Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Serendipitous moments: Libraries, Renoir, and Vreeland's Luncheon of the Boating Party

Earlier this year, I was at the library looking for an audiobook to entertain myself during a long drive. To my disappointment, I had already listened to all the available P.G. Wodehouse works. I started skimming backward through the shelves, and my eyes fell upon "The Luncheon of the Boating Party" by Susan Vreeland.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir has long been one of my favorite painters (Dance at Bougival, Young Girls at the Piano, etc.), and Luncheon of the Boating Party (Le déjeuner des canotiers) is possibly his best, combining people, still-life elements, and a shimmering river landscape in one convivial scene. I borrowed a print of it from my father a few years ago, and it has hung in my bedroom ever since. So I checked out the 14-CD set, despite knowing nothing of the author.

That's one of the things I really enjoy about libraries: serendipitous finds! I love looking at the new arrivals, and I love wandering the stacks, discovering stories that have been waiting for me all along. And because they're free to users, I can try anything, however random and far that offering may be from my usual reading habits.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Podcastle Best of 2014 nominations

I posted last week about Pseudopod's nominations; this week, I'm sharing what I wrote on the Escape Artists forum about my nominations for Pseudopod's sister podcast, the fantasy-oriented Podcastle. It was another really good year for the podcast, one of my favorites, so I have quite a few honorable mentions too. I'm linking to the podcast pages, but they don't autoplay. Some were published elsewhere first and so those pages have links to their original text versions.

... [My] top pick for the year:
305: Heartless by Peadar Ó Guilín
This had a fascinating basis for the system of magic, with a well explored sociology; a strong female protagonist with the courage of her convictions, fighting to save her sister; and choices with real consequences. And the ending blew me away.

My second pick is a story that I didn't entirely understand, nor did I agree with all the protagonist's choices, but it was really powerful. 
302: Feed Me the Bones of Our Saints by Alex Dally MacFarlane
It's still in my head, like it is for [another forum member].

But Podcastle is not always heartwrenching and heavy, thank goodness! A lot of the episodes are just fun. Partly because of Alasdair's delicious delivery, partly because of the Wodehousesque worldbuilding, partly because of the charmingly not-strong protagonist, my third pick is the one story I went back and re-listened to later in the year when I needed cheering up:
322: Saving Bacon by Ann Leckie

Honorable Mentions:
328: The Old Woman With No Teeth by Patricia Russo -- great fun; I loved how the old woman kept interrupting the storyteller to make him revise the narrative.
324: Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy by Saladin Ahmed -- wonderful style and a really fresh perspective on an old tale.
320: Baba Makosh by M.K. Hobson -- Russian mythic figures during the Russian revolution, neat!
316, Giant Episode: The Meaning of Love by Daniel Abraham -- I loved the worldbuilding and the dialogue about the meaning of love.
315: Stranger vs. the Malevolent Malignancy by Jim C. Hines -- fantastic fun, fighting despair, and turning weakness into strength.
307: Out of the Deep Have I Howled Unto Thee by Scott M. Roberts -- the Easter werewolf!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Pseudopod Best of 2014 nominations

One of the free podcasts that I regularly listen to, Pseudopod, provides narrations of horror short stories, plus excellent, insightful intros and outros. The site's discussion forum recently called for nominations for its Best of 2014 episodes. After submitting my thoughts to the forum, I'm sharing them here, too.

Top Three:
Pseudopod 400: The Screwfly Solution by James Tiptree Jr. read by Matt Franklin, Tina Connolly, Anna Schwind, Matt Weller, Rish Outfield, Eric Luke, George Hrab & Jarus Durnett 
        (sadly feels as though it were just as plausible and terrible now, if not more so, than it probably did when originally published)
***Pseudopod 399: The Wriggling Death by Harold Gross read by Veronica Giguere
        (disgusting, disturbing, fascinating worldbuilding, and a twisted sisterly relationship -- highly memorable)
Pseudopod 418: Shadow Transit by Ferrett Steinmetz read by Marie Brennan
        (that poor mom, struggling with her reluctance and guilt as her daughter seems happy training to fight eerie doom)

Honorable Mentions:
Pseudopod 393: West Gate by Mitchell Edgeworth read by Ron Jon
        (intense snapshot of panic in flight from an unknown menace)
Pseudopod 394: Summer Girls by Caspian Gray read by Robert A.K. Gonyo
        (mixture of uncanny yet taken-for-granted floater-ghost with real-life creepiness of an entitled-feeling guy)

As for best narrators, I'm afraid I rarely think to take note of the narrator when the reading is great but the story is only good, although that does uplift the experience and makes the story itself give a better impression. All of the above readers are great, but there are many other award-worthy readers, so I guess I won't nominate in this category.

I can't think of any stories this year that were less than good! Horror isn't my usual thing, and I only came to this podcast because of listening to the siblings, Escape Pod and Podcastle; however, Pseudopod selections are always interesting and often very evocative, and the characters and their reactions to impossible, horrific situations seem very real. I value the fresh perspectives I get from these "true" stories, even if they aren't comfortable listening!

*** The three asterisks in front of Pseudopod 399 indicate that the story was a podcast original. All others are podcast narrations of stories that were originally printed elsewhere (cited on the linked pages).

James Tiptree Jr. was a pseudonym adopted by a woman to help sell her stories (since women read both genders but men are more likely to read works by men). Much of her work explored gender issues; "The Screwfly Solution," which was published in 1977 and won the Nebula Award for best novelette, certainly did this. I don't want to spoil the plot, so I won't say more about that, other than to emphasize that all the conflicts over gender issues during the past year make it seem more horribly relevant than ever.
Bonus: It's in epistolary form, which is always neat when done well. (That's why so many narrators are listed.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

That skiffy and fanty thing

Although I've been tweeting links, I haven't mentioned here on my own blog that most of my writing activities lately have been for another blog, skiffyandfanty.com, which covers science fiction and fantasy. So far, I've written reviews about the Z Nation TV show (and a certain loaded phrase), Radiant by Karina Sumner-Smith, and Zombies & Calculus by Colin Adams. Here's my author page. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hugo Awards 2014/1939: Shorts to Novels

It's only a month since the 2014 Hugo Awards and the 1939 Retro-Hugos were announced, so at least I'm doing better than last year with this final segment of my rundown on the nominees. There was quite a lot of controversy this year about a slate of nominations that some people pushed for reactionary reasons, but luckily for me I didn't have to decide whether or not to vote for the nominees on their own merits, or against because of their politics, because I didn't think any of them merited the awards anyway.  Onward:

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Hugo Awards 2014/1393: Editors, Zines, Fan Writers, and Related Works

August has certainly flown fast! I read all of the Hugo Award nominees that I could and voted by the midnight PST July 31/Aug. 1 deadline, and then I spent time catching up with other things. Before I knew it, they were announcing the 1939 Retro-Hugo awards! The 2014 Hugos will be announced later today. I'll write this without reference to the results and add links later.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hugo Awards 2014/1939: Audio and Dramatic Presentations

Once again, I'm explaining my reactions to the Hugo Awards nominees. It's a ranked vote; sometimes I'm voting in a preferential list, and sometimes I'm voting only once or twice and leaving the rest blank.

1939 Retro-Hugo Awards: 
Best Dramatic Presentation, short form (there is no long form category here):  The nominees are Around the World in 80 Days; A Christmas Carol; Dracula; R.U.R.; and The War of the Worlds.
R.U.R. isn’t in the packet. I don’t see any free audio versions in a quick Google search, although Librivox has a version in progress. I did find excerpts of a different group’s reading at http://www.sci-fi-london.com/news/festival/2010/10/rur-reading and a translation at http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/capek/karel/rur/ but obviously that is not the nominated work; the vote is for that particular dramatic presentation, not the play itself. 
As for the other pieces, they're all Orson Welles productions on CBS Mercury Theater of the Air.
Dracula was unlistenable. Well, I made it through 10 minutes or so, but they blared the LOUD CHORD OF DRAMATIC REVELATION every couple of minutes, and I had to stop listening.
A Christmas Carol and Around the World in Eighty Days were quite listenable, but nothing special IMHO. 
What was outstanding was The War of the Worlds. This was the broadcast that reportedly panicked a lot of people, although it’s been disputed just how much of the panic was real and how much was after-the-fact hype. At any rate, it definitely had quite an effect. But leaving that aside, the work itself is really, really good. It starts out with dance music being interrupted with increasingly frequent and urgent bulletins, switches to a local affiliate at the scene of what turns out to be the Martian invasion, and then follows a survivor wandering the wasteland. It’s dynamic, gripping, and still very much worth hearing. 
My vote: War of the Worlds, the rest blank.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hugo Awards 2014/1939: Art and Graphic Novels

This year, instead of writing one massive post about all the 2014 Hugo Award nominees, I'm going to write a few smaller pieces. Partly that's for my convenience, partly it's for the readers' (especially since this year, we're voting not only for works from 2013 but also Retro 1939 Hugos for works from 1938.
Today's chunk is for nominees in Art and Graphic Awards categories. As it's a ranked ballot system, I'll be listing my preferences in order.


1939 Retro-Hugo Professional Artist nominees: Margaret Brundage, Virgil Finlay, Frank R. Paul, Alex Schomburg, and H.W. Wesso. 
Finlay's pieces are fairly classic-style SF pulp covers. 
The Paul cover has more going on in it than Finlay does. 
Wesso has lots going on, good faces, AND interesting effects. 
Schomberg has some fun pieces to look at, very detailed, but they don’t draw me in as much as Wesso. 
The Brundage links provided in the voters packet don’t work for me, but an online search for her Weird Tales covers shows that in tone she's similar to Finlay, but better executed. 
My vote: Wesso, Schomberg, Paul, Brundage, Finlay.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Honoring more than one type of the fallen

A friend of mine reposted the usual Memorial Day image of a uniform with the text that starts off "It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech..."

I honor members of our military for their courage and sacrifices, including my uncle whom I never knew because he died in the Vietnam War. I do want people to recognize that Memorial Day is about remembrance, not just barbecues and appliance sales.

But soldiers by themselves don't give us a free society. Just look at North Korea or any other totalitarian country. Picture what your life would be like if all you knew was what the government and the corporations wanted you to know.

In 2013, at least 70 journalists worldwide were killed in connection with their work, and there was a 129% increase in abductions, along with countless acts of violence and intimidation, jailings, and other silencings. None of these martyrs charged a nest of machine guns, but I'm sure all of them knew that they were putting themselves in real danger through their attempts to shine spotlights on everything from corruption to war crimes.

This is the day to honor members of the armed services who gave their lives in service to the United States of America. They deserve it. But nobody should try to honor them by belittling people who, in their own ways, fight (or fought) for the same ideals of truth, justice, and freedom.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Belated Hugo Awards rundown

The Hugo Awards are fan-voted recognitions of the best writing, art, and related work in science fiction. As a member of LoneStarCon3, the 71st Annual World Science Fiction Convention held in San Antonio, Texas, over Labor Day Weekend, I was eligible to vote for the 2013 Hugos, and did so. I took notes while reviewing the nominated works, meaning to post about them, but never got around to it. Partly that was because I wanted to go back and read through the categories I hadn't had time for before, but that didn't work out due to the job and life and stuff.

This week, nominations are opening up for the 2014 Hugo Awards, to be presented at LonCon3, i.e. Worldcon in London. I won't be attending that con unless I win the lottery, but I'm considering getting a supporting membership anyway because that will give me access to electronic versions of most of the officially nominated works, which is a great value.

Regardless, I can submit nominations now for the 2014 awards because of my LoneStarCon3 membership. And before I start thinking about that, I want to finally clear away my thoughts about the 2013 Hugos.