Friday, March 31, 2017

Review - An Asimov Companion: Characters, Places and Terms in the Robot/Empire/Foundation Metaseries by Donald E. Palumbo

Short review: An encyclopedia of characters, locations, events, and objects found in Asimov's metaseries. There is also an essay linking chaos theory and fractal geometry to the metaseries.

First, came the Robots
Then, the Galactic Empire
And last, Foundation

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

Full review: An Asimov Companion: Characters, Places, and Terms in the Robot/Empire/Foundation Metaseries is, for the most part, a reference work. The bulk of its length is taken up with what amounts to an encyclopedia covering essentially every notable character, location, object, and event found in Isaac Asimov's extended metaseries (and pretty much every non-notable character, location,, object, and event as well). Every entry gives a brief description of the subject, offering at least a sentence or two outlining who or what the entry is, and an explanation of how the subject fits into the larger body of Asimov's work. These entries are informative, but like Asimov's actual writing, have a tendency to be a little dry.

The opening section of the book consists of an introductory essay by Palumbo outlining the structure of the Robot/Empire/Foundation metaseries, and attempting to connect the metaseries to chaos theory and fractal geometry. For those who do not know, in the 1940s and 1950s, Asimov wrote three "trilogies" of stories: The "Robot" series, consisting of Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun and the short fiction contained in I, Robot. The "Galactic Empire" series was comprised of the books Pebble in the Sky, The Stars, Like Dust, and Currents in Space. The "Foundation" series was made up of Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. For many years, these series were, at best, only loosely related. In fact, the books of the "Galactic Empire" series were only loosely connected to one another, let alone to the books in the other two series. This changed in the 1980s when Asimov wrote a group of books consciously attempting to connect these disparate works together into a somewhat coherent whole. The added books - The Robots of Dawn, Prelude to Foundation, Forward the Foundation, Robots and Empire, Foundation's Edge, and Foundation and Earth - provided links intended to knit the earlier works together. Short fiction from two additional works, Robot Dreams and Robot Visions, was also woven into the metaseries.

Given that books such as Pebble in the Sky and I, Robot were originally published in 1950, while books like Foundation's Edge and Prelude to Foundation were not published until the 1980s, and most of the books don't seem to have been originally intended as part of a single imagined future history, the entire metaseries is a rickety structure at best. This makes Palumbo's attempts to evaluate the series as a coherent whole somewhat less than convincing - it seems far more probable that the recurring themes in Asimov's metaseries were the result of the fact that Asimov had a relatively limited bag of plot tricks that he would return to than that it was the result of an intention (or even just a happy accident) to create a nested fractal set that uses chaos theory as an organizing principle. Even when the books in the series are laid out in a chart purporting to provide a graphic representation of the fractal architecture of the series, the end result simply isn't convincing. The Robot/Empire/Foundation metaseries is a chaotic mess, but trying to force that mess into a fractal self-symmetry requires doing the equivalent of jamming a square peg into a round hole. This doesn't mean that the essay isn't an interesting read, but rather, like the metaseries itself, it is a structure that simply doesn't really hold up to close examination.

Palumbo's essay, as comprehensive as it tries to be, only takes up thirty pages of the book. As noted before, the bulk of the book is essentially an encyclopedia of the Robot/Empire/Foundation series, providing an alphabetical listing of pretty much every single person, place, object, or event found in the series. Every entry is accompanied by a a description that both details what it is, and also gives some context from the series. Although the text explaining each entry varies in length depending on the importance of the subject, they are all very much capsule descriptions, and in general offer only a cursory summary. Anyone who is not familiar with Asimov's works would almost certainly find the material presented in this book to be entirely opaque - I have read some similar reference works (most notably some of the Tolkien-related works of David Day) in which a reader who had not read the original works could piece together the story from the text provided. This book does not share that characteristic - I have read all of Asimov's works and some of the entries were almost unfamiliar to me - and as a result, this book is essentially of no real value to anyone who has not read or is not intending to read, the books that make up Asimov's metaseries. That said, for someone who is interested in the metaseries and desires a handy reference work, this book will fill that need quite effectively.

As far as I know, there aren't very many reference works for Asimov's oeuvre in general, and none that focus on the massive and ramshackle metaseries constructed , and consequently this book fills a niche that is at the very least sparsely populated. For those who are interested in the recurring themes in Asimov's work, Palumbo's essay is likely to be of interest, and for those who are in need of a reference to follow along with Asimov's Robot/Empire/Foundation metaseries, the rest of the volume is likely to be quite useful. Though this book is definitely more practically valuable than is is aesthetically pleasing, it is a handy volume to have around, and for an Asimov fan, well worth having.

Donald E. Palumbo     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review - Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1: The Shrike by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

Short review: Fox and the girl in the vulture cloak are on the run from Big Alice, and Deathface Ginny is right behind her.

A mason in love
Runs afoul of Death himself
Then he is punished

Full review: I must confess that I obtained this book almost solely because it was written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, and at this point I am pretty much willing to at least take a look at anything she writes. Pretty Deadly not only met the high expectations I have for work from DeConnick, it exceeded them. This is, quite bluntly, mythic storytelling that manages to be both epic in scale and simultaneously intensely personal. Told via a combination of tight and brilliant writing from DeConnick and stunningly beautiful and evocative artwork from Emma Rios, this story presents a violent and visceral enigma shrouded in mystery wrapped up in magic, gunfights, and swordplay.

There is a long tradition of Westerns mixing in mythic elements - from Stephen King's Dark Tower series and the movie Purgatory to more subtle examples such as High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider. Pretty Deadly draws upon this tradition and mixes in a helping of folklore that seems inspired, at least in part, by both the tall tales of the Old West and Native American mythology. This melange results in a story that reminds one of a variety of other stories, but isn't exactly like any of them. This seems to be a recurring pattern in Pretty Deadly: Some of the characters are reminiscent of archetypes from either traditional mythology or various familiar Westerns, but none of them exactly fit those molds. The mythic elements presented tend to remind one of a variety of stories from myth and folklore, but none of them are exactly the same as anything found in those sources. In the end, DeConnick and Rios have managed to create a story that is essentially new, but still feels familiar.

Set in no particular location other than "the Old West", at no particular time other than "when revolvers were the height of firearm technology", Pretty Deadly is a mythic Western that mixes folklore-influenced fairy-tale themes with the kind of grim and gritty gunslinger-mystique found in movies like Unforgiven or programs like Deadwood. The tale follows Sissy, the girl in the Vulture Cloak, and Fox, a blind man who can see, as they are set up by a man named Johnny Coyote and have to flee from both Death's servant Big Alice and Death's daughter Deathface Ginny. The story is part revenge tale, part love story, and part apocalypse, all mixed together into a delicious stew that seems impossible and by all normal logic should be entirely nonviable, and yet fits together so perfectly that the result is sublime in its excellence.

Given that Death is a major character in the story, it is almost inevitable that comparisons with Neil Gaiman's Sandman series will be made, and while they are not entirely unwarranted and Pretty Deadly stacks up favorably to the tales of Dream, DeConnick and Rios definitely carve their own path with this book. Where Sandman is often subtle, focusing on intrigue and trickery, Pretty Deadly is often starkly brutal. The characters in this book are generally direct - even their attempts at deception are generally about as subtle are a slug to the gut or a sword thrust through the skull. Violence and death pervade the story: As minor a detail as the framing device used to set up the action, featuring a butterfly telling the story as an oral fable to a bunny, opens with a moment of sudden violence, prompting the bunny to make the understatement of the year when it tells the butterfly that it was afraid of a human girl only "for a moment".

Despite this pervasive brutality, the story is still full of mystery, in large part because many of the characters don't actually know what is going on, and as a result, the reader shares their confusion. Adding to the chaos, several of the characters have something to hide, and only grudgingly give out the information they possess. This atmosphere also reinforces the underlying theme of the story, that something is fundamentally wrong with the world itself, and because this was the result of the actions of one of the characters in the book, it is up to the characters in the book to set things to rights. The whole book is drenched in an aura of chaos and uncertainty, which one might think would be a detriment, but instead propels it forward, as the mystery pushes the reader from page to page to uncover the next tidbit of lore that has been hiding, in some cases in plain sight. What makes this so very delicious is that every time one question is answered, that answer both seems completely natural and also poses yet more questions at the same time.

As good as it is, the story itself is not the only thing makes this book so good. Instead, the way the story is told elevates it beyond the merely ordinary. One problem some graphic stories have is that they try to explain everything that is going on, seemingly ignoring the fact that the story is being told with a visual medium. DeConnick does not fall into this trap, providing the reader with extremely spare text and allowing the beautiful and arresting artwork provided by Emma Rios to carry much of the story-telling load. This is not to say that DeConnick's text falls down on the job, but rather that the text serves to complement the art rather than dominate it. There are many graphic novels that struggle to find the balance between text and artwork, but in Pretty Deadly, DeConnick and Rios have achieved it in a way that they make seem almost effortless.

Full of eerie atmosphere and a folklore-themed story, The Shrike is an excellent beginning to the Pretty Deadly series. One oddity is that although Deathface Ginny is ostensibly the main character of the story (with the title of the series being something of a play on words that references her directly), and the background folktale that underpins the action in the book is essentially about her origin, the book's contents feel much more like an ensemble piece, with Ginny being an important character, but just one among many. The story is, however, an excellent ensemble piece: A love story gone wrong that leads to another love story gone wrong that leads to a love story gone right, with violence, death, and obsession running through it all and everything presented with terse but brilliant prose accompanied by beautiful and evocative artwork.

Subsequent book in the series: Pretty Deadly, Vol. 2: The Bear by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

Kelly Sue DeConnick     Emma Rios     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

2017 Prometheus Award Nominees

Location: Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, Finland.

Comments: Once again, the Prometheus Award seems to be the Scottish Socialist Award, with two finalists by Ken MacLeod. I've mentioned this before, but this seems like yet another example of the definition of "science fiction books that examine the meaning of freedom" being interpreted so incredibly broadly that there is essentially no real ideological meaning behind the Prometheus Award. As far as I can tell, there is no way to identify any science fiction book as being one that would not qualify for the Prometheus Award, which begs the question: What purpose does the Prometheus Award serve? Looking through the books that are nominated, there doesn't seem to be any identifiable ideological bent behind the award any more, which makes it more or less just another general science fiction award that happens to be voted upon by the members of and handed out by the Libertarian Futurist Society. There's nothing wrong with being a general science fiction award, but unless the Prometheus Award wants to be a kind of cut-rate Hugo Award with an even more specialized electorate, there doesn't seem to be much that really distinguishes the award from most of the other general science fiction awards right now.

Best Novel

The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo (translated by Lola Rogers)

The Corporation Wars: Dissidence by Ken MacLeod
The Corporation Wars: Insurgence by Ken MacLeod
The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver
Blade of p’Na by L. Neil Smith

Other Nominees:
Angeleyes by Michael Z. Williamson
Arkwright by Allen M. Steele
Dark Age by Felix Hartmann
Kill Process by William Hertling
Morning Star by Pierce Brown
Necessity by Jo Walton
On to the Asteroid by Travis S. Taylor and Les Johnson
Speculator by Doug Casey and John Hunt
Through Fire by Sarah Hoyt
Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer
Written in Fire by Marcus Sakey

Hall of Fame

Coventry by Robert A. Heinlein

As Easy as A.B.C. by Rudyard Kipling
Conquest by Default by Vernor Vinge
Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut
Starfog by Poul Anderson
With Folded Hands . . . by by Jack Williamson

Other Nominees:
The End of the Line by James H. Schmitz
The Exit Door Leads In by Philip K. Dick
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Island Worlds by Eric Kotani and John Maddox Roberts
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Manna by Lee Correy
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula Le Guin (reviewed in The Hugo Winners: Volume 3, Book 2)
A Time of Changes by Robert Silverberg

Previous year's nominees: 2016
Subsequent year's nominees: 2018

Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, March 27, 2017

Musical Monday - Pregnant Women Are Smug by Garfunkel & Oates

So, she's really on her way. I mean, I already knew she was coming, but so often it seems kind of abstract at the point, and there's nothing like photographs to remind you of the reality of the fact that she'll be here in August. The redhead had her twenty week ultrasound today, and as a result, I have several new pictures of my impending daughter. She waved, tried to eat her foot, and rolled over for us. She's perfect and adorable, and I can't wait until she is here.

Despite the song, the redhead isn't really smug. At least she's not any more smug than she is at any other time. She is, however, really quite tired all the time, which is pretty much to be expected. I don't think she has told anyone that she doesn't remember what she did before she was pregnant because it all seems so meaningless now, mostly because she currently spending a lot of time complaining about how annoying being pregnant is and looking forward to the end of the process. The song by Garfunkel & Oates is still hilarious though.

Previous Musical Monday: Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry
Subsequent Musical Monday: Chicken Attack by the Gregory Brothers featuring Takeo Ishii

Garfunkel & Oates     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Book Blogger Hop March 24th - March 30th: Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, Norm Coleman, and Ruth Bader-Ginsburg All Attended P.S. 197 in Brooklyn, New York

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: How do you handle negative comments left on your blog?

I moderate all comments on my blogs. I didn't always do this, but over the last couple of years, the science fiction community has been plagued by a group calling themselves variously "Sad Puppies" and "Rabid Puppies". If you are familiar with "GamerGate", then just imagine if that sort of gang of racist, sexist, homophobic dullards were vaguely interested in science fiction and fantasy literature, and decided to turn their hate spewing on to pretty much everyone else in that particular fandom.

The Puppies have spent much of their time trying to manipulate the Hugo Awards, with the whole story being long and somewhat convoluted. The salient point here is that many of the various Pups took it upon themselves to spread vitriol among those fans who were not aligned with their particular brand of douchebaggery, and a few popped up in the comments here. I always made it a policy to delete comments that I considered to be beyond the pale in terms of civility (and sometimes would delete comments that were simply incoherent or inane), but that would sometimes take a few hours, or even days if I was away from my computer for a while. During the recent unpleasantness, I changed to having all comments go through moderation first and I have basically adopted a policy of simply deleting any particularly nasty or negative comments before they even see the light of day.

The policy here is simply this: My space, my rules. I may or may not allow a comment to be posted, depending on whether I think it adds something useful, interesting, insightful, or even just innocuous to the conversation. Anyone who doesn't like that, can go and post whatever they want on their own space.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: The Rosetta Stone Was Created in 196 B.C.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Random Thought - My Nominations for the 2017 Hugo Awards

This past Friday, March 17th, was the deadline for submitting nominations for the 2017 Hugo Awards. Listed below are my nominations in each category. I probably forgot some things that I should have nominated in place of some of the things on here - in fact, in some cases, I know I did, although I will never reveal which ones.

On the whole, however, I am satisfied with my choices. I don't think this is likely to be close to what the actual final ballot looks like. I don't think my tastes in science fiction and related areas are that far out of the mainstream, but I do have some idiosyncrasies that ensure that some of my choices are going to be outliers. It will certainly be interesting to compare this to the actual ballot when it is released in April.

One wrinkle this year is that there is an experimental category for the awards: Best Series. Of all the categories this year, I am most lukewarm on my set of nominations in this one, mostly because I am kind of lukewarm on the entire category. I only keep up with a handful of book series, mostly because of time limitations, and as a result, there weren't a whole lot of choices other than those I made that I could have selected. I like all the series that I nominated, but I am generally not all that comfortable with a category that I feel I have such a limited range of viable options to choose from.

Best Novel

An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows
Cloudbound by Fran Wilde
Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

Best Novella

Down and Out in Purgatory by Tim Powers
The Dream-Quest of Velitt Boe by Kij Johnson
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
The Heart Is Eaten Last by Kameron Hurley
A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Best Novelette

The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde
Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker
The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho
Touring with the Alien by Carolyn Ives Gilman
You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay by Alyssa Wong

Best Short Story

A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong
Red in Tooth and Cog by Cat Rambo
A Salvaging of Ghosts by Aliette de Bodard
Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar
You Are Not the Hero of this Story by Caroline M. Yoachim

Best Related Work

The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
Michael Moorcock: Fiction, Fantasy, and the World's Pain by Mark Scroggins
Modern Masters of Science Fiction: Octavia Butler by Gerry Canavan
Nobody Owns the Moon: The Ethics of Space Exploration by Tony Milligan

Best Graphic Story

Pretty Deadly, Volume 2: The Bear by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios
Rat Queens, Volume 3: Demons by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Sex Criminals, Volume 3: Three the Hard Way by Matt Fraction
Saga, Volume Six by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples

Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form

Captain America: Civil War
Hidden Figures
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form

Daredevil: New York's Finest
The Expanse: Leviathan Wakes
Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards
Luke Cage: Manifest
Stranger Things: The Upside Down

Best Professional Editor: Short Form

C.C. Finlay
David Steffan
Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
Sean Wallace
Sheila Williams

Best Professional Editor: Long Form

Marco Palmieri
Diana Pho
Joe Monti
Miriam Weinberg
Navah Wolfe

Best Professional Artist

Julie Dillon
Tess Fowler
Jeph Jacques
Elizabeth Leggett
Fiona Staples

Best Semi-Prozine

Daily Science Fiction
Lightspeed Magazine
Strange Horizons
Uncanny Magazine

Best Fanzine

Chaos Horizon
Galactic Journey
Journey Planet
Lady Business
Rocket Stack Rank

Best Fan Writer

Alexandra Erin
Camestros Felapton
Natalie Luhrs
Foz Meadows
Alexandra Pierce

Best Fan Artist

Liz Argail
Grace Fong

Best Fancast

The Audio Guide to Babylon 5
Down and Safe
Galactic Suburbia
Under Discussion: The Under Gopher Podcast

Best Series

The Expanse by James S.A. Corey (first volume in the series: Leviathan Wakes)
Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente
God's War by Kameron Hurley
Magic ex Libris by Jim C. Hines
Xuya by Aliette de Bodard

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Charlotte Ashley
N.S. Dolkart
Carrie Patel
Natasha Pulley
Kelly Robson

What Are the Hugo Awards?

Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, March 20, 2017

Musical Monday - Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry died this past weekend. He was ninety, which is a good run for anyone. His music, however, will outlive him by eons, in part because a recording of Johnny B. Goode was included on the golden discs that were sent into space on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. On Berry's sixtieth birthday in 1986, Carl Sagan and Anne Druyan sent him a letter which read:
When they tell you your music will live forever, you can usually be sure they're exaggerating. But Johnny B. Goode is on the Voyager interstellar records attached to NASA's Voyager spacecraft - now two billion miles from Earth and bound for the stars. These records will last a billion years or more.

Happy 60th birthday, with our admiration for the music you have given to this world . . .

Go, Johnny, go.
Chuck Berry may be gone, but I like to imagine that a hundred million years from now, some distant spacefaring alien race will find one of the Voyager spacecraft adrift in the interstellar void, figure out how to use the golden record attached to it, and his music will live on.

Previous Musical Monday: Glenwood Canyon by C.W. McCall
Subsequent Musical Monday: Pregnant Women Are Smug by Garfunkel & Oates

Chuck Berry     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Book Blogger Hop March 17th - March 23rd: The Rosetta Stone Was Created in 196 B.C.

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 a lot of diverse or own voices books? Why or why not?

Absolutely. I generally read science fiction and fantasy, although I read a fair amount of history, historical fiction, and science as well. Within those genres, I read from a broad spectrum of authors, ranging from authors like N.K. Jemisin and Samuel R. Delany to Cixin Liu and Alyssao Wong to Fran Wilde and Alethea Kontis to Tom Doyle and Larry Niven. I read from a wide range, in part because that is simply the landscape of good books that I have found, but also in part because I have made an intentional choice to read broadly. Authors of different backgrounds and experiences have different perspectives, and as a result, write books that offer a different reading experience.

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, March 13, 2017

Musical Monday - Glenwood Canyon by C.W. McCall

This song is to remind people that there was a time when people on the conservative end of the spectrum in the United States had leanings that tended towards conservationism and even environmentalism. Listen to McCall's1 sadness when he says "It was only a matter of time" as he contemplates the exploitation and eventual destruction of Glenwood Canyon. He knows that a beautiful and unspoiled place is inevitably going to be overwhelmed by the demands of humanity, and knows there is nothing he can do to stop it.

Once upon a time, conservatives in the government made it a priority to protect and preserve the national heritage for future generations. Many conservatives held the notion that maybe squeezing the last dollar of profit out of the land wasn't the greatest idea if it meant that the land would be a polluted wasteland afterward. They espoused the idea that we could have both clean air and clean water and, when properly regulated, business could continue to prosper without destroying the natural world around us. Somewhere along the way, this strain of conservatism seems to have fallen away, leaving behind only the aggressively pro-business conservatism that we have now.

Once upon a time, Ulysses Grant created the first national park to preserve the natural wonders of the United States. Once upon a time, Nixon created the EPA to clean up the air and water of the country. But now, with the current conservative movement, it is only a matter of time.

1 C.W. McCall was actually an invented persona created for an ad campaign for Old Home Bread from the Metz Baking Company. The voice is that of Bill Fries, who did all the singing and voice work for McCall.

Previous Musical Monday: 22,000 Days by the Moody Blues
Subsequent Musical Monday: Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry

C.W. McCall     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Book Blogger Hop March 10th - March 16th: Mithridates I, the Great King of Parthia, Was Born in 195 B.C.

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: How far in advance do you read the books you have scheduled for review?

As I have noted before, I refuse to commit to any kind of reviewing schedule, which is why I never participate in blog tours or any similar kind of scheduled reviewing. For the most part, I review books within a week of reading them, in some cases, I review a book within a day or two of finishing it. When I am reviewing a collection of short fiction, I usually review the book as I am reading it, writing reviews for each piece of short fiction as I work through the larger anthology.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: The Rosetta Stone Was Created in 196 B.C.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Review - The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

Short review: Zan has no memory, but Jayd assures her that her destiny is to claim the world of Mokshi. Then things get brutal and weird.

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: Some books are simply difficult to review. The Stars Are Legion is one of those books. This is not due to any deficiency in the book, but rather because, to a certain extent, even discussing what makes this book so very good will ruin the reading experience for someone. This is a book with secrets inside of secrets, and following along as the characters uncover the answers to them is a significant part of what makes this book so fascinating, in large part because the answers both feel so naturally correct, and are so unexpected at the same time. This book is, in many ways, a masterpiece of misdirection and discovery packed into a gripping space opera complete with armies dueling in the coldness of space, monsters to evade, political intrigue, romance, betrayals, and revelations.

The central characters in the story are Zan and Jayd, ostensibly two lovers and co-conspirators working on a plan of sorts to take control of the Legion by conquering the world named Mokshi. The story is told from their perspectives, with chapters alternating between their respective viewpoints. The mystery in the story revolves mostly around exactly what that allegedly shared objective is, because at the start of the book Zan has lost her memory, and the only information she has is that provided to her by Jayd. This makes Zan something of a stand-in for the reader, as she has essentially exactly the same amount of information about the world as the reader does, but it also introduces an element of uncertainty, as neither Zan nor the reader can ever be sure that Jayd is actually telling them the truth. This uncertainty is compounded by the fact that Jayd assures Zan than it is better that she not remember her past, because when she remembers, she goes insane.

Hurley is an uncompromising writer who simply throws her readers into the story without much in the way of explanation, trusting that they will be able to figure out her world as the story moves along. In The Stars Are Legion, this style enhances the effect of Zan's confusion, putting the reader alongside the memory-impaired protagonist as she moves through a world that is alien and at times bewildering. This also works well when the story is told from Jayd's viewpoint, as Jayd spends much of her time plotting and scheming, but little time thinking about the ultimate objective of her intrigues, or what the larger meaning of her actions might be. The net effect of this chaos is a story that feels completely immersive, while also feeling disjointed and frightening. Zan fights, struggles, and otherwise endures for reasons that, for the most part, she doesn't understand, working towards an unknown goal. Jayd, for her part, provides almost no illumination on these subjects, holding her cards so close to her own chest in an almost paranoid self-defense, terrified to give anything away, even to herself. The only real guidance the reader receives, apart from the discoveries made in the story by the characters, is brief quotes from "Lord Mokshi" found at the beginning of each chapter, and even those serve to heighten the feeling of unease and and disquiet that permeates much of the book.

At the outset, Zan is told that she and Jayd are part of a family of warriors named the Katazyrnas, and they are in conflict with another family known as the Bhavajas, both named after the worlds they inhabit, floating among the many worlds of the Legion. But the worlds each family inhabits are slowly dying, and to tilt the struggle in the Katazyrna's favor, Zan is told she must seize the rogue world Mokshi, a feat she is told she is uniquely suited for, although she is not told why. Through twists and turns, Zan and Jayd are separated, with Zan embarking on a journey through Katazyrna, while Jayd finds herself trying to survive among the Bhajavas on their world. In the course of their respective journeys, Zan discovers that she (and the other Katazyrnas, and many of the other people in the Legion) may not truly understand the living worlds that they inhabit, while Jayd discovers that her plans and schemes may not be quite as clever as she had believed them to be. These voyages of discovery form the heart of the story, and through them, Hurley lays out how the assumptions made by the characters lead them astray, but also how they react when they are shown that what they believed turned out to be wrong.

While Zan and Jayd are at the center of the book, the supporting characters that surround them are what gives the story its emotional and intellectual heft. Through her travels Zan acquires a retinue of companions, each pushed outside of their comfort zone by the journey, and each responds in a different manner to the unknown. Das Muni, Casamir, and Arankadash each leave their familiar haunts and accompany Zan as she works her way through Katazyrna, but each makes this choice for a different reason, and each deals with the world in a distinctly different way: Where Casamir is curious and adventurous, Das Muni is timid and afraid. Casamir relies upon what she views as science, while Arankadesh places her trust in faith and tradition. Each of them has a perfectly reasonable basis for their world view, and yet each of them also brings wholly irrational prejudices to the table as well. Jayd's story has fewer truly compelling characters - her plotline is dominated by Anat, the leader of the Katazyrnas, and Rasida, the leader of the Bhajavas, and how the two women wield their power in very different ways. Most of Jayd's story revolves around the sacrifices one must make for their goals, and how even the best laid plans can go wildly awry if one miscalculates the intentions of others.

Lurking even behind the obvious set of supporting characters is yet another layer - the worlds themselves are alive, and in conjunction with the mysterious and misshapen witches, influence the course of events in accord with their own needs and designs. While many imagined science fictional universes contemplate a future in which biological elements are replaced by clean mechanical processes, Hurley's future is messy, full of living (and dying) biotechnology. The worlds are alive, and the women who inhabit them (and all of the inhabitants are women) are not so much living symbiotically with them, but are an integral part of their functioning, necessary to replace parts of the worlds as needed. This reality gives the entire story a somewhat creepy, and definitely icky feel, which is enhanced by the fact that no one, except maybe the witches actually understands how the worlds everyone lives within work, or how they are connected to the women in the story, and if they do know, the witches aren't telling. Like everything else about the world in The Stars Are Legion this seems to be calculated to be as disorienting as possible, putting the reader on edge throughout the book. This effectively puts the reader in much the same position as Zan, and serves to heighten the tension that one feels when reading the book.

The book only has one real misstep, and that takes place close to the end after Zan and Jayd undergo their respective journeys, when the book is reaching its climax. At that point, a narrator of sorts appears on the scene to basically do a giant exposition dump, explaining the meaning of much of the story. This scene is so at odds with the tone of the rest of the novel that it feels jarring, almost like Hurley got to this point of the story and decided it was time to wrap things up in a few pages. Given the strength of the storytelling in the rest of the book, this is a somewhat minor quibble, but it does stick out, and since it is near the end of the book, it leaves a lasting impression.

The Stars Are Legion is a deeply unsettling book, but it is deeply unsettling in one of the best possible ways. One of the best things done by good science fiction is that it takes fanciful ideas and explores the full range of their ramifications. In this book, Hurley tackles a number of such ideas and takes them to their completely logical, although completely disturbing conclusions. Even though the story doesn't really have a happy ending, it does have a satisfying one. Even though this book is often creepy and disturbing, it is a glimpse into an intriguingly designed world full of complex and fascinating characters, and overall it is an excellent read.

2018 Locus Award Nominees

2018 Hugo Award Longlist

Kameron Hurley     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, March 6, 2017

Musical Monday - 22,000 Days by the Moody Blues

The impending birth of my third child made me think about this song. I never thought about my own mortality in the context of my first two children, because they were born when I was much younger. Right now, my son is eighteen (and will be nineteen in just over two months), while my daughter is seventeen. By the time I die, they will likely be well-established as adults.

Graeme Edge, who wrote the song, is a little off on his math, although that is probably partially due to the fact that the song was written in the late 1970s and life expectancies have changed. If the song were written now, it would probably be something like 29,000 days. The point, however, remains: Our time is finite, and can be measured in something as mundane as the length of a day, which somehow makes it more immediate than the usual method of measuring lifespans in years. I think this is because we make decisions on a regular basis about how we spend a particular day, but a year is so abstracted from our regular decision-making that we don't really think about how we spent our year. We don't think about how that one day represents a fraction of the time we have, but this song hits you square in the face with that reality.

When my third child is born, I will already be forty-eight. With my first two children, I figured that absent some accidental death in a car wreck or airplane crash or something similar, I would be around for their entire childhoods and well into their adult years. With Sophie, on the other hand, I kind of worry that I'll run out of days. I have already spent about 17,500 of my days. If I live a normal life span, I have fewer than 12,000 days left - I have lived more days already than I am likely to continue living from this point going forward. If I live that long, Sophie will be 32 when I die. I hope I can see more of her life than that, but if that's all I get, it will have to do.

Subsequent Musical Monday: Glenwood Canyon by C.W. McCall

The Moody Blues     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, March 5, 2017

1984 Hugo Longlist

The 1984 Hugo "Longlist" is actually an artificial construct. The Hugo Award administrator from 1984 did not release the statistics behind the nominations. Instead, due to an odd fluke, the raw nominating data for the year was made public, meaning that the statistics could be reconstructed by someone enterprising enough to sit down and tabulate the results by hand. For these statistics, I have a dedicated science fiction fan to thank, because she sent me this data when she learned I was compiling the available Hugo Longlist statistics into a single set of posts. I am immensely grateful that she decided to share her work with me for this project.

One interesting side-effect of the way this data was generated is that the list provided to me contains far more nominees than normal for the Hugo statistics. In keeping with the standard set by the Constitution of the World Science Fiction Society, I have only listed the top fifteen nominees in each category, including all nominees that happen to have been tied for fifteenth place. Because it is interesting, I will list the remaining nominees in a supplemental post on a future date. Update: Here is the list of Expanded Nominees). Additionally, I note that the data provided to me was much more complete than the data provided by many of the "official" releases of the statistics - for example, the data provided included the identities of the editors of the nominees for the Best Semi-Prozine and Best Fanzine categories. Unfortunately, this data appears to be the last bit of information that is readily accessible concerning the Hugo Longlists of the past, so unless I am able to turn up some additional sets of statistics, this will likely be the last historical Longlist I can add to the array.

Best Novel

Millennium by John Varley
Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov
Startide Rising by David Brin [winner]
Tea with the Black Dragon by R.A. MacAvoy

Longlisted Nominees:
Against Infinity by Gregory Benford
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
The Armageddon Rag by George R.R. Martin
The Citadel of the Autarch by Gene Wolfe
Helliconia Summer by Brian Aldiss
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Orion Shall Rise by Poul Anderson
Superluminal by Vonda N. McIntyre
Thendara House by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Void Captain’s Tale by Norman Spinrad

Best Novella

Cascade Point by Timothy Zahn [winner]
Claude Hurricane by Hilbert Schenck
Hardfought by Greg Bear
In the Face of My Enemy by Joseph Delaney
Seeking by David R. Palmer

Longlisted Nominees:
Aquila Meets Bigfoot by Somtow Sucharitkul
The Curse of the Smalls and the Stars by Fritz Lieber
Eszterhazy and the Autogondola-Invention by Avram Davidson
Gilpin’s Space by Reginald Bretnour
The Gospel According to Gamaliel Crucis by Michael Bishop
Her Habiline Husband by Michael Bishop
Homefaring by Robert Silverberg
The Lord of the Skies by Frederik Pohl
The Napoleon Crime by Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson
Transit by Vonda N. McIntyre

Best Novelette

Black Air by Kim Stanley Robinson
Blood Music by Greg Bear [winner]
The Monkey Treatment by George R.R. Martin
The Sidon in the Mirror by Connie Willis
Slow Birds by Ian Watson

Longlisted Nominees
The Black Current by Ian Watson
Blind Shemmy by Jack Dann
The Final Report of the Lifeline Experiment by Timothy Zahn
Hearts Do Not in Eyes Shine by John Kessel
In Whose Name Do We Seek the Quark? by Thomas R. Dulski
Martha Belling by Leigh Kennedy
The Mind of Medea by Kate Wilhelm
Red Star, Winter Orbit by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
Remembering Siri by Dan Simmons
Street Meat by Norman Spinrad
Warlord by Timothy Zahn

Best Short Story

The Geometry of Narrative by Hilbert Schenck
The Peacemaker by Gardner Dozois
Servant of the People by Frederik Pohl
Speech Sounds by Octavia E. Butler [winner]
Wong’s Lost and Found Emporium by William F. Wu

Longlisted Nominees
$call link4(cathy) by Cherie Wilkerson
Beyond the Dead Reef by James Tiptree, Jr.
Deborah’s Children by Grant D. Callin
Her Furry Face by Leigh Kennedy
Involuntary Man’s Laughter by Spider Robinson
Man-Mountain Gentian by Howard Waldrop
Nearly Departed by Pat Cadigan
Not an Affair by Theodore Sturgeon
Soulsaver by James Stevens
Spending a Day at the Lottery Fair by Frederik Pohl
Spook by Bruce Sterling

Best Nonfiction, Related, or Reference Work

Dream Makers, Volume II by Charles Platt
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Volume 3 by Donald H. Tuck [winner]
The Fantastic Art of Rowena by Rowena Morrill
The High Kings by Joy Chant
Staying Alive: A Writer’s Guide by Norman Spinrad

Longlisted Nominees:
Amber Dreams: A Roger Zelazny Bibliography by Daniel Levack
The Castle of the Otter by Gene Wolfe
Dark Valley Destiny: The Life of Robert E. Howard by L. Sprague de Camp, Catherine Cook de Camp, and Jane Whittington Griffin
Minus Ten and Counting by Jordin Kare, Julia Ecklar, Leslie Fish, et al.
The NESFA Index, 1982 by NESFA
Over My Shoulder by Lloyd A. Esbach
Philip K. Dick edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph Olander
The SF Book of Lists by Maxim Jacubowski and Malcolm Edwards
Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas by Dale Pollock
Talbot Mundy: Messenger of Destiny by Donald M. Grant
Uranian Worlds by E. Garber and L. Paleo
Worlds Beyond: The Art of Chesley Bonestall by Frederick Durant

Best Dramatic Presentation

Return of the Jedi [winner]
The Right Stuff
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Longlisted Nominees:
Blue Thunder
Dark Crystal [ineligible]
The Day After
The Dead Zone
Doctor Who: The Five Doctors Krull
Liquid Sky [ineligible]
Superman III
Twilight Zone: The Movie

Best Professional Editor

Terry Carr
Edward L. Ferman
David G. Hartwell
Shawna McCarthy [winner]
Stanley Schmidt

Longlisted Nominees:
Susan Allison
Jim Baen
Ellen Datlow
Judy-Lynn del Rey
Jim Frenkel
Charles L. Grant
T.E.D. Klein
George Scithers
Donald A. Wollheim
Howard Zimmerman

Best Professional Artist

Val Lakey Lindahn
Don Maitz
Rowena Morrill
Barclay Shaw
Michael Whelan [winner]

Longlisted Nominees:
Vincent Di Fate
Kelly Freas
Dell Harris
Kevin Johnson
Thomas Kidd
Carl Lundgren
David Mattingly
Victoria Poyser
Darrell Sweet
Boris Vallejo

Best Semi-Prozine

Fantasy Newsletter/Fantasy Review edited by Robert A. Collins
Locus edited by Charles N. Brown [winner]
SF Chronicle edited by Andrew Porter
SF Review edited by Richard E. Geis
Whispers edited by Stuart Schipf

Longlisted Nominees:
Cinefantastique edited by Fred S. Clarke
Fantasy Book edited by Nick Smith and Dennis Mallonee
Foundation edited by David Pringle, Ian Watson, and John Clute
Mile High Futures edited by Leanne C. Harper
The Patchin Review edited by Charles Platt
Rigel Science Fiction edited by Eric Vinicoff
Shayol edited by Pat Cadigan and Arnie Fenner
Space & Time edited by Gordon Linzer
Starlog edited by Kerry O’Quinn
Starship edited by Andrew Porter
Weirdbook edited by Ganley W. Paul

Best Fanzine

Ansible edited by Dave Langford
File 770 edited by Mike Glyer [winner]
Holier Than Thou edited by Marty Cantor
Izzard edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Teresa Nielsen Hayden
The Philk Fee-Nom-Ee-Non edited by Paul J. Willett

Longlisted Nominees:
Aurora edited by Diane Martin
Boonfark edited by Dan Steffan
The Dillinger Relic edited by Arthur Hlavaty
Instant Message edited by NESFA
Interstat edited by Teri Meyer and Ann Crouch
Kantele edited by Margaret Middleton
Lan's Lantern edited by George Lazkowski
Mainstream edited by J. Kaufman and S. Tompkins
Outworlds edited by Bill Bowers
Q36 edited by Marc Ortlieb
The Texas SF Inquirer edited by Pat Mueller

Best Fan Writer

Richard E Geis
Mike Glyer [winner]
David Hlavaty
David Langford
Teresa Nielsen-Hayden

Longlisted Nominees:
Claire Anderson
Richard Bergeron
Don D'Ammassa
Leslie Fish
George Lazkowski
Mark R. Leeper
Eric Mayer
Marc Ortlieb
Andrew Porter
Ted White
Paul J. Willett

Best Fan Artist

Brad W. Foster
Alexis Gilliland [winner]
Joan Hanke-Woods
William Rotsler
Stu Shiffman

Longlisted Nominees:
Lela Dowling
Kurt Erichsen
Phil Foglio
Steve Fox
Jeanne Gomoll
Linda Leach
Marc Schirmeister
Dan Steffan
Arthur Thompson
Mel White
Charles Williams

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Joseph Delaney
Lisa Goldstein
R.A. MacAvoy [winner]
Warren G. Norwood
Joel Rosenberg
Sheri S. Tepper
Timothy Zahn [ineligible]

Longlisted Nominees:
Robin W. Bailey
Steven R. Boyett
David Brin [ineligible]
Steven Brust
Ann Crispin
John De Chancie
Robert W. Franson
Barbara Hambly
P.C. Hodgell [ineligible]
M. Bradley Kellogg
Sandra Miesel
Kim Stanley Robinson [ineligible]
Lucius Shepard
Dan Simmons

Go to subsequent year's longlist: 1989

Go to 1984 Hugo Finalists and Winners

Go to 1984 Expanded Nominees

Hugo Longlist Project     Book Award Reviews     Home

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Book Blogger Hop March 3rd - March 9th: U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 Is Cited as the Basis for the Palestinian Right of Return

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: When you start reading a novel, do you prefer to be plunged right into the action, or do you prefer a slower, more descriptive introduction to the plot and characters?

I have enjoyed books that begin both ways, but in general I think I tend to prefer books that just throw the reader into the story and trust that they will figure out what is going on as the plot is underway. I am generally a big fan of stories that start in media res, which I suppose is pretty much the apotheosis of the "plunge right in" kind of story.

One caveat is that it takes a skilled writer to pull this sort of story structure off. Just jumping into the story straightaway means that things like worldbuilding and character development have to be done as part of the flow of the narrative. When this is done well, it is incredible, and makes for a book that flows along at an almost effortless clip. This can be done very badly, however, and when it is done badly, a book just falls apart.

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