Monday, July 21, 2014

Musical Monday - Want You Gone by Jonathan Coulton


Is there an award for "Most Video Game Closing Credit Songs Written from the Perspective of a Homicidal Computer"? Because if there is, I think Jon Coulton has that category locked up forever. Actually, I think with two such songs - Still Alive from Portal and Want You Gone from Portal 2 - he may be his only competition.

This performance by Jon singing the song he wrote is a rare event - the original recording for the Portal 2 closing credits was done by Ellen McLain, the voice of GLaDOS - and Jon doesn't seem to perform it very often because he doesn't really sound like GLaDOS. On the other hand, even Ellen McLain's recording of this song from the Portal 2 end credits isn't really reproducible by her, because for the video game her voice was electronically distorted so that she would sound like the murderously insane computer. With that said, having heard both GLaDOS sing the song and Jon sing the song, I like Jon's version better, but then again, I favor Jon's version of a lot of songs that he sings.

Previous Musical Monday: Still Alive by Jon Coulton and Felicia Day

Jon Coulton     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Book Blogger Hop July 18th - July 24th: "61*" Is a Movie About Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle

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 covers pull you in?

Not really. I'm sure they have some effect on me. I'm not foolish enough to think that the efforts of those who dedicate their careers to marketing (and let's be honest, book covers are a marketing tool) are incapable of having any effect on me. But for the most part, I don't spend much time looking at a book's cover, and don't really think much about them when making a decision as to whether or not to get a book. I suspect that the root cause of my indifference to book covers may have something to do with the terrible track record that science fiction and fantasy publishers have concerning putting truly terrible or embarrassing covers on books that are often much better on the inside than they are on the outside.

Go to previous Book Blogger Hop: The Babylonian Number System Was Base 60

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, July 18, 2014

Follow Friday - The Galaxy IC-167 Appears to be Interacting With the Galaxy NGC-694


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 - Bookish Things & More and Good Choice Reading.
  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: Share a funny YouTube video.

Because I'm either an overachiever or merely indecisive, I'm picking two funny videos. The first is an old clip from Saturday Night Live, back when it was working on the edge of what was acceptable and also consistently funny. The clip features the terribly underrated Garrett Morris and guest host Julian Bond as they discuss IQ tests and race.


The second clip is from the movie A Bridge Too Far, which is not a particularly funny movie, although it has this funny scene. The movie is based upon the Cornelius Ryan book about Operation Market Garden - Field Marshal Montgomery's attempt to secure a way into Germany during World War II by using massed paratrooper drops to secure the bridges through the Netherlands at Eindhove, Nijmegen, and most importantly, Arnhem. The nearly nine thousand strong British First Airborne Division was to secure the bridge at Arnhem, but with a drop zone nearly eight miles away from the bridge, and unexpectedly heavy German resistance, only a single battalion under Colonel Frost (played in the movie by Anthony Hopkins) made it to the bridge, where they were confronted by the entire II SS-Panzerkorps, who repeatedly attacked in near overwhelming strength. In the scene, the German commander Field Marshal Model has sent an emissary to the British paratroopers to discuss terms of their surrender. The British response isn't exactly what he expected:


As a historical note: Market Garden failed. The rest of the First Airborne Division was unable to break through to aid Frost and his men, who suffered tremendous casualties while holding the bridge for four days. Eventually, Frost and the remnants of his command were taken prisoner by the Germans.


Follow Friday     Home

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Review - Hard Magic by Larry Correia


Short review: Jake Sullivan is a magically augmented war hero ex-con private eye beholden to the Bureau of Investigation who shoots people a lot. Then he joins up with a magic secret society and shoots more people.

Haiku
Magic and mobsters
Scratch the mobsters, add in knights
Guns not characters

Full review: Hard Magic is a work that is stunning in its overall mediocrity. Taking the idea that magical powers began manifesting themselves among humans in the 1850s and setting his story in the Prohibition-era United States, Correia manages to produce a book that is full of action-packed magically augmented gunfights and is tediously boring at the same time. Full of cardboard cut-out tough guys, two-dimensional damsels in distress, and wooden mustache twirling villains (who often seem to be awful racial stereotypes to boot), Hard Magic desperately wishes it could be a cross between The Maltese Falcon, X-Men, and The Lord of the Rings, but ultimately it amounts to nothing more than a series of combat scenes linked together by a limp and unconvincing plot.

The central conceit of the story is that along about the middle of the Nineteenth century people began to manifest magical powers. Those who do have access to magic seem to have just one power - some people can control fire, others can possess and control animals, others gain superior strength, a few can heal injuries, and still others can teleport. Some people have very weak or limited powers, such a "torch", who can control fire, but only enough to create or douse a flame the size of a pocket lighter. People with usable magical powers are called "Actives", and pretty much just about every character of any note in the book is one.

Oddly, while the presence of magically augmented humans has wrought some political changes, it doesn't seem to have changed the world in many ways otherwise. World War I happened right on schedule with the only substantive changes being that there was a Second Battle of the Somme involving lots of magically inclined combatants and Berlin ends up turned into a walled city of undead creatures. But the Tunguska Event takes place, as does the Oklahoma dust bowl, although in Correia's alternate world both caused by the use of magic. The book also makes clear that Prohibition is in effect in the U.S. and the Great Depression has laid the world economy low. J. Edgar Hoover is the head of the Bureau of Investigation, and the Bonus Army marched on Washington only to be driven out by U.S. Army troops serving under MacArthur. On the technological front, despite the existence of humans with preternatural affinity for invention called "cogs", the only real change that is notable seems to be the prevalence of dirigibles in the place of aircraft, serving both as passenger and freight transports as well as warships. It doesn't seem clear why the existence of magically augmented humans somehow makes wildly impractical aircraft like dirigibles and zeppelins into practical and ubiquitous ships of the sky, but nevertheless, they are and appear several times in the book.

Politically, the biggest change seems to be the expansion of power for Japan, which has taken over China, much of what in our world was the eastern Soviet Union and pretty much all of southeast Asia. Though technically ruled by an Emperor, all actual power is held by the Chairman, a figure who is described as being so magically powerful that he is personally undefeatable and who is served by the fearsome "Iron Guard" of magically powerful warriors and the "Shadow Guard" of magically augmented ninjas. The Imperium is, according to various characters in the book, a fairly hellish place, with "Actives" powerful enough to be useful impressed into service, and those who aren't herded into camps to be experimented with the hope of discovering how to enhance the power of those with magical abilities. Everything about the Imperium is essentially a racist caricature with the worst kind of "yellow peril" overtones throughout.

Jake Sullivan, the hero of the story, is the most hard boiled of private detectives and a magically augmented "gravity spiker" to boot. He is a hardened ex-con with a heart of gold, a decorated war hero of the Second Battle of the Somme sent to prison for saving a young black Active from a racist sheriff in the deep South who spent his time in Rockingham prison mulling over and experimenting with his magical gifts before being set free on a work release agreement where he signed up to help the Bureau of Investigation capture a set number of particularly dangerous magical criminals. His story begins with the attempted arrest of Delilah, an attractive "brute" that he has something of a romantic past with. But she's wanted by the BI, so Sullivan is there to help bring her in. The only trouble is that Delilah has some friends who also have magical powers, and the attempted arrest turns into a long fight sequence that eventually results in Sullivan getting tossed out of an airborne blimp.

And this sets the tone for the entire novel, which amounts to little more than detailed fight scene after fight scene interrupted by just enough plot to allow them to be strung together. Before long, one realizes that neither the plot or the characters matter much. What is important in the book is what kind of powers everyone has, and what kind of lovingly described firearm they carry. Unless they carry a sword, because even though the bullets fly fast and free in the fights, they are remarkably ineffective, with characters absorbing massive quantities of lead with limited ill-effects. After Sullivan's fight with Delilah and her allies, Sullivan turns to his underworld contacts to try to find out where she got her help from. His mobster "friends" then send people to try to kill Sullivan but they are interrupted by members of Delilah's group and a member of the Imperium's "Iron Guard", leading to a long fight sequence. We are introduced to the magical "traveler" Faye Vierra, and given just enough of her background before a group of men show up to kill her adoptive grandfather in another fight sequence. Faye goes to San Francisco and promptly finds herself in the crossfire of another fight scene. The bulk of the book is basically nothing more than preparations for a fight, a description of a fight, or the aftermath of a fight.

At the very least the fight sequences are reasonably creative, although for the most part they have a tendency to be overlong and tedious. But the writing in the book is somewhat weak and frequently repetitive - for example, when Faye Vierra first reaches San Francisco, there is an extended two page description as the country girl marvels at the sights of the railroad station and adjoining city street. This wouldn't be particularly noteworthy except that Corriea uses the word "astounding" to describe the sights no fewer than three times in these two pages. The series the book starts off is called the "Grimnoir Chronicles", clearly an attempt by Correia to evoke the "film noir" style of cinema, which is reasonable enough, but he feels compelled to clumsily try to put a lampshade upon his made-up word not once, but twice, and the end result is to highlight just how silly the neologism is. The whole book is pretty much written this way, with bland prose punctuated with adoring descriptions of weaponry and detailed accounts of the multiple grievous gunshot wounds suffered by the various combatants, although these wounds seem to almost never be fatal.

The plot, to the extent there is one among all of the superpowered characters futilely blasting away at one another, is the conflict between the secret "Grimnoir Society" and the Imperium as they contest ownership of Nicholas Tesla's "Geo-Tel", a MacGuffin that seems to be similar to a nuclear weapon in effect. Years before, the Grimnoir Knights foiled an attempt to use the Geo-Tel to destroy New York City, and instead of destroying it, they broke it into several pieces and had members take them and scatter across the world and seclude themselves. Now, it turns out, someone is tracking them down, killing them, and claiming the parts. The Grimnoir Society quickly figure out that the Imperium is trying to assemble the weapon so they can take over the world, but before they can act, Madi the leader of the Iron Guards (who happens to be Sullivan's estranged brother) launches an attack upon their hideout in San Francisco before melting a chunk of the city with the local "Peace Ray" installation Imperium agents had taken over with a ninja assault. Madi kidnaps Jane, the Grimnoir Society's healer, and then heads off to deliver the Geo-Tel to the Chairman. After all of the Grimnoir are healed up, they set about chasing after Madi while Sullivan goes to find the last piece of the device. Then the huge "twist" in the story is revealed, which only works because the supposedly incredibly crafty and intelligent Chairman acts like an idiot. And of course there is a huge, extended, tedious gunfight and a showdown between Madi and Sullivan that only concludes in Sullivan's favor because both Madi and the Chairman act like idiots. Also, swords are apparently much more damaging to people than getting shot multiple times with rounds of either .30-06 or .45 caliber ammunition.

In the end, both Madi and the Chairman are vanquished, their plots for world domination foiled, and almost all of the heroes return home alive despite being repeatedly shot, stabbed, burned, blown up, and other wise eviscerated. The lone exception is Delilah, who Sullivan establishes a romantic relationship with, and must therefore be sacrificed so that Sullivan can have some tragic character development. And this is really the root of the bland and flavorless mediocrity that pervades Hard Magic: To the extent that there is anything other than descriptions of people mangling one another, it is all worn out cliches and tired tropes. Even the premise - introducing magic into the modern world and creating an alternate history - isn't particularly original or even that interesting. Unless you are intrigued by nearly endless fight scenes and don't mind a paint-by-numbers plot in a standard-issue fantasy world populated by cardboard characters, there's really not much reason to bother reading this book.

Subsequent book in the series: Spellbound

Larry Correia     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, July 14, 2014

Musical Monday - Still Alive by Jon Coulton and Felicia Day


So, the redhead started playing through Portal again. Actually, she started playing through Portal 2 again, since our copy of Portal is currently on loan to a friend of ours. And, well, I got sucked into playing Portal 2 as well. So to commemorate this occasion, I'm featuring a song that doesn't appear in the game I'm playing, but rather in the previous game in the series. Of course this doesn't make sense, but I've been spending my time with Wheatley, so nonsensical things seem normal right now.

Also, even though she is singing the song, Felicia Day is not GLaDOS. At least not to my knowledge. I don't think she's killed hundreds of test subjects and then been murdered before being revived and placed in a potato. Probably. Maybe. I don't know. She is a little bit scary sometimes.

Previous Musical Monday: Really Big Chickens by The Doubleclicks
Subsequent Musical Monday: Want You Gone by Jon Coulton

Jon Coulton     Felicia Day     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Book Blogger Hop July 11th - July 17th: The Babylonian Number System Was Base 60

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 Emma of Words and Peace asks (via Billy): Do you read books in translation? What are the last 3 books in translation you read?


I have read a fair amount of translated fiction, possibly due to spending several years of my youth outside of the United States. My earliest experience with reading translated fiction was probably when I read the classic science fiction works of Stanislaw Lem such as The Cyberiad and Solaris, although I may have read some of the Tintin books by Hergé before that.

No matter which was first, the most recent were, as far as I can tell, White Raven: The Sword of the Northern Ancestors (read review) by Irina Lopatina, Tintin and the Picaros (read review) by Hergé, and Flight 714 (read review) also by Hergé. I suppose that I should note that this wasn't the first time I had read the Tintin books, only the most recent.

Go to subsequent Book Blogger Hop: "61*" Is a Movie About Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, July 11, 2014

Follow Friday - The USS Alcedo SP-166 Was the First American Vessel Lost in World War I


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 - Whimsical Mama and Casual Readers.
  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: If you had a time machine (i.e. a TARDIS), where would you go?

I have two alternative answers to this question. My first choice would be to go to my own past and find myself, and tell me to make some different decisions. I think most people have made decisions that they look back upon and regret. I know that I certainly have. If given the opportunity, I would go back to the window of time between when I was about 16 and when I was about 24 and get my younger, stupider self to make some different decisions. Obviously, changing one's own history is fraught with hazards, the most obvious being that a different decision does not necessarily mean a better decision, so there's always the risk that I'd make things worse for myself, but I'd like to think that the wisdom gained over the past several years would help minimize that possibility.

However, since we are talking about a TARDIS, and the Doctor is always talking about how the laws of time prevent a time traveler from interfering in his own time line, going back to tell myself to do things differently might be an option that is prohibited. So, my alternative choice would be to travel to the future. How far? Far enough forward that humans have colonized the Moon and Mars. By the time I was four there had been six Lunar landings. Since then, humans haven't left low-Earth orbit. For a time when I was younger, our retraction to doodling about in low-Earth orbit with things like the Apollo-Soyuz missions and Skylab while we sent robotic missions to Mars, Venus, and the outer planets seemed like a temporary situation - possibly even a way to test out technologies that would lead to manned deep space exploration in the future. Even the Space Shuttle was originally billed in part as a way to get material into space near Earth to support long-range manned missions or attempts to place a permanent presence on the Moon.

But that's all gone now. The U.S. doesn't even have the ability to put humans into orbit any more. The Russians have converted their space program to a mercenary operation, launching space tourists as often as they send working astronauts into orbit. And this situation doesn't look like it will get better any time soon. Sure, NASA says they are working on a new orbital booster system, but every political cycle politicians compete to see who can most quickly toss science funding, and specifically space exploration funding, over the side. I have no doubt that most of the employees at NASA are toiling in good faith to put humans back into space and would like more than anyone for us to send a manned mission to Mars, but the depressing reality is that our space exploration capabilities have been steadily eroding over the last couple of decades, and there doesn't seem to be the political will to reverse this trend. So I would go far enough into the future that humanity had overcome this malaise and once again had the will to reach for other worlds.

Go to previous Follow Friday: The Blériot-165 Was a Biplane Airliner

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

2014 World Fantasy Award Nominees

Location: World Fantasy Convention, Washington, D.C.

Comments: I really should try to go to the World Fantasy Convention this year. After all, it is going to be held in Washington D.C., less than twenty-five miles away from where I live, so I wouldn't have to incur travel or hotel costs to attend. And yet, even though the convention is basically being held in my backyard, it is still too expensive for me to be able to justify the cost as it would still set me back $400 just to get me and the redhead in the door. Further, the convention is at its "maximum" membership of 950 attendees, and will only be accepting applications to be placed on the wait list starting in about a week or two. I have to wonder how healthy it is to have one of the flagship conventions of the genre be both so very overpriced and limited in attendance. Obviously, as they have all the attendees they want, the World Fantasy Convention is not hurting for money, and are obviously under no obligation to listen to me, but by comparison the 2013 CapClave had nearly 800 attendees, cost about a quarter as much to attend, and managed to have George R.R. Martin as their guest of honor. If the only thing your convention really has going for it over a local con is an inflated price tag, then maybe you need to rethink whether you actually are worthy of being called a "World" convention.

Best Novel

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Dust Devil on a Quiet Street by Richard Bowes
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
The Land Across by Gene Wolfe
A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

Best Novella

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Black Helicopters by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Burning Girls by Veronica Schanoes
Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente
The Sun and I by K.J. Parker
Wakulla Springs by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages

Best Short Fiction

Winner:
The Telling by Gregory Norman Bossert

Other Nominees:
Effigy Nights by Yoon Ha Lee
If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky
The Ink Readers of Doi Saket by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
The Prayer of Ninety Cats by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Selkie Stories Are for Losers by Sofia Samatar

Best Anthology

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Dangerous Women edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
End of the Road: An Anthology of Original Short Stories edited by Jonathan Oliver
Fearsome Journeys: The New Solaris Book of Fantasy edited by Jonathan Strahan
Flotsam Fantastique: The Souvenir Book of World Fantasy Convention 2013 edited by Stephen Jones
Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths edited by Kate Bernheimer

Best Collection

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
The Ape's Wife and Other Stories by Caitlín R. Kiernan
The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All and Other Stories by Laird Barron
Flowers of the Sea by Reggie Oliver
How the World Became Quiet: Myths of the Past, Present, and Future by Rachel Swirsky
North American Lake Monsters: Stories by Nathan Ballingrud

Lifetime Achievement

Winner:
Ellen Datlow
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Other Nominees:
None

Best Artist

Winner:
Vincent Chong

Other Nominees:
Galen Dara
Zelda Devon
Julie Dillon
John Picacio
Charles Vess

Special Award, Professional

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
John Joseph Adams
Ginjer Buchanan
Irene Gallo
William K. Schafer
Jeff VanderMeer and Jeremy Zerfoss

Special Award, Non-Professional

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Scott H. Andrews
Marc Aplin
Kate Baker, Neil Clarke, and Sean Wallace
Leslie Howle
Jerad Walters

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

Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, July 7, 2014

Musical Monday - Really Big Chickens by The Doubleclicks


Starting with Clever Girl, their ode to velociraptors, the Doubleclicks have been the go-to band for songs about dinosaurs or dinosaur-like creatures. After all, they have both a song and an entire album titled Dimetrodon, although to be precise, dimetrodons were not dinosaurs, but rather synapsids and died out about forty million years before dinosaurs appeared. Dimetrodons were also "mammal-like" reptiles, although they have no currently living descendants. The Doubleclicks also released a reworked version of their song Godzilla on their Dimetrodon album, and Godzilla is, depending on which origin story you're using, some sort of mutated dinosaur-like creature. Who doesn't look like any actual dinosaur that ever exited. And breathes atomic fire. But those are just details.

But they have outdone themselves with Really Big Chickens, a song about all dinosaurs, not just one kind. And they are right, dinosaurs are just really big chickens. Or since dinosaurs came first, should chickens be regarded as just being really small dinosaurs? I don't know. Are dinosaurs and chickens subject to the commutative property? There's some pretty smart stuff in the song about growing up too.

Previous Musical Monday: Gypsy by Fleetwood Mac
Subsequent Musical Monday: Still Alive by Jon Coulton and Felicia Day

The Doubleclicks     Musical Monday     Home

Friday, July 4, 2014

Follow Friday - The Blériot-165 Was a Biplane Airliner


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 - A Writer's Dark Corner and Natalie Hearts Books.
  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 are some of your favorite picture books – either current ones or ones from your childhood?

I loved the Harry the dog books when I was a kid, and still do. My first dog was named Harry, after the dog who starred in this series of books, even though he didn't look anything like him. My dog harry turned out to be just as mischievous and just as lovable as the fictional dog.


I am also a big fan of Richard Scarry's books, with their anthropomorphic animal characters, cluttered panoramic scenes, and helpful labels on almost everything. And Lowly Worm, Officer Flossie, and Goldbug.



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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Review - Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie


Short review: Breq was the ship Justice of Toren, she was also One Esk and she had a favorite officer. One day she was betrayed and all but a tiny piece of her was destroyed. Now she searches an ice planet looking for a tool that will allow her to achieve vengeance.

Haiku
Justice of Toren
Destroyed and now only Breq
A gun and vengeance

Disclosure: I received this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: Ancillary Justice is, to put it bluntly, a brilliant science fiction novel that poses questions regarding identity, gender, and the nature of self. On the surface, it is a story of betrayal and revenge centered around the acquisition of a particular weapon, but lurking beneath the surface is a complex layering of social and political conflicts and structures that are interwoven together into a rich tapestry that gives the book substantial heft. The primary characters in the story are all out of place in some way, and each has how they see the world constrained by their limited perspective which drives them to view the same things in different ways (often to their own detriment), or to merely overlook particular possibilities. And lurking in the background are the alien Presger, with their own decidedly strange and poorly understood perspective, who never directly appear in the story, but become more and more of a looming threat as Breq unravels the mystery of the novel.

The story takes place in two different times. In one, Breq is on the planet Nilt seeking a fugitive doctor hoping to acquire the gun that holds the key to all of Breq's plans. Along the way she picks up the Radch citizen Seivarden, herself a thousand years out of her own time and dealing with it by becoming addicted to a drug called kef. In the other, nearly twenty years earlier, Breq doesn't exist as an individual, but rather is both part of, and is, the massive starship Justice of Toren, aware in many locations and through many bodies all at once. And this highlights one of the many interesting elements of the story: The question of identity. Is Breq a person? A malfunctioning piece of equipment? A fragment of a larger whole? An individual subsuming the whole into herself? Leckie manages to accomplish the difficult task of saying both "yes" to all of these, and "no" to all of them as well, because, as becomes clear as the story progresses, the answer depends upon the viewpoint of who is considering the matter.

Though the story doesn't take place entirely within its borders, everything that happens is dominated by the politics of the Radch Empire, the largest, and until recently, most aggressively expansionist human political entity. For centuries, the Radch have annexed other worlds, using their superior weapons and nigh-impenetrable armor to conquer and assimilate entire populations of people. As part of these annexations, Radch divide the subjugated populace - making a lucky few into citizens, killing some of those who resist, and transforming the remainder into mind-wiped bodies kept in cold storage for later use as "ancillaries", living, breathing ship components. Breq was once an ancillary, a component of Justice of Toren before that ship and every other part of her was destroyed. This leaves Breq in an odd position as she is left with just one human body, but she's not human by Radch standards. And with her ship body destroyed, Breq isn't the Justice of Toren any more. She's not a fragment of her former self - she still has all, or at least most, of the memories and knowledge of her ship-self - but she isn't the whole either.

The question of exactly what Breq is, and what she is not, is at the very heart of the novel. Each ship used by the Radchaai is a single mind in many bodies, separated into several groupings, forming what can only be described as deck crews to serve the human officers assigned to the ship's various sections. So while the Justice of Toren is ostensibly a unitary whole, it is also the various groupings of ancillaries that make up the unit known as One Esk, and the unit known as One Var, and so on. In one particularly chilling scene, the components of Justice of Toren recall overseeing the culling of the inhabitants of a subject planet, guarding a collection of noncitizens, some of whom will be killed, others to be spared, but "spared" in this case means that they will be destined for the cold sleep vaults to be used as ancillaries. Essentially, Justice of Toren is overseeing the implacable selection process that will transform human beings into equipment that is not merely under her control, but is in fact her, destroying the personalities that exist within those bodies, and making them just one more piece of her.

And it is situations like these that reveal the fundamental injustice of the Radchaai system, although it is clear that from the perspective of the Radchaai, not only is their system just, deviating from it would be fundamentally unjust. But this is shown to be, at least to a certain extent, because the Radchaai viewpoint is severely restricted, not in small part due to their language. The word "radch" literally means "civilization" in the Radch language, making it almost impossible for the Radchaai to talk about non-Radch civilizations. Those who are outside the Radch polity are, by the terms of the Radch language, defined as uncivilized. Similarly, when trying to express the concept of "tyrant" to Seivarden, Breq has to switch to a different language, because the Radch language has no words that can express it properly. Given the structure of Radch society, one gets the impression that these language quirks many not be accidental. And this is just the most obvious way that the fundamental injustices in Radch society are cast as justice. For example, all Radchaai citizens take the "aptitudes" ostensibly merit based exams used to determine what career is best suited to each individual. But the characters in the story suspect based upon their experiences with the aptitudes that they are not merit based at all, and that the scions of wealthy and politically powerful families get preferential assignments. And, despite the glaring unfairness of this, this is taken as an indication that the system is just, because many Radchaai assume that members of those families are more capable of handling those positions. Granted, most of those saying this are members of families that benefit from such bias in the testing, but once incorporated into the Radch, it seems that newcomers also adopt this view. The Radch, we are shown time and again, hold a myopic viewpoint that is reinforced by their language and culture.

The pivotal act of treachery that destroys the bulk of Justice of Toren is precipitated by Anaander Mianaai's failure to realize that even though Toren was technically a whole entity, she was also composed of various constituent parts, and some of those parts might have formed their own personality quirks and their own affections, however slightly divergent they may be from those of the whole. This oversight is a little ironic, given the nature of the underlying conflict in the Radch and Anaander's role in it, but it does highlight just how difficult it is to overcome the restrictions on one's own viewpoint, especially when the very language you speak gets in the way. This difficulty is reflected time and again in the book, notably when Breq speaked with non-Radchaai and has difficulty assessing their gender. Radch society is gender neutral, referring to every citizen as "she" or "her", to such an extent that those who live inside the Radch are almost gender-blind. But this poses difficulties for Breq when she is on Nilt, as she finds it extremely hard to differentiate between male and female Nilters. Her background and experience simply blind her to the cues that would allow her to easily  identify one gender from the other. Even the seemingly egalitarian gender-neutral nature of Radch society is the result of a limitation of perspective (and possibly an intentional one at that), and given how the story developed through Ancillary Justice, I expect this to come back to haunt the Radchaai in the future.

And it is the limitations of viewpoint that loom critical in Breq's plan for revenge. Although she spends a fair portion of the story attempting to acquire a specific firearm to be used for what seems to be an almost futile attempt at assassination, it is not the weapon that is critical to Breq's vengeance. Rather it is information that Breq possesses and how she can use this to upset the carefully restricted viewpoint of her quarry that takes center stage. And this is part of the brilliance of the book - even though the reader thinks they know what direction Breq is taking them, because our viewpoint is also restricted, we don't see things that should have been obvious from the start. And through the novel one sees subtle shifts in Breq's own view of the world as she adjusts from being a fragment of a lost larger whole that has become a dedicated instrument of revenge, to being more and more of an individual in her own right. At the end of the novel Breq is still Justice of Toren, and she is still One Esk, but she increasingly seems to be simply "Breq", an evolution that is both the result of her changed perspective, and requires her to change it as well.

With a story that is both satisfyingly self-contained and a perfect set up for the upcoming novel Ancillary Sword, this book is an almost pitch perfect first novel. The direct story of a ship fragment relentlessly seeking a weapon to allow her to gain revenge is an engaging tale of action and intrigue, while the underlying themes concerning society, politics, and the limitations of one's own experience are intensely interesting and thought-provoking.

2013 Clarke Award Winner: Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

2013 Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel: 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

List of Clarke Award Winners
List of Nebula Award Winners for Best Novel

2014 Campbell Award Nominees
2014 Clarke Award Nominees
2014 Hugo Award Nominees
2014 Locus Award Nominees
2014 Nebula Award Nominees

Ann Leckie     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, June 30, 2014

Musical Monday - Gypsy by Fleetwood Mac


There is something ethereal about every song sung by Stevie Nicks. Obviously, her voice gives just about any song she sings an otherworldly quality, but I think it is her lyrics that seem to call the listener into fairy-land. And the fairy-land that Nicks calls the listener to in this case is her own past, when she was a poor, struggling musician who slept on a mattress on the floor with nothing but paper flowers for decoration. I think anyone who has ever felt distanced from themselves, or anyone who has ever had to start over can relate to these lyrics full of bittersweet nostalgia.

Previous Musical Monday: Downbound Train by Bruce Springsteen
Subsequent Musical Monday: Really Big Chickens by The Doubleclicks

Fleetwood Mac     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book Blogger Hop June 27th - July 3rd: The Roman Emperor Nero Had His Mother Killed in 59 A.D.

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 RAnn of This That and the Other Thing asks (via Billy): Do you follow a lot of blogs but rarely read them or do you follow a few you read regularly?

Sadly, I don't read other blogs nearly as often as I would like to. The truth is that after the time spent at my day job and the time needed to consume media and render it into written content for this blog, I don't have all that much time left over to spend reading blogs. There just aren't enough hours in the day to get done everything that I'd like to get done, and something has to fall by the wayside. Unfortunately, one of the things that I am generally forced to give up is spending a lot of time reading other blogs.

Go to subsequent Book Blogger Hop: The Babylonian Number System Was Base 60

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, June 27, 2014

Follow Friday - The Romans Abandoned the Antonine Wall in 164 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 - Fandomly Bookish and Lilmissvix Reads.
  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: Post a photo of your favorite coffee mug (or mugs if you can’t choose just one).

I don't drink coffee or tea, so I don't have any mugs. Instead, here are some of my drinking glasses.


Go to subsequent Follow Friday: The Blériot-165 Was a Biplane Airliner

Follow Friday     Home

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Musical Monday - Downbound Train by Bruce Springsteen


Downbound Train is a song about a life that has turned into a disaster. I've felt the way the character narrating the song feels a time or two, but I don't think I've ever had my own life go as awry as his has. But as bad as it seems it would be to experience this kind of downward spiral yourself, it seems to me that it is worse to watch someone you know have this happen to them and be unable to do anything that will help change their trajectory.

And it is even more depressing when the person in this downward spiral is a teenager who doesn't even realize that they are headed in a self-destructive direction, and won't listen when you try to tell them that the path they are on will result in the loss of everything they have ever dreamed for their life. And the only thing you can do is sit by and watch as the collapse they don't see coming consumes them.

Subsequent Musical Monday: Gypsy by Fleetwood Mac

Bruce Springsteen     Musical Monday     Home