Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’d assign for Worldbuilding 101 (or maybe 202)

This is a post for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. You can find out more and follow along there!

Worldbuilding is something that’s really important to me as a reader; I think it really comes right after character and before even plot in terms of things I care about when reading. A marvelously built and depicted world will make me more engaged with the story, while one that falls flat or doesn’t consider implications can really bring a book down. Now, there’s a difference between my favorite fictional worlds and what I would assign to people who want to understand worldbuilding. The worlds I love tend to be on the immersive side, where there are few infodumps and the reader is expected to follow along. This isn’t really worldbuilding 101, but I’ve put a few on here anyway. (Of course you can also learn a lot by dissecting interesting failures, but I have left these off this list.)

The Foreigner series by CJ Cherryh: The Foreigner books are really a study in how to show immersive worldbuilding, especially interactions between aliens, humans, and within different groups of both. Cherryh writes other cultures with a deep sense of history, religion, and politics that make the worlds she writes richer.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette): I have a lot of emotions regarding this book, but mostly I loved how detailed the world is. Not everything is laid out for us, but I loved the mechanics of the language, the court systems and culture.

Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie: So, both of these books are amazing from the point of view of worldbuilding in that imaginative, thoughtful way that makes for great scifi. I love all the everyday details, as well as the wider brushstrokes. But I want to highlight Ancillary Mercy because it takes a detail of the world created in the first book and delves into the background, the implications, and the systems that make it possible.

The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston: I often get impatient with alternate history type books, because they sometimes seem to cherry-pick what from our world will stay and what will be different. But E.K. Johnston does a wonderful job of thinking through what her choices mean and making sure they all cohere into a fascinating world that looks a little like ours–but isn’t.

Medair by Andrea K. Höst: I’m a big fan of Höst’s books, and I think she does a marvelous job of worldbuilding in general. But I wanted to highlight Medair because it sets up a conflict between two cultures. This is fairly standard, but in this case, there’s a kind of Rip Van Winkle situation going on and the two cultures, rather than being two nations or worlds, are the past and present of a country. The details of what changes and how that affects Medair are really great.

The Agency series by YS Lee: I have sung the praises of the Agency books on many occasions. But I wanted to highlight the fact that although we usually think of worldbuilding as vital for SFF, it’s actually really important for historical fiction as well. (Arguably, it’s important for all genres, but usually goes unnoticed in litfic.) Lee does a wonderful job of supporting her world with details and research without getting bogged down in it.

Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells: I have to admit that I’m putting this on the list mostly because I love it and love the worldbuilding Wells describes. But I think this one also does a beautiful job of creating a world that feels inhabited.

Flora Segunda by Ysabeau Wilce: This one I would put on the syllabus for two reasons. First, it’s playing with American rather than European influences and I think that’s worth highlighting. Second, it’s fun and I think it’s too easy to think of worldbuilding as serious somehow. It often is (and often should be) but Wilce’s riotous wealth of details shows that it doesn’t have to be.

Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow: I loved Sorrow’s Knot so much, but here I would use it to examine what happens when you set up a world, with all of its big background pieces: politics, religion, family dynamics, etc, and then challenge those assumptions. What happens, in fact, when the world you build is on a tipping point?

The Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee: This is a collection of short fiction, which I really loved. The worlds that Lee creates are fascinating, vivid, and complex. I would assign this one to point out that WASP culture is not the default and that our culture does imbue our decisions and assumptions.


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2015 Hugo results, a very personal reaction

The Hugo awards were announced Saturday night. I stayed up very late and watched the livestream from Sasquan because–well, let’s be honest. I probably wouldn’t have slept anyway. The ceremony itself was a bit bizarre, including a Dalek onstage, a kind of awful bit from Robert Silverberg, and a kind of awesome bit from Connie Willis (<3 <3 <3). It was also TEDIOUSLY LONG. Seriously when you start announcing the awards almost an hour after the ceremony begins, it is too long.

But anyway, after all that the awards were announced and from my point of view it was (in keeping with the theme of the evening) YAY*.

It’s probably obvious that I don’t support the Puppies, but I will say it clearly: I don’t support the Puppies. I don’t have any problems with conservative SFF fans or writers, but that’s not what either of these groups are and I find the beliefs and statements from both groups to be generally awful. Even leaving aside their ongoing harassment of other fans and association with a certain group that shall not be named, I believe they are being disingenuous about their aims at best. Moreover slate voting as a thing rather than an anomaly will clearly destroy any integrity the Hugos have.

Sidebar. This is why it matters: when I was in high school and cutting my SFF fan eyeteeth, one of the things I did was read through my friend’s dad’s collections of past short form fiction writers. It introduced me to the genre in a powerful and succinct way. Although “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” still haunts me (WHAT EVEN, Harlan Ellison) and although even then I noticed that there weren’t enough female voices, it was definitely something that shaped me as an SFF reader and fan. Perhaps the Hugos don’t have a wider cultural cachet, but they do matter. (I have longer points about awards and how what works are awarded have ripple effects, but I’ll save them for another time.)

So I was please–no, gleeful–when the awards were announced and it became clear that the Hugo voters had overwhelmingly voted against the Puppies and their slates. Before the awards, people kept talking about the record number of voters, but it wasn’t clear who those voters were or what their choices would be. In a terrible year, the outcome is the best we could have hoped for.

But. BUT. It’s an outcome that is good in a negative sense rather than a positive one. I am genuinely happy for several of the winners (Ms. Marvel YESSSS!! Orphan Black! Julie Dillon!), and yet. I keep comparing it to the ALA YMA awards this year, when the committees across the board, in nearly every category, affirmed and recognized a broad array of works from a broad array of interesting and diverse voices. For me, that was a positive outcome and one I could 100% cheer about. This? This is something different. (For the record, I did cheer at No Awards because from my pov those were the best outcomes in those categories for this year and anyone concern trolling other peoples’ reactions can stop now.)

And most especially (perhaps appropriately, considering the genre), the thing I find the most difficult is the might-have-beens. Because the Hugos release all of their voting data, it’s possible to reconstruct, as Natalie Luhrs puts it, the alternate timeline Hugo Awards. Speaking personally, many of the writers and voices represented on that list are among my favorites currently writing in the genre. To me, it’s heartbreaking that Liz Bourke, Abigail Nussbaum, and Natalie Luhrs herself, Lady Business and The Book Smugglers, as well as Eugie Foster, Amal El-Mohtar, Jo Walton, and so many others were denied the place in the awards that they earned. And since the Campbell Award is only open to writers for a limited number of years, some people will always be denied that chance.

And in terms of the award itself, it seems a much more broad representation of the field than the slate we got, with its 3 nominations in one category for John C. Wright (yes, please go on about how you’re increasing diversity in the award, mmhmm, right). I suspect I will always find it sad that the Puppies stole the time and attention from what would have been a fantastic group of candidates. I’m going to do my best to at least try the works I haven’t already read, to talk about the ones I love. To turn the focus back to where it should have been to begin with: a vibrant, diverse group of people creating something beautiful together.

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Two mg books from Filipino writers

Last week, I read two books from Filipino writers, mostly by coincidence. My friend Chachic (who’s from the Philippines herself) had mentioned Candy Gourlay’s books and I found a copy of Tall Story at the library. I had also heard good things about Erin Entrada Kelly’s Blackbird Fly (Kelly is Filipino American). Given that Chachic is also promoting Filipino books and authors this month, it seemed like a good time to review these two!

tall story Tall Story by Candy Gourlay is told in alternating narration by Andi, who lives with her Filipino mom and British dad in the UK, and Bernardo, her older half brother who has been raised by his aunt and uncle in the Philippines. At the beginning of the book, he is finally allowed to rejoin his mom in the UK. But unbeknownst to her, Nardo has grown tall. Very, very tall. Meanwhile, Andi and her parents have just moved, leaving Andi’s beloved school and basketball team behind.

Bernardo struggles with leaving his village in the Philippines behind. This is understandable regardless: moving to a new place is often hard and moving half-way across the world to live with a mother you barely know would be especially so. But for Bernardo, there’s also the fact that his village believes he is good luck for them, protecting them from the earthquakes in the region.

And for Andi, there’s also a disruption as she was just named point guard in her school’s basketball team when her parents announce that they are moving. She finds out that her new school does have a team, but when she shows up to the try-outs, she discovers that it’s an all-boy team.

I liked this one quite a bit; Bernardo and Andi obviously care about each other even though they sometimes find each other baffling and even annoying. Their mom and Andi’s dad are somewhat oblivious to their kids, but they way Gourlay writes this, it came across as human and real rather than them being terrible parents.

At any rate, I thought this was a nice depiction of families, of the tension between the place you have left behind and the place you find yourself, and finding your own strengths. I think it would resonate with a lot of kids.

blackbird flyApple Yengko in Erin Entrada Kelly’s Blackbird Fly, has some similarities to Andi. Her mother is a widowed Filipina who emigrates and builds a new life (this time in America). Also like Andi, Apple has a frustrated passion: music. Her most prized possession is her father’s old tape of Abbey Road, and her deepest dream is to learn to play guitar.

But Apple’s mother refuses to let her buy a guitar, and as the story opens she finds that she is on the middle school’s Dog Log, a list of the supposed ugliest girls in the school. Her old friends distance themselves from her, and Apple spends most of the book wishing for a way to be someone else, and to make music.

I found this one a somewhat difficult book to read, not because it’s badly written, but because everything seems so awful for so long. Kelly writes about the torments and anxieties of middle school very well, and perhaps for that exact reason, I found the middle portion of this book tough. As Apple rebuilds her sense of self, finding new friends amongst the other outcasts of the middle school, things definitely improve. And the end is lovely and triumphant, especially with a surprise revelation from Apple’s mother that ties up the themes of family and memory.

I also suspect that part of what made this story a hard one to read is the fact that as an adult it’s very easy to see what is happening and Apple’s own missteps. It’s quite possible that for a younger reader, the whole experience of reading this book would be different.

Regardless, this is a well-written book with engaging characters, and other readers may enjoy it a bit more. Brandy loved it, while Katy had a somewhat similar reaction to my own.


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Blog break

I’m not going to be posting here, or elsewhere online, for a few days because my mom and brother are coming to visit me from Oregon! I should be back next week, probably on Wednesday.


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Library Displays: Big-over-the-top display

Last month, I was asked to create a display for the big display case near the main entrance to the library. Naturally, I jumped at the chance!


I decided to make a big, huge, over the top display, with all the things I want to do regularly and can’t because of the limits of the display area I’m normally working with. Additionally, I wanted it to have a fairy tale kind of feeling. This is the finished product.
Close up of the right side.

I really like the whale

Middle panel

Left side

I used quite a bit of poster board for this project–the castle, the sea animals, boat, and the hot air balloons are all made out of poster board. Some of it was drawn with Sharpie, other pieces are cut paper.

Here are the two balloons. I suspended them with string and fixed it so they wouldn’t swing around and show the (unadorned) back.

Castle. I drew and decorated the individual pieces and then layered them to create a slightly 3-D effect. The base is two Baker & Taylor boxes taped together and covered in green butcher paper.

The first layer is put together!

And now it’s mostly done.

I love how this project turned out, and it was really fun to be making something so creative and bold. It was a ton of work, but I’m very pleased with the results.


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Patricia McKillip reading notes: The Book of Atrix Wolfe

I ran out of time to write this review last month, and I’ll be pausing the reading notes series for the rest of this month before picking it back up in September (probably with Dorothy Sayers).

This is, in fact, a five minute review, written before I’m off to work, because I have come to accept that this is the only way I’ll ever manage to talk about this book.

So! Atrix Wolfe! Unusual because it starts off with a prologue. Has some Cinderella echoes, at least some faint ones.

There are also some themes from other books that show up again: hidden natures are all over the place, plus books and spells waiting for the right time and person (like Nepenthe’s Alphabet of Thorn). Also the land being in danger and the quest for a lost child. Also the fact that in both cases the mother searching for the daughter finds her but loses the lover which I’m noting but am not sure what to do with.

And there are so many delicious descriptions of food in this book. I wanted to eat everything. The descriptions of the land are also sharp and lovely.

There’s a slantwise complexity to this one: Saro/Sorrow, Atrix’s spells that say one thing and mean another. But it’s also, between this and the language, a bit dense. I had a hard time concentrating on it, which could certainly be me, but I think was partly the book. So, while I truly did like it, it’s a bit more elusive in memory than the others I’ve just re-read.

However, I am glad I re-read it, if only because maybe I’ll make a McKillip-inspired feast at some point! (Seriously, the food!!)


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August releases I’m excited about

fifth season court of fives shadows of sherwood baba yaga's assistant
Most Likely to Succeed by Jennifer Echols
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Court of Fives by Kate Elliott
Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Shadows of Sherwood by Kekla Magoon
Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola, Emily Carroll
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell


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