Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hugo 2015 Reads - The Dark Between The Stars

OK, I didn't post this earlier, mainly because I was hoping my interest would be rekindled after some time away. It was not. I didn't finish it, but I gave the ol' community college try and read a fourth of it. Is this entirely fair to Kevin J. Anderson (whose Star Wars books I enjoyed)? No. But it's life, and I hope to finish it later in the year. My mid-book grade would be 2 of 5.

The Good:
  • It was fast-paced, with short chapters. This seems like faint praise, but it moves the pace. I think it's underrated, especially in a Kindle book. Seeing "1 min more" means I'm finishing the chapter.
  • Some cool ideas among the various interstellar races and tech. But trying to introduce so many leads to... 
  • It's fun space opera! Not too serious, good ideas, not obsessed with tech. Which is what I'd expect given his above-average work on the Art Formerly Known As The Star Wars Exanded Universe (sniff, sniff. We'll always miss you, Mara).

The Bad:
  • He just has too many balls in the air. There are a bunch of alien races, some very cool, a few human factions and it's just a bit much. I think he'd have been better served by starting with fewer POVs and branching out more later.
  • Speaking of the humans, they're pretty flat. Now, I am only partway through the book, but several felt more like stereotypes (especially the driven, vengeful career woman and the ethically-challenged CEO) than people. Again, this can change later in the book, and I'll definitely post a full review when I'm done. 
Current Ballot (Pending 1 Vote):The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman (Not a nominee, but amazing)
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
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)
The Dark Between The Stars by Kevin J Anderson 

2015 Hugo Reads - Novellettes

Almost done! This is my last fiction category, and another dominated by Sad and Rabid Puppies nominees. However, this was one category where a Puppy nominee beat the field (for me). Of course, most of the field was Puppy nominees, so it's not exactly triumphing over the forces of liberal mediocrity forced upon us by the Great Tor Conspiracy*.To be fair, I'm pretty tired of short fiction, especially the crop that's in the list. So most of these probably deserve an extra half-star from me. But that's what they get for waiting until the last 2 days for me to finish them**.

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

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium, Gray Rinehart - 3.5 of 5 A short look at a human colony that's been overthrown by some late-arriving reptiles. A quick, easy read, fun with a nice sense of closure. The characters were very familiar, but it all worked for me.

Championship B’tok, Edward M. Lerner - 1 of 5 This one has promise -- interesting worldbuilding, but the characters are flat and it's blatantly only the start of the story -- clearly the first chunk of a novel, not a novellette. Had it been the same quality but an actual full story, I'd have rated it a few points higher (probably my second favorite of the 5 until I reached the end and said, "wait, that's it?!?). I'll probably read the full-length version, but this one was a sample, not a complete story.

The Day the World Turned Upside Down, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator - 1.5 of 5 This was just too on the nose, too cute. After a man is dumped by his girlfriend, the entire world... turns upside down. Get it? I liked the author's/translator's prose, but i couldn't get past the annoying elephant/metaphor in the room. I might read more by him, but this was not my cuppa.

The Journeyman: In the Stone House, Michael F. Flynn - 1.5 of 5 Another story that is part of a larger tale, this one stands basically alone. Still, it's not my bag; it's an odd mix of cultural archetypes -- Plains indians (with South Asian names), Arthurian lords, and a crashed spaceship with a working AI. A lot going on, but the pidgin English got old fast. The sword fighting was well-done, but I needed more.

The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale, Rajnar Vajra - 2 of 5 Not a bad idea (and some cool ideas about the applications of the ability to control inertia), but the resolution fails to live up to the buildup. Adding in that 2 of the 3 characters were flat and fairly stock, and I have to pass.

Final Ballot:
Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium
The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale
The Day the World Turned Upside Down
Championship B’tok
The Journeyman: In the Stone House

* I am joking here. The Puppies claim that Tor (Books or Dot Com, I'm not sure which) has a conspiracy of mindless drones that are driving the awards. Given Tor's record the last few years (single digit noms, 3 or fewer wins), it's an odd claim. Especially when the Sad Puppies have 51 of their 60 noms on the list and Rabid Puppies have 58 of 67, with only 12 from either or both list not making it -- and only 24 not on either list. Counts from File 770. (linked without permission, but will remove if asked!)
** OK, fine, that was my fault.

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