We’ve covered the Hugo Awards here before, beloved patrons, especially the attempt of a number of disaffected, insular members of WorldCon (the body responsible for suggesting nominees and winners) who have attempted to topple the awards to suit their own agendas. This year’s awards had nothing to do with them.
Instead, this year’s Hugos were marked by an historic win for N.K. Jemisin, who won her third consecutive Hugo for the third book in her Broken Earth trilogy. With this win, she becomes the first ever three-time winner of the Hugos (The Fifth Season won in 2016, and The Obelisk Gate won in 2017).
The Hugos are voted on by WorldCon members rather than by committee, and thus they’re generally seen as a barometer of changing trends and evolving conversations within sci-fi/fantasy (SFF) culture. By voting for Jemisin’s trilogy three years running, the speculative fiction community has effectively repudiated a years-long campaign, mounted by an alt-right subculture within its midst, to combat the recent rise to prominence of women and other marginalized voices in the SFF space.
But perhaps the best part of the whole award ceremony was Jemisin’s acceptance speech, in which she acknowledged the roots of her writing, her role within a community of story-tellers, and her hopes for the future through sci-fi and fantasy writing. We quote from the speech here in part, but you can read the whole thing here:
I get a lot of questions about where the themes of the Broken Earth trilogy come from. I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m drawing on the human history of structural oppression, as well as my feelings about this moment in American history. What may be less obvious, though, is how much of the story derives from my feelings about science fiction and fantasy. Then again, SFF is a microcosm of the wider world, in no way rarefied from the world’s pettiness or prejudice.
But another thing I tried to touch on in the Broken Earth is that life in a hard world is never just the struggle. Life is family, blood and found. Life is those allies who prove themselves worthy by actions and not just talk. Life means celebrating every victory, no matter how small.
So as I stand here before you, beneath these lights, I want you to remember that 2018 is also a good year. This is a year in which records have been set. A year in which even the most privilege-blindered of us has been forced to acknowledge that the world is broken and needs fixing—and that’s a good thing! Acknowledging the problem is the first step toward fixing it. I look to science fiction and fantasy as the aspirational drive of the Zeitgeist: we creators are the engineers of possibility. And as this genre finally, however grudgingly, acknowledges that the dreams of the marginalized matter and that all of us have a future, so will go the world. (Soon, I hope.)
The Free-for-All is delighted to congratulate all the winners on their achievements! Here is a selection of the list of winners. You can read the full list via the WorldCon 76 website.
As we noted last year, the Shirley Jackson Awards are named after the beloved and revered author of such seminal works as “The Lottery” (among a phenomenal collection of short stories), We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and The Haunting of Hill House. In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, and with permission of the author’s estate, the Shirley Jackson Awards recognize outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. This year’s nominees represent some of the most intriguing, rule-breaking, genre-defying, intensely engaging reads of the past year (in our opinion, anyway…and that of the judges…). Thus, you can only guess how terrific the winners’ books are!
So here is a selection from the categories of winners and nominees for the 2017 Shirley Jackson Awards, with links to the titles in our catalogs. We hope you find some new books to add to your list here, and would love to help you find even more dark fiction to add to your summer reading!
We are in the thick of awards season, beloved patrons, and let me tell you, it’s a good season to be a reader. Last week, the winners of the 52nd Annual Nebula Awards were announced at the annual convention of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)
The Nebula Awards (a picture of one of the awards is on the left) were first awarded in 1966, and have grown in prestige to be recognized as one of the most significant awards for science fiction and fantasy in publishing. Each year, a novel, novella, novelette, and short story are chosen…and just in case you, too, were wondering what a “novelette’ is, it is defined by SFWA as “a work between 7,500 and 17,500 words”, while a “novella” is between 17,500 and 40,00 words. Any book written in English and published in the United States is eligible for nomination, and members of SFWA cast their ballots for the favorite books. This means that, essentially, the awards are chosen by readers and genre devotees, which means that they are not only of high quality in terms of genre and style, but that they are also a darned good read. As you will see, screenplays are also recognized with the Ray Bradbury Award, and middle grade and young adult fiction is nominated for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Once again, the Nebulas are a bastion of diversity and good storytelling. As we mention each year, science fiction is a genre that is beautifully suited to questioning our current realities, imagining new ones, and crafting relationships that challenge and confront stereotypes. Fantasy does this, as well, and you’ll see from the titles listed below, the authors honored at the Nebula Awards are gifted at utilizing and transforming the genres to tell wildly inventive, insightful, haunting and compelling stories that linger long after the final page has turned.
We hope you find some new reading and viewing fodder among the nominees and winners listed below. For more information and a full list of Nebula winners, visit the SFWA’s website!
Following the enormous popular and critical success of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale(an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1986 novel), the likelihood that there would be a Season Two was a pretty good one. Media success doesn’t rest easily. As a result, the show’s second season (which is currently streaming on Hulu) is running off-book.
It’s a pretty daring prospect, on the whole. The Handmaid’s Tale is not the first series to run ahead of, or away from, its literary foundations. The production of Game of Thrones has outpaced George R.R. Martin’s writing, so that the final two seasons have covered material that has not yet been in print….though the books will, hopefully, see the light of day soon. Fox’s recently cancelled show Lucifer was based on a character in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, but took on a life of its own very quickly (#SaveLucifer by the way. It’s an incredible show). But The Handmaid’s Tale has the daunting task of remaining true to Atwood’s masterpiece, and also advancing the plot enough to give both readers and non-readers a reason to keep watching.
Thus far, they seem to be doing a very good job of it. Ratings and reviews for the second series have been very good–if acknowledging the fact that the harrowing subject matter and superb acting make each episode uniquely difficult to watch. The show’s creators are moving backwards and forwards on the timeline, showing June and her comrades in a blighted and besieged Boston, while simultaneously showing us how the world they inhabit came to be, from the creeping authoritarian laws to the gradual acceptance of society to the direction their world was taking. Rather than striking out into wholly new territory, a great deal of this season seems to be filling in the gaps in Atwood’s novel, showing how such a place came to be–a move that strengthens the foundations of the stories and the series as a whole.
So for those who are watching Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale, those awaiting its arrival on our shelves in DVD form, and those who are looking for even more dystopian fiction featuring women and strong social commentary, here are a few suggestions from us to keep you thinking, reading, and enjoying well into the summer….
The Power:Naomi Alderman’ssensational novel won the 2017 Baileys Prize for Women’s Prize for Fiction, and has been referenced frequently alongside discussions of Margaret Atwood’s work–mostly because it turns the premise of The Handmaid’s Tale upside down. All at once, in a not-too-distant-future, girls find that with a flick of their fingers they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. With this single twist, four lives are utterly transformed, and society as a whole begins to rethink the way it has thought and spoken about people since it’s conception. Like Atwood, Alderman doesn’t pull punches; this book is visceral and gritty at times, but it’s also incredibly funny and snarky. The correspondence that frame the story itself poke fun at our current gender stereotypes brilliantly, and help readers conceive of a world that it as once so familiar, and at once so utterly, completely different.
Red Clocks: Leni Zumas’ novel was released earlier this year, and was already listed as one of the best books of 2018. Part mystery, part thriller, and all painfully, beautifully compelling, this book is set in a not-too-distant-American-future, where abortion is once again illegal in America. In addition, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the “Personhood Amendment” grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. Zumas uses this premise to focus in on five very different women in a small Oregon fishing town, and the effects of these laws, and the culture they promote, on their lives, especially when a reclusive herbalist, or “mender” is arrested, and made the subject of a national show-trial. Like Atwood’s work, Zumas’ characters are rich and nuanced, and because they both benefit from and are persecuted by the laws of their America, this book becomes a timely and incisive social commentary, as well as a moving and unforgettable story.
An Unkindness of Ghosts: In addition to drawing comparisons to Margaret Atwood, Rivers Solomon has also been compared to Octavia Butler for the way they use the science fiction genre to interrogate issues of race and power in our present day. An orphan , Aster lives in the lowdeck slums of the HSS Matilda, a space vessel organized much like the antebellum South. For generations, Matilda has ferried the last of humanity to a mythical Promised Land. In order to keep the peace as they know it, the overseers on the ship have imposed harsh and degrading regulations over the darker-skinner sharecroppers onboard, as well as those of different religions and social class. Aster is a character who needs answers; on a personal level, she is determined to find out what happened to her mother. But the more she investigates, the more she is determined to find out who is really in charge of the ship that is her world–and to challenge the system that has harmed her and so many others. Solomon uses their premise to interrogate not only gender and racial issues, but also sexuality, class, and the ways in which power and the police state can corrupt and harm all those involved in it. This book adds a great deal of dimension to the social commentary that Margaret Atwood provided in her book, while also being a fascinating and deeply imaginative science fiction book that will hold enormous appeal for readers across genres.
The Witchfinder’s Sister: Beth Underdown’s novel is, on the surface, a richly-detailed work of historical fiction. However, Underdown uses her historical premise to ask a lot of questions that are as significant to the present as they are to the world of her characters. The year is 1645, and Alice Hopkins, a pregnant widow, has returned to the small English town in which she grew up. Without prospects, and unfamiliar with the town after a five-year absence, Alice is forced to live with her brother, who has become a rich and influential man–and a feared hunter of alleged witches. Torn between devotion to her brother and horror at what he’s become, Alice is desperate to intervene—and deathly afraid of the consequences. But as Matthew’s reign of terror spreads, Alice must choose between her safety and her soul. We have been subjected to a lot of talk about witch hunts lately, but Underdown’s novel delves deeply into what such a practice really is–and the irrevocable damage it causes on all those involved. Like Atwood’s book, this book deals with the persecution of women in a patriarchal society, but adds an element of mystery and rich historical detail to her fascinating and original novel.
The Hugo Award is the the longest running prize for science fiction or fantasy works, having been established in 1953. Up until 1992, the award was known simply as the Science Fiction Achievement Awards, but was subsequently named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. Gernsbackwas also responsible for creating the idea of a ‘fandom’, to describe a group of people who share a cultural bond over their love of a particular genre–in this case, weird/science fiction. When readers wrote into Amazing Stories, their addresses were published along with their letters. As a result readers began to become aware of themselves as fans, and to recognize their collective identity as devotees of the science fiction genre–not bad for 1926.
Since 1993, Worldcon committees have had the option of awarding Retrospective Hugo Awards for past Worldcon years (1939 onwards) where they had not been presented. This year, the retrospective awards for 1943 were also announced, which you can read here.
We’ve discussed at length the problems inherent in the awarding of the Hugos, and several attempts over the last few years to sabotage the process by the groups known as the “Sad Puppies” and the “Rabid Puppies.” However, as we also noted, saner heads prevailed, the Hugos produced an optimistically diverse and inclusive group of winners last year. It’s a trend we can only hope will continue, as access to as many types of stories, by as diverse a group of humans as possible can only benefit us, and our imaginations.
So, without further ado, here is a curated list of Hugo Award nominees, with links to the titles available at the Library. You can read the full list here.
For those of you still having feelings about Superbowl LII…we see you, and we support you. For those of you good readers who watched the Superbowl for the commercials, it was a pretty decent showing, all in all. Particularly those Tide ads, that played heavily on genres, tropes, and gimmicks within familiar commercials.
But for fans of the series, there was no ad quite like the trailer for the upcoming season of Westworld, which debuts on April 22. You can catch that trailer below if you missed it:
For those who aren’t familiar with the show, Westworldis a science-fiction western thriller airing on HBO. The television show was inspired by a 1973 film of the same name that was written and directed by Michael Crichton, and stars Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin. The story takes place in the fictional Westworld, a technologically advanced Wild West-themed amusement park populated by android (robotic) hosts. Westworld caters to high-paying guests, who come to experience life in the frontier town of Sweetwater, and interact with the robotic “hosts”, whose advanced programming allows them to follow a pre-defined set of intertwining narratives, and to deviate from these narratives as visitors interact with them. The hosts repeat these narratives anew each day, having their memories wiped of the previous day, until they are re-purposed or put away in storage. For the visitors’ safety, hosts are unable to harm any other living life forms, allowing visitors nearly unlimited freedom to engage in whatever activities they want without retribution. A staff oversees the park, develops new narratives, and performs repairs on hosts as necessary. The series begins when a routine update in the hosts’ programming causes unusual deviations in their behavior that allows some of the hosts to understand the truth about themselves and their world…
Though there was some behind-the-scenes drama that postponed the premier of the show from 2015 to 2016, the finished product has been, according to nearly everyone, sensational. The debut of the series garnered one the HBO’s highest viewership ratings and remains one of the most-watched series on HBO (which, given some HBO series’ devoted followings, is saying quite a lot). And there are plenty of reasons why it’s continued to be such a talked-about and intriguing show. First off, the sets, costumes, and scenic details are sensational (hats off to costume director Ane Crabtree, whose historic research paid dividends). But beneath the stunning veneers, the story of the show itself is a deeply unsettling, curiously arresting consideration of what it means to be human, and what lengths humans are actually capable of going in order to feed their appetites, and what consciousness really means. As The USA Todaywrote, “The reward, beyond the visual splendors you’ve come to expect from big-budget HBO productions, is a set of characters who grow ever more complex.” Mary McNamara of Los Angeles Times wrote that Westworld “…isn’t just great television, it’s vivid, thought-provoking television that entertains even as it examines the darker side of entertainment.”
So, for those of you looking for a new binge-watching treat, Westworld might very well be the series for which your searching, especially as one series isn’t, comparatively speaking, a huge amount to watch before the Season Two premier on April 22. But for those of you who are already long-time visitors to Westworld, fear not! We have a wealth of suggestions to keep your imagination spinning and your gears gyrating until the next episode airs! Check out some of our top picks below:
Silver on the Road:Readers who are taken with scenes of the ‘Wild West’ in Westworld, and intrigued by the idea of women finding their identity while traversing it, look no further than Laura Anne Gilman’s sensational Devil’s West series. The series is set in a fantasy west, ruled by The Boss…some might call him the Devil…and full of spirits, stories, and other things too terrible to name. On her sixteenth birthday, Isobel decides that her true calling is in working for The Boss. In turn, she is made his Left Hand–but what that title truly means is a mystery. Rather than explain, The Boss places Isobel in the company of a man named Gabriel, and sent to explore the territory that is now hers. The story that unfolds is a gently-paced, deeply emotional, and utterly vivid one, that will have you trying to brush the dust from your coattails after every scene. Isobel’s comradeship with Gabriel is fascinating, unexpected, and stunningly equitable, the lessons she learns about herself and her role along the road are unforgettable, and the best part is that this is just the first book of an outstanding series. So anyone looking for a Wild West that is just as weird as Westworld, but with a lot more occult and feminism thrown in, look no farther that this book.
Karen Memory: Elizabeth Bear takes inspiration from the very real Seattle Underground to create a story about airships, gold miners…and, most importantly, Karen, and her fellow “soiled doves” working at Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. When a badly injured young woman arrives on their doorstep, pursued by the man who holds her indenture, Karen realizes that trouble has fixed its eye on Madame Damnable’s. But when a body is soon left on their rubbish heap, all hell seems near to breaking loose around them. While the steampunk genre deals less with robots than automatons (the distinction can be found in the power keeping the machines working and, often, the level of autonomy and consciousness afforded to them), there is a lot of the same high-tech, Wild West skull-duggery going on in this sensational story as in Westworld. Best of all, once again, we get a feminist perspective on violence, history, and tech, that is heartily welcome.
Utopia: Lincoln Child has terrific fun with the tech-thriller genre, and this book, set in a futuristic theme park, deals with many of the same themes as Westworld, including huge conspiracies, techno-wizards and techno-pocalyspes, and elaborate sabotage schemes going on behind the idyllic scene. Utopia is a technologically advanced, family-friendly theme park off the Las Vegas strip. Not only do people flock there for a day of fun, they come to see the system known as the Metanet, a highly secretive and enormously ingenious robotics system designed by Dr. Andrew Warne–a system that essentially runs the park on its own. But when Andrew is brought in to consult on the possible expansion of the park, he soon uncovers evidence of tampering with the system–from the inside. His worst fears are realized when one of the rides is sabotaged–and park officials are unable to turn off the rest of the park due to threats of further violence. Full of fancy techno-details that will appeal to those who love programming potential in Westworld, and told in a thrill-a-minute, breakneck pace, this story is sure to feed your need for danger until Westworld surges back onto the screen.
FantasticLand: This one is a bit of an outlier, but for those of you drawn to the premise of an amusement park from hell, look no further than Mick Bockoven’s vivid, violent novel about an abandoned theme park–and the people who were abandoned inside it. When the (fictional) Hurricane Sadie threatened Florida with inevitable destruction, the decision was made to evacuate visitors from FantasticLand, but to leave park staff behind with some supplies in order to hold down the fort, so to speak. But when help finally arrives five week later, they find gruesome and visceral evidence (literally) that something went terribly wrong at FantasticLand. This book is presented as a dossier of testimony from survivors about what precisely happened during those weeks, when the staff broke into tribes–complete with names and mottoes–and began hunting each other. There are a number of echoes of Lord of the Flies in this book, and though there is a lot of Milennial-bashing in Bockoven’s work, this is just the thing for a reader whose looking for another dystopian theme park full of menace to tide them over until Westworld‘s gates re-open.
Conversations about books are some of my favorite conversations.
recent discussions among some book-minded companions led to a fascinating discussion the other day regarding “books that you love but that are in some way objectionable to others.” It’s a tricky subject, and one with which a lot of readers tend to grapple, especially as they grow up, and realize that the books they loved at one stage of their development might not fit them and their world view now.
Let’s use my own experience as an example: It’s something of an open secret that I loveJane Eyre. It’s a book that enchanted me as a fourteen-year-old first discovering early Victorian literature, and one that sustained me in high school amidst all those books I had to read. But, as an older reader, out of high school and navigating what we usually call “the real world,” I began to realize how whiny, self-centered, and, let’s be honest here, how reckless and dangerous his behavior was. Secrets aren’t sexy, Edward. Especially when they involve fire, bleeding, and/or locking people up in towers. (To be fair, I would argue a great deal of the Rochester mystique is a product of more recent times, but still…). But, after some soul searching, I realized that I could, and still did, loveJane Eyre.Because, as I grew older, I began to really appreciate just how strong, how self-reliant, and how confident Jane had to be in herself to survive in the world she did, and to protect herself from Rochester’s more harmful tendencies. Jane Eyre herself became one of my favorite characters all over again as a grew up, even as I got more and more fed up with Rochester’s fragile ego and his ceaseless emoting.
Similarly, a friend related that they had grown up adoring Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and that they still turned to it when life was being difficult and they needed something familiar to love. Stephen King is a sensational author and a super guy, but, as my friend noted, Stephen King doesn’t do very well writing about people of color. They tend to fall pretty hard into the character trope known as the “Magical Negro” trope (Note: the word ‘negro’ is used to denote the archaic view of Black people that this trope embodies). Briefly put, “Magical Negroes” are characters (created by white authors) who are generally (though not always) outwardly or inwardly disabled as a result of discrimination, disability or social constraint, and who appear to save the white protagonist through magic. In other words, they are not human in the same ways that white characters are human. In the Dark Towerseries, Odetta Susannah Holmes is a”Magical Negro”; she is disfigured by a subway train after a white man pushes her onto the tracks. She suffers from a magical kind of personality disorder in which she embodies two people (each figured and disfigured by American racism) and she is repeatedly victimized to save Roland, who is a white male in the novel.
This is not in any way, shape, or form to imply that Stephen King is a racist. Far from it. But it does indicate that he might not be the expert on creating realistic, thoughtful characters of color.
To me, the color of the gunslinger doesn't matter. What I care about is how fast he can draw…and that he takes care of the ka-tet.
But sometimes, it can be an issue with the author. Another book brought up in this discussion was Orson Scott Card’s classic sci-fi novel Ender’s Game. This is a novel that shaped the childhoods of many, and is still beloved by readers around the world. However, it’s very difficult for many readers to reconcile their love of this book with the knowledge that Orson Scott Card himself holds very public, anti-gay and xenophobic views. For those who find these views troubling, spending money on purchasing an author’s work can be difficult. It can also be difficult to separate the author’s views from one’s love of the books they write.
So what is a reader to do?
First and foremost, love what you love. If a book or a film or a song has personal meaning for you, helps you to grow, or guides you through a dark time, or makes you a better person, then you deserve that thing in your life. As The Velveteen Rabbittaught us, the things we love become real, and become a part of us and who we are. I became a stronger person by readingJane Eyre, even as I learned not to put up with whiners like Rochester. My friends learned fortitude and strength and insight from the books they loved, above and apart from the problematic aspects of their construction and their authorship. This does not mean to be blind to their faults or shortcomings, but, instead, to love the thing for how it helps you.
Secondly, as in so many other matters, the library can help you in these circumstances. For example: do you love an author, like Stephen King, who may not be the best at portraying people of color (…or women? …or another group of people?)? Why not come to the Library and learn about some authors who do?! Use your favorite author or series as a jumping-off point to explore other works of literature than can become new favorites. In the case of the Dark Towerseries, we might recommend books by N. K. Jemisin, or Nnedi Okorafor, for example.
Finally, the library is a super-terrific place to access material that you might not otherwise want to contribute your hard-earned dollars. As we discussed in our post onFire and Fury, you can have your literary cake and eat it took by borrowing the book from us.
Ultimately, it’s a win-win-win situation when you come to the Library and learn to love the things inside it. And we are here to help you find the books and films and music that you can and will love, and that will help you be better. Just keep loving what you love, and we’ll be here for the rest of it.
"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass