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Recent Reading: In Ascension by Martin MacInnes

When Paul Lynch won the Booker last year for Prophet Song , a near-future dystopia in which Ireland falls under the sway of a fascist government, there was the predictable hoopla over whether the book could, or should, be read as science fiction. But it seems to me that the SF community missed a trick several months earlier, when it failed to herald the longlisting of Martin MacInnes's In Ascension for the same award. Not only is In Ascension undeniably science fiction, featuring such core tropes as interstellar space travel, new star drives, and contact with aliens; it also seems very much in conversation with some key genre works which deal with these very topics, most obviously Carl Sagan's Contact and the movie adapted from it. As in that story, the novel is told from the point of view of a young, female scientist who ends up at the center of a global effort to respond to indisputable evidence of the existence of alien intelligence. But whereas Contact used that premise

The 2023 Hugo Awards: Somehow, It Got Worse

The last month has been a busy one in Hugo and Worldcon fandom. After the shock of the much-belated 2023 nominating stats, and their revelation of serious irregularities in the compilation of the award's ballot, there was a great ferment of conversation and action. Mainstream publications have caught wind of the scandal and publicized it far and wide . Turnover in the few permanent committees that oversee the Hugo trademark and intellectual property has been high . The poor folks at the upcoming Glasgow Worldcon have been scrambling to respond to the evolving situation and to distance themselves from the previous committee—including, most recently, making a laconic announcement that they would refuse any of Chengdu's passalong funds, the budgetary surplus that is traditionally bequeathed from one Worldcon to the next. And stats nerds—of which this community is, unsurprisingly, blessed with a surfeit—have been furiously crunching the nominations numbers and EPH calculations

Recent Reading: Prophet by Helen Macdonald and Sin Blaché

What is Prophet ? Nature writer and essayist Helen Macdonald shocked the publishing world when they announced that their follow-up to books like H is for Hawk would be a science fiction novel co-written with debut author and musician Sin Blaché. In the novel, the titular substance, an accidental byproduct of superconductor research, violates the laws of physics and threatens to undermine reality itself. Prophet induces a state of extreme nostalgia, causing the people exposed to it to manifest objects of a sentimental and kitschy nature—cabbage patch dolls, board games, an entire 50s diner—with which they become entranced. But Prophet may also possess a degree of consciousness and intentionality, altering its behavior in response to the effects it has had, threatening to subsume all of humanity in longing for a past that may never have existed. From that description, and the novel's pedigree, we might assume that Prophet is mainstream SF. The sort of book that reaches primarily fo

The 2023 Hugo Awards: Now With an Asterisk

It's been a while since we've had one of these dramas. On Saturday, the nominating stats for the 2023 Hugo awards, which were announced in Chengdu, China in October 2023, were released to the public . There was a great deal of anticipation for these numbers, in no small part because of their much-delayed release. Though the WSFS constitution permits Hugo administrators to wait as long as 90 days before releasing the voting and nominating stats, most Hugo teams have them ready to go within minutes of the ceremony's conclusion. Chengdu, in contrast, waited the full allotted period, and even went a little bit over (the voting stats were released separately in December). Once the stats were released, it quickly became clear why the Chengdu Hugo team were hesitant to make them public. There are any number of irregularities and questionable choices in this document that suggest everything from erratic voter behavior, to incompetent collation and calculation of the nomination rank

Recent Reading: HIM by Geoff Ryman

A new Geoff Ryman novel! Nearly twenty years after his last one, I think we can be forgiven for having assumed that this impossible-to-pin-down author—winner of the Arthur C. Clarke award for Air , originator of the Mundane SF manifesto, creator of one of the first hypertext novels with 253 , and one of the darkest Wizard of Oz retelling with Was , the man who was once synonymous with The Child Garden 's lesbian polar bears—had said all he wanted to say. And yet what's most striking, when one starts to read HIM , is how much of a piece it feels with 2006's The King's Last Song . Like that novel, it is a lightly-fantasized, fictionalized retelling of the life of a major historical figure. It's as if no time at all had passed between the two novels—though perhaps the delay can be accounted for by the difference in subject matter, which might have made Western publishers hesitant. This time around, Ryman's focus is not a major figure in Cambodian history, but Chri

2023, A Year in Reading: Best Books of the Year

I read 166 books in 2023. For those of you keeping track, that's easily twice what I read in most years. I have no explanation. There are no major lifestyle changes that suddenly freed up my time, no trick to easy reading that I've discovered. Sometimes you just find yourself in a reading zone for a while, and for me this has lasted an entire year. Maybe it will continue into next year, and maybe not. It's traditional, when disclosing such a gargantuan reading accomplishment, to offer a bit of false modesty: oh, but I don't think I enjoyed them as much as I would if I'd read fewer books. I'm here to say that this is not the case. I enjoyed my reading this year a great deal, and I feel like I got a lot out of the books I read, even if not every one has proven to be very memorable (spoiler: this is true of most books in most years). Another way of putting is that I didn't read 166 books this year because I was trying to break a record. I did it because it was

Recent Reading: The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz

If nothing else, points for truth in advertising. Newitz's third and most ambitious novel is, as its title lets on right from the start, an entry in the subgenre that is perhaps most closely associated with Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy. The tale of transforming a world, full to the bursting with ideas, stretching into deep time, peopled by nerdy scientists and engineers earnestly debating the best way to turn an inhospitable landscape into a place where humans can live and thrive. Fittingly for a novel coming to us from well into the twenty-first  century, however, Newitz adds a wrinkle to this plot that Robinson and others have tended to leave out: the impact of capitalism, and corporatism, on how new worlds are shaped, and who gets to live in them. The setting is the year 59,000, in a post-human society bound together by the Great Bargain—the uplifting of various animal species, including moose, cows, cats and many others, alongside the creation of sentient AIs and