Friday, July 31, 2015

I Can See Right Through You, by Kelly Link

I've reviewed many Kelly Link stories since I started reading the award winners--she's a real stalwart here, it would be an unusual year for her not to have one.  This year her entry for the World Fantasy Award is I Can See Right Through You, appearing in McSweeney's Internet Tendency. 

Link specializes in slice-of-life stories.  This is the story of the demon lover, who is described in semi-fantastic ways but is really a typecast vampire movie actor (really could be one of the Twilight  cast, several years down the road).  He's made a mint, had many marriages and flings, and behaved badly in various ways.  He's even had an internet shaming involving a sex tape.  But he's really only had one true love, his early costar Meggie.

The story is light and fun to read, all the way through.  It's an accomplished piece by an accomplished writer.  I give it 3 stars.

And that covers the short stories for the World Fantasy Award.  I can only get at 3 of the 5 stories--Jackalope Wives, The Fisher Queen, and this one.  Of the three, I would say this one is the most deserving of the award.  We shall see.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer

Annihilation is the last of the Nebula nominated novels I am reading this year, and the first of the World Fantasy Award nominees.  Vandermeer also wrote Finch, which was nominated for an award for 2009. 

What they have in common is a fascination with fungus.  Finch features fungal aliens wielding fungus tech, something I had not seen before.  Annihilation is more straightforward horror--fungus is always a good supporting cast member in a horror story.  I would also say that Annihilation is a more accessible book than his earlier work.

Annihilation is the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy.  The stage is set here for a fungal alien invasion--the Southern Reach is a governmental organization trying to cope with the issue of Area X, a place where civilization has been pushed out and some highly strange things are going on.  A series of expeditions has been sent in to try to understand the place, with mixed success.  The first expedition reported a preserved, beautiful wilderness.  Subsequent ones ended with the deaths of all the members.  The last expedition returned one by one without explanation.  Now an expedition of women has been sent in.

The story is told from the perspective of the expedition's biologist.  The specifics of the story are not so relevant here--this volume is mostly about setting up the rest of the series.

Only this volume was nominated for a Nebula, and if not for the World Fantasy Award I probably would not pursue it further.  But all three books in the series were released in 2014, and the World Fantasy Award nominated the whole set.  So I'll pursue the rest of the series.  This one gets a weak three stars--I can't critique it too specifically, it just didn't really grab me.  However, the descriptions of the next books are promising.  We shall see.

Which novel do I like for the Nebula this year?  In general, I don't think it was a great year for Nebula novels--the novellas were much better.  I would say Ann Leckie's Ancillary Sword is worthy of the nod.   It's a fine piece of writing.  I'm thinking the next volume will get award nods too.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

The Goblin Emperor is the fifth Nebula nominated novel I'm reading this year.  Katherine Addison is a pseudonym for Sarah Monette, a prolific author but one I do not remember reading without looking it up. 

The book itself is billed as a court intrigue novel, and that it is.  Pretty much all it is.  But perhaps some expectation setting is in order.  Let's compare this with the Song of Ice and Fire series, though this one is not nearly so ambitious...

In Westeros, the rulers seem to pretty much have no rules, and blood runs freely.  The weak and even not so weak get knocked off in gruesome fashion.  The magic is rare but grandiose--there are dragons. 

By contrast, Ethuveraz is a quiet country. The world is peopled with elves and goblins (the latter from Barzhin) but this is pretty much a cover--a way to talk about races with only as much of the freighting of black and white (goblins are black, elves white) as the author wishes.  Worst case scenarios run to banishment--while there are scenes of violence and attempts on the protagonist's life, they just don't seem serious.  While the central episode of the book is the assassination of the emperor and all his family but one--our protagonist Maia, banished at birth from the court--the blood and gore do not resonate in everyday life.  Magic is present but just barely.

This is a tale of court intrigue in something close to the Great Britain of the 19th century.  The technology is positioned there, with the inexplicable exception that airships have been invented but cars have not.  Our protagonist is thrust totally unprepared into the emperor role, and spends most of the book regretting what he does not know.  He is despised by many (his mother was a goblin princess) but seems to grow on all who meet him in spite of his awkwardness. 

The intrigue of the story is undergirded by a sense of the stability of the country.  Not much is really going to go wrong.  So the story is mostly about a rather unassuming, caring person thrust into a role of power and making his way. 

Not a lot of roiling excitement--it's hard to say how a peaceful and prosperous reign makes a story--but here we have one.  And it seems to be well regarded--it's on the World Fantasy Award list as well.  I give it 3 stars, solid but not that exciting.