Thoughts on the 2017 Hugo Award Nominees

The shortlist for the 2017 Hugo Awards was announced yesterday, and it’s looking pretty strong this year. Here are some of my brief thoughts on the ballot.

First, I’m going to address the Puppy issue. The Rabid Puppy campaign led by human garbage fire Theodore Beale is still around, but thanks to some changes in the way nominations are tallied, they were only able to place a maximum of one work in each category on this year’s ballot. Combined with the change to six nominees per category, this has meant a much smaller influence on the shortlist and a much more satisfying field to choose from. There are some obvious outliers on the ballot, but gone are the days of No Awarding four out of five works.

This is a very good list, folks.

Best Novel
All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders
A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers
Death’s End, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee
The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin
Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer

I’ve said before that I didn’t read all that much last year, so I’m a bit behind on this category, having only read The Obelisk Gate and All the Birds in the Sky. The latter was good but didn’t quite work for me, but Jemisin’s novel, the sequel to last year’s winner, was every bit as good as the first. I’ve heard very good things about Ninefox Gambit, and Death’s End is the sequel to 2015’s Best Novel winner, The Three-Body Problem. Honestly, this category is anyone’s guess this year.

Best Novella
The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson
Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire
Penric and the Shaman, by Lois McMaster Bujold
A Taste of Honey, by Kai Ashante Wilson
This Census-Taker, by China Miéville

I read A Taste of Honey just this week, and I’m glad to see it here. Kai Ashante Wilson missed out on a Hugo nomination last year because his novella Sorcerer of the Wildeeps came in at just over 40,000 words, pushing it into the Novel category. The rest of these are titles I’ve heard plenty of talk about, but haven’t read myself yet. I look forward to them. (This Census-Taker was a Puppy pick, but it’s China Miéville, so we can hardly hold that against it.)

Best Novelette
Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex, by Stix Hiscock
“The Art of Space Travel”, by Nina Allan
“The Jewel and Her Lapidary”, by Fran Wilde
“The Tomato Thief”, by Ursula Vernon
“Touring with the Alien”, by Carolyn Ives Gilman
“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay”, by Alyssa Wong

Obvious troll nomination aside, I look forward to reading the work in this category, of which I’ve only read You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay. I suspect I’ll still be rooting for Wong to take the award, though.

Best Short Story
“The City Born Great”, by N. K. Jemisin
“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers”, by Alyssa Wong
“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies”, by Brooke Bolander
“Seasons of Glass and Iron”, by Amal El-Mohtar
“That Game We Played During the War”, by Carrie Vaughn
“An Unimaginable Light”, by John C. Wright

On the other hand, I don’t know where my votes will go in this one. Jemisin, Wong, Bolander, and El-Mohtar are all excellent, and I’m not very familiar with Vaughan. John C. Wright can fuck right off, though.

Best Related Work
The Geek Feminist Revolution, by Kameron Hurley
The Princess Diarist, by Carrie Fisher
Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg, by Robert Silverberg and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
The View From the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaiman
The Women of Harry Potter, by Sarah Gailey
Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Holy hell this category. Fisher, Silverberg, Gaiman, and Le Guin are all Big Names, and you can’t discount the excellent work by Hurley and Gailey. I suspect this one’s heading Carrie Fisher’s way, given the circumstances, but I think you could be happy with any of these winning.

Best Graphic Story
Black Panther, Volume 1: A Nation Under Our Feet, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze
Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening, written by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda
Ms. Marvel, Volume 5: Super Famous, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa
Paper Girls, Volume 1, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matthew Wilson, lettered by Jared Fletcher
Saga, Volume 6, illustrated by Fiona Staples, written by Brian K. Vaughan, lettered by Fonografiks
The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man, written by Tom King, illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta

Another truly excellent selection of work. I’m glad to see Paper Girls make the list, but I’m going to have a very hard time ranking my votes this year. Read all of these, if you haven’t.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Arrival
Deadpool
Ghostbusters
Hidden Figures
Rogue One
Stranger Things, Season One

This is the one category of the Hugos that tends to be most predictable in terms of nominees, and there aren’t really any surprises here. I’m not sure I agree with Ghostbusters being there – it’s a good film (I saw it twice!) but I wouldn’t say best of the year. I’m also a bit disappointed that 10 Cloverfield Lane didn’t make it. I’ll be rooting for Arrival or Hidden Figures to take the rocket.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Black Mirror: “San Junipero”
Doctor Who: “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”
The Expanse: “Leviathan Wakes”
Game of Thrones: “Battle of the Bastards”
Game of Thrones: “The Door”
Splendor & Misery [album], by Clipping

Formerly the Doctor Who category, now overtaken by Game of Thrones (though the Doctor still gets his spot). I’m surprised and disappointed that “The Winds of Winter” came third place of the GoT nominations and lost out – the incredible opening sequence alone deserves the recognition. I’m gunning for “San Junipero” from this list – it ripped my heart out (in a good way. Kinda).

Best Series
The Craft Sequence, by Max Gladstone
The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey
The October Daye Books, by Seanan McGuire
The Peter Grant / Rivers of London series, by Ben Aaronovitch
The Temeraire series, by Naomi Novik
The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is a new category, being trialled this year in advance of members voting on whether to make it a permanent one. And it’s a tricky one. With series you’re looking at a larger body of work, over multiple years, which is going to make it harder to keep up with generally. I can’t help feel that this creates a barrier for people who haven’t started the books but want to vote for the Hugos. (Like myself, having only read one book out of any of the above.) It seems like the kind of category where voting will come down to which property has the largest pre-existing fanbase in the Worldcon membership. (I also wonder what will happen when a popular series publishes a new volume every year.) I suspect McGuire and Bujold have a good shot here, but The Expanse has a TV series so could put up a good fight.
For me, I’m going to eventually read The Expanse and the Craft Sequence, but I don’t know if I’ll get round to it this year. I really have too many books waiting to be read, so this category will miss out on my votes.

I don’t really have much to say in the remaining categories, though Best Fan Writer and the Campbell Award booth look good this year. I’ve never felt familiar enough with the publishing and art categories to comment. Overall this is a strong Hugo ballot, I look forward both to reading everything I’ve missed so far, and to attending the awards ceremony itself in Helsinki.

Congratulations to all the nominees!

2017 – Looking Forward

As Hugo Award season begins with the opening of nominations, I’m thinking about my plans for the year ahead – which include attending Worldcon for the second time (after Loncon3 in 2014), where I’ll get to see the Hugos given out first-hand.

I don’t travel much, but 2016 was a bigger year for me than usual – I spent a week in Norway, I attended Nine Worlds Geekfest in London (which was a really good con, that I wish I’d managed to write something about here), and I took my usual trip to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. In 2017 things are looking similar – I’ll be heading to Scandinavia again, this time to attend Worldcon 75 in Helsinki – unfortunately that doesn’t leave me much time for sightseeing, but I’m going to hang around an extra couple of nights to see the city. I’ll be going back to Nine Worlds, because it really was that good last year. And I’ll probably be going to Edinburgh yet again.

Of course, there’s one issue with these plans: They’re all in August. That is going to be one long and expensive month, which is why I’m not 100% certain about the Edinburgh Fringe this year. The rest of my year will be uneventful, I expect. The first few months of 2017 I’ll be trying, as usual, to get as much Hugo-eligible novel reading done as I can in time for nominations (nominating for the Hugos is a big deal if you care about the results, by the way – in the past categories have been swept by a small handful of voters, though this year there are new rules in place to help with that), which I’m further behind after my shorter-than-usual 2016 reading list.

As for the rest of the year, well. I’ll keep reading, keep gaming, keep watching great films and TV, and maybe even get around to writing about some of it here. More often than last year, at least.

Read in 2016 – Comics

Here are all the comics I read in 2016. I should probably organise this list better than “roughly in the order I read them”, but here it is for now. I’ve tried to do better about crediting people here – particularly colourists and letterers – but it’s not easy on some books and there’s often not enough space to list everyone.

Alias omnibus – Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos, Matt Hollingsworth, and others
The Sandman: Overture – Neil Gaiman, J. H. Williams III, Dave Stewart & Todd Klein
Kaptara vol 1 – Chip Zdarsky & Kagan McLeod
The Wrenchies – Farel Dalrymple
Red Sonja vol 3 – Gail Simone, Walter Geovani, Simon Bowland and others
The Private Eye – Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin & Muntsa Vicente
The Wicked + The Divine vols 3 & 4 – Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson, Clayton Cowles, and many others
The Wicked + The Divine 1831 special – Kieron Gillen & Stephanie Hans
Prophet vol 4 – Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Ron Wimberly, Giannis Milonogiannis, Joseph Bergin III, Dave Taylor, Ed Brisson, and many others
Catwoman vol 7 – Genevieve Valentine, David Messina, Gaetano Carlucci, Lee Loughridge & Travis Lanham
The Fade Out vols 2 & 3 – Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser
Lazarus vol 4 – Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, Tyler Boss, Santi Arcas & Jodi Wynne
Batgirl vols 1-3 – Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr, Bengal, Maris Wicks, Serge Lapointe, Jared K. Fletcher, Steve Wands, and many others
Black Canary vols 1 & 2 – Brenden Fletcher, Annie Wu, Sandy Jarrell, Pia Guerra, Moritat & Lee Loughridge
Welcome Back vol 1 – Christopher Sebela, Jonathan Brandon Sawyer, Claire Roe, Carlos Zamudio, Juan Manuel Tumburus & Shawn Aldridge
Secret Six vol 4 – Gail Simone, J. Calafiore, and many others
Secret Six (New 52) vol 1 – Gail Simone, Ken Lashley, Dale Eaglesham, Tom Derenick, Drew Geraci, Jason Wright, Carlos M. Mangual, Travis Lanham & Wes Abbott
Thors – Jason Aaron, Chris Sprouse, Goran Sudzuka, Karl Story, Dexter Vines, Marte Gracia, Israel Silva & Joe Sabino
Injection vol 1 & 2 – Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire
Giant Days vol 2 & 3 – John Allison, Lissa Treiman, Max Sarin, Whitney Cogar & Jim Campbell
Gotham Academy vol 1 – Becky Cloonan, Cameron Stewart, Karl Kerschl, Mingjue Helen Chen, Steve Wands, and others
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vols 3 & 4 – Ryan North, Erica Henderson, Rico Renzi, and others
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe – Ryan North & Erica Henderson
Sex Criminals vol 3 – Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky
Rat Queens vol 3 – Kurtis J. Wiebe, Tess Fowler, Tamra Bonvillain & Ed Brisson
Saga vol 6 – Brian K Vaughan & Fiona Staples
Paper Girls vol 1 – Brian K Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matthew Wilson & Jared K. Fletcher
ODY-C vol 2 – Matt Fraction Christian Ward, Chris Eliopoulos & Dee Cunniffe
Ms. Marvel vol 5 – G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Nico Leon, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring & VC’s Joe Caramagna
Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat vol 1 – Kate Leth, Brittney L. Williams, Natasha Allegri, Megan Wilson, VC’s Clayton Cowles & Joe Sabino
The Vision vol 1 – Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Jordie Bellaire & VC’s Clayton Cowles
Monstress vol 1 – Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
Clean Room vol 1 – Gail Simone, Jon Davis-Hunt, Quinton Winter & Todd Klein
Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl – Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson & Clayton Cowles
Velvet vol 3 – Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Elizabeth Breitweiser & Chris Eliopoulos
Black Panther vol 1 – Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, Laura Martin & VC’s Joe Sabino
Pretty Deadly vol 2 – Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios, Jordie Bellaire & Clayton Cowles
Losing Sleep – Joe Latham & Luke Hyde
Egg – Amy & Oliver Murrell
Deeds Not Words – Howard Hardiman & Sarah Gordon
Mockingbird vol 1 – Chelsea Cain, Kate Niemczyk, Ibrahim Moustafa, Joelle Jones, Rachelle Rosenberg & VC’s Joe Caramagna
How to Be Happy – Eleanor Davis
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur vol 1 – Brandon Montclare, Amy Reeder, Natacha Bustos, Tamra Bonvillain & VC’s Travis Lanham
Wonder Woman 75th Anniversary Special – Various
Trees vol 2 – Warren Ellis & Jason Howard

Read in 2016

A slow-ish year this time, with my usual rush in January-March (more than half of the list) followed by a big ebb around mid-year. In the last few months all I’ve managed is starting a few chapters of one novel – at least my consistent audiobook progress keeps things moving a little. I blame my starting to play World of Warcraft again in August. I think I’m over it now.

New year’s resolutions: Read regularly, and update this blog more often.

Books

The Fifth Season – N. K. Jemisin
Radiance – Catherynne M. Valente
Binti – Nnedi Okorafor
Persona – Genevieve Valentine
Black Wolves – Kate Elliott
Sorcerer to the Crown – Zen Cho
Archivist Wasp – Nicole Kornher-Stace
Testament – Hal Duncan
Signal to Noise – Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Zoe’s Tale – John Scalzi
Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson
The Sundial – Shirley Jackson
All the Birds in the Sky – Charlie Jane Anders
City of Blades – Robert Jackson Bennett
The Obelisk Gate – N. K. Jemisin

Audiobooks

Raising Steam – Terry Pratchett
The Shepherd’s Crown – Terry Pratchett
Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
Stardust – Neil Gaiman
High Rise – J G Ballard
Northern Lights – Philip Pullman
The Subtle Knife – Philip Pullman
The Amber Spyglass – Philip Pullman
The Geek Feminist Revolution – Kameron Hurley
Sabriel – Garth Nix
Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr – Garth Nix
Abhorsen – Garth Nix
Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen – Garth Nix
Assassin’s Apprentice – Robin Hobb

Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016

I’ve been in Edinburgh since Monday, on my annual visit to the Edinburgh Fringe. Usually I’d make a summary post each day, but this time I thought I’d just write it up in one post.

TL;DR my favourite shows this year:

  • Daniel Sloss, So
  • Chris Coltrane, Socialist Fun Times
  • Nicole Henriksen, Makin It Rain

But I didn’t see anything I’d say was bad.

Monday

My first day at the Fringe was a little shorter, and I mostly saw acts I’d seen before in previous years. The first show I saw this year was Tamar Broadbent’s Get Ugly; this is the third year in a row I’ve been to Tamar’s free show, and she was as good as ever, very funny with good songs.

Next was Rachel Parris, another musical comedy act. I first saw her in a free show a few years back which I enjoyed a lot, but her paid show the next year – which used character comedy – was a little disappointing in comparison. Best Laid Plans, her show this year, was back to something more like that first year, and I enjoyed it.

After that was the last repeat on previous years, Daniel Sloss’s So. Sloss is one of the best stand up acts I’ve seen, and this year was just as good as last year, highly recommended.

My final show on Monday was Russ Peers’ Bad Gay, which started off awkwardly when I was the only person who stepped forward when they called for people with tickets to go in. It was one of the shows that are free to get in but give the option of buying a ticket, which is not clear on the Fringe ticket website; it turned out I had a few tickets like this. As it was 10:30pm on a Monday, it was a pretty small crowd. Peers’ show was a little rough around the edges, but amusing enough.

Tuesday

I fell afoul of my indecision on Tuesday, and didn’t go to either of the first two free shows I’d been considering to start my day. In the end I started with The Punel Show, which is exactly what it sounds like. The show was a bit of a disaster, as one of the two hosts was absent due to an injury and the remaining host was a little lost, but it still managed to be a lot of fun (so long as you like a lot of bad puns).

After that was Laura Lexx, Tyrannosaurus Lexx, which wasn’t the greatest standup show, but was still worth the price (this was another of the”£5 or pay what you want” tickets).

My next show was James Wilson-Taylor’s Ginger is the New Black. Another musical comedian, this show was a bit shoutier and more absurd than most I saw, and got a lot of laughs out of me.

After I grabbed some food (I barely ate on Monday and was trying to do better), I moved on to American standup Ari Shaffir’s Ari-S-P-E-C-T, which I think was my favourite show off the day.

Finally, there was Gillian Cosgriff’s This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, which had my favourite songs out of all the musical comedy acts I saw this year.

I’d planned to see another after that, but it was late, wet, and I had a 25 minute walk to get to my hotel, and I really wasn’t feeling up to more.

Wednesday

Wednesday was my best day of the Fringe. Some of the crowds were small, I got soaking wet, but I had some of my best times at the shows I saw that day.

The day started a little weak with Sooz Kempner’s Queen; the show had strong storytelling elements and Kempner’s cover songs were strong (she has a good voice), but the original songs weren’t great and the humour wasn’t quite there. (I honestly think the show could be fine without being funnier because of that storytelling side, but Kempner kept calling attention to the weak laughs.)

I followed that up with Laurence Owen’s Cinemusical High, a one man high school musical, which was a lot of fun.

The next show was Chris Coltrane’s Socialist Fun Times. I’d tried to see Coltrane before a couple of years ago, but the venue had been packed full; this time was also packed, so much so that people were sitting on the floor. It’s political comedy, very left wing as the title implies, and very very funny. Really glad I caught this one, will probably try to see him again on future trips.

As good as that was, the next show I saw is possibly my favourite out of all five years I’ve been to the Fringe. Nicole Henriksen’s Makin It Rain is a one-woman theatre piece about her work as a stripper to support her comedy career. Henriksen gives a strong performance which is at turns funny, sexy, serious and poignant. As well as an autobiographical piece, it’s also a feminist discussion of the stripping profession, the impact it has on performers, and its position and perception in our sexist society. Strongly recommend seeing this one. (Note: includes nudity.)

After that, I went to a standup show by Danny Deegan, which had the smallest crowd out of all my Fringe shows with only 5 people present. Deegan handled it well, though, and delivered a solid set largely about his relationship with his father. I think we all had a good time despite the turnout.

After killing some time watching a street musician (or more honestly, taking shelter under a tree from the rain, which happened to be next to a performer), and getting well and truly soaked walking across town to the venue, my final show of the Fringe was Rahul Kohli’s Newcastle Brown Male. Kohli’s set about racism was a decent end to a very good day, I enjoyed it a lot.

That’s it for my 2016 trip to Edinburgh. Right now I’m on a train from Edinburgh to London, where I’ll be attending Nine Worlds Geekfest; more on that later this weekend. It’s been a good trip this year; here’s looking forward to next year.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: Short Fiction Edition

I don’t read a huge amount of short fiction, but I read a lot more than I used to, usually stories I see linked on Twitter and save to the Pocket app. For the last couple of years I’ve taken to sharing each story I read on Twitter myself, but today I felt like collecting some of my recent favourites into a post.

Before I get to the links, though, I had a thought to share. I found myself thinking this morning that most of the really great short fiction I read, while it’s SFF genre, centres not the genre concepts or the plot, but the relationships between characters, romantic and otherwise. And it occurred to me that this is, in part, what the Sad Puppies were reacting against, way back in the early years of that kerfuffle.

Larry Correia’s stated purpose in starting Sad Puppies was to get award nominations for “unabashed pulp action that isn’t heavy handed message fic[tion]”. The second half of that has gotten plenty of attention (there is indeed a large part of this which is a reactionary response to the increase in inclusive and diverse works being recognised for awards, for which see Foz Meadows’ excellent breakdown of where they’re getting it wrong), but it’s more to the first part my thoughts went today. In addition to the diversity backlash, the Puppies often set up a conflict between this “unabashed pulp action” and the supposedly more ‘literary’ work which was appearing on award ballots. And it seems to me that this part of it was about exactly what I observed above: the stories they object to are the ones that do not place action or cool SFnal ideas at their centre, but the interpersonal relationships of characters; where character and relationships are the main throughline and focus.

It does feel like there has been a popular shift toward that kind of fiction in recent years (in novels also – look for example at the popularity of The Goblin Emperor and Ancillary Justice), but it’s hard for me to make a solid claim on that. The short fiction market has changed dramatically with the growth of online publishers, and many people – myself included – just did not read much short fiction before that change. I also can’t say what short fiction the Sad Puppy supporters have been reading now or in the past, but having been exposed to their complaints on and off for the last few years, it certainly seems like part of the trigger for their lashing out was seeing award-nominated stories which had their focus in a different place from what they were used to.

Personally, I’m one of the apparent majority who is very much enjoying these stories. Even the weirdest of weird SF is about people in some sense, and human relationships and emotions are a familiar point for readers to hold on to while experiencing the utterly unfamiliar. In addition, SFF concepts are and always have been a great tool for exploring ordinary human issues, whether large-scale social concepts, or just the way two people relate to one another. The small stuff is just as important as the large, and (IMO) can be a vehicle for more emotionally poignant stories.

I guess I’m just not in it for the action.

Anyway, that (long) tangent aside, let’s get to the story recommendations. I can’t say all of these will fit the type I’ve referred to above, but I can say that I greatly enjoyed every one. These have all been read in the last month or so, mostly while I was on holiday (when I did a lot of reading in airports and on planes). Listed in alphabetical order.

Android Whores Can’t Cry, by Natalia Theodoridou, in which a reporter visits the Massacre Market, where people engage in illicit trading of evidence of the government’s atrocities (and then things get much weirder).
Candidate 45, Pensri Suesat, by Pear Nuallak, in which an agender art student struggles with their place at a demanding school.
Infinite Skeins, by Naru Dames Sundar, in which a parent searches through infinite alternate worlds for their missing child.
Meshed, by Rich Larson, in which a talent scout has to convince a young athlete to have a “nerve mesh” installed, but his father objects.
Morrigan in Shadow, by Seth Dickinson, in which the question is posed of whether achieving victory is worth making monsters of ourselves.
The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley, in which a darker and weirder take on Star Trek transporter tech is used for war.
When Your Child Strays From God, by Sam J Miller, in which a mother sets out to find her son, who has taken a strange new drug.
Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy, by Saladin Ahmed, in which three brothers are trapped in another man’s story, robbed of their own name and nature.

Testament by Hal Duncan

Hal Duncan’s Testament is a reworking of the Gospel story from the New Testament of the Bible; in the book Duncan takes the original text, remixes it and intercuts it with his own additions that put a new spin and interpretation on the story, creating a weird SF narrative that uses the Bible’s own words to criticise the history and teachings of the Christian church, offering up a Testament that is “anarchist, socialist, atheist, revolutionary”.

To aid with this reinterpretation, the author deliberately removes familiar words and terms from the text, eliminating two thousand years of baggage while cleaving to the basic meaning of the original language: the “son of man” becomes the “everyman”; Heaven is “Aeternity”, God is “the Worker”, “the Sublime”. The words Pharisee and Samaritan are avoided; “demons” are often called instead “fouled inspirations”. It’s clear that Duncan doesn’t want you bringing with you all the assumptions and loaded meanings learned from the Church’s teachings of the Bible. Jesus himself is called Joshua – a name much closer to his actual one than the word we use, which has been translated and altered through Greek, and Latin, and English.

The most radical reworking of this otherwise familiar story is in the narrator, unnamed at first, who is referred to variously as “the Judean”, “the student that Joshua loved”, and eventually “Eleazar”, “Eli”. This character, anonymous at first, turns out to be an amalgamation of several – he is Judas, who is also Lazarus, the brother of Mary Magdalene; ultimately he is the Messenger who appears at Joshua’s tomb, and even, perhaps, the risen Joshua himself. It is in this character’s narrative addendums to the Biblical text – addressed to a “lover of the Sublime”, as the Gospel of Luke is addressed to “Theophilus” – where the science fictional elements lie; the story eschews any fixed sense of time and place, offering a Gospel narrative that takes place throughout the two thousand years of church history, in a Roman Empire that never ended, a history where the church became the Empire Joshua opposed. Roman soldiers appear with swords and armour, or with assault rifles and jackboots. Pontius Pilate is a Roman governor, a Nazi officer, a talk show host. Testament provides us with a Joshua who sees Aeternity, sees everything that will be done in his name, and offers the narrator, the student he loves, that same sight, the vision of his work continuing – and continuing to be necessary – across the millennia that separate then from now, existing in all times at once. Or it gives us a madman closed up in a modern flat, cutting up Bible verses and adding his delusions to create his new Testament for a new age.

It’s a work I suspect would take a deeper knowledge of the Bible to fully appreciate; a familiarity with original texts, the history of its translations, and with the Apocrypha (particularly, it seems, the Gospel of Thomas). I’m not familiar enough with the text to see all the places where Hal Duncan has made changes, excisions, and insertions; I’ve read the New Testament perhaps once or twice, idly, without a lot of interest. The writing in the Bible can be rather dry, and that’s a flaw which gets carried over to Testament, relying as it does on many passages from that text. I got rather sick of parables at one point. Where the book becomes interesting is in the places where the narrator’s insertions force significant reinterpretations of the Biblical text, a recontextualising that sometimes entirely transforms the meaning of something Joshua says or does. The novel is perhaps strongest in the final few sections, where the narrative becomes more personal and focused through the story of Eleazar’s resurrection, the last supper, the betrayal, and Joshua’s trial and crucifixion.

I found this a difficult book to read, to be honest, and it took me a lot longer to get through than most novels do. Much of that was due to the aforementioned dryness of the Bible’s text. But despite the difficulty, I found it a very fascinating study of the way the Bible’s source text can be interpreted and reinterpreted to find something between the lines that’s far more radical and interesting than the official narrative.