It's an exciting time of year; triumph mixed with disappointment as we live with the after-effects of Covid-19.
With restrictions on travel still in place, the conference has gone virtual; complete with an online dance party! The Sir Julius Vogel Award winners were announced earlier today. Winners in the Hugos will be announced on Saturday 1 August.
The list of nominees is, like Locus, huge and I couldn't possibly read them all. The interesting thing about the Hugos is that there is a Retro Hugo Award; awarded to classic Sci-fi novels printed before the Hugos began in 1955.
Some of the nominees from Locus have popped up again in this round; The Ten Thousand Doors of January, The City in the Middle of the Night, Gideon the Ninth, as well as the beautiful Novellas, The Deep, by Rivers Solomon, and This is How you Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Many of these include non-binary characters.
Here is a taster of the nominees for this year:
Best Novel: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Gideon the Ninth has popped up again in the Best Fiction Novel round. Tamsyn Muir is a Kiwi author living in the U.K. She's doing very well in the world of Fantasy Fiction; this is her first book and it's already made three award rounds, winning Best First Novel at the Locus Awards.
Gideon the Ninth follows the fortunes of a foundling, raised in the Ninth House of Necromancy. When the Reverend Daughter of the house, Harrowhawk, is summoned to duel her way to the position of Lyctor to the Emperor, she needs a Cavalier (swordsman)to watch her back. The two women are whisked off to duel their way to immortality. Necromancy, people! Reanimated skeletons! AND there is a second book of the Locked Tomb trilogy coming soon!
Best Novella: The Deep by Rivers Soloman
Lately I've been consciously reading books from that speak from the heart of African-American experience. This story really raised my awareness, even though I thought I knew a bit about the history of slavery in America.
The Deep is a story of Mermaids!
A fantastical premise, yet the origin and survival story of these people is, however, brutal. They were born in the ocean, their mothers African women who were stolen into slavery, then thrown into the sea; deemed 'costly and disruptive' due to their pregnant condition.
Absolutely horrifying. So horrifying that the species, originally called 'Zoti Aleyu' (Strange Fish), having survived and become prolific, cannot bear to remember.
One person alone can carry their memories; the historian. Now calling themselves the Wajinru (belonging), they gather once a year to relive their history in ceremony. Feeling the burden of pain and terror too great to bear, the historian, Yetu, flees from her people, seeking freedom from her role, only to find herself washed up in a rock pool and dependent on Two-Legs (humans).
"Two-legs had specific ways of classifying the world that Yetu didn't like...They organized the world as two sides of a war, the two-legs in conflict with everything else." The way Suka talked about farming, it was as if they ruled the land and what it produced, as opposed to...existing alongside it."
Best Novella: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Winner in this category in the recent Locus Award round, this is a complex Time-Travel story (what Time-Travel story isn't?).
Dealing with the premise, 'what happens if we mess with the timeline?' Authors Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone take it one step further, and like Annalee Newitz (The Future of Another Timeline); make this a war for control of the past. Or is it a war to see who will lose?
Two conspiracists, 'Blue' from 'the Garden' and 'Red' from 'the Agency' play cat and mouse with each other, in much the same way as Aziraphel and Crowley in Good Omens.
Writing to each other through hidden communications embedded in each others' assignments, they get to know each other, gaining an understanding of, then an empathy for, each others' very different lifestyles and ethics.
"It occurs to me to dwell on what a microcosm we are of the war as a whole, you and I. The physics of us. An action and an equal and opposite reaction. My viney-hivey elfworld as you say, versus your techy-mechy dystopia." p.36
The Garden is a biological planet system; The Agency technology-based - its people enhanced beyond biological existence: each moving through strands of time to destroy each other. Described by critics as 'lyrical' 'existential' and a 'space opera' with shenanigans. Love that word.
Best Novelette: Omphalos by Ted Chiang
The novelette, Omphalos, by Ted Chiang is one of the stories from his collection, Exhalation.
Omphalos is a story of a very religious Christian future existence, backed up very convincingly by archaelogical proof of the hand of God in the creation of the first beings and fauna.
The first people created by God have no tummy-buttons; proof that they were created, not born. Trees and bones have no concentric rings at the point of creation. All is well until a report goes public; an astronomy study that, in showing a sister planet to Earth is rotating, while Earth is not, suggests that humanity on Earth may have been an afterthought, a practice, or worse, an accident! Wonderful. Reminds me a bit of Tales From the Loop. Chiang's writing is pretty hard Sci-Fi.
Also from Exhalation, Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom, about parallel dimensions linked by prisms, is nominated in the Best Novella category.
Best Series: Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden
If the first book, The Bear and the Nightingale, is anything to go by, this trilogy is gripping.
The Bear and the Nightingale is a fairytale, set in ancient Rus: the land that was once Russia and Belarus. Although I was dubious at yet another fairytale retelling, this story is wonderful, colourful, full of imagination, with well fleshed-out characters. And Zombies!
I couldn't put this one down. I was moved by the plight of the characters and delighted by the ancient house and forest gods in turn. Vasya is the youngest daughter of her family and the only one who has inherited her dead mother's magic: she can see the house gods. When her people turn their backs on the old ways in favour of an enigmatic and vain Vicar, the house gods become weak, leaving the village exposed to a demon, and the walking dead. Can Vasya win the fight to save them all?
Vasya: "All my life...I have been told to 'go' and 'come.' I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man's servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent God. I would walk into the jaws of Hell itself, if it were the path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me. Please, please let me help you." (p.279)
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Good Omens, written by Neil Gaiman and directed by Douglas Mackinnon
Unique to the Hugos are awards for screenplay and episodes of a TV Series. This year the nominees are fantastic and include Star Wars: the Rise of Skywalker, Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame, to name a few.
Deservedly so, the series, Good Omens (or The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter) is nominated in this category.
I would definitely recommend the book - it's hilarious and brilliantly written. The series has been religiously adapted to screen by Neil Gaiman himself, retaining much of the hilarity of the original book in the script.
Good Omens follows the fate of an angel, a demon, a witch and the son of satan, in the fight to bring about, or stop, the ultimate battle between Heaven and Hell. The Earth and its people are merely pawns.
The characters are marvellous, the actors ineffable (look that one up); prompting pop-ups in London to rival The Handmaid's Tale. Neil Gaiman wrote the book in tandem with the much-missed Terry Pratchett, well known for his funny yet astute characters, especially witches.
Best Related Work: The Lady from the Black Lagoon by Mallory O'Meara
Celebrating women in Science Fiction, this wonderful non-fiction is an account of the author's search for information about the woman who created the Creature From the Black Lagoon. Largely overlooked and actually left out of the credits, Milicent Patrick was one of the pioneers of monster-making; creating a creature who has endured, where others have been forgotten. The author, x, makes horror movies herself; inspired by Milicent Patrick to take this career move.
Sir Julius Vogel Awards
There are a few categories for the New Zealand Science Fiction/Fantasy Awards, but here are my favourites.
Best Novel: Into the Ashes by Lee Murray
In the North Island's Central Plateau, the Earth quakes and the mountains erupt, threatening an explosion to rival Lake Taupō.
Ancient Māori spirits are seen among the lava and falling stones. As our hero Taine McKenna, a matakite (seer) is deployed to evacuate the remaining stragglers, they are cut off - along with a band of escaped prisoners ruled by a very dangerous and brutal man.
Who will survive? This is a great adventure read with elements uniquely Kiwi, and there are two others in this series, that can be read as stand-alone books.
Best Novel: The Prince of Secrets by A. J. Lancaster
This is book two of the series, Stariel. This series is about a magical family who inherit the lead role in the family by being chosen by the estate itself; not necessarily by being born into it. The fae, faerie people, are coming back to the mortal realm. Hetta's new boyfriend is secretly one of them. He has broken the rules and his people are coming for him.
Writer A. J. Lancaster calls it a 'gaslamp' fantasy; a mix of fantasy and historical fiction. With elements of romance and rivalry, it's a great fantasy read to rival most, while not appearing recognisably Kiwi. Kiwi writers these days don't have to self consciously reflect their remote location in the world.