Month in Review: March 2016

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TBR Fail. Blog Derailed. Sort of.


An erratic month of reading and blogging here at FC2M where I had too much time off and a case of Sudden Onset Shortlist Paralysis: too many TBR potentials and no idea where to go next. Much of what I ended up reading started sluggish, inspiring lots of book avoidance in the name of unplanned but sudden anything-but-reading-to-dos. Even my audiobook addiction went into remission.

A mid-month computer crash didn’t upset my already derailed reading plans (thank Wintermute for data clouds), but my cherished book schedule spreadsheet somehow missed the upload and now my purposeful reading habits are without direction. Having to pause and think about what I’ll read next is an inhibiting process. My reading and blogging plans have gone adrift… Continue reading

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The 2015 BSFA Best Novel Rundown: My Thoughts

The 2015 BSFA Award winners were announced this weekend! Here’s my rundown on the Best Novel shortlist.

After discovering new favorites on previous BSFA award lists, and thoroughly enjoying five-eighths of the BSFA Best Novel shortlist last year, I finally got myself a BSFA membership, perhaps becoming the only Texas member of the British Science Fiction Association. I didn’t nominate or vote because it just doesn’t feel right to do so as an outsider, but I do like to play along and support things I like. Call me a shadow member.

I didn’t experience as much delight with this year’s BSFA Best Novel list, (and no, I haven’t yet touched the short fiction nominees, though I might do a rundown of the really fab nonfiction nominees later on), but this selection of novels is way more interesting than this year’s Hugo list that hasn’t been determined yet but I’m probably right.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the 2015 British Science Fiction Association Best Novel shortlist: Continue reading

BSFA Awards 2015 Shortlist Announced

The biggest, the most exciting, the most SUPER event of the year! So THAT’S why they were out of party foods at the grocery store today…

The British Science Fiction Association announced the shortlist nominees for the 2015 BSFA Awards. The winners will be announced on March 26 at Mancunicon (Eastercon) in Manchester. This is one of my favorite SF book awards to follow, a great place to discover and celebrate excellent and sophisticated speculative fiction. The BSFA isn’t immune to cheesy sci-fi, but it’s not the pasteurized disappointment certain other big name SF book awards prove to be year after year.

The 2015 BSFA shortlists….

Continue reading

BSFA Shortlist Reviews: Wolves by Simon Ings

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Ings’ novels were just released in the U.S. All of them have Jeffrey Alan Love covers. If there was ever a reason to start book hoarding…

Wolves by Simon Ings

Setting: Near-future, pre-flood England.

Summary: Conrad is an unremarkable millennial twenty-something who works in AR tech (Augmented Reality) and has a girlfriend with prosthetic hands. His best friend, and his best friend’s girlfriend, are remodeling a boat because the ocean is rising. The narrative flashes back and forth between Conrad’s formative and adult years, and his friends do remarkable things while he sorts out his past, and maybe he comes to terms with some things about himself, but not really, because he’s too noncommittal to really give a fuck.

Surface synopsis quote:

I have revealed too much of myself. The inner shallows. [87]

Actual synopsis quote:

One by one we are transforming the spaces we have cleared. [206]

Biggest reader question: Where’s the SF?

Biggest reader answer, three-quarters in: OH, THERE’S THE SF.

How it feels: Bleak and gray. Casual characters in a brooding environment. Metaphors are like wow.

A taste:

This is my home with its inner chaos exposed, no more now than a ghastly iteration of the same salt crystal. City as tumour. A spreading circle of dead tissue. City as leprosy. [199]

Typical reader criticism: Conrad is an indolent, selfish dick, and his friends are indolent, selfish dicks.

My response: And?

Narrow-minded criticism: Conrad is confused about his sexuality.

My response: No, he is not confused. And sexuality is not static for many people, anyway.

Harshest criticism: All style, no substance. Just postmodern cool kids with no real struggle.

My response: The plot is “the adaptation of millennials in a pre-decay, pre-flood world.” But the story is actually about the human interpretation of and human effect upon space: landscape space, memory space, relational space. It is about how things change, and how we adapt to it and reconstruct our own stories about it. How our own manipulations of the landscape of life dehumanize us and remove us from the truth. Not a new interpretive plot, but compelling from a millennial POV.

Possible other criticism: It’s sexist. The female characters are mere ancillaries, annoying contrivances by design, cast in bad situations without much narrative sympathy.

But: Coming from the first-person POV of an indolent, selfish dick, that’skindathepoint. This is a critical depiction of the male POV within the hip, tech subculture. How timely.

My only real criticism: There is a cringe-inducing trunk scene that I think will hook most readers with its suspense, but I thought it was silly and interrupted the thematic arc.

Why it’s special: While the narrative slings back-and-forth in time, the novel’s motif of flooding landscapes builds momentum with a circling, swelling pattern full of consistent metaphorical themes. The spiral feels meandering, but is conclusive to the tale. The plot trickles, then swells, then engulfs.

Why it’s really special: The definitive near-future, post-modern tale for/about the millennial generation.

Should you read this: No. This was my favorite novel of 2014 and it’s all mine.

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And that concludes my 8-part review series on the 2014 British Science Fiction Association Best Novel Shortlist! The winner will be announced at the BSFA ceremony at Eastercon on Sunday, April 5. Sure, I have my favorites, but every book on this list is progressive and special in some way.

And remember that as the SF world collapses in dismay due to other big SF announcements this weekend.

Thanks for keeping it classy, British SF-ers! And thanks for such a delightful reading list!

Previous BSFA Shortlist Reviews:
Europe in Autumn by David Hutchinson
The Race by Nina Allan
Cuckoo Song by Francis Hardinge
The Moon King by Neil Williamson
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

 

BSFA Shortlist Review: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

ancillarySwordAncillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Setting: Mostly on a space station belonging to the vast Radsch Empire, thousands of years in the future of the galactic human diaspora.

Summary: After the destruction of the ship Justice of Toren, the Lord of the Radsch gives Breq, the only surviving Justice of Toren ancillary soldier, command of a Mercy ship. She is assigned to Athoek Station, where institutionalized classism has led to the neglect and abuse of conquered citizens.

The blurb that was never blurbed:

Time for Breq-fast! (Because it was a long time between reading Justice and Sword. Get it? Ohnevermind.)

The premise-puncturing quote that everybody’s thinking:

‘I may well be extremely foolish just letting you live, let alone giving you official authority and a ship…’ [5]

Yep.

Synopsis quote:

…there were no tiny, brightly colored penises hanging in the corridors,… [18]

Haha, just kidding, but yeah… a funny scene in book full of “shes” and “hers.” I think Leckie is digging at herself here.

How it feels: Television-in-a-novel, much like its predecessor. Less than subtle address of imperial classism. Lots of indignant dialogue of the Picard shirt-tugging variety, which upstages the much more interesting quirks of an “unplugged” AI protagonist. Much tea drinking.

Word count time: Tea is mentioned 74 times, up from 39 in Ancillary Justice.

The blurb that was never blurbed, part 2:

More tea with your Breq-fast? (Eh?… eh?)

But about that tea drinking: It is a worn out sensory detail that I am quick to condemn, but it does serve the character of this sprawling empire maintained by delicate diplomacy.

Should you read this: Meh. Dramatized sci-fi makes for a blasé read, but I genuinely look forward to seeing this on the small screen, where the indignant dialogue and overt social commentary will be best utilized. Non-gendered pronoun use among sexually-ambiguous humanoid characters is not the most nuanced form of social commentary– it should not blow away dedicated SF readers– but this will be good for mainstream ‘Murica. I eagerly await the conservative huffing and puffing that will come from this development.

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This review is part of an 8-part review series on the 2014 British Science Fiction Association Best Novel Shortlist. The winner will be announced at the BSFA ceremony at Eastercon on Sunday, April 5.

Previous BFSA Shortlist Reviews:
Europe in Autumn by David Hutchinson
The Race by Nina Allan
Cuckoo Song by Francis Hardinge
The Moon King by Neil Williamson
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Upcoming BFSA Shortlist Reviews:
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
Wolves by Simon Ings

 

BSFA Shortlist Review: Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

lagoonLagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Setting: Lagos, Nigeria

Summary: A scientist, a soldier, and a rapper lead this multi-character exploration of Lagos in the midst of first contact with aliens.

Actual summary: A social peephole into Nigerian society.

Synopsis quote/Commentary about Western politics: We can work with you people, the alien tells the people of Nigeria.

How it feels: Hyper and lampooning. Primarily dialogue-driven, with some confusing head-hopping in scenes. Might disappoint critical readers with its initial pedestrian style, but the second half of the novel drives home Okorafor’s dark and funny observations about Nigerian social sectors, civil unrest, and mob mentality.

Characters you’ll meet: Shapeshifters and crossdressers, profiteering preachers and machete-wielding youths, a crazy Christian church lady and some level-headed Muslims. Oh, and a highway that eats people. (Nigeria and Texas have a lot in common.)

Best enjoyed: The audio format is supreme, and available in the U.S. (The book will be released in the U.S. in July.) The Nigerian performers are brilliant and wonderful and SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED FOR THIS YEAR’S AUDIE AWARDS AND WERE NOT.

Unanswered question: So why do all of the main characters’ names begin with ‘A’? They ask, but did I miss the alien’s answer?

Should you read this? Yes. Yes, you should read this.

Irrelevant observation: I get excited when giant story-weaving spiders show up in books. What’s that about?

 ***

This review is part of an 8-part review series on the 2014 British Science Fiction Association Best Novel Shortlist. The winner will be announced at the BSFA ceremony at Eastercon on Sunday, April 5.

Previous BSFA Shortlist Reviews:
Europe in Autumn by David Hutchinson
The Race by Nina Allan
Cuckoo Song by Francis Hardinge
The Moon King by Neil Williamson

Upcoming BSFA Shortlist Review:
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
Wolves by Simon Ings

 

 

BSFA Shortlist Review: The Moon King by Neil Williamson

TheMoonKingThe Moon King by Neil Williamson

Setting: An island bound to the cycles of the moon.

Summary: Glassholm’s first king captured the moon and tethered it to the island city. For five hundred years, the moon’s presence has influenced the mood of the people, who experience dramatic swings in temperament over the course of each month. But crime during the Dark days has become more heinous, and now leaks into the Fullish days. No one feels safe anymore.

Synopsis quote:

The earth moved around the sun, the moon moved around Glassholm. After that it was all a matter of shadows. [Loc. 1520]

The blurb that was never blurbed:

Gives new meaning to the phrase “that time of the month.”

How it feels: Fleeting moments of glittery fish scales and pearlescent moondrops are juxtaposed with a smoky crime story aesthetic. However, strained dialogue and strained motivations overshadow the intriguing, albeit flimsy, setting and premise. Many scenes feel blocked, as if in a play, as if the author is shouting, “Places, people!” An imaginative effort by a first-time novelist who is unpracticed in long fiction transitions.

The message: Loaded with positive, superficial messages about bipolar disorder and atonement. Ultimately about the importance of being different. Might also serve as a political allegory about the power of our leaders to make our lives miserable, and the passive compliance of citizens to allow misery to continue.

Celebrity blurbers: Jeff VanderMeer and Nina Allan have both praised this novel.

My response: Did we read the same book?

Should you read this? Passive readers looking for a unique secondary world setting might enjoy this. Critical readers might not buy the initial premise or the general passivity of the citizenry. (British colonists rioted over taxes; I should think state-induced suicidal depression might warrant regicide after the first month of lunar-entrapment.)

Ultimately: In general, reader feedback is split, most reviews are very positive, but this was my least favorite of the BSFA shortlist.

Publishing observation: The ebook version is loaded, LOADED, with typographical and grammatical errors, which, for this reader from a bilingual household, is not terribly important. (In my house, words make themselves!) More distracting is the urge to rewrite entire sentences to make them less explanatory, and more alluring.

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This is part of an 8-part review series on the 2014 British Science Fiction Association Best Novel Shortlist. The winner will be announced at the BSFA ceremony at Eastercon on Sunday, April 5.

Previous BFSA Shortlist Reviews:
Europe in Autumn by David Hutchinson
The Race by Nina Allan
Cuckoo Song by Francis Hardinge

Next week’s BFSA Shortlist Reviews:
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
Wolves by Simon Ings