Six degrees of separation, lottery across the ages

Welcome to #6degrees. On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book. I mostly use this meme to work on my backlog, aka reviews that I haven‘t yet posted to my blog here.

How the meme works and how you can join is explained here. The initial blog post about this month‘s choice is here. October begins with Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery. If you haven‘t read this, please do—it‘s very short and only takes about 20 minutes.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Probably a shocking read in 1948, when it came out. In the days of The Hunger Games barely worth a twitch, I guess. Which itself is probably considered a modern classic by now, starting a whole subgenre of likeminded YA books. I wonder, if Ursula LeGuin was inspired by Lottery, when she wrote The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas a few years later? That one had much more of an impact on me.

Anyway, we get a short story that seems to describe a regular, ordinary sounding event in a small town. People are nonchalant about it and want to get on with it, to get that interruption of their normal day out of the way. Suspicion sneaks up on you slowly, that not all is as it seems to be, all the way to the horrific ending.

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1) by Suzanne Collins, read in 2016

Well written, good world building, the prose flows along nicely. Well-paced suspense. Love the idea of the mockinjays. All the charactes come to life swiftly and are believable. I saw it all vividly in my mind’s eye. Katniss has the odd moment of stupid. But the action is great, excellent plot and suspense. Katniss Everdeen, where have you been all my life? I read half of the book in one sitting. Bonus points for a YA book, that doesn’t read as if the author thinks that teens are stupid. Obviously, if you read this, you need to read the rest of the trilogy.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin, read in 2020

I picked this up, because I wanted to get to know Le Guin a little better. It looked like a good starting point, having won so many awards. I don‘t want to get into the plot, this needs to be read spoiler-free. If you liked The Lottery and are interested in speculative fiction, read this!

What are you willing to give up to do the right thing? Would you walk away? And would that be good enough? Obviously not, but it‘s not as easy as that. You‘ve dealt with your guilt by walking away, but that doesn‘t really help, does it? How do we deal with our privilege, what would be an acceptable response?

Omelas leads me to The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu, read in 2019.

“A little paper tiger stood on the table, the size of two fists placed together. The skin of the tiger was the pattern on the wrapping paper, white background with red candy canes and green Christmas trees.“

https://gizmodo.com/read-ken-lius-amazing-story-that-swept-the-hugo-nebula-5958919

Lovely, truly lovely. And terribly bittersweet and sad. Only 11 pages long, another quick read that packs a punch. It leads me to:

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang, read in 2019.

Story of Your Life is the basis for the movie Arrival.

“Your father is about to ask me the question. This is the most important moment in our lives, and I want to pay attention, note every detail.“

I have seen the movie several times and like it a lot. The most interesting for me were the differences from the story to the film. Would I have liked the story more or less, if I hadn‘t seen the movie? Did I like it more, because I like the movie? Despite the differences? Probably. Would I have understood the story as well without knowing the movie? Maybe. 
Did the story add layers to the movie? Possibly. Either way, it was painful and a great piece of story telling.

Another book looking at family, children and a setting that fits the theme of all these stories, is:

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

The world is a dystopian one, where people can be genetically enhanced and those that choose not to enhance their offspring have started to be relegated to the fringes of society and the children are disadvantaged.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley comes to mind after reading Ishiguro.

I read this about 30 years ago, give or take. I struggled with understanding it and remember that I found it hard to get into it. But I liked the concept of the story and ultimately liked the book quite a bit. I think it should be recommended reading for anybody interested in SF that predicts how our society could develop in the not too far away future. Especially nowadays, with the advances being made in cloning, I think this book gains even more importance.

A horrific lottery in the past leads to impossible choices in the future.

What are you willing to do for love?

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1)
by Ann Leckie,  Adjoa Andoh (Narrator)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A re-read. This is not a love story, it’s a story of revenge.

“If that’s what you’re willing to do for someone you hate, what would you do for someone you love?” 

Breq is willing to do quite a lot. A lot of subtle tones that I missed the first time around and almost missed again during my second read. A many layered narrative, where you have to peel off layers to get to the heart of it all. My favourite part is still the evolving relationship between Breq and Seivarden. And the parts of the story set on Ors. Good stuff and worth the awards this book won.

“Choose my aim, take one step and then the next. It had never been anything else.” 


Review from my first read in March 2017:

The beginning was a little confusing. Might be due to it being an audiobook, it’s a fairly new medium for me. Here are my slightly spoilerish thoughts.

Breq’s voice in the audibook works well for the character. I didn’t find her too neutral or emotionless. In the beginning she almost felt childlike, exploring and getting to know her world. As the book went on, she gained more emotions and more of a personality.

I found some of the dialects of the other characters a bit weird. Some of the voices in the audiobook also sounded a bit “too much” and not natural to me. But they all grew on me eventually.

It’s interesting that Breq used a female pronoun for all other characters, until she could figure out if they were male or female. And even then she often stuck to the female version. It made for an unusual reading experience. Ultimately it made no difference, if a character was male or female. Which was perhaps the point of the whole idea.

What I did find a bit difficult with the audiobook: Telling the other characters apart. And it was slightly annoying that I couldn’t see the spelling of the various names and places.

I liked the timeline alternating from chapter to chapter. The story only really took off for me with the convergence of both plotlines. I liked the story before that, too. But the pace was a bit too leisurely. The last 30% of the book finally picked up speed.

My personal highlight was the development of the relationship between Breq and Seivarden. The conclusion of the book’s underlieing conflict in contrast to that was just ok. Smart, but nothing earth shattering. Nice ending. And I am fairly certain that I will pick up the next book.

Sorry for my fairly lame review, literary mastermind I am not. Bottom line, I liked the book. A bit slow at times. Good plot. Good world building. Interesting characters. Loved Ors, loved Seivarden and the relationship of her and Breq. The last few chapters were fun. One gripping moment full of sadness. Good stuff.

Six degrees of Separation, from Scotland in the past to a dystopian England of the future

Welcome to #6Degrees. On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book. I am using this meme to work on my backlog, aka reviews that I haven‘t yet posted to my blog here. How the meme works and how you can join is explained here. The initial blog post about this month‘s choice is here.


This month‘s starting book is yet again one I haven‘t read…

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, about a 1980s childhood in run-down public housing in Glasgow. I don‘t want to follow the same trodden path and the amount of books dealing with unhappy childhoods on my shelf is pretty limited, let‘s go with the author‘s last name. Bizarre, but it worked out in the end and my six degrees settled on children, birth and growing pains in different settings…

The Future Is Nigh (Mass Market Paperback) by C. Stuart Hardwick
A collection of previously published short stories of winners of the Writers of the Future Contest. Length varies from 6 to 32 pages. Pretty decent collection. Three really excellent stories, one that didn‘t really do it for me and the rest was ok to fairly good. 4 stars overall.

My favourites: Martin L. Shoemaker, Today I Am Paul: My emotional winner. I want to hug this android so hard. / Marina J. Lostetter, Rats will Run: Great world building, imaginative flora and fauna. / William Ledbetter, Last House, Lost House: Great post-apocalyptic story with a nice twist.

Thinking about short stories, mothers and unhappy childhood led me to The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu. Read the titular story, if you have the opportunity.

“A little paper tiger stood on the table, the size of two fists placed together. The skin of the tiger was the pattern on the wrapping paper, white background with red candy canes and green Christmas trees.“

Lovely, truly lovely. And terribly bittersweet and sad. Can be read for free here: https://io9.gizmodo.com/read-ken-lius…

Ken Liu leads me to Ted Chiang almost without pause. And to another mother and child and what effects their shared history has on the world at large…

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. Again, look at the titular story, if you can. It was the basis for the SF movie Arrival with Amy Adams in the lead role.

“Your father is about to ask me the question. This is the most important moment in our lives, and I want to pay attention, note every detail.“

I liked the story and the characters. I have seen the movie several times and like it a lot. The most interesting for me were the differences from the story to the film. Would I have liked the story more or less, if I hadn‘t seen the movie? Did I like it more, because I like the movie? Despite the differences? Probably. Would I have understood the story as well without knowing the movie? Maybe. Did the story add layers to the movie? Possibly.

Another books about mothers and children, at least peripherally, is The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere #1) by Meg Elison. Loved the stroy, although it depressed the hell out of me at times. The audiobook was extremely well done as well. The main character waking up in a hospital and figuring out that the world has ended is a pretty tired idea by now. Nonetheless, the book started on full throttle and was great from the get-go. And horrific. By chapter three I had goosebumps allover and was close to crying. The story had an episodic feel to it, as it follows the midwife on her trip across the country, chronicling her encounters with various other survivors. Very graphic, with a realistic feel to it. 

My final book is yet again about children in a fairly horrific, post-apocalyptic setting. And it brings us back to the island we started this journey on. England though, instead if Scotland… The Girl with All the Gifts (The Girl with All the Gifts, #1) by M.R. Carey. Here children end up in a very different world.


Short story time

Children of Thorns, Children of Water (Dominion of the Fallen, #1.5)
by Aliette de Bodard

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Desperate people come to take a test, in hopes of being taken into a house of fallen angels. Two of them are spies from a dragon kingdom. Dark magic ensues.

I liked it. There was nice, creepy imagery and I identified with the main characters quickly. The world building was well done and the narrative flowed well and kept me hooked.

Hugo Awards 2018 Novelette Nominee

Story can be found here

HUGO AWARDS 2020 announced

The HUGO AWARDS have been announced and I managed to miss the live stream of the ceremony. Bummer. Here is the list of the winners.

I am pleased about these category winners, as I read and liked them:

BEST NOVEL — A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine — looking forward to the sequel!

BEST NOVELETTE — Emergency Skin, by N.K. Jemisin — she‘s been hit and miss for me so far.

BEST SHORT STORY — “As the Last I May Know”, by S.L. Huang

BEST SERIES — The Expanse, by James S. A. Corey — this makes me want to re-read them or at least some of my favourites.

BEST RELATED WORK — “2019 John W. Campbell Award Acceptance Speech”, by Jeannette Ng — great to see that individual people can make a difference!

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM — Good Omens, written by Neil Gaiman, directed by Douglas Mackinnon (Amazon Studios/BBC Studios/Narrativia/The Blank Corporation) — loved it! Michael Sheen and David Tennant were brilliant. This was so much fun to watch!

https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/2020-hugo-award-winners

GRR Martin was the Master of Ceremony for the proceedings and apparently made a mess of it. It ran overly long, he mispronounced many of the winners’ names and seems to have come across as racist and misogynistic. I am refraining from linking more stuff in this post. But google it and you find a ton of blog posts about it. I can‘t really say yay or nay about it, as I haven‘t watched it. Dang it.


Link to my entry about the finalists

Link to my entry about the short stories

2020 Hugo Award Finalists

I keep seeing reviews of HUGO nominated stories pop up allover, so I decided to finally have a look at this year‘s finalists for myself.

The complete list of the finalists for 2020 is here. I do not plan to read all of them, but I might have a look at some of the shorter works.

Here is what I have read so far:


Best Novel

A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan, #1)
by Arkady Martine

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It was easily one of my favourite novels of last year. You can call me ThirtyOne Adaptation!

My review is here.


Best Novelette

Emergency Skin
by N.K. Jemisin (Goodreads Author),  Jason Isaacs (Narrator)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Entertaining. Subversive. Amusing. My first Jemisin. Maybe not my last. Hard to put down. The unusual POV was well done and increased my fun through coming up with the missing part of the conversation.

I listened to the audio. Jason Isaac did a great job with the narration. But I expected no less from him.


Best Series

The Expanse, by James S. A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I read all full novels of this series. Or rather, I listened to the excellent audio narration of all of them. I read some of the shorts/novellas as well, but I miss a few of those. If you like space opera, military SF, Star Trek and good adventure yarns, this might be for you. The TV adaptation is also very good. My personal preference and recommendation: Read the books first.

You can find my reviews for all of them here. You should start reading the series with this one:

Leviathan Wakes (Expanse, #1)
by James S.A. Corey

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Another Best Series finalist is this one:

Luna: New Moon (Luna, #1)
by Ian McDonald

This first book of the series has been sitting on my TBR shelf since 2018. I suppose it‘s time that I actually read it!


Best Graphic Story or Comic

Monstress, Vol. 4: The Chosen
by Marjorie M. Liu (Goodreads Author),  Sana Takeda (Illustrator) 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

My review is here, however I strongly recommend that you start at the beginning, with Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening.


So, that is what I have read so far of this year‘s Hugo Finalists. As mentioned, I might have a go at the short stories and novelettes/novellas, I‘ll see!

Which of the Hugo finalists was your favourite so far?

Blast from the past, I missed posting this review… Expanding!

Persepolis Rising (The Expanse, #7)
by James S.A. Corey

Rating: 3 out of 5.

In the first chapter we jump into the future of our known timeline, which is at first confusing. And our favourite heroes are quite a bit older, too. Which is a shocker. I felt as if I had missed a book.

The rest of the book almost follows the usual set-up. Some new characters are introduced and play a central role. Some old favourites show up as well. The dynamics between our beloved Rocinante crew have changed and are a little unsettling at times. 

The look at Singh‘s character and what makes him tick is quite good. He is so naive and so clueless about his own inhumanity. Or rather his inability to comprehend others and the situation he is in.

Despite that I struggled to finish the book. I really had to make myself listen to the last 4 or 5 hours. And I did it at double the normal speed, just to get it over with. The story did not do it for me.

3 stars because I pretty much loved all the other books of the series and managed to get through it without major skimming. Just.

Ghost story about a ghost story. Meta ghost?

Uncanny Magazine Issue 25: November/December 2018Uncanny Magazine Issue 25: November/December 2018 by Lynne M. Thomas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Review for “The Thing About Ghost Stories“ by Naomi Kritzer, 22 pages, ★★½☆☆

“The most interesting thing about ghost stories is that almost everyone has one.“

A story about a woman collecting ghost stories. Meh. A bit rambling, not quite boring but nothing interesting for me. Her mother‘s Alzheimers and her changing relationship with her was the only redeeming feature, but it was too little to matter.

Can be read for free here: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/t…

————
Review for “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society,” by T. Kingfisher, 1.885 words, 4 pages, ★★★½☆

“There was a land of elven halls and hollows, … there was a campfire, and around it sat a half-dozen men, and a great bull selkie, and a horse the color of night..“

Normally humans fall for the fey and pine after them…

It was ok. Not sure what makes it so special that it gets nominated for a Hugo award.

Can be read for free here: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/t…

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Depressing and almost unreadable

The Only Harmless Great ThingThe Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

DNF at 21%. I found this to be almost unreadable. It took me three attempts to just get past the opening paragraphs. Overly wordy and constructed.

I made the effort to find out more about the events that Bolander took and merged to make her own novelette. Links below. Utterly depressing and horrible.

That combined with the overblown prose results in this: Not my thing. Sorry.

Background of the real-life Radium Girls: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiu…

And details about the real-life elephant Topsy: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topsy…

Check out the details at Tor.com: https://publishing.tor.com/theonlyhar…

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