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Arthur C. Clarke Award: This Year’s Nominees

The shortlist for the 34th Arthur C. Clarke Award is:

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell
Cage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Last Astronaut by David Wellington

I had been looking for the list for a while but not for the first time discovered it had finally been announced via Ian Sales’s blog.

I reveiwed the Charlie Jane Anders book for Interzone 282 and published that review here on 28/5/20.

The Martine and Serpell I had seen good reviews of. The works of Hurley I have read tend to wallow in violence which I find off-putting. I’ve only read Tchaikovsky’s two Children of Time novels. They were OK but no more. Wellington is new to me (and Ian Sales doesn’t think much of his book.)

For Interzone 288: Hope Island

 Hope Island cover

My latest book to review for Interzone will be Hope Island by Tim Major.

I read his previous novel Snakeskins earlier this year.

I must admit to being surprised when the book fell on the doormat this morning. The list of possible review books for Iz 288 was only sent out a couple of days ago. I’ll get onto it as soon as possible.

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

Titan Books, 2019 , 485 p. Published in Interzone 282, May-Jun 2019.

 The City in the Middle of the Night cover

We start with a “Translator’s Note” telling us terms have been rendered into Peak English. This both frames the narrative and explains the use of “archaic Earth terms” for alien creatures and the recognisability of characters’ names.

The story itself takes place on January, a planet tide-locked to its star. Its human occupants, who still regard the arrangements on the Mother Ship that brought them there as significant, inhabit the narrow band between scorching Day and freezing Night (wherein monsters lurk.) The ship’s technology that at first sustained them has long been failing though and there are signs the environment is beginning to collapse – corrosive alkaline rain, sudden tornados. The novel’s events are situated mainly in Xiosphant – a repressive rules-based city, “nothing in this city is ever supposed to change” – and Argelo, which is much looser in organization and attitudes (“the city that never sleeps,”) with some scenes in the wildernesses between. Within the book’s seven parts alternate chapters see events from the first person, present tense viewpoint of Sophie, a would-be revolutionary in Xiosphant, and the third person, past tense perspective of Mouth, who thinks she is the last survivor of a society of Travellers known as the Citizens and is lately a member of a band of smugglers calling themselves the Resourceful Couriers, so knows the ways between the cities.

Sophie takes the blame for a theft by Bianca, her friend for whom it is obvious to the reader (though not spelled out in the narrative till near the end) she has deep feelings. As punishment, Xiosphant’s Police Force ejects Sophie from the city into the night to die. A strange encounter with a creature known to January’s humans as a crocodile (though its physical characteristics are very different from that Earth animal) saves her. During this she is somehow enabled to see the creature’s memories, including one of a complex city situated somewhere out in the night.

Mouth is exercised by the destruction of the Citizens, which she witnessed from a distance, especially since it was before they could bestow a name on her. Her attempt to secure their book of customs from Xiosphant’s Palace coincides with the failure of the revolutionaries’ take-over. She, Sophie, Bianca and others have to flee across the Sea of Murder to reach Argelo. This involves curiously cursory action scenes accompanied by extended, and hence unconvincing, dialogue. Sophie’s connection to the crocodiles (whom she names the Gelet) helps save most of them and she receives a bracelet which thereafter keeps drawing her to the night and the Gelet.

The contrast between life in Xiosphant and Argelo is marked but Mouth learns more of her background from a former Citizen, Barnabas, who left the group after achieving enlightenment, “‘The point of religion is to keep trying to reach someplace, the last thing you want is for someone to feel like they’ve reached it.’”

As far as the Science-Fictional meat of all this goes Sophie and Mouth eventually do arrive at the city in the middle of the night – but not until almost four-fifths of the way through the book. In the city they learn of the importance of the Gelet to January’s bio-friendliness – not just from transmitted memories but from a recording left by one of January’s earliest humans, “‘These natives seem to regard geoengineering and bioengineering as two branches of the same discipline.’” A tidal-locked planet would require an air-conditioning system to circulate hot air from the near side to the far side to avoid weather instability and atmospheric disruption. “‘These creatures seem to have created something better, using networked chains of flora and fauna.’” Also revealed is the crucial role the useful substance, known to the Citizens as nightfire since it glowed in the dark, played in stabilising the planet’s biosphere and in the Citizens’ demise. The Gelet’s interest in Sophie is to use her as a bridge between civilisations. She willingly accepts the sacrifice required.

A thought that speaks perhaps to the twenty-first century reader’s awareness is, “‘Progress requires us to curate the past, to remove from history things that aren’t ‘constructive.’ I don’t know if our power to forget makes humans stronger, more self-destructive, or maybe both.’”

The novel starts off intriguingly but it becomes clearer as we go on that the author’s interest is not so much in her imagined world, or her plot, as in the societies and interactions she is depicting – good stuff, but lacking something in urgency. And the book doesn’t so much end as just stop. Perhaps, at a touch under 500 pages, Anders decided she had delighted us long enough.

The following did not appear in the published review:
The sentence, “Here’s what Mouth learned about Sasha from eavesdropping,” ought to have been removed by a decent editing process.

Pedant’s corner:- Written in USian. Otherwise; “something makes me stop and examine closer” (examine more closely,) “I notice someone who seems out of place … They turn their head” (‘someone’ is singular, therefore not ‘they’, in this case ‘she turns her head’,) “now a few s cattered memories” (a few scattered memories,) “a group of students … argue about” (a group argues.) “‘He’s been making a fortune speculating on sour cherries’” (‘speculating in’ something might lead to a fortune, ‘speculating on’ it is just wool-gathering,) “a group of musicians hunch” (a group hunches.) “‘We lay there’” (We lie there; elsewhere Anders shows she does know the difference between lay and lie,) “open maw” (it’s not a mouth!) “their heads almost exploded” (used once, this phrase for an eye-opening experience appears fresh and striking; used again, not so much,) “‘I don’t even know if any Gelet ever want to meet me again’” (if any Gelet ever wants to meet me.) A chapter begins, “Ignore the buzzing from my right wrist, and I take Bianca’s wrist,” (‘I ignore’ makes more sense. This typo probably occurred because the first word of a chapter is always in a much larger font size than the others,) envelopes (envelops,) cul-de-sacs (culs-de-sac,) “which stunk just as much as she’d expected” (stank.)

Issue 287 of Interzone

The latest issue of Interzone arrived today. Number 287. It has a great wraparound cover:-

Interzone 287 cover

This is the one which contains my reviews of The City We Became by N K Jemisin and Echo Cycle by Patrick Edwards.

I note that one story inside is titled Make America Great Again. Hmmm.

2020 Hugo Awards Shortlists

The shortlists for this year’s Hugo Awards have been announced. Amazingly I have actually read some of these (the ones in bold the one also in italics as an extract only, in the BSFA Awards 2019 booklet) – partly due to Interzone, but also becasue I read Ted Chiang’s collection Exhalation towards the end of last year.

Since the Worldcon (at which these awards are presented) which was to take place in New Zealand has been cancelled for attendees I assume the ceremony will now have to be virtual, as will the con itself.

The nominations are:-

Best Novel

The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor; Titan)
Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir (Tor.com Publishing)
The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley (Saga; Angry Robot UK)
A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine (Tor; Tor UK)
Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow (Redhook; Orbit UK)

Best Novella

“Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom”, by Ted Chiang (Exhalation (Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf; Picador))
The Deep, by Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes (Saga Press/Gallery)
The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)
In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (Saga Press; Jo Fletcher Books)
To Be Taught, If Fortunate, by Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager; Hodder & Stoughton)

Best Novelette

“The Archronology of Love”, by Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed, April 2019)
“Away With the Wolves”, by Sarah Gailey (Uncanny Magazine: Disabled People Destroy Fantasy Special Issue, September/October 2019)
“The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye”, by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny Magazine, July-August 2019)
Emergency Skin, by N.K. Jemisin (Forward Collection (Amazon))
“For He Can Creep”, by Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com, 10 July 2019)
“Omphalos”, by Ted Chiang (Exhalation (Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf; Picador))

Best Short Story

“And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, by Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons, 9 September 2019)
“As the Last I May Know”, by S.L. Huang (Tor.com, 23 October 2019)
“Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, by Rivers Solomon (Tor.com, 24 July 2019)
“A Catalog of Storms”, by Fran Wilde (Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2019)
“Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, by Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 2019)
“Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare Magazine, May 2019)

Best Series

The Expanse, by James S. A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
InCryptid, by Seanan McGuire (DAW)
Luna, by Ian McDonald (Tor; Gollancz)
Planetfall series, by Emma Newman (Ace; Gollancz)
Winternight Trilogy, by Katherine Arden (Del Rey; Del Rey UK)
The Wormwood Trilogy, by Tade Thompson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Jo Fletcher Books, 2019, 203 p. Published in Interzone 283, Sep-Oct 2019.

 This is How You Lose the Time War cover

On behalf of the Agency, Red travels upthread into the past and downthread to the future to effect changes in the different Strands of the worlds, (“so many Atlantises,”) waging an eternal time war against Garden, tweaking conditions here, ensuring individuals thrive there, so that they may be in a position to affect history in the Agency’s favour.

At the end of one such mission Red finds a letter which should not be there and on which is inscribed the instruction, “burn before reading.” Despite knowing that it is a trap designed perhaps to kill her, to convert her to the other side, or to compromise her with her own, she decides to comply with the instruction and reads the message. It is from her adversary, Blue; an acknowledgement of her part in making Blue raise her own game, an expression of admiration, a declaration of inevitable victory. Red responds with a letter of her own.

So begins a long correspondence achieved through an increasingly bizarre series of dead drops in which the two agents’ regard for one another deepens and grows into something else.

The book’s narrative is carried via sequences describing Red’s and Blue’s endeavours to change different strands’ histories, each followed by the contents of a letter written to one by the other. Only in one instance is this strict authorial practice not followed and that is where Blue’s letter is encoded in six seeds but Red only swallows three of them and so only gets part of the whole message. (This makes sense in the context of the novel.) Their letters are studded with recommendations, allusions and digressions and embellished by postscripts, PPS’s and even at times PPPS’s.

In all but the first (and the three ante-penultimate) non-epistolary sections the reader is vouchsafed a line or two at the end wherein a seeker manages to reconstitute the letter we are about to read for ourselves. Red becomes aware of this pursuer and is continually looking over her shoulder to see if she can catch her shadower and therefore also wary of contact with her Commandant in case she is suspected of treason. So too, Blue with Garden.
The deployment of various Science Fiction tropes is essential to the novel’s overall effect but to begin with they are merely there, as a kind of exotic background; none of the strands or missions is explored in any detail, there is no mechanism ascribed to the ability to travel in time, Red and Blue are just able to do it. Up to its denouement the plot could have been akin, say, to the jockeyings of John le Carré’s Smiley and Karla but its resolution and the identity of the mysterious seeker are thoroughly dependent on the story’s premise.

All this is laced with the occasional piece of sly humour – a group of participants at the assassination of Julius Caesar (or, rather, a Julius Caesar) seems to consist entirely of agents known to Red – and allusions such as “hoarse Trojans” and “across half a dozen strands, of mice, of men, plans, canals, Panama.” Add in references to Ozymandias, Mrs Leavitt’s Guide to Etiquette and Correspondence, Bess of Hardwick and an exhortation by Blue to Red for her to read Naomi Mitchison’s Travel Light (of which we are later given a short critique) and the reading experience becomes a rich one. The letters are a particular delight. Necessarily so, for they are the narrative’s focus, the means by which we come to understand and appreciate the relationship between Red and Blue, and their mutual goals.

This is a book which eschews the flash, bang, wallop of much of the modern SF genre, containing SF of an enquiring and knowing kind, yet playful with it. Discursive, though relatively short, it is still economic, packing a lot into its 199 pages. It deserves a wide audience.

The following did not appear in the published review.

Pedant’s corner:-“knew one other” (one another,) “fleeing with child” (with a child,) centimeters (centimetres,) “it amuses Blue to no end” (that would mean ‘without purpose’; ‘it amuses Blue no end’ is the phrase required.) “Adaption is the price of victory” (Adaptation is the..,) “colour” but “humor” (does one of the authors use USian spellings while the other doesn’t?) maw (it’s a stomach, not a mouth,) proboscides (it is the Greek plural of proboscis – the ‘English’ plural is proboscises – but I’ve only ever seen probosces before. Apparently that has a specialised use in biology.)

Two More From Interzone

 Echo Cycle cover
 The City We Became   cover

Thursday’s post brought two more goodies from Interzone. (Well I hope they’re goodies.)

The first was The City We Became by N K Jemisin. Jemisin won the Hugo Award for best novel three times in a row with the components of her Broken Earth series of books.

The second is from a writer new to me, Patrick Edwards. His novel is titled Echo Cycle. The reviews ought to appear in issue 287.

Interzone 285, Jan-Feb 2020

TTA Press, 96 p.

Interzone 285 cover

Guest Editorial this time is taken by Andy Dudak (who has a story elsewhere in the issue) and he relates how his experience as a translator and reader of translated fiction has affected his own.
Andy Hedgecock’s Future Interrupted investigates how SF/fantasy/weird writers are responding to the greed, corruption and flagrant abuse of power in the modern-day world. Aliya Whiteley’s Climbing Stories ranges over theme-park rides, maps and films as well as books in contemplating how transporting a story can be and how it’s never the same on each subsequent experience of it.
Book Zone starts with my reviews of Aliya Whiteley’s Skein Island and Menace from Farsidea by Ian McDonald. I had some minor reservations about the first but none about the second. John Howardb finds the collection of essays on altered History stories Sideways in Time edited by Glyn Morgan and C Palmer-Patel brisk, lively and illuminating. Maureen Kincaid Spellerc welcomes the “long-needed biography” that is John Wyndham: Life, Love, Letters by Amy Binns, which increased her respect for the man and his writing. Stephen Theaker says Bridge 108 by Anne Charnock is interesting and thoughtful, keeping readers engaged throughout, and the review is followed by an interview with the author. Andy Hedgecockd lauds The Crying Machine by Greg Chivers as an entertaining romp with an unexpected degree of thematic complexity, flawed but promising.

In the fiction:
Each Cell a Throne1 by Gregor Hartmann contains a fair bit of intrusive information dumping. The story concerns an off-duty cop who has been hired to persuade an old man not to let his personality be uploaded into a datasphere.
Flyover Country2 by Julie C Day is a love story in which the caretaker of an extremely little used airfield falls for one of the operatives of the firm AeroFix (which to British eyes looks very like a miniature modelling kit manufacturer,) which sprays cures for logic illnesses.
In Frankie3 by Daniel Bennett the titular character never appears though some of the posts from his popular website, written as reflections on his terminal illness and which always end in -ah death followed by the date, do. His brother has come back from the front in the (unspecified) country’s ongoing war to visit the shack where they lived in their youth. The shack is now all-but besieged by Frankie’s followers.
Since the expansion of the universe is caused by it being observed, a millennium ago all humans bar those travelling through space were turned inward (frozen in time) by aliens in Salvage4 by Andy Dudak. Aristy Safewither is a soul salvager, illegally extracting the thoughts of the frozen on the planet New Ce. This all gets mixed up with the tale of the planet’s dictator at the time of turning inward.
The Dead Man’s Coffee5 by John Possidente is an odd piece where a journalist on a small space habitat learns (at least second-hand) from a conversation in a coffee bar about a planet where photovores – humans who can photosynthsesise – fall foul of a mandatory fasting-during-day-time rule.

Pedant’s corner- a“is a novella is set in a” (quite where that extraneous ‘is’ crept in I have no idea. I have checked all three files in which I keep my Iz reviews [the original, the one for sending and the one where I stack them to be posted here] and it appears in none of them.) bAldiss’ (Aldiss’s,) “silences and onmissions that … marginalises many” (marginalise – it was a quote from the original text though,) Sales’ (Sales’s.) cParkes’ (Parkes’s,) Binns’ (Binns’s.) dChivers’ (Chivers’s.)
1Written in USian. 2convey (convoy,) “both stylus and table” (stylus and tablet.) 3None of us have the time (none of us has the time.) 4personal affects (effects,) “opened hellish geothermal maws” (a maw is a stomach, not a mouth.) 5Written in USian.

Interzone 286

Interzone 286 cover

Interzone 286 arived today.

This one contains my reviews of Re-Coil by J T Nicholas and Sixteenth Watch by Myke Cole.

The cover to this issue looks like some sort of homage to 1950s SF magazines with its many eyed, many tentacled alien apparently in a struggle with a spacesuited human. I didn’t know they made them like that any more.

Interzone 284, Nov-Dec 2019

TTA Press, 96 p.

Interzone cover

Joanna Berry takes over the guest editor role and asks how much of themselves players take into decision making when playing video games. Andy Hedgecock’s Future Interrupteda makes a plea for stories to tackle the threats of the subtle and pervasive surveillance and tracking technologies rampant in the modern world. In Climbing Stories Aliya Whiteley seeks solace from the news in films. Speedy Sci-Fi adventure won’t do but conspiracy thrillers will. She now wants to go back to the source books. In Book Zone I review Rokurō Inui’s Automatic Eve and Wole Talabi’s Incomplete Solutions welcoming both, Val Nolanb finds Duncan Lunan’s collection of stories and articles From the Moon to the Stars too fond of “rigorous maths” and primarily of interest to those who enjoyed them at time they were written, Maureen Kincaid Speller engages in hand-to-hand fighting with concepts of language and meaning in the ‘very strange’ novel Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko but concludes that is only a good thing, Jo L Waltonc heartily recommends The New Voices of Science Fiction edited by Hannu Rajaniemi and Jacob Weisman, though thinks some of the stories might be a bit too polished, Graham Sleight appreciates the quality of Ted Chiang’s stories in Exhalation (and Chiang’s previous collection) as being worth the price of their scarcity, Stephen Theaker praises the “grown-up, fiercely feminist” The Sea Inside Me by Sarah Dobbs, warns against the cover and blurb of Earwig by B Catling though he recommends it to “some readers” and says Stephen Palmer’s collection Tales from the Spired Inn is pretty much the ideal small press SF title, Ian Hunterd laments the passing of Dianne Wynne Jones as he considers her Poems while Duncan Lunan discusses the history of Dyson spheres in SF as his take on the stories in Around Alien Stars by G David Nordley.

As to the fiction;
In The Kindest God is Light by Joanna Berry a poet is engaged to provide an embodiment of humanity – warts and all – to aliens. Typographically unusual in that it involves a lot of glossed over (crossed out) inner thoughts.
She and I and We1 by Timothy Mudie is a time travel story. Poet (yes, another one) Nathaly Evariste is stalked by someone from the future who says she has come back to save her from being killed. This is no All You Zombies… or even By His Bootstraps but there’s a neat twist to the ending.
Dent-De-Lion2 by Natalia Theodorou is set on a planet to where Thomae has been sent to find a silicon plant-based cure for an endemic sickness back home. She finds it – and more.
In Parasite Art3 by David Tallerman our narrator is an artist who has gone to the planet of Culcifa to find one of the Zobe, an alien race which has appeared there and can merge with people who can then experience the Zobe’s dreams.
The Duchess of Drink Street4 by Tim Chawaga on its surface charts the relationship between a cupcake seller on the eponymous street and the food reviewer who damns those cupcakes with one word, inauthentic. With a globally flooded background featuring floating cities it is about fads, gentrification and its reverse and the elusiveness of memory.
Against a background of the end of the world in which the rich are sending samples of their hair skin and semen into space to save the species, Dream of the High Mountain5 by Daniel Bennett relates the experience of a poet (yes, a poet again) who goes on a retreat.

Pedant’s corner:- aCastells’ (Castells’s,) Aldiss’ (Aldiss’s.) b“are a series” (is a series.) c“None of the stories feel out of place” (None feels,) hijinks (high jinks.) “Much as I stan Luce, social and economic consequences of technological developments are never inevitable” (???) dJones’ (Jones’s,)
1Written in USian, “neither of you react” (neither … reacts.) 2Written in USian. 3“soon be discarded” (soon to be discarded,) “she must recognise as her and I” (as her and me.) “Conceivably we were one of its ancestors. Seeing it, my muscle memory recalls what it’s like to make those spasmodic movements” (‘descendants’ for ‘ancestors’ is the only way to make sense of this, and it would be ancestral rather than muscle memory,) canvasses (canvases?) 4Written in USian, at first I read ‘chicest part of the city’ as a misprint for ‘choicest’, but they’re much the same in meaning. “The difference in textures … work well together” (the difference works well,) “New Lagos’ greed” (New Lagos’s.) 5“‘This the survival of’” (This is the survival.) “Upon the fourth floor” (Either, ‘On the fourth floor,’ or, ‘Up on the fourth floor’,) “inside of him” (inside him, no need for an ‘of’.) “His group were among the last” (his group was among the last.)

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