aliettedb: (utena)

He, what would you know, it’s January again (aka, wow, where did all the time go, and arggggggg I am so late on things!). The main thing I published in 2015 was my novel (I know, kind of hard to miss :p), The House of Shattered Wings, aka magical intrigues, deadly creatures and elusive wonders in a decadent turn-of-the-century Paris ravaged by a magical war.

It won a British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel, as well as being on the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2015. It also got starred reviews from Publishers’ Weekly and Library Journal. It’s eligible for the Hugos.

I can’t provide a copy of the complete text, but I have put together a short sampler of the first three chapters: bits and pieces of this have appeared online, but this is the first time that you can actually read all of it (I think? The kindle sampler is shorter than this, ending mid-chapter two). You can download it here in EPUB, MOBI, or PDF (if you need DOC or RTF, drop me a line via the contact form, and I’ll be quite happy to provide a copy. I just am not a big fan of putting Word formats online–too easy to modify them by mistake…).

If you came here wanting whole stories (which I can understand!), I do have a Xuya short story online, “Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight”, which won a British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Short Fiction, and  is at Clarkesworld (and is getting reprinted in Dozois’s Year’s Best). You can also download EPUB or MOBI.

And if anyone is interested and a Hugo or Nebula voter, contact me and I’d be quite happy to email you a copy of my novella “The Citadel of Weeping Pearls”, which appeared in Asimov’s Oct/Nov and is now a tad hard to find.

And now for the bulk of this, aka, the stuff that I read from 2015 and want to recommend. (this list is a slightly modified and expanded version of one I wrote for the Book Smugglers. I would urge you to go read it: these recs for 2015 are more up to date, but the Book Smugglers post also has my 2016 TBR pile, and it really looks awesome. I made a slight headstart on said TBR pile thanks to friends, and so far I haven’t been disappointed!).

Short stories
“Variations on an Apple”, Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com, October). It’s no secret that I love Yoon Ha Lee’s stuff, and this clever retelling of the Trojan war is no exception. Tackles mathematics, desire, and the consequences of decisions that aren’t always wisely made. Also, Illium and Helen are both awesome in different ways.

“Milagroso”, Isabel Yap (Tor.com, August). In a future where food is grown in labs and always perfect, there is still room for the miracles of saints… By turns exuberant and heartbreaking, this is a story of what we take for granted, how we seek to protect our children, and the price we pay.

“The Star Maiden”, Rokshani Chokshi. Tala’s grandmother used to be a star maiden, annd tells her granddaughter stories of longing for the sky. But Tala grows up and starts questioning the veracity of the story–and becomes ashamed of her grandmother’s oddness. There’s nothing really surprising in this one, but it’s very very well done (as in I broke down and cried at the end), and encapsulates the heartache of growing up.

“The Monkey House”, Tade Thompson (Omenana, March). The narrator returns to work after a breakdown–and finds that everything is *almost* normal. I love the sense of creeping unease of this one, the feeling that everything looks almost quite right (and that 1% “not right” that is downright unsettling). I’m not usually much of a reader for horror or dark, but this is perfect.

“If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler”, by Xia Jia (Clarkesworld, Nov). I love Xia Jia’s stuff, and this short story about a poet and her legacy–and how people handle it in the age of the internet and social media–is lovely and sharp.

“City of Salt”, Arkady Martine, (Strange Horizons, March). This one has stuck around in my head since I read it: the story of a man who comes back to a deserted city, to face the woman he once knew and what she has become… Poetic and elegiac in all the best ways.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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aliettedb: (utena)

In which I catch up to a lot of books. You’ve been warned (yeah. The snakelet got mobile and my spare time got a lot… busier).
The Very Best of Kate Elliott: an extensive collection of Elliott’s short fiction as well as four illuminating essays, this is utterly wonderful. They’re all very strong stories, focusing on people (mostly women) dealing with war, magic and various other conflicts. The clear highlight for me was “Leaf and Branch and Grass and Vine”, which has the best woman protagonist *ever*, and manage to make a number of pointed remarks about the invisibility of older women and working-class people, but they’re all worth a read.
Glorious Angels, Justina Robson: “glorious” is about the right word for this. Set on a planet colonised by humans a long time ago, and where an intriguing mix of science and magic dominates, this focuses on the Empire, a loose confederation of cities ruled by Empresses who control their subjects through pheromones. But the Empire is enmeshed in a deadly war; and trouble might soon come from within… There’s so much in this–tremendously inventive world building done matter-of-factly, a kickass family (Tralane and her two daughters are just awesome), and mysterious and deadly beings in the shape of the Karoo, creatures who absorb each other to gain knowledge. And an ending that is both satisfying and immensely frustrating (aka I want to know what happens next!).
The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson (ARC from publisher): if you’re not in the mood for brutal and depressing, this is probably not the book for you. It’s been a long while since I read something that was pure tragedy–you know exactly what this book is building up to, and yet you still turn the pages and hope against all hope that there will be a happy ending. (also, the focus on economics and war is really interesting, even though I wasn’t 100% sold on some of the politics). I did find myself wanting to argue with it, at length, after I’d finished it; but I suspect you’re meant to do so.
Shattered Pillars, Steles of the Sky, Elizabeth Bear: I’d read Range of Ghosts, the first volume of the Eternal Sky a while back, when it first came out, but I hadn’t had a chance to check it out until now. Set in a fantasy version of the Silk Road (featuring analogues of Persia, Mongolia and China among others–more as loose inspirations than the actual historical setting), this is a breathtaking epic fantasy with very strong set pieces (and horses! OMG Bansh and her foal), political intrigue and realistic characters (while I love Temur, my favourite is Samarkar, the wizard who was once a princess, and her relationship with Edene, Temur’s fiancée). The ending is heartbreaking and wonderful.
The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu (ARC from publisher): epic fantasy using Ancient China as its foundation. A cross between the Iliad, Three Kingdoms and Lord of the Rings. But it’s also very adult and very modern in its handling of power–who gets it, who is worthy to handle it and how you cling to it. And very very cynical and dark in some ways (the violence is always drily factual, but I’d argue that makes it even more horrific)
It does some amazing things with narration–and one of these is showing how everyone has a story–this might be the tale of Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu, but everyone in the cast ends up feeling very, very human and yet larger than life. It’s a neat trick. Again, I love the cultural foundations of this–scholars and filial duty! Confucius (well, Kong Fiji)! Kites and fireworks as weapons.
I do have one reservation, though, and it’s the same issue I have with Three Kingdoms. Because this is a universe where men do the fighting (and women, with notable exceptions, don’t), and because this is a story of war, women end up being relegated somewhat to the back burner. The story is very aware of it, and aware of how women try to gain power (and there’s subversion going on, more or less subtle), but I still ended up… a bit frustrated? There’s awesome women fighters, and some court intrigues in the last third. (and it looks like book 2 is going to be more about the building of peace and rivalries at court, therefore will remedy this)

NB: the fact that this last one has a longer review doesn’t mean I loved it more than the others! Just that I typed this one when I had a little more time than now, when the snakelet wasn’t mobile yet…

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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aliettedb: (utena)

Composed of Cold Magic, Cold Fire and Cold Steel. Set in an alternate version of Europe where Carthage never fell; where a sheet of ice covers everything north of England and Belgium; and where the Taino Empire still rules in the Caribbean, Kate Elliott’s most recent trilogy is a thing of beauty. It’s a very tightly focused fantasy: the narrator if Catherine (Cat) Hassi Barahal, born into a family of Phoenicians couriers and spies–who finds herself, quite unexpectedly, married to a cold mage from one of the most powerful Houses in Europe, and thurst in the midst of intrigues both political and supernatural.

In the world of Spiritwalker, magic comes in two flavours: cold mages can spread a cold strong enough to douse fires and shatter steel; whereas fire mages channel flames and conflagrations, often to disastrous results. But magic users must take care not to become too powerful; for once a night on Hallow’s Eve, the Wild Hunt comes from the spirit world, and kills and dismembers a powerful magic user. The cold mages are thus powerful, but not overly so; and they govern Europe in a loose alliance with the princes who wield temporal power. But radicals are agitating for equal rights, and the infamous general Camjiata (this storyline’s version of Napoleon), has recently come back from his exile and is busy raising another army to conquer Europe… Cat and her beloved cousin Beatrice (Bee), who both find they have more abilities than they suspect, flee as every faction attempts to lay hands on them and use them for their own purposes.

It’s hard to do justice to the worldbuilding in this: one of Kate Elliott’s great strengths is her ability to create a universe that truly feels lived in–that gives you the impression that it doesn’t solely exist for the plot, and that everyone and everything has an existence that goes beyond the narration of the trilogy. The magical system is also fantastic (magic based on thermodynamics! Entropy between the spirit world and the mortal world!). And the characters really shine: from impulsive and kind-hearted Cat to theatrical and pragmatic Bee; from the arrogant and magnificent cold mage Andevai to the canny and manipulative Camjiata, they all leap off the page–you might not always agree with what they do, but they’re all thoughtfully depicted; and I really loved that the story went unexpected places, and explored issues of consent, equality and power, and how revolutions might or might not be the best way to grant these. And special props to the Master of the Wild Hunt, who’s in a class of his own for manipulative bastard.  Also, the salt plague is one of the awesomest, most refreshing ways of doing zombies in speculative fiction ever (and I say this as someone who’s a bit burnt on the subject of zombies).

There’s a few extras, too: The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal features Bee’s POV, and lovely art by Hugo Award winner Julie Dillon; and “The Courtship” takes up the story a few days after the end of Cold Steel from the POV of another character.

Highly recommended, in case you had doubts.

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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