Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Nebula Award Nominee: "The Waiting Stars", by Aliette de Bodard

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 0
"The Waiting Stars"
Aliette de Bodard
The Other Half of the Sky
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Novelette

Two stories. 

The first, that of Lan Nhen searching through what is an interstellar boneyard of derelict ships that have been attacked and abandoned.  She searches for her great-aunt's ship, a Mind Ship, which science fiction readers will recognize as being code for a sentient ship of some sort, whether it is a human mind controlling the ship or something similar one of Anne McCaffrey's brain ships that are alive in their own right.  Either way, a derelict Mind Ship is a horrible thing to contemplate, but Lan Nhen is hoping to restore and rescue the ship. 

The second is Catherine, a young woman who was rescued as a child "so that you wouldn't become brood mares for abominations."  She lives in the Institution, which seems to be a rehabilitative center to transition the children from the lives they once knew into citizens of the Galactics. That they were being made safe.  But, this also has the ring of American history and the treatment of Native American children being forced to give up their language and "savage" culture in the Americanizing schools in the late 1800's and early 1900's.  This isn't, by any means, a stretch of a comparison.  Given that Catherine and her fellow students / captives / dorm mates are described as being "smaller and darker skinned" and that "one only had to look at them, at their squatter, darker shapes, at the way their eyes crinkled when they laughed", the story of Lan Nhen suggests that these children were "rescued" from the more southwest Asian heritage of the Mind Ship families. Is there a similar history with the Vietnamese compared to the Native Americans?  Or, is the comparison too easy because of what I bring to the table as an American reader?  

While the two stories seemingly remain separate, it doesn't take long for the reader to see what de Bodard is doing here, how she is weaving the two together while letting the two stories run separately.  The two story strands make a much stronger whole than if either strand was the entire story.  

"The Waiting Stars" is a fantastic science fiction story, heart rending as the gradual reveal is given of what is going on with those children, now grown, are living with and dealing with. With what is left buried that is eating them from the inside out.  "The Waiting Stars" is good and it is smart. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Quoted: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, pg 13

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 0
"There was an odor in the air, a strong amalgamation of beer, cafeteria lasagna, bug spray, and piss." - Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, pg 13

I am only 50 some pages into this book and I want to quote something from nearly every other page.  This one, though, just sticks with me.  I can almost smell and choke on the odor. Such a perfect description.

Monday, April 14, 2014

2014 Pulitzer Prize Award for Fiction: The Goldfinch

Monday, April 14, 2014 0
The Pulitzer Prizes winners have been announced for 2014

The winner of the Pulitzer for Fiction is The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt.  Other finalists for fiction are The Son, by Philipp Meyer and The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, by Bob Shacochis.

At this point, I have read 49 of the 87 Pulitzer Prize winners.  My quest goes ever on.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Nebula Award Nominee: The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker

Friday, April 11, 2014 0
The Golem and the Jinni
Helene Wecker
Harper Collins: 2013
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Novel

New York City, 1899. A golem arrives on a steamship and escapes to find her way, masterless, in the city.  A jinni, trapped in a copper flask for one thousand years, is released by a tinsmith. 

From the author's website:

Each unknown to the other, the Golem and the Jinni explore the strange and altogether human city. Chava, as a kind old rabbi names her, is beset by the desires and wishes of others, which she can feel tugging at her. Ahmad, christened by the tinsmith who makes him his apprentice, is aggravated by human dullness. Both must work to create places for themselves in this new world, and develop tentative relationships with the people who surround them.

Helene Wecker posits a world in which cultural mythology is real, where the Jewish mysticism and magic that allows someone to create a facsimile of life out of clay is possible, and where intelligent spirits of fire really do exist out in the deserts of the Middle East.  She has done so, and then she places these two creatures in the turn of the century New York City and surrounds them, initially, with caring individuals who welcome them into their lives.  This is important, because it provides the opportunity for the reader to become immersed in the various immigrant pockets of the city and into the lives of the Golem and the Jinni as they, respectively, figure out who they are and how to exist in this world so far from what they know. 

The conflict here, however, is much more than these two beings passing as human and the inherent struggle that presents when one is a creature of fire in a city surrounded by water and the other doesn't breathe, can hear thoughts and desires, and has only been alive for several months.  Though, that by itself is enough to tell a story.  It's just not all that Wecker is doing with this novel.  There is more, and it begins to set up fairly early in the novel, but saying more about how Wecker weaves all of this together is to lessen the impact. 

But, lessening the impact of seeing how everything fits together is also a minor concern because the true impact of The Golem and the Jinni is how beautifully written and constructed this novel is.  It is easy to get lost in this early New York City, and while we may believe that it is fraught with peril and dirt and grime of industry, it is also beautiful and haunting and full of the promise that is the new world and a second and third chance for the immigrants coming to find something new, different, or better.  That exists in The Golem and the Jinni and it comes across well. 

The Golem and the Jinni is surely one of the best novels published last year and the most remarkable thing about it is that this is the debut novel from Helene Wecker. It is a stunning work of fiction, beautiful and moving and all of the other superlatives I could come up with to pile on top. I say this in April, but this will be one of my favorite reads of the year. I have no doubt.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Nebula Award Nominee: "They Shall Salt the Earth With Seeds of Glass"

Thursday, April 10, 2014 0
"They Shall Salt the Earth With Seeds of Glass"
Alaya Dawn Johnson
Asimov's: January 2013
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Novelette

I want a novel length version of this, or at least set in this world.  I want to know more, so much more.

No one knows what they really look like. They only interact with us through their remote-controlled robots. Maybe they’re made of glass themselves – they give us pregnancy kits, but won’t bother with burn dressings. Dad says the glassmen are alien scientists studying our behavior, like a human would smash an anthill to see how they scatter. Reverand Beale always points to the pipeline a hundred miles west of us. They’re just men stealing our resources, he says, like the white man stole the Africans’, though even he can’t say what those resources might be.

The title refers to bomb fragments the aliens, the glassmen, have dropped. The bombs look like little jewels waiting for a child to pick them up, except picking it up is death by explosion.  Are the bombs just bombs, like seeding a road with land mines?  Do they have another purpose?  Does it matter?  I don't know, but this setting of a ruined future is so perfectly created that I am left with the desire for more and more.

The story itself is of two sisters and the new challenge provided by the pregnancy of the younger woman.  Her desire for an abortion in a society where so many services have been destroyed by the glassmen is the driving force of the narrative, and it is a well told story that moves the sisters through this world and into parts of the land they had not been to.

The wonder here is in trying to piece together what happened to this America (and, presumably, the world at large), what the glassmen are and how they interact with humans.  Nothing is ever fully explained, but the reader comes away with a fairly solid idea of how this all pieces together.  It's fascinating and, beyond just the story that Johnson is telling, it leaves the reader wanting more.  Maybe more of these two sisters, maybe more of the "terrorists" the glassmen are concerned about, maybe just more of everything. 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

More Eternal Sky!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014 0
I'm not going to mess around here. The big news of the day is that as part of a Big Idea post over on Scalzi's Whatever, Elizabeth Bear announced that there will be at least three more Eternal Sky novels coming down the pipeline in the future. 

Today is release day for the third book in the Eternal Sky trilogy, The Steles of the Sky.  I am sad to report that I have, so far, only read the first book: Range of Ghosts (my review). Range of Ghosts, however, is stunningly good and I will be quickly moving onto to the following two volumes. 

Bear had this to say:

While Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, and Steles of the Sky comprise a complete story arc in and of themselves, I can now reveal that Tor will be publishing at least three more books in this world. We came to an agreement late last month, and I can tell you this–here, exclusively:

This second trilogy, The Lotus Kingdoms, will follow the adventures of two mismatched mercenaries–a metal automaton and a masterless swordsman–who become embroiled in the deadly interkingdom and interfamilial politics in a sweltering tropical land.

Look for them starting in 2017.

You should read these books, and everything else that Bear has written (she's that friggin good).  We have a bit of a wait, given that we are three years out from the first Lotus Kingdom novel, but that's plenty of time to build up some solid anticipation.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Cover Art: The Steles of the Sky

Monday, April 07, 2014 0
Since tomorrow is Book Day for The Steles of the Sky, let's look at the gorgeous cover art from Donato Giancola. There is so much going on in the cover, look at the mountains in the background of the swirls. Look at the plains.  Look at everything. Stunning, and it gets better the deeper you look.

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