Ever wonder what this year’s Hugo nominees would look like if they were Pokémon? Of course not, but I do, because Pokémon is life. Yup, it’s that time again; my Hugo Nominee 2019 Pokemon theme team is ready. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, I explained everything two years ago, right here.
Time to meet the team.
By Naomi Novik
Published July 2018 (Del Rey)
Pokémon: Alolan Ninetales
I had mixed feelings on the last Novik book I read. Uprooted was a great story, but there were elements that I disliked. With that in mind, I wasn’t sure if I’d be into Spinning Silver, and didn’t make any plans to read it. In the end though, I’m glad this book was a Hugo Nominee because I ended up loving it so much.
We meet many fascinating characters in Spinning Silver. It was that rare book where every viewpoint character and storyline interested me. The world and magic system were also winners. The setting is a fantasy Russia with a parallel winter kingdom inhabited by icy fey folk known as the Staryk. The story borrows many beats from the story of Rumpelstiltskin; Jewish moneylender Miryem brags that she can turn silver into gold. The Staryk King hears this and comes to her three times with silver coins he wants turned to gold. If Miryem fails, she’ll die. If she succeeds, she’ll become his queen. Hard to say which is worse.
I chose Alolan Ninetales to represent Spinning Silver because it shares similar traits with the Staryk King. Thanks to Ninetales’s snow warning ability, it ‘brings the winter’ (hail) just like the Staryk King, and it doesn’t like humans on it’s mountain. The type combination of fairy and ice also matches up with the Staryk theme.
Record of a Spaceborn Few
By Becky Chambers
Published July 2018 (Hodder and Stoughton)
I love the Wayfarers series. There’s not a lot of plot or action but reading a story in this universe feels like I’m dropping in on a galactic society and living amongst all the cool aliens for a while. I like learning about this universe, and it’s not just lore or history I uncover, but things like food and pop culture and other aspects of day-to-day life. Chambers makes the Galactic Commons feel real.
Record of a Spaceborn Few is so far my least favourite of the series. There’s nothing wrong with it; it still has the same great worldbuilding and characterisation as the other two. But it is set in an entirely Human environment, so I saw less of my favourite part of the series, which is aliens. In Record of a Spaceborn Few, we follow five different characters living on the Exodan Fleet, Humanity’s home in the stars. The Fleet is made up of generation ships, so Spaceborn Few contains a lot of the worldbuilding aspects and story tropes of a generation ship story. The twist though, is that the Exodan Fleet has made contact with the Galactic Commons quite some time ago. The Fleet has been given a sun to orbit, outsiders can come onboard and trade, and Humans are able to go off and colonise other planets or live on alien worlds. The question is than raised, what is the purpose of a generation ship that has reached its destination?
I chose Clefable for this book, as it and Clefairy are said to have come to Earth from space. Seems like the closest parallel to the Exodan Humans that the Pokémon World has to offer.
The Calculating Stars
By Mary Robinette Kowal
Published September 2018 (Tor Books)
I’d been meaning to read this book and it’s sequel, The Fated Sky, for a while now. So glad I’ve now read them both because this series is amazing. I did not expect to fall in love with the Lady Astronaut series as much as I did.
In the Lady Astronaut universe, a killer meteorite hits the Earth in 1952. This causes an accelerated Green House effect to kick off, with human extinction being a likely outcome. This kickstarts the space age much earlier than in real history, as making homes on other planets is seen as vital to the survival of the human race.
Protagonist Elma York is a pilot and computer who wants to be an astronaut. She is more than qualified for the job, but this is 1952, so the idea of women astronauts is just not something that seems realistic. Elma has to sell a 1950s American public and the government on the idea of lady astronauts, as well as contend with jerkface Commander Stetson Parker, who hates her and believes women don’t belong in the astronaut corps, and also confront her own mental health issues. As someone who does have issues with anxiety, I found Elma super relatable and just really wanted to cheer for her and be like her. I also loved her relationship with her husband Nathanial.
I also need to praise the narration on the audiobook. The Calculating Stars is told in first person, which I find to work well in audio format. Also, Kowal herself narrates the audiobooks for both books. As well as knowing the characters and story better than anyone, she’s also a professional voice actress, and her performance is amazing.
An important thing to note is that whilst the premise of the story is very much alt history, this series doesn’t read like an alt history book. It’s a story about Elma, and overcoming racism and sexism. Not about how history would have changed if a meteorite hit Washington D.C in 1952. The meteorite is not the focus of the story; the characters are, and if you’re looking for alt history this isn’t the story you want.
I went with the Ultra Beast Celesteela to represent this book. Celesteela is a feminine bamboo rocket. Celesteela is primarily inspired by Princess Kaguya from the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, but also has rocket features; most likely a nod to the SELENE lunar orbiter spacecraft (nicknamed Kaguya in Japan.) As the primary goal in The Calculating Stars is a moon mission, Celesteela’s connection with the SELENE and it’s feminine appearance made it a perfect choice for this position in the team.
By Yoon Ha Lee
Published June 2018 (Solaris)
This is the conclusion of Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire series. I’ve talked about this series and Yoon Ha Lee a lot in previous blog posts, so I’ll keep this brief. In the Machineries of Empire universe, people have the technology to alter the laws of reality. This reality warping is powered by maths and belief, so calendars are the basis of society. Calendars that tell the people when it’s time to torture heretics to death.
A society that relies on ritualistic torture to power its spaceships, weapons, and other technologies tend to have issues with rebellions. Revenant Gun shows the result of the uprising started in the previous books, whilst also finally giving us a good look at big bad Nirai Kujan and an explanation of why the Hexacharte is set up the way it is. Hard to say much more about Revenant Gun, since as the conclusion of the trilogy, it is full of spoilers for Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem.
So, here’s some praise for the series as a whole. The worldbuilding is insane and super cool, I love the characters, and the story brings up so many questions related to military ethics. Also, I love Lee’s writing. He’s descriptions can feel almost poetic at times. The downside to the series though is that the insane world building might be a bit too insane for everyone. I read some pretty hard science fiction at times, and there were points in Ninefox Gambit when the exotic technology got a bit WTF. Though, if you’ve made it through Ninefox Gambit, then Raven Stratagem and Revenant Gun will make perfect sense.
I’m looking forward to one day re-reading this series. I know there’s details I missed first time around, and Revenant Gun finished the series so perfectly.
This series uses animal motifs a lot, which have guided my choices for Pokémon the last two times I did this. I had a Ninetales for Ninefox Gambit, and a Honchkrow for Raven Stratagem: nice and simple. The title Revenant Gun doesn’t instantly make me think of a Pokémon, but the story’s focus on the leader of the Nirai Faction (whose emblem is a moth) and the spaceships (that are actually creatures called moths), made me realise pretty quick that a moth Pokémon should take this space. I chose Volcarona because it is the most powerful moth. Sorry Dustnox and Venomoth.
By Catherynne M. Valente
Published April 2018 (Saga Press)
Eurovision in Space.
Space Opera was one of my favourite reads last year. Here Valente provides us with one of the sillier examples of a galactic community full of interesting aliens. After a massive war, the spacefaring peoples of the galaxy decided that it could never happen again, so they now resolve their conflicts with a singing competition called the Metagalactic Grand Prix. Any new civilisations wishing to remain extant after making contact with the rest of the galaxy must prove their sentience by competing in the Metagalactic Grand Prix and not coming in last. This year Humanity is forced to compete, with one-hit-wonder band Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros performing.
It is absolutely ridiculous, and that’s why I love it. The humour is very Douglas Adams, but also really modern. There is commentary on racism and philosophical musings on the nature of sentience. Whilst the premise is silly, the book’s main question of ‘Doesthe Human Race deserve to continue?’ is treated quiet seriously. Plus, it’s Eurovision in Space! The humour may not be to everyone’s taste, but I thought it was great, and Valente provided enough worldbuilding and backstory to make an interesting, fun story out of this crazy idea. My only complaint is that this novel would have probably been fine as a novella. There isn’t that much plot, so things could have gone quicker.
I could have gone for a singing Pokémon for this book, but I decided I just wanted to get as close to that big disco ball on the cover as I could. So, Forretress it is. I’ve been using Forretress on my actual Pokémon teams for years, and I’m glad for another chance to put this shiny metal bug thingy to good use.
Trail of Lightning
By Rebecca Roanhorse
Published June 2018 (Saga Press)
I enjoyed this book a lot. Eventually. It had a lot of info dumps and flashbacks, but by the end I was hooked. Trail of Lightning follows Maggie Hoskie, a monsterslayer living in Dinétah (formally the Navajo Reservation.) Outside the Rez, the world has been nearly destroyed by climate change, but inside the monsters and legends of old have risen once again. This is essentially an urban fantasy story that plays respectfully with elements of Navajo mythology and beliefs. Trail of Lightning’s portrayal of Native American culture and beliefs is refreshing, especially after seeing how other fantasy authors try to use these elements. The world Roanhorse has crafted with this base is absolutely amazing. We are presented with a dark tale in a magical realm about a troubled girl. I am eagerly awaiting more.
One of the most prominent supernatural characters in Trail of Lightning is the trickster Coyote. Like all gods and demi-gods in this world, he appears in a flash of lightning. So, the electric dog Pokémon Manetric seemed the best fit for the team.
I am really digging this team. For the first time since starting this project, I may actually have a team of six that mostly work together. And they’re all pretty strong Pokémon too. It’ll be interesting doing this project next year. By then Pokémon Sword and Shield will be out, so there’ll be a whole new game with new Pokémon (but also without access to some old Pokémon.)
2018 was a great year for science fiction and fantasy, and these six books show that. I’m glad I read all of them, and would happily recommend all six.
Shifting topic a bit, but this is actually my 100th post. Wow, I can’t believe I’ve written so much. Here’s to a hundred more.