Blogging the Nebulas: Calculating the Odds

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

This is my fifth year #BloggingTheNebulas. For two years running, I’ve managed to predict the winner correctly. The two years before that, not so much. I would say that gives me even odds of getting it right this time around, but that’s not really how award predictions work. I can point at current trends or past preferences among the Nebula voters, but untimely what is being judged are the merits of a work of art. A book’s impact on any given reader is personal, and the personal defies statistics.

The Nebula nominees for Best Novel are generally excellent: a half-dozen or so sifted out of the hundreds published every year by other pro writers who know craft when they see it. Though I try not to let my own tastes influence my predictions—I am not a Nebula voter—I’d like to note just how much I personally enjoyed every single nominee this year. My shaky prediction of which one might win should not be taken as a criticism of those that might not. For me, reading (or rereading) all six nominees has been its own reward.

With that, I’ll begin with the books I think are less likely to take home the Nebula. It is here I will slot in our three debut novels: Witchmark, by C.L. Polk; The Poppy Warby R.F. Kuang; and Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse. There is recent precedent for a first novel winning the Nebula—Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice in 2014; Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl in 2009—but writers tend to only get better with each book. (I’m putting an asterisk next to Charlie Jane Anders’ win for All the Birds in the Sky in 2017; while it was a first genre novel, it wasn’t her first novel, and that year was strange in other ways—five of the six nominees were debuts of one kind or another, and the sixth was a sequel.) Generally, I think later books in an author’s career have a leg up.

C.L. Polk’s Witchmark is set at the end of a Great War, in a world recalling but not exactly own early 20th century England—this one has been influenced by a magical system that has been twisted for political ends. The main character is a physician who was once a subjugated member of one his country’s ruling magical families; in order to escape being used as a sort of human battery for his sister’s magic, Miles Singer joined the military and escaped to the front lines. (That war seemed preferable to chaining his life to his sister’s power tells you something important about the privileged life he rejected.) Witchmark addresses the very personal effects of empire building: our physician’s patients are all soldiers suffering from the psychological traumas of war, and he himself has not gone unscathed by both his upbringing and his time as a soldier. I really enjoyed the bike-punk Edwardian aesthetic, and the way the novel manages to illustrate the grand machinations of empire through the personal perspective of one person. But it is still a first novel, displaying (minor) issues with pacing and the overall plotting. The sequel, Stormsong, arrives early next year, and it will be a treat to return to that world, and likely a stronger book, befitting the maturing talents of the author.

R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War is such an ambitious novel, I almost can’t believe it’s a debut. The plot follows a war orphan  named Rin from her humble beginnings in a backwater province to a position of national import. When she aces the national test for admittance into Nikan’s most prestigious military academy, Sinegard, she is relieved to escape her small, mean life. However, Sinegard proves to be no escape: her fellow students are mostly the privileged children of wealth, not dark-skinned orphans, and many of her teachers consider her an upstart and a usurper. The novel’s first half is something like a boarding school fantasy, though with none of the coziness that description implies. At the midway point, everything changes: Nikan restarts hostilities with the neighboring Federation, and Rin and her fellow students are thrust out of the schoolroom and onto the battlefield. The Poppy War is a brutal national epic with a protagonist who is as terrifying as she is tenacious. Though it is a truly prodigious work, there just isn’t much precedent for large-scale epic fantasies picking up the prize, especially when they are first novels. Consider: of the books in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, only A Clash of Kings was Nebula nominated, and that was 20 years ago (it lost to Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents). N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky, which won best novel last year, is a fantasy novel of incredible scope, but it was the culmination of an acclaimed trilogy, and most definitely not a debut.

First novels can take risks you don’t necessarily see in later ones; there’s just something about experiencing all that raw potential and talent struggling free. Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning is a revelatory debut, a post-apocalyptic tale set in what was once a Navajo reservation, before the drowning of the world. The opening finds Maggie Hoskie, a monster hunter of the Dine, in a self-imposed exile. She’s drawn out to find a missing child, and what she uncovers during her mission sends her back out into the world. For a person with a magical talent for killing, this isn’t necessarily a good thing—for the world or for Maggie. It is an active, inventive novel, and Maggie’s voice is just aces—urban fantasy can sometimes feel a little sleepy, but Trail of Lightning shocks the genre to life. Though debut novels, not to mention urban fantasy novels, rarely take home the prize (and there isn’t an example of a winner that’s both), Trail of Lightning is so much fun, and so daring, I’ll peg it as a dark horse contender.

Next up is Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller. Like All the Birds in the Sky, Blackfish City isn’t really a first novel, but it’s the author’s first novel eligible for a Nebula. Also calling it a debut doesn’t quite do justice to the author’s prior career—this is the fourth time Miller has been up for a Nebula award, following several short story nods, and in 2018 he took home the Andre Norton Award for The Art of Starving. Blackfish City is probably the most metal of all of this year’s contenders (though Trail of Lightning is a close second): it opens with an orcamancer riding a skiff with a polar bear in chains at her side, and just gets cooler from there. The book takes place in the floating city of Qaanaaq, located in swollen, post-climate change Arctic waters. The city is owned by shadowy figures but run by an impersonal AI. The arrival of the orcamancer—and what she represents—upsets the delicate equilibrium of the city. This one is another strong contender. The cli-fi setting is timely, and more importantly, the novel skirts the line between scifi and fantasy in a way that a number of recent winners have: the orcamancer and the strange wasting disease afflicting the city seem almost magical, even while the trappings of the world are cyberpunk. Blackfish City would fit right in with previous winners like The Stone Sky, which blends straight up magic with smart geological science, and All the Bird in the Sky, which very deliberately invokes both science fictional and magical tropes.

Still, I think even Sam J. Miller’s marvelous book will come in behind one of our final two: Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik, and The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal. Both Kowal and Novik are well established writers with dozens of nominations and a whole raft of awards between them. (As an odd aside: they both got their starts writing alt-Regency fantasy.) The first two of Kowal’s Glamourist History series were both nominated for the Nebula, and the novelette prequel to The Calculating Stars, “The Lady Astronuat of Mars,” was awarded the Hugo for best novelette. Novik’s previous novel, Uprooted, took home the Nebula in 2016. Both writers have a firm command of language and a polished prose style, and both know how to construct a novel. Either could take home the Nebula and I wouldn’t bat an eye.

Spinning Silver isn’t a sequel to Uprooted, but it offers a similar fairy tale sensibility, drawn from Eastern European history and legend. The novel primarily follows three young women: Miryem, the daughter of a moneylender; Irina, the daughter of a boyar with aspirations; and Wanda, the daughter of a serf. In the first third, both Miryem and Irina are married to powerful men: a fairy king (here called the Staryk) and the Tsar himself, respectively. In a fairy tale, their royal marriages would serve as happy endings. Here, they are just the start of a larger story. Fairy tales often follow a trajectory from humble beginnings to royalty—lucky Hans leaves home, and by then end, rules the country. But Spinning Silver never loses its focus on the day to day, the personal, and the complex web of friendship, family, and country that binds a life. Uprooted was a tough act to follow, but Spinning Silver is, if anything, more enthralling than its predecessor. But two things make me hesitate to declare it the likely winner. While it is precisely the kind of high fantasy novel that Nebula voters go for (its predecessor’s win three years ago proves that), past voters have shown an (admittedly dwindling) preference for science fiction over fantasy. Moreover, Novik took home an award for best novel just three years ago, and I think the voters will lean toward someone who hasn’t been so recently fêted.

Which brings me to The Calculating Stars. The novel details an alt-history Space Race through the eyes of one woman, Elma York. In 1952, a meteor strikes the planet outside of Washington DC and, as a consequence, most of the Easter seaboard is destroyed. Because of the greenhouse effect caused by the resulting steam in the atmosphere, the Earth will be inhabitable within a few short centuries. The Space Race that follows is thus one against time, and not the Soviets. Elma, who is trained as both a human calculator and a pilot, is determined to be one of the first people go toMars. Though the barriers to her becoming an astronaut are changed in this alternate timeline—if we are going to colonize other planets, women must be included—they are not inconsequential. But The Calculating Stars isn’t just about Elma’s professional goals: her struggles with anxiety offer a personal counterpoint to the institutional hurdles she faces, and are a direct result of both her education and the cataclysm of the recent past. Elma is an incredibly competent, accomplished person who is nonetheless occasionally overwhelmed by self doubt.

In addition to being just an excellent novel, The Calculating Stars is also meticulously researched and (though this is harder to quantify) really, really cool. Many of us start reading science fiction in part because of that sense of discovery and wonder: what’s out there, just a little farther into the black? Even though I was born after Neil Armstrong took his famous first steps on the moon, The Calculating Stars captured for me the air of a whole generation of people yearning for the sky, and for what is beyond the sky, in a visceral way. For that reason, more than any other, I think it will be named the winner of the 2018 Nebula Award for Best Novel.

Whether I’m right or wrong, I wish all the nominees the best of luck. It was an honor to read such a fine group of novels.

Who do you think will win the Nebula this year? Find full reviews of this year’s nominees here. Previous years’ Blogging the Nebulas entries are here.

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10 female fantasy writers to read after Game Of Thrones ends


With HBO’s eighth and final season of Game Of Thrones coming to a close this weekend, millions of dedicated, dare we say obsessed, viewers of the fantasy juggernaut will soon be left with nothing to do on their Sunday nights. But superfans and completists looking to read George R.R. Martin’s own version of events in…

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Blogging the Nebulas: Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver Transforms Folklore into Fantasy Gold

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Editor’s note: The Nebula Awards are often described as the Academy Awards of SFF literature. Like the Oscar, the Nebula is voted on by the professional peers of the award nominees—members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. There are six nominees in the best novel category this year; every two weeks between now and the awards ceremony on May 18, Ceridwen Christensen will be taking a look at each of them, and figuring their odds of taking home the prize.

The pitch:

When I first picked up Spinning Silver, I thought that it was a sequel to Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, the book that took home the Nebula for Best Novel in 2016. The cover designs are very similar, and what little I knew about the plot—an update of the Rumpelstiltskin story—seemed to align with the other book’s reimagined fairy tale vibe.

But Spinning Silver is not so much a sequel as it is… I’m not sure I have an exact term for what it is. Both books take place in a semi-mythic Eastern Europe—maybe after the Kievan Rus, but no later than late medieval—and both play quite seriously (if that’s not an oxymoron) with folkloric tropes.

Spinning Silver primarily follows three young women (though there are chapters from at least a half dozen other perspectives): Miryem, the daughter of a too-kindly moneylender; Irina, the daughter of a boyar with aspirations; and Wanda, the daughter of a serf. At the turn of the first act, Miryem and Irina are both married to powerful men: a fairy king (here called the Staryk) and the Tsar himself. In a fairy tale, these women would either be the prize—the princess in the castle to be won by the lucky youngest son—or their marriages to men above their stations would be their reward for virtuous and pious maidenhood. But here, the marriages are just the start of dangerous and dire trouble. They are not a reward, nor are they rewarding.

Miryem comes to the attention of the Staryk, the otherworldly prince, after she wrests control of the family business. They’re the sole Jewish family in their hardscrabble town, and the only people who can lend money; they’ve long lived on the knife’s edge of necessary outsiders. As  Miryem’s mother lays dying from want and cold —her father ultimately too kind to demand what they’re owed—Miryem takes over, quietly and carefully demanding repayment of their neighbor’s loans. One such loan is to Wanda’s father. The payment she demands —the use of one of his children as servant—is freeing for Wanda, taking her from her abusive household into the gentle kinship of Miryem’s parents. Miryem may be hard-nosed, but her parents are not; she has begun spinning silver into gold, changing her fate and that of those around her with a harshness that is kind.

Irina’s social-climbing father buys a ring, and then a crown made of Miryem’s Staryk silver, which brings her to the attention of the Tsar, who marries her for her magic. The Tsar is a casually brutal young man, inhabited by a spirit of fire and destruction, and all he wants only to consume Irina. She manages to keep him at bay through pluck and wit, and with her affinity for the icy mirror-world that Miryem is trapped in through her marriage to the Staryk prince. Each woman—Miryem, Wanda, and Irina—commands just a little bit of the otherwise beholden spaces they inhabit, but those slivers are cracks that can widen into chasms.

Why it will win:

Spinning Silver is just as accomplished—if not more so—than Uprooted. Though earlier articles in this series have noted many caveats on the prospects of a fantasy novel winning best novel, Novik ticks all the boxes. Contemporary fantasy—books like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods or Jo Walton’s Among Others—tend to win over traditional or epic fantasy… unless the writer is incredibly well established. Ten years ago I would say your last name had to be Bujold or Le Guin to be awarded a Nebula for a traditional fantasy novel, but the new name in that grouping is Novik’s.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will note again that the Nebula is an industry award—voted on by other professional writers – and standing in the industry matters. Novik’s Temeraire series—nine books deep, about an alt-Regency with dragons—remains incredibly popular, and for good reason: they are both deeply considered and action-driven novels, the kind that make you think even while you’re furiously turning pages. Her turn to the mythopoeic in Uprooted and Spinning Silver frees her from the soft constraints of the alternate history. Spinning Silver shows off her skill as a novelist, drawing a complex narrative out of the most simple fairy tale origins. Truly, she spins gold out of silver.

Why it won’t win:

I’m not a mathematician, so I’m going to have to fake some statistics to go along with my gut reaction, but: I think the Nebula voters will break for someone who hasn’t so recently picked up a Nebula, which Novik has. I don’t have to fake too much: while a few novelists have been awarded in the best novel category multiple times, they tend to come years apart: Connie Willis won in 1993 for Doomsday Book and again in 2011 for Blackout/All Clear; Kim Stanley Robinson took home a Nebula in 1994 for Red Mars and in 2013 for 2312. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead, won in concurrent years, but that was over 30 years ago (!), and I feel like the voting pool has changed since then.

Fake math aside, I still think Novik has a real shot at another Nebula this year. She’s a novelist at the height of her powers, and her book is an absolute joy to read. The way it takes history and folklore and shakes them into a narrative that is both mythic and personal is incredibly deft. I really hope Spinning Silver turns out to be the second volume of a not-quite-trilogy.

Follow along with this year’s Blogging the Nebulas series here. See previous years’ entries here.

The post Blogging the Nebulas: Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver Transforms Folklore into Fantasy Gold appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

Blogging the Nebulas: C.L. Polk’s Witchmark Deftly Balances Character and Worldbuilding

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Editor’s note: The Nebula Awards are often described as the Academy Awards of SFF literature. Like the Oscar, the Nebula is voted on by the professional peers of the award nominees—members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. There are six nominees in the best novel category this year; every two weeks between now and the awards ceremony on May 18, Ceridwen Christensen will be taking a look at each of them, and figuring their odds of taking home the prize.

The pitch:

From the very first page, Witchmark drops readers into the thick of it. Dr. Miles Singer is just finishing up a long shift at the veterans’ hospital, contemplating a directive that he discharge 16 patients by week’s end, whether they are healthy or not. Aeland’s war with Laneer is over. The victorious wounded are heading home to the imperfect care of their homeland, displacing other soldiers just as damaged. Miles was a soldier himself, which is the overt reason he’s so good at healing the mental injuries of war. The covert reason is that Miles is a magic user—a witch—who has a talent for healing that he must obfuscate and a dangerous past that requires him to live under an alias.

His rueful contemplation is interrupted by a dying man, Nick Elliot, brought into a hospital ill-equipped to provide emergency care. Nick asks for Miles specifically, though he uses Miles’ name from the life he escaped. The dying man also has the aura of a witch and tells Miles that he has been murdered—poisoned—and entreats him to find the killer. Watching their interaction is the man who brought the dying Nick Elliot to Miles, one Tristan Hunter. Miles’ conversation with Nick exposes his magical abilities and his past. After Elliot’s death, Miles fully expects to be blackmailed by Tristan, but that’s not precisely what happens. Hunter has his own inscrutable motivations, and he pushes Miles to uncover the motive for and methods of the man’s death.

The very next day, as bad luck would have it, Miles runs into his estranged sister, Grace. Miles was born into a life of both privilege and servitude: his sister is a Storm-Singer, able to control the weather to the benefit of all Aeland, and he is her Secondary. The Secondary may have skills of his or her own, but they are treated like batteries by the powerful Storm-Singers, used to strengthen their more dominant magical abilities. When assisted by Miles, Grace has the magic to affect the climate on a mass scale; alone she is not nearly as powerful.

Storm-Singing is a practice the secretive, aristocratic Hundred Families have been performing for Aeland for at least a century: turning the storms and mitigating all severe weather, even while Aeland at large persecutes anyone with magical abilities as a matter of policy. Miles didn’t want to live his life under magical duress, so he ran—first to med school and then to the front, faking his death and sequestering himself in the veteran’s hospital upon his return to Aeland. Grace wants Miles to return to fold; their father is sick and needs Miles’ medical attention.

Miles then pursues both matters independently—the murder mystery and the contact with his family—though the plotlines soon begin to collide and converge. His relationships with his sister and the mysterious Tristan Hunter draw Miles out of the penitential cell of a life he’s built for himself, forcing him to confront his past and maybe even start building a future.

The setting is something like Edwardian England just after the ravages of the Great War, but twisted with magic that encodes the colonial subjugations of the British Empire. Miles is both privileged and subjugated. In solving the murder of Nick Elliot, reacquainting himself with his sister, and doctoring to his fellow soldiers, he pulls strings that cause his hidden past and the needs of the empire to intersect in dangerous and volatile ways. The world of Witchmark is complicated and cool, but the story never falters in its attention to character.

Why it will win:

Witchmark is so deft in its balance between worldbuilding and character, it’s hard to believe it’s Polk’s first published novel. The information about the world unspools deftly, never leaving the audience behind nor handholding overmuch. Though I don’t have anything like statistics on whether it matters (see below), the book is told in a lovely first-person voice, the kind where the narrator’s tics and avoidances are as integral to the plot as his desires and needs. It’s not that the world bends to him, more that he bends to the world.  The magic system is complicated and the setting suggests a dense history, but Polk seemingly effortlessly makes what is important clear to the reader while maintaining a briskly plot (bicycle chases are a prominent feature). I can see other writers rewarding the tight craft of the novel; they are, after all, the Nebula voters.

This is more stray observation than anything else, but I went looking to see if there was any preference in past Nebula winners for first or third person voice, if only because Witchmark’s first person is so arresting. Prior winners suggest no particular pattern: Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky is in third-person, Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is in first-person, Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice are both in first-person, Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 is in third-person. Last year’s winner,  N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Skywas partially in second person, though technically there is a first person narrator hiding behind the “you” narrative. There seems to be no evidence that point of view factors in who takes home the prize, which makes sense to me: different writers have different strengths in that regard, just like they do for tense or any other technical aspect of writing. That Witchmark is told in lovely first person doesn’t necessarily factor, but the skill at which Polk carries it off certainly does.

Why it won’t win:

Alas, I don’t think either historical science fiction or fantasy tend to be favored by Nebula voters, and historical fantasy is an especially hard sell. Which is to say: while I recognize that Witchmark isn’t exactly a historical novel—it’s not precisely about Edwardian England and WWI—it has enough signifiers of the literature of the time to make it historical-adjacent. There are a number of recent Nebula nominees in this half-historical place—Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey, Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough, Tina Connolly’s Ironskinbut none of them took home the prize. Blackout/All Clear, which was largely set in WWII, picked up the Nebula in 2011, but that was more science fiction than fantasy—and also by a writer as beloved and accomplished as Connie Willis. Witchmark is on solidly magical terrain.

Witchmark is also Polk’s debut. All things being equal (and with notable exceptions), Nebula voters tend to lean toward established writers. It’s an industry award on some level, and though that industry is the arts, one’s connections within the industry do matter. Established writers also have had time to hone their craft; Witchmark is a very accomplished novel, but there are a couple dropped threads in the narrative. It’s entirely possible they’ll get picked up again in the sequel, Stormsong, but the award is for the novel, not the series.

That said, I can assure you I will be reading the hell out of the series. Polk is an author to watch, and I’m very much looking forward to what she writes next.

Follow along with this year’s Blogging the Nebulas series here. See previous years’ entries here.

The post Blogging the Nebulas: C.L. Polk’s Witchmark Deftly Balances Character and Worldbuilding appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

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 ( Publishing)

Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire ( Publishing)

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

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

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, by Kelly Robson ( 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 (

“Nine Last Days on Planet Earth,” by Daryl Gregory (

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

The Laundry Files, by Charles Stross ( 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.

The post The Strange and Familiar Nominees for the 2019 Hugo Awards appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

How to Survive a Trip into the Woods: Key Lessons From Fantasy

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Perhaps you like to camp, or long hikes, or to retreat into the wilderness to find peace and serenity. I’m told it is not uncommon—though, I, being a lifelong reader, would never dare. Why, you ask? Because dreadful things happen when you go into the woods—or so my steady diet of fantasy fiction has taught me.

If you feel you simply must venture forth into the trees (perhaps your ailing grandma is in need of baked goods?)—or onto the misty moors or through the boggy swamp—I leave you with these book-learned lessons and warnings wisely heeded. Provided you are planning on coming back…

Make Friends with That Mysterious Person

Inevitably, as you wander out into the wilds, you will encounter a stranger. This stranger will almost always be of a similar age to you (or at least appear to be of a similar age). I do not know how this happens; it is a quirk of the natural order of things.

It is important that you engage with this stranger, even if you do not trust them fully. (Whatever you do, do not trust them fully.) They will show you wonders, and horrors, heretofore unknown to you. They may also help you solve murders or other magical misdeeds. It all really depends on the quality and tenor of your general area, as well as the townspeople you have inevitably alienated with your free-spirited, defiant, or otherwise odd behavior.

Further instruction can be found in the following titles:

Pursue the (Probably Haunted) Relics of Time Gone By

Mysterious people abound in the woods, but so do enigmatic artifacts and objects either lost to time or known only to those they choose to reveal themselves to. This will likely be you.

You might expect me to extol the virtues of shirking such items.

Instead, I encourage you to run toward them—to explore every last nook and cranny—whether the object in question be unnerving statuary or a door crammed into the trunk of a tree.

Because here’s the thing: if you stumble upon something unusual in the woods, leaving it behind is almost never an option. It will find you again, either in your nagging thoughts or waking dreams, or quite literally chasing you down, when and where you least expect it.

See references:

Never Trust the Trees, or the People, or Anything Else

Above all else, remember that the forest is not your ally. At best, it is home to your adversaries. At worst, it is your adversary. It cares not for you, only that you complete the story it has laid at your feet.

You are a player in an ill scheme. The mysterious strangers who begin to follow your footsteps? The haunted gargoyles you find nestled in a grove of trees? They will propel you onward, toward yet more danger. But they cannot save you from the woods themselves.

Sometimes, the call is coming from inside the forest.

For more information, consult the following texts:

On Second Thought, Do Not Ever Go Into the Woods

Then again, there is a case to be made for staying home, in the comfort of your own walls and near the warmth and devotion of your own hearth. It is pleasant there, with your tea and your finely knit blankets.

The woods cannot give you those; the woods do not offer thread counts.

The woods offer danger and despair. Sometimes that is as simple as a murder. At other times, the woods are out to destroy you in other ways, feeding you to dark creatures or to your own darkest secrets.

It is a bad place.

You might be forgiven for going there once. But should you find your way out, never, ever go back.

Final evidence to be found here:

What books have taught you relevant woodland survival skills?

The post How to Survive a Trip into the Woods: Key Lessons From Fantasy appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

Myths Made Modern: Announcing The Mythic Dream, a New Anthology from the Creators of The Starlit Wood

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe are the genius editing minds behind two of the most acclaimed anthologies of recent years. The Starlit Wood, a collection of new and reimagined fairy tales, was winner of the Shirley Jackson Award, a finalist for numerous other honors, and the place of first publication for Amal El-Mohtar’s Hugo, Nebula, and Locus award-winning story “Seasons of Glass and Iron,” as well as “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik, later expanded into the bestselling novel of the same name.  Six of the entries in last year’s Robots vs. Fairies (which is… pretty much what it sounds like: a volume of stories in which authors were asked to pick a side between the magical and the mechanical) are on the 2018 Locus recommended reading list (as is the anthology as a whole).

Naturally, we’ve been excited to see what the partnership of Wolfe & Parisien has in store for us next… and now we know.

Today we are pleased to announce the immanent arrival of The Mythic Dream, which, like The Starlit Wood, makes old stories new again. It is billed as an anthology of reimagined myths: 18 stories that are “bold reimaginings of the stories we tell about gods and kings, heroes who shaped nations.”

Below, we’ve provided a first look at the cover, with art by Serena Malyon and design by Michael McCartney, as well the complete lineup of contributing authors. But first, here’s the official summary…

These are dreams of classic myths, bold reimaginings of the stories we tell about gods and kings, heroes who shaped nations, the why and how of the world.

Journey with us to the fields of Elysium and the Midwest, through labyrinths and the space between stars. Witness the birth of computerized deities and beasts that own the night. Experience eternal life through curses and biochemistry.

Bringing together stories from the world over, eighteen critically acclaimed and award-winning authors reimagine myths of the past for the world of today, and tomorrow.

The collection will feature stories by the following all-star authors:

John Chu
Leah Cypess
Indrapramit Das
Amal El-Mohtar
Jeffrey Ford
Sarah Gailey
Carlos Hernandez
Kat Howard
Stephen Graham Jones
T. Kingfisher
Ann Leckie
Carmen Maria Machado
Arkady Martine
Seanan McGuire
Naomi Novik
Rebecca Roanhorse
JY Yang
Alyssa Wong

The Mythic Dream will be published August 27, 2019.

The post Myths Made Modern: Announcing The Mythic Dream, a New Anthology from the Creators of The Starlit Wood appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.