2018 Hugo Fancast

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Posted on : 6/12/2018 04:43:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

My review of this year's fan-casting nominees.  I began listening before the packets were issued.  I selected roughly two hours worth of material based on the episode descriptions.  If the descriptions sounded like a topic (or topics) that might interest me, then they got added to my list.

By selecting episodes that attract my interest, I'm hoping to give each nominee the best chance to engage me.

As that is the process that I began using, I think it would be unfair to change my approach and use whatever is in the packets to guide my listening.

As with my indispensable podcast listing, my ratings are based on three factors; production values, entertainment, and information.*

  • Doctor Who: Verity! (Episodes 143 and Aug 2, 2017) - The hosts seemed to be having a great time discussing their perspectives.  They shared the microphone well and were entertaining.  If I were inclined towards Doctor Who, I would be very inclined to make this a regular part of my podcasting habit.  One modest word of warning.  The rampant objectification and sexism displayed in the August 2nd episode served as a pointed reminder of the importance of including a diverse range of opinions.  
  • The Sword and Laser (Episodes 277, 282, 284, and 310) - This show was quite delightful.  The hosts are engaging with one another and with the audience.  They covered a lot of ground with respect to new books being published and discussions on Goodreads.  If I weren't already fully engaged in the genre, I would consider these folks to be a good starting point.  My only criticism is that most of the "information" in the information part of my assessment ended up being an invitation to join them on Goodreads.  It sounds like a lively group.  If I had the time, I would definitely consider engaging with them.
  • Galactic Suburbia - (Episodes 163 and 168) - This is a podcast that I put below No Award last year because of their fixation on identity politics.  That factor was dialed back quite a bit in these two episodes.  The hosts were lively, shared the microphone quite well, and covered a broad range of properties and topics within the genre.
  • The Coode Street Podcast - (Episodes 315 with Liz Bourke and Niall Harrison, and 317 with Irene Gallow) - Episode 315 suffered from a dry erudition that one might imagine occurring in a stately library furnished with overstuffed chairs with the vague aroma of pipe tobacco floating in the air.  The thoughts of the hosts and the guests were mildly entertaining and reasonably informative.  Beyond that, there isn't much to recall.  Episode 317 was much better as the hosts asked interesting questions and then got out of Irene Gallo's way.  Her responses to their questions about her career and her role in the industry were quite interesting.  [Before someone asks, yes, I know about Irene Gallo's past pronouncements.  There are some areas where she and I clearly do not agree.  Those issues were not addressed this episode and I am unwilling to discount the Coode Street Podcast due to her disagreeable past.]
  • No Award
  • Ditch Diggers - (Episodes 42 and 50) - This was a tough one.  One of the hosts grinds on my ears a bit.  He is a bit on the pompous side.  However, Episode 42 provided some fantastic role-playing to illustrate how writers (and other creatives) and reject offers of working for "exposure".  The flip side was Episode 50 which used precisely the same situation to provide a "fuck you" to authors that choose to work for exposure.  Intolerance and uncompassionate perspectives are unworthy of awards.
  • Fangirl Happy Hour - (Episodes 81, 85, 101, and 102) - The primary problem with this podcast is that the range of discussion was somewhat limited.  Quite a bit of discussion ended up being "I liked that thing" followed by "I liked that thing, too.  I also liked this other thing" followed by "I liked that thing, too!"  That is a bit of an oversimplification, but not by much.  There wasn't much of a discussion about why the "thing" was liked.  A secondary issue was that the hosts seem to be only able to perceive the world from an identity politics/intersectional perspective.  The most prominent example was a discussion of the movie Stargate.  There was a brief discussion lamenting that the plot involved "white people saving brown people".  The hosts overlooked the fact that the team sent through the Stargate was diverse.  They also overlooked the fact that the people being saved in this particular case were being held as slaves and therefore could not save themselves.  There was also an offhand comment along the lines of "White people are creepy".  That sort of enabling of racism really needs to be rejected.
  •  
*Entertainment - Are the hosts engaging with one another and their audience.  Do they leave you wanting to listen more.

Information - Are the hosts presenting new information.  Are they at least providing a fresh perspective on an old property.

Production values - Do they share the microphone well.  Is there distracting background noise.  Are the levels on the microphones equalized so all of the personalities are speaking at the same relative volume.

There are some factors that might influence two different categories such as a host that is less than engaging as a speaker.


2018 Hugo Graphic Novel

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Posted on : 6/11/2018 04:17:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,


Updated as I complete and rank each entry in this year's Graphic Novel competition for the Hugo Awards.

  • Monstress - Volume 2 - Yet another great entry from this team.  The artwork is awesome and the story is fantastic.  Most importantly, they didn't let the sub-text step in front of the text.
  • Black Bolt - Volume 1 Hard Times - Wonderful artwork, compelling narratives, and engaging characters.  This was very hard to put down.  What separated Black Bolt from Paper Girls was that the story didn't need an explanation that only existed in other works and the art was just a touch grander.
  • Paper Girls - Volume 3 - Although this is the third volume, the team does a good job of getting the reader up to speed.  The characters, as always, are very engaging.  The plotlines keep the reader interested.  The artwork is good, but not quite as good as Monstress or Black Bolt.  Glad to see this series back as a contender.
  • No Award
  • Bitch Planet - Volume 2 - A classic example of letting the sub-text get in front of the text.  Uninspiring artwork.  And quite frankly the sci-fi elements seem like they are splashed on as an afterthought.  I didn't bother finishing it.
  • My Favorite Thing is Monsters 1 - Artwork that borders on awesome and "meh" in turns.  I got a quarter way through it and couldn't really discern much of a plot.  The artwork, in particular, reminded me of some of Frank Cho's fine-line art efforts.  If all of the artwork had been at that level, then I might have invested more time in the book. 



Yet to read:
Saga Volume - 7 - Currently riding the fence between above and below No Award.  The art is a bit better this time around. 

Review: The Rise of the Fallen

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Posted on : 5/31/2018 10:17:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

The Rise of the Fallen The Rise of the Fallen by Peter Fugazzotto
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the second book that I have read from this author. I think he's steadily progressing.

The world of this book includes a heavily overgrown jungle. As with a lot of dark and warm places, there are lots of fungi. The characters in this book have discovered how to use various fungi as armor, health restoratives, stimulants, etc.

The story centers on a group of disgraced palace guards. They were dismissed and sent off to experience torture at the hands of some noble. The king eventually decides to end their torture and let them live out their lives in exile in an old fortress.

A couple of the group leaves the fortress and wanders around with a group of pirates. They eventually come across a mysterious boy who eventually turns out to be the only surviving child of the king.

One of the disgraced guards had been captured as a child when she was abandoned (perhaps) during one of her father's pirate raids on the kingdom. She is adopted by the queen where she is repeatedly abused and demeaned. Eventually, her size makes her a likely candidate for training in the palace guard.

The other disgraced guard views the boy as a way for them to recover their honor. He suggests that returning the boy will mean that they will be welcomed back by the king. On the other hand, she is skeptical about that result and resists taking the boy home. She would rather just drop him off with the first government agent (or safe village) they can find.

The inventiveness of the worldbuilding was really quite good. Using fungus in so many ways was quite unique. The author adeptly engages the reader with interesting characters living in a jungle environment.

My single largest complaint is the attitude switch that occurs for no reason in the middle of the book. Where the male guardsman sees the return of the king's son as a rare chance at redemption early on, he is against the idea in the latter half of the book. Conversely, the female character is against returning the boy to the king in the early chapters as essentially switches positions with the male guardsman and becomes devoted to protecting the boy and dedicated to his return at the same point in the story.

A lesser issue has to do with the motivation of the disgraced guards to return to an honorable position. They have been so thoroughly abused and discarded, it is hard to see them as ever wanting to return. The lead character who was adopted by the queen was additionally abused as a child, yet she believes this queen loves her and longs to return to her. Those motivations make little sense within the context of the book.

With the significant exception of those "what the what??" moments, this was an enjoyable and engaging book.

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Review: Her Sky Cowboy

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Posted on : 5/31/2018 02:12:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

Her Sky Cowboy Her Sky Cowboy by Beth Ciotta
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Did not finish. 2 stars to be charitable. I think I made it to chapter 5.

Steampunk is a difficult genre for me. An author does not necessarily have to explain how all technology works in their fictional world. But some of it should be explained and the explanation needs to make some sense as well as being reasonably consistent. (the same goes for magic, but that doesn't apply here)

In this case, the author just assumes the reader will buy in by just talking about technology as if it were window dressing.

I also dislike characters that emote their way to a solution.

In this case, the character went on ad nausea about how socially constrained she was. It wasn't something that was evident from her interaction with other characters. The extensive internal monologues were mind-numbing.

I have read many stories with characters that were similarly constrained by social constructs. The best stories not only feature an illustration of those constraints via interaction with other characters, they also feature constrained characters that spend more time figuring out how to escape those constraints than they do complaining about being constrained. In that way, the characters explain how those constraints were a detriment to the society as opposed to a personal impediment to "fulfillment".

Strong female characters escaping social constraints don't bother me. Whiny female characters do.

While I don't read a ton of romance, I have read some. I can't comment on the quality of that aspect of the book as it had yet to develop.

I might have stuck with the book if it were a stand-alone novel. As the first of a series, I just couldn't see investing myself in it.

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Developing That Curriculum Vitae

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Posted on : 5/09/2018 05:30:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

After writing most of this, I came to believe that there will be many readers that won't be interested in the "longer version".  Here is the short version:

  • Hillary Clinton is a misogynist.
  • Her achievements as a legislator are vanishingly small.
  • Her stint as Secretary of State was unproductive.
  • She either believes herself to be above the law or she is incompetent when it comes to obeying the law.
  • Her financial history reeks of corruption.
Here is another "short version".  Those that supported her bid for the Presidency are good and decent people.  They are not "otherwise good and decent people"; just good and decent people with whom I disagree.  We have a fundamental disagreement about what constitutes good and legitimate government within the US.
Progressives are not stupid and evil. Conservatives are not racists and misogynists.
The sooner we stop using disagreement as an excuse for maltreatment of others, the sooner we might find some common ground upon which we can all move forward.  Treat one another well.

If you must.....the longer version follows.

Review: New York 2140

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Posted on : 4/06/2018 11:34:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

New York 2140 New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a 2-Star review of a book that I DNF.

I read this book in preparation for voting in the 2018 Hugo awards. I'm familiar with KSR's general outlook on the world and have purposefully avoided reading his works as a result. But he's nominated this year and I try to give each author as much of an equal shot as possible.

The premise of the book is that global warming has melted the icecaps. The seas have risen. And New York is largely underwater. Or at least the water is high enough to cover the first couple of floors of most buildings. And then there is a story told within that milieu.

The book deviates from reality, science/economics, you-name-it so many times that is felt like the ghost of Dorothy Parker was reading over my shoulder.

Spoilers
(view spoiler)



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Review: The Collapsing Empire

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Posted on : 4/06/2018 11:10:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

The Collapsing Empire The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a 4-star review. A 3.5 star rating represents my experience with this book.

I read this book in preparation for voting for the 2018 Hugo Awards.

John Scalzi once again tells an entertaining and serviceable tale. The book relates the story of an empire that is about to collapse; hence the book's title, natch. The empire in question is based on human travel through the "Flow" to reach solar systems that would otherwise take decades to millennia at sub-FTL speeds. Human habitation in those many systems trade among one another for various goods necessary for their mutual survival.

The empire is threatened when access to those systems is about to end as the Flow undergoes a periodic but unpredictable shift. Those habitations are about to be cut off from one another as the Flow will presently shift in a way that stops all trade between those systems.

That ability to trade is controlled/regulated by the monarchy-based Interdependency, ruled by an Emperox, that controls who can access the Flow at the central hub, or Hub, world.

If you don't think about it too much, the story is quite a satisfying little romp. The characters engage the reader by being sufficiently complex in their motivations and experiences. There is political intrigue between the ruling house of Wu, the various other trading families or houses, and the religion that ties the worlds together.

When you consider some of the details, large and small, the story begins to unravel a bit.

Spoilers
(view spoiler)
As long as you don't put a lot of thought into the mechanics of the world building, this is an engaging and entertaining story. Be entertained and then move on.

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2018 Hugo Novel

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Posted on : 4/03/2018 03:33:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

This is where I will review and rate the nominees in the novel category for the 2018 Hugo awards.

I make a point of purchasing all of the nominees in the novel category.  Authors should get paid whenever possible.

  • The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin - More later.  Very well written while being disturbingly negative in outlook.
  • Raven Strategem by Yoon Ha Lee - This is the second book in a series.  The first book was also nominated.  I believe this book benefitted from literary inertia; people that enjoy the first book in a series are likely to find and read the second book in the same series.  I read this year's installment as a fantasy novel wrapped in a sci-fi cloak and had a much better time.
  • Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty - More later.  Almost certainly not making it to the top of my ballot due to some plot holes.
  • No Award
  • The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi - longer thoughts to come soon.  The short version is that while it is enjoyable, it is not one of the five best books of 2017.  It isn't even close.  The longer version is that the world building was poorly executed, there were problematic characters, and there were features in the storytelling that undercut a more serious reading experience.  While reading this book was an enjoyable experience, it was not of the stellar quality that one associates with being a Hugo Award-winning book.  [For the record, I have found other works by Mr. Scalzi to be definitely worthy of such recognition.  This book is just not in that category.]
  • Provenance by Ann Leckie - I made it through about a third of the book before I gave up.  The main character was uninteresting and not terribly inspiring.  She was essentially flailing about in pursuit of some way of lowering the status of her adoptive brother.  She had no plan, she just jumped from one "idea" to the next.  Add to that the incidents where characters were confessing their crimes to her for no valid reason whatsoever.  
  • New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson - The level of utter nonsense in this book made it a Do Did Not Finish tome worthy of Dorothy Parker's best.
This was a disappointing group of nominees.  Just off the top of my head, the following are easily as good as (if not better than) the works that I put below "No Award".
  • Tyrant's Throne by Sebastien de Castell
  • The Core by Peter V. Brett
  • All Good Things by Emma Newman
  • Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

Trump - A Year Plus In

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Posted on : 3/09/2018 04:39:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Here we are a year and several weeks into the Trump Presidency.  It seems like a good time to account for where we seem to be going.

I could probably write a couple pages on each of the topics below.  To keep this from getting too tedious, I'm only going to keep it as brief as possible.  If there is a part of a topic where you, dear reader, are inclined to say "except.....", please assume that I am not suggesting that successes (or failures) are being offered as without flaw (or completely flawed).

Where are we experiencing progress - 

Judicial Appointments - Mr. Trump has largely been appointing men and women of experience, probity, and temperament to apply the Constitution as written.  The US Constitution was written to think expansively of individual liberty and restrictively towards the size and scope of the federal government.  His appointments mostly are pointed in the correct direction.

Tax Cuts for the Middle Class - The recently passed tax cuts appear to be largely aimed at folks that are not rich.  The updated tax laws apparently will increase the total tax burden on the folks at the top of the income scale by limiting SALT deductions.  Those are reasonable changes.

Cutting the Corporate Tax Rate - Our corporate income tax rate was one of the highest in the world.  It discouraged companies from bringing overseas profits home.  It discouraged overseas companies from investing in facilities and jobs in America.  That is no longer the case with positive results, thus far.

Reductions in Regulations - Just as we are Taxed Enough Already, we are similarly regulated enough already.  While there are areas where new regulation might be useful, there are far more areas where existing regulations are numerous and counterproductive.

Trade/Treaties - I support free trade.  I believe that our general trend towards engaging in free trade agreements has largely served to improve conditions in the United States while also benefiting our trading partners.  At the same time, I also believe in fair trade.  It is hard for American workers to compete in a global marketplace where other nations do not have the same level of environmental and employment regulations.  Persuading our trading partners to embrace worker and environmental protections should be a part of crafting effective trade agreements.

The Economy - I am generally of the opinion that a President's actions take months and years to impact the economy.  I am generally of the opinion that government policy has less impact on the economy than some people imagine.

But you have to admit that the US economy came busting loose starting in November/December of 2016.  Mr. Trump wasn't even in office and things were improving.  Why?

Because we knew that we would not have to face another 8 years of an administration that could not express a limit as to how much government should collect in taxes, how much government should spend, and how much government should regulate.

Couple what Mr. Trump's administration is not taxing/spending/regulating with their other actions and I am hopeful for our economic future.

But not everything is rosy...see below.

Beating the ISIS/ISIL "Caliphate" - ISIS was in control of regions of Iraq and Syria before Mr. Trump assumed the Presidency.  Our military had been supporting local efforts to undermine ISIS for years without much measurable progress.  Within 10 months of taking office, ISIS no longer controlled cities in Syria or Iraq.  The US military can accomplish a great deal worth accomplishing when they are unfettered by overly restrictive rules of engagement.

Foreign Policy/Diplomacy - Right at the start, I want to point out that Nikki Haley is precisely the sort of person that we need at the United Nations.  She fearlessly highlights abusive and despotic regimes with precision and passion.

It is also useful to note that our belligerent administration has caused Iran to cease harassing our ships in the Persian Gulf.  It has motivated North Korea to begin a rapprochement with South Korea without conditioning that action on meeting with the U.S.  Neighbors should talk without the US having to be at the table.  This is what diplomatic progress looks like.

We could also include the change in attitude in the Middle East following our recognition of Israel's capital of Jerusalem as their legitimate capital.  There is a growing recognition that the PA has little interest in a negotiated solution.  As such, the world is moving past their concerns and forcing them to re-evaluate their perspective.

As with every diplomatic issue, events will unfold over time.  History may well render this reading as overly optimistic.  One year in and things appear pointed in the right direction.

Cabinet Appointments - From Jim Mattis to John Kelly, Rex Tillerson, Ben Carson, and Betsy DeVos, the cabinet seems to be staffed by people that are capable and competent.  Mr. Trump appears to be listening to those people...at least some of the time.

Immigration - While a bit of a mixed bag, we have seen some progress in this area.  The Obama administration's DACA program was illegal.  Only Congress can establish our immigration standards.  By terminating the DACA program, Mr. Trump has put the proverbial ball back where it belongs; in Congress.  I'm generally supportive of giving the DACA kids a legal path to residency.  Citizenship begins at a US embassy or consulate.  Not by jumping a fence or overstaying a legitimate visa.

I appreciate the desire to move towards a merit-based immigration system.  I also think we need to re-balance our immigration quota system to make it fairer for people in more populous countries.  (A special hint for those in need, that means that we'd have more legal immigrants from Mexico and fewer from some European nations.)

We need to discuss positive changes to our immigration system.  But at the core of that discussion needs to be the twin principles that our representatives in Congress get to determine the conditions of immigration and that respecting US immigration laws is a pre-requisite for eventually becoming a US citizen.

Where things are off the rails:

Immigration -  This issue can get just flat divisive.  Normal folks just want to know that the government is reviewing potential immigrants to filter out criminals.  I know too many people that have followed US immigration laws to become valued and productive US citizens to want that process to be shut down.

Mr. Trump's insistence on shutting down immigration from south of our southern border while simultaneously signaling that people from Norway would be welcome gives the appearance of racism in public policy.  Given his history, this is probably something more than "appearance".  And it is a deeply disturbing distraction from the process of negotiating sane changes to our nation's immigration policies.

TWITTER! and other acts of randomness -  There just isn't enough space to list all of the weird "ideas" coming out of the White House these days.

There was his idea for a military parade like the one he saw in France.  I will bet that the number of folks serving in the military that would be willing to trade a long, holiday weekend with the chance to practice drill for a couple of months before participating in a general cluster of a parade could be safely contained in a public restroom.  A very small public restroom.

The most recent weirdness was Mr. Trump's praise for Xi Jinping effectively declaring himself China's "president for life".  Mr. Trump suggested that he'd have to try that sometime soon.  Ummm...no.  Just....no.

And as a final example, there was his approval of eliminating due process considerations when seizing guns from people deemed a threat.  Has he never read the Constitution?  On second thought, don't answer that.

We will all have another group of bizarre proclamations to discuss by this time next week.  Fixing that problem will not be easy.

Constant brinksmanship and randomness - While some of his "tactics" have yielded positive results, his other tactics are downright ghastly.  Challenging North Korea was sound.  The use of diminutions like "rocket man" and discussions about who has a bigger red button ought to be beyond discussion.  The man has impulse control issues on a staggering scale.

Again, fixing that problem will not be easy.

The Economy - This was originally rolled into the Twitter and Randomness above, but it rates its own entry.  Now we are going to engage in a trade/tariff war?  Has the man never heard of Smoot-Hawley?  Is he unfamiliar with American history?

I am all for fair trade, but that support ends when it morphs into outright protectionism.  I predict that this "trade war" will not end well for anyone if it continues unchecked.

Racism/Sexism -

My outline for this section used the phrase "whiff of racial animus", but that is a poisonous use of euphemism.  Donald Trump may not be actively racist in the vein of the Klan or other such groups.  His comments in the wake of events in Charlottesville, VA may only represent his being habitually and/or reflexively racist.

The racism is there either way.  His history as a New York landlord also suggests that he is as committed to classifying people based on their race as any left-wing activist engaged identity politics.

His denigration of women from claiming to grab 'em by the pussy....we're going euphemism free here....or cheating on his wife with a porn star are easy indications of how he perceives women's roles in our modern society.

I have no desire to have either perspective as a part of our national leadership.

What are the alternatives?

A Republican could certainly enter the primary against Mr. Trump.  As I didn't vote for Mr. Trump in either the primary or the general in 2016, I'm certainly willing to look at alternatives.

The Democrats could run a viable candidate for a change.  Had they done so in 2016, I believe that Mr. Trump would have been significantly less likely to win.

What would a "viable" Democrat look like?  Not Hillary Clinton.  Not Bernie Sanders.  Not Elizabeth Warren.  They need to find someone willing to supporter lower tax rates and a simpler tax code.  This prospective candidate needs to appreciate the sterling benefits of free markets.  They need to support simplifying and modernizing government regulations.  They should support a position of American strength on the global stage...diplomatic, economic, and military...to support oppressed people that are denied their individual human rights.  They should be focused on broad-scale public policies aimed at blue-collar voters.  They need to abandon the left's obsession with identity politics.

If the Democrats run a candidate that displays most of those qualities, then they might well get my vote.

If they don't, then at the least we will have a President that is guaranteed to have at least one success every day as soon as they get out of bed.  They will not be Hillary Clinton.