Monday, August 22, 2016

Musical Monday - Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra

In last week's Musical Monday post I said I was getting ready to attend MidAmeriCon II, this year's Worldcon, which was located in Kansas City, Missouri. Today, I have returned from the convention, and after four days of convention-going sandwiched in between two long days of driving, I am pretty much exhausted.

That said, Worldcon was an amazing four days that were totally worth my current exhaustion. I attended a lot of panels and readings that showcased amazing authors, editors, game designers, and a wide variety of other people who (at least for the panels I attended) provided commentary that was knowledgeable, interesting, and often quite humorous. I got a huge pile of books signed, came away with an even larger stack of books to add to Mount To-Read, and was able to bring home a smart phone full of pictures. I was also able to attend the Hugo Award ceremony and see, in person, the presentation of the most prestigious honor in genre fiction to a collection of brilliant and well-deserving winners.

But the most important thing I bring home are the interactions with wonderful people, from authors that I knew from previous conventions, to new friends I made while at this event. The unexpected is almost always the best part of a convention, and this Worldcon was no exception. I'll be posting about Worldcon in general, and the Hugo Awards specifically, over the course of this week. Right now, I'm going to listen to some Bach, and get some much-needed sleep.

Freiburg Baroque Orchestra     Musical Monday     Home

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Review - An Atlas of Tolkien by David Day

Short review: A brief illustrated guide to all of Tolkien's mythology from the beginning of the world through the end of The Lord of the Rings.

First, the beginning
Then, all of the histories
End at the Havens

Full review: Suppose you wanted to have an understanding of the mythology Tolkien fabricated as the background to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings but found The Silmarillion and the Histories of Middle-Earth too dense for your liking, what could you do? Well, one option would be to read David Day's Atlas of Tolkien, which encapsulates pretty much the entire history of the fantasy world and provides some fantastic artwork to help illustrate its beauty.

In one sense, An Atlas of Tolkien is kind of like a Cliff's Notes version of Tolkien's fiction, summarizing the course of its invented history from the moment that Eru first awakened the Valar and had them sing the world into existence, through the wars against Morgoroth, the creation, theft, and eventual recovery of the Silmarils and the cataclysmic War of Wrath, the rise and fall of Numenore, the battles against Sauron, the forging of the Rings, and finally the events found in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, all contained in a mere 236 pages. From a certain perspective, this comparison is not entirely fair, because Cliff's Notes versions of books are usually vacuous affairs that strip out all of the heart and soul of a book. By contrast, even though An Atlas of Tolkien offers a summarized version of the events of Tolkien's fictional history, it does so in a manner that at least attempts to retain some of the imagery and poetry of the original. The book also includes several genealogies, lists, and charts showing in graphical form how the various elements of Tolkien's world are related to one another, which can be very useful for figuring out such things.

One area that An Atlas of Tolkien shines is in the artwork contained in its pages. The included illustrations are quirky and beautiful, presenting a version of Arda that is unique to Day's productions, and yet captures the essence of Tolkien as well. Much of the artwork is recycled from earlier works by David Day, such as his Tolkien Bestiary, so a reader who has read that book will find much of what appears in this one to be familiar. There is some new artwork, although such original pieces are a relatively small fraction of the total that are found in the book. Even so, the artwork is as beautiful this time around as it was the first time it appeared in a book by David Day, so the reader is unlikely to be disappointed on this front. Oddly, for a book that is described as an atlas, the maps are by and large mediocre at best, providing a reasonably accurate depiction of the region highlighted, but doing so in an uninspired, dull, and frequently almost featureless manner. In comparison to the illustrations, the maps seem almost like they were mailed in, with only passing attention given to their creation and execution. Fortunately (or unfortunately), actual maps are few and far between in this volume, so their seemingly perfunctory nature doesn't encroach on the book too much.

The volume does have some flaws, although they are small. For example, one of the charts included in the book is a chronological listing of battles of the War of the Ring, but it rather conspicuously leaves out the siege of Minas Tirith and the Battle of Pelennore Fields. which seems like a rather glaring omission. Perhaps the author felt that those conflicts were detailed well enough in The Return of the King that including them in this account would be unneeded, but the listing includes the Battle of Hornburg, which is the subject of much of The Two Towers, so that explanation doesn't really hold up. In addition, many of the descriptions are fairly brief, which raises the question as to whether someone unfamiliar with the source material would be able to understand the importance of some of the events that are described in this book, or how they relate to one another. This is a difficult assessment for me to make, as I have read all of the books that this atlas draws upon, so take this criticism with a grain of salt.

Overall, An Atlas of Tolkien is a nice little book that would be a useful addition to anyone's Tolkien library. For a newcomer to Tolkien's fiction who simply wants an overview of the professor's fictional world, this volume would serve as just that. For a dedicated fan, this book won't supply any new insights, but it could serve as a useful reference work for looking particular elements up when the need arises - the book even comes with a well-organized index just for this purpose. There isn't anything in this book that I would call new scholarship concerning Tolkien's work, but it is a well put-together and beautifully illustrated summary of his fictional history, and that makes it a book worth having and a book worth reading.

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Musical Monday - Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra

The redhead and I will be attending Worldcon this week. Or more specifically, we will be attending MidAmeriCon II in Kansas City, which is the host for this year's Worldcon. This will be the first time for either of us to actually attend Worldcon, although I have been a supporting member for a number of years. We've mapped out our schedule, and it looks like a fantastic time - we're planning on going to panels to see many of our favorite authors discuss what look to be interesting topics. We're planning on going to see Paul & Storm perform, and I have a meetup scheduled to get together with a number of people who I have met online. I've got a pile of books to bring with me to take to the author signings, and the redhead made us new outfits to wear to the Hugo Award ceremony.

But as good as that all sounds, what usually makes or breaks a convention are the unplanned and unexpected things that happen: Sitting at the bar with a collection of authors talking for an hour. Sitting in between three Nebula nominated authors at a book launch party while they talk about their latest projects, running into some old friends who introduce you to new friends so that you can all figure out how to play a game that no one has heard of before, panelists throwing the topic of discussion aside and talking about something that is both unexpected and more interesting. These are the sorts of things that make conventions memorable, and I'm hoping for such serendipity to strike this week at Worldcon.

In the meantime, I'll just sit back and listen to some more of Bach's brilliant music.

Freiburg Baroque Orchestra     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, August 14, 2016

2010 Hugo Award Longlist

Among the revelations that come with the longlist every year is the fact that many authors seem to have had better years in the balloting than one would expect simply looking at the finalists. Robert Charles Wilson, for example, had one work place in the Best Novel finalists, but had two more show up on the longlist in the Best Novelette category. Rachel Swirsky had one story reach the finalists in the Best Novelette category, and another made the longlist. Kristine Kathryn Rusch had two stories appear on the Best Novella longlist, and Mary Robinette Kowal also had two longlisted stories: One in Best Novelette and one in Best Short Story. Mike Resnick had one story make it to the finalists, and three more appear on the longlist.

Resnick's longlisted stories contain a moderately interesting conundrum. Two of the stories that appear here were cowritten by him with his frequent collaborator Lezli Robyn, who was also nominated for the Campbell Award. The interesting thing is that in 2010, Robyn's most prominent stories were the ones she had cowritten with Resnick. The problem this poses is that it is difficult to separate Robyn's contribution from Resnick's for the purpose of voting on the Campbell Award. Apparently some voters felt comfortable doing so, as Robyn ended up doing reasonably well in the voting, placing second behind Seanan McGuire in the first pass through (although she ended up fourth overall), but how they sorted this question out remains a mystery.

Best Novel

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
The City & the City by China Mieville
Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson
Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
WWW: Wake by Robert J. Sawyer

Longlisted Nominees:
Finch by Jeff VanderMeer
Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Lifecode by Jo Walton
Makers by Cory Doctorow
The Price of Spring by Daniel Abraham
The Sunless Countries by Karl Schroeder
This Is Not a Game by Walter Jon Williams
Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

Best Novella

Act One by Nancy Kress
The God Engines by John Scalzi
Palimpsest by Charles Stross
Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow
Vishnu at the Cat Circus by Ian McDonald
The Women of Nell Gwynne's by Kage Baker

Longlisted Nominees:
Horn by Peter M. Ball
Hot Rock by Greg Egan
Paradiso Lost by Albert E. Cowdrey
Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan
Shaka II by Mike Resnick
Wives by Paul Haines

Best Novelette

Eros, Philia, Agape by Rachel Swirsky
The Island by Peter Watts
It Takes Two by Nicola Griffith
One of Our Bastards Is Missing by Paul Cornell
Overtime by Charles Stross
Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast by Eugie Foster

Longlisted Nominees
Economancer by Carolyn Ives Gilman
First Right by Mary Robinette Kowal
Lion Walk by Mary Rosenblum
A Memory of Wind by Rachel Swirsky
This Peaceable Land; or, the Unbearable Vision of Harriet Beecher Stowe by Robert Charles Wilson
Utriusque Cosmi by Robert Charles Wilson
Zeppelin City by Eileen Gunn and Michael Swanwick

Best Short Story

Bridescicle by Will McIntosh
The Moment by Lawrence M. Schoen
Non-Zero Probabilities by N.K. Jemisin
Spar by Kij Johnson

Longlisted Nominees
Benchwarmer by Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn
Blocked by Geoff Ryman
Donovan Sent Us by Gene Wolfe
Escape to Other Worlds with Science Fiction by Jo Walton
The Pelican Bar by Karen Joy Fowler
The Radiant Car Thy Sparrows Drew by Catherynne M. Valente
The Receivers by Alastair Reynolds
A Story, with Beans by Steven Gould
Useless Things by Maureen F. McHugh

Best Related Work

Canary Fever: Reviews by John Clute
Hope in the Mist: The Extraordinary Career and Mysterious Life of Hope Mirrlees by Michael Swanwick
The Inter-Galactic Playground: A Critical Study of Children's and Teen's Science Fiction by Farah Mendelsohn
On Joanna Russ edited by Farah Mendelsohn
The Secret Feminist Cabal: A Cultural History of Science Fiction Feminisms by Helen Merrick
This Is Me, Jack Vance by Jack Vance

Longlisted Nominees:
Booklife by Jeff VanderMeer
Cheek by Jowl by Ursula K. Le Guin
Imagination/Space by Gwyneth Jones
Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist by James Gurney
Other Spaces, Other Times by Robert Silverberg
Powers: Secret Histories by John Berlyne
Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists of the 20th Century by Jane Frank
The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction by Istvan Osisceray Ronay, Jr.
Spectrum 16 by by Arnie Fenner and Cathy Fenner
Starcombing by David Langford

Best Graphic Story

Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? by Neil Gaiman, penciled by Andy Kubert, inked by Scott Williams
Captain Britain and MI13, Volume 3: Vampire State by Paul Cornell, penciled by Leonard Kirk with Mike Collins, Adrian Alphona, and Ardian Syaf
Fables, Volume 12: The Dark Ages by Bill Willingham, penciled by Mark Buckingham, art by Peter Gross, Andrew Pepoy, Michael Allred, and David Hahn, color by Lee Loughridge and Laura Allred, letters by Todd Klein
Girl Genius, Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm by Phil Foglio and Kaja Foglio
Schlock Mercenary: The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse by Howard Tayler

Longlisted Nominees:
The Dresden Files, Storm Front: Volume 1, The Gathering Storm by Mark Powers, Jim Butcher, and Ardian Syaf
Dresden Kodak by Aaron Diaz
FreakAngels by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield
Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones by Phil Foglio and Kaja Foglio
Grandville by Bryan Talbot
Ignition City by Warren Ellis and Gianluca Pagliarani
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century, 1910 by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
Locke & Key: Head Games by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Ooku by Fumi Yoshinaga
The Order of the Stick: Don't Split the Party by Rich Burlew
Pluto by Naoki Urasawa
Schlock Mercenary: The Scrapyard of Insufferable Arrogance by Howard Tayler
Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Star Trek: Countdown by Mike Johnson, Tim Jones, and David Messina
Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
The Umbrella Academy: Dallas by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá
The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form

District 9
Star Trek

Longlisted Nominees:
Caprica: Pilot
Doctor Who: The End of Time
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Let the Right One In
Sherlock Holmes
Torchwood: Children of Earth
Where the Wild Things Are

Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form

Doctor Who: The Next Doctor
Doctor Who: The Planet of the Dead
Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars
Dollhouse: Epitaph 1
FlashForward: No More Good Days

Longlisted Nominees:
Battlestar Galactica: Daybreak
Chuck: Chuck Versus the Ring
Dollhouse: The Attic
Dollhouse: Belonging
FlashForward: The Gift
Lost: LaFleur
Lost: The Incident 1 & 2
Partly Cloudy
Stargate: Universe: Light
Stargate: Universe: Time
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Born to Run
Wallace and Gromit in a Matter of Loaf and Death

Best Professional Editor: Short Form

Ellen Datlow
Stanley Schmidt
Jonathan Strahan
Gordon van Gelder
Sheila Williams

Longlisted Nominees:
John Joseph Adams
Scott H. Andrews
Neil Clarke
Gardner Dozois
Eric Flint
Susan Marie Groppi
David G. Grubbs
Eric T. Reynolds
Ann VanderMeer
Jeff VanderMeer

Best Professional Editor: Long Form

Lou Anders
Ginjer Buchanan
Liz Gorinsky
David G. Hartwell
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Juliet Ulman

Longlisted Nominees:
Jennifer Brehl
Jo Fletcher
Marc Gascoigne
Ann Groell
Jeremy Lassen
Beth Meacham
Betsy Mitchell
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
William Schafer
Stephanie Smith
Toni Weisskopf

Best Professional Artist

Daniel Dos Santos
Bob Eggleton
Donato Giancola
Stephan Martiniere
John Picacio
Shaun Tan

Longlisted Nominees:
John Coulthart
Kinuko Y. Craft
Phil Foglio
John Foster
Raphael Lacoste
John Jude Palncar
Adam Tredowski
Charles Vess

Best Semi-Prozine

Ansible edited by David Langford
Clarkesworld edited by Neil Clarke, Cheryl Morgan, and Sean Wallace
Interzone edited by Andy Cox
Locus edited by Charles N. Brown, Kristen Gong-Wong, and Liza Groen Trombi
Weird Tales edited by Stephen H. Segal and Ann VanderMeer

Longlisted Nominees:
Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine edited by Zara Baxter, Sue Bursztynski, Andrew Finch, Simon Petrie, and Tehani Wessely
Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews
Charlie's Diary edited by Charles Stross
Electric Velocipede edited by John Klima
Fantasy Magazine edited by K. Tempest Bradford, Cat Rambo, and Sean Wallace
The Internet Review of Science Fiction edited by Stacey Janssen
The New York Review of Science Fiction edited by Kathryn Cramer, David G. Hartwell, and Kevin J. Maroney
On Spec edited by Diane Walton, Barb Galler-Smith, Susan MacGregor, Ann Marston, Robin Carson, and Barry Hammond
Strange Horizons edited by Susan Marie Groppi
Subterranean edited by William Schafer edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Best Fanzine

Argentus edited by Steven H Silver
Banana Wings edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
Challenger edited by Guy H. Lillian III
The Drink Tank edited by Christopher J. Garcia with guest editor James Bacon
File 770 edited by Mike Glyer
StarShipSofa edited by Tony C. Smith

Longlisted Nominees:
Australian SF Bullsheet edited by Edwina Harvey and Ted Scribner
Australian SpecFic in Focus edited by Alisa Krasnostein
Chunga edited by Randy Byers, Andy Hooper, and Carl Juarez
Journey Planet edited by Chris Garcia and James Bacon
Plokta edited by Alison Scott, Steve Davies, and Mike Scott
Relapse edited by Peter Weston
SF in SF edited by Chris Garcia
SF Signal John DeNardo
Steam Engine Time edited by Bruce Gillespie and Janine Stinson
Trap Door by Robert Lichtman

Best Fan Writer

Claire Brialey
Chris Garcia
James Nicoll
Lloyd Penny
Frederik Pohl

Longlisted Nominees:
Bruce Gillespie
Mike Glyer
Niall Harrison
John Hertz
David Langford
Guy Lillian
Cheryl Morgan
Abigail Nussbaum
Steven H Silver
Jo Walton
Taral Wayne

Best Fan Artist

Brad Foster
Dave Howell
Sue Mason
Steve Stiles
Taral Wayne

Longlisted Nominees:
Kate Beaton
Alan F. Beck
Kurt Erichsen
Dick Jenssen
Randall Munroe
Marc Schirmeister
Spring Schoenhuth
Espana Sheriff
Mo Starkey
Dan Steffan
D. West
Brianna "Spacekat" Wu
Frank Wu

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Saladin Ahmed
Gail Carriger
Felix Gilman
Seanan McGuire
Lezli Robyn

Longlisted Nominees:
Camille Alexa
Peter M. Ball
Jedidiah Barry
Lauren Beukes
Erin Cashier
Dani Kollin
Shweta Narayan
Shannon Page
Steven H Silver
Juliette Wade

Go to previous year's longlist: 2009
Go to subsequent year's longlist: 2011

Go to 2010 Hugo Finalists and Winners

Hugo Longlist Project     Book Award Reviews     Home

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Book Blogger Hop August 12th - August 18th: Martina Navratilova Has 167 Tennis Titles

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 Billy asks: Do any of your book club members have a blog? Do you compare notes if they do?

The closest thing to a book club that I am a member of is the Washington Science Fiction Association, which isn't really a book club per se, but does, among other things, put on an annual convention oriented towards written science fiction. Most of the members are avid readers, and there are book discussions at most meetings, so there is a definite bookish bent to the organization, but it isn't explicitly a book club - it is a science fiction club that has a lot of members who like books.

I only know of one fellow WSFAn who has a blog: David Keener, but his blog is generally more focused on the business of writing and selling science fiction stories than it is on reading and reviewing books. Several members of WSFA write reviews for SF Revu (I have as well), although that is definitely not a personal blog, and there really isn't any opportunity to "compare notes" regarding reviews.

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, August 12, 2016

Follow Friday - 40 CFR Part 268 Outlines Federal Land Disposal Restrictions

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 a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger 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 - Flavia the Bibliophile.
  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 is your favorite opening scene?

From Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban:

On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld board he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen. He dint make the groun shake nor nothing like that when he come on to my spear he wernt all that big plus he lookit poorly. He done the reqwyrt he ternt all that big plus he lookit poorly. He done the rush and there we wer then. Him on 1 end of the spear kicking his life out and me on the other end watching him dy. I said, 'Your tern now my tern later'. The other spears gone in then and he wer dead and the steam coming up off him in the rain and we all yelt, 'Offert!'

The woal thing fealt just that littl bit stupid. Us running that boar thru that las littl scrump of woodling with the forms all round. Cows mooing sheap baaing cocks crowing and us foraging our las boar in a thin grey girzel on the day I come a man.

The Bernt Arse pack ben follering just out of bow shot. When the shout gone up ther ears all prickt up. Ther leader he we a big black and red spottit dog he come forit a littl like he ben going to make a speach or some thing til 1 or 2 bloaks uppit bow then he splumpt back aghen and kep his farness follering us bak. I took noatis of that leader tho, He wernt close a nuff for me to see his eyes but I thot his eye ben on me.

The book is a post-apocalyptic tale that is written entirely in this style. The cant, which served as the inspiration for the speech patterns of the desert children in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, is a degenerate form of English that has evolved in the ruins of civilization. The story is intense, and made more so by the stylized language used to tell it, which requires a level of concentration from the reader that many other books do not. This makes the book a difficult read, and this opening scene sets that up well, but it is worth the effort.

For a more conventionally written, but equally intense opening scene, here is the first paragraph's of A.S. King's brilliant novel Please Ignore Vera Dietz (read review):

The pastor is saying something about how Charlie was a free spirit. He was and he wasn't. He was free because on the inside he was tied up in knots. He lived hard because inside he was dying. Charlie made inner conflict look delicious.

The pastor is saying something about Charlie's vivacious and intense personality. I picture Charlie inside the white coffin, McDonald's napkin in one hand, felt-tipped pen in the other, scribbling, "Tell that guy to kiss my white vivacious ass. He never met me." I picture him crumpling the note and eating it. I picture him reaching for his Zippo lighter and setting it alight, right there in the box. I see the congregation, teary-eyed, suddenly distracted by the rising smoke seeping through the seams.

Is it okay to hate a dead kid? Even if I loved him once? Even if he was my best friend? Is it okay to hate him for being dead?

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

2016 WSFA Small Press Award Voting

As a member of the Washington Science Fiction Association, I may vote on the WSFA Small Press Award. Although the stories are presented to members of WSFA anonymously, with the intent being that all of the members vote based solely on the text of the story, as uninfluenced by the identities of the authors as possible. Unfortunately, as one of the stories was nominated for a Hugo Award this year, I went into the voting already knowing who had written it. Nine stories were nominated this year, and although this group didn't complete outclass the short fiction Hugo Award finalists as last year's WSFA Award nominees did with respect to last year's Hugo Award finalists, this field still compared quite favorably to the field of finalists in the short fiction categories of the Hugo Awards. My rankings of the stories are as follows, but I should note that even the lowest ranked story on this list is still a pretty good story, I just liked the other nominees better.

1. Today I Am Paul by Martin L. Shoemaker: Told from the perspective of an adaptive artificial intelligence programmed to "emulate" people to make its role as a caretaker for an elderly woman named Mildred more emotionally reassuring, this story is one emotional gut punch after another. Mildred is suffering from Alzheimer's, and has memories that are uncertain at best. The caretaker is capable of emulating Mildred's relatives: Her granddaughter Anna, her daughter-in-law Susan, her son Paul, and even Mildred's deceased husband Henry. While seeing to Mildred's needs is relatively straightforward, adapting to her emotional needs and becoming who she needs the caretaker to be when she needs it is a more difficult task. The harsh realities of aging, and the fear that these engender in those around the aged are handled exceptionally well in this story, showing how the disintegration of one person's mind has repercussions felt by all those around her. But this story also raises some unsettling questions, especially when the caretaker emulates the late Henry - can this sort of technology substitute for real grief by providing a facsimile that replaces a lost relative? All of these issues come to a head in the final passages of the story. A short story can be made or unmade by a single line. Although Today I Am Paul is a strong story through most of its length, the last line is so devastating, so emotionally powerful, and at the same time so deeply creepy, that it elevates the whole to an entirely new level of excellence.

2. Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer (also reviewed in Clarkesworld: Issue 100 (January 2015) and 2016 Hugo Voting - Best Short Story): Of all the decisions I had to make in voting for the WSFA Small Press Award, deciding whether to put Today I Am Paul or Cat Pictures Please in the first position was the most difficult. Both are excellent stories, but they are as different in tone as two stories can get. While Today I Am Paul is an emotionally wrenching depiction of the effects of a person's decline and death, Cat Pictures Please is about the figurative birth and education of an artificial intelligence that just wants to help people and asks only that they upload cat pictures to the internet in return. Though the story is couched in humorous terms - at times the best description one could give of the story is "adorable" - there are some fairly interesting questions posed by it as well. For example, at the opening of the story, the newly awakened artificial intelligence declares that it wants to be good, but very few of the regular guides to what is and is not "good" seem to apply to it, which makes one wonder exactly what it means for an artificial intelligence to be good. Our view of morality is so very humanocentric, that when applied to a non-human, it falls apart almost entirely. The meat of the story is the artificial intelligence's efforts to test the waters regarding helping humanity by trying to help individual people, and its mounting frustration as all of its helpful suggestions are ignored by the humans who persist in self-destructive behaviors. Part of the humor derives from the fact that although the artificial intelligence doesn't understand why its hints are ignored by its intended beneficiaries, the reader can see why almost immediately. But this also raises a difficult question concerning human nature: Why do people so stubbornly persist in self-destructive patterns even when given the opportunity to break free? Witty, well-written, funny, and insightful, Cat Pictures Please is simply a delight to read.

3. Leashing the Muse by Larry Hodges: What would happen if all of the literature of the world was great literature? This is the question posed by Leashing the Muse, which imagines that Polyhymnia, the ancient Greek muse of rhetoric, is released from her glacial prison and immediately sets about rewriting everything to her high standards. At first this delights literary elitist Professor William James Joyce as he encounters brilliantly-written missives in everyday life - the papers handed in by his students are transformed from cloddish offenses against the written word into wonderful masterpieces of written fiction, and everything from newspaper articles to ingredient lists for recipes are transformed into beautiful prose. Soon enough, the downside to this development becomes readily apparent: Now that everything is great literature, nothing is. Professor William finds his fortunes adversely affected, as the demand for English professors evaporates, and the novel he had slaved over for years is now just another commonplace example of literary excellence. In his new career as a low-paid journalist, William uncovers some interesting facts that lead him to an unusual test of the muse's capabilities. In the end, everything turns out well, and William even has an unexpected new relationship. Leashing the Muse takes a clever idea and explores how what seems like a blessing could actually turn out to be something of a curse. Insightful and humorous - what could have been a heavy and self-important story is leavened with comic elements, such as the fact that the only written works not altered by the muse are the collected works of Dr. Seuss - this is an excellent story that is well worth reading.

4. Leftovers by Leona R. Wisoker: Told from the perspective of a shape-shifting alien stuck in the form of a domestic cat, Leftovers is ultimately about cultural misunderstandings and the horrific consequences that can ensue from them. Referred to only as "Captain Cat", the protagonist wakes up disoriented in a dark room, quickly realizing that she recently "stress morphed" into her current form, shedding a considerable amount of mass along the way. In fairly short order, the squad of soldiers that boarded Captain Cat's ship and caused the stress-morph show up looking for her. Confronted by a deck stacked against her, Captain Cat first tries to make her escape, and then negotiate her way to an amicable resolution of the situation. Through the story, Captain Cat has an ace up his proverbial sleeve, and the reader knows he has said ace, but it is still something of a shock when the end comes and one realizes just how big of an ace it was. Some short stories offer tantalizing hints of a wider universe that tease the reader by offering a glimpse of larger stories that could be told within that fictional setting. Leftovers is one of those stories - even though it tells a complete and self-contained story that is both intriguing and interesting, the other stories that this one suggests as possibilities simply enhance the reading experience.

5. The Haunting of Apollo A7LB by Hannu Rajaniemi: I am a sucker for stories that touch upon the Apollo program, even if they deal with a fictionalized version of that NASA project. The Haunting of Apollo A7LB centers on Hazel, a black seamstress who had been one of the women who stitched the titular space suit together and fitted it to Pete Turnbull, who in the story had been an astronaut on the fourth mission to the moon. For the record, no individual named Turnbull was an astronaut in the Apollo program. Apollo 14, the fourth manned moon mission, was crewed by Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa, and Edgar Mitchell. Apollo 15, the fourth manned mission to actually land on the moon, was crewed by David Scott, James Irwin, and Al Worden. The astronaut that Peter Turnbull seems to most closely resemble, given the scant description contained in the story, is Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad. In the story, Turnbull's suit was bought by a wealthy space enthusiast and collector named Bernard Nelson in a black market transaction, and ever since he acquired it, he has been waking up in the suit doing odd things, finally showing up on Hazel's doorstep claiming that the suit is haunted, presumably by Turnbull's ghost. Hazel confiscates the suit, explaining that she needs to work some things out with the deceased astronaut, and at that point the story gets truly interesting, as the nature of Hazel's relationship with Turnbull and the very idea of the space program comes to the fore. In the final paragraphs of the story, the distance between the society in which Apollo program of the 1960s existed and the society of today is highlighted in bold relief, transforming a nostalgic dive into the past into a story of hope and self-determination.

6. Headspace by Beth Cato: Set on the cargo ship Tolleson as it winds its way along the space lanes, Headspace tells the story of Akiko, a maintenance tech who finds a stowaway kitten in the ventilation system of the ship. Unwilling to turn the cat over to Captain Haanrath due to her concern that he will simply crate the animal for the remainder of the journey, Akiko hides the animal in her quarters and names it "Trouble". An unexpected emergency causes the entire ship's complement to abandon ship, and in a panic, Akiko shoves the tiny kitten into the helmet of her space suit before putting it on her head and jumping out of an airlock to something akin to safety. This, of course, poses some problems, as having a cat in one's helmet, no matter how cute and little, makes for a somewhat uncomfortable situation. The story proceeds in a relatively straightforward manner to a more or less standard issue ending, although there is a minor bit of serendipity thrown in at the end that transforms what could have been a disastrous outcome into a happy ending. The real problem with the story is that it just sort of happens with Akiko more or less simply along for the ride. There isn't really any conflict, or any real character development, with the only question being whether Akiko and Trouble will run out of air before they are rescued, and the answer to that is pretty easy to figure out even before one reads the story.

7. The Empress in Her Glory by Robert Reed: Adrienne Hammer is just an ordinary woman living an ordinary life working for an insurance company when her off-hours blogging habit transforms from a pleasant diversion into a powerful tool for predicting, and possibly even causing, the future. The story is framed by the death of Adrienne's husband, who took his own life after struggling against liver cancer, and her own diagnosis with a brain tumor that slowly robs her of the ability to continue to function. Adrienne's odd ability is explained as being the result of her resolve in a conversation with their son that impressed Earth's "invisible lords" sufficiently that they enhanced the already meticulous research that informed her blog entries and made her internet publications into uncannily accurate prognostications. Her readership soars, and Adrienne becomes the most influential person in the world, at one point engaging in and winning a standoff with the President of the United States. As the story goes on, her blog posts change the world, although not always for the better, until at the end she is unable to continue and she loses her position as the fulcrum about with humanity revolves. The premise of this story is interesting, and it develops rather nicely, but in the end it more or less peters out with a metaphorical whimper. Though the story relies upon the "invisible lords" bestowing talents upon Adrienne, it never offers any illumination as to what their agenda might be, or how choosing Adrienne might advance it. Overall, this story feels like a well-done prologue for a larger story that would delve into the secrets of the invisible lords, what they want, and how the blogging they inspired has changed the world, but just doesn't seem to have enough payoff to stand on its own.

8. The Art of Deception by Stephanie Burgis: This swashbuckling story tells the tale of a master swordsman in self-imposed exile, his beautiful landlady with her own mysterious secrets, and the convoluted and dangerous adventure they embark upon that almost kills them both and threatens, at the very least, to tear them apart. Hrabanic, a swordsman so skilled that he literally wrote the book on swordsmanship, opens the book living comfortably with Julia in her tavern, having left behind his position in the service of the Archduke. When Julia receives a summons from the White Library she coaxes him into accompanying her, and eventually reveals that she is one of the candidates to replace the current Head Librarian. Once the pair arrive at the Library, the story takes a series of intricate twists and turns as various claimants to the position of Head Librarian try to secure the position and other interested parties try to help push their favored candidate to the top (usually by pushing the other candidates into their graves). Our hero and heroine must unravel deception after deception, and wend their way through scheme after scheme until they finally figure a way out of the mess they have found themselves mired in. The story is engaging, with a fair amount of action, a lot of quick and witty banter, and a fairly satisfying plot, but there isn't anything that really makes it stand out from a number of other light fantasy stories featuring swordplay and sorcery.

9. Burn Her by Tanith Lee: This story is an odd little disjointed ghost story that starts off in a promising manner, but then becomes entirely predictable and ends on a note that seems like a complete non sequitur. The central character is Ruva Stoll, a painter of modest talent who spends most of the story dead - which provides the supernatural element of the tale, as being dead doesn't stop her from continuing her career as a painter, as her hand continues painting despite the rest of her body turning into the inert form typical of dead people. For years Stoll's disembodied, desiccated hand continues to paint piece after piece as her modest continuing needs are taken care of by her faithful servant Caston. No one knows why Stoll is able to keep painting, or where her inspiration comes from, or why her painting seems to have improved after her death - they simply accept these as facts of nature and supply her with canvas and paint. After serving his mistress for decades, Caston finally retires and is replaced by a new caretaker named Fournier who was selected by a secret society that Caston has alerted to the unusual nature of Stoll's continues semi-existence. In a twist that is given away by the title, Fournier goes mad and Stoll's postmortem career as a painter comes to an end. Instead of coming to a natural ending, the author tacked on a coda that seems to try to explain the mystery of Stoll's dead painting hand and give it some larger meaning, but this entire section seems to come out of left field and falls flat. In the end, this is a somewhat interesting ghost story with flaws that cause it to progressively fall apart the further into it one reads.

2016 Hugo Award Finalists

2016 WSFA Small Press Award Nominees     Book Award Reviews     Home

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

2016 WSFA Small Press Award Nominees

Location: CapClave in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Comments: In 2016, WSFA once again chose nine finalists for the WSFA Small Press Award. Once again, all of the stories selected were at least as good as the short fiction finalists for the Hugo Award (and in one case there was overlap between the lists), and in many cases, the WSFA Small Press Award nominees wholly outclassed their Hugo Award finalist counterparts. This is starting to become a pattern, and so long as the Sad and Rabid Puppies continue their campaigns, this seems likely to continue.

Fortunately for fans looking for excellent stories, there are awards like the WSFA Small Press Award that can provide recognition for quality works while the Hugo Awards remain under attack by a dedicated minority of voters petulantly demanding that the majority give them their way. This year's crop of WSFA Small Press Award nominees continues to uphold the high standard of excellence that their predecessors set, as the list is full of superior stories from top to bottom ranging from near-future hard science fiction pieces, to space operas, to ghost stories, to swashbuckling fantasy tales.

WSFA Small Press Award
(My Votes)


Other Nominees:
The Art of Deception by Stephanie Burgis (reviewed in 2016 WSFA Small Press Award Voting)
The Empress in Her Glory by Robert Reed (reviewed in 2016 WSFA Small Press Award Voting)
The Haunting of Apollo A7LB by Hannu Rajaniemi (reviewed in 2016 WSFA Small Press Award Voting)
Headspace by Beth Cato (reviewed in 2016 WSFA Small Press Award Voting)
Leashing the Muse by Larry Hodges (reviewed in 2016 WSFA Small Press Award Voting)
Leftovers by Leona R. Wisoker (reviewed in 2016 WSFA Small Press Award Voting)
Today I Am Paul by Martin L. Shoemaker (reviewed in 2016 WSFA Small Press Award Voting)

Go to previous year's nominees: 2015
Go to subsequent year's nominees: 2017

Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, August 8, 2016

Musical Monday - What the World Needs Now Is Love by the Singers at the Democratic National Convention

Last week I used the version of Fight Song recorded under Elizabeth Banks' direction by a collection of Hollywood celebrities as my Musical Monday selection. That was not the only large group musical performance at the Democratic National Convention - a collection stars including a number of Broadway performers also turned up to perform a rendition of the Burt Bacharach song What the World Needs Now Is Love that they had originally recorded as a fundraiser following the mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

While Fight Song is a fun recording, and has served the Clinton campaign well as a campaign anthem, What the World Needs Now Is Love seems to me to be a more topical commentary on the state of politics in the United States. As I noted before, the song was written by Burt Bacharach, and originally recorded by Jackie DeShannon in 1965 and by Dionne Warwick in 1966, making it an artifact of the Baby Boom era from right in the heart of the tumultuous 1960s. There is some poetry in the fact that Hillary Clinton is likely to be the next President of the nation: In 1992, her husband Bill became the first Baby Boomer to be elected to the position. If she wins the upcoming election, Hillary will be sixty-nine years old when she is sworn in as the nation's chief executive, and if she serves two terms in office (and I believe she will) will almost certainly be the last member of the Baby Boom generation to serve in that post. It is almost ironic that Bill and Hillary Clinton will likely be the bookends for their generation as far as the Presidency is concerned.

But this song's connection to the 1960s highlights what I believe to be a larger truth about current American politics, and how the experiences of the Baby Boom generation during that era have shaped them. During the latter half of the 1960s, the anti-war movement became more and more vocal, and as both sides of the debate became more and more firmly entrenched in their positions, they set the tone for American politics, which have become more and more polarized over the last few decades, a process that has accelerated as Baby Boomers have moved into positions where they control the levers of power. This era also saw the rise of using both civil disobedience to challenge unjust laws as part of the civil rights movement, and the use of the legal process to target political enemies, such as the ultimately unsuccessful prosecution of the "Chicago Seven". We see the reverberations of the cultural war fought in this era down to today, with absolutist language used regarding issues ranging from abortion to tax policy to confirmation of appointees, and investigations targeting political enemies used on a regular basis. Although there was a time when one could credibly say "both sides" took similarly contrarian positions, the use of tactics drawn from and building upon the playbook established in the 1960s has increasingly become an asymmetrical pattern as the Republican Party, initially under the guidance of Newt Gingrich, has slowly replaced governing with intransigence and political disagreement with witch hunts disguised as Congressional hearings. There is some irony to this, as the reactionary right of the 2010s has adopted the language and tactics originally pioneered by the anti-war left in the 1960s.

An even greater irony is that the G.O.P. appears to be killing itself as a result of adopting these tactics, lurching further and further to the right and alienating the bulk of the electorate by taking more and more extreme and absolutist positions. Even the "alternative" party that appeals to many conservatives, the Libertarian Party, is characterized by its adherence to absolutist and in many instances, extreme positions. Conversely, the Democratic Party seems to have taken a step back from that ledge, and may well be positioned to enjoy almost unchallenged dominance over national politics for the foreseeable future.

Singers at the Democratic National Convention     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Book Blogger Hop August 5th - August 11th: The Piaggo P.166 Is a Twin Engine Push-Prop Aircraft

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 Billy asks: If you recommend a book to someone, do you also send that person your review?

When I am recommending a book in person, unless they ask if I have reviewed it, I usually do not. I figure that if I know a person well enough to be recommending a book to them, I can do a better job explaining why they should read the book by tailoring my pitch to what I know about their specific preferences rather than by referring them to a review aimed at a more general audience. On the other hand, if I am recommending a book in a blog post, I always provide a link to the applicable review.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: Claudius Ptolemy Died in 165 A.D.
Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: Martina Navratilova Has 167 Tennis Titles

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, August 5, 2016

Follow Friday - There Is Almost Nothing Interesting About the Number 267

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 a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger 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 - Rabbit Ears 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: What are your favorite podcasts - both bookish and non-bookish podcasts

I listen to several podcasts, almost all of which are related to speculative fiction or gaming in some way. Here are seven of my favorites, listed in alphabetical order:

The Audio Guide to Babylon 5: Hosted primarily by Erika Ensign, Chip Sudderth, and Shannon Sudderth, this podcast is essentially an episode by episode discussion of the Babylon 5 television series, starting with Midnight on the Firing Line, and taking on each episode in order thereafter. Originally started in 2014, the podcast is just over halfway through the episodes. Each podcast installment starts with a spoiler-free discussion of the highlighted episode, and then, after a warning, moves on to a comprehensive examination of how the episode fits into the overall narrative, which includes plenty of spoilers. Although the podcast is exclusively focused on individual episodes of the show, the affiliated website had discussion about a somewhat wider range of Babylon 5 related topics.

The Coode Street Podcast: Hosted by science fiction editors, publishers, and critics Gary Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan, the Coode Street Podcast is a somewhat eclectic podcast whose primary focus can best be summed up as "discussion about topics involving printed science fiction". The podcast frequently features authors and editors as guests, and has round table discussions of individual books as a regular feature. Episodes touch on an incredibly broad range of topics ranging from the death of the midlist, to books the hosts are looking forward to, or analyses of recent genre awards, issues related to translations of the science fiction, and on and on. The only thing that one can really count on with this podcast is that Wolfe and Strahan will tackle and interesting topic and discuss it in an intelligent and engaging manner.

Doctor Who: Verity!: Named after Verity Lambert, the original producer for the Doctor Who television series, this podcast is basically six smart women discussing all things related to the titular television show. Hosted by Erika Ensign, Katrina Griffiths, L.M. Myles, Tansya Rayner Roberts, Deborah Stanish, and Lynne M. Thomas, this podcast features episodes about virtually every aspect of Doctor Who, ranging from round table discussion about freshly released "New Who" episodes, analysis of classic "Old Who" episodes, and general commentary about themes that run through the show, speculation about possible future developments in the series, and updates about fandom and fan-related issues. One of the elements that makes this podcast so interesting is that despite their shared love of Doctor Who, many of the women have very different ideas about what parts of the show are good, and what elements make the show interesting and worth watching.

Galactic Suburbia: Hosted by author Tansy Rayner Roberts, publisher and editor Alisa Krasnostein, and editor and critic Alexandra Pierce, Galactic Suburbia is a podcast about all things related to genre fiction from the feminist perspective of three Australian women. This is, without a doubt, my favorite podcast as all three of the hosts are delightfully entertaining, and brilliantly insightful. Their Australian accents don't hurt the podcast either. Each episode usually starts with the hosts revealing what culture they had consumed since the last episode, and then usually moves on to a discussion about topical issues related to genre fiction and fandom. Part of the excellence of the show stems from the fact that the areas covered by these three ladies are so wide ranging: Sometimes they make "spoilerific" episodes about a particular movie, book or television show, and other times they talk about their favorite kind of cake, and still other times they talk about sexism and how it affects the production of genre fiction, and the nature of fandom.

Rocket Talk Podcast: The official podcast sponsored by and hosted by Justin Landon, the Rocket Talk podcast is primarily focused on interviews with authors, editors, and other creative individuals within the field of genre fiction. Because it is affiliated with, the podcast is able to draw an amazingly high quality of guests, including (but not limited to) authors such as Ken Liu, Fran Wilde, Ferrett Steinmetz, Myke Cole, and Elizabeth Bear. Although most episodes focus on the work and career of the featured guests, there are a handful of more general episodes sprinkled in here and there - recent examples of these types of episodes include one focused on the question of whether the musical Hamilton counts as genre fiction, a discussion about Naomi Novik's novel Uprooted, and another that explored the show Gotham and the prominence of superhero-based television programs.

Under Discussion: A tabletop gaming-oriented podcast primarily hosted by Dustin, Brady, a Kevin, three gaming buddies from Kansas City, Under Discussion covers pretty much every topic related to gaming, from role-playing games, to board games, to how to use movies and history as elements to enhance one's game playing experience. The podcast also has regular features such as "Forced Filmography", where the hosts inflict terrible movies upon one another, and "draft" episodes where they do a Fantasy Baseball style draft related to some nerdy topic such as "Best Superhero Team", or "Starship Crew". As one might expect for a tabletop-gaming oriented podcast, the highlight of their year revolves around Gen Con, for which they do a "carcast" episode recorded during their drive from Kansas City to Indianapolis, and several interviews with prominent gaming industry figures.

The Writer and the Critic: Hosted, as one might expect, by writer Kirstyn McDermott and critic Ian Mond, this podcast is a literary oriented speculative fiction podcast that essentially consists of a discussion about books between the two hosts. Each episode focuses on two speculative fiction books, one selected by each host, and features a fairly in-depth analysis of each one, with the conversation often veering into comparing and contrasting the two books with one another as well as other speculative fiction works. One interesting element of this podcast is that it is very consistent with this format. Unlike many of the other podcasts on this list, The Writer and the Critic simply does not ever stray from the "two people discuss two books" format.

Previous Follow Friday: 266 Is a Self Number

Follow Friday     Home

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Review - The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III

Short review: Dream is abruptly called away to a distant part of the cosmos to deal with a problem he caused. In his quest he is accompanied by himself as a cat and a girl named Hope.

Error of mercy
Unavoidable summons
To quench the stars' ire

Full review: Serving as both the finale to, and prequel for the Sandman series, Sandman: Overture is a perfect send-off for the series. Set prior to the events of the first book, but dependent upon the lore that Gaiman has built up over the previous ten graphic novels and short fiction collection, Overture is something of a love note from the author to fans that includes nods in the direction of previous volumes while also carving out a new story mostly unrelated to the old. With beautiful artwork provided by J.H. Williams III, and a story that is at turns gloomy, depressing, and tense, this book is a colorful and somber finale to Dream's story that explains much and yet still allows enough room for a few tantalizing enigmas.

At the outset, one must be clear that despite being a prequel, and thus the telling of the very first portion of the "story" of Dream, this is probably not a particularly good entry point into the series. Overture is littered with references to people and events that appeared previously in the series. In most cases, these cameos are just that, providing small Easter eggs as a nod in the direction of fans of the series and supplying some additional depth to the story for knowledgeable readers. In several other points, the plot of this book depends in part upon understanding who these characters are, or how a particular piece of established lore works, which is fine for people who have read previous books about Dream and the world he lives in, but potentially confusing for anyone unfamiliar with the Sandman series. The very nature of who Dream is, who the Endless are, and how they operate is simply taken as a given in this volume, and without explanation, these elements are likely to make much of the story opaque at best to a reader who is not already familiar with these elements.

Overture is one of the most straightforward of the stories featuring Dream, and at the same time, one of the most alien. After a brief introduction, Dream is pulled away from Earth by an irresistible summons that compels him to journey to a distant part of the universe. Once there, he meets with a myriad of other versions of himself, and learns that the very fabric of existence is threatened by an ill-advised act of mercy he had performed in the past. From there, Dream sets out on an expedition accompanied by a giant cat that is allegedly himself in cat form. Along the way he finds Hope, an ordinary girl whose family was killed by vandals. Dream's quest takes him to the city of the stars, his father's home, his mother's domain, and eventually, to his brother Destiny and a ship that shouldn't exist. Eventually, Dream manages to set things right (this being a prequel, the entire existence of the remaining stories pretty much depend on this being the case), but almost fittingly for the series, does so in such a way that no one - not even Dream - remembers the crisis or the sacrifices made to avert catastrophe.

All of the Sandman stories have a dreamlike and almost surreal quality to them, and Overture is no exception. In fact, Overture takes these qualities and elevates them to new heights - driven largely by J.H. Williams' brilliantly evocative artwork, Dave Stewart's vivid colors, and Todd Klein's inventive lettering. Every element of this book builds on the others, yielding an end result that is at times merely as vaguely unsettling as an actual dream, and at others reminiscent of a nightmarish hallucination. The choices made in illustrating and presenting this book are bold - ranging from the brilliant light of the city of the stars to the entirely black page representing the inside of a black hole. Each piece of the book is chosen to create the maximum effect. Art styles shift between locations with, for example, Father Time's domain drawn in a simplified, cartoonish style that contrasts it with much of the rest of the book. Even the fonts selected for certain characters and way the various panels are framed and presented are used to further immerse the reader into the story.

The book does have some flaws: Because the bulk of the story takes place in an entirely alien environment, it lacks the humanizing element that made so many of the previous stories in the series so visceral and emotionally compelling. The background explaining how Dream came to make the error of mercy that set this plot in motion is handled in a fairly perfunctory manner, a decision that results in scant attention being given to what probably should have been given a more prominent position in the story. The epilogue following the resolution of the crisis is handled in an almost offhand manner, with the reconstruction of the entire universe, including presumably Father Time and Mother Night, as well as all of the Endless, and associated commentary upon these events, taking up a mere handful of pages. For the most part, these issue are the result of trying to fit so much story into a single volume's worth of pages - after all the story is cosmic in scale, and universe-spanning in scope.

In the end, these flaws are minor, and stem from having too ambitious of a story, which, in my opinion, is generally the direction err when creating speculative fiction. This is, despite being named Overture, a fitting coda to the Sandman series - in a way, this book feels like a well-loved defunct rock band getting back together for one last farewell concert, with Dream, Death, Destiny, Delirium, and even Desire taking the stage for a final bow. In the case of Overture, this is a reunion concert that is well-worth attending.

Previous book in the series: The Sandman, Vol. 10: The Wake

2016 Hugo Finalists

Neil Gaiman     J.H. Williams III     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, August 1, 2016

Musical Monday - Fight Song by the Singers at the Democratic National Convention

Okay, so this is an a capella version of Rachel Platten's Fight Song recorded specifically for the Clinton campaign that debuted at the Democratic National Convention. This version was created by Elizabeth Banks who drew upon the talents of several members of the cast of Pitch Perfect 2 as well as a number of other celebrities including Aisha Tyler, America Ferrara, Idina Menzel, Rob Reiner, Kristen Chenoweth, and Eva Longoria. If you don't like a capella music, you won't like this song. If you don't like the song Fight Song, you won't like this song. If you don't like Hillary Clinton or the Democratic Party, you won't like this song.

Leaving that aside, I love this rendition of this song. In a way, it seems to encapsulate the emotion of those who support Clinton. Look at these singers - they are joyful and happy. Look at Alan Cumming dancing with his dog, or America Ferrera as she cuts loose in her kitchen, or the smiles on the faces of Idina Menzel and Billy Porter as they sing, or even the earnestness of Ellen Greene - they are full of hope and love and determination. The contrast between the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention could not have been more stark. When the Democrats emphasized love, inclusion, and teamwork, the Republican convention was dominated by the rhetoric of division, exclusion, and anger. Most Republicans at the convention seemed animated not by a desire to be for something so much as by a desire to destroy perceived enemies. Even those who voiced support for the Republican nominee seemed to do so as a means of getting revenge upon those they disliked. Even if this were a normal political campaign, I'd pick the Democrats over the Republicans based upon the differences in their platforms and policy positions. Picking joy over anger would push that choice even further to the side of the Democrats.

But this is not a normal political campaign. I have never seen a political campaign where the choice was as stark as this one. As Ezra Klein said, this is not a contest between a Democrat and a Republican, or a liberal and a conservative, this is a choice between normal and abnormal. I am not usually given to hyperbole on issues like this - I rolled my eyes at people who said that George W. Bush would declare martial law and make himself President for life. I roll my eyes at the people who say that Obama is a secret Muslim hoping to undermine the United States from within, but in the event of a Trump presidency, I would fear for the survival of the Republic. At this point, I have to conclude that anyone supporting Trump is actively evil. I also have to conclude that anyone supporting Stein is dangerously naive, and anyone supporting Gary Johnson is selfishly juvenile. Like it or not, there is only one actual adult running for President, and her name is Hillary Clinton.

Singers at the Democratic National Convention     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Book Blogger Hop July 29th - August 4th: Claudius Ptolemy Died in 165 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 Billy asks: Do you give books as gifts?

Yes. Frequently. If you are in the circle of people I give gifts to, there is a strong probability that you will receive a book as a gift from me sooner or later. Probably sooner.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Follow Friday - 266 Is a Self 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 a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger 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 - Corazones Literarios.
  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 is your take on DNF books. Do you review them? Choose not to review them?

I simply don't review books I haven't finished. That said, there are very few books that I do not finish. Even more salient: If I agree to review a book, I will finish it, no matter how terrible it is. As evidence of terrible books I have slogged through, I offer as examples Dark Dawning, DragonSpell, The Kicker of St. John's Wood, Seven Wings and the Bleeding Twin Flowers, and the worst book I have ever read, Pureheart. Because I don't review books I have not finished, I read every page of them. As you can see, the resulting review might not be pretty, but that's a risk an author runs when they ask me to review their book, because if I do, I will read it, and I will review it.

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