Here’s a reminder of the nominees with handy links to my reviews:
- ELYSIUM by Jennifer Marie Brissett (Aqueduct Press)
- THE BULLET-CATCHER’S DAUGHTER by Rod Duncan (Angry Robot)
- THE BOOK OF THE UNNAMED MIDWIFE by Meg Elison (Sybaritic Press)
- MEMORY OF WATER by Emmi Itäranta (Harper Voyager)
- MAPLECROFT: THE BORDEN DISPATCHES by Cherie Priest (Roc)
- REACH FOR INFINITY edited by Jonathan Strahan (Solaris)
First a pat on the back to this years PKD judges – Jon Armstrong, Ritchie Calvin, Ellen Klages, Laura J. Mixon (chair), and Michaela Roessner. They’ve done a marvelous job in nominating novels from a diverse range of voices, not all of whom are (a) American or (b) white or (c) men. In other words, don’t expect these novels to appear on the Sad Puppy 3 ballot.
One thing that springs out immediately, once you’ve read all the nominees, is that each of the five novels features a female protagonist as the main, or one of the main, point of view characters. While I know urban fantasy has paved the way for super empowered and resourceful (if angsty) female heroes, it’s still refreshing to read science fiction novels from a female perspective.
The second thing that strikes you in the face is the popularity of apocalypse fiction. While the woman featured in these novels all make their own choices and carve out their own futures, there’s an overall sense that humanity is, to put it succinctly, fucked. I know apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction has been around forever, but has it been so prevalent in the past five years? So much so that the literati have jumped on the bandwagon.
And finally gender is also a prevailing concern dealt with by these books. For me, the best discussion of gender and sexual identity appears in the Unnamed Midwife, but it’s clear that how we identify ourselves is something that, in among all the apocalypses, is top of mind for these authors.
So, if I had to choose a winner it would be Meg Elison’s The Book of the Unnamed Midwife. It’s frank brutality and sexual honesty totally won me over. Having said that I’d be happy to see the PKD go to any one of four books, including Memory Of Water, Elysium, and Reach For Infinity.
On Reach For Infinity, Jonathan Strahan’s anthology is an odd beast, not because of the content – which features at least five award worthy stories – but because it’s surrounded by five novels. It’s one thing to have a single author story collection appear on a shortlist – just like the National Book Awards – because at least there you have one consistent voice, and while I really enjoyed Reach For Infinity I’m not convinced that an anthology of many voices can be compared to a novel.
Still, the PKD shortlist sets a high benchmark for the rest of year and illustrates that genre novels can be inventive, structurally innovative and literary. No Sad Puppies here.