#balisebooks – 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novella

After making choices for the Short Story award for the Hugo, I started reading the novellas, and ranking as I went as well. So let’s talk about all the Hugo nominated novellas 🙂 As for the short stories, any one of these is absolutely worth reading; I ended up having preferences… not necessarily where I was expecting (I was honestly thinking my #2 would finish #1, and I was expecting #5 to arrive much higher… and yet.), and all the works are very different, which I enjoyed.

6. The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark

This is a story set in an alternative Cairo at the very beginning of the 20th century. Alternative, because djinns, magic and alchemy have been a thing enough that there exists a Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. We follow Hamed and Onsi, who have been tasked with understanding the why and the how of The Haunting of Tram Car 015 – as the title helpfully hints 😉 The atmosphere (including some great background about women’s voting rights) and world-building were fascinating, and I liked the character dynamic between Hamed, a fairly senior agent, and Onsi, a wonderfully enthusiastic newbie. For me specifically, it lacked something (I don’t know what!) to make it entirely memorable, which I regret.

5. This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

I really, really wanted to love this one. Time travelling Romeo&Juliet? Yes please. Epistolary novel where the protagonists explain in detail their medium of writing, and every single one is more wonderful than the next? YES PLEASE. Absolutely gorgeous writing, to the point of real poetry? Doesn’t hurt, and check. Buuuuuuuuuuut I wasn’t able to connect with that book to the point I feel I should have to enjoy it fully. I think it’s a matter of “it’s not the book, it’s me” – and I think it’ll be high on the list of “things I need to re-read when I think I’ll be able to connect with it more”. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this one gets the Best Novella award, and I’d be happy with it; it was just not my thing this time around (and I’m sad about it.)

4. The Deep, by Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes

The Deep talks about the wajinru, a folk that lives in the depth of the ocean. The wajinru have a historian, who’s chosen in every generation to hold the (traumatic) memory of their people. We follow the story of Yetu, the current historian – who has a very hard time holding that history in herself. The history of the wajinru is haunting, and its description in The Deep is fantastically well-rendered. The story of Yetu is heartbreaking and yet very relatable. And there’s a whole lot of philosophical questions around sacrifice, and around the idea of identity versus history, that I found very interesting too. This was not a fast-paced book, but it was very impactful.

3. Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom, by Ted Chiang

The premise of this is very cool – consider a device, called a prism, that allows SOME communication between two parallel universes that differ from the point of a quantum event shown recorded by the device in question. Now, consider the use that quantum event as a “coin flip” – and boom, you have something that allows you to answer the question of “what if I had made that other choice?”. And since that quantum event has some chaotic consequences, you can find prisms in which things diverge in larger or smaller measures. On top of that setting, add some people who are trying to make profit from these communications with parallel universes, and boom, you get Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom (love that title, by the way). I really liked the exploration of what worked and what didn’t in the setting, and the questions about “what is actually ‘core me'” was fascinating too. All in all, this was a very enthusing read 🙂

2. To Be Taught, If Fortunate, by Becky Chambers

This was the only novella I read before the Hugo nominations were out – because Becky Chambers, if you think I’m going to wait months before reading anything Becky Chambers writes… well. (Yes, I’m fangirling hard. Deal with it.) At the time I read it last year, I was writing: “A chronicle about a long-term space mission – 4 people on a starship, exploring 4 very different planets. It has a solid, competent crew, and science, and feels, and it feels so much longer (in a good way!!) than the small amount of pages, and it’s lovely, and am I fangirling a little bit too hard here? naaaahhh…”. I’ll keep it at that; and since it was the first I read and I loved it so much, that was a very high bar.

1. In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire

My vote for Best Novella will go to In an Absent Dream. It’s about the tale of Katherine Lundy, who finds a door to the Goblin Market, where rules are important and fair value is an absolute rule (what “fair value” means is also discussed and a whole part of the book). I loved the main character, I loved the concept of the Goblin Market, and I profoundly enjoyed the fact that the more “epic” parts of the story were actually not shown but barely mentioned as “events that happened” (and that actually had important consequences!). This was a magical read – and definitely not all rainbows and unicorns, it also had a fair amount of sadness and of bittersweetness – and I loved this novella so much. Seanan McGuire (and the series of which In an Absent Dream is a part of) is definitely on the list of people from whom I want to read more stuff (… as soon as I’m done with reading all I can for the Hugo voting, I mean!)

“Hugo Award”, “Worldcon” and The Hugo Award Logo are service marks of the World Science Fiction Society, an unincorporated literary society.

Catching up on #balisebooks

Well look at that, summer went and came and it’s been a while since I wrote a #balisebooks post… let’s fix that, shall we? The good thing is that I didn’t read that much during these past three months, so it’s still a reasonable-sized #balisebooks 🙂 I do have, like, four longer/more time consuming books still in progress in parallel, so the next one may also either be short or delayed 🙂

The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding – Jennifer Robson

A historical novel that follows the story of embroiderers working for Norman Hartnell, designer of the wedding gown of (future) Queen Elizabeth II. I reaaaaally wanted to love everything about that book, and I almost did, except for a particularly unpleasant plot point that felt… avoidable. And it is a pity, really, because if not for that plot point, that book would probably have ended up in the (tiny) list of “to re-read when I need something comforting” books. I still really liked a lot of things about that book, and in particular all the details about the embroidery work!

Persepolis Rising / Tiamat’s Wrath – James S.A. Corey

Those are the books #7 and #8 of The Expanse, and they happen after a 30-ish-year leap after the end of #6. And there is not much more than I can say without the context of the first six books, soooo… I was a bit afraid at the “ah. 30 years later. Okayyyyy” bit, because I was afraid of “losing” something, in a way. But this was still very enjoyable, very emotional at times, and I cannot wait for book #9, planned for next year. And in the meantime, I have a few short stories/novellas from the universe that I haven’t read yet, which I’m looking forward to.

Beyond Addiction – Kit Rocha

Book #5 of the Beyond post-apo romance series. Finn and Trix knew each other when they both lived in Sector Five and were both addicts; Trix got out (and ended up with the O’Kanes in Sector Four), Finn thinks she’s dead… until she get kidnapped back to Sector Five. The backstory is still great, I liked the couple of this book, the steamy scenes are, well, exactly that (although I have some reservations about a specific one, but eh), what more do you want? 🙂

Radicalized – Cory Doctorow

These are four novellas set in societies that are juuuust different enough from ours to call them dystopias, and definitely close enough that they’re scary. In Unauthorized Bread, Salima, who’s a refugee, finds ends up needing to hack her toaster oven, because the company that makes it gets bankrupt. Trouble ensue. Model Minority is a re-take on Superman (vs police racism and brutality) – I must say I don’t remember much of that story, actually. In Radicalized, the lack of universal health care leads to people organizing and planning terrorist attacks. And The Masque of the Red Death is a story about a post-apocalyptic bunker community. All in all, four very solid stories – with enough humor that they are not thoroughly depressing. The politics are Not Subtle, but then you don’t read Doctorow if you have something against Not Subtle Politics 😉

The Headspace Guide to Meditation & Mindfulness – Andy Puddicombe

Headspace is one of the meditation apps I use (less often than I want to these days, but oh well), and Andy Puddicombe is the face (and voice) of that app. That book explains the approach and sprinkles it with a number of anecdotes, making it very approachable and funny. I probably would have benefited from this book more if not after hours of Headspace-the-app. Still – good reminders, pleasantry written, some funny anecdotes 🙂

To Be Taught, If Fortunate – Becky Chambers

A chronicle about a long-term space mission – 4 people on a starship, exploring 4 very different planets. It has a solid, competent crew, and science, and feels, and it feels so much longer (in a good way!!) than the small amount of pages, and it’s lovely, and am I fangirling a little bit too hard here? naaaahhh…

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

That one is a (re-)re-read; Becky Chambers got a Hugo for the Wayfarers series, so I re-read that one for celebration. This is the third time I read it in less than three years (which is very rare in these days of book abundance), and I still love it a little bit more every time. I expect I’ll re-read the two others of the series before the end of the year.

And since apparently I haven’t talked about this book here yet, and it’s one of my favorite books of all times, let’s fix that! This is the story of the crew of the Wayfarer, a tunneling ship: they punch holes in space-time to make space travel shorter. And they get hired to go punch in a place that doesn’t have a tunnel yet, for a trip that’s roughly a year long. The whole thing reads like a VERY wholesome Firefly, and is my personal own equivalent of a cup of thick, hot chocolate in a pillow fort.

Lake Silence – Anne Bishop

I discovered Anne Bishop with her Others series – a urban fantasy series with shapeshifters and vampires and the like, but where the “usual” dynamics is flipped: the Others own the lands, the humans are barely tolerated, and they’d better not misbehave, unless they really want to end up Deceased, Location Unknown.

Lake Silence’s world is the same as the one from The Others, which I quite liked, but in a different community and with a different set of characters. And… I was not convinced. I still like the idea of the world, but I didn’t manage to get enthusiastic about that installment – I was actually quite bored (it felt repetitive), considered several times to not finish it, and all in all that was a disappointment.

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language – Gretchen McCulloch

A very neat book about the internet, as viewed by a linguist. It has chapters about the tone of writing, punctuation, emojis, memes, conversations… and it’s generally delightful, I learnt a ton of things, it made me giggle more than a few times, and it was all in all a great, informative read.