Fresh Genre Spins | Nebula Nominees 2016

Nebulacolor-e1456328953673[2]On February 20, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) announced its nominees for the 51st Annual Nebula Awards, the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and the Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book. After the Hugo Award controversies of the last two years, in which two fan block-voting campaigns undermined a selection process based on literary merit, LJ‘s sf columnists, Megan M. McArdle and Kristi Chadwick, were pleased with this year’s list.

“For novel, of course the first thing you think is ‘girl power!’” raves McArdle. “But a closer look shows that the lists for all categories are really interestingly diverse. Not just in gender or the skin color of the authors, but in the topics they tackle and their approach to the tropes of SFF.  Sure, for novel you’ve got an urban fantasy, a space opera, something steampunky, an epic fantasy, and a contemporary fantasy. But the spin these authors have out on their respective genres is fresh and exciting.” Chadwick agrees, “I was astounded in how diverse they were beyond race and identity.”

The awards will be presented at the annual Nebula Conference in Pittsburgh, May 18–21, 2017. Below are LJ and School Library Journal‘s reviews (where available) of the major book nominations. For the full list of nominees in all categories, go to the SFWA website.

Novel

51AQy9+uVPL[1]redstarAll the Birds in the SkyCharlie Jane Anders (Tor)
They met as children, both awkward and otherwise friendless, but otherwise as different from each other as they could be. Patricia always wanted to be in the woods, where she came to believe she could speak to animals. Laurence was obsessed with science, building a computer in his bedroom closet. Still, the two were allies until Laurence witnessed Patricia’s abilities and couldn’t accept them. Decades later, the pair are in San Francisco, where climate change has left the planet on the tipping point of disaster. Patricia is a part of a community of witches, and Laurence has joined a think tank of sorts, which is trying to find a scientific solution to the world’s ills. Nature vs. technology: the old friends are on paths that will lead to unavoidable collision. VERDICT At turns darkly funny and deeply melancholy, this is a polished gem of a novel from the Hugo Award–winning (for the story “Six Months, Three Days”) editor in chief of the website io9.com. Her depiction of near-future San Francisco shows a native’s understanding (and love) of the city, while gently skewering it at the same time. Readers will follow Patricia and Laurence through their growing pains, bad decisions, and tentative love. (LJ 12/15)—Megan M. McArdle, Lib. of Congress, National Lib. Svc. for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

borderline.jpg2116BorderlineMishell Baker (Saga: S. & S. )
Millie Roper lost both her filmmaking career and her legs in a failed suicide attempt. After six months in a psychiatric center, she is presented with a second chance at life—one filled with magic. Recruited by the Arcadia Project, Millie joins an elite group that watches over the fae that travel between their own reality and Hollywood. Her first charge is to track down a Seelie Court nobleman who is also a movie star. Millie finds that both faerie and Hollywood glamour only disguise the ugly truth in the world. With both physical and mental limitations in play, Millie must discover what has happened to the missing royalty. Failure is not an option, as it would not only cost our protagonist her job but could instigate a devastating rift between the two realms. VERDICT Baker’s debut takes gritty urban fantasy in a new direction with flawed characters, painful life lessons, and not a small amount of humor. Millie’s inner battles serve as a unique foil of realism against the otherwordly action. (LJ 2/15/16)—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. System, South Deerfield

obeliskgate.jpg62816redstarThe Obelisk GateK. Jemisin (Orbit: Hachette)
The Fifth Season has begun, and a cold darkness signals the end of the world. Orogene Essun, formerly known as Damaya, formerly Syenite, has found relative safety in Castrima, but her daughter, Nassun, remains lost. Instead, Essun has met Alabaster, destroyer of the world, now being slowly devoured—both figuratively and literally—by his incredible power and his stone eater Antinomy. Alabaster tries to teach Essun how to tap the obelisks and possibly deliver civilization, with drastic consequences. Meanwhile, far away, Nassun travels with her father. Her love for him battles her desire to acknowledge her skills as an orogene, despite knowing that same power is what cost her baby brother his life. As Essun and Nassun deal with both their strengths and weaknesses, the non-orogene people and the stone eaters make a play for Castrima, and Nassun learns that her choices may alter the fate of the universe and tip the scales of authority. While time and location shift with the different points of view, the dual chain of events is masterly crafted. The epic journeys of mother and daughter through this dying realm are dynamic and emotional. VERDICT Jemisin’s follow-up to The Fifth Season is exceptional. Those who anxiously awaited this sequel will find the only problem is that the wait must begin again once the last page is turned. (LJ 7/16)—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. System, South Deerfield

Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)

51uKOkTCdpL[1]EverfairNisi Shawl (Tor)
In the late 19th century, the African colony of the Congo was Belgium’s stronghold on the continent—one ruled with a cruel grip as native peoples were tortured and enslaved to produce the rubber valued in Europe. This first novel reimagines a refuge carved out of the Belgian Congo through the efforts of a group of Fabian Society reformers. The Fabians, alongside missionaries and local tribal leaders, build the community Everfair and invent steam-powered tools and airships that help them remain independent. As the world marches on and Europe’s African colonies get drawn into World War I, Everfair will find it harder than ever to survive. VERDICT Fitting loosely under the banner of steampunk, this captivating look at a lesser-known corner of history includes a large cast of characters, which might make it harder for readers to form an emotional bond with any one protagonist in particular, but this is an important addition to the alternate history canon from the James A. Tiptree Award–winning Shawl, best known for her short stories. (LJ 8/16)Megan M. McArdle, Lib. of Congress, National Lib. Svc. for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book

51ICvYs0hLL[1]starred review starThe Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers)
Gr 4–6 Once a year in the Protectorate there is a Day of Sacrifice. The youngest baby is taken by the Elders and left in the forest to die, thus appeasing the witch who threatens to destroy the village if not obeyed. Unbeknownst to the people, Xan, the witch of the forest, is kind and compassionate. When she discovers the first baby left as a sacrifice, she has no idea why it has been abandoned. She rescues the infants, feeds each one starlight, and delivers the shining infants to parents in the Outside Cities who love and care for them. On one occasion, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight along with starlight, filling her with glowing magic. Xan is smitten with the beautiful baby girl, who has a crescent moon birthmark on her forehead, and chooses to raise her as her own child. Twists and turns emerge as the identity of the true evil witch becomes apparent. The swiftly paced, highly imaginative plot draws myriad threads together to form a web of characters, magic, and integrated lives. Spiritual overtones encompass much of the storytelling with love as the glue that holds it all together. VERDICT An expertly woven and enchanting offering for readers who love classic fairy tales. (SLJ 7/16)—D. Maria LaRocco, Cuyahoga P.L., Strongsville, OH

51-JOSmKbOL[1]starred review starThe Star-Touched Queen, Roshani Chokshi (Griffin: St. Martin’s)
Gr 9 Up Born with a horoscope that predicts a marriage of death and destruction, Maya is an outcast in her father’s kingdom, Bharata. When her father’s political machinations go horribly wrong, Maya finds herself married to Amar and queen of Akaran—a mysterious place filled with secrets and magic. Amar offers Maya the chance to rule at his side and become more than Bharata ever would have allowed. All he asks in return is her patience and trust, which soon prove more than she can give. Her search for answers will lead her across worlds and through her own fragmented memories to discover surprising truths about her husband’s kingdom and herself. Maya is refreshingly unapologetic about her ambitions and her desire for independence. Although her distrust and doubts lead to the main conflict of the story, she is quick to own those mistakes and works to correct them even when it might be to her detriment. Chokshi’s debut fantasy is filled with vivid and unexpected imagery as Maya discovers the wonders and dangers found in her new home in the Otherworld. Well-researched figures from Hindu folklore and mythology, astonishing creatures, and expressive characters further complement the story. A setting drawn from ancient India, romance with feminist sensibilities, and a unique magic system reminiscent of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Little, Brown, 2011) make this a novel sure to appeal to fans of Renée Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn (Putnam, 2015). VERDICT A stunning debut filled with lush writing, smart characters, and a mysterious plot that provides as many twists as it does swoons. (SLJ 3/1/16)—Emma Carbone, Brooklyn P.L.

51uYkzBn5RL[1]starred review starThe Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge (Amulet: Abrams)
Gr 7 Up In a time when a young woman’s exterior life can be stifling and dull, Faith Sunderly’s interior life is cavernous. She has a sharp mind; a keen interest in the scientific research that has made her father, the formidable Reverend Sunderly, famous; and an irresistible impulse for sneaking, spying, and skulking around. Faith’s curiosity about the world around her, which she must keep hidden, is a source of personal shame and the one thing about herself she longs for people, especially her father, to notice. When the Reverend is invited to take part in an archaeological dig on the insular island community of Vane, the whole family packs up and moves with him. It doesn’t take long for Faith to suspect there are darker reasons the family left London in such a hurry, and just as she’s starting to put things together, her father is found dead. Setting out to prove her father’s death was a murder, Faith uncovers a web of secrets the Reverend has been keeping, all centered on one of his specimens—a small tree that thrives on lies and bears a fruit that tells the truth. Faith believes she can use the tree to find her father’s killer and begins feeding it lies. As the tree grows, so do Faith’s lies and her fevered obsession with finding out the truth. Hardinge, who can turn a phrase like no other, melds a haunting historical mystery with a sharp observation on the dangers of suppressing the thirst for knowledge, and leaves readers to wonder where science ends and fantasy begins. VERDICT Smart, feminist, and shadowy, Hardinge’s talents are on full display here. (SLJ 2/1/16)—Beth McIntyre, Madison P.L., WI

51lPEck+GZL[1]redstarArabella of Mars, David D. Levine (Tor)
Growing up in the British colony on Mars, Arabella Ashby would rather be working with her father on his automatons or outside with her brother and her Martian nanny. Yet her mother wants her to be a proper young lady and decides to take Arabella and her sisters to Earth, specifically London, to reside. When the news of her father’s death as well as a threat to her Martian home arrive, Arabella knows that she would rather save her brother than save face. Disguised as a boy, she gets a job with the crew of the Diana, a ship that serves as part of the Mars Trading Company. Learning of her knack for clockwork, the captain puts her in charge of the ship’s lifelike navigator. Dealing with the intricate automaton would be enough, but Arabella also must learn to sail across the stars—while dealing with a less-than-happy crew and the British and French naval war. It will take all of Arabella’s skills to survive the skies, and she only hopes to ensure her family stays alive on Mars, too. Embedded in the chaos of clockwork and space adventure, Arabella is a delightful heroine with more than enough fortitude to traverse the solar system. VERDICT A fanciful romp through a cosmic 1812, Hugo Award–winning Levine’s first novel is a treat for steampunk fantasy fans. (LJ 7/16)—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. System, South Deerfield

81L3DVxPsfL[1]starred review starRailhead, Philip Reeve (Switch)
Gr 5–8 In this vividly realized interstellar adventure, Reeve grabs hold of readers’ imaginations early on and takes them on an exciting ride through time and space. The novel is set in a dystopian future in which the far reaches of the solar system have been mined and terraformed; artificial intelligence and vast connected internets called dataseas control most movement, research, and exploration; and power lies in the hands of a few corporate families. The main mode of transportation is a series of sentient trains capable of traveling thousands of light-years in a matter of seconds. Zen Starling is a human boy who is forced by dire circumstances into a life of pilfering bits and scraps from markets along the train lines in order to help support his mentally unstable mother and sister. A self-professed railhead, Zen often blasts through the K-gates to far distant stations to elude authorities and irate merchants. When he is approached by a mysterious man, known only as Raven, and asked to steal a small item from a train in exchange for a promise to help his family, he readily agrees and inadvertently sets a power struggle and possible coup into motion. His partner and best ally throughout the adventure is Nova, who is an android with human features and feelings. With adept and thoughtful hands, Reeve constructs a big, sprawling, and thrilling universe (a handy glossary is included to sort out all of the intricate networks and relationships), and one in which the trains run on time. VERDICT Sci-fi fans will delight in this lightning-paced and satisfying read. (SLJ Xpress Reviews, 7/1/16)—Luann Toth, School Library Journal

51LgFkL7NqL[1]Rocks Fall Everyone Dies, Lindsay Ribar (Kathy Dawson Bks.)
Gr 8 Up For generations, Aspen Quick’s family has lived in the small town of Three Peaks and has performed a magical ritual that keeps the large, rocky cliff towering above the town from collapsing. Aspen is spending the summer with his aunt and grandmother, completing a magical triad. Two friends from the city are vacationing with Aspen, but he is able to keep them ignorant of his family’s powers. The teen loves his magic. He is able to take things from people without their knowing. Aspen steals emotions like fear or bravery, conditions such as sobriety or calmness, and even physical attributes such as freckles or a strong lower back. He also sees nothing wrong with using his magic to make his dream girl fall for him, or to ease the way socially at parties. But the Quicks’ magic is not as secret as they think, and when you steal things from people, there are consequences. Aspen is self-assured to the point of cockiness. Readers who at first might admire his abilities will quickly become appalled by how frequently and thoughtlessly the teen steals. Aspen’s friends are a believable teen couple, the local girl who knows too much is fascinating and emotionally volatile, and Aspen’s family members are intriguingly creepy. There are several twists, and the Quick family’s ruthlessness makes for breathtaking storytelling. VERDICT This is a fast-paced paranormal mystery with an unusual magic system. It is not the same old make-believe and should be very welcome in most libraries. (SLJ 5/16)—Geri Diorio, Ridgefield Lib., CT

61vXqoyyMJL[1]The Evil Wizard Smallbone, Delia Sherman (Candlewick)
Gr 3–7 Runaway Nick intends to stay only long enough for a hot meal and a night’s rest before moving on, but the Evil Wizard Smallbone—and his bookstore—have other plans. (“You knocked on the door and you asked for shelter. Well, you got it. And now Evil Wizard Books has got you.”) Agreeing to apprentice for the evil wizard, Nick finds himself facing the daily threat of being turned into something unpleasant. But despite his time spent in various forms (spider, rock, rat), Nick manages to befriend the enigmatic bookstore, save some enchanted animals, and even pick up a little magic here and there. Unfortunately, his precarious peace is threatened by Smallbone’s maniacal nemesis, the werewolf Fidelou, a wizard of great power and few scruples. Fidelou wants to claim Smallbone’s lands and destroy him once and for all. Can Nick find the power to stop Fidelou? Or will he be turned into a helpless slug? Or worse? Sherman’s tale takes place in the present in a sleepy Maine seaside town. The plot unfolds easily, and though a fantasy, it’s not over-the-top for fans of realistic fiction. The characters are well-developed, especially Nick, who learns to value self-knowledge. Avid readers will enjoy Sherman’s nods to other literary works, and reluctant readers will find themselves immersed in the tale. VERDICT Recommended for fans of Harry Potter, this story will captivate older readers while remaining accessible to younger ones. Recommended as a first purchase. (SLJ 8/16)—Rose Garrett, Cliff Valley Sch., Atlanta, GA

 

 

 

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