Wednesday, April 22, 2015

1632, by Eric Flint

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 0
1632
Eric Flint
Baen: 2000

If nothing else that is good will come from the mess of the 2015 Hugo Awards, one thing did. I am now reading Eric Flint. After reading Flint's commentary on the Hugo Awards (and awards in general), I decided it was time to step into a series I've seen on bookshelves for years.  I started with Flint's recommended reading order, since there are a growing number of books in the 1632verse and they start branching fairly quickly. That brought me here, to 1632.

1632 is an odd bit of alternate history where through alien means that don't actually matter, a small West Virginia mining town from the year 2000 is sent back and sideways in time to the year 1631 and moved geographically to a region in central Germany in the midst of the Thirty Years War.  Again, the how this happened really does not matter at all. It isn't a plot point in 1632, and from a cursory understanding of the overall series, it isn't a plot point at all. It is answered, it just doesn't matter.

What happens, though, is a community of hard working, blue collar twentieth century Americans are dropped with all of their technology and modern day weaponry into a seventeenth century war zone with no way home. They intend to survive, adapt, and perhaps kickstart the American Revolution much sooner than the world was prepared for.

The comparison I keep making in my head is that of John Grisham, Michael Crichton, and Dan Brown. Perhaps more Grisham and Brown than Crichton, but his name continues to surface in my thoughts. The comparison I am making is of authors writing fairly straight forward, clean, and fast paced novels that hook a reader early and pull them along the story. Flint is a bit heavy handed in presenting the values and perspectives of the various characters in 1632. There is very little subtlety here. The focus is on storytelling and engaging the reader with an up front and entertaining story.  That's what Eric Flint has done with 1632.  It won't be confused with more literary science fiction, but then, it doesn't need to. 1632 accomplishes exactly what it has set out to do, which is tell a damned fun and entertaining story.

Readers can imagine what might happen if a community of modern Americans are dropped almost four centuries into the past, especially if it is a community of Americans who are used to adapting to difficult situations. To crib off a review from Jay Garmon
"the tone is relentlessly positive, celebrating honest, hardworking folk of two eras who come together to make a better world. In lesser hands, this would come off as jingoistic claptrap, but Flint succeeds at making the whole adventure palatable by populating his tale with thoughtful, likeable, fallible characters with well drawn motivations."

1632 is a very American novel, but it is American in the best ideals of the nation. The men and women of Grantville and the local United Mine Workers of America rally together to both make their way in this new / old world, but also through the strength and vision of Mike Stearns, the local UMWA president, to build a better new / old world for where they are at.  It is American in that the ideals of social and class equality are given a real chance to succeed in a setting which scarcely understands the concept.  Whether it will end up as the more perfect union is another matter, and probably will be answered as the series progresses.

The novel is a touch bloodthirsty as it moves along, but given where and when Grantville was dropped, perhaps this is to be expected. I'm not saying that this is a bug, however, since the overall rampant optimism of the novel's tone and the perspective of the Americans is a driving force. One can certainly draw a parallel between bloodthirstiness and Americans in general, and heaven knows that I certainly enjoy movies and books where stuff "blows up real good", but it is still worth noting here.  One thing in which I am quite curious for how the series as a whole will progress is whether the implications of that violence and bloodthirstiness will hit home on the characters.  I don't mean in terms of the over arcing story or the political situation because it is clear by the conclusion that yes, Grantville's presence and actions will have a rippling effect. What I'm talking about is rather the personal consequences. There is a cheerleader turned world's deadliest sniper in 1632, and while the town in general references a bit of its "hillbilly" and back country nature, there is a world of difference between hunting animals and killing men. This is briefly addressed and, if I may, shot down by said cheerleader, but how does the number of men she personally kills over the course of 1632 impact her?  How does the killing impact the others?  It is necessary here because in 1632 the killing is quite literally a case of kill or be killed, but how does this affect the various population of Grantville. It must, given that they grew up in a very different culture with a very different way of life and expectations than the one they are now stuck living in.  The people of Grantville are pragmatic, sure, but all of this is still a major change. Hopefully this is something Flint addresses in future novels or stories.

As for 1632, it is one heck of an entertaining read and is a novel I have not wanted to put down since I started. It is great fun and one of my more pleasant surprises in recent weeks.  I have every intention of continuing with the series, though I'll be referencing that reader's guide to make sure I'm working through in a more orderly manner. 

1632 is available as a free ebook in the Baen Free Library.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Hugo News: Black Gate Edition

Monday, April 20, 2015 0
Because we cannot have nice things and also cannot go more than a day or two without Hugo-centric news, Black Gate withdraws from Hugo Consideration.  Black Gate was nominated for Best Fanzine, potentially on the strength of the Rapid Puppies slate (it was not listed on the Sad Puppies slate).

The official website of the Hugo Awards acknowledged Black Gate's intention to withdraw, but noted that the announcement came after the deadline for further withdrawals.  At this time, Black Gate will remain on the ballot.

What I am most curious about here is that because the ballots are already at the printer, Sasquan is unable to remove Black Gate from the ballot (apparently some people still use paper ballots - because science fiction is a genre of the future...) - but will Black Gate's request be honored?  Will votes for Black Gate just not be counted?  This might be the easiest solution.

We shall see if there is an official announcement.

Hats off to John Lorentz (Hugo Administrator for Sasquan) and the other members of the committee for having to do far more work, much of it in uncharted waters, than they had ever anticipated for this year's Hugo Awards. 

Anyone attending Sasquan would do well to buy these folks a drink or three.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Hugo News: Final Hugo Ballot?

Friday, April 17, 2015 0
Feel free to refer back to my article listing the Hugo nominees, but we officially have the final Hugo ballot for 2015.

Probably. 

Maybe.

My last article mentioned the withdrawals of Annie Bellet and Marko Kloos, but at the time of posting the Hugo Awards committee of Sasquan had not yet made a public statement about what would happen next. The withdrawal of a nomination after a previous acceptance and after the final ballot was published had never occurred before. 

Per Mike Glyer at File 770, Sasquan made two significant statements.

First, Cixin Liu's The Three Body Problem would replace Lines of Departure on the ballot for Best Novel and "A Single Samurai" would replace "Goodnight Stars" on the ballot for Best Short Story.

Second, no further revisions to the ballot would be made as it is now going to the printer.

So, now we're set, right?  In any other year I would completely agree that we're set, but this is an obviously weird and contentious Hugo season, so we'll see.  I accept that the ballot is fixed and no more revisions will occur.  But what happens if anyone else decides to decline their nomination? Ballot is fixed, and no replacements will be added. But I suspect that would result in an empty slot and any votes cast for the declined work would be nullified.  Everyone else moves up a slot.

Will it happen?  I sure hope not.

But this is a weird year.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Hugo News: Ineligibilities and Withdrawals

Wednesday, April 15, 2015 8
There is Hugo news.  Lately it feels like there is nothing but Hugo news, or at least Hugo discussion.  It is THE topic of conversation in the SFF community. But, there are two very significant pieces of news which have come out over the last two days.

The first was announced yesterday, reported at File 770 that two of the nominees were found to be ineligible by the Worldcon committee and were removed from the final Hugo ballot.  First in Novellette, "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus", by John C Wright was discovered to have been published on Wright's website in 2013 and prior to its print publication in The Book of Feasts & Seasons in 2014.  Second in Professional Artist, Jon Eno was found to not have produced any qualifying artwork in 2014. 

Wright's story was replaced on the ballot by "The Day The World Turned Upside Down", by Thomas Olde Heuvelt.  Jon Eno was replaced on the ballot by Kirk DouPonce. 

It is worth noting that Hugo administrator John Lorentz also looked into two novellas (a Wright and the Tom Kratman) and found that their eligibility stands and they will remain on the ballot. 

Overall, big news and important.  One thing that I'm curious about is what sort of precedent is there for this?  It is not uncommon for a work to be found ineligible (see the 2013 incident of Mary Robinette Kowal's "Lady Astronaut of Mars" audiobook declared ineligible), but it occurs behind the scenes prior to the announcement of the final ballot.  This is different, this is two nominees being pulled after the ballot.

This leads into the next piece of news which I find even sadder: Annie Bellet has withdrawn her story "Goodnight Stars" from the Hugo ballot.  Bellet writes,

There will be other years and maybe other rockets. I don’t want to stand in a battlefield anymore. I don’t want to have to think over every tweet and retweet, every blog post, every word I say. I don’t want to cringe when I open my email. I don’t want to have to ask friends to google me and read things so that I can at least be aware of the stuff people might be saying in my name or against my name.

This is not why I write. This is not the kind of community I want to be a part of, nor the kind of award I want to win.

I am not your ball. My fiction is my message, not someone else’s, and I refuse to participate in a war I didn’t start. It has become clear to me that the only way to stay out of this is to pick up my ball and go home. So this year, I will not put on a princess gown sewn with d20s. I will not win a rocket. But I will be able to sleep and know that when I get up, there won’t be fires waiting for me.

I wish Bellet did not make this decision, but I understand why she did. I'm still going to read her story, regardless of this. It was published in The End is Now, the second volume of a tryptich beginning with The End is Nigh, which was excellent. I think that her withdrawing makes leaves the Hugo ballot a poorer place, but this is not to criticize her decision - which will be widely talked about and discussed.

This leads into yet another piece of news which I found in the middle of writing this article.  Marko Kloos, author of the Hugo nominated Lines of Departure, has also withdrawn his acceptance of the Hugo nomination for Best Novel. Lines of Departure is the second in a series which began with Terms of Enlistment. 

I am even more committed to reading Kloos work now than I was before.

The Hugo Awards are a big hot mess right now.  Do I need to check every author and find out what is going on and if anything more is coming?  What happens next? 

At the time of this writing, the withdrawals of Kloos and Bellet have not resulted in additional works taking their slots on the ballot.  This might be unprecedented. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

If I Ran a Sad Puppies Campaign

Monday, April 13, 2015 5
If I ran a Sad Puppies campaign*...well, I probably wouldn't. I dislike awards campaigns in the first place. I probably would not be asked to be an organizing part of it because I generally don't align with many of their views.  I do not have a platform of nearly the size of Correia, Torgersen, or Paulk, so my running a campaign would be be like trying to get the vote out by going to a high school on the weekend - nobody is there to listen.  Most of the work that I nominate is the very stuff Sad Puppies is campaigning against.

But if I did.

If I did, it would look something like this:


1. I would wish to do it outside of the Sad Puppies banner because there is a great deal of negative connotation to it. Of course, it would lose a lot of its effectiveness if it was outside the banner as well as completely miss the point of running Sad Puppies in a different way. There is also a lot of positive connotation for Sad Puppies from the people who support SP, and changing the masthead might alienate a number of individuals the campaign is attempting to bring into the conversation.  Nobody is happy.  So, it would still be under the Sad Puppies banner**.

2. There would be a Mission Statement posted prominently either at the beginning or the end of any SP article I write, because I want it to be clear what MY campaign is all about.  The Mission Statement would include some of the following ideas, though it would be written in a much cleaner and concise manner
  • Sad Puppies 5 (hypothetically) is about building a wide ranging recommendation list of works that both individually and collectively we feel are shining examples of the best of science fiction and fantasy.  Many of these works have often been ignored when by the voters of the Hugo Awards and we feel these works should be considered.
  • Sad Puppies 5 is about bringing in the voices of fans who have not previously participated in the Hugo Awards and it is our hope that they will become a supporting or attending member of Worldcon and will nominate and vote for those works they feel are the best of the year.
  • We do not wish to dictate to anyone what to nominate and reject any attempts to do so.
  • This is not a slate. 
  • This is not a campaign.
  • SP5 is a conversation.

3. There would be a large recommendation list that would come from a recommendations post or two or three to get a sense of what people are interested in, and the most recommended works would be included on the SP5 recommendation list.  This is similar to what happened with SP3, except the recommendation list will be significantly larger and may even have a subsequent request for the community to then narrow down the huge list by specifically calling out their 3 favorite works from that list.  I haven't quite thought this one all the way through.
  • The larger point here is that where SP3 narrowed down a number (but not all) of the categories to the five slots on the Hugo ballot, SP5 would instead narrow down the recommendation list to at least ten works per category. This is much more of a recommendation list than anything that can be construed as a slate. At least ten***. Maybe more. 
  • The recommendations of each category would also include some of my personal recommendations, regardless of their popularity within the rest of the longer list, however those personal recommendations will be noted as such.
  • Some of this idea is coming from a comment on Larry Correia's blog, but I did like it. We would look at YA, Epic Fantasy, Comedic Fantasy or Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance / Whatever you want to call it, and anything else that is not often part of the conversation and we will seek out the best of those.  
4. It would be clear that SP5 is trying to broaden the scope of what is talked about and that at no point do I want any follower of SP5 to vote in lock step with anything on the recommendation list. This is a list of stuff the we, and I, think is good. Period.  What SP5 wants is for more people to participate and for them to look at what they have read throughout the year and nominate based on what they read that they thought was friggin wonderful, regardless of whether or not it was ever a part of the SP5 recommendations list.

5. SP5 would be if not a year round discussion of science fiction and fantasy, at least a longer six month conversation.  It would not simply be a campaign at the end of the year. Discussions of great books that were recently read would occur and the recommendations list would build throughout the year until it was time to curate the the various lists down to the 10-15 per category that the goal is. The curation would be a combination of my personal taste as well as that of the overall community of SP5 which is participating.

6. The discourse will be civil. If there is one thing that is annoying the hell out of me is that no matter what one's preferences are in terms of fiction, everyone will be treated fairly and with civility. SP5 would be a welcoming place for all.  And I friggin mean that. There would be no name calling or denigrating the tastes or characters of others. This is about recognizing great books, period.  There will likely be overlap with the sort of work that has been on the Hugo ballot in the recent past and there will be overlap with the sort of work that SP3 is currently championing.  ALL are welcome.  SP5 rejects those who tear down others.  This is not the place for that.

7. There would be no rhetoric beyond shining lights on good stuff.  If you don't like something, simply saying "hey, not a big fan of that one" would probably suffice.

8. SP5 only wins if people participate and nominate based on what they like. Will there be stuff on the ballot that I don't like?  There always has been.  Will there be stuff on the ballot that you don't like?  Assuredly.  Might there be stuff on the ballot that we do like?  I really hope so. 

9. SP5 is not about being a bludgeon or getting back at anyone or making their heads explode. It's about good books and stories and art and whatever else is eligible for a Hugo Award.


It would look something like that. But I'm not running a Sad Puppies campaign and I am not seeking to do so.  It's just a different way of looking at how it could work.  I have no idea how Kate Paulk plans to run SP4. 

*This is not actually an attempt to run a future Sad Puppies campaign. This is more of my way to think through stuff that's been running through my head. If there is something about the SP campaigns that has bothered me, what would a SP campaign look like that doesn't bother me?  I think this is it.


**To a much larger point, actually running this hypothetical exercise would require buy in from the folks who have previously run the SP campaigns because I have not been part of their communities, they don't know me, and I don't have an audience. It would require some work on their part to bring the conversation over here.  It's not something that someone on my side of the fence in a small pond could just do. Shouting into an empty high school, you know?  Nobody is listening. 

***I would love to see a wider and larger recommendation list in SP4. Curate broadly.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Speculative Fiction 2014 Contributors: Or, hey, I'm a in a book!

Friday, April 10, 2015 0
Book Smugglers Publishing has announced the contributors for the latest entry in the Hugo Award nominated series: Speculative Fiction 2014!

From the announcement

Edited by Renee Williams and Shaun Duke, Speculative Fiction 2014 collects over fifty pieces of online commentary on SFF from all corners of fandom. Celebrating diversity and change, the articles included here cover conversations and reviews about TV, movies, pop culture and books in what can only be described as a smorgasbord of awesome.

Finally, we are proud to announce that this year’s edition features a foreword from prolific Fantasy, Science Fiction and YA author, the awesome Kate Elliott! With over 20 books published and a strong online presence, Kate Elliott is the perfect voice to introduce this year’s edition.

I won't list all the contributors to Speculative Fiction 2014 here since there are over 50 of them (52 if I can at all count correctly), but what I would like to point out is, "hey, I'm in a book!"  I've been reading the commentaries of a number of the contributors here and am honored and chuffed to be in the same book as them.  My contribution to this collection is my article "On Merit, Awards, and What We Read", which I wrote following last year's Hugo Award announcement. Because of course if anything I wrote was going to end up in a book somewhere, it was going to be about the Hugo Awards.

I'd have posted about this sooner, but I didn't want this to leak out to my father before I was able to tell him in person at Easter. Let's just say that he was fairly excited for me.

You can find out more about the series here.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Thoughts on the 2015 Hugo Award Nominees, Part Three

Wednesday, April 08, 2015 0
If interested, here are the links to Parts One and Two.  I have thoughts.

Part Three is a roundup of a number of links that I have been following discussing various aspects of the final ballot.  In many cases, the discussion in the comment threads are as interesting as the original article.  This is not representative of everything that is out there, just what I had found, what was linked to me, and what I have been following. I'm sure there are another thirty pieces that are equally worth reading. 

I'd like to tell you that these are organized, but they are really not.  I could not decide in what way I wanted to organize this.

Tor.com's Announcement

File 770 breaking down the relative success of slates

Chaos Horizon breaks down the Hugo math

Brad Torgersen: Stealing the Enterprise

Jim C Hines 10 Hugo Thoughts

Abigail Nussbaum's Thoughts

Vox Day on Bloc Voting

John Scalzi has thoughts.

Justin Landon: The Hugo Awards: An Entity at War with Itself

Matthew David Surridge on why he declined his Fan Writer nomination

Larry Correia on why he declined his Best Novel nomination

Annie Bellet on her Hugo nomination.

Bookworm Blues: The Hugo Awards, a Lamentation

Nerds of a Feather "Sigh"

Renay's Hugo Glitter Hellscape: Practice Reckless Optimism

Brian K Lowe: Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Puppies of War


Elizabeth Bear on the community

The Hugo Awards: The Voting System (because people should know how it actually works)

The Weasel King: An Important Note on Hugo Voting (from last year, but pertinent)

Kevin Standlee: On Voting No Award (Seriously, know how this works)

Shaun Duke: No Award and Blank Spacing

File 770: A Collection of Links of other people's thoughts

Lee Harris on the Hugo Awards

Niall Harrison at Strange Horizons on the Puppy Hugos

Amanda at the Mad Geinus Club: A Few Facts About Hugo

Jason Sanford: Yes People Do Read the Non Puppy Novels

Larry Correia: A Letter to the SMOFs, Moderates, and Fence Sitters

John C Wright: Entertainment Weekly Retracts the Libel, but Too Late

Paul Weimer: Sad Puppies and the 2015 Hugo Award Nominations

io9: The Hugos were Always Political

Adam Roberts on the Hugo Awards

 
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