Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Nominating for the 2015 Hugos

Okay, the deadline for nominations is March 10. I want to beat that deadline by at least a couple of days. That means I have a handful more books and novellas to at least try in the next few weeks. Just out of curiosity, I have been poking around on Google for several days, seeing what other people are suggesting for nomination this year. Below I have compiled a list of works that various people think are worthy of nomination. I certainly haven’t been obsessive about searching, so this is hardly a complete list, but in case you find it useful or are just interested, here it is.

I’m trying to read at least some of the shorter works that are easily available online, but I’m not going to go buy issues of Asimov’s and SF&F and whatnot in order to read everything. I mean, hardly. I don’t really like any form shorter than a novella anyway. On the other hand, I have included links below to the handful of works that are available free online. I haven’t read them all yet, though.

Plus, I’ve looked at Goodreads descriptions for the novels. Some sound intriguing enough to at least try samples, and if I love love love the sample, there *is* still time to read several more nominees right through, if barely.

Okay, so: here’s a list of the novels that either I or somebody else is nominating, with comments. I have not kept track of who recommended what. I’m all about judging stories strictly on their own merits, so I don’t actually want to know anything about who recommended them and I would just as soon not know much about the authors as people, either.

Anyway, after the novels, I’ve listed the novellas, novelettes, and short stories, with links where available. Even if the novels sound like I would hate them, if I haven’t read them, I’ve left them on the list. But I’ve been removing shorter fiction from the list as I read it, if I decide it isn’t the kind of thing I would want to nominate. Update: I’m adding comments about the shorter fiction as I read it, but I’m no longer actually removing titles now that this post is up.

Novels

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. I see a lot of people are going to nominate this, and that’s great! I think and hope it will make the ballot. Then I hope the publisher will ask “Katherine” for a sequel. That would be extra-fabulous.

A Darkling Sea by James Cambias. I have not seen this on a lot of sites, and that’s too bad. This is just the kind of beautifully developed SF story that ought to be on the ballot. I hope Jo Walton is pushing it; I know she loved it.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie. I’m reading this now. I don’t particularly like seeing middle books on the list, and I don’t especially want Ann Leckie to win two years in a row, but I must admit, yes, it’s a worthy sequel. And it does pick up well, with no desperate need to re-read the first book.

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan. I haven’t seen this on anybody else’s list. But I’m not sure why not, other than it, too, is a middle book in a series. It is a quieter story, true; you can see where it is part of a larger whole; but it is meticulously put together. This and Ancillary Sword are both still on my list of possible nominees. Also, the physical packaging of the book really, truly blows the competition out of the water.

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Now for the extensive list of novels I haven’t read:

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

The first things to shift were the doll’s eyes, the beautiful grey-green glass eyes. Slowly they swivelled, until their gaze was resting on Triss’s face. Then the tiny mouth moved, opened to speak.

‘What are you doing here?’ It was uttered in tones of outrage and surprise, and in a voice as cold and musical as the clinking of cups. ‘Who do you think you are? This is my family.’

When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows that something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry; her sister seems scared of her and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out.

Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined, and that she is quite literally not herself. In a quest find the truth she must travel into the terrifying Underbelly of the city to meet a twisted architect who has dark designs on her family – before it’s too late…

I know a lot of people really love Hardinge, but this sounds pretty dark. If you’ve read it, thumb’s up or thumb’s down? Should I hurry up and read it before nominations close? As an added complication, this title doesn’t seem to be available on Kindle yet. (!!!). Not sure I’m willing to get it in paper unless I’m pretty sure to love it. What do you all say?

Update: Okay, you all have persuaded me that despite the horror-type of cover and the horror-type of teaser, this is actually a fabulous book. I’ve ordered it and I hope it gets here soon so I can read it!

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu

Goodreads says: Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth.

This one, by a Chinese SF author and translated by Ken Liu, sounds extremely impressive, but a whole lot of the book apparently takes place during the Cultural Revolution. I’m not sure I’m up for that.

Here’s a good review: The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu

And Here’s David Brin’s review.

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Goodreads says: Lagoon expertly juggles multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives with prose that is at once propulsive and poetic, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself. Um, a city consuming itself. Maybe not going to rush right out or this one.

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

I see that Heidi from Bunbury in the Stacks, whose taste I often agree with, says: Wow. You know, for someone who had zero interest in zombies a couple of years ago, some of the most thought provoking novels I’ve read since have indeed been zombie books, and The Girl With All the Gifts shines pretty brightly at the head of that category. This book challenges what we think of as humanity, right, and victory. I kind of loved it.

I’m more than halfway through this one, and it’s absolutely the opposite reading experience from City of Stairs. This one is intensely engaging. I love it. Whether I’ll wind up nominating it is another question, but I definitely and enthusiastically recommend it. Uh, maybe I should wait till the end. But it’s hard to believe that Carey isn’t going to pull off a satisfying ending because it’s a great read so far. A good study in building a page-turner of a book, too.

The Bees by Laline Paull

Goodreads says: Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. Bees. Hmmm. Reviews are very mixed.

Evidently sometimes the bees seem to be bees and sometimes they seem to be making a statement about human society. I’m not sure it’s possible to pull both off at the same time. The detail from the reviews that most makes me reluctant to look at this one is that apparently at one point the sanitation bees are using little tiny brooms and dustpans. The mind boggles, yes? Many reviews compare this book to Watership Down. Try for one moment to imagine the rabbits in Watership Down sweeping out their burrows with little brooms. That would be an entirely different book. In fact, it would be Wind in the Willows, a book I always hated because I want animals to act like animals.

Not only that, but bees are supposed to be the way they are: eusocial, with extreme division of labor and so on. If you try to force humans into that kind of social order, naturally that would be evil and wrong. Why pick on bees, which are perfectly okay the way they are, to make a statement about how bad horrible repressive societies would be for people? It offends me to have animals used that way in a story.

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Goodreads says: A densely atmospheric and intrigue-filled fantasy novel of living spies, dead gods, buried histories, and a mysterious, ever-changing city. I’m seeing this title on a lot of lists and the people who love it really seem to love it. I’m going to at least try a sample. But I think it may be the kind of fantasy that grades over into horror. Not sure, though. Have any of you read this?

Update: I’m halfway through City of Stairs, and I can now definitely say that I’m not really connecting with it emotionally. On an intellectual level, I like it. I like the main character and many of the secondary characters, the present-tense style is not my favorite but it’s okay, the setting is fine if a bit more gritty than I would prefer, the backstory is complicated and interesting, I’m curious about where the mystery is going. But. For no reason I can truly put a finger on, the overall reading experience is just okay for me. I’m going to do something I never do with a book I plan to finish: put it down and go on to something else. I’ll come back to it after I finalize my nomination list.

The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne

A commenter, RS Carter, at Goodreads says pithily: If M.C. Escher ever wrote a book, this would be it. I feel like I just read Escher’s Relativity lithograph, because The Girl in the Road is the book it would be if one could translate visual art into a novel. Okay, that sounds quite intriguing.

Defenders by Will McIntosh

Jared at Goodreads says, in one of the briefer reviews to ever catch my eye: The end of chapter 39 had me in tears. Like the best of Stephen Baxter, Elizabeth Moon and Octavia Butler, this book gets under your skin and exposes the brutality of the universe with just a glimmer of hope. Any such reference to Octavia Butler makes me sit up. Reviews at Goodreads mostly make this book seem like something I should at least try.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Goodreads says: Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic [this is evidently a postapocalyptic novel], this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

Hmm. Rife with beauty, thumb’s up. But it sounds like it may be too darkly literary for me. And, ooh, an evil prophet, I’ve never seen *that* trope before. So that’s a bit of a turn-off, though not a dealbreaker. Have any of you read this?

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

Now, this one has been on my radar for a while. Here’s a brief description from Amazon: From award-winning author Genevieve Valentine, a “gorgeous and bewitching” (Scott Westerfeld) reimagining of the fairytale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses as flappers during the Roaring Twenties in Manhattan. As it happens, the Twelve Dancing Princesses is one of my favorite fairy tales. I’ve had a particular soft spot for it since reading McKillip’s novella of the same name. I’ve just picked up a sample, because I definitely want to try this one. Of all the novels here that I haven’t tried yet, this is perhaps the one I’m most likely to read before nominations close.

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Another and very different fairy tale retelling, Goodreads says: In the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman….A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.

Boy? Is a woman? Because, huh. I must say, a “tale of aesthetic obsession” does not sound like my thing.

Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

Goodreads says: It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. … . His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings—his Bible is their “book of strange new things.” But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling. Bea’s faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter. … Their trials lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us.

While that sounds intriguing . . . hmmm. Here is a good review. It gives me a much better idea about how the book might come together. I’m not sure I will put it at the top of my list, though.

Skin Game by Jim Butcher

Goodreads says: Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever. … It’s a smash-and-grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world…

I know a lot of people love The Dresden Files, but I’ve never actually tried them. This is the fifteenth in the series. I hear it’s good. But a fifteen-book series? Even if it stands by itself, do I want to go there?

Okay, so that’s the novels. The ones I think I really must at least try: The Girl With All The Gifts, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, City of Stairs. Novels I would like to try: Cuckoo Song, The Girl in the Road, Defenders, The Three-Body Problem. Things I would try if I had six months instead of a couple of weeks: The rest of them. If any of you have comments that might move some of these up or down the must-try list, please do let me know.

Moving on:

Novellas: I actually bought four recommended novellas because they’re not very expensive and I was curious. For two of them so far, I didn’t think either was that good, I didn’t finish them, and I deleted them from this post before putting it up. I don’t remember what they were, sorry. Here are the ones I still need to try. As you can see, two other novellas are available online, both from tor.com, but I haven’t read them yet, either.

“Trading Rosemary” by Octavia Cade

“Dream Houses” by Genevieve Valentine — my goodness, what a strange and claustrophobic novella. It’s very well written. I didn’t like it at all, though I read it all the way to the end. Claustrophobic horror is not something I like. If you’ve read it, what do you think? Is the main character insane? I mean, in more than one way, because she’s plainly insane in at last one way. I think she is. But was she hallucinating *everything*, or just some things? How about the AI of the ship? Is that also insane? Hard to tell. And did you get the ending?

“Island in a Sea of Stars” by Kevin J Anderson

“Where the Trains Turn” by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen

Novelette: Only one of these is available free online, also from tor.com — thank you, tor.com — though I haven’t read it yet. I am just not going to go out of my way to track down non-free novelettes, because I don’t generally like novelettes that much as a form. Some of them *sound* interesting, though, especially “Steppin’ Razor” and “The Fruits of Hawai’i”.

“The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” by Rajnar Vajra

“Championship B’tok” by Edward M. Lerner

“Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” by Gray Rinehart

“The Litany of Earth” by Ruthanna Emrys

“Marielena” by Nina Allen

“Steppin’ Razor” by Maurice Broaddus. But the linked review indicates that this Jamaican steampunk story feels like it stops halfway through. What is up with that?

“A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i” by Alaya Dawn Johnson. This review says, “A strong story from Johnson, looking closely at relationships between humans and the vampires who have taken over the world.” I’ve heard good things about The Summer Prince, so I would read this story if it was easily available, but I haven’t ever actually read anything at all by this author. Or by any of the other novelette authors listed here, either.

Short Story: As you can see, lots of these are linked to stories you can read online for free. Despite this, I haven’t read any of them yet. I thought about waiting for this post until I had read all the ones that are available, but . . . not sure when that will be, exactly. Not till after I finish Ancillary Sword, for sure, and I do have a lot of my own work to do. So here’s the list, straight up, without comments because I know nothing about any of these stories except that someone or other listed them for a nomination list.

“Goodnight Stars” by Annie Bellet

“Tuesdays With Molakesh the Destroyer” by Megan Grey — Okay, I’ve read this, and I like the voice a lot and the story pretty well overall.

“Totaled” by Kary English

“On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli — Okay, the author was kind enough to send me a copy, so now I can say that although the idea of the story is good, it did not really grab me. This was actually an interesting reading experience because I think I would almost certainly have liked the story better if it had been fantasy rather than SF. I believe I found myself distracted from the core of the story by the science details. I’m not able to think just off the cuff of other cases where that’s happened, but I do read a good bit more fantasy than SF and I wonder now whether that might sometimes be one reason why that happens.

“A Single Samurai” by Steve Diamond

“Mad Maudlin” by Marie Brennan — OKAY, THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT. Well, I don’t mean to shout, but I just read this one and it is excellent. No question but that this one is going on the nomination ballot for me. I admit I have a particular soft spot for this story because Brennan is doing something with it that I kind of did in a quite different way in an (as yet unpublished) duology that I wrote about eight years ago, which is still a great favorite of mine.

The Queen of the Tyrant Lizards” by John C Wright — I see this story is a response to “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love”, and though it’s both a nice response and well-written, I can’t see nominating it, personally.

“Never the Same” by Polenth Blake — Okay, my goodness, I did not expect a sociopathic protagonist. Also, the brother. He’s so much worse than the protagonist. Is he a sociopath, too, or just evil? I liked this story quite a bit.

“The Breath of War” by Aliette de Bodard

“When It Ends, He Catches Her” by Eugie Foster

“Five Stages of Grief After the Alien Invasion” by Caroline Yoachim — I read this one and it is good, but not really my cup of tea.

Update: A handful more short stories to read:

The Earth and Everything Under by K.M. Ferebee

“We Are the Cloud” by Sam J. Miller

“Hold Back the Waters” by Virginia M. Mohlere

“How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps” by A. Merc Rustad

These four stories I just added to the list were suggested here. I include the link because this review of “best short fiction of 2014” by Charlotte Ashley also mentions a good handful more stories with further links. I’m simply not going to have time to read them all, but if any of you want to explore further, you can click through.

Also, the John W Campbell Award:

The rules here may allow Andy Weir to be nominated because his first professional publication was in 2014, though I don’t think The Martian is technically eligible since it was originally self-published a couple years ago. I’m inclined to nominate both Weir and Django Wexler. Wexler’s first book, The Thousand Names, was published in 2013. This makes him eligible, because anybody whose first novel was published in the past two years, not one year, is eligible. I didn’t love Wexler’s second book as much as his first, but on the other hand, I really liked it.

If anybody has a suggestion for an author who was first published in 2013 or 2014 and would thus be eligible for the JWC Award, by all means, let me know. I’m sure there are many great authors who are eligible, probably several of whom are on my TBR pile right his very minute.

Whew, all right, that’s it for now! As I read these, I’ll comment about them, but obviously there’s no chance I’ll get to all those novels before the deadline. If any of you read anything here, I’d appreciate hearing what you think of them.

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11 Comments Nominating for the 2015 Hugos

  1. Robert+Massey

    I was also reluctant to read Cuckoo Song since it sounded more like horror than fantasy. But I love Hardinge, so I gave it a try. Best decision ever! An absolutely wonderful book, and not really any darker than her other works.

    I also liked The Bees. In fact, I found it very engrossing. The bees act like bees, as far as I can tell. While reading, I wasn’t prompted to make any parallels to human societies, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty oblivious to allegory.

    City of Stairs is definitely not horror. It’s straight-up fantasy with some very cool quirks.

  2. Rachel

    Thank you, Robert, that’s very helpful. I’m going to go ahead and order a paper copy of Cuckoo’s Song immediately and hope it arrives reasonably promptly, since I see that all the sellers are in the UK. That paperback cover absolutely does this book no favors: it is a very HORROR NOVEL HERE cover.

    I’m also going to get a sample of The Bees and move City of Stairsup my list — in fact, I’ll try that one next.

  3. Cheryl L

    I agree with Robert. I found CUCKOO SONG riveting. It’s not a horror novel, but it’s very definitely a Frances Hardinge novel.

  4. Craig

    Two negative comments: as big a fan of Wright as I am, nominating “The Queen of the Tyrant Lizards” would only envenom the current disputes, so it would have to be a work of genius before I’d want to see it listed. (His “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds,” which I’ve also seen recommended, is a pretty good fantasy — but probably not your cup of tea since it’s full of animals based on medieval bestiaries instead of reality.)

    SKIN GAME is quite good — and it even has one important SF element embedded in its fantasy, sort of — but I don’t think it works very well as a stand alone.

  5. Maureen E

    Chiming in to say that CUCKOO SONG is AMAZING–one of Hardinge’s best to date, imo, if not the best–and that it’s a bit eerie in places but not at all Horror. I don’t know how Hugo eligibility works, but the reason it’s not available easily is that it’s not pubbing in the US until May.

    CITY OF STAIRS I did read and thought it did some things quite well, others less well. All in all, it was pleasant but not ground-breaking, imo. Also, I know that some queer readers have dinged it for a very spoilery thing that happens.

    GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB is amazing and one of my favorite books from last year, but as far as I know not SFF at all, but rather straight historical fiction.

    Personally, GOBLIN EMPEROR would be by far my top pick for novel, followed by Ancillary Mercy, but I don’t think I have enough of a handle on the Hugos to feel certain about it.

  6. Rachel

    A story based on medieval bestiaries could appeal to me; it depends. I don’t mind symbolic animals, necessarily, depending on the symbolic background used.

    Maureen, well, I’m really looking forward to Cuckoo’s Song now, with everybody giving it a definite thumb’s up. It didn’t occur to me that a fairy tale retelling could be a straight historical, but that will certainly take it out of the running for me. I’m 10% through City of Stairs now and like some details very much, but of course the story is still developing at this point.

  7. Evenstar

    I liked The Goblin Emperor a lot, may need to go read it again now!

    I didn’t think City of Stairs was at all horror. It reminded me of Max Gladstone’s Craft series, but not quite as engaging. Similar mix of gods (perhaps dead), magic and a mystery to be solved. Worth reading? Yes. Better than The Goblin Emperor? No.

    Station Eleven is beautifully written, but the plot didn’t hold my attention at all. By the time the conflict happened with the evil prophet, I just didn’t really care. Maybe because of the jumping around in time, and so many other characters had already died (post apocalypse and all).

  8. pete mack

    I can’t believe Pillars of the Sky isnt on the list. While I agree with you that Evil Overlord POV is usually awful, I got delicious chills reading from Al’Sepehr’s POV. He was done just masterfully.

  9. Rachel

    Evenstar, I’m 40% through City of Stairs, and I agree with you — I like it, some details I like A LOT, but I can’t see it going on my nomination ballot.

    Pete, I believe I did see Bear’s Steles of the Sky on various lists. I suppose I noted it but didn’t expect to nominate it myself and so didn’t include it on my own compiled list, because I was more interested in getting feedback on the novels I haven’t read yet. I liked it a lot, and as a whole, the trilogy is extremely good. I even agree that Al-Sepehr’s POV is okay, if only because there’s not that much of it. The dealbreaker for me is not the scattered pov, but that Steles really does not stand by itself at all, less so imo than Ancillary Sword or The Tropic of Serpents.

    I would *really* like to have a specific series award, for which a series is eligible the year the final book comes out.

    I expect Scalzi’s Lock In and Myra Grant’s Symbiont were also on various of the lists I looked at — but I would just as soon see works by *other* authors nominated and didn’t pay attention to those titles, either.

  10. Linda S

    Thanks for putting this together! Sadly, I haven’t read any of the novels you listed, though I did just buy CITY OF STAIRS to give it a try. I’m definitely planning to nominate GOBLIN EMPEROR and DARKLING SEA, and I’m still waffling about ANCILLARY SWORD and MY REAL CHILDREN. I hadn’t realized Weir and Wexler were eligible for the Campbell, so thanks for mentioning that.

    I agree with you and Craig about “Queen of the Tyrant Lizards.” I thought Wright did some interesting things with the story, though I could have lived without the gratuitous political asides. And there’s certainly nothing intrinsically wrong with stories written in response to other stories; I liked both STARSHIP TROOPERS and THE FOREVER WAR (and Scalzi’s OLD MAN’S WAR, for that matter, though he kind of lost me by the end of the series). However, nominating QotTL would just add fuel to a fire that I’d very much like to see extinguished.

  11. Rachel

    Linda, glad you found it helpful. Yes, gratuitous political asides from either side of the spectrum are a tremendous turnoff for me, as are obvious ideological Messages of any kind. That alone would have dropped “Queen” out of consideration for me. I did like Starship Troopers and read it several times, but that was a long time ago, before I got oversensitized to Message stories.

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