- Andre Norton at Open Road Media May 29, 2015Yours truly participates here.
- Let Me Explain... No, There Is Too Much. Let Me Sum Up. May 27, 2015I may or may not blog about the novels on the ballot, but it'll take a while for me to read them all and write about them. So I thought I'd take a breather here and just talk about what I learned from reading all the short fiction on the Hugo ballot.First of all, these are bad stories. With few exceptions they range from really, really awful to mediocre. (I thought "The Triple Sun" was decent, and "Championship B'tok" might have been all right if I knew more about what was going on, but neither of them rise to the level of a Hugo nominee.) And they're all bad in different ways. There are cardboard characters, plots without tension, confusing plots, poor writing, commonplace ideas, allegories that don't allegorize, and stories that are just boring as hell.One of my questions when I started was why the Puppies chose these specific stories. And after all that reading, I have to say that I still don't know, and the statements of the Puppies themselves don't really help. Larry Correia wanted to nominate stories that would "make literati heads explode," stories with right-wing themes that would anger SJWs (Super-Judgmental Werewolves?) when they appeared on the ballot. But we're very used to narratives of straight white men doing straight white manly things, and even seeing those stories nominated for Hugos. It's all just business as usual. I don't know about other people's crania, but my head stayed firmly on my shoulders while I was reading -- though it did slip toward the desk a few times, my eyes closing, thinking, Ho hum, another one …Correia also rejected "boring message fiction" -- but then how to explain John C. Wright's Catholic apologia, or Tom Kratman's push for more and more weaponry? And his final explanation was that people were mean to him at a convention. Okay, but why these stories? Was putting us through all of this his idea of revenge?Brad Torgersen, famously, wanted books that matched their covers. He also wanted non-literary, non-elitist fiction, only for John C. Wright to say that he, at least, did write literary work. (Not by me, he doesn't, but that's a whole other discussion.)What about nominating good stories? Surely that should be the most important criterion of all for a Hugo award, but in fact it was very rarely mentioned by the Puppies themselves. And yet here was an unmatched opportunity to introduce the sf community to well-written fiction by conservative-leaning authors.* Instead they gave us this parade of shabby, stale stories, a series of embarrassments compared to previous nominees and winners.Look, guys. Science fiction is, almost by definition, about all of time and space. You can write about practically anything. A proton that unfolds in other dimensions to cover an entire planet, as in Three Body Problem. A battalion sharing a single mind, as in Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Justice. Love. Lust. Greed. Revenge, or deciding against revenge, as in The Goblin Emperor. Galaxy-spanning civilizations. Incomprehensible aliens. Three sexes. Four sexes. Sixteen sexes. Magic. Obsession. Strangeness.I don't know about you, but this year I feel cheated.----* For example, "Salvage and Demolition" by Tim Powers, which would have been eligible in the Novella category in 2014. Check it out.
- New Review at the B&NR May 26, 2015What's cooking with Paolo Bacigalupi?http://www.barnesandnoble.com/review/the-water-knife
- The Hugo Ballot, Part 15: Back to Novellas May 25, 2015Okay, I'm surprised. Tom Kratman's "Big Boys Don't Cry" actually reads in places like an anti-war story. Well, let's not get carried away here -- it's more a story about the harm that fighting wars can do, the ways in which a personality can be twisted and perverted by the aims of those in command.Maggie is a Ratha, an intelligent fighting vehicle who has been through countless battles, and been made to forget some of her more disturbing actions. She has been mortally wounded and is being taken apart for scrap -- but the more the workers drill down, the more she starts remembering things that now seem to her to be problematic.What this means is that, through Maggie's memory, we see a lot of battles, and that means a lot of weaponry. A lot of weaponry, each with its own exhaustive description: "Then there was the question of tracked versus the recently developed antigravity technology… The five options were: tracked, antigravity, both but with an emphasis on tracked and an anti-gravity assist to reduce ground pressure" -- well, there are two more options, but you get the idea. "Meanwhile, the Ratha's secondary armament, a 75mm KE cannon, electrically driven and coaxially mounted, plus two similarly mounted 15mm Gauss Guns…" I have to be honest here -- I skimmed through a lot of this. I'm not all that interested in weapons, but really, I can't think of anything that I'd read huge lists of with interest -- dogs, chocolate, you name it.I know that some people like meticulous descriptions of weapons, that it's one of the tropes of military sf. (Also explosions. There are lots of explosions here too.) And I have no problem with that -- have at it. The only thing is --Well, about midway through, the story changes. Maggie starts remembering the unjust wars she took part in, the innocent people she slaughtered at the command of her superiors. And for me, this juxtaposition didn't work -- there seemed to be a huge disconnect between the two sections. It seemed to be saying, "War is terrible -- but also, it's a lot of fun! Look at all these cool weapons!" The parts never joined up into a full, rounded whole.And there's another thing. I expected to be reading a good many right-wing talking points in the Sad Puppy stories, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that most of them had no conscious message at all. I was almost to the end of the ballot, home free, and then…It's almost as if the author can't help himself; he has to take pot-shots wherever he can, or even carve out a place for them if one doesn't exist. So people who don't make preparation for war are "low-grade morons" and "moral lepers" -- this from a third-person viewpoint, which makes no value judgments before or after this one outburst. One of the few women in the story, a planetary governor "unimportant in every mind but her own," is shown to be incompetent and over her head. A man named Garcia is described only as short and "greasy looking."The weirdest jab is for the concept of non-binary gender. One of the Rathas "has certain peculiarities in its crystalline brain (to wit, being unable to decide whether it was male or female, hence never given a nickname, and never fully integrated into the unit)." Why? Was zie manufactured like that? Why would this happen, if all the other Rathas were created to identify as male or female, and binary gender is important to the cohesiveness of the unit? But the whole point, of course, is to show how unnatural non-binary gender is, how the other Rathas don't like zir (why not?), and refuse to let zir join in any Ratha games.The prevailing mood of the story is mournful, elegiac, a character coming to terms with a difficult past. Every time Kratman pauses to insert his opinion on something unrelated it jars badly with the tone, pulling the reader right out of the narrative, making them wonder what the point is. (For example, why is the planetary governor "unimportant"? She's certainly important enough for someone to nominate her as governor.) And it turns the story into "message fiction," something I thought the Puppies were against.
- New Review at LOCUS ONLINE May 25, 2015What about the new one from Clive Barker?http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2015/05/paul-di-filippo-reviews-clive-barker/
- The Hugo Ballot, Part 14: A Brief Trip Back to Short Stories May 24, 2015I've gotten the Hugo packet and am now able to read the stories I missed. And with the first of them, "A Single Samurai" by Steven Diamond, comes a problem I haven't had in this read so far. Namely, that I didn't like the story, but I can imagine people who would.If your idea of fun is seeing really big creatures -- I mean really big -- stomp past leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, if you've held onto that child-like joy that only a rampaging monster can bring, then this story might be for you. It's a very simple tale -- a samurai tries to stop a monster from destroying his land -- and the monster isn't very well described, and there's a lot of unnecessary verbiage about samurai swords, and the end has some spectacular problems (about which more later), but that enthusiasm is there. On the other hand, if you like stories about giant mythical monsters, you'd do far better to read Lucius Shepard's Dragon Graiule stories, which have a sheer descriptive power and a vast strangeness "A Single Samurai" never matches.But the fact that some people might go off and read this story prompts me to put in aSPOILERwarning before I talk about the end.Okay, is everyone ready? First of all, it's weird that the brain of the monster is out in the open like that, with no protection. If the samurai can fall into it, what's to prevent anyone else from doing the same? What about those weird cats the samurai has to kill -- what's to stop them from dropping down into the cave and munching on some tasty brains? Why on earth would something evolve that way?The second problem is far worse, though. As Nick Mamatas has already pointed out, although the samurai tells the story in first person, he ends up dying at the end. How can he possibly be narrating this story? Are we to assume that while he's bleeding out all over the monster's brain he's also sitting there and writing everything down? Beginning writers make this kind of mistake, when they haven't learned the nuances that go with each point of view. Here, it makes everything that's gone before look a little silly.