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BSFA Award Time Again

The short lists for this year’s awards (for works published in 2020) have been announced.

In the fiction categories we have

Best short fiction:-

Eugen M. Bacon, Ivory’s Story, Newcon Press.

Anne Charnock, All I Asked For, Fictions, Healthcare and Care Re-Imagined. Edited by Keith Brookes, at Future Care Capital.

Dilman Dila, Red_Bati, Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction From Africa and the African Diaspora, Aurelia Leo. Edited by Zelda Knight and Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki.

Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, Ife-Iyoku, the Tale of Imadeyunuagbon, Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction From Africa and the African Diaspora, Aurelia Leo. Edited by Zelda Knight and Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki.

Ida Keogh, Infinite Tea in the Demara Caf, Londoncentric, Newcon Press. Edited by Ian Whates.

Tobi Ogundiran, Isn’t Your Daughter Such a Doll, Shoreline of Infinity.

I have read none of these but of course the annual BSFA Awards booklet ought to be able to remedy that.

The Best Novel list is longer than usual due to a tie for fifth place in the nominations:-

Tiffani Angus, Threading the Labyrinth, Unsung Stories.

Susanna Clarke, Piranesi, Bloomsbury.

M. John Harrison, The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, Gollancz.

N.K. Jemisin, The City We Became, Orbit.

Gareth L. Powell, Light of Impossible Stars, Titan Books.

Kim Stanley Robinson, The Ministry for the Future, Orbit.

Nikhil Singh, Club Ded, Luna Press.

Adrian Tchaikovsky, The Doors of Eden, Tor.

Liz Williams, Comet Weather, Newcon Press.

Nick Wood, Water Must Fall, Newcon Press.

I reviewed The City We Became by N K Jemisin for Interzone 287 (May-Jun 2020) but that review has not appeared here yet.

That leaves nine others to get through before April 4th. No chance. (I see from the link, though, that BSFA members are to receive a PDF containing excerpts of the nominated works.)

Black Wine by Candas Jane Dorsey

Tor, 1997, 283 p.

 Black Wine cover

On starting to read this I was quickly reminded of N K Jemisin’s The Fifth Season (which of course was published 11 years later.) We have three different narrative strands each with a female protagonist, obviously connected (but in what way not immediately apparent,) a recognisable world yet different from our own, possibly far in the future, featuring places with portentous names, Trader Town, the Fjord of Tears, the Remarkable Mountains, the Land of the Dark Isles, an unfamiliar social system – or systems, there are different polities here – to navigate. However, as it unfolded the resemblances diminished somewhat. In particular, the relationship between Jemisin’s strands was a more bravura writing accomplishment. But Black Wine is good all the same.

We start with the story of a woman, amnesiac as a result of falling from the sky, with another, mad, woman living in a cage in the courtyard outside. They live in a society – the Zone of Control – where a favour bestowed consequently imbues obligation. The mad woman had not received any such favour and so managed to live without the burden of repayment. The amnesiac, however, had, and so is a sexual slave to her master and the nurse who looked/looks after her. Here also, minor acts of defiance can lead to tongues being removed. The amnesiac forms a friendship with a male slave who has suffered from this. The tongueless have devised a sign language for themselves of which their owners are unaware.

The resemblance of the amnesiac, whom we later find is named Essa, to the titular ruler – actual rule has been devolved to her son-in-law – of a different polity (as shown on its coins) is marked. When the mad woman finds Essa is going to voyage there she tells her to avoid the regent and certainly not to have sex with him. The female ruler is a cruel type, as is her son-in-law, and the connection between her, the madwoman and Essa is the motor of the plot.

The world Dorsey describes is a little strange. For the most part it appears to be without advanced technology – though it does have airships (from which you can fall from the clouds) – a lot of the travelling involved seems to be on foot, but at one point one of the characters decides she wishes to get somewhere faster and a quicker transit system is utilised.

A touch of fantasy arrives with the Carrier of Spirits, who imbibes the memories of everyone who dies. (She carries Essa’s pre-amnesia existence, but not of course those gained after the fall.) Essa’s relationship with the muted slave allows Dorsey to comment on the nuances of free will and the dependence of the exercise of it on social status.

Observations such as, “‘Look. I am this stone. I have been tumbled and moved, and it has all shaped me,’” are as much an expression of the universal as an outcrop of the story being told. Occasionally the text comments on itself or the writing process, (or perhaps reader expectations,) as in, “‘The mad king is a trope of literature and myth.’”

Black Wine is the first Dorsey novel I have read. It is less opaque than some of her short stories and encouraged me to look for more.

Pedant’s corner:- “the effect was shouting underwater” (was of shouting underwater,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech, “none of them were done” (none … was done,) “a deep courtesy” (curtsy,) “any of them even know it” (any of them even knows it,) connexion (Ugh! Several times; connection.)

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.

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.

The Stone Sky by N K Jemisin

Orbit, 2017, 423 p.

Like The Fifth Season, the first in Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, this last instalment has a three-fold structure. Again, the sections focused on Essun are narrated in the second person, while those featuring her daughter Nassun are, as in The Obelisk Gate, in third person. The third strand here, set in Syl Anagist and counting down from Four to Zero, is a first person historical (in the overall trilogy’s terms) account of how the orogenes, who can manipulate matter and temperature to initiate or quell earth movements, came into existence. The first page of the prologue refers to fossilized insects – “a whole that can only be inferred from fragments” – and is suggestive that this is how we as readers may decode the text of the complete story. Once again though, as in The Fifth Season, this final book’s architecture is a bit of a trick played by the author as it eventually becomes clear exactly who it is who is narrating each strand.
As far as resolution is concerned, the Syl Anagist project to use a Plutonic Engine to exploit the Earth by improving on the talents of a group of people known as the Neiss backfired when the Earth – as a living organism itself – having lost the Moon by the engine’s operation got its own back on its troublesome inhabitants by initiating the seasons. The Moon, with a huge chasm reaching right through it – is now on its orbital return and Essun wants to use the obelisks to recapture it in order to placate the Earth and so end the seasons. Nassun, whose natural orogenic talents far outweigh her mother’s has other ideas. She simply wants to destroy everything.

There is “no need for guards when you can convince people to collaborate in their own internment” would seem to be a comment on slavery (or even patriarchy.) There are too, grace notes such as naming two incidental characters Oegin and Ynegen. I also liked the coinages magestry and biomagestry.

Jemisin pulled off an unlikely hat-trick in securing the Hugo Award for best novel three years in a row for the successive books in The Broken Earth. While the second instalment dipped in quality – perhaps inevitably since it was in effect the middle third of a larger narrative – the narrative dexterity and skill deployed in the first and third books certainly betoken a story telling talent of a high order. Her invented world, while not really bearing scrutiny at the level of actual possibility (it is Science Fiction though, predicated on at least one at present impossible thing – but perhaps more akin to fantasy in the level of its various impossibilities,) has been thought through and as an imaginative response to the lived history of prejudice against slaves and their descendants, all while embedded in a tale which impels the reader on with – among the extravagances – rounded characters who struggle and bicker, love and lose in the most interesting of times, is an impressive achievement.

Pedant’s corner:- “none of us understand” (none of us understands,) “‘The potential for significant gains are why you will go’” (the potential for significant gains is why you will go,) “to not shake her head” (not to shake her head,) force-march (forced-march.) “None of them care.” (None of them cares.) “None of them are angry” (none is angry,) tableaus (tableaux,) “chewed up in its maw” (a maw is a stomach and hence can have no teeth,) “imagine that disaster times two hundred and fifty-six” (imagine that disaster multiplied by two hundred and fifty-six,) “like a child willing the monster under the bed to not exist” (like a child willing the monster under the bed not to exist,) “a low, bone-shaking blat” (context implies blast.)

Hugo Awards for 2018

These are for works published in 2017.

I forgot they were due to be published in August.

I’ve also been having internet connection problems recently so only looked them up tonight.

The winners were:-

Best Novel:- The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit.)

Best Novella:- All Systems Red by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing.)

Best Novelette:- The Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, September 2017.)

Best Short Story:- Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™ by Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex, August 2017.)

I note N K Jemisin’s third win in a row for best novel – a record I think.

The other fiction winners were also all women. Again a first I believe.

The Obelisk Gate by N K Jemisin

Orbit, 2016, 416 p.

 The Obelisk Gate cover

Second books of trilogies can be difficult to negotiate – for reader and writer. Jemisin compounded this problem for herself by the triple narrative in the first book, The Fifth Season, which featured three story strands concentrating on the experiences of Damaya, Syenite and Essun whose link was only confirmed late on. The trick she pulled off there could not be repeated in the next instalment hence the narration here is slightly less involved. One – apparently second person – strand carries on the story of Essun from The Fifth Season, another focuses on her daughter, Nassun, for whom Essun was searching in the first book. Once again each chapter has an epigraph (derived from stonelore) but only at its end. There are also occasional “interludes” set in a different typeface. Nevertheless Jemisin is still doing unusual stuff with narrative viewpoint here as it becomes clear that the second person sections are not in fact being related from an outside point of view nor as if by Essun but by someone – or something – else in the overall story.

The thrust of the narrative here is of both Essun and Nassun trying to find or secure places of safety while the latest Season of uncertainty, seismic turmoil and climate calamity unfolds. Nassun’s main danger, though, comes from her father, who hates orogenes/rogga so much that he killed her younger brother Uche before stealing Nassun away and is unwilling to accept that Nassun is one – and an adept at that. Essun is still being guided by Alabaster to use her orogenic powers to nullify the prospect of Seasons ever recurring. This has something to do with Father Earth being annoyed that the Moon was removed from its orbit which in turn destabilised Earth’s geology. The Moon is due to return close to Earth and it might be possible to change its trajectory to ensure its recapture. The strange obelisks that allow orogenic power to be focused are a key to this. Throw in the mysterious stone-eaters and there is a lot of SF/fantasy meat to chew on.

According to Essun’s now failing tutor Alabaster the ancient word for the stuff of orogeny is … magic: but Essun locates it as a silvery stuff in people’s bloodstreams. Magic, she believes, derives from life – that which is alive, or was alive, or even which was “alive so many ages ago that it has turned into something else”. The orogene aspect of the whole tale is of course a commentary on prejudice. Yet in this scenario the ordinary people would be right to be wary of orogenes, who do, after all, have the power to kill – and as a reflex at that. And in The Obelisk Gate the skills Essun develops in using the obelisks means that she might as well be a God(dess.)

There was enough here to make me want to read the final book but as to whether The Obelisk Gate deserved to win the Hugo (as it did, Jemisin’s second such in consecutive years) that’s another matter.

Pedant’s corner:- No opening quote marks when a chapter begins with a piece of direct speech. “None of them pierce his body” (None pierces,) “for all intents and purposes” (it’s usually “to all intents and purposes”.) “Within the compound are a handful of” (is a handful,) naivete (choose; English naivety or French naiveté, not the mongrel naivete,) herbivarous (herbivorous.)

Hugo Award Nominations

As on the Locus website where the full list of nominees can be found. There’s a lot of “the usual suspects” here:-

Best Novel

The Stone Sky, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Six Wakes, Mur Lafferty (Orbit US)
Provenance, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Raven Stratagem, Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris US; Solaris UK)
New York 2140, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi (Tor US; Tor UK)

Best Novella

River of Teeth, Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing)
Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
Binti: Home, Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing)
“And Then There Were (N-One)”, Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny 3-4/17)
All Systems Red, Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)
The Black Tides of Heaven, JY Yang (Tor.com Publishing)

Best Novelette

“Children of Thorns, Children of Water”, Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny 7-8/17)
“Extracurricular Activities”, Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com 2/15/17)
“The Secret Life of Bots”, Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld 9/17)
“Wind Will Rove”, Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s 9-10/17)
“A Series of Steaks”, Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld 1/17)
“Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time”, K.M. Szpara (Uncanny 5-6/17)

Best Short Story

“The Martian Obelisk”, Linda Nagata (Tor.com 7/19/17)
“Fandom for Robots”, Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Uncanny 9-10/17)
“Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™”, Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex 8/17)
“Sun, Moon, Dust”, Ursula Vernon (Uncanny 5-6/17)
“Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand”, Fran Wilde (Uncanny 9-10/17)
“Carnival Nine”, Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 5/17)

I’ve read two of the novels and will read the Jemisin at some point. Not so much the shorter fiction.

The Fifth Season by N K Jemisin

Orbit, 2016, 443 p

 The Fifth Season cover

The world contains a single supercontinent subject to perennial seismic disturbances via earthquake or volcanic eruption. Its inhabitants call this uncertain land The Stillness. Certain of them have the genetic capability to incite or direct the forces causing the upheavals. This arguably puts the book squarely in Fantasy territory but a Science-Fictional gloss is provided by the information that rogga (or orogenes, the term used depends on the speaker’s kindliness, or lack thereof, towards them) have organs known as sessapinae in their brain stems which confer the ability to sense and alter their surroundings and the rocks beneath, all the way down to the magma. Rogga are viewed with fear by the general populace and may be killed when discovered or else sent off to the Fulcrum in the great central city of Yumenes to be trained by Guardians into controlling their abilities for the greater good. A system of rings denotes adepts’ relative proficiencies (think belts in judo.) For the rest, life is mediated by a body of aphorisms known as stonelore.

The novel has three narrative viewpoints, sequentially interwoven through the early part of the book and carefully chosen by Jemisin to reflect her invented world. One strand is narrated in the second person (though by a woman called Essun whose husband Jija, before running away with their daughter, killed their toddler son when he in turn, in Essun’s absence, inadvertently revealed his rogga nature.) This strand is concerned with Essun’s search to be reunited with her daughter. We also experience the adolescent life of Damaya, a young girl whose frightened parents invite the Guardians to take her away to be trained and through whom the rigours and restrictions placed on an orogene are revealed. The third strand follows Syenite, a four-ring sent by the Fulcrum on a mission to clear the harbor of a town named Allia of an outgrowth of coral blocking shipping access. She is overseen by the ten-ring Alabaster (orogenes take the name of a rock when they achieve their first ring) in the hope the pair will produce orogenically gifted offspring. Neither Syenite nor Alabaster is particularly keen on this requirement. Their lack of agency in this and other regards is explicitly compared to slavery, which of course it is. Though it becomes obvious later on that the three strands are not contemporaneous each is narrated in the present tense. In addition every chapter has an epigraph (derived from stonelore) but only at its end.

Internal evidence implies that this world may be our Earth long after a geological catastrophe killed off most of humanity with only a few surviving to repopulate the world, and their descendants experiencing a series of Fifth Seasons in which environmental consequences of seismic upheavals result in societal breakdowns. There is a degree of technological backwardness but only a degree. Transportation is on a human or animal powered scale (or sail in the case of ships) but yet, curiously, the society still has antibiotics and blood testing.

Jemisin’s characterisation is excellent. With the possible exception of the second person narrator (the choice of that mode inevitably involves a distancing, though Jemisin has good reason to employ it as Essun is trying to be as detached from her situation as possible,) the reader experiences the book’s denizens as real people. They are as complex and flawed as humans usually are. Though we know there must be a connection between Dayama, Syenite and Essun it is a considerable achievement by Jemisin that its form remains opaque till close to the book’s end.

This was certainly worthy of winning the Hugo Award in 2016. Its sequel The Obelisk Gate also won in 2017. I’ll certainly be looking out for both it and the third in Jemisin’s “Broken Earth” trilogy, The Stone Sky, plus her previous novels.

Pedant’s corner:- as if sawed (sawn,) “takes a lot out of a you” (a lot out of you,) “these are just are shakes” (has one “are” too many,) aparatus (apparatus,) “gets ahold of himself” (gets a hold,) “but metal rusts” (metals corrode, but only iron rusts; you cannot get rust from any other metal,) “there’s iron ore in some of it and it’s rusted from the moisture in her skin” (iron ore does not rust; it is rust.) “None of you say anything” (None of you says anything,) Yumenes’ (Yumenes’s, which is used later,) “none of them are allowed to ..” (none of them is allowed to,) no opening quote mark when a chapter starts with a piece of dialogue, prestitious (prestigious,) adaption (context suggests adoption.)

Hugo Awards 2016

These were announced at the 74th Worldcon, MidAmeriCon II, last Saturday.

BEST NOVEL The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

BEST NOVELLA Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

BEST NOVELETTE Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu

BEST SHORT STORY Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer

Of these I have read only Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, see here.

I have no idea whether any of these were Sad (or even Rabid) Puppy nominations – in the cases of Folding Beijing and Binti at least I would be inclined to doubt it – but “No Award” appeared only once in the full list this year.

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