This year our SCKA awards had a larger number of women and non-binary people and as such I wanted to give my thoughts on the categories:
I am not as big a fan of the Wayfarers series as some, so unfortunately To Be Taught, If Fortunate did not grab me as much as it has other people. The concepts were certainly interesting, but neither the style nor character work were to my tastes.
Silver in the Wood has a lot going for it that I liked, with folk horror, the sense of melancholy and the queer elements. I did wish it had more of an emotional punch but still a strong contender.
My choice of We Are Made of Diamond Stuff was a curveball but I really enjoyed a story that revels in being this stylistically interesting whilst also exploring the near-future through metaphor.
This is the third iteration of The Deep and as such Solomon keeps the myth evolving. They produce a story with a beautifully musical rhythm and major world-building to tell us about how our past still impacts us today. A show of real skill being able to show this in novella length.
But there is a reason why This Is How You Lose The Time War was the most acclaimed work of science fiction last year. An epistolary novel that unfolds beautifully and brimming with ideas, themes and metaphors that I see new things every time I go through it. An instant classic.
Additional Nominees: Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Incompleteness Theories by Wole Talabi
Black Matter is a fun urban fantasy idea. I didn’t feel like it was doing anything particular new but a very enjoyable piece. Also from Pseudopod we have another intriguing piece.
I enjoy monologues that tell a story in themselves ever since we started exploring the concept in primary school. As such In Regards to Your Concerns About Your Scare BnB Experience was one I really liked. It wasn’t as deep as some of the other stories but still great.
I felt Even When The World Has Told Us We Have Ended had a lot of interesting ideas in it they were not all as fully developed as I would have liked. One which definitely shows a lot of promise and I will keep my eyes out for more work by Hellisen.
Doll Seed is a germ of a story that I feel like could do with being grown. I like the imagery but felt like it should have been longer and have more to it.
This Book Will Find You is a fascinating collaboration to open the great collection, The Outcast Hours. The story does interesting things with the concept and has a wonderful atmosphere.
Do Not Look Back My Lion is the only piece of the SCKA shortlist and also on the hugo shortlist, and it is easy to see why. It is a great piece of epic fantasy, really well made. Alix E. Harrow is definitely proving to already be one of the great talents of the fantasy genre.
The Blanched Bones, The Tyrant Wind is almost flash fiction but Karen Osborne manages to do a very interesting take on standard fantasy tropes in such a short space of time. I really liked it a lot.
But my personal favourite of these has to be The Ocean That Fades Into Sky. Since I first read it I was entranced. Amazing imagery, great ideas and wonderfully weird
Additional Nominees: In This Moment, We Are Happy by Chen Quifan, The Migration Suite: A Study in C Sharp Minor by Maurice Broaddus
The Winternight Trilogy is a great atmospheric work. It really manages to capture the feel of the Russian winter as well as the magic of the folktales of the region. It is also very well-written marking Aden out as a great writer. I didn’t feel it had as much to say as many other recent stories we have set in a fantastic version of Eastern Europe or Russia, but purely as a work of enjoyment, it is wonderful
The Empires of Dust series is one I admired more than liked myself. To be honest I am not a big fan of this kind of grimdark story and so, whilst I had a lot of appreciation for Anna Smith Spark’s craft, subjectively it was not one I enjoyed reading.
One of the more interesting choices this year is Laurie J. Marks’ Elemental Logic series. This definitely has very traditional fantasy routes but was also willing to open up to new areas with modern vernacular, new concepts and some great character work.
In our first repeat nominee, The Winnowing Flame returns after The Ninth Rain won our inaugural SCKA. What was present in our reason for choosing the first volume as a great novel continues throughout the trilogy, with memorable characters and Williams’ lightness of touch but that makes these a fast paced but also fascinating read.
Finally, The Swords and Fire trilogy is one of the most complex nominees. On one level it is a fun fantasy romp about two people finding themselves whilst caught up in diplomacy and intrigue of a great empire, it is a story about enslavement and autonomy within a colonial power. Whilst it is not quite as successful as I might have hoped it is one of great ambition and thoroughly enjoyable.
Additional Nominees: Rosewater by Tade Thompson, Luna Series by Ian McDonald, Children of Time Duology by Adrian Tchaikovsky,
But which will go through to the final round? Watch this space to find out.
This year our SCKA awards had a larger number of women and non-binary people and as such I wanted to give my thoughts on the categories:
For me this has been the strongest category this year with none of them being particularly weak.
I was least impressed by The True Queen by Zen Cho but I think this was predominantly due to my aversion to sequels rather than any lacking quality in the book. It was still very well-written and had interesting comments to make on colonialism but compared to the other nominees in the category it didn’t have quite the same wow factor.
A not dissimilar book which impressed me more was Tasha Suri’s Realm of Ash, a sequel to Empire of Sand which manages to achieve the rare feat of outdoing the original. This also addresses ideas of colonialism and control but this manages to delve deeper into the characters and make you feel emotionally invested in a world filled with scheming characters.
Silvia Moreno Garcia is a recurring nominee in the SCKA and someone whose career I have been watching with much interest even if none of her works have yet to be one I consider a future classic. Gods of Jade and Shadow is the work that I think changes that and marks a leap forward in her writing. What this has is the brilliantly evoked atmosphere of jazz age Mexico transporting the reader in the way the best historical fiction does.
Talking of transportation, The Ten Thousand Doors of January was one of the most buzzed about books in 2019 and I can see why. First of all, Harrow brings a great amount of skill in her character work to really draw you in. Secondly, this has a really literary style and a clear intent to be in dialogue with works of the late 19th & early 20th century. Finally, this all comes together to help explore ideas around identity and who has control of a narrative.
However, none of these I loved quite as much as my top two. Gilded Wolves is a fully 3 dimensional fantasy. It has great world-building and atmosphere in an alternative Paris. It has real depth allowing for exploration of colonialism and resilience in the face of racism. But, most importantly, it is also just a great fun heist story which I adored.
But my number one pick, far and away, has to be Kingdom of Souls. This one has everything. Great characters, wonderful mythology and world-building. Loved the journeys and culture and messages about family dynamics and history. Often the fantasy genres can be regurgitating the same old tales in new clothing. This one felt brilliantly fresh in a way I haven’t experience in quite a while.
Additional Nominee: The Bone Ships by RJ Barker
Science Fiction Novel
Velocity Weapon is a novel with a good concept that fails to quite deliver on it. The setup of Sandra suddenly waking up and believing it might be the future and her entire world is dead but not knowing if she can really trust this information sounds great. Unfortunately, the characters and plotting ended up losing me as it went on. Not terrible just not as great as I would have hoped.
Much like The Ten Thousand Doors of January, A Memory Called Empire has been getting a lot of buzz and I can certainly see why. It has a great mystery and the world building and themes are excellent. I am always a sucker for intrigue and political shenanigans, so combining these with themes of imperialism and identity work really well.
All City was a book I got recommended to me early in 2019 and I was absolutely enthralled by it. What this essentially is, is a character study of very different people put into unusual circumstances but DiFrancesco does this with such skill that it elevates into embracing much broader ideas and creating something harsh but beautiful.
Finally, one that consumed me completely. I ended up reading The Outside in almost one sitting, only taking short breaks to calm down from all the tension. Everything was just wonderful. The setting, the mystery, the handling of difficult issues, the character work, the writing of action scenes. Even the sciencey stuff I was interested in. A truly staggering achievement.
Note: With recent allegations against Elizabeth Bear I am taking a personal decision not to discuss her novel in this post.
Additional Nominees: Steel Frame by Andrew Skinner; Fleet of Knives by Gareth Powell
Blurred Boundaries Novel
The Infinite Noise is an interesting one in that it is telling the stories of The Bright Sessions podcast from a different perspective, instead focusing on the romance plot. I am a big fan of the podcast so, unfortunately, this probably worked against me. As such I knew a lot of what was coming and spent too much time recalling the session these parts related to. I enjoyed it all but didn’t wow me the way some others did.
Unlike the other books on this list getting a lot of hype, Gideon The Ninth didn’t live up to it in my mind. It has a good aesthetic and the setup is standard good one. However, the characters and mystery didn’t weld together. Also I felt it had pacing issues in the second half. Still very enjoyable.
From a dark gothic tale, to one that is light and dreamy. The Strawberry Thief, in spite of how tightly put together it is and complex the ideas are, ends up being a charming read. This largely goes to Joanne Harris’ writing which is masterful.
I was a big fan of the first two stories in the Rupert Wong series, so was more than happy to dive into the final story. This moves the setting to America and deals with the Old Gods versus the New. Whilst not quite as strong as the previous volumes it is still one I thoroughly enjoyed.
An interesting story of Disneyland meets Westworld, The Kingdom brings together fairytale elements into ideas around AI rights and what it means to be human. Really grabbed me all the way through.
But the one that stands out for me by far is The Migration. This really hit it all right notes for me. It was a beautiful mediation on the nature of grief and health and using really clever allusions and mythology to really illustrate the themes. It also managed to combine a beautiful dream like atmosphere with some darker twists.
Additional Nominees: The Institute by Stephen King; David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
Coming soon: Part 2: Novellas, Short Stories and Series
I am a great fan of brevity in my stories and think the revival of the novella has been a major boon to science fiction. However, this is one of the first times I have had to put as my criticism, it needs to be longer.
The reason I would say this is there is an incredible amount going on in the world of The Seep. It is an Earth where aliens have attempted to relieve all of the problems of mankind. And as such the complexities of such a world and fascinating when we see them touched upon. Unfortunately, this does not have room to explore them in the depth I would have liked to have seen. The hints we are see are wonderful, but they rarely become more than just hints.
What we have instead is a novel about grief. Trina is happy with her wife Deeba, however Deeba wishes to be reborn as a baby. With Trina not willing to go through this with her, it ends up being as if Deeba has died to her and her life spirals. While people try to be supportive, it is a world where people are expected to be happy and not have to go through this kind of troubles. As such Trina finds herself getting more and more frustrated with the world that is trying to help her move on.
Where Porter excels is in the character work. Being told from Trina’s perspective she is able to articulate the pain that can come from a loss like this and what it can feel like not being able to really find an outlet for your feelings. In some ways it reflects the attitude in our current society as well where an individual is expected to simply stop being sad and get on with life, rather than really being allowed to feel their loss and work through it in the way we are intended to.
Along her journey comes with her is a sentient pamphlet called Pam. Imagine if the old Microsoft Office Clippy was both psychic and able to learn and you will get the gist. Just as Trina is exploring her feelings, Pam starts to understand the world from the opposite end, going from seeing grief as a simple process for humans to move through to seeing it as a more grey and complicated part of existence.
It also touches on issues of cultural identity and appropriation. That if you remove distinction and see people’s merely as empty shells, does that not simply erase the importance of history and culture?
This is where the frustration comes in however, as the ending does not really end up exploring these questions thoroughly enough for me and comes much closer to the libertarian dystopias of the 1990s. Simply stating how important feeling and the bad parts of our lives is to who we are. It is not that there is anything inherently wrong with message. I just wish it could have been more.
I don’t want this review to come across too negative. The amount of positives in it far outway the negatives. I am just left with the sense of something half complete. I think Porter could easily have filled a book 3 times the length and not run out of things to explore in the Earth of The Seep.
So do still pick it up. The writing style, character work and world-building are excellent and I hope you will be as fascinated by what Porter has created as I am.
Sometimes you end up reading not the book you expected but the book you needed. This is one of those cases.
I had heard references to Beggars in Spain in passing over the years. That it was an expansion of a well-received novella. It was nominated for a number of major awards at the time (along with its sequel). But it has largely fallen off people’s radars and appears to be out of the print in the UK. The audiobook is still available, so it became my medium of choice.
I am not sure why but I had expected something more akin to Queen City Jazz or Parable of the Sower. A post-apocalyptic tale of survival and genetic manipulation. Instead it is a near-future tale asking a moral question. If you met a beggar in Spain, should you give them money when they ask you, given they can do nothing for you in return?
In order to explore this Nancy Kress sets up two elements. First of all, the structural. A small group of children are modified so they no longer need to sleep. In doing so they become more intelligent, have increased life-span, and are able to amass much larger wealth. As such you have a group that are actually more successful due to natural advantage than through any systemic bias.
The second element is the philosophical. Kenzo Yagai is a genius who builds an amazing source of energy and sells it to the American government. Setting himself up as a cross between Elon Musk and Ayn Rand, he ends creating the philosophy of Yagaiism, whereby the worth of an individual is what they can supply to the community. The sleepless set this up and see those that do require sleep as simply beggars to their success.
Between these two forms and over a long period of time we follow, in particular, two of the sleepless who operate at different ends of the philosophical continuum. Leticia believes that they should use their increased knowledge and privilege to help the sleepers. Jennifer believes that sleepers will always hate them, wanting to create a separate society. Creating between very much a Professor X vs Magneto situation, albeit one with less super-powered battles and more debates on the nature of wealth distribution.
This story is expertly told, both by Kress’ writing and Campbell’s narration. This could easily descend into dull didacticism but for me it all felt like it flowed naturally and created a believable buildup of the world. Campbell’s voice added to this further being able to beautifully display the increased frustration Leticia is feeling at the world around her.
I don’t want to spoil the ending to this book but needless to say it stands alone well without needing to read the sequels and the conclusion is that the world cannot be as black and white as either Yagaiists or sleeper supremacists like to make it seem.
It’s that time of year again! Roll out your completely personal opinions and give up on any sense of order because The Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards nominees have been announced:
The Bone Ships by RJ Barker Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron The True Queen by Zen Cho Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi The Ten thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri
Science Fiction Novel:
Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear All City by Alex DiFrancesco The Outside by Ada Hoffman A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine Velocity Weapon by Megan O’Keefe Fleet of Knives by Gareth Powell Steel Frame by Andrew Skinner Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris The Last Supper Before Ragnarok by Cassandra Khaw The Institute by Stephen King The Migration by Helen Marshall Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen
To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers This is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone The Deep by Rivers Solomon (with Clipping) Incompleteness Theories by Wole Talabi Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh We Are Made of Diamond Stuff by Isabel Waidner
Winternight by Katherine Arden Swords and Fire by Melissa Caruso Luna by Ian McDonald Elemental Logic by Laurie J. Marks Empires of Dust by Anna Smith Spark Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky Rosewater by Tade Thompson The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams
Yes it is that time of year for the annual Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards for 2020.
As anyone who has been following along for the last few years these awards are put together by a series of bloggers to celebrate their favourite science fiction and fantasy of the prior year and have chaotic fun.
For this year we have two changes:
Firstly we have added a new category. We will now be awarding for our favourite short fiction, classified as any work published of less than 17,500 words.
Secondly, we have expanded our judging panel so allow us to introduce the other members of the judging panel:
KJ aka @crusaderofchaos is a South African book blogger specialising in all things speculative fiction with a particular love for science fiction. He can be found plodding away at the keyboard trying to make words make sense whenever inspiration, work and power blackouts allows. Occasionally he even posts the reviews at www.worldsinink.blogspot.com
Matt aka Womble aka @Runalongwomble is a book tempter ahem blogger at Runalongtheshelves.net and is the sweet voice on your shoulder telling you that it’s ok to get a new book. Can also be found on Twitter for additional book tempting.
C aka @TheMiddleshelf1 fell into sci-fi and fantasy at 13 and has been hopelessly addicted since. The creation of web provided the means to talk and share about that with actual people when it appeared so C can be found nowadays at www.themiddleshelf.org
Adri aka @AdriJjy is a semi-aquatic mammal currently living in the UK, where she divides her spare time between reading, interacting with dogs and making resolutions about doing more baking. She is a co-editor at 3x Hugo nominated fanzine Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together.
Jane aka @pipsytip is a book blogger and podcaster at www.dumpylittleunicorn.co.uk who has found herself living in the depths of South East London. She loves science fiction and fantasy and blurred genres in between.
Imyril aka @imyril has been reading for almost as long as she’s been walking (with fewer obvious bruises). She shares her FEELINGS and other opinions about fantasy, sci-fi and speculative fiction at There’s Always Room For One More.
We are coming to the end of another year and there so many books we loved. Some we got to review, some we did not. As such here is a round-up the top books we read in 2019:
Adult Novels & Novellas
Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman
A brilliant exploration of European colonialism through the lens of an alien invasion. Dark and multi-layered read that is thoroughly rewarding.
All City by Alex DiFrancesco
A far too overlooked debut novel from this year, exploring what happens when a superstorm hits New York. DiFrancesco has a great gift for character and I will watch their career with much interest going forward.
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
From one of the most overlooked to one of the most acclaimed books of 2019. A truly beautiful novel that has so much depth and emotion written to its pages.
Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys
Winter Tide was my favourite book of 2017 and so I was both excited and trepidatious about a follow-up. Moving the action to post-war New York allows for an in-depth exploration of immigrant life in America and shows why Emrys is one of the most skilled writers in the field today.
The Gilda Stories by Jewelle L. Gómez
An absolutely amazing story of black queer vampires from slavery to the future allowing us to see an intersectional history of America whilst also being a beautiful character piece.
The Outside by Ada Hoffmann
I started reading this on the plane journey back from WorldCon and I literally could not put it down until I finished it. Tense, awe inspiring and just a real work of genius.
The Last Supper Before Ragnarok by Cassandra Khaw
The final instalment in the great Rupert Wong series, our favourite cannibal chef. This expands the story to America and takes on Lovecraftian deities. An exquisite finish.
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
A worthy winner of the Hugo Awards, an alternative history of the space programme where Washington DC is wiped out and the Earth must be evacuated, so it is up to women scientists and pilots to get the job done.
The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
A brilliant work of epic fantasy and bildungsroman based around the history of China. What I found most impressive is that Rin is allowed to make poor decisions and we can understand why she does these things which have such disastrous consequences.
Shadowplay by Laura Lam
The second instalment of the Micah Grey trilogy, which is just as captivating as the first. Funny, tearful and exciting.
The Fairy’s Tale by F D Lee
This book is massively underrated. It’s the literary equivalent of a painting which appears twee and cute on first glance but, the more you look, the more you see the creepy faces and vines covered in blood and thorns.
The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
A great look at the time travel genre in an innovative way with a real focus on relationships. An overlooked gem.
The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa (trans.by Stephen Snyder)
A haunting work of science fiction in translation which takes the over-worn dystopian genre and gives it a new twist looking at the power of memory and how we imbue objects with meaning.
Doctor Who: Set Piece by Kate Orman
I have been rereading the Virgin Doctor Who novels in order and I found new appreciation for this one. Tying off Ace’s journey and pulling in elements from the books and TV series since Dragonfire to create a joyful parting where we see the characters and series grow up.
Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
I read this on the grounds that it was Eurovision in space, and whilst this is that, it is so much more. As well as a smorgasbord of imagination it is also a beautiful tale of the value of vulnerability and emotional honesty.
Sabrina The Teenage Witch Vol 1, Written by Kelly Thompson, Art by Veronica Fish, Colouring by Andy Fish, Lettering by Jack Morelli
Kelly Thompson is one of our favourite comic book writers today and to find her doing a Sabrina series was a must-read. This does not disappoint, mixing her trademark humour with a real understanding of people and reverence for character’s history. Plus supported by excellent artwork from the rest of the team.
On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
I admit I had not heard of this until the Hugo Awards nominations, but it is truly an amazing work combining beautiful art and a tale of great relationships.
Short Fiction Collections
How Long ’til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin
Jemisin is rightly considered one of the best writers in the world right now and it is only proper she got her short fiction finally collected to showcase her talents in this medium.
No Man of Woman Born by Ana Mardoll
A brilliant collection of short fantasy stories being used to explore trans and non-binary gender identities.
New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color, Ed. by Nisi Shawl
Nisi Shawl has put together a collection of some of the most talented people in the speculative fiction field to write great tales, all of which I am sure will continued to be discussed for years to come.
Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories by Vandana Singh
An absolutely incredible writer of short fiction collection some her best short stories here. An excellent way to discover her work.
Young Adult & Middle Grade Novels
Where the River Runs Gold by Sita Brahmachari
A dystopia with family, love and neurodiversity right at the centre. It’s aimed at a preteen audience but doesn’t shy away from themes akin to 1984 and The Hunger Games.
Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy
The start of a science fictional take on the Arthurian myths which is fun, smart and filled with great action. The second part is scheduled to come out in 2020 and I can’t wait.
Not Your Sidekick by C. B. Lee
A series I had been hearing about for the last few years and so glad I finally read it. Manages a beautiful balancing act between teenage superheroics, warm and fuzzy relationships and dark social commentary.
A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna
A story about family, secrets, politics and Hindu mythology, all set in space. The story is emotive, enthralling and surprising.
So that is a wrap for 2019. Hope you all have a happy new year and 2020 brings you many great books!
It’s been a while since I last added a review, and my apologies for that. Many things have got in the way of reading- I’ve been on the same few books for the last couple of months. I managed to clear some of my TBR this month, so hopefully there will be more reviews to come.
I’m starting with this one because, well, it blew me away. Brahmachari takes us into a future where a massive catastrophe, Hurricane Chronos, has wiped out most of the natural world, leaving the government to find new ways to grow flowers and food.
Nabil is raising two children- Themba (pronounced ‘Temba’), his son with his late wife, and Shifa, the abandoned child he found on the night of the Hurricane. When they reach their eleventh birthday, they are sent to Freedom Fields: a special school created after the Hurricane. Children spend their time at a boarding school which also includes learning to cultivate vegetation to feed the country. However, when Shifa and Themba arrive, they discover this school and the schemes behind it are far more sinister than they were originally led to believe. It then becomes a race against time for Shifa and Themba to get back to their father and reveal the truth.
The story is told from the perspective of Shifa, who is not only dealing with the upheaval of her life into a terrible labour camp, but also the separation from her dear feline companion, Daisy, and the revelation that she isn’t related to Nabil or Themba by blood. Her desire for justice and love for the family she’s always known drives her through peril and hardship.
As I said, this book blew me away. Brahmachari doesn’t shy away from so many issues which affect our modern day society: slavery, propaganda, class warfare, climate change, even the refugee crisis. This book is aimed for preteens and young adult, and it doesn’t sugarcoat anything. The parallels are clear and unashamedly poignant, which is both bold and also necessary. Another thing I found really refreshing is that Themba is neurodiverse and it’s done with grace and respect. Ir’s evident in her writing that Sita Brahmachari has done a lot of research into the varying components of her work to make the allegory come to life.
The style of writing is beautiful and expressive. I found myself fully absorbed in the text and doing the whole “aaah, just one more chapter”, which is something I have found harder to do as I’ve got older. The only thing I would point out as a negative is there is a cliffhanger towards the end which doesn’t get resolved, almost as though someone ripped out a couple of pages.
Additionally, the final conclusions, I felt, were a bit rushed. I would have liked to have heard more about how the end point was reached, but a lot of it happened off page. As a preteen reader, I would be happy with that, I think, so I’m not going to fault that too much. We still found out what happened and it was well written.
All in all, I recommend this book- it’s a very easy read which still dives into deep issues. The target demographic is approximately 9-12 but I’m 31 and enjoyed it.
Note: Fog Magic by Julie Sayer and Child of the Sun by Leigh Brackett were both longlisted, but I have yet to read these. As such I have left them out of the article here.
Best Novel 1943:
The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle
It is interesting to see a work of gothic horror make the ballot, particularly from a writer who up to this point would probably have been better known as a journalist and playwright. But I always welcome a fresh perspective and a more literary take on the genre.
The first thing that struck me was how much the mood and setting reminded me of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. And as such you could have seen this head more in that direction. Instead what we have is a haunted house story where ghosts are treated as much as a sensible part of the mystery as the human elements.
I enjoyed the spooky tale but I was left at the end wanting a little bit more. I know it is often cited as one of the best haunted house stories of all time but compared to say Shirley Jackson, Henry James or Toni Morrison it is on a much simpler level.
Grand Canyon by Vita Sackville-West (Longlisted)
Talking of literary writers, you cannot get much more highbrow than Vita Sackville-West. Missing out by the narrowest margin on being a finalist, this is a work that is much cleverer than it seems.
The concept sounds like it could easily be a piece of war time propaganda like The 49th Parallel. What Sackville-West’s skill allows it to do is transform into a much smarter study. Whilst we know that a Nazi attack is going to come eventually, it spends a long time with just the characters talking, allowing us to be lulled in.
As it goes on it becomes philosophical and nightmarish with some true weirdness at the end. It is not the easiest book to read but it is possibly the most interesting one to come out in 1943.
Best Novel 1944:
Earth’s Last Citadel by C. L. Moore & Henry Kuttner
Moore and Kuttner’s works are usually a delight and I look forward to them. The retro Hugo voters clearly agree with me, each of them having 9 nominations apiece so far (only beaten by Asimov and Heinlein).
However, this is the first of their writings I have come across the didn’t work as well for me. The story starts off interestingly enough, with our protagonists ending up on a dying earth. And whilst this is a fast-moving fantasy story it feels very insubstantial in the end.
Judgment Night by C. L. Moore (Longlisted)
This, on the other hand, was slightly more towards my tastes. This almost seems more the kind of space fantasy I would associate with Leigh Brackett. What does mark it out as distinctly Moore-ish is her characters, where she has a deep understanding of people’s motivations and she also constructs an interesting world.
The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton (Longlisted)
Although I grew up on Enid Blyton books this was not one I was familiar with in its written form. Instead it was from the animated series Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Lands, the first season of which adapted these stories. Whilst I enjoyed them, I was nervous going in, as not all of Blyton’s works age well. This one thankfully lacked any majorly problematic elements I could see. However, it also was quite simplistic.
Unlike the allegorical The Land of Far Beyond or adventurous Five on Treasure Island, this seems designed for very young readers. And whilst the portal fantasy element is always a good one there doesn’t seem to be much depth outside of how fun these lands would be to visit. The main characters are also pretty thinly drawn.
The whole thing is very enjoyable for young children and the adventures run quickly but they also feel like what I would have written as a seven-year-old myself. Nothing bad but also a bit lacking.
Best Novella 1944:
The Magic Bedknob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons by Mary Norton
I am a big fan of Bedknobs and Broomsticks (probably near wearing the VHS out in my youth) but had never read the original book, so was interested to check it out. The biggest difference with the film is that, rather than having a single driving narrative, these are more discrete Blytonesque adventures, with the bed acting as the magic portal.
Whilst the characters are quite good and the mood is fun, the adventures themselves vary between pedestrian and offensive. It has potential but, at least in the first half, it remains largely unfulfilled.
Best Novelette 1943:
There Shall Be Darkness by C. L. Moore
For me this is one of the best pieces published in 1943. It is a beautifully written novelette which is incredibly clever and packs a punch at the end. Coming before the beginning of the major moves towards de-colonization in the 50s and 60s this comes across as extremely prescient and another great addition to Moore’s illustrious career.
The Sorcerer of Rhiannon by Leigh Brackett
Leigh Brackett was a prolific writer in the early 40s. After having her first sale in the February 1940 edition of Astounding, in the following 3 years she had published 26 short stories, a novella and 2 novels.
However, that is not the only reason she is dubbed the queen of space opera. Her tales are also very entertaining yet have a certain edge and intelligence to them, which elevates them above the standard fare. This is a perfect example, at once a fantastic tale of a magical Mars but it goes in a different direction than you would got have from many other authors.
Best Novelette 1944:
Mimsy Were the Borogoves by C. L. Moore & Henry Kuttner – Winner
Between them in this two-year span they had published almost 50 stories. And of these this is probably the most famous, being regularly reprinted since the 40s and the basis of a major film.
However, this one left me cold compared with their usual inventiveness. I think your feelings on this will likely depend on what you think of the characters of Scott and Emma. I felt like I was meant to relate to them in the way we do with the Pevensie children but they felt flat and so I struggled to enjoy it. Clearly this has a wide audience of fans but not one for me.
Citadel of Lost Ships by Leigh Brackett
Even among Brackett’s earlier works this is one of the more interesting pieces that goes to darker places. From the appropriately swampy Venus we get a story of power struggles and prejudice that is still quite chilling even among the space hijinks.
I do have trouble with the idea of the world Romany, however. Whilst it is not as poorly drawn as other ethnic groups often are during this period, it is still done in a way that dates the piece badly.
Thralls of the Endless Night by Leigh Brackett (Longlisted)
I have read this one several times over and I still don’t know what to make of it. I think it might be trying to make a point about racism in the US at this point in time but, if that is the case, I feel it is being done in a poor way. If this is incidental and it’s just meant to be a darker space adventure then I don’t think it works in that manner either, being quite slow and leaden. Not one for me.
Best Short Story 1943
The Twonky by C. L. Moore & Henry Kuttner – Winner
This is a rightly famous tale of robotic appliances gone wrong, in its short space it manages to be atmospheric and memorable. A very worthy winner.
Child of the Green Light by Leigh Brackett (Longlisted)
Whilst this didn’t quite make my final nominating ballot it was one I definitely considered. This one seems to have a less fantastical feel to it and a slightly harder science fictional edge (although still very firmly in the mood of the space opera adventures of the rest of her Solar System stories) and ends up being one of the more memorable of her series.
Best Short Story 1944
Doorway into Time by C. L. Moore
And with this nomination Moore has an unusual record. The only writer to be on the Hugo final ballot in the same year for novel (Earth’s Last Citadel), novella (Clash By Night), novelette (Mimsy Were the Borogoves) and short story (Doorway into Time).
This is a much slower and more ponderous tale than we often get from Moore. It is a tale told in rich prose as if we are meant to see it in slow motion. Very different from much of the work you will see during this period.
The Iron Standard by C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner (Longlisted)
Whilst Nothing But Gingerbread and The Iron Standard didn’t quite make the final ballot they came close with the next most nominations (along with Frederic Brown’s The Geezenstacks). Which both goes to show how strong Moore and Kuttner’s writing is and the importance they have to the history of the genre.
This is a good example of their ingenuity. It is shaped like an interplanetary adventure but it is really a tale of possible economics and where humans are attempting to survive in a completely different system from which they are excluded.
Nothing But Gingerbread Left by Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore (Longlisted)
As you can tell by now C. L. Moore was one of the defining writers of the early 40s. And after the seminal There Shall Be Darkness this was my favourite of hers from these two years.
This is a piece that is weird and humorous but also has a fascinating idea at its core; the use of a semantic virus against German speakers and the effects of it.
Best Professional Artist:
We already covered her career in our previous piece so here I will look at her 1942 and 1943 work.
By this point Brundage’s career was winding down. She had the above two covers and three pieces of interior art for Weird Tales. This does not appear to be due to a lack of talent but changing environment and publishing control, leaving her in relative poverty for the rest of her life.
This is a shame because for me I actually think her work is significantly better during this period. Gone are some of the problematic and over sensationalised elements. Also the women are depicted in a wider range of poses and situations, with an interesting range of compositions. Ironically hers are some the most memorable covers of Weird Tales in this period just as her work was being used less.
Dorothy M. Wheeler (Longlisted)
Dorothy M. Wheeler appears to have started her collaboration with Blyton in 1939 but was already a well-known artist by that point due to her numerous watercolour fairytale depictions.
The work she was being nominated for this time was specifically the cover of The Magic Faraway Tree, which it cannot be denied is a stunning piece of art, with so much detail that directly conveys the sense of wonder of the story within. So many wonderful little touches and ideas go into her work you can easily get just as lot in them as you can in a book itself.
Best Editor Short Form:
Following the struggles Weird Tales had after the deaths of Howard and Lovecraft and having to go bi-monthly, we begin to see an upswing in quality. Whilst losing out on the Ffhard and Grey Mouser stories to Unknown, Lieber produced several strong horror stories for Weird. Robert Bloch continued to produce creepy tales, including his famous Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper. Otis Kline’s final work (in collaboration with Frank Bellknap Long), The Return of the Dead, came out of there in 1943.
Probably the biggest reason, however, was picking up a number of Ray Bradbury’s stories, including 3 of his most uncanny: The Scythe, The Wind and The Crowd. As such a very strong couple of years and would point the way for the future.
I was very glad to see Mary Gnaedinger to get on here as her work is often overlooked. Starting in 1939 she started editing Famous Fantastic Mysteries, which would be followed by Fantastic Novels and Abraham Merrit’s Fantasy Magazine, and would continue to edit every issue.
These magazines were largely reprints, but of works that otherwise readers wouldn’t get to see at that time. In this she would reprint for the first time works by Francis Stevens, Ray Cummings, George Allan England, and Ralph Milne Farley among others, helping reintroduce older works to a new generation long before the emergence of easily available paperback editions.
In addition, however, she also began to publish some original fiction as well, with two of the short story nominees (Doorway into Time and King of the Grey Spaces) coming from these pages. This was still a minority of the content but points out the quality of some of the choices that would appear.
So, these have been good years for women getting nods, but will this continue next year? I would hope so, among others we see:
CL Moore continued to produce excellent work, in particular the superlative No Woman Born. Leigh Brackett’s Solar System keeps expanding, with her first novel in it, Shadow Over Mars, being of particular note.
For fans of the supernatural, Elizabeth Bowen released a number of stories in mainstream magazines whilst Allison V. Harding had a range in Weird Tales.
Edna Mayne Hull has a new story in the Artur Blord series as well as a new novel, The Winged Man.
Whilst for fans of Enid Blyton she continues her prolific writing with books such as Tales of Toyland and The Train That Lost Its Way.