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Hugo Week: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms coverYeine Darr is a barbarian from a backwater kingdom.  She is also the daughter of an outcast Arameri, the all-powerful rulers in the The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.  When her mother dies suspiciously, Yeine is summoned back to her family’s seat of power, the city of Sky. In Sky she hopes to discover the truth of her mother’s death, but her investigation is complicated when she is named heir to the king, setting off a power struggle with her vicious cousins.

About now you are thinking that you have read this book before.  Orphaned child: check.  Royal heritage: check.  Courtly intrigue: check.  Fallen gods who function as weapons and sadomasochistic lovers: wait..what?  Sorry, I forgot to mention those.  You see, the Arameri are able to rule the world, because they have gods to smite their enemies whenever their enemies need smiting and the populace needs to be kept in check.  Or simply because the Arameri are bored.  They also have sex with these gods.  Kinky sex.  This took me by surprise, because the book has a fast plot that feels like a YA novel that I expected to fall into normal cliches.  Just when you expect the heroine to fulfill her destiny, whammo, sex with deities.

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Hugo Week: Connie Willis' Blackout/All Clear

BlackoutI'm a sucker for time travel stories. Doctor Who is on my list of must-watch television, I consider the Back to the Future trilogy to be a scifi masterpiece, and the scene of the Heroes episode “Five Years Gone” showing Hiro Nakamura's plan to change the past gave me chills from its sheer awesomeness. That's why when I heard about Connie Willis' time travel novel Blackout/All Clear, I knew that I should take a look, despite the daunting total of over a thousand pages.

Blackout/All Clear tells the story of a number of history students from the University of Oxford in the year 2060 who use time travel to research key events in World War II England. Merope Ward is observing evacuated children in the English countryside. Michael Davies plans to experience the Dunkirk evacuation from the safety of the Dover docks. Polly Sebastian's dream research project involves traveling to London during the Blitz. Their advisor, Mr. Dunworthy, is concerned about the dangerous nature of their assignments, and even more worried that time travel may be more problematic than previously thought.

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Hugo Week: FEED

FeedZombies are the sort of thing that - their recent appearance in books by Jane Austen aside - tend to work better as a film horror than a written one. Except for continued putrefaction, the shambling undead don't really have much of a story arc. On film, this horror, the horror of disgust and revulsion, works in a way that it almost never does on the page. And on film, there's the added bonus of feeling superior while we watch a bunch of pretty people behave like brainless idiots who have never seen a horror movie, or even played a round of Plants vs. Zombies, and so get turned into brainless idiots of another sort. Media matters - zombies almost never work well in books.

Almost.

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Hugo Week: Ian McDonald's The Dervish House

The Dervish HouseWhile the core story of The Dervish House spans only a few days in the year 2027, the tale incorporates legend, myth, history, politics and religion spanning centuries, if not millennia. Its themes include unrequited love, betrayal, revolution, cultural sexism, terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, prejudice, fraudulent commodity trading, clashing cultures, the isolation of the individual, and the day-to-day reality facing people on the streets of Istanbul.

Ian McDonald tells his intricate story through the lives of six individuals who are linked in various ways to an ancient wooden tekke (a building designed specifically for gatherings of a Sufi brotherhood) located in Istanbul--the Dervish house of the title. This building has survived centuries and in 2027 contains several dwellings and an antique dealership.

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X-Men in Real Life

AlphasAt some point, I think, we have all dreamed about what we would want our superpower to be.  I always ruled out mind reading because I figured it would cause more problems than anything (who really wants to know what everyone thinks of them?), and perhaps I'm too much of a goody-two-shoes to be drawn to invisibility.  But flying (with big wings, please) always held a very strong appeal, and after spending much of the last year driving all over creation, I think I'd probably have to go with teleportation.  Sitting in traffic in Chicago is something that I would really love to be able to avoid.

But these are the types of superpowers that people in capes or skin-tight suits have.  People like Magneto, Rogue, Cyclops, and Storm.  People who are played in movies by actors who are extraordinarily attractive and make more in one movie than I will make in my entire life.  People who are--let's face it--not you or me. 

But what if someone made a show about people like you and me who did have superpowers?

Alphas is that show.

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