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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hugo Awards: Semi-Final Ballot
As the voting deadline approaches, I find myself rushing to finish one book, but have otherwise read what I want to read and pretty much know how my ballot will shake out. I'm pretty much only voting in the fiction categories, avoiding commentary and zine categories like the plague. I might take a look at the artist stuff in the voters packet, but for now, this is what I've got:

Best Novel:
  1. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (Ken Liu translator) [My Review]
  2. Skin Game, by Jim Butcher [Tentative, review forthcoming]
  3. The Dark Between the Stars, by Kevin J. Anderson [My Review]
  4. Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie [My Review]
  5. The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison [My Review]
The only caveat here is that I have not finished Skin Game. I will definitely finish before the voting deadline, but even halfway through, I think I know where I'm falling on it (in short, I have a soft spot for heist stories, and this one is doing a reasonable job thus far). For the most part, I'm not tremendously excited by this lineup, but I don't see a need to deploy No Award here either.

Predicted Winner:The Three-Body Problem (It's not on the Puppy ballots, so it's acceptable for people to vote on it, but the Puppies seem to like it too, so I think it's in good shape)

Best Novella:
  1. One Bright Star to Guide Them, by John C. Wright
  2. Big Boys Don't Cry by Tom Kratman
  3. "Flow", by Arlan Andrews, Sr.
  4. No Award
  5. "The Plural of Helen of Troy", by John C. Wright
See My Reviews for more details. Left off the ballot is "Pale Realms of Shade", also by John C. Wright, because having two nominated stories on the ballot is probably enough. Depending on my mood, I may remove "The Plural of Helen of Troy" as well, but it's aged better in my head than I thought it would. It's still weird that Wright has 3 stories in this one category. My only deployment of No Award this year. I tend to go light on that sort of thing, but it seems like the rest of fandom is throwing it around with reckless abandon. There's a decent chance that all the short fiction categories will end up No Award. If that happens, I might just have to tune out entirely. This controversy is getting old.

Predicted Winner: Big Boys Don't Cry (though No Award is a strong contender this year, because controversy)

Best Novelette:
  1. "The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale", by Rajnar Vajra
  2. "Championship B'tok", by Edward M. Lerner
  3. "Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium", by Gray Rinehart
  4. "The Journeyman: In the Stone House", by Michael F. Flynn
  5. "The Day the World Turned Upside Down", by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
See My Reviews for more details. All nominees listed, no need to deploy No Award.

Predicted Winner: "The Day the World Turned Upside Down" (though No Award is a strong contender this year, because controversy)

Best Short Story:
  1. Totaled, by Kary English
  2. Turncoat, by Steve Rzasa
  3. On a Spiritual Plain, by Lou Antonelli
  4. A Single Samurai by Steven Diamond
  5. The Parliament of Beasts and Birds by John C. Wright
See My Reviews for more details. All nominees listed, no need to deploy No Award.

Predicted Winner: Totaled (though No Award is a strong contender this year, because controversy)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:
  1. The Lego Movie
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy
  4. Edge of Tomorrow
  5. Interstellar
See my recap for more details. All nominees listed, no need to deploy No Award.

Predicted Winner: The Lego Movie

So there you have it. Not a bad slate overall, and I actually enjoyed it slightly more than last year's slate. What I did not enjoy was all the whinging about Puppies or Noah Ward and so on. Fingers crossed that next year won't be quite so contentious. With the likelyhood that No Award will win some categories this year, I don't see that happening, nor do I see the vitriol subsiding (heck, it hasn't really subsided yet to begin with). I may just end up bailing on the whole enterprise next year and just read stuff I like. What a novel idea.
Posted by Mark on July 26, 2015 at 09:39 AM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Weird Movie of the Week: Holiday Horror Edition
Last time on Weird Movie of the Week, we covered a remake of Alejandro Jodorowsky's 1973 film The Holy Mountain that is composed entirely of salvaged clips from old dog movies and VHS tapes. This time we've got some Holiday Horror:
A Christmas Horror Story has a lot going for it. It's from several of the creative minds behind the Ginger Snaps trilogy (Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban and Brett Sullivan) and takes place in Ginger and Brigitte's fictional town of Bailey Downs; it stars William Shatner as a drunk, hyper-conservative radio DJ full of holiday cheer; it features Krampus and zombie elves. Like any horror anthology, there are great moments and there are weak moments, but its framework is cleverly constructed, tying all of the vignettes together in an interesting way that isn't revealed until the final act.
So the fact that it is a Holiday Horror movie is not, in itself, very weird. There's lots of them, and we've covered this territory before. Repeatedly. Nor is it that it comes from the folks who made Ginger Snaps (an original take on the werewolf story, to be sure, but not quite weird). No, what sold me on this was the Shatner line: "it stars William Shatner as a drunk, hyper-conservative radio DJ full of holiday cheer". Inspired. I'm all in.

The review isn't exactly glowing, but few of these movies are actually very good. As it mentions, it's clearly inspired by Trick 'r Treat, one of the best horror anthologies ever made (surely the most consistently good and interconnected), which is funny, because this movie supposedly features the Krampus, an obscure Santa precursor that represents Santa's... darker side (many precursors are actually two separate people, one to give gifts to all the good boys and girls, the other to punish the not-so-good). It turns out that Trick 'r Treat's writer/director Michael Dougherty is releasing his own take on Krampus during this holiday season. It's an embarrassment of riches for Holiday Horror fans this year. Looking forward to it.
Posted by Mark on July 22, 2015 at 09:45 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Link Dump
As per usual, interesting things from the depths of the internets:
  • The Suicide Squad trailer was great, why does Warner Bros. sound so angry about it? - The prevailing narrative is that Marvel has their shit together when it comes to their cinematic universe, but that Warner Bros (and DC) can't quite crack the code. I've always thought this was sloppy thinking, but then, this is also a pretty fantastic illustration of how the two companies approach their work. Marvel's response to a leaked trailer is fun and endearing. Warner Bros's response? Petty and annoyed. Incidentally, Suicide Squad looks like it could work pretty well, though I suspect it's success will hinge entirely on Margot Robbie's performance (which appears to be electric!)
  • Hollywood is quick to cry censorship. The industry's not wrong to be afraid. - An excellent summary of the weird cycle of criticism and censorship, and the constantly rehashed arguments that never seem to result in anything productive. This touches on issues of free speech and how differently people seem to treat the term "censorship". I tend to favor the freedom side of that equation. In the words of Ray Bradbury (commenting on the response to Fahrenheit 451): "There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches." It doesn't matter if it's a government match, the books will burn either way.
  • Film as Bomb - Interesting discussion of Cronenberg's The Brood...
    With The Brood, what was the bug that Cronenberg jammed up the collective, middlebrow ass? The fact that it was outrageously melodramatic in its boldly literal metaphors: suppressed rage creates murderous children. Plus its refusal to make a scapegoat out of any one character, class, gender or type (no matter what the director's 'ideological' critics, including Robin Wood, have long claimed). Cronenberg's despair and his mockery spare nobody; and this leaves some spectators crying foul over "misanthropy" and looking in vain for "someone to care about".
    Cronenberg is certainly a fascinating filmmaker, one I love, but never seem to be on the same page with. On the other hand, that might be why I love his films.
  • It Began With Secret Pickles, and Survived a War - A pretty simple tale of a long-married couple from the Bronx, probably a dime a dozen, but dat headline!
    One day, looking for something new to do, Bucky had a thought.

    "I asked her, 'Would you like a pickle?' "

    There were Jewish delis every few blocks in their neck of the Bronx. Bagels, bialys, cream cheese, lox, whitefish - and barrels of pickles, a penny apiece.

    It became a summer of secret pickles.
    (This was before Bucky became the Winter Soldier.)
  • Friday the 13th Part IV - Running Man - And you guys thought I was obsessive about Friday the 13th movies? Check out this guy, who attempts to decipher an obscure character mentioned in the credits for The Final Chapter...
    Who is Running Man? Lots of people run in the movie, but they're all credited. Could it be an instance where Jason is credited multiple times like he is in part 3? There we had Jason, Prowler, and Jason Stunt Double. Maybe Jason actor Ted White refused to do the scene where he runs after Trish and Thad Geer sprinted to the rescue.

    Somehow I doubt it though. The only section of the movie with a lot of extras is the beginning, when everyone is cleaning up the mess from part 3. One of those extras runs. He runs so much in fact, that I'm convinced he must be Running Man.
    Friday the 13th, the series of movies that never stops giving.
That's all for now. Apologies for the lack of Wednesday entries of late. This might continue for the near future, but who knows? Maybe I'll get inspired or something...
Posted by Mark on July 19, 2015 at 08:52 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Quasi-Hugo Awards: Terms of Enlistment
The initial Hugo Award finalists for Best Novel included a book called Lines of Departure. It was one of the suggestions from Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies, and once that came to the attention of the author, Marko Kloos, he promptly withdrew his acceptance of the nomination (this withdrawal lead to the inclusion of The Three-Body Problem in the category). As a result, he's one of the few authors to emerge mostly unscathed by the whole affair. The puppies seemed to respect his decision and lots of others vowed to read his books anyway, probably giving him a boost in sales without the vitriolic baggage everyone else is dealing with. For my part, the nominated novel just seemed like it would be cool, so I felt I should check it out regardless of what all the factions of fandom thought. In fact, when nominees were initially announced, this was the one I was most looking forward to... Alas, it's actually the second in a series, so I started with the first novel: Terms of Enlistment.

At its core, it's a solid military science fiction novel, pretty much hitting all the expected tropes. The story is told from the perspective of Andrew Grayson, a welfare rat living in a prison-like tenement in Boston. He's one of the "lucky" few to be accepted for military service, and he jumps at the opportunity of escaping his near-dystopian surroundings without thinking too much about the *ahem* terms of enlistment. Every convention of the subgenre is covered, from saying goodbyes to basic training with its drill sergeants and physical exhaustion, to a shit assignment that turns out to be more prestigious than thought, to (eventually) exploding spaceships and battles on alien planets.

As these things go, it's a pretty well executed version of the common MilSF tropes. This might seem derivative and repetitious to some folks, but I've always been of a mind that a well executed version of a common story has value. What you usually end up with is something akin to SF comfort food, with the occasional feint towards something more transcendent. The start of this novel feels more like the former, but as the story progresses, we start to move towards the latter. We never really get that true transcendence, but this is only the first novel in a series and while it has a decent ending, it's also clearly setting up a rich groundwork for the sequel.

Kloos has nice, clean, concise prose, and he's excellent at describing battles and explosions and whatnot. The characters are generally likable and competent without being ridiculous caricatures. This isn't a particularly deep novel of characterization, but it's pretty good by the standards of MilSF. The worldbuilding seemed a bit hokey at first, but it gets better as it goes on, and the ending throws a nice little wrench into the proceedings, making it a good setup for the following books. Initially, it almost seemed like this would be one of those novels where our protagonist is propelled through a series of episodic adventures that ultimately lead nowhere, but Kloos manages to keep the narrative tight enough that each combat mission leads into the next in an entertaining fashion that keeps the pages turning.

Thematically, it's a bit straightforward until we get to the ending, which presents a tantalizing reversal of a common trope. Lots of MilSF concerns itself with bug hunts and aliens that are insectoid in nature. In this case, it appears that the human beings might be the insects of the universe (er, metaphorically speaking), which is a pretty clever take on a tired theme, and while Kloos is pretty explicit about this theme, he manages to make it feel earned and not hoary.

Ultimately, it's a promising start, and I'm really happy I decided to read these books. As you might be able to tell from the above, it's a novel that starts off extremely derivative and trope-driven, but it eventually starts to take things into more interesting places, hinting at even more to come. I'm very much looking forward to the next installment, which is more than I can probably say about all of the actual nominees for this year's Best Novel. Of course, I still need to read Lines of Departure before commenting on how it would fit into this year's ballot (had it survived the nomination), but I should probably finish off that Dresden book and Seveneves first... In the meantime, if you're looking for a relatively straightforward MilSF novel series that shows some promise at transcending its roots, this is worth a look.
Posted by Mark on July 12, 2015 at 03:45 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Hugo Awards: Novellas
The other shorter-than-a-novel-but-longer-than-a-short-story category, these tend to be longer reads, which is a shame because I didn't particularly care for any of them. It's also one of the weirder categories in that three of the five nominees are from the same author. Two of the stories are also significantly expanded versions of much shorter stories (which, given my complaints below, would probably have been much better for me). None of the nominees are particularly terrible, per say, I just failed to connect with them, and it makes me wish there was a little more variety here. I don't want too dwell on this, so let's just get to it:
  1. One Bright Star to Guide Them, by John C. Wright - This was pretty clearly my favorite of the bunch, a baroque tale of magic that evokes Arthurian legends, C. S. Lewis (complete with an appearance by a giant lion), Tolkien, and maybe even Stephen King's Gunslinger series. The problem with this approach is that I would much rather be reading the works that served as inspiration than the novella itself. Still, of the other stories on the ballot, this was the most successful story and at least Wright's style seemed to fit this narrative. It's not a story I love, but I don't mind having read it and it's well constructed and written.
  2. Big Boys Don't Cry by Tom Kratman - A few years ago, I read Anne McCaffrey's The Ship Who Sang, not realizing that it appears to be the template for so many other stories of sentient vehicles. I didn't even enjoy the book, as its episodic structure was frustrating and left me cold. Kratman's vehicle is a massive, sentient tank named Maggie (short for Magnolia) who, like McCaffrey's singing ship, undergoes a series of episodic adventures that left me feeling disconnected from the story. Some of these episodes are actually pretty well executed though, and Kratman is pretty good at writing combat sequences, but there are more battles than necessary here, they're disconnected from one another, and they're interweaved with weird infodumps that grind the pace to a halt. This was apaprently one of the stories that was originally published in shorter form, then expanded to novella size... I haven't read the original, but I'm betting the expansion did a disservice to the story. Still, there are interesting questions here about the motivation of sentient vehicles, especially when it comes to the complete lack of respect from their human masters. The ending of this story takes a pretty dark turn, and is almost comically didactic, but it at least gives the story a conclusion.
  3. "Flow", by Arlan Andrews, Sr. - The tale of northerners selling an iceberg to the Warm Lands, then running afoul of the local religious inquisition or some such. There's some interesting stuff hinted at here, but it never really goes beyond hinting, and I really could care less about our main protagonist. This is one of those stories that just sorta flies by (not in the way of a page turner, though, it actually took a while to read this one), leaving almost no impression whatsoever. It's not terrible, I just could not connect with it.
  4. "The Plural of Helen of Troy", by John C. Wright - I should like this story. All the hooks are there, but it's like Wright forgot to attach the fishing line, so once he hooked me and attempted to reel it in, nothing really happened and now I've got these hooks all over me and I'm not one of those people who loves piercings, John! Seriously though, it's a time travel story told with a Memento-like reverse non-linearity. Or something. The protagonist is a detective hired by one John F. Kennedy to kill a future JFK with the help of a middle JFK and maybe an alternate timeline JFK, all because Marilyn Monroe is Helen of Troy and is also a slave of the evil JFK, who is going to become a timelord or something. Look, I enjoy the byzantine structures of time travel plots, poring over details and making diagrams with straws, and so on. But Wright's baroque style simply doesn't fit here, and the rules of time travel and whatnot don't seem particularly well established (or are elided to the point of incomprehensibility). I get the impression this is part of a larger collection of stories within a similar setting, so maybe that's what I'm picking up on. Regardless, this seemed about twice as long as it needed to be and while the details kinda fit, I found myself caring less as time went on. Again, I should really like this story. But I don't.
  5. "Pale Realms of Shade", by John C. Wright - Another story with a pretty neat hook, a psychic detective who dies and comes back as a ghost (or maybe he's going to become an angry poltergeist), visits with his ex-wife and business partner, along with a "fixer" (i.e. the devil) and a priest for some redemption. Along the way, we find out why and how he died, and so on. It's actually a pretty complete narrative, but it's one of those things that just really made me want to see more about this detective's exploits taking down vampires and werewolves back when he was alive. As it is, we're left with a dour, depressing tale that I never connected with. Wright's style just doesn't seem to connect very well with me.
For the first time this year, I'm actually thinking about deploying No Award on my ballot, if only to get past the ridiculous notion that one author wrote the three best novellas of the year or something. I mean, I guess such a thing is possible, but not with these three stories. That being said, Wright also wrote my clear favorite of the bunch, so I'm not slotting No Award very high.
Posted by Mark on July 05, 2015 at 03:50 PM .: Comments (2) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hugo Awards: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
This award is one of the stranger categories for the Hugos. This year, it's something of a respite from the all controversy and vitriol surrounding Puppies and Kittens and all the other nicknames people are handing out with reckless abandon. Which is funny, because as a movie person, I've always found the nominees to this category mediocre at best. It seems that while the electorate can focus on obscure artistic exercises for the fiction awards, they are generally focused on the biggest budget, widest releases from a filmic standpoint.

There are certainly exceptions. The voters seem to enjoy Duncan Jones, giving the low budget Moon the rocket in 2010 and nominating Source Code in 2012 (both flawed films, to be sure, but at least they're unexpected choices). There are a handful of other non-obvious choices (i.e. A Scanner Darkly, District 9, etc...), and a whole boatload of Hollywood pap (i.e. Avatar, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, etc...) There's nothing inherently wrong with big budgets, wide releases, star vehicles, or Hollywood invovlement, to be sure, and there are plenty of fabulous choices in that realm (i.e. Inception, Gravity), but what of the lower budget, obscure, or foreign films that never seem to find their way onto the ballot? I guess I can see why Upstream Color didn't make the ballot last year; it's a pretty inscrutable movie. But then, so was a lot of the nominated fiction! Voters are willing to dig through the heaps for short stories and novelettes, why can't they seem to find things like Detention, Sound of My Voice, Attack the Block, Timecrimes, Triangle, The Man from Earth, and probably a dozen others that are escaping me right now. Sure, many are obscure genre pics, but isn't that the point of the Hugo awards taking on the category? Movies like Avatar get plenty of recognition from the mainstream, why not highlight things that aren't so easy to find, the way we do for fiction?

This year, we have at least two nominees that were deserving (and that didn't have Upstream's impenetrable style), including Coherence (to be fair, there are some eligibility concerns on that one), The One I Love, and maybe even Snowpiercer (a film I kinda hated, but it seems up the voters' alley). Alas, they did not make it, and to be sure, Hollywood had a pretty good year, putting out plenty of genuinely good movies. Indeed, I even nominated 3 of these, so I guess I shouldn't complain! My vote will go something like this (I'm going to be partially quoting myself on some of these, with some added comments more specific to the Hugos)
  1. The Lego Movie - Writer/Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have made a career out of making movies out of seemingly stupid premises, and this movie may be their crowning achievement. This sounded so much like a cynical cash-grab by Hollywood, but I found myself immediately charmed by the film's fast paced humor and wit. The thing that tips this to the top of my vote is that it is actually very impressive from a visual standpoint. It's got great jokes, and some of them are visual jokes. This is a movie that actually uses its medium in a way that few movies do these days.
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Marvel firing on all cylinders, this is a dramatic improvement over the first Captain America, topping it in everything from action set pieces to consistent interpersonal touches. Considering the wider context, this movie makes some pretty bold moves too, channeling paranoid 70s thrillers (and even casting Robert Redford to underline that point) and throwing a huge monkey wrench into the whole Marvel universe (something I admire about it - as a standalone, it would be fine, but the fact that there are seemingly lasting consequences helps here). I'm actually on the fence with where to place this in relation to Guardians, but for now, it take the #2 slot.
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy - This could have failed so miserably in so many different ways, but my guess is that James Gunn's goofy personality is what saved the whole thing (even if it's toned down a bit here). Once again, it's the interpersonal touches that makes these Marvel movies tick, even this one, which is almost completely disconnected from all the other movies. It's also a big ball of fun, so there's that.
  4. Edge of Tomorrow - There's a lot to quibble about with this movie, but I'll tell you, it really worked for me. From a filmmaking craft perspective, the editing here is incredibly well executed. The ending has some issues and Cruise has his own baggage, but I had a whole lot of fun. I actually voted for this on my ballot, not thinking it would garner enough votes (it was fairly underrated and underviewed last year, even by mainstream audiences), but even then, it would have ended up towards the bottom of my ballot...
  5. Interstellar - There's a lot to like about this film, but it never quite congealed into something as cohesive as Nolan's previous work. Certainly gets points for ambition, but the film is a little clunky in its execution. It all fits together, and there are great ideas and emotional moments at its core, but perhaps could use some smoothing over some of the rougher edges (of which there are, sadly, many). A clear last place finisher for the Hugos. Not an entirely unworthy nominee, but I'd have much rather seen a few other movies in place of this one...
So there you have it. Maybe I'm being a little too hard on voters, as this is a pretty good slate, and it's nice to comment on something and not have to even bother with the whole controversial nonsense that has snowed us in this year.
Posted by Mark on June 28, 2015 at 04:29 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Hugo Awards: Novelettes
Novelettes! Good old novelettes! What do you call something that's longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel? A novella, of course, but that's too easy. Let's invent something between a short story and a novella, and call it a novelette! On the one hand, it is a bit odd that SF/F seems to be the only genre in literature that makes this distinction (something about a legacy of SF's pulpy magazine roots, where different sized works had different pay scales) and it seems rather pointless and confusing for no real reason. On the other hand, it just means we get to read more fiction, which is actually a pretty cool thing. Once again, none of my nominees made the final ballot, but such is the way of short fiction awards. Last year's Novelettes were pretty darn good (with one obvious and notable exception), and it looks like this years will rival that:
  1. "The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale", Rajnar Vajra (Analog, 07/08-2014) - My clear favorite of the bunch, this tale of Exoplanetary Explorer cadets redeeming themselves after getting caught up in a bar fight is well written, well paced, and entertaining. It tells a full story, presents some interesting puzzles, and uses reason and logic to resolve the problems that arise. I don't know that it's particularly deep in terms of thematic heft, but it's deeply entertaining, which is usually enough for me (and so many other stories seem to forget that part) and this story struck the right chord. I feel like I should be saying more, but this is the one story on the ballot that I definitely would have put on my nominations if I had read it earlier.
  2. "Championship B'tok", Edward M. Lerner (Analog, 09-2014) - This one is a bit of an odd duck in that it feels kinda like a pilot episode of a TV show. In a colonized solar system, various unexplained breakdowns have been occurring with increasing frequency. This includes both human and alien settlements, and while the humans were able to weather the aliens' initial invasion 20 years ago, tensions are high. The aliens are hiding something, the mysterious sabotage is hitting everyone, and the humans are getting ready to launch a new interstellar starship. I actually quite enjoyed the setup, but then, that's mostly what this is: setup. It's got a lot of great storytelling elements in play. Intrigue, subterfuge, conspiracy, and so on, but this feels like one of those stories that is really just an excerpt from a larger work. This sort of thing is always weird to judge when it comes to awards like this. I think it says something that I do really want to follow up on this story at some point, because that speaks to how engaging it was. But how to judge an incomplete experience when it comes voting time? Also worth noting is that Lerner's prose style is a bit on the stilted side. I can see why some of the more literary Hugo voters are annoyed by a story like this. Often I read people's complaints about this sort of thing and shrug them off, but they may have a point here. For instance, this sentence appears in the text: "Something long dreaded was at long last at hand." Look, I'm not the most talented writer in the world, but even for me, this is a pretty obvious clunker. That said, it had some great ideas and the storytelling was on point, so it ends up falling higher on my list than lower (depending on how I feel, this may drop down a peg when voting time comes).
  3. "Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium", Gray Rinehart (Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, 05-2014) - This feels almost like the inverse of Championship B'tok. In this scenario, aliens and humans clashed in the past, but this time the aliens won and are keeping the humans kinda bottled up in their colony. The story concerns a man who is dying. His last wish is to be buried, a practice that he thinks might throw their alien masters for a loop. It's a neat little puzzle and a complete story, but it's not quite as entertaining or fun as the above two.
  4. "The Journeyman: In the Stone House", Michael F. Flynn (Analog, 06-2014) - This is the weirdest of the bunch, a strange tale of various quasi-primitive clans coming together to train and set out on an expedition. Or something. This one is a bit light on plot. It's got some nice character moments and a couple of great one-liners (particularly Sammi o' th' Eagles), but it seems to be somewhat lacking in the realm of points. Flynn's style also threw me for a loop, as it's pretty ornate and detailed, but didn't really flow well for me (also annoying - the voters packet only had this on pdf, which has an annoying interface.) I did not hate it, but I never really got into it either.
  5. "The Day the World Turned Upside Down", Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014) - Remember above when I said that a lot of well written stories forget to be entertaining? Yeah, here's a good example of this. The premise is that one day, gravity reverses itself. Most everyone who is outside simply falls off the planet, while those inside are slammed up against their ceilings, and so on. Interesting, I guess, but don't go looking for explanations (fine) or even logical consistency (how are people still able to breath, why doesn't water in rivers, etc... fall, and so on...). It reminded me of last year's short story "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere", only this one is a little less coherent. There's a guy and his girlfriend just recently broke up with him, making this the second time the world turned upside down for him (zing!) and he makes a trek across the city to get to his girlfriend's apartment. Along the way, he meets a little girl and some other characters, but it's all pretty pointless, and pretty emphatically not my sort of story.
So there you have it. I'd say that this compares pretty favorably to last year's slate, and that it's maybe slightly better than this year's short story slate.
Posted by Mark on June 21, 2015 at 08:23 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

End of this day's posts

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections on Game of Thrones
The fifth season of Game of Thrones just ended and it's been a doozy, so I figured it was time to peel off some disgruntled, freakish reflections on the show. In typical Kaedrin fashion, I've waited 5 seasons to do so, though I did once comment on the Red Wedding as it related to Joss Whedon. Major Spoilers for the entire show up until this point!
  • I enjoy the show a great deal, as evidenced by the fact that it is one of two shows that I actually watch live (the other? Silicon Valley, the show after GoT and coincidentally my favorite active comedy), a distinction that might be more due to its timeslot than anything else, but still. On the other hand, I've never really considered it more than a really violent, fun soap opera. Sure, you can read into it if you want, and the epic scope of the story is indeed impressive, but it feels a little on the bloated side, and I don't know that I'd ever really want to rewatch the show. Indeed, it took me a while to get into the show for that reason. It's a show that I watch to see what will happen next, not a show I generally obsess over. Nothing wrong with that, and the series ain't over yet, so maybe I'll change my tune on that in the future.
  • The first half of this season felt like setup and filler, but once things started happening, they came on fast and furious, and hot damn, the last three or four episodes were quite engaging. Cersei's short-sighted and petty attempt to get back at Margaery finally turns back on her, as everyone expected (doesn't make it any less satisfying when it happens!) Daenerys meets Tyrion! The Dorne thread doesn't entirely work, but it ends with a bang. And then there were the really big things.
  • The battle of Hardhome was fantastic and signals a shift from petty politicking to existential struggle. The TV series is called Game of Thrones, but it's worth noting that the book series is called A Song of Ice and Fire. The icy White walkers have been hinted at all throughout the series, but this appears to be the start of their campaign proper. Much is made in this episode about the ability of Dragonglass to kill them, and then we find out that John Snow's valyrian steel sword can also do the trick. Note that valyrian steel is also referred to as Dragonsteel, and who do we know that has access to firey Dragons? Yeah, I'd say the endgame of the series is coming into focus, which is interesting because as I mentioned earlier, it really did seem like more of a neverending soap opera than a complete narrative. This isn't to say that the series (book or TV) doesn't have their work cut out for them, as this will still be exceedingly difficult to pull off. The themes of the series so far just don't fit with Dany riding to the rescue on her dragons and then triumphantly taking the throne. Honor and righteousness is punished in this world, and though Dany has snuck by with her dignity, I don't think unambiguous triumph is in the cards. On the other hand, I don't know that anyone would be particularly satisfied by a cynical, nihilistic, and tragic ending either. There's a fine line to walk here. Fortunately, it seems possible that this could actually work, which is a good thing.
  • Stannis has always been a turd, and attempts to soften his image earlier this season really telegraphed some of his (horrendous) actions later in the series, and when he finally burns his daughter at the stake (in a scene that genuinely had me asking why I watch this show - seriously one of the two most brutal moments in the series, particularly because they linger on it for so long). This resolution has me wondering what the whole point of the Stannis storyline actually was. Did we really need Stannis at all? I mean, I like Davos and I guess Melisandre could do some interesting things now, but otherwise, Stannis really is the Pierce of this show (perhaps one of many, but still). Tick this in the GoT is just a soap opera column.
  • On the occasion of the Red Wedding, I had opined that "while the Red Wedding is the end of characters we like, it's also the beginning of a villain we're going to love to hate!" and in large part, one of the things that keeps people watching this show is that we want to see our villains get their comeuppance. But it's worth noting that this comeuppance is rarely as satisfying as we might think. Sometimes it's great, as in Joffrey's death. But it is often undercut in one way or another. Take Arya's final revenge on Meryn Trant in the finale. It was fantastic! Then Arya goes back to the house of black and white, gets scolded, and finds herself going blind. While the show's initial conceit was that honor and righeousness was a flaw that would get you killed, it seems that vengeance is also not all it's cracked up to be, which is an interesting turn for the series, and we've seen a fair amount of that in this season...
  • The finale was a bit odd in that so much happened, and so quickly, that much of it felt unresolved and unsatisfying. But then, that's kinda the point of a finale. Still, there were a lot of deaths, only some of which felt earned, and some of which might not actually be deaths? I mean, what happened to Sansa and Theon? Was that suicide, or were they jumping into a soft snowdrift or something? And whenever someone dies offscreen, it's hard to not succumb to pointless conspiracy mongering (did Stannis actually die?) And so on. John seems like the most substantial death, though I can't say as though I hadn't been expecting it. I mean, that whole Ollie character seemed to be telegraphic it, and the fact that John actually came into his own as an honorable leader means that his time was coming to an end. I can't say as though John was my favorite character though, and indeed, much of his misadventures north of the wall seemed kinda lame to me, though it was starting to turn around this season. Rumors abound that Melisandre might resurrect him, which feels kinda lame, but might come off ok if done well. Still, next season seems like a bit of a corker. As I understand it, we're now caught up with and even eclipsing the books at this point, though it does seem like the next installment might be out in early 2016.
  • Speaking of the books, at the urging of a friend, I've taken to listening to the audiobooks of the series, so I may have more to say about that as I listen to them. My initial thought is that watching the TV show was actually good prep for the books, as the amount of detail and obscure characters packed into even the first few hours of the book would have been overwhelming or simply lost in the shuffle. But knowing who the Tyrells or Boltons are, right from the start, gives you a bit of a leg up on the books. As I mentioned earlier, I have no real desire to rewatch the series, and listing to the books makes me wonder if that's actually true because I'm enjoying them well enough. They are super long, but because of my familiarity with the general thrust of the story, it helps.
That's all for now. Will probably have more to say once I finish the first book...
Posted by Mark on June 17, 2015 at 10:30 PM .: Comments (0) | link :.

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