2021 Word Fantasy Award Finalists: Novels, Novellas, Short Stories

The 2021 Word Fantasy Awards Finalists have been announced ! The winners will be announced during the World Fantasy Convention, 4.-7.11.2021.

I extract only a few categories which are interesting for me. I don’t exactly plan to read through everything. Some reviews are already available, mostly due to overlap with the other Award Nominations.

Here are all the nominees from short to long story. Links in the title lead to freely available online publications:

Best Short Story

Best Novella

  • ★★★★★ • Ring Shout • 2020 • Historical horror novella by P. Djèlí Clark • review
  • ★★★★★ • The Four Profound Weaves • 2020 • Fantasy novella by R.B. Lemberg • review
  • ★★★★☆ • Stepsister • 2020 • Fairy tale novelette by Leah Cypess • review
  • ★★★+☆☆ • Riot Baby • 2020 • Superhero novella by Tochi Onyebuchi • review
  • Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings

Best Novel

  • ★★★☆☆ • Piranesi • 2020 • Speculative fiction novel bySusanna Clarke • review
  • Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Tor Books)
  • The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones (Saga Press/Titan UK)
  • Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Rey US/Jo Fletcher Books UK)
  • The Midnight Bargain by C. L. Polk (Erewhon Books US/Orbit UK)

Posted in Anthology, Fantasy, Science Fiction | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

The Witness for the Dead • 2021 • Gaslight Fantasy novel by Katherine Addison

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Synopsis: Witness for the Dead is set in the same world as the award winning The Goblin Emperor (review) but focuses on a mostly different cast of characters and far outside of the imperial court. 

Thara Celehar, a prelate of Ulis, helped emperor Maia with her investigation of her father’s murder. Since then, he moved form the imperial court to Amalo where airships are produced. He’s caught between two stools, as he doesn’t fit into the religious hierarchy as a Witness for the Dead. 

Celehar’s special ability is to communicate with the recently deceased within certain restrictions. He acts as their representative especially regarding selecting the correct funeral ceremony or clarifying details of the last will.

This haunting by spirits takes a lot from him psychologically, but he wants to be useful and bares his duty with stiff upper lip. 

The novel’s plot develops, as the body of a young woman is secured from the river. Celehar acts in his central role as an investigator: Who was the woman and who was her murderer? 

Review: This novel has been a disappointment for me. It retained many of the good qualities of Witness for the Dead but also turned to a very different course. 

First of all, I’d have loved to read more about Maia’s struggles and court intrigues. My expectations weren’t fulfilled at all. Switching to a repetitive murder mystery didn’t keep my interest at all. That is simply not my favorite genre. Even though readers might like exactly that, the mystery itself as the novel’s core wasn’t a good one.

This isn’t a bad book at all, as the two star assessment might imply. It rather expresses my enjoyment with it, and that was only an ok read. Even the first novel had its downsides and I couldn’t fully enjoy it, but this one took it one step further. 

On the positive side side, one can get easily immersed in the city of Amalo, and Celehar as a character is rather compelling. 

If you liked the first book better than I did, and if you prefer murder mysteries, then this book might work very well for you. 

Meta: isbn 9781781089514. Published at 22.7.2021 by Rebellion

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For Cats Only / Nur für Katzen • 2021 • Novelty Book by Pascale Weber

The cover picture shouted at me to get this book. First of all, because I have exactly this cat tree model. Here is one of my favorite pictures with crashing Kira:

Secondly, that hilarious turned over cat.

This is a novelty book dedicated to cat trees. So many models! Many typical ones, but also some formed as sharks, as tipees, as trees, or as cactus. Every one of the 30 pictures has one or more cats posing.

If that isn’t worth your attention, I can’t help you 🙂

The little full text adding to the pictures is in German and English language.

Meta: isbn 9783775748551. Published by Hatje Cantz.

Posted in Allgemein, Cats | 4 Comments

2021 Locus Award Winners: Novels, Novellas, Novelettes, Short Stories

The 2021 Locus Awards Winners have been announced!

I wanted to review at least the short works, but didn’t make it through. Sorry about that, but cat business got in the way. 

Here are all the winners and finalists from short to long story. Links in the title lead to freely available online publications and my review respectively:


Best Short Story

Winner: ★★★☆☆ • Little Free Library • 2020 • Magical Realism short story by Naomi Kritzer • review

I had no clear favorite 5 star story in this category. Kritzer’s winning story was fine but not Award material in my opinion. My bets lied on John Wiswell’s story Open House on Haunted Hill which also won the Nebula Award. This and Rae Carson’s story are the intersecting ones with the Nebula Awards. I enjoyed all the stories, there wasn’t any bummer among them. But with the great author lineup – Alix E. Harrow, Yoon Ha Lee, Naomi Kritzer, Ken Liu, and Aliette de Bodard – I’d have expected a better average and I’m a little bit disappointed.

Best Novelette

Winner: ★★★★☆ • The Pill • 2020 • Dystopian novelette by Meg Elison • review

I read all the stories here but couldn’t provide reviews for the last few stories. I‘m fine with the Meg Ellison’s winning story, which is excellent and exhausting to read at the same time.

Best Novella

Winner: ★★★★★ • Ring Shout • 2020 • Historical horror novella by P. Djèlí Clark • review

A perfect choice! I was totally hyped by this novella, although it’s Cthulhu horror. 
I‘m still planning to read some of the remaining novellas, like Bodard‘s Xuya story and Cho‘s novella.

  • ★★★★★ • Ring Shout • 2020 • Historical horror novella by P. Djèlí Clark • review
  • ★★★★★ • The Four Profound Weaves • 2020 • Fantasy novella by R.B. Lemberg • review
  • ★★★★☆ • Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders • 2020 • Urban Fantasy novella by Aliette de Bodard
  • ★★★+☆☆ • Riot Baby • 2020 • Superhero novella by Tochi Onyebuchi • review
  • ☆ • Finna • 2020 Horror SF novella by Nino Cipri • no review (horror)
  • The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, Zen Cho (Tordotcom)
  • Seven of Infinities, Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean)
  • Upright Women Wanted, Sarah Gailey (Tordotcom)
  • Come Tumbling Down, Seanan McGuire (Tordotcom)
  • The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Nghi Vo (Tordotcom)

Best SF Novel

Winner:Network Effect, Martha Wells

Can’t say much about this one, because I‘ve read only the first Murderbot novella and it didn’t draw me in. I’m not convinced that it is the best choice here.

  • ★★★★☆ • Attack Surface • 2020 • Near Future SF novel by Cory Doctorow • review
  • ★★★★☆ • Agency • 2020 • Cyberpunk/Time travel novel by William Gibson • review (sorry, German review only)
  • ★★★★☆ • The Ministry for the Future • 2020 • CliFi novel by Kim Stanley Robinson • review
  • Machine, Elizabeth Bear (Saga; Gollancz)
  • Unconquerable Sun, Kate Elliott (Tor)
  • The Relentless Moon, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor; Solaris)
  • War of the Maps, Paul McAuley (Gollancz)
  • The Last Emperox, John Scalzi (Tor; Tor UK)
  • Network Effect, Martha Wells (Tordotcom)
  • Interlibrary Loan, Gene Wolfe (Tor)

Best Fantasy Novel

WinnerThe City We Became, N.K. Jemisin

I haven‘t read this one, yet, but noticed several critical reviews. There was strong competition, and I absolutely loved Roanhorse‘s and Harrow‘s novels.

  • ★★★★★ • Black Sun • 2020 • High Fantasy novel by Rebecca Roanhorse • review
  • ★★★★★ • The Once and Future Witches • 2020 • Fantasy novel by Alix E. Harrow • review
  • ★★★★☆ • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue • 2020 • Fantasy novel by V.E. Schwab • review
  • ★★★☆☆ • Piranesi • 2020 • Speculative fiction novel bySusanna Clarke • review
  • The Trouble with Peace, Joe Abercrombie (Orbit US; Gollancz)
  • The Angel of the Crows, Katherine Addison (Tor; Solaris)
  • The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US & UK)
  • Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir (Tordotcom)
  • The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, Garth Nix (Tegen Books; Allen & Unwin; Gollancz)
  • The Midnight Bargain, C.L. Polk (Erewhon)

First Novel

WinnerElatsoe, Darcie Little Badger

Never heard of it and didn’t notice a review. I guess  I‘ll have to look it up. But that’s what this category is for anyway, right? Jimenez‘s and Steward‘s novels were fabulous!

  • ★★★★+☆ • The Vanished Birds• 2020 • SF novel by Simon Jimenez • review
  • ★★★★☆ • The Bone Shard Daughter• 2020 • Fantasy novel by Andrea Stewart • review
  • The Space Between Worlds, Micaiah Johnson (Del Rey; Hodder & Stoughton)
  • The Unspoken Name, A.K. Larkwood (Tor; Tor UK)
  • Elatsoe, Darcie Little Badger (Levine Querido)
  • Beneath the Rising, Premee Mohamed (Solaris)
  • Architects of Memory, Karen Osborne (Tor)
  • Cemetery Boys, Aiden Thomas (Swoon Reads)
  • The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea, Maggie Tokuda-Hall (Candlewick; Walker UK)
  • Hench, Natalie Zina Walschots (Morrow)

ANTHOLOGY

  • WINNER: ★★★★+☆ • The Book of Dragons, Jonathan Strahan, ed.  review

COLLECTION

  • WINNER: ★★★★★ • The Hidden Girl and Other Stories, Ken Liu  review 

Both, anthology and collection winners were my favorite choice! There are really great stories in both. Check out my reviews for further insights, please!

ILLUSTRATED AND ART BOOK

WINNER: ★★★★☆ • The Art of NASA: The Illustrations that Sold the Missions, Piers Bizony review

Posted in Anthology, Fantasy, Science Fiction | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

If You Take My Meaning • 2020 • Tentacle Romance novelette by Charlie Jane Anders

Rating: 4 out of 5.

First sentence: They woke up stuck together again, still halfway in a shared dream, as the city blared to life around them.

Synopsis: Alyssa is about to become a biological body enhancement from an alien race in the form of tentacles, just like her girlfriend Sophie. The alien Gelet live peacefully inside a mountain offering these augmentations which provide the ability of mind sharing. 

The procedure is horrific, Alyssa nearly kills herself tearing the tentacles out of her body. Eventually, she heals and finds a completely different point of view to her previous egoistic motives.

Review: Tentacles are the flagship of alien strangeness, of body horror. But this novelette couldn’t be more different from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu. In fact, it is a refreshing, lovely take of mixing strangeness, mind sharing, character development from egoistic to altruistic. 

This different point of view took me completely by surprise, and I loved the novelette for it. I’ve learned that this story is a follow-up to the author’s The City in the Middle of the Night featuring Sophie, which I haven’t read. But I enjoyed it as a standalone, although it took a bit concentration to get into the setting. 

It’s not often that you can witness a proper character development within the scope of a novelette. This has been done masterfully, and I wished it would have been longer. 

Meta: isfdb. Available online at Tor.com. Finalist for the Locus Award.

Posted in Science Fiction, Story | 2 Comments

The Wheel of Time 2: The Great Hunt • 1990 • Fantasy Novel by Robert Jordan

The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan
Cover art by Darrell K. Sweet

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

My rereading project of the Wheel of Times series passed another milestone when I finished the second volume “The Great Hunt” together with my daughter as a buddy read.

If you want to track back my other two monthly progress reports, follow these links: Progress Report 1, Progress Report 2, Progress Report 3, and the Review of The Eye of the World.

This second volume started with a prologue about an assembly of Dark Friends demonstrating that they penetrate every layer of society, and every country of the world. You’ll find them even among the Aes Sedai in Tar Valon, and the Children of the Light.

The plot picks up exactly where the first one ended: Fal Dara, a stronghold at the front of Shienar, after having retrieved the treasure within the Eye. They stay there for full nine chapters. A lot is happening in that one place, because the Amyrlin Seat arrived with a large entourage of Aes Sedai and Wardens. What a perfect chance for Jordan to expose the Two Rivers folks and the reader to all the different Aes Sedai colours, their traditions and some of the major characters among them. 

There is the first time in the series that a chapter isn’t from the POV of one of the Two Rivers: Siuane Sanche conversing confidentially with Moirane. Rand is only the very last person she talks to. 

The title refers to the ancient tradition of searching for the Horn of Valere which has been called once again after 400 years down in Illian. Heroes of the legends are bound to the Horn, and they will come back to him whoever blows the Horn.

The Grave is No Bar to My Call

What a nice Fantasy trope! I’m thankful to Giulia remembering me of Narnia’s horn, passed by Father Christmas to Susan which can summon aid and calling the Pevensies to Narnia in Prince Caspian. But this is only one of several usages of this trope, and there is a better list than I could ever provide at All The Tropes, and another one at tv tropes

Now, don’t quail, because this Checkhov’s gun will be shot/blown near the end of the volume by no lesser man than our third ta’veren Mat who hasn’t a proper job, yet. 

At the beginning of the book, the Horn is safely stored in Fal Dara, and only at the end it will have been blown. So, what is the Great Hunt all about? 

Padan Fain escaped with it, together with a Trolloc raid. Half of the party – Rand, Loial, Perrin, and Mat – are sent out to get it back under the command of Ingtar. The other half – Nynaeve and Egwene – follow the Aes Sedai back to the White Tower in order to start their education.

Camp after camp after camp later, the party gets mystically separated from Ingtar into a parallel world. That’s a concept which isn’t made much use of in later novels. For the moment, it is needed to rescue the damsel in distress “Selene”, a stunningly beautiful woman who is obviously in disguise. At least for the reader, not so much for Rand, a young adult virgin whose blood went into lower regions.

From there on, they have a lot of fun with intrigues in Cairhien, making stop at an Ogier stedding where Loial is goggled at by the young females, and ever follow Padan Fain towards Falme. 

Falme is the city where the Japanese – no “Seanchan” – vanguard has landed. They have an ugly culture, enslaving female wizards, the “Damane”. This is also the second plot line in the book: Nynaeve, Egwene, Elayne, and Min follow an Aes Sedai Liandrin from Tar Valon to Falme using the Ways. They are greeted by a Seanchan party who catch Egwene and Min, the others barely escape. Egwene is bound by magical gadget to the will and education of a caretaker. She learns a lot of battle magic in that custody.

Add to those two plots another one driven by the Children of the Light, and you get a battle of the four armies at Toman Head. 

I enjoyed this novel far more than the first book. Jordan gave up the Lord of the Rings copy-cat and found his own voice. The tension arc is still quite uneven with long expositions. All of that is compensated for in the second half of the novel and especially towards the end with some real epic scenes of sword skills, multiple self-abandonments, and plot twists. 

While Rand still doesn’t have much agency, Nynaeve is the woman getting shit done. We have to remember this every time she’s tugging her braid in the next volumes.

This is the book where I started to love the series. A solid epic fantasy, nearly worth four stars. And so we will continue buddy-reading the series at our low pace with the next one, Dragon Reborn, which is not so much about Rand but about the other heroes from the Two Rivers.

Posted in Fantasy, Novel | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Mockingbird • 1980 • Dystopian novel by Walter Tevis

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis:  Human culture is degrading heavily in the 25th century. No one can read or write anymore. People use narcotics to concentrate on themselves, talking to authors or showing emotions is considered an unacceptable intrusion in others’ privacy. There are no children anymore leading to an extinction within a generation. Many people set themselves afire, mostly in groups. 

Robert Spofforth is the best android ever built, a Make Nine type, knowing each and everything in New York. He’d like to kill itself, but his programming forbids him jumping off the Empire State Building. 

The second point of view follows Paul Bentley, a teacher from Ohio engaged by Spofforth, because he taught himself reading. He isn’t allowed to teach others reading at the university but is asked to convert the written titles of silent movies to audio recording.

Lastly, there is highly intelligent and attractive Mary Lou. Paul meets her in the zoo, and she wants to learn reading after he explains to her what that means. Well, that, and “Quick sex is best.

The story really unfolds when Paul is arrested and sent to prison in the Carolinas. A new world opens up to him.

Review: Yes, you’ve heard from this author. Maybe just recently by the Netflix adaption of his Queens Gambit? Or the 1986 Scorsese film Color of Money featuring Paul Norman and Tom Cruise (with a complete different story line than the novel)?

Mockingbird is a neglected SF novel by this great author and I have to thank my blog buddy Wakizashi bringing it to my attention in January this year. 

A book with reading as a central topic is fixing me up of course. But that is only one motivation. Tevis is highly innovative and comes up with a firework of ideas nicely integrated into a story which doesn’t let you put down the book. One could read it in one long sitting, as it’s only some 280 pages long, a very short novel indeed. The story shows several twists and different settings. It starts in depopulated New York, changes to the prison, and follows swiftly the long way back through several human colonies with his buddy thought bus. 

On the other hand there are some elements which simply wouldn’t work. Take for example the silent film celluloids which simply wouldn’t be playable in the 25th century anymore. From a technology point of view, most of the novel feels more like written in the 1960s than in 1980. The publication follows a long break in Tevis’s writing. All those tape recordings, fleshy androids etc. don’t transfer well into our current view of the world. But that doesn’t hurt too much and the novel is a real joy to read.

I love that Gollancz has re-published this work as part of the SF Masterworks series (see my reviews here). 

Pitch-perfect characters, an ever rolling plot, some insights in civilization, and the fascination of reading. What more would you like to see in a dystopian novel?

Meta: goodreads. isfdb.

Posted in Novel, Science Fiction | Tagged , | 17 Comments

Fairy Tales for Robots • SF novelette by Sofia Samatar

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

First sentence: 1. Sleeping Beauty. Dear Child, I would like to tell you a story.

Synopsis: The human narrator addresses her robotic creation as a child in the night just before it will wake up. She spends the entire night telling it fairy tales adapted for robots, interpreting them and telling part of her own story. 

The first story is Sleeping Beauty, and robots don’t have a problem shutting down. “But it is momentous for you to awake.”

Several other stories follow, from Russian folks tales, Tempest from Shakespeare, Tin Soldier, Pinocchio, Oz, Nutcracker, and several other lesser known tales, each one with a robotic insight.

Review: So far, I’ve read only one or two short stories from this author, and her novel “A Stranger in Olondria” is waiting on my tbr since forever. 

This novelette is less a story rather than a fictionalized essay. It has no plot whatsoever, so don’t look for it. The characterization is also weak, we don’t know if the narrator is reliable at all. 

The fairy tales are not thorough retellings but summarize the contents only. They can’t be counted as retellings at all. Still, they are interesting in their interpretative method. Those changes in their point of view are highly engaging and will stay with me for a while. 

Meta: isfdb. Not available online; published in the anthology Made to Order. Finalist for the Locus Award.

Posted in Science Fiction, Story | 2 Comments

The Inaccessibility of Heaven • Urban Fantasy novelette by Aliette de Bodard

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

First sentence: Night. A night like any other in Starhollow: the headlights of cars, small and lost between the skyscrapers; the smell of hydromel and wine wafting from those few bars still open; and above me, the distant light of the stars, a constant reminder of the inaccessibility of Heaven.

Synopsis: Something dark is butchering Fallen angels in an alternate Paris leaving only claws’ marks on their bodies behind. Human witch Samantha is contacted by the Fallen angel Arvedai to investigate this mystery. 

Sam is companion of another Fallen, Calariel, who cares about human suffering, but wants Sam to stay out of this. 

Soon, she realizes that a rebellion is behind it, and the driving force of being part of the Celestial City. Cal and Arvedai are hiding something. 

Review: Bodard’s Urban fantasy series Dominion of the Fallen has been around a couple of years and is ever expanding. I’ve followed it loosely since 2015, starting with The Death of Aiguillon, and last year’s novella Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders, but I never made it to the novel trilogy (though it’s on my tbr). I’m more into her SF Xuya series, but in any case, she’s never let me down, I’m always looking forward to her stories. This novelette continues the streak. 

Samantha’s character is involving and well done, but the others stay pale in comparison. It is unclear what Sam sees in Cal, why they’d be in a relation. 

This noir story is particularly dark on the edge to horror, but still intriguing and even heartrending. I liked the suspenseful atmosphere a lot. 

If you’re in for a fantasy murder mystery, then you’ll probably like this one.

Meta: isfdb. Available online at Uncanny. Part of the Dominion of the Fallen series. Finalist for the Hugo and Locus Awards.

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Locus finalists: Review update

Yesterday, I concluded reviewing one of the categories, the nominees for Best Short Story. The other categories are also in a good shape, but I won’t have read everything until June 26 when the winners will be announced.

So, please check out the updated post.

Posted in Meta, Nebula nomination | Leave a comment