Before my wife gifted me a copy of her book Life in Code for Christmas, I’d never heard of Ellen Ullman despite her long, impressive career as a programmer, software engineer, and author. Turns out, I’ve been missing out on one our the sharpest and most insightful writers on tech, culture, and feminism. Ullman is witty and broadly experienced, and has a terrific voice that flits between amusing and professionally rich without batting an eye. I know who Ullman is now, and, boy am I sorry it took me so long to find her.
(And major thanks to my wife for putting in work and research to find an absolute GEM of a book.)
Life in Code is a collection of Ullman’s essays ranging from the late ’90s to days after the 2017 US presidential inauguration. Posited as an auto-biographical account of her experience as a woman in a male-dominated industry and culture, Life is Code is also a biography of technology and web culture over the past 20 years. It’s a detailed, real-time look at all the mistakes we’ve made as we’ve chased the ghost in the machine and the allure of fast, endless capital at the expense of privacy and social safety nets.
As 2019 tipped into 2020, readers started compiling their lists of the best books of the decade. I thought long and hard, but the only book I had any certainty about was the decade’s best: a debut novel from Erin Morgenstern called The Night Circus. With a tenacity matched by few other books, The Night Circus has not left me since I first read it years ago.
The Night Circus is a classic novel that will sit on the highest shelf of my bookshelf, right next to The Hobbit and The Shadow of the Wind. … There’s magic in this novel and it deserves to be read by anyone wanting to be reminded that there is more to life than meets the eye.
Usually when I liken a book to two all-time classic, the comparison begins to show its age as the days, weeks, and years pass?—but not so with The Night Circus. If anything, the comparison seems more fair to me now than it did then, especially after having read Morgenstern’s much awaited follow-up, The Starless Sea. Like Tolkien and Zafon’s novels, The Night Circus is a book for the ages.
This was a lighter year of fiction for me as I focus on completing the first draft of my novel project, The Thousand Shattered Gods, with just one piece eligible for “Best Short Story.” I am also personally eligible for “Best Fan Writer” for the reviews, essays, commentary, news coverage, and other non-fiction work I produced for Tor.com, Barnes & Noble SFF Blog, Uncanny Magazine, here on my blog, and via Twitter. I also had notable (but ineligible for “Best Fan Writer”) work in Kotaku and EGMNOW.
Rewind 26 years, and you’ll find me and my best friend bundled up in our jackets sitting on our school playground about an hour before the bell rings. Breath is fogging in front of our faces. We don’t notice. The tips of our fingers are cold. We don’t care. Our eyes are glued to the boxy grey devices in our hands. Through a tiny 4.5″ screen, we’ve been transported wholly to Koholint Island.
We’re playing The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on the Gameboy. It’s an adventure I’ve never forgotten.
It feels like hype for Tamsyn Muir’s debut novel about necromantic lesbians, bone citadels, rockin’ adventures, tantalizing mysteries, wicked sword fights, and many, many reanimated corpses has been building for YEARS. It was earlier this year, however, when it really started to catch my attention. Isabel Yap, who’s been championing the book since its earliest days, popped onto Twitter and blew my socks off by callingGideon the Ninth “the closest thing to a JRPG in novel form.”
As an older millennial, I grew up in a post-Chernobyl world. I’ve been aware of the incident for my entire life, without ever knowing the truth of it. I knew Pripyat from a few video games I’d played—its mystique as a ghost town overshadowing the reality that tens of thousands of people had their lives uprooted and never truly destroyed because of the disaster at the nearby nuclear power platn. An equal number of people have died (and continue to die) because of the accident. This happened in my life time, while I was toddling about my home, searching for crumbs and toys, but it always had the feeling of a far-off myth or something out of a storybook. Living in Canada, I had the privilege to know about it, but not know about it.
HBO’s Chernobyl was released earlier this year to rave reviews. I thought I knew about the Chernobyl incident because I was vaguely aware of how nuclear reactors operated (thanks to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011) and how government bureaucracy led to the disaster being worse than it should have been. I thought back to Call of Duty. I had no idea what I was in for when I sat down for watch Chernobyl—written by the guy who wrote Scary Movie 3 and The Hangover Part II, no less—but I walked away from the absolutely pitch perfect first episode reeling, unable to fall asleep. It was dark and bleak, angry, hopeless, terrifying.
One of the benefits of being a part of the vast SFF community is making great friends. One of the benefits of those great friends is the opportunity to read their books early. I consider myself fortunate to count Sarah Gailey among those friends. They’re smart, funny, dynamic, and have a range to their writing that few other authors can match. I had an opportunity to read their first novel a couple of years ago, back when it had a different title, and it’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve been on the edge of my seat WAITING until it was released ever since then so I could scream at everybody I know to read it. It’s out now, called Magic for Liars, I’ve read the final version, and, y’all, it’s GOOD.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I felt my previous involvement with the novel meant it would be in poor taste for me to review it for a professional venue—but, here on my blog, I can say whatever I want. So:
Last week, Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade was released with much fan fare and critical acclaim. Over on Tor.com, I said, “The Light Brigade is a standout novel in Kameron Hurley’s already impressive career. It’ll get your pulse pounding, your blood boiling, and your heart aching. It’ll make you angry, scared, and, at the most unexpected moments, hopeful. The history of Military SF novels is long and storied, but Hurley’s work can stand up with the best of them.”
In the tradition of Heinlein and Haldeman, The Light Brigade is a Military SF novel that explores one soldier’s tumultuous, asynchronous experience through a war between Earth and Mars.
Here’s a little more from my review:
Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade is the latest in this line of novels to modernize Heinlein’s classic tale, and like those that have come before, it too is an important, critical look at the role of how war bends and warps modern society. It is also every bit as good as The Forever War and Old Man’s War, and has the potential to become the next great Military SF classic.
Aidan Moher, Tor.com
Among its myriad themes are explorations of war’s toll, anti-capitalism, personal motivation, xenophobia, media manipulation, and vengeance. If it sounds heady, it is. Hurley digs into these themes with a razor-sharp scalpel, connecting each of them inextricably tight to the novel’s plot and characters. To further explore these themes and the story behind the novel, I caught up with Hurley for a chat about The Light Brigade, its influences, time travel, and what the future can tell us about the present.