2018 Nebula Nominees: Best Novella

I looked at the Nebula-nominated novels a couple weeks ago. Now, it’s time to turn our attention to their shorter brethren.

Artificial Condition is the second Murderbot novella, sequel to last year’s winner All Systems Red.  Our favorite grumpy television-loving security unit teams up with a transport AI and a group of technologists and investigates the mining station where a dark incident in its past occurred. If you liked All Systems Red you will probably like this, and then go on to read Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy as well. And if you haven’t read All Systems Red yet, I’d certainly recommend fixing that when you get a chance.

Unfortunately that leads us to a big problem with this category this year. I love this series. But I’m not sure what I think of Artificial Condition on its own because that’s not how I read it and that’s not how I’d recommend anybody read it. At the same time there’s no real way to say “I think these are worthy of an award but considered as a whole”. In the Hugos you could maybe work around this by considering the Murderbot Diaries a serialized novel (and I’ve seen a fair number of complaints at Tor.com for selling the 2018 Murderbot installments separately), but (1) All Systems Red won last year so it can’t also be nominated as a Part One and (2) without a bunch of people doing the same thing you’re pretty much wasting a nomination slot. At the same time it’s not long enough for the Best Series Hugo, and dropping the length requirement on that to novel-sized is probably not a great idea either. I personally like the serialized novel approach the best but this is a post about Best Novella.

Alice Payne Arrives is somewhat more blatantly a Part One. It’s a time travel story, about a woman in 1788 who is a secret highwayman, her inventor girlfriend, and a burned-out soldier fighting a war for the timeline that she just wants to end. The time travel war is cool and easy enough to grasp, although I do have a few nitpicks as to why some things seem to cause butterfly effects and others don’t. But the real strength of this novella is the characterization of Alice Payne and Jane Hodgson, and I’m looking forward to how they handle the situation they’re in at the end of the novella.

Because Alice Payne Arrives doesn’t end so much as gives you a cliffhanger and an implicit “To Be Continued in Alice Payne Rides“. (Which came out on Tuesday and I haven’t had time to acquire/read it yet.) So a lot of Arrives is, by design, setup and worldbuilding, and while that’s fine as a Part One, it also means we don’t get resolutions to anything. This doesn’t make it bad! But I don’t know how you judge it fairly in an awards context.

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is a very different time travel story. The first half or so of this novella introduces us to a well-developed world recovering from a climate apocalypse. It might be a little too slow-paced for some, but I enjoyed getting to know the world and the characters through their quest to get approved for the time-travel project, even if said approval was obviously pre-ordained.  Unfortunately the second half, after the characters go back in time, packs in a lot of new themes and questions that I didn’t think it really had the space to consider in a satisfying fashion; on top of the nature of disability in this future, we have a continuing thread about intergenerational conflict (I felt this one in particular would have been a lot more interesting if further developed) and the moral issues about using and abusing the past for the good of the present become front-and-center.

Somewhat frustratingly, the novella ends quite abruptly after bhe grnz vf fgenaqrq va gur cnfg; it’s left unclear what their final fates will be, or just how accurate the model of time travel used as moral justification is. I don’t think this is a terrible ending but it is definitely a “leave the reader wanting more” kind of thing. Per this interview, a sequel is planned.

The Tea Master and the Detective, while set in the author’s Xuya universe, is stand-alone. It’s about a spaceship, recovering from the horrors of war, who makes a living brewing personalized therapeutic tea blends, a detective with a mysterious past, and the corpse they discover. So yes, it’s a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, but it doesn’t rely on the source material to work; this is a story with a lot to say about trauma and healing therefrom, and the motive of the culprit has real resonance. The main characters are enjoyable to spend time with and we learn more about them at a measured yet reasonable pace.

(For those interested in such things: the Sacramento Public Library’s copy is number 348. Also it’s pretty funny to have librarians tell you not to worry about the “marks” on the signature/limitation page when you’re checking out a LINK+ book.)

The Black God’s Drums is also stand-alone, and the only fantasy novella on this list. (Quite the difference from the novels.) Set in an alternate New Orleans, a free city amidst a prolonged Civil War, a streetwise girl to whom a wind goddess speaks seeks a life of airships and adventure. She finds it, but it turns out that entails preventing New Orleans from being destroyed by a mysterious weapon. I’m not always super big on myth-based fantasy but this was superb; the main characters and worldbuilding are excellent, and while I’m quite satisfied with the ending I’d happily read more here. Really this is a good example of what I like about a well-done novella; it’s long enough that you can get invested in everything going on but short enough that there’s little padding. What you lose in complexity you gain in distillation.

Finally, we have Fire Ant, one of the 20BooksTo50K indie-published nominees. I don’t read enough military SF to know all of the subgenre conventions but this seemed to be a perfectly decent example: a woman pilot on a corporate mission makes inadvertent first contact with aliens, and humanity ends up fighting them. There’s a bit more exposition than I’d have wanted but overall there’s not too much here to dig into; the aliens aren’t given any characterization other than “similar tech levels as the humans and hostile”. I wouldn’t describe this as a bad novella, but it’s pretty unexceptional.

Overall? This is a pretty solid reading list but I’m not sure how well it shows off the strengths of the novella form. Only two of the six really work for me as outstanding novellas in and of themselves. Kind of frustrating in a year with “Umbernight” and The Freeze-Frame Revolution, among others.

Sunnyvale City Council Votes, 5 March 2019

 

Hendricks Smith Melton Klein Larsson Fong Goldman
Consent Calendar (except 1.B) Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Approve Budget Modification for One-Stop Permit Center, as amended Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Approve the 2018 Housing Annual Progress Report Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Award Bid for the Maude Avenue Bikeway and Streetscapes Re-Bid Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Budget Modification No. 23 for the One-Stop Permit Center Project was amended by replacing the extra mention of Laurelwood with Wilcox.

Sunnyvale City Council Votes, 26 February 2019

 

Hendricks Smith Melton Klein Larsson Fong Goldman
Consent Calendar (except 1.G) Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Approve the 2019 Code of Ethics Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Appoint Jefferey Brenion to the Board of Library Trustees Abstain Yes Yes Yes Abstain Yes Abstain
Appoint Rahul Jain to the Board of Library Trustees Abstain Abstain Abstain Abstain Abstain Abstain Abstain
Appoint Narottam Joshi to the Board of Library Trustees Abstain Abstain Abstain Abstain Abstain Abstain Abstain
Appoint Sharlene Wang to the Board of Library Trustees Yes Yes Abstain Yes Yes Abstain Yes
Appoint Narottam Joshi to the Housing and Human Services Commission Abstain Abstain Abstain Abstain Abstain Abstain Yes
Direct an Amendment to the Resolution of Intent to Change to District Elections Setting a March 2020 Election for Amending the Charter Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Approve Amendments to the Water Supply Agreement with SFPUC Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Introduce an Ordinance regarding Usable Open Space in Required Front Yards Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No

Having received the most votes, Sharlene Wang is appointed to the Board of Library Trustees for the term expiring 6/30/2021.

No applicant having received at least four votes, the Housing and Human Services Commission position remains unfilled.

Books Acquired, 22-24 February 2019

20190224_201224
I mean three of these were nominated for Nebulas at some point.

The announcement of Nebula nominees means some new entries on my list of notable SF/F first editions. I don’t go after Nebula nominees as hard as Hugo finalists, but there tends to be a decent amount of overlap and at any rate I like books. First stop, Recycle Bookstore:

Kuang, R. F. The Poppy War. HarperVoyager, 2018. First edition hardcover. Nebula nominee. First in a planned trilogy. Supplements a Kindle copy, and if there’s a Kindle edition of any fantasy where the map is readable I haven’t seen it yet. Mentioned in my Nebula novels post; I thought this started a bit slowly but finished very strongly. (Content warning: inspired by the Second Sino-Japanese War.)

Willis, Connie. All Clear. Ballantine, 2010. First edition hardcover. Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Award winner (with Blackout, which this will be sitting next to on my shelf). There’s a slightly noticeable scratch on the front dust jacket, but I’m not super picky about condition. I had to sell a bunch of first edition Hugo-winning novels in 2016; this was one of four that I hadn’t managed to reacquire since.

I also checked a couple of the local Half Price Books locations:

Pratchett, Terry. Unseen Academicals. Doubleday, 2009. First edition hardcover. I am a total sucker for first edition Discworld, and this is the affordable end of the pool. (Pretty sure the $50 I paid for my Small Gods is the most I’ve ever paid for a book.) Having to sell most of my Discworlds (I think I had a complete set of U.S. hardcovers from Night Watch onwards) in the 2016 Purge really hurt.

Stross, Charles. The Atrocity Archives. Golden Gryphon [#33], 2004. First edition hardcover (with a print run of 3,000). First in the Laundry Files series, and includes the first appearance of the Hugo-winning novella “The Concrete Jungle”. For me this was the biggest get of the weekend; it has a couple of dings on the dust jacket but for $12.49 I’m not complaining. There’s a good reason why the Laundry switched from a small press after the second book, but I still love the design of both this and The Jennifer Morgue.

Wells, Martha. The Death of the Necromancer. Avon Eos, 1998. First edition hardcover, with jacket in protective cover. Nebula nominee. The second Ile-Rien book. I don’t think I had even heard of Martha Wells until last year, but between Murderbot and the Books of the Raksura I became a big fan very quickly. Unfortunately I was a bit too excited to see these to immediately notice the small remainder line on the bottom. Still, a nice copy, and one that’s not in the library except as an ebook.

Wells, Martha. The Ships of Air. Eos, 2004. First edition hardcover, with jacket in protective cover. Second in the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy.

Wells, Martha. The Wizard Hunters. Eos, 2003. First edition hardcover, with jacket in protective cover. First in the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy. Has a rather unsightly remainder mark on the bottom that I really don’t know how I missed in the bookstore.

To complete the set, HPB Fremont also had a nice-looking The Gate of Gods. I already own a copy, but figured I’d let anybody who’s in the area and interested know.

Returning to my alleged theme of “acquiring this year’s Nebula nominees”, HPB Fremont did have a copy of Witchmark, but it had a pretty noticeable vertical white scratch on the top left near the spine, and I figured I could probably do better, especially given that I already own the ebook. On the other hand, this is a trade paperback original and probably isn’t the most durable of books. Caveat emptor.

Lastly, on Sunday the author generously provided a free download of his Nebula-nominated novella:

Brazee, Jonathan P. Fire Ant. Semper Fi, 2018. Ebook. Nebula nominee. First in a series. A military science fiction novella of which I’ll say more about when I’ve read it.

Chalk Mountain

Chalk Mountain (1609′)
20 May 2017
3:13↑, 3:37↓

18595211_10100974048510904_8296876213046083584_n

Chalk Mountain is one of two CC-listed peaks in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. I had hiked up Pine Mountain the previous November, but Chalk is a bit further away from the visitor’s center or any other trailhead. Depending on the route you take, there’s also a lot more sun and less redwood-induced shade.

I started at Waddell Beach and made my way up past the marshes of Rancho del Oso, once owned by Presidential brother Theodore Hoover. The Westridge Trail is quite bumpy; there’s a good 3696 feet of elevation gain from the beach to the top of Chalk Mountain even though said peak is only 1609 feet high.

There’s an old lookout atop Chalk Mountain, and some great views into the West Waddell Creek Wilderness, the western part of Big Basin State Park that isn’t as frequently visited.

For my descent route, I continued on the Chalks Road (essentially, a nice ridge road atop the Chalks) and then eventually descended on the Henry Creek Trail after a couple miles. This route was longer but avoided the ups-and-downs of the Westridge Trail. Plus, it’s usually more fun to make a loop hike when you can.

However, this route had a couple of unexpected hazards. The first was shortly after the Henry Creek trail junction, when I heard a sound that I first thought was my water pack springing a leak. Nope. That’s a rattlesnake. Fortunately, the snake was on the hillside to the right of the trail, so I dashed past hugging the trail’s left. The second was at the very end of the Henry Creek Trail. The trail had already crossed West Waddell Creek once at a point that was easily jumpable, but this crossing was a lot wider and required a bit more care in wading across and being sure not to slip on the slick rocks at the creek’s bottom.

After successfully fording the creek and putting my shoes back on, it was smooth sailing via the Skyline to the Sea Trail back to Waddell Beach. A solid and enjoyable 19-mile outing that made for some great exercise.

20170520_bigbasin

California Coastal Peak List: 42/302

2018 Nebula Nominees: Best Novel

The 2018 Nebula nominees were announced on Thursday, and for once I have actually read all of the Best Novel nominees before the announcement. (Not the case for the short fiction; I’m hoping to track all of it down before Hugo nominations close, but we’ll see.) Accordingly, some quick thoughts. Big spoilers are encoded via ROT13, although I’ve left some vague points about endings in the clear so if you want to read these books blind, stop reading now.

First of all, this list definitely skews more fantasy than science fiction, and series fiction is still big:

  • The Calculating Stars is alternate history, about an accelerated space program developed after a meteorite wipes out much of the Eastern Seaboard and sets in motion some unpleasant climate effects. I called it “SF-adjacent alternate history” on Twitter; the genre has always had a soft spot for anything related to the space program even if going to the moon is more science fact than science fiction. First in a series (at least from a novel perspective), although it stands alone fine.
  • The Poppy War is secondary-world fantasy inspired by China. More specifically, the second part is specifically inspired by the Second Sino-Japanese War, but with more gods. First in a planned trilogy; the main plot is resolved but the consequences of such are mostly left to the sequel.
  • Blackfish City is the only novel on the list that I’d really describe as science fiction.  It’s dystopian SF, set post-climate catastrophe, set in a floating city where the breaks are beginning to show. Actually stand-alone!
  • Spinning Silver is Russian fairy-tale inspired fantasy. The other stand-alone; the cover art invites comparison to Uprooted, but they’re only connected insofar as they’re both fantasies based on Eastern European fairy tales.
  • Witchmark is secondary-world fantasy in a Western setting reminiscent of Edwardian Britain. It’s also a (m/m) romance. First in a series, and I’m not sure that it stands alone particularly well given gjb snpgvbaf ba gur oevax bs tbvat gb jne jvgu rnpu bgure as you turn the final page.
  • Trail of Lightning is post-apocalyptic urban fantasy set in the Navajo Nation. It’s the first in a planned four-book series, and stands alone reasonably well plotwise (although it also ends with gur znva punenpgref abg fcrnxvat gb rnpu bgure, so yeah).

Climate change is also one of the obvious themes running through this list; it’s directly featured in both Blackfish City and Trail of Lightning, and there’s an alternate version in The Calculating Stars. Given that it’s probably the biggest crisis we as a civilization face, this seems only appropriate.

Half of these are first novels, and Blackfish City is a second novel. There’s a lot of exciting new talent in speculative fiction and this list does a good job of highlighting that.

Is this particularly similar to my Hugo nominating ballot? Not really. There’s a little overlap, but while I enjoyed most of these enough to want to read the sequels when they come out my socks generally stayed on. I’m not sure there’s much of a takeaway here other than “SFWA’s tastes are broadly different than mine”, but unfortunately “I liked this but didn’t super love it” is a zone that I find particularly difficult to write about. I will try to have a better post on the Hugo finalists once that is timely.

I don’t want to dig too deep into issues of representation as I suspect I am not the best person to talk about them, but we did have some notable Jewish representation in two of the novels listed. First the one I liked: the protagonist of The Calculating Stars is a Jewish woman from South Carolina. Her Jewishness is a core part of who she is, but at the same time doesn’t feel overwhelming in a way that might feel stereotypical. And I expect for many readers the existence of a large Southern Jewish community might come as a surprise. (If that’s you: read a history book.)

That brings us to Spinning Silver. The Russian Jews in this novel might be closer to my actual ancestors, but unfortunately, while their portrayal is positive (and a lot of people liked it! YMMV), this ended up really detracting from the book for me. First off, one of the main characters (and our first narrator) is a Jewish moneylender; this is historically accurate for, well, the reasons stated in the book, but “Jews are good with money” is so tired of a stereotype at this point that it’s really hard for me to get excited about reading something where a main character is, in fact, a Jew who is good with money (and centrally so), even if no disrespect is intended and it’s not presented as a universal truth.

Second, Spinning Silver is set in a secondary-world Russia with all the names changed a bit, except Jewish people are still the House of Israel and use real Jewish prayers. So does the Land of Israel exist in this setting? Does Egypt? Did the Jewish population actually come over from a portal that got opened up on our Earth early in the Diaspora? (I’d read that.) The typography doesn’t help either, with the prominent descender on the capital “J” making every incidence of the word “Jew” seem like a shout in my head.

Finally, the ending specifically involves na npghny Wrjvfu oyrffvat orvat hfrq sbe zntvpny rssrpg, at which point I pretty much had to put the book down to “yikes”. There is no implication anywhere earlier in the book that Wrjf ner zntvp va guvf frggvat, and sadly jr ner abg zntvp va erny yvsr either. I’d probably be a bit annoyed at gur qrhf rk znpuvan anyway but I was extremely put off by the way it was invoked. While I can see why people liked Spinning Silver (and I really liked Uprooted, for that matter), I found the above just too annoying to ignore.

Books Acquired, 12-17 February 2019

Untitled
Hopefully the big book doesn’t decide to eat the others.

First off, a free download from last Tuesday:

Polk, C. L. Witchmark. Tor.com, 2018. eBook. This month’s free Tor.com eBook Club giveaway. First in a planned series. Fantasy mystery / romance; I will have more thoughts when I write up my post on this year’s Nebula nominees.

I finally had a free weekend day with decent weather on Sunday but slept too late for any worthwhile peakbagging. (And given the clouds atop both the Diablo and Santa Cruz Mountains, I’m not sure how great any views would have been anyway.) I did hit up the San Carlos Library book sale with an eye towards maybe tagging one of the local peaks there—this didn’t happen because said peaks are full of houses. Paid $4 for:

Egan, Greg. Permutation City. Millennium, 1994. First edition hardcover, with the “export” dustjacket that doesn’t have a stated price and cost me some time verifying that it wasn’t a book club edition. Campbell Memorial Award winner. This usually goes for triple digits online so getting it for $2 was a bit of a steal.

Jordan, Robert. The Fires of Heaven. Tor, 1993. First edition hardcover, with one long noticeable crease to the spine portion of the jacket and a previous owner’s name pencilled on the corner of the title page. Fifth book (of 14) of The Wheel of Time, and I’ve already got The Dragon Reborn and The Shadow Rising in first edition hardcover.

Mid-May Monterey Peakbagging

Chews Ridge (5045′)
Eagle Peak (1607′)
Ollason Peak (1799′)
13 May 2017

20170513_120221 (1)

20170513_120724

It was a temperate Saturday in May and my eyes were wandering south for some peakbagging. I had climbed the highest point of Monterey County the year before, but there are three other peaks in the county with at least two thousand feet of topographic prominence. Today’s objective was an easy one: Chews Ridge, which rises to 5045 feet at its highest point. It’s easily reached off of Tassajara Road. I took a nice leisurely stroll around the fire lookout that crowns the highest point of the ridge, as well as the nearby MIRA Observatory. As befitting a peak in the northern Los Padres National Forest, there are great views of the Ventanas, from Uncle Sam Mountain to Junipero Serra Peak, the county high point.

20170513_chews

 

Chews Ridge has great views but isn’t much of a hike, and I was hungry for more. So I headed off to Toro County Park. Via the East Ridge Trail, I first obtained Eagle Peak, which is really just a little bump that happens to be on the California Coastal Peaks list, and then continued to Ollason Peak via Toro Park Peak. As is common in northern California parks, I saw a few cows on the way.

Ollason Peak overlooks the city of Salinas, Monterey’s county seat. It’s overshadowed by Simas Peak, which I believe to be the highest point in Toro County Park at 2129 feet. (And yet is not on any peak lists. Might have to write my own to remedy that, although I should probably actually go there first.) After enjoying the views, I hiked out via the Red Tail Canyon and Gibson Gap trails.

20170513_toro

California P2Ks: 13/164
California Coastal Peak List: 41/302

Sunnyvale City Council Votes, 5 February 2019

Disclosure: I am one of the people appointed to the Citizen Advisory Committee. 

Hendricks Smith Melton Klein Larsson Fong Goldman
Consent Calendar Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Appoint the Citizen Advisory Committee on Outreach Related to Electoral System Changes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Abstain
Authorize Purchase of Park Land from Corn Palace Property Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes