Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Thoughts on Nebula Nominees 2009: Short Stories

The Button Bin” - Mike Allen (Helix: A Speculative Fiction Quarterly, Oct07)
“The Dreaming Wind” - Jeffrey Ford (The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Ed., Viking, Jul07)
Trophy Wives” - Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Fellowship Fantastic, ed. Greenberg and Hughes, Daw Jan08)
26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” - Kij Johnson (Asimov’s, Jul08)
The Tomb Wife” - Gwyneth Jones (F&SF, Aug07)
Don’t Stop” - James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s, Jun07)
"Mars: A Traveler's Guide" - Ruth Nestvold (F&SF, Jan08)

The short story category here is a solid lineup of stories with only one which disappointed, that being “The Tomb Wife” from Gwyneth Jones. I’m not quite sure what to say about that story, except that it failed to work for me. There is a certain amount of humor in the interplay between the alien and the humans, and the conclusion is sad, but “The Tomb Wife” did not offer anything to me as a reader. I just don’t have much at all to say about it, which is why it gets first mention in this post as the story I enjoyed the least.

Next up is “Don’t Stop” from James Patrick Kelly. “Don’t Stop” is a ghost story with running, or perhaps a running story with ghosts. I’m not sure which. It’s a perfectly serviceable story. The ending doesn’t quite deliver for me, and there isn’t quite enough in the guts of the story to really recognize it as one of the year’s best, but it’s not bad. I do appreciate any story that touches running in an honest and realistic manner, and “Don’t Stop” certainly does that. Had this been a badminton story with ghosts I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much. Scratch that. I would very much like to read a badminton story with ghosts. The point is, beyond the depiction of a runner / running, I wasn’t totally sold on the premise. (my review)

It’s been a year since I’ve read “The Dreaming Wind”, so my memories may be a touch hazy, but I remember this being a good story. This came as something of a surprise to me because I generally have difficulty with Jeffrey Ford’s I can see why others appreciate and enjoy his work. For whatever reason, his stuff doesn’t connect with me. There are exceptions to this, of course (“The Way He Does It”, for example). “The Dreaming Wind” is somewhere in the middle between how much I enjoyed “The Way He Does It” and the utter disappointment I felt about “Botch Town”. “The Dreaming Wind” is a phenomenon which sweeps through a town once a year and causes all sorts of weirdness to occur, some of it uncomfortable. One year the wind does not come and the residents are left waiting for the wind. It’s a more satisfying story than I generally expect from Ford.

“Trophy Wives”, from Nina Kiriki Hoffman, is a story of two women rescuing another, but doing so in a manner that takes the titular concept of trophy wives and turns it so that being a trophy wife can be considered an opportunity besides the captivity of being a trophy wife. It's an interesting story of the nature of freedom (in this setting) and how it both does and does not exist in a conventional manner but truly exists when one chooses it. That's how I read the story. I was mostly into it, by the end. I liked the storyoverall, but now it's been about a week since I read the story and I'm less enamored by it than I was then. Each passing day drops it a little bit in my estimation and I can't say exactly why.

What I like about “The Button Bin” is the inherent nastiness to the story. It's the stuff beyond the initial confrontation between you and Lenahan. Mike Allen makes this one dark and he succeeds. I'm seldom excited about second person perspective stories but this one works. (my review)

I was so enamored by the ending and overall revelation as to what the true story of “Mars: A Traveler’s Guide” that I bumped Ruth Nestvold’s story well up on my faux-voting list to the second slot. This starts out kind of dull as it reads like a regular travel guide, but patience is rewarded when we notice what topics are being chosen and why. Then it gets really good. (my review)

If I had an actual vote for the Nebula, which I sadly do not, my vote would go to Kij Johnson’s delightful story “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”. Touching on loss, magic, monkeys, and healing, Kij Johnson tells a story that sticks in the reader’s imagination without really answering some of the questions raised by the story. The answers don’t matter. It doesn’t matter exactly how the monkeys do what they do, or why. By the end we can guess where they go. That aspect was subtly handled. I don’t know if “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” will win the Nebula, but I certainly think it should. I’m glad that the nomination (and the Hugo nomination!) is bringing greater recognition to this story. (my review)

So, that's that. I still can't find a link to "The Dreaming Wind", but everything else is linked up. Go read some short stories and come back to tell me why I'm wrong.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Nebula Award Nominee: "Dark Rooms"

Dark Rooms
Lisa Goldstein
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Novelette

“Dark Rooms” is the story of Nathan Stevens, a man who met Georges Melies in 1896, befriended Georges, stole one of his ideas about early movie-making, and became a success in Ameirca. “Dark Rooms” is told from the increasingly paranoid perspective of Stevens (mirroring the letters he receives from Melies). The story opens with a young Stevens having seen his first motion picture and the developing friendship between Stevens and Melies but quickly moves to the magic of movies and how time alters memory.

This is only nominally a science fiction / fantasy story (there are a couple of questions throughout the story as to what exactly Melies is capable of when around Stevens), but by the end “Dark Rooms” is a satisfying story. There is no flash to Goldstein’s storytelling, and this isn’t a story (exactly) about rivalry, but it is a story about the dawn of moviemaking and perhaps how Edison and Hollywood became successful and famous – from the intellectual theft of Melies. Except even that isn’t quite right because the story presents the theft as a gesture of friendship. It is what came next that was the theft.

It’s an intellectually and emotionally interesting story that is never overwhelmed by technical details. “Dark Rooms” is about the people.

I question whether this is, in fact, a SFF story or whether it should have garnered a SFF nomination, but beyond that – decent story. I doubt, at this point, that I will view it as a favorite in the novelette category. If I do, this would be a weak category, but as an individual story, it’s good enough. Damned with faint praise? Perhaps.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

get some free Shimmer

The folks over at Shimmer are celebrating the publication of issue #10 by giving it away for free!

I had a chance to read this issue in early February and I was really, really impressed. Chock full of good stuff with only a couple of misses.

So, go check it out
. It's free, ya know? 12 stories and a Cory Doctorow interview.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

next week

I’m going to be quite busy next week with stuff that includes (but is not limited to) moving my 30 yr old carcass to a new town so I’m going to try to pre-load a bunch of content so that you won’t miss me at all. This week’s content will (has) suffer(ed) as a result.

For sure I’ll have my thoughts on the Nebula: Short Story category and a review of Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand.

The rest of the week should be more Nebula and Hugo nominated short fiction coverage. There’s some good stuff out there, y’all.

I may not be able to respond to e-mails / comments in a timely manner, but I’ll get to them all. So, feel free to leave comments and stuff.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Evil Robot Monkey available

Rather than be a pest and e-mail Mary asking when, exactly, her Hugo nominated story would be available to read for free, I decided to wait like a good boy.

Per this post at Mary Robinette Kowal's blog, "Evil Robot Monkey" is freely available to read.

Except, because Mary is all creative and stuff, we've got three options.

Read some plain text on the blog post itself.

Read a PDF chapbook
beautifully designed by Mary herself.

Or, listen to Mary read the story (link on her blog).

Awesomely awesome. I'm going to read it tonight. And then probably listen to it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ted Chiang's "Exhalation" available

I was hoping this would happen and it did.

Ted Chiang's Hugo nominated story "Exhalation" is now available for free online reading.

Thanks to Jonathan Strahan for the heads up on that.

Scalzi on Hugo Nominations

The wisdom of Scalzi on this year's Hugo nominations and discussion on Internet Presence.

In point of fact, there is only one specific and verifiable reason that these five authors and their books made the Hugo Best Novel ballot this year: that out of the 639 ballots cast in the category by members of last year’s Worldcon and this year’s Worldcon, these were the five that garnered the most votes. I suspect that if you were to ask the people who cast those 639 ballots why they chose the books they chose, the answer would not be because they were influenced by the Internet, or because the author made a bestseller list, or because the publisher had it as a lead title, or because the author had a snazzy goatee or whatever. The answer would be because the voter read that book, and liked it enough to say that it was one of the best science fiction novels they read this year.


Next year, when I plan on becoming a member so I can vote (even though there is no chance I’ll be able to make it to that Worldcon – I just want to be a larger part of the conversation), I’ll have my say. My ballot may not line up with the majority. Had I been able to cast a ballot this year, it probably wouldn’t have looked anything like what the final nomination is now. But the final ballot would be representational. Given the relatively few number of voters, a small handful of extra votes could change the look of the ballot. I would have voted for, say, Ink and Steel not because I like Elizabeth Bear’s Internet Presence or because from all reports she is a decent person to be around or because she was gracious and friendly when I (briefly) met her at a con. I would have voted for Ink and Steel not for any of those reasons, but because I think it is one of the best novels published in 2008. Period.

And yes, Scalzi's title did make me think of Shadow Unit

i wonder

I wonder...is "Mitigation", the story from Karl Schroeder and Tobias Buckell subtly tied to Buckell's Xenowealth series?

I ask, or just wonder aloud, because there is a mention of the island Anegada being flooded over due to rising sea levels.

The world of Buckell's Crystal Rain? New Anegada.

I know this is the genesis of Buckell doing something different, and that really we're just talking near-future science fiction, and that even if there IS a tie to Xenowealth it is tenuous at best, but...

I just wonder.

Good story, by the way.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hand of Isis at SBR

My review of Jo Graham's Hand of Isis has been posted online at the Sacramento Book Review. There's a lot more I wanted to / could say about it, but, well, there's a word count and a format.

Good book. Enjoy.

mostly true names

I hesitate to call this a real post. It's certainly nothing of substance.

I read the Hugo nominated novella "True Names" this evening.


It's the sort of science fiction that I don't like. Far future and laced with technology to the point where competing technologies are the characters with semblances of personality. "True Names" appears to be some sort of war between filters and strategies and policies and some other larger intellectual / technological bodies.

Honestly, I didn't understand a whole lot of what was going on. I mean, I got the basics but it had no meaning for me.

"True Names" felt like one of the overly technical stories of Charles Stross or something. I don't mean that as a compliment. Given the title, the story is probably Vingean as well, but I can't say. I've only read two novels from Vernor Vinge, including the original True Names and don't have a sense of what Vingean means.

Here's the thing - I like Cory Doctorow's work. I haven't read quite enough Rosenbaum to have formed an opinion (nothing has really resonated), but I suspect he's good. Their novella "True Names"? It's not for me. It's overlong with little meaning (for me) and has nothing for me to connect with, to engage with. I was left lost and cold.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Article of Faith available

I'll be updating my Hugo Nominee list with links to the stories as they come available.

Newly available, Short Story Nominee "Article of Faith", by Mike Resnick

Enjoy. Thanks to Baen's Universe for making the story available.


You heard it here second.

Cherie Priest
, she of the excellent Eden Moore novels, has a novel called Boneshaker coming out later this year. Boneshaker is Cherie's "west coast steampunk Victoriana book with zombies, air ships, toxic gas clouds, mad scientists, dead folk heroes, secret criminal societies, and Bonus! extended deleted scenes from the Civil War" book. That's not news.

The news is that she recently sold a second novel in her Clockwork Century setting called Dreadnought.

Woo to the hoo.

Dreadnought is Cherie's "battlefield adventure about a widowed nurse from a Confederate hospital aboard a west-bound train pulled by a Union war engine — now with military intrigue, murderous plots, the treachery of spies, bushwackers, bandits, sabotage, and epic scenes of mayhem" book.

Color me excited, people!

To get a teaser to the Clockwork Century, you can read Cherie's story "Tanglefoot" over at Subterranean Online.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Nebula Award Nominee: "Don't Stop"

Don’t Stop
James Patrick Kelly
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Short Story

Lisa Schoonover sees dead people. Her mother, her old track coach, neighbors. Somebody she calls Crispin. Crispin follows her everywhere, even when she runs. “Don’t Stop” tours through Lisa’s life over the course of one run.

In terms of running, Kelly gets most of the details right. I’d quibble regarding stretching before a run vs after the run or after a warmup job, but that’s really minor. Nothing in “Don’t Stop” rings false. This includes the craziness Lisa has felt over forty years of seeing Crispin and how she has been unable (for various reasons) to hold a steady job and how her hometown as being slightly off-kilter. She is.

“Don’t Stop” is a low-key story. Mellow. James Patrick Kelly inserts the reader into Lisa’s life and makes Lisa and her situation feel real, as if we are reading a non-fiction narrative article in Runner’s World (probably not Running Times, though) instead of a short story.

The title, and how it plays out in the end, is a little…the word I want to use is “precious”, but I’m not sure that’s right. It’s a bit too neat, too simple, too resolved. Overall, though, “Don’t Stop” is a solid story. I don’t know that I would consider it a standout story for the year, but it’s good enough.

blogging the awards

Now that award season is in full swing I intend to step up my Award blogging. While I'm all kinds of not interested in the novel nominees for the Nebulas, I'm slowly working my way through the short stories and will crack out at the novelettes in short order.

Interspersed will be Hugo nominees as I get to them. Happily for me, I've read a small handful of them already and reviewed them, so I'll be able to work through that list quicker than I thought.

If there is anything in particular about either Award you'd like to see covered, please let me know and I'll see what I can do.

Oh, happy happy for Awards and for all the cool kids nominated.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Oh, and Metatropolis up for Hugo!

It's on the full list, but I tend to gloss over the Best Dramatic Presentations because it's about TV and movies and stuff...and I like those, but I pay attention to the Hugos for the stories.

Except, what I missed is that the audiobook of Metatropolis is up for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form!

METAtropolis features the fiction of John Scalzi, Jay Lake, Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell, and Karl Schroeder. It features the voice talent of the cast of Battlestar Galactica (well, Tigh, Dualla, and Gaeta + two others not from BSG).

When it was first released I wasn't sure if I could justify the purchase, but Subterranean will be releasing the print version of Metatropolis in a few months.

So, another hearty congratulations with a doubleshot because, as Jay Lake points out, this may be the first time an audiobook cracked the the category usually reserved for movies and the like.

(via Jay Lake, because I apparently can't be bothered to read the full list myself)

2009 Hugo Award Nominees

(via a very excited Mary Robinette Kowal)

Below are the nominees for the Hugo Awards for stuff published in 2008.

Best Novel
Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow
Saturn's Children, by Charles Stross
Zoe's Tale, by John Scalzi

Best Novella
"The Erdmann Nexus", by Nancy Kress (Asimov's Oct / Nov '08)
"The Political Prisoner", by Charles Coleman Finlay (F&SF '08)
"The Tear", by Ian McDonald (Galactic Empires)
"True Names", by Benjamin Rosenbaum and Cory Doctorow (Fast Forward 2)
"Truth", by Robert Reed (Asimov's Oct / Nov '08)

Best Novelette
"Alastair Baffle's Emporium of Wonders", by Mike Resnick (Asimov's Jan '08)
"The Gambler", by Paolo Bacigalupi (Fast Forward 2)
"Pride and Prometheus", by John Kessel (F&SF Jan '08)
"The Ray-Gun: A Love Story", by James Alan Gardner (Asimov's Feb '08)
"Shoggoths in Bloom", by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov's March '08)

Best Short Story
"26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss", by Kij Johnson (Asimov's July '08)
"Article of the Faith", by Mike Resnick (Baen's Universe Oct '08)
"Evil Robot Monkey", by Mary Robinette Kowal (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume 2)
"Exhalation", by Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
"From Babel's Fall'n Glory We Fled", by Michael Swanwick (Asimov's Feb '08)

Best Editor, Short Form
Ellen Datlow
Stanley Schmidt
Jonathan Strahan
Gordon Van Gelder
Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form
Lou Anders
Ginjer Buchanan
David G. Hartwell
Beth Meacham
Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Best Semiprozine
The New York Review of Science Fiction
Weird Tales

Best Fanzine
Banana Wings
The Drink Tank
Electric Velocipede
File 770

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Aliette de Bodard
David Anthony Durham
Felix Gilman
Tony Pi
Gord Sellar

For the full list, go here.

Congratulations to all the nominees, with special note to Elizabeth Bear (yay!), Mary Robinette Kowal (yay!), Paolo Bacigalupi, Lou Anders, John Klima (for EV's nomination), Weird Tales (yes, the whole magazine), Jonathan Strahan, and David Anthony Durham (in his final year of eligibility for the Campbell)

Nebula Award Nominee: "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss"

26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss
Kij Johnson
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Short Story

“Aimee’s big trick is that she makes twenty-six monkeys vanish onstage.”

So opens “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”, a story about Aimee and her 26 monkeys. Told in 24 short sections Kij Johnson tells of Aimee’s act, how Aimee got the act, about what kind of monkeys she has, what they do. Everything except where they go when the monkeys disappear. See, she doesn’t know. She bought the show for a dollar three years ago from a man who bought the show for a dollar four years prior. The show really belongs to the monkeys. The monkeys are just as much characters in this story as Aimee and her boyfriend Geof. They’re real monkeys, though.

The story is in turns clever, sweet, funny, and sad. After reading last year’s nominated story “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change” I was quite impressed with Kij Johnson’s storytelling skill and was curious to read more of her work. “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” is a story of one woman’s healing among a show full of performing monkeys – monkeys that accepted her, not the other way around.

It’s good. It’s really good. Last year’s story was one of my favorite nominated stories and after reading this, I expect “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” will be one of this year’s favorites.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Nebula Award Nominee: "The Button Bin"

The Button Bin
Mike Allen
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Short Story

This…is a disturbing story. “The Button Bin” begins with the line “You know he’s the one who made your beloved niece disappear.” Told in second person perspective, the story is the confrontation with the man who did something to your niece. Mike Allen personalizes things. I don’t have a niece, but for as long as it took to read “The Button Bin”, I did. Something happened to her. This man knows.

“The Button Bin” starts with you and the man, moves over to you and Denise (the niece) to give background and backstory, and then flicks back and forth in time – confrontation and history. The horror and disturbing tone to the story presents ideas about what happened to Denise without ever stating what happened. And then the story turns once more and the horror of the situation becomes even more real and nasty.

There are supernatural elements to the story, but they are almost irrelevant. They are important to the conclusion, but not quite as important and the relationship between you, Denise, and Lenahan.

Things are not simple and not pretty in “The Button Bin”. They are dark and nasty, but Mike Allen has written a compelling story, one that is worth the time to read.

“The Button Bin” was originally published in Helix, but is now available to read at Transcriptase.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Nebula Award Nominee: "Mars: A Traveler's Guide"

Mars: A Traveler’s Guide
Ruth Nestvold
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Short Story

“Mars: A Traveler’s Guide” is told entirely from the perspective of a voice-prompted computer program for a traveler’s guide intended for visitors to Mars. The story is told entirely through the entries of the travel guide and NOT from the perspective of a sentient computer program. Just wanted to clarify that bit of detail.

What I appreciate most is probably what marks me as at least somewhat immature. The reader never gets a chance to see directly what the user of the travel guide is saying, and the story jumps from topic to topic – often mid entry. But…what I appreciate is when the user gets frustrated with the travel guide. We can tell from the entries and from the response of the travel guide to what was said off the page.

Tours with Red Planet Adventures have been optimized for safety-
I’m sorry, did you say ‘vacuum’?
I’m sorry, I don’t understand the phrase, “no eye said fock cue.”
Would you like to select a new topic?

Oh, just delightful. And accurate. Users of such a guide probably would curse at the guide and the computer wouldn’t recognize the words (or, if well designed – would recognize and give snappy comebacks, but that’s another story).

At first “Mars: A Traveler’s Guide” appears to be a simple examination of certain aspects of travel that the savvy traveler would wish to be aware of. Safety and the like. Dust storms, fuel cells, pressurized rovers, safety considerations, bases.

Then realization dawns. Oh. This is about something else entirely and what was only slightly interesting at the start takes on a whole new level of meaning and readers might be interested in going back and reading those first pages to catch what’s going on. There is a reason for those particular topics and there is a progression of topics that tells a story beyond being a travel guide.

By the end I realized just how awesome and well constructed “Mars: A Traveler’s Guide” really was. I want to say more about it, but I don’t want to give away the goodness.

Well done, Ms Nestvold. You didn’t have me at hello, but you grabbed me by the end and made me reevaluate the entire story before realization dawned.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Fires of Heaven, by Robert Jordan

The Fires of Heaven
Robert Jordan

I still maintain that the answer to the question “Who Killed Asmodean?” is Bela, and that Bela is, in fact, the Creator. With that said, for all the times I have read The Wheel of Time and for all the times I have read the first five books of this series, I have still not been able to figure out who the hell killed Asmodean.

Supposedly the answer is somewhere in The Fires of Heaven. I can’t figure it out. Not with anything I would consider a reasonable theory.

It began in The Shadow Rising, but in The Fires of Heaven Jordan makes a point to show Rand as forcing himself to be “hard”, to do what he feels he needs to do in order to get to and survive the Last Battle. For readers (or, perhaps just for this reader) this begins a distancing effect towards Rand. A character forcing himself to be uncaring and hard is a difficult character to engage with. This is not so much of a problem because the side characters are the real stars of the show.

The Fires of Heaven, more than The Shadow Rising, is also where Jordan begins to slow down and drag out the series. At this point I do not mean that as a negative, but rather as my perception of the pacing of the storytelling and action. There is more sitting around and waiting. To be fair, The Great Hunt opened with a chapters-long waiting in Fal Dara sequence, but the perception becomes more pronounced here. Adam Whitehead had this to say about The Fires of Heaven and the story arcs Jordan appears to be using.

With The Shadow Rising, Robert Jordan moved The Wheel of Time series out of its 'adventure' arc into a 'political' phase as the characters finally moved into positions of high authority and influence amongst different nations and cultures, and could begin the process of uniting the world to face the Last Battle. Whilst adventure storylines would continue to appear, a lot more time from this point onwards would be spent on political maneuverings. Indeed, some storylines would unfold almost entirely within a character's office as they fired off letters, received intelligence, and debated strategy. That, at this stage anyway, Jordan is able to make this readable and compelling is a testament to his often-underrated storytelling skills.

I think Adam is spot-on here. This is more of a political phase. The Shadow Rising opened with the politics of Tear and moved into that of the Aiel. The Fires of Heaven opens with the Aiel and the growing threat of the Shaido Aiel and Couladin’s hatred and fear of what Rand represents and shifts focus slightly when Rand takes his Aiel across the Dragonwall into Cairhein and we get a combination of a siege and Cairhein politics. Cairhein, of couse, is a city / state that just cannot catch a break from the Aiel.

And yet, Robert Jordan does not provide the nitty-gritty of politics. What Jordan provides is Rand running rough-shod over Cairhein, just as he did Tear. Taking control through the strength of who and what he is. Through Rand’s need to be hard and his need to unite the nations behind him before the Last Battle. Through force, if needs be. The political aspect is there, and is only going to grow, but Jordan does not forget about major plotpoints and action.

There is a conversation between Mat and Lan in which Mat lays out strategy for a battle that closely mirrors what war-leaders came up with independently. Mat, of course, is nothing more than a young man from Emond’s Field who never saw war or danger until Moiraine saved the three from Trollocs and the Fade. Nothing more except a young man with memories of lives he never lived and unnatural luck. Mat has been a character who has become more and more interesting with each passing book, but now he becomes the general and leader he never wanted to be. There is no good reason why Mat should be this special, but he is and the novel (and series) is all the stronger for it.

Other moments of note that make The Fires of Heaven stronger as a whole than each of its individual parts might suggest: Rand and Aviendha (in general, but the…sequence through the snows of Seandar), Asmodean’s end, Nynaeve vs Moghedien Pts 2 and 3, Birgitte ripped out of TAR, the return to Salidar, Elayne performing in Valan Luca’s circus, the resolution of Couladin but not the Shaido, the Band of the Red Hand forming against Mat’s desires, Rand vs Rahvin, the use of balefire, and most importantly – Moiraine vs Lanfear. This last bit has set years of theory and rumor about the ultimate fate of Moiraine, a fate that for years was not addressed in series until Knife of Dreams opened that door again. There’s big stuff here.

The quiet moments of the novel, the ones where all the characters are waiting for something to happen? Well, that’s where The Fires of Heaven drags a bit. I still feel like the high point was in the first four volumes of this series, but The Fires of Heaven is overall still a satisfying novel. One which still pushes the reader into wondering what will happen next. One which isn’t perfect, but is still a good story, a good book. One which still raises more questions than answers, and that the questions are just as fascinating as the answers might ever be.

Unfortunately, I’ve put a stop to my official Nynaeve Braid Count. I wanted to keep track of it, but midway through the book I stopped paying attention to it and after I remembered I counted three by page 150 but nothing after it and that I wasn’t even looking. What disappoints me is that after googling this, I have not found an official count. I would really, really like a book-by-book breakdown of Nynaeve’s braid-tug-count, because unless it gets worse, I think it has been overstated by many (including myself). I just can’t verify the count in The Fires of Heaven. Sorry about that.

Previous Reviews
The Eye of the World
The Great Hunt
The Dragon Reborn
The Shadow Rising

Thursday, March 12, 2009

SSS: "Proof of Zero"

I'm not sure if "Proof of Zero" ended well or not. The story, written by David Schwartz, features a detective investigating a missing persons case. Increase Fermin, a playwright noted for her mathematical-inspired plays, has not called her roommate in two days and said roommate believes something is wrong. The police have not been helpful, but Detective Wotojowicz is there to do his thing. Ya know, investigate.

Numbers roll through the story, interrupting the narrative. "...274...", "...68...", and others alternate through "Proof of Zero". I've two thoughts on this. First, W- is somewhat compulsive about counting - so perhaps the numbers is an unexplained counting. Second, and more likely, they are somehow tied into Increase's disappearance. And yet - I'm not sure Schwartz ever gives a completely satisfactory answer to this. Or, he does and I simply did not understand it. This is just as likely.

"Proof of Zero" is a clever story, one which compels readers to try to figure out what is going on. "Proof of Zero" is an interesting story, but one which ultimately did not make a whole lot of sense to me. As such, it was not quite as satisfying as it otherwise could have been. Good, but not good enough.

This is the eighth story from Spicy Slipstream Stories.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fast Forward 2: "Cyto Couture"

That's what I get for not reading a bibliography page. I didn't realize Kay Kenyon wrote short stories. Apparently she does.

"Cyto Couture" is the second story in the Lou Anders edited anthology Fast Forward 2. Kenyon tells a story of a street boy being taken in to work in a couture garment factory, only since this is science fiction, the garments are grown rather than simply made. There is a question of how much Lorelei (the designer running the factory) knows about how Nat's extra loving care is affecting the cyto-garments, and that's what makes this story so fascinating.

Science fiction readers are used to bio-engineering and all sorts of cool things that might be possible in the future, and honestly, this is a path I can certainly see fashion going in once it is possible and reasonably affordable to produce.

What I didn't expect was the direction which Kay Kenyon took this story. I appreciate being genuinely surprised and "Cyto Couture" was a treat. It also features Kenyon's typically smooth, skillful, and invisible prose. She draws readers in without them how it happened.

I didn't write about the first story in Fast Forward 2, pretty much because I had nothing to say about "Catherine Drewe" and I wasn't over-impressed by it. This is an anthology I have high hopes for. Fast Forward 1 was one of my favorites of 2007 (though I didn't read it until 2008) and I thought it was the start to an exciting new anthology series. "Cyto Couture" assures me there will much to like in Fast Forward 2, even if it won't be every story.

Monday, March 09, 2009

February 2009: Short Stories Read

Here's my continuing list of stories I've read in 2009

8. “Blue Joe”, by Stephanie Burgis (Shimmer #10, 2009)
9. “The Carnivale of Abandoned Tales”, by Caitlyn Paxson (Shimmer #10, 2009)
10. “A Painter, a Sheep, and a Boa Constrictor”, by Nir Yaniv (Shimmer #10, 2009)
11. “One for Sorrow”, by Shweta Narayan (Shimmer #10, 2009)
12. “The Bride Price”, by Richard S. Crawford (Shimmer #10, 2009)
13. “Jaguar Woman”, by Silvia Morena-Garcia (Shimmer #10, 2009)
14. “Firefly Igloo”, by Caroline M. Yoachim (Shimmer #10, 2009)
15. “The Fox and the King’s Beard”, by Jessica Paige Wick (Shimmer #10, 2009)
16. “River Water”, by Becca De La Rosa (Shimmer #10, 2009)
17. “What to Do with the Dead”, by Claude Lalumiere (Shimmer #10, 2009)
18. “Spoils of Springfield”, by Alex Wilson (Shimmer #10, 2009)
19. “Counting Down to the End of the Universe”, by Sara Genge (Shimmer #10, 2009)
20. “The Call Girl Detective”, by Lori Selke (Spicy Slipstream Stories, 2008)
21. “Heroes Welcome”, by John Bowker (Spicy Slipstream Stories, 2008)
22. “Sequined with a Vengeance”, by Lisa Mantchev (Spicy Slipstream Stories, 2008)
23. “The Blue Shift”, by Joe Murphy (Spicy Slipstream Stories, 2008)

Because of the circumstances under which I received a copy of Shimmer #10, I didn't feel comfortable writing up individual story reviews or going into detail about the issue.

What I can say (and I am in no way affiliated with Shimmer) is that #10 was an excellent issue. I've never read Shimmer before, but having read an issue - this is something I'd actually pay for.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

February 2009 Reading

Here is the final tally for the books I read in February 2009. Unlike previous months / years, I'm going to keep the yearly count going rather than renumber each month. It's a trivial thing, really, so we'll see what I think of it.

11. Tempest – Troy Denning
12. The Shadow Rising – Robert Jordan
13. Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor – Matthew Stover
14. The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell
15. New Moon – Stephanie Meyer
16. So Yesterday – Scott Westerfeld
17. Last Days – Brian Evenson
18. Hand of Isis – Jo Graham
19. Shambling Towards Hiroshima – James Morrow
20. Sons of Heaven – Kage Baker
21. Duma Key – Stephen King

Graphic Novels
6. Transmetropolitan: Lust for Life – Warren Ellis
7. Uptown Girl: Black and White World – Bob Lipski
8. Serenity: Those Left Behind – Joss Whedon
9. Serenity: Better Days – Joss Whedon

The best books of February were The Sparrow and Hand of Isis. Easily. The Sparrow is without question one of the best books I'll have read all year. The Sparrow is on my longlist for year's best. (so is Hand of Isis, but I don't think it'll make the short list).

Worst book...well...if you guessed New Moon you'd be right.

Previous Reading

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Sacramento Book Review: March 2009

The March 2009 of the Sacramento Book Review is out and this issue has a heavier focus on SFF.

My review of Jo Graham's Hand of Isis is not in this issue, disappointingly enough. Good book, though. Worth checking out.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

SSS: "Little Black Dress"

Ooh, "Little Black Dress" was a surprise. The seventh story from Spicy Slipstream Stories opens with a grieving high-end prostitute locking her pain away into her heart and attending an exclusive party where her next client will be. Shirl, our prostitute, took those memories which caused her such pain and compressed "them into a hard little gem that lived in the middle of her heart" (pg 124).

My first thought was that this "hard little gem" was simply the analogy Carrie Vaughn chose to describe how Shirl compartmentalized her emotions so she could do what she had to do, but soon we learn that there is more to it. Like Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that, but the gem is more important than its utility as analogy.

Shirl herself is not a terribly engaging character, nor her is personal pain (sorry to say), but somehow the story works in spite of this. The character who ends up being the antagonist is no more compelling as a villain than Shirl as protagonist. What works is what I did not want to talk about so as to not spoil the story. What works is how Shirl's personal pain is a major part of the story. Not the pain, but the interaction.

That's very vague. I don't know how to talk about that better without giving away every detail of the story.

Having read four of Carrie Vaughn's six Kitty Norville novels, and a small handful of her short stories, I can say that "Little Black Dress" isn't Vaughn's most compelling work. It's got an interesting concept that is stronger than the rest of the story and that's enough to get by, but Carrie can and has done better (and I'm a fan, for what it is worth).

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

SSS: "Outside the Box"

That little theory I had about liking every other story? No sooner did I read the first page of "Outside the Box" did I know I was wrong.

Lynne Jamneck
's story is a hardboiled detective story, though the focus is more on the detective than the case. Fin talks the talk.

I can spot what you're thinking. That I got a soft spot for the ladies. Aren't you the smart-son-of-a-gun. Lookie here - you've gone and won a prize. But the prize ain't worth nothing so I'll just decline on your part. But stick around. Things could get saucy. I got a soft spot for that, too. - pg 108

"Outside the Box" has hardboiled detective style and it suckers the reader in. It is a comfortable, familiar rhythm that the narration has. It works because Lynne Jamneck does such a good job with the cadences of this style that I missed one rather important bit of characterization the first time around. Fin's "a girlie dick", a female private detective.

I'm not sure how that changes my reading of "Outside the Box". I know that it does demonstrate that my default is mostly male when a gender is not specified and the character is in a traditionally masculine profession. I can say that the realization did not alter my enjoyment of the story (either positively or negatively). It was just another detail - important but not one that knocked me off my game.

What matter was that even though I didn't really care about the investigation Fin was conducting on behalf of Stella I did care about Fin and that's what carries "Outside the Box".

For those keeping score at home, this is story #6 from Spicy Slipstream Stories. Not that this is an album and the track number really matters (though I do like the idea of anthologies being albums)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Shamblings Towards Hiroshima, by James Morrow

Shambling Towards Hiroshima
James Morrow
Tachyon: 2008

Summer 1945. No end to the war in the Pacific is in sight. Syms Thorley, a horror movie actor most often seen in a monster-suit or under layers of makeup, is recruited to join the war effort. Thorley joins Project Knickerbocker (but don’t talk about it in public, if you have to say something, say you’re working on the New Amsterdam project – yes, bonus joke there). Project Knickerbocker is a planned ending to the war with Japan, one that will end the war with a minimal loss of American lives. You know this story. You know what the secret weapon is.

Giant lizards.

Oh. Was that not what you expected?

Absurd, right? Welcome to Shambling Towards Hiroshima.

James Morrow wrote an absolutely absurd sort-of-alternate-history set in the waning days of the Second World War. The most absurd aspect of Shambling Towards Hiroshima is Project Knickerbocker and the Giant Lizards slated to invade Japan and wreak destruction upon large Japanese cities. Godzilla-like. This idea is the underlying concept of Shamblings Towards Hiroshima and it is pure delight. Yes, the specter of atomic bombs is ever-present. As is the knowledge that the Godzilla-flicks can be viewed as a partial response to America’s dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What kind of story is being told where rather than dropping atomic bombs America is considering dropping, so to speak, Godzilla on Japan?

What does that mean for how Shambling Towards Hiroshima will play out? The role of Syms Thorley in Project Knickerbocker is to once more don the suit of a giant monster. This time to portray the giant lizards so fiercely that Japanese diplomats will report the threat back to Emperor Hirohito and stop the war before the lizards ever need to be unleashed on Japan. Syms Thorley is used to great comic effect as he is a sarcastic mess who takes great pride in his work while taking little else truly seriously. Or, perhaps he just does not take himself seriously and this allows him to joke on everybody else. Regardless, Syms Thorley romps through Shambling Towards Hiroshima and makes reading about Project Knickbocker a joy. A joy that is tempered with a bit of sorrow of potential horror, of course, because what else is Godzilla but a nuclear allegory (and a product of nuclear fallout)?

Tachyon’s website (and the novel’s jacket copy) has this to say about Shambling Towards Hiroshima:

In the dual traditions of Godzilla as a playful monster and a symbol of the dawn of the nuclear era, Shambling Towards Hiroshima blends the destruction of World War II with the halcyon pleasure of monster movies.

It should go without saying that the above sentence is nothing more than promotional material designed to sell the book, but it won’t. It’s worth mentioning. It is also worth mentioning that the above sentence is also a very accurate summation of what readers can expect from Shambling Towards Hiroshima: a novel that is, on one hand, a short and pleasing read set mostly in a more innocent time, and on the other hand a thoughtful examination of the horror of how America ultimately ended World War II. It also suggests that no matter how the United States ended the war against Japan, there were likely other options in development which we have never heard about. Perhaps even giant fire breathing iguanas.

Reading copy provided courtesy of Tachyon Publications.

Monday, March 02, 2009

updated Nebula Ballot

Two stories were left off the Nebula ballot by mistake. My list has been updated, but here's the notice.


Added to the ballot: "The Ray-Gun: A Love Story", by James Alan Gardner and "Mars: A Traveler's Guide", by Ruth Nestvold.

I'll start reading the Nebula stories soonish and post commentary.

SSS: "The Fantastical Acquisition of the Sword of General Antonio Lopez De Santa Anna

Angeline Hawkes tells a story of a combined American / Mexican mission to stop Adolf Hitler from acquiring the sword of famed (and infamous) Mexican General and President Santa Anna. The year is 1938.

Quinn O'Reilly sometimes assists the Texas Rangers with missions that even they need help with. He joins with Anna Rosa Ramirez, a beautiful intelligence agent from Mexico, and with the assistance of Anna Rosa will try to stop Odell Roberts bring the stolen sword to Hitler. Posing as husband and wife, Quinn and Anna Rosa set up in a house near Odell's mother's home. The mother is their only link to finding Odell.

What works here is the initial air of mystery. The reader doesn't know why the sword is important, only that it must be found. Nothing happens until Quinn leaves to make his report to the Rangers, though this "nothing happening" is strangely the most compelling aspect of the story. After Quinn leaves Anna Rosa behind I had to sigh in frustration. Of course there is a rape in the story. Of course. Thankfully we never see the physical act on the page, but was it necessary to the story?

I don't know. But it bothered me. Not even simply in a moral sense - that's a given. I just don't think it serves the story.

Yes, yes, I'm sure this is something that fits in with the pulp nature of the story. I get it, maybe. The rape just felt too "easy" to include. Out of place. Unnecessary.

The rest of it, the resolution - good stuff. A little campy with the inclusion of Hitler himself, but that works. The twists presented in the rest of the story both fits in with the story and works as a narrative delight (especially the final one). Had I thought about the nature of the story as I was reading I probably could have predicted that final twist, but I was (and am) content to enjoy the story.

"The Fantastical Acquisition of the Sword of General Antonio Lopez De Santa Anna" is the fifth entry in Spicy Slipstream Stories. It's a good one.

This is only tangentally related to the anthology, but I'm noticing a trend forming. I like every other story. The Selke, Mantchev, and now the Hawkes. Stories 1, 3, and 5. Not so much stories 2 and 4. I don't expect this Bret Saberhagen odd-story trend to continue, but it struck me enough to mention.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Shadow Unit S2 premieres tonight

Just in case anyone wasn't paying attention or anxiously awaiting news of this, the season two premiere of Shadow Unit is tonight.

"Lucky Day", written by Elizabeth Bear and Emma Bull.


Edit: It's live. Up. Available. For your reading pleasure. Stop reading this. Go read that.