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 — 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, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing) — Martha Wells’ 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 it’s team of clients to discover the truth before they’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 he’s assigned to give him a broader perspective on humanity, showing him people who are able to work together with compassion and intelligence — such considerations they show not just to each other but to Murderbot itself, as they continue to work with and rely on it. It’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, March/April 2017) — Insurance investigator, Sarah Pinsker, gets an invitation that she at first believes to be a joke — 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. 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 and fascinating — with an ending to sit and think over long after you’re done reading.
Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing) — The Binti trilogy is fantastic from top to bottom. The second book in the series, Home takes place one year after the events in the first book. Binti is 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 — 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 — the first of the Meduse species to come to Earth in peace — which of course creates it’s own multitude of problems.
This is a quick paced space opera with imaginative world building and fantastic characters. It’s amazing to me how Okorafor can pack so many layers of culture and characters into such slim books.
The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang (Tor.com Publishing) — 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, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing) — 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 I’m loving it.
River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing) — 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 — 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 — I mean, “operation” — to clear a section of Mississippi river of feral hippos. Winslow Houndstooth is a former hippo rancher with swift knife skills and a grudge. Regina Archambault (“Archie”) is a brilliant conartist, with a protective affection for Houndstooth. Hero Shackleby is a demolitions expert who has become profoundly bored by their peaceful retirement. Adelia Reyes is a heavily pregnant badass . . . and well, I’m going to let you figure out the rest.
The audio book narration by 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 — ahem, “operation” — was fun with some solid twists and the ending was deeply satisfying.
My personal and entirely subjective ranking:
Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
“And Then There Were (N-One)” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017)
Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing)
Since I did not finish reading 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.
“A 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.”
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 — 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 — 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.
For the past, oh, year or so, I’ve been telling myself, If I can just get past this project or trip or ordeal or whatever, then things will mellow out and I won’t feel so overwhelmed any more. But when the project or trip or ordeal or whatever is completed, another just sprouts up in its place — creating an ongoing saga of overwhelming days that seem to be never ending.
Some days, it seems that all I can do is take advice from Dory:
And just keep swimming, swimming until I get through it all. Keep writing, keep working, keep on keeping on until the next project or trip or ordeal or whatever is done and I can move onto the next.
What I’m Reading
I don’t know what is will me these days, but all of my reading is incredibly slow. Too much going on to focus on books the way I used to, I suppose.
I’m currently reading The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett. This is FogCon homework, since Jama-Everett will be one of the Honored Guests at the event. The story involves people powerful enough to be considered beyond human and the reaching for more power that comes from this. It’s very interesting so far, with a thrilling storyline. I’m not sure where it’s going to go and that makes it fun.
I’m also reading Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, because Okorafor is amazing. And it won both the Hugo and Nebula for Best Novella. It’s really wonderful so far and I’m sure I’ll polish it off tonight.
I’ve paused my progress on Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman, due to my desire to get some books read in time for FogCon. Also, despite being a fantastic story has turned into a really slow read for me. It’s unfortunate in the sense that this slow reading with gaps of days in between isn’t really allowing me to immerse myself in the story the way I would like.
What I’m Writing
I have a lot of non-writing projects that are on my desk at the moment, including getting submissions out there, editing work, preparing and posting interviews, etc. — all of which is taking time away from the actual writing and editing of existing work. My 15 minute rule/plan goal is not really working out, so I may have to adjust at the end of March.
A number of good things continue to develop, though, particularly in the collaborative arena. Laura Madeline Wiseman and I continue to meet weekly to write and edit new poems and we’ve produced enough work that we’re starting the process of putting together a collection.
I also met with some people over the weekend to discuss the creation of a web series, which I’ll officially announce later if it becomes finalized. But for the moment, we’ve hashed out the first act of the proposed series and I’m going to start writing scripts for that in the coming weeks. I’m excited to see where this goes.
More rejections coming in, more submissions going out. I tell myself this is all a part of the process, because it is — because even the most famous of writers faced rejection, because rejection is not a sign of your value as a writer. I tell myself this, and most of the time I believe it.
Goals for the Week:
Get more poems edited
Hot potato my submissions to at least two more journals/publishers
The Running Life
Inspired by Sierra De Mulder , I’ve set myself a personal challenge for March. The goal is to run a minimum of 1 mile daily, only about 12-14 minutes for me depending on my pace. After completing six days in a row of running (with some days in which I ran far more than one mile), I’m feeling rather good. Because I’m mixing in some longer runs, the short runs don’t seem that difficult. The hardest thing so far is being in the right headspace to make sure I get out there no matter what.
Longest Run Walk of the Week: 3.63 miles
Total Miles for the Week: 10.51 miles
Total Miles for 2017: 47.2 miles
Malanda Jean-Claude examines The Chaos That Makes Poetry: “What does it mean to be a word smith? A writer. I struggle with answers for things I never had dreams to become. A cannon, an act of rebellion. A synagogue, a revolution tucked in the Quran inside of a prayer. Hip-hop laced with the holy ghost, a contradiction in my own walk.”
“Art isn’t easy. It’s not just that we need a revolution in style but also a revolution in audience, distribution, circulation, performance, perception and, indeed, motivation. These revolutions are never a question of being marked as ahead of the times—that is the problem with the label avant-garde, with its flamboyant promise of “being out front.” Rather, the issue is staying in and with the times and not letting the times drown you,” write Charles Bernstein and Tracie Morris in Poetry Needs a Revolution That Goes Beyond Style.
1. The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan
2. Among Others by Jo Walton
3. Red Shirts by John Scalzi
4. The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson
5. Contact by Carl Sagan
6. The City & The City by China Mielville
7. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
8. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
9. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
10. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor