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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Recent Documentaries
As I get older, I find myself more and more attracted to documentaries. I don't know if this is a function of my own personal proclivities or if it's that more documentaries are being made or that in the age of the internet, they're just more accessible than ever. It's probably some combination of all those factors, but I've found myself ranking at least one, sometimes two, documentaries in my top 10s for just about every year. I don't generally like "activist" documentaries (too much ax grinding to actually be effective), though if you're Errol Morris, I can make an exception (not sure if you'd consider The Unknown Known an "activist" film, but I'll most certainly be checking it out at some point) - The Thin Blue Line buys him a permanent exception. I tend to gravitate towards documentaries about professions or activities, personalities famous or unknown. This year has seen a bunch of interesting ones, all lining up in the past couple months (for me, at least). So here are four documentaries that I found worthwhile:
  • Jodorowsky's Dune - I watch a lot of weird movies, so when I say that Alejandro Jodorowsky's movie El Topo is, without a doubt, the oddest, most disturbing movie I've ever seen, that's saying a lot. You could make a similar argument for his follow up, The Holy Mountain, but once you've seen El Topo, you kinda know what you're in for. After those two cult oddities, Jodorowsky was somehow tapped to direct an adaptation of Frank Herbert's novel Dune. This documentary tells the tale of that failed but profoundly influential production.
    Dune Concept Art
    It's an interesting topic for in-depth exploration (indeed, I was writing about this on the blog way back in 2001), and director Frank Pavich clearly forged all the necessary connections to garner access to all of the copious amounts of pre-production materials, as well as interviews with key collaborators, including Jodorowsky himself. The movie covers Jodorowsky's early career and how he came to be involved with Dune, then chronicles all of his recruitment efforts and pre-productiion work. The movie bogs down a bit and gets a little repetitive when you hit the recruitment phase, as it's a similar structure of Jodorowsky meeting with this or that famous artist and convincing him or her to take a chance on his kooky little movie.
    H.R. Giger Concept Art
    That being said, the sheer amount of talent that Jodorowsky managed to pull was staggering. Salvador Dali and Orson Welles were cast in key roles. Pink Floyd was going to do the score. Dan O'Bannon was going to do special effects. Chris Foss, H.R. Giger, and Jean 'Moebius' Giraud provided countless sketches, storyboards, and concept art. After the project fell apart, many of the collaborators hooked up in other projects, most notably O'Bannon, Foss, and Giger for Alien and Foss on Star Wars, amongst many other productions. So while Jodorowsky's Dune was never made, the shadow of its influence spreads far.

    The only point of hesitation I have about the documentary is that there are no counterpoints. Everyone points to the collaborators or its influence as evidence that it would have been great, but when I hear Jodorowsky talking about the book and what he wanted for the movie, then look at his earlier work, I hesitate to say whether this thing would be any good. Indeed, while I respect Jodorowsky's work, I find it hard to believe that it's as beloved as portrayed in this movie. Indeed, the movie plays it a little coy when it comes to the reasons why the project fell through (In short, few were willing to finance something like this, and I wonder how much of that was Jodorowsky's reputation versus how ambitious or audatious this specific project was). It's a little one sided in its praise and it would have been interesting to see someone counter all the hyperbole that was being laid on pretty thick by the folks interviewed. That being said, this was a fascinating documentary and well worth checking out.
  • Milius - An interesting look at the famous 70s era USC filmmakers from the unusual perspective of John Milius. A boisterous, larger than life figure, Milius was an outlier in Hollywood. A strident conservative and gun nut who nevertheless managed to get along with (and collaborate with) kooky leftists like Spielberg and Coppola, and he was among the more prolific writers out there in the 70s and early 80s. Lots of entertaining anecdotes about his wacky antics (bringing a gun to a pitch meeting, etc...) His output seemed to decline after Red Dawn, as his right wing ways started to catch up with him. The documentary also covers his somewhat recent stroke and his struggle to regain the power of speech (which must be devastating to a writer). This was a well done, entertaining effort, worth popping in your Netflix Instant queue, even if it won't change your life or anything.
  • Tim's Vermeer - Utterly fascinating account of one man's attempt to recreate Johannes Vermeer's distinctive, photo-realistic method of painting. Directed by Teller (of Penn & Teller fame, the guy who doesn't talk), this film is mostly portraying inventor Tim Jenison as he attempts to suss out how Vermeer accomplished his paintings with the use of various optics and mirrors, then his painstaking attempt to recreate one painting by hand (the overall process took years, the painting itself took months). I will leave it at that for now, but this is exactly the sort of thing that I look for in a documentary, and will almost certainly be making an appearance on my top 10 of 2014. I may be a bit unusual in this respect, but I still say this is worth seeking out...
  • Life Itself - This documentary covers the life of Roger Ebert, and so you know that film nerds like myself would be all over it, and it is indeed a very popular film. Directed by Steve James (whose Hoop Dreams was championed by Ebert back when Documentaries were not as popular as they are now) has made a clear eyed look at Ebert's life and times, chronicling his successes and his failures, his friendships and feuds, always in a respectful manner. Lots of great anecdotes and stories, including many that I had never heard before, and his relationship with Siskel is particularly interesting. It gets a little more difficult once Ebert's various health issues start compounding (as it should), but if you're at all interested in film criticism or Ebert in particular, this is definitely a film to seek out.
And that's all for now. Hugo awards are being announced late tonight, so stay tuned for reactions and whatnot...
Posted by Mark on August 17, 2014 at 07:11 PM .: Comments (4) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy is the second Marvel Universe movie of the year, and since this occasions a referendum on the series as a whole, I think I've finally bought completely into this whole Marvel Universe thing. To be sure, I've always enjoyed the movies, but in looking back at the blog, I found that I was almost never particularly excited about any of them. At best, there were a few appearances on the Honorable Mention portion of my annual Top 10 lists and honestly, there are only two comic book movies that actually appeared on a top 10 since 2006 and neither were Marvel movies (one was The Dark Knight, the other was Kick-Ass). It wasn't until Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the cumulative effect of repeated rewatchings of The Avengers that I started to get really excited about the series. Indeed, I think part of the appeal of these Marvel movies is their uncanny rewatchability. Even the worst of the films (Iron Man 2) benefits greatly upon repeated viewings, and as the series of Marvel movies goes on, the interconnected pieces start to underline and reinforce one another without burdening any individual movie (with the possible exception of Iron Man 2, which certainly suffers under the weight of Avengers setup).

With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel proves that it is firing on all cylinders. It's not a perfect movie, but it does exactly what it needs to do, and the fact that Marvel has been able to make a movie this weird, yet still court mainstream awareness and success. As I mentioned last week, this was one my most anticipated movies of the year for two primary reasons: One, I knew almost nothing about it. This sets it apart from most other comic book movies, which I'm usually familiar with in one way or another and thus come with varying degrees of baggage. Not so for Guardians. Second, the talent involved is intriguing. James Gunn is a really odd choice, but then, this is a really odd movie. Part of that is Gunn's goofy sensibility coming through, but the fact that Marvel was able to recognize and court that sort of talent is admirable.

The acting talent was also interesting. Like the rest of the Marvel movies, they got some recognizable people, but not A-list stars, but this group works very well together. They have great chemistry, but also work really well together. Chris Pratt's Peter Quill/Starlord has a sorta naive Luke Skywalker component mixed with cocksure Han Solo charisma. Zoe Saldana imbues Gamora with a sense of gravitas that works well, yet is not so serious as to be devoid of levity (her line about "pelvic sorcery" is a standout that will surely enter the geek lexicon, if it hasn't already). Bradley Cooper provides a surprisingly effective voice acting performance for Rocket (I mean, he's not at Scarlett Johansson in Her levels awesome, but he is very good), and the CGI racoon he's playing works way better than I think anyone could have hoped for. Vin Diesel has perhaps the least to do, but Groot is the most likable character of the bunch and heck, Diesel has done this thing pretty well before. Finally, while Dave Bautista may have made a name for himself as a professional wrestler, he frankly steals the show on several occasions as Drax, displaying excellent comedic timing in addition to the more expected physical presence.
The Guardians
The story centers around a typical Marvel MacGuffin, which I admit is getting a bit tiresome. Then again, they are finally starting to talk about these things as Infinity Stones, which I'm guessing will become important in Avengers 3. Anyway, Peter Quill/Starlord finds the MacGuffin, but it turns out that evil warlord Ronan wants to use it to destroy planets. Ronan sends Gamora to retrieve the stone from Starlord, but she has motivations of her own. Rocket and Groot are bounty hunters who get caught up in Gamora and Starlord's fight. They meet up with Drax, who wants to avenge his family's death at the hands of Ronan.

Ronan is fine as a villain, by never really transcends being a generic bad guy. Thanos makes another appearance here, and I feel like the movie wastes his involvement. We are constantly told how powerful he is, but we never see him do anything. We've got plenty of time for that before Thanos hits in Avengers 3, but still, it would be nice to get more here. In any case, while Ronan isn't a hugely inspiring villain, he represents enough of a threat and the stakes are high enough that the movie doesn't really suffer.

The real fun of the movie, though, is watching the Guardians come together. Indeed, I think this is a strength of all the Marvel movies. The best bits are the little interpersonal touches, like the Schwarma bit after The Avengers, Bruce Banner nodding off as Tony Stark bores him at the end of Iron Man 3, or Black Widow haranguing Captain America about his love life in Cap 2. And this movie is full of characters coming together and connecting like that. It's just fun, and that's what makes this movie work.

From a visual perspective, Gunn knows what he's doing and manages the large scale battle sequences and CGI extravaganza well (certainly better than the Star Wars prequels), even if some of it is unnecessary. Some of the close-up hand-to-hand combat can be a bit difficult to follow, but it never approaches the worst of the aughts (when a lot of action was simply incomprehensible) and some of it is actually fantastic. For the most part, it's a very visually pleasing movie. The soundtrack, comprised of lots of popular 70s hits, works extremely well. It actually functions as part of the story, since they all come from a mix tape that was given to Starlord by his dying mother on Earth (and it's his only real connection to his former home). The actual choices are an intriguing mix. And "mix" is the perfect name for it, as it is genuinely diverse in terms of what is included. This isn't a Forrest Gump nostalgia-fest, it's an eclectic mix of fun little songs that matches the tone of the movie perfectly.

So what we're left with is an intensely fun adventure movie, taking on some of the best aspects of Star Wars and space opera in general, mixing that with some grand Spielbergian adventure, all with a unique and decidedly goofy perspective that works really well. Marvel seems to have taken some huge risks with this movie, and they are indeed paying off big time. I cannot wait to watch this again, and this one is almost certainly in my top 3 Marvel movies. Plus, we've got a sequel coming, not to mention Avengers 3. This is all very exciting, and I'm greatly looking forward to Marvel's next phase (though I have to admit that I'm very disappointed that Edgar Wright has left Ant-Man - then again, I'm hoping that since they were already so far along, much of Wright's perspective will remain intact...)
Posted by Mark on August 10, 2014 at 07:54 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Link Dump
It's been a while since my chain-smoking monkey research squad's research efforts on ye olde internets was posted, so enjoy some interesting links: And that's all for now.
Posted by Mark on August 06, 2014 at 09:00 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Fall Movie Preview
As I transition off the Hugo Awards, I figure I'll return the other hobby horse of this blog: movies. I've actually been keeping up with new releases and will probably do some recapping in the near future, but for now, let's look ahead at some movies I'm excited for as we enter the fall movie season:
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (August) - A cheat, as I'll be going to see this tonight, but I will include it because it was, by far, my most anticipated summer movie. Why, you ask? Because I've really come to enjoy the Marvel universe movies, but this particular property is something that I'm almost completely oblivious to - I know nothing about it, and that excites me. It won't be a rehash of an origin story I've seen 10 times already (i.e. Batman, Spider Man, Superman, and all the other big super heroes) and it honestly sounds kinda bonkers (in a good way). I'm not expecting hard SF, but something along the lines of the original Star Wars (though I'm obviously trying to keep expectations in check, that's the sort of adventure film I'm expecting out of this). Add in the genuinely intriguing talent behind the movie (James Gunn directing and co-writing), not to mention the onscreen talent (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, and a CGI Racoon, etc...), and I'm totally game.
  • The Green Inferno (September) - Probably the least exciting entry on this list, I've got mixed feelings about Eli Roth. On the one hand, I appreciate a lot of things about his movies, and he does tend to make them into fun affairs (if sometimes overly gory, and I'm not a squeamish kinda guy). And honestly, this looks to be a pretty brutal movie that I'm not entirely sure I'll be into... but that is often more interesting than typical mainstream fair, so I guess we'll have to wait and find out.
  • Gone Girl (October) - It's been a few years since David Fincher's disappointing Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake, but he's a director I'm always on the look out for, as even his failures tend to be interesting in some way. In this case, I know little of the story, just that it's a sorta crime thriller thing, which Fincher has proven to be pretty good at...
  • Interstellar (November) - I'm deliberately trying to stay away from details on this one, as all I need to know is the talent behind it (Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and so on...) and the general premise (humanity expanding into the stars) to know I want to see it. I have some real hesitations, as filmic depictions of hard science fiction are few and far between, and often suffer in comparison to their literary counterparts, but Nolan has proven that he can pull of the internal consistency, sense of wonder, and conceptual breakthrough that is required in great science fiction. So basically, sign me up.
  • Inherent Vice (December) - This is a film that's already been pushed back once, so I'm not positive if it will actually be released this year, but it is a film I am very much looking forward to. Of course, most film nerds will look forward to anything that director Paul Thomas Anderson sets his sights on, but this one hold special promise for me because of the source material. I think Anderson is a fantastic director with a profound visual talent and ambitious attitude, but I've found has last few efforts to be disappointing. To be sure, I'm in the minority on that, but I feel like he's been hewing towards the obtuse a little too much. I think you could probably say something similar about the author of the book this movie will be based on, Thomas Pynchon. The man is an unparalleled prose stylist and this will carry his novels far, but with Inherent Vice, Pynchon did something amazing: he included a plot. And not a lame or tacked on plot, a real, honest to goodness private eye story with a somewhat unique setting. So Pynchon was slumming it, and it was absolutely fantastic, and now we have Paul Thomas Anderson picking up that source material. That's got winner written all over it.
  • Honorable Mentions: Kingsman: The Secret Service, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, The Drop, The Interview, BirdmanBig Hero 6, Fury, Foxcatcher, V/H/S: Viral, and maybe even Dumb and Dumber To...
So there you have it. I'm sure there will be about a dozen or two additional movies that I'll get excited about as prestige movie season approaches, but I'm sure the above will keep me pretty busy...
Posted by Mark on August 03, 2014 at 08:33 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

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 :.

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