Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Gen Con, August 13th-17th, 2014: Friday

Friday is, in my opinion, the best day of Gen Con. By the time Friday rolls around, very few people are stuck in lines trying to get their badges and tickets. Most of the opening day chaos of Thursday will have died down and events should be running smoothly. The surge in attendees that accompanies Saturday and makes the convention a virtual madhouse packed to the gills hasn't hit yet. On Friday, the bone-tired fatigue of Sunday is still in the future.

But as fun as Friday is, it is still in the middle of a marathon of gaming, and if you don't want to be drooling on the carpet of the Exhibitor Hall on Sunday morning as people step over you, you need to plan at least a little bit. I fully endorse the Undergophers' "3-2-1" rule that states that a Gen Con attendee should get at least three hours of sleep, two meals, and one shower every day. That's per day, not per con. And that's a minimum. More of each would probably be better. And no, a Snickers bar is not a meal. But to expand upon the Undergophers' general advice, here are some specific tips on how to survive this endurance test.

Bring a water bottle. You can buy drinks at several places in the convention center. They are expensive. You can also get chilled water in several locations to fill your water bottle. This is free. You will want to stay hydrated through the event. So plan ahead and bring a water bottle. The redhead and I also fill our back packs with drinks, snacks, and our lunch. Sure, you can get all of these things at the convention center, but as one would expect, they are all sold at a fairly steep mark-up. If you bring your own, your wallet will thank you. You can also go outside to the food trucks or nearby restaurants, but this will be something of a hassle, as the lines are quite long, and will take time out of the middle of your day.

For dinner, we planned on eating at the food trucks on Georgia Street right outside the convention center. Most of the trucks serve good food (and usually generous portions of it) and if you plan well and schedule your dinner break for an off-peak time, the lines are quite reasonable. Note that which food trucks are on Georgia Street changes, as they rotate on a regular basis. The french fry truck that was there during lunch time will almost certainly be gone by dinner, and the truck serving engine block tacos at dinner will certainly not be in the same place tomorrow. And it may not be back at all. I think (although I don't know) that the food trucks have to sign up for a spot on the food truck row on Georgia Street, and can't be there except at their designated time. So if you see a truck that serves something you think you would like, don't wait until tomorrow to get it, because it might not be there. As an alternative, Noodles & Company is right around the corner from the convention center, and it is fast and inexpensive.

Also, unless you are staying at one of the Gen Con hotels, you're going to need to find a place to park your car. Even if you are staying at a convention hotel you might want to park your car elsewhere, as I have been told that some of the hotel charge quite a bit for parking. Most of the parking right next to the convention center is quite expensive, ranging up to thirty dollars a day for a spot. But if you are willing to hike a half a mile to a mile to get to the Con, there are numerous parking garages and lots where you can rent a space in advance for a very reasonable price. The redhead and I use Parkwiz to solve this problem (as we have never actually stayed at one of the convention hotels), and it has worked out very well for us thus far.

Friday: Our day started with a role-playing session titled The Heroes of Altamira that used the 7th Sea game system. By all accounts, the 7th Sea game system is intended for swashbuckling role-playing - one of the base statistics for characters is even called panache, so the redhead and I selected characters who would have been right at home in a Three Musketeers-inspired story. I played a swordsman from Montaigne (the "France" analogue in Theah, the fantasy version of Europe the game is set in), and she played a courtier from Montaigne. We built a small back story in which she was a diplomat from her country visiting Altamira in Castille and I was her bodyguard who was smitten with her. Once we sat down, it became apparent that none of this would matter in the slightest.

One issue was that the adventure scheduled for the session was part seven or eight of a series of adventures, and once again, multi-part adventures for convention games are, in my experience, often difficult to pull off. Fortunately, we weren't expected to step into the shoes of pregenerated characters, so there was no pretense that we were emotionally invested in the previous adventures. We did have a player in the group who brought a character named Don Gallo who had played through the previous adventures in the series, but as he had played through them over the course of several years at Gen Con, he remembered almost nothing. Despite this, the GM kept expecting everyone to understand the heavy significance of the various people, objects, and events that he dropped into his narration of what was going on, and when we didn't it seemed to frustrate and fluster him. His usual response was to simply repeat the significant information, and when that didn't work, launch into a lengthy explanation of why what he was referring to was important. This, as one might expect, slowed the game to a crawl at several points.

But the main problem with the session is that the adventure simply didn't deliver much in the way of swashbuckling fun. The players were gathered in a bar when a drunk walked in and accosted the one character who had been in previous adventures. After sending him on his way, we found rooms for the night and woke up to being arrested for the drunkard's murder. But the local law quickly revealed that they didn't think we murdered him at all, and asked us to investigate the matter. So we went to where he had rented a room, bought all his possessions, and found a journal that talked about corruption at a nearby prison. So we trooped back to the local law and they worked with us so we could infiltrate the prison posing as a group of Eisen mercenaries who had recently been arrested. From that point on, the railroad tracks became very apparent, as instead of investigating as prisoners, we were thrust into a series of unavoidable prison brawls that culminated in the warden revealing that he knew all along that we were spies and directing a hundred prisoners to kill us and when that didn't work sending a wildly overpowered and heavily tattooed enforcer to fight us.

If we had had a chance to make any decisions along the way in this process, this might not have been so annoying. But any time anyone tried to deviate from the preordained script, the GM would just grin and say "no, that won't work". For example, both the redhead's courtier and Don Gallo were characters who primarily had social skills, but any time they tried to do anything to defuse a brawl or investigate, they were shot down by the GM and compelled to resort to punching people in the face instead. Further compounding this railroading, the final "boss" brawler was essentially impervious to the characters. As a word of advice to GM's: If you create an opponent for the characters to face in a railroaded combat scene who is so overpowered that he is almost untouchable by the characters and on the rare occasions when they do, he shrugs off the damage, then you screwed up. The appropriate response is not to sit on your side of the table giggling and preening over how awesome your non-player character is. You're the GM. Creating a wildly overpowered opponent is trivial. It isn't an accomplishment. It is a failure on your part.

In any event, the game eventually stumbled to a close. Some of us chased the fat warden down, whereupon he made a confession and died of a heart attack. The others finally scared the overpowered brawler away by firing a cannon at him (swords and daggers having been entirely ineffective). The GM then read to us the list of things we found in the Warden's office, which were supposed to be meaningful references to the previous adventures, but even Don Gallo had no idea what he was talking about. This was not the worst game session we participated in this Gen Con, but it was only saved from that designation by the chaos and disorganization of our Saturday morning game and that GM's self-absorbed cluelessness.

The redhead modeling her dinosaur
dress with Aubrey and Angela
With The Heroes of Altimira behind us, our day was sure to get better, and given that our next event was to go see the Doubleclicks perform, the upward slope was quite steep. Making this even more fun, our friend Savannah was able to join us for the concert. I have written repeatedly about my love of this band, and in their second appearance at Gen Con, they were as brilliant as usual, fully justifying the fact that when we planned our convention schedule, their concert was the first thing we signed up for. They played several of their old favorites including This Fantasy World, Spock Impersonator, and Clever Girl, A Lullaby for Mr. Bear, and Oh, Mr. Darcy, as well as their powerful anthem Nothing to Prove. Angela and Aubrey also mixed in some of their new material from their recently released Dimetrodon CD including Love You Like a Burrito, Wonder, and Ennui (On We Go). The only problem with their performance was that it wasn't long enough, which is a problem I have with every one of their performances, but that might be because I could sit and listen to them play for hours. One of the most fun parts of going to see the sisters perform are the funny and snarky on-stage interactions between them, and they were as good at this as ever. After their performance, we got the only thing they had that we didn't already have: A purple dinosaur button to go with the redhead's dinosaur dress. They were brilliant, and if they appear at Gen Con next year, we'll be in the front row again.

Me and Brian Patterson
Our final scheduled event of the day was the mostly one-person panel hosted by d20 Monkey creator Brian Patterson (sometimes better known as Brian Fucking Patterson) titled d20 and Dick Jokes. Before the panel kicked off, Brian's lovely fiancé Lisa distributed "Brian Bingo" sheets to anyone who wanted to play, which featured squares to mark off for such events as "Says the phrase: jerk knee", "Talks about Karthun", "Says he's a whore/hooker for Christmas", and "Asks to see the bingo cards", as well as a number of other silly and funny quirks and mannerisms that only someone who knows him very well would put on a Bingo card about him. And as the panel unfolded, it became quite apparent that Lisa knows Brian very well, and before too long the room was filled with the sound of pencil-scratchings as audience members checked off one box after another.

Most of Brian's panel was a question and answer session, and he fielded questions on a broad range of topics from cast changes on the d20 Monkey comic, to his creative process, to why there has not been any pixelated dragon wang on the web comic. He also talked about white Christmases, his impending move to Colorado, his evil cat Emma, the current "dungeon run" story line on the comic, and a variety of other topics. But then he brought Tracy Barnett to the front and together they announced the merger or Sand & Steam and d20 Monkey into a new venture named Exploding Rogue Studios. And then they announced that their first joint project would be to create a publish a multi-system sourcebook for Brian's campaign setting Karthun. There was, as one would expect, much rejoicing at these announcements. This was the only "panel" we went to at Gen Con, and it was well-worth it.

Afterwards, the redhead and I ate dinner with Dustin, one of the members of the cast of the Undergophers, and he gave me an extraordinarily generous gift. As we ate, we talked about GMing games, our experiences with old game systems, and the fact that we were missing the ENnies. Even though the primary focus of Gen Con is supposedly the gaming events, panels, and concerts, I think the best part is being able to meet and talk to people like Dustin and share stories about our common love of gaming. I can't think of a better way to create and maintain friendships between gamers from around the country than attending Gen Con and other events like it.

Gen Con, August 13th-17th, 2014: Wednesday and Thursday
Gen Con, August 13th-17th, 2014: Saturday and Sunday

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Gen Con, August 13th-17th, 2014: Wednesday and Thursday

The redhead and I both love gaming. Therefore, attending Gen Con every year is a priority for us. So we packed up our very new, very small car and made our way from Virginia to Indiana for the best four days in gaming. Well, actually, it is more like the best three days in gaming framed by two half-days on each end, but I'm not going to quibble. I have noted before that Gen Con is a huge convention, with over fifty thousand attendees and a large portion of the convention is conducted in role-playing or board game sessions involving small groups of six to eight people or so. As a result my experience is not even close to representative of what the event is like overall. The only thing I can say with confidence is that this was what the redhead and I were up to during Gen Con.

Wednesday: Because we were able to schedule the drive to Indianapolis to take place over two days, we arrived at the convention center mid-afternoon on Wednesday. Even though Gen Con doesn't officially start until Thursday, the quasi-official warm-up events have spilled over to Wednesday evening, mostly centered around the Sun King Brewery's annual geek themed beer, which was named "The Froth of Khan" this year. I didn't make it over to try the brew, but I have been reliably informed that it tasted like a smooth combination of coffee and beer. I'm not sure what to make of that, but that's all the information I have.

But what we were really on Georgia Street for was the music, and we were treated to performances by Sarah Donner and Five Year Mission, both of whom were amazing as usual. Sarah was up first and she delivered a great set that included The Rebuttal of Schrödinger's Cat, All My Guns, and With Pride. She also sang a very recently completed song about Settlers of Catan (and revealed that she is obsessed with getting the "Longest Road" achievement in every game she plays)  and a song that will appear on her upcoming album that will consist entirely of songs about cats. Donner's music is beautiful, her lyrics range from heartbreaking to comically nerdy, and her voice is angelic. Needless to say, her set was excellent and if you ever get a chance to see her perform, I recommend that you do so.

After Sarah's performance, Five Year Mission took the stage. I have said it before, and I'll say it again: Five Year Mission is, hands down, the best Star Trek themed band I've ever heard, and one of the best "nerd" bands of any kind. The band delivered an great first set that included (among other songs) The Naked Time, and the hilarious non-love ballad I, Mudd. The band took a break after their excellent first set, and then disaster struck, as Chris Spurgin was laid low by a recurring health issue that required him to be taken away in an ambulance. The rest of the band forged on despite being a man down, and with a little help from the audience, they were able to complete a second set. While the event was scary, the good thing is that Chris was thoroughly checked out and given a conditionally clean bill of health.

In addition to attending the two performances, the redhead and I picked up our badges and tickets at the will-call booth on Wednesday. Although the line looked intimidatingly long, it moved quite quickly and we were able to get everything we needed for the convention in relatively short order. If you are picking something up at the convention (as opposed to having it mailed to you) I suggest doing it on Wednesday, because it seems that the lines are shorter and move quicker.

  Thursday: As in 2013, Thursday was our most gaming heavy day. It was also our earliest day, starting at 8:00 AM, and our latest day as well, not ending until close to midnight. Because I have been gaming since about 1979, and the redhead has only been gaming for a couple of years, I let her pick most of our schedule for Gen Con, so that she can play all of the games she wants to play. Usually this works perfectly, but sometimes her lack of experience creates some modestly humorous situations, like our first game of the convention, an introductory session of the brand new 5th edition D&D system titled Defiance in Phlan. This was humorous because when she signed us up for the game, the redhead didn't realize what a big deal 5th edition is, and so she was slightly shocked by the volume of people waiting in line to get to the tables. After some mild confusion that included us having forgotten the characters we had made specifically for this session, the game got underway. Because Wizards of the Coast seem to have wanted to run as many players through this session as possible. the game only lasted for an hour, and as a result, the adventure more or less just dropped us into a scene and had us jump to combat pretty quickly. The redhead played a halfling rogue, and I played a tiefling sorcerer. The system seemed okay, more or less like going back to a slightly more fiddly version of 3rd edition D&D, although I did get to have demonic tentacles drag a thug to the pits of Hell, so there was that. On the whole, there was just enough time to get an itty bitty taste of the new system and not much more.

Our second game of the day was a Hero system based game titled The Resistance - Let's End This in which the players portrayed members of the human resistance against the magical invasion of the denizens of the faerie realm. Apparently, at some point in the past, the gates between our realm and the fairy realm had been opened and the denizens of fairy had invaded, taking over the world and imposing a regime of magic where humans were second-class citizens at best. The scenario we played out was apparently the third in a three part series of adventures, which made the game somewhat less than compelling. I understand the desire to create a series of adventures for role-playing sessions. After all, most role-playing games work best in a campaign format in which the players build upon their previous experiences from session to session. But the key is that the players have to be invested in the story arc, not the characters, and in a game session in a convention, many, if not most, of the players in the adventure won't have played in previous sessions in the adventure arc, and won't play in future ones. The result is that you have players who aren't emotionally invested in the outcome playing through a truncated part of a story, and in many cases, not caring as much as they would have if the adventure was self-contained into this one session.

The other problem with the game was the pregenerated characters provided for the session. There were eight players, and nine pregenerated characters, which seems reasonable at first. But then the GM suggested that the "linguist" character was the one that wouldn't be missed by the party and we should choose from the remainder. This, to me, is a warning sign. The GM had complete control over both the adventure and the pregenerated characters made for the adventure, so why would one character be not particularly well-suited for the scenario? After we got into the adventure, it became apparent that several of the characters were less than well-suited to the scenario, which made it somewhat frustrating to play. Even the characters, like mine, a Native American Shaman, who had a "critical" role to play in the climatic conflict of the session, were somewhat dull to play, as my role turned out to be to simply keep chanting a magical counter-chant to prevent the faerie queens (and king) from accessing magic while some of the other characters did the fun stuff. On the other hand, the redhead got to play a sneaky Egyptian spy who was good at stabbing things, so she had lots of fun things to do.

But the real problem with the session was a couple of the other players who simply had to have a micromanaged plan for every possible contingency. Granted, some planning is necessary, but in a game in which you only have four hours to play, spending more than an hour coming up with a plan for every single "what if" you can come up with seems to me to be a waste of valuable time. The only thing that allowed us to actually complete the adventure despite this self-inflicted delaying action is that (according to the GM) we apparently unraveled the mystery of what were were supposed to do quite swiftly - although to be honest, it seemed rather apparent to me from the outset that we were supposed to use the three magic daggers to kill the two faerie queens and one faerie king. In any event, we made our way to the inner sanctum of the faerie lords and surprised them mid-ritual at which point I chanted and the redhead stabbed, and along with the rest of the party we triumphed. This wasn't a great session, but despite the niggling problems, it was enjoyable.

The heroes are menaced by plant tentacles
on the International Space Station
Our final game session of the day was Manhunters, Inc., using the Ubiquity system produced by Exile Game Studio, a system we had played twice before at the 2013 Gen Con and enjoyed quite a bit. Although the Ubiquity system is normally used for pulpy adventure gaming in the vein of Doc Savage or Tarzan, the GM for this session had done some work to adapt the system for use for super-hero role-playing, and it worked marvelously. The players were a group of super powered humans organized by displaced alien law officer Lone Star to track down and bring to justice prisoners from a Galactic prison who had escaped to Earth. I played Lone Star, while the redhead played Titan, who was more or less Henry Pym in his Giant-Man incarnation with the serial numbers filed off. The group also included a speedster, a swashbuckler with a sword made of black meteorite iron, a guy with fire and ice powers, a character who was basically Plastic Man by another name, and a few other heroes.

The adventure itself was something of a space romp. The big news of the day was that the previously unknown (and manned) Voyager III space probe had returned and docked with the International Space Station. At the start of the session, Voyager III's lone crewman was flying back to Earth accompanied by two of the Space Station's crew when they were diverted from their original flight path to our location. Upon arrival, it turned out that they had been infected with some sort of alien virus that warped their minds and gave them all super-powers. As this was a super-hero adventure, we had to punch, slash, and shoot them into submission in a thrilling action sequence. Once the fracas had ended, there was nothing for us to do but fly Lone Star's spaceship up to the ISS and investigate. We quickly found more mutated humans with super-powers and bad attitudes, and once again we were in a fray. Eventually, we discovered the source of the infection - a giant pile of bacteria wandering around the cargo bay of the ISS dressed in most of a space suit. We had to figure out what to do with this ambulatory pile of goo, and our solution consisted of ejecting it out the air lock. Manhunters, Inc. was, in my opinion, the best role-playing session we had at this year's Gen Con with a fun self-contained story, lots of action, and enough mystery to break up the fighting.

Gen Con, August 13th-17th, 2014: Friday

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Musical Monday - Seize the Day by Symphony of Science (with Robin Williams)


At the outset I suppose I should admit that I didn't really like Mork and Mindy very much. Maybe I was too young when it aired, but when I saw reruns in later years I didn't really like it any more. Maybe I'm just not part of the correct generation to be able to enjoy the very era specific late-1970s humor. But I am grateful that the sitcom existed, because it brought Robin Williams to the public eye.

There is a strong likelihood that Robin Williams would have achieved success without Mork and Mindy based upon his undeniable talent. But that's what brought him to the "big time", and we don't live in an alternate universe. Once he moved to making movies, Williams was incandescent, with so many great performances that it is difficult to list them all, ranging from underrated gems like the titular role in Popeye to instant classics like the central character in Mrs. Doubtfire, to zany over-the-top appearances such as the Genie in Aladdin. But Williams was more than manic energy and silly jokes. Many of his roles were comic, but featured in movies in which the comedy was accompanied by more serious issues, such as Good Morning Vietnam, The World According to Garp, and Hook. Williams was a comedian, but he was a comedian who seemed to know that comedy is best used to shine light on the darker aspects of our world.

His best roles were probably those he played in Dead Poet's Society and Good Will Hunting. I don't think it is a accident that Williams was at his best when he was portraying someone whose primary role was teaching. Comedy was what Williams was good at, but it seems that it was a vehicle for him to teach the world about how to live. Sure he had some problems - he fought drug and alcohol addiction and suffered through two divorces - but the undeniable fact of Williams' life is that he seems to have lived it to the fullest.

We're going to miss Williams. The only thing left for us is to learn the lessons of his how he lived his life: Live the only life we have as best we can.

Previous Musical Monday: The Motherfucking Pterodactyl by Sarah Donner

Symphony of Science      Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Book Blogger Hop August 22nd - August 28th: 66 Is a Sphenic Number

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews asks (via Billy): Do you reply to comments on your blog or do you figure folks won't be stopping back to read your reply so you don't bother?

I reply to all non-s[am comments posted on my blog. It may take me a while, but I will eventually get to responding to any comment that is made that isn't tagged and deleted as spam. I figure if someone is interested enough to post a comment, the least I can do is answer them.


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Friday, August 22, 2014

Follow Friday - 172 Baucis Is an Asteroid Discovered by French Astronomer Alphonse Borrelly


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Blue Books and Butterflies.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What book or series do you think would make a better television show than a movie?

Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion Series


My pick is Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion series, which is actually not one book series, but rather several interlinked series revolving around a single individual. The main character is Elric of Melnibone, who is also Corum, Erekose (also known as John Daker), Hawkmoon, and several dozen other incarnations. Each incarnation is, unknowingly at first, the champion of the Cosmic Balance in the center of the conflict between Law and Chaos, doomed to a life of strife and conflict. When one incarnation dies, the eternal champion is reborn in another universe, destined to take up his role yet again. Sometimes, the eternal champion encounters another version of himself when preserving the Cosmic Balance requires more than the usual amount of effort.

Creating a television series made out of the dozens of books that make up the Eternal Champion cycle would be a substantial effort, and it would require an almost wholesale cast change every few seasons when a new incarnation of the champion became the lead of the series. In many cases, the series would have a change of tone as well - for example, Elric lives in the remnants of a baroque empire of sword-wielding sorcerers, while Hawkmoon lives in a world full of weird science that might be called steampunk if Moorcock had not written the stories before the term "steampunk" was coined, and so on. One might object that this would confuse viewers, but I figure that viewers are able to handle the various regenerations of the Doctor and constantly shifting worlds on Doctor Who, so they should be able to handle the rebirths of the eternal champion as well.

More importantly, given the structure of the Eternal Champion series, there is simply no way to do it justice in a movie, or even a series of movies. Each incarnation of the champion has his own story, his own world, his own set of family, allies, and enemies, and many have their own endlessly reincarnating sidekick, all of which could be presented in a dedicated movie. But the interconnections between the incarnations and the over arching pattern that links all of them together, would be impossible to effectively explain to the viewers, and a great deal of what makes the series interesting would be lost. Each individual champion's story is interesting, but they are even more interesting when one can see their place in the overall mosaic.

I don't think an Eternal Champion television series will ever be made. To do so and to do it well would require a level of effort that would probably be greater than the effort that has been required to bring the Song of Ice and Fire series to HBO. But if someone did, they would have enough material to provide years of action-filled, weird, and thought-provoking episodes.

Previous Follow Friday: 171 Is a Triangular Number

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Random Thought - My Thoughts on the 2014 Hugo Award Results

This past Saturday, the winners of the 2014 Hugo awards were announced at this year's Worldcon. I have listed all the nominees and winners in my post 2014 Hugo Award Nominees, although I suspect that most people who would read this far know these results already. I have also written (or will write in the near future) some posts about how I cast my ballot as a supporting member of the convention. These can be found here:

2014 Hugo Voting - Best Novel
2014 Hugo Voting - Best Novella
2014 Hugo Voting - Best Novelette
2014 Hugo Voting - Best Short Story
2014 Hugo Voting - Best Fancast

I will note that the point of these posts was not to demonstrate how good a prognosticator I am (and given the divergence between my ballot and the actual results, to do so would be a fool's errand), or to try to influence anyone else's votes. The point is to discuss each of the nominated works, and to explain why I voted the way I did.

Not all of my first place choices won. In fact, very few of my first place choices won. On the other hand, most of the winners were highly ranked on my ballot. On the whole, I think a very deserving crop of works and individuals won the awards this year.  I am very happy that Kameron Hurley won both for Best Fan Writer and in the Best Related Work category for her brilliant blog post We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative. Her work has always been strong, and in the past year it has been brilliant. I am also especially happy that Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice won, as it was by far the best book of a terribly uneven set of nominees. And "terribly uneven" seems to be the best description one can give for this Hugo award cycle. There were some very good books, stories, magazines, podcasts, and individuals nominated this year. There were also some very mediocre works nominated, and some really terrible ones. Fortunately, the good works won, and the poor works came in last place or close to last place (and in one case, behind last place).

I suppose this brings me to the so-called "sad puppy" ballot promoted by childish gun-nut Larry Correia that consisted of a collection of works by people he is politically aligned with, and who he campaigned to get on the ballot without regard for the quality of the works nominated. This resulted in the nomination of his own book Warbound, along with Brad Torgersen's stories The Chaplain's Legacy and The Exchange Officers, Dan Wells' novella The Butcher of Khardov, Theodore Beale's novelette Opera Vita Aeterna, Elitist Book Reviews for Best Fanzine, and Toni Weisskopf for Best Editor: Long Form. The results of the balloting proved that getting nominated is one thing, and doing well in the voting is a very different thing. The nominees from the "sad puppy" ballot ended up finishing no higher than fourth, many of them came in last, and one - Opera Vita Aeterna - finished behind "No Award", effectively coming in lower than last.

Correia, like many "conservative" authors, believes that the Hugo Award voters have a bias against conservative writers. The problem with this theory is that the nominated works from the "sad puppy" ballot shared two characteristics in common: (1) they were all written by conservative authors, and (2) they were mediocre to bad pieces of fiction. The problem that these works had once they got onto the ballot is that people could read them and compare them to the other nominated works, and they all came up well short of the standard set by their competition. If the goal was to show how biased the Hugo voters are, then nominating a collection of mediocre to miserable pieces of fiction, a terrible fanzine, and a decent but unspectacular editor as your champions isn't going to get you to your preferred destination. All the "sad puppy" ballot truly has done is expose the wider public to what Correia thinks is the "best" of eligible conservative writing, and show that his judgment as far as quality goes is highly suspect. Seriously, if this is the best conservative writing has to offer in a year then conservative authors aren't being snubbed by the Hugo voters. They are being justifiably ignored.

The other big story of this Hugo Award cycle was the nomination of the Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson authored Wheel of Time as a complete series for Best Novel. Despite concerns that Wheel of Time fans would swamp the Hugo balloting for Best Novel, this obviously didn't happen. It seems that there just aren't enough dedicated single-issue voters to sway the competition. For my part, I didn't think that the Wheel of Time should have been on the ballot to begin with. Not because it was a series nominated as a whole, but rather because none of the individual volumes of the series were particularly noteworthy. In my view, if you've come up empty of nominations for thirteen books, then your series as a whole simply doesn't belong on the ballot either. I can respect the commercial achievement and the influence the series has had on the genre, but it just isn't good enough for a nomination in my opinion.

Random Thoughts     Home

Monday, August 18, 2014

Musical Monday - The Motherfucking Pterodactyl by Sarah Donner


One of the lesser known facts about Gen Con is that they have a fantastic music program featuring a couple dozen excellent musical acts which this year included (among others) great acts like The Doubleclicks, Molly Lewis, Five Year Mission, The Shake-Ups, and Sarah Donner. And although four days seems like a long time when you are making plans, it goes by so very fast, and it is so very exhausting. So planning for some time sitting and listening to some of this great music is something I suggest building into your schedule, You'll get some rest while being entertained, and if you happen to fall asleep, they'll wake you up and kick you out of the room before the next act, so you won't sleep through something you wanted to get to later (which is always a risk if you crash on one of the couches in one of the Con hotels).

But back to Sarah Donner, who we went to see perform for the second time, and who was just as brilliant this time around as she had been the last. And not to be outdone by the Doubleclicks and all their songs about dinosaurs (well, two songs about dinosaurs and one song about a synapsid), Sarah wrote her own song about a dinosaur (technically about a pterosaur). Except it isn't just a pterodactyl. It is a motherfucking pterodactyl. And later it mates with a bear which gives birth to a bearodactyl. I don't know how, so don't ask me. All I know is that I played a pregenerated druid for a Pathfinder session at Gen Con who had a bear animal companion, and I really wished it could have been a bearodactyl.

Previous Musical Monday: The Motherfucking Pterodactyl by Sarah Donner
Subsequent Musical Monday: Seize the Day by Symphony of Science (with Robin Williams)

Sarah Donner      Musical Monday     Home

2014 Prometheus Award Nominees

Location: Loncon 3 in London, United Kingdom.

Comments: While the nominees for the Prometheus Award for Best Novel continue to be "Cory Doctorow and some books by people you're unlikely to have ever heard of or read unless you are in the insular libertarian club", the Hall of Fame category is once again where the head-scratching selection is located. By handing a Hall of Fame induction to Falling Free, the Libertarian Futurist Society raised a number of questions. It isn't that Falling Free isn't a good novel - it undeniably is - but it wasn't able to garner a nod for Best Novel when it was published back in the 1980s, which makes one wonder why it deserves to be in the Hall of Fame now. This isn't quite as odd as John C. Wright's novel The Golden Age getting a nomination for the Hall of Fame despite being completely passed over for even a Best Novel nomination when it was first published, but it does cause one to doubt the validity of whatever metrics the nominators and judges for the Prometheus Award are using.

Best Novel

Winner:
(tie) Homeland by Cory Doctorow
(tie) Nexus by Ramez Naam

Other Nominees:
Brilliance by Marcus Sakey
Crux by Ramez Naam
A Few Good Men by Sarah A. Hoyt

Hall of Fame

Winner:
Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold

Other Nominees:
As Easy as A.B.C. by Rudyard Kipling
Courtship Rite by Donald Kingsbury
'Repent, Harlequin!' said the Ticktockman by Harlan Ellison
Sam Hall by Poul Anderson

Special Award

Winner:
Leslie Fish for the combination of 2013 novella Tower of Horses with filk song The Horsetaker's Daughter

Other Nominees:
None

Lifetime Achievement

Winner:
Vernor Vinge

Other Nominees:
None

Go to previous year's nominees: 2013
Go to subsequent year's nominees: 2015

Book Award Reviews     Home

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Random Thoughts - My 2014 Gen Con Haul

The redhead and I attended Gen Con for the second year in a row. Between acquiring some stuff as swag for volunteering in various places, hunting down deals in the Exhibitor Hall, and showing our love for authors and musical artists by buying their books and CDs, we acquired a fairly consequential pile of goodies to take home with us. Fortunately, unlike some other attendees, we drove to the convention and therefore don't have to figure out how to squeeze our hoard into a suitcase to take it home. This year's haul consists of:

Books
Fire for Effect: Battlecorps Anthology 4 edited by Jason Schmetzer
God's War by Kameron Hurley
Infidel by Kameron Hurley
Khan of Mars by Stephen Blackmoore
The Machine by Ren Garcia
The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
Missing Pieces: Volume 4 edited by Bil White, Lorraine Stalians, Sandy Garfield, C.S. Marks, C.E. Rocco, and Tracy Chodhury
Rapture by Kameron Hurley

CDs
The Rogue Sessions by Sarah Donner
That Is a Pegasus by Sarah Donner

In addition to seeing Sarah Donner in concert, we went to see The Doubleclicks, Five Year Mission, and the Shake-Ups, but we already have all of the CDs for those bands.

Board Games
Carcasonne: The Castle
Carcasonne: The Discovery
Channel A
T-Rex

Role-Playing Games
Astounding Adventures: Pulp Adventures for Basic Roleplaying
Castles and Crusades: Rune Lore
Champions: The LARP
The Dying Earth Revivification Folio
Eternal Contenders
Fate Worlds Volume Two: Worlds in Shadow
Firefly Role-Playing Game - Gaming in the 'Verse: Gen Con 2013 Preview
Hollow Earth Expedition
Irrepressible!
Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Forgive Us
Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Rules & Magic
Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Tales of the Scarecrow
Maelstrom Domesday
Mutants and Masterminds: Supernatural Handbook
The Sands of Time
The Singularity System
Tome of Horrors 4
Wild Talents: A Singularity System Module

Random Thoughts     Home

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Book Blogger Hop August 15th - August 21st: Sammy Hagar No Longer Can't Drive 55, But Now He Can't Drive 65

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews asks (via Billy): What is your favorite electronic device to use to add posts and content to your blog? Example: Your phone, your computer, your iPad, or another device?

When I am writing a blog post, I always prefer to use my desktop computer. I know I'm a dinosaur, but I'm just not comfortable posting anything of any real substance using a phone or an iPad. I can, and sometimes do, use a laptop computer to write posts for this blog, but I only do this when I am traveling and can't get to my computer at home. But if given the choice, I will always pick my desktop computer as my first choice for writing posts.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: 66 Is a Sphenic Number

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, August 15, 2014

Follow Friday - 171 Is a Triangular Number


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Watcha Reading and The Reading Habits of a Recovering Daydreamer.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Suggest a question! We need questions of the week for future Follow Fridays. Any ideas?

I don't know if these have been used before (because there are a lot of questions that have been asked and I just don't have the time or patience to go back through them and check), but here are a few that I think would elicit some interesting responses:

1. What made you decide to start book blogging?

2. Do you review anything other than books? How do you decide what non-book things to review?

3. How do you decide which books to read and review? Do you have a system or do you just pick up whichever one looks good you you at the moment?

4. Do you write or contribute to any other blogs? What are they and what are they about?


Follow Friday     Home

Monday, August 11, 2014

Musical Monday - The Rebuttal of Schrödinger's Cat by Sarah Donner


This week the redhead and I are going to be at Gen Con. This should not be a surprise to anyone who reads this blog, but I'm going to write about it anyway, just like I did last year. Like last year, we are planning on throwing in some concert attendance among the days of gaming. In addition to going to see both The Doubleclicks and Five Year Mission perform again, we are going to go and see Sarah Donner and The Shake-Ups perform as well.

So here is Sarah Donner performing her cute and silly song The Rebuttal of Schrödinger's Cat in which she takes the role of the hypothetical possibly doomed cat placed inside of a box with a random timer and a capsule of cyanide. Then Donner unleashes the nerdy and witty snarkiness that characterizes so much of her music, and the result is a hilarious song that might teach you just a little bit about thought experiments involving quantum mechanics. Or at least learn about what it is like to watch Sarah Donner put on cat ears and be silly, snarky, and adorably peppy for a couple of minutes.

Previous Musical Monday: The Ballad of Eddie Prager by Paul & Storm
Subsequent Musical Monday: The Motherfucking Pterodactyl by Sarah Donner

Sarah Donner      Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, August 10, 2014

2014 Mythopoeic Award Nominees

Location: Mythcon 45 in Norton, Massachusetts.

Comments: In 2014, both of the fiction categories in the Mythopoeic Awards were won by works authored by women. While this is not that unusual for the Mythopoeic Awards, sadly, this is still something that is notable in the wider world. in better news, Holly Black is slated to be a guest of honor at CapClave this year. I mention this in conjunction with noting her win in the Best Children's Fantasy Literature Award category here so as to make everyone jealous of the fact that I am probably going to be able to meet her this autumn. I can tell you are all jealous.

Best Adult Fantasy Literature

Winner:
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Other Nominees:
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Sleepless Knights by Mark H. Williams
Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

Best Children's Fantasy Literature

Winner:
Doll Bones by Holly Black

Other Nominees:
Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst
Ghoulish Song by William Alexander
Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac
Shadows by Robin McKinley

Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies

Winner:
Tolkien and the Study of His Sources: Critical Essays edited by Jason Fisher

Other Nominees:
C.S. Lewis and the Middle Ages by Robert Boening
C.S. Lewis - A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet by Alister McGrath
Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit by Corey Olsen
There and Back Again: J.R.R. Tolkien and the Origins of the Hobbit by Mark Atherton

Myth and Fantasy Studies

Winner:
Tree of Salvation: Yggdrasil and the Cross in the North by G. Ronald Murphy

Other Nominees:
As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality by Michael Saler
The Book of Legendary Lands by Umberto Eco, translated by Alastair McEwan
Critical Discourses of the Fantastic, 1712-1831 by David Sandner
Dancing the Tao: Le Guin and Moral Development by Sandra J. Lindow

Go to previous year's nominees: 2013
Go to subsequent year's nominees: 2015

Book Award Reviews     Home

Book Blogger Hop August 8th - August 14th: There Are Sixty-Four Demons Listed in the Dictionnaire Infernal

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews asks (via Billy): Do you have a pet peeve about when someone posts a comment on your blog? Example: no link back to their blog.

As a general rule, I dislike anonymous comments. In my experience, most people who make anonymous comments on a blog like this one don't add anything of value to the conversation, and are often rude, uninformed, or simply upset that a book by one of their favorite authors didn't get the glowing review they thought it should get. And, of course, many anonymous comments are simply spam.

So I have simply disallowed anonymous comments on this blog. Problem solved.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, August 8, 2014

Follow Friday - Marcus Aurelius Wrote the First Book of Meditations in 170 A.D.


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Twistedity and Spare Time Book Blog.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Social Share! What is your favorite social network and leave us a link so we can join you!

Of all the social networks, I use Twitter the most. I'm on Google+ but mostly because it is free with a gmail account. I also have Facebook, but given the way that Facebook throttles the content I see, I don't rely on it other than to keep track of my close friends and family. But I have found Twitter to be the most useful social network, and it is the one that I am most likely to pay attention to. You can find me on Twitter under the name Aaron Pound.

Subsequent Follow Friday: 171 Is a Triangular Number

Follow Friday     Home