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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Link Dump
Lots of stuff going on lately, here's a sampling of interesting links plumbed from the depths of the internets:
  • The Disgusting But Logical Implications of Star Trek Food Replication Technology - This is important nerdery right here:
    But take things to even more logical conclusions. First, there is inevitably going to be some annoying hipster dicks who insist that they can tell the difference between replicator food and real food (and I seem to remember this actually happening on screen).

    In addition, because it’s functioning off of recipes down to the molecular level, does that mean that every dish comes out looking identical to every other time it was ordered? Imagine if every single time you ate a hamburger, every ripple in the lettuce and angle of every sesame seed was exactly the same every single time.
    That's pretty tame, but the article goes to some... distressing yet surprisingly logical places.
  • 11 Tips To Intentionally Ruin A Mock Draft - Basically, draft Tim Tebow in the first round. So yeah, Eagles are perhaps not in for the best of years.
  • The Benjamin Franklin Effect: The Surprising Psychology of How to Handle Haters - He took an interesting approach:
    Franklin set out to turn his hater into a fan, but he wanted to do it without "paying any servile respect to him." Franklin’s reputation as a book collector and library founder gave him a standing as a man of discerning literary tastes, so Franklin sent a letter to the hater asking if he could borrow a specific selection from his library, one that was a "very scarce and curious book." The rival, flattered, sent it right away. Franklin sent it back a week later with a thank-you note. Mission accomplished. The next time the legislature met, the man approached Franklin and spoke to him in person for the first time. Franklin said the man "ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death."
    The challenge is that both parties must have a certain amount of dignity in order for this to work. That being said, I've found that this sort of thing works better than, say, getting someone fired or mobbing their social media accounts with threats.
  • How "oldschool" graphics worked - Another example of limitations leading to creative solutions.
  • How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars - Why is it that reading these Wait But Why articles fills me with more sense of wonder than most recent science fiction? This is an epic article, too long to even attempt pulling a quote from, but worth reading nonetheless. And the Tesla post is also worth reading. Basically, you should be reading Wait But Why. Between these two posts, I feel like the future might not be Mad Max-like.
  • Researchers have created a self-healing material that works in less than one second - Neat, and probably a good idea to develop further if we actually do go to Mars.
  • "Gremlins 2" Brainstorm - Uncensored - Everything about this is brilliant, from Key's dead-on Dante costume to Peele's glasses.
And that's all for now! Get ready, though, the Six Weeks of Halloween are coming on strong. I've been planning out my themed weeks, and it's going to be a fun one. Obscure horror auteurs, sinister puppets, and more. Stay tuned.
Posted by Mark on August 30, 2015 at 02:54 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Hugo Awards: The Results
The Hugo Award winners were announced last night, and since I've been following along, I figured I should at least cobble together some thoughts on the subject. Also of note, the full voting breakdown in case you wanted to figure out how instant-runoff voting works. In short, this year's awards were a clusterfuck, and no one's coming away happy. "No Award" happens in several categories, and those voters were clearly the dominant force in the final voting. You can blame this whole thing on the puppies if you like, but to my mind, it's a two way street. Plenty of blame to go around. Action and reaction, it's a thing.
  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (Ken Liu translator) wins Best Novel. As predicted, this one had the most rounded support because it wasn't on either Puppy slate (which allowed Noah Ward voters cover to vote for it), but it was endorsed by the dread Vox Day (which allowed Puppy voters to vote for it). That being said, it was my favorite book on the ballot (and indeed, the only one I actually nominated that made it to the final ballot). The Goblin Emperor came in second place, but was my least favorite novel on the ballot.
  • Looking at the stats for Best Novel nominations, a few things jump out. The two next in line were Trial by Fire and The Chaplain's War, both Puppy nominees (though it seems likely that Torgersen would have turned down his nomination, had it come to that). After that were two non-pups in Lock In and City of Stairs. I didn't particularly love Lock In, but it probably would have come in third on my ballot had it been there (which says something about last year's crop of favorites, I think). Interestingly, The Martian showed up next, though I'm not sure if they screened it for eligibility. It was on my nominating ballot and it may very well have been my favorite novel of last year (eligibility issues aside).
  • Chaos Horizon has a detailed initial look at the stats, of course, and estimates the influence of various factions as such:
    Core Rabid Puppies: 550-525
    Core Sad Puppies: 500-400
    Absolute No Awarders: 2500
    Primarily No Awarders But Considered a Puppy Pick: 1000
    That sums up to 4600 hundred voters. We had 5950, so I thin the remaining 1400 or so were the true "Neutrals" or the "voted some Puppies but not all."
    For what it's worth, I would put myself into one of the 1400 "Neutrals".
  • The only other fiction to win an award was the Novelette "The Day the World Turned Upside Down" by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, which basically won by default since it was the only non-Puppy nominee in that category. It was also my least favorite story, by a wide margin. "No Award" takes Novella (which I was kinda expecting, since even I was ranking No Award in that category, though not in the highest place. It seems that nominating one writer for three stories isn't the best approach.) and Short Story (more surprising, I guess), trouncing all competition in the first pass of voting.
  • So the Puppies did not do so well in the final voting. I was basically expecting this, though perhaps not to this flagrant extent (the 2500 Absolute No Awarders number is pretty eye opening). More evidence for my Action and Reaction theory, and I stand by most of what I said there. One thing I hope I'm wrong about is "No Award" being the worst possible outcome. It's always been clear to me that the current Puppy approach does not work (assuming you're actually trying to get your nominees an award and not, say, burn the whole thing down). My recommendation for Kate Paulk: Please, for the love of God, do not put together a slate. Focus your efforts on garnering participation and emphasize individuality. If you're dead set on listing out nominees, go for a long reading list as opposed to a blatant slate. Brad Torgersen called for nominees early this year, and the grand majority of them didn't make his slate (and some things appeared on the slate that weren't discussed? I think? I don't really feel like digging through that.) Perhaps coordinate that effort and be inclusive when you list out eligible nominees. We're all fans, let's write this year off and try not alienating everyone next year (that goes for everyone, not just the Puppies). Forbearance is a good thing.
  • The notion that voting on the current year gives you the ability to nominate next year is a brilliant one that might actually keep me participating. That being said, if there's anything like this year's clusterfuck brewing, I'm out. I can forgive this year because I think even the Puppies were surprised at how successful their slate approach was. I can understand the Noah Ward voters too. But if the same thing happens next year... I don't know, why bother?
I'm not particularly looking forward to the upcoming teeth gnashing, gloating, and/or whining that is inevitable in the coming week. If a worthwhile discussion emerges, maybe I'll roundup some links, but I'm not particularly sanguine about that prospect.
Posted by Mark on August 23, 2015 at 09:35 AM .: Comments (6) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Cross Posting: Booms, Busts, and Beer
Remember when blogs were the cool new thing? It was an exciting time, but things have changed dramatically in the intervening decade or so. The rise of social media basically quashed the fabled "generalist" blog, one of which you are currently reading. Such things have become, at best, quaint anachronisms. Specialized blogs, though, are perhaps holding on by a thread because of their laser focus on a given subject. That's why I started Kaedrin Beer Blog almost 5 years ago. It has achieved a modest amount of success and I sometimes write things over there that might be of interest to the few of you still clinging to this generalist blog, so let's take a look at a few recent highlights:
  • An Interview with Mark Ciocco of Kaedrin Beer Blog - Jay over at Beer Samizdat thought it would be fun to interview me, and I naturally blabbered on and on and on about beer and blogging for a while, certainly appropriate for a general audience.
  • The Session #102: The Landscape of Beer - Wherein I ponder Booms and Busts and their relation to all sorts of things (including, yes, beer):
    We're pretty clearly in boom times for beer. The brewery count is fast approaching 4000. This is up from, um, 89 breweries in 1978, the year of my birth. What happened? In my lifetime, we've gone from a massively consolidated industry to an explosion of tiny, niche brewers. Prohibition certainly had an impact, but post-prohibition our world became enamored with what Thomas Pynchon calls the "American vice of modular repetition". Revolutions in manufacturing and transportation lead to dramatic consolidation across all industries. This sort of thing is great for winning wars (digression incoming: The German Tiger tank was dramatically superior to the US Sherman, but the Germans only made approximately 1,300 of their tank. The US made over 30,000 Shermans.) but bad for consumer choice. The mid-century ideal of beer seemed to be mass-produced light lager (the fizzy yellow stuff we're all familiar with). Who needs variety when you can produce something bland that sells in massive quantities?

    The problem is that, to paraphrase Howard Moskowitz, there is no such thing as the perfect beer, only perfect beers (plural).
    Lots more where that came from...
  • FiftyFifty Eclipse Horizontal Tasting - Probably the most wonky thing I'll link you to here, but the concept is interesting:
    The idea is that you start with the same base beer but age it in different expressions of bourbon and rye. Since the aging period is the same (about 6 months), the only real variable here is the different expressions of whiskey (and the myriad variables that apply to each barrel). In my experience, this has produced some modest but definitely noticeable differences in the resulting beers.
    Then we taste 6 different variants and compare the results. You'll never believe what happened next!
  • Operation Cheddar III: Cheddar Harder and Operation Chowder - Beer centric travelogues from a trip earlier this summer. Some wonky beer stuff, but perhaps interesting and worth consulting if you're on your way to Vermont and/or Boston...
  • Three Floyds BackMasking - Sometimes beer reviews inspire some other writing, like this discussion of backmasking (i.e. hidden messages discovered when you play a record backwards). I posted this several months ago, and no one found the hidden messages embedded in the post (or, at least, they didn't tell me they found it, and why wouldn't you if you went through the trouble of searching it out?) Granted, they're not in any way "backmasked" in the post, just hidden in the traditional HTML way.
  • Choose Your Own Adventure Beer Reviews - An oldie but a goodie, this Zork-inspired series of reviews reads like an old Choose Your Own Adventure novel. Be careful, you might be eaten by a Grue.
That's all for now.
Posted by Mark on August 16, 2015 at 03:37 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, August 09, 2015

The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.
That's the eye-opening first sentence of Neal Stephenson's latest novel, palindromically titled Seveneves. It speaks to how much science fiction loves the what if mode of storytelling. What if the moon exploded? At first, not a whole lot. The moon splits into 7 big pieces, but thanks to gravity, they're generally in the same location and orbit, exerting the same tidal forces, and so on. That is, until the pieces of the moon start to smash into one another, splitting massive rocks into smaller chunks, leading to an exponentially increasing number of collisions. While we're not really expecting the moon to explode anytime soon, the notion of space debris colliding with other space debris, creating more debris and thus increasing likelihood of further collisions, is something NASA scientists have actually speculated about. In the novel, Stephenson calls this the "White Sky", and the smaller pieces won't stay nicely in orbit like the moon did. Within two years of the moon exploding, the Earth will be assaulted by what Stephenson calls the "Hard Rain" as all of the pieces of the moon fall to earth as bolides, releasing so much energy and heat as to make the Earth uninhabitable for thousands of years.

The human response to this news is to send as much material into orbit as possible. In a way, this is an "ark" story (a common subgenre, though it's also often relegated to backstory), but since Earth orbit is going to be crowded with moon parts, it can't be a single, giant ark. Instead, Stephenson comes up with the concept of a "cloud ark", a series of small, independent arklets that can swarm and maneuver to avoid debris. Various groupings can be made, and there's also a home-base of sorts with the International Space Station, which is somewhat larger than it is today and which is also bolted to a large iron asteroid called Amalthea (which acts as a shield for the ISS). Naturally, the cloud ark cannot accommodate more than a few thousand souls, so there's lots of Earthside wrangling and politics over who is chosen to survive, and who will remain on ground to perish in the hard rain.

You'll notice that I haven't mentioned anything about characters yet, and that's pretty illustrative about how this book reads. There is a very large cast of characters, of course, but the book seems primarily concerned with orbital mechanics and more broad sociological interactions. The depth with which Stephenson explains various elements of humanity's future home in space will no doubt turn casual readers off, but this is par for the Stephenson course. Blog readers know that I'm totally in the bag for this sort of thing, so it didn't really bother me, and while info-dumps can be frustrating when done poorly, Stephenson is a master of incorporating that sort of detail into a larger narrative. Here, the orbital mechanics are mixed fairly successfully with social mechanics and the more divisive political aspects of the cloud ark.

Depending on your point of view, this could be viewed as an intensely pessimistic view of humanity. I was actually reminded of the Battlestar Galactica television series, where people can't seem to agree with each other about anything, even when the entire race is on the brink of extinction. In some ways, it's not quite that pessimistic, and spoilers aho, humanity manages to survive, but not after some pretty harrowing and surprisingly sudden crises. More spoilers forthcoming, but the immediate takeaway is that fans of Stephenson will probably enjoy this, but like most of his novels, you probably have to have a certain mindset to enjoy it...

Individual characters feel more like chess pieces in the story's game. Sure, they have personalities (this comes into play later in the book, moreso than early on) and they're a compelling enough bunch, but their actions are severely constrained by their circumstances. This is, in many ways, the point. Living in space does not allow for many of the habits and practices we're used to here on our cushy planet, after all. Personal space, privacy, and so on are pretty severely limited. Still, the characters feel more like types than individuals. There's a science populizer called "Doc" Dubois Harris who is basically Neil Degrass Tyson. There's a miner turned roboticist named Dinah Macquarie, who is arguably the main character of the first two thirds of the book. We like both of them, and several of their surrounding characters. There's an almost cartoonishly devious political villain that emerges as well, along with her own retinue of followers. We don't like them! And there are dozens of other side characters, some becoming very important, some unceremoniously dispatched in one space disaster or another.

It's a huge novel in nearly every way, including it's physical size (another 800+ page hardcover), but also in terms of its ambition and the way Stephenson tells the story. If you think the first line is cool, the transition about two thirds of the way through the book was another pretty big surprise. At the time, humanity isn't in particularly good shape. They've fractured into two main camps, but few remain alive when they rejoin one another. On the other hand, they've finally reached a relatively safe and stable position in space to build out from, and they have enough technology to ensure the survival of the species... and then Stephenson starts a new chapter with "Five Thousand Years Later" and proceeds from there.

It's a bold choice, one of many in this book. Unfortunately, when you move the action that far forward, there's a lot to catch up with. As mentioned above, Stpehenson is a master of info-dumps, but this section of the book, in which nearly every narrative event is preceded by long and complicated digressions about how this or that piece of new orbital technology works or how this or that aspect of society works (again we get the juxtaposition of orbital and social mechanics frequently here) left even me a little impatient. It doesn't help that the events that drive that future part of the narrative seemed pretty obvious to me from the start (it's based on something from earlier in the book). Still, once the basics are established, the story gets moving on its own terms and ends strong enough.

It's just that you have to get through 5000 years of basics, which takes a while. A lot of Stephenson's ticks are noticeable here (and I don't mean that in a bad way). Stephenson loves to play with familial relationships and often returns to certain types of characters. Here, we get seven different strains of characters, such that when the story is moved 5000 years into the future, even if we don't know the new characters yet, we know their ancestors, and this gives you a little bit of an idea as to who they are. It's not a perfect, one-to-one relationship, the same way that Randy Waterhouse is distinct from Lawrence Waterhouse (in Stephenson's Cryptonomicon), but there's some underlying type that works for them both. Now, it is a bit of a hard sell to say that the 7 distinct genotypes (the eponymous seven "eves") wouldn't have interbred more in the intervening 5000 years (it is implied that this does happen, but it seems infrequent), but I can accept that the storytelling works better when you make such sharp distinctions.

It's funny, but this feels like Stephenson's most cinematic work. Many of these info-dumps and extended discussions of orbital mechanics would be much less daunting if presented visually (the book even includes a few illustrations to help you visualize what he's talking about, but they are few and far between). Alas, I'm guessing such a movie (or, more likely, TV series) would be cost prohibitive because of all the special effects required to blow up the moon, portray the white sky and hard rain, and all the arklets, let alone the far future space habitats and gigantic orbital launch devices, etc... Perhaps someday this could happen, and I think it could perhaps even surpass the book in terms of quality if done right.

I'm a total sucker for Stephenson, so it's not a surprise that I enjoyed this novel. It's not going to unseat Cryptonomicon as my favorite, but it compares favorably to his other work. I have to admit that I don't particularly agree with all of his sociological musings here, but this is interesting, exciting, and ambitious stuff, and I can't fault Stephenson for wanting to explore this fascinating territory. I know that this is an unpopular line of thought with increasingly ideological Science Fiction fans of late, but I'm actually capable of disagreeing with a work that I think is great without actually needing to doubt that greatness. This is bold, adventurous writing, and while there are plenty of valid complaints to be made, I still think this is some of the most interesting SF published in the last few years (it certainly puts the last few Hugo novel ballots to shame). You can bet this will show up on my 2016 Hugo nomination ballot.
Posted by Mark on August 09, 2015 at 11:41 AM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Link Dump
The usual roundup of links from ye olde internets:
  • Carlos Henrique 'Kaiser' - The story of football's greatest conman - I don't think this would fly in American football, but what do I know?
    In a time when there was no internet and only relatively low access to live television, he understood that a chance to enjoy a career in football was still possible, despite having seen his talent diminish over his teens. His camaraderie with Brazilian footballers like Romario, Renato Gaucho and Edmundo played a pivotal role in his success as part-conman, part-footballer, as Kaiser earned himself three-month trials as a makeweight in deals upon the insistence of his peers.

    Once at the club, Kaiser would execute the next phase of his master plan. He would ask the club to give him time to regain fitness, thereby buying himself some time before he actually had to make the field. And when he did join the training sessions, he would drop to the ground at the first opportunity, clutching his hamstring.
    20 friggen years. Well played. Er, "played".
  • Believe in Featherbowling - Brought to you by ESPN 8: The Ocho, comes this actually interesting story about an obscure curling/shuffleboard-like sport.
  • Teller is grateful and impressed - This video of Teller (the silent member of the Penn & Teller duo) actually speaking will traumatize you because Jesus, did you know he could talk?
  • Vincent Musetto, 74, Dies; Wrote 'Headless' Headline of Ageless Fame - Obituary of the journalistic hero who penned this headline: "HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR". Sheer brilliance.
  • Vampire Thought Experiments - Always an entertaining enterprise.
  • Don't Talk PSA: Coach - I could watch Alamo Drafthouse's Don't Talk PSAs all day.
That's all for now. Off to see some impossible missions that will no doubt actually be possible (unless Ethan Hunt actually dies in this one).
Posted by Mark on August 02, 2015 at 09:11 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Hugo Awards: Skin Game
Nominees like this are difficult to judge. It's the 15th installment in Jim Butcher's long-running Dresden Files series of books detailing the exploits of that other wizard named Harry. The series started out as a mashup of fantasy with detective fiction, with Harry Dresden playing the role of a PI with magical powers. He even has a listing in the phone book. Of course, as the series went on, some variation crept in, some are still traditional noirish detective stories, others not quite so formulaic. My experience with the Dresden Files actually began with the short-lived SyFy television series. Not even realizing at the time that it was based on a book series, I actually enjoyed the show quite a bit (for a time, it was on Netflix Instant and Amazon Prime streaming, but it appears that convenience is no more). It's not one of those things that would get cited as part of the hallowed golden age of television we're currently ambling our way through, but it was an entertaining enough series (and without going into personal circumstances at the time, it was exactly what I needed). I wish it lasted more than one season.

A few years later, and a book club run by some coworkers selected the first book in the series, Storm Front, so I figured it was time to check it out. I enjoyed that first book quite a bit, but the bounced right the hell off the second book, Fool Moon, which put me off the series for a while. Last year, after I burned out on SF, I read the third book in the series (looking for something trashy and fun), Grave Peril, and found it better than the second book, but still not quite fulfilling the entertainment quotient provided by the TV show. Then Skin Game gets nominated for the Hugo Awards this year and despite not having read the intervening 11 books, I feel like I need to give it a shot. I was a little hesitant about this because I was reliably informed that the book featured mostly long-standing characters whose personalities and motivations were rooted in earlier books.

This is certainly true, but I found that I was able to follow along well enough given my knowledge of the first three books (and even the TV series, to some extent), and indeed, the central plot here is self-contained enough to be compelling even if there were some personal matters that weren't entirely fleshed out. I'm no expert on urban fantasy or anything, but the series seems to pull from enough folklore that I was generally able to keep up with the proceedings. I ultimately enjoyed the book heartily, and it had enough going for it that I think it compares favorably to the other nominees (such that my initial #2 ranking feels justified).

The book started off a bit on the rough side, with Harry living on the island of Demonreach, acting as a Warden to a sorta magical prison. He's running around the island and jumping over obstacles while screaming "Parkour!" which is pretty painfully silly at first, but sorta rebounds during a few later callbacks (at one point, Butcher even acknowledges how ridiculous it is in the text, which is nice I guess, but doesn't make it any less ridiculous). There's a bunch of stuff going on here that is clearly from earlier novels, but it doesn't take long for things to settle in, as Dresden's Faerie Queen arrives to offer him a job: help fallen angel Nicodemus steal something from the vault of Hades.

It's a heist story, complete with all the tropes, but with a nice magical twist or two thrown in for spice. Assemble the team, devise devious ways around the vault's magical safeguards, deal with some obstacles, prepare for deception and betrayal within the group, and so on. It's a pretty well executed heist tale too, with some neat puzzles, intrigue, double agents, and so on. I'm sure most of the characters on the team were well established in the series, but for the most part, I was able to pick up on the specialists, and the shifting allegiances weren't hard to follow or anything like that. Of course, I recognized Harry's primary allies in Karrin Murphy and Michael Carpenter (and, to a lesser extent, Waldo Butters and Bob the Skull), but most of the other characters were new to me. Again, I didn't have much trouble catching on, and even grew to like a few of the characters.

As with previous books, this one feels a bit bloated, with Butcher never missing an opportunity to expound on this or that magical theory, and while I was able to follow along, there did seem to be a fair amount of what I'll call continuity-service, consisting of references to the fallout of recent books and so on. I've never been a particularly big fan of the way Butcher portray's action in this series either, and that's also the case here, though it is better than I was expecting, and the puzzle-like nature of some aspects of the story are enjoyable. Some of it is just lingered on a little too much.

One of my problems with the earlier entries in the series is the sort of escalation of magical powers that necessarily happens in stories like these, as well as the damage that Harry typically takes on in the course of the story (usually an absurd amount that beggars belief, even assuming some sort of magical healing power). Some of that is certainly here, but there are plenty of times when Harry reasons things out for us and it all makes logical sense, which is more than I can say for some of the early novels. There's even some explanation for why Dresden can take more punishment than normal here, which is appreciated. Butcher also has a tendency to revel in pop culture references a bit, which sometimes works, and sometimes just seems extraneous (I mean, a Black Hole reference? Another situation where Butcher explicitly has a character call out how ridiculous the reference is, which is nice and all, but doesn't make it less ridiculous!)

I really enjoyed the heist aspects though, and there were plenty of well executed twists and turns late in the story that kept things moving at a brisk pace. I particularly enjoyed when Hades singles out Harry (during the heist, of course) to sit down and have a drink. It was probably my favorite part of the book, even if it's a bit hokey. It's my kind of hokey, I guess.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed the book, and I can see why this series is so popular. Not having read the previous 11 books in the series, I have to say that some of that probably sailed over my head, but I seemed able enough to follow along, and was still able to find plenty of enjoyment here. I think my #2 ranking on the ballot is warranted, and will probably remain that way. I'm also resolving to read more from this series, as from what I understand, I'm past the worst bits. Don't hold your breath though, I've got plenty of other stuff to read. This basically concludes my Hugo reading for this year, though I'm sure I'll have something to say when the winners are announced in August...
Posted by Mark on July 29, 2015 at 09:48 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hugo Awards: Semi-Final Ballot
As the voting deadline approaches, I find myself rushing to finish one book, but have otherwise read what I want to read and pretty much know how my ballot will shake out. I'm pretty much only voting in the fiction categories, avoiding commentary and zine categories like the plague. I might take a look at the artist stuff in the voters packet, but for now, this is what I've got:

Best Novel:
  1. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (Ken Liu translator) [My Review]
  2. Skin Game, by Jim Butcher [Tentative, review forthcoming]
  3. The Dark Between the Stars, by Kevin J. Anderson [My Review]
  4. Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie [My Review]
  5. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison [My Review]
The only caveat here is that I have not finished Skin Game. I will definitely finish before the voting deadline, but even halfway through, I think I know where I'm falling on it (in short, I have a soft spot for heist stories, and this one is doing a reasonable job thus far). For the most part, I'm not tremendously excited by this lineup, but I don't see a need to deploy No Award here either.

Predicted Winner:The Three-Body Problem (It's not on the Puppy ballots, so it's acceptable for people to vote on it, but the Puppies seem to like it too, so I think it's in good shape)

Best Novella:
  1. One Bright Star to Guide Them, by John C. Wright
  2. Big Boys Don't Cry by Tom Kratman
  3. "Flow", by Arlan Andrews, Sr.
  4. No Award
  5. "The Plural of Helen of Troy", by John C. Wright
See My Reviews for more details. Left off the ballot is "Pale Realms of Shade", also by John C. Wright, because having two nominated stories on the ballot is probably enough. Depending on my mood, I may remove "The Plural of Helen of Troy" as well, but it's aged better in my head than I thought it would. It's still weird that Wright has 3 stories in this one category. My only deployment of No Award this year. I tend to go light on that sort of thing, but it seems like the rest of fandom is throwing it around with reckless abandon. There's a decent chance that all the short fiction categories will end up No Award. If that happens, I might just have to tune out entirely. This controversy is getting old.

Predicted Winner: Big Boys Don't Cry (though No Award is a strong contender this year, because controversy)

Best Novelette:
  1. "The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale", by Rajnar Vajra
  2. "Championship B'tok", by Edward M. Lerner
  3. "Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium", by Gray Rinehart
  4. "The Journeyman: In the Stone House", by Michael F. Flynn
  5. "The Day the World Turned Upside Down", by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
See My Reviews for more details. All nominees listed, no need to deploy No Award.

Predicted Winner: "The Day the World Turned Upside Down" (though No Award is a strong contender this year, because controversy)

Best Short Story:
  1. Totaled, by Kary English
  2. Turncoat, by Steve Rzasa
  3. On a Spiritual Plain, by Lou Antonelli
  4. A Single Samurai by Steven Diamond
  5. The Parliament of Beasts and Birds by John C. Wright
See My Reviews for more details. All nominees listed, no need to deploy No Award.

Predicted Winner: Totaled (though No Award is a strong contender this year, because controversy)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:
  1. The Lego Movie
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy
  4. Edge of Tomorrow
  5. Interstellar
See my recap for more details. All nominees listed, no need to deploy No Award.

Predicted Winner: The Lego Movie

So there you have it. Not a bad slate overall, and I actually enjoyed it slightly more than last year's slate. What I did not enjoy was all the whinging about Puppies or Noah Ward and so on. Fingers crossed that next year won't be quite so contentious. With the likelyhood that No Award will win some categories this year, I don't see that happening, nor do I see the vitriol subsiding (heck, it hasn't really subsided yet to begin with). I may just end up bailing on the whole enterprise next year and just read stuff I like. What a novel idea.
Posted by Mark on July 26, 2015 at 09:39 AM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Weird Movie of the Week: Holiday Horror Edition
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we covered a remake of Alejandro Jodorowsky's 1973 film The Holy Mountain that is composed entirely of salvaged clips from old dog movies and VHS tapes. This time we've got some Holiday Horror:
A Christmas Horror Story has a lot going for it. It's from several of the creative minds behind the Ginger Snaps trilogy (Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban and Brett Sullivan) and takes place in Ginger and Brigitte's fictional town of Bailey Downs; it stars William Shatner as a drunk, hyper-conservative radio DJ full of holiday cheer; it features Krampus and zombie elves. Like any horror anthology, there are great moments and there are weak moments, but its framework is cleverly constructed, tying all of the vignettes together in an interesting way that isn't revealed until the final act.
So the fact that it is a Holiday Horror movie is not, in itself, very weird. There's lots of them, and we've covered this territory before. Repeatedly. Nor is it that it comes from the folks who made Ginger Snaps (an original take on the werewolf story, to be sure, but not quite weird). No, what sold me on this was the Shatner line: "it stars William Shatner as a drunk, hyper-conservative radio DJ full of holiday cheer". Inspired. I'm all in.

The review isn't exactly glowing, but few of these movies are actually very good. As it mentions, it's clearly inspired by Trick 'r Treat, one of the best horror anthologies ever made (surely the most consistently good and interconnected), which is funny, because this movie supposedly features the Krampus, an obscure Santa precursor that represents Santa's... darker side (many precursors are actually two separate people, one to give gifts to all the good boys and girls, the other to punish the not-so-good). It turns out that Trick 'r Treat's writer/director Michael Dougherty is releasing his own take on Krampus during this holiday season. It's an embarrassment of riches for Holiday Horror fans this year. Looking forward to it.
Posted by Mark on July 22, 2015 at 09:45 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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