Tag Archives: Hugo Awards

Hugo Recommendations: Best Semiprozine and Best Fanzine

Best Semiprozine and Best Fanzine are another weird couple of Hugo categories that can be a little confusing if you don’t read much online content. However, if you do read a lot online, you can easily find yourself with a ton of options for both of these categories. On the bright side, at least there’s a fair amount of information available as far as eligibility and so on, so it’s not too hard to sort out the category placements once you decide who you want to nominate.

For me, Best Semiprozine is the toughest category because there are just so many amazing publications to choose from. I’ve been making a real, concerted effort to read more short fiction in the last year, and the first quarter of 2016 has partly been spent playing catch up so that the possible nominees for this category are all very fresh in my mind. Here’s my thoughts so far:

Best Fanzine is a little easier, though it’s still a crowded category that I haven’t made any final decisions on just yet:

  • Mark Reads/Mark Watches, because Mark Oshiro is a constant delight. He recently finished reading all of Tamora Pierce’s work, which I love, and he’s currently watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and DS9. He publishes an enormous amount of great content and is also just a very cool person.
  • SF Mistressworks is one of the best resources around for reviews and information about women SFF writers, which is relevant to basically all of my interests.
  • Lady Business is great, although they are slightly more interested in fan-work than I tend to be.
  • nerds of a feather, flock together is one of my most trusted review sites…
  • As are Fantasy-Faction and Fantasy Literature.
  • Finally, File 770 is a regular source of excellent news and information on fandom stuff.


Let’s Read! Up and Coming: Part 7

So, I’m not behind, exactly, since I’m still well on track to finish this project by March 30th, but the last couple of days have not been particularly productive ones. Bad news always puts me in a bit of a funk, and it hasn’t helped that my partner has been home sick for a couple of days, which is a huge distraction. In any case, by the end of day on Monday, I was about a full day ahead of my reading schedule, and I don’t expect to be fully caught up until probably the end of day tomorrow. That said, I plan to finish the reading part of this project by Sunday evening and have the final few parts up by Wednesday afternoon.

On the bright side, today’s group of writers are some of my favorites yet, and there are several very strong possible nominees for Best Short Story in addition to at least one author that I can already tell you is likely to make my list of Campbell nominees.

Wendy Nikel

“Rain Like Diamonds” is a slightly underwhelming fairy tale, with an ending that is just a little too expected to be truly clever or particularly impactful. However, I adored “The Tea-Space Continuum,” which has a delightfully funny time travel paradox. Unfortunately, “The Book of Futures” was another miss for me. I like short detective stories, and I found the steampunk-ish setting intriguing, but the story just didn’t work. It actually had two endings; one was pedestrian, and both were trite.

George Nikolopoulos

I rather liked “Arise to the Surface” at first, even if it was obvious very early on what the story’s “twist” was, but it lost me when it had an alien woman with sexualized breasts. Randomly mammalian space people, seemingly for the sole purpose of describing sexualized breasts, is a major pet peeve of mine, and the rest of the story wasn’t good enough to overcome my distaste for that uncreative nonsense. “Razor Bill vs. Pistol Anne” is a very short, mildly amusing post-apocalyptic gladiator story, but it’s not particularly memorable.

Megan E. O’Keefe

“Of Blood and Brine” is a superb example of short fiction world building, and Megan E. O’Keefe backs it up by telling a compelling story as well. This one is eligible for the Best Short Story Hugo Award as well, and it’s definitely one to consider. I did skip her novel excerpt, however, as I’d like to read the whole book, though I’m not sure when I’ll get around to it.

Malka Older

“Tear Tracks” is a very good, but not great, first contact story. Malka Older does an amazing job with her world building, and I love the alien culture she’s conceived here, but the actual story is fairly slight and it gets a bit info-dumpy at the end, which makes it slightly insincere feeling. A+ ideas, but C+ execution.

Emma Osborne

“The Box Wife” was hard to read as it features one of my all-time least favorite sci-fi tropes: a sexbot. Even when it’s used in the best possible way, even when it’s done to interrogate or subvert as it is here, I find this trope viscerally upsetting. Still, it was promising enough for me to move on to Emma Osborne’s other stories. I rather liked “Zip” which is reminiscent of good Star Trek, but “Clean Hands, Dirty Hands” was another fairly dark and unpleasant story to read; I liked its Australian gold rush setting, which is pretty unique, but it’s an extremely grim tale, and I increasingly find these days that I’m simply not in the market for that kind of bleak grimness.

Chris Ovenden

“Upgrade” has a moderately interesting premise, but it reminds me far too much of last year’s film Advantageous, which explored similar ideas much more effectively. “Peace for Our Times” has got to be at least the third or fourth “deal with the devil” story in this collection, and it’s one that doesn’t manage to be either very insightful or fun. “Behind Grey Eyes” does manage to be fun, but I’m unfortunately just not a fan of zombies-as-metaphor in general. I’m not super impressed by any of Chris Ovenden’s stories here, but he’s objectively talented and I feel like he’s an author who is going to publish something any day now that I’m going to love. In the meantime, I could easily imagine any of these stories being someone else’s favorite even if they aren’t for me.

Steve Pantazis

Steve Pantazis’s novelette, “Switch,” would make an excellent episode or two for a futuristic cop show that I might enjoy watching, but it’s of a genre that I find unreadably boring. I can tell that it’s well-written and nicely structured and paced, but there’s no more boring protagonist for me to read about than a slightly dirty, but essentially decent policeman.

Carrie Patel

Carrie Patel is an author who has gotten a good amount of buzz in the last year, but this is the first time I’ve actually gotten to read any of her stuff. I don’t know what I was waiting for. “Here Be Monsters” is a shipwrecked story that is fantastic and horrific in turns, with a wonderfully ambiguous ending. I’m not always into unreliable narrators, but I enjoyed this one. Also, the abyssus is a great creepy monster. “The Color of Regret” is a total change of pace, and its speculative elements aren’t as central to the story—in fact, Nasrin’s ability to see auras is almost incidental to the plot—but the tale straddles the worlds of family drama and revolutionary intrigue in a compelling fashion. The Buried Life is a novel that’s been on my to-read list for ages, so I skipped the excerpt from it here.

Sunil Patel

Sunil Patel’s first contact tale, “The Merger,” is one of the funniest stories so far in Up and Coming, and I laughed out loud more than once while reading it. Paresh is lovable, and his wife Sita is a constant delight. Plus, there’s very little that I find funnier than unconventional contract negotiations. Especially with aliens. In contrast, “The Robot Who Couldn’t Lie” had me in tears well before the end. It’s nice to see an author with this sort of range in their writing, and this is further highlighted by Patel’s third story, “The Attic of Memories,” which I didn’t like as well as the first two but which is something entirely different again. The only thing that all of these stories have in common is a professionally polished quality that is often lacking in work by writers at the beginning of their careers. I can’t wait to see what Sunil Patel does next.

Laura Pearlman

From Laura Pearlman, we get a trio of very amusing stories that made me laugh even more than “The Merger.” First up, “I am Graalnak of the Vroon Empire, Destroyer of Galaxies, Supreme Overlord of the Planet Earth. Ask Me Anything” is exactly what it sounds like—an AMA with the leader of an army of radish-loving alien invaders. “A Dozen Frogs, a Bakery, and a Thing That Didn’t Happen” is a fabulous and very clever modern fairy tale. I wasn’t sure at first about “In the End You Get Clarity,” but it’s not like other superhero stories, and by the end I loved it.

Final Verdict

Carrie Patel and Laura Pearlman are both in their final year of eligibility for the Campbell, and either could be a strong choice, but the sheer versatility of Sunil Patel is what I found most exciting in today’s reading. I wouldn’t pick Megan E. O’Keefe and Malka Older for this year’s award, but they’re both writers to watch for, each with a first novel being published this year.

Let’s Read! Up and Coming: Part 6

This group of authors is sort of a love it or hate it group for me. The stories I didn’t like, I really disliked, but the ones I liked, I loved. There’s not much here that I have lukewarm feelings about.

S Lynn

S Lynn’s “Ffydd (Faith)” is a strange story to be included in this collection because it doesn’t seem to have any actual speculative elements. Instead, as far as I could tell it’s a fairly straightforward piece of historical fiction, perhaps leaning a little towards magical realism. Which is fine, but I generally expect a little more of the magical than exists here before I consider a story to fall under the speculative fiction umbrella.

Jack Hollis Marr

“into the waters I rode down” is an interestingly experimental stream of consciousness sci-fi story told from the point of view of a deaf, disabled woman who seems to be being used against her will for spying during a war. While the story at times becomes almost incoherent, I think this is by design, and it’s a story that I intend to come back to when I have more time to really spend mulling this one over.

Arkady Martine

From Arkady Martine, we get two lovely stories and a third one that is so arcane as to be incomprehensible. “City of Salt” is a gorgeous piece of what I usually think of as highbrow sword and sorcery, and it has a fantastic amount of mythology crammed into very few words that demonstrates Martine’s facility with language and an almost fairy tale sensibility that reminds me a little of Catherynne Valente. In “When the Fall is All That’s Left” Martine switches gears completely to tell a sci-fi story about a pair of friends who have just flown through a star. While there’s no particularly remarkable elements here, the story pieces that Martine has chosen are well-picked and artfully put together. For contrast, however, she’s included “Adjuva,” a story so arcane as to be incomprehensible and which I could barely make it through at all, much less enjoy.

Kim May

“Blood Moon Carnival” is a punctuation atrocity visited on what might otherwise have been a halfway decent story idea. Unfortunately, the absurd number of exclamation points just destroy any sense of suspension of disbelief or immersion in the story I might have felt. Drama has to come from the events that are unfolding, not from a half dozen paragraphs in a row ending with an exclamation that doesn’t actually convey any shock or surprise or urgency.

I almost didn’t read “The Void Around the Sword’s Edge,” and I wish I had followed that instinct. It’s riddled with copy editing issues, misspellings, and poor word choice, but it’s also a very silly story with an ending that can be seen coming a mile away and that is far too easy to be at all interesting.

Alison McBain

I’m of two minds about Alison McBain’s work. On the one hand, I kind of love that it’s a throwback to the sort of very old fairy tales that don’t always have any positive moral or message. My favorite old fairy tales have always been the ones about amoral tricksters or wicked witches who don’t actually get vanquished or where magical things just happen without necessarily meaning anything at all except maybe something about our collective id or whatever. All three of McBain’s stories here capture something of those qualities. At the same time, however, there’s a certain sense of smug, postmodern nihilism as well that is almost unpleasant to read and makes me feel a little bad about enjoying these stories so much.

Rati Mehrotra

Both “Charaid Dreams” and “Ghosts of Englehart” deal with children who have been changed by exposure to aliens. The first is a sort of frontier story about a family living on a remote planet that is largely inhospitable to human life, while the second is an alien invasion story, but they otherwise have a lot in common. Both are family dramas, both involve aliens who only seem to interact with children, and both have very little to actually say for themselves that isn’t something relatively platitudinous about how children are the future.

Lia Swope Mitchell

“Slow” is a marvelous little horror story about a sculpture that is sucking the life out of its artist. I don’t think Lia Swope Mitchell’s current, very small body of work is quite enough for a Campbell nomination, but she’s only in her first year of eligibility. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for her stuff over the rest of 2016.

Allison Mulder

I loved “Decay.” This story about body-snatching tooth fairies was delightfully unexpected. It’s good and creepy, with a surprise ending that is actually legitimately scary. Allison Mulder is another first year author who I hope publishes a few more things in time for me to consider her for next year’s awards.

Ian Muneshwar

Ian Muneshwar’s “Ossuary” is a wonderfully unique take on the AI-searching-for-a-body trope that seems to keep popping up in this collection. It’s also just beautifully written, the kind of story I want to read over and over again to search for all its shades of meaning. Also, to just admire Muneshwar’s consistently excellent word choice and structures. “Ossuary” isn’t a very long story at 2570 words, but Muneshwar makes every one of those words count.

Brian Niemeier

“Strange Matter” is a more science-y, more cynical version of Groundhog Day, but I adored the ending of it, which surprised me by turning out to be something funny and sweet. I would love to have time to actually read all of Brian Niemeier’s novel, Nethereal, but I won’t be getting to it in the next week.

Final Verdict:

None of today’s authors have published enough notable work for me to really get excited for them as Campbell prospects for this year, but Arkady Martine, Lia Swope Mitchell, Allison Mulder, and Ian Muneshwar are all on my list of authors to follow for the rest of 2016 and see if that changes.

Hugo Recommendations: Best Editor Short Form and Long Form

The Hugo Awards for editors, long form and short form, are both somewhat difficult to nominate for. Here’s why:

  • Best Editor (Long Form): This is the first of the person categories, so the Award is given for the work that person has done in the year of eligibility. To be eligible the person must have edited at least 4 novel-length (i.e. 40,000 words or more) books devoted to science fiction and/or fantasy in the year of eligibility that are not anthologies or collections.
  • Best Editor (Short Form): To be eligible the person must have edited at least four anthologies, collections or magazine issues devoted to science fiction and/or fantasy, at least one of which must have been published in the year of eligibility.

Basically, the eligibility rules are written in a way that disadvantages small press editors of novels, who may not work on many projects in a year, and excludes first-time or new editors of anthologies and magazines altogether. This is further complicated by the fact that many readers just aren’t aware of who edits the work they read, and for novels in particular, this information is often not readily available. In practice both of these categories have functioned almost as lifetime achievement awards, and they tend to be dominated by the same handful of nominees and winners year after year.

I feel like most of the editors that I like right now are newish to the scene, so they may all be longshots, but it would be nice to see some new and different faces on the finalist list this year. There are a couple of people whose eligibility I’m not sure of, or who I’m fairly certain are not eligible, but I’m going to list them anyway because I like them and think more people should know who they are.

Best Editor, Long Form

  • Marco Palmieri – Tor. We have Marco Palmieri to thank for a couple of last year’s best debut novels, The Traitor Baru Cormorant and Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard.
  • Anne Lesley Groell – Bantam Spectra and Random House. She brought us Uprooted.
  • Anne Perry – Hodderscape. Responsible for bringing The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet to a broader audience after it was originally kickstarted and self-pubbed by the author.
  • Betsy Wollheim – DAW. In 2015, gave us The Book of Phoenix.
  • Joe Monti – SAGA Press. Edited The Grace of Kings.

Best Editor, Short Form

  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia – She Walks in Shadows
  • Ann & Jeff VanderMeer – Sisters of the Revolution
  • Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas – Uncanny
  • Neil Clarke – Clarkesworld
  • Liz Gorinsky – Tor.com
  • John Joseph Adams – Lightspeed

Probably not eligible because of the rules, but wish I could nominate and might put on my ballot anyway instead of a couple of the usual suspects that show up almost every year:

  • Nisi Shawl & Bill Campbell – Stories for Chip
  • Walidah Imarisha & Adrienne Maree Brown – Octavia’s Brood


Let’s Read! Up and Coming: Part 5

This group of stories is a sadly lackluster bunch. There’s nothing particularly awful in this group, but most of it was firmly in the category of “not my kind of thing.”

Kurt Hunt

“Paolo, Friend Paolo” was overlong to the point of being boring, and “Tigerskin” was forgettable. However, though I didn’t like “QSFTmk2.7853 Has a Name” very much on first reading, it’s turned out to be a story that has stuck with me, and I’ve found myself thinking about it off and on for a full twenty-four hours now. The idea of artificially intelligent robots being people isn’t new or fresh, but Kurt Hunt’s take on it has the sort of slow-burning and lasting impact that is a mark of a great story.

L.S. Johnson

From L.S. Johnson come a pair of haunting stories deeply rooted in fairy tale traditions. “Vacui Magia” is an excellent use of second person point of view, which is tricky to work with and which I always appreciate seeing done well. It’s also a remarkable meditation on some of the complex feelings women have about motherhood. “Little Men with Knives” is a fascinating modern version of something very like “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” and it’s notable if for no other reason than that’s not a story that gets much attention in the world of fairy tale retellings. That said, it’s also a wonderful story in its own right, and it’s likely to make my final list for Best Novelette this year.

Cameron Johnston

“The Economist & the Dragon” had a title that excited me, but the story was a disappointment, to say the least. The set up goes on too long, and the punchline, when it comes, is nowhere near surprising enough to be really funny, which is too bad. Even just hours after reading it and looking at my notes, I have a hard time recalling anything about “Head Games.” “The Shadow Under Scotland” is an only very vaguely Lovecraftian story that doesn’t really justify its use of Scotland as a setting important enough to name it in the title. Aside from the dialect of the characters, there’s nothing particularly specific to Scotland, and the danger/horror of the story isn’t big enough to feel like it threatens a whole country.

Rachael K. Jones

Rachael K. Jones is by far the best of today’s group of writers, and I loved all three of the stories printed here. It’s too bad “Makeisha in Time” is from 2014; if it had a 2015 pub date, it would definitely be on my Best Short Story list this year. I loved this story of a woman who is unstuck in time and trying to find a way to change the narratives of history. “Who Binds and Looses the World with Her Hands,” the story of two deaf women and the way their relationship is changed by the arrival of a sorcerer on their secluded island is going to be on my list this year. And “Charlotte Incorporated,” about a brain in a jar looking for a body, is a strong early addition to my ongoing list of favorite 2016 stories.

Jason Kimble

“Broken” tries unsuccessfully to squeeze a lot of world building into a short space, and ends up being nearly incoherent and full of proper nouns that are never defined explicitly and whose meanings can only be half figured out from context. I might have enjoyed it if I could understand what the hell was going on. “Hide Behind,” on the other hand, is a moderately creepy monster story with a dark fairy tale sensibility. I didn’t love it, but I can definitely see why someone who more generally likes that sort of thing might.

Paul B. Kohler

“Rememorations” is the second or third time just in this collection that I’ve seen someone write about the idea that the human brain somehow isn’t big enough to handle immortality—basically that the brain’s memory storage gets full and causes problems for the immortal—and I kind of hate this idea. Partly, I dislike it because I half-suspect that everyone is just copying off that one Doctor Who episode, but partly I dislike it because every story based around it seems to think that it’s very clever, in spite of not having anything very insightful to say about either immortality or memory. The smug tone of this story’s heavily telegraphed ending just made me sigh. Meanwhile, “The Soul Collector” has a relatively pedestrian premise, which could nevertheless have been elevated by a more capable writer, but is instead spoiled by poor word choices and some of the worst, faux old-timey, theatrical dialogue I’ve read this year.

Jeanne Kramer-Smyth

Someone is going to love Jeanne Kramer-Smyth’s work, but that someone is not me. Both of her stories here are short, simple ones with little conflict, no real sense of danger, and happy endings all around. There’s some darkness in the post-apocalyptic/dystopian backgrounds of both “Unsealed” and “View from Above,” but Kramer-Smyth doesn’t allow it to touch her characters in any real sense.

Jamie Gilman Kress

“And Now, Fill Her In” puts a psychic of sorts on a doomed plane, but what happens next isn’t actually interesting. Instead, it’s mostly just Kiya looking around and silently judging other passengers.

Jason LaPier

Jason LaPier’s selection is an excerpt from his novel, Unexpected Rain. It seems to be trying to be a space opera hybrid akin to The Expanse, but I couldn’t get into it. The excerpt is from—for some reason—Chapter 9 of the book, which means I have no idea what exactly is going on in it. In any case, it’s some mediocre action stuff peppered with ham-fisted, sophomoric dialogue. I looked up the book on Goodreads, but after reading the book description and glancing through the reviews, I can tell that it’s definitely not for me.

Fonda Lee

I wanted to love the excerpt from Fonda Lee’s novel, Zeroboxer, but it’s much more the sort of thing that I’d like to Netflix if it was a movie—not the sort of thing I have much interest in reading. That said, it’s well-written and a cool idea if you’re at all into sports stories, and the few reviews I read of it sounded promising. Lee’s short story, “Universal Print” wasn’t great, however. It’s interesting to see how common printing technology has gotten in sci-fi, but this story was otherwise forgettable.

Final Verdict:

I unequivocally loved all three of Rachael K. Jones’s stories, and I will probably be picking up L.S. Johnson’s recently published story collection for more of her work, but the rest of today’s crop of stories was just not that good.

Hugo Recommendations: Best Graphic Story and Best Artist

These have been some of the most fun categories to research, as I don’t read a ton of comics and had to spend a good amount of time googling the artists for some of my favorite book covers from last year. Then, I got to fall down the internet hole that is fan art, and there’s an incredible amount of good work out there to peruse. One thing that is nice about these categories, as well, is that because these aren’t parts of fandom I’m particularly active in, I don’t feel like my decisions are heavily influenced by anyone else’s opinions. It means my thoughts about these categories are all very uncomplicated, but it also means that these are probably all categories that I won’t fill up my ballot for.

Best Graphic Story
  • ODY-C Volume 1 by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward
    This seems to have been a sort of love it or hate it book, and I am firmly on the love side. It’s a gorgeously illustrated, ambitious project unlike anything else out there right now.
  • Rat Queens Volume 2: The Far-Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth by Kurtis J Wiebe, Roc Upchurch and Stjepan Sejic
    While I was skeptical of this book to begin with—I’m a little distrustful of overtly feminist work by men, to be honest, because they usually mess it up somehow—I quickly fell in love with it. It’s smart and funny and full of badass women, with a minimal amount of male-gaze-y artwork.
  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
    This is a book that I actually bought for my daughter after she couldn’t put it down at the bookstore. When I read it for myself, I could definitely see why. It’s wonderful.
  • Bitch Planet Volume 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine DeLandro, Taki Soma, and Robert Wilson
    Bitch Planet is the feminist comic book I’ve been waiting for my whole life.
  • Monstress #1 by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda
    This isn’t my favorite comic I read last year, but it’s hands down the most beautiful to look at. Every page from cover to cover is filled edge to edge with some of the most sumptuous illustration I’ve seen in a comic in ages. It’s just stunning.

As you might be able to tell, I don’t really do super heroes, as a general rule. I did read some of The Wicked + The Divine last year as well, but didn’t care for it, and I read the first issue of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur when that came out. It was cute, but I didn’t go back to it when new issues came out. I’m actually really looking forward to reading whatever makes the finalist list in this category this year.

Best Professional Artist
  • Richard Anderson
    Richard Anderson did cover art for several of my favorite books last year—The Builders, Sunset Mantle, Empire Ascendant, and The Dinosaur Lords (which I actually hated, but it had a rad cover)—and I can’t get enough of his style. While he works with a somewhat limited palette, heavy on grays and browns, all of Anderson’s illustrations are full of remarkable energy.
  • Cynthia Sheppard
    In 2015, Cynthia Sheppard illustrated covers for Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory and A.M. Dellamonica’s A Daughter of No Nation. She’s another artist who works with a somewhat monochromatic palette, but it makes the occasional flashes of bright color in her work that much more striking.

I am probably going to just stick to these two nominations, since I don’t have a ton of strong opinions on particular artists. Tommy Arnold has some amazing cover artwork coming out this year, but that’s no good for this round of awards, and I always love Julie Dillon’s work when I see it, but she just won the Hugo last year and I’m looking forward to seeing some different people get attention.

Best Fan Artist
  • Megan Lara
    It’s been done to death, but I never get tired of art nouveau style illustrations. Ever.
  • Octavi Navarro
    Pixel art has also been done, but not like this.

This is another category where I doubt I’ll fill my ballot. There’s just so much that I like and so much that is good that it’s tough to make any final decisions, especially when I’m so bogged down with trying to cram some more short fiction reading in over the next few days.

All that said, if you have a recommendation, put it in the comments and I’ll check it out!

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.