Books Acquired, 11-17 March 2019

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Big week this week. First of all, Monday night means free books from FOPAL:

Adams, Douglas. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. Harmony Books, 1984. U.S. hardcover edition, 2nd printing. Has some notable dust jacket tears and overall isn’t the nicest copy I’ve ever seen, but it was also signed by the author. Fourth in a five-book series.

Dickson, Gordon R. The Dragon and the George. Del Rey, 1981. Mass market paperback, seventh printing. World Fantasy Award nominee. No. 878 on Mt. Tsundoku.

Hobb, Robin. Royal Assassin. Bantam, 1996. Trade paperback, third printing. Second in a trilogy. A later printing of the first U.S. edition. No. 288 on Mt. Tsundoku.

McKillip, Patricia A. Harpist in the Wind. Del Rey, 1982. Mass market paperback; fifth printing of the Ballantine edition. Inscribed by the author on the inside front cover: “Damon / best wishes”. Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel; Hugo finalist. Third in a trilogy. No. 412 on Mt. Tsundoku.

Varley, John. Demon. Berkley, 1984. Trade paperback. Third in a trilogy. Per ISFDB, the Berkley trade paperback was published simultaneously with the Putnam hardcover. No. 1114 on Mt. Tsundoku.

Willis, Connie. Futures Imperfect. GuildAmerica Books, 1996. Hardcover. Omnibus collecting three short novels: Uncharted TerritoriesRemake (Locus Award for Best Novella; Hugo finalist for Best Novel), and Bellwether (Locus Award for Best Novella). Some noticeable water damage. No. 919 on Mt. Tsundoku.

Then Half-Price Books had a bunch of daily coupons:

Delano, Jamie, et al. Hellblazer, Volume 1: Original Sins. DC Comics, 2011. Trade paperback collecting John Constantine, Hellblazer #1-9 and material from Swamp Thing #76-77.

Jordan, Robert. New Spring. Tor, 2004. First edition hardcover. Prequel to the fourteen-volume Wheel of Time. I’ve been gradually working on obtaining all of these. Mostly a question of condition/price at this point given that everything I don’t have is either pretty common or hilariously expensive.

McGuire, Seanan. One Salt Sea. DAW, 2011. First edition mass-market paperback. Fifth in the October Daye series, which is at twelve books and counting. Like the above, I’ve been gradually working on obtaining all of these, although due to being mostly paperback and it’s a lot cheaper.

The 2018 Hugo finalists for Best Novel.Scalzi, John. The Collapsing Empire. Tor, 2017. First edition hardcover. First in a series. Nicely completes my set of 2018 Hugo finalists for Best Novel.

Finally, the Friends of the Sunnyvale Library book sale continues to provide extremely discounted comic book collections. All of these are ex-library and usually not in the greatest shape but … this in total cost $14.50:

Azzarello, Brian, et al. Wonder Woman Volume 6: Bones. DC Comics, 2015. Hardcover??? collecting the New 52 Wonder Woman #30-35 and a story from Secret Origins #6.

Cloonan, Becky, et al. Gotham Academy Volume 2: Calamity. DC Comics, 2016. Trade paperback collecting Gotham Academy #7-12 and the sneak peek from Convergence: Green Lantern Corps #2.

Ellis, Warren and Kaare Andrews. Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis. Marvel Comics, 2011. Hardcover collecting Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #1-5 and the Director’s Cut of #1.

Ellis, Warren, et al. StormWatch Vol. 3: Change or Die. WildStorm, 1999. Trade paperback collecting StormWatch #48-50, Stormwatch Preview #1, and StormWatch (vol. 2) #1-3.

Ennis, Garth and Steve Dillon. Preacher Volume 9: Alamo. DC Comics, 2001. Trade paperback collecting Preacher #59-66; the final volume in the series.

Fletcher, Brenden, et al. Gotham Academy Volume 3: Yearbook. DC Comics, 2016. Trade paperback collecting Gotham Academy #13-18 and Annual #1.

Mignola, Mike, et al. B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth, Vol. 3: Russia. Dark Horse, 2012. Trade paperback collecting B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Russia #1-5 and “B.P.R.D.: An Unmarked Grave” from Dark Horse Presents #8.

Millar, Mark, et al. Superman: Red Son. DC Comics, 2004. Trade paperback collecting Superman: Red Son #1-3. Elseworld asking what would have happened if Superman had been raised in the Soviet Union.

Moore, Alan, et al. V for Vendetta. DC Comics, 2008. Trade paperback collecting the complete series. Remember, remember, the fifth of November.

Morrison, Grant, et al. All-Star Superman, Volume 2. DC Comics, 2009. Hardcover collecting All-Star Superman #7-12.

Morrison, Grant, et al. Batman Incorporated, Volume 1: Demon Star. DC Comics, 2013. Hardcover collecting Batman Incorporated #0-6.

Morrison, Grant, et al. Batman Incorporated, Volume 2: Gotham’s Most Wanted. DC Comics, 2013. Hardcover collecting Batman Incorporated #7-13 and Batman Incorporated Special #1.

Seeley, Tim, et al. Grayson Volume 1: Agents of Spyral. DC Comics, 2015. Hardcover collecting Grayson #1-4, a story from Secret Origins #7, and Grayson: Futures End #1.

Seeley, Tim, et al. Grayson Volume 2: We All Die at Dawn. DC Comics, 2016. Trade paperback collecting Grayson #5-8 and Annual #1.

Seeley, Tim, et al. Grayson Volume 3: Nemesis. DC Comics, 2016. Trade paperback collecting Grayson #9-12 and Annual #2.

Simone, Gail, et al. Wonder Woman: Ends of the Earth. DC Comics, 2010. Trade paperback collecting Wonder Woman (vol. 4) #20-25.

Finally, a couple of $1.99/pop Kindle deals:

McAuley, Paul. Fairyland. Gateway, 2010. Ebook. 1996 Clarke and Campbell Awards for Best Novel. No. 118 on Mt. Tsundoku.

Watson, Ian. The Embedding. Gateway, 2011. Ebook. 1975 Nebula finalist for Best Novel. No. 119 on Mt. Tsundoku.

2018 Nebula Nominees: Best Novelette

One step shorter than the novellas; you can read four out of this year’s six novelettes for free online.

The Only Harmless Great Thing is a rare example of a novelette published by itself, as opposed to part of an anthology or periodical. When Tor.com gave it away earlier this year as part of their ebook club program, I snarked about how the e-mail was formatted in such a way to assume that the novelette (rather than the author) was a multiple award finalist before said awards were announced. But snark aside, I would not be surprised to see this on the applicable shortlists. It combines the stories of the Radium Girls and Topsy the Elephant in a world with sentient elephants.

I really appreciated the structure of how the stories are layered here; in particular, we get a lot of details about elephant society and culture while avoiding bare exposition. While the story ends somewhat abruptly, it’s hard to think how it could have been done differently without devolving into destruction porn, and at any rate the ultimate outcome of all of the story-strands is made clear, at least in hindsight, by the very beginning. My biggest caveat is that this is an angry novelette, and one convinced of the validity of vengeance as a response to justifiable anger. How you feel about that may impact your reaction of this story.

For a different look at justice, we turn to “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections”. It’s a fantasy novelette, whose protagonist is the confection taster for an evil duke; she is married to his head pastry chef, who has discovered a way to create confections that cause the eater to recall memories tied to strong emotions. Kept as both a hostage against his good behavior and explainer to the duke and his guests as to the function of each dish, our protagonist must try to figure out what her husband is planning while not giving anything away to the duke.

This is obviously a tale about overthrowing an evil ruler, but it avoids cliches and plays on the reader’s expectations to leave one intrigued as to what the chef has planned. Narratively, the confections provide an intuitive way to provide us flashbacks to our couple’s past. I’m not going to give away the ending but I found it very satisfying and thematically appropriate. This is a novelette about justice, not revenge. It will be on my Hugo nominating ballot and frankly reminded me of why I read through the Nebula nominees to see if I’ve missed something great.

Speaking of morality, “The Rule of Three” (a 20BooksTo50K nominee) is the story of a man who discovers that an alien has arrived in rural China. The alien’s philosophy is the titular Rule of Three: anything made by somebody beyond two degrees of separation of the user is “unlife”, which the alien can’t even perceive. The story doesn’t really question this philosophy, and I had a hard time overlooking that it really, really wouldn’t work in real life; I also tend to have a kneejerk negative reaction to anything extolling the virtues of rural simplicity given how such paens tend to be used in American politics these days to devalue the opinions of urban Americans (82.3%, per the Census).

That being said, if you are okay assuming the fictionality of the Rule of Three, this is a very well-crafted, well-done story that is well worth your time. In this universe you don’t need economic specialization because adherence to the Rule of Three makes you self-sufficient and can you fantastic powers, especially if you learn from what others can teach you. Other than “alien expounds philosophy to humanity”, the story avoids falling into standard first contact tropes, and the alien, narrator, and his grandmother are very solid characters whose interactions, with both each other and humanity writ large, are sometimes unexpected but never unbelievable.

“An Agent of Utopia” examines a much older morality; that of the sixteenth century, as found in both London and in Thomas More’s Utopia. Aliquo, the agent of Utopia, is on a mission to invite More back to Utopia and spare him from the gallows; as More refuses, Aliquo is hired by More’s daughter to retrieve his head after his execution. The plot is cleverly executed and worked for me even without knowing that it’s based on a real tradition. (Stick tap to Camestros Felapton for the pointer.)

However I have not read Utopia and as the story nears its conclusion it becomes apparent that it is directly in conversation with More’s work, to the point where I felt that I was clearly not getting as much out of the 21st century novelette as I would be if I was familiar with the 16th century novel. There are a lot of differences between More’s Utopia and what one might think of these days as a utopia (for instance, my mind immediately goes to the Culture). Without the necessary background, the character motivations and contrasts between Britain and Utopia become a lot harder to understand for the modern reader.

“The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births” is about a nonbinary teenager, Jamie, who can recall vague details of their previous lives. They’ve got a new neighbor, a convicted murderer, and Jamie can remember him from their last life. This is the story of how Jamie deals with their neighbor, what they remember about how they were murdered, and how they can prove the truth to a society that doesn’t believe in reincarnation, all while dealing with the prejudices and pettiness of current society.

When the Nebula nominations came out, I saw this title and remembered liking it quite a bit but couldn’t remember any specifics. It’s a fun read but might be a bit too short as a novelette; while the premise is strong, the plot ends up being being pretty straightforward and we don’t get to delve too deeply into any of the characters. I’d like to read an expanded version of this.

Finally, we have Messenger, a 20BooksTo50K nominee about an Indian soldier who comes home only for it to be destroyed by an alien invasion. He volunteers for a program that turns him into a “Shikari”, a giant mech based on a Hindu god (in his case Vishnu) to fight the alien intruders. Pacific Rim used the tagline “To fight monsters, we created monsters”; it would have been more appropriate for this novelette than that film.

After a somewhat trite opening, Messenger becomes a more in-depth exploration of what it means to become, essentially, a mechanical god and I thought the middle of the novelette was where it shone the most. The mental conflict of the Shikari and their struggles to stay sane were the most interesting part of this novelette. Unfortunately I felt that the ending went for the most predictable option of how to resolve the protagonist’s inner conflict. I’d have liked to have seen something a bit more innovative.

So six novelettes; two clearly science fiction, two clearly fantasy, and two fantastic alternate histories that I’m never quite sure how to classify. Worth your time to read? I’d say so.

Books Acquired, 4-10 March 2019

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Saturday was Friends of the Palo Alto Library book sale day, which meant $15 spent for the following:

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Five of the seven Cherryhs from Phantasia Press.

Cherryh, C. J. Chanur’s Homecoming. Phantasia Press, 1986. First edition hardcover (with a print run of 1,850). Replaces a DAW paperback copy. Third installment in Cherryh’s Chanur trilogy (and the fourth Chanur book overall). I’m now just missing Virtual Light for the full set of Cherryh Phantasia first editions, and as much as I like DAW’s old yellow paperback spines the hardbacks are very pretty.

Gruenwald, Mark, et al. Squadron Supreme. Marvel Comics, 1997. First edition trade paperback, collecting Squadron Supreme (1985) #1-12 and Captain America #314. Generally considered to be Mark Gruenwald’s masterpiece (although more people need to read his Quasar). One of Gruenwald’s last requests was to have his remains be part of a comic book; accordingly, after his untimely death at age 43 this collection was specially printed with ink containing his ashes.

Heinlein, Robert A. Job: A Comedy of Justice. Del Rey, 1984. First edition hardcover. Replaces a remainder-marked copy. Locus Award (fantasy novel); Hugo and Nebula finalist. Of every novel to ever make the final Hugo ballot, this might be the easiest first edition to obtain; I mostly grabbed this because I remembered that my current copy is remaindered. It’s surprisingly good for late-period Heinlein.

Polk, C. L. Witchmark. Tor.com, 2018. First edition trade paperback. Nebula nominee. First in a planned series. I think the visible spine stress is just a thing with copies of this book given the cover material and the 320 pages inside. Books are meant to be read.

Pringle, David. Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels. Carroll & Graf, 1987. Trade paperback. A classic critical look at the field, contains a hundred short essays on science fiction novels published between 1949 (1984) and 1984 (Neuromancer).

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.

Books Acquired, 22-24 February 2019

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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.

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

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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.

Fantastic Canon and Where to Find It

I should probably disclose up front that I’m not particularly interested in seeing the new Fantastic Beasts movie. I read and enjoyed the Harry Potter series when growing up like many my age but I know a lot of people that care a lot more about it than I do. (Playing real-life quidditch for six years will help with that.) But I do find one aspect of the many criticisms of this movie (see, e.g. this (spoiler-filled) article) fascinating: the continuity problems.

The question I’d like to step back and think about is: what specifically are the Fantastic Beasts movies in continuity with?

The most obvious problem is that the original Harry Potter movies and the books aren’t the same. While the books themselves are only in continuity with each other (unlike Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010: Odyssey Two, which is a sequel to the 2001 movie rather than the book), the movies are in a somewhat more complex state of being in loose continuity with both themselves and the books—I’ve seen criticisms that they are difficult to follow if one is not familiar with the source material. (A full discussion of their differences would likely be a full essay in and of itself, and frankly one that many other fans are more qualified to write.) The Harry Potter series is also notable for being one where the movie adaptations started coming out before the books finished, so a lot of readers’ interpretations of later books were necessarily skewed by movie interpretations of the earlier books. Most references in media to Harry Potter rely on the movies, as does the Orlando theme park.

Now, the flip side of arguing “movies are only in continuity with other movies” is J. K. Rowling’s statement that the movies are canonical because she’s writing them. While I’d argue that this is overly simplistic on its face (movies are inherently collaborative in ways that novels are not), the more interesting question is what weight we, as fans, should even place on this statement, and whether Harry Potter canon should even be considered open. Rowling has become notorious for dropping additional information that reinterprets the original novel series years after their publication. It is of course her right as the author to want Harry Potter to conform to her vision. But the reader has a right to what they get out of a novel’s text, too. Reacting to a book after you read it is just as valid as reacting to a story after reading the wiki and getting more information that wasn’t in the books. And it’s well-documented that an author’s intent can change post-publication: look at Fahrenheit 451, which Ray Bradbury described in 1956 as being primarily about censorship but later claimed that it was in fact a criticism of mass media.

And of course there’s the niggling little problem of defining the authoritative text of the books. I read the first American editions, which infamously make nontrivial and inconsistent changes to the British texts; the substitution of “Sorcerer’s Stone” for “Philosopher’s Stone” is the most prominent, but I will always have a special place in my heart for the Year 2 password to Dumbledore’s office changing from “lemon drop” in Chamber of Secrets to “sherbert lemon” in Goblet of Fire. The Harry Potter Lexicon lists the changes between the U.K. and U.S. editions and also mentions revisions made to the text in 2004 to fix continuity issues. Ultimately I’d think the “author’s preferred text” would be that found in revised British editions, which isn’t the text I’ve actually read.

The other and more insidious problem with allowing the powers that be to define the canon is that they have a financial incentive to tell you “yes, this is canon to the thing you love and therefore you must watch it”. There can be value in larger franchises in avoiding confusion as to what is and is not in continuity, but the only real risk of confusion here is where you stand as a fan. We’re not going to have a Great Assembly or Ecumenical Council of Fandom to decide what’s in and what’s out (and fandom needs no excuse to schism). If you’re having a conversation where the exact scope of continuity matters, it’s good to state your opinion upfront to avoid misunderstandings, but other than that, it’s your right to read and enjoy what you want.

Ultimately the original Harry Potter series told a story. It was a good story. It ended. The Fantastic Beasts movies are also telling a story. Whether or not you believe it to be another section of the Harry Potter canon or mere apocrypha is up to you.

2018 Hugo Ramblings

By now, if you care about these things you’ve probably heard about The Stone Sky‘s Hugo win for Best Novel, and the unprecedented threepeat for N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. The series is well-deserving of its accolades and if you haven’t read it you should really get around to it sooner rather than later. (With the caveat that the series deals with multigenerational slavery and oppression—all of the content warnings you’d think apply, do.) Also, if you haven’t watched Jemisin’s acceptance speech (I got to watch it live!), now probably isn’t a bad time to fix that.

This is where I confess that I didn’t put The Stone Sky first on my ballot this year.

And the reason I didn’t do so is simple: One of the factors I consider for “Best Novel” is whether a work stands by itself. Being in a series is and of itself not a flaw, but I felt that there were other novels on the ballot that were better if you hadn’t read anything else.

But this isn’t a one-novel issue. Of the five other novels on this year’s ballot:

  • New York 2140 and Six Wakes are completely standalone.
  • Provenance is in the same universe as the Imperial Radch trilogy but is disconnected from the above. It stands alone fine.
  • Raven Stratagem is the second book in a trilogy. I personally think it would work well enough even if you haven’t read Ninefox Gambit, but YMMV. (And read Ninefox Gambit.)
  • The Collapsing Empire is the first book in a series of at least two books.

I downranked The Collapsing Empire on my ballot for being almost entirely setup and deferring most of the resolution to the next book. Given that it placed second in the voting, I’m going to guess that most voters don’t share my complaints about incomplete works. (But I will still make them.)

Last year was similar:

  • All the Birds in the Sky is completely standalone.
  • A Closed and Common Orbit is a sequel, but you don’t need to have read A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet first. (Although it spoils what happens to one of the latter’s characters.)
  • Ninefox Gambit is the first in a trilogy.
  • Death’s End is the third in a trilogy.
  • The Obelisk Gate is, of course, the second in a trilogy.
  • Too Like the Lightning is the first in a four-book series, but more importantly, it’s almost inseparable from Seven Surrenders.

I think the Terra Ignota universe is definitely worthy of being Hugo-nominated, but I would have much rather seen Too Like the Lightning / Seven Surrenders been nominated as one work under Subsection 3.2.4 of the WSFS Constitution. However, with a couple notable exceptions (Blackout / All ClearThe Wheel of Time), most books are nominated as novels and not as “works appearing in a number of parts”, and I can’t blame people for doing the thing that makes intuitive sense. Heck, I could go back to the 1980s and argue that Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun should have been nominated similarly (setting aside that this may only have been possible since 1998, depending on interpretation).

Of course, starting last year we have a Best Series Award! But so far that has mostly posed its own problems. N. K. Jemisin declined a nomination for The Broken Earth on the grounds that it wasn’t really fair to have multiple shots at an award for the same work, and while I would have happily voted for it, I do think she’s got a fair point that we shouldn’t just be using Best Series to award works we’ve already awarded. Indeed, the first two winners of Best Series have been Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga and World of the Five Gods. Both of these awards felt to some extent more about recognizing the past than the present; Vorkosigan won Hugos in 1990 (“The Mountains of Mourning”), 1991 (The Vor Game), 1992 (Barrayar), and 1995 (Mirror Dance), while Five Gods won a Hugo in 2004 (Paladin of Souls). Obviously the more recent eligibility hooks exist (hey, I voted for Vorkosigan too) but I’m hoping that going forward we recognize series that haven’t been already recognized.

This year’s Series longlist also suggests that the rule about not nominating series that were just nominated (specifically, you need at least two new installments and 240,000 new words) isn’t clearly understood yet, given that all four Series finalists from last year that saw a new installment in 2017 made the longlist despite not being eligible. As far as I can tell, none of these finalists, except for October Daye, will be eligible next year either. I think the re-eligibility requirements are strict enough that it will prevent series coming back in alternating years, which would be bad for the award even if it would make voting in the category a lot easier. But I worry that we’ll have to dig pretty deep down the longlist to find six eligible series next year. (On the other hand, last year’s longlist only has one series that made the ballot this year. So we’ll see.)

I didn’t do so great in my desire for complete series, either, given that InCryptid placed second. I did find it interesting that it did significantly better than Seanan McGuire’s other big series, October Daye, which placed sixth last year, even though I feel (and I don’t think it’s just me) that the latter is generally stronger work. I don’t know whether to ascribe this to stronger competition last year, a different voting base, or just me having opinions that are out-of-step with everybody else again.

The Best Series award will face re-ratification at the 2021 Worldcon. As you can probably tell, I have a lot of mixed feelings about this award. I have concerns about its functionality but I’m also glad it led me to the likes of Martha Wells’s Books of the Raksura that deserve recognition and that I may not have ever encountered otherwise . I am really interested in seeing how it plays out over the next couple years.

Some other quick notes:

  • E Pluribus Hugo impacted this year’s Novel ballot by replacing The Stars Are Legion and Autonomous (which got more raw nominations) with New York 2140 and The Collapsing Empire. I liked Autonomous better than the latter two (I haven’t read The Stars Are Legion yet), but I’m not going to object: besides defending against slates, one of the benefits of E Pluribus Hugo is that it ensures that more strains of fandom (at least, WSFS/Worldcon fandom) are represented and both novels have their strong supporters. (And as noted, Collapsing Empire ultimately placed second.) As I noted in a File 770 comment, one thing I found interesting is that if Raven Stratagem had received 2.58 more EPH points (and the status quo held elsewhere, which is admittedly unlikely), The Stars Are Legion would have been nominated over New York 2140.
  • The Hugo and Nebula winners this year converged in Novel, Novella, and Short Story. Meanwhile, the respective Novelette winners weren’t even on the other’s shortlist. I believe the last time the awards recognized the same winner in three of the four categories was 2012 (Among Others, “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”, “The Paper Menagerie”).
  • In light of Uncanny‘s well-deserved wins, I’ve seen some discussion about how the Editor – Short Form and Semiprozine categories allow two shots at Hugos for the same work. I’ve mentioned Series above, but I haven’t seen much talk about how this is also a potential issue in the Graphic Story and Professional Artist categories, where Monstress won the former and Sana Takada, artist of the same, won the latter. I don’t think this is anything worth addressing right now (Professional Artist is not frequently understood as a proxy award in the same way that the Editor awards are) but bears monitoring going forward.
  • This year’s WSFS Business Meeting didn’t make any major changes to the Hugos. The YA Award is finally named the Lodestar.
  • Judging by the longlist, the alt-right attack on the Hugos is finally over, other than their little Saturday protest. Way to protest people donating blood, dumbasses.
  • File 770 took home a well-deserved award for Best Fanzine. File 770 and its commentariat played a nontrivial role in my decision to attend Worldcon this year and it was a great pleasure to meet everybody that was at the Thursday and Friday meetups. Even if Thursday’s musical experience was an unexpected horror.
  • As may be obvious from the above comment, I had a great time at Worldcon this year. Over the course of the convention I went from “eh there is probably no way I will be able to afford to go to another one until 2021” to “… I really want to make Dublin happen.” I don’t know if I will, but I’m already starting to glance at flight prices….

If you’re interested in nominating and voting for the 2019 Hugo Awards, you can purchase a supporting membership in the 2019 Worldcon for €40 (~47 USD).