The last 2012 Nebula nominee I am reviewing is also the winner: 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. This is the story of a future in which humans have moved out into the solar system, having terriformed, or at least tamed, other planets, moons, and asteroids. The main character is Swan Er Hong, a 100+-year-old resident of Mercury, who is mourning the recent loss of her grandmother Alex. But there is much more to the story than a personal loss. Alex had been involved in some controversial research, which she had decided not to share with her granddaughter, even after her death. The only thing Swan received from her was a mission to travel to Titan.
Swan meets two men, who knew Alex and were very familiar with Alex’s studies, Inspector Genette and Wahram. They believe there is some kind of conspiracy surrounding Alex’s death and involve Swan in the investigation, but only up to a point. Swan crisscrosses the galaxy, accompanied by Pauline, a tiny quantum computer called a qube, which is inserted in her head. She relies on Pauline, but finds that Genette and Wahram do not trust the qube. Could qubes be involved in the conspiracy somehow? That is left for Swan to discover.
I really enjoyed 2312. I don’t read a lot of science fiction these days, involving myself mostly in fantasy, but I loved it as a kid. I cut my scifi teeth on the greats, such as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Robert Bloch, and remember them fondly. As a science fiction novel, 2312 did not in any way disappoint me, compared to these giants. As a matter of fact, I could see the influence of Clarke and Heinlein in its pages.
In addition to creating an involving story, Robinson also imparts some interesting ways of world-building in chapters entitled “Excerpts” and “Lists”. These chapters give us insight into some of the science and technology of 2312, as well as getting us more into the mind of Swan.
I liked diving into the universe Robinson creates, imagining traveling inside of an asteroid, riding an elevator from Earth’s surface into space or getting involved in the system-wide politics of the 24th century. It was definitely a good read, and I agree that it deserved the Nebula over the other books I reviewed here. Well worth a read.
Madwoman or spiritualist? The way in which you define Imp will determine the genre in which The Drowning Girl: A Memoir belongs. One view is that Imp is a madwoman, and everything that happens to her can be explained as delusion. Even the fact that Abelyn, Imp’s girlfriend, once saw the mysterious Eva could be explained as Imp’s delusion. However, there are indications in the “Back Pages” at the end of the book that Eva may have, in fact, been supernatural.
The Drowning Girl is an interesting book to read. The author Caitlin R. Kiernan lets us into the mind of India Morgan Phelps (Imp) through writings in Imp’s journal. It’s quite a ride as Imp tries to discover what is real and what isn’t. But the book is not only ramblings by Imp, but also short stories written by her and a constant breaking of the fourth wall, which combine to make this work quite unique.
My only issue, if you can call it that, is confusion as to the genre. Much of the book centers around Imp’s encounter with a naked woman (Eva) by the side of the road. If you believe that Eva is a supernatural creature, it is fantasy. Otherwise, it is literary. And based on Kiernan’s writing, I would have no problem placing it in the literary category. It is beautifully written and focuses directly on Imp and her travels through her own mind. But questions still remain in the mind of the reader: Who or what is Eva? Does she really exist? And if so, how many Evas are there?
Yet, however you define it, it’s well worth a read. Although the back-and-forth accounts of Imp can be confusing, that only brings us more into the mind of a schizophrenic and how she thinks. It’s a wonderful book. Thank you, Ms. Kiernan for allowing us to know Imp.
The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemison is the story of a world in which mercy killing is supervised by the religious group Hetawa and carried out by members of that group known as Gatherers. “Dreamblood” is then drawn from these “tithes and can be used to heal other people. Unfortunately, because the collections can also include people who are corrupt, it opens the door to use these killings for political reasons. And that is exactly what the Prince, ruler of Gujaareh, is doing.
There are three main characters. Ehiru is a Gatherer who is starting to question some of his assignments, and Nijiri is his wide-eyed apprentice. On their first assignment together, they are sent to collect a tithe from Sunandi Jeh Kalawe, an ambassador from Kisua, a land where Gatherings are considered murder. These three band together to try and uncover the treachery misusing the Hetawa.
This book reminds somewhat of Throne of the Crescent Moon, another Nebula nominee that I reviewed earlier, partly because of the desert setting and partly because of the relationship between Ehiru and Nijiri. In both books, there is a somewhat contentious relationship between apprentice and mentor. In The Killing Moon, Nijiri must learn to trust Ehiru as they fight against the evil in the land.
I enjoyed this book, although it wasn’t what I would call a page-turner. Each of the main characters had lessons to learn and sacrifices to make. A moderate amount of suspense, along with very strong characters, kept me interested.
Ironskin by Tina Connolly has been compared to Beauty and the Beast and Jane Eyre. It has also been called steampunk. I don’t believe it is any of these, simply the best fantasy novel I have read in quite some time.
Jane Eliot is known as an Ironskin because she wears an iron mask to protect against the curse of rage that she received during the war against the fey. There is a mix of technologies in this book, which is why some people consider it steampunk, but unlike steampunk, there is no real emphasis on this mixture. The reason for it is the war with the fey. Since most advancements were bought from the fey they are no longer available, and most people have been forced to return to horse-and-buggy and candlelight.
Jane comes to work for Edward Rochert as governess for his little girl Doria. Instead of having a curse, she seems to have some fey powers which she cannot control. It is Jane’s job to stop her from using them so she can develop the use of her hands.
Edward is a widower and an artist. As in Jane Eyre, he is looking for a wife and Jane starts to develop a crush on him. Unlike the Bronte novel, rather than a mad wife locked in the attic, Edward keeps secret the origin of his daughter’s power, as well as his true profession. Little by little, Jane begins to understand what these secrets mean and fears for her safety and that of her charge.
This was a book that flowed excellently and I did not want to put down. A very good choice for a Nebula nominee. The winner must have been very special to have beat this one out.
I recently came across an old issue of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) Bulletin, and saw that it featured the 2012 Nebula nominees and winners. Lately, I have been reading a lot of young adult works, since that is the genre I want to break into. So, I thought reading the Nebula nominees would be a good way for me to get back into mainstream science fiction and fantasy.
The first book on the list was Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed. It is the story of an old ghul hunter, Adoulla Makhslod, his assistant Rassed, and the lion shapeshifter Zamia, whom they meet along the way. In the city of Dhamsawaat, a man calling himself the Falcon Prince, a Robin Hood-type character, is wreaking havoc among the nobility, while at the same time, there is a supernatural danger to the land that only Adoulla (also known as the Doctor) and his friends can conquer.
I found this a very interesting book, easy to read, and very rich in that it took multiple perspectives throughout. It starts out with an action scene, has two or three in the middle, then a large, explosive one at the end. The rest of the book seems to be these three and two other friends (Dawoud and Litaz) planning their strategy (much to Zamias disappointment). Further complications are the feelings growing between Rassed (a dervish sworn to celibacy) and Zamia (who only wants revenge on the fiend who murdered her tribal band) and Adoulla’s realization that he may be getting too old for this type of work. Much internal conflict is generated by these situations, and this, paired with the external conflicts of evil they must face, keeps the book interesting.
Though I, like Zamia, would have preferred more action and less talking, The Throne of the Crescent Moon is definitely worth a read. Ahmed writes well and knows how to tell a story. I would pick up another book by him in an instant.
This post was originally published on the writing group site Write Here Write Now, which is no longer active.