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2015 Hugo Awards Reading: The Parliament of Beasts and Birds – John C. Wright (Short Story)

The Parliament of Beasts and Birds is a philosophical/metaphorical/religious-whatever story with the hypothetical setting of post-judgment day animal discussions after God or whoever took humans from the Earth and put them into Heaven and Hell.

The animals discuss among themselves who should replace humans as masters. Or whether having masters at all is ok.

I found the story difficult to read. The author stuffed his prose with unusual, possibly anachronistic words the meaning of which I could not gather from context. I made a list: fane, ambergris, harlot, dell, corsair, smokestack, coney, roc, abattoir, cur, trow, ratiocination, jowl.

Getting such a long list of unknown vocab out of a single short story is quite unusual for me. I think this has not happened since I was 14 (when I tried to read Small Gods by Terry Pratchett in its original English version* and gave up because of all the unknown words). Nowadays, I read whole novels without ever looking up a word. Once in a while I come across a new word, but this is so rare… I don’t remember when it happened last.

Apart from the inaccessible vocabulary, the language is very flowery and I have the impression that John C Wright is trying very hard to write literary. I find this kind of annoying.

Concerning the story: I was not impressed. It seems to be a religious (christian) parable of some kind and, adding to the annoyance over the vocab, I have the distinct impression that JCW is showing off how smart he is. I bet there are a bunch of references that I do not get because of how dumb and uneducated I am and didn’t do my bible studies diligently enough. (Or ever ;-) ). So now everyone knows that JCW is able to actively use a lot of randgruppen** words, knows his christian mysticism and is so very educated.

As you can see, the story’s prose and style annoyed so much that I barely was able to follow the actual story. Can’t be much good then. I didn’t like it.


*I am German, live in Germany and only started to learn English in 5th grade.

**Am I not smart?

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2015 Hugo Awards Reading: Why Science is Never Settles – Tedd Roberts (Best Related Work)

Why Science is Never Settled is an essay on how science and the scientific method work. It also explains how scientists work today and the reader learns the basics of what impact factors, peer review and the “publish or perish” dogma are all about. All in all, it’s well written, precise and I think it should give a non-scientist a good basic idea of what being a scientist today entails.

It’s the type of essay I’d hand to a grad student who’s just starting out in addition of pointing him towards PhD-comics, a good source on the realities of living and working in academia. It might also work in helping non-scientist understand the fact that current text book knowledge or what they learned in science classes in school might be wrong.

I’m not happy with the fact though, that the article gives the impression that nothing ever is settled in science and the next discovery could change some basic facts that we were always sure of. Because, some things are settled. E.g.: the Earth revolves around the sun. Or: On Earth, gravity pulls down. But that’s just a minor grievance I have with the article. I believe, the title isn’t all that well chosen, because the not-settledness is just one aspect of the article.

Apart from that, my main criticism of the article regarding its Hugo nomination is the fact that its SFF-relatedness is nothing more than a single reference to one of Eric Flint‘s novels. So, even though this is a good article, I don’t think it should be on the Hugo ballot as a “Best Related Work”, irrespective of whether it was published by SFF publisher Baen or whether it contains a SFF-al reference.

In conclusion, this nominee will not appear on my ballot, it should never have been nominated in this category as I don’t consider it to be a “Related Work”.

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2015 Hugo Awards Reading: Turncoat – Steve Rzasa (Short Story)

With the Hugo voting deadline approaching I really must hurry up with my reading. I am way behind. So, today I read three pieces from various categories. The first was Turncoat, a military SF tale by Steve Rzasa, published by Vox Day.

*Spoilers ahead*

Turncoat is a story about an AI-warship that fights in a war of improved (some of them computerized/uploaded) humans against normal humans who do not want to be upgraded on the side of the improved humans.

When the military leadership changes its policies and begins to demand the eradication of all normal humans rather then just taking them prisoner, the ship turns on his leadership and joins the normal humans in their war.

The plot is nothing special and unfortunately for me, the reader, it was predictable how things would turn out very early on (the title of the story was a big give-away, but even without that title the plot design would have been obvious).

Still, the story is good enough that I will place it above No Award. My current voting slate looks like this:

  1. Totaled
  2. Turncoat
  3. No Award
  4. On a Spiritual Plain

with two stories remaining unread.

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2015 Hugo Awards Reading: Wisdom from my Internet – Michael Z. Williamson

Wisdom from my Internet is a collection of very short jokes (tweets maybe?) on a variety of subjects, mainly US-American politics though. It self-published by the author in an imprint he fittingly named “Patriarchy Press”. I started reading, then skimming then fast-forwarding through it with short stops to see whether it had improved further on (it hadn’t) until I reached the end. That was fast. And easy to judge: not on my ballot will this thing ever be. No Award. Because:

Are you* serious?

*By “you” I mean Sad Puppies, Rabid Puppies, and whoever gets to decide whether a given nominee is an eligible nominee.

Which brings me – apart from my subjective opinion that the contained “jokes” are as unfunny as something categorized as a joke can be – to my main grievance with this nominee and its nomination: It’s not related to SFF in any meaningful in-depth way. There are some game and television related “jokes” but they are a minority within the whole body of the nominated work. Any given Simpsons episode has – in my opinion – a higher Hugo eligibility rating than Wisdom from my Internet: The Simpsons at least feature a cast of fantastical creatures: 4-fingered yellow people. This obviously makes The Simpsons a fantasy series. Maybe I’ll nominate an episode next year.

No, just kidding.

From other reviews and comments at file 770 I gather that this is the worst nominated work on the ballot. I hope this is true. Going on from here, it can only get better.

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2015 Hugo Awards Reading: Cixin Liu – The Three-Body Problem (2008/2014)

The Three-Body Problem is one of the three novels which were nominated in the best novel category and are included in the Hugo voter packet in their full-length versions. As I had already read and tried to read The Goblin Emperor and The Dark between the Stars, respectively, this one was the next one in my Hugo reading queue.

What makes for interesting reading is the fact that the novel was originally published in the Chinese language and it’s (not surprisingly) set in China. The story starts off during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. People are murdered for their supposedly non-revolutionary views and ideas. Even the names of physical theories are suspect if they imply something that’s interpretable as not being in-line with the party-sanctioned ideas. People get killed for favoring the wrong scientific hypotheses. Such craziness is very hard to comprehend for me. I guess the mind set of people who behave so irrationally is difficult to get for people who never had to experience such behavior. Maybe it’s related to the mind-set of religious fanatics.

*SOME LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD*

I finished the novel about two weeks ago and I have already forgotten most characters’ names. This is not because the names are Chinese. A week after finishing a novel I rarely remember any characters’ names. The novel has two protagonists: a woman who was a young woman during the cultural revolution and whose family was at the receiving end of its witch hunt and a scientist who is a young dad and works in applied research. The young woman is the daughter of a well known scientist and – through luck and good fortune – ends up working at the secret sight of the Chinese version of the SETI project. In current times the project has been dismantled. The book managed to get me wondering whether the project had or had not received any extraterrestrial messages.

In the current day, scientists who work in basic research commit suicide at a very high rate. It’s baffling and governments from all over the world are working together to find out what’s going on. One day, the main protagonist starts seeing a countdown that’s counting backward wherever he looks. He’s told that only if he stops his research the countdown will be stopped. I really liked this part of the story because it’s a mystery how the countdown works, what makes him see it, who’s doing it to him, what might happen at the end of the countdown (his suicide?) and why he should stop his research.

I liked that the novel posed lot’s of mysterious questions and even answered them in a way that made sense, at least most of the times. While there are a lot of things in this novel that I liked a lot, there are a few things that I did not like as much. Mainly, this is not a character driven novel. This novel is about the science, not the characters. It’s very hard SF (which is fine), but it’s so hard, that at times whole passages read as if they were taken from a popular science text-book on futuristic physics. I guess it’s difficult to have everything: an imaginative and engaging story, cool science and great characters. The Three-Body Problem scores 2 out of 3 of these, which is a very good score.

Let’s see what my current voting order for the Best Novel category looks like:

  1. The Goblin Emperor
  2. The Three-Body Problem
  3. No Award
  4. The Dark Between the Stars

I’m still missing Skin Game and Ancillary Sword. I fear that I won’t make it to Skin Game, I still have to read about 8 or so novels from the Dresden Files before I reach Skin Game and I probably won’t manage that before voting on the Hugo Awards closes. (At least I will have tried.) I’ll read Ancillary Sword soon. I’m Still hoping for a lower e-book price.

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2015 Hugo Awards reading: Kevin J. Anderson – The Dark Between the Stars (2014)

I did not finish this novel. I abandoned it at about 25% in (and I am “proud” of having made it so far) but the book did not grab me and the writing is not good enough to keep me reading for the sake of the writing. If I have the time (and I probably won’t have the time) to get back to the book before voting on the Hugos closes, I will try to finish it. But only then.

I’ve never before read a Kevin J. Anderson novel and I’ve always meant to. He’s quite popular in Germany and many of his books have been translated into German. (I live in Germany/am German.) My brother is a fan and has been trying to get me to read his novels for a long time now. But as he reads in German and I prefer to read the original English versions of books when they are available, I never picked up one of his Kevin J. Anderson books.

But The Dark Between the Stars was graciously included in the Hugo voter packet and I decided to take a break from Harry Dresden by reading this novel. It’s set in the far future when humans have colonized the stars. There are several alien races and at least two human factions: the roamers and the hansa.

There are several protagonists in the novel. unfortunately they have very tropish characteristics. There’s

  • the evil capitalist who disregards safety measures for the sake of profit. (And, as was to be expected, disaster comes to haunt him.)
  • the career crazy mother who does not see reason when deciding what’s good for her child. (There’s even a scene where she wonders why there are no happy mother-child pictures with her only happy father-child pictures. Seriously. That’s so stereotypical…)
  • a mad scientist who employs a huge number of minion scientist keeping all research results for HERSELF! Hah! She even has a trusted side-kick who does all her dirty work for her. (Not to mention that it’s highly improbable that hundreds of good scientists would be willing to give up all chances to fame and not even have a high standard of living to compensate them for it. One might think that scientist are no humans, that they lack basic human needs and wishes…)
  • telepathy. (No comment.)
  • a very Star Trek like expedition into the unknowns of space. (“Tal, I detect an anomaly ahead, a dust cloud or a dark nebula”, said a scientist kithman amid the ports and contacts of the Kolpraxa’s scanning devices and telescopes. “No energy signature, but it covers a wide path.” )

The whole novel does not have a single character I came to care about, and having read 25% of the novel, I would expect that at this point there should be someone I care about. As it is, why should I read on?

I might have liked this book when I was a teenager. Back then, I probably would not have noticed some of the tropes and I might have liked the complexity of characters and possibilities. As it is I was mostly annoyed by the trope-ladeness and the meticulously explained, but irrelevant backstories of the characters.

In conclusion, I believe this novel is not good enough to be Hugo worthy. I believe the author deserves recognition for what he has achieved in his writing career, but a Hugo for Best Novel? No, at least not for this novel.

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Jim Butcher – Grave Peril (Harry Dresden #3)

I am reading through the Harry Dresden Files novels in order to be prepared for my 2015 Hugo Awards nominee reading of #15 in the series, Skin Game. So again, this will only be a very brief general impression of the novel.

The supernatural topic of this novel: vampires (following evil sorcerer in #1 and werewolves in #2). I am already curious what will be the topic of number #4. Trolls? Gargoyles? Anyway. The plot is the usual Harry Dresden has to save the day against high odds against a very powerful and dangerous foe. OK. It’s a fast and fun read, but still no Hugo material. What I find promising for future novels is the introduction of two new characters: Thomas, a sex vampire (apparently a different type of vampire as the common blood drinking vampire) who is an interesting ambiguous character. And Michael, a Holy Night wielding a Holy Sword who fights God’s fight on Earth (or something like that). He’s a nice family guy with a day job. I am curious to see what he will contribute.

And that’s it for #3. Now reading #4.

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Jim Butcher – Fool Moon (2001) – Harry Dresden #2

I am reading through (or at least trying to read through) all 15 Harry Dresden novels as part of my 2015 Hugo Awards reading. So as to not take a too large bite out of my reading time, I’ll only write down my impression of this book in a brief post.

I liked Fool Moon better than the first installment of the series, Storm Front. This time around, Harry has to go after werewolves. (Or do the werewolves go after him.) As before, his life, his friendship, his reputation, his everything is on the line if he does not solve the case (werewolf inflicted murders) really fast. The stakes are high from the begining, or are raised not as obviously as “Attention, raising the stakes now”-like as in Storm Front.

The book has some flaws, but it’s good enough that I already started to read Grave Peril, # 3 in the series. I hope Harry’s chauvinism will be tuned down a bit in the later installments of the series and I also hope that his friends and associates might stop behaving as irrationally and unlogically towards him as they do in Fool Moon.

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Review: On a Spiritual Plain by Lou Antonelli (2015 Hugo Nominated Short Story)

On a Spiritual Plain by Lou Antonelli is the second story from this year’s Hugo Awards ballot that I have read. I did not have high expectations of this year’s short story ballot because all nominees were nominated because of their presence on the sad and/or rabid puppy slates. (I did not like a single one of last year’s sad puppy nominees.) Totaled, the first story I read, was not a great story, but at least it had some positive moments. In contrast, On a Spiritual Plain fits right in with last year’s sad puppy nominees.

The story’s protagonist is the chaplain of a small human outpost on an alien planet. This is a bit familiar. One of last year’s sad puppy Hugo nominees by Brad R. Torgerson also featured a chaplain of a small group of humans on an alien planet. Now, this year Brad Torgerson put together the Sad Puppies slate. I guess he has a thing for chaplains in the  military. Hm. I don’t have to understand this, do I?

The story starts with the chaplain, a ghost and an alien and then plunges into a loooong info-dump about the aliens’ religion and gives a made-up-scientific explanation for the presence of ghosts on this particular planet. Did I ever mention that I strongly dislike info-dumps? Just to be sure: I do not like info-dumps. They lack finesse. They tend to give me the feeling of reading clumsy writing. There must be some better way to give me all that information. (Sometimes, I can tolerate info-dumps, but only if the story is so good that I desperately want to know what happens next thereby reading through an info-dump without really noticing what happened to me. This is not the case here and usually only work for me in the context of a novel: There, lots of surrounding prose can sometimes disguise the info-dump from me before realising that I’ve been info-dumped.)

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

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