reading, SFF

2018 recommendations

Here (in no particular order) are some of the things (this is a very incomplete list and doubtless I’ll want to add something as soon as I post it) that I read and enjoyed in 2018, and commend to you both for reading, and for considering for awards season:

Novels

  • Aliette du Bodard, In The Vanishers’ Palace. Wonderful worldbuilding of a post-colonial world in disarray and the people trying to help; lyrical writing; and a f/f romance between a dragon and a scholar.
  • T Kingfisher, Swordheart. Halla inherits a sword; which turns out to have a swordman magically trapped inside it. Shenanigans ensue. Such a fun read.
  • T Kingfisher, The Wonder Engine. Second part of the Clocktaur War duology, and just as good as the first. Clockwork, a grumpy forger, and a disgraced paladin. (Set in the same world as Swordheart.)
  • Juliet E McKenna, The Green Man’s Heir. Modern rural (as opposed to urban) fantasy/detective story.
  • Stephen Cox, Our Child Of The Stars. Thoughtful, warm story about a family, their unusual child, and their efforts to protect him.
  • Becky Chambers, Record of a Spaceborn Few. Yay more Becky Chambers. Notionally part of the Wayfarers series, but standalone. It’s more like four stories woven together. It’s gentle, and thoughtful, and I loved it.
  • Yoon Ha Lee, Revenant Gun. Cracking finish to the Machineries of Empire series.

Novellas

  • Aliette du Bodard, The Tea Master and the Detective. Space opera Sherlock Holmes, with a mindship and a scholar, set in the Xuya universe.
  • Katherine Fabian and Iona Datt Sharma, Sing For The Coming Of The Longest Night. Polyamory, queerness, and magic, and a mystery revolving around the solstice. Lovely. Also it’s set in London which is always a winner for me.
  • Martha Wells, Exit Strategy. Fourth and final instalment of The Murderbot Diaries, though I admit I am hoping for more Murderbot after this. Murderbot is awesome.

Novelettes

Short stories

(Note to self: do a better job of tracking short story reading this year. I am pretty sure I have missed stuff that I loved when I read it.)

I can also recommend Liz Bourke’s Tor.com review column Sleeps With Monsters is great for adding to one’s TBR stack, should one feel the need to do that. (This year I really am going to read everything on the pile. Yes.)

writing

A Glimmer Of Silver re-release!

I received the sad news, a month or so ago, that the Book Smugglers, my lovely publishers for A Glimmer Of Silver, my YA SF novella about second contact and choosing your responsibilities, would be moving away from for-sale publishing. As such, they planned to take all their short stories, novellas, and novels off sale at the end of the year.

But the good news is that they’ve been super helpful in handing me back the rights and helping me with self-publishing, so A Glimmer Of Silver is now available again from all the usual places where e-books are sold. The paperback is also forthcoming in the next couple of days, via Amazon.

So if you haven’t yet read A Glimmer Of Silver, now might be a good time to fix that.

my fiction, SFF, writing

A Glimmer Of Silver: out now

So, it’s been a busy few weeks. Last month my novel The Deep And Shining Dark was released. This month, my novella A Glimmer Of Silver came out from The Book Smugglers. It’s available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, and Smashwords. It has been getting good reviews, too, which is awesome.

(I’ll be at Nine Worlds on Saturday with a few copies to give away — watch Twitter for details.)

Cover of A Glimmer Of Silver, by Juliet Kemp. An androgynous person with brown skin and short dark hair sits on a dock, with the sea at their feet. They have silver marks on their skin. Behind them there are floating buildings in the distance.

misc

Film and theatre

In the last ten days or so I’ve had a birthday, seen Hamilton, seen The Last Jedi for a second time, and got another couple of episodes of Black Sails in. All of these things are excellent and I heartily recommend them. (More Hamilton London tickets going on sale at the start of next week!)

(TLJ spoilers upcoming.)

The Last Jedi was, I think, better the second time around, because I was less anxious about Were They Going To Fuck This Up and could get on with enjoying it. And with spotting the bits and pieces I missed last time. Like the books in the drawer in the Falcon at the end; and, close to the start, Luke saying irritably to Rey, “What, did you think I was going to march out with a laser sword and face down the First Order single-handed?”. The final scene with Luke and Kylo Ren — and the cut at the end to Rey, the real Last Jedi — was even more epic second time around. I still think it was a smidge too long, but I enjoyed all of it regardless.

And now I’m about to have a virtual film night watch of Rock of Ages. I feel in need of popcorn 🙂

writing

Plotting and planning

The thing I find hardest about writing is plot (or possibly structure, or possibly both); so this year my main aim is to get better at constructing a story which hangs together well, especially at novel length.

Historically I’ve tended to just get on and write, and then fix everything in editing; but that means that editing can wind up looking like a full rewrite, by the time I’ve corrected the structural issues that result (for me) from writing that way, and fixed up all the gaping plot holes. I do really love the thing that happens when I’m getting words down onto the screen at speed and letting my brain carry me away; but I’m also fed up with a first draft that looks quite so unformed.

So I’ve been reading a lot about plot and story structure (best book so far: John Yorke’s Into The Woods, though ‘best’ here may just mean ‘fits best with my brain’, and trying to use all of it to write an outline for my next project, which involves London and dragons and too many secrets. After an initial flaily period it’s starting to come together, and I’m looking forward to getting cracking on the writing. But I’m determined to sort out the holes I can still see first, this time, rather than putting them out of mind and ‘just writing’. So it might be another few days yet.

reading

Tackling the TBR pile

This morning I went through my Kindle and discovered, somewhat to my horror, that I have no fewer than 78 books on there that I haven’t yet read (including the handful that I’ve started but not finished). Plus 13 hard-copy books piled up by the bed; 16 on the shelf downstairs; and 10-20 short-story magazines also on the Kindle. (We will leave aside the matter of the hundred-odd samples on the Kindle which act as a sort of ‘perhaps I would like to read this’ list.)

So. New plan for 2018 reading: get through all of those (or officially DNF them) before I buy anything else new (with exceptions for new releases of series I’m already following). Having just tidied up my Goodreads records from last year, that comes out at 175 books (which still misses a few from the library and an awful lot of fic). So 107 books plus magazines should keep me going til the summer. So far I’ve read 10 books in 2018, but several of those were novellas or shorter; also quite a few of the TBR pile have stayed as TBR for a while because I anticipate them being slightly harder going.

Recommended so far from 2018 reading: the Belladonna University novellas by Tansy Rayner Roberts (Fake Geek Girl, Unmagical Boy Story, and The Bromancers, all fluffy Australian magic college stories with a big dollop of geek-culture), and Dreadnought by April Daniels (trans superhero YA).

SFF

Generation Ships & morality

I went to a panel at Worldcon on the morality of generation ships, and have been thinking about it since.

(I’m also going to take this opportunity to recommend this Jo Walton story set on a generation ship, which is great and has something to say about choice and decisions.)

So, the question under discussion at the panel was: is it morally acceptable to board a generation ship (i.e. a ship that people will live on for multiple generations on their way to another planet), given that you are not just making a decision for yourself, but for your future children, grandchildren, etc etc. The two main categories of moral problem that the panel identified were:

  • the risk of the voyage itself;
  • the lack of choice for every generation after the one that gets on the ship in the first place.

The ‘risk’ issue seems reasonably strong. It’s very unlikely that anyone would have a really clear idea of what the planet was like that they were going to. If you’re using a generation ship at all, then you probably don’t have any other form of fast travel, so any information that exists about the planet will be scanty, very out of date, or most likely both. (See Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, which is also great.) So it’s not at all a reliable bet that your descendants will truly be able to settle where they’re headed to, even if it looks good from here.

There are also the risks of the voyage itself, including but not limited to radiation issues, the possibility of running into something else, and the likelihood that the ship will genuinely be able to maintain a workable ecological system. We don’t have good on-Earth comparisons for small closed systems; what experiments have been conducted have been very short-term and not terribly promising. What about the social dynamics? What are the risks of, say, a totalitarian system arising? If the risks on Earth are very high, or humans on Earth are facing imminent disaster, then this might be an acceptable trade-off, but how high is ‘very high’ and how disastrous does a disaster have to be? Does it need to be Earth-wide? If your current home is, for example, sinking under rising waters, and you know that any alternative will mean becoming a refugee in poor circumstances — how much risk is ‘reasonable’ to accept then?

Which brings us on to the issue of ‘choice’. One could argue that a kid living in a refugee camp without enough food or warm clothes has, notionally, some future ‘choice’ or ‘opportunity’ to escape that. A child on a generation ship is stuck there.

But why is “can’t leave generation ship” morally different from “can’t leave Earth”? Which is of course a situation into which all children are currently born and which we do not consider morally problematic. And how realistic is the ‘choice’ that the average Earth-born child has? This was where I thought that the Worldcon panel fell down a bit. They threw the word “choice” around a lot but didn’t at all interrogate what realistic “choice” is available to which children in which situation on Earth. There are many kids born without very many realistic ‘choices’; children who are unlikely to go more than a few miles beyond where they were born, children whose projected lifespan is short, children whose lives are likely to be very difficult. How different is that, in reality, from a generation ship? In fact, if the generation ship does work, it might be a better life than on Earth: guaranteed food, shelter, and useful work (making the ship run).

The panel talked about limiting the choices of children born on the moon, because they might not be able to go back and live on Earth — but why is Earth necessarily better than the moon, or Mars, or the asteroid belt? Why isn’t it immoral of us to have children who are stuck down here in the gravity well?

More generally: we’re constantly making choices for our children, and through them for generations beyond; we’re constantly giving them some chances and removing other options, every decision we make. Is that immoral? It’s not avoidable, however much privilege you have, although most certainly more privilege generally means more options.

Would I get on a generation ship? Well. Not without a really good perusal of the specs. But I’m not convinced that it’s immoral to do so.