Categories
Books

Uprooted is a fantastic look at a fairy-tale reality

I’ve rounded the horn on 2016 Hugo Awards finalist novels, wrapping up Naomi Novik‘s Uprooted (paid link) on Sunday night. Seveneves (paid link) was a 5/5 that roared through my brain, and The Fifth Season (paid link) was a 5/5 that took a bit of time to get rolling, so I was curious to see if Uprooted would keep the streak alive.

Like Jemisin, Novik was new to me; the blurb suggested that Uprooted had a fairy-tale thing going, which didn’t sound awesome . . . but the first few pages grabbed me hard, and I bought it on the spot. I blazed through the book in just a few days, because Uprooted was awesome — a rich, textured yarn set in a world where fairy-tale logic and magic is real, which fully explores just what that would mean for its people.

(Apart from mentioning what’s in the blurb or within the first few pages, and a quote from around 16% of the way in, this post is spoiler-free.)

From a simple foundation

There’s an evil woods.

There’s a mysterious wizard who lives in a tower, and who demands one village girl every decade in tribute.

There’s a witch.

Bored yet? On the face of it, those things sound pretty dull.

But that’s the fairy-tale thing at work: Uprooted is built on a deceptively simple foundation. None of those ideas are new — but what Novik does with them is both novel and delightful.

An exploration

What does it mean when a forest is evil? Not just dark and dreary and full of monsters, but actively — proactively — evil? And why would ordinary folks lives within a stone’s throw of its edge?

Given the prevalence of Forests of DoomTM in fantasy literature, I wouldn’t have expected there to be many interesting answers to those questions left unplumbed, but Novik does just that — and more.

The forest — the Wood — is truly creepy. It reminds me a lot of the Zone in Roadside Picnic (paid link): a place that operates on its own rules, unrelated to humanity’s, and which is incredibly dangerous.

Here’s one of my favorite examples, a throwaway bit from early on in the book:

Two years ago, an easterly wind had caught our friend Trina on the riverbank while she was doing some washing. She came back stumbling and sick, the clothing in her basket coated with a silver-grey pollen.

Because it’s the Wood, that breeze wasn’t errant or random, and because it’s the Wood, even just the fucking pollen is enough to wreck your shit.

Everything about Uprooted, from its remarkable protagonist and her allies to the way fairy-tale logic comes to make sense in the context of its setting, is that good. Novik delves deeply into each element, spinning things out and unfurling surprises as she goes.

The ending felt a bit rushed, but only a bit, and apart from that I loved everything about Uprooted (paid link). It’s a 5/5 for me — three for three among the Hugo finalist novels I’ve read so far. Uprooted is high on my list of favorite standalone, no-previous-experience-necessary fantasy novels.

Moar Hugos plz

Up next in my Hugo finalist reading, I think, will be The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass (paid link). I’m tired of steampunk, but I sampled it last night and was hooked inside the first few pages — much like Uprooted. As a Butcher fan, I expect this one to be a fun ride.

Categories
Books

2016 Hugo Awards: “So join. Read. Vote.”

I’ve been reading fantasy and sci-fi for as long as I can remember[1], but this is the first time I’ve ever become a member of the Hugo Awards voting pool. (A voting membership costs $50, and members also get to make nominations for the 2017 Hugo Awards.)

My faithful Kindle Paperwhite (paid link) is already getting a good workout, with plenty more to come!

I wish I had 10 heads and 20 hands

I’m a voracious reader, but rarely a focused reader. I usually have at least a dozen books — a mix of fiction, gaming, comics, and sometimes non-fiction — in various states of “on the go” at any given time. Right now I’m reading (all paid links) Seveneves, GURPS Time Travel, Playing at the World, The Colossal Conan, Stormbringer, Blood Rites, Thuvia, Maid of Mars, Blood Meridian, The Burning Land, and the Bible, and rereading Jonathan Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four.[2]

Right now, that means Seveneves and GURPS Time Travel. But I’ve got a bookmark, be it physical or virtual, in all of the titles on that list — although in some cases, I’ve been “in the middle of” them for a couple years or more.

This makes becoming an informed Hugo voter a task that’s both exciting, because I love fantasy and SF, and daunting, because holy shit there’s a lot of reading that has to happen before the July 31 deadline.

Just the novels, ma’am

Considering only the five nominees for Best Novel, which are (all paid links):

. . . and using only the rough metric of “how many pages Amazon lists for the edition I looked at,” that’s 2,864 pages of reading I need to do. Granted, Best Novel is the category I expect to involve the most reading, but there are oodles of other categories in addition to this one.

The only category for which I rode in fully prepared is Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form, because I’ve already watched all of the nominated films. (Choosing one, though? That’s going to be tough!)

Still, no complaints here. “Oh no, I have to read a bunch of interesting books!” doesn’t carry a lot of water, as complaints go. I’ve ready plenty of Butcher and Stephenson, but Leckie, Jemisin, and Novik are all new to me. I’m excited to read their work — and many other nominated works, as well.

Time, horseshit, and Rabid Puppies

Will I be able to read 100% of the Hugo nominees? Realistically, probably not. I’ll do my best in the time I have, though.

I vote in the ENnie Awards every year, and I don’t even attempt to read/play every nominated work — doing so would entail giving up too much of my time. Instead, I play/read the stuff that interests me, and vote for stuff I feel familiar with. Unlike the Hugos, the ENnies don’t offer up a voter packet, but I make a point of visiting nominated blogs and checking out nominated free products.

I also don’t feel obligated to read every Hugo-nominated work, because fuck the Rabid Puppy agenda. I have a horseshit filter, and you know what? It didn’t stop working when I became a Hugo voter.

If a nominated work stands on its own merits, like Seveneves does, I don’t care if it also appears on the Rabid slate. If a slated work doesn’t stand on its own, or if it advances or supports Rabid Puppy horseshit, it’s going below No Award on my ballot.

I like, and agree with, John Scalzi‘s take on this topic:

If you vote your own conscience, there is no wrong way to vote for the Hugos. There is, simply, your vote. It’s your own choice. Think about it, take your vote seriously — and then vote. No one can or should ask you to do anything otherwise.

I have no stake in how anyone else votes; I’ll be voting my interests and conscience.

The bigger picture

I’ve learned a lot by reading different takes on slates, Puppies, Hugo voting, and all things Hugo-related over the past couple of months.

File 770‘s list cross-referencing nominees with the Rabid Puppy slate is going to come in handy, and the site’s ongoing Hugo commentary and links have been a great read. Gay dinosaur erotica-author Chuck Tingle, nominated by the Rabid Puppies to troll the awards, is a fucking national treasure, and he’s doing a delightful job of trolling them right back.

At least one other “troll nominee,” My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, is an excellent nominee in its own right, and I’ll be fascinated to see how it does. Chuck Wendig said some excellent things about last year’s Hugo mess that are pertinent this year, too. Ditto Brandon Sanderson, in his post about this year’s awards.

“So join. Read. Vote.”

The quote in the title of this post is George R.R. Martin‘s advice to potential Hugo voters, drawn from an excellent blog post he made after the nominations were announced, The Puppy Wars Resume.

It’s good advice, and I’m taking it.

I wish it didn’t cost $50 to take, though. $50 is a lot depending on one’s circumstances, and I bet there are plenty of folks interested in the Hugos for whom that $50 is a barrier to entry. But the sentiment is sound.

I’m still reading, listening, and finding my feet as a Hugo Awards voter, but it’s a responsibility I take seriously — and no matter what happens, I’ll get to read some good books, and the awards themselves will be interesting.

[1] The two earliest fantasy and SF books that I read were, respectively, The Hobbit (paid link) in second grade and Tunnel in the Sky (paid link) in fourth grade. I might be forgetting something earlier in either case (or both), but I have “time stamps” for those two.

[2] My to-read stack, physical and virtual, is hovering around 130-150 books, and has for at least the past five years. I try to spread my unread books across multiple shelves so that they can’t gang up on me.