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Catching up with Hugo-eligible works

It’s Hugo Awards nomination time again!

The nomination period for the 2016-2017 Hugo Awards is now open. If you’re a member of last year’s Midamericon in Kansas City, this year’s Worldcon 75 in Helsinki or next year’s Worldcon 76 in San Jose, you can nominate your favourite Sci-Fi & Fantasy works of 2016 for a Hugo Awards in a whole host of categories.

Every year I try to read works as they are being published but I end up falling behind because there are just So. Many. Great. Books.
As a side effect, come Hugo nomination time, I’m left with a very small field of works I’ve actually read or watched and I have to leave blank spots in my nomination ballot which I just don’t like doing.

Shockingly it happened again in 2016 & there’s some catch up to do…

Here’s what I read and watched in 2016 that’s eligible:
  • Novels: Ghost Talkers, False Hearts, Obelisk Gate, The Family Plot
  • Novella: Every Heart A Doorway, Forest of Memory
  • Novelette: Superior
  • Short stories: None. Absolute FAIL.
  • Graphic novels: Descender Vol 2, Saga Vol 6
  • Films: Arrival
  • TV: Game of Thrones, Doctor Who

I’d be happy to put most of these on my ballot (Every Heart A Doorway and Superior will definitely be on there, as both made my Favourite Reads of 2016 list). But I would still love to have a wider selection to pick from, so I decided to get some reading & some watching done…

Making it into a bit of a project to make it more fun:

For the next three months, I’ll try and read, watch and consume some works that came out in 2016 – stuff I heard was good, or stuff I wanted to get to but didn’t – and then hopefully by the end of three months I’ll have a wider pool of eligible works to nominate from.

I decided to keep all of this fairly casual and not put too much pressure on myself. Instead of targeting things I should *absolutely* get to, I just amassed a giant list of STUFF that fits the bill, with help from Renay’s excellent Hugo Eligibility Spreadsheet of Doom. My own personal Hugo List of Doom is 4 pages long so far, with a full page dedicated to short stories!

That might seem daunting, but since I already know I won’t get through everything, I don’t feel pressured to try and get to everything. I’ve printed out a copy of The Hugo List of Doom, and I’ve started marking works off with a highlighter once I’ve checked them out. To me, that smattering of colour throughout The Hugo List of Doom proves that I gave the project a good try, and it’s satisfaction enough on its own.

If you have any recommendations for Hugo-eligible things I should try to get to before the end of the nomination period in March, let me know in the comments!

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The Obelisk Gate – Review

26228034Author: N.K. Jemisin
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit
Date: August 2016
Source: ARC (publisher)
Buy the BookGoodreads

The season of endings grows darker as civilization fades into the long cold night. Alabaster Tenring – madman, world-crusher, savior – has returned with a mission: to train his successor, Essun, and thus seal the fate of the Stillness forever. It continues with a lost daughter found by the enemy, with the obelisks and an ancient mystery converging on answers at last.

The Stillness is the wall which stands against the flow of tradition, the spark of hope long buried under the thickening ashfall. And it will not be broken.

This is quite a tricky book for me to rate and review because while it’s clearly very well written, I didn’t find it as enjoyable a read as The Fifth Season. I’m glad that I did read it because I’m still interested in the story and characters, but I found it a difficult read – very much worth the extra time and attention but still, not an easy reading experience.

In my review of The Fifth Season, I mentioned that Essun’s point of view was my least favourite since it’s narrated in second person. Once again, the writing of the second person narration is impressively well-handled, as is the reveal that one of the characters is in fact the narrator. This was such a smooth transition that I couldn’t remember if it had been introduced in The Fifth Season, or if it was new information. And yet, I still found the second person point of view difficult to read. It still felt weird and occasionally jarring to me.

The second point of view character introduced in this book is Essun’s daughter, Nassun, who is mentioned throughout the previous book, but who we haven’t yet properly met on the page. I enjoyed Nassun’s point of view a lot, and it was great to see her transform into a character in her own right, when she had been little more than a source of motivation for her mother in The Fitfh Season. It’s fascinating to get Nassun’s take on things, which is so different from her mother’s. Seeing this child’s interpretation of Essun’s careful teaching really underlines the sacrifices Orogenes face in this world for the sake of absolute self-control, which is so crucial to their survival.

It was somewhat distressing to see Nassun align with her father in the full knowledge that he had killed her little brother Uche for being an Orogene. in further very troubling company, Nassun then begins to associate with a character who makes a surprise from The Fifth Season, with a bit a new personality (woot, amnesia & mind-control!). I particularly enjoyed seeing Nassun’s opinion of the people around her and of her distant mother evolve throughout the book. As Nassun grows older and learns more about Orogeny, her father and the Fulcrum, she adjusts her view of the important players in her life in a way that gave me hope for her in the future.

Much like its predecessor, the Obelisk Gate is incredibly brutal and includes scenes of body horror which some people might find a bit too much. I was okay with them, but it did make it a bit more difficult to take genuine enjoyment out of the book when I kept thinking ‘Great writing, very effective, EWWWW’. There was a lot of me cringing at the places Jemisin was willing to go and trying hard not to visualise. There’s a revelation right at the end of the book that makes a lot of sense and that I probably should have seen coming. I won’t say what it is, but I will say it’s making me weary about the amount of graphic description of body horror there will be in the next book. There are some things I don’t really want to read about happening to a main character I care about, especially not when the narration kept calling her ‘you’…

I’m not surprised that this wasn’t an easy read, nor I am saying it’s necessarily a bad thing. Not every book can or should be an easy or straightforward read, and this feels to me like it was written to be layered, subtle and wonderfully challenging. In The Obelisk Gate, Jemisin creates a fascinating and demanding story, whose depth and complexities are well worth taking the trouble to fully engage with.

4 stars

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My 8 Desert Island Books! #BAMB 2015

Books Are My Bag is a nationwide campaign to celebrate brick and mortar bookshops, because they are beautiful, magical places full of wonder. Books Are My Bag week happened a few weeks back (I know this post is a bit behind the times, but it’s been a hectic month!) and I got myself some nifty swag, including this adorable tote bag:

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This year, the folks at Books Are My Bag challenged us to come up with our ‘Desert Island Reads’, ie. the eight books we would take to a desert island. In the spirit of approaching things like a grown-up, I will not go with my first answer of “Seven Harry Potter books and the script of the new play” and I will make an actual list:

1) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, JK Rowling
I couldn’t very well *not* include a Harry Potter book, now, could I? Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite, because it features my lovelies Sirius & Remus, WHO ARE BOTH FINE AND DANDY, don’t you dare!

 2) Dragonsinger, Anne McCaffrey
This is my favourite Dragonriders of Pern book, although it does have problematic things in it, because well- PERN. I re-read it about once a year.

3) His Dark Materials Omnibus, Philip Pullman
I am totally having the omnibus edition of all three books, because it isn’t cheating since it’s all in one physical book. Also I’ve not re-read these since my teens & I really want to.

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4) Ship of Magic, Robin Hobb
This one was harder to choose: it’s the first in The Liveship Traders trilogy, which I dearly love, but I also haven’t re-read it in years, so I feel like I’d be dissatisfied when I was done with this one book & didn’t have the other two. There’s no omnibus – you better believe I checked.

5) Of Noble Family, Mary Robinette Kowal
The final book in the Glamourist Histories & my favourite of the lot. It has some really cool study-of-magic-as-science aspects, especially relevant to my interests because they discuss the language they use a lot, and I LOVE that. Kowal also makes each book can stand alone, so it wouldn’t matter so much if I could never re-read the first four.

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And now, because I’m greatly daring & possibly very foolish, I pick three books I haven’t read yet to come with me on a desert island forever.

6) The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K LeGuin
I know from other works I’ve read of LeGuin’s that I enjoy her sparse style and that I’m engaged with the themes she chooses to focus on. So many people whose opinion I trust love this book, I’m confident I would like it too. Honestly the only reason I haven’t read it yet is that I’ve not really felt like I had the time/brain space to properly concentrate on it. I bet that’ll be a big problem on the desert island.

7) Hogfather, Terry Pratchett
I’m slowly catching up with the Discworld after making a late start into the series. I’d pick Hogfather because,as far as I know, it’s one of the more stand-alone ones. It might also be nice to have a book that’s a bit more festive (although it might just upset me if I’m all alone on a desert island…).

8) Fevre Dream, George RR Martin
I love Martin’s writing, but I can’t pick one of the Song of Ice and Fire books. I love them but we have two more books to go & I wouldn’t want to spend my desert island days being reminded that I have no idea how the series wraps up!

Fevre Dream is one of Martin’s earlier novels, it’s a standalone about vampires & it’s very well regarded, so I’d go for that one.

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Let me know what you think of these picks in the comments below, would you choose any of the same books or just a completely different list?

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Top Ten Books on my TBR for Summer 2015

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I’m much more of mood reader than a seasonal reader, so this list of Summer Reads probably won’t be very summery (lots of space doom), but it’s always fun to take a snapshot of what I’m hoping to read in the near future!

After I saw the beautiful trailer for The Martian, I couldn’t stop thinking about the story and just had to listen to the audiobook again. I liked it just as much as the first time, despite knowing what would happen, and it still made me tear up in places. So now I’m in the mood for Sci-Fi, SCI-FI, and MORE SCI-FI.

Luckily I had three shiny Audible credits, so I treated myself to:

1. Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson
I saw this one featured on Audible’s main page and I picked it up because Elizabeth at Books and Pieces recently gushed about it. Good enough for me! I’ve just started listening to it today & the moon’s already exploded. :)

2. Century Rain, by Alastair Reynolds
I asked for recent SFF recommendations on Twitter and this is one of the books that was mentioned. The blurb says it’s about a space archaeologist who rediscovers Earth. Yes, please!

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3. Space Chronicles, by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Audible suggested this one to me and I hesitated approximately 0.415186 of a second. I love popular science books and I loved Neil Tyson when I heard him speak on various science podcasts. Also his twitter is pretty amazing.

Next, I want to read some of the books I’ve already got on my shelves as the unread books are piling up and guilt-tripping me into not buying new ones…

4. The Burning Dark, by Adam Christopher
This one is more space-horror than straight-up science-fiction, but it was recommended by my friend Nick Bryan, and I do have a copy at home. I just read & really enjoyed The Ghost Line, the new Elementary tie-in book that Adam Christopher wrote, so I feel good about trying one of his own titles. Also, check out the cover, I LOVE it!

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5. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
Nothing says summer like a post-apocalyptic novel about an acting troupe, right? I bought this one a few weeks ago after George R.R. Martin recommended it, and I can’t wait to give it a go. I suppose at least in this one the Earth won’t be doomed, like in my first two selections! The cover design is so gorgeous that I really hope I love Mandel’s writing, just so I can get her other titles & have a matching set.

6. The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl Geeks, by Sam Maggs
I pre-ordered this one & got it on the day of release. I’ve already rifled through & what I’ve seen had definitely made me smile. I’m not sure I need a handbook for being a girl geek or a fangirl, but I know this is the book of my people. I’m not going to read it straight away, I have a feeling I’ll need to add a bit levity to my summer reading if it gets too doom-and-gloomy.

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7. Yes Please, by Amy Poehler
I picked this up as an audiobook after watching quite a bit of Parks & Recreation recently. I love the show (and Leslie Knope of course!) so I was curious to read Poehler’s book. A lot of people on booktube really liked it so I’m looking forward to listening to this.

Finally here are three books I’ve been waiting to buy for a little while, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to contain myself when I go to Waterstones on Saturday to pick up another book I ordered for novel research…

8. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, by Julie Berry
A book about seven proper young ladies attempting to hide two murders and unmask a murderer? In a boarding school? In Victorian England? SIGN. ME. UP. Amazon & Goodreads both told me I should read this after I wish-listed & Want-to-read-ed Robin Stevens’ next Wongs & Wells book (which, incidentally, also comes out this summer) and it sounds about right. I’m very excited to dive into this, and it’s another one to cheer me up after all the space-death.

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9. Uprooted, by Naomi Novik
A brand new standalone based on Polish myth and folklore by the author of the Temeraire series!! I LOVE Naomi Novik’s writing and I’m not alone: Robin Hobb blurbed the book, Brandon Sanderson also said he loved it. I cannot wait. I’m dropping everything to read this the minute I get my grubby little hands on it. (So, Saturday.)

10. The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin, Elio M. Garcia Jr. & Linda Antonsson
I’ve been putting off getting this Game of Thrones companion book until Season Five finished so that I would have something to read in the long dark months with no book or TV episodes. On the bright, no character we love will be brutally killed in the next ten months!

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Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of these & if you have any recommendations for me based on this list. If you do your own list, please link back to The Broke and the Bookish, who created and hosts Top Ten Tuesday.

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Convention-Fest 2014!

As I’m sure everyone knows by now, the past fortnight had been filled with conventions and various other geeky things. Everybody else probably had their con reports done ages ago, but I got ill with a pretty darn impressive bout of con-plague right after coming home from Loncon, so I haven’t had time yet. So now that my insides have forgiven me for my wicked convention ways (all the snacking, all the coffee, none of the healthy stuff…), here are a few highlights of my con experience!

photo 1I went to Nine Worlds right from work on the opening night (Thursday 7th) and stayed until Sunday night. I had an absolute blast there, particularly as a bunch of my close friends & writing group buddies were going, and I also knew a bunch of other people from the London fannish scene. I’d booked the week between Nine Worlds and Loncon off work, so I used it to chill out and work on structural edits to The Paradise Swarm. I’m so glad I did this, I don’t know how I would have been anything but zombie-Claire for all of  Loncon if I hadn’t.

photo 3Then on the morning of Thursday 14th, I trekked down to the Excel Centre with a massive suitcase to attend Loncon3, which was my first WorldCon. I was also on staff, meaning I volunteered ahead of the con and had extra responsibilities for specific things (in my case, the Party Maven team! We walked around the Fan Village in the evenings being helpful and liaising with Ops. Shame I didn’t think to bring a pedometer!). I ended up doing way more than I’d expected which was really good fun although a bit taxing.

After I went home on Monday and searched my suitcase quite thoroughly at the front door, it became clear I’d lost my keys at the con! Luckily someone had brought them into the lost and found at the Excel and the staff there was extremely helpful, letting me send in a courier to get the keys back to my house.

On Tuesday, it was back to the office with me, with what I thought at the time was a little bit of a cold. That night, I went to the awesome George & Robin event at the Freemason Hall in Central London, which was super cool, because ROBIN HOBB!! GEORGE R. R. MARTIN!! The interview was really super interesting, especially when they started talking in more detail about the writing process and how they approach their work. I also got a gorgeous signed hardback of Robin Hobb’s latest novel, Fool’s Assassin, which is about Fitz! It is literally shiny.

photo (2)Of course, after that, my ‘little bit of a cold’ morphed into stomach flu and I had to take some time off sick. I’m feeling better now though, and I don’t think I’ll ever plan two back-to-back conventions like this. It was epically good fun, but I kind of feel like I’ve entirely lost the following week.

For 2015, I’m hoping I can make it to my first EasterCon and go to Nine Worlds again, as they are both in Heathrow and neither is too long, meaning I can take a few days off AFTER each con to recuperate. I’m never going back to the office the day after a con again!

Con Highlights:

Panels!

I went to a lot of panels over the last couple weeks so I couldn’t name them all, but there were some outstanding ones. At Nine Worlds, I loved The Vampire vs Werewolves vs Dragons vs Warlocks debate, which had authors debating the merits of each (dragons won); Paul Cornell’s Only a Moment panel; and the Costume talks in the fandom track, which had @Hello_Tailor discussing the impact of film/TV costumes on the narrative, and @whatkatie_did talking about stealth cosplay! At Loncon, my favourite was hands down the Diversity in YA panel, which had great panelists and moderation. I also really enjoyed the various Kaffeeklatsches and Literary Beers I got to attend, with Emma Newman, Mur Lafferty, Seanan McGuire & Mary Robinette Kowal.

Cosplay!

dariajaneI cosplayed all three days at Nine Worlds! My costumes weren’t the most involved I’ve ever had, but they were generally well received. In the end I got enough of Nine World’s new ‘Awesome Cosplay’ tokens to win a little goody bag with candy, a toy dinosaur and an ‘Outstanding Cosplay’ badge!!

On Friday, @Jenepel and I went as Daria and Jane, which was tons of fun, except that I wore a wig and contacts and pretty much no one recognised me as me. I kept having to point as my name tag and be all “Hi, we’re friends!”. On Saturday, I wore my Sally Skellington dress but without the white sleeves or face-paint. I think that worked well as a compromise between cosplay and looking like myself! On Sunday, I was Tank Girl, which was THE BEST to make, but which I forgot to take a picture of! Must dress in it again soon for photo-op!

Books!

photo 5I got some free books in my Nine Worlds welcome pack, at the Gollancz party there and from the Helsinki in 2017 bid (because I’d just supported it). I also bought lots of books, so now I have a nice stack of them. I even got a few signed. :)

New people!

I got to meet so many new people, from fans to writers I’ve admired for ages, with everyone in between; I can’t possibly name-check everybody (without forgetting some people and being rude). I knew fewer people at Loncon, but volunteering and being chatty do really help! Because a bunch of my friends were at Nine Worlds, hanging out in the bar there was great fun (except for the price of everything!) and led to meeting even more people. I had nice chats with people after the New Voices panels too!