2017 Nebula Awards Ceremony Thoughts

On 20 May, 2017, the Nebula Awards for 2016 were handed out, and I’m fairly pleased with the results. I do have one major nit, and you’ll hear about it in a few minutes.

Primarily, I’m happy for all the winners and most of the finalists. For the large part, they all belonged on that list, and they all could have won it. A fantastic thing about being part of the SF/F scene right now is the compelling quality of work being done by a diverse group of authors.

I’m especially glad that David Levine got the Andre Norton YA Award for “Arabella of Mars,” one of my favorite novels of the year. It gets its own review elsewhere on this site, so please “Search” in the upper left and see why I love it, and perhaps that will move you to treat yourself to a great, fun read.

Charlie Jane Anders won Best Novel for “All the Birds in the Sky,” and that is well deserved.

However, her win presents me with a bit of a challenge. For years I’ve been prognosticating about the Best Novel winner for the Hugo award with some success. The only reason I do that is to test my own awareness of what is happening in my own field: How in touch am I? Am I reading the right stuff? Am I still able to judge quality SF/F when I see it? None of that is for bragging rights, or to say, “I told you so.” All of that is to say, “Yep, Vonne, you’re still in this,” or “Uh, Vonne, you missed reading some really good stuff, you idiot.”

This is the first year I expanded that predicting business into the Nebulas and even the Clarkes, and you can find my predictions elsewhere on this site by doing that same “Searchy” thing.

I was dead wrong on my short-list picks for the Clarkes. Well, I got three out of six right, but that can be done by flipping a coin, so no awareness of the field is really required. My pick to win isn’t even in the finalists. FAIL!

Here, I got the Best Novel Nebula wrong. I picked Ms. Anders to win the Hugo, but N. K. Jemisin to get the Nebula for “The Obelisk Gate.” My reasoning is along the lines of: “Jemisin got the Hugo last year, so is unlikely to get it again this year, but this sequel is REALLY GOOD, so maybe it gets the Nebula while Anders gets the Hugo.” Plus, the Nebula is more of a literati award from the professionals in the industry, and, to be honest, Jemisin’s a better writer than Anders. (Note: they are both WAY BETTER than me, but still, Jemisin is a more nuanced, stylistic, consistently attention grabbing writer. Anders caught lightning in a bottle, but I’m not convinced future offerings will be as magical . . . yet.) This race in both the Hugo and Nebula is really about these two works.

None of that is my nit. I don’t mind being wrong, and Anders’ work is outstanding, so the award is well deserved and I’m happy for her.

Here’s my nit: This is about diversity. Looking at the pictures of the winners, I see a lot of women, which is excellent because, in my view, women are changing and leading the field right now. I see alternative gender roles on display in the form of openly gay writers or writers who wrote openly gay or transgender focused works. Okay. I’m not any of those things, so I have little to say about it, but it counts as diversity and that’s a good thing.

And I see a lot of white folks holding awards.

Yeah, I said it. Granted, there’s a middle Eastern (shout out to the Oracle of the Bus, girl!) or two in there, but very fair skinned ones. There were many PoC nominated, but even the photographs of the conference and party lack for color. And that’s my nit. Diversity fail.

I’m not saying Jemisin should have won because she’s black, any more than I’m saying Nisi Shawl should have for the same reason, or Allyssa Wong for being Asian. However, Jemisin is the superior writer.

And the picture of winners is too damn white. In fact, the pictures of the entire conference is too damn white. What’s up with that?

21 May, 2017

VA

 

 

Vonne’s Shelf: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Vonne’s Shelf: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

This is a finalist for the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novel. It is very good, but you don’t need me to tell you that (it’s a finalist for the Hugo, fercryinoutloud)! Let’s do a parental review, give a brief synopsis, a few thoughts on relevancy, and finally my take on its chances at the Worldcon for the Hugo in Helsinki, Finland in August.

Parental Review:

Profanity: Yes. The f*bomb is not quite pervasive, but becomes more so as you get into part two, when one of the protagonists learns to swear and takes up the practice with gusto. Notably, both Sidra and young Jane 23 are cautioned about their language, so that’s nice.

Sex/Nudity: None, really. There is some talk, but in regards to inter-species mating practices. This reminded me a bit of a Galactic Geographic documentary of alien natural procreation norms.

Violence: None. Yay! This is my favorite thing. There is some action, as one of the protagonists is attacked by wild dogs, and she has to defend herself. She kills some of them, and then learns she needs to start supplementing her diet, so this becomes a hunting scenario.

Brief Synopsis:

In a way, this is an indirect sequel to A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. That novel introduced a secondary character that is one of the main characters here. That novel also gave birth to the sentient AI that becomes the other main character here. However, make no mistake: this is a very different novel from that one. All those older, more fun, characters are gone, and instead we are dealing with a much more serious story with a more serious message.

Sidra used to be known as Lovelace, the AI on the Wayfarer in the other novel. However, her personality “died” at the end of that novel, and the core programming was downloaded into a human-analogue kit body, and this is Sidra. This story follows her as she tries to cope with the restrictions her kit-body imposes, and find her own way in the sprawling station known as Port Coriol.

Pepper was a secondary character in the previous novel. She takes Sidra to live with her and to take care of her, helping her to adjust to society and her new life. Half of this novel follows Pepper when she was a young girl named Jane 23 on an Enhanced World. There, she was basically slave labor to make tech work. This back story will take her to a damaged shuttle with a lonely AI named Owl. Ultimately, the two of them will repair the shuttle and escape the planet.

The story bounces back and forth, alternating chapters in the present with Sidra and Pepper and then with Pepper as Jane 23 in the past. The last section of the novel merges these stories to achieve a resolution to the real story, which I won’t reveal here.

Relevancy:

Right now the world is grappling with diversity. Exactly what qualifies as diversity, and what is merely aberrant behavior? I don’t know the answer to that question, but this novel seems to be tackling that difficult problem.

Here I’ll get into something called “literary symbolism,” which is a subject that frustrates me to death. This is my least favorite thing about Literature classes: the need to find some deeper meaning than just a good story. In my disdain for this practice, I am in good company. Mark Twain hated it also. Normally, I would rather not even acknowledge the beast, but this novel begs for it so here it comes.

Consider the challenge of being in a body you know is not yours. That is Sidra’s dilemma, and how that is resolved will be . . . unsatisfying in the “literary symbolism” context, but I cannot reveal that. Anyway, this is very like the challenges of those struggling with transgender, or Gender Identity Disorder, or something similar. I won’t pretend to understand those difficulties; all I will say is that our society makes life very difficult for such ones.

That means this story is extremely relevant, and that increases its chances for the Hugo Award.

Grief Management through a Personal Story:

A friend of mine claimed to have Gender Identity Disorder. He felt he was actually a woman, and resented being lumped in with males. His wife struggled along with him in this. Why they ever got married is baffling to me. They told me repeatedly they could handle it. It turns out they couldn’t. We had many discussions about this, and spoke openly and directly. My focus was not judging because, well, who am I to judge anything? It did make me do a lot of research, though. He argued that GID sufferers are shown in autopsies to literally have different brain structure that does identify as the opposite gender than their body presents. My research agreed with this, but also included the reality that by choosing to dwell on things, we literally change the synaptic connections, and therefore the structure, in our brains. The conundrum: Does the structure always present gender-opposition from birth, or do we create that structure by thinking repeatedly along those lines? We never got an answer to that. What we did get were numerous trips to the ER while he self-injured to make himself a woman; the marriage crashing; disturbing public behavior; ultimately, he committed suicide by cop to end his suffering. A tragedy that I still weep about in my heart.

Now that we’re all bummed out, let’s change the subject back to the novel’s addressing of this topic. Yeah, changing the subject: I’m down with that.

One of the things that highlights the gender challenges is one particular ensemble character that is of an alien species that naturally cycles through differing genders during its lifespan. When we first meet this character, they are a “she” p. 92. The next time they show up, they are “he” p. 138, and we are told up front that they have changed gender. Third appearance p. 187 back to “she” with no explanation. Then, p. 220 back to “he” with no explanation. Then, p. 300, bafflingly and suddenly, the uncertain alien gender of “xe” and “xyr” with no explanation. Finally, p. 312 back to “she” with no explanation.

Either this character is present to show that gender identity changing is perfectly fine and can be handled with equanimity, or this is some piss poor proofreading. I get real passionate about my favorite authors not being treated well by their publishing houses, so I hope this isn’t piss poor proofing. You won’t like it if I get angry.

Hugo Chances:

This is very good, and deserves a solid reading. I just don’t think it’s good enough to beat some of the other works in the finalist list. The relevancy factor is in its favor. Though the story must have been very difficult to write, it really isn’t that different from many other novels written in the same way. So, I’m thinking it won’t actually win the Hugo.

One thing is certain: there was a ton of quality SF/F produced last year, and making the Hugo finalist list in that kind of competitive environment should be a matter of great pride. The whole genre should be proud of itself.

Of greater concern to me is that it is so serious, I cannot even give it the 2016 Golden Giggle (or Giggly) Award like I hoped to! Gah!

Oh well, not every author should feel obligated to accommodate my need for inane silliness.

Well done, Ms. Chambers. You deserve the finalist slot, and I hope you win, but forgive me for not thinking you will. In fact, just ignore that.

Smile!

4/7/17
VA

My 2017 Arthur C. Clarke Awards Picks

2017 Arthur C. Clarke Thoughts

So, I mentioned in the previous post that I had chosen who I thought should get Clarke Award nods, and even the winner. Yet, I had not posted it here. So, here it is for your debating pleasure!

1. All the Birds In the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders: This is my pick for the Hugo this year! It mashes up sci-fi and fantasy to make the case that SF/F geeks can defeat the corporate overlords! Timely and fun!

2. The Medusa Chronicles by Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter: This is GLORIOUS! To write the sequel to an Arthur C. Clarke Hugo winning novella from 1972, expand the story, even stay in that false universe’s future conceits, is a shoe-in for this award! Baxter has been nominated the most here, but never won. It’s time! Reynolds’ other work, Revenger, is good, but not anywhere near how good Medusa is. How can you not give the Clarke Award to a Clarke Sequel? This is not only short-listed, it is my prediction for the WINNER.

3. Close and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers: Honestly, I haven’t read it yet. The noise surrounding it is cool, and it is my current top next-to read, and I’m psyched about it. That’s all the justification I have.

4. Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee: This is the worst thing Lee has written, and it doesn’t deserve to be on any list. It acts like gore is poetic, and provides a clunky, incomprehensible fake society to be the mechanism for this dreadful mistake. However, this has been highly anticipated, and though I hated it, I have to admit the Awards people are often mistaking art for mere wishful thinking. We love Lee’s short stories, and this has a lot of feel-good from the industry.

5. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin: This actually WON the Hugo last year! Its sequel is being touted for further awards, and the final volume in the trilogy is hotly anticipated. This is EPIC SF/F and deserves every award it gets. This is going to become a “classic” in literature. It is really THAT GOOD!

6. Death’s End by Cixin Liu: Arthur C. Clarke has always been about epic science, and no one on this list explodes with epic science like this book. Just cracking the covers could put your eye out from the scientific ideas bursting from it! There are enough brilliant conjectures here to compose several novels, but are crammed into one. Actually, it has pretty big plot holes, and the author waxes pedantic at times. It shouldn’t win, but the mass of extraordinary ideas alone place it on this list.

There they are, my 6-pix and even who I hope wins.

2 April 2017

VA

Becky Chambers: Golden Giggle Award Winner!

The Long Way to a Small, Giggly Award

Vonne steps up to the microphone. “Nominated for the 2015 Golden Giggle Award – or Giggly – are the following: Terr—“

“You already gave out the 2015 Benedict to John Scalzi.”

“No! I gave Scalzi the first ever Giggly, unspecific to any given year, for a wide range of works. THIS is the official Giggly for 2015, and please stop calling it Benedict!”

“’Benedict’ sounds more noble than ‘Giggly.’”

Vonne turns to the audience. “Ladies and Gentlemen, please pardon our Webpage Master Director. He’s a bit of a stickler for fine points, and calls this award ‘Benedict’ because he’s in lust with that CucumberBatch Brit actor. . .”

“I am not! But if Hollywood gets an award nobly called ‘Oscar,’ I don’t see why –“

“’Oscar’ sounds like a weiner! It is NOT noble! Admit it, you love that Cummerbund guy!”

The WMD (sic) pondered this. “Well, he does look rather dignified in a cummerbund . . .”

“There you have it, folks!” Vonne cried. “The WMD loves a CabbagePatch Doll named Benedict!”

“He is NOT a CabbagePatch Doll!”

“Take a good look before you say that again,” Vonne sneered. “Now leave me alone so I can give this award to Becky Chambers.” Vonne turned back to us, the audience.

“Before awarding Miss Chambers the 2015 Golden Giggle Award, it would behoove me to explain why it is so long coming, and – since we are in the 2017 Award Season here in the SF/F Universe – what it portends for her future award chances. (Vonne decides to dispense with quotation marks for the time being, as Vonne is the only one talking.)

I had heard some good noise about a novel called “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” by one Becky Chambers. It was described as “fun space opera.” I do loves me some space opera, and am gaga over anything fun, so this seemed like something good to look into. But lo! The cover artwork was full of big, blocky, epic lettering like some bad 1950’s B-movie. Decided to pass.

Then in 2016, folks started raving about “A Closed and Common Orbit” by the same Becky Chambers. I filed that away in ye olde memory banks for an oddment to be tasted later. Besides, I had lost a filling and needed something to suck on.

On January 31st of this year, 2017, Locus Magazine posted its recommended reading list for 2016. Most of the Awards to be handed out will come from this rather long list, and “A Closed and Common Orbit” (CaCO) was on it. Noted.

Normally I would wait to see what the voters decide is on the shortlist that will become available later before picking the winner. Yes, I ACTUALLY PICK THE WINNER. I know this because once I say who it is, it actually turns out that way! No one realizes this, but I am the sole determiner of who actually gets the awards, even though I do not qualify to actually vote! Weird, right? Go figure!

Anyway, this year I decided to be real ballsy and pick the 6 nominated works for Best Novel for the Hugo before the voting even ended on March 18th! I posted that on February 5th, including among them the one I have deemed to win. (You may read it here: http://vonneanton.com/2017/02/early-hugo-predictions-2017/ ) If they don’t listen to me and omit one that I put on the shortlist, that’s okay. Alas, I did not list CaCO because I hadn’t read a word of Becky Chambers’ anything.

The Nebula people trotted out their shortlist on February 20th, and I usually don’t bother voting for them, but still had some balls left over from the Hugo excitement, so on February 23rd, I decided to pick the winner in the Best Novel category for that award also. (Here: http://vonneanton.com/2017/02/2017-nebula-nominees/) There was one book on that list I hadn’t read (Borderline by Mishell Baker, excellent by the by, and you can read it by scrolling down to the following post below) but, having read it, I decided to leave my pick in place. CaCO wasn’t on their shortlist, so that’s not on me.

On February 17th, the long-list of works for the Arthur C. Clarke Award was posted, and I checked: yep, plenty of balls left, so I decided “Why not? I’m on a roll!” So, I picked my 6 short-listers and named the obvious winner. Guess what?!?!?! I actually picked CaCO to be on that shortlist! Still hadn’t read it, but felt obligated to read it soon, so why not? Might be lucky! (Still didn’t pick it to win, though.)

Well, now I was fresh out of balls and had nothing to play with, but felt a certain next morning angst about not being faithful. So, I ran down to Ye Olde Book Shoppe to grab a copy of “A Closed and Common Orbit” by Becky Chambers!

Head Thud against bookrack. It’s a sequel to “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.” So I did the only right thing to do and grabbed them both and resigned myself to reading an early 1950’s B-movie before I could get on to the main attraction.

WELL! I finished TLW2aSAP and THAT is what Becky Chambers is getting her first Golden Giggle Award for! YES! You are correct to applaud that! And now for the big surprise! A special Review of it in my typical Vonnette style added right into an Award announcement!

Parental Advisories

Profanity: Yes. The f*bomb drops occasionally. It’s not pervasive, but is still present. But, that’s the worst of it. Most kids know that word pretty well by the time they are 12 these days, so whatever.

Sex: Sorta. Definitely pillow talk, flirting, etc. The strangest part of this is all the inter-species sex. No less than 5 members of the 8 crew members are having cross-species flings with aliens. And yes, I’m counting one that is more technical than actual. However, all of them are showing love for each other and enjoying the intimate nature of real sex. So it’s treated in an adult manner, and there are no detailed descriptions.

[Brief aside here. How would aliens know what goes into where? Mistakes like that could start interstellar wars.]

Violence: There is a little in one scene, but no one is killed in that scene. Actually, humans have lost the ability and desire to commit acts of violence in this novel, so that is a really GREAT thing for young readers.

So, parents: you know the drill. This is not publicized as a YA offering, but you can read it for yourself and determine what is proper for your precocious ten year old.

Synopsis

The spaceship “Wayfarer” is a tunneler. That is, it tunnels through the fabric of space to make wormholes to speed up traffic and commerce between species.

The crew is a HOOT! Quirky, funny, fabulous, the adjectives will keep going until someone puts a sock in me. The synopsis on the cover would lead you to believe that Rosemary Harper is the main character, but it just doesn’t work that way. The whole crew are the main characters! They all get their moment to shine, and Rosemary’s time “onscreen” is no more than anyone else’s. I really CARE about these characters! (Spoiler!) One of them will die, technically.

They are given a mission to tunnel a wormhole from one of the vast Galactic Commons main stations to near the galaxy Core, where one clan of a particularly warlike species has finally decided to join the GC for trade, stability, and protection. This is “a Small, Angry Planet” that the crew heads off toward.

It takes them “The Long Way to” get there. They receive the mission around page 90; they get there finally at page 380; and the book ends by page 438. A LOT happens in the meantime and goes mad in the last 50 pages, so stick around! It’s all fascinating, fun, interesting, and just buggers! (This also explains the madness behind this meandering blog post! It’s an homage to the novel itself!)

This made some lists for awards, but I’m not aware it won any of them. But it truly is FUN SPACE OPERA! And this is the kind of stuff I go ape about!

[Another aside: I wonder if the author realizes she has a calling that is not mentioned anywhere, including on the bio part of the cover; not even on her own website! Here it is: To make the wormholes, the crew has to “pin” an opening in space/time “fabric” at one location. Then they jet off to the other end, “threading” in and out of real and hyper space. Once there, they “pin” another opening, and then navigate the two openings, “hemming” them together. One of the characters is even born on a planet named “Stitch!” At the end, my favorite character takes up knitting! (I won’t tell you what they knit, because that would be too much spoiler-age and give away the awesome whackadoodle-ness of this book that everyone should enjoy for the first read without any more help from me!) Yes, Becky Chambers, you are a SEAMSTRESS! Did you know?]

GO READ THIS BOOK! If you like fun, read it! If you like space opera, read it!

It would be so easy to compare this to a mashup of “Firefly,” “Star Wars,” and “Star Trek.” But it would also be wrong. This has the FEEL of those things, but not the substance. It’s much more correct to say that this Becky Chambers critter has found one of her biggest, newest fans! She gets compared to no one! Now, they all have to get compared to HER!

And, I STILL haven’t read “A Closed and Common Orbit!” But, two things are obvious. One: It’s next to be read. Two: I stand by my Arthur C. Clarke Award nomination. (Still don’t think it will win, but mainly because the Clarke people tend to lean serious.)

Regardless, Becky Chambers, your FIRST Award of this Award Season is the belated 2015 Golden Giggle Award from me for “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet!” Enjoy your Giggly, because I certainly enjoyed the gigglies you gave me! That’s right, take that bow!

OMG! The audience is giving you a standing O! Soak up the love! You deserve it!

And watch out! Because “A Closed and Common Orbit” just may walk away with the 2016 Giggly also!

Peace. Love. Out.

26 March 2017

VA

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vonne’s Shelf: Borderline by Mishell Baker

Borderline

By Mishell Baker

This novel is on the shortlist for the Nebula Award this year, and rounds out my reading for that Award. When I first heard about it, I read the words “urban fantasy” and groaned until it turned into a yawn. Then I read the words “borderline personality disorder” and nodded until it turned into grunting with – well, maybe not approval, but – Why not give it a go? Could be interesting! (Spoiler: it WAS!)

Let’s begin with parental guidance, as usual; then a spoiler-lite synopsis; my useless opinion; and finally what I think of its award chances at the Nebula.

Parental Guidance

Profanity: Yes! I wouldn’t call the f*bomb pervasive, but at least common. Then the dreaded c**nuclear bomb went off around page 300. That can get you thrown off my website. I’m a little mollified that the utterer of the utterly unutterable immediately goes into a 2/3 page apology for their behavior and speech and recommends such language not be used in real life. “Little” mollified because the utterer is a fictional character made up by the author who could have just refrained from having someone utter it in the first place, but more about manipulation later!

Violence: Some at the very end. This is an action fantasy procedural private eye deal that keeps things swinging without actually hurting anyone until the protagonist has to save the day; then an evil person gets it but good!

Sex: No. Some talk, flirting, etc. But nothing showed on page. There’s a little nudity, but never described in detail and usually not in a sexual context anyway.

Spiritism/Occult: Kinda sorta maybe no-yeah? Please see synopsis to follow.

So, for parents, just because of the language, give this a read first, then do what you wish for your youngins. Remember that very few of the works I review are actually intended for YA audiences. So, the author of an adult fantasy is not obligated to keep it clean for an audience they aren’t writing for anyway. And now it’s time to make you wonder why that last sentence should even exist! Woot!

Spoiler-lite Synopsis

The protagonist of this has borderline personality disorder, however they are pretty far along in therapy and, at least, can identify the symptoms and start engaging in coping skills immediately. Her past mental health issues ultimately drove her to risky behavior followed by a serious attempt at suicide. That attempt left her with lots of scarring, a missing leg, and missing the other foot. Getting around is tough. She has prostheses and a wheel chair, but that doesn’t make an action adventure any simpler.

Borderline also describes the borderline between our reality and an alternative place called Arcadia, wherein all the inhabitants are “fey,” or fantastical in nature. No werewolves or vampires, but sprites, faeries, fauns, etc. These beatific creatures are usually reserved for children’s fantasies, and that’s why stating this is not aimed at that audience is a bit disingenuous. However, there is no rule forbidding an author to use children’s artifices for adult purposes, so do what I did: roll with it.

Our protagonist will be conscripted to search for a missing “fey” in our side of that borderline. She ultimately finds several more missing “fey” and will expose a terrifying plot to subvert the magic-folk for greedy purposes in our reality.

By the way, this all takes place surrounding Hollywood, so the magic is aptly placed! There gets to be some confusion between movie magic, fey magic, and human personality disorders that is quite engaging.

That’s all you’re going to get from me, so let’s get to . . .

My Useless Opinion

FANTASTIC! Go read this book! I know, I know, the sordid language is daunting, but . . . follow your conscience. This is a blast. It took very little time to read because the writing is so smooth and the pace is relentless and complicated.

There are only two nits I have. One is based on personal experience, and the other is just baffling.

I have a friend who’s been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. She completely rejects the diagnosis and acts like it’s just foolishness. Everyone comes to me boasting about how wondrous and amazing she is – and I nod knowingly, waiting for – and regaling me with the things they are on their way to do for her – and I nod knowingly, diagnosis confirmed. And when she does something truly awful to herself and ends up in a mental hospital, they all rush to get her out and take her home because she is so wonderful and just misunderstood. I hang my head and weep for her. They are not helping.

So, I kept looking for that kind of surreal behavior from the protagonist, and just didn’t see it because she is so well developed in her coping skills that it’s obscured. Until the end. Then her BPD comes in real handy when the options are death or death. I waited to the end to see clear indications of her illness (and yes, that page 300 thing was the first real sign).

Second nit: On page 184 of my Saga Press edition, the characters attribute the Sistine Chapel to Leonardo da Vinci. Now, I LOVE Leonardo da Vinci (NO, eejit, not Leonardo de Caprio!) And I would love it if Leo da-V had actually painted the Sistine Chapel. I just don’t think Michelangelo would appreciate the mis-accreditation for his own really nice work on that Chapel. M-angelo is the better sculptor, but Leo is the better painter and all around genius, but M-angelo actually painted the Sistine Chapel. How did this odd goof happen? I kept waiting for the author to pull a fast one on me and show me how we were already in an alternate universe where Leo really DID do it, but . . . no. No further mention of it. A goof, I guess.

Nebula Winner?

I would love to say “Yeah!” because I really loved this book. It is great fun, and the protagonist has a sense of humor that is often sublime. But I don’t think it’s strong enough to overcome Jemisin. So, no from me, but who cares because I don’t vote anyway!

Really: read this book. It cooks. It rocks. It makes your heart, then breaks your heart, then almost makes it all up again.

I wonder if Ms. Baker plans a number of stories in this universe.

VA

15 March 2017

 

Health Care for Americans

To be clear: I am a disabled person with a debilitating, possibly congenital, bone disease who is unemployable, but requires regular health care, and am enrolled in ACA.

SO, I AM QUALIFIED TO CUT THROUGH THE CRAP! LASER SCALPEL IS UNSHEATHED AND SURGERY COMMENCING!

At its inception, President Obama offered something he called the Affordable Health Care Act. It included a “public option” to get health “insurance” directly from the government. But he also wanted the Insurance Companies to underwrite the law. They wouldn’t do it as long as participants in the program had the option to not go through an Insurance Company. So, Obama scrapped the public option. This decision effectively undermined the law’s effectiveness.

In reality, the AHCA then became an “Affordable Health INSURANCE Act” though no one changed the actual name to that.

Handing things over to the Insurance Companies, within a year or two, allowed said Insurance Companies to begin raising the premiums, excluding conditions, not covering some medications, even pulling out of markets completely if enough people didn’t sign up. This actually happened here in Arizona, where exemptions from the mandate were being sought by Congressional representatives because, at one point, NO INSURANCE COMPANIES WERE OFFERING SERVICES IN PINAL COUNTY. Effectively making all of its residents lawbreakers.

At this point, it was no longer an “Affordable” anything act in some places.

Now, it’s simply called the Affordable Care Act, leaving “health” out of it completely, whether or not it is affordable or even offers care of any type.

So, now Trump’s GOP is trying to repeal it for — I don’t know, just spite and political bragging rights? — reasons, and replace it with something — “better?” — else. And to do it, they are turning back to the Insurance Companies again, the very people who broke the original law.

WHY ARE THE INSURANCE COMPANIES EVEN INVOLVED???!!!???!!!

(Yes, I know the answer to that question: cronyism, making sure money pie is distributed to all lobbyists [no lobbying to Executive Branch for a time is fine, but the problem will only be solved when there is NO lobbying to ANY branch of the government EVER], and the Government doesn’t take on too much responsibility for the well-being of their citizens. HAH!)

Let me explain: the figures you are about to see are at least a decade old, and yet the reality is even worse now. Here goes:

Before the ACA, Americans were spending 16% of their income on health care. Meanwhile, a little drive north, Canadians with National Health Service were spending 9% of their income in the form of a tax. (Please don’t waste time telling me horror stories about NHS. They are generally happy with it, and Americans liked it enough to drive north every time they wanted a prescription refill, because it was so much cheaper. Guess what: Arizonans and others in the south make similar trips into Mexico for the same reason.)

Look at those figures again: 16% for us and no insurance mandated vs 9% tax for them and everything is covered.

Well, Canadians are pretty affable folks, and we Americans are pretty snooty folks, so lets strike a happy medium (that poor spiritist sure gets smacked around a lot, though she remains cheerful about it).

Let’s tell the Insurance Companies (insert Lobby here) to go take a flying leap. They are making plenty of money off of life, auto, renters, and homeowners insurance! They do not need our health insurance money. They can just go away.

Convert Medicare into actual Medical Care, and use their infrastructure already in place. Tax me and all my fellow citizens 12-13%. Give the entire country Medical Care. Simple!

After that, the only laws that need to be dealt with are the ones regulating who qualifies as a medical care provider and controlling what kind of profit the pharmaceuticals are allowed to make. After all, they’ll now be billing the government, and I’m sure the government won’t want to waste money, right? (Snark.)

But wait! What about the lost jobs to insurance employees? Well, I’m pretty sure the new Medical Care Department of the US Government will need experienced medical billing people, and the government always offers better benefits, and regular pay increases!

But wait! What about BIG GOVERNMENT getting BIGGER? Well, what about it? Do you not understand that government ALWAYS gets bigger? Do you not understand that the current President has no problem expanding the government to include Trump Towers and Mir-a-Lago (sic, yeah, look it up), Florida at a very hefty cost to the taxpayers? One man is exponentially draining the tax dollars all by himself at an unprecedented rate! He said he wouldn’t accept a paycheck as President, and for all I know, he’s not. But, he sure has transferred his expenses to US! No one gets to whine about big government anymore.

And no, I do not have a smartphone. Can’t afford it with all the medical bills. And buying one wouldn’t have been relevant to my health condition anyway.

So, to recap and refocus the foolish hysteria out there:

  1. Convert Medicare to Medical Care.
  2. Enroll every citizen in it.
  3. Tax us 12-13% for health care.
  4. Give us health care as agreed.
  5. Tell the Insurance Companies to take a long jump off a short pier.
  6. Regulate qualifications to be a healthcare provider and profit margins for pharmaceuticals.
  7. Done. Thank you.
  8. No, really. Thank you.
  9. Quit thinking about insurance, and start thinking about health care.
  10. We’re done here. VA 7 March 2017

2017 Nebula Nominees

Nebula and Hugo Award Season

On Monday, February 20th, the Nebula Award nominees were announced by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA). The nominees were immediately altered because one of the nominees, Cat Rambo, withdrew her nominated novelette for consideration. (Novelettes have a minimum of 7,500 words, and her story only had 7,070. That’s the official line, anyway. I wonder if Ms. Rambo’s position as the current President of the SFWA played any role. Regardless, she is to be commended for her honor and respect of the genre.)

Current List of Nebula nominees can be found here:

http://nebulas.sfwa.org/correction-sfwa-nebula-awards-ballot/

To qualify to vote for any of these, the voter needs to meet some qualifications. First they need to be a member of the SFWA; membership fee is $100 currently. There are other qualifications, such as being a professional writer with three recognized sales to one’s credit, and a specific word count goal to surpass.

The full qualifications can be found here:

http://www.sfwa.org/about/join-us/sfwa-membership-requirements/

Basically, this means the Nebula is a peer-group award that writers give to other writers, so there is a certain amount of prestige involved within the SF Publishing Universe.

Voting on the listed nominees begins on March 1st, 2017, and the awards will be presented during the annual Nebula Conference May 18th-21st in Pittsburgh.

The Hugo Awards are a little different. They are trademarked by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS). To be a part of that, you need to be a member of Worldcon. This will cost anywhere from $50 and up, depending on what kind of access you want to pay for. But, you must be a paid member to vote for anything in the Hugos.

The voting for the Hugos is still going on through March. A list of nominees very similar to this Nebula list will become available in mid-April. The actual awards will be presented in August in Helsinki, Finland, the home of the next Worldcon.

Authors dearly love the Hugos because they approximate what the fans like. That’s the paying public that is supporting them, so they want to be recognized by this group more than their peer group.

But, as you can see, the fans voting only represent those willing to pay for the privilege and are actually members of Worldcon. I hesitate to call it a true fan-based award, thus the word “approximate” in the previous paragraph. I know this fan can’t pop for tickets to Helsinki, Finland, and doubt most of them can. You don’t have to attend to be a voter, but surely you’re expected to show up at other Worldcon events. Maybe not.

The relationship between the two awards is interesting to puzzle over. On the surface, they seem a bit unconnected, but in reality they often cover the same ground. My own personal observation is that it is rare for an author to win both the Nebula and the Hugo, as the awards tend to be spread across both lists. (Yes, I do think there is collusion, but it doesn’t matter because both voting blocs know what they are doing.)

I’m going to limit by comments to the Nebula nominees for Best Novel. They are:

All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders (Tor; Titan)
Borderline, Mishell Baker (Saga)
The Obelisk Gate, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Ninefox Gambit,Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris US; Solaris UK)
Everfair, Nisi Shawl (Tor)

The only one of these I haven’t read is Borderline, by Mishell Baker. I understand it is an urban fantasy, and that is not my normal bailiwick. However, I note my local library has it, and the title references borderline personality disorder. That sounds pretty interesting, as all things involving mental and emotional illness are very intriguing to me. I’ll try to read this one before May, so I can give a cogent review of how it might fare against the others nominated.

Of the listed nominees, I’m betting N. K. Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate walks away with the Nebula. Follow my reasoning here:

First of all, this whole series is FANTASTIC! Not just the ideas, but the writing is gorgeous, practically a clinic on many ways to captivate the reader. She lost in this category with The Fifth Season last year. Yet, THAT won the Hugo last year. I honestly believe she will get the Nebula, but not the Hugo this year; then return next year with the final volume and sweep the Hugo for Best Novel and Best Series. (If I read my TwitterScream correctly, she is in finalization phase of the manuscript for that last volume. Cannot WAIT to get my hands on it! Must wait for the actual publication, unless somehow miracles happen. So far, miracles seem in short supply lately.) This series is a genre changer.

Secondly, Charlie Jane Anders should get the Hugo this year for All the Birds in the Sky. This is an extraordinary science fiction/fantasy hashup that everyone should read. If the profanity had been scaled back significantly, this could become required reading in high schools. It — in my opinion — has the word “classic” written all over it. Plus, the politics are right for the time: it infers that SF/F geeks can overcome corporate overlords (insert Trump reference of your choice here), and the Hugo voters will love that. So, the Nebula folks will acquiesce to the Hugo voters and let the Nebula go to her closest co-nominee: Jemisin.

Ninefox Gambit was simply incomprehensible to me, and though I might not be the brightest spark in the campfire, I can clearly tell when an author is trying to write viscera as if it were poetry. Considering the violent times we have thrust upon us, I hope the Nebula people don’t reward this. Yoon Ha Lee has constructed an incredibly complex world-order that no civilization in their right mind would actually adopt. He is a darling of the genre right now for two reasons: first, his short fiction is brilliant; second (here comes the hate mail), he and his family were caught up in the flood damage in 2016 and suffered much. We are a sympathetic lot. But, focus on the book, people. It is the first of a trilogy (why the HELL is everyone writing trilogies these days?), so there will be future opportunities to reward him.

Everfair by Nisi Shawl is a fascinating alternate history tale involving north Africa. The actual history it is based on is simply not taught in most schools of USA, where I sit and where the awards are made. So, though it is complex and cool (steampunk, people! how cool is that!?), I just don’t see it getting the award, due largely to ignorance of the subject matter. A worthy novel, certainly, and belongs in the nominations. But, just don’t see it winning.

Some have complained that Death’s End by Cixin Liu wasn’t nominated. My response to that is: why nominate a work that will surely lose? Cixin Liu is a genius, and this novel piles so many fascinating ideas between its covers that I feared to open it; the explosion of ideas might put someone’s eye out. But: the politics. He basically argues for isolationist-protectionist-fear-mongering as a survival strategy. We have enough of that crap playing out in our lives right now; we can’t and won’t reward it.

So, for now (pre-Borderline) that’s my picks.

Ms. Jemisin: start working on your Nebula Award speech.

Ms. Anders: start working on your Hugo Award speech.

I will start working on letting Mishell Baker blow me away with Borderline.

Peace. Love. Out.

23 February 2017

VA

Vonne’s Shelf: Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine

Arabella of Mars

by David D. Levine

This is on Locus Magazine’s recommended reading list under the category of First Novels, which makes it possible for this to be a Hugo Nominee. Is it good enough for that? Is it actually BETTER than that and should be eligible in the Best Novel category as well?

First of all, let’s look at Parental Advisories, as that is the main purpose for my reviews. Then a brief synopsis of the plot, with as few spoilers as possible; my inconsequential opinion of it; and lastly discuss that Hugo potential.

Parental Advisories:

Profanity: NONE, with only the suggestion of it. Those suggestions take this form: Do you know what “d—-d,” “d—l,” “b—–d,” or “f—–g” mean? That’s how the author writes them. You could probably figure it out. That is the extent of the profanity in this novel. Go back and look at that second one again. “d—l” means devil. I didn’t know that was a swear word, but I do understand why the author portrays it that way, considering this novel’s historical setting.

Sex/Nudity: One scene where a female character has her upper torso bared in preparation of a whipping. There is no description other than her efforts to cover herself, and as a result of what she couldn’t cover no whipping takes place.

Violence: There is some. The battle scene with a privateer corsair is very exciting, and some of the results are depicted. At all times, any violence in this is treated as sad, abhorrent, and to be rejected as unacceptable. A proper adult view.

So, as parental guidance goes: We have a WINNER! The most obviously fitting YA SF/F novel I have read in a long time. Parents, read it if you like, but I don’t mind recommending this to anyone over ten years old. Those under ten might not understand the societal norms on display here, but there is little to take offense at.

Brief Synopsis:

This novel takes place in 1813! Yes, that’s what I said: 1813! A Regency era where the galleons that plied the oceans blue also plied the route from Earth to Mars! It mashes up quaint manners and societal propriety with Mars, Martians, and space pirates. It makes the assumption that the scientific beliefs of the day regarding the makeup of space were correct: that it had a breathable atmosphere, was lit quite well, and had space currents the airships could catch, sailing away.

It follows Arabella Ashby, raised on Mars, whisked away at the age of 17 by a demanding mother who insisted she live a more proper life back on Earth. Arabella is attacked by a nefarious cousin, who is intent on getting to Mars to wrest the family estate there away from Arabella’s brother, Michael. Arabella escapes imprisonment and gets passage on a Mars Company airship named “Diana,” intent on getting to her beloved brother first to warn him of the cousin’s intentions. However, she must masquerade as a young man aboard ship and assume all the duties of a young man.

Because of her — er, his? — youth, she — er, he? — is appointed to be the Captain’s boy; someone who serves and the beck and call of the Captain, relaying messages, providing tea or dinner, generally keeping him at his best. (No, NOT the Captain’s boy you first thought of! Get your mind out of the gutter! Remember: propriety!) The Captain is enamored with his automaton named Aadim, which he can program to help with finer adjustments in navigation. Arabella also likes automatons, as her Father relayed his love for it to her when she was young. She begins to learn how to work the complicated mess of levers, weights, brackets, cogs, etc.

She hears some of the crew discussing mutiny. They are attacked by a French privateer corsair that very nearly overwhelms them. They survive, but the Captain is badly injured and comatose. It is up to Arabella and Aadim to navigate the battered ship to an asteroid to replenish and repair.

Ultimately they get to Mars, only to learn that the Martians are in full rebellion against humans and all their lives are at stake.

No more. Read it!

My Opinion:

I LOVE THIS BOOK!

The false scientific assumptions are whimsically pleasing. The romance and adventure is stirring, causing me to keep reading long after the lights should have been out! The Martians are alien enough to be fully fleshed out with cultures and rules of propriety of their own. There are surprises all over the place, and the ending surprise portends astonishing things for the next novel, if there is one. Its recognition of appropriate and inappropriate behavior is given the utmost respect, which is simply delightful.

I did find one little hiccup in the events, but this is so minor I’ll say no more about it.

Really, READ THIS BOOK!

And for the record: I WANT THIS COVER ART TO HANG ON MY WALL! It is scrumptious! If you doubted that a galleon could set enough sail to travel in space, study this cover’s brilliant depiction of the brave “Diana.” It’s simply gorgeous!

Hugo Chances:

Mr. Levine has received the Hugo and other awards for his short fiction, and that’s why this is in the category of First Novels. I would love for him to get it, but can’t quite commit that for three important reasons.

First, there doesn’t seem to be some deep truth that changes my life, or my understanding of others. Here’s the best I could come up with: this novel demonstrates that personal accountability includes word of ownership, followed by actions that demonstrate acceptance of the consequences, even if someone else is deciding the consequences.

Second, “Infomocracy” by Malka Older is also on this reading list in this category. I’m thinking it will take it. I also think “Ninefox Gambit” by Yoon Ha Lee will be nominated in this category, and this novel is unworthy of him. Yet, Yoon Ha Lee seems to have a lot of feel-good from the genre for short fiction, and that can sometimes mess up judgment.

Third, I don’t understand why this novel isn’t also included in the Young Adult category. Don’t some works get included into combinations of lists? I’ll have to research this. If it were in that category, I think it would be nominated for sure, and likely would win it.

I’ll say one more thing about this novel: Even if it doesn’t get the Hugo, it should go on every school’s reading list, and should be destined for “Classic” status right alongside “Treasure Island” by RLS.

Yes, it is that good as far as I’m concerned. A Classic that will be loved by anyone who loves adventure, romance, “other,” robots, powerful female leads, blah, blah, blah.

Seriously, read it and love it.

19 February 2017

VA

(IMO) Hugo Predictions 2017

(IMO) Hugo Predictions  2017

At the Worldcon being hosted by Helsinki, Finland, in August, 2017 the next Hugo awards will be handed out.

I focus on predicting the Hugo winner in the Novels category only. Please note that I am not a member of any Worldcons invited to vote, so this is little more than one reader/writer’s opinion. If you are an author and don’t appreciate my statements, feel free to burn effigies of me. I’m from Arizona and deal with the flames of hell quite well.

However, you should be aware that I have accurately predicted the winner in the last 28 years in a row. Twenty of those times I waited until after they were awarded to predict them (vastly increasing my odds of success), but the last three have been called in advance, as were 2006 and 2007. Considering that the award ceremony is seven months away and the nominees aren’t even decided yet, it’s pretty cheeky to be predicting already.

The Process:

On January 31st, 2017 Locus Magazine published its recommended reading list for 2016, and you can find that here: http://www.locusmag.com/News/2017/01/2016-locus-recommended-reading-list/

Inevitably, all the Hugo nominees will come from this list. Opening nominations began immediately and will continue until 18 March 2017, and so this is the time the eligible voters are sending in their votes for the Hugo in various categories.

The Hugonauts will distill these votes down to the six highest rated names in each category. So, in April the list of Finalists becomes available, and voters will pick from these for the top spot. The process has changed this year, and become a whirlwind of baffling higher mathematics, but you can try to calculate them yourselves at their webpage, here:  http://www.worldcon.fi/wsfs/hugo/

My degree of difficulty in predicting a winner now is huge, as I don’t even know if any of my picks will even be Finalists in April. But, I am resolute in my determination to stare embarrassment in the face and dare it to point its grubbly little piggies at me! Go ahead, shame and indignity, make my day! I eat you for breakfast and crap crow-pie for giggles!

Here are the six novels that I believe should get the most votes, and only one of them is there out of sentimentality:

“Death’s End” by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)

“The Wall of Storms” by Ken Liu

“All the Birds in the Sky” by Charlie Jane Anders

“The Medusa Chronicles” by Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds

“The Obelisk Gate” by N. K. Jemisin

“Infomocracy” by Malki Older

“Central Station” by Lavie Tidhar, and “Everfair” by Nisi Shawl could go on this list without any quibbles from me. The reality is that SF/F has a lot to celebrate this year. The quality of material being written now is staggering! The only reason these aren’t included on my personal list is because only six can usually contend for the actual award (unless there is a tie). That’s not going to stop me making brief comments on them at the end (and no one will like it).

“Certain Dark Things” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia might also show up, but that’s Horror, so I am unqualified to judge its merits. “Cloudbound” by Fran Wilde is getting a lot of attention, and I’ve not read anything by her yet, so that goes on my To-do list. I will not comment on those two at this time, but reserve the right to do so before April.

Be aware that politics and diversity are huge factors this year. Politics because of world shaking events like Brexit and The Trumpalumpa TV Reality Show.

Diversity has been the theme in the last several years due to the obnoxious protestors like Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies, who think the genre is inordinately awarding fringe works rather than the run-of-the-mill adventure / military / old white dude science fiction and fantasy simply because it seems chic-artsy to do so.

My response to the Puppy blocs is twofold: First, I formed my own non-voting-impotency-bloc called the Flush Puppies, designed to undermine their cause with a loud shout of boos and hisses from our combined membership total of one: me. If you would like to join, just send me an email. Second, I advise those Other Puppies to remember that excellency in SF/F is — by definition and at its core — fringe work. If you aren’t writing it, you won’t get awarded for it. Run-of-the-mill work will get you nice sales figures from your faithful, and you should accept those receipts humbly as your just due.

Let’s examine my picks one at a time, shall we?

“Death’s End” by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu)

Cixin Liu is a genius. This volume has enough jaw-dropping SF ideas crammed into it, all jostling for room helter-skelter, so that — when I opened the covers — SF ideas boinged out and scattered all around my living room, making a royal mess! None of them actually achieve transcendence. Instead, what shines through loud and clear is isolationism, protectionism, and closed door politics. He reasons in harmony with the Fermi Paradox that sentient species should keep quiet about their sentience, or somebody bigger and badder is going to come along and take your planet from you. Think most of China’s history, and you’ll get the idea.

But you don’t have to go to the other side of the planet to find exploration choking mindsets anymore. No, you can go to the UK/USA’s current political conundrums to find that. See how that works out? See why Cixin Liu will not get the Hugo this year? He will fall to reactionary forces in the literati, which are leaning hard to the left.

Besides, he got the Hugo in 2015 for “The Three-Body Problem,” the first volume in this now concluded trilogy (before the politics became obvious in the second volume, “The Dark Forest”), so they won’t feel it necessary to give him another one. Add to that, there are plot holes big enough to stick the whole Locus Magazine List through, and then he spent six pages pedantically describing fourth dimensional space to us like we are wee cranial midgets, and SF/F people don’t like being talked down to.

What he has going for him is that President Obama has this on his reading list. Do not underestimate the power of a presidential reading list. In a previous election, George W. Bush stated to MTV that he was going to read “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown next, which was circulating in power circles before its actual release date in 2003. That comment helped to  send “The Da Vinci Code” into the stratosphere as being the break-the-bank-biggest-selling-novel of all time. AND IT’S CRAP! That shouldn’t really surprise us, though. After all, what could Dubya possibly know about good books? Seriously.

But, I truthfully don’t see this idea-exploding tome getting the Hugo, though it will get lots of votes.

“The Wall of Storms” by Ken Liu

CONFESSION: I haven’t read it. It’s the second volume in a trilogy. The first volume is “The Grace of Kings,” and I’m a third of the way through it this very moment as my current project. (Hard to type with this big guy occupying my palms.) TGoK got huge press, but placed 13th in nominations last year, so never made the final ballot.

However, since Ken Liu’s body of work is undeniably brilliant, and won’t get included in Cixin Liu’s gurgling drain swirl, the Hugonauts might find it appropriate to reward him for his hard and excellent work by checking his name here this year.

I’m looking forward to completing them both as soon as . . . you know. If this prediction needs to be revised, it will be before April.

“The Medusa Chronicles” by Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds

Here is my heartbeat all aflutter. This is my sentimental pick. I am Alastair Reynolds’ bastard child, but even though he abandoned me as a wee squirt many years ago to be raised by carny folk, I still adore anything dear old pa writes. He was nominated for the Hugo last year for his novella “Slow Bullets,” and congrats to him for that. (My only complaint is that it should have been a novel, and he would have gotten the Hugo then for Best Novel, except there is that Jemisin revelation, so maybe not.) He lost to the excellent “Binti” by Nnedi Okorafor, and no one can fault that selection.

He’s been cheated out of some accolades from this side of the pond. “House of Suns” is still a smashing, crackling, thunderous good cheddar read, as are almost any of his Revelation Space stuff, and HoS should get a Hugo just for existing.

As for Stephen Baxter, well . .  (yawn) I’m sorry, where was I?

These two pull off the fantasmagorical feat of sequelizing Arthur C. Clarke’s Hugo winning novella from 1972, “A Meeting With Medusa.” In that work, Sir Arthur posited several things about the near future, and none of them have actually come about. But, Baxter and Reynolds have the moxy to stay in that alternate universe! WOOT! WOOT!

Many authors with wee-er cranial midget inner workings would have suggested the protagonist goes to the theoretical liquefied metal heart of Jupiter, but would have recoiled from actually describing the voyage. Not these two! NO! They go there! And a lot farther!

Think inter-system wars with machines intelligences running amok; casual atrocity of the destruction of sentient life forms in the lower layers of Jupiter’s clouds (which should inflame the PETA people to go EVA naked in space); a cyborg that can essentially live forever if he doesn’t get bored; then open up the galaxy for him to make sure he never gets bored!

Hard SF geeks should wee themselves over this! I did. Will it win?

Meh. Probably not. You see, it’s two white dudes in a year of political diversity. Ho-hum. My heart is with this one, and I really want it to win, but I know it would be a long shot.

“The Obelisk Gate” by N. K. Jemisin

This is also the second in a trilogy. The first, “The Fifth Season,” won the Hugo last year, and it richly deserved it. In that volume, the author pulls off a surprise twist that sent dominoes falling everywhere and captivated any reader fortunate enough to experience it.

She does not recreate that in this volume. Actually, this volume is BETTER than the first one. No devices needed to make this one cook up a frightening brew of delicious portions of awesomeness! May I have another bowl, please? (Yes, the third one is on its way sometime later this year, or perhaps early next. I actually have no facts to support that statement, and can’t be bothered to confirm. Merely wishful thinking. If it’s available early, can I have a snack? Please?)

This follows the oregenes as the destruction of their planet looms nearer, and begins revealing the obelisks, the rock-eaters, and other crazy stuff going on in Ms. Jemisin’s huge cranial inner workings. It is so hard to describe how good this series is without starting to gush spoilers all over the nice clean carpet, but I can’t be expected to gather spoilers and Cixin Liu’s boingers at the same time.

Will it win? I don’t think so, though it could easily. This is great stuff. The diversity box is checked, just as it was last year. But, it did win last year, so there will be little impetus to award this series again. Especially because of one of the others on the list that will probably by the Hugo Darling. I think not, but if the third installment keeps up this pace, look for next year to belong to Ms. Jemisin. . . again! And at that time, it will likely get the new “Best Series” Hugo.

(Come to think of it, Cixin Liu might qualify for that Best Series one this year, so he might get an award after all, just not in this category. Those Hugonauts are so sneaky!)

“All the Birds in the Sky” by Charlie Jane Anders

Ah, yes. Here we go. This novel is the reason why this Hugo prediction is coming so early. Just finished it. It will be the Hugo Darling for a number of reasons.

First, it’s an excellent hash-up of hard SF and wackadoodle fantasy. These two disparate genres make love to each other in this one, and their combined love actually saves the planet from some doofuses that are wrecking it right now in the interests of corporate greed. Yes, this novel has the hubris to say “We SF/F geeks will destroy you, Trumpalumpa and Your Corporate Ilk!” Which, of course, we can’t actually do, but wish we could. (How about that for a band name, though?)

Second, the author is well known in the SF/F world, being the managing editor of the io9 website, a must for any true SF/F fan. It’s almost fan-fic, but not really. Look at the help she gets, though: Patrick Nielsen Hayden as editor, Russ Galen as agent; she won a Hugo for a short in 2012. This woman is on the INside of the Hugonauts.

And she checks the diversity box with a very strong “X-dammit!” I will not explain that, but leave it to your fevered minds to imagine whatever fevered minds tend to imagine.

Finally, this is wild, quirky, zany stuff! It hit all my inane buttons, and kept pounding on them like a 20-ft tall gorilla! King Kong with issues.

Ms. Anders, start preparing your acceptance speech. It turns out you are your own rocket ship, and am about to be handed another shiny, silver one.

“Infomocracy” by Malka Older

CONFESSION: I’ve started this one, but am nowhere near ready to comment in depth. Can’t speak to it completely yet, but will come back to this post and emend it properly, if required.

The deal with this one is that it is touted as being prescient, pretty much foretelling all the political horribleness we’ve started engaging in now. That would make this book a heavy contender. If it is as good as the others on this list, the Worldcon voters will give it the Hugo for sure! Just out of spite, to poke Trumpalumpa in the eyeball!

We’ll see.

That’s the six I’m thinking have the best chance, so now let’s stroll among the also-rans to see how they might fare, shall we?

“Everfair” by Nisi Shawl

This hits all the diversity buttons also, and she has been in the mix for several years. My reason for not punching her ticket on my personal list is that the alternate history she writes of is simply not well known as actual history outside of the nations involved. I had never heard of it, and this could have easily been set on another planet as a fresh plot and I would not have known the difference. I liked the steampunkiness of this book very much, but my own ignorance overshadowed her brilliance. Still, the Hugonauts occasionally like a well written education, so don’t count it out.

“Central Station” by Lavie Tidhar

Here is the remark that will get me death threats: this was very good, but was simply too Jewish.

Yeah. Death threats for that lack of political correctness right there are certainly due. But please don’t cause me unnecessary anxiety by threatening anything. Just do me a favor and surprise me with the actual death later.

This sounds anti-Semitic, but it is NOT meant that way. (My last name, Anton, is very Jewish, so chill!) It’s just that the point of view seemed like a caricature. It’s a fine novel, but once I’ve seen the schtick, I was bored by it. But, given the anti-Semitic biases of the current strangulation of understanding going on in the world, harkening back to that vile, inerasable, we-shall-evermore-be-damned-because-of-it Holocaust, it is unwise to state a simple viewpoint about cliches without getting a piano wire necktie in a dark theater later. I do not want to piss the Mossad off, like, ever.

So, this may be my last Hugo prediction post.

Some of you might be wondering where “Ninefox Gambit” by Yoon Ha Lee is considered. It’s not, at least by me. I found it ridiculously pretentious and thought it tried to glamorize or beautify gory violence, and I have no patience for that. I think well of the author’s potential, and love the short stories, but do not think this exemplified that potential. It might get some nominations from true believers, but I am not one of those.

Please everybody, be nice to each other out there. We humans are the only race that counts clearly as sentient on this planet, and we need to celebrate all the diversity of it and rejoice that we have each other to love and fight for, no matter our petty differences. (Can you hear it? In the background? The Beatles? “All you need is love, ta-ta-da-di-daaa . . . “)

Oh, and if you think of another work you think I’ve treated unfairly, or didn’t treat at all and should have, please leave that in the comments section, and I will thank you for the advice.

Yours,

VA

5 February 2017

 

Vonne’s Shelf: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the Sky
by Charlie Jane Anders

This is perhaps the most wondrous read I’ve had this year. Before we get to all that, though, let’s organize ourselves. First, parental advisories; then a short non-spoiler reivew; and finally, my unabashed awe with this novel and the reasons for it.

Parental Advisories:
Profanity: Yes, the f-bomb is very nearly pervasive.
Violence: Some, and it can be gruesome, but the author doesn’t glorify this. Instead, it haunts the characters, so that’s a good thing.
Sex / Nudity: Some nudity, but that’s not a big deal. There is some sex talk, and then the zaniest, somewhat graphic, sex scene I’ve ever read.
So: Parents, read this first and then decide if it is right for your younglings. You will not regret reading it yourself, but may vacillate between your love for this novel and your desire for your family to enjoy it, pitted against the hard reality that this is definitely an adult novel.

Spoiler Free Summary:
Patricia and Laurence are both eight-graders in school; both are part of dysfunctional families; both are different from their peer group and stand aloof, awkward, and friendless. Then they meet each other. Patricia is into magic and can talk to animals, and will ultimately become a witch. Laurence is a technological genius and will ultimately design and build some super scary tech.

As adults, they will meet again. Only this time it might be to do battle.

This is a clash of science and fantasy. Except for the twist: these two characters find comfort and peace in each other’s company, and will ultimately realize the love they have for each other. So, will the collision of science with magic destroy them, their relationship, or will they find harmony within themselves and this Earth? Who will win?

Meanwhile, the Earth has gone wonky with environmental changes and political contention, and the destruction of all mankind looms. Can these two save it?

Read it and find out. Caution: don’t rush through it, especially the last 40 pages. Take your time, savor it, meditate over it, relish the details along the way.

Why I love this book:
There is one word that keeps bouncing around my brain: intimacy. This is an intimate book. I have never felt this connected and intimate with any other fictional characters in my memory. It is not intimacy with the author, no, it is just that the author finds the little things that root relationships and shows them to us, drawing us into this world.

It is, in turn, whimsical, funny, sad, heart breaking, exciting, compelling and satisfying.

Every once in a while, a novel comes along that the reader can sense it will become an instant classic. I felt that way when reading Vernor Vinge’s “Rainbow’s End,” which won the Hugo the year it published. And I felt that again reading this novel. If there had been less profanity and slightly less explicit sex, then this one would become part of every school curriculums must read syllabus. As it is, it will still — in my opinion — become a classic of the genre.

Charlie Jane Anders is the editor of the ubiquitus io9 website that delves deeply into all things science fiction and fantasy. It is not her first novel, but is easily one of the most important novels to come along in a while.

In the current contentious state of our planet, this novel reminds us that there is peace and harmony between opposites; that everyone can cooperate for the greater good; that the world can be a better place if we leave our petty differences behind and respect, accept, and be grateful for each other’s contribution to civilization.

Do yourself a favor: read this. You won’t regret it.

2 February 2017
VA