Saturday, April 30, 2016

Book Blogger Hop April 29th - May 5th: In the Movie "You've Got Mail", Tom Hanks' Character's E-Mail Address Was NY152

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 read and review books mainly for publishers or authors?

I mostly read and review books for myself. I do have a shelf full of review copies, but that is pretty much dwarfed by the rest of my book collection. Even though my to-be-read pile is somewhat smaller than my overall book collection, it still dwarfs my assortment of review copies. My original goal for reviews on this blog was to explore the history of genre fiction through the major works of the field, primarily those that had been nominated for or won various awards. Having authors and publishers notice my work and send me review copies has been a happy accident, but it is still not the main impetus behind why I read and review books.

Of the review copies that I have, a fair number I obtained through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program, while others have come to me directly from publishers or authors. I am usually fairly selective in what I choose to accept in this manner, as I feel obligated to follow through and actually read and review works that come to me in this manner. If I were to say yes to every solicitation that shows up in my e-mail inbox, I would never be able to actually fulfill that obligation even if I gave up sleep and did nothing with my time but read and review the books handed to me by publishers and authors. As good a problem as that would seem to be, I do like to sleep, have a number of other responsibilities, and have other books I'd like to read as well, so handing all my time over to reading review copies of books would be a suboptimal choice as far as I am concerned.

As far as whether those relative handful of review copies I do agree to read and review come from publishers or authors, a quick count of the most recent group of books I accepted shows that six came from publishers and five came directly from authors. Based on that, it seems that I receive about half of my review copies from publishers, and the other half directly from authors. I can't say that's accurate over all time - going through my records and figuring out where every review copy I have gotten in the last five years would take considerable time, but it is probably a reasonably close estimate.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, April 29, 2016

Follow Friday - "253" Is a Very Quirky Novel by Geoff Ryman


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 a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger 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 - Caffeine and Books.
  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: Three favorite heroines, books they're in, and why you love them.

These may not be my absolute favorite heroines of all time, as I would be hard-pressed to come up with a list that was as short as three choices, but these are three heroines who I liked quite a bit when I read the books they appear in.

Breq, who is found in Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy: Given the language of the Radch Empire in which Breq lives, it is uncertain if she is, in fact, a heroine, because the Radchai don't use gender-specific pronouns. In the books, this is represented by having everyone use female pronouns for everyone else - meaning that some male characters in the books have their gender occluded by the language. However, I am reasonably confident that Breq is female through much of the story. For other parts of the story, she is the starship Justice of Toren, and the reasons for the change from one status to the other are an important part of the plot of the books.

Breq is a fascinating character because she isn't technically Radchai, but she is intimately familiar with its culture, customs, and laws, making her an almost invisible observer. She can see the flaws in Radchai society when those around her do not, and as a result, she is able to get to the heart of problems that others around her would not even begin to be able to unravel. Breq is also both not human, and placed in a position of substantial authority with limited power to back it up. She spends much of the books having to navigate a dangrous political landscape that is fraught with peril at every turn. The way that Breq handles the issues, coupled with her strong sense of justice and fairness, makes her a compelling character.

Karen Memery, who is found in Karen Memory: Karen Memery is the protagonist of the book Karen Memory, set in a fictional town in the Pacific northwest during the last half of a fictional steampunk-influenced nineteenth century. She is also a "seamstress", which is a euphemism used on the frontier for a prostitute, with "sewing" used as a euphemism for their work. Karen is, however, actually a seamstress (in addition to her primary income generating profession), and makes clothing for herself and others. She is a big girl, described as tall, with big shoulders, and grew up learning how to raise horses from her father. Despite such clear indicators of being a tomboyish character, she remains very feminine, and despite being relatively poorly educated, she is smart and loves books. Like most truly well-written characters, she is a multifacted collection of seeming contradictions, just as most actual people are. Karen is loyal, brave, often clever, and ultimately finds herself drawn into an investigation that uncovers a plot against the fabric of the United States itself. Plus, she fights using a steam-powered sewing machine.

Tenar, who is found in The Tombs of Atuan and Tehanu: For most of the first half of the The Tombs of Atuan, Tenar is positioned to be the villain of the story. Taken from her parents as an infant and raised as the current incarnation of the high priestess of the Nameless Ones, Tenar is a central figure around whom life revolves on the island of Atuan in an isolated complex of temples dedicated to the powers worshiped by the denizens of the Kargad Lands. Though the Nameless Ones were once the prime objects of veneration among the Kargish people, the Godkings have encroached upon their faith and taken prime position in the hearts of the populace. The Nameless Ones are powerful, but they are inhuman and malign, disembodied spirits confined to a dark underground labyrinth.

Tenar grows up in this environment, priestess of a malevolent force, despised by those in power at the Godking's temple, spending hours alone in the dark memorizing the subterranean passageways. So when Sparrowhawk arrives to try to steal from the ancient vaults of her masters, she has led almost her entire life being prepared to become his adversary. And for a time, she is. What makes Tenar, also known by her true name of Arha, such an interesting character is that she changed and grows, transforming from the nameless priestess of dark powers into someone who has her own hopes and dreams away from the dark places of the world, evolving from the villain in the story to the heroine. In her story, she goes from being Tenar, a literal tool of terrible forces who seek to use her for their own purposes, to Arha, a person in her own right fully in control of her own destiny. That is a heroine worth reading.


Follow Friday     Home

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

2016 Clarke Award Nominees

Location: Sci-Fi London at Foyles Bookshop in London, United Kingdom.

Comments: For the second year in a row the Hugo Awards were dominated by an organized slate campaign determined to wedge sub-par work onto its shortlist of finalists. For the second year in a row, the Clarke Awards presented a contrasting shortlist of highly regarded and high quality works. Almost as if to cast the contrast in the sharpest possible light, the Clarke Award shortlist was announced the day after the Hugo Award finalists were revealed. To be fair to the Hugos, the Best Novel category, which is the one most comparable to the Clarke Award shortlist, is one of those least tainted by malicious Puppies. On the other hand, the Hugo ballot overall is littered with terrible works and incredibly weak selections, making the disparity between the overall quality of the Hugo Award selections and the overall quality of the Clarke Award selections quite apparent.

With a little bit of luck, changes will be voted in during this year's Worldcon that will make it more difficult for malicious slates to dominate the Hugo ballot, but what if they are not. Or, what if the changes are voted in but they are insufficient to prevent slate-voting from continuing to degrade the Hugo ballot? What then? Last year I pointed out that should the slate-based campaigns continue to dominate the Hugo Awards, the locus of science fiction will move to the United Kingdom, putting the BSFA Awards and the Clarke Award in the position to become the premiere awards in genre fiction. That may be overstating things a bit - the Nebula Awards aren't going away any time soon, and neither are the World Fantasy Awards, but what is certain to happen is that other awards will wind up filling the gap left by the diminution of the Hugo Awards. Contrary to what those in some quarters believe, the prestige of an award is not determined by how many people vote upon it, or whether it is ideologically diverse, or anything other than whether people view it as prestigious. If an award is seen as prestigious, it is. It really is as simple as that. If the Hugo Awards stop being seen as prestigious, there are numerous other awards that people will move their attention to, including the Clarke Award.

Some things will certainly be lost in such a transition: The Clarke Award, for instance, only recognizes novels. There are no other awards that honor fan work in exactly the same manner as the Hugos. There are few awards that recognize non-fiction work in the same way, although the BSFA Awards come close. And so on. But so long as awards like the Clarke Award continue to recognize quality works of genre fiction, no amount of manipulation of the Hugos will avail the Pups in their fruitless quest to make everyone like them.

Winner
TBD

Shortlist
Arcadia by Iain Pears
The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okrafor
Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Way Down Dark by J.P. Smyth

What Are the Arthur C. Clarke Awards?

Go to previous year's nominees: 2015
Go to subsequent year's nominees: 2017

Book Award Reviews     Home

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

2016 Hugo Award Finalists

Location: MidAmeriCon II in Kansas City, Missouri.

Comments: At the outset, one must make clear that the list of 2016 Hugo Finalists is a giant pile of crap. Although a few gems can be found among the steaming rancid pile - Ancillary Mercy, The Fifth Season, Uprooted, Binti, and a handful of others - most of the finalists on this year's ballot have no business being on any awards list of any kind. Some of them really didn't deserve to be published to begin with, and probably wouldn't have been if it were not for a certain racist, sexist, homophobic dipshit with an ax to grind and a pile of money handed to him by his mother.

Given that there is little that can be done about the overall low-quality of the Hugo ballot this year, the question to be asked is this: What can one learn about the state of the slates from this set of results. What is most interesting about the 2016 Hugo finalists is that they offer fairly strong evidence that the Sad Puppy campaign that Larry Correia started four years ago in a desperate attempt to "Get Larry a Hugo" has been reduced to an almost trivial irrelevancy. Despite their claims to be "embiggening" the Sad Puppy campaign for its fourth iteration, the reality is that it has shrunk away to almost nothing of consequence. As a means of pushing works onto the Hugo ballot, the Sad Puppy campaign was a mostly dismal failure. For the most part, the only works that the from the Sad Puppy list that made it onto the Hugo ballot fell into two categories:
  1. Things that had already been nominated for a Nebula Award (a list that includes Ancillary Mercy, Uprooted, Binti, Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Mad Max: Fury Road, and, arguably, Alyssa Wong).
  2. Things that also appeared on the Rabid Puppy slate.
The two definite exceptions are the nominations for John Joseph Adams and Mike Glyer, who were both on the Sad Puppy list but not on the Rabid Puppy slate and not nominated for a Nebula Award, which is unsurprising as the Nebula Awards do not have either a Best Editor or Best Fan Writer category. Given that both men have been previously nominated for multiple Hugos, thinking they needed a Puppy assist to get onto the ballot seems to be quite stretch. The other possible exception is Alyssa Wong, who was also on the Sad Puppy list but not on the Rabid Puppy slate: She had a short story nominated for a Nebula Award in 2016, and although that doesn't exactly match being a finalist for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, it seems close enough to say that it counts.

On the other hand, several works and individuals that were quite prominent on the Sad Puppy list were unable to get onto the list of finalists. The Puppies promoted a novelette by Clifford Simak that didn't find its way onto the ballot. Novels by Michael Z. Williamson and John Ringo appeared on the Sad Puppy list but failed to reach the list of finalists. The short story Tuesdays with Molokesh the Destroyer, originally put on the 2015 Sad Puppy slate despite being ineligible in that year, also failed to make it to the finalists list despite actually being eligible this year. Episodes of Daredevil and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. promoted by the Sad Puppies failed to make the ballot. And so on. As Anne Bellet said last year, Theodore Beale is in the driver's seat, and the Sad Pups are just along for the ride. At this point, it should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention that the Sad Puppies have essentially been doing nothing but carrying Theodore Beale's water for him for two years now. As an independent force, they are effectively irrelevant now. They have, in the list of finalists that appears below, been reduced to asterisks, which note which finalists appeared on the Sad Puppy slate.

In previous years, the Sad Puppies built a narrative about how they wanted to make the Hugo Awards reflect more "mainstream" tastes. A narrative about how they wanted to promote popular authors for recognition. A narrative about how they wanted to return to the "good old days" of nuts and bolts science fiction and pulp adventure sensibilities. A narrative about how they wanted to "reclaim" science fiction from the icky liberals who had tainted it and promote the conservative-oriented fiction that they "knew" was what the majority of fans really liked. The fact that this myriad of narratives was shown to be pure bullshit numerous times over was not an impediment to the Sad Puppies attempting to advance them time and again. But now, with their movement co-opted by Theodore Beale and his Rapid Puppies, even those flimsy excuses for unethically gaming the Hugo Award nomination process have simply evaporated. It is now clear that there is nothing left to the "Puppies" except trolling.

Beale, the architect behind the Rabid Puppies, claims that the Puppies are a "popular reaction to mediocrities and absurdities being presented as the very best that the field has to offer", but many of the nominees he placed on his 2016 slate reveal that this bold claim is simply a lie. Beale and the Rabid Puppies have negligible substance other than an organized trolling campaign, and have little to no actual regard for actual science fiction. Looking at several of the slate-based nominations for Space Raptor Butt Invasion to If You Were an Award, My Love, to the panoply of crap in the Best Related Work category that ranges from insipid to borderline slander, it is obvious that the dominant unifying themes are to troll the science fiction community and shamelessly try to promote the slipshod work of his vanity publishing company Castalia House, presumably trying to sell his products to the same people he is trolling and insulting.

Once one clears away the obvious trolling picks and the blatant self-promotions for Castalia House works, there are a couple of choices from the Rabid Puppy slate that were not terrible, but by and large they are incredibly conventional and almost uninteresting selections. In many cases they are works by authors who have had no trouble in the past getting onto the Hugo Ballot on their own such as Neal Stephenson, Alastair Reynolds, and Lois McMaster Bujold. With these choices Beale is simultaneously trying to get in front of a parade so he can claim to be leading it, and tainting their presence on the ballot. Being on the Rabid Puppy slate (and to a lesser extent, being on the Sad Puppy list) makes the nominations of these works suspect. Does Bujold's presence on the list of finalists represent a true choice of actual fans who read her work and voted based on merit, or is it the result of political bloc-voting and trolling? The fact that there is no way to know means that all of the finalists on this year's list will once again have a shadow cast over their selection. By promoting these works, the Puppies of both stripes have done the authors they claim to love no favors. In fact, they have diminished what should be a happy moment by raising doubt about the validity of the resulting nominations.

The truly sad thing about all of the effort that unscrupulous people like Beale have put into gaming the Hugo nomination process is that they will never get what they want. The finalists who are "honored" by being selected by a partisan political faction will always face those who, quite justly, question the legitimacy of their presence on the ballot. If the goal of the Sad Pups was to recognize the works they thought were good, the way they have gone about doing so has made suspect the presence on the ballot of the works they think are good. In many cases, their efforts have exposed that the authors they have placed on the simply aren't particularly talented, putting them before a wider audience when their work was simply unready for the exposure. Paradoxically, the efforts of the Puppies to promote the authors they claim to love has served to diminish those authors' reputations. Is it any wonder that several authors asked to be removed from the Sad Puppy list, or expressed dismay when they found out they were on the Rabid Puppy slate? They know, as the Pups do not, that being associated with such toxic groups is damaging to one's reputation, even if the association is involuntary.

Even those Pups who have chosen destruction as their goal, as Beale has when he says he wants to "burn the Hugos to the ground", are on a quixotic quest. Leaving aside the fact that such a goal is almost certainly impossible to achieve, should he succeed at doing so, it will be a Pyrrhic victory at best. There are numerous other awards, many of which are entirely immune to his influence. If the Hugos become just a mouthpiece for the Rabid Puppies (or the Sad Puppies), then fans will stop paying attention to them and look somewhere else as a means to recognize good genre fiction such as the British Science Fiction Awards, the Nebula Awards, and the Clarke Award. Sure, something will be lost with the passing of the Hugos, but fandom will move on and find a new indicator of quality, leaving the Pups sitting by themselves in a mostly empty room.

That the Pups will continue to dominate the nominating process is doubtful: As noted before, the Sad Pups have become a pathetic leech upon the Rabid Puppies, and when one looks at the Rabid Puppy slate, one can see that the Rabid Puppy strength less than one might suppose. The Rabid Puppies dominated most of the finalist slots in several categories where there are generally fewer participants voting, such as Fanzine, Fan Artist, and the short fiction categories, but in categories like Best Novel, even the Sad Puppy list and the Rabid Puppy slate pulling together couldn't get Somewhither onto the Hugo finalist list. The Pups have enough support to overwhelm smaller categories, but their lack of success in the larger ones indicates that they are right on the borderline in terms of effectiveness. Even a minor rule change in how votes are tallied could probably tip the balance of power against the Pups.

But even more to the point, the awards are not the truly important part for actual fans. Yes, awards are fun to participate in, and I am sure they are nice to receive, but the awards are the coda at the end of the relationship between an author and fans, not the highlight. There are several books, stories, television shows, and movies that I think are Hugo-worthy that did not receive slots on the list of finalists, but I still got to enjoy them. No amount of Hugo-nomination chicanery will take that away from me or any of the other voters who participated honestly and voted for the works we love. Even without a Hugo nod, we will still love those works. Fans will still be fans of things that they love, and will still not care about most of the things that the Pups push onto the Hugo ballot with block voting. Both of the Puppy campaigns were built on spite - Larry Correia has openly admitted that he started the Sad Puppy campaign out of spite. Throughout the existence of the Sad and Rabid Puppy campaigns, the barely suppressed rage of its adherents has been readily apparent, and in some cases (such as during Brad Torgersen's not infrequent frothing meltdowns over the last year or so), the rage has been quite openly expressed. Because their motivation for participating is based on anger and hate, the Pups will always fundamentally misunderstand actual fans, who love what they love not out of a desire to spite someone else, but out of actual love for the thing in question. In the end, the Pups will fail because they are founded on the false premise that they can use their anger to change what people love about genre fiction by force.

Addendum: Almost as soon as the list of finalists was announced, Thomas Mays wrote a blog post withdrawing his short story The Commuter from the Hugo ballot.

Note: The finalists marked with an asterisk (*) appeared on the curated Sad Puppy short list. The entire Sad Puppy recommendation list was quite long, in some categories totaling nearly a hundred works. To create their "final list" the architects of the Sad Puppies 4 campaign tallied the votes and listed the top ten works in each category. This "top ten" list is what I am counting as "being on the Sad Puppy list" for 2016. As a side note, many authors who appeared on the Sad Puppy 4 list did so without their consent. In some cases authors explicitly asked to be removed from the list, only to have their request rejected by the Sad Puppies.

Note: Here is Cora Buhlert's take on the 2016 Hugo Ballot. She's a lot more forgiving than I am.

Best Novel

Winner:
TBD

Actual Finalists:
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie*
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Uprooted by Naomi Novik*

Rabid Puppy Picks:
The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher*
Seveneves: A Novel by Neal Stephenson*

Best Novella

Winner:
TBD

Actual Finalists:
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor*

Rabid Puppy Picks:
The Builders by Daniel Polansky*
Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold*
Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson*
Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds*

Best Novelette

Winner:
TBD

Actual Finalists:
None

Picks the Sad and Rabid Puppies Gamed onto the Ballot:
Flashpoint: Titan by CHEAH Kai Wai
And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead by Brooke Bolander*
Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu*
Obits by Stephen King*
What Price Humanity? by David VanDyke

Best Short Story

Winner:
TBD

Actual Finalists:
None

Rabid Puppy Picks:
Asymmetrical Warfare by S.R. Algernon*
The Commuter by Thomas A. Mays [withdrawn]
If You Were an Award, My Love by Juan Tabo and S. Harris
Seven Kill Tiger by Charles Shao
Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle

Best Nonfiction, Related, or Reference Work

Winner:
TBD

Actual Finalists:
None

Rabid Puppy Picks:
Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986 by Marc Aramini
The First Draft of My Appendix N Book by Jeffro Johnson
Safe Space as Rape Room by Daniel Eness*
SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police by Theodore Beale
The Story of Moira Greyland by Moira Greyland

Best Graphic Story

Winner:
TBD

Actual Finalists:
None

Rabid Puppy Picks:
The Divine written by Boaz Lavie, art by Asaf Hanuka and Tomer Hanuka
Erin Dies Alone written by Grey Carter, art by Cory Rydell
Full Frontal Nerdity by Aaron Williams
Invisible Republic, Vol. 1 written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, art by Gabriel Hardman*
The Sandman: Overture written by Neil Gaiman, art by J.H. Williams III

Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form

Winner:
TBD

Actual Finalists:
Ex Machina written and directed by Alex Garland*
Mad Max: Fury Road written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nico Lathouris*
Star Wars: The Force Awakens written by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt*

Rabid Puppy Picks:
Avengers: Age of Ultron written and directed by Joss Whedon
The Martian screenplay by Drew Goddard*

Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form

Winner:
TBD

Actual Finalists:
Doctor Who: Heaven Sent written by Steven Moffat*
Jessica Jones: AKA Smile written by Scott Reynolds, Melissa Rosenberg, and Jamie King

Rabid Puppy Picks:
Grimm: Headache written by Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: The Cutie Map, Parts 1 and 2, written by Scott Sonneborn, M.A. Larson, and Meghan McCarthy*
Supernatural: Just My Imagination written by Jenny Klein

Best Professional Editor: Short Form

Winner:
TBD

Actual Finalists:
John Joseph Adams*
Neil Clarke
Ellen Datlow
Sheila Williams

Rabid Puppy Picks:
Jerry Pournelle*

Best Professional Editor: Long Form

Winner:
TBD

Actual Finalists:
Liz Gorinsky
Sheila E. Gilbert

Rabid Puppy Picks:
Theodore Beale
Jim Minz*
Toni Weisskopf*

Best Professional Artist

Winner:
TBD

Actual Finalists:
None

Rabid Puppy Picks:
Lars Braad Andersen
Larry Elmore*
Abigail Larson*
Michal Karcz
Larry Rostant

Best Semi-Prozine

Winner:
TBD

Actual Finalists:
Uncanny Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, Erika Ensign, and Steven Schapansky

Rabid Puppy Picks:
Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews, Nicole Lavigne, and Kate Marshall
Daily Science Fiction edited by Michele-Lee Barasso and Jonathan Laden
Sci Phi Journal edited by Jason Rennie*
Strange Horizons edited by Catherine Krahe, Julia Rios, A.J. Odasso, Vanessa Rose Phin, Maureen Kincaid Speller, and the Strange Horizons staff

Best Fanzine

Winner:
TBD

Actual Finalists:
None

Rabid Puppy Picks:
Black Gate edited by John O’Neill
Castalia House Blog edited by Jeffro Johnson
File 770 edited by Mike Glyer*
Superversive SF edited by Jason Rennie*
Tangent Online edited by Dave Truesdale*

Best Fan Writer

Winner:
TBD

Actual Finalists:
Mike Glyer*

Rabid Puppy Picks:
Douglas Ernst
Morgan Holmes
Jeffro Johnson*
Shamus Young

Best Fan Artist

Winner:
TBD

Actual Finalists:
Steve Stiles

Rabid Puppy Picks:
Matthew Callahan*
Christian Quinot
disse86
Kukuruyo

Best Fancast

Winner:
TBD

Actual Finalists:
None

Rabid Puppy Picks:
8-4 Play by Mark MacDonald, John Ricciardi, Hiroko Minamoto, and Justin Epperson
Cane and Rinse by Cane and Rinse
HelloGreedo by HelloGreedo*
The Rageaholic by RazörFist
Tales to Terrify by Stephen Kilpatrick

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Winner:
TBD

Actual Finalists:
Alyssa Wong*

Rabid Puppy Picks:
Pierce Brown
Sebastien de Castell*
Brian Niemeier*
Andy Weir*

What Are the Hugo Awards?

Go to previous year's nominees: 2015
Go to subsequent year's nominees: 2017

Book Award Reviews     Home

1941 Retro Hugo Award Finalists

Location: MidAmeriCon II in Kansas City, Missouri.

Comments: In general, I'm not particularly enthused about the Retro Hugo Awards, mostly because I think that the idea of giving awards to works fifty or more years after they were published is problematic at best. In the case of the 1941 Retro Hugo Awards, the awards are being recognized seventy-five years after they were originally published, which just exacerbates all of the problems with this sort of exercise.

This year, however, the Retro Hugos are somewhat reassuring when placed next to the trash fire that is the 2016 Hugo Awards. The Retro Hugos drew very little interest from the Sad Puppies, they only listed the Heinlein stories If This Goes On–, Requiem, and The Roads Must Roll on their recommendation list, and the Rabid Puppies appear to have completely ignored the Retro Hugos1. Given that Heinlein gained three other nominations without any Puppy help, it doesn't seem all that far-fetched that these stories could have made it to the list without any need to game the ballots. For The Roads Must Roll, which is one of the most famous stories in the history of science fiction, this is especially true.

In a larger sense, this year's Retro Hugo ballot more or less destroys all of the Puppy talking points from the last few years. More than one prominent Puppy leader has proclaimed that Heinlein couldn't be nominated for a Hugo by current voters - but without Puppy help he was nominated three times in addition to the Puppy-approved trio of his stories. Puppies frequently say that good old fashioned space opera can't get nominated for the Hugos, and yet Gray Lensman earned a spot on the Retro Hugo ballot. Up and down this ballot are finalists whose presence upon it shows that the entire Puppy campaign has been built on a rhetorical foundation made of sand.

Best Novel

Winner:
TBD

Other Finalists:
Gray Lensman by E.E. “Doc” Smith
The Ill‐Made Knight by T.H. White
Kallocain by Karin Boye
The Reign of Wizardry by Jack Williamson
Slan by A.E. van Vogt

Best Novella

Winner:
TBD

Other Finalists:
Coventry by Robert A. Heinlein
If This Goes On . . . by Robert A. Heinlein
Magic, Inc. by Robert A. Heinlein (reviewed in The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein)
The Mathematics of Magic by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt
The Roaring Trumpet by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt

Best Novelette

Winner:
TBD

Other Finalists:
Blowups Happen by Robert A. Heinlein
Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson
Farewell to the Master by Harry Bates
It! by Theodore Sturgeon

Best Short Story

Winner:
TBD

Other Finalists:
Martian Quest by Leigh Brackett
Requiem by Robert A. Heinlein
Robbie by Isaac Asimov (reviewed in I, Robot)
The Stellar Legion by Leigh Brackett
Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius by Jorge Luis Borges

Best Graphic Story

Winner:
TBD

Other Finalists:
Batman #1
Captain Marvel: Introducing Captain Marvel by Bill Parker and C.C. Beck
Flash Gordon: The Ice Kingdom of Mongo by Alex Raymond and Don Moore
The Origin of the Spirit by Will Eisner
The Spectre: The Spectre/The Spectre Strikes! by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily

Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form

Winner:
TBD

Other Finalists:
Dr. Cyclops written by Tom Kilpatrick
Fantasia written by Joe Grant and Dick Huemer
Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe written by George H. Plympton, Basil Dickey, and Barry Shipman
One Million B.C. written by Mickell Novack, George Baker, and Joseph Frickert
The Thief of Bagdad written by Lajos Bíró and Miles Malleson

Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form

Winner:
TBD

Other Finalists:
The Adventures of Superman: The Baby from Krypton written by George Ludlam
The Invisible Man Returns written by Joe May, Kurt Siodmak, and Lester Cole
Looney Tunes: You Ought to Be in Pictures written by Jack Miller
Merrie Melodies: A Wild Hare written by Rich Hogan
Pinocchio written by Ted Sears

Best Professional Editor: Short Form

Winner:
TBD

Other Finalists:
John W. Campbell
Dorothy McIlwraith
Raymond A. Palmer
Frederik Pohl
Mort Weisinger

Best Professional Artist

Winner:
TBD

Other Finalists:
Hannes Bok
Margaret Brundage
Edd Cartier
Virgil Finlay
Frank R. Paul
Hubert Rogers

Best Fanzine

Winner:
TBD

Other Finalists:
Futuria Fantasia edited by Ray Bradbury
Le Zombie by Arthur Wilson "Bob" Tucker
Novacious by Forrest J. Ackerman and Morojo
Spaceways by Harry Warner, Jr.
Voice of the Imagi‐Nation by Forrest J. Ackerman and Morojo

Best Fan Writer

Winner:
TBD

Other Finalists:
Forrest J. Ackerman
Ray Bradbury
H.P. Lovecraft
Arthur Wilson "Bob" Tucker
Harry Warner, Jr.

1 I suspect that in both cases it is because those organizing and voting for the two lists have little familiarity with works of the 1940s. Despite the Puppy rhetoric about the "good old days" of science fiction, many Puppies seem to be almost completely ignorant about the works that were produced during the era with which they claim to be so very much in love.

Go to previous year's finalists: 1939 (awarded in 2014)
Go to subsequent year's finalists: 1946 (awarded in 1996)

What Are the Hugo Awards?

Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, April 25, 2016

Musical Monday - Westerosi Pie by Paul & Storm


So, the Game of Thrones television series has started up again, launching a sixth season that is sure to be filled with murder, betrayal, sex, and political intrigue. Sometimes all at the same time. What this season won't have is the books to guide them, although to be fair, the television series has already deviated from the books here and there, and that hasn't seemed to hurt the show much, if at all. This is, however, uncharted territory for the series, as they have now outdistanced Martin's writing, which is kind of a feat since he started writing the series way back in 1996. On the other hand, he writes at an almost glacial pace, so maybe this development isn't all that surprising.

The show, like the books, features the deaths of beloved characters, as well as some not-so-beloved characters. And this is the cue that Paul & Storm took to write this song, which expresses the sorrow felt by many fans at the cruel fates that many of the inhabitants of Westeros meet, setting it all to the tune of Don MacLean's American Pie, making it a song that is almost tailor-made for singing along with.

To help them out, Paul & Storm brought some of their friend up on stage to help perform it, including the Doubleclicks and Molly Lewis, who were great as always, as well as Alton Brown - with the cooking show host displaying some pretty fair musical talent. Also chipping in were Greg Benson and Hal Lublin. It turns out that on-stage misery is funniest when it is shared among several people.


Paul & Storm     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Book Blogger Hop April 22nd - April 28th: The IQ 151 Was a Personal Computer Made in Czechoslovakia Back When There Was a Czechoslovakia

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: How many books do you normally read in a month?

Thus far in 2016, I have read seventeen books and reviewed fourteen. I've also read and reviewed four fiction magazines, which are close enough to being books that I'm inclined to include them in my count. That means that in just under four months, I've read twenty-one things that I would count as "books". A little quick division reveals that I am reading five books a month this year, which is well below what I generally hope for, but as I'm in the middle of two books right now, I may be able to get that number up a little before the end of April.

I usually experience an uptick in my reading pace during the spring and summer months, so being behind my hoped for annual pace right now is not entirely unexpected. I'd like to be up close to ten or twelve books a month, and I hope to be hitting that mark starting in May.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: Dunbar's Number Is Approximately 150

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, April 22, 2016

Follow Friday - There Are 252 Ways to Place Four Pieces on a Connect Four Board


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 a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger 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 - AV Griffin.
  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's your criteria of a misbehaving author/reviewer?

Over the last several years I have seen a lot of author misbehavior. Usually it is authors making a big fuss over a review or a comment they don't like. I don't know if authors misbehaving badly has actually become more prevalent over the last decade or so, or if it is just that this sort of misbehavior has become more noticeable, but there definitely seems to be an upward trend in this area. I suspect that we are seeing more authors misbehaving for a number of reasons: (1) Many less experienced (and therefore, less professional) authors are now getting wider exposure due to the existence of the internet, and (2) the divide between authors and reviewers used to be smaller. Now, a reviewer is often an amateur who reviews on their blog or on a site like Amazon in their spare time. In the past, the only reviewers who got noticed were those who were published in magazines or newspapers, so they had the gravitas that comes from being a paid professional, which probably made authors more reticent about lashing out against them.

No matter the reason, I think there has been a rise in author misbehavior over the last decade to decade and a half. We've seen authors melt down over reviews. Authors track down reviewers to attack them. Authors threaten to hunt down reviewers and kill them. Authors who send internet mobs to harass reviewers they don't like. Authors who try to set the police on people they don't like. And so on. For an example of an author behaving badly, I give you Lou Antonelli.

The paradoxical thing is that this usually makes the thing that offended the author much more well-known than it would have been had they simply let it go. In Antonelli's case, for example, if he had simply ignored my tweet, pretty much everyone on the planet would have forgotten it by now.

On the reviewing side, I am aware of less actual misbehavior. Perhaps it is because I am on the reviewing side of the equation, but it seems to me that, as a group, reviewers are better behaved than average than authors. I think that the group "Stop the Goodreads Bullies" has muddied the waters so much regarding what counts as reviewer "misbehavior", that pretty much everyone (including me) discounts many stories of alleged reviewer misbehavior as being wildly exaggerated, or, in some cases, simply made up. In effect, a lot of cases of "reviewer misbehavior" come from invented claims made by misbehaving authors to justify their actions, or authors acting as reviewers under false names in order to plant fake reviews of their own works and the works of their rivals (see, for example, R.J. Ellory). I'm sure there is an actual reviewer somewhere who has misbehaved at some point, but authors have thrown up such smoke on the field that it is nigh impossible to identify actual cases.


Follow Friday     Home

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Review - Captain Marvel: Higher, Further, Faster, More by Kelly Sue DeConnick and David Lopez


Short review: Carol Danvers answers a call for aid from space, and finds a problem that requires more than punching to solve.

Haiku
Call for aid from space
An avenger comes to help
Punches everything

Full review: With all of the well-deserved praise being heaped upon the current run of Ms. Marvel, one might lose sight of the title dedicated to the super-hero that Kamala Khan idolizes: Captain Marvel, also known as Carol Danvers, and that would be a shame, because Danvers' story is almost as good. Although this volume, subtitled Higher, Further, Faster, More, is listed as "Volume One", it is actually a continuation of the story started in DeConnick's run with the character that began in In Pursuit of Flight and Down, although having read the previous volumes is not a requirement for enjoying this one. While this story doesn't have same kind of the cultural resonance that that of an awkward immigrant teenager trying to balance growing up, fitting in, remaining true to herself, and being a super-hero, Captain Marvel does feature one of the most classically heroic of all of Marvel's characters, and is full of action and adventure.

As a super-heroine, Captain Marvel is pretty much standard issue: She can fly, is super-strong and invulnerable to most things, and can hurl blasts of energy from her hands. She is basically Superman with a slight adjustment to how heat vision works. But as a character, Carol Danvers is much more interesting. She has relationship issues. She has people she cares about. She has a surly cat. She has a desire to help people and fix things even though her skill set for fixing things is only slightly larger than "punch everything". In Higher, Further, Faster, More, we see all of these elements come to the forefront in a story that is both galactic in scale and intensely personal at the same time.

The story starts in media res with a scene drawn from deep into the plot, with Captain Marvel at odds with the Spartax Secret Police on an alien planet. Or at least it seems like a start in media res, because from there the story jumps backwards in time and begins to run through the events that led Danvers to the opening scene, starting with intercepting a capsule falling to Earth. This leads to Tony Stark goading Danvers into accepting an assignment as the Avengers' off-world emissary, some touching moments with James Rhodes, and a single page allegedly drawn by Kit outlining how Danvers got her super-powers. This one set of panels is pretty much the best thing in the entire volume, as it shows just how simple it is to tell a super-hero origin story. There is also a rather humorous sequence mixed in where Danvers and Stark stop a mugging in process, carrying on a casual conversation while they deal with a pair of miscreants in an almost off-hand manner.

From there, the book moves on to the meat of the story, with Danvers setting out to return the wayward refugee - who turns out to be named Tic - to her home. After a brief space battle with some mercenaries (the course of which causes one to wonder why Danvers ever fights a space battle from the inside of her space ship), the Guardians of the Galaxy show up to provide some opportunities for exposition. This segment of the book highlights both the benefits of having stories set in a shared universe, and the drawbacks. The benefit of a shared universe is that a writer has a large stable of characters to draw upon, and DeConnick avails herself of this benefit by pulling the famous quartet into this story. Unfortunately, after their splashy entrance, they are mostly used to fill Danvers (and by extension, the reader) in on recent developments in galactic politics. And this is the drawback of having a sprawling, interconnected universe as the backdrop for your stories: Almost every plot has to have some fairly heavy background filled in, leaving substantial chunks of the tale to be taken up with a fairly heavy slog through necessary exposition. On a side note, the art style used in this volume emphasizes just how alien and quite frightening a portrayal of Groot really can be.

In this particular story, the plot is a continuation of a previous story line in which the Galactic Council and the Avengers fought a war against the enigmatic (and overwhelmingly powerful) "Builders", during which the Ring World was destroyed. Many of the Ring World inhabitants were saved, but became refugees who needed a home. The Spartax Empire happened to have the spare planet of Torfa to offer them, but it came with a major drawback: It was unoccupied because the previous inhabitants were afflicted with a mysterious and uncurable sickness that either killed them or forced them to relocate elsewhere. Now, the varied new inhabitants of Torfa have begun falling to the same illness that afflicted the previous inhabitants, prompting the Galactic Alliance to attempt to relocate them again, by force if necessary, and Tic has come to the Avengers looking for aid.

In response, the refugees on Torfa get Captain Marvel, who really isn't very good at the things they seem to need done. Danvers has no appreciable medical skills, and thus cannot offer any assistance in treating the sick, or any advice on how to find a cure. There is a mystery to be solved, and Danvers helps out as much as she can, but given that her usual outfit is somewhat conspicuous, and she is generally has about as unsubtle a personality as possible, her endeavors there seem to be somewhat of a mixed blessing. It is touches like this that elevate a story like this above the ordinary: Anyone can write a story about a hero who is good at punching in which all of the problems are solved by punching them, but the stories that reveal the true heroism of a character are where the problems are not amenable to solutions they are good at and they must do something that is difficult for them. Captain Marvel taking on an entire fleet of warships in a giant space battle is fun to watch, but more or less routine for the character. Captain Marvel operating outside of her comfort zone to play diplomat and then unravel a complex mystery involving backstabbing and betrayal is much more interesting.

What makes Captain Marvel work so well is that underneath the stereotypical super-hero panoply of power, Carol Danvers is a fully realized character. She is feminine, but also tough and not particularly nurturing. She's a soldier sent on a job for a diplomat and a doctor who somehow manages to muddle through despite her lack of applicable skills. This volume offers all of this complexity plus some high powered fisticuffs, or rather, high powered punching of space battleships. In short, this is a strong story of super-powered heroics layered with excellent characters and a plot that is often surprisingly subtle.

Previous volume in the series: Captain Marvel: Down
Subsequent volume in the series: Captain Marvel: Stay Fly

Kelly Sue DeConnick     David Lopez     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, April 18, 2016

Musical Monday - (The Shadow War of the Night) Dragons of the Night by Paul & Storm


Paul & Storm have made a series of songs, mostly on their Ball Pit album, that are essentially about the experiences of role-playing gamers: Dealing with difficult game masters, scoring critical hits, gaining a new level, and so on. The songs are mostly very short, consisting of little more than a punchline set to music. They are basically "in-jokes" for people who spent their teen years playing role-playing games, and are probably almost incomprehensible to anyone else.

(Shadow War of the Night) Dragons of the Night is somewhat related to this series of song, and somewhat not related. The song is clearly inspired by the nonexistent John Scalzi prank series Shadow War of the Night Dragons, the announcement of which served as an April Fools' joke. However, the language used in the song is a style that should be familiar to many people who were once teenage gamers and fantasy fiction fans - that of a thirteen year-old trying to write his own fantasy fiction for the first time. I think almost every person who played Dungeons & Dragons in junior high school can recognize their own writing in these lyrics, whether that writing came from a character description, a home-brewed adventure or campaign setting, or an actual attempt at writing an epic fantasy novel.

I feel reasonably confident that there are a couple of spiral notebooks full of purple fantasy prose written by a fourteen tear old Paul Sabourin, and probably a forgotten desk drawer that has a pile of tales of fierce dragons at the bottom of a stack of loose leaf paper penned by Storm DiConstanza. I also think the same could be said concerning teenage offerings by Elizabeth Bear, Holly Black, Jim Hines, Naomi Novik, Patrick Rothfuss, John Scalzi, and dozens of other now-accomplished authors. They all got better through hard work and lots of practice, But I suspect that a lot of them started with work that wasn't too far from sounding like Shadow War of the Night.

Previous Musical Monday: Carnelians by Point Valid with Catherine Asaro
Subsequent Musical Monday: Westerosi Pie by Paul & Storm

Paul & Storm     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Book Blogger Hop April 15th - April 21st: Dunbar's Number Is Approximately 150

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: Where do you find motivation and inspiration for your blog?

I suppose I get inspiration from the books, movies, television shows, conventions, and all of the other things that I write about. I get inspiration from the authors I meet and other fans I am friends with. But inspiration without motivation is almost meaningless. I am inspired to do all kinds of things, many of which I have not yet done, and may or may not ever do due to time constraints or just because some other idea caught my imagination between the inspiration and the execution.

I get motivation from the blog itself - there is something very motivating about looking back over years of work and seeing a concrete manifestation of that work. Every week, I write and post something that never existed before, and there is a particular kind of satisfaction that comes from that process that keeps me motivated to continue to do it time and again.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, April 15, 2016

Follow Friday - Two Roman Emperors Were Killed in the Battle of Abritus in 251 A.D.


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 a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger 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 - Girl of 1,000 Wonders.
  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: First physical description of a character in a book that you find appealing.

This is kind of a description of Lorq Von Ray, the central character in Nova by Samuel R. Delany. As with most things written by Delany, there is a lot going on in this paragraph. The plot of the story revolves around the conflict between the Pleiades Federation, which are supported by the Von Ray corporate interests, and Earth, which is supported by Red-shift. Lorq Von Ray is the heir to, and later head of, Von Ray, while he is opposed by his contemporary Prince Red. The key to the conflict is an incredibly rare element called Illyrion, vital to powering starships and terraforming planets, and control over the flow of Illyrion is a virtual guarantor of victory. In addition to their political conflict, the antagonism between Lorq and Prince Red is personal: Prince Red was born without an arm, and wears an incredibly strong mechanical prosthetic in its place. During a dispute in their youth, Red slashed Lorq across the face with his artificial arm, leaving Lorq with a huge scar that Lorq refuses to have corrective surgery to remove. In this passage, Delany describes Lorq and outlines the conflict itself:

His name was Lorq Von Ray and he lived at 12 Extol Park in Ark, the capitol city of the Pleiades Federation. He walked beside the moving road. Through the wind shields, the winter garden of the city bloomed. People looked at him. That was because of the scar. He was thinking about Illyrion. People looked, then looked away when they saw him look back. Here, in the center of the Pleiades, he was him self a center, a focus. He had once tried to calculate the amount of money that devolved from his immediate family. He was the focus of billions, walking along by the clear walls of the covered streets of Ark, listening to the glistening lichens ululate in the winter gardens. One out of five people on the street - so one of his father's accountants had informed him - was being paid a salary either directly or indirectly by Von Ray. And Red-shift was making ready to declare war on the whole structure that was Von Ray, that focused on himself as the Von Ray heir. At Sao Orini, a lizard-like animal with a mane of white feathers roamed and hissed in the jungles. The miners caught them, starved them, then turned them on one another in the pit to wager on the outcome. How man millions of years back, those three-foot lizards' ancestors had been huge hundred-meter beasts, and the intelligent race which had inhabited New Brazillia had worshiped them, carving life-sized stone heads about the foundations of their temples. But the race - that race was gone. And the offspring of that race's gods, dwarfed by evolution, were mocked in the pits by drunken miners, as they clawed and screeched and bit. And he was Lorq Von Ray. And somehow Illyrion had to have its price lowered by half. You could flood the market with the stuff. But where could you go to get what was probably the rarest substance in the universe? You couldn't fly into the center of a sun and scoop it out of the center of the furnace where all the substances of the galaxy were smelted from raw nuclear matter by units of four. He caught his reflection in one of the mirrored columns - and stopped just before the turn-off to Nea Limani. The fissure dislocated his features, full-lipped, yellow-eyed. But where the scar entered the kinky red, he noticed something. The new hair growing was the same color and texture as his father's, soft and yellow as flame.

And from last week, here are the books described in my seven word plot descriptions:
  1. Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke.
  2. Dune by Frank Herbert.
  3. Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear.
  4. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie.
  5. His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik.
  6. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin.
  7. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin.
  8. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
  9. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.
  10. Ring by Stephen Baxter.

Follow Friday     Home

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Review - The Ruin of Beltany Ring by C.S. MacCath


Stories included:
Ink for the Dead
Ammonite Baby
From Our Minds to Yours
Yundah
The Ruin of Beltany Ring

Poems included:
Fetters
When I Arrived, This Is What She Said
Ηψαιστξ
Στεψαυοξ
The Interstitial Fairy Demolition Crew Casts a Circle
A Path Without Bones
Two Servants of the Morrighan
Mine Is the Night Ocean
Bringing Woden to the Little Green Men
God-touched

Full review: The Ruin of Beltany Ring is an all too short collection of stories and poems, all with a Pagan theme. With only five short stories and twice that number of poems, the volume is quite slim, but is still packed with an intriguing collection of fiction. One should be aware that this is not really a collection of fantasy or science fiction works, but is rather filled with stories that highlight Pagan life. There are fantasy elements in some of the stories, and many of the poems are mythic and epic in nature, but the emphasis is upon people living their lives with a Pagan (often Celtic-influenced) sensibility. In some ways, the stories contained in this volume could be seen as religious parables, showing ordinary people going about living in the modern (or near future) world according to Pagan principles.

The first story in the volume is Ink for the Dead, a tale of the redemptive power of a tattoo, with just a little bit of Celtic mysticism thrown in. The action in the story is relatively mundane: A former drug addicted woman named Diane afflicted with HIV gets a tattoo of a phoenix. But the true depth of the story is in what this relatively ordinary act means, and MacCath delves straight to the inner power of this simple declaration of rebirth and independence, mixing in a small amount of fantasy to reveal what drove Diane's inner demons, and highlight her battling them to a standstill. There is sorrow in the story, and a recognition that this isn't a final victory, but there is also triumph contained in its pages in simply living for another day.

Uncertainty reigns supreme in Ammonite Baby, told from the perspective of a novelist in a comfortable and yet passionless relationship. He keeps having dreams of a child, first a boy, then a girl, even later a grandchild, but he cannot clearly see the child's mother, getting only hints here and there of who she might be. In a fairly predictable plot twist, his casual lover tells him that she is pregnant, and in an unexpected plot twist, they are unable to decide what to do. Looking for spiritual guidance, all of their rituals return ambiguous signs and give no solace. A decision is made, although neither seems particularly pleased about it, and while they are waiting to be able to carry it out, they begin to find the real magic by spending time together. Ultimately, the story is about how a relationship works, and how we can only rely upon one another to build one.

From a promising beginning, From Our Minds to Yours kind of peters out in the smoke of a spiritual circle. The story is set in a future in which society has fragmented into haves and have-nots, with the haves secluding themselves inside corporately controlled communities, and those on the outside scrambling for whatever they can get. Adande lives with her love Maya and Maya's two daughters as one of the have-nots making their home in the shadow of one of the corporately controlled villages. When Maya's daughters begin to have cravings for a particular brand of toys - Peridyne -  they think it is merely a childish yearning. But when the son of one of their neighbors is caught trying to steal a Peridyne blender, they begin to suspect that something is not quite right. When several people begin to have Peridyne-related nightmares, their fears mount. Eventually they discover that the blood of those who come into contact with Peridyne products is filled with nanoparticles that they assume are the source of the cravings and nightmares. With the stage set, the story more or less goes nowhere. Everyone assumes that the corporation is too politically powerful for their complaints to have any meaningful impact, and so most of the characters decide to move away to escape the influence of the village, but not before having an affirmation ceremony where they verbally reclaim power over their own desires. This is in line with the other stories in the volume, but with such a strong set-up, it seems natural to desire a more concrete ending to the story than "everyone says they will resist the nanobots in their bloodstream before moving away".

Yundah is a sad and almost tragic tale, but has a solid core of "place" that gives the work purpose and ultimately meaning. Megan and Kat are a Pagan couple who move to live on the Nova Scotia farm of Megan's late grandmother. But the pair aren't merely moving to somewhere, they are also moving away from something, namely the upheaval that is barreling down upon them in the form of climate change. The two settle in to their new home, working to make it capable of supporting them, and then later, working to make it capable of supporting the polyamorous family that moves in with them as well. The story could best be described as "the long defeat", as the world slowly gets worse over the years. There are joyful moments, such as the birth of children, but these are tempered with sadness as well. As the climate changes, the established balance of nature changes, and the little community battles with various threats to their crops and livestock. The critical element of the story is time, and how it simply slips away from Megan. More than forty years passes from the first page to the last, and the reader only gets the handful of snippets related within them. With time comes change, and rather than railing against that change, the characters in the story bend to it and accept it as inevitable. As with most of the stories in this volume, this one is about "small" and mundane lives, but in its telling, it is revealed that these are the most important stories of all.

Told from the perspective of the titular inanimate object, The Ruin of Beltany Ring breathes life into the ancient stone circle that is at the heart of the story, transforming it from a place into an entity. With its actual purpose forgotten (but heavily implied in the text), the Ring has become little more than a curiosity to modern tourists, and a repository for the trash that comes as a byproduct of the modern world. A visitor's tears give the circle new purpose, and results in the most overtly magical event in any of the stories in the book. The power of the Ring was always there, it just needed someone who believed in it enough to remind the Ring itself what it was for, and to show it the way to its new home. The only real weakness of this story is that it isn't longer - this pattern could have been drawn upon more, yielding a kaleidoscope of cultures that find the Ring, benefit from its power, and then forget, only to have another take its place. On the other hand, wishing for a story one didn't get instead of the story one did might be considered a bit presumptuous. In any event, this is a beautiful story, simply told, that highlights the power of place and the power of history.

While the short stories all seem to be focused on ordinary life as a Pagan, the poems in this volume are often epic in scale, addressing tales surrounding gods and heroes of mythology. In a sense, the poetry in this volume provides a counterpoint to the ordinary nature of the short stories, illuminating the folklore that underpins the beliefs explored in the stories. Fetters is a bittersweet set of verses, imagining that the modern world serves as chains that hold us apart from the love of the Earth. The sweetness comes from the yearning to break free and answer the call of a life more attuned to nature, while the bitterness comes from the realization that this is probably not possible. MacCath returns to this these in The Interstitial Fairy Demolition Crew Casts a Circle, although in this poem, the powers of nature rally to wreak havoc upon the pollution produced by the industrialized world. The stanzas flow from one cardinal direction and classical element to another, each one using the very power that is destroying the natural world against the creeping corruption of modern living.

When I Arrived, This Is What She Said takes the form of an almost ritualized greeting, as one might imagine an pre-Roman Celt might welcome someone to their home. Someone could imagine that the narrator of A Path Without Bones could use such a greeting, as the poem speaks to the isolation of those alienated from their own heritage who must construct a new tradition on their new land. Mine Is the Night Ocean is almost a prayer or a love-song, giving the sense of the salt and brine with a sense of affection and exhilaration wrapped in just a hint of dangerous darkness.

Two of the poems in the volume have Greek titles, and draw upon Greek mythology for inspiration. The first, Ηψαιστξ, recounts the mistreatment of the misshapen smith god, who is abused, ignored, and taken advantage of, but still produces works of beauty for others, glorying in the euphoria of creation. The other, Στεψαυοξ, features Prometheus, or at least features Prometheus' love of his own agony, and a criticism that it is no longer necessary. The poem is a call for action and initiative rather than passive acceptance of one's lot in life. Another poem dealing with divine powers, Two Servants of the Morrighan draws upon the Irish tradition, delving into Celtic folklore about the war goddess, and offering a slight twist that combines the story of the curse of Macha with the blood Badb wrings from the clothes of those in battle. One interesting choice MacCath makes here is to focus on a duo rather than a triad, as would be more common in Celtic (and especially Irish) myth.

The longest poem in the volume, Bringing Woden to the Little Green Men is also the most science-fictional piece, imagining a missionary intent upon spreading the faith of Woden to a race of plant people upon a distant planet. The missionary is unable to bridge the gap between himself and his audience until he engages in an act of sacrifice that allows them to understand one another. In the end, this ambitious poem coalesces into a very satisfying blend of science fiction and mythology that joins the two into a harmonious mixture. The final poem in the volume, God-touched, seems to wrap up all of the thematic elements that appeared in the prior portions of the book. Taking the form of a plea, or a yearning, the handful of verses sum up the hope that Pagans (or in a way, all theists) have: That there is a divine presence out there that they can commune with and if they are lucky enough, on some days they can feel that presence.

At a mere eighty-two pages, this collection ends much too soon. C.S. MacCath's short stories have a raw and almost visceral feel that hones directly into the travails and triumphs of everyday life, casting light onto the ways in which those living such lives might turn to Pagan spirituality to help guide them through their days. The poems, on the other hand, display a strange mixture of the seriousness of epic myth combined with a joyful willingness to play with those myths, and an angry undercurrent beneath it all, that sometimes rises to the fore in a bitter rage. As I noted before, this isn't really a collection of fantasy stories: The subtitle for the book is A Collection of Pagan Poems and Tales, and that is an entirely accurate description. One could almost think of this book as a Pagan prayer manual, offering a brief and engaging glimpse into the thinking of a member of the modern Pagan movement, and as that it is definitely a collection worth reading.

C.S. MacCath     Book Reviews A-Z     Home