Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Taste of Honey, by Kai Ashante Wilson

A Taste of Honey is Kai Ashante Wilson's second story set in his Sorcerer of the Wildeeps universe.  Goodreads readers rate it as a better book than the first, and I tend to agree.  It's a much richer story.

It starts out as a sort of straight up gay romance.  We have a powerful, masculine warrior seducing an effeminate, closeted boy of royal blood.  But as we go along the story gets more complex.  Aqib, the effete prince, is physically weak but discovers a power in his voice--his words have influence.  He moves on from this early affair to marry and sire a daughter of great power.  He matures into a man of wisdom, strongly supportive of his wife and daughter "witches".  We see hints of how the "magic" is based in very advanced science and literacy, which here is viewed as "women's work". 

The story of the initial seduction and the prince's subsequent life are interwoven, and contrast well.  The writing is beautiful, just like the first book, but with more variety so it's even more interesting to read.  I think this one will be a strong contender in the Nebula novella category this year, and I give it 4 stars.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Runtime, by S. B. Divya

Runtime is the next to last of the Nebula Novella nominees I will read this year, unless they make John P. Murphy's "The Liar" available for free somewhere.  It's a fairly straightforward YA level competition story in the mid-future range.  Our protagonist is Marmeg, born "unlicensed" but later purchased, who is trying to get by on hacking while she arranges for a college degree in a (somewhat) robot proof area--elder care.  But she dreams of professional racing, specifically physically augmented off-road running.  She sets her sights on the Sierra Madre Minerva race, where placing would set her up financially.  She's up against much more sophisticated competitors though, so her odds are long.

This one is really different from any others I've read, or probably will read, this year.  The language is very plain and the description sparce.  It's very straight up reporting, even though it's told in the first person so we know what Marmeg (Mary Margaret) is thinking.  Smart termaexoskeletons that are reprogrammable are pretty much current day.  But there's some forward social thinking, particularly in the way she comfortably handles how the future will refer to transgender people.  She thinks discussion of income inequality and immigration will remain current 30 years from now, and I think she's right.

The best part for me is how real her characters end up being, even though they are described in very simple terms.   Marmeg gets both good and bad breaks, people are both devious and generous, all in a very realistic way.  There's tremendous potential here, because Divya has real talent for how to construct a story.

I highly recommend reading this story, it's simple but an eye opener.  4 stars for flashes of brilliance, from me.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Art of Space Travel, by Nina Allen

The Art of Space Travel is my first read in the Novelette category for the Hugo awards this year.  They don't look too gamey, only two Sad Puppy nominees that I can definitely pick out.  Most of them look pretty good.

This one is the story of the head of housekeeping for a Heathrow hotel, one where the astronauts for a one-way mission to Mars in 2047 are staying.  It's a position she has settled for after trying to follow in her mother, "Moolie"s footsteps.  Moolie (not her real name) was a metallurgist, and is now suffering from dementia.

Moolie was working on the previous Mars mission, the New Dawn, that ended in tragedy in 2017.  She had her daughter during that time, but has told her daughter she doesn't know who her father is.

The story is very insightful, you really get to know the protagonist and the other characters.  The mission is very much a part of the story, which could pretty much be happening today.  The ending is just a little off, maybe could be a few paragraphs shorter, which takes it from 4 stars to 3 for me.   But still a very good read.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, by Kai Ashante Wilson

I have enjoyed reading Kai Ashante Wilson's works before, and very much enjoyed this one.  What stood out for me was it's very conscious literary beauty.

Our protagonist is Demane, a distant descendant of the gods, who still has quite a lot more going for him than the average person.  He is in love with another of his kind, Isa, the Captain of the mercenary band that will guard a trading caravan going through the Wildeeps.  They shepherd a band of brothers that have bonded deeply through their life and combat together.  The focus of the story and the beautiful prose is those relationships, though there's plenty of action, particularly at the end.

The book manages to strongly celebrate gay relationships, including the sexuality, without getting explicit.  Also, Wilson attempts to ground the magic in science, though it comes of pseudoscientific in places. 

This is a catch up item for me, the second in the series, "A Taste of Honey", is nominated in the Novella category this year.  We'll see how this holds up.  I give this one a strong three stars.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

All the Birds In the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds In the Sky is the first Nebula novel I'm reading this year.  We're off to a great start.  The story follows two protagonists, Laurence Armstead and Patricia Delfine, starting when they are about six years old.  He is a science prodigy and she communes with birds, briefly.  They are both outcasts in beautifully and brutally described home and school environments.  As it happens with outcasts, they end up together even though they don't always like each other much, because they fit nowhere else.  Anders does a great job of creating detailed, real supporting characters--Laurence's desperate underachieving parents, and Patricia's over-driven and self-absorbed ones.  They attend the worst version of an ordinary junior high school, complete with intense bullying and stupidity.  Their counselor, Theodophilus Rose, is actually a member of the order of assassins.  He has seen their future participating in a great war of science vs. magic, and hopes to execute them as a "pro-bono" hit in service of humanity.

In most award nominated books either the speculative or narrative aspect stands out more.  The book might be a very fully imagined universe where the characters are on stage, or it might be strongly character-driven and the speculative aspect is secondary.  This book is one of a very few I've read where both elements are strong, and equal.  Anders perfectly captures the pain and self-centeredness of middle school, then transitions their personalities to adulthood and adult situations.  The science is a stretch on our reality--there, it's possible to find schematics on the internet for a two-second time machine.  This stretchiness allows Anders to make Laurence and Patricia's respective pursuits of science and magic seem equivalently arcane. 

Suffice it to say I really enjoyed reading this book.  I might well recommend it to my kids--there are sex scenes, but they are non-exploitative and emotionally relevant.  As far as I'm concerned it's going to be a tough job for any of the others to overcome this one's lead.  A very strong 4 stars.