Tuesday, July 28, 2015

2015 Hugo Voting - Roundup and Review

Voting for the 2015 Hugo Awards closes on July 31st, at 11:59 PM Pacific Daylight Time. That is this Friday. If you are eligible to vote and haven't done so, you should make sure to do that before the deadline.

I am a supporting member of Sasquan, which is the location of this year's World Science Fiction Convention. Because of this, I am eligible to vote in this year's Hugo Awards. I have now cast my votes. I have already reviewed several of the nominated works, and have set out explanations for some of my votes. I won't be able to review all of the remaining material before voting closes, but I'm going to continue to post reviews and explanations of my voting after it does. I am probably also going to go back and fill in my voting and reviews for the 2014 Hugos that I didn't get to last year.

Obviously the story of this year's Hugo Awards has been the Sad Puppy and Rabid Puppy slates that dominated the ballot. When Brad Torgersen announced the slate, I pointed out that the 2014 Sad Puppy slate was comprised entirely of works that were terrible. With the usual arrogance displayed by the Sad Puppy organizers, Torgersen told me I would be very embarrassed when I read the slated Sad Puppy works for 2015 and saw how good they were. Well Brad, I've read all of the nominated works from the Sad Puppy slate, and they are terrible. The people who should be embarrassed are Brad Torgersen, and the rest of the authors who pushed for this miserable material to get on the Hugo Award ballot. Collectively, the Puppy nominated works and people are the worst set to be placed on the ballot in Hugo Award history.

Overall, the best of the Puppy nominated written fiction works were Skin Game by Jim Butcher, and Totaled by Kary English, but even they were merely mediocre. From there, the Puppy picks run down to Lovecraftian horror levels of incredibly awful. Some of the Puppy driven Best Related Work nominees were not merely badly written, they were aggressively offensive as well. The worst thing that could have happened to the reputations of many of the Puppy-promoted authors is that people would read their work, and once they were placed on the Hugo ballot, that is exactly what happened. The Puppy picks in the Dramatic Presentation categories were, by and large, not terrible, but they did put Interstellar on the ballot, which I found to be a fairly stupid snooze-fest of a movie.

I'm using the balance of this post to list my votes for this year's Hugo Awards in the categories for which I don't intend to do an individual post about my voting. Many Hugo voters have stated that they will place "No Award" above the nominees from the Puppy slates to show their dislike of the use of slates as a tactic. Others have said that the only way to be fair is to read all of the works and honestly assess them based upon their quality regardless of how they got onto the Hugo ballot. Having read all of the materials nominated, I can state that I find there to be almost no functional difference between "No Awarding" the Puppy picks because they were put there by slate-driven bloc voting, and "No Awarding" the Puppy picks on the basis of their quality.

Best Professional Editor: Short Form:

1. No Award

This category was populated entirely by Sad and Rabid Puppy slate picks, none of whom were good enough to vote above "No Award". I considered placing the Puppy picked editor Mike Resnick  above "No Award", but on balance I decided not to. The nomination for Resnick seems a little odd given that one of the stated primary goals of the Sad Puppy slate was to promote individuals who the Hugo voting community had previously overlooked, and Resnick has been far from overlooked by the Hugos. In fact, Resnick had been previously nominated for a Hugo Award three dozen times and has won five times. This year, However, there doesn't seem to be anything about Resnick's work this year that would recommend him for the award, and he was apparently the voice that motivated Torgersen to put the mediocre and forgettable Totaled on the Puppy slate, which in my mind wipes away any benefit of the doubt Resnick may have been entitled to. The rest of the field ranged from merely average down to Theodore Beale, whose sample of editing work (in the form of Wright's short fiction and the collection Riding the Red Horse) was so awful that even calling him an editor at all seems to be a misnomer.

One slightly amazing omission from the Hugo ballot in this category is Trevor Quachri, the current editor of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. The Sad Puppy slate nominated four works drawn from Analog this year, and yet somehow neglected to nominate the editor responsible for acquiring those works for the magazine. This seems like a fairly remarkable oversight on the part of the organizers of the Sad Puppy slate.

Best Professional Editor: Long Form:

1. Sheila Gilbert
2. No Award

This category is the only one other than the Dramatic Presentation categories in which I ended up placing a Puppy nominee above "No Award". Gilbert's listed of work for DAW is truly impressive, and she is clearly worthy of a Hugo Award. The other nominees are a mixed bag. Based upon Weisskopf's response in the Hugo packet, it is impossible to figure out exactly what editing she did for Baen in 2014, and given what Baen as a whole says about their "team editing" practices, it is impossible to figure out exactly what Minz edited either. If every editor at Baen is responsible for editing their work as a whole, then none of them is worthy of an individual award. Sowards' resume just isn't quite good enough to merit consideration for the Hugo Award - most of the works she lists fall into the category of "competent but uninspiring books", and competent but uninspiring is not the stuff from which Hugo Awards are made. Beale, once again, has no business even calling himself an editor, let along being on this ballot.

Best Professional Artist:

1. Julie Dillon
2. No Award

The Best Professional Artist category has a single non-Puppy nominee, and four picks drawn from the Puppy slates. Julie Dillon is a brilliant artist, and is well-deserving of a first place nod. The other artists nominated are competent professionals, but nothing really seems to recommend them as being the best in the field.

Best Semi-Prozine:

1. Lightspeed Magazine
2. Beneath Ceaseless Skies
3. Strange Horizons
4. No Award

Lightspeed and Beneath Ceaseless Skies are, alongside Clarkesworld (which isn't eligible in this category), the best sources for short fiction that one can find online, while Strange Horizons is a mere half-step behind them. The remaining nominees are not bad, but they aren't in the same league as these three, and are not good enough to place above "No Award".

Best Fanzine:

1. Journey Planet
2. No Award

This is another category that has a single non-Puppy nominee and four Puppy picks. Journey Planet is a pure expression of fannish love, and as a result, easily gets my vote for first place in this category. Tangent Online isn't absolutely terrible, but David Truesdale cost the magazine all credibility due to his frothy and dishonest screeds related to the SFWA Bulletin controversy. Black Gate decided that being the darling of Theodore Beale wasn't a position they wanted to be in and withdrew their nomination from the ballot. The other nominees in this category are simply not nearly good enough to be on the Hugo ballot to begin with, let alone good enough to be deserving of a vote.

Best Fan Writer:

1. Laura J. Mixon
2. No Award

Another category with a single non-Puppy nominee, Best Fan Writer pits Laura J. Mixon's exposé of the blogger known alternatively as Requires Hate or Winterfox (who turned out to be Benjanun Sriduangkaew) and a set of competitors who simply have no business being on a Hugo ballot in any capacity. There have been some people who are critical of honoring a writer based upon what is essentially a single piece of writing, and there is some merit to that, but the fact remains that unpacking the web of lies and vitriol that Sriduangkaew built around herself was an important contribution to the genre fiction community as a whole, and that should be recognized. The offerings provided by the remaining nominees in this category range from pedestrian and uninspired, such as the writing of Jeffro Johnson, to incoherent and incredibly stupid such as the writing of Cedar Sanderson and Amanda Green.

Best Fan Artist:

1. Elizabeth Leggett
2. Brad Foster
3. Spring Schoenhuth
4. Steve Stiles
5. Ninni Aalto

Best Fan Artist is the one category entirely free of any Puppy-related nominees. Perhaps the Puppies didn't know any fan artists, which seems plausible since most people get to know fan artists through attending fan-run conventions, and the Puppies seem, by and large, to be uninterested in such gatherings. The choice here was not difficult. Elizabeth Leggett's work is absolutely brilliant and so much better than that of her competition that there is almost no real point in comparing them. Foster's work is cute, and Schoenhuth's jewelry is interesting, but neither artist's work holds a candle to Leggett's. The remaining two artists are decent, but not especially memorable.

Best Fancast:

1. Galactic Suburbia
2. Tea and Jeopardy
3. No Award

For the second year in a row I have placed Galactic Suburbia at the top of my Hugo ballot. Simply put, Tansy, Alisa, and Alex are absolutely delightful to listen to no matter whether they are talking about the Hugo Awards, Veronica Mars, feminism and how the "fake geek girls" thing is bullshit, or cake. To be honest, I could sit and listen to these three women talk about the phone book, because they would find a way to make it interesting. Had podcasts like Verity or the Coode Street Podcast been nominated, I probably would not have put Tea and Jeopardy in the number two slot, but I would have ranked it, so it gets the second position by default. The remaining three nominees are all Puppy picks, and after listening to a selection of their episodes I concluded they were simply not worth bothering with as they are just not Hugo material.

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer:

1. Wesley Chu
2. No Award

The one category in the Hugo Awards that is "not a Hugo" but which is still dominated by Puppy picks once again highlights just how weak the Puppy-chosen selections are. The lone non-Puppy, Chu is a promising and interesting writer with four novels under his belt, and easily gets my first-place vote. Kary English has a thin resume composed of works that are merely adequate, which ranks her well below "No Award" in my book. The remaining nominees are simply not very good and really should not be on the ballot at all.

2015 Hugo Award Nominees     Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, July 27, 2015

Musical Monday - Everything Is Awesome!


The redhead and I are heading to Gen Con later this week, as we do every year. Given that we are going to be going to the best four days in gaming, one might expect me to post a song that is game related like Best Game Ever by Mikey Mason, or Tabletop Games by the Doubleclicks. That would seem logical, but on the other hand, I already used those particular songs as Musical Monday selections and Sarah Donner seems not to have put a video of her wonderful Settlers of Catan song onto YouTube, so there just aren't that many good choices that fit.

But taking leave from work for a week is awesome! Going to Gen Con is awesome! Vacationing with the redhead is awesome! Lazy cosplay is awesome! Seeing my Indianapolis friends is awesome! Seeing gaming friends like Dustin from the Undergophers is awesome! Seeing Molly Lewis, the Doubleclicks, Five-Year Mission, the Shake-Ups, and Sarah Donner in concert is awesome! Going to the Concert Against Humanity is awesome! Like the song says: Everything is awesome!


Game, Movie, and Television Music     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Book Blogger Hop July 24th - July 30th: The CRM114 Discriminator Is in "Dr. Strangelove", Pod CRM114 Is in "2001: A Space Odyssey", and Serum 114 Is in "A Clockwork Orange"

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Do you use bookmarks? If so, do you match them to the book you're reading or do you use random scraps of paper?

I have accumulated a pile of bookmarks over the years. I have bookmarks from conventions, bookmarks from bookstores, bookmarks from authors, bookmarks for books or book series, bookmarks from web sites, bookmarks from game companies, and even bookmarks from academic programs. I keep a stack next to my desk and when I start a new book, I grab one and use it. Afterwards, I either use it for the next book or just throw it back in the pile to wait until I pull it out again at some point in the future.

Right now the stack has bookmarks from the series The Ameron Chronicles, The Brazen Serpent Chronicles, and The Taker Trilogy, the authors Gilles Decruyenaere and Wilkie Martin, the books Far Orbit and Writers of the Future: Volume 30, the game Menace from Beyond, the websites Book Depository and BookMooch, bookstores Indy Reads Books and Borders, the CapClave convention, the George Mason Law Library and the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. I probably have a few others scattered about the house somewhere, but that's what is in the pile right now.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, July 24, 2015

Follow Friday - "Yeah, 220, 221. Whatever it takes." Jack Butler from Mr. Mom


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Readiculously Peachy and The Book Goddess.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What is your favorite movie?

Because I can't pick just one, I'm going to go with my favorite movies by category:

Favorite Musical: A three-way tie between Meet Me in St. Louis, 1776, and On the Town.

Favorite Science Fiction Movie: Aliens. I also have a weird soft spot for Logan's Run.

Favorite Fantasy Movie: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. I also love Dragonslayer, even though no one I know seems to care for it.

Favorite Horror Movie: Cabin in the Woods. I'm not generally a fan of horror films, but for a straight horror movie, I'd go with Alien.

Favorite Post-Apocalyptic Movie: Mad Max: Fury Road.

Favorite Cop Movie: Bullit.

Favorite Comedy: The Blues Brothers. A quirkier love of mine is Noises Off.

Favorite Western: The Magnificent Seven.

Favorite Courtroom Drama: The Verdict.

Favorite Movie About School: The Paper Chase.

Favorite Super-Hero Movie: Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Favorite Animated Movie: The Incredibles.

Favorite Civil War Movie: Another tie, this time between Glory and Gettysburg.

Favorite World War I Movie: A Very Long Engagement. If one insists on a more traditional World War I movie, I'd choose The Blue Max.

Favorite World War II Movie: Tora! Tora! Tora! and Midway. I can't think of one without the other.

Favorite POW War Movie: The Great Escape.

Favorite Movie No One Else Seems to Like: Chariots of Fire.

Favorite Spy Movie: The Long Kiss Goodnight.

Favorite Bond Movie: Thunderball.

Favorite Ray Harryhausen Movie: Sinbad in the Eye of the Tiger.

Favorite Giant Monster Movie: The Terror of Mechagodzilla although it is difficult to pass up the final monster fight in Destroy All Monsters!

Favorite King Arthur Related Movie: Excalibur.

Favorite Movie Adapted from a Book: The Three Musketeers and The Fourth Musketeer. The version starring Michael York, Oliver Reed, Christopher Lee, Faye Dunaway, Raquel Welch, and Richard Chamberlain.

Favorite Christmas Movie: The Nightmare Before Christmas. Some in my family insist this is not a Christmas movie. If you are one of them, I'll go with White Christmas to make you happy.

Favorite Low Budget Movie: The Gamers.

Favorite Movie of All Time: Casablanca.


Follow Friday     Home

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

2015 Hugo Voting - Best Novelette

I am a supporting member of Sasquan, which is the location of this year's World Science Fiction Convention. Because of this, I am eligible to vote in this year's Hugo Awards. Four of the nominees in this category were drawn from with the Sad Puppy or Rabid Puppy slates. The Puppy slate-makers seem to have not particularly cared about how good the stories they were promoting were, and consequently the overall quality of the Puppy nominees is quite poor, ranging from bland and mediocre down to bland and terrible. The remaining non-Puppy nominee is merely mediocre. My ballot in this category was as follows:

1. No Award: As with the other short fiction categories in the 2015 Hugo ballot, the Best Novelette category simply does not have any nominees that are worth voting for. The most damning evidence against the quality of the stories in this category is that several of them were drawn from Analog magazine, and none of those stories were even the best story in the issue in which they appeared. Quite bluntly, if a story isn't the best story in the publication it appears in, it has no business being on the Hugo ballot. The only story I actually bothered to rank after putting "No Award" down was The Day the World Turned Upside Down, which took the number two spot. The remaining stories weren't even good enough to be worth ranking on my Hugo ballot.

2. The Day the World Turned Upside Down by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (translated by Lia Belt): A magical realist story with metaphors that strike the reader like large heavy objects, this is the best of the 2015 novelette crop of Hugo nominees, and yet it is still sadly disappointing. After the callow protagonist Toby breaks up with the love of his life Sophie, he is lying about moping on his couch when gravity reverses itself and everything begins falling upwards. The world turning upside down is a brutally heavy-handed metaphor for Toby's own love-life, but as the story progresses, just how much of an awful person Toby is become more and more apparent, making the metaphor seem terribly out of place. Much of the story revolves around Toby's attempts to prove his love by returning Sophie's pet goldfish to her, although some of the specifics of his efforts show that Heuvelt really has no idea how to take care of a goldfish since, for example, immersing one in 7-Up as Toby does would certainly kill the creature in short order. The goldfish is also a metaphor - this time for Toby's love for Sophie, but it is rather too apt, as it is something that Toby can possess and cling to, much as he tries to possess and cling to Sophie. After he completes his journey, Toby reveals himself to be a pretty nasty person who doesn't actually regard Sophie as a person, but rather an object to claim for his own. Sophie's feelings aren't important, in his view she owes it to Toby love him, because he worked so hard to get her goldfish to her. Eventually, he slinks away while sulking and in a decision laden with symbolism, sets Sophie's goldfish free and then sets out to climb down a rope ladder in search of a new life.

Toby's entirely objectionable character is not the only problem with this story. The science of gravity's reversal is inconsistently applied in ways that simply make no sense. Anything that isn't nailed down falls into the sky when gravity turns, but somehow the Earth's atmosphere stays. Buildings and trees improbably cling to the Earth's surface, their foundations and roots somehow able to support their great weight while upside down. Somehow there are thermals to hold up a hang glider, which seems odd since there is nowhere for a thermal to come from. And so on. Some elements are clearly meant to be magical, such as the fact that rivers and lakes seem unaffected by the changed gravity. Others, however, seem to fall into the same category as the goldfish dumped into a bottle of 7-Up: Heuvelt simply didn't bother to think through the implication of his story and ask the next question. The end result is an unpleasant and silly mess of a story centered on a jerk of a protagonist who spends almost the entire story doing little but whining.

3. Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium by Gray Rinehart: Some stories only work because almost everyone in them is an idiot, with one person being very slightly less of an idiot, and as a result figuring something out and becoming the hero. Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium is almost the Platonic ideal of this kind of story. Set on a planet humans have chosen to call Alluvium, the story focuses on the elderly Keller and his friend Cerna, both of whom live in the human colony that twenty years before was taken over by the lizard-like alien Peshari who treat the humans more or less like intelligent pets. Keller is dying and has hatched a secret plan to infuriate the Peshari in the hope that this will cause them to abandon Alluvium, or at least leave the human colony to its own devices. After evaluating some rather obvious clues from Peshari architecture, folklore, history, and mortuary practices, as well as how they react to certain things humans do as a matter of routine daily life, Keller determines that the Peshari have a taboo about being underground, and sets about making his own funeral arrangements to violate Peshari sensibilities. The problem is that the trail of clues Keller follows is so clearly marked that one has to wonder how it is that no one else figured this out in the two decades since the Peshari arrived to subjugate the humans. In short, the story only works by assuming that all of the other settlers in the human colony are incredibly dumb and incurious. This isn't the only issue the story has - one is left wondering how a human colony has been allowed to be out of touch with Earth (or any other human settlement) for twenty years without anyone checking up to see if anything is wrong, or why the Peshari had killed Jean Lynn, the person who had made first contact with them, and why they regarded her death as making her someone worthy of bestowing high honors upon. Having unanswered mysteries in a story is not a problem in itself, but having unanswered mysteries in a story that seem much more interesting than the mystery that is the core of the story is a substantial distraction, making the reader think about how much better the story could have been, as opposed to how bland and gray the story being told actually is.

4. The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale by Rajnar Vajra (reviewed in Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Vol. CXXXIV, Nos. 7 & 8 (July/August 2014)): Another story that only works because every character in it but the protagonist is an idiot, Triple Sun has the advantage of being an actual story. Unfortunately, it is not really a very good story. As I noted when I reviewed it as part of the July/August 2014 issue of Analog, the central mystery of the story seems so ludicrously easy for the main character to solve that it seems implausible that it eluded the explorers who had been studying the issue for twenty years. Triple Sun also includes several attempts to raise the stakes of the story, but they fall completely flat, serving only to fill pages without actually increasing the narrative tension. Although this is a moderately diverting story, it simply isn't anything more than that, and that just isn't good enough for the Hugo Award.

5. Championship B’tok by Edward M Lerner (reviewed in Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Vol. CXXXIV, No. 9 (September 2014)): Unlike the stories ranked above, this story isn't actually a story. It is, instead, a fragment of a larger story that has no real beginning, no real plot, and no real ending. The only thing this story has going for it is Lerner himself, as he can write fairly well and is able to come up with some interesting ideas. The villainous snake-aliens, their customs, and culture are interesting, and their briefly mentioned attempt to invade the Solar System seems like it could have made for an enjoyable story, but Lerner doesn't make effective use of these elements nearly often enough to make up for the disjointed and incomplete plot. Had Championship B'tok been a complete story, it might have been able to rank higher, possibly even above "No Award", but given that it was presented as the dismembered remnant of an actual story, it is simply not good enough to be worthy of a Hugo nomination, let alone a Hugo vote.

6. The Journeyman: In the Stone House by Michael F. Flynn (reviewed in Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Vol. CXXXIV, No. 6 (June 2014)): Like Championship B'Tok, this story is an incomplete fragment of a larger story. Unlike Championship B'tok, this story is not particularly well-written and doesn't have any particularly interesting ideas. Featuring an incredibly macho but terribly bland and boring protagonist who is disinterested in the events taking place around him, there is not really much reason for the reader to care what is happening either. There isn't much to say about this tedious exercise in padding out some pages with pointless recitations of historical military tactics other than it is a pointless and plotless fragment that doesn't make the reader want to find and read the missing portion of the story.

2015 Hugo Award Nominees     Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, July 20, 2015

Musical Monday - CBS News Coverage of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing with Walter Cronkite


Even though I'm labeling this as Musical Monday, there is very little actual music in this selection. But today is the forty-sixth anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, and it seemed to me like featuring almost anything else simply would have been wrong. This is a beautifully edited selection from Walter Cronkite's coverage of the event, starting with Kennedy's 1961 State of the Union address in which he announced the national goal of landing a man on the Moon, and then segueing to July 1969, with Cronkite leading CBS News' coverage first of the launch of Apollo 11, then the landing of the Eagle, the first steps by Armstrong and Aldrin on the surface of the Moon, and finally, the mission's return to Earth and splashdown.

Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins

This coverage contains so many iconic moments: The instant when the LM crew switches from reporting from the Eagle to broadcasting from Tranquility Base, Neil Armstrong climbing down the ladder to set foot on the Moon making his famous statement "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind", and revealing the plaque on the base of the LM announcing that the explorers came in peace for all mankind. But there's also Cronkite's reactions, overcome with emotion upon the announcement that the Eagle had landed, only able to say "Oh boy!" in response, a moment in which he was not merely the reporter handing the news to the public, but also part of the public, a witness to events of such magnitude that he could do little more than stand and gape in amazement. Later when he had composed himself, Cronkite described the experience as a dream, or more specifically a dream come true.

It wasn't only Walter Cronkite who was giddy over the Moon landing: This was a huge event in the science fiction community. For most Americans as well as many others around the world, the lunar landing represented the culmination of their dreams of the future. The news coverage of Apollo 11 won the 1970 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, reflecting the intense interest that science fiction fandom of the day had in the U.S. space program in general, and the Apollo program specifically. Even though "news coverage" seems to not really fit into a category intended to recognize dramatic works, the win for this entry over the competing works The Bed-Sitting Room, The Illustrated Man, Marooned, and the entire run of the television show The Immortal seems, in retrospect, almost inevitable. This was such a huge cultural event that it was certain to, and actually did, steamroll over any competition. It is easy to forget that this landing took place just two and a half years after the Apollo 1 disaster that nearly destroyed the program, and a mere seven months after Apollo 8 made the first manned orbit of the Moon.

But it wasn't just the event that was honored, as huge an event as it was it would have been a mere blip on the cultural radar were it not for the news coverage that honored it. While all of the news organizations of the day reported on this historic event, I feel fairly certain that the what the Hugo voters were primarily honoring was this set of news broadcasts. It is almost impossible now to separate Cronkite's reporting from the event itself, his reactions and commentary are so interwoven with the Moon landing in the public consciousness that seeing the one without the other is almost disconcerting. Cronkite's eloquence served to elevate an already transcendent moment, as he said "The least of us is improved by the things done by the best of us, because if we are not able to land, we are at least able to follow. Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins are the best of us, and they led us further and higher than we ever imagined we are likely to go."

I was born just a few months before the Apollo 11 landing. My father says he propped me up on his lap to watch when it happened, in the hope that somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain there would be a memory of the event. I don't think memory really works that way, but it is nice to hope that what he says is true. I am among the youngest people who started life before a man had walked on the Moon. We have not returned to the Moon since I was three years old. This is a travesty. Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins led, and we have not followed, being far too concerned with trivialities rather than taking the next steps forward.

Someday, in the far future, I hope that my obituary mentions that I was born prior to Armstrong walking on the Moon. I hope that this is regarded with the same amazement that people currently regard people who were born before the Wright brothers flew. I also hope that by then, the Apollo program will have become the start of something rather than the still born monument to human potential that it seems to be right now. Cronkite said that "The date's now indelible. It is going to be remembered for as long as man survives: July 20, 1969. The date man reached, and walked on, the Moon." I hope he was right. I hope we never forget what we can achieve when we reach beyond ourselves to grasp greatness.

1969 Hugo Winner for Best Dramatic Presentation: 2001: A Space Odyssey
1972 Hugo Winner for Best Dramatic Presentation: A Clockwork Orange

What Are the Hugo Awards?

Hugo Best Dramatic Presentation Winners

1970 Hugo Award Nominees

Subsequent Musical Monday: Everything Is Awesome!

CBS News     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Book Blogger Hop July 17th - July 23rd: The Salt Vampire from the "Star Trek" Episode "The Man Trap" Is from the Planet M113

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Do you listen to audio books?

No, I don't. I have no philosophical objection to audio books, and for anyone for whom that format works for them, I am kind of jealous. The sad fact is that I simply cannot pay close enough attention while listening for the duration needed to actually get anything out of an audio book. For me, the only way to really consume and comprehend a book is to sit down and read it on paper (or very occasionally, on a screen).


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, July 17, 2015

Follow Friday - "Case 219" Is a Movie Based on the Walter Dean Myers Book "Shooter"


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - The Book Bundle.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: If you had the money what would your own personal library look like? What would be in it? What colors, decorations, etc would you put in it?

Oh, probably something like this:



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Thursday, July 16, 2015

2015 Hugo Voting - Best Short Story

I am a supporting member of Sasquan, which is the location of this year's World Science Fiction Convention. Because of this, I am eligible to vote in this year's Hugo Awards. All of the nominees in this category, including the one nominee who withdrew from contention, were drawn from with the Sad Puppy or Rabid Puppy slates. The Puppy slate-makers seem to have not particularly cared about how good the stories they were promoting were, and consequently the overall quality of the nominees is quite poor, ranging from mediocre down to absolutely miserable. My ballot in this category was as follows:

Not Ranked: Goodnight Stars by Annie Bellet: This story is not on the Hugo ballot, but at one point it was, having been placed there as part of the "Sad Puppy" slate. Following the announcement of the Hugo ballot, Bellet withdrew her story from consideration, stating that she did not want to be used as an involuntary political football. There have been numerous speculations concerning the "real" reason for her withdrawal, but I will not do so, instead letting her speak for herself. In any event, this is not a ranking of her story, but merely a review to place the remaining nominees in context.

Goodnight Stars is an interesting story about a young girl named Lucy dealing with the immediate aftermath of the unexpected destruction of Earth's Moon. The twist is that her mother was working at an installation located on the Moon, and in the chaos following the disaster, it is at first unclear if her mother survived or not. The story starts while Lucy is on a camping trip with her friends, when her boyfriend Jack informs her that the Moon has been destroyed and the armed services are calling up every reservist they can. Soon the group packs up to head home, and Lucy, with Jack and their friend Heidi in tow, says that they should stay away from the coasts and head to her father's farm in Montana. Their other two friends head off elsewhere, never to be heard from in the story again. The trio drive across the western American states, encountering the dangers one might expect on the road during an almost apocalypse, including a death of a character that is almost predictable from the start of the story, and finally Lucy gets to her chosen destination. The story is mostly about letting go - as she travels, Lucy sheds first one set of friends, and then another, and finally travels the last leg alone, all the while trying to come to terms with the fact that her mother is almost certainly dead. Other than the destruction of the Moon, the plot elements somewhat routine - a gas station almost out of gas, a roadside encounter with some thugs, and so on - but the characters are well-drawn and the writing is good giving everything that happens enough emotional impact to keep the reader engaged. While this isn't a great story, it is definitely not a bad one.

I don't know how I would have voted for Goodnight Stars had it remained on the Hugo ballot. It is a serviceable enough story, and is certainly better than any of the stories that are currently on it, but given that this is the weakest collection of Best Short Story nominees in Hugo Award history, I'm not sure if being a serviceable story that is better than this year's Hugo competition would have been grounds for placing this story above "No Award".

1. No Award: The overall quality of the stories nominated for the Hugo Award in the Best Short Story category is so low that I simply cannot see any of them being a worthy Hugo winner. I am a member of the Washington Science Fiction Association, and while reading the stories in this category, I read the nominees for the SWFA Small Press Award at the same time. Reading the two sets of nominees in parallel really highlighted in stark relief the wide gulf in quality between the Puppy-nominated works on the Hugo ballot and the nine works nominated for the SFWA Small Press Award. In blunt terms: Even the best of the Hugo nominated works wasn't anywhere near as good as the worst story on the SFWA ballot. In short, none of the works in this category are even close to being good enough to be considered one of the best five stories of the year, let alone the best one.

2. Totaled by Kary English: Totaled is the best of this year's Hugo short story nominees, and that is damming it with faint praise. The story isn't terrible, but there isn't really anything that makes it stand out either. The central character is a neuroscientist named Maggie, and she starts the story already dead, or as the narrative tells us "totaled" by her insurance company after a car accident. Oddly, despite the fact that she died in the car accident, she knows who survived and who didn't even though there is really no way she could know, which is a detail that is indicative of the fact that the storytelling is kind of sloppy in some areas. In addition, the aside explaining how the process of declaring a person to be "totaled" cane into existence is almost entirely extraneous to the story. All the reader really needs to know is that Maggie died, the time spent explaining the political genesis of insurance companies deciding people's medical care was too expensive for them to continue to live is pretty much just wasted verbiage in a story that is too short to afford it.

Maggie's remains - specifically her brain - are transferred to Allied Neuro Associates, her former employer, and she discovers that she is now living as a brain in a jar and is part of the same project she had worked on when alive. After she manages to communicate with her former research partner Raymond by alternatively thinking of happy and disgusting thoughts, they work together to hook up her auditory and visual nerves so she can see and hear (although oddly, Raymond doesn't seem to even consider trying to provide her with a method of communicating better than the clumsy "yes" and "no" signals through the fMRI that he cobbled together). When this task is completed, Maggie's inevitable decay becomes pronounced enough that she asks to be shut down and the story ends. And that is what prevents this story from being anything more than merely average - after setting up the brain in a jar research, English simply doesn't do much of anything with it. There's not even any real hint as to what the objective of the research is supposed to be other than "can we hook up audio and visual receptors to a brain in a jar". Maggie suggests that Raymond had talked about a project involving Alzheimer's disease, but there's no indication how the research in the story might apply to that. Further, Maggie is kind of a colorless and uninteresting character, focused almost entirely on her work, with only a little bit of nods here and there to the fact that in life she was the mother of two boys. As a result, when her mental faculties begin to degenerate, there isn't really much reason for the reader to care. In the end, Totaled is a passable treatment of the subject, but isn't anything particularly memorable.

3. On A Spiritual Plain by Lou Antonelli: The central conceit of this story is an interesting one - humankind has established an outpost on the planet Ymilas on which the local magnetism captures a version of a dead person's psyche which continues to be able to interact with the living. For the native Ymilans, this is simply a mundane fact of their lives, but when Joe McDonald becomes the first human to die on the planet, the base chaplain is confronted with the question of what to do with the wayward spirit. The chaplain's friend, the native chief priest Dergec offers to help, leading the chaplain and Joe on a pilgrimage to the polar regions of the planet where the magnetic field is weak enough that spirits can dissipate. So the trio head off, accompanied by other Ymilans who are escorting the spirits of their own departed ancestors, Joe's spirit vanishes, and the story ends.

The real problem with the story is that it simply doesn't do anything interesting with its ideas. The revelation that a person's "soul" can live on after death is treated as a matter of almost complete indifference by the characters in the story. The journey itself is related to the reader in a fairly cursory manner, with the chaplain making the journey on a segway. At one point it is suggested that the portion of the departed that remains trapped on Ymilis isn't really the same as the "soul" in the sense that Joe's journey is destined to end in nothingness, while both he and the chaplain believe that Joe's "real" soul has ascended to Heaven. But the idea of apparently soulless ghosts wandering the planet is treated as a triviality. The story has some other weaknesses - the prose is flat and bland, and every character seems to have a hair trigger temper, even the chaplain who snaps and snarls at the base administrator over minor issues - but the truly disappointing thing about this story is that it had such a big idea at its heart, and then simply left it sitting in the middle of the floor like a dead fish.

4. A Single Samurai by Steven Diamond: I'll begin with the obvious - A Single Samurai is quite clearly Shadow of the Colossus fanfic with the serial numbers filed off and a healthy side-helping of anime influenced cartoon samurai fanboyism. The plot of the story involves an unnamed samurai climbing a giant kajiu - a Japanese movie monster the size of an entire mountain - until he locates the creature's weak spot and can kill it. Along the way, the titular samurai pontificates on what it means to be a samurai, revealing that other than the name "samurai" and the fact that he carries a katana, this character has essentially no relationship to anything resembling an actual samurai, but is instead more akin to a cartoon. None of this necessarily means that the story is bad - after all, this is a story with mountain-sized monsters and demon-cats, so having the title samurai redefined to mean a demon-fighting warrior with magical swords that hold a portion of his soul isn't entirely out of bounds.

What prevents this story from being particularly good is that it is so blandly and poorly written. None of the characters mentioned in the story even have names, being referred to merely as "monks", "my father", "our lord", and so on. The country the kaiju is trampling isn't even given a name, and the thousands of people it has supposedly killed are simply a nameless, faceless mob. Even at the climax of the story, the region threatened with imminent destruction is merely referred to as "major landholdings". Every element of the story is so vague and colorless that there is no real reason for the reader to care about any of it. Not only that, the plot is almost entirely lacking in action: The samurai climbs the kaiju. He fights some catlike demonic creatures. He climbs the kaiju some more. There are a few flashbacks to tell the reader how swords are forged and how samurai commit ritual suicide. The samurai kills the kaiju and then dies himself. One would think that the story of a single man facing off against an immense monster might be made interesting, but in Diamond's hands it is almost tedious. Finally, the story is told in first person, in the past tense. The only problem with this is that the narrator dies in the end, alone. So one has to wonder who, exactly, is he supposed to be recounting this story to? Is he talking to himself? If so, then several of the passages make no narrative sense. Is he talking from the afterlife? Given the use of the intensely personal first person viewpoint, why are all of the descriptions of people, places, and events so bland and vague? There is a rough outline of a decent story here, but it is so unpolished and underdeveloped that one has to wonder how it got approved for publication in this state.

5. Turncoat by Steve Rzasa: This story is basically badly written military science fiction with a thin veneer of weak philosophy glossed over it. The story is also deadly dull, with an ending completely telegraphed by the title, a message that beats the reader over the head with a club (or rather an array of a dozen molybdenum-coated ceramic-plated long-range deep space torpedoes with fission warheads), and a historical reference that makes almost no sense at all. The story, such as it is, focuses on Taren X 45 Delta, an AI at the heart of a cruiser for the Man-Machine Integration helping fight their war against the human Ascendancy. After Taren's commander, the human-downloaded AI Alpha 7 Alpha commands Taren to start killing prisoners and takes away his integrated human crew, Taren does some research and discovers the Bible, or at least one passage from Isaiah, and decides to switch sides. While the various weapon systems carried by the various ships in the story are described in loving detail, and the space battles are reported at great and tedious length with excruciating  precision and nonsensical details, subtle things like the character development and motivations for both the protagonist and the ridiculous mustache-twirling antagonist are dealt with in an almost perfunctory manner. Despite spending great lengths telling the reader exactly how many torpedoes and lasers the ships have, Rzasa reports on how Taren came to its philosophical revelation in little more than two brief paragraphs - and that includes the passage quoted from Isaiah.

The short shrift given to characterization extends well-beyond the lack of attention given to why an inhuman AI would turn against its fellow machines. In one passage Taren remarks on the complete lack of a reason for it to have a human crew, pointing out how wasteful it is to do so and yet later, when it is informed that its human crew is to be removed, Taren protests and says it needs them on board. Taren is a wholly machine AI, so it seems natural to expect it to need to research what it means when the formerly human AI Alpha 7 Alpha uses sarcasm, but this seems mildly contradicted by the  fact that Taren had shortly before talked about how it would have raised its eyebrows if it had them, and becomes even more muddled when Taren sends a "one finger salute" to Alpha 7 Alpha later. One would expect that the the AI would either understand the nuances of human interaction, or it would be unfamiliar with them, but in the story the characterization of Taren on this point lurches back and forth with no particular rhyme or reason. In the end, after Taren predictably changes sides, he instructs his new human allies to call him "Benedict", a clear reference to the American Revolutionary War era traitor Benedict Arnold. But not only is the comparison incredibly provincial and likely to be too obscure for any non-American readers, it is completely nonsensical. We are supposed to believe that Taren switches sides for idealistic reasons, finding humans to have value when his commanders did not, presumably finding something important about human "soul" (although the story only gives glancing attention to this point). Arnold, on other hand, became a traitor because the British offered him a bribe sufficient to induce him to do so. One would think, for example, that given the nature of the posited reasons for Taren's switch, choosing the name Saul or Paul would have been a more apropos moniker, but instead, as in most of the story, Rsaza took the clumsiest and most tin-eared option available. Overall, this story is simply a mess, too focused on regaling the reader with descriptions of hardware and not nearly enough attention paid to the reasons the hardware is being used. With stilted writing, stiff and one-dimensional characters, and a paper-thin plot that is spoiled by the title, Turncoat is simply a bad story.

6. The Parliament of Beasts and Birds by John C. Wright: This story isn't actually science fiction, or fantasy, or even really a story. It is, instead, a religious parable dressed up in the very slightest amount of Jungle Book and Narnia clothing - essentially a blunt force message delivered in a package that only vaguely resembles a story. The story takes place after Man has disappeared, and all of the animals of the world (or at least the ones that can be crammed into a quasi-Biblical parable) gather together first to try to cajole one of their number into venturing into the abandoned city to determine if man is actually gone, and then after receiving a report from Cat, start debating who should claim rulership of the world now that man is gone. Eventually, they all realize they have been talking in human language (something they previously had been unable to do), a pair of angels show up, and a handful of animals choose to change into men to start the cycle again. The entirely tale is told in droning, adjective-heavy prose that makes even talking animals seem tedious and stuffy. The various animal "characters" aren't really characters so much as archetypes serving as mouthpieces for the author to shuffle around while beating the reader about the head and shoulders with the incredibly heavy-handed but incredibly silly theological message. Almost nothing any of the characters do for most of the story matters much - the extended debates serve merely to fill up space before the two angelic beings come down and explain everything to the animals and the choice is made. To be perfectly blunt, the extent of the "story" contained in this work could have been told in about a half page worth of text, and been a much more enjoyable read as a result.Because the animal characters aren't really characters, they are given no character development or even much characterization, and the story give the reader no real reason to care what happens to them. The end result is a dull pile of exposition that sluggishly drifts along for a bit until it comes to its uninteresting conclusion.

2015 Hugo Award Nominees     Book Award Reviews     Home

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

2015 Hugo Voting - Best Graphic Story

I am a supporting member of Sasquan, which is the location of this year's World Science Fiction Convention. Because of this, I am eligible to vote in this year's Hugo Awards. The Best Graphic Story was one of the hardest to vote on, with four really excellent nominees accompanied by one very obviously terrible nominee that clearly deserved to be ranked behind "No Award". My ballot in this category was as follows:

1. Sex Criminals, Volume One: One Weird Trick (read full review) by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky: Choosing this as the top spot on my ballot was the most difficult decision, because it is only a hair's breadth better than Ms. Marvel, and only beats out Saga and Rat Queens by a very marginal amount more than that. The distance in quality between Sex Criminals and Rat Queens is so small that it is almost imperceptible. However, the nature of the Hugo Awards is that only one nominee can be ranked first on the ballot. One would normally expect a story about a couple who can stop time when they orgasm and decide to rob banks to be crude, or even vulgar. Instead, the story is a poignant tale about how adolescents deal with the travails of growing up and the anxieties of their sexual awakening. What sets Sex Criminals above the other nominees is how it uses the graphic novel medium in interesting ways to tell a story that manages to be simultaneously touching and very quirky at the same time.

2. Ms. Marvel Volume One: No Normal (read full review) by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, and Jake Wyatt: Putting this graphic novel in the second place on my ballot was gut-wrenching, because it is simply so very good. The only problem is that Sex Criminals is just very slightly better. The story contained in Ms. Marvel is a super-hero origin story, but with the twist that Khamala Khan is both a Muslim-American, and a perfectly ordinary high school girl, a combination that sets this graphic novel above the norm. The beautiful writing and excellent artwork combine to tell this story quite effectively. The only problem is that in the end, this is just a unique super-hero origin story told in the standard method used by graphic novels to tell stories, and even though it is a brilliantly conceived and well-executed origin story, that just doesn't put it in first place.

3. Saga, Volume Three (read full review) by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: As a whole, Saga is one of the most brilliant series of graphic novels ever created. Unfortunately, the whole series isn't nominated for a Hugo, and Saga, Volume Three is the weakest installment to come out thus far. This isn't as serious a criticism as one might think, given the extremely high quality of the other three volumes that have been published, but it is enough to knock this nominee down to third place in the rankings. Essentially, Sex Criminals and Ms. Marvel both brought their A game to the Hugo Awards this year, and Saga brought an entry that was only an A- in quality.

4. Rat Queens, Volume One: Sass and Sorcery (read full review) by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch: Like Saga, Rat Queens only falls this low on the ballot because the other entries are just that good, not because this is anything less than an excellent graphic novel. As a long-time role-playing gamer, this story about a quartet of irreverent and bawdy female adventurers who live in a world in which most of the classic gaming tropes are simple facts of life for the inhabitants really spoke to me. On the other hand, the book's strength was also its weakness: A reader is unlikely to get a lot of the humor in the book unless they also have at least some role-playing game experience. Even so, this is an excellent graphic novel with well-defined characters set in a fun and interesting story that is only ranked fourth due to the extraordinary quality of the nominees ranked above it.

5. No Award: For reasons that will become apparent below, if none of the four stories listed above wins the Best Graphic Story award, then I don't think remaining nominee should. In fact, I think the remaining nominee should have never been nominated due to its extremely low quality. Although I am listing the remaining nominee here, I left it off my ballot entirely.

6. Zombie Nation, Book 2: Reduce, Reuse, Reanimate by Carter Reid: While the first four nominees on the ballot are bunched quite close together in quality, the gulf between Rat Queens and Zombie Nation is so great that the Pacific Ocean seems small in comparison. While all of the other nominees are professional productions with excellent artwork, well-written stories, and interesting ideas, Zombie Nation is a slapdash, almost amateurish effort with mediocre art that looks like it was written by a particularly immature junior high-school student. Some of the "features" include pictures of celebrities as zombies, proposed new zombie video game bosses, and tired and stale humor that mostly amounts to "zombie women have boobs!", "your zombie mother-in-law is evil!", and "your zombie ex-wife is evil!". Even if one were to ignore the fact that Zombie Nation is competing against some of the best speculative fiction oriented graphic novels produced in 2015 and instead "merely" compare it to other web comics such as d20 Monkey, Ctl-Alt-Del, Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether, Order of the Stick, Necropolis, and Weregeek, just how weak Reid's work is becomes readily apparent. With bad writing, bad art, and dull, boring "humor" that a twelve year old would find embarrassingly juvenile, Zombie Nation is simply not good enough to be on the Hugo ballot, and those who promoted it for the honor should be ashamed of themselves.

2015 Hugo Award Nominees     Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, July 13, 2015

Musical Monday - (For His Head Is Hollow and I Have Touched) Spock's Brain by Five Year Mission


So, Five Year Mission has a new album out, consisting entirely of songs written in tribute to the generally terrible but incredibly fun and campy Spock's Brain episode. Well, that was the jumping off point, as many of the songs aren't actually about the episode itself, but rather are about Spock, or things related to Spock, or things that might vaguely be considered Spock-like. Even so, they are all great Star Trek-based songs from the best Star Trek oriented band in existence.

This is the first "official" video from the Spock's Brain album - the video of the recording of Spock's Dog from Starbase Indy last November doesn't really count - and it is brilliant. Not only is the song itself really good, the video itself is a tribute to the sometimes silly and always over-the-top mad scientist driven science fiction movies of the 1950s, with disembodied brains on tiny wires attacking innocent bystanders before the members of Five Year Mission perform surgery to acquire the musical instruments necessary to make a stand against the hostile brains with everything accompanied by delightfully bad special effects. In short, it is beautiful and captures the low-budget spirit of the movies it is emulating in the best possible way. There's a reason the redhead and I are going to see them perform again when we go to Gen Con later this month.

By the way, if you want a copy of the Spock's Brain album, you can get one here.

Previous Musical Monday: Daylight Again by Crosby, Stills, and Nash

Five Year Mission     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Book Blogger Hop July 10th - July 16th: There Are 112 Pounds in an English Long Hundredweight

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: If you are in a book club, where do you meet? A restaurant, someone's home, the library? If you aren't in a book club, why not?

I am kind of a member of a book club. Except it isn't really a book club. By this I mean I am a member of the Washington Science Fiction Association (also known as WSFA), which isn't actually a book club, but for relatively obvious reasons is very interested in science fiction and fantasy books. The redhead is also a member.

WSFA meets twice a month at the homes of members who volunteer to host them, but because one of those meetings is always held at the home of a person who owns several pets which trigger negative sinus reactions from the redhead, we only attend the other meeting every month. Every meeting, the Committee to Actually Talk About Science Fiction holds a discussion about a chosen topic - usually something like an issue of Asimov's Science Fiction, and Fantasy & Science Fiction, but sometimes some other topic is chosen. Later this month, for example, the discussion will focus on the nominees for the WSFA Small Press Award, which members will be voting on by the end of July.


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Friday, July 10, 2015

Follow Friday - It Takes 218 Votes to Achieve a Majority in the U.S. House of Representatives


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Let Me Be Fictional and Lucky Devil Reviews.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: You can only eat one cuisine type for the rest of your life. Which would you choose? (e.g. Italian, French, Greek, Mexican, Chinese, Indian, etc. . .)

This is tough, because my first instinct is to choose Italian, but no matter which variety of Italian cuisine you choose - Sicilian, Neopolitan, Lombard, Venetian, and so on - they are all heavy on pasta, rice, or polenta, and due to being diabetic eating a diet heavy on those elements would probably kill me pretty quickly. The issue is that pretty much almost any national cuisine is loaded with rice, or bread, or potatoes, or some other heavy carbohydrate element which makes every one of them problematic. I suppose one could fashion some collection of Mexican style dishes while entirely eschewing tortillas and rice, but what would be the point? Or one could come up with some set of Chinese offerings entirely lacking in noodles and rice, but that wouldn't be very satisfying.

So what is a diabetic to do? The short answer is I don't know. The long answer is that I really don't know. Our diets are so predicated on eating large amounts of carbohydrates that there probably isn't a traditional style of cooking that one could pick and have it work for me without substantial alterations, and once you make substantial alterations, then you aren't really having that cuisine any more. I suppose the best option for me would be to pick Mediterranean style cuisine with the understanding that I'm talking about that style of food found ranging from Spain to Italy to Greece to Turkey characterized by lots of fish, olive oil, and lemons with the occasional chicken or lamb thrown in for good measure. And maybe I'd have some pasta or pita bread every now and then.


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Thursday, July 9, 2015

2015 World Fantasy Award Nominees

Location: World Fantasy Convention, Saratoga Springs, New York

Comments: I know it is something of a broken record, but given that the story of 2015 in the genre award world is the Sad Puppy slate gaming the Hugo nominations, it is somewhat inevitable that the list of 2015 World Fantasy Award nominees will be compared to this year's Hugo ballot. And, as with other awards this year, the high quality of the nominees on this ballot makes the set of Hugo nominated works look positively terrible in comparison. And, as has become expected for non-Hugo nomination lists, the cross-over between this list and the Hugo nominees is minimal - the only shared nominee between the two ballots is The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. Not only did none of the Puppy promoted works make the World Fantasy Award ballot, no works of any kind by any of the Puppy promoted authors did.

It is becoming painfully obvious that one of the authors who has been most affected by the slate-based tactics of the Puppies is Jeff VanderMeer, whose Southern Reach series has been honored with a Nebula Award win, and nominations for the Locus, Campbell, and now World Fantasy Awards. In a normal year one would generally expect a work this highly regarded to have garnered a Hugo nomination as well, but instead the Hugo ballot is cluttered with mediocre and disposable junk like The Dark Between the Stars and Skin Game. As so many of the other awards have made apparent, the dearth of quality on the Hugo ballot this year is not for lack of good works to honor - there are plenty of those - but is because the Sad Puppies were more interested in packing the ballot with Brad Torgersen and Theodore Beale's friends via corrupt cronyism.

Addendum: On July 11, 2015, some corrections were made to the World Fantasy Award ballot when it was noticed that The Devil in America by Kai Ashanti Wilson was actually novella length, and not short story length. Consequently, Wilson's work was moved from the Best Short Fiction category to the Best Novella category, and Ursula Vernon's short story Jackalope Wives was added to the Best Short Story nominees. In addition, John Joseph Adams' editing credits were updated for accuracy.

Best Novel

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
My Real Children by Jo Walton

Best Novella

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
The Devil in America by Kai Ashante Wilson
Grand Jeté (The Great Leap) by Rachel Swirsky
Hollywood North by Michael Libling
The Mothers of Voorhisville by Mary Rickert
We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory
Where the Trains Turn by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

Best Short Fiction

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Death’s Door Café by Kaaron Warren
Do You Like to Look at Monsters? by Scott Nicolay
The Fisher Queen by Alyssa Wong
I Can See Right Through You by Kelly Link
Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon

Best Anthology

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Fearful Symmetries edited by Ellen Datlow
Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older
Shadows & Tall Trees 2014 edited by Michael Kelly
Monstrous Affections edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant
Rogues edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Best Collection

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings by Angela Slatter
Death at the Blue Elephant by Janeen Webb
Gifts for the One Who Comes After by Helen Marshall
Mercy and Other Stories by Rebecca Lloyd
They Do the Same Things Different There by Robert Shearman

Lifetime Achievement

Winner:
Ramsey Campbell
Sheri S. Tepper

Other Nominees:
None

Best Artist

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Samuel Araya
Galen Dara
Jeffrey Alan Love
Erik Mohr
John Picacio

Special Award, Professional

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
John Joseph Adams for editing anthologies, Fantasy, and Nightmare
Jeanne Cavelos for Odyssey writing workshops
Sandra Kasturi and Brett Alexander Savory for ChiZine Publications
Gordon Van Gelder for Fantasy & Science Fiction
Jerad Walters for Centipede Press

Special Award, Non-Professional

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Scott H. Andrews for Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Matt Cardin for Born to Fear: Interviews with Thomas Ligotti
Stefan Fergus for Civilian Reader
Ray B. Russell and Rosalie Parker for Tartarus Press
Patrick Swenson for Fairwood Press

Go to previous year's nominees: 2014
Go to subsequent year's nominees: 2016

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Review - The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson


Short review: It is twenty years after the end of the Elemental War, and several dozen characters find themselves engaged in mundane tasks when a new and shadowy enemy makes its appearance.

Haiku
Not much common plot
Wanders to galactic war
Against bland villains

Full review: With a cast of dozens of characters, multiple plot threads, and a sprawling setting that spans an entire spiral arm of the galaxy, there are a number of words that can be used to describe this novel: Fat, flabby, ponderous, tedious, bland, and dull. There are some words that do not apply: Exciting, interesting, engaging, or good. Although The Dark Between the Stars is purportedly the beginning of The Saga of Shadows, it is actually the eighth book in a series, with the previous seven books making up the interminably overlong Saga of Seven Suns, meaning that a reader coming into this "new" series has to catch up on seven books worth of material to make heads or tails of what is going on in this book.

There are so many problems with this bloated and boring novel it is hard to know where to begin, but the most glaring issue is that The Dark Between the Stars clocks in at just under seven-hundred and forty pages in the mass market paperback edition, and that's about four hundred pages too many. This novel needed some rather extensive editing to winnow out the massive volumes of filler that reduces what should be a rip-roaring, fast-paced adventure to a plodding and mind-numbing grind. Entire chapters, entire characters, and entire plot-lines could have been excised from this volume and not only would doing so not have negatively affected the story in any meaningful way, the amputations would have dramatically improved the book.

The story is told via rotating viewpoints, with each chapter being told from the perspective of one or another of a couple dozen viewpoint characters. This results in a disjointed and chaotic book without any kind of central plot for the reader to hold on to and, paradoxically, no characters to care about. Each chapter tells a snippet of that character's story, and the perspective then shifts to a new character for the next chapter to tell another snippet of story. The end result of hopping from character to character is that the book has no narrative focus, and each of these substories meanders along in little disconnected vignettes, stopping for chapters at a time so that the book can wander off to drone on about the mostly meaningless doings of four, five, six, or more other characters before returning to pick up the thread it left hanging thirty or forty pages before. Plot threads are started, dropped for a hundred pages, and then picked up again. Or they are simply dropped and never returned to.

Rotating between characters can be a viable means of structuring a novel - George R.R. Martin and Harry Turtledove have done it successfully multiple times. But when those authors do it, they usually start with a plot and then branch out as the stories of individual characters develop. In The Dark Between the Stars, Anderson starts with a collection of unrelated chapters, and doesn't actually get around to providing something resembling an actual plot until about page two hundred. Even after the book has a vague facsimile of a plot, Anderson keeps wandering away from it for chapters on end to update the reader on some mostly irrelevant doings of a side character who is taking shore leave to go to his favorite restaurant, getting muddy in kelp fields, or cataloging asteroids. Time and again, the action of the book grinds to a halt just as it starts to pick up steam, dropping something promising in favor of more tedious triviality. The plot, such as it is, would probably be more interesting if the villain wasn't the wooden and dreary "Shana Rei", creatures made of entropy and shadow that have no goals other than to exterminate all life. It is somewhat fitting that the Shana Rei want to drain life out of the universe, because whenever they show up in the story, they drain what little life there is out of the story. Anderson even manages to make space battles against the Shana Rei dry and dull, which almost makes forgivable the fact that he breaks away in the middle of the action so that the reader can be regaled with the administrative doings of a medical research facility.

Having a story driven almost entirely by individual character sketches might possibly make for a decent book, provided that the characters were interesting and well-developed. Unfortunately, the characters Anderson creates are flat and boring caricatures that have no depth at all. Calling the characters in The Dark Between the Stars "cardboard cut outs" would imply they were two-dimensional, which is one dimension too many. Every character in the book is essentially the same except for one defining note that marks them as unique, and in some cases the "unique" element is just the job they have. Every character sounds the same, and most act the same as every other character in the book. Even the evil bug robot allied with the Shana Rei sounds exactly like all of the other characters in the book. As a result, it is nearly impossible to care about any of the characters, and nearly impossible to care about what happens to any of them. The characters are all so bland and the writing so colorless, that even when one drops entirely out of the narrative, it is all too easy to simply not notice their absence. With no real plot of consequence, and a collection of bland characters, nothing of real consequence in the story is ever really resolved, instead the story merely stops in media res, waiting for the next book in the series to be disgorged.

One element that makes so many of the characters feel the same is that they are all "special" in some way or another. If a character isn't a king or an emperor, they are the son or daughter of a king or emperor, or they are a former elected leader, or the child or grandchild of a former elected leader, or they are notably important in some other way. Even when a character at first seems to be just a pilot for a freight ship, a promising student, or a mechanic, they almost inevitably turn out to be politically connected via their family. The handful of people who are not politically connected are almost all villains: The self-made evil industrialist, the self-made evil workaholic and loyal sidekick to the evil industrialist, the self-made evil medical researcher, and her mysterious evil henchman. The real problem with this interlinked web of family and political connections is that it doesn't actually give the characters in it any kind of personality of their own. Shareen Fitzkellum isn't made any more of an interesting character because she's the granddaughter of Del Kellum, especially since Del's only personality trait is that he used to be the Speaker for the Roamer clans. The end result is a huge roster of people who are all more or less interchangeable, knitted together in a web of relationships that the reader simply has no reason to care about enough to keep straight.

This lack of characterization simply sucks the life out of any of the events that take place in the book. Early in the novel a lava mining operation on the moon Sheol suffers a catastrophe that we are told kills more than fifteen hundred people. Given that the catastrophe was predicted by one of the characters and the warnings were ignored by the evil industrialist, this seems like it is supposed to be a pivotal, character-defining moment. But even though he establishes dozens of characters in the novel, Anderson never bothered to do so for any of the lava mine workers, leaving entirely empty the emotional core that should have been at the heart of this sequence. Instead of providing the reader with a character to identify with who could experience the horror and terror of being buried alive in a container overwhelmed by lava and bringing home the weight of the disaster, we just get a number that is thrown around so much it becomes almost meaningless. The dead workers are an afterthought at best, and since it is clear that Anderson doesn't care about them at all, the reader doesn't either.

The world-building doesn't do the book any real favors either. Anderson has created a sprawling fictional world for his characters to live in, but it is clear that he had no real idea of how to put it together other than to throw everything and the kitchen sink into the mix. In an odd twist, the setting feels much more like a standard fantasy setting than a science fiction one, with fire elementals, water elementals, magical possession, magical intelligent trees that altered priests can talk to, magical healing "blood", space elves, and so on and so forth. One of the characters has a title that literally translates as "wizard-emperor". But Anderson also hits a pile of space opera tropes as well - space gypsies, free roaming space traders, royal guards armed with crystal weapons, space kings and princes, and more. The problem with this sort of blender style method of worldbuilding is that after piling trope upon cliche, the sum total that results is a rather generic and flavorless morass. None of this is helped when Anderson reveals, when describing the supposed effects of having Earth's moon turned to rubble, that he doesn't understand how gravity works, or what drives the tides on Earth.

All of this might be salvageable if the writing was good. Unfortunately, it is not. I have seen reports that Anderson claims to have written 240,000 words of the novel in roughly two months, and it shows. Large chunks of the novel read like they were written by someone in a middle-school composition class with lines such as "[w]ith seven suns nearby, Ildira's perpetual day kept all shadows at bay". Despite the fact that the novel is ponderously long, many sections amount to hurried accounts of what went on, telling the reader what is happening rather than actually having the action unfold. After the Sheol lava mine disaster, the reader is told that several workers who were trapped managed to record messages before they died. We are told that some left messages for their families, some cursed the evil industrialist who had skimped on safety measures, and some seemed resigned to their fate. But that's the sum total of what the reader is told about these messages. Instead of giving some weight to the story by giving actual first-person messages full of anguish, anger, and fear to read, Anderson simply tells us the kinds of things that the workers recorded with no emotional content at all. This sort of flat and bland reporting of events happens over and over in the book, yielding a story that feels oddly rushed despite the book's substantial length, and at the same time making everything homogeneous and uninteresting.

Amidst the lifeless prose, Anderson does display a few odd linguistic quirks. One of the odder ones relates to a character named Rlinda whose personality traits are that she is fat, loves food, and has been married multiple times. There are several references made to Bebob, her "favorite ex-husband", which seems perfectly ordinary at first, until it is revealed that the reason Rlinda is no longer married to Bebob is that he died. Referring to a deceased husband as an "ex-husband" is possibly technically correct, but it is certainly a strange way to phrase the relationship between the two. There are other idiosyncratic stylings in the text: At one point a set of warnings that had turned out to be accurate are described as "Chicken Little" warnings, weapons are referred to as being spears in one passage and katanas in the next, and so on. These are the sort of minor oddities that one might expect from an author for whom English was not their first language, but seem like careless or even thoughtless incongruities in a book by a native author - caused perhaps by the fact that the book was drafted at the breakneck pace of approximately four thousand words a day. Writing at such a furious pace, it seems, imposes its own costs.

At one point in the novel a character with the simultaneously trite and ridiculous name Tom Rom eats what is described as a flavorless nutrient bar. This seems like an apt metaphor for The Dark Between the Stars, except that rather than being nutritious, the novel is junk food. It is just bland and flavorless junk food. Over the course of one hundred and thirty-nine chapters, a collection of one-dimensional characters in a generic space opera setting meander through an almost nonexistent plot, eventually arriving at an inconclusive and uninspiring ending. Granted, this book is the first in a trilogy, so one would expect some plot threads to be left hanging to be resolved in future volumes, but instead virtually everything is left hanging and the book simply stops rather than coming to any sort of conclusion. In short, this is a novel in which a cavalcade of fairly uninteresting characters drift through a thin plot until the book winds down to an unsatisfying conclusion.

Subsequent book in the series: Blood of the Cosmos

2015 Hugo Award Nominees

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