Weird Movie of the Week

Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we covered a guy who killed Hitler, and then Bigfoot. This time, we've got The Manitou, which I discovered reading Brian Collins's Horror Movie A Day: The Book. His brief "synopsis based on fading memory" sounds glorious:
A woman gets a weird growth on her shoulder. As is often the case, it turns out to be a fetus.
And not just any fetus, but "a 400 year-old demonic Native American" fetus. And if that's not enough, the trailer hints at even more bizarre happenings, including Tony Curtis randomly screaming "John!" and a door opening to a starscape or something.

Next week begins the fabled Six Weeks of Halloween, so get strapped in... up first is some Italian horror/Giallos...
Leave a comment...
squares

Link Dump

  • Posted on
  • by
As per usual, just some linkies I found interesting:
  • My IRB Nightmare - Scott Alexander got revved up and tried to do some formal research at his hospital. The resulting bureaucratic mess is a thing to behold...
    IRREGULARITY #1: Consent forms traditionally included the name of the study in big letters where the patient could see it before signing. Mine didn’t. Why not?

    Well, because in questionnaire-based psychological research, you never tell the patient what you’re looking for before they fill out the questionnaire. That’s like Methods 101. The name of my study was “Validity Of A Screening Instrument For Bipolar Disorder”. Tell the patient it’s a study about bipolar disorder, and the gig is up.

    The IRB listened patiently to my explanation, then told me that this was not a legitimate reason not to put the name of the study in big letters on the consent form. Putting the name of the study on the consent form was important. You know who else didn’t put the name of the study on his consent forms? Hitler.
    The ultimate point is worth considering as well:
    I sometimes worry that people misunderstand the case against bureaucracy. People imagine it’s Big Business complaining about the regulations preventing them from steamrolling over everyone else. That hasn’t been my experience. Big Business - heck, Big Anything - loves bureaucracy. They can hire a team of clerks and secretaries and middle managers to fill out all the necessary forms, and the rest of the company can be on their merry way. It’s everyone else who suffers. The amateurs, the entrepreneurs, the hobbyists, the people doing something as a labor of love. Wal-Mart is going to keep selling groceries no matter how much paperwork and inspections it takes; the poor immigrant family with the backyard vegetable garden might not.
    Well said.
  • Redditors design worst volume sliders possible - A little UX humor for you, though I bet somewhere, some bureaucracy is mandating the use of something like one of these for ridiculous reasons.
  • World's Strongest Man — Full Day of Eating - Around 12,000 calories. This is almost a week's worth of calories for me (or, uh, should be). The crazy thing is that he considers eating to be the hardest part of his training regimen, though it sounds like a constant, all day affair, so I could see that getting old. I imagine the Bodybuilder diet is different, since this guy is going for pure, functional strength rather than body sculpting...
  • No, YOU spent Labor Day weekend putting Michael Meyers into the background of Activia commercials. Brilliant.
  • Stop Laughing At Old Movies, You $@%&ing Hipsters - I don't get to a lot of repertory screenings, so this isn't something I run into, but it does sound obnoxious.
    The audience at Hercules in the Haunted World thought the styrofoam boulders were hilarious. They cracked up the first time Park opened his mouth and baritone Kihun Yoon began to sing. Soon after, most people settled down. But a third of the house continued to treat Bava's heartbreaking fantasy epic like a comedy. Guy gets boiled in lava? Hysterical! Lady gets her throat slashed? Priceless! People weren't laughing because Mario Bava was funny. They were laughing because Mario Bava wanted them to feel. (No one seemed to care if composer Patrick Morganelli and his singers had their own feelings hurt.)

    The guy behind me munching Sour Patch Kids and wearing an ironic Hawaiian shirt kept up the chuckles for 91 minutes, long after I began to beseech Zeus to throw a non-styrofoam boulder at him. His stubborn laughter was an advertisement for his own superiority, like it's heroic to refuse to be “suckered” by a fake rock that's obviously fake. But there's nothing triumphant about being too cool to dream.
    Seriously, why would someone like that go to a Mario Bava movie? I guess he found it funny, but it's still obnoxious.
Oh man, the Six Weeks of Halloween is coming. Just two weeks. Gird your loins.
2 Comments
squares

The Book Queue

It's been well over a year since I last posted a book queue, and since we're quickly approaching the Six Weeks of Halloween, I need to figure out some creepy seasonal reading, so here's some books I'm looking into. I used to love reading horror, but aside from the occasional dip into the waters, I haven't kept up at all... I probably won't get to all of these (and who knows, I might read something not on here), but it's where I'm starting:
  • Deep State by Christopher Farnsworth - I've been a fan of Farnsworth's Nathaniel Cade/President's Vampire books for a while, and this latest little novella will have to tide me over until Farnsworth manages a full length follow up to Red, White, and Blood (which was the best of the series up until now). Anyway, I don't know much about this, but it seems like it'll be fun Halloween season reading...
  • Haunt by Laura Lee Bahr - I don't remember where I heard about this one from, but the quick description sounds... interesting... "a tripping-balls Los Angeles noir, where a mysterious dame drags you through a time-warping Bizarro hall of mirrors."
  • Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias - Looks like a quick read about a drug dealer turf war that veers into the supernatural. Not sure what to make of this, but reviews make it sound fun...
  • The Croning by Laird Barron - Another horror book that I added to my queue last year and again, I can't remember where I heard about it, but it sounds interesting. Not really sure what this is about, even after reading the description. Can't decide if that's a good thing or not. I also have The Imago Sequence short story collection on my list.
  • Christine by Stephen King - More a placeholder for a Stephen King novel than anything else, but a friend really loves this novel and has told me it's a lot better than the movie... which is a movie I really like (I mean, it is John Carpenter)! I've read a bunch of King, but nowhere near comprehensive. It might be worth checking out It before this new movie comes out, and there are a few others that could work too, but I think Christine might be the one...
  • Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts by Orrin Grey - Short story collection that is supposed to be themed around cinematic monsters, which seems appropriate for our primarily-movie-based Six Weeks of Halloween, no?
  • The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones - As a slasher fan, this seems right up my alley. "The Last Final Girl is like Quentin Tarantino's take on The Cabin in the Woods. Bloody, absurd, and smart. Plus, there's a killer in a Michael Jackson mask." Sold!
  • Horror Movie A Day: The Book by Brian W. Collins - I actually picked this up towards the tail end of last year's 6WH, so I didn't really use it much and just skipped around a little, but I'm giving it a more thorough read right now in the hopes of finding some 6WH fodder. For the uninitiated, HMAD was a website where Brian Collins would watch a horror movie every day and review it. He did this for 6 years. The book is an interesting mixture of films, tons of deep cuts here, not stuff you'd see on every other "Best Horror" list (and indeed, Collins doesn't shy away from truly bad movies, which keeps things interesting). This will almost certainly guide a week or two of this year's marathon...
So there you have it. I definitely won't get to all these, but look for some reviews during the 6WH...
Leave a comment...
squares

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

Without delving too deeply into defining Science Fiction (a contentious undertaking worthing of a separate post), there is a tendency to expand the bounds of the genre by applying scientific precepts to other, nominally supernatural stories. Witness Arthur C. Clarke's infamous dictum: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." And speaking of magic, one such sub-genre could be called the "technology of magic" story which layers a science fictional structure on top of fantasy (or horror) tropes. Nicole Galland and Neal Stephenson's latest novel, The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is one such technology of magic story.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

Melisande Stokes is a struggling academic linguist who inadvertently meets one Tristan Lyons, a handsome military man who recruits her for a secret research project. He reveals little of his motivations or goals or even who he even works for (as he flatly responds to one of Mel's many questions about documents she's translating, "Whether or not they are classified is classified.") Nevertheless, Melisande's polyglot skills quickly reveal some context: Magic was once a real, measurable phenomenon and driver of history, but witch practitioners reported a waning of magic in the early 19th century, eventually disappearing completely in 1851.

The scientific hypothesis is that this magical extinction event was precipitated by the invention of cameras, and in specific, an 1851 eclipse that was widely photographed. The explanation being that magic was some sort of manipulation of quantum physics and that photography represented a form of observation that resulted in a sorta magical wave-function collapse.

It's a clever conceit that provides a good basis for the story. Once they realize what caused the disappearance of magic, our heroic duo get in contact with Dr. Frank Oda and his wife Rebecca East Oda, who have independently been working on a kind of Schrodinger's Cat box, an isolation chamber that might prove ideal for practicing magic in the modern world. After making contact with a real, live witch named Erszebet Karpathy, our oddball band of heroes manage to show that magic does, in fact, exist. Once this hypothesis is confirmed, the government begins a more formal exploration with the hopes of restoring magic and exploiting it for their own strategic ends.

Of course, magic isn't quite all its cracked up to be. Its applications are not immediately obvious until they stumble upon Erszebet's ability to send someone back in time. Even this ability comes with numerous unexpected complications. It turns out that while you can travel back in time and make changes, you must do so on several "strands" of the multiverse until you reach some sort of critical mass where those changes become permanent (or, at least, observable in the present). Of course, this can get pretty tedious and there are additional dangers. If, for example, you were to attempt too large of a change, the universe responds with a literal explosion of magic referred to as Diachronic Shear. Let's just say that it's something to be avoided.

But our heroes persist and after some early success, the DODO (now revealed to be an acronym for Department of Diachronic Operations) organization grows at an alarmingly fast rate as they create new ODECs (i.e. Schrodinger’s Cat boxes that allow magic), recruit an army of historians, martial artists, and other subject matter experts, and of course identify Known Compliant Witches (KCWs) in pre-1851 Diachronic Theaters (so that present-day operatives that have been sent to the past have a way to get back to the present, naturally). One such historical contact is the Irish witch Gráinne, who appears very cooperative, but also has motives of her own. As the title of the book implies, the whole undertaking may be undone thanks to bureaucratic excess and manipulative figures like Gráinne...

The majority of the novel is comprised of first person accounts in the form of diaries, government memos, after-action reports, intranet chat logs, wiki-style howtos, epistolary accounts, and so on. In the beginning, this is primarily from Melisande's perspective, but as the DODO organization grows, so too do the perspectives. As a literary device, this provides convenient cover for the SF genre's info-dumping tendencies while also allowing you to get multiple perspectives on the same events. It works well and never wore out its welcome (unlike some other framing devices I've read recently).

Not having read any of Nicole Galland's previous work (save some of the Mongoliad, another collaboration with Stephenson and several other authors), I can't say for sure how the collaboration worked, but as a rabid Stephenson nut, I can tell you that there's plenty of Stephensonian touches here. Of course, one would assume their collaboration involves shared obsessions, so this all makes sense. Still, there's enough commonality between certain things here and Stephenson's other work such that I feel confident that, for example, the whole subplot involving the underestimated Viking Magnus's assault on a Walmart is very Stephensonian in concept and execution (As the character Rebecca notes in her journal entry: "Magnus is ludicrously hyper-masculine in ways that have been bred and trained out of modern-day men and so they have to deprecate his intelligence." In fact, Magnus' intelligence just manifests in a different way, similar to, say, the Shaftoe brand of genius being quite distinct from the more common Waterhouse conception (for the uninitiated, those are characters from Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle.)) The Fuggers, an enigmatic family of well-connected bankers, also feel very Stephensonian (and while they are not implied to be immortal, their subtle methods of influence recall Enoch Root... or maybe I should just stop comparing everything to Cryptonomicon.)

From what I understand, many of the historical bits come from Galland (though, again, that's not an unusual avenue for Stephenson either), and they jive well with the rest of the story. There are, perhaps, a few quibbles to be made about the plot. In particular, Gráinne's rise to power seems precipitated by an event I'd be extremely wary about. The ending works well enough, though it does appear to be setting up a sequel/series and when combined with Stephenson's reputation for endings, this may rub some folks the wrong way.

There's still more than enough good to make up for any of the nitpicks though. The clever quantum underpinnings of magic, the slow exploration and tedius implications of the way magic works (uh, that's a good thing), the droll and humorous takedown of beurocratic excess, the seemingly infinite parade of acronyms (my favorite being the Diachronic Operative Resource Center or DORC), the well researched historical panache, the winning and charismatic characters (even the villains are the types you love to roll your eyes at), it all contributes to a fun adventure tale that is well paced and entertaining. There aren't a ton of completely new ideas here and you could argue that it isn't as deep or idiosyncratic as Stephenson's best, but it is a very well executed take on those tropes, and one that I prefer to many other offerings.

Overall, it's a light, fun, entertaining romp reminiscent of Stephenson's other collaborations (the Stephen Bury books, which he cowrote with his uncle George Jewsbury) or Reamde. It might not be as revelatory as Cryptonomicon or Anathem, but it's a fantastic book. I will most likely put it on my nominating ballot for next year's Hugo Awards.

Not much to go on when it comes to Stephenson and/or Galland's next books, but in this interview, they mention that they're both approaching the homestretch on solo projects, but are not ready to announce anything yet. Given the ending of DODO, I have to wonder how quickly we'll see a sequel (or if it will even be written by these two authors again?) Time will tell, but I will most likely be reading whatever these two put out (and frankly, I should get on some of Galland's back catalog).

Leave a comment...
squares

Hugo Awards 2017: The Results

The 2017 Hugo Awards were announced on Friday, so it's time for the requisite whining/celebration that peppers the steak of our blogging diet (that's how food works, right?) Um, anyway, despite my formal participation in the awards process roughly coinciding with the Sad/Rabid Puppy era/debacle, this marks the fourth year wherein I've contributed to the results. This year's awards were less directly impacted by those meddlesome puppies, but I feel like we're still suffering through an indirect backlash and overcorrection. This isn't exactly new, so let's just get on with it. (For those who really want to geek out and see how instant-runoff voting works, the detailed final and nominating ballots are available.)
  • The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin takes the rocket for Best Novel, making Jemisin just the third author to have back-to-back wins in this category (joining the ranks of Orson Scott Card and Lois McMaster Bujold). She's a good author, but damn, these books are not for me. Both were at the bottom of my ballot and while I can see why her novel won last year, this one is a little more baffling. It appears to have been a close race though, with All the Birds in the Sky only narrowly missing the win. I regret not putting it higher on my ballot, as it's the only non-series finalist, and that's something that's becoming more and more of an issue... My preferred Ninefox Gambit came in third in the voting, which wound up being a theme for my first ranked works this year.
  • “The Tomato Thief”, by Ursula Vernon wins Best Novelette. I had it at #2 on my ballot and it was very close to the top, so no complaints here. “Seasons of Glass and Iron”, by Amal El-Mohtar wins Best Short Story, which I also had at #2 on my ballot (though I was less in love with this). In both cases, my preferred story wound up in third place. (I didn't vote for Novella, so I'll just note that the ever-popular Seanan McGuire took home the award.)
  • Arrival wins Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form in a landslide, meaning that some things are right in this world. If there's been a movie more destined to win this award, I can't think of one. Also of interest, Ghostbusters (2016) came in dead last, which I think befits its profound mediocrity. In the nominating ballots, it appears my campaign for The Witch fell on deaf ears, as it didn't even make the longlist (for comparison's sake, Arrival received over a thousand nominations, while the bottom of the ballot got 240 and the longlist ends with 10 Cloverfield Lane, which only snagged 72. I know I nominated The Witch but I suspect I may be the only one.) I suppose its on the outskirts of what typically gets nominated (historical period piece horror), but it'd be a much better choice than Ghostbusters or Deadpool. Next year, I'll be curious to see if the likes of Get Out or Colossal will make the cut (if history is any indication, that's a negative - we'll have a couple of super hero movies and the now permanent fixture of Star Wars that will push out all the more idiosyncratic and interesting offerings. Nothing against that blockbuster fare, but it would be great if some of the recent boom in small, independent SF films were represented in these awards...)
  • "The Expanse" Leviathan Wakes wins Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. I didn't vote for this category, but this is one of the episodes I saw, and I like the win because it's not Doctor Who or Game of Thrones (both of which have perhaps won too many of these awards).
  • The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold wins the inaugural Best Series Award, which is again, as it should be. This was an experimental category this year, but I believe it's be ratified to continue on. It's an interesting concept, but as I've noted before, it has some major logistical challenges (namely, how on earth could any reasonable voter read all of the nominated works in time for voting?). Still, as a huge fan of Bujold and the Vorkosigan Saga, this award makes me happy.
  • There are, of course, tons of other awards, but I mostly didn't vote on them due to time and, well, motivation. The puppy angle no longer warrants any particular analysis (not that I ever did much anyway). None of the winners are particularly surprising, but of course ,congratulations are due to all the winners!
  • As mentioned above, this is the fourth year I've participated. Every year, I debate whether or not it will be my last. I suspect this year's focus on series (in the Novel ballot, not the separate award) will continue, and that's something I'm not particularly sanguine about. There's a couple of shoe-ins that I probably won't want to read as well. In general, I'm glad that I've participated these last few years and I've read a bunch of stuff that I wouldn't otherwise... but then, every year, when I finish Hugo reading, I go back and read some older stuff that I almost always enjoy a lot more. These things go in cycles, and it seems like the types of books I really enjoy are not in fashion these days. I do wonder how much of that is due to the Puppy overreach. For all their rhetoric, political bluster, and hypocrisy, the primacy of storytelling that they ostensibly preached is something I can appreciate. Their execution was... let's say flawed. The "slate" approach was terrible and quite frankly, many of their preferred nominees didn't capture that emphasis on fun storytelling (quite the opposite in some cases). Much of it was against the spirit of the awards and rightly faced stiff opposition. But now we're drowning in literary fiction tropes and inchoate characterization rather than sense of wonder and fun ideas. Even my favorites this year tended to lack a bit of spark. Hopefully things will continue to settle down in the coming years. This, by the way, is one reason in favor of my continued participation. Criticism might be better taken from someone actually participating, you know?
  • The notion that a current year's membership allows you to nominate for next year's awards is clever and will keep me participating at least until then. There are a handful of exciting books this year that I'll gladly throw a nomination towards, and who knows, I could be surprised by the finalists. Stranger things have happened. I'm not holding my breath though.
This marks a close of this year's Hugo festivities. Up next, we've got some reviews (of new and older works) and, of course, we're only a little over a month from my most favoritest time of the year, The Six Weeks of Halloween horror marathon (I should probably start planning now, hmmm)...
2 Comments
squares

Tasting Notes

I used to do this thing where I'd do a series of quick hits on my media diet, but damn, it looks like I haven't done this in about five years? Let's rectify that situation:

Television:

  • The Good Place - I wasn't expecting much, but then I burned through the entire first season in just a couple of days. It's a fantastic season of television, very funny, great stakes, well paced (both in terms of individual episodes, but also in the way the series expands on its own world throughout the course of the season). There are some big twists that you might pick up on early in the season, but in general, the season works well as a whole. I'm somewhat wary of the forthcoming second season, but the writers managed to be pretty clever throughout the first season, so there's a hope that the second season will work. But they'll need to do something almost completely different with the premise this time around (otherwise, it could get very repetitive), which is a challenge.
  • Patriot - What a fucking bizarre show. It's clearly aping the prestige TV tropes out the yin yang (i.e. Breaking Bad-esque cold opens, anti-heroes, etc...) and I can't exactly say it's planting any of its own flags, but I actually kinda liked it? I find it hard to recommend and when I break it down, it's not super original and many of the characteristics of the show are things I don't normally care for, but somehow it tweaked me just right. At least until the very end, which is an anticlimax (albeit one you can kinda see coming). It's about a spy who goes undercover at a piping firm in order to travel to Europe and do some sort of deal to prevent Iran from going nuclear. Things immediately go wrong, and pretty much the whole series is an ever-telescoping series of crises built on top of crises. It has this ridiculous sense of deadpan dark humor (I think? Nothing about this show makes perfect sense to me...) that I don't think I have any reference point for... It's almost worth watching so that you can get to the Rock/Paper/Scissors game scene towards the end of the series, which is utterly brilliant. Again, a hard one to recommend though. It might be worth watching the first episode (it's an Amazon Prime original though, so I think you can only see it there). If you're on board with the ridiculous things that happen there, this series might be for you. I honestly still don't know what to think about it, which probably means I think its good?
Movies:
  • Dunkirk - Christopher Nolan's WWII epic is indeed a spectacle to behold, one of the best photographed movies of the year and definite nominee for Most Visually Stunning in the Kaedrin Movie Awards. Not a ton of dialog and minimal plot, and yet it's propulsively paced and at times harrowing. It's not your traditional crowd-pleaser, but nods in that direction far enough to keep interest up. I hope it continues to do well. It will likely make my top 10 of the year, though perhaps towards the bottom of that list...
  • The Big Sick - Delightful romantic comedy based on the true story of Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (who wrote the script), and you can see that heart up there on the screen. It deals a lot with family and culture clash in a sophisticated way, but it never drags at all, and is generally able to leaven the drama with comedy. Another film that will likely make my top 10.
  • Baby Driver - Edgar Wright's latest is fantastic entertainment, a sort of hybrid musical that substitutes car chases for dance numbers. This works spectacularly for the first two thirds, but there's some serious third act problems with the story (lots of inexplicable decisions and character turns), even though the execution of what's there is still very enjoyable. Hitchcock's refrigerator comes to mind here - it works ok when your watching it, but does not hold up to scrutiny. Not a shoe-in for the top 10, but will definitely be a candidate and it will certainly garner a Kaedrin Movie Award or two. Still recommended!
Books:
  • The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland - I'm about two thirds of the way through this book, which features witches, a quantum mechanical explanation for magic, and lots of time travel. And bureaucracy. I'm pretty much loving it so far, but as a long-time Stephenson fanatic, I think you could probably have guessed that, right? Really curious to see how it will play out (seems like a solid candidate for a Hugo nomination for me). More thoughts forthcoming in a full review...
  • Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space by Janna Levin - Non-fiction story of gravitational waves and the LIGO project - an arduous, fifty-year endeavor to measure gravitation waves from events like two black holes colliding... So far seems to be pretty excessively focused on the personalities involved and the hoops they had to jump through to get funded, etc... Interesting stuff, but not necessarily the most immersive story.
  • Killfile by Christopher Farnsworth - Trashy little thriller about a security consultant/spy who can read people's minds. This is from the guy who wrote about the President's Vampire, so we're not looking for anything groundbreaking or anything, but it's a fairly fun little story. I basically got this (and its sequel, which I didn't like as much, but was basically more of the same) so that I could get a new President's Vampire story (which I actually haven't read yet and at this point, will probably save for the Six Weeks of Halloween), but these were an enjoyable enough diversion, if a bit formulaic and disposable...
Gaming:
  • Friday the 13th: The Game - This is an online multiplayer game (not my usual thing) that is set in the Friday the 13th universe (emphatically my thing). The technical term for this type of game is "asymmetrical multiplayer" because while most of the players are camp counselors running for their life, one randomly selected player gets to be Jason, whose job is to hunt down and kill all the other players. It's a lot of fun, even though I suck and the game and am not really willing to put the time into it to get good at it (the last time I played as Jason, I only killed one counselor and spent a couple minutes chasing one person around a table). Worth checking out if this seems like your jam.
  • Dominion - This is a deck-building card game that I stumbled onto because some folks at work started playing at lunch. I don't always get to play there, but once I got into it, it's a really deep and fun game to play. There's an online version (linked above) that works well enough, though it could use some updates (it's relatively new though, and they're still making improvements). I still really enjoy the meatspace version, and it helps that my friends have basically all of the expansion packs (which add a lot of flavor).
The Finer Things:
  • As always, I'm drinking a lot of beer and as you probably know, I have a whole blog where I keep track of this sort of thing. Recent highlights have all been IPAs, actually, like Tree House Julius and Burley Oak 100
  • Since it always takes me, like, 2 years to get through a bottle of whisk(e)y, I was intrigued by the concept of an Infinity Bottle (aka Solera bottle), which is basically when you take a bunch of nearly finished bottles and blend them all together into one super-whiskey. I started a bourbon based bottle recently, mostly Four Roses based, but with some Stagg Jr. and Bookers. Biggest problem right now is that the proof is excessively high (approximately 122) at this point. I need to find some low proof stuff with some age on it (am I crazy, or is this a job for an orphan barrel bourbon?) Still, it's a fun little project and it should get more and more interesting over time (as more and more whiskeys join the blend).
Phew, that's all for now. I will be on vacation next week, so posting is dubious, though you never know!
Leave a comment...
squares

Link Dump

After months of Hugo recapping and Kung Fu, the links have been piling up, they have. Enjoy:
  • Carmageddon is Coming - Angus Hervey forecasts the convergence of mobile tech, electic cars, and self-driving software:
    Within a few years, electric vehicles are going to be cheaper, more durable and more reliable than petrol powered cars, autonomy will be good enough that you don’t need human drivers and everyone will be able to hail a car on their phone (or their voice-activated Alexa spectacles). The cost of taking a car trip will become cheaper than getting a coffee, which means it will be accessible to everyone. Overnight, we’ll see a mass defection to mobility as a service.

    This is the real kicker: we don’t have to wait for people to get rid of their old cars; one morning, they’ll sit down and do their monthly budget, and realise it makes more sense to hail an autonomous, electric vehicle. Given a choice, people will select the cheaper option.
    The predicted timelines are a bit aggressive, but I think this gets the general shape of things right, including all the non-obvious impacts (to things like healthcare, etc...) I'm at the point right now where I would normally be thinking about getting a new car, but if these things actually do progress this quickly, that might not be a wise choice...
  • Meet the Artist Using Ritual Magic to Trap Self-Driving Cars - On the other hand, these guys trapped a self-driving car using a salt-circle, just like the frigging Winchester brothers use to fight demons. (In all seriousness, this is the sort of thing people point to as a silly failure mode of self-driving cars... that will obviously be solved quickly and quietly, until such failure modes become vanishingly rare, which won't take too long...)
  • Pharma Bro claims he can’t get a fair trial because of Post’s coverage - The story is fine and all, but this is worth clicking through just for the courtroom sketch, which makes Martin Shkreli look like an orc. Well played, courtroom artist, well played.
  • How a Minor Character from ‘Taxi Driver’ Influenced One of the Most Iconic Scenes in ‘Pulp Fiction’ - Neat story about how the character Easy Andy (the guy who sells DeNiro guns in a hotel room) was played by an actor who basically inspired one of Tarantino's famous scenes from Pulp Fiction.
  • no feelings may be hurt - Generalizing lessons from disputes over sexuality:
    demand for the affirmation of sexual choices may simply be an example of a greater demand, that for the affirmation of all the self’s choices. The real principles here are (a) I am my own and (b) the purpose of society is to empower and affirm my claim that I am my own.
  • Remembering the Murder You Didn't Commit - Innocent people so thoroughly bamboozled that even after they've been exonerated by DNA evidence, they still feel guilt and can recall the crime they didn't commit. It's an incredible story.
  • “I Just Wanted To Survive” - Another crazy story, this time about a college football player who was abducted and tortured for 40 hours.
  • The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We're All Going To Miss Almost Everything - Worth keeping in mind:
    The vast majority of the world's books, music, films, television and art, you will never see. It's just numbers.

    ... there are really only two responses if you want to feel like you're well-read, or well-versed in music, or whatever the case may be: culling and surrender.

    Culling is the choosing you do for yourself. It's the sorting of what's worth your time and what's not worth your time.

    ... Surrender, on the other hand, is the realization that you do not have time for everything that would be worth the time you invested in it if you had the time, and that this fact doesn't have to threaten your sense that you are well-read. Surrender is the moment when you say, "I bet every single one of those 1,000 books I'm supposed to read before I die is very, very good, but I cannot read them all, and they will have to go on the list of things I didn't get to."

    What I've observed in recent years is that many people, in cultural conversations, are far more interested in culling than in surrender. And they want to cull as aggressively as they can. After all, you can eliminate a lot of discernment you'd otherwise have to apply to your choices of books if you say, "All genre fiction is trash."
    With apologies for chopping up my quote so much, this idea that people are obsessed with culling is definitely a thing that spreads across broad spectrums. No one wants to build towards expertise, they want to know what the best such-and-such thing is so that they can immediately become an expert. I see this pattern all over (to pick a non-obvious example, beer is filled with dorks who are obsessed with only drinking walez, bro). But you need to know the bad before you can realize what the good is really doing. For skills, you need to learn to fail and learn from your failures before you can really achieve something. There was a computer programmer who got fed up with the preponderance of "Learn to program in 24 hours" style books, so he wrote a book called "Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years". Back to books and movies, I recapped a fairly wide swatch of martial arts films last week, but I've only really scratched the surface. Many of these movies aren't "great" in a broad sense, but even some of the bad ones have important or interesting elements that I'm really glad I caught up with...
And I think that's enough for now. Stay tuned, but I, um, don't know what's coming up next. This is both nice and also somewhat troubling.
Leave a comment...
squares

Martial Arts Movie Omnibus

In his review of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Roger Ebert compared martial arts movies to musicals:

Fight scenes in a martial arts movie are like song-and-dance numbers in a musical: After a certain amount of dialogue, you're ready for one.
It's an observation that he'd made before, but it's one that strikes a resonant chord with me. I mean, I'm not a huge fan of musicals, but I sure do enjoy martial arts movies. Yet the mechanisms and structure of both are almost the same. Is there really that much of a difference between Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung? Apparently not! As Ebert notes:
The best martial arts movies have nothing to do with fighting and everything to do with personal excellence. Their heroes transcend space, gravity, the limitations of the body and the fears of the mind. In a fight scene in a Western movie, it is assumed the fighters hate each other. In a martial arts movie, it's more as if the fighters are joining in a celebration of their powers.
Indeed, and while that might not completely hold true in all cases, it is something that sorta feels right anyway.

Early this year, I noticed that Amazon Prime streaming had made a whole slew of classic martial arts movies available, so I resolved to start exploring. As I made my way through what was available, I did start to stray further afield (even sometimes resorting to, gasp, physical media to see some of these). What follows is a pretty wide broad-section of the field, by no means comprehensive, but a decent place to start if anyone is curious. For the sake of honesty, I wasn't initially taking notes, so my recollections on some of these are a little sparse, but I figured I'd include everything I've watched this year. For posterity! This was a generally fun exercise and I expect my explorations of the genre to continue, but I figured it was time to finally start documenting what I've watched. Let's get to it:

The Prodigal Son (1981) - Directed by Sammo Hung, this one tones down the humor a bit, but the very premise is somewhat amusing. Yuen Biao stars as Chang, a wealthy heir that believes himself to be a kung fu master. However, it turns out that his father has been paying people to lose to him. Embarrassed, Chang joins a traveling circus in the hopes of learning from the master of that troupe. Hung plays a small part as one of Chang's instructors, but is mostly behind the camera, with Yuen Biao and Ching-Ying Lam (you will see some of these names often below). This is a prime example of Wing Chun style, a form of close quarters martial arts involving grappling and striking. Action Highlight: The final one-on-one fight is pretty great and represents a culmination of the action sequences, which start with light sparring and gradually become more and more serious and brutal as the film progresses, until you reach the finale. Clear, fluid, well choreographed stuff all throughout, and there's a good balance of action to plot. ***

Eastern Condors - This is a really unusual one about a mission to Vietnam to destroy a munitions depot left behind by Americans before anyone can put the weapons to nefarious use. There's actually very little martial arts in the movie, and what is there feels a bit out of place in a Vietnam narrative. I watched it due to Sammo Hung's involvement and he is technically the lead, but it's more of an ensemble piece (Yuen Biao shows up again). As Vietnam movies go, this doesn't quite stand up to the classics and isn't as fun as the more ridiculous 80s offerings. You'd be better off watching the movies that inspired this, like The Dirty Dozen, though I gather I'm an outlier in disliking this movie (it seems popular). Action Highlight: I guess the end at the munitions dump? I was not enamored with the action here. *

Magnificent Butcher (1979) - Another Sammo Hung vehicle, he plays "Butcher" Wing in this one, a student of legendary martial arts master Wong Fei-hung (a mainstay character in HK cinema). His newly wed brother comes to town, but the bride is promptly kidnapped by a student of a local rival master. He must team up with his brother and local a local drunken master to try and save her. Before I get to the action, which is amazing, I have to ding the plot here. Now most of these movies don't have a great plot, but the kidnapped wife trope is executed poorly here. Spoiler: she is murdered, leading to a revenge killing of the kidnapper. But the kidnapper's master doesn't know about all this, and vows revenge of Hung's character. The final battle sees Hung defeating the rival master, but it all feels a little wrong. That being said, the action in this film is phenomenal.

Sammo Hung
Directed by famed choreographer Woo-Ping Yuen, one would expect nothing less. Clear, fluid, intricate fights all throughout, and Sammo Hung is a spectacular performer. If you don't know Sammo, he's, well, on the overweight side of things. And yet he manages to be among the most nimble acrobats I've ever seen in one of these movies. The other performers hold their own, of course (look, another Yuen Biao appearance), aided as they are by Woo-Ping Yuen's choreography. If you're willing to overlook the unpleasantness in the plot, this is a spectacular action film.
Calligraphy Battle
Action Highlight: The calligraphy battle is marvelous and a standout from all the movies in this post, but the final showdown with Sammo Hung is also worth noting. ***

Warriors Two (1978) - Another Sammo Hung directed film, this is also a classic showcase for the Wing Chun style starring Casanova Wong (the famed "Human Tornado"). Wong plays a humble cashier who stumbles on a plot to assassinate the local mayor. Action Highlight: The last half hour of the film is almost non-stop action, with the highlight being Wong and Hung's two on two battle with the villains of the piece, including a weird "juggling" maneuver... **1/2

Wheels on Meals (1984) - A famous team-up of Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, and Sammo Hung, it's hard to beat that trio. Chan and Biao play cousins and business partners (owning a futuristic food truck, decades before such things were trendy), and Hung plays an inexplicably Jheri curled private detective. They all get wrapped up in some sort of weird crime gambit involving a young woman. Whatever, it's all just an excuse to get to the fights, which are great, varied, and numerous. This is one of the many movies in which Jackie Chan, clearly a susperstar, manages to generously share the screen with multiple costars (who, frankly, are also superstars within this genre).

Jackie Chan vs Benny The Jet
Action Highlight: Jackie Chan's infamous duel with Benny “The Jet” Urquidez towards the end of the film is astounding and features one of the coolest bits: Benny does a spinning kick so fast that he generates enough airflow to extinguish some candles on set. It was apparently an accident, but they obviously left it in the film because it's so cool (and another example of Chan's willingness to share the spotlight). ***

The Fearless Hyena (1979) - Jackie Chan's directorial debut about dueling martial arts schools and old enemies finding out about one of the masters because, yeah, the usual martial arts plot here. Revenge is involved. But the fights are great, and Chan goes through some amusing costuming.

Chopstick Fight
Chopsticks
Action Highlight: Lots to choose from, but the really memorable bit is one of the training sequences where Chan's new master prompts him to eat piece of meat sitting in front of him. What follows is a legit duel fought with chopsticks. Utterly brilliant. ***

The Young Master (1980) - Another early Jackie Chan directorial effort about a martial arts student whose brother inadvertently gets kicked out of his school or something, so Chan goes on an adventure to find him, running afoul of the local criminals and constabulary.

Fighting with a fan
Action Highlight: The opening dragon fight has its merits, and there's lots to choose from, but for me it's the impeccable choreography in the fight with the fan that takes the day. ***

Police Story (1985) - One of those Jackie Chan calling cards, it's the first movie of his that I've watched that really amps up the stunts, and boy are there a bunch here. There's also some great physical comedy reminiscent of Buster Keaton, such as the scene where Chan is alone at the police station and is juggling 4-5 different phones and getting tangled up in the wires and whatnot. Three classic set-pieces included a car chase through a small town (lots of destruction and mayhem), a bus chase, and the Action Highlight: A fight through a mall, lots of typically great fighting culminating in Jackie Chan's jump down a, um, lightpost? Whatever it is, it's a spectacular stunt. This movie was apparently a big deal at the time, and it's easy to see why. ***

Project A (1983) - Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao star (the trio rides again) in this adventure fighting pirates on the old China coast. More or less par for the course, solid action, but nothing seems to standout much (perhaps I'm just getting used to the slapsticky action comedy style). Certainly a strong entry, but not my favorite. Action Highlight: The bar fight at the beginning of the film has some great Jackie Chan getting-injured-but-pretending-to-be-ok bits, then just follows through to out and out injury. **1/2

Butterfly and Sword (1993) - This is a movie where Michelle Yeoh decapitates people with her silk scarf, then uses said scarf as a makeshift bow that costar Tony Leung launches himself off of like an arrow to blow clean through various nefarious enemies.

Making a bow with a scarf
Also, the villain turns out to have a Freddy Kreuger glove. That can shoot the blades. And as wuxia films go, there's plenty of floating and wirework that's quite neat. You'd think this would be awesome, but alas, it doesn't quite live up to its best moments. The action here is much choppier and covered in tighter shots with more camera movement than I'm used to. This isn't like modern-day shaky cam, at least, but it's not the cleanly shot elegance you generally get from this sort of film either (then again, perhaps an actual restoration/better transfer of the filmstock would help clean this stuff up - indeed, this transfer on Amazon might be pan-and-scan, which could explain some of the issues.) The love, er, quadrangle? (or rectangle, they're called rectangles) is reasonable but also a little fraught and doesn't always blend in with the rest of the story. So it's more frenetic and actually quite gory, which is a change of pace for these movies, but it falls a bit short on execution (though again, issues with the transfer might be the real problem). It's worth watching for students of the genre or of wacky movies, but not really a good intro to wuxia or martial arts in general. Action Highlight: The final battle with Freddy Kreuger is great and makes good use of Yeoh's scarf/bow. **1/2

Magnificent Warriors (1987) - Michelle Yeoh plays Indiana Jones, basically. Some good set pieces here, but the highpoint is in the middle, and while the finish works, it does feel a bit perfunctory.

Michelle Yeoh
Action Highlight: There's a scene in Kill Bill where Gogo Yubari fights the bride with this metal ball/blade thingy that's attached to chain. It's a memorable fight and weapon because of the way she flings it around, and in Magnificent Warriors, Michelle Yeoh basically has the same sequence (towards the beginning of the film), decades before Kill Bill. However, the true highlight is when Michelle Yeoh provides a distraction for our heroes' escape by kicking and punching the entire Japanese army into submission. Mostly. I mean, they end up captured, but still. It's an amazing sequence. **1/2

The One-Armed Swordsman (1967) - Very early Shaw Brothers flick about, yes, a one-armed swordsman. This is such an early example of the genre that it's like they hadn't even invented the trademark foley work that martial arts are known for. The action works reasonably well, but the choreography is not as intricate or elegant as the later works I've seen. This is a clear precursor though, and you can see its influence on the later films. Action Highlight: Honestly blanking on this right now, but I'll say that it probably involves swords. **1/2

Supercop (1992) - I want to say that I saw this in the theater back in the day. If memory serves (and it famously does not, so this might not be true), after Rumble in the Bronx, a bunch of movies made their way to the US, and this was one of them. I do kinda remember the scene in the training warehouse at the beginning, but other than that, I didn't remember much from this movie. It's quite solid! I mean, it's Jackie Chan teaming up with Michelle Yeoh, so what did you expect? Both are great performers, and there's lots of good action and stunts going on here. Action Highlight: The last 20-30 minutes of the movie feature lots of great stunts, including Michelle Yeoh hanging off of a truck, Jackie Chan riding a rope ladder attached to a helicopter, all finishing up on top of a train for some great stunts and martial arts... ***

Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976) - Apparently a sequel, I just jumped into this one without even knowing that. Directed by Jimmy Wang Yu (who also directed the aforementioned One-Armed Swordsman), this one represents the evolution of the genre. Surprisingly modern music cues (were these used for kill Bill?) The entire second act is a full-contact martial arts tournament, some of it quite gruesome, some more tame. The action is well done, not quite as intricate or stylized as much of the above, but it's certainly in that direction, and quite entertaining. Has an almost video game like structure, fight after fight, a series of boss battles, etc... Not the greatest transfer on Amazon, and it's dubbed (some scenes are bizarrely still in the original language with no translation available), but who cares, this is a movie where a dude uses a device to decapitate people at the flick of his wrist. There's not much plot at all, and it doesn't really matter. Action Highlight: The aforementioned tournament certainly has lots to praise, but the ending boss-fights probably warrant mention too. ***

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) - Classic Shaw Brothers production starring Gordon Liu that is certainly in the discussion for best Martial Arts movie of all time. Perhaps surprisingly, most of the martial arts movies in this post don't have great training montages, but this movie dedicates a good third of the running time to well structured training sequences, including seemingly insignificant skills that turn out to be important later on (i.e. not quite wax-on, wax-off, but along those lines). One of the classics of the genre, well worth checking out. Action Hightlight: The film builds to a series of final confrontations, all of which are pretty great. I feel like I should have more to say about this movie, but everything I think of basically just amounts to it being great. You should totally watch it. ***1/2

The Five Deadly Venoms (1978) - A dying kung fu master regrets training the Five Venoms, thinking that they may use their talents for evil. Each member of this gang has a specialty: The centipede's quick hits and blinding speed, the snake's deception and striking power, the scorpion's darts, the lizard's gravity defying ability to climb walls, and the toad's near imperviousness to traditional weapons. The dying master tasks his final pupil, a jack-of-all-trades (but master of none), with taking down the gang, so as to prevent any evil doing on their part. But he won't be able to do it alone, so he needs to ally himself with one of the five to take out the other four. The only problem? The Five Venoms all wore masks while training, so no one knows what they look like, not even them! The This movie takes a while to get moving, and indeed, it almost feels more like an Edgar Wallace mystery mixed with Yojimbo-style feuding factions being played against one another, with a dose of Kill Bill (though obviously this film was an influence on Tarantino rather than the other way around, and yes, I'm pretty sure some of the scorpion's sound cues are used in Kill Bill too). There's a lot of exposition and strangely, courtroom drama and a crooked judge. It's almost half an hour before we get our first proper martial arts sequence, but things start to slowly pick up from there. This is not exactly high cinema, but the story did grab me more than most razor-thin martial arts plots. This has a reputation as being one of the best, and it's certainly influential, but try to keep your expectations in check. Action Highlight: The final showdown is very well done, making ample usage of the Venom Mob specialties. **1/2

Crippled Avengers (1978) - What a bizarre way to start a movie. A young boy has both his arms cut off by bandits. His father vows to replace them with metal hands. And they shoot darts! You'd think these are the eponymous "avengers", but no, their injuries turn them into total dicks who go around town crippling villagers. One is blinded, another is made deaf and mute, a third gets his legs cut off, and finally, one man is struck dumb by a torture device while attempting to avenge the first three. When those three find out, they take that man back to his master, who vows to teach the "crippled avengers" despite their disabilities. Will our crippled avengers achieve vengeance? You bet ya! Chang Cheh's follow up to The Five Venoms, this one has decidedly more martial arts, but less Agatha Christi plotting. Still entertaining enough and the plot, simple and bonkers as it is, serves its purpose well. Action Highlight: Once again, I forgot to write down anything specific. In general, it's got great choreography, of course, and the fights are many and varied. **1/2

A Touch of Zen (1971) - This is not your typical Wu Xia film. Clocking in at nearly 3 hours, it's perhaps too long, but this is a movie that is more thoughtful than your typical entry in the genre. In other words, the plot here matters and is fraught with symbolism. Our heroes rely on ghosts of the past for their defense, and there's lots of sexual symbolism (it's no accident that the villain is a Eunuch). This is more artistic, moody, and deep than the rest of the films in this post, and that makes for an interesting contrast.

A Touch of Zen
It's also visually beautiful, and the artistry serves a purpose. The Wu Xia elements are clearly lowfi here, relying mostly on trampolines rather than elaborate wire-work, but you can clearly see why something like this would be considered so influential. Director King Hu received lots of plaudits from critics, but didn't seem to strike as much of a chord with audiences. The action is sparse at first, but builds towards a climax with the Action Highlight: The fight in the bamboo forest, crisp and clean choreography, not as intricate or mind-blowing as what would follow, but clearly a precursor. ***

My Lucky Stars (1985) - Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, etc... and... holy shit, is that Chong Li from Bloodsport in a bit part? Alas, he doesn't get to do any real fighting. Jackie Chan is an undercover cop who gets into trouble and asks for his friends from the orphanage to help... but they're all con men and crooks. Nice car chase and fight sequence up front, a decent enough recruitment phase, followed by an interminable scene where our 5 con men try to con their (female) police contact into being tied up with them? That part is dumb and inappropriate. Jackie Chan seems conspicuously absent for about half the movie, but the Action Highlight in the finale, as Chan makes his way through a haunted house and each of our con men (and woman) get something to do. **

Come Drink With Me (1966) - Classic early Shaw Brothers flick, clearly not all tropes have been established yet and the choreography, while good, isn't as intricate as later stuff (it fares better than One Armed Swordsman). The story feels very much like a western, with a group of bandits hoping to free their imprisoned leaders, ambushing convoys, holding a prince hostage. Then Cheng Pei-Pei shows up as the prince's sister to "negotiate" his release. Her first scene in the tavern is the Action Highlight, lots of tension, plenty of well choreographed action and some neat little tricks. She has another great set piece where she takes on the whole gang, but then seems to take the background as her newfound ally, the town drunk, takes center stage for the last third or so of the movie. The ending doesn't quite live up to the rest of the movie, but it holds on alright. A few years after this movie, director King Hu would go on to make A Touch of Zen, and you can see similarities here. **1/2

Phew. That's a lot of movies, and what's more, I feel like I'm only scratching the surface here. We may need another Omnibus post (or 5) before we get to all the movies I'd like to see...

Leave a comment...
squares
The voting deadline for this year's Hugo Awards approaches, so here's my ballot as it now stands. It's mostly fiction categories, with some Dramatic Presentation thrown in for flare and some comments on some of the other categories that I'm actually not going to vote for...

Best Novel
  1. Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee [My Review]
  2. A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers [My Review]
  3. Death's End by Cixin Liu [My Review]
  4. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders [My Review]
  5. Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer [My Review]
  6. The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin [My Review]
A decent enough lineup this year, not spectacular, but it gets the job done. Five out of the six nominees are part of a series, which is mildly annoying. A Closed and Common Orbit skates by on that count because despite being the second book, it can easily be read as a standalone and comes off as quite different than the first entry in the series (in a way that benefits the sequel greatly). Its generally positive tone is also noteworthy and has elevated it to the #2 slot. All the Birds in the Sky is the only true standalone and has a great whimsical tone to it, but despite overtures towards SF, it doesn't really stand up on that front. Ninefox Gambit is the first in a series and does a great job with worldbuilding while telling a reasonably satisfying and composed tale. Not completely self-contained, but there's enough meat on the bone to make me want to pick up the next in the series (something that doesn't happen too often with me on first novels in a series). Death's End at least provides some closure to its story and gets its jollies from big ideas, albeit existentially troubling ones. Too Like the Lightning is the first in a series, but doesn't seem to progress the overall arc very much. I hear the sequels will be better on that front... but that doesn't make this initial volume better in itself. Finally, The Obelisk Gate doesn't progress its overall arc much either, which again makes it hard to rank highly. Yeah, that's typical of second novels in a trilogy, but that doesn't make it worthy of a Hugo Award... This series conundrum continues to be challenging for me when it comes to ranking these novels. One might think that the introduction of a "Best Series" Hugo Award would help alleviate this, but apparently not. Obviously more detailed thoughts in my reviews linked above.

Predicted Winner: Ninefox Gambit, though A Closed and Common Orbit or All the Birds in the Sky also seem to be faring well. But what do I know. My predictions are always wrong.

Best Novella

I'm skipping this category this year. Relatively long stories combined with an extra finalist this year contributed to this decision, but really, I just wanted to start reading The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. and the prospect of spending a couple weeks sifting through a bunch of stories that I have historically not enjoyed very much wasn't doing much for me. I have read Penric and the Shaman and enjoyed it quite a bit, but even for that, I was a bigger fan of Bujold's other Penric novella, Penric's Mission (which, I'm told, was disqualified because it was a hair over the wordcount limit for Novella, but still).

Best Novelette
  1. Touring with the Alien by Carolyn Ives Gilman
  2. The Tomato Thief by Ursula Vernon
  3. You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay by Alyssa Wong
  4. The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde
  5. The Art of Space Travel by Nina Allen
  6. No Award
See My Reviews for more info. Sorry Stix Hiscock, Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex isn't making the cut for what I hope are obvious reasons. I rarely deploy No Award, but this is a pretty clear cut case.

Predicted Winner: The Tomato Thief

Best Short Story
  1. That Game We Played During the War by Carrie Vaughn
  2. Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar
  3. Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies by Brooke Bolander
  4. The City Born Great by N.K. Jemisin
  5. An Unimaginable Light by John C. Wright
  6. A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong
See My Reviews for more details. I made a slight tweak to the initial rankings. No need to deploy No Award.

Predicted Winner: The City Born Great? I mean, have I ever gotten one of these predictions correct?

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
  1. Arrival
  2. Stranger Things
  3. Rogue One
  4. Hidden Figures
  5. Deadpool
  6. Ghostbusters
I didn't explicitly post about this category, but I've already covered 2016 in movies pretty thoroughly. In general, I love the first two entries in my rankings, but there's a steep dropoff after that. This isn't particularly unusual for this category, and there's always one or two movies that would have been great nominees but didn't make the cut (this year, I was hoping The Witch would get some love, but it's not the type of movie Hugo voters tend to go for, I guess. Will be interested to see the nomination stats...)

Predicted Winner: Arrival, though Hidden Figures seems to have a fair amount of buzz...

Best Series

A fascinating category, for sure, but one that has significant logistical hurdles. I've read the entire Vorkosigan Saga and am really pulling for it, but is it realistic to expect people will read all of these books before voting? Especially considering that the best entries are pretty deep into the series? I mean, I obviously recommend this, but this has to be difficult if you've not already read these series. I've never been that into The Expanse but I've only read the first novel. Is it fair to judge the series on that one novel? There's only a couple of weeks left before voting closes and that's simply not enough time to read more of that plus 4 other series of books (or even the first novel in each). Ultimately, I don't feel like it'd be fair to vote in this category without giving each of the series a fair shake, which to me means reading more than one novel in each series (at minimum). I gather that this is somewhat unusual and that some voters are more than willing to give up on a book/series after only a tiny sample (or not reading at all). But that's not really my style.

Predicted Winner: Vorkosigan Saga, please?

So this marks the end of my Hugo journey this year. Look for a recap when the Awards are announced in August, but otherwise, we now return you to our normal wanking about movies (coming soon: a Martial Arts Movie Omnibus post!)
Leave a comment...
squares

Hugo Awards: Short Stories

I always feel like the Short Story category should be more fun. It could kinda be like speed-dating authors to find the ones you like. I suppose it does still fulfill that function, only I rarely like any of the stories that are nominated. In the past four years of reading Hugo short story finalists, I've really liked approximately two of the stories, and neither of those enough to investigate an author's work further (some more are certainly well written, but rarely are they my thing). I have no real explanation for this, though I have my suspicions. For instance, this is the category with the lowest barrier to entry in that it doesn't take a lot of time to read a bunch of short stories, but there are also a lot of stories to choose from, so the votes get spread far and wide, thus yielding niche stories that don't appeal to a wide audience (or maybe just me). This is merely speculation though (still there is evidence for some of this - in a world before slates, the category rarely filled up because most of the winning nominees couldn't muster 5% of the overall vote, which used to be a requirement). This year, at least, features one story that I did enjoy, so let's get to it:
  1. That Game We Played During the War by Carrie Vaughn - A human woman visits an alien man in a military hospital so that they can play chess. Technically enemies, each has spent time as the other's prisoner, but the experience brought them closer together rather than drawing them apart. The war is technically over now, and so she can visit her friend. The wrinkle is that his race is telepathic, so when they play chess, she needs to figure out a way to account for his knowing her every move ahead of time. There's some interesting character work here, the telepathy is explored fairly well for such a short story (though there's plenty more to explore), and the use of chess offers some thematic heft. A well balanced, interesting, and entertaining read. It's not a perfect story, but it is my favorite of the past four years of the award, so there is that!
  2. Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies by Brooke Bolander - Despite protestations to the contrary, this is a story about a woman who is murdered, but she's not actually a woman. Rather, she's some sort of interdimensional birdlike spirit who can take on mortal forms. When she is killed, she simply regenerates and then takes sweet revenge on the man who killed her. A simple tale, one that spends more time whining about how often stories revolve around a man killing a woman (which is definitely true and worth subverting), but one that also seems beholden to that trope and unable to subvert it without resorting to didactic proclamations. Fortunately, there's lots of cursing, so it doesn't entirely feel like a lecture. It's at least got a plot, and the broad strokes of the narrative are attractive too, so it ends up pretty high on the list, though it might stumble down because of:
  3. Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar - A sort of retelling, mashup, and subversion of two fairy tales, this one also seems to rely a lot on didactic proclamations to make its point, but again, there's at least some sense of a narrative and a sort of hope in the end that is usually missing from such stories (and a lot of ye olde storytelling is pretty didactic, so this is true to form). This is one that has grown in my estimation since I have read it, and it may ascend to #2 if this continues...
  4. The City Born Great by N.K. Jemisin - New York City is alive, and is being reborn with the help of a homeless man chosen for the task and being trained in the ways of city birthing. There's also an enemy that could prevent the city from evolving. Will our homeless hero defeat the evil? After two novels and this short story, I'm beginning to think that something about Jemisin's style just doesn't jive with me. There's a nugget of an interesting idea here, but it seems lost in a cloud of style. Again, probably just my personal hangup here.
  5. An Unimaginable Light by John C. Wright - And Wright is another author I tend to just bounce off of. This one is better than the others I've endured, but that's a pretty low bar to clear and I think a big part of it was that it was at least mercifully short. It's a story about a man and a robot debating Asimov's three laws. I mean, not exactly, but anything that is interesting at all in the story is derived from Asimov, not Wright. There's a twist at the end that is almost laughable and forces scrutiny that the story cannot bear on its own. Damn, I wish I was rereading one of Asimov's robot stories. Wright is probably a better prose stylist (again, not a high bar to clear, sorry Isaac), but Asimov is a much better storyteller.
  6. A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong - It's only been about an hour or maybe two since I finished this story, and yet, I can't seem to remember any pertinent details. Something about two women. Immolation. Worlds ending. I want to say it's more like a tone poem than a narrative, but I'm not sure I can say that because I don't remember anything about it. It sorta just washed over me, but then, it did leave me feeling vaguely annoyed. If only I could remember why.
Oof. I'm almost tempted to nuke everything after That Game We Played During the War with a No Award, but that's not really fair, so I'll probably just leave well enough be. At this point, the prospect of reading 5 Novellas isn't so attractive, especially since I've got The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. sitting right here, calling to me.
Leave a comment...
squares