Category Archives: Hugo Awards

Let’s Read! Up and Coming: Part 1

Let’s get this party started, right at the beginning of the alphabet. I thought about trying to read these in a more random order or about starting with the authors I already know and like, but the more I considered my options, the more I realized that the easiest and fairest way to approach this project was just to start at the beginning and read it through in the order the stories are arranged in the book. If nothing else, this will keep me from accidentally missing someone.

All of today’s authors are ones whose work I’ve never read before, which has been interesting. They run the gamut from hard sci-fi to sword and sorcery, which made this first day of reading a pretty wild ride.

Charlotte Ashley

When I first read “La Héron” last night, I liked but didn’t love it, but I think it’s a story that grows on you. The more I’ve thought about it all day, the more I think I love Charlotte Ashley’s tale of an illicit duelist, her unconventional second, and a series of three duels with fantastically escalating stakes. It’s intelligent, well-structured, and entertaining, and I could read whole books about La Héron and her brawling nun companion.

Ashley’s second story, “Sigrid Under the Mountain,” isn’t as good, unfortunately. It’s not bad, either, but it does seem somewhat underbaked. I love the idea of this story, but the execution here is weak and the story has an almost flippant tone towards its subject matter that seems intended to be humorous but that I found unpleasant to read. All of the characters in “Sigrid” are supposed to be Scandinavian, but the dialogue feels very anachronistically English, and the ending is abrupt and lacks any real emotional impact.

John Ayliff

John Ayliff’s offering is an excerpt from his 2015 debut novel, Belt Three. It seems fine, but overall pedestrian. Without knowing anything at all about the novel, I found it difficult to understand at first what was even going on, and when I did start to get it I found it dull.

Lucas Bale

Lucas Bale’s 2015 novelette, “To Sing of Chaos and Eternal Night,” is about as interesting as that pretentious title and its opening quote from Paradise Lost would suggest. Which is to say, not at all. There is a sort of Shyamalan-level twist that is moderately surprising, but it wasn’t compelling enough to make me care that much about the story.

Nicolette Barischoff

“Pirate Songs” almost lost me at space pirates, which are terribly overdone, but I’m glad I stuck it out. While there were some very uncomfortable to read parts early on, with a bunch of gross men sexually harassing a disabled girl, Margo turns out to be a very clever protagonist once the story shifts to her point of view and “Pirate Songs” ends up being a solid bit of space opera. I didn’t love it, but it was good enough to keep me from skipping Barischoff’s second and third stories, which would have been a huge mistake.

“Follow Me Down” starts with a monstrous birth and then picks up seven years later with the story of the child that was just born. Kora is a cambion—the child of an incubus and a human woman—and this is the story of an abandoned child trying to understand where she came from and who she is. “In the Woods Behind My House” is about a boy who has a griffin living practically in his back yard, and it’s another story about a child figuring out how to belong. I don’t want to spoil these stories here by saying too much about them, but I will say this: They’re both wonderful, and together they make Nicolette Barischoff the first new-to-me author in this collection whose work I unequivocally love.

Sofie Bird

“A is for Alacrity, Astronauts, and Grief” is a gorgeous tale about, well, grief, but also family and fresh starts and healing from abuse. When Becca’s sister, Julie, is left in a persistent coma after a car crash, Becca goes back to her abusive mother’s home in order to be able to take care of her nephew, Sam. Becca and Sam work together to decipher the strange messages that appear from an old typewriter that used to belong to Becca’s father, and Becca finds the strength to make some significant decisions for herself and Sam. I definitely cried while reading this, I loved it so much.

Derrick Boden

“Clay Soldiers” is a clever mindfuck of a story, and “The Last Mardi Gras” is exactly what it says it is. Both are beautifully written (though I preferred the second story) and very short—which it turns out is exactly the right length. Some of my favorite short stories are ones that communicate a single idea or concept very succinctly, and Boden shows an aptitude for just that. He’s definitely an author I will be watching for in the future.

Stefan Bolz

“The Traveler” is a somewhat meta story about a girl who works through grief over her father’s death by building a sort of H.G. Wells style time machine. It’s so lovely and so sad and so uplifting, and is my favorite story of the collection so far.

David Bruns

David Bruns’s first offering is “The Water Finder’s Shadow”—about a man struggling to figure out how to survive without his dog in a post-apocalyptic, drought-stricken America. This story is more of an exercise in world-building than anything else, but it stands alone well enough and left me hungry for more stories in this setting if Bruns ever writes any.

“I, Caroline” is a story with a somewhat obvious tell in its title about what it’s about, but it’s much better than the title might indicate. Caroline’s story is nothing terribly unexpected, but it’s solidly good and managed to make me more than a little teary by the end.

Martin Cahill

“It was Never the Fire” is the first story I’ve read today that I really just hated. There’s never a situation where I like reading about terrible things happening to girls. “Vanilla” was short, so I read it even though I didn’t like Martin Cahill’s first story. I don’t exactly wish I hadn’t, but this story about eating ice cream at the end of the world didn’t really connect with me either, possibly because I disliked the previous story so much. I’m not sure if changing the reading order would have changed my opinions on this pair, but it surely couldn’t have hurt.

Aaron Canton

In “Dining Out,” a corrupt food critic runs afoul of an obscure Irish goddess. On the one hand, I always enjoy learning new pieces of old mythology. On the other hand, if I have to google a major story element in order to make sense of it, that’s a problem. Once I learned who Fuamnach was, I got it, but I would have liked it better if I could have understood more about her from context in the story.

“A Most Unusual Patriot” is the first story of Up and Coming that falls properly into the realm of fantasy adventure or sword and sorcery, which is my first genre love. Unfortunately, there’s not a great deal of substance here. Jadie is fine, in a very sort of cookie-cutter quirky fantasy thief sort of way, albeit a bit Pollyannaish. There’s also an awful lot of telling-not-showing going on in this story, with long stretches dedicated to just explaining everything instead of having actual events happening. The worst thing about this one, though, is how misleading its title is. In a world where the thieves’ guild is basically owned by the ruler of the land, it means literally nothing to call a thief an “unusual patriot.” It’s explained, at length, that protecting the realm and upholding the current government is part of Jadie’s job as a member of the thieves’ guild.

Final Verdict

Nicolette Barischoff, Sofie Bird and Stefan Bolz are definitely my favorites of this first group of authors, but David Bruns and Charlotte Ashley also stand out.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a look at the next ten authors.

Let’s Read! Up and Coming: Stories by the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Authors

This year, Bad Menagerie is offering a pretty unprecedented resource for those of us who are nominating for and voting on the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer that will be presented at Worldcon along with the Hugos. Up and Coming is packed with 230 works by 120 Campbell-eligible authors—over a million words of fiction, that I will be working my way through, ten authors at a time, over the next couple of weeks.

I plan to finish by March 30, as nominations for the Campbell and Hugo Awards are due on the 31st, and ten authors every day or so is a pretty blazing pace, so my plan is to read at least one story by each author. If their first story doesn’t grab me, I’ll be moving along to the next author in order to better manage my time and enable me to actually make it through this enormous body of work. I’ll let you know which authors I skipped and why, though I expect to spend much more time extolling the virtues of my favorites than criticizing what I don’t like. That said, if I skip over your favorites, be sure to let me know in the comments what a jerk I am and all about what I’m missing out on.

Look for my first big post to appear tomorrow (hopefully) or Wednesday. This should be an almost every day thing between now and the end of the month.

If you want to read along, you can download the collection at Bad Menagerie any time before March 31, 2016.

Hugo Recommendations: Best Dramatic Presentations

The Hugo Awards’ Best Dramatic Long Form and Short Form categories are probably the ones that I’m most ambivalent about, to be honest. However, they are also the categories in which I think I’ve probably consumed the highest proportion of eligible work. When I look back over the last year, I have to admit that I’ve watched an awful lot of television, and I’ve seen all of the Hugo-eligible films that I’m likely to enjoy. It’s probably too late for most folks to actually sit and watch however many hours of material I’m about to recommend, but here’s what I think was the best of the genre film and television I watched in 2015.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
  • Crimson Peak
    There is almost no way this is going to even make the shortlist for the Hugo, but it might be my favorite film of last year. It’s got gorgeous costumes, Tom Hiddleston’s butt, and a badass knife fight between two women wearing big billowing nightgowns and ridiculously long wigs in the snow.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
    This two-hour long car chase with ecofeminist messaging is also near the top of my list.
  • Advantageous
    This film made the rounds of some festivals and stuff, but it never got a wide release. Instead, it went straight to Netflix, where it’s still available to watch. It’s a beautiful meditation on aging, motherhood, and the sacrifices women make in order to survive in late-stage capitalism and secure a future for their children.
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
    It’s just like A New Hope, but better. I wasn’t that excited about a new Star Wars movie, to be honest, but this one was surprisingly wonderful and an objectively good film.
  • The Martian
    The Martian isn’t as good as the book that it’s based on, but it’s one of the better film adaptations I’ve seen in recent years. Matt Damon is tolerable in the lead role, and the supporting cast is excellent. I also have a deep appreciation for optimistic humanist science fiction, and this example of it stands out in the best way in a genre landscape that has been trending towards dark and gritty for at least a solid decade now.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
    No television adaptation could ever be as marvelous as Susanna Clarke’s novel, but this one comes close.
  • Marvel’s Jessica Jones (Season One)
    By far the best Marvel adaptation to date, Jessica Jones is a feminist masterpiece.
  • Into the Badlands (Season One)
    I often feel as if no one else loved this show the way it deserves to be loved, but it just got officially renewed for a second season. The first season starts off a little rocky, but by the end of its six episode run, it gets great. It also delivers some of the finest martial arts choreography ever to appear on the small screen.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
  • Doctor Who “The Husbands of River Song”
    My interest in Doctor Who has been pretty steadily waning since Steven Moffat took over the show, but I loved last year’s Christmas Special so much. It was a perfect send-off for River Song. Moffat created her and ruined her, but in this episode he mostly managed to finally do right by her. That final scene at the Singing Towers of Darillium was swoon-worthy, for sure.
  • Marvel’s Jessica Jones “AKA Smile”
    I’m thinking about nominating the whole show, but if I had to pick a favorite episode, it’s the final one of the season. It’s amazing and delivers on every promise of the episodes leading up to it.
  • Minority Report “American Dream”
    I don’t think this show was overall good enough to be nominated as a whole, no matter how much I kind of loved it in spite of its many flaws. However, this is the episode that came closest to actually realizing the full potential of what this series should have been all along.
  • The Expanse “Dulcinea”
    By far the best sci-fi show on television since Battlestar Galactica, and this episode started the series of strongly.
  • iZombie “Dead Rat, Live Rat, Brown Rat, White Rat”
    The penultimate episode of season one is no longer the best episode of iZombie to date, but it is the best episode that is Hugo-eligible this year.
  • Supergirl “Human for a Day”
    I really like this show, but I’m not certain if any episode is strong enough on its own to merit a rocket. This one comes close, though.
  • Into the Badlands “Hand of Five Poisons”
    This show is definitely a grower, not a shower, and the final episode in its short run is definitely the apex of the first season’s quality. All the shit gets real in this episode, and it’s excellent enough that I can even forgive for ending on a cliffhanger before the show even got a second season confirmed.

Hugo Recommendations: Novel and Novella

I’m still working through some eleventh hour reading of short stories and novelettes from last year, so those recommendations will be coming later, but let’s kick things off with my short-ish lists (not my final ballot, which I haven’t 100% decided on, yet) for the big one—Best Novel—and for Best Novella, which is going to be interesting this year I think, with Tor.com publishing so many novella-length works.

Best Novel
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
    This book is just incredible. Hands down my favorite book of 2015, it’s big and beautiful and simply marvelous on the technical level. It’s definitely Jemisin’s best book to date, and it stands head and shoulders above most of the competition.
  • The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
    I feel like almost no one loved this book as much as I did, probably because Liu’s combination of Eastern and Western influences make this novel a kind of strange read for folks who are used to more Tolkien-inspired, rather than actual epic-inspired, epic fantasy. I expect this title to be a long shot for making the final shortlist, but I could be wrong.
  • Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen
    I only read Barsk a couple weeks ago, and it’s the last 2015 novel I’m likely to read unless something that I haven’t read already makes the finalist list for the Hugos. I’m so glad I did. It’s a really excellent bit of science fantasy, and I can honestly say I’ve never read anything quite like it. 2015 was chock full of highly original SFF, and this title was among the most inventive books of the year.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik
    There’s very little new under the sun when it comes to reimagined fairy tales, but Naomi Novik found some of it and put it into this gorgeous standalone novel.
  • Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
    I will read literally anything Cat Valente publishes, and Radiance had me at “decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery” and never let me go. It’s probably a little too experimental/literary for everyone to find it as delightfully fun as I did, but I’d love to see it get a Hugo nod, even if it doesn’t win.
  • The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
    I’m still not in love with the ending of this book, but it’s one of the most technically perfect books I’ve ever read. The whole thing just runs like clockwork, and it’s a masterpiece of story engineering.
  • The Just City and/or The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton
    I adored both of these, but I’d obviously have to pick just one if I decided to put one on my ballot. Probably it would be The Just City, though. You’ve got to love a book whose climax is a debate between Sokrates and Athena, and things got a little weird at the end of The Philosopher Kings.

I also loved The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy, but both of those are sequels to books that have already won, so I’d prefer to see the love spread around. Plus, the translation on The Dark Forest just wasn’t up to the same standard as that of The Three-Body Problem, and as much as I liked Ancillary Mercy, it wasn’t as good as Ancillary Justice.

Best Novella
  • The Builders by Daniel Polansky
    I would never have guessed that this would be my favorite novella of 2015, but it is. It’s basically like a Tarantino flick with cute little forest animals—a wild ride from start to finish.
  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
    I actually didn’t love this one when I first read it, but it’s grown on me since. The more I think about it, the better I think it is.
  • Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson
    This was published as a novella, but it may be too long to technically fit into the category for award purposes. Either way, it’s a superbly original bit of sword and sorcery-ish stuff.
  • The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman T. Malik
    I only got around to this title this week, but it’s another one that I’m glad I squeezed in before I sent in my ballot. It’s a great little book about identity and immigration and integrating the past with the future.
  • The Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard
    If you read and enjoyed On a Red Station Drifting, you will love this return to that same universe. Writing in this setting is what Aliette de Bodard does best, by far.
  • Speak Easy by Catherynne M. Valente
    Zelda Fitzgerald meets “Twelve Dancing Princesses” meets something wiser and darker and more postmodern. Valente’s command of words is always impressive, and like everything else she writes, Speak Easy is gorgeous. Also, have you seen that cover? This book is the whole package.