#BookReview: The Mausoleum’s Children by Aliette de Bodard

#BookReview: The Mausoleum’s Children by Aliette de Bodard"The Mausoleum's Children" by Aliette de Bodard in Uncanny Magazine Issue 52, May-June 2023 by Aliette de Bodard
Format: ebook
Source: supplied by publisher via Hugo Packet
Formats available: magazine, ebook
Genres: Dark Fantasy, science fiction, short stories
Series: Uncanny Magazine Issue 52
Pages: 20
Published by Uncanny Magazine on May 2, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

The May/June 2023 issue of Hugo Award-winning Uncanny Magazine .

Featuring new fiction by Aliette de Bodard, Kylie Lee Baker, Lindsey Godfrey Eccles, Fran Wilde, Ewen Ma, Theodora Ward, and K.S. Walker. Reprint fiction by Chimedum Ohaegbu. Essays by Caroline M. Yoachim, LaShawn M. Wanak, Hana Lee, and Sam J. Miller, poetry by Nnadi Samuel, Jennifer Mace, Tehnuka, and Angela Liu, interviews with Kylie Lee Baker and Ewen Ma by Caroline M. Yoachim, a cover by Antonio Caparo, and an editorial by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas.

Uncanny Magazine is a bimonthly science fiction and fantasy magazine first published in November 2014. Edited by 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, & 2022 Hugo award winners for best semiprozine, and 2018 Hugo award winners for Best Editor, Short Form, Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, Meg Elison, and Monte Lin, each issue of Uncanny includes new stories, poetry, articles, and interviews.

My Review:

Welcome back to my bounce through this year’s Hugo nominations. Today’s foray into my quest to read the nominees that I didn’t get to last year is back in the Best Short Story (under 7,500 words) nominees with Aliette de Bodard’s “The Mausoleum’s Children”.

I put this particular story towards the front of the list because of the author. I’ve very much enjoyed her Universe of Xuya series – which is nominated for Best Series, BTW – and hoped for something in that series – although I should have known better because that’s against the rules – or at least something like that series – which would have been allowed.

I didn’t get what I was hoping for, but I think it did help that I have dipped into Xuya, as this is a story about returning to a place of former trauma, which just so happens to be a crashed ships’ graveyard.

Those crashed ships were once the kind of ship minds – at least sorta/kinda – who are some of the marvelous characters in Xuya. So I had the feeling this story was walking through their graves – and that bits of those minds still lingered, battered and broken and lost in endless nightmares.

But they’re not really the story. Instead, the story follows one human – or maybe I should say one person – who escaped from that ships’ graveyard as a child. Thuận Lộc is now an adult, forever scarred by her experiences, never fitting in anywhere in the world outside the mausoleum and desperate enough to return and attempt to save the people with whom she belongs – even if that attempt might mean her death.

In other words, she’s been living her whole, entire, supposedly ‘free’ life with a heaping helping of survivor’s guilt and she’s come to the conclusion that the only way out is through. One way or another.

Escape Rating B-: There’s a lot to unpack in this story and perhaps the suitcase it’s packed in wasn’t quite big enough in the first place.

The obvious bit is wrapped around Thuận Lộc’s need to belong, her guilt about not bringing her peeps out with her, and her attempt to assuage just a piece of that trauma. But there’s also more than a bit about abuse and its victims, Stockholm Syndrome writ very, very large, and the rapaciousness of greed for power in all forms and the way that some people try to escape evil by getting on top of it or allowing themselves to be co-opted by it.

I was, honestly, hoping for better from this story than I got. It wasn’t bad, I did like the central character and did feel for her, but the ending only worked because I was equating the ships in the mausoleum to the living ships from Xuya and that wasn’t in the text at all, it’s just the connection my brain went to in order to grasp something.

The premise at the heart of the story, trauma and survivors’ guilt and Stockholm Syndrome and the dangers of getting sucked back in but needing to go to expiate one’s demons – well, that’s been done much, much better in Premee Mohamed’s The Butcher of the Forest – a story that seems even better in comparison with “The Mausoleum’s Children”.

Two down in the Short Story category, four to go in the weeks ahead.

Grade A #BookReview: On the Fox Roads by Nghi Vo

Grade A #BookReview: On the Fox Roads by Nghi VoOn the Fox Roads by Nghi Vo
Format: ebook
Source: supplied by publisher via Hugo Packet
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy, urban fantasy
Pages: 38
Published by Tor Books on October 31, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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A new novelette from Hugo Award-winning author, Nghi Vo!
While learning the ropes from a crafty Jazz Age bank robber, a young stowaway discovers their authentic self, a hidden gift, and that there are no straight lines when you run the fox roads. . .

My Review:

Unlike the popular image of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde, “Chinese Jack” and “Tonkin Jill” didn’t ENTER banks with guns blazing. That didn’t mean they didn’t EXIT that way, but the guns weren’t the point.

Jack and Lai were merely following the rule laid down by their contemporary Willie Sutton, they robbed banks because that’s where the money was. Even if the kind of small-town banks that the Chinese duo robbed had a lot less of the green stuff and a lot more of other kinds of paper than either of the robbers would have liked.

That’s where the third member of this duo turned trio enters the picture, a young Chinese-American girl who stows away in their getaway car intending to steal back the deed to her parents’ store from one of the “Jack and Jill’s” earlier scores.

A seemingly magical deed that will re-open the store as soon as the deed is laid down on the ground it belongs to.

The question is whether that stowaway wants to go back to belonging to it, to being the girl their parents want them to be, prim, proper and most of all – obedient – or whether that girl wants to undergo more than one transformation – robbing banks, driving getaway cars, getting to see the big, wide world, living as a man instead of the woman that fate originally intended.

All things are possible on the magical, mysterious, ever-changing fox roads that travel no known path and go in no known direction except for the will and the whim of anyone who is on the run from a hard chase and desperate enough to drive fast and trust to fate.

Escape Rating A: This is one of those stories where my only complaint is that I wanted just a bit more than I got. Every single bit of this one is terrific, but I wish it had qualified as a Hugo nominee in the Novella category (between 17,500 and 40,000 words) instead of as the Novelette it is (between 7,500 and 17,500 words). Not that I actually WANT more options in the Novella category because it’s going to be a really hard choice for me.

On the Fox Roads is one of those book baby situations, where it feels like it owes some of its DNA to several books I’ve read – and probably more that I haven’t – but at the same time is still a thing of itself meaning that the blend creates something new and marvelous.

Bonnie and Clyde in a photo from around 1932–33 that was found by police at an abandoned hideout

In this particular case it reads like it owes something to, first of all, the real Bonnie and Clyde, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, both in the way that Jack and Lai operate and in the setting, small-town America during the Great Depression just as Prohibition is about to change everything.

But the story also has a bit of The Fox Wife by Yangsze Choo in that one of the characters is a fox masquerading as a human, who is someone with a somewhat different set of morés and values than the human narrator and the fox’s human partner Jack.

And then there’s that third element, the fox roads themselves, which read a lot like the roads to alternate realities traveled by the magical muscle car in Max Gladstone’s Last Exit.

Those impressions were what I brought into this story, what I got while I was reading it was considerably more, as the narrator has the opportunity to try out a much different life than they thought could possibly be available to them as a young Chinese-American woman in racially-stratified 1930s America.

The way that the magic mixed into the heady brew of the story and swept it off down mysterious roads and sometimes equally mysterious and magical cities blended the whole delicious melange into something delightful and unexpected and yes, magical.

To the point where I’m oh-so-grateful that this got nominated for the Hugo, because I’m not much of a short fiction reader and probably wouldn’t have found this otherwise. But I’m glad that I did, even if it does make my Hugo voting that much harder.

#BookReview: One Man’s Treasure by Sarah Pinsker

#BookReview: One Man’s Treasure by Sarah Pinsker"One Man's Treasure" by Sarah Pinsker in Uncanny Magazine Issue 50, January-February 2023 by Sarah Pinsker
Format: ebook
Source: supplied by publisher via Hugo Packet
Formats available: magazine, ebook
Genres: fantasy, short stories
Series: Uncanny Magazine Issue 50
Pages: 29
Published by Uncanny Magazine on January 3, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

The January/February 2023 issue of Hugo Award-winning Uncanny Magazine .

Our landmark Issue 50, a double sized issue! Featuring new fiction by Ken Liu and Caroline M. Yoachim, Mary Robinette Kowal, P. Djèlí Clark, A. T. Greenblatt, A.M. Dellamonica, Eugenia Triantafyllou, Sarah Pinsker, E. Lily Yu, Marie Brennan, Christopher Caldwell, John Wiswell, and Maureen Mchugh. Essays by Elsa Sjunneson, John Picacio, Annalee Newitz, A.T. Greenblatt, Diana M. Pho, and Javier Grillo-Marxuach, poetry by Neil Gaiman, Terese Mason Pierre, Sonya Taaffe, Betsy Aoki, Theodora Goss, Ali Trota, Abu Bakr Sadiq, Elizabeth Bear, and Brandon O'Brien, interviews with Ken Liu and Caroline M. Yoachim by Tina Connolly; interviews with Eugenia Triantafyllou, E. Lily Yu, and Christopher Caldwell by Caroline M. Yoachim, a cover by Galen Dara, and editorials by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, and Meg Elison.

My Review:

This second entry in my very informal and scattered series of reviews of this year’s Hugo nominated works is focused on one of the nominees in the Novelette category – meaning a story between 7,500 and 17,500 words.

The title isn’t quite as evocative as last week’s “How to Raise a Kraken in Your Bathtub” – which is absolutely one of the most attention grabbing TITLES on the entire ballot. But this one came next because it’s from the same issue of Uncanny Magazine so I decided “Why not?”

For my next pick from the ballot I may have to resort to “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” – or I will once I get through all the works by my faves that are on the list.

The title of this story, while not quite the claxon warning that Kraken should have been, does bring a scenario to the top of one’s mind – even if it’s a much different scenario – as well as a potentially less dangerous one.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” as the old proverb goes. There’s also a variation about “one man’s meat being another man’s poison” but that’s not nearly as applicable in this story.

Because this is a story about the way that the trash gets taken out in a magically powered world, as seen through the eyes of the garbage collectors.

It’s kind of a “lower decks” story, in other words, a view of the world, not from the top where the movers and shakers do their moving and shaking and where stories are often set, but rather from much nearer to the bottom, where the nitty gritty is very gritty indeed and where shit gets done and disposed of – in this case one truckload at a time.

But this particular story is also a story about class and labor organizing and the rich being different from you and me, and especially from Aden, Blue and Nura.

And it’s a story about karma being a real bitch – but in a way that might just possibly teach someone a few lessons as she goes.

Escape Rating B-: It’s lucky for this story that it is not in the same category as Kraken because in spite of having potentially twice as much space to tell its tale, One Man’s Treasure doesn’t stick the dismount half as well.

The best part of One Man’s Treasure is the world creation and character creation by way of slice of life. On the one hand, it’s fantastically familiar on multiple levels.

While we might not think about how the Wizarding World in Harry Potter gets rid of its trash, it does have to happen somehow. In a magical world where everyone has a bit of magic, and a leisure class that has even more leisure, there would be neighborhoods where more magical detritus got thrown in the trash because there was more available to waste.

The potential of magical trash to be magically dangerous seems high once you think about it for a minute. That the ritzy neighborhoods would be paying good money to make sure that THEIR trash got taken away quietly and with minimal fuss seems obvious. That’s just humans being human in their ugliness.

The garbage collectors themselves, Aden and Blue along with Aden’s girlfriend Nura, represent an entirely different perspective. They’re the ones at the sharp end of the danger. They resent the waste of material and money that could make their lives better – AND they are frustrated by government budgeting – set by those very same rich people who don’t want to see them – that refuse to fund even basic safety equipment for their very dangerous jobs.

The situation is ripe for some kind of labor organizing and class action – which is exactly what happens. The way that situation comes about is woven into every thread of the story – even if the exact triggering point is a disgusting surprise.

But the denouement of the whole story felt a bit rushed, as though the words were running out – they possibly were – and it had to get wrapped. The character who has been lying all along – and for disgusting reasons – gets found out and gets punished. He seems to have an epiphany but we don’t get the chance to find out whether that’s real or whether it stuck.

So I was happily reading along, really liking the characters and loving the way the whole thing was working out and then BOOM it was over but not in a way that really felt like closure. This is a story where the world is terrifically built and just the right balance between familiar and new – but if you want to feel like it came to a solid conclusion you’ll need to decide that in your own head after you’ve finished – even as you wonder whether or not Aden ever lost the fox ears.

A- #BookReview: How to Raise a Kraken in Your Bathtub by P Djèlí Clark

A- #BookReview: How to Raise a Kraken in Your Bathtub by P Djèlí Clark"How to Raise a Kraken in Your Bathtub" by P. Djèlí Clark in Uncanny Magazine Issue 50, January-February 2023 by P. Djèlí Clark
Format: ebook
Source: supplied by publisher via Hugo Packet
Formats available: magazine, ebook
Genres: historical fantasy, short stories, steampunk
Series: Uncanny Magazine Issue 50
Pages: 26
Published by Uncanny Magazine on January 3, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

The January/February 2023 issue of Hugo Award-winning Uncanny Magazine .

Our landmark Issue 50, a double sized issue! Featuring new fiction by Ken Liu and Caroline M. Yoachim, Mary Robinette Kowal, P. Djèlí Clark, A. T. Greenblatt, A.M. Dellamonica, Eugenia Triantafyllou, Sarah Pinsker, E. Lily Yu, Marie Brennan, Christopher Caldwell, John Wiswell, and Maureen Mchugh. Essays by Elsa Sjunneson, John Picacio, Annalee Newitz, A.T. Greenblatt, Diana M. Pho, and Javier Grillo-Marxuach, poetry by Neil Gaiman, Terese Mason Pierre, Sonya Taaffe, Betsy Aoki, Theodora Goss, Ali Trota, Abu Bakr Sadiq, Elizabeth Bear, and Brandon O'Brien, interviews with Ken Liu and Caroline M. Yoachim by Tina Connolly; interviews with Eugenia Triantafyllou, E. Lily Yu, and Christopher Caldwell by Caroline M. Yoachim, a cover by Galen Dara, and editorials by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, and Meg Elison.

My Review:

The title of this story is the title of the manual that Trevor Hemley receives along with the rather expensive ‘Kraken egg’ that he’s purchased from an advertisement in the back of a magazine. Which all sounds utterly dodgy when you think about it for even half a second – but Trevor Hemley didn’t. Think, that is.

All Trevor thought about was the possibility of fame and fortune, of finally proving to his wealthy father-in-law that he was worthy of the hand of the man’s daughter – even though he already had that hand, along with a lovely home and a secure position all provided by his wife’s father.

Which of course made him feel all that more looked down upon by his wife’s family and their wealthy connections.

So a kraken. Or rather a plan to hatch said kraken in his bathtub, reveal the existence of the long-believed either mythical or extinct kraken to the world, and reap the rewards that Trevor felt were his due. After all, in Trevor’s Victorian Era, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, fantastic discoveries were being made around the globe by Englishmen of science and daring, and the sun never set on an Empire that reaped the benefits of all the countries to which it believed it was bringing enlightenment while raping their economies and destroying their cultures.

But England is unassailable from without – as history has proven time and again. Which does not mean that it can’t be conquered – or that vengeance can’t be delivered upon it – from within. One crate and one bathtub at a time.

By a monstrous and rapacious creature – in fact a whole horde of them – with appetites as large as empires.

Escape Rating A-: The whole of this story is considerably greater than the sum of its parts, which is merely one part of what makes it so much fun and so thought provoking at the same time.

On the surface, it’s a bit of a funny story about a man whose reach has very definitely exceeded his grasp, as well as a bit of a morality tale about the parting of fools and their money, combined with the message that anything that sounds too good to be true generally is and that people generally get conned because they’ve conned themselves first.

But those messages were delivered in a thrashing of tentacles and teeth which Trevor Hemley certainly deserved. What gives the story its shiver of horror mixed with delicious righteousness is the way that Trevor is merely a part of the deliverance of those messages to a much wider and even more deserving ‘audience’.

Because it’s not really about the kraken after all. Even though it still is. And it’s the double-barrelling of the story, that it’s both the tongue-in-cheek tale of a man who does something really, really stupid and pays for it, AND it’s a story about colonialism where the colonizers get more than a few tentacles of their just desserts.

The title of this is marvelous, eye-catching and true in more ways than one – much like the story it represents. However, that title isn’t the only reason I picked this up yesterday – but it is one of the reasons that I picked it first out of the Hugo Packet for this year’s awards – which leads me straight into the other reasons I chose to read this story to round out a week that’s had a whole lot of ‘meh’ in it.

As a person with at least a Supporting Membership in this year’s World Science Fiction Convention, I have voting rights for the Hugo Awards. In order to be informed about exercising those rights, the Awards committee compiles a packet of ebook versions of as much of the nominated material as the publishers will give them. That packet became available this week and I immediately downloaded the lot.

A lot that included this story by P. Djèlí Clark, whose previous work I have very much enjoyed, and in the case of the whole, entire Dead Djinn Universe (A Dead Djinn in Cairo, The Angel of Khan el-Khalili, The Haunting of Tram Car 015 and the utterly awesome A Master of Djinn) absolutely loved. While there are no djinn in this story, dead or alive, I was still up for some of his work because I knew it would be a gem whether or not it had received a Hugo nod.

All of which is to explain that many of the works that have received Hugo nominations (including another story from this very issue of Uncanny Magazine!) will appear in reviews here over the coming weeks. Based on the works that I have already read, plus this first foray into the nominated shorter works, it’s going to be an excellent year for the Hugos no matter which stories ultimately go home with rockets!