Hugo Award


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

Starship Troopers: A 250-page lecture on the ethics and morals of war, violence and race

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Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

As part of my reading routine, I like to go to the way-back machine and catch up on genre classics. Within sci-fi, a few years ago I reread Frank Herbert's Dune, which is as heavy and awesome as I’d remembered. I discovered and loved Walter M. Miller's wonderful Canticle for Leibowitz.

Robert Heinlein, of course, is one of the heavyweights of the genre, but I'd never read anything of his and my only previous exposure to Starship Troopers (1959) was from the 1997 sci-fi film of the same title. Now kee... Read More

The Left Hand of Darkness: An important thought experiment

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The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), part of THE HAINISH CYCLE, won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best SF Novel, and is well known as one of the first books in the genre to intelligently explore the nature of gender and identity. Ursula K. LeGuin is a highly respected writer known for her anthropological and humanistic approach to SF, and her presence has attracted many mainstream readers and forced literary critics to take the genre more seriously. For that alone we owe her a great debt, and she has also written a series of critical essays entitled The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction (1979). Her other masterpieces include The Disp... Read More

The Saturn Game: The slippery slope of fantasy role-playing

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The Saturn Game by Poul Anderson

Poul Anderson’s The Saturn Game, published in 1981, is a pre-Internet era exploration of role-playing games and their effect on the human psyche, which won the 1981 Nebula and the 1982 Hugo awards for best novella.

On an eight-year long voyage to Saturn, one of the more popular ways for the crew and colonists to pass time is becoming involved in psychodramas, a verbal-type role-playing game. But when a team of four people from the spaceship lands their smaller craft on Saturn’s moon Iapetus to explore the terrain, the terrain reminds three of them so strongly of the Tolkien-esque fantasy that they have spent countless hours creating and imagining that it begins to affect their judgment and discernment. Bad decisions start to cascade ... Read More

The Man in the High Castle: Axis Powers win WWII, and then things get weird

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The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

This is a strange and sinister book, even for Philip K. Dick. It’s a carefully-crafted alternate history about a world in which the Axis powers won WWII and now dominate the globe (other notable books in this vein include Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore and Pavane by Keith Roberts), but being PKD that is just the beginning. It prominently features the I Ching (Book of Changes), an ancient Chinese classic that serves as a sort of oracle or fortune telling device for several of the characters. The Pacific States of America are dominated by the Japanese, while the former ... Read More

Way Station: A solitary Midwesterner holds the key to the stars

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Way Station by Clifford D. Simak

Way Station is Clifford D. Simak’s 1964 Hugo Award-winning novel. By many readers it is considered his best, and it features some his favorite themes: a rugged Midwesterner who shuns society, human society flirting with nuclear disaster, a more enlightened galactic society that is wary of letting unruly humans join in, an appeal to common sense and condemnation of man’s penchant for violence.

Having recently read Simak’s 1952 fixer-up novel City, in which dogs and robots take over Earth in the far future, I’m getting a pretty good sense of the author’s likes and dislikes. He was born in a small Wisconsin town (just like my father, incidentally), attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison (also like ... Read More

Hothouse: Fertile and bizarre plant life, but human characters are pretty wooden

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Hothouse by Brian W. Aldiss

Yeah, Brian W. AldissHothouse (1962) was definitely written with some chemical assistance. Maybe some LSD-spiked vegetable juice? It may have been written as a set of five short stories in 1961, but it’s a timeless and bizarre story of a million years in the future when the plants have completely taken over the planet, which has stopped rotating, and humans are little green creatures hustling to avoid becoming plant food.

There are hundreds of fearsome carnivorous plants that would love to eat human morsels, but will gladly settle for eating each other instead. As the planet has come to a stop, a massive banyan tree now covers the sunny-side of the planet, with all other plants surviving in its shade. But there are gargantuan plant-based spiders called traversers who dwell above the plant layer and actually spin... Read More

The Queen of Air and Darkness and Other Stories: Well-written but overstuffed

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The Queen of Air and Darkness and Other Stories by Poul Anderson

Short story anthologies tend to be difficult to review, mostly because it’s hard to come up with a cohesive theme to discuss when the stories can be so diverse in quality and in tone. Fortunately for me, Poul Anderson seems to have gone out of his way in this little collection to ensure that any reviewer had no such problems here. The stories are actually remarkably similar in setting, tone, and theme. They also share much the same flaws. So while I will deal with the stories individually, I can also discuss them in general.

Each story in the collection is planetary romance of some description. Anderson apparently doesn’t buy into warp drives or wormholes, so voyages across the stars are always slow and expensive. In ea... Read More

Fahrenheit 451: A “Book Chat”

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For today’s Book Chat, we’re examining Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. Interestingly, it’s the only one of his novels that Bradbury considered to be “science fiction,” telling the story of Guy Montag, a fireman who starts fires rather than putting them out. In Montag’s world, books and intellectual curiosity are forbidden, with interesting and terrifying consequences.

Let’s begin!

Bill: Another day, another Bradbury classic. I’ve been a fan of Fahrenheit 451 since I read it the first time way back in late middle or early high school and have remained so through all those re-reads back when I used to teach it in high school as well (most student reactions were pos... Read More

A Case of Conscience: A Catholic priest faces aliens with morality but no religion

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A Case of Conscience by James Blish

Great A-side, dreadful B-side. A Case of Conscience is James Blish’s 1959 Hugo-winning SF novel, expanded from the1953 novella. Part One (the original novella) is set on planet Lithia, introducing a race of reptilians with a perfect, strife-free society and innate sense of morality. However, to the consternation of Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez, they have no religion of any kind. Their morality is inherent, and they have no need of a religious framework to direct their actions.

As a Catholic, Ruiz-Sanchez cannot make heads or tails of this. Without religion, do the Lithians have souls? If so, are they fallen into sin like humans, or still in a state of grace like Adam and Eve? He struggles with this conundrum, as well as the purpose of the expedition to Lithia, which is to determine whether the planet should be ... Read More