First, I would like to apologize to everyone who reads this blog (aka: the CIA and my younger brother) because this post… is very late. For three weeks – three weeks! – I managed to stick to a carefully constructed schedule and put up a post every two or three days. But not this week. And I feel very guilty. In my defense, I had four papers due, so the prospect of writing a blog post – ANY blog post – made me want to curl up in a ball and cry.
But I shall stop being a narcissist now, and get to my March reading list!
(Apparently not being a narcissist involves talking about all the books I read. Obviously, what I really need to read is the dictionary. Hem.)
(Also: I will be a narcissist again at the end of my post. Apologies in Advance (And that’s Alliteration #1).
Yes, in fact, to my great surprise, in March, I read things! I don’t know how I did it, since I was dying of schoolwork, but… books were consumed! By me! Many of them for class!
Discussion of said books follows the giant list.
(note: any book that is starred and in italics is a book I liked enough to recommend).
1. Was by Geoff Ryman **
2. My New York Diary by Julie Doucet
3. Emma by Jane Austen **
4. God’s War by Kameron Hurley **
5. Deathless by Catherynne Valente **
6. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins **
7. Jazz by Toni Morrison
8. Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord **
9. Palestine by Joe Sacco **
10. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
11. Persuasion by Jane Austen**
12. Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts **
As you can probably tell from the excessive italics/stars, March was a fantastic month for books. Which was good, because March was a terrible month for my life, so I needed good literature to keep my faith in humanity alive. Hell, even the books I didn’t like were interesting (I ended up writing an essay about My New York Diaries, which I didn’t enjoy at all, but which I admired quite a bit).
I obviously loved Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord, but I’m not going to talk about it again (because I wrote a giant review).
Unfortunately, The Marriage Plot was the low point of the month. I kept waiting for it to get better, because I Trusted Jeffrey Eugenides To Do Right By Me (he wrote Middlesex, a book I loved), but instead, it kept getting worse. Five days, I spent reading that book. Five Days. And the ending! Let’s not even talk about the ending. Well, actually, let’s (Spoiler Alert). Is it just me, or is it deeply problematic in terms of the gender politics? The woman has no agency in her romantic decisions. Her husband leaves her because that’s the Best Thing For Her. Her best friend decides not to marry her because that’s the Best Thing For Her. He does start a relationship with her, because that’s ALSO the Best Thing For Her. Her parents support the Best Friend because they think he’s the Best Thing for Their Daughter.
(Everyone is so considerate of this poor woman. It fills my heart with joy)
We don’t once hear what the poor woman wants for herself (note that she’s been a viewpoint character, so it’s not like she doesn’t have an opinion in the rest of the narrative). Does she want to n0t-marry her best friend who is now in a relationship with her? I don’t know! And no one seems to care!
What? The Ever-Loving? Frack?
I want to give Jeffrey Eugenides the benefit of the doubt, because I can’t believe the guy who wrote Middlesex was so tone-deaf. I want to believe that he was trying to put forwards these stereotypes in order to question them. I really want to believe that.
But instead, he managed to fail so spectacularly that the novel only ends up reinforcing misogynistic gender sterotypes. Or else he subverted them so subtly that even I didn’t notice, and since I’m pretty damn attuned to gender politics, he must have been VERY subtle.
Let’s move away from the Ugly, shall we? Because there was a hell of a lot of good. I greatly enjoyed Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay – okay, that’s a lie. I didn’t enjoy Mockingjay at all – but it was not a novel made for enjoyment. Unless you enjoy being emotionally tortured. Which I do, sometimes (Deadline, I’m looking at you), but Mockingjay was not that kind of torture. Unlike most of the fans of the Hunger Games trilogy, I thought Mockingjay was a very good ending to the trilogy – and in fact, I think it’s the darkness of the final two books that elevate the trilogy, that make it more than a good YA series and propel it towards greatness. Mockingjay is brutally, unrelentingly honest. Which is not fun. But it is truthful. And I do so admire truthfulness.
I raved about God’s War by Kameron Hurley in my Hugo Nominations post, and two weeks later, I haven’t changed my mind. It’s a sensational novel, in every sense of the word (I’m really overdoing it with the alliteration, aren’t it? Sensational and sense? Really?) It was a deeply uncomfortable read, but again, that was the point. I usually don’t enjoy detective stories (I never managed to like Lauren Beukes’s novel Zoo City in spite of the fantastic worldbuilding, because it was too much about the mystery) but Hurley makes the detective work so much a part of the backstory and the worldbuilding and the character development that it worked. It didn’t feel like “mystery story set in Sci-Fi world”. Which is quite an achievement.
The book was also deservedly nominated for a Nebula for best novel.
I haven’t yet raved about Deathless by Catherynne Valente, but I shall take this opportunity to do so. Catherynne Valente is one of my favorite contemporary writers. You can tell she’s one of my favorite contemporary writers because, when I had the opportunity to meet her at WisCon, I ducked into a stairwell instead (The extent to which I admire an artist is directly related to the extent to which I will avoid meeting them). In my defense, it was a pretty awesome stairwell.
Catherynne Valente’s Deathless is a radical reworking of a Russian folktale about Koschei the deathless and his bride, Marya Morevna. I was not on-board with this plot. Stories about marriages tend to bore me – especially stories about unequal marriages, like the ones between a god-like figure and a human. Yes, yes, those unions can never work, blah-blah, unequal power dynamics, angst, hot boys, angst, blah, blah, etc. Why do we care so much? I don’t know about you, but I’ve just stopped caring at all.
Oh, but Valente will make you care. She made me care. She has an uncanny capacity for getting to the heart of what makes stereotypical stories so damn compelling, and then ripping those tropes apart and sewing them back together them until your mind reels with the wonder of what she’s constructed. By the end of the novel, I cared so much about Koschei and Marya’s marriage that I started to tear up. I can’t explain why. Valente’s work defies the kind of superlative criticism that is within my capacity to write.
I also feel guilty that I didn’t read Deathless in time to nominate it for the Hugos. At least I didn’t have to make a sophie’s choice over which novel to throw out to make room for it. Still.
My final read this month was Tansy Rayner Robert’s novel Power and Majesty. I am planning to write a full review sometime soon, so I won’t say too much. I will say that there was no novel this month that I enjoyed more – I’m having trouble remembering a novel this year that I enjoyed more, in point of fact. I kept smiling during the days I was reading it, and I couldn’t figure out why. I had a giant paper due. I was freaking out. Why the hell was I smiling?
And then I remembered that once the paper was in, I could go back to the world of Aufleur. And Velody. And the smiling made total sense.
Power and Majesty is urban fantasy, technically, although I think it shades into the epic. It takes place in a city with a quite a few similarities to ancient Rome (I have no doubt those similarities are a complete coincidence, especially since Rayner Roberts doesn’t know anything about Rome, what with her PhD in Roman History (Hem)). Velody and her friends have come to Aufleur to make their fortunes as dressmakers, ribbon-makers and flower-arrangers. Unbeknownst to them, they’re also about to get dragged into a world of magic, warfare and gratuitous nudity (which turns out not to be gratuitous at all).
The “random girl discovers she’s actually the key to the success of an epic war” narrative is pretty well-explored in the fantasy genre, but Rayner Roberts manages to make it fresh. I think a lot of her success is due to the contrasts in the story – it’s chugging along, light and frothy and fun, and suddenly you hit an intense, violently emotional moment. And those moments are never the ones I expected to be violently emotional. When Velody negotiates a pact with the people she’s supposed to be leading into battle, for example, it should feel cold and stark and political (particularly since all of those people want to kill her and drink her blood) but instead, it’s so intimate that you feel like a voyeur.
In any case, if you like urban fantasy – or epic fantasy – or hell, if you like fantasy, full stop – you should buy Power and Majesty. I’m so pleased to be able to buy it at all: Rayner Roberts is an Australian writer, and until a few weeks ago, her work was only available in Australia. Which was quite frustrating for me – I am a big fan of Galactic Suburbia (witness my freakout over their Hugo nomination) a podcast Rayner Roberts runs along with her friends Alisa and Alex (the alliteration never ends). Based on the strength of Rayner Roberts’s genre commentary, and the fact that I greatly enjoy urban fantasy, I was pretty sure I would love her fiction – but I couldn’t get my hands on it. So it is to my unending delight that there is now a kindle edition that you can purchase in Canada, the UK and the USA.
Jump. On. It. NOW. Like I said, it’s possibly the most enjoyable book I’ve read all year. Which is high praise – have you seen my booklists? It’s not like I’m not enjoying myself.
And in an attempt to prolong my enjoyment of the book, I will be writing a full review. Soon. After my finals. Okay, so… not soon. But soon. ish.
That’s the end of my (giant) Monthly update on my reading list. I do have some blog-related things to freak out about, so if you feel like indulging me, keep reading.
I will apologize AGAIN, because I need to be super-self-indulgent and talk about the fact that, as it turns out, people who aren’t the CIA and my younger brother have actually read this blog.
Apparently, if you write a post about a super-topical topic (the Hugo Awards! Also: “topical topic?” Why can’t I stop with the alliteration)
And you link to other people who have written about said super-topical topic (“said super topical topic” = double alliteration!)
THEN people will read what you wrote. Specifically: people who you wrote ABOUT in your super-topical post will read what you wrote. And then they’ll write to you and say nice things. Or they’ll link back to you.
All this leads to the events of this morning, when I checked my (blog-related) email in the middle of my class (I realize I am a bad person and going to the special circle of hell reserved for child molesters and people who talk at the theater).
And started grinning like an idiot.
You know, I am fully aware of the fact that it’s weird for me to be surprised because the POINT of blogging is for people to find your blog and read it. But it’s still a shock for me. And I don’t know how to deal with it. I literally keep checking my email to see if the email in question is still there (I’m convinced it’s a hallucination).
And then I keep trying to formulate a response. And fail.
As I mentioned, I usually duck into broom closets when my favorite authors come near me. What am I supposed to do when they read my blog? Or link back to me? Is there an internet broom closet? Or stairwell? (not that I’m unhappy to have gotten the email or the link. See: grinning like an idiot in the middle of class).
Anyways. This is the end of me being self-indulgent. Thank you for…indulging.
(someday, I will learn not to be a narcissist. Today is not this day).
Since I so often complain about the lack of race and gender diversity in literary awards, best-of lists, reviews etc… I will be examining my own reading habits for race and gender biases. I may add more biases as the year goes on. Because it’s interesting. And because I think I should live my life according to the principals I tell others to espouse. I mean, I don’t mind being a hypocrite, but if I can avoid it..
So. In March, I read 12 books.
3 by women
9 by men
2 by authors of color
10 by white authors
(This is the statistic that bothers me the most, honestly – I make a conscious effort to read more books by women, and I should be making a much bigger effort to read more books by people of color. I’m working on it.)
The Nebula Nominations are Here! The Nebula Nominations are Here! AAAH!
In case you don’t know, the Nebulas are annual awards given to the best science fiction and fantasy of the year (novel, novelette, short story, movie etc.). Unlike the Hugos, the Nebulas are decided by not fandom, but by creators: only members of the Science fiction and Fantasy Writers of American (SFWA) can vote. They’re pretty crucial awards – in fact, I’d put them right up there with the Hugo and the World Fantasy Award, in terms of visibility and importance to the field.
So the Nebula Shortlist coming out? Totally warrants a freakout.
But before I have the aforementioned freakout, a digression (about another freakout).
Tor.com runs an annual reader’s poll on the best novel of the year. Since they’re a major SF/F hub, I assume that the poll is pretty, well, popular, and so the results might be a bellweather for the Nebulas and the Hugos. And ever since I’ve seen the aforementioned results, I’ve been having a minor freakout.
The freakout goes like this: OH GOD, a list of the ten books and exactly ONE woman. No authors of color (as far as I can tell – please, someone correct me if I’m wrong). And NO support for the really awesomepants genre-defying, mind-bending fantasmagorical novels I think are the “best” of the year. NOOOO, the Hugos and the Nebulas are CLEARLY going to be a two-man race between PAT ROTHFUSS AND GEORGE RR. MARTIN, WHYYYYYYYY?
My freakout kept increasing as I read every category (again: one woman in the short story category. Is there a quota system I’m unaware of?) You can witness the results of said freakout in my post about the Hugo nominations. (Fair warning: it’s quite a long post).
I will admit, I’m the only person I know who would get this worked out about awards that haven’t even been announced yet. Such is my curse.
But for today, my friends, my curse has been lifted, because the Nebula Awards shortlist is OUT. And it is telling me that I should never, ever, ever pay attention to the Tor Reader’s Poll. Because the shortlist?
Is wearing the awesomepants.
I actually gasped when I saw the best novel category. Do you know why? Because N.K Jemisin is BACK on it, ladies and gentlemen. WHOOO HOOO!
I was convinced The Kingdom of the Gods wouldn’t make it on the ballot, because it’s the third book in the trilogy (usually not nominated in these sorts of things) and it was released in late October last year, and there wasn’t the same buzz around it there was around The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Which was really unfortunate, because The Kingdom of the Gods is, in my opinion, even better than The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. It’s absolutely incredible, and I’ve been moping around because I thought it would not get the recognition it so richly deserved. But it has! Hurrah! Go N.K Jemisin!
And then, the shortlist continued its wardrobe of awesomeness by including Jo Walton’s Among Others – one of my favorite reads of the past year (and the only female-authored novel to crack the top ten in Tor’s Reader Poll). Jo Walton, or, as I like to call her: Jo “genre boundaries? What genre boundaries?” Walton.
I am fully committed to any author who writes a Victorian comedy of manners starring a pose of dragons (Tooth and Claw). Or an author who writes a story about a young witch discovering science fiction.
Of course, when I saw China Mielville’s Embassytown was on the shortlist, I knew the Nebulas were going full-out. Oh yeah. The shortlist was putting on its high heels, man. As everyone and their grandmother knows, I am slightly obsessed with China Mielville. He’s one of those hyped authors who truly deserves the hype. He also never rests on his laurels – all of his novels are different from one another, and each one of them is difficult and challenging in new ways. I always approach Mielville with a bit of trepidation because I never know if he’s going to pull it off. It’s like each one of his novels is a roller coaster, but there aren’t any tracks under the car, and Mielville’s sitting there, assuring me that yes, the roller coaster will make it back to the ground safely, and before I can protest, he locks the doors and I can’t get out. But somehow, the roller coaster DOES make it onto the ground, and I’m always amazed it hasn’t fallen out of the sky, and I can never quite figure out how he’s done it. He’s that kind of storyteller.
I was also quite pleased to see Genevieve Valentine’s Mechanique on there – I finished it last week, and I thought it was fantastic. Valentine managed to take two things I was getting a bit tired of – Steampunk and circus novels – and make them fresh and interesting by pushing the conventions to that weird, dark place I always hoped they would go to. Plus, I love a good narrative about the posthuman. I’m not sure I liked Mechanique as much as I did some other of 2011’s books, but it’s one I can get behind for the nomination.
And then I saw Kameron Hurley’s God’s War was on the ballot, and I realized that the shortlist wasn’t just wearing the awesomepants. It was wearing the diamond-incrusted, Jean-Paul Gaultier designed awesomepants.
When the ladies of the (wonderful) podcast Galactic Suburbia described God’s War, I though “There’s no way I’m not going to love this.” It’s about an assassin. There are aliens. And a holy war. And a planet settled by muslims. And people sell their wombs. And there’s BOXING. And bugs. Lots and lots and lots of bugs.
And I was right. I did love it. I’m planning on posting a full review at some point in the future, so I will restrain myself for now. But it’s a great, great book, and the fact that it was nominated for a Nebula (rather than burned to the ground for its radical feminism), gives me hope.
Sadly, I have nothing to say about Jack McDevitt’s Firebird, because… I haven’t read it. Whoops. I haven’t even really heard of it, so I will need to track it down and discover why it’s on the ballot. But given the standard of the other nominees, I’m sure it’s fantastic.
Going back to my fears that the ballot would time-travel back into the dark days of all-white men? Incorrect! Of the best novel authors, four are women, two are men. Hurrah! The trend of women being recognized in the SF/F field continues!
As far as I know, NK Jemisin is the only author of color recognized (again, anyone with clarifications there should let me know, because I don’t want to erase anyone). But two of the novels are in a non-european setting (The Kingdom of the Gods and God’s War) and Valentine’s novel has quite a few non-white characters (I don’t know about Firebird).
I have a lot less to say about the non-novel categories, since I haven’t read that much short fiction this year (or any year, really. I’m working on it). But I let out my second gasp-whoop of the night (after N.K. Jemisin) for Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie.” It’s a story that made me get teary-eyed in a public space. Enough said.
I’m also very excited to see that some of my favorite writers – Catherynne Valente, Kij Johnson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Rachel Swirsky and Geoff Ryman – were nominated for their work in short fiction. At some point, I’m planning on actually reading the entire short fiction ballot and writing up thoughts on it… but not until I get some more homework done.
I was a bit disappointed to see X-Men: First Class hadn’t made it onto the dramatic presentation shortlist. Because homoerotic tension should ALWAYS be rewarded with a Nebula. No, actually, unresolved homoerotic tension should be rewarded with a Nebula nomination… but then lose to a movie that actually RESOLVED the aforementioned homoerotic tension. And the Neil Gaiman-penned episode of Dr. Who, “The Doctor’s wife” got a nod, which is great, since I’m sure it will lead to Neil Gaiman doing this again (I love Neil Gaiman).
Finally, regarding the Andre Norton award for Young Adult fiction (which is… not a Nebula?I never quite understand the relationship between two, but they’re given at the same ceremony, and they’re announced at the same time).
I have only read two novels on the shortlist, but based on those two alone, I can tell you that the Andre Norton award is wearing an awesomeskirt to match the Nebula’s awesomepants. Those two books, are, of course, Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch (soccer!) and Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze, both of which I thought were fantastic. The Freedom Maze, in particular, is an Acheivement of a novel (capital A and all). It proves once more that YA can handle difficult and complex topics just as deftly and intelligently as “grown-up” books. If not more.
Also, the cover is amazing. I’m just saying.
Going back to my epic freakout over the Tor.com results, I will quickly give a gender/race breakdown of the Nebulas (again, I don’t know all of these authors, and wikipedia/image searches will only tell me so much. Correct my errors if you see them).
1 POC (People of Color)
3 women (do not be fooled by the “Charlie” in Charlie Jane Anders. I almost was (thank Claude for Wikipedia). She is, in fact, female)
Hey, all in all, that’s pretty good! Maybe the Hugos and the World Fantasy awards will be a bloodbath. Maybe all the WINNERS will be white men. You never know. (It’s not paranoia if they’re really trying to kill you).
But for now, my friends, I listen to the message the Nebulas are sending me.
“Shut up, disoriented chick,” sayeth the Nebulas. “We have not yet fallen back to the dark side. We are wearing the awesomepants. And the awesomeshirt. And the awesome high-heels. We will not go back to the drab blue jeans and T-shirt of old.”
And that’s a message I can get behind.