Aliette de Bodard is currently Hot Property, I daresay. She has previously won BSFA and Nebula awards, and has just won another two BSFAs as announced at Mancunicon (the UK National SF Convention this year) - a feat unheard of for quite some time. She is also nominated for this year's Hugo awards, in several categories (the shortlists are not released yet as I'm writing this), but I was wondering how her novella The Citadel of Weeping Pearls, published in the October/November issue of Asimov's and thus eligible for the 2016 Awards, would hold up in comparison to her other work; but especially in comparison to its (distant) prequel On a Red Station, Drifting, a Hugo and Nebula finalist which I very much appreciated.
Well, let me start by saying that the two stories are rather different, on a number of levels. Even taking into account that Aliette does not really see these as direct sequels, and that they are only loosely linked by being set in the same universe (Xuya, in the future strand), it feels like I'm not really comparing apples with apples here.
The Citadel of Weeping Pearls is centred on the Xuya Imperial court, and the Empress Mi Hiep. Mi Hiep quarreled with her daughter, the Bright Princess Ngoc Minh, 30 years ago. Ngoc Minh removed herself and her followers from the court, and founded the Citadel of Weeping Pearls to continue her quest of investigating teachings outside the court prescribed ones, and develop the teleportation, telekinetic etc abilities that were her focus of learning. When her mother felt threatened by the martial applications of these new developments, and sent her fleet do destroy he daughter and her creation the whole Citadel disappeared, and was never heard of again. But now Bach Cuc, the court's Grand Master of Design Harmony and key researcher in the effort to try and track down the Citadel has disappeared, and the Empress sends her former lover, the General Suu Nuoc, and the mindship The Turtle's Golden Claw (who is her own granddaughter) to solve the mystery and track him down, as having access to the Citadel and its resources and abilities might be her only chance in the war that is looming.
I've recently been paying a lot of attention to world building, and how the authors use their world in their works. This Census Taker by China Miéville is quite an outlier here – whilst you get the feeling that there is an extensive, well worked-out world with loads of history and structure out there you are given nothing of it which is not absolutely necessary for the story at hand, leaving you yearning to learn more. Miéville is a London-based writer and academic with 10 or 11 novels (depending on how you count) and a good number of non-fiction publications under his belt. He is the winner of multiple awards, including the BSFA, Clarke, and Hugo, and he has no fewer than 5 books coming into the shops in 2016, this being one of them.
What is This Census Taker about? The story starts with a boy – the protagonist? - recalling how he ran down the hill from his family's dwellings into town, to tell how his mother had killed his father. Or his father his mother, he is/was not entirely clear. He has spent his youth, up to that point, as an Uphiller, as high up the slope as is possible whilst still being part of this town spreading across two sides of a ravine, linked by a bridge. His father makes keys. Keys which make things happen – are they magic? People come to him with their problems, with their requests, and he makes them a key. No, it is never explained how this works, or what his father's skills are (I'm sure it's in the worldbuilding, but it's a detail not necessary to the story told). His life seems to be one without possessions; when he was a boy, when he was with the gang of rogue children in the town, and as a Census Taker. And now as a prisoner?
Why, welcome to my on-going Stross catch-up. Charles Stross is an adoptive Scot, the award-winning author of several series, and a hugely entertaining presence at conventions, both at panel discussions and at the bar. The Laundry Files, of which The Apocalypse Codex is the 4th instalment, is a heady mix of IT-geeky in-jokes (Charlie has a background, you see), British-style secret service capers, and the horrors of bureaucracy. And, or course, the horrors from beyond the ever-thinning wall of what we consider reality. Trust me, it's good stuff if your taste (and your humour) run in these directions.
The story kicks off shortly after where the Fuller Memorandum left off – Bob Howard gets a little time to recover and mend his damaged body and badly messed-with brain, and then, whilst still on 'light duty' (ie mainly paperwork) is sent off on Civil Service management training (will the horrors never end? How did he deserve this?). But of course things don't stay put – the end of the world is approaching, as we all know (the Laundry calls it CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN), and when Angleton, his boss, asks him 'to keep an eye on some departmental assets that are going walkabout' he says yes. Big mistake, as is obvious (never volunteer!), and so Bob is loaned out to Gerry Lockhart from Externalities (not a department Bob was aware of previously), and is put in charge of observing the work of two external contractors (which the Laundry, by its very nature, doesn't have) who are investigating a very convincing American mega-church/??? preacher who is getting his claws into the British PM. The external consultants are known as Persephone Hazard (a Modesty Blaise – style tuckerisation of, er Persephone Hazard!) and her sidekick Johnny McTavish, who is not entirely human. But Bob has his technological approach to computational demonology, and of course his new skills which he, unwillingly, acquired during the last book.
If none of the above makes any sense then I presume you haven't read any of Charles Stross' Laundry Files books. Now, there is a potted roll-up of the background early on in the book, plus a number of generic info dumps which will bring you up to speed. I don't see why you would want to start with this book, though, even as you could. The series is seriously entertaining, and I would suggest you'd start at the beginning, with The Atrocity Archive.
It's the first story I can remember written around 3 cups of Chinese Tea, one type each per cup!
It is set in her Xuya universe, in this case in the 22nd Century, discussing the death of a researcher into how to provide the food supply for the civilisation on space ships and stations, and the grieving by her children, and official (who should have received her memory implants, but didn't for political reasons), and the mindship The Tiger in the Banyan.
It was published (and can be read online) in Clarkesworld, and is also available as a Podcast; and it is nominated for the 2015 BSFA awards.
S.P. Somtow (a pseudonym for Somtow Sucharitkul) is one of Thailand's most fascinating and prolific exports – after distinguished careers abroad in music, then literature (he is an award-winning SF, Fantasy, and Horror author) he is now back in Thailand, writing and staging operas (his latest project is a 10-Opera cycle based on the 10 lives of the Buddha) in-between touring the world with his Siam Sinfonetta youth orchestra. Oh, and writing books again, too, like the one here. He has published 53 books (his count) and 6 libretti (these are 2013 figures. I'm sure he has added to that since...).
Bible Stories for Secular Humanists is a topical collection, containing a bunch of religious or religion-based stories, with a rather different interpretation or spin on them. Quite some of them contain horror elements – it seems that religion and horror are easy bedfellows. I leave the argumentation (and this book can lead to endless arguments I daresay!) to the reader...
The collection starts with an essay, nay, a column from Iniquities Magazine, called 'Theology for Secular Humanists' (you see where the inspiration for the title/collection came from); the rest of the book is structured into parts labeled Genesis, Protoevangelion, Passion, Acts, Judgment, Apocalypse, Apocrypha, Genesis. Most of those contain one story, a few contain two. Each story comes with a short introduction by the author, telling us something of the background to it – some of these are tantalising, some are fascinating, and some are little stories of their own... The opening essay develops the idea that horror fiction is deeply religious, besides being about sex and death (er, and most religion is about - ?). It's a mighty triumvirate, that, I reckon.
Below is a run-through of the individual stories – if this bothers you then stop reading here – all I can tell you is that this is entertaining, in large parts thought-provoking, and a great read for everyone with an interest in religion-based fiction, regardless of how religious you are. And if you're the religious type who's looking to be offended then you've come to the right place, too...
I only picked this book up by chance, having thought that I had read all books by Iain M. Banks (the SF writer incarnation of the late writer) – until I saw this copy of Transition. I have meanwhile learned that, in most places, most editions of this book were published under Iain Banks (the mainstream novelist incarnation); except an American PB edition (which is what I have), and, I think, a French edition, too.
I guess you can rate the book as one or the other list – and I don’t think Iain had any problem with that either.
So, depending on how you look at it, either we have here a rather splendid story with secret organisation, working across the many worlds of a multiverse, with political machinations, and surprising twists and turns. Or, alternatively, we have a clever comment on the US, on rendition and forced information extraction, the legality thereof, and, as some people have pointed out, imperialism. Or maybe, if you dare, you have both. Which is rather grand, if you ask me.
Either way, the book begins with someone claiming to be an 'unreliable narrator', giving us a number of beginnings, and an ending (he gets killed), just for good measure. Thereon we follow multiple threads, all told through the eyes of the respective protagonist – some direct action descriptions, but mostly reflective, introspective, plus some confessionals; all of them under the title, er, label of the protagonist in question (Patient 8262, hiding away, biding his time. The Philosopher – ex army and police 'interrogator', now working for the Concern. The Transitioner – adept at travelling between the different worlds, and mostly working as an interdimensional assassin now. Plus some more, some of them named).