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Wednesday, February 05, 2014
I appear to be one of the lucky few to have power in the Philly area right now, but the past few days have been a doozy. If you're local, stay safe (and keep warm). If you have power, here are some links for your enjoyment:
Sunday, February 02, 2014
2013 Kaedrin Movie Awards
Over a month late at this point, but that's just the joys of being an amateur movie lover. As of this point, I've seen 68 movies that could be considered a 2013 release. This continues a slight downward trend over the past few years (I usually get to the 70s at this point of the year and am publishing a top 10 by now), though the lateness of these awards puts me on par with last year at least. Still, I've done a lot of catching up in January, and now that no one cares anymore (on the one hand, I'm generally using the same timeline as the Oscars, on the other hand, everyone is sick of this sort of thing once the Oscars hit), am ready to commence my end of the year recap. [Previous Installments here: 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012] I'll post the nominations now, and like last year, I'll post all the winners next weekend.
2013 has been a good year for movies, though I suspect that ordering my top 10 (once I finally get there) will be extremely difficult. It's usually very easy to find 5 or so movies that I love throughout the year, with 1 or 2 that really stand out and strike a personal nerve with me. This year, I feel like I'll be able to narrow down to 10 very easily, but have an impossible time ranking them. There are still a few things I want to catch up with before I post that list, but the awards can start now. One of the points of these awards is that they allow me to give some love to films that I like, but which aren't necessarily great or are otherwise flawed (and thus the categories may seem a bit eclectic). Some of these movies will end up on my top 10, but the grand majority of them will not.
The rules for this are the same as last year: Nominated movies must have been released in 2013 (in the US) and I have to have seen the movie (and while I have seen a lot of movies, I don't pretend to have seen a comprehensive selection - don't let that stop you from suggesting something though).I suppose I should mention the requisite disclaimer that these sorts of lists are inherently subjective and personal. But then, the world would be an awfully boring place if we all liked the same stuff for the same reasons, right? So here are the nominees for this year's awards:
A terrible, or at least, odd year for villainy. I ended up nominating a bunch of movies I didn't particularly like, or I ended up nominating people that don't quite fit the category. I have no idea how I'm going to pick a winner on this one. As with previous years, my picks in this category are limited to individuals, not groups (i.e. no vampires or zombies or pod people robots as a group, etc...).
A better year for heroism, certainly an overmatch for the weak villainy, but far from the best slate of nominees here. Still, there is at least one standout that fits perfectly for the category here, so that will be an easy decision. Again limited to individuals and not groups.
This category seems to get tougher every year. The problem is that I instituted it because of a string of great individual performances... but now I keep trying to find the right person in an ensemble to nominate (or justify folks in movies that aren't really all that funny). Some solid choices this year, but it's a weird one...
Always an interesting category, and lots to choose from this year. As with previous years, my main criteria for this category was if I watched a movie, then immediately looking up the actor/actress on IMDB to see what else they've done (or where they came from). This can sometimes even happen for a long established actor, though I'm lighter on that front this year (even if it's been a pretty great year for breakthroughs). Yes, the criteria is vague, but the fun of these awards is that they're supposed to be idiosyncratic and weird.
Sometimes even bad movies can look really great...
In case it's not obvious, I'm a total genre hound, and these are movies that don't tend to get a lot of attention, so I like to shine a light on them.
Typically a difficult category to populate, and this year was no exception, so I was a little liberal with the nominations.
Always a difficult award to figure out, as there are different ways in which a movie can disappoint. Usually, expectations play just as big a part of this as the actual quality of the film, and it's possible that a good movie can win the award because of high expectations.
This award isn't for individual action sequences, but rather an overall estimation of each film.
Well, I suppose even listing nominees here constitutes something of a spoiler, but it's a risk we'll have to take, right?
This is always a strange category to populate because the concept is a bit nebulous, but nevertheless, there are always a few interesting choices...
I instituted this category a few years ago because I was always discovering movies from the previous year after the fact. Of course, since then, I've had difficulty populating this category. This is going to be a tough choice, as I have to say, I wasn't really blown away by any of the nominees... Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Fast & Furious 6, You're Next, and Upstream Color). Her has 3 nominations. Inside Llewyn Davis has 3 as well, though one is a negative category, so that doesn't quite count. And, of course, lots of movies have 1 or 2 noms. 44 different films nominated total, though 4 are 2012 movies. So I'm going to let these nominations stew for a week, then announce the winners next Sunday, followed by the traditional Arbitrary Awards and eventually culminating in my top 10 of 2012 list (which should come in before The Oscars)...
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Tweets of Glory
As a testament to the enduring power of blogs, I give you a blog post that consists almost entirely of tweets. You're welcome.
And that's all for now. See you this weekend with Kaedrin Movie Awards nominations!
Sunday, January 26, 2014
SF Book Review, Part 15
I've fallen a bit behind in reviewing recent SF reading, though a few individual reviews have made their way to the site recently. So before I start my 2013 movie recap (a month late, I know), I figured I'd catch up:
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Anne Leckie's debut novel, Ancillary Justice, has been garnering much critical praise and awards hype (I suspect it will be a Hugo nominee). It's a space opera tale of betrayal and revenge, though that description doesn't really do it justice. While it does contain typical pot-boilery elements like that, it's also got a lot of ambitious but subtle social explorations embedded in its worldbuilding, as does most of the best science fiction.
The story alternates between past and present threads, weaving the timeframes together in such a way that each informs the other. In the beginning, we are introduced to Breq, a former soldier on a quest for revenge. She's come to an isolated, icy planet in search of the means for her revenge. Through the alternating timelines of each chapter, we learn that Breq used to be a segment in an artificial intelligence that ran a ship called Justice of Toren. There are layers of hierarchy and organization, but basically these ships are comprised of networked groups of Ancillaries, dead human bodies with the AI embedded into them. This is not a conceit or an idea for the sake of ideas; the exploration of this sorta post-human existence is the primary driving force behind the book. In Breq, a single body separated from her whole, we get a unique perspective on this sort of existence.
For her part, Leckie is able to establish all of this without resorting to excessive info-dumps. This is initially disorienting (though not as much as, say, The Quantum Thief), as the thread set in the past sometimes reads like a Pynchon novel, with the one AI's perspective shifting from Ancillary to Ancillary with each new sentence. It's disorienting because they're the same person, but they're thousands or even millions of miles away from each other, but once you get the hang of it, it works (in particular, the naming conventions of the various levels of hierarchy can be confusing at first). Interestingly, the more info-dumpy segments come later in the book, but by that point, you're wrapped up in the story enough that this information is happily received.
So the way the AI ships work is one aspect of the worldbuilding that works very well, but the other aspect is the social one. Being a space opera, we're of course talking about galactic empires and wars and such, but the empire that Leckie has established here is truly a fascinating one. The Radch are the dominant human society in the galaxy, having steadily annexed planet after planet over a 2000 year period. Of course, annexation in this context is a just a pretty word for conquered. The humans on an annexed planet that resist are killed and turned into ancillaries, which are then turned against the people. Comprehensive surveillance at the hands of Ancillaries makes it difficult to resist, but that's just the Radchaai way. Even the soldiers who are doing the annexing, the Radch citizens, do not receive any privacy. This goes on until a planet is pacified, and the Radch sink their hooks into the planets economy, leveraging gains (in both wealth and ancillaries) to annex other worlds. So basically, the Radch are not very pleasant folks. The Radchaii are lead by someone named Anaander Mianaai, who is very much like the artificial consciousness that run Radch ships in that she is comprised of many networked bodies. She's also near immortal and has basically been the Radchaai dictator for 2000 years.
The Radch identify each other mostly through Houses, tribal affiliations that are complicated and corporation-like. One corollary to this is that the Radch do not distinguish between genders, referring to everyone using only female pronouns like "she" and "her" (it is not explained why the female form is chosen over gender neutral ones, like some other authors have used). Breq, our protagonist, is implied to have a female body, but being an artificial intelligence of the Radch, she makes no distinction between male and female for herself or for others. Breq constantly has difficulties identifying gender when she is outside of the Radch empire (as she is in the present-day segments of the story). This aspect of the novel has garnered much praise for its progressive tendencies, though I'm not entirely sure the book means it to be read as a good thing. It certainly does generate some interesting discussion for us readers, but in the context of the book, it's a conceit imposed by a tyrant. Anaander Mianaai is many things, but one thing she will be to the reader is "evil". And the reason for this gender-blindness is simply her will. Just as it's her will to impose comprehensive surveillance on all citizens, or as we discover in the book, to slaughter innocent citizens by the thousands. And this is supposed to be progressive?
It's an interesting perspective, for sure, and while the constant use of female pronouns is initially jarring, it quickly fades away, partially because you get used to it, and partially because the Radch simply don't care and this story doesn't really need it (though it's implied that reproduction happens in a generally traditional manner, with perhaps some SF technological help (which, in itself, implies that the distinction must be made at some point, simply for reproductive purposes)). Still, the more important social structures seem to be the Houses and how they interact. Put simply, there's lots to chew on, and Leckie does seem to be aware of what came before her, as io9 notes:
For people who love science fiction, there are also many little tips of the hat that are pleasing without being intrusive or fan servicey. Breq's division on Justice of Toren are fond of singing, which brings to mind Anne McCaffery's incredible novel of ship consciousness, The Ship Who Sang. And of course the Radch civilization's lack of gender roles is reminiscent of the civilization that Ursula Le Guin describes in The Left Hand of Darkness. But as I was reading, the one comparison I kept making in my mind was to Iain M. Banks, who always reminded us that politics (and people) are far more complicated than most space operas will allow.Incidentally, I'd say this novel blows The Ship Who Sang away when it comes to exploring ship consciousness, but on the other hand, I found Le Guin's novel much more mind-blowing in terms of its gender bending (but then, that's a tough act to follow and not really a fair comparison for this book). And as mentioned recently, I really do need to get up to speed on Ian M. Banks.
So yes, this book has an impressive bit of worldbuilding going on, but it's all revealed slowly through the story, which has plenty of narrative hooks to keep you interested. Mystery, action, typical space opera tropes, an alien race that seems to be truly Alien (capital A, though we've not learned much about them just yet), that ambitious exploration of hive minds, and other ideas that help build and maintain the sensawunda feeling that comes out in the best SF. I really enjoyed the novel, and it's something I'd consider nominating for a Hugo award, if I end up submitting a ballot. As debut novels go, this is an assured effort, and I'm greatly looking forward to the next installment (due in October 2014).
Sunday, January 19, 2014
A 10 Question Book Meme
SF Signal posted these questions yesterday, and I'm amazingly on the ball here, giving my answers just one day later. Go me.
The last sf/f/h book I read and liked was:
Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold. I don't read a lot of Fantasy, but since I've already exhausted all of Bujold's SF, I figured I'd try out some of her Fantasy books rather than suffer through withdrawal pains. It turns out that these Chalion books are really good, too. This is the second in the series, but it's only loosely connected to the first, and the main character here was a bit player in the first book (but she's an excellent protagonist). It's an interesting book, because it's mostly talking and religion, with light action interspersed throughout. Anywho, I really loved it, and will probably be reading the third book in the near future...
The last sf/f/h book I read and wasn't crazy about was:
The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey. A book about a sentient spaceship that wasn't all that bad, but which never really connected with me. Something about the episodic nature of the plot bothered me as well.
The sf/f/h book I am reading now is:
The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu. I only just started this one this morning, one of a few 2013 books I planned on reading in support of my Hugo run this year... So far, so good!
The sf/f/h book(s) I most want to read next is/are:
Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks. I've put off reading Banks' Culture series long enough, I think.
An underrated sf/f/h book is:
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. I have no real sense of what is underrated or overrated out there, but this is a book that seems to consistently be left out of "best of" lists and such (for example: the NPR list)
An overrated sf/f/h book is:
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin. It's a fine book, to be sure, and I get why everyone loves it, but I never really got into it.
The last sf/f/h book that was recommended to me was:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I'm usually turned off by dystopian futures, but a friend recommended this and yes, she was right. It's a fun book.
A sf/f/h book I recommended to someone else was:
Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy came up in a discussion about the new movies (incidentally, wouldn't it be awesome if they made movies out of Zahn's books? Alas, I think the most we could expect would be a Thrawn cameo or somesuch.)
A sf/f/h book I have re-read is:
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. I've probably only reread about 4 or 5 books in my life, but I've read Cryptonomicon three times, which is impressive since it's a 900 page face melter. Or something.
A sf/f/h book I want to re-read is:
Almost anything by Lois McMaster Bujold (I'm curious to reread the beginning of the Vorkosigan series again) and Neal Stephenson (in particular, I'd like to dip into The Baroque Cycle again, though that's obviously a daunting task considering the 2700 page length!)
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Yet more links from the depths of the internet, posted for your enjoyment:
Sunday, January 12, 2014
Hugo Award Season 2014
So we've already begun the general award season, with top 10 lists galore peppering social media and publications, and the more formal awards shows are also getting underway (the Golden Globes are tonight, the Oscar nominations will be announced this week, and so on). For science fiction nerds, the Hugo award is generally considered to be the most prestigious, though the Nebula and Clarke awards also garner a lot of attention in certain circles.
Hugo voters must be involved in some way with the Worldcon SF convention that is held every year in a different location (this year is in London). It's a populist award in that anyone can become a voter, they just need to pay for some level of membership. This strikes me as an interesting balance, as the cost of entry should ensure at least some measure of seriousness in the voters. The Nebulas are given by members of the SFWA, which is its own unique perspective, and the Clarke awards are given by a jury (there are other awards, but these seem to be the most respected, and they represent an interesting range of voting rules).
As I mentioned in my 2013 recap, one thing I was thinking of doing this year was to actually join and vote on the Hugos (at the very least, read all the fiction nominees and vote on them, though I'm sure I'll be able to vote on TV and movie awards too). The nomination period has only just recently opened up, but in all honesty, I don't believe I've read enough to give quality nominations. Excuding non-fiction, I've read 6 things that would qualify as a 2013 release, 2 being novellas (or novelettes?) and 1 being The Human Division, which is basically a series of short stories, novelettes, and novellas slapped together into one book. Of the remaining three, two have a pretty good chance of being nominated anyway and the other is arguably not SF/Fantasy (I'd probably put it in horror/thriller/mystery territory). Of those, I'd consider nominating:
In any case, I'm looking forward to participating in the process this year, and it appears that the annual awards grousing has already started, with Adam Roberts taking a two-pronged approach with his usual style and wit:
SF Awards have, as a rule, much to recommend them; but they have two big flaws. One is the loyalty implied in the descriptor 'fan', in which a shitty work by an author of whom (or a shitty episode of a show of which) one is a fan gets your vote because that's what being a fan means -- it means sticking with your team. Ditto: voting for an author rather than voting for a text. Here the niceness or popularity of a given author may overshadow the merits of the books said author has actually produced. ...I think these are both fair points (and they demonstrate why I'm a bit hesitant to submit my nominations), though perhaps Roberts overstates their importance. Of the four nominations I would make, two are by authors I'd never even heard of, one is a relatively obscure piece of self-published short fiction, and the other is, well, John Scalzi (a frequent nominee that I suspect Roberts would point to as someone who gets works nominated because of who he is regardless of the quality of that particular work). But you'll note that I absolutely won't nominate The Human Division for best novel because it doesn't work very well as a novel (nor, I think, is it really supposed to just yet). Scalzi has definitely been nominated a bunch of times where I don't think the work warranted the inclusion (though Redshirts may not have been one of those times (as a winner, I'm not so sure...)). I'm as big a fan of Neal Stephenson as seems possible, but I doubt I'd have nominated Reamde a couple years ago, as it's not really science fiction (debatable, I guess, but that's definitely not the thrust). So yes, I'm a fan, but of the genre as a whole. I have certain preferences and blind spots, just like anyone else, but that's fine when it comes to populist awards, as my votes get smeared across all the other votes.
As for marketing campaigns and self-promotion by savvy authors on the internets, I'm sure there is an element of that in play, but again, I think Roberts overestimates some aspects of this. Scalzi is a pretty interesting example, as he has a huge following online and engages in exactly what Roberts is decrying here. His books seem to sell well and I'm sure the publishers do a fair amount of publicity for them too. Fortunately, Scalzi has responded to Roberts (in a friendly, amicable way) and I find that I have little to add to that. I will note that I would never in a million years have found The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself if Ian Sales had not built up some form of online audience. It's a self-published work with no expensive marketing campaigns or hype, and I think it kind of odd to begrudge him the notion of letting his blog audience know what is eligible (and in what category - I don't even know if The Eye is a novella, novelette, or short story?)
These are, of course, not new complaints. Last year's dustup made some pretty similar points, and the big issue here is that there's not really a way around it. The Hugos are a populist award, so great but obscure stuff might not make the cut. It seems odd to criticize a populist award for nominating popular works, though I guess the Hugo's position as the most respected SF award does warrant more scrutiny. But that's just the way populist awards work, and that's why awards like the Nebula and Clarke exist (each of which, by the way, are far from perfect in themselves). Anytime anyone puts together a best of anything list, there are bound to be dissenters and rules wonks who complain. In some ways, that's part of the fun! I guess we'll revisit this subject after this year's nominees are announced (which should be sometime in early April). I hope to check in before then with what I've been reading (and I'm already behind on that, actually), so stay tuned.
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