The Hugo Shortlist is out, gentlemen, gentlewomen and gentle-people-of-non-normative genders. And I have many, many strong emotions about the nominees. Remembering, of course, that I’m pretty damn passionate about the Hugo Awards, full stop. I am, after all, the girl who got dressed up to watch the Hugo livestreaming last year. So it should come as no surprise (not to repeat myself) that I have many, many strong emotions about the nominees.
I may (or may not) have screamed in (happy, happy) shock when I got to best fancast. I may (or may not) have hollered in appreciation when I saw how many times Ken Liu, Catherynne Valente and Seanan McGuire were nominated. I may (or may not) have rolled my eyes when I saw certain nominees. I may (or may not) have yelled at the computer for a good three minutes when I realized certain crucial works had not received nods.
But since my incoherent yelling has never helped anyone, let’s go through the nominees, shall we? I’m going to list each category, and post my thoughts. Warnings: All Caps will be used. Frequently. For reference (if you’re interested), here’s my original ballot.
- Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)
- A Dance With Dragons, George R. R. Martin (Bantam Spectra)
- Deadline, Mira Grant (Orbit)
- Embassytown, China Miéville (Macmillan / Del Rey)
- Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Corey (Orbit)
I can’t help feeling a disappointed at this shortlist, despite the fact that it contains three of my five picks. It’s just so… expected. I mean, I am pleased as punch to see Among Others, Deadline and Embassytown on there, don’t get me wrong! I’m ecstatic to see Mira Grant get another nod, because damn, that woman can write. And thank the voters that Among Others is on there – it’s a stupendous piece of work. But I have to admit, these five novels have a lot of in common with each other.
I like to think of it as a menu. Classic science fiction and fantasy is chocolate cake, and who doesn’t like chocolate cake? But at the same time… do we want five pieces of chocolate cake? Because that’s what this shortlist feels like. Leviathan Wakes, Embassytown and Among Others are all nostalgic novels, throwbacks to “classic” science fiction. Now, in reading Embassytown and Among Others, I thought both re-vamped the style of “classic” SF in really interesting ways… and yet. They might be chocolate cake with unexpected filling, but they’re still chocolate cake. A Dance with Dragons isn’t classic SF, but it’s classic Epic Fantasy. My impression – having read neither book, but having read a fair amount of reviews for both – is that A Dance with Dragons is the fantasy equivalent of a Leviathan Wakes. It’s comfort food – again, chocolate cake, albeit chocolate cake with swords rather than spaceships.
Deadline is the closest thing to a truly innovative novel here – it’s a postmodern zombie story that melds horror and SF. I don’t think there’s anything like Deadline on the market today. It stands on its own. I’m so glad the series is receiving continued recognition – it does all kinds of fascinating, provocative things with fear and science and family relations, things that take real guts and talent to pull off. The fact that it’s so popular speaks well, I think, of the tastes of the Speculative Fiction reading public. But it’s also an expected choice, in the sense that the first novel in the series, Feed, almost won the Hugo award last year. So Deadline isn’t chocolate cake, but it’s still chocolate. Chocolate mousse, maybe.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with chocolate cake (and mousse). But only chocolate cake? When we have an entire menu of options to choose from? It feels a bit restrictive. Where is the love for people who took real narrative risks and pulled them off? Where is the recognition for authors who whipped up a batch of peanut-butter-kiwi-upside-down-cake and managed to make it delicious despite the terrible name?
To me, the three most innovative novels of the year (that I read) were Catherynne Valente’s Deathless, N.K. Jemisin’s The Kingdom of the Gods and Kameron Hurley’s God’s War. I would have given up a slice of chocolate cake for some Raspberry Souffle (Valente), an Irish Coffee (Jemisin) or a big chunk of Baclava (Hurley). I think those culinary shocks are necessary to keep the genre fresh. Remember when Catherynne Valente’s Palimpsest landed on the Hugo ballot two years ago, and the community exploded with shock and horror? Where’s THAT reaction? I see a lot of people in the blogosphere who are disappointed, but there’s no real outrage. Give me some outrage.
(astute readers may note that I did not nominate Catherynne Valente’s Deathless, and so I shouldn’t complain about it not showing up on the Hugo Ballot. This is a perfectly valid point. However, I hadn’t read it by the deadline, and although I suspected I would love it with a passion, I couldn’t in all honesty nominate it without having finished it. I did love it).
The other thing that makes me call the list restrictive is the race and gender stuff. Because I am your humorless feminist social-justice crusader, and I must complain about these things. Unless I’m making a terrible mistake with Leviathan Wakes, all five novels are set in either North-America or a Western-derived landscape. Yes, Leviathan Wakes occurs in space, but it doesn’t seem to be God’s War or Firefly, which take place in a non-western outer-space. All the authors are white. Excluding A Dance with Dragons, which has no central protagonist (as far as I know), three of the four protagonists are white men. The heroine of Embassytown has no stated race (as I recall), but the default assumption is that she’s white. Not to beat a dead horse, but… I mean… speculative fiction is the literature of alienation (at least according to China Mielville. And me). And we can’t even alienate ourselves away from North American settings and heroes?
Okay, complaints done. On the other hand, there are no duds (again, I haven’t read A Dance With Dragons or Leviathan Wakes, so I may change my mind about this). This isn’t 2010, when The Windup Girl got a nod despite being a terrible sandwich of cultural appropriation with rape fantasies as the amuse-bouche (fortunately it didn’t win…oh, wait). I can appreciate a lack of duds. I just wish there was some pizzazz.
I’m reviewing the short fiction sections as a group, since I know far less about them:
- Countdown, Mira Grant (Orbit)
- “The Ice Owl”, Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
- “Kiss Me Twice”, Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s)
- “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”, Kij Johnson (Asimov’s)
- “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary”, Ken Liu (Panverse 3)
- Silently and Very Fast, Catherynne M. Valente (WSFA)
- “The Copenhagen Interpretation”, Paul Cornell (Asimov’s)
- “Fields of Gold”, Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse Four)
- “Ray of Light”, Brad R. Torgersen (Analog)
- “Six Months, Three Days”, Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com)
- “What We Found”, Geoff Ryman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
Best Short Story
- “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”, E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld)
- “The Homecoming”, Mike Resnick (Asimov’s)
- “Movement”, Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s)
- “The Paper Menagerie”, Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
- “Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue”, John Scalzi (Tor.com)
If you consult my Hugo ballot, you’ll note that I didn’t have a whole lot of nominations for the short fiction field. Mostly because it’s not my field of expertise. I’m working on it! That said, I’m ecstatic to see some of my favorite authors on the list. Ken Liu, my short-fiction crush of 2011, is on there twice. Catherynne Valente gets a nod for her first major work of science fiction, which – yes. I say Yes, and I add “Please, sir, can I have some more?” Science Fiction needs Catherynne Valente desperately (let us note that I haven’t read Silently and Very Fast, so I might…change my mind. But I doubt it). My favorite novella of 2011, “Kiss Me Twice” is also front and center (ah, Mary Robinette Kowal). And Geoff Ryman and Rachel Swirsky, two authors I adore, are both nominees.
If anything, I’m excited by all the incredible short fiction I’m going to get to read in the next months. I’m thrilled that I finally have a good excuse to read John Scalzi, whose non-fiction work I adore. And apparently, the short story he wrote was an elaborate April Fool’s Joke, so I know I’m going to love it. All of this quells my slight disappointment at not seeing Karen Joy Fowler’s fantastic “Younger Women” or Catherynne Valente’s “The Bread we Eat in Dreams” get a nod.
(There’s also a lesson here: the less I know about something, the less likely I am to complain about it).
Best Related Work
- The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Third Edition, edited by John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls, and Graham Sleight (Gollancz)
- Jar Jar Binks Must Die…and other Observations about Science Fiction Movies, Daniel M. Kimmel (Fantastic Books)
- The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature, Jeff VanderMeer and S. J. Chambers (Abrams Image)
- Wicked Girls (CD), Seanan McGuire
- Writing Excuses, Season 6 (podcast series), Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Jordan Sanderson
Best Graphic Story
- Digger, by Ursula Vernon (Sofawolf Press)
- Fables Vol 15: Rose Red, by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham (Vertigo)
- Locke & Key Volume 4: Keys To The Kingdom, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
- Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication, written and illustrated by Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (The Tayler Corporation)
- The Unwritten (Volume 4): Leviathan, created by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, written by Mike Carey, illustrated by Peter Gross (Vertigo)
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
- Captain America: The First Avenger, screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephan McFeely; directed by Joe Johnston (Marvel)
- Game of Thrones (Season 1), created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss;
written by David Benioff, D. B. Weiss, Bryan Cogman, Jane Espenson, and George R. R. Martin; directed by Brian Kirk, Daniel Minahan, Tim van Patten, and Alan Taylor (HBO)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, screenplay by Steve Kloves; directed by David Yates (Warner Bros.)
- Hugo, screenplay by John Logan; directed by Martin Scorsese (Paramount)
- Source Code, screenplay by Ben Ripley; directed by Duncan Jones (Vendome Pictures)
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
- Doctor Who, ”The Doctor’s Wife”, written by Neil Gaiman; directed by Richard Clark (BBC Wales)
- “The Drink Tank’s Hugo Acceptance Speech”, Christopher J Garcia and James Bacon (Renovation)
- Doctor Who, ”The Girl Who Waited”, written by Tom MacRae; directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
- Doctor Who, ”A Good Man Goes to War”, written by Steven Moffat; directed by Peter Hoar (BBC Wales)
- Community, ”Remedial Chaos Theory”, written by Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna; directed by Jeff Melman (NBC)
I know absolutely nothing about the Best Related Works and Best Graphic Story shortlists, but I’m, as ever, looking forwards to discovering them as I make my final selections. I can’t say I’m that excited about the Best Dramatic Presentation shortlists (either of them) although I think it’s fantastic that Game of Thrones got nominated as an entire series – I’m not sure that’s ever happened before. Given it’s popularity, I think it might give even Harry Potter a run for it’s money. I’m also quite happy to see that Community got a nomination, because I just started watching, and I absolutely love the series – even if it’s not “traditional” science fiction (well, it’s not science fiction at all. But that’s not the point).
I will pop up as feminist commenter 101 to point out that ALL the best Long form dramatic nominees (except Game of Thrones, which doesn’t have a central protagonist) have male heroes. And that none of them (again, excluding Game of Thrones) pass the Bechdel Test. Harry Potter does if you squint sideways, and count a conversation as a woman saying something to another woman for three seconds and receiving absolutely no reply. I don’t.
But I shall move on from the Bechdel test (sigh). Especially since next year, we’ll have Prometheus. There are women in the trailer for that movie. Hopefully they will talk to each other. Hopefully the movie will be nominated for a Hugo. Oh, and we’ll have The Hunger Games, which passes with flying colors. Which will also (hopefully) be nominated.
Although it is sad to see the continuing dominance of Doctor Who – not because Doctor Who is a bad show, don’t get me wrong – but because there are other great SciFi shows that deserve to be nominated. Fringe, anyone? Individual episodes of Game of Thrones? The British version of Being Human? Doctor Who is not the only player in the field, but you wouldn’t know that from the ballot. And especially when Fringe has been so consistently mind-blowing… and is a science fiction show about a woman… which would get me to shut up about gender equality for thirty seconds…
Oh, and as someone who watched The Hugos live last year, may I just say that Christopher Garcia’s Acceptance Speech absolutely deserves to be on the shortlist? Because it does. I might even vote for it.
- Apex Magazine, edited by Catherynne M. Valente, Lynne M. Thomas, and Jason Sizemore
- Interzone, edited by Andy Cox
- Lightspeed, edited by John Joseph Adams
- Locus, edited by Liza Groen Trombi, Kirsten Gong-Wong, et al.
- New York Review of Science Fiction, edited by David G. Hartwell, Kevin J. Maroney, Kris Dikeman, and Avram Grumer
- Banana Wings, edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
- The Drink Tank, edited by James Bacon and Christopher J Garcia
- File 770, edited by Mike Glyer
- Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, et al.
- SF Signal, edited by John DeNardo
- The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan & Gary K. Wolfe
- Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts (presenters) and Andrew Finch (producer)
- SF Signal Podcast, John DeNardo and JP Frantz (presenters), Patrick Hester (producer)
- SF Squeecast, Lynne M. Thomas, Seanan McGuire, Paul Cornell, Elizabeth Bear, and Catherynne M. Valente
- StarShipSofa, Tony C. Smith
I don’t really have much to say about best Semi-prozine. I am shocked that Clarkesworld, which has won for the past two years, wasn’t even nominated, but I’m wondering if the magazine didn’t withdraw itself from consideration like Girl Genius did. Anyone know? Oh, and I’m ecstatic to see Catherynne Valente nominated for her work on Apex – she did a fantastic job, and it’s a much-needed magazine in our field.
I have absolutely nothing to say about fanzines – I’m not even going to wade into the “are blogs fanzines” debate, because I’m just not informed enough.
This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for.
GALACTIC SUBURBIA WAS NOMINATED FOR BEST FANCAST OH MY FREAKING GOD I CAN’T BELIEVE IT, GALACTIC SUBURBIA AAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA! YEs!
(congratulations to all the other nominees, by the way)
YES! GALACTIC SUBURBIA FOR THE WIN!
I actually let out a loud WHOOOP when I saw Galactic Suburbia on there. I hoped beyond all hope they would get a nomination, but because they’re a feminist Australian podcast, I didn’t think there was any way they would. The fact that they did – that they got this kind of recognition – makes me absolutely ecstatic. I hope the nomination brings them even more visibility; they deserve it. They bring us news and recommendations, but they do it with that little extra something – and with that feminist analysis – that makes me want to listen to them all day. They’re also just damn fun – you wouldn’t think three women analyzing gender issues in speculative fiction would be a barrel of laughs, but I laugh so hard when I listen to them. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s addictive, it’s brilliant. Whenever I listen to other podcasts, I always end up thinking “I wonder what Tansy, Allysa and Alex would say about that?”
I’m so FREAKING HAPPY they got nominated. To me, it makes up for all the disappointments in all the other categories.
Yes, thank you very much. I will have that giant box of feminist cookies (Galactic Suburbia) and leave you to your cake. But as you can see above, they also have CAKE. So you should listen to it. For the Cookies. And the Cake.
(Yes, I am aware that I’m making no sense. I’m so pleased I can’t think straight)
Finishing up with the final categories:
Best Editor, Long Form
- Lou Anders
- Liz Gorinsky
- Anne Lesley Groell
- Patrick Nielsen Hayden
- Betsy Wollheim
It is beyond me why Dev Pillai and Jeremy Lassen didn’t score nominations for their fantastic work on the NK Jemisin trilogy and the God’s War trilogy respectively, but I will refrain from comment, since I don’t know much about their competitors. I am pleased to see Anne Lesley Groell and Liz Gorinsky get nods, however.
Best Editor, Short Form
- John Joseph Adams
- Neil Clarke
- Stanley Schmidt
- Jonathan Strahan
- Sheila Williams
Best Professional Artist
- Dan dos Santos
- Bob Eggleton
- Michael Komarck
- Stephan Martiniere
- John Picacio
No comment except… you know what’s coming… five men, no women? Wow.
Best Fan Artist
- Brad W. Foster
- Randall Munroe
- Spring Schoenhuth
- Maurine Starkey
- Steve Stiles
- Taral Wayne
And still, I say, no comment! Except that I hope to discover their work soon.
Best Fan Writer
- James Bacon
- Claire Brialey
- Christopher J. Garcia
- Jim C. Hines
- Steven H Silver
I only follow Jim C. Hines closely, but I’m pleased he got a nomination. His blog is fantastic. And hilarious. And he covers lots of feminist issues. If you want a great example of his work, try this one on book covers.
The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
- Mur Lafferty
- Stina Leicht
- Karen Lord
- Brad R. Torgersen
- E. Lily Yu
Really pleased to see Karen Lord on there, obviously, since I gave her first novel such a resounding YES MORE PLEASE of a review. And since I predicted she would show up on many genre award shortlists in the future. I do like to be proved right. I’m also glad to see E. Lily Yu on the list; I loved (and nominated) her short story The Anarchist Wasps and Cartographer Bees.
Again, I’m looking forward to discovering all of these authors’ works so I can vote for them properly.
So overall – well, I’m mixed. I’m ecstatic about some things – the multiple nominations for Catherynne Valente, Ken Liu and Seanan McGuire; the fact that Seanan McGuire broke the glass ceiling and became the first woman to ever be nominated FOUR TIMES (twice as her alter-ego, Mira Grant) for the Hugo; the nomination for GALACTIC SUBURBIA IS THE BEST THING EVER. I’m really excited over the prospect of discovering new fiction, art, essays etc. as I prepare to vote. But I am a bit disappointed that the shortlist for best novels feels so restrictive. It does seem like a step back from last year.
But there’s one thing I’m certain about. I cannot wait to be at the Hugo ceremonies. I’ll be the girl throwing herself under chairs rather than come within a ten foot radius of my favorite authors, many of whom have threatened to be there (famous people scare me). I’ll be the one freaking out because I just caught a glimpse of Catherynne Valente. I’ll be the one taking notes furiously. I’ll be the one clapping at people’s awesome fashion. I’ll be the one muffling screams when my favorites win. I may even be the one with an awesome younger brother (if I can find a way to bring him with me, he’s coming).
I can’t wait.
Other Reactions to the Hugos:
Comments on the Hugo Shortlist by Staffer’s Book Reviews
Hugo Nominations Out: What Will You Wear? by Tansy Rayner Roberts
And Catherynne Valente’s Perfectly Reasonable Reaction to getting Three Nominations
Also, an important post on gender and fanwriting from Rose Lemberg: Best Fan Writers Hugo – And Women Writers
I don’t have time to do a gender and race breakdown of the nominees right now, although I will be posting one once school gets out. In the meantime, James Nicholl has published a gender breakdown
Book: Redemption in Indigo
Author: Karen Lord
Publisher: Small Beer Press
Published in: 2010
Paama is not having a good year.
First, there’s her husband. Let’s not even talk about her husband. No – let’s. His entire life is about food. When going on a three day trip, he hires eight mules for his bags of food, and takes along two hunters. And he still runs out. When he arrives at his in-laws’ home, Semwe (his father in law) gives him an entire lamb to eat. Which sounds like a lot, but Ansige eats all of it in a few hours, goes prowling around the village looking for more food, and ends by trying to kill one of Semwe’s sheep. Ansige’s gluttony and arrogance have pushed Paama to the point where she’s abandoned him and gone back to her parents’ village – but then Ansige decides to follow her.
Now, Paama has to try to get rid of Ansige (again). But she can’t actually throw him out, since there are Expectations.
Also, Appearances. Let’s not forget about Appearances.
It is, of course, nearly impossible to keep up appearances when your husband is running around killing other peoples’ sheep and stealing peoples’ corn, and falling into wells and getting his head stuck in your mortar.
Fortunately, Paama is up to the task. She lies. She cheats. She cooks extra food. She pretends to love Ansige. She pretends everything (from the sheep killing to the well-falling) is her fault. And she manages to kick him out.
Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of Paama’s troubles.
Impressed by Paama’s ability to deal with the insanity around her, the Djombi – powerful, undying spirits – decide that she is the perfect person to hold the chaos stick, a magical artifact with the power to control (you guessed it) chaos. They don’t bother asking what she thinks about it. They also don’t bother to let her know that the real owner of the chaos stick, a renegade Djombi with a hatred of humanity and a penchant for comic books, is on his way to take the stick back.
This, in a nutshell, is the setup of Karen Lord’s debut fantasy novel, Redemption in Indigo. It’s an unusual fantasy novel. It isn’t set in a european, or euro-derived landscape, but somewhere in Africa. The magic may be magic, but it might also be science – we get a dose of chaos theory along with the wand-waving. The hero is not a young boy, but a middle-aged woman. Her talents aren’t swordplay and sarcasm, but cooking, cleverness and civility – with a side serving of compassion. Paama isn’t interested in beating people up. She’s not even that interested in being right. She asks questions, and demands answers, and is willing to learn. Sure, she’ll yell at you, or tell you what an idiot you’re being, but only after all other options have been exhausted. And she treats everyone with this brand of tough-love civility, be they her husband, the deadly djombi stalking her, or the giant spider popping up around her town.
It’s also an unusual novel because of the narrative structure. The plot hues closely to the curves of the characters lives and thoughts rather than follow the strict linearity of conflict, climax and denouement. Several reviewers have said the book is like traditional storytelling. I would tend to agree, with some important reservations: I know absolutely nothing about storytelling culture in either Barbados, where Karen Lord grew up, or Senegal, where the folk tale that inspired Redemption originated. So it seems a bit silly of me to claim Lord is writing like a storyteller, since I don’t even know what that means. I agree, however, that there are definite elements of the (universal) storyteller in the narrative – the call and response, the meandering, the opinionated narrator (I LOVE THE NARRATOR SO MUCH. Hem. Will get back there later). Moreover, I think it’s important to note that even if Karen Lord is following a storytelling structure, she’s doing so in innovative, radical ways – she’s reworking a genre rather than just playing into it. Reading Redemption in Indigo isn’t “just like” listening to a story.
I personally am a huge fan of this sort of work. I like novels that rework genre conventions, I like novels that foil my expectations, I like novels that play around with narrative structure, that have unusual heroes, that take place in non-eurocentric cultures. So it came as no surprise to me that I loved Redemption in Indigo.
The beginning – with Ansige’s attempt to take back his wife – is hilarious. I kept trying not to laugh, because Paama’s predicament was so terrible I felt bad about laughing at all, but I couldn’t help it. The rest of the novel was equally satisfying, if not nearly as funny.
I should amend that. The rest of the novel isn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it’s still quite funny. Indeed, what becomes funny in the novel is how thoroughly Lord undermines genre conventions. When the Indigo Lord shows up, he demands that Paama give up the chaos stick by threatening her sister. And she immediately hands it over. It’s fantastic!
I mean, seriously, if a giant blue guy was threatening to kill your sister, would you haggle over a stick you barely even knew how to use? No? No. Come on.
Of course, this doesn’t work (because magic never works out like that). In order for the Indigo Lord to reclaim the chaos stick, he must convince Paama that he would wield it better than she is. So the Indigo Lord takes Paama on an intergalactic road trip to show her why she’s unprepared for the responsibility of the Stick. Meanwhile, he tries to get over his hatred of humans long enough to persuade Paama that he’s not going to kill them all the second he gets his hand back on his powers. The interaction between the Indigo Lord and Paama is priceless – their natures are so different that they really can’t understand one another, but it’s fascinating to watch them try.
Although Paama and the Indigo Lord are the main attractions of Redemption in Indigo, they don’t take away from the richness of the side plots and secondary characters. The spider-trickster who can’t seem to keep a grip on his human form when trying to manipulate humans, Kwame, the tracker whose moral conscience causes him to become less and less secure about the ethics of his profession, the courtship between the failed poet and Paaama’s sister – all of those stories add to the central plot in intriguing ways. My favorite secondary plot, however, involves the House of Sisters, a group of women with supernatural abilities who help Paama handle the Chaos Stick and the Indigo Lord. They’re a very competent bunch – even when a giant spider shows up on their threshold and demands they turn him back into a human, they deal with the situation with calm and good humor. Like Paama, they are rattled by the presence of the djombi, but they’re entirely able to deal with them. The presence of the House of Sisters means that Paama isn’t alone in facing the powers of the otherworld. It also means that she isn’t the “chosen” human, with special abilities that enable her to stand up to the Indigo Lord. While I do like chosen ones (I’m an epic fantasy reader, after all) I also like this storyline – the one where, sure, a chosen one is great, but if she doesn’t work out, we’ve got other options.
My absolute favorite part of the novel – more than the House of Sisters, more than Paama, more than the genre subversions – is the narrator. The narrator is not objective in the least. She – or he – has definite opinions about the story, and she will make them known. And if she thinks the characters are silly, she’ll let the readers know. More importantly, when she thinks the readers are stupid, she’ll let us know. I particularly like how she’s always accusing readers of derailing the story, giving us information in an exasperated manner. It’s her story, damn it, and she’d prefer not to infodump, but we’re forcing her to, with all our ignorance.
“Second, you have no idea how talking animals operate. Do you think they would have survived long if they made themselves known? (…) Think!” (Lord 15).
She’s always berating readers for their (supposed) dislike of the story. When she anticipates that readers won’t like the moral of the story, she tells us:” Do you go through life with your eyes blindfolded and your ears stopped? Everything teaches , everyone preaches, all have a gospel to sell! Better the one who is honest and open in declaring an agenda than teh one who fools you into believing that they are only spinning a pretty fancy for beauty’s sake. I was honest and open! Don’t you remember? I told you from the very beginning that it was a story about choices” (Lord 181).
And her discussing of the epilogue is wonderful, and hilarious, and snarky, and I was charmed to bits, because she promised us we wouldn’t get an epilogue (which was quite frustrating, since the story obviously wasn’t over), but then she gave it to us anyways, protesting all the way.
There’s something to that – to the narrator’s question and answer relationship with the reader. Much of Redemption in Indigo is about question and answer. The narrator asks readers questions. The narrator answers our questions. Characters ask questions of one another, of the universe, of themselves. Thinking about it now, I realize that there’s a chaotic element to the question and answer motif. After all, how do humans deal with the confusion of daily life except by asking questions? Constant, almost invisible questions, about our existence, and where the socks go in the laundry, and why does our sister like that boy, and is there a god, and why do people listen to Justin Bieber anyways? To the anarchy of life, we respond with an equal anarchy of questions. And we get answers, and most of the time, like Paama, or like the Indigo Lord, they’re not answers we’d anticipated, or even answers we can understand. So we ask more questions.
And sometimes, if we’re insistent enough, the world is forced to give us a semi-coherent answer – just as the narrator was forced to give us the epilogue at the end.
When I consider how well the narrative structure works with the novel’s theme, I’m in awe at Karen Lord’s ability. Especially since Redemption in Indigo is her debut novel. Her debut novel.
All I can really say is “Wow.”
And apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way. Redemption in Indigo was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for best novel (which is how I heard about it). It’s also successful enough that Karen Lord is writing a sequel. To which I say: Hurrah! I’m pleased to see this kind of work get the attention it so richly deserves – and I’m hoping for a Redemption in Indigo series.
Watch out for this woman. I would not be surprised if she keeps appearing on the major awards ballots. And if her work keeps improving – or even if it stays at this level – we’re in for a serious treat.
Which is why I say :Chocolate cake for everyone! (Even dastardly immortals).
I should also note that Redemption in Indigo is published by Small Beer Press, an independent, speculative fiction book publishing company operated by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant. I evidently need to keep an eye out for them, since they published one of my favorite YA novels of last year – The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman.
Other Reviews of Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord:
Sx Salon: The Djombi and the Wormhole: A Review of Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo (includes an interesting discussion of the physics in the novel)
“He gave her one of his unfathomable, blank looks. ‘I like to read the paper for the same reason that I like the occasional bit of food – to sample human tastes.’
‘I thought you despised us,’ she said quietly.
His hands squirmed on the folded newspaper. ‘Not despise. Not all of human taste is abhorrent. There are bits that are enjoyable.’
‘Like chocolate cake and comic strip humour?’ she murmured, eyes downcast, sarcasm mild.
‘Are you eating that last piece of cake?’ he asked, unmoved.”