Tag: zen cho

Awards eligibility and recs post

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Awards eligibility and recs post

He, what would you know, it’s January again (aka, wow, where did all the time go, and arggggggg I am so late on things!). The main thing I published in 2015 was my novel (I know, kind of hard to miss :p), The House of Shattered Wings, aka magical intrigues, deadly creatures and elusive wonders in a decadent turn-of-the-century Paris ravaged by a magical war.

It won a British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel, as well as being on the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2015. It also got starred reviews from Publishers’ Weekly and Library Journal. It’s eligible for the Hugos.

I can’t provide a copy of the complete text, but I have put together a short sampler of the first three chapters: bits and pieces of this have appeared online, but this is the first time that you can actually read all of it (I think? The kindle sampler is shorter than this, ending mid-chapter two). You can download it here in EPUB, MOBI, or PDF (if you need DOC or RTF, drop me a line via the contact form, and I’ll be quite happy to provide a copy. I just am not a big fan of putting Word formats online–too easy to modify them by mistake…).

If you came here wanting whole stories (which I can understand!), I do have a Xuya short story online, “Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight”, which won a British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Short Fiction, and  is at Clarkesworld (and is getting reprinted in Dozois’s Year’s Best). You can also download EPUB or MOBI.

And if anyone is interested and a Hugo or Nebula voter, contact me and I’d be quite happy to email you a copy of my novella “The Citadel of Weeping Pearls”, which appeared in Asimov’s Oct/Nov and is now a tad hard to find.

And now for the bulk of this, aka, the stuff that I read from 2015 and want to recommend. (this list is a slightly modified and expanded version of one I wrote for the Book Smugglers. I would urge you to go read it: these recs for 2015 are more up to date, but the Book Smugglers post also has my 2016 TBR pile, and it really looks awesome. I made a slight headstart on said TBR pile thanks to friends, and so far I haven’t been disappointed!).

Short stories
“Variations on an Apple”, Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com, October). It’s no secret that I love Yoon Ha Lee’s stuff, and this clever retelling of the Trojan war is no exception. Tackles mathematics, desire, and the consequences of decisions that aren’t always wisely made. Also, Illium and Helen are both awesome in different ways.

“Milagroso”, Isabel Yap (Tor.com, August). In a future where food is grown in labs and always perfect, there is still room for the miracles of saints… By turns exuberant and heartbreaking, this is a story of what we take for granted, how we seek to protect our children, and the price we pay.

“The Star Maiden”, Rokshani Chokshi. Tala’s grandmother used to be a star maiden, annd tells her granddaughter stories of longing for the sky. But Tala grows up and starts questioning the veracity of the story–and becomes ashamed of her grandmother’s oddness. There’s nothing really surprising in this one, but it’s very very well done (as in I broke down and cried at the end), and encapsulates the heartache of growing up.

“The Monkey House”, Tade Thompson (Omenana, March). The narrator returns to work after a breakdown–and finds that everything is *almost* normal. I love the sense of creeping unease of this one, the feeling that everything looks almost quite right (and that 1% “not right” that is downright unsettling). I’m not usually much of a reader for horror or dark, but this is perfect.

“If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler”, by Xia Jia (Clarkesworld, Nov). I love Xia Jia’s stuff, and this short story about a poet and her legacy–and how people handle it in the age of the internet and social media–is lovely and sharp.

“City of Salt”, Arkady Martine, (Strange Horizons, March). This one has stuck around in my head since I read it: the story of a man who comes back to a deserted city, to face the woman he once knew and what she has become… Poetic and elegiac in all the best ways.

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Books books books

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Now that my life is no longer about edits, a few books:

-Zen Cho, Sorcerer to the Crown (ARC obtained from publisher). Zacharias Whyte is the newest sorcerer to the Crown, and he’s got his work cut out for him: he’s black in a society that has no liking for people of colour, suspected of murdering his predecessor and guardian; and to top it all, the magic that England was relying on is steadily draining away. As he travels to Fairyland to determine the cause of the magical penury, Zacharias picks up Prudence, an impoverished gentlewoman who is determined to make her own way in the world–and who has a decidedly peculiar inheritance. Magic, mayhem (and interfering aunties) in a Regency setting: it’s a hilarious book, but also one that pokes sly fun at the social conventions of the time and the place of women and POCs. Sort of a cross between Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and PG Wodehouse, with a postcolonial slant. Also, it’s got Malaysian vampires, and they’re awesome.

-Pat Cadigan, Tea from an Empty Cup (book bought). I first read this ten years ago, and it hasn’t lost its power. It’s short and punchy–a double tale of a murder investigation in an immersive artificial reality and a woman looking for her friend and getting caught in some shady dealings involving stolen virtual artefacts, and access to a special level in said artificial reality). I loved the world building (in a dystopic future where Japan has disappeared and the survivors struggle to find a sense of national identity, something that really resonated to me as a second-gen whose maternal country was lost to war for a while); and the artificial reality is amazing–I’m sceptical of SF’s ability to predict the future, but Pat Cadigan was square on, on both the saturation of the AR by ads, and the gaming culture that develops around it, with its accompanied mysticism, its prizing of avatars and things found online and its search for hacks, new levels and new sensations (which reminded me of MMORPGs and Second Life).

(a few minor quibbles: I wasn’t quite sold on the idea of racial memory, or on the idea you could tell someone’s racial mark-up just by looking at them–as a diasporan, the elevated mysticism and mythology that develops around the lost land of Japan feels very accurate, though sometimes a little too forced and forceful for my personal taste. And sometimes the world building rang a little hollow–I wasn’t sure what Yuki did for a living or how she was able to drop everything to follow Joy Flower. But that’s very much a function of this being a short and to-the-point novel).

-Nghia M Vo, Legends of Vietnam: An Analysis and Retelling of 88 Tales (book bought): I’m really conflicted about this book. On the one hand, it’s a reasonably good book of fairytales and Vietnamese folklore, with legends from the North, the South and some (all too few) from ethnic minorities. It provides context, both cultural and historical (and it’s got all the proper diacritics, which is awesome for following up on stuff), and there are lots of tales and tidbits that I’ve heard but not seen elsewhere, so I think it’s fair to call it the most complete compilation I’ve seen yet. On the other hand… the commentary sometimes grates. There’s the odd swipe at passive Vietnamese, incapable of banding together or of understanding progress, unlike Western nations (which is just wtf); and a lot of sallies against the Northerners  (and I know there was a war; I know unforgivable things were done and I’m not minimising the pain people went through; heck, I live in its shadow. But I really don’t think a book of fairy tales is the place for this kind of stuff). Of note, there’s a bunch of tales in the post-war years, but I can’t comment on these because I found them triggering, and had to skip this section.

-Kari Sperring, The Grass King’s Concubine (book bought)  This is a book with several narrative strands: one in the present, where Aude, born to wealth, runs away and seeks to understand where her family’s fortune came from; and one in the past, where a man called Marcellan enters the Rice Palace, domain of the Grass King, the mythical being who embodies the earth and the harvest. In the present, Aude gets kidnapped by the Grass King’s bannermen, and taken to a deserted, devastated Rice Palace, where she is told she must fix what her ancestors broke…

This is slow, intimate and quite wonderful. I love the contrast between the Brass and Silver Cities and their endless hunger for wealth (and one of Kari’s strengths, I think–in addition to lush prose–is that she nails social class, social oppression and the way the progress of the Industrial Revolution was built on the misery of the many), and the Rice Palace and its fairytale logic; and the driving mystery of what exactly happened in the past is very well done (and going to an unexpected conclusion). It seems at first that the two halves (the Industrial Revolution cities and the Rice Palace) belong to two wildly different books, but on finishing the book you realise that the unifying theme is the devastation of greed and hunger for power–and that, in that respect, the present is not so different from the past–it’s a very clever and subtle juxtaposition, and it works all the better for never being outright said.

I have a couple quibbles, the first is that you should avoid reading the cover copy before you start the book, because it has the worst spoilers I’ve seen in quite a while; the second is that the ending feels a teensy bit rushed–and by far the most major one is that this begs for a sequel, and there is none yet! (I have a plan which involves pestering Kari until she gives in ^^).

Next up: Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings!

Strange Horizons reprint: “Chambered Nautilus” by Elisabeth Vonarburg

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Strange Horizons very kindly asked me to curate a reprint for their June issue. I picked Elisabeth Vonarburg’s “Chambered Nautilus” (translated from the French by Jane Brierley). I really like Vonarburg’s introspective, dreamy science fiction, and I think it’s a shame that so little of it got translated into English (you can pick up The Maerlande Chronicles from amazon–I prefer her Tyranaël series, but I think this stopped being translated after two volumes?). More info here at her English website.
Being an editor, even if it’s for a brief, one-story stint, means I read a lot of stories and didn’t have nearly enough space for all the stuff that I loved. Can I recommend you check out the following anthologies for great fiction? The Apex Book of World SF (volume 1, volume 2; and volume 3 which has recently been released), Afrofuturism, Mothership, AfroSF, and, if you have a copy lying around, Bloodchildren, which was a limited-time anthology by the Octavia Butler scholars and is sadly no longer available)? Also, anything by Yukimi Ogawa (she’s got a great story in this issue of Strange Horizons,  “Rib”, a mordant tale of a skeleton woman and the child who befriends her), Zen Cho (her collection, Spirits Abroad, just got released, and that link explains how to get a copy from her), Benjanun Sriduangkaew (who is up for the Campbell Award this year, and whose story “Autodidact” ought to be on awards list next year if there’s any justice), and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (check out “Of Alternate Adventure and Memory” up at Clarkesworld, as well as her newest “Movements” column in this issue of Strange Horizons, which focuses on languages, hegemonies and translations).

That’s all from me for the moment–please do leave feedback on Strange Horizon’s website on the story if you’re so inclined.

Voting deadline for Hugos approaches

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Just a reminder that the voting deadline for the Hugos is July 31st, 11:59 p.m. CDT.

You can find the online voting ballot here, and the packet here if you’re still trying to find nominees. This year I had to skip the novel category due to lack of time, and a bunch of others; but if you still need a candidate for your Campbell Award for Best New Writer, give Zen Cho a try? Stories here, here and here.
Also, she’ll be at Nine Worlds in London August 9-11 if you’re in the vicinity!

(and, hum, if you feel like voting for “Immersion” in the Short Story category, I’d be as pleased as punch)

Your obligatory awards eligibility post

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Dancing lightsSo… that time of the year again when people make eligibility posts 🙂  I had a busy year in 2012, but out of all the pieces I published I think “Immersion” (Clarkesworld, June 2012)  is the one that had the most visibility: you can read it online here, listen to the podcast by the awesome Kate Baker here, and I’ve made EPUB, MOBIRTF and PDF versions available (the downloadable versions include the lemongrass chicken recipe that is so central to the narration). If you’re a SFWA member, you can find those  in the SFWA forums, here.

It’s eligible for the Hugos, Nebulas, and BSFA Awards, etc. if the fancy takes you.

On a  less selfish note, here’s some stuff that was awesome, and that I intend to nominate this year:

-Short stories: Nghi Vo’s “Tiger Stripes”  (Strange Horizons, May 2012) is a great story of a magical Vietnam where tigers take human shape, and where a widowed mother can develop a poignant relationship with the creature that ate her son.

I’m biased, but Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s “Song of the Body Cartographer” (Philippine Genre Stories, June 2012) is also well worth a look–great imagery, awesome worldbuilding, and the relationship between two very strong women, each with their own specialness.

-Novelettes: the single best thing I read this year is “Woman of the Sun, Woman of the Moon” (Giganotosaurus Nov. 2012) by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, a wonderful lesbian retelling of Houyi and Chang’e, with crunchy language, bittersweet choices, and always excellent worldbuilding. If SF is more your thing, can I recommend “In the Country of Machine-Gods” (The Future Fire, issue 2012.24), a far-future story about the heroine of a war and her special relationship with her machines and her squad-mates?

-Novellas/Novels: Ken Liu’s novella “All the Flavours” is a great tale of Chinese immigrants in the West; it sometimes lacks a little subtlety, but is a welcome antidote to the clichéd Western depictions of inexorable marches of progress which elude racism.

I don’t have much in this category; and would quite welcome recommendations this year. Bonus points for POCs and/or people beyond the usual Western Anglophone World.

-Campbell Award: it’s Zen Cho‘s second year of eligibility, and I think she deserves wider recognition–she writes awesome fiction that is at once funny, heartbreaking and creepy (see “The House of Aunts” on Giganotosaurus for an exemple of what I mean, or “The Perseverance of Angela’s Past Life” for a shorter piece).

(I mistakenly thought Benjanun Sriduangkaew was eligible for the Campbell, but it turns out she’ll only be eligible once her Beneath Ceaseless Skies sale goes live, so quite probably in time for next year. Saving my ammo on this one :p )

-Best Fanzine: The World SF Blog has been making a tremendous effort to showcase writers beyond the Anglophone World, and I think that also deserves recognition.

(Picture credits: bgrimmni on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Attribution Generic License)

Quick reviews

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Haven’t done this for a while, but here’s a rundown of the awesome stuff I’ve been reading lately:

-Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s “Song of the Body Cartographer” is up at Philippine Genre Stories. Like all of Rochita’s stories, this combines lovely language with awesome characters–and a universe that just begs to be explored (the good news is that Rochita is writing longer stuff set in the same universe!). Fascinating handling of indigenous cultures vs. outsiders and the clashes that follow. Also, I get to be immortalised as a city of wise women–which doesn’t happen every day!

“The House of Aunts” by Zen Cho. Malaysian vampires in high school, but nothing like Twilight! The vampires in question are the pontianak, women who died in children and feed on human flesh; and the youngest among them, Ah Lee, goes to school in human shape–and comes back in the evening, to eat her aunts’ cooking (of fried liver, innards, etc.–this is possibly the story that has the highest body count ever without showing a single murder…) All goes well, until Ah Lee meets a boy… I loved the relationship between her and Ridzual, and the way it was handled–sweet and heartbreaking without being cloying. And the big reveal at the end works so well. I was cheering by the end. That this got left off awards ballot is… a little saddening.

The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo by Zen Cho: OK, I’ll freely admit that romance isn’t my stuff, but this is so sweet and so sharp at the same time that it’s well worth a read. In the London of the Roaring Twenties, writer Jade Yeo struggles to make a living–until her path intersects that of noted writer Sebastian Hardie, with unexpected consequences. I loved seeing a well worn historical period from a non-English point of view (and having the subtle indictment of colonialism as well). Zen has a very sharp eye for detail, which makes the pages of this just fly by (loved that Jade snarkily comments on the quality of Chinese vases in London townhouses, and just loved her relationship with Ravi). Zen is posting one chapter a day on her website, or you can buy the book from amazon or smashwords if you want to support her (well recommended!)

Night, Again, by Linh Dinh: all right, I’ll confess. One of my pet peeves about fiction set in Vietnam is the freaking high number of said fiction that’s set during the Vietnam War (and 90% of the time from an American or White POV). It’s as if the entire country was nothing more than a theatre for shooting Viet Congs and explore PTSD (but not from the Vietnamese point of view, or at least not from a convincing Vietnamese point of view [1]); and also as if the country itself didn’t exist before the war, and wasn’t worthy of mention after the war, which is… freaking annoying I guess? Therefore, it was a relief to find a book that was a. written by Vietnamese, and b. overwhelmingly not about the war.
The stories run a gamut of tones, though most are dark (satire, or just plain horrible). Among my favourites were Nguyen Huy Thiep’s “Without a King”, a mordant portrait of an extended family’s daily life (the title is a reference to the saying “money is king”, and money and lust form a large part of the family’s concerns); Tran Ngoc Tuan’s “The River’s Curse”, which has a strong fantastical element, and a truly horrible ending not because of any gore, but rather because of its realistic portrayal of cowardice mingled with the (ineffective) desire to do well; Pham Thi Hoai’s savage “Nine Down Makes Ten”, a woman’s portrayal of her successive lovers and their failures, and the concluding story, “A Ferry Stop in the Country” by Nguyen Minh Chau, an elegiac portrayal of an invalid watching his son cross the river he’s lived by all his life. The only caveat is that the book is a bit old (the inside cover says 1963, though it’s been re-edited), and that a bunch of the stories feel a bit old. But still, I’d definitely recommend it as a read. Meanwhile, I’m off to read my Tran-Nhut Mandarin Tân mysteries (which sadly, haven’t been translated into English yet).


[1] Here’s a handy guide about how NOT to write about the Vietnamese/American war. Please please don’t make the only Vietnamese characters women who have relationships with American soldiers, who exist to be raped/impregnated/killed… (hello, Watchmen, I’m looking at you…). Also, please please look up the history of Vietnam BEFORE 1968?