Saturday, February 20, 2016

2015 Nebula Award Nominees

Picked this up from Below are the nominees for the 2015 Nebula Awards (presented in 2016). I'll probably have some initial thoughts on the nominees this coming week. I will provide links to as many of the stories as become freely available online.

Congratulations to all the nominees.

Raising Caine, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu (Saga)
Uprooted, Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, Lawrence M. Schoen (Tor)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)

Wings of Sorrow and Bone, Beth Cato (Harper Voyager Impulse)
‘‘The Bone Swans of Amandale’’, C.S.E. Cooney (Bone Swans)
‘‘The New Mother’’, Eugene Fischer (Asimov’s 4-5/15)
‘‘The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn’’, Usman T. Malik ( 4/22/15)
Binti, Nnedi Okorafor (
‘‘Waters of Versailles’’, Kelly Robson ( 6/10/15)

‘‘Rattlesnakes and Men’’, Michael Bishop (Asimov’s 2/15)
‘‘And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead’’, Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed 2/15)
‘‘Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds’’, Rose Lemberg (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 6/11/15)
‘‘The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society’’, Henry Lien (Asimov’s 6/15)
‘‘The Deepwater Bride’’, Tamsyn Muir (F&SF 7-8/15)
‘‘Our Lady of the Open Road’’, Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s 6/15)

Short Story
‘‘Madeleine’’, Amal El-Mohtar (Lightspeed 6/15)
‘‘Cat Pictures Please’’, Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld 1/15)
‘‘Damage’’, David D. Levine ( 1/21/15)
‘‘When Your Child Strays From God’’, Sam J. Miller (Clarkesworld 7/15)
‘‘Today I Am Paul’’, Martin L. Shoemaker (Clarkesworld 8/15)
‘‘Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers’’, Alyssa Wong (Nightmare 10/15)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation 
Ex Machina
Jessica Jones: AKA Smile
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
Seriously Wicked, Tina Connolly (Tor Teen)
Court of Fives, Kate Elliott (Little, Brown)
Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge (Macmillan UK 5/14; Amulet)
Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace (Big Mouth House)
Zeroboxer, Fonda Lee (Flux)
Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older (Levine)
Bone Gap, Laura Ruby (Balzer + Bray)
Nimona, Noelle Stevenson (HarperTeen)
Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

1634: The Baltic War, by David Weber and Eric Flint

1634: The Baltic War
David Weber and Eric Flint
Baen: 2007

1634: The Baltic War is the direct sequel to Eric Flint and David Weber's novel 1633, which should make it the third novel in Flint's 1632 Universe except between the publication of 1633 and 1634: The Baltic War, Flint published three additional novels as well as an anthology set in this universe. This could complicate things, and though we are certainly never wrong to read in publication order, Eric Flint has a very handy "recommended reading order" on his website which he helpfully updated this year. That's the reading order which I am following.

As a brief re-introduction to the series, the 1632 novels posit an alternate history where a small West Virginia mining town from the year 2000 is sent back and sideways in time to the year 1631 and moved geographically to a region in central Germany in the midst of the Thirty Years War. With no way home, this community of hard working, blue collar twentieth century Americans intends to survive, adapt, and perhaps kickstart the American Revolution just a little bit earlier than in our universe. 

Despite being fairly early in both the internal chronology as well as in the overall publication order, it is easy to see why so many offshoot novels have been published outside of the "main line" of the series. 1634: The Baltic War sees story threads taking place in London, Copenhagen, central Germany, and on the ironclad ships working their way from Madgeburg into the Baltic Sea. It would be somewhat of a mistake to describe the novel as "unfocused", but as the various characters begin to move around Europe and work on behalf of the United States of Europe, the separate storylines do not necessarily come together or build together.

This works, because if you're reading 1634: The Baltic War, you've at least read 1632, 1633, the Ring of Fire anthology and possibly / probably the other novels published before this one due to the delays of Flint and Weber coordinating their schedules to get this book done. If you're reading 1634: The Baltic War, you're invested in the characters and the world and are looking to see how the political situation develops, how the ironclads will crush everything they come across, if the captives get out of the tower, and everything else surrounding the novel.

The pacing may be a bit slower than the two previous novels, but whether it is the larger moments of actually seeing the ironclads in action or the smaller moments of Thorsten Engler trying to figure out how to propose to Caroline Platzer, Weber and Flint do a heck of a job in nailing all of the beats of the story, mixing in humor, action, drama, and anything else you might want, and telling a story you don't quite want to end after 700+ pages. Good thing there are still another dozen or so novels to keep this going.

Readers of 1632 and 1633 know exactly what they are getting with 1634: The Baltic War. I'm not sure this is the novel to introduce the series to new readers as it directly picks up story threads from the previous novels,  but it will satisfy readers who are still along for the ride.

One of the most interesting (to me) things that Weber and Flint accomplished in 1634: The Baltic War is that they have made John Simpson not only a sympathetic character, but a likeable one. Simpson was introduced in the first novel, 1632, as an autocratic CEO who seemed to exist to contrast the leadership of Union Leader Mike Stearns. Simpson was set up as a minor villain, an out of touch "suit" compared to the workboots on the ground miners and union shop workers and one who quickly lost the first power struggle in Grantville. However, because Simpson had not only served as a Naval officer in Vietnam, but also had great success in running a large corporation, Mike Stearns appointed Simpson to create Grantville's Navy.

It would be very easy to argue that the primary reason Simpson has become likeable is that he is coming to appreciate the leadership of Mike Stearns - and while that is true, what is also happening is that over the course of several years in universe, the reader is seeing a very competent man do absolutely stellar work in building the Navy, building the ironclads, and running the Navy. We see John Simpson's positive qualities, and yes, it is tempered by the softening relationship with Mike Stearns. But, that relationship goes both ways, and overall the two men grow to appreciate what the other does well. It's the overall growth of John Simpson that is one of the many things Weber and Flint do so well in 1634: The Baltic War.

Though many of the characters in the series have a large amount of American idealism, they become tempered by the reality of the new situation they find themselves, though this does not cause them (yet) to stop striving to quite literally change the world. I continue to be fascinated by what Eric Flint is doing with this series and I so very much want to see how he changes the history of Europe (and the world?). I am curious, though, if there is an end point plotted out for the series and if there is a plan to see what and how these changes wrought by dropping modern Americans into the 1600's will impact the next two three hundred years. What does the world look like the late 1700's with Grantville's influence? What about in 1942? It doesn't matter for my enjoyment of these novels, but I'd love to know what happens over the course of the rest of this world's history.

Previous Reviews

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Slow Bullets, by Alastair Reynolds

Slow Bullets
Alastair Reynolds
Tachyon: 2015

Slow Bullets opens with a soldier (Scur) being captured and tortured at the tail end of a war, after a cease fire is declared. When she wakes, she finds herself in a pod on a ship and doesn't know how or why she got there. By this point, things have already gone very wrong and they're about to get worse. The ship is populated by soldiers from both sides of the war, not much crew, and the various systems on the ship are gradually failing.  Oh, and everyone has been asleep for much longer than they could have imagined.

Once the initial conflict of Scur and her torturer (also on the ship) is mostly resolved, Reynolds gets us to the heart of the real conflict: what happens when civilization breaks down? We're talking about the ship, but we're also not because the ship is orbiting a planet that has seen better days.  So has that corner of the galaxy, for that matter. Whether on the micro scale of the ship or the macro scale of the galaxy, Slow Bullets is a story of survival. There is a looming sense of dread that pervades the novella, with the very real chance that what is left will be a derelict husk of a ship orbiting a dead planet waiting for someone else to come by and benefit from the information left behind. This works and it works very well.

After the groan inducing realization of "of course Scur's torturer is on the ship!", Reynolds settles down and ratchets up the tension bit by bit as the survivors choose which memories and personal and cultural knowledge they might need to give up to serve the greater good, to allow for the greatest chance of survival.  It's fantastic.

The novella's title comes from the idea of "slow bullets" that are capsules containing a wealth of knowledge and information and memory that can be inserted into an individual's leg and it will then ever so slowly travel painlessly through the body until it comes to rest in that person's chest, which is a fascinating concept.


Wednesday, February 03, 2016

NoaF: The Fifth Season and Other Stuff

Hey kids!

I'd like to point you to another review that I did (!!!) over at Nerds of a Feather. This time, I've reviewed N. K. Jemisin's phenomenally good The Fifth Season. Seriously, the more I think about it, the more I like the book. If had read it last year, it would be the top book on my 2015 list. It's that good.

In other news, I contributed to the collected Nerds of a Feather Hugo Recommendation Longlists and even did the work compiling / formatting two of them!. Here are the links to parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Even more exciting (and I'm really excited about this), I set up two mini interviews in the 6 Books Series with authors Charlie Jane Anders and Lois McMaster Bujold. Pretty awesome, y'all.

Coming up, I have a review of Larry Correia's Son of the Black Sword, my next entry in my Reading Deryni Series, a joint conversation what we might expect to see in Star Wars VIII next year, a potential post on reading resolutions, a Hugo Awards essay, and the first entry in a four part Reading Deverry series that could take several years to finish.  I haven't been this busy blogging in years, nor had this much fun doing it.

I'm also working on reviews of Black Wolves, Meeting Infinity, and Central Station. By "working on", I mean I'm still reading the books / have to start, so they'll be a while. I have some other ideas on more authors to include in the 6 Books series, and eventually, a new entry in the Nerd Music series.  We'll see when I get back to that, though.

Until next time!

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Books Read: January 2016

Now that we've completed the first month of the year, we can take a look at the books I read during January. It's a doozy, even by my standards.

1. Chimera, by Mira Grant
2. The Dragon Revenant, by Katharine Kerr
3. The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin
4. Rules of Conflict, by Kristine Smith
5. Son of the Black Sword, by Larry Correia
6. Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History, by Michael Klastorin
7. Going Dark, by Linda Nagata
8. Future Visions, by Jennifer Henshaw and Allison Linn (editors)
9. The Shootout Solution, by Michael R. Underwood
10. The Invaders, by Karolina Waclawiak
11. The Complete Peanuts: 1997-1998, by Charles M. Schulz
12. Saint Camber, by Katherine Kurtz
13. Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf
14. A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler (unfinished)
15. The Whites, by Harry Brandt
16. Planetfall, by Emma Newman
17. Court of Fives, by Kate Elliott

Best Book of the Month: The Fifth Season. This book is so good I am actually mad I haven't read any of Jemisin's other novels and it moves The Obelisk Gate to my #1 must read novel of 2016, no matter what else comes out (and yes, this includes *that* book)

Disappointment of the Month: While I mostly read science fiction and fantasy, I'm following along with the short list for the Tournament of Books and will try to read as much of that as I can before the tournament begins in March. I wouldn't say that A Spool of Blue Thread is bad, and I will still read at least one more Anne Tyler novel (the Pulitzer Prize winning Breathing Lessons), but I was disinterested. So, why continue if I don't care?

Discovery of the Month: Planetfall. This could well have been The Fifth Season, because I have no idea how I've gotten by in life without having read Nora Jemisin's novels. But - The Fifth Season was also the best book of the month by a solid margin and I don't like to double up here. Emma Newman's Planetfall is likewise one of the top novels of the month and of 2015 and I wish I had read it last year.

Worth Noting: I'd have to do some digging, but I feel that 17 books in January my strongest month of reading in a long time. I'm not quite sure how that happened.

Gender Breakdown: Having finished 17 books this month, I'm happy to report that 11 of them were written by women. My year in reading opens with a 64.70% percentage. While I do not a have specific goal this year to read more books written by women than those written by men, I would like to at least keep the breakdown near a 50/50 split.