Hugo Awards

Hugo Awards: The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season is death… or maybe the end of the world. It’s happened before and it’s going to happen again, metaphorically and maybe even literally. Spoiler alert, I guess, but the grim nature of N.K. Jemisin’s Hugo-finalist novel and the downright misanthropic outlook it gives us on its world are almost immediately apparent. After all, this is a book that opens with a woman grieving for her infant son who had been beaten to death by his father. It’s a rough way to start the story, coupled as it is with some deft but also quite dense world building, but don’t worry, things get way, way worse as the story proceeds.

The setting is a world with a giant supercontinent that is under constant state of geological distress, occasionally leading to catastrophic Fifth Seasons that humanity barely survives. To help quell the earthquakes and volcanoes and tsunamis are the orogenes, magic users with seismic powers that are essential to keeping the world alive. For their trouble, they are generally feared and despised by the rest of the population (I kept thinking of X-Men). The plot considers three different orogenes, each at a different point in their life. One is Essun, an older orogene in hiding and also the aforementioned grieving mother who is now determined to seek out her husband (who has also presumably kidnapped their daughter). Then there is Syenite, a cranky but talented orogene sent on a mission with another, very powerful orogene named Alabaster. Finally, there’s the child Damaya, who we follow as she’s taken from her home to be trained at the Fulcrum and serve at the will of the Empire. Meanwhile, Winter is coming a fifth season is brewing.

To some people, this dark (to put it mildly) approach is like catnip. At least, judging from the reviews, that’s the case. I found myself floundering a bit at the beginning, at first in a good way. I like the dense worldbulding and the magic system (such as it is) is well thought out and used in clever ways. The characters are well drawn and yet, I didn’t particularly like anyone. This can be fine, but they’re not particularly interesting either, except insofar as they are instruments of the worldbuilding. The twisted and misanthropic nature of the relationships and institutions don’t help. There are no real friendships here, only betrayals. There isn’t any love, only lies. Every relationship is a twisted power struggle resulting in exploitation at best and usually outright abuse. Every institution is oppressive and exploitative. The result is misery porn.

Look, I don’t need a book to have all the answers or be uniformly upbeat, but this book takes such an extreme and dismal view that it resulted primarily in a sorta detached experience for me. The end of the book even has a revelation or two that are genuinely interesting, but it’s all undercut by this relentless horror that only served to desensitize me. It could almost approach self-parody, but it’s far to horrifying to ever reach comedic levels. Towards the end of the book, there was a big twist that I find interesting on an intellectual level, but which didn’t have nearly the impact it should have because I just didn’t care that much about the characters. As a result, the twist felt more like a cheat than a revelation. Progress is made on all of the storylines, but little is resolved in the end, perhaps because this is the start of a series. The final line of the novel holds an interesting promise, but I can’t say as though I’m at all interested in revisiting this world or its characters.

In her review at the New York Times, fellow Hugo nominee Naomi Novik praises Jemisin’s novel, noting that:

Fantasy novels often provide a degree of escapism: a good thing, for any reader who has something worth escaping. Too often, though, that escape comes through a fictional world that erases rather than solves the more complex problems of our own, reducing difficulty to the level of personal struggle and heroism, turning all obstacles to monsters we can see and touch and kill with a sword. But N.K. ­Jemisin’s intricate and extraordinary world-­building starts with oppression…

…Yet there is no message of hopelessness here. In Jemisin’s work, nature is not unchangeable or inevitable. “The Fifth Season” invites us to imagine a dismantling of the earth in both the literal and the metaphorical sense, and suggests the possibility of a richer and more fundamental escape. The end of the world becomes a triumph when the world is monstrous, even if what lies beyond is difficult to conceive for those who are trapped inside it.

That’s an interesting perspective, but from what I can see, Jemisin’s pendulum has swung way too far in the other direction. If Fantasy too often errs on the side of optimism, this book perhaps errs too far on the side of pessimism. It’s one thing to confront complex problems, but it’s another to propose a solution that is the end of the world. That’s not a solution that provides hope or inspiration, merely despair. Or maybe I’m just being too literal. Jemisin is certainly a talented author with a good command of language, but this novel never really managed to get over the hump for me. As usual, judging a book from a series presents certain difficulties with how to rank this on the Hugo ballot. Right now, Novik’s Uprooted and Stephenson’s Seveneves are at the top somewhere, which puts this book about on par with Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy (another book that bounced off me).

The 2016 Hugo Awards: Initial Thoughts

The 2016 Hugo Award Finalists were announced this week and yes, it’s another shit show, but maybe sorta not as bad as last year? I hope? Assorted thoughts below:

  • So the Rabid Puppies once again dominated the finalists, presumably due to their habit of generally following the slate laid out by their dark leader. In comparison, Sad Puppies seem ineffectual, but actually, this is probably what the whole Puppy effort should have looked like from the start. They got some things on the ballot without dominating the process. If we are to take them at their word that they just wanted to highlight works that traditionally get short shrift at the Hugos (I know it didn’t start like that, but it did evolve into that), then this seems nice. The Rabid approach seems tailor made to hurt the award and just plain piss people off. As I mentioned last year, it’s one thing to be more successful than expected, but it’s another to experience that backlash and then just double down on your approach. In any case, it does seem as if their influence is centered around the lower-participation categories. As such, I expect anti-slating measures to end up in the rules for next year, which will hopefully erode attempts to game the system like this.
  • Fortunately, at least part of the Puppy success this year was driven by the inclusion of works from mainstream authors on the lists. The Rabids had folks like Neal Stephenson , Neil Gaiman, Alastair Reynolds , and Lois McMaster Bujold on their slate, which, well, these are all people who don’t need any help getting nominated. In addition to those names, the Sads even included the likes of Ann Leckie, John Scalzi, Nnedi Okorafor, Naomi Novik, and Cat Valente, most of whom don’t seem to exactly fit the puppy mold if they aren’t actively hostile towards each other. I am, of course, not the first to mention this, but it does seem to have the effect of softening the impact such that the scortched-earth No Award response feels less likely this year. There are some who are calling these mainstream choices “shields” and coming up with elaborate conspiracy theories about their inclusion, but who knows? I mean, yeah, I could dig through the muck and try to figure out what the Rabid intentions really are, but jeeze, who wants to get into their head? I like a lot of these authors and hell, I even nominated some of them (completely independent of recommendation lists or slates, imagine that!). Of course, this has been my approach all along, but others, even strident opposition, seem to be getting on board that train.
  • This post will hopefully be the extent of my Puppy wrangling for the year. As usual, I plan to read the works and judge them accordingly. More thoughts on major categories below, but at an initial glance, there are most certainly some things I’ll be putting below No Award (especially when you get to the lower-participation categories), but some of the categories are actually pretty exciting.
  • Best Novel features a pretty solid little lineup, three of which I’ve already read. A little heavy on the fantasy side of the award for my tastes, but that happens sometimes. Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves is the clear frontrunner for me, though Naomi Novik’s Uprooted isn’t too far behind (i.e. there’s a reason both of these novels were on my ballot). I wasn’t a huge fan of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy, so N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season or Jim Butcher’s The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass certainly has the chance to climb up the ranks. From what I know of these two unread novels, I don’t expect them to overtake Seveneves, but I’m rooting for them. I should probably note that I’m a Stephenson nut, so it would take a lot to unseat him, even if I think this particular effort is more flawed than some of his others. One last note about the Puppies with respect to this category: I’m pleasantly surprised to see that John Wright’s Somewhither didn’t make the cut. From what I can see, it was very popular with puppies and John Wright has been a bannerman for the movement, so the fact that this didn’t make it to the final ballot means that, for Novels at least, you need to have broad support (the one Puppy nom that didn’t have a good chance to make it otherwise was The Aeronaut’s Windlass, but then, Butcher is an incredibly popular mainstream author, so his book was probably bolstered by non-Puppy votes).
  • Best Novella is actually looking pretty good too. I’ve only read one (Bujold’s Penric’s Demon), but that one work was better than anything nominated in this category for the past few years (and a damn sight better than last year’s John Wright dominated slate). None of the nominees fill me with the dread of reading dross, which again, is a big step up from last year. I’m kinda looking forward to reading something by Brandon Sanderson that isn’t 1000 pages long. Binti, The Builders, and Slow Bullets sound pretty interesting too.
  • Best Novelette is less clear to me, but I don’t see any major red flags (though I suppose having two stories from the same anthology is a bit gauche). The only author I recognize is Stephen King, an author you don’t see in the Hugos very much to be sure, but I’m not complaining. This is the least popular of the major fiction categories, which probably explains Puppy dominance here. I’m as guilty as the next fellow here though, as I didn’t nominate any novelettes this year.
  • Best Short Story is… bizarre. Where to start? The elephant in the room is, I guess, Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle (a writer of gay, science fiction erotica who would fit right in with my Weird Book of the Week series alongside our last selection, Lacey Noonan, author of I Don’t Care if My Best Friend’s Mom is a Sasquatch, She’s Hot and I’m Taking a Shower With Her and A Gronking to Remember (first in a series of Rob Gronkowski themed erotica novels)). In some ways, this is an inspired choice. In other ways, what the fuck? Also of note, Thomas A. Mays has asked that his story, The Commuter, be removed from the ballot (for admirable reasons), which is a shame, because I really enjoyed his last novel (and even nominated it last year!) I will most likely still read his short story. After that, we’ve got two military SF stories (one from the same anthology mentioned above in Novelettes) and If You Were an Award, My Love, a clear reaction to Rachel Swirsky’s infamous If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love, which, like, ugh. Really? It was written about a year or two too late and it’s just an exercise in petty spite, filled with Scalz-hate-boners and the like. There is something wrong in Short Story land. I read plenty of decent short stories every year, but they never end up on the ballot, and I suspect the problem is that there’s too much short fiction out there and none of us are reading all the things so our votes get spread far and wide, making the category vulnerable to slating and even very popular authors (even before the Puppies, witness the inclusion of John Scalzi’s absurd April Fool’s joke, “Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue”, a funny little parody to be sure, but best short story of the year?). I don’t know what the solution is here, though maybe the rules changes will have an impact.
  • Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) turns out exactly like I thought, with my three favorite nominees in addition to standards like Star Wars and Avengers… Still would have rather seen something like Predestination make the ballot, but I guess it’s too much to expect for the Hugo voters to actually look for small, independent movies.
  • As for the other categories, ehhhh, we’ll see. Few of these categories hold much interest for me, though I might be tempted to look at a couple of them because I like a nominee or two there. For instance, long time Kaedrin compatriot Shamus Young made it on the Fan Writer ballot this year, which is pleasant to see (another instance of Rabids glomming onto a popular writer, albeit one who primarily writes about video games). Despite a long history of awards, File770 probably deserves some additional recognition for becoming the defacto clearing house for fandom during last year’s clusterfuck of a Hugo process. And so on.

As usual, I plan to spend most of my time reading through the nominees and judging them accordingly, rather than attempting to wade through the usual BS.

Hugo Award Nominations

As the nomination period for this year’s Hugo Awards draws to a close, I figure I should cobble my shortlists together. I have not made a ton of progress since last time, but there’s a few new things on the list and some other categories that I neglected. The Sad Puppies released their list recently, and it appears to be less of a clusterfuck, though everyone still has their undergarments in a bunch about the puppies, which I just don’t get. The brand is pretty muddled at this point, and the lists include a lot of works by authors that typical puppy voters ostensibly hate (i.e. Ann Leckie? John Scalzi? Nnedi Okorafor? Cat Valente?), though there are a few stereotypical Puppy authors. My guess? John Wright’s novel will make it (ugh) and possibly Jim Butcher’s book, in addition to the mainstream nominees that I think almost everyone is voting for (like, uh, my list below). I’m hoping this will be less controversial, as I hate all the requisite whining that everyone has to wade through once the finalists are announced. For next year’s Sad Puppies, what they should do is allow each participant to rank 5 works in each category, and then use Australian rules voting to determine a winner in each categor… wait a second, this sounds familiar. Anywho, I’ll just leave it at that and throw up my nominations (additions from last time are marked with an asterisk):

Best Novel:

No changes here. I read three more eligible books since last time, but none which I think should be nominated. I really, really enjoyed Bujold’s Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, but it seems like a poor point to enter the series and I hate it when someone nominates a book and, like, you have to read 10 other books in order to understand what’s going on (also not sure it’s even eligible for this year). I’m currently in the midst of James Cambias’ Corsair, which is still a possibility, but so far it’s not really at the level of my current nominees so I’m guessing I’ll leave it off the final list.

Best Novella:

Duh. No change from last time, and while I have my hesitations on her novel, this novella is great.

Best Short Story:

I managed to read some more short stories; most didn’t make the cut, but I liked the two additions, even if I won’t be heartbroken when they inevitably fail to become finalists (though hmm, looks like one is on the Sad Puppy list).

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:

This lineup works for me. I’m betting that Mad Max and The Martian as locks, and Star Wars too (which is partly why I’m not nominating it). I’m really hoping that Predestination and/or Ex Machina can muster enough support to make it, but small, independent, smart movies rarely make the Hugo finalists. It’s baffling. I think What We Do in the Shadows will only get one vote (mine), but hey, a man can dream and I do love that movie.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:

I added Jessica Jones S1E1 to the list because it’s a pretty fantastic introduction to the series, getting right to the heart of the matter and just how terrifying the villain can be. Otherwise, I’m not particularly sanguine about this list, except for The Chickening, which is utterly brilliant.

Best Fanzine

Normally a category I avoid, but I had to single out File 770 for excellent coverage of the Hugos during last year’s clusterfuck. Mike Glyer covered the controversy, but also managed to highlight, you know, actual posts about the stories, etc…

Campbell Award

  • Andy Weir*

People seem to think Andy Weir is eligible for this award, despite The Martian not being eligible last year? Or was it? I don’t know, but I figure it’s worth throwing this up in case it’s an actual possibility.

And I think that just about covers what I’ll be nominating. There’s an off chance I’ll get to some other stuff during this week, but for now, this is what I’ve got. Curious to see how the finalists turn out, but not particularly anxious for more controversy and hand wringing. Still undecided as to whether I’ll be voting this year…

Hugo Award Season 2015

It’s that time again. Well, almost. The nomination period for the 2015 Hugo Awards is fast approaching, so I thought I’d get some thoughts on potential nominees down before all the requisite whining and controversy begins in earnest. This marks the third year I’ve participated, and while I was very gunshy about nominating in the first year, I went far out of my way to find stuff last year, to middling success (i.e. almost none of my nominees became finalists, but a couple things snuck in!) This year, I’m coming in somewhere between that level of effort. I’ve definitely read a bunch of eligible stuff, but I’ve only got a handful of definite nominees and I’m not really planning on any Herculean efforts to swell this list. My current nomination ballot, some thoughts on same, and a few things I’d like to read before I finalize my ballot are below. Enjoy:

Best Novel:

Nothing too controversial (as if any of you were surprised that Stephenson would make my ballot) or even obscure here, and in fact, I’m reasonably sure that both of these will become finalists for the Hugo. There are a few dark horse books that I’d like to check out that may make the list, including: Zero World, by Jason M. Hough, Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman. I doubt I’ll get to all of them, but I should be able to swing at least one before nominations close. Will it make the cut? Only one way to find out.

Best Novella:

Another completely unsurprising nomination, given that Bujold is one of my two favorite writers (the other being Stephenson). If those two weren’t publishing last year, I’m not entirely sure I’d participate this year. And it looks like we’ve got a new Bujold novel coming in the next few weeks. Most exciting.

Best Short Story:

This was actually on my original nomination list for last year… until I found out that while the “January” issue of Fireside Fiction was released in very late 2014, it would not be eligible for the 2014 awards due to the listed publication date (2015), and so here we are. I have no idea what its chances are. Certainly it’s had plenty of time to build a following and it’s a wonderful story, but it also has the great misfortune of being an initial Sad Puppy pick (like me, they removed it from their list once the eligibility issue reared its head – at least, that’s how I remember it, I could be very wrong), so there might be some weird backlash. Whatever, it’s on my ballot.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:

Those of you following along with the Kaedrin Movie Awards will probably not be surprised by this list, but I suppose the one missing entry that might raise some eyebrows would be Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Call it a “snub” if you like, but given the Hugo voters’ historical record and generally surprising lack of depth in this category, I opted to highlight some wonderful films that actually need the help. Star Wars will almost certainly make the ballot, along with Mad Max and The Martian. I think Ex Machina has an excellent chance, while Predestination is a true dark horse (perhaps a resurgence of Heinlein fans will get it done?) and What We Do in the Shadows has almost no chance at all. If you’re reading this, though, seek all these movies out, they are worthy of your time and nomination.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:

The only one of these I’m really passionate about is The Chickening, which has virtually no chance of becoming a finalist. It is maybe a bit on the outskirts of fannish interest (being a take on Kubrick’s The Shining) and strikingly bizarre, but it is absolutely brilliant. You should totally watch it and then wonder about my mental state afterwards. Seriously though, I found myself reaching for more short films this year than TV episodes (which normally comprise approximately 100% of the finalists). Kung Fury is a hoot, but I suspect not really the Hugo voters’ thang. I have mixed feelings about World of Tomorrow and it might not make my final ballot, but then, I’d rather see that there than any number of the usual suspects (and it does seem rather fannish). Game of Thrones is a lock to be a finalist, but they’ve gotten a lot of Hugo attention the past few years, so maybe it’s not necessary this year (but then, who else can stop the Doctor Who juggernaut?)

And that just about covers it for now. I suspect I’ll read a few other things before nominations are due, but this is where I’m at now. Suggestions are welcome, though comments are still wonky, so hit me up on twitter @mciocco or @kaedrinbeer (if you’re more of a lush) or just send an email to tallman at kaedrin dot com.

SF Book Review, Part 21: Hugo Prep Edition

I read a lot of books last year, but I’m way behind in reviewing them, so in an attempt to catch up, here are some thoughts on a few Hugo Award related books. Last year I went out of my way to seek out stuff that would be eligible for the Hugos. This year: not so much. But I’ve read a few things that could qualify, so here goes:

  • Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos – This book was nominated for the Hugo Awards last year, but Marko Kloos withdrew the book due to the whole Puppy kerfluffle (thus clearing the way for the eventual winner, The Three-Body Problem). As a result, Kloos emerged mostly unscathed from the whole affair, and many pledged to purchase and read his book anyway. For my part, I really enjoyed the first book in the series and thought it showed a lot of promise, so I was inclined to check out the sequels anyway. This book starts off with humanity in pretty bad shape. Already suffering from a civil war and overpopulation, a new and relentless alien race (referred to as Lankies) has seemingly targeted human colonies throughout the galaxy. Our intrepid hero, Andrew Grayson, is right in the thick of it. After some disastrous operations, he gets scapegoated and assigned to a tiny, ice-bound colony in the middle of nowhere. Naturally, that situation ends up in mutiny and treason… and then the Lankies show up. I liked this well enough, but it also felt a little like the series was treading water. The first book was a little derivative, but well executed and it set up some interesting dynamics. This one is also well executed and moves the ball forward a bit, but not very far. The Lankies still remain inscrutable, which could wind up being a good thing, but what we do know about them is straightforward and not all that “alien”. Grayson and pals are competent and likable, but there’s some discomfort with the whole treason thing. The military here is presented as incredibly dysfunctional, especially when you move higher up the ladder (the grunts are all pretty honorable folks). Depressing, but certainly a valid extrapolation of current political trends. The book ends with a desperate counterattack against an invading Lanky ship. They use a tactic that’s treated like a breakthrough, but that any reader even remotely familiar with space combat tropes already knew about. So what we’re left with is a reasonably well executed MilSF novel, entertaining, but not mind-blowing.
  • Angles of Attack by Marko Kloos – The third of Kloos’ series sees our intrepid heroes marooned on that tiny, obscure planet that’s been cut off from supplies. Lankies are getting closer and closer to Earth at this point, and human institutions are breaking down. Again, we’ve got some well executed Military SF here, a capable enemy and competent heroes. Kloos is good at action, and the stakes are certainly higher here. Our heroes wind up striking an alliance with former civil war enemies (the Sino-Russians) and defending the Earth from disaster. There’s still no real insight into what’s going on with the Lankies, and this book feels, again, like we’re treading water. I understand there’s a fourth book coming out this year, which I’d hope would move closer to a resolution or at least understanding. I feel like I’m being pretty hard on these books; I’ve enjoyed each of them quite a bit, and I’ll probably end up checking out the next book. There’s a possibility that this will get nominated this year, but I’d rank it as more of a dark horse than a lock. I don’t think I’ll be nominating it, but it’s worth checking out.
  • Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold – A novella set in Bujold’s Chalion fantasy universe, this one concerns a young man who accidentally contracts a demon. Demon possession is rarely considered a good thing, but in the Chalion universe, it can be a manageable thing and if you can control it, you will get a fair amount of power. Penric is a likable young chap, and I love the way this story treats the relationship with his demon. I won’t go into too much detail, but this was a fantastic novella, one that doesn’t require any familiarity with the other stories in this universe, and will definitely be on my Hugo ballot. Check this one out, it’s short and very good.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Agnieszka is a clumsy, homely girl who loves her little village, but the corrupted Wood, filled with monsters and evil presences, has slowly been encroaching on the territory. The Dragon, a magician who is assigned to the area, holds the Wood at bay, but requires an assistant from the village. Each assistant is a young girl taken by the Dragon and serves for 10 years before being freed again, usually moving away from the area afterwords. Agnieszka assumes her best friend, the beautiful and talented Kasia, will be taken, but of course it turns out that Agnieszka is chosen. At first, she seems singularly unsuited to the task, and can’t even learn simple spells. But it turns out that she has a knack for a more intuitive form of magic. Soon, the Wood starts to become emboldened in its attacks, and Agnieszka and the Dragon must find a way to counter the offensive. This is a wonderful little fantasy book. It’s got some flaws. I wasn’t a big fan of the romance and some of the conflict is rooted in profound lack of communication. Some people like that sort of thing, but the Dragon’s initially terse relationship with Agnieszka was frustrating for me, and indeed, a lot of the initial confusion and conflict would have been resolved had he spent a few seconds explaining some things. Similarly, the rigid way all the magicians in this universe treat magic seems unlikely, especially when Agnieszka starts showing them her more intuitive version. Those minor complaints aside, this is a well constructed story, with an ominous and cunning enemy and some interesting allies. Novik manages to cultivate a good sense of dread throughout the story, and when the shit really starts to hit the fan later in the novel, it’s much more effective because of that slow buildup. You could say that the ending is a bit rushed and convenient, but one thing I really love about it is that this feels like epic fantasy, but it’s not 7 books of 800 pages. Novik builds a complex, interesting world here and tells a complete story, and I like it more for that. I will probably be nominating this for next year’s Hugo, and near as I can tell, it’s a frontrunner. Recommended for fans of fantasy!

And that’s all for now. I’m not completely caught up at this point, but I’ll get there someday! In the meantime, the Kaedrin Movie Awards will be kicking off soon enough, so stay tuned!

Ancillary Mercy

With Ancillary Mercy, Anne Leckie has completed a trilogy that began with a lot of promise which was almost immediately squandered with the middle installment in favor of, I don’t know, let’s just say tea. This is perhaps more harsh than necessary, but I do think this series is indicative of much of the strife going on in SF fandom these days.

The first book in the series, Ancillary Justice, had a lot going for it. A complex, non-linear narrative that deftly employed indirect exposition to establish its worldbuilding (instead of tedious info-dumps). A heady mix of hard and soft SF, including an ambitious exploration of hive minds or shared consciousness. Galaxy-spanning empires, mysterious aliens, all the Space Opera tropes you could ever want. It was distinctly lacking in plot and storytelling, but as the first in a series, it established a lot of potential. Potential which the second book, Ancillary Sword, almost completely jettisoned in favor of a small scale, colonialism parable. This was so unexpected that you kind of have to respect the reversal. The problem for me is that nearly everything I enjoyed about the first book was gone. Instead, we had lots of interpersonal relationships, petty politics, and lots and lots of tea. Endless drinking of tea, the intricacies of good and bad china, even the exploitation of tea plantations.

This third and final book of the trilogy aims to complete the story, and despite hewing much closer to the second book’s small-scale approach, it actually manages to stick the landing. But to continue the gymnastics analogy, the series as a whole feels like a routine that started off with ambitious, high-difficulty release moves, flips and twists and whatever, then moved on to boring filler, and finishing with the simplest dismount possible. Again, this might be too harsh, as this book does comport itself quite well, it’s just so different than what the first book seemed to promise that I can’t help but feel disappointed.

During this year’s whole Sad Puppy kerfluffle, I ran across some non-puppy lamenting the puppy line and proclaiming that science fiction was primarily about the “exploration of the human condition”, which is funny because I think that is indeed the whole crux of the matter. With this Ancillary series, Leckie is clearly fascinated by the “exploration of the human condition”. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with that! Much of science fiction does this, and it’s a wonderful, time-honored part of the genre. The problem is that the grand majority of art ever produced is about the “exploration of the human condition”. That’s not what makes science fiction unique, and while Leckie managed to channel some of SF’s unique sense of wonder and conceptual breakthrough in the first book, she basically abandoned that pretense in the succeeding novels. Lots of Puppies complained about Ancillary Justice, but I know for a fact that a lot of them enjoyed the novel. I doubt any of them appreciated the sequels. (NB: while I have some leanings towards the type of works Puppies prefer, I am not and have never been a Puppy!)

So what we end up with is a series with some fascinating worldbuilding and SF ideas that are established but not really explored. What seemed like promising lines of thought in the first book come off like window dressing in this final novel. Leckie even acknowledges this shift in-story. In the first book, we find out that the shared consciousness tyrant that rules an empire had actually fragmented into two factions that were secretly at war with one another. Great idea! In Ancillary Mercy, our protagonist Breq flatly opines that she doesn’t care what happens, and thus we get no real exploration of what this civil war amidst a hive mind would entail (and no clarification as to how these hive minds actually work, and how such a situation hasn’t happened thousands of years earlier). Another example? A mysterious alien race called the Presger have been hinted at throughout the series. It’s suggested that they may be the force behind our Tyrant’s little civil war. There’s this extra-super-fantastic gun that, at first, is simply undetectable. In this final book, it can destroy entire spaceships with a single shot. As deus ex machina, it works, I guess, but it’s pretty indicative of how Leckie treats the Presger. They’re there for convenience, not for actual insight.

So I’ve blathered on for several paragraphs and I haven’t even talked much about this book. It picks up where the last one left off, with Breq trying to effect repairs of a space station while overseeing the planet’s transition from tyranny to more self-determined government or somesuch. She knows that Anaander Mianaai is going to visit to re-establish her rule, and she will probably have to also deal with the Presger, who will no doubt be a little upset that their translator/ambassador was killed in the previous book’s shenanigans. Meanwhile, everyone drinks tea out of cheap china because the good china was destroyed in the previous book, but hey, tea is needed.

I know it sounds like I’m being dismissive of the tea stuff, and to a certain extent, I feel justified in that, but it actually doesn’t bother me that much. I enjoy the tea minutia more than I would have thought, and as a beverage nerd who enjoys a cup of tea every now and again, it’s got its charms.

Anyway, the plot of this one actually works a good deal better than the second book. It’s not as episodic, and hangs together better. If you can go with the deus ex machina of the Presger, the story actually works really well. The pacing is still off, and too much time is spent on the seemingly endless parade of officers that have severe emotional problems (seriously, this is the culture that conquered most of the galaxy? How?) For instance, at one point a mysterious ship shows up out of nowhere. It’s the new Presger translator/ambassador! She will no doubt be a little miffed that the previous translator was killed! Whatever shall we do? Apparently, we need to sit down and discuss how microagressions make a member of the crew feel. And look, I’m not predisposed to hate that sort of thing, but it kills plot momentum and is one of several such instances. On the other hand, the new Presger translator is, by far, my favorite part of the book. She has a very weird affect about her, coming off as nonplussed and yet somehow wise, and primarily acting as comic relief. Her disaffected demeanor fits well, and is used to good effect throughout the novel, almost making up for contrived role the Presger play in the series.

The conclusion actually works, too. It is, of course, not a conclusion to all that was set up in the first novel and again relies on the deus ex machina of the Presger, but it does resolve the smaller-conflict at the heart of the book in a surprisingly satisfying fashion. At the start, I thought Leckie had written herself into a corner, but she manages a couple of twists and turns that make sense. I left the book feeling pretty happy that I read the series, even if I have my fair share of complaints.

Despite my reservations, this book has been well received critically and fans of the series seem to love it. I have no doubt that it will make next year’s Hugo ballot (indeed, even the Sad Puppies are talking about it), even if it will probably not make my ballot. I am actually curious to see if Leckie will revisit this universe, maybe even tackle some of the unrealized potential she so ably established in the first book. I would like to read that, actually.

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.

Seveneves

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.

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…

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.