28 June 2013

Hugo thoughts: Best editor (short fiction)

I looked at the calendar and realized I'm not going to get through all the things before the end of July, so I'm going to make a couple Friday Hugo-related posts.

John Joseph Adams. Adams is a prolific anthologist, as well as the editor of Lightspeed Magazine. This year's work submitted to the packet was Armored. On the whole, this was a good anthology, with a broad range of styles, topics, and themes along the main theme of power armor. The first few stories were straight-up military SF, but there were also stories about salvage crews and a man who rescues a cat from a destroyed station. I liked some of the stories better than others, but that's how anthologies work. (Lightspeed is nominated for best semiprozine.)

Neil Clarke. Clarke is the editor of Clarkesworld, and the submitted work was issue 73, which contained works by Theodora Goss, Genevieve Valentine, and Yoon Ha Lee. All three stories were very good. I liked Goss' especially, "England Under the White Witch." Clarkesworld is nominated for best semiprozine.

Stanley Schmidt. Schmidt recently retired as the editor of Analog, whose October 2012 issue was in the packet. I didn't really like any of these stories, except Juliette Wade's "The Liars."

Jonathan Strahan. Strahan is another prolific anthologist. The submitted work here was Edge of Infinity, which collects space operas that take place within our solar system, rather than between distant stars. There were a few stories I liked a lot, like An Owomoyela's "Water Rights" and Hannu Rajaniemi's "Tyche and the Ants," but some really never drew me in, the closer from Bruce Sterling especially.

Sheila Williams. Williams is the editor of Asimov's, and the submitted volume was the April/May 2012 double issue. As far as the fiction went, I was about 50/50 on liked/didn't like. The poetry was terrible, except Megan Arkenberg's "Apocalyptic Love Song."

26 June 2013

Anime you should watch: Broken Blade

Broken Blade, manga by Yunosuke Yoshinaga, anime directed by Tetsuro Amino, produced by Production I.G and Xebec.

Rygart Arrow is an un-sorcerer: unable to move quartz even the smallest amount, unlike everyone else on the continent of Cruzon. This makes him completely unable to control the quartz-powered mecha he tried to learn to pilot at Assam Military Academy.

Rygart receives a letter from his former classmate King Hodr, informing him that he needs to come to the capital of Krisna because war is about to break out, and they've discovered a strange mecha (called golems here) in a mineshaft. It appears to be a remnant of a vanished civilization, and none of the people who can control quartz can get it to move. Queen Sigyn, an engineer, thinks Rygart is the key to using it.

The Athens Commonwealth has begun invading. Their strike teams are made up of powerful sorcerers, and they overwhelm all defenders. The leader of the strongest strike team is Rygart and co's friend from the Academy, Zess.

Unlike most other mecha shows, this is fantasy. I was intrigued to find out whether a mecha fantasy would even work, and I was glad to learn that it did. The way the golems work is interesting, and the ways they break are also interesting.

There are a lot of political machinations going on, and there's plenty of interpersonal drama going around.

The only thing that keeps me from whole-heartedly recommending this is the completely unnecessary fanservice. (By definition, fanservice is unnecessary, so that's a little redundant.) There are multiple lingering pans over Sigyn's ample bosom. It's not all the time--and Sigyn is generally shown to be extremely competent at her engineering job, if a bit scattered--but it diminished my enjoyment ever so slightly.

The series was produced as six one-hour movies. The animation quality is therefore higher than the average 12-episode TV series. US-based readers can watch it at crunchyroll.

24 June 2013

The 2 Hugo novels I'd already read and one I may not

After Deadline was nominated last year, I had to read the rest of the series. I had to find out what happened. So I've already read Blackout. I didn't review it at the time, but I thought it was a very interesting, compelling story, with parallels to the present-day US security regime. It wasn't just about zombies. It was about what people in power will do to maintain their power and how they will lie and even kill people to do that. A++, would read again.

I enjoyed the hell out of Captain Vorpatril's Alliance when I read it around Christmas. It started out as a romance story and then turned into a heist caper. It was great fun--I even read it twice!

I don't know if I'm going to read 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. His publisher sent the file as a password-protected pdf, and I can't read it on my Kobo Touch. I can put it on the device, but I can't open it. The error message is "we can't verify that you own this file," and it doesn't prompt me for a password, just tells me to make sure I am signed into Adobe Digital Editions. So I think, hey maybe I can add it through ADE, so I copy the file into ADE, and that tells me they don't support password-protected pdfs. *sigh* Thank you, Orbit.

I can open it on my computer, but I really don't want to read an entire long-ass novel on my laptop. I have an e-reader for a reason. If I decide I care enough, I might swing by the library and see if they have a copy that doesn't require me reading it on a tiny, back-lit laptop screen. (Too much back-lighting can make my head hurt.)

21 June 2013

Friday miscellany

There isn't a whole lot going on right now. I'm reading stuff for the Hugos still. I have until July 31 to cast my ballot.

I'm working on the exam for the second module (of eight) of Basics and Concepts of Teaching German as a Foreign Language (Grundlagen und Konzepte des DaF-Unterrichts), which is a distance-learning course through the Goethe Institute. That's taking up pretty much all my brain power right now. I have 15 days to finish the exam, so it's due June 29. I'll need to finish it by the 28th, because of ConTemporal (I'm on staff).

One of my cats just had to get a tooth pulled, so that was exciting. She refused to eat, even though she was obviously hungry, so off to the vet. They found a bad-looking tooth, so they got her in for a dental the next day. She hasn't quite gotten back to normal yet, but she just had it pulled less than 24 hours ago.

Tomorrow I'm attempting to teach a friend to crochet. She's a lefty, so I have no idea if it's going to work.

Also, it's been a year since Ben and I had to put Isis to sleep. I miss her bratty little face, but it hurts less than it used to.


19 June 2013

Anime you should watch: Irresponsible Captain Tylor

Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Kouichi Mashimo/Tatsunoko Production, 1993.

Justy Ueki Tylor is assigned to the Soyokaze, an aging spaceship of the United Planets Space Force. He's the type of person who somehow manages to stumble along despite being completely oblivious to everything. He's just lucky.

When Tylor enlisted, he thought he'd get a desk job and have a peaceful life. He's barely finished the qualifying exam when war breaks out with the Raalgon Empire, and he's thrust into the middle of it. Tylor's superior officers don't think much of him, because he's so feckless and lazy, but he manages to get the job done (or, in one memorable episode, doesn't at all).

Tylor and his crew get involved in hijinks, both on their own accord and because the admiralty is trying to kill Tylor. When the Raalgon capture him with the intention of executing him, the stakes get higher.

The 26-episode series is not available streaming online, but copies are available for purchase from RightStuf, whose Nozomi Entertainment branch owns the US license.

17 June 2013

2013 Hugo Novellas

Aliette deBodard, "On a Red Station, Drifting": This is set in the same universe as "Immersion," on the short story ballot. In this tale, a refugee from a war-torn planet arrives on a space station where her distant cousins are administrators. Her cousin doesn't want to allow her in, or let her too deeply into the workings of the station Mind, their mutual ancestor. There are naturally repercussions to the refugee's arrival, relating to her flight from her assigned administrative territory in the Empire when the rebels attacked.

de Bodard, a French-Vietnamese writer, paints a picture of a galactic Dai Viet empire, and she uses a very insider perspective to write it. The culture doesn't feel like a veneer painted on for that ~exotic~ flavor, in contrast to another story on this ballot.

Mira Grant, "San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats": This is a strange sort of love letter to fandom and to ComicCon. In Grant's Newsflesh series, summer 2014 was the start of the zombie apocalypse (as seen in last year's nominee Countdown). Having read that, and the rest of the series, I felt impending dread at the title, which only worsened when one of the narrators was introduced as "the last known survivor of the 2014 San Diego ComicCon." (Grant, aka Seanan McGuire, is really good at keeping the reader interested despite knowing what the ultimate outcome is. And in this case, it's tearing your heart out of your chest and watching as she stomps on it.)

I hate zombies. I hate horror. The Newsflesh series is amazing.

Nancy Kress, "After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall": This is a Gaia story. One narrator is a teenaged boy, born after a massive nuclear apocalypse, who has lived inside a dome his entire life, except for the occasions when he jumps through a time anomaly to steal a baby or some supplies. The other narrator is a woman in the present day who is investigating a series of child abductions and mysterious robberies. Even without knowing in advance what the apocalypse was, I found the story rather predictable.

Jay Lake, "The Stars Do Not Lie": An astronomer declares a discovery in front of the Academy of Sciences. He has evidence that people were not created by their gods 6000 years before, but placed on the planet in the Gardens. This is, of course, a heresy to the Church. He gets embroiled in the conflict between the Church and the Thalassic something or others, kind of like Masons with an army. It's a steampunk-y setting, and it's well written.

Brandon Sanderson, "The Emperor's Soul": A woman who was captured stealing an imperial relic is hired to do something risky: Forge the Emperor's soul. Forging, in this world, is a skill that uses seals to stamp a new history on an object, so a decrepit table can be stamped to have been properly cared for and it will change. The emperor was targeted by assassins, and the Forger has 100 days (minus two) to carve stamps for his soul, based on his diaries and what his advisors tell him. It's an interesting premise and well executed.

Here, in contrast to de Bodard's piece, the pseudo-Chinese culture feels like a veneer painted on for that ~exotic~ flavor. Sanderson explains in an afterword that he spent time in China as a missionary, and he was inspired by seeing the chops stamped on various pieces of art. I think if I hadn't read "Red Station" and "Immersion" before this, I wouldn't have noticed. But now I probably won't not notice in the future.

14 June 2013

Friday miscellany

I've made a list of the anime I want to recommend, both from looking at my shelves and asking Ben what good recent shows I've missed. At one post a week, it'll last me into next year. And that doesn't include occasional posts on things that are currently airing. But I've also hit a snag: some of the things I want to recommend are out of print or tied up in license limbo forever (hi, Macross). There are ... ways ... to get around that, but I'm not willing to discuss them here.

I've taken the posts wherein I've recommended anime and turned them into a page, which I will update weekly(ish).

And these are blooming outside my house right now. They smell amazing.

12 June 2013

Anime you should watch: Rideback

Rideback, manga by Tetsurou Kasahara (2003-09), anime adaptation (2009) by Atsushi Takahashi (dir), Hideo Takayashiki & Ken Iizuka (writers) (Madhouse)

In the not-so-distant future, the Global Government Plan has taken over the world, creating a military dictatorship. Rin Ogata's mother was a famous ballerina, and Rin was on the path to becoming a famous ballerina herself until she severely injured her foot during a performance. When she gets to college, she discovers the Rideback club, a group of hobbyists who ride transforming motorcycles, and she gets to dance again.

(Screencap from nyaatorrents.org)

Rin takes quickly to Fuego, the Rideback she's assigned in the club, and she competes in the obligatory race. (The manga ran in a seinen (teenaged boys) magazine.) The plot thickens when the BMA, an anti-GGP organization, begins staging protests, and Rin's younger brother gets involved.

Unfortunately, the anime adaptation was only 12 episodes long. When it ends, the broader hints of a dystopian setting are only starting to become visible. With the current state of the manga industry in the US, odds that we'll see the 10 volumes released in English are very low.

US-based readers can watch it free at Funimation.

10 June 2013

2013 Hugo Novelettes

Pat Cadigan, "The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi": This tells the story of workers in space who have opted (or, in some cases, been forced) to adopt the shape of sea life. The piece starts with a lot of slang, and while the reader eventually understands what they mean by sushi and why one of the characters is called a biped and has to remember to set aside her bipedal prejudices, I found it a bit frustrating at the start. I know there are people out there who enjoy being thrown into the deep end with terminology and slang; I'm not one of them.

On the whole, it's a very transhumanist piece, and some aspects of the story, of the narrator's thoughts, hinted at a queer reading.

Seanan McGuire, "In Sea-Salt Tears": A selkie story in which a selkie falls in love with the sea-witch and pays a very dear price. For people this interests, the protagonist is bisexual. She had relationships with men before she met the sea-witch. It's a compelling narrative, even if I'm not interested in fay stories. McGuire excels at maintaining the sense of impending doom that the story requires.

Seanan McGuire, "Rat Catcher": In pre-fire London, a prince of the Court of Cats has to persuade his father, this court's king, to heed a prophecy. The prince of cats would rather watch Shakespeare than deal with the ins and outs of court life, but his father is a tyrant, and he punishes his sisters for the prince's disobedience. The sense of impending doom is also strong in this piece.

Thomas Olde Heuvelt, "The Boy Who Cast No Shadow": Olde Heuvelt is a Dutch writer, and this piece is set in the Netherlands. The narrator is a boy who doesn't cast a shadow. He has no reflection. Much of the story is spent with him wondering, "if I don't know what I look like, how do I know who I am?" (Which I think is kind of ... problematic; I mean, presumably blind people have a sense of self and identity if they've never seen themselves in a mirror.) Anyway, it's a lot about the narrator finding his identity. One day he gets a new classmate, a boy who is made of glass, who becomes the target of bullies. The glass boy worries about dying before he has a chance to live, because his parents just about literally wrap him in bubble wrap to keep him safe. The ending is poignant.

Catherynne Valente, "Fade to White": I love the idea behind this story: a dystopian near-parody of 1950s America, where McCarthy is president and the west coast is occupied by the Japanese. It's Father Knows Best and the Donna Reed Show crossed with the Handmaid's Tale (including a newly discovered apocrypha to the apocrypha, called Pseudo-Matthew). It's structured with storyboards for advertisements (for vegetable seeds, appliances, etc, all with added radioactive elements for health, apparently) alternating with two teenagers' stories as they prepare for their Presentation.

There's only one problem: I don't like Valente's writing at all. It draws too much attention to itself, and it tries to be too clever. I've tried to like her works, because I think the ideas behind them are awesome, but the writing is just ... twee. Many many people do enjoy her writing, so whatever floats your boat. Her writing doesn't float mine.

07 June 2013

Adventures in public transit: my football weekend in DC

I went to the Durham Amtrak station and waited for my train. I saw an old acquaintance in the lobby with two of his friends, who were going up to DC for one of their bachelor party, so we sat together. I didn't get much of the reading I'd intended done, but it was an enjoyable, convivial trip.

We were making good time, no delays, until about an hour north of Richmond, when we stopped. The engineer said there was a disabled freight train ahead of us, so we had to wait. (In the US, the freight companies own the tracks and have right of way, everywhere except the line between DC and Boston. Also, there is only one pair of tracks in most routes.) So we sat there for half an hour, when the engineer came back on and said the train was two miles long, so we'd be backing up to switch tracks.

We backed up most of the way to Richmond, which is apparently the closest switch. So I was about an hour and a half late, but I eventually made it to my sister's, where I dropped my bags off, and we walked out to Agora for Turkish (and a little Greek) tapas. I finally tried Imam bayildi (it was quite good). The falafel was excellent, and I took a couple of her brussels sprouts, which were fried and quite tasty.

Saturday I met a friend in Bethesda for lunch. My plan was to walk over to Dupont Circle to catch the red line north, except the red line was closed between Woodley Park and Metro Center for track work. So I took the shuttle and eventually made it to Bethesda. We ate at Tandoori Nights. I liked the food I had, paneer krahi. So then I went back to DC. At Woodley Park, everyone had to get out and get onto buses. I was herded onto what was apparently an express bus, so I had to then go find a second bus that would take me back to Dupont and actually let me out.

It was really fcking hot all weekend, with loads of humidity, so when I made my planned stop at Teaism to purchase looseleaf tea, I also bought a cup of iced tisane (which was one of the teas I bought, Ginger Zing. I liked it a lot.) which helped me get back to my sister's without getting massively dehydrated. (Gatorade is my BFF.)

That night we went out for wood-fired pizza at Matchbox, and my sister made pie. She lives in walking distance of both Dupont Circle and U St, which is really convenient.

Sunday morning, I had yet another transit adventure. I didn't want to deal with the line work (all of Metro was undergoing maintenance), so I opted for a bus route with one transfer. I got on the bus labeled for where I was going, except ... it stopped. So the driver told me I should walk a few blocks down to Pennsylvania and catch the bus I was going to get there. Except when I got to the stop and called up NextBus, it told me there were no buses coming "for a long time." So I did the only thing left: I called Ben's brother, to whose house I was going anyway. (I stayed with him Sunday night, so I had my luggage with me.) He was dropping a friend off at National and could pick me up in about 20 minutes. So I got a ride in his Miata with the top down.

Then we had to coordinate lunch for three people (me, him, his girlfriend) before going to RFK Stadium for the game. I've written more about the game for another blog, and you can read it there. Or you can look at my photos here. Here's a picture of me at the stadium. We were really close to the field.

After the game, we went back to their house and decided what to do for dinner. We eventually opted to walk over to a Thai restaurant, at which point it started pouring rain. We got out rain gear and walked maybe two blocks before I said, "I don't suppose this place delivers." Of course they do, so we walked back, dried off, and got take-out Thai food.

Monday morning's transit adventure wasn't much of an adventure. Aside from having to wait until the rain slowed down before I walked to the Metro station, getting from their house to Union Station wasn't a problem at all. The Amtrak train was delayed 25 minutes, so I had to wait in the gate area for longer than anticipated. That was the only delay, however, and I got a lot of reading done. I even took a nap.

One thing I always find surprising about Amtrak is how weird it is compared to European trains. Amtrak makes you get on particular cars based on where your destination is. They put tags over your seat with where you're getting off. The conductor will tell people their stop is coming up, personally, not just via the overhead communication system. Only certain doors open at any stop. It's just so weird. Having ridden trains in Germany, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, and Japan, where the conductors basically ignore you except to ask for your ticket (and fine you if you have the wrong one; also, in Germany at least, you can buy your ticket on the train from the conductor), I find this near paternalism utterly bizarre. The only time I've had to sit in a particular car was when I took the train from Berlin to Vienna, which split into two trains in the Czech Republic, so you had to sit in the right half of the train if you didn't want to end up somewhere like Brno instead. (I had a reserved seat anyway.)

Also, every time my German friends complain about how terrible Deutsche Bahn is, I want to challenge them to plan a trip on Amtrak.

One thing I had confirmed this weekend, though, is that I am definitely a city girl. I like tall buildings, lots of people, walking to get groceries or food. While we were driving home on the highway, I had this sense of something missing. Boredom. Loneliness. A need to get back to a city. Ideally, I want to live in Berlin. I can't afford to live in DC. (Also you really need a car, or a friend with a car, or a zipcar membership, if you want to go anywhere like MD or VA on a weekend or during non-commuting hours.)

05 June 2013

Anime you should watch: Toradora!

Toradora! Light novels written by Yuyuko Takemiya; anime adaptation by Tatsuyuki Nagai/JC Staff

Ryuuji Takasu is preparing to enter his second year of high school (11th grade). He's had a lot of trouble because he looks like a thug, thanks to the set of his eyes, but he's really not into gangs and violence. His mother works nights in a hostess club, and his father was a bad boy.

Taiga Aisaka is a classmate who is friends with the girl he has a crush on, Minori Kushieda. Taiga is short, short-tempered, and has a generally nervous personality. She has a crush on Ryuuji's best friend Yuusaku. They decide to help each other get to know their crushes better, except there's one flaw in their plan: they spend so much time together that everybody thinks they're dating.

The name of the show comes from their names: in Japanese, taiga is approximately how you pronounce tiger, hence tora. Ryuu is the Japanese word for dragon, which would be phonetically transcribed as doragon, hence dora.

It's a cute slice of life high school drama/comedy. The only thing I don't like about it is the ending, because I wanted it to subvert the trope it looked like it was going to, but then it didn't. I was disappointed.

Even so, it's a fun show about high school kids. US-based readers can watch it here.

03 June 2013

2013 Hugo Shorts

Aliette de Bodard, "Immersion." In a distant future, the scientists/engineers of the Galactic Empire (I think empire; could be a federation) have invented immersers, which people can wear as simultaneous language and cultural translators. The narrator is Quy, who spent some time off her home station and came back. There is a second-person narrator as well, whose identity isn't revealed until later. Quy has to assist her uncle, who runs a restaurant, in booking a wedding party for a galactic and his wife. (It's more of an anniversary party, but they go with all the traditional wedding foods.)

The story is an allegory for colonialism and assimilation, and it starts somewhat didactically. It gets less didactic as the story progresses and the reader learns more about the second-person narrator. It's well-written, and I think it's the first fiction piece I've read from de Bodard. (I've read some of her blog posts.)

Kij Johnson, "The Mantis Wives." If preying mantises were artistes. The female preying mantis seeks artistic ways to kill her mate, and the names for the various methods are evocative of Tokugawa-era Japanese poetry. This was well written, but it was very much not my thing.

Ken Liu, "Mono no Aware." Mono no Aware is the Japanese term for finding beauty in the fleeting moments, for recognizing the impermanence of things and finding beauty therein. In the future, a mega asteroid is on course for Earth, and the various governments attempt to build ships to save humanity. In Japan, where the narrator is from, the company contracted to build the ships lied to the government, and the multiple ships they promised turn out to be non-functional models. The narrator, a boy at the time, is taken secretly to Tokyo to the former lover of his mother, who is an American scientist, who promises to take him on the ship with him.

One day, the narrator notices that the solar sail has a tiny hole in it. The options are to repair it or to let it continue to rip, which would set the ship off course and eventually lead to everyone's death.

I'm not sure which I liked better between Liu and de Bodard.