Monday, March 30, 2015

Musical Monday - I'd Do Anything by Shani Wallis, Jack Wild, Kathe Green, and Ron Moody

Loyalty is a tricky thing. In most cases, loyalty is regarded as an unalloyed good. Those who display loyalty are lauded for their virtuousness. The more loyal someone is, the better they are regarded. And as this song starts, it goes over this ground: First the Artful Dodger declares his undying loyalty to Nancy, the object of his puppy dog crush. Then Nancy opens up and displays some maternal love towards Oliver, before Oliver returns the affection by pledging to do a collection of silly things. At this stage in the song, the promises are mostly mild and harmless - requests to wear a daffodil or to paint one's face blue. But there is a hint of danger as well when Nancy asks the Dodger if he would fight her Bill, a brutal man who abuses, and eventually murders her.

But loyalty has a darker side too, and the song confronts this squarely when Fagin joins in, asking his collection of juvenile thieves if they would risk the hangman's noose for him. He commands their loyalty by providing them with something of a home, but it is a twisted home, only marginally better than the terrible conditions found in the orphanages of the day. And given the nature of the legal system of the day, Fagin is very definitely asking his boys to risk a death sentence on his behalf. His boys are loyal to Fagin, and Fagin abuses that loyalty for his own benefit.

We see this kind of abuse of loyalty quite a bit in our world. Scientology, as evidenced by the recent documentary Going Clear, demands absolute loyalty from its followers, many of whom jump at the chance to sign purportedly irrevocable billion year contracts. But just to be sure, the Church of Scientology declares those who defect to be "suppressive persons" who are "fair game" to be harassed and hunted for their temerity to leave the organization. This pattern is repeated all over our culture - those who seek a sense of belonging pledge their loyalty to the fraudulent organizations that make up the "Men's Rights Movement", or join loose but rabid groups like GamerGate or the "Sad Puppy" coterie of Hugo ballot-stuffers. And those groups abuse that loyalty, and in many cases seek to punish those who defect. Unquestioned loyalty to a cause or a group will often take one places they didn't expect, and once there, it becomes hard to extricate oneself from them.

Loyalty is good up to a point. The danger is that too much unquestioning loyalty becomes a recipe that allows the vile organizations that inhabit the corners of the internet to prey upon those who think they are doing the right thing by offering their fealty to them. As with all good art, Oliver! had lessons to teach those astute enough to understand them. It is unfortunate that so many people seem to be unable to do so.

As a side note, although the role of Oliver was played by Mark Lester, he apparently could not sing, and so all of his singing was done by Kathe Green, the music directors's daughter. Given that he really couldn't dance and wasn't a particularly good actor, how he was cast in the lead role of a movie musical is a mystery to me.

Previous Musical Monday: George Mason by Paul & Storm
Subsequent Musical Monday: Legend of Korra Theme

Kathe Green     Ron Moody     Shani Wallis     Jack Wild     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Book Blogger Hop March 27th - April 2nd: Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Boxcar Willie All Recorded Wreck of the Old 97

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: Which books have you read in the past month that still have you thinking back to the storyline and the characters?

I've read two works this past month in which the characters have stayed with me. The first is Saga, an ongoing graphic story that thus far has been compiled into four volumes. The story has had several twists and turns thus far as it follows the lives of Alana and Marko and their daughter Hazel, and their trials and tribulations have stuck with me. But it isn't only their stories that make Saga interesting, it is the supporting characters such as Marko's mother Klara, the couple's spectral babysitter Izabel, the author J. Oswald Heist, the freelance bounty hunter The Will, and Marko's ex-fiancee Gwendolyn that resonate with me as a reader. Even the bit characters such as the tabloid reporters on the trail of the story of Alana's defection with Marko seem to draw one in.

The other story I read recently that has me reflecting on the characters is Dream Houses, a novella by Genevieve Valentine. The only true character is really the viewpoint character Amadis, but she interacts with an A.I. Capella throughout the story. She also "interacts" with the rest of the crew on her deep space freighter and her estranged brother, but only through Amadis' recounted memories. The issue is that the story is written in such a way as to call into question whether any of the events that take place within it are actually real, or if they are simply jumbled and confused hallucinations. Is Capella a mercurial and somewhat malicious artificial intelligence, or is this impression merely a fiction created by Amadis? This, and many other elements of Dream Houses, amounts to a mystery that the author steadfastly refuses to give the answer to. And, like so many other books of this type, the ambiguity is part of what makes the story so good.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: Trajan Became Roman Emperor in 98 A.D.

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, March 27, 2015

Follow Friday - Section 203 of the Voting Right Act Helps Protect the Rights of Minority Language Voters

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Bursting Books Reviews and Pinker Than Fiction Reviews.
  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: Have you ever been to BEA, if so what was your favorite experience there?

No. I have never been to BEA. As much as I'd like to go to all the conventions, my budget of both money and time is much more limited than I would like it to be. This means that although BEA sounds like it would be something that I would like to attend, I have not, mostly because there are a couple of other events that take priority because of my focus on genre fiction, notably Gen Con and CapClave, but also Awesomecon, PhilCon, Ravencon, and Mysticon. Maybe someday I will have the means and the time to attend BEA, but that's not going to happen this year, and probably not next year or the year after that.

Subsequent Follow Friday: Philip the Arab was Born in 204 A.D.

Follow Friday     Home

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review - Saga, Volume Two by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Short review: Marko's parents get to know their new granddaughter, Prince Robot IV does some light reading, and The Will meets Gwendolyn. There's also a planet sized egg, a ghost, a lost little girl, and a pacifist author.

Hello Mom and Dad!
Flashback to falling in love
Giant space baby

Full review: Volume Two of Saga picks up right where Volume One left off, with Marko's parents making an unexpected visit to the living tree-spaceship that the couple had used to escape Cleave accompanied by their hybrid progeny and ghost babysitter. While Volume One set the main lines of the story in place and hinted at the greater universe surrounding the central characters, Volume Two is focused on developing the relationships between the main actors in the drama and filling in the back story of how Alana and Marko met, fell in love, and had a child while on the run from two galaxy-spanning superpowers.

The story opens with a brief vignette taking the reader back to a time when Marko was a young boy, and receiving his first lesson from his parents Barr and Klara about the generations long war that his homeland has been involved in. From there, the book jumps back to the present, as Marko introduces his somewhat befuddled parents to his somewhat vexed bride before heading off to recover the banished ghost Izabel. Even this somewhat tense scene is laced with a bit of humor as Alana remarks on the fact that she met her in-laws while wearing nothing but a towel. The arrival of the elder Wreatheans sets the stage for the deepening of the characters as Alana and Barr take care of Hazel, and Marko and Klara travel to a nearby planetoid that isn't quite what it seems to be. Each pairing provides substantial character development, revealing their secrets and agendas.

Large portions of this volume take the form of flashbacks giving the back story of Alana and Marko's relationship, although the entire story is a reminisce told by Hazel, which would make the back story flashbacks really just memories recalled and presented out of order. Be that as it may, these sequences reveal that the love story between the two is not so much a deep and wonderful bond as it seems to be an impetuous and somewhat foolhardy fling driven by a shared love of a trashy romance novel with a supposedly secret but seemingly entirely unsubtle message. From their first violent meeting, to Alana's impetuous decision to free Marko and go on the run with him, to the essentially unplanned pregnancy resulting from poor decisions made in the heat of passion, the book portrays the relationship between the two central characters not as a love affair, but rather an almost adolescent crush that got out of hand.

The story also doesn't let one forgets that this is an adolescent crush with consequences, as both Prince Robot IV and The Will are still on the trail of the impulsive lovers and their child. The story of Prince Robot IV's pursuit in this volume is mostly important as it shows just how obvious the anti-war message in J. Oswald Heist's book A Nighttime Smoke truly is. One might suspect that the obvious nature of the message in this book could be the reason that the powers that be in both Landfall and Wreath want Marko and Alana hunted down, as their act of pacifist rebellion could be taken as evidence that the spark provided by this literary work would spread widely should it become known to the general public. On the other hand, when Prince Robot IV reports the existence of the book to Landfall's intelligence, they appear to know nothing about it, which casts doubt on this theory. Even so, the rapidity with which Prince Robot IV uncovers the hidden message bodes ill for the pro-war factions of both Wreath and Landfall, although this is probably tempered somewhat by the response the Prince gets when he asks one of Alana's former comrades in arms why she didn't read the book despite Alana's entreaties that she do so: "Who has time to read these days?"

The Will, in contrast to Prince Robot IV, begins the story having decided to abandon his search for Marko and Alana and instead focus on getting revenge on the person who killed his ex-girlfriend The Stalk, who happens to be none other than Prince Robot IV. He appears to have made little progress on this front, wallowing in fantasies centered around teaming up with The Stalk to rescue the nameless little girl held as a sex toy in Sextillion. This sets the stage for Gwendolyn, Marko's jilted ex-fiancee, to show up and jar him out of his maudlin daydreams and set him back on the trail of Marko and Alana by pointing out that this would be the best way to also locate Prince Robot IV. Introducing Gwendolyn, which leads to the recovery of the nameless girl who is subsequently dubbed Sophie, adds much-needed interest to The Will's story line by giving him something of a crew beyond Lying Cat to interact with. And while having Gwendolyn on his ship helps The Will develop as a character, it also helps Marko develop as a character by showing the reader who Marko was involved with before he turned himself over to Landfall's forces as a conscientious objector. Putting Gwendolyn in the story also serves to develop the surrounding world by giving the viewpoint of a citizen of Wreath who is committed to the prosecution of the war against Landfall, a viewpoint that had not been given much voice to this point.

Overall, Saga, Volume Two serves to deepen the story started in Saga, Volume One without really expanding it significantly. Most of the action in the story is either background for the characters, or little more than character development. The one major development in the story is the death of a newly introduced character that serves mostly to provide character development for the others in the story. This is not to disparage this volume, as fleshing out the main players in the story serves to make the story itself more interesting. Volume One gave the reader the story and hinted at the possibilities held within it. Volume Two delivers on several of those promises and makes the reader care about the people involved in the drama, even some of the ostensible villains of the piece. By delving into the histories and personalities of the characters, Saga, Volume Two gives depth and weight to the story started in Saga, Volume One and serves as an excellent continuation of the high quality found there.

Previous book in the series: Saga, Volume One
Subsequent book in the series: Saga, Volume Three

What are the Hugo Awards?

2014 Hugo Award Nominees

Brian K. Vaughan     Fiona Staples     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, March 23, 2015

Musical Monday - George Mason by Paul & Storm

This song is technically about George Mason University's victory over the University of Connecticut in the 2006 NCAA basketball tournament. This was, as one might expect, a huge upset. Connecticut was a #1 seed in their region, and was considered a serious contender for the national title. George Mason was an #11 seed in the same region, and had already had to upset three other higher seeded teams - Michigan State University, the University of North Carolina, and Wichita State University - just to get to play against Connecticut.

In a larger sense, this song reflects the feelings of just about everyone whose team has been defeated in March Madness by some underdog. Villanova defeated by North Carolina State. SMU eliminated by UCLA. Iowa State shocked by UAB. Kansas bumped out by Wichita State. And the most tragic upset of them all, Virginia eliminated by Michigan State. From a purely neutral point of view, upsets are part of what make the NCAA tournament what it is - theoretically every team that gets an invitation to the Big Dance could wind up atop the heap at the end of the competition. But upsets are only a good thing when they happen to other teams. Not when they happen to your own. When it happens to your own favored team, an upset is an offense against everything that is right and good with the world.

In other words, this is a long way for this Cavalier to say fuck Michigan State.

Previous Musical Monday: Ode to the Brain! by Symphony of Science
Subsequent Musical Monday: I'd Do Anything by Kathe Green, Ron Moody, Shani Wallis, and Jack Wild

Paul & Storm     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Book Blogger Hop: March 20th - March 26th: Question Mark and the Mysterions Cried 96 Tears

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 read more on a rainy day or on a gorgeous day so you can be outside?

The weather normally only affects my reading in one way: I tend to get sinus headaches as the result of sudden pressure changes. So if the day is rainy, but the day before was gorgeous, then there's a decent chance that I'm living on pseudophedrine, which tends to cut down on my reading. And the reverse is true is the day is gorgeous but the previous day was rainy. But so long as my head doesn't feel like someone is trying to drive a nail through my eye, I pretty much read the same amount no matter what the weather is that day.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: e.e. cummings Published "95 Poems" in 1958

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, March 20, 2015

Follow Friday - Rocky Balboa Weighed 202 Pounds When He Faced Thunderlips

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Captain Swan Bookishhh and TeenBookHoots.
  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: Have you ever been inspired by a book character to do something? Who was the character and what was it?

Not directly, no. I've never decided to take a particular course of action as a result of the inspiration provided by a specific character, or even a specific book.I wasn't inspired to become a soldier after reading about Johnny Rico in Starship Troopers. I wasn't inspired to found a colony based upon the predictive power of psychohistory after reading about Hari Seldon in Foundation. I wasn't inspired to reclaim my ancient heritage as a king after reading about Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. And I wasn't inspired to join an expedition to Jupiter after reading about Dave Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Individual characters simply haven't had that kind of impact upon me.

But the books I have read have shaped my outlook, and many of the views I hold are certainly derived from them. Reading shapes the way we view the world. One might say that all media shapes the way we view the world, but most popular media in music, television, and movies is merely a reflection of the already dominant culture, reinforcing both the good and the bad of the world we already live in. And to a certain extent, the dollar figures associated with such media ensures that they will mostly stay that way: No one wants to risk large sums of money on a venture that may be regarded by the general public as distasteful, odd, or curious. But books have the luxury of being experimental. An author can explore ideas that are off the beaten path. And author also has more time to shape the perceptions of the reader. A movie lasts for less than two hours. A decent novel will take far longer than that to read, and will pack much more information into its pages than a movie can put on the screen.

So while I really haven't been inspired by any characters, I have been inspired by authors and the books they wrote: Andre Norton, Ursula K. Le Guin, Arthur C. Clarke, Poul Anderson, J.R.R. Tolkien, and too many others to count. They, for the most part, defined what being a good person meant, and showed how to be one. They showed what being a worthwhile person meant, and showed how to be one. I am who I am in large part because of the long trail of books that I have read.

Follow Friday     Home

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review - Saga, Volume One by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Short review: Two soldiers from opposite sides in a galactic war fall in love and have a child. Both sides try to hunt them down and kill them.

Galaxy-wide war
Improbable love affair
An unlikely child

Full review: In the story of Saga the inhabitants of the world of Landfall have been at war with the inhabitants of its moon Wreath for so long that no one seems to remember when the war started, or even what it is about. All anyone seems to know is that the war has spread across the galaxy, drawing virtually every other known race into the conflict, and the two opposing sides loathe one another with an intense hatred. Against this backdrop Marko and Alana, originally soldiers from opposite sides in the struggle, have deserted the armies' of their respective homelands and fallen in love, gotten married, and had a child together. And this union sparks a crisis for both sides.

There is some rather obvious symbolism in centering a story around the birth of a child whose parents come from opposite sides of an ongoing intergalactic war, and there is no doubt that the story of Saga intends to use this metaphor quite often. The child, named Hazel, is born in the first few pages of the volume, and representatives of both Landfall and Wreath immediately show up to try to kill her parents and claim her as their prize. The rest of the volume details the efforts of Marko and Alana to find a way off of the planet Cleave to the relative safety of being on the run in interstellar space.

What makes Saga work so well is the world-building that shows through at the edges of what is really a fairly straightforward story. When the opposing forces show up for the first time, the reader gets a brief taste of the almost ritualized rules that have come to define the conflict - Marko protests to the Landfall contingent that they cannot attack him and his wife because they aren't on a sanctioned battlefield, and later the commander of the coalition forces radios for permission to engage the Wreath forces off-theater. Fleeting glimpses such as these build the world around the central characters tiny brick by tiny brick without becoming intrusive or distracting one from the action. The backdrop is fleshed out piece by piece - from the apparently human The Will with his sidekick Lying Cat, who is somehow able to determine when people are lying, to the spider-like The Stalk (who happens to be The Will's ex-girlfriend and ex-business partner), to the "horrible" ghosts of Cleave, who turn out to be the remnants of the planet's population wiped out by a war they didn't want to be part of, including the child Izabel who floats above the ground, her bottom half gone and a handful of ghostly entrails dangling below her torso. All of these elements blend together to create the bizarre and alien setting for the story that hint at a wider world beyond the panels that are presented to the reader and which elevates the book from an ordinary space opera to something special.

As two superpowers who fight their unceasing war by proxy, there are some fairly noticeable parallels between the Cold War conflict between the U.S. and U.S.S.R., as each seems to only rarely engage with their foe directly, preferring instead to fight against one another's allies. To a certain extent this serves to highlight just how similar the inhabitants of the two warring worlds are - the inhabitants of Wreath all have horns, while the inhabitants of Landfall all have wings. There is no identifiable pattern with respect to these attributes: Marko has horns that curve backwards like a bighorn sheep, while his mother has little goat horns and his father has antlers. Alana has delicate insect like wings, while others from Landfall are shown with feathered or bat-like wings. In some ways, the variation among each individual planet's natives seems to be at least as great as the variation between the two sets of adversaries. And this makes the intense revulsion each side has for the mere appearance of the other seem all the more interesting - a revulsion that has been passed on to their allies, as evidenced by the reaction Prince Robot IV of the Robot Kingdom has when he is told that Alana had willingly had sex with Marko. Each side sees the other as monsters, with very little justification or reflection upon the actions of their own side.

As both Wreath and Landfall seek to hunt down and kill Marko and Alana and claim Hazel as a prize, they farm out the job to others to do. Landfall's government calls upon their allies in the Robot Kingdom to do the dirty work, while the rulers of Wreath contract with a collection of freelancers to track down their targets. Not only does each side want the star-crossed lovers killed, but they want the child that resulted from their union as their own - a seeming indication that each side regards the child as having some sort of importance. Because each side seems to think that news of Marko and Alana's relationship would scandalize everyone, one would think that having the child would not be of any propaganda value - as publicizing the child's existence and the reason why it is notable would rather clearly make keeping the parentage secret an impossibility. Like so many elements in Saga, the actual reason for each side to want to claim the child is a mystery, but one that the reader can have some confidence will be unraveled later.

And the plethora of unexplained elements is one of the most interesting things about the story of Saga. The tale is told in retrospect, apparently by Hazel after she has grown up, which raises the possibility that the narrator is unreliable, as the recollections related are ones that she had to have been told by others, making much of the story hearsay. But hints are dropped that things in the "present" for the narrator are very different than the way things are in the "past" of the story being told - the most tantalizing being when Hazel describes the time of her birth as being during a time of war, implying that by the time she is recounting the story for the reader, it is no longer a time of war. But there are smaller mysteries, such as why all of the freelancers are called "The", as in "The Will", and "The Stalk". Or why the princess of the Robot Kingdom describes the conflict as one of "good versus good". Or how does the magic used by the warriors from Wreath work? And, of course, the biggest questions: Is there any reason for the war to continue other than inertia, and can a single book provide the tiny spark of hope needed to stop it?

The further one digs into Saga, the more one finds. On the surface the story is fairly conventional in ways, but as one peels back the layers, one finds more and more layers of meaning underneath them. Questions raise more questions, which raise still further questions, most of which are as yet unanswered, and in some cases, seem impossible to answer. It is a story about love told using a setting defined almost entirely by hate, in which a dead teenager becomes the regular babysitter of a newborn baby, and in which lethal individuals such as The Will are indifferent to the human misery their murderous profession causes, but who are deeply affected by the plight of a young girl they come across. Saga is full of puzzling contradictions and and troubling questions, but also, and most importantly, complex and fascinating characters that make the reader care about the story and look forward to the next volume.

Subsequent book in the series: Saga, Volume Two

2012 Best Graphic Story Winner: Digger (Volumes 1-6) by Ursula Vernon
2014 Best Graphic Story Winner: Time by Randall Munroe

What are the Hugo Awards?

Hugo Best Graphic Story Winners

2013 Hugo Award Nominees

Brian K. Vaughan     Fiona Staples     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Random Thought - Ten Years Without Andre Norton

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the death of Andre Norton. I never met her, but she is the reason I became a science fiction fan. I don't think I can overstate her influence on my perception of what science fiction and fantasy are.

It is hard to believe that she has been gone for ten years. If one were to go back in time and talk to my ten year old self, I probably would not have believed that she could die, because she seemed almost like an unstoppable force of nature to me. She was the first author who I not only remembered by name, but whose books I sought out specifically because she wrote them. To ten year old me, the person who created such a vast array of science fiction works had to be on a level above us mere mortals.

Of course, she wasn't. Norton was just as human as anyone else. She worked as a librarian, loved books and reading and cats, and happened to be someone with the dedication and skill needed to craft the myriad of science fiction novels that would enthrall a young boy. The telepathic bond between a young space trader and his accidental almost cat companion in The Zero Stone and Uncharted Stars. The trader transformed into a wolf-like alien creature in Moon of 3 Rings. The young man forced into working as a mercenary on an alien planet because humans aren't considered fit for any other job in Star Guard. The indentured servant on an alien world who became an alien and helped save the world in Judgment on Janus and Victory on Janus. And on and on and on. Norton's work defined much of what science fiction meant to me. Other people of my generation found their way into the world of science fiction via Heinlein's juveniles, or Burroughs' Barsoom novels, or any number of other routes. My route was through Norton's novels.

When I was a kid, my family moved around a lot, which I suppose is the natural consequence of being the son of a graduate student who later became a foreign service officer. Every year or two my family would move and I would find myself at a new school. When I spent three years in the same high school, that was the longest period of time that I spent at a single school up to that point in my life. And every time I moved to a new school, one of the first things I would do was go to the school library and find all of the Andre Norton books they had. And then I would proceed to check out and read all of her books that I had not already read.

No matter where we moved - Virginia, Tanzania, Zaire, Nigeria - the school library always had some Andre Norton books. Not only that, the school library always had at least some Andre Norton books that I had never read before. Through all of the moves, she was one constant I could always rely upon. I don't remember what my first Andre Norton book was: I inhaled them so quickly that my memories of them are all mixed together and impossible to specifically identify now. Because I read most of her books after getting them from the library, there are many of her books that I read that I can loosely remember the plot and the characters, but have no recollection of what the specific titles were. I didn't own an Andre Norton book until I was well into my teens (Trey of Swords, which I still own), but I read dozens of them.

My father did, and still does, enjoy science fiction, so I grew up in a household where there were science fiction and fantasy novels to read. The first time I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I read his copies. I found and read his copies of Danny Dunn novels that he still had from his childhood. I still remember reading Samuel R. Delany's Nova from our family library when we lived in Tanzania. Some of the earliest gifts I remember getting from my parents were science fiction books aimed at young readers, such as the Roger Elwood edited collection Children of Infinity. But as far as I know, my father was never an Andre Norton reader, so the personal library of books that our family carted around the world didn't have any of her works. She was my discovery - she was the first novelist of note that I found that was not the result of merely following along in his footsteps. Science fiction was a genre we both loved, but Norton was all mine, and mine alone. She showed me, through her books, the vast array of things that one could imagine.

I regret that I never actually met Andre Norton. I would have liked to tell her how much her work meant to me. That she was one of the few constants in my childhood. That she had been the primary gateway into the world of genre fiction for me. I know people who did, and the stories they tell of her reveal her to be as good a person as one would hope their childhood idol to have been. But knowing that after she is gone is kind of bittersweet. We still have her books, and every time I read one by her, I fall in love with science fiction again.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Musical Monday - Ode to the Brain! by Symphony of Science

You are, in a very real sense, your brain. Just about everything that makes you uniquely you is the result of your brain. The rest of your body is essentially a life-support and transport system for your brain. The magic of human life is that everyone is basically a meat covered skeleton being guided by a lump of meat that is somehow self-aware.

There are, of course, people who insist that your brain isn't really "you". That somehow there is a magical force that is your "consciousness" that exists separately from what they deride as mere meat. This dualistic view has a long pedigree in philosophical circles, but there really isn't anything to support it. There are no examples of consciousness existing separately from brains. If you damage someone's brain, you can change their memories and their personality - effectively changing who "they" are. There is no evidence of any kind of external signal controlling the brain. And so on. Nothing we have learned about the brain has been dispositive one way or the other, but all of the evidence we have discovered points towards brains being the source of consciousness, and essentially none of it points towards some external spirit providing the spark that makes someone self-aware.

Further, I think the idea that the brain isn't "enough" to explain our consciousness is actually a less amazing thought than the realization that several hundred million years of evolution resulted in each of us carrying about an organ that has achieved self-aware sentience. If anything is a miracle, that is. We are meat with delusions of grandeur. Nothing more, and nothing less. And that is a transcendent realization.

Previous Musical Monday: Above by the Blue Man Group
Subsequent Musical Monday: George Mason by Paul & Storm

Symphony of Science Playlist     Musical Monday Playlists

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Book Blogger Hop March 13th - March 19th: e.e. cummings Published "95 Poems" in 1958

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: What is more important to you when you are deciding to read a book?

The most important thing in a book, so far as I am concerned, is plot. But you cannot have a worthwhile plot without good characters. And good characters can't exist in a vacuum, so you can't have good characters without good world-building. So those are the things I look for in a book.

The main thing I want out of a book is that I want to care what happens in it. I want to care about the plot, and unless I care about the characters, that's simply not going to happen. So the characters have to be well-written and exist in a world that is convincing enough that their struggles seem to matter. Without that, there really isn't much point in a work of fiction.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Follow Friday - 11001001 Is an Episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Books Over Bros.
  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: Have you come up with any special memes or features on your blog that you’d like people to visit more?

I haven't really come up with any memes or features, although I do use some memes. For example, I participate in this particular meme and the Book Blogger Hop. I also post a Musical Monday selection every Monday, but I'm certain I didn't originate that particular meme. Other than that, I don't really do much in the way of memes - most of what I post on this blog is book, movie, television, and magazine reviews. Actually, mostly just book reviews.

I do have some elements on the blog that pretty much almost never get seen. I create a blog entry for every author whose work I review, and keep track of all the books and stories of theirs that I have read and reviewed. For the most part, no one ever visits most of those pages. I also keep track of a number of genre awards, mostly so that I can keep track of which books that have won awards I have read. But for this I have created a number of entries showing the winners and nominees for the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, World Fantasy, Clarke, Campbell, Mythopoeic, International Fantasy, and Prometheus awards. These pages are almost never visited either. I really never expected anyone to visit them - after all, I'm probably the only one who really cares about tracking what award winning and nominated books I have read, but it would be nice if they got looked at every now and then.

Previous Follow Friday: You Passed Go. Collect $200

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Monday, March 9, 2015

Musical Monday - Above by the Blue Man Group

I have always thought of the song Above as being related to new beginnings. Maybe it is because the Blue Man Group often uses this song to open their concerts. Maybe it is an inherent quality in the way the song is structured - building from a single performer to a powerful tide of sound. Maybe it is something else entirely. But right now is a time for me to think about new beginnings. Or at least the impending end of old things and the incipient arrival of new ones.

Because the redhead and I have been doing some planning, and I am looking forward to the next few years as we move towards our goals. We have a lot of work ahead of us, as we both have a substantial amount of baggage left over from our earlier lives, but it is very nice that we are both pulling on the oars together as we row our boat.

Subsequent Musical Monday: Ode to the Brain! by Symphony of Science

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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Biased Opinion - The Empty Complaints of a Sad Puppy

Brad Torgersen seems to think that the wrong people are deciding who wins Hugo Awards. If you want to read his full screed, you can find it here. Never mind that anyone who wants to get an attending or supporting membership to the World Science Fiction Convention can vote on the award. Never mind that in previous years the problem the "Sad Puppy" nominees had wasn't that they were kept off the ballot, but rather they got on the ballot and everyone then read them and saw just how weak the slate was when compared to their competition. No, Torgersen thinks that the wrong people decide who wins the Hugo Awards because (1) there aren't enough of them, and (2) he asserts they are out of touch with what "true" fans like.

How does Torgersen know what "true" fans like, and how does he know that the Hugo Award voters aren't reflective of those preferences? Well, he doesn't. He has put a pretty little graphic in his post that he claims shows the relationship between Hugo voters and the overall arena of science fiction and fantasy fans, but the graphic has nothing backing it up except Torgersen's say-so. The problem Torgersen faces is that when he tries to substantiate his claims, well, it becomes obvious that he didn't actually do any kind of research at all. He sums up his entire argument with this:
Because “Hugo winner” or “Hugo nominee” has become code for: too boring, not adventurous or exciting enough, too little speculative or fantastic content, too much ideological preaching, and too little optimism.
And that might carry some weight if he could back it up. Except when he tries to he says things like this:
In other words, while the big consumer world is at the theater gobbling up the latest Avengers movie, “fandom” is giving “science fiction’s most prestigious award” to stories and books that bore the crap out of the people at the theater: books and stories long on “literary” elements (for all definitions of “literary” that entail: what college hairshirts are fawning over this decade) while being entirely too short on the very elements that made Science Fiction and Fantasy exciting and fun in the first place!
So one might guess that since they are out of touch with the broad base of fandom, the Hugo voters are ignoring movies like The Avengers and focusing on small art movies that have a tiny bit of science fiction while preaching lots of ideology. So let's see what movie won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): Oh, it was The Avengers.

Wait, what? I thought that Torgersen had assured us that while the mass of consumers were sitting in the theater munching popcorn as Iron Man, Captain American, the Black Widow, and Thor were facing off against Loki and the Chitauri invasion, the Hugo voters were giving awards to boring alternatives. Okay, so maybe the award for The Avengers was an aberration. Let's see what other movies were nominated that it beat out. Surely those are the slow and preachy kind of works that Torgersen is complaining about: The Cabin in the Woods, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hunger Games, and Looper.

Huh. This doesn't seem to be working out very well for Torgersen's argument. I mean, I found The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to be kind of slow, but pretending that this selection of movies is not a roll call of the most consumer friendly bunch of science fiction and fantasy films of 2013 is just silly. To put it bluntly, Torgersen's thesis that the Hugo voters are somehow out of touch with the rest of science fiction fandom is directly contradicted by the many Hugo votes in favor of the very movie that Torgersen cited as an example of what the "big consumer world" was voting for with their dollars.

And it isn't just the 2013 votes that contradict Torgersen's counterfactual ramblings. The 2014 Hugo Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) winner was Gravity. It's competition on the final ballot was Frozen, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Iron Man 3, and Pacific Rim. The 2012 winner was the entire first season of Game of Thrones. The 2011 winner was Inception. You have to go all the way back to 2010 to find a "small" movie that won - namely Moon. But before that, the 2009 winner was WALL-E. And so on. When determining the winners for Best Dramatic Presentation, the Hugo Awards have consistently given the nod to big budget, flashy adventure science fiction and fantasy blockbusters. In short, Hugo voters have tastes that, by all objective measures, line up quite nicely with the broad sweep of "consumer" fandom.

But Torgersen isn't done saying things that are flatly contradicted by reality. For example, when referring to his silly little graphic, he is very concerned that World Science Fiction attendees are ignoring vast swathes of media:
The big blue circle is the total body of SF/F consumers (all types, all over the world) while the little yellow circle is the total body of “fandom” at Worldcon; which ignores games, tie-ins, comics, and other forms of popular SF/F.
One has to wonder what sort of things fall into "other forms of popular SF/F" after you account for current Hugo categories like novels, short fiction, short form dramatic fiction (a category that includes television episodes, web productions such as Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, which won a Hugo award in 2009, albums, songs, and pretty much anything else spoken or performed), long form dramatic presentation (such as movies), art, fanzines, graphic novels, and podcasts. I mean sure, there is no Hugo award for "games", but what forms of science fiction and fantasy media other than that are not covered? I suspect that, as with so many other things in his post, Torgersen didn't bother to do any research before posting his screed, and as a result doesn't know. After all, he complains that the Hugo voters ignore "comics", when the awards have had a category called Best Graphic Story since 2009 that exists explicitly to honor comics. At this point, one has wonder if Torgersen actually knows what the Hugo Award categories actually are, which makes his fact-free whining seem even more pathetic.

As to not honoring tie-ins, one has to wonder if Torgersen miss the 2013 Hugo Award Best Novel winner Redshirts. I'm not sure how one can say that the Hugo voters ignore popular opinion when they bestow the award upon a novel that lovingly pokes fun at Star Trek, one of the most popular and enduring franchises in genre history. The cold truth is that most tie-in fiction is by necessity derivative and not particularly original or even all that notable. I've read numerous Star Trek, Star Wars, and Dungeons & Dragons licensed fiction, and I will probably read many more in the future. That said, while they are usually reasonably pleasant diversions, I can't think of any tie-in fiction other than Redshirts that I would call outstanding, and a novel has to be outstanding to be worthy of a Hugo nomination.

Or, one might consider that perhaps Torgersen is intentionally lying. By itself, getting the kinds of basic facts wrong about the Hugo Awards is not evidence of lying - it could merely be incompetence. But then he says things without context and claims they are damning evidence, such as this:
Witness the literal booing and groans (last year) when it was announced that Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time was nominated.
And one has to wonder if he is being intentionally deceptive. The critical fact that Torgersen leaves out is not that there was a negative reaction when the Wheel of Time was nominated. It was that all thirteen books of the series were nominated under an obscure rule that, although technically capable of covering this kind of nomination, probably wasn't intended to be used in this way, and never previously had been used in this way in the history of the awards. The other thing that Torgersen leaves out is that none of the fourteen novels that make up the Wheel of Time were considered to be good enough to earn a nomination on their own. Many of the volumes in the middle of the series were simply not very good at all, so one has to wonder how compiling a collection of decent fantasy books with some pretty weak ones amounts to something good enough to deserve a Hugo nomination. The booing and groans weren't because the Wheel of Time was nominated, or because people didn't like the series, but rather because its placement on the ballot seemed to be almost underhanded.

But rather than provide any kind of context for the negative reaction to The Wheel of Time appearing on the ballot, Torgersen uses it as a means to take a completely dishonest jab at the Hugo voters. One is left with only two options on this point: Either Torgersen didn't know the context, which makes him supremely unqualified to say much of anything about the Hugo Awards, or he did know and is lying by selective omission. Given his apparent lack of knowledge on so many other points, I'm inclined to lean toward being charitable and saying he might just be an ignorant blowhard, but I can't be sure he isn't a duplicitous liar.

It also seems to me that Torgersen is a little confused. Or at least a little bit self-contradictory. He seems to think that the kind of science fiction that is being nominated is "too boring", but then he extols the virtues of the Wheel of Time because it has a lot of fans. But a sizable chunk of the series is deadly dull. In fact, even ardent fans of the series complain that several of the books are turgid bore-fests in which essentially nothing of consequence happens. The Wheel of Time is also incredibly staid and conventional. It employs very standard fantasy tropes to tell what amounts to a fairly standard tale. I would suggest that one reason for its popularity is its lack of adventurous tale-telling. People like the expected. There are numerous iterations of Law and Order and CSI running on television because people want something that is conventional and familiar. The Wheel of Time (and, to be honest, most of the science fiction and fantasy that Torgersen promotes) is the genre equivalent of "innovating" by setting the next Law and Order series in Dallas instead of New York.

Torgersen can't have it both ways. Either the measure of "good" science fiction and fantasy is popularity, or it is having lots of action and adventuousness. There is a lot of science fiction that I would suggest is both really quite boring and unadventurous, and is simultaneously quite popular. But this is just more evidence of the Sad Puppies' confusion, because when Torgersen writes:
SAD PUPPIES simply holds its collective hand out — standing athwart “fandom” history — and yells, “Stop!”
One has to wonder "stop what"? Stop nominating and honoring popular movies like The Avengers? Stop giving graphic stories their own category? Stop groaning when series that have four or five volumes of turgidly slow books in them get nominated? Stop recognizing podcasts, and web series, and fanzines, and television shows, and songs, and science fiction of all types? Stop voting for good science fiction novels and stories? One has to wonder, if, as Torgersen seems to suggest, the Hugo Awards are supposed to be recognizing the most commercially successful science fiction and fantasy works, why is Torgersen not complaining that the story of the last decade or so of the Hugos has not been the battles between J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Rick Riordan, Veronica Roth, and Suzanne Collins for the Hugo honors. After all, those authors have been vastly more commercially successful than anyone that Torgersen wants to push forward as a nominee.

But then Torgersen makes it clear: When the Sad Puppies say stop, they aren't talking about any of that. They aren't talking about it being bad that dull fiction is nominated. Or that political fiction is being nominated. Or even that the most popular fiction isn't being nominated. All of the whining and complaining is entirely beside the point. What Torgersen really wants is for his friends to get nominations. He's dressed everything up in a coat of deceit to try to make his campaign seem more a principled sand as opposed to a personal whine-fest, but his campaign really boils down to nothing more than "you're voting for the wrong people because you're not voting for my friends":
There are lots of deserving authors — Tad Williams? Steven Barnes? Chuck Gannon? Kevin J. Anderson? L.E. Modesitt, Jr? — who have all done tremendous work in the field, and who deserve (I think) very strong consideration for nomination. People who can’t seem to buy a Hugo nomination, even with very good books or stories coming out every year. Individuals who have proven (again and again) that they are top craftsmen and ambassadors of the genre(s). They deserve their slice of the Hugo sunlight too. And not just when they die or retire. When they are still working.
And this amounts to nothing more than a whine that entirely lacks historical perspective. Really, this is what Sad Puppies boils down to: A collection of conservative authors whining that the science fiction they like isn't getting Hugo nominations and awards. Of course, Torgersen tries to claim that he doesn't represent a bunch of conservative authors, but his protest on that point rings pretty hollow:
Think we’re just a crazy minority of right-wingers out to destroy science fiction? You’d be wrong. For instance, we’d love to see Eric Flint on the Hugo Best Novel short list. Eric is not only a popular author who does the genre credit with his work, he’s a card-carrying Trotskyite.
First off, saying "I have liberal friends" isn't really a defense against people pointing out that you are working with a collection of conservative authors to push a political agenda. Second, the authors (using the term quite loosely) who are promoting the Sad Puppy slate -Larry Corriea, John C. Wright, Theodore Beale, and yes, Brad Torgersen - are almost all not merely conservative, but downright reactionary. Not only that, in previous years, the slate of Sad Puppy nominees were almost entirely drawn from the tiny coterie of conservative science fiction authors, seemingly with no regard for the quality of their works. After all, if your slate recommends Opera Vita Aeterna and The Butcher of Khardov then it is fairly obvious that quality writing isn't on your list of requirements for nomination.

But leaving that aside, Torgersen shows that he really doesn't understand how awards work when he talks about these authors deserving "their slice of the Hugo sunlight". Awards aren't a conch shell to be passed around the camp fire until everyone gets a turn. No writer "deserves" a Hugo award based upon anything but writing a book or story that one could consider the best genre story of that length in a given year. And Williams, Barnes, Modesitt, Anderson, Flint, and even Gannon really haven't done that. This isn't to say that any of them are bad authors. In fact, all of the authors that Torgersen named are good authors who have all written some pretty good books. But the salient point is that they have written very few great books. When one looks at their careers, and compares them to both their historical predecessors and their contemporaries, one discovers that they aren't the "top craftsmen" in the field. They are merely pretty good craftsmen who have spent much of their careers overshadowed by better ones.

A somewhat disturbing trend of the last couple of decades seems to be the loss of the middle ground in evaluating media. This is most readily apparent in the video game industry, where a review score of six, seven, or even eight out of ten is seen as "trashing" a game with a bad rating. Similarly, it seems that there are some people in the science fiction and fantasy field who seem to think that anything less than a Hugo nod means that a particular author's work is not being properly recognized. Torgersen seems to be one of these people. But there is a wide gulf between "not worthy of a Hugo nomination" and "this is a crappy story". For example, Torgersen's The Exchange Officers was a decent science fiction story. There wasn't anything particularly noteworthy about it, but it fit in just fine in the issue of Analog that it appeared in. It was, however, not nearly as good as the other stories that received Hugo nominations for Best Novelette in 2014. The story simply was not Hugo-worthy and never should have been nominated. Opera Vita Aeterna on the other hand, was simply crap. The distance between the two stories is vast, but what seems to have been lost in recent years is the ability to recognize that the distance between them is vast. When one says The Exchange Officers wasn't worthy of a Hugo nomination, that doesn't mean it was bad or should be considered in the same category as truly putrid stuff like Opera Vita Aeterna. It just means it wasn't good enough to be a worthwhile nominee for the Hugo Award.

I think the problem is further compounded by Torgersen's obvious lack of familiarity with the history of the genre, which I have pointed out before. The history of the genre is littered with authors who have turned out good work year after year, and served as "top craftsmen and ambassadors of the genre" and received few, if any Hugo nominations. Michael Moorcock never received a Hugo nomination for his fiction. Fred Saberhagen received a single Hugo nomination in the course of his career. Mercedes Lackey has never been nominated for a Hugo Award. Marion Zimmer Bradley was only nominated for a Hugo once. Lin Carter never received a Hugo nomination. L. Sprague de Camp received only one Hugo nomination, for his autobiography (he received a couple of Retro Hugo nominations, but those don't really count). Terry Brooks has never received a Hugo nomination. And so on and so forth. The experience of the authors that Torgersen cites as being denied what he seems to think is their just due is not unusual, it is normal. Most authors, even prolific authors who turn out dozens of popular stories and novels, don't receive any Hugo nominations, or only receive one or two in their careers. Andre Norton only received two Hugo nominations in her entire career. Getting bent out of shape because Flint hasn't gotten one seems to lack perspective.

But let's entertain the notion that Torgersen's friends aren't getting the recognition they deserve because the Hugo voter pool is too small. One might ask if there is a larger voting pool we could look at to see what the "true" results would be if more fans got the chance to vote. And in fact, there is: The Locus Awards. The Locus Awards have traditionally been voted upon by the subscribers to Locus Magazine to serve as recommendations for nominations for the Hugo and Nebula Awards, and in recent years the voting has been expanded to include anyone who has an internet connection and wants to go to the Locus Magazine website and vote. The votes of actual subscribers count for more than the votes of internet denizens (twice as much, to be precise), but this has only affected the outcome in a few cases. In any event, the Locus awards have almost always had many more voters than the Hugo Awards, which means that we can treat it as a more representative poll of what the hoi polloi want.

So, how do Torgersen's highlighted authors do in the Locus Awards? For the most part, not that well. L.E. Modesitt, Jr. has never even had a novel place in the Locus Awards, and the Locus awards have both Best Science Fiction Novel and Best Fantasy Novel categories. The Locus Awards list out their results in both categories through the top twenty or twenty-five places. An author who has never had a novel place in the top twenty spots in the Locus Awards really shouldn't even be in the conversation for the Hugo Awards. I might point out that not only has Modesitt never placed in the Locus Awards, he has never been nominated for any awards of note. I don't know what criteria Torgersen is using to put Modesitt on his list of authors who deserve some Hugo sunlight, but I've read a half-dozen novels by Modesitt, and I'm pretty sure Modesitt is not being slighted.

What about Eric Flint, that old Trotskyite that Torgersen likes to bandy about to show how the Sad Puppies aren't just a collection of right-wingers. How does he measure up in the Locus Award? Well, like Modesitt, he's never had a novel place either. He hasn't had any stories place in the Locus Awards, and hasn't received nominations for any other award excepting his win in the Writers of the Future competition in 1993. Once again, I'm not saying Flint is a bad writer, but if a writer has never received any nominations of any kind throughout his career, it seems odd for someone to claim that not having received a Hugo nomination is some kind of snub. Maybe Flint will write something that is worthy of a Hugo nomination, but so far he simply hasn't.

Okay, so how about Tad Williams? He's had some success in the Locus Awards. His best showings were when his novel To Green Angel Tower placed third in the Best Fantasy Novel category in 1994, and The War of the Flowers placed sixth in the same category in 2004. So one can make a decent case that he should have been nominated for one of those two novels. But at the same time, one has to remember that when converting from the Locus awards to the Hugo awards, the Best Science Fiction Novel and Best Fantasy Novel categories are collapsed into the single Best Novel category, and by the rules of the Hugo Awards, the number of nominees in each category is limited to five (except in the rare case of a tie for fifth place in the nominating round). So not only would The War of the Flowers have to have leaped past at least one nominee in the Best Fantasy Novel category to get on the Hugo ballot, it would have had to jump past several of the Best Science Fiction novel nominees as well. That would have meant leaping past novels by William Gibson, Dan Simmons, Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Terry Pratchett, which seems like kind of a tall order.

Further, one has to consider exactly what novels would have to have been replaced to secure a nomination for The War of the Flowers. We know exactly what novels were nominated for the Hugo Award in 2004: Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold (which won the award), Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson, Humans by Robert J. Sawyer, Ilium by Dan Simmons, and Singularity Sky by Charles Stross. Which of those do you knock off to make room for a moderately good fantasy novel that wasn't even regarded as one of the top five fantasy novels of the year? Or when one looks at the competition for To Green Angel Tower in 1994 one finds Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (the winner), Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress, Glory Season by David Brin, Moving Mars by Greg Bear, and Virtual Light by William Gibson. I simply can't see any justification for removing any of those nominees to put To Green Angel Tower on the list of nominees. One can't simply say "Tad Williams writes good books, he should get a Hugo Award", one has to look at the other books published in the same years as his books. When one places the various novels that authors like Williams have produced into context with their competition, the fact that they haven't been nominated for a Hugo Award seems not only not mystifying, but completely expected.

Kevin J. Anderson has a fair number of Locus Award nominations, and even one Nebula Award nomination for Assemblers of Infinity in 1994, a novel he co-authored with Doug Beason. On the other hand, he's never had a novel finish higher than 11th place in the Locus Awards, and that was for Best First Novel for Resurrection, Inc.. If we take Assemblers of Infinity as Anderson's high water mark, one has to look at the set of Hugo nominees that it was up against, which happens to be the same set of nominees that To Green Angel Tower was up against. Once again, I simply don't see how one can say that Assemblers of Infinity deserved to replace any of those novels on the ballot. Awards don't happen in a vacuum, and one can only evaluate whether a novel was truly deserving of an honor by looking at its context. While one can look at Anderson's body of work and consider it to be of generally good quality, his highlights simply have never measured up to the very best of his peers.

Steven Barnes is an interesting case for Torgersen, as he already has a Hugo nomination, although given his demonstrated lack of knowledge of the history of the Hugo Awards, Torgersen might not have known that. Barnes' best work was all done as a co-author, mostly pairing with Larry Niven on works such as Dream Park, The Barsoom Project, The California Voodoo Game, The Descent of Anansi, and Achilles' Choice. Those collaborations resulted in a fair amount of recognition for Barnes' work, with a Hugo nomination for The Locusts in 1980, a novella he co-wrote with Larry Niven, and a fourth place finish in the Best Science Fiction Novel category in the Locus Awards for Dream Park in 1982, also co-written with Larry Niven. The Locusts lost to George R.R. Martin's The Sandkings, a decision that I seriously doubt even Torgersen would find surprising. Dream Park simply ran into fierce competition, as the Hugo nominated novels that year were Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh as the eventual winner, The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe, Little, Big by John Crowley, The Many-Colored Land by Julian May, and Project Pope by Clifford D. Simak. Once again, one has to ask, which one of these should have been bumped off to make room for a Barnes nomination? One might suggest that Lion's Blood, which secured a Campbell Award nomination might have been a good candidate for a Hugo nomination in 2003, but when one looks at its competition - Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer, Bones of the Earth by Michael Swanwick, Kiln People by David Brin, The Scar by China MiƩville, and The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson - its absence from the Hugo ballot doesn't seem particularly notable.

So finally we get to Chuck Gannon, who has managed to garner Nebula Award nominations for both Fire with Fire and Trial by Fire. This is quite an impressive feat for someone who has only had five novels published, and only two in which he is the sole author. It seems almost ridiculous for Torgersen to gripe about Gannon's lack of placement on the Hugo nominating ballots due to the relatively small number of works that Gannon has written and the fact that the Sad Puppies might have had a hand in keeping Gannon off the ballot in 2014. It is too early to determine if Gannon will be on the 2015 Hugo Award ballot with Trial by Fire, and one might note that this novel is mentioned on the Sad Puppy 3 ballot, although it seems almost certain that Gannon's work needs no support from the Sad Puppies to get its just due. The Sad Puppies are, rather obviously, trying to garner credibility by nominating people who don't need their help in an effort to be able to claim that their efforts were responsible for any resulting success. It is clear that the Sad Puppies are piggybacking on Gannon, and not the other way around. On the other hand, Fire with Fire was not on the 2014 Hugo Award ballot. One might point to the Sad Puppy 2 suggested ballot, which left Gannon's book off its list of recommendations in favor of two clearly inferior books by Larry Correia and Sarah Hoyt. One might also point to the including of The Wheel of Time as a nominee in 2014, an event that given Torgersen's love of "popularity" as a measure of value seems like something that Torgersen would be in favor of - also served to keep Gannon off the final nominees for the Hugo. The end result is that, to the extent one might consider Gannon to have been snubbed by the Hugo Awards, the Sad Puppies themselves had at least a little bit of a hand in it, which makes Torgersen's complaints ring hollow and empty.

While anyone can suggest a slate of nominees for the Hugo Awards, the Sad Puppies have done so in a way that has drawn substantial ire from many quarters. With their usual tin ear, the Sad Puppy proponents have chalked this up to the fact that their slate was intended (in their words) to "make liberals' heads explode", which is yet another indication that their repeated claims that they are just promoting works they like because they like them to be at least partially a smokescreen for promoting works they find politically palatable. But the real reason they have had a negative reaction is that they have been so ham-fisted and ignorant in their arguments used to justify their position. It would be one thing if they were able to back up their claims of bias against them and their favored authors with supporting evidence. But when they try to do so, they either show that they are unaware of basic facts about the awards (such as apparently not knowing that The Avengers won a Hugo Award, or that an entire category exists to honor graphic stories), or simply lack any kind of historical perspective on the awards. In the end, when one unpacks and analyzes all of the complaints raised by Torgersen in his quest to paint the Hugo voters as out of touch liberals who are unfair to the authors that he likes, one finds that there is simply no substance to them.

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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Book Blogger Hop March 6th - March 12th: This Message Is Continued in the Latest Issue of Private Eye on Page 94

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 think a book's title is important?

I love a good title for a book. Sometimes a great title is a simple one, like Frank Herbert's Dune, which captures the essence of the story in one word. Sometimes a title just sounds good like Poul Anderson's No Truce with Kings or Samuel R. Delany's Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. The problem is that sometimes a great title can be attached to a book that is just ordinary - like Isaac Asimov's The Stars, Like Dust.

A great book title is like an invitation that makes you want to pick the volume up and read it. And when a title and a book align properly, it is a magical combination. In some cases, it is hard for me to now separate a book from its title and evaluate the title on its own merits. Is Gateway a good title, or do I think of Gateway as being a good title because Pohl wrote such a good book that bore the name? That's a conundrum that I don't think will ever be solved. But when an evocative title is put on a book that is not very good, or is even merely mediocre, it is like being promised a great meal that turns out to taste like ash.

Oddly, it is hard to come up with good examples of the opposite phenomenon - good books with lousy titles. I suspect that this is, in part, because once I have read a good book, even a dull and uninspiring title becomes associated with the book in my mind, and I unconsciously retroactively recast the title as a decent one. On the other hand, once I've read a book that turns out to be awful, then that title, no matter how innocuous, becomes associated with the terrible book and, once again, retroactively becomes a lousy title. I point to titles like PureHeart and Dark Dawning as examples of terrible titles, but there is a good chance that that is because the books they are attached to are so very awful.

So yes, I think titles are important, but I also think that assessment of titles becomes inextricably intertwined with the quality of the book itself, making it almost impossible to evaluate a title on its own unless one hasn't read the book it is attached to.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: e.e. cummings Published "95 Poems" in 1958

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Friday, March 6, 2015

Follow Friday - You Passed Go. Collect $200

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Bloggers of the week - Mischievous Reads and Diane's 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: Do you have any furry friends? Share a picture!

At the present time I do not have any furry friends. I can't have any right now because of where I live. I'm hoping to move at some point in the reasonably near future, and I'll reevaluate the situation then. I'd really like to have a dog again.

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Review - The Left-Hand Way by Tom Doyle

Short review: Endicott goes to England, which is overrun with corruption. Dale goes to Japan and finds a hornet's nest of angry dead. Scherie goes to Turkey and is betrayed. But Roderick is in Kiev, and that's where everyone is headed for a showdown with evil.

To the world's corners
Ask where does magic come from?
Us and a dead world

Disclosure: I received this book as a review copy. 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: There is a world in which magical forces battle one another to determine the fate of nations. A world in which greedy and grasping practitioners of magic pursue immortality even if it will cost every life on the planet. A world in which those who are attuned to the "craft" can talk to their long dead relatives. A world in which the Spanish Armada was kept at bay in part by the efforts of Christopher Dee and the Normandy invasion had good weather because a stubborn American soldier surnamed Morton willed it to be so. A world in which the phenomenal success of Julius Ceasar and Napoleon Bonaparte was at least partially attributable to their supernatural transnational connection to the land. This world is the world of The Left-Hand Way. It might also be our world.

Major Michael Endicott returns for duty in The Left-Hand Way, the follow-up novel to Tom Doyle's American Craftsmen, as do both Dale and Scherie Morton. Unfortunately, both Roderick Morton and Madeline Morton also return to action, and this time the action isn't confined to the United States, as Roderick has bigger fish to fry than merely controlling the direction of the American Craft Services (as the magically inclined branch of the U.S. Armed Services are known). In the novel, Doyle expands both the cast of character and the magical world they inhabit while delivering a fast-paced world-spanning adventure that starts off with an arcane bang and doesn't let up until the sorcerous denouement.

The story starts off some time after the conclusion of American Craftsmen - evidenced by the fact that Scherie has completed her training and is now a full fledged member of the U.S. Armed forces, ready to be deployed on missions. And deployed she is, as are her husband Dale and their former rival turned friend Michael Endicott, scattering them across the globe. Scherie is sent to Istanbul to perform the extraction of a pair of craft personnel from a dangerous assignment. Endicott is sent to the United Kingdom to help ferret out traitors in MI13, Britain's equivalent to the U.S. Craft Services, and Dale travels to Japan on what seems to be somewhat less than fully official status to try and find out what happened to his father before he went insane and died.

While the story is something of an ensemble piece that rotates between the many cast members, the central protagonist is clearly Michael Endicott and not Dale or Scherie Morton, or even the newly introduced Grace Marlow, all of whom wind up almost reduced to the role of the Major's sidekicks by the end of the novel. Focusing on Endicott is one of the elements that makes The Left-Hand Way as good as it is, because the reader is able to watch the convincing transformation as he goes from being the insufferable self-righteous prig that he was when introduced in American Craftsman to the far less cocksure and more complex character that he becomes by the end of this novel. In retrospect it seems almost inevitable that a character from a family that seems to have spent most of its existence denying the reality of much of the magical world around them while also partaking of its benefits would undergo a character arc like Endicott's, but the deft manner in which this is handled by Doyle is what makes the transition seem so natural.

Dispersing the three main characters and the central antagonist around the world, Doyle is able to develop the world's magical landscape in an almost seamless fashion. Fracturing the story in this manner also allows multiple new characters to be introduced and developed - most notably the British craft practitioner Grace Marlow, descended from American slaves who threw in with the British during the U.S. Revolutionary War and then sailed to England, but also the Pythia, leader of the vast international network called the Oikumene, and Lara, a quirky Ukrainian woman with the power of foresight. As the story hops from England to Turkey to Japan to Greece to Korea to France to Russia, penultimately to the Ukraine and finally back to the U.S., the cast of characters expands, with each contributing just a little bit more to the picture of Doyle's fictional world.

Also widening the world is the fact that at least some of the story is told from the perspective of Roderick Morton, the master of the "left-hand" evil magic that seems to be mostly about avoiding death. Featuring this frightening but unfailingly polite Morton ancestor as a viewpoint character in the story gives Doyle the opportunity to present the reader with his side of the story, which almost seems reasonable if one doesn't count the terrible human cost of his actions. This also paradoxically both builds up Roderick as an imposing threat, and makes him seem almost buffoonish at times. On the one hand, Roderick's vast personal power is made painfully apparent every time he shows up in the novel, but on the other hand, his plan for gaining power seems to hinge upon an entirely unfounded assumption, which makes one question how someone who is intelligent enough to weave the intricate schemes that Roderick weaves could rely upon the gratitude of a dangerous entity from a world of nothing but death as his planned means of ascending to godlike power. Even this seeming almost foolishness on Roderick's part helps develop Doyle's magical reality, as one realizes that the cleverness of Roderick's plans stems not from his intelligence, but from his magical foresight, and without that foresight, he doesn't make very good decisions. Roderick is powerful, callous, and violent, but is also still a fallible human.

In my review of American Craftsmen I noted that the secretive nature of the pervasive governmental control over the lives of the American "fighting families" was almost certainly a corrupt system that would cause problems. While the extreme control over the "fighting families" seems to have relaxed just a tiny bit by the time of the events in The Left-Hand Way, the reflexively secret and paranoid nature of magical organizations across the globe is highlights in this volume. And when that paranoia is pushed along just a little bit by Roderick Morton, it results in chaos that substantially hinders the protagonists in their efforts by allowing the magical equivalent of fifth columnists to grow up unnoticed within almost every group of magically inclined individuals in the book. This may be a subtle commentary on the nature of secretive intelligence organizations - by their very nature they sow unrest. Trying to keep things hidden allows them to become corrupted and used as a weapon against the very people they were originally intended to protect.

American Craftsmen was, for the most part, Dale Morton's story, and was an exclusively American story focused almost entirely on concerns unique to the United States. The Left-Hand Way expands the world, opening a window onto the craft traditions of nations across the globe. The Left-Hand Way also raises the stakes, as the threat posed by the villains in the book goes from being merely the national crisis presented in American Craftsmen to a threat to every living thing on the planet in this volume. American Craftsmen was a good book that hinted at greater things. The Left-Hand Way delivers those promised greater things in a way that is both satisfying and leaves the reader looking forward to the next book in the series.

Previous book in the series: American Craftsmen
Subsequent book in the series: War and Craft

Potential 2016 Hugo Nominees

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