Worldcon

I expect to go to Worldcon this year because, I mean, it’s in Chicago. All else aside, that’s hard to resist since (a) the drive is not insane, and (b) I can stay with my brother, which is a significant bonus right there.

I don’t know yet whether I’ll be voting on the Hugo, though. Here’s the list of nominees in the fiction categories. I will just note that I have read almost nothing that has been nominated. Only the Kingfisher series novels; that’s it.

Will I have time to read anything? Who knows? Almost certainly not all, or even most, of the novels. I will be pleased to vote for Navah Wolfe for Editor, Long Form. She was my editor for The Mountain of Kept Memory and she did an amazing job with it. Lots of work for me, but it wound up substantially better. She was also my editor for Winter of Ice and Iron, but Mountain stands out as the one book of mine where the editor did the most work and caused me to revise most heavily and to best effect.

I expect I’ll read the short stories because they’re short. The rest of these, middling to highly unlikely. I do like the title A Desolation Called Peace. Sounds really grim, but it’s still a great title. I’ve always liked that line from Tacitus. To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace. Such a great speech!

Maybe I’ll read that one by Weir, since I loved The Martian. But I won’t feel comfortable voting on a category unless I’ve at least read part of each entry in the category.

If any of you have read anything here and give it an enthusiastic thumbs up, I’ll try hard to read that. Oh, and if you’ve read anything here and give it a disappointed shake of your head, you might mention that as well.

Best Novel

  • A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine
  • The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, by Becky Chambers
  • Light From Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki
  • A Master of Djinn, by P. Djèlí Clark
  • Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir
  • She Who Became the Sun, by Shelley Parker-Chan

Best Novella

  • Across the Green Grass Fields, by Seanan McGuire
  • Elder Race, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
  • Fireheart Tiger, by Aliette de Bodard
  • The Past Is Red, by Catherynne M. Valente
  • A Psalm for the Wild-Built, by Becky Chambers
  • A Spindle Splintered, by Alix E. Harrow

Best Novelette

  • “Bots of the Lost Ark”, by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, Jun 2021)
  • “Colors of the Immortal Palette”, by Caroline M. Yoachim (Uncanny Magazine, Mar/Apr 2021)
  • L’Esprit de L’Escalier, by Catherynne M. Valente (Tordotcom)
  • “O2 Arena”, by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki (Galaxy’s Edge, Nov 2021)
  • “That Story Isn’t the Story”, by John Wiswell (Uncanny Magazine, Nov/Dec 2021)
  • “Unseelie Brothers, Ltd.”, by Fran Wilde (Uncanny Magazine, May/Jun 2021)

Best Short Story

  • “Mr. Death”, by Alix E. Harrow (Apex Magazine, Feb 2021)
  • “Proof by Induction”, by José Pablo Iriarte
    (Uncanny Magazine, May/Jun 2021)
  • “The Sin of America”, by Catherynne M. Valente
    (Uncanny Magazine, Mar/Apr 2021)
  • “Tangles”, by Seanan McGuire
    (Magicthegathering.com: Magic Story, Sep 2021)
  • “Unknown Number”, by Blue Neustifter (Twitter, Jul 2021)
  • “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather”, by Sarah Pinsker
    (Uncanny Magazine, Mar/Apr 2021)

Best Series

  • The Green Bone Saga, by Fonda Lee
  • The Kingston Cycle, by C. L. Polk
  • Merchant Princes, by Charles Stross
  • Terra Ignota, by Ada Palmer
  • Wayward Children, by Seanan McGuire
  • The World of the White Rat, by T. Kingfisher

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

  • Chaos on CatNet, by Naomi Kritzer
  • Iron Widow, by Xiran Jay Zhao
  • The Last Graduate, by Naomi Novik
  • Redemptor, by Jordan Ifueko
  • A Snake Falls to Earth, by Darcie Little Badger
  • Victories Greater Than Death, by Charlie Jane Anders

Astounding Award for Best New Writer

  • Tracy Deonn 
  • Micaiah Johnson 
  • A.K. Larkwood  
  • Everina Maxwell 
  • Shelley Parker-Chan 
  • Xiran Jay Zhao 

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19 thoughts on “Worldcon”

  1. Thanks, Irina! Given your recommendation, I clicked over to Amazon and took a look. I see the description starts this way: a defiantly joyful adventure set in California’s San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made donuts.

    “Defiantly joyful” sounds excellent, way better than desolation. Hopefully this will be included in the Hugo voter’s packet, and if so I’ll do my best to take a look.

  2. A DESOLATION CALLED PEACE has some interesting aliens—just overhearing their communications makes people vomit! How will the protag learn to mediate with them?—but I don’t think it stands alone at ALL. It follow A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE but I thought was less successful overall.

    I loved SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN but it’s rather bleak—it’s a retelling of the peasant/monk rebel who became the first Ming Dynasty emperor, very well written but influenced by tragic cdramas where the narrative arc is “power corrupts but it’s the only way to survive”. It’s also super queer. I enjoyed the hell out of it. But I winced a lot.

  3. The only things I’ve read on the list are PROJECT HAIL MARY, which I liked quite a bit, and the first two books in MERCHANT PRINCES, which taught me that Stross isn’t going to be to my taste even when he’s writing what should be an easy sell for me.

  4. I read the C.L. Polk Kingston trilogy; rather liked the first but liked it less as the series continued, and was actively irritated by the end.
    Maybe because I live in a well-functioning constitutional monarchy, the underlying premise of the third book that all hereditary monarchs as well as any hereditary aristocracy must be bad even when they started out as OK people, unless they renounce their heritage, both irritated me and felt awfully dogmatic.

    I haven’t read Becky Chambers but recognise the name from lots of online people being positive about her book “The long way to a small angry planet”. I see she has both a novella and a novel nominated this year.

  5. I liked both Becky Chambers entries. “The Galaxy and the Ground Within” is especially engaging. Also liked “Chaos on Catnet” by Naomi Kritzer. This is the second novel in her catnet series. I dnf’d the first book in the Naomi Novik series so never got around to this one. Haven’t read the others. Hope that helps.

  6. Maria Huszovszky

    Hanneke, I also read the Kingston trilogy by Polk and felt exactly the same.

  7. Thanks for all your comments!

    Hanneke, I agree, I don’t appreciate that idea one bit. Sounds like a simplistic power-corrupts notion. It irritates me just thinking about it, so I believe that one is off the table for me.

    I did like The Long Way and also the second book by Chambers. Oh, Closed and Common Orbit. I thought the second book was not as successful in its execution as the first, but I liked them both quite a bit.

    I know I like Naomi Kritzer in general, so I’m pretty likely to at least look at that one.

    I must say, bleak and winced a lot are pretty much going to guarantee that I don’t try She Who Became the Sun. Sorry, but this is the wrong … decade, I guess, it’s looking like … when it comes to bleak or tragic stories.

  8. I have read surprisingly few of these, given that 2021 was not nearly the wasteland of reading for me that 2020 was. I’ve loved Seanan McGuire’s writing since before she was published, so I’m not unbiased, but Across the Green Grass Fields was an excellent entry in the Wayward Children series (a bit sad, which is unavoidable given the premise, but it’s fundamentally a kind story. And I particularly loved that the audiobook was narrated by a reader who, like the character, was intersex) and I would LOVE to see the series win as series. (Seanan is on the ballot a lot for fiction, but has actually only won once, and I think her natural writing mode is series, so I wish one of them would finally win!)

    I love the setting of Master of Djinn, probably enough to vote for it, although I found the plot a touch uneven – the earlier works in that world are shorter. I was looking forward enormously to She Who Became the Sun and it didn’t live up to my expectations. I’m not sure how much of that was a me problem or a book problem. I definitely don’t think you’d enjoy it much – it’s a tough, painful read, though certainly not bad! Aliette de Bodard is one of my favorite writers, but Fireheart Tiger was enjoyable but not remarkable for me. In the Astounding list, A.K. Larkwood’s The Unspoken Name is very good and very original, and had a (very astutely and accurately rendered) character who annoyed me so much that it slightly soured the book for me. I enjoyed Everina Maxwell’s Winter’s Orbit so much that I read it twice in a month last winter, which is saying something for me (the next time I did that was almost a year later, and was, um, Tuyo,) although I slightly preferred the earlier, original fic version on Ao3 which had less outside plot cluttering the relationship arc.

    (I have not read ANY of the Loadstar nominees, how is that possible? Several are on my active TBR, but still.

  9. There are some good nominees this year, but I think this is the first time I’ve read less than half of the novel category (dnf-ed the Weir, but Desolation is a strong sequel if you liked the first). I haven’t been in the right headspace for bleak fiction, even if it’s brilliantly written.

    I’ve read (and enjoyed!) all of the novellas, but am rooting for Psalm for the Wild-Built or Elder Race to win. If you haven’t read these, I’d highly recommend both – Chambers does comfortable low-stakes fiction incredibly well, and I think this might be the best thing Tchaikovsky has written. He does some very fun things with fantasy tropes in this novella without coming across as gimmicky, and it’s an interesting look at how writers can set up and subvert expectations by playing to what their readers know. The quest is very much a background part of the story, and I had a lot of fun reading it.

    Like many people here, I hope the White Rat series wins best series – Kingfisher is a DELIGHT.

    (This is unrelated to the Hugos, but I think it will also be interesting to everyone: Victoria Goddard just released a new Nine Worlds novella, with more perspective on Kip: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/portrait-of-a-wide-seas-islander)

  10. Thanks for your comments, Amara, and particularly thanks for the tip about Victoria Goddard’s new release!

  11. Thanks Amara, for the heads-up, I immediately got the Portrait of a Wide Sea Islander and enjoyed it a lot! For me it was a much better fit with the feel of Hands than the other short stories she’s written in that world.

  12. I’m surprised by how many of those (excluding shorts and novelettes) I actually either read, or already own and have waiting to read.

    Mostly I agree with what others have already written here, so a few that weren’t mentioned, or I have further notes on:

    The Merchants Princes series is good, but I think the worst of Stross’ work. Beyond just being uneven between books, it’s the most uninteresting/unique/surprising take on a relatively uncommon theme. The books are interesting for what happens to the characters in each, but I should really care about the multiple worlds are relations and ties between them, and I… just don’t. I generally like Stross’ books, but possibly the worst thing of his to nominate.

    In comparison on the same basic concept, sticking to this list, Micaiah Johnson’s The Space Between Worlds is, while extremely bleak and depressing, much much better, and I can certainly see why they’re on the list.

    I haven’t yet read The Last Graduate, but thought A Deadly Education was very good. That said, I do generally like the weird/murder school genre (when it’s not done too badly), and Novik is generally a good writer, so no surprise there. It’s interesting, fun, kind of tropey though with some nice small twists. But a heck of a lot of murder, so YMMV.

    Related, again, I thought Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn was quite good, but I didn’t enjoy it quite as much.Everything was done well, and the takes on the common themes it was using (school/university student protag discovers magic is real, also they are/have magic, also secret magic society, also protecting from magical monsters/invasion…) were not entirely bog-standard, but still felt just a little too much more-of-the same. Again, still very good, recommended to anyone who likes the genre, I’m definitely getting the sequel once I see it at a reasonable price, but…

    Haven’t gotten to Chaos on CatNet too, but Catfishing on CatNet was fantastic. Great job going between the tension and anxiety (moving around all the time, possible stalker) humor, and friendship and support. And it certainly managed to take some swerves I wasn’t expecting (or at least wasn’t expecting to be so big) and handle them well.

    A Spindle Splintered is, well, exactly what you’d expect if you have read any of Harrow’s other books. Rich, feeling just slightly fairytale-ish/off-normal, and oozing character. This one maybe a bit “faster” than her previous books, but keeps the quality.

    I’m conflicted on Wayward Children. All the individual books are fantastic, but they’re a lot more standalone-ish. The books are also somewhat weirder and harder to read than her others. So it’s a great series, but maybe not as great as a series?

    Too Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota 1) was very interesting, until the point it became too meandering for my taste. To be fair, I’m not entirely sure it was the book’s fault rather than my mood at the time, which is why I placed it in my (very small) list of books to go back to at some point to try again, rather than just DNF and go on. So I could be wrong here. But the overall feeling I was left with was that it’s probably a good book that isn’t for me.

    Victories Greater Than Death I liked. I like Charlie Jane generally. But while it was pretty good (and also one I’ll get the sequel at some point, and I do own their other books), it wasn’t great. The characters are interesting, and the universe/world-building have a lot of interesting elements, but too many cases (for my taste) of things happening because the plot needs them to, or because they’ll be cool, rather then because that’s what you’d expect would happen in this world with these characters. Worth reading, bonus points for very diverse cast and how they’re handled, good book but not “best”.

  13. Strangely enough I’ve read all of the novels and most of the novellas and most of the young adult books. She Who Became the Sun, The Past is Red, and Iron Widow were all exceedingly grim, although, boy, Catherynne Valente can WRITE. I loved A Master of Djinn (queer Indiana Jones style action adventure), The Galaxy and the Ground Within (thoughtful and gentle story about multiple aliens temporarily trapped together – sort of reminds me of Canterbury Tales), Light from Uncommon Stars (tale about aliens coming to earth, falling in love in various ways, and dealing with faustian bargains), and The Last Graduate (our sarcastic heroine with a good heart, El, and her friends, survive another year in the Scholomance which is a lot more deadly than Hogwarts). I also enjoyed Project Hail Mary (not as good as The Martian but still fun), A Spindle Splintered (a fractured fairy-tale), and Psalm for the Wild-Built (a far future meditation on many things, fueled by many cups of tea). In terms of best new writer, Everina Maxwell wrote Winter’s Orbit (involving an arranged marriage between two men, set in an empire spanning the stars) which I also quite appreciated. Tracy Deonn wrote Legendborn which was an interestingly diverse twist on the Camelot tale but just didn’t grab me enough for me to want to continue. Seanan McGuire is another author who can flat out write but the Wayward Children series (including Across the Green Grass Fields) has too many sharp edges to be a relaxing read for me; I do read these books because they’re too good not to, but I never re-read. I notice that most, if not all, of the entries that I gravitate to are on the positive end of the spectrum which is perfect for covid escapism. I think The Last Graduate is my favorite. But if you didn’t enjoy the first book, and I seem to recall you said you didn’t???, then you won’t enjoy this one either.

  14. Thanks, Jeanine! I haven’t actually read the first book of Novik’s series, so that was somebody else. I generally like Novik, but not necessarily as much as other people seem to.

    I think I’m going to wind up printing off this list of titles, then going through these comments and crossing off anything that’s described as “exceedingly grim,” circling the ones that you all particularly liked, and trying first chapters on that basis. So this is going to be an enormously helpful comment thread both ways!

  15. Re Novik, this series is very much *not* Temeraire, or her folktale novel, in terms of style, if you read those before. It’s lighter and a lot more “fun”. I mean, again, excessive body count, sure, but while the drama and character beats are pretty solid, the death and violence and gore and violence are much more… cartoonish? It doesn’t really feel like her other books.

  16. I love the Scholomance series (with El our sarcastic heroine). Second books in trilogies can be so tiresome, but I thought the Last Graduate was equally engaging. I hope the third proves so as well.

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