Kaedrin
You are here: Kaedrin > Weblog

Kaedrin Weblog
Sunday, June 29, 2014

Hugo Awards: Spellbound
Spellbound is the second book in Larry Correia's Grimnoir Chronicles. The third books, Warbound, is nominated for this year's Hugo ballot, so being the completist that I am, I figured I should read these first two books. I enjoyed the first book, Hard Magic, enough that I'm not finding this to be a chore, though I have to admit that I probably wouldn't have been inspired to proceed through these sequels if it weren't for the third one being nominated this year.

After an introduction set at the close of WWI, this book picks up where Hard Magic left off, with the Japanese Imperium having suffered a defeat at the hands of newfound Grimnoir knight Sally Faye Vierra, with assists from Jake Sullivan, and a diverse crew of magical "actives." The American government, led by FDR, is trying to align around how to handle actives, possibly leading to registration and reeducation camps and other such dystopian nightmares (which, as established in the previous book, is how the Soviets and Japanese Imperium are handling the Actives). A sudden uptick in terrorist attacks seems to be driving this strategy, and the Grimnoir are being set up. Even more troubling is that Okubo Tokugawa - the fearsome chairman of the Imperium who was thought dead after the Grimnoir victory at the end of Hard Magic - appears to be alive and well. Oh, and the alien being that everyone derives their magical powers from? It has an Enemy, and the Enemy's scout, called the Pathfinder, is on its way.

So there's a lot going on in this book, and it very much reads as a sorta middle part of a trilogy to me. Hard Magic set up the world and the magic system, but basically told a self-contained story. This book introduces several elements that are unresolved at the end of the book, though it doesn't quite end on a cliffhanger either. Again, this seems to be a common thread amongst trilogies, so who knows where it's going from here. In that way, the plot is a bit more flabby than it was in Hard Magic (which wasn't exactly tight either), but I'm also reasonably confident that Correia will manage to tie things together in the third book.

As I mentioned in my review of Hard Magic, one of the challenges that any book with magic faces is this sort of escalation of power that is needed to continually up the stakes in the story. This worked well enough in Hard Magic, but it did get a bit excessive towards the end of that book. As such, I was a little worried that this book would just keep escalating, but Correia has shown an admirable restraint. What's more, he even manages to explain how and why the escalation of power happened in the first book, and he does so in a way that is natural and satisfying. It's clear that Correia had thought all this through and let that guide the first book without actually explicitly laying out why, for example, Faye has seemingly endless reserves of power. Indeed, after her heroics at the end of Hard Magic, she spends a good portion of this book significantly weaker in power.

I didn't spend any time going over details of the magical system in the previous review, but it's worth discussion a bit here because it does naturally lend itself to the story. Each Active has the ability to pull magical power from an alien being, but they are generally limited to a single ability. So Jake Sullivan has the power to manipulate gravity (increasing, decreasing, or shifting the direction of gravity) and he's referred to as a "Heavy." Faye is a Traveler, and she has the ability to teleport herself and others (she also has the ability to map out the world in her head, so she can avoid teleporting into other objects, etc...) There are Healers, Cogs (who have supernatural intelligence), Brutes (guess!), Voices (they can do Jedi mind trick manipulations), and so on. The Power seems to be in another plane of existence, and its comprised of all sorts of fancy geometric shapes. If you can see the Power, as some folks can (like Sullivan or Chairman Tokugawa), you can copy some of those geometric shapes and leverage the magic those areas represent. These shapes are kinda like spells, and if you carve them onto yourself, you can gain new powers (for example, many have Healing spells on their body). Of course, it's a painful process and one person can only take so many spells...

So this is all well thought out and reasonably well balanced. There are still some situations where the magical powers escalate, but Correia is pretty good at keeping it all grounded and reasonably well balanced. There are powerful villains, and you will fear for our protagonists, but Correia is able to come up with solutions that are reasonably satisfying.

The expansion of story threads has also lead to an expansion of characters. We still have our core Grimnoir Knights from the first book, lead by Sullivan and Faye, but we also get another cell of Grimnoir, some more of the Grimnoir elders, a whole group of villains at the OCI (a government organization that is being set up to take control of U.S. actives), a woman named Hammer (sorta freelance), and even an Iron Guard from the Imperium. For the most part, I was very happy to return to the characters from the first book, and that's usually a good sign. The structure of the magical powers sorta lends itself to a large ensemble, kinda like the X-Men, so it's good to know and like many of these characters.

Ultimately, this was a fine sequel, even if it felt like it was setting up a lot of things that wouldn't be resolved in this book. Correia can spin a good yarn, but I'm find it to be a little too loose. This is probably a matter of preference, and I'm sure there are many who love these characters so much that they want to spend as much time as possible hanging out with them, but I find that these books don't necessarily need to be as long as they are. So what we have here is a well executed sequel, and I am looking forward to seeing how some of these threads are resolved in Warbound, which I am starting this week. Given what I've read so far, I can't really see Warbound taking one of my top two votes, but it's got a pretty darn good chance at snagging that #3 slot in my Best Novel ballot.

In other news, I've knocked down 3 out of 5 Novellas and am hoping to finish that category off this week. After that, I've got to finish Warbound, and then I'm done with the fiction categories. I'm looking at a few of the other categories (Dramatic Presentation, Fan Writer, Zines, etc...) though there are definitely a few categories I don't think I'll be voting on (how does one vote for the "Editor" categories?) So yeah, I hope you're enjoying these Hugo posts, because we've got several more to go!

(Oh, I almost forgot: Obligatory note of all the controversy surrounding the nomination of Correia's book. I've already (briefly) discussed it elsewhere, but for now I'm concentrated on actually reading the books and stuff. I may get around to doing something in more detail about it, but then, I may not, because who cares about that sorta Inside Baseball crap when I could be reading about how Faye is going to kick the crap out of this Enemy Pathfinder thing we keep hearing about?)
Posted by Mark on June 29, 2014 at 08:16 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


End of this day's posts

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Hugo Awards: The No Award Conundrum
Since I know you're all curious about the voting system for the Hugo Awards, I thought I'd spend some time babbling about it, just for your edification. Believe it or not, voting systems have a lot of interesting pitfalls, not the least of which is that there isn't a particularly great solution to discerning the preference of a large community of individuals. Every system has its flaws, even something as simple as Plurality voting (i.e. the choice with the most votes wins).

Fortunately for you, I'm not going to babble on about this too much (and you don't want to get me started on the Electoral College, our misunderstood friend), I'll just note that the Hugo Awards uses an Instant Runoff System. In other words, I don't just vote for my favorite novel, I rank all the nominated novels in order of my personal preference. When it comes time to vote, unless there is a clear majority favorite, most winners can't win based solely on the voters who ranked the winner #1. There is an additional wrinkle in that there is an option available in every category called "No Award", which means that you think that no one should be awarded for that category (or that the category should be abolished). There are some finer points to the voting process, and this has already been discussed to death in other venues so I won't belabor the point.

Add in a particularly controversial ballot this year, and I think the voting process is going to play a particularly big role, especially when it comes to the Best Novel ballot. When the awards were announced this year and the entire The Wheel of Time series was nominated for Best Novel, there were a number of people who seemed to think that it was a shoe in to win the award. Given the Hugo Award's populist nature and just how popular The Wheel of Time series is (despite it's length, it's got more readers by at least an order of magnitude), that's probably a fair supposition... except that I think Instant Runoff Voting will squash any hopes that it will win.

While I assume the dedicated fans of the series would vote for it in the #1 position, I suspect few will rank it at #2 or below... and many have already expressed the notion of voting for it below No Award (or, as the link above notes, not include it on the ballot at all). Some will do this because they actually hate the books, but many will be doing this as a sorta protest of the obscure rule that allows multiple books to be nominated as one.

Personally, while I recognize the need for the No Award option (and the ability to leave options off the ballot), I'm also hesitant to deploy it except in extreme circumstances. The No Award option makes me a little uncomfortable. I mean, I am voting, so I'm obviously considering my opinion to be worthwhile, but on the other hand, the No Award option feels sorta petty, except in extreme circumstances. I'm even a little on the fence about the Wheel of Time situation, though I think I'm leaning towards ranking No Award above it because it is ridiculous to nominate a 14 book, 11,000 page, 4.4 million word work for a best novel award. The only other situation I'd consider deploying No Award is when a nominee is not at all Science Fiction or Fantasy. Given the fuzzy nature of genres, it would also have to be an extreme case, but in this year's Novella category, we have a great example: I'm sorry Wakula Springs, but there is nothing even remotely science fiction or fantasy about this story (except insofar as all fiction is a fantasy, I guess). We could quibble about a couple lines in the story, but this is ultimately historical fiction or maybe literary fiction. It's a fine story, but I have no idea what it's doing on the Hugo ballot, except that it was published by Tor (a genre imprint).

So there you have it. I'm still pondering, and obviously I'm not done reading all the stuff, so maybe I'll turn around on the No Award option in some other categories. I'll be sure to post my final ballot once I submit it (probably towards the end of July, which is when the deadline is...)
Posted by Mark on June 25, 2014 at 09:10 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


End of this day's posts

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Hugo Awards: Novelettes
As far as I can tell, Science Fiction is the only genre that continues to use Novelettes as a category. For the uninitiated, the Hugo Awards defines a Short Story as less than 7,500 words. A Novelette is between 7,500 words and 17,500 words. A novella is between 17,500 and 40,000 words, and a novel is more than 40,000 words. Everyone else says there are short stories and Novels, with the Novella being anything inbetween (and many awards only feature short fiction and novels, with no space for novellas). Science Fiction, on the other hand, clings to the Novelette. Legend has it that this is a legacy of SF's pulpy magazine roots, where different sized works had different pay scales, which I guess makes sense, but it's otherwise a pretty pointless distinction. That being said, I was much more happy with this year's slate of Novelettes than I was with the Short Stories... There were 5 nominees, and it only took a couple hours to read all of them (on average, somewhere between 30-60 minutes per story), and if you're looking for some quality short fiction, this is a decent place to start. My rankings for the Hugo Voting.
  1. "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling", by Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2013) - Anyone who's looked at SF short fiction awards will be bound to recognize Ted Chiang's name. Indeed, even I'd heard of him, and I don't read much short fiction. This was the first time I read Chiang, and I am suitably impressed. The story takes the form of a relatively near future article, with our narrator describing how the world's life-logging is about to get even more complicated by the emergence of better search and analysis software. Basically, this is a world where most people record most every action in their life logs. This proves useful in a number of ways, notably in court cases, but since so much data is collected, it can be difficult and time consuming to find a specific memory. Along comes this new software that promises easy recall. Our narrator is unsure of whether or not this will be a good thing. This future tale is juxtaposed against a missionary in Africa (Tivland), who introduces the written word to a tribe that relies solely on Oral Tradition. Of all the things I've read so far, this one seems to be the most relevant and prescient in that it's something we're going to deal with at some point. Those of you who are uncomfortable with something like Google Glass may be quite skeeved out by this story, especially insofar as Chiang is very clearly evangelizing this sort of technological change as a good thing. That is ultimately this story's biggest fault (if you would count it as such), because while Chiang pays lip service to the challenges of such technology, he comes down very clearly on one side, and the entire story hinges on the narrator's discovery of one particular memory and the revelation that imparts. It makes for a fine story, but it also feels rather contrived and manipulative. On the other hand, this is a very thought provoking and well written exploration of a topic that will only grow more important over time... A clear #1 vote here.
  2. "The Exchange Officers", Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jan-Feb 2013) - (Sorry, not available online...) This is a well executed, entertaining, but pretty standard military SF story. The US is competing with China in space, and have devised a complex system of space stations built by robot proxies that are controlled by Operators back on Earth. The story alternates between the introduction and training of the titular "Exchange Officers" and a Chinese attack on an uncompleted space station. Torgersen manages to cover a lot of ground while keeping the story moving, and it's the most entertaining and fun of all the Novelettes for sure. That being said, this is a soft #2 that I could easily swap with #3 below. It will probably depend on my mood at the time of voting...
  3. "The Lady Astronaut of Mars", Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com/Tor.com, 09-2013) - Apparently there was a bit of controversy about this story during last year's awards because it was disqualified for only being available as Audio in 2012. Well, the text of the story was published in 2013, and voters decided to make things right by renominating Kowal's excellent story. It basically tells the story of the titular Lady Astronaut, many years after she helped colonize Mars. At the core of the story is a heartbreaking dilemma that I don't want to go into during this short review. Suffice to say, our protagonist has to make a painful decision. It's an emotional, human decision and not some sort of SF puzzle or anything like that. So the resolution isn't quite satisfying, but when all of your choices are horrible, how could it be? And given the circumstances, it's about as good as it could get. The story is well written and has a sorta retro feel to it (lots of references to punch cards, which made me chuckle), but it's that central dilemma that really weighs on my mind and makes this story something worth recognizing.
  4. "The Waiting Stars", Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam) - This is a rather interesting far-future Space Opera type of tale that really made me think that there must be more to this universe (and apparently, there are other stories and books set in this universe). Unfortunately, as a standalone story, it doesn't quite work as well as the above stories. That being said, I did enjoy it, and it does have some interesting components, but I kept wishing the story would go into more detail. It was never boring and it wasn't so obtuse that I couldn't read it or anything, and I did enjoy it, but it never really struck a chord with me...
  5. "Opera Vita Aeterna", Vox Day (The Last Witchking, Marcher Lord Hinterlands) - Given all the vitriol surrounding Vox Day, I was not terribly excited to read this novel. It turns out that while this is clearly not a sexist/racist/homophobic diatribe, it's also not all that great. It was never really boring either, but it's a story where very little happens. It's set in a sorta Fantasy world and leverages many of those tropes, but all that happens is that an Elf hangs out at a Monastery and befriends a priest. They talk philosophy and use Latin and stuff, and then everyone dies. Spoiler, I guess, but there's not really enough here to spoil. Again, the prose itself is fine and I didn't mind reading it, but when it ends, I was left wondering why I should really care. I don't see any reason to vote No Award above this or anything so drastic, but there's no way this is going to win, and it is clearly my least favorite of the bunch.
From what I've seen, I'd put even odds on the Chiang or Kowal to win. I don't think anyone else has a realistic chance, though I think 4 out of the 5 stories are well worth reading and I wouldn't be upset if any of them won... I may keep the Torgersen at #2 simply because he's an underdog, and there are some folks who will be gunning for him because he was on Correia's "Sad Puppies" slate. I find that unfair and since I did enjoy the story, I'll probably keep it there.

I just finished the second Grimnoir book and am starting on the third (i.e. the actual nominee) this week. I've also started the Novella slate, and should be finishing that off soon enough. If I have time, I will try to tackle the second Wheel of Time book as well. The voting deadline for the Hugos is the end of July, so you will only have to deal with these Hugo posts for about another month or so...
Posted by Mark on June 22, 2014 at 01:37 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


End of this day's posts

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Recent Podcastery
I have actually been listening to less Podcasts of late, though that's really just because I've finally taken the plunge into the rough and tumble world of Audiobooks, most of which are roughly the length of, like 10-20 regular podcasts or something. That being said, I still listen to a fair amount of podcasts. Some of the second string podcasts are getting sidelined to make room, but that's ultimately not a bad thing. Anywho, here are four podcasts I've glommed onto recently and have been enjoying.
  • The X-Files Files - Longtime readers know that I love the X-Files, so this podcast is right up my alley. It's hosted by comedian Kumail Nanjiani, who injects the perfect combination of humor and serious love for the material into the podcast. We're only a few episodes in, but he's had fantastic guests as well, including Devin Faraci (critic from Badass Digest), DC Pierson (comedian), and Dan Harmon (show runner for Community). Great discussions, and a chance to revisit one of my favorite shows. I've always preferred the monster-of-the-week episodes to the continuity/conspiracy episodes, but I'll be taking this opportunity to rewatch the conspiracy episodes. I basically gave up on those things in season 2 during the original airing. I mean, I would occasionally watch one later on, but I never knew what the hell was going on, and I really didn't care. I kinda caught up around the time the first X-Files movie came out, but that was basically because of that hidden track thing on the soundtrack for the movie where Chris Carter basically just explains the whole thing. I'm not a big fan of conspiracy theories and the like, so I'm not expecting to love these episodes, but I do so enjoy spending time with Mulder and Scully, so I'm looking forward to it. And it's funny how much the first season episodes played up the conspiracy angle, even in the standalone freak-of-the-week episodes. Anyway, if you're a fan of the show or even if you never watched it before and are looking for a way to catch up, this podcast is a nice supplement.
  • The Badass Digest Podcast (aka the Badasscast, aka The Badass Padcast Podcast) - This is basically just two interesting dudes vamping about movies for about an hour. The aforementioned Devin Faraci and the hilarious Evan Saathoff (aka Sam Strange) work well together, despite the fact that there appears to be little or no thought put into the format of the show. But it works, and it's worth listening to. The only real complaint is the irregularity of the updates, which are somewhat sporadic (they average 2-3 per month, but they're unpredictable).
  • A Cast of Kings - A Game of Thrones Podcast - Back in the day, before there were a gazillion great podcasts to listen to, it used to actually be hard to find good movie podcasts. I would search around for some good ones, and I would always see these weird podcasts dedicated to, for example, Firefly. This made no sense to me, because even though I love that show as much as anyone else, what the hell is there to talk about once you review all the episodes? These things literally went on for, like, 5 years, with weekly updates and everything. But I'm coming around to the idea when it comes to big shows (like The X-Files, which has 8 seasons and hundreds of episodes to work with) or to a show that's airing now. But then, there's only one show that I watch live, and that's A Game of Thrones, so when I remembered that Dave Chen of the /Filmcast also does this Game of Thrones podcast, I was on board, and started following it during this season. If you watch the show, it's great fun dissecting the episodes.
  • Comic Tango - The Echo Rift guys tackle a sorta meta-commentary on comic books, things like pricing, number 1 issues, creators mouthing off on twitter, and so on. I'm not a huge comic reader, but this stuff is still interesting to me somehow. Worth the listen for comic fans, but even if you're not, some of these episodes might be for you (or just check out the regular Echo Rift podcast)...
And that's all for now. On Sunday, we return to the Hugo Awards for a look at the Novelette slate. See you then.
Posted by Mark on June 18, 2014 at 11:46 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


End of this day's posts

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Hugo Awards: Short Stories
I have never been a huge fan of short stories. I think the biggest part of that is that I tend to read them in collections of short fiction, which tend to be, by their very nature, uneven. Like anthology films, it's hard for me to take in a bunch of short stories at once, and I usually find myself exhausted by the inconsistency. There are some exceptions, I guess. I've always been a fan of I, Robot, but those stories have a consistent style and throughline that is usually missing in short fiction. I have a fondness for Clive Barker's Books of Blood series of horrific short stories and they are some of the most imaginative writing around, but even those tend to be very uneven (and I suspect many would more readily be classified as a Novelette or Novella). Of course most short fiction is published in magazines (or websites these days) first, and are never meant to be collected together, but I still tend to struggle with them.

I have read occasional short stories here and there on the interwebs, but I've rarely strayed from known authors... which is odd, because you'd think that short stories would be a good way to experiment and try new things without making too much of a commitment to any one story. And while I've struggled with short stories in the past, I've also been getting a little tired of stories that are much longer than they need to be, so maybe it's time for a sea change. So it's a good thing there are a bunch of short fiction categories in the Hugo awards, eh? Well, if the Short Story slate is any indication... I'm not going to get back into short stories after all. This is not a statement of quality, just of my personal taste - these are all well written stories, they're just depressing as all get out, none seem to have much of a plot, and none of them really scratch my speculative fiction itch (indeed, most of them would probably fit more under Fantasy than SF, but even amongst Fantasy, these are a challenging bunch). That being said, I read them all, and will rank them as best I can. There are only 4 nominees (the Hugo rules say that a work cannot be nominated unless it has at least 5% of the votes, and the short story ballot tends to be the most contentious - last year there were only 3 nominees!) and they are all available for free online, but like I said, these weren't really my cup of tea.
  1. The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere, by John Chu - Tor.com, Feb. 20, 2013 - The story starts with this: "The water that falls on you from nowhere when you lie is perfectly ordinary, but perfectly pure." It's a rather silly premise, but Chu has used it as the backdrop for a more traditional love story, where a gay man navigates the marriage question with his love and struggles to find a way to "come out" to his traditional Chinese family. Indeed, of the short stories, this is the only one that has something really resembling a plot, with a whole narrative arc and everything. And while the "coming out" story isn't a particularly pleasant one, Chu doesn't wallow in misery the way some of the other stories do (the mother's reaction is actually really brilliant, and made me laugh out loud - she's a clever one). Also, while the premise is kinda silly, Chu does engage with it in a speculative way, making this the most SF of the stories. For instance, because people can't lie without water falling on them from nowhere, they've gotten really good at wording things like a weasel or phrasing declarations as a question, and so on. I am curious about this world's water-drying technology, or perhaps their mold-fighting capabilities (neither of which get much play), but that's just because I'm a nerd. Naturally, that doesn't really matter much when placed against the emotional elements of the story, and I will say that I enjoyed this one the most.
  2. Selkie Stories Are for Losers, by Sofia Samatar - Strange Horizons, Jan. 7, 2013 - So I had no idea what a Selkie was before reading this story, but now that I do, I agree with the narrator when she laments:
    I hate selkie stories. They're always about how you went up to the attic to look for a book, and you found a disgusting old coat and brought it downstairs between finger and thumb and said "What's this?", and you never saw your mom again.
    Alright, I will say that I didn't hate this story, but seeing as though it plays out in a series of vignettes and relies on that sort of structure for its impact, I was a little unsatisfied at the end of the story. I like the obscure choice of folklore, though I can't say as though I would like Selkie stories very much. That being said, I did enjoy reading this tale of resentment, beauty, love, and loss, and the structure works on me, but it just wasn't as cohesive as Chu's above story.
  3. The Ink Readers of Doi Saket, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt - Tor.com, April 24, 2013 - This is the most evocative of all the stories... but also the least cohesive. I don't think there is really much of a plot, but when you add in the fact that this is a story written in Dutch, translated into English, and set in Thailand, I think you can see why the story doesn't quite flow so well. That said, the setting and fantastical elements of the story are wonderfully evocative. I just wish there was something more to hang that on, as I really have no idea what this story is actually about...
  4. If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love, by Rachel Swirsky - Apex Magazine, March 5, 2013 - This is the shortest of the nominees, and yet it does accomplish a ton in that short time, even incorporating a dark twist that completely changes the tone about 3/4 of the way through the story. Perhaps because it is so short, I felt that the twist was more manipulative than anything else, like I could see Swirsky trying to pull the rug out from under me. I guess that's a matter of debate, a lot of folks seem to think of it as being powerful and intense, and I can see that, even if it didn't strike me that way. The other challenge with this story is that there's nothing really SF or F about it. There's an offhand reference to that hoary old Jurassic Park premise of cloning dinosaurs, but that's really it. Given that we're trying to judge the best SF/F stories, that doesn't bode well here (and from what I can see, even those who love this story seem to acknowledge this). What's more, this doesn't feel like a story to me in any way. Indeed, with it's almost formal cadence and repetitive sentence structure, it feels a whole lot more like Poetry than straight fiction. If there was a SF/F poetry category, I'd be a lot happier with this one. As it is, I was left a little underwhelmed.
Not having read much in the way of other short stories this year, I can't say as though these are very representative or not, nor can I say that we should not give the award to any of these (I think I understand how the No Award vote works, but I should clarify that at some point), but I was not very happy with them. Man, I feel like a real miser with these short stories. I am the worst. Fortunately, I'm almost done the Novelettes and I'll just say that I find myself much more enthusiastic about them than I am with these.
Posted by Mark on June 15, 2014 at 08:03 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


End of this day's posts

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Link Dump
You know the drill, yet more links uncovered by my chain-smoking monkey research squad. Enjoy:
  • Entertainment Weekly, the genesis - Jeff Jarvis writes about the need for EW back in 1984: "Today, there is simply too much to choose from"... It could very well have been written last week, except that there'd be a whole lot of other things to choose from.
  • Process Stories - Joe Reid (of Extra Hot Great fame) has basically turned his tumblr into a place to recap West Wing episodes, and they are great. Excerpt from "Five Votes Down":
    Team Toby: The cold open sees Toby neurotically reacting to the President's speech. In a classic West Wing walk-n-talk, Toby harps on Bartlett for screwing up "the D section." He says the words "D section" literally nine thousand times (literally!), because Aaron Sorkin read that chapter about repetition in his screenwriting textbook a loooooot. The Bartlett/Toby banter is far more lighthearted than it will be in subsequent episodes, but it's nice to see that particular character runner to get started this early.
    It's great fun, and it kinda makes me want to watch The West Wing again...
  • The Funniest, Angriest Comments On The FCC's Proposed Net Neutrality Rule - The FCC seems shocked that people are up in arms about this, which is weird. "Hey everybody, we want to make the internet slower and/or more expensive." Thanks a lot FCC.
  • The 100 Most-Edited Wikipedia Articles - Perhaps unsurprisingly, politicians and religious topics are the most edited articles, with lots of pop culture sprinkled in for fun.
  • Perfidy Beyond the Gate of Water - I don't know what this is, but it's amazing:
    Grandmaster of the Swaying Snake style, Nixon had defeated many foes. He was known for his innovation on the tournament ground, for subtle feints and devastating flurries from unexpected directions. Though the Golden Child had defeated him in the last decade, Nixon remained resilient, eventually wresting control of his school from his rivals and rising to become President.

    Nothing stood in his way to challenge for the position of Sifu-Sai-Sifu, Master of Masters.

    Lord Buddha, though, is unequaled in sagacity. He had decreed that the title of Sifu-Sai-Sifu could only be held by one who had tasted the Fruit of Compassion, which grew in the Vineyards of the White Plains, beyond the Gate of Water. These grapes were said to hold the wisdom of Lord Buddha himself, and would bestow upon any who tasted them the wit and skill needed to rule as Sifu-Sai-Sifu.
    I don't even, um, what is this?
That's all for now. Hugo blogging resumes on Sunday with a look at the Short Story slate.
Posted by Mark on June 11, 2014 at 10:17 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


End of this day's posts

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Hugo Awards: Hard Magic
One of the challenges of an award like the Hugo is how to handle sequels. One of the nominees this year is Warbound, by Larry Correia... but it's the third in a series of books. Do I need to read the first two books in the series in order to give the third a fair shake, or are all bets off when an individual entry gets nominated? Being something of a completist when it comes to questions like this, I decided to start from the beginning. As luck would have it, Hard Magic (the first book in the series) is a fine book, and I've already begun the second book too. It does seem like these books are relatively self-contained though, which is good (I'm still glad I started from the beginning, but I'm guessing you wouldn't have to...)

This series, called the Grimnoir Chronicles, takes place in an alternate history version of the 1930s. It's a universe where magic started appearing in the mid-nineteenth century, and has slowly but surely become more common. Many differing attitudes about "actives" (folks with magical power) exist, from the Japanese Imperium (who kidnap active children and train them in scary "schools") to the German war machine (who leveraged an active to raise zombie armies) to the Americans, who seem to sway back and forth in their democratic ways (this seems to be something that will be tackled in later books, but is introduced here). Jake Sullivan is an active, a war hero and ex-con working for the government. He quickly runs afoul of a secret society called the Grimnoir, actives who seek to ensure that magical powers are used only for good (or something like that), and a plot by the Imperium to assemble a super-science doomsday weapon. Will Sullivan and his plucky allies fend off the dreaded Imperium?

This books is attempting an interesting balancing act, mashing up many different sub-genres, including urban fantasy, pulpy noir, gritty action, and even a bit of steampunk for flair (really just a bunch of dirigibles, but hey, that's steampunky, right?) For the most part, Correia makes this mixture work, which is impressive - this combination of elements was far from a sure thing, but he manages. The only thing I was hoping for that I didn't get much of is some fantastic noir turns of phrase, but then, it's hard to hold something like this up to the standards set by folks like Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler (but then, the setting does sorta beg the comparison).

One of the things I find frustrating with fantasy stories is the way magic is handled. All too often, the magic is described in such vague ways and with few limits, leading to an escalation of powers that can get tedious and strain credibility. Correia manages to design a system with some limits and logical extensions, and he does treat the subject consistently, but there is still that escalation of magical powers that gets difficult to swallow. It never gets too ridiculous, and the limitations of the system are clear and well balanced, but it's still magic, so it can also, at times, get to be a bit much. I do wonder how well Correia will be able to swing this in future books, though I guess I'll find out soon enough.

The characters are, for the most part, a compelling bunch. Sullivan makes for a good hero, a huge physical presence who is nevertheless deceptively clever, we discover much about the magical system through his eyes. His gang of allies also has some bright spots, in particular Faye, a young teleporter who has seemingly endless reserves of magical power and a fast thinking mind. This being alternate history, we're also treated to some historical figures like General John "Black Jack" Pershing and John Browning (this works, but I'll also say that Neal Stephenson did it better in Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle). As villains go, the Chairman of the Imperium is imposing and while his powers are seemingly infinite (there's that escalation of magical power I was talking about), Correia comes up with a believable way to "defeat" him (spoiler, I guess!) Sullivan's brother Madi is also a formidable foe (and again, we get some escalation of powers to make him so).

What you end up with is a well executed mashup that is a very fun read. Correia can spin a good yarn, and while I will say that this isn't something I'd have sought out on my own, I'm glad I read it and will have no problem getting through the next two books. I found this one a tad on the long side, but again, I had no major problems getting through it, and it was a lot of fun. Since this isn't actually one of the nominees this year, I shouldn't really be ranking it, but it feels like something that would come in towards the middle of the pack. Assuming there's not a drastic uptick in quality or something in the nominated work, I can't see it unseating my top two votes (which remain Ancillary Justice or Neptune's Brood). Again, this is blatant speculation, but I could see Warbound coming in third (ahead of Parasite and The Wheel of Time). I'm currently reading Spellbound (the second book in this series) and have started reading the other fiction categories (look for a recap of the short story ballot next week).

(Incidentally, I've left out all the controversy surrounding the nomination of Correia's book. I've already discussed it elsewhere, and will probably bring it up again at some point, but for now, I'm concentrated on actually reading the books...)
Posted by Mark on June 08, 2014 at 08:43 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


End of this day's posts

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Link Dump
It's that time again, and yes, I guess it's been that time a lot lately, but links are fun, so enjoy them why don't you:
  • Law and Order: GOT - Pitch perfect. I saw this before last week's episode and felt a pang of sorrow when I saw Oberyn.
  • Fitness Crazed - It turns out that the latest scientific approaches to exercise are generally inferior to the simplicity of old timey weightlifting routines.
    The program sounded like an unscientific joke. It called for exactly three workouts per week, built around five old-fashioned lifts: the squat, dead lift, power clean, bench press and standing press. But the black-and-white photographs were so poorly shot, and the people in them were so clearly not fitness models, that it seemed legit.

    ... Now for the astonishing part: It worked. I was able to lift a tiny bit more every single time, like magic - or, rather, like Milo of Croton, the ancient Greek wrestler who is said to have lifted a newborn calf and then lifted it every day thereafter, as it grew, until Milo carried a full-grown bull.
    Personally, I have a couple sets of dumbells in the basement and an elliptical (my workouts also usually include old standbys like pushups and situps), and I seem to be doing alright for myself.
  • The ghost in the machine - As Kottke predicted, this hit me right in the feels. It's a touching story, but the biggest shock is that it turns out that sometimes Youtube comments actually contain something worthwhile.
  • The Age of Instant Backlash - Outrage happens at the speed of Twitter, but I think Shamus has a good point here:
    ...if you're unhappy that someone, somewhere is having an apoplectic freak-out over entertainment news? You might as well get mad at the weather. You might have a point, but there's no fighting human nature.
    Perhaps the problem is that we're taking Twitter too seriously. I'm very optimistic about technology, but not every sentence uttered in haste into a social network is cause for panic. Just because someone cracks wise about the new Batman v Superman title doesn't really mean all that much, but everyone seems in a rush to put out think pieces wondering why some people don't like the title and what does it all mean? Characterizing that as backlash is probably jumping the gun a bit. The same could be said for just about any other topic, including more serious ones.
  • Everything Is Broken - Hey look, more tech pessimism:
    Your average piece-of-shit Windows desktop is so complex that no one person on Earth really knows what all of it is doing, or how.

    Now imagine billions of little unknowable boxes within boxes constantly trying to talk and coordinate tasks at around the same time, sharing bits of data and passing commands around from the smallest little program to something huge, like a browser -that's the internet. All of that has to happen nearly simultaneously and smoothly, or you throw a hissy fit because the shopping cart forgot about your movie tickets.

    We often point out that the phone you mostly play casual games on and keep dropping in the toilet at bars is more powerful than all the computing we used to go to space for decades.

    NASA had a huge staff of geniuses to understand and care for their software. Your phone has you.

    Plus a system of automatic updates you keep putting off because you’re in the middle of Candy Crush Saga every time it asks.

    Because of all this, security is terrible.
    Hardware has improved pretty reliably over the past few decades. Software? Not so much.
That's all for now!
Posted by Mark on June 04, 2014 at 10:46 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.


End of this day's posts



Thoughts and ramblings on culture, movies, technology and more; updated every Sunday and Wednesday.


Inside Weblog
Archives
Best Entries
Fake Webcam
email me
Kaedrin Beer Blog

Links
And Now the Screaming Starts
Ars Technica
Back of the Cereal Box
Badass Digest
Batrock.net
Chizumatic
Echo Rift
Filmspotting
Final Girl
Haibane.info
Hedonist Jive
kernunrex 6WH
MidniteTease
Twenty-Sided

Archives
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
February 2002
January 2002
December 2001
November 2001
October 2001
September 2001
August 2001
July 2001
June 2001
May 2001
April 2001
March 2001
February 2001
January 2001
December 2000
November 2000
October 2000
September 2000
August 2000
July 2000

Categories

Syndication
RSS 2.0
RDF

Social
Del.icio.us
FriendFeed
Goodreads
Google Reader
Listal
StumbleUpon
Twitter

Green Flag

Powered by
Movable Type 5.12



Copyright © 1999 - 2012 by Mark Ciocco.