29 June 2012

RIP Isis

One bit of sad news I must report. Last Thursday, we had to put my oldest cat, Isis, to sleep. She was 15. The vet said she had a brain tumor, after I took her in because her pupils weren't the same size.

I miss Her Royal Brattiness, but she hadn't really been her bratty self for a while. She hadn't even tried to run out the door for weeks, and she'd had problems getting onto her favorite sleeping spots.

It was a really hard decision, especially because of the suddenness, but it was the best thing to do for her.


ConTemporal

For the last year and a half or so, I've been working with a bunch of great people to make a con happen. It was last weekend, June 22-24.

This was my first time staffing a convention. I've volunteered during cons before, mostly running a video room at Animazement with the UNC anime club, which is a rather smaller time commitment, and it only takes a bit of time at the con.

I was (and hope to remain) the director of the literature track. I came up with panels and some of the guests, and during the con, I made sure everything went off properly. I also organized an order of 8 pizzas to con ops Saturday evening, because con staff needed food, and food that arrives at your door is better than food you have to go out and get.

The con was a success. The guests I talked to said they had a good time. Several of them said nice things in their blogs: JoSelle Vanderhooft and Phil Foglio. (There may be more, but these are the ones I've heard of so far.)

We're planning to have another con next year around this same time. Once it's official, I'll let you all know. You should come out and join us.

28 June 2012

Hugo nominees, part 3

This week, I'm reviewing the novellas on the 2012 Hugo ballot. A novella is 17500-40000 words, making it an awkward length, as it's too long to be a short story but too short to be a novel. The works are linked here. As always, these are in alphabetical order.

Countdown, by Mira Grant. This is a prequel to Grant's Newsflesh series. Newsflesh is a zombie series, but the zombie apocalypse was triggered by a virus. In Countdown, you learn all about the virus and how it was created and let loose in the world. It's very interesting from an infectious disease epidemiology standpoint, and Grant did her research on that, as well as from a writing standpoint. It's horror, so it's got lingering scary bits in it. I'm not a fan of horror, and I thought this was very good.

The Ice Owl, by Carolyn Ives Gilman. The teenaged daughter of a family of refugees from a holocaust befriends an art dealer who isn't what he seems. The namesake ice owl barely makes an appearance. It's got a rather moralising ending.

Kiss Me Twice, by Mary Robinette Kowal. Scott Huang and his AI partner Metta have to solve a murder. Except Metta's computer housing is stolen, so she's running on a backup. It's a very fun, noir-esque story with a satisfying resolution.

The Man who Bridged the Mist, by Kij Johnson. Kit, an architect, comes to the village of Nearside to build a bridge over the river of mist (a magical substance filled with monsters). He makes friends with the people who live there and on Farside, especially the Ferry family, who operate the boats that carry people across the river. It's very poignant, and the descriptions are vivid.

The Man who Ended History: A Documentary, by Ken Liu. Liu tells the horrors perpetrated by Unit 731, a Japanese military unit who performed experiments the Nazis would have salivated over on Chinese villagers, interweaving it with the lives of researchers who made it possible for people to literally directly observe history. Except the act of observing destroys the particle that makes it possible. This was very uncomfortable to read, but it was very well-written, like all of Liu's works.

Silently and Very Fast, by Catherynne M. Valente. This is the story of an AI, interwoven with stories of gods and goddesses (it opens with Inanna and Tammuz). In typical Valente style, it's vague and allusive and Clever. It's lovely, I guess, but I thought the vagueness, allusiveness, and Cleverness drew too much attention to themselves.

Your thoughts, readers? (If I have any.)

25 June 2012

Book review: Regenesis

Regenesis, by CJ Cherryh, 2009

This book picks up right where Cyteen left off, and it doesn't really give any refreshers. Ari II is coming into her own at Reseune, dealing with the politics and betrayals and interpersonal shenanigans left over.

Like Cyteen, this book considers the question "what would happen if we could engineer psychology along with genetics?" Like many other novels by Cherryh, there is also a lot of political intrigue, backstabbing, etc.

It wraps up many of the questions left in Cyteen, but I didn't find the ending as satisfying as I wanted it to be. There's very little denouement, but at nearly 600 pages, I'm not sure there's space for more.

If you enjoyed Cyteen and you want to know what happens to Ari II, you'll find out in Regenesis. I wouldn't recommend this to someone without any other familiarity with the Alliance-Union universe, however.

21 June 2012

Hugo nominees, part 2

Last week, I wrote about the Hugo-nominated short stories. This week, I'm writing about the novelettes.

A novelette ranges from 7500 to 17499 words, making it either a longish short story or a shortish novella. The nominated works are here for your reading pleasure. Once again, I'm going through these in alphabetical order.

"The Copenhagen Interpretation," by Paul Cornell. I confess, I was extremely lost trying to read this and gave up. It's a diplomatic spy something, with interdimensional travel I think? It seems to be part of a series, so people who are already familiar with the terminology and characters, or who are willing to expend the considerable effort to make sense of it without the requisite background, may not be as frustrated as I was.

"Fields of Gold," by Rachel Swirsky. Dennis, the protagonist, died and ends up in the afterlife, where he has to confront his past. He's a man-child, and he doesn't really grow up, just returns to the golden fields of his youth.

"Ray of Light," by Brad Torgersen. Humanity has retreated to the ocean floor because climate change brought glaciers and froze the oceans. They've been down there a while, and the adults, the generation who remembers living on the surface, have given up. The teens haven't. It has a very nostalgic feeling about it, like the everything's hopeful stories from the 50s.

"Six Months, Three Days," by Charlie Jane Anders. Two clairvoyants date each other. They know what's going to happen and that they're going to break up in six months and three days. Judy sees many possible futures; Doug only sees one. The central argument of their relationship is about free will. I liked this a lot.

"What We Found," by Geoff Ryman. A young Nigerian man watches his father suffer from a mental illness and fears that he will follow the same path. He goes to college and studies genetics in mice, and he learns that stress in the father leads to changes in the offspring. But his research changes with the observation: it wears out. It's also about family and rivalry and loyalty, about living in a small town, about free will vs predestination. I also liked this one a lot.

Have any of you read these? Agree or disagree? Just want to discuss?

18 June 2012

Book review: Among Others

Among Others, by Jo Walton, 2011

This book was nominated for the Hugos in 2012, and it won the Nebula for best novel. I got it from a friend for my birthday.

Morwenna Phelps comes from Wales. Her twin sister Morganna was killed in a magical battle with their mother, and Mori's leg or hip was broken. She's taken away to England to attend Arlinghurst, the boarding school her long-absent father's sisters attended.

Mori doesn't fit in. She can't participate in any of the school's vaunted athletics programs because of her injury. She's not English, not upper-class. She misses the valleys of Wales and the fairies who populate them. Her only refuge is books. When she finally meets her father, she finds that he, too, is an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy, and they bond over that. She reads all the books in the school library and goes to the town library during their free Saturdays.

She discovers a weekly book club at the town library and gets permission to attend. She meets people her age who like SF, and some people her dad's age, too. She gets a crush on a boy with a bad reputation.

She tries to talk to the fairies in England, but they aren't as friendly as the fairies back home. She finds out that her mother is trying to do something, but she doesn't know what, only that she needs to stop her. The last time her mother tried something, she'd tried to take over the world (or at least their corner of it).

Among Others is very much a geek's coming-of-age story. Even if I've never read most of the books Mori name-drops throughout her diary, or don't understand what she's referring to, I can identify with the young woman finding people who are Like Her, who like the things she likes. She has doubts and fears and worries that the magic she worked to find people who read SF is the only reason they like her.

It's an enjoyable read, and Walton's prose is clear. Mori's voice is very much a teenager's, albeit a smart, geeky teenager's.

14 June 2012

Hugo nominees, part 1

I'm going to WorldCon this year, which means I get to vote on the Hugos. This is pretty exciting. I've never had the chance to vote before. As a member, you can download all the nominated works so you can read them before deciding. It's great, because otherwise you'd be spending upwards of $300 to get all the materials.

So I'm going to review the nominees. Probably just the textual ones.

First, the short stories. John Scalzi has a post with links to all the nominated short stories, so you can go read them yourself. These are my opinions.

"The Cartographer Wasps and Anarchist Bees" by E. Lily Yu: A village discovers that the wasp nests in their trees have maps on the inside, and they're better than the official maps. The wasps seek to expand their territory and invade a region previously occupied only by bees. They force the bees into subjugation, but some bees are born with anarchist leanings, and they attempt to retake the hive from the wasps. The language is evocative, and the metaphor for colonization doesn't come across too heavy-handed.

"The Homecoming" by Mike Resnick: A son returns home because he learns that his mother has an advanced dementia. His father rejected him years before, when he went into a program to live on another planet and study the native sapient beings. This involved extensive modifications to his body. This story is a fairly straightforward metaphor for learning to accept a son's homosexuality. The father narrates the story, and he's not (to me) terribly sympathetic. He's kind of an ass.

"Movement" by Nancy Fulda: This story is told from the point of view of a teenaged girl with autism. Her parents discuss a new technology that can cure her autism, but they're unsure about it. It's very well done.

"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu: A man gets a mail-order bride from China. She makes little origami animals for her son, and, because she has magic, she breathes life into them. The son plays with them, but as he gets older, he begins to reject her and her foreignness, to reject his own foreignness. Deeply moving.

"Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue" by John Scalzi: This is a parody of epic fantasy, written as an April Fools joke. I admit I didn't read the whole thing, because I didn't think it was that interesting. A lot of people seem to enjoy it, however. Maybe I don't read enough epic fantasy to get the gags.

Three of the stories are stories of acceptance. In "The Homecoming," a father accepts that his son isn't what he wanted him to be, but his son is happy. In "Movement," a girl with autism decides that she wants to remain who she is. In "The Paper Menagerie," a young Chinese-American man learns to accept himself--his entire self.

If you've read them, what do you think? Agree, disagree?

11 June 2012

Book review: Tor!

Tor! The Story of German Football by Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger, revised 2002 edition

As I may have mentioned, I'm a fan of German football (soccer), so this book is right up my alley. It came recommended by many people, and what I've read of Hesse's writing (for places like ESPN Soccernet) I've enjoyed.

The books opens in Bern, on July 4, 1954, with a man named Fritz Walter. It is a fateful day for German football, the Miracle of Bern. The Germans have somehow made it to the finals of the World Cup and are facing a much stronger team.

He takes the reader from the birth of football in Germany (a slow process, stymied by the Prussian ideals of fitness and a preference for gymnastics) through both World Wars and their aftermaths, to the founding of the Bundesliga in 1963 (100 years after the English football association was founded, and a good 75 years after the first regional leagues were founded in Germany). He takes a brief side trip to the strange world of football in the GDR.

The book closes in Korea, in June 2002. Fritz Walter passed away four days prior. The Germans have somehow made it to the finals of the World Cup, where they will face Brazil (and lose 0:2, the only goals conceded by Olli Kahn in the tournament.) Miroslav Klose expresses his sadness at his friend and mentor's death and returns to training for the next match.

Hesse's writing is never dry, and occasionally self-deprecating. The chapters set during and after the Wars are poignant and highlight the pointlessness of the Great War. He doesn't gloss over the NSDAP years, where some clubs acted admirably; others less so.

If you're a fan of German football, this book belongs on your shelf. If you aren't, you may find it less interesting.

04 June 2012

Book review: The Devil's Cub

The Devil's Cub, by Georgette Heyer

I've enjoyed many of the Heyers I've read. This one I bought because it's about two characters I liked in An Infamous Army. Except Vidal was decidedly less likeable here. He's rather an ass.

Miss Mary Challoner has a younger sister, who is much prettier than she. Said sister begins a flirtation with Dominic Alastair, Marquis Vidal, who, of course, has no intention of marrying her. Mary intercepts a note for her sister from Vidal, which instructs her to meet him. She goes in her sister's place and ends up in France.

Vidal thinks she's as easy as her sister, but Mary isn't. Naturally, they start out hating each other, but they get over it eventually. There are also cousins and friends involved, and lots of lying and half-truths.

Vidal's mother may be the best character in the book. Leonie is from France, and she finds English customs rather silly.

I mainly wanted to shake sense into both characters. The Georgian period (this is pre-Regency, because Mary and Vidal are grandparents in Infamous Army) had some seriously fucked-up norms, where men spanked their wives as though they were children, for example. I have trouble sympathizing with a hero who wants to turn a grown woman over his knee and spank her as punishment for being "uppity." I know, 200 years ago things were different, but it's still very UGH.

I'm not sure how to rate this book. If you love Heyer, you'll probably enjoy it. If not, you probably won't.