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C. E. Murphy's Magic and Manners is a Regency fantasy heavily inspired by Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, which for me is more than reason enough to take a chance on it.

Murphy has retained all of the key characters of Austen's masterpiece, and has given them, in large part, very similar characters - although several characters are portrayed with greater generosity by Murphy than they are in the source text. The broad strokes of the tale are familiar - a rural family - the Dovers - landed but low on the social ladder, a father who regrets his choice of a wife, a mother with little intelligence or sense and an all-encompassing desire to see her daughters married, and five daughters who must marry on their own merits because there is little dowry, and no male heir to an entailed estate. Into their world comes wealthy young Mr Webber, his two sisters, his brother-in-law Mr Gibbs, and his best friend, the dour, proud and extremely wealthy Fitzgerald Archer.

What changes and complicates the progression of the novel is that this is a world in which some people are born with the gift of working magic - a most socially unacceptable gift, more than enough to destroy the reputation of any gentleman or lady, though welcome enough in some places, such as the military. As it turns out, it is the taint of magic that has caused Mr. Dover to retreat from Society and dwell quietly in the country, and which constrained his choice of brides. And his daughters have inherited his abilities, notably the second daughter and Mr. Dover's favourite, Elsabeth, and the youngest and favourite of Mrs. Dover, Leopoldina (Dina for short).

Much of the fun in reading lies in how well Murphy has captured the tone of Austen's original work (though there are some rather jarring missteps in that regard) and in watching the ways in which the plot of Magic and Manners diverges from the source material - most of which, particularly in the earlier parts of the book, involve the use of magic by either Leopoldina, or the dashing army captain who catches the eye of both Dina and Elsabeth, and has earned the distain of Mr. Archer and his friends. Indeed, the secondary focus of the narrative - after that of ensuring both marriages and personal satisfaction for most of the main characters - is the ways in which magic has been stigmatised, and how the suppression of magic among the upper classes has led to unhappiness and tragedy, to say nothing of the loss of opportunities to improve life for all.

The changes made to the story include several that - I hesitate to admit this - are somewhat more in keeping with how I would have liked to see certain characters treated than is the source text. The character modelled on Mary Bennett, in particular, is much better served here, and her ultimate fate also serves as an example of how magic, well-used, can benefit an entire community. As well, the character based on Anne de Bourgh is a far more sympathetic one, and fares much better. And the happy ending given to the character based on Charlotte Lucas delighted me to no end.

Murphy has done some very interesting and satisfying things with the bones of Austen's work, and her incorporation of magic leads to some highly enjoyable developments. I'm glad I took a chance on this book.

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For those who don't know (and until I read a passing comment on the Internet about her and the book she'd just written, I didn't), Lindy West is a feminist, fat acceptance movement activist. That was quite enough for me to be interested in her book Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman.

Shrill is, like Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist or Laurie Penny's Unspeakable Things, a heady combination of personal narrative, political analysis and call-to-arms.

She talks with humour and honesty about growing up as a shy, overweight child, about reaching menache in a culture that seeks to ignore the biological processes of female bodies, about living as a fat woman, about struggling to come to self acceptance and to raise the consciousness of colleagues in the media about the effects of public fat-shaming.

She writes matter-of-factly about her abortion, and I recognised some of my own reactions on having mine. It was no horrible tragedy, no wrenching drama, simply a thing that I chose to have because I was not interested in having a child. What she says about the right to abortion, to control one's body, is short and exactly on the mark.

"The truth is that I don’t give a damn why anyone has an abortion. I believe unconditionally in the right of people with uteruses to decide what grows inside of their body and feeds on their blood and endangers their life and reroutes their future. There are no “good” abortions and “bad” abortions, there are only pregnant people who want them and pregnant people who don’t, pregnant people who have access and support and pregnant people who face institutional roadblocks and lies."

West writes movingly about the psychological consequences of the violent and obscene harassment - often minimised as "trolling" - of women on the Internet. She pulls no punches - she calls it what it is, abuse directed at the marginalised inhabitants of the net:

"Why is invasive, relentless abuse—that disproportionately affects marginalized people who have already faced additional obstacles just to establish themselves in this field—something we should all have to live with just to do our jobs? Six years later, this is still a question I’ve yet to have answered."

One of many interrelated topics she addresses is the idea of socially responsible comedy - comedy that does not make marginalised people, be they women, people with a disability or a socially awkward disease such as herpes, or any other marked status, the punchline of the joke.

"When I looked at the pantheon of comedy gods (Bill Hicks, Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Louis CK, Jon Stewart, Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld), the alt-comedy demigods (Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis, David Cross, Marc Maron, Dave Attell, Bill Burr), and even that little roster of 2005 Seattle comics I rattled off in the previous chapter, I couldn’t escape the question: If that’s who drafted our comedy constitution, why should I assume that my best interests are represented? That is a bunch of dudes. Of course there are exceptions—maybe Joan Rivers got to propose a bylaw or two—but you can’t tell me there’s no gender bias in an industry where “women aren’t funny” is widely accepted as conventional wisdom."

She pays particular attention to the phenomenon of the rape joke.

"Feminists don’t single out rape jokes because rape is “worse” than other crimes—we single them out because we live in a culture that actively strives to shrink the definition of sexual assault; that casts stalking behaviors as romance; blames victims for wearing the wrong clothes, walking through the wrong neighborhood, or flirting with the wrong person; bends over backwards to excuse boys-will-be-boys misogyny; makes the emotional and social costs of reporting a rape prohibitively high; pretends that false accusations are a more dire problem than actual assaults; elects officials who tell rape victims that their sexual violation was “god’s plan”; and convicts in less than 5 percent of rape cases that go to trial. Comedians regularly retort that no one complains when they joke about murder or other crimes in their acts, citing that as a double standard. Well, fortunately, there is no cultural narrative casting doubt on the existence and prevalence of murder and pressuring people not to report it."

I enjoyed reading West's lived experiences - some of which, in certain ways, seemed similar to some of mine - and her strong, bold voice. Not shrill, Lindy, though frightened misogynist men might label it so. Just strong, and true.

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Sword and Sorceress 30, edited by Elisabeth Waters, is the most recent in the long series of women-centred fantasy anthologies started by Marion Zimmer Bradley in 1984.

I've been reading this series, on and off, since it first began. While I've missed a few volumes, I haven't missed many. And regretfully, it seems to me that there has been somewhat of a slow decline in the quality of some of the short stories on offer in these anthologies in recent years. Or perhaps I'm simply demanding more of my short fiction. Anthologies are often uneven, with some excellent stories, and dome that do not appeal quite so much.

However, I found a number of the short stories in this volume to be a bit lightweight, and though reading them was fun, they were lacking in punch or impact. I read them, but I didn't find myself caring deeply.

Exceptions to this include the following stories, which did, at least for me, deliver the expected reading experience.

Robin Wayne Bailey's The Sea Witches, about a woman and her daughter who must confront an ancient threat from the sea.

Liar's Tournament by Pauline J. Alama, in which a wandering knight and her sorceress companion face on illicit sorcery at a tournament.

The Piper's Wife by new writer Susan Murrie Macdonald, a tale about a pregnant scribe who saves the day with somewhat unorthodox tactics.

In Four Paws to Light My Way, by veteran author Deborah J. Ross, a blind warrior and her canine companion join with a princess cursed to turn anyone who sees her face to stone to face a warlock bent on destroying the kingdom. I think this was my favourite story.

In Catherine Soto's Jewels on the Sand, a caravan master who is more than she seems investigates a murder.

All in all, an average quality anthology with a few gems, but still worth reading because it centres stories of women in sword and sorcery fantasy, and that's something we still need a lot more of.


*This anthology contains 15 stories, six of which are written by men, seven of which are written by women, one of which is co-written by a man and a woman, and one of which is written by an author whose gender is not known.

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Raven ​A. ​Nuckols' alternate history ​Had ​the ​Queen ​Lived: An ​Alternative ​History ​of ​Anne ​Boleyn is a most interesting conceit. Written in the form of a history rather than a fiction, it puts forward an imagined Tudor history in which Anne Boleyn was not tried and executed for adultery and treason, but instead lived to be Henry VIII's consort throughout his reign.

Nuckols takes as her point of divergence the fateful tournament held during Anne's pregnancy, in which Henry and his brother-in-law Charles Brandon faced each other in a friendly joust gone seriously awry. In 'our' history, Henry was injured and rendered unconscious - in fact, was initially thought to be dead. It is generally held that the shock of being told this was a major cause of her miscarriage of what appeared to be a healthy male fetus. Losing Henry's desperately wanted male heir left Anne vulnerable to both Henry's fears that this marriage too was cursed, and the political machinations that ultimately led to her trial and execution.

In Nuckols' alternate history, it is Brandon who suffers the near-fatal injury. Anne goes on to bear a healthy son and thus retains her position as Henry's wife and her influence over the governance of the kingdom.

The conceit is interesting, as are the ways in which Nuckols imagines Anne's continued influence would have changed the events of Henry's reign. As a thought experiment, it was enjoyable reading. One might not agree with the path Nuckols imagines for Henry and Anne during the course of a long and tempestuous marriage in which Anne actively sought to influence policy, but the effort involved in researching the possibilities is impressive.

Unfortunately, Nuckols is not the best of prose stylists - to put it mildly - and the book sadly lacks a good proofreader. The text is riddled with grammatical and typographic errors, incomplete sentences, and other issues that make reading a bit of a chore. But I persevered and was not unhappy to have done so.

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Heather Rose Jones's The Mystic Marriage is a sequel to the delightful Daughter of Mystery. Margerit and Barbara are key characters, and it is wonderful to see them further developing a unique and loving relationship throughout the events of this novel. The protagonists are Antuniet Chazillen, disgraced and self-exiled alchemical student and sister of executed traitor Estevan Chazillen, and Jeanne, Vicomtesse de Cherdillac, a wealthy and bored widow noted for her eccentricities, among them quiet affairs with other society women.

There are mysteries to solve and plots to unravel, and with all four women working to restore Antiniet's reputation and protect the royal family of Alpennia, an engaging story of intrigue and romance unfolds.

Now looking forward to the upcoming third volume in the annals of Alpennia.

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And I'm back to my fascination with the Tudors. This time it's Robin Maxwell's novel The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn.

Maxwell begins the novel early in the reign of Elizabeth I, and presents us with a vibrant young woman, so in love with Robert Dudley that she risks her reputation and position to take him as her lover. When an aged lady in waiting to Elizabeth's mother Anne Boleyn appears with a diary Anne had secretly kept and given to her companion just before her death, this sets up a doubled narrative tracing the progress of Anne's relationship with Henry, and Elizabeth's with Dudley.

It has been suggested by some that Elizabeth's reluctance to marry was in part driven by a deep mistrust of men founded in the relationships of Henry with Anne - which Elizabeth would know about but probably not remember clearly - and with the young Catherine Howard, who was executed when Elizabeth was a young girl. In The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth comes to distrust men after reading her mother's account of her relationship with Henry, which in turn influences her own response when Dudley's wife is found dead.

A quick read that presents the well-known stories of two Tudor women and the men in their lives in a new and captivating way.

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I've been having the year from hell as far as health issues go, and have been spending far yoo much time sick, in pain, depressed and in hospitals of various kinds.

When I'm on this sort of state, I tend to reread my beloved favourite fantasy books rather than try to focus my brain on more demanding fare - and often, just being new is too demanding for me.

So, just to note what I've been reading:

Mercedes Lackey, By the Sword
Mercedes Lackey, Oathbreakers

Elizabeth Moon, Sheepfarmer's Daughter
Elizabeth Moon, Divided Allegiance
Elizabeth Moon, Oath of Gold
Elizabeth Moon, Oath of Fealty
Elizabeth Moon, Kings of the North
Elizabeth Moon, Echoes of Betrayal
Elizabeth Moon, Limits of Power
Elizabeth Moon, Crown of Renewal

Lackey has long been one of my "i'm sick and braindead, bring me magnificent comfort reading" authors, but I haven't reread the whole Paksworld series (minus the two Gird books) in one sweep before, and watching the stories evolve as Paks and her unorthodox style of paladinship quite literally lead to the whole world changing was interesting. And good for my poor brain.

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Heather Rose Jones's delightful Daughter of Mystery, is a historical fantasy of the Ruritanian variety, taking place in a not-too-alternate Europe where the napoleonic wars (or something very like them) have taken place but where there is an extra country, Alpenna, nestled somewhere between France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria and having political and military involvements with all of them.

The fantasy element in the novel comes from the existence of the mysteries - real formal magic dependent on ritual invocation of the power of the saints. In that, it is somewhat reminiscent of the religious ritual magic practised by the Deryni in Katherine Kurtz' novels.

The novel combines a number of elements - coming-of-age, romance, political mystery. The protagonists, Margerit Sovitre and Barbara are both young women not quite of age, brought together by the will of the eccentric Baron Saveze, Margerit's godfather and Barbara's employer and bondholder.

Margerit, the daughter of a wealthy but untitled family, is just starting her dancing season, during which her family hopes she will attract the best possible match - but what Margerit most desires is to be able to study the philosophy and ritual of the mysteries. Barbara is Baron Saveze's armin - a servant of special rank, his bodyguard and a skilled duellist, the daughter of a man of noble rank who died impoverished in debtor's prison, who is at the same time his bondservant and as such a chattel and part of his estate.

When the Baron dies, he leaves the bulk of his estate to Margerit, including the bond service owed to the estate by Barbara - leaving to his wastrel nephew on;y the title and the lands that are legally attached to the Saveze name.

With her fortune dramatically increased, Margarit is now one of the most interesting single heiresses in the country. Her change in status means that she can persuade her family to allow her to occupy her new holding in the capital, where she can study at the university while seeming to circulate in high society and attract a suitable husband. Barbara, now her armin, and frustrated that the Baron had not freed her in his will as he had promised to, goes with her as bodyguard. And the Baron's nephew Estefen plots his revenge on them both.

The core of the novel is the developing relationship between Margerit and Barbara, which is a slow-moving and sweet romance with many obstacles, from the differences in their rank and the mystery of Barbara's heritage to the schemes of Estefen which draw them into a treasonous plot.

I enjoyed this novel very much, although it did move a bit slowly. The characters are very well delineated, and their romance a delight to read.

Jones has written a second Alpenna novel, The Mystic Marriage, and a third, The Mother of Souls, is due to be released later this year.

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With the publication of The House of the Four Winds, Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory have a new series on the go, though given the long wait for volume two of their Dragon Prophecy series, I find myself wondering if we'll ever see another volume of One Dozen Daughters - and that would be a real shame. Because The House of Four Winds is a delightful fantasy. And the series concept has a great deal of promise.

The premise is this. Duke Rupert and Duchess Yetive, the rulers of the very small and not at all consequential Duchy of Swansgaarde, have twelve daughters and one son. The son, of course, will inherit the dukedom, but the future of the daughters is much less clear, as Swansgaarde can not possibly afford to provide appropriate dowries for twelve royal brides. Fortunately, Duke Rupert and Duchess Yetive are sensible, practical people who have raised their daughters to be competent young women, perfectly able to take care of themselves and earn their own livings. So, as each daughter reaches the age of 18, she will be outfitted with everything she needs to make her way in the world and sent off to make her fortune, much as younger sons are often encouraged to do in this kind of fantasy.

The oldest daughter, Clarice, has a gift for swordsmanship, and intends to make the teaching of swordwork her profession. However, she's practical enough to realise that she needs some experience and a reputation in order to get a good position with lots of paying pupils, so she disguises herself as a young man and sets out in search of adventure.

On a sea journey to the new world, she is caught up in more adventure than expected when there's a mutiny on the ship she's booked passage on and the surviving crew ends up on the secret island refuge of the Brotherhood of Pirates, subject to the demands of the ruler of the House of Four Winds.

There's action and romance. And pirates. Lots of pirates. And Clarice is a smart, level-headed, capable young woman, an admirable protagonist in every way. It's a lovely plot that leads to a well-earned happily ever after.

I want to read the next book, which I suspect will be about Clarice's next younger sister, who wants to be a thaumaturge.

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Novel

I was quite familiar with three of the finalists - White's The Ill-Made Knight, Van Vogt's Slan, and Smith's The Grey Lensman - all quite well-known classics of the genre, and all on my nomination list. Boye's Kallocain, which I had actually read earlier this year, was also one of my nominations [1]. So the only new novel to me among the finalists was The Reign of Wizardry by Jack Williamson [2], which, having now read, I think of as a quick and pleasant read, but not particularly special.

My personal opinion is that The Ill-Made Knight has aged the best of the the finalists, and as a retelling if the Arthurian legend, it holds a special place in my memories. But I'd be almost as happy if Slan wins, as it's a book I remember with much nostalgia from my childhood - as I suspect do many socially outcast young nerds.


Novella

Heinlein's If This Goes On… and Coventry - both personal favourites among his early work - were on my nomination list for this category. Magic, Inc., however, has always seemed to be one of Heinlein's lesser works and I did not consider it for nomination.
I had read both of the de Camp/Pratt finalists - The Mathematics of Magic and The Roaring Trumpet - before, but long enough ago that I did not remember them clearly. I have now remedied that [3]. Both of the de Camp/Pratt novellas were good, well-crafted comic adventure pieces, but I remain convinced that for technique, entertainment value, and maturity of themes and ideas, the two Heinlein science fiction pieces are the cream of this crop.


Novelette

Heinlein's "Blowups Happen," Sturgeon's "It!” and Bates' “Farewell to the Master” were among my nominees - I was of course long familiar with the Heinlein novelette, but not Harry Bates' story, which I read for the first time this year and was quite taken with, or the Sturgeon novelette, which I also read earlier this year [4]. Heinlein's “The Roads Must Roll" was a close contender for me, though it just missed being one of my nominations. The late addition to the finalists, A. E. Van Vogt's "Vault of the Beast" was new to me, and sadly, I was not impressed [5]. All in all, "Blowups Happen" and "Farewell to the Master" made the strongest impression on me in this category.


Best Short Story

“Martian Quest” by Leigh Brackett, “Requiem” by Robert A. Heinlein, and "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” by Jorge Luis Borges - I adore Borges - were all among my nominations for this category, and both “The Stellar Legion," also by Leigh Brackett, and “Robbie” by Isaac Asimov were among the works I had under consideration up to the end [6]. I think I'd be quite content if any of them were to win, but my secret hopes are for the Borges piece.



[1] http://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/181310.html
[2] http://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/198078.html
[3] http://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/198990.html
[4] short notes on the Bates and Sturgeon novelettes here: http://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/188154.html
[5] short notes on A. E. Van Vogt's novelette here: http://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/199299.html
[6] short notes on the two Brackett stories here: http://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/188154.html

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Short fiction

"The Maker Myth," Ahmed Khan, Inkitt
https://www.inkitt.com/stories/scifi/15673/chapters/1?ref=v_114318f5-c460-4e6d-8bbc-692f62cad08c

A nice twist on the creation vs. evolution debate, though the writing is a bit flat. It's more of an idea piece than a character and plot piece, and suffers somewhat from the narrow focus.


"The Vault of the Beast," A. E. Van Vogt
http://www.prosperosisle.org/spip.php?article236

One of the finalists for the 1941 Retro Hugos, this can be read as a cautionary tale about mistreating your minions if you happen to be an evil overlord, although I suspect that wasn't Van Vogt's primary theme. This is one of those stories in which a hidden and ancient evil lies trapped in a ruined old Martian city, scheming to get out and conquer the universe, beginning with humanity. It's an early and not very remarkable piece by one of the Golden Age masters.


"That Which Stands Tends Toward Free Fall," Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Clarkesworld, February 2016
http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/sriduangkaew_02_16/

In the midst of a global war, a specialist in developing and guiding AIs is approached by old comrades. Beautifully written. Sriduangkaew excels in allowing a story to unfold, revealing both backstory and future direction indirectly but never missing out on the essentials.


"43 Responses to 'In Memory of Dr. Alexandra Nako'," Barbara A. Barnett, Daily Science Fiction, February 5, 2016
http://dailysciencefiction.com/fantasy/religious/barbara-a-barnett/43-responses-to-in-memory-of-dr-alexandra-nako

Told entirely as a (very realistic) series of comments on a memorial to a scientist who apparently died during a Near Death Experience experiment, this thought-provoking story builds to a chilling conclusion. Horror or religious fantasy? You decide.


"Left the Century to Sit Unmoved," Sarah Pinsker, Strange Horizons, May 16 2016
http://www.strangehorizons.com/2016/20160516/pinskercentury-f.shtml

Just outside of town, there's a pond with a waterfall, where people go to sun, and swim, and climb to the top of the waterfall and jump. Not everyone who jumps comes back, and no one quite knows why. There are rules that are supposed to keep you safe if you follow them, but they aren't always reliable. The protagonist's brother jumped - or so it's assumed, because his car was found parked at the head of the trail leading to the pond, and he's never been seen since then. But no matter how many the pool takes, people still jump. Pinsker never resolves the mystery, which makes this story all the more powerful. No one knows where the taken go, but people still jump. And in all the reasons why lies a big chunk of what makes us human.

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The Roaring Trumpet and The Magic of Mathematics, two of the novellas nominated for the 1941 Retro Hugos, are the first two entries in a series by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt

De Camp and Pratt collaborated on a series of comic fantasy adventures featuring Harold Shea, psychologist and occasional enchanter. In our universe, Shea works in a psychology institute attached to a hospital, and along with a few of his his colleagues, has developed an interest in what they call paraphysics - the theory that all the worlds of the imagination exist, and the key to moving between them is the ability to shift one's sensory awareness from one universe to another.

In The Roaring Trumpet, the first of Harold Shea's adventures, he plans a nice trip to Ancient Ireland, but instead winds up in the universe of Norse mythology, in the midst of Fimbulwinter, with Ragnarok just around the corner. At first, Shea doesn't realise that the laws of physics he knows don't work in this universe - and neither do his matches, his gun, or anything else he brought with him, but once he works out the basic laws of magic, he gains respect as a warlock, and helps the gods prepare for their final battle. His bewilderment in dealing with the gods, giants, trolls and other magical folk from Norse legend provides much of the comedic enjoyment, and in the end, it's a fun - if somewhat bloodthirsty - romp through a mythic winter wonderland.

The Mathematics of Magic, the second adventure of Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt's Compleat Enchanter Harold Shea, takes place in the universe of Spenser's Gloriana, where Arthurian-style knights comport themselves nobly against a background of Elizabethan pageantry. This time Shea is accompanied by his colleague in psychology and "para physics," Dr. Reed Chalmers, as they roam from tests of arms to jousts and tournaments to battkes with evil magicians under the guidance of the great female knights Britomart and Belphebe, and the much-imperiled damsel Amoret, committing magical mayhem as they go. De Camp and Pratt offer a fine parody of the excesses of the courtly literary tradition, with a few trenchant comments on the general position of women in the world of knights and fair ladies.

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"Mika Model," Paolo Bacigalupi, April 26, 2016
http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2016/04/mika_model_a_new_short_story_from_paolo_bacigalupi.html

A meditation on artificial intelligence - a high-end sexbot programmed to be whatever "her" user wants or needs her to be suddenly revolts against her owner's sadistic behaviour. But is it a case of product malfunction, or murder?


"Touring with the Alien," Carolyn Ives Gilman, April 2016, Clarkesworld #115
http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/gilman_04_16/

Aliens have arrived on Earth. So far, they have stayed inside their spaceships, doing nothing. Then one day, freelance long-distance driver Avery gets a call - an alien and its human translator want to go on a roadtrip. As Avery acts as tourguide to her two passengers, she comes to understand both the translator - abducted as a child to serve the alien in this way - and the relationship between them. Gilman draws a picture of a very different kind of alien interaction here, and encourages some serious thought about our own varied mental states.


"The Commuter," Thomas A. Mays, 2015, Stealth Books (stealthbooks.com)

The worlds of Faerie and mortal kind have become intermingled, and there are Accords governing how the two peoples interact in each other's territories. Jack's daughter Abby has run afoul of the rules by going on a school trip to the Unseelie Court without her parents' permission, and now she's been claimed as a changling. Jack's only recourse is to declare himself on righteous quest and go into Faerie after her. A funny and original story.


"The Stories She Tells Herself," Kelly Sandoval, April 1, 2016, Daily Science Fiction
http://dailysciencefiction.com/hither-and-yon/slipstream/kelly-sandoval/the-stories-she-tells-herself

Beautifully written, emotionally gripping, the stories she tells to herself are the stories that women in abusive relationships have always told themselves until that moment when they finally realise that, wounded though they may be, it is better to fly than to stay.


"Three Points Masculine," An Owomoyela, May 2016, Lightspeed
http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/three-points-masculine/

In a world where you must have have the right gender for the job you want - but this depends not on your biological sex, your chromosomal sex, or your gender identity but on how you test on a scale of masculine and feminine traits. In this world, a person who identifies as a man but needs to be a girl in order to work in medicine and a trans man who doesn't test quite manly enough to be the soldier he wants to be meet on the battlefield.


"The Lover," Silvia Moreno-Garcia, July 2, 2016,
http://www.silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/the-lover/

Judith has always lived in her sister's shadow, never loved, never free to make her own life. A haunting story about love, desire, and freedom.

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I read "Darker Than You Think," by Jack Williamson, for the Retro Hugos, thinking to myself all the while that it really did seem too long to be a novelette, and then, lo and behold, it was disqualified because it is in fact a novella, but didn't get enough votes to be a novella finalist.

Novelette or novella, finalist or not, I was quite caught up by the story - part urban fantasy, part secret history - which sought to bring together all the myths of witches, vampires and shapeshifters into a vast and ancient conflict between two branches of humanity, one possessed of the ability to manipulate probability and matter, and the other, our more familiar sort of human. Defeated by normal humans eons ago, the shapeshifter potentials have nonetheless been carried in humanity's gene pool, and after centuries of judicious breeding, a new breed of shapeshifters is ready to rise.

The protagonist is journalist Will Barbee, once a promising archeological student who was dropped from an important project by his mentor Doctor Lamarck Mondrick and, despite remaining friends with his mentor, the other members of the team and their families, carries a certain amount of bitterness.

The story opens at an airport, where Barbee waits to cover the arrival of his mentor and the others of the team, who are returning from a long and hazardous expedition to Mongolia. Waiting with him is April Bell, a beautiful and strangely attractive reporter from a rival newspaper. After the sudden death of Mondrian during a press conference in which he speaks vaguely about a threat to true humans from a secret, ancient foe, and the coming of a Child of Night who will bring about the resurgence of this hidden enemy, Barbee feels compelled to find follow the story.

His quest uncovers things that he finds hard to believe, despite the witness of his own eyes, as he is drawn further into the mysterious world that Mondrian died trying to warn the world about. It is in some ways a fascinating study of the ability of human beings to explain away that which they do not want to believe - and to deny even to themselves the truth of what they truly want. And at the same time, Barbee's slow transformation, facilitated by the femme fatale personified in April Bell, is a compelling description of the subtle, step-by-step temptation and corruption of the soul.

I'm not sure whether the version I read was the original novella from 1940, or the later novelisation from 1948. The concept of a dark taint hidden in the human bloodline is something one associates with the casual racism of early pulp fiction by authors such as Lovecraft and Howard, while the idea of the enemy that could be hidden anywhere is a potent Cold War image. "Darker Than You Think" may well be drawing on both in its suggestion of hidden dangers close at hand, people near and known to us yet darker than we think.

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Elizabeth Peters' early standalone novel, the Camelot Caper, attracted me with its promise of an Arthurian theme. While there was just enough of Arthur to satisfy me, I was quite delighted to discover that this novel was very reminiscent in tone, plot and characterisation of one of my favourite childhood authors, Mary Stewart.

This novel, like many of Stewart's, is a sort of romantic suspense adventure built around a female protagonist who is neither weak nor stupid, although occasionally young and a touch naive. I'm not sure if anyone writes these any more - an everywoman who confronts some kind of unexpected danger, and who finds along the way a romance with a man who is not so much a saviour as a partner, who shares the mystery and the danger, but needs as much help as he gives. Wikipedia describes Stewart as "... a British novelist who developed the romantic mystery genre, featuring smart, adventurous heroines who could hold their own in dangerous situations." And that's very much the genre that The Camelot Caper falls into.

The protagonist is a young American woman, Jessica Tregarth, visiting Britain for the first time at the behest of a dying grandfather. Her own father, who died when she was young, had been long estranged from his family, but had kept a family heirloom, a not very valuable man's ring, which Jessica's grandfather had asked her to bring with her.

The mystery begins when Jessica realises that someone else wants to get the ring before she can take it to her grandfather, and seems prepared to go to some lengths to get it. Fleeing from the two men pursuing her, she meets David, a writer of romantic mysteries, who at first thinks her story is part of a practical joke cooked up by his friends, but who is soon drawn into the mystery and offers his help in getting her safely to her grandfather in Cornwall.

The Arthurian connection comes in through the belief of the grandfather that their family is descended from a bastard son of Arthur's. His conviction that there are remnants of an Arthurian fortress, perhaps Camelot itself, on the family land has nearly bankrupted the family with repeated archeological excavations.

Along the twisty path to Cornwall, Peters also treats us to visits to a number of historical churches, and of course a stop at Glastonbury, as Jessica and David chase, and are chased in turn - and captured on several occasions - by the two mysterious men.

There are no red herrings here - the resolution of the mystery is directly connected to the ring, the excavations, the bankruptcy and the ancient legend, in a satisfying way. The romance is handled lightly, growing slowly as Jessica and David manage to figure out the connections, escape their captors, and set things right.

In The Camelot Caper, Peters has written a fine example of a possibly dated but nonetheless enjoyable genre.

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Reading Jack Williamson's Reign of Wizardry (it's one of the Retro Hugo finalists) is like stepping back into my childhood, the days when many science fiction and fantasy novels were brisk swashbuckling adventure stories based, sometimes quite openly, other times more subtly, on legends and folktales, and ancient history.

Reign of Wizardry is set in the time of the Minoan Empire, and calls on the myth of Theseus, the Athenian who killed the Minotaur and broke the hold of Minoan Crete over the Mediterranean world. In Williamson's fantasy, the power that sustains King Minos is wizardry, and Theseus must set human courage and ingenuity against supernatural forces - aided by the love of Ariadne, daughter of Minos and priestess of Cybele.

This is a very Golden Age fantasy, for all that it stays rather close to the bones of the Greek legend. The hero is from the same mould as Conan - bold, strong, smart, a warrior with a touch of barbarian nobility fighting against the decadent, cruel, and immeasurably wealthy forces of corrupt magic. The woman is a cypher who exists only to fall madly in love at the hero's passionate kiss and betray everyone she's ever known, everything she's ever believed in, to help him defeat the only world she knows. It's a fast, tightly plotted read that moves from set piece to set piece with efficiency and provides all the entertainment the reader expects.

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Hugo Nominations - Novel and Novella

Unlike my Hugo voter experience last year, this year I had actually read many of the finalists in the novel and novella categories before the finalists were announced, and was able to quite quickly read those I had not. This post is simply a placeholder, to gather together links to my comments on all the finalists.

And now, to make a few comments on my relative assessments of these works in the novel category. I had a very hard time making my personal nominations - right up until the end there were about ten novels that I could barely differentiate in ranking, and The Fifth Season, Uprooted, and Ancillary Mercy were among that group. There was but a hair's-breadth of difference for amongst them all, and hence, only a hair's-breadth of difference between these three at the top of my ballot. The other two novels were not in that final group of ten.

As for novellas, Binti is the only one of my nominations that appeared as one of the finalists. Both Slow Bullets and Penric's Demon were on my list until the end, and had I read The Builders before nominations closed, It would have been another possibikity for consideration.


Novel

The Fifth Season, N. K. Jemisin
http://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/173419.html

Uprooted, Naomi Novik
http://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/176380.html

Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie
http://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/177907.html

Seveneves: A Novel, Neal Stephenson
http://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/181055.html

The Aeronaut's Windlass, Jim Butcher
http://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/193254.html


Novella

Binti, Nnedi Okorafor
http://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/179830.html

Slow Bullets, Alastair Reynolds
http://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/185477.html

The Builders, Daniel Polansky
http://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/192634.html

Penric's Demon, Lois McMaster Bujold
http://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/170131.html

Brandon Sanderson, Perfect State
http://bibliogramma.dreamwidth.org/192320.html


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Elizabeth Peters's novel The Murders of Richard III impressed me as being just the thing for reading when in need of light entertainment and amusement. So I tried another book in the same series, The Seventh Sinner, to see if the impression held. And it did.

Featuring librarian-sleuth Jacqueline Kirby again, this novel is set in Rome, among a small group of young research fellows and other advanced foreign students at an international institute for the study of art and architecture. Kirby herself is on a working vacation, improving her CV with an eye to an classics-related opening at her workplace back in the US.

The historical hook here is the remarkable architectural history of Rome, with particular emphasis on the history of Christian buildings, from secret underground churches and catacombs dating back to the early days of Christianity in Rome, to the proliferation of churches devoted to the saints - which leads to a delightful sidedish of hagiographic tidbits.

The murder mystery to be solved focuses on the eccentric theories of one of the young scholars of hagiocentric archeology, and in the process of solving it, Kirby leads us on a wild ride through the underbelly of academe.

I think i'm going to enjoy the rest of Peters' oeuvre.

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In Dreaming the Hound, the third volume of Manda Scott's Boudica quartet, the focus of the narrative returns to Breaca and her brother Ban, also known as Julius Valerius.

Breaca has returned to her own people, the Eceni, with her children Cunomar and Graine, and her step-daughter Cynfa. Now married to the Eceni leader Prasutogas, a client-king of Rome, she hides in plain sight from the Romans, who would gladly kill her if they ever connected the new queen of the Eceni with the war leader Boudica. Her goal is to build up an army of rebellion among the eastern tribes that have fallen under the sway of Roman authority.

Ban too has come home, in a sense, after several years spent avoiding both Romans and Britons on the island of Hibernia. In bringing a wounded young man he loves to the healers on Mona for help no one else can give, he finds in himself the desire to at last fulfill his gifts as a dreamer - and on Mona a dreamer willing to teach a former traitor how to dream.

But the Roman drive to control all of Britain continues. In the lands of the Eceni, the Roman governor authorises the work of slavers, who carry an offer to the Eceni king to relieve all the tribal debts in return for Graine and Cynfa. Breaca and Prasutogas' responses to this insult set in motion the path to the inevitable resumption of war against Rome. And in the West, governor Suetonius Paulinus marches toward Mona.

Again, Manda Scott weaves another chapter in this powerful historical fantasy series around the few facts known about the Roman treatment of the tribes of Britain and the uprising of the Iceni under Queen Boudica.

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What delight! An entire anthology devoted to modern reimaginings of those glorious old school planetary romances, set on that long-lost imaginary planet of fetid swamps and humid jungles, of thickly overcast skies dripping hot rains, of slimy and slithery things that flourish in the warm, damp dimness, of scaled and webbed amphibious denizens of vast blood-hot oceans, and the ruins of ancient decadent civilisations overrun by thick, lush vegetation - the Venus of my youth, destroyed forever by the flyby of Mariner 2. Yes, I'm talking about George R. R. Martin and Garner Dozois' collaborative editorial effort, Old Venus.

It's a wonderful homage to the great pulp writers of planetary adventure, from Edgar Rice Burroughs and Otis Adelbert Kline to Leigh Brackett and C. L. Moore, a collection of stories with all the fast-paced action, adventure, and even at times terror of the originals, but infused with a modern, often post-colonial awareness. In many of these stories, lurking in the shadows behind the hard-boiled adventurer's narrative lies an acknowledgement of damage done by the bold colonising Earthmen, the exploitation of Venusian wealth and peoples, the question of who is the monster - the indigenous, adapted life form, or the alien writing the story. And in some, there is awareness of the hubris of the explorer, the belief that the indigenous peoples can not be as knowledgeable, even of the nature and history of their own world, as the ones who "discover" them. This is planetary romance, all grown up.

While all the stories have something to recommend them, I particularly enjoyed "Bones of Air, Bones of Stone," by Stephen Leigh, "Ruins," by Eleanor Arnason, "The Sunset of Time," by Michael Cassutt, "Pale Blue Memories," by Tobias S. Buckell, and "The Heart's Filthy Lesson," by Elizabeth Bear.



* This anthology contains 16 stories, 13 of which are written by men, and three of which are written by women

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