Review: Dropnauts

I’ve recently gotten more involved in a professional society of science fiction and fantasy writers (SFWA) and through my volunteer work I’ve gotten to know a wider range of authors. It’s been a wonderful experience, and now I’m trying to read the works of some of my new online contacts.

J. Scott Coatsworth has a wonderful blog called Liminal Fiction. He writes mostly space stories mostly about queer people and describes himself as someone who “inhabits the space between the ‘here and now’ and the ‘what could be.'”

Skythane is probably his most famous work, but I decided to check out his most recent. Here is my review.

Dropnauts

Dropnauts is an intriguing story with a hopeful ending, and I have a fond spot for such tales. Though the first chapter throws an exploding spacecraft at the reader, be warned that this isn’t all action. A complex story follows. Stick with it through the build-up as it does sort itself out and soon you’ll be rooting for this unusual cast of four young people as they set foot on what they believe is a planet devoid of human life. It isn’t of course. We’re a more resilient species than that, and much of the story involves these dropnauts coming to terms with the survivors they meet.
Two small things took me out of the story. The dropnauts are barely in their twenties and if I were one of 12,000 surviving humans on a failing moon colony, I’d have sent a more mature group. Also, one pocket of survivors is truly cringe-worthy to an old feminist like me. You’ll know what I mean when you encounter them.
However, the book is also packed with things I loved. One favorite was the way the moon colony worked from afar to return Earth to livable status. Another was the intriguing involvement of AI entities. I enjoyed this part so much I would have liked more details.
Do I recommend this book to you? Well, it depends on what you enjoy. I liken this novel to eating crab legs. You have to work a bit at first, but what you get for your effort is well worth it. Me? I eat crab legs every chance I get, so, you know, I really liked the book.

 

 

And the winner, she is ….

The world of science fiction has changed. When my father introduced me to his favorite books decades ago, there was not a female author to be found. Not long after, I discovered Ursula Le Guin, Kate Wilhelm and Vonda McIntyre on my own. So, women could write this stuff. Well then, that was what I was going to do someday, because I ‘d already been told my first career choice of becoming an astronaut was “not realistic.”

It wasn’t many years at all before women did go into space. As I grew into adulthood, the list of women who wrote speculative fiction grew by at least an order of magnitude. In fact, it has now increased to the point where five of the six 2019 Hugo nominees for best novel were women. Wow.

One of the presenters was artist Afua Richardson, comic book illustrator for Marvel’s World of Wakanda

Check out the list of nominees below.

It should also be noted that Artificial Condition by Martha Wells took best novella this year; If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho won best novelette; A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow won best short story and best series went to Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers books. Yes, they are all women.

The Calculating Stars
Mary Robinette Kowal
Winner
Spinning Silver
Naomi Novik
Nominee
Revenant Gun
Yoon Ha Lee
Nominee
Record of a Spaceborn Few
Becky Chambers
Nominee
Space Opera
Catherynne M. Valente
Nominee
Trail of Lightning
Rebecca Roanhorse
Nominee

It’s hard to find a simple explanation for this change. One could guess it is because the world has become more welcoming to women pursuing dreams of all kinds. But that should result in something more like woman being half the nominees, not most of them.

It is true women that as a group tend to be more verbal than men.  (Yes, men tend to be more mathematical. I’ve no quarrel with statistics, only a quarrel with extending those generalizations into making assumptions about individuals, or to making assumptions about why the tendencies exist in the first place. Life is complicated.)

Anyway, today’s world of SFF writers could, in part, reflect the fact that women make up a larger percentage of the writing and the reading community in general.

Another theory is that society is more supportive of women then men who write variations of speculative fiction that shade into romance. This gives women writers (for once) a larger menu of styles and subject matter to chose from. I can see this perhaps accounting for a larger number of female SFF writers over all, but few if any of the female-authored pieces nominated for awards could be considered part of this hybrid romance genre.

Maybe it’s this simple. Most of the best SFF last year was written by women, and that’s that.

I was happy that my particular favorite, The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal, won best novel. For those of you not familiar with it, it is part of collection of stories (and two novels) set in an alternate world in which women were admitted into the USA’s initial space program. Guess you can see why I’d have a fond spot in my heart for this premise.

I watched Mary Robinette Kowal’s acceptance speech from my perch in the spotlights. (I was a volunteer running the spotlight for the show.) Astronaut Dr Jeanette Epps was on stage with her and it was a one of those weird maybe-all-is-right-with-the-universe-after-all moments. I loved it!

(Read more about my Worldcon adventures at An Irish Worldcon: I’m here!,  at Feeling at home, at A New Irish Experience and at Forward into the Past.)