Pixel Scroll 9/26/20 The File Goes Around The Scroll, The Scroll Goes Around The Pixel: It All Goes Around

(1) TIME 100. Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020 includes a sff writer and two astronauts.

When someone told me about Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, describing it as a cross between Harry Potter, the Chronicles of Narnia and Yoruba gods, I was shocked. It sounded like the best combination ever: How had I not heard of it? I read it, then I read it again, then I listened to the audiobook. I was being introduced to a world I couldn’t have imagined before. The characters were larger than life but with very human problems and issues. And the novel spoke to my self-identity and culture as a Nigerian, in its social commentary and in its depiction of both magic and oppression.

It’s so important to have representation within books like this. In school, I realized that only when my teacher considered my point of view did learning become easier. When my kids are growing up, they’re going to have these new classic heroes from an environment they know….

In October 2019, Christina Koch and Jessica Meir exited the International Space Station and replaced a controller regulating the batteries that store the station’s solar power. But the two astronauts accomplished much more than fixing the space station. They completed the first all-female spacewalk, shifting who we see as strong, brave, competent, and who’s on the team pushing the boundaries of exploration.

Yes, as Koch and Meir said, they were just doing their jobs. All astronauts say that, because being in space is our job. Yet two women executing intellectually and physically demanding work in one of the most challenging circumstances in which humans operate – orbital altitude of 250 miles, velocity of 17,500 m.p.h. – is an important event. Not because these women proved what we, women, could do; that was never in doubt. Rather because the whole world saw it, including the gatekeepers (frequently men) who determine who has access to these opportunities….

(2) ALGORITHM AND BLUES. The latest Future Tense story is “The State Machine” by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne. Tagline: “A new short story imagines a government run entirely by machines.”

The author says:

This is my attempt to explore the cracks and boundaries of AI governance that doesn’t fall into the tired Skynet tropes, Machine-Priest dreamings or one-reclusive-programmer-creates-life nonsense. How might a benevolent system actually come to be?

S.B. Divya, “an expert on machine learning”, has written a response essay “Under the Gaze of Big Mother”.

The world of software has a long-held, pernicious myth that a system built from digital logic cannot have biases. A piece of code functions as an object of pure reason, devoid of emotion and all the messiness that entails. From this thesis flows an idea that has gained increasing traction in the worlds of both technology and science fiction: a perfectly rational system of governance built upon artificial intelligence. If software can’t lie, and data can’t inherently be wrong, then what could be more equitable and efficient than the rule of a machine-driven system?

In “The State Machine,” Yudhanjaya Wijeratne explores a possible future where this concept has become reality. He takes the idea of A.I. government a step further by making it highly dynamic, with regular changes to the constitution and legal framework. Given how much of our lives are now in the hands of massive software applications – communications, banking, health care – I can see large swaths of humanity choosing to live under an A.I.-based government, rather than under human politicians, in hopes of more equitable treatment under the law and less overall corruption. It could happen incrementally, as it does in this story, so we go along with it, until one day a sizable portion of the world’s population finds itself living this way. You have only to look at Facebook, which now has 2.7 billion monthly active users (more than one-third of the world!), for a very real example….

(3) PACKED INSIDE. Clarke Award judge Alasdair Stuart included praise for the 2020 winner in “The Full Lid 25th September 2020”.

…And The Old Drift is the story of the stories that make up a country and a history, across the personal, national and societal levels. Comedy, romance, horror, crime, science fiction. It’s almost a fire hose worth of concepts, conceits and glittering moments of invention and prose that approach overwhelming even as they impress.

But in Serpell’s hands, each of these stories and genre shifts presents more like the progression of a elaborate, interwoven symphony. The tale starts with a simple melody: a Victorian photographer entranced in equal proportion by the brave new worlds of his profession and of his newly chosen home. He’s cheery and unconcerned with the complexities of life in a way that’s both profoundly familiar (David Copperfield as science fiction Chosen One) and deeply unsettling and annoying. This isn’t his land, even though as time goes by he treats it like exactly that. That subtlest of cuts, that differentiation between character and reader is what Serpell uses to expand the novel out into a swelling crescendo across decades and genres….

(4) TENTACLE TIME. The Kitschies Award team announced they are taking submissions until January 8, 2021.

The Kitschies, literature’s most tentacular prize, are pleased to announce that they are open to submissions for books published in the UK in 2020.

The Kitschies rewards the year’s most progressive, intelligent and entertaining books that contain elements of the speculative and fantastic. Winners receive a total of £2,500 in prize money, as well as one of the prize’s iconic hand-crafted Tentacle trophies.

The judges for the Red and Golden Tentacles are M.R. Carey, Mahvesh Murad, Daphne Lao Tonge and Kaiya Shang. Inky Tentacle judges are Fleur Clarke, James Spackman, Emily McGovern and Clare Richardson.

(5) MEDIA ANNIVERSARY.

Twenty years ago, Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. Published by Roc, Tamsin is the story of ghosts and cats set on an English country estate. It never had a British edition though it had a German one. The last print edition was on Firebird Books, the imprint edited by Sharyn November, fourteen years ago. There was a cassette only release of Peter narrating the novel though I don’t see it available currently. It is available from the usual digital suspects. (CE)

(6) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born September 26, 1867 – Winsor McCay. Pioneer in comic strips and animation. Little Nemo in Slumberland remains astonishing. Among much else WM drew Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend (alas, the joke is “Welsh rabbit” = melted cheese, but never mind that now) and political cartoons. In one version of Gertie the Dinosaur for vaudeville, WM appeared to interact with her. A Little Nemo short film took 4,000 drawings; The Sinking of the “Lusitania” took 25,000. (Died 1934) [JH]
  • Born September 26, 1872 Max Erhmann. Best remembered for his 1927 prose poem “Desiderata” which I have a framed copy hanging here in my work area. Yeah big fan. Genre connection? Well calling it “Spock Thoughts”, Nimoy recited the poem on Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy, his 1968 album. (Died 1945.) (CE)
  • Born September 26, 1918 – John Rankine. Forty novels, some for Space:1999; three dozen shorter stories; some e.g. From Carthage Then I Came under another name. Friend of Anthony Burgess while both at Univ. Manchester. JR is in five volumes of New Writings in SF. (Died 2013) [JH]
  • Born September 26, 1941 Martine Beswick, 79. Although she auditioned for Dr. No, she was instead cast in From Russia with Love as Zora. She also appeared as Paula Caplan in Thunderball. She would appear in One Million Years B.C. opposite Raquel Welch. She made several Hammer Studio films including Prehistoric Women and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde. (CE)
  • Born September 26, 1942 – James Christensen. Three dozen covers, five dozen interiors. Here is Lyonesse. Here is Spectrum 4. Here is Voyage of the “Basset”. Artbook A Journey of the Imagination. (Died 2017) [JH]
  • Born September 26, 1945 – Denny Lien, 75. Served as an officer of Minn-Stf and editor of Einblatt. Co-author of Midwest Side Story. In various apas e.g. Minneapa, ANZAPA. Guest of Honor at Minicon 21. Letters, reviews in F&SF, Interzone, Locus, NY Review of SF, SF Commentary, SF Review. [JH]
  • Born September 26, 1948 Olivia Newton-John, 72. She was Kira in Xanadu which is partly responsible for the creation of the Golden Raspberry Awards. (Can’t Stop the Music was the other film responsible.) It should be noted that Xanadu currently gets a 23% rating among audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes. (CE)
  • Born September 26, 1957 Tanya Huff, 63. Her now-concluded Confederation of Valor Universe series is highly recommended by me. And I also give a strong recommendation to her Gale Family series. I’ve not read her other series, so I’ll ask y’all what you’d recommend. (CE)
  • Born September 26, 1957 – Roger MacBride Allen, 63. A score of novels (three in the Star Wars universe, three with Asimov’s positronic robots), half as many shorter stories. Two books of history with his father, historian Thomas B. Allen. [JH]
  • Born September 26, 1968 Jim Caviezel, 52. John Reese on Person of Interest which CBS describes as a “crime drama”. Huh. He was also Detective John Sullivan in Frequency, and Kainan in Outlander. And yes he played Number Six in the rather unfortunate reboot of The Prisoner. (CE)
  • Born September 26, 1974 – Sonny Liew, 46. The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye was an Amazon and NY Times Best Seller, a first for a Singaporean graphic novel; it and SL won three Eisners, also a Ping Prize as Best Int’l Comic (Denmark). Here is SL’s cover for The Infinite Library. SL’s Malinky Robot won a Xeric Award, and Comic Album of the Year at the Utopiales Int’l SF Festival. [JH]
  • Born September 26, 1985 Talulah Riley, 35. Miss Evangelista in “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead”, two most excellent Tenth Doctor stories. She also portrays Angela in the Westworld series, and she shows up in Thor: The Dark World as an Asgardian nurse. And she’s Gina Gartison in Bloodshot, the Vin Diesel-fronted Valiant Comics superhero film. Anyone seen the latter? (CE)

(7) COMICS SECTION.

(8) BOOK HEAVEN. A photo of the original site of Toronto’s Bakka bookstore was tweeted by Retrontario. That’s where it was when I visited in 1973.

(9) CASTING TINKERBELL. “Yara Shahidi will be 1st Black woman to play Tinkerbell in new ‘Peter Pan’ movie”Yahoo! News has the story.

Yara Shahidi is getting her wings.

The actor is set to play Tinkerbell in Disney’s “Peter Pan and Wendy,” the studio’s latest live-action adaptation. Shahidi joins a cast that features Jude Law as Captain Hook, with Alexander Molony as Peter Pan and newcomer Ever Anderson as Wendy.

(10) WORKING AWAY FROM HOME. NPR tells how a “NASA Astronaut Will Vote From Space”. I hope that ballot doesn’t burn up on re-entry! Oh – never mind.

On Election Day, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will be more than 200 miles above her nearest polling place. But she’s still planning to vote – from space.

“It’s critical to participate in our democracy,” Rubins told The Associated Press. “We consider it an honor to be able to vote from space.”

Rubins, who has a doctorate in cancer biology from Stanford and was the first person to sequence DNA in space, is currently training for her upcoming six-month mission on the International Space Station.

Voting from the space station is similar to voting absentee from anyplace on the planet – except instead of relying on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver the ballot, Rubins will get hers forwarded electronically from Mission Control in Houston.

(11) STORY REVIEWS. Adri Joy goes “Questing in Shorts: September 2020” at Nerds of a Feather.

… I’m behind with my Uncanny reading – in fact, it’s possible my subscription has lapsed without me noticing, because those are the kind of times we live in now, folks – and some of the stories in this next-most-recent (I think?) issue worked better for me than others. Firmly on the “yay” side of that equation was “The Inaccessibility of Heaven” by Aliette de Bodard, a story of fallen angels and the humans who live alongside them (I’m not sure if this is in the same universe as The Dominion of the Fallen, though it definitely doesn’t feel the same or contain any characters I recognise). It’s a tight, intriguing murder mystery that puts its human protagonist in the centre of magical happenings which the Fallen in their life would prefer they stayed out of. …

(12) A FASHION SHOW FOR 2020. “From Jeremy Scott at Moschino, a Celebration of the Magic, Whimsy, and Fantasy of Fashion in 40 Puppet-Sized Looks”Vogue sets the frame.

The vigilant spectator would watch the elaborate puppet show Jeremy Scott created for Moschino this season and wonder: Was this the designer painting a picture of our turbulent times through metaphors of political puppeteering, ‘strings attached,’ and questions of real vs. fake? Were his designs – couture-level garments that revealed their own construction – an image of much-needed truth in the public forum? “You’re totally reading into it,” he said on a video call from his home in Los Angeles as we both burst out in laughter. “The best thing I could do for everyone who’s stressed about the election, the pandemic, social unrest, and the future was to give the gift of fantasy and take us away from all of it for a few minutes; let us enjoy this little fashion world of ours.”

(13) RELUCTANT CRITIC. Andrew Mather at The Quill To Live says don’t make him review this book! “The Trouble With Peace – A Delicious Dark Book For A Troubled Year”.

I didn’t really want to review The Trouble With Peace by Joe Abercrombie, because I don’t want to draw your attention to it. As I have said before, Abercrombie is best enjoyed with no expectations and as little knowledge as possible. If you have read him, you likely are going to read this book. If you haven’t heard of him, and want a really intense fantasy series, go check out his first book in this world: The Blade Itself. So if I can’t really talk about the book, and I don’t want to talk about the book, and no one really needs to hear about the book, why am I writing a review of it you ask? Well, because The Trouble With Peace is a contender for my best book of the year and it would feel unprofessional to say nothing about it.

The thing that makes The Trouble With Peace, and all Abercrombie books, great is the characters….

(14) MAKING DEMANDS. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] A researcher hacked a smart coffee maker. He not only gained full control of the functions (which he could misuse in devious ways like beeping incessantly & spewing hot water) but also flashed a ransom message on the display. “When coffee makers are demanding a ransom, you know IoT is screwed” at Ars Technica.

With the name Smarter, you might expect a network-connected kitchen appliance maker to be, well, smarter than companies selling conventional appliances. But in the case of the Smarter’s Internet-of-things coffee maker, you’d be wrong.

As a thought experiment, Martin Hron, a researcher at security company Avast, reverse engineered one of the $250 devices to see what kinds of hacks he could do. After just a week of effort, the unqualified answer was: quite a lot…

… The next step was to create modified firmware that did something less innocuous.

“Originally, we wanted to prove the fact that this device could mine cryptocurrency,” Hron wrote. “Considering the CPU and architecture, it is certainly doable, but at a speed of 8MHz, it doesn’t make any sense as the produced value of such a miner would be negligible.”…

(15) ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW. Paul Weimer’s “Microreview: In the Black by Patrick Tomlinson” at Nerds of a Feather doesn’t seem too micro at all!

…. But it is the nuts and bolts of the Military SF that the novel really focuses on, and where for the most part it shines brilliantly. The FTL is the Alcubierre drive, frame dragging FTL with interesting limitations and restrictions. There is no Ansible (which means that the transmission of information between solar systems has to be by ship, which proves to be something that parts of the plot turns on) There is a definite sense of a cold war arms building up and testing on both sides. Like the 1970’s and 1980s as America and the USSR developed better weapon systems of various kinds, a Balance of Terror, there is a corporate cast to the weapons development, making profit motives an interesting tweak to how the Military tech development and execution proceed. There is plenty of space action as the opposite sides square off, and Tomlinson delivers what Mil-SF readers are looking for in terms of well described action and adventure.

[Thanks to N., James Davis Nicoll, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ. Michael Toman, John Hertz, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, John King Tarpinian, Lise Andreasen, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day PJ Evans.]

Group Sends Letter of Concern To CoNZealand Programming

Alasdair Stuart has published a “Statement of 2020 Hugo Finalists re: Worldcon Programming” on behalf of a group of CoNZealand program participants and award finalists. Stuart, co-owner of Escape Artists podcasts and a 2020 Best Fan Writer Hugo finalist, outlined the issues in a Twitter thread starting here.

Stuart told File 770, “The letter was workshopped by the entire group, and wasn’t published before they gave express approval so it very much is a group of co-signees.”

The group includes: Charles Payseur, Benjamin C. Kinney, Jennifer Mace, SL Huang, Shiv Ramdas, SB Divya, Jenn Lyons, Sarah Gailey, Paul Weimer, Sarah Pinsker, Claire Rousseau, Maria Haskins, Tasha Suri, Marguerite Kenner, Alasdair Stuart, Jonathan Strahan, Pablo Defendini, Elsa Sjunneson, Brent Lambert, Freya Marske, Julia Rios, Alix Harrow, Gideon Marcus, Janice Marcus, Lorelei Marcus, James Davis Nicoll, Neil Clarke, Cora Buhlert, Charlie Jane Anders, Brandon O’Brien, Erica Frank, Jen Zink, Adri Joy, Fran Wilde, Suzanne Walker, Chimedum Ohaegbu, Navah Wolfe, John Picacio, and Max Gladstone.

The letter says:

We applaud the courage and conviction of the CoNZealand organisers in pivoting to a virtual Worldcon during an unprecedented global event. Their work has been admirable and — in many aspects — both innovative and successful.

We are a group of Hugo Award finalists who identified concerns with our programming when we received our “final schedules” this week, and came together to help CoNZealand recognize and address these issues.

In brief, our key concerns are:

  • Many Hugo finalists have not been offered programming and panels relevant to their nomination.
  • We believe that many of our panels cannot be adequately performed without more diverse participants and/or a reframing of the topic.
  • Communication with Hugo finalists about the financial requirements for participation has been inconsistent or absent, with contradictory information on whether or not we were able to participate in programming without a full attending membership. This issue particularly impacted Black, Indigenous and people of color (“BIPOC”), leaving them more likely than other finalists to receive no programming.

We present our concerns in the hope that these issues represent not intentional choices on the convention’s part but the unavoidable consequences of Worldcon’s discontinuous structure, and the necessary prioritization CoNZealand has had to undertake in order to pivot successfully to a virtual event. 

We have tried to be brief and targeted in our recommendations so as to remain sensitive to the time pressure CoNZealand is under. Accompanying this letter is a spreadsheet containing specific examples of the issues above. We have listed (1) which panel topics we are missing; (2) which panels have problematic design or membership; (3) which panels we finalists want off or are willing to leave to create space; and (4) finalists that were deterred from participation due to lack of membership.

Our data are incomplete because we could only recruit a limited number of Hugo finalists to provide input without further delaying the process. Among our group of finalists, about 25% entirely lack relevant panels, and about 45% are dissatisfied with the fit of the programming they have.

We recognize there is a difficult balance to strike when raising concerns to an overtaxed team less than two weeks before an event, however many of us have repeatedly raised these issues or volunteered only to receive no response. We have intentionally not sought to assume ownership of programming items, but we are committed to assisting where possible and desired by CoNZealand. However, we emphasize that our bringing awareness to these issues does not obligate us to single-handedly resolve them.

As part of our offer to assist, we have begun identifying additional and replacement panelists who could add necessary diversity. If CoNZealand lacks sufficient BIPOC attendees, we hope you will provide free attendance to needed panelists who aren’t members. Moreover, there remain issues we cannot address on our own, especially (1) communicating with all finalists whether paid membership is required for programming; and (2) making sure all finalists with memberships are on relevant programming.

We are not united in what actions we intend to take if our concerns are not addressed. Many have already begun the process of asking to be removed from programming in its entirety, while others are actively working to locate replacements for the programming items they feel need improvement. Our focus at this stage remains taking action to make our concerns known, and to support CoNZealand addressing them in the combined spirit of fostering an environment for all to share in the celebration of our genre.

Although there are some echoes of the representation issues raised before the 2018 Worldcon (which a team led by Mary Robinette Kowal stepped in to address before the con), so far the efforts have been collaborative.

The CoNZealand’s Programming Division Head Jannie Shea emailed this reply to Stuart:

Thank you for sending us your concerns. We are addressing those we can. We encourage indigenous, marginalised and historically underrepresented fans to apply for our Inclusion Initiative, (https://conzealand.nz/blog/2020/07/03/conzealand-chairs-inclusion-initiative) which offers two types of opportunities to join CoNZealand. 

We appreciate your volunteerism in contacting all those people for us. As you know, due to privacy regulations, we cannot contact people more than once without a response from them. We hope they will get in touch with us directly and soon, to see if we can fit them in.

All the best,
Jannie

Shea points to CoNZealand’s inclusion initiative in answer to the letter’s question “whether paid membership is required for programming.” Typically, only people who have bought attending memberships become Worldcon program participants. The introduction to the  inclusion initiative explains what help is available:

Marginalised communities are overrepresented in the group suffering the greatest fallout from this pandemic, and as such, we want to ensure that our community does not suffer a loss of its hard-won diversity. We want to lower the barriers for participation for those from underrepresented communities. 

We want the convention to be a global one, where all communities and viewpoints are represented, and this fund is intended to help those who would otherwise not be able to participate fully in the activities of the Worldcon.

The initiative upgrades eligible members from supporting to attending memberships. …There are a small number of attending passes available.

CoNZealand is especially challenged in its efforts to answer these needs because, as a virtual convention, it isn’t limited to programming people who can afford to come to Wellington, as would have been the case before the pandemic — it could draw people from everywhere. But like most non-U.S. Worldcons it has a smaller membership base from which to draw the financial support needed to make its budget.  

Following the jump is a roundup of Twitter comments from participants.

Continue reading

Pixel Scroll 5/12/20 If Pixels Be The Scroll Of Life, File On

(1) DRAWING A LINE IN THE SILICON.  Tor author S.L. Huang, in “Genre Labels: What Makes A Book More Thriller Than Sci-Fi?” on CrimeReads, says “I’ve been a science fiction and fantasy nerd for as long as I can remember,” and that a book is more of a thriller than sf if “the science-fiction elements feel more realistic,” the book is in a contemporary Earth setting, and the book is written at a thriller pace with many short chapters rather than a sf pace.

4. Making the science fiction a single switch flip.

Lots of science fiction books have a broad array of speculative elements—worldbuilding, culture, technology, language, and advancements in science are just a few elements science fiction writers consider when building intricate other universes. But it’s not the only way to do science fiction. And a lot of the speculative stories that feel more mainstream have that “switch flip” element—that single, isolated “what if” that sets off everything.

What if we could extract viable dinosaur DNA from amber? What if a disease like this got out? What if this person switched bodies?

Then, after that one, singular leap of faith, the rest of the book logic plays out identically to how our real-world logic would work, with only that fundamental beginning change….

(2) STREAMING PLAYGROUND. Of necessity, Escape Room L.A.’s business has gone virtual. They’ve created two Escape Room scenarios for groups to play on Zoom, at $15 per person.

These live-hosted games feature both audio and visual clues. Your host will verbally describe your surroundings while showing you a series of images and puzzles, letting you know how you can interact with everything you see. It will be up to you to work together to solve the fun clues and tricky challenges! Can you escape in one hour or less?

There’s “The Lost Pyramid” and “Escape from Planet X.” The description of the latter is –

A vacation in outer space takes a wrong turn when your spaceship crash-lands on an uncharted alien planet. You discover that all of the crew have disappeared and the aliens are getting restless! In this fun, wacky adventure, it’s up to you to find a way to get the spaceship up and running and escape from Planet X before the aliens attack.

(3) THE BOOKS THEY DECIDED TO DISCUSS. In “Positron 2020 Report: Analyses of Chicagoland Speculative Fiction Book Clubs”, Jake Casella Brookins runs the numbers on Chicago-area sff book club selections, looking at race/gender balance in selected titles, genre changes over time, most-read authors, and how the various clubs’ lists of choices compare. “Pretty niche stuff,” says Brookins, “but SF/F scholars, readers, booksellers & librarians might be interested.”

His introduction to the report begins —

In-person book clubs are necessarily tied to very real and geographic communities. As I write this, Chicago is entering its second month of lockdown due to Covid-19. While many groups and organizations are successfully shifting to online meetings, the future of our clubs, bookstores, and libraries are uncertain. Ironically, this lockdown has given me the first chance to take a deep look at Chicago’s SF book clubs since Positron’s inception.

This report focuses entirely on book club meetings. While data from book sales and library loans would paint a much larger picture of reader behavior and preferences, there are a few advantages to using book club discussions as the unit of analysis, even beyond privacy and logistic concerns. At the most basic level, selection for a book club indicates that the book was definitely read, by at least some members. Furthermore, book club members are a distinct class of readers, committing not only to read books in community, but to share their opinions, a behavior that likely spills beyond the group itself. Through their recommendations, it is likely that book club members have an outsize influence on readers generally.

For me, joining a few SF book clubs was a huge part of adjusting to life in Chicago. They led me to massively important books I might not have otherwise discovered, and introduced me to my spouse and many friends. The clubs certainly have a direct influence on many bookstores and libraries. And, at the level of SF as a culture, the importance of book clubs is easily overlooked, and could provide a window into the specifics of how books, authors, and ideas move through the reading community….

(4) FALLEN SNOW. Entertainment Weekly issues an invitation: Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: Listen to the first 11 minutes of the Hunger Games prequel’.

Centered on the original trilogy‘s antagonist, the story follows an 18-year-old Snow as he prepares for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the 10th Hunger Games. He’s up against it, though: His family has fallen on hard times, and he’s forced to guide the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Suddenly, their fates are intertwined.

The audio clip is here at Soundcloud.

(5) BEWARE OF FALLING HOUSES. Connie Willis just read a book about the making of The Wizard of Oz movie and is eager to share what she learned about “The Ruby Slippers And The Wizard’s Coat”.

…One of the most fascinating sections was about the ruby slippers, which, in case you’ve forgotten, belonged to the Wicked Witch of the East and which Glinda the Good Witch gives Dorothy after the house falls on her (the Witch, not Glinda) and kills her. The ruby slippers protect Dorothy from the Wicked Witch of the West (sort of.) At any rate, the only way to take them off her is to kill her, which makes Dorothy quite a target. (You’d think Glinda would have thought about that.)

They also hold the secret to Dorothy’s getting home. All she has to do is click the heels together and say three times, “There’s no place like home” to be magically transported back to Kansas. That means they’re central to the plot and in many ways the heart of the movie. After Toto, of course.

Like everything else involved in the making of the movie, the ruby slippers were more complicated than they looked. In the first place, the book had specified “silver shoes”, but Louis B. Mayer wanted to show off his Technicolor so he decided they should be red–and that they should “sparkle.”…

(6) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

May 12, 1989 The Return Of Swamp Thing premiered.  The follow-up to Swamp Thing, it was directed by Jim Wynorski, with production by Benjamin Melniker and Michael E. Uslan. The story was written by Neil Cuthbert and Grant Morris.  It starred Dick Durock and Heather Locklear who replaced Adrienne Barbeau as the female lead which Barbeau was in Swamp Thing.  Louis Jourdan also returns as a spot-on Anton Arcane. Like its predecessor, neither critics nor the audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes liked it so it had a poor twenty seven rating. The original Swamp Thing series which also Durock in contrast has an eight three Percent rating among audience reviewers! [CE]

(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born May 12, 1812 – Edward Lear.  With us in fantasyland for his nonsense poems, he was famous in his day as a painter and illustrator.  First major bird artist to draw from live birds; look at this parrot.  Here are some Albanians.  Here’s Masada.  His musical settings for Tennyson’s poems were the only ones Tennyson approved of.  It may be that a grasp of reality makes his nonsense cohere – it holds together.  We may never see an owl dancing with a pussycat, but they do in his creation – in a hundred languages.  (Died 1888) [JH]
  • Born May 12, 1828 – Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  Put his third name first in honor of The Divine Comedy.  Founded the Pre-Raphaelite school of art because he thought Raphael (1483-1520) had ruined things; see how this led him to imagine Proserpine.  His poetry too was fantastic.  He is credited with the word yesteryear.  He loved wombats.  (Died 1882) [JH]
  • Born May 12, 1902 – Philip Wylie.  His novel Gladiator was an inspiration for Superman.  When Worlds Collide (with Edwin Balmer) inspired Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon.  No doubt he was a prolific pulp writer with quite a few of his novels adapted into films such as When Worlds Collide (co-written with George Balmer) by George Pal. Columnist, editor, screenwriter, adviser to the chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee for Atomic Energy, vice-president of the International Game Fish Association.  Wrote “Anyone Can Raise Orchids” for The Saturday EveningPost.  In The Disappearance a cosmic blink forces all men to get along without women, all women without men.  (Died 1971) [JH/CE]
  • Born May 12, 1907 – Leslie Charteris.  Born with the surname Yin; his Chinese father claimed descent from the Shang Dynasty emperors.  Passenger on the maiden voyage of the Hindenburg.  A hundred books, also films, radio, television, about his character Simon Templar, the Saint; also “The Saint” Mystery Magazine; others wrote some too, Vendetta for the Saint is by Henry Harrison.  Detective fiction is our neighbor, and both ISFDB and ESF list the series with the latter noting that “Several short stories featuring Templar are sf or fantasy, typically dealing with odd Inventions or Monsters (including the Loch Ness Monster and Caribbean Zombies.” The Last Hero really is SF, with a disintegrator and a scientist who doesn’t care who gets it.  (Died 1993) [JH/CE]
  • Born May 12, 1928 – Buck Coulson.  Applauded by fanziners  – we have costumers and filksingers, don’t we? –  for Yandro, ten times a Best-Fanzine Hugo finalist, winning once, co-edited with his wife Juanita – speaking of filksingers.  Together Fan Guests of Honor at the 30th Worldcon; the Coulsons to Newcastle Fund sent them to the 37th.  With Gene DeWeese, Buck wrote Now You See It/Him/Them loaded with allusions to fans, including Bob Tucker whose doing this himself led to calling the practice “tuckerism”; Juanita is not left out.  Two Man from U.N.C.L.E. books with DeWeese, translated into Dutch, French, Hebrew, Japanese.  Book reviews for Amazing.  Active loccer (letters of comment to fanzines).  Two terms as as SFWA Secretary (first Science Fiction Writers, then Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers, of America).  Mildly described as having an acerbic writing style.(Died 1999) [JH]
  • Born May 12, 1942 Barry Longyear, 80. Best known for the Hugo- and Nebula Award–winning novella Enemy Mine, which became a film by that name as well. Gerrold would later novelize it. An expanded version of the original novella as well as two novels completing the trilogy, The Tomorrow Testament and The Last Enemy make up The Enemy Papers. I’m very fond of his Circus World series, less so of his Infinity Hold series. (CE)
  • Born May 12, 1968 Catherine Tate, 52. Donna Noble, Companion to the Eleventh Doctor. She extended the role by doing the Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Adventures on Big Finish. She also played Inquisitor Greyfax in Our Martyred Lady, aWarhammer 40,000 audio drama, something I did not know existed. [CE]

(8) COMICS SECTION.

(9) SUPERHERO PREVIEW. “DC’s Stargirl: New Images Offer the Best Look Yet at Doctor Mid-Nite and Hourman” at ComicBook.com.

In just under a week, a new generation of justice comes to DC Universe when DC’s Stargirl premieres on the streaming service on Monday, May 18. The series, which follows high school sophomore Courtney Whitmore as she moves to Blue Valley, Nebraska following her mother’s marriage to Pat Dugan and becomes the hero Stargirl and inspires an unlikely group of young heroes to help her stop the villains of the past. Now, ComicBook.com has an exclusive look at two of those young heroes ready to fight for justice in their super suits: Doctor Mid-Nite and Hourman.

(10) HAPPY BIRTHDAY ESCAPE POD. Hugo-nominated sff fiction podcast Escape Pod has reached a major milestone — “Escape Pod Turns Fifteen!” The celebration includes creation of a book — Escape Pod: The Science Fiction Anthology.

Escape Pod has been bringing the finest short fiction to millions all over the world, at the forefront of a new fiction revolution. Specializing in science fiction, the podcast gives its audience a different story each week that’s fun and engaging, with thought-provoking afterwords from its episode hosts.

The anthology, assembled by editors Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya, gathers original fiction and audience favorites from:

  • Maurice Broaddus
  • Tobias Buckell
  • Beth Cato
  • Tina Connolly
  • Cory Doctorow
  • Greg Van Eekhout
  • Sarah Gailey
  • Kameron Hurley
  • N. K. Jemisin
  • Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Mur Lafferty
  • Ken Liu
  • Tim Pratt
  • John Scalzi
  • Ursula Vernon

Preorder now from Titan Books, Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA, and Forbidden Planet.

(11) RETRO BLAST. Cora Buhlert continues to review the best of 1944 in “Retro Review: “City” by Clifford D. Simak”.

“City” is a science fiction novelette by Clifford D. Simak, which was first published in the May 1944 issue of Astounding Science Fiction and is a finalist for the 1945 Retro Hugo. The magazine version may be found online here. “City” is part of Simak’s eponymous City cycle and has been widely reprinted….

Warning: Spoilers beyond this point! …

(12) FASHION REPORT. Aliette de Bodard understandably likes this style.

(13) NOT HOME ALONE. In “Creativity in the Time of Shutdown”, Mad Genius Club’s Amanda S. Green tells how everyday life is squeezing her writing time, and the commenters chime in about their own challenges.

…All this has made me wonder how the writers out there who have been used to having their alone time to write have coped with suddenly having their kids and spouses/partners home. With schools and businesses closed, our isolated work styles have been impacted by having people home all the time. A number of us have had to transform into teachers and tech advisors as our kids try to navigate their school classes through Zoom and similar programs. We’ve had to adjust to our spouses/partners invading our work area as they work from home.

Sooo many people in our spaces again.

And we can’t even escape to the library or the coffee shop because they’re closed too….

(14) STILL INFLUENTIAL. The Detroit News explains why “Octavia Butler’s prescient sci-fi resonates years after her death”.

…A revolutionary voice in her lifetime, Butler has only become more popular and influential since her death 14 years ago, at age 58. Her novels, including “Dawn,” “Kindred” and “Parable of the Sower,” sell more than 100,000 copies each year, according to her former literary and the manager of her estate, Merrillee Heifetz. Toshi Reagon has adapted “Parable of the Sower” into an opera, and Viola Davis and Ava DuVernay are among those working on streaming series based on her work. Grand Central Publishing is reissuing many of her novels this year and the Library of America welcomes her to the canon in 2021 with a volume of her fiction.

(15) PUTTING A GOOD FACE ON THINGS. Cheering viewers up while we’re stuck at home.“Lincolnshire make-up artists lifting lockdown spirits” – BBC video.

A group of make-up artists in Lincolnshire are painting themselves as superheroes and cartoon characters to pass the time during the lockdown.

They have been getting together online and setting each other make-up challenges to keep busy.

(16) LEARN FROM THE MASTER. “Studio Ghibli artist teaches anime fans how to draw Totoro” – video.

An anime film producer from Japan’s Studio Ghibli has given fans a quick lesson on how to draw one of its most famous characters: Totoro.

According to Toshio Suzuki – the secret lies in the eyes.

(17) FUN TO BE WITH? BBC introduces us to “The robot that helps before you ask it to” — short video.

A project led by Ocado Technology has developed a robot to work alongside people. Using advanced artificial intelligence, it can follow the motions of its human colleagues, and offer to help them before they even ask for assistance.

(18) STRIKING A PERFECT MATCH. Back in the days of black-and-white TV, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore treated their fans to puppet parody in Superthunderstingcar.

(19) THESE CHAIRS ARE MADE FOR TALKING. Past Aussie Worldcon chairs David Grigg and Perry Middlemiss talk about their favorite sff on the small screen in “TV or not TV?” at their latest Two Chairs Talking podcast. Their favorites include The Expanse, The Outsider, For All Mankind, and Star Trek: Picard.

(20) VIDEO OF THE DAY. In “Sea You” on Vimeo, Ben Brand finds the backstory of the fish a widow has for dinner.

[Thanks to JJ, John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, John Hertz, Chip Hitchcock, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, Michael Toman, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes ti File 770 contributing editor of the day Kevin Harkness.]

Pixel Scroll 9/6/18 Wild Pixels Couldn’t Scroll Me Away

(1) DONATION BY WORLDCON SCIENCE GOH MAKES HEADLINES. BBC reports Dublin 2019 guest of honor Jocelyn Bell Burnell will donate the money coming to her as winner of a major science prize: “Physics star Bell Burnell gives away £2.3m prize”

One of the UK’s leading female astronomers is to donate her £2.3m winnings from a major science prize she was awarded.

The sum will go to fund women, under-represented ethnic minority and refugee students to become physics researchers.

Prof Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell has been awarded a Breakthrough Prize for the discovery of radio pulsars.

This was also the subject of the physics Nobel in 1974, but her male collaborators received the award.

The Breakthrough award also recognises her scientific leadership.

‘An inspiration’

Prof Bell Burnell believes that under-represented groups – who will benefit from the donation – will bring new ideas to the field.

“I don’t want or need the money myself and it seemed to me that this was perhaps the best use I could put to it,” she told BBC News.

Prof Bell Burnell’s story has been both an inspiration and motivation for many female scientists. As a research student when pulsars were discovered, she was not included in the Nobel prize citation – despite having been the first to observe and analyse the astronomical objects (a type of neutron star that emits a beam of radiation).

She now says she wants to use her prize money to counter what she describes as the “unconscious bias” that she believes still occurs in physics research jobs.

The Guardian’s coverage of the donation includes a wonderful quote:

The discovery was so dramatic it was awarded the Nobel prize in 1974. But while Hewish was named as a winner, Bell Burnell was not. The decision drew vocal criticism from the British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, but Bell Burnell has not complained.

“I feel I’ve done very well out of not getting a Nobel prize,” she said. “If you get a Nobel prize you have this fantastic week and then nobody gives you anything else. If you don’t get a Nobel prize you get everything that moves. Almost every year there’s been some sort of party because I’ve got another award. That’s much more fun.”

(2) INCLUSION. There is a discussion taking place over the submissions call for Artemis Rising, and what is an effective inclusive phrasing.

The Artemis Rising page at Escape Artists explains its mission:

Artemis Rising is an annual month-long event across all four Escape Artists podcasts, highlighting women in genre fiction, a demographic that has been underrepresented until recent years. This showcase helps to address that historical imbalance and correct the impression, which continues to persist in some social circles, that women cannot write excellent genre fiction.

…Prior to 2018, we specifically included the term “non-binary” in our Artemis Rising submission calls. English is flawed in its ability to accurately represent the breadth of human genders, and as such the language we use is always evolving. We respect the feedback that we’ve received regarding our use of “non-binary” as a catch-all: that it erroneously tilts the perception of non-binary people in a feminine direction. Non-binary authors who identify as women are welcome and encouraged to participate. An author’s gender and its expression are theirs alone to determine.

Bogi Takács, in “Why “women + nonbinary” is not a good idea”, recommended a different collective phrasing:

I have noticed a trend where more and more venues change their phrasing to “women + nonbinary” only to then revert back to “women only” after a period of time. This can be very difficult for nonbinary authors they published in the meanwhile who are not women. (Including, occasionally, me.)

I used to say that “women + nonbinary” can be acceptable as a phrasing, even if not ideal. In the light of this recent trend, I changed my mind and no longer recommend such calls for submission. Nonbinary people can be and often are very rapidly erased from such phrasings…

I tend to recommend “marginalized genders / sexes.” This includes all trans and intersex people, while also including cis non-intersex women. It also includes nonbinary people in general….

There follows (at the linked post) a really interesting and informative FAQ that analyzes a lot of issues involved in the choice of wording. Takács cautions,

This is not the be-all-end-all of nonbinary inclusion in calls for submissions, just my thoughts as someone who is a writer and editor who gets asked all these questions frequently.

Escape Artists’ S.B. Divya , in “Letter to SF”, commented on the issues – here is an excerpt:

…So instead, this is me inviting you to have a conversation. All I ask is that you give me the benefit of your doubt. I know I’m relatively new to this industry so you have no reason to trust me, but please give a chance. I’ll try to keep the rest of this as brief and minimal as necessary to help you know where I’m coming from.

Please note: this is all from me, not representing anyone else at Escape Artists, Escape Pod, or the Artemis Rising project.

I was the one who pushed back on “marginalized genders” when we began discussing this year’s Artemis Rising submissions call back in spring.

I will remove myself from Artemis Rising because I can’t comfortably be part of that conversation anymore. In avoiding my negative emotional triggers, I ended up hurting others, and I don’t want to inflict any more pain on the world. I apologize to everyone affected by this.

I find the word marginalized deeply problematic on a personal level. I lived several years in a high school of 1500 students where I could count the number of Asians on one hand. It was not a good time in my life. Being marginalized is something that was done to me in the past. Inhabiting the margins – or not – is something I actively choose today….

There is also a Twitter thread.

Rachel K. Jones, a former Escape Artists editor who helped start the annual Artemis Rising cycle, also responded to the discussion. Her Twitter thread starts here.

(3) FAREWELL TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET. Richard Bruton has closed the Forbidden Planet blog, noted here because Dublin 2019 chair James Bacon wrote  a hundred posts for them over the years. Bruton explained:

Well, you might have heard, you might have not, but as from this week, the FPI Blog shall be no more. The online side of things at FPI is changing, and the blog simply isn’t part of the future sadly. But, it’s been a wonderful thing while it lasted, a decade plus of incredible comics coverage, serving the UK comics scene as only a few others have really done over the years.

Yep, from this weekend, the blog is being shuttered. Alas.

I started here in 2007 (with this post in fact), a couple of years after the blog itself had started. Initially, it was meant to be the place for a few reviews. It swiftly became a lot more than that. And now, after over 6,000 posts from me, it’s time to say goodnight.

(4) FOURTH MURDERBOT. There’s an excerpt available, however, I resisted reading it because I’ve already got the book pre-ordered and don’t want to spoil my own enjoyment. That won’t be an obstacle for some of you, and will be a treat for others who have not discovered Wells’ series before now –

(5) ON BOARD. The Washington Post’s Michael J. Gaynor previews WashingCon, a board-game convention taking place at the Georgetown University conference center that is expected to draw 1,000 people — “You can play more than 500 board games in D.C. this weekend”.

Since then, WashingCon has grown in attendance and variety of activities. The library is open for anyone to check out something that looks interesting, with volunteers on hand to teach rules to beginners. A gamer might sit down to play with friends, but it’s also typical to just ask random passersby if they’d like to join.

“It’s an easy icebreaker,” says Dave Chalker, a local board-game designer who’s attended all three WashingCons. “You get to meet people throughout the course of the game, and you might even stay together as a group to play a new game together. That side of it is just so casual and welcoming.”

The convention also hosts panel discussions on subjects like inclusivity and diversity in gaming, as well as how to make a living as a designer. (That one’s hosted by Chalker.) There are tournaments for popular games like Pandemic, Codenames and Settlers of Catan.

The Dave Chalker quoted here is the son of Jack and Eva Whitley Chalker.

(6) FOLLYCON. Peter Tyers’ report of this year’s Eastercon is posted at SF Concatenation – “Follycon 2018”.

Follycon 2018 was held at the Majestic Hotel in the Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate. In some ways it was a convention of two halves: the convention catering, which left a lot to be desired (for reasons described later), and the convention itself, which was most enjoyable and very successful.

…The Opening Ceremony was straight after lunch and we were introduced to the committee and the Guests of Honour: Kim Stanley Robinson (author), Nnedi Okorafor (author), Kieron Gillen (graphic novelist and games enthusiast), and Christina Lake (author and fan), who were much in evidence over the weekend. Stan Robinson gave several talks and covered the life and times of John Muir (including his influence on California and the creation of Yosemite National Park), Galileo and the Scientific Method, generally recalled his previous visits to our shores, and answered many questions from the audience.  Nnedi Okorafor was interviewed by Tade Thompson and she was relaxed and forthcoming, covering her intended career as a professional tennis player, curtailed by illness, and how she turned to writing. She also gave a couple of readings and a kaffeeklatsch though her writer’s schedule meant that sometimes she had to retire to her room and meet a few deadlines (lookout for her name on output from the world of Marvel Comics, especially Black Panther stories)….

(7) SPIDER-GEDDON. I thought the artwork for the new Spider-Geddon comics series was impressive:

REVENGE OF THE SPIDER-VERSE! Marvel is excited to celebrate SPIDER-GEDDON from Christos Gage and Jorge Molina with a spectacular, brand-new connecting variant cover by superstar artist InHyuk Lee.

Unlike the variant covers that will accompany SPIDER-GEDDON’s debut, this stellar cover connects all six issues, including the prelude #0 issue, celebrating the multitude of Spideys that appear in the story – from old favorites to new favorites to the newest member of the Spider-Man family, Peter Parker from the world of Marvel’s Spider-Man!

Featuring new villains and old villains, shocking deaths and shocking returns, and all the Spider characters you can fit into one larger-than-life tale, this is a Marvel Spider-Event not to be missed! Don’t miss the opportunity to dive into this fresh new adventure October 10th, when SPIDER-GEDDON #1 hits comic shops!

(8) FRASER OBIT. Liz Fraser (1930-2018): British actress, died September 6, aged 88. Television appearances include The Avengers (one episode, 1966, playing an actress hired to impersonate Emma Peel), Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (1970). Featured in four Carry on movies.

(9) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • September 6, 1956Fire Maidens from Outer Space premiered.

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born September 6 — China Miéville, 46. — Bas-Lag series, myriad stand-alone novels including o I really like, Kraken and The City & The City, plus I’ll single out EmbassytownUn Lun Dun and The Last Days of New Paris which is the only work by him I never finished. He won a Hugo for The City & The City. He’s wrote scripts for Hellblazer, Justice League and Dial H.

(11) COMICS SECTION.

  • Speed Bump — Would you like to know what bugs time travelers more than anything?

(12) BIG CATS. Nina Kahn at The Bustle brings us the latest in SJW credential science: “Cats Apparently Think Humans Are Bigger, Clumsy, Hairless Cats, So That’s Adorable”.

Needless to say, when I look at a cat, I see a clearly superior being. But what do cats think when they look at us? Well, according to some experts, cats might think humans are cats, too. Bigger, clumsier cats, sure — but cats nonetheless.

According to John Bradshaw, an expert on cat behavior and author of a bestselling book on cat science, there’s plenty of evidence that points to the fact that cats see humans as nothing more than fellow cats. In an interview with National Geographic, Bradshaw stated, “We’ve yet to discover anything about cat behavior that suggests they have a separate box they put us in when they’re socializing with us. They obviously know we’re bigger than them, but they don’t seem to have adapted their social behavior much.”

(13) UP ABOVE THE WORLD SO HIGH. BBC reports “Space laser ‘Aeolus’ starts chasing the wind”.

The British-built Aeolus satellite has begun firing its laser down on Earth to map the planet’s winds.

It is a big moment for the European Space Agency mission, the technology for which took 16 years to develop.

Launched two weeks ago from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana, Aeolus is now undergoing three months of testing.

(14) WORD USE FREQUENCY. Fanzine fans have spent decades trying to identify the authors of various hoax and anonymous publications using techniques like this – and failing spectacularly (just going by my own track record of what I’ve gotten away with…)This Twitter thread, which starts here, gathered some entertaining responses.

(15) ABOUT THAT MOON FLAG NONSCENE NONSENSE. Homer Hickam, author of the memoir Rocket Boys, which was made into the film October Sky, has an op-ed in today’s Washington Post about the controversy over the Neil Armstrong biopic  First Man not having the scene where Armstrong unfurls a flag on the moon.  Hickam says the issue of the flag on the moon wasn’t a big deal in 1969 and he plans to see the movie because First Man is based on a book he thinks is an excellent biography of Neil Armstrong: “The new Neil Armstrong movie is about more than the lunar flag-planting”.

…Author James R. Hansen worked hard to reveal a man who comes across in the book as a kind of techno-Atticus Finch — someone who never says outright what he believes but demonstrates it through his actions.

I suspect this vision of Armstrong affected the filmmakers. No one ever saw Armstrong do a fist-pump; he just didn’t do that kind of thing. Raising the flag on the moon might be perceived as that kind of gesture and therefore jar the flow of a film trying to uncover the inner workings of a man who spent a lifetime keeping his emotions in check. Although I personally would have included the flag-raising — it was a moment of rare lightheartedness between Neil and Buzz — I understand from experience the decisions that writers and directors sometimes make to fit their vision of their characters, even ones based on real people….

(16) NOT ON MY CHRISTMAS LIST. Maybe you know someone who will love these Archie McPhee catalog items.

This year we’re excited to introduce TWO new flavors of candy canes. We’ve got Clamdy Canes that taste like sweet clams, and Mac & Cheese Candy Canes that taste like that little packet of cheese powder that comes with instant macaroni and cheese. Savory candy canes are an inevitable wave of the future; you might as well switch now and avoid the rush. Don’t forget to order Pickle Candy Canes now! They sell out every year.

(17) ZOMBIES IN YOUR STOCKING. Here’s the Anna and the Apocalypse Official Trailer. “This year’s feel-good Christmas hit!” exclaims one possibly-already-zombified critic. Based on Ryan McHenry’s 2011 short Zombie Musical.

Music. Christmas. Zombies. Watch the official trailer for Anna and the Apocalypse and see why critics are calling it “Shaun of the Dead meets La La Land”! In theaters this holiday season.

 

[Thanks to JJ, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, Jeff Smith, Steve Green, Chip Hitchcock, John King Tarpinian, Carl Slaughter, Martin Morse Wooster, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, James Bacon, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Acoustic Rob.]

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.