2019 r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge: First Impressions (1/2)

So, here it is! The long awaited new Bingo card!

For those unaware, this is a yearly challenge run by Lisa (Way Too Fantasy) that takes place on the r/fantasy subreddit from April to April. Official announcement with rules and resources here, but in essence, the goal is to fill as many rows, columns, diagonals (most try for a full card, the more adventurous of us for two…or three…) without repeating authors. You can use one reread and substitute one square for a previous square, but the main aim is to read widely. I have been participating since the beginning and it remains my favourite challenge.

While I did two cards for the last two years, this year I will be cutting back to one – it’s a decision I made months ago when I was frustrated with how limiting a 50-book challenge felt, but the difficulty only cemented it.

And from a first look, this card is more difficult than the last – there are far more niche subgenre squares like slice of life or LitRPG, plus there’s an unusual number of them that are…very much not to my taste. I’m not a new reader anymore, I know what I like and why. My personal rule is not to force myself to read books just because they fit a square and try my best to find something I’ll like at least a little for each square. This year, it might be a bit more challenging. But then, it is a challenge.

Because the post turned out so long (nearing 4-5k words), I split it in two. Here is the first part, dedicated to squares 1-12.

Slice of Life / Small Scale Fantasy

What it is

The term “slice of life” refers to a storytelling technique that presents a seemingly arbitrary sample of a character’s life, which often lacks a coherent plot, conflict, or ending. The story may have little plot progress and often has no exposition, conflict, or dénouement. A good example of this would be Becky Chambers novel Record of a Spaceborn Few.

HARD MODE: Read something other than Record of a Spaceborn Few.

Thoughts

This is my time to shine! Probably the best square for me, even if it’s niche. I love slice of life and hope I will get some new recommendations out of it. But I also realise it’ll be a difficult one for many and I do not begrudge people wanting to find the edge cases.

Will probably be reading: I think I’ll go with The Returning by Christine Hinwood. I had it saved up for years, waiting for a rainy day (next Bingo, I thought, next Bingo…). But I think it’s time.

Recommendations

I have a detailed recommendations post as well as a Goodreads shelf I use to keep track of both, books I read and books recommended to me as slice of life or small-scale. But if you want a shorter list:

  • Healers’ Road by S.E. Robertson
  • The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan
  • Ravenwood by Nathan Lowell
  • Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

A SFF Novel Featuring a Character With a Disability

What it is

I think this one should be fairly self-explanatory. Anything considered a disability would count whether it’s a physical disability or a mental health disability.

HARD MODE: The character has to be a main protagonist, not a side character.

Thoughts

I really like this one too. It’s something I’ve been interested in finding more of, and I don’t think it’s an overly difficult square either. There’s a lot of choices, it’s not limited by a subgenre. I think anyone can find something they will enjoy.

Will probably be reading: I’m mostly considering An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors since I already have the ebook (convenient, right?), but there have been some excellent recommendations in the thread. Starless by Jacqueline Carey, Age of Assassins by R.J. Barker, To Ride Hell’s Chasm by Janny Wurts…I have a lot of options!

Recommendations

None of the books below features a disability that is magically cured.

  • The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan (various disabilities, hard mode)
  • Books of Babel series by Josiah Bancroft (major character has a prosthetic mechanical arm)
  • City of Lies by Sam Hawke (chronic fatigue, OCD, hard mode)
  • Planetfall by Emma Newman (OCD and anxiety, hard mode)
  • Everfair by Nisi Shawl (prosthetic hands)
  • Children of the Black Sun trilogy by Jo Spurrier (arm injured to the point of uselessness)
  • Inda by Sherwood Smith (autistic MC, hard mode)
  • The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (maimed hands, hard mode)

SFF Novella

What it is

Works of fiction of between 17,500 and 40,000 words.

HARD MODE: Novella is NOT published by Tor.com Publishing.

Thoughts

Well, this is pretty straightforward, isn’t it?

Will probably be reading: Hmm, not quite sure yet. Looking at my ebooks, I have The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle, Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell, and Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace, but I’m also thinking of trying Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold…and something else may pop up.

Recommendations

  • Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
  • Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente (read here)
  • The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang
  • …I haven’t actually read many novellas. I need to fix that.

Self-Published SFF Novel

What it is

Only self-published novels will count for this square. If the novel has been picked up by a publisher as long as you read it when it was self-pubbed it will still count.

HARD MODE: Self-pubbed and has fewer than 50 ratings on goodreads.

Thoughts

This is one of the squares that repeat every year, so it was expected. Even though I have soured a bit on self-published books lately after being burned on a few with very good reviews in a row, I think I can find something.

Will probably be reading: The Half-Killed by Quenby Olson maybe? I got it for last Bingo, then fell in a slump and ended up swapping the square out. But I also have Blackwood Marauders by K.S. Villoso, Those Brave, Foolish Souls from the City of Swords by Benedict Patrick, Cradle by Will Wight…probably other stuff as well, I grab a lot of freebies. Or maybe the next book of the Ravenwood series by Nathan Lowell. The choices are many.

Recommendations

SFF Novel Featuring Twins

What it is

Self-explanatory.

HARD MODE: At least one of the twins has to be a main protagonist. (extra hard mode just for funsies – the twin thing has to be plot relevant)

Thoughts

One of those random stuff squares that seem devilishly hard at first because they aren’t obvious from the blurb, but oh well, something can always be found. And I like those random squares a lot.

Will probably be reading: Well, someone in the rec thread mentioned that Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman counts. I got the paperback a while ago, so another obvious choice. I heard Middlegame by Seanan McGuire will also count, but I probably won’t be able to get it at a reasonable price. No matter. I have a pick.

Recommendations

Novel Featuring Vampires

What it is

This one is pretty self-explanatory.

HARD MODE: At least one main protagonist is a vampire.

Thoughts

UF is one of the subgenres I read and like the least…and that goes double for vampires. Been there. Read that. Prefer other stuff. But it’s more indifference than active hate and I think finding something I’ll be able to get through is no big issue. Still, it’s a square I’ll tackle sooner rather than later.

Will probably be reading: After some thought, The Vampire Knitting Club by Nancy Warren seems like a decent choice. Or maybe Bloodlines by Richelle Mead.

Recommendations

…I don’t think I really have any 😂

Format: Graphic Novel (at least 1 vol.) OR Audiobook / Audio drama

What it is

This is a format, not a genre however, please stick to something within speculative fiction. If you are reading individual comics for this square please read a volume’s worth. You can also use a manga volume for this square (again, please keep it to speculative fiction genres). You may also choose to listen to an audiobook OR an audio drama for this square – any speculative fiction audiobook / audio drama will count (novel length).

HARD MODE: Graphic Novel – Start a new to you graphic novel. Audiobook / audio drama – has to be over 25 hours long.

Thoughts

Another repeat square. Easy one. I will obviously be going for graphic novel since I cannot really do audio, but for those who do prefer it, it’s even easier.

Will probably be reading: The 2nd volume of The Wicked + the Divine graphic novel, or anything else from the mass of stuff I grabbed on Humble Bundle last year. Or perhaps another new webcomic. Don’t know. Endless options.

Recommendations

  • Obvious one: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
  • Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
  • The Phoenix Requiem By Sarah Ellerton (read here, this one is complete)
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent by Minna Sundberg (read here)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell (read here)
  • Wilde Life by Pascalle Lepas (read here)
  • Dicebox by Jenn Manley (read here, sometimes NSFW)
  • Bookwyrms by Lorena Garcia (read here)
  • …I could probably list more webcomics if prompted with something specific.

SFF Novel by a Local to You Author

What it is

I realize not everyone lives in a place conducive to this square so if SFF authors are scarce in your immediate area then you can widen the area a bit even if it’s (for example, for some folks in Europe) a neighboring country. FAQ – What counts as local? Lives nearby, lived a significant portion of their life nearby. Like Anne Rice I’d count both New Orleans and San Francisco, for example.

HARD MODE: Find the closest local to you author you can for this square.

Thoughts

Okay. I admit it, I’m salty about this square. It’s unequally distributed, dependent on something you have no control over…and I live in Slovenia, what the hell can I do? I know exactly what sorry state the local SFF scene is in and even if I expand to neighbouring countries, there’s very little and even less that’s translated to English, I don’t want just any old book but something I can enjoy, and…well, I’ll stop here.

It boils down to how jealous I am of people with actual options.

Will probably be reading: Someone pointed out a Slovenian vampire book to me that seemed to have quite promising prose if nothing else and I can grab it from the library too…but I suspect I’ll end up using something Italian. Maybe somethng by Calvino or Eco, or The Book of Hidden Things by Francesco Dimitri.

Recommendations

None. It varies too much from person to person.

SFF Novel Featuring an Ocean Setting

What it is

I know we had ships before, but this opens up the setting a lot. Got a mermaid or selkie story in mind? Works perfect here! On top of the ocean or under the ocean all works for this square.

HARD MODE: Over 50% of the book has to take place in or on an ocean setting.

Thoughts

Similar to Features Twins. Arbitrary fun square, kinda difficult. No idea what will I use and nothing from my TBR jumps out, but I’m not too worried. Something will pop up, I’m sure.

Will probably be reading: Don’t know. The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan from the rec thread seems promising. Or The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillip, or Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica maybe. Or I’ll ask in one of the weekly rec thread. Either way, this square is a problem for future Para.

Recommendations

  • Burning Bright by Melissa McShane
  • The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
  • Second book in the Age of the Five series by Trudi Canavan features an underwater people quite heavily.
  • Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys, not many actual ocean scenes, but it is important to the story
  • Pretty sure the Montague Siblings series by Mackenzi Lee features seafaring. Especially second book.
  • Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, unfortunately also a second book
  • Where the Waters Turn Black by Benedict Patrick, a standalone
  • The Inda series by Sherwood Smith, some in the first book, but mostly in the second and third

Cyberpunk

What it is

Cyberpunk is defined as ” a genre of science fiction set in a lawless subculture of an oppressive society dominated by computer technology.

HARD MODE: Not Neuromancer by William Gibson nor Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.

Thoughts

Oh god. I hate reading about dystopias and oppressive societies. I hate computer technology in my books. This will be a pain in the ass. There’s nothing that sounds appealing.

Will probably be reading: I’ve been recommended Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh. Another option on my radar is After Atlas by Emma Newman.

Recommendations

None. I don’t think I have read any.

2nd Chance

What it is

This is sort of a multi-use square. Tried an author once and you didn’t like the book? Give a 2nd chance and try another book! Tried a format once (like a manga, graphic novel, or audiobook) and it didn’t jive? Try again here! Tried a specific book and didn’t get through it for whatever reason? Try again here!

HARD MODE: There is no hard mode for this square as it’s already hard enough. 🙂

Thoughts

This is indeed already hard enough 😂 I do not DNF books or avoid subgenres without reason, I know my taste. And with a large part of my DNFs last year being rage DNFs…well.

Will probably be reading: This will be a tough nut to crack. Series-wise and genre-wise, I could go for Half Lost by Sally Green – I loved the first book, disliked the second enough that I decided not to continue and it’s YA urban fantasy.

Out of DNFs, the only ones I feel like I won’t toss at a wall in disgust or boredom are maybe the Culture series by Iain M. Banks since I gave up literally 20 pages into book 1 or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams since it’s short. I could also go dig in my kindle if there’s anything I DNFd a couple pages in without even marking it as reading on goodreads.

Subgenres…it’s a shame I gave so many second chances in 2018 (romance, new weird, Lovecraftian, UF…), most of what’s left is stuff I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole with very good reason. Hmm. If subgenres you used to read then gave up on count, I could use military fantasy or grimdark.

Recommendations

None. Another one that varies too much between people. But I know many fantasy fans avoid romance (hell, I used to be among them), so that would be my recommendation.

  • If you prefer character-focused stories, try The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles
  • If you prefer action, go for Burning Bright by Melissa McShane

Afrofuturism

What it is

Afrofuturism is a cultural aesthetic, philosophy of science, and philosophy of history that explores the developing intersection of African Diaspora culture with technology. There is a great discussion about Afrofuturism here if you are looking for more information. Self-explanatory.

HARD MODE: The book has less than 1000 ratings on goodreads.

Thoughts

When I first saw this square, my reaction was pretty much  Also “dammit why did I read Binti in February?” Had no idea what else would qualify.

Will probably be reading: The rec thread helped a lot. One of the suggestions was An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, another book I already own and wanted to read very much ever since I first heard of it. So that’s sorted.

Recommendations

  • Binti: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor. Read the omnibus version.

…and this is where I make my cut-off. Next post here.

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12 thoughts on “2019 r/Fantasy Bingo Challenge: First Impressions (1/2)”

  1. For vampires you could always go with something more along the horror lines. I really liked both Dracul by Dacre Stoker and also The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. There are quite a few things that have vampires which are not UF. 🙂

    I also highly recommend Aliette de Bodard’s In the Vanishers’ Palace if you’re looking for novellas. It also fits the retelling square.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really dislike horror though 😂 It was the most difficult square…two years ago? When was it a square? Though The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova has been recommended quite highly to me before, personally, so it could be a good option.

      I have read In the Vanishers’ Palace and it was very good. Not a novella though, the author said as much.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Heh, LitRPG is the one I will use the swap rule for, it’s the one subgenre I can’t stand (…I have a full rant written for part 2 😂). But yes, it’s a tough one, going to be a proper challenge this year.

      Like

        1. You can swap one square for any of the squares from the previous years that aren’t a free square or a duplicate (so you can’t have two Bookclub squares, for example).

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice recommendations, I have a similar problem with the “Local to you Author”. I decided to read something from a German author, Kerstin Gier. She has a time-travelling YA series which was very light and fun to read. Another German author I like is Michael Ende, his book “The Neverending Story” is much better than the movie.

    Liked by 1 person

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