Search This Blog

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Hugo Shortlist 2020

Here is the short list for this year’s Hugo Awards.  For those of you who don’t know about this award, the annual award for the best in speculative fiction, voted on my members of the World Science Fiction Convention. This year I’m a member - I was hoping to attend, as it’s only over the pond in New Zealand, but I’m sure you all know why that’s not possible. It’s all gone online, not the same, but at least it’s still happening, as are the Hugo Awards. As a I am a member, I have  been sent links to downloads for books, short stories, etc. I guess it’s worth joining for the books alone.

 I confess I haven’t read any of them, but will hopefully be able to comment on each one I do read. It will take me a few days to download everything I want(forget the dramatic presentations, which are in the gigabytes! I’ve seen most of the long form and a couple of the short form anyway) and yesterday I did so much downloading I had a hard time backing it all up. Today I have downloaded the short stories. A couple of the books only offered an extract, so I will save myself some download on those. If the publisher is not willing to let me read the whole book, I’m not willing to give them my vote. Plenty to read! 

I see there are two Aussie dwelling nominees in the New Author category. Nice! Plus an Aussie podcast, 

Anyway, here ‘tis! Thanks to Locus Magazine from which I got this list.  Have you read/seen any of them?

Best Novel
Best Novella
Best Novelette
  • “For He Can Creep”, Siobhan Carroll ( 7/10/19)
  • “Omphalos”, Ted Chiang (Exhalation)
  • “Away with the Wolves”, Sarah Gailey (Uncanny 9-10/19)
  • “Emergency Skin”, N.K. Jemisin (Forward)
  • “The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye”, Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny 7-8/19)
  • “The Archronology of Love”, Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed 4/19)
Best Short Story
  • “Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 1/31/19)
  • “As the Last I May Know”, S.L. Huang ( 10/23/19)
  • “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons 9/9/19)
  • “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, Nibedita Sen (Nightmare 5/19)
  • “Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, Rivers Solomon ( 7/24/19)
  • “A Catalog of Storms”, Fran Wilde (Uncanny 1-2/19)
Best Series
  • Winternight, Katherine Arden (Del Rey; Del Rey UK)
  • The Expanse, James S.A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • Luna, Ian McDonald (Tor; Gollancz)
  • InCryptid, Seanan McGuire (DAW)
  • Planetfall, Emma Newman (Ace; Gollancz)
  • The Wormwood Trilogy, Tade Thompson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Best Related Work
Best Graphic Story or Comic
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
  • Avengers: Endgame
  • Captain Marvel
  • Good Omens
  • Russian Doll, Season One
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
  • Us
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
  • Doctor Who: “Resolution”
  • The Expanse: “Cibola Burn”
  • The Good Place: “The Answer”
  • The Mandalorian: “Redemption”
  • Watchmen: “A God Walks into Abar”
  • Watchmen: “This Extraordinary Being”
Best Editor, Short Form
  • Neil Clarke
  • Ellen Datlow
  • C.C. Finlay
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas
  • Sheila Williams
Best Editor, Long Form
  • Sheila Gilbert
  • Brit Hvide
  • Diana M. Pho
  • Devi Pillai
  • Miriam Weinberg
  • Navah Wolfe
Best Professional Artist
  • Tommy Arnold
  • Rovina Cai
  • Galen Dara
  • John Picacio
  • Yuko Shimizu
  • Alyssa Winans
Best Semiprozine
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies
  • Escape Pod
  • Fireside
  • Strange Horizons
  • Uncanny
Best Fanzine
  • The Book Smugglers
  • Galactic Journey
  • Journey Planet
  • nerds of a feather, flock together
  • Quick Sip Reviews
  • The Rec Center
Best Fancast
  • Be the Serpent
  • The Coode Street Podcast
  • Galactic Suburbia
  • Our Opinions Are Correct
  • Claire Rousseau’s YouTube channel
  • The Skiffy and Fanty Show
Best Fan Writer
  • Cora Buhlert
  • James Davis Nicoll
  • Alasdair Stuart
  • Bogi Takács
  • Paul Weimer
  • Adam Whitehead
Best Fan Artist
  • Iain Clark
  • Sara Felix
  • Grace P. Fong
  • Meg Frank
  • Ariela Housman
  • Elise Matthesen
Lodestar for Best Young Adult Book (Not a Hugo)
Astounding Award for Best New Writer (Not a Hugo)
  • Sam Hawke*
  • R.F. Kuang*
  • Jenn Lyons
  • Nibedita Sen*
  • Tasha Suri*
  • Emily Tesh
*Second year of eligibility

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Just Finished Re-Reading... How Far To Bethlehem by Norah Lofts


This is one of the books I’ve found lurking on the shelves in my old bedroom. I took it home for a re-read and was pleasantly surprised to find it still very readable. Norah Lofts wrote a lot of general historical fiction, but this is one of a couple of Biblical themed books, the other one I know about being Esther, a novel about the Jewish girl who married a Persian king and saved her people from a planned pogrom.

This one is about the journey of the Three Wise Men, each of whom has his own biographical chapter. Only one of them, Gaspar, is actually a king, and that’s only because he conquered a city state and settled down there with his Horde. He is a Mongol.

 Melchior is Korean and an astronomer/astrologer. He was once a wealthy man, but sold everything to set up his tower to observe the stars and has since lived with one slave, a woman who has loved him since their youth, but never managed to get the attention of her nerdy master. He is the first to set off, to warn the child of destiny’s parents of his danger.

 Balthazar is African, an escaped slave. He has had a few visions too, mainly of the future, in a polished surface. He is an accountant by trade, which is just as well, because the other two are naive in everything except their own special areas. Gaspar is a bit like Twoflower, the Discworld tourist who is carrying around a lot of gold coins that he doesn’t know are worth a lot outside his country. They are, in fact, valuable coins that brides receive to wear on their foreheads till needed. Balthazar, horrified at how many have been spent, takes over the  finances of the group. 

So - only one actual king - and his gift of gold is the crown of the last king of his city. The frankincense was meant to be an offering in Gaspar’s city, but was handed to him as he was leaving. He hates the smell, so  gives it to Melchior. The myrrh is a healing ointment. 

Not only the Magi have biographies - there is one for the innkeeper and even one for one of the shepherds in the stable!  By the time the stable scene happens you know everyone in it, including the main actors, Mary and Joseph.  Even Herod gets a viewpoint! 

The language is plain, modern English, but not colloquial. I liked that. Admittedly Nazareth feels like a small English village and I’m not sure all the animals and plants described were to be found in that country at the time. But I found it easy to suspend disbelief.

 Hopefully you will too, if you can get hold of a copy. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

“Not Worth Going To See..” : A Guest Post By Tim Richards!

Today, dear readers, I invite you to enjoy a guest post by travel writer Tim Richards! It’s very different from the children’s writing I do, and needs vastly different skills.

Like, maybe, going on a whale watching tour and settling for seals when the whales don’t turn up? I have had this happen to me in New Zealand, except it was dolphins, and the whales did turn up, but only briefly, in the distance... I happily settled for the dolphins, which clowned and frolicked in the waters by the boat, but I don’t know if I could do this for a living. 

Tim lives with his writer wife Narrelle Harris in the Melbourne CBD. They go for walks regularly to favourite spots, and report on it on Twitter. Once a travel writer...

Enjoy the post, in which Tim gives us an idea of his preferred type of environment! It was first published on his website(see below)

Boswell: “Is not the Giant's Causeway worth seeing?”
Johnson: “Worth seeing, yes; but not worth going to see.”

I was thinking about Samuel Johnson’s world-class diss of the famous basalt formations off the coast of Northern Ireland one afternoon, as I sat in a Zodiac boat in the waters off Victoria, Canada.

I had plenty of time to mull it over, because it was a three-hour whale-watching tour in the waters off Vancouver Island in which we saw nothing.

Well, no whales. We saw seals. A lot of seals. Mind-boggling numbers of seals.

“Seals, glorious seals!” by Tim Richards

(Really, I never needed to see any seals again after that. And yet, like brewery tours, I’ve reached my limit but have still endured more.)

Off in the far distance, we spotted a US nuclear submarine making its way along the Pacific coast. But it was too far off to be really gripping. When we limped back into port, everyone crestfallen, the guide in charge of our vessel made a laboured job of listing all the things we did see (including seals!), and offering a freebie for anyone fool enough to submit themselves to this activity again.

You might think the absence of whales means Johnson’s pithy quote is not applicable; that there was nothing to mildly sneer at as “not worth going to see.” But to that, I give you: nature.

There, I’ve said it. I’m a fan of urban environments. Pop me down in a foreign city, point me vaguely in the direction of some interesting neighbourhoods, and I’m happy. I can spend any amount of time exploring built-up areas. 

To me cities are the greatest achievement of humanity. To overcome our natural instinct to cluster in small bands of people we know personally, to instead create vast conglomerates of districts and dwellings to the point that – in the larger cities – every possible shade of taste and community is represented in quantity – is near-miraculous.

When cities go wrong, of course (did anyone mention a virus?), they can be hellholes. But interesting, fascinating, colourful hellholes nonetheless. And they’re easy to reach – flights, after all, generally land at cities. One Uber ride later and you’re in the midst of it.

But nature is often far away, nature is unpredictable, nature is often uncomfortable. And hard to navigate on your own, barring the hiring of appropriate vehicles or mountain bikes or other specialised gear, or undertaking heroic hikes.

I get why people like that. I’ve visited national parks and found them beautiful. Even better, I’ve sat in the bar car of transcontinental trains – think Australia or Canada – and admired striking scenery bereft of humans, while sipping an excellent cocktail. (Trains to me count as urban attractions, because they’re basically long thin towns travelling through the countryside. The most civilised towns that exist, IMO. Go on, fight me.)

Bar Car of The Indian Pacific train. By Tim Richards

Getting to nature is hard work, and then sometimes it doesn’t show up to the party. I’ve sat in uncomfortable boats for three hours waiting for bears who preferred to be elsewhere, and bobbed around for three hours in a Zodiac not looking at whales. Why are these sessions always three hours, by the way, when two would be sufficient?

Other tours involve being driven for hours in a minibus for a fleeting encounter with nature. Many tourists spend many, many hours on a bus to see the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne in one day. Just no. It’s never worth spending that long on a bus. Buses are the devil’s transport, possibly even worse than planes. Yes, it’s to do with the tiny seat width and immobility, on both of them.

Give me a city any day, it’s like a puzzle I have to solve, a code I have to crack, a treasure box I have to prise open. Don’t get me wrong – the best parts of a city are not the obvious tourist traps; no matter how good the attraction, there’s nothing more soul-deadening than joining shuffling tourist crowds to see it.

When I first visited New York City I had a quick look around MoMA and a cruise past the Statue of Liberty – then I hit the streets of Bushwick, a long-time Hispanic neighbourhood east of cool Williamsburg that was gradually becoming gentrified, with incursions by hipster food and street art, but with the existing culture still standing strong. I loved seeing a ‘hood in transition, meeting locals, eating tacos at a factory where tortillas were manufactured.

Food place in Bushwick. By Tim Richards

Beyond hanging in neighbourhoods, meeting people is the highlight when I travel. I love making connections on the road, often meeting in real life people I know from social media. Getting together for a drink with locals (not seals) is what brings a place alive for me. Spending a day in the tourist-free St Roch district of Quebec City was brilliant like that, eating and wandering and chatting to locals, interviewing the guy who runs the fish shop (I mean poissonnerie) on the main street.

Another time I met a German man who was once the president of an ABBA fan club, at a specialist beer bar in Stockholm. While I interviewed him we drank beer, and for one round I ordered a Norwegian craft beer from the list on the big board above the bar. It wasn’t until we were both quite drunk, talking nonsense about ABBA too loudly for a Swedish audience, that I realised the beer was 10% alcohol. That was the best night, and the best interview. And the best memory. What there is of it.

So keep your whales (really seals) and your bears and your collection of interlocking basalt columns. If I happen to be passing, I’ll certainly take a look and admire them. Just don’t expect me to go out of my way.

Freelance travel writer Tim Richards has launched his own Patreon site, at which he writes regularly about travel-related topics. Tim promises to keep readers entertained with three posts per week featuring lively travel-related writing and images; patronage starts at US$3 per month and you can cancel anytime. Visit to sign up and read more of his travel writing, and in the meantime he hopes you have enjoyed the free sample! 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Boys In Books!

A  recent comment on this site wondered whether boys would read more if there were more YA books about boys. It’s certainly true that the average YA fantasy or SF novel written in recent years is  seen from the female viewpoint, and that in dystopians, the average trope is “teenage girl saves the world.”

But there is plenty of stuff in which boys play the lead role. I won’t be going into the obvious ones like Harry Potter, because everyone has heard of that series and either read it or, if they are interested, has it on their list to read. I won’t go into the classics here either, though I would like to point out that the vast majority of those were written for the enjoyment of boys.

I’ll just talk about a few book series I have read and enjoyed which are seen from a male viewpoint. Some are written by men, some by women -  no problem either way! They’re all good. 

Let’s start with Aussie author John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series and the spinoff Brotherband series. Both are set in a mediaeval world mainly centred around European-style countries, though the England-equivalent is named Araluen, the real-world name of a place in New South Wales. The characters do travel outside of the Europe-equivalent. 

The hero of the Ranger’s Apprentice series is Will, an orphan brought up in a castle along with other orphaned children. His dream is to go to Battle School to be trained as a knight, but he is just too small and slim, so he is taken on as an apprentice by Halt, a Ranger. The Ranger Corps are very good at climbing and using bows and fighting in ways that don’t require armour and don’t need the Ranger to be big and hulking. They are required to have brains, though! 

In this world, women have a lot more freedom and work opportunities than in our mediaeval Europe. 

And people drink coffee. 

On the whole, the series is good fun and exciting as well. There is not a lot of magic, despite the fantasy world. That doesn’t mean there is no magic at all...

The spinoff Brotherband series is set in the same universe, with a hero, Hal, who also uses his brains rather than brawn. The setting is a Scandinavia-equivalent. 

I won’t go into the Percy Jackson books, which are pretty much as well known as the Harry Potter books, but I did read and enjoy the first one. Percy is a demigod, son of Poseidon, studying with a bunch of other demigod teens in modern America. A nice idea to get kids interested in Greek mythology.

Garth Nix’s best-known work is the Old Kingdom series, which are centred around heroines rather than heroes, but he did write a middle-grade series with a male protagonist, The Keys To The Kingdom, which are named for the days of the week - Mister Monday, etc. I confess I only got around to reading the first one, but one of my book club lads bludgeoned me into buying the whole series for the library. I was very pleased, during a Melbourne Writers Festival event, to be able to introduce him to the author, as well as a friend of his who had read and loved the Old Kingdom books, despite the girls on the covers. 

Catherine Jinks wrote a series called Evil Genius, set in Sydney, about a boy who finds himself studying to be exactly that. The kids at his special school all have powers, including one whose special power is his stink! 

That brings me to Mark Walden, whose H.I.V.E series is centred around the Higher Institute of Villainous Education. It’s a Hogwarts for future super villains(it also has a henchman program for future minions). The hero, Otto, has a mysterious past, which he finds out about in the course of the series. He is brought there because he showed impressive technical skills that basically brought down a particularly nasty Prime Minister. Another student was an international jewel thief at about thirteen. There is even a sort of Neville Longbottom character who is a genius with plants and nearly wipes out the school with a giant plant monster. There are some strong female characters, but the books are seen from Otto’s viewpoint. 

I have reviewed the first book on this site. The first one is very funny, but they become grimmer as the series goes on. I did get an interview with the author here, and he explains that. 

I probably shouldn’t say too much about the Artemis Fowl books(see my review of one here) which are at least as big as the Percy Jackson ones, and I believe there is a forthcoming film. But they are wonderful! Despite having the name of a Greek goddess, Artemis Fowl is a boy, Irish, and brilliant. He’s part of a wealthy Irish crime family, but his Dad is not much of a baddie and when he is kidnapped, Artemis devises a plan to raise the money to save him by kidnapping a fairy. The fairies are a technologically advanced race who live underground and only come up to our world when they need to. His fairy is a sort of female James Bond. She is not impressed at being grabbed by a human. The first book is middle grade, but like Harry Potter, the series grows up with the readers.

British author Charlie Higson wrote two very enjoyable boy-viewpoint series. Young James Bond is one of them. This is a series of novels in which a teenage James Bond is still at Eton in the 1920s when he starts his adventures, complete with “Bond girls” - actually, brave and intelligent girls who are with him on his adventures. But they are meant to be Bond girls, as the author admitted in an interview on this site. 

The same author did a series called The Enemy, in which everyone over about 14 is turned into a flesh-eating zombie. It’s a disease which turns the victim’s brain to mush and makes them want to bite, and often eat, the kids who are still sane and human. The horror of it is that you might end up dead because you hesitated to kill a family member - they certainly don’t hesitate to kill you! The kids have a deadline to work out why this disease has happened and how to fix it. Meanwhile, they are living all over London, from supermarkets to Buckingham Palace! 

Anthony Horowitz wrote about boy spy Alex Rider. Alex is a boy who is blackmailed into working for MI6 after his spy uncle gets killed, by a threat to deport his beloved American nanny. The first novel, Stormbreaker was filmed. I don’t think it was very successful because it was the only one, but the series is well worth reading. 

Aussie Michael Pryor has written quite a few boy-centred books, but we will talk here about his YA series The Laws Of Magic. It’s a steampunk series set in an alternative universe just before the Great War. The hero, Aubrey Fitzwilliam, is a boy from an upper-crust family. His genius is in magic. In this world, magic is something you can learn at school. It has laws like the laws of physics - you know, the ones ye canna change? So you can teach it, and it’s a part of everyday life in the Empire. But Aubrey is technically dead. Before the book started, he had played around with death magic and now is literally having to keep body and soul together. As if this isn’t bad enough, there is a plot in the higher ranks of the magical bureaucracy to start the war... Fortunately, he has his friends George and Caroline to help him.  

Great fun! Boys and girls alike should enjoy it. I remember one of our female students telling me she had burst out laughing while reading it at home and her mother had come running to see what was wrong. But it was the boys who mostly read it and asked when the next one was coming out.

If you can persuade your middle grade child to read historical  fiction, there are Aussie author Felice Arena’s three novels The  Boy And The Spy, A Great Escape and Fearless Frederic. I mentioned all those in a recent post about treasures I have found at my old home, in connection with late British author Geoffrey Trease. 

Catherine Jinks, whose Evil Genius books I have mentioned above, also wrote historical fiction many years ago. Her hero, Pagan Kidrouk, features in a series starting in Third Crusade era Jerusalem, with Pagan’s Crusade and going on to the Cathars in France.  A wonderful series for the young man in your life who loves adventure and likeable characters. It gets very serious, though, so be warned!

Morris Gleitzman’s Once series starts off middle-grade and ends up YA. His hero Felix is a Jewish boy on the run from the Nazis. The books can be terribly sad but boys and girls alike at my school loved it. Felix grows up with his readers. He ends up in Australia a while after the war. If you want to know how, you will have to read it. I promise you it will be worth the effort! The language is not difficult either. 

Many of Morris Gleitzman’s books are seen from a male viewpoint(not all) and there are some wonderful ones, such as Boy Overboard, about a boy who escapes a dreadful situation in his homeland and comes by boat to Australia, only to find himself in a detention centre...

This is turning into a very long post, so I will just list a few more you can look up. 
Geoffrey McSkimming’s Cairo Jim books are middle-grade. The hero is an adult, archaeologist Cairo Jim, a sort of Indiana Jones for kids. They are hilarious! 

Oliver Phommavanh is a Sydney-based writer whose delightfully funny stories for younger readers, beginning with Thai-Riffic!, are very popular. It does help that he started his career as a primary teacher. 

Anh Do is another like him, but all his books are for younger readers, and also very popular. 

You will certainly know about Andy Griffiths, whose Treehouse books are currently so big, but he also did a series called Schooling Around - Treasure Fever, Pencil Of Doom, Mascot Madness and Robot Riot. Middle grade, but they certainly made this middle aged teacher librarian laugh out loud. They also did well in my library - there was always something missing from the shelves.

Paul Jennings was the big name in Australian children’s fiction before Andy Griffiths took centre stage. Some of his hilarious short stories became a TV series called Round The Twist. He also wrote a series about a gadget called the Gizmo, which - no, read it yourself! Both he and Andy know how to appeal to kids’ love of the gross-out. 

There’s plenty more out there for boys - and girls - to enjoy, these were just a few I thought of. No excuse for boys not to read, in my opinion! 

PS My YA fantasy novel, Wolfborn, is seen from a boy’s viewpoint too. 

Do you have some favourite boy-themed YA or children’s books to suggest?