It’s been a pretty great reading year for me. I might have not have hit as many books as in years past, but the quality of books that I’ve read this year have been stellar (and I have a few more great books in the stack that I’ll likely finish by year’s end).
Siren Queen by Nghi Vo
Nghi Vo’s Siren Queen unfolds the story of Luli Wei, a talented and beautiful Chinese American woman, who is desperate to become a star in pre-code Hollywood. In order to do so, she navigate the fair-like realm of the Hollywood system, which exacts a sharp (and sometimes deadly) price on those who long for fame. The magic here is at once beautiful, wicked, and mundane.
Vo’s prose is rich and lyrical, evoking a sense of magic, menace, and desire on nearly every page. Siren Queen is a work of art; it is powerful and evocative — a book that I plan to read again and again.
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
The City We Became is another masterpiece from N.K. Jemisin. It presents a vision of New York City as a living creature about to be born with a human avatar — except a dark presence nearly aborts the process and the avatars of various boroughs (Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island) are awakened to hold back the tide of darkness.
Jemisin is a phenomenal writer, and the story she unfolded in this book made me fall in love with a place I have never been. I cannot wait for a sequel.
Hoo, boy. Time slipped right by me. I was planning to do my Culture Consumption for March on time, but then the next thing I knew it was April. In addition to putting two months together, I’ve done a lot media consumption over the past two months — which means I’ve got a huge stack of things to talk about.
I’ll try to move through it all as quickly as I can. If I have the wherewithal, I’ll try to expand on a few of these later on.
Anyway, here I am at last with all the books books, movies, television, games, and podcasts I enjoyed over the past two months.
Let’s kick things off with a couple of fantastic poetry collections.
First, The Smallest of Bones by Holly Lyn Walwrath uses the skeletal structure of the body as a means of structurally shaping the collection. Each section begins with a poetic description of various bones, from the cranium to the sternum and beyond. The poems that follow beautifully explore love, sexuality, gender, religion, and death, among other aspects of humanity and the supernatural. It’s a gorgeous collection with crisp, clear, and lyrical language.
Second, This is How the Bone Sings by W. Todd Kaneko is a stunning collection of poems focus on Minidoka, a concentration camp for Japanese Americans built in Idaho during World War II. The author blends history with myth and folklore to explore how the scars of the past carry through generations — from grandparents through to their grandchildren. The wounds caused by racism and hate are continue on through memory and story. These poems are evocative and beautiful, providing an important memorial for an aspect of American history that should never be forgotten.
Delving into fiction, Nnedi Okorafor’s Noor is the story of Anwuli Okwudili, a woman who prefers to be called AO, who has a number of necessary body augmentations on her arm and legs — a fact that that makes some superstitious people in Africa believe she is evil or wicked. When she is attacked by men in her local community, she fights back with incredible power and flees into the desert. On her journey, she finds new companions, faces off against an powerful corporation, and finds hope filled utopian community finding safety within the winds of a man-made natural disaster. I loved the characters and communities portrayed with Okorafor’s Africanfuturist vision of a future. It’s a great read.
Cosmobiological: Stories by Jilly Dreadful is a collection of hopepunk short stories that explore love, relationships, passion, the resilience of the human spirit, and the possibilities of hope through myth, fantasy, and science fiction.”5×5″ (which you can read at LightSpeed) is an epistolary story about two young people who connect with and find strength through each other at an advanced science camp.
Another gorgeous tale is “Even the Simulacrum Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” which is about a woman who has been genetically engineered for increased empathy. In the story, she has to deal with the impact that this increased empathy has on her live and reckons with her relationship with her father. It totally made me cry by the end.
And these are just two of many of the fantastic tales in this collection.
It was a great reading year for me. The vast majority of the 63 books I read in 2018 were excellent, beautifully written, and/or just plain fun â€” and this could potentially be a much longer list, if I were to include every book that I enjoyed reading last year.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emzi
Connected to gods and spirit, Ada navigates her life with a sense of fractured self. Emzi’s debut novel is stunning from top to bottom. Ada’s story is heart wrenching. The writing is lush, vivid, and lyrical. It’s the kind of writing to sink into and get lost in. This book haunts me in the best of ways. (Full review.)
Even though there’s more days in the month, this will be my last Hugos post. Tomorrow I’ll be winging my way to Egypt with my sister and I’m not sure how Internet access will be, so I need to get my votes in before I leave.
So, here’s my thoughts on the nominated novellas.
All Systems Red,Â by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing) â€” Martha Wellsâ€™ novella All Systems Red presents the diaries of a company-supplied security android designed to provide protection for survey teams exploring planets for possible resources. Murderbot (as it calls itself) just wants to be left alone to watch hours of vids in peace. But when another survey team mysteriously goes silent, it has to work with itâ€™s team of clients to discover the truth before theyâ€™re all killed.
I loved this book. Murderbot is cynical about humans and the world in general, an attitude that is totally understandable given its circumstances and understanding of the universe. But the team of scientists heâ€™s assigned to give him a broader perspective on humanity, showing him people who are able to work together with compassion and intelligence â€” such considerations they show not just to each other but to Murderbot itself, as they continue to work with and rely on it. Itâ€™s so wonderful to read a story that centers people who are good to each other. Plus, the action is intense, making this a short and rapid read. There are already several sequels to this out in the world and I can’t wait to read them all.
“And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny,Â March/April 2017) â€” Insurance investigator, Sarah Pinsker, gets an invitation that she at first believes to be a joke â€” until she stands in a hotel lobby facing a multitude of versions of herself from a multitude of parallel worlds, each representing the infinity (or a small portion of that infinity) of diverging choices she could have made in her life. One of the Sarahs has found a way to open the door and invited the rest of the Sarahs to come to a convention, a meeting of similar (sometimes almost exact variations), which is in some ways unsettling in itself. Then one of the Sarahs shows up dead.Â Insurance investigator Sarah is set to the task of looking into the murder after a storm rolls in cutting the local police off from reaching the island.
Who would we be if we made different choices in our lives? It’s a question pretty much everyone has asked themselves. I couldn’t imagine a more poignant examination of that question than this story. In some ways, all the ways the variations of Sara are similar is as fascinating as the ways in which they are different. All together, it’s so strange and meta and moving andÂ fascinating â€” with an ending to sit and think over long after you’re done reading.
Binti: Home,Â by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing) â€” The Binti trilogy is fantastic from top to bottom. The second book in the series,Â HomeÂ takes place one year after the events in the first book. Binti isÂ a student at Oomza University as she hoped. Although she’s considered a hero for brokering peace between two species, Binti is fundamentally changed and still dealing with the trauma â€” a mix of panic attacks and deep rooted anger.
Believing it can bring her healing, she decides to return home to the family she slipped away from in the middle of night. Coming with her is her friend Okwu â€” the first of the Meduse species to come to Earth in peace â€” which of course creates it’s own multitude of problems.
This is a quick paced space opera with imaginative world building and fantastic characters. Itâ€™s amazing to me how Okorafor can pack so many layers of culture and characters into such slim books.
The Black Tides of Heaven,Â by JY Yang (Tor.com Publishing) â€” Unfortunately, I did not get around to finishing this one, so I can’t express my full thoughts on it, but here’s the book description:
“Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as children. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While his sister received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What’s more, he saw the sickness at the heart of his mother’s Protectorate.
A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue to play a pawn in his mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from his sister Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond he shares with his twin sister?”
Down Among the Sticks and Bones,Â by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing) â€”Â Jacqueline and Jillian are twins born to parents who never really understood or wanted children, parents who believe children are objects to be shaped to their desires rather than actual, you know, people. But the world in which they live is full of doors and some of those doors lead to other worlds and Jacqueline and Jillian find their way to a place of darkness and death, where they suddenly have the ability to choose.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a standalone story in the Wayward Children series, and as such, you can read the books in the series in any order. Although if you really want to know what happens to Jack and Jill, then I recommend reading Every Heart a Doorway, which chronologically comes after this one (even though its the first in the series). I hope there are many, many more books in this series, because Iâ€™m loving it.
River of Teeth,Â by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing) â€” Once upon a time, the U.S. government considered importing African hippos and raising them in the Louisiana bayou in order to address a need to increase the national meat supply â€” not joking, this was really a thing. Sarah Gailey’s novella presents a reimagined history in which this damn foolish/brilliant idea actually took place.
A group of charmingly of devious scoundrels set out on a caper â€” I mean, “operation” â€” to clear a section of Mississippi river of feral hippos.Â Winslow Houndstooth is a former hippo rancher with swift knife skills and a grudge.Â Regina Archambault (“Archie”) is a brilliant conartist, with a protective affection for Houndstooth.Â Hero Shackleby is a demolitions expert who has become profoundly bored by their peaceful retirement.Â Adelia Reyes is a heavily pregnant badass . . . and well, I’m going to let you figure out the rest.
The audio book narration byÂ Peter Berkrot is fantastic, bringing all the characters to vivid life. I was as delighted by the idea of riding domesticated hippos as I was horrified by the idea of stumbling upon a group of ferals. Although, I had a bit of a hard time getting into the story at first, the caper â€” ahem, “operation” â€” was fun with some solid twists and the ending was deeply satisfying.
My personal and entirely subjective ranking:
Binti: HomeÂ by Nnedi Okorafor
All Systems RedÂ by Martha Wells
“And Then There Were (N-One)” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017)
Down Among the Sticks and BonesÂ by Seanan McGuire
River of TeethÂ by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing)
Since I did not finish readingÂ The Black Tides of Heaven, it is not ranked.
All my Hugo related posts are under the 2018 Hugos tag and you can check out the complete list of nominated creators and works here.
â€œAâ€‰time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.â€
I delighted in A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, the audio book of which is read by the author herself, who does a wonderful reading. The novel is told from two points of view â€” Ruth, a writer on a remote island who finds a mysterious packet in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, containing a journal and letters and other items, and Nao, living in Tokyo, whose story is told through the journal itself.
There are so many layers to my love of this novel. The characters and their stories captivated me. Nao, who has faced such levels of bullying at school and sorrow at home, relates her decision to end her life in a straightforward manner. To her it is the only logical solution to what she’s been through (and she’s been through a lot). In her journal, she presents her life with a sense of self-depreciating humor. After all she’s been through, and despite her resolution, there is an underlying strength to her. It’s an interesting balance between depression, sorrow, and enjoyment of small moments.
Ruth is also fascinating to me. Her life is marked by less overt drama, and her story relates more of the small moments, the routines of her life that both provide her with contentment and feel like traps. As she explore’s Nao’s story through the journal and tries to seek a way to help this girl who lives across the sea, she finds certain threads of her own life loosening, creating their own minor havocs.
This novel is also so meta. One could start with the writer character, Ruth, who shares her name with the author of the book, which suggests the potential of the autobiographical slipping in even if none of it actually is such. Even the title A Tale for the Time Being has double meaning â€” as in both, a tale for a person who lives in time, and also a tale for right now. I don’t want to get too much into the ways this is a meta narrative, since a lot of it comes at the end, but I will say that it had me thinking about the creation of art and degree to which the reader participates in the creation.
I think this is one of those books I’m going to have to reread many times.