The SF Bluestocking 2015 Summer Reading List Report

Well, perhaps predictably, I have not managed to finish my own summer reading list. Best laid plans, and all.

Breaking my foot back in May and being laid up with that most of the summer sounds like the sort of thing that would have given me all kinds of extra time to read, but instead I’ve found myself in a bit of a reading slump and spent most of the first half wallowing in pain and self-pity. The last month or so since getting my cast removed has been a significant improvement. Though I’m still not 100% better, I’ve started working out again, and this week I think I’m going to start walking daily to try and work back up to doing 2-3 miles a day like I was before the broken foot–ideally before it gets too cold and unpleasant for me to be out. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to enjoy the last bits of summer that are left, going to outdoor plays, checking out food festivals, hitting farmer’s markets, and just generally trying to be out of doors as much as I can.

The good news is that I think I’m coming out of the funk I was in most of the summer. The bad news is that I’ve so far been doing other stuff besides reading, and I’m also behind on some writing stuff as well. While I’m finally catching up on my reading some, I’ve not yet gotten back on track with writing book reviews, though that’s changing as well. I should have reviews coming out this week and next for The Fifth SeasonNimonaRat Queens Volume 1: Sass & Sorcery, and The House of Shattered Wings. By then, I should also be done with The Dark Forest, and hopefully that will get me more or less back on track with what I’d like to be doing in terms of output.

So, here’s what I did manage this summer:

  • Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer – This one was on my list, and I finished it. Review here.
  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir – List, finished. Review here.
  • The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton – List, finished. Review here.
  • Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older – List, finished. Review here.
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – List, finished. Review here.
  • Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke – List, finished. Review here.
  • The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán – List, finished. Review here.
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – List, finished. Review here.
  • The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard – List, finished. Review soon.
  • The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu – List. Currently reading.
  • Spindle by W.R. Gingell – Self-published by the author. ARC received through NetGalley. Finished. Review here.
  • Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho – NetGalley ARC. Finished. Review here.
  • Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley – NetGalley ARC. Finished. Review here.
  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson – Borrowed from my 12-year-old. Review here.
  • Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass & Sorcery – Not on my original list. Review soon.

I actually didn’t do too bad, all things considered. Fifteen books in the last two months. Ten of the fifteen from my original reading list, plus five that weren’t on there. Of the five books that I didn’t get to, one I’ve sort of lost interest in due to mediocre reviews (The Invasion of the Tearling), one is an ARC that I will definitely be reading within the next month (The Heart Goes Last), two are more literary works that I really could read anytime (Station Eleven and The Buried Giant) and one (The Magicians) is the basis of a tv show that I’m looking forward to, but that won’t be starting until at least February of 2016, so it’ll keep, too.

Probably a couple of these will make it on to my fall reading list, which can be looked for this week as well. It looks like I probably won’t be as lucky with ARCs this fall as I was over the summer, but there are plenty of upcoming releases that I’m pretty excited about that I’m sure will keep me busy. Which doesn’t even touch on the new fall shows I plan on checking out, which will be another separate post in the next week.

Weekend Links: August 29, 2015

Godzilla

These gorgeous Godzilla posters by illustrator Laurent Durieux have already sold out over at Darkhall Mansion, but you can see more of his work at his website. (h/t io9)

Probably the biggest news of the week has still been Hugo Awards stuff. I said my last piece on it (previous pieces are on my personal Tumblr) the day after the awards, but there have been a lot of other great pieces published this week:

In other, less frustrating, news:

Finally, if you’ve already read N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, go read her most recent blog post about it. If you haven’t read The Fifth Season, what on earth are you doing reading anything else?

 

2015 Hugo Awards – The Year of the Best Case Scenario

The lead up to this year’s Hugo Award ceremony reminded me a little of the 2012 election. All the polls and buzz at the time (and for months in advance) seemed to indicate that inveterate slimeball Mitt Romney was going to lose, but Mitt and Fox News seemed so convinced that they were going to win that I found myself in a knot of stress until Ohio was called for the President. In much the same way, the majority of reaction and community response to this year’s Puppy slates has been decidedly not in the Puppy’s favor, but they’ve seemed so certain all along that they were going to prove, well, something. Like the jerkwads at Fox News, they seemed certain that they were going to win–certain enough that they had everyone else on edge.

Even streaming the Hugo Award ceremony, the tension in the room felt palpable Saturday night, and it wasn’t until the announcement of the winner of the first major award that the atmosphere began to lighten. Anyone following the Puppy mess very closely knew that the John W. Campbell Award was going to be the bellwether, and as soon as non-slate nominee (the single non-slate nominee for that award) Wesley Chu’s name was read, it was as if everyone there breathed a collective sigh of relief and started to actually have fun.

The rest of the ceremony went off without a hitch. There were a couple of very nice acceptance speeches–Wesley Chu’s was notable, as well as Julie Dillon’s, Ken Liu’s (accepting for Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem), and those from the editors of Journey Planet and Lightspeed Magazine. David Gerrold and Tananarive Due were excellent once the mood in the room loosened up. Connie Willis was wonderful.

There were a couple of real surprises in store, which was nice. Unsurprisingly, No Award was the big winner of the night, taking five categories in which the Puppies had managed to secure all of the nominees. In more interesting news, though, Orphan Black won in Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form), which is excellent. It’s a great show, and it’s nice to see it finally getting some awards recognition (although Tatiana Maslany’s Emmy nomination this year is promising). In Best Graphic Story, Ms. Marvel took home the rocket, which was surprising to me, at least–I was fairly certain it would go to Saga.

Perhaps the biggest upset of the night, though, was in the Best Novel category. I LOVED The Three Body Problem, but it seemed to be considered a long shot to win. Most of the speculation I saw leading up to the awards seemed to agree that Best Novel would go to either Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor or Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword, and the reaction to The Three Body Problem‘s win seemed to be generally pleasant surprise, but surprise nonetheless. It’s the first ever translated novel to win a Hugo Award, which makes the win historic as well. And if that wasn’t enough to hammer home the point that the Hugo Awards are about progress and change and forward thinking, the Best Novel winner was literally announced from space.

The full list of 2015 Hugo winners:

  • Best NovelThe Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (Tor Books)
  • Best Novella – No Award
  • Best Novelette – “The Day the World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Lightspeed, April 2014)
  • Best Short Story – No Award
  • Best Related Work – No Award
  • Best Graphic StoryMs. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal (Marvel Comics)
  • Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”
  • Best Professional Editor (Short Form) – No Award
  • Best Professional Editor (Long Form) – No Award
  • Best Professional Artist – Julie Dillon
  • Best SemiprozineLightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams
  • Best FanzineJourney Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery
  • Best FancastGalactic Suburbia Podcast
  • Best Fan Writer – Laura J. Mixon
  • Best Fan Artist – Elizabeth Leggett
  • The John W. Campbell Award – Wesley Chu

Probably the best general piece published this weekend about the Hugo Awards was over at Wired: “Who Won Science Fiction’s Hugo Awards and Why it Matters”.

io9 gives us an idea of the Hugo Awards we would have had if it wasn’t for the Puppies’ slates.

If you’re into that sort of thing, you can just read the full 2015 Hugo voting stats for yourself.

Black Gate is succinct in saying “Dear Puppies: Your Taste Sucks”.

And Foz Meadows’ piece is worth a read, “Hugos and Puppies: Peeling the Onion”.

I’m not naive enough to think this mess is going to be laid to rest after this, especially not when Vox Day has already published like eight posts since Saturday night threatening that he’s going to keep trying to destroy the awards. However, just looking at this year’s voting stats, it seems to me that his claim of 400 voters is actually somewhat exaggerated. I’d guess there were closer to 275-325 dedicated Puppy voters, and so I’m also guessing that Day’s claims that there are many more where those came from can be largely chalked up to Day’s delusions of grandeur.

I expect that there will be a Puppy slate or two next year, but I don’t expect they will be as successful as they were this year. We certainly aren’t going to be free of the Puppy whining and pouting (when they aren’t insisting that they were wildly unsuccessful on purpose) for some time, but I imagine they will lose interest after 2016. Surely, by 2017, someone, somewhere will have done something to earn a harassment campaign from these assholes that will direct their attention elsewhere.

Weekend Links: August 22, 2015

Robert Jimenez’s art for a new set of Firefly trading cards is excellent.

The big news this weekend is going to be the Hugo Awards at Sasquan, but before that happens there are a few last minute pieces to read on the controversy:

In other, less frustrating news:

Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings hit shelves this week. I haven’t gotten a chance to read it yet (still savoring The Fifth Season), but there’s been plenty of other stuff to read about it in the meantime:

Notable interviews this week:

This week, my internet reading seemed to largely focused on just a couple of themes. The first one? Diversity:

The second major theme in my internet reading this week was nostalgia:

Miscellany:

 

Book Review: Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley

empire-ascendant-by-kameron-hurley-495x750[This review is based on an advance copy of the book received through NetGalley.]

Empire Ascendant is a brutal read, which is somewhat to be expected from Kameron Hurley in general, and certainly to be expected in the follow-up to The Mirror Empire. The world of The Worldbreaker Saga is a harsh one, and this second book in the series turns the grimdark up to eleven.

Unfortunately, I’m just not loving this series the way I did Hurley’s God’s War trilogy. I liked The Mirror Empire well enough, but it took me about a third of Empire Ascendant to get my bearings and figure out what was going on. In addition to the increased blood and higher body count, there are several new POV characters who I had a hard time placing in the narrative, which was confusing. Additionally, though it’s been less than a year since I read the first book, it turns out that it wasn’t actually all that memorable.

Except for Zezili, a character I adored in the first book but whose page time in Empire Ascendant is greatly reduced, I found myself barely recognizing most of the characters until partway through the novel. I did enjoy Anavha’s parts, but his story line seemed to move at a painfully slow pace. Ahkio spends most of the book being ineffectual, as does Lilia. The invading empress from the other world is somewhat humanized, but we don’t see much of her except near the beginning and end of the book. For basically all of the characters, everything just goes from bad to worse to worst for some five hundred pages, and by the end of the book I found myself just unable to engage with that level of darkness any longer.

The thing is, this isn’t a technically bad book. Quite the opposite, actually. It’s a technically brilliant book that I just don’t know if I’m capable of appreciating right now, which is sad because it’s a book that I’ve been eagerly anticipating for months. There’s still a lot going on in this series that I think is fascinating, and I have no doubt that I’ll go on to read the third book in the series when it comes out as well.

I think, though, that the reality is that this is not a series for the faint of heart. The role reversal and the interrogation of gender and the implicit (so implicit they actually become explicit) criticisms of genre mainstays are well worth checking out, but I think that it’s the very subversiveness of this series that makes it such difficult reading. Empire Ascendant isn’t a book that can be read lightly. It demands (and deserves) all of the reader’s attention, but it’s, frankly, so  concerned (and rather self-consciously so) with subverting tropes and challenging expectations that it becomes weighed down with it’s own seriousness and self-importance.

In the end, I want to love everything about this series as much as I loved Zezili in the first book or as much as I loved all of the God’s War books, but I think I’m going to have to settle for only being able to objectively know the value of them and recognize the excellence of Kameron Hurley’s craft–which has certainly improved since her God’s War days. Empire Ascendant shows Hurley’s growth as a writer, but I feel like it also shows a notable lack of joy or humor when compared to her earlier work–which translates directly to me finding this new series increasingly unenjoyable.

Book Review: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

[This review is based on an advance copy of the book obtained through NetGalley.]

If you loved Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, you owe it to yourself to read Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown. At the same time, though, I’m not sure I’d compare it to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell if I hadn’t just recently read the older novel.

Sorcerer to the Crown really has much more in common with the works of Jane Austen in both style and tone. While Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a broad-ranging pastiche that pays tribute to many genres while being very much its own thing, Sorcerer to the Crown is something simpler and purer–more earnest in its adherence to old-fashioned language and storytelling conventions. That said, Sorcerer to the Crown is a wildly original and deeply unconventional twenty-first century novel and a great deal of fun.

The book opens with a very young black boy named Zacharias being shown off to a bunch of white men to prove his (and his race’s) magical capabilities. While the ominous tone of the prologue is somewhat at odds with much of what follows in the novel, I think it’s a pretty excellent way of infusing the rest of the book–which would not be inaccurately described as a “romp”–with an undercurrent of darkness that keeps things grounded and provides a sort of baseline for the exploration of POC experiences in the rest of the story. It’s a prologue that shows the reader immediately what kind of book this is, which is the perfect sort of prologue if an author really must include one.

The rest of the story takes place after Zacharias has managed to find himself in the position of being the most eminent sorcerer in England. We quickly learn that his high office has earned Zacharias no shortage of enemies and is more a nuisance than anything else. He’s not even certain he wants the office at all, but there’s no way for him to give it up. Instead, he determines to make the best of it and try and enact what change and bring what progress he can while he still has time. To that end, Zacharias has to deal with magical school girls, Malaysian vampires. scheming racists, and angry dragons.

It’s a wild ride.

The characters in Sorcerer to the Crown can all be a little one-dimensional at times, and I didn’t always find Zacharias to be particularly likable, although I absolutely loved Prunella. Some things seemed a little too tidy at the end, and I’m not sure I entirely buy the romance, which was so restrained as to be almost nonexistent. Although it is kind of refreshing that the book isn’t overly focused on the romance, I would have preferred a more gradual growth of affection over time. As it was, the resolution of the romance felt somewhat tacked on and less earned than it could have been.

Still, Sorcerer to the Crown is a thoroughly enjoyable read. From beginning to end, it hits all the right notes that I look for in a book. It’s a very different perspective than we’re usually offered in Regency-set fantasies. It’s fast-paced and interesting enough that even though a great deal happens it never feels overstuffed or overlong. It’s whimsical without being precious and clever without being pretentious. Best of all, it’s a downright funny book, and I found myself chuckling aloud more than once. Definitely in my top ten books of the year so far.

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