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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hugo Awards: Miscellaneous Thoughts
Just a few thoughts that I've not crammed into the multitude of other Hugo Award posts I've been making of late.
  • For the uninitiated, when you become a member of a given year's Worldcon, you get access to the Hugo Voter's Packet, which contains the grand majority of the nominated works. However, it's an entirely voluntary thing, and the decision generally resides with the publisher, not the author. Indeed, the voter's packet (in its current form, at least), is a relatively recent thing (about 10 years old?) and was not even an official part of the process for the first few years. The reason I bring all this up is that there are a lot of people who seem to be dinging a given work on their ballot simply because it was not included in the packet. This is especially prevalent in the novel category, where three of the 5 nominees only included an extended excerpt in the packet. These included my top two picks, Neptune's Brood and Ancillary Justice, so I hope not too many people are doing that. Interestingly, the two most hated works also seem to have the most generous publishers: Baen included all three books in the Grimnoir Chronicles (of which only the third was actually nominated), and Tor included the entire Wheel of Time (that's 14 books, 11,000+ pages, and 4.4+ million words, mighty generous of them). I even saw one person ding Six Gun Snow White because the packet only included it in PDF format (Which, yeah, is annoying, but really? You're going to hold that against the work?) For my part, while I definitely took advantage of the packet, I also tried not to base my decisions on what was or was not in the packet. I will admit that some of the more obscure categories were more difficult to track down and probably did play into my eventual rankings, but I wasn't consciously trying to punish the artists because of the way the voter's packet works.
  • I only ended up deploying the No Award option (and the associated action of leaving a work off the ballot) twice, in both cases because of general philosophical disagreements (one because I don't think you should be able to nominate 14 books as one work, and the other because it wasn't Science Fiction or Fantasy, and thus should not be in the discussion for a SF/F award). If I'm reading the rest of the internet right, I'm not nearly vindictive enough, as most folks seem to deploy No Award at the drop of the hat, often just because a story had the impertinence to be part of a sub-genre they don't like. I get the reason for the award, but I feel like it's being used way too often.
  • I've read a lot of things I wouldn't normally read. I have obviously found value in that, but the end result will change little of my overall reading pattern. Of all the stories I've read, the only definite thing I'm going to follow up on is to read more Ted Chiang. I will also probably be more open to Charles Stross than I have in the past (still, I've had spotty luck with Stross).
  • Things I'm disappointed didn't get nominated:
And I think that just about covers it. In a few weeks, I'll cover the winners, otherwise, we'll be returning to the Kaedrin of old. I'm sure you're all super excited. Try to contain yourself.
Posted by Mark on July 30, 2014 at 09:20 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hugo Awards: Final Ballot
We are coming down the homestretch; the voting deadline is July 31st, and I'm pretty much finished going through the categories I'm going to get to, so here's where things are shaking out:

Best Novel:
  1. Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross [My Review]
  2. Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie [My Review]
  3. Warbound by Larry Correia [My Review]
  4. Parasite by Mira Grant [My Review]
  5. No Award
Not listed is The Wheel of Time, mostly because it's simply absurd that so many books could be nominated as one entity. I read The Eye of the World and I'm almost finished with The Great Hunt, but nothing I've read indicates that I'd place it higher than any of the above. Incidentally, if only A Memory of Light was nominated, I probably wouldn't have gone this route (even though the end result would still be needing to read 4 million+ words in order to finish off the story, which is absurd).

Predicted Winner: Ancillary Justice

Best Novella:
  1. "The Chaplain's Legacy" by Brad Torgerson
  2. "Equoid" by Charles Stross
  3. Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente
  4. The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells
  5. No Award
See My Reviews for more details. Not listed is "Wakulla Springs" by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages, primarily because it is not Science Fiction or Fantasy (if this were a historical fiction award, then that story would certainly be near the top).

Predicted Winner: Six-Gun Snow White

Best Novelette:
  1. "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling", by Ted Chiang
  2. "The Lady Astronaut of Mars", by Mary Robinette Kowal
  3. "The Exchange Officers", by Brad Torgersen
  4. "The Waiting Stars", Aliette de Bodard
  5. "Opera Vita Aeterna", Vox Day
See My Reviews for more details. All nominees listed, no need to deploy No Award. I did drop "The Exchange Officers" down a peg since my original reading, mostly because the story here did not really stick with me at all (though it's still a fine story).

Predicted Winner: "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling"

Best Short Story:
  1. The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere, by John Chu
  2. Selkie Stories Are for Losers, by Sofia Samatar
  3. The Ink Readers of Doi Saket, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
  4. If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love, by Rachel Swirsky
See My Reviews for more details. All nominees listed, no need to deploy No Award.

Predicted Winner: The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:
  1. Gravity
  2. Iron Man 3
  3. Frozen
  4. Pacific Rim
  5. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
See my comments for more details. All nominees listed, no need to deploy No Award.

Predicted Winner: Gravity

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:
  1. "Game of Thrones" The Rains of Castamere
  2. "Doctor Who" The Day of the Doctor
  3. "Orphan Black" Variations Under Domestication
  4. "Doctor Who" The Name of the Doctor
  5. An Adventure in Space and Time
  6. The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot
See my comments for more details. All nominees listed, no need to deploy No Award.

Predicted Winner: "Doctor Who" The Day of the Doctor

Best Professional Artist:
  1. John Harris
  2. John Picacio
  3. Julie Dillon
  4. Galen Dara
  5. Fiona Staples
  6. Daniel Dos Santos
See my comments for more details. All nominees listed, no need to deploy No Award.

Predicted Winner: No idea!

Best Fan Artist:
  1. Sarah Webb
  2. Mandie Manzano
  3. Spring Schoenhuth
  4. Brad W. Foster
  5. Steve Stiles
See my comments for more details. All nominees listed, no need to deploy No Award.

Predicted Winner: Sarah Webb

Best Fan Writer:
  1. Abigail Nussbaum
  2. Mark Oshiro
  3. Liz Bourke
  4. Kameron Hurley
  5. Foz Meadows
See my comments for more details. All nominees listed, no need to deploy No Award.

Predicted Winner: Abigail Nussbaum

And that covers all the categories I'll be voting for (there are several others that I just won't get to). All in all, it's been a fun year. I can't say as though I discovered anything that really blew me away, but I'm really happy with this whole experience (the annoyance caused by various controversies notwithstanding). Since my supporting membership qualifies me to vote on next year's awards as well, you can probably expect to see this whole rigmarole again next year. I know, I know, you're already looking forward to it. In the meantime, we'll probably have a couple more posts on general stuff about the Hugos, and I am really curious to see how the voting turns out (sometime in mid-August).
Posted by Mark on July 27, 2014 at 04:08 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hugo Awards: The No Vote Categories
There sure are a lot of categories for the Hugo Awards (that's 17 categories, if I'm counting correctly). My main focus has been on the fiction awards, but I've obviously been making my way through a lot of the others. That being said, there are some I just won't get to, whether that's because I don't really care about the category or I just don't have the time to make my way through it. So don't expect to see much about these categories:
  • Best Editor, Short Form - Honestly, I have no idea how we're supposed to judge these editors. If I were a writer who had worked directly with all these people, that'd be a different story, but as a reader, I'm just not sure what to make of these two Editor categories. How should I know how good an editor is? As I understand it, a great editor should be invisible to the reader, no?
  • Best Editor, Long Form - Ditto!
  • Best Related Work - Not a category I'm inherently opposed to or anything, I just won't have the time to make my way through it (though perhaps someday, I'll read some of them).
  • Best Graphic Story - While I do have a certain fondness for Randall Munroe's "Time" (XKCD) I don't think I'll be bringing myself to read the other nominees (only 3 of which are included in the packet). It's another timing thing here, not really a comment on the category itself.
  • Best Semiprozine - If someone can explain what the hell a semiprozine actually is, I might be more inclined to spend more time figuring this category out. It seems to me that "zines", even ones that involve paid contributers like these semipro ones, are a pretty outmoded concept. I mean, do these things actually get printed up and distributed in this day and age? As it is, I think I'll probably give this category a pass.
  • Best Fanzine - Again, the concept of a fanzine seems rather outmoded, especially when you consider that the grand majority of the nominees are basically just blogs (the packet shows the content in a more traditional zine-like format, but does that really matter). Since I have actually read a bunch of these, I may end up submitting a ballot here, just because I might have an actual opinion. Still, this category begs some questions. Maybe we should consolidate these zine categories and the fan writer category into something that resembles what people actually do these days.
  • Best Fancast - If I have time to get to this category, I will. I've tried various SF/F podcasts in the past and have been generally unimpressed, but I've only tried one of the nominees, so I might try to check this one out if I have time.
  • The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer - Technically not a Hugo award, but it's facilitated through the same process. I don't think I'll have time to get to this, but I will say that I have read (and enjoyed) one of the nominated works (The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu) in the course of my normal reading, which I guess says something.
So I'm basically done with all of my Hugo consumption, and the votes are due in about a week. I am still reading some Wheel of Time stuff, but I'm doubting I'll finish that in time and I've not seen anything that really changes my mind. So only a handful of Hugo posts left. I'll post my final ballot at some point, as well as some other thoughts on the process in general, and I'll probably post something once the winners are announced. Otherwise, posting will return to its former glory, what with the link dumps and movie bloviating.
Posted by Mark on July 23, 2014 at 11:10 PM .: Comments (3) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hugo Awards: Warbound
Warbound is the third book in Larry Correia's Grimnoir Chronicles, and (finally) the one that was nominated for this year's best novel Hugo. Because I tend to take a completist view of this sort of thing, I read the first two novels in the series, Hard Magic and Spellbound, and generally enjoyed them. Correia has mashed up a number of genres - action, noir, fantasy, even a little steampunk, etc... - and made it work. This is no small feat, and I suspect many attempts at this sort of thing do not work anywhere near as well. And Correia is a telented storyteller as well. There are things set up in the first two books that pay off here, indicating a thoughtful approach. Plus, it's just fun. This is a quality that I suspect is lost on a lot of people, but not on me! Even though this particular genre mashup is not exactly in my wheelhouse, I appreciated the series as a whole.

So I basically knew what I was in for in this book, and it delivered on all the promises made by the first two installments. As an individual entry in the series, I'd say it's about on par with the rest of it (perhaps better than the second installment, but only because middle stories in a trilogy tend to be incomplete).

The story picks up right where Spellbound left off. Heavy Jake Sullivan is trying to mobilize a force to face the Pathfinder, a scout for the great Enemy that will devour the world if the Pathfinder is successful. Meanwhile, Faye Vierra is coming to terms with being the spellbound and must seek out help to ensure that she is not corrupted by the power that "curse" has granted her. When Sullivan and Faye find out that the Pathfinder has been more successful than it seemed, the planet is about to be plunged into a great battle against the Enemy. You might even say that Earth was warbound. Heh.

The plot is a bit broken up here, with Faye's story almost completely isolated from Sullivan's, and with some prominent characters from the first two books making an appearance, but otherwise sidelined for most of the book. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's another indication of how loose the series has been. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, and it's clearly not as bloated or flabby as something like The Wheel of Time books that I've read so far, but I do find myself thinking that these books could stand to be a bit shorter.

As per usual, Sullivan and Faye take the brunt of character work, and they're both likable protagonists. Toru is also the type of character that grew on me as time went on. As always, there's a colorful cast of supporting characters, including some new faces (I was a fan of Wells, the alienist - a slightly less creepy version of Hannibal Lecter).

As I mentioned in the previous two reviews, one of my problems with stories about magic is how overpowered the magic becomes as the story progresses. The stakes are continually rising, and because it's magic, it's tempting to just keep making the magic more powerful. For the most part, Correia has pulled it off in this series. In part, this is because he set up some very clear rules, and used logical extensions of those rules to find new powers. By the end of this book, things were getting a bit too overpowered, but then, this is also the last book, so I think some leeway is required. I'm pretty impressed that Correia was able to balance everything out this well.

I guess this is a spoiler, but not really - Faye saves the world (as she did in the first two books), but on a larger scale. Faye is basically the main protagonist, and she's a bit terrifying. This is partly because she is so powerful, but also because she seemingly kills hundreds if not thousands of people throughout the series, but feels not a single pang of guilt towards it. For that matter, Sullivan and the rest of the Grimnoir are similar in that way, so perhaps that's a Correia thing. But in this book, there is at least an acknowledgement that such wanton bloodlust will lead to disaster. Faye is the spellbound, which means that she can absorb the power of magical actives when they die. This is why she is so powerful. But such power can also corrupt, and the previous spellbound became consumed by his quest for power and became a mindless killing machine (basically driving this alternate history's version of WWI) Faye spends a good portion of the novel trying to come to terms with the fact that she could easily be corrupted in that way, and she catches herself thinking things that would lead down that path. I was glad to see this tacit acknowledgement that all this death and destruction wasn't really a desirable thing, even if Correia seems to revel in the violence and action of it all.

And finally, a word on the audiobooks. Even though Baen very thoughtfully included all three novels in the Hugo Voter's Packet, I listened to the audiobook for all of them. As it turns out, the book is read by Bronson Pinchot. Yes, that Bronson Pinchot. And he's really fantastic (supposedly, these books have won him awards), seemingly able to handle a multitude of accents and vocal registers (given the worldwide scope of these stories, there are a lot of foreign accents required). From Audible, it seems he has 144 titles available, which is a pretty impressive body of work.

This wraps up all of the fiction awards that I'm voting for. My ballot for best novel is basically as predicted, with this one falling right smack in the middle, behind Neptune's Brood and Ancillary Justice, but ahead of Parasite (that ending has really curdled in my mind as time goes on) and The Wheel of Time. In the end, I probably wouldn't have read all three of these books if left to my druthers, but I have had no real issue with them either. They're a ton of fun, and I may even be tempted to check out some of Correia's Monster Hunter books if I get in the mood for something like that.

Obligatory note of all the controversy surrounding the nomination of this book. I've already (briefly) discussed it elsewhere, but I tended to concentrate more on reading all the nominees. Now that I've read all of Correia's "Sad Puppy" slate of nominees, I'd say it was a pretty mixed bag in terms of quality. Then again, so were a lot of the nominees overall, but that's just the way of populist awards. I appreciate reading some things outside of my comfort zone, and this was a good way to accomplish that. I get the consternation around this, but I was ultimately pretty happy with this whole experience.

From your perspective, only a few more Hugo posts to go. I am reading The Great Hunt (the second book in the Wheel of Time series), so I'll probably review that when I finish (short story here is that I like this better than the first book, but it's still ridiculous that this series got nominated as a whole. I'm reading this book because Tor very thoughtfully included the entire damn thing in the voter's packet. But according to my kindle, I have about 266 more hours of reading to go before I finish the series, which ain't going to happen by the end of the month). There are definitely some awards that I won't be voting for (how am I supposed to vote for Editors?), and I have some other assorted thoughts about the whole process as well. I'll post my final ballot when I get the chance as well. Then I'll have to find something else to write about, because I'm sure my readers (all three of you!) are getting pretty sick of this Hugo stuff.
Posted by Mark on July 20, 2014 at 07:50 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hugo Awards: Best Artists
The are two awards for artists in the hugos, one for Pro Artist and one for Fan Artist. The line between these two categories seems to be blurring every day, with some publishers trolling the likes of DeviantArt to get their book covers and whatnot, but there are two categories, and so here we are. The voter's packet comes with sample works for most of the Pro Artists and only a few of the Fan Artists. This is a little strange, as I'm not sure how much to weight the packet works. In general, I tried to base my decisions on what was included in the packet, though I also tried to check out their websites.

For Pro Artist, 5 out of 6 nominees included stuff in the packet, so I'm mostly basing my decisions on that, though I did look at each website as well.
Ancillary Justice Cover by John Harris
  • John Harris - These were my favorite of the nominated works, very SF and focused on landscapes/spacescapes with spaceships and whatnot. All of Scalzi's Old Man's War books have Harris covers (and if I'm not mistaken, Scalzi likes to credit Harris as one reason why his books sell), and so is one of this year's nominees, Ancillary Justice (pictured above).
  • John Picacio - By far, the best presentation in the voter's packet, with clean versions of the art next to the actual book cover (with the title and other text, etc...) And the art is pretty good too. I was particularly taken with the piece entitled "La Luna".
  • Julie Dillon - These tend to be fantasy focused, and while some are bog standard examples of the stereotypical thing you'd picture a fantasy book as having, there are several that were much more inventive and striking.
  • Galen Dara - The voter's packet was inexplicably light for this artist, with only three entries, all of which were based on The Wizard of Oz. Left to only that, I may have ranked this lower, but there's some fantastic art at the website, so I guess that needs to be taken into account as well.
  • Fiona Staples - This is the only artist without anything in the packet. She is the artist on a comic book series called Saga. I've not read that, but I found a bunch of cover art, which tends to be what this is based on. Still, I can't help but think her lack of info in the packet is serving her poorly.
  • Daniel Dos Santos - Something about all of these rubbed me the wrong way. Very focused on human beings and actually kinda repetitive in their composition. Nothing really bad or anything, but I was more taken with some of the above.
For Fan Artist, only 3 had included works in the packet, and two of them only included 3 entries, which makes it hard to judge.
Sarah Webb artwork
  • Sarah Webb - A clear favorite here, with many fantastic, original works (9 of which are in the packet). Nothing derivative here, and indeed, each of these paintings sorta cries out for a story, which is all you can ask from an artist.
  • Mandie Manzano - Nothing in the packet, but from her website, it appears that she specializes in a sorta faux stained-glass style that actually works rather well.
  • Spring Schoenhuth - Another not included in the packet, and indeed, most of this work is actually not painting but sculpture or jewelry. They are distinctly SF in nature, though I get the impression that this sort of thing isn't normally nominated. From what I can see, these are mostly pretty good though.
  • Brad W. Foster - Only three pieces included in the packet, and two seem pretty standard stuff, but they're colorful and pleasant enough. The last one, though, is very playful and complex, if a bit rough around the edges (and it looks like it was stitched together weirdly).
  • Steve Stiles - My clear least favorite, and exactly what you fear when someone says "Fan Artist", though perhaps that's being too harsh.
So there you have it. Stay tuned for more Hugo blathering, but don't worry, only a few weeks left of this nonsense.
Posted by Mark on July 16, 2014 at 08:40 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Hugo Awards: Best Dramatic Presentations (Long Form and Doctor Who-Form)
So now we're getting into some of the more obscure awards categories, and these seem to be a true outlier, as they cover forms that are well covered outside the Hugos. There are some who don't see the point in these categories because of that, but given how little respect genre filmmaking tends to get, I'm not as gloomy. I love movies, so Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form tends to be a pretty easy one for me. Of course, the issue I have with the category this year is that my preferred #1 pick (Upstream Color) was not nominated (another reason I should have nominated this year)... In any case, here's my tentative ballot. In all honesty, once you get past #1, I could probably swap a lot around depending on how I feel at the time, but this is where I'm at for now:
  1. Gravity - Have spacesuit, will travel. Perhaps more for the technical, visual achievement than for the rather straightforward story and thematic elements, this nevertheless worked on me much more than the other nominees and is a clear #1 vote. Was in my top 10 from last year, and also won the coveted Kaedrin Most Visually Stunning award...
  2. Iron Man 3 - This is a movie that has grown in my estimation over time, and while I enjoyed it just fine on first viewing, I found the second viewing better for some reason. Not dramatically so, but Shane Black's script does give this a slight edge, and it helps that the Marvel movies tend to underline and reinforce other entries in the series. This was a "Just Missed the Cut" pick last year, but I think I might upgrade it to full blown honorable mention.
  3. Frozen - A movie I didn't actually see last year, but caught up with eventually because it became so popular. And I'm glad I did, as I'd rank it amongst the upper tier of recent-era Disney flicks (not including Pixar, of course). I don't think I'd put it above a good portion of their renaissance period stuff from the late 80s and early 90s, but it comports itself very well indeed, and I enjoyed it, even if it's not something that's really sticking with me...
  4. Pacific Rim - I'm really surprised that I have this as low as I do, because I was really high on this when I first saw it. And to be sure, it is still a big ball of fun, but catching it again as it airs on cable, I notice that I only really care about one particular monster battle (which, granted, is pretty great). That being said, this is one of the few movies where a sequel might actually excite me (and it's happening, so we'll see it again).
  5. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - A fine movie, perhaps even an improvement over the first installment (in terms of filmmaking craft, at least) and Jennifer Lawrence is wonderful as always (as was Jena Malone and honestly, the casting is all rather great), but my problems with these movies relate more to the worldbuilding and setting of the story. In particular, I find the villainous totalitarian regime to be incompetent in the extreme, and the movies even stress that more than the books. I always feel weird in thinking that I would be a much better dictator than this President Snow moron, but here we are. So while many of the tactical elements of these movies are fine (which leads to a generally enjoyable viewing experience), it's the strategic background that I have a problem with. And because that background is always there, I can never really get past it...
Also conspicuously absent from this category is Her, another small indie film that perhaps didn't get seen by enough voters. Upstream Color was at least on Netflix Instant, so there's no excuse there. But then, I guess Hugo voters are predominantly literature-focused, which lends credence to the pointlessness of these awards. If you're not going to do the work of seeking out interesting stuff, this category doesn't make too much sense.

And now we come to the Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, which is also basically known as the "Best Doctor Who episode of the year" award. Year in, year out, this award is dominated by Doctor Who episodes. They usually comprise 3-4 of the nominees, and one of those has won the award 6 out of 8 times. There are 6 nominees this year, and 4 are Doctor Who related (though two of those are more meta-Doctor Who stories than actual Doctor Who episodes). I also fully expect one of these episodes to win.

As someone on the relative outskirts of Doctor Who fandom, this was not a terribly exciting category. I definitely remember watching old-school Doctor Who on PBS when I was a youngin, but the only real episode that I remember was a Tom Baker one called State of Decay, and honestly, I haven't seen it in over 20 years. I have been very slowly working my way through the modern-era series (currently on Season 3), and I am seeing distinct improvements as time goes on (season 1 was a real slog though). So I think I generally had enough context to watch these episodes, even if there were some bits that I was clearly not getting... That being said, here's my tentative ballot:
  1. "Game of Thrones" The Rains of Castamere - It is so very rare that a series can pull off a surprise of such magnitude in the third season, especially when you consider that the show already had a reputation (to put it mildly). This was amongst the most shocking moments of television that I've ever witnessed, so I feel I have to acknowledge that in the voting. I don't know how the creators pulled this off (and while irrelevant to this particular episode, they continue to pull off such feats in season 4). I know this show is not for everyone, and heck, this shocking moment is ridiculously tragic and heinous, but it's so well executed that I find it difficult to recognize anything else.
  2. "Doctor Who" The Day of the Doctor - As I understand it, this feature-length episode (released in theaters, even) commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who had many potential pitfalls and could very well have been an utter failure. That it works reasonably well, even for underseasoned Who dorks like myself is a testament to how successful they were. I'm sure I was missing out on some things, but I found it to be an above-average Who episode, which was well done and had plenty of interesting ideas (and some nice cameos that I did pick up on). I fully expect this to take the award this year, even if it's not my favorite of the episodes.
  3. "Orphan Black" Variations Under Domestication - This is a show that I had planned to check out at some point, especially when it went on Amazon Prime Instant, but the Hugo nom is what got me to actually start the show. So far, so good, and I'll almost certainly continue to watch. I haven't been so sucked in as to full-bore binge it, but I've enjoyed the series to date. This is a good episode, though I don't really see what distinguishes this from the rest of the series, such that it deserves a nomination. As a whole, the series is fun, but seems a little too dependent on a amazing lead performance (several, actually) from Tatiana Maslany. There are worse things to be said, but grand conspiracy stories always give me pause.
  4. "Doctor Who" The Name of the Doctor - I will say, I felt like this episode was more problematic for underseasoned Who viewers like myself, though it wound up being a decent enough episode I guess. I really don't have much to say about it though. It's clearly not as good as "The Day of the Doctor", nor would I put it ahead of the other nominated shows... However, it is at least science fiction, which can't be said about the next two nominees.
  5. An Adventure in Space and Time - Not a Doctor Who episode, per say, but it's basically the dramatization of the making of the show during the time of the first Doctor. As such, it doesn't feel much like science fiction and is being ranked accordingly. That being said, it's reasonably well done and never bored me or anything like that...
  6. The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot - Also not a Doctor Who episode, this one is more like a sorta parody of the making of the 50th Anniversary. It stars the living actors who have played Doctor Who (but who were not really featured in the 50th Anniversary episode) as they try to find a way to be included, in some way. It's played for laughs, and is clearly taking the piss out of the likes of Steven Moffat, etc... but it's also not science fiction, and to me, a fair amount of the humor didn't really work so much. Again, I get the feeling that this is more for die hard fans of the series, so I'm certain I'm missing something, but as it shakes out, this one remains at the bottom of my ballot...
This category seems more problematic than the Long Form, if only because of the constant Doctor Who love. I don't really see any solution though, as nominating a whole season would be more of a "Long Form" accomplishment, but if you open it to individual episodes, you get multiples from the same show. I do wonder what else would be nominated if any given show was limited to a single episode (the mechanics of which would be a bit odd, but still). That might get a wider array of shows nominated, but then, what if Doctor Who legitimately had the two best episodes of SF television last year? There's no real solution, I guess, but I am glad I watched these, so there is that. We've got some other obscure categories to cover here, and some that I probably won't cover at all (looking at you, Editing categories!) I should complete Warbound soon, at which point I'll be mostly done with the fiction (I am actually reading the second Wheel of Time book, but so far, I see nothing that will change my feelings on the series). So stay tuned, more Hugo stuff is incoming...
Posted by Mark on July 13, 2014 at 12:07 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Hugo Awards: Best Fan Writer
This is a category about writers who publish non-professional work. This can appear in appear in a number of venues, but all of this year's nominees are actually bloggers (there is some consternation about some of these non-fiction categories, as they seem to maintain a lot of legacy publications, like "zines", which have generally moved onto the web these days. Not being that familiar with the history here, I'll refrain from commenting further, except to say that it seems like some reform might be wise at this point). The writer in question may actually be a professional, but the publication cannot be so. For example, John Scalzi (winner of last year's Hugo for Best Novel) won this award a few years ago for his blog.

Other than that, the criteria here is a bit on the vague side. From my perspective, the name of the award indicates that the author should be a fan of something. And since this is about Science Fiction and Fantasy, that fandom should probably relate to works in those fields. This does not preclude them from writing about other things, or from a particular perspective, but one of the things I found this category is that many authors are preoccupied with a single topic that has little to do with actual Science Fiction.

Of course, this notion of reviewing authors who review SF does feel a bit awkward. I am nominally a part of this field, though I'm nowhere near as talented as these authors. But then, I'm not a particularly good fiction author either, and I've got enough hubris to think my opinion matters there, so what the hey? Let's get to it. My ranking as it stands now:
  1. Abigail Nussbaum - She comes into this category with a bit of an unfair advantage, in that she's a blogger I already read regularly. This is because she's a fantastic critic. Even if I don't agree with her (and I frequently don't), her thoughts are always clearly articulated and well thought out. You can tell, because her posts are often almost comically long. Some might find that off-putting, but as someone who has a tendency to ramble, I can't find fault in that (and to be clear, I don't think she's rambling). Like all of the female nominees, Nussbaum will frequently comment on the depiction of women in SF/F, but unlike some of the other nominees, this is not always an overriding topic, but rather one amongst many layers of depth that she embeds in her reviews. There are times when it seems like she likes nothing or that she comes off rather strong, but that's the way of the critic. To me, she is a clear winner here, while the rest are all on relatively equal footing.
  2. Mark Oshiro - The idea here seems to be absurdly in-depth reviews of specific books (or TV shows). I get the impression that this would work extremely well if you were playing along and reading the same books, but if you're not, I don't think you'd want to read regularly. On the other hand, one of the posts included in the Hugo Voter's Packet was a review of the pilot episode of Pushing Daisies. I actually added season 1 to my Netflix queue (yes, I still get discs, wanna fight about it?) based on his enthusiasm. Of the nominees, only Oshiro and Nussbaum have managed to guide me in that way (i.e. as a fan), which is why they get the top slots). There's an awful lot of stuff at Oshiro's site though, and I did not have time to read through most of it, especially considering that I have not read a lot of the stuff he's covering. But when he is, I'm on board. This gives him a slight edge over the rest of the nominees.
  3. Liz Bourke - This is a blog for Tor that is specifically designated to look "at the successes and failures of media in terms of portraying women, touching on the history of women in the genre, and highlighting discussions about women and genre in the blogosphere." So the perspective here is pretty consistent, but strangely, it doesn't feel as dominant as the next two nominees. It could be that much of the work focuses on actual book reviews, which are generally well done (though not as detailed or multi-faceted as Nussbaum's work). Also, she seems to actually like the books she's reading, which could lead to the same sort of infectious enthusiasm as Oshiro.
  4. Kameron Hurley - Another blog that is seemingly devoted to the political feminism of the genre, I was a little turned off by the fact that none of the posts in the Voter's Packet were really about SF/F. There was one good post about My Little Pony fandom that I suppose would qualify, but it's not really about being a fan of that show so much as how female fans should feel about Bronies. It's an interesting and thought provoking post, and in poking around on her blog, I'm seeing some other interesting stuff as well. I would put this one about on par with the previous nominee and could probably swap the two...
  5. Foz Meadows - Yet another blog that is almost completely devoted to feminist rebuttals of misogyny in fandom. Unlike previous nominees, this one has a distinctly informal air, with stuff like Futurama memes and a tone that is filled with exasperated rage. In a lot of cases, this is a justified reaction, but it can also get repetitive. And this is another situation where I don't get the impression that Meadows doesn't actually like a lot of this stuff. That doesn't make her a bad writer or mean that her blog is worthless, but it does seem less about SF/F than the other nominees. It can be a fun read, but it's funny, it kinda reminds me of Larry Correia's blog in a lot of ways. They are, of course, complete political opposites, but that's kinda the point - they are both preaching to their respective choirs.
So there you have it. Stay tuned for the Best Dramatic Presentation (short and long form) ballots on Sunday.
Posted by Mark on July 09, 2014 at 11:42 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Hugo Awards: Novellas
Another category that is dedicated to stories that are not long enough to be considered a "Novel", nor short enough to be a "Short Story" (or, as we must apparently consider in SF, a "Novelette"). As such, these tend to be quick reads, somewhere on the order of 2 hours each (give or take). This year's slate is an odd one. I find myself waffling on how I should rank my votes. This is also a category that makes me wish I submitted a nomination ballot, as I'd really love to be voting for Ian Sales' excellent novella The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself, which would be near the top (if not the top) of my ballot. Alas, it was not to be. Here's where I'm at right now, though some of the middle votes may swap around a bit.
  1. "The Chaplain's Legacy" by Brad Torgerson (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013) - I did not realize when I started this that there was a previous story in this series ("The Chaplain's Assistent"), but fortunately, it does not seem necessary to have read the preceding work. The backstory here is that humanity was attacked by a technologically superior insectoid race of aliens called Mantes. Complete annihilation at the hands of the Mantes was forstalled almost by accident, as the Chaplain's Assistent befriended a mantis scholar who subsequently became intrigued with the human practice of religion and convinced his superiors that humanity should be spared so that they could study this curiosity (there is some hinting that the Mantes' biology is not very conducive to religion). As this story opens, a few years have passed and the Mantes are starting to get antsy again. It seems like the peace is about to collapse, so the Chaplain's Assistant is called on again to help preserve the peace. Hijinks ensue. Ranking this at #1 might be a bit on the controversial side, and I can pretty much guarantee that it won't win, but it is the story that I connected with the most. This is one of the works nominated via Larry Correia's "Sad Puppy" slate, which is apparently strike 1 for a large portion of readers. It's military SF (strike 2) and Torgerson's style tends to lean towards the functional, prosaic prose of yore (strike 3). Of course, given where I'm ranking this, you will realize that these issues either don't matter too much to me. Of Torgerson's two nominated stories (the other being "The Exchange Officers" on the Novelette ballot), this is clearly superior, both in terms of basic prose style and in terms of SFnal ideas. That being said, the story is a bit on the talky side (at least, in the middle, when things aren't explodey) and I can see why some would chafe at the way some of these ideas are presented. That being said, it has some interesting things to say about faith, about disbelievers, and about over-reliance on technology. Ironically, many of the core themes (which are admittedly stated a little too baldly in the text) are about tolerance or openness, such as:
    Just because I don't necessarily believe in any of it doesn't mean I have to doubt or deride its value for other people.
    Disbelieving and being openly scornful of belief are not the same thing.
    Now, there are many who will read that, and jump down Torgerson's throat because he's on the Sad Puppy slate and that somehow means he's a privileged, bigoted maniac, but as a general idea, it's something worth taking to heart. I get that there are many who have suffered at the hands of religion and I might not portray this type of story exactly the way he did, but then, why would I? He made me think about those ideas, whether I agree with him on some of the specifics or not. I enjoyed this story and found it more thought provoking than the others. However, I can see why other stories would hold more value to the portion of fandom that got these other stories nominated. But then, I would say that, given the above!
  2. "Equoid" by Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013) - This is part of Stross' Laundry series of stories, though again, it appears to be mostly stand-alone. The series seems to be a humorous, bureaucratic take on the Lovecraft mythos. The "Laundry" is the codename(?) of a governmental secret agency that deals with Lovcraftean horrors, and in this case, our hapless paperwork jockey hero Bob Howard is tasked with investigating a potential Unicorn outbreak. Oh, and unicorns are not the fluffy, majestic beings you might be thinking of, but rather disgusting and gross and potentially cataclysmic. I have been aware of this series for a while and always wanted to check them out, but Stross has always been hit or miss for me, so I'm glad I started with a shorter tale before going all-in on the novels. For the most part, I enjoyed this story, even if Stross' dark humor doesn't quite jive with me all the time. He does a nice Lovecraft impression when needed (portions of this novella consist of a letter supposedly penned by Lovecraft himself, which gives Stross the task of aping Lovecraft), and the goofy bureaucracy that combats all this stuff is well realized. The reversal of expectations surrounding unicorns is a lot of fun, and while I'm sure Stross veers a bit too far into gross-out territory for some, horror dorks like myself are desensitized to such shenanigans (though the comic tone helps). I can't say as though I'm inspired to seek out the rest of the stories, which I guess says something, but I'm glad I did manage to dip my toes into this universe.
  3. Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean Press) - Here we have a retelling of the Snow White story, this time set (as the title suggests) in the old American West. Valente apparently looked at the original Grimm tale and decided that it was not nearly dark enough. Considering that the original story ends with the wicked stepmother being forced to dance herself to death while wearing glowing-hot iron shoes, that's saying something. Snow White is abused rather heavily throughout the story, first through a neglectful father, then through the wicked stepmother. She eventually runs away (a key difference from the original story), and seeks some semblance of peace with Valente's version of the 7 dwarfs (which are really just 7 other spurned and abused women who had banded together in the woods...) Some of these updates work well: Making Snow White a badass gunfighter is fantastic, and I like the take on the huntsman (their encounter is very different from the original story, and the highlight of this novella for me, as after this encounter, I feel like the story sorta falls apart). Other changes are perhaps less successful, and the pacing, especially in the middle of the novella, can be challenging. The ending does manage to go to an unexpected place, but I found that the story had basically lost me by that point. It is perhaps unfair to judge this based on the original work, but like all remakes, it begs that question. It also made me want to go back and read Neil Gaiman's short story Snow, Glass, Apples, which I found to be a much more interesting and successful subversion of the original tale. That being said, I fully expect this to win the award.
  4. The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells (Privateer Press) - Media tie-in fiction holds a weird place in fandom. On the one hand, I feel like most readers cut their teeth on stuff like this (for me, it was Zahn's Thrawn trilogy), and they seem to sell like hotcakes, but they never seem to garner any real respect. This is another "Sad Puppy" nomination, so I'm afraid it won't change that trend. Also, it's not that great. Wells does his best, and I can see talent here, but some of the basics just don't work for me here. The quasi-steampunk setting is one that holds little interest to me, and this is clearly aimed at folks who are fans of Warhammer. I wasn't super confused or anything, so it kinda worked as a stand-alone, but it really felt like it was providing a backstory to an existing character. That might be fine, but this character seemed like a villain, and his motivation (quasi-avenging his murdered love) is a pretty overplayed trope. I don't know if Wells was handcuffed by that or if he had the freedom to come up with what he wanted and chose this anyway, but in either case, it wasn't something that worked that well for me. Wells tried his best to make it interesting, with a complicated non-linear narrative and plenty of action, but it all fell rather flat for me. I would be very curious to see if a media tie-in work could ever be nominated and win, but this is clearly not the story to break that ground.
  5. "Wakulla Springs" by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages (Tor.com, 10-2013) - Here's the thing: this isn't science fiction. It's not even fantasy (except insofar as all fiction is fantasy). We could quibble about a few things. It has references to Tarzan and The Creature from the Black Lagoon, but those are barely even window-dressing. There are two sentences close to the end of the story, but neither are very important. What we really have here is a series of slice-of-life vignettes told in a literary historical fiction style. As those things go, it's good, maybe even fantastic, but it's baffling to me that this has been nominated for a Hugo. I read the whole thing, but it's pretty emphatically not what I'm looking for out of SF/F. I get that there are some folks who think this is pushing boundaries and growing the genre or something, but I don't see it at all. I don't mind reading outside my comfort zone, and I'm glad I read this, but I have a really hard time trying to consider this a genre story. I've always said that genres are blurry around the edges, but there needs to be some semblance of the core of a genre, and this one is so far from the outskirts that calling it SF/F would be to call most any story SF/F.
Of the situations where I would consider deploying No Award (and/or leaving a work off the ballot), Wakulla Springs might take the cake. But then, judging from the other folks playing along, I'm way more hesitant to use No Award than anyone else.
Posted by Mark on July 06, 2014 at 07:37 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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