Monday, March 28, 2011

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Crawlspace by Stephen Graham Jones

The Ones That Got AwayPutting together my Hugo ballot reminded me there are several top-notch stories from 2010 for which I neglected to do a Story Recommendation of the Week. We will begin to rectify that with "Crawlspace" by Stephen Graham Jones, an original story from his 2010 collection The Ones That Got Away, published by Prime Books.

"Crawlspace" is the first-person narrative of Gabriel, a working-class fella whose best friend insists his infant son is telepathic -- the kid cries every time the friend reads a horror novel. It sounds silly enough that Gabriel would dismiss it, except he had some telepathic tendencies himself as a child, and by the way Gabriel has been sleeping with his friend's wife. He really, really does not want to think through the implications.

This is the story of a man who has painted himself into a little corner of hell. His descent into paranoia and unbearable guilt makes for an emotionally harrowing reading experience.

Perhaps best known for his novel Demon Theory, Stephen Graham Jones (not to be confused with anthologist Stephen Jones) combines an off-beat sensibility with a down-home yet hardly simple writing style, somewhat similar to Joe Lansdale. Jones has been a nominee for the International Horror Guild Award and the Shirley Jackson Award, and The Ones That Got Away is currently up for the Stoker Award. Even so, I suspect there are many more readers out there, both genre and mainstream, who would enjoy his work if only they gave it a try.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Aaron's 2011 Hugo Recommendations :: Best Short Story

And we finish off the fiction categories with my nominations for the Hugo Award for Best Short Story, along with a few of my other favorites.

Aliette de Bodard, Age of Miracles, Age of Wonders (Interzone, Sept-Oct '10)
Aliette de Bodard, By Bargain and by Blood (Hub, Jan '10)
Samantha Henderson, Deutoroi (Abyss & Apex, 1st Qtr '10)
Hannu Rajaniemi, Elegy for a Young Elk (Subterranean, Spring '10)
Lenora Rose, It Shall Come to Pass on a Summer’s Day (Ideomancer, Sept '10)

Leah Bobet, Mister Oak (Realms of Fantasy, Feb '10)
Erin Cashier, Near the Flame (Shimmer #12)
Brian Keene, Lost Canyon of the Dead (The Living Dead 2)
An Owomoyela, Year of the Rabbit (ChiZine, Apr-June '10)
Ferrett Steinmetz, As Below, So Above (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nov '10)
Sarah Totton, If You Enjoyed This Story . . . (Tales of the Unanticipated #30)
Brandi Wells, Changing Woman (Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens #Y’aing’ngah)

This listing is probably academic -- unlike the other categories, my nominees for short story seldom make the final ballot (probably because many of them come from semiprozines and fanzines that aren't read widely enough to garner nominations). From this group, the Rajaniemi story is the only one with much chance at a Hugo nomination. Aliette de Bodard may get nominated, but probably not for the two stories I've chosen -- "The Shipmaker" is the more likely contender. Good luck to all the above just the same!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Aaron's 2011 Hugo Recommendations :: Best Novelette

Here are my nominations for the Hugo Award for Best Novelette, along with some near-misses.

Neil Gaiman, The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains (Stories)
Stephen Graham Jones, Crawlspace (The Ones That Got Away)
Geoffrey A. Landis, Marya and the Pirate (Asimov's, Jan '10)
Jason Sanford, A Twenty-First Century Fairy Love Story (Tales of the Unanticipated #30)
Eric James Stone, That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made (Analog, Sept '10)

Joe Abercrombie, The Fool Jobs (Swords & Dark Magic)
Kage Baker, The Bohemian Astrobleme (Subterranean, Win '10)
Aliette de Bodard, The Jaguar House, in Shadow (Asimov's, July '10)
Aliette de Bodard, The Wind-Blown Man (Asimov's, Feb '10)
Jim Hawkins, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark Matter (Interzone, July-Aug '10)
Robert Reed, The Long Retreat (F&SF, Jan-Feb '10)
Sarah Totton, A Sip from the Cup of Enlightenment (Animythical Tales)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Aaron's 2011 Hugo Recommendations :: Campbell Award for Best New Author

Technically the Campbell Award is not a Hugo Award, although I couldn't tell you why that is. It's voted on alongside all the other Hugos, and I've actually read enough excellent new authors recently to make Campbell recommendations this year.

Here in alphabetical order are the new authors I am planning to nominate. I'm also listing in parentheses a story I particularly enjoyed by each one, to give you a place to start if you care to check out their work:

Gwendolyn Clare ("Iron Oxide Red," Daily SF)
Keffy R.M. Kehrli ("Advertising at the End of the World," Apex)
Malinda Lo (Ash)
Ferrett Steinmetz ("As Below, So Above," Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
Brad R. Torgersen ("Exanastasis," Writers of the Future, Vol. 26)

Except for Malinda Lo, all of these authors have to date focused on short fiction -- I confess I haven't read some of the new novelists who have been getting a lot of buzz, such as Lauren Beukes and Dexter Palmer -- and they all do it so well I would love to see some of them on the ballot.

UPDATE: I was poking around other folks' recommendations on the web, one of which suggested Malinda Lo for the Campbell. She is not on the Writertopia list of Campbell-eligible authors, but I can't figure why not -- I believe her first genre publication was Ash in 2009. Ash was an outstanding novel, so I'm adding her to my Campbell list. Unfortunately, that means someone else has to be bumped, so apologies to Monica Byrne, who still has a great future ahead of her.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Aaron's 2011 Hugo Recommendations :: Best Novella

Listing alphabetically by author, the five novellas I'm planning to nominate for the Hugo Award are:

Paolo Bacigalupi, The Alchemist
Ted Chiang, The Lifecycle of Software Objects
Paul Park, Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance
Robert Reed, A History of Terraforming
Rachel Swirsky, The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen's Window

"The Alchemist" was very recently published in book form by Subterranean (which also boasts the Chiang and Swirsky stories -- a great showing for that small press in this category), but is eligible for a Hugo this year because it was released on audio by Audible in 2010. The same is true for Tobias Buckell's "The Executioness," set in the same universe, which I also strongly considered nominating. Other near-misses for me were "The Mystery Knight" by George R.R. Martin and "The Sultan of the Clouds" by Geoffrey A. Landis.

All of my choices except the Robert Reed piece are current nominees for the Nebula Award. My tastes don't usually align so well with the Nebula voters, and you will see much less overlap in the other categories.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Aaron's 2011 Hugo Recommendations :: Best Novel

Hugo nominations are due in just a week, so it's past time to list my favorite SF/F of 2010, starting with best novel. These are the five novels I'm planning to nominate:

Paolo Bacigalupi, Ship Breaker
Aliette de Bodard, Servant of the Underworld
Guy Gavriel Kay, Under Heaven
Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death
Catherynne M. Valente, The Habitation of the Blessed

I expect the Bacigalupi novel to make the final ballot, and I think the others all have at least a chance at nomination, except perhaps Servant of the Underworld. (If de Bodard is nominated this year, it will be for one of her outstanding pieces of short fiction.)

As usual when selecting novels to nominate for the Hugo, I am dismayed to realize how many books from last year by some of my favorite authors I've yet to read. If I could stop time and read everything I'd like to before the nominating deadline, these are the ones I think would be most likely to elbow their way onto my list:

Iain M. Banks, Surface Detail
Greg Egan, Zendegi
Ian McDonald, The Dervish House
China MiƩville, Kraken
Connie Willis, Blackout/All Clear

Whether you agree with any of my choices or not, I hope you find time to nominate by next week.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Book Review Teaser :: The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente

cover of The Habitation of the BlessedNew on Fantastic Reviews is Aaron's review of The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente.

From Aaron's book review of The Habitation of the Blessed :
In a sense, Catherynne Valente's work doesn't much need reviewing. No one has to tell you it's terrific - just open it up and weird and amazing things will leap off the page at you. The Habitation of the Blessed is beautifully written from the opening lines:
I am a very bad historian. But I am a very good miserable old man. I sit at the end of the world, close enough to see my shriveled old legs hang over the bony ridge of it. I came so far for gold and light and a story the size of the sky. But I have managed to gather for myself only a basket of ash and a kind of empty sorrow, that the world is not how I wished it to be.
If that passage grabs you the way it did me, then you need to read The Habitation of the Blessed. Because there is a great deal more like that in store for you:
When a book lies unopened it might contain anything in the world, anything imaginable. It therefore, in that pregnant moment before opening, contains everything. Every possibility, both perfect and putrid. Surely such mysteries are the most enticing things You grant us in this mortal mere - the fruit in the garden, too, was like this. Unknown, and therefore infinite. Eve and her mate swallowed eternity, every possible thing, and made the world between them.
Catherynne Valente's use of language is consistently exquisite....

...The Habitation of the Blessed is loosely based on the medieval legend of Prester John, a Christian king once thought to rule a strange land somewhere in the Orient. Valente joins a diverse group of modern authors who have written of Prester John, including Robert Silverberg and Umberto Eco - he has even appeared in Marvel comics.

To read the entire review -> The Habitation of the Blessed

Friday, March 11, 2011

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Movement by Nancy Fulda

Asimov's, March 2011The story recommendation of the week goes to "Movement" by Nancy Fulda, our second SROTW from the March 2011 issue of Asimov's.

This is a short but very powerful piece, the first-person narrative of Hannah, a young woman with "temporal autism," experiencing the passage of time differently from most humans:
[My parents] are not calm and quiet like my brother. They are sweaty from the night air and speak in tense sentences that all jumble on top of each other. If they would bother to wait I might find words to soothe their frantic babble. But they do not know how to speak on my time scale. Their conversations are paced in seconds, sometimes in minutes. It is like the buzzing of mosquitoes in my ears. I need days, sometimes weeks to sort my thoughts and find the perfect answer.
Hannah's condition prevents her from having "normal" interpersonal relationships, but it also allows her a unique perspective on the fast-changing world around her and contributes to her exceptional dancing and cognitive skills. Her parents are considering a medical procedure to undo Hannah's condition. Her mother asks her if she wants this done, but of course Hannah cannot answer right away.

This tale has a strong set-up, raising difficult questions about what is most important in life. Reminiscent of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Fulda's narrative does a wonderful job of getting us inside the mind of her unusual protagonist. The story is also spiced with interesting speculations about the implications of new communications technology.

But what makes "Movement" especially memorable is the outstanding ending. In just a few paragraphs, we learn Hannah's decision, we understand why it is so important to her, and we are heartbroken to realize it is unlikely she will be able to make her wishes understood.

"Movement" is an award-caliber story, and clearly a major breakthrough in the career of Nancy Fulda.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: "I Was Nearly Your Mother" by Ian Creasey

Asimov's, March 2011My story recommendation of the week is for "I Was Nearly Your Mother" by Ian Creasey, from the March 2011 issue of Asimov's.

Here is a 10,000-word story in which the main character never much does anything but talk, yet I found it fascinating reading. The protagonist of "I Was Nearly Your Mother" is Marian, a teenage girl living with her grandparents, because her mother died four years earlier and her father is in prison. She has come through these trying circumstances with admirable composure, but there are hints that her mental state remains fragile.

Then arrives on her doorstep an unfamiliar version of her late mother. This woman (who refers to herself as Della) has traveled from an alternate universe, where she aborted her pregnancy then came to regret the decision. Della assumes that Marian will instantly accept her as her lost mother, even though it is obvious from her behavior that she knows nothing at all about parenting, but of course Marian's reactions are far more complicated than that.

Marian is a flawed character and her para-Mother is deeply flawed (she pays for her alternate universe excursions through multiversal drug deals), but Creasey presents their flaws with sympathy. For instance, Marian is well on her way to an eating disorder, but Creasey shows this as a believable manifestation of her distrust of a world that has betrayed her: "She hated being told that weight didn't matter, when it so obviously did. It was just another way that adults lied, pretending the world was different, pretending that the fake surfaces didn't eclipse anything real that might lie underneath."

Creasey nicely develops alternate universes as a metaphor for how we all have choices to regret, we've all strayed from the path that would have worked out best for us:
Marian thought about the world Della came from, just one of an infinite range of worlds where things had happened differently -- mostly gone wrong in various ways. It felt like there was one real universe, a shining summit where everything happened as it should: a needle-thin pinnacle, surrounded by endless swampy lowlands full of bad decisions, unlucky accidents, and damaged people. As you slogged through the mire, could you clamber up to some better state? But how, when you couldn't see the landscape of probability? You'd find yourself flailing inevitably downward to your doom, confronted with far more wrong options than right. And everyone else in the world plummeted down too, dragging you with them. Even if you did the right thing, you had no control over other people's mistakes, their car crashes and jail sentences. Every time you slept, the world fell a little further during the night.
Even if we could travel between universes, that wouldn't relieve the need to come to terms with our own mistakes or the mistakes of those around us.

Clearly a new writer to watch, in the past five years Ian Creasey has had ten stories in Asimov's -- including "Erosion," which was chosen for multiple year's best collections for 2009 -- and has appeared in other top-notch magazines such as Realms of Fantasy, Weird Tales, and Postscripts.

To my tastes, Asimov's has been a bit uneven for the past few years, but the March 2011 issue is excellent, reaffirming the magazine's position as the premier source of short fiction in the field. I'll recommend another story from the March issue next week.