Sunday, June 7, 2020

And Now His Lordship is Laughing, by Shiv Ramdas

Strange Horizons, September 2019

The time is the Second World War, and the place is Bengal, India.

An old woman is making dolls out of jute, and caring for her young grandson. She's getting regular visits, though, from a British officer. The governor of the region wants one of her dolls for his wife, but Apa has been refusing to make one. The officer tells her she's making the wrong choice, but she won't change her mind, and the officer leaves. For that day, at least.

Then the British start confiscating all the rice, and everything else edible. The village, all of Bengal, and though she doesn't know it, all of India, begins to starve. It's not because of her dolls, but because the British are willing to let the Indians starve in order to feed their troops for the war.

The governor is happy to use her starvation to force her to comply, though. And seemingly, Apa agrees.

But he has made the wrong choice, and he has no idea what Apa's dolls can do.

The story draws the reader into a less familiar culture, and I became fully involved with Apa, her grandson, and her quest for justice. Recommended.

I received this story as part of the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Blood is Another Word for Hunger, by Rivers Solomon

Tor Books, ISBN 9781250243911, July 2019

During the years of the American Civil War, a farm now peopled only by women--the wife of the owner, their two  daughters, her mother, her sister, and their fifteen-year-old slave girl, Sully, gets word that the owner has died in battle. Sully forms a careful plan, and puts it into action. That night, she mildly drugs all five of the women, and cuts their throats. The next day, she washes her clothes and all the bed linens, digs a hole, and buries them.

A few hours later, she gives birth to another teenage girl, who has been dead for two hundred years. Sully has, due to her rage, and the five murdered women, become a pathway from the other side.

What follows really should be more horrific and less a satisfying tale of Sully, Ziza, and other "recruits" successfully building free and productive lives together. Yet, I found myself really liking these young women and their other friends, and after each moment of  "oh, no, I'm supposed to be appalled at that," I went back to cheering them on. Fighting for freedom is never a bad thing, and you use the tools you have.

Recommended.

I received this story as part of the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Friday, June 5, 2020

As the Last I May Know, by S.L. Huang

Tor Books, October 2019

Nyma is a ten-year-old girl, raised by the Order, and now called upon to do the hardest job the Order has.

In an alternate history, Nyma's country was hit with two seres, terrible bombs that vaporized two entire cities. The country responded by becoming a major force for world peace. The country has its own seres now, but it has put a terrible price on the use of them. When a new president takes office, the launch codes are changed, and inserted, in a capsule, into the chest of a ten-year-old child. To get them, to launch the seres, the president himself must kill the child and cut the capsule out of their chest.

Nyma is the carrier for the newly elected president, and the country is at war against a dangerous enemy. She acts as an aide, and is around him nearly constantly. The idea is that, if she is a real person to him, he won't be able to use the weapons he says "should always be on the table. The question is, will it work?

It's  dark story, and yet life-affirming. I've liked the other short story finalists I've read so far, but this one just hits it out of the park. Highly recommended.

I received this story in the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Ten Excerpts From an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island, by Nibedita Sen


Nightmare, May 2019

This is an odd one, a horror story in the form of an academic annotated bibliography, about an island of cannibal women and the consequences of their first contact with the British, in 1893.

Much of the population gets wiped out, possibly because the British noticed they were cannibals. and two young girls are brought back to England. They're sent to a girls' boarding school, the Churchill School, and seem to be adjusting really well, until they reach seventeen. "The Churchill Dinner" is one of the first really alarming references.

We get, over the next few pages, a succession of brief excerpts from academic papers over the years down to 2017. In these, we see both the bewilderment and confusion of the "civilized" people, and confusion and frustration of the descendants of those two "rescued" girls, finding that they don't quite fit in anywhere, with brown skins, Ratnabari eating preferences, English clothing, and English language.

I think it's very good, but I can't quite connect with it. It's a story I probably wouldn't have read at all, if it weren't a Hugo finalist.

I received this story as part of the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

A Catalog of Storms, by Fran Wilde

Uncanny Magazine, January 2019

A village by the sea, with a steep cliff overlooking it, contends with dangerous and peculiar weather. They have terrible storms, and storms not seen elsewhere, and all they can do is hunker down. Even when there is no storm at the moment, the sky is always gray; blue skies are a memory passed down from past generations.

Then some of the village's young people start fighting the storms. They become "weathermen." One tool in the fight is naming the kinds of storms, which makes it possible to fight them.

This story is told from the viewpoint of the youngest daughter in a family that has a tendency to produce weathermen. Sila's voice grabbed me and pulled me in.  I found it intriguing and enjoyable. 

I received this story as part of the Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Do Not Look Back, My Lion, by Alix E. Harrow

Beneath Ceeaseless Skies, January 2019

Eefa has been a good husband to her wife, Talaan, a soldier of Xot, the Golden Butcher. Eefa is a healer, though, and much as she loves Talaan, never a supporter of the wars of conquest.

Eefa has had enough. She's decided to leave.

But Talaan catches up with her, and promises the child she's carrying now won't be a soldier. She won't have her face scarred, promising her to the service of the God of Death. Eefa will have her to raise as a healer.

What follows is the struggle between intentions, promises, and the culture they live in. It's a well-depicted crisis of love, faith, duty, and the demands of an Emperor who needs Talaan for her wars.

Recommended.

I received this story as part of the 2020 Hugo Voters packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Life and Times of Prince Albert, by Patrick Allit (author, narrator)

Audible Originals & The Great Courses, February 2020

Prince Albert was the younger son of a fairly minor German prince, and he married the queen of one of the great powers of Europe. They were each among a very short list of eligible marriage partners for each other. That it was a love match was a bonus extra for them.

This isn't a biography of Victoria, or even of Victoria and Albert. This is specifically about Albert, his lie and times, and his unexpected and significant influence on British politics and culture.

Victoria and Albert were both twenty when they married, intelligent, and energetic. However, Albert had received a much better education. This was partly because young men were deemed to be more suited for education than young women, but also because Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent, and the Duchess's lover, Sir John Conroy, were trying to mold Victoria into someone they could easily control. They weren't successful, but that didn't change Victoria's lack of education.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Women Talking, by Miriam Toews (author), Matthew Edison (narrator)

Recorded Books, ISBN 9781501998782, April 2019

This story is based on real events in a remote Mennonite community, in which more than a hundred women and girls were drugged and assaulted during the night by what the men of the colony told them were ghosts or demons. Eventually, one of the women succeeds in outsmarting her attacker, and the truth is exposed.

This book is about an imagined response to this, in which eight women, over forty-eight hours, talk about what they can do and will choose to do about what's happened, while the men of the colony are in a nearby town trying to post bail for the men involved in the assaults. It's a challenging listen, but also fascinating.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Prisoner's Wife, by Maggie Brookes

Berkley Publishing Group, ISBN 9780593197752, May 2020

This is based on a true story from World War II, as improbable as it seems.

It's 1944, and Izabella is a twenty-year-old farm girl. Her father and older brother have joined the partisans; Izzy, her mother, and her younger brother, Marek,are left alone on the farm.

Izzy's mother, fortunately, was always the farmer in the family; it's her family's farm, and Izzy's father was a musician. But with only Izzy and her mother to do the heavy work, it is a struggle. When Nazi officer Captain Meier shows up and says he can bring a work crew--prisoners from the Allied forces--her mother accepts.

It's a team of five captured British soldiers. They don't come every day, but for every major job the farm has. Among the prisoners is William King, and he and Izzy are quickly drawn to each other.

They have to be very, very careful.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Professional Integrity (A Riyria Short Story), by Michael J. Sullivan (author), Tim Gerard Reynolds (narrator)

Audible Studios, June 2015

Hadrian and Royce have been operating a very successful thieves-for-hire business for several years, but this latest proposition is truly unusual. A young heiress wants them to kidnap her, to attract the interest of a most desirable potential suitor. She won't even get to meet him if they don't, because her father locks her in a steel box whenever he visits.

Something is not what it seems here. Her story does not really make sense, and yet she seems completely sincere. What's really going on? Is someone setting Royce and Hadrian up, or attempting to use them as tools in some larger scheme?