Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Steerswoman, by Rosemary Kirstein

Tuesday, April 22, 2014 0
The Steerswoman
Rosemary Kirstein
Del Rey: 1989

What, exactly, is a steerswoman anyway?  It's an odd title, not so much for the book as it is for the character of Rowan.  From what I can gather, a steerswoman is an itinerant scholar, one who has a true vocation for traveling the land, asking questions, and trying to gather (and share) as much knowledge as possible.  A tradition for the steerswomen is that anyone can ask them a question, and they must answer the question honestly.  In return, if a steerswoman asks a question, that question must be honestly answered, otherwise that person will be blacklisted by the entire order and no steerswoman will ever answer questions from that person again.

The concept makes sense, mostly, but that is as far as it goes.  We know what a steerswoman does, and why (mostly), but as Ian Sales mentions in his review from several years ago, they are not fully explained.  On the other hand, perhaps it is as simple as if someone had no concept of teachers and tried to understand parts of our society.  "So, there's this organization of people who are paid by one group to impart knowledge to another group who doesn't pay them?"  Of course, how do steerswoman make money?  Maybe they hire themselves out when they aren't collecting knowledge.

Regardless, Rowan is a steerswoman trying to learn what she can about a blue gem she found. It seems to have no use, no more than any other gem, but it is the starting point for the novel and is what appears to have the minions of a wizard intent on killing her.  Wizards and steerswomen don't get along much because wizards are protective of their knowledge and their magic and tend to refuse to answer the questions of steerswomen. 

What's so damned cool about this book is that it is set up as a fantasy novel, but the deeper Kirstein takes us, the more we start to suspect that this might actually be a science fiction book.  The initial assumptions that we make may not be at all correct.  There are wizards and magic and it is clearly a low tech world, but didn't that wizard very early in the book just install streetlamps that don't require fire?  And, are those really magical charms like the character thinks they are, or is it something so much simpler that the reader would understand but the characters do not?

Rowan is seeking knowledge, and while she has an understanding of how her world works, she seeks to enlarge that understanding and that is the journey the reader is taken on.  It is fraught with danger to Rowan's life, as well as to the lives of Bel and Will, the two traveling with her.  There is action, a whole lot of exploration, but also some discovery and the use of basic scientific principles of understanding.  There will be some stuff that Rowan learns that she is only beginning to grapple with the implications of which will cause the reader to stop and think, "oh, well, if that's true..." and follow that thought to the logical end.

Which simply means that I must read The Outskirter's Secret and I'm going to have to keep reading after that.  I had fun reading this book, waiting for Rowan to catch up with what I was figuring out and waiting for Kirstein to reveal a bit more.  There are four books published in this sequence with three more planned.  But, unfortunately, writing is not Kirstein's day job and these books apparently didn't sell quite enough to get Kirstein to write them faster. Despite that, I highly recommend The Steerswoman, which can also be found in the omnibus edition The Steerswoman's Road. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Preliminary Thoughts on the Hugo Award Nominees

Monday, April 21, 2014 2
So, the nominees for the 2014 Hugo Award were announced this weekend.  You can find a list of the nominees right here, with links to as many of the nominated works as I can find. That list will be updated as more works are published online. Winners will be announced on August 17, 2014.

As with any year, there are controversies and excitement and disappointment and disgust and pretty much any other emotion that comes with stuff that people care about.  Everyone has particular perspectives they bring, works they value higher than others.  But, due to the nominations being announced during Easter weekend and the various family events and obligations I have had, I have not been in a position to actively engage in the first rounds of conversation on the nominees.  Sarah at Bookworm Blues is intentionally stepping back from the conversation so she can focus on the works and not the arguments.  There are arguments.

This is a long preamble to the fact that I am rather pleased, for once, that I had unplugged from genre conversation for a couple of years prior to rengaging this year.  I understand and have vague understanding that there have been various issues with Larry Correia and Vox Day, and that there are specifically some very strong opinions on Vox Day.  

But, all of that doesn't matter so much to me at this moment.  However any of the works made it on the ballot, they are on the ballot.  I wish to follow the thoughts of John Scalzi and take the works for what they are and consider them as such.  My goal in the coming months is to discover, understand, and discuss the relative merits of the actual works nominated. That's it. Now that this is the ballot, let's talk about the ballot itself.

Because of my reading for the Nebula Awards shortlist, I have read a number of the nominated works, so I am excited see the nominations for Rachel Swirsky, Sofia Samatar, and Aliette de Bodard in the fiction categories and I am even more excited to see how the nominations for Fan Writer and Fanzine have shifted. I have been arguing for years that the modern fanzine is the blog and the various fan writing that occurs in the online communities we see today, and that the more traditional 'zine format, while not dead by any means, does not necessarily reflect what is going on in genre today. Seeing today that most of the nominations for Fanzine and Fan Writer are for blogs and writers who are best known for the writing they have done online is remarkable and a relief.  At least in this part of the ballot, there has been a major shift in who fandom is recognizing.

This may be a good time to point out an obvious truth. Each award, whether it is the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, or the Pulitzer, is reflective of who it is that nominated and votes on the awards. The World Fantasy Awards are a juried award, the Nebulas are voted on by members of the SFWA, and the Hugos are nominated and voted on by those who have either purchased a membership to attend Worldcon or have purchased a supporting membership which provides nominating and voting rights. So, despite being the most visible of all genre awards, the Hugo Awards are reflective of the opinions of those who have memberships to Worldcon.

The other point to make is that if you look at previous years, it takes a relative few number of nominations to actually make the final ballot and the margin between making the ballot and not making the ballot can be extremely tight.  

One of the more interesting nominations on the ballot is that of The Wheel of Time as a single work, rather than the final volume A Memory of Light.  I remember reading commentaries earlier this year talking about how, because no previous volume had been nominated, the series as a whole was also eligible to be nominated and, obviously, sufficient people did, in fact, nominate it.  I'm not sure how I feel about that.  It works from the perspective of enough fans wanted to honor Robert Jordan for a series that they passionately love, but on the other hand, there are fourteen volumes in the main series, plus a prequel.  I'm not sure one can truly compare fifteen books to Ancillary Justice, but that is now what we are asked to do.  Or, other people are being asked to do this because I do not have a supporting membership this year (I expect to have one next year).

As a whole, I am interested to take the measure of this lineup of nominees.  I love awards season. Let's consider Sofia Samatar and not be bothered by shenanigans and just be in the zone with our books.  It's a good thought.  I like it. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

2014 Hugo Award Nominees

Sunday, April 20, 2014 0
(Via SF Signal and the rest of the internet)

Below are the nominees for the 2014 Hugo Awards.  Congratulations to all the nominees.

Best Novel (1595 ballots)
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit US / Orbit UK)
Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross (Ace / Orbit UK)
Parasite by Mira Grant (Orbit US / Orbit UK)
Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia (Baen Books)
The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books)

Best Novella (847 ballots)
The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells (Privateer Press)
“The Chaplain’s Legacy” by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)
Equoid” by Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)
Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean Press)
Wakulla Springs” by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages (Tor.com, 10-2013)

Best Novelette (728 ballots)
“The Exchange Officers” by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jan-Feb 2013) (audio)
The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com/Tor.com, 09-2013)
Opera Vita Aeterna” by Vox Day (The Last Witchking, Marcher Lord Hinterlands)
The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” by Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2013)
The Waiting Stars” by Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam)

Best Short Story (865 ballots)
If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine, Mar-2013)
The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com, 04-2013)
Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)
The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)

Best Related Work (752 ballots)
Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It Edited by Sigrid Ellis & Michael Damian Thomas (Mad Norwegian Press)
Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary by Justin Landon & Jared Shurin (Jurassic London)
We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)
Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer, with Jeremy Zerfoss (Abrams Image)
Writing Excuses: Season 8 by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Jordan Sanderson

Best Graphic Story (552 ballots)
Girl Genius, Volume 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colours by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
“The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who” written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Jimmy Broxton (Doctor Who Special 2013, IDW)
The Meathouse Man adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Raya Golden (Jet City Comics)
Saga, Volume 2 written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
Time” by Randall Munroe (XKCD)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) (995 ballots)
Frozen screenplay by Jennifer Lee, directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee (Walt Disney Studios)
Gravity written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films; Warner Bros.)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire screenplay by Simon Beaufoy & Michael Arndt, directed by Francis Lawrence (Color Force; Lionsgate)
Iron Man 3 screenplay by Drew Pearce & Shane Black, directed by Shane Black (Marvel Studios; DMG Entertainment; Paramount Pictures)
Pacific Rim screenplay by Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro, directed by Guillermo del Toro (Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros., Disney Double Dare You)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) (760 ballots)
An Adventure in Space and Time written by Mark Gatiss, directed by Terry McDonough (BBC Television)
Doctor Who: “The Day of the Doctor” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Television)
Doctor Who: “The Name of the Doctor” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Television)
The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot written and directed by Peter Davison (BBC Television)
Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere” written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
Orphan Black: “Variations under Domestication” written by Will Pascoe, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions; Space/BBC America)

Best Editor: Short Form (656 ballots)
John Joseph Adams
Neil Clarke
Ellen Datlow 
Jonathan Strahan 
Sheila Williams (Asimov's)

Best Editor: Long Form (632 ballots)
Ginjer Buchanan (Ace Books)
Sheila Gilbert (DAW)
Liz Gorinsky
Lee Harris 
Toni Weisskopf (Baen)

Best Professional Artist (624 ballots)
Galen Dara 
Julie Dillon 
Daniel Dos Santos 
John Harris 
John Picacio
Fiona Staples

Best Semiprozine (411 ballots)
Apex Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Jason Sizemore, and Michael Damian Thomas
Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews
Interzone edited by Andy Cox
Lightspeed Magazine edited by John Joseph Adams, Rich Horton, and Stefan Rudnicki
Strange Horizons edited by Niall Harrison, Brit Mandelo, An Owomoyela, Julia Rios, Sonya Taaffe, Abigail Nussbaum, Rebecca Cross, Anaea Lay, and Shane Gavin

Best Fanzine (478 ballots)
The Book Smugglers edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James
A Dribble of Ink edited by Aidan Moher
Elitist Book Reviews edited by Steven Diamond
Journey Planet edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Lynda E. Rucker, Pete Young, Colin Harris, and Helen J. Montgomery
Pornokitsch edited by Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin

Best Fancast (396 ballots)
The Coode Street Podcast – Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
Galactic Suburbia Podcast – Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (presenters) and Andrew Finch (producer)
SF Signal Podcast – Patrick Hester
The Skiffy and Fanty Show – Shaun Duke, Jen Zink, Julia Rios, Paul Weimer, David Annandale, Mike Underwood, and Stina Leicht
Tea and Jeopardy – Emma Newman
Verity! – Deborah Stanish, Erika Ensign, Katrina Griffiths, L.M. Myles, Lynne M. Thomas, and Tansy Rayner Roberts
The Writer and the Critic – Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond

Best Fan Writer (521 ballots)
Liz Bourke 
Kameron Hurley
Foz Meadows 
Abigail Nussbaum 
Mark Oshiro 

Best Fan Artist (316 ballots)
Brad W. Foster
Mandie Manzano 
Spring Schoenhuth 
Steve Stiles
Sarah Webb 

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (767 ballots)
Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2012 or 2013, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award).
Wesley Chu 
Max Gladstone*
Ramez Naam*
Sofia Samatar*
Benjanun Sriduangkaew

*Denotes finalists in their 2nd year of eligibility.

There is also something called the Retro Hugos, being given out for works published in 1938, but you can see the SF Signal link for those.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Nebula Award Nominee: "The Waiting Stars", by Aliette de Bodard

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 0
"The Waiting Stars"
Aliette de Bodard
The Other Half of the Sky
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Novelette

Two stories. 

The first, that of Lan Nhen searching through what is an interstellar boneyard of derelict ships that have been attacked and abandoned.  She searches for her great-aunt's ship, a Mind Ship, which science fiction readers will recognize as being code for a sentient ship of some sort, whether it is a human mind controlling the ship or something similar one of Anne McCaffrey's brain ships that are alive in their own right.  Either way, a derelict Mind Ship is a horrible thing to contemplate, but Lan Nhen is hoping to restore and rescue the ship. 

The second is Catherine, a young woman who was rescued as a child "so that you wouldn't become brood mares for abominations."  She lives in the Institution, which seems to be a rehabilitative center to transition the children from the lives they once knew into citizens of the Galactics. That they were being made safe.  But, this also has the ring of American history and the treatment of Native American children being forced to give up their language and "savage" culture in the Americanizing schools in the late 1800's and early 1900's.  This isn't, by any means, a stretch of a comparison.  Given that Catherine and her fellow students / captives / dorm mates are described as being "smaller and darker skinned" and that "one only had to look at them, at their squatter, darker shapes, at the way their eyes crinkled when they laughed", the story of Lan Nhen suggests that these children were "rescued" from the more southwest Asian heritage of the Mind Ship families. Is there a similar history with the Vietnamese compared to the Native Americans?  Or, is the comparison too easy because of what I bring to the table as an American reader?  

While the two stories seemingly remain separate, it doesn't take long for the reader to see what de Bodard is doing here, how she is weaving the two together while letting the two stories run separately.  The two story strands make a much stronger whole than if either strand was the entire story.  

"The Waiting Stars" is a fantastic science fiction story, heart rending as the gradual reveal is given of what is going on with those children, now grown, are living with and dealing with. With what is left buried that is eating them from the inside out.  "The Waiting Stars" is good and it is smart. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Quoted: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, pg 13

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 0
"There was an odor in the air, a strong amalgamation of beer, cafeteria lasagna, bug spray, and piss." - Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, pg 13

I am only 50 some pages into this book and I want to quote something from nearly every other page.  This one, though, just sticks with me.  I can almost smell and choke on the odor. Such a perfect description.

Monday, April 14, 2014

2014 Pulitzer Prize Award for Fiction: The Goldfinch

Monday, April 14, 2014 0
The Pulitzer Prizes winners have been announced for 2014

The winner of the Pulitzer for Fiction is The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt.  Other finalists for fiction are The Son, by Philipp Meyer and The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, by Bob Shacochis.

At this point, I have read 49 of the 87 Pulitzer Prize winners.  My quest goes ever on.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Nebula Award Nominee: The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker

Friday, April 11, 2014 0
The Golem and the Jinni
Helene Wecker
Harper Collins: 2013
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Novel

New York City, 1899. A golem arrives on a steamship and escapes to find her way, masterless, in the city.  A jinni, trapped in a copper flask for one thousand years, is released by a tinsmith. 

From the author's website:

Each unknown to the other, the Golem and the Jinni explore the strange and altogether human city. Chava, as a kind old rabbi names her, is beset by the desires and wishes of others, which she can feel tugging at her. Ahmad, christened by the tinsmith who makes him his apprentice, is aggravated by human dullness. Both must work to create places for themselves in this new world, and develop tentative relationships with the people who surround them.

Helene Wecker posits a world in which cultural mythology is real, where the Jewish mysticism and magic that allows someone to create a facsimile of life out of clay is possible, and where intelligent spirits of fire really do exist out in the deserts of the Middle East.  She has done so, and then she places these two creatures in the turn of the century New York City and surrounds them, initially, with caring individuals who welcome them into their lives.  This is important, because it provides the opportunity for the reader to become immersed in the various immigrant pockets of the city and into the lives of the Golem and the Jinni as they, respectively, figure out who they are and how to exist in this world so far from what they know. 

The conflict here, however, is much more than these two beings passing as human and the inherent struggle that presents when one is a creature of fire in a city surrounded by water and the other doesn't breathe, can hear thoughts and desires, and has only been alive for several months.  Though, that by itself is enough to tell a story.  It's just not all that Wecker is doing with this novel.  There is more, and it begins to set up fairly early in the novel, but saying more about how Wecker weaves all of this together is to lessen the impact. 

But, lessening the impact of seeing how everything fits together is also a minor concern because the true impact of The Golem and the Jinni is how beautifully written and constructed this novel is.  It is easy to get lost in this early New York City, and while we may believe that it is fraught with peril and dirt and grime of industry, it is also beautiful and haunting and full of the promise that is the new world and a second and third chance for the immigrants coming to find something new, different, or better.  That exists in The Golem and the Jinni and it comes across well. 

The Golem and the Jinni is surely one of the best novels published last year and the most remarkable thing about it is that this is the debut novel from Helene Wecker. It is a stunning work of fiction, beautiful and moving and all of the other superlatives I could come up with to pile on top. I say this in April, but this will be one of my favorite reads of the year. I have no doubt.


 
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