Happy Friday, friends! This week I’m reviewing Company Town and Heart Forger, and we’re talking about the Hugo Award nominees, time travel, adaptation news, and more.
This newsletter is sponsored by Shattered Roads, first in a brand-new series from Alice Henderson.
In a future laid waste by environmental catastrophe H124 has one job: dead body removal. She keeps her head down and does as she’s told, until one night H124’s routine leads her into the underground ruins of an ancient university. Buried within it is an alarm set up generations ago sharing a terrifying warning of an extinction-level asteroid hurtling toward Earth.
But H124’s warning is not only ignored, it’s considered treason. H124 is hunted—and sent fleeing beyond the shield of her walled metropolis. In the weather-ravaged unknown, her only hope lies with a rebellious faction of survivors. She has no other choice: the end of the world is near.
The Hugos are coming! Or rather, the finalists have been announced. You’ll recognize a lot of the titles from the Nebula nominees. And this could be the award season that makes SF/F history! The first and second books in NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy won Hugo Awards for Best Novel in 2016 and 2017, respectively. If The Stone Sky wins this year’s award, it will make Jemisin the first author in history to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel three years in a row. I probably don’t have to tell you that I’m rooting for this, for so many reasons but most of all because The Stone Sky is one of the best third books in a trilogy I’ve ever read.
Let’s talk about time travel. I really enjoyed this explainer video that explores the different mechanisms in SF/F, including Time-Turners and Back to the Future.
Did you see A Wrinkle in Time? Many of BR’s contributors did, and they’ve got feelings about it. I also saw it and while I have some quibbles, I really enjoyed it overall — and if there’s any justice in this world, Storm Reid will be the next Emma Watson.
Today in tabletop gaming: I’m only familiar with Critical Role from the many gifs of it I’ve seen on Tumblr, but this post might finally push me to watch it.
Looking for good and cheap ebooks? The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin, my personal favorite starting point for her work, is on sale for $3.99 this month. Also on sale for $2.99 is Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, which Robin Sloan memorably declared America’s great sci-fi novel on Recommended.
Today in reviews, we’ve got serial killers and necromancy, but thankfully not at the same time.
Company Town by Madeline Ashby
Company Town was my first introduction to Ashby’s work; consider me intrigued. It’s a dense, multi-layered, action-packed novel with a near-future premise that feels completely possible as well as original. I originally picked it up because it was a Locus Award finalist in 2017, and I can see why.
The book follows Hwa, one of the last people in the community living on an offshore oil rig to remain genetically unaltered. She was born with a syndrome that has disfigured her face and left her with a large birthmark and a seizure disorder, and while bio-modification might benefit her she has turned it into an asset. Her lack of engineering means that she’s basically invisible to her city’s surveillance systems, which grants her certain advantages. She works as a bodyguard to the sex-workers in the community, until a corporation purchases the rig and hires her to protect the owner’s teenaged son Joel. Not only is Joel in danger, but someone is murdering her old clients.
Company Town is both a whodunnit, an exploration of vulnerable and marginalized populations, and a science fiction story that gets stranger as it goes along. Months after reading I’m still trying to decide how I feel about the ending, and I’m not the only one; if you look up reviews, you’ll see that everyone has thoughts. It’s an ambitious novel, and one that I wish I had read with a group; maybe try to talk your book club into reading it along with you.
The Heart Forger (The Bone Witch #2) by Rin Chupeco
You might recall my gushing about The Bone Witch when it came out last year; I’ve been eagerly awaiting the next installment, and I am here to tell you that I was not disappointed.
Tea is a necromancer in a world that both needs and fears her, and The Bone Witch inhabited two timelines: Tea’s present attempts to build an undead army of demonic creatures, and the road to how she got there. The Heart Forger continues with this structure, as Tea takes her army on the road and begins to reveal her plans. While we’re still finding out exactly how things have come to this point, the alternating chapters play off each other in new and interesting ways. Heart Forger also continues the world-building of Bone Witch a bit but focuses primarily on plot, and the pacing moves along much more quickly. Those who loved Bone Witch for its lush details may miss the exposition; those who wanted more action will get it, and how.
There were a few bits of character and plot development that left me scratching my head, but overall the series continues to be inclusive, compelling, and readable. And while a few major questions are finally answered, there are miles to go before we get to the end. So now I’m left hungrily awaiting Shadowglass; join me, won’t you?
And that’s a wrap! You can find all of the books recommended in this newsletter on a handy Goodreads shelf. If you’re interested in more science fiction and fantasy talk, you can catch me and my co-host Sharifah on the SFF Yeah! podcast. For many many more book recommendations you can find me on the Get Booked podcast with the inimitable Amanda.
Your fellow booknerd,