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text 2018-07-04 20:58
2018 Hugo Ballot: WSFS Best YA Award
Akata Warrior - Nnedi Okorafor
The Art of Starving - Sam J. Miller
The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage (Book of Dust, Volume 1) - Philip Pullman
In Other Lands - Sarah Rees Brennan
A Skinful of Shadows - Frances Hardinge
Summer in Orcus - T. Kingfisher

This is part of a series of posts reviewing categories in this year's Hugo ballot. I'll be discussing the entries, the voter packet, and my ballot. I've nominated and voted most years since 2011, when I figured out that all I had to do was join Worldcon to get to do so. 

 

YA is a new category this year. To which I can only say: IT IS ABOUT FUCKING TIME. This year's business meeting should give it a permanent name as well. " The World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) Award for Best Young Adult Book" is a bit unwieldy. The proposed name is Lodestar, but of course, no bit of progress can be made without some pushback.

 

The category was added as a separate award from the Hugos, which is how the Campbell was already classified. Of course, the Campbell's been treated just like a Hugo forever, with only the occasional footnote to point out that it isn't one. But now that there's a YA category, blogs feel the need to lead with it not being a Hugo. It's voted on by the same people as part of the same ballot and awarded at the same ceremony. 

 

  • Akata Warrior, by Nnedi Okorafor (Viking) - I started Akata Witch years ago, and abandoned it a quarter of the way, and didn't make it quite as far in this sequel. I'm just not in love with the protagonist or with the habit of every person around her constantly being hypercritical and challenging her every word and action. I'm just not the right audience.

 

  • The Art of Starving, by Sam J. Miller (HarperTeen) - I didn't make it more than a few chapters into this one, but I have a very hard time reading about eating disorders. I was hoping this would be a bit more metaphoric, but there's a scene where the narrator accidentally eats some tater tots and finds himself powerless, and I just can't. Again, I am not the right audience.

 

  • The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman (Knopf) - I read a sample and didn't find anything interesting enough to bother continuing. 

 

  • In Other Lands, by Sarah Rees Brennan (Big Mouth House) - I completely missed this title in spite of it being from one of my favorite YA imprints - the same small press that published Archivist Wasp. While the cover art is kind of lackluster, the story is dynamite. Portal fantasy with a pacifist bi protagonist in a low magic world where most humans train to be soldiers. Brennan discusses writing this as a serialized work on her blog in the afterwards. As a complete novel, it's a delight to read. Easily my favorite YA novel on the ballot.

 

  • A Skinful of Shadows, by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan UK / Harry N. Abrams US) - This has a bit of a slow start, but turns into an interesting, somewhat dark jaunt across war torn England. The main character is a very appealing form of bold, constantly subverting the expectations of those around her. 

 

  • Summer in Orcus, written by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon), illustrated by Lauren Henderson (Sofawolf Press) - This novel was also a portal fantasy originally published in a serialized format. It was also a fun jaunt, but it felt a bit young for a YA novel. Like it would be better classified as the high end of middle grade.

 

So my favorite two of these were originally serialized stories, which is not consistent with my usual view of serialized short fiction. Perhaps encountering them already collected into a continuous narrative makes them work better for me. In spite of my reservations about the categorization of Summer in Orcus, it will place second on my ballot after In Other Lands. Third will be Skinful of Shadows, and the rest I may just leave off the ballot.

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review 2018-06-23 03:18
Revew: Binti: Home
Binti: Home - Nnedi Okorafor

Undeniably well written and imaginative, but not a solid hit for me. I love that there are so many ideas this is practically bursting at the seams. But it ends in a very odd place. A place that feels more like the middle of a chapter than a break between serialized volumes. 

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review 2018-06-09 06:53
Fun non-Western fantasy . . . but with too many spiders TT_TT
Akata Warrior - Nnedi Okorafor

Entertaining fantasy adventure read, but WAY too many spiders for me, lol. The initial jolt of awe for the world building from the first book has worn off a bit, but it's enjoyable and seamless to settle back into. I recommended Akata Witch as a potential MG crossover, but the characters and their relationships have aged up in this sequel, so parental guidance is recommended. Nothing too explicit or anything, it's just that the discussion of adult relationships might not appeal to younger kids. Excited for book three!

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text 2018-05-25 23:57
Fantasy Flights May Meeting - Nebulas
Six Wakes - Mur Lafferty
The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora Goss
A Stranger in Olondria - Sofia Samatar
Who Fears Death - Nnedi Okorafor
China Mountain Zhang - Maureen F. McHugh
Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny
All Flesh is Grass - Clifford D. Simak

Every month, I go to a book club that meets at a local taproom. Rather than reading a specific book, each month has a theme. May's theme was the Nebula Awards because, well, they are awarded in May. The Nebulas are one of those awards I've always been vaguely aware of from stickers on books, though I do enjoy Ceridwen's Blogging the Nebulas posts. I was a bit surprised to see how many previous nominees I'd read. I had to cull down to just a handful of recommendations. 

 

Here's what I ended up bringing from this year's ballot:

 

Six Wakes - Mur Lafferty. I wanted to read something on topic for the month, so I compared this year's Nebula and Hugo nominees. The overlap included Six Wakes, which I hadn't read yet, and is published by Orbit. The Hugo voter packet includes whatever publishers provide, and Orbit has traditionally included excerpts of nominees, not full books. Strategery! Turns out, I liked it quite a bit. 

 

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter - Theodora Goss. I read this one last year, and abso-fucking-lutly loved it. Great characters in an interesting concept, and there's a sequel out really soon. I was so happy to see it on an awards ballot. I won an auction for a signed copy that arrived a day before our May meeting.

 

I also decided, like I had when our theme was the Hugos, to bring some of my favorite losers. The awards hadn't been announced when we met, so I didn't even know my first two picks had lost. I would have brought Stone Sky, but I've rec'd to this group before. But here are some real losers:

 

A Stranger in Olondria - Sofia Samatar.  I adored this beautifully written fantasy novel about a book nerd's misadventures. The not-sequel is also amazing. Samatar's prose is just wonderful. My copy of this was signed here in Alabama, at a lecture she was giving MFA students in Tuscaloosa. Because if a master of the genre is going to make an appearance in my state, I can be a little late to work the next morning. Oh, since I'm late posting this, I can link to her recent AMA. This book lost to Ancillary Justice in 2014. But it did win a World Fantasy Award, a British Fantasy Award, and a Crawford Award. Samatar also won the Campbell Award for best new writer. Her blog has since become private, so I can't link to her post about the WFA, but more on that in the next book.

 

Who Fears Death - Nnedi Okorafor. My copy of this is technically a gift for my niece. I got it signed at Worldcon in Chicago. She's almost old enough to read  it. This is a different indictment/celebration of fantasy than Samatar's, but no less powerful or wonderfully written. It lost to Blackout/All Clear in 2011, and I can't even. It did win a Kindred, and a World Fantasy Award that year, sparking an essay that eventually resulted in a redesign of the award statue 5 years later.

 

China Mountain Zhang - Maureen F. McHugh. I read this so long ago I don't have a review for it. It combines a vast scope with a well done character study. McHugh has done a lot of outstanding work, and this is no exception. This lost to Doomsday Book in 1993, but won a Lambda, Locus, and Tiptree.

 

Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny. This is one of those books that starts off firmly a fantasy, but reveals itself as science fiction, and the author is a poet. One of my favorite books. My current not for load copy is the leather bound Eaton Press edition. In addition to being a piece of goddamned art, this book was the cheesy sci-fi novel used as cover for the Canadian Caper, aka, the CIA operation in Argo. It lost to The Einstein Intersection in 1968, but won a Hugo that year.

 

All Flesh is Grass - Clifford D. Simak. Simak wrote at least three versions of alien invasions that followed roughly the same plot. This is the best one. A small town finds itself cut off from the outside world and some purple flowers are revealed to be extraterrestrials. Creepy and weird, it's worth a read if you're visiting that era of scifi. It lost to Dune in 1966, making it one of the first losers.

 

Next month's theme is Urban Fantasy.

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review 2018-04-11 18:46
Girl Harry Potter in Nigeria
Akata Witch - Nnedi Okorafor

Sunny is an outcast. Albino, returned from living overseas, ahead of her older classmates academically, and forced to live with the limitations of staying out of the sun, she has many challenges holding her down. When new friends introduce her to the magical world she was born to power in, she discovers that her flaws fuel her greatest strengths and she is absolutely necessary.

 

I loved this. The writing style is clear, direct, and seamless. The world-building is flawless and fascinating - I don't have any particular familiarity with Nigeria, but was able to understand everything I needed to just through context. The plot is unusual in that it doesn't seem to build in a steady arc toward the dramatic finale, but rather spends much of its runtime in letting its characters explore the limits of their newly expanded, magical world, and yet at no point was I bored or distracted.

 

I loved the way it treated the teen protagonists with respect; they were challenged to high standards, punished for failures and disobedience, and allowed to take risks for a worthy cause. There are good and not-so-good parental figures. The magic system was fascinating, believable (as far as these things go) and richly detailed. Loved the way knowledge was literally wealth, and the nuance it gave to abuses of power, morality/ethics, and navigating an uncertain, adult world -- there was a lot of scope to explore big ideas without putting them in boxes. Can't wait to read the sequel, and I'm ordering all her backlist to marathon as well.

 

The only trouble with books like this is that whatever I read next seems dull in comparison!

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