Friday, May 30, 2014

Thoughts on the Hugo Award Nominees: Short Stories

If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine, Mar-2013)
The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (, 04-2013)
Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)
The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (, 02-2013)

"The Ink Readers of Doi Saket": This is easily my least favorite of the nominees. There is nothing wrong with the story, but I just never quite connected to it, especially not like I did with the other nominees.  The story is somewhat charming, with the wishes being tossed in the river and answered by a village farther down the river.  I wouldn't recommend it to others, though, and maybe that's my line.

"Selkie Stories Are for Losers" (my review): Based on what I've been reading online about this story, about the Nebulas, and even about how some writers were talking about the Hugos, I would not at all be surprised if this story wins the Nebula this weekend. Samatar has received a lot of good press this year and this story is a very good one.  I feel that this one may be a favorite, even if it is not my favorite.  It is a wonderful story dealing with loss and leaving and not being where you belong.

"If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" (my review): Winner of the Nebula Award for Best Short Story.  I wrote the following as part of my Nebula coverage, and what I said then stands now: "It is no secret that I am a fan of Rachel Swirsky's fiction.  I've been reading her for years and I know each time I read one of her stories that there is a strong chance I am reading one of the best stories of any given year. It is a difficult reputation to live up to, but she does so, and on a consistent basis.  This one twists and breaks my heart and it's the one I've read multiple times and want to pass around and make sure that other people read this." 

"The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere" (my review): How I think about this story, at least in regards to the Hugo Award is a partial response to Rachel Swirsky's story. Swirsky's story is heartbreakingly beautiful and powerful, but it is less of a "story" than it is...well, I don't know exactly how to describe its form. Almost a poem.  "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere" is very moving in its own way, but it also works with a more traditional story format than Swirsky's story does.  Being "moving" or "heartbreaking" is not reason to regard a story by itself, but Chu's story is just flat out good. It's well constructed and builds to an emotional climax that fits the story being told. I'm lapsing into cliche, because taken down to its bare elements, a story is a story. But John Chu's story is worth remarking on and it is worth recommending. It is also worth a Hugo Award.

Minus the story from Thomas Heuvelt, this is a strong line-up of stories. When I wrote about the Nebula Awards, I incorrectly guessed that Sofia Samatar's story would be the winner, even though I would have voted for the eventual winner (Rachel Swirsky). This time, I think it is more likely that Rachel Swirsky wins the Hugo Award, but if I were voting, I would vote for John Chu's story first. But, with runoff voting, I think that Swirsky's story is likely to have the strongest following. However it turns out, there are three very good stories nominated for the Hugo Award, any of which would be worthy winners.

My Vote:
1. "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere"
2. "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love"
3. "Selkie Stories Are for Losers"
4. "The Ink Readers of Doi Saket"
5. No Award

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hugo Award Nominee: "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere"

"The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere"
John Chu February 2013
Nominated for the Hugo Award: Short Story

I spent enough time early in the story trying to work out exactly how the titular water works that I completely missed that the first sentence of the story explains exactly that.  Apparently I don't read for content.

The water that falls on you from nowhere when you lie is perfectly ordinary, but perfectly pure.

Nothing hidden there. Tell a lie, and water falls on you from nowhere.  It's weird and crazy and works very well as the foundation upon which the actual story is built.  The actual story is a love story and a fear story, an ordinary but terrifying story of both coming out to one's parents and also introducing your partner to your parents at the same time.

It's how Chu uses the water and lies that makes this story work so well.

“That’s some display you just did there, Gus.” I’m stalling. Stop that. “I don’t love you, not as much as you obviously love me.”

The water that falls on you from nowhere is freezing cold. 

Right. That's what he did there. It allows evasions and half truths and flat out lies to be demonstratively proven out as what they are to anyone around. It leads to payoffs later in the story with the parents, and with the use of the Chinese language and translations, and with how literal translations mean something specific. It leads to situations where it is important whether or not the water falls.  It suggests different sorts of openness in conversations, or new evasions that weave truth with falsehood.

The longer I sit and think about the story, the more impressed I am with what John Chu accomplished here. Something both achingly familiar and remarkably fresh at the same time. Something beautiful.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hild, by Nicola Griffith

Nicola Griffith
FSG: 2013

Who was St. Hilda of Whitby?  Everything that is known of St. Hilda comes from the Venerable Bede, who was born seven years before Hild's death in 680 AD, and all of that is five pages of text describing her life.  Nicola Griffith writes,
We don't know where Hild was born exactly and when her father died—or her mother. We have no idea what she looked like, what she was good at, whether she married or had children. But clearly she was extraordinary. In a time of warlords and kings, when might was right, she begins as the second daughter of a homeless widow, probably without much in the way of material resources and certainly in an illiterate culture, and ends a powerful advisor to statesmen-kings and teacher of five bishops. Today she is revered as St Hilda.

What sort of person must she have been?  What sort of woman?  What must she have faced?  Nicola Griffith uses the bare framework laid down by Bede some 1300 years ago, works within the guideposts of what we actually know to have occurred at that time, and fills in the gaps with how this all could have gone down. 

Who was St. Hilda of Whitby?  Nicola Griffith answers a different question: Who was Hild? 

Hild, as presented here, is a child, then a young woman, who presents herself as a "seer" who becomes the advisor of her uncle, Edwin, king of Northumbria.  It may not matter whether the visions that Hild presents are real, though the way Griffith writes them, the visions come across more as policy / suggestion presented as vision. They are ways to coerce Edwin into action as well as preserve and protect the place of Hild in his court. 

Throughout the novel Hild grows from a young girl to a woman of eighteen years, and while she has lived something of a charmed life, it has been a precariously charmed life. She has an importance and a place in her world that rises above the perception of her age and perhaps her gender (in that world), but that importance and surety of safety lies along a very thin thread: anger the king or fail with the wrong "prophecy" and she will be killed. 

Griffith takes this often brutal world and makes it come alive through her prose. Hild is a remarkable character, never anywhere close to perfect, but fully realized and growing all the while. But, it isn't just Hild that is a fleshed out character. From kings to warriors to peasants to slaves, Griffith presents each character as someone who might just have lived so many years ago, and with deft touches, those characters have their own lives that keep on going even when they are not on page. 

Hild is a beautifully written book, as remarkable in what it accomplishes as Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, only here Griffith has less source material to work with in fleshing out what this world of the 600's must have been like, with Christianity only beginning to take hold and become part of a conversation between kings and gods.  Griffith ends the novel with Hild still a young woman, not yet the woman or saint she will become, but a fascinating and important woman in her own right even still. 

A powerful novel on its own, Hild addresses the question of "who is Hild" but leaves the reader wondering still just how Hild becomes St. Hilda.  For that, we must wait, eagerly but patiently, for a future novel. Until that day, Hild comes highly recommended. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Julie Dillon: 2014 Hugo Nominated Artist Spotlight

Julie Dillon has been nominated for the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist, the 2012 World Fantasy Award for Best Artist, and is a two time Chesley Award winner for her art. 

One thing that I appreciate about Dillon's art is that I want to know more about the image. Take "Ariadne", for example. It references the minotaur and the labyrinth,but who is that woman?  Why is she in the maze, and what is she seeking? Is that red fabric a weapon or her guide back through the maze?  What's up with the other maze? 

Or, "Space Sirens".  What happened there? 

Julie Dillon's art makes you think about what's going on. Good stuff.

All images are used with permission of the artist.



Launch Point

Ministry of Changes

Space Sirens

Monday, May 26, 2014

Thoughts on the Hugo Award Nominees: Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Iron Man 3
Pacific Rim

Without trying, I have watched all of the Long Form nominees for Best Dramatic Presentation. I almost described this as "all of the movies" because that is how I often think of the category and is what typically ends up on the ballot, but it have to be so.  The category is for "a dramatized production in any medium, including film, television, radio, live theater, computer games or music. The work must last 90 minutes or longer (excluding commercials)", which is why since 2003 we have had nominations for Heroes: Season One, Game of Thrones: Season One, and the audio presentation of METAtropolis.  Of course, that is only three nominations in twelve years, so the original point still stands. 

At the bare minimum, I would select each of these movies above No Award.  So, there is that. 

Pacific Rim and Iron Man 3 both fall in the category, for me, of "it's fine".  I enjoyed Iron Man 3 much more than Pacific Rim, and most of that is due to the personality and presence of Robert Downey Junior. Also, Iron Man is probably my favorite of the Marvel comics I have read.  I'd watch it again.  But, I'm not sure I would hold it up as one of the truly best movies of the year. 

Frozen is a bit of a special case. I very much appreciate what it did, and if I have daughters in the next couple of years, I fully intend to buy a copy of the movie so they can watch it.  Out of all of the Disney films, I most appreciate that it isn't a straight up "princess movie" that requires the love of a man or being an adventure for boys, or relying on a man to save the day.  There's good stuff here.  I also rather enjoyed "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" more than "Let It Go".  This is a traditional Disney musical with some very modern sensibilities.  I am concerned, however, that I am now past the point where I can fully appreciate the Disney animated movies. I was at a perfect age (if a couple years older) to fall in love with The Lion King, and I just don't see that I can hit a Disney movie like that again. I probably couldn't recognize it.  But Frozen is good.  I just don't know if it is that good.  I can't tell.

Catching Fire is a solid followup to The Hunger Games. Jennifer Lawrence is excellent as Katniss and I expect to be at each of the next two movies on opening weekend. This is a very well done adaptation of the book and a good movie in its own right.

But, one of my favorite movies of last year, period, was Gravity. Sandra Bullock nailed the performance and the claustrophobic feeling of being alone in space, spinning out of control, was absolutely perfect.  This is absolutely my kind of movie and, I think, the best of the nominees.  It's been a while since I last watched Gravity, but my feeling of the movie hasn't changed since it was in theaters. 

My Vote
1. Gravity
2. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
3. Frozen
4. Iron Man 3
5. Pacific Rim
6. No Award

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Galen Dara: 2014 Hugo Nominated Artist Spotlight

Galen Dara is a 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fan Artist. This year she is nominated for Best Professional Artist. Suffice it to say that she is making her mark. 

As the Hugo Award season is in full swing, I want to highlight the nominated artists.

The final image is actually from 2014, but is so stunning I can't help but include it. The rest of the art is from 2013 and forms the basis of why Galen Dara was nominated for the Hugo Award. There is a haunting quality to her work. 

I had not been previously familiar with Dara's work, but in reviewing it for this post, I have been put on notice. I love what she does and the textures that she uses to create the art. Stunning. Just stunning.

All images are used with the permission of the artist. 

"Breathless in the Deep"    

"Always They Whisper"

"A City on It's Tentacles"

from Fireside Magazine

"Glitter and Mayhem"

"Abyssys Abyssum Invocat"

"Crow Witch"

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Coyote, by Allen Steele

Allen Steele
Ace: 2002

One of my favorite things in all of science fiction is a good colonization story.  Any chance to dream about mankind's first venturing out into the stars and find a new home is a welcome one.  There are so many different ways and political possibilities that lead towards sending out a colony ship to another world that even a mediocre novel can be thrilling to read.  The sending out of the ship, the (sometimes) generation ship and everything that can go wrong, waking up from stasis, the first landing and that wonder and fear, and the founding of the colony with its first days and years of struggle, all of it is compelling just from a conceptual standpoint. Do it well, however, and a writer can hook me from the word go. 

Allen Steele's 2002 novel Coyote is a fix-up of previously published stories, mostly from Asimov's. In pieces and from different perspectives, Steele tells the story of how a Captain in the United Republic of America set to lead a colony ship does just that, but also co-ops the jingoistic mission of the URA and leads a coup that switches out 50 of the colonists with "dissident intellectuals" who have been persecuted by the policies of the URA.  There is quite a bit more to the political situation back on Earth and the Second American Revolution, but while it informs the the situation in the novel, it is also the background material of the novel. But, this is the sort of thing that I enjoy, the future speculation of how our world changes.

Things go wrong, but not irrecoverably so, and so there is the challenge of a new world. 

The cover of the paperback edition I read had the tag "A Novel of Interstellar Exploration", and that is exactly the feeling that I got from Coyote.  Exploration.  Discovery.  Adventure.  Survival. 

To a point, a number of characters in the novel came across as a bit simple and one-note, and the resolutions to some conflicts also felt a bit too pat and neat, but reading Coyote left me wanting to read more.  Luckily, there are a number of other Coyote novels which follow this one.  Seeing how the colony adapts and changing political landscape is one of the treats of the novel (and of this sort of novel).  I look forward to the next Coyote novel from Allen Steele.

Monday, May 19, 2014

2013 Shirley Jackson Award Nominees

(via SF Signal)

This news is over a week old at this point, but I was out of the country on my much belated honeymoon, so I'll have to take a pass on not sharing.

The 2013 Shirley Jackson Award Nominees have been announced

In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, and with permission of the author’s estate, The Shirley Jackson Awards, Inc. has been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic.

The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco) 
American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett (Orbit) 
The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper (Orion-UK/ Simon & Schuster-US) 
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo (William Morrow) 
Night Film by Marisha Pessl (Random House) 
Wild Fell by Michael Rowe (ChiZine Publications)

Burning Girls” by Veronica Schanoes (
“Children of No One” by Nicole Cushing (DarkFuse)
“Helen’s Story” by Rosanne Rabinowitz (PS Publishing)
“It Sustains” by Mark Morris (Earthling Publications)
“The Gateway” by Nina Allan (STARDUST, PS Publishing)
“The Last Revelation of Gla’aki” by Ramsey Campbell (PS Publishing)
“Whom the Gods Would Destroy” by Brian Hodge (DarkFuse)
“Cry Murder! In a Small Voice” by Greer Gilman (Small Beer Press)
“A Little of the Night” by Tanith Lee (CLOCKWORK PHOENIX 4, Mythic Delirium Books)
“My Heart is Either Broken” by Megan Abbott (DANGEROUS WOMEN, Tor Books)
Raptors” by Conrad Williams (Subterranean Press Magazine, Winter 2013)
57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides” by Sam J. Miller (Nightmare Magazine, December 2013)
“Furnace” by Livia Llewellyn (GRIMSCRIBE’S PUPPETS, Miskatonic River Press)
“The Statue in the Garden” by Paul Park (EXOTIC GOTHIC 5, PS Publishing)
“That Tiny Flutter of the Heart” by Robert Shearman (PSYCHO-MANIA!, Constable & Robinson)
The Traditional” by Maria Dahvana Headley (Lightspeed, May 2013)
Before and Afterlives by Christopher Barzak (Lethe Press) 
Everything You Need by Michael Marshall Smith (Earthling Publications) 
In Search of and Others by Will Ludwigsen (Lethe Press) 
North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud (Small Beer Press) 
The Story Until Now by Kit Reed (Wesleyan)
The Book of the Dead edited by Jared Shurin (Jurassic London) 
End of the Road edited by Jonathan Oliver (Solaris) 
Grimscribe’s Puppets edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. (Miskatonic River Press) 
Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy edited by Ellen Datlow (Tor Books) 
Where thy Dark Eye Glances: Queering Edgar Allan Poe edited by Steve Berman (Lethe Press)

Congratulations to all of the nominees.  Winners will be announced on July 13.

While I will likely spend more time focusing on the Hugo Awards this summer, I do hope to also touch on the Shirley Jackson Awards a bit.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

2013 Nebula Award Winners


The 2013 Nebula Awards were given out last night. Below is the list of winners (full nominees can be found here):

Best Novel: Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
Best Novella: "The Weight of the Sunrise", by Vylar Kaftan
Best Novelette: "The Waiting Stars", by Aliette de Bodard (my review)
Best Short Story: "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love", by Rachael Swirsky (my review)
Ray Bradbury Award for Best Dramatic Presentation: Gravity
Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction: Sister Mine, by Nalo Hopkinson

Congratulations to all the winners.  I was not able to read either Ann Leckie's novel or Vylar Kaftan's novella before the awards, but I very much enjoyed and admired the stories from Aliette de Bodard and Rachael Swirsky. I have been a fan of both authors for years and I am very happy that each were recognized with Nebula Awards this year.  Congratulations again.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Thoughts on the Nebula Award Nominees: Novels

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (Marian Wood)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman (Morrow; Headline Review)
Fire with Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
Hild, Nicola Griffith (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Red: First Light, Linda Nagata (Mythic Island)
A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar (Small Beer)
The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker (Harper)

This is my final post covering the nominees of this year's Nebula Awards.  Very disappointingly, I was not able to read all of the nominees before the awards will be given this weekend, though I expect to read two of the three I missed sometime this summer. 

Though I did not get to read Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice for my Nebula reading, I will be reading it as part of my Hugo Award reading and coverage. That said, I would read this book regardless of nominations.  Likewise, I missed out on Hild, from Nicola Griffith. I am a fan of her work, and for reasons, I did not acquire the book when I thought that I might, and that threw a very large wrench into my plans. The other novel I did not get the chance to read was Linda Nagata's The Red: First Light. I am still not buying very many books right now, and because it was a self published novel, my library did not carry it. This was always the book that I was going to miss out on.

So, with those three novels not part of this conversation, what follows is some brief thoughts, with links to my reviews, of each of the nominees in reverse order of my esteem.

A Stranger in Olondria (my thoughts): I do very much recommend clicking through to my not-quite-a-review and following links there and looking at what other people, smarter than me, have to say about it. I expect that I am very much in the minority for this novel. I can see, sort of, what other readers appreciate in this, but I just can't get there myself.

Fire with Fire: I am not quite sure what to think about this book. It was intriguing enough that I wanted to keep reading and learn more about what is going on, but compared to the other nominees on this slate, it seems out of place and slight. This doesn't come across as Big Science Fiction like I think of Peter Hamilton or Alastair Reynolds, and it may be more accessible than either one of those two writers, but it also isn't nearly as good. Also, I was thrown off very early on with the protagonist's sexism towards a woman who was to be his corporate "guide" on the new world. I don't really expect or desire all characters to be upstanding citizens, but it was still jarring and offputting. Regardless of that, Fire with Fire was a fairly well crafted novel, just not one that I would put forth as one of the best of the year.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (my review): From my review: "This is a novel about memory and family, and yes about the secrets that people keep, even from themselves.  It is quietly beautiful and sad.  Fowler challenges the expectations of readers, both in what they think about the novel but also what they think about in general.  It is quite a challenge."

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (my review): This was very, very good. I think it might be one of the best things that Gaiman has written. I still haven't completely decided how to interpret the novel, whether as a recollection of events exactly as they happened, or the projection of very real fears by a child who cannot quite understand what he is struggling with. Either way, it is a wonderful novel.

The Golem and the Jinni (my review): Oh, how I love this novel. Helene Wecker cannot write her second novel fast enough, whatever it is going to be. This is a rich, vibrant novel, and I will recommend it to everyone I meet.

I do not have the faintest idea how the SFWA will vote for this award, and I will not be terribly surprised if A Stranger for Olondria wins the award, but I do think that The Golem and the Jinni was very much the strongest novel on the slate (out of the ones I have read). Ancillary Justice has been nominated for pretty much everything this year and I hold Nicola Griffith in the highest esteem, so I would like to see her win the Nebula just because she is a fantastic writer and I expect that Hild is a masterwork. But, I haven't read it. 

Overall, and this goes for the short fiction categories as well, I think that this was a very strong year for the Nebula Awards. Well done, SFWA.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Thoughts on the Nebula Award Nominees: Novellas

‘‘Wakulla Springs," by Andy Duncan & Ellen Klages ( 10/2/13)
‘‘The Weight of the Sunrise,’’ Vylar Kaftan (Asimov’s 2/13)
‘‘Annabel Lee,” Nancy Kress (New Under the Sun)
‘‘Burning Girls,’’ Veronica Schanoes ( 6/19/13)
‘‘Trial of the Century,’’ Lawrence M. Schoen (, 8/13; World Jumping)
Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean)

This is going to be somewhat of a disappointing post, but given that I have had to pre-schedule my Nebula wrap up posts due to the vacation that I am currently on (picture me on an island, on a beach, with a delicious drink in my hand), I also very much ran out of time to do much with my reading of the Nebula nominated novellas. 

By "do much", I mean "read anything other than Cat Valente's novella".   I have downloaded the available stories; so I have everything except for the Nancy Kress, which is also not available through my library system or through interlibrary loan. 

Six-Gun Snow White (my review): On my ballot of one, Valente wins?

Having only read one of the nominated stories, I don't have much of an emotional stake in this.  "Wakulla Springs" has also been nominated for a Hugo Award, and I will read it as part of my coverage of that award (I promise).  I have seen unfailingly positive comments directed towards it as well, but I have also seen folks talking up "Burning Girls", so I don't know.

On the other hand, if I'm only aware of a fraction of who is speaking online, anything could surprise me.  I would expect the award to go to either Duncan / Klages, Schanoes, or Valente. 

I would like to say that I will absolutely get to all of the nominated stories after the awards are given out this weekend, but since I will begin my Hugo reading as early as possible, I suspect that I will miss out on most of these stories. The exception to this is that I will try to read whatever story wins the award, assuming that it is not Catherynne Valente's story. 

Tomorrow: Novels!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Thoughts on the Nebula Award Nominees: Novelettes

‘‘Paranormal Romance,’’ Christopher Barzak (Lightspeed 6/13)
‘‘The Waiting Stars,’’ Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky)
‘‘They Shall Salt the Earth with Seeds of Glass,’’ Alaya Dawn Johnson (Asimov’s 1/13)
‘‘Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters,’’ Henry Lien (Asimov’s 12/13)
‘‘The Litigation Master and the Monkey King,’’ Ken Liu (Lightspeed 8/13)
‘‘In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind,’’ Sarah Pinsker (Strange Horizons 7/1 – 7/8/13)

Today I continue my coverage of the Nebula Awards with my second post, this time doing a wrap-up of the Novelette category. As with the short stories, I was able to read all of the nominees this year, which makes writing and thinking about the category much easier.  I will talk a little bit about each one in reverse order of how I felt about the stories, with links to anything I previously wrote about them. 

"Paranormal Romance" (my review): I mentioned in my review of "Paranormal Romance" that I would like to read more stories dealing with Sheila and Corinne, and that remains true today. There is nothing wrong with this story, but it just doesn't feel as strong or as immediately important as the other stories. That's not a flaw, but in evaluating for an award, it isn't enough.

"The Waiting Stars" (my review): This is where things begin to get difficult for me. I'm a fan of what Aliette de Bodard writes and she seldom disappoints, nor did she here. I very much like this sort of fiction, and I could flip this with the next story very easily, but today, this is where I would place it if I had a Nebula ballot. It's very good, though, so please don't assume placement is indicative of quality. The bar is raised here.

"They Shall Salt the Earth with Seeds of Glass" (my review): If there is any chance that Johnson is going to write more "glassman" novels, please sign me up to be one of the first readers to get a copy. There is so much room here for additional stories and she hooked me fairly early in wanting more and wanting to know more.

"In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind" (my review): I'll quote myself: "This is a moving, emotional story.  It is beautiful, and at touches, heartbreaking.  But the heartbreak here is not the raw heartbreak of some of the nominated short stories, but more that of a long life well lived that is very much in its last moments, whether those moments are days or years.  The heartbreak is also in the loss of an ambition and the cause for it.  It hints at some of the American mythology and legends that we don't really believe, though we tell ourselves, "maybe.""

"Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters" (my review): Ask me tomorrow, and this may be my choice for the best story on the Novelette slate. Also, as much as I want that Alaya Dawn Johnson novel that probably isn't going to happen, I really, really want the subsequent Pearl novel that Henry Lien is currently shopping out. I am told that the tone will be different, but it'll be a direct sequel. I absolutely cannot wait and I hope it sells fast, for a lot of money, and we get many more.

"The Litigation Master and the Monkey King" (my review): As I mentioned for the Lien story, I could easily flip these two on any given day and feel good about the decision. It's probably best that I'm not a member of SFWA with a vote.  This is the story I read most recently, and I may be struck by the emotions of reading the story, but as with many of Ken Liu's stories, this one is just really damn good. Liu is one of the finest short story writers we have working today and this is another excellent tale.

If I had to guess, and why else am I doing this if not to do exactly that, the award will go to either Ken Liu or Henry Lien. If I had a vote, this list is how I would vote, but I feel fairly good about the relative quality of all of the stories and how I can see SFWA members voting. Sometimes it is tougher, where I just cannot connect to a story that I know a lot of other people will (I feel that way about a number of stories from Charles Stross). Overall, though, this was a solid lineup of stories, and one well worth reading.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Thoughts on the Nebula Award Nominees: Short Stories

‘‘The Sounds of Old Earth,’’ Matthew Kressel (Lightspeed 1/13)
‘‘Selkie Stories Are for Losers,’’ Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons 1/7/13)
‘‘Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer,’’ Kenneth Schneyer (Clockwork Phoenix 4)
‘‘If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,’’ Rachel Swirsky (Apex 3/13)
‘‘Alive, Alive Oh,’’ Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (Lightspeed 6/13)

With the Nebula Awards to be given out this coming weekend, I would like to discuss the nominees with a series of wrap-up posts.  This first one is for the short stories. Happily, I have read all of the stories this time around and as a whole found this to be a solid line up.  I will talk a little bit about each one in reverse order of how I felt about the stories, with links to anything I previously wrote about them.

"Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer" (my review): This was always going to be a tough sell for me as fiction about art and the formatting of program notes is just something that I have a difficult time engaging with.  This was easily my least favorite of the stories and there is a pretty noticeable gap between how I felt about this one and the other four.

"The Sounds of Old Earth" (my review): This is where putting the stories in any type of ranking is madness and becomes frustrating. I like all four of the remaining stories and they each impinge upon a different part of my heart and on what I like about fiction.  They all do different things.  But, I think the Kressel story, as much as I like it, takes up a smaller part of my heart than the rest. I like this damn story.

"Selkie Stories Are for Losers" (my review): Based on what I've been reading online about this story, about the Nebulas, and even about how some writers were talking about the Hugos, I would not at all be surprised if this story wins the Nebula this weekend. Samatar has received a lot of good press this year and this story is a very good one.  I feel that this one may be a favorite, even if it is not my favorite.  It is a wonderful story dealing with loss and leaving and not being where you belong.

"Alive, Alive Oh" (my review): Ask me on a different day, and I might flip this and the Samatar, but today it goes like this.  I loved this story for what I had to imagine between the lines, for all of the story left untold that I so very much wanted to know about, that I was almost desperate to know about.

"If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" (my review): It is no secret that I am a fan of Rachel Swirsky's fiction.  I've been reading her for years and I know each time I read one of her stories that there is a strong chance I am reading one of the best stories of any given year. It is a difficult reputation to live up to, but she does so, and on a consistent basis.  This one twists and breaks my heart and it's the one I've read multiple times and want to pass around and make sure that other people read this.

My guess is that the Sofia Samatar story is the one that will win the Nebula and that Matthew Kressel will be the runner up.  My heart, however, does belong to Rachel Swirsky's story.  It was easily the most moving and impactful story of the nominees, which isn't necessarily a marker for how "good" a story is but it is what made it the most remarkable.  Overall, though, this was a solid lineup of fiction.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Next Week

Since I will be on vacation and very much away from the computer beginning tomorrow morning, I want to give a heads up as to what to expect next week.  Nebula Coverage!  Are you excited?  I know I'm excited.

Monday through Thursday, I have scheduled posts for the short story, novelette, novella, and novel categories.  If you've been following along, you'll have seen reviews / discussion on most of the individual stories and novels (with the exception of Charles Gannon's Fire With Fire which I will finish tonight and not have a chance to do a full write-up on - which is a shame, because I have things to say about it today and probably won't when I come back from a nice restful island vacation. I've never had one of those).  Next week will be the category wrap-ups. 

I'm looking forward to beginning the Hugo Award coverage when I return. I have some good stuff planned for later this summer with all of the artists (right now there are two artists for which I have not yet secured permission to use their work).

With that said, I am still bringing some books along with me. I expect to do some beach reading, as well as seven hours of transit time each way.  I may not finish them all, but I expect to clear at least four of them.  Probably five.

Insomnia, by Stephen King
Starfish, by Peter Watts
Code of Conduct, by Kristine Smith
Liavek, by Will Shetterly and Emma Bull (editors)
Coyote, by Allen Steele
The Disappeared, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
The Iron Khan, by Liz Williams

The Iron Khan is an old Night Shade ARC back before they didn't publish it, though it is my understanding from editor Marty Halpern that the Night Shade ARC matches what Morrigan later published as an e-book.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

To Re-read or not to Re-read?

Inspired by Paul Weimer's recent Mind Meld column over at SF Signal, I was thinking about what I re-read and how I've changed over the years in terms of what I reread and why.  The BBC also explores this idea in an article from early March.

When I was younger, I was a constant re-reader.  Depending on my age, I had limited options to get to new books, so I read my favorites over and over again.  I lived in Bayport and followed the Hardy Boys on their various adventures.  When I was a little bit older and now living in a small town with a pretty good library just a short(ish) walk or bike ride away, I discovered fantasy and the magic of Piers Anthony and David Eddings, and I would read those books again and again and again and again. 

In part, this was because I knew that I loved those novels and discovering something new can sometimes be difficult, especially in a small town library.  My librarian did a good job in leading more towards new and different books and series, but I think there is just something about being a kid that pushes a you to read something over and again. 

Now that I'm in my thirties, I read differently.  Not just different books, though what I appreciate now does not fully line up with what I appreciated then, but just differently.  Maybe I look at time differently.  While I expect to live another fifty plus years (unless I am, in fact, immortal), the acting of reading the same books and series over and over again means that I am not discovering something new and awesome. If all I read were Raymond Feist and Katherine Kurtz and Robert Jordan, would I have ever discovered Elizabeth Bear and Elizabeth Moon and Katherine Kerr?  There is so many good books out there that I just haven't read, and more are published every year.  It's not even an attempt to keep up, it's just an unending flood of awesome. 

The other thing that has changed how I reread is simply that I don't enjoy many of the things I enjoyed when I was younger.  I'm glad of the journey and I remember the excitement I felt when I read Night Mare by Piers Anthony, and the journeys I took with young Garion his Aunt Pol while reading The Belgariad.  But when I try to read some of these books that I perhaps overindulged in years ago, I can remember those feelings, but I don't feel them again.  I'm looking for something different, though I imagine I will still visit those worlds one more time in the coming decades, perhaps just to say good bye and thank them for the memories. Or, perhaps I will read them to my children and discover anew the magic. But right now it doesn't feel the same.

But that's the cool thing. Reading changes as I change, and there will always be something new (or old) and exciting to find or rediscover.

But what do I re-read now? 

Several years ago I did a re-read of The Wheel of Time, beginning (obviously) with The Eye of the World and continuing on right up to the publication of The Gathering Storm.  It was a big push because I wanted to come into the final books having recently read what came before.  At this point, I don't know when I would do another full series re-read, but given that it is one of my favorites, I'm sure I will.  In another ten or so years. 

More gradually, I have been re-reading A Song of Ice and Fire in preparation to read A Dance With Dragons.  I didn't want to come into that volume cold, and will finally be current with the series later this summer.  This still leaves me a potentially long wait until Book 6, but those are the perils of reading ongoing series.

I am working through Melanie Rawn's Dragon Prince and Dragon Star trilogies.  This year I finished The Star Scroll and Sunrunner's Fire after a long gap between the first and second volumes.  I look forward to, with a hint of sadness, rediscovering that world in the Dragon Star novels.

Thinking about what I'm re-reading and what I want to re-read right now, I think it has to do with what has left a lasting impression on me and also that I haven't read the books at all recently. Before starting the Dragon Prince re-read, it had been a good ten years since I read the series. I am thinking of doing Anne McCaffrey's Crystal Singer novels, and it's been even longer for those.  Where, on the flip side, I can hold off on Raymond Feist's early Riftwar novels because as wonderful as they are, I've only recently finished the series and I need a much longer break. 

Outside of genre, I plan to re-read Louise Erdrich and possibly Alison McGhee, but those are two of my favorite authors. 

I re-read to discover old favorites and see how they hold up to my memories, to experience them anew one more time.  To revisit old friends.  I re-read now for the same reason, it's just that the desire to visit some friends has changed.

Monday, May 05, 2014

The Five Percent Rule?

Over at Clarkesworld, Neil Clarke has an editorial discussing his proposal to do away with the five percent rule in regards to Hugo Award nominations.  The five percent rule is simply that in order to make the final ballot, a nominee must have a minimum of 5% of all nominating ballots for its particular category, and also be in the top five of total nominations.

Though I'm not going to quote the entire essay (you can click on the above link), I do want to note some things that Clarke talks about.  He uses examples of 2011 and 2013, two previous years when the short story category had fewer than five nominees, as  has also happened this year. But, where we do not yet know the nomination counts from this year's Hugo Awards, we do know those of the previous years.

Clarke notes
One of the effects of the five percent rule is that it helps prevent an over-abundance of nominees in a category when there is a flat pool of nominations. In 2011, the rule eliminated one story and did not prevent a tie, but in 2013, it prevented a four-way tie for fifth place that would have resulted in eight nominations.
One of the issues is that of perception.  When only three stories meet the five percent rule, as occurred in 2013, it looks bad for the Hugo Awards and for science fiction.  It looks like there were only three stories that were "good" enough to garner a nomination. The truth is obviously more complicated than that, with only three stories surpassing the five percent rule, a fourth story with only four fewer votes than the third, and four stories a mere two fewer votes than fourth. The five percent rule says that only those stories securing five percent of the nominating ballots will make the final ballot.

If we simply do away with the five percent rule, as Jason Sanford has suggested this year and last, we would have had eight nominees in 2013, which is just as bad as having only three.  Not everyone would agree with that opinion, but I share Clarke's thought that too many nominees is equally broken as too few.

This is where Clarke's proposal takes shape.
The solution I’d like to put forward is to drop the five percent rule, place an upper cap of six nominees and instate a tie-breaker rule. In cases where there are seven or more, we simply eliminate works tied for the last available spot. For example, in 2013’s four-way tie for fifth place, all four would be eliminated. There would have been four nominees, instead of the three allowed under the current rules. In 2011, these rules would have provided us with five nominees. 

I like it.

Cheryl Morgan pointed out last year that without the 5% rule, with some of the less popular categories, the cut off Fan Artist in 2007 was 8 votes at 5%.  All of the nominees were well over that minimum required margin, but it was still possible for a nominee to only have 8 votes and make the ballot.  Without the 5%, it would be possible for a nominee to have fewer than 8 nominations.

I see the point, and I do understand that as the nominating pool grows, it may become harder to reach that five percent bar and with Clarke's proposal, there is still a chance of having a nominee with a relatively small number of votes.

I think that the risk of this is acceptable.

No system is perfect.  I think that Clarke's proposal mitigates the risk, because the more diffuse the votes, the more likely a tie - and the proposal deals with ties that stretches the maximum number of nominees over six. Eliminating those ties from the ballot would likely also eliminate those with less than five percent of the vote and with a relatively small number of nominating ballots.

It would be a small step forward. 

Friday, May 02, 2014

Books Read: April 2014

Below is a listing of the books I read in the month of April.  All links go to my reviews.

1. The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker
2. The Complete Peanuts: 1989-1990, by Charles M. Schulz
3. The Steerswoman, by Rosemary Kirstein
4. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler
5. Lexicon, by Max Barry
6. Fort Freak, by George R. R. Martin (editor)

Best Book of the Month: The Golem and the Jinni. This is just spectacularly good book and, shockingly, it is a first novel.

Disappointment of the Month: None, really.

Discovery of the Month: The Steerswoman. I can't remember in what context I saw some recommendations for this, but I'm very glad that I did.

Worth Noting: For no real reason that I can figure out, I only finished six books this month. For some, that is several months worth of reading. For me, it is a very low month, and it only hit that number because I finished both Lexicon and Fort Freak on the 30th. I expect next month to be noticeably better. I have a week long vacation and I'm bringing a small stack of at least seven books. Hey, I have a noticeable amount of time in airports and on planes. If the first flight out didn't leave at 6:30 in the morning, I would say that I'd for sure finish at least one book before I ever got to where we're going. 

Previous Months

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Ancillary Justice wins the 2014 Arthur C Clarke Award

Via and Twitter, Ann Leckie's novel Ancillary Justice has won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, which is annual award for the Best Science Fiction novel published in Britain during the previous year. 

The other nominees were

God’s War by Kameron Hurley (Del Rey)

The Disestablishment of Paradise by Phillip Mann (Gollancz)
Nexus by Ramez Naam (Angry Robot)
The Adjacent by Christopher Priest (Gollancz)
The Machine by James Smythe (Blue Door)

Congratulations to Ann Leckie.

Lexicon, by Max Barry

Max Barry
Penguin: 2013

I first heard of Max Barry back in 2013 when he published Jennifer Government and part of the publicity was this Nation States game that I played for a while, though I never quite got around to reading the book. But, Lexicon was selected as the May selection for Books and Bars, the book club I regularly attend. It was an excellent choice, and should let to a great conversation.

Lexicon has a fascinating premise: What if humans can be decoded and commanded like computers?  If, depending on personality type, there is a set of root command words that if spoken, will reset (to a point) a person's brain and allow the speaker to tell that person what to do and that command will be obeyed.  Throughout the course of the novel, readers see examples of this from something as silly as standing on one foot and hopping all the way up to forcing someone to kill.

Max Barry has two alternating storylines: That of Wil Parke being assaulted in an airport and going on the run to escape people that he doesn't know from kidnapping him for reasons he also doesn't know, and of Emily Ruff, a teenager living on the streets and conning people out of their money by running card games.  Emily is recruited into an organization that trains people to use those command words to control people, though she doesn't know why.  Wil is simply trying to stay alive and figure out why he was being attacked at all, and why a man named Eliot is helping him. 

Of course the two stories are connected, it would likely be a fairly crappy novel if they remained independent the entire time. How they connect is important, and there are a couple of references early on that suggest in just what way they connect. Depending on when readers pick up on the true connection (and it isn't simply the organization of "poets" that can control people), there may be more of an interest in figuring out how the characters got to those points before the author actually gets them there.

Conceptually, this is a friggin cool novel. It is also a very well executed and fast paced novel that keeps the reader looking for and wanting more.  I don't know if this should be properly called a techno-thriller or a biblio-thriller or what, exactly, but whatever it is, it is a good one. 

Max Barry continually mixes up the readers expectations for who these characters are and what their motivations might be, as well as flipping the script on what is about to happen next. The reader is always on edge, not quite knowing what to expect. It's damn effective and very well done. How the novel touches on and connects to mythology (babel events) is fascinating, and it's part of how Barry weaves the ability of the "poets" into a historical context that further grounds the story in a shadow conspiracy of realism, and once again, it works fabulously.

The end result here is that I should read more Max Barry.  Also, I can't wait for the next Books and Bars to see what people have to say about this book.