Recent Reading: All These Worlds: Reviews and Essays by Niall Harrison

Full disclosure: Niall is a dear friend, frequent debating partner, and someone who has had a tremendous impact on my own development as a reader, writer, and thinker. The odds that I wouldn't like or recommend a collection of his reviews were pretty low even before I turned the first page. Perhaps more importantly, Niall and I are currently in the early stages of assembling a collection of my reviews, to be published by his new micro-press, Briardene Books . So one could certainly argue that I have a vested interest in his book's success. With all that in mind, and with the understanding that I would have told you to buy a copy of All These Worlds even before I read it, here are some thoughts on the collection itself. All These Worlds is a gorgeous volume, setting a high bar for small press publications that speaks to Niall's love for books as objects. It's cleanly arranged and organized, with the fifty reviews collected here—covering novels, individual short storie

Recent Reading: The Strange by Nathan Ballingrud

Reading Ballingrud's first novel—after a long career as a writer of short fiction—one finds oneself collecting references. Charles Portis's True Grit , Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles , and Edgar Rice Burroghs's A Princess of Mars are only a few obvious influences. It's a combination that is at once incredibly enjoyable—both for the thrill of recognition, and for the audacity of mixing together such disparate works—and which threatens to overwhelm the novel itself.  The True Grit aspect is quickly established when our narrator, fourteen-year-old Annabelle Crisp, witnesses a robbery in her father's restaurant and is outraged by both his and the authorities' mealy-mouthed response. The robbers are known to live in the nearby mining colony, but the local sheriff makes only a half-hearted, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to arrest them, while Annabelle's father merely reopens the restaurant as if nothing happened. Despite this quintessentially W

Podcast: Critical Friends 5 at Strange Horizons

It's a strange thing, but despite being very much a product of the Web 2.0 era, I have never gotten into podcasting. In fact, I wasn't even much of a podcast listener until a few years ago, and my very first podcast appearance happened merely a month ago. Happily, that podcast was Critical Friends , the Strange Horizons reviews department podcast hosted by the inimitable Dan Hartland and Aishwarya Subramanian. They had me on to discuss—what else—negative reviews. We covered a wide range of subjects, from what makes a review negative, to when the negative reaction is justified, to whether the community discourages negative criticism. Dan Hartland: Reviewers need to have the space to call out bad books because sometimes it isn’t just an aesthetic judgment, sometimes it is. So sometimes a book will just be, it might make us cross, but it’s just clumsy or poorly wrought. But sometimes it will be actively malicious, either in intent or more commonly, effect. And there is a real da

The 2023 Hugo Awards: My Hugo Ballot

The deadline for nominating work for the 2023 Hugo awards is a week away. If you're eligible to nominate, you should have received an email from the Chengdu Worldcon (if not, you can query them here ). This year's nominations are likely to be unusual due to the high number of Chinese Worldcon members—it's entirely possible, and even likely, that the ballot will include Chinese-language work that hasn't received an English translation, which will render the voting phase somewhat tricky. Still, it's not as if I'm used to seeing my taste reflected perfectly by this award even in years when there is no language barrier, so I see no reason not to continue as I've always done, nominating the things I thought were excellent last year, and calling attention to them in the hopes that others, too, find them worthy.  In compiling my nominations this year, I made great use of two tremendous resources, the Locus Recommended Reading List and the Hugo Spreadsheet of Doom

A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys and Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi

I started both of these books near the end of last year, alternating between them at home and on my commute. I ended up leaving both half-finished, partly because other circumstances made me feel that I wasn't giving either one the attention it deserved. But also, because the resonances between them—the unexpected similarities, the profound differences, and the way one seems to fill the gaps left by the other—made both reading experiences more fraught than I think either one on its own would have been. I knew that I wanted to return to both books, and happily the looming Hugo deadline created the impetus to do so. These are both very good novels, but I think reading them together has not only helped shed light on their relative strengths and weaknesses, but on some of the trends currently running through science fiction. A Half-Built Garden is a first contact novel. In the late 21st century, Judy Wallach-Stevens is a hydrologist in the Chesapeake watershed, one of a loose network

The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez

I was a great booster of Jimenez's 2020 debut The Vanished Birds , which was nominated for the Clarke award and earned its author an Astounding nomination, but which still, it seems to me, hasn't been recognized as fully as it deserves. I appreciated the way it blended literary techniques and extremely nerdy SFnal concepts (who else, in 2020, was calling back to The Stars My Destination ?), and the way it poked holes in some of this moment's most popular genre tropes, such the found family on a space freighter. Jimenez's follow-up, The Spear Cuts Through Water , was advertised as an epic fantasy, so one might expect a similar blend of literary and genre, a similar reexamining of beloved tropes. Instead, the novel feels like a tremendous leap forward in complexity and ambition. There are some antecedents one can attach to it: the clotted, heady prose is reminiscent of what Marlon James has been doing in his Dark Star trilogy; the evocation of oral storytelling, with di

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