2016 Novellapalooza

Editor’s note: be sure to read the comments on this post for more novellas and more Filer reviews

By JJ: I’m a huge reader of novels, but not that big on short fiction. But last year, I made a concerted effort to read a good sampling of works in the shorter fiction categories. I ended up reading 31 of the novellas published in 2015 (though a few of those were after Hugo nominations closed).

This sort of comprehensive survey of the category was an entirely new experience for me. I found some real gems – several of them utterly unexpected – and perhaps for the first time, I really felt as though I was able to do nominations for the novella category in an informed way. So I decided to do it again this year.

It is not at all uncommon for me to choose to read a book despite not feeling that the jacket copy makes the book sound as though it is something I would like – and to discover that I really like or love the work anyway. On the other hand, It is not at all uncommon for me to choose to read a book in such a case, and to discover that, indeed, the book doesn’t really do much for me.

Thus, my opinions on the following novellas vary wildly: stories I thought I would love but didn’t, stories I didn’t expect to love but did, and stories which aligned with my expectations – whether high or low. Bear in mind that while I enjoy both, I tend to prefer Science Fiction over Fantasy – and that while I enjoy suspense and thrillers, I have very little appreciation for Horror (and to be honest, I think Lovecraft is way overrated). My personal assessments are therefore not intended to be the final word on these stories, but merely a jumping-off point for Filer discussion.

I thought it would be helpful to have a thread where all the Filers’ thoughts on novellas are collected in one place, as a resource when Hugo nomination time rolls around. I’ve opined on a few of these previously on File770, so I’ve put those at the end, so as to not give them an unfair amount of bandwidth.

Which of these novellas have you read? And what did you think of them?

Please feel free to post comments about any other 2016 novellas which you’ve read, as well.

(Be sure to rot-13 any spoilers.)

(fair notice: all Amazon links are referrer URLs which benefit non-profit SFF fan website Worlds Without End)


Cold-Forged Flame, by Marie Brennan (aka Bryn Neuenschwander) (excerpt)

coldforgedflameTor.com, edited by Miriam Weinberg

cover art by Sam Weber, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis: A woman comes to consciousness with a bloody animal sacrifice laid out before her. She realizes that she is bound to the shaman who did the sacrifice, by a geas that will force her to follow his command: to bring back “blood from the cauldron of the Lhian”. Never mind that he doesn’t tell her who or what the Lhian is, or where the cauldron is located: she doesn’t even know who she herself is – and he won’t tell her that either, because he says it’s safer if she doesn’t remember.

What I thought: I really, really liked this. It features a strong but flawed female character, and avoids or subverts a lot of the quest tropes. This is definitely on my longlist for next year’s Hugo nominations – and I’ll be seeking out some of Brennan’s other works, as well. There’s a sequel, Lightning in the Blood, coming out in April 2017.

Filer Comments:

  • Mark-kitteh: For a character who has no idea who she is, she’s strangely compelling, and the story itself is more adventure and (self) discovery than hack-and-slash, although there’s a bit of that too. It’s about 20,000 words, so fairly short for a novella, and it feels like a fully expanded short rather than a compressed novel, but that’s no bad thing – the story is complete by the end, although I suspect sequels are possible, and some intriguing bits of worldbuilding have been revealed.
  • Arifel: probably the best novella I’ve read this year – intriguing, well paced fantasy with a great main character and world building that I can’t wait to read more of.
  • kathodus: I noticed it on my Kindle when I had just a little time to read, decided to check it out, and remembered that it was recommended as being a tightly written story with good action and characterization, because that’s what it was. I think there is another novella or something written within this world, and I’m looking forward to checking it out.

Patchwerk, by David Tallerman (excerpt)

patchwerkTor.com, edited by Lee Harris

cover art by Tommy Arnold, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis: The inventor of an extremely powerful device, realizing that it could be used as a horrible weapon by people with sinister intentions, is trying to smuggle it out of the country in the cargo hold of an airship. But of course, an evil person who wants the weapon is on the ship as well – and knows way more about it than they should, because of a betrayal from the inventor’s past. This is the story of their confrontation, and the battle for control of the powerful device.

What I thought: Halfway through this story, I was really excited. I really liked where it was going, and how the author was taking it there. But the ending didn’t quite live up to my expectations; I’m not sure why, perhaps it seemed a little too pat. Nevertheless, I still think it is a very good story, and it’s on my Hugo nomination longlist.


Downfall of the Gods, by K.J. Parker (aka Tom Holt) (excerpt)

downfallofthegodsSubterranean Press, editor unknown

cover art by Vincent Chong, design by Desert Isle Design

Synopsis: A spoiled, petulant goddess who refuses to forgive the man who murdered her favorite musician-poet is overridden by her all-powerful father, who orders her to forgive him anyway. So she decides that her forgiveness will be given only if the man asking for it is able to complete a heroic task: to bring back the musician from the dead.

What I thought: I have more than a passing familiarity with, and appreciation for, Greek and Roman mythology, and this story combines elements of those liberally, and with some inventiveness and snarky humor. Parker’s The Last Witness was my favorite of the thirty-one 2015 novellas I read, and this story makes it clear that his skill in that one was not a one-off or an accident. This is on my Hugo nomination longlist. (Caveat: Readers who expect faithfulness to classical mythology will be disappointed.)


The Devil You Know, by K.J. Parker (aka Tom Holt) (excerpt)

thedevilyouknowTor.com, edited by Jonathan Strahan

cover art by Jon Foster, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis (jacket copy): The greatest philosopher of all time is offering to sell his soul to the Devil. All he wants is twenty more years to complete his life’s work. After that, he really doesn’t care. But the assistant demon assigned to the case has his suspicions, because the person making the bargain is not only the greatest philosopher, but also the greatest liar, trickster, and cheat the world has yet known; the sort of man even the Father of Lies can’t trust. He’s almost certainly up to something… but what?

What I thought: I ended up going back a couple of days later and reading the second half of the book (which is approx 120 pg total) again, because the twists are a bit involved and intricate, and it requires a suspension of disbelief to put oneself into the world as it’s been built here. It’s a clever story, but for some reason it did not wow me in the same way as The Last Witness or Downfall of the Gods.

Filer Comments:

  • GiantPanda: great version of Faust. Goes on my Hugo longlist
  • Arifel: Readable and satisfying but not spectacular.
  • alexvdl: Thought it was a pretty good thought experiment, well in my favored “bureacracy porn” milieu. I didn’t realize before I picked it up that it was the sequel to Blue and Gold, but that was just an added bonus.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson (excerpt)

thedreamquestofvellittboeTor.com, edited by Jonathan Strahan

cover art by Victo Ngai, design by Christine Foltzer

map by Serena Malyon

Synopsis: An older instructor at a women’s college in the Dreamlands must go on a journey to retrieve a young student who has run away with her lover to the waking world; failure would likely mean the vast destruction of the college, the country in which it is located, and all the people there. The protagonist, on their journey through strange lands populated by unfathomable monsters, is joined by a mysterious and possibly magical SJW credential: Following her into [the ship’s cabin], the cat assumed immediate possession of a yak-wool scarf she tossed for a moment upon the bunk. “I need that, cat,” she warned, but it only curled tighter and gazed up with bright eyes. In the end, the scarf remained there for the rest of the voyage.

What I thought: The plot in this story is rather incidental; it’s there to provide a vehicle for the evocative, beautifully-descriptive prose. The inspiration for this story was The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, and it’s my understanding that big Lovecraft fans will especially enjoy it. I’m not one, and I found it enjoyable but not earth-shaking. A strong main character and the aforementioned prose make it well worth the read.

Filer Comments:

  • lurkertype: Great characters, good world-building, and some passages I had to reread for their beauty. Does not need familiarity with Lovecraft to work, but that would probably add another dimension (heh). Lives up to HPL by having somewhat archaic words I had to look up – you can gather the idea in context, but there were some pretty cool nouns I didn’t know in there. Needless to say, not with the HPL racism and sexism.
  • Mark-kitteh: I have to say it’s a setting idea that just grabbed me from the start… It’s very much a travelogue, and has some of the issues that come along with that – is this just a list of places she goes at authorial fiat? – but I think the character and the charm of the setting really pulls you along, and the stakes get built up nicely. I’m not sure how much you’d need to know Lovecraft’s dreamlands to appreciate it – I certainly found the mythos elements enriched it – and I think the ending wasn’t quite as strong as it might have been, but overall I enjoyed it. (Content note: two mentions of rape, in the sense of mentioning it has or could happen, not in the sense of featuring it in any way)
  • Rob Thornton: as a big fan of the original Lovecraft story, overall I found Kij Johnson’s take on the meh side. The story is good and the prose is good, but when the tale is placed in Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, Johnson is up against a standard that is hard to beat. I have really enjoyed Kij’s other works, though, so I look forward to whatever she does next.
  • Arifel: while all the Lovecraft went completely over my head I enjoyed the world and the plot (older woman explores world, roles for older women in sexist societies) and there were no obvious triggers
  • kathodus: The second trek through Lovecraftia written from the point of view of someone who would have been invisible or reviled in Lovecraft’s writing. This one didn’t have a Lovecraftian atmosphere – it was working within his world, but not working with his vibe. I like what the author did with the gods. And there’s a cat. Or two. But I think just one.

Lustlocked, by Matt Wallace [Sin du Jour #2] (excerpt)

lustlockedTor.com, edited by Lee Harris

cover photo by Getty Images, design by Peter Lutgen

This volume also contains the prequel novelette “Small Wars”, which was published on Tor.com in January 2016.

Synopsis: The gang at Sin du Jour catering has been contracted for a really, really big job: the wedding of the Goblin King’s son and his fiancée. And the challenge is immense: prepare pairs of numerous courses, in identical-looking forms, to suit both goblin and human gastronomics. But of course, no catering plan survives contact with the diners… the big question is whether the Sin du Jour crew will survive the ensuing catastrophe – and if they do, how will they escape the Goblin King’s wrath?

What I thought: I found the first entry in this series, last year’s Envy of Angels, to be an unexpected, clever, slyly witty delight. This is a worthy follow-up – and the author manages to weave his supernatural worldbuilding in with the real world so deftly that the reader can almost believe it’s all really true.

Filer Comments:

  • Mark-kitteh: I thought Lustlocked didn’t play out quite as well as Envy of Angels, although it does feature an excellent take on goblins with a very interesting choice of goblin king…

Pride’s Spell, by Matt Wallace [Sin du Jour #3] (excerpt)

pridesspellTor.com, edited by Lee Harris

cover photo by Getty Images, design by Peter Lutgen

Synopsis: The Sin du Jour Catering Company finds itself unexpectedly double-booked for events on both the East and West Coasts. So the experienced members of the team stay in NYC to put on a gala dinner for a convention, and the boss takes the newest crew members and the pastry chef extraordinaire out to Hollywood for a movie premiere party. But there’s just one thing that none of them have been told: this time around, they’re all intended to be surprise additions to the menu…

What I thought: This is another fun romp, with some new villains, as well as the reappearance of some old villains – and an unexpected hero. I have to say that I love the author’s imaginative cuisine, with dishes concocted from some pretty unusual ingredients. If you liked the previous entries in this series, you’ll enjoy this one, too.


The Jewel and Her Lapidary, by Fran Wilde (excerpt)

thejewelandherlapidaryTor.com, edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden

cover art by Tommy Arnold, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis (jacket copy): The kingdom has long sheltered under the protection of its Jewels and Lapidaries, the people bound to singing gemstones with the power to reshape hills, move rivers, and warp minds. That power has kept the peace and tranquility, and the kingdom has flourished… but now the Jeweled Court has been betrayed. As screaming raiders sweep down from the mountains, the last princess and the last lapidary of the Valley will have to summon up strength that they’ve never known.

What I thought: There’s a whole lot of ‘splaining about how the jewel magic and lapidaries are supposed to work mixed in with the story, and I think that the plot and action suffer extensively due to that. There is the strong germ of a good story idea here; it’s just too bad that the execution gets so bogged down in the infodumping. I’d like to see the author rework this into a really enjoyable novel. (And I have to say that the cover is one of my favorites from 2016.)

Filer Comments:

  • Arifel: This is short – a long novelette rather than a novella, even – but very well put together and definitely worth a read. Only disappointment was that Sima is not actually an aged-up Toph Beifong as the cover seemed to indicate.
  • Mark-kitteh: Not quite as good as recent highlights like Forest of Memory or Every Heart a Doorway, but still a worthwhile entry… It’s a fascinating setting and magic idea, and I suppose that Wilde could either have stopped for a 10,000 word exposition on how it all works or start the story with a crisis in media res and hope that the idea comes through. Obviously she goes for the latter, and although it’s not 100% successful it’s definitely the right choice for a novella. I kept wanting a bit more clarity on how the jewels worked, but as I didn’t want her to stop the story for some As You Know Bob I can’t really complain too much.

The Emperor’s Railroad, by Guy Haley [The Dreaming Cities #1] (excerpt)

theemperorsrailroadTor.com, edited by Lee Harris

cover art by Chris McGrath, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis: A young boy and his mother struggle to reach a relative in a faraway town after everyone else in their own village in a post-apocalypic U.S. is destroyed by zombies. They are lucky enough to meet up with a Knight who protects them on their journey (for a sizable fee, of course), against zombies and “angels of God” (from what appears to be a dubious religion).

 

 

 


The Ghoul King, by Guy Haley [The Dreaming Cities #2]  (excerpt)

theghoulkingTor.com, edited by Lee Harris

cover art by Chris McGrath, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis: A healer is interrogated by the authorities about his role in an illegal attempt to retrieve lost and forgotten technology from a dead city – an attempt which, of course, also includes the aforesaid Knight. This time, in addition to zombies, angels, and a whole passel of religious talk, there are “ghouls” – a higher form of zombie which has retained some thinking faculties and is thus a far more threatening adversary.

What I thought: I swear, all zombie stories should be required to include a plausible origin story in order to be published (at least Seanan McGuire, bless her, managed a capital job of that). All of the other zombie stories I’ve read seem to have been written by South Park’s gnomes:

Step 1: Normal world

Step 2: ?????

Step 3: ZOMBIES!!!

While the post-apocalyptic worldbuilding is somewhat interesting, I have to admit that I never found these stories particularly gripping or compelling, and I found the religious aspect simply tiresome. And since they’re told from the point-of-view of someone other than the Knight, I felt as though I never really got to see enough of him to feel invested in him. There are hints that the angels are not really angels, but something more interesting – but at this point, I’m not interested enough to read the third story to find out. Rating: 2 Mehs. YMMV.


Runtime, by S. B. Divya (aka Divya Srinivasan Breed) (excerpt)

runtimeTor.com, edited by Carl Engle-Laird

cover art by Juan Pablo Roldan, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis: A young person who has taught themselves computer engineering since they were a child enters a speed-and-endurance race against well-equipped, well-funded professionals, supported only by home-built-and-programmed cybernetic augments. The prize money for placing in the top 5 would mean being able to earn full personhood, for themselves and for their siblings, and a future livelihood. But on the brink of victory, they are faced with a terrible ethical choice.

What I thought: I loved this short, fast-paced novella. Even in the short length, the author does a good job of creating a complex, nuanced main character. I’m going to be avidly watching for more stories by this author.

Filer Comments:

  • Arifel: I had a couple of worldbuilding nitpicks (mostly the idea that young people are undergoing gender neutralising surgery as a fashion trend…) but overall I found this well worth my time.
  • Arifel: [story] does have some gender dysphoria and dysfunctional parent child relationships

Dreams and Slumbers, by Seanan McGuire [October Daye]

dreamsandslumbers(included with the novel Once Broken Faith)

DAW Books, edited by Sheila Gilbert

cover art by Chris McGrath, design by G-Force

map by Priscilla Spencer

Synopsis: After the conclave is over, Queen Arden Windermere in the Mists has a choice to make, and no one to help her make it. This is the story of Arden’s attempts to awaken her elf-shot brother, Nolan, from his 100-year sleep. At first, Arden believes that all she has to do is give him the cure, but it’s not that simple, because in addition to being elf-shot, Nolan was poisoned – and once he’s given the cure for elf-shot, he will die of the poison. Can Arden find an antidote to the poison? And does she really want to wake him up, when she will have to face him with the fact that she has not yet really established herself, or accomplished anything, as Queen?

What I thought: I thought that this was a great coda to Once Broken Faith, and a great addition to the October Daye universe. It gives the reader insight into, and further character development of, peripheral characters in the series. But like Once Broken Faith, it’s really only going to have a good meaning and impact for those who’ve read the novels in the October Daye universe.

Having said that, the October Daye universe is on my 2016 Hugo Best Series shortlist.


Down and Out in Purgatory, by Tim Powers (Kindle sample)

downandoutinpurgatorySubterranean Press, editor unknown

cover art by Dave McKean, design by Desert Isle Design

Synopsis: Years ago, one of the guys in the college gang married the girl in the gang – then later on, murdered her. Another one of the gang, who was in love with her, has sworn revenge and spent the last 6 years looking for the killer. A PI finally finds him – in the morgue, having died happy at his Malibu estate with a drink in his hand and his latest girlfriend in his bed. The protagonist thinks the killer got off way too easy, and decides to get the assistance of a practitioner of the occult in achieving revenge in the afterlife.

What I thought: I read Salvage and Demolition a couple of months ago and absolutely loved it, so I had high hopes for this. I thought it was good, but it didn’t quite get to “great” for me. I would have liked to have gotten to see a little more of what was behind the protagonist’s life history and motivations. Worth reading.


The Drowning Eyes, by Emily Foster (excerpt)

thedrowningeyesTor.com, edited by Carl Engle-Laird

cover art by Cynthia Sheppard, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis: Tazir captains a ship in a world where Windspeakers shape the weather to help ships along their routes – for a price. But now the world is threatened by reavers on Dragon Ships who leave only destruction in their wake. Tazir and her crew take on a wealthy young female passenger and leave port in time to escape the Dragon Ships – but who is the mysterious young woman, and why is she having terrible nightmares?

What I thought:  I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would based on the synopsis. It does some nice character development and worldbuilding without having to resort to infodumping (it’s what I wish The Jewel and Her Lapidary would have been), and the plot does not follow a predictable path. This is on my Hugo Novella longlist.

Filer Comments:

  • Arifel: This might have been a bit too subtle for me as there were a lot of dynamics between the different crew members and between Tazir and Shina that didn’t really come through for me until right at the end, but I still enjoyed.
  • Mark-kitteh: I thought it was going to get rather cliched but the middle section had some good characters and an interesting ambiguity about how the Windspeakers get created (although it was a theme that The Fifth Season looked at much better). Unfortunately I didn’t think it stuck the ending at all.

The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle (excerpt)

theballadofblacktomTor.com, edited by Ellen Datlow

cover art by Robert Hunt

Synopsis: The protagonist of the story is a young black man living in Harlem, who survives in New York City and supports his ailing father by engaging in petty scams and cons – enduring constant harassment and abuse from police and other white people. Despite his utter lack of singing and guitar-playing ability, he is hired by a mysterious old man to provide background music at a very unusual house party.

What I thought: This novella is a response, written by a black man, to H.P. Lovecraft’s most notoriously racist story, The Horror at Red Hook. I think that fans of Lovecraft will enjoy the way it deconstructs and re-writes HPL’s racism into a uniquely black perspective. Even though Lovecraft, Horror, and Weird really aren’t my thing, I found it interesting and worth reading.

Filer Comments:

  • emgrasso: checks a lot of boxes for Lovecraftiana, but I don’t think it really works as a whole. The sections where the story had atmosphere that worked instead of feeling like it was just going through the motions weren’t the Lovecraftian ones. And even outside the supposedly spooky stuff, there was an important plot point regarding a “shocking” straight razor that fell flat for me – what else would a poor black man in the 1920s have shaved with?
  • Bonnie McDaniel: The story suffers, in my view, from an unnecessary POV shift about halfway through. It would have made for a tighter focus and characterization if the author had stuck to the original POV character throughout, although as the story unfolded, that would have resulted in going to some pretty dark places. This one would also have been better at a greater length, I think. As it is, it’s okay, but nowhere near the fantastic Lovecraft Country.

Everything Belongs to the Future, by Laurie Penny (excerpt)

everythingbelongstothefutureTor.com, edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden

cover photo by Oleksiy Maksymenko, design by FORT

Synopsis: In the near future, the wealthy and talented benefit from vastly-extended lifespans due to a revolutionary drug. A group of futuristic underground Robin Hoods are doing their best to see that the “ordinary” people have the chance to enjoy some of those benefits. But there’s a Judas in their midst: one who has neither their goals, nor their best interests, in mind…

What I thought: Oh, wow. This is a powerful story of “haves” versus “have nots”, of deceit versus informed consent, of cowardice and heroism, of betrayal and retribution and remorse and repentance. I do not recommend reading this when spoon levels are low – but I definitely recommend reading it. This is my first choice for Hugo Best Novella.


Brushwork, by Aliya Whiteley (read online)

brushworkGigaNotoSaurus, edited by Rashida J. Smith

Synopsis: In a climate-devastated future world, crops are grown in biodomes by workers privileged enough to be allowed to escape the horrible conditions outside, and the fresh fruits and vegetables are sold to those who are wealthy enough to afford them. But the “have-not”s outside the domes have a plan for changing the status quo.

What I thought: This is an incredibly uncomfortable story to read right now, because the main theme is echoed repeatedly throughout the narrative: just how willing will people be, to make the moral and ethical compromises which throw their co-humans “under the bus” – as long as they think that they themselves will benefit? Just how large does the possibility of personal reward have to be, before human beings will choose to be complicit in sacrificing others — and then to look the other way when the inevitable happens? This is a moving and powerful story, and it is on my Hugo Novella longlist.

Filer Comments:

  • Dawn Incognito: Post-apocalyptic UK hitting on the gulf between generations and haves vs. have-nots.
  • Cassy B.: thanks for the pointer to it. Powerful story.

The Arrival of Missives, by Aliya Whiteley (excerpt)

thearrivalofmissivesUnsung Stories, edited by George Sandison

cover art by Jana Heidersdorf, design by Martin Cox

Synopsis: A young woman, on the cusp of adulthood after World War I, learns that she has a much larger destiny than even her own high aspirations – but if she follows that destiny, it will mean giving up her own hopes and plans. On May Day, on the village green, she will have to make a choice that will affect her life forever… and change worlds.

What I thought: Well, Brushwork is indeed a powerful story – but I was absolutely blown away by this one. I’m still thinking about it, days later. This is a story about free will, and the choices we make, and the fact that no matter what choice we make, there will often be a cost – to ourselves, or to someone else. This book will speak to anyone who has ever had to sacrifice something life-changingly important to themselves in order place priority on what’s best for someone else (I would describe its theme as “The Lady Astronaut from Mars on speed”). Right now the e-book is still rather expensive, but I encourage everyone to try to get access to it, if it’s not affordable, through the library, a loan from a friend (the kindle version is loanable), or a purchase. I think you will be very glad you did. This is definitely going on my Hugo Novella ballot.


The Warren, by Brian Evenson (excerpt)

thewarrenTor.com, edited by Ann VanderMeer

cover art by Victor Mosquera, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis (jacket copy): X doesn’t have a name. He thought he had one – or many – but that might be the result of the failing memories of the personalities imprinted within him. Or maybe he really is called X. He’s also not as human as he believes himself to be. But when he discovers the existence of another – above ground, outside the protection of the Warren – X must learn what it means to be human, or face the destruction of their two species.

What I thought: I was really looking forward to reading this, based on the jacket copy. I’ve read at least 32 of the Tor.com novellas now, and although I liked some of them a lot, and some of them not so much, this is the first one where I’ve actually wondered why it got published. I think that there are a few seeds of a good story here – but that it’s seriously undercooked and full of been-done-before. It’s like a mashup of Wool, Flowers for Algernon, and Impostor. Not recommended, at least by me.

Filer Comments:

  • Mark-kitteh: I think this novella gives you fair warning when it begins with a dedication to Gene Wolfe. Someone called X has awoken in a place they know is called the warren. They seem to think they have been created, and that they have the memories of their predecessors, who were also created. They know the hostile conditions will kill them soon, and they’d like to create themselves a successor, but they can’t, and the computer they can talk to is failing and unhelpful. Events occur which start to explain what might be going on, and then I turned the page to see “About the Author” staring at me, and I didn’t really know what it had all been about. If someone else reads this and says it was a wonderful multi-layered narrative then I’ll totally believe them, but I was tired and I just went huh?

A Window Into Time, by Peter F. Hamilton (excerpt) (e-book only)

awindowintotimeawindowintotimeusDel Rey / Pan Books, edited by Bella Pagan

cover art by Kathleen Lynch, using images from CHAINFOTO24/Shutterstock (buildings) and ovi 801/Shutterstock (clock)

Synopsis: A 13-year-old boy with an eidetic memory (and probably a strong streak of Asperger’s) remembers everything he’s ever seen, heard, or experienced. And suddenly, he’s remembering flashes of someone else’s memories. How? And why? And will he be able to figure it out in time to save another person’s life?

What I thought: I liked this better than I thought I would, given the YA protagonist. I would say that it probably provides some good insights into the thought processes of someone who is in the Asperger’s spectrum. The author nails the ending, I think, but it didn’t quite wow me enough for me to consider it for Hugo nomination.

 

 

 

 

 

 


This Census-Taker, by China Miéville (excerpt)

thiscensustakerDel Rey, edited by Mark Tavani

cover photo by Wusheng Wang, design by David G. Stevenson

Synopsis: A little boy living in a cottage high above the nearby town witnesses his father killing his mother – or does he? At any rate, she’s gone – and his father is becoming progressively more angry, irrational, and abusive. But then a stranger comes to town – a stranger who sees that something is wrong, and who may be in a position to help.

What I thought: Readers who are looking for any sort of explanation – any sort at all! – will likely be very frustrated with this story. It offers lots of provocative descriptions, and tantalizing hints and clues, but nothing whatsoever of any real explanation or resolution. It’s an interesting read, but in the end, in order for me to love it, I needed a little more than the story was willing to provide. Readers who are okay with unsolved mysteries may find a lot here about which to think and speculate.

Filer Comments:

  • Dawn Incognito: Challenging. Mysterious, haunting, and occasionally brutal. If you’re familiar with Miéville this should not be surprising. There are many questions, and I’m sure many clues, but no easy answers. I may reread shortly to see what I can pick up that made no sense the first time through. The narrative shifts, mostly first-person with the odd second- and third-. Possibly a distancing mechanism from the traumatic events the narrator is going through. Possibly something else. I’m not sure I “got” it. I’m not sure I will. But it will stay with me for some time. Worth the challenge, I think.
  • Bartimaeus: Weird, creepy tale of a small town with sinister secrets lurking under the surface. This story has many intriguing enigmas and a very unreliable narrator. For starters, did his mother kill his father, or his father kill his mother? Miéville’s prose is just hypnotic here, and I love the atmosphere he builds. Though the ending doesn’t reveal all the answers, it is very tantalizing. (I suspect this aspect won’t work for everyone). I really loved this and will probably re-read it sometime.
  • More rot-13 discussion in this thread
  • Vasha: A good essay on This Census-Taker by Daniel Maidman (to be read only after the book).

The Last Days of New Paris, by China Miéville (excerpt)

thelastdaysofnewparisthelastdaysofnewparissubeditionDel Rey / Subterranean Press, edited by Mark Tavani

Del Rey cover photo by Claudia Carlsen, design by David G. Stevenson

Subterranean Press cover art by Vincent Chong, design by Desert Isle Design

Synopsis: In 1941, an “S-blast” is set off in Nazi-occupied Paris. Nine years later, a Surrealism expert who is a member of the Resistance movement lives a hellish existence in a city overrun with living Surrealist entities, and demons conjured by the Nazis in an attempt to fight back.

What I thought: This story definitely falls into the category of The New Weird. As with Bellitt Voe, the plot here (such as it is) is merely a vehicle for the vivid imagery and nonsensical occurrences. Readers who are fans of Lovecraft, or Surrealism, or VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, may very well enjoy this. I have a college minor in French language, history, and culture, I love Paris, and I have a bit of amateur art education, so hoped that I would enjoy New Paris more than I did. I found the Area X books interesting in a “but a little bit of this goes a loooooong way” sense – and after those, apparently little of my appetite for such things was left over for this story.

There is a “Notes” section, keyed by page number, describing the origin of each of the Surrealist manifestations. Readers may wish to flip back to this each time one appears in the story, as I think it will enhance the appreciation of the imagery. Simultaneous access to Google to look up the referenced images would probably enhance appreciation, as well.

I would say that this is definitely a “Marmite” story – readers will likely either love it or hate it. My reaction was “meh – I’ve got another book sitting here that I’d really rather read”.

Filer Comments:

  • Rob Thornton: It’s a magic realist book about Surrealism and WWII, but the first 50 pages or so felt like a drag. Mieville is usally a crackerjack prose writer but something is missing here. Maybe it’s because I dearly love Lisa Goldstein’s The Dream Years (which is similar in some ways). But I’ll try it again.

Forest of Memory, by Mary Robinette Kowal (excerpt)

forestofmemoryTor.com, edited by Lee Harris

cover art by Victo Ngai, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis: This story is a recounting of an experience in a near-future time when everyone is wired into the net all the time, by someone who hunts down antiquities and documentation of rare experiences and sells them to collectors for a living. The protagonist gets kidnapped, and cut off from the net, and forced to deal with her kidnappers.

What I thought: Trigger Warning for ALL THE TYPOS. This is an integral part of the premise for the story, but it annoyed the hell out of me and kept kicking me out of it. I really liked the premise of the story, and I thought that it showed a lot of promise, but it just didn’t go far enough to satisfy me. I’m hoping that she’ll develop it into a novel (if she does, I’ll just have to figure out how to deal with the typo angst).

Filer Comments:

  • Arifel: The worldbuilding in this is subtle and believable and its very readable but ultimately didn’t feel like a finished story to me.
  • Mark-kitteh: this is a really interesting and elegant story… There’s perhaps not that much to the story, but MRK really digs into her theme and fills the whole story with it. One thing though – there’s a gimmick in which the story is being typed on an antique typewriter, and so there are typos and so on. Sent me mad.
  • Cat Eldridge: Forest of Memory was originally part of the METAtroplis series, so it feels like a part of something bigger because it was. I found that that since there was a shared universe framework, some of the stories really didn’t work if you hadn’t read the stories preceding a given story.

Penric and the Shaman, by Lois McMaster Bujold [World of the Five Gods, Penric #2] (Kindle sample)

penricandtheshaman

penricandtheshamansubeditionSpectrum Literary Agency (2016) / Subterranean Press (February 2017), editor unknown

Spectrum cover art “Grindelwald” by Jakob Samuel Weibel (1771-1846)

Subterranean Press cover art by Lauren St. Onge

Synopsis: This sequel picks up 4 years after Penric’s Demon left off: with Penric gradually adjusting to the 12-personality demon which inhabits his psyche (and with the demon adjusting to him). There’s the mystery of a murder and a missing man – and Penric is tasked to solve both.

What I thought: It’s a testament to Bujold’s supreme skill that this story, like its predecessor, is just so quietly awesome. The conflicts are, for the most part, subdued – but no less impactful for that. Penric is a flawed but wonderful character who is easy to care about – and his quiet, thoughtful approach, tempered with a wry humor, makes a really nice contrast to the all-too-common over-the-top superhero protagonist.

Filer Comments:

  • lurkertype: I read Penric and the Shaman when it came out in June and quite liked it. I like the earlier part of that world (The Hallowed Hunt, Penric’s Demon) more than the later part. I like the Five Gods.
  • Lee Whiteside: A worthy follow up to the first novella.
  • Mark-kitteh: +1 on Penric and the Shaman – she took it in an interesting direction, I thought.
  • ULTRAGOTHA: Penric and the Shaman is very, very good, too.
  • Greg Hullender: I just read and reviewed Penric and the Shaman and gave it five stars… I think this novella is very readable even for someone who didn’t read Penric’s Demon.
  • Cheryl S.: I also just read Penric and the Shaman. It was good and I liked it, but it was too creamy smooth for me to really like it. I think she’s such a good writer, but not in the least showy and sometimes I find that less than interesting, even if all the parts work well. I wonder if the reason her longer stuff works better is because then the accumulation of her talent and skill is more noticeable?

Penric’s Mission, by Lois McMaster Bujold [World of the Five Gods, Penric #3] (Kindle sample)

penricsmissionSpectrum Literary Agency, editor unknown

cover art “View of Ragusa” by Emil Jakob Schindler (1842 – 1892)

Synopsis: Penric has been sent on an undercover mission to another country, to recruit a highly-skilled general who has offered to aid in their own military endeavors. But immediately upon disembarking from his ship, Penric is taken captive by the King’s forces and thrown into a black hole in the prison. What’s more, the general himself has been imprisoned. Penric must somehow find a way to retrieve the situation – balancing duty with personal obligation – with the help of the general’s highly-intelligent sister.

What I thought: Penric has come into his own at this point. He has assimilated well with his demon and its dozen different personalities, and has learned how to use their knowledge and powers to enhance his own intelligence and capabilities. As with the previous stories, Penric’s mission here is to try to reconcile doing his official job with doing what he personally feels is right – and like the previous stories, this one makes the reader feel quietly satisfied and uplifted by the ending. Caveat: this one ends in a bit of a “what happens now?” place, and readers who find that frustrating may wish to wait until the fourth story is released.

Filer Comments:

  • ULTRAGOTHA: unlike the other two novellas, this one ends in a place that cries for another story *right now*. Bujold is writing these novellas fairly quickly (at lightning speed, for her) so I’m hopeful maybe next year?
  • Greg Hullender: While it doesn’t have the plot sophistication of Penric’s Demon or Penric and the Shaman, the writing is excellent, and the story is pure fun.
  • Nickp: Based on the title, I was half-expecting (and half hoping for) Penric’s expedition to convert the Roknari to Quintarianism. But not that kind of mission. Pseudo-Byzantine Empire was fun, anyway.
  • robinareid: it’s pure joy and love and happiness on all levels.

Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire [Wayward Children] (excerpt)

everyheartadoorwayTor.com, edited by Lee Harris

cover photos by Colin Anderson (forest), Martin Barraud (doorway), design by FORT

Synopsis: This is a dark, bittersweet story about the children who fall into fantasy worlds where they become heroes, and then find themselves lost and unable to cope when they are returned to the “real” world. An adult who was one of those children brings as many troubled children as she can find and save to her boarding house, an environment where they can be among others who understand and empathize with their pain.

What I thought: Damn that Seanan McGuire, damn her! Every time I read the backcover synopsis for one of her stories, I think, “Well, that doesn’t sound as though I’d much enjoy it” – and then I read it and enjoy it immensely. On my novella list for next year’s Hugos right now. TW for graphic mutilation scenes. A prequel, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, will be published in June 2017.

Filer Comments:

  • emgrasso: short but intense, with a main viewpoint character I really appreciated and a wonderful ending. I’m very glad there will be more stories in that universe.
  • Snodberry Fields: it was good. If you have enjoyed other works by Seanan McGuire you should read this too. The world building and characterization was first class! I just loved reading about these people. I cannot imagine that his will not be on my ballot next year.
  • Ryan H: I’m going to second Every Heart a Doorway. Anyone who is interested in identity and representation in books needs to give this a read. Oh, and is also a fantastic story!
  • Kyra: Pros: The characters and concepts are great, absolutely on the level of what I consider her best books. It gets recommended by me here on the strength of these. Cons: The plot; it was (in large part) a murder mystery where the perpetrator was completely obvious to me right away. I know she can write a mystery where that isn’t the case, Indexing certainly didn’t have an obvious villain, so I’m not sure why it happened here.
  • robinareid: thought Every Heart a Doorway AMAZING, especially the ending which was a lovely twist on conventional ending of that genre.
  • Vasha: Every Heart a Doorway is simply beautiful… the overriding mood of the story is wistfulness, and it’s perfectly captured… The main characters are tremendously appealing (yes, even the amoral mad scientist); they are a group of clever misfits who support each other fiercely, although recognizing that they can’t provide a true home for each other… It’s a short novella, and it’s just the perfect length. I don’t think anything needed to be added to flesh out its themes and characters; it says what it had to say and ends on the right note.
  • Mark-kitteh: I found it interesting that there was some overlap in concept with Not by Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass, although the execution was from different angles. Each story must have been written without being aware of the other. What I liked about the earlier story was that the concept seemed so clever and natural that I was surprised I’d never seen it treated quite that way before, and then another version comes along!
  • Doctor Science: A great premise, beautifully creepy prose, and not the expected ending. My only problem: it’s a murder mystery, and it fails what I call The John Donne Test (“Any man’s death diminishes me”). The Test is: Is there a second murder? If there is, you fail, boom. If it’s a mystery story without *any* murder, you get an A.
  • Arifel: a good read but not the mind blowing tale I was hoping for from the premise.
  • Chris S.: this is really really good. I was surprised by the depth and complexity which got folded into such a short book. (click on hyperlink for rot-13 comment) She could have spun this out to trilogy length, but I think it’d have lost the impact at that length.
  • Greg Hullender: Although there are a lot of characters, they’re so well drawn that I never mixed them up, and I cared about all the key ones. The plot is multithreaded and works itself out perfectly. And the ending is moving.
  • Lowell Gilbert: I actually thought the ending was a bit predictable to be effecting. McGuire had written herself into a bit of a corner where there were a limited number of ways out. Still a great book, though.
  • Stephen Granade: I’ll be the nth person gushing over Every Heart a Doorway. Eerie, effecting, and in turns frightening and uplifting.
  • Bruce Baugh: has a remarkably good portrayal of a trans boy as one of the main characters. I live with a high degree of dysphoria myself and found much to recognize in his portrayal, and several trans friends have been recommending it independently of each other.
  • Kendall: it was very good – I recommend it! The audiobook narrator was quite good. I enjoyed the world building and characters, especially, and also the plot; it was a well-rounded story. It made a great stand-alone

These novellas are also on my list to read, but have not yet arrived at my library:

A Taste of Honey, by Kai Ashante Wilson [Sorcerer of the Wildeeps #2] (related short fiction with character background)

atasteofhoneyTor.com, edited by Carl Engle-Laird

cover art by Tommy Arnold, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis (jacket copy): Long after the Towers left the world but before the dragons came to Daluça, the emperor brought his delegation of gods and diplomats to Olorum. As the royalty negotiates over trade routes and public services, the divinity seeks arcane assistance among the local gods.

Aqib bgm Sadiqi, fourth-cousin to the royal family and son of the Master of Beasts, has more mortal and pressing concerns. His heart has been captured for the first time by a handsome Daluçan soldier named Lucrio. In defiance of Saintly Canon, gossiping servants, and the furious disapproval of his father and brother, Aqib finds himself swept up in a whirlwind gay romance. But neither Aqib nor Lucrio know whether their love can survive all the hardships the world has to throw at them.

Set in the same world as, but not really a sequel to, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps.


The Lost Child of Lychford, by Paul Cornell [Witches of Lychford #2] (excerpt)

thelostchildoflychfordTor.com, edited by Lee Harris

cover photo by Getty Images, design by FORT

Synopsis (jacket copy): It’s December in the English village of Lychford – the first Christmas since an evil conglomerate tried to force open the borders between our world and… another. Which means it’s Lizzie’s first Christmas as Reverend of St. Martin’s. Which means more stress, more expectation, more scrutiny by the congregation. Which means… well, business as usual, really.

Until the apparition of a small boy finds its way to Lizzie in the church. Is he a ghost? A vision? Something else? Whatever the truth, our trio of witches (they don’t approve of “coven”) are about to face their toughest battle, yet!


Hammers on Bone, by Cassandra Khaw [Persons Non Grata #1] (excerpt)

hammersonboneTor.com, edited by Carl Engle-Laird

cover art by Jeffrey Alan Love, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis (jacket copy): John Persons is a private investigator with a distasteful job from an unlikely client. He’s been hired by a ten-year-old to kill the kid’s stepdad, McKinsey. The man in question is abusive, abrasive, and abominable.

He’s also a monster, which makes Persons the perfect thing to hunt him. Over the course of his ancient, arcane existence, he’s hunted gods and demons, and broken them in his teeth.

As Persons investigates the horrible McKinsey, he realizes that he carries something far darker. He’s infected with an alien presence, and he’s spreading that monstrosity far and wide. Luckily Persons is no stranger to the occult, being an ancient and magical intelligence himself. The question is whether the private dick can take down the abusive stepdad without releasing the holds on his own horrifying potential.

A sequel, A Song for Quiet, is due out in August 2017.


Project Clio, by Stephen Baxter (Kindle sample)

projectclioP.S. Publishing, editor unknown

cover art by Ilan Sheady

Synopsis (jacket copy): For the last decade we really have been waging a secret war against super-villains. It’s just as well the general public are too common-sense to believe any of it…

It’s 1969. Astronauts have just landed on the moon. In Britain, Harold Wilson is Prime Minister. And the Avengers are on TV. Detective Sergeant Clare Seeley, juggling work and family commitments, is aware of peculiar goings-on at the heart of the concrete-jungle new town that is her patch…

Agnes Doyle, brilliant computer scientist and unwilling precognitive, is about to be plunged into a lethally perilous situation…

The Sergeant and Lucy Pennyweather, gaudy swinging-London adventurers, are drawn to a peculiar conspiracy surrounding a pirate radio ship…

Henry Messen, veteran of the First World War and a special forces operative in the Second under the cover of a bumbling Home Guard officer, is on the track of a fugitive Nazi engineer with a very strange secret…

And Thelma Bennet, head of Project Clio the Cross-Agency League of Intelligence Operatives – is closing in on a global threat.

It’s 1969. Not as you know it. The way you always thought it was.


The Days of Tao, by Wesley Chu [Tao #4] (Kindle sample)

thedaysoftaothedaysoftaosubeditionAngry Robot / Subterranean Press, editor unknown

Angry Robot cover art by Argh! Nottingham

Subterranean Press cover art by Galen Dara, designer unknown

Synopsis (jacket copy): Cameron Tan wouldn’t have even been in Greece if he hadn’t gotten a ‘D’ in Art History. Instead of spending the summer after college completing his training as a Prophus operative, he’s doing a study abroad program in Greece, enjoying a normal life – spending time with friends and getting teased about his crush on a classmate.

Then the emergency notification comes in: a Prophus agent with vital information needs immediate extraction, and Cameron is the only agent on the ground, responsible for getting the other agent and data out of the country. The Prophus are relying on him to uncomplicate things.

Easy.

Easy, except the rival Genjix have declared all-out war against the Prophus, which means Greece is about to be a very dangerous place. And the agent isn’t the only person relying on Cameron to get them safely out of the country – his friends from the study abroad program are, too. Cameron knows a good agent would leave them to fend for themselves. He also knows a good person wouldn’t. Suddenly, things aren’t easy at all.


The Burning Light, by Bradley P. Beaulieu and Rob Ziegler (excerpt)

theburninglightTor.com, edited by Justin Landon

cover art by Richard Anderson, design by Christine Foltzer

Synopsis (jacket copy): Disgraced government operative Colonel Chu is exiled to the flooded relic of New York City. Something called the Light has hit the streets like an epidemic, leavings its users strung out and disconnected from the mind-network humanity relies on. Chu has lost everything she cares about to the Light. She’ll end the threat or die trying.

A former corporate pilot who controlled a thousand ships with her mind, Zola looks like just another Light-junkie living hand to mouth on the edge of society. She’s special though. As much as she needs the Light, the Light needs her too. But, Chu is getting close and Zola can’t hide forever.

Poetry and Prose at NYRSF Readings With Kij Johnson and Sonya Taaffe

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, November 15, 2016 – an otherwise dreary day – the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series presented Kij Johnson and Sonya Taaffe  at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in Brooklyn.

The evening opened as ever with executive curator Jim Freund welcoming the audience, cautioning that we were on Livestream (go to livestream.com’s Look At tab, then nyrsf or, for that night, Kij or Taafe), and, after briefly reporting that he broke his phone, announcing future readers:

  • Monday, December 12th, Annual Family Night (a traditional sub-series) with Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman;
  • January 10, 2017, Phenderson Djeli Clark and Shan Chakraborty; with guest curator Rob Cameron (aka Cam);
  • Friday, February 10th, James Morrow and Jack Womack;
  • Tuesday, March 7th, we’ll all be getting Older, siblings Malka Older and Daniel José Older (guest curator Amy Goldschlager called it Family Night II).
  • Saturday, April 1st, the Series will host a 75th birthday gathering for Samuel R. (Chip) Delany.

Finally, he introduced the first of the “two really cool readers,” Sonya Taaffe, whose most recently collected fiction and poetry (her poem “Matlacihuatl’s Gift” won the Rhysling Award) are found in Ghost Signs.

Sonya Taaffe

Sonya Taaffe

Taaffe (her name rhymes with “strafe”) began by expanding on a tidbit in her bio. When she was in high school, with her father’s help, she built a radio telescope to determine if one could map a small part of the Milky Way galaxy from 42°N (the Boston area); ultimately, this led to her naming a Kuiper Belt Object (trans-Neptunian), Vanth, forthe moon of dwarf planet Orcus. The name comes from Etruscan myth – she “reads dead languages for fun” – a winged deity who guides the souls of the dead to the underworld and who is akin to Charon, and, with that, read a poem, “The Etruscan Prince,” inspired by the discovery of a tomb in Tarquinia and told from the perspective of his consort. Her next poem, “After the Red Sea,” was based on the figure of Lilith, who ran away from Adam to the Red Sea, where she became the consort of the demon Ashmedai. She followed with “When Can a Broken Glass Mend?,” “a story I’m very proud of.” From childhood, a woman encounters a demon in a mirror and a bond forms.

She continued with a series of “ghost poems,” invocations to historical figures, among them Kafka (“The Process”), Alan Turing (“The Clock House”) and a number of ancient Greeks; the first, though, “About Building,” was dedicated to her late grandparents. Addressing the current political climate (the next President was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan), she brought her “most radical” poetry, describing herself as “a queer Jew, with a uterus, and also a brain.” She invoked Axiothea, a woman who had attended Plato’s Academy (at first disguised as a male), the Sirens, Sappho (in her Aeolic dialect Tsap’pho), the Carthaginians (Carthage’s destruction displeased her – Rome had practices no less barbaric) and Catullus (whose poetry was “seriously filthy,” as was her poem).

On her blog, she related, she frequently writes about film. Her poem “The Ghost Marriage” was loosely based on Black Angel, a 1946 film noir (which featured Dan Duryea, another of her focuses of interest). Not every woman in a noir is a femme fatale or damsel in distress, she pointed out; in some, they are protagonists, independent, even anti-heroes. “Mercury Retrograde Theatre” was for her husband, who writes radio drama (and who was present to be embarrassed). She concluded with “Post-Millennial Augury Blues,” a poem written three nights earlier, after the Election results, expressing her frustration with people who draw parallels between now and the past, imagining themselves into it, often imposing their present-day perspectives and second-guessing (for instance, everyone says that if they lived before the Civil War, they’d “definitely have been an Abolitionist”). (In that vein, she lauded Ernst Lubitch’s To Be or Not to Be, a comic anti-Hitler film which was courageously made before the War’s outcome was certain.)

In a postscript, Freund reminded the audience that they could hear Taaffe another story (“The Trinitite Golem”) as part of the Clockwork Phoenix 5 anthology launch at the NYRSF Readings on April 5th.

During the intermission, a raffle was held (for those who donated), with the prizes being copies of

Ghost Signs and The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe. (There was no drawing for an abandoned umbrella.) Freund then introduced the second reader, who was appearing here for the first time.

Kij Johnson. Photo by Anthony Hildebrandt.

Kij Johnson. Photo by Anthony Hildebrandt.

Kij Johnson (from her initials K.I.J., pronounced “Kidge”) has won the Theodore Sturgeon Award (for “Fox Magic”), the IAFA’s Crawford Award (for best new fantasist, for The Fox Woman), the World Fantasy Award (for “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”), the Nebula Award (for “Spar,” “Ponies” and “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”) and the Hugo Award (as well for “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”). Her latest books are The River Bank, “a sly response to The Wind in the Willows” and The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe (Tor.com), from which she read two selections.

Vellitt, a 55-year-old professor (Johnson said that she was “tired of stories about spunky girls” or “17-year-olds with impulse control changing the world”; she herself teaches at a college and is close to that age) at a women’s college in the Dreamlands, having in her youth been a “far traveler” or adventurer, is sent by her dean to bring back a student who has run off to the Waking World with her lover (the girl’s father is a trustee). There’s also a small black cat (who’s not anthropomorphic and doesn’t talk) and strange things in the seas; the novella, she said, “twists H.P. Lovecraft around.”

Freund reminded that we could make “this fabulous evening relive” on Livestream.

The traditional Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered books. The audience of about 40 included Melissa C. Beckman (who, in addition, as usual, to photographing the event, brought brownies), Rob Cameron, Barbara Krasnoff, John Ordover (showing off his new, hard-won svelteness), Brad Parks, Mark W. Richards and Sam Schrieber (who was running the controls).

Afterward, the readers and some audience members enjoyed the Café’s fare.

Pixel Scroll 4/12/16 My Pixels Were Fair And Had Scrolls In Their Hair

(1) MAN INTO SPACE. Wake up The Traveler – the thing sf fans have dreamed about just happened! “[April 12, 1961] Stargrazing (The Flight of Vostok)” at Galactic Journey.

The jangling of the telephone broke my slumber far too early.  Groggily, I paced to the handset, half concerned, half furious.  I picked it up, but before I could say a word, I heard a frantic voice.

“Turn on your radio right now!”

I blinked.  “Wha..” I managed.

“Really!” the voice urged.  I still didn’t even know who was calling.

Nevertheless, I went to the little maroon Zenith on my dresser and turned the knob.  The ‘phone was forgotten in my grip as I waited for the tubes to warm up.  10 seconds later, I heard the news.

It happened.  A man had been shot into orbit.  And it wasn’t one of ours.

(2) MAKING IT BETA. R. S. Belcher thanks “The League of Extraordinary Beta Readers” at Magical Words.

Stephen King says in On Writing, to write with the door closed and edit with the door open. I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment. Your beta readers get first dibs when you open that door, they are your test audience. I have worked with different beta readers on different projects and over time, you find the folks that are going to help you the most with getting the very best out of your writing. A few tips I’d offer that have worked for me.

1) Punctuality: If it takes your beta reader as long to read and get your MS back to you as it took you to write it, they may not be the person you need. By the same token, if you get it back the same day you sent it off to them to read, chances are they skimmed it, so take their advice with a grain of salt.

2) Consistency: If three of your beta-readers all pick up on the same thing, LOOK AT IT and consider their advice. I’ve found that that trait is a flag for readers who I can count on to be giving me good, consistent feedback on trouble spots in the book.

3) Objectivity: If all a friend, family member, or loved one can give you as feedback is how awesome every word is, that is great for the poor writer’s ego but not much help to the professional writer. By the same token, if all you get is negative feedback, you may need to take that advice with a grain of salt too.  Some beta readers are glass-half-full people and others are more glass-half-empty.

(3) STARTING LINES. Rachel Swirsky studies the first lines of her own stories, then others’.

“First lines Part I: Half a Dozen of My Recent Stories”.

I decided it might be interesting to look at some of the first lines of my stories. I’m grabbing a half-dozen first lines from some of my recent publications. I’m only looking at stories that are online, so if people want to see how the first line relates to the rest of the story, they can.

Tomorrow, I’ll look at a half-dozen from some of my favorite stories.If this proves interesting (to me or readers), I may do more another time.

Love Is Never Still” in Uncanny Magazine

“Through every moment of carving, I want her as one wants a woman.”

I’m happy with this–which is useful because I essentially just finished it (six months ago). The story begins as a retelling of the myth of Galatea, a statue who is wished to life when her sculptor falls in love. For people who are versed in Greek mythology, this should evoke Galatea as a possibility — carving, want, woman.

“First Lines Part II: from Some of My Favorite Stories”

The Evolution of Trickster Stories among the Dogs of North Park after the Change” by Kij Johson

“North Park is a backwater tucked into a loop of the Kaw River: pale dirt and baked grass, aging playground equipment, silver-leafed cottonwoods, underbrush, mosquitoes and gnats blackening the air at dusk.”

Obviously, this sentence is scene setting. Kij makes it beautiful with her specific details: “pale dirt,” “baked grass,” “aging playground equipment,” “silver-leafed cotton-woods,” “mosquitoes,” “gnats.” Almost all of the details evoke slow decay–“backwater,” “baked grass,” “aging.” Insects don’t gather in the air so much as dirty it–“blackening” the dusk. The evoked colors are washed out–pale, baked, silver–we can possibly also include the old metal and rust of the playground equipment. The silver-leafed cottonwoods are the exception here–the color is on the grey/black spectrum, yes, but the tree still sounds beautiful. This is decay, but not hopeless decay.

The sentence also establishes the academic tone. This is the kind of sentence assembled by someone speaking authoritatively about a subject, not describing their sensory impressions of the world. The phrasing is formal and complex, and the use of the colon an even more significant marker.

(4) BEYOND LIMITS. John Carlton’s “Generation Ships”, an interesting critique of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, focuses on the requirements for such a space mission. How many other stimulating observations might Carlton have made if he had read the book?

Kim Stanley Robinson wrote a book recently apparently to show that interstellar travel is impossible….

It’s not possible to travel between the stars and even if we could, the missions would all fail.  Of course he also believes that utopia is possible as some sort of Socialist paradise.  Now that’s a fantasy….

As an engineer, I think that Mr. Robinson is clearly wrong. Or at least, he doesn’t understand the basic rules for setting mission parameters and designing to meet those parameters. Mr. Robison’s vessel failed because he wanted it to fail. But to extend that to saying that ALL such proposals would fail is more than a little egotistical. And wrong, really wrong.

Now I haven’t as yet read the book. Reading Greg Benford’s review left me going WTF, WTF, WTF, are you kidding? If you are going to write a book on pioneering could you at least set it up so that the pioneers are at least a little realistic. A ship without a captain or seemingly a crew? No community structure? What was it, a commune in space? Of course something like that is going to fail. That’s what happens to fragile structure and the commune is the most fragile of all. Just look at all the failed examples in the 19th Century. So that’s fail #1….

(5) GALAKTIKA MAGAZINE. SFWA President Cat Rambo has been following A.G. Carpenter’s reports about the Hungarian magazine that published numerous stories in translation without paying the original authors. Rambo wrote a post at her blog about receiving “Answers to Some Galaktika Magazine Questions”.

In the process of talking to people, I dropped Istvan Burger [editor in chief of Galaktika] a mail because I had these questions:

  1. Would all writers be paid, preferably without their having to contact Galaktika?
  2. Would all translators be paid? (my understanding was that the same lack of payment has happened with them.)
  3. For any online stories, would authors be able to request that the story be taken down?
  4. Would a process be put in place to ensure this never happens again?

Here’s the reply:

Dear Cat, I’m writing on behalf of Istvan Burger, editor in chief of Galaktika.

We’d like to ask authors to contact us directly to agree on compensation methods. You can give my email address to the members. mund.katalin@gmail.com

The short stories were published in a monthly magazine, which was sold for two months, so these prints are not available any more. So Authors don’t need to withdraw their works. As we wrote in our statement, there is no problem with novels, as all the rights of novels were paid by us in time.

Also let me emphasise again that all the translators were paid all the time!

You can quote my reply. Thank you for your help!

Best regards, Katalin Mund, Manager of Galaktika Magazine

(6) CARPENTER OPINES ON LATEST GALAKTIKA RESPONSE. Anna Grace Carpenter, who has been developing this story, commented on Burger’s answers to Rambo in “Galaktika Magazine: Legacy”.

Mr. Burger and Mr. Nemeth have offered vague explanations that are, quite frankly, not satisfactory given the number of years this theft has occurred. But whether it was ignorance or laziness or just the inclination that if they could get away with it, they would, something has to change drastically going forward.

I would really like to think that the offer to provide compensation for the authors whose work has been stolen indicates the problem has been resolved. Although requiring the individual authors be aware they’ve been stolen from and making them responsible for seeking payment does not seem a good faith step.

And there is the question that Cat Rambo raised regarding whether authors could or would be able to request their work withdrawn from Galaktika. She referenced a potential online edition (which is seems there is not one), but the response from Katalin Mund was as follows.

The short stories were published in a monthly magazine, which was sold for two months, so these prints are not available any more. So Authors don’t need to withdraw their works.

As I mentioned earlier, a comment from a Hungarian reader promptly revealed the misrepresentation of that statement.

They state it, but this is a flat-out lie. Nearly ALL back issues are available for ordering on the publisher’s webshop, http://galaktikabolt.hu/. I checked, and every issue from the year 2015 is available now. (The original article on mandiner.hu was about the magazine’s 2015 issues.) They’re not digital copies, the physical, paper-based issues are still sold.

At the very best, Mund and Galaktika are misrepresenting the situation regarding further sales of the pirated work. And this is key – they are selling that work.

(7) HEINLEIN SOCIETY SCHOLARSHIPS. The Heinlein Society is taking applications for three $1,000 scholarships for undergraduate students at accredited 4-year colleges and universities.

The “Virginia Heinlein Memorial Scholarship” is dedicated to a female candidate majoring in engineering, math, or physical sciences (e.g. physics, chemistry). The other two scholarships may be awarded to either a male or female, and add “Science Fiction as literature” as an eligible field of study.

Applicants will need to submit a 500-1,000 word essay on one of several available topics.

Those interested should fill out the Scholarship Application 2016 [PDF file] and print or email. The deadline to apply is May 15. Winners will be announced on July 7.

(8) KEN LIU. At B&N Sci-Fi Fantasy Blog, Ken Liu describes “5 Chinese Mythological Creatures That Need to Appear in More SF/F”. You know it’s a winner, because five!

Pixiu

Usually depicted as a sort of winged lion—but with the wings folded to the sides of the body—the pixiu is said to be one of the nine children of the loong. Like the loong, it has antlers on its head (the male pixiu has two antlers and the female just one).

As one of the most auspicious Chinese mythological creatures, statues of the pixiu once stood at ancient city and palace gates as guardians. These days, the pixiu is more often seen in the form of small jade pendants dangling from rear-view mirrors or worn as jewelry for good luck. In this evolution lies a rather interesting tale.

In the oldest Chinese sources, the pixiu is depicted as a ferocious beast. The legendary Yellow Emperor recruited the fiercest animals into a special unit of his army in the war against the Yan Emperor, and the pixiu made the cut along with bears and tigers and similar apex predators (another interpretation of this passage is that the beasts were the totems of the tribes who followed the Yellow Emperor). In classical texts, the pixiu is thus often used as a metaphor for a powerful army.

But folklore also speaks of the pixiu violating the decorum of the heavenly court by pooping on the floor. To punish the creature, the Jade Emperor sealed the pixiu’s anus so that it could only eat but never defecate. The pixiu is supposed to go around devouring evil spirits and demons and convert their essence into gold and treasure, which it must hold in its belly forever. This explains the pixiu’s reputation as a bringer of wealth.

I like to think of the pixiu as a precursor for the modern military-industrial complex.

(9) MAGAZINE TO SUSPEND PUBLISHING. Interfictions Online is going on hiatus after the November 2016 issue. The editors have posted this letter:

Dear Friends of Interfictions,

With your support, we have run a marvelous magazine for three years.

At this point, Interfictions needs to take a break to allow the Interstitial Arts Foundation to figure out how to best support us. Our archives will remain available and free, but as of December 2016, the magazine will be on indefinite hiatus.

We will be ending this round of the magazine with a fantastic fall issue in November 2016. We’re going to solicit material for it, so there won’t be an open submissions period. We promise it will thrill and inspire you!

Thank you for participating in this project as artists, writers, readers, and listeners.

Sincerely, The Editors

(10) AFTER YOU SELL THE SERIES. Women in Animation’s Professional Development program will present a panel on Tuesday, April 26 – “They Said Yes! Now What?”

A follow-up to last year’s highly successful panel, “Who Says Yes? And Why?”. This panel will cover what someone who has created or developed an animated series does once they get a positive response, the legal and business issues of the actual deal, and what you can expect after the studio or network says yes, including the development process from this point forward (What? You thought you were done developing it  when you sold it?) and just how much you can expect to be involved with or in charge of the series.

Free for WiA members. $15 for non-members. Panelists include Jennifer Dodge (SVP, Development, Nickelodeon Preschool), Cort Lane (SVP, Animation & Family Entertainment, Marvel Televsion), Annette van Duren (agent), Donna Ebbs (producer, former exec at The Hub and Disney), and Craig Miller (writer-producer)

(11) STORY OF YOUR LIFE. A Paramount movie based on Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life” is expected to open in the fall of 2016. Amy Adams will play the linguist Dr. Louise Banks, Jeremy Renner will play the theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly, and Forest Whitaker plays a military figure (Colonel Weber). An extended segment of the film was screened at CinemaCon, a trade show for theater owners.

io9 has the news:

A linguist and a theoretical physicist are the stars of the latest movie from the director of Sicario and the upcoming Blade Runner 2. The movie is Story Of Your Life, based on the short story by Ted Chiang, and this Amy Adams/Jeremy Renner movie looks awesome.

Paramount Pictures screened an extended look at the film as part of CinemaCon, a trade show in which movie studios show their upcoming films to theater owners. Paramount showcased Ninja Turtles 2, Ben Hur, Jack Reacher 2 and plenty of other upcoming releases (not including Star Trek Beyond, for some reason.) But the highlight was Story Of Your Life, which has no release date yet but is expected to open this fall.

(12) VOLCANIC ENDINGS. Leah Schnelbach, writing at length about “Preparing Myself for Death with Joe Versus the Volcano” at Tor.com, implicitly argues that this Tom Hanks movie is worth the fine-toothed-comb study she gives it.

At the dawn of the ’90s, a film was released that was so quirky, so weird, and so darkly philosophical that people who turned up expecting a typical romantic comedy were left confused and dismayed. That film was Joe Versus the Volcano, and it is a near-masterpiece of cinema.

There are a number of ways one could approach Joe Versus the Volcano. You could look at it in terms of writer and director John Patrick Shanley’s career, or Tom Hanks’. You could analyze the film’s recurring duck and lightning imagery. You could look at it as a self-help text, or apply Campbell’s Hero Arc to it. I’m going to try to look at it a little differently. JVtV is actually an examination of morality, death, and more particularly the preparation for death that most people in the West do their best to avoid. The film celebrates and then subverts movie clichés to create a pointed commentary on what people value, and what they choose to ignore. Plus it’s also really funny!

The plot of JVtV is simple: sad sack learns he has a terminal illness. Sad sack is wasting away, broke and depressed on Staten Island, when an eccentric billionaire offers him a chance to jump into a volcano. Caught between a lonely demise in an Outer Borough and a noble (if lava-y) death, sad sack chooses the volcano. (Wouldn’t you?) Along the way he encounters three women: his coworker DeDe, and the billionaire’s two daughters, Angelica and Patricia. All three are played by Meg Ryan. The closer he gets to the volcano the more wackiness ensues, and the film culminates on the island of Waponi-Wu, where the Big Wu bubbles with lava and destiny. Will he jump? Will he chicken out? Will love conquer all? The trailer outlines the entire plot of the film, so that the only surprise awaiting theatergoers was…well, the film’s soul, which is nowhere to be seen here…

(13) HOW MANY STICKY QUARTERS IS THAT? A Frank R. Paul cover from the collection of Dr. Stuart David Schiff is currently up for auction. The owner of “Where Eternity Ends”, a pulp magazine cover from the June 1939 issue of Science Fiction, is looking for an opening bid of $6,000.

Here’s how the piece looked when published. The original art can be seen at the auction link.

(14) YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST. The Hugo results are in!

(15) VIRGIN AMERICA HUMOR. Jeb Kinnison writes, “Friend Steve Freitag works as a gate agent at Virgin and often comes up with fun comments on the status sign. Since they’re being bought by Alaska and probably won’t be free to have such fun soon, he put up a selection of the best…”

Here’s a sample – click to see the full gallery.

For Back to the Future Day

(16) THE ART OF THE DICE. David Malki (Wondermark) posted a new batch of Roll-a-Sketch artwork.

I just got back from the Emerald City Comicon in Seattle, and here are a few favorites of the many Roll-a-Sketch drawings I made for folks there!

Roll-a-Sketch, as longtime readers know, is something I do at conventions and other appearances: folks can roll some dice to select random words from a list, and then I have the task of combining those words into a creature! …

LEGO + HIPSTER + CTHULHU + EGG:

 [Thanks to Jeb Kinnison, John King Tarpinian, Rob Thornton, and Will R. for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Kip W.]

Clarkesworld Kickstarter To Fund Publication of Chinese SF in Translation

Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld has signed an agreement with Weixiang (Storycom International Culture Communication Co., Ltd.) to add a translated Chinese science fiction story to each issue of his magazine. He’s launched a Kickstarter appeal to pay the authors and defray some related expenses.

Each month, Storycom’s team of experts will send us a list of stories they think would work well for us—much like we use our slush pile to choose our current fiction offerings. I’ll select one from that pile and then work with the author and translator to get the story ready for publication. Every story will appear in all editions of Clarkesworld—our free online edition, podcast (audio fiction), ebook and digital subscriptions, print issues, and annual anthologies—and provide these authors with significant English language exposure. (They’ll be paid too.)

He wants to raise $7,500 by October 8. As this is written $3,074 has already been pledged.

The array of premiums started with three Tuckerizations – the donor’s name in the author’s next story for Clarkesword – and a pair provided by Kij Johnson and Aliette de Bodard have already been claimed. The opportunity remains for someone to give $275 and have his or her name appear in a Catherynne M. Valente story — but for how long?

Clarke says the recommendation team he’s working with at Storycom includes:

  • Liu Cixin: the most-famous science fiction writer in China and author of the Three Body Trilogy;
  • Yao Haijun: Editor-in-Chief of Science Fiction World;
  • Zhang Zhilu: Scriptwriter at the China Film Group Corporation and one of the pioneering scriptwriters of science fiction movies in China;
  • Wu Yan: a Doctoral Supervisor for the Science Fiction Literature major at Beijing Normal University and President of World Chinese Science Fiction Association;
  • Ken Liu: Award-winning American science fiction writer and translator.

Funds from the Kickstarter will underwrite this feature for the first year, long enough to make the project self-sustaining through subscriptions and other sources of revenue.