Friday, May 22, 2015

Follow Friday - Roman Emperor Septimus Severus and His Son Geta Both Died in 211 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 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 - Book Blog Bird and Books, Coffee, Life, Adventures.
  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: How do you write your reviews?

As a general rule, when I am reviewing books or magazines, I write my first draft on LibraryThing, usually over the course of a couple of days. For novels, I usually read the book through and then write the review, keeping the book on hand to reference back to if I need to refresh my memory on specific details. For short fiction collections and fiction magazines, I usually write the review as I read, adding material on each work of short fiction as soon as I finish reading it. After I've finished the entire collection or magazine, I go back and group the stories by themes and try to draw connections and contrasts between them. Reviewing short fiction collections and magazines usually takes much longer and is more difficult than reviewing novels.

On those occasions when I review television shows or movies I usually watch them at least twice before reviewing, which is why I almost never review shows or movies that I don't have on DVD. The first time I watch the material the whole way through uninterrupted. The second time I take notes as I watch, so as to give myself reminders for when I sit and write the review. I sometimes watch the material again while I write the actual review, using it as background noise.


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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Review - L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Volume 30 by Dave Wolverton (editor)


Stories included:
Another Range of Mountains by Megan E. O'Keefe
Shifter by Paul Eckheart
Beneath the Surface of Two Kills by Shauna O'Meara
Beyond All Weapons by L. Ron Hubbard
Animal by Terry Madden
Rainbows for Other Days by C. Stuart Hardwick
Giants at the End of the World by Leena Likitalo
Carousel by Orson Scott Card
The Clouds in Her Eyes by Liz Colter
What Moves the Sun and Other Stars by K.C. Norton
Long Jump by Oleg Kazantsev
These Walls of Despair by Anaea Lay
Synaptic Soup by Val Lakey Lindahn
Robots Don't Cry by Mike Resnick
The Shaadi Exile by Amanda Forrest
The Pushbike Legion by Timothy Jordan
Memories Bleed Beneath the Mask by Randy Henderson

Essays included:
Artistic Presentation by L. Ron Hubbard
. . . And Now Thirty by Robert Silverberg
A Word on Art Direction by Stephen Hickman

Disclosure: I received this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: The thirtieth installment in the annual Writers of the Future competition, this volume is what all of the previous volumes have been: A collection of stories by mostly previously unpublished authors that were submitted to and placed in the writers of the future competition originally created and funded by L. Ron Hubbard. Bolstered by a few stories by veteran authors, and dragged down by the inclusion of some of Hubbard's own writing, this volume delivers a collection of work by fresh faces that is mostly good, and sometimes great.

The first entry in the volume is Another Range of Mountains by Megan E. O'Keefe, a tale that features a protagonist with a fairly interesting magical ability, but is somewhat thin when it comes to delivering an actual story. Lacra possesses the gift of being able to see and paint images reflected from long ago that are found in mirrors, panes of glass, pools of water, and other reflective surfaces. She is also on the run from a vengeful king who she had once been involved with and is trying to keep a low profile. But, at the behest of the local ruler, Lacra begrudgingly uses her abilities to try to track down his kidnapped girl. Things go well until the plot turns and Lacra discovers too late that the kidnappers weren't after the girl at all. Then Lacra uses the other power that mirror painters have: The ability to change the memories people have of the past by painting a different reflection. In an act of self-sacrifice, Lacra uses this ability to rewrite the memories of her estranged lover and the story ends. The idea that memories can be erased in this manner is somewhat unsettling, but the implications of the existence of this sort of power is not remarked upon, which seems to me like a missed opportunity. The fictional setting seems like it would be best served by a longer piece of fiction that explored these questions.

As one might expect from the title Shifter by Paul Eckheart is about a shapeshifter. In a twist, Eckheart's protagonist isn't a lycanthrope or any other kind of "traditional" shapeshifter, but rather someone who can assume both the appearance and personality as they choose to - but only so long as they can write the assumed form's attributes down. With the central character starting the story as Fat Reggie, and ending it as Officer Tricia Palmer, the story implicitly asks the question of who such a person could truly be said to be: Is he the down at the heel and somewhat dopey fat kid? Is he the macho and deadly killer? Is she the honest police officer? When your very identity can change based upon who you want to be, is there any identity that is truly you? The story wraps up with something of an answer to these questions, but the answer is still somewhat unsatisfying, although that is probably for the best.

Beneath the Surface of Two Kills by Shauna O'Meara is kind of a disappointing story that seems to be trying for deep meaning and falling completely short. The protagonist has been sent out into the wild on a hunt as part of a strange justice system in which his success at tracking down and killing the correct prey will determine the outcome of a court proceeding. The entire story is told via the internal monologue of the main character, including a number of flashbacks as he remembers what brought him to his current quest. The trouble is that this is such a limp way to try to build emotion that to the extent that the somewhat unclear back story is understandable, the reader just doesn't care. The end result was that I simply didn't care if the protagonist succeeded or failed, and his intended to be momentous decision at the end didn't really seem to matter.

Human overpopulation and the resulting species extinction takes center stage in Animal by Terry Madden. Mackenzie is a scientist at the last animal preserve in the world, attempting to breed the last known gorillas to preserve the species. She is informed that even the modest amount of land and money consumed by the preserve has been deemed too expensive, and it will be shut down. At the same time, Mackenzie detects and anomaly in the fetus being carried by one of her gorillas, which results in a rather startling revelation from her assistant Sierra. The story is, on the whole, dark and somewhat depressing, as terrible things are done in the most reasonable manner possible by people who think they are acting in the best interests of their fellow humans. The story serves to cast a harsh light upon the selfishness of humanity as a whole, but in the end it holds out hope that some people can transcend this racial failing.

In some ways Rainbows for Other Days by C. Stuart Hardwick shares the same thematic territory as Animal, but differs in that it attempts to show the hard process of recovery following a collection of poor decisions. Cara is a city-dweller, having spent her whole life living inside a massive self-contained concrete refuge that both keeps the human population safe from a wrecked and hostile outside world, and keeps the humans away from the environment they destroyed with their rapacity. She escapes from the city and is found by a ranger she calls Frey, a half-man, half-machine charged with serving as caretaker for his section of the wilderness. The story reveals the extreme damage done to the natural world, but also the extreme measures that have been taken to try to restore it, including the devastating human cost - including the cost to Frey himself. The story is both sad and depressing and ultimately hopeful at the same time, and despite the two characters mostly serving as mouthpieces for opposing viewpoints, the two sides of the argument are well-thought out, so neither feels like a caricature.

Another story with a vaguely environmentalist theme is Giants at the End of the World by Leena Likitalo, which is framed as a journey taken through the desert by a wealthy heiress while accompanying a trade caravan as it heads to the sea. The giants in the story are an unexplained presence, massive beings who emerge from the wilderness to take a pilgrimage to the ocean. The story has a melancholy tone, as the gentle and awe-inspiring giants have seen their territory progressively shrunk by the encroachment of civilization, and the route the caravan is taking is slated to be replaced with a railroad in the near future. It is clear that the reader is intended to take the advance of the railroad as an end of the giants' way of life, but this also stands in as a metaphor for the end of the caravanners' and those who accompany them to the end of the route looking for a better life away from the civilized world they left behind. The story is, ultimately, a paean to the lost frontier, and the lost wilderness that it represents.

Following in the environmentalist theme of this installment, The Clouds in Her Eyes by Liz Colter is a piece of fantasy fiction that posits a world that has become progressively more and more parched as its denizens try to eke out an existence by farming the "shockers" who live in the dry soil. Amba, the main character, lives with her father and tries to replace her deceased brother's contributions on their farm as they struggle to achieve a subsistence level existence. Through the story Amba sees a ship in the distance, sailing across the prairie towards her farm, but when she asks him, her father says he cannot see it. Eventually the spectral ship gets close enough that she can speak to is ghost crew, and then she unlocks her inner power, destroying the way of life she has known, but restoring the land at the same time. The story is far less effective than the other environmental-based stories in the book as the solution in the end effectively amounts to Amba deciding it should be so. As a coming of age story for a girl discovering her hidden power to bestow life, it is not bad, but it doesn't rise to more than that.

K.C. Norton borrows a bit from Dante for What Moves the Sun and Other Stars, the tale of an artificial intelligence rescued from a supposedly inescapable cometary prison at the behest of the mysterious Beatrice. The story's tone reminded me somewhat or Fritz Lieber's Ship of Shadows, with everything shrouded in an almost dreamlike quality that sometimes seems ethereal, and sometimes seem terrifying. The viewpoint character - an ancient robot with the name VRG11 - encounters a would-be savior who goes by the name Pilgrim. They pick up two more companions in their quest to escape, and three implacable pursuers that the companions must overcome to reach their destination. By the end, it becomes clear that VRG11 isn't the hero of the story - Pilgrim is, and VRG11 is merely the sidekick, which is an interesting twist that isn't apparent until very close to the end.

Despite the fact that What Moves the Sun and Other Stars involves breaking out of a metaphocrical hell, the terror it portrays almost pales in comparison with that found in Long Jump by Oleg Kazantsev. The darkest and most horrifying story in the entire volume, Long Jump follows Ulysses, who starts the story a mostly broken man who has turned to alcohol after his wife left him and took their son with her and ends it having gone almost completely insane following an obsession with a simulated model of a deceased friend's ex-girlfriend. In between, Ulysses participates in an experimental space travel program, eventually becoming a test pilot on a flight that will take years and from which there are only a handful of viable exit points. To keep him from losing his mind from loneliness on his journey, he is provided a virtual reality to spend time in and interact with simulated humans. While there, he finds a simulated version of Nancy, the ex-girlfriend of Ulysses' friend and fellow test pilot Milo. Ulysses strikes up a passionate relationship with Nancy that goes terribly awry when she becomes aware of what she is. Meanwhile, Ulysses' ship misses its exit points, presumably trapping him in his relativistic journey forever. Ulysses ends the story alienated from his virtual reality and trapped in a tiny ship with no possible escape, although still hoping against hope.

As one might expect from its title, These Walls of Despair by Anaea Lay is another story that is dark and frightening. The main character is Georg, who works as an apprentice "sentimancer", capable of mixing various concoctions that can induce particular emotions in his clients. He opens the story working a prison shift in which he is required to counsel a defendant accused of trying to wake one of the "Moras", a pair of sleeping beings that, if roused, will destroy the world. Georg is rebuffed by his court-appointed client, and sets out to find more information about her. His investigation uncovers both the terrible secret that led her to take her destructive action, and the reasons for both despair and hope. In the end, the story is about whether one should accept a comfortable lie or face the painful truth, and it seems to come down squarely on the "comfortable lie" end of the scale, which seems like something of a disappointment after a series of plot developments that seemed to be heading in the opposite direction.

The Shaadi Exile by Amanda Forrest imagines a world in which travel between distant star systems is possible, but takes time. The story also imagines a vast culture that involves arranged marriages between men and women who hail from different worlds, and the complicated dance of time management that this entails, as well as the sacrifices that are required of the shaadi brides who must leave behind everything they know to marry men they barely know light-years away from home. But religious fanaticism is mixed into the culture portrayed - a fanaticism that doesn't really do much to inconvenience those who demand others follow it, but weighs cruelly upon a young bride. The central character was once a shaadi bride herself, and once the mystery at the core of the story is unraveled, she stands against the fanaticism that threatens the innocent, albeit in a very small and mostly unobtrusive manner.

The Pushbike Legion by Timothy Jordan is a quirky story about Aleck, a young boy serving in his villages "legion" of bicyclists who patrol the borders around their town that has been isolated by a mysterious and deadly desert. The story kind of meanders along as Aleck deals with the responsibilities of being a legionnaire and the pressures of being a nascent adult who will be expected to take a job, keep a house, and marry. Everyone is focused on the desert that has been an omnipresent feature of Aleck's life, but which some of the older adults remember arriving to surround their village years before. Eventually Aleck is able to get the town's oddball, a man named Charlie Potato, to open up to him and discovers the secret of the outside world, and a tiny sliver of hope to lean upon. There's not a lot of substance to the story, and it seems like it should have been the opening chapter to a novel, but it is well-written and has just enough plot and character development to be interesting.

Class stratification and cultural stagnation are the foundation of Memories Bleed Beneath the Mask by Randy Henderson, a story that posits a future in which those with means can bequeath their memories to their descendants, ensuring that they will have the advantage of multiple lifetimes worth of experience and learning. This seems to have had the effect of creating what is essentially a permanent underclass called "plebs" who are unable to compete in the marketplace and are condemned to a permanent state of poverty. This process of handing down memories from generation to generation is also implied to have created a fair amount of stagnation, as old attitudes and prejudices are perpetuated. Trystan is the somewhat estranged grandson of Jurist Bryant, a powerful jurist, whose father had married a pleb against Bryant's wishes. But Bryant is dying and when choosing who to give his memories to he unexpectedly passes over Trystan's wealthier relatives and gives them directly to his grandson. With access to his late grandfather's memories, Trystan quickly figures out why Bryant did what he did, revealing a rather long-range and ambitious plan with a fairly lofty goal. The background and world-building is better than the actual story, but it is so good that the rather thin nature of the story is more than overcome.

In recent years the Writers of the Future editors have taken to leavening the annual installments with a few stories by established authors. The first of this year's entries of this type is Carousel by long time judge and contest advocate Orson Scott Card. In the story people who die immediately come back to life, for a certain value of "come back to life". The risen dead don't eat, don't have any others desires, and don't seem to have any real ambitions, so they don't actually seem to be alive in any meaningful sense. The plot involves the death of a man named Cyril's wife, who then proceeds to treat Cyril horribly and coax their two children into dangerous activities that get them killed as well. Eventually Cyril finds an odd little carousel tucked into a little building and operated by a lonely dead woman who died as a baby and had her mother reject her when she returned. Cyril then meets God, who says that he made it so the dead come back because so many people asked them to in their prayers. God is depicted as kind of bumbling, unable to understand why people are now upset about their returned relatives, apparently oblivious to the fact that they have been returned in a manner that makes them entirely inhuman. Card is clearly making a point about grief and letting go of the past, but he does it in such a clumsy manner that the story simply lacks any notable impact.

The other veteran with a story in the volume is Mike Resnick, whose contribution is Robots Don't Cry, a story about a robot dug up by scavengers several hundred years after the machine's owner had died. The story is fairly predictable, with a faithful robot serving a sick girl who grows into a sick woman and then dies, all the while becoming more and more human in its thinking. Eventually the two scavengers make a decision that was almost a foregone conclusion from the start, and the story ends. Robots Don't Cry is pretty straightforward, with minimal characters, just a small bit of plot, and a fair amount of treacle that almost manages to make the story cloying, but pulls up just short enough that the story is still palatable.

It is unclear to me why the editors of Writers of the Future insist on including embarrassingly bad pieces of fiction by L. Ron Hubbard in more recent volumes of the series, but this year's terrible work by the man is Beyond All Weapons, a cliched and badly written piece of space opera. The premise of the story is that Mars is losing a war against Earth when some of its engineers come up with a way to travel at the speed of light, at which point the remnants of the Martian fleet take their families and head out of the Solar System. After decamping their women and children on a convenient planet, the manly men return to get revenge on the Terrans, and then the completely predictable twist in the story is revealed. The story is hampered by the fact that the only real character is the cigar chomping lantern jawed fleet commander who isn't even well-developed enough to call a caricature. Beyond All Weapons might have fit in as filler in the issue of Tales of Super Science it appeared in in 1950, but when lined up next to the other stories in this volume, it looks positively amateurish.

Hubbard's essay titled Artistic Presentation is almost as bad as his pulpy fiction. In it he erects a convenient strawman and then knocks it down with the fairly banal advice that when one is engaged in an artistic endeavor one should use the most effective means of accomplishing one's goal. This is the sort of non-advice that I have come to expect after reading Hubbard's bromides in previous installments of the Writers of the Future series, and is yet another indication that he was not a man who should have been taken seriously on any subject.

The other three essays in the book are . . . And Now Thirty by Robert Silverberg, Synaptic Soup by Val Lakey Lindahn, and A Word on Art Direction by Stephen Hickman. All three are relatively short, and not particularly interesting. Silverberg's essay starts by praising several works by Hubbard, pointing to them as evidence of Hubbard's enduring popularity, apparently unaware that they have been mostly forgotten by everyone at this point by everyone who is not one of Silverberg's contemporaries or a member of the Church of Scientology. He then talks about the last thirty years of the Writers of the Future contest, highlighting several notable writers who have first appeared in one or another of the annual collections. Synaptic Soup basically gives a background concerning the creation and intent of the Artists of Future contest, while A Word on Art Direction is merely Hickman explaining that he's the art director for the volume and giving a rather cursory description of his personal process.

Overall this is a good example of the Writers of the Future volumes, with a fairly interesting and diverse array of science fiction stories. The collection is enhanced by the inclusion of some fairly good artwork as well, including several full color plates towards the end of the volume. The only real weak points of this volume are the contributions from Hubbard which are both pretty lousy, and to a lesser extent Card and Resnick, who seem to have both brought their C-game to the field, as the stories by the contest winners are for the most part quite good.

Previous book in the series: L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Volume XXIX
Subsequent book in the series: L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Volume 31

Dave Wolverton     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, May 18, 2015

Musical Monday - Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey


Are the James Bond movies science fiction? I can already hear people scoffing. "Of course not," they'll say, "They are just Cold War spy fiction that has outlasted the Cold War." And I will readily concede they are that. But that doesn't mean they aren't also science fiction.

Sure, some of the movies really don't fit into the science fiction category very well, hanging around on the outskirts of the genre, giving nods here and there to it with the high tech gadgets with which Q always equips the titular hero. But there's more to the science fiction nature of Bond than just neat super-spy gizmos. The Bond movies (and I am primarily talking about the movies - Ian Fleming's books were, in general, much tamer than the movies) have used science fiction themes as their backbone on multiple occasions. The very first Bond movie - Dr. No - features a villain in an underground lair using the then cutting-edge technology of nuclear power to try to threaten the United States. That may not be science fiction to some people, but it is pretty close to the line.

But when one considers some of the movies that have come out since then, it seems to me pretty clear that even if the Bond franchise isn't always on the "it is science fiction" side of the line, it jumps over there fairly often. In You Only Live Twice the villain's plot involves capturing American and Russian spacecraft in orbit to try to spark a nuclear exchange. In Diamonds Are Forever, Blofeld's villainous plot involves building an orbiting laser platform to try to blackmail the world. In The Spy Who Loved Me the villain wants to create an undersea paradise and destroy all of the life on the surface. In The Man with the Golden Gun, the entire plot revolves around a struggle to control a super-science piece of a solar energy generator. And then there's Moonraker, which is explicitly a science fiction film (and is believed by some to have been made, at least in part, to capitalize on the success of Star Wars).

Granted, in most cases the science fiction elements are mostly just window dressing or MacGuffins for the hero to retrieve, but they are present. I would suggest that James Bond sits in the shadowy netherworld of fiction that surrounds the science fiction genre, dependent upon science fictional tropes and ideas without which they simply will not work as stories. Bond is, for want of a better word, quasi-science fiction. It has just enough science fiction to make one think about the genre, but not enough to really sit comfortably within it.

Previous Musical Monday: Tiny Paper Elephant by The Doubleclicks

Shirley Bassey     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Book Blogger Hop May 15th - May 21st: The HMS Victory Had 104 Guns When She Was Nelson's Flagship

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 see a book you like but see it is 400 or 500+ pages, will you still read it?

Yes, I would still read the book. The blunt truth is that it would be difficult to read  most modern fantasy and science fiction if one was not willing to read four-, five-, or even six-hundred page books on a regular basis. For fantasy fiction, it is not entirely shocking to find novels that are even longer - eight-hundred, nine-hundred, or even thousand page novels show up often enough in the current era of "doorstop fantasy books" that they aren't really that remarkable any more. And the sad fact is that science fiction novels are creeping up on fantasy in this regard, getting longer and longer in recent years. I suspect that it will not be all that long before science fiction novels catch up with their fantasy cousins in terms of expected length.

I will say that I'm not entirely happy with this state of affairs. The steady growth in size of both fantasy and science fiction novels hasn't really made them better, just longer. Some novels are improved with more length, but a lot of modern novels could probably be dramatically improved if an editor trimmed them by tens of thousands of words. Sadly, I don't really envision this trend reversing any time soon, but at the very least there are hundreds of older genre novels I haven't gotten to yet if I ever want to read something in the two- or three-hundred page range.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: 103 Is the Twenty-Seventh Prime Number

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Follow Friday - Qui Shi Huang's Terra Cotta Army Was Completed in 210 B.C.


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 - Banosaur and Alexandra Florence 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: How do you organize your books? Either at home on your bookshelves or on your reading-device, or on your bookish platform like Goodreads, Leafmarks, or Booklikes.

I use LibraryThing as my online bookish platform of choice. I've put essentially every book I own into my LibraryThing account, separated into a handful of collections that I mostly use to organize the books into loose groupings, mostly based upon whether I have read or reviewed them or not. I use tags to do most of the heavy lifting with respect to sorting my books by genre and topic. I use well over five hundred tags classifying books as being science fiction, fantasy, history, and so on. I also tag whether books have won or been nominated for various awards, and some general topic markers, such as "Mars" for books set on Mars, or "Africa" for books related to Africa in some way.

I also have a Goodreads account, but I almost never use it, and have only entered a tiny fraction of my book collection into it. I can't remember the last time I logged into it.

I also keep an Excel spreadsheet that includes not only the books I own, but the books I am looking to acquire. The primary use of this spreadsheet is so that I avoid buying books that I already own, and remind me of which books I am actively looking for. I also use this spreadsheet as a secondary means of tracking my reading.

As far as my physical books go, much of my collection is currently boxed up and stored in great stacks against the wall in one room of the too-small apartment that I am currently living in. Those books are mostly organized by size, as this makes the boxes that hold them easier to stack.

The portion of my collection that is shelved is organized alphabetically by author, although I arrange all book series together in series order. I separate the hardbacks and trade paperbacks from the mass market paperbacks, but other than that most of my books are stored this way. The two main exceptions are my graphic novels, which I keep separate from my other books, although they too are arranged alphabetically by author, and my collection of role-playing game books, which are kept in their own section, organized in a manner that is probably incomprehensible to anyone but me that could best be called "the order of idiosyncratic usefulness to me when I am working on role-playing game material".

The final group of books that I keep separate from the rest are review copies. I used to try to organize these in a rough order in which I intended to read them, but I gave that up as futile long ago. Now they just get put on the shelf and pulled off in the order of whatever seems like something interesting at the time I am making a selection.


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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review - Dream Houses by Genevieve Valentine



Short review: Amadis wakes up far too early and has to survive in deep space with almost no food and no one for company except a deceptive A.I.

Haiku
Alone in deep space
An A.I. and a locked door
Losing sanity

Full review: Dream Houses is a beautiful novella about a deep space freight ship and its crew, or rather its last remaining crew member. But it is also about loneliness, alienation, regret, and, perhaps, insanity. From the stark, harsh opening pages to the dream-like and ambiguous ending, this story challenges the reader to sort out what is real and what is not by presenting them with an unreliable narrator and a dishonest artificial intelligence.

The central character of the story is Amadis, an auxiliary crew member of the ship Menkalinen working the shipping run from Earth to Gilese-D. Because the journey takes several years to complete, the crew normally spend most of the voyage in hibernation. In the opening pages of the story, Amadis is awakened early and discovers that all of the rest of the ship's crew have died and the vessel is years away from reaching its destination. With only the ship's A.I. Capella for company and food stocks that are dreadfully inadequate, Amadis must try to survive both mentally and physically until she can be rescued.

Most of the story deals with the isolation and deprivation experienced by Amadis as she scrounges for food (eventually resorting to some fairly extreme measures), and tries to find ways to occupy herself through the long, lonely, empty days out in the cold dark of space. In some ways, the story reminds one of Jack Cady's The Night They Buried Rod Dog, capturing the isolation of a long drive through unoccupied territory, yielding the eerie atmosphere that only comes from being alone and far from one's destination. But Dream Houses takes one step further than Cady's story, as Cady's characters all had a place to call home and return to while Amadis is, at least partially by her own choice, a drifter without a fixed abode who has spent all of her life on the road fantasizing about what it would be like to have a house to return to at the end of the journey. For Amadis, the journey through empty places never ends, it just pauses before she sets out again.

But Dream Houses is about more than just one woman's struggle to keep her sanity in the deepest of isolation. Amadis' struggle to survive is somewhat complicated by the fact that Capella lies to her about what is in the cargo hold of the ship. Not only that, Amadis almost immediately figures out that Capella is lying to her. As a result, Amadis spends most of the story paranoid about what Capella might be up to, but what makes this interesting is that it makes almost no sense for Capella to lie. If Capella wanted to kill Amadis, there are several ways that this could have been easily accomplished without the need for any deception. On the other hand, Capella's stated aim, revealed near the end of the book, could have been easily accomplished by simply telling Amadis the truth. The mystery of why Capella, who seems through much of the story to care for Amadis, would also lie to her, becomes one of the primary threads that drives Dream Houses forward.

The oddness of Capella's behavior serves as a clue that perhaps Amadis is not a reliable narrator. By the end of the novel, it is clear that Amadis' accounting of events is almost certainly entirely divorced from reality, but the question that one must ask is at what point did her fantasy version of events take the fore? It is in pondering this question that one realizes that it is entirely possible that nothing that takes place in Dream Houses is actually real. It seems entirely possible that Amadis never actually woke up from cold sleep, and that the entire story is merely her dying brain stringing together a last story as she fades from existence. Or it could all be true up until the very last few pages of the text. Or the events described could be partially true and fade into fantasy at some indiscernible point as Amadis' mind unravels due to her loneliness and deprivation. It is this ambiguity that helps give the story a beautiful and terrible quality that veers between dreamlike and nightmarish.

Full of atmosphere, desperation, and cold emptiness, Dream Houses is a journey through its protagonist's slowly disintegrating mind. By the end, it is apparent that there is a reason that Amadis has spent her whole life running, and that her ordeal on the Menkalinen has stripped her down to her very core and left her with nothing to do but face herself. Readers who are hoping for answers, or even closure, are likely to feel dissatisfied by the story, but those readers are likely to miss what makes this novella so beautiful and compelling: That there may be no answers, and there may be no closure other than what we make for ourselves.

Genevieve Valentine     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

2015 Campbell Award Nominees

Location: Campbell Conference Awards Banquet at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas.

Comments: So another award released its list of nominees, and once again, there are no works by any of the Sad or Rabid Puppy suggested authors on it. This refrain is becoming a little bit old at this point, but this is essentially the story of the awards for 2015: The two Puppy slates put forward a collection of third- and fourth-tier works for the Hugo ballot, and the rest of the genre fiction world has simply moved on to recognizing the best works of the past year in other venues. And ultimately, this is why the Puppy campaigns are essentially nothing more than fruitless tilting at windmill while the science fiction world goes on without them.

And the science fiction world is full of top notch works of fiction ranging from Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy, to Andy Weir's The Martian, to William Gibson's The Peripheral, to John Scalzi's Lock-In, to Cixin Liu's Three-Body Problem, to all of the other nominees on this list. There is some melancholy in the realization that only one of the excellent novels on the Campbell nominee list also appears on the Hugo nominee list. There is such an embarrassment of riches here that the truly dismal nature of the Puppy slates is shown in stark relief by comparison.

Best Novel

Winner:
TBD

Second Place:
TBD

Third Place:
TBD

Finalists:
Afterparty by Daryl Gregory
Area X (The Southern Reach Trilogy: Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance) by Jeff VanderMeer
The Bees by Laline Paull
Bête by Adam Roberts
A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias
Defenders by Will McIntosh
Echopraxia by Peter Watts
Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
Lock In by John Scalzi
The Martian by Andy Weir
The Peripheral by William Gibson
The Race by Nina Allan
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)
Wolves by Simon Ings

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

Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, May 11, 2015

Musical Monday - Tiny Paper Elephant by The Doubleclicks


I've been sick for the last week, and have almost no motivation to actually post much of anything. So, with no further context, here's a song about pictures with no context.

Previous Musical Monday: Star Wars Main Theme
Subsequent Musical Monday: Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey

The Doubleclicks     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Book Blogger Hop May 8th - May 14th: 103 Is the Twenty-Seventh Prime Number

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 had a chance to read a book or watch a movie that is not about a book you have read, which would you choose?

I would usually choose to read a book. This is not to say I don't like movies. I do, but I read far more books than I watch movies. In a typical year I read between one hundred and one hundred and fifty books, while I watch considerably fewer movies. The last couple of years have not been typical years for me - I was well off my previously established reading pace, but for a variety of reasons I am reasonably confident that I can get back on track.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, May 8, 2015

Follow Friday - Germany Designed the Type 209 Submarine Exclusively for Export


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 - Paperback Opinion and Nicola Reads YA.
  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: How do you decide what books to read?

I choose books based upon a system I suppose could be called informed whimsy. By this I mean that I have certain very loose guidelines that inform my choices, but within them, I pretty much pick whatever strikes my fancy at the time.

When I started using this blog as a book blog, the initial intention was to read all of the winners of the Hugo and International Fantasy Awards, and as I got to them, the winners of the Nebula, Locus, World Fantasy, and a couple of other awards as well. This expanded to reading all of the nominated works as well (at least insofar as the nominees could be ascertained). My reading choices are still aimed at moving towards that goal, albeit very slowly.

I also have been trying to read the current Hugo and Nebula nominees, aspiring to read and review them prior to the awards actually being handed out each year. This is probably a forlorn hope, but I try every year. In addition, I also have a large pile of review copies of books that I have agreed to review. I will get to them all, eventually. It may take me a while, but I will read and review every single one of them.

For the most part, I generally choose what to read from within this set of books, although this is not a hard and fast rule. Sometimes I just pick a book because it happens to seem like a good idea at the time. There is also the additional complicating factor of having a large proportion of my book collection currently boxed up due to the fact that I'm living in a space too small to shelve the roughly nine thousand seven hundred books I own. As a result, some of the books that I might be interested in reading at a particular point in time might simply be inaccessible to me at that moment.

So even though there is a very loose system, it is not much of a system. Mostly the system boils down to "what books from the extremely broad category seem interesting right now", and sometimes it isn't even that systematic.

Previous Follow Friday: Four Years Is 208 Weeks

Follow Friday     Home

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

2015 Locus Award Nominees

Location: Seattle, Washington.

Comments: In 2015, due to the fracas surrounding the Hugo Awards instigated by the manipulation of the Hugo nominating process by the supporters of the Sad and Rabid Puppy slates, the Locus Award nominee list took on greater significance than it had in many previous years. Several people have already taken to calling the works on the Locus Award list the "real" Hugo nominees, and noting that none of the works or individuals promoted by either of the Puppy slates appear on the Locus Award finalist list. What I think this list, and the general reaction to it reveals, however, is simply this: Even in the best case scenario for the Puppies, they will never get what they want.

The Puppies have advanced a myriad of reasons for their organized campaign to put poor quality works onto the Hugo ballot. This is in part because there are two very slightly different groups of Puppies, but it is mostly because they have been avoiding bringing up the rather obvious reason that is apparent in all of their actions: They crave the prestige and legitimacy that have been accorded to Hugo winners and nominees. What they have failed to realize is that the legitimacy and prestige of the Hugo Awards derives from the fact that it bestows honors upon individuals and works that are already regarded as legitimate and prestigious. What the Puppies crave has to precede the Hugo Awards, and cannot be obtained as a result of being nominated for or winning one. Awards don't grant prestige, rather awards are prestigious because of who they honor.

Despite the Puppies sticking out their bottom lip while saying that they did so legitimately get nominated, fandom doesn't perceive them as having been legitimately nominated. And perception is really the only thing that matters when it comes to awards. No matter how much the Puppies kick and scream about it, they will never be seen by most of the fan base as deserving their nominations. As the Hugo Awards are seen as being illegitimate, fans have turned their attention elsewhere. Even the best case scenario for the Puppies - that nominees from their slates garner enough votes to actually win some Hugo Awards - will be a hollow victory for them. Should they win, the Puppies are likely to find themselves clutching their trophy while standing in an empty room, wondering why the accolades they expected simply aren't forthcoming.

The reaction of the science fiction community to the unveiling of the Locus Award nominee list has been exactly what I predicted would happen. Because the Hugo award ballot is seen as being filled with illegitimate nominees, fans have moved their attention elsewhere. Nothing compels fans to continue to regard the Hugo awards as the most prestigious award in genre fiction. Fans have done so because it was seen as such. There is no objective, intrinsic indicator of value that defines whether an award is prestigious or not. The number of voters does not matter when making such a determination (indeed, if it did, then the People's Choice Award would be seen as being a much more prestigious award for cinema than the Oscars). The popularity of the nominees of winners is also not an indicator of prestige. How highly rated winners and nominees are on places like Amazon also does not matter. The only thing that matters is how the award is viewed by the community at large, and if the community loses faith in an award, they will simply move elsewhere. Right now, possibly because of the timing of this announcement, it seems like the Locus Awards are gaining some of the prestige that has been leached from the Hugo Awards.

Is this likely to be a permanent shift? At this point I think it is unclear. If the backers of the Puppy slates continue their campaign against the "social justice warriors" using the Hugo Awards as their battleground, they will drain the Hugo Awards of credibility. But all that will really happen as a result is that fans will look to other awards as the signals of quality genre fiction. Whether the "other award" fans would choose to designate as their new focus would be the Locus Awards, the Nebula Awards, the British Science Fiction Awards, or some other award, is not clear at present, but what is clear is that fans will move away from any Puppy dominated Hugo Awards towards other venues.

Best Science Fiction Novel
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
Lock In by John Scalzi
The Peripheral by William Gibson
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

Best Fantasy Novel
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman
The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear

Best Young Adult Book
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Clariel by Garth Nix
The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi
Empress of the Sun by Ian McDonald
Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger

Best First Novel
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato
A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias
Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett
The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley
The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert

Best Novella
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
The Lightning Tree by Patrick Rothfuss
The Man Who Sold the Moon by Cory Doctorow
The Regular by Ken Liu
We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory
Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

Best Novelette
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
The Hand Is Quicker by Elizabeth Bear
The Jar of Water by Ursula K. Le Guin
Memorials by Aliette de Bodard
Tough Times All Over by Joe Abercrombie
A Year and a Day in Old Theradane by Scott Lynch

Best Short Story
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Covenant by Elizabeth Bear
The Dust Queen by Aliette de Bodard
In Babelsberg by Alastair Reynolds
Ogres of East Africa by Sofia Samatar
The Truth About Owls by Amal El-Mohtar

Best Collection
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Academic Exercises by K.J. Parker
The Collected Short Fiction Volume One: The Man Who Made Models by R.A. Lafferty
The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Nine: The Millennium Express by Robert Silverberg
Last Plane to Heaven by Jay Lake
Questionable Practices by Eileen Gunn

Best Anthology
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older
Rogues edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Reach for Infinity edited by Jonathan Strahan
The Time Traveler’s Almanac edited by Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-first Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois

Best Nonfiction, Related, or Reference Book
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Harry Harrison! Harry Harrison! by Harry Harrison
Ray Bradbury Unbound by Jonathan Eller
Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better: 1948-1988 by William H. Patterson, Jr.
The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton

Best Art Book
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
The Art of Jim Burns by Jim Burns
The Art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell
The Art of Space: The History of Space Art, from the Earliest Visions to the Graphics of the Modern Era by Ron Miller
Brian Froud’s Faeries’ Tales by Brian Froud and Wendy Froud
Spectrum 21: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art edited by John Fleskes

Best Editor
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
John Joseph Adams
Ellen Datlow
Gardner Dozois
Jonathan Strahan
Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer

Best Magazine
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Asimov's Science Fiction
Clarkesworld
Fantasy & Science Fiction
Lightspeed
Tor.com

Best Publisher or Imprint
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Angry Robot
Orbit
Small Beer
Subterranean
Tor

Best Artist
Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Jim Burns
John Picacio
Shaun Tan
Charles Vess
Michael Whelan

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

Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, May 4, 2015

Musical Monday - Star Wars Main Theme


Today is May the 4th, or, as most nerds refer to it now Star Wars Day. It would seem rather obvious that the Musical Monday for the day should be the Star Wars theme song, and I am kind of surprised that I haven't posted it before. To rectify this situation, here is John Williams directing the main theme for Star Wars. And may the Force be with you.

Previous Musical Monday: Spock's Dog by Five Year Mission
Subsequent Musical Monday: Tiny Paper Elephant by The Doubleclicks

Game, Movie, and Television Music     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Book Blogger Hop May 1st - May 7th: "One Hundred and Two" Is a Song by the Judds

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 belong to an online book club?

No, and I probably never will be. This is not because I have some sort of objection to book clubs, online or otherwise, but rather because I simply cannot read on a schedule. I could not be part of a book club for the same reason that I decline to participate in blog tours: I simply would not be able to consistently read the books in a timely manner that would allow me to participate meaningfully.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: 103 Is the Twenty-Seventh Prime Number

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, May 1, 2015

Follow Friday - Four Years Is 208 Weeks


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 - Gizzimomo's Book Shelf.
  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: How do you cure a book hangover/blogging slump/reading slump?

First, note that this is the two hundred and eighth Follow Friday post that I have made. That means that I have put up four years worth of posts in this meme, which seems almost unreal to me. When I started participating in Parajunkee and Alison's Follow Friday meme, I never thought my blog would last this long, let alone my ability to participate in something like this. I will take this opportunity to thank the two very gracious women who have organized this meme for so many years, and I look forward to participating for as many years in the future as they are willing to continue.

As to what to do for a reading slump, blogging slump, or a book hangover, I have no idea. I've been in a reading slump for going on a year now and I have really no clue what to do about it other than simply ride it out. I've only read and reviewed six books thus far this year, which is just over one a month. I've read a couple others that I have not written reviews for, but that's still not a particularly strong year, since in the past I would normally read (and review) two to three books a week. I had an undiagnosed chronic illness for much of last year, which is now in the process of being treated, so I hope that my lethargy over the last year is behind me, but only time will tell.


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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

2015 Prometheus Award Nominees

Location: Sasquan in Seattle, Washington.

Comments: The interesting thing about the 2015 list of nominees for the Prometheus Award is not who is on it, but rather who is not. Even though the set of authors that make up the core proponents of the "Sad Puppies" very clearly view themselves as being on the libertarian side of the spectrum (and in some cases they have inserted segments into their books that are clearly pandering to Prometheus Award voters), and yet, there is zero overlap between the set of books they promoted for the 2015 Hugo Award and the set of books that were chosen as finalists for the 2015 Prometheus Award. In short, despite sharing an ideological bent with many of the authors promoted by the Puppies, the Libertarian Futurist Society didn't see fit to even consider honoring any of the novels that were pushed for the Hugo ballot with a Prometheus Award nomination. If the Puppy slate is in fact about recognizing good books that the Hugo Awards have overlooked because they are supposedly ideologically biased, why is it that the works on the Puppy slates have been, with some rare exceptions, pretty much ignored by all of the other genre related awards? In fact, no one making decisions regarding other awards has seemed to think the stories promoted by any iteration of the Puppy slates have been worth nominating. It would be one thing if the works favored by the Puppies were getting nominated for many other awards while being snubbed solely by the Hugo voters. But they haven't. They have been ignored by all the major awards because they simply aren't good enough.

Note: Locus Online listed Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold as a Hall of Fame nominee for this year. However, Falling Free was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014, which means this supposed nomination confuses me because I don't think the book can be inducted again. I have omitted the nomination for the book from this list. Also, while the winner for Best Novel will be announced at WorldCon in August, the Hall of Fame inductee 'Repent Harlequin!' said the Ticktockman was announced in April 2015.

Best Novel

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
A Better World by Marcus Sakey
Influx by Daniel Suarez
Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

Hall of Fame

Winner:
'Repent, Harlequin!' said the Ticktockman by Harlan Ellison

Other Nominees:
As Easy as A.B.C. by Rudyard Kipling
Courtship Rite by Donald Kingsbury
Sam Hall by Poul Anderson

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

Book Award Reviews     Home