Goodreads winners and other good reads

What does it say about a writer who has read only one nominated book out of all the nominees in the categories of science fiction, fantasy and horror on the Goodreads Choice Awards for 2016? I read all the time, yet this list seems to indicate I am seriously out of step with the reading public. How did I miss Joe Hill’s The Fireman, which won for best horror? I admit I hadn’t heard anything about the winner in the science fiction category–Morning Star, by Pierce Brown, and I have nothing to add to the conversation about the winner for best fantasy novel in 2016,  J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Maybe there’s just so much great material out there I can plausibly argue that I read the “other” good books and stories that didn’t make the Goodreads’ list. I’m going with that theory.

In addition to my reviews here, you can find two “other” good reads I recommend on The Speculative Herald, where I’ve started contributing. First is Feedback by Mira Grant, a part of the Newsflesh series, and second is Josh Malerman’s novella The House at the Bottom of a Lake. This one truly is one of my favorites of the year. Read the ending carefully. Oh, and about that book I did read among the Goodreads’ nominees: it was The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin, which is an outstanding second novel in a trilogy. My review here.


Children of Time takes bold literary risks and wins

bookCan you feel it? The slow, inexorable increase in anxiety among homo sapiens? We live in tense times, and I believe I speak objectively, though this observation is certainly a subjective perception, too. Worldwide fear of terrorism, climate change, economic collapse, technological breakthroughs without brakes. Maybe the only thing we are not afraid of is an external predator, an unfriendly visit from a superior species, but why should we fear that when we are far more likely to create one right here at home?

When I began reading Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky (on the shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel published in 2015) I was immediately impressed at how well the novel resonated with the gloomy thoughts noted above. But, even if you don’t share in my personal sense of the zeitgeist, you should give this book a read and enjoy the literary risks the novel takes and survives.

The story begins with the actions of scientist Avrana Kern, who has little regard for human beings and the damage they have wreaked upon the earth and each other. Kern is faced with the rebellion of a key scientist on her team who does not agree that Kern or anyone should be altering the evolution of species with the sophisticated technology at their disposal. To ensure that her plan to seed intelligent life on a habitable (“terraformed”) planet goes forward, Kern blithely destroys a space port, resulting in the deaths of many people and forcing her to enter cryogenic sleep in a pod that will orbit the planet until a computer rouses her to witness the outcomes of her experiment. What Kern doesn’t know is that her precious monkeys, the subjects she had selected to reboot civilization, don’t make it to the planet. The virus she’s engineered to enhance and speed up the monkey’s evolution does.

A reader might conclude that if Kern died during that unimaginably long and lonely sleep, it would have been good riddance to bad rubbish. With his cynical and arrogant god-scientist, who nevertheless risks all for her precious monkeys, Tchaikovsky clearly makes a point about the dangerous and awesome capacity of human beings loose in the universe. Still, there was something so cartoonish about this deluded scientist that I nearly missed the point and was worrying in the back of my reader’s head that the novel was sliding toward farce. Luckily the author managed to correct course before I threw the book down, and later, when I was more comfortable with where the story was going, I better appreciated his persistent black humor directed at the human characters and their mishaps. Continue reading

“The Water Knife”: compelling science fiction about losing our most precious natural resource / “The Water Knife”: Ciencia ficción convincente acerca de la pérdida de nuestro recurso natural más valioso

WaterKnifeLet me say up front that I am in awe of Paolo Bacigalupi’s skill as a writer of ecological science fiction. Water scarcity! How’s that for a topic that could put the most avid science fiction reader to sleep? It takes a talented writer to make anyone crack a book on such a topic, and Bacigalupi has done it with The Water Knife. The novel has been nominated for the 2015 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Science Fiction.

The Water Knife cuts closer in time than Bacigalupi’s last novel The Windup Girl (reviewed here) and puts readers into a  pre-apocalyptic American West that we could actually live to see. The climate is undergoing a downward spiral of change, and water is scarce. The federal government has limited influence over desperate state governments and populations migrating toward any promise of water. Humanitarian aid organizations throughout the south and west build water pumps that sell water by the liter to the public while robber barons build climate-controlled luxury resorts for the rich. Continue reading

Series Novels Need Their Own Category in the Goodreads Choice Awards

Among the 15 nominated titles in the fantasy category of the Goodreads Choice Awards, only two titles–Boundary Crossed by Melissa F. Olson and Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman–are not part of a series, and Gaiman’s book is an anthology, not a novel.

I have no issue with authors maximizing the marketing success they have by writing a novel series. But when it comes to contests and awards–it feels like cheating when books farther back in a series are nominated. After book one, other novels in the sequence have the wind of the series’ popularity behind them. Is any book #6 in a series really comparable to a new and unique novel experience?

As a reader who is not planning to read any of the books nominated in any category unless it’s a standalone novel or the first one in the series, I think Goodreads would encourage more reading and discovery of new authors by separating the series nominees from the standalone novels. FYI: there are three series novels whose debut novels are among the nominees. These are The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, Recurve by Shannon Mayer and The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher.

Note: In the science fiction category eight of the 15 nominees are standalone or debut series novels. And in horror, 12 of 15 nominees are standalone titles.