And so it begins…

Welcome to my blog! Here I intend to talk about a variety of subjects, probably mostly Science-Fiction and Fantasy related, though there is likely to be some feminist lens to my content (for which I make no apologies).

I am also an aspiring author, so the blog may include updates on my journey from writing to perhaps getting published.

So welcome and please bring an open mind and a warm heart. Disagreements are fine, I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything I say, but please be polite and respectful in your arguments.

Thanks!

Update: I have added a ratings system to my blog now so I have updated all my old reviews with their ratings. They mostly match my Good Reads ratings, though I will sometimes use .5 here because I feel they can be helpful sometimes.

5* – I adored this book and will happily re-read it and recommend it to everyone who likes this sort of thing.

4* – This is an excellent book that I will likely recommend. May have some elements I didn’t think quite worked, but still highly recommended.

3* – This was a good book. I generally enjoyed reading it but may not particularly want to read it again.

2* – The book was OK. It had some redeeming features, but not enough for me to truly say I liked it.

1* – I hated this book and couldn’t think of much of anything good to say about it. To be avoided at all costs.

Half ratings will indicate that I felt a book fell between two other ratings and I wanted to acknowledge that.

Hugo Awards

2019-08-19 14.39.14

This years Retro Hugo (left) and Hugo (right) awards

I had not been to the Hugo Awards before (having never been to a WorldCon before). In fact I had only been to two award ceremonies before it (The British Fantasy Awards last year and the Arthur C Clarke Awards this year). I am glad I managed to get to go though as I had a pretty damn enjoyable evening and there are some things I want to talk about as a result.

One of the awards given out at the Hugos is something that is administered by the convention but is not a Hugo, which is the John W Campbell award for new writer. This year’s writer, Jeanette Ng, gave an amazing acceptance speech which has caused some controversy as a result.

You can watch it here and I do recommend that you do because it is quite something. There was a lot of cheering when she starting speaking and more at the end. But it has put some people’s noses out of joint as they feel she was lacking respect for the honour she was given. I say, fuck that. She has every right to use the platform she was given to speak about this issue. I love how diverse the genre is getting these days in terms of voices, but it was not always so. Go look at the award winners for all the previous years for the Campbell, or the Hugos (and other awards for the genre) and count how many of them are white men. John Scalzi wrote an excellent post in defence of Jeanette, which you can read here and it is well worth a look. I appreciate that he has used his platform to defend her.

For years getting anywhere in the genre if you were not a white man was nigh on impossible. John W Campbell would likely be horrified by the fact that Jeanette has been able to have a voice in the genre at all and she is absolutely right to call this sort of thing out. Even now, it’s not easy to get published if you are not male and harder still if you are not white. I have heard too many authors tell stories of being turned down, not because of the quality of their work but because they “already have one of those” meaning perhaps an Asian inspired fantasy, or an African one, as if after decades upon decades of fantasy rooted in our white, Western culture we can’t have too many books that don’t fit that mold.

Fuck that. Some of the best Science-fiction and Fantasy I have read in recent years has been written by people of colour and rooted in cultures that are not my own and I fucking love it. And looking at who won the Hugo Awards, I am not the only person who loves the diversity that we are getting. This isn’t to say I have stopped reading white men altogether, but they have to be more than mediocre to get my attention when there is so much other excellence around.

But as to the other winners, they were overwhelmingly women, many of whom were people of colour, all of whom deserved their place there. I was pleased that so many of my first choices won, though I do not begrudge the ones that weren’t from their win. Still it makes me really happy because the winners and nominees were chosen by fans. Fans overwhelming picked a short-list that was this diverse and included queer people in it. I watched Becky Chambers pick up her Hugo for best series wearing a suit (and looking fucking amazing as she did it). I watched the first deaf-blind person win a Hugo and also a fan archive set up to help diverse writing in fan-fiction win.

It was an incredible night for diversity, an incredible night that lifted up people who have long been ignored or passed over for others. It gave me hope for where the future of the genre is going and maybe, just maybe, the future of society as well.

And as for keeping politics out of the genre, politics have always been part of it, right from the start (and not always left-wing politics either). What people usually mean is they don’t want identity politics in it, they don’t like it that they see themselves less than they used to.

I want all of the voices. I want to read things written by queer people, by people of colour, by trans folk, by disabled people, by neurodiverse people. I want characters of all those voice too, written by people who either know personally what they are writing about or are willing to put the effort in to get things right.

As for the awards. Maybe we need to look at who we have named them after and if the person’s legacy is not one we want to support, perhaps renaming it would be a good idea. Where are the awards named after Octavia Butler, or even Mary Shelley? There’s a Bram Stoker award for horror, but nothing I could find for her.

Jeanette has challenged us to do better and I think we can do so, awards have been changed before now and they can be again. The genre is changing for the better and it would be good if the awards we give out could reflect that legacy too.

Hugos Roundup

Well WorldCon is almost here! For me this means tomorrow as I am not arriving until around noon. This is a bit annoying, I think we made this decision when the website seemed to suggest things wouldn’t start till the afternoon and now they are earlier, but it’s still going to be a fantastic weekend so I can’t complain too much!

So before I go, here’s a roundup of the things I voted for, copied from my last voting form with some notes on each category and why I picked that order. I will skip over giving more info on the categories I have separate posts for and just link to those instead.

Novel:

  1. Spinning Silver
  2. Record of a Spaceborn Few
  3. The Calculating Stars
  4. Trail of Lightning
  5. Revenant Gun
  6. Space Opera

Novella:

  1. The Tea Master and the Detective
  2. The Black God’s Drums
  3. Beneath the Sugar Sky
  4. Artificial Condition
  5. Binti: The Night Masquerade
  6. Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach

Novelette:

  1. “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections”
  2. “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again”
  3. “Nine Last Days on Planet Earth”
  4. “When We Were Starless”
  5. “The Thing About Ghost Stories”
  6. The Only Harmless Great Thing

Short Story:

  1. “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies”
  2. “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington”
  3. “The Court Magician”
  4. “STET”
  5. “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat”
  6. “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society”

Graphic Story:

  1. Monstress, Volume 3: Haven
  2. Paper Girls, Volume 4
  3. Saga, Volume 9
  4. Black Panther: Long Live the King

I had to pick Monstress for this one, I absolutely adore this series. It’s one of the ones I actually nominated for the Hugos so not voting for it would just have been really weird. Honestly if you are not reading this weird monster/magic series I highly recommend it. Excellent characters, intriguing plot, amazing worldbuilding and artwork that will blow your mind on top of it all.

Dramatic Long:

  1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
  2. Black Panther
  3. A Quiet Place
  4. Avengers: Infinity War
  5. Annihilation
  6. Sorry to Bother You

This was a pretty good category for me, the only one I haven’t seen is the one on the bottom. Picking a winner was tough, these are all excellent nominations, but for me Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse stole the show. I hadn’t been that bothered from the trailers, but when my friends started raving about it I took myself off to see it and I am soooo glad I did because it was fantastic. My only complaint is that I would have loved more female representation in it, though what was there was good.

Black Panther is absolutely superb film with a complex villain at the centre of it, the sort we don’t see very often. Also Shuri and the other women of Wakanda are fabulous. This film blew the lid off of female representation in Marvel movies, it’s just excellent.

Dramatic Short:

  1. Doctor Who: “Demons of the Punjab”
  2. Doctor Who: “Rosa”
  3. The Good Place: “Janet(s)”
  4. The Good Place: “Jeremy Bearimy”

I hadn’t seen the other two nominations (I have tried watching The Expanse twice now and I keep getting fed up and stopping, sorry but it doesn’t work for me), so I voted for the ones I had seen. This was also a hard choice, some damn good episodes from two excellent shows.

Doctor Who, I had given up watching Who years ago actually, I had gotten increasingly annoyed by a number of things but when they announced Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor I knew I had to go back. I mean, a female doctor was not something I was going to miss and the show did not disappoint me. It was fantastic to see the show focus more on historial lessons and what they can teach us now, something that was at the heart of why the show was created in the first place, and those two episodes are fantastic examples of it. I had a hard choice deciding which to go with, but in the end, for me Demons was a stronger episode.

And of course I love The Good Place. Who knew you could make a comedy that mixes philosophy into things? They did an actual trolley problem joke, I mean, wow!

Pro Artist:

  1. Galen Dara
  2. Victo Ngai
  3. Charles Vess
  4. Yuko Shimizu
  5. Jaime Jones
  6. John Picacio

Such a fabulous collections of artwork, when I was looking through the samples we were given in our pack, my jaw dropped at several points. Obviously this particular choice is very personal, but for me this order worked the best, though choosing between my top two was a very difficult choice.

Fan Artist:

  1. Likhain (Mia Sereno)
  2. Grace P. Fong
  3. Spring Schoenhuth
  4. Ariela Housman
  5. Meg Frank
  6. Sara Felix

All of these are also exceptionally talented and worth a look, again, this one is very personal choice and I would recommend having a look at all of their work if you have a chance to.

New Writer:

  1. Jeannette Ng
  2. R.F. Kuang
  3. S.A. Chakraborty

I will admit that my choice in this one came down to which of the second year eligibility candidates that I had read I liked the most. Don’t get me wrong, Rebecca is a fantastic wrier (and I honestly think she’s probably going to win it), but I kinda want her to win next year so that one of the others manages to get one of the awards.

That being the case the others are both excellent writers, but I absolutely adore Under the Pendulum Sun, so for me it had to be that one.

 

And there we have it, all done with the Hugos! Well, I may post up some thoughts on the winners once the award ceremony is done with, we shall have to see.

Not sure when I will next post as I am not betting that I will get much time for an update whilst in Dublin, but I will see what I can do. Otherwise I hope I shall have some more review posts up for you next week when I am home.

And if anyone reading this is at WorldCon, or will be there, and you see a Mairi White on a badge belonging to a woman with long brown hair and pale skin, that’s probably me so say hi!

Hugo Short Stories

Stories:

Well here we are at the end of the reading I did for the Hugos. I will do one last post covering other categories I voted for, but after that it will be back to reviews. I may do something from WorldCon, but I am not sure if I will actually find the time to do so, especially since I will need to write and post from my phone so we will have to see how that goes.

I have to say that this was an excellent bunch of short stories and there weren’t any of them that I didn’t enjoy so I highly recommend that you check them out, they are all linked above.

The Court Magician

A street kid becomes fascinated with street magic and gains the attention of someone in the court who offers him a choice, he can stick with the street magic or learn real magic but there will be a cost for it. The story then follows his choice and the consequences of it.

It’s well told and has a very interesting premise at the heart of it regarding the nature of power and what it can cost to use it.

The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society

A group of supernatural creatures sit around and lament about the Scottish lass who stole their hearts and dumped them.

I enjoyed this, I always like tales of positive female sexuality. The author should learn that a Scottish shape-shifting creature that sometimes looks like a horse and likes to drown people is called a Kelpie, not a Pooka. Otherwise a very fun story.

The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington

George Washington was famous for having a set of false teeth. I must admit I don’t know the history of them, but I do know that slave teeth were often used for them so it is certainly a strong possibility that they were.

Anyway, the story is basically telling the tale of the people the teeth were taken from and it’s wonderfully written, given a voice to people often overlooked. Very well done story.

STET 

One of the most unusual short stories I have come across given the form it takes is of notes between an editor and the writer of a piece written about the effects of driverless cars. It is deeply personal and quite raw, especially given how it’s presented. Excellent piece of writing and well deserves it’s place on the list.

The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat

I have to say that the story title alone is absolutely fantastic. The story itself is the strangest of fairy tales about, well, pretty much what the title says it is. Empowering, well written and a whole lot of fun.

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies 

This story is about a librarian, who is also a witch, trying to work out what she should do about one of her regular customers, a young boy who is desperately seeking escape from the life he is trapped in.

I found this story struck a deep personal chord with me and I was actually trying at the end of it. Beautifully well written and honestly explains the reason why I love fantasy worlds so much and also why the idea of portal fantasies spoke to me on such a deep level growing up.

I have to say that choosing the order for these was really, really hard. I dropped the two less serious tales to the bottom, but both of them were still excellent. In the end my choice was between A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies and The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington and I ended up going with the first one, largely because of how personally I felt the story.

But seriously, this is such a good list of stories, it makes me really keen to read more short stories to be honest if this is what the field is like currently.

Hugo Novellettes Part 2

Books:

As promised here is part two of the Novellettes post, including my round-up and who I voted for in the end. As before there are links to those of the stories that you can read online for free.

HarmlessThe Only Harmless Great Thing

Well this is not at all an easy story to read and I do not say that lightly. That isn’t to say it is a bad story, but it deals with unpleasant subject matter so if you do seek to read it, be aware of that before you start.

The story is interwoven between the story of a radium girl working in a factory and her interactions with an elephant worker, both of whom are getting sick with radiation; stories from elephant history; a future meeting between elephants and humans regarding the use of elephants as radiation warning symbols.

All of the threads come together in the end and the story balances various elements involving corporate greed, how connections are made between one incident and a whole group of individuals and the harm that can do. Like I said, it’s not an easy read but it is well done and I certainly felt the power of the tale, brutal as it is.

Ghost storiesThe Thing About Ghost Stories

I have to say that I am a big fan of ghost stories so I was interested in this one just by the title. It follows a woman who is going aroung asking local people for their ghost stories for research for a book she is writing. On the way some of the people she meets tell her that she has her own ghost who is trying to communicate with her.

It’s a very personal story where the pursuit of ghost stories gets tangled up with the main character and her dealing with the loss of mother, first to Alzheimers and then when she died.

Dealing with grief and loss is never easy and I liked how the story wove strands of the personal along with the weird, it works really well as a contrast and to make the story matter more to the reader.

StarlessWhen We Were Starless

This one is a pretty weird story, partly because the protagonist is a lizard woman from a very strange civilisation. There are a lot of terms and cultural nods that are confusing at first, but I do like the way that the story unfurls them, it combined keeping you interested in the background and the story with not info dumping everything in a way that makes no sense for the characters or setting.

The tale follows our protagonist, who is a scout for her clan who can also put ghosts to rest. During one of these missions she encounters something near where her clan are camping that is one of the most dangerous kinds of ghosts, but it begins to talk to her and soon she has to choose between learning more about the things that the ghost can tell her or obeying the laws of her tribe.

It’s very well told, compelling and has some surprises in it that are very well deployed. The pacing is excellent and you learn a surprising amount about the main character for such a short piece of writing. It’s definitely worth a read if you get the chance.

Roundup

Well there we go, all my mini reviews of the novellettes are now done so I thought I would explain my voting and why I chose the way I did. I have to say that overall it was not an easy choice to make, they are excellent stories and well deserving of their place in the shortlist.

  1. “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections”
  2. “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again”
  3. “Nine Last Days on Planet Earth”
  4. “When We Were Starless”
  5. “The Thing About Ghost Stories”
  6. The Only Harmless Great Thing

Above is my order of voting. The top was because I loved the juxtaposition of the temporal pastries with the flashback memories and the way they brought out the story. Beautifully told, excellent described and with excellent deeper meaning. Zen Cho’s story was such a close second because of the positivity of the tale. The next three it was incredibly hard to decide on an order and I could easily have put them another way. The only reason the one in last place is there is because given all the stuff in the world, I really wanted something more positive to win and the story is so bleak that I just couldn’t love it as much as the others.

Hugo Novellettes Part 1

Books:

Running later with this than intended due to being wiped out at the weekend and not having had a free evening yet this week to get this written up. But here we are, time for my first part of the Novellettes I read for the Hugos, the second one to come soon.

As a note, if you want to read any of these there are links above to them all and you can read them for free. There is also an excellent audio version of The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections on the Cast of Wonders podcast which is well worth a listen.

SucceedIf at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again

So this story follows an imugi (a Korean lesser dragon) in their quest to become a fully fledged dragon, failing a number of times over thousands of years (each attempt can only be done once every thousand years).

Along the way their path meets that of Dr Leslie Han and they end up more entangled in human affairs than they would ever have thought possible.

I will not go into more detail than that because it would be too easy to spoiler this story and I absolutely do not wish to do that! It’s a beautiful tale and honestly it really got to me emotionally. I was quite teary by the end of it. I mean to be honest, given how much I love dragons this story was always going to get to me on some level, but it actually got me on several levels and I absolutely adored it.

Please read it, it’s well worth a look and an excellent start to what was a category full of excellent stories.

TemporalThe Last Banquet of Temporal Confections

With this one, I actually heard half of the Cast of Wonders audio version of it before I got to reading the category, but had to finish it in the text as the second one wasn’t going to be out when I needed it to be. I have now heard both parts and definitely worth a listen.

The story is about a land where it is now ruled by an oppressive regime. In this land there is a baker and his wife, he has developed a way of making pastries that trigger memory responses in those who eat them and the rule now holds banquets for their court with the pastries as a central part.

One of the most impressive things about the story is the way it uses the premise of the pastries as a vehicle to explore how events led up to the banquet at the centre of the story. It also deals with ideas of revolution and the quiet ways that people can resist an oppressive or harmful government.

There are parts of the story that can be hard to read at times, though it is in no way graphic about it, but it does resonate with elements of our current political situation and is very well told.

Nine Last DaysNine Last Days on Planet Earth

In this tale we follow LT, a young man in an alternate version of history where a meteorite shower seeds the earth with strange plants that seem to be from another world.

The story entwines him growing up, dealing with his sexuality along with the growth of the plants and humanity’s struggle to deal with the problems caused by them.

Again, I don’t want to go into too much detail about what is going on with them because it will spoil the story and it is something anyone can read for free.

There was a lot I liked about the story, it’s always nice to see positive gay representation and this does that very well. It’s also an unusual take on an alien invasion that reminded me a little of Rosewater by Tade Thomson (which is also definitely worth a look), though not quite the same scenario and definitely not the same sort of ending.

Hugo Novella Roundup

All my Hugo reading is done and my votes are submitted so I have this post to round up my views on the Novella category, I am going to do two posts on the Novelettes (with the round up in the second one) and one post on the Short Stories with then one final post about what else I voted for.

On a similar note I am judging the Short Story section of the British Fantasy Awards this year, though don’t expect any blog posts about that since that would seem to be deeply unfair to those with a story in the competition (also I would be surprised if I was allowed to). I am looking forward to it though, I have all the stories now so I shall be tackling those after WorldCon.

The Best Novella List

  • The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard
  • The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
  • Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan Maguire
  • Artificial Condition by Martha Wells
  • Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

I have to say that overall I am so pleased that I read all of these. Some of them I had not heard of before and there were none of them that I found no enjoyment in. Some of the series have also made me even more keen to read their earlier installments so I am looking forward to get a chance to do that in future too.

Writing a good Novella can’t be an easy endeavour. I mean, the fact that they are much shorter does make it sound easier, but the very reason most books are longer is because you often want the time to make sure that the audience knows your characters and that the plot is well paced rather than rushing all at once, and even at novel length there are often failures in one or both of those elements. So to manage to put together a good and coherent story that works in this length of format is an impressive thing to achieve and these are good examples of the form.

Honestly trying to choose which one to put at the top was a struggle for me. I do feel slightly bad that Binti did not rate higher, but without having read the earlier ones it was lacking something for much of it and that made it hard for me to enjoy it as much. I shall hope to re-read it once I have read the others and see what difference that makes for me.

I love Seanan’s work and this series is something that is deeply personal to me and I was surprised to find that I didn’t love it as much as I loved the first one in the series. It is still very good, but the quest didn’t quite work for me on the same level. Still excellent and I will be reading as many of the series as she writes most likely.

The Black God’s Drums was a delightful surprise. I really loved the setting and the story was also very intriguing and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for any future works by this writer (especially after reading a short story by them for that part of the Hugos as well).

But for me the one I loved the most was The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard. The combination of science fiction and Sherlock Holmes worked really well for me and I fell utterly in love with it and with the way she did the characters. I am not sure if it will win overall, but it’s definitely my personal choice.

My winner: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard.

Artificial Condition (4*)

Book: Artifical Condition by Martha Wells

artificialThis is the last the of the Hugo Best Novella category. I have managed to get all the reading done that I had hoped so there will be future posts from me on those categories and my overall thoughts as well.

This is another one I haven’t read the earlier one in the series but I have to say that it honestly stands up very well as a stand alone and whilst it does reference some things that clearly happened in the first book, they make enough sense to be something that will be added value for fans of the series but does not ruin the enjoyment of the story.

The story follows the tale of a Murderbot, a construct which is a cyborg basically, one designed for security which means they are a very efficient killing machine. This one has broken their programming and is trying to find out more about their past and that takes them to a mining area to uncover the secrets of an area abandoned by a violent incident involving bots, on the way they get entangled in working for a group of humans who have no idea that the Murderbot is not a human security expert.

There was a lot I enjoyed about this story, not only was it excellently paced with a very compelling set of characters (especially considering that a number of them are not human), it also had an engaging plot which kept me interested right up to the end. I also liked that it was clearly a mix of ongoing plot and plot that was just for this story which meant that it had more than one layer to it but was still fine as a stand alone if you haven’t read the others.

One thing that did niggle at me a bit was that at one point the Murderbot is having an internal thought process regarding sex and their complete lack of interest in that sort of thing. Now, on one hand this does make sense for a being that was built to do what humans said and kill those they needed killing, but it does unfortunately reinforce the bad stereotype of asexuals being something other than human. I don’t think that was deliberate on the part of the author, but it was somewhat frustrating. Note that this sort of depiction of asexuality would be a lot less of an issue if it wasn’t the main sort of representation you can find.

I very much enjoy the sort of exploration of what it means to be a person that the series is engaging with and I will definitely be looking to read the rest of them and see how it all goes.

Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach (3*)

Book: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

GM&TLPI am almost at the end of the Novella category now, just one more to go after this. Unfortunately this one was my least favourite of the bunch, but I will get into that shortly.

The story is about a group of scientists going back in time to do a survey on the Tigris and Euphrates area during the Babylonian era and getting caught up with dangers and politics of that era, combined with those they brought with them from theirs.

I will say that I loved that the main character in the story is an elderly woman with prosthetic legs, certainly not something we see a lot of in stories and that was fantastic.

I did find that the story had a really slow start, much slower than I would expect from a novella I will admit given the much shorter length that there is in a novella. The setting is interesting but I think it didn’t perhaps need to be shown in the length it was at the start, which would have helped. I was also really put off by the constant use of the term “fat babies”. I did eventually work out that in many ways it was their version of “millennials” but it was very hard to divorce it from the highly negative connortations of the word fat in our society and as such was very off-putting.

When the pace of the story finally picked up I got really interested in the story and what was going on, curious as to where it was going (though a little disappointed that for the most part the little segments at the start of each chapter were actually ahead of the action so you spend a lot of the story knowing something of what is coming) and then I found the end happened rather abruptly and left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied.

There also wasn’t enough characterisation of those in the story, despite the slow start and that was also quite frustrating at times. We did learn something of the others by the end, but not in the depth I would have liked to get me to care more about what was going on and what would happen to them.

I also felt that in places the story seemed afraid to actually make much of a point about things using the setting and what they were doing with it and that was also a bit disappointing as the story does cover some interesting themes and I just felt that perhaps it would have been better in a longer format with more exploration, though that is of course down to my own personal tastes.

Overall I did enjoy it though, but not as much as I have enjoyed the other entries on the list, which is a shame because there are honestly some fascinating concepts in here and I could have loved it a lot more with some changes.

Binti: The Night Masquerade (4*)

Book: Binti – The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti TNMGetting to the end of the novella section for the Hugos. I am sure that you are aware that voting ends at the end of this month and may be wondering how I am intending to get it all done. Well, I am not to be blunt. I do intend to read through the Novellettes and the Short Stories though, I am currently blogging behind my reading (as I write this I am half way through the final Novella) so whilst my posts may end up being up after the Hugo voting has ended, I should have done the reading before then.

For the Novellettes I think I shall split them into two posts, review three in one post and then three in the other and one post for the short stories. I may then do a wrap-up of the Hugos and my voting as a whole and try and get all that scheduled before I run off to Dublin and WorldCon.

“Even back then I had changed things, and I didn’t even know it. When I should have reveled in this gift, instead, I’d seen myself as broken. But couldn’t you be broken and still bring change?” 

In regards to this book, I will start off by saying that I have not read the first two. I did debate as to whether or not to read the ones that were parts of a series I hadn’t read but decided that since it was shorter I might as well give it a go and see how I got on.

The story follows Binti as she and her companions head back to her home to see her family and find themselves in the middle of a conflict between two people, one that will cost Binti a great deal even as she tries her best to find a way to stop it before it gets too out of hand.

It did take me a while to get to grips with the story, largely because I had clearly missed explanations of terms and such that will have come up in earlier books, leaving me quite confused in places. I will say that by the end of the story I had caught up on everything and it did make sense, but it was a little slow going at first due to my lack of context.

It’s certainly a very interesting setting, the magical mathematics reminds me a little of the Foundation series by Asimov, though the feel is very different. I do think I would have gotten a lot more from the book if I had read the others first and I do intend to go back and read them as I did still enjoy the story.

One thing that I found a little distracting was that Binti did come across as something of a Mary Sue type character in places. Now, I don’t consider this to be irredemable, people rarely complain when a male character gets to be all sorts of awesome without any real flaws so when a female character does, especially a woman of colour, in some ways it can be a good redress of balance and I think in this case I would count it in that category. Yes, Binti does have an impressive list of accomplishments and abilities (this is also the third book so I may also be missing vital character development from the earlier ones), but she does also make mistakes and is not entirely perfect.

Some more spoilery thoughts below the cut.

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The Black God’s Drums (4*)

Book: The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

drums“Fighting it has to be like trying to push back a flood. In my head, Oya laughs. You can run from those old Afrikin goddesses. But they find you when they ready.” 

So I am around half way through the novellas for the Hugos now and this one is something I hadn’t even heard of. I must admit I don’t tend to read a massive amount of novellas and the quality of the works I have been reading for the Hugos is telling me that perhaps I need to change that as I have been loving this category so far.

This story follows a young teen known as Creeper, a street kid living in New Orleans in an alternative history/fantasy version of the United States of America where the Civil War has not ended, but New Orleans is a free port run by ex slaves after an uprising.

What Creeper really wants is to see the world beyond her city though and she manages to see a chance when she overhears a conversation and seeks to sell the information to a ship called the Midnight Robber and its Captain, a woman called Ann-Marie.

Creeper has another secret though, other than the one she seeks to sell. She carries some of the power of Oya, an orisha of wind and storms and the goddess has her own agenda regarding what is going on.

I really loved how well this novella does its worldbuilding. It covers a lot in a very short space of time and does so in a way that makes sense and doesn’t feel like you’ve been hit over the head with the plot exposition stick. It’s also a very fascinating setting that draws you in and makes you want to learn more about it and the people who live in it.

I also loved that not only is the main character female, but almost all of the important speaking characters are and that was amazingly refreshing to the point where I was assuming that the author must be female and was pleasantly surprised to find that this is not the case. Also one of the main character is a black, lesbian airship pirate and that is really fucking cool. The characters were also well done, given the shortness of the story and whilst I would have loved some more depth on many of them, it was a good introduction.

One thing I was a little unsure of was in regards to the use of language. The story is told from the perspective of Creeper who is not very well educated and some of the language is clearly how she speaks and thinks, which gives it a very distinctive voice in a good way. But then the words she uses to describe things are then sometimes more sophisticated than I usually would expect from a character with little education. She is described as smart though so it may not necessarily be entirely out of character and I also understand the author needing to balance the voice of the character with weaving the setting in the best way and the use of language really helped to bring it to life so if that is why the word choice I cannot entirely fault him for it.

The story does also have some small moments that do surprise you, though there’s nothing in it that is not also set up in some way in the text (which is not a criticism, I honestly think they made excellent use of the form here).

A part of me feels a little guilty for giving it only four stars, but the ending is a little bit too rushed (I know it’s a novella but I would have liked to see a little more of the resolution than I got). But I definitely enjoyed it and I may well look at getting more by the author and I really do hope they write more of this setting (I had a brief look at their other work but I couldn’t see anything that looked the same) as I would love to read more of these characters and the world (or the world with new characters).