Wednesday, July 29, 2015

2015 Hugo WATCH

Soooooo... the Hugos also do movies and TV! I actually thought Big Hero 6 should've been on the list, as it was great.

Once again, in the order listed on the Hugos website: 
Long Form (what the unwashed masses call "movies")
Captain America: The Winter Soldier - 4.5 of 5 LOVED it, but it just didn't feel like sci-fi/fantasy to me, so it gets...below NO AWARD
Edge of Tomorrow - UNRANKED! I refuse to pay $5 to rent a movie online. When they come to their senses, I'll watch it.
Guardians of the Galaxy - 4 of 5 LOVED it, but not as much as...
Interstellar - 5 of 5 I'm sorry, but how can you be a sci-fi fan and not love a movie where time dilation is a legit plot point?
The Lego Movie - 3.5 of 5 Really shocked, but this was great.Not quite as the raves I heard, but close!

Doctor Who: “Listen” - 3.5 of 5 Dr Who is great, but this didn't blow me away. Love the new guy, though. Matt Smith was... not my fave.
The Flash: “Pilot” - 4 of 5 Shocked by how good this was, especially on a TV budget.
Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper”- 3.5 of 5 Easily the most disturbing thing I've ever seen on TV, this would be at least a point better if they'd kept the book's version of the Tyrion-Jaime chat.
Grimm: “Once We Were Gods”- UNRANKED/UNWATCHED Sadly, No time for this. Blame all the crap the puppies put on the short fiction ballots.
Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried” - 4.5 of 5 (UNWATCHED) This is shady, but I love Orphan Black but didn't have time to finish season 2 (see above) in time for the vote. But it's awesome, so it's getting my vote.

2015 Hugo Reads - Short Stories

This will be a short one, befitting the shortest of the fiction categories. I'm a very rare reader of short fiction, so these are definitely not part of my normal reading. The links in the titles lead to online versions of the stories, except for the Wright & Diamond stories, as I couldn't find those online, so the links are to the collections containing them on amazon.

Once again, in the order listed on the Hugos website:

On A Spiritual Plain, Lou Antonelli - 3 of 5 Interesting to read a new story by the guy from "Letters to Gardner", and he has an interesting idea here. The first human death on a world where the magnetic field causes consciousness to linger, it reminds me of an idea i read in Warren Ellis's Planetary (not sure if it originated with him). I think he could've done more with it, but not bad.
The Parliament of Beasts and Birds, John C. Wright - 1 of 5 This is a post-Rapture/Armageddon tale told in an Aesop's fables style of animals trying to decide what to do in the absence of Man. It mixes Old Testament and Greek lore (some pretty obscure), and it comes off as an odd read. Wright just is not my cup of tea, and his usual inconsistently-archaic dialogue doesn't help.
A Single Samurai, Steven Diamond - 1.5 of 5 This story of a single samurai walking up the back of a Godzilla-ish kaiju didn't do it for me. It was the first thing I read in the reread months ago, and I have little memory of it, aside from a pretty eyeroll-inducing ending. Not bad, just didn't do it for me.
Totaled, Kary English - 4 of 5 Some near-ish future sci-fi, this is an interesting and moving short story about the aftermath of a life-altering car crash. The setup for the small bit on insurance rules seemed out of place and a bit forced, but overall it was fascinating and surprisingly moving.
Turncoat, Steve Rzasa - 2 of 5 Military SF about a ship's AI in a battle between a human govt and one run by former humans uploaded to machine consciousness. The ending is pretty obvious and the characters flat, but the basic idea wasn't bad.

Final Ballot:
On A Spiritual Plain
A Single Samurai
The Parliament of Beasts and Birds

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Hugos 2015 Reads -- Novellas

This will be a short one -- I was polishing my final draft before my vacation when the window went blank and Google "helpfully" auto-saved... with no recourse. So, just a sentence each for Novellas, in the order listed on the Hugos website:

Big Boys Don’t Cry, Tom Kratman - 2.5 of 5 military SF about a sentient tank looking back on its training and career. I thought the idea of simulated battles to train/indoctrinate an AI was pretty cool, but it just didn't do it for me. Military SF has to be pretty great to float my boat.
Flow, Arlan Andrews, Sr. - 2.5 of 5 Sci-Fi/Fantasy of a future Earth (maybe?) where humans have split into pretty different phenotypes. This is a pretty basic newbie-to-a-culture story, with a few cool ideas (a group of farsighted people use carvings instead of writing to overcome their eyesight), but it seemed like an excerpt more than a full story.

One Bright Star to Guide Them, John C. Wright - 0.5 of 5 A Narnia homage, this one is overfilled with references to past events in unknown places in a fantasy world and nods to various CS Lewis writings. The ending is just bizarre. Bold choice to make all the best action offscreen... and then blithely describe it in dialogue.
Pale Realms of Shade, John C. Wright - 1 of 5 At first, it's a film noir crossed with urban fantasy. And then it takes a turn to be... message fiction. Which is hated by the Rabid Puppies -- unless they're publishing/nominating it, apparently.
The Plural of Helen of Troy, John C. Wright - 2 of 5 Some great ideas on time travel bogged down in flat characters and more messaging. Also some very odd mixing of fictional and "real" characters. Easily my favorite of any of Wright's works among the nominees, though.

I was hoping I wouldn't vote NO AWARD in a category, but here I just didn't feel any of the stories were Hugo-worthy (I currently vacillate between 3 & 3.5 of 5 as "Hugo-worthy").
Final Ballot:
Big Boys Don’t Cry
The Plural of Helen of Troy
Pale Realms of Shade
One Bright Star to Guide Them

Monday, July 27, 2015

Hugos 2015 Reads - Related Work

After a three-week vacation, I'm back to trying to finish my reading before Hugo votes are due on Friday. Doh! 

Related Work is a kind of catch-all category for non-fiction related to SFF, criticism, etc. As such, it's a pretty diverse selection. I've listed the works in alphabetical order by author's last name.

Letters from Gardner by Lou Antonelli -- 3 of 5 This is the one I was most interested in, as it's about the actual mechanics of writing. It's a series of short stories, starting as he's trying to break into publishing short science fiction, and follows his career. Each of the stories is paired with an intro and follow-up about the changes the stories went through, including his interactions with famed editor Gardner Dozois. Unfortunately, the included sample was only just getting into the interesting part of his correspondence. It was good enough that I'll be buying it soon enough.

The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF by Ken Burnside -- 2.5 of 5 This is not my cup of tea, but it was an informative look at the restrictions that our current understanding of thermodynamics has on hard SF, specifically military SF. If you're an author trying to do worldbuilding in a SF world that is fairly realistic, this is your bag, baby. I'm not in this situation (nor plan to be), so I appreciate the usefulness, but that's about it.

Why Science is Never Settled (there are two parts, hence the gap in the link) by Tedd Roberts -- 2 of 5 This is a basic intro to what the actual practice of science is -- the scientific method, what a theory means, etc. It's informative, but he does have a pretty massive error. He lists "Climategate" as an example of "abuse of pre- publication peer-review to publish some articles and block others". Unfortunately, this had been thoroughly debunked YEARS before the article was written, and such a mistake makes me take a point off my rating.

Wisdom from My Internet by Michael Z. Williamson -- 1 of 5 This is mainly a collection of tweets (maybe other work?), the majority of which have nothing to do with SFF. Some of these (assumed) tweets are mildly amusing, but when read in bulk, they're tedious. Adding in the fact that it's only tangentially "related" (the majority are politics, current events, or other non-SFF material), you get the low rating (in general i'd give it a 1.5, not a 0.5).

Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth by John C. Wright -- 0 of 5 This was just brutal. To be fair, I didn't read the whole thing, but I did read all of "Transhuman and Subhuman", "The Hobbit, or The Desolation of Tolkien", "John C. Wright's Patented One Session Lesson in the Mechanics of Fiction", and most of (the extremely long -- over a third of the kindle edition in the voter packet) "Saving Science Fiction from Strong Female Characters" (I gave up after realizing he was never going to back up any his statements with anything more than... more of his statements). This one gets its own coverage!
Wright has several axes to grind, but it all flows from assigning female characters what he sees as "masculine" traits. He starts there and links it into a web that rails against Leftists (he never specifies if he means socialists, communists, liberals, or some other version), Political Correctness, and other bogeymen. His technique for these arguments is to make a bold, unsubstantiated claim ("Women, it must be noted, complain more than men"), then build upon it until he restarts the process.The essay is filled with his statements on what is "masculine" and "feminine", the goals and beliefs for "Leftists" and the "Cult of Political Correctness", none of which are backed by any reference to data or a source. He can't quote a source, as he's (apparently) assigning views to an undefined group. His random statements offered as fact include:
  • "The strategy of picking up an attractive stranger of loose morals, or hiring her for a fee for sexual favors, is so repugnant to prudence if not to human nature as to induce vomiting." The Bold is mine to highlight what a laughable statement this is.
  • "after the fall of the Soviet Union, it was discovered that each and every person McCarthy accused was guilty of exactly that which he accused them" Well, after an extensive google search lasting almost 10 minutes, there's 0 evidence for this. Some he named were Communists, but most of his accusations were bullshit. If not? Give a reference.
  • "the cultists will claim credit for something they opposed, such as the Civil Rights Movement, which was a Republican movement" You can argue that is was MORE a Republican movement, but giving all the credit isn't sloppy, it's intellectually dishonest -- it is easy to argue it was a regional movement. Basic statistical analysis is not Wright's strong point. 
I could go on, but this was easily the worst-argued essay I've read in a very long time. It's rambling, misleading, poorly researched (or at least completely incompetently referenced) and reads like a mediocre blog post rather than a serious look into what makes female characters "strong" and the impact on culture.
My final ballot (which coincidentally is in alphabetical order by author's name!):
Letters from Gardner
The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF
Why Science is Never Settled
Wisdom from My Internet
Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hugos 2015 Reads - Best Graphic Story

I am, and have long been*, a MASSIVE comics fan. My tastes generally run to superhero comics, though I've dipped my toe into the more "serious" waters -- Maus, Persepolis, Blankets***, Logicomix****, and the AWESOME Cartoon History of the Universe. But this year's noms are a pretty nice mix -- One Marvel, 3 Image (Hooray for creator-owned!) and one webcomic. DC was too busy planning its semi-annual reboot to generate nominees*****.

Best Graphic Story -- As a long-time reader of superhero, especially Marvel, comics, I'm definitely biased toward the capes. But this year's noms only have one (which I have already read, and loved). Here are my thoughts, in reverse alphabetical order:

Zombie Nation -- As the only one NOT included in the packet, I'm going to judge this one based on the most recent month of comics (it's a webcomic). And I have to say... meh. It's occasionally funny, but it's just not in the league of the other noms. 1 out of 5

Sex Criminals -- You had me at "sex"! And "criminals"! Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky's highly acclaimed comic lives up to its reputation. Funny, touching and it left me wanting more; what more could you want from a comic? Any other year, and this would most likely be my pick. but it's up against the force of nature that is Kamala Khan. Sorry, criminal fornicators, maybe next year! 4 out of 5

Saga -- I started reading Saga from the beginning, but I quickly grew tired of the seemingly endless churn through ideas with little follow-through. Not bad by any means, but this is my baseline for an award (for this year). 2.5 out of 5

Rat Queens -- I was pretty psyched to find out this was in the noms/packet, as I've heard a lot of raves about it. Fun, funny, sword and sorcery action. Boozing, fighting, this is balls/ovaries-to-the-wall action. An excellent read and a worthy winner, but unfortunately they brought a sword to a catapult fight. 4 out of 5
Ms. Marvel -- Kamala Khan is all kinds of awesome. She's firmly in the classic Marvel teen hero mold, following Peter Parker, Ultimate Peter Parker******, Kitty Pryde, The Runaways, Miles Morales, etc. She's smart, trapped between wanting to be a good daughter and fit in, and secretly dreaming of being a superhero. And, because it's a Marvel comic, she becomes one. She's a muslim teen in New Jersey, but none of those traits defines her (though the Jersey bit comes the closest) -- she's fully rounded, as is her best friend/wannabe suitor Bruno. Highly recommended. 4.5 out of 5 (had they included the Wolverine story, it might've been 5 out of 5).

So, my final vote:
Ms. Marvel
Sex Criminals
Rat Queens
Zombie Nation

* Seriously, as long as I can remember. One of my first book(ish)-buying memories was to get comics at the pharmacy in scenic** Fairview, TN.
** "Scenic" here is a synonym for "redneck and boring"
*** Soooooooooo overrated. Ugh.
**** Soooooooooo underrated. Ah!
***** I kid because I love. And because DC has been selling the sizzle, not the steak, since DiDio took over.
****** Confession: Ultimate Spider-Man is probably my favorite long-run of any comic, ever. Bendis and Bagley were AMAZING.

Greece to Ireland: You Paid, We Shouldn't

The Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, wrote an editorial for the Irish Times on Sunday, where he said:
Irish readers need no reminder of the indignity that befalls a people forced to forfeit their sovereignty in the midst of an economic depression. They may, however, be justified to look at the never-ending Greek crisis and allow themselves a feeling of mild superiority, on the basis that the Irish suffered quietly, swallowed the bitter pill of austerity and are now getting out of the woods.

The Greeks, in contrast, protested loudly for years, resisted the troika fiercely, elected my radical left-wing party last January and remain in the doldrums of recession.

While such a feeling is understandable, permit me, dear reader, to argue that it is unhelpful in at least three ways. First, it does not promote understanding of the current Greek drama. Second, it fails to inform properly the debate on how the euro zone, and the EU more generally, should evolve. Third, it sows unnecessary discord between peoples that have in common more than they appreciate.

This is just so money. He doesn't deny that Greece has fucked around for 5+ years and refused to implement reforms that they promised they would make*. Instead he says, "hey, we could've made these reforms when we got the money, like Ireland did. But we didn't, because that would've been hard, like it was for Ireland. So if we make the reforms now, that's really a threat to democracy. It wasn't a problem for democracy when Ireland did it, because, you know, you're not Greece. But now? Europe's democracy is at stake."

I actually agree with the reforms he suggests, as do most European leaders. So did the various Greek governments over the last 5 years (incl a least one stint with the current idiots in charge) , when they were proposed and Greece ignored them or passed them (with a late 2015 implementation date). After the February 2015 bailout talks, Greece gave a summary, and 17 of the first 23 reforms were due by... June 2015 (or Q2 2015, same thing). Are these done? Fuck, no. And the rest? Almost uniformly, these were scheduled to start in... June 2015 -- when the next tranche of bailout funds were due. Greece has been stringing Europe along for years, constantly promising, then passing reforms, but never actually implementing the majority. If they get this bailout, those June 2015 dates? Expect them in August, December or whenever the next tranche comes.

Maybe Greece gets the money and maybe they don't. What's certain, based on their recent behavior, is that they won't make the necessary reforms and they will be back begging for more money.

* Instead they passed the reforms with an implementation date after future bailout payment were due.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The REAL Hugo Controversy

The Sad and/or Rabid Puppies may try to convince you that there's a bias at work in the Hugo Awards*, and they may be right. However, they've overlooked the REAL shameful secret of the Hugo Awards. That secret? No novel written in a language other than English has ever won. Do you really believe that the best sci-fi/fantasy novel of the year was originally written in English... for SIXTY consecutive years? This stretches credulity.

Solaris, The Night Watch, 1Q84, The Shadow of the Wind, ... there are others. But Hugo voters don't seem inclined to read (or, if they do, to nominate) works in translation. I'd love to get on my high horse, but I don't read many works in translation, either, so I'd be a hypocrite to fault them for this. My solution? Create an award for work in translation. It doesn't have to be given every year, but it would help raise awareness AND it would genuinely broaden the scope of the awards to an overlooked** group of books/authors. So, Hugo committee, get on it!

* The bias is NOT that voting is done by the members of Worldcon -- that's the definition of the population, not a bias.
** By the Hugo community in particular, and also English-language genre fans.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Hugo 2015 Reads - The Goblin Emperor

I first picked up The Goblin Emperor in December, but I didn't have a chance to get into it while home for Christmas. This, it turns out, was a good thing, as I was completely enthralled once I started in earnest, and I would have given either it or my family visit short shrift :)

The book is (spoiler alert!) about a goblin emperor. Maia has been raised in a remote location by an abusive, disgraced former courtier of his father. Maia's mother, a goblin (the emperor was a lighter-skinned elf), was sent away from court almost immediately after her wedding night. She raised Maia without any contact from his father, and the only time they met was at his mother's funeral when he was 10. Not great preparation for 8 years later, when Maia is woken by the news that an airship accident killed his father and three older brothers -- he's emperor.

The book details Maia's journey to becoming emperor and adjusting to his new role. He faces internal and external challenges, racism, provincialism (he had spent no time at court) and isolation because of his status. His general good nature, intelligence and a handful of loyal servants are all he can count on.

The Good:
  • Maia! He's the rare, truly good person in fantasy (really, in fiction/non-fiction). He fights to be fair to all, even his enemies.
  • The prose. Addison writes with a light touch -- it doesn't read as a fairy tale, nor is it grim. There's a light sense of humor and wonderfully descriptive passages throughout.
  • The very low level of magic (it's used only a handful of times, almost as an aside) is part of the world, not the focus. This is a world at the start of an industrial revolution, with all that entails. 
  • While it does leave open room for a sequel (which she says will not happen), it stands alone. This is a rare accomplishment in fantasy.

The Bad:
  • There's not going to be a sequel
  • It's a very light read, so it's not quite as thought-provoking as some of the others on the list, nor is the prose as intricate as, say, Station Eleven
  • The book is told entirely from Maia's perspective, so the other characters don't get as much development. It's there, but the structure restricts us from getting too much of those around Maia.
4.5 out of 5
So, it was an excellent read, and it currently is tied with Ancillary Sword for the lead in my vote. I'm not sure if ties are allowed, but if not, I'll rank it first, since Ms. Leckie won last year.

Where I rank it in my Read of the Hugos:
The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman (Not a nominee, but amazing)
(Tie) The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison 
(Tie) Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Not a nominee, but very good)
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
No Award (this is an option in the rather complicated, but logical, voting process)

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Hugos 2015 Reads - Ancillary Sword

I read, and enjoyed, last year's winner, Ancillary Justice,* and so I was excited to see the sequel also garnered a nom. And this time, it wouldn't take me the majority of the book to realize that feminine pronouns were used for everyone (I wasn't reading carefully and just assumed that everyone was female before that. D'oh!).

Breq, the main character of the books, is a former ancillary of the Radch empire. Ancillaries are human bodies of POWs who have a ship AI's consciousness uploaded (via a process that is horrible for both) into their body, thereby killing the "person" over a few days. Breq is the only surviving ancillary out of thousands of a now-destroyed AI, and she continues to adapt to only having one body rather than thousands plus access to thoughts of the crew of her ship. She is now captain of a ship, and is regaining a larger sense of her crew via implants and her interaction with this AI.

This 3000+ year old empire spans a large chunk of space and is opposed by at least 3 non-human sentient species, including the ludicrously more advanced Presger (who may, or may not, be working to undermine the Radch). The Radch is ruled by Anaander Mianaai, a former(?) human whose consciousness is uploaded into bodies across the universe (but that are not instantaneously linked). And that consciousness is split into at least two warring factions. The empire is controlled via massive, AI-controlled ships, previously crewed largely by ancillaries, but now with humans. The crew all have implants that allow the ship's AI (and its captain) to observe their vitals and hear and see what the crew members do**.

But that's just worldbuilding - the actual plot follows Breq as she goes to try to make amends to the sibling of a friend she had to kill. This does not go well. She then gets caught up in the local politics of the system while also trying to figure out if either of the Mianaai factions or the Presger are influencing events there. I've managed to make a fairly fast-paced, character-driven novel sound dry and bland, but it's not. There are explosions, political intrigue, a super-creepy "human" grown by aliens, and more. I really enjoyed it and will be reading the final book in the trilogy as soon as it's out.

The Good:
  • Breq is just awesome -- she has a rigid code of honor and doesn't have any fucks left to give if that bothers people. She uses her new position of power to right wrongs, regardless of whether that would please Mianaai... or the people involved.
  • More Presger weirdness! They were hinted at in the first book, and they come into play a bit more here. A massively powerful, mysterious culture that can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants is clearly terrifying to all involved. And the humans have no idea what the Presger consider good or bad, so all they can do is avoid them and hope they haven't pissed them off. I've worked for bosses that were Presger, sans technology.
  • Leckie does a great job of letting us inside the captain-AI interface and how this reflects on their differences and similarities. And by comparing her with another captain, we see how she differs from a standard human. The concept of identity carries over from the first book.

The Bad:
  • Not much, really. I was pretty bummed that it was over so soon.

I enjoyed it even more than its predecessor; and I unreservedly loved it. The lack of gendering can be frustrating at first, but that's part of the immersion into the culture (and a bit of a shock when a conquered culture that retains gendering in their language pop up).

I give it 4.5 out of 5. Highly recommended!

Where I rank it in my Read of the Hugos:
The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman (Not a nominee, but amazing)
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Not a nominee, but very good)
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
No Award (this is an option in the rather complicated, but logical, voting process)

* Commas were on sale this week.
** The NSA data gatherer reading this just had an orgasm at the thought of so much surveillance ability.