Saturday, August 27, 2016

Book Blogger Hop August 26th - September 1st: Tracy 168 Is a Graffiti Artist in New York

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Can you say this sentence describes you? Example: READING IS MY PASSION

Just one sentence? That's kind of a tall order. Hmmm, how about:

I WILL READ ALL THE THINGS!

Yeah, that seems about right.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: Martina Navratilova Has 167 Tennis Titles

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Follow Friday - Saint Valentine Was (Possibly) Executed in 269 A.D.


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Creativity and Crazy.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Top 5 Favorite Book Boy Friends

As I said in response to a similar question from about twenty weeks ago, I don't really have "book boyfriends", or, for that matter "book girlfriends". The mindset that leads to those sorts of relationships just isn't how I relate to books. In the previous post on this topic, I identified Ged from Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series, Taran from Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, and Éomer from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings as heroic male characters that I liked. Rather than rehash their names again, I'll pick five other male heroic characters that I like.

Paul Muad'Dib Atredies from Dune by Frank Herbert. Okay, so his story didn't end particularly well for him, but along the way he became the fulfillment of prophecies and took control of the entire galaxy as a messianic figure who could foretell the future. Starting out as the scion of a powerful noble family specially trained by his mother in the ways of a fanatical religious order was a good beginning, and then falling in with a desert dwelling collection of religious zealots looking for a leader to guide them to paradise, Paul rises to power on the top of a runaway train that quickly steams out of control. Unable to reconcile the galactic jihad he has unleashed with his precognitive abilities, and seeing no palatable future, he becomes a recluse living alone in the desert for a decade. Eventually, he returns and is murdered by his younger sister, but as compensation, his son becomes a sandworm and rules the galaxy for thousands of years.

Murdoc Jern from The Zero Stone and Uncharted Stars by Andre Norton. Jern is an apprentice gem trader with an unusual inheritance: His father left him a strange ring to large for any human finger set with a mysterious stone that had been found on an alien body floating in space. Stranded on a strange planet, Jern finds sanctuary and secures passage on a free trader where he befriends the ship's cat. After the cat eats a strange pebble, it gives birth to a cat-like creature called "Eet" that turns out to be telepathic and enigmatic. From there, Jern's adventures really get going, leading him about the galaxy as he and Eet are forced to stay one step ahead of their adversaries until Jern is able to unlock the final secret of the Zero Stone with unexpected results.

William Laurence from the Temeraire series (read review) by Naomi Novik. Laurence is an officer in the Royal Navy during the United Kingdom's war against Napoleon until his ship recovers a dragon egg from a captured French vessel and the resulting dragon, named Temeraire, imprints upon him. He is almost immediately transferred to the far less prestigious air service as Temeraire's captain. From there, Laurence's career takes him across the globe, first to China on a diplomatic mission to mollify the Chinese emperor, on an epic flight across all of Asia, arriving just in time to aid the Prussians when Napoleon invades their country, to Africa to find a cure for a dragon killing plague, into prison for treason that is converted into exile to Australia after he and Temeraire help defeat the French invasion of Great Britain, and then to South America to try to break up a political marriage for Napoleon. I haven't finished the entire series, but so far, Laurence's adventures with Temeraire have been exciting and interesting.

James Griffin-Mars from Time Salvager (red review) and Time Siege by Wesley Chu. Griffin-Mars is probably the most unlikable character in this bunch. Living in a distant future in which the Earth has been wrecked by centuries of pollution and war, and the rest of the Solar System's resources have been exhausted, Griffin-Mars works as a time salvager, traveling to the past to recover resources and technology that are no longer available in the present. Salvagers obtain these items just before the historical records say they would have been destroyed, they are prohibited from changing the past, and they must leave any people the encounter to their fates. To cope with leaving so many people to die, Griffin-Mars resorts to drinking heavily and being difficult to deal with. His story takes a left turn when he breaks the laws of time and brings someone back from the past, which sets him on a collision course with the authorities and the corporate interests that they answer to. This series is ongoing, so we have yet to see all of Griffin-Mars' story, but I think it will turn out to be interesting all the way to the end.

Lorq von Rey from Nova (read review) by Samuel R. Delany. Nova was one of the first science fiction novels that I read, which I will admit is a strange place for someone to start. Lorq von Ray is the head of the von Ray family, which holds vast business interests in the Pleiades Federation and is opposed by the Earth -based Red Shift company, owned by the villainous Prince Red and his sister Ruby. The key to power in the galaxy is the super heavy trace element Illyrion, vital to powering interstellar starships and terraforming. Both sides realize that the best place to find vast quantities of this element is in the midst of a star that is going nova, spewing its guts across space. As a result, both are racing to locate a star about to go nova and reach it in time to scoop up the most valuable element in the universe, cornering the market and ruining the competition. In the novel, von Ray leads this expedition, recruiting a strange crew of misfits, including Mouse, a gypsy skilled in the use of a complex instrument called a "sensory syrynx", and Katin, a man who aspires to write a novel, although novels are obsolete in this future. Lorq and his crew roam the stars and lock horns with Prince Red and Ruby, eventually leading to a final confrontation and a final conflagration.


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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Event - MidAmeriCon II, August 17-21, 2016: Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday

Last week the seventy-fourth Worldcon, titled MidAmeriCon II, was held in Kansas City, Missouri. The redhead and I were among the many thousands of attendees this year, and at least as far as we are concerned, it was a terrific convention.

Wednesday: We arrived late in the day on the first day of the convention after driving eight hours to get to Kansas City. After checking in to our hotel, we took the Main Street streetcar to the convention center for the first time. I will take this opportunity to heap praise onto Kansas City for their excellent streetcar service, which was easy to use and got us where we needed to go in a most efficient manner.

After a short walk from the streetcar, we reached the convention center and found the registration desk shortly before it closed, claiming our badges. The redhead also got her first badge ribbon as the volunteer working the desk had a "Team Mystic" ribbon to give her. From there it was a escalator ride to the enormous main hall of the convention where the "consuite", dealer hall, and artists' alley could be found as well as the various "parks" that had been set up, and the "party rooms" were located. Con ops and the area for author signings were also located in this room, as were the gaming area and the cosplay repair station. Everything was separated by temporary dividers, which worked well, but did block some of the food vendors along the walls - a fact that we did not discover until Saturday, and then only by accident.

We took this opportunity to tour the dealer hall, as we didn't know if our schedule would permit us to do so later. We found the Studio Foglio booth where we acquired volumes twelve and thirteen of the Girl Genius series, and had them both signed by Phil and Kaja Foglio. From there we headed to Larry Smith's book store and acquired a number of books we had been looking forward to, including Time Siege by Wes Chu, League of Dragons by Naomi Novik, The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin, and The Royal Succession by Maurice Druon. We would have also picked up Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal, but Larry didn't have the book, just as he had not had it at either Balticon or InConJunction. He had all of the other books in Kowal's Glamourist Histories series, but not that one for some reason, at least not at the start of the convention. All turned out well eventually, by Thursday Larry had received a mailed shipment of books that included Glamour in Glass, and in a stroke of luck, Mary was there when the redhead went to buy a copy and got it signed on the spot.

After leaving the main hall, we ran across Fran Wilde, Sarah Pinsker, Scott Edelman, and a few others, giving us an opportunity to catch up with them. After a short conversation, we headed over to the local supermarket Cosentino's to stock up on supplies for the rest of the week. We usually do this at most conventions, stocking up on snacks, drinks, and food for the convention and carrying the supplies in an insulated backpack we bring just for this purpose. We were able to get most of what we needed, but we discovered something we didn't previously know about Cosentino's: Their pre-prepared food is very attractive, but for the most part is mediocre at best.

Thursday: Our convention really got going on Thursday, with a panel on the Best (Mega)Bits of Gaming featuring Randy Henderson, Symantha Reagor, Andrea Stewart, Brianna Wu, and Carrie Patel moderated by Vivian Trask. We had mostly gone to the panel to see Brianna and Carrie, but the entire discussion was excellent, touching on a wide variety of issues related to video game development and design. On a side note, this panel was scheduled in the earliest time slot of the day, which was a quite reasonable 10 A.M. Whoever made the decision to have programming for this Worldcon start at 10 A.M. (as opposed to many conventions where 8 A.M. is the norm), I send my thanks to you. As a bonus, Brianna's husband Frank Wu was in attendance at the panel, and we were able to meet him as well. He thought my Five Year Mission t-shirt was interesting, so I pointed him to the band's website where I hope he enjoys the music they produce.

After our panel we ran across Mary Robinette Kowal, who was in costume for her roving book launch party for Ghost Talkers. We gave her the pass phrase from the blog post in which she had announced the roving book launch party, and she gave us a coded telegram. And thus our participation in the game of cracking Mary's various coded messages began, although it turned out that this was an inauspicious beginning, as there was no real way to crack the code in the telegram. It turned out that the code in the telegram was a book code keyed, naturally enough, to Ghost Talkers. Unfortunately, Ghost Talkers was pretty much impossible to acquire at the convention, as none of the book dealers had a copy available, which made the code impossible to crack. After we had beaten our heads against the code for the better part of a day, we ran into Mary again, and she gave us a postcard as a replacement code to puzzle out, and the rest of the challenges went quite smoothly. There were common Caesar codes, a keyed Caesar code, a pigpen cipher, and a columnar transposition cipher. We spent the better part of two days working them out and then tracking Mary down to give her the coded pass phrase to get the prizes of tea, chocolate, rum, and a pencil, and finally the final code. The final prize was to be delivered at the Tor.com party on Friday evening, but I'll talk about that when I write about Friday's events.

Going back to the subject of musical acts, at noon, we attended Paul & Storm's concert. As usual, the duo were excellent, providing geeky comedy and music that included numbers such as Opening Band, Irish Drinking Song, Write Like the Wind (George R.R. Martin), Nun Fight, and Westerosi Pie. They closed their concert with a rousing (and lengthy) rendition of The Captain's Wife's Lament. If you have not attended a Paul & Storm concert, it is worth it to go just for that song alone, although one should be warned that they take a song that runs for about two minutes and twenty seconds in the studio recording and make it last for eight, ten, twelve, twenty, or even more minutes. As a consolation, the live version of the song incorporates substantial audience participation, which is what makes the song so long and so much fun.

Our next event was the Grand Master Chat featuring Larry Niven, Connie Willis, Joe Haldeman, James Gunn, and Robert Silverberg. This is the sort of panel that it is almost impossible to find anywhere but Worldcon, because this assemblage of talent doesn't show up anywhere else very often. The panel was mostly an undirected conversation, in part because one would be hard-pressed to find someone who could moderate this group, and in part because there wasn't any real need to direct it. For the most part, this panel was a little bit like sitting in a room where some very old friends were having a conversation about whatever they thought was interesting. Everyone on the panel was excellent, but Willis and Silverberg stood out even in this group.

Our next panel was titled SF as Protest Literature with Bradford Lyau, Mark Oshiro, Jo Walton, Ann Leckie, and moderated by Alex Jablokow. Once again, this was a brilliant panel with intelligent and knowledgeable panelists providing insightful and interesting commentary. From there we went to Your Character Ate What? a game show style panel hosted by Fran Wilde and featuring Elizabeth Bear, Scott Lynch, Maz Gladstone, Esther Friesner, and John Chu. The format for the game show was fairly simple: Two audience members were selected as contestants; they then picked a member of the panel as their spokesperson for each question. Fran would ask a question and ask the selected panelists to answer it, at which point the contestants would have to decide if their chosen panelist's answer was right or wrong. The twist is that the questions almost always involve food, and are almost always incredibly weird. The real fun is watching authors who clearly have not read the book that the question is based upon try to bluff their way through their answer, or, as seemed to frequently be the case for Scott Lynch, when they simply make no pretense at getting the correct answer. This panel was great fun, and was one of the highlights of the convention. If you are ever at a convention where Fran is hosting this game show, I highly recommend attending.

The redhead and I then headed back to the main hall to cast our votes for site selection, which was an extremely well-organized process. Our return to the main hall also allowed us to stop by the various fan tables, including those organized by the various bids to host Worldcon and NASFiC. This allowed us to obtain a number of badge ribbons, both for the bids themselves - I got ribbons for New Orleans in 2018, Dublin in 2019, New Zealand in 2020, and San Jose in 2018 - and silly ones such as a ribbon stating "Adult Supervision Is Recommended", and a pair of Chuck Tingle influenced ribbons: One said "I Am Chuck Tingle", and the other "No Devilman Plots". The redhead got one that said "Ladys Get Hard". On that note, I should point out that anyone who thinks that Tingle's placement as a Hugo finalist embarrassed the Worldcon community is simply deluded. There were so many Chuck Tingle themed badge ribbons that if one didn't know better, they might have thought he was one of the guests of honor. There was even a matching set of ribbons that said "I am secretly Chuck Tingle" and "I am not secretly Chuck Tingle", which many people wore together, making them a kind of Schrödinger's Tingle. Far from being upset by the nomination, most people seemed to embrace the silly nature of it, and had great fun at the convention as a result.

Friday: Friday was supposed to start off with the panel It's Not Torture If It's the Good Guys, but the combination of Wednesday's drive and Thursday's packed schedule meant that the redhead and I didn't get ourselves together early enough to attend. One thing that almost always happens at a convention is that your planned schedule will be disrupted and you won't be able to do one of the things you had hoped to be able to do. Whether it is because you overslept, or because getting lunch took longer than you thought, or simply because the event you wanted to attend was so overcrowded that you couldn't get in, something is almost certain to go wrong somewhere, and it is unlikely to be a unique event. You just have to be prepared for this sort of thing to happen, and roll with it.

The first panel we actually made it to wasn't really a panel at all, it was the Magazine Group Reading for Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, moderated by C.C. Finlay and featuring readings by David Gerrold, Cat Rambo, Sarah Pinsker, William Ledbetter, and Esther Friesner. This was the first of several magazine reading panels that the redhead and I had scheduled at the convention, and I cannot recommend this type of panel enough. There is no better way to get exposure to the work of a lot of writers than to go to a group reading panel, especially one that is themed in some way. The authors on this panel had all been published in Fantasy & Science Fiction at some point, and most read a section from one of their stories that had appeared in the magazine. Each of the authors gave a terrific reading, but both Gerrold and Friesner were notable for the humor that infused their readings.

Next we attended the Magazine Group Reading panel for Analog: Science Fiction and Fact moderated by Trevor Quachri and featuring Alec Nevala-Lee, Stanley Schmidt, Rosemary Claire Smith, and James van Pelt. Of all the group readings the redhead and I attended at Worldcon, this one was the least interesting overall. I'm not sure if it was because the readers delivered their material in a dull manner, or if the stories themselves were weak. I have found the stories in Analog, when taken as a group, to be the blandest and most pedestrian of the stories found in the major speculative fiction magazines, although I usually attribute this to the fact that the magazine emphasizes technical details more than the others, sometimes at the expense of storytelling, and that may have been what happened on this panel. On the plus side, there were two stories featuring dinosaurs. I will also say that while I have often been critical of Quachri's time at the helm of the magazine, the answers he gave to the audience questions were informative and insightful.

From the Analog reading, we moved directly to the Magazine Group Reading for Asimov's Science Fiction moderated by Sheila Williams and featuring readings by James Patrick Kelly, Mary Robinette Kowal, Steve Rasnic Tem, Connie Willis, and Robert Reed. As with the other readings, all of the authors were in top form, and all gave excellent readings, especially Willis and Kowal. One of the interesting things to see at these panels is the interaction between the editors and the authors, and one particularly funny exchange ended up with James Patrick Kelly crawling away into the audience in shame.

Friday was the day that David Truesdale hijacked a panel on The State of Short Fiction, an incident that led to his expulsion from the convention. I may write about that in some other post, but to satisfy my curiosity I went back and figured out where the redhead and I were when this happened: We were in line to get books signed by Robert Silverberg. Over the course of the convention, the redhead and I asked several authors to sign books for us, and every single one of them was gracious and generous, whether we were asking after a panel, or while in the dealer hall, or at an official signing session. Silverberg was no exception. One of the wonderful things about the science fiction community is that an author with as long and accomplished a career as Silverberg will still sit and talk with fans almost at the drop of a hat. In many cases, I have the impression that were it not for the requirements of scheduling, many authors would spend all of their time at Worldcon simply sitting around and talking with attendees.

Our final Magazine Group Reading of the day was for Clarkesworld, moderated by Neil Clarke and featuring Mary Anne Mohanraj, Kelly Robson, Seth Dickinson, Martin Shoemaker, and Naomi Kritzer. As with the other reading panels, this one was entertaining fro start to finish, with highlights provided when Kritzer read from her Hugo-nominated (and later Hugo-winning) story Cat Pictures Please and Shoemaker read from his WSFA Small Press Award-nominated story Today I Am Paul. Aside from the readings, the best moment in the panel came when Mohanraj pointed out to Clarke that he has turned down the sequel to the story she read and he went and stood in the corner in shame.

After four magazine group readings and two signing sessions, the redhead and I made it to our first actual panel of the day titled 'It Takes a Pack to Raise a Child' Families and Friends in Steampunk, with panelists Gail Carriger, Beth Cato, Sandee Rodriguez, and Belinda McBride moderated by Heather Rose Jones. This panel was quite good on the whole, delving into what makes a character a side character as opposed to a member of an ensemble, and how to use such characters to drive a story forward. All of the panelists contributed, but the star of the hour was definitely Beth Cato, whose commentary was consistently stellar.

The final event we attended on Friday was the Girl Genius Radio Play hosted by Phil and Kaja Foglio. As they explained at the outset, this event was neither radio nor a play, but rather a collection of people standing in front of microphones reading a story in character in a manner similar to that done in the past for radio broadcast. Except there was no broadcasting done on this night. After Phil selected members of the audience to fill out parts, Kaja took to the microphone as Agatha Heterodyne, Girl Genius, while her son took on the role of Krosp, Emperor of All Cats, and Phil assumed the role of narrator. With the cast in place, presentations of Revenge of the Weasel Queen and Agatha's Big Date commenced, with much fanfare and cheering and audience participation. Othar Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer, tried to be heroic, Krosp was sarcastic, Zeetha knocked heads, and Agatha saved the day. Kind of. By mistake. The Girl Genius Radio Plays, despite being neither radio nor plays, are a rollicking good time, and if you are at a convention where they are held, I highly recommend going.

After the Radio Play, we went to dinner and eventually went to the Tor.com party, and finally completed Mary Robinette Kowal's final code challenge. The prize for completing the challenge was supposed to be a story, written by Mary on the spot at the party using her portable manual typewriter. Unfortunately, she had accidentally dropped the typewriter earlier in the day, and it was not working. Mary spent nearly two hours trying to fix the machine, adjusting the tension of various screws and wires, trying to find just the magical combination that would get it working again. For much of this time, I sat next to her, having offered my Swiss Army Knife for her to use as a screwdriver and holding the miniature flashlight for her while she tinkered away. Eventually she gave up, and gave us an I.O.U. for the story, but even if she had not, this is the sort of experience that makes conventions what they are. As tense and out of sorts as Mary was for most of the time, I will never forget sitting there and doing my best to help. It wasn't how I imagined I would spend the bulk of the Tor.com party, but I wouldn't trade the time spent being Mary's assistant for anything. On a more party-like note, I did get to spend some time making the acquaintance of Naomi Kritzer, who is just as delightful in person as her stories are on the page.


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Monday, August 22, 2016

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


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

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

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


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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Review - An Atlas of Tolkien by David Day


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, August 15, 2016

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


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

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

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


Freiburg Baroque Orchestra     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, August 14, 2016

2010 Hugo Award Longlist

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

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

Best Novel

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

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

Best Novella

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

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

Best Novelette

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

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

Best Short Story

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

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

Best Related Work

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

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

Best Graphic Story

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

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

Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form

Finalists:
Avatar
District 9
Moon
Star Trek
Up!

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

Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form

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

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

Best Professional Editor: Short Form

Finalists:
Ellen Datlow
Stanley Schmidt
Jonathan Strahan
Gordon van Gelder
Sheila Williams

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

Best Professional Editor: Long Form

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

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

Best Professional Artist

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

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

Best Semi-Prozine

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

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

Best Fanzine

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

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

Best Fan Writer

Finalists:
Claire Brialey
Chris Garcia
James Nicoll
Lloyd Penny
Frederik Pohl

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

Best Fan Artist

Finalists:
Brad Foster
Dave Howell
Sue Mason
Steve Stiles
Taral Wayne

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

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Finalists:
Saladin Ahmed
Gail Carriger
Felix Gilman
Seanan McGuire
Lezli Robyn

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

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

Go to 2010 Hugo Finalists and Winners

Hugo Longlist Project     Book Award Reviews     Home

Saturday, August 13, 2016

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

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

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

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

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

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: Tracy 168 Is a Graffiti Artist in New York

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, August 12, 2016

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


It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Flavia the Bibliophile.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What is your favorite opening scene?

From Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Follow Friday     Home

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

2016 WSFA Small Press Award Voting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014 Hugo Award Winner for Best Short Story: The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere by John Chu (reviewed in 2014 Hugo Voting - Best Short Story)
2015 Hugo Award Winner for Best Short Story: No Award
2017 Hugo Award Winner for Best Short Story: TBD

List of Hugo Award Winners for Best Short Story

2016 Hugo Award Finalists

2016 WSFA Small Press Award Nominees     Book Award Reviews     Home

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

2016 WSFA Small Press Award Nominees

Location: CapClave in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

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

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

WSFA Small Press Award
(My Votes)

Winner:
TBD

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

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

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