Archive for category Hugos

A Look at Hugo Nominees, Part 4

Short stories can be read in one sitting. Often they slip from the brain as quickly as they slipped in. The greatest ones, though, can stick with a reader for a lifetime.

The short stories nominated this year are:

“Carnival Nine” by Caroline M. Yoachim–Clockwork doll people.

“Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” by Fran Wilde–An entity of some sort takes your coin and may or may not let you into a weird sort-of funhouse place.

“Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Min–The first sentient robot discovers fandom.

“The Martian Obelisk” by Linda Nagata–a monument on Mars created by an architect on a dying Earth.

“Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon–A grandmother gives a magic sword to a grandson.

“Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience” by Rebecca Roanhorse–Native Americans hire digital version of themselves out to tourists.

When I began this post, I had only read two of the stories. I have since read the other three.

Once again, we have a range, from literary to heroic fantasy to hard SF to AI to social commentary to fable. I note all of the short stories come from online zines: Tor, Uncanny, Apex, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, to be exact. All of them can be read, for free, by anyone. That has to be significant when it comes to Hugo nominations. Only the more dedicated fan, able to spend a little, will have read stories from F&SF, Asimov’s, or Analog, in time for Hugo nominations.

As much as I enjoy reading and voting, a part of me really doesn’t like awards. There is no “best” story, not even a “best” six stories. Any one of us can think of favorite authors and great stories that don’t make the cut. And the field of speculative fiction is the broadest of genres. To compare a high-quality hard SF story to a high-quality heroic fantasy is like comparing a robot to an animated doll. They have speculation in common, but are less similar than they appear.

That said, congrats to all finalists, including those in categories I haven’t discussed here.

 

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A Look at Hugo Nominees, Part 2

Novellas are a favorite of mine. Usually under two hundred pages, they don’t take forever to read. You don’t get bogged down. You do have time to get involved, though. It’s not in-and-out, like a short story. Novellas can be found in print and online periodicals, but increasingly can be bought as e-books. Because novellas are a favorite, I’m not as far behind as I am with Hugo-nominated novels.

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells–I have read this one, and I recommend it. It is one of several recent works about self-aware AI. This particular entity calls itself Murderbot. It does have a murderous past, because that was the purpose it was designed for. That is not what it wants to be. “Murderbot” is also the subtitle of the novella. The full title is All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1). So it’s a series!

“And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker–This one, I haven’t read. Love the title, though. And, it’s a murder mystery! The title is tough to Google…it keeps wanting to route me to the Agatha Christie novel. I hate all forms of auto-correct.

Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor–I read the first Binti at Worldcon in Kansas City a couple years ago, because it was being discussed at a panel. Binti is a heroic young woman of great intelligence, the sort of person who is held back and is underestimated. I look forward to reading this installment.

The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang–I haven’t read this one. It is described as “silkpunk  fantasy.” This novella was released simultaneously with another, The Red Threads of Fortune, as a twin introduction to the Tensorate Series. According to the author, you can read these first two in either order. A third installment comes out this July. Silkpunk fantasy sounds like a fine idea to me.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire–A second installment of yet another novella series. I’ve read both installments. I’m intrigued by this series, because it’s different in concept from anything I’ve read, while seeming utterly familiar. It concerns a home parents can send their children to, specifically children who refuse–or can’t–live in the so-called real world, but who occasionally escape to other, more fantastic worlds. I’m tempted to say the premise sounds like the biography of the average science fiction or fantasy fan–hence its familiarity.

River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey–I haven’t read this one. It is billed as an alternate history about feral hippos overrunning Louisiana bayous around the turn of the twentieth century. That sounds like a very good idea for a story, and I do like alternate histories.

So…four of the six novella finalists are part of a series. Novella series seem to be a thing these days, a thing I like. The effect of a novella series is different from that of a serialized novel, or a novel series. The individual novellas in these series tend to be kind of free-standing. You never pick up right where you left off, even if the story does have an over-arching plot. Sometimes the individual installments are in the same universe, but feature different characters or different locales. It all provides a rich, deep sojourn in the worlds these authors create.

Next: Novelettes.

 

 

 

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A Look at Hugo Nominees

In recent years I have become more aware than ever before how important it is to vote. I’m not talking about the election of public officials–the importance of that has always been obvious to me. But the Hugos, nominating and final voting…well, it has been so easy to make excuses.

My “To Be Read” pile is a chronic feature that has endured in my life from childhood onward. When it comes time to nominate for the Hugos, I have often read hardly anything from the eligible year. In recent years, I have made an effort to nominate something, because I want to do my part to prevent future Sad/Rabid Puppy outbreaks.

Then comes the final ballot. Publishers and artists have been wonderful in recent years about making stories and novels available for Worldcon members to read free of charge, but the texts only become available a few months prior to the voting deadline. It’s a lot, but I’m determined to read as much as I can.

Here’s where I’m at right now.

Novels:

The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi. Scalzi is always an easy read, so I am confident I will get to this one.

New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson. I’ve been meaning to read this. I will.

Provenance, by Ann Leckie. This one is tougher. The book is in he same universe as her Ancillary universe, but is not a sequel to the trilogy, from what I can see. I read Ancillary Justice. I think I admired it more than I liked it. I haven’t gotten to the other two. Can I read this one as a stand-alone, without reading the other two? I’ll give it a try.

Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee. This one is clearly number two in a series, and I have not read the first. Sadly, its being second in a series makes it far less likely I’ll get to it.

Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty. It’s a science fiction mystery. OMG! I love mysteries. I must read it!

The Stone Sky, by N. K. Jemisin. I read the first in the series, The Fifth Season, and I enjoyed that one tremendously. This is the third in the series. I have not read the second. Oh dear. I’ll do it if I can.

Conclusion: I think I’m in trouble with the novel category, because I haven’t read a single one. And it’s the third week of May.

Next post: novellas, novelettes, and short stories.

 

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Genre and Me and Me in Different Mediums

About ninety percent of my reading is in the genres of fantasy and science fiction. Back in the eighties and nineties, the split was more like fifty-fifty between Spec Fic and “other.” And it’s more than that. I can say that ninety percent of the literature I revere is in science fiction and fantasy, and only ten percent in other fields.

Revere is a strong word, but it is the word that comes to mind. I like a lot of things, and I admire talent in a lot of genres, but it is science fiction and fantasy that hits me in the gut and sets my brain on fire, that makes me wonder “…how the hell did he/she come up with this?”.

While moaning about the demise of The Hour, and re-watching season four of Mad Men, I realized something perhaps a bit odd: My percentages for genre in television would be exactly opposite. Ninety percent of what I revere in television is not science fiction or fantasy. The list goes on and stretches back for decades.

Revered in Comedy: Seinfeld, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Arrested Development, Parks and Recreation, M*A*S*H, Keeping Up Appearances, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Revered in Drama: Breaking Bad, The Hour, Sopranos, Mad Men.

In the drama category, a case could be made that mainstream TV gives me a lot of what I love in SF literature, my number one draw to SF, which is that I am transported to a different time and/or place in which everything is different from what I know. Or, almost different.

I have been to Albuquerque, but met no one while there who was involved in cooking or selling crystal meth. The shots of the desert in that show take my breath away, so starkly beautiful in Breaking Bad.

I have also been to the nineteen-sixties, but I did it as a teenager, not as an adult at a Manhattan ad agency. The time travel aspect of Mad Men is a bit sf-nal.

Comedy, on the other hand, seems to be about home, whatever its genre, whatever its locale. Comedy transports me in a different way, and it is much more difficult for me to pin down what makes me laugh. Why did I laugh at the mother-in-law/hippo joke in Reginald Perrin every time? What was so funny about Mystery Science Theater? That concept should not have worked, but it did. And all, somehow, are about home. Remember, the characters in MST3000 return to live together in an apartment in Wisconsin at the end of the series.

I don’t notice genre as much in television. Sure, there’s the SyFy channel, but the genres do tend to bleed together more. Community gets a Hugo nomination. People not otherwise interested in fantasy watch Game of Thrones. No one seems to care quite as much about genre in TV as they do in literature. And perhaps literature is the key word here. Some books are supposed to be good for you. Books that are good for you are called literature. If you actually like books that are good for you, well, you must be an intellectual! And if you read that sci-fi stuff, you clearly are not.

On the other hand, television is not good for you, no matter what. I’ve been hearing that from the time I was old enough to operate the channel selector. (We did not have remotes in those days.) It is assumed that, if you are watching television, you are wasting time. Distinctions matter less. Oh sure, there can be the occasional PBS documentary, but when you’re knocking around a broadcast lineup that includes Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo, Real Housewives, My Secret Addiction, and dozens of others, watching Dr. Who, or Buffy, or Star Trek Next Generation doesn’t seem all that bad.

My point in all this is that television is more than not-always-that-bad. It is often good. It is is occasionally, in recent years in particular, as brilliant as any writing done in any genre and any form in all of time.

Cheer up, Philo T Farnsworth! Your invention is a good thing, and we love it!

Cheer up, Philo T Farnsworth! Your invention is a good thing, and we love it!

Photo: Library of Congress

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Done (With Hugo Reading) But Not Dusted: Award Ambivalence

Now that I’ve submitted my Hugo votes, now that I’ve said all I have to say about this year’s nominees, I wish to revisit my basic discomfort with awards.

We have to have them, I think. They are a way for fans and professional organizations to celebrate the work that gives us all so much joy and meaning in our lives. They spur us to read stuff/see stuff/ listen to stuff we might not otherwise. For the authors, a nomination or award becomes a tag they can attach to themselves forever, which will further their success. And there’s the drama of the event itself, who’s going to win, and how excited are they. Awards are fun.

Then there are the problems. For instance, the apples-and-oranges problem.

Every year, the field of speculative fiction widens. It’s beyond science fiction and fantasy; it’s alternate history, and urban fantasy, and epic fantasy, and steampunk, and military sf, and near-future dystopia, and so on and so forth, every one of which has its own aesthetics, tropes, and flavor. In the Hugo Best Novel category, we have 1) A coming-of-age fantasy, 2) The fourth book in a six-book epic fantasy series, 3) The second book in a zombie trilogy 4) A far-future, end-of-the galaxy, political/anthropological/sociological sf novel, and 5) a nearer future science fiction novel of a more traditional sort. It is difficult to compare any of the two in absolute terms, because they are truly five different sub genres. They may be among the best examples of their respective sub genres, but they are not easy to compare.

I could say to myself, “Is this book a superior example of a coming-of-age fantasy/fourth book of epic fantasy series/second book of trilogy/etc.?” And, “Is this a better second book in a zombie trilogy than that is a far-future, end of the galaxy, political/anthropological etc., etc.?”

I could do that, or I could just vote for what I like. In this case I like (and was predisposed to like) numbers 2 and 4 the best. Number 4, the political/anthropological/sociological sf novel is my favorite genre-within-a-genre. Number 2 is not normally my thing, but I’ve seen the TV show, and I’d read the first three books, and the epic had its hooks in me. Number 4 did get my first-place vote, but Number 2 was further down the list, because I did not feel the fourth book ranked as high as some of the previous volumes in the series. (Yes, George R. R. Martin was in competition with himself, as well as with the others.) But I still loved it.

At the other end of the spectrum, Number 5 could not pull me in at all. It’s not my favorite type of sf, I was already tired from all my intensive reading, and I just wasn’t in the mood for something I didn’t feel drawn to. It must be said, this is not the fault of the book. I don’t think it’s an unworthy book, only that it’s not my thing, and in my less-than-open frame of mind, it could not seduce me.

In the end, my ranking came out of my sincere attempt at best apple vs. best orange analysis, combined with “Oh man, I loved this best, I really did.” I feel honest and fair about my efforts. I also got through the novellas, novelettes, short stories, and fancasts. I actually feel almost “hip,” and “with it,” rather than “square,” and “out-of-it!”

I am ready to see who wins, and to get into possibly passionate discussions about the results.

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The Next Novel on My Hugo List

Jo Walton’s Among Others is a book I would not have picked up except for its being nominated for Best Novel, and for my determination to vote responsibly this year, and read the categories I intend to vote for. I’m pushing. And, I’m ignoring a bunch of worthy not-nominated or new books to get this done.

Without this push of a deadline, without this desire to read all nominated books and stories, I fall back back on other methods of deciding what to read next, and what to eliminate, and that is to judge a book by its blurb. Judging by the blurb, sad to say, sees me falling back on preconceptions, prejudices, and misunderstanding of intent. In the case of Among Others, these prejudices, etc., would include the following:

  • I don’t like fairies
  • I think I’ve read enough coming-of-age stuff
  • I think I’ve read enough YA for a while

The first one is a genre thing. I would have said (did say) something similar about Seanan McGuire’s zombies, and did about Lois McMaster Bujold’s “military” science fiction. I avoided Bujold because for years because of the “military” label. I would not have read Mira Grant except that my daughter made me. So many times I have been burned by genre labels. The genre tag turns out, once again, to be a horrible guide to book selection. Always seek more information, that’s my motto from now on, because I am very glad to have read this book.

The second prejudice is more a matter of mood, because I like coming-of-age tales. It is the tale that every single one of us can tell. We all have our own coming-of-age story, and I believe every single one of us has a good one in us, whether we have the skill to write it or not. So I can always relate, no matter what. The trouble, for the coming-of-age tale, is that its universality makes it difficult for it to stand out, even if it’s not autobiographical, and even if it’s fantasy. Among Others does stand out, mainly for the author’s confidence and her understated approach to the supernatural.

As for YA objection, I’m old, and I really do need to read mostly grown-up books. I just do.

My prejudices and mood issues, in this case, were easily overcome by the engaging voice of the first-person narrator, Mor (or Mori), age 15, who is being shipped off to an English boarding school by her father (whom she has only just met), and (more ominously) by her father’s two sisters, for whom, at best, Mor is an unexpected intrusion in their tidy world. Mor has come into their lives because of an incident that left her twin sister (also nicknamed Mor, or Mori) dead, and herself crippled. That incident had to do with their mother, who is mentally ill or evil or both, and it had to do with fairies, whom Morganna and Morwenna played with and spoke with regularly as children, in their native southern Wales. The fairy element is kept on a low simmer; the fairies don’t do all that much. They barely speak, but when they do, it counts.

Mor is a voracious reader, and she constantly refers to book titles and authors. She tells us about every book she reads, every book she has ever read, and she reads about twenty-five books a week. I would have thought this all-over-the-place constant name-dropping of book titles and authors would be annoying and distracting, but it works. It is integral to the character and her relationships. It is how she connects with her estranged dad, her grandfather Sam, two sympathetic librarians (librarian-heroes, love it!), and the “karass” she eventually hooks up with. This book name-dropping also works as an example of the rule I would call Way Too Much Is Better Than A Little Too Much. For instance, if Vidal Sassoon had made his asymmetrical haircuts only a little uneven, we would have assumed he had made a sad mistake. Because he made them very uneven, we know he did it on purpose. This book name-dropping is completely intentional, and it works confidently and beautifully.

I did find the ending abrupt. I don’t need every little last question answered, but I would have liked to be left with a little more insight into  Mor’s mother. Mor has a touch of the unreliable narrator to her–not a bad thing–but she can leave the reader a bit wobbly on what is actually going on here.

This is a very, very good book, in a strong novel category. I know which one still tops my list, but I’ll wait until reading the last one to decide for certain.

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Little Quibbles With A Major Work

Having finished A Dance With Dragons, and having praised it in my last post, I can now move on from the series for a while. Before I go, however, I feel the need to share two quibbles I have with A Song of Ice and Fire. These quibbles have come up throughout the series, and are not confined to the most recent volume.

Quibble the first: BRAN IS BORING!

Once again, I applaud the scary decision Martin made to tell the tale from 147 (not an actual count) first person points of view. Doing so allows him to paint all the characters in shades of gray. However horrible the Lannister twins, they do love their children. Well, Cersei loves herself and then her children, and Jaime loves Cersei. They are horrible, but their first person POVs allow us to see them as human. They do not mean to be evil. They see themselves as protecting only what is rightfully theirs.

We can’t help rooting for little stick-em-with-the-pointy-end Arya Stark. She sees her father beheaded, flees, and against great odds, survives. But oh does she have blood on her hands. Every night, she prays, listing the names of those she wants to see dead. Now, some of them do need killing, to be sure, but I find her nightly prayer quite disturbing. In a good way, as intended by the author, I think.

I can go down the list of first-person narrators and be interested, to a greater or lesser degree in how they ‘splain themselves.

Until I come to Bran. Sure, I was horrified when Jaime pushed him out of the tower. Sure, I felt for him when everyone left Winterfell, leaving him in charge. Yes, I cheered his escape and his quest to find the 3-eyed raven. But the only reason to have a first person point of view is that the reader needs to experience that character’s thoughts, and I do not need to know what Bran is thinking. His thoughts do not surprise me (as do Arya’s, or Sansa’s, for instance). His are the thoughts any child would have under the circumstances. He is innocent. Too innocent to be interesting as a POV character. There is no inner conflict.

Even worse is when Bran is view-pointing the world through the eyes and senses of his dire wolf, Summer. I am not interested in any wolf/boy points of view here. Too simple, too pure. Boring.

Quibble the second: EXCESSIVE FONDLING OF MISSING BODY PARTS.

It is tough to get through life in Westeros and Essos with your parts intact. Too many swords and knives are flailing about, and fingers, hands, noses, ears, genitalia, mammary glands, toes, and tongues are all to be feared for. Once I got over my initial gag reflex, I could only reflect that this penchant for chopping off body parts is an integral part of this society, whether it happens in battle, or in the administration of justice, or, in the case of Ramsey Bolton, as the power-wielding of a sociopath. I admire as well the Davos-Stannis relationship, in which Davos’s fingertips have been cut of because he is an smuggler, and that he is grateful to Lord Stannis for dealing with him justly. I suppose I can understand, too, why Davos would keep his finger bones in a pouch around his neck like a good luck charm. Strange, but okay. I understand, this is more about his relationship in the society, and his need to better himself for the sake of his sons, than it is about his fingertips. Once he loses that pouch and the bones within, however, I think he maybe should lighten up on the fingertip obsession. Every thought in his head should not be accompanied by a reference to the missing fingertips or bones. Bring it in every fifth or tenth thought, but not every thought, which is what it seems like. It is time for him to let go of his fingertips, so to speak. It’s distracting me from the story.

Then there’s Tyrion’s missing nose. He, too, runs his hand over his nose-stump frequently–too frequently. In the book, Tyrion is depicted as having an ugly, grotesque face already anyway. This is in direct contrast to the TV show, by the way, in which Tyrion is played by Peter Dinklage, handsome, and still in possession of his nose at the end of season two. And you know what? I don’t think the character is weakened by having him be a good-looking dwarf with an intact nose. The character’s identity is completely tied up with his being a dwarf, and his sister’s and father’s hatred of him. Cutting off his nose is piling on. Having Tyrion constantly touching the nose-stub comes off as an annoying tick.

By contrast, when Jaime mentions his missing hand, I am not so bothered. First, he does not have quite the need to fondle the stumps as  do Davos and Tyrion. Secondly, that missing hand is totally tied up with his self-identification status as Kingslayer. Similarly, Theon Greyjoy obsession with flaying doesn’t bother me because of how recently his torture by Ramsey Bolton has occurred. He is clearly suffering from PTSD and a touch of Stockholm Syndrome. He’s entitled.

So there you have it, everything bad I have to say about A Song of Ice and Fire. These are, indeed, minor quibbles, almost joke-worthy. Nonetheless, they annoy me enough to momentary take me out of the story. According to Seth Anderson’s blog, here, http://www.b12partners.net/wp/2012/05/10/wordcount-of-a-song-of-ice-and-fire/. the first five volumes have brought us to somewhere around 1,770,000 words. I would say that if these are the worst complaints I can come up with, they aren’t really much.

Several friends have begun the TV series, have some desire to experience the books, but are intimidated by their sheer massiveness. I have said to them that to read the books will bring rewards and happiness. They do sprawl, but they are clearly and entertainingly written, and easy to get through. Consider buying the last volume in hardcover, for some good maps and extensive family trees to refer to.

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