June 28th, 2014
|03:51 pm - Distract My Eyes, Distract My Heart|
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.
Underwater bunker. Asteroids are afraid of water.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
WOOT! WOOT! MARY SUE ALERT!
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 with 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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
April 21st, 2014
|03:21 pm - So Very Bad|
It's the time of year again - when I torture myself reading bad Hugo-nominated fiction so you don't have to. Will I want to claw my eyes out? Probably. Will I long for the days when Resnick was everpresent on the ballot? Ha, no way. I'll even make some alternate recommendations.
First up is the Gary Stu-tastic “Opera Vita Aeterna” by Theodore Beale. It reads like a Terry Brooks rehash (which is to say a second order Tolkien rehash) with an even thinner and more derivative world. Oh, and it opens with a weather report.
The cold autumn day was slowly drawing to a close. The pallid sun was descending, its ineffective rays no longer sufficient to hold it up in the sky or to penetrate the northern winds that gathered strength with the whispering promise of the incipient dark.
So yeah, that would be a comma splice right there in the second sentence. I guess this is one of those copyediting optional sorts of books. Excuse me while I vomit over the whispering promise of incipient shit writing.
Moving on, the story proper opens when generic monk #1 is standing guard and along comes the most powerful sorcerer elf in the entire world - let's call him Bealey. Anyway, Bealey is looking for the only thing more powerful than him. (Hint: it's God.)
Bealey meets the abbot of the
frat house monastery - let's call him Theodoricus in honor of all the bad Latin. Theodoricus and Bealey stay up all night talking philosophy like college freshman. Since the story is pretty much devoid of these masterful philosophical discussions, I can only assume it went a little bit like this:
Pretty soon they are BFFs, Bealey decides he wants to illuminate the Bible, and along comes a plot coupon in the form of a demon who really wants Bealey to go back to Rivendell because reasons.
Eventually, as frat bros do, they run out of wine and Bealey goes on a packie run (liquor run for those of you not from New England). Everyone gets killed by the plot coupon while he's away, including Theodoricus which makes Bealey cry and ask why God is such an ass to let his BFF die.
Jump forward three centuries, and we find out all those late night drunken ramblings are super important philosophical texts. (Of course they are.) Also, Bealey has immortalized Theodoricus's visage in a letter of his illuminated bible, thereby revealing that important thought we all learned from My Little Pony: friendship is magic. In your face, God.
Ok, seriously, the book is poorly copyedited, the prose strives for poetic and achieves clunky, the worldbuilding is derivative and thin, the characters speak with interchangeable voices, the philosophy discussions are the sort that earnest college freshmen find deep (but in retrospect realize they were not), and the plot barely exists. It's an embarrassment this is on the Hugo ballot, and not just because Beale is a sexist, misogynistic ass.
So rather than reading this, try The Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters by Henry Lien. There's a lot to love about this story - the rich worldbuilding (skating parkour martial arts!) that makes me hope Lien will set a novel in this world, the spoiled teen protagonist Suki who is proud that she learns absolutely nothing while at the Pearl Colony, her nemesis who seems utterly indifferent to Suki (but manages to poke holes in Suki's complaints and tricks her into promising to stop talking.) It's like a breath of fresh air after reading Beale's dreck.
Ladybusiness-We don't need no stinking ladies!
Sex - It's a story about
frat bros monks, so what do you think?
Violence - an off-screen mass murder so Bealey can ask the age-old "Are you there God, it's me, Margaret?" question about his period. Oh wait, that's not it. It's the "Why did you let them die, God?" speech.
 Yes, this is a journey of self-discovery where a sorcerer elf becomes a broney.
March 31st, 2014
|03:33 pm - What Rough Beast, Its Hour Come Round at Last|
So Hugo nominations close today and I'm feeling all the mehs about nominating. How many nominations will Seanan McGuire get this year? Which Doctor Who 50th Anniversary episode will win the Doctor Who category? Will the replacement host be a jackass too?
Yeah, I don't know, but the over/under on McGuire is four (fiction categories only.)
I think I'd enjoy the nomination process a lot more if we were allowed to make anti-nominations. But nominate I did and shortly I will be prepared to be disappointed with the usual dreck that ends up on the ballot (though I do think out of North America years tend to end up with better ballots, so maybe it won't suck?)
Anyway, I've been amused at the hatred the novelette category has been getting this year. Yes, it's a silly category, but since it usually is the best fiction category not nominating seems a bit "cut off your nose to spite your face."
I watched the Veronica Mars movie and it was not great. It was mostly fan service wrapped up in a not very interesting bow. It did move me to start a VM rewatching project as there isn't much on TV I want to watch right now and Season 1 Veronica Mars is GOOD.
In other news, managed to block my kitchen sink this weekend and it was a tough unblock. This will be the time when I become hyper vigilant about pouring grease down the drain. No, really. (Yeah, I don't believe me either.)
 There are many fine works which end up on the ballot, but I often find that so many more fine works are ignored for lesser works by authors with a big megaphone or rabid fanbase and that makes me cranky.
July 27th, 2013
|01:47 pm - Time for the obligatory Handicapping of the Hugos|
What should win: No award
What will win: 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
This was, without a doubt, the worst fiction category on the ballot this year.
What should win: On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard
What will win: San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats, Mira Grant
I had a bit of trouble picking who I thought would win for this - there's been a lot of good talk for Sanderson (and it does go down easy) and Lake has the sympathy vote locked up as this is his last chance to accept a Hugo in person. In the end, I decided that this was the category that Grant's army would be able to divide and conquer.
What should win: “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan
What will win: “Fade To White” by Catherynne M. Valente
What should win - "Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard
What will win - "Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
What should win: I've seen four of five (missing the Avengers) and I don't care.
What will win: The Avengers, Screenplay & Directed by Joss Whedon
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
What should win: Fringe, “Letters of Transit”
What will win: Something Doctor Who, probably Angels Take Manhattan.
The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (not a Hugo)
Who should win: Zen Cho
Who will win: Zen Cho
Why Zen Cho you ask? I give you this and this and this. You're welcome.
Every other category: either I think the category should be abolished, haven't enough information to form an opinion or just don't care so I'm not going to offer any handicapping.
|01:24 pm - In Which I Cry "Uncle"|
Look, I just can't read another two Seanan McGuire stories. Sorry, my brain just won't take it. So I'm going to cut my losses, read one and call it a day.
So "In Sea-Salt Tears" by Seanan McGuire is a doomed romance of the very annoying short. A young selkie (who doesn't have a skin) is in love with the witch who cursed all the selkies. That's because their skins are literally the skins of her Fae children. (Not that anyone lusting for a skin knows this - you only find out when you get one and if you reject it they kill you.) The skins are handed down in families and every young selkie desperately wants one, which creates unpleasant rivalries in the families.
Why do I call this a very annoying romance? It's because the witch gives the selkie an ultimatum not to accept a skin or they are done. What the witch doesn't do is tell the selkie why she shouldn't accept the skin. So while the witch has a valid reason to not want the selkie to accept the skin, the choice she offers boils down to "Why aren't I enough for you?"
And that's an asshole choice to foist on to anyone.
Anyway, this was easily the best of the McGuires/Grants on the ballot. Take that for whatever it's worth.
The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. - There is a fairly long tradition of stories about people made from other things - metal (like the Tin Woodsman) or a balloon (like in Pop Art) or here, glass. They are frequently fragile and not able to fully participate in the rigors of life and this acts as a stand-in for other emotional or physical frailties.
This is a doomed romance between two young boys - one who casts no shadow or reflection and one who is made of glass. They go on a road trip and the boy made of glass dies, as you knew he would. The most I can say about this story is that it isn't very memorable - I read it a few weeks ago and it hasn't stayed with me at all.
Fade to White by Cathrynne M. Valente. In general, I'm not much of a fan of Valente's fiction - I frequently find it overwrought and overwritten. "Fade to White" is the sort of story that would have been shocking had it been written in the seventies, back when people still worried about communists and global nuclear war. The story's world is stagnant with the fifties' worst nightmares all turned up to eleven and Father Knows Best-esque setting twisted into a battery henhouse.
These aren't my nightmares.
I guess it's hard for me to feel afraid of the idea of President McCarthy when I've already lived through President George W. Bush and the horrifying rights infringements which are now commonplace. And forced engagements seem tepid compared the war on women which is being waged in the US.
"The Girl Thing Who Went Out for Sushi" by Pat Cadigan is my favorite story on the Hugo ballot in any category.
This story has a rather old school feel - the sensawunda at being in space is palpable throughout and what drives people to become sushi. (Going out for sushi is slang for getting the surgery to become a post-human: crab, octo, nautilus are some of the flavors mentioned in the story.)
What really makes this story is the language - Cadigan throws you in the deep end and makes you swim:
I was coated and I knew Fry’s suit would hold, but featherless bipeds are prone to vertigo when they’re injured. So I blew a bubble big enough for both of us, cocooned her leg, pumped her full of drugs, and called an ambulance. The jellie with the rest of the crew was already on the other side of the Big J. I let them know we’d scrubbed and someone would have to finish the last few eyes in the radian for us. Girl-thing was one hell of a stiff two-stepper, staying just as calm as if we were unwinding end-of-shift. The only thing she seemed to have a little trouble with was the O. Fry picked up consensus orientation faster than any other two-stepper I’d ever worked with, but she’d never done it on drugs. I tried to keep her distracted by telling her all the gossip I knew, and when I ran out, I made shit up.
Then all of a sudden, she said, “Well, Arkae, that’s it for me.”
Her voice was so damned final, I thought she was quitting. And I deflated because I had taken quite a liking to our girl-thing. I said, “Aw, honey, we’ll all miss you out here.”
But she laughed. “No, no, no, I’m not leaving. I’m going out for sushi.
I wish this one was online so everyone could read it.
Edit 25/8/13 Helloooooooo to the person who has recent;y been commenting on my Hugo posts. I haven't been responding because I wasn't sure you'd see the response, but I've been enjoying your comments.
July 26th, 2013
|04:01 pm - Quickly, In List Form|
1. "On a Red Station, Drifting" by Aliette de Bodard was easily my favorite of nominated novellas. It is part of de Bodard's Xuya universe - I've read a few stories set in this universe, but I don't really know much about it and it's not necessary to do so. And perhaps because this is a universe that de Bodard has been working in for a while, the worldbuilding felt rich and expansive, as if there was a lot to see beyond the page.
2. I particularly liked her take on ancestor veneration - ancestors live as implants in your head handed down through families. They provide advice and counsel during examinations and for that reason they are very desired by people who don't have them as heirlooms to hand down - to the point where they would risk having an implant installed from a stranger, even though it might drive them mad.
3. This is a story of three females: Honored Ancestress, the AI who runs Prosper Station and is slowly falling apart; Quyen, the human who management of Prosper Station and feels she's been thrust above her station, and Linh, a magistrate who is a refugee because her district was taken over by rebels (and she made the mistake of chastising the Emperor for his failure to squash the rebels).
4. While there are greater and lesser partners in marriages, they are merit based, rather than sex based. Both husbands and wives have gone off to war leaving their lesser partner behind. Quyen is a lesser partner and she frequently feels out of her depth and the station has been suffering because of it. Huu Hieu is a lesser husband and has disgracefully sold his implants as a way to gain the money to escape Proper station.
5. These aren't particularly likable ladies, but that doesn't matter because they are interesting. They are prickly and territorial, sometimes jerks - both intentionally and unintentionally. But Quyen loves her family, Ancient Ancestress and Prosper Station, and Linh is obviously heartsick for the people she has lost at her last posting. In a nutshell, they feel like well-rounded people.
6. The ending feels a bit neat as it is dependent on the system collapse that Ancient Ancestress undergoes during the story, because it generally sits outside the main plot as the collapse is not caused by essential elements of the story. The reboot that is necessary to save her conveniently wipes the record of Quyen aiding Linh and allows the Emperor's soldiers to avoid purging all Linh's relatives (essentially everyone) on the station.
 It did have an annoying number of typos, though.
July 25th, 2013
|03:40 pm - Let's ride the soul train|
"The Emperor's Soul" by Brandon Sanderson follows a familiar storyline - a criminal is coerced into helping the authorities (who plan to double-cross her and she plans to double-cross them).
Shai is a forger - someone who can rewrite an object's (or person's) history to make it into something new. She's caught attempting to steal a painting and is offered a choice - reforge the emperor's soul or be executed. Oh, and instead of the years this would normally take, she has 100 days.
So the good - I really liked the magic system Sanderson created. Forging is a mix of art, rewriting history and learning the platonic ideal of an object - at least as the object sees it.
Attempts to Forge the window to a better version of itself had repeatedly failed; each time, after five minutes or so, the window had reverted to its cracked, gap-sided self.
Then Shai had found a bit of colored glass rammed into one side of the frame. The window, she realized, had once been a stained glass piece, like many in the palace. It had been broken, and whatever had shattered the window had also bent the frame, producing those gaps that let in the frigid breeze.
Rather than repairing it as it had been meant to be, someone had put ordinary glass into the window and left it to crack. A stamp from Shai in the bottom right corner had restored the window, rewriting its history so that a caring master craftsman had discovered the fallen window and remade it. The seal had taken immediately. Even after all this time, the window had seen itself as something beautiful.
And really, who can't get on board with a shabby window that remembers and believes in itself as a work of art?
The plot rat-a-tats along in a unchallenging, but compelling, manner leading you exactly to where you knew it was going to go from the outset - Shai might forge the emperor's soul, but it wasn't going to be in the way her captors expected. Unfortunately, the plot feels contrived - things happen because the author (and make no mistake, the audience) want them to. This is particularly true at the ending where Shai decides to go test her seal on the Emperor rather than escaping. Personally applying the seal isn't necessary for her to gain the triumph of the ultimate forgery - it's just more satisfying for the reader to see it play out that way. Things conveniently click together (like when Shai sense that the blood sorcerer is trying to make money to impress his love) in a way that doesn't feel earned.
The biggest problem I have with the story is that the characters are largely one-dimensional and can be reduced to buzz-wordy slogans. Shai is the master-criminal who does it all for the thrill, Gaotona is the honest advisor, Frava is the power-hungry corrupt official and the emperor is the former idealist who fell into dissolute. They'd be well at home in the latest summer action blockbuster.
I found this story enjoyable in much the same way I might enjoy a summer blockbuster - all surface and no substance. This is particularly disappointing as Sanderson's magic system seemed ripe for an examination of who we are vs. who we think we are, and how does someone really know another person. Instead we get Shai as action hero demolishing assassins made from skeletons. There's certainly a place for that, but I'd prefer it not be on the Hugo ballot.
July 24th, 2013
|09:56 am - Ecopocalypse, with a side of Woo-Woo|
In case you didn't know, it was people destroying the earth all along. (You should probably me saying it like Charlton Heston at the end of the Planet of the Apes.)
"After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall" by Nancy Kress is an eco-disaster story told in two strands with a series of "here is how the world is ending" interludes.
The more convincing and compelling strand by a far margin is the future thread where there is a limited number of survivors, most of the first generation are dead, the second generation is plagued with birth defects, many eventually fatal and they've started kidnapping babies via time travel to create the third generation.
Pete is the protagonist for this section and he's angry, he feels misunderstood and he's horny - basically, he's a teenager.
In the other strand, Julie is working with the FBI in our time to track the kidnappings using
magic math mathmagic. Also, she becomes pregnant because the plot demands it. She reminds me a lot of your average character in a '70s eco-disaster movie - not the least bit like a real person, but able to look earnestly at the camera while proclaiming ridiculous statements.
Eventually, right before the east coast is wiped out by a tsunami, the two threads converge and Julie asks Pete to bring her baby to the future. She also gives him the message of the story:
“Listen, Pete, it was us, not any aliens. Have you ever heard of Gaia?”
“Is your McAllister an educated man?”
“She knows everything.”
“Then tell her this: We did it. We wrecked the Earth, and now the Earth is fighting back. The planet is full of self-regulating mechanisms—remember those exact words!—to keep life intact. We’ve violated them, and Gaia—remember that word!—is cleansing herself of us. It’s not mysticism, it’s Darwinian self-preservation. Maybe Gaia will start over. Maybe you in the Shell are part of that! But tell McAllister that, tell everyone! Say it!”
Which tipped me over from marginally enjoying the story into rolling my eyes from here to eternity. It was at this point I stopped giving all the unanswered questions in the story a pass.
Like why would the aliens/Gaia want to save the humans since we wrecked the planet in the first place? Why are the time travel rules so arbitrary? Why can the aliens make a time travel machine but are not able to sufficiently shield a house from nuclear radiation to prevent birth defects? And once they realized their error, why didn't they jump back in time and bring through a few more young adult survivors rather than starting operation baby-nap?
Never mind, I don't care.
July 23rd, 2013
|03:10 pm - The Stars May Not Lie, But Why Are They So Racist?|
"The Stars Do Not Lie" by Jay Lake is an alternate history where Africans became dominant colonizers and still manage to give rise to the Roman Catholic Church (complete with inquisition!) and the Freemasons. Sure, they called the Increate and Thalassojustity, but like most of the worldbuilding, there is little that distinguishes it from our world - there's rococo architecture, people wear bowlers and tab collars and drink gin fizzes. The Thalassocretes are named for a Greek goddess and biracial people are called by a term of Spanish derivation. Scratch this world and ours lies underneath because Lake didn't explore his premise much at all - he stuck our world in a blender and then applied a patina. Oh, did I mention it's also steampunk?
Galileo Morgan Abutti has made a discovery - orbiting Earth is a spaceship which suggests to him that we are not from Earth originally. This is heresy, and being the most naïve person ever, he elects to make an announcement at the local planetary society. As you might expect, he is quickly chucked out on his ass and then arrested.
But in a shocking twist, the Thalassocretes (of a certain level) already know about the spaceship and even have one in their secret fort, so they all go on a road trip to look at it (because reasons.)
Bilious Quinx, church chief inquisitor (and also a Mason who should already know about the space ship) runs along behind to stop word of this heresy getting out. There are fights and people die and by the end I wanted to stab myself because I was so annoyed with everyone and the pointlessness of the story.
And Hey! Everybody's really racist in this story. Over and over, like Lake is rubbing our noses in how racist everyone is, as if we are puppies who messed on the carpet. (Also, there was a whole lot of "Boy he's really dark so the ladies would find him totally hot" which just seemed forced and out of character, such as: Valdoux was as dark-skinned as any comely lass might hope for in a suitor, with a smile unbecoming a man of serious parts.)
Mostly, this was distracting because Lake didn't seem to have anything interesting to say about racism. (Are we meant to take from this that repressive societies tend to be bigoted? Thanks for the insight.)
Oh, and in case you are wondering, of course everyone is sexist is well, because the Ladies are the biggest threat to
the American Way of Life progress.
 Of the sort you might find in a Dan Brown novel.
July 9th, 2013
|07:05 pm - Fandom is DOOOOOOOOOOMED!!!|
So if Blackout reads like Buffy/Firefly fanfic, San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats by Mira Grant reads like fandom fanfic. If fandom were filled with really boring, characterless people. Also, none of these people have made their Zombie Contingency Plan which makes me suspect these are just
fake geek girls poseur fans.
This novella has a similar problem to what Blackout had - it feels like it was written as fan fiction about characters I have no reason to care about because I have never seen the show. Actual characterization exists some place not found in this story - all Grant gave us was hooks.
Anyway, time to meet our cast of characters (or as Grant would have us believe "heroes"):
Lorelei, a bratty teen who you would guess was thirteen based on her actions but is actually eighteen.
Elle is the star of some science fiction show and is an in the closet lesbian. (In the closet so she can promise her lover that she will never hide her again if she lives. Then she dies.)
The newlyweds - she's a Comicon virgin and he's British.
A blind lady who is blind so there can be a blind joke, and her dog. Oh yeah the dog is a POV character.
Some people in brown coats. I guess. It would be false advertising if they weren't.
Cutting to the chase:
Everyone dies (except Lorelei) because the government bombs the convention center.
This, in some way, confers upon them the status of "heroes."
There is a real dearth of emergency exits at Comicon and the ones that do exist are shockingly easy to lock and/or barricade. No one should ever go there if there are as few exits as implied in Grant's story. 
What I can say is that this novella was far funnier, albeit unintentionally, than the pile of dreck that is Redshirts. If it were a movie I expect it might have crossed over from "awkwardly and unintentionally humorous because bad" to hilarious.
I will now leave you with some of the story from the dog's point of view:
On the floor, Unis lifted her head off her paws before climbing to her feet, tail wagging cautiously. Sometimes the phone meant it was time to go Out. Unis thought that Out would be a lovely idea. The Woman had been still for too long and the smells from outside were not the comforting kind, not grass or food or home. Outside the door smelled like blood and fear and peeing and Unis wanted to get the Woman away from here if she could.
Ok, really I just linked to the Wonderella comic because of the line "None of us are even wearing pants for God's sake." which I can't even type without giggling. I swear I am going to use that as the rejoinder to the next person who annoys me.
But really Zombie Contingency Plan or prepare to be zombie chowder.
 Yes, the dog dies. Reason enough to No Award above this rubbish.
 Always check your emergency exits when you go someplace new.
June 30th, 2013
|09:07 am - The Last and Best of the Short Stories|
"Immersion" by Aliette de Bodard
Sorry folks, I know many of you enjoy the snark (and don't worry it will be back because Grant's fandom-is-doomed novella is up next) but I quite like this story.
This story slaps you in the face with the effects of cultural imperialism.
In one strand, Quy is required to wear an "immerser" - a device that allows her to mimic (and appear as) the dominant Galactic culture - when she waits tables or conducts business in the family's restaurant. She hates it:
She didn't mind Tam borrowing her stuff, and actually would have been glad to never put on an immerser again—she hated the feeling they gave her, the vague sensation of the system rooting around in her brain to find the best body cues to give her.
In the other strand Agnes has allowed her immerser to take over her life and her own culture and thoughts have become an impenetrable fog. We first encounter Agnes in the second person sections of the narrative. Second person was an effective way for de Bodard to show how distant Agnes was from herself and how deadened her emotions are.
You're dressed, already—not on your skin, but outside, where it matters, your avatar sporting blue and black and gold, the stylish clothes of a well-traveled, well-connected woman. For a moment, as you turn away from the mirror, the glass shimmers out of focus; and another woman in a dull silk gown stares back at you: smaller, squatter and in every way diminished—a stranger, a distant memory that has ceased to have any meaning.
When we first see Agnes from the outside it is through Quy's viewpoint and she's horrified:
Agnes. Quy turned, and looked at the woman for the first time—and flinched. There was no one here: just a thick layer of avatar, so dense and so complex that she couldn't even guess at the body hidden within.
I find this an affecting story because it's so easy to empathize with Agnes, the awkwardness she felt in another culture, and the choice she made to allow herself to be subsumed by the immerser, and the struggle she's having at finding even the scraps of herself. De Bodard wisely doesn't pin a "villain" tag on Agnes's husband Galen (who is a Galactic), though Quy initially assumes that he is.
This isn't a technophobic story - both Agnes and Quy's sister Tam are adept at electronics, and that's why Tam is able to articulate the poisoned chalice that is the immersers:
"It's their weapon, too." Tam pushed at the entertainment unit. "Just like their books and their holos and their live games. It's fine for them—they put the immersers on tourist settings, they get just what they need to navigate a foreign environment from whatever idiot's written the Rong script for that thing. But we—we worship them. We wear the immersers on Galactic all the time. We make ourselves like them, because they push, and because we're naive enough to give in."
She's desperately striving for a way to bypass this tech:
Tam's eyes glinted, as savage as those of the rebels in the history holos. "If I can take them apart, I can rebuild them and disconnect the logical circuits. I can give us the language and the tools to deal with them without being swallowed by them."
No, the point made is not subtle, but sometimes we need to be slapped in the head. (I recommend reading Aliette's notes on writing "Immersion".)
While I find the ending emotionally satisfying, I do find it a little bit too easy. (I would have preferred Quy to have given Agnes the word for older sister.) Still, that is a minor complaint in a story I enjoy quite a bit.
This is my favorite of the three nominees and I hope it wins.
Disclosure: I am friends with Aliette.
June 11th, 2013
|05:16 pm - Mantis Wives: 50 Ways to Devour Your Lover|
I recall disliking Mantis Wives by Kij Johnson back when I first read it, but upon rereading it is clear past!me was a fool. I like this quite a bit.
This story is structured as sort of a faux-encyclopedia entry describing the mating (and murdering) habits of preying mantises. Not your average, mantis of course, but one personified to take on the traits found in ourselves as well. They don't just mate, but are wives. They hope and fear and love, and the death rituals are an art. They are not just insects, but ourselves. They are every relationship doomed to end badly.
The various ways that the Mantis Wives kill or maim their husbands are both horrific and fascinating.
The Oubliette: Or a wife may take not his life but his senses: plucking the antennae from his forehead; scouring with dust his clustered shining eyes; cracking apart his mandibles to scrape out the lining of his mouth and throat; plucking the sensing hairs from his foremost legs; excising the auditory thoracic organ; biting free the wings
What is often missing from stories like this is a progression in the items - there's just a random collection of cool or interesting items (or at least the author hopes) without an underlying connections that generates the narrative and a sense of culmination.
The connective tissue to the story is provided by the "author" of the entries who inserts queries about the motivations of the mantis wives and the story culminates with perhaps the saddest of all doomed relationships:
The Cruel Web: Perhaps they wish to love each other, but they cannot see a way to exist that does not involve the barb, the sticking sap, the bitter taste of poison.
PS, Mono No Aware is online at Lightspeed, so all three nominees are now freely available.
June 9th, 2013
|04:22 pm - The "Doctor Who Plus Two Shows That Will Lose" Category|
Doctor Who has owned the Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form category since the show was revived. (The one exception being 2009 when Dr Horrible won.) Smart money says Doctor Who will be winning again.
(Spoilers for just about everything in the universe.)
( Asylum of the DaleksCollapse )
( Angels Take ManhattanCollapse )
( The SnowmenCollapse )
If I were guessing which one of these were going to win, I'd probably go with Angels Take Manhattan, not because it's good, but because of the sentimentality of it being the last episode of the Ponds. Plus, because I hate it so much.
Anyway, on to the two shows which I am sure will lose. I don't watch either one, so I'm coming to them basically cold. (Though I've heard a fair amount of chatter about Game of Thrones, and I did read A Dance with Dragons last year.)
( Game of Thrones, BlackwaterCollapse )
( Fringe, Letters of TransitCollapse )
June 4th, 2013
|06:13 pm - Mono No Aware: Can't See the Forest for the Trees|
Welcome back to the Hugo reviews - I decided to skip down to the shortest works because I couldn't face another category with Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire. So first up is Ken Liu's "Mono No Aware"
I haven't for the most part gotten on with Liu's fiction - it always feels like he wants to dial everything up to eleven (and usually in a contrived manner) and hasn't learned how restraint is often more effective. I think he does a better job with "Mono No Aware", but unfortunately this gets lost in the sheer implausibility of the story.
And yes, I'm going to nitpick.
The story opens with young Hiroto heading for an emergency evacuation because of an asteroid is about to destroy the earth like a bad disaster movie. Everything is quite orderly, but ooops, someone forgot to build the ships. Or rather they did a crap job or something. Liu handwaves over the details, but I found it not terribly convincing that contractors would be able to pull this sort of charade since you would have thought there would be prototypes before they did the mass exodus and since everyone was going to die if it didn't work people ought to be pretty motivated to stay on top of things. Anyway, let's move on.
Next up, we have the gratuitous creepy guy (GCG) moment:
"That's not fair," Mom said "He did not call me in secret. He called you instead because he believes that if your positions were reversed, he would gladly give the woman he loved a chance to survive, even if it's with another man."
So what's just happened here? GCG (aka Dr Hamilton) has just called Hiroto's dad to ask if Hiroto's mom can have his permission to run off to a spaceship with GCG (and presumably be "with GCG" since she should be so grateful she better put out, and if you can't win a girl the first time around, apocalypses are a great time to make your Nice Guy move since her choices would be really limited.) Of course, he called the father because women are property of their husband and why would they ever need to be consulted like an actual person, well not unless her husband agreed that she could have the chance first.
The mother even praises GCG for being a stand-up guy for not going behind the father's back. And then soothes her husband's ego by saying she would never have gone anyway (after her husband has already said no.)
COME ON. Do we really have to keep having these moments in stories? This is supposed to be the future. Can we please start writing stories without this casual insertion of patriarchal bullshit? It's not a very important bit of the story and could have easily been written around, but no.
Here's a novel thought - speak to both of them like they were equals and partners who would make a decision together.
Anyway, Mom decides that Hiroto should run off with GCG (because who makes a better dad than a GCG?) instead since he had two tickets for the generation ship express. For some reason she decided that she better go behind her husband's back. All so we can have the dramatic moment where the dad comes up to them at the American embassy and tells Hiroto he should go.
And they're off into space. But uh-oh.
“Something has punctured the sail,” Dr. Hamilton says.
Oops. And apparently, despite this being a 300-year journey, Dr. Hamilton did not plan for the solar sail to ever need repair or maintenance. I guess in addition to Dr Hamilton being a GCG, he is also a shit engineer.
Designing for repair and maintenance is an integral part of the job. Three hundred years is an extremely long time for something to function perfectly. Things that don't move at all (like say a building's structure) are generally designed for 60 years. Things that move (even if it's just thermally flexing) are designed for much less.
Anyway, Hiroto has a plan.
"I can make it out there in seventy-two hours." I say. Everyone turns to look at me. I explain my idea. "I know the patterns of the struts well because I have monitored them from afar for most of my life. I can find the quickest path."
I've watched baseball my whole life and that hasn't made me an professional baseball player. I'm not sure why watching a solar sail is supposed to make him an expert at spacewalking and external repairs. Everyone but me believes in him.
This is pretty much where Liu lost me for good. There's absolutely no reason to believe this would make Hiroto the best person for the mission. I'd want the person who was into rock climbing (or I guess on a ship, the climbing wall) who also drew the short straw and had to do the external maintenance of the ship.
The guy who sat on his rump looking at stuff? No thanks.
But no one can stop the unstoppable machine (or even do the logical thing like send someone with him) and soon he's off to repair the sail.
The mass of my equipment has been lightened down to the last gram so that I can move fast, and there is no margin for error.
Well, that's Hiroto dead. That was the point when I figured out the ending. Ok seriously, how stupid are these people? Get a few people in spacesuits and have them attach supplies at various points along his journey to the sail. They can go in and out in much shorter times and it would give him a chance to retreat to one of these base camps if something went wrong and give him a chance of surviving. But no, because it's one chance or bust.
Oh Noes! Hiroto somehow managed to leak all the fuel out of the torch. But he has a solution:
I unhook the torch from its useless fuel tank and connect it to the tank on my back. I turn it on. The flame is bright, sharp, a blade of light.
And this is the part where its clear to me that Liu has just been skimping on his research. First, if I were a spacelady, I wouldn't want a bomb on my back, I'd like a nice cylinder full of a compressed inert gas to maneuver around. That way I won't singe my butt off. (And yes, the internet tells me that this is indeed what's currently used for astronaut maneuvering.) But ok, maybe they like a nice singed but and had crates of fuel laying around.
But the other problem is that this means that the cylinder he's got strapped to his back has to be a monofuel (which is to say, it's the fuel and it's oxidizer all in one - you don't need an atmosphere for it to burn. So like hydrazine or hydrogen peroxide. I don't think I'd want to be fiddling connections and valves out in space with a substance that you can only stop burning by starving it of its fuel source, which happens to be strapped to your back so you aren't abandoning it fast.) From the story, it felt like Liu was treating it like a tank of propane he'd picked up for his gas grill.
So of course he dies. Liu gives him a moving send off, sure, but the plot holes they are too immense for me. I realize I have specialized knowledge (I majored in To the Moon Studies in college) and there's plenty of times that I'm all "whatever, I'm going with it." Just not today.
Edit 25/8/13 Helloooooooo to the person who has recently been commenting on my Hugo posts. I haven't been responding because I wasn't sure you'd see the response, but I've been enjoying your comments.
May 5th, 2013
|01:20 pm - Three Attempts at a Review|
1. Reading 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson is like having a friend who thinks they are smart and wants to tell you all the clever things they are thinking so they do, relentlessly, and at first this is a bit amusing but as time passes it becomes wearying and if you think about the cool things they are telling you then you start to see holes so best not to do that--it's better to just let everything wash over you, but you aren't nearly as interested in the things that they are interested in and oops that bit was rather racist but at least they've moved on but when will it ever become your turn to talk anyway so eventually your only hope is they will some day reach the end and stop talking.
2. In many ways, it’s not a novel at all – or, if it is, it’s a disastrous one. He [Robinson] wants to make you engage with the fundamental imaginative choreography of SF in ways that you may not have since you began reading it. The attractions of this future beckon powerfully as Robinson treats us to marvelous scene after scene of breathtaking beauty and wonder in which Swan makes the solar system her playground. There are two excellent descriptive set-pieces - the long walk through the tunnels of Mercury, and the dangerous spacewalk in the orbit of Venus - which really grabbed me.
a member of the pampered elite, having risen to power through bared-faced nepotism, allies with her fellow well-meaning hobbyists to inflict unrequested aid on a long suffering Earth, often against the wishes of the nation states there. The results may in fact be good (and conveniently the novel tells us they are, though I have severe doubts as to whether such a scheme would work at all even in the context the novel sets up), but regardless of result, what has really happened is not civil disobedience but incursion. Yet by not challenging their view in more than a half-hearted way, the author slips into a colonialist rant that threw me right out of the book.
The romance is also a problem, however, because though Robinson does a good job of persuading us that Swan and Warham love each other (and of making us root for them to realize this and act on their feelings), he's a lot less persuasive at arguing that they have a future together. I started to feel very uneasy, flipped to the end of the book and discovered, Yes, wedding ring and a promise “forever” (though there is no promise of exclusivity that I could see).
3. I think I would have like this book a lot better if it had been half as long and I was twelve.
Edit 25/8/13 Helloooooooo to the person who has recently been commenting on my Hugo posts. I haven't been responding because I wasn't sure you'd see the response, but I've been enjoying your comments.
|10:29 am - Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed|
I was actually a wee bit excited when I started reading The Throne of the Crescent Moon - the hero was an old, fat man who really just wanted a nice cup of tea and a biscuit. And no pseudo-medieval, faux-European setting. Instead we have ghuls and dervishes and djinn. Fine, pseudo-Arabian, but it's definitely not the usual beaten path.
But it's quickly clear that my hopes were going to be crushed. Right about the time we assemble our mighty questing band.
We have our ghul hunting wizard and his assistant, the warrior priest. The shapeshifter barbarian. The other flavor of wizard and the alchemist.
On an adventure, with scientists. And they are all fighting the evilest evil that ever did evil for no real reason other than EBIL! Eventually.
Look, even that wouldn't have truly been a problem - taking a formula and twisting it on its head (or even doing it really well) still can work for me. Actually, let's be honest, if enough exciting stuff happens and its well-written enough, you don't even have to stretch much and I'll probably enjoy it enough.
But this book is some really slow going.
That's because other than a little ghul fighting in the early chapters, not a lot happens for a really long time. There is a ponderous assembling of the evidence. All the men need to wrap their testicles in twine so that they can give a mighty yank at the first sign they might get an erection. As everyone knows, getting a woody causes wizards and warriors to lose their powers for at least day.
Once they complete the tour of old boyfriends and girlfriends past who conveniently have all the information required to decipher the ghul of all ghuls puzzle, it's time to head out and catch some evil. Or get caught by the local Robin Hood-esque revolution leader called the Falcon Prince.
Because after the dull middle, it's time for the bad ending. The Falcon Prince is convinced that if the Khalif's heir holds hands and skips with him, he will get all sorts of wondrous powers. Except this doesn't really work so the Falcon Prince goes for the drinking the blood of the heir instead and gets all the EBIL powers. And much like young Tod at the end of The Ask and the Answer, Adoullah decides that the newly evil spellridden Falcon Prince should get to rule. Except Tod is a painfully stupid boy so that when he turns over power to the Mayor, you can actually believe he would do something that dumb. I expect we are meant to see Adoullah as complicit because of his weariness at fighting, but he just seems stupid.
I'm sure everything turns out fine and there won't be any need for a sequel.
So about all the men wrapping their balls in string? Of course that wasn't actually in the book. No, no - men having a nonsensical weakness dubiously tied to biological function? Don't be silly! It was the shapeshifter who lost her powers every time she was getting a visit from Aunt Flo.
A rueful scowl spread across Zamia's face. "I don't know, Doctor,. Each month for several days when I am --when women's business is upon me --I am unable to take the shape.
Zamia spends a good bit of time moaning while she's injured about how she can't change shape. Apparently, she just forgot she was on the rag the whole time.
So why does a lady lose her powers during her lady time? Perhaps it's because her estrogen and progesterone levels are low at that time? That would seem to imply that men wouldn't be shapeshifters, but no, she's the first Adoullah has ever seen. Perhaps it's the blood itself - anybody bleeding can't shapeshift. Nope, that doesn't wash because Zamia gets mauled pretty badly in the big battle and she doesn't lose her powers then. Basically her powers are a gift from God and when she's having her lady times, God withdraws his grace from her.
But at least there's some nonsensical equivalent for the fellows, right?
But in some things, rigidity was the only way. Saying marriage vows before God would cause a ghul hunter's kaftan to soil, and it would cost him the power of his invocations. As with many of God's painful ways Adoulla did not know why it was so, only that it was.
Damn those women and their ladyparts! They ruin everything. But how can there be a sequel if the Doctor will lose his ghulhunting magic when he gets married to his hooker with a heart of gold? Wait, priests can't get married. This whole thing is sounding a bit familiar. Let's all hop in the popemobile and check out some Leviticus:
19: And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even.
24: And if any man lie with her at all, and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean.
But surely there is some cure for this curse of the contagious unclean woman?
29:And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
30: And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for her before the LORD for the issue of her uncleanness.
Well thank God there's a way to reverse this terror of ladybits and their sinful unclean biology! Otherwise, without the turtles, how could Adoulla be back on the case in the sequel?
It's not just that Ahmed elected to literalize some religious sexism that exists in our world, but that he seems to have done so unthinkingly. It's not a critique or commentary of religion in our world. He doesn't even appear to have thought through the consequences of what this means in his world or what it says about his god. Basically, he seems to have thought a random bit of sexism was a cool idea and didn't stretch himself any further.
Edit 25/8/13 Helloooooooo to the person who has recently been commenting on my Hugo posts. I haven't been responding because I wasn't sure you'd see the response, but I've been enjoying your comments.
April 25th, 2013
|01:04 pm - Why didn't someone tell me there was a romance novel on the Hugo ballot?|
I'd always thought that those Vorkosigan books were Mil SF or Political SF and just plain old space opera. (And looking through the plot synopses for some of the others it appears some are.) So it came as a surprise to me when I realized Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold was actually a romance novel.
So how do you define a romance novel anyway? (as opposed to a book with a romantic subplot, a love story, etc.) Here's what makes a book a romance to me:
1. The romance drives the plot. If you take out the romance elements, the plot would collapse in a heap. When Captain Vorpatril's Alliance starts off it looks like the plot might be "Tej and Rish are on the run and her family's enemies are trying to kill them. Can they escape and restore the family's fortune?"
But this is not actually the plot. The people trying to capture Tej and Rish are the inciting incident for Vorpatril and Tej to marry and then danger falls out of the book. Similarly, the restoration of her family's fortunes happens off the page and in the epilogue. The caper subplot serves to drive the romance between Ivan and Tej to a head where they admit to each other that they do want to remain together.
2. The book follows a formula. In the case of CVA, the formula is "A couple marries accidentally/enters a marriage of convenience and falls in love." My next most recent exposure to this formula: The Decoy Bride, which I watched over Easter.
3. The book will have a HEA ending. Yes, CVA has this in spades as Ivan and Tej have been exiled from their busybody/annoying relatives to a tropical island where they have to work around 20 minutes a day and drink fruity drinks and make love the rest of the time.
So, tick, tick, tick, we have ourselves a romance novel on the ballot, and to be honest, one that could win. I have to admit this does rather delight me as I would love to see the crown jewel of the Hugos awash in girl cooties.
Now the romance genre generally isn't my thing, but I do enjoy a good one now and again, and for a romance to be enjoyable, it's generally all about how much you like the characters.
This is book one million in the series and I have read exactly one novella in the world before (the really dreadful fanservice novella "Winterfair Gifts") so much like last year's reading of Dances with Misogyny, Bujold doesn't come with any cookies from me for past books.
This book could easily be a stand alone book - you don’t really need to know who Ivan is at the start of the book, though Bujold is clearly banking on it - she obviously wants us to see Ivan as an affable bumbler when to the uninitiated he's a creep stalker. Here's how our heroine meets him:
"Hi, there"--with difficulty he dragged his gaze from her chest to her face--"Nanja"
As if this were not jerkish enough, he then proceeds to aggressively hit on her until she threatens to call the cops and then turns up at her flat (which she had never given him the address to.) Understandably, this freaks her out. But even his apology is rubbish and reeks of privilege:
"Do you ever give up?" Tej demanded.
"Not until you laugh," he answered gravely. "First rule of picking up girls y'know; she laughs, you live." He added after a moment, "Sorry I triggered your, um, triggers back there. I'm not attacking you."
Yes, because the problem in the situation was her "triggers," not his creepy behavior.
I was ecstatic when he got tied to a chair to be eaten by wolves. Sadly, he's just marking time until he gets to be the love interest.
Tej suffers from the Bella problem. Which is to say that she is bland and uninteresting and I was quickly bored with her.
With two such leads, you won't be surprised that there's no electricity between them. The secondary romance between By (think Barney from How I Met Your Mother) and Rish suffers from the same problem.
The bit characters were more interesting, though everyone has the ugly American problem -- they find themselves and their
country planet super awesome, sneer down their nose at others, and are shocked/insulted when everyone does not agree. They're sexist and classist, and not since JK Rowling and her house elves did servants seem so delighted to serve.
So here's the thing - the main characters are pretty dull and the plot isn't very interesting, but it is a readable bit of fluff. I'm not planning on reading any of the others (and really if you want me to think Miles is super-awesome and charismatic, you need to have him do something more than sit in a corner and snigger at his cousin.) Captain Vorpatril's Alliance feels like exactly what it is: the latest book in a very long running series that (most likely) lost its energy and interest a long time ago.
Finally, as an engineer, I must protest the implausible sinkhole destruction of the ImpSec headquarters (not that there couldn't be a sinkhole, mind you, just that the potential degradation of the ground below would not have been designed for.) Dear Ms. Bujold, allow me to introduce you to the concept of piling. nolove, me
No, it doesn't really matter in how well the book works, but it still irritates me.
Edit 25/8/13 Helloooooooo to the person who has recent;y been commenting on my Hugo posts. I haven't been responding because I wasn't sure you'd see the response, but I've been enjoying your comments.
April 14th, 2013
|01:46 pm - John Scalzi is a Murderer!|
Have you ever watched a movie and thought to yourself that it would have been a funny 3 minute skit on Saturday Night Live but at two hours it was just crushing boredom? That's pretty much the experience of reading Redshirts by John Scalzi.
Recite the premise with me, everyone: Ensigns get killed on away missions because they are disposable drama generators. What's up with that? From the ensign's perspective, it's pretty darn shit.
Redshirts is star trek parody with a big pile of "characters confront the author" meta. After you've explored the thirty seconds of hilarity that is people dying for no reason, what's left on the humor plate?
"Relax," Collins said and nevertheless returned the salute. "The only time we salute around here is when His Majesty comes through the door."
"You mean Commander Q'eeng," Dahl said.
"You see the pun there," Collins said. "With 'king,' which is what his name sounds like."
Oh dear, not just a pun, but a pun explained.
"Sure, I'll baby sit him until he passes out," Dahl said.
"Man, I owe you a blowjob," Duvall said,
"What?" Dahl said.
"What?" Hester said.
"Sorry," Duvall said. "In round forces, when someone does you a favor you tell them you owe them a sex act If it's a little thing, it's a handjob. Medium, blowjob. Big favor, you owe them a fuck."
"Got it," Dahl said.
"No actual blowjobs forthcoming," Duvall said. "To be clear."
Nothing like the hijinks of a lady co-worker saying they owe you a blowjob and the wacky confusion that ensues when she doesn't really mean it!
So yeah, that's the humor. Worse, basically every character sounds exactly alike. (You might argue that it was deliberate to illustrate the interchangeability of the ensigns, but since all Scalzi characters in every book sound alike, I think not.)
This makes reading dialogue (and this is a dialogue heavy book) a slog because it's difficult to keep track of who's saying what.
Anyway, what about the treatment of the ladies? Well, you have one lady amongst the four main characters and each one is interesting in their own way. Guess which one is the lady?
You were a novitiate to an alien religion. You're a scoundrel who's made enemies cross the fleet. You're the son of one of the richest men in the universe. You left your last ship after an altercation with your superior officer, and you're sleeping with Kerensky now.
Because we ladies are only important in relation the dudes and the sexual activities we have with them. (And the usefulness these sex acts are in advancing the plot.)
Jenkins, the speaker of the above, has been hiding in his cave of MANPAIN ever since his wife got fridged. His dead wife is the motivation for him to figure out what was happening on the ship and how it was linked to a bad TV show from the early twentieth century.
And no, I don't think these are some of the elements that Scalzi was parodying. They felt played straight to me - as if Scalzi didn't even notice how problematic they are.
Anyway, there's time travel and ridiculousness and eventually they convince the producer to quietly cancel the show after another season with no more dead characters.
Then come the codas.
Coda the First: The author gives himself a handjob
So this would be the coda where Nick Weinstein, the author who was accidentally killing people through his writing, gets writer's block because writing is hard y'all! Eventually he gives himself a pass on killing more people and lives happily and productively ever after.
I offer this 30-second ethics class for those who might be confused by this coda:
Potentially Confused Person: Is it ok to kill people?
Potentially Confused Person: What if I give them meaningful deaths after hallucinating that one of the people I killed gives me permission?
Me: Still no.
The trouble is I don't think we are meant to think the author is a narcissistic asshole who is rationalizing murder. (He does get a lady prize in Coda Three.) Instead, I felt like I meant to take away what's explicit in the text - accidentally killing people was bad because the writing was poor and the deaths meaningless, but if you have the courage to write well and thoughtfully, you can still kill a few people, just not as many.
Coda the Second: Time for the after school special ending
So, imagine you have a near death experience and you ended up in a coma, but somehow you get another chance. Then from beyond the grave, alterna-you tells you to grow up and do something with your life. Because next time you won't be so lucky. Everybody hug!
A side note: I found this whole plot line in poor taste considering that that Gene Roddenberry's daughter died as a result of head trauma from a car accident.
Coda the Third: The fan fiction ending. OTPs 4eva!
You know what the ladies need? Men. So this coda is all about Samantha going on dates and trying to find her OTP.
So remember Jenkins of the MANPAIN? Well, he was played by the narcissistic asshole Nick Weinstein of Coda One. Samantha played his wife Margaret and is on the beach spreading ashes:
She does not hurry in the task, taking time between each handful of ash and sand to remember Margaret's words, and her life, and her love, bringing them inside her and letting them become a part of her whether for the first time or once again.
After absorbing Margaret's life and love, Samatha turns around and sees her alterna-husband OTP, Nick and they walk off down the beach together, happily ever after.
Except I think we are meant to find this romantic and moving rather than sexist tripe.
Anyway, this was not a hugo-worthy book and all people who nominated it, please report for a sporking.
April 6th, 2013
|02:04 pm - Incest Saves the World|
When we last left Mira Grant's Newsflesh trilogy...
Our hero, Shaun, was a jackass, crazy heading for psychotic, and had the super power of being immune to zombibification. Due to incest.
Our heroine, Georgia, was dead and had the superpower of coming back to life in clone form. Ninety-seven percent as good as the original version!
And I was moaning about the lack of zombie whales.
Blackout by Mira Grant is told in alternating threads from Georgia's and Shaun's perspectives. Shaun's sections pretty much consist of him moaning about his MANPAIN and running around pointlessly. He's clearly just marking time until it's time to join up with Georgia. (And since Georgia is the much more engaging narrator you might as well skip his sections pre-reunion.)
In the other strand, implausible VP Rick has thought of a plan that is positively gnomish:
Step 1: Georgia.
Step 2: ?????
Step 3: Defeat the CDC and save the world.
Georgia wakes up in a CDC prison/hospital and is menaced by her cartoonishly evil doctor-jailors. There are also rival paragon doctors from the EIS who want to break her out (and are secretly working with Rick.)
Not a lot happens as Grant spends a painfully long time unfolding how the evil!docs cloned Georgia to control Shaun. Eventually she gets busted out. In a miracle coincidence she immediately hooks up with Shaun and they and the scoobies are off fighting crime again. Because this book was already too long, in short order, Maggie gets shot, they hop on a plane to DC, and they find out about the evil CDC government conspiracy and defeat it through the power of
positive thinking shotguns blogging. (Yay! Bloggers! Yay!)
Pop quiz: Which one of the characters gets martyred?
Maggie, the poor little rich girl who found a family in the blogging misfits and we all get to enjoy her execrable poetry talents
Alaric: In love with Becks. Mostly not in the book.
Mahir: Loves Georgia. And allegedly his wife. I think he is meant to be the adult of the lot.
Becks: The chick who Shaun treated really horribly in the second book.
Our heroes, the incest twins.
If you guessed Becks, you are right. Of course Shaun's slate needed to be wiped clean so he could live happily ever after shagging his sister. Can't have that shadow lingering on. Now it's like he never slept with anyone besides Georgia.
The plot is laughably bad, the worldbuilding is unconvincing, and the characters are more a set of tics and plot conveniences than characters. And as much as Grant wants to sell the incest as two abused characters reaching out to the only people they could trust, it played about as well as the incest in Flowers in the Attic.
Blackout reminds me of fanfic in the way that some fanfiction fails to capture the essence of the original series or book that people love. It might work for you if you already have the love, but it doesn't if you don't haven't experienced the story, character and worldbuilding background.
Basically, reading this book is like starting to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer with that season that was about the Initiative and why would anyone ever want to do that?
 In the first book he was one of the bloggers following the presidential campaign and then gets tapped as the new VP because, um, reasons.
 Which, if you have never had the pleasure of some V.C. Andrews gothic bullshit, I'll remind you that their sexual relationship started when Christopher raped Catherine because she was so damn hot. (So of course it was really her fault and she loved him forever.)
 Specifically, Buffy the Vampire Slayer crossed with Firefly where Shaun and Georgia are Mal and Buffy.
 Yes, fine, there were some individually good episodes during season 4, but overall it was pretty piss-poor and the whole Initiative thing was stupid.
Edit 25/8/13 Helloooooooo to the person who has recently been commenting on my Hugo posts. I haven't been responding because I wasn't sure you'd see the response, but I've been enjoying your comments.
April 3rd, 2013
|10:54 pm - I am everything that is wrong with the Hugos|
Every year it comes time to nominate for the Hugos and while I generally manage a decent effort in the fiction categories (really, the only ones I care about), I am slack, slack, slack in all the other categories.
You might think this would motivate me to abstain from those categories, but hahahahaha. No. I have a vote and I like to use it.
I generally poll my friends for things they would like me to nominate (you think we would be more successful at getting things on the ballot, but clearly my apathy ballot stuffing is nothing compared to the voting machines of others. Though better than that guy who said he was doing it to get back at SMOFs, apparently.)
Then I complain about the results because you all have bad taste. (Some day there will be the OFFICIAL award(s) of science fiction where I simply pick the winners.)
We have the obligatory backlash against what appears to be a generally lackluster slate (well, considering that I haven't read most of the pieces yet, emphasis on appears.) We have the obligatory posts by Kevin Standlee railing against anyone who dares to have an opinion without immediately dropping everything to run a world con.
And that means it's time to announce this year's Hugo reading project because if I'm going to complain, I'm going to do it properly.
Now, let me tell you how to vote.
First up, the sequel to the surprise!incest book from last year because it can only be an uphill climb from there.
 Once I am a zillionaire, so not just yet. But clearly it will displace the Hugos in prominence. Better give a very big prize.
 My personal favorite gem is where he compares WSFS to a New England town meeting. Yes, that's exactly what it's like - there's nothing more sordid, small-minded and cliquish than a town meeting in action. Pity that wasn't what he meant.
 The Mira Grant novel Deadline? Dead something something. I don't know.
Current Mood: contemplative
January 6th, 2013
|05:04 pm - Let Me Tell You What to Vote For|
The new year has ushered in award season and with it brought the usual irritating rash of pimpage posts and the more rare balm of people pimping works that they have no vested interest in.
Usually I am butt-lazy and don't start thinking about awards until a week before the nomination deadline and then glom recommendations off abigail_n or despotliz and call it a day (sometimes so much of a day that I forget to nominate.) But with the new year, I've vowed to become more productive or opinionated or something.
Anyway, that means I'm going to be offering suggestions of stories I plan to be considering for Hugo nominations in a few months. Your job is to read those stories! Or offer me suggestions! Or anything else that involves a bang at the end of the sentence!
So first out on the chopping block is Strange Horizons. Sadly, they have reduced new fiction publications by about a quarter over the last couple of years. (Partly due to a series of reprints they are running, partly because some weeks they aren't publishing fiction and partly they have made the baffling (and annoying) decision to splits some stories parts which are entirely too short to be split.) But even with this waning, there are several stories I'll be keeping in my head when I actually start planning my ballot:
Things Greater than Love by Kate Bachus It's a story about a search and rescue team where one of the team members is an alien.
I'll tell you what this story is not: it's not a story where the alien gets to be a stand in for POC or women or anything like that.
I'll tell you what this story is: it's funny, in a sarcastic "we're all going to hell so might as well have a laugh" way.
"Guys?" Kerry shouted down. "Sasha?" In theory, we had radios. In practice they were finicky high tech things that stopped working the moment the volcanic ash and dust got in, or whenever we inevitably dropped them from equally inevitable heights.
It's also got that edge of your seat excitement. Really, how could it not since they are doing a rescue on a live volcano? Ok, let's face it, loads of movies are nothing but death and explosions aplenty and deadly dull. Kate knows tension.
She also knows people and what it's like to be part of team - the trust, the friendship and the loyalty.
"The fuck do you think you're doing?" Mort stopped a yard or so behind me. "Hey, wow, congratulations for going farther out of the bounds of all our protocols than anyone . . . ever." Silence. "You need a dressing?" He was changing gloves, getting into his pack.
Because of course you are first going to yell and then follow your teammate into the abyss when he's doing the right thing.
I've recommended Tiger Stripes by Nghi Vo previously when I was reading the Hugo nominees last year. Tigers and mothers and loss and forgiveness and love all wrapped up in a lovely story. Also, water buffalo. If you didn't read it the last time I recommended, now's your chance.
Finally The Grinnell Method by Molly Gloss. abigail_n already wrote about it so I don't have to. Well actually she reveals the ending lines so maybe you should read it after you have read "The Grinnell Method."
(Though I don't get the Karen Joy Fowler "What I Didn't See" vibe from Gloss's writing that abigail_n discusses. Gloss mostly reminds me of Anthony Doerr and the feeling I get when reading him that he's showing me how to see the specific part of the world he's writing about through the details, things I could have never seen on my own - similar to how some paintings make me feel.)
Now go read!
Actual vow is to tell people to "put on their big-boy pants" more, but I'm sure that will involve me being even more opinionated than before.
I've also vowed to start using bangs more because I've got that interjection song stuck in my head.
 I know! Why even get out of bed?
 I'm not a fan of splitting stories anyway, but unless the story is nosing up around 10k, it probably isn't going to be suitable for splitting. (The recently published America Thief is a good example, while part 1 is around 4.5k, it has no real punch and is all setup with not much to compel you to read the second half (except for the basic fact that it's a half finished story.) The second part despite being 2k shorter is where all the story business happens. The split makes the story seem unbalanced and the conclusion rushed. I think it would have been far better to skip a week than to split a story that doesn't even nudge into novelette territory.
Unless you defy the strange horizons
gods editors and read it in a single go.
July 31st, 2012
|09:30 pm - Ka-Chunk!|
I have just swung the big Hugo voting lever. 
Sorry I didn't complete my Hugo odyssey in public, but time got away from me.
I did want to highlight two works I really like-
"Six Months, Three Days" by Charlie Jane Anders - A love story about a man who sees one future and a woman who sees all the possible futures and their relationship. Despite knowing their relationship is doomed from the start, this story had none of the heavy-handed emotional sledgehammers found elsewhere on the ballot. *cough Resnick cough* It's still a gutpunch, but one that feels real.
Digger by Ursula Vernon - I was actively sad when she said Digger had gone from her head after she finished Digger because I was dying for the story about how Digger gets home.
All right, now is the time for me to complain.
Here's the thing. If you are going to offer an ebook format, it doesn't need to be fancy. Rachel Swirsky and Geoff Ryman both appear to have dumped their manuscript into Calibre and hit the big button. And you know what? Their epub files were perfectly fine, totally readable. No fancy cover, but all the text I wanted to read.
If you want to do a shit job with your epub file, you are better off just sticking with your pdf. They are annoying, but not nearly so much as a badly formatted ebook.
So here's my epub hall of shame:
Mary Robinette Kowal
(I didn't read everything on my ipad, so I might have missed some.)
 The most satisfying form of voting is via the old fashioned sort of mechanical voting booth where you have to swing a big lever to vote.
July 9th, 2012
July 8th, 2012
|04:46 pm - "The Man Who Ended History" by Ken Liu|
I'm rather conflicted about this story. On the one hand it's very informative about an atrocity that I had not heard about. On the other hand, I don't find it to be a very good work of fiction.
So, the story is that there's a magic way to view the past - kind of like Slow Glass, only with physics mumbo jumbo laid on top. (Liu makes a misstep here and tries to explain rather too much and not very convincingly - I think it would have been better to invoke handwavium as I found it distracting.)
This was discovered by Akemi Kirino, wife of historian Evan Wei, who becomes obsessed by the atrocities committed by Unit 731. Wei uses her time travel machine to allow relatives of the victims to become witnesses of the atrocities.
It is very terrible stuff.
Unfortunately the format of the story makes for very dry reading - less readable than a well-done history book:
Moreover, behind both the Japanese and the Chinese positions is the unquestioned assumption that if we can resolve whether China or Japan has sovereignty over World War Two-era Harbin, then either the People's Republic or the present Japanese government would be the right authority to exercise that sovereignty. But this is far from clear. Both sides have problems making the legal case.
The issue of Unit 731 presents its unique challenges. Here, the United States is not an uninterested third party. As an ally and close friend of Japan, it is the duty of the United States to point out where our friend has erred. But more than that, the United States played an active role in helping the perpetrators of the crimes of Unit 731 escape justice. General MacArthur granted the men of Unit 731 immunity to get their experimental data. We are in part responsible for the denials and the cover-ups because we valued the tainted fruits of those atrocities more than we valued our own integrity. We have sinned as well.
The story is told as a documentary of Evan Wei after his suicide (something I saw coming from about the middle of the story). Which makes for lots of granstanding (like when Wei confronts the Japanese Ambassador on a television show) and a lot of boring speechifying like the above excerpts.
I know that Liu modeled this story on a lot of historical documents, such as congressional hearings on a resolution condemning Japan's wartime enslavement of women as forced prostitutes. But verisimilitude does not necessarily make good fiction. (Or at least written word fiction - I imagine it would be more effective in a different medium.)
The other problem I have is the Liu likes to stack the deck. Not only is the woman who invents the time travel technology Japanese, but her grandfather was one of the research heads at Unit 731. This sort of thing might work if it had been embedded in the story the whole time, but it's revealed at the end as a cheap twist.
I get why he did it - the story needed a through line to make it punch at the end, but the one Liu chose is very contrived. I admire his ambition - this is a difficult topic to incorporate into a work of fiction, but on a storytelling level it doesn't work for me. It's a messy interesting failure, but still a failure.
I'm glad to have read this for the education and that's enough for me to not "no award" it.
June 25th, 2012
|07:44 pm - The Cartographer Wasps and Anarchist Bees by E. Lily Yu|
I have a confession to make - when I sat down to write this I barely remembered the story and had to go reread to refresh my memory.
It's an enjoyable story - beautifully written. The language of the story really pops. The story opens with:
For longer than anyone could remember, the village of Yiwei had worn, in its orchards and under its eaves, clay-colored globes of paper that hissed and fizzed with wasps.
I love the idea of the village wearing wasp nests and "hissed and fizzed with wasps" perfectly captures what wasp nests are like, if you've seen one and if you haven't, then I expect it makes a great picture. The whole of the story is like this - language that is wonderfully vivid and precise yet original.
The wasps are forced to relocate because of a boy with a stone and the sudden discovery of their maps by humans. As soon as they do, they become imperialists who make a hive of bees a vassal state. They are assholes.
They [the bees] learned not to see the thick green caterpillars led on silver chains, or the dead bees fed to the wasp brood. It was easier that way.
And then anarchism amongst the bees is born! Hurrah. (I do really just want to walk around saying "anarchist bees! Anarchist bees! ANARCHIST BEES!" for pretty much no reason other than it's fun to say.) But then the wasps are removed by a deus ex machina (the humans) and the anarchists all die for no real plot reason, but at least their writings are found.
By the end I am left wondering what I should be taking away from this story and mostly it feels like nothing. It doesn't really comment on colonialism or anarchism or even cartography. It feels allegorical without the allegory.
I think this is why I find it so forgettable. (I did enjoy it - it is the only story I would encourage you to read.) I'm just not convinced beautiful is enough to make it one of the year's best stories.
I'm still going to offer you an alternate story because I am enjoying promoting stories that I like. "Ruminations in an Alien Tongue" by Vandana Singh is a story of a woman who chooses to stay behind when a gateway to everyone's heart's desires is found (this is a science fiction story so it's a probability gateway that can lead you to a universe more to your liking.) Birha is content to stay behind, and strives to tell us her story in the language of the aliens who created to the portal.
June 24th, 2012
|10:52 am - "The Homecoming" by Mike Resnick|
It wouldn't be a year if there weren't a terrible Mike Resnick story in the Hugo mix. It, as it most always does, features a whiny guy and a surplus of cloying sentimentality.
Picture this: A young man comes out as gay and heads off to the big city. This causes a rift between him and his father because the dad wanted him to take over the farm and give him lots of grandkids. The son returns when his mom is on her deathbed and his dad hardly believes the son is human. But at a word from the mom in a very convenient moment of lucidity (she has dementia, because of course she does) who believes the son was right to follow his dream and live his life as he wished (but never said so to the son or the father before now), the rift is healed and everyone lives happily ever after (as much as you can when a member of the family has dementia and is dying.)
So treacly you might gag.
It's not any better in the Resnick version because instead of "son comes out as gay" it has "son turns himself into a cyborg to go study aliens." Not that the story wouldn't have gone the same way if the son had been gay, as the main character reveals himself a close-minded ass in one of the first lines:
Growing old isn't for sissies."
Charming, no? This is the character we are supposed to experience pathos for.
Resnick then attempts to evoke the ghost of Kafka which only serves to remind that he's no Kafka.
When I say at a word from mom, here's the whole thing:
“You can call me Mother," she said, her voice sharp and cogent. "You were right to go.” She turned to me, and somehow I could tell it was the old Julia, the real Julia, looking at me.“ And you had better make your peace with our son.”
Ta-da! They make up. The story ends less than a page later with:
But it’s comforting to know that if I ever do find a way to get there, I'll be greeted by a loving son who can show his old man around the place and point out all the sights to him.
I guess I can be comforted that at least this year it's not an imaginary girlfriend story.
So now on to your alternate story: Immersion by Aliette de Bodard. This is a heartbreaking story about the way colonialism consumes the culture of former colonies and the damage this has done to one character. Aliette discusses writing the story here.
June 23rd, 2012
|02:47 pm - Movement by Nancy Fulda|
A while back Steven Piziks discussed the portrayal of autism in popular media and noted that two traits were common - exceptionalism (what he calls "the image of the autist as super-hero") and the lack of negative consequences:
Here's the problem. The media always--ALWAYS--wants to show people as getting help or as succeeding. No one wants to end the broadcast on a downer: "And, despite everyone's efforts to help, Alvin is now homeless, begging for spare change at the bus station." The children we see on TV shows inevitably get help, and the viewers are left with the vague idea that they'll be all right in the end. Autistic adults are portrayed as having successful full-time jobs where they're such highly-regarded experts, everyone is forced to accept their odd behavior. They even have friends. And the audience says, "Well, see? Autistic people do just fine. They have super powers."
The problem is, they don't.
Only a few autists actually have a savant talent, and the majority of those talents don't lead themselves to a successful career. Aran, [Piziks's son who has autism] for example, has perfect pitch, but that won't land him a job anywhere.
In fact, less than 10% of adult autists actually work at all, let alone full-time. It's hard for autists to find work--most can't get past the job interview. The hiring manager might be the nicest person in the world, but she'll still be put off by someone who strides into the office and booms, "This is my new job!"
Most adult autists live on disability, or with relatives, or both. Some live in group homes or institutions.
And a big chunk are homeless.
Which brings me to "Movement" by Nancy Fulda. The narrator is a girl (Hannah) with "temporal autism" which presents with a communication impairment that seems superficially similar to ones sometimes seen in people with autism.
This story feels like an advocacy story for the Autism Rights Movement - and their position that autism is not something to cure, but a natural variation that should be accepted. Her parents take up two opposing voices to that idea - the mother is pro-behavioral therapy to allow her to fit in better, while the father wants to cure her.
Within the story, temporal autism is objectively presented as the potential for exceptionalism:
It’s a matter of trade-offs, Mrs. Didier. The brain cannot be optimized for everything at once. Without treatment, some children like Hannah develop into extraordinary individuals. They become famous, change the world, learn to integrate their abilities into the structures of society. But only a very few are that lucky. The others never learn to make friends, hold a job, or live outside of institutions.
This is the only time the potential negative long term impacts of having autism are discussed. By the end of the story Hannah has decided what she wants:
I do not want to live small. I do not want to be like everyone else, ignorant of the great rush of time, trapped in frantic racing sentences. I want something else, something that I cannot find a word for.
Because Fulda subtitles her story "A short story about autism in the future" she's making an explicit link with real autism, but by giving her character a special snowflake super power version Fulda greatly undercuts the connection and makes the story much less effective.
Hannah is shown to be objectively exceptional in two ways: her dancing and ability to remember facts. Real world autism can feature a host of negative symptoms that Hannah does not suffer from: aggressive behavior, self-harm, difficulty with motor control, etc. These two elements give the story a feeling of wish fulfillment - Hannah's just fine the way she is, extraordinary even, the world just needs to accept her.
The trouble is, I don't believe in Hannah. The things that Hannah tells us about herself and the way she perceives the world do not jibe with how she narrates the story and the things she focuses on. She says:
Words are such fleeting, indefinite things. They slip through the spaces between my thoughts and are lost.
How can I play the game of dredging up memorized answers to questions that have no meaning when the world is changing so rapidly? The heavens stream past outside the windows, the crustal plates are shifting beneath my feet. Everything around me is either growing or falling apart. Words feel flat and insignificant by comparison.
But as a character, neither of these things feel true. Fulda elected to make Hannah the narrator so she's telling us a story that's made up of those very words that get lost in her thoughts and are too insignificant to focus on.
At narrative convenience Hannah shuts out the chaos of the changing world to pay attention to her parents discuss her autism and her grandparents discussing her brother. Words don't become lost-she's able to recall them enough to track the evolution of the way her family communicates:
Disputed phrases have died out of our family vocabulary, and my parents must constantly invent new ones to fill the gaps.
Hannah's easily able to conceptualize and communicate her feelings and desires within the words of the story that she is unable to do when trying to communicate with the other characters in the story. Hannah as narrator is nothing like Hannah the character. As the story revolves around how she perceives the world and time differently, the story doesn't work for me.
I won't pretend to know much about autism. My knowledge is mostly gleaned from the writings of friends who have children with autism and this story as advocacy against a cure and behavioral therapy doesn't work for me either - I am unconvinced by Hannah's decision as she solely focuses on whether or not she will remain special while the story mostly ignores the very real challenges faced by people with autism and their families.
So for your alternate story, “The Fish of Lijiang” by Chen Qiufan, translated from the Chinese by Ken Liu a story about going back to a place you once knew and finding it a pale shadow of what it once was - the disneyfication of it completely ate its soul. You are not who you once were when you were young and time has become a commodity to be wielded by the powerful.
June 18th, 2012
|01:09 pm - “The Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” by John Scalzi|
I'm not going to waste very much time on this one. It's an April Fool's joke and not very funny. Locus has the right take - the idea can be funny, but trying to execute it is not.
"The Shadow War etc." is not a short story for one thing. It has no complete plot - it's what it was meant to be - a prologue to an awful imaginary novel. The trouble is that it's just as painful to read as any badly-written self-published fantasy novel.
So, on to your alternate story. Zen Cho's House of Aunts. I'm usually not a fan of vampire stories, but this one is lovely.
June 17th, 2012
|03:11 pm - "The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu|
This story has been widely lauded and won the Nebula for best short story. It's probably a lock to win the Hugo as well, making it one of those rare double winners.
I didn't care for it.
Jack's mom was a mail-order bride and this is a fact that everyone seem to know, including the children in the neighborhood they just moved into. I can only assume that Jack's father hung posters throughout the neighborhood so the predictably racist neighbors would know. The interactions with the neighbors has all the subtlety of an after school special where we are going to learn a very serious lesson about racism.
Jack has the sort of ugly spat that children have and it's portrayed as the turning point in why Jack treats his mother completely and utterly like shit.
Mark punched me, hard. “This was very expensive! You can’t even find it in the stores now. It probably cost more than what your Dad paid for your Mom!”
My fight with Mark didn’t end there. Mark was popular at school. I never want to think again about the two weeks that followed.
This is pretty much where Liu starts losing me. He's relying on the reader to fill in the void he's created - a series of events so awful that he freezes his mother out for the next ten years.
Not helping is the dad:
I brushed her hand away. “I’m fine. Speak English!” I was shouting.
“Speak English to him,” Dad said to Mom. “You knew this was going to happen someday. What did you expect?”
Mom dropped her hands to her sides. She sat, looking from Dad to me, and back to Dad again. She tried to speak, stopped, and tried again, and stopped again.
“You have to,” Dad said. “I’ve been too easy on you. Jack needs to fit in.”
Dad, you are a shit, too. Maybe next time tell your son to treat his mother with respect.
Kids do hurtful things to their parents - sometimes intentionally and other times unthinkingly and probably a lot more often than they realize. But there appears to be no waxing and waning in Jack's behavior. He's decided to act like a shit, and then he does so from that point forward like flicking a switch. No guilt, no backtracking, no separation that gradually becomes a chasm. He just emotionally walks away at age ten. That simply did not feel real to me.
Mom gets hospitalized with cancer when Jack is away at college:
“Jack, if — ” she was caught up in a fit of coughing, and could not speak for some time. “If I...don’t make it, don’t be too sad and hurt your health. Focus on your life.
Hello Lifetime movie of the week, complete with the coughing death that's only missing schmaltzy music in the background. Everything feels dialed up to eleven because why do something subtly when you can pound us over the head with a sledgehammer instead?
Jack is a shit to his mom, of course:
“All right, Mom. Stop talking.”
I guess being kind to your dying mom for more than thirty seconds is out of the question. And then he pisses off back to college because not only is he a shit who treats his mother badly, it doesn't even occur to him that his father might need some support when his wife is dying.
And then! There is the big reveal to tug at your heartstrings because his mother had a terrible life and Jack made it worse when he rejected her. Yes, Jack, you suck.
Unfortunately, this story is completely and utterly without nuance. The neighbors are shits. Jack is a shit. Dad is a shit. And mom is the victim. In no way did I feel like I was reading a story about real people, complex people with good and bad, sometimes at the same time. It's pure emotion porn.
In my personal alternate ending Jack gets run over by a bus.
I did like the origami animals, though.
Anyway, rather than overly dwelling on stories that I don't like, here's a story you ought to read instead of "Paper Menagerie" - Tiger Stripes by Nghi Vo. It also features mothers, sons and tigers. I cried at the end, unlike when I got to the end of "The Paper Menagerie."
June 12th, 2012
|05:55 pm - Useless stats roundup - Hugo novels|
Books with incest or attempted incest: 4 (AO, E, ADWD, D)
Books with characters who have people living in their heads: 2 (D, LW)
Books with an improbable number of whores: 2 (LW, ADWD)
Books where whores outnumber zombies: 1 (ADWD)
Books where zombies outnumber whores: 1 (D)
Books I nominated for the Hugo award: 0
Books with female protagonists: 2.33 (AO, E, ADWD (.33) )
Books where the only prominent female character ends up as a prize for men: 1 (LW)
Books where I didn't want to punch someone for being a sexist fuck/racist fuck/fuck of some other sort:0
|05:54 pm - Embassytown by China Mieville|
Reading Embassytown feels like reading my US history text book from second grade. The colonists were lovers of freedom who were fighting to make a new life for themselves, Native Americans were friendly and helpful, and happy to share their land with us, and the British were the villain of the story who were trying to unjustly control the colonists lives.
Embassytown is an outpost town on the planet Arieka at the very edge of known space and the human inhabitants have a insular society that reflects their position as a colonial outpost: petty, backstabbing and full of alliances, but above all, Embassytowner against Breman, those who rule them from afar.
The local non human population, Ariekei (or Hosts) have some very impressive biotech and language that is barely accessible to the local human population, and not at all to those Breman, and that's the advantage Embassytown would like to leverage to freedom.
So the crux of the novel is that Hosts can literally speak only the truth and that they recognize not the words of the language by the underlying soul the speakers. Most people who live in Embassytown are nothing more than yappy dogs to the Hosts, including our narrator, Avice. Only the Ambassadors, cloned twins who are trained to think and act as one person can communicate with the Hosts.
The treatment of language and consciousness is the most intriguing part of the book, even if the idea of Language doesn’t particularly hang together. (The part that really doesn’t work for me is the fact that you can record the voices and later play them back and keep the meaning - sort of the equivalent of stealing your soul by taking a photograph of you. So why don't they play tapes to the Hosts all the time to communicate? Why has no one thought of doing this?)
Embassytown has been leveraging their communication monopoly with an eye to becoming independent, but along comes a new Ambassador from the home country of Bremen who is the first step in a power play to undercut the power of the locals. And that’s where everything goes horribly wrong.
The new ambassador doesn’t have a single consciousness driving him but is still recognizably making speech or rather the speech equivalent of crack. All the Hosts are promptly addicted and this is about where the novel falls apart for me.
There is a bumbling sort of catastrophe where one faction of the Ariekei tear off their ears (or what acts as ears for them) and make with the plan to KILL ALL HUMANS and the remaining become a coerced army in service to the Ambassadors.
Plucky Avice and her band of rebels has a different plan, she's going to teach the Host how to lie and destroy their Language. And even though the Host's Language gets destroyed, and here's how it's portrayed:
In the beginning was each word of Language, sound isomorphic with some Real: not a thought, not really, only self-expressed worldness, speaking itself through the Ariekei. Language had always been redundant: it had only ever been the world. Now the Ariekei were learning to speak, and to think, and it hurt.
That's right, humans have brought the Ariekei enlightenment.
Avice side wins and at the end of the book the New Ariekei and the colonists have banded together to form a new government that wants to be independent from Breman and Avice and her new best Ariekei bud, Spanish Dancer, are going to go off and explore the immer frontier together.
There are some poor Ariekei who won't be able to join this glorious new future, and will just have to remain junkies or get shipped off to the reservation where they won't have contact with humans any more.
I think Mieville was trying to tell a more nuanced story where there was a merging of the cultures, but it felt like the humans took one step and the Areikei took 99 steps and all the ugly bits are brushed under the carpet at the end, just like in my second grade history book.
June 6th, 2012
|02:48 pm - Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey|
We are men, men, men, manly men doing manly things like starting wars and winning girls as our prize. It's so awesome to be men, men, men. We like to shoot things with our manly guns and blow things up with our manly explosives and make the women swoon from our manliness.
Ok, I'll stop, but you should listen to this video on repeat while you read this so you don't forget what this book is about.
Anyway, this book is narrated in alternating chapters by Deckard from Bladerunner and that guy Ed Harris played in the Abyss (or probably any Ed Harris character).
So Deckard (Miller in the book, but I'm going to stick to Deckard) is a functioning alcoholic rent-a-cop who is given the job of kidnapping some rich girl (Julie Mao) who's run away from Mummy and Daddy. He (as if this is going to be a surprise) becomes obsessed with her.
"I'll be fine. I just . . . I had a bad day.
"Julie," Hasini said, nodding.
"How do you know about Julie?" Miller asked.
"You've been talking about her all night," Hasini said. "She's a girl you fell for, right"
Frowning, Miller kept a hand on the cart. Julie. He'd been talking about Julie. That was what this was about. Not his job. Not his reputation. They'd taken away Julie. The special case. The one that mattered.
"You're in love with her," Hasini said.
"Yeah, sort of," Miller said, something like revelation forcing its way through the alcohol. "I think I am."
So much ugh. Unluckily for Julie, after she becomes part of an alien organism she gets stuck spending the rest of eternity with her stalker.
Ed Harris, on the other hand, is the dupe of all dupes who manages to drag Mars and the asteroid belt into war, and later ups the ante to include earth. He also finds himself captain of a pinched Martian warship (and naturally his XO is in love with him because he's so hott and super awesome.)
The wars aren't his fault - he's just so darn honest that he thinks you shouldn't ever withhold information. (Information wants to be free - maybe he's Cory Doctorow.) So he promptly joins up with the head of
IRA OPA and bumbles his way to Eros where he hooks up with Deckard, like in some superhero crossover. Anyway, turns out Dr Evil is planning to kill 1.5 million people and turn them into brown alien goo. Oops, these are not very powerful superheroes because not only did all the people die but our heroes got a healthy dose of radiation poisoning as well.
But wait! This is the future so they are totally not dead. Back at OPA headquarters, Deckard conveniently is able to get the coordinates of Dr Evil's lair. All the manly men arm themselves and go on an evil hunt. Deckard shoots Dr Evil in the face and that makes Ed Harris cry. (Ed Harris opposes vigilante justice.)
There is still runaway alien goo to do something about. Eventually Deckard decides that they should drive that shit into the sun. But uh-oh, the alien has woken up and now she's heading for earth. In the end, Deckard convinces alien!Julie to split the difference and head for Venus and he joins team alien goo.
Ed Harris gets laid, just like you always knew he would.
June 4th, 2012
|03:04 pm - Deadline by Mira Grant|
Or as I like to call it Bloggers YAY! Security Theater BOO! If only the bloggers in this book wrote anything the least bit interesting in their blog interludes. I find it baffling that I'm supposed to believe these are some of the most popular bloggers in the world. So, on to the spoilers.
Pretty much the first thing I want to say is the worldbuilding in this book is painfully bad on pretty much every level.
I arrived to find James on duty at the guard station, his feet propped on the desk next to monitor and the latest issue of Playboy open on his knees.[p.33]
Really? There has been a worldwide zombie outbreak and I'm supposed to believe that people are still going off and logging trees to make paper for a magazine that's going to be replaced in a month?
Grant says that everyone wants to work at home but there's no lack of packaged goods (especially medical tests), no lack of groceries, no problems with electricity, water or sewage treatment. Gas is plentiful despite the US having abandoned Alaska. Solar, wind and other alternate forms of energy seem pretty nonexistent, but when there's large sections of the country just abandoned, do you really want to have to depend on the infrastructure? Luckily, it seems to be perfectly reliable.
The entire Indian subcontinent has been abandoned for 30 years. Ok, what have the zombies been eating for all that time? Surely they must have run out of food sources pretty quickly and died? It's not like they will go fishing or raise some rice.
And then there's the smaller stupid things like when Grant has the narrator explain that building tunnels in California is dangerous. Um, no. Actually it's that building tunnels is expensive, that's why they aren't common replacements for sidewalks. (And I guess we can add construction workers to the list of professions still adequately staffed.)
Then there's the bit about how Avon's Skin so Soft is the best insect repellent. You have the mad scientist doctor writing:
If you must go outside while the sun is down, wear long sleeves and bug spray. I recommend Avon Skin-So-Soft. It's a bath product. It smells like someone fed a Disney Princess through a juicer, but it works better than anything else on the market.[p. 533]
Wow, they still have Avon ladies in the zombipocalypse and no one has heard of Deet, which is much better insect repellent. Avon ought to send Grant a check for the endorsement.
It just doesn't work for me. I don't think Grant has ever been through an airlock or seen a BSL-4 laboratory, and for 30 years in the future, the overall feel is basically the present, with added security check points.
And the most important question: Where are the ZOMBIE WHALES? This reader demands a zombie whale cameo.
There's a lot of running around from crisis to crisis and everyone is out to get our noble team of bloggers. They are:
Shaun: the leader whom everyone loves despite him being an abusive prick (and dangerously unstable.)
Georgia: Shaun's sister. Dead. (or is she???)
Becks: In love with Shaun for reasons unfathomable.
Alaric: Got a crush on Becks. The new kid.
Dave: Loves Maggie. Doomed.
Maggie: Loves Dave. Is the richest girl in the world.
Mahir: Loved Georgia. Married someone else.
You might think this book is a thriller, but it's not. It's a soap opera. I figured that out about the time there was surprise incest. (A neat trick since one of the characters is dead.)
Remember that time on General Hospital when Elizabeth Taylor's husband was holding the world hostage by threatening to freeze the world with his weather machine? Yeah, the plot of Deadline is a bit like that.
Apparently the evil CDC has been killing people who develop a partial immunity to the zombie virus.
Once it's been normalized, once it conforms, we can finally get to work on a virus that does what we want it to do, that follows our orders, not anyone else's. We'll save the world the way we want to, in our own time, and we'll get proper credit. [p.446]
Oh, come on! Who talks like that? And what sort of crappy plan is that? You want to kill people for becoming immune in a way you didn’t plan?
Anyway, the CDC has it in for our noble bloggers and in an effort to keep their break-in and escape from the Memphis CDC quiet they start the Second Rising (Apparently no one in the CDC ever saw Jurassic Park or watches the weather channel or has the least lick of common sense.)
For a middle book in a series, it's basically accessible though it does rather suffer from middle book syndrome. It ends with a huge cliffhanger to distract the reader from the fact that not a thing gets resolved in this book. The entire book is setting us up for the big showdown which I assume will occur in book three.
It's campily fun, but the poor worldbuilding and the cartoonish motivations of the villains pretty much dooms it.
Is it one of the best books of the year? I think you know the answer to that question.
June 2nd, 2012
|02:51 pm - A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin |
Spoilers, of course.
Yes, I dutifully read 1000 pages of the fifth book in an (allegedly) seven-book series without having read any of the others. Which makes me a perfect person to read this book for the Hugo Awards - It's an award for the best novel published in 2011 and a book ought to stand or fall on what's actually in the book. Not how much you like the series or the TV show or how you like bearded men in hats. Just what's in this book, this year and nothing else.
Unfortunately, A Dance with Dragons is a failure judged on that basis. It isn't a novel in any real sense. It's just a bunch of stuff that happens with no climax or resolution - a chunk of story ripped from a much larger work.
There are something like 20 POV characters, some of whom are basically making cameos. There's a lot of storylines that show up, make a tiny little bit progress in the overall arc and then get dropped. I expect I was meant to care about Arya's adventures with assassination cults, but since I knew nothing about her, I didn't. And out of the five or so characters who make up the bulk of the story, none of them have a complete story arc, so it was a lot like watching the middle 20 minutes of a movie.
I pretty much hated all the main characters. Tyrion? We meet him when he's reminiscing about rapes past and then threatens to strangle a woman he plans to rape later. He's a real charmer. Dany? She spends most of the book moaning about her dead husband and her live husband and her dead baby and how governing people is hard. Jon Snow? Well he didn't seem so bad at first but he goes on and on about how he can't break his vows while breaking his vows. I thought his stabbing at the end was well deserved.
It's a readable book, but far too long. Martin spends a lot of time having characters remember things that happened in other books, which is really quite dull way to present that sort of thing (and I always find it really tedious when authors spend a lot of time recapping what happened before) so he could have dropped huge chunks of text if he'd just assumed that people could remember what happened before.
I see some of the appeal - I enjoyed the twisty Machiavellian politics of it, but since I didn't really know or care about any of the characters, I couldn't give a fuck who sits on the Iron Throne.
Even if I hadn't found it racist and misogynistic it would be appearing below No Award on my ballot for not being a novel.
|01:01 pm - Public Service Announcement|
I can only imagine how it went:
George R. R. Martin huddled over his manuscript making final edits when he came to a horrible realization. My God, I've used "whore" a mere 140 times. That's not nearly grimdark enough. He despaired at being able to fix the book, but he knew his fans were depending on him.
Then she jumped on his desk, scattering pages of his manuscript all over the floor. His cat was a selfish bitch. She ignored his needs and demanded to be petted despite the mess she'd made. Always wanting to be fed, always wanting to be petted, by anyone at all. He'd even seen the neighbors petting her!
"Whore," he said. "You're just a whore. None of the neighbors would look at you twice if they could see you like I can."
I know! I'll shave her and parade her around the neighborhood and then she'll know her place. She'll be grateful to get any petting from me after everyone turns away from her in revulsion. He was about to get the razor when his cat nipped his hand and went to go lie in the sun.
Why don't I ever win? The cat's always one step ahead. He would have gone off for a good cry, but then he remembered he could make the females in his books behave. He settled in to write a naked slut-shaming walk.
Ok, that's probably not how it went, but I really wish someone had told me about slut shaming scene before I started reading A Dance with Dragons so I wouldn't have bothered. Which is why I'm telling you.
( cut for vilenessCollapse )
If that hasn't put you off, Martin also includes a Magical Negro and a "what these people need is a honky" in the mix.
As you can see, the whores have it by a country mile. It felt like more.
 I have no idea if GRRM tried to shave any cats as inspiration, but he has admitted to killing a lot of turtles.
Current Mood: skin crawling
May 27th, 2012
|02:54 pm - Among Others is Twilight for Fandom|
Of all the novels in the Hugo voters packet, only one of them is in epub form, so that meant I would be reading it first before the dreaded PDFs. (Ok, I've already read Embassytown, but first among the books I got from the voting packet.)
Here is a quick plot summary of Among Others by Jo Walton for those who haven't read the book: Mor leaves Wales because she doesn't want to live with her crazy witch mother and to her dad is the only place she can go - she's also suffering because her twin sister died in a car crash while she and Mor (Morganna to her Morwenna) were thwarting her mother's nebulous take-over-the-world plans at the request of fairies (or possibly just running away.) She gets shipped off to a posh boarding school where she's unpopular because she has a limp and is from Wales and is middle class. Books are her only solace, and pretty much her only friend. But then she performs a bit of magic and suddenly she learns of an SF book club and it's all puppies and kittens - she gets friends, a boyfriend, a chance to talk about all the books she loves, makes plans to go to Worldcon, faces down her mum and makes peace with her sister's death.
So how is Among Others like Twilight? There are spoilers!
1. The overarching story is basically the same - A young girl (Bella/Mor) leaves her home in a place she loves (Arizona/Wales) to go live in a place she hates (Forks/Oswestry) to go live with her estranged father, who she calls by his first name, (Charlie/Daniel) and finds her OTP (Edward/Fandom.)
2. The only reason why the magic exists in the story is so that we know that Bella/Mor is special. (And by extension, so is fandom - special snowflakes ahoy!) Walton has gone on the record as saying that Among Other is unquestionably fantasy. I think it is a more interesting book if the fairies are simply the way Mor's PTSD manifests, so it's disappointing for Walton to confirm that yes, Mor sees
sparkly vampires fairies. In fact, since Mor did magic to find her OTP, it's possible the entirety of fandom was created just so Mor could find it. (Of course, Walton also said it was unquestionably fiction but then let loose the dogs of fandom when Jonathan McCalmont suggested Mor was a bit of a psychopath, so maybe we'll not trust her word so much.)
3. Both Meyer and Walton seem realize late in the book "oh yeah, books need conflict" and there's an almost entirely superfluous scene where Mor has to battle fairies because they think she should kill herself (which she had already made the decision not to once earlier in the book because she wanted to read some Delany. It's nice to know Delany can save lives with his fiction, but that's not going make doing that scene over again very interesting). And then hot on the heels of that, Mor faces down her mother. It's really rubbish closure that feels completely unearned.
4. Any tension in the big facedowns is undercut by the use of a first person narrator - it's never in any doubt that Bella won't get eaten by the evil vampire, just as it is never in any doubt whether Mor will kill herself or fall back under her mother's thumb.
5. Oh the creepytimes. Edward is a creepy stalker and Mor seems to take the things she reads in dodgy SF as without a whit of skepticism. There is a disturbing scene where Mor's father climbs into her bed and tries to get it on with her. Mor muses that she knows that incest isn't always bad because Heinlein said so but her dad is drunk and icky and she's not on the pill. And then it's never brought up again. I had to pick up the pieces of my head after reading this scene, so this review is later than it might have been.
6. This is the real kicker: They are both boring in exactly the same way. Oh the topic is different, so in Twilight you get:
“What’s your favorite color?” he asked, his face grave.
I rolled my eyes. “It changes from day to day.”
“What’s your favorite color today?” He was still solemn.
“Probably brown.” I tended to dress according to my mood.
He snorted, dropping his serious expression. “Brown?” he asked skeptically.
“Sure. Brown is warm. I miss brown. Everything that’s supposed to be brown — tree trunks, rocks, dirt — is all covered up with squashy green stuff here,” I complained.
He seemed fascinated by my little rant. He considered for a moment, staring into my eyes.
You get in Among Others:
Actually, James Tiptree, Jr.’s Warm Worlds and Otherwise gives The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, Vol II a run for its money. I’d say the Le Guin is still ahead, but it’s not as clear-cut as I thought it was. The other two books in the package from my father today are both Zelazny. I haven’t started them yet. Creatures of Light and Darkness was awfully peculiar.
Teen girls squee at the idea of all-consuming love and fans squee at the mention of books they also love. Which is to say neither book has much interesting to say about the one they love. In fact, they are pretty darn tedious. SF may have been a touchstone to Walton when she was young, but she's basically cashing in with people who already find it interesting - the mere mention is enough, rather than doing the heavy lifting of making the discussion interesting in and of itself.
That Among Others would be so awful was an unpleasant surprise - considering how much praise it's gotten and that Walton is an excellent book blogger, I'd really hoped for more. Apparently fans (and SF critics) wanted a Twilight of their own.