Fonda Lee, Jade City (2017)

This novel has already garnered a lot of buzz, and it was quite interesting to see someone combine wuxia movies and Hong Kong gangster flicks with the trappings of fantasy novels. I didn’t love this book unreservedly, but it’s definitely worth reading.

The island of Kekon is the only source of jade in the world, and it’s jade that gives the island’s Green Bone warriors their powers of agility, speed, strength and perception. Decades ago they used those powers to win Kekon its freedom from colonial overlords; now the two crime families who worked together for independence are on the brink of all out war as Kekon’s economy has taken off. The scions of the youngest generation of the Kaul family–cautious Pillar Lan, brash Horn Hilo, and failed future Weather Man Shae, who walked away from her family once and just returned, as well as their adopted cousin Anden–face an uncertain new world in which they will be tested by the Ayt clan, led by a ruthless female Pillar whose plans encompass a stage far larger than the island.

There’s no getting around the fact that this book is long, probably too long, as has been the case with most adult novels I’ve read recently. Lee, however, avoids the soggy middle problem which often afflicts these novels by having the plot take a sharp left turn that I won’t spoil. It works well, and it sets the front half of the novel up as a kind of golden age in retrospect, which is interesting.

I grew up in New Jersey, so I have a pretty high degree of automatic side-eye for the idea of competent and/or even moderately honorable mobsters, but it’s a fantasy novel, so I’ll give Lee that one for free. The real problem with the book from my perspective is that the female characters (Shae, Ayt Madashi, and Hilo’s fiancé Wen) are much more interesting than the male characters. I’m also not wild about the fact that Anden is a bundle of tragic queer and tragic half-breed stereotypes rolled into a ball, and let’s remember that this is a novel that Lee constructed: queerness is “unlucky” and therefore only okay if people don’t talk about or “flaunt” it on Kekon because she decided that Kekon would be this way.

All that being said, I grew to like the characters quite a lot by the end, and there’s a good deal of sharp-edged hilarity in the brief glimpses we get of Kekon from the white not!European perspective towards the end of the novel. I’m definitely also interested to see where the story goes, and even if that turns out to be a place I don’t like, Lee’s bold story and world-building are a boon for the genre as a whole. We need more books like this, and it deserves its success.

Some Hugo nominations, part one

With less than a week until Hugo nominations close, I thought I’d share some of my nominations. I actually have strong feelings about some of the categories (Best Dramatic Long Form), and I am quite excited by the chance to recognize some of the best work in speculative fiction going by the Young Adult category.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form – A year in which Hollywood blockbusters were unusually strong on the SFF front means a difficult year to narrow things down. I don’t watch a lot of TV, which makes it easier.

  • Wonder Woman, dir. Patty Jenkins
  • Get Out, dir. Jordan Peele
  • Colossal, dir. Nacho Vigalondo – One of my favorite movies of 2017, its savvy use of genre tropes to present an indictment of toxic masculinity and to elevate a female character whose likability is questionable at best deserves all the accolades.
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi, dir. Rian Johnson – Normally a Star Wars nom would be automatic and humdrum, but with all the drama from certain corners of the internet over this film having female characters and expanding our understanding of the Force once again, this one is worth mentioning specifically, not least because it subverts all of the other Star Wars films (except maybe Rogue One) beautifully.
  • Kimi no na wa (Your Name), dir. Makoto Shinkai – Made eligible for this year by special resolution, this isn’t my favorite of Shinkai’s films, but it’s definitely the one that struck a cord in people, maybe because it’s the only one with a happy ending. It deserves recognition by the Hugos, unquestionably.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form – A strong year for genre TV means a lot of trouble narrowing things down. Star Trek: Discovery features on this list twice as I try to split my nominations between episodes I think will get a critical mass and those which are better standalone TV.

  • The Handmaid’s Tale, “Offred”
  • Star Trek: Discovery, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”
  • Star Trek: Discovery, “What’s Past Is Prologue”
  • The Good Place, “The Trolley Problem”

Mira Grant, Into the Drowning Deep (2017)

Seanan McGuire is so prolific a writer that following her career comprehensively would probably be a full-time job in and of itself. I’m a committed fan of her Toby Daye series, but I’m less committed to her other works; I’ve read some of the Newsflesh books but none of her other Mira Grant books. This one, about killer mermaids, is apparently a sequel to an earlier novella, but I can attest that you can read it independently.

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Strange Horizons prize draw + The City of Brass

First things first: as the longest month ever draws to a close, Strange Horizons is running its annual prize draw! Now spun off from the fundraising drive, a contribution of $1 buys you a chance to win one of many, many prizes.

I’m trying to get into the habit of writing shorter reviews again, so without further ado, here’s my thoughts on S.A. Chakraborty’s The City of Brass (2017).

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2017 in Review

The Strange Horizons reviewers have posted our collective reflections on the year in this week’s issue; I’m featured in part three. I’m already compiling a list of things to put on my 2018 TBR stack, and kicking myself for forgetting to mention Get Out and Colossal as two of last year’s best spec fic-adjacent (ish) films. If you haven’t seen them, you should.