First Lines by Nebula Nominees

First Line Friday is a series of blog articles posted on the first Friday of every month. The first line of a story, we’re told, must hook the reader. Implied is that the reader will not buy the book if the first line isn’t great. These first lines by Nebula nominees represent the books and authors who are up for the 57th Annual Nebula Award® for best novel. The awards ceremony will be held later this month. Do these first lines hook you? Do you want to read more?


The first book cover representing the first  lines by Nebula nominees is the Cover of the Unbroken with is in tones of brown, a person with a sword in its scabbard stands in an archway arms stretched out, each braced on pillar with some tall dark non-organic form behind them.

A sandstorm brewed dark and menacing against the Qazali horizon as Lieutenant Touraine and the rest of the Balladairian Colonial Brigade sailed into El-Wast, capital city of Qazali, foremost of Balladaire’s southern colonies.

The Unbroken (Magic of the Lost Book 1) by Cherae Clark

Second book cover representing the first lines by nebula nominees is A Master of Djinn with steampunk gears overhead beyond which is blue sky. Below is a lone figure walking up an opulent and middle eastern looking staircase.

Archibald James Portendorf disliked stairs. With their ludicrous lengths, ever leading up, as if in some jest.”

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark 

Third book cover for first lines by nebula nominees is the cover for Machinehood. with a bluish silver background with gears and lines as if it's a computer chip, in the fore ground is a white hairless humanoid robot with a feminine waist.

Welga stared a coffee the color of mud and contemplated the irony of the word smart.”

Machinehood by S.B. Divya 

The cover of A desolation called peace shows a massive triangular window with a diamond shaped framework and a lone man stading in the center looking out at a planet surrounded by a man-made space station-like structure

To think—not language. To not think language. To think we, and not have a  tongue-sound or cry for its crystalline depths.

A Desolation called Peace by Arkady Martine

The world fell flat. The world fell exhausted. The world fell to rainbow-colored static, which rang through Derena’s mind as she ran from her death.

Plague Birds by Jason Sanford

If you liked those first lines, I hope you’ll love this one:

Miranda Clarke guided her yacht, Lady Angelfish, alias Serenity, down the Illinois River, desperate to deliver the package on time.

If I Should Die by Lynette M. Burrows 

Pre-order now at your favorite online book seller.


Clarification

There are no affiliate links in this post. I don’t make a cent off of the books listed on this page. Usually these titles are pulled at random. They are here for your enjoyment. And to entice you to buy more books.

Do You Want to Read More?

Check out a previous First Line Fridays featuring science fiction books.

What do you think of these first lines by Nebula nominees? You’ll put an enormous smile on my face if you tell me in the comments below—

Have you read any of these books? Which first lines spoke to you? Which ones are now on your TBR list? 

The Man in the High Castle, a Review

Amazon Prime Video version

The Man in the High Castle is a book written by Phillip K. Dick and a television series (2015-2019) now on Amazon Prime Video. It is an American Dystopian alternate history thriller.  I’ve avoided reading the novel because it reportedly is similar to what I write and I didn’t want to inadvertently copy PKD’s work. After finishing If I Should Die, I took an opportunity to watch the series. I’m told the show is only loosely based on the novel. In this review I tried to keep spoilers at a minimum, but there is at least one. You may wish to skip that clearly marked section. 

Image shows a view of The Statue of Liberty and the New York Skyline. The statue wears a red Nazi sash and instead of a torch her upheld hand is in a German salute. The cover is an Amazon Original, The Man in the HIgh Castle.

The Set Up 

In The Man in the High Castle’s world, Giuseppe Zangara assassinated the United States President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. That sets up a situation where Axis Powers won World War III. Including Washington D.C. being turned into “The District of Contamination” by a Nazi atomic bomb.  

An aging Hitler still runs the Reich which rules Europe west of the Urals and the continent of Africa. It also occupies the portion of the United States that lies to the east of the Rocky Mountains, an area called the Greater Nazi Reich (GNR). Japan rules Asia and the section of the United States west of the Rockies, the Japanese Pacific States. The Rockies are a neutral zone. 

Image of the United States of America shows the eastern portion of the US in Red with the German cross over it. The rockies are gray, indicating the neutral zone. And everything west of the Rockies has a Rising Sun indicating the Japanese Pacific States as described in The Man from the HIgh Castle.

The story takes place in 1962 in locations in the United States and Germany. Former Americans in German and Japanese territories are attempting to adjust to their status as citizens of occupied territories as are the Occupiers who are all very far from their homes and bases of support.

The Plot

A major thread throughout the television program  (SPOILER ALERT) is the existence of reels of film that show an untold variety of outcomes of the war on parallel worlds. In some of the films the U.S. is victorious. In other films the outcomes are much worse than our story’s world. Some characters wish to protect and hide the films. They believe the information could help them free themselves from their occupation. Others characters want to destroy the films. And the Nazis scientists are experimenting with a way to move between the worlds. (END SPOILER ALERT).

There are many plot holes, impossible, and improbable situations. Once I got past the my mindset that the occupation of the U.S. couldn’t have happened in the way the story says, few of the holes and improbabilities bothered me. 

Be aware that there are cultural and historical  inaccuracies that could detract from your enjoyment if they are part of your mindset or culture. 

The Pacing and Sets

Overall, the story pacing held my interest. There is plenty of action and intrigue and danger. Warning: there are explosions and violent deaths, in my opinion they were handled pretty well. But if violence isn’t your thing, this isn’t the show for you.

The settings ranged from stark to opulent. Both the pacing and the sets (locations) worked well for me.

The Characters

The book cover for The Man in the High Castle has a female standing profile in the center with a Japanese man and a man in the uniform of a Reich officer flanking her. Behind them are two flags that represent the two occupied territories of the former United States of America.
The Man in the High Castle is available as an ebook, paperback, and audio book on Amazon and other retailers.

 The characters are diverse. There are multiple factions from underground rebels who seek to restore American freedom to former Americans being assimilated into their occupiers’ cultures. There are opportunists and there are sympathizers. Some have very clear loyalties. Some appear to switch sides. And some play all sides against each other. 

In this televised series, there are several interesting and strong female characters. And you know I liked that. 

What fascinated me the most about this show were the characters. Loyalties were divided, often within families. Betrayals and reversals and reversals of reversals happened. There were characters I grew to love who spiraled destructively and characters I hated that I grew to understand. For me, this is great story telling. 

The Man in the High Castle

The show was dropped by Amazon Prime after four seasons. I imagine production costs were reason enough but according to some sources there were “creative differences” also. 

I made a purposeful decision to not read the book before writing My Soul to Keep. Will I read the book? Absolutely, but I’ll still wait until after I’ve finished the Fellowship Dystopia series. There are enough similarities between the two stories that I don’t want to risk confusing myself. Do I think having watched the show will alter how I approach the third book in the series? I doubt it. In my opinion, there’s a huge difference between the foreign occupation in The Man in the High Castle and a take over from within like the one in the Fellowship Dystopia.

Also there’s a big difference between writing for television and writing a book. Besides with two books written, I’m pretty deeply immersed in the world of the Fellowship. Some of the critiques of the televised series will influence me in that I’ll try to avoid similar inaccuracies.

Do I recommend watching the show? If you love thrilling, alternate history with a science fictional bent…you will be hooked by the televised series of The Man in the High Castle.

Have you watched The Man in the High Castle? What did you think?

Image Credit: Middle image is by RedFoxJinx, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Real Life or Science Fiction

How does science translate from the real world to the fictional world? In hard science fiction, the scientific elements of the story stay as close to reality as possible. The more speculative the science, the less “hard” the science fiction. Imagine that science we know is on one end of a sliding scale, we’ll call it reality. And we’ll place the far-fetched speculative science of a speculative fiction / science fantasy story on the other end. Sometimes what started as science fantasy slides toward science reality. That’s what happened to the rocket ships of Golden Age Science fiction. In my series, the Fellowship Dystopia, parthenogenesis is used to create female children. But is it Real Life or Science Fiction?

Illustration of Real Life or Science Fiction depicts two test tubes holding fetuses curled up inside, behind them appears to be images of two drops of magnified cells

Real Life Parthenogenesis

Parthenogenesis was discovered in real life by Charles Bonnet a Swiss naturalist, lawyer, and philosophical writer in the 18th century when he observed asexual reproduction in aphids. Parthenogenesis is a method in which a new individual develops from an egg (ovum) without fertilization from a sperm. This is a natural phenomenon in some animals like bees, wasps, ants, fish, lizards, and in some plants. 

In 1913, Jacques Loeb wrote Artificial Parthenogenesis. In it he discusses the history of spontaneous parthenogenesis (no human intervention) that helped lead to studies in artificial parthenogenesis including his own. A German born American pysiologist and biologist, Loeb experimented on unfertilized sea urchins (Arbacia) eggs.

Real Life Cloning

In 1952, Robert Briggs and Thomas King used nuclear transfer technology to clone tadpoles from adult frog donor cells. This same technique was used to clone Dolly the Sheep, born in 1996. 

Real Life External Uterus

Image shows a schematic of the way amniotic fluid enters a pump then filters before entering the biobag with the lamb in it. It also shows schematically how they attached the umbilical cord to and ran the lambs blood through an oxygenator and gave meds and fluids.Below the schematics are photographs of the lamb inside a clear plastic biobag one with pink skinned lamb the other with the lamb fully covered in lamb's wool ready for birth.This real life or fiction looks like fiction but is real life.

Researchers at Philadelphia’s Children’s Hospital announced they had created a biobag, an external uterine system used to support an extremely premature lamb in 2017. Their hope is to one day support extremely premature human babies until their lungs and organs are more developed.

Fictional Parthenogenesis

Cover of My Soul to Keep is a dark blue background with a lighter blue Fellowship Shield. Ontop of the shield is a two-D yellow and orange image of the Washington monument. At the point of the shield and the base of the monument the silhouette of a woman in a skirt walks toward the camera

In My Soul to Keep, book one of the Fellowship Dystopia, the reader learns about a pair of scientists who used parthenogenesis to create a human embryo from two eggs. They implant the embryo into a woman’s uterus in 1944. Under the care of the brilliant Dr. Locke and his assistant, Dr. Gallaway, embryo grew into a fetus, and after a normal pregnancy, a girl child was born. One success quickly became many successes.

The doctors claimed their research was to filter out genetic defects. They believed that unlike the better baby contests looking for perfect children, they would create a world where every child born would be genetically perfect. 

When the subjects of their research turned out to have a high propensity for out-of-control behaviors during their brief lives, the scientists discovered ways to influence those behaviors. Under their influence, they created a class of female assassins they called Azrael, the Angels of Death.

By the end of My Soul to Keep, the scientists have built an enormous experiment in ectogenesis…growing a fetus in an external, mechanical womb. Lots of mechanical wombs.

If I Should Die

cover of  the science fiction book If I Should die has a dark green background with a purplish Fellowship shield on it. On top of the shield is a two-D image of the Statute of Liberty in two tones of light green, at the point of the shield and the statue's base is the silhouette of a woman holding a gun and running toward the camera--

In If I Should Die, the second book of the Fellowship Dystopia, the reader gets to take a tour of the laboratory with the characters and learn a little more about fictional parthenogenesis. Of course, there’s more going on than the characters see…at least at first.

Of course, all the science in the Fellowship Dystopia is speculative or so-called science fantasy. Or is it? The slider is edging back toward the reality side. 

Real Life Parthenogenesis Impossible

In the mid-1980s, researchers attempted parthenogenesis in mice. They combined genetic material from two different female eggs, and created embryos they then implanted into a surrogate mouse. The implantation was successful, and the pregnancy seemed successful, but none of the embryos survived. Later experiments discover a phenomenon called genomic imprinting. They describe this imprinting as a kind of genetic tag in egg and sperm that are dormant, or shut off, until sperm and egg meet. This tag allows for normal development of the fetus.

When this imprinting process goes awry, kids can end up with inactive gene regions that cause miscarriages, developmental defects and cancer.”

Discover Magazine

Later experiments found that there are between 100 and 200 genetic tags. Researchers concluded that genetic imprinting prohibited parthenogenesis in mammals. 

Real Life Parthenogenesis Take 2

Then in 2004, Tomohiro Kono and colleagues at the Tokyo University of Agriculture in Tokyo, Japan, manipulated the nucleus of eggs from female mice, and created 457 reconstructed eggs. Two live mice were born. 

Kono and his colleagues hope that this achievement will help make animal cloning more efficient. 

In 2018, Wei Li and his team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing used CRISPER the gene editing technique and produced healthy mice from two moms.

The researchers created embryos with two genetic mothers (bi-maternal) and implanted them into surrogate mice. The offspring were born, lived to adulthood, and produced their own pups. Although Li’s first bi-maternal mice had growth defects, he and his team deleted another tag in the mothers’ genes, which allowed the bi-maternal offspring to experience normal growth. 

Li and his team also experimented with creating embryos from two male mice. Only two and a half percent of the embryos made it to term and less than half of one percent were born live. They didn’t make it to adulthood. 

Real Life or Science Fiction

While the science in the Fellowship Dystopia doesn’t exist today, it was fun to extrapolate the possibilities of what that might have looked like in an alternate history. If you haven’t read My Soul to Keep, book one of the Fellowship Dystopia, get caught up! If I Should Die, the second book in the Fellowship Dystopia series, goes on preorder starting May first.

Some speculate that some day real life science will use parthenogenesis to enable same-sex couples to have children genetically related to both parents. No worries. The ability to produce multiple live births from manipulated human ova or sperm is miles from any near future possibility. But what about a hundred years from now? Could we be producing genetically Better Babies? Should we?

Suppose you live in the future when parthenogenesis creates viable human offspring, would you opt for a son or daughter who’s your genetic duplicate?

Image Credit

Image of biobag by Partridge, Emily A., et. al, CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

First Lines from Other Worlds

I changed things up a bit for this First Line Friday post. First Line Friday is a series of blog articles posted on the first Friday of every month. The first line of a story, we’re told, must hook the reader. Implied is that the reader will not buy the book if the first line isn’t great. These entries are from Amazon, my personal library, or other online booksellers. For these first lines from other worlds I include the first 45-55 words of each novel. When you read these first words, do you want to read more?


The cover of The City in the Middle of night is mostly black silhouette of city buildings against pink silhouettes of buildings against a yellow sky running perpendicularly down the open edge of the book.

Bianca walks toward me, under too much sky. The white-hot twilight makes a halo out of loose strands of her fine black hair. She looks down and fidgets, as though she’s trying to settle an argument with herself, but then she looks up and sees me and a smile starts …

The City in the Middle of the Night  by Charlie Jane Ander

The cover of Machine has a dark blue to black background with a lighter blue to white tree like structure dotted with lights--possibly representing neurons in the white space of your brain--definitely other worlds

I stood in the door and looked down.

Down wasn’t the right word, exactly. But it also wasn’t the wrong word. All directions were down from where I stood, and almost all of them were an infinitely long fall.

Machine: A White Space Novel By Elizabeth Bear

The cover of Tiger Honor shows the white outlines of a tiger againsg a blue star field with two planets in the background. In the foreground a young man kneels on one knee and looks up into the heavens and other worlds.

When the mail arrived, it should have been the best day of my life.

Mail—physical mail—came once a week at best. The Juhwang Clan of tiger spirits made our home on the world of Yonggi for the past several centuries. Our ties to the land dated back…

Tiger Honor by Yoon Ha Lee 

The cover of The Light Brigade has large typeface so the author's name and the title fill the cover's foreground, behind the letters is the non-gender specific soldier in armor standing in a white light that fades to a dark blue a symbol for other worlds

They said the war would turn us into light.

I wanted to be counted among the heroes who gave us this better world. That’s what I told the recruiter. That’s what I told my first squad leader. It’s what I told every CO, and there were … a couple. And that’s what I’d tell myself, when …

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

Cover of Afterland has the Author's name at the top in the center is a twig with four green leaves hanging down from it and continuing to end in a pink flower against a blue sky with white fluffy clouds a story from other worlds here on earth.

Look at me,” Cole says. “Hey.” Checking Miles’s pupils, which are still huge. Shock and fear and the drugs working their way of of his system. Scrambling to remember her first-aid training. Checklist as life buoy. He’s able to focus, to speak without slurring. He was groggy in the car, getting away. …

Afterland by Lauren Beukes 

A Reminder

There are no affiliate links in this post. I don’t make a cent off of the books listed on this page. Usually these titles are pulled at random. They are here for your enjoyment. And to entice you to buy more books.

If you liked those first lines, I hope you’ll love this one:

Cover of the Book Fellowship, a companion to the Fellowship Dystopia, has a deep brown background with rust brown Fellowship shield over which there is a yellow and orange 2-D church spire, in front of which the silhouette of a young man runs toward the camera. Other worlds sometimes happen on earth.

Fellowship.

One word and Ian Hobart’s world teetered into not safe.  The reporters’ voices fell, the remainder of their conversation now muted by the clack and ratchet and ding of their typewriters. 

Fellowship, a companion novel to the Fellowship Dystopia Series
by Lynette M. Burrows

Don’t forget, book two in the Fellowship Dystopia, If I Should Die, will be on preorder next month. Read book one before then. And watch this space for a sneak peek or two into the action-packed story of book two.

Other Worlds on Your TBR?

Did you enjoy these first lines from other worlds? You may also enjoy previous First Line Fridays.

Which of these books is now on your TBR list?

First Lines for Black History Month

This is a special edition of First Lines Friday for black history month. These titles are a sampling of the list given by Nisi Shawl in her “annotated list of 40 black science fiction works that are important to your understanding of its history”

First Line Friday is a series of blog articles posted on the first Friday of every month. The first line of a story, we’re told, must hook the reader. Implied is that the reader will not buy the book if the first line isn’t great. These entries are from Amazon, my personal library, or other online booksellers. Do these first lines hook you? Do you want to read more?


For first lines for black history month this is the cover of Blake by Martin R Delany on a black background shades of orange creates a woodcut-like print of a man with a gun over jungle style leaves.

On one of those exciting occasions during a contest for the presidency of the United States, a number of gentlemen met in the city of Baltimore.

Blake: or; The Huts of America (1862) by Martin R. Delany 

For first lines for black history month this is the cover of Of One Blood by Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins and is a photo portrait of a black woman with a tall hat adorned with feathers and wearing a high collar dress.

The recitations were over for the day. It was the first week in November and it had rained about every day for the entire week; now freezing temperature added to the discomforture of the dismal season.

Of One Blood, or The Hidden Self (1903) by Pauline Elizabeth

This is the cover of Babel-17. Mostly black it has geometric maze-like designs in orange and yellow over the black on the lower half of the cover

It’s a port city.

Here fumes rust the sky, the General thought. Industrial gases flushed the evening with oranges, salmons, purples with too much red.

Babel-17 (1966) by Samuel R. Delany 

Cover of Mumbo Jumbo is an orange background with the title and author name in large, bold block letters that are on different colored blacks

A true sport, the Mayor of New Orleans, spiffy in his patent-leather brown and white shoes, his plaid suit, the Rudolph Valentino parted-down-the-middle hair style, sits in his office. 

Mumbo Jumbo (1972) by Ishmael Reed

Sold, to Mister Bascombe Wade of Willow Springs, one negress answering to the name Sapphira.

Mama Day (1988) by Gloria Naylor

As soon as he entered the room, Baines blurted out, “We want you to find us a viable human heart, fast.”

Brown Girl in the Ring (1998) by Nalo Hopkinson 

I awoke to darkness.

I was hungry—starving!—and in pain.

Fledgling (2005) by Octavia E. Butler

When I was eight, my papai took me to the part to watch a king die.

The Summer Prince (2013) by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The Summer Prince (2013) by Alaya Dawn Johnson

I sang a song as I sprang from the womb—which is not unusual. 

The Record Keeper (2019) by Agnes Gomillion  

Lisette Toutournier sighed. She breathed in again, out, in, the marvelous air smelling of crushed stems, green blood bruised and roused by her progress along this narrow forest path.

Everfair: A Novel (2016) by Nisi Shawl

Clarification

There are no affiliate links in this post. I don’t make a cent off of the books listed on this page. Usually these titles are pulled at random. They are here for your enjoyment. And to entice you to buy more books.

I’ve constructed this list with deep gratitude to Nisi Shawl’s post “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction” 

Do You Want to Read More?

Did you enjoy this list? Check out previous First Line Fridays posts. Want to read more stories by black science fiction authors? Check out this list of stories available online compiled by Nnedi Okorafor

 Which of the First Lines in honor of black history month spoke to you? Did you buy it?