Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Single Samurai by Steven Diamond

 Warning: Spoilers ahead. 

This story follows a samurai's attempt to kill a monster the size of a mountain that is terrorizing his country.

I thought that the premise of this story was interesting.

There was nothing else about this story that really drew me in. The writing style was neither amazing nor terrible. The setting was glossed over. The story was almost painfully straightforward. It did not inspire any real emotions. I just did not find anything about this story that was memorable.

Part of why I was not drawn in is that I did not feel any real connection with the main character since he made choices that I thought were dumb. I could not figure out why he thought it would be a good idea to spend any time in a cave. Keep in mind that the monster is the size of a mountain and in fact has layers of dirt and rocks and even trees growing on it. Every step of this monster causes the dirt, rocks and trees to fall off. There is a high chance of that cave collapsing or falling off entirely. Why would you choose to stay there for hours on end?

Although I tried, I was not able to put my annoyance at this aside completely. Then he ducked into another cave and happened to find the brain of the monster. Which, of course, is the key to killing the monster.

I had a really hard time with the ending. Not the way that he kills the monster - that was clearly set up previously and followed logically (once I figured out what was going on). More that when the samurai saw the brain, he had no idea what to do. His mind was a blank slate. The next sentence, he had shoved his sword into the monster's brain and that was, of course, the correct action. Since there was no preface to the action and almost no explanation afterwards, I had to read it a couple times to make sure that I really understood what was happening. I finished the story feeling annoyed with the main character again.

Overall, it was just another short story that I can say that I've read.

Do I think A Single Samurai by Steven Diamond is award worthy?
Current rankings for Best Short Story:
1. Totaled
3. On a Spiritual Plain
5. No Award

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

This is yet another category that I am not going to vote in.

In this case, not because I can't judge quality but because I don't have access to the episodes that have been nominated.

None of the shows are on Netflix streaming. In the instances that the shows are on Hulu, the right episodes were not available. The exception is The Flash pilot, but only for people with Hulu Plus which I don't have.

I even checked my local library. The correct seasons for Doctor Who, The Flash, Grimm and Orphan Black aren't even available. Game of Thrones is there, but with a mile long wait list.

To make it worse, I have no cable of any kind. Our TV isn't even set up to receive local cable. So even if there were reruns, I would not be able to see them.

If anyone has a suggestion for how I can (legally) watch these episodes for free, I'd welcome it. Otherwise, I just will not be voting in this category.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Totaled by Kary English

 Warning: Spoilers ahead.

In this story, the main character is in a car accident that kills her body. But, we quickly find out, her brain is being kept alive through a method that she and her partner developed. She figures out a way to communicate with her partner (difficult since the only part of her left is her brain) and together they keep working on their project. Among other things, they figure out a way to allow a brain to "see" using another person's eyes.

Tragically, from the beginning the partners know that they have very limited time - they know how to keep a brain alive after the body has died and to slow the deterioration of the functionality of that brain, but not to keep it alive indefinitely.

There is some science talk in this story, but it was unobtrusive and easy to understand. It was just enough to give the story weight without pulling attention away from the storyline.

The writing is beautiful. Descriptive, but concise. It really drew me into the story in a way that I was not expecting.

I love this idea that although this woman died a very sudden death, she was given a little bit of extra time. Time to finish up what would be her life's work. Time to see her sons one more time, even if they were unaware of her presence. And time to accept her soon to be permanent death.

The fact that she had the strength and dignity to choose to die before her brain deteriorated completely is beautiful to me. And the fact that her partner held the picture of her family so that her last thoughts would be of them was utterly moving. I may have been fighting back tears on public transit.

Not only do I think this piece is absolutely award-worthy, but I will be seeking out more of Ms. English's work. I can't wait to see what else she has done.

Do I think Totaled by Kary English is award worthy?
Current rankings for Best Short Story:
1. Totaled
3. On a Spiritual Plain

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Best Fan Artist

Ninni Aalto's work can be found on her website here. The calendar of movie and literary characters as bunnies can be found here.
Brad W. Foster's eligible work can be found here.
Elizabeth Leggett's full work can be found here.
Spring Schoenhuth's eligible work can be found here. She does paintings and jewelry.
Steve Stiles' website is here. I can't easily find the pieces that were submitted to the Hugos voting packet and honestly, I don't really want to spend any more time trying to figure out where the eligible stuff is. If you are interested, it's there. The pieces that were submitted were cartoons of various authors with aliens.

Fun fact: I almost voted No Award for this entire category.

Now I'm voting for Elizabeth Leggett and No Award for everything else.

I went looking at each nominees website to make sure that I was looking at everything that is award eligible. Ninni Aalto, Brad W. Foster and Steve Stiles all have similar styles (to my very untrained eye) that just does not appeal to me. Add in that I didn't find the subject matter that interesting, and there is no reason for me to vote for any of them.

I like that Spring Schoenhuth's work consists mostly of jewelry. I don't really recognize most of it though, and again the style doesn't really appeal to me, so I won't vote for her.

Which brings us to Elizabeth Leggett. The works submitted for the Hugo voter packet are Nymph, Glashtyn Shanty and Nightmare. I think Nymph and Glashtyn Shanty are okay - no strong positive or negative feelings. Then I looked at Nightmare and I definitely liked it. Initially, not enough to want to vote for Ms. Leggett. But then I kept coming back for a second, a third and a fourth look. Each time I pulled it up, I noticed something new that I really liked - the style, the colors, the composition. The fifth time that I went to pull up Nightmare, I realized that maybe it was a sign that I should be voting for Ms. Leggett in this category.

Rankings for Best Fan Artist:
1. Elizabeth Leggett
2. No Award
3. No Award
4. No Award
5. No Award

On a Spiritual Plain by Lou Antonelli

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

I thought this was a very interesting piece.

The idea is that on earth, we have a weak magnetic field. Because of this, a person's soul is not able to stick around. When a human dies on a distant planet with a much stronger magnetic field, the soul appears to the base's chaplain.

The base's chaplain goes to the spiritual adviser of the local alien race to ask what can be done for the lingering soul. They take a pilgrimage to the pole of the planet to allow the soul to be released.

I think that it's a very interesting way to explain what happens to souls on earth. I could have used a little bit more explanation why the souls can't stay (instead of just weak magnetic field). Also, I didn't like that the alien spiritual adviser implied that ghost stories are proof that something more is happening on earth. To me, that didn't make sense. Either the earth's magnetic field is too weak to keep a soul there or it's not or there is something different about certain souls that keep them grounded on earth. No explanation was offered. I did try to put that quibble aside, since I know that wasn't the point of the short story, but it continued to bother me through to the end.

To preface the next paragraph, the short version of the ending: The pilgrimage to release the soul was successful, another person dies and appears before the chaplain, the alien adviser comes to the chaplain to offer his help once more and the chaplain declines. The end.

I have to admit that the ending made me so mad that I put aside the story for about two days. I felt the ending was so bad that I had wasted my time reading the story. Since then, I've come around. I'm still not a fan, but I don't hate the ending with a fiery passion anymore. I still feel the chaplain was rude to the alien adviser for no particular reason, but I accept that I may have either missed the point or that no rudeness was intended. Either way, it didn't really work for me.

I liked the writing style. Not overly wordy but descriptive enough to ground the reader.

I do also like that the story made me confront the idea that I decided what the story was about when I was halfway through and then got mad when it didn't follow like I thought it should. While I'm a bear to be around when that happens, I like to be reminded that authors can do whatever they please without catering to my idea of what it should be.

More than anything else, this story has provoked a line of thinking that has persisted for more than a week since I read the story. Do souls really exist? Is there a scientific reason why we can't interact with them on Earth? Would death be different on another planet? I find that it's a rare story that triggers that kind of internal debate, and I love On A Spiritual Plain for doing so for me.

Overall, I liked it a lot. That being said, I would not necessarily want this book to win as I had one too many problems with it, but I would not be upset if it did win.

Do I think On a Spiritual Plain by Lou Antonelli is award worthy?
Sort of - Good enough to rank, but not to be at the top.
Current rankings for Best Short Story:
3. On a Spiritual Plain

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Best Editor, Long Form and Best Editor, Short Form

I had to think about this one for a long time, but I decided that this is a category that I should not vote in.

I kept trying to figure out how to judge editing. There aren't really metrics around good editing that I can see other than "the story was good". But is the story good because the author did an amazing job that didn't require much editing, or because the editor saw the potential in a story and did an amazing job whipping that story into shape? Unless you saw the story before it was edited, there isn't a way for the reader to really know.

Since I do not want to vote for an editor without really knowing anything about their ability, I'm choosing to bow out of voting in those particular categories.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Galactic Suburbia and Adventures In Sci Fi Publishing

I listened to the following episodes of Galactic Suburbia:
Episode 106 - 6 August 2014
Episode 108 - 17 September 2014

I listened to the following episodes of Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing:
AISFP 250 - Ser MJS
AISFP 252 - The Writing Process (2013 ICON Panel)
AISFP 266 - Max Gladstone, Full Fathom Five
AISFP 272 - Fake Reviews

I decided to do this review jointly since I found Galactic Suburbia and Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing to be very similar.

In Galactic Suburbia (GS), three Australian women (Tansy, Alisa and Alex) talk about various news, interesting questions and then finally, what media they are consuming.

In Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing (AISFP), there is a little more variety to the episodes. I listened to one author interview, a panel that was recorded at ICON and two roundtable type discussions between three or four men.

For both GS and AISFP, I really enjoyed the discussions that happened between the co-hosts. There is a definite camaraderie that is enjoyable to listen to. I also just enjoyed the topics that they were covering. In one of the GS episodes I listened to the hosts talked about how blogging has changed over the years - from the livejournal community to all the various social medias in use today. The other episode addressed GamerGate and the thoughts that they had surrounding that storm. In one of the roundtable episodes I listened to from AISFP, they talked about fake reviews and how they felt about the practice. In the other, they discussed the writing process and how it looks so different from each other. 

When looking through the GS archives, it looks like they address diversity and feminist issues on a regular basis.

When looking through the AISFP archives, it is predominantly author interviews with the roundtables interspersed.

For both podcasts, I struggled to differentiate between the various hosts, although this was much more of a problem for GS. It made it harder to understand the conversation in GS, but I was able to manage more easily with AISFP.

Both podcasts also ran a bit longer than I would have liked. AISFP ran between 45 and 75 minutes. The episodes I listened to for GS were 90 and 120 minutes. I struggled with the length of the GS episodes even though I really enjoyed listening to them talk.

While I enjoyed both these podcasts, I did not enjoy them enough to specifically seek them out to listen. I wouldn't mind if they won the Hugo, but I don't really feel they were that amazing.

Really, I just don't have strong feelings for either, and I think there should be stronger positive feelings if I'm going to vote for it.

Do I think Galactic Suburbia or Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing is award worthy?
Current rankings for Best Fancast:
1. Tea and Jeopardy
3. No Award
4. No Award
5. No Award

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Sci Phi Show

I listened to the following episodes of The Sci Phi Show:
Episode 420 - Time Travel, Metachronopolis and John C Wright
Episode 419 - Is the Punisher ethical?
Episode 418 - The 100, Capital Punishment and Justice (technically, I read this one as the link has no audio file, but does have a transcript)
Episode 502 - Why are all utopia's dystopias?

I've been staring at the draft of this post for the last week. It's been amazingly hard to figure out how to write this review without it becoming ridiculously long and defensive. A humble reminder that the reviewers that manage an accurate and concise critique are amazing at their jobs in a way that we most often miss.

To be blunt about it, I really struggled with The Sci Phi Show.

For this podcast, Jason Rennie explores science fiction themes and the philosophical questions that arise from those themes. Occasionally, there is also an author interview. Each episode, excepting the author interviews, is fairly short, coming in at just under 15 minutes.

I love the premise. The execution, in my opinion, is shaky at best. The various ideas connected to the central theme of each episode flow logically enough from one another but not in a way that makes it feel like a natural segue or an argument building on itself. Instead, it felt like a stream of consciousness kind of ramble.

For each of the episodes, I found that there were problems in the form of illogical reasoning or false assumptions. For example, the episode titled "Why are all utopias dystopias?", the question itself is problematic. The basic assumption that all utopias fall apart with close examination into a dystopia is embedded in the question. In discussion, my significant other provided Heinlein's books as an example of utopias that remain utopian throughout the story. I have never read Heinlein, so I have to trust that my SO's assessment is accurate. If that is the case though, then the question presented is already a false question. It would have been better to first ask if all utopias fall apart into dystopias and then really looked to find a counterexample of a utopia that remains a utopia throughout the story. When that counterexample is found, the question then becomes why do some utopias fall apart but not others. It still allows for many of the same points that Mr. Rennie makes in the show, but is much more accurate.

In addition there is a certain base line knowledge of philosophy needed to fully appreciate this podcast. Helpfully, Mr. Rennie posted links in the show notes to various ideas and philosophies that he references during the show. Personally, I didn't really want to have to wade through the links for an hour to understand a 15 minute podcast. If you are already familiar with philosophy though, this won't be as big of a problem for you as it was for me.

The one author interview that I listened to was also problematic. To be fair, I don't know if the problem lay with the guest or the host. Mr. Rennie asked very few questions, instead allowing John C Wright to ramble on for most of the podcast. Luckily, Mr. Wright had many interesting points to make, but it seemed to lack direction and Mr. Rennie made no attempt to reign in his guest. I listened and mostly enjoyed the monologue, but walked away feeling that there was no point to that particular episode.

Probably the least of the problems, I found Mr. Rennie's voice to be monotone and lacking in excitement. Even though I picked out episodes that I thought I would like best, I still had to force myself to pay attention.

I did think he made some very good points throughout all the episodes I listened to. I liked thinking about the themes in a broad way, and they were often things that I would not have though about on my own. The part that I enjoyed the most was that the episodes served as a jumping off point to discuss a wide range of science fiction themes and ideas with my SO.

Although I do enjoy philosophical discussion, this is not a podcast that I will continue to listen to.

Do I think The Sci Phi Show is award worthy?
Current rankings for Best Fancast:
1. Tea and Jeopardy
5. No Award

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tea and Jeopardy

I listened to the following episodes of Tea and Jeopardy:
Episode 15 - Myke Cole
Episode 16 - Seanan McGuire
Episode 27 - Gail Carriger
Episode 29 - Drew Karpyshyn

The premise of Tea and Jeopardy is that the host, Emma Newman and her butler, Latimer are able to move about in time and place. Ms. Newman then invites a guest to take tea with her in one of those unusual places or time periods.

Ms. Newman sets the scene in the first couple of minutes of each episode (whether it is Loch Lomond or Venice, 150 years in the past or 100 years in the future). Her guest arrives and there are fairly standard interview questions. Ms. Newman wraps up the episode by describing the misadventures that befall the guest as they leave (one can not simply walk out the door, of course).

I will admit that the first episode I listened to was very confusing. I was on noisy public transportation and missed a couple key points in the description of the setting, I think. When it settled in to the interview portion, it was much easier for me to follow. Once I caught on to the premise of the podcast, I didn't have any more problems with confusion.

I rather like this podcast. Ms. Newman has a lovely voice to listen to - it did not surprise me to find out that she voices audiobooks as well. I like listening to the descriptions of the places they are at and what happens as the episode's guest leaves (to be fair, I did think Myke Cole's exit went on a bit long).

Of course what makes or breaks a podcast like this is the interview. The questions were nothing out of the ordinary, but there is such a rapport between Ms. Newman and the guests that it feels more like listening in on a conversation than listening to an interview. This is part of the description of this podcast and I felt that they fulfilled that promise admirably. Ms. Newman also does well at reigning in those that tend towards chatty as well as bringing out the natural enthusiasm of a guest that would otherwise have sunk the interview ship.

The only quibble that I had was that while there was at least one question about the books that each author was working on, the conversation was often about things other than books or science fiction. While I certainly enjoyed Seanan McGuire's snake story, I would have enjoyed listening to more about Seanan the author. To be fair, Tea and Jeopardy features "topics such as writing, geekery and guilty pleasures", which each episode that I listened to fell neatly into that description. It is certainly not the show's fault that it doesn't exactly fit my personal preferences, and it was still enjoyable to listen to.

Putting aside that small objection, I will likely continue to listen to this podcast when this is all over.

Do I think Tea and Jeopardy is award worthy?
Current rankings for Best Fancast:
1. Tea and Jeopardy

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Hugos

For those of you that don't know, there's a big dust up surrounding the Hugos this year. I won't go into it here. If you need a summary, just search "Hugos award" and you'll find any number of articles and blogs on either side of the issue or no side at all.

It would be erroneous, and honestly, disingenuous, to say that this is just another Hugos award year and we should treat it as such as some are trying to do. No one knows if this is just going to be known as one of those weird years that occasionally happen with any award or if this is the catalyst that causes the Hugos to self-destruct. And I can't pretend that this is a normal Hugos award season for me personally as I've never voted on the Hugos before.

But I am this year.

Many people feel that the slate nominees are undeserving of the Hugo nomination, even if no rules were technically broken. Logically, if enough people have never read a work, then maybe that work couldn't (and therefore, shouldn't) have gotten the nomination normally. But this isn't a normal year and they did get the nomination. We can't change that now. All we can do now is complain, walk away from the Hugos (temporarily or permanently) or try to do something about it.

There is a lot of debate about what that something should look like. From voting no award across the board to pretending that nothing strange has happened. There have been multiple people that have pointed this out, but it should be said here. How can we say that the slate nominees were undeserving of the nomination if we've never read the work? To debate the issue properly, one should have all the facts first. So, I opted for this - to read, watch or listen to everything and everyone that received a nomination and to document (as objectively as possible) my own opinions about each work.

This is going to be quite the undertaking. Going into this, the only thing I've read/watched/listened to is The Lego Move. That is a lot of media left to consume, especially on a deadline.

I just got an email today that they are hoping that the voter packet will be available by the end of May. I know I can't wait that long to get started, so I'll have to find what I can on the internet and jump right in. Here's to having all my free time consumed by the Hugos.

A note about comments: I have no idea if anyone will find this blog, let alone want to comment on it, but I want this to be absolutely clear. Comments will be moderated with an iron fist. Discussion is healthy and heartily encouraged by this blogger, but respect will reign supreme. If you can't manage that, this is not the place for you.