Aug 242016
 

shortfictionpanelDavid Truesdale posted the audio of the “State of Short Fiction” panel. I recommend everyone go listen to it, it’s fascinating.

(@http://www.tangentonline.com//images/audio/radio/dt_panel.mp3)

Listening to it after the fact, I feel like this was blown way out of proportion when it was relayed to me. Yes, he did start off with “special snowflakes are too easily offended” and “you should just clutch your pearls.” So, right off the bat, he alienated his audience by insulting them. Very bad move dude, you suck at dialog. But overall, he was not bad. Not threatening, not shouting or even ranting. He was putting forward a crappy argument laced with some insults. Seriously, that is not a big deal. I suspect that when the convention decided to expel him it was entirely based on the reports of others, rather than on direct knowledge. If they had been there (or heard this audio) they probably would have let him stay.

He did start off by throwing the panel a fair bit off course, which is the opposite of what a moderator is supposed to do. But that’s a venial sin. More importantly, he ambushed his panelists with a charged political topic that they were not prepared for (in both the “research for it” and “psychologically prepare for a charged topic” sense). That is a HUGE dick move. When I held my DCC panel on Cultural Appropriation, everyone knew exactly what they were getting into, and agreed to it beforehand. I am not at all surprised that his panelists were angry.

On the plus side, he did have a few points. Gordon affirmed that yes, he did in fact frequently receive complaints that his covers didn’t show a 50/50 male/female split. Sheila stated that only 25-30% of her submissions are from women authors. A couple panelists did say that they felt authors nowadays are less willing to take risks. Sheila relayed her recent trepidation about publishing an alt-history story where JFK lives, because she had gotten angry letters about people saying that publishing any story containing people still living was disrespectful and/or traumatizing to those people or their families (in response to an alt-history piece she’d published re Apollo 13 not long ago).

And for the most part David was calm, willing to listen and dialog, and aside from his idiotic opening insults, pretty respectful.

The only really awful part of the panel was the audience member who stood up and started shouting at the other panelists. That guy was aggressive and pissed. He sounded very much like the asshole who got enraged at the Sunday WSFS meeting. That was probably where all the fear and tension in the room came from, and since it was right at the very beginning, it’s probably stayed overlaying the room like a blanket the whole panel. I totally blame that guy from David’s expulsion.

I’m glad David recorded this, so we can all hear it. For the most part he reveals himself to be an out-of-touch curmudgeon, who may have a good point or two, but has no idea how to articulate it, and who has overreacted by retreating into bitterness. Simply letting him speak reveals his weaknesses, and putting him in a dialog with someone as smart as Sheila Williams is all that’s needed. He did not need to be expelled. He hangs himself with his own words, and Sheila gets to shine. She provided strong rebuttal and counter-argument, especially for someone put on the spot like that! She’s going to have a lot more fans after this, and deserves it. If Asimov’s wants to boost her brand, they have no better tool to do so than this recording, they should do their best to see it distributed far and wide. :)

Good panel, wish I had gone.

Aug 232016
 

IMG_20160817I started by saying that this backpack contains the entirety of my luggage! Flying only cost me $140 round-trip for that (literally cheaper than driving), and I was pretty proud. Then I remembered I cheated, and sent my Award Ceremonies Suit with a friend who was driving. So less proud now. :/ But from what I learned this year, I can say that I’ll be able to travel next time with just a single backpack for luggage without cheating!
IMG_20IMG_20160820I met Robin Hanson and Eliezer Yudkowsky in the flesh. And I got to have dinner with both of them!! It was fantastic! I would have liked to spend more time with both, but there was soooo much to do. Hopefully more next time. Eliezer was disappointed with the expertise level of some of the panels, which I feel is partly my fault, I should have warned him. This is a conference for SF writers and readers. Sometimes the con will get lucky and get a field-expert who is also a fan, and they are put on a panel. But in general the best you can ask for in technical subjects is a panel that’s up to date with the laity. A panel on AI will NOT address any actual leading research. It will maybe address how audiences consume and understand AI stories, and/or how authors can write compelling AI stories that don’t break suspension of disbelief.

It was fun trying to explain the appeal of Lovecraftian fiction to Robin. “It’s the horror of realizing you are a helpless inconsequential speck in a vast uncaring universe and your existence is meaningless? But that’s just regular life, all the time, for everyone.” Yes, but that’s what compartmentalization is for. :) As Eliezer said “Robin Hanson is far too psychologically healthy to ever be scared by existential horror.” Having met him, I totally agree. He is the friendliest person to serve as an inspiration for Quirinus Quirrell that I could imagine.

Eliezer also corrected my pronunciation of his name (after which the world’s biggest D’OH!!!! was uttered), and observed that this cons focus is primarily about reverence and admiration, rather than pursuing a goal or disseminating information. This is a good point, but I didn’t realize that anything else was expected. It’s literally a convention of huge SF fans, that cap off their con with a giant ceremony to give the people they most admire a fancy statue for being so damn cool. :) I had a great time playing my part in the prestige/admiration economy.

AdaPhoto1000Speaking of admiration!! I got to meet Ada Palmer!! The day before flying out to WorldCon I had just gotten to the mid-book reveal in her “Too Like The Lightning”, so I had to come up to her after a panel and rave about that. We talked for a bit, and she had to go, but she invited me to her Kaffeklatch on Saturday. I went and got to spend an hour in conversation with her, a lot of it about her book, and it was glorious! She is whip-smart and incredibly nice, and it was in the Top 3 Moments of WorldCon for me. I’m so glad I went, I really hope to talk with her more over time. The sheer depth and flavor of her ideas is intoxicating. And she has a sultry voice. :) Like an idiot I forgot to take a pic, so here’s a stock photo instead. More on her book in a few days!

In Don’t Do What Donnie Don’t Does news… I made an ass of myself briefly. For the past four years I’ve regretted not saying anything to GRRM when I shared an elevator with him at the Chicago WorldCon. It was just him and me in an otherwise empty elevator, and I froze up and didn’t say or do anything. It would’ve been a perfect time to get a pic or something. So this time when I saw him I rushed over and asked if I could get a selfie with him. He said he was in a hurry to get to his panel, and was pretty grumbly about it, but he did let me snap a pic. But I realized immediately that he was not happy, and I should have backed off, and I didn’t, and I’m an asshole. I am not posting that pic, because I don’t deserve to have a pic with him that was taken via ambush. I avoided him the rest of the con, and I desperately hope that he’ll forget me over the next two years. I’m sure he will. Right? :(

IMG_20818I’m worried because (prepare for mood whiplash) I went to a panel with Sheila Williams, editor of Asimov’s. Afterwards I approached her to thank her for publishing an unknown first-timer like me, especially given what she said about disappointing endings in the panel. AND SHE REMEMBERED ME BY SIGHT!! Like, WTF?? I’ve exchanged maybe three emails with her, two years ago! The best she could have done is seen that tiny little profile pic that comes with gmail. She was all “Well I only publish maybe 60 or 70 people per year, of course I remember my authors!” but man… holy crap! I was blown away. Better yet, she invited me to the Asimov’s/Analog party happening the next day! I got to meet all sorts of fascinating people there, including the author of Today I Am Paul (which would’ve been a nominee if not for the Puppies). It was a fantastic experience!

0160819A plush Frodo & Sam waiting for rescue in the dealer’s room, just cuz.

Me and some friends at the award ceremony

I’ve posted before about my habit of con-spousing. Pretty much any con I go to, I tend to form a quick bond with someone and spend a lot of my free time/meals with them. It was interesting, this year I didn’t have a dedicated con spouse. The closest was Vivian (on my left, red dress), who I spent quite a bit of time with, both at parties and meals, especially in the last two days. She’s a friend from Colorado. :) I spent quite a bit of time with Laynie as well (on my right), who is sweet; and driven as hell, as every millennial I’ve met has been. I also spent a fair bit of time with Beth (not pictured, because again, I’m an idiot), who sadly kept having to do volunteer work so we didn’t get to hang out as much, but who has extremely similar taste as me in books (Grimdark 4evah!!) and gave me some fantastic recommendations, which I will attempt to inflict upon my book club! All in all, this was perhaps less emotionally satisfying as really bonding with a single person for 2-4 days, but I did get a wider variety of people met, so I don’t regret it either.

I also caught up with people I’ve met at previous cons (such as S.B. Divya and Seth Dickinson). Give me a few years, and soon I’ll be spending much of my con doing only that. :) It’s kinda nice, especially when you get to chatting late into the night and many of the barriers come down. (Tomorrow, notes on how exhausting it is to be Play Acting several days straight. Letting the mask slip late Saturday night with Seth and Vivian is another of my Top 3 Moments. So refreshing.) And when I needed a soul-recharge I could always count on Nikki, a very dear friend from Colorado, to sit with me for fifteen or twenty minutes and just friend out (which is like Bro-ing out, except without the Bro aspect). Many <3s Nikki!

IMG_20160
I got to meet Ferret, and he’s absolutely as cool in real life as he is on his blog! I should have bought this man a drink!

IMG2082

IMG0821And, finally I got hang around with Pat Cadigan (closest to camera) for maybe a half hour, after the Hugo Award Ceremonies (she was the MC). CyberPunk is my Home Genre. It is what I read as I was coming of age, and it’s a core fixture of my psyche. To get to meet one of its god-parents was gratifying. :)

I already mentioned the Award Ceremony and the next day’s Business Meeting in yesterday’s post, so I won’t repeat those.

One major difference between this year’s post and last year’s post – no pics of the venue itself. Sasquan was absolutely gorgeous, even with the fires of Mordor at our doorstep. I fell in love, and I could move there. MidAmericaCon was nice enough… it was functional, and served its purpose. But there was no structural or natural beauty here. I won’t remember any visuals. This actually makes me feel really inadequate about the Denver Convention Center (in which we hold Denver Comic Con every year), because I think it’s the same thing. A large, uninteresting building, built for efficiency of convention-going. It looks like a giant office. There is nothing beautiful about it, or the immediately surrounding area. I hope San Jose is gorgeous! And I’m kinda sorta maybe considering going to Helsinki… maybe.

I had a great time!

Aug 222016
 
This year's Hugo winners

This year’s Hugo winners

All the Puppy News That’s Fit to Print!

I’ve been gone since Wednesday, at WorldCon (woo woo!). I’ll start with the Hugo Awards, since that’s the big thing everyone cares about. They were AWESOME. Pat Cadigan was entertaining as hell, everyone loved her. Last year was high drama due to all the Puppy Poo, so the emotional imprint of this year’s awards wasn’t as high. But on the other hand, it was nice to have a mostly-normal awards ceremony again, which focused primarily on the artists and the joy of the awarding. There were a couple No Awardings again, and Neil Gaiman delivered an EPIC smack-down to the puppies, but it wasn’t the focus of the ceremony.

The Puppies were again shown to be impotent during the event. This night was literally the optimal-case scenario for the regular fan community, I don’t think a single result could have gone better. Vox’s strategy of slating “human shields” absolutely backfired, almost as much as the Tingle slating, it was glorious to behold.

ha ha

WorldCon Community to Vox Day

I checked Vox’s blog the morning after, out of curiosity, and he of course was crowing about his great victory. I guess if you define victory as “We fucked up the nominations”, then yes. But I got the impression he was trying to say the victory extended into the awards as well? Man, good luck to him spinning that one. The community showed once again that a small tantrum-throwing minority can game the nominations, but they speak for no one else. He is, as Scalzi said, the wad of chewed gum stuck on history’s shoe.

I heard from someone who couldn’t attend that the livestream of the event was a clusterfuck. While we were having a grand time in the auditorium, free of Puppies, they were showing their colors online as trolls. Our friend stopped streaming after a while, because the chat was such a frothing ragestorm. WorldCon would be well served to switch to a streaming company that pays a moderator or two to watch the channel.

Speaking of throwing a tantrum, there wasn’t NO Puppies activity this year. You’ve probably already heard of the State of Short Fiction panel kerfuffle (wherein Puppy-sympathizer David Truesdale, who was supposed to be moderating the panel, instead launched into a rant about SJWs ruining SF and hijacked the entire hour with shenanigans).  It was one of two panels going at the same time that I was torn between attending, and I ended up going to the OTHER one, since I’d been to a short-fiction panel the day before. I chose poorly. :( I missed out on the most-talked about event of the con. It was a fantastic conversation piece, even better than Tingle-talk. This was a great year for chatting with people you don’t know well! :)

While not widely reported (since everyone pretty much focuses on Truesdale’s cock-up and expulsion), there was a large guy in the audience who stood up at one point to berate of the panelists for turning his back on Truesdale during his rant, and shout about the panelists “lack of respect.” (reportedly “It’s people like you that are the problem!” or similar) A member of my Colorado writer’s group (call her “Lady M”) was sitting directly in front of that man, and she was scared she would get hurt. Now yes, I always hate reports of “I was afraid for my safety”, because a person can’t control someone having an irrational fear-reaction of them (happens all the time to young black men). But I felt really bad for my friend, as she’s an incredibly sweet and funny lady in her 50s, and normally a really tough cookie. Feeling scared is a shitty feeling.

Also, I can understand her fear, because I think I ran into the same guy. I attended the WSFS Business Meeting on Sunday, to vote in 3SV and EPH. During the meeting a big dude took the floor out of order, and nearly refused to yield. Though he did return to his seat, he was angry and aggressive for the entire 3SV debate. He had the beefy look of ex-military or ex-cop, and his tone and body language was very much “gearing up for a fight.” I was glad I was one row from the front in case anything happened, but I really did NOT want anything to happen! He was fuming and arguing with officers during the break, and finally stormed out before we came back into session. So no harm done. Guess he just needed to vent and get stuff off his chest. But I can see why even our normally-assertive Lady M was intimidated if it was the same guy at the Short Fiction panel.

Anyway, that’s it for the Puppies this year. With EPH now in effect it’s nearly impossible for them to sweep a category anymore. Given that, I assume they won’t bother to throw down another $40 next year just to be ineffectual again, but who knows? It might be worth it for some people to get their annual rage-fix. If so, 3SV will be ratified next year and we’ll finally be done with their tantrums forever.

Tomorrow, a journal-ish post of my weekend, with pics! Had such a good time!

Me and some friends at the award ceremony

Me and some friends at the award ceremony

Jul 212016
 

300x300xhugo-awards.jpg.pagespeed.ic.AsqaLzncTzMost years we read all the Hugo-nominated short stories and novelettes in our book club, as generally all (or nearly all) of them are available free online. This year, that is not the case. :( (yes, I blame Vox Day). So we were unable to read them as a group. However I still read them myself for voting reasons, and my impressions are below.

This is the last of the Hugo works I’ll be reviewing. If you have a Hugo membership and you haven’t voted yet, you should do so very soon, there’s less than two weeks left! And they warn that their serves often get hammered on the last day.

 

Best Novelette

And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed, Feb 2015)

I don’t really understand the love for this piece. It’s cyberpunk, and I grew up in cyberpunk. It is my home genre, I love everything about it. But “You Shall Know Her” doesn’t do anything new. This story has been covered a dozen times, from Ghost In The Shell to the starter adventure given in the CyberPunk 2020 Rulebook!

Nor does it fit quite right. It feels a little off, like someone trying to emulate a style that doesn’t come naturally to them, and they can’t exactly pull it off. It goes over the top in an attempt to imitate a form, and ends up feeling like a good B-movie. Those can be tons of fun, but they aren’t really award winning.

 

“Flashpoint: Titan” by CHEAH Kai Wai (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)

This is a perfect example of “making the action scenes boring”, and it’s nothing but actions scenes. We see a bunch of stuff blowing up, but we don’t care who wins, because we were never given a reason to. There aren’t any characters or stakes we care about. And even the fights are yawn-inducing, because it’s a bunch of technobabble that doesn’t mean anything without a world built up around it to give it context.

 

Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu (Uncanny Magazine, Jan-Feb 2015)

In this story, the Chinese government found a way to double (or triple?) the population density of Beijing by folding it up. This lets a lot more people live there, but in exchange they have to sleep a lot more. Instead of losing 1/3rd of your life to sleep, you have to lose (depending on how rich you are) either 1/2, 2/3rds, or 5/6ths. However this is apparently still a good deal, because millions of people jump at the chance, and compete for the opportunity.

This story also got a lot of positive attention, and I’m even MORE confused as to why. It’s an interesting premise, but it certainly isn’t ground-breaking. It’s message is dirt-simple: being poor sucks. Um, ok. Can you say something more about that? Or just make us feel it?

Because, worst of all, this story is poorly written. I’m just gonna come right out and say it. I don’t care if it’s a translation issue or a cultural variance or something. By every standard that I apply to prose, this is just plain bad writing. It is flat and emotionless. It tells rather than shows. It paints in broad, flat sweeps, rather than poignant details. The sentence structure is clunky. The POV jumps around at random, sometimes even within paragraphs. Even if this was an AMAZING new concept with message that made you go “Ohhhhhh… shit!!!” those would still be extreme sins. They’d have to be truly fantastic to make up for prose this crappy. But it doesn’t have any of those. It’s just plain “meh” in all respects, and crappy in writing. Heck, this is on the same level as last year’s “On A Spiritual Plain”. I have no idea how this made it on any award lists.

 

“Obits” by Stephen King (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Scribner)

Steven King takes the premise of Death Note, but doesn’t do anything with it. I suspect this is one of those nominations given out because when the author published his truly fantastic genre-defining work(s), he was somehow overlooked, and this is to make up for that. Fair enough, I guess? I see those sorts of nominations every now and then. Still, it feels like a disservice to whoever should have been in this slot instead.

It did get me to wondering how old this idea is. Obviously Death Note is the work that took the idea to its fullest/best exploration. But the concept of “being able to anonymously kill anyone in the world, instantly and unstoppably, without being a trace” has got to go a looooong way back, right? I bet there’s ancient myths using this idea.

 

“What Price Humanity?” by David VanDyke (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)

This one was actually pretty decent! It has the same basic premise as Vinge’s “The Cookie Monster,” but applied to a military setting.

As far as re-using mindwiped soldiers goes, this was done better in “The Immaculate Conception of Private Ritter,” but that’s a high bar to clear, not everyone can be Seth Dickinson. It did pretty well for itself.

All in all, I enjoyed myself. It did seem to try to force some angst in the end in a way that was completely unwarranted (“Isn’t it terrible that these people get to relive the most awesome two weeks of their lives endlessly, all just so they can save the human race?”). But, eh, I can let that slide.

 

In the end, I don’t think a single one of the Novelettes is actually award-worthy. VanDyke came closest, and I can see him making the grade fairly some day! :)

 

Best Short Story 

“Asymmetrical Warfare” by S. R. Algernon (Nature, Mar 2015)

Cute, and fun! Not award-material, but it’s clever. :)

 

Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld, January 2015)

Also cute, and also fun! This story has some neat ideas, and explores them in a fun way! I don’t really know comedy, so I don’t know if it’s good. But the writing is well done, and it’s certainly the best of this year’s lot. In a normal year this would probably be near the bottom of my list, and I am saddened that I can’t see the stories it would have legitimately competed against. That being said, at least there’s something worth voting for in Short Story this year!

 

“If You Were an Award, My Love” by Juan Tabo and S. Harris (voxday.blogspot.com, Jun 2015)

This is not a short story, it’s a shit someone took on the internet, which Vox has splattered on the Hugo list to show his disdain. Disdain of the same award he’s trying so hard to win. Oh Vox.

 

“Seven Kill Tiger” by Charles Shao (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)

Hm. There’s… not really much story here? It’s basically “all humans are horrible, awful people, and we’d be better without them.” It’s literally just barbarity upon genocide upon cowardice. This is the sort of gloomfic that normally stays in high school notebooks. I really like grimdark, but this wasn’t even grimdark. It would do very nicely as the prologue of a post-apocalyptic novel, but it doesn’t work as a story in itself. The only good part is when it quotes a 400 year old poem, and you’re really better off just reading that poem instead.

 

Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle (Amazon Digital Services)

I loved it. See my previous comments here. :)

 

Don’t forget to vote!

Jun 162016
 

brodski dcc

First – I’ll be at Denver Comic Con this weekend. You can find me presenting at these two panels, feel free to come up afterwards and talk to me. :)

Panel Room Day Time
The Writing Process of Best Sellers 506/507 Saturday 1:00 – 1:50
Can’t We Get Along? Cultural Exchange vs Appropriation in Writing 506/507 Saturday 4:45 – 5:35

 

But to the meat:

I go to a lot of panels at lit cons. And I’ve found that the topic of a panel almost never matters – the important part is the quality of the panelists. If I find a good one, I’ll follow them around for a day or two. Cruddy panelists can make the most interesting topic boring, and great panelists can make the simplest panel fascinating. Now that I’m in charge of putting together literary programming for DCC, I’m trying to nudge more people to be better panelists. For that reason, a couple days ago I sent out this email to all our lit panelists. I’m keeping it here for easy reference, so I can send it out again in coming years. But I also think it’s good advice for anyone who is going to be on any panel.

When you’re on a panel, you’re selling yourself, and not your books. The audience is there to see interesting humans saying interesting things, and interacting with each other in fun ways. They are there to participate vicariously in a conversation. And no one in a real conversation tries to sell their book (or if they do, their friends always groan at this point). Last year Anaea Lay published a fantastic article on this – “On Marketing: Don’t.” – which lays out exactly why this is a bad long-term sales strategy, and how to be more effective while being less overbearing. I highly recommend it.

Of course, we’re all here to expand our audience. At the beginning of each panel, panelists will introduce themselves, and that is a perfect opportunity to mention your current book. Do so then! But afterwards, make the audience like you by giving them what they came to the panel for – an interesting conversation, or informative advice. This doesn’t mean you can’t mention your books at all. If it is relevant to the conversation, please do so. But keep these mentions as supporting details, rather than the focus of what you’re saying. (eg: “When writing I often ask myself, ‘can this character be a woman’? And in the case of Story X I decided yes, and this made the story better because [anecdote demonstrating how story-telling in general is improved, or whatever]”) To quote Anaea Lay (from above) “forget your product … sell you. You’re a complete person with a full range of interests and you’re willing to share a part of that with people.”

Be interesting and entertaining. If you are, people will remember you, and seek you out to buy your books. Have you seen actors and directors being interviewed on TV? Do they give plot synopses, and talk about the magic system of the world, and discuss the backstory of the character they played? Or do they talk about what it was like to work on that movie, and the people they met, and things they learned in the process? (It’s usually the second one). So talk about the process of writing, not the product of it. Otherwise you’re just like the parents that go on for hours about their kids, and everyone is too polite to say how boring that is.

May 262016
 

Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckieancillary mercy

Synopsis: An AI in a human body navigates the tangled bureaucracy of administrating a space station.

Book Review: This book was devastatingly disappointing. Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie’s first novel in this trilogy, was a masterpiece. It broke new ground in the SF genre, and tackled complex themes of vengeance, means/ends justification, and whether a person’s nature can change. The second novel, Ancillary Sword, wasn’t as good as the first, but it was a middle-book, and it did class-warfare very well. This novel has no unifying theme or idea. It seems very confused, stating that strong, central governments are bad, and then demonstrating that a loose coalition of free agents falls into anarchy and back-stabbing very quickly, and can’t be relied on to do anything. It hints for about one paragraph that Libertarian Free Markets are the solution to this. That was innovative back when Heinlein first introduced it… 50 years ago. But Ancillary Mercy doesn’t even bother to explore the idea or do ANYTHING with it, aside from that brief, one-paragraph mention.

Let me walk that back slightly – it does kinda have a theme of “enslaving sentient beings is bad.” This is very far from new ground. The very first story about robots, the one that introduced the word “robot”, had this theme nearly 100 years ago! Yes, we know slavery is bad. Please say something new on the theme, or make us feel it, or something.

The novel also lacks emotion. The first two books ran on rage. Justice was a straight-up vengeance crusade. Sword was class-uprising. Both made me feel delicious anger. Ancillary Mercy falls flat. I stopped caring about the story by the time I was halfway through it. I couldn’t even care about Seivarden’s kef addiction anymore, which is the sign of a massive fumble on Leckie’s part, because fighting that addiction was a hugely satisfying portion of the first book. How did she make it so boring by the third? When it was briefly reintroduced it felt like an attempt to get the reader to care by saying “Hey, remember this really intense and touching plot line from the first book? Wasn’t that great? Feel those feelings again!” And yes, it was great back then. But trotting it out to evoke sympathetic emotions just doesn’t work. It’s like putting a CGI Arnold Schwarzenegger in your new Terminator movie.  Yes, we remember how awesome the first two Terminator movies were. Stuffing a CGI Arnold in there only reminds us of that, and makes yours look even worse in comparison.

The books also kept getting progressively smaller and less important. The first book culminated in an assassination attempt on the Emperor, and resulted in a galaxy-spanning civil war! It was epic! The second book shuffles our protagonist off to an out-of-the-way system where NONE of the war is taking place. But hey – it’s a middle book. There’s still a lot of local conflict, a slave-uprising, and some tension. In the third book the conflict is reduced to bureaucratic squabbling. One of the major conflicts in the book is about whether or not a long line of people are allowed to hold a peaceful protest. Seriously, it’s about whether or not people are allowed to silently stand in a queue. Goddammit Leckie, there is a galactic civil war going on just around the corner! Entire star systems are being destroyed, planets are being obliterated, and you’re boring us with local ordinances?? W.T.F??

The book isn’t painful to read. It’s written well. And there are dazzling moments, where Leckie’s genius flashes through. The replacement Presgar translator is a DELIGHT! She’s every genki anime girl ever, absolutely niave and hilarious! :) And there are scenes that take place between bursts of action, where the characters are wired up and waiting for action but have nothing to do but wait. They pass the time talking to each other, and these dialogs are brilliant. They feel extremely Tarantino-esqu, I could see them happening in one of his movies, as the characters stand in a room filled with bodies, holding guns, trying to kill some time by talking about cheeseburgers in France. It’s a delight. And, of course, the two scenes were Leckie returns to her frantic POV-jumping, which our protagonist can do by way of her implants that let her see and hear anything that’s happening to her crew. When there is a lot of action in a lot of different locations, these frantic smash-cuts back and forth are used to great effect, and make for extremely energetic story telling! But sadly, they are only used twice, and not for very long. Look, I appreciate that they must be exhausting to write. Every one of those scenes must have taken ages to put together, and tons of labor. But that’s what makes them impressive! You are a highly-acclaimed, multi-award-winning author. Act like it! Put in the effort!

There are, again, simple technical errors in understanding FTL. I don’t expect anyone to know all the minutia of how FTL implies time-travel, or anything. But I do expect that any ship that travels faster than light, actually travels faster than light. When a captain drops out of hyperspace to get her bearings, then jumps back in to approach her target, she should NEVER worry that she may have been seen in that brief instant. She will get to get target before they will have the ability to see her, because she’s traveling faster than that light! Such a basic, mechanistic failure of understanding in an SF author really bothers me.

But by far the worst part of this book is that the climax removes all agency from the protagonist, the antagonist, and basically all of humanity. It is a giant Deus Ex Machina that makes everything that’s come before irrelevant. And it does it in the most paternalistic way ever. The protagonist appeals to the god-aliens of the galaxy, pointing out that how her race is being treated isn’t fair. Seriously, that’s it. It’s a giant appeal to one’s parents. It is the most disappointing ending I’ve ever read. Then, to really cement how bad this book is, the denouement chapter is literally just a bunch of committee meetings. No no – literally.

This is the worst waste of talent I’ve seen in ages. We know Leckie can do better. Did she just get lazy? She simply reneged on so many promises she made (the alien-god-race basically never appeared. The Ghost System, which was mysterious and cool-as-hell sounding, was just an abandoned, empty system. We saw none of the civil war. etc) The first 90% of this book should have been discarded, and the story started with the alien intervention. Can you imagine what this story would have been like if the protagonist had to personally seek out an alliance with the alien-gods? Had to travel to bizarre sections of the galaxy and work her way through a completely alien culture? A culture so different from ours that they need to breed a translator race just to act as an intermediary for concepts that our two species cannot share, like individuality of consciousness? Their thought process is literally inconceivable, and yet she has to somehow convince them to take HER side? And doing so under severe time pressure, knowing that every day the overwhelming murder-fleet of the emperor is that much closer to genociding her adopted home-system? With all the misunderstandings and/or sabotage by the Emperor’s shadowy agents that this would entail? That could be an actual interesting story! Instead we got to read about how much manpower it will take to repair the Undergarden Sector, and which families will get to live there afterwards. /sigh

Not Recommended.

Book Club Review: This book had a suppressed turn-out, despite being a Hugo nominee, because it’s the third book in a trilogy. Those who’ve been at the book club for three years had read the first two, of course. But those who hadn’t either had to read three novels in two weeks(!), or jump into this one cold. For those who did the latter, it was very difficult for them to stick through the book to the end. Mostly, people were non-plussed by it. We did have one member who absolutely adored it, but she was sick for our meeting and couldn’t tell us the reasons why. :( Maybe she’ll let us know next meeting. I suspect that if your group ends up containing at least one person who really enjoyed this book a lot, it could make for some great conversation! As it is… the conversation wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t inspiring either.

It’s hard to put a rating on this. If it was a stand-alone book, I could justify a mild recommendation. The shining moments of brilliance really are great, and you can skim most of the rest without missing much. Plus the speculation on what the book could have been is stimulating as well. But, seeing as this is the third book in a trilogy, the buy-in to get here is just too high, especially with better options around. Ultimately, a mild Not Recommended.

[added 5/27] – See Quixote’s comment below for a much more favorable perspective. I find their analysis valuable, even if I disagree in some respects.

May 172016
 

It’s Hugo Season! For the next 2.5 months we will be reading the Hugo Nominated novels. First up – Uprooted!

uprootedUprooted, by Naomi Novik

Synopsis: A young girl with enormous magical talent is chosen to save her village – nay, her country! – from the forces of evil.

Book Review: “Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.” This is one of the best opening lines I have ever read, maybe one of the best in SF/F history. How can you read that first sentence and NOT want to read the next one? The entire first page is the best opening page ever, and really the whole first section is the same way.

You’ve probably already heard of Uprooted, it’s made every best-of-the-year list, and just won this year’s best novel Nebula. And yes – everything you’ve heard is true. This book is fantastic. It is often witty and hilarious. The tension and stakes keep ratcheting up throughout the novel. The characters are all very distinct and feel real. The evil Woods are straight-up creepy as hell and terrifying! And the ending that brings it all together in a resolution that makes you say “ooooooh…. Damn….” is the most satisfying thing ever. Y’all gotta read this.

You might not realize it at first. For the first two chapters, I thought I wouldn’t like this book. Because while I always wanted to read the next page, it was all terribly cliché and predictable. It was the standard Chosen One Fantasy Story, where an unusual protagonist without many friends is found to have been born with un-noticed but super-powerful magic gifts, and must train under a Mentor so s/he can venture out to slay the evil. It was extremely reminiscent of Game of Thrones (literally the first book) in this way. I also disliked the first book for the first 2/3rds of it. It was just standard fantasy tropes all over again. The medieval setting, the Lawful Good Paladin Lord who would uphold Honor and Justice no matter what, etc. There was a cliché on every page, and I only kept reading because it was entertainingly written, and I had been assured by friends it was really good. And then the big WHACK happens, and everything changes, and I realized “Oh shit, no… this is a book about subverting all those old tropes!”

Uprooted isn’t exactly that. But its writing style matches the protagonist at all times. The protagonist starts out every inexperienced and naïve. The story style is likewise, very naïve and clichéd, feeling like uninspired YA fare. But as the protagonist matures and becomes wiser to the realities of the world, so too does the writing grow and mature. Silly narrative conventions (“she was angry, so angry!”) are discarded for subtler and deeper prose. The story stops being trite and formulaic, and begins its true journey.

The journey also mirrors the Lord of the Rings structure, in a fractured way. I wrote a paragraph about it, but then realized it might be considered spoilery, even with the vague terms I used. Let it be said, those who enjoy the epic arc of LotR will have much to love here.

Perhaps more than anything, I love that this novel has to be a novel. I feel that a lot of novels I read would be just as effective (if not more so) as short stories, and were padded out. I almost never read series, because I’m of the opinion that series are 80% padding and almost every one would be greatly improved if it was cut down to a single novel-length. I have always used Deathless as my example of the epic-series-within-one-book. That novel takes us through 60+ years, the entire life of a girl who journeys into the realm of the gods, becomes a metaphysical archetype, and returns to earth. It explores the meaning of love and the horror of war. It covers TWO world wars, plus a war among the gods to boot. It is absolutely a grand epic story, which any less-skilled author would spin out into a 6+ book series. Catherynne Valente tells the whole story in one novel, and it is amazing. Naomi Novik has done the same thing with Uprooted, covering an epic story and a grand character arc, within a single novel. This is a story that COULD NOT have been a short story. It absolutely had to be a novel, and I love and respect the hell out of Novik for making it a single, self-contained book. This is what story-telling should be.

And OMG, I love how combining magic is literally spiritual sex! From the very first time they try it:

“I heard him draw a sharp breath, and the sharp edifice of his spell began grudgingly to let mine in.”

/swoon

On a personal note, I loved that it was set in Poland. I didn’t grow up in Poland, so I never thought I had any cultural roots there. But apparently simply being raised in a Polish house and having Polish relatives is enough. Every time I read a Polish name it felt a little bit like home, which was the weirdest damn feeling for me. :)

Yes, Recommended!

Book Club Review: In addition to being crazy enjoyable, this book does make one think about the nature of what it means to be human. Like any Chosen One narrative, it relies on the conceit that some people are Special. They’re just born that way. In this medieval setting that isn’t even questioned, because everyone knows that’s true due to inherited nobility. But there are sections where our protagonist speaks fondly of the common village-witch, who helps heal the little things she can, or spurs the crops, or whatnot. And that sort of thing always makes me sad, because… is that reality? Are some people simply born special? The protagonist thinks of that in very rosy, happy terms. To me, it feels monstrously unfair. There are the chosen ones, the gods amongst men, and no one else really matters. Sure, the protagonist feels very strongly about the sanctity of life, etc, but in the end… in a world where some people are born Special, isn’t she wrong? Do we want a world like that, as much as she romanticizes it? And, are we in that world already? It’s undeniable that some people are born with a lot more potential intelligence of physical strength than others. How is that OK?

It also verges on quasi-rationalist in some places. The Mentor makes a case for utilitarianism (“A life before you in the moment isn’t worth a hundred elsewhere, three months from now.”), which the protagonist wrestles with a fair bit. And by the end of the novel you are thinking of deep time, the struggle over resources, the inevitable (and unavoidable) expansion and encroachment of those who are different from you into your home, and the morality of nipping the problem in the bud before they can become an existential threat. Why, it’s basically the same theme as Dickinson’s “Three Bodies At Mitanni”, which I also loved!

There are some things to dislike as well, from the clichéd beginning chapters to over-reliance on just-in-time magic. But everyone in our book club loved it, and we had an astoundingly high turnout. Strongly Recommended.

May 162016
 

desolationThe Nebula Award winners were announced last week. The Nebulas are the other major annual SF/F Literary award, and the Hugos and Nebulas are held in similar esteem.

For those unfamiliar, the Nebula Awards are given by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America organization. They are the professional group for SF/F writers in the US. One can join the organization if one is a professional, published SF/F author. Only members can nominate and vote for these awards. They are the more professional and exclusive of the two major awards. Sometimes they are considered “too detached” from the average reader for this reason – a niche that was filled by the popular-voted Hugo Awards instead.

I bring this up because Brad Torgerson (head of last year’s Sad Puppies 3 campaign) is dismayed that Max Max:Fury Road received a Nebula award over The Martian. Says Brad:

Of course, The Martian was every inch a Campbellian movie, while Fury Road was almost entirely New Wave.

Guess which aesthetic dominates and excites the imaginations of SF/F’s cognoscenti?

[…]

My personal stance has always been, “To hell with the hoity-toities! Give me my space cruisers and galactic adventure, like that which fired my imagination in the beginning!” But this is a very passé attitude. Nobody wants nuts-and-bolts SF/F anymore, do they?

I recall a time when there used to be an award that was considered more for the common man. An award that kept the genre grounded, rather than spinning off into Ivory Tower ponderings and abstractions. An award that nominated blue-collar writers like Brad Torgerson. An award known as The Hugo.

But Brad was key in turning that award into a Culture War battleground. Until that is resolved, there is no Hugo Award. (Well ok, the novels are almost untouched. But the other categories are suspended.)

Now Brad is complaining that the only awards that are left are those of the fancy-pants literati, when he was party to vandalizing the alternatives. Yes – it WAS nice to have a place where many different types of people could come together in appreciation of the genre, and could talk with each other like civilized humans despite our differences. It IS unfortunate that those commons are vulnerable to razing by the spite-fueled barbarians, so that now the only places of discourse left are the Walled Gardens and Ivory Towers that are able to defend themselves by excluding the hoi polloi.

But the balls it takes to complain about it, when you were the one to lead the charge! The chutzpah! The willful blindness and lack of self-awareness! It’s breathtaking.

Brad – go fuck yourself. You live in the world you helped create.

May 092016
 

philosoraptorSo um… being immersed in non-stop Hugo Controversy and Tinglers over the last two weeks does weird things to one’s brain.

Last year I wrote Amazing Man as a satirical take on the 2015 Sad Puppies fiasco, with the titular character acting as a mash-up of Larry Correia and Brad Torgerson. I never expected to re-enter that universe. But two days after reading this Tingle interview, a story of how REAL LOVE would redeem Amazing Man invaded my brain, and wouldn’t leave.

I pounded out the following story – Amazing Man 2: Love Conquers All – over the weekend. I tried to start with the violence-porn of Amazing Man, and move it into the dinosaur-porn of Tingle. I think it’s OK! I wish I could have gone with First-Person Present-Tense, as that seems soooooo ideal for erotica! Ah well.

This world isn’t very deep in the Tingleverse, so it’s not as absurd as a lot of Tingle’s stuff. I still wanted a redemption for Emilio, after all. It also assumes familiarity with Amazing Man 1. It’s 4400 words, but 1500 of it is gay erotica, so the non-erotica part comes out to right about the same length as Amazing Man 1.

Of course it does not even compare to the Tinglers of The Master. But it was a damn fun use of my weekend. :) And it makes me feel better about getting back to my novel. I’ve been hung up on it for a while lately, barely sputtering out a few hundred words a week, and this feels like it rammed clear much of the junk clogging up my brain-pipes. Sometimes you just need to have crazy, consequence-free fun with your writing!

Amazing Man 2: Love Conquers All

May 082016
 

beauty_and_the_beast_2010_by_j_scott_campbell-d2z2pqgIn the recent post on Kukuruyo, a commenter asked me:

He violated terms of services with two separate companies, DeviantArt and Project Wonderful, of his own free will and choice. He’s making money taking paid commissions creating nudes of a Marvel character without permission, a character who happens to be underage and whose name is literally synonymous with the company (textbook copyright infringement AND trademark disparagement) and selling to advertisers who have no idea their ads will show up on pages with drawings of a nude 16 year old girl, implying that the advertisers support such imagery.

Exactly how much sympathy are we supposed to have for this guy?

I dunno if you should have any sympathy, to be honest. He’s a GamerGater, and so has my antipathy right off the bat. There really isn’t much I like about him. But just because I dislike someone, or disagree with their politics, that doesn’t give me (or anyone) free license to destroy their lives. Accusing someone of pedophilia and creating child porn is exactly that. My contention is that nothing he has done is deserving of that level of attack, and vigilante justice is not something we should be encouraging anyway.

Terms of Service – I dunno about Project Wonderful, but c’mon, that’s a joke for DeviantArt. Half of DeviantArt is fanart, and it’s not like porn is uncommon. And by invoking copyright infringement you’re implicitly siding with America’s absolutely broken copyright laws, and declaring all fanworks should be purged. Is that *really* the position you want to be taking? Because that’s far more detestable than anything Kukuruyo has done.

This seems to be entirely a case of selective enforcement. Common activities are made illegal, but the laws are never enforced. UNTIL someone draws the attention of a group that wants to suppress or destroy them, and then it’s easy to do so because all they have to do is persecute for any one of the myriad things that everyone does. It is arbitrary power disguised as rule of law. Are *you* in possession of any music or art that you didn’t legally purchase? This is the sort of tyranny I find despicable, and just because it’s aimed at someone I dislike doesn’t make it ok!

The one grey area I waver on is the fact that he did make some money on the side off the fanart. That’s sorta shady, I guess? But as original pieces of art that are his own creation, I have a hard time siding with the international mega-corporations, over the guy doing sketches in his free time. I strongly believe that the claiming of cultural myths for exclusive use by media corporations is an abomination.

And at the risk of repeating myself, the people who are attacking Kukuruyo seem to me to be practicing selective enforcement. Did they disparage Scalzi for writing Star Trek fanfiction? Did they encourage Universal Studios to sic their legal attack hounds on Peter Watts for writing The Thing fanfiction? Both of those were Hugo finalists, and I don’t recall any such hostile acts.

So no, don’t bother with sympathy. But don’t pretend that what’s been happening to Kukuruyo is anything but reprehensible.

 

EDIT: For an example of this selective enforcement, I present Mark Oshiro. I am aware of him because I follow Matthew Foster, who was married to Eugie Foster before her untimely death. Mark Oshiro stole her work “In The End, He Catches Her” and read it for his Patreon supporters, as well as putting it on YouTube. He never asked for permission, he never paid for audio rights, he simply stole them, and profited from that. And this is a thing he had been doing for quite some time. But Mark Oshiro is on the same political side as those who are currently attacking Kukuruyo. He is a darling of theirs. He has been a guest of honor at at least one con. No one called for his head (aside from a rather incensed Matthew Foster, but he never got any traction with that). Some people even bemoaned the fact that they can’t vote for Mark as Best FanWriter this year. I suppose it’s a lot easier to steal from individual starving artists, as they don’t have a team of lawyers to sic on you. :/