Reading log - the second thirdsies

Two excellent things that have nothing to do with the fiction I read in the last third of the year.  This review of Star Trek: Beyond is an excellent love letter to the franchise.  Stand it up next to this manifesto about the identity of Science Fiction that's masquerading as a review of The Weave, then stop by Abigail Nussbaum's review of the Clarke Shortlist that tackles the award's status in genre at this moment, and then maybe you'll agree that Strange Horizons is writing some of the best stuff about genre out there right now, and by the way you can support them.  

I'll also point out that there's a new literary magazine launching to spotlight speculative fiction from black authors - Fiyah Literary Magazine.  Go take a look at the masthead (someday I'll get to see I interviewed the editors when...), read the mission & the history, and then keep your eyes peeled.  (In case I haven't mentioned the Fireside Fiction report on antiblack racism in Black Speculative Fiction recently, it's a damning read).  So far as I know, Strange Horizons is the only short fiction market to have responded officially.  I am hopeful that Fiyah will be one of many other responses.

I read a lot less in the second third of this year, aka the summer home with the kids, but I did get through a few things.  I struggled through the Clarke Award shortlist & then discussed it (twice) with Megan & Maureen.  If you're interested in writing about award shortlists, I'd recommend Abigail Nussbaum's review (above) & the roundup over at Martin Petto's blog.

The best thing I read came from the Clarke list - Nnedi Okorafor's The Book of Phoenix was very good.  Dave Hutchison's Europe at Midnight was also very good (controlled and with a distinct, tense tone where Phoenix burst with ideas and energy and memorable characterization), but I wish Europe had treated its women better.  N K Jemisin's The Obelisk Gate started off brilliantly, parceling out information in small quantities while hinting at the horrors all around.  As the book wore on, the invisible hand of the author moving plot points from A to B became increasingly visible, and I didn't find The Obelisk Gate as satisfying as The Fifth Season (one of the best books I read last year), or even particularly great on it's own.  I am, however, very excited to read the complete Broken Earth trilogy next year.  The eventual Clarke award winner, Children of Time was (to quote myself) "ambitious and a bit old-fashioned", and included some really excellent writing about uplifted spiders.

I didn't read much short fiction at all last thirdsy (though I have anthologies piling up everywhere), but I'd recommend Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djeli Clark.  I particularly enjoyed the voice and the sense that early-20th-century Cairo was a character in the story.

I tried a few more "literary" novels: Nina Allan's The Race was good, but I think I need to dive in more closely to really pull it apart & see what made it tick so well.  I didn't particularly enjoy Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation when I read it, but it's grown on me, particularly after a conversation with Kate Schapira that'll be posted at some point.  Another that I hope to reread, this time rather than attempting to solve the book, I want to read carefully but without seeking mastery.

I read and enjoyed The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, and also read and occasionally enjoyed various shorter length things for Hugo voting (none of the novellas on offer were as good as Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, I'll note with a grumble)

I'm close to finishing Kate Elliott's Traitor's Gate, making progress on Ken Liu's The Paper Menagerie & Other Stories, which remains high quality & emotionally wrenching throughout, and working on Joanna Russ's How To Suppress Women's Writing (still sadly relevant).  Nisi Shawl's Everfair is coming soon, as is Ken Liu's Wall of Storms.  I've got Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad on my shelf so I can be part of the new literary conversations, and also McKillip's The Riddle-Master of Hed so I can catch up on older material.  Hopefully with the kids in school, a bit more free time, and no awards hanging over me I can read a bit more and a bit more widely.

Reading Log: The first thirdsies of 2016

I've been tracking my reading for the year, which makes it easy to pull up for air from time to time and see what I've read so far.  Two DNF (Did Not Finishes) for me, a few really brilliant stories, an underappreciated author, and a few stories that I'm choosing to describe as helping me learn about my tastes.  With that said, here's a review of what I've read in the first third of 2016, my progress on reading 100 new-to-me authors from marginalized backgrounds this year (spoiler: I'm not on track), and a look further ahead.

The standout recommendation of this year is Victor La Valle's Ballad of Black Tom, which is a reimagining and confrontation of H. P. Lovecraft's The Horror of Red Hook (I read the Lovecraft afterwards, it's interesting to see which spaces LaValle is filling in & how Lovecraft told the story, but there's no need to read it).  

I'd also like to bring attention to L S Johnson, who I first encountered in Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History.  Her story Marigolds is a grotesque and enchanting repudiation of the "tragic queer" trope.  (And dear lord can some editor please put this online so I can refer people to it?!?)  I read her Little Men With Knives, a novelette available from Crossed Genres and now in her collection Vacui Magia: Stories, which I'm looking forward to sinking into later this year.

The other excellent short fiction I read were Ethan Robinson's One Way Out and a number of stories from 2015 preparing for Hugo nomination season: Marissa Lingen's Points of OriginForestspirit, Forestspirit by Bogi Tákacs, Grandmother nai-Leylit's Cloth of Winds by Rose Lemberg, and Alyssa Wong's Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers.  (This story, and Alyssa, are both on award lists this year, well-deserved from what I've seen).  Good Hunting, reprinted in Ken Liu's The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is the first of the four stories I've read so far that has unreservedly delighted me.  I've also discovered Kip Manley's serialized novelettes The City of Roses which bring urban fantasy and wonder into the city of Portland, OR, with fascinating and nontransparent prose.

The excellent longer piece I read was André Carrington's Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction. This is an academic text and heavy reading, but excellent.  I'll have more to say in a few different venues, and have already tweeted a bit & talked about the prologue.

As for the rest, confirming that in general short fiction is a mixed bag for me: 

I read the first story in Octavia's Brood - Revolution Shuffle.  I haven't read more in that anthology yet.  Jeremiah Tolbert's Not by Wardrobe, Tornado, and Looking Glass in Lightspeed Magazine and Sarah Pinsker's Our Lady of the Open Road seem to be well told stories doing what they want to do (Jeremiah is playing with the notion of portal fantasies and what happens when everyone gets one, Sarah is writing the story of a travelling band in an even more precarious United States), but they mostly made me realize I'm not particularly interested in those premises.

Vajra Chandresekara has an odd little story Tyr/Fenrir (UST/Dubcon Squick), Cassandra Khaw wrote When We Die on Mars, Robin Wyatt Dunn's I Am Winter appeared in Lackington's.  I read About a Kid and a Woman and Bucket List Found in the Locker of Maddie Price, Age 14, Written Two Weeks Before the Great Uplifting of all Mankind which seemed to get some award buzz and had a few moments of delight, but I never really connected with. Mike Underwood's There Will Always Be a Max is an introduction to his Genrenauts series.  It confirmed for me that I don't want to explore the Genrenauts further.  You may have a very different reaction - there are a lot of meta commentaries on tropes, which are either clever or annoying depending on your perspective.

I've started 8 novels this year, heavy on Science Fiction which is a bit unusual to me: Survival by Julie Czerneda was quite good and interested in biology, ecology, and evolution.  Caroline Ives Gilman's Dark Orbit was almost very good until it decided that the community of blind humans living by a different star had magic because of their blindness.  Anyone who wants to jump down the TVTropes rabbit hole starting with Bizarre Alien Sense and then consider that these aliens are just blind people can probably guess why this annoyed me enough to turn me off from the book. I am reading Kate Elliott's Crossroads trilogy before rereading Black Wolves (which I beta read and recommend unreservedly - it's like coming home to the Epic Fantasy I loved but with the problematic elements stripped away & reimagined), so I've read Shadow Gate and moved onto Traitor's Gate.  Tim Akers' Pagan Night had some elements that were delightful: there are consequences for impulsive actions, battles stumble together, and the magic is really intriguing and sometimes has delightful visuals.  I didn't find the integration of women knights into the culture all that persuasive and I think the travel could've been tightened up, but this book's cover absolutely speaks for itself.  If it looks interesting, you'll probably love it.

I didn't finish Signal To Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia because I just didn't really like the voice and contemporary setting, but here's a good review of it by someone who did like it.  I don't have complaints, it's just not really for me.  I also didn't finish Dexter Palmer's Version Control which is at the boundary of science fiction and "litfic" because I found the early chapters really unappealing with the few women slipping around in slinky dresses and worrying about ex-boyfriends.

Sofia Samatar's Stranger in Olondria is very good, though it took me a while to get into.  This is a secondary world fantasy travelling & ghost story, sometimes told through letters and storytelling, but entirely disconnected from the armies and violence of so many secondary world fantasies. William Henry Morris just wrote about it.  I also read Becky Chambers' Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, which is shortlisted for the Clarke Award.  This is a very character-driven space opera that I'm still turning over my thoughts about.

I'm reading through Ken Liu's The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, and in addition to really loving Good Hunting, I very much liked the preface as well as Bookmaking Habits of Select Species, State Change, and The Perfect Match. It's tough reading a single-author collection because some of Ken's writing tics become more apparent when read close together, but this is an excellent set of stories.  

That's what I've read so far: 32 items, 8 novels (2 did not finish), 1 academic nonfiction, and 23 pieces of short fiction at various lengths.  13 items by new-to-me-authors from marginalized backgrounds. 1 standout novella, 1 author I'd love to see discussed more, a mixed bag of short fiction and more science fiction than I expected.

Coming up, I've got Castles in Spain (translated stories from Spain), People of Colo(u)r Destroy SF, and I'll be reading the Clarke Award shortlist to discuss with Maureen Speller and @couchtomoon.  1 down, 5 to read, discuss & produce an episode of before the August award announcement.  I'm hoping to read Adam Roberts' BeteThe Dark Forest (sequel to Three Body Problem), and The Wall of Storms (sequel to The Grace of Kings, which we've discussed endlessly here) also comes out this year.  I also have a lot of authors from marginalized backgrounds to discover.