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N. K. Jemisin's The Obelisk Gate continues from the point where The Fifth Season left off, but where the first novel told the story of its protagonist Essun at three different points in time, The Obelisk Fate us divided between Essun in the present, and her missing daughter.

Both Essun and Nassun are powerful orogenes - people with the ability to perceive and manipulate various form of energy, often to deadly and devastating effect. For Essun, trained in the limited ways of the Fulcrum - the order of orogenes used and controlled by the former government - and for Nassun, virtually untrained save for the skills Essun was able to teach her before the breaking of the world, the focus is on discovery - of their abilities, of the nature of orogeny, of the task that only they, out of all the surviving orogenes, may be able to fulfil.

As Essun attempts to become part of the underground community of Castrima, and to come to terms with the fact that her former teacher and lover, Alabaster, caused the massive destruction that threatens to end the world as she knows it, the novel moves back a little in time to follow the journey of her daughter Nassun, as her father follows a vague rumour that somewhere there is a place where orogenes can be cured.

In Castrima, Essun learns from the dying Alabaster, from the rogue orogene Ykka, from the stone eater Hoa. In a Fulcrum outpost far to the south, Nassun encounters, not a cure, but a community of Guardians (one of the keepers, trainers, and controllers of Fulcrum orogenes) and orogenes.

In The Obelisk Gate we learn more about the history of the world that Essun and Nassun inhabit, the interrelationships between the three kinds of human - stillminds, orogenes, and stone eaters, and the true purpose of the mysterious obelisks that hover above the surface of the planet. But there is still much to discover, and both Essun and Nassun have much still to learn, and far to journey.

Jemisin continues to be brilliant. I am eager now for the third volume.

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Lately, I've been reading with an eye to making Hugo nominations, so this batch of short fiction reads is mostly selected from various lists of recommendations.


"The City Born Great," N. K. Jemisin; Tor.com, September 9, 2016
http://www.tor.com/2016/09/28/the-city-born-great/

An urban fantasy - though not the kind we're used to - about the gritty birth and life of the great cities, set in New York. Evocative and filled with a sense of urgency that pulls the reader toward its conclusion.


"This Is Not a Wardobe Door," A. Merc Rustad; Fireside Magazine Issue #29, January 2016
http://www.firesidefiction.com/issue29/chapter/this-is-not-a-wardrobe-door/

A story about imagination and hope and holding on to the magic of childhood when you believed you could change the world. At the end, I was crying.


"Checkerboard Planet," Eleanor Arnason; ClarkesWorld, December 2016
http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/arnason_12_16/

A new Lydia DuLuth talr from Arnason is always a treat. In this novelette, the AIs who control the interstellar stargates have asked Lydia to investigate conditions on a planet with a most peculiar ecology - the entire land mass and parts of the oceans are organised into giant squares, all of similar size, with all the life forms in each square the same colour. The planet has been colonised by a biogenetics corporation which, the AIs fear, is not acting in the best interests of the planet or humanity. An anti-imperialist first contact story with a gentle and at times even whimsical touch.


"Fifty Shades of Grays," Steven Barnes; Lightspeed Magazine, June 2016
http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/fifty-shades-grays/

Carver Kofax is a master at marketing and sales. But when he and his colleague (and romantic interest) Rhonda, land the corporation they work for a lucrative and highly secretive contract, the nature of the campaign demands all their skills - and leads to unexpected and dire consequences for all of humanity. Barnes handles the revelations in the narrative and the protagonist's growing unease with a sure hand. Content warning: this novelette contains sexually explicit kink.


"A Dead Djinn in Cairo," P. Djeli Clark; tor.com, May 18, 2016
http://www.tor.com/2016/05/18/a-dead-djinn-in-cairo/

In an alternate pre-WWI Cairo, where djinn and angels from other dimensions mingle with humans, Special Inspector Fatma el-Sha’arawi of the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities investigates the apparent suicide of a djinn, only to discover a mad plot to destroy humanity. Will the dapper young inspector solve the mystery in time? Clark's novelette is a delighful genre-bending fantasy thriller with a touch of steampunk. Cairo comes to life in complex and sensual detail, and Fatma is a character I'd love to see again.


"The Witch of Orion Waste and the Boy Knight," E. Lily Yu, Uncanny Magazine, Sept-Oct 2016
http://uncannymagazine.com/article/witch-orion-waste-boy-knight/

A relatively young and inexperienced witch decides to accompany a young knight errant seeking dragons to kill, and learns a few bitter lessons about honor, trust and pride.


"The Green Knight’s Wife," Kat Howard; Uncanny Magazine, November 2016
http://uncannymagazine.com/article/green-knights-wife/

A compelling riff on the Arthurian tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, told from the perspective of the Green Knight's wife, in which one of those women who is always on the sidelines in such hero tales, treated as merely part of the mythic machinery, takes up agency and acts for herself.


"Foxfire, Foxfire," Yoon Ha Lee; Beneath Ceaseless Skies, March 3, 2016
http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/stories/foxfire-foxfire/

A novelette blending fantasy and sf, set in a Asian- derived alternate universe where loyalists and rebels do battle with giant powered mechas. A young spirit fox with a great desire to become human - which he can only achieve by killing and eating 100 humans - is faced with difficult choices when captured by a mecha pilot. A story about transformations, and finding one's self.


"Unauthorized Access," An Owomoyela; Lightspeed Magazine, September 2016
http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/unauthorized-access/

You would think a high profile hacker who's already spent time in prison for releasing government information that there was no reason to hide would be seriously radicalised - but for Aedo Leung, getting out of jail is only the beginning. A cautionary tale about the sequestration of public information that has suddenly become even more timely and appropriate.

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"A Trump Christmas Carol," by Roz Kaveney, Laurie Penny, John Scalzi and Jo Walton; Uncanny, December 25, 2016
http://uncannymagazine.com/article/trump-christmas-carol/

A brilliant piece of political fiction, a solid reworking of the ideas of Dickens' classic as the ghosts of 2016 teach the President-elect the true meaning and proper use of political power.



"The Orangery," Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam; Beneath Ceasless Skies, Issue #214, December 8, 2016
http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/stories/the-orangery/

Using the myths of Apollo and Daphne and Apollo and Dryope as central images, Stufflebeam gives us a powerful look at the responses evoked in women when confronted with men's desire and sense of entitlement to women's labour, bodies and love. When confronted with all the women, including Daphne and Dryope, who have chosen transformation into trees, Apollo asks “Why do you women fear men so much that you would rather be tree than give a kiss?” It's a question answered by this novelette, though perhaps not in any way that one who must ask can understand.



"The Evaluators: To Trade with Aliens, You Must Adapt," N. K. Jemisin; Wired, December 13, 2016
https://www.wired.com/2016/12/nk-jemisin-the-evaluators/

A brilliant and truly terrifying cautionary tale told in modern epistolary style (excerpts from emails, reports and other documents) about the dangers of making assumptions and rushing first contact.



"Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0," Caroline M. Yoachim; Lightspeed, March 2016
http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/welcome-to-the-medical-clinic-at-the-interplanetary-relay-station/

Having spent way too much time dealing with medical personnel and institutions lately, this grim little story about the futility of getting any real healthcare from a bureaucratic and underfunded system hit close to home.



"My Grandmother's Bones," S. L. Huang; Daily Science Fiction, August 22, 2016
http://dailysciencefiction.com/fantasy/religious/s-l-huang/my-grandmothers-bones

A short and moving story about generational relationships and cultural changes, seen through a series of funerary behaviours.


"17 Amazing Plot Elements... When You See #11, You'll Be Astounded!," James Beamon; Daily Science Fiction, May 3, 2016
http://dailysciencefiction.com/fantasy/religious/james-beamon/17-amazing-plot-elements-when-you-see-11-youll-be-astounded

An interesting approach to the retelling of a very old tale. Short, but worth reading for the way it's told.



"The Right Sort of Monsters," Kelly Sandoval; Strange Horizons, April 4, 2016
http://strangehorizons.com/fiction/the-right-sort-of-monsters/
Powerful story about need, sacrifice and how humans deal with difference. A strange and alien grove - the Godswalk - appears mysteriously beside a village, leaving most of the inhabitants unable to have children of their own. In the forest are the blood trees, whose flowers produce children in return for human blood, children that are not quite human, but human enough. But when Viette enters the forest to seek a child to fill the void left by a series of miscarriages, she learns that the Godswalk hides deeper secrets than she realised.

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What can you say about a novel that opens with unthinkable revenge - a deliberately-evoked cataclysm that will destroy a civilisation and scar a planet - and the searing grief of a mother at the sight of her brutally murdered son? N. K. Jemisin's latest book, Fifth Season, is a brilliantly conceived and executed novel about the unending cycle of destruction and rebirth that is life, set in a world shaped by apocalypse after apocalypse in which history is unreliable and much of the past is lost.

In this world of brokenness and endings, the earth itself is the great antagonist, the Evil Earth, the cruel Father, venting rage on the peoples living on his surface with earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, sometimes on a scale that nearly brings all life to ruin. The only force known to be able to hold back the damage is the gift of the orogenes, a human-seeming people with the ability to sense and manipulate the energies in stone, earth, and even living beings. They can quell or cause the earthshifts, great and small, but unless their powers are trained and under control, the energy they draw from their surroundings to achieve this can kill.

In the time and place of the novel, the current civilisation has found a way to force control on the orogenes, who are treated as potentially dangerous tools, not people, subject to an organisation known as The Fulcrum which gathers orogenes - or roggas, as they are called by most humans - as children and trains them to serve the needs of human society.

The narrative is told in three strands, at three different points in time. On the earliest strand, Damaya, a young orogene discovered when she instinctively uses her powers to defend herself against a human boy, is taken by a Guardian and brought to the Fulcrum for training. In the second strand, an orogene woman named Syrenite is sent by the Fulcrum on a mission with an older and very powerful orogene, Alabaster, to clear a blocked harbour in the city of Allia. And in the third strand, which opens at the moment of the cataclysm, an orogene woman hiding from the Fulcrum, passing as human, finds her dead son, and sets out through the wounded landscape and the post-apocalyptic chaos to track the killer who has taken her daughter.

Like the land itself, the characters are wounded again and again, partially healing only to face yet another catastrophe, and yet in their survival is the hope that something can be salvaged, and that perhaps, if the world is changed enough, there can finally be true healing - even if it is the healing of the end of all things.

The first of a trilogy of books, Fifth Season is a powerful and mature work from a master storyteller.

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N. K. Jemisin's Shades in Shadow is a modest collection - three stories set in the universe of her Inheritance trilogy - but a welcome one. In a sense, these small gems are almost sidebars to the main story told in the trilogy, scenes that were not essential to the overall narrative, but enhance our understanding of some of the characters.

"The Wild Boy" is a prequel, set in the early days of Nahadoth's confinement, and tells a story of his relationship with a mortal determined to avenge himself against those who enslaved him.

In "The God without a Name," a new god born from the body used by Nahadoth during his enslavement searches for his nature and for a reason to continue living.

And in "The Third Why," Glee Oree, demon daughter of Itempas, seeks out her father in the hopes that through him she will find answers to questions she scarcely knows how to ask.

All three tales deal in some fashion with finding meaning in life and reason for living, even if the answers are not always the most productive. They are about understanding one's nature and one's self - and if even gods have trouble with these things, then perhaps in reading these stories we mortals can learn to take it easy on ourselves when we too lack all the answers.

I hope that Jemisin will continue to visit this universe from time to time and bring back more tales to inform and delight us.

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N. K. Jemisin returns to the universe if her amazingly wonderful Inheritance trilogy with a novella set 300 years after the events in the trilogy's final volume. The Awakened Kingdom is a delightful and powerful story of the first god born from the union of Yeine, Itempas and Nahadoth, the new triumvirate of gods that maintain the universe. This very young god (who chooses the name Shill for herself in the course of the story) knows that she is somehow to be a successor to the dead god Sieh, but her attempts to figure out how to do this - to understand her role and purpose in the whole of creation - are not going well at all.

So she decides to manifest in the world, hoping that interactions with mortals will help her find herself. As is the wont of clueless child gods, she ends up making some very large mistakes, and some very major interventions in the lives of the mortals she encounters, but she also learns some very important lessons and grows in some very surprising and powerful ways. This is also the story of a young man who challenges the restrictive roles and limits placed on men in his culture, whose future is changed by his relationship with the questioning child god.

Jemisin has said of this novella:
Shill is a true child god — unlike Sieh, who just played at childhood — and frankly I’m loving her; writing her basically means contemplating how a being with an adult-level intellect, Phenomenal Cosmic Power, and no freaking clue about anything blunders through complicated events. But as the marketing text notes, a good chunk of the story will take place in Darr and focus on a young Darren man, in a society in which men have few rights and forced male circumcision is a thing — so still some Serious Stuff therein.
I must say, I loved reading Shill's voice - and seeing the changes she undergoes and brings about - at least as much as Jemisin loved writing her. In this case, good things definitely come in small packages.

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I did a lot of catching up with various series in 2013. The Completed series:

David Anthony Durham, the Acacia series
Acacia: The Other Lands
Acacia: The Sacred Band

N. K. Jemisin, the Inheritance series
The Broken Kingdoms
Kingdom of the Gods

Christopher Paolini, the Inheritance series
Brisingr
Inheritance

Glenda Larke, the Mirage Makers series
The Shadow of Tyr
The Song of the Shiver Barrens

Charles Saunders, the Imaro series
Imaro: The Naama War

C. J. Cherryh, the Chanur Saga
Chanur's Homecoming
Chanur's Legacy

Elizabeth Bear, Jacob's Ladder series
Chill
Grail

Kage Baker, The Company series
Not Less Than Gods
(Probably the last, given Baker's untimely death)

Michael Thomas Ford, Jane Austen, Vampire series
Jane Goes Batty
Jane Vows Vengeance


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It's always a joy to find a new author whose work intrigues, delights, entertains, or amuses. This year, new authors (and the books that called to me) included:

J. M. Frey, Triptych

Frey's debut novel knocked my socks off. Well written, with characters that come alive, a riveting plot told in an original way, and a careful exploration of gender, race and cultural integration. Loved it.


David Anthony Durham, Acacia: The War with the Mein

First volume of a series that I will definitely have to finish, a sweeping epic of empires and prophesies, politics and war.


N. K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Jemisen's book is another superior entry in the genre of epic fantasy, all the more so because of her highly original style and approach to the matter of moribund empires and supernatural forces that form the basic framework of such novels. Again, a series that I'm looking forward to finishing.


Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire
Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

And how could I not read the YA sensation that everyone else and her cat is reading? Enjoyable if somewhat derivative of many books that have gone before it. The author does well at giving Katniss a true and consistent voice.


Malinda Lo, Ash
Malinda Lo, Huntress

Both of Lo's YA fantasies have been long-listed for James Tipree Jr. Awards, which is always in my mind a formidable argument for checking out a new book. In these books, Lo creates a high fantasy world of humans, elves, ghosts and assorted things that go bump in the night, where her characters can find their own destinies, seking adve ture while challenging gender roles and sexual identities. More, please, Ms. Lo.

Nalini Singh, Angel’s Blood
Nalini Singh, Archangel’s Kiss
Nalini Singh, Archangel’s Consort
Nalini Singh, Archangel’s Blade
Nalini Singh, Angel’s Flight

Singh's books are my newest guilty pleasures. There's actually a lot I don't like about these books, including some very questionable gender isues abd waaaay too much not very original sex. I hate the plot about the spunky woman and the arrogant man who hate each other on sight until he beats her up and then they have mind-blowing sex and stay together despite the fact that he never really repects her as an equal. And these novels are full of that kind of shit. But there's also a very interesting world to explore here, with humans being governed and controlled by powerful winged beings called angels, even though they pretty much lack any compassion or other such angelic qualities, and their servants, the vampires, who are humans infused with a special angelic secretion. It's very much a 'red in tooth and fang' kind of world, with naked power plays all over the place, and that's the bit that fascinates me. So I read them and love to hate them.


Nathan Long, Jane Carver of Waar

And this book, which already has a sequel on the way, is just plain fun. A John Carter of Mars scenario turned upside down, Jane Carver is a biker chick on the lam after accidentally killing a guy who was harrassing her. She finds a secret cave, is transported to a distant low-gravity planet, and the typical Barsoomian-style adventures ensue. Burroughs fans who don't mind gender-bending should love this. Goreans will cringe. And that's a good thing.


Kameron Hurley, Brutal Women

This collection of science fictional short stories by the author of the Bel Dame Apocrypha (a series that I now know I must read) is certainly well-named. Not for the faint of heart, these stories explore women (and other beings of other genders) in the midst of violence - physical, emptional, psychological - and their reactions to such environments. Worth reading and thinking about.

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