11 June 2014

2014 Hugos: novelettes

The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling by Ted Chiang: This story had the potential to be a cliche, but Chiang's skill avoided that. The narrator describes his somewhat estranged relationship with his daughter and relates it to a technology that allows you to record and remember everything that you've ever done. He weaves it together with a story of a young African man who learns to read and write from a Christian missionary, who discovers that the truth he learned about his tribal ancestry isn't the facts. It's an excellent look at both the advent of technology & its effect on memory and at relationships.

OVA by VD. I'm not going to type out the full name of this, because I don't want his fanclub to descend on my blog. To be quite frank, this story does not deserve to be on the Hugo ballot. The writing is like a twelve-year-old who really loves Terry Brooks or Terry Goodkind and wants to write a story just like theirs. It's painful to read, and exceptionally dull to boot.

The Waiting Stars by Aliette de Bodard: Another entry in her Dai Viet universe (aka the Xuya universe), this one is about the ship Minds and the Outsiders who separate the Minds from the ships, only that isn't quite obvious from the beginning. It's also about colonization, as many of the Xuya stories seem to be; this one is about the loss of culture and self and memory.

The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal: Elma is an aging former astronaut, resident on Mars, whose husband has a fatal disease and who gets a last chance to go into space on a mission that a young astronaut couldn't do. It's a story about love and aging and caring for a dying loved one.

"The Exchange Officers" by Brad Torgersen: Every time I read one of his stories, I think, "Well, maybe this one will do something for me." This isn't it. this story is about people who Operate remote-controlled spacecraft from a space station, which is then attacked by Chinese space soldiers. It is competently written, extremely dull, and jingoistic as fuck.

09 June 2014

Shatterdome Atlanta recap

It's been a week since the first con I chaired ended, and I'm mostly recovered.

It went very well. The core con com was experienced and worked well together. I bought some cute art prints from the artists in artist alley. When it was all over, I drank a lot of Scotch and also Bärenjäger. And a little bourbon.

The highlight of the con was entirely unexpected. At one point, an attendee noticed that one of the stars of Pacific Rim tweeted that he was in Atlanta. So an "everybody tweet at Rob and let him know about the con" campaign was launched. I didn't think much more about it, because as if he'd show up, right?

me, Rob Kazinsky, Ben
This is me, Rob Kazinsky, and Ben.

He showed up. He was very nice (the complete opposite of his character!), and he was a guest judge for the costume contest (which was about to start when he arrived). On behalf of LOCCENT Atlanta, thank you so much, Rob!

I want to say how nice the attendees were. It was a very supportive, friendly environment, and so many recaps on tumblr were full of appreciation for the atmosphere. We wanted to make it a safe space for everyone, and it seems to have worked. The harassment policy wasn't violated, and I haven't heard of any ickiness. This was the best part of fandom--and it was diverse. This is the future of fandom.

In a month or so, LOCCENT Atlanta will reconvene and discuss whether we want to do this again. After half of the con com gets back from their respective international trips.

02 June 2014

2014 Hugos: Ancillary Justice (novel)

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

This book got a lot of buzz when it came out. I borrowed a friend's copy recently so I could read it for the Hugos (since Orbit has decided not to put the whole book in the packet, just an excerpt).

In the far-distant future, humanity has spread throughout the galaxy. The Radchaai Empire has expanded for millennia, but the Lord of the Radch has decreed that a particular annexation will be the last.

The narrator, Breq, was present at the final annexation as the starship Justice of Toren and its ancillaries (AIs in human bodies that act as soldiers). She is separated from her ship, and when she stumbles across an old captain of hers, lying face-down in the snow, she cleans her up and drags her along on her quest.

The Radchaai language doesn't have a gendered third person pronoun, so the narrator uses she as the generic term. (Which leads to sentences like "she was probably male.") It's an interesting linguistic trick, which mostly works. Breq has trouble using the right pronouns for people when speaking languages other than Radchaai, which is too Sapir-Whorfian for me to believe. But it's an interesting conceit.

There is a lot of politics going on, which Breq is wrapped up in, of course, and it's different from your standard-issue space opera. (I like standard-issue space opera, but change is always good.) Class issues are discussed front and center several times.

It took a while for me to get into it (Leckie dumps terminology on you and expects you to run with it, which I generally find frustrating), but once it was explained how the narrator could be in multiple places at once and what Esk and Amaat and all that meant, I found it a much easier read. Then I read the hell out of it.

If you like space opera, you should definitely read this book.

26 May 2014

2014 Hugos: short stories

It's that time of year again. I'm working through the fiction, though afaik the packet isn't available yet, so I can only read what's freely available online (or from friends/the library) or already in my collection.

The list of nominees is here, with links to some of the pieces.

Now, my thoughts on the short fiction (in the order they appear in the list above).

"If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" by Rachel Swirsky: This is well written, and the ending, where you find that "you" were hospitalized, probably permanently, following a gay-bashing, does pack a punch, but when I read it, after half my twitter timeline gushed about how amazing it was, I wasn't moved. It felt overly preachy. It resonated for a lot of people, though.

"The Ink Readers of Doi Saket" by Thomas Olde Heuvelt: I couldn't get into this story at all. The narrative voice never clicked for me.

"Selkie Stories are for Losers" by Sofia Samatar: Like "Dinosaur," this story made the rounds of my twitter timeline when it went live. I thought it was ok, a clever take on an old story, but that was about it. (I also saw the ending coming.)

"The Water that Falls on You From Nowhere" by John Chu: A young Chinese-American gay man wants to introduce his partner to his family. His sister is vehemently against it. Also, when you tell a lie, water falls on you. This manages not to be the same old story we've read a hundred (thousand) times. It is very well written and it works.

09 May 2014

Busy, busy, busy.

Shatterdome Atlanta is in 22 days, and I'm spending several hours every day working on that.

I'm finishing up a short story for submission to an anthology.

I'm taking the 5th exam in my distance learning German-teaching course starting Sunday (15 days).

A friend is visiting from California the 20th-23rd.

I'm going to Berlin in about 6 weeks, and I need to plan for that.

Back when I can breathe again.

11 April 2014

*dusts off blog*

It's been a while, hasn't it? I've been busy, and I've barely had time to read anything, either.

I finished the 4th (of 8) module in this German-teaching course and took the exam. Passed, somehow. I was really unconfident about it. So now I get to start module 5, which I intend to have finished (including the exam) before I go to Berlin in June, which gives me just under 2 months. If I buckle down, that should be more than doable. If I spend 2 months on each, I'll be done by the new year. (It's slow going because the course materials are all in German.)

I'm writing a short story, and I have 3 out on submission right now. If any of them get takers, I'll let you all know as soon as I'm allowed to.

We've had too much excitement with the cats recently. We had to take Mylene to the vet school for hospitalization. She doesn't have cancer, but she does have IBS, so we have to find food that she'll eat that is a novel protein. She decides every few days that she doesn't want the food she was eating perfectly fine until then, which is rather frustrating.

I've started jogging recently, since my elliptical broke in a way I'm not sure I can fix. (The axle on the flywheel needs to be greased, and I'm not sure we can access it.) It's mostly walking quickly alternating with jogging as far as I can, which isn't very far at the moment, but I'm getting better.

I kind of burned out on the anime you should watch thing, but I might get back to it. I still have a dozen titles written on a scrap of paper, plus the most recent couple seasons to talk about. But, you know, other things are higher priority right now, like finishing the German-teaching course before March.

Right. So. Time to go jogging, then work some more on this short story, and in the afternoon start in on Erweiterungsbaustein 5: Prinzipien des Fremdsprachenerwerbs.

19 March 2014

Guest blog: Beth Matthews (E.D. Walker)

Hello. I'm a buddy of Conni's from the Viable Paradise workshop, and she was kind enough to invite me to her blog today to talk about my medieval fantasy romance THE BEAUTY'S BEAST, which was just re-released this week.

My novel is a retelling of "Bisclavret," the medieval poem/fairy tale about a cursed werewolf knight written by Marie de France. I was captivated the first time I read her story and immediately decided to write my own version of it, mixing in a little bit of Beauty and the Beast too because I just can't resist a fun fairy tale retelling.

I thought a good way to help introduce y'all to my book would be to tell you about some of the books I've read that helped inspire me. :)

Spindle's End and Beauty by Robin McKinley
I didn't discover Robin McKinley until my late teens, but once I did I went on a tear and read at least half her backlist in one go. I've always been a fan of fairy tale retellings (which is part of why I wrote one…), but these two books made a big impression on me. I loved the wry humor in her characters and their brusque practicality. Another one of my favorite elements was the slow build of the romances in Spindle's End; there's a proposal scene in this novel that has to be one of the most romantic things I have ever read. I also loved, loved McKinley's world-building and all its intricate, well-thought out detail.

The Brother Cadfael Series by Ellis Peters
Growing up I was always asking my mom for stuff to read, and I remember when she handed me my first Brother Cadfael mystery I was totally sucked into the world, and I binge-read the entire 20+ books in the series. Brother Cadfael is a cozy mystery series set in a Benedictine abbey during the English civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maude. The historical period is a little earlier than the one I'm writing in, and some of the research by Ellis Peters is out of date now, but I still remember how wonderful I thought Cadfael's world was, the history, the community. And Cadfael himself, of course. He's a wonderful hero and one of the characters in my book (the wry and worldly court magician Llewellyn) is a sort of homage to Cadfael. This charming series was a huge influence on me and a big part of the reason I wanted to write my own medieval-set story. (Of course mine has werewolves…)

The Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey
(Especially The Serpent's Shadow and The Gates of Sleep)
This was my favorite fantasy series for a little while and the first two books were a big influence on how I wanted to write my own historical fantasies. I loved how Lackey would twist existing history to fit her fantastical elements in. I also appreciated how she incorporated various magical creatures like sylphs, fairies, and even Puck himself into her stories. But, of course, my favorite aspect was how she twisted the basic elements of each fairy tale. She changed things in new and interesting ways so that the bones of the original story were still there, and yet by the end the reader had something totally new and wonderful to enjoy.

If you like fairy tale retellings and historical fantasy THE BEAUTY'S BEAST is currently available for the Kindle and in paperback. Click here:

Thanks again for having me, Conni.

Happy reading, everybody! :D

E.D. Walker
(a.k.a. Beth Matthews)