New post: The City Uncity

Tade Thompson’s Rosewater and Sue Burke’s Semiosis.

I’ve written a review of two more novels shortlisted for the 2019 Clarke award, Tade Thompson’s Rosewater and Sue Burke’s Semiosis: I paired them because of their structural and thematic commonalities, as I probably will also with the Whiteley and the Saadawi.

The review is publicly available here as a Patreon post: https://www.patreon.com/posts/28181987

Many thanks to my patrons for supporting these! Greatly appreciated, you all are why these essays can fungally exfiltrate the biodome and successfully infect the noösphere.

Still noodling over the options of how to actually use Patreon’s posting features. I plan to continue to have both public and patron-only posts: the latter will be on Patreon out of necessity, but in future I think I’ll switch to putting the public posts here and linking them from Patreon rather than the other way around. Mostly because I much prefer the very flexible and extensive WordPress formatting options to the stark and rudimentary formatting features that Patreon provides for text posts. It is not exactly friendly to the longform essayist, that place: one gets the impression it’s designed more for embedding or linking to content than actually containing it. What I like about the new WordPress interface (the controversial Gutenberg editor) is that it seems equally at home with both. The paragraph should be treated as a quasi-magical high technology from a Lost Age, to be hoarded and dreaded for its dangerous powers, not consigned to poor implementation of paragraph and line break tags.

The 2019 Clarke shortlist

So I’m trying something a bit different this year. I’ve launched a Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/vajra, which I’m hoping to gradually turn into something that supports more regular nonfiction output from me: essays and criticism, on speculative fiction and other subjects of interest. Please do check it out, and all signal-boosting is wildly appreciated!

My first patrons-only project is to review the 2019 Clarke shortlist, or at least as much of it as possible. (Also see my writing about the 2018 Clarke shortlist, for comparison, so that the patreon is not a pig in a poke.) From the 2019 shortlist, I’ve started off with a review of The Electric State by Simon Stålenhag. A brief excerpt:

The images show a postapoc American landscape dotted by giant downed warcraft of various types, and both living and dead bodies adorned with “neurocasters”, which are a mashup of a VR headset (which is what they look like) and the neural jacks of ye olde cyberpunke (sigh). Using the neurocasters, people can control drones, which is how the last war was fought. (First drones, and only then the sticks and stones.)

Subscribe to my Patreon to read the rest here!

Meanwhile, for an overview of what I’ll be writing about on Patreon in the near future, the full shortlist is, in no particular order:

  • The Loosening Skin by  Aliya Whiteley
  • The Electric State by Simon Stålenhag
  • Frankenstein in Baghdad  by Ahmed Saadawi, translated by Jonathan Wright
  • Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee
  • Rosewater by Tade Thompson
  • Semiosis by Sue Burke

This is an interesting shortlist. Electric State is an illustrated novelette. Rosewater, Semiosis, and Revenant Gun are all series books, and all are quite clearly written to work as series books. Rosewater opens a trilogy and Semiosis a duology, while Revenant Gun concludes a trilogy: the ghosts of five other books accompany these, in other words, of which two I’ve read and two haven’t been published yet. These three shortlistees are, I feel, all the same type of series book, in that they belong to closed trilogies and duologies attempting to tell a single overarching story, rather than open-ended episodic series where each book largely works by itself (this is not an exhaustive or mutually exclusive typology: more complex situations abound, such as Cherryh’s Foreigner series, which does multiple trilogies in sequence and therefore does both of these things at the same time.) These three, though, considered as individual novels, are definitionally incomplete to varying degrees. The only standalone full-length novels in the shortlist this year are Loosening Skin and Frankenstein in Baghdad, which immediately endears them to me, of course. Last year there were no series books at all, so this is quite the turn.

Lee’s Ninefox Gambit was shortlisted a couple of years ago, so that means two out of three books in the Machineries trilogy are Clarke nominees—very cool. (Poor middle child Raven Stratagem, though.)

I particularly appreciate that the Saadawi made it on here, as a translation: I don’t believe there have been any translations on a Clarke shortlist in some time: in 2017’s shadow jury I picked out all the eligible translations from the submissions list and hoped to see more on the official shortlist in future years. (I believe Electric State was simultaneously produced in English and Swedish after a successful crowdfunding campaign, so I’m not counting that as a translation in the same sense of making a pre-existing book written in another language available to an anglophone readership. But if you do count that also, it would make it two translations.) I also picked Aliya Whiteley’s Arrival of Missives for my shadow shortlist in 2017. It didn’t make it to the official shortlist, so I’m very pleased to see a Whiteley novel finally on here too.

It’s good to be writing reviews again, after something of a hiatus. I’ll collect my Clarke 2019 posts on Patreon under the Clarke 2019 tag so that they’re easy to find.