Science Fiction

Review | Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal

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Mary Robinette Kowal’s Forest of Memory is a new Tor.com novella that (according to my .pdf reader) is about 50 pages. It also happens to be great to read while you soak your feet (which may or may not be how I read it). It chronicles the mysterious and unconfirmed week of a young woman who had gone missing.

The story is told from a first person perspective. The narrator, Katya, is a young woman who deals in antiquities, artifacts from previous years that show their wear. She goes up to look at a fairly rare find, a manual typewriter and dictionary, and is waylaid on her way home by a stranger who appears to be shooting—poaching? meddling with?— deer in the forest. She almost runs into the deer, but when the stranger notices her, he kidnaps her.

The story is fun for a number of reasons. The narrator is unreliable; it’s filled with intrigue; and you find yourself just wanting to know what in the world is going on.

It’s set in a future where people are constantly in touch with one another. People live stream everything. The narrator is particularly well known for this, because the authenticity and story that goes along with the items is as valuable, if not more, than the item itself. The very idea that someone could go missing and show up on the other side of the country without anyone knowing is basically unfathomable.

This brings into question a lot of different topics, like whether you can count on an individual’s memory, how interconnected we are, whether you can really have something be valid and authentic without “proof.” Kowal takes an, at times, round about way of talking about these issues, but the overall impact is no less effective.

The story is suspenseful and entertaining. There are moments where it can be slow, but this is often a good change of pace from the more tense moments of the book. The narrator is likeable, if unbelievable.

This was a pretty perfect evening-in book. Kowal managed to make an interesting world with a captivating plot that leaves you just wanting more. Better yet, she did it all in a story you can read in a sitting.

A big thanks to Tor.com for providing me with a copy of Forest of Memories in exchange for an honest review.

Review | All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

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If you were looking for a fantasy/science fiction mash up, look no further. Charlie Jane Anders’ new novel, All the Birds in the Sky has you covered, and it’s pretty great.

The story follows two main characters, Patricia, a witch, and Laurence, a computer genius. Patricia and Laurence’s relationship ebbs and flows, but one thing seems to haunt them, especially Patricia; the two of them have been foreseen at the end of the world.

There’s a lot to like about this story, but I’ll start with the one that struck me first: the humor. Anders’ story is rife with the kind of self-aware humor that pokes fun at itself and the genre. Guilds of assassins, secret orders, and talking animals are all used with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor that had me laughing out loud and tabbing pages for the first time in a long while.

But, the story engages in a more serious talk as well about what it’s like to be an outsider, how easy it can be to be misled, and the balance between the fantastic, the scientific, and the radical on all sides.

The character building in the story is well-done. The story follows both Patricia and Laurence from childhood to adulthood, with all the rockiness that entails (skipping the awkwardness of high school and college). Most impressive in this was the establishment of trust in their relationship and the ways it would break down. Both characters are flawed and have their own histories from their years apart. This leads to a lack of trust, sometimes for unwarranted reasons. While some of the moments that result can seem a bit cliché, both characters are very human in their response.

The story also features some crazy plot developments and battles with side characters well-equipped to make things both better and worse, including an AI called CH@NG3M3. While it has more of a contemporary love story kind of feel, it also doesn’t shy away from mystery and actions. Overall, there’s a lot to love.

Charlie Jane Anders is the editor in chief of io9.com and the organizer of the Writers With Drinks reading series. Her stories have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Tor.com, Lightspeed, Tin House, ZYZZYVA, and several anthologies. Her novelette “Six Months, Three Days” won a Hugo award.

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Let’s Talk | Digitally Native Award Categories

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Self-published stories aren’t a terribly new convention. People have been paying to have their works released for a long time. But, with the advent of the internet and the widely available platform for author promotion and creation, self-publishing has become a common way for authors to get their works into readers’ hands.

I won’t lie. I have some pretty mixed feelings about the widespread use of self-publishing, mostly that for me it often becomes overwhelming to even glance in the way of self-published authors. The mountain of works simply is so hard to sift through that I often don’t tread very close.

However, there are some fantastic self-published works available online.

The Martian, Wool, A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.

The standouts in self-publishing show that the publishing method isn’t necessarily reflective of the quality of work.

So, how do we accommodate self-publishing in our awards?

The Martian by Andy Weir is very highly regarded. It’s a well loved story with fans coming out its ears. But, to many SFF lovers’ surprise, it wasn’t eligible to be nominated for the Hugo Award in 2014 when it was picked up for publishing by Crown Publishing. The book had previously been self-published and without heavy revisions would not have been eligible. Crown decided to publish the book very much as-is, leaving the work ineligible and retaining its 2011 publication date.

The problem in awards is multifaceted. By and large, I think it comes down to a few issues: exposure, inundation, and gatekeeping.

Exposure

Self-published authors are often the sole marketers for their books. They are the ones who are responsible for sending out review requests, getting the book available, and making sure the book is in the eyes of buyers, all while having to write, edit, and design the book. This is extremely difficult without the web of connections that many publishing houses have.

On top of all this, many readers continue to go to traditional publishers for their books and for those who may be open to smaller press or self-published works, the lack of in-store browsing ability and the difficulty in making your story available in online suggestion algorithms proves a big barrier.

Inundation

In the event that a reader does manage to find their way into the self-pubbed section of Amazon, or Kobo, or whatever platform they may be using, there are so many self-published works that standing out may prove difficult. Not impossible, surely, but hard to do, especially without an existing strong following.

So, what do we do with self-published works that are deserving of awards?

This is the part where gatekeeping comes in.

Currently, the big awards in SFF (not to mention the broader literary community) are difficult to break into and not structured well for self-published authors.

Often, awards are either chosen by panel, or through a fan or membership nominating system. This leaves self-published works out of the loop. Nominating systems for panel awards often require submission by a publisher, and membership and fan nominating systems tend to still require the same-year publication date requirement, which often isn’t enough time for a popular self-published work to “break out,” and clumps those books together with traditionally-published novels, which have significantly more budget and reach.

Again, here I feel conflicted.

Something about this seems so unfair, as though the cards are stacked against self-published works. However, extending deadlines makes eligibility for self-published works opens up the door to complaints that the work isn’t being judges with its peers or that the system is unfair in the opposite way.

The Hugos did recently propose extending eligibility for books not originally published in the US. This wasn’t overly controversial, so maybe I’m worrying over nothing. I can’t imagine people denying the difficulties in publishing and promoting a book on your own.

But, maybe the Kitschies have it right, but by thee token, a digitally native category implies that self-pubbed can’t compete with traditionally published works in content quality.

There’s a “Digitally Native” category there that seems to have served well. The Kitchies is a panel award, though, so I wonder how that would play in to a fan or membership system.

Regardless, something has to change in order for the community to recognize the self-published works that can blow us out of the water.

What do you think? What rules changes or category additions would best serve this purpose?

Yet again.

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It seems like every week (or more) another person lists the “history” or “best of” science fiction and fantasy while failing to mention women, people of color, or LGBTQIA+ contributors to the genre. Surprise.

I’m not going to mention the particular posts prompting this. Suffice it to say that the past two weeks have been surprisingly full of them ranging from well-established bloggers to bookstore lists.

While I find it difficult to imagine a full picture of science fiction and fantasy that doesn’t (at the least) include the works of Mary Shelley, Margaret Atwood, or Ursula K. Le Guin, the argument continues to be made that the “highlights” of SFF are largely male.

Rather than raging against the machine, though that certainly has its place and I’m prone to do it, I’m going to highlight some authors you should try out to broaden your SFF horizons. Huzzah!

Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian-American woman with a sense of the spectacular. Her most recent novella, Binti, is a fantastic examination of humanity at its most complicated. It takes the examination of race, gender, and their intersections to space and succeeds in every possible way. Plus, once Binti makes you fall in love with Nnedi, her backlist will make your soul scream (in a good way).

Genevieve Valentine is an American author and comics writer. She has a wide range of stories, including The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, a retelling of the twelve dancing girls set in the 1920s and Persona, a futuristic political thriller. She’s a highly acclaimed author well worth the check out.

Rachel Pollack is a transsexual woman who has had a large influence on feminist science fiction and fantasy, the women’s spirituality movement, and a wide variety of authors like Neil Gaiman. On top of her novels, she also wrote for DC comics. Her work is pretty surreal, mixing spiritualism with futuristic and fantasy elements. Her Temporary Agency is definitely the place to start for a temperate taste of Pollack’s works.

Angela Slatter is an Australian author. While most of her works are short fiction, included in a number of short story collections and anthologies, you can also snag her stand-alone novella Of Sorrow and Such. She’s fantastic at creating heart-wrenching stories with complicated characters all in a short period of time. She’s got all the awards to prove it, and a contract for a full novel release this year.

 N.K. Jemisin is just fantastic. I’m just going to gush about her for a minute. N.K. Jemisin is an African American author with some amazing talent. Her newest book, The Fifth Season, is easily one of my favorite books of 2015. She blends non-western settings and characters with fantastic magic and world building. Her characters are ridiculously well developed. I can’t get over her. Go read The Fifth Season. You’ll see.

Angelica Gorodischer is an Argentinean author whose works have been translated into English through Small Beer Press. She came into the scene in 2003 by way of Ursula K Le Guin, so you know it’s got to be good. Her stories focus on more than just the typical character and plot driven stories. They are fairytale like, with settings that act on the story as well as on people and a sort of wide-view of fantasy that’s hard to describe. Her Kalpa Imperial and Trafalgar collections are fantastic. I’ve yet to read her newest, but it’s on my list.

Now, I know what you’re saying, “But, Bree, this list is only seven authors and all are women.”

So true. This is far from a comprehensive list. This is only really the authors who came to mind in the 30 seconds following me reading one of the aforementioned articles about SFF being a male domain. More comprehensive lists are definitely out there. In fact, here are links to some fantastic lists of authors:

 

From Fran Wilde: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2015/08/not-so-invisible-ninjas.html

From women in science fiction (blog): http://www.womeninsciencefiction.com/?page_id=54

SF Mistressworks: https://sfmistressworks.wordpress.com/womens-press-sf/

Lightspeed Magazines POC Science Fiction project: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lightspeedmagazine/people-of-colour-destroy-science-fiction

Kevin Hearne: https://t.co/mQZCjoNYr6

Kev McViegh: https://performativeutterance.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/225-rising/

Or, hey, maybe you know those guys. Here is a list of people on twitter (mostly bloggers and authors who promote, read, write, etc. diverse books. The list is short, but I plan on adding to and maintaining it.

https://twitter.com/reev2550/lists/authors-and-bloggers

Please comment below with your suggestions for people to read, blogs to follow, and the like!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review | Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

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Giant robots? Check

Aliens? Check

International conflict and clandestine military operations? Check

Sylvain Neuvel’s novel follows a secret military operation to uncover mysterious pieces of a device. Told in interview transcriptions, the story records a search to find the pieces of and assemble a large mysterious statute that seems to expel large quantities of electricity and nuclear energy. The interviews span a number of persons working on the project including pilots, scientists, the director of the NSA, and are all hosted by an unnamed man masterminding the work.

The characters are interesting, though the format means they are very distant. There is some development, but also a sense of superficiality. While I wanted to like them, it was hard to do so, especially when the main foci are fairly closed off and abrasive. They grow more confidential during the interviews, perhaps uncommonly so, all things considered, but overall some is left wanting.

The plot is fast-paced. It follows the creation of the clandestine operation, many things going awry, and its initial conclusion. The story is a bit truncated. You don’t see the characters in action often. You see the fallout of things that have happened instead. This was sometimes done well, particularly during the aftermath and recounting of some major events. The characters’ immediate reactions are ignored in lieu of a bit more reflective recounting. This was interesting to read about.

The story also skips around quite a bit. This can be a bit disconcerting when you consider that there isn’t a timestamp on any of the transcripts. It could be a bit hard to follow, but did quicken the reading experience.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the story was the complexity of the mastermind’s thoughts. While you didn’t see it at first, there’s a lot that comes together in an “ah-ha” moment towards the end. Some of the story was a bit done before, but that was engaging.

This won’t be my favorite story of the year, but it’s an engaging, fast read.

5 Kickstarter Projects for Book Lovers

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So, I have a bit of a love affair with kickstarter. The platform is fantastic for independent projects and unique works that may otherwise not get produced. BUT, it can be a slog to sort through what’s out there to try and get what you like. So, here’s the deal: I like books; you like books; I saw these and thought of you (and also how cool it would be if they were funded).

 

Victoria Jr. Presents Little Prometheus by Manny Trembley

Cover to Victoria Jr. Volume One

Days left: 9 days

Amount Funded: 404% (into stretch goal territory!)

What’s this project about?

 

Victoria is a human girl adopted in to a loving family of monsters. Victoria Jr. was named by The Monster, after his creator, Victor Frankenstein. She lives in a world of fantastic monsters and creatures.

One day on her way to school, Victoria Jr. decides to capture the mythic “Spark of the Sun”. This is the same spark that the Greek Titan Prometheus stole to give fire to man. She thought maybe the Spark of the Sun could warm the undead hearts of her father, mother, and her younger brother.

Why is it cool?

Are you really asking me why a story about a little human girl living with monsters and trying to warm their hearts is adorable? Or why you should be all about a family-friendly comic?

Aside from the fact that the story sounds awesome, Victoria Jr. pays homage to the kind of stories that are fundamental to science fiction and fantasy. It’s sure to check boxes for SFF lovers and be a book to introduce children into the SFF world in a relatable, unintimidating way.

As a literacy tutor for ESL students, my favorite thing to give the kids I worked with was comics. They’re dynamic and visual, perfect for short attention spans. AND the embedded text makes the story feel like it isn’t work while still encouraging confidence in reading and significant vocabulary growth.

Who is behind it?

Manny Trembley is an indie comics artist with his own self-publishing line of comics. He’s run 6 successful kickstarter campaigns. This will be his second Victoria Jr. book.

What do I get at the lowest award level?

$6 gets you a .pdf of the comic

Bring Dinosaurs Back to Life by Zoobooks

Days left: 16

Amount funded: 66%

What is this project about?

Zoobooks are educational kids’ books about animals and ecology. Unfortunately, the last round of dinosaur books is pretty old. This project is going to update the books with new science and create a set of integrated apps.

Why is it cool?

Dinosaurs. Science. Zoobooks, what’s not to like? Zoobooks were a pretty big part of kiddom in the 90s and 00s. They’ve helped tons of kids learn about science using visuals and intriguing animal subject. They’re committed to keeping their books scientifically accurate, and are fairly accessible through most library systems.

Plus, dinosaur feathers drawings.

Who’s behind it?

Zoobooks, a 35 year old company with tons of books to their name and support from Wildlife Education, LTD.

What do I get at the lowest rewards level?

$10 gets you the app and a series of exclusive updates.

 

People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction by Lightspeed Magazine

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lightspeedmagazine/people-of-colour-destroy-science-fiction/widget/video.html

Days left: 16

Amount funded: 550%

What is this project about?

We believe in science fiction’s transformative powers, its ability to remedy the dreariness of our lives. People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! will exist, with your kind help, of course, to relieve a brokenness we’ve enabled time and time again by favoring certain voices and portrayals of particular characters. We won’t harangue you with guilt trips involving the importance of openly listening to the assimilated, the colonized, the misappropriated. That’s just not how we roll. What we aim to do, instead, is to challenge you: Join us because it is fun to do so. We don’t mean fun as a vehicle for trivializing centuries of injustice that resulted in the lack of representation for certain groups of people because power structures were skewed heavily in favor of a chosen few. We mean fun as the satisfaction we get in those light-bulb-in-the-head moments of our lives, the satisfaction we get from meaningful conversations that lend clarity, the satisfaction we get when we move past those feel-good-driven acts of tokenism, the satisfaction we get when we read stories that have palpable artistic and intellectual values that speak of our present time and most of all, our future.

 

Why is it cool?

The POC Destroy project is about raising the voices of marginalized groups in SFF. It includes a series of fiction and nonfiction writings written and edited by people of color. It includes art, flash fiction, novellas, and author spotlights.

The POC Destroy issue is set with a fantastic cast both of authors and editors including Nalo Hopkinson and Nisi Shawl. It’s also open to new voices in SFF. Basically, you need it.

Every extra dollar goes towards stretch goals that increase content.

PLUS it’s a project Lightspeed is committed to. They promised to publish the edition regardless of if they reached their funding goal. That’s pretty damn cool in my book.

Who’s behind it?

Lightspeed Magazine is a Hugo Award winning publication with a ton of experience and a whole series behind it. This project is in line with the DESTROY series which includes Queers Destroy Science Fiction, Women Destroy Science Fiction, and many others.

What do I get at the lowest rewards level?

$5 gets you an ebook version plus all electronic supplementals achieved in stretch goals

 

Worlds of Ursula K Le Guin by Arwyn Curry

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/arwencurry/worlds-of-ursula-k-le-guin/widget/video.html
Days left: 30

Amount funded: 111%

What is this project about?

In the film, we’ll accompany Le Guin on an intimate journey of self-discovery as she comes into her own as a major feminist author, inspiring generations of women and other marginalized writers along the way. To tell this story, the film reaches into the past as well as the future – to a childhood steeped in the myths and stories of disappeared Native peoples Le Guin absorbed as the daughter of prominent California anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and author Theodora Kroeber.

Ursula K Le Guin is a queen of science fiction. She changed the game radically. This project is largely already filmed, but needs a post-production budget. Part of the funding is contingent on non-NEH funding, so here we are.

Why is it cool?

It’s Ursula.

As a total bonus note, all the levels are named after characters from her stories.

Who’s behind it?

Arwyn Curry and her team have made a number of documentaries and written a number of articles for organizations like PBS, HBO, the New York Times, and Rolling Stone.

What do I get at the lowest rewards level?

$10 gets you shout outs and updates

 

Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party by Shipwrecked Comedy

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1029702011/poeparty/widget/video.html
Days left: 32

Amount funded: 29%

What is this project about?

Edgar Allan Poe invites all his buddies and loves to dinner. It includes  Hemmingway, H.G. Wells, Annabelle Lee. It’s a video series that will be hosted vlog style with some livestreaming options, over a series of ten videos.

Why is it cool?

This form of storytelling has really been catching on. The format lends itself to interactive audience participation, visible and marked character growth, and innovation in film and story adaptation.

Cast includes Mary Kate Wiles who you may recognize from the Lizzie Bennett Diaries where she played Lydia.

Who’s behind it?

Shipwrecked Comedy has run a number of past projects that have been done in a similar vein.

What do I get at the lowest rewards level?

$5 reward is a digital invitation and livestream shoutout