[Book Review] Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

My second review for the #ShadowClarke project posted last week at the @csffanglia site. Here it is in all its unimpressed glory, although I recommend you make your way over to the site, at least to read the enjoyable comments.

*****

Good Morning, Midnight is a bit of a shortlist risk, as shadow jury conversations have proved. Ranging in complaints about too much lyrical sciencing to complaints about too much overt preciousness, overall, the general jury criticism toward the book has been along the lines of “too much too much.” And yet, the novel has been blurbed as a blend of Station Eleven and Kim Stanley Robinson– two supreme yet entirely different approaches to SF, flawed in their own “too much” ways (the first, a well-written, but literary carpet bagging of superficial SF tropes, the other, an over-lingering on most things, including the sublimation of ice). With comparisons like these, Good Morning, Midnight might be just the kind of “too much too much” I, and other Clarke readers, would relish. Besides, it has stars on the cover, a spaceship in the story, and is free of the usual, predictable pew-pew hijinks that tends to come with spaceship stories, so, for those reasons, it seems like something worth discussing within the context of possible Clarke contenders.

Good Morning, Midnight is about two corresponding perspectives on silence, isolation, and unacknowledged regrets. As Sully and her fellow crewmates return from their mission to Jupiter, all signals from Earth go silent. Meanwhile, Augustine, an aging astronomer, is the only person left at his research station in the Arctic after he stubbornly refuses an unexpected evacuation. Neither scientist knows what has happened to the rest of the earth, but now they find themselves navigating their respective silent voids, inside and out.

It sounds promising and poignant, but it’s considerably less than what the blurbs promise. Continue reading

[An Actual Book Review] The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo

Johanna Sinisalo’s The Core of the Sun is a tale about loss, in the form of a gender-stiffening social experiment wrapped in a family drama murder mystery, suffused with oppressive norms, self-delusional recounting, and fabulist nostalgia for a world that once was that actually never was. It’s the kind of novel that joins the ranks of extreme, performative, sociological SF, in the vein of Brunner, Ballard, and Pohl, and the feminist dystopias of Atwood, Russ, and Tiptree. It’s the kind of book that people will say doesn’t belong because a.) it isn’t needed in this age of post-women’s lib, b.) its agenda involves too much agenda, and c.) it isn’t science-y enough. But, as the list of authors cited above indicates, precedence invalidates these kinds of arguments.

Legislated gender is the core of the tale, where not far in our recent past, Finnish society has perverted its liberal roots, designing a padded cell utopia of well-cared-for and easily-labeled citizens. Termed a eusistocracy, the Latin essence of which basically means ‘it’s all good if you stay in your place,’ it’s a nation where women really do go to college to earn their M.R.S., where gender fraud is a thing, and where the mating market is subsidized, with government-sponsored beauty rituals and body-perfecting salons becoming cultural imperatives for women. In this altered Finland, there are four genders: femiwomen and mascos, and, barely tolerated, neuterwomen and minusmen, while all social, economic, and political efforts are geared toward cultivating the lifestyles, pairings, and reproduction of the former two groups, and suppressing the latter two groups.

(When put like that, defense for The Core of the Sun’s presence on my Shadow Clarke shortlist may be less about its scientific and speculative foundation, and more about whether it even qualifies as fiction.) Continue reading

The Torture of the Shadower, part 4: The first round of reviews!

This week’s torture is brought to you by the end of Spring Break. (Yes, it happens before spring even begins. That’s how we do things here in Arrakis.) Goodbye, beautiful afternoons of jogging around the neighborhood. Hello, A/C blasting office that forces me to wear sweaters in the summer.

The first round of reviews by the Clarke shadow jury are up. Here are the links, in case you missed them:

The Destructives by Matthew de Abaitua, reviewed by Nina Allan

Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley, reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont

The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin, reviewed by Victoria Hoyle

The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo, reviewed by me

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar, reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller

A Field Guide to Reality by Joanna Kavenna, reviewed by Nina Allan

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, reviewed by Paul Kincaid

The Gradual by Christopher Priest, reviewed by David Hebblethwaite

Azanian Bridges by Nick Wood, reviewed by Paul Kincaid

 

(By the way, you are allowed to comment on the shadow jury site. It’s encouraged!)

 

This barely scratches the surface of the number of reviews we have set out to do, so stay tuned!

 

The Torture of the Shadower, part 3: The Shadow Not-a-Shortlist, plus my personal longlist!

The torture this week comes from sticking to my own personal shortlist while experiencing major shortlist envy of my fellow shadowers. Vajra and Maureen selected books I passed on for reasons of “probably not sci-fi enough” and I’m full of regret. The six book limit is torture enough.

The lists are up and it’s time for the reviews, but first, here is a look at the first incarnation of the Shadow Clarke Not-a-Shortlist: the books with the most appearances on the shadow jury shortlists. More than six books! We are such rule-breakers and we didn’t even do it on purpose!

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This is a good-looking list. But is it the best list?

Is this a realistic Clarke list? Is this a realistic SF list? Do these questions even matter? More important: Will the books on this list survive the grueling review process we are about to put them through?

What’s most interesting about this selection of books– which is really just a list of momentary cumulative consensus (that will likely change as we move forward) rather than a bonafide shortlist– is that, although we did talk and discuss books as a jury, many of us kept some or all of our cards to our chests. Many of the other jurors’ shortlist picks were genuine surprises to me.

Continue reading

The Torture of the Shadower, part 2: My shortlist, plus meta-list!

The Shadow Clarke project is going strong, and the shortlists are rolling in. Here’s mine, which posted last week:

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I did not expect to feel as comfortable with this list as I do. I wanted my list to represent the best of science fiction–what it should be trying to do– and many will say I have failed, but what most strikes me as I look at this list and read through the books is how much it represents who I am as a reader and a person. Incredibly biased and irrelevant and perhaps off-Sharke-message, sure, but there you go. I didn’t mean to. My list has been called ‘incoherent’ a couple of times in comments, which, in context, I don’t think was intended as criticism or insult, but, the truth is, I have never felt so coherent about a set of books I’ve put together. This list feels elegant to me. Continue reading

The Torture of the Shadower: The 2017 #ShadowClarke

Cool things happening…

Recently, Anglia Ruskin University launched the online ARU Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy, spearheaded by Dr. Helen Marshall, in order to “explore science fiction and fantasy as products that depend on the interaction of literary and visual media and that are constructed by both the publishing industry and fan communities,” with plans to launch a master’s degree in SFF in 2018.

That alone is exciting news, but one of the first big projects of the Centre is to act as the central hub for the doings of the Clarke Award shadow jury, announced last week, which will work to bring robust discussion and debate to the Arthur C. Clarke Award, a juried UK SF award that is known for being both prestigious and controversial.

As you might know, I have informally shadowed current and vintage lists for the past few years, and my own experience with the Clarke Award has been short and rather grumpy (and podcasted!), so much so, that I maybe declared last year that I would never read the shortlist again. Now I’ve been made a liar.

This has been in the works for a long time, and I am delighted to finally be able to share that I am one of the nine jurors to shadow the Clarke Award this year, along with some of my favorite book people: Nina Allan, Vajra Chandrasekera, David Hebblethwaite, Victoria Hoyle, Dr. Nick Hubble, Paul Kincaid, Maureen Kincaid Speller, and Jonathan McCalmont. Out of this group of accomplished writers, critics, editors, and academics, I will be playing the part of amateur American blogger who sometimes likes what she reads. You can find all of our bios here. (Mine’s a bit… rude.) (And, yes, that is me with the donut. It was alright.)

I don’t know how I landed on this shadow jury, but I have respected and admired all of these people from afar, and am thrilled to have an opportunity to work and debate with them.

It seems I wasn’t far off by predicting that Valentine’s Day will kick off the 2017 SFF book award season, as the Clarke Award submissions list will drop this Tuesday. Each shadow juror will examine the (likely) 100+ submissions list for their own personal shortlist of six faves and/or most anticipated novels, and begin reading up. In the meantime, over the coming weeks, the ARU Centre for SFF will begin posting each shadow juror’s manifesto.

Some links if you’d like to brush up on the whole, quoting Vajra here, Sharkenado:

BBC announcement

Dr. Helen Marshall’s intro piece

Nina Allan’s intro piece at her blog

Nina Allan’s manifesto

Paul Kincaid’s introduction from The Arthur C. Clarke Award: A Critical Anthology

Victoria Hoyle’s booktube explanation about the process

On twitter: @csffanglia and #shadowclarke

 

To my vintage SF friends, I promise I’ll return to the land of the neglected and forgotten in the latter half of this year, but for now: Nina. Effing. Allan. I’m sure you understand.