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.

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 Tea Master and the Detective (5*)

Book: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

the_tea_master_and_the_detective_by_aliett_de_bodardNow I have gone through the Best Novel category for the Hugos I am onto the list for the Novellas.

I actually read this before I knew it had been nominated as I have been in love with the concept of it ever since I heard about it. Since I prefer to read things in physical form that made it harder for me to get hold of, but luckily for me Aliette was at EasterCon and she had a copy for sale which I managed to nab.

What drew me to the story was having it described as Sherlock Holmes if Sherlock was an Asian woman and Watson was a spaceship. I am a fan of Sherlock Holmes and was delighted to discover that the author of this and I have the same favourite castings of both characters (Jeremy Brett as Sherlock and Lucy Liu).

The story follows The Shadow’s Child, a retired military transport with issues related to a trauma caused during that service. She works as a tea maker, someone who makes brews that people need to deal with space travel. During this time she meets Long Chau who needs a brew and also to go into what are called the deep spaces in order to find a corpse.

What results in the two of them becoming embroiled in a mystery that makes the both of them confront things from their past, including something that The Shadow’s Child has been hiding from since she left service.

I haven’t yet read the other novellas set in this same universe, but after reading this one I will definitely be doing so. The setting that is conjured up is rich in texture and voice and I could see, hear and smell what was going on at various places in the story. The tale is excellent told and her versions of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are both recognisably those characters whilst simultaneously being a unique and interesting take on the dynamics.

The mystery itself is well constructed and resolves itself in a way that is both satisfying and thoughtful. I mean the only thing I really have to complain about is that whilst the other novellas are set in the same universe they are not about these characters and I would love to see more of this take on Sherlock, which is the best modern adaptation I have come across in a very long time.

Hugo Best Novel Roundup

Best Novel nomination list

  • The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
  • Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager)
  • Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
  • Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente (Saga)
  • Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey / Macmillan)
  • Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga)

OK, first things first I am going to address the elephant in the room here. If you have been reading my reviews of the nominations for Best Novel you may notice that I have only done reviews for four out of six. This is because I failed to finish Space Opera, which I will explain a little about later on. I have not yet read Revenant Gun because I have only read the first in the series and I want to read some of the other categories in full before I make any attempt at the series, which means that for now I am leaving it off my list to prioritise other things.

So onto explaining about Space Opera. I tried reading this book, the premise sounded absolutely fascinating and honestly I haven’t read much science-fiction comedy in a long while. People likened it to Douglas Adams’ books and I am a big fan of those so I really expected to like it.

Unfortunately I found the language use really put me off. The long paragraphs and overly wordy sentences managed to lose some of the humour for me as I kept having to re-read things to try and work out what the actual intention was, which was basically like having someone explain a joke to you and really does kill the humour. I gave it a good few chapters but in the end I decided that since I was not enjoying it and therefore very unlikely to vote for it, I was better abandoning it and moving on to other things and I honestly do not regret that choice. I am not saying that the book is awful and no one will like it, I am saying that this book is most definitely not for me.

That leaves us with four books left. If you have been paying attention to my ranking system you will note that both The Calculating Stars and Trail of Lightning received four stars from me, which means that much as I really enjoyed both books they are not getting my vote in this category (it was a good field though).

Which leaves it between Record of a Spaceborn Few and Spinning Silver. Much as I am a huge fan of Becky Chambers and her writing. Her characterisation is absolutely excellent and her stories are just so warming to your core in ways that I honestly don’t experience enough these days, I think for me I will have to put Spinning Silver over it. The use of language, the way Naomi Novik weaves the plot, it was just so superbly done that I cannot but wish to see it win.

My winner: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik.

The Calculating Stars (4*)

Book: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

Continuing my catch-up I am moving onto The Calculating Stars which I read as part of my book club, I can’t remember if it was before the Hugo nominations were announced but I know it won the Nebula between it getting nominated for book club and our meeting about it.

calculating“Without a plane, what was I supposed to do? Math the problem to death?”

This is the story of Elma York, a mathematician and pilot who ends up training as one of the first female astronauts. It’s strange to classify this book as science-fiction because in some ways that’s not entirely accurate, it’s an alternate history rather than anything else. The story is centered around a meteorite which crashed into the Earth in 1952, which starts a chain reaction which will ultimately wipe out humanity from the planet so they look to go to the stars as a way out.

I have to say that the story comes across as being genuinely well researched. I heard the author talk on her podcast Writing Excuses about the book and that she talked to real astronauts about it and got them to correct any mistakes she had made and that works to create an amazing sense of realism in regards to what they are actual doing in the book that works very well.

One of the things I loved in the book is how it shows the mysogyny of that time period very well without forgetting that racism was also very much a thing and not something that the white main character really thinks about until it is pointed out to her and that was done splendidly. As a white person I know how much I have had to educate myself on this (and still am) and it was important to me that they made a point of showing that intersectionality needs to be a thing in the advancement of women.

But anyway, getting off my feminist high horse for a moment one of the other main things I wanted to mention was the fact that other than the death of the planet, there is another antagonist to the story in the form of one of the male astronauts who is very against women joining the programme. He is very well done as he is not portrayed as a mistachio twirling villain but a very realistic person. He can be kind to people, he clearly does care a lot about what he does and yet on the other hand he can be horrible too. This is so important since a lot of people assume that if someone is nice to them then they cannot be a “bad guy” and this book shows very clearly that it is not the case.

“Nathaniel and I were a healthy young married couple, so most of the stars I saw were painted across the inside of my eyelids.” 

Honestly my main complaint about the book is the fact that there is a lot of sex in it. And if it wasn’t a story told in first person, I might not have minded so much, but instead it feels like someone’s memoir of their time getting to be an astronaut and for some weird reason they decided to include a lot of details about their sex life with their husband. Maybe it’s my asexuality shining through (though honestly I am quite a fan of a good written sex scene so I don’t think it’s that), but I think it’s more likely the constant rocket/penis comparisons that made me cringe so badly that it did end up detracting from my enjoyment of the story. I don’t think that’s much of a spoiler since the book practically opens with her talking having sex with her husband when the meterorite struck, but yeah, something to bear in mind.

Still, I do think this is a very good book, well told and deals with an interesting subject in a really good way. I haven’t read some of the other Nebula nominees, so I cannot say whether I feel it deserved the win, but I definitely do rate it highly and I shall be endeavouring to pick up the sequel when I can.

Wayfarers Series (5* overall)

Books: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, A Closed and Common Orbit, and Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

So as I am going to WorldCon I get to vote in the Hugos! This is very exciting to me as it’s my first WorldCon and I have not done voting like this as well so I am doing a lot of reading for it.

To start with I am reading my way through the Best Novel category and since I have already read all of the Becky Chambers books I thought I would start things off my catching up on some outstanding reviews as part of all of this. Since the series is up for an award along with the third book it seemed a good start to do all of them at once.

long wayThe Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (5*)

“Do not judge other species by your own social norms”

The plot of the book follows the crew of a ship whose job it is to help create what are basically wormholes between two points in space. To do so there needs to be two points to make one between and then the ship has to punch through to create it, but they need to punch from the destination and since that doesn’t already have a way to get there quickly they need to go the long way to the planet (hence the name of the book).

It should be said that the plot is not really the main point of the book, the book is made on the characters and the interactions between them. The setting is really detailed and well thought out and you learn about it through the characters learning about each other. I love the diverity of voices in the characters and how relatable a lot of them seem to be (even if you don’t like them).

Honestly this book felt like a warm hug to me, the characters ended up feeling like good friends and I cared what happened to them throughout the story. There is adversity and disaster in this book and it’s generally used as a means to drive the character’s stories and relationships rather than the plot itself necessarily being something you overly care about (it’s just not the focus of the story).

I think the only thing that saddens you about going on from the end of the book is finding out that the rest of the series follows different people so you don’t get to see more of their lives. This book sucks you in, fills you with all of the emotions and leaves you desperately wanting to read more.

common orbitA Closed and Common Orbit (4*)

“Perhaps the ache of homesickness was a fair price to pay for having so many good people in her life.” 

The second book follows Lovelace, an AI who we met in book one and her friend Pepper (who appears briefly in book one as well). Lovelace (or Lovey) is trying to adjust to her new life and Pepper is doing her best to help. The book also gives us flashbacks into Pepper’s past and how she got to where she is now and why helping Lovey is so important to her.

One of the things I loved about this book was it’s focus on relationships was were not sexual. Pepper seems to have a QPF with the person she is living with and there is never any real sign that Lovey is interested in much other than perhaps romantic relationships and as an asexual this sort of representation is often meaningful.

I could have a small gripe about how AIs are one of the typical things used to show asexuality and how that can be a negative thing when non human representations are one of the only things you see, but this is done well and representation of all sorts of relationships are the core of these books so it does not feel like it was done with that sort of thing in mind so I enjoyed it a great deal.

Another excellent and heartwarming character driven story that perhaps didn’t quite tug on some strings the way the first one did, but overall is really quite excellent and I loved it.

spaceborn fewRecord of a Spaceborn Few (5*)

“From the ground, we stand. From our ships, we live. By the stars, we hope.” 

Now we come to the one up for a Hugo for best novel. This book follows a few specific inhabitants of one of the Earth colony ships that took them out into the stars and whilst many humans have moved on elsewhere to colonies and other worlds, some have stayed on the ships to try and retain the culture that they developed on their long journey in space.

Like the first book this one follows a group of people so we see far more perspectives than the second book and honestly it seems to be something of a strength that Becky has in weaving those narratives together in interesting ways, especially in this case when the people do not have the tight interconnectedness of being on the same ship and some of them are far more loosely connected.

Still, she shows us a fascinating culture that has developed on these colony ships and how the people left on them are trying to keep the old traditions going whilst dealing with the fact that many people leave to go elsewhere and they sometimes feel more and more obsolete.

I was absolutely swept up into their lives and I felt so much for them in their individual troubles and hurts, which is where she excels. You weep with these people, you love with them, feel joy with them and that is a beautiful thing to inspire in a reader.

I am not sure if she is going to write more books in this setting, but even if she doesn’t I look forward to seeing what she comes up with in the future so I can fall in love and be heartbroken for a whole new set of characters.

Rosewater (4*) & Rosewater: Insurrection (5*)

Book: Rosewater and Rosewater: Insurrection by Tade Thompson

Here I was about to start writing my review for Rosewater: Insurrection when I realised that Rosewater was one of the books I read before I properly got going on my blog so I don’t actually have a review up for that so instead I am putting two reviews together into one post (not unlike what I did when I was catching up with my reviews of Emma Newman’s Planetfall series).

I will still be trying to keep spoilers hidden so anything like that should be hidden under a cut as normal. Hopefully this won’t be too fiddly to work out since I am doing it for two reviews, but I shall do my best to make sure that nothing is spoilered unless someone intends it to be.

Rosewater

Rosewater“I can read minds but I still don’t understand women. Or men. Humans. I don’t understand humans.” 

I first heard Tade talk about this book at SFXCon 2 in November last year I think it was and I was instantly fascinated and wanted to buy it. A science-fiction book set in Nigeria and dealing with a very unusual take on an alien invasion.

Though one of the things that peaked my interest was the answer Tade gave to a conversation about what the first things you know about a character are and he talked about how they dealt with bodily fluids. Not an answer I was expecting and made me fascinated to see what effect that way of thinking would have on character development and writing.

Anyway, to briefly explain the premise of the book, an entity known as Rosewater has come to Earth from somewhere else, first burying under England but after being driven away reappears in Nigeria. The entity create a biodome there and a city springs up around it, people drawn for all sorts of reasons including the healing powers of the dome.

The main character is a man called Kaaro who has psychic powers and uses them in the employ of a government department who deals with things connected to the alien in the dome. He has a shady past and we learn more about that past and how it connects to the events unfolding now and what they might mean for humanity as a whole.

The book is spendidly written and interweaves stories from the past and current timelines in an excellent fashion. The main character is kinda unlikeable in some ways, he’s a bit of a sexist douchebag at times, but the way he is shown also shows us those qualities as bad and he does have some good points too.

This is one of the most unique science-fiction books I have read in a while and the fact that it has been up for so many awards is well deserved in my opinion. I highly recommend it and honestly it very nearly made it to 5 stars for me, but Kaaro is such an ass that I couldn’t quite bring myself to do so.

Rosewater: Insurrection

rosewater insurrection“Welcome to Rosewater. It stinks less than it used to.”

After how much I enjoyed the first one, I ended up pre-ordering the second one (no hardbacks makes me very happy I will admit, means I get to read things quicker!) I devoured this one just as quickly as the first and honestly I do think it is, on the whole, a better book.

I will admit part of the reason for that is that this book focuses more on the character of Aminat, who meet in the first book as she is involved with Kaaro. In the book she has to guard a woman whose wellbeing is tied to the future of Rosewater as the city comes under threat from things both without and within it.

The story is not told solely from Aminat’s perspective, we get to see how the events unfolding affect a number of people associated with Rosewater and it vastly increases our understanding of what is going on within the city.

Several of the point of view characters are women though and they are women done well, they all have their own motivations, personality and quirks that come through very strongly. They are not always the “strong female character” trope and have more depth than that and I honestly really liked them and how they were portrayed.

These books are fabulous pieces of work and I highly recommend people to read them, I hope that you will not be disappointed. This sort of a unique science-fiction story is one of the reasons I love the genre so much. Not just unique because of being set in Nigeria, but the way the characters and setting are done is not the normal way we might expect and that is honestly refreshing and excellent to read.

Now my friendly spoiler warning.

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Walking to Aldebaran (5*)

Book – Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

WtA“Seen things you people wouldn’t believe, boldy gone, sought out strange new worlds, galaxy far, far away, trying to find a way home.” 

Brief disclaimer: I received a copy of this on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Well back reading something else by Adrian so given my love of everything else I have read by him it did seem quite likely that I would enjoy this too and I was certainly not disappointed.

It’s a novella but what it lacks in length it easily makes up in tone and character. Not only does it manage strong worldbuilding for the situation that you find yourself reading about, but the voice of the character is incredible and you cannot help but be gripped by his circumstances and what is going on around him.

The story follows Gary Rendell, an astronaut sent on a mission to investigate a strange alien artefact discovered out on the edges of our solar system. He is separated from the rest of his group and must try and survive on his own as he tries to find them in an environment which changes quite often.

“I don’t understand them. They don’t understand me. At the same time, we both understand each other.” 

It’s a thrilling read and you get caught up in his trials and tribulations as you slowly work out more about what is going on and how he got to this point. With an unreliable narrator whose mental health has likely taken a beating due to what is happening it means that the story twists and turns, leaving you with a lot of build up and suspense before a wonderfully done ending.

Honestly this was refreshingly original science-fiction, not that I generally expect much less from Adrian and well worth a read. I hope to see it up for some award nominations in the future.

Spoiler part of the review below:

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