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Nov 29 11

About those unfinished series…

by Eric

…I’ve been making good headway since I last posted.

I’ve read Ganymede, Sourcery, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. I’m also about 3/4 through The Magician King. (Damn, listening to the chapters on Julia’s backstory is depressing. And I thought Quentin was bad…)

Also, Ganymede might be the best of the Clockwork Century books. Cherie Priest is developing that world into a real delight.

So, I’ve caught up on Clockwork Century, finished The Hunger Games, and am nearly caught up on The Magicians. I’ve put up a new page that details my progress on all the series I’ve started since the beginning of 2010. (Which, of course, means A Song of Ice and Fire isn’t listed there. Just assume I suck down each book when they finally appear.)

I’ll keep it updated whenever a change is required. Completed series that the author has finished will disappear from the page after an update or two.

I’m in short/quick reading mode at the moment, so the epic fantasy/sci-fi stuff is probably going to have to wait for a bit. And Children of the Sky is DEFINITELY waiting until the horrible ebook price comes down. At the rate I read, I _might_ have this list completed by mid-2013 or so. Except for the new series I start by then…

Nov 8 11

Book series update

by Eric

Wow. Those might be the fastest four months in history. Has it really been that long since I posted on here? Sorry about that.

Anyway, I wanted to give a little reading update. It’s (obviously) been a while. I’ve noticed that, while I haven’t been reading as many books as last year, they’re tending to be longer, bigger books. And that’s got it’s own appeal. I’ll have a post about that after the end of the year.

I’ve read or listened to the following books since Hugo voting ended (the last time I posted about books on here.) My brief 1-5 star rating follows.

  • Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child (3.5 of 5)
  • Shit My Dad Says by Justin Halpern (4 of 5)
  • The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking (3 of 5)
  • Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson (audio) (3 of 5)
  • A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin (4.5 of 5)
  • Regarding Ducks and Universes by Neve Maslakovic (3 of 5)
  • Dreadnought by Cherie Priest (4.5 of 5)
  • Deadline by Mira Grant (audio) (4.5 of 5)
  • The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (5 of 5)
  • The Honor of the Queen by David Weber (4 of 5)
  • Kraken by China Mieville (4 of 5)
  • Keepsakes by Mike Resnick (novella) (4.5 of 5)
  • Nightfall by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg (4 of 5)
  • A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge (5 of 5)
  • Connie Cobbler: Toy Detective by James DeSalvo (2 of 5)
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (5 of 5)
  • Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik (3.5 of 5)
  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman (audio) (4 of 5)
  • Story Engineering by Larry Brooks (5 of 5)
  • The Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemesin (audio) (5 of 5)

I also started listening to The Map of Time by Felix Palma and abandoned it. Capsule reviews for these books can be found on my Goodreads profile.

I’ve got two books currently going: Leviathan by Scott Westerfield and The Create A Plot Clinic by Holly Lisle. I haven’t decided what my next audio book will be, but it’s likely to be The Magician King, the sequel to The Magicians.

Around this time last year, I looked at the series I’d started and not finished. I’ve made progress on some of those, but unfortunately started more. Series that saw me read further since that post:

  • The Vorkosigan Saga (I’ve now read five books in the series, nine more to go.)
  • Zones of Thought (I read A Deepness in the Sky, but haven’t picked up Children of the Sky yet.)
  • Honor Harrington (Read one more. Loads to go.)
  • Clockwork Century (Need to read Ganymede.)
  • Old Man’s War (Read the 2nd book, two more to go.)
  • Discworld (I’ve now read four of the 35? books.)

I almost started reading books in many of the other series, but was never quite in the mood. I look at the list, and there are three I’ll definitely continue: The Mars Trilogy, The Hunger Games, and The Laundry. The others… eh. Maybe. That said, if I don’t get to them in 2012, maybe I never will. Sadly, I didn’t actually finish any of those series.

I’ve also started a bunch of new series since that post. Number in parentheses indicates how many books I’ve read, and how many have been published to date. Asterisks indicate series I most likely won’t be continuing for one reason or another.

Late 2010:
Bengal Station by Eric Brown (1/3)*
Kenzie & Gennaro by Dennis Lehane (1/6)*
Assiti Shards by Eric Flint, et. al. (2/10 + anthologies)

2011:
The Cat Who by Lilian Jackson Braun (1/ a bunch)*
Temeraire by Naomi Novik (2/6)
The Dark Tower by Stephen King (1/7)*
Gentlemen Bastards by Scott Lynch (1/2)
Golden Age of the Solar Clipper by Nathan Lowell (1/6)*
The Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin (2/3)
Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant (2/2)
Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss (1/2)
The Magicians by Lev Grossman (1/2)

2010 saw me start 17 series. I continued seven of them. 2011 has seen me start nine more series. (Well, make that 10. I just started the Leviathan series last night.) I’ve also got my eyes on a few more (The Legend of Eli Monpress, The Parasol Protectorate, New Crobuzon, The Castings Trilogy, and The Tales of the Ketty Jay). That’s just too many oars in the water. I need to finish some of these off.

That’s my initial reading goal for 2012. Finish at least five series. There’s some obvious low-hanging fruit: Old Man’s War, Clockwork Century, The Magicians, and The Inheritance Trilogy are my initial thoughts.

Actually, let’s make this a better goal: Finish more series than I start in 2012.

Jul 6 11

Slippery Slopes

by Eric

I had a great little mini-conversation on twitter centered around Michael Vick. While we ended our discussion agreeing to disagree, it did raise a couple interesting questions in my head.

If you haven’t heard, Nike has re-signed Vick to an endorsement deal. I haven’t looked into the particulars, and frankly don’t care. It’s not germane to the issues at hand.

There were two issues over which we disagreed:

  1. At what point has a person paid their price for a crime? Does this change depending on the crime?
  2. What is the set of crimes (assuming that set exists) which disqualify you from being treated as a hero and role model even after you’ve served your sentence?

Pro athletes (Charles Barkley excepted) are considered by many to be heroes and role models. Those with endorsement deals have those roles expanded. What Michael Vick did was reprehensible. However, he was convicted and served his sentence. All indications are he has moved past that period in his life.

So… should Nike have signed Vick to a deal? We all knew he was going to get another shot at the NFL, and Nike obviously thinks investing in Vick at this point makes sense. Does it? Or will there be backlash they didn’t anticipate? People consistently bring up what he did. Is that fair?

Or, should we look at Vick as someone who made a rather serious mistake, paid a fairly hefty price, and is now ready to move on? Should we let him?

The shocking nature of his crime does tend to color people’s perspectives on these questions, I think. Which leads us to point 2. Is there a set of crimes from which people should not be allowed to be treated as a role model, even after serving the punishment handed to them by the courts? I feel murder and child abuse fall into that collection, but how far do you go? What else qualifies?

Some interesting food for thought here, I feel.

Jul 1 11

2011 Hugo Awards for Best Novelette and Best Short Story

by Eric

I’ve already covered Novels (> 40,000 words) and Novellas (17,500 – 40,000 words). This post will cover the Hugo nominees for Best Novelette (7,500-17,500 words) and Best Short Story (< 7,500 words).

Best Novelette

First, the nominees for Best Novelette, including links to where you can read them online and where they were first published:

“Eight Miles” by Sean McMullen (Analog, September 2010)
“The Emperor of Mars” by Allen M. Steele (Asimov’s, June 2010)
“The Jaguar House, in Shadow” by Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s, July 2010)
“Plus or Minus” by James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s, December 2010)
“That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” by Eric James Stone (Analog, September 2010)

I’ll briefly describe each story, then walk you through my decision process.

“Eight Miles” is the story of a late 19th century balloonist hired to travel to heretofore unreached altitudes in order to document their effect on a rather interesting creature.

“The Emperor of Mars” is the story of a young man who receives tragic news while working on Mars, and cannot return home to deal with it for well over a year.

“The Jaguar House, in Shadow” is the story of sacrifice in the name of ideals to save a revived Aztec culture from corrupted leaders.

“Plus or Minus” is the story of how people react on an interstellar cargo ship when something goes wrong.

“That Leviathan, Whom Thou Has Made” is the story of what happens when a Morman Elder is confronted with a being that tests his faith.

Decisions, decisions

I’m going to start off by writing off “Jaguar House.” I just didn’t get that one. Felt half-baked and incomplete. “That Leviathan” came across as Morman propaganda, frankly. When confronted with what Leviathan actually is, the story bent over backwards to validate the Mormon POV. I absolutely didn’t buy any of it. Too bad, because there’s some good ideas in there.

“Plus or Minus” was a bit interesting. Without spoiling things, let’s just say there was a very critical event missing from the narrative. If it had been included, I may have well cast my vote here.

“The Emperor of Mars” was a poignant retelling of a young man’s attempts to retain sanity when faced with tragic loss and no real outlet with which to handle it. I could easily see this being a chapter in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars.

“Eight Miles” is going to get my vote, though. I found this story riveting and fascinating. There’s elements of Victorian sci-fi, intrigue, politics, and more. It feels like a Jules Verne story. My reaction to it was nearly an order of magnitude stronger than any of the other stories, making it an easy choice for me.

Best Short Story

Only four nominees here, as only four received nominations on at least 5% of the ballots.

“Amaryllis” by Carrie Vaughn (Lightspeed, June 2010)
“For Want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s, September 2010)
“Ponies” by Kij Johnson (Tor.com, November 17, 2010)
“The Things” by Peter Watts (Clarkesworld, January 2010)

And the descriptions:

“The Things” is a haunting tale of an alien being that doesn’t understand our biology.

“Ponies” is Unicorns and cotton candy. And just how evil little girls can be.

“For Want of a Nail” is the story of what might go wrong when you trust your family’s history to an AI on a Generation Ship.

“Amaryllis” is the story of a household’s struggle against their past in an apparent post-holocaust world.

My thoughts

I’m going to eliminate “Ponies” right off. It wasn’t a bad story by any means, but it was a quarter the length of the other contenders, and it just didn’t have time to build up enough meat to hang with the others.

Choosing between the other three might be my toughest decision so far. None of them really stand out, and they’re all high quality. So, I have to look for other reasons. “The Things” has the advantage of being written from a non-human perspective. This puts its difficulty rating rather high. I seemed to care about the main character in “Amaryllis” the most. Good characterization in a short story isn’t easy.

This makes me lean towards eliminating “For Want of a Nail.” Generation ships aren’t a new concept, though you don’t see many stories dealing with day-to-day issues faced on them. The point of the story is the interaction between the AI and one of the characters, and it seemed a bit odd.

There were times during “The Things” when it got a bit confusing. Nature of the beast, or maybe some tightening needed? Not sure. The primary conflict point in “Amaryllis” was a bit weak, though the story was very well told.

Okay, that sells it for me. I’m voting for “The Things” by Peter Watts. Yes, it was a tad confusing at times, but thinking about it, I believe that was intentional. Unique idea, difficult perspective.

Jun 27 11

2011 Hugo Award for Best Novella – How I’m voting

by Eric

For those that don’t know, a Novella is a piece of fiction between 17,500 and 40,000 words. (Anything over 40,000 words is considered a Novel.) Most novella these days are published in magazines, though some only appear in bound collections.

Of the five nominees this year, four are available to read for free online. I’ll link to them. The fifth only appears in the Godlike Machines anthology which also got the editor (Jonathan Strahan) a nomination in the Best Editor, Short Form category.

Here’s the list in alphabetical order by author.

Caveat: I used to work with Ted Chiang. When I first started as a technical writer back in 1993, he was in my team. We never worked on the same project, and we didn’t overlap for long (no more than a year, perhaps). But, it’s still cool to see an ex-coworker get this sort of recognition.

Let’s take them in order:

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang
This is the story of virtual beings (pets, in this case), their ability to grow, and the implications this has on their owners. It delves quite a bit into the psychology of the attachments between these virtual beings (Chiang calls them “digients”) and their owners. They live in what could be seen as an advanced Second Life environment, and can even be extracted to inhabit physical robots. The story was building up nicely to a crisis point near the end, but I thought Chiang copped out a bit on the ending.

“The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon” by Elizabeth Hand
This story centers around a group of people that used to work at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Their former boss is dying of cancer, and one of the others has decided to try to recreate some video footage allegedly portraying a successful powered flight test, pre-Wright Brothers. It was apparently the former boss’ favorite film, and had been destroyed while viewing many years before. Some odd, borderline-supernatural effects appear at the end of the footage, and nobody knows the explanation. The story has an odd feel of nostalgia tainted with personal failure, but seemed a bit unfulfilling to me.

“The Sultan of the Clouds” by Geoffrey A. Landis
The story revolves around the effective ruler of Venus, a 12-yr-old boy, and his affection towards an earth-based engineer. There’s some fascinating terraforming tech in this story, and it melds together petulance, love triangles, and pirates. I particularly liked the ending on this one.

“Troika” by Alastair Reynolds
The Soviet Union (2nd, edition) is the only nation still traveling into space, and we learn about what’s happened to two cosmonauts who traveled to and into an alien craft at the edges of the solar system. The story happens decades after the trip, and we get glimpses into the after-effects. There is a LOT of world building in the background of this one, and you’re left with a lot of questions when it’s over.

“The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window” by Rachel Swirsky
This one is extremely metaphysical and deep. The title character is killed in a magial ritual, trapping her soul for eternity. She is allowed to be summoned, however, and we get glimpses of societal change over long periods of time during these summonings. Questions of whether older cultural bias should be allowed in a society that doesn’t subscribe to these biases are raised.

How I see them

I enjoyed all five of these stories. Jo Walton has proposed on Tor.com that the Novella category contains the most consistent quality nominations. Given this group of stories, I can believe that. It’s not easy choosing the best of these five.

I think the weakest of the five is the Hand story. So, it’s an easy one for me to eliminate right off when considering my vote. Probably the next I’d eliminate is Ted Chiang’s story because the ending disappointed me. But that’s not really being fair because 95% of that story is fantastic.

After that, it’s tough. The Landis and Reynolds stories are classic sci-fi in style, while the Swirsky sort of blends fantasy and sci-fi. I’ll probably eliminate the Reynolds next because it seemed to need to be larger. There are many unanswered questions left hanging. That leaves me deciding between the Landis and Swirsky stories. I’m probably going to lean towards the Swirsky because of the scope she managed to capture in a smaller piece of fiction. The Landis story could easily appear in an Foundation-style novelization of a novella series. And I think that treatment would do it justice.

So, my vote for the 2011 Hugo for Best Novella goes to “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window” by Rachel Swirsky.