Books I’d Read Lately (Part XVIII)

The Hugo Standouts

Fans will be voting for the Hugo awards soon. Voting is already open at CoNZealand. This is not my Hugo recommendation post, that one will be forthcoming. This is my typical book review post. And since I have been reading lately for the Hugos…

I am not very happy with many of this year’s nominees. Yet, these three below are strongly recommended and give me hope.

A Memory Called Empire (2019) by Arkady Martine

Now, this is how you write a debut novel. Arkady Martine has a degree in anthropology and it shows on her detailed worldbuilding of Teixcatlaan, a planet and culture with a strong Aztec influence.

This novel has a bit of everything, space opera, a whodunnit murder-mystery, and political science fiction. Nonetheless, this is primarily a “fish out of water” story.

A Memory Called Empire book cover

We are introduced to Teixcatlaan through the eyes of Lsel Station‘s newest ambassador, Mahit Dzmore.

Her predecessor, ambassador Yksandr was murdered. Why? By whom? Those questions will drive the narrative.

The new ambassador has an Imago machine which gives her access to the memories and personality of the previous ambassador. Once the imago machine stops working, she is on her own to navigate palace politics.

Did I mention this is her first assignment and first time out of Lsel? Or that for the Teixcatlaani her people are cultural barbarians?

Furthermore, the Empire wants to incorporate Lsel Station. There are opposing political factions and three (count them) three co-emperors in waiting once the Emperor dies, including his cloned child.

Fortunately, she finds allies in Three Seagrass, Twelve Azalea, and Nineteen Adze. She will need them since time is running out and the revelations will open more questions and invite more danger.

The worldbuilding and politics remind you of C.J. Cherryh‘s Atevi culture and novels, particularly the way they use poetry as social currency.

What would you do if your first day in the job your only advantage was taken away from you and you have to learn the ropes fast without it? Yes, I feel sorry for Mahit too.

Politics, intrigue, murder, revelations, add to an engrossing, fun, and exciting read. There is talk of a sequel. I will buy it on day one. Highly recommended. A shoo-in for the Hugo best novel if not for our next entry.

Middlegame (2019) by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire is a personal favorite since she is an author who never disappoints. She has publicly said this is her best novel. She is not exaggerating.

Do you ever wish the Wayward series was more adult? Do I have a novel for you? Dark fantasy meets alchemy with a touch of Frankenstein.

Middlegame book cover

Roger and Dodger are twins separated at birth. They are not human since they were created in a lab by mad scientist James Reed. We learn they are not the only set of twins he created.

Roger is the embodiment of order, language, and logic. His twin sister Dodger is the embodiment of match, chaos, and abstract thinking. Despite purposedly separated to see how they develop independently, the twins established from a young age sort of psychic link or “quantum entanglement”.

It gets crazier and more complicated from there. There are time jumps (always back by resets), there are starts and stops in their relationships (yes, they go years without speaking to each other), and fraternal love even if they do not know yet they are related.

A secret society of alchemists trying to control elemental forces (or is that abstract concepts?) and attain godhood. Yes, the villains, including Leigh, are over the top. Yet, you have to be when you are trying to control the fundamental forces of reality.

This novel is complex and its plot could become a mess in the hands of a less skilled writer. Nevertheless, Seanan brings a world that is dark but engrossing and layered. So much imagination and ideas to read.

At its heart, this is a story about how to be normal when you are different. The twins have trouble fitting in regular society and yet find solace in their bond.

Come for the alchemy, the chase, and action but stay for the unusual and touching sibling relationship. Highly recommended. Read it.

The Light Brigade (2019) by Kameron Hurley

Kameron Hurley does military sci-fi. Do I need to say more? Okay, what if Starship Troopers and The Forever War were told by an unreliable narrator who is fighting the war out of order?

Our main character is Dietz (whose gender is unspecified and not reveal until the very end). Dietz is from Sao Paolo, Brazil (points from bringing a Latino main character).

The Light Brigade book cover

In this bleak future, there was a terrible war and seven corporations (now six) control the planet.

Moreover, the Mars colony separated from Earth and launched an attack known as The Blink which exterminated millions.

Our hero enrolls in the army to fight. But how do you fight a war when the enemy is light years away? By turning the soldiers’ atoms into light and teleporting them to Mars, that’s how.

The phrase “beam me up” takes on a darker meaning.

The light brigade of the title is the name soldiers give the soldiers who return different from combat. By different they mean they remember the battles much different than the mission briefs. What’s happening?

This novel is fast-paced and that is always a good thing. There is no filling. You keep turning pages trying to figure out the plot since nothing is what it seems.

A war out of sequence? Military and political conspiracies? FTL-teleportation technology? A dystopian future with a glint of hope? These are reasons to read, but there is another one.

This is a military science fiction novel that criticizes and questions war and the military-industrial complex. Furthermore, it explores what war and conflict those to the mind.

Highly recommended. Read it. Fun and thought-provoking narratives (without being preachy) are what the Hugos should be about.

Reader, have you read any of these years Hugo nominees? Which ones do you recommend?

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March 2023