Friday, August 31, 2012

Hugo Awards Announced on Sunday

I will be in Virginia when the Hugo Awards are announced, but I actually voted this year for the first time.  I'm not sure if I "should" share my votes, although it doesn't hurt anything since this is a popular vote.  You can watch the live coverage here, and see the entire list of nominees here.  I'm going to write brief comments on the item I voted #1 for in each category. 

I should also note that when you vote, you vote from 1-5.  That way if your top voted item gets discarded for low votes, your vote still somehow counts for something.  For me, it was far easier to pick a winner than to differentiate between 3 and 4.

Did you vote in the Hugo Awards?  Do you have a beef with my selections?  Leave a comment!

Best Novel
  • Embassytown, China Miéville (Macmillan / Del Rey)
In the end, the world building and very interesting aliens won me over.  This was a slow read, and I really had to invest time as a reader.  I suspect that will turn many readers off, and expect Martin or Walton to win.

Best Novella
  • Silently and Very Fast, Catherynne M. Valente (WSFA)
I'm afraid that when Valente is on the list, I don't see the others, but only because I think she is amazing.  I did read them all.   "Inside, Neva is infinite. She peoples her Interior."

Best Novelette
  • “Ray of Light”, Brad R. Torgersen (Analog
This category was harder, but in the end I went with the underocean community.  

Best Short Story
  • “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”, E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld)
This story was my favorite from the Nebula pool too!
    Best Related Work
    • The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature, Jeff VanderMeer and S. J. Chambers (Abrams Image)
    • Writing Excuses, Season 6 (podcast series), Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Jordan Sanderson
    I unfortunately can't find my ballot.  I know I voted for one of these.  I deliberated a long time because Writing Excuses is one of my favorite podcasts, and has been very entertaining and useful to me.  The Steampunk Bible was a beautifully put together coffee table book about steampunk, and has its own share of the recent controversy.  I discovered new music and new authors because of some of the entries.
    Best Graphic Story
    • Locke & Key Volume 4: Keys To The Kingdom, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
    • The Unwritten (Volume 4): Leviathan, created by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, written by Mike Carey, illustrated by Peter Gross (Vertigo)
    I voted for Locke & Key, and will go back to read the entire run.  The Unwritten had a story line that really appealed to me, and beautiful art.  (See, voting was hard.  I would have been happy to assign multiple first places.)
    Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
    • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, screenplay by Steve Kloves; directed by David Yates (Warner Bros.)
    Yeah yeah yeah, I know.  But I loved this rendition of the triumphant end.
      Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

      I recused myself from this category.  Maybe by next year, I will have caught up with Doctor Who!

      Best Semiprozine
      • Locus, edited by Liza Groen Trombi, Kirsten Gong-Wong, et al.
      This category was impossible because each of these zines has a different focus and a different audience.  It was completely based on which I thought I'd go back to.  And then last month Locus Online linked to my blog about Shared Worlds.  It was fate.
      Best Fanzine
      • SF Signal, edited by John DeNardo
      Another difficult choice.
      Best Fancast
      • SF Squeecast, Lynne M. Thomas, Seanan McGuire, Paul Cornell, Elizabeth Bear, and Catherynne M. Valente
      Another completely impossible category, but I think this fancast is the best representation of the female perspective, of which I am one.  :)
      Best Editor, Long Form
      • Lou Anders
      Wow, Lou has brought a lot of important authors to print.

      Best Editor, Short Form
      • John Joseph Adams
      I wanted to vote for Adams and Strahan.  Adams is one of the central forces that pulled me into being a more serious SF/F reader, and I will never forget.
        I didn't vote on the art categories.

        The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
        • Karen Lord
        • E. Lily Yu
        I wanted to vote for both of these authors.  In the end, I chose Karen Lord because I had voted for E. Lily Yu for her story.  Both have great futures ahead of them, and I will continue reading their work!

        Wednesday, August 29, 2012

        The Forrests by Emily Perkins

        The ForrestsThe Forrests by Emily Perkins

        Publisher summary:
        For fans of Zoë Heller and Zadie Smith, a vibrant and vital novel about the way family—with its dysfunctional bonds, sibling love, and rivalry—enduringly defines us.
        Dorothy Forrest is immersed in the sensory world around her; she lives in the flickering moment. From the age of seven, when her odd, disenfranchised family moves from New York to the wide skies of New Zealand, to the very end of her life, this is her great gift and possible misfortune.
        From the wilderness of a commune to falling in love to early marriage and motherhood, from the glorious anguish of parenting to the loss of everything worked for and the unexpected return oflove, Dorothy is swept along by time. Her family looms and recedes, revelations come to light, death changes everything, but somehow life remains as potent as it ever was, and the joy in just being won’t let her go.
        In a narrative that shifts and moves, singing with color and memory, growing as wild as its characters, The Forrests speaks to the unexpected ways in which life can change—“if you’re lucky enough to be around for it.”
        I first heard about this book in Publishers Weekly's Fiction Review, so when I was given the opportunity to be a participant in a virtual book tour for it, I jumped at the chance.

        This is pitched as a dysfunctional family book, and that isn't wrong exactly, but I think it takes more of an explanation. The story is told in vignettes and I think I was probably 1/3 of the way in before I had a clear grasp of the characters. Even then, I am not sure I ever completely grasped what was motivating Daniel, Lee, or even Dorothy most of the time. The children (the Forrests) would slip in and out of stories at such rapid frequency that it was difficult to keep track or really understand them as characters. The parents are practically nonexistent, and the children don't really do a good job at making their own way, crisscrossing between countries and continents. Family at one point is referred to as a "thrashing octopus," and I think the events and struggles are very reflective of this idea.

        My favorite story, "Out There" (chapter 5), chronicles when Daniel and Evelyn are briefly living together at a ski resort. It was beautifully told - painful, with tiny details that become important, and finishes unresolved. I wish more of the book had been so effective.

        Sunday, August 19, 2012

        Communion Town by Sam Thompson

        Communion Town: A City in Ten ChaptersCommunion Town: A City in Ten Chapters by Sam Thompson
        My rating: 4 of 5 stars

        This novel is on the 2012 Booker longlist, and is not described as short stories; it seems to be ten different narratives in the same fictional city. This city has such a strong effect on people that it becomes its own character.  There is a drawing accompanying each section that comes from part of the title page, and appears to be a segment of the city.

        There are unknown creatures (maybe monsters?) in at least one story, unnamed narrators, and the city morphs between feeling Soviet to English to futuristic to noir.  The city might lead to eternal daylight. The city may be controlled by a child-like being who creates one in the sitting room.  The city is dangerous at night.  And a flâneur wreaks havoc at night. 

        My favorite was "The Song of Serelight Fair." It had a component of mystery to it that almost all the stories did, where I was pretty much scratching my head at what had happened, but instead of it making me want to quit reading, I wanted to experience more of it.  "Gallathea" is more of a straight detective story, and "Good Slaughter" made me squeamish. 

         To try to categorize or compare this writing, I find more kindred spirits in speculative fiction, like China Miéville, or who could forget the maps of Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente. It even made me think of Mark Z. Danielewski with the house that grows and takes on a character that is to be feared, or at the very least not understood.

        As far as my own experience with the Booker goes, I think I'd put it in the same category of "C" by Tom McCarthy, another book I really enjoyed while feeling I barely grasped it.  I think it is incredibly good for a first "novel" (if we're calling it that) and I hope to see more from this author.

        Friday, August 17, 2012

        Skios by Michael Frayn

        Skios: A NovelSkios: A Novel by Michael Frayn
        My rating: 4 of 5 stars

        This was one of the few books longlisted for the Booker that I could get my hands on immediately.  

        It makes sense that Michael Frayn is best known for his plays, because it is impossible to read this without seeing it staged in my mind. Only after I finished it did I realize he is the same playwright who wrote Noises Off. It has the same feeling to it - farce, silliness, chaos, characters who are so wrapped up in being themselves that they don't pay attention or fix their own problems; necessary for the entire thing to work.

        Instead of a stage, this is set on a tiny Greek isle. I laughed a lot and took intentional breaks because it went by too quickly, and I wanted to enjoy it. 

        As far as novels set in Greece though, it would be hard to displace The Magus in my mind.

        Tuesday, August 14, 2012

        Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

        Mockingbird (Miriam Black, #2)Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig
        My rating: 5 of 5 stars

        I really enjoyed the first Miriam Black book, Blackbirds, which was a good introduction to the unique gift/curse Miriam possesses, of seeing how people will die if she touches their skin. I was a little concerned about reading a second book, because I didn't want her to become routine. When Angry Robot Books offered me an eARC through their Robot Army, I jumped at the chance. It won't come out for the rest of you until October, sorry. But that will give you the chance to read the first book. Get to it!

        Miriam is established as a loner in Blackbirds, and for good reason. In Mockingbird, the reader gets deeper insight into her past and the moment she becomes psychic. So much pain! I wasn't expecting to find her where she was in this book, in several situations that require her to be a part of a community, and to connect with other people. Her interactions with the teens and the frumpy teacher were really great, because instead of just being a hard-ass, she was somehow an awkward hard-ass. There was some humor to it, and I'm always caught off guard how Chuck Wendig can pull me from laughing at a subtitle like "fuckity fuck fuck" to being completely grossed out by certain moments involving feathers back to wondering about whether or not Miriam liked Punky Brewster as a kid, all within a matter of moments.

        I'm skirting around the major plot line of the book because I don't want to ruin it for anyone. It involves birds and poetry, but don't read butterflies and rainbows into either of those two things. Horrifying, dark, and disturbing. It is Chuck Wendig doing what he does best. I am hoping he someday decides to collaborate with whoever the cover artist is on a graphic novel; wouldn't that be incredible? 

        Monday, August 13, 2012

        Dracula by Bram Stoker (now with music)

        Dracula: A Norton Critical EditionDracula: A Norton Critical Edition by Bram Stoker
        My rating: 5 of 5 stars
        Read to the end for a crowd-sourced Dracula playlist!

        "I am all in a sea of wonders. I doubt; I fear; I think strange things which I dare not confess to my soul."

        I had never read Dracula; somehow, it slipped through all the classes I took and all the lists of books I read like vitamins. I was excited when it was on the reading list for the freeFantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World course I signed up for from Coursera. Another class is next week's assignment - Frankenstein, another book to add to the list of Never Reads.

        I was impressed. Dracula has become kitschy in our culture, and other than Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the TV show, not the movie), I usually can't be bothered with vampires. I prefer them singing and dancing. They aren't sexy to me, sorry Anne Rice, and don't even get me started about that series which shall not be named with the sparkle vampire babies.

        With that kind of context, it was refreshing to go back to the original. Where vampires are an anomaly, and terrifying. Where it isn't sexy to be attacked, but devastating to a loving relationship. Where Dracula (which he is eventually named) is inhuman, evil, and powerful.

        At the same time, he isn't in very much of the book. The story is told through journals of 5-6 characters, as well as a few news clippings. They don't know what is going on, although Dr. Van Helsing might. The reader discovers Dracula as they do, and sometimes knows more than they do. I had read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova a few years back, which is written in a similar way, only spanning generations to tell the story of the historical Dracula. Oh how I wish I'd read this first!

        I'm not usually a fan of atmospheric fiction, but it really worked for me here. The slow moving bleak setting and fear the characters experience builds up to an exciting finish.

        My only complaint is the bad grammar used to imply a Dutch accent for Van Helsing; it was really grating and I wish the author had accomplished it another way. Still, small potatoes.

        "Sleep has no place it can call its own."

        When I was halfway through, I posted pleas to Facebook and Twitter for ideas of good music to listen to while reading this book.  When the core of a book is atmosphere, I often go searching for appropriate music.  The people in my circles are awesome.  One of the albums not represented here but is worth hunting down - Dracula by Philip Glass.  Haunting piano score, but not found in Spotify. I'm reading Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig right now, and the same music will be a great accompaniment to Miriam Black's visions.  Well, maybe with fewer hobbits and more death.

        Link to the playlist on Spotify.

        Monday, August 6, 2012

        A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins

        A Working Theory of LoveA Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins
        My rating: 3 of 5 stars

        This book comes out in October, but I got to read a copy early because of the Penguin First Flights program.

        I found it impossible to read this book without thinking of Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart*. It isn't exactly the same setting, but the main character and his much younger lover felt like they had been picked up and dropped into this book, with a few little tweaks. It was the most bizarre sense of déjà vu I've had as a reader. I get a little tired of middle aged male protagonists who don't know what they want out of life and fail at relationships. It is hard to find anything new in that.

        But then, even though he reads like a middle-aged man, I find out that Neill isn't middle aged, but in his 30s. The way he is so jaded and releasing his 'porcelain youth,' he may as well be. Neill has a job helping to train a computer program to try to defeat the Turing test. They are using his father's journals, his father who committed suicide when he was in his late teens.

        The techie talk got a bit exhausting, even for me, who enjoys books like The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood and Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker. The young girl character was uninteresting and flat. Joining cults, making bad decisions... yawn. I found myself slogging through it, forcing myself to finish. I'd say I reached a point where I wanted to keep reading about 40% in.

        The bits I enjoyed were about far less happy relationships - Neill conversing with his dead father now embodied inside a computer, and secretly meeting his ex-wife for coffee. The flashbacks to his failed marriage are probably the best writing in the book - the pain feels very authentic. Next time, I'd want to see more pain!

        * - Gary Shteyngart wrote one of the blurbs on this book. My world just crashed in on itself:
        "A brainy, bright, laughter-through-tears, can’t-stop-reading-until-it's-over kind of novel. Fatherless daughters, mother-smothered sons, appealing ex-wives, mouthy high school drop-outs—damn, this book's got something for everyone!"
        I imagine Mr. Shteyngart says such things because it reminded him so much of his own work! Ha!

        Sunday, August 5, 2012

        Winner of City of Women audiobook

        Congratulations to Laura Kay from A Novel Review!  
        You are the winner of the audiobook for City of Women by David Gillman.  
        I'll be in touch.  

        Only five people participated in this challenge, but that makes the odds better!

        Shared Worlds Readings

        Shared Worlds is an amazing camp for high school age students. From the Shared Worlds website:
        The program, which will feature authors, artists, designers, and scientists, will center on the fictional "shared worlds" participating students create. To build these worlds, participants will have overview classes in many disciplines, including history, religion, and science - many taught by Wofford College professors and instructors, and professionals in the fields of writing and art.

        All classes will emphasize problem solving, collaborative learning, and experiential learning. Each group of about a dozen students will apply their created shared world to works of fiction and art. The groups will be exposed to and be able to choose from several speculative fiction genres, including science fiction and fantasy.  

        Because the camp happens at Wofford College, just an hour from me (and where my husband happens to work), I was lucky enough to get to attend two readings with authors who were involved in the camp in some way. 

        The first one, on July 25, happened at Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg, SC.  The last reading took place today (August 4) at Malaprop's Bookstore in Asheville, NC (also an hour from me).  I'm lucky to have great independent bookstores around an hour away.  Close enough that I can go when they have events I'm interested in (such as these), but far enough away that my bank account isn't bleeding too heavily.  Who can resist buying local?  (And who can resist buying books?)

        I also want to say that so very often, authors I'm interested in don't include the south on their tours.  The same thing happens with bands.  I'm here to say that we southerners love to read, and we wish more of you included us on your rounds.  Both Hub City and Malaprops would be great candidates for visits; please keep the south in mind.  (/end repetitive plea)

        I thought it might be interesting to detail what happens at a reading, for those of you who have been hesitant to go.  I also thought it might be interesting since so many authors presented at once, which is a bit of a rarity.  I took notes.

        The reading at Hub City was full of high school students.  Fifty-five of them, from what I understand.  They spent a good half hour buying books, and these students are the best kind of people - excited readers.  Clearly any aspiring writer needs to do his/her research!  Once the students were settled, plus a few other brave souls like myself, the readings began.

        Jeff Vandermeer read from an upcoming novel, Annihilation.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, and he told stories about the dream that inspired it, and how he wrote it in 6 weeks during a severe bout of bronchitis (I think that's right!).  It sounds like it may very well fall under the Weird category that he has become associated with thanks to the anthology editing, and I'll be excited to read it.  One line I wrote down: "Desolation tries to colonize you."   

        I've been a fan of Jeff Vandermeer ever since I read The Third Bear, but he's published several novels that I hadn't yet read.  I picked up a copy of City of Saints and Madmen while I was at the reading, along with The New Weird, an anthology edited by both Jeff and Ann Vandermeer.

        Will Hindmarch read next, with a collection of "flash fiction."  He explained to the campers that he often starts with a title or a prompt, and writes a 'bit' based on it.  One example title was "Techno Fromage." My favorite line: "He chose silence, and hoped it would be haunting."  The students seemed to enjoy the Heathrow story the most, and it got a lot of laughter.

        Naomi Novik read last, the short story "Vici," which is published in The Dragon Book edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois.  It is set in her widely popular Temeraire universe, and the campers really enjoyed it.   The first book in the Temeraire universe is His Majesty's Dragon, which was published in 2006.  I had an eBook of it downloaded on my Kindle app, from some promotion several years ago, and I read it prior to the reading.  It appeared as if every student purchased at least one Temeraire book, and I understand that she had worked with the campers earlier that day on world building.  

        I think it was at this reading where they talked about going to Malaprops in addition to the second reading at Hub City, so I elected to just go to Asheville and skip the other camper thronged reading.  

        At Malaprop's, they were calling it a science fiction author extravaganza, since there were six authors reading.  It hadn't been organized for long, but was well-attended.  This was my first experience at a reading at Malaprop's, but thought they had a great set up.  I'll be back!

        Tobias Buckell read an excerpt from his most recent novel, Arctic Rising.   He said he had been co-authoring a short story that had to do with polar ice-cap melting, and decided to also write a novel about it.  It is set in the near future.  It sounds like he is planning to write more thrillers like this.  I'd say if you enjoyed books such as Flood by Stephen Baxter, this would be right up your alley.  Personally, I was more interested in the Caribbean-influenced steampunk novel that he also brought with him, so I bought that instead.  He also gave me a list of Caribbean science fiction authors - it isn't long.  It basically consists of him (born in Grenada), Karen Lord (who I read earlier this year), and Nalo Hopkinson.  I'll have to report this information back to my Around the World reading group!

        Up next was Will Hindmarch, who chose to read from a story that merged airships with a spaghetti western.  Funny.  If you look at his picture in the slideshow above, you will see his storytelling hands. 

        Next came Nathan Ballingrud, an author from Asheville, who has a book coming out next year now titled "North American Lake Monsters."  He read an excerpt from a novel he's been working on, and said that he often writes at Malaprop's.  See?  It can happen.

        Karin Lowachee read next, choosing an excerpt from The Gaslight Dogs, which I had bought a copy of last week.  I'm going to save it for next year when I try reading a book from every state in the USA and every Canadian province, since it is set among the Inuit, largely in the northern Canadian territory.   

        Jeff and Ann Vandermeer both read stories from The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, which they co-edited under an impossible timeline.  It is a great feat of compilation, and after hearing more about it, I'm even more excited to read it.  It looks like it has a wide range, and Jeff mentioned that it has a lot of international contributions.  I always like a good dose of diversity in my speculative fiction.  Jeff spoiled the end of his own short story, and I was laughing at the part where the main character had blood trickling down his chin, just because that sounds a bit like the author lately.  Ann read the end of "It's a Good Life" by Jerome Bixby.  

        I bought a copy because it is a beast, and I have this idea of collecting all the anthologies of speculative fiction that are out there.  You can see my start here: 
        From Shared Worlds