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:

Best Short Story:
1939 nominees were "How We Went to Mars" by Arthur C. Clarke, "The Faithful" by Lester del Rey, "Hellerbochen’s Dilemma" by Ray Bradbury, "Hyperpilosity" by L. Sprague de Camp, and "Helen O’Loy" by Lester del Rey.
"How We Went to Mars" wasn't in the packet, but I remember reading it in a collection some years ago as an enjoyable, humorous tale about a competition between rocket clubs that ended up overvaulting everyone's ambitions. None of the other stories impressed me much. Maybe I should have voted for this and then No Award, but my ranking was How We Went to Mars, The Faithful, Hellerbochen’s Dilemma, Hyperpilosity, and Helen O’Loy. (My first pick won!)
2014 nominees were "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" by Rachel Swirsky; "The Ink Readers of Doi Saket" by Thomas Olde Heuvelt; "Selkie Stories Are for Losers" by Sofia Samatar; and "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere" by John Chu.
I linked the two stories that I actually liked. In fact, I loved both of them.
"If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" has been compared to a children's story in the form of "If this, then that; if that, then so-and-so; if so-and-so, then such-and-such... It was a really short story, in fact a 12-stanza poem. I'm not quoting because I don't want to spoil it for anyone; if you haven't read it yet, go!
Did your eyes tear up? Mine still do after multiple readings. It's a beautifully crafted dark jewel of a story. Some people say it's neither science fiction nor fantasy so it's not really Hugo-eligible, but I assert vehemently that it IS speculative fiction. The narrator says "If," not "Is," but that just means it's like a simile, not a metaphor; it's certainly not mundane fiction. The writer uses the if-SFF structure to tell about love and grief, and if a non-fan asked me to recommend just one piece of fiction from 2013, this would be it.
"Selkie Stories Are for Losers" was a very close second for me. This is a daughter telling about how she was affected after her mother disappeared, in her relationships with others and in how she explains things to herself, including various forms of selkie stories. She never actually saw her mother transform into a seal and swim away, though, so once again, some people say this isn't a real SFF story. I say that their definitions are too limited. All good SFF stories should contain, besides the speculative, the ring or the sting of truth:
In selkie stories, kissing never solves anything. No transformation happens because of a kiss. No one loves you just because you love them. What kind of fairy tale is that?
TIRODS was a mildly interesting sort of fairy tale.
TWTFOYFN read much more like an absurdist comedy to me than speculative fiction. It's the heart-warming tale of a man who finds it too difficult to lie, because of TWTFOYFN when that happens, so he decides to come out to his parents. I guess technically it's fantasy, but if you remove the fantastic element from the story, it's still coherent and is in fact just about the same story.
My vote: IYWADML, SSAFL, blank. (Winner: TWTFOYFN)

1939 nominees were "Rule 18" by Clifford D. Simak, "Pigeons from Hell" by Robert E. Howard, "Werewoman" by C.L. Moore, "Hollywood on the Moon" by Henry Kuttner, and "Dead Knowledge" by Don A. Stuart (John Campbell). 
The packet included Werewoman, Pigeons from Hell, and a link to Hollywood on the Moon. I voted anyway because if heirs won't turn a story loose for voters 75 years later, too bad.
"Pigeons from Hell" was a pretty good yarn about people staying in a haunted house where the chickens had come home to roost for a slaveowner many years ago, and the ghosts were still angry.
"Hollywood on the Moon" was quite dated, but I tried to look at it as if reading in 1939. On that level, it was amusingly cynical and fairly creative, full of ideas.
I wanted to like "Werewoman" because C.L. Moore was a woman, and there were very few of those on the 1939 ballot, but this story was disappointingly monotonous. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen, and nothing struck me. 
My vote: Hollywood on the Moon, Pigeons from Hell. (Winner: Rule 18)
2014 nominees were "Opera Vita Aeterna" by Vox Day; "The Exchange Officers" by Brad Torgersen; "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" by Mary Robinette Kowal; "The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling" by Ted Chiang; and "The Waiting Stars" by Aliette de Bodard.
OVA would have been boring and disappointing in the back of an old gaming magazine (a number of those had quite interesting, tight, humorous little stories!). As a 2014 Hugo nominee, it was worse than laughable. Of all the items in all the categories in the 2014 and 1939 nominees, it's the only one that I decided deserved to lose to No Award.
TEO was a fun, fast read about Americans on a space station trying to fend off a Chinese takeover.
TLAOM initially received enough votes to be nominated for a 2013 Hugo, but then was scratched because it came out as an audio story instead of text. Many people viewed this as an injustice, but as the text was published online in 2013, it was eligible and renominated for a 2014 award. Anyway, the story is about a former astronaut and Mars colonist who's asked to go on a new, important mission, but her husband is dying and she doesn't want to leave him. Great characterization and writing.
TTOFTTOF explored some really interesting topics: the nature of language, memory as foundation and friction in relationships, communal truth, and how technology has affected/is affecting/will affect all of these things. For instance, a wife uses the Remem app to prove that her husband was misremembering events, he says she shouldn't have corrected him in front of friends, she says he does that to her all the time, and someone else says they had a bickering relationship before that technology ever came along. The narrator thinks, "If someone’s marriage was built on—as ironic as it might sound—a cornerstone of forgetfulness, what right did Whetstone have to shatter that?"
I had an interesting conversation with someone about whether this part of the story was an example of erasure, with the woman apparently being supposed to forgive and forget (or forget and forgive), and whether the implied sexism was the narrator's or the author's. Other parts of the story included the introduction of writing to an illiterate culture, and how record-keeping affects relations between clans, and the narrator's difficult relationship with his daughter, and how technology reveals problems he hadn't even known about, making things initially more difficult but possibly healthier later. This is a story I'm still thinking about long afterward.
TWS is about a conflict between cultures, and a woman from one who was made over into a woman from the other, and her struggles with this. Beautiful writing.
My vote: TTOFTTOF, TLAOM, TWS, TEO, No Award. (Winner: TLAOM)

1939 nominees were "Who Goes There?" by Don A Stuart (John Campbell), "The Time Trap" by Henry Kuttner, "Sleepers of Mars" by John Beynon, "A Matter of Form" by H.L. Gold, and "Anthem" by Ayn Rand.
The packet included Anthem and The Time Trap.
"Who Goes There?" was a tight, suspenseful, grittily atmospheric story about scientists at an Antarctic base who stumbled into a discovery that was almost more than they can handle. It has inspired 3 movie versions of "The Thing" so far, plus Randall Garrett's parody poem, and has doubtlessly influenced many later writers.
"The Time Trap" read like a hack trying to imitate Edgar Rice Burroughs.
"Anthem" -- I read it in junior high or high school and thought it was a reasonably good story (not bloated like some of Rand's other work), but didn't feel any urge to reread it.
I really wanted Who Goes There to win this, so I voted for it and nothing else. (It won!)
2014 nominees were "The Butcher of Khardov" by Dan Wells, "The Chaplain’s Legacy" by Brad Torgersen, "Equoid" by Charles Stross, "Six-Gun Snow White" by Catherynne M. Valente, and "Wakulla Springs" by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages.
"The Butcher of Khardov" had a twist that I wasn't expecting, but the story was longer than it needed to be, and not terribly memorable.

"The Chaplain’s Legacy" was a mildly interesting story about a human-alien war and trying to establish communication and trust.
"Equoid" was a surprise for me in that I usually love stories about The Laundry (British bureaucracy fighting Lovecraftian horrors), but not this one. It was really nasty, gratuitously gross, and I've read the backstory about how it arose but I just don't care.
"Six-Gun Snow White" was a sort of combined fairy tale and Western tall tale. It's told in a distant way, so I never felt an emotional connection. It does some interesting things, although I think it took too long to get there.
In "Wakulla Springs," I loved the progression of connections, the interesting characters and their choices and looking at how different people perceived the same events, the sometimes simply direct and sometimes richly evocative language, really everything about it. I suppose some voters may have thought there was very little of the fantastic about it -- and that what there was could easily be excised without changing the story much -- but as a story about fans and about reaching for dreams (and adapting when they don't work out as expected), I thought it was just wonderful.
My vote: Wakulla Springs, Six-Gun Snow White, blank. (Winner: Equoid)

1939 nominees were "The Sword in the Stone" by T.H. White, "Out of the Silent Planet" by C.S. Lewis, "Galactic Patrol" by E.E. Smith, "The Legion of Time" by Jack Williamson, and "Carson of Venus" by Edgar Rice Burroughs. 
The voter packet included Carson of Venus, Galactic Patrol, and The Legion of Time. I didn't find any of these particularly interesting. I know Galactic Patrol was the start of the Lensman series and was tremendously influential, but it didn't do anything for me.
I read "Out of the Silent Planet" quite a few years ago. It was an interesting book, started off grippingly and continued as more than the travelogue it might have seemed, and I loved the twist on the trope of how the narrator enlisted the author (we'll tell this true story as fiction to warn others!).
"The Sword in the Stone" was another I'd read before, and I'd seen the animated Disney movie years ago, too, about Merlin's education of the young Arthur.  The book rambles a bit, but I actually loved the tangents; it's often funny, often wistful, and also has quite a few serious concepts to ponder. It also has the wonderful idea of explaining Merlin's abilities as a seer by saying that he's a man who lives backward through time.
My vote: I really wanted "The Sword in the Stone" to win, so I voted for it alone. (It won!)
2014 nominees were "Ancillary Justice" by Ann Leckie, "Neptune's Brood" by Charles Stross, "Parasite" by Mira Grant, "Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles" by Larry Correia, and "The Wheel of Time" (from "The Eye of the World" through "A Memory of Light") by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.
The voter packet included samplings from Ancillary Justice, Neptune's Brood and Parasite, the nominated Warbound by Correia plus the first two books in that series, and the full 14-book cycle of The Wheel of Time. Luckily for me, I had already read the complete Ancillary Justice and Neptune's Brood.
Ancillary Justice was one of the most hyped books of 2013; I read glowing review after glowing review. When I finally got to read it, I was a bit let down. The narrative started off with a rather unlikely circumstance, and some other plot elements seemed a little simplistic. The beginning was pretty hard going, until I absorbed enough of what was going on to process it more easily, eventually hurtling along toward the climax. But! The book was chock-full of ideas (female as the language-default gender, one mind in multiple bodies, etc.). The clashing cultures were fascinating, and when I finally realized where the ship-soldiers actually came from (I'd thought they were clones or something), a little scream escaped my lips. The protagonist's dilemmas were absorbing. The person who thought she was the protagonist provided a leavening counterbalance. The book was interesting enough to provide ground for long conversations with a couple of relatives. I highly recommend it.
Neptune's Brood is set in the same universe as Saturn's Children, but here the protagonist is a sort of forensic accountant. Speculations about how interstellar banking would work in a slower-than-light civilization are interspersed throughout a spy-and-suspense sort of tale, and I found it interesting and enjoyable.
Parasite was also interesting, and the main character was engaging in her way, but the excerpt didn't give me enough of a sense of the full story for me to rate it higher than third.
Warbound was the conclusion of the Grimnoir trilogy, which I thought was mildly entertaining. The basic idea is pretty similar to a concept from Piers Anthony's Xanth books -- magic (or tech, maybe, in a handwavy way) appears because a super-magic critter from beyond flees to Earth and it leaks. It's set in the 1930s, which allows dirigible fights, faceoffs with politicians of the time, and a ripe geopolitical situation. The characters are engaging, and the plot moves along nicely, but it's not exactly substantial.
I had started the Eye of the World back when it came out, and dropped it because I thought it was really derivative. The next couple of books didn't grab me enough to try again. I'm told that the series gets better as you go along, but by then it was too late for me.   
My vote: Ancillary Justice, Neptune’s Brood, Parasite. (Winner: Ancillary Justice, which also won Nebula, Locus, Clarke, and a couple of other awards. Try it!) 

The Campbell Award for new writers did not, of course, exist in 1939, given whom it's named after. The 2014 nominees are Wesley Chu, Max Gladstone, Ramez Naan, Sofia Samatar, and Benjanun Sriduangkaew. I loved Samatar's "Selkie Stories Are for Losers," but I ran out of reading time and didn't read the other nominees, so I didn't vote in this category. We keep being reminded that the Campbell is Not a Hugo, so I don't feel too bad about that. But I have a little treasure trove of samples from Campbell-nominated authors waiting for me! (Winner: Samatar)

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.

Best Editor, Short Form:
There wasn't anything in the voters' packet for 1939. I have heard about how great and influential John Campbell was, and hadn't heard of the others (Farnsworth Wright, Raymond Palmer, Mort Weisinger, and Walter Gillings), but that didn't seem enough of a reason to vote in this category. Blank.
2014: John Joseph Adams, Neil Clarke, Ellen Datlow, Jonathan Strahan, and Sheila Williams were nominated.
Adams submitted The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination, which had a lot of fun stories.
Clarke submitted Clarkesworld Magazine 78, which has some very fine stories and essays, including the chilling "86, 87, 88, 89," by Genevieve Valentine, an interview, and an editor’s note.
Datlow submitted 12 separate stories, very different from each other and quite good. I really liked "All the Snake Handlers I Know Are Dead" by Dennis Danvers.
Strahan submitted Fearsome Journeys: The New Solaris Book of Fantasy, which has 13 stories. A really solid collection of good stories; my favorite is "The Dragonslayer of Merebarton" by K.J. Parker.
Williams submitted Asimov’s Science Fiction, September 2013. A good editorial, a novella I didn’t care about and a really interesting one (What We Ourselves Are Not, Leah Cypess), a few poems, some more stories. Not too impressive.
My vote: Strahan, Clarke, Datlow, Adams, Williams.

Best Editor, Long Form, 2014 (no nominees for 1939):
Nominees were Ginjer Buchanan, Sheila Gilbert, Liz Gorinsky, Lee Harris, and Toni Weisskopf.
Buchanan provided a list of books and collections she’d edited.
Gilbert provided the same, with an introductory paragraph.
Gorinsky provided a list with a paragraph at the end. More importantly, she produced three books that I really enjoyed: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells (collection), Without a Summer (Mary Robinette Kowal), and Fiddlehead (Cherie Priest).
Harris had an intro paragraph with her list. There are several books on the list that I’ve heard of and would like to read sometime, but none I’ve read.
Weisskopf didn’t submit a list.
My vote: Gorinsky and then blank, since I haven't read any on the Harris list.

Best Semiprozine, 2014 (no nominees for 1939):
Nominees were Apex, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Interzone, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons.
Apex supplied one issue, with "Call Girl;" "Titanic!;" "Karina Who Kissed Spacetime;" "Reluctance;" an essay on SF and religion; and an author interview.
BCS supplied two issues (stories only), one of which bored me, but one of which had some quite interesting stories: "Cherry Blossoms on the River of Souls;" "Walls of Skin, Soft as Paper;" and "The Coffinmaker’s Love."   
Interzone supplied one issue with stories, an interview, news, and film and book reviews, plus illustrations. Magazine layout, nice production. “Haunts” is a really interesting story about dueling and ghosts and sacrifices; I’m not sure what it’s trying to say, but it’s got quite a personality. "The Kindest Man in Stormland" was also quite striking, atmospheric and ominous,  rough and strong. "Trans-Siberia" also gave a strong feeling of place and time. I enjoyed the whole issue.
Strange Horizons provided an ebook that included four of its weekly issues, with stories, essays, poems, and reviews. "Sadgoat," "Din Ba Din," "Difference of Opinion," and an essay on fanfic/fanart boundaries with original creators were notable.
I left Lightspeed for last because it supplied its entire year in one package. No layout, and nothing but stories included, which is disappointing, but I loved every story in the January, February and December issues. Quite vibrant and interesting, beautiful, urgent, and moving. 
My vote: Lightspeed, Interzone, Strange Horizons, Apex, BCS.

Best Fanzine:
1939 packet had 2 nominees out of 5 and neither link worked for me. No vote.
2014 nominees were The Book Smugglers, A Dribble of Ink, Elitist Book Reviews, Journey Planet, and Pornokitsch.
The Book Smugglers submission included seven reviews and three essays. Art was unimpressive. Justin Landon’s essay about gender parity and cover art dismantled a number of arguments and explanations for disparity quite nicely.
A Dribble of Ink’s submission in the voters packet has Kameron Hurley’s separately Hugo-nominated essay “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative,” three other people’s essays,, and seven reviews/explorations of books and movies. Very nice art and production.
Elitist Book Reviews delivered 10 reviews and an author interview. I haven’t read any of the books, and few of the authors.
Journey Planet provided a single PDF containing ALL its output from 2013. Yay thoroughness! Very nice art, initial TOC fonts a little hard to read but everywhere else is easy, traditional layout, themed issues on a variety of topics. Editorials, letters to the editor, essays, interviews photos, and illustrations. A great production.
Pornokitsch supplies 9 pieces, reviews and essays. Enjoyable but nothing big.
My vote: Journey Planet, A Dribble of Ink, The Book Smugglers, Pornokitsch, Elitist Book Reviews.

Fan writer: 
1939 packet had 1 nominee out of 5, so I didn't vote.
2014 nominees were Liz Bourke, Kameron Hurley, Foz Meadows, Abigail Nussbaum, and Mark Oshiro.
Bourke’s voters packet had reviews of three books I haven’t read, and an essay on the radicalizing effects of seeking out female authors to read.
Hurley’s packet, oddly enough, didn’t include “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative,” perhaps because it was submitted as a standalone Best Related Work. The packet has essays on censorship and bullying (SFWA sexism debate), gender and My Little Pony fandom, health insurance, and being erased from the narrative/history.
“… how long will it be until I’m on an MLP board and get called a “Fake geek girl” for liking My Little Pony?
“You’re laughing, I know.
“But I’m a historian, so I’m not.”
Meadows’ voter packet includes essays about men writing female characters, SFWA sexism, and the politics of grimdark SFF. Lots of rage ranting but great at picking out problems with other people’s arguments. Here’s a quote:
“Grittiness has its place in fiction; as do representations of existing inequalities. But when we forget to examine why we think certain abuses are inevitable, or assume their universality -- when we write about a particular prejudice, not to question, subvert or redefine it, but to confirm it as an inevitable, even integral aspect of human nature -- then we’re not being realistic, but selective in our portrayal and understanding of reality. ”
Nussbaum’s submissions are all reviews of works I haven’t read/watched, except that I watched one episode of Elementary, and she reviewed the season. The reviews are thoughtful, diving deep into motivations and arcs, and the writing is excellent.
Last year, I dismissed Oshiro as just doing reviews, albeit thoughtful ones. Here again, we have Mark Reads and Mark Watches, but the Mark Reads review about Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is primarily how the abuse in it resonates with Oshiro’s own abuse as a boy. It was powerful and brave.
My vote: Hurley, Meadows, Nussbaum, Bourke, Oshiro.

Best related work, 2014 (no 1939 nominees):
Nominees were Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebraton of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It; Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary; We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative; Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction; and Writing Excuses Season 8.
Queers Dig Time Lords is a follow-up to 2010’s Chicks Dig Time Lords. Sequels are a hard sell for me for Hugo Awards anyway, because it’s very difficult for them to exhibit the originality that I prize for the Hugos. I read a few essays, and they were interesting and engaging, but not more so than the other nominees. 
Speculative Fiction 2012 starts off with a bunch of reviews, from then-current novels (e.g. 2312 and The Killing Moon) to old standards (Atlas Shrugged and The Sword of Shannara); of the books I’ve read, I found these reviews thoughtful and well written. Other reviews, such as the review of The New Yorker Science Fiction Special by Maureen Kinkaid Spiller, examine the genre world as it is now, as it’s perceived by others, and where it may be going. The next section, Essays, covered topics from female agency, female representation in reviews and other gender issues to decolonization to escapism to class issues to the history and future of SFF. The third section, SF Life, covers pieces from personhood in My Little Pony, to how much weight to give a writer’s politics, to a con review, to zines, to disability in SFF, to racism and problems with the Stop the Goodreads Bullies campaign. I don’t actually see a lot of difference between Essays and SF Life except that SF Life focuses slightly more on ongoing fan debates.
We Have Always Fought is not included in the voters’ packet, but it’s easy to find online. It’s an essay about how story tropes ignore and rewrite reality and then pretend that the rewritten history is what’s realistic, and how important it is to recognize these tropes and step outside their limitations. It’s well worth reading, but it’s only one piece on only one subject.
I looked through Wonderbook, which does have beautiful, engaging, surreal illustrations and sidebar essays by noted authors, as well as the principal author’s text. I haven’t tried using it as a writer’s guide myself, but it certainly is inviting.
I’ve been listening for a couple of years to Writing Excuses, a podcast for writers, would-be writers, and anyone who enjoys hearing from published authors about creative writing processes. Always interesting and often hilarious. Topics abound, from Writer’s Block to Writing Combat to Writing the Other, and many other ideas.
My vote: Speculative Fiction 2012, Writing Excuses, Wonderbook, We Have Always Fought, Queers Dig Time Lords.

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.

2014 Hugo Awards:
Best Dramatic Presentation, short form: All TV episodes that I haven't seen, so I'm not voting.

Best Dramatic Presentation, long form:  The nominees are Frozen; Gravity; The Hunger Games: Catching Fire; Iron Man 3; and Pacific Rim.
I've been wrestling with this one, because I haven't seen Gravity or Catching Fire. But I have opinions about the rest. Should I vote? I'm leaving this until the last minute.
Frozen is a delightful Disney outing that subverts princess tropes! Sisterhood is beautiful, and the songs are great.
I was an extra in Iron Man 3, which was loads of fun, but didn’t really break any ground.
Pacific Rim is NOT just a dumb monster movie. It's full of symbolism, but in a rich, fun way, and I love Mako Mori's character arc. This review explains it wonderfully well.
If I vote: Pacific Rim, Frozen, blanks.

Best Fancast: The nominees are The Coode Street Podcast; Galactic Suburbia Podcast; SF Signal Podcast; The Skiffy and Fanty Show; Tea and Jeopardy; Verity!; and The Writer and the Critic.
Before I get started, let me say to podcasters: PLEASE introduce yourselves at the beginning of each episode, especially if more than two people are speaking. Not just by first name, but give some kind of tagline to associate yourself with (and to speak long enough to have a chance of distinguishing your voice from the other speakers). Please DO NOT ramble on for five minutes about what's going on in your career/life unless it's directly relevant to today's topic; leave that stuff for the end, when hopefully you've entertained me enough for me to be interested in you as a person. Failure to follow these principles will discourage new listeners.
Coode Street linked one episode in the voter packet, an author interview with an author unfamiliar to me. Heavy on the writing craft; did not engage me.
GS linked a long, chewy, enthusiastic and engaging discussion of Saga issues 1-12 (Vols. 1-2). I've read 1-6 but not 7-12. I think someone who hasn't read it would still find it interesting, but it's spoileriffic.
SF Signal linked four different panel discussions, ranging from a gift guide to problems with epic fantasies to how panelists became fans to a an episode of miscellany. They were all interesting and fun, much the same as last year.
Skiffy and Fanty linked a panel discussion on SF Then & Now, an interview with Ann Leckie, a movie discussion on Gravity, and their Torture Cinema discussion of Sharknado. All quite different from each other and fun. I did cringe a bit in the interview with Leckie, who wrote this year's Hugo-nominated novel Ancillary Justice; one of the guys told Leckie how great all the strong female characters in the book were, completely missing the point that in the book's culture, she/her is the standard assumed pronoun, the way he/him is in English (or has been, anyway), so some of those characters are probably actually male. The podcast does feel a bit youth-centric at times, missing some references/influences of older works when discussing newer ones, but lately they've been working to improve that with efforts such as the Mining the Genre Asteroid column on the blog. I also like what they've been doing this year with their World Tour (interviewing non-Western SFF authors), but that's not the year under consideration.
Tea and Jeopardy is an interview show with fantastic story elements included, regarding where and when author/interviewer Emma Newman holds her "Tea Parties" with featured guests. Some elements continue from show to show (what's up with the sinister butler?), and every episode ends with some sort of peril from which the interviewee, at least, and sometimes Emma and her butler, must escape. I've been a fan for quite some time. The voter packet linked one episode, with Adrian Tchaikovsky. However, I'm not quite sure this should count as a fancast since Emma Newman is a published author.
Verity, which features panel discussions about Doctor Who, linked a page with five episodes. I listened to two of them, one about fandom gatekeeping (they're against it) and one about the 50th anniversary episode. I haven't seen much new Doctor Who, and not the 50th anniversary, but I really enjoyed both the squeeful discussions and the serious bits about how fans should respect each other's fannish ways. The panelists obviously have a rich, longstanding passion for their favorite show, and share their insights in an entertaining way.
The Writer and the Critic suggested one episode, in which the two hosts discuss Joe Hill's NOS4A2 and Malo Hopkinson's Sister Mine. I haven't read either book, and they spoiled the ending of NOS4A2, but they were well into the discussion by that time, so I had plenty of warning. The discussion was interesting, anyway.
One final note to podcasters: Your podcasts are free, and links are free, so if you submit only one sample, I'll assume you do only one type of show.
My vote: SF Signal, Verity, Galactic Suburbia, Skiffy and Fanty, Tea and Jeopardy, The Writer and the Critic, Coode Street.

Next up: Editors, Zines, Fan Writers, and Related Works.

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.

2014 Professional Artist nominees: Galen Dara, Julie Dillon, Daniel Dos Santos, John Harris, John Picacio, and Fiona Staples.
Dara is mildly interesting, but nothing I’d buy for my wall.
Dillon has some really interesting subjects, vivid colors, people working/doing things together in fantasy settings, immersive backgrounds; quite engaging.
Dos Santos has some quite well done pieces but they’re basically all Women in Dramatic Poses. More realistic than Dillon but less engaging.
Harris has some nice impressionistic spaceships and moonscapes.
Picacio got my vote last year, but suffers by comparison this year — great execution but somehow not nearly as interesting.
The voters' packet doesn’t include Staples, but she is the artist for Saga. I loved her work in Saga Vol. 1, with its great imagination, dynamic action scenes, interesting background details, and expressive portraits of characters. That's from 2012, but I've seen some of the 2013 covers, and they're powerful.
My vote: Staples, Dillon, Harris, Dos Santos, Picacio.

2014 Fan Artist: Brad W. Foster, Mandie Manzano, Spring Schoenhuth, Steve Stiles, Sarah Webb.
Manzano isn't in the voters' packet, but has a website; the pieces are pretty stained-glass style (or maybe actual stained glass). I can't tell what's from this year, though. 
Schoenhuth is also not included in the packet. An online search shows that she's primarily a sculptor/jeweler, with some really neat pieces.
Foster’s work is rather charming. 
Stiles has some neat looks, interesting expressions, and a varied palette. 
But Webb: Oooh! Here are a lot of different, rich, fascinating worlds that I want to see! I’m surprised she’s not a professional. Maybe she's a pro in the non-SFF arena? Here’s a look at some of her work: http://hugoeligibleart.tumblr.com/post/73896750534/sarah-webb-2013-best-fan-artist-eligible-work Actually I think she could be a serious contender in the Pro Artist category; I'd certainly vote for her over some of this year's pro crop.
My vote: Webb, Stiles, Foster, Schoenhuth, Manzano. 

2014 Graphic Story: Girl Genius Vol. 13, The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who, The Meathouse Man, Saga Vol. 2, and Time (XKCD).
Girl Genius (Sleeping City) is one that I’ve read before. It has an awesome opening, and keeps up the excitement and cool revelations. I think it provides enough exposition for newbies to jump in, maybe.
“The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who” struck me as fan service. Meh.
“Meathouse Man” is based on an old story by George R.R. Martin. The first 9 out of 35 pages are the story as I remember it, and then it continues through a couple of dreary stages. The original idea is interesting, but I don’t think the graphic novel adds to it, other than illustrating the worldbuilding.
The packet didn’t include Saga Vol. 2 (Saga Vol. 1 won last year) or Time (Randall Munroe). However, here is a link to a compilation of Time that also discusses it. 
Time is amazing. It starts out as stick figures building a sand castle, and then they go on a quest. I remember when it started, and there was some buzz, but I was busy and lost track. I am now sorry that I did that and missed out on participating in it as it happened. It turns out that Munroe posted 3,099 panels over a period of months, releasing clues about when and where the protagonists were, and there were massive online discussions.
Saga (Vol. 1) got my vote last year, IIRC, and I did listen to a very engaging discussion of Saga Vol 1-2 on Galactic Suburbia, one of the nominees for Best Fancast this year (I’ll write more about fancasts in a later post). It sounded great, but I haven’t read Vol. 2, so I won’t vote for it.
My vote: Time, Girl Genius

Next up: Audio and Dramatic Presentations.

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.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

"Sleepy Hollow" and a quick note on "lieutenant"

I watched the premiere of "Sleepy Hollow" (LOOSELY based on Washington Irving's story) on Monday and found it entertaining enough to keep watching for at least a few more weeks. My officemates also liked it, which will help keep the momentum going, along with the fact that it's being filmed near my hometown.

One thing I thought the show didn't explore enough was how disorienting it must have been for Ichabod Crane to find himself in modern times. (I did like that they gave him a moment to be puzzled by the paved road before he almost got run over.) To be fair, the pilot was just an hour long, and they had a lot of plot to cram in there, and it would have dragged the show down for him to be asking about how they can light up a room without candles, etc. He adapted awfully quickly, but I hope they keep using little points like his fascination with power windows to point out that he is a fish out of time. I expect they will, for comic relief if nothing else.

One of the ways they'll keep reminding us about his origin, without actually spending any time on it, is his accent. Ichabod was born back before America and England became "two countries divided by a common language," so although he's American, he has what sounds like a slight English accent (No, there isn't one English accent any more than there's one American accent, but you know what I mean.). The actor, Tom Mison, is English, so we shouldn't have to worry about his dropping it.

At one point during the pilot, Ichabod pronounces the policewoman's title as "lef-tenant" instead of "lew-tenant." Being a longtime fan of Masterpiece Theatre, Mystery and period dramas, I was not surprised by this British usage. But it did occur to me to wonder just why it's pronounced differently.

According to Google, many people have asked this question before me. I stopped looking after visiting about a dozen links. Ken Greenwald at Wordwizard seemed to have the most comprehensive explanation:
In any case, the pronunciations with "f" and "v" are reflected in various 14th-century English spellings of ‘lieutenant,’ which included ‘leef-,’ ‘leve-,’ ‘lyff-‘ and later ‘lief-,’ ‘live-,’ ‘liev-,’ and ‘uff-.’
Other early forms reflected a "w" pronunciation, among them ‘lu-,’ ‘lieu-,’ ‘lyue-,’ and ‘lew-.’ 
So people disagreed on the pronunciation of lieutenant long before the United States were born or thought of (yes, the U.S. took a plural back then, before becoming an it).

Greenwald went on to say that the U.S. settled on the "lew-tenant" pronunciation largely due to  Noah Webster, of dictionary fame, who "almost single-handedly promulgated American pronunciations as well as American spellings."

But before Webster, even with various people disagreeing for centuries on how to pronounce it, was there any preferential rift in pronunciation between the two sides of the ocean? I wonder if the English-American split may have arisen or broadened during the American Revolution when non-British Europeans came to help drill, advise, and lead the Continental soldiers. Baron von Steuben probably would have used the Deutsch "leutnant" (loit-nant), but the Marquis de Lafayette would have assuredly used the French pronunciation (as "in lieu of"). Lafayette was popular, so that could have helped his way of saying it to become preferred.

If anyone has better explanations or links, do let me know!

UPDATE 11/20/13: We found out several episodes ago that Ichabod was actually a British soldier who decided to fight on the American/anti-apocalypse side, not someone born in North America. So that explains the accent. And yes, the show has continued to give us merry-making moments of Ichabod agog and/or aghast at modern life, such as a 10% tax on breakfast pastries, whereas the 2% Stamp Act tax was enough to foment rebellion in his day -- oh, but it turns out that the Tea Party was actually just a fortuitous diversion for secret anti-apocalypse operations. I love the combination of action, emotion, humor, and crazy in this show.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Non-spoilery review of the Glamourist Histories series by Mary Robinette Kowal

I read Mary Robinette Kowal's debut novel, "Shades of Milk and Honey," a few years ago when it came out. It's a novel of manners set in Regency England, with the addition of magic. The form magic takes in this world is glamour, a limited form of illusion that is mostly women's work, used for adorning the ladies and their homes, although there are a few male professionals who basically combine art and interior decoration. Much of the plot is similar to a somewhat simplified "Pride and Prejudice," although some elements are reversed and it builds up to a dramatic action-adventure conclusion. I thought it was a good read, entertaining if a little light, and I planned to look for her later books.

Last week, I spotted her third book in the Glamourist Histories, "Without a Summer," and checked it out. I also tracked down SoMaH again and found the second book, "Glamour in Glass." I figured it would take a week or so to get through them.

I finished them in three nights, one per night. I couldn't put them down, not even SoMaH, which was better than I remembered.

GiG is similar in tone, and like the first, it has a slow, weaving build to a dramatic finish, but other elements are very different. Although the protagonists have interesting, character-based conflicts, they are in Belgium and are increasingly affected by world events, including Napoleon's return to France, rather than mere social mores and misunderstandings. The viewpoint character, Jane, has to make hard choices and endured real consequences. The implications of glamour are examined and expanded. Another satisfying read.

But it was "Without a Summer" that really sold me on the series and the author. We see more of the social strata of the world now, with prejudices (examined prejudices, obviously not the author's views) spurring some people's actions. Along with historically accurate class, racial, and religious prejudices, the public irrationally blames coldmongers, specialized glamourists who help preserve food and suchlike, for the unusually long-lasting cold weather of 1816. The coldmongers were seemingly a convenient throwaway element from the first book, but here they become a major plot element. I love it when backstory comes to the forefront like that.

Other elements from the first book are also revisited in the third book, and revelations about longstanding misperceptions occur. In fact, MRK uses a wonderful metaphor for this cascade of revelations, and I was gasping, "Oh! OH! Wow!" as they all coalesced and bound all three books together. A meta-metaphor, if I can use such a term.

I went through a number of passages from the first and third books today, and yes, there were some strong hints of the hidden truths there, so MRK definitely played fair with the readers. But like Jane, I had glossed over those things as I kept following the current main actions, and so they were simultaneous revelations for me.

Some significant mistakes and misjudgments are made by the viewpoint character, who is so smart and perceptive in other ways, and MRK acknowledges Jane's debt to Austen's "Emma" in her afterword.  I'd be a little disenchanted, so to speak, if I thought MRK were just going through Austen's canon and adding glamour; however, the second book is its own thing, and even in the first and third books, there are plenty of non-magical plot elements and character actions that Austen would never have dreamed of writing. MRK can and does thank Austen, and I also noticed a few fun Easter Egg references to other authors' works, but she is definitely building her own rich world here. I can't wait to see where MRK takes this series next.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

My favorite Hugo nominee: Ken Liu's "Mono no aware"

I just submitted my Hugo ballot, a few minutes before voting closed at midnight CDT on July 31. Because I got my Worldcon membership just two weeks ago, I wasn't able to get through all the books and stories that were e-mailed to me, but I did the best I could, and finished roughly half. I'll post my more complete reactions later, but I wanted to go ahead and praise one of the nominees.

Ken Liu's "Mono no aware" moved me to tears. I had to stand up and walk around for about 10 minutes before I could return to my self-imposed reading reading marathon.

What an extraordinary work this is, heartbreaking, breathtaking, and inspiring. In this 32-page short, Liu packs an amazing amount of story, context, understanding, and poetry.

“The stars shine and blink.
We are all guests passing through,
A smile and a name.”

According to an interview with the author, mono no aware means an empathy for the inevitable passing of all things.  The protagonist draws strength and motivation from this concept, but his actions also exemplify some of the things from life that endure: courage and love. I must find more of Ken Liu to read. As far as I am concerned, this short story is the all-category winner, the Best in Show of the Hugos.

Friday, July 26, 2013

WorldCon56-Bucconeer Panels Appendix

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm swamped with reading Hugo nominees, so I'm too busy to write original material right now. Instead, I'm posting an e-mailed trip report from the 1998 WorldCon. This is the appendix, where I wrote about individual panels at the con.

OK, here it is:

Panels appendix to my report on the 56th World Science
Fiction Convention (WorldCon 56, "Bucconeer") Aug. 5-9
in Baltimore, by Patricia Elkins Matson.
I had a blast, although I was run ragged a lot of the