Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Forthcoming Books: April - May - June 2015

Each quarter I typically look forward at some of the interesting books coming out in the next three months.  I started to put together my typical writeup using the Locus Forthcoming list as my primary source, as I have been doing for years.  But, as I looked forward, I found myself mostly disinterested in what Locus was listing.

This caused me to pause. Was it just my mood at the time of writing?  Was it the books?  I noticed, for the first time, that the Locus list is a curated "Selected Books By Author" pulled from the magazine, so what they post online is only a fraction of what they list in the magazine. I'd consider subscribing, but the price seems a little high based on how useful / interesting I think I'd find the magazine.

So, I wonder what I'm missing.  Is this a quiet period for new books I'm interested in or is the selected list from Locus hiding some really good stuff I'd love, but I need to subscribe to find it?  Is there a better way to do these searches?  Do I need to retire these posts and figure out some other way to work through interesting books that haven't been published yet?

Regardless, with perhaps less fanfare than usual because I feel dissatisfied with the process, here's a small stack of books I'd like to read one day.
The Skull Throne, by Peter V Brett (April)
The Rebirths of Tao, by Wesley Chu (April)
Corsair, by James Cambais (May)
The Unlicensed Magician, by Kelly Barnhill (June)
Nemesis Game, by James S. A. Corey (June)
Finders Keepers, by Stephen King (June)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Thoughts on the Nebula Award Nominees: Novellas

We Are All Completely Fine, Daryl Gregory (Tachyon)
Yesterday’s Kin, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
The Regular,” Ken Liu (Upgraded)
The Mothers of Voorhisville,” Mary Rickert ( 4/30/14)
Calendrical Regression, Lawrence Schoen (NobleFusion)
Grand Jeté (The Great Leap),” Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Summer ’14)

In a weird turn of events, this is the first year I've finished the reading all of the Nebula Award nominated novellas this far before the awards are to be announced.  Part of the reason for this is that there was just enough time in between the Nebula announcement and when I needed to get in my Hugo nominations that I could quick push through the novellas to consider these novellas for my ballot.

Previously, I would schedule up my Nebula posts to all go up the week leading up to the awards.  This year I'm going to wrap up each category as I finish it.  There will likely be a fairly decent gap between this article and my next Nebula article.

As I have done in the past, my comments on the novellas will be in reverse order of how I would rank them.

Calendrical Regression: Lawrence Schoen has thrice been nominated for a Nebula Award, each one for one his novellas and also in each of the last three years.  Calendrical Regression fits into his buffalito series of stories and I constantly marvel at the concept of a miniature buffalo named Reggie. They are charming and fun and generally funny.  Calendrical Regression is no different, and while I'm always happy to read a buffalito story, I'm not sure I would have nominated it for an award. 

Yesterday's Kin: If we're talking about awards, Nancy Kress has won five Nebula Awards and has been nominated for many more. This is also the last time we're going to talk about the number of previous wins or nominations for the rest of the category. Nobody here has more than Kress. Yesterday's Kin is a story of what happens after the first contact with aliens and also of genetics.  It's fascinating, though as with many of Kress's shorter works, I wanted to dig more into the stuff she built the story on.  I want to get more into the genetics - or less into the genetics and more into the implications of the genetics, to get to different aspects of how this would all play out.  What really happens next.  Yesterday's Kin is complete, but I want more - or different. 

"The Regular": At this point my rankings get a bit murky, as I might flip the next three stories around on any given day.  The distance between them is not great.  Ken Liu is a fantastic storyteller and "The Regular features a detective working a case the police closed without a deeper investigation.  Liu deals with the intersections of race, class, expectation, and melds it together in a wonderful (if occasionally awful, because the details are not always pleasant) stew.

"The Mothers of Voorhisville": What if one man managed to get nearly every woman in a small town pregnant, except that the man might be supernatural in some way and all of the babies aren't exactly normal? As told in an oral history of the event / events.  The result is Mary Rickert's "The Mothers of Voorhisville", a story I couldn't look away from though sometimes I wanted to cover my eyes.  It's not a nasty story in the sense of covering my eyes, but it gets exceedingly uncomfortable.  Well done.

"Grand Jete": It is no secret that I have enjoyed Rachel Swirsky's fiction of the years and "Grand Jete" is as worthy of admiration as so many of her other stories.  It is a story of a dying young girl, a father building a simulacrum of his daughter, and the heaviness of loss, grief, and fear.  It is beautiful, bitter and somewhat sweet.

We Are All Completely Fine: I am constantly surprised by how little Daryl Gregory I have actually read. I read his first novel and somehow managed to not read the rest, but We Are All Completely Fine was so good that I am for sure going to read the novel Harrison Squared, which is something of a prequel to this, a novel set in what seems like an AA group meeting, except that all of the members are survivors of some sort of serial killer level trauma - but there's even more going on with each of their stories than that.  It's fantastic, and I immediately started trying to describe the book to my wife, with little success except to say "This was excellent, you should read it."

Friday, March 06, 2015

Final Hugo Ballot

That's it, I'm done. I know I have a weekend coming up, but I've just run out of time and I know that I'm not going to have the opportunity to do deeper research on some of the categories farther down the ballot and I'm not going to get to read any more of the short fiction before it's time to submit.  So, I sent in the nomination ballot this morning and don't plan to make any changes. This is it.  This ballot is very similar to the last one I posted, with only a couple of changes / additions.

We'll see how close this comes to the actual short list when it is announced.
City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett
Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie
The Mirror Empire, by Kameron Hurley
The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison
Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer

“The Mothers of Voorhisville”, by Mary Rickert (
“Grand Jete”, by Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean)
We Are All Completely Fine, by Daryl Gregory
Yesterday’s Kin, by Nancy Kress
Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome, by John Scalzi

“A Fire in the Heavens”, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Shadows Beneath)

Short Story
”The Color of Paradox”, by A. M. Dellamonica (
“Mrs Sorensen and the Sasquatch”, by Kelly Barnhill (
“A Cup of Salt Tears”, by Isabel  Yap (
“As Good as New”, by Charlie Jane Anders (
“Spores”, by Seanan McGuire (The End is Nigh)

Graphic Story
Saga, Vol 3
Locke and Key: Alpha and Omega

Related Work
Rocket Talk Podcast
What Makes This Book So Great, by Jo Walton

Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Mockingjay: Part I
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Editor, Short Form
William Schafer
Ann VanderMeer

Editor, Long Form

Professional Artist
John Picacio
Julie Dillon
Stephan Martiniere
Magali Villeneuve
Milan Jaram

Fan Artist
Elizabeth Legget
Wenqing Yan


Chaos Horizon
A Dribble of Ink
Lady Business
SF Mistressworks
The Wertzone

Fan Writer
Brandon Kempner
Renay Williams
Justin Landon
Abigail Nussbaum
Adam Whitehead

No Nominations

John W. Campbell Award
Wesley Chu
Helene Wecker
Brian McClellan
Henry Lien
Isabel Yap

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

On White Trash Zombies

I am constantly fighting a battle with my personal biases, most of which have formed around an idea that I don't or won't like something.  Let's use food as an example. I don't like coconut, especially when it comes to candy. Most every experience I've had with coconut has been unpleasant. But, I've never had coconut milk. Would a different delivery system make coconut more palatable?  I don't know, because I've had enough coconut to not want to try it.  Likewise, I do not enjoy pineapple or pineapple juice. My wife made a jerk chicken in the slow cooker the other night and the recipe called for pineapple. I was skeptical. I don't like pineapple.

The dish was delicious.

For years I avoided avocado and guacamole.  I refused to eat it.  It looked gross, it just felt like something I would hate.  So I didn't try it.

Guacamole is one of my favorite things to eat and if you can sneak some avocado on a sandwich or salad, you'll make me very happy.  That bias kept me from trying one of my new favorite food items for years, if not decades.  What a loss.

Yesterday I wrote that I had a seldom examined bias against the modern day version of urban fantasy, which these days I mostly think of as paranormal romance.  To a significant point, I am being unfair right from the start in considering so many of the "vampire and werewolf" novels to be romance novels gilded with the supernatural. Actually, I am being further unfair in denigrating romance novels given that Romance is just as diverse a category as Science Fiction or Fantasy is.  I want to acknowledge my bias runs a bit deeper without actually unpacking that bias / disinterest with the romance genre. 

The thing is, I'm not quite sure where this bias against urban fantasy has come from. Is it because if we're talking in general terms, I don't have a strong interest in reading another werewolf or vampire novel?  Is it because if you look at the two covers I've included from Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville series, it doesn't look like something I would like to read?  I think it is more the second, though I'd still argue that if you say "werewolf novel" I'm going to be disinclined to pay attention in the same way that other fantasy tropes will shut down my wife.

Carrie Vaughn is vital to this conversation because years ago I entered a contest to win some free books. I was happy when I found out I won right up until the point that I realized I won the first two novels in Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville series (Kitty and the Midnight Hour, Kitty Goes to Washington). At that point, I couldn't figure out why I even entered the contest because these books were not for me.  Look at the covers.  I am not the audience for those books. I don't know who the audience is, but it wasn't me. If cover art is marketing and is designed to get a reader to pick up a book and buy it, Grand Central Publishing was not selling me the book. But, the books were being sent to me so I might as well read them, right?  You see where this is going?

Of course I loved them. Carrie Vaughn is one hell of a writer, I just didn't know it yet. I devoured those two books and waited impatiently for each subsequent book to come out.

The mistake I made then was in convincing myself that the urban fantasy genre was still not my thing, that Carrie Vaughn rose above the rest of the urban fantasy being written.  That it's still paranormal romance dreck, but her stuff isn't.  It's easy to do, easy to categorize the stuff we like as being better than the stuff we think we don't like. It allows us to keep a morally superior position which if we examined it at all we would recognize that it is nothing more than shame and bullshit keeping us in place.

Each time I would read a different urban fantasy novel that I liked, I would elevate it out of the ghetto of my mind's making and hold it up as being better than the others.  Maybe they are better, because I would sure as hell recommend Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville novels to anyone. I don't want to take away from those books I love, but I'm sick and tired of taking away from the books I haven't read yet either.

I don't remember what my trigger was last month, but this has been a long time coming. I decided to pick up Diana Rowland's My Life as a White Trash Zombie.  I've haven't been aware of the series for long, but I've heard some solid buzz on Rowland, enough so that in my ongoing effort to read more books written by women this year, I wanted to add Diana Rowland to that number.  I was also beginning to recognize a certain level of hypocrisy that I've been living with in how I view certain subgenres, urban fantasy being the one we're talking about right now and My Life as a White Trash Zombie fits solidly in that subgenre.  So, it was a choice to read this book.  It's a choice to read any book, but not all choices are solidly examined.  This one was.

I've now read three of the four published White Trash Zombie novels and it is probably a good thing that I only have one more to go because I may risk burning out on a good thing - and these White Trash Zombie novels are definitely a good thing.  They feature a life-going-nowhere young woman with a felony on her record who gets a second chance at life only after she's died and been turned into a zombie.  I'm not sure there I have a good way to describe the book without it sounding hokey, but the execution is killer. Pun intended.  Angel Crawford has a distinctive voice and her characterization and character transformation is outstanding. Because she is new at this whole zombie thing, any expository info dumps are as much for the character as they are for the reader. We're both discovering how Rowland's zombie America works. One small corner of it, anyway. 

One reason why I keep trying to read new (to me) authors is that you never know what is going to stick and often it is something that you didn't expect you would like. Sometimes you read a lauded novel and it isn't for you, no matter how many awards it is nominated for.  But sometimes you avoid a particular type of book for way too long only to discover that some of it is guacamole and whoops, you really like guacamole and you wish you didn't wait so long to try the guac.

What I think I'm saying is that I think urban fantasy is like dip.  Some writers are putting out some delicious guacamole.  Others may be a little bit too spicy, perhaps they've put in too much jalapeno and left the seeds and membranes.  Those books might not be my thing, but just because they aren't doesn't mean that I shouldn't eat dip with my chips. Dip can be delicious and there are all sorts of different flavors.  Maybe I should try some more. 

Is anyone else hungry right now?

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Books Read: February 2015

February marks my first month back at work after the birth of my son, and I'm fairly pleased with my ability to keep reading.  I'm sure as he gets a bit older and more active, this will change a little bit and my 10+ books per month will drop to 5-7.  February also marks the first month I have read more books electronically than in paper copy.  I love holding books in my hand, but if my son is sleeping in my arms it is far easier to read on my nook than it is to try to hold a book in my hands - even more so if it is a hardback like Promise of Blood was.

Below are the eleven books I read during the month of February.  As has been the case recently, there are no reviews to link to.  

1. My Life as a White Trash Zombie, by Diana Rowland
2. Yesterday's Kin, by Nancy Kress
3. The Three, by Sarah Lotz
4. The Litigators, by John Grisham
5. The Complete Peanuts: 1993-1994, by Charles M. Schulz
6. Promise of Blood, by Brian McClellan
7. Fortune's Pawn, by Rachel Bach
8. Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues, by Diana Rowland
9. Time of the Dark, by Barbara Hambly
10. Redeployment, by Phil Klay
11. We Are All Completely Fine, by Daryl Gregory

Best Book of the Month: Phil Klay's collection Redeployment may one day hit the essential reading list much as Tim O'Brien's The Things We Carried did for the Vietnam War, though it is difficult to truly say what will resonate of the years and generations and what will just fade away despite the acclaim. Regardless, it is powerful fiction.  

Disappointment of the Month: I'm not sure this is a disappointment, per se, but I guess I expected more out of Time of the Dark. I've previously read her two Star Wars novels, but I also read one of her books when I was a teenager. I want to tell you it was Dragonsbane, but I really couldn't say if it was that or The Silent Tower or The Walls of Air being read out of sequence. I remember nothing, except that I enjoyed it enough I wanted to read something else by her and then didn't for over twenty years.  Time of the Dark was fine, it just didn't grip me.  Also, I'm not sure how interested I still am in the concept of people from our world crossing over to a fantasy world. There's a term for this, I just can't remember it. Portal fantasy?  I've enjoyed some of it in the past (Christopher Stasheff's Her Majesty's Wizard, others) and hated some of it (Lord Foul's Bane).  But do I still want to read much more of it?  I don't know.  

Discovery of the Month: I have a bias which I seldom examine. Well, I probably have many biases, but the one in particular is against the modern idea of "urban fantasy", which I often think of as "paranormal romance" with werewolves and vampires.  The bias is bullshit, of course. Years ago I won the first two Kitty Norville novels written by Carrie Vaughn in a contest that I don't think I meant to enter because look at those covers, man. They're clearly not for me. Except that I love the Kitty Norville novels and have been reading them faithfully ever since.  I've read the Sookie Stackhouse books, intrigued at first by their popularity and then by how enjoyable most of them were to read (except the last one).  But then I rationalized it by saying that I still don't like modern urban fantasy / paranormal romance, I just liked those books.  They're "better".  But that's bullshit, because it's exactly the same as saying that you don't like science fiction and fantasy but you really like Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood and The Time Traveler's Wife, but those aren't really SFF, they rise above genre.  Bullshit, right?  I was doing the same damn thing, so I picked up one of the more intriguing covers for a book that had been getting some good press.  Surprise - I thought it was fantastic and immediately wanted to read more.

My discovery of the month is the White Trash Zombie series from Diana Rowland. It's fantastic. Period. I'm near the end of the third book. I might write a bit more about the White Trash Zombie series in a separate article because it's worth unpacking my thoughts on the books and what is wrong my thinking. 

Worth Noting: I loved Promise of Blood from Brian McClellan. It's one of the first pieces of "flintlock fantasy" I'm conscious of reading, which is a fancy and concise way of saying that it is during the era of gunpowder rifles combined with magic and a fantasy setting. It's a change of setting that is nice, though I''m not at all claiming it was the first piece of that sort of fantasy written by a long shot. Also, I don't want to work too much with "flintlock fantasy" lest I start ghettoizing that, too.  But it's good. Lots of action and kick-assery. I'm going to read more from McClellan.

Gender Breakdown: This month 6 out of the 11 books I read were written by women. This brings me to 14 out of 24 on the year.  One of my reading goals for the year is to read more books written by women than by men.  As much as I have been focusing on this over the years, it is taking a very conscious choice to accomplish.  I'll have more to say about that in an article I still plan to write when I evaluate what I read last year. 

Previous Months: