Review: Freehold


Posted on : 7/03/2018 04:37:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Freehold Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a 2-star review. That is a reasonable estimate of my experience with this book. I made it through 24.5% of the book before the ghost of Dorothy Parker arose and seized it from my hands.

The book purports to tell the story of our main character, Sergeant Kendra Pacelli. She finds herself accused of inappropriately transferring military property to non-authorized persons. It appears that she was working for the people performing the actual transfers, but guilt by association brought her the attention of law enforcement.

Rather than face the music in a system that apparently has little interest in justice, she runs.

She runs to the embassy of Freehold; a non-aligned planet that generally refuses extradition requests from the Earth. They help her make it to Freehold for unexplained reasons.

It is heavily implied that the Earth government knows no bounds with respect to regulation and few bounds with respect to taxation.

In contrast, Freehold operates with a minimal government where everyone chooses to get along and all problems are resolved by contractual arrangements and the courts.

The book suffers from too many "it/they wouldn't work that way" moments. As a point of comparison, Heinlein's works generally did a decent (and better) job of communicating how less government might work. The key here is that Heinlein included a few warts. He also included some sort of justification for how things operate.

In the case of Freehold, the society works because of handwavium. Mr. Williamson purchases it in bulk. Kendra is essentially walked through the world while other characters point out the differences between Freehold and Earth while never finding an issue where Freehold has had to make adjustments that were more difficult because of their live and let live attitude.

I started checking out of the story when Kendra shifts from being a driven protagonist to being an object being moved around the table at the author's convenience. Earth cultural norms in the book are generally opposed to public nudity, casual sex, prostitution. Kendra comes out of that environment, exhibits some reticence with Freehold's more relaxed perspective, and quickly transitions into a three-way experience that is followed closely by her first lesbian session. This change happens not because she affirmatively seeks the new experiences, but because the Freeholders start in and Kendra doesn't resist. That sort of unmotivated character shift represents a lower quality of writing.

The other major event was when her neighbor Rob takes her up in a military aircraft. I was expecting a check ride experience. Instead, they take someone with no flight training out on a high-intensity training mission and flip/flop them all over the sky while firing training munitions all over the place.

This was the capstone of the wish-fulfillment far as I read. Rob is a handsome and available guy. He willingly gives advice to Kendra on how to fit in on Freehold; advice that he points out others would routinely charge a fee to provide. At one point, he leads the rescue effort after a three-car pile-up. he has a day job that doesn't involve police/fire/rescue, he does odd jobs around his apartment complex (that he eventually buys), and he's the fearless and faultless flight lead on this training mission. Might he have any flaws? None that we are presented to the reader in the first quarter of the book.

I'm a big fan of individual liberty. This book should fit right in my wheelhouse. The opening few chapters suggested a lot of promise that subsided into titillation (pun intended) interspersed with episodes of wish fulfillment. Aside from the conflict at the beginning, the story becomes more like a travelog that views the locals through definitively rose-colored glasses.

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2018 Hugo Fancast


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


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
  • Saga Volume 7 - Yet again, the authors seem intent on letting the subtext of their story bleed over the genre-related presentation.  It ended up seeming to me that they had a perspective to present and slathered on a layer of science-fantasium over the top of their narrative.
  • 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. 

Review: The Rise of the Fallen


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


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


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


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.

(view spoiler)

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Review: The Collapsing Empire


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.

(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


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