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Booklog: Ancillary Mercy

Ancillary Mercy (Ann Leckie) (2015): Moving on from Lifeboats to another sort of ship. Excuse me, did the trilogy just stick the landing? Extensive spoilers for all three novels.Collapse )

Also, Leckie's tumblr is a delight. See especially #peep-peep-peep-peep.

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Backlogged Books

So, er, I found some book logs I started in July, and put somewhere unusual for me, and just found this week. And I remembered I had finished Lifeboats, so here's some novels.

Ancillary Mercy is getting its own post. It's moved me that much.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami) (1997 trans. Jay Rubin): Absolutely surreal Japanese fiction about a milk-mild fellow, Toru Okada, and a dry well. Also mysticism, Japan's collapse on the Manchuran front during WW2, fate and free will, and Noboru Wataya, an academic, rising politician, and also the brother of Kumiko, Toru's wife.

It's a floating novel, as Okada wanders through life with very little idea what he wants, or what he stands to lose, until he loses the thing that defined his life. The narrative is fragmentary, filled with negative space during Okada's periods of unemployment and isolation, and with elliptical loose connections between the characters who erratically interact with Okada: May Kashiwara, a teenaged girl who lives in Okada's neighborhood; Malta Kano, a clairvoyant, and her sister Creta Kano; Lieutenant Mamiya; Nutmeg and Cinnamon Akasaka, mother and son in a clairvoyant family business; Mr. Hondo, another clairvoyant. It's a little tricky to judge prose and style across translation, but what has survived the translation is something extremely controlled and literary, with a control of language that gives the reader the sense Murakami knows exactly what he's doing. It took me a really long time to get into the novel, but at the end I was tempted to flip back to the beginning and start rereading in light of knowledge revealed by the end of the novel.

"Penric's Demon" (Lois McMaster Bujold) (2015): A novella in the Five Gods universe, about an accident with a demon and a Very Nice Young Man. It's a nice Bujold novella, that doesn't break any new ground if you're familiar LMB's fiction, but average Bujold is still very solid entertainment.

Lifeboats (Diane Duane) (2015): Joins "Not On My Patch" and "How Lovely Are Thy Branches" as the third minor "interstitial" story between A Wizard of Mars and Games Wizards Play. At 90,000 words, it's not terribly minor. And thematically, it doesn't feel minor: Kit, Nita, and most of the usual suspects are called up on an emergency mission of mercy. As a story about when flashy displays of wizardly power aren't the solution, I really liked it. The teenage angst about Valentine's Day was cute, in a sappy "aw, teenagers" way. It's a lot of fun watching Nita and Kit grow up; I'm enjoying how Duane is developing their characters and relationship.

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Ancillary Mercy Insta-Reaction

I just finished Ancillary Mercy.

Now that was an ending. And Seivarden! I was not expecting Seivarden of all people to be promoted in my affections. Unlike [spoiler] who is awful and steals the show with awesome one liners from pretty much the first second onstage. And [epic spoiler]! Enjoy the salad. With fish sauce.

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Booklog Blitz

Sprint update!

Gunnerkrigg Court v.1, SiddellCollapse )

Fairyland,Collapse )

Inda, Smith; did not finishCollapse )

Trying to force through the Hugo nominees and Inda killed my novel reading momentum for months.

The Dark Forest, Liu and MartinsenCollapse )

Go Set a Watchman, LeeCollapse )

The Just City, WaltonCollapse )

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The 2015 Hugo Awards

The 2015 Hugo Awards have been announced! Congratulations to the winners in this historic year.

The awards ceremony was livestreamed. Watching it in real time with [personal profile] norabombay in chat was a blast. I hope future Worlcons continue to make the awards ceremony available live for those of us offsite. A potentially fraught ceremony was handled with grace by the MCs, David Gerrold and Tananarive Due.

Nomination and voting statistics are up for this year's awards and are being crunched, as you would expect from SF/F fandom.

tl;dr commentsCollapse )

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Hugo Nominees 2015: Voting

For some time I've had a tab about Samuel Delaney and this year's Hugos open in my browser. It's a good article because it discusses racism and the Hugos, and it's not an article I'm comfortable with because it's continuing the theme of Delaney The Token Black Science Fiction Writer. It's a work in progress, but the science fiction community is becoming more diverse.

Race issues aside, it says something that this year's Hugo drama has been covered by mainstream journalism. Whether something about the science fiction community, or about the movement of geeks from a fringe group to a more central place in American culture, or something else, I'm not sure.

Too many words on my voting experience.Collapse )

So now I have evaluated the puppy slates on their own merits, and having done that once, I can say I can use any future slates as guidelines of work I can skip without missing something amazing, or even likely relevant to my interests, either in excellence in genre or particular types of SF/F.

This entry cross-posted at http://ase.dreamwidth.org/654318.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

Hugo Nominees 2015: Novel

Two nominees got punted on Did Not Finish grounds, but the other three - Addison's The Goblin Emperor, Leckie's Ancillary Sword, and Liu's The Three-Body Problem - have had me dithering.

3BP is good but flawed. If I can tell the physics is silly and inaccurate, the physics is really silly. AS is very much a middle novel; it's a competent middle novel, but my evaluation of its quality will be greatly influenced by Ancillary Mercy, out this October. And TGE is operating in such a different register from the other two novels, to the point where I ask whether you could strip out the genre aspects and have the exact same story.

In a good year, the Hugos are an embarrassment of riches, a diverse slate of competing innovative well-written ideas. I'm pleased these three novels give me a taste of that. I say with all my heart there is merit in stories where writers are figuring out their craft, or roughing out new things, or getting the bills paid in a competent but not brilliant fashion. But there's a difference between a story that demonstrates promise or developing talent and a story that merits Hugo recognition. That's why there's a lot of No Award going around this year.

My novel rankings right now are:
1 The Three-Body Problem
2 The Goblin Emperor
3 Ancillary Sword
4 No Award

But yesterday I had AS up top, and I still have a day to change my mind.

Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie: already read, and reread it too. In case you were wondering whether I liked it, ah, yes, I did.

The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson: There are so many problems, and I'm only 100 pages in. You know what? I'm 100 pages in, there have been 13 PoV characters in 16 chapters, it's exactly like reading Exile's Song only I'm not 14. The terrible prose, the illusion of depth that would likely be shattered by reading the rest of the series, the failures at basic mechanics of storytelling, the gratuitous Indiana Jones bad archaeology... I can stop now! There's been enough exposure that I know how I plan to rank this when I cast my ballot!

The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison / Sarah Monette: already read it. And I reread it while considering rankings. It's sweet and cute and at the end of it I asked, "does this have to be genre?" The story of TGE works equally well as a Ruritanian epic: substitute trains for airships and the goblins for a European power, and you've got something not entirely unlike, say, Philip Pullman's The Tin Princess.

Cut for space.Collapse )

Skin Game, Jim Butcher: The prose is slick, though the protagonist is ridiculous. The story opens with Harry Dresden hanging out on an island with certain eldritch properties, mostly playing parkour and waiting to... die from a magical brain tumor... or... something. Clearly I am coming into the middle of this series!

I only read the sample chapters of Skin Game, which were enough to convince me of Butcher's qualities as a writer without generating sufficient interest for me to check the full novel from the library. Beach reading; competent but not award winning.

(Parkour in the eldritch catacombs. Oh, Harry.)

The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu; Ken Liu translator: Now this is unquestionably science fiction. Spoilers.Collapse )

This is so very rooted in genre conventions. The aliens are hostile; the most critical science is cutting edge physics; a classic physics problem is a key aspect of the backstory. I'm fascinated that the author's note included with the English translation tells us that Chinese science fiction usually writes aliens as benevolent, since that's not my experience of the American approach to life in the skies.

I'm also surprised 3BP didn't show up on the Puppy slates, being the sort of gosh-wow SF they claim to support, but then I found Cixin Liu's Big Idea on Scalzi's blog, and for those of you who have been blissfully ignorant, the people behind the puppy slates are not rational on the topic of John Scalzi and anyone associated with him. Also, dare I suggest that a group that has consistently behaved as through straight white men of a certain socioecomic classes are the only group that counts might have, ah, not welcomed the contributions of a non-white non-American? Maybe I'm mistaken, but it seems like such an oversight not to include 3BP, when writers like KJA, Marko Kloos, and Larry Correira made it on the puppy slate in the novel category.

This entry cross-posted at http://ase.dreamwidth.org/653942.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

New Bujold TODAY

Penric's Demon, a novella in the five gods universe.

This entry cross-posted at http://ase.dreamwidth.org/653138.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

Hugo Nominees 2015: Novelette

The novelettes were a step up from the short story and novella categories, but still not exactly brilliant material. I'm on the fence about voting any of them over No Award.

"Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium", Gray Rinehart (Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, 05-2014): Old man dies on planet colonized by humans, then recolonized by aliens, and uses his death to rebel against the aliens' death rituals, in the first step to triggering a conflict between the two colonizing groups.

After the previous categories, this... isn't bad. It's got a beginning, middle, and end; it's not brilliant but it tells the story it set out to tell. It's not masterful. It's not introducing new ideas to the field, or demonstrating award-worthy levels of skill with prose, worldbuilding, or plotting. It's not that insightful about the material it's retreading. What's the difference between humans rebelling against their alien oppressors, and Iraqis in conflict with Americans? The lack of nuance is enough of a failure for me to knock this way down the rankings.

"Championship B'tok", Edward M. Lerner (Analog, 09-2014): Part two of a series about interstellar civilizations knit together by a lightspeed transmission network of... intellectual property? The story treats this as a background element to the unmasking of a conspiracy spanning millennia, but I kept getting hung up on the radiowave IP thing. It's like the backstory for Cherryh's Company novels smashed into Vinge's Qeng Ho, except without the things either of them do well. Both Cherryh and Vinge call out the lightspeed lags and the surprises that pile up between transmissions and reactions to transmissions, and how that plays out. "Championship B'Tok" foregrounds an in-system plot, which cuts down on your lightspeed lags, but treats the interstellar plot as the big reveal. It's a very distracting flaw in the story, which has sidetracked me from the dicey prose and flat characterization. If the plot and worldbuilding were better, I'd be able to overlook the prose and characterization, but that's not the case. Ambitious but flawed.

"The Day the World Turned Upside Down", Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014): the next time someone is asking what nice guy syndrome looks like, look no further! Girlfriend ditches boy, magical realism happens, Young Flower Of Untouched Innocence appears, Symbol of Our Relationship suffers at ex-boyfriend's hands, ex-BF quits this plane of existence in a way that is supposed to show how over everything he is. You can tell because he's mentally telling his ex how so very over her he is in the last paragraphs of the story.

The "romantic breakup = world turned upside down, NO LITERALLY" is actually executed well. If I were doing magical realism, I'd want to have cool ideas like that.

However, the execution relies on me caring about a Nice Guy who pines until he is totally, really over her when he discovers - gasp - there is another man in her life! She contaminated her purity by seeing another man after she dumped him!

Spare me.

It's hard to tell if this is suffering in translation from the subtle difference between the characters being jerks, and the author being completely aware of the intended effect, and the protagonist being a waste of my time because that is the author worldview. Negative one million points for Nice Guy protagonist souring my week.

n.b. this was a non-slate nomination. In the immortal word of Carolyn Hax, wow.

"The Journeyman: In the Stone House", Michael F. Flynn (Analog, 06-2014): This... isn't awful. It feels like a chunk hewn out of a larger story, but it has an acceptable beginning, middle, and end; mangles English in service of the story; and assembles the worldbuilding and characterization in a way that puts this that smidge over "Flow" where I cared enough to finish the story without skimming. The plot is, again, Ringworld natives; but it's competent Ringworld natives.

"The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale", Rajnar Vajra (Analog, 07/08-2014): Space cadets - Exoplanetary Explorers in training - pick a fight in a bar, get detailed to punishment duty packing up a failed project, and save the project from failing by noticing things overlooked by all other personnel assigned to the project in the last 30 years.

Wiki tells me the golden age of SF is 1938 - 1946, with some scholars advocating the '50s as the true Golden Age. My assessment is that the Golden Age of SF is twelve, when you're old enough to read adult works widely and indiscriminately, before you suss out the qualitative differences between Piers Anthony and Lois Bujold. But going by the golden age as a historic time period, the subtitle is spot on. This is from the "golden age", with the stiff prose, cocksure protagonists, and lack of grounding in actual human psychology you'd expect from that era. I started reading, I started skipping, I started flipping ahead to the end. It might not be bad, but if there's a brilliant idea lurking in there it's hobbled by the deadly words "I don't care about any of these characters, or the thing they're exploring" that escaped my thoughts a fifth of the way through.

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Hugo Nominees 2015: Novella

Since I suspected the novella category would be the hardest to read, I decided to tackle the novellas after the short stories. I'm ranking "No Award" as my first choice for this category. I finished only one of the nominees, hurled another aside with great force, and declined to spend time on the other two novellas the writer had gotten on the ballot in the novella category.

"Flow", Arlan Andrews, Sr. (Analog, 11-2014): A competent adventure of a young man in a place that might or might not be a future Earth. Rist travels to the "warmlands" from his cold northern home with a group of "icemen" who guide and sell the icebergs that calve off his homeland's glaciers. The prose is stiff, and prone to infodumping, in the tradition of the Future as Travelogue; in fact, the juxtaposition of infodump and remnant technology reminded me a bit of Niven's Ringworld, as did Rist's adventurous personality. That's the strength and the weakness of this story: it could have been written any time in the last fifty years without changing a beat. The treatment of women only as "birthers" and sexy things to have sex with is a step down from Ringworld and other stories of the '60s and '70s, when science fiction was rediscovering that women are people too. Teela Brown at least gets her own scrap of story in Ringworld; in "Flow", Rith's mother is the only named female character, even though one might think the prostitute he screws - twice - might be another way our adventurous young lad could talk to and learn about the new horizons opening to him. In a stronger year, I'd have equally competent and more innovative choices to rank above this; for the 2015 awards, this is the only novella I actually read most of the way through. I started skimming at the two-thirds mark, but I finished it.

Big Boys Don't Cry, Tom Kratman (Castalia House): Super-sized tank with some level of AI is in her final battle and is scrapped for salvage by her human creators. ("Her" is correct; the the tank is definitely gendered by the narrative.)

I was recently pitching a story idea to a third party, with interleaved flashbacks as part of the structure. She gently and firmly nixed the structure.

This is an example of why she said to toss the flashback stricture. Stories benefit from chronological order. If the story will be told out of order, it better be for a really good reason. Thematic clustering, where theme is overpowering every other element of the storytelling. It's bouncing between linked stories set during World War Two and the '90s and have more than 300,000 words to play with (hi, Cryptonomicon). It's tracking River Song and the Doctor's hop-scotching personal timelines. There is a very specific information game it's playing (hi, Ancillary Justice). Whatever reason is in play, it helps to have strong technical skills when approaching the story's tone, prose, themes, and characterization that will help make or break the structural choice. The technical skills on display in this story aren't up to the challenge.

Big Boys Don't Cry opens in a "now" frame, told from a super-sized tank's PoV. Then it breaks for a didactic history lesson that reminded me of nothing so much as the opening of Cyteen, only with more riots and hanging. Then it jumps back to the tank and a salvage team. And then there's a bunch of character and temporal shifts into the tank's past, the salvage team doing its job in the now, and the tank in the now, with occasional outbreaks of Didactic Textbook Voice, aka infodumps. Made it to chapter 4 of 10, where the dying hulk flashes back to her first combat mission, and noped out.

One Bright Star to Guide Them, John C. Wright (Castalia House): Not read.

"Pale Realms of Shade", John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House): Not read.

"The Plural of Helen of Troy", John C. Wright (City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, Castalia House): I started reading this before I read Wright's nonfiction, hit multiple "nope" items in quick succession and skipped to the end. Structurally this attempts to disguise Wright's extensive technical weaknesses by telling the story in reverse chronological order. Because it's a time travel story, get it?

Wright does not have the technical chops to pull this off. I did not lightly toss aside "The Plural of Helen of Troy", I deleted it off my ereader with great force.

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