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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*

Continue reading

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Kary English – Totaled (Hugo Awards 2015 nominated Short Story)

Totaled (link to free story online) is a short tale about the experiences of a person waking up in a lab (the lab where she used to work, actually) as a full-brain tissue sample for use in experiments on neural maps. How is it possible that the brain who is not legally dead can be used in experiments? Answer: The story is set in a future America where people’s lives are saved (or not) depending on their individual economic value.

The story follows the person inside the brain tissue as she experiences what takes place in the lab. While I liked the writing and the imagery used (food descriptions) the ending was anti-climatic and did not resolve anything. Also, I was irritated that the protagonist’s friends/colleagues did nothing to change the status quo (=not providing health care to individuals deemed of too little value to make their survival worthwhile economically), which I would consider inhumane and barbaric. They just take this for granted and more or less carry on as usual. Hm.

This story is the first Hugo Awards nominee I read this year. (Actually, I already read and loved The Goblin Emperor during the nominating phase. incidentally, that’s the only one of my choices that made it onto the ballot.) Anyway, this makes it actually the second nominee I have read. While I liked Totaled better than all of last year’s nominees of Sad Puppies origin, I did not like it as much as last year’s short story nominees. (Last year’s short story ballot was Sad Puppy-free). So maybe this indicates that the Sad Puppy organizers did a better job of putting qualitatively better stories on their ballot. I hope so. Still, when comparing the story to last year’s ballot I would place it below No Award. I believe, this story could have been more. It feels more like a practice piece rather than like a full short story. I might feel like this because I did not recognize a climax or turning point in the story. There is no satisfying ending. There are several things in the story that the author could have been developed in such a way as to make a stronger impression on me: the protagonist could have not co-operated in the demonstration, she could have somehow done something regarding her lab mates, her kids or her lab mates could have taken some kind of action. As it is, the story is a bit unsatisfying.

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Contemplating this year’s Hugo reading

When this year’s finalists for the Hugo Awards was announced, I was not happy. And I am still not happy. Most of the fiction slots (the categories I am most interested in are the fiction categories) were taken by nominees from two overlapping (but distinct) block voting efforts. the sad and rabid Puppies. Unfortunately for me, the works voted onto the ballot from the Sad/Rabid Puppies slates are predominantly military SF (or so it seems to me). Last year, some Sad Puppy nominees made it onto the Hugo ballot, and I did not like a single one of them. This does not bode well for this year’s slated nominees. Also, I hate the idea of block voting. (For the record: I also did not like how and that WoT ended up on the ballot last year.)

So what I am going to do?

Some people are planning to vote “No Award” in all categories. I think this is a very stupid proposal and I do not see what this might achieve other than hurting even more people than already have been hurt by this year’s developments.

Another, in my impression bigger group of people is saying that they will vote “No Award” above every single work that was on one of the two Puppy-slates, regardless of whether it’s good or not. I am not going to do that either. I will try to read all nominated works. I will, however, be less patient than last year. thinking back, I wonder why I slogged through Vox Day‘s nominated story. It was one of the worst thing I read in a long time. No. This year I will not make myself suffer by reading bad (this is subjective, of course) fiction. I am not sure how I will judge where to set the limit for no-awarding stories. Earlier, I was considering to use my personal impression of the quality of last year’s non-sad-puppy nominees as to what needs to be achieved by a nominated story to make my personal No-Awards cut. This might be too strict, though. I am inexperienced in terms of Hugo voting. It’s very well possible that last year’s non-puppy nominees were exceptionally good nominees. So I am currently considering to make some allowances for my inexperience and put everything that I would at least give a 3 out of 5 rating on places like goodreads or amazon above No Award.

There’s one exception to my plan. Both Vox Day will not appear on my ballot. His overall attitude and behavior make me very angry and I already know from Vox Day‘s Opera Vita Aeterna (or however it is spelled, I do not feel like looking it up right now) that he is not a good writer. So, I have no idea how he could be a good editor. I might extend this exception to include John C. Wright, but I have not decided this, yet. I will decide after reading a couple of his pieces.

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Review: Storm Front – Jim Butcher (2000) (Dresden Files #1)

storm frontStorm Front is the first novel in the very popular urban fantasy series “The Dresden Files” by Jim Butcher. I wanted to check out this series for a while now, mostly because it’s a popular representative of one of my favorite fantasy sub-genres: urban fantasy murder mystery. Now, that the 15th installment of the series is nominated for a Hugo Award in 2015, I feel that I have to start reading the series, otherwise there is no chace for me to make it to book 15 before voting on the Hugo Awards closes. (FYI: I am voting on the Hugos this year.)

I picked up a used copy of Storm Front and I am trying to acquire most of the titles from the series in used condition, mostly to reduce my book expenses. (I’d be very surprised if the whole series was included in the voter’s packet, which is provided to people who vote on the Hugo Awards. That is not going to happen. I will count myself lucky if Skin Game, the Hugo nominated novel, is included.)

From the preceding paragraph the reader should be able to deduce that I liked Storm Front well enough, to want to read the whole series. :-)

Harry Dresden, the protagonist, is a wizard who works as a private investigator, but he also is the police’s external advisor for all cases which might have supernatural links. The novel starts out with Harry being nearly broke (he can’t even pay his rent), a woman asking him to find her husband for him (a recently unemployed guy with an interest in wizardry) and the police calling him in to a murder investigation. A couple has been found dead with their hearts blown out from the inside. There are a lot of stakes for Harry. At first, it’s just his looming bankruptcy, then the White Council – something like a policing board for magic – suspects him of the murders and practicing black magic, while whoever killed the couple seems to want to kill him, too.

This works really well for making the novel an exciting and fun read. The magical system is neat and has a lot of room for cool magical gizmos. So I am now waiting for part two of the series, Fool Moon to arrive in my mail box.

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Hugh Howey – Dust (2013)

DUSTDust is the third part of the very successful Wool trilogy by Hugh Howey. I read the first two parts of the trilogy, Wool and Shift, in the autumn of 2014. They are both very engaging reads, which in my opinion must be read before trying to read Dust. Dust won’t make any sense to readers who haven’t read its prequels.

I really enjoyed both Wool and Shift, but I needed a break from the Wool universe after Shift. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why this was the case for me, possibly because things became harder and harder to believe the further I came in my reading of Shift. My brain’s credibility center needed a break from ignoring (scientifically) illogical things. OK. It felt refreshed enough to take on Dust last week and in I dove.

*Spoilers for Wool and Shift – do not continue reading, if you haven’t read those.*

Continue reading

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Linking freely available 2015 Hugo Awards nominees

Somebody must already have put together a list with links to those nominated works which are available online for free. unfortunately, I cannot easily find one among the (probably) hundreds of Hugo Awards reaction posts that have started to sprout all over the net in the days since the finalist were announced. I put together this list for my personal reference. (If I could not find the story on the first page of google results, I assumed that it’s not freely available online.) If you know of any freely available stories, that I have not linked, please tell me in the comments. Or if you know of a list that’s more thorough than mine. (I’m sure there must be one out there.) Thank you.

Best Novel

  • Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK)
  • The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
  • The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
  • Lines of Departure, Marko Kloos (47North) (Nomination withdrawn)
  • Skin Game, Jim Butcher (Orbit UK/Roc Books)
  • The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)

Best Novella

  • Big Boys Don’t Cry, Tom Kratman (Castalia House)
  • “Flow”, Arlan Andrews, Sr. (Analog, 11-2014)
  • One Bright Star to Guide Them, John C. Wright (Castalia House)
  • “Pale Realms of Shade”, John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
  • “The Plural of Helen of Troy”, John C. Wright (City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, Castalia House)

Best Novelette

Best Short Story

OK. Now that I’m done looking for the nominated stories online I see why I couldn’t find a list which links the stories. I could find only three of the stories (Edit: actually only two. I just noticed that one story that I had believed to be complete is incomplete). This will of course decrease the likelihood that I’ll manage to read or try to read all the nominated stories before voting. Waiting for the voter packet might not leave me enough time to try to read everything. Edit (4/9/2015): I missed at least one story. Now I am back to three.

List updated, 4/13/2015: Meanwhile, some additional stories have been made available online.

List updated, 4/15/2015: New nominee in the novelette category was added. Also, I added links to some additional stories that I either just found or were made available in the meantime.

Update, 4/16/2015: Two nominees withdrew their nominations.

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“Da haben wir den Salat”* – Hugo Awards Nominees 2015

On Saturday, this year’s Hugo Awards and Campbell Award Nominees were announced at 4 cons around the world. The results are not pretty. The Sad/Rabid Puppies block voting efforts which were led by Brad Torgerson and Vox Day/John C. Wright, respectively, managed to claim all short fiction slots and three slots out of a total of 5 in the novel category. The blogger Cat  color-coded the list of nominees to show which nominees come from which slates. Have a look here. I think this nicely illustrates the effects of the two block votes. Surprisingly, (at least to me) the impact of the rabid puppies campaign seems to at least equal if not surpass that of the sad puppies campaign. (I deduce this from the fact that, whenever both slates had different suggestions for a given category, the rabid puppies suggestions “won” against the sad puppies suggestions.)

So far, I have not acquired a supporting membership for this year’s worldcon and if voting for the Hugos was the only thing I was planning to do this year, I might actually not bother. Or maybe I would get it anyway. I don’t know. But, as for instance Abigail Nussbaum pointed out in her very nicely written post on this year’s Hugo ballot, voting for the Hugos is not the only thing of importance to vote on this year. There’s a bid for a Worldcon in Helsinki in 2017. I’d love to see the Worldcon take place in Helsinki. As some of you might know, I live in Germany and Finland is not all that far away from here. I love Scandinavia and while I was sceptical about travelling to London by myself, I feel comfortable about visiting Helsinki.

Just like probably many others, I have been thinking about what could be done to prevent voting blocks from taking over the ballot in the way we are seeing this year. The first thought that came into my head in this regard was that one would need to find a way to prevent voting blocks from pushing off nominees off the ballot that without the block-voting effort normally would have been nominated. I believe that forbidding block voting efforts (=making them “illegal”) would not work. This would require a “police force” and people deciding what’s allowed and what’s crossing the line. Hm. So the only other way is to increase the number of nominees per category in a way that will make pushing nominees off very difficult.

Ramez Naam suggested to limit the number of nominating votes per category and person to 2-3 and keeping 5 nominees fixed OR by allowing 5 nominating votes per category and and person while increasing the number of nominees per category to 8. While I believe that such an arrangement might have kept some of the not-block-voted works on the ballot this year, it is very much possible that even this would not have worked. Look at the suspected number of Sad/Rabid Puppies voters as estimated by Chaos Horizon. I feel a revised nominating system has to be robuster and not as easily calculable. I think that choosing a percentage limit (e.g. generally 5 % and maybe 4 % for the short story category) as a cut-off for nominees would more easily keep nominees on the ballot that could be “pushed off” the ballot by possible future block voting efforts. This would of course have several side effects:

  • Increased number of nominees. More “work” for Hugo voters. Some categories might suffer from less voters because reading everything is too time-consuming for some.
  • Decreased value of “Hugo nominated …”. There would be more Hugo nominees, basically an inflation of Hugo nominees. We all know what happens upon inflation.
  • Less incentive for right’s holders to make works available for the voter’s packet (reduced chance of winning, for a given nominee might the calculation of possible pay-off versus risk of lost sales without pay-off unfavorable for publishers/authors) which in turn would lead to a skewed voting process where only available works are fairly compared because of the high number of nominees one has to expect.
  • More nominees would make the Hugos more inclusive: maybe a greater diversity of genre representatives would make the ballot. Maybe people would no longer feel the need for politically or otherwise motivated block-voting campaigns.
  • …there probably are more pro/con points that elude me at the moment. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

One possible safe-guard against single author or fan derived block voting that I can think of is to limit the number of nominations per person per category to a single nomination. This would make person focussed block-voting less oppressing, should it occur.

* There we have the salad. German proverb pointing out that something went wrong/is in a mess because something went wrong.