Tag Archives: Yoon Ha Lee

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.

Book Review – Cosmic Powers: The Saga Anthology of Far-Away Galaxies, Edited by John Joseph Adams

The new John Joseph Adams-edited anthology, Cosmic Powers, is the first great anthology of the year, jam-packed with smart, entertaining sci-fi adventure stories that bring a nicely modern sensibility to old ideas and tropes. There are several recurring themes throughout the anthology. Religion figures largely in many of these stories, and several of the stories deal with gods or with beings who have amassed nearly godlike power with the aid of time and technology. Artificial intelligences of various kinds make several appearances, as do post-humans of multiple kinds. Examinations of families both biological and found are significant as well, and several stories look at the responsibility of people to each other, personally, and to humanity as a whole; it’s “the personal is political” writ across space and time. It’s a remarkably cohesive collection that nonetheless contains a wonderful variety of stories by a diverse group of authors to offer a well-rounded perspective on the idea of stories that take place on a cosmic scale.

The collection kicks off on a strong note with Charlie Jane Anders’ very clever, very funny adventure story, “A Temporary Embarrassment in Spacetime,” and Tobias S. Buckell’s “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance,” which is at least as clever as its predecessor, telling the story of a maintenance robot’s creative circumvention of its own programming. It’s seldom that any anthology starts off with three knock-out stories in a row, but these two are followed up with Becky Chambers’ “The Deckhand, the Nova Blade, and the Thrice-Sung Texts,” a delightful epistolary exploration of the Hero’s Journey from the perspective of an unlikely Chosen One.

The next three stories aren’t as good. Vylar Kaftan’s “The Sighted Watchmaker” is fine, and I’m sure it will be appealing to those who enjoy this kind of thing, but it wasn’t for me. It lost me with the Richard Dawkins epigraph and never quite managed to recapture my interests. I had already read “Infinite Love Engine” by Joseph Allen Hill in a recent issue of Lightspeed, but rereading it didn’t help me “get” it any better than I did the first time. I want to love the sheer weirdness of it, but it verges on a degree of psychedelia that makes it difficult to nail down exactly what the story is about. Still, I expect this is a story that I’ll return to again; I think maybe I just need to read it the right way and it will all make sense. “Unfamiliar Gods” by Adam-Troy Castro, with Judi B. Castro, is a mostly straightforward deal with the devil story, played for laughs and with an absurdist “twist,” but it’s not particularly funny or thoughtful.

Caroline M. Yoachim’s “Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World” covers some of the same thematic ground as “The Sighted Watchmaker,” but more effectively and with an interesting story structure that works well to break up Yoachim’s big ideas into easily digestible portions. “Golden Ring” by Karl Schroeder and “The Universe, Sung in Stars” by Kat Howard similarly work with ideas relating the nature of god and time, but neither of these approach the excellence of “Seven Wonders.” The Kat Howard story is beautifully written, but all the lovely, poetic prose in the world isn’t enough to make up for a somewhat trite premise.

From Alan Dean Foster comes the workmanlike but ultimately anti-climactic “Our Specialty is Xenogeology,” in which a Star Trek-ish team of space explorers almost make first contact but then think better of it. I expected to love A. Merc Rustad’s “Tomorrow When We See the Sun,” having liked all the previous work of theirs that I’ve read, but I didn’t. (Still can’t wait til I get my copy of their first short fiction collection, though. So You Want to Be a Robot and Other Stories came out May 2 from Lethe Press.) I barely remember Jack Campbell’s “Wakening Ouroboros” and Dan Abnett’s “The Frost Giant’s Data,” and together with the sadly unremarkable Kameron Hurley tale, “Warped Passages”—which is only notable due to its seeming connection to Hurley’s excellent space opera, The Stars Are Legion—they made for a finish to Cosmic Powers that wasn’t nearly as strong as its start.

Fortunately, there’s still a few more excellent stories tucked in the middle. Seanan McGuire’s “Bring the Kids and Revisit the Past at the Traveling Retro Funfair!” is a cool, fun adventure with some high stakes. It’s perhaps a little too tidy, but I’d definitely be down to read the continuing adventures of these characters as a novel. Linda Nagata’s “Diamond and the World Breaker” has a similar tone and similarly high stakes, and I loved the exploration of the mother-daughter relationship between Diamond and Violetta. As the current parent of fourteen-year-old girl, I found the conflict relatable, and Nagata does a good job of capturing some of the frustration and joy of watching one’s child grow up. Sandwiched between these two stories is “The Dragon the Flew Out of the Sun” by Aliette de Bodard, a thoughtful musing on the long-term ways that war damages communities and families. It’s the story in the book that is least like any of the other stories collected here, but it resonates in a compelling way with the stories that immediately precede and follow it.

Finally, there’s a new Yoon Ha Lee story, “The Chameleon’s Gloves,” set in his Hexarchate universe but offering a very different perspective than what has been seen of that world so far. Before now, the Hexarchate stories have been very concerned with specifically military stories, with a lot of focus on the complex calendrical mathematics that fuel the Hexarchate’s technology, but “The Chameleon’s Gloves” is a bit smaller, more personal story centered around a character who is something of an outsider to all of that. It’s not my favorite thing Lee has ever written, and if you really want to get a good idea of his oeuvre you ought to pick up his superb 2013 collection, Conservation of Shadows, but it’s a great place to start, especially if you’ve only read Ninefox Gambit and not any of Lee’s short fiction.