The Strange and Familiar Nominees for the 2019 Hugo Awards

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

The nominees for the 2019 Hugo Awards were announced this morning via streaming webcast straight from Dublin, Ireland, home of the 77th annual World Science Fiction Convention, and the lucky honorees represent the daring, strange—and familiar—flavors of sci-fi and fantasy that defined last year.

All six authors vying for Best Novel this year are prior Hugo nominees, and three of them—Mary Robinette Kowal (The Calculating Stars), Rebecca Roanhorse (Trail of Lightning), and Catherynne Valente (Space Opera)—even won, though none of those trophies was for a novel. The three others facing off in the category—Naomi Novik (Spinning Silver), Becky Chambers (Record of a Spaceborn Few), and Yoon Ha Lee (Revenant Gun)—are celebrating nominations for consecutive novels, though not all were published in consecutive years. (Also worth noting: Roanhorse, Novik, and Kowal’s novels are contenders at this year’s Nebulas.)

There are fresher faces elsewhere on the ballot, including P. Djèlí Clark, nominated two times this year, for Best Novella for The Black God’s Drums and Best Short Story for “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington.” Alix E. Harrow also celebrates her first nomination for her short story “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” while the Best Novelette category features first-timers Simone Heller and Zen Cho—who, we’re pleased to say, picked up her nomination for “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again,” a lovely story of love, perseverance, and dragons that was published right here on The B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog.

As ever, an established career and a dedicated fan following have their perks: in its third year, the Best Series Hugo sees its first repeat nominee, for Seanan McGuire’s October Daye urban fantasy series, while Aliette de Bodard, Yoon Ha Lee, and Becky Chambers are nominated for series whose recent individual works are also recognized in other categories this year.

With additional nominations for familiar names like Jo Walton and Ursula K. Le Guin (who earned her second posthumous nomination), what is perhaps most notable about this year’s slate—aside from the uniform excellence of the works recognized—is the how very traditionally Hugo they are. After a number of years during which the most storied honor in genre became mired in political gamesmanship, controversy, and no small amount of anger, this year’s ballot seems to do nothing more than speak to the year in SFF that was 2018, as it was seen by the WorldCon fandom.

And that’s the way it should be.

The Hugo Award winners will be announced in August at Dublin 2019. The complete list of nominees follows.

Best Novel

The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
The first of a pair of prequel novels to Kowal’s award-winning novelette The Lady Astronaut of MarsThe Calculating Stars (also a Nebula nominee) delves into the alternate history that resulted in humanity establishing a colony on Mars in the middle of the 20th century. In the spring of 1952, a huge meteor hits Chesapeake Bay, taking out most of the Eastern United States. Mathematician and former military pilot Elma York and her scientist husband Nate are there to witness the destruction, and Elma knows immediately that this is an ELE—an extinction-level event—and that humanity must look to the stars if it has any hope of survival. Although her experience as a pilot and her math skills earn Elma a place in the International Aerospace Coalition as a calculator, she begins to wonder why women can’t be astronauts as well—and she’s more than willing to confront racism, sexism, and more personal enemies on her quest to become the first lady astronaut. This is one of those books that seems to have come along at just the right moment, bringing together fascinating, inspiring characters; compelling, plausible worldbuilding; and a message that resonates—especially today. Read our review.

Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager)
This standalone followup to A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit explores what happens to those passengers on the generation ships humanity used to escape Earth who don’t know how to leave their vessels behind. The Exodans are the largest concentration of humanity anywhere in the universe; they are the descendants of those who left a poisoned Earth two centuries before on a flotilla of hope. The novel explores what happens to them after the ship reaches its destination: both to those who venture forth into new lives, and those who stay behind. Chambers’ books are celebrated for their warmth and diverse characters, but her worldbuilding is also stellar; it’s a delight to spend more time in this universe. Read our interview with the author.

Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
Lee brings the Hugo and Nebula award-nominated Machineries of Empire trilogy to its conclusion in mathematical style with a brainy, fast-paced final entry. Shuos Jedao wakes up in the body of a much older man rather than the 17-year old one his memories led him to expect. He’s shocked to discover he’s now a general, commanded by Hexarch Nirai Kujen—a tyrant hiding behind an easy smile—to conquer the haxarchate using an army compelled to obey his every command. Worse—he quickly discovers that the soldiers despise him for a massacre he doesn’t remember committing. Worst—someone is hunting him, seeking to bring him to justice for his crimes. The first two books in the series stretched imaginations and taxed brains, and this one is no different—and no less worth the effort it takes to puzzle it out. Read our review.

Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente (Saga Press)
Valente spins a truly nutty disco ball of a sci-fi story that begins with the Sentience Wars that nearly eradicate all intelligent life in the universe; when they end, the scattered survivors regroup and begin a new tradition designed to avoid future apocalypses: the Metagalactic Grand Prix, a universe-wide competition of song and dance open only to recognized sentient species. When any new species emerges onto the universal stage to declare itself sentient—like, say, humanity—they must send contestants to the Grand Prix to prove their worth and quite literally sing for their lives (though alien singing doesn’t always sound like a Top 40 hit). Place anything but last and the upstart civilization is a part of the club. If they come in last, they’re quietly exterminated, in the name of preserving universal peace. (Tough choices, people…and not people.) When Earth is unexpectedly pulled into the next contest, the task of saving humanity falls to a has-been rock star named Decibel Jones, who must grapple with the demons of his past while venturing reluctantly onto the largest stage of all-time. It’s a a second chance to be a glitter-bombed rock star. or die trying—along with everyone else. Inspired by her dual love for Eurovision and Douglas Adams, this one is pure Catherynne Valente, from the first page to the last. Read our review.

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Drawing on Eastern European folklore and the classic fairy tale of Rumplestiltskin, Novik tells the story of Miryem, daughter in a family of Jewish moneylenders led by her incompetent father. With their fortunes on the wane due to his poor business sense, Miryem must step in and turn the family business around. Inspired by a mixture of desperation and genius, she responds by spinning debts into gold—gold that attracts the attention of the Staryk, emotionless fairies who bring winter with them. The Staryk give Miryem Fairy Silver and demand she transform it, too. Miryem does so by turning the beautiful metal into jewelry that attracts the attention of the rich and powerful—but her success brings her more Staryk attention, and thus more problems. Novik’s first standalone novel to come along in the wake of the Nebula Award-winning Uprooted had a tough act to follow, but Spinning Silver—expanded from a short story included in anthology The Starlit Wood—is every bit as enchanting. Read our review.

Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga Press)
Roanhorse’s buzzy debut is set in a post-apocalyptic world comparable to Mad Max: Fury Road in intensity, with worldbuilding drawn from the author’s Indigenous American heritage. In an America devastated by rising sea levels, the Navajo Nation has been reborn as Dinétah—and with it have come the old gods and monsters of Native American legend. Maggie Hoskie is a monster-hunter, gifted with the power to fight and defeat these beasts. Hired by a small town to locate a missing girl, she teams up with a misfit medicine man named Kai Arviso, and the two dive into a mystery that takes them deeper into the dark side of Dinétah than they could have imagined—a world of tricksters, dark magic, and creatures more frightening than any story. Trail of Lightning is an audacious take on the conventions of both urban fantasy and the post-apocalyptic novel, binding them together in a way that could only and ever happen in Dinétah. Read our review.

Best Novella

Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)

Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)

Binti: The Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing)

The Black God’s Drums, by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, by Kelly Robson (Tor.com Publishing)

The Tea Master and the Detective, by Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean Press / JABberwocky Literary Agency)

Best Novelette

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again,” by Zen Cho (B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog)

“The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections,” by Tina Connolly (Tor.com)

“Nine Last Days on Planet Earth,” by Daryl Gregory (Tor.com)

The Only Harmless Great Thing, by Brooke Bolander (Tor.com Publishing)

“The Thing About Ghost Stories,” by Naomi Kritzer (Uncanny Magazine #25)

“When We Were Starless,” by Simone Heller (Clarkesworld #145, October 2018)

Best Short Story

“The Court Magician,” by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed, January 2018)

“The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society,” by T. Kingfisher (Uncanny Magazine #25)

“The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington,” by P. Djèlí Clark (Fireside Magazine, February 2018)

“STET,” by Sarah Gailey (Fireside Magazine, October 2018)

“The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat,” by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny Magazine #23)

“A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies,” by Alix E. Harrow (Apex Magazine, February 2018)

Best Series

The Centenal Cycle, by Malka Older (Tor.com Publishing)

The Laundry Files, by Charles Stross (Tor.com Publishing)

Machineries of Empire, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)

The October Daye Series, by Seanan McGuire (DAW)

The Universe of Xuya, by Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean Press)

Wayfarers, by Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager)

Best Related Work

Archive of Our Own, a project of the Organization for Transformative Works

Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, by Alec Nevala-Lee (Dey Street Books)

The Hobbit Duology, written and edited by Lindsay Ellis and Angelina Meehan (YouTube)

An Informal History of the Hugos: A Personal Look Back at the Hugo Awards, 1953-2000, by Jo Walton (Tor)

The Mexicanx Initiative Experience at Worldcon 76 (Julia Rios, Libia Brenda, Pablo Defendini, John Picacio)

Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing, by Ursula K. Le Guin with David Naimon (Tin House Books)

Best Graphic Story

Abbott, written by Saladin Ahmed, art by Sami Kivelä, colours by Jason Wordie, letters by Jim Campbell (BOOM! Studios)

Black Panther: Long Live the King, written by Nnedi Okorafor and Aaron Covington, art by André Lima Araújo, Mario Del Pennino and Tana Ford (Marvel)

Monstress, Vol. 3: Haven, written by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda (Image Comics)

On a Sunbeam, by Tillie Walden (First Second)

Paper Girls, Vol. 4, written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Cliff Chiang, colors by Matt Wilson, letters by Jared K. Fletcher (Image Comics)

Saga, Vol. 9, written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Annihilation, directed and written for the screen by Alex Garland, based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer (Paramount)

Avengers: Infinity War, screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Studios)

Black Panther, written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, directed by Ryan Coogler (Marvel Studios)

A Quiet Place, screenplay by Scott Beck, John Krasinski and Bryan Woods, directed by John Krasinski (Platinum Dunes/Sunday Night)

Sorry to Bother You, written and directed by Boots Riley (Annapurna Pictures)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, screenplay by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman (Sony)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

The Expanse: “Abaddon’s Gate,” written by Daniel Abraham, Ty Franck and Naren Shankar, directed by Simon Cellan Jones

Doctor Who: “Demons of the Punjab,” written by Vinay Patel, directed by Jamie Childs

Dirty Computer, written by Janelle Monáe, directed by Andrew Donoho and Chuck Lightning

The Good Place: “Janet(s),” written by Josh Siegal & Dylan Morgan, directed by Morgan Sackett

The Good Place: “Jeremy Bearimy,” written by Megan Amram, directed by Trent O’Donnell

Doctor Who: “Rosa,” written by Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall, directed by Mark Tonderai

Best Professional Editor, Short Form

Neil Clarke

Gardner Dozois

Lee Harris

Julia Rios

Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas

Catherine Tobler 

Best Professional Editor, Long Form

Sheila E. Gilbert

Anne Lesley Groell

Beth Meacham

Diana Pho

Gillian Redfearn

Navah Wolfe

Best Professional Artist

Galen Dara

Jaime Jones

Victo Ngai

John Picacio

Yuko Shimizu

Charles Vess

Best Semiprozine

Beneath Ceaseless Skies, editor-in-chief and publisher Scott H. Andrews

Fireside Magazine, edited by Julia Rios, managing editor Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, social coordinator Meg Frank, special features editor Tanya DePass, founding editor Brian White, publisher and art director Pablo Defendini

FIYAH Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, executive editors Troy L. Wiggins and DaVaun Sanders, editors L.D. Lewis, Brandon O’Brien, Kaleb Russell, Danny Lore, and Brent Lambert

Shimmer, publisher Beth Wodzinski, senior editor E. Catherine Tobler

Strange Horizons, edited by Jane Crowley, Kate Dollarhyde, Vanessa Rose Phin, Vajra Chandrasekera, Romie Stott, Maureen Kincaid Speller, and the Strange Horizons Staff

Uncanny Magazine, publishers/editors-in-chief Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, managing editor Michi Trota, podcast producers Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky, Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction Special Issue editors-in-chief Elsa Sjunneson-Henry and Dominik Parisien

Best Fanzine

Galactic Journey, founder Gideon Marcus, editor Janice Marcus

Journey Planet, edited by Team Journey Planet

Lady Business, editors Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, & Susan

nerds of a feather, flock together, editors Joe Sherry, Vance Kotrla and The G

Quick Sip Reviews, editor Charles Payseur

Rocket Stack Rank, editors Greg Hullender and Eric Wong

Best Fancast

Be the Serpent, presented by Alexandra Rowland, Freya Marske and Jennifer Mace

The Coode Street Podcast, presented by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe

Fangirl Happy Hour, hosted by Ana Grilo and Renay Williams

Galactic Suburbia, hosted by Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts, produced by Andrew Finch

Our Opinions Are Correct, hosted by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders

The Skiffy and Fanty Show, produced by Jen Zink and Shaun Duke, hosted by the Skiffy and Fanty Crew 

Best Fan Writer

Foz Meadows

James Davis Nicoll

Charles Payseur

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry

Alasdair Stuart

Bogi Takács

Best Fan Artist

Sara Felix

Grace P. Fong

Meg Frank

Ariela Housman

Likhain (Mia Sereno)

Spring Schoenhuth

Best Art Book

The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition, illustrated by Charles Vess, written by Ursula K. Le Guin (Saga Press)

Daydreamer’s Journey: The Art of Julie Dillon, by Julie Dillon (self-published)

Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History, by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, Sam Witwer (Ten Speed Press)

Spectrum 25: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, edited by John Fleskes (Flesk Publications)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse—The Art of the Movie, by Ramin Zahed (Titan Books)

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, edited by Catherine McIlwaine (Bodleian Library)

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Katherine Arden (2nd year of eligibility)

S.A. Chakraborty (2nd year of eligibility)

R.F. Kuang (1st year of eligibility)

Jeannette Ng (2nd year of eligibility)

Vina Jie-Min Prasad (2nd year of eligibility)

Rivers Solomon (2nd year of eligibility)

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton (Freeform)

Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt)

The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black (Little, Brown)

Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland (Balzer + Bray)

The Invasion, by Peadar O’Guilin (Scholastic)

Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman (Random House)

Who are you pulling for at this year’s Hugo Awards? Let us know in the comments.

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Sci-Fi & Fantasy Short Fiction Roundup: February 2019

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Cover art from Lightspeed issue 105; art by Grandfailure/Fotolia

This month brought us stories about a strange and powerful necklace, unexpected extraterrestrial life, a haunted town, a haunting spaceship, a superhero struggling with homework, new lives, and old sins.

The Lights Go out, One by One“, by Kofi Nyameye in Asimov’s March/April 2019
A crew awakes from cryo-sleep in a spaceship far away from our solar system, on a mission to save Earth from certain destruction. Kofi Nyameye’s story begins in a way that brings to mind many a classic sci-fi tale, then blindsides you in the best way. The facts of the mission, the scope of the danger humanity is facing, and what ultimately happens to the crew: all put an almighty twist on familiar “heroes save the Earth” tropes. Nyameye infuses the narrative with a terse sense of humor while simultaneously trying her best to break your heart. It’s one of several excellent stories in Asimov’s special tribute issue to its former editor, the late Gardner Dozois.

The Crying Bride“, by Carrie Laben in The Dark
Carrie Laben has a knack for crafting quietly unsettling stories, often set in worlds that seem familiar, until you glimpse the eerie darkness moving just beneath the surface. The narrator of “The Crying Bride” is an old woman being interviewed by a young relative who wants to find out more about their family’s past. As the narrator tells the story of her childhood—about a necklace found under a strange apple tree, about what happened once she started wearing it, about her abusive uncle, and a family that seemed unable to understand or accept her—we realize that more than one deep, dark secret has shaped the lives of both the narrator and her visitor in profound ways. It’s a haunting story about the power of finding your purpose in life and defying those who would hold you back. Fans of Laben’s work should also keep an eye out for her debut novel A Hawk in the Woods, coming later this year.

Due By the End of the Week“, by Brandon O’Brien in Fireside Fiction
Kelly and Derek go to the same school and are both facing some serious life-challenges: a) they have to complete an important school assignment with someone they’d rather not work with, and b) they live in a city that is under attack by aliens. Well, the aliens are mainly a problem for Kelly, who is stretched to the max, what with being a superhero and trying to maintain her grades. I love the action and humor of this story, and how O’Brien lets Derek and Kelly take turns as narrators, giving us two very different perspectives on both the crisis facing the city and their no less fraught attempts to work together on that assignment. It’s a rollicking, riveting tale, and makes some good points giving others a chance to show us who they really are before we judge them.

A Catalog of Storms“, by Fran Wilde in Uncanny Magazine
In this fantasy story by Fran Wilde, weathermen don’t forecast the weather on TV. Instead, they wield magic and name storms as they battle the weather itself, which has become far more perilous than it used to be. (To whit: “The storms got smarter than us….after we broke the weather.”) Only some have the inherent ability o become weathermen, but it’s a magic that comes with a price: you must leave your family, and you are ever at risk of turning into clouds, rain, or lightning. Wilde writes with empathy and insight about the relationships within families, especially between siblings; her characters feel utterly real, no matter how fantastical the setting. Here, she crafts a powerful story about children who are willing and able to fight, even when their mother would rather keep them out of harm’s way. For more of Wilde’s work, check out her middle-grade novel Riverland, arriving in April of this year.

Ghosts of Bari“, by Wren Wallis in Shimmer
In a strange part of space, a salvage vessel with a rugged and motley crew encounters a ship so ancient it should not even exist. It does not respond to their hails, but in spite of its age, its systems appear to be functional, if sleeping. It’s pretty much an irresistible opening for a science fiction story, and Wren Wallis fulfills and exceeds expectations for what might follow with a taut, suspenseful, and beautifully wrought tale about the ghosts of the past, the stories we share, and the things we’ll do, even under the most extreme circumstances, to keep our humanity intact. “Ghosts of Bari” is the final story in the final issue of Shimmer, and it’s a gripping, profoundly moving tale that marks a fitting end for one of the best zines in speculative fiction.

Debtor’s Door“, by Sarah Cavar in Vulture Bones
“Debtor’s Door” takes the form of letters from a dedicated student who has just entered a new “expedited undergrad program.” With each missive grows ever stronger the feeling that something is not quite right at the school; it seems the students are somehow (literally) being consumed, their body parts slowly disappearing. Cavar skillfully uses the medium of the increasingly erratic correspondence to convey a growing sense of unease and wrongness, with prose suffused with an air of encroaching existential horror. It’s a remarkably potent illustration of the damage stress and unreasonable expectations can inflict, distorting and disfiguring our thoughts, our sense of self, our very bodies.

Life Sentence“, by Matthew Baker in Lightspeed
A man returns home after being convicted of a serious crime. His punishment is a life sentence, but it will not be served in prison. Instead, he has undergone a procedure that removes all memory of the crime and of his life and thoughts from the time he committed the crime. To facilitate his reintegration into society, he’s not supposed to try to find out what he did, and his family and those around him have been told not to talk about it. As strange as the situation is, he tries to fit his new self into his old life, but keeps wondering if it wouldn’t be better to at least know what he did. Wouldn’t it be better to remember, no matter how painful the truth is? Matthew Baker has crafted a thoughtful, wrenching story that provides no easy answers.

Do Not Look Back, My Lion“, by Alix E. Harrow in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Eefa is running from the city of Xot, from the Emperor and her ceaseless war-making, from her own sacred duties as a healer and a husband, from her near-daughters and near-son. From her wife. It is a terrible, cowardly thing to do, but not as terrible or cowardly as staying where she was.” It’s a quite a feat to fit an epic tale of love and war and betrayal into the parameters of a short story, but Alix E. Harrow does just that in this lush and harrowing fantasy tale. Eefa lives in a world at war, and she’s married to the realm’s foremost fighter. Like every citizen, she is expected to sacrifice whatever is needed, including her children, to keep the war-machine going. When she decides to rebel, she risks losing everything. It’s a memorable and satisfying story of romance, tragedy, and action, set in a uniquely imagined world.

The Message“, by Vanessa Fogg in The Future Fire
Vanessa Fogg writes subtle and intricate speculative fiction that packs a big emotional punch, and this story is an excellent introduction to her work. “The Message” blends a hard science fiction story of a mysterious extraterrestrial message with a poignant tale about long-distance friendship, a family drifting apart, and the joys of fan-fiction. The result is a luminous and compelling, a story about our longing for contact and connection across vast distances, and about how relationship can alter our lives. If you enjoy it, look for Fogg’s “Traces of Us” in Neil Clarke’s upcoming The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume 4 (available in July).

Quiet the Dead“, by Micah Dean Hicks in Nightmare
“Quiet the Dead” is set in a run-down, working-class town where life revolves around the local pork processing plant and people are haunted by the ghosts of the dead. These ghosts are not pale apparitions; they cling to the living, invading their bodies and tainting their minds. Kay tries to keep herself and her family afloat, and every day she struggles not to give in to the urges of her ghost. “The ghost that haunted Kay moved through her blood like gasoline. It craved to fight, its need to blacken the eye of the world the only thing that kept it from slipping into death.” This is one of the most visceral and disturbing horror stories I’ve encountered recently, and it made me think deeply about the ways in which despair and violence can poison every facet of society, and how difficult it can be to break free from the past.

What’s the best SFF short story you read in February?

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Sci-Fi & Fantasy Short Fiction Roundup: December 2018

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

“Belt 71” by Pascal Blanché, for Clarkesworld #147

In December, at the tail end of the year, I read stories of strange and familiar shapeshifters, the Moon and her hounds, an alt-historical Beatrix Potter, post-apocalyptic dentistry, the dangers of mining on Earth and other planets, the trials of Martyrs, and the tribulations of a future shrouded in smog.

The Island of Beasts“, by Carrie Vaughn, in Nightmare
A woman in chains is brought to an island and unceremoniously dumped by her captors. She’s been banished from the mainland not just because she is a wolf-woman (a rare thing even in a world where wolf-men are known to exist), but because she is “too dangerous to keep and not valuable enough to bother taming.” On the island, exiled men of her own wolfish, shapeshifting kind approach her with rather selfish plans for her life on the island. However, she turns out to be more strong-willed, and less easily swayed, than they might have thought. Vaughn spins a gripping and wonderfully rich yarn, the kind of enthralling read that makes me want to curl up in a comfy chair by the fireplace and lose myself in every beautifully crafted word. (The podcast version is also excellent, narrated by Stefan Rudnicki).

The Coal Remembers What It Was“, by Paul R. Hardy, in Diabolical Plots
In this story, as its title reveals, the coal really does remember what it was. When a piece of coal burns, it remembers and reveals the creature it was, the place they lived, the world that once existed. Elsie, our storyteller, remembers too. She remembers growing up in a coal-mining town; remembers her dad covered in coal dust; remembers her mother, working her fingers to the bone to keep the family happy, fed, and clothed. Elsie also remembers the day when the coalmine, and the coal in the ground with all its memories, claimed the town and almost everyone in it. Hardy captures Elsie’s voice perfectly, and tells a vivid, compelling tale that hooked me from the beginning.

Girls Who Do Not Drown“, by A.C. Buchanan, in Apex Magazine
“This is an island that sends all its girls into the sea,” Buchanan writes, and proceeds to tell us about the girls that leave and the girls that stay, the girls that come back and the girls that are lost forever beneath the waves. Then, Buchanan tells us about Alice, who is young and drunk, who feels lost and hopeless, who is sad and fearsome all at once, and who is smoking on the beach when she meets a glashtyn, a shapeshifter that means to carry her into the sea. Buchanan’s prose cuts like a razor; if you remember adolescence, and if you’ve lived in a place where you felt hemmed in on all sides, you might love this story as much as I did.

Beatrix Released“, by Shaenon K. Garrity, in Escape Pod
Until I listened to this simultaneously delightful and harrowing tale, I did not know that I needed to read a twisted, alternate history take on the life of Beatrix Potter, but apparently I did. Garrity’s story is written in the form of diary entries by Potter herself, and it captures a mind of whimsy and brilliance that feels absolutely right for the character. This young Beatrix is a talented artist, but her talents extend far beyond illustrations and children’s stories, and as the tale progresses, it pulls you down the strangest, darkest, loveliest rabbit hole, full of cute (and rather intelligent) mice, ducks, dogs, cats, and…oh yes, there’s also a nefarious plot involving undercover work for the British government, and a whole lot of explosives. Fabulous narration by Katherine Inskip.

Mouths“, by Lizz Huerta, in Lightspeed
“Times were strange, and those who survived the collapse had a jarring mixtape of skills. Plumbers were holy men, exorcising the encampments of the demons of human waste.” In Huerta’s uniquely imagined post-apocalyptic world, plumbers, as well as sex workers and dentists, are highly prized and well-regarded. Somewhere on the Pacific coast of this changed and changing world, a woman called Fai has to trek far away from home to find a dentist after she injures her jaw. Fai finds the dentist, a man called El Buitre, and he heals her (after a fashion), but the process changes both Fai’s life and body in unexpected ways. Huerta’s future is a fascinating one, and his story is evocative and powerful, told with prose that is at once terse and finely wrought.

Russula’s Wake“, by Kay Chronister, in The Dark
In this quietly unsettling story, the monstrous and the everyday exist side by side in the same isolated farm house, and within the same family. Jane is raising her three children by herself after her husband’s death. While she is human, her late spouse was something else—and so are the children. The older two already “nourish” rather than eat, and even their mother fears to look at their true faces. And while the youngest still seems fully human as she plays with and cares for the farm’s barn cats, Jane knows it won’t last. Chronister’s story finds the unsettling darkness that hides in the seams of ordinary life, and picks away at them until they burst open, giving us a glimpse of the darkness within.

Bringing Down the Sky“, by Alan Bao, in Clarkesworld #147
Bao’s story is set in a future where smog is suffocating and plentiful, and where clean air is a rare and expensive commodity people are willing to pay a lot of money for. It’s set in a village in China where the locals make a living going up Big Sky Ridge, looking for clean air they can capture in special canisters for later sale. Theirs is a small-scale operation in a business increasingly dominated by bigger “sky-running” companies; inevitably, outsiders come along, looking for a way to make a bigger profit. Bao’s science fiction tale has a grimy, lived-in texture I really loved, and his world and characters feel both real and complex. This is not a story about good and evil, but a story about human beings trying to make a life and a living in a hard world.

The Glint of Light on Broken Glass“. by Jennifer R. Donohue, in Truancy Magazine
As opening lines go, this one is a gem: “The Moon sits on the windowsill of the butcher shop, smoking cigarettes. The butcher doesn’t mind, much, because the Moon is good company…” It’s the start of a story about the literal Moon, who occasionally comes to Earth with her dogs (knocking out the WiFi whenever she visits), and a hard-working butcher suffering through a string of failed assistants (who are also failed boyfriends), until finally, one night, something goes terribly, horribly awry for them both. Donohue skillfully weaves together gleaming threads of lunar folklore with the cigarette-stained, bloody strands of real life, crafting a moving tale that contains both love and horror.

Salting the Mine“, by Peter Wood, in Asimov’s
On a planet far away from Earth, human settlers and alien locals co-exist rather happily. Once upon a time, something terrible (referred to as “the Event”) occurred here, wreaking havoc with the climate, but the aliens don’t like to talk about it. The humans set up a mining operation when they arrived, but when trouble on Earth left them cut off from communications and trade, the mine eventually closed. The locals are quite happy with the way things are, but things change when a ship arrives from Earth, and someone wants to start mining again… Wood’s story is an entertaining page-turner with great characters, a subtle environmental message, and a good sense of humor.

A Martyr’s Art“, by J.P. Sullivan, in Beneath Ceaseless Skies
In J.P. Sullivan’s thrilling fantasy tale, a special group of people called Martyrs has the power to take on the hurts and injuries of others, healing the afflicted in the process. A Martyr can heal, whether the “injury” is a hangover or a mortal wound received in a duel. Chalcedony is a Martyr serving the powerful Lord Sebastien, though her servitude feels to her like slavery. A chance to change her fate arrives when a ship with a mysterious and seemingly incredibly valuable cargo comes to the City. Sullivan’s story is lush in every detail, and it kept me enthralled from start to finish.

What’s the best SFF short story you read in 2018?

The post Sci-Fi & Fantasy Short Fiction Roundup: December 2018 appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

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Sci-Fi and Fantasy Short Fiction Roundup: November 2018

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

“The Word of Flesh and Soul” by Rovina Cal

This month, we read stories about the power of words to change the world, stories about the moon and Mars, stories about Little Red Riding Hood, and wolves haunting the forest, and soldiers haunted by war, and dreams of all sorts.

Toward A New Lexicon of Augury“, by Sabrina Vourvoulias, in Apex Magazine
In a North American city in a near-future world ravaged by climate change and ruled by predatory companies and politicians, a group of brujas—witches—are fighting for a better, more just, society using whatever magic they have at their disposal. This riveting story is full of poetry and politics, and it hones in on the power of words: “...it all starts with words, don’t you know? And ends that way, too.” Vourvoulias delves deep into themes of resistance and sacrifice, illustrating the despair and hope we all might feel when we try to change the world. If you like this story, I highly recommend you check out Sabrina Vourvoulias’s novel Ink, recently rereleased by Rosarium Publishing. (You’ll also find it recommended on this blog’s list of 50 Science Fiction Essentials Written By Women.)

Other People’s Dreams“, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, in The Magazine of Fantasy & SF Nov/Dec 2018
A beautifully written story about a world where some people can sense other’s dreams, and where some are also able to craft dreams, both for themselves and others. Bardo is an apprentice at a dream store, a renowned establishment owned by the enigmatic Rowan. When Rowan receives an unusual request for a dream that must be crafted off-world, old memories of guilt, death, and family are brought to the fore, and the work puts Rowan’s very life in danger. Hoffman expertly pulls you in to her compelling world. I loved the vivid descriptions of both the characters and the dream-crafting itself.

Moonboys“, by Stephen Graham Jones, in Lightspeed 
Two brothers are on the moon. They have imagined and dreamt about going to there for pretty much their whole lives, and now that they’re there, something has gone wrong. This is a science fiction story that isn’t really about tech or science. It’s about the bond between siblings, a thread that ties you to each other from childhood, a time of sharing dreams, and lives, and backyards. Profoundly moving, this is also a story about love and loss, and it packs a heavy emotional punch without a big word count.

Rotkäppchen“, by Emily McCosh, in Shimmer
I have an undying love for the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and for the many retellings of that fairy tale. This story by Emily McCosh is a stirring new take on the classic. Adeline is an old woman who was once a girl who wore a red cloak and met a strange wolf. She is now herself a grandmother, and her son has mysteriously died—killed by bears in the woods, people say. There is both good and perilous magic hiding in those woods, and McCosh weaves her own magic and wonder into every sentence of her story. The joy of a good retelling is in seeing someone twist and turn an old jewel and find new facets, making it sparkle in new ways under different light. That’s exactly what McCosh does here.

Soldier’s Things“, by Tim Lees, in Interzone #278 
A soldier is back from the war, broken and shattered, the cybernetic implants in his head destroyed. In Lees’s future, soldiers are programmed to make them more reliable fighters, but when the programming fails, one soldier finds himself lost in more ways than one. The world away from the fighting seems alien, and the people who haven’t fought in the war can’t comprehend its true horrors. Lees masterfully explores the suffering and loss triggered by a conflict that is mercilessly using up the world, and the people in it. This is a powerful story that resonates as both great science fiction and a harrowing parable about the costs of war.

Radio Free Heartland“, by Corey Mallonee, in Cast of Wonders
Tessa is only a kid, but she has already shot a man. In the aftermath, her mom told her she had to leave home, and at a rest stop off the highway, she meets Smoke. Smoke tells her he can take her to a city where she’ll be safe, but as it turns out, the city isn’t exactly the kind of place you drive to… Quietly compelling, Mallonee’s story deals with difficult issues like sexual assault (implied rather than graphically depicted) and growing up without the support of friends or family. It also offers up one of the most uniquely imagined magic rituals I’ve seen in a story recently, involving an old radio. The narration by Karen Bovenmeyer is wonderful.

You Can’t Grow Corn on the Moon“, by Brendan William-Childs, in Vulture Bones #3
This sci-fi story starts out in a slaughterhouse on Earth, where Manuel dreams about emigrating to Mars, while Nina is haunted by memories of what happened when she was there. A company looking for new recruits to fuel its planetary expansion will impact both of their lives. William-Childs tells a rich and layered tale set in a future solar system with limited options and limited resources. It’s a story about friendship and fraught relationships, and, ultimately, about how to make a life for yourself after your dreams have turned to dust.

My Name Is Cybernetic Model XR389F, and I Am Beautiful“, by Monica Valentinelli in Uncanny Magazine
Darkly funny, and with an edge razor-sharp enough to cut those who try to justify or condone sexual harassment and misogyny, Valentinelli’s story is a thing of spiky, angry beauty. It is told from the perspective of a cyborg working as a custodial engineer in a lab as it tries to make sense of the seemingly erratic behavior of another cyborg, and the increasingly strange actions of a human, Senior Engineer Robert Brandt. I love the way Valentinelli breaks down the cyborg’s responses to the rather questionable situations it is asked to endure, eventually leading it to take dramatic action.

The Only Way Out Lies Farther In“, by David Tallerman, in The Dark
This is one of the most terrifying stories I’ve read recently. Tallerman doesn’t frighten with gore or jump-scares, but by build a framework of tension around you and then expertly tightening the screws until you can barely breathe. A family goes into a rather mundane-looking maze and somehow while they are walking through it, everything changes. When they come out (did they come out?), their lives are never the same. There’s a soul-chilling, existential dread lurking beneath the everyday surface of this one.

The Word of Flesh and Soul“, by Ruthanna Emrys, at Tor.com
A ravishing, riveting story about an ancient language, “the tongue of the originators”—a dialect so powerful that those studying it risk being physically, and maybe mentally, transformed. Only fragments of the writing still exist, and access to them is controlled by a secretive group of mostly male academics. However, Polymede Anagnos and Erishti Musaru are determined to publish their own revolutionary findings, no matter what the cost. Emrys’s story is a luminous tale of language and love and determination, of risking everything because of your passion. The author has expanded her stories to novel-length before, and I can only hope that at some point, there will be a novel set in this world, too.

Read any memorable stories in November?

The post Sci-Fi and Fantasy Short Fiction Roundup: November 2018 appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

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