Monday, January 31, 2011

some short story recs

Rachel Swirsky offers up her recommendations (and her nominations) for the coming awards season. Short Stories.  I hope she has similar posts lined up for novelettes and novellas. 

I've been chipping away at my reading for my Hugo nominations and will have a post on that in the next few weeks when I finalize what I've been able to get to.  Swirsky's list helps. 

One thing I will say, though - Jennifer Pelland's "Ghosts of New York" will be on my ballot.  Fantastic story.  I'm not coming across five stories to top it.  Y'all should read it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Sea Thy Mistress, by Elizabeth Bear

The Sea Thy Mistress
Elizabeth Bear
Tor: 2011

The Sea Thy Mistress is filled with pain. The novel is a sequel to *both* All the Windwracked Stars (review) and By the Mountain Bound (review). Elizabeth Bear’s The Edda of Burdens is an unconventional trilogy, one where the second novel is set some two thousand years before the first. The third, fifty years after the first novel. Yet, The Sea Thy Mistress is a true sequel to each novel, continuing and finishing the story arcs began in each. The pain of the characters here is old, decades and millennia, but still sharp and cutting.

While The Sea Thy Mistress can stand on its own as a novel, on the off chance that someone picked it up without knowing about the two previous volumes, the characters and the motivations and the pain gain so much more context when considered as part of a larger narrative whole. Likewise, the novel loses so much emotional resonance if read without All the Windwracked Stars and By the Mountain Bound. In the context of the first two novels, the names Muire and Heythe have power and meaning. There are stories and heartaches and tragedies all tied together in those two simple names, which is an overlong way to say that readers do themselves and this novel a disservice to enter cold into the story of The Sea Thy Mistress. The discussion that follows assumes prior knowledge of the series. 

The story here is, more or less, twofold. It has to do with what the reader knows and some of the characters do not. The first is of Cathoair (All the Windwracked Stars), now one of the waelcryge and raising his and Muire's son, Muire, who is now the serpentine Bearer of Burdens and restoring the world and far is beyond “simple” concepts like mortal and immortal. Cathoair's story is of overcoming his pain, pain and memory beyond even the loss of Muire. This is the story of a man grown finding a way to process trauma. It is no simple thing. It is far more difficult than facing an enemy. The specter of Muire looms over the entire novel, but especially over Cathoair and Cathmar (their son).

The other half is the reader's assumed knowledge of what Heythe's arrival in this time means.

Which means thinking on Heythe. Goddess, lover, monster, betrayer. The most subtle thing the wolf has met in a long and terrible life, and he has known a great many gods and monsters. Heythe the seeress, Heythe the world-killer.

Heythe, the returned. (pg 28)

As much as a presence that Muire has on The Sea Thy Mistress, so does Heythe. Heythe is more on the page in this novel than Muire, but is a shadowy figure, concealing her identity and her purpose. Readers of By the Mountain Bound will know deep inside just how scary and dangerous Heythe is, but the new reader won't. She's a shadow figure, with only Mingan the Wolf carefully working against her in his fear and shame. But then Mingan himself is a much richer character if one knows his history and failures.

But then, that's really what the heart of The Sea Thy Mistress is. It is overcoming shame, failure, and frailty. It is the so difficult personal acceptance of self and identity with eyes open. This is played out with a conflict looming. It's just that the looming and necessary conflict with Heythe is plot, it isn't the story. The story is on the inside.

The Sea Thy Mistress is an achievement for Elizabeth Bear. Readers of her work know just how good she is at creating rich characters with strong personal stories beyond the actions of moving from place to place and overcoming Obstacle A. Her Promethean Age novels are excellent examples of this. But here, Bear has outdone herself. She works with the core of the threat of Heythe finishing what she started (and thought she had finished), with characters who aren't truly prepared for someone of Heythe's magnitude, but the story she is raw with pain and scarring and shame and healing. Bear was already very good at telling stories dealing heavily with the internal and emotional lives of her characters, stories that wound and break the heart. With The Sea Thy Mistress, she just got better. This is one of Bear's best, and that is very good indeed.

Reading copy provided courtesy of Tor Books.

Previous Reviews

Blood and Iron
Whiskey and Water
Ink and Steel
Hell and Earth
New Amsterdam
Seven for a Secret
A Companion to Wolves
All the Windwracked Stars
By the Mountain Bound

Monday, January 03, 2011

19 Books I'm Looking Forward to in 2011

This is the fourth time I've attempted to put together a list of the books I am most looking forward to in the coming year.

If you take a look at the previous three lists you'll note that there are two particular novels which are frequent inhabitants of these lists. Hopefully 2011 is the year both are completed and published. I feel hopeful.

1. A Memory of Light, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (??): I expect that it is more likely we’ll see this final Wheel of Time novel in early 2012, but on the off chance that it is published this year…well, this is any year's #1.

2. A Dance With Dragons, by George R. R. Martin (??): I will hold out hope every year that GRRM finishes the book and we get to read it. I am due a series re-read to prepare, but I’m waiting until the announcement is made. I have faith like a child.

3. The Sea Thy Mistress, by Elizabeth Bear (February): To be fair, I’ve already read this one and it is an outstanding conclusion to Bear’s Edda of Burdens trilogy. You really need to have read All the Windwracked Stars and By the Mountain Bound to get the full emotional impact for the character arcs, but it is well worth the journey.

4. Machine, by Jennifer Pelland (August): I love, love, love, love Jennifer Pelland’s short fiction. I’ve been raving about it since I read “Captive Girl” on the Nebula ballot a few years back, have searched it out wherever I could find, and picked up her collection Unwelcome Bodies. Debut novel. EXCITED.

5. The Coldest War, by Ian Tregillis (October): The second volume of the Milkweed Triptych, following 2010’s excellent Bitter Seeds. Must. Read.

6. The Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch (June?): As much as I want to read this next adventure of Locke Lamora, I want Scott Lynch to be healthy and whole. If that means that we have to wait longer for future volumes, so be it. I won’t be mad, though, if Lynch has finished the book and we see publication in 2011.

7. Grail, by Elizabeth Bear (March): The conclusion to the Jacob’s Ladder trilogy. Dust and Chill were excellent and I yearn to see how Bear wraps this up.

8. Eclipse Four, by Jonathan Strahan (May): Might I state for the record just how highly I think of Strahan’s work on the Eclipse series?

9. Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, by Genevieve Valentine (May): I have no idea what this is about, though I’ll hazard a guess that a circus of some sort will figure into it. What I know is that I’ve been following Genevieve Valentine’s short fiction for several years now and have been hoping for a novel. Here it is. Also, Kelly Barnhill has already read it and loved it, and we seem to have some overlapping taste in what we find delightful.

10. The Diviner, by Melanie Rawn (August): Out of all of the books listed here, and even out of all the books NOT listed here, I never expected to learn that Melanie Rawn had written The Diviner, let alone finished it. The Diviner is the prequel to the outstanding generational fantasy novel The Golden Key co-written by Rawn, Jennifer Roberson, and Kate Elliott. With everything that has gone on with Rawn and her recent focus on the Spellbinder novels, I just assumed this was one of those ideas that just wasn’t going to come to fruition. I am SO glad that it did.

11. The Tempering of Men, by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear (August): The follow up to A Companion of Wolves. That novel was all sorts of awesome. As if I needed a reason to anticipate a novel written, in part, by Elizabeth Bear.

12. Dark Jenny, by Alex Bledsoe (April): It’s a new Eddie LaCrosse novel. Have sword, will travel; it’s a mystery of sorts set in a fantasy world. Think Glen Cook’s Garrett PI novels, only Eddie can be more of a bruiser. Still got plenty of quick wit. I already have a copy of this.

13. His Father’s Fists, by Matthew Stover: It’s a new Caine novel from Matthew Stover. You know, the guy who wrote Heroes Die, The Blade of Tyshalle, and Caine Black Knife? Yeah, him.

14. City of Ruins, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (May): This is Rusch’s follow up to the outstanding Diving Into the Wreck. Another story about the explorer / scavenger Boss. Yes, please.

15. Fort Freak, by GRRM (June): New Wild Cards.

16. Deathless, by Catherynne M. Valente (April): I confess, the cover art is doing a lot of selling here. Deathless is tied to Russian folklore and the product description says “All told, Deathless is a collision of magical history and actual history, of revolution and mythology, of love and death, which will bring Russian myth back to life in a stunning new incarnation.” We should also expect more of Valente’s stunningly beautiful and descriptive prose. That’s just my assumption.

17. Raising Stony Mayhall, by Daryl Gregory (July): Author of Pandemonium and The Devil’s Alphabet. Gregory isn’t working with a series, but each volume is a gem. You want to watch this guy.

18. Never at Home, by L Timmel Duchamp (June): Listed on the Locus list as a collection. Duchamp's Marq'ssan Cycle is excellent, and I'm always on the eye out for more from Duchamp.

19. The Mostly True Story of Jack, by Kelly Barnhill (August): Honestly, I don’t really care what this is about. I’m going to read it. Kelly Barnhill is a friend and she’s absolutely delightful, and I’ve enjoyed what stories of hers I’ve had the chance to read. I’m thrilled that her first novel is coming out this year.

I could probably make another list or three of all the books I'm looking forward to.  Here, I've mostly stuck with the SFF genre.  Step outside of the genre, and the list will grow exponentially.

So.  What do YOU want to read this year?

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Nine Best Reads of 2010

As I've mentioned elsewhere: Some people do a top ten list, others do a top eleven, yet others may only do five. My list is 9 books long. Why? Partly to be a little bit different and partly because I want the tenth spot on my list to be reserved for that really great book which I simply did not get the chance to read during 2009. That really great book may also be something I have only heard whispers about and I may not discover for several more years. Whatever that tenth great book is, I’m holding a spot for it on my list.

Unlike my list of the top books published in 2010, this list is for the top books I read in 2010, no matter when the book was published.  This post would have been up earlier, but last week I was in the process of reading a book which I knew would make the list, which it ultimately did at #4.

1. Finch, by Jeff VanderMeer: Finch is not simply a noir detective novel, but to attempt to talk more about the core plot and betrayals and rebellion and fear and mysteries of Ambergris would be folly and miss the mark. Finch is not simply anything. It is a mystery that begs for unraveling, though unlike the hypothetical onion, readers are not likely to see all the layers they peel away and they may not recognize the core. That’s okay. There are plenty of different ways to read Finch and all of them are wholly satisfying. There is Finch for the Vander-neophyte, which is semi-straight forward in the detective tale. The ending is less important than the journey.

2. Flood / Ark, by Stephen Baxter: In a very real sense, Flood and Ark are hopeful novels. The promise implicit in Baxter’s story is that humanity will ever strive to survive as a species, and even in the most impossible conditions that have eliminated so much life, a remnant will adapt and survive and find a new way to persevere. Ultimately, it is a beautiful sentiment if one can get past the billions who have perished.

3. Dust / Chill, by Elizabeth Bear:  The first two volumes of a trilogy set aboard a derelict generation ship where there are angels and aspects of God and it is all tied together as science fiction.  It works.  The two novels together are much stronger than the two excellent novels are on their own.  There is a richness of characterization that builds across the novels, and as always, Bear's fiction is not to be missed. 

4. Slow River, by Nicola Griffith:  Lore was a scion of a wealthy family, but is found at the beginning of the novel naked, hurt, and alone.  She was kidnapped, escaped, and rescued by a woman named Spanner.  The novel traces multiple paths: Lore's childhood, her attempts to live a clean and honest life, and the time from her rescue to when she wants to go clean.  Slow River is not an easy novel and it's not always a pleasant one, but Nicola Griffith is one hell of a writer.  This is the story of a woman trying to create her own identity, and it is the story of recovery and pain.  It's a hell of a novel. 

5. Regenesis, by C. J. Cherryh:  Regenesis is a novel of conversation about power, about genetics, about family, and about ambition (among other things). The most thrilling passages were long conversations between two characters (often Ari and Yanni) that could come across as massive info dumps but still manage to convey tense political drama and danger. Because Cherryh frequently presents the third person limited perspective of Ari, the reader knows that a wrong answer could lead Ari down a path where she needs to eliminate (in some manner) the other person. Tense.

6. The Dazzle of Day, by Molly Gloss:  This isn't a novel so much about the destination as it is about the life of the people who will be the ancestors and first wave of the colonists of a new world. It's about the people and very much not about the journey or the science or the discovery. It's about the people and the more emotional challenges they face as the journey nears its end, not so much the physical challenges.  The Dazzle of Day is a beautiful novel about the quiet lives of thoughtful people.

7. Eclipse Three, by Jonathan Strahan:  Despite the subtitle of the Eclipse series, the stories of Eclipse Three are generally not heavy on genre elements. Most of the stories are set in a version of the real world, just with elements of magic or impossible technology. The genre elements are seamless parts of these stories about character, about people. The tech and the magic are never the point. The stories here are beautiful, heartbreaking, thrilling, moving, and hopeful - each in their own way.

8. The Unforgiving Minute, by Craig Mullaney:  Mullaney is a West Point graduate, a Rhodes Scholar, and an infantry officer.  This soldier's memoir is subtitled "A Soldier's Education", and it is exactly that.  It is the story of a man learning how to lead, about combat, about life.  Inherently, this memoir is about Mullaney, but it also about the men that he led and the overall sacrifices of war.  This is an outstanding memoir. 

9. Horns, by Joe Hill: Sometimes a novel is just so twistedly dark and funny that you can't help but love it. That's Horns, a novel featuring a protagonist who has, overnight, grown horns that nobody can see but which can lead to people to tell him exactly what they are really thinking - to absurd and heartbreaking result. After Heart-Shaped Box and now Horns, the world needs more novels from Joe Hill.

Previous Best Reads

Hugo Award Nomination Period Open

Oh, sure, because I need another excuse to compile lists and think about really awesome books and stories...

The 2011 Hugo Award Nomination Period is now open.

Nomination ballots will be accepted from January 1, 2011, to Saturday, March 26, 2011, 23:59 PDT for the prestigious Hugo Awards and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Members of Renovation who join by January 31, 2011, and all members of Aussiecon 4, the prior year’s Worldcon, are invited to submit nominating ballots.

If you were a member of last year's Worldcon (I was!), you are eligible to submit a nominating ballot.  Only members of this year's Worldcon will be eligible to vote for the awards, but right now it is nominating time!

It was a stupid amount of fun coming up with my ballot last year.  I look forward to more of the same.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Top Nine Books Published in 2010

Some people do a top ten list, others do a top eleven, yet others may only do five. My list is 9 books long. Why? Partly to be a little bit different and partly because I want the tenth spot on my list to be reserved for that really great book which I simply did not get the chance to read during 2010. That really great book may also be something I have only heard whispers about and I may not discover for several more years. Whatever that tenth great book is, I’m holding a spot for it on my list.

This Top Nine List is more or less in order.  Ask me tomorrow and some titles may shift around a little bit.  Whichever order the list is in, these are the nine novels published in 2010 which I feel were the strongest titles of the year, popularity be damned.

1. Ark, by Stephen Baxter: The companion novel to a disaster story where most of the action happened off the page, yet both Flood and Ark were outstanding stories of humanity striving for species survival.  Even though we knew what happens to the Earth, Baxter managed to keep the tension high.  My only regret is that there isn’t a second companion novel focusing on the other project going on. 

2. Chill, by Elizabeth Bear: Chill is a novel that made an already good book better.  What I mean is that as highly as I thought of Dust, Chill surpassed it and strengthened my opinion of the first novel.  Because of certain events in the first novel, the protagonists in Chill have changed.  This adds richness to the novel (and series) because characters which were previously presented somewhat one dimensionally in the first book because of the viewpoint perspective now have depth are much more fully fleshed out – which is one what expects from one of Bear’s novels.  The rich characterization and sense of adventure aboard a failing generation ship prop Chill up as one of the year’s best.  The Jacob’s Ladder trilogy is quickly becoming a series of novels I love almost as much as Bear’s Promethean Age books. 

3. Horns, by Joe Hill: Sometimes a novel is just so twistedly dark and funny that you can't help but love it.  That's Horns, a novel featuring a protagonist who has, overnight, grown horns that nobody can see but which can lead to people to tell him exactly what they are really thinking - to absurd and heartbreaking result.  After Heart-Shaped Box and now Horns, the world needs more novels from Joe Hill. 

4. Dreadnought, by Cherie Priest: Priest's third novel in her Clockwork Century milieu is perhaps the best of the three, and I already thought highly of Boneshaker and Clementine.  The tighter focus on Mercy Lynch and her conflicted trek across the country, from the Virginia hospital where she worked as a nurse to Seattle where her father lay dying, is what sells the novel.  She is traveling across a nation still in the grips of a Civil War in its third decade and to say the trip is fraught with peril would be to commit a gross understatement.  In Dreadnought, the sense of uncomfortable wonder is in full effect and Priest has an excellent grasp of storytelling.  More, please.

5. Shadow Tag, by Louise Erdrich: A beautiful, bleak novel focusing on a marriage fallen apart.  Broken people breaking further.  This is possibly Erdrich's best work since 2001's The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse.

6. Bitter Seeds, by Ian Tregillis: It's an alternate World War II story, but it's not like what Harry Turtledove does.  There are supernatural and genetic changes, but Tregillis keeps the story tight on three viewpoint characters.  The arc of the story develops through the personal stories being told, and less through the lens of how "everything is different" - it isn't that different.  Yet.  Regardless, this is an outstanding debut novel. 

7. Servant of the Underworld, by Aliette de Bodard: Historical fantasy set in Aztec times, and something of a mystery novel, though I’m not sure it works specifically as a mystery.  Besides the fact that de Bodard’s debut novel is just really good, the refreshing thing about it is that the setting of Servant of the Underworld is just so different than most of what I come across.  Maybe there is this whole subculture of fantasy set in the middle of the Aztec empire, but I don’t really think so.  I think de Bodard is giving readers something quite different that is entirely its own thing.  That’s something to celebrate.  Oh, and it’s a really good book. 

8. Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal: The elevator pitch is “Jane Austen with magic”. This would normally cause me recoil in horror (because of the Jane Austen, not the magic), but Kowal is able tell a story that is thematically and stylistically related to that of Austen while engaging a modern reader.  The aspect of magic Kowal employs is woven delicately into the fabric of “cultured” society, and again, feels authentic to the sort of story Miss Austen might have told, if she only she thought to include magic.  The fantasy reader wonders, however, if this is the only aspect of magic in play in the world and what further applications might be in a less civilized setting.  Regardless, Shades of Milk and Honey is a delightful novel. 

9. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins: This concluding volume to The Hunger Games Trilogy closes things out in brutal fashion.  While the story is told fairly tightly from the perspective of Katniss Everdeen, which allows the reader to only see what Katniss sees, Collins doesn’t pull very many punches.  She’s not afraid to have a broken heroine, which is exactly what Katniss is.  So often Katniss will do something awful and horrible, because it is either what she needs to do to survive, or it is what she feels she needs to do to protect her family.  There are consequences and scarring on the inside.  Mockingjay isn’t a pretty novel, but it is an honest one.

Previous Best Ofs