Tehanu by Ursula Le Guin

I originally wrote this post in 2013, and then shelved it after some feedback led me to conclude it was fundamentally flawed. Its presence in my drafts folder has been nagging me for years. Following the recent death of Ms. Le Guin, I decided to finally revisit and complete it. It’s not exactly what I would have written today, but it completes the thoughts I wanted to share five years ago.

Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet, as it was known at the time, was one of the first fantasy series I read, after things like the Chronicles of Narnia (which always feels to me like something everyone must have read as a child, though I know that’s not true). I must have been only about 10 years old the first time. I read the four novels several times, and The Tombs of Atuan, for some reason, was always my favourite. I never quite got into Tehanu to the same extent; I think it bored me, in fact.

It was with those childhood impressions in mind that I decided to revisit the series for the first time in at least a decade. And I was a little surprised. You see, Le Guin stands as almost a mythic figure herself – one of the greats of science fiction and fantasy literature, known for works like The Left Hand of Darkness, which explores the idea of gender through a world where the binary does not exist. In that context, then, A Wizard of Earthsea struck me for one big reason: Where were the women?

That first Earthsea novel was surprisingly conventional, at least from the perspective of an adult reader in 2013. It deals with some interesting themes, particularly that of facing the darkness that exists within one’s own self, but these days the story of a young man learning to become a wizard is nothing exceptional. And the story is all about men. Ged, the apprentice wizard; Ogion, his first master; the Masters and Archmage of Roke; Ged’s rival, Jasper, and his friend, Vetch. There are, as far as I recall, five female characters in A Wizard of Earthsea. All are small parts, there for a chapter or so – some not even that – and then gone.

The second book, The Tombs of Atuan, goes some way to redress the imbalance. The main character is Tenar, known as Arha, Priestess of the Nameless Ones. She lives in an enclave of priestesses and eunuchs, where men are not allowed. Tenar is, technically, one of the highest authorities in Kargad, but she comes to realise she has no actual power, and the other two high priestesses only have power so long as the God-King chooses to keep to the old traditions. It is only when a man, Ged, arrives that Tenar is able to break out of the restrictions placed upon her. When Tenar, through Ged’s aid, ultimately departs from the Tombs, they are destroyed – along with what are seemingly the only positions of authority, however limited, for women in all of Earthsea.

The Farthest Shore once again gives Ged’s story, this time as an old man, as Archmage, as he sets out with the young nobleman Arren. They journey to investigate a dark power that is causing Mages to forget their True Speech, and to place a king on Earthsea’s vacant throne. The Farthest Shore is a story about confronting and accepting death, and it, too, is a story about men.

In those three books, what Le Guin created was a world in which men held all of the power; in which women could have some magic ability, but only as witches who were shunned, or sorceresses in service to dark powers. “Weak as women’s magic; wicked as women’s magic” is the saying on Gont. And she created a world where these things were seemingly unquestioned.

How did someone who is known as a feminist writer end up creating such a sexist world? As it turns out, this is something Le Guin herself was very aware of. This was a male dominated genre, one in which it was often felt that writers must centre male characters in order to sell books. She spoke a number of times in interviews about the slow process of learning how to shed this preconception, such as in this interview from 1994:

All my early fiction tends to be rather male-centred. A couple of the Earthsea books have no women in them at all or only marginal women figures. That’s how hero stories worked; they were about men. With the exception of just a few feminists like Joanna Russ, science fiction was pretty much male-dominated up to the 1960s. Women who wrote in that field often used pen names.
None of this bothered me. It was my tradition, and I worked in it happily. But I began coming up against certain discomforts. […]
I gradually realised that my own fiction was telling me that I could no longer ignore the feminine. While I was writing The Eye of the Heron in 1977, the hero insisted on destroying himself before the middle of the book. “Hey,” I said, “you can’t do that, you’re the hero. Where’s my book?” I stopped writing. The book had a woman in it, but I didn’t know how to write about women. I blundered around awhile and then found some guidance in feminist theory. […] It taught me that I didn’t have to write like an honorary man anymore, that I could write like a woman and feel liberated in doing so.

That’s the problem when you come upon the work of an established author long after they began their career – it’s easy to forget that decades of work was involved, and that their own understanding of their work may have changed in the process.

For the Earthsea saga, that’s where Tehanu comes in. Published eighteen years after The Farthest Shore, this is a very different book, and in many ways serves as a feminist response to the world that Le Guin had created.

In this slower, darker, and more domestic novel, we once again have the point of view of Tenar – older, and living on the island of Gont; a mother whose children have left, and a wife whose husband has died. Since she was last seen in The Tombs of Atuan, she’s lived an entire life.

At the opening of the book, a young girl is found beaten and burned, and is nursed back to health by Tenar and the witch Ivy. Tenar takes the child in as her own, and gives her the name Therru. Tehanu takes place at the time The Farthest Shore ended: In that book, we were told of how Earthsea still did not have peace because there was no king on the throne; now, a king has been found, but his influence is yet to be felt. Gont is no longer safe for travellers, as vagrants and thieves are on the roads. It was vagrants such as these – the girl’s own parents and one other man – who had beaten Therru and left her for dead.

Part of what makes this one book remarkable out of the four is Tenar’s position in the story: as a woman and mother with no special power of her own, threatened by men who wish harm on her and her child. When she travels, she is wary of every person she passes on the road. Her fears are not fantastic in nature – they are those of an ordinary woman faced with the abuses of evil men. The dangers she faces are mundane, and very real.

Much the same is true for Ged, when he returns to Gont. Having lost all of his magic at the end of The Farthest Shore, he is no longer a mage, but an ordinary old man, one who has never lived as an ordinary man before in his entire life. Accustomed to facing down dragons, now he is as helpless as Tenar. His loss of purpose serves another theme of the novel – that of what people do when what they believed was their role in life has ended. Tenar has been a priestess, a celebrated hero, a mage’s apprentice, a wife, and a mother; Ged has spent his entire life a mage. For both, these roles are behind them at the novel’s opening, and they must try to make a new life for themselves.

Most of all, though, the book talks about power. The men in this story almost universally hold power over Tenar and Therru. Some are friendly – the sorcerer of Valmouth is helpful; the King and Master Windkey from Roke offer her every courtesy thanks to her fame and her friendship with Ged. Ogion the Silent, mage of Re Albi, sees her like a daughter. The wizards who visit Re Albi at Ogion’s death, however, do not trust Tenar’s account of his last words; the Lord of Re Albi’s sorcerer, Aspen, in particular proves to be an evil and hateful man. The man who injured Therru may only be a vagabond, but he nevertheless holds power over them, through memory of the pain he caused, and the threat he poses later, when he gathers friends to attack Tenar at her home.

Along with sharing a position of power over Tenar, most are in some way dismissive of her, simply because of her womanhood. The Master Windkey is searching for clues as to who will be the next Archmage, following a prophecy that said only “A woman on Gont”. But neither he, nor any other Master of Roke, has considered that the woman in question might in fact be the Archmage. They believe the woman will guide them to the man they seek. While she talks with him, Tenar realises that the Master Windkey will never grasp what she tries to say. “How could he, who had never listened to a woman since his mother sang him his last cradle song, hear her?”

Ogion had told Tenar to teach Therru magic: “Teach her all. Not Roke.” Beech, the wizard of Valmouth hears this, and decides immediately what was meant. “‘He meant that the learning of Roke – the High Arts – wouldn’t be suitable for a girl,’ he explained. ‘Let alone one so handicapped.'” What Ogion must have meant, he says, was the same thing he had suggested: that Therru become a witch. “He pondered again, having got the weight of Ogion’s opinion on his side.”

It’s one of the book’s many examples of men mindlessly following what they know to be the way of things. “His kindness was, Tenar thought, innocent.” Even Tenar’s own son, Spark, when he returns from years at sea, immediately expects his mother to wait on him and defer to him as head of the household. “His father had always been waited on by his mother, wife, daughter. Was he less a man than his father? Was she to prove it to him?”

But women, too, have power. A story early in the book tells of Ogion’s meeting with an old woman who he first mistook for a dragon. This woman told him a story of a time in Earthsea’s beginning when humans and dragons were one and the same, and how they came to choose different paths and become separate beings. In this, and in the culmination of Therru’s story, it is women who hold a deeper understanding of the mysteries of the world. So too with the subtle implication that it may be Therru who is destined to be Archmage, the one who leads the wizards, the Masters of Roke – and her accession would be sign of a fundamental change in Earthsea.

There is a hint of gender essentialism regarding magic in the novel – particularly in a conversation between Tenar and the witch Moss, about the difference between men’s and women’s power.

‘Ours is only a little power, seems like, next to theirs,’ Moss said. ‘But it goes down deep. It’s all roots. It’s like an old blackberry thicket. And a wizard’s power is like a fir tree, maybe, great and tall and grand, but it’ll blow right down in a storm.’

On a certain level, such discussions of the difference in power seems to lend legitimacy to the model that has put wizards alone into the School on Roke, and confined women with power to petty witchcraft. But beside the rest of the novel, and coming from a character that has had to live within that structure as a witch herself, it’s easy to forgive.

Ultimately, Tehanu calls into question all of the patriarchal structures of Earthsea’s culture as established in the original trilogy, simply through its use of the perspective of an ordinary woman attempting to live an ordinary life. Tenar sees through the obstinacy and foolishness of the men around her, but it is only Ged, who has lost his former self and has to learn from nothing how to be a man, who is able to hear her.

In 2018, I finally completed the Earthsea saga by reading Tales of Earthsea and The Other Wind. With the short stories in particular, Le Guin expanded on these discussions of men and women’s power, of the exclusion of women from magic in Roke, and how the segregation of men and women in magic came about. The series concludes with events that turn the entire system of magic in Earthsea on its head, leaving the future unknown and open to all kinds of change. And it is women, and the men who are willing to listen to them, who are instrumental in bringing this about.

Tehanu no longer bores me. It is powerful, moving book, and my favourite of the entire Earthsea series. I’ll end this with a passage from late in the novel, a conversation between Ged and Tenar which I think exemplifies well what Tehanu has to say about men and women. I almost wish I could quote the whole few pages.

‘Haven’t there been queens? Weren’t they women of power?’
‘A queen’s only a she-king,’ said Ged.
She snorted.
‘I mean, men give her power. They let her use their power. But it isn’t hers, is it? It isn’t because she’s a woman that she’s powerful, but despite it.’
She nodded. She stretched, sitting back from the spinning wheel. ‘What is a woman’s power, then?’
‘I don’t think we know.’
‘When has a woman power because she’s a woman? With her children, I suppose. For a while…’
‘In her house, maybe.’
She looked around the kitchen. ‘But the doors are shut,’ she said, ‘The doors are locked.’
‘Because you’re valuable.’
‘Oh, yes. We’re precious. So long as we’re powerless… I remember when I first learned that! Kossil threatened me – me, the One Priestess of the Tombs. And I realised that I was helpless. I had the honour; but she had the power, from the God-King, the man. Oh, it made me angry! And frightened me… Lark and I talked about this once. She said, “Why are men afraid of women?”‘
‘If your strength is only the other’s weakness, you live in fear,’ Ged said.
‘Yes; but women seem to fear their own strength, to be afraid of themselves.’
‘Are they ever taught to trust themselves?’ Ged asked, and as he spoke Therru came in on her work again. His eyes and Tenar’s met.
‘No,’ she said. ‘Trust is not what we’re taught.’


With thanks to ussussimiel and LuciMay for their input; it took me 5 years to act on it, but I did listen.

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Read in 2017 – Comics

My comics reading kind of ground to a halt toward the end of the year, and I now have a sizeable pile of books that are waiting to be read. I’ve been thinking about cutting back, to be honest; I’ve already mostly stopped buying DC, and I’m figuring out which Marvel titles I want to keep up with. While I do enjoy these comics, I sometimes feel like I’m reading them simply out of continued habit.

    Ms Marvel vols 6 & 7 – G Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa, Mirka Andolfo, Francesco Gaston, Ian Herring & Joe Caramagna

    Clean Room vols 2 & 3 – Gail Simone, Jon Davis-Hunt, Walter Geovani, Sanya Anwar, Quinton Winter & Todd Klein

    Patsy Walker, a.k.a. Hellcat! vols 2 & 3 – Kate Leth, Brittney L. Williams, Megan Wilson, Rachelle Rosenberg, & Clayton Cowles

    Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur vols 2 & 3 – Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare, Natacha Bustos, Marco Failla, Tamra Bonvillain, & Travis Lanham

    Secret Six vol 2 – Gail Simone, Dale Eaglesham, Tom Derenick, Jason Wright, Rex Lokus, & Travis Lanham

    Paper Girls vols 2 & 3 – Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson, & Jared K. Fletcher

    Vision vol 2 – Tom King, Michael Walsh, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Jordie Bellaire, & Clayton Cowles

    The Mighty Thor vols 1-3 – Jason Aaron, Russel Dauterman, Steve Epting, Valerio Schiti, Matthew Wilson, Mat Lopes, Rafa Garres, Fraser Irving, & Joe Sabino

    The Unworthy Thor – Jason Aaron, Olivier Coipel, Kim Jacinto, Russel Dauterman, Esad Ribic, Frazer Irving, Matt Wilson, & Joe Sabino

    Batgirl Rebirth vol 1 – Hope Larson, Rafael Albuquerque, Dave McCaig, & Deron Bennett

    Black Panther vol 3 – Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, Laura Martin, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Goran Sudzuka, Walden Wong, Roberto Poggi, Scott Hanna, Matt Milla, Larry Molinar, Rachelle Rosenberg, Paul Mounts, & Joe Sabino

    Welcome Back vol 2 – Christopher Sebela, Claire Roe, Jeremy Lawson, & Jim Campbell

    Jessica Jones vol 1 – Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos, Matt Hollingsworth, & Cory Petit

    Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vols 5 & 6 – Ryan North, Erika Henderson, Will Murray, Rico Renzi, Zac Gorman, Clayton Cowles, & Travis Lanham

    Mockingbird vol 2 – Chelsea Cain, Kate Niemczyk, Sean Parsons, Rachelle Rosenberg, & Joe Caramagna

    Kim & Kim: This Glamorous, High-Flying Rock Star Life – Magdalene Visaggio, Eva Cabrera, Claudia Aguirre, & Zakk Saam

    Lazarus vol 5 – Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, Tyler Boss, Santi Arcas, & Jodi Wynne

    Bitch Planet vol 2 – Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine de Landro, Taki Soma, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Clayton Cowles, & Rian Hughes

    The Wicked + The Divine vol 5 – Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, Clayton Cowles, & Kevin Wada

    Skim – Mariko Tamaki

    My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness – Nagata Kobi

    Delilah Dirk & The Turkish Lieutenant – Tony Cliff

    Delilah Dirk & The King’s Shilling – Tony Cliff

    Motor Crush vol 1 – Brendan Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr, Heather Danforth, Aditya Bidikar

    Giant Days vol 5 – John Allison, Max Sarin, Liz Fleming, Whitney Cogar, & Jim Campbell

    Monstress vol 2 – Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda, & Rus Wooton

    Shade the Changing Girl vol 1 – Cecil Castelucci, Marley Zarcone, Ande Parks, Ryan Kelly, Kelly Fitzpatrick, & Saida Temofonte

    She-Hulk vol 1 – Mariko Tamaki, Nico Leon, Dalibor Talajic, Matt Milla, Andrew Crossley, & Cory Petit

    Kill or Be Killed vol 2 – Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, & Elizabeth Breitweiser

    The Multiversity – Grant Morrison & so many more people than I could list here

    Sex Criminals vol 4 – Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky, & Elizabeth Breitweiser

Read in 2017 – Books & Audiobooks

Every (physical) book I read this year was published in 2016 or 2017, which is a little unusual for me – usually there’s at least one or two from the older side. This does mean that my to-read pile hasn’t really gotten any smaller this year. I’ve also been reading more novellas, a format that’s been getting more attention from publishers in the last few years – most of the ones I read came from Tor.com’s novella imprint.

An Accident of Stars – Foz Meadows
Ghost Talkers – Mary Robinette Kowal
Everything Belongs to the Future – Laurie Penny
Borderline – Mishell Baker
The Wall of Storms – Ken Liu
A Taste of Honey – Kai Ashante Wilson
Ninefox Gambit – Yoon Ha Lee
Certain Dark Things – Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Binti: Home – Nnedi Okorafor
Forest of Memory – Mary Robinette Kowal
All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) – Martha Wells
River of Teeth – Sarah Gailey
The Ballad of Black Tom – Victor LaValle
The Dream-Quest of Vellit Boe – Kij Johnson
The Stars Are Legion – Kameron Hurley
A Tyranny of Queens – Foz Meadows
The Collapsing Empire – John Scalzi
Borne – Jeff VanderMeer
City of Miracles – Robert Jackson Bennett
Six Wakes – Mur Lafferty
The Stone Sky – N K Jemisin
Phasma – Delilah S. Dawson
Raven Stratagem – Yoon Ha Lee

On the other hand, my audiobook listening has been entirely older work, as I’ve singularly focused on the work of Robin Hobb, catching up on her lengthy Realm of the Elderlings series-of-series. Over the year I listened to:

Royal Assassin
Assassin’s Quest
Ship of Magic
The Mad Ship
Ship of Destiny
Fool’s Errand
The Golden Fool
Fool’s Fate
Dragon Keeper
Dragon Haven
City of Dragons
Blood of Dragons

I’ve now started the final trilogy, but that’s for 2018’s list.

Worldcon 75 & Helsinki

This post is almost two months late. I could never quite think of what I wanted to say in it, and I didn’t try very hard. Thinking about how I needed to write this up first stopped me posting other things. So it’s all been on big mess of procrastination. But I’m here now, and I’m gonna write some stuff about my holiday – though it’s likely to be more broad-strokes than anything, after this long.

Worldcon

First up: I didn’t fall apart. I had worried about it, but I never really got to that point of frustration and anxiety that I had at my previous Worldcon. I suspect this is less of a personal improvement, and more getting used to failing at being social, and adjusting my expectations accordingly. I spent pretty much the entire con on my own again; I just didn’t get too bothered by it.

As for the con itself, apart from some first day hiccups where they had too many people and not enough space – I missed two or three panels on Thursday because the rooms were full – the content was great. It didn’t hit my specific buttons the way Nine Worlds content tends to, but there was a wide range of interesting stuff going on at all times, and there were only a few points where I found myself with nothing to do (which usually means it’s a chance to go eat).

Among the panels I attended were discussions of colonialism and orientalism, of representation in dystopias and in historical writing, of Lovecraft, and fairy tales, and musicals (the latter of which involved significantly less sing-along than the Nine Worlds equivalent). I attended talks by Ken Liu (on translation) and Jeff VanderMeer (on the adaptation of his novel Annihilation to film), and took part in the ASoIaF Quiz (which was far too difficult, alas, as it focused on pretty much everything except the main series novels or TV show).

It’s hard to be specific on these things when I’m writing about it so late, but I remember one of the highlights of the convention being the panel Oral Storytelling on Audio, which my last panel of the weekend, and was both informative and funny (largely due to some anecdotes from Mary Robinette Kowal).

The low point was probably the Fantastical Travel Guide panel, which attempted to get three authors to answer questions on the settings of their books as if they’re pitching them to tourists. Unfortunately the questions offered by the moderator didn’t quite seem to give the panelists much to work with, though they did their best. Anne Leinonen was very enthusiastically in-character to pitch her book, and Jeff VanderMeer, who seemed somewhat aware it wasn’t going well, at least was having some fun answering as Mord, the floating, giant, murderous bear from Borne (with multiple costume changes).

I attended the Hugo Awards ceremony again, and to be honest I found it a bit of a drag. I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to watch the Hugos live is probably in private, with friends, so you can talk about it as it’s going on. The ceremony was also marred by some terrible live transcription, with frequent errors and sometimes entire chunks of speeches skipped after the scribe obviously lost track. I realise live transcription is a very difficult task, and most likely was being done by a volunteer, but I can’t imagine what it must have been like for anyone who had to rely on the text to follow the ceremony.

So Worldcon 75 was a positive experience, I don’t regret attending, but I ended it deciding that I probably won’t be attending the next one that comes close to home – Dublin in 2019 – unless I make new friends who I can attend with. It’s meant to be a social experience, after all, and I’m just no good at finding that side of it when I go in knowing no one.

Helsinki

Once Worldcon was pretty much wrapped up – I left a few hours before the actual end – I moved into a new hotel in the centre of Helsinki and started sightseeing. Helsinki Zoo, on Korkeasaari, is a short boat ride out of the centre and open late, and worth the visit if you like zoos – though you also need to like hiking up and down a very rocky island. I spent a couple of hours there on Sunday, tweeted a lot of photographs of animals, and then got caught out in the rain while we waited for the boat back.

On Monday, after picking up a two-day Helsinki Card (worth it, with the free transport and lots of museum entries), I went to the island fortress of Suomenlinna, which is a good way to fill up a whole day. There are a bunch of museums, including a German submarine you can walk through, as well as the islands themselves and all the old fortifications. I’m easily amused, so my favourite part was walking through the pitch black tunnels under the fortifications with only my phone flashlight to see by, though it doesn’t seem like the best thing to be letting unsupervised tourists do. Suomenlinna is usually the top listed attraction when you look up things to do in Helsinki, and rightly so.

(In a better world, I’d have arrived in Helsinki before Worldcon and signed up for the organised day trip to Suomenlinna. Alas, Nine Worlds being the weekend before meant I had to shift my sightseeing to after the con.)

Tuesday was meant to be “visit all the museums/churches” day. In reality, I had picked up a cold around Sunday and by Tuesday it’d gotten nasty. I managed to get through a few – the Natural History Museum, the Finnish National Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art (which, well, it turns out I don’t like contemporary art) – but by the time I got to the Ateneum gallery I was pretty damn sick. Since I couldn’t concentrate on looking around exhibits, I ended up going on a long walk around the south end of Helsinki instead. It turned out to be a great idea; the weather was great, my head cleared up, and I had some very nice ice cream. I ended the day with a boat tour of the islands (included in the aforementioned Helsinki Card) which may not have been my best decision, as having a cold and sitting on an open top boat with the wind blowing in your face for two hours isn’t the most pleasant experience. I must’ve looked like I was crying my eyes out.

I really enjoyed my stay in Helsinki – great place, great weather, lots to see and do. And I lost a lot of weight from all the walking I did (I have, alas, gained it all back since).

My trip home was a bit of a disaster, however, as a flight delay led to me spending five hours in Amsterdam Schiphol Airport waiting for my replacement connection. I didn’t get home until midnight, about six hours later than expected. But at least I got home.

The week after I got back from Helsinki, I spent a couple of days in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival, which I’ve done five years in a row now. I saw some very good stuff this year, the best of which was probably Two Man Show by RashDash, which I highly recommend if the words “feminist exploration of masculinity through theatre and interpretive dance” appeal to you.

I don’t have many plans for more trips at the moment. I’m likely to return to Nine Worlds next year, though that may change if they change venues from London to Birmingham (to be announced soon, I believe). I’m likely to go back to Edinburgh, too. But I’m not sure if I’ll have a job next year, so I’m not sure when I’ll next go abroad for a trip.

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