June started off with a book promotion trip for Lent to Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, which was pretty reading intensive: long train rides, early nights in hotel rooms. Then I was home mostly revising for the rest of the month. There were also a lot of pain days where I did nothing but read. So I read 33 books in June, some of them not very long—there are a number of children’s books and magazines in here. July’s going to have a lot of travel and August even more so, so I’ll probably read less.
Fiction and Excerpts 
Ever since I visited Florence in 2011, Florence has made it into whatever I’ve been writing, even when it’s set on a generation starship, or in Heaven, or in Plato’s Republic. Modern Florence got into My Real Children. But Lent is my Renaissance Florence book, and I went to Florence and stayed there for a couple of months when I was writing it. I went to the places where the book is set—the very rooms, as often as I could, which was a wonderful experience. Most of the places in most of my books are real, but sometimes they’re places where I haven’t been for a long time, and being able to actually pace out scenes and look out of real windows to see what the characters would be able to see was remarkably helpful, as well as fun.
It’s true that I read a lot, but the amount I read at any given time varies depending on what else I’m doing. This month I was in Chicago for three weeks helping Ada Palmer run the papal election of 1492 as part of a Renaissance History immersion course. This is a ton of fun but very time intensive. I also went to Minicon. So I only read twelve books. And here they are.
Young Girolamo’s life is a series of miracles.
It’s a miracle that he can see demons, plain as day, and that he can cast them out with the force of his will. It’s a miracle that he’s friends with Pico della Mirandola, the Count of Concordia. It’s a miracle that when Girolamo visits the deathbed of Lorenzo “the Magnificent,” the dying Medici is wreathed in celestial light, a surprise to everyone, Lorenzo included. It’s a miracle that when Charles VIII of France invades northern Italy, Girolamo meets him in the field, and convinces him to not only spare Florence but also protect it. It’s a miracle than whenever Girolamo preaches, crowds swoon. It’s a miracle that, despite the Pope’s determination to bring young Girolamo to heel, he’s still on the loose…and, now, running Florence in all but name.
That’s only the beginning. Because Girolamo Savanarola is not who—or what—he thinks he is. He will discover the truth about himself at the most startling possible time. And this will be only the beginning of his many lives.
Available May 28th from Tor Books, Jo Walton’s Lent is a magical re-imagining of the man who remade fifteenth-century Florence—in all its astonishing strangeness.
Hi, and welcome to a new regular monthly feature on all the books I’ve read in the last month. I read a whole bunch of things, and a whole bunch of kinds of things, fiction and non-fiction, genre and non-genre, letters, poetry, a mix.
March was a long end-of-winter month here, enlivened with an exciting trip to Hong Kong for Melon Con. I finished 27 books in March, and here they are.
The Hugo Awards, named after pioneer science-fiction publisher Hugo Gernsback, and voted on by members of the World Science Fiction Society, have been given out since 1953. They are widely considered the most prestigious awards in science fiction.
Between 2010 and 2013, Jo Walton wrote a series of posts for Tor.com, surveying the Hugo finalists and winners from the award’s inception up to the year 2000. Her contention was that each year’s full set of finalists generally tells a meaningful story about the state of science fiction at that time.
Walton’s cheerfully opinionated and vastly well-informed posts provoked valuable conversation among the field’s historians. Now these posts, lightly revised, have been gathered into An Informal History of the Hugos, along with a small selection of the comments posted by SF luminaries such as Rich Horton, Gardner Dozois, and the late David G. Hartwell. We’re pleased to share Walton’s introduction to the collection below. Available August 7th from Tor Books.
I read Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning four times before it was even published.
It’s quite a common experience when you’re a teenager to read a book that blows you away, that causes the top of your head to come off and your brain to rearrange itself and be a better more interesting brain thereafter. I’ve talked about this a lot, both in posts here and also fictionally in Among Others, it’s one of the fundamental experiences of the SF reading kid. It’s a much less common experience when you’re grown up. I read books now and I think “Oh I like this! This is a really great example of that thing”. I may get immersed in a book and hyperventilate but I won’t finish a book and think “Wait, who am I? Why is the world like this? Do I even have a head?” This did that to me, it gave me that experience of reading SF when SF was new to me, the feeling that I am a different and better person because I read this, and not only that but a better and more ambitious writer.
History is a thing we make—in more senses than one. And from more directions.
We’re pleased to reprint “Sleeper,” a dystopian science fiction short story from Jo Walton. Acquired and edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden and originally published on Tor.com in August 2014, “Sleeper” is available in Starlings, a collection of Walton’s fiction and poetry forthcoming from Tachyon Publications on February 13th.
Ursula K. Le Guin was of course immensely important to science fiction, and beyond that to literature. The wider world of letters has recognized her significance a little bit in the last few years, with the Library of America volumes, and with the National Book Award. Within the SF community she’d been recognised and appreciated for much longer. She was the first woman to win a Best Novel Hugo, for The Left Hand of Darkness in 1969, and the first woman to win it twice, with The Dispossessed in 1974. She widened the space of science fiction with what she wrote. She got in there with a crowbar and expanded the field and made it a better field. She influenced everybody who came along afterwards, even if it was a negative influence of reacting against her. Delany wrote Triton to argue with The Dispossessed. And all of us who grew up reading her were influenced. Even people who have never read her have been influenced by her secondary influence, in terms of how much more it’s possible to do because she broke that ground.
We all remake our genre every time we write it. But we’re building on what’s gone before. Le Guin expanded the possibilities for all of us, and then she kept on doing that. She didn’t repeat herself. She kept doing new things. She was so good. I don’t know if I can possibly express how good she was. Part of how important she was, was that she was so good that the mainstream couldn’t dismiss SF any more. But she never turned away from genre fiction. She continued to respect it and insist on it being respectable if she was to be seen so.
I’m re-reading C.J. Cherryh’s Atevi books—there are nine of them, and another three promised, which makes them one of the longer SF series around. (Editor’s note: this article was originally published in 2008; as of 2017, there are 18 Atevi novels and 2 short stories.) I was thinking, as I made my way through book 2, Invader, that there are some things about a long series, any long series, that are quite different from an individual novel, perhaps in the same way an individual novel is different from a short story.
When the 1956 Hugo nominees were rediscovered, I realised I’d never read Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow. I’d read other Brackett and not been very impressed, and never picked this one up. But since it was a Hugo nominee, and since I trust the Hugo nominators to pick the best five books of the year, most of the time, and since it was the first fiction nominee by a woman, and easily and inexpensively available as an e-book, I grabbed it. And as soon as I started reading, it grabbed me. It’s great. I read it in one sitting this afternoon. I couldn’t put it down and it has given me plenty to think about. For a fifty-two-year-old book, what more can you ask? I still think the voters were right to give the award to Double Star, but I might have voted this ahead of The End of Eternity.
The Door in the Hedge is a collection of four longish short stories, all reimaginations of fairytales, and first published in 1981. I must have first read it not long after that. Way back then, not many people were retelling fairytales, and the only other such book I’d come across was Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. The Door in the Hedge isn’t that at all, and it’s interesting to think why not. They’re both unquestionably feminist reimaginations of the same kinds of European stories. But Carter was dragging her fairytales kicking and screaming and thrusting them bloody before us, while McKinley wants them still to be fairytales. Just… fairytales where the princesses have agency, where they are active and do things rather than having things done to them, but where they can still, after all, live happily ever after.
When I wrote my post in 2010 about the Hugos of 1956, the nominees for that year were lost in the mists of time. Last month they were found again, by Olav Rokne in an old Progress Report, which is very exciting, because it gives me the chance to compare what I thought they might be to what they really were. It’s great to be wrong, and goodness me I was wrong!
Here’s my thinking on Best Novel, from 2010:
Looking at the Wikipedia article on 1955 novels, I think there are six other likely books that might have been nominees: Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity (post), Frederic Brown’s Martians Go Home, Arthur C. Clarke’s Earthlight, Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth’s Gladiator-at-Law, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King and John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids (post). All of these have since become classics, they’d all have been very worthy nominees. I don’t think any of them are better than Double Star, or likely to have been more popular.
Series: Revisiting the Hugos
The Hobbit isn’t as good a book as The Lord of the Rings. It’s a children’s book, for one thing, and it talks down to the reader. It’s not quite set in Middle-earth—or if it is, then it isn’t quite set in the Third Age. It isn’t pegged down to history and geography the way The Lord of the Rings is. Most of all, it’s a first work by an immature writer; journeyman work and not the masterpiece he would later produce. But it’s still an excellent book. After all, it’s not much of a complaint to say that something isn’t as good as the best book in the world.
If you are fortunate enough to share a house with a bright six year old, or a seven or eight year old who still likes bedtime stories, I strongly recommend reading them a chapter of The Hobbit aloud every night before bed. It reads aloud brilliantly, and when you do this it’s quite clear that Tolkien intended it that way. I’ve read not only The Hobbit but The Lord of the Rings aloud twice, and had it read to me once. The sentences form the rhythms of speech, the pauses are in the right place, they fall well on the ear. This isn’t the case with a lot of books, even books I like. Many books were made to be read silently and fast. The other advantage of reading it aloud is that it allows you to read it even after you have it memorised and normal reading is difficult. It will also have the advantage that the child will encounter this early, so they won’t get the pap first and think that’s normal.
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