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theinferior4

The Hugo Ballot, Part 3: Short Stories

May. 4th, 2015 | 08:22 pm
posted by: ljgoldstein in theinferior4

The next story on the ballot is "A Single Samurai" by Steven Diamond, but I can't find it online.  I'll come back to it when I get the Hugo packet.

The story after Diamond's is John Wright's "The Parliament of Beasts and Birds."  Wright's style here is deliberately archaic, in a stately, somewhat pompous, King James Bible vein, and for the most part this serves him fairly well.  Every so often, though, he will stray from purple into ultraviolet and become lost to human ken.  What, for example, is one to make of "All about the walls of the city were the fields and houses that were empty and still," which seems to have one too many "were"s in it?  Or a description of leaves as "wallowing"?  Leaves may do a lot of things, but I've never seen one wallow.  And then sometimes Wright will leave this style altogether and use words King James would have a hard time recognizing, like "sangfroid."  The effect for this reader at least is to be yanked, hard, out of the story.

[There should be a law that anyone who wants to write in this style has to read Ursula Le Guin's essay "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie."  Sorry, no exceptions.]

Okay, so what's the story about?  It opens after all the people in the world have vanished, and shows the animals gathering to discuss what to do next.  They are meeting outside a city that seems to cover all the fantasy cliches, with its merchants of "ivory and incense and purple and gold," its dancing girls and gambling dens and pleasure houses.  And then they talk.  And talk.  "Where did Man go?"  "Why are we here?"  "For what cause were we exiled from Eden with First and Fallen Man?"

And then, at the end -- well, this is an embarrassing admission for a reviewer to make, but I have to say I just didn't get it.  Some of the animals stand up on their hind feet, and some stand up too late and can only walk with difficulty, and then two figures "like Sons of Adam" show up and all the animals panic, and then there's some talk about Man redeeming the animals, and then the Cat says to the Worm, "You are a worm no longer, you are a dragon again," and Worm says, "The gift of fire is ours!" and Fox says, "I hate to admit it, but I do not understand what all these things mean."  And I thought, I hear you, friend Fox.

I know that Wright is Catholic, and so maybe the fact that I'm a heathen prevents me from understanding this story.  Still, I've read Catholic works before and didn't have too many problems.  The city is clearly sinful, with its dancing girls and whatnot, and the "Men" have gone to the Last Judgment, and the Worm is… Is the Worm the same as the snake, and therefore the devil?  But worms and snakes aren't remotely the same animal, despite the fact that dragons were once called "worms," but then the Worm becomes a dragon…

No, I give up.  I don't have time to try to figure it all out.  If anyone knows what Wright is trying to say here, I'd be interested in hearing it.  Still, you shouldn't need a crib sheet for a story.   One of the things the Sad Puppies rail against is intellectualism, elitism, but I have to say that any story that has to be decoded is pretty damn elitist.

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theinferior4

The Hugo Ballot Continued: Short Stories

May. 3rd, 2015 | 10:17 am
posted by: ljgoldstein in theinferior4

The next story up is "Totaled," by Kary English.  English is the only woman to make it onto the ballot in the writing categories (short story, novelette, novella, novel) from the Sad Puppies' slate, although another woman, Annie Bellet, made the ballot but withdrew her story from contention.  Elsewhere the Puppies tout the diversity of their nominees, but their record in this slate is pretty terrible, at least concerning women who write.

Maggie, a neurologist, is killed in a car accident and her brain is "totaled," meaning that it can be re-used by the Allied Neuro Associates.  She discovers that she can still hear and think, and that, ironically, she has ended up in her own lab.  By lighting up various parts of her brain she is able to communicate with her former lab partner.  Then the lab partner discovers her brain has started to die.

The idea of brains continuing to function after the body is gone isn't inherently a bad one, though it's obviously been done and overdone before, many times.  But what's weird is what English leaves out.  Maggie seems to be a single mother and her two sons survive the car crash, but she barely thinks of them, not even to wonder who's taking care of them or how they're dealing with her death.  They show up finally about three quarters into the story, but since we haven't met them yet and know nothing at all about them, the scene rings hollow.  Also, she knows from her work that preserved brains last only about six months, yet she doesn't seem to worry about what will happen at the end of that time, or, if she somehow manages to survive, what it would be like to spend the rest of her life disembodied.

Fiction, as writing teachers always tell you, is about conflict, everything from Faulkner's "The human heart in conflict with itself" to "Help -- the dragon's getting closer!"  (I've been known to like stories without conflict if they offer something else worthwhile, but I know I'm in the minority.)  There's no conflict here, though, no action taken by the protagonist to save herself, nothing but a woman watching herself die.  That could be affecting, of course, but I'm sorry to say the story just didn't do it for me.  I liked "Totaled" better than "Turncoat" but, like that story, it doesn't stand out in any way.

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theinferior4

An Attempt to Come to Terms with the Hugo Ballot

May. 1st, 2015 | 09:36 am
posted by: ljgoldstein in theinferior4



By now most people know about the Sad Puppy campaign.  If you don't, and to simplify things a great deal, a bunch of hard-right-wing authors got together and proposed a slate of nominations for the Hugos, many of them politically tinged, and their slate dominated the awards ballot this year.

One of the Puppies' complaints is that left-leaning readers (Social Justice Warriors, they call us, though whenever I see the initials SJW I think Single Jewish Female) won't read any of these stories but will vote against them anyway, on ideological grounds.  Well, I thought.  I have lots of time -- except for proofreading my novel, and coming up with something for an anthology I promised to be in, and, you know, actually writing something ... okay, I'm not sure why this seemed like a good idea, but I thought I'd read the ballot and comment on it.

A few ground rules, then.  First, I don't like military sf, and that's what a lot of the ballot seems to consist of.  This isn't even an ideological stance -- I just can't get into it, the same way I can't get into vampire novels and mysteries where the cat solves the murder.  I will try to get past this and make my reviews as objective as I can, though I can't promise anything.  Second, I reserve the right to quit reading a nominee at any time.  I'm not going to read an entire novel if the first few chapters leave me cold.  Oh, and spoilers.

I'm going to start with short stories, because they're, well, short, and with the last story on the ballot and then work my way up.  So the first story is "Turncoat," by Steve Rzasa.

A sentient warship and some post-humans are battling against another group, people who have decided not to make the jump to post-humanity.  The warship goes from being annoyed at the messy, pesky humans to championing them (though I'm not sure where in the story this switch occurs) and defects at the end, bringing along with it (him? her?) its superior hardware and some useful intel about the other side.

I'm going to take a slight detour here, though I promise I'll get back to the review soon.  When I was in high school I did or said something that got me sent to detention, a closet-sized room where, oddly, someone had left a stack of Analogs.  I had just started reading science fiction, and of course my first  thought was, Is this supposed to be punishment?

But I ended up not really liking most of the stories.  They emphasized hardware, and not even interesting hardware.  The characters were cardboard, the stories predictable (partly because they all ended with humanity triumphing), the style ranged from serviceable to really pretty bad.

This was late-period John Campbell I'm talking about.  (Yes, I'm old.)  I will stipulate that the guy did some good things for sf in his prime, but something had happened along the way, some hardening of attitudes and an inability to tell when a story had gone bad.  Humanity had to be shown to triumph in every story, for example, to be superior to anything thrown against it, which pretty much let the air out of any balloon of tension.

So, as I hope I've made clear, when I say "Turncoat" is a perfectly adequate late-period Campbellian story I don't mean it as a compliment.  You can't even say the characters are cardboard, since there are no characters, just a warship that, for the most part, proceeds along strict logical lines.  There's no one to like, or even hate, no one to identify with or root for, nothing at stake for the reader.

But think about everything that's happened since Campbell.  The New Wave (does anyone remember the New Wave?  Yes, I'm old), feminism, cyberpunk, counter-cyberpunk, a fresh infusion of writers who are not white or straight or able-bodied.  This would have been an average story in the late sixties, but now, nearly fifty years later, it's stale and dated.

Rzasa hasn't even caught up with the second of these new categories.  "Our founders were the men who…"  "Posthuman Man…" "Not content with setting Man on his new evolutionary path…"  After Ancillary Justice -- hell, after The Left Hand of Darkness -- this reads very oddly.

Supposedly the Sad Puppies wanted their slate to represent the best, most exciting, and most award-worthy writing of the right wing -- otherwise, why do it?  I have to say this is a puzzling choice.  Oh, well.  Here's hoping it gets better.

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theinferior4

New Review at LOCUS ONLINE

May. 1st, 2015 | 06:57 am
posted by: pgdf in theinferior4

New collection from Dale Bailey:

http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2015/04/paul-di-filippo-reviews-dale-bailey/

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theinferior4

New Review at the B&NR

Apr. 29th, 2015 | 10:25 am
posted by: pgdf in theinferior4

What's up with Robert Charles Wilson?

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/review/the-affinities

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theinferior4

New Review at LOCUS ONLINE

Apr. 22nd, 2015 | 01:45 pm
posted by: pgdf in theinferior4

An oldie but goodie:

http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2015/04/paul-di-filippo-reviews-algernon-blackwood/

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theinferior4

New Review at the B&NR

Apr. 20th, 2015 | 11:07 am
posted by: pgdf in theinferior4

Lift your spirits by reading a utopia!

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/review/ten-essential-utopias

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theinferior4

Ad for FANTASTIC from 1952

Apr. 17th, 2015 | 09:42 pm
posted by: pgdf in theinferior4



From STRANGE CONFESSIONS comic No 2.

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theinferior4

Wolf Hall, and a Limerick

Apr. 17th, 2015 | 11:46 am
posted by: ljgoldstein in theinferior4

I love Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, so I was delighted (and apprehensive) when I heard that BBC was going to do a dramatization.  So far I'm liking their version, except for one thing -- it's rushing by waaay too fast.  This shouldn't have come as a surprise -- they're squeezing two full novels into six episodes, after all -- but somehow each episode ends with me trying to catch my breath.

The problem is that they've pared the novels down to just one plot, Thomas Cromwell's revenge on the people who brought down his master, Cardinal Wolsey.  The books were much more leisurely, with room for a lot more aspects of Cromwell's life.  In fact, Mantel is so tricky that the theme of Cromwell's revenge is revealed only gradually, in bits and pieces, so that she's already convinced you he's a wonderful person before she pulls the ground out from under you and shows you what he's really capable of.

Despite the show's faults, Mark Rylance is terrific.  You never really know what he's thinking.  Is he nodding in agreement?  Is he scheming?  Is he just keeping his own counsel?  He's friendly and engaging, but he's hiding something, and you can't figure out what it is.  In the books people keep telling him he looks like a murderer, and yet they still like him -- and Rylance manages to capture this balance perfectly.

Also great is Damian Lewis as Henry VIII, who managed to make me completely forget he was in Homeland.  In fact, a lot of the scenes pit good actor against good actor, to great effect.

The books and TV show also explained something I'd wondered about, which is, how the hell do you pronounce "Wriothesley"?  (Admittedly, I didn't spend a lot of time on it.)  The Wriothesley in Wolf Hall isn't Shakespeare's patron but, according to Wikipedia anyway, his grandfather.  And so, in honor of my discovering the answer to a question I'd had since college, here's a limerick:

There once was a fair youth named Wriothesley,
Who set off on a night dark and driothesley.
But he stepped out the door,
Heard a terrible roar,
Exit, pursued by a griothesley.

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theinferior4

New Review at LOCUS ONLINE

Apr. 17th, 2015 | 10:07 am
posted by: pgdf in theinferior4

I look at the latest from Tom Purdom:

http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2015/04/paul-di-filippo-reviews-tom-purdom/

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