0

Taking stock: novels from 2015

I read a lot in the first half of 2015 and then very few books in the second half of 2015. And since a lot of my reading was devoted to reading for the 2015 Hugos, I mostly read novels from 2014, last year. Currently my total of novels read that were published in 2015 comes in at 4. That’s not enough to fill my Hugo ballot, not that I would want put all of those on the ballot. Those are the novels from 2015 that I have read at this point:

Seveneves – Neal Stephenson

This is currently my favorite. While it has some weeknesses, it was one of the best books I read last year. It even gave me a severe reading hang-over: I could not start a new book for over a month after I had finished it. This puts Seveneves at the top of my current to-nominate list.

Signal to Noise – Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I liked this novel a lot when I read it and its plot has stayed with me over time. (It’s been a year since I read it.) I believe that is a very good indicator for the quality of the work. Unfortunately, the phantastic elements in this novel a very small. Although it’s definately a novel with fantasy elements, I feel that there might be to few of them for this novel to have a chance at winning the Hugo. Hm. If I don’t find enough better-suited novels it might make it onto my ballot.

Updraft – Fran Wilde

This is a YA fantasy novel. It’s a coming of age tale with unveiling of secrets in a secretive society and batteling against unfairness, etc. I did not know that this is a YA novel and I was surprised at how good it is. The world building is amazing (although it would of course not work in realty for various reasons). People live in life towers of ever-growing bone somewhere up in the sky among the clouds and never see the ground. They move about using something akin to winged gliders. This sounds like fun to read about and it is. Also, the plot is reasonably believable, even though it has all the typical YA-novel-plot elements.

S.H. Jucha – The Silver Ships

This is the sole self-published novel I read in 2015. The setting sounded like I might enjoy the novel and the reading sample interested me so I bought it. An artifact that must be an extra-systemic space ship enters said system (lost human colony somewhere in space). A lone water-miner catches the ship, enters it and finds humans(!) on board who need his help to survive. The first 30% of the novel are an engaging and fun read. But then, all conflicts are resolved and 70% of “Friede, Freude, Eierkuchen” (peace, love & pancakes) remain where everyone is helpful, friends with everyone else and things work out to everyones’ satisfaction. While it’s great when things run this smoothly in real life, here it totally killed my enjoyment of the novel. It was boring. It’s no fun to read a novel, when it’s obvious that everything will be resolved smoothly and with no opposition to speak of. I was missing a conflict, an opposition or some antagonizing forces. You know, the bad guys. Maybe an intrigue or two added in and I would have been happy.

So, that’s it. I know there are lots of favored novels from 2015 swimming around in list on the internet, and I will try to read as many of those as I can during the next months. Currently I am reading Cixin Liu‘s The Dark Forest and I like it so far.

0

Back for the 2016 Hugos

This blog has become awfully quite in the last months. Actually, I had very little time for reading. And even less time for blogging. But as it is the time of the year in which I will put together my ballot for the Hugo nominations, I will use this space to collect my thoughts on what I might want to nominate.

Last year I enjoyed the nomination period. I read a lot of fiction from the previous year and found many new favorites that way. I seriously hope the process will be as much fun this year.

Will I also vote on the final Hugo ballot this year? Last year the whole puppy mess made me sad and angry, and there was soooo much crap on the ballot – I could only read a fraction of it. So, whether or not I will vote on the final ballot will depend on what is on it. I will not spend my time with and my money for a puppy dominated ballot again. This might seem egoistic and unfair to some, but I really do not see why I should do that to myself again. Last year, I have learned more than I ever wanted to know about the weird worldview of some people.

I wish everyone who is now also reading and evaluating for their ballots as much fun as they can possibly have!

If you have come across any recommendable short fiction from 2015 I’d appreciate your recommendation!

2

No Enemy But Time – Michael Bishop (1982)

I love time travel novels, so this classic of time-travel SF that had somehow eluded me until now, was a must read when I came across a review of the novel at From couch to moon. I squeezed it into my reading schedule between my reading for Hugo nominations and when the actual Hugo Awards nominees were announced/the voter packet became available. I know, it’s been a while and my memories of the novel are becoming scetchy, but I’d at least like to share my general impression of the novel.

“No enemy but time” comes across as a time travelling novel, although the protagonist does not actually travel in time. Instead, he travels to some kind of dream space that looks and feels like Africa about 2 million years ago (if I remember correctly). The whole technology part of this travel is not explained, does not make sense, and is assumed to work just fine in a black box kind of way. In the novel, this works as long as the person doing the time/dream travelling regularily has vivid dreams of actual events from a certain time period that feel like memories of real experiences. OK…

The protagonist (I forgot his name) is a self-educated guy who mostly works manual labor jobs of African American heritage. He was born in Spain, raised by his mute-and-deaf biological mother during his early childhood and later adopted by American parents. The story of his life is told in two alternating time strands: in the first strand we meet him as a baby-toddler-child, in the second strand we meet him as an adult and see how he became a time traveller. This two-strandedness is something I liked about the novel.

What left me wondering about the writer, though, is the protagonist’s fascination for human and hominid genitals. Whenever we meet a new species of hominid (or just an African tribesmen) the reader learns everything about size, shape and special features of the males’ penises and the orientation and specialties of the females’ vaginas. And not to forget the pubic hair. The protagonist even has to go through an adult circumcision ceremony. I do not see the point of all this explicity, but maybe it’s typical for the time when this book was written? Or the author did not want to waste what he learned during his reading of probably many, many anthropological sources?

The book was a more or less engaging read, I had no trouble finishing it fast and I didn’t get distracted by other books that seemed more interesting. I am sure I will read more by Bishop sooner or later, because apart from “the attack of the genitals” that I experienced when I read this novel, it was a good book.

0

Final Hugo Voting – 2015

Originally I had planned to read and review every single fiction nominee of the 2015 Hugo nominees, as I did last year. Doing this was a lot of fun in 2014, when we had a diverse ballot filled with many high quality stories. This year, unfortunately, the ballot was sweeped by the Sad and Rabid Puppy campaigns/slates and both diversity and quality of the nominees has suffered from this. I tried to read through the stories, and in some cases even managed to finish them. Others have annoyed me so much just by being present on the ballot that I have now decided to not read anything more by John C. Wright or published by Vox Day’s publishing House. I tried and I wanted to diligently “do” my Hugo reading, but when reading becomes an unwelcome task, it’s best not to subject oneself to said reading. As a result, I will leave off any works published by Castalia House, any works authored by John C. Wright and Vox Day himself off my ballot (finishing it with No Award where any works/persons meeting said criteria are present on the ballot).

Now, my final ballot for the 2015 Hugos looks like this:

Best Novel

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

Note: I would have added Ancillary Sword as my second choice between The Goblin Emperor and The Three-Body Problem, had I not been on vacation without accessible internet between finishing the novel and the arrival of the voting deadline. I hope it does not make a difference for the outcome of the vote, but ultimately I only liked Ancillary Sword a tiny bit better then The Three-Body Problem, so I would be fine with either one winning if The Goblin Emperor does not win.

Best Novella

  1. No Award

Bets Novelette

  1. The Day the World Turned Upside Down
  2. No Award

Best Short Story

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

Best Related Work

  1. Letters from Gardner
  2. No Award

Note: Letters to Gardner is the only nominee in this category that’s actually related and at the same time not written by Wright or published by Castalia House. I actually like the idea of Letters to Gardner, in which Lou Antonelli tells the tale of how he became a published SF author. With examples of how he improved his stories after they were rejected. Unfortunately, as a reader of SFF I’d only be interested in actually reading the whole book if it had been written by successful and well-known writer. It might be an interesting read for an aspiring writer, though. (As I am not an aspiring writer, I am not a proper judge for this.)

Best Graphic Story

Best Professional Artist

  1. Julie Dillon
  2. Kirk DouPonce
  3. Alan Pollack
  4. Nick Greenwood

Note: Carter Reid did not include anything in the Hugo voter packet and I feel too lazy to try to hunt his stuff down online. (If he wanted to win the Hugo he would have included something. Right?)

Best Fan Artist

  1. Elizabeth Leggett
  2. Steve Stiles
  3. Brad Forster
  4. Spring Schoenhuth
  5. Ninni Aalto

John W. Campbell Award

  1. Wesley Chu
  2. Kary English
  3. No Award

Last year I had a lot of fun reading, rating and blogging about my reading of the Hugo nominees. I wanted to do it again this year, but due to the Puppies sweeping the ballot in most categories I care about, the only remaining interesting category this year was the Best Novel category. I tried anyway but ended up giving up in some of the fiction categories. Reading the non-puppy novel nominees was a lot of fun and I liked all three. Also, I had some fun reading novels earlier this year, when I was thinking about what to nominate for the Hugos. Next year, I want to do a better job with my nominations then this year, so from now on, I will aim to read as much fiction from 2015 as I possibly can. That will be fun!

6

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?

3

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”.

0

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.

2

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.

2

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.

2

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.