Recent Reading Roundup 57

The first recent reading roundup of 2023 comes smack in the middle of the awards-reading period. Two of the novels discussed here have already been nominated for the Nebula (alas, I found both of them rather disappointing). The two novellas I review are ones that I hope to see on awards shortlists in the near future. And then there are a couple of random non-SFF novels, both of which surprised me, albeit in different ways. I'll have more about my Hugo nominations as we get closer to the deadline, but if you've been reading my blog for the last year, I think you probably have a good idea of what I plan to nominate. Babel by R.F. Kuang - one can sense echoes of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell throughout Kuang's new standalone novel—in its early 19th century, English setting; in its copious use of footnotes; in the way its characters, who are mostly academics and scholars, systematize magic and try to render it rational and scientific; most of all, in the way that magic is

Recent Movie: Knock at the Cabin

Twelve years ago, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard released The Cabin in the Woods , a metafictional horror comedy seeking to answer the question of just why photogenic young people on idyllic nature getaways keep encountering eldritch horrors who pick them off one by one. There's a lot in the film that hasn't aged well—the meta gags were getting tired almost as soon as they were made, and more recent work, such as the films of Jordan Peele, has done a much better job of blending horror and humor and exploring the roots of the genre's core tropes. But the basic idea of the film—a shadowy organization who are deliberately sacrificing the vacationers in order to spare humanity from the wrath of the old ones—remains strong, arguably stronger than the comedic wrapping that surrounds it. As I wrote in my review , by the end of the movie you find yourself regretting the time spent leading up to this revelation, and wishing the film had started from it as its premise. M. Night Shyamal

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

So, friends, what is going on with the MCU? We're now at the end of phase four (I think? I've lost track of that sort of thing entirely) and there's a very palpable sense of the air coming out of the balloon. By which I mean not that the movies have gotten bad—some of them are ( Eternals ) but most are still falling squarely within the same C-minus-to-B-plus range that has characterized this franchise from day one. And yet, without very much having changed, it's clear that something has changed. The MCU used to be something that I—and a lot of other people—enjoyed talking about, and maybe even more than that, arguing with . When it was bad, that was something that felt worth calling out . Now it's just something to shrug at. [1] What I want to do with this post, then, is not so much review the new Ant-Man movie (which is definitely at the C-minus end of the aforementioned scale but still isn't that exciting to talk about) as to try to work out what it can tell

Review: Telluria by Vladimir Sorokin at Strange Horizons

I've been waiting a while for Strange Horizons to run my review of Vladimir Sorokin's 2013 novel Telluria (published in English by the indispensable NYRB Classics with a translation by Max Lawton). So long, in fact, the Telluria was already on my list of last year's best books . This review is a chance to elaborate on why I found this novel so exciting, so thought-provoking, and so completely SFnal. Telluria is part of a sequence in which Sorokin imagines a post-post-Soviet future he calls the New Middle Ages. In this novel, he posits a drug that allows its users to hallucinate a world that reflects their deepest wishes and desires, then come back and try to make that world a reality. As I write in the review, this allows Sorokin to consider "how the project of worldbuilding affects the world". To begin with, Telluria 's interest in this question is signalled by its determination to mix subgenres, tropes, and settings at every given opportunity. The openin

Recent Comics: Why Don't You Love Me? by Paul B. Rainey

I've written before about the "it's really good" problem—how to review, and direct audiences towards, a work that is simply gangbusters on every level, and seems to offer no access point for the reviewer wishing to praise it. The ecstatic reviews that persuaded me to pick up a copy of Paul B. Rainey's graphic novel Why Don't You Love Me? —the first great 2023 publication I've read this year, and already very likely to make my list of the year's best books—seemed to uniformly suffer from a subset of this problem: how to praise something exceptional without saying too much about it? Guardian reviewer Rachel Cooke wondered : "Will readers stick with [ Why Don't You Love Me? ] long enough to reach the twist that makes the effort of reading its first half worthwhile? I can't be sure that everyone will – and yet, I must not spoil this twist, even in the cause of encouragement."  I demur a little from Cooke's concern. Why Don't You

Recent Reading: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida and The Birth Lottery by Shehan Karunatilaka

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is, of course, last year's Booker winner, a slightly out-of-nowhere choice for an award that has been getting more adventurous and interesting in recent years. The Birth Lottery and Other Surprises is a collection of Karunatilaka's short fiction, currently slated for publication in the US and UK in the spring, but I was able to snag a copy during a work trip to India earlier this month. Taken together, they not only make for some engrossing and delightful reading, but reveal Karunatilaka as firmly embedded in the SFF tradition. There's an entirely defensible case for Seven Moons as a nominee in the upcoming Hugo awards (or if not that, one of the wider-ranging genre awards like the Crawford or World Fantasy), and my only real complaint about The Birth Lottery is that it doesn't include a publication history, making it impossible to know which of the stories in it are awards-eligible. The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida begins with the

Recent Reading: Deep Wheel Orcadia by Harry Josephine Giles

Every Clarke Award shortlist includes at least one utterly unexpected nominee, a complete wildcard. Think Iain Pears's Arcadia , originally envisioned as an app experience in which readers would choose for themselves the order of the story's chapters. Or Patience Agbabi's middle grade novel The Infinite . It's less common for these nominees to win the whole thing, so Harry Josephine Giles's Deep Wheel Orcadia , a verse novel written in the Orkney dialect (on offshoot of Scots spoken on the Orkney archipelago), was a book that I approached with some interest, having claimed the award over more conventional nominees like Arkady Martine's A Desolation Called Peace , and much bigger names like Kazuo Ishiguro's Klara and the Sun . While I'm not quite certain that I would have made the same choice (Mercurio D. Rivera's Wergen , and Aliya Whiteley's Skyward Inn , strike me as no less worthy winners), Deep Wheel Orcadia is an exciting winner, one whose