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Most of these do have a rather more overtly political slant than the novelettes, but they manage to come off more history than allegory (perhaps because the length allows deeper explorations of character and setting), so I feel better about them.

6. This Census Taker by China Miéville
A census taker recounts his disturbing childhood and how he came to his career.
I've read a fair amount of Miéville at this point, enough to know that it is not my thing (though you'd think New Weird would be), and this is further evidence. This is a very dramatic story, but I found it a chore to get through. There are hints of deeper meaning if you care to look, but I frankly just don't care. It has some speculative elements, but they are ancillary and seem to primarily serve symbolic purposes. Also, I swear to Azathoth and Nyarlathotep that I formed my opinion on this first, and only later realized it was the Rabid Puppy nomination.

5. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
A new student arrives at a boarding school for young people who have traveled to fantastical alternate worlds but were sent back.
This won the Nebula. I'm not traditionally a McGuire/Grant fan, but man, I really wanted to like this one. Part I sets up the potential for a lovely meditation on loss, balancing hope and acceptance, learning to love who and where you are even if your circumstances aren't what you'd like them to be, etc. Part II then tosses all that in the garbage disposal and goes for slasher horror, instead [1]. And then we get unearned rewards tacked on the end [2]. In my reading log I went on at further length about some other specific points that irked me, but suffice it to say I mourn for the story this could have been but wasn't.

4. A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson
The life and loves of a young nobleman from Olorum.
Initially I was not impressed; it seemed like fantasy romance. Which I guess it is, but it gets more nuanced as it goes along. While I can't quite say I like Aqib, he is an interesting and even sympathetic character. I don't quite buy the idea of all mathematics, physics, and any related fields being entirely "women's work" that men don't have any interest in or understanding of, though.

3. Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold
Penric is called upon to help catch a fugitive shaman.
The sequel to Penric's Demon, which was one of last year's nominees. Not groundbreaking, but solid, enjoyable fantasy. I did like the first one better. Penric is a little too self-assured in this one, neither he nor Desdemona are ever truly put off balance or in any real danger, and we aren't quite given enough reason to care about any of the other characters, which makes it a little flat.

2. The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
The story of a young black Lovecraftian con man in 1920s New York.
This is actually a retelling of "The Horror at Red Hook" and, in the spirit of "Shoggoths in Bloom," is kind of a reinterpretation or even reclaiming of Lovecraft for those groups of humans (which seemed to include anyone not a male WASP) that Lovecraft despised. I found it absorbing and fun. It is interesting how many writers just can't stop themselves from writing Cthulhu Mythos stories, despite the myriad reasons to dislike Lovecraft. (I was obsessed with him in high school, myself.) I suppose it's because there's a lot of breadth and depth there, and also the opportunity for a critical dialogue. Writing Lovecraft fan fiction seems respectable, even, and I certainly seem to enjoy reading it. Speaking of which…

1. The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson
When one of her students leaves with a man from the waking world, a professor in Ulthar sets out after her.
Well, this has a lot going for it that immediately makes me favorably inclined: (1) I've always adored this corner of the Mythos and thought it criminally underappreciated; (2) I'm a sucker for quest stories involving travel to varied and strange locales; and (3) I adore Kij Johnson. You never know what you're going to get when you start in to one of her stories, but you do know you're in sure hands. And this is no exception. If the LaValle piece is a reclamation of the Mythos for non-whites, this reclaims it for women. I enjoyed every word (and it's littered with so many lovely ones, like gems in a magic cave). It also has a great ending, which is frequently the difference between a good story and a great one. The best of "escapist" literature gives you something to take back with you to the "real" world, a fresh view as if you're questing through it yourself [3]. This is the best of escapist literature. Give it awards!

Next up is the novels. I've read two of them already; hopefully I can get through the rest by the end of June.

[1] I almost wonder if McGuire got to the end of Part I, was afraid she wasn't up to the task of really investigating the themes she'd set up, and decided the easy way out was to unsheathe the knives.

[2] Seriously, the special power of the MC is literally to stand there and do nothing, while everyone else does all the work of actually resolving the problems at hand.

[3] And aren't you?

See also:
Short stories


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