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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.

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John Scalzi – Redshirts (2012)

I have been meaning to read this novel for a while, and I finally managed to do so last week. Redshirts won the 2013 Hugo award, beating one of my all-time favorites, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold. I read the free kindle sample a long time ago, but it didn’t grab me to the extent necessary for me to be willing to pay more for this novel than maybe 5 €. Now, I have managed to pick up a cheap, used copy. Having read it, I am glad that I did not pay the full price.

Redshirts is set in a television series, very much like the early Star Trek, where on every away mission some poor sod (a guy/girl in a red shirt) gets killed, usually in extremely stupid circumstances. Of course, people aren’t stupid, not even imaginary ones on Star Trek-like television series. They notice. And they try to deal with it.

The novel is a fast and fun read. Good entertainment. The right thing for when you are in the mood for reading something light. But that’s about it. It’s not a novel I will ever want to re-read. How did I like the novel? Hm. As seems to be typical for ratings of Scalzi novels by me, I’d give this one a solid 3 out of 5 points. (Meaning, I will read more by this writer, but I won’t spend more than 5 € on a given novel.)

So, let’s wrap up this “review” with a song for Jenkins, a character whose wife was killed as one of the many, many redshirts:

A song about unfulfillable love.

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New books et al. 3-20-2015

Now that Hugo nominations are over, I have acquired some new books and DVDs.

New200315

I finally gave in and bought A Song of Ice and Fire, the whole (incomplete) series in as a boxed set. I had meant to wait until the series was completed (maybe one day it will be) before starting it, as many, many people have told me that it is quite addictive, but then my husband bought season 1 & 2 of the A Game of Thrones television series. And it’s good. (We already bought season 3, and we’ll probably buy season 4 as well when we’ve watched that one.) I am a bit irritated by the rating it got from the German rating agency: FSK 16, which means one has to be at least 16 years old to be allowed to watch it. Seriously?! All that squirting blood, exploding intestines and beheadings. What’s wrong with those people? For me, it’s actually too much. I can only just watch one episode at a time with a couple of days between each episode and the next. And I have to hide my face behind my hands whenever I expect something blood-filled to blow up. Still, it’s a very well done series, if only they woulf tune down on the blood and intestines. I am curious how having watched the series first will influence my reading of the books. Will I have the same favorite characters (Tyrion and Arya)? Or do I like them most in the series because of the actors or the writing of the series? We will see.

John ScalziRedshirts (used paperback): Won the Hugo for best novel in 2013. Having already read the book, I have no idea how this novel could beat Ivan Vorpatril’s Alliance. Hm.

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Reviews: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter – The Long War/The Long Mars (2013/2014)

Earlier this year I bought both The Long War and The Long Mars by Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett. These novels are the second and third installment of the Long Earth series. I liked The Long Earth a lot and I wanted to read The Long Mars to see, whether I might consider it for a 2015 Hugo Nomination. As I hadn’t read The Long War, yet, I had to read that one first, of course. I read both novels over a month ago, so I won’t be able to give very concise Reviews and opted for a joint “General Impression” post for both novels instead.

Let’s start with The Long War

The Long War is set several years after The Long Earth. People have gotten more or less used to the idea and the existence of the long earth, an infinite number of parallel earths that can be easily reached by using a simple device called a stepper. Some people can even step to those parallel worlds naturally. As might be expected, people disappear into the long earth worlds. They are unspoiled, free and there’s almost infinite space. But there are consequences for our (datum) earth: economic collapse. The emigrants don’t pay taxes…

So, obviously the various datum governments aren’t happy about people wandering off. They want to be in charge.

I’ve forgotten much about the various plot lines, already. What’s most memorable about this novel to me? They are rich in ideas of how evolution might have turned out. What about sentience in the long earth. Is the more than humans, troll and elves? Unfortunately, the brief glimpses we (the reader) get of each world leave a lot of questions unanswered. i hope some of my questions will be answered in later installments of the series.

The Long Mars

Because, the third installment, The Long Mars, only added to my questions. In The Long Mars, Sally, a natural stepper, her father and some other guy fly to Mars from a gap world – a place in the long earth where earth is missing – and step through the parallel worlds of Mars. There are two more independent plot strands which are set on the long earth. I also don’t remember much about them except that I had the impression that all plots within this novel mostly served to show off the parallel worlds of earth and Mars and their possibilities. This is fun, but don’t expect too much from the plot.

So, to sum up my impressions from both The Long Mars and The Long War: They are interesting reads and I like how the authors show what could have happened, evolutionarily. The novels seemed to focus more on displaying ideas then on actually explaining anything. I very much hope that the very interesting bits (ancient civilizations) were added as back story for future novels. (The ancient civilication bits were what I liked most about the Stargate series, so naturally, I am intrigued.)

I will definitely read the next novel in the series: The Long Utopia, but I probably won’t buy it in hardback. I’ll wait for the paperback. (One possible exception: If it adresses the ancient civilizations, I might “have” to buy it sooner.)

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Thinking about Hugo Nominations

The Hugo Nominations Deadline on March 10th is approaching fast. I filled out my nominating form already, just in case my Computer decides to do things again. I read a lot of novels in january and february, many of which were published in 2014. I’ve decided to nominate the following:

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch (first published in the UK in 2013, but first US-publication in 2014, so it should be eligible. I know it stands no chace, but I loved it. So.)

The Martian by Andy Weir (possibly not eligible, but it’s not like I have no Slots left over)

I might still add The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, but probably won’t. It’s very idea-rich low-plot SF, so even though I love the ideas/discoveries, the book fails in the plot department (in my opinion).

What about short fiction?

Well, I wanted to read a lot of short fiction. But then I read The Martian (within 24 hours) and suffered a severe case of reading hang-over. I could not pick up another novel for several days and I am still not having any success with being able to read short fiction again. So, I will nominate a couple of stories that I remember from my reading last year, but that’s it.

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I’m back

Some might have noticed that my blog was very quite the last two weeks. There are two reasons for this:

1. I read a lot. Remember all those books I bought? I’ve bought some more and read many (at least for me) books in the last 2-3 weeks.

2. (The more important Point) I had Computer Troubles. We had to re-install the whole System and get some Hardware replaced. Anyway. Now, it’s working again. I was not totally cut off from the outside world, but writing a blog post on my cell phone? No, thanks.

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Review: David B. Coe – Spell Blind (2015) (Justis Fearsson #1)

SpellBlindSpell Blind is the first in a new urban fantasy murder mystery series by David B. Coe, who has published lots of other fantasy novels both as David B. Coe and under his alias D.B. Jackson.

Spell Blind is a murder mystery about catching a magician turned serial killer. Justis Fearsson is a private investigator who used to work on the serial killer case when he was a cop. A couple of years after he was kicked off the police force, his help is asked in solving the serial killer murder series.

But Justis is a weremyste (= some kind of magician). While he can work spells most of the time, his magical abilities make him go nuts for a couple of days every month according to the phases of the moon. This, of course, interferes with regular employment such as life as a cop, hence he is self-employed as a PI. The magical system in the novel makes sense and is not too complicated. Justis even has a ghost teacher who helps him to learn new spells and to control his abilities.

Still, the novel did not grab me. It took me about 3 months to read this book. All the time while reading I kept getting distracted by other (more exciting?) books that I had been waiting for/seemed more interesting to me. This does not mean that this novel is a bad book. It’s not great but it’s an OK read. I might pick up the second part of the series when it is published. it just didn’t grab my attention the way other novels from this sub-genre did.

Why? For one, the novel is slow to start. I believe one could remove the first two chapters from the book without affecting whether the novel works for the reader: Chapter 1 introduces the magical system. It’s about Justis solving a minor case which is wholly unconnected with the rest of the plot. Same with Chapter 2. Here we meet Justis’s teacher. He is shown again later in the book when the plot has started where his presence is explained again, so Chapter 2 is not really needed. This made for a slow start into the novel for me. Then there were a lot of developments which I had expected way beforehand. So maybe there was just a bit too much foreshadowing for me. Or maybe I am too familiar with the murder mystery genre. (I am very familiar with the murder mystery genre. I’ve read tons of murder mysteries.)

Disclaimer: I received a free e-book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This was an eARC so the final version of the novel might diverge from the version I read.