Tag Archives: Sarah Gailey

The SF Bluestocking Spring 2017 Reading List Wrap-Up

Between personal life stuff (my car will not stop breaking down about once a week) and generalized depression and anxiety about the state of the country and the world, I didn’t get around to writing nearly as much as I’d have liked to about what I’ve read in the last three months, so I’ve been looking forward to writing this list and wrapping up this season of stress and frustration so I can move onto other things.

That said, there was so much great stuffed published over the last three months, and I ended up reading most (though by no means all) of my Spring Reading List. It’s been very sad to not have the energy to write about it all, so I’m glad to have begun doing these wrap-up posts so I can squee a bit about everything I’ve missed writing longer posts about.

Best Fantasy Novel – The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente

I have unequivocally loved everything I’ve ever read by Catherynne Valente, and The Refrigerator Monologues was always one of my most-anticipated releases of 2017, so it’s no surprise that I adored it. Valente has always had a way with language, and like all of her other work, The Refrigerator Monologues deserves to be read aloud, even if just to yourself. It’s smart and funny and furious and sad, and Valente has crafted a wonderfully original world of superheroes and a marvelous group of heroines with strong voices that are distinctive and familiar in turns.

Best Science Fiction Novel – Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

I’ve been following Yoon Ha Lee’s career with interest since picking up Conservation of Shadows a few years ago because I liked the cover and realizing that it was one of the finest SFF short fiction collections I’d ever read. Lee’s first novel, last year’s Ninefox Gambit, was among my favorite books of 2016, but he’s really outdone himself with Raven Stratagem, which is one of those rare second books in trilogies that is better than the first. Even having read some of Lee’s short fiction set in his Hexarchate universe, I sometimes struggled to follow parts of Ninefox Gambit, but that’s not the case with Raven Stratagem, which is all around a stronger book, more character-focused, with a more easily comprehensible plot and a great cathartic payoff at the end that sets things up for a very exciting third installment in the series.

Best Magazine – Uncanny #16, May/June 2017

Uncanny‘s Year Three has been outstanding in general, but this was an especially excellent issue. Sarah Gailey’s essay, “City of Villains: Why I Don’t Trust Batman,” went almost viral (and deservedly so) as soon as it was posted online, but it’s only one great piece in an issue heavy on wonderful nonfiction. My personal favorite essays were “Missive from a Woman in a Room in a City in a Country in a World Not Her Own” by Mimi Mondal and “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Eat the Eyeball” by Dongwon Song. This issue is no slouch in the fiction and poetry department, either, with new short stories by Ursula Vernon (“Sun, Moon, Dust”) and Chinelo Onwualu (“Read Before Use”), among others, and a pair of lovely poems by Roshani Chokshi (“Dancing Princesses”) and Theodora Goss (“Seven Shoes”). Honestly, just buy the whole thing, and then think about backing Year Four (which will include a People with Disabilities Destroy Sci-Fi special issue) when the Kickstarter goes live in July.

32758901Best Novella – All Systems Red by Martha Wells

I read an above average number of very good novellas in the last three months, but All Systems Red is a true standout even with stiff competition. A sci-fi adventure written from the point of view of a sentient cyborg/robot who calls itself “Murderbot,” All Systems Red has humor, excitement, a dash of horror, and criticism of capitalism–all things relevant to my interests–combined with a strong and unique narrative voice. The best part is that there are at least three more Murderbot stories forthcoming from Tor.com over the next year or so. I cannot wait.

Best Comic Book – Saga, Volume 7 by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan

This seems an obvious choice, especially since I’m not a great reader of comics in general, but Saga is really, really good. This volume is full of all the weirdness one can always expect from this series, but it also comes with almost as much heartbreak (including at least one straight up gut punch) as the six previous volumes combined, so be sure to enjoy it with a box of tissues close at hand, possibly after several glasses of wine to preemptively dull the pain this book is pretty much guaranteed to make you feel.

Best Anthology – Cosmic Powers: The Saga Anthology of Far-Away Galaxies edited by John Joseph Adams

Listen. You’re almost never going to find any collection of short fiction that you like every bit of, but this anthology comes close for me. From the very funny “A Temporary Embarassment in Spacetime” by Charlie Jane Anders to the sharp and wryly witty “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance” by Tobias Buckell to Linda Nagata’s mother/daughter caper, “Diamond and the World Breaker, to a new Yoon Ha Lee Hexarchate story, “The Chameleon’s Gloves,” there’s something here for almost everyone. It’s an anthology with (cosmically) big ideas, a great deal of fun, and an entertainingly retro sensibility without sacrificing forward-thinking messages.

Best Collection – So You Want to Be a Robot and Other Stories by A. Merc Rustad

I only discovered A. Merc Rustad in January when I read their lovely story, “This is Not a Wardrobe Door,” at Fireside, but I loved that story so much that this collection was at the top of my to-read list as soon as I found out about it. So You Want to be a Robot and Other Stories collects that story and twenty more in a showcase of Rustad’s consistently good ideas and solid execution. Personal favorite stories in the collection include: “The Android’s Prehistoric Menagerie,” “Where Monsters Dance,” “Finding Home,” and “BATTERIES FOR YOUR DOOMBOT5000 ARE NOT INCLUDED.”

Best Sin du Jour Novella – Greedy Pigs by Matt Wallace

We’re up to book number five in this seven part series, and I am already getting sad about it ending. I’ve enjoyed this series since day one, and each installment continues to be better than the one before. In Greedy Pigs, the Sin du Jour team finds themselves accidentally catering an event for the President of the United States. Things get weird, obviously.

Best Non-SFF Thing – Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 Original Broadway Cast Recording

Not a book, I know, but I’m slightly obsessed with this musical right now. It’s based on about seventy pages from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, and it scratches basically all my itches. It’s ambitious. It’s funny. It’s literary. It’s gorgeously written and produced. It’s got accordions. It’s got Helene Kuragina, who is played by Amber Gray, who is a treasure and gives us this earworm:

Honorable Mentions:

  • Reenu-You by Michele Tracy Berger – Not the best written novella I read this spring, and it could have used another pass with a copy editor, but it’s a story that has stuck with me. Even weeks later, I still find myself thinking every couple of days about these characters and the way they bond through a shared trauma.
  • Victor LaValle’s Destroyer #1 – A promising first issue with a fresh take on classic source material.
  • “Beauty, Glory, Thrift” by Alison Tam – A delightful sci-fi adventure novelette.
  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire – I only liked Every Heart a Doorway, but I loved Down Among the Sticks and Bones. I think if I’d read this one first, I’d have liked the other better as well.
  • The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis – I didn’t think I was in the mood for a book about a woman having to deal with sexist garbage, but this one is a good, fast read.

Biggest Disappointments: 

  • Ladycastle #4 – After this limited series started off strong, it ends with some baffling plot developments and a too-easy resolution.
  • River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey – This novella was fine. I like the hippos. But I think it’s a case of it being extremely over-hyped. I’m not sure what I expected, but it doesn’t seem near exciting enough on its own merits to earn all the superlative praise I’ve seen for it.
  • The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett – By about five chapters in, I’d predicted the book’s big “twist” and couldn’t even be bothered to finish it.

Let’s Read! Up and Coming: Part 3

This was a somewhat light reading day, with several authors who only have one story included in Up and Coming. This is nice, in a way, because I’m exhausted from two straight days of staying up late to finish (the wages of thinking up ambitious, time-sensitive projects at the last minute), but it does make it somewhat more difficult to get a real sense of an author when you’ve only got a single story to go on. Still, some of these stories are excellent enough to make up for the lack of quantity.

Jonathan Edelstein

The first story of the day is Jonathan Edelstein’s novelette, “First Do No Harm.” It’s nice to see a piece set in Africa, and while I’m not an expert, the setting of “First Do No Harm” appears to be meticulously researched and respectfully imagined. Unfortunately, I don’t buy the ideas that underpin the story. While I can imagine there being a dark age of sorts following some apocalyptic event, I find the sustained and enforced stifling of scientific inquiry—in favor of only teaching and practicing medicine that has already been recorded—highly unbelievable. I don’t think this kind of dogmatism was even common in the actual Dark Ages, and I can’t imagine that it would happen in a society capable of producing nanotechnology.

Harlow C. Fallon

“A Long Horizon” is a fascinating story about a pair of unlikely friends. It’s one of several stories in Up and Coming that are drawn from last year’s The Immortality Chronicles, and Harlow C. Fallon offers up an unusual take on immortality. This is a far better story than its lackluster title suggests, though there’s unfortunately very little to say about it that wouldn’t spoil it.

Rafaela F. Ferraz

“The Lady of the House of Mirrors” is a novelette from an anthology about lesbian mad scientists, which I didn’t know existed but now definitely need to read all of. I love this story so much. It owes a great deal to Mary Shelley and Frankenstein, obviously, but it’s not too on the nose. Rafaela F. Ferraz has a distinctive flair that is all her own, and “The Lady of the House of Mirrors” has a decidedly steampunk-ish sensibility. My only serious critique is that the characters of Rosie’s assistant and his friend the embalmer could easily have been cut out for a more streamlined story. While they do serve a purpose in the narrative, what little they add to the story could easily have been achieved by other means.

Sam Fleming

“She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow” is a strange, sad little story with some confusing mythology. It’s not bad, but it also doesn’t distinguish itself in any particular way. It’s not sad in any edifying fashion, just gloomy.

Annalee Flower Horne

“Seven Things Cadet Blanchard Learned from the Trade Summit Incident” is fucking hilarious. DeShawna Blanchard is a delightful smartass, and I would read a thousand pages about her adventures. “Seven Things” is a story told in the form of an essay written by DeShawna as part of the disciplinary action she faces after said incident. It’s a bright, funny change of pace after several darker stories, but it’s also a well-paced and thoroughly charming piece in its own right.

Ron S. Friedman

I won’t say that both of Ron S. Friedman’s selections are objectively bad, since obviously someone liked them well enough to publish, but I will say that I hated them. “Game Not Over” is about video game characters who become self-aware and possess the body of a gamer. While there’s some humorous potential in this basic premise, the story as it’s told here isn’t funny, smart or insightful in any way. In “LUCA,” a husband and wife team of scientists are investigating what lives in the waters of Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, when a tragedy occurs. Again, there’s a seed of a decent idea here, but it’s spoiled by a simplistic, almost adolescent writing style and messaging that is so heavy-handed and trite that it’s downright silly.

David Jón Fuller

From David Jón Fuller come a pair of urban fantasy stories and a sci-fi tale set on a generation ship. “The Harsh Light of Morning” is about a racist, weirdly religious vampire who preyed upon children at a residential school in Canada. It feels more like a seed for a longer work than anything else, and I think its themes could definitely use a lot more space to develop in. “Caged” has a gay werewolf being rescued by his gay werebear romantic interest, which is adorable, and the story has an interesting aesthetic that is both distinctly Canadian and very heavy metal. Neither are really my cup of tea. I was more interested in “In Open Air” at first, but just couldn’t get into it. I skimmed to the end, and it was fine, but nothing special. Fuller’s style is the type of workmanlike that seems common in small press and self-pubbed work, but I generally prefer to read stuff that is a little more polished.

Sarah Gailey

Sarah Gailey is by far my favorite of today’s bunch of authors. “Bargain” is a short, sweet story about a demon, Malachai, summoned by an old woman who wants to save her wife, who is dying from cancer. It’s a very smart, very funny story, and there were happy tears at the end. “Bargain” is Hugo-eligible this year, if you’re still looking to fill out your list for Best Short Story.

“Haunted” is a totally different sort of story, a look at domestic violence from the point of view of a house, dealing with how tragedy marks a place and playing with the idea of what it means for something to be haunted. This one has a February 2016 pub date, so won’t be eligible for this round of Hugos, but I could easily see it making my list next year, it’s so good.

Patricia Gilliam

“The Backup” says it’s a short story, but it feels very long and somewhat aimless. There are some interesting ideas here about family and grief, but the whole story just feels kind of overstuffed, and when the ending came I was just nonplussed, which is not how I ever like to feel at the end of anything.

Jaymee Goh

Jaymee Goh’s “Liminal Grid” has a lot to say, probably about freedom and stuff, but I found it unreadable. Not unreadably bad, however. It’s just that it’s the sort of relatively near-future neo-cyberpunk-ish techno-thriller-ish thing that can just put me to sleep. I’m sure that this is an excellent story for the right audience, but I’m not it.

Final Verdict:

Sarah Gailey is an author to watch, for sure, and I really liked the contributions from Harlow C. Fallon, Rafaela F. Ferraz, and Annalee Flower Horne. However, this was balanced out today by some of the least enjoyable work in Up and Coming so far.