But, they’re good thoughts! I’ve left my hot takes at home this year. (They were mainly about raisins in cookies, and, well, seemed off topic…)
I gained a reputation in past years for fiery hot takes about the Hugo ballots, but, to be honest, over recent years, I think we’ve seen a push toward an incredibly deep and diverse ballot full of varied creators and works. This list feels like it represents the tone and tenor of SFF in 2019. And that’s the highest compliment I can pay a ballot.
I’m going to skip around the ballot this year and comment on the categories that I have strong opinions about. I didn’t read much short fiction this year, for instance, so I’ll move past those. I always enjoy this time of year, however, when I get to go back and enjoy the best short fiction from the year before, and I’ll be doing that again this year.
The major trend I see here (and one I accept with open arms) is that there are a lot of new names on the ballot, and the first signs of change in the fan categories as we see fan writers and publications from new mediums (like BookTube) begin to appear on the ballot. It’s a wonderful sign of health for the awards. Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe how much the Hugos have changed and evolved over the past decade as more and more fans from online SFF fandom have become involved.
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.
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.”
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.
Recently, I had the chance to read two very different but equally kick ass science fiction novels by two brilliant women. Funny enough, they’re also both published by Saga Press, a relatively new imprint that has been producing some of the genre’s best novels over the past few years. So, cheers to Joe Monti and Navah Wolfe at Saga for their vision and taste.
That one-eyed drake swam up from the ‘glades one stormy night—big as a house, silent as a mouse. Might’ve been the same one that killed my third husband. Who knows? Was watchin’ my stories, mindin’ my own when I saw it through the window. Rose up by the riverside pen, shadow over the moon, wings drippin’ mud, scales blinkin’ star-like, teeth long as a dagger.
“Grandmother Kills Massive River Drake After It Ate Her Goat” is a 630 word flash story about a grandma who rediscovers the thrill of moon magic and embarks on a quest for vengeance after an enormous river drake eats her favourite goat.
My genre fiction bread and butter is definitely epic fantasy. So, naturally, my two latest reviews, both on the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, are near-future thrillers that dig deep into current socio-political issues through their action-packed plots.
Street Freaks by Terry Brooks
Street Freaks is Terry Brooks like you’ve never read him before, but it also manages to strike a fine balance between the bold and the familiar. If you’ve finished Red Rising and The Darkest Minds, and are looking for more, this one will satisfy. It’s fun, progressive, relentlessly paced, and full-to-the-brim with interesting people. Unlike epic fantasy in the ’70s, science fiction doesn’t need saving exactly, but Street Freaks shows that Brooks has it, no matter the genre.
Red Moon is another wonderful Kim Stanley Robinson novel, and all that implies. If it lacks the scope of some of his earlier works, it more than makes up for it with the ambitiousness of its themes, its breakneck pace, and its thoughtful examination of the way societies evolve organically during times of upheaval.
If Andy Weir’s Artemis showed us the perils of surviving on the moon. Red Moon takes it one step beyond, showing us the uncertainly that comes from powerful competing interests vying for control of a new resource—even one that’s been staring us in the face for at least as long as we’ve been around to look up at the sky, and wonder.
Wherein I muse about a particular writing tick, and discuss how I turned it from a flaw into a strength.
?? WRITING THREAD! One of my major ticks is that my first drafts are overflowing with similes. Like, chockfull to bursting. Everything looks or feels or sounds or emotes like something else. Now that I’m aware of it, I work to smooth this out on subsequent drafts. 1/5
BUT, I also just go with it in that first draft. I used to fight it until I realized that they’re the result of my writers brain searching for the right texture, colour, and emotion for the story. Seeking to connect my inner feelings to the text. 2/5
Earlier this year, I was blown away by Sam J. Miller’s debut YA novel, The Art of Starving. It was a beautiful, raw, warm, funny, and heartbreaking experience. I was already familiar with Miller’s short fiction, but that did little to prepare me for the emotional rollercoaster of protagonist Matt’s journey of self-discovery, super powers, and overcoming the perilous challenges of teenagedom.
Finishing The Art of Starving was like adding rocket fuel to my anticipation for Blackfish City, Miller’s debut adult novel. As soon as it released, I bought an audiobook copy, and, boy howdy, Miller’s outdone himself. Blackfish City is a tour-de-force of incredible, prescient worldbuilding, lush prose, and characters that are achingly real.
The eponymous city, called Qaanaaq, is a floating refugee city ruled by crime syndicates and landlords. It was constructed in the Arctic Circle, post climate change-fueled worldwide flooding, and, like any city populated by people fleeing dead or dying cultures and societies, is rich and diverse, but also suffers from many challenges. Blackfish City follows four people—Kaev, Soq, Fill, and Ankat—and their intertwined conflicts. Life in Qaanaaq is disrupted by the arrival of the Orcamancer, a woman riding an Orca, accompanied by a polar bear, and it soon becomes apparent that the lives and fates of Kaev, Soq, Fill, and Ankat are entwined with the mysterious visitor’s arrival. It’s a story about privilege and self-identification, hope, colliding cultures, and oppression. Like all of Miller’s work, it has a lot to say about the state of the world, and the dangers we face moving forward if things don’t change.