Books Acquired, 8-14 April 2019

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Friends of the Palo Alto Library book sale weekend:

Asimov, Isaac. The Foundation Trilogy. Doubleday, 1963. SFBC hardcover. Omnibus containing FoundationFoundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. 1966 Hugo Award for Best All-Time Series. I usually try not to buy book club editions, but this is one of the exceptions; it’s a big omnibus of books that are well out of my price range in first edition. Plus the ebook version is a questionably edited 1990s edition.

Bolander, Brooke. The Only Harmless Great Thing. Tor.com, 2018. First edition trade paperback. Hugo and Nebula finalist for Best Novelette. Supplements an ebook. I had some comments on this in my Nebula novelette roundup.

Boucher, Anthony (editor). A Treasury of Great Science Fiction, Volume 2. Doubleday, 1962. SFBC hardcover. The Discount Room had a massive selection of Science Fiction Book Club releases. As mentioned above, I usually try not to spend money on these, but I have a weak spot for really good collections. James Davis Nicoll mentioned Boucher’s Treasury in a recent Tor.com post. It contains some great classic science fiction. Sadly the Volume 1 present was missing its cover and I do have to have some standards to stop my apartment from overflowing with more books than it already is.

Brown, Fredric. The Best of Fredric Brown. Nelson Doubleday, 1977. First edition SFBC hardcover. My other exception for Science Fiction Book Club purchases is for true first editions—in this case, the book club release predated the trade release by four months. The Ballantine / Del Rey Classic Science Fiction line of the 1970s is one of those lines that I pick up whenever I see reasonable copies at a book sale.

Campbell, John W. The Best of John W. Campbell. Nelson Doubleday, 1976. First edition SFBC hardcover. Similar to the Fredric Brown collection, except the book club release only predated the paperback by one month.

Gerrold, David. When Harlie Was One. Nelson Doubleday, 1972. First edition SFBC hardcover. Hugo and Nebula finalist for Best Novel. Predates the trade edition (a paperback original) by three months.

Le Guin, Ursula K. Lavinia. Harcourt, 2008. First edition hardcover. Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel. This was shelved as historical fiction by the book sale.

Knight, Damon (editor). A Science Fiction Argosy. Simon and Schuster, 1972. SFBC hardcover. Another of those great big anthologies that collect a lot of good classic science fiction.

Russell, Eric Frank. The Best of Eric Frank Russell. Ballantine, 1978. First edition mass-market paperback. See above for comments on this publication line; this is an example of the trade editions. (I don’t think this one got a book club release).

Shakespeare, William. King Henry V. Edited by J. H. Walter. Methuen, 1954. Second Arden edition hardcover. Another thing I like picking up at book sales: critical Shakespeare editions.

Silverberg, Robert. The Second Trip. Nelson Doubleday, 1972. First edition SFBC hardcover. Originally serialized in Amazing, July–September 1971. Predates the trade edition (a paperback original) by five months.

Silverberg, Robert. A Time of Changes. Nelson Doubleday, 1971. First edition SFBC hardcover. Nebula Award and Hugo finalist for Best Novel. Originally serialized in Galaxy, March–May 1971. Predates the trade edition (a paperback original) by two months. Because I am a dumbass, I managed to load this on my car atop some sticky clothing label tape that was impossible to remove without damaging the back of the dust jacket. Less disfiguring than it could be given that it’s white, but I’m still annoyed at myself about this.

Stross, Charles. The Apocalypse Codex. Ace, 2012. First edition hardcover. Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel. Fourth in the Hugo-nominated Laundry Files series, which is currently projected to run eleven or twelve volumes. Bob Howard visits America. The publication history of The Laundry Files is a bit weird so I’ve attempted to summarize it below.

Wells, Martha. All Systems Red. Tor.com, 2017. First edition trade paperback. Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Awards for Best Novella. First in the Murderbot Diaries, which currently consists of three subsequent novellas and an upcoming novel. Supplements an ebook. I mainly didn’t pick this up in print before due to laziness. The story of a secretly free security construct who’s too busy watching TV to go on a murder spree and realizes they might actually care about people. Highly recommended.

 

A Brief Note on First Editions of The Laundry Files

This is just the novels. For a complete list of fiction and reading order for The Laundry Files, see Stross’s website.

Book U.S. edition U.K. edition
The Atrocity Archives Golden Gryphon (HC)
1 May 2004
Orbit (PB)
June 2007
The Jennifer Morgue Golden Gryphon (HC)
November 2006
Orbit (PB)
6 September 2007
The Fuller Memorandum Ace (HC)
6 July 2010
Orbit (PB)
1 July 2010
The Apocalypse Codex Ace (HC)
3 July 2012
Orbit (PB)
19 July 2012
The Rhesus Chart Ace (HC)
1 July 2014
Orbit (HC)
3 July 2014
The Annihilation Score Ace (HC)
7 July 2015
Orbit (HC)
2 July 2015
The Nightmare Stacks Ace (HC)
28 June 2016
Orbit (HC)
23 June 2016
The Delirium Brief Tor (HC)
11 July 2017
Orbit (HC)
13 July 2017
The Labyrinth Index Tor.com (HC)
30 October 2018
Orbit (HC)
30 October 2018
Lost Boys Forthcoming late 2020

Notes:

  1. The Atrocity Archive was originally serialized in Spectrum SF #7-9 (November 2001–November 2002).
  2. The Atrocity Archives contains both The Atrocity Archive and “The Concrete Jungle”, an original novella.
  3. The Jennifer Morgue also contains the novelette “Pimpf”.
  4. UK copies of The Annihilation Score were available on 1 July 2015 at an author signing in Edinburgh.
  5. UK copies of The Delirium Brief were available on 12 July 2017 at an author signing in Edinburgh.
  6. North American copies of The Labyrinth Index were available on 20 October 2018 at an author signing in Toronto.

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 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).