – 5/1
  • By Fire Above by Robyn Bennis – 5/15
    I adored Robyn Bennis’s debut, The Guns Above, so I’m very much looking forward to this sequel.
  • Armistice by Lara Elena Donnelly – 5/15
    The sequel to last year’s remarkable Amberlough.
  • Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro – 5/22
  • 84K by Claire North – 5/22
    I’m not sure I’m up to reading a dystopian novel this year, but if I am it’ll be this one.
  • Free Chocolate by Amber Royer – 6/5
    This is the first of a couple of very fun-sounding releases coming from Angry Robot this year (the other is Space Unicorn Blues), and I’m very much looking forward to it.
  • Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee – 6/12
    So excited for the finale of this trilogy but also sad that it’s soon to be over.
  • Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse – 6/26
    Rebecca Roanhorse’s short story, “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience,” was among last year’s best (and earned her Hugo and Nebula nominations), so her first novel is rightly among my most-anticipated reads of 2018.

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.

A Rather Belated Best Books of 2017 Post

2017 was a great year for smart, ambitious novels, and for me it was a year about reading broadly within SFF. In hindsight, I didn’t read as broadly as I would have liked (and, but I did read a good number of excellent debut novels and fresh new takes on things in addition to continuing some of the great series fiction I’ve been following over the last couple of years. Here are my favorite novel-length reads of 2017, in no particular order.

Jade City by Fonda Lee

I’ve been sad for a couple of years now that Fonda Lee (whose short fiction I have enjoyed for some time) was writing YA during a time when I’ve been, for the most part, going off YA, so I was stoked when I saw that she was releasing a novel for adults this year. I got a little skeptical when I read about Jade City’s “The Godfather, but with magic” premise, concerned that the book would be inaccessible to readers who weren’t already familiar with that genre. I shouldn’t have worried. In Jade City, Fonda Lee has crafted a fully immersive, intricately detailed, obviously well-loved and lived-in fantasy world and peopled it with characters who, while they may be inspired by some mobster-fiction tropes, are excellent stand-outs in their own right. Each member of the Kaul family is distinctive and complex, and the book’s antagonists are nicely menacing, worthy adversaries for our heroes as they fight to maintain their family’s power and position in a quickly changing world.

In structure and pacing, Jade City reminds me a bit of Ken Liu’s 2015 epic, The Grace of Kings. Though there’s little overlap in the books’ subjects, there is some similarity in their themes as both feature powerful men with competing philosophies that cause them to struggle to work together for their common goals. Jade City also shares The Grace of Kings’ relative lack of women as well as the latter’s way of capturing a moment of social change which finds women actively moving into the positions of power once held by their fathers and brothers. Like Grace, Jade City ends with its women poised to play a larger role in the series going forward; I cannot wait to read what happens next.

P.S. Fonda Lee writes some of the best martial arts action scenes I’ve ever read, and she’s created a smart and thoroughly thought-out magic system that is described with great attention to visual details. I would kill to see this book get a movie or television adaptation.

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

I almost skipped this book entirely because it seemed like just the sort of testosterone-fueled fantasy I largely try to avoid these days. The concept—what if mercenary bands were treated like rock stars?—didn’t immediately appeal, seeming generally unserious and prone to a kind of ironic jokiness that I actively dislike, and the adventure—middle-aged men getting the band back together in order to rescue the daughter of one of the members—had the obvious potential to be both unoriginal and sexist. Still, it was the last week of December after a garbage year, so I thought I’d give Kings of the Wyld a chance. And thank goodness I did, because it ended up being probably the most purely enjoyable title I read in all of 2017.

As for testosterone, while Kings is certainly a novel heavily focused on men and their relationships with each other, Eames has imagined a generally gender-egalitarian world and fills it with women who are interesting and influential in their own rights. There are women of all sorts in numerous roles big and small throughout the book, and while the central quest-plot is Clay Cooper and his band getting back together to go rescue the daughter of one of the bandmembers, there are no damsels in distress here. The protagonist characters all treat the women in their lives with respect and empathy, and even female adversaries are treated with dignity by both the characters and the author. Kings of the Wyld works as a model for how a male-centered book can be inclusive of women as characters and as readers, largely because Nicholas Eames seems so intent on eschewing toxic masculinity. (Sure, toxic masculinity makes an appearance or two, but as a decidedly bad thing.)

I simply couldn’t put this book down, and I devoured it over just a couple of days at the end of December. It’s a fun, fast-paced adventure that also manages to be smart and thoughtful and occasionally poignant in just the right proportions. The somewhat silly-sounding concept works marvelously, and Eames does a great job of exploring the humorous aspects of the idea without letting absurdity run rampant throughout the text. Overall, the book benefits from a slickly contemporary sensibility and a willingness to play with and subvert (and often outright ignore) traditional medieval fantasy tropes. Though I’ve seen it compared to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, it reminds me more, in tone, of things like A Knight’s Tale (a point highlighted by the timely publication of this piece on why that movie is a great medieval film). If you like your fantasy clever and action-packed and highly readable and inclusive, you need to read Kings of the Wyld at your earliest convenience.

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

It seems unlikely that N.K. Jemisin (or any modern writer, really, considering the stiff competition) could win a Hugo Award for all three books of a trilogy, but then, The Stone Sky is an almost preternaturally wonderful conclusion to The Broken Earth. There’s not too much to say about it that isn’t spoiler-y, but I can say that this series ends every bit as powerfully as it began. While neither The Obelisk Gate nor The Stone Sky matched the inventiveness of structure that characterized The Fifth Season, with it’s interweaving, time-jumping points of view, there’s something more of that in this third book than in the second. The Stone Sky interweaves the narratives of mother and daughter Essun and Nassun with flashbacks to the distant past of their world as it uncovers some of the mysteries that have haunted the trilogy and reveals a path forward for Essun and Nassun to change their world forever.

The depiction of the difficult relationship between mother and daughter was personally impactful to me, as the mother of a teenage girl myself, and the overarching questions the book asks and answers regarding how to fix a broken and unjust world are always relevant and worthwhile to think about. The contentiousness of Essun and Nassun’s dynamic and the sensitive way in which Jemisin explores the ways in which mothers fail their daughters and daughters exceed their mother’s expectations forms a strong emotional core which ties together the broader themes of community and systemic injustice and environmental devastation and provides the epic story with a deeply personal center through which it can be understood and related to.

I’ve said in the past that The Broken Earth deserves to be as popular and influential as Lord of the Rings, and The Stone Sky only confirms the series’ significance as an exemplar of the kind of post-postmodern fantasy that is reinvigorating the genre in the 21st century.

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng

Under the Pendulum Sun is the 2017 book that I’ve fallen in love with in stages and mostly in hindsight after I finished it. It wasn’t what I expected it to be, which made it a little bit not the right book for me to read when I did, but it’s the sort of novel that sticks with one long after you’ve closed the last page. It’s a brilliantly beautiful and highly ambitious novel, with lush, gorgeous prose that’s a joy to read, and the complex theology and mythology of it is fascinating enough that my thoughts have kept coming back to it months and months later.

I suppose one could correctly call Under the Pendulum Sun character-driven; Catherine Helstone is a compelling heroine. However, the novel’s real strength and power is in the Gothic atmosphere that Jeannette Ng has crafted so masterfully. Her prose is dense and descriptive, but never overwrought; the book’s fairy characters are delightfully strange and unsettlingly inhuman; and esoteric metaphysical questions and theological musings (including quotes from in-universe texts at the head of each chapter) work to heighten the psychological drama and tension that drives the novel.

Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

So, I have a thing for “unlikable” female characters, and the protagonist of Thoraiya Dyer’s debut novel is an iconic one. Unar perseveres through her adventures by having a bone-deep and instinctual sense of justice along with a doggedly stubborn belief in herself and her own great destiny. She’s prickly, selfish, and ambitious, and her coming-of-age story is a compelling character study wrapped inside a fantastic adventure that takes place in one of the most unusual and original epic fantasy settings in recent years.

Perhaps what I love best about Crossroads is the way in which its form follows its function. Early chapters that depict Unar as an inquisitive child are vividly descriptive and full of details that establish the initial setting. There’s then a time-jump after which we revisit Unar as a teenager and find her self-absorbed and ultimately cut off from the world to which she wants to belong. The remaining three quarters or so of the novel, then, focus on Unar’s journey from disconnection to understanding and self-acceptance as she undergoes many trials, and the way that Dyer’s prose style mirrors that journey and cleverly highlights the plot and themes of the book makes Crossroads one of the most impressive novels of the year, just on a craft level.

31189192Null States by Malka Older

I never managed to get around to reading Infomocracy in 2016. With a contentious US election going on, I just didn’t have it in me that year to read a book that centered on election-related shenanigans, and the results of our election in November didn’t put me into any better frame of mind for reading a political thriller. So it took me until mid-2017 to do it, and then only because I’d been lucky enough to receive and ARC of Null States that gave me the push I needed to make time for it. Reader, I am so glad I finally did. Infomocracy is a great book, and Null States is even better.

Though these books have been described as dystopian, I heartily disagree with that characterization of them. Rather, I found both of them, but especially Null States to be deeply, albeit pragmatically, optimistic, in many of the ways that I aspire to be optimistic, about the future, about humanity, about our political institutions, about the environment, and so on. I don’t always manage to be optimistic—it’s difficult—but the Null States, with its story about dedicated public servants trying their best to make the world a better place in whatever ways they have within their power, is exactly the sort of thing that helps me. As I wrote in my review of the books last year, it’s my kind of optimism:

“It’s not the optimism that there’s some perfect system of government that’s the silver bullet to solve all the world’s problems or that aliens are going to show up on the eve of a technological revolution and save us all. It’s the optimism that hard work and decency never go entirely out of fashion, that they pay off and that individuals can and do make a difference. It’s the reminder that the arc of history bends towards progress and that we don’t have to have all the answers in order to do some good.”

There’s a fantastic essay by Margaret Atwood in which she talks about the ways in which dystopias are always utopian for some people while every utopia is someone else’s dystopia—that utopias hide inside dystopias and vice versa—and the characters in Malka Older’s Centenal Cycle wrestle heavily with that idea. Sure, these stories have dystopian elements, but many of them are the same dystopian elements that we are all literally living with every single day, and it’s heartening to read about characters trying to harness the power of imperfect systems in order to improve the world and the state of humanity, however incrementally.

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

The SF Bluestocking Summer 2017 Reading List Wrap-Up

So, 2017 is a year that just keeps happening, whether we want it to or not, and it’s now the end of summer. I didn’t read nearly as much as I’d have liked, and I certainly fell very short of all my writing goals, but it hasn’t been a total disaster, either. The things I did manage to read were mostly good, and there were some real standouts in basically every category. Here are my favorites.

Best Fantasy Novel – The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

To say N.K. Jemisin stuck the landing on this series is really an understatement; though, like the previous book, it doesn’t quite match the sheer sublime brilliance of The Fifth Season, this novel is nonetheless stratospherically fantastic, and if the Broken Earth trilogy doesn’t become a bonafide classic the genre, there really is no justice in the world. It’s a thoughtful, inventive and compulsively readable story, with strong world-building, a powerful message (or, rather, several) and a pair of iconic lead characters in Essun and her daughter Nassun.

Best Science Fiction Novel – Null States by Malka Older

I’m torn between being sad that I waited so long to read Infomocracy and its sequel and being happy that I was able to read them one right after the other (though that brings me back round to sad again that I’ve now got another full year before the next book comes out). As good as Infomocracy was, I think Null States is definitely the stronger book of the pair, and a lot of that is because of its main heroine, Roz, who was a minor character in the first book but moves to the forefront in this one, where she proves herself to be smart, tough, resourceful and empathetic. While these books have been described by some as “dystopian,” I disagree that the word applies to them at all. Personally, I found the series compelling, insightful and, above all, optimistic about the future.

Best Novella – The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang

Both installments of JY Yang’s new novella duology from Tor.com are well worth reading, and I can’t wait to read more books set in the Tensorate universe, but The Black Tides of Heaven is a perfectly conceived and executed introduction to an intricately lovely and highly entertaining new fantasy setting. The twins Mokoya and Akeha are well drawn and fully realized characters, the world in which they exist feels real and lived-in, and the conflict between magic and technology is both epic in scale and deeply personal to the characters. Also, just look at that gorgeous book cover. One of the best of the year, full stop.

Best Novelette – “Avi Cantor Has Six Months to Live” by Sacha Lamb

This sweet and tenderly charming novelette features a pair of trans boys, their loving families and a just enough magic to scootch the story into the category of fantasy, though one could make the argument that it’s more in magical realism territory. What I loved about i, though, is that it’s a story that is kind to its characters. Avi has troubles, but he’s also surrounded by people who care about him and wish him well. He’s going to be okay, and that’s nice.

35649628Best Magazine – FIYAH Literary Magazine, Issue 3, “Sundown Towns”

I am still slightly bummed that this issue didn’t have a vampire story in it, but it does have “The Last Exorcist” by Danny Lore, which is one of my favorite stories of 2017 so far. “Cracks” by Xen is another stand-out tale. It’s also got another incredible cover by Geneva Benton, whose vision for the magazine’s first year has gone a long way towards helping to establish the publication’s unique and distinctive identity. FIYAH just keeps getting better and better.

Best Comic – Monstress, Volume 2: The Blood

Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda continue to make magic together in this second collection, which includes issues seven through twelve. After the somewhat unrelenting darkness of Volume One, I was pleased that this one at least slightly less brutal. Volume 2 brings us a bunch of new characters and greatly expands upon the world introduced in the first volume over the course of a quest story line that enhances the overall epic feel of the series. Plus, the book itself is a thing of pure beauty; Sana Takeda’s sumptuous artwork for the series is as marvelously detailed and layered as its ever been, and every page is a joy to look at.

Best Non-SFF Read – What Happened by Hillary Clinton

Listen, I love and admire Hillary Clinton so much, and I don’t think I’ll ever not be incandescently furious that this woman isn’t our President. Her campaign memoir is every bit as erudite, well-researched, and thoughtfully put together as you would expect from Clinton’s public persona, and it’s also wryly funny and full of personal quirks and tics that provide a fuller picture than perhaps ever before of the real woman behind that public persona. I know I’m going to still be angry about the Trump administration and worried for the future of this country and the whole world for a long time, but reading this book is something of a healing experience, if only because it’s reassuring to know, well, what happened.

Best Awesome Super Hero Romance Novel – Heroine Worship by Sarah Kuhn

I binged this title and its predecessor, Heroine Complex, back to back over like a day and a half, and I loved every single minute of them. They’re whip-smart, funny, fast-paced and slightly sexy, but the real draw, for me, was the strong focus on the friendship relationship between Annie and Aveda. Each of the books is as much coming-of-age story as it is romance, and I loved reading about how these women level up together and learn to have a healthy adult friendship with each other.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Red Threads of Fortune by JY Yang
    It’s got a lot of the same great stuff that its partner book has, but also dinosaurs.
  • Uncanny Magazine #18, Sept/Oct 2017
    This issue has a Catherynne M. Valente-penned Clockwork Orange and Cthulhu Mythos mashup.
  • A Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey
    More hippos, but also better character arcs and a more satisfying ending than River of Teeth.
  • An Oath of Dogs by Wendy N. Wagner
    Great worldbuilding and an interesting main idea.
  • The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss
    I love monstrous women. This one fooled me a little with its cover, which looked a bit more literary than its contents turned out to be, but it’s a great read.
  • Provenance by Ann Leckie
    Ann Leckie is one of my favorite authors of space opera right now.
  • Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore
    This is a very weird book, and I don’t think it was entirely successful, but I still kind of loved it.