Showing posts from April, 2023

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