Tag Archives: Books

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

My Hugo Award Nominations, 2016

Today is the last day for submitting Hugo Award nominations, and I’ve been working on finalising my ballot. Below, you’ll find all the works and people I’ve nominated, plus some other bits where there were close calls. I’m making this post mostly as a record for myself of the stuff from 2015 that I liked enough to nominate.

If you’re interested in checking out any of the works I’ve nominated, I believe everything in the Short Story and Novelette categories is freely available online, as is one of the novellas.

Best Novel
– The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu
– Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie
– Uprooted, Naomi Novik
– The Fifth Season, N K Jemisin
– Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace

This was tough to winnow down to 5 nominations. Also in the running were:
– Black Wolves, Kate Elliott
– Radiance, Catherynne M Valente

Best Novella
– Binti, Nnedi Okorafor
– Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, Kai Ashante Wilson
– The New Mother, Eugene Fischer

Technically, Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is above the length requirements for this category at 43k words, but the rules have some allowance for works that are close to the limits and fit the category better.

Best Novelette
– The Oiran’s Song, Isabel Yap
– Ballroom Blitz, Veronica Schanoes

This was a difficult category not because there were a lot of things to choose from, but because I looked at the list of short fiction I’d liked from 2015 and found only one novelette on that list. There’s a surprisingly small amount of fiction published at this length. I managed to catch up and read the Isabel Yap story today, which was recommended on a few other people’s lists, and it immediately went onto my ballot.

Best Short Story
– The Shape of My Name, Nino Cipri
– Madeleine, Amal El-Mohtar
– The Half-Dark Promise, Malon Edwards
– Three Cups of Grief, By Starlight, Aliette de Bodard
– Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers, Alyssa Wong

There are a bunch of other short stories I wanted to read, but I never made time to catch up on all the links I have saved. These five, however, are all deserving of their spot on the ballot, so I don’t feel bad about not seeing all the other options. Also under consideration were:
– Elephants and Corpses, Kameron Hurley
– The Language of Knives, Haralambi Markov
– Planet Lion, Catherynne M Valente

Best Related Work
SFF in Conversation: Foz Meadows – Thoughts on Fanfiction

I don’t keep up with a lot of stuff that fits this category, but I thought this essay by Foz Meadows on fanfiction was excellent, a very in depth exploration of the subject.

Best Graphic Story
– The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 1
– The Wicked + The Divine vol 2
– Bitch Planet vol 1
– Saga vol 5
– Nimona

There are always lots of good comics. Some that didn’t make my ballot this time:
– Ms. Marvel vols 3-4
– Rat Queens vol 2
– ODY-C vol 1

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)
– Mad Max: Fury Road
– Star Wars: The Force Awakens
– Marvel’s Jessica Jones
– Sense8
– Ex Machina

Fury Road all the way. Please don’t lose this to Star Wars. (The others are also good, though I think I’m less excited about Ex Machina.)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)
– “Cut Man”, Marvel’s Daredevil
– “AKA Sin Bin”, Marvel’s Jessica Jones
– “What Is Human?”, Sense8
– “4,722 Hours”, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I’m not all that enthused on this list. They’re decent episodes, but a lot of the TV I’m watching these days works best as single long works.

Best Fan Writer
– Foz Meadows
– Abigail Nussbaum

I don’t keep up with a lot of fan writers, but these two I do are consistently good.

Campbell Award for Best New Writer
– Alyssa Wong
– Sunil Patel
– Isabel Yap

I’ve not read a whole lot of work by these three, but what I have has been strong.

The following categories were left blank, because I don’t really know what to do with them:
Best Editor (Long Form)
Best Editor (Short Form)
Best Semiprozine
Best Fanzine
Best Fancast
Best Fan Artist

Read in 2015 – Books

Though it won’t look it on the list below, this was a slow reading year for me. I got off to a good start with my Hugo reading at the beginning of the year, but I think I read less than a book a month for the last 6 months or so. Propping up that end of the list is my dive into Discworld audiobooks, which I listened to one my walk to and from work every day – I’ve made it from the 15th to the 39th novel in that series. I only actually sat down and read 19 books in prose form; I only read 2 books that were not newly released in 2014 or 2015.

There is a hell of a lot of good stuff in my short list for 2015, though. My favorite reads of the year were The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, The Goblin Emperor, The Grace of Kings, and Ancillary Mercy.

The Girl with All the Gifts – M R Carey
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club – Genevieve Valentine
Love is the Drug – Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison
Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
Men At Arms – Terry Pratchett
The Three-Body Problem – Cixin Liu
Soul Music – Terry Pratchett
Interesting Times – Terry Pratchett
A Darker Shade of Magic – V E Schwab
The Girl in the Road – Monica Byrne
Maskerade – Terry Pratchett
Feet of Clay – Terry Pratchett
Get in Trouble – Kelly Link
The Hogfather – Terry Pratchett
Jingo – Terry Pratchett
The Familiar volume 1 – Mark Z Danielewski
The Last Continent – Terry Pratchett
The Last Colony – John Scalzi
Carpe Jugulum – Terry Pratchett
The Grace of Kings – Ken Liu
The Fifth Elephant – Terry Pratchett
The Truth – Terry Pratchett
Thief of Time – Terry Pratchett
The Last Hero – Terry Pratchett
The Lives of Tao – Wesley Chu
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents – Terry Pratchett
Night Watch – Terry Pratchett
The Wee Free Men – Terry Pratchett
Uprooted – Naomi Novik
Monstrous Regiment – Terry Pratchett
The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps – Kai Ashante Wilson
A Hat Full of Sky – Terry Pratchett
Going Postal – Terry Pratchett
Empire Ascendant – Kameron Hurley
Ancillary Mercy – Ann Leckie
Thud! – Terry Pratchett
Wintersmith – Terry Pratchett
Making Money – Terry Pratchett
Unseen Academicals – Terry Pratchett
Karen Memory – Elizabeth Bear
Seveneves – Neal Stephenson
I Shall Wear Midnight – Terry Pratchett
Snuff – Terry Pratchett

Hugo Award Results 2015

The Hugo Award winners were announced in the middle of the night (from my perspective, at least), and it looks like the anti-slate ballots won out. No Award prevailed in the all-Puppy categories, and Puppy nominees lost even in Dramatic Presentation: Short Form, where I’d expected Game of Thrones to take another award. I guess that episode being on the slates was just enough to tip the balance in favour of Orphan Black.

There’s only one results I have much of a disagreement with, as I don’t think Laura J. Mixon’s report on Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s history merited a Best Fan Writer award, but other than that the results are about as good as they could’ve been. (I also gave my reasoning in a previous post as to why I voted No Award above Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s novelette, but I’m more okay with that win.)

The detailed voting breakdowns were also released, letting us see exactly how the votes fell, and also the numbers on all the nominating ballots. There were almost 6000 total ballots cast for the awards, and from my first glance it looks like nearly 3000 people were No Awarding the Puppy slates in the major categories. By contrast, the Puppies swept the nominations with around 300 nominating ballots – most non-slate nominees got less than 100 votes. I see the gap between voting and nomination numbers as a big problem with the Hugos – while the voters on the final ballot tend to pick quality in the end, the works they’re choosing from are put on the shortlist by a relatively tiny minority, and it is incredibly easy to steal a category. In short fiction, the Puppies could have swept with only a third of the ballots they got.

The Puppy controversy got a lot of people to sign up to vote in the final awards this year, and I’m very interested now to see what happens to the nominations for next year. I suspect a lot of people don’t bother because they feel like they haven’t read enough; I’d encourage anyone who can to nominate works they enjoyed anyway. It’s easier to get a nominating membership than a voting one – you only have to be a member of one Worldcon to get nominating rights for three years (you can nominate the year before and the year after your membership); you have to buy membership every year to vote.

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In other, more exciting news (for me, anyway), Helsinki won the vote to host Worldcon 75 in 2017! I intend to attend this one, my second ever Worldcon after Loncon3. I’m happy to see another European Worldcon not just because I can attend, but also because the Worldcons tend to spend the majority of years in the U.S., which is great for American fans (and yes, they remain the majority of Worldcon attendees), but not very good for the “world” part of Worldcon. Next year the convention is in America for the 5th time in 6 years, and the bids for 2018 are all American so far – a win for the main alternative, Washington D.C., most likely would have meant 8 U.S. Worldcons in a decade.

So, congratulations to the Helsinki in 2017 bid, I look forward to visiting Finland in a couple of years.

How I Voted on the Hugos

Here’s how my final ballot looks, with a few comments on my decision making.

Best Novel
1. Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie
2. The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison
3. The Three-Body Problem – Liu Cixin (trans. Ken Liu)

Personal taste making a lot of difference here. A lot of people have praised the Three-Body Problem highly, but it just didn’t quite do it for me.

Best Novella
1. No Award

Best Novelette
1. No Award
2. The Day the World Turned Upside Down – Thomas Olde Heuvelt

This was an odd one for me. I read Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s story, and while it wasn’t bad, I just couldn’t say it was as good as or better than the works I nominated for this category. If I had read it prior to nominating, I don’t think I would have considered it. So it goes under No Award.

Best Short Story
1. No Award

Best Related Work
1. No Award

Best Graphic Story
1. Sex Criminals vol. 1 – Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky
2. Ms. Marvel vol. 1 – G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona & Jake Wyatt
3. Rat Queens vol. 1 – Kurtis J. Weibe & Roc Upchurch
4. Saga vol. 3 – Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
5. No Award

The best category on the ballot. This was a tough call, as all four of the above are great. I think my personal hype for Saga has died off a bit, so ultimately after a little thought I placed it below the other three. Ms. Marvel is one of the best titles coming out from the “big two” publishers right now, and Rat Queens is a lot of fun, but I had to give the edge to the excellent and hilarious Sex Criminals.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)
1. Guardians of the Galaxy
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
3. Edge of Tomorrow
4. Interstellar

Another category that was tough to call. Guardians got the top because it’s one of the only films I’ve enjoyed so much I went back to see it a second time. (Bring on next year, when I’ll be championing Mad Max: Fury Road all the way.)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)
1. Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”
2. Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper”

This is more a nod to the show Orphan Black than the episode itself, which maybe contradicts my voting strategy in other places. I nominated the penultimate episode, and thought the finale was a bit dumb. Oh well.

Best Semiprozine
1. Beneath Ceaseless Skies
2. Lightspeed Magazine
3. Strange Horizons

I don’t understand why this category exists, when “Best Prozine” doesn’t. Anyway! Three fiction venues I’ve read a helluva lot of good stories from in the past year.

Best Fan Writer
1. No Award

Best Professional Editor (Long and Short Form), Best Professional Artist, Best Fan Artist, Best Fanzine, Best Fancast, John W. Campbell Award
I did not vote in these categories, generally due to not being familiar with the nominees.

Your Favourites Are Not Objective

Title is stating the obvious, right? You’d think.

First up, go read this post on Tor.com by Liz Bourke. It’s an old story: a couple of famous white male authors listed their favourite writers. Their lists were entirely white and male. Liz Bourke argues, quite rightly, that this was avoidable, and that people have a responsibility to think about who they’re including or excluding when they make such lists.

Cue the comments, which were flooded with (presumably) white, male readers making the oh-so-predictable response: why should the authors’ identities affect what is their favourite? It sounds reasonable, until you actually apply some thought to the issue.

If I asked you to name your ten favourite authors, could you do so easily, without hesitation? All ten? I couldn’t. Thing is, a lot of authors have very different things that make them good, that are hard to rank directly against one another. I dare say that after the first few names, most people would be stopping to consider whether to include author A at the expense of author B. I myself would probably name author A on one day, and then author B when asked the same question a week later – and both lists would be equally true. “Favourite” is a tricky thing to narrow down, and any list of favourites is going to be, on some level, a deliberately curated selection, not an absolute answer.

So, your list of ten favourites is not actually a list of favourites. But what does this have to do with the diversity of the list? Well, a lack of diversity in your list of favourites can mean a few things. The article above points out that, statistically speaking, a list is unlikely to be entirely white and male by chance alone. If the identity of an author did not factor in at all, lists like that would be far less common. So what are the reasons your favourites are all white men?

1) The books you read are all by white men. This is unlikely to happen by accident – 51% of the population is female – so a bias must exist somewhere. This could be systematic bias in publishing and marketing. It could be that you yourself have a bias – conscious or not – when choosing what to read. And of course it could be because these recommendation lists we’re talking about already disproportionately favour white male authors. (It’s actually all three.) In any case, this suggests you’re not choosing your “favourites” from a representative sample, and you should maybe start to think more about who you’re choosing to read.

2) You like the books you read by white men more. Say this the wrong way and it sounds bad, right? You’re not sexist or racist, it’s just that these books you like happen to be by white men! Think, however, about what this really implies. As I’ve said above, it’s unlikely to happen by chance. There are two explanations: either you’re saying that white men are just better at writing good books, or you’re not reading the right non-white and/or non-male authors. The answer, again, is to pay more attention and try to read more diversely.

3) You enjoy writers of all backgrounds, but you’re choosing to only include white men in your list of recommendations… for some reason. You like author B well enough, but you’re going to put author A on your list. Truth be told, there’s not much between the two, and a list with author B wouldn’t really be less representative of your tastes, but you want to be as close to your absolute top ten favourites as possible. Why should it matter if you then look at the list and realise that decision means your list has no women on it? It’s your favourites, right? Because of points 1 and 2, that’s why. When you could publish a list that included some diversity, without really compromising your tastes, but choose not to, you’re adding to the bias that leads to other people not reading those diverse voices, which continues the cycle of bias in recommendation and reading choices and keeps non-male and non-white writers underrepresented.

Point 3 is why Liz Bourke talks about people having a responsibility to include diversity. The fact that recommendations completely lacking in diversity are so common demonstrates that there’s a widespread bias that goes against the common sense that writers of different backgrounds should all be equally capable of writing good books. This bias is not something that will correct itself, spontaneously, but it something that can only be countered by being more conscious of what we read, and what we recommend others read.

It should be weird to look at the books you’ve been reading and realise they’re all by men. If you write down your favourites and, against all probability, they’re all white men, it should make you wonder what’s been missed out.

Listening to the Discworld

For the last few months, I’ve been listening to Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels on audiobook. I’d read a lot of the books when I was in school, and always meant to get back to it sometime. I guess Pratchett’s death finally prompted me to do it.

I started where I had left off almost 15 years ago, downloading Men at Arms, the 15th Discworld novel. I can hardly remember what happened in the earlier books now, but it was easy enough to pick it up here. Men at Arms was excellent; almost 10 books further down, it’s still one of the best I’ve listened to. The City Watch books seem to stand uniformly above the others – there’s something about coming back to these characters, the city of Ankh-Morpork, and the kind of stories Pratchett tells through them that appeals to me more than do the Witches, Rincewind, or Susan Sto Helit.

It’s interesting to hear the way Pratchett builds upon the Discworld, on its places and characters, book by book. Each one take up something new, expands upon ideas introduced in earlier books, and works to create this rich, living world with strong continuity which nevertheless manages to stay accessible at each step. Pratchett’s is an oeuvre of strong stand-alone novels that you could pick up individually at any point, but are all the more rewarding when you’ve read those that come before.

I hadn’t listened to audiobooks before, but it seemed the most convenient way to fit them into my schedule. Listening to the audio production of a book has been quite a different experience from reading them; it took me some time to get used to the narrator, Nigel Planer, because his voice was so far from what I would have given the books in my own mind. But I soon grew accustomed to him, and to the distinct and recognisable voices he gave to each of the many characters, to the point that when the narrator changed – on The Fifth Elephant, the book I’m currently listening to, which is read by Stephen Briggs – it all felt very wrong (I’ve spent the early chapters repeatedly thinking “that’s not what he/she’s supposed to sound like!”). Still, whoever’s reading them, it’s Terry Pratchett’s words, his wit, and most of all his characters that shine through.

If you’ve never visited the Discworld before, I can highly recommend it. Pratchett’s work is funny, finely crafted, and full of heart. (Many readers would recommend starting with the completely standalone Small Gods.) I only feel sorry that at the pace I’m getting through them, I’ll run out of his books all too soon.