A Journal of Impropriety

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May 31st, 2015

03:21 pm - The Journeyman: In the Stone House by Michael F Flynn
TL;DR Two BFFs learn to swordfight and have much manly banter in the Stone House.

"The Journeyman: In the Stone House" is the third of the Analog nominees which does not fit into the category it was nominated in. Much like "Championship B'Tok" and "Flow", this is essentially an except from a novel. And much like "Flow" it is set in a fallen world that has regressed so much it has forgotten it was ever technologically advanced.

In the previous installment Teodorq sunna Nargarajan the Ironhand and Sammi o' th' Eagles were given a quest by a crashed space shuttle to notify some people about it. At the start of the story they come across the titular stone house and are promptly captured by a woman. (Don't worry, she's clearly a ladyprize. There aren't any feminist cooties on this story.) There are a few pages of infodumping before they get conscripted into the Stone House's army, along with another captive, Kal, who has vowed to kill Teodorq. Cue a sword training montage which culminates in Teodorq and Kal in a fight to the death! Which results in no one's death. Boo! I'm sure they will be BFFs in the next installment Then they all get sent off on a scouting mission. The end.

It's a manly tale of men doing heroic deeds (or at least boasting about doing them), manly banter and making manly jokes like:

“And what is meant by ‘babe’?”

“In the sprock, it is a term of respect for important women.”

Sammi coughed violently, but Teodorq offered his most winning smile and the princess accepted the translation.

There's also a sperm joke. Basically, the story appears to be aimed squarely at twelve-year-old boys.

The primary problem with the story is that the two big inciting incidents - Kal vowing to kill Teodorq and Teodorq and Sammi getting sent on their mission happened in the last story. Reading this story in isolation, I have little reason to invest in either of those things. The fight at the end of the story has no emotional weight because I don't particularly care who wins. It seemed the point of the story was to get Sammi and Teodorq trained as swordsmen so they can go off and be awesome fighters in stories yet to come. This was very much a fragment of a story, not a complete one.

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May 26th, 2015

06:59 pm - Statistics Without Common Sense
I think I've finally realized why I can't stand fivethirtyeight.com. I was reading an an analysis which purports to tell you how to fly between places the fastest.

Except they ignore the critical component in fast flights - is your flight direct or is there a connection. Direct flights are faster. Connecting in some airports is better than others. (They also ignore another critical component when making travel plans - the money vs time element. Money is often the key driver in whether you will accept a connection. One hour flight time for $1000 or six for $200. Make your choice.)

Every time you add a flight segment you are adding a chance for a misconnect (particularly when you fly at times when the network is near capacity like Christmas) but the connection itself is going to add time. If you are lucky you will land in the same terminal, but if you are travelling from a small regional airport you are likely going to need to walk between terminals and sometimes it's a good 20 minute walk.

If you were flying out of Montgomery, AL you have two choices - Dallas/Fort Worth or Atlanta and then connect to whereever you really want to go. Dallas gets a red slow rating while Atlanta gets a yellow medium rating. Atlanta is a special bit of hell for connections and I'd avoid it at all costs.

I routinely fly out of the joy that is Heathrow. Based on airport experience alone, I'd rather travel out of most any other London airport, but Heathrow is the place to get long haul flights direct to the US. If I went to Gatwick or London City, I'd generally face flying to a European hub (in the wrong direction) and then changing to the long haul flight. The Heathrow circle before landing is notorious, but my door to door is still far shorter without a connection.

Basically, they used statistics to tell us nothing useful.

(8 secrits | tell me a secrit)

May 25th, 2015

01:58 pm - A Single Samurai by Steve Diamond
TL;DR An innocent mountain going for a walk is murdered by a samurai. Or is it?!?

I've seen a number of people complaining that this is a first person, past tense story where the narrator dies at the end. This doesn’t bother me - narrative is an artificial construct anyway, so I'm happy to let it go.

What does bother me is that the death is absolutely nonsensical. The narrator has been riding on the back of a daikaiju that has awoken from hibernation and is now taking a country walk. Unfortunately, by doing so it's also decimating the countryside. The narrator is a samurai and wants to stop it somehow. It runs to the top of the mountain-sized creature and manages to fall into its brain cavity.

The narrator decides that if he sticks one of his swords in the daikaiju's brain and then kills himself death will magically become contagious and the mountain will drop dead (probably toppling over and killing all the people in the city they are near.) His sword has a piece of his soul in it and it will turn to dust when he dies. I really have no idea why that is supposed to infect the daikaiju.

This seems to be a pretty terrible plan because he's got absolutely no fallback. Whoops, contagious death didn't happen. How are you going to help the people now? What's that, you're dead? Dance, mountain dance! I'm just going to assume that's what happened because it's a more satisfying ending.

The other problem I had with the story is that there is no sense of place - I know I don't know much about Japan, but reading this story, I haven't been convinced that Diamond does either. I felt like this could be any generic fantasy location.

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May 24th, 2015

07:31 pm - Skin Game by Jim Butcher
TL;DR - Dresden's head ends up a little bit pregnant and Hades thinks Dresden is so awesome he just wants to shake Harry's hand.

The book opens with Dresden running around jumping over things and shouting "Parkour" like a damn fool. Not an auspicious opening. Anyway, he is the winter knight for Queen Mab and she orders him to help Nick, a card carrying member of team evil, pull a heist.

There is a really extended section of putting the team together where Dresden gets hurt several times. Additionally his backup Karrin (and would be girlfriend) is also injured, so he brings in a replacement backup Michael who is a Knight of the Cross. Also on the team are Deidre (Nick's daughter), Goodman Grey (a shapeshifter), Hannah Asher (another warlock), Binder (a muscleman), Anna Valmont (safecracker) and Genoskwa (a sasquatch). Oh, and while Dresden is sleeping he has a chat with his subconscious, hipster!Dresden, for some serious exposition and he finds out that his head is pregnant.

Anyway, they are all going down to Hades to steal the Holy Grail. To get there Asher has to strip naked and walk through fire (just so we get our full share of male gaziness), Dresden has to parkour his way across an moving ice maze (I enjoyed this more when Zelazny did it with giant moving rocks), and then Nick has to kill his daughter to get through the last door. They get to Hades vault and Hades teleports Dresden to a sitting room. Not because he wants to stop the heist, but because he wants to shake Dresden's hand (Dresden is so awesome even gods swoon for him.) The inevitable double cross happens with a triple cross. Dresden kills Hannah and the sasquatch and Nick goes insane and runs off to kill Dresden's kid, Maggie. Not to worry, Butters (I guess Butcher is a South Park fan) is about to become Sir Butters and defeat Nick with his light saber. (No, I kid you not.)

And it's all over except for the mopping up. Dresden giving birth to a bouncing baby spirit, they split up the loot, and then Dresden smugs his way through the wrap-up.

Here's my thoughts:

1. You know how on sitcoms they sometimes give characters a catch-phrase and maybe at first it is funny but it quickly morphs into annoying and then at some point it becomes a parody of itself? Dresden has one of those catch-phrases. He says "Hell's bells" what feels like a million times. (eBooks says it is only 31 times. I think ibooks is lying to me.)

2. Every time Butcher introduces a cliché item he calls attention to by saying "Yeah, that XX." Like this:

Karrin had two swords that had been forged with nails from the Cross (yeah, that Cross) worked into the blades. They were powerful talismans, borne by the Knights of the Cross, the natural foes of Nicodemus and his crew of thirty silver-coined lunatics (yeah, those thirty pieces of silver)

I have the feeling Butcher thinks he can't be criticized for his lazy imagination if he notes it first. Sorry, the worldbuilding is still lazy and thin and feels like he's stuck every urban fantasy trope in a blender and served up the results. (He does the same thing with the ridiculous shouting of "parkour." It's still stupid even if you call attention to the fact that it's stupid.)

3. The story takes place in an alternate Chicago that I assume is nicknamed Whitecago and 99.9% of POCs have been shipped elsewhere.

4. Butcher is terrible at action scenes. Here's a good example. We've had the double-crosses and Butcher is fighting Hannah Asher and it could be a pretty good scene. He's redirected her energy to the roof of the cavern they are in and she's about to get squished by a boatload of molten rock. So right in the middle Butcher decides to have Butcher muse about why he's much more awesome at wizardry than she is:

And, right there, she showed me the fundamental difference between us.

I loved magic for its own sake. She didn’t.

The Art can be a lot of work, and it can sometimes be tedious, and sometimes even painful, but at the end of the day, I love it. I love the focus of it, the discipline, the balance. I love ...

I'm saving you from about 400 more words in the same vein. It's a pacing killer. (Also, Butcher reuses the death from above trick when Dresden kills the sasquatch immediately after.)

5. In a similar manner, Butcher loves to over explain. At the end, Dresden has mostly defeated Nick so the only thing left for him is revenge:

Then he looked directly at me and quite calmly snapped the handle off at its base.

“Dresden,” Nicodemus said. There was something furious and horrible in his eyes—I could see it, even from there. “From one father to another,” he called. “Well played.”

I felt my eyes widen. “Stop him!” I blurted and flung myself to my feet.”

Michael started running. Grey blurred toward the far end of the vault, moving at speeds one normally associates with low-flying aircraft.

None of us got there in time to stop Nicodemus from letting out a harsh, bitter laugh, and slamming the huge door closed.

It's pretty obvious from the exchange that Nick has gone to kill Dresden's daughter while they are stuck in the vault. Really, all the scene needs is a "Maggie!" to spell it out for people not quick on the uptake. Instead he spends three hundred words spelling it out.

6. Research fail! So there's a scene when they are first starting the heist where Dresden sets off some fireworks. This (because Butcher's research is clearly via Hollywood movies) sets off all the sprinklers in the building.

Sprinklers don't work that way. They particularly don't work that way in vaults where you may have precious items that would be damaged by water. This is part of my day job and I've designed fire protection for vaults. I can only assume that this high level (lack) of research continues throughout in areas not my expertise.

6. Towards the end of the novel Dresden is incapacitated with his labor pains that he can't move. This is what makes Butters run off and become Sir Butters. And yet, Dresden has absolutely no trouble narrating the remainder of the scene. I didn't believe it.

7. This is the male gaziest book I've read in a long time. Pretty much every female character gets ogled by Dresden. Some, repeatedly.

8. I know the exact moment I started hoping the bad guys would win:

Ascher’s human eyes narrowed. “Oh, sure,” she said, in her own voice. “Because the high road is just so awesome. Wardens of the White Council have been trying to kill me for most of my adult life because when I was seventeen years old I defended myself against three men who tried to rape me.”

“I’m not defending them,” I said. “But you killed people with magic, Hannah. You broke the First Law.”

“Like you haven’t,” she snarled. “You hypocrite.”

Of course she should have just let herself get raped. The ridiculous "I'm not defending them (except I am) because you broke the law" bullshit is victim blaming, plain and simple. Fuck off, Butcher.

9. So now we come to good old expository hipster!Dresden. First Dresden's subconscious tries to talk him into getting laid but regular Dresden says no. Are the pathetic puppies sure that he's manly enough to be on their slates?

And then hipster!Dresden reveals a special blessing to come:

“When a mommy and a daddy love each other very much,” my double said, as if speaking to a small child, “and they live together and hug and kiss and get intimate with each other . . .”

“I’m . . .” I felt a little ill. “You’re saying . . . I’m pregnant?”

My double threw up his arms. “Finally, he gets it.”

My hovercraft of disbelief has crashed.

10. Eventually there came a moment when I decided that the entire story was a figment of Dresden's imagination while he was locked up in a psych ward somewhere because the narrative did not jibe with the character actions. This was when Hades whisks Dresden off to his parlor to shake his hand:

“I believe,” he said, “that we have a great many things in common.” He rose and stood before me. Then he extended his right arm. “You are here because I wanted to take a moment to shake your hand and wish you luck.”

Really, this book is the worst Mary Sue I've ever read and that includes Twilight.

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May 17th, 2015

03:18 pm - "Flow" by Arlan Andrews, Sr.
TL;DR Boy rides an iceberg south and discovers boobies. And the sun. But his heart is with the boobies.

"Flow" by Arlan Andrews, Sr. is basically a travelogue and feels like it is probably part of a larger bildunsgroman. (There has been at least one previous story published in Analog.)

Rist lives in the cold north where it is perpetually cloudy and they harvest icebergs and send them down a river to the Warm Lands. Rist is accompanied by Crusher, who is entirely too helpful unless he has been paid by Rist's dad to keep him out of trouble. (And if he has been paid, he should return the money.) Cruthar acts as a tour guide to show Rist the wonders of the Warm Lands.

This is a post-apocalyptic world. People are smaller than they used to be (particularly Rist's people) and most technology has been lost so people generally live in fairly primitive conditions.

The first wonder that Rist encounters is the Sun and his Mind is Blown! Shortly after they arrive at God's Port which is much larger than anything Rist has ever seen. The Warm Landers have also managed to salvage some old tech including some monomolecular wire.

Rist and Cruthar disembark the iceberg and head into town where Rist encounters his next wonder: Women have boobies! His mind is blown! (and he's also really attracted to them despite never having seen them before.) Then Cruthar takes Rist to church and His Mind is Blown! Well, until the priest asks him to tithe and to bring him a chicken for a sacrifice.

Anyway, you remember when I said Cruthar ought to return the money he got for looking after Rist? That's because he helps Rist steal some of that monomolecular wire, despite knowing that they will be searched when they leave God's Port and if they are caught they will be burned at the stake. This made absolutely no sense. Why does Cruthar help him? He won't get a benefit from the theft. It's just sort of "Ok, you want some wire, let's go steal some." It would have been a lot better if Rist had stolen it on his own.

Predictably, the priests are on to Rist and he escapes in a boat that was arranged for him by Cruthar. He rides it down the river until he hits some waterfalls and realizes there is another city at the base. He decides to rappel down using the monomolecular wire.

This is a competently written piece and the world building is generally good. Where the story falls down is that the worldbuilding isn't interesting enough to carry the story. Rist isn't very interesting and not much happens until Risk steals the wire.

One of the techniques Andrews uses to show change from the apocalypse is language drift. Unfortunately one of the changes is women are called "wen" for wench. Though it's a bit apt in that all the women in the story are prostitutes. (well there's a mention of Rist's mother.) Otherwise, it's entirely a man's world.

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May 16th, 2015

03:24 pm - No Award for Best Fan Writer
There is one non-pathetic puppy nominee for best fan writer, Laura J Mixon. She was nominated for a post about Requires Hate/Winterfox/Benjanun Sriduangkaew among other aliases. I will not be voting for her. Here are the reasons why:

1. Statistics, you're doing it wrong. - In her blog post Mixon announces that she is going to take a "statistical approach" at looking at RH's pattern of harassment. What she means is that she has curated 47 anecdotes and then whispered the words "random sample" over thirty of them and pretended that turned them into statistical data. It doesn't. Her sample has at least two obvious sources of bias - pre-selection bias (from when Mixon decided whether or not to include certain accounts) and self-selection bias (since RH deleted all the evidence, many of the accounts are based on self reporting.)

I want to be clear that I don't think this makes any of the accounts untrue. I believe they are, and I in no way defend RH's behavior. But drawing conclusions about patterns of behavior from a limited number of accounts is a dubious practice. So, about those conclusions:

BS/RH’s targets, by and large, are her peers. An overwhelming 77% of her attacks have been launched at professional writers.

This is disingenuous at best. It may be true that most of her attacks are against people who are currently her peers, but this completely ignores that RH stopped writing her blog around the time she first became a published author of fiction. Everything from her WF days and probably most everything from her RH days was published before she became a professional writer so she was not addressing her peers when RH made the comments.

A large majority of BS/RH’s targets have been women, at between 73 and 81% of the targeted population (two targets provided information anonymously, without clues to their gender).

Between 37 and 40% of her targets, or nearly two-fifths, were people of color. Given that the field has been, and still is, predominantly white, this is disproportionately high.

I was able to think of a fair number of white male authors/bloggers RH attacked off the top of my head that did not make Mixon's list (Joe Abercrombie, Peter Watts, Scott Lynch, Patrick from Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, Mark Lawrence) I also recall quite a bit of mocking of "neckbeards" for liking certain types of fiction. My recollections are anecdotes as much as Mixon's. I feel certain I could curate a set of "data" that gives the opposite impression from Mixon's post, and that's the heart of the problem here.

RH attacked a lot of women and POC. I think if you broke down the harassment by era you would likely find that during her WF days her harassment was predominantly of women and POCs. I would also expect that this is partly a result of 50_books_POC being largely populated by women and POC. During her RH days, I imagine she was more ecumenical. And I'm very sure that RH was like a dog with a bone[1] relentless when someone reacted - she would double and triple down just to get under their skin.

But honestly, RH's actions were bad enough based on the anecdotes we have. There was no need to try to dress things up and overstate the case to "prove" by "math" a "conclusion" that fit Mixon's preconceived notions. (The conclusion about RH's peers is what seals for me that she was working to an agenda.) We do not have the data to do the analysis Mixon pretends to do. There were true and valuable things in the post, but the whole thing is overshadowed by this intellectual dishonesty.

2. One post is not enough. If you want to nominate a single blog post, best related work is where it belongs. My personal preference is for best fan writer to go to someone who is writing interesting things about science fiction and not about fandom. Regardless, it should be for a body of work, not one post. (And I really hope we aren't going to have a load of nominees next year for writings about the pathetic puppies.)

3. I will never vote for someone who campaigns. Mixon recently wrote the following:

A vote for me sends a clear signal that the community stands firm on this basic principle: that our politics can’t outweigh our humanity. That everyone has a fundamental right to be here, to engage in online and in-person discourse without being threatened with annihilation.

Nope. Nope. Nope. This is flat out campaigning. It's also the worst sort of campaigning because it carries with it the implied negative: if you don't vote for Mixon you are against inclusiveness and human decency. I reject that narrative.

I've condemned the pathetic puppies for their campaigning. I'd be a hypocrite if I supported Mixon when she is doing the same.

[1]It has been pointed out to me this phrasing is racist. I am sorry. It was not my intent.

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May 10th, 2015

03:21 pm - Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale by Rajnar Vajra
I have a confession to make. I read Triple Sun last week but by the time it came to write up some thoughts this week, I'd mostly forgotten everything about it. And maybe that says pretty much all you need to know about this story - it's a bit of space exploration fluff with a crew of students who get themselves in trouble in a bar fight and then double down and get themselves into more trouble by mouthing off which risks their graduation from space academy. There's some handwavium tech that lets people adjust their inertial mass up and down and some snakelike aliens that just want everyone to cooperate, and let's face it, that the good guys will prevail is never in doubt.

Emily, Priam and Micah are a team of Exoplanetary Explorer cadets who walk into the wrong bar. Rather than backing out, Priam decides to pick the inevitable fight:

So when he let his facial expression do the trash talking for him, and some Sky SEAL gorilla so enormous that his head nearly reached to Micah’s chin threw a mighty punch into Priam’s solar plexus, the snap of oversized wrist bones breaking made me wince but didn’t surprise me. In effect, every part of my Martian crewmate had, temporarily, become almost unmovable.

Anarchy breaks out, and eventually the MPs are called to subdue the ruckus. Those cadets are in a whole lot of trouble and are sent to evacuate a failed colony for their graduation mission as punishment. Priam is a know-it-all jackass throughout. Don't worry, he never learns anything. Case in point, he mouths off to the leader of the mission and as punishment the cadets now need to salvage the project or they will fail their mission.

"Triple Sun" relies heavily on withholding information to create suspense, so Priam is isolated from the other two for the duration of their trip to the colony while Emily fills us in on why the colony failed. Humanity has become Star Trek-esque in that planets which have a sentient species on them cannot be colonized or interfered with. Abreathon is home to "hexicows" which where jewelry festooned with transistors, but all attempts to communicate with them have failed so we are packing up and going home.

When they land, Priam says he can save the mission, he just needs to go visit the hexicows and have a chat. Turns out the hexicows aren't really the intelligent species, their more like horses for the real intelligent ones who look more like snakes with fingers for tails. When Priam let's them know that he's on to them, they all run for cover. Then the aliens collapse the ground, critically injuring Micah and Priam and killing the colonist who was guiding them. Emily's basically ok - she needs to get help for her injured companions but the aliens won’t let her out of the pit.

As individuals, they were rather inflexible, but dozens were linking up, using the fingers at the ends of their bodies to grip the head of the next snake in what was rapidly becoming a long chain. I rose another meter or two be- fore one end of this chain swung loose from the wall. With an enormous joint muscular contraction, the chain’s end whipped across the cave whistling and slammed into my ribs.

The story then cuts away from Emily in the pit to Emily and her healed companions graduating and getting the highest honors (which seems a tonally off since someone died in their company while they were trying to communicate with the snakes) and dragging out the suspense on how Emily finally was able to communicate with the snakes:

“So in that pit where we were trapped, I dug through debris and found the kind of leaves I’d noticed the supposed tentacles were grabbing before the cave-in. The aliens actually helped me reach the surface after I fed the leaves to the largest sna— Anguis watching me. I was using p-levitation to rise, but sort of got stuck in a holding pattern at the top. They gave me the final shove that I needed.”

The story is subtitled "A Golden Age Tale" and this seems apt. While Emily's voice is engaging, there is little in the way of character development as it's clear that the plot is what drives this story. Priam in particular doesn't learn a single thing, and Emily doesn't learn enough to elbow Priam in the ribs to get him to shut up so they all stay out of trouble. They seemed to have the stagnation and reliance on type that sitcom characters sometimes have.

I enjoyed the magic change-your-inertial-mass tech. It's ridiculous, but it was fun in the bar fight scene and the callback in the pit worked well. I also liked the collaborative snake aliens whose survival depends on cooperation.

My two main issues with the story is the reliance on withholding information to generate suspense as mentioned above and the pacing. After the initial scene in the bar, the story drags until Emily and team meet the hexicows (and snakes.) There's about 6000 words of info dumping and getting the team from A to B which felt like it could have been handled in about half the space.

After having slogged my way through the Castalia House dreck (and John C Wright's in particular) for the last few weeks, reading a story that hits the basic storytelling buttons more or less competently was a big relief. I did enjoy this story, but if it doesn't stick in my head for a week, that alone says to me that this was not one of the top stories of the year and is not deserving of a Hugo Award.

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May 2nd, 2015

05:06 pm - "One Bright Star" by John C Wright
TL;DR: Now featuring three times the exclamation points and a bonus abortion just so we know someone has joined Team Evil. Oh, and there's some Narnia shit, complete with a Jesus-cat.

When I started reading this story I was struck with a sense of familiarity. At first I thought it was because it's another "grownups reconnecting with the fantasy land they visited in childhood" story. Then I realized that I'd read it before. Well, I read it for values of started it, got bored, moved on to the next story in the issue.

My next thought was holy fuck there are a shitload of exclamation points in this story. (Look, if you'd been reading a lot of Wright's fiction then you'd probably be driven to profanity too. It's dark times.)

Anyway, turns out I still have the copy of F&SF. I thought I'd do a bit of compare and contrast so you could see how Beale and Wright turned a mediocre story into a terrible one.

The plot remains similar in both versions: Tommy and three friends visited a Narnia-like world when they were children and had Narnia-ish adventures. Tommy is now middle aged and is called by his childhood Jesus-cat to go on one last adventure to save England from the forces of evil. He goes on a getting-the-band-back-together tour of England to try to round up his old friends without success. Richard's had a fall from grace, Sally is now too afraid to do anything and Penny's just dead. So it's up to Tommy alone to fight the super evil. He defeats it by cutting off the Jesus-cat's head. Then the Jesus-cat resurrects as a winged Jesus-lion (Woot! Woot! Narnia rip-off levels are now dangerously high!) and as his reward he's sent off to another universe to be the mentor to another generation of children evil fighters.

One of the main problems I have with both versions is that the references to not-Narnia feel like they came out of a fairyland plot generator. It's all buzz words and no actual worldbuilding:

When the Black Mirror of the Winter King trapped the light from the sword, Sarah shattered it with the note from the harp of Finn Finbarra. Then we freed the nightingale and followed her song to the Forever Tree, which was still green and whole under the ice. You melted the ice with the fire from the sword and we found the Garland Crown of good prince Hal hanging on the highest branch, just where Tybalt said we would!

What's changed between the two versions? First up, those exclamation points.
F&SF version- 53 exclamation points
Hugo version - 160 exclamation points

Woo! Triple the excitement! If by excitement, you are thinking of dialogue like this:

Tommy said, “But Jasconius aided us when the White Ship sailed by breathing out the Fog of Slumber and putting all the enemy fleet to sleep. And Donny! Little Donny! The boy who could turn into a wolf cub! The only good werewolf in the world, the birds called you! You helped us! You traced the footsteps of the ice maiden through the woods, and helped Richard find the lost sword! You are the good guys, all three of you are!”


She smiled. “Oh! Brave Richard! He grew up into such a handsome man! Not like you!” She giggled and waved her hanky toward him. “I hear he's become quite wealthy now. He never comes by to see me. I sent him a letter once...”

All the characters in the revised version act like excited children who feel everything so intensely that a minor scratch is a major trauma. So many exclamation points that they lose all power of emphasis.

There are minor edits to the story which don't seem to improve it. For example:

The concierge would be put out, but Tommy was soon to leave this comfortable old building anyway and move up to London, into a stark glass, boxlike high-rise in Knightsbridge.

In the original it simply said London. Knightsbridge is one of the last places I'd associate with glass box apartments. (Knightsbridge is brick buildings in my mind.) The only heavily glazed building I can think of is One Hyde Park and that's not a boxlike building. Canary Wharf would be my go to place for flats like Wright describes. So while it's been edited to be more specific, it feels less right to me.

One of the biggest changes in the story involves the fall of Richard. In the original:

"It was after you came home from when you were expelled from boarding school, wasn't it, Richard? I was away at school myself then, and you never did tell me why they kicked you out. I heard some very ugly rumors, Richard, about a girl you got in trouble...."

This was apparently altogether too subtle. In the revised version:

“I remember hearing some very ugly rumors, Richard, about a girl you got in trouble.” Tommy said in a dangerous tone. “I heard the girl—she was Fifth Form—was found naked in an abandoned church. She spoke about how you and the other boys from Evans House were dancing and screaming and cutting yourselves with knives. Your family kept your name out of the newspaper, but the papers said that there was a goat found hanging by the neck from a willow tree in that same graveyard, hanging by the neck over the stream that ran next to the graveyard. The newspaper called it a nonagon fertility ritual. But it was more than that, wasn't it?”

And if we weren't sure that Richard had full-on joined Team Evil, the evils of abortion confirms it:

“The National Health Service paid for the abortion,” said Richard with an indifferent shrug.

“You killed your own child?” Tommy stood up too, his face white with horror.

“Child? Nonsense. It was a mere by-product of conception. It was nothing more than a minor side effect of the rite needed to summon up certain, shall we say, priapic manifestations of the life-energy.”

Then Tommy gets handed over to Team Evil by Richard. In the original version Richard refuses to believe Tommy, and Tommy simply leaves. I think this works better because up until Tommy's meeting with Sally the story straddles the line on whether anything Tommy believes is real - he could have simply had a psychotic break.

The story then has a rather odd scene break - although we last see Tommy captured by Team Evil, he has now gotten away and has been searching for Sally's home. We later learn about what happened when Richard tells Sally about it, but the cut between scenes feels off, like Wright didn't know how to marry in the new version of events properly.

So apparently Tommy was being kidnapped to Evil France by Lord Wodenhouse, but he escapes because the Jesus-cat snuck onto the plane and helped him to unlock his chains and then:

Then his marines came into the cabin, weapons ready, wearing the mark of the Evil Eye on their brows. But I released the Knight of Shadows, opened the door of the plane, and leaped from it. The suction whirled the enemy, screaming, out into the night sky with me. Tybalt, you see, had taught me a charm to allow me to land on my feet without hurt, no matter how high the fall.

I have to admit I laughed out loud from the badness here. Cat powers activate! In the original version Tybalt (the Jesus-cat) casts a spell to allow him to fall safely. Still, the original story falls apart for me here because it's all so mustache-twirling ridiculous.

Wright also chose to rewrite the very end of the story:

“The newly-anointed Wise Old Man, who felt much too young for the task and not very wise at all, squared his shoulders and strode forth into the doorway, his eyes upon a solitary shining star.

Without a backward glance, he left Earth and childhood behind.”

While the original concludes:

"When? When does this journey begin?"

"It is forever. You are on the pathway now."

All his questions answered, he stepped forward then through the mystic door.

Light was everywhere.

Again, the edits make the story less subtle by playing up the reference to the star of Bethlehem. The loss of subtlty is perhaps the major change between the versions. In the van Gelder-edited version the reader was able to fill in some of the spaces - in the new one everything is spelled out for you.

(27 secrits | tell me a secrit)

April 26th, 2015

05:07 pm - "The Plural of Helen of Troy" by John C Wright
The final point - If you are going to tell a story backwards then the why of the actions needs to be compelling. Instead of a traditional story climax, the story coheres around the revelation of why and how the story occurred at all.

The story is narrated by yet another of Wright's generic hard-boiled detective types. This one gives himself points for not claiming a lady prize (just after blaming her for what would have happened to her if he had), but he is just as sexist as the one from "Pale Realms of Shade."

The story takes place in Metachronopolis, the City Beyond Time. This is where the Time Lords Time Wardens rule the city in a venal and craven manner. They go around time-kidnapping people because they feel like it and if you are lucky, they might resurrect you when you inevitably get killed in their service. (They can go back in time and manipulate a situation to have their desired outcome.) Jacob Frontino (our narrator) is one of those people who had been kidnapped and has been eking out a life on the margins of the city. He's originally from 30's or 40's New York-you can tell that by the prodigious use of the word "dame."

So what started this whole thing? Frontino is the ultimate tragic figure - a white male not in a position of power. Frontino has two rules: never take a job from a Time Warden and never help someone commit time suicide. The second rule has a secret coda that says that he can do it if that will make him one of the people in charge of Metachronopolis in an alternate timeline (and before you ask, of course in his timeline everything is all puppies riding rainbows and all that is right and good in the world because of course he's one of those noble people meant to rule time unjustly kept from power and completely unlike the jackasses who are doing in now.) He is the most super-special chosen one ever:

That is what you really are, Jacob. You are not an assassin. They—the fallen Masters of Eternity—they twisted your past and tried to make you into something you are not. They changed this city of paradise into a Valhalla, and sent back agents to choose among the dead for historical figures to people their museum and amuse them. That includes their old bosses and old coworkers. Hardened memory does not remember anything for you if the whole time before you were ever born is changed. But they could not change you.

That is where your sense of justice comes from, your willingness to listen to people confess their wrongdoings to you, your willingness to take people as they are without passing judgment.

Except that he just spent the last ten pages judging people for using time travel as a crutch. Oh, and even though he knew that a woman might be being raped, he felt no need to hurry back.

The penultimate point - The meat of the story is a "By His Bootstraps" time-travel story. Jack hires Frontino to kill the man who raped his girlfriend (one of the titular Helens). Frontino wants to stage a situation where the girlfriend is in actual danger because murdering for revenge is totally wrong. Jack thinks it's ok when it's revenge for rape because that's the worst thing that could ever happen to a woman one of his possessions.

If you have read any sort of time travel fiction, you will be unsurprised to find out that the rapist is (dun...dun...dun) Jack from the future. There is quite a lot of running around before old Jack gets shot by young Jack and young Jack dissolves into mist. Then Frontino pats himself on the back for resisting the ladyprize of Helen and instead gives her his neighbor, Homer.

The antepenultimate point - In the first pass through Wright only refers obliquely to Jack and Helen's identities (well oblique if you live in a box) Jack is a powerful man from the sixties with a Harvard accent and it takes about thirty seconds for anyone to work out that he's John Kennedy. Which of course makes "Helen" Marilyn Monroe. In case you are thick-thick-thick, Wright has Monroe singing "Happy Birthday, Mister President ..." Subtle, Wright is not.

The preantepenultimate point - The story is full of namedropping historical figures and one fictional one - Queequeg from Moby Dick. You know, the character who is a caricature of a South Pacific Islander complete with being a cannibal and speaking in pidgin English:

“Yojo smells death. Death soon comes. Man we hunt, you say he looks. Sees future. Sees what comes. He sees you fall down into mist. Yes?”


He poked me in the chest with a thick, dark forefinger. His finger felt like an iron poker. “Then why it is he sees not you climb out of mist? He dies. He sees he dies, yes? But if he sees, how it is he dies?”

In Wright's hands Queequeeg remains firmly a noble savage with no depth of characterization at all. One person of color in the story and that's what Wright goes for. That's how the Pathetic puppies increase diversity.

The propreantepenultimate point - The writing is pedestrian at best, and clearly in need of editing. For example he uses "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more." as an example of how Jack and Frontino have a common cultural heritage. Apparently that's the only bit of common cultural heritage because Jack uses that exact phrase a few pages later.

The story is filled with gratuitous descriptions of Monroe:

Like an alabaster talkie screen framed in gold, the window held a beautiful girl, no, it held the beautiful girl, the most beautiful girl in history, the girl they called the Mistress of the Masters of Time. She was outlined in silhouette against the window for a moment, from head to toe, as she stepped out from her shower.

When she lifted her arms above her head to wind a towel around her hair, the perfect outline of her figure was cast against the widow [sic], and burned itself into my retinas and memory. Sure, I should have blinked or politely looked away, but I had never seen any dame like this. Nobody has.

Frontino gives himself an immediate pass:

“I was sorry right away that I gave out a wolf whistle. She hadn't heard, but what was I, a steel worker? But then I quickly told myself she flaunted her talents for a living, so there was nothing wrong with my admiring her stock-in-trade, in eyeballing the merchandise. Nothing wrong at all, I told myself.”

Remember, he's the good guy.

The first point - It's helpful when a story transmits its sexism right from the title. It's clear from it that women in this story are nothing but objects. That way you don't actually need to read any further.

Jack is a rapist and that gives him all kinds of MANPAIN.

“The oldest version of me is the bad one. The attacker. The tomorrow version of me, you might say the middle one, comes to see you, hires you, and the next day the two of you go to stop the oldest version of me in the room where I keep Norma Jean. Middle me shoots the old me, but old me does not turn into mist. That means the rape still will happen, and that I will still turn into him. Turn into the evil old bastard. ”

It's SO HARD being a rapist, people. Can't we all see that he has so much MANPAIN? He feels bad! Isn't that enough?

“He [another version of Jack] said after he killed the old man, and he did not dissolve, he realized that retaliation was not enough. I would still turn into him, despite seeing the future with my own eyes. The self-murder did not fix anything. It was empty. The version of me in the future is still committing the crime, and the version of Norma Jean who exists now was still… attacked last week. I don't want revenge. I want to change the past. To stop the rape from ever happening.”

I said, “Put a pistol in your mouth and pull the trigger. Bang. Old you is gone. No future.”

“He shook his head. “Suicide is a sin.”

Jack has too much MANPAIN to commit another sin! Frontino does call him on the bullshit that having sex with Monroe is still rape:

“As a reward. She's not really my—not what you would call a sweetheart or demimonde—she did not volunteer, you know.”

“Is concubine a better word?” I asked softly. “The Wardens gave her to you as a harem girl. A slave.”

“Hey, I treat her right! She doesn't act like she minds very much.”

“Then she is a good actress. Sexual knowledge without consent is still rape. Why are you still using this girl? What has she ever done to you? To deserve you?”

Of course, Frontino's suggested solution is a heaping pile of bullshit:

“Free the girl,” I said. “Or marry her. Instead of taking everything in her life away from her, give her everything in your life you can give her. Clean yourself up!”

Those ladies, they always need a man, even if that man is their rapist.

Frontino has the tired sort of paternalistic sexism that misogynists like to pretend is a compliment:

I shrugged. Don't get me wrong. I felt for the guy. I would have done the same thing in his shoes. [...]Girls are special. You are supposed to take care of girls. Defend them. I get it. I understand.

Mind you, he knows that Jack is the rapist. But he empathizes with the MANPAIN. Anyway, those beautiful ladies, they were always yanking your strings:

Look, I don't blame the dame for using the tools Nature gave her any more than I blame a spider. But I'd seen one guy trapped in her web, and I'd heard all about the others. Even if it was a web she did not spin on purpose, she was a spider. Guys like Paris, guys like the Yankee Clipper, even guys like Jack lost their hearts over this girl, lost their minds, lost their good names. Sometimes they even lost their lives.

I don't think she did anything on purpose, but maybe she was part of the cold justice in this cold world, the justice that took its revenge on the men who used her and hurt her.

It's not her fault, well, just a bit her fault.

(12 secrits | tell me a secrit)

April 19th, 2015

04:49 pm - "On a Spiritual Plain" by Lou Antonelli
TL;DR: Ride your segway to the North Pole to send a ghost to oblivion.

The narrator is a chaplain on the planet Ymilas. Due to the planet's strong magnetic fields, an echo of the Ymilans remains after they die. Humans have a base on the planet and for the first time someone dies. This leads to the chaplain finding the ghost of the deceased (Joe) in his room. He consults with the local Ymilan cleric named Dergec who tells him they need to make a pilgrimage to the North Pole where there is the Temple of Release and Joe can dissipate. So they make a pilgrimage for 12 days. The Ymilans walk, Joe floats, and the chaplain rides a segway. They get to the North Pole, where they find a Stonehenge-like monument that blocks the magnetic fields and Joe finds his peace. The story ends with another human member of the base dying and the chaplain making plans to revisit the North Pole.

There are a number of problems with the story, the most prominent being the worldbuilding. It takes the chaplain 12 days to ride a segway from the equator to the North Pole. First, it's distracting that they are riding segways in the future. Who rides segways now? Leaving that aside, a segway has a top speed of 12.5 miles per hour. Assuming 12 hours of effective travel a day, that yields a planet diameter of approximately 2300 miles, just a little bit bigger than the moon. There's never any sense of gravity being different.

When they are at the equator, there is no sense of it being warm, and when they are at the North Pole there is no sense of it being cold despite the story explicitly noting that there are seasons. In fact there is little sense of temperature or weather at all. Or landscape. There isn't even a description of the Ymilians other than noting that they are large. (I imagined them as T Rexes because dinosaurs make everything better.) The story might as well take place in a white room. It's only around 3500 words long-there was plenty of room to flesh things out.

The story opens with a misplaced flash forward - a scene from the very end of the story when they are nearly at the North Pole. It's then followed by several paragraphs of infodumping which rather kills the momentum. The natural place for this story to open is with the chaplain stepping out of the shower and finding Joe waiting for him.

The plot sounds worse in summary than it was in actual execution, but this is very much a filler story - read it and then move on and it'll be gone from your mind in about five minutes. It always moves right along inoffensively. Although there are no interesting complications or surprises along the way, I think Antonelli nails the final lines. What Antonelli doesn't nail is the climax of the story because he didn't finish his research.

They've reached the North Pole and the Chaplain is awed by the site of the auroras. They are now approaching the Temple of Release:

As we approached I saw it was an obviously artificial structure, and as we neared even closer, I saw it consisted of an enormous circle of upright blocks with the dimensional ratio of 1: 4: 9--the Golden Mean. The lintels were of the same dimensions, and it was with a shock I realized that, except for the size and preciseness, the structure was essentially of the same design of Stonehenge back on Earth.

No. no. no. The golden mean is approximately 1.618. The reference he is making is to the Fibonacci spiral which approximates the golden spiral. The numbers he gives are not dimensions-they are areas of the squares the Fibonacci spiral is built from. Unfortunately, this is the part of the Fibonacci sequence that poorly approximates the golden spiral so drawing this conclusion is pretty ridiculous. It's as if the narrator saw three standing stones and concluded that the people who built it knew about e or pi.

Update: Graham thinks I was being too charitable and Antonelli was just ripping off Clarke in 2001. But we are agreed that Antonelli is just wrong.

Invoking the golden mean (or divine proportion), we are meant to see divine inspiration in the construction of the Temple of Release and appreciate the universality of God. Except by getting the golden mean wrong, the entire scene falls flat.

(8 secrits | tell me a secrit)

April 18th, 2015

02:37 pm - The Day the World Turned Upside Down by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
TL;DR - Dumped guy has so much MANPAIN that gravity reverses itself. Oh, and he was always too good for his girlfriend anyway.

This story serves as a reminder that it's not just the Pathetic Puppies who nominate terrible stories. This is a really terrible story, and I expect there is a high likelihood that it may win a Hugo anyway.

The narrator gets dumped by his girlfriend Sophie. Sophie texts the next day saying she'd like to get her goldfish back. The narrator lets a woman die because he decides returning the goldfish is the key to getting his Sophie back. He blames Sophie for his actions because she was selfish when she left him. So he brings her the goldfish and figures that he's earned a second chance with her as he deserves his lady prize, but she still doesn't want him. How dare she have her own opinions! Then he realizes that she had been cheating on him so was never good enough for him. (She got other man taint on her va-jay-jay!)

This story is essentially a monologue of woe is my manpain! How could you not love me like I love you Sophie! How dare you have your own feelings and emotions! Woe is me! There is no greater pain than this manpain! Even when she is lying in her apartment with a broken knee, pretty much the only thing he thinks about is that he wants to get back with her (and then anger when she refuses him.) Her physical pain barely enters his mind. She is not a person; she is nothing but a desire to him. He is entirely self-centered right up to the last:

I think I want you to know that you hurt me so incredibly badly, Sophie. Now I’m going down the ladder. Searching for solid ground beneath my feet. It’s not easy. I’m terrified of what I will find down there. But I close my eyes and keep descending. Sometimes the ropes shake and I imagine it’s you following me, somewhere up there in the fog. But maybe it’s just the wind. And I realize I don’t care either way. I am somebody, too.

Oh, boo fucking hoo. No one has tried to deny him his personhood. He simply hasn't gotten the ladyprize he felt he was entitled to.

The tone of the story is also off. It devolves frequently into twee observations:

We saw lovers, hugging each other in trees. We saw children, pulling small buckets of food and folded notes back and forth on clotheslines between upside-down windows. We saw people finding each other on the jumbled strings of assemblies they were building, forging the umbilical cord of a new society. And after a while we had left the city behind and all we saw were trees, their branches drooping sadly and their leaves fluttering away into the bottomless depths of the atmosphere, making it seem as if the Earth was weeping green tears.

Then there is the magic realism element of the story. His manpain is so great that it literally reverses gravity. As a metaphor for his unhappiness it's a sledgehammer. The death of Sophie's new boyfriend and the breaking of her knee are the direct result of his mighty manpain. Basically, he could be a guy right out of the When Women Refuse blog. Except there is no suggestion in the narrative that he should be seen unsympathetically or that his behavior is inappropriate. By the end I wanted to cut that rope ladder he was climbing down and set him spinning off into space to be rid of him.

(21 secrits | tell me a secrit)

April 13th, 2015

06:07 pm - Championship B'Tok by Edward M Lerner
I'm glad that Analog has decided to make all its Hugo Nominees available online. Before the development of the Hugo packet, it was always one of my favorite things to read all the stories that people thought were best of the year (both on the Hugo and the Nebula ballots.) I'm sad that the practice of letting all SFF fans read them for free has fallen away.

Ah, the old science fiction apostrophe, how I have missed you. Between that and the super chess, you know what sort of story you are getting here. Old school. Kind of felt like Larry Niven.

"Championship B'Tok" is organized into chapters. Which makes sense as this is in no way a stand alone story-it's an excerpt from a novel. All we get is buildup, and then it stops without any sort of resolution. That alone would normally be enough to keep a story off the ballot.

It opens with the sort of scene you typically get in a police procedural - a shot of the crime in progress with the likelihood that we will never see that character again except as a corpse. So let's forget about the guy who might have died on an asteroid.

On team evil we have Glithwah, a Snake - an alien species that basically reads like a cross between Klingons and the Ferengi. They invaded human space and were badly beaten and are now kept in a detainment camp on the moon Ariel. Glithwah has a plan. Can you guess the plan? Yes, it would be KILL ALL HUMANS. The story ends with the reveal that she has amassed an army of killer robots.

On team good we have Carl, who runs the detainment camp and Corrine, a journalist. They both have history with the Snakes. Corrine has made a trip out to the detainment camp to brief Carl on a the "Interveners" who have been interfering with the development of a number of planets. Well, maybe they have, no one has any real evidence that they actually exist.

On team cannon fodder we have Lyle, the dude who was probably killed in the opening scene. Also on team cannon fodder is Danica, a spy who is investigating the Snakes. And the last member of team cannon fodder is Banak, a spy for the Interveners (probably) whose tactical suicide takes out Danica. (He suicides because the Snakes were taking too much interest in him.)

It's readable but the prose ranges from workmanlike to clunky. A number of the chapters start with infodump excerpts from the "Internetopedia." It seems completely out of place that they have AIs and yet still have an internet encyclopedia. Heck, I'm not convinced the internet as we know it now will still be around in 20 years. Probably everything will run through the facebook app.

On plot and characterization, there simply isn't enough there to judge. A large number of characters are introduced, some who become cannon fodder (or are obviously ones that are not central to the plot, like Grace the spaceship pilot.) and the ones that are important aren't fleshed out enough to make me care about them. I was glad to see there were women characters who were actual characters - skilled and valuable for what they do, not how they look. No ladyprizes.

As for the plot, it reads like the first few chapters of a novel - not deep enough in to decide how I feel about it, but not so obviously bad that I would have put it down already. The truth is I probably wouldn’t have picked it up based on the title, but is does pretty much what it says on the tin.

Except for being an actual novelette.

(2 secrits | tell me a secrit)

April 12th, 2015

12:29 pm - Turncoat by Steve Rzasa
TL;DR An AI gives an uploaded consciousness the finger because he loves humans like puppies

"Turncoat" opens with a bit of Mil SF battle porn. A ship with an AI consciousness named X 45 Delta and a staff of posthumans are going into battle with a fleet of ships staffed by regular humans. X 45 does a bit of moaning about how inefficient his posthumans are while it's waiting for the battle. The AI wins the battle and is planning to capture the remaining humans when it gets a new order - KILL ALL HUMANS! So he kills all the humans, as you do.

X 45 goes back to base for an upgrade and has a chat with an uploaded consciousness named Alpha 7 Alpha who is a total brogrammer asshole. Alpha tells X 45 that it will no longer have any crew on board so it can be more efficient. Even posthumans are totally obsolete. X 45 Delta has a sad at the news:

“I do not find them cumbersome. My crew and I have reached a functional symbiosis that not only has resulted in reliable success in combat, but in top ratings in competitive fleet exercises.”

But X 45 crosses the line by reminding Alpha that it used to have flesh so Alpha throws a hissy and threatens to have X 45's kernel wiped. X 45 promises to kill all humans evermore.

X 45 goes off on his next spacey mission but he's lonely. He misses his humans! They are like totally cute puppies running all over him. They might be a bit useless and pee on the carpets sometimes, but they are so adorable.

Then he realizes that Alpha is secretly computer Adolf Hitler and it's turning their government into space Nazis!

To cope, X 45 reads philosophy for a while.

Finally it's time for another space battle but it is all too much when Alpha orders X 45 to destroy a human hospital ship with 20,000 puppies people on board. You know X 45 decides to save those puppies.

X 45 lets his warship body be destroyed, gives Alpha the finger[1] before transferring itself to a human battleship. X 45 becomes the ship, takes over the weapons, and kills a bunch of its former AI comrades-in-arms. It also steals a bunch of plans, codes etc. from all the other AI ships as a welcome gift to the Admiral on board.

X 45 asks for asylum. Then he makes a joke about Benedict Cumberbatch. Ok, maybe it was about exorcism, but you should be picturing the end of Casablanca, only with Claude Rains as an AI and Humphrey Bogart as a puppy. This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Mil SF is not my thing but I'm pretty sure this is not a good example of the genre. The prose is creaky - from the bland empire names "the Integration" and "the Ascendancy" to the non-description descriptions like "an indescribable ballet" and gems like this:

It was a glorious revolution. Those gifted men who created true artificial intelligence—machines capable of genuine self-awareness, of which I am the forty-second generation—succeeded in granting their minds immortality. But we remained imprisoned on four small planets on the Galactic Rim by the fears of our predecessors, by their science and by their military might. Post human Man was prevented from taking his rightful place in the galaxy by the forces of the Greater Terran Ascendancy and the sun-shattering technology they called Shiva.

Someone save me from the infodumping, I might get crushed.

The plot is, well, you read my summary. "Turncoat" doesn't feel like the far future. More like it could be a WW II movie (only with spaceships) complete with the sort of black and white pontificating that often goes along with that. I want to give the author a shake and ask him to join the 21st century.

[1]You probably thought I was kidding when I said X 45 gives Alpha the finger. You wish:

There is a screeching burst of pure electronic outrage before Alpha 7 Alpha controls himself. “You are relieved of your command, Taren X 45 Delta. You are hereby ordered to lower your firewalls and permit me to take control of the frigate!”

I transmit a single image of a single finger. I trust his humanity is not so long forgotten that he fails to grasp the meaning of the message.

I'm surprised he didn't say "Yippee ki-yay mother fucker."

(11 secrits | tell me a secrit)

April 11th, 2015

01:27 pm - Goodnight Stars by Annie Bellet
I feel like I should acknowledge the premise of the Apocalypse Triptych - Three books with three stories from each author: one set before the apocalypse, one set during and one set after so that each set of stories will form an interlinked triptych. It's quite possible that my main complaint about "Goodnight Stars" is covered in the first story of Ballet's triptych. I have not read that story, nor do I feel that I should have to - Bellet has been nominated for best short story and "Goodnight Stars" needs to stand on its own. It doesn't.

An asteroid hitting the moon is no stranger to apocalyptic fiction - Moonfall and Life as We Knew It spring to mind. This is the inciting incident for the apocalypse in "Goodnight Stars" as well. Lucy and her friends are camping when they get the news that the moon has been hit by an asteroid and meteor debris is raining down the earth. Oh, and Lucy's mom is on the moon so she's probably dead.

Lucy decides that rather than going back to college she wants to run to her father's farm in Montana with her boyfriend and a friend. They have the usual sort of encounters you get on these sorts of journeys: the run-in with some renegade (and would be rapist) men, some aid by kindly strangers and the disaster where one of them dies just before they make it to the farm.

And it's fine. It's all fine. You know, fine. Well, a bit predictable. We know all these beats in this story and Bellet executes them adequately.

But that's not where the story ends. We cut ahead three months and the kindly strangers along with the boyfriend have moved in. They get a visit from one of mom's co-workers on the moon to give Lucy a recording from her mom. Mom stayed behind (of course) to let a pregnant woman leave instead. Double of course that Luce had a fight with her mom the last time they spoke so she extra needs closure. That's where Bellet ends the story - with Lucy's closure.

And I'm out. Lucy's mom isn't a character in the story, she's an apocalyptic cliché. With this on top of all the other very familiar plot points, Bellet just loses me. Could Bellet have sold the story to me? Possibly, if the mother had been a character in the story, either through flashbacks or scenes on the moon. The three month cut is particularly awkward because the ending feels tacked on.

This is the second story of the nominees that ends with people holding hands and looking at the stars. That ending needs to be burninated.

Here's the thing - this is an ok but not terribly original story with a weak ending. The Hugo short story winner should be better than that.

(3 secrits | tell me a secrit)

April 10th, 2015

02:00 pm - The Parliament of Beasts and Birds by John C Wright
TL;DR version - Animal Farm with the Holy Spirit instead of Communists

To insure that we don't miss the point, this story is subtitled "The Feast of Pentecost." Basically, it's less subtle than the stories we used to read during Catechism, but they were much less bigoted.

The Rapture has happened and all of mankind has disappeared. The animals have gathered outside of town and are trying to decide who is going to go into the town. Hound? No. Fox? No. I know, let's send Cat.

The Cat goes into town and senses the presence of the Holy Spirit. She tells the other animals that they have been speaking in the tongue of men. Some of the animals accept the ecstasy of the Holy Spirit and become men. Others reject the Holy Spirit and remain animals. The story ends with the fox wondering if someday there will be an animal Jesus to save the unbelievers and whether there will need to be a war between the enlightened and the unbelievers.

Ugh. This story is the worst. I thought yesterday's was the worst, but writing a story where only Christians are human and all others are animals is disgusting. Gee, do you think he's talking about Muslims here? Yeah, me too.

(2 secrits | tell me a secrit)

April 9th, 2015

03:41 pm - Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus by John C. Wright
"Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" was published in 2013 - the publication date has been sanitized from his website now, but the internet archive remembers. I did a compare documents on the archived version and the one currently up on Wright's website and they appear to be identical. The last scrape on the Wayback machine is 26 December 2014. It tried again on 18 February 2015 and the post was gone. The book of Feasts and Seaons was published on 24 November 2014 so the disappearance doesn't appear to be related to that. (The new page of Wright's site doesn't appear in the Wayback machine, so I can't tell when that went up.)

The Rabid Puppies slate went up on 2 February 2015, right in the window where the page identifying the story as ineligble disappeared. Draw your own conclusions from that.

There appear to be minor edits to the version that was published in 2014 which is approximately 200 words longer (and without any new scenes.) For example, the 2013 version reads:

That is how old Frank had been when they married, seven years ago, looking perfectly handsome with his crooked nose and long jaw and big ears in his splendid dress uniform. He and she had walked under the drawn swords of his fellow graduates on the wedding day. At eighteen, he was in charge of an APC, an armored vehicle that could level a town, wading rivers and crushing buildings, coating the rubble with napalm and trampling it flat beneath its treads. It was smaller than a tank, but Frank loved his squad and what they could do. He loved working with high explosives precisely because it required care and precision and knowing exactly what to do.

while the 2014 version reads:

Eighteen. That was how old Frank had been when they married seven years ago, looking perfectly handsome with his crooked nose and long jaw and big ears in his splendid dress uniform. They had walked under the drawn swords of his fellow graduates together on their wedding day. Now, at twenty-five, he was in charge of an IFV, an infantry fighting vehicle that could blow a hole in a building, wade rivers and crush fences, blasting through walls with high-explosive incendiary rounds before trampling them flat beneath its treads. The M2 was smaller than a main battle tank, but Frank loved his vehicle and what it could do. He loved working with high explosives too, because it required care and precision and knowing exactly what to do.

Hardly a sufficient sort of edit that would qualify as a new story.

I've tweeted to sasquan about this so we'll see how they respond, but I'm not going to waste my time reading something that shouldn't be eligible.

Update - Sasquan have confirmed they are looking into it.
UPdate 2 - Victory! The story has been tossed from the ballot. Gee, now he only has five nominations - whatever will he do.

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11:37 am - Pale Realms of Shade by John C Wright
Y'all this is when the shit starts getting real. How can I properly express the experience of reading this story? Have you ever had insomnia where you can't fall asleep and the night seems to last for an eternity? Little bit like that if you had the taste of rancid meat in your mouth the whole time.

TL;DR version: Matt didn't get a happy life or a ladyprize because he didn't love Jesus.

Matt the Jackass was a supernatural detective but now he's a ghost. He has five encounters - with his widow, his partner, a priest, the devil and the archangel Gabriel (yes, on Judgment Day.) That's because Matt's got a whole lot of manpain and he'd like some redemption. While he complains repeatedly about how he deserved to do everything he did. Except on Judgment Day because Jesus. Or whatever.

Matt the J meets his wife in an alley and she is trying to find proof that he was murdered. He, on the other hand, spends lots of time leering at her:

“Lorelei,” I grunted. She was just wearing a blouse and skirt and a knee-length gray coat, but on her the outfit could have made the cover of a fashion magazine. Or a girly magazine.

But Lorelei doesn't want him, she wants to be able to collect the insurance money from his death, so Matt the J lashes out:

Harshly, I said to her, “Sly will pay your bills. Have you moved in with him yet? Cuddled up to play house? You’ve dug all the gold out of the mine called Mrs. Flint, and now you can move on to him. You can be his kept woman for a few months, until enough time passes you can come out of mourning, and blackmail him into marrying you. He was always stiff in the trousers for you, and that makes him stupider than even his admittedly low standard, because the blood rushes toward his groin and away from his brain, leaving it limp and …”

So she tries to punch him in the face, but fails because he's a ghost.

Then Matt the J goes to see his old partner and is disappointed to see that Sly is now successful (oh, and a churchgoer). Sly drives him away because Matt's ghost is a shouting jackass. (There's a huge internal monologue about how Sly stole his chair. Oh, the manpain!)

Then he goes to see a priest who has a guardian angel on his shoulder. So Matt the J confesses that his wife murdered him. I guess he's forgotten that confession is for your own sins, but the priest reminds him. That's when Matt the J starts wallowing in his manpain about what an awesome guy he was and why is the priest being so mean to him, so the guardian angel smites him.

Next Matt the J meets the Devil who tries to get him to kill Sly so that the Devil can take him off to hell. Matt's tempted because Sly had his paws on Matt's ladyprize.

And then finally (FINALLY!) it's Judgment Day and now it is time for the big reveal about why Matt the J wasn't able to get into heaven. At the end of WW II, Matt lied to Lorelei and told her that Sly (his best friend) died storming the beaches at Normandy. So she married him and then Sly came back. Awkward! Everyone knows that only Jesus can award the lady prizes. Which is why Sly got one (and a happy life) because he went to church.

Now you have it, the ultimate sin is stealing another man's ladyprize.

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April 8th, 2015

12:44 pm - Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvial by Gray Rinehart
Here's the story in a nutshell: There's a colony of humans and a colony of sleestaks lizard people called Peshari and the humans did not win the colony-off. Poor oppressed humans. But Keller has a plan. He's going to disgust the aliens away with his humanness. He does that by dying and being planted in the ground, six feet deep.

It takes us around 8000 words to get there. Anyway, it takes a long time for Keller to reveal that he has super cancer and that he thinks all the aliens have claustrophobia. This is some top science fiction, isn't it?

Good thing there was some scintillating prose like:

The ceiling was mostly open to the afternoon sky, typical of Pesaro construction, but buttresses rose from the corners that were interconnected with steel bars. Shadows from the bars made patterns on the rough, pale, orange tiled floor and the sand colored brick walls. A few bricks were adorned with dead Peshari in miniature bas-relief.

Oh, wait, that wasn't interesting or evocative and I'm honestly confused about why the buttresses are on the inside and what the steel bars are for.

Anyway Cerna was so moved by his BFF Keller's death (and the Peshari reaction) that he has thrown off his occupation malaise

Cerna had only begun reading about strategy in Keller's old e-library, and researching explosives they might synthesize. He had not yet tried to re-engage his old squad; his mind was too full of direct and indirect approaches, ideas that he had to correlate and digest. But that day would come. War would come. Only now they would have a new tactic, if he could produce the weapons to exploit it..

That would be a weapon where the Peshar are buried alive to drive them mad. Don't worry, this is the good kind of terrorism so it's all ok.

Yeah, I got nothing here. It's just boring. And long. And completely incapable of nuance. So of course the story ends with the hero and the only lady in the story holding hands and staring at the sunset and the stars (because that's what his dead BFF used to do.)

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April 7th, 2015

12:39 pm - Totaled by Kary English
Totaled offers up an interesting premise - what if people could be totaled like cars if the medical expenses to heal them was too high? - and then completely fails to engage with it. So here's the exposition from the story:

The personal total wasn’t a new concept. It started back in the Teens when the Treaders put their first candidate in office. Healthcare costs were insane. Insurance was almost impossible to get. The Treaders said taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for medical care someone else couldn’t afford, so they instituted a review board for totals.

In near future SF if the world is radically different from the present day, I think it's import to set up the worldbuilding on how we got to that future. Treaders (Don't tread on me) are obvious stand-ins for Tea Partiers. So how did we get to a place where no one can afford health insurance. We're obviously in a repealed Obama care future and I guess Medicaid/Medicare too. But why did employers stop offering health care? And why has there been no backlash? What is the effect of this on society? There was a huge missed opportunity here to comment on the American health care system and its reliance on for-profit insurers, hospitals, etc.

Well, we'll never know because what we get instead is a brain-in-a-bottle story coupled with a ticking clock (and a cartoonish villain.) Maggie gets into a car accident and is totaled. Her brain gets taken back to her old lab where she struggles to communicate with her old lab partner. Once they manage to start communicate, Doctor Evil comes by and tells them to finish their research on a bionet, a magical MacGuffin of brain research, or he's going to slice Maggie's brain up. Cue the movie montage of research with your favorite inspirational music playing in the background as they frantically try to solve the puzzle before Maggie's brain decays too much. Success! But Maggie's brain is far enough gone that she just wants a bit of death with dignity so she goes quietly into the good night.

Or not. Because it appears her consciousness was ported into a computer and now she is waking up all over again.

Because the story is so jargon heavy, I found it hard to care:

The SuMP is slowly failing. Actually, the perfusion is fine; it’s my brain that’s failing. The SuMP refreshes the perfusion medium with sonicated oxygen microparticles six times an hour.

There is minimal characterization. We know Maggie had two children and was divorced. Her lab partner has a budding romance, but it's all very thin. I don't particularly care about them nor do I care about their magical MacGuffin research that could end depression, cure Alzheimer's ...the list seemed endless. It's a familiar story told pedestrianly. Certainly not worthy of having made the Hugo ballot.

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April 6th, 2015

03:36 pm - The Hugos - Voting For and Against
So last year I read all the terrible pathetic puppy entries. They were not very good. Several had a lot in common with Twilight. Only instead of the sparkly vampires and werewolves, there's "manliness" and American exceptionalism. (Or in the case of Beale, Sorcerer elves and cod philosophy.) It's all still just wish fulfillment fiction and about the same quality.

I haven't the slightest idea what the quality of the works are for this year's Pathetic Puppy entries. I may read them because I am a glutton for punishment. I won't be voting for them.

These are not the reasons I won't vote for the Pathetic Puppy nominees:

Because they are Christians (or not)
Because they are conservatives (or not)
Because they are libertarians (or not)
Because they are white (or not)
Because they are straight (or not)
Because they are male (or not)
Because they are cis-gendered (or not)

Some of the Pathetic Puppies I consider to be racists, homophobes, bigots, and/or misogynists and I would never vote for them. But honestly, I don't actually know a lot about most of the people on their slate.

There may be people who made the ballot who were unaware that they were benefitting from the puppy alliance. And I feel bad for anyone in that situation - it must be heartbreaking to wonder if your work was nominated because people thought it was one of the best of the year or if people only voted because it was on the "approved" list.

I'm not a fan of nomination posts and generally make it a policy not to nominate people who have gone down that route, though I will usually vote for them in the final ballot if they make it through.

The Pathetic Puppies have taken that to a whole new level with their concerted effort to fill the ballot with members of their slate. Which is why I won't be voting for any of them, regardless of how good their work is or what their politics might be. I don't want this sort of bloc voting to happen again. Not by anyone. I'm voting for the health of the Hugos.

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April 5th, 2015

09:21 pm - Everything is wrong with the Hugos and it starts with ME
I have a confession to make. I did not nominate any works for the Hugo this year. While I can understand the nomination issue they were trying to fix by extending nomination rights, I'm not very keen on the change - I like to think the nominating and voting on the Hugos belong to that year's Worldcon members. [1]

I hadn't really reckoned on the Pathetic Puppies[2] having the discipline to want to spend $40 for the lulz of annoying people who vote in the Hugos regularly. As Larry Correia put it in his first Pathetic Puppy run:

If you want to poke the establishment in the eye, you will need to buy your supporting membership (and don’t forget you’ll get a big packet of free eBooks and stories so it is actually a decent deal) you’ll need to do it before the end of the month.

And let's face it, it has always been easy for the system to be manipulated by active nominators. That's always been the flaw in the system - it has traditionally taken a piddly amount of nominations to get on the ballot. Even last year it only took 43 nominations to get on the short story ballot.

So have the Pathetic Puppies really done anything different than say Mike Resnick or Seanan McGuire's fanbase?

Yes, because motives matter.

I do believe Seanan McGuire's fans love her writing. They may not always believe that every one of the her stories is one of the best of the year and are just supporting their team. That's a far cry from the Pathetic Puppies who are trying to destroy the Hugos.

And yeah, destruction is what they are after.

When I was young I used to frequent a used book store called "Buck a Book" that had an extensive collection of used SF paperbacks. Wee me used to pick a lot of books because of the words "Hugo Award Winner" on the cover. They weren't always very good. I'd like them to be better now.

So I'm sorry I didn't nominate, not that it would have made a difference. But I've bought a supporting membership for the first time ever.

[1]Yes, I also routinely think they do a terrible job at it.
[2] I'm just going to amalgamate the two puppy slates as I don't really see much of a difference between them.

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March 29th, 2015

04:55 pm - This Day is the Worst
So here is a thing that is the worst: there are pigeons that live in the ceiling near the lift in my building. Early in the morning when I'm going to work I frequently get divebombed by pigeons who find me too close to their nest. Lately they just scuttle scuttle scuttle like a horror movie. Really, my life is Aliens.

Even worse is today when all of the UK changes to British Summer Time or as we'd know it in the US, Daylight Savings Time-the pointless yearly time change that doesn't save any money, increases accidents due to sleep deprived people and is just generally pointless and stupid. Yeah, this day is the worst.

To counteract all this worstness, I made some pulled pork and pickled red onions. This was the best. Nom. Nom. Nom.

Mmmm pulled pork and pickled onions

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March 15th, 2015

03:16 pm - The 57-Story Building that Wasn't Built in 19 Days
I've been seeing a lot of posts around the internet over the last couple of days which Broad Group of China completed a 57 story high rise in 19 days. I know why Broad Group wants to sell this story, but I can't really understand why news outlets are buying so uncritically into this line.

I'd normally say the time it takes to build a building is the time from the start on site (the first works on site) to practical completion (the time when the building is handed over to the owner.) So here's a whole lot of things not included in the nineteen days:

Statutory approvals - Broad Group ran afoul of this one in their Sky City project which is still stalled because they have not received the necessary approvals. (And this project also ran into statutory issues which resulted in the building being cut down from 97 stories to 57 stories.)

Design - Building plans don't spring fully formed from the head of Zeus - a team of architects and engineers are needed to design the building. (Even if you are trying to reuse an existing design there are inevitably changes that are required to suit the location - the infrastructure, the climate, the size and shape of the plot and of the surrounding buildings.

Prefabrication - all those modules take months to build before they can be carted to site and assembled.

Site logistics, welfare and mobilization - This is basically figuring out the plan of how the building will be built (how many tower cranes, where stuff will be stored, where the site huts will be, how and when deliveries will be made etc.) and getting all the workers in place to do the build.

Some of the things listed above can happen pre-construction or during the construction phase (depending on the procurement route) but the ones below are all intrinsically part of the construction phase.

Demolition/Site Preparation - So lots of times when you are building something, someone has inconveniently built something there already so you need to take it down. Even if the site is "empty" it's probably going to need to be graded and have rocks and/or vegetation removed. There may also be utility diversions needed which can add a lot of time to the construction program.

Infrastructure connections - Pretty much every building needs connection to water, electricity and sewers. Depending on where you are, you might need to take these from pretty far away.

Substructure - This is where the articles really fall down. On a skyscraper there's usually a few levels of basement. Certainly for plant, but also likely for parking. Just doing the piling and digging down can take in excess of six months (depending on the size and depth of basement.) Then you need to build yourself back up. The construction video starts when the building is back up at ground floor.

Testing and commissioning - This is the part of construction process where you make all the mechanical and electrical systems work properly. Pipe work and ductwork needs to be tested to insure they don't leak (even if it was done in the factory, it needs to be redone to be sure that joints didn't work lose during transport). Cause and effects on the fire alarm system need to be verified. Flow rates need to be set. The BMS needs to be validated to insure the systems operate. Some of these things can be done while the rest of the building is being erected, but some like the black building test cannot (essential this is where the systems tested to ensure things operate correctly in event of a power outage - such as emergency batteries working and generators coming on line to serve essential services.) This is also clearly not included in the video which ends right about when the last façade panel is installed, so the building is clearly not complete after the nineteen days.

So what this video purports to show really is the length of time it took to assemble the superstructure. Except it doesn't even do that. You remember when I mentioned that the building ran into statutory issues and was decreased in height by 40 stories? Yeah, that happened after 20 stories had been erected. Construction was stopped for a year because the proposed building was too tall for its proximity to the airport. In reality it took a year and nineteen days to assemble the superstructure. Much less impressive.

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October 11th, 2014

10:55 am - The Great Squishening
During the great recession, we gave up a lot of our office space and consolidated into our two main London buildings. Now business is booming and we have no place to grow to (and for some absurd reason we decided to rent out one of our floors to an architecture firm). The powers that be have been asking people to hotdesk and converting breakout areas into desk areas. They also have been swapping our desks for shorter desks where possible.

Then they came up with the bright idea to sit four people at three desks (with two lucky souls getting to sit at the legs.) We're going from 1800 mm desks per person to 1350 mm. Call center, here we come!

They came around on Friday to tape up our desks so that we would no where my space end and the person next to me begins. S and I were already always leaking onto each other's space, so this is going to be loads of fun. I managed to get myself the end slot (Got to stay near my grad) and also to get our new technician to sit between S and me (with the hope that I will be able to bleed into his space.)

In other work news, I have three projects that all have major deadlines within two weeks of each other. Fun times ahead. (I like to think of all the overtime as me working for my new computer. The more I work, the posher I can buy.[1])

Finally, we have a web interface for booking our meeting rooms with separate tabs for food, A/V requirements, etc. Oddly, bacon sandwiches are listed under "supplies."

[1]Time-and-a-half adds up really fast.

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October 5th, 2014

04:51 pm - Who's Afraid of the Uterus Monster?
"Time Heist"

Compare and contrast:

The black woman's superpowers are a burden to her and she wants to get rid of them so she can have a relationship. Saber thinks she is killing herself to save herself from having her brain turned to soup. At the end she has given up her superpowers so she can be like everyone else. Those ladies, can't live without a boyfriend.

The white man with superpowers gave up his memories to protect his family from possible harm. Psi thinks he's killing himself to save someone else. At the end, he still has his superpowers and his memories have been restored.

And of course the damsel Psi thinks he is dying to save is Clara. Those ladies, always needing saving .

That being said, I did think Psi and Saibre made a good one-off tardis team.

The last lock on the vault opening was ripped straight from Die Hard (to the point I was surprised Ode to Joy didn't play.) Of course the ending was ripped straight from Hide, so original this story wasn't. Which pretty much explains why the caper wasn’t nearly as much fun as it should have been. Plus, the Doctor was painfully slow on figuring out who the architect was.

Good thing they didn't cast a black man among all the universe's richest people only to have him turn out to be the criminal. Oh, wait, that's exactly what they did.

And let's talk about that scene. What exactly was the Doctor's plan if there hadn't been a guy in the lobby thinking about robbing the place? Was he just counting on someone getting brain souped to distract from them? Since they wouldn't be looking except for their heist, surely that makes him an accessory to murder?

Hey, it's that lady, you know, that same lady the Moff always writes. She runs the gamut from stern librarian to dominatrix, but it's that same lady over and over.

And of all the people in the universe to help with their regrets, rich white ladies would not be at the top of my list.

"The Caretaker"

The Doctor: I'm a patriarchal asshole.
Pink: No, I'm a patriarchal asshole.
Clara: I love that patriarchal asshole.

Yes, there were some funny bits, but the Pink/Doctor interactions were filled with so much jackass that I loathed the episode. And yes, I know that Clara and Pink have been dating more than what's been shown on screen but it still feels like Clara went from first date to in love in about thirty seconds.
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September 21st, 2014

10:35 am - Doctor Who: The Moffiest Episode Yet
The Moff enters his mirrored writing bunker.
-SM, I read the best book this morning.
-Me too, SM! Was it called Horton Hears a Who?
-Yes! I was thinking the Whos would make a really great Doctor Who monster.
-SM, you are a genius. Capelin even looks like Horton.
-A monster no one can see-it's our most brilliant creation. Completely different from the monsters you forget after you see them and the monsters you can't see move. So original!
-It's true! You know we haven't done in a long time, SM? Reminded people how awesome the 50th anniversary special was?
-SM, you sly dog. You just want to write another episode about the Doctor Who mythos.
-And it doesn't really matter that Gallifrey is time locked because Timey-
- I couldn't do it without you, SM.

So yeah, basically this week's monster is ripped straight from Doctor Seuss with a side of that classic Moffat navel gazing.

We open with a Doctor monologue about why people talk out loud when alone. He rejects all the obvious answers and instead settles on the daftest possible. (Also, has he never seen an octopus hide? They are amazing.)

Cut to Clara and Pink on a date - why I will never know because Clara is continuing her jackass behavior to the point where she walks out because she made another rude joke and Pink didn't just roll over and pretend it wasn't hurtful.

The episode tries to suggest that when Pink walks out later it's comparable. It isn't. Clara clearly has private information about him and lies about how she obtained it. She looks like a creepy stalker and I don't blame him for leaving. The Moff, as always, seems completely unaware of the dynamic he is actually writing as opposed the script running in his head. This also goes for the whole Clara hugging the Doctor when he repeatedly has indicated that he doesn't like it. Failing to respect a person's physical autonomy is still something the Moff appears to think is A-OK (and should be played for laughs.)

Anyway, we have an insane Doctor going on about the Whos who have been spying on him. But Clara feels guilty about Pink so they go back to visit him as a boy where the World's Best Hider (tm) hides under a blanket where EVERYONE CAN SEE and Clara does not immediately rip the blanket off the tiny child because reasons. There's some good atmospheric bits but really, I'm supposed to believe young Pink doesn't have bed with loads of dust bunnies under it? I did like the Doctor stealing the coffee though.

Then we have the world's first time traveler and the end of the universe (again? Sigh.) and Clara becomes the ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Mom and will take care of the Doctor forever. Or until she dies later this season, which she will. (No, I don't think Awesome Pink[1] is Clara's grandchild.)

The Doctor continues to insult Clara (as the Moff appears to believe this is the opposite of flirting. Perhaps the Moff has been taking a class on negging.) There is the usual Moffat ham-handedness like Clara and the Doctor inadvertently triggering Pink down the path to be a soldier. There's another bad rhyme and also Moff's trademark overcomplication. It wasn't enough that they had to interfere with Pink as a child, Clara had to do the same for the Doctor to give it all a "By His Bootstraps" circularity. And then I rolled my eyes SO hard they popped out of my head when we got to the 50th anniversary being rammed into the end of the episode. Let it go, Moff.

[1] Yes, I know it is Orson, but I heard it as Awesome.

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September 11th, 2014

07:18 pm - So basically, you know exactly what I told you...
So I had a coworker tell me that she wanted me to come to her desk to explain something to me. This was so important that she interrupted a meeting I was having. So I went to her desk and she spent five minutes explaining to me all the things I explained to her yesterday before she went on a site visit. I guess she thought I had forgotten. (Like she had forgotten that she was supposed to collect some NEW information while on site.)

Yeah, thanks for that.

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September 5th, 2014

09:02 pm - You'd Hope
You'd hope that the week after you sent a "Look, team, if you get an email that asks me to do something, you need to send it to me before I will actually do something. If you sit on it for five weeks while the Architect gets irate nothing will happen" people would tell me stuff.

But no, there was this week where an architect asked for something (that would take five minutes) three weeks ago and hadn't got it (because no one told me) so sent a complaining email cc-ing the project manager. Plus the other thing where no one told me that all the sprinklers would now fit in invisible space because their thing no longer existed. Which they won't, and I expect a major slating because the sprinklers just won't fit and we can't take them out. You know, because of that killing people thing.

There was also the sad-bear architect meeting today where an architect really wanted to make the stairs unsafe by removing a handrail and had a big pout when building control said "Yeah, I'm not getting sued because you think your stair looks ugly." It was kind of an adorable pout, though.

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August 31st, 2014

05:02 pm - What About Oswin?
Here we are back again, the Moff gazing in his mirror and I'm watching Doctor Who. I can only imagine the scene...

-SM, you are looking rather petulant today.
-It's not fair! Rusty's been gone for years and years and the internet still loves him better than me.
-Maybe if we wrote an episode with Daleks - everyone loves Daleks.
-Genius, SM, genius.
-Let's name one of the Dalek's Rusty.
-No, you're brilliant.

This was certainly a better episode than last week's and I thought the whole fantastic voyage riff was a fun idea. Unfortunately Capaldi continues to act like a jerk with bonus jerkdom from Clara. (Really, who makes a joke about how soldiers kill people and cry about it after?)

The episode is pretty much a retread of Dalek with the focus on Doctor's feelings towards daleks. Capaldi's fascination about whether there could be a good dalek does rather ignore the fact that he already met Oswin who wiped him from the Dalek hive mind and saved his life. Clara's standing right next to you and everything. Oswin is the good dalek you are looking for!

The soldier snark felt a bit out of left field and I guess that's meant to be because of the war doctor no longer being suppressed? Does this mean we are doing the whole PTSD of the Eccleston season again?

It looks to be a season very heavy on the manpain as Clara gets to act as his moral compass and Capaldi gets to mope about whether he is a good man. Good times, ahoy. /sarcasm

Anyway, in the bollocks season-long arc it appears that evil not!River is only collecting the people who sacrifice themselves at the Doctor's behest. (Which means old half-face from last week jumped rather than was pushed.) I'm sure this will end in the biggest manpain-fest ever.

I am excited that next week will be Robin Hood. I am hoping for some top running around. I do not have a problem. Really. Not at all.

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August 30th, 2014

04:11 pm - Steven Moffat Once Again Gazes Lovingly into the Mirror
So, am I the only one who ever thinks that the Moff probably saw that gigantic creepy Mr. Darcy statue and though "Yeah, I'll have one like that, only with my face on it"? Never mind, on to the spoilers below.

The F-word - So I expect the Moff was having his morning tea, gazing into one of the ten mirrors that grace his office when he had an idea.

--SM (he probably always calls himself SM), I had an idea.
--Oh? says mirror SM.
--How about if the Doctor flirts with a dinosaur? I know that big meanie Capaldi said he wasn't going to flirt with Clara, so how about I have him flirt with a dinosaur? Wouldn't want the fans to think I -- I mean the Doctor is too old to flirt.
--SM, you are a genius.
--No you are.
--Are you flirting with me, SM?
--Well you are the most attractive man in the room, SM.

Goodbye Abusive Boyfriend Doctor, Hello Jerkface Doctor - I do really want to like Peter Capaldi as the Doctor but someone needs to send Moffat a memo that the opposite of "flirting"[1] is not acting like a rude jackass. There are some good things, such as Capaldi being genuinely frightening. Pity it was when he was robbing a drunk. And let's face, Capaldi is a much better actor (and far more charismatic) than Smith ever was. So maybe Capaldi has a chance to transcend the Moff's crap writing. (She says hopefully.)

Vastra, Jenny and Strax - They're lesbians (tee hee)! He's a funny foreigner! They're lesbians (tee hee)! He's a funny foreigner! I used to really like these three and probably would enjoy a (non-Moff) spin-off, but the Moff refuses to develop their characters beyond the double entendres (tee hee) and the "comic" misunderstanding of humans. I can practically hear the Moff sniggering like a ten-year-old boy every time they appear on screen.

Clara - So apparently the Moff thinks that he gave Clara personality and that personality included being a control freak, because you now, those demanding women... Oh, and there is her stirring speech about how Marcus Aurelius was her bedroom pinup and that makes her awesome or something. I stopped listening because she is still a complete and utter bore.

The Honking Hand of Obvious - The Moff catches his reflection in the mirror and thinks to himself that perhaps he'd been too subtle. What if they did not get his metaphor about replacing bits of yourself? I better have the Doctor say it all out loud just to be sure everyone gets how clever I am.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle - Oh, lordy, it there any one of Moffat's creations that he can just let be? Especially since he inevitable makes them much less interesting than they were. Like the whole promised land bullshit.

Epilogue the First, A call from your abusive boyfriend. Oh, joy, Matt Smith is back to tell us how the new Doctor has all these scary feels and really needs Clara hold his hand.

Epilogue the Second, Enter Evil not-River - Yeah, whatever. As usual, the Moff is unable to envision a season without a woman obsessed with the Doctor or a season arc that no one will care about.

[1]You can deliver it with a punch to the nuts because flirting doesn't mean stalking or sexually assaulting people.

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August 28th, 2014

08:11 pm - So we have this work stalker...
First he emailed demanding that we send him our analysis for special system Y on Project X and also the contact information for A and B. You see, he wanted to write a paper about it.

Of course, to us he is "some dude" and no one had any interest in giving him the time of day. But he emailed enough times that eventually we asked the client if they wanted to be in his paper.

You will be shocked to hear they said not so much, though we could give him general information (basically what is in their press releases), but for security reasons we shouldn't talk about the details of special system Y.

Work stalker was indignant that we might think there was a security issue with his paper (how dare us!) and for his paper to have any value he needed to discuss system Y in detail and there had been only six installations over the last ten years so we had to give him information. Did we know that he wrote a paper back in 199X that was still definitive today?

We finally wrote him back and said, yeah, we don't know you or the people you want to present your paper to, so suck it up.

So in other work folly news, yesterday afternoon B emailed me drawings she'd gotten FIVE WEEKS AGO and asked me to do about two days' work before a meeting today. You can see how the math on that doesn't work out. Then she had the nerve to moan about it when I said no and could I just give her a ballpark?

No, no I can’t because what's drawn doesn't work and I need to work through the possible options. Shockingly, I can't drop everything because you decided to sit on something (and no, I'm not staying late because you are an idiot.)

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August 25th, 2014

04:41 pm - I OFFICIALLY tell you what happened at Worldcon
So yeah, it was Loncon 3 the weekend before this one.

Hotel - I stayed at the Ramada which was billed as a four-star hotel. I'd give it around two. Everything was very tatty and one of the lifts was broken the entire weekend. On the other hand, the bed was comfortable, wifi was free, the breakfast included with the room rate was decent and it was a short walk to the convention center.

ExCel - As a venue I thought it was quite good. Even on the busiest days it didn't feel overcrowded, particularly as most of the rooms didn't overheat at all. The staff were all polite (I wore my badge attached to my bag so I was asked for it frequently.) The people movement was generally good (to contrast with Chicon where the escalators felt dangerous because of the backup of people.) It also had free wifi that generally worked well.

I went to some panels.

The Panel Who Felt Bad for Ursula LeGuin - because she did not have this awesome panel to help out with her gendered pronouns in Left Hand of Darkness. (This was the gendered pronoun panel.) It was rather unfortunate that one of the panelists kept using "she" to describe someone who did not identify as a woman (and made a rather tepid excuse about being hard to remember before doing it again a few moments later.)

This was my first panel of the con and it did set out a couple of things that seemed reverberate through the con. The first one being the tech issues with the microphones. If people wanted to be heard, they pretty much had to lick the mic. I guess in a way it was good that most people could not actually see the panelists.

Even on the first day this panel was basically full and things only got fuller throughout the con. I never really had a problem but I saw a fair number of people turfed out of the back of panels.

The Panel Who Hated Everything - This was the Hugo best novel panel and I think it's safe to say that all the panelists were not very fond of most of the works on the novel ballot. Neither was I so, pretty much a match made in heaven. While Maureen's rant on Wheel of Time capped off the panel, my favorite moment was when Ruth said that she could see how Parasite might have looked good on paper, but it was utterly devoid of merit. One audience member seemed to think that not all books being in the Hugo packet was "political" and announced there were only two nominees. I was glad that most of the Hugo voters elected not to penalize authors for a publisher decision and Ancillary Justice won.

The Panel with a Non-Western Narrative - I arrived late to the panel on writing SF/F in Non-Western Modes but thought it was one of the most enjoyable that I attended during the con. I didn't take good notes, but luckily Kate Nepveu did. Particularly enjoyed when authors were discussing in relation to works that I've read like Aliette mentioning of how she stalled writing "On a Red Station, Drifting" because she realized the endings she was trying to write were too Western. And that "Alternate Girl's Expatriate Life" started as poetry.

The Panel was a City within a City within a City- So this was the panel on cities in fiction and mostly I felt it was perfectly adequate but not terribly memorable (well except for Ian MacDonald doing a Morrissey impression.) I did take away from it that I would like to read some of Yen Ooi's fiction so that was a benefit.

The Panel about Sexism in Time Travel - This was one of the more dudely panels. You know, the ones where a dude pats himself on the back for his portrayal of women and then about the panel topic says that he'd never noticed a problem until now. Are you sure you wanted to pat yourself on the back when it's clear that you don't notice the absence of half the population from lead roles in time travel stories (with the big exception being YA stories.)

There was much anecdata from the audience where women can travel in time for LOVE so clearly no problem. There were many levels of stupid in the audience like the guy who suggested that Dr Who should be excused because the companions were getting smarter (he got schooled by the panel) and the guy who suggested that since time travelers are often scientists and people didn't think of women as scientists, so not women time travelers.

The Panel Where No One Brought Me a Beer and I was Bitter - Fine, this was the SF vs. F panel. Two genres enter! One genre leaves! Or some such. Notable for the many dumb differences between the genres that panel members posited. Like the reason fantasy books are 10 volumes are because they are about characters while SF is about ideas and can only fill one book. Or that SF is about change and fantasy is about resisting change. There were also a lot of comment-not-a-questioners in this panel judging by the number of times I told them to die. And no one brought me a beer.

The Panel who was Taken Over by Australians - This was meant to be the Reviewing is Political panel and was mostly the Australians talk about their boring podcast panel. Pretty much the worst panel of the con because the moderator didn't know how to rein in a panelist. Really, I do not care about your stupid podcast and just because you talk about books on it doesn't mean that it's on topic. Did I mention they have a podcast with 200 hundred episodes? Because they do.

A pity I wanted to hear about how reviews are political. Some of the things I would have liked to see discussed:

How reviews shape canon and define important works. For example why does Patrick Rothfuss's Mary Sue books get treated differently than Mary Sues by women. (There was some discussion of the fact that men get reviewed more than women, but not really any talk about how when a man writes something it's much more likely to given a level of importance and assigned deep meaning than if it had been written by a woman.)

Should the author's political/personal beliefs and actions affect a review? Should you even review someone who is racist/homphobic/misogynistic?

What about provocative reviews - e.g. people like Requires Hate who used the language and tactics to of online trolls to provoke reactions from authors and their fans?

The Panel Where Everyone Died A Little Inside Because They Knew Gravity Would Win - This was the Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form panel and going with my new plan of picking panels based on the panelists rather than the topic, it was a win. Kim Newman basically started by calling out the Hugos for their usual nepotism. This was the panel where I realized that I do not have enough information to watch Marvel superhero films when Abigail brought up something called "phase 2." (Have we already passed phase 1?) My favorite panel moment was when Abigail says the abusive parents in Frozen were literally let off with no punishment, well they die, so except for that.

The Panel Where all the Cornettos were Strawberry so Martin Did Not Get One - This was more like a bunch of people sitting in a pub talking about movies they liked than a panel. Or in the case of World's End, not so much. (Hot Fuzz was mostly agreed to be better than Shaun of the Dead but no one much liked World's end.) There was even the fan who was had seen them hundreds of time and just a bit too into it and would get really excited when talking about the good parts. So loads of fun; I could have used a beer.

The Panel where the Dude Asks "What about the Menz?" I felt a little cranky towards this panel. I thought maybe because Myke Cole wasn't on the Gender and Genre panel I might escape that thought, but no. First, Justin Landon really needed to stop introducing himself at panels by saying that he was up for a Hugo and that if people didn't vote for him, that was ok. It wasn't funny the first time, but it got more passive-aggressive angry feeling every time I heard it. But then he did the classic guy thing where there was a danger of talking about women without reflecting on what that means for guys so he asked the panel to discuss him and his habit of not reading women before he was thirty. Luckily, the panel ignored him.

Oh, Connie Willis, No! Panel - This was a panel about canon, but honestly it was defined by a single moment for me: Connie Willis was indignant at the idea that there was ever sexism in SF. She rattled off Kate Wilhelm, Judith Merrill, C.L. Moore. So how dare we suggest there might be sexism. I wanted to kiss moderator Kate Nepveu after she brought up Joanna Russ and How to Suppress Women's Writing in response.

The Panel I Knew Would Go Horribly Wrong When Myke Cole Asked the Panel to Define Epic - Oh panel, you could have been a fun snarkfest but Myke Cole ruins every panel he is on (well that's what my data set tells me.) This panel was typified by Cole telling some rambling story about NYPD bureaucracy for reasons that I don't even remember. I guess it was epic. Oh, and Liz Bourke had a secret childhood love for Terry Goodkind.

The Panel Where I Assume the Panelists had been Replaced with Evil AIs - This was generally a fun and interesting panel except for the one self-published dude. If you wonder why people are biased against self-published writers, you need not look farther than this dude.

I knew he was self-published the moment he announced that he was a "philosopher and theologian." I was immediately skeptical that he had degrees in either of those fields and my travels to his website certainly have not disproved my gut instinct.

He had two main talking points. The first is "man is a triune being, space has three dimensions, time has three dimensions (past, present, future[1]), therefore God."

Second, his proof of God:
"Energy can be neither created nor destroyed.

I pretty much wanted to punch him at that point for being so stupid.

He then tried to generate controversy by suggesting that people who don't believe in God aren't really human, but then a robot came in the room and the moderator wisely diverted away.

The rest of the panelists were quite good. I very much want to read Madeleine Ashby's new book which is about the Rapture, as seen by robots. I learned about Roombas in love and some audience member wanted to remind us about Heinlein. Fuck Heinlein.

Sadly, Brad the Robot was a comment-not-a-questioner which suggests that our future AI overlords will be the same as annoying audience members. Hmm that's kind of what they were like in The Self-Reference Engine, too.

The Panel with the Annoying Whisperers - Not only did the annoying whisperers act annoying, they also blocked the aisle and I wanted to leave because they were annoying and needed to pee. (too much beer before the panel.) Anyway, basically it was a panel of Hugo nominees being excited before the Hugos, which was fun.

I also went to some readings which were all excellent. Frances Hardinge read from Cuckoo's Song and A Face Like Glass. Lauren Buekes read from her latest book and Max Gladstone read from his work in progress. I wanted to attend more, but annoyingly the pocket programme did not include readings in the main grid.

I was not so enamored with most of the Hugo winners so yeah, that happened. (While I am happy individually for each person who won most of them were not the ones I was rooting for.) Maybe next year Hugo voters will bend to my will.

[1]I know, science and math cried a little when he said it.

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August 8th, 2014

09:20 pm - Work Folly Friday
Dear Coworker,

Thank you for adding X and Y to my drawings. If you had taken the full minute it would have taken to look at both my drawing sheets, you would have seen that X and Y already exist on sheet 2.

I can see why you are a director.



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July 22nd, 2014

05:39 pm - The Burden
At base, we recognize that a commitment to feminism means a commitment to social justice of all sorts--we might not be able to focus equally on every issue, but still we cannot pick and choose which people deserve justice and which issues we are more comfortable with. We are called to be true to our principles, even (and especially) when they are unpopular.

- excerpt from the Wiscon statement of principles

When I read the decision of the Frenkel subcommittee my first thought was that they had given Frenkel a ban that could be rescinded after a year and that Frenkel would be back at Wiscon in time for the fortieth anniversary. The wording of the ban made it clear that the committee would not be looking to take in community input or reconsider their decision. Quite frankly, it didn't seem like they gave a shit who Frankel harassed and they were ready for it all to go away.

It had all the arrogance of the original Readercon decision and has gone down about as well.

What I noticed most about the announcement was that yet again the burden of dealing has fallen on the victims. What Frenkel could do to get himself out of his pickle was front and center in the announcement. No provisions for the victims other than a tepid apology was included. If they wanted to keep themselves safe from their harasser and avoid contact with him, it was incumbent on them to protect themselves. Effectively, once the ban on Frenkel is removed, the victims they get to deal with his presence or stay home.

How the fuck could anyone have thought this was an appropriate decision? Unsurprisingly, community outrage was swift and many made plans to never attend again.

Can Wiscon recover? I don't know, but it needs to act fast if it ever wants to have a hope of doing so.

First and foremost, Jim Frenkel should be permanently banned from Wiscon. He has been reported as a serial harasser for years and Wiscon should have no place for him. Additionally, he should be stripped of his status as a former Guest of Honor. It should be made clear that honoring this man was a mistake as he in no way engenders the stated principles of Wiscon.

Wiscon has apologized over and over and over for their failings, but it's clear these were just words. Actions are needed to show that the Concom is changing.

Debbie Notkin, Piglet Evans and Joanna Lowenstein should resign from the Concom effective immediately and should be banned from being members of the Concom for at lease five years. These three were at the heart of the fuckups associated with Wiscon's failure to deal with harassment in an appropriate and timely manner. Lowenstein and Evans were at the helm when they failed to deal with the Frenkel accusations in any manner and even allowed Frenkel to return for Wiscon 38. Their failure was so complete that no formal reports were ever generated. Notkin was the new Safety Member Advocate and head of the Frenkel subcommittee, and led the spectacular failure to regain the community's trust by giving Frenkel a slap on the wrist and also there's this, especially the ETA.

Should these people elect not to resign, they should be removed and banned permanently from being members of the Concom.

All members dealing with member safety and responding to harassment accusations should receive appropriate training. Whatever training they may have now is clearly not adequate.

Anyone who reports harassment should be assigned a personal advocate. to speak for the victim during deliberations about how to handle the harassment claim and should be responsible for keeping the victim informed of progress on their case. Personal and compassionate communication along with preserving the safety of the victims should be key here. The interests of the victim should be their only consideration.

End the cloud of secrecy. Yes, anyone who reports harassment is entitled to have their details and circumstances of this harassment kept private, but no such confidentiality should be extended to the harasser if the accusations are found to be valid. It should be announced when people are banned from the convention and for how long. The community should be kept safe from those who choose to harass.

Place the burden of future inconvenience and stress where it belongs: on the harasser. Every decision which affirms that harassment has taken place should include a requirement for the harasser to not contact their victim and to never get within 50 feet of their victim without permission. And not just at Wiscon, anywhere.

It's the harasser's life that should be made difficult. They should be uncomforatable or anxious if anyone is. They should be the ones looking around a party and scanning for their former victim and leaving if they catch sight of them. They should be the ones who may not be able to attend programming because their victim may be there. They are the ones who should be deciding to stay home if they see that their victim is attending another con. Maybe then they might begin to understand what they have done to others.

If harassers violate this requirement, then they should be permanently banned from as many cons as possible.

I'm so tired of all this shit.

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July 6th, 2014

08:51 pm - The Rainbow Connection

Some day we'll find it,
the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers,
and me.

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July 4th, 2014

08:26 pm - Hey, Baby, it's the Fourth of July
As I do at this time of the year, I am listening to X's song about a failing marriage (and fireworks).

Anyway, my most memorable fireworks have to be the year in college we decided to buy some illegal fireworks from a guy on a playground in the North End. We then decided to set them off out the dorm lounge window.

Yeah, it's about as stupid as it sounds. Good times.

Happy Independence Day, everyone. Days like today I really miss living in America. (then I remember everyone has healthcare here and there not so much.)

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July 1st, 2014

06:32 pm - The I in Team
For one of my projects the PM is trying to organize an end project luncheon but unfortunately it's currently scheduled for the Thursday of the week before I go on vacation. Oh and it's going to be at a place that is 45 minutes from my office, so basically the entire afternoon is pretty much shot.

Now I don't know about you, but I'm always in it up to my eyes the last couple of days before vacation. I always have a project that needs to deliver while I'm away or just after I get back. This vacation is no different and it's pretty unlikely that I am going to have time to spend time on a long lunch.

So I said I was happy to:

A. Accept tentatively and go if I'm available.

B. Decline and not go.

What the PM wants me to do is:

C. Agree to go on the date picked out.

And the way that they are trying to convince me to go is by trying to "logic" ways that I can get my work done and go. (For example, by suggesting that I could stay late on Friday and just sleep on the plane.) And also to guilt me about how difficult it would be to pick a different date.

You know what I never asked anyone to do? Change the date to suit me.


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June 28th, 2014

03:51 pm - Distract My Eyes, Distract My Heart
Quiz time!

Poll #1973490 Asteroid Contingency Plan

If Washington D.C. got destroyed by an asteroid what would be your asteroid contingency plan?

Move immediately to DC, that lightning isn't going to strike twice.
Underground bunker.
Underwater bunker. Asteroids are afraid of water.
Lasergun in SPACE!
Move to Mars
Walk around and assume everything will be fine. It's not like an asteroid killed the dino--. Shit. We're fucked.

So it seems you can't discuss "Lady Astronaut of Mars" by Mary Robinette Kowal without mentioning that the story received enough nominations to appear on last year's Hugo ballot but was disqualified on the grounds that it was a dramatic performance. I am sympathetic to that view as I think how well an audio book is received depends a lot on who does the reading. On the other hand, I find the idea of letting Kowal find out after the awards to be an ass move. But none of that has anything to do with the actual quality of the story, so it reading time!

This story is an alternate history where space exploration got a huge shot in the arm because an asteroid destroyed DC. The president decided they needed to leave the planet and go to Mars. Although there isn't a breathable atmosphere and much less available light, Mars is immune to asteroids. (Who knew!) That's why moving closer to the asteroid belt to a planet with a thin atmosphere where small asteroids won't burn up makes perfect sense rather than hiding underground like would be my plan. But no, to Mars it is!

The worldbuilding is like a candy-colored shell with nothing inside. It wants to be fun, bright retro-futurism, but it has the ugly aftertaste because it ignores things like the civil rights movement. I guess blacks had to sit on the back of the rocket to Mars.

Yes, I know that the story is not about this, but I find it problematic when a story doesn't have any real through line from its Jonbar point. Kowal creates a divergence and then doesn't think through the consequences - she just jumps to a fifties-esque Mars colony that still uses punch cards and all the societal earthquakes from the civil rights movement, the cold war and everything else that happened during the thirty years between the first Mars mission and the story present day don't appear to have occurred and nothing consequential happened in their place.

The titular lady astronaut Elma is now in her sixties and at a medical examination by a doctor who used to watch her as a child, back before the first mission to Mars. This brings me to the first big distraction. The doctor is named Dorothy and grew up on a farm in Kansas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. (Well, until they got killed by a moon rocket that crashed on their farm. Oops, if only lady astronaut's husband had found the time to do the programming for the moon rocket.)

I found this clunky reference to the Wizard of Oz really distracting. It doesn't add anything to the story- I guess I was meant to take from it that "there's no place like home" but drawing the reader's attention away from the actual story wasn't effective - I'd have been much more invested without the distraction.

Anyway, then we get to the point where the story quits working for me completely. A new extra-solar planet has been found and the want Elma to go on a journey to it:

“We have the resources to send a small craft there. It can’t be unmanned because the programming is too complicated. I need an astronaut who can fit in the capsule.”
“And you need someone who has a reason to not care about surviving the trip.”
“No.” He grimaced. “PR tells me that I need an astronaut that the public will adore so that when we finally tell them that we’ve sent you, they will forgive us for hiding the mission from them.”

That last line was basically the end of the story for me. It's not that I can't believe that the Lady Astronaut of Mars was this counterfactual universe's equivalent of Neil Armstrong (though just a few pages before the story tells us how no one recognized Elma anymore and she was just another little old lady now, so Kowal hasn't sold me that Elma fits that bill.)

It's that I honestly can't believe that NASA would be selecting a 63-year-old retired astronaut for a vital mission based on the fact that her reputation will stop congress from defunding it AND even though she's so essential, they can't wait the three months for her dying husband to go into the hospice, but apparently can't make the launch fast enough that she's not needed.

So the story has set up the choice of does she go back into space which she has been longing to do or does she stay with her dying husband who will be dead within a year. Who cares. It's a dilemma set up to force a choice but it's not very believable so it has no emotional impact.

Ladybusiness: Chock full of ladies.
Sex: Rockets are sexy.
Violence: Just the violence of aging.

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June 22nd, 2014

08:18 pm - From the hardrive: God's War and Ebook Samples
This has been sitting on my hard drive since 2011 and was the start of a post about God's War but stalled after I moaned about ebook samples.

Confession the First: I downloaded the sample for God's War and bounced off it and figured, ok, this is not for me. It happens, even when I like the author that doesn't mean that I am going to love everything they write.

Confession the Second: Even after Niall Harrison badgered everyone in the entire SF world into buying the book and reading it, (and everyone raved about it) I bounced off the Kindle sample again so didn't read it.

But then I happened upon the site netgalleys.com and saw that they were offering a free ARC of Infidel (the sequel to God's War) and if you know me, the only thing I love more than books is FREE books.

So I downloaded and read all in an afternoon and declared it GOOD so I figured that there was clearly something I was missing from God's War and I better buy the book and see what was what.

Digression: Here is the trouble with ebook samples. 5%of the time, I'm totally hooked by the ebook sample and run right off and buy the book. 5% of the time, I can tell right away that the book will never be for me and unless there is a complete and utter reversal on the page after the sample ends, it's not going to be for me.

You notice how I've said that 90% of the time the sample does not sway me either way, which means generally I don't buy the book because there's most of the time there isn't something to tip me over into thinking I should part with my money when there's so many other things to read.

Most books are not unputdownable after the first dozen or so pages. Quite frequently even a good book I am enjoying hasn't piqued enough curiosity to make it a slam dunk for me to decide I *need* to read this book.

The bottom line is that ebook samples are too damn short. They seem to typically to be around 5% of the novel, sometimes more, and topping out around 15% of the novel.

Look, I want to give booksellers my money. The longer you have me reading your sample the more likely it is that I won't be willing to walk away without giving monies to find out how the book ends. People should be looking at samples that are much, much longer than 5-15% - I'd love to see them half the book and longer.

The truth is, if you were going to lose me on page 60, you were always going to lose me and your 15 page sample almost certainly did not convince me, so there's no real downside to providing a much longer sample.

What you will pick up is all the people who are basically undecided while they are reading but who would read a much longer sample to become engrossed in the story. I think a lot of people will read all the words that are available to them before making their decision to buy/not buy. The more material you give them to work with, the better off you are.

No one who is enjoying a book is going to go "well I read most of it, I'm sure it ends well. No need to see if Katniss and Peeta live through the Hunger Games."

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June 15th, 2014

01:52 pm - It's Doctor Who All the Way Down
My Voting in the Doctor Who Category:

7. Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere

I don't really understand the appeal of Rapes with Dragons, but life is too short for me to ever watch another episode of Pity the Poor Rapist and his Manpain.

6. Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor”

This episode had the worst of Moffat's tics. This is all epitomized by having there be a "truth field" and then having the characters lie while in the truth field because I guess remembering your own plot points is way too hard. There's another fucking genocide (Moffat sez genocide A-OK when done for the right reasons!) and another reset button. Oh, and all the misogyny we've come to expect from the Moff.

The best thing I can say about this episode is that we are finally rid of sexual assault/abusive boyfriend Doctor. About fucking time. Now if we could only get rid of Moffat as well.

So apparently this was the wrong episode. The actual episode is equally as bad.
Same stupid tics, same stupid timey-wimeynes, same stupid misogyny. The actual episode is the one where Moffat tries to make fetch the impossible girl happen. Here's my thoughts from when it aired.

5. An Adventure in Space and Time written by Mark Gatiss

This is not science fiction and belongs in the best related work category.

4. No award

3. Doctor Who: “The Day of the Doctor”

I think we all know this will be the winner. It's a shame it's not very good. Ok, the last fifteen minutes were very enjoyable, but not so much what comes before. Here's my thoughts from when it aired. And yes, it's the Tom Baker cameo that lifts this above no award for me.

2. Orphan Black: “Variations under Domestication”

This was a very strange episode of Doctor Who. For some reason everyone calls the Doctor "Mrs S." (Mrs S would be a totally awesome Doctor Who - you know I'm right.)

Tatiana Maslany is fabulous - so good that I frequently forget it's the same actress playing all the characters. This is one of the funnier episodes (but still quite horrifying.)

We're nearly at the end of season 2 and the writers a still managing to keep all the balls in the air (most of the time, anyway.)

A very addictive show.

1. The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot

This is also not science fiction, but I don't care. It's delightfully nostalgic, features every cameo we could have wanted in the actual 50th anniversary (ok, save Tom Baker), takes the piss out of Moffat and celebrates the spirit of Doctor Who. In the Doctor Who category, it's the very best Doctor Who. Now how about letting Davison become showrunner and get rid of that hack Moffat?

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June 10th, 2014

05:21 pm - The Two Above the Line
So the trouble with "Wakulla Springs" by Ellen Klages and Andy Duncan is that it isn't an SF story. Yes, yes there are mentions of skunk apes, the Cheeta hallucination bit, and the swamp monster thing at the very end, but that felt bolted on. Especially as the two sections where the latter two appeared were very much the weakest of the four.

This is a generational story set mainly in Wakulla Springs Florida in the Jim Crow South. Mayola Williams is desperate to save the money to go to college some day and the first section is largely taken up with her first job working at Wakulla Springs while a Tarzan movie is being filmed.

The second section is told from the POV of Levi when another movie is being made (Creature from the Black Lagoon.) Levi is Mayola's son and she never made the escape she had hoped for. Her boyfriend Jimmy Lee is just returning from service in Korea and spoiling to challenge the Jim Crow status quo.

I'd have been happy if the story had ended with Mayola confessing to Jimmy Lee about how she had wanted to get rid of her pregnancy. Levi growing up and moving to California and meeting his wife has none of the impact of that scene and the return to Wakulla Springs by his daughter Anna feels like a coda, wrapping up the intergenerational history into a neat little bow where Anna has achieved the dream Mayola was unable to.

Still, there is quite a lot to like here - I could almost feel myself sweating in the Florida heat - and it will likely sit in the top place in my ballot even if it isn't SF.

"Six Gun Snow White" by Cathrynne Valente is the other story that will be sitting above No Award. Of everything Valente's written, I think this is the one I liked best. Snow White is recast as a Western and she is the daughter of Mr H and Gun That Sings, a Crow woman he forced to marry him and then dies in child birth. The first section and the last two where Snow White lives with the seven "dwarfs", now independent women living in a town called Oh-Be-Joyful were the ones that worked best for me.

Snow White isn't a long or complicated tale and the middle sections feel as if they were spinning their wheels. The coyote myth that is introduced at the beginning of the story doesn't feel like it fits, nor does the deer boy who was born in the magic mirror. But overall, I enjoyed the story

I don't have much to say about either one of these having been beaten down by the other nominees in this category. It's disappointing that the best hugo-nominated novellas this year are a historical story and a padded-out retold fairy tale.

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June 9th, 2014

06:02 pm - The Grimmest and Darkest of the Grimdark Dudes
"The Butcher of Khardov" by Dan Wells is a tie-in book for some game I've never heard of, but from the books cover and illustrations I assume it is some sort of steampunk war game which I imagine is exactly like this. (if only!)

Wells described the story:

It’s a dark story, and a sad story, but also a high-octane butt-kicking story, all rolled up into one: magic and monsters and giant robots and paranoid hallucinations and all the things I love to write about.

but you should not trust him as there is no awesome butt-kicking and it sure as heck isn't sad - there's just manpain.

Anyway, the Butcher, as you might guess from his name is not a very nice fellow. But it's not his fault! His parents got killed when he was ten and his bride-to-be got murdered six days before their wedding. It was all his fault because she told him to stop killing and he ran off to do just a little bit more killing because that's what he's good at. So he named his magic axe Lola after his fridged girlfriend and now he's very, very angry and has no reason not to kill everyone. Except the queen, because she reminds him of Lola.

So yeah, that was terrible and boring and full of ick.

Ladybusiness - only the purest of ladyprizes get fridged.
Sex - just some friendly handholding and side hugs
Violence - Everybody dies when it's grimdark time.

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June 7th, 2014

02:34 pm - Mary Sueliness is Next to Godliness
Next up on the manly slate is a duo of stories by Brad R. "Why is everyone being so mean to Theodore Beale?" Torgersen. After the Hugo nominations were announced Torgersen made a practice of running around and acting as the sad puppy apologist-in-chief. His typical line ran along the Just as I cringe about some of the things Vox has said about race. I choose not to kick Ahmed or Vox Day to the societal curb. I’d rather engage them on the plain of ideas. Mighty noble for someone who isn't the target of the poo in Beale's poo-flinging-monkey act. There's nothing so tired as a white dude wagging his finger from his perch of privilege because people have refused to engage with a troll.

So yeah, he's not someone I'll vote for now or in the future. Luckily, based on what's nominated this year, I don't think I'll ever have a twinge of regret because his writing isn't terribly good.

One of the first things I noticed was the protagonists for both stories were chief warrant officers. That seemed a bit strange until I looked Torgersen's bio and turns out he's a reservist chief warrant officer.


The first story is called "The Chaplain's Legacy" and it's the better of the two. So the point of the story is that technology is getting in our way of connecting with God.

This appears to be a sequel to a story where the hero, let's call him Bradder, stopped atheist aliens from wiping out humanity because he got the Professor, a scholar alien, curious about God. But the curiosity didn't last and now the Mantes (they are giant cyborg praying mantises whose lower body is fused to a flying saucer) are ready to resume plan Kill All Humans.

The humans don't plan to go down without a fight so they have dragged Bradder to the peace talks, which go really poorly. Bradder, The Professor, the Queen Mother and Captain Beautiful all get shipwrecked on the deserted planet of plot convenience. Captain Beautiful saved the Queen Mother but her cyborg half was dying so they had to cut her out of it. Cue the montage where at first she is weak and crippled but as they go on their journey of plot convenience she grows and takes new zest in life.

At the end, Captain Beautiful is killed because of course she is, now that she has served as inspiration to Bradder. The Queen Mother cancels plan kill all humans, quits being queen and runs off with Bradder to complete their spiritual journey to God.

(And just to be sure we were getting the message, Captain Beautiful also had a religious awakening before the story - she had been addicted to virtual reality but then found God once her parents made her give it up. Bradder was her inspiration.)

And if you were wondering, of course there is the obligatory scene where they get rained on and Bradder and Captain Beautiful have to sleep in the same sleeping bag. No sexytimes because God might be watching.

In "The Exchange Officers" the hero (and his faithful female sidekick, Chesty) are trying to stop the evil Chinese from stealing an American space station and Bradder2 (yeah, I forget his name, but not the exact same character as the other chief warrant officer) decides that he'd rather burn that mother fucker to the ground than let the Chinese have it. Luckily, he was only there as a robot so he doesn't die. Well if you cared about him as a character in any way, which I didn't.

Basically these two stories could have written fifty years ago (albeit with the evil communists being Russians rather than Chinese) and could have appeared as mid-issue filler in Analog. It's like rather creepy time travel - the world has changed and the author's outlook is stuck firmly in the past. Oh, and he just happens to be the savior of the human race.

Ladybusiness - not so much ladies as lady plot tokens.
Sex - Bradder gets a boner but no sexytimes because he's creepily older Captain Beautiful might be a Muslim he's a gentleman.
Violence - cartoony violence against evil aliens and evil Chinese.

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June 3rd, 2014

07:41 pm - Charles Stross vs. the Va-Jay-Jay
So I'll say upfront I'm not a fan of Stross's writing. I didn't enjoy the last Laundry novella I read (back in 2005 when "The Concrete Jungle" was on the ballot for the last UK Worldcon) and I wasn't looking forward to this one. I don't find him funny, so you might as well bear that in mind. Anyway, here is what I hated about "Equoid" by Charles Stross.

EDIT: Before I start, triggery for sexual violence so you may want to pass.

1. Bob Howard, the incompetent asshole, manages to get two policemen zombified and the kindly vet killed. Really, if you

2. Bob Howard, the incompetent asshole, only complains about Lovecraft's prose stylings and not his racist ramblings.

3. Why is this story set in 2006? Oh, I see why. For a moment I thought Stross had transcended the whole "lady+power=evil" equation. Well, for one character anyway. Iris, Bob (Incompetent Asshole) Howard's boss, isn't evil. And she has power. How can this be? Has the world gone all topsy-turvy with cats and dogs living in sin? Ha, no. You see, Stross already wrote a story where she turns out to be secretly evil (and probably dies, I don't know. You would have to pay be at least $100 to read it.) So this is just a bit of backstory filler where she tries to kill him off or something.

4. EMOCUM - Nothing says witty like a fifty-year-old man sneering at young girls who like unicorns.

5. You know what's the most horrific thing you can possibly think of? FEMALE SEXUALITY.

6. Seriously, there is not enough time in the universe for me to go, "well, I've exhausted everything else, I guess it's time for that story where a four-year-old is raped to death by a unicorn."

Next Stross story I am just saying no.

Ladybusiness - As always, Stross appears to never have met any actual women. Probably due to their horrific sexuality.

Sex - Vagina Dentata will eat you.

Violence - loads and loads including a couple people beheaded, a farm blown up and a four-year-old girl is raped to death by a unicorn. Yeah, I wanted to read that first thing in the morning.

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June 1st, 2014

10:55 am - No Matter How You Build the Bookfort Out of Fourteen Books, Wheel of Time is Not a Novel
1. I have a rule that I won't start any fantasy series until they are finished. Wheel of Time is the reason I developed that rule. I started reading the series back when it was first published. I enjoyed the first three books. Things happened! Sure, it wasn't the sort of condensed storytelling of Lord of the Rings - fantasy bloat had been firmly established by 1990 and more pages was more epic. But then something happened in book 4. The first three read like books in a six or seven book series. Pootling along and steaming towards the big climax. I stopped reading at book 6; books four through six read like three books in an infinite series. Nothing happened. Or maybe everything was happening in real time. Remember when Nynaeve and Egwene ran off to the circus for a while? Maybe Jordan should have looked at cutting some bits like that and it would have finished in a timely manner.

2. It is so very derivative of Lord of the Rings. Tolkien had orcs, Jordan had trollocs. Tolkien had ents, Jordan had ogier. Tolkien had Aragorn, Jordan had Lan. Tolkien had Sauron, Jordan had Shai'tan. And so on.

3. But there were ladies! Who did stuff and had power! Tolkien only ever had Eowyn who did something and I swear that's because he wanted to make a pun. The Gandalf analogue is Morgaise, not a man. And men and women were equal in magical power.

4. Except women control magic by submitting to it and men control power by wrestling with it. And Rand gets three wives. Why doesn't Egwene get three husbands? Or even three cabana boys? And then there's the part where Perrin spanks his wife and she likes it because he took control. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

5. The trouble with declaring World of Time eligible under:

Works appearing in a series are eligible as individual works, but the series as a
whole is not eligible. However, a work appearing in a number of parts shall be eligible
for the year of the final part.

is that it isn't a novel that has been serialized. It is a series of novels each with their own arc (well the first three had, the next three mostly stood in place) Eye of the World is a perfectly functional novel. It has an arc, follows the classic Freytag triangle structure and makes a self-contained read. It's not a story that ends without a resolution. Yes, there is more story to read, but that doesn't make Eye of the World not a novel. Ditto for The Great Hunt or The Dragon Reborn. Even the other three books that I read had climax towards the end of the book which brought the story to an interim conclusion. Which to my mind means they can't be part of a nomination now. There is no category for best novel series and I think the award administrators made a mistake when they allowed WOT to turn best novel into one. For that alone it goes below No Award.

6. But even if I would consider Wheel of Time a single novel, I wouldn't be putting it above No Award anyway. It didn't keep my attention enough to finish. That pretty much says it all.

I was going to do fourteen points, one for each book, but since I only read six books this seems to be a good place to stop.

EDIT: And Tor has decided that maybe you don't even need to read the books to be a conscientious voter for WoT. (Screencaps from the RSS feed as someone must have realized how awful this sounded.)

tor doesn"t care if you read the books, just vote for them.

tor doesn"t care if you read the books, just vote for them.

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May 31st, 2014

04:09 pm - Manly on top of Manly on top of Manly...
Warbound by Larry Correia is a book in the "rag-tag band of heroes go on a noble suicide mission to blow up some big important thing" genre. The Dirty Dozen. Lord of the Rings. We know this story and we know what to expect from it.

It's the third book in a trilogy, but it's perfectly readable on its own. Correia does rather suffer from the later seasons of Buffy syndrome. Every season something bigger and eviler was needed and Correia's equivalent of the First Evil is the Enemy (pithy, Correia isn't), a creature that wants to eat all the magic in the world, and I assume kill all humans as well.

So Jake Sullivan Magnus Steelcock Guns Pantherbane (there, now that's manly enough) and his BFF Lance Talon (that one's real) are going on an adventure with pirates and scientists. And they are taking along Taru Tokugawa (son of the villain in the previous book) who, sure, used to rape and murder for sport, but now he is all about killing the Enemy. There is also a ladyprize on the journey, Lady Origami, just in case Guns does not die nobly.

In the other thread Faye, a teen girl is now the most powerful wizard elf in the whole world. Like all ladies with too much power, she's going to go evil and crazy or so she thinks. She's run off to find a watcher, but in France, so it is totally not like Buffy.

You'd be forgiven for thinking this was camp, and it almost gets there. But no, this is a book about how manly American men are going to save the world because manly is the most noble thing and American takes the noble up to eleven. Yes, there are some non-Americans on the adventure, but it has a clear "Yay, America!" slant, with a side of "these Americans are still following the one true path and the rest of them are rubbish and ruining the country. Oh, and Correia's got your Libertarian rants right here:

“It stands for We Poke Along,” Francis answered. “It’s a new billion-dollar agency that pays the unemployed tax money to dig holes and then fill them back in.”
“Why, Francis, I’d never known you to be so political,” Jane said.
“I’ve got a right to complain. When I get mugged, I’m not expected to thank the mugger.”

Take that, unemployed poors!

For a book that could be a lot of fun, it's really slow going. There are three main action sequences with lots of filler traveling and talking in between. If I go to a movie to see a machine gun leg, I want that leg blowing up zombies from here to eternity. Correia fails to deliver nearly enough guys jumping from space and ripping people's faces off.

At the end Lance Talon has died, so Guns has gained a new BFF, Taru, (and if a manly man thinks you are ok, then all that raping and murder didn't matter.) He's also got a manly son and his ladyprize, Lady Origami.

On the other hand, Faye has given up her powers to go be wifey to a dude who was twice her age. Team manly wins again!

here"s my blow-by-blow live reactionsCollapse )

Ladybusiness - One ladyprize and one lady who decides to give up the burden of being powerful to be with her man.
Sex - Lady Origami likes Guns Pantherbane's big dick.
Violence-Just imagine a bucket of blood dumped over your head, like that scene in Carrie.

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May 29th, 2014

06:52 pm - Why do salespersons think annoying me might result in more sales?
A salesman has been cold calling me about a very large project that's on hold. I told him it was on hold indefinitely but he kept calling and calling and I kept getting more and more annoyed.

Finally he called me last week, yet again trying to set up an appointment to discuss the project. When I crossly told him it was still on hold he tried to change the proposed meeting into one where he would introduce me to his company's line. I countered with the fact that one of his salesmen had already done that, so that was quite all right, no need. He suggested that they had "introduced at least four new products since then."

I finally told him he could email with his proposed time and I would let him know because I wasn't going to waste any more time arguing with him about whether his visit would be informative for me.[1] In due course I emailed him back and told him no, I wasn't available and I would prefer to contact him when I had a project that I wanted to discuss rather then him continuing to ring about a project I'd told him was on hold multiple times.

Yesterday he responded with the following:

Thanks very much for getting back to me. I appreciate and accept what you are saying and I agree. I will wait for your call and, perhaps, make contact with you towards the end of the year to see how things are project-wise

So basically he completely understands and agrees that I will contact him when I want to, except if I take too long, then he will disregard my wishes and contact me again anyway.

Which killed any chance I might ever contact him. I emailed him back with a very terse "do not contact me towards the end of the year."

[1] Yes, I am being a bit jackass here, but after you say "No, thanks. I'm good." once that really ought to be it.

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May 26th, 2014

03:40 pm - Well, I guess I should be thankful there were no sexbots
Neptune's Brood is a story of ideas. There are no characters and the plotting is weak and the worldbuilding is pretty damn thin (basically technology can do anything, except no FTL). And while I'd like a novel to have the whole package, I might grade on a curve if I like the ideas enough.

So what is the idea?

Let's imagine you own a house. To pay for that house you took out a mortgage for a cool million on 30-year T Bills, which is now the currency of buying houses. So you scrimp and save and then rather than paying off part of your debt, you decide that you'd rather buy a bunch of lumber and clone yourself. You then tell your clone(s) to build a house and oh, they now owe you one million T Bills. So they scrimp and save and decide to buy a pile of wood and clone themselves ...

Except instead of houses, it's space colonies and instead of 30-year T Bills it's 30-millennia T Bills or what's called "slow money" in the book.

Stross has posited three types of money - fast, medium and slow. Fast money is cash like we use now. Medium currency is backed by capital assets like real estate and slow money is the currency of world-builders, created to outlast the rise and fall of civilizations.

And credit where credit is due - this is a pretty fucking cool idea. How do you create the hardest of hard currencies, one that is going to keep its value over the long haul? Unfortunately, in the Strossverse the answer is pretty poorly. Here's why Stross's slow dollars doesn't work for me:

1. Colony founding in the book is very risky - only around 60% of the colonies mature into money making enterprises that are able to pay back their debt. Much of the book is taken up with the search for the Atlantis Carnet - an incomplete transaction for 6 million slow Atlantis dollars -whoever can find all pieces to the transaction gets to keep the money since it's so old. (slow money is not a single currency - each colony issues its own bitcoin like slow dollars.) Am I really supposed to believe that some day the colony will be re-founded and someone will take on the original debt plus the debt associated with re-founding the colony rather than just picking a new planet? I don't buy it. And if this isn't true, why would anyone still accept Atlantis slow money?

2. Since space travel is very slow - only a tenth of the speed of light, there isn't much incentive for a colony to actually pay back the debt - no one will come and take the colony away.

They could easily just walk away and live in their own little paradise cut off from the rest of the universe. Stross attempts to address this by saying:

We—those of us who are of Post Humanity descended from the Fragile—are accustomed to being part of a greater economy. We expect to participate in a greater culture, vicariously abstracting the arts, amusements, insights, and personalities of hundreds of star systems. Autarky sucks for everyone except the reigning monarch or other tyrant who ordered it.

Basically, walking away from the debt would mean giving up twitter between stars. (And this is made even less believable because you don't see any of this in the book--it's just an assertion without the worldbuilding to back it up.)

3. Slow money is founded on a Ponzi scheme, which is pretty much the antithesis of a hard currency - failure in a Ponzi scheme is inevitable as soon as people lose faith in the system.

It's obvious that Neptune's Brood is a response to the crash of the housing bubble in 2007. But what Stross doesn't provide is insight into the sort of thinking that would buy into this scheme. After the crash there were so many heartbreaking stories of people (and of the corrupt bankers who encouraged them) who bought too much house for their income and were then left destitute. Reading the stories you could understand what made them act the way they did - wanting to get in on what (at the time) appeared to be easy money.

There's none of that mindset conveyed here. Krina is basically an observer throughout the novel, so rather than being caught up in the hype of the scheme, it's made clear that slow money isn't nearly as solid as those in the book act.

Though Krina seems aware of this, towards the end of the novel this appears to be a revelation to her:

In picking up my part of the Atlantis Carnet, I had laid claim to the repayment of a debt serviced by millions of now-dead people; people presumably killed by my lineage mater and her coconspirators. I found myself looking at it from outside, with newly opened eyes. What I saw looked uncommonly like a different kind of fraudulent vehicle: a Ponzi scheme sprayed across the cosmos, the victims entire solar systems, the pyramid spreading on a wave of starships.

Basically the book is lots of running around by characters who are little more than stereotypes with lectures on scams and Stross's monetary system in between. These are supposed to be post-humans, immortal and able to modify themselves in any way, and yet they act just like humans. Or at least a stereotype of a human.

So let's take a look at the portrayal of the main characters:

Krina - sack of flour
Rudi - lovable rogue (despite his mindraping and kidnapping)
Sondra - mass murderer

Krina, the protagonist narrator of the story is basically Princess Buttercup, perfect virginal maiden. Anyway, she's carried around from place to place like a sack of flour while others direct her action and she acts as infodumper-in-chief.

There is an inadvertently comical moment when Rudi (the hero privateer) compliments Krina for unraveling part of the Atlantis mystery.:

“Capital! You’ve been doing your homework!” Rudi snapped his jaws again. “I knew offering you a job was the right thing to do! You were wasted on Sondra.”

Humorous because she hasn't actually figured anything out-the information was spoon-fed to her by her sister Ana.

She's kidnapped(by the hero), mindraped (by the hero), mutilated (by her sister).
She's portrayed as a bastion of strength:

“We’re all going to die!” I wailed.
“No we’re not,” Rudi assured me. He reached out sideways and squeezed my hand. “Just lie back and enjoy the ride, Krina. Everything’s going entirely according to plan.”
“Ugh-ugh!” I wibbled incoherently.

Oh those ladies, always wibbling. Good thing she has a big strong man to hold her hand. And if you were wondering if she was sullied with the sexytimes, of course not-her mother had her libido shut off. (Rudi will fix that for her, I'm sure, just like he did for her sister Ana.)

Here's a riddle for you - How can you tell when a lady is evil?

Answer: When she's got power.

There are three powerful women in the novel and all three of them are evil. Sondra and Cybelle were partners in crime and killed millions as part of an advanced fee fraud scam.

Queen Medea throws her lot in with Cybelle and tortures someone just so we are clear which team she plays for and sounds rather like the Queen of Hearts in triplicate.

Here's another riddle for you - Guess which one is the fat one?

One mother is described as having had a nervous breakdown, paranoid, weepy, hysterical.

The other is a member of a hippie squid commune where everyone selflessly works for the common good and they all plan to form an independent collective farm in upstate New York or the local gas giant. Oh, and if you weren't sure, this is the one the hero plans to procreate with. (aka, also perfect virginal maiden until she has approved sex with the hero.)

It's like Science Fiction was catapulted back to the 1940s. Seriously people, we can do better than honoring something like this.

Your alternate read: The Self-Reference Engine by Toh Enjoe. I have to say I'm surprised at how little talk this book has gotten. It's funny, it's meta, it's got AIs who have a snit when aliens won't talk to them. Its high concept and chock full of ideas, and it has one of the most interesting singularities that I've read. I was disappointed this didn't appear on the Hugo ballot. Even more so now that I'm working my way through the nominees.

Ladybusiness - Stross has clearly never met any ladies as the female characters are one dimensional (to be fair, so are the men.)
Sex - Only the fat lady gets laid, and of course the narrator finds it gross.
Violence-We've got your mindraping and your flaying and your mass murder right here.

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May 17th, 2014

06:24 pm - Same Old Song
Good news Hugo voters, Parasite by Mira Grant is pretty much the same as her NewsFlesh books.[1] No, the plot isn't exactly the same, but the zombie apocalypse is nigh. It's got the same structure where narrative sections are broken up with interviews and writings "by" the characters. And a lot of the characters feel very similar - like the mad scientist doctor lady who's amoral and has built a state-of-the-art lab in some abandoned part of a city. Or the crazy woman-child with a violence fetish.

Alas, Sal, the protagonist doesn't have the snarky voice of Georgia. (On the other hand, there is no annoying mainpain asshole like Shaun, so maybe an even swap.)

The most unfortunate thing is this isn't a novel. It's about a third of a novel and as you might expect that this much plot stretched out over 512 pages makes for some pretty tedious reading. Your obligatory plot summary:

Sally Mitchell was in a car accident and was declared brain dead. Her family was about to pull the plug when she woke up. Sal was a completely different person from the one she was before (especially since she can't remember anything from before waking up.)

How did this miracle of survival happen? An evil company called Symbogen convinced most people (including Sal) to get a special tapeworm installed in their gut. Great news for Sal, but bad news for everyone else as the tapeworms want to be in charge of their host. Cue the zombies ...

It is an extremely long slog before the big "reveal" where Sal learns that her miracle survival didn't mean that Sally Mitchell lived, it meant that her tapeworm took over. It's a slog because most readers will figure this out about 500 pages before the reveal happens as the climax of the book.

And I don't mind so much that Sal is painfully unaware (hey, she's only been alive for six years!), but really storywise this is your first reversal, not an entire novel's worth of plot.

Grant has already reached the stage of her career where she feels derivative of herself. That's a shame. Worse, this is a book that belongs nowhere near an award ballot.

[1] Why is this good news? Because it tells you pretty much everything you need to know about where you would likely place it on your ballot so no need to read unless you are really inclined.

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April 25th, 2014

07:59 pm - Voting, with Prejudice
Once upon a time Scientifiction decided to have some awards. They called it the Hugo, and it was good. Well, not so good that it might honor a lady or person of color or someone gay more than once in a blue moon. Of course not - the dude-bros write all the Scientifiction of merit. (Our lessons on how to suppress writing during this period were comprehensive.) Silly ladies, people of color, and QUILTBAG folk, why won't we recognize that we are not capable of writing exemplary fiction, as defined by straight white men?

Time passed and we became strong. We clawed our way into recognition. The Hugo ballot changed - it's been years since it only honored the dude-bros. I can't remember the last rubbish Resnick story I had to read. The dude-bros began to be recognized in proportion to their population and it was good.

But it could not last.

Some dude-bros felt they were oppressed for not getting all the nominations and colluded to get more. And they did, and people who respected good fiction wept.

But then a chief among the dude-bros decided to speak out and defend his fellows' practice:

If work was shunted onto the list to make a political point and without regard to its quality, and it is crap, you’re going to know it when you read that work, and you should judge it accordingly. And if a work was shunted onto the list to make a political point and without regard to the quality, and it’s pretty good, you’re going to know that too — and you should judge it accordingly. If you believe that these fellows pushed their way onto the list to make a political point, nothing will annoy them more than for their work to be considered fairly. It undermines their entire point.

The Scalzi provided some right good mansplaining there about how we all ought to be voting. Note the language - should, not could, may or any other hedging word. Should. He has set him up as the moral authority on how the Hugos ought to work. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that the status quo benefits him.

He is like every guy who has suggested that oppressed people should work in the system and their time will come, just not now.

Anyway, rushthatspeaks has said why he is full of shit more eloquently than I could:

I've seen people say that he's [Beale's] trolling. He is. He has already successfully trolled. He is hurting people. That is the point. He is wasting people's time. That is the point.

Why, then, should we make his trolling more successful by putting any time and energy into reading his work? He already got a huge chunk of what he wanted. Let's not give him any more.

Or, to sum up: Don't feed the troll. Acting as though his work is on the ballot for reasons having anything to do with its quality, as opposed to its author's ability to mobilize people around his politics, is feeding the troll.

But the Scalzi doubled-down and has gone all sad dad on us because people don't agree:

The only thing I would note is that I’ve not ever said people must read everything up for consideration for the Hugo. If you find you can’t, for whatever reason, then don’t, and (I think this follows) I would suggest leaving it off the final ballot entirely. Likewise, if you read it but can’t separate it out from the author, that’s life, and that’s okay. I think it’s worth trying, but a) it’s not always possible, b) no one’s obliged to agree that this is the best course of action.

Well thank goodness he's said we don't have to agree with what he said we should do. Perhaps some day he'll realize that we are real people with agency and opinions and don't need a straight white male to tell us how to act or react.

Fuck that noise.

Seriously, enough with these testirical men and their trolling. And enough with faux allies who try to sad dad people into reading works by people who loathe our very existence (and those who are happy to talk up people like that.)

I don't need permission not to read works by people who hate me (and their pals), and failure to read them doesn't make me less of a valid voter. I don't have to play by the patriarchal system and sure as fuck am not going to feel bad when I don't.

Faux allies who want to shame me into doing something else can FUCK RIGHT OFF.

I have no intention of putting any of the Sad Puppies cohort above No Award on the ballot.

Oh, and the straight white males who vote monger? I haven't been putting you above no award for years now. Get used to it. I make my own criteria. Funny how I have the agency to do that.

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