Hugo Award


A Fire Upon the Deep: Big-canvas space opera with uninspired plot

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A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

A Fire Upon the Deep (1992) was the big breakout novel from Vernor Vinge, winner of the 1993 Hugo Award and nominated for the Nebula. It features a unique premise I haven’t encountered before: the universe has been separated into four separate Zones of Thought: the Unthinking Depths, Slow Zone, Beyond, and Transcend. Starting from the galactic core, the Zones demarcate differing levels of technological and biological advancement — but this doesn’t simply mean different stages of development. Instead, more advanced technologies cease to function when taken into slower zones, since the laws of physics themselves are different.

This include faster-than-light travel, so FTL ships that travel into slower zones need to also have ramjet drives to avoi... Read More

SFM: Resnick, Kinney, Chatham, Byrne

Short Fiction Monday: There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about. 


The Manamouki by Mike Resnick (1990, originally published in Asimov’s magazine, anthologized in Hugo and Nebula Award Winners from Asimov’s Science Fiction, also included in Kirinyaga). 1991 Hugo award winner (novelette), Nebula award nominee.

Kirinyaga is a terraformed planet where the inhabitants, descendants of a Kenyan tribe, the Kikuyu, have adopted the lifestyle and practices of pre-colonial days of their tribe. Koriba, the mundumugu or witch doctor character who narrates this story, is one of the leaders of the people. He's also the only person in the group who has access to a modern-... Read More

Cyteen: Exhausting study of clones, identity, and power

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Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh

After enjoying C.J. Cherryh's 1982 Hugo Award winner Downbelow Station, it was a natural thing to move on to her 1989 Hugo winner, Cyteen. I know that Cyteen is a very different creature, of course. It is a hefty 680 pages long, and extremely light on action. In fact, if you removed the extensive dialogue and exposition, I think the story would be about 50 pages long. That means the story had better be pretty compelling or it could be quite an ordeal to get through. Unfortunately, at 36 hours in audiobook format, I found Cyteen to be more of a chore than a pleasure. There’s no question of the seriousness and rigor of its exploration of power politics, the ethics of cloning, genetic engin... Read More

Forever Peace: Wildly implausible and poorly written

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Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

For the life of me, I can’t understand why Forever Peace won the Hugo, Nebula, John W. Campbell Memorial Awards for Best science fiction novel in 1998. Certainly Joe Haldeman’s earlier 1975 The Forever War is a beloved science fiction classic that deals with the Vietnam War, time paradoxes, and the absurdity of endless conflict. First off, Forever Peace is not a direct sequel, and is hardly related other than sharing a military science fiction theme. Even that connection is tenuous, so I can only think the publisher intended to sell more copies by linking them. It creates unfair comparisons, as this book should be judged solely on its own merits (or lack of). I though this book was pretty bad, but the only way for ... Read More

Down in the Bottomlands: Hugo-winning novella

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Down in the Bottomlands by Harry Turtledove

Harry Turtledove is known best for his alternate histories. In Down in the Bottomlands, a novella which won the Hugo Award, Turtledove goes with the premise that the Atlantic Ocean did not re-fill the dried-up Mediterranean Sea during the Miocene period. The sea basin becomes a desert, and this alteration in the Earth’s geography affects many aspects of humanity’s genetic and geopolitical evolution.

Radnal vez Krobir, a citizen of the Hereditary Tyranny of Tartesh, is a tour guide in Trench Park, part of the dessert that he knows used to be a sea supplied by the ocean that lies beyond the Barrier Mountains. Now dried up, it has a distinct ecosystem. When we meet Radnal, he is in charge of a diverse group of tourists who w... Read More

Stardance: A dated double-award winner

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Stardance by Spider Robinson & Jeanne Robinson

Spider & Jeanne Robinson’s Stardance was first published in Analog in 1977 and won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards for Best Novella. It was up against Vonda N. McIntyre’s Aztecs, John Varley’s In the Hall of the Martian Kings, Gregory Benford’s A Snark in the Night and Keith Laumer’s The Wonderful Secret. In 1978, Analog published a sequel called Read More

Downbelow Station: Machiavellian intrigue in space

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Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh

I’ve had C.J. Cherryh's 1982 Hugo Award winner Downbelow Station on my TBR list for three decades, and was glad I finally got around to it via Audible Studios, ably narrated by Brian Troxell. It’s an intense, claustrophobic, gritty space opera with a huge cast of hard-nosed characters battling to survive the Machiavellian intrigues of freelance Merchanters, Earth bureaucrats, Company fleet captains, Pell station administrators, Union space forces, secret agents, stationers, and (incongruously) cuddly Downer aliens. It's a big, complex story, and not easy to follow on audio, but well worth the effort. I emphasize the word effort, because it takes some serious concentration to keep track of all the moving pieces, and Cherryh’s tough, muscular prose a... Read More

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories: Presents all the flavors of life

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Reposting to include Bill's new review:

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Ken Liu is a writer of many talents, all of which are on full display in his first short story collection, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. Each of the fifteen pieces presented here is well-executed; many don’t have happy endings (as much as I would like them to), though Liu makes the best choices possible for the tales he’s telling, and I will admit that the end results frequently left me crying or stunned. He brings characters to life and makes you care about their situations, whether his fiction is based in historical fact or speculation upon a potential future. Despite the fact that these are all short works, dialogue is well-written, plots arc nicely, and character ... Read More

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang: Send in the clones

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm

Sometimes, a book just has to be given a second chance. Case in point for this reader: Kate Wilhelm’s Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang. When I first started this book around 35 years ago, I could not get past page 20 or so, for some strange reason, and placed it back on my bookshelf unread, where it has remained all this time. Flash forward to last week, when I decided to give the book another chance (what with my supposed adult sophistication and matured patience), and guess what? The novel immediately sucked me right in, and I wound up zipping through the darn thing in record time, reveling in its lovely prose and completely engrossed in its multigenerational narrative. Go figure! Though it was not the author’s first book on the subject of clo... Read More

Binti: Remarkable coming-of-age set in space

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Editor's update: Binti won the 2016 Hugo Award.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

In Binti, published by Tor.com, Nnedi Okorafor tells the story of Binti, a brave adolescent girl who is the only person from her tribe, the Himba, to ever be invited to attend Oomza Uni, the most prestigious university in the galaxy. She is a harmonizer, a skilled creator of advanced technology, but despite her tribe’s affinity for technology and innovation, they rarely leave their tribal lands. Binti sets off on her journey to Oomza Uni, knowing that her departure likely means she will be a pariah to her family and friends. What’s more, because of the Himba tradition of covering skin and hair with otjize, or red earth, she knows that she’ll likely be an outs... Read More

The Forever War: An SF treatment of Vietnam

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

William Mandella, a genius studying physics, has been drafted into the elite division of the United Nations Exploratory Force, which is fighting a seemingly never-ending war with the Taurans. After strenuous training with other elites on the Earth and in space, William and his colleagues are sent on various missions throughout the universe, traveling through black holes to get to each warfront. During each mission some of William’s friends die, but that’s expected. What’s surprising is that when he returns home, very little time has passed for him, but space-time relativity has caused many years to pass on Earth. Thus each time he comes back, he’s shocked by the changes that have occurred — changes in people he knows, changes in society, and technological advances which affect the progress of the war.
... Read More

SFM: Robson, Shoemaker, Levine, Emrys, Maberry, Kritzer

Short Fiction Monday: Here are some of the stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about. For the next few weeks we'll be focusing on 2015 Nebula-nominated short fiction.

Waters of Versailles by Kelly Robson (2015, free at Tor.com, $0.99 for Kindle). Nominated for the 2015 Nebula Award (Novella).

Waters of Versailles centres on an unorthodox protagonist in Sylvain de Guilherand. Sylvain is the mastermind behind the water system in Vers... Read More

Ancillary Justice: Doesn’t read like a first novel at all

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Breq used to be a spaceship, or at least a fragment of the spaceship known as Justice of Toren. The ship controlled innumerable human bodies, known variously as “ancillaries” to the people of the interstellar Radchaai Empire and as “corpse soldiers” to the cultures and planets the Empire has conquered. Those soldiers used to be regular, innocent human beings who, if sufficiently healthy, were slaved to one of the Radchaai ships, their personalities more or less overwritten to become part of one of the Empire’s many-bodied artificial intelligences.

But note: Breq “used” to be a spaceship. Now, she is just Breq, a single person with one body, but with memories of being both an immensely powerful artificial intelligence and its army of soldiers. When we meet Breq, at the start of ... Read More

The Windup Girl: Mixed opinions

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

My Body is Not My Own…

Having just finished Paolo Bacigalupi’s Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel, I’m left rather bereft at how to describe, let alone review, The Windup Girl. I am not a big reader of science-fiction or dystopian thrillers, which means that no obvious comparisons come to mind, and the setting and tone of the novel are so unique (to me at least) that they almost defy description.

Set in a future Thailand where genetically engineered “megodonts” (elephants) provide manual labor and “cheshires” (cats) prowl the streets, the world’s population struggles against a bevy of diseases brought on by all the genetic tampering that’s been going on. Oil has long since run... Read More

Watchmen by Alan Moore (writer) & Dave Gibbons (Artist)

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review:

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

What if superheroes were real? I mean really “real”: what if they grew old and got fat, had spouses and families, carried emotional baggage (sometimes a serious psychosis), and just generally had to deal with everyday life? These super-heroes aren’t inherently all good, either. Just like public servants — police, politicians, doctors, etc. — many begin with the best intentions, but some become jaded and others are only motivated by self-interest from the start. In other words, if superheroes were real, they would be just like us, more or less.

Also, what would an ultra-powerful superhero really be like? A person who understands quantum theory as easily as we chew gum, and is so powerful that he can move through the space-time continuum, be several places at once, and alter ... Read More

The Fifth Season: Stunning imagination

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Editor's update: The Fifth Season won the 2016 Hugo Award.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I am awestricken by the imagination of N.K. Jemisin, but it isn’t just her wild vision of a seismically turbulent planet that makes The Fifth Season so successful. Jemisin depicts her strange and harrowing world through the old-fashioned tools of fine writing and hard work, done so well that it looks easy – transparent – to the reader.

The world of The Fifth Season, or at least one large continent of it, is shaking apart. Against this backdrop we follow three different stories set in three different time periods, one in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe, two sometime earlier. The three storylines have themes and plot points that eventually converge, but the changes in narration let us as reader... Read More

The Voice from the Edge Volume 5: Shatterday & Other Stories

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Shatterday & Other Stories: The Voice From the Edge Vol. 5 by Harlan Ellison

Shatterday & Other Stories: The Voice From the Edge Vol. 5 is the final installment in Harlan Ellison’s 5-volume THE VOICE FROM THE EDGE series. It’s been quite a ride, and it’s hard to dispute that Ellison is a superb storyteller who can take an idea and run with it in the most original and twisted way, frequently delving into the dark and cruel side of human nature, but also celebrating moments of nobility and pathos along the way. His voice is powerful, unique, and very charismatic, so hearing him narrate his own work is a treat.

Like Vol. 4, not all the stories in Vol. 5 are narrated by Ellison himself. Fortunately the supporting cast are very skilled, and the stories really l... Read More

The Voice from the Edge Volume 4: The Deathbird & Other Stories

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The Voice from the Edge Volume 4: The Deathbird & Other Stories by Harlan Ellison

The Deathbird & Other Stories: The Voice from the Edge Vol. 4 is the fourth installment in Harlan Ellison’s 5-volume THE VOICE FROM THE EDGE series. He’s a born storyteller, without question the most passionate, intense and brilliant audiobook narrator I’ve ever experienced. He captures the characters’ quirks and attitudes, and narrates with masterful pacing and tone. This is the ideal showcase for him to read his favorite stories from a career spanning over 60 years.

Vol. 1 featured some of his best stories and narration, Vol. 2 was also excellent but not quite as brilliant as Vol. 1, and Vol. 3 had some top-notch stories and finished with two horror tales, the first narrated by Robe... Read More

The Voice From the Edge Volume 2: Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral

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The Voice From the Edge, Vol 2: Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral by Harlan Ellison

As much as I dislike the man personally, I have to say that Harlan Ellison writes great stories. Even the stories that I don’t like — because they’re violent, gory, gross, or full of others varieties of ugliness — are good stories. And if there’s anything that Harlan Ellison does better than write great stories, it’s narrate them. He’s a superb story teller. That’s why I’ve picked up all of his Voice From The Edge recordings at Audible.com. Each is a collection of Ellison’s stories which he narrates himself. This second volume, Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral, contains these stories:

“In Lonely Lands” — (first published in 1959 in Fantastic Universe) This very short story is about loneliness, companionship, and dying. It’s touching and thought pro... Read More

The Voice From the Edge Volume 1: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

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I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: The Voice From the Edge Vol. 1 by Harlan Ellison

Probably everyone who knows anything about Harlan Ellison knows he’s a jerk (please don’t sue me, Mr. Ellison). I had to consciously put aside my personal opinion of the man while listening to him narrate his audiobook I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: The Voice From the Edge Vol. 1. I was disgusted by some of these stories, but I have to admit that even though I suspect Ellison delights in trying to shock the reader with his various forms of odiousness (mostly having to do with sex), the stories in this collection are all well-crafted, fascinating, and Ellison’s narration just may be the best I’ve ever heard. Here are the stories:

"I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" — (1967, IF: Worlds of Science Fiction) Harlan Ellison spends the introduction to I Have No Mouth and I Must Screa... Read More

Women Destroy Science Fiction! The Stories: Special audiobook edition

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Women Destroy Science Fiction! Lightspeed Magazine Special Issue: The Stories edited by Christie Yant, Robyn Lupo, Rachel Swirsky

Last June, Hugo-winning Lightspeed Magazine, which is edited by John Joseph Adams, devoted an entire issue (Women Destroy Science Fiction!, June 2014, issue #49) to female science fiction writers and editors. Under Christie Yant’s and Robyn Lupo’s editorial leadership, they accepted 11 original short science fiction stories and 15 original pieces of SF flash fiction. Rachel Swirsky chose and reprinted 5 stories previously published elsewhere. Last month, Skyboat Media and Blackstone Audio released an audio version of the stories from Women Destroy Science Fiction. They gave these their usual excellent attention, casting each story’s... Read More

The Best of Nancy Kress: A good storyteller who is fearless about wondering

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The Best of Nancy Kress by Nancy Kress

Reading Nancy Kress’s work is a disconcerting experience for me. I love her ideas; there is no one quite like her when it comes to integrating a Big Idea into a believable world. On the other hand, I often don’t understand her characters’ motivations and frequently find them unengaging. Subterranean Press’s new story collection, The Best of Nancy Kress — edited by Kress herself — provides some insight into her ideas and her storytelling, and is an educational, entertaining read.

There are twenty-one stories in the book, each with a brief afterword by Kress (one afterword is so brief that it’s just a set of initials). Kress discusses each story’s history, and many of these are award winners; she also includes a few that... Read More

Doomsday Book: Historically robust time travel with deeply satisfying characters

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Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Although it took a good two-thirds of the novel for me to decide, I've come to the conclusion that I really enjoyed this multiple award-winning book by Connie Willis. At its core, Doomsday Book is sci-fi time travel, but it’s got depth and intelligence, and leaves little wonder that it won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards for Best Novel (in 1992 and ’93, respectively), as well as the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1993, and a nomination for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature (also in 1993).

Doomsday Book follows two parallel stories separated by 500 years. In the 21st century, history professor James Dunworthy finds himself caught amidst an epidemic, trapped in a quarantine... Read More

SFM: Brookside, Simmons, Card, Sheckley

The Last Days of Jericho by Thomas Brookside (2010)

The Last Days of Jericho is Thomas Brookside's follow up to his incredibly creative and well-executed novella De Bello Lemures, or The Roman War Against the Zombies of Armorica. Let's make one thing clear: Thomas Brookside may be self-published, but his writing is as crisp and descriptive as that of any big house published author. Both stories take place in a very particular historical setting, and Brookside nails the narrator's tone and delivers an extremely genuine-sounding account.

The Last Days of Jericho tells the story of the fall of Jericho in ancient Canaan. Brookside's fictional account represents Joshua's god as a supernatural, near-monster-like entity that destroys everything in its path. The first-person narration is handled by a fictional citizen in Jericho who manages the... Read More

Who Goes There?: An influential, entertaining novella

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Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr.

Three mad, hate-filled eyes blazed up with a living fire, bright as fresh-spilled blood, from a face ringed with a writhing, loathsome nest of worms, blue, mobile worms that crawled where hair should grow…

John W. Campbell’s novella Who Goes There?, first published in 1938 in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction, formed the foundation for the thrice-made movie The Thing. John Carpenter directed the 1982 film starring Kurt Russell and it holds a significant place in my childhood memories as it was the first horror movie I was able to watch all they way through. The movie is dark and creepy, and incorporated some realistically disgusting special effects for its day and age. That version was preceded by the ... Read More