Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Hugo Review: Best Novelette - "The Jewel and Her Lapidary", by Fran Wilde

"The Jewel and Her Lapidary", by Fran Wilde is about the end of a reign of rulers.

When I finished this story, I thought it should have been shorter, which is always a bad sign. There were a lot of good ideas, including a powerful ending that might have hit me hard - but I was a little tired by the time I reached the ending. It felt like there could have been a lot trimmed, and the story would have been stronger. Or, if not trimmed, condensed. It felt like a much shorter story taking up a lot of space.

The good: There are some clever twists and turns leading up to the finale, including the finale itself. The two main characters both are portrayed as brave and strong despite being raised and trained to be passive. There is some decent world-building as well, with both the "guidebook" chapter headings along with the reality the characters live through painting a full image of the location.

The bad: A lot of information seemed to be repeated over and over, like the fact that the gems talk to people and the oaths that the lapidaries make to the Jewels. Over and over again, until I wanted to say, "Yes I know, get on with it!"

Conclusion: An interesting story, with neat ideas and good twists, but the writing apparently didn't agree with me. This will take the third spot on my ballot for the moment.

Best Novelette: I've read "The Art of Space Travel", "You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay", "The Tomato Thief", and "The Jewel and Her Lapidary". I need to read "Touring with the Alien". I do not plan on reading the sixth finalist.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Hugo Review: Best Novelette - "The Tomato Thief", by Ursula Vernon

"The Tomato Thief", by Ursula Vernon is about a woman determined to help others in the desert.

Ah, Ursula Vernon. One of my favorite writers now. This story revisits a character from Jackalope Wives, a great story if you haven't read it. However, it stands completely on its own with references to the events of the former story lending a little flavor. Quite a few of Vernon's stories are like folk tales you might tell around a fire late at night - you aren't expected to take it too seriously or believe every word, but on the other hand, you know the events happened because the story is being told. It feels very real and American to me. The Grandma Harken stories are set in a desert which hasn't quite left the Old West behind, and a world in which the environment plays a much bigger part of life than in ours.

The good: This story is tightly plotted, with Grandma just wanting a ripe tomato fresh from the vine, only to fall into an adventure when the ripe ones disappear. The train-gods were just... wow. Amazing history and oddly fun. Or course a universe that has jackalopes would have trains that are more than trains. I love the way they are capricious gods, but very good about delivering letters, which they consider to be prayers. As usual, Grandma herself is a fantastic character who knows a lot about a lot of different things, and the introduction of Anna was more perfect than I expected. I also liked the big bad and was amused how Grandma finally dealt with the problem - it always pays to follow the rules of the desert.

The bad: I suppose, if I'm really reaching for a nit to pick, then I'd ask why the big bad wanted the tomatoes. However, that's a seriously silly nit.

Conclusion: An excellent story, as is usual from Vernon, and definitely at the top of my ballot now. We'll have to see if either of the other two I'm going to read can knock it out of first place.

Best Novelette: I've read "The Art of Space Travel", "You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay", and "The Tomato Thief". I need to read "The Jewel and Her Lapidary" and "Touring with the Alien". I do not plan on reading the sixth finalist.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Hugo Review: Best Fan Artist

Judging artwork is really subjective, as every single person has different tastes. In addition, while five of the finalists work in two-dimensions, Spring Schoenhuth makes jewelry. It's difficult to judge jewelry without being able to hold it or at least look at it from multiple views. There may not be a lot of words in this post, but there was a lot of time taken for me to make my final decisions and lock them down...

  • Ninni Aalto - Not my cuppa. I don't have any problem with the art, it just isn't something I enjoy looking at. Nothing in the packet was what I would consider great - although the first item "Fictional Motivation" was nicely written. In short, not my favorite artist of the bunch.

  • Elizabeth Leggett - This is more the style of artwork I enjoy - the realism combined with fantastical elements. But the items in the packet didn't make me want to put her first on my ballot. In particular, the woman in "Hotspur" looks like she's leaning on nothing, and the rocketship in "Learner's Permit" is just a little too jarring and simplistic compared to the whales. The other pieces were nicely done and told stories, so I'm not sure if I'm just being too harsh.

  • Vesa Lehtimäki - Photography of unreal subjects is quite an awesome accomplishment, and this artist combines a number of my joys - Star Wars and LEGO. The pieces are fun, simple and tell stories. Putting Star Wars vehicles into real landscapes is, alone, a clever and interesting way of looking at the world. Add in the fun LEGO theme pieces, and this is sitting at the top of my ballot as I get halfway through the finalists.

  • Likhain (M. Sereno) - Beautiful, classical... artwork that reminds me of Japanese screens. It's very lovely. It's also not my cuppa. Like Aalto's work, I appreciate the skill and talent that go into these pieces, but they don't connect with me.

  • Spring Schoenhuth - A jewelry artist with a style I enjoy, but it's so very difficult to judge without seeing it in person. I wish a couple of the photos of the art were of them being worn, since it would lend scale as well as a sense of how the art looks in its natural habitat. Schoenhuth's work does speak to my fannish side - and I like it a lot even though I don't wear jewelry. At the moment she gets the second spot on my ballot.

  • Steve Stiles - Stiles is extremely cartoony and humourous compared to the others, although Aalto also has some of that. It again makes it difficult to put his work into a line with the others, because there is really no comparison. I like Stiles work a little, but he's nowhere near knocking Lehtimäki off the top spot or taking Schoenhuth's second place away. I guess he gets the third spot.
Ok, so I think this is how my ballot will run: Lehtimäki, Schoenhuth, Stiles, Likhain or Leggett, and Aalto. I'm not sure - I've got until July to make that final decision. I know that the top two will probably not change, but the rest - well, I'll keep glancing at their files as a break from reading and see if my opinion changes.

Monday, May 22, 2017

A Hugo Review: Best Novel - The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin is about an earth shattered by an event in the distant past, and people who not only are dealing with the repercussions of that past, but are trying to fix it.

This picks up right where The Fifth Season (last year's Hugo winner) left off, and that's the problem with it. The story is rich and engrossing, and easier to read than the first book. But unless you've read the first book, I find it very hard to imagine being able to figure this one out at all. Don't get me wrong, it's a great book - I got halfway in and couldn't put it down until I finished, staying up late to read the ending of a book for the first time in months. But without the introduction of characters and facts of this world made in the first book, I'm not sure anyone could really enjoy this one.

The good: With only two main tracks, this was much easier to read than the first book. It also revealed who the narrator is and gave much more depth to the history of the world. Some of the assumptions made in the first book were turned upside-down in this one. Add in the incredible use of language to paint vivid images of the scenes, and the book is a masterpiece.

The bad: Most of the story of the main character in this book is just a massive info-dump. The big character development that happens is with the daughter, while Essun stays in a single place figuring out the plot. It's not really bad, but the ending has a lot more promise for book three. The other problem is one I already mentioned - without having read the first book, I would have been completely lost in this one. Even having read the first book, it sometimes took a few pages into the mention of a character before I rememebered who they were and the significance of their appearance. This is fine for the second book in a trilogy, but I'm not entirely sure that Hugo finalists shouldn't be able to stand on their own (I'm divided on this issue).

Conclusion: The moment I finished this, I put the third book on hold at the library. If I hadn't been suffering through an anxiety-induced period of no reading the past few months, I probably would have already read this one before the Hugo finalists came out. I like this book, but I haven't actually read any of the other finalists, so I don't know where it will stand on my ballot.

Best Novel: I've read The Obelisk Gate. I need to read All the Birds in the Sky, A Closed and Common Orbit, Death's End, Ninefox Gambit, and Too Like the Lightning.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Sunday Doctor Who Review

SPOILER ALERT --- SPOILER ALERT --- SPOILER ALERT --- SPOILER ALERT

I will be discussing my thoughts and feelings of the Doctor Who episode "Oxygen" after the cut. I will not worry about spoiling the plot, so read at your own risk.

SPOILER ALERT --- SPOILER ALERT --- SPOILER ALERT --- SPOILER ALERT

A Sunday Comic Books Review

DCBS
Here are reviews of the DCBS comic books that I've gotten around to reading and reviewing, sorted by the original shipping date:
  • Oct 5th
  • Aquaman #8 - That opening splash page made me laugh out loud. Of course the trials Mera is going to be put through would involve snarky old widows. And when the Seneschal mentions that it takes months... I felt an unjust mirth. I wonder how Mera and Arthur are going to get out of this nonsense? Oh, and the rest of the issue... unstoppable foe, blah blah, fought the Justice League to a standstill, yeah... Interesting and obnoxious of Manta to pick that particular place as the target. Looking forward to the next issue.
  • Justice League #6 - I like that Jessica is the one who recovers first from a fear wave - it makes a lot of sense considering what she has to deal with just to get out the door every morning. The rest of the issue was set-up for whatever's coming next. I'm a little sad to see Barry and Jessica's date going so horribly wrong, but combined with Superman's comment, it's clear that there's a lot more to this than their default personalities. I wonder how Aquaman is being affected? Hopefully it's not something ridiculously stupid.
  • Green Lanterns #8 - Halloween events, just to remind me again how far behind I am in reviewing. Jessica and Simon really do make a good team. Two people learning about each other and dealing with a hostile world. I'm not sure what I think about this new Guardian or this Phantom Ring, but I guess we'll figure that out as more people and things come to try to get it. The Dominators were remarkably non-sinister for Dominators. The kids watching the fight were cute, but part of me was sure one of them was going to get a life-scarring injury.
  • DC Comics Bombshells #18 - I was really not expecting that solution, although I absolutely love it. Why can't Hila and Mera reconcile? And the concept - that it was Nereus who drove her around the bend, was perfect. I didn't get at first that the ancient armor was going to explode, but it worked as a motive to move Atlantis and thus be ready for the refugees. I loved seeing Mera at her full power, reigning with her sister's approval. I would like to see more of Hila/Siren in the future as well (and have I mentioned how much I like that someone actually went to the Silver Age books and found the true name of Mera's sister and put it in a modern book? THANK YOU!). I adore this comic book, and I adore these version of the great DC characters.
  • Batman '66 Meets Steed and Mrs Peel #4 - Off to jolly ol' England after first failing to stop the bad guys in the air... I like Robin's ability to improvise and come up with an EMP literally on the fly. I also thought Emma's figuring out Batman's secret identity is very much a Mrs. Peel kind of thing to do. She's just brilliant in every other way, so of course she'd figure that out. As soon as someone mentioned security upgrades at the tower I figured out what had happened, so the ending wasn't much of a surprise - although the whole anti-oil twist was funny.
  • Future Quest #5 - I'm not even sure where to start with this one. There are two stories in the book, and both of them are good. The first is a continuation of the regular book, with the introduction of Mi-Tor. The second... are these new characters or did they exist and I just missed them? (quick Google later - wow, I just really missed them). Ok, I'm learning more about old Hanna-Barbera cartoons than I even expected to know.
  • Doctor Strange #12 - Ok, the first villain I know, since I was reading the book when it was introduced in its current form, but I admit I know very little about Mordo except that he's a big bad. This issue is a little hard to follow - I'm beginning to realize the artwork isn't all that great at storytelling and needs a little more support from the writer. It's not a bad book, it's just not as good as it ought to be.
  • Spider-Man 2099 #16 - I like that Miguel sort of figures everything out... it didn't make a lot of sense until the Skrull revelation, and at that point - well, fun to get everything out in the open. I also liked the appearance of Deadpool 2099 at the end. Ha.
  • Doctor Who 9th #6 - Captain Jack and Sergeant Benton. I love it. The continuing joke about the timeline (aka "when did the UNIT stories take place?") is hilarious to me, although it should already be getting old. I like that this story takes place after the previous one with the Doctor and crew chasing down a gargoyle. The introduction of a new monster that interacts for a moment with the "old" monster is also nicely done. I'm enjoying this one.
  • Rough Riders #6 - Of all the things that I expected to happen in this book, that was not one of them. I suspect it's a mental fakeout of some kind, but beyond that I cannot tell what is going on. I'm curious to read more. Incidentally, just after reading this issue I read something else that referred to Roosevelt losing his wife and mother on the same day in the same house - synchronicity.
  • Oct 12th
  • Earth 2 Society #17 - So the world has been remade, perhaps? But the wonders are showing up in a phantom version of their old earth, and Lois the robot is hearing a strange countdown. I suspect they are in-between realities, but that's just my guess, because I'm not sure where the Sandmen are coming from if that's the case.
  • Teen Titans Go #18 - I'm not a huge fan of this book, finding it mildly amusing most of the time - but then, I'm not the target audience most of the time. This time, I feel like the book aimed itself right at me. The original Teen Titans animated series shout out had me giggling, especially at the too true language. The other versions of television Titans were also really fun, but obviously the appearance of classic Aqualad was a delight for me. Definitely an issue any fan of any version of the Titans ought to pick up.
  • Scooby Apocalypse #6 - And now we know. The life history of Velma is laid out for us, including why she's so anti-social. A ton of emotional abuse combined with a brilliant mind. It's a little cliche, but interesting that her brothers are the ones who end up taking advantage of her. And interesting that she realizes what she's done too late to fix it. I just feel sorry for Scooby, who clearly wanted to provide some support to her but doesn't know how to reach her. Meanwhile, in the backup tale, I just want that thing to go away. I think it shows in how much every single person in my generation hates Scrappy-Doo that he's become the main villain whenever he shows up anymore. At least in this version he makes a sort of annoying sense.
  • Dirk Gently: Salmon of Doubt #1 - So Dirk's having memories of things that didn't happen, which is definitely a problem, especially when his girl is apparently crossing dimensions and his cat has been captured by a troll. The cover to my copy shows the tv version alongside the comic book adult version and the comic book child version. Fascinating. Is this series going to somehow meld them all together?
  • Spongebob Comics #61 - Halloween in Bikini Bottom, and Patrick shows innate kindness that rewards him handsomely when our main characters cross a witch. A fun little issue with several fun stories, but needs some Mermaid Man.
  • Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #6 - Although Van Sciver is not drawing every issue, I've decided to completely drop this book from my reading list due to his involvement in it. I apologize to the other creators on the book, but I cannot support a man who tells a fan to kill himself.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Hugo Review: Best Short Story - "Seasons of Glass and Iron", by Amal El-Mohtar

"Seasons of Glass and Iron", by Amal El-Mohtar is about two women from folk tales meeting and figuring life out together.

The notion of characters from different fairy tales meeting has been done lots of time in various ways. I actually like this one a lot, because it involves a woman who is doomed to travel meeting a woman who is doomed to sit still. And that's it. There isn't another setting, they are still in their folk tales, they presumably still have their kingdoms/families out there... but they also have a chance to chat with one another. Just chat.

The good: Both Tabitha and Amira are neatly drawn through their thoughts and actions. They both have reasons for what they are doing, but it isn't until the are forced to see those reasons from someone else's point of view that they think to question them. I enjoyed the ending, particularly when Amira insists that Tabitha also give up her burden.

The bad: It's a very good story, but it feels oddly slight. That's probably down to the conceit of being based on two folk tales, which are often extremely slight.

Conclusion: It's good, but maybe not the best I've read in this category this year. It will probably be third or fourth on my final ballot.

So, for the record, my ballot will have either "Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies" or "That Game We Played During the War" in first place, with the other in second. Third and fourth will be "Seasons of Glass and Iron" and "The City Born Great", but not necessarily in that order. In fifth place is "A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers". After that I will put "No Award" and leave the final spot blank. I have not decided the exact order I'll be putting each finalist in, and I probably won't be sure until the final day of voting. I'll be happy if any of the five win, as all are deserving.

Best Short Story: I've read all the entries in this category I intend to read. Check them out in my Reviews of 2017 Hugo Finalists

Friday, May 19, 2017

A Hugo Review: Best Short Story - "Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies", by Brooke Bolander

"Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies", by Brooke Bolander is about a killer who picks the wrong victim.

Oh lord. This story not only connected with me, it hit me like a fiery bolt of pure anger and scorched into my heart. Despite my prude alert coming on immediately, not even the worst expletive could make me not love this story. In fact, I'm really curious why the language didn't bother me at all when reading this story, while I go back and read "The City Born Great" and cringe. In both cases, the language seems justified in respect to the subject matter. It's not out of place in either story. In fact, the language is sillier here considering what sort of being is using it. I honestly cannot figure myself out some days.

The good: The second paragraph, in which the narrator laments that the killers get their story told while the victims are buried and forgotten really hit a nerve with me. I have long thought that society glorifies killers, while their victims are "convenient narrative rungs for villains to climb". Yes. This is Truth. And yet, within those two paragraphs we get all we need to know about the killer. The bulleted list of how the narrator responded was an interesting and stark way to get the story across that really resonated with me for some reason. The language in the last two points made my heart sing. This is, at it's heart, a story about revenge and the bad guy getting what he deserves. And sometimes we need that kind of story.

The bad: I really don't get the 1967 Mercury Cougar reference.

Conclusion: I was complaining that I couldn't connect with the Wong story, but this one I almost feel like I connected to a bit too much. I may have to take a step back from myself and think about it. However, at the moment this one is tied for first place on my ballot.

Best Short Story: I've read "That Game We Played During the War", "The City Born Great", "A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers", and "Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies". I need to read "Seasons of Glass and Iron". I do not plan on reading the sixth finalist.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Hugo Review: Best Short Story - "A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers", by Alyssa Wong

"A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers", by Alyssa Wong is about a pair of sisters, a universe of possibilities, and how things end.

I guess this story makes it official. I just cannot connect with Alyssa Wong's writing. I can see the beauty in it, and I can understand it (I think), but it doesn't grab me. There's a passionate comment about this story on the Tor website, and I almost feel ashamed that the story didn't touch me like it did that person. Hey, I thought, I suffer from depression, too. Why am I not feeling the same things you do from this tale? I guess her language just doesn't move me the way it moves others. I've been told it's not shameful to bounce off particular works - heck, I bounced off Tolkien the first time I tried to read it and loved it the second time, years later. But it still feels like I'm missing something valuable by not having a visceral reaction to the story.

The good: From a strictly literary point of view, there's a nice use of repetition to build up the idea that Hannah is searching through the various probabilities to look for one in which everything ends up better. The hints dropped within the repetition that give the reader some idea of their powers and what's actually happening work nicely in the narrative.

The bad: The entire story feels like it's incomplete - like we've not been given quite enough to work it out. I feel like it's an item on a high shelf I cannot reach. I can see it. I suspect I know the weight in my hand if I could get it down. But I can't get to it to be sure. Some readers might find this a good thing. In this case, it detracts from the story for me.

Conclusion: Well, this is number three on my list now. Again, I'm afraid I just don't connect with this writer, based on my reaction to her other Hugo finalist in the Best Novelette category.

Best Short Story: I've read "A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers", "That Game We Played During the War" and "The City Born Great". I need to read "Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies" and "Seasons of Glass and Iron". I do not plan on reading the sixth finalist.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Packet Panic

Finished downloading and opened the various zip files to see what I had for the Hugo finalists.

And I'm beginning to stop panicking that I only have until July 15th to finish reading.

Well, no, I'm still panicking, but I'm at least calmly panicking.

If my counting is correct, the packet includes 25 full novels. Twenty-five. And that's not all the novels - one of the finalists for best novel was not in the packet and most of the best series didn't include all the novels in the series. There's also six full graphic novels. And just a TON of other stuff.

So after downloading and looking at everything I just gibbered to myself for awhile to try to figure out how I'm going to tackle this. I guess I'll continue reviewing most works on the blog with the Hugos 2017 Reviews tag. I only managed to post five reviews before the packet came out, but there's a few more I can get together quickly - I have been doing more reading the last week of stories that were already available for free. I'll continue to do individual reviews for most of the fiction. The art categories I will probably do as full category posts. I just spent a lot of time looking at the Fan Artists packet and have a decent idea how I'm going to vote, but I want to write it out so I can rethink everything and make sure I'm voting the way I really want to.

My biggest worry is the Best Novel category, which is going to be hard to get through in time. My second biggest worry is the Best Series category, which is going to be impossible to read in time, so I'm less worried about it. The editor categories will depend entirely on what I find in the packet, as will the 'zine categories.

All I know is that this is a freakin' huge Hugo packet. I don't recall the last couple being this big. And I want to do justice to all the finalists who made the ballot fairly.

Hugo news - Pack is out, and a ballot change

I'm still downloading the packet, but File 770 summarized the contents, which include a LOT of material I wasn't expecting. My biggest problems will still be getting the dramatic presentations, since only one of them has a link that includes the whole thing.

In other news, yet another fan artist was disqualified for not having any non-commercial work published in 2016. The artist, Mansik Yang, would have qualified in the Pro Artist category, but the puppies nominated him in the wrong category.

There are no puppy nominees left, as both were not qualified to be in the category. With the changes, the ballot now looks like this:

Best Fan Artist

  • Ninni Aalto
  • Elizabeth Leggett
  • Vesa Lehtimäki
  • Likhain (M. Sereno)
  • Spring Schoenhuth
  • Steve Stiles

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Hugo Review: Best Short Story - "The City Born Great", by N.K. Jemisin

"The City Born Great", by N.K. Jemisin is about how a city grows up and comes into its own.

I try not to be a prude, but language is important to me and a lot of use of the f-word can turn me off, even if it's proper in context and used realistically. In the case of this story, it's used to set up the situation and the personality of the characters, and it works... but I still find it irritating. Yeah, I know... prudish. I blame my upbringing.

The good: A confusing story that describes a confusing event. Births are messy and traumatic and sometimes don't go as planned, and the birth of a city wouldn't be an exception. The language really sets the scene and pushes the concept nicely for the reader, and the action, although limited, gives everything a sense of New York that's pretty much required for this to work at all. The concept itself is fairly awe-inspiring - cities are born and live and die, and some fail while other become shells of their former selves (The use of New Orleans as a city that failed makes for an interesting counterpoint and drives home the sense of urgency for the story). A person born in the city is the avatar and midwife, a person who will live or die if the city lives or dies. A person who lives the city and is the city in every sense.

The bad: And that's the bad, because it hurts that cops are the parasites. I understand the angle being taken, and I understand the why, but cops *should* be a part of the system and a help, not the form the enemy takes when trying to snuff out the new life. While it could be taken as a cop-hating story, I'm going more with the thought that, as the avatar becomes the city more and more, the cops notice him less and less because they are becoming part of him as well.

The other question I have is the nature of the enemy. Why does it want to snuff out this new form of life? What is it? And what the heck happened in New Orleans - was that a failed birth, and how did the avatar get caught? I almost want to read that tale.

Conclusion: A powerful little story with problematic bits that are mostly due to the nature of the real world, not the story itself. Currently in the second spot on my ballot.

Best Short Story: I've read "That Game We Played During the War" and "The City Born Great". I need to read "A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers", "Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies", and "Seasons of Glass and Iron". I do not plan on reading the sixth finalist.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Hugo Review: Best Short Story - "That Game We Played During the War", by Carrie Vaughn

"That Game We Played During the War", by Carrie Vaughn is about two people from very different societies who connect over chess.

A minor annoyance with Tor and the way they present their stories. There's always a summary of the story before the story starts, which I find annoying. I try not to read it, but I often accidentally have it half-read before I realize what I'm doing, and sometimes it spoils the story for me. Stop it, Tor!

The good: How do you play chess against someone who can read your mind? The answer is so obvious and yet so impressive. I love how one of the people who comes to watch the game seems to realize that the same sort of strategy was also used during the war - because how do you fight a war against people who can read every thought of every captured soldier? The backstory is filled in beautifully, each piece of the puzzle coming together to show the full picture of the war and what these two main characters did during it.

The bad: Was there any? This felt like a perfect package to me. Perhaps it could have used more on what it's like to live in a society where everyone knows what everyone else is thinking, but honestly, I think it did a fine job with that.

Conclusion: I really love this tale. It's simple and beautiful and raises a lot of questions that are worth pondering. At the moment it's at the top of my list, but that may change with reads and rereads, as always.

Best Short Story: I've read "That Game We Played During the War" and "The City Born Great". I need to read "A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers", "Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies", and "Seasons of Glass and Iron". I do not plan on reading the sixth finalist.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Sunday Doctor Who Review

SPOILER ALERT --- SPOILER ALERT --- SPOILER ALERT --- SPOILER ALERT

I will be discussing my thoughts and feelings of the Doctor Who episode "Knock Knock" after the cut. I will not worry about spoiling the plot, so read at your own risk.

SPOILER ALERT --- SPOILER ALERT --- SPOILER ALERT --- SPOILER ALERT

A Sunday Comic Books Review

DCBS
Here are reviews of the DCBS comic books that I've gotten around to reading and reviewing, sorted by the original shipping date:
  • Sep 21st
  • Aquaman #7 - Back to Atlantis, where Aquaman has to deal with the running of the city-state that might be at war. I like the way the leadership is introduced and how Mera handles them. I do like her stating that she'll take on the trials in deference to tradition - but that was obvious once Rath makes his statement. Not a lot really happens, but it happens in an interesting way that moves the plot forward a bit. I think the more important plot strings in this one are Manta-related. He knows his enemy, but can upsetting the balance of a secret society work? It seems like he's just doomed the organization to failure by taking charge. And the thing he unleashes - echoes of Doomsday in the reactions and the actions. I'm curious to see how this story unfolds.
  • Justice League #5 - I'm amused that Aquaman is running around, doing his own thing, while the rest of the league is working in tandem. Well, except for Superman, who was sent on an impossible mission all his own but still succeeded. This storyline was interesting because it apparently involved multiple threats, all of which hit at about the same time. One of them succeeded in starting something, but did the other stop? Were all the threats related? In the end, we get more questions than answers, but that's not entirely bad. I just hope we get a resolution eventually, with enough information to realize it's a resolution.
  • Green Lanterns #7 - After driving off the rage lanterns, what's a little family meal? Well, for a woman with anxiety, quite awful, actually. And for a man who is dealing with his own rebellious past that landed him in prison as a terrorist, it's not a walk in the park either. So this was a surprisingly good issue despite there being no looming threat and no monsters to fight. I just kind of wish we had a recipe for those better-than-cookies.
  • Wonder Woman '77 Special #4 - Four different stories featuring Wonder Woman from the 1977 TV series. The first features a brain in a jar. I can't really say much more about it. I just ... can't. The second was about a mix up with a cassette tape, thanks to that new technology: A walkman. It featured a musician being kidnapped. The third story also featured a musician being kidnapped in completely different circumstances and for a different reason. The final story has astronauts and cosmonauts being attacked in an alien attempt to start a war. Going through the stories - the first one had a nice mental battle with nice artwork, but the premise makes my head hurt. The second one had some fun characters and a surprising reason for betrayal. The third was lovely, especially when Danny says, "You could've just asked." Even in distress, Wonder Woman is gracious to someone who needed a hero. The final story was good, but I found the ending to be a little difficult. The Cold War was in full swing, and even Wonder Woman would have had a difficult time getting those gentlemen free, I think. The rest was unrealistic, but fun. Overall, not a bad package of tales. Certainly a must have for fans of the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series.
  • Back To The Future #12 - I don't have a great deal of interest in Needles as a character, so I'm less than interested in his history. Still, it gives us an idea of Marty's kindness in the face of adversary. And a little more history about the whole "chicken" thing. Overall, not my favorite issue of this series.
  • Back To The Future: Citizen Brown #5 - Now that was a satisfying conclusion to a series. A lot of the little loose ends tied up, even an explanation for the multiple DeLoreans. A happy ending for someone who once loved Doc Brown. A happy start for Marty's writing career. All in all, not bad. Indeed, for a comic book based on a video game that was inspired by a movie, quite nice.
  • Treehouse of Horror #22 - There have been 22 issues of this? Wow. Um, ok... This issue takes on Ghostbusters, X-Files and a bunch of other stuff, and it's ok. I'm not a huge Simpsons fan, so it was fine but not something I'm going to adore.
  • Xena Warrior Princess #6 - I guess this is the final issue? The storyline is wrapped up, with entirely too many characters and too much nonsense. I don't think I'll be getting any more Xena comics.
  • Sep 28th
  • Titans #3 - Whew, Garth is alive. It would have been irritating to have a story in which all of Wally's friends are killed and have to be revived. I liked Garth's consideration of the problem and his attempts to reason out what can be done. There was a lot of plot movement in this issue - we got the subplot of a new meta along with Wally trying to make things right with Linda, and everyone pooling their resources to figure out Kadabra. I'm looking forward to the next issue.
  • Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps #5 - Info dump issue! Soranik catches Hal up on the recent action, while the Green Lanterns get news of what's happened and Guy... is left hanging yet again. Ok, now that everyone knows what's going on, can we please get some plot movement? *(Please see the bottom of this post for a comment about this book and its artist)
  • Astro City #39 - It's been more than 20 years since Astro City, Vol 1 #4 came out. That issue told the story of a young woman who grew up on Shadow Hill and her perception of Astro City's heroes and villains in relation to her own life. It ended with her deciding to quit her job in the city and stay on Shadow Hill, a situation I found depressing when I read it. This issue is a follow-up to that story, showing the young woman more than 20 years later - she's now the owner of her own firm and once again, the Hanging Man notices her. I don't want to spoil this, even though it came out months ago, but I just have to say this was fantastic. I was thrilled that she made her own place, made her own way - didn't go into a little box like I kind of thought she might from the ending of her previous appearance. I also found the new information about the Hanging Man to be eye-opening. And I honestly am tempted to just find the next issue in my to-read pile and read it now instead of waiting until I get there in my regular reading.
  • Batman Beyond: Rebirth #1 - A nice set-up issue that introduces the characters, the world and the status quo but still manages to introduce a new plot development. It doesn't delve too deeply into the recent series, which means it doesn't get confusing. The reveal at the end is very interesting, if more than a little strange. What would he want with Dana, in any case?
  • Scooby-Doo Team-Up #18 - This book just went to the dogs. Literally - as Scooby joins with G'nort and several other hero pups to tackle a ghostly threat on an alien planet populated by... well, dogs. And evil cats, apparently. I think I'll hide this issue from Inkwell. In any case, it was amusing throughout, especially the two final moments of other cases we get to see that leave all the details out but are hilarious to think through. This is a fun book, and this is a fun issue.
  • Doctor Strange Annual #1 - I don't know Clea very well, but this looks like a promising development in Strange's life. This is an odd book by all measures, but Clea stealing Zelma's calm was just pricelessly funny and bizarre at the same time. I hope the humor remains, because that's one of the strengths of a book like this. See the amusement in the world while treating it with respect.
  • Doctor Who 4th #5 - The story ends with a bang as the Doctor finds out what happened and figures out how to stop the bad guy from escaping. I like that little hint that the threat might not be quite over - just a flare from an eye, nothing more. I was amused at the ending and Sarah Jane's excitement at attending the wedding. Very funny. I'm sure Harry was happy to hear all about it.
  • Doctor Who 11th #2.13 - The problem with writing time travel stories that actually involve time travel as part of the plot is that they rapidly become incredibly complicated unless you are very careful to limit that part of the plotline. This book doesn't limit it at all and, in fact, makes it nearly impossible to comprehend what's going on when reading it monthly. In short, it's a bit of a confusing mess - but at least the threat at the end is clear enough.
  • Doctor Who 12th #2.9 - Er, yes Doctor. That's pretty much the first thing I thought of when the house turned into what it turned into. Obviously, he's so used to it he can't even see it when it's in front of him. So far: fun mystery, fascinating new cannon for ghosts, and lovely settings that could never be done on television.
Literally while I was writing the review of Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, the artist on the book, Ethan Van Sciver, told a fan who suffers from depression to kill himself after the fan stated that suicide jokes are not funny. Although Van Sciver later apologized, this is a pattern with him. For years he has belittled and insulted people who don't share his political views and has subscribed to hate - including joining the online neo-nazi movement symbolized by the theft of Pepe the Frog as a meme (a creator stealing another creator's work to promote hate - Van Sciver should be ashamed).

While many fans will no doubt forgive him, I find if very hard to forgive a person who tells a fan to kill himself. This is pretty much the last straw for me after seeing him commit years of internet trolling and harassment, often apologizing but always going back to the same methods once the excitement has died down. I've never been fond of the man - he's been doing this kind of crap for more than a decade - but now I can't even look at his art without seeing him tell fans to kill themselves. My desire to read this Green Lantern book has pretty much vanished after this incident: if Van Sciver is listed as a creator on a book, I will no longer read or review it. I once liked his artwork, but his hate has turned it ugly to me.

And, just to make it absolutely clear - I am not advocating that other people boycott his work nor am I trying to get him fired. I'm stating that I, personally, cannot bear to look at his work any more and will not be reading or reviewing anything he works on (hopefully this will not be tested by him working on Aquaman again). I urge my readers to make up their own minds. There's plenty of material out there on what Van Sciver has done to people in the past, if that matters at all to you.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Hugo Review: Best Novelette - "You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay", by Alyssa Wong

"You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay", by Alyssa Wong is about a massive injustice done to a man who is more than a man, and the consequences of that injustice to his son, the local town, and the people in it.

This is one of the few finalists I'd read before the finalists were announced. I hadn't really enjoyed it the first time I read it, but it improved on the reread. The second-person narrative is hard to pull off, and on my first reading of this story it didn't work for me at all.

The good: Lots of strong world-building in this story, with a mythic level of importance. The sense of the universe and what exists in it is developed nicely throughout, without too much shoving. The ending reminds me of old fables of dancing with the dead, although I'm not entirely sure that the fate of the townsfolk is the same as the fate in the old fables. Ellis and Marisol are both strong characters, and the whole thing is tragic in a classic way.

The bad: The language and the point-of-view are a bit hard to take in, and it took a reread before I feel like I "got" the story. The narrative has to be pieced together, which isn't a bad thing, but it didn't quite gel for me the first time.

Conclusion: I liked it better on the second read-through, but it's still not my favorite in this category. Yes, it's elegant and interesting, but it didn't pull together fast enough for me. It's still in the second-place spot on my ballot.

Best Novelette: I've read "The Art of Space Travel" and "You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay". I need to read "The Jewel and Her Lapidary", "The Tomato Thief", and "Touring with the Alien". I do not plan on reading the sixth finalist.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

My Life Became the Start of a Sci-Fi Novel Yesterday...

When hubby-Eric and I moved out here almost a decade ago, I knew we were moving near the Hanford Nuclear site, but I never really thought about it much. The Hanford Reach is over a "mountain", well out of sight and mind. Neither of us traveled near it for any reason. Although some folks who live near us work on the cleanup, most people don't talk about it because - well, because it's Hanford. And even 70+ years later, it feels like a secret place.

The first inkling I had of the dangers was a long time ago, when I saw a listing for a house in this area that included a reinforced bunker/fallout shelter. I was amused. Although nuclear war was still a real threat when I was growing up, by the time I reached adulthood it seemed like a distant memory.

The next time I recall having the risks of Hanford brought home to me was when I sat in as a reporter on a meeting about a lot of different budget items, including Hanford cleanup. The article that I produced was about the budget stuff, but I'll never forget the information presented about the cleanup and how difficult it is. Still, it didn't seem like it would ever have any impact on me, so I filed it away and forgot.

Until yesterday.

Hanford is a mess. It produced plutonium for bombs during WWII and the Cold War - including the bombs that ended WWII in the Pacific. It didn't stop this work until 1987, which means there is more than 40 years of nuclear waste from bomb-making at the site. Since 1987, the government has been trying to clean it up - a job made incredibly difficult because there are 70-year-old tanks rotting away underground, and radioactive barrels with unknown materials in them stored in a mishmash of places, mostly underground.

At the site, as we learned yesterday, there are some tunnels that were made to store rail cars carrying contaminated equipment. From the site: "The tunnels were constructed of wood and concrete with a soil covering approximately 8 feet deep." They are near the center of the site, which is HUGE. Hanford is apparently about half the size of Rhode Island.

Yesterday morning, some folks doing their job noticed a subsidence over one of the tunnels. Part of the tunnel had collapsed. In fact, a fairly large section of the tunnel had collapsed. Which meant there was a possibility of the release of toxic or radioactive materials into the air.

Immediately, the entire site went into lock-down, with the 9,000 or so employees asked to shelter in place. My guess is that anyone else on the Reach (which is larger than the site itself) was also asked to leave immediately, just in case.

The road hubby-Eric takes to work goes right through the Reach - right past the main gates of Hanford.

I learned about the "incident" just before noon, and immediately started to worry about Eric and his trip home. Then I started to wonder about me and how safe we are here and pulled up a map. As the crow flies, I'm sitting about 30 miles from where the incident occurred. Less than 30 miles from the main gate.

As I was searching for more information about these tunnels and the potential danger to hubby and myself, the news broke that Nixo- er, Trump had fired the person investigating him. I kind of fell into a state of shock... I'm now living in the Twilight Zone. I'm in a nuclear danger area with an irresponsible government. I no longer feel safe at all.


I do wonder, though. Is this the start of some inspiring science fiction tale where a hero comes to save the day, or is it a horror tale where everything goes terribly wrong and we end up in a dystopia, eating each other to survive? Or perhaps it'll be a comedy, in which the clown president is tossed into jail by the Congressional Keystone Kops?

All I know is that I'd rather read this book than be in it.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

A Hugo Review: Best Novelette - "The Art of Space Travel", by Nina Allan

"The Art of Space Travel", by Nina Allan is about a woman tangentially involved in big events. She's not the hero, she doesn't have powers or anything - she's just a woman with a sick mother and a giant mystery. The story keeps you guessing, although it isn't really hard to figure it out - as long as you can see past the fictions.

The good: Lovely prose, lovely build-up. There's a lot of "future history" dropped in the story that makes it into a nicely woven science fiction tale, and not just a tale of relationships. The focus stays on the relationships, though, which gives it a solid foundation on which to build everything else. I like the main character - a strong woman with responsibilities in a difficult job. I like her mother and what we learn about her throughout the story. I like how the demetia makes it hard to figure out what it true and what is fantasy.

The bad: The conclusion becomes clear a little too early in the story, although I tried to convince myself I got it wrong. The story itself has very little action, very little happening - although a ton happens in the background. I don't really know if that's a bad thing, but from one perspective it could be argued that it's a story about nothing. However, I'm grasping at straws to find a flaw - this really was a very good story.

Conclusion: I really enjoyed this. It's a good story that leaves plenty to the reader's imagination while supplying enough framework to build on. It is sweet and touching without being too much of either.

I've read one of the other finalists in this category, and at the moment, this is my top pick. That may change as I read and reread.

Best Novelette: I've read "The Art of Space Travel" and "You'll Surely Drown Here If You Stay". I need to read "The Jewel and Her Lapidary", "The Tomato Thief", and "Touring with the Alien". I do not plan on reading the sixth finalist.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Inkwell vs the evil va-coom

So after doing my usual weekly vacuuming downstairs, I remembered that the upstairs bedroom really needs a good vacuuming. Inkwell the cat had raced up the stairs the instant I got the vacuum out, so I was a little concerned he might be in the bedroom and get upset when I came in with it, but I figured he'd live.

He wasn't in the bedroom. As I carried the vacuum up the stairs, I saw Inkwell sitting on the top step, puffed out like he had a bad case of static, staring intently at the vacuum in my hand.

"Inky, get out of the way," I said, as I climbed the steps.

Inkwell didn't move.

"Inky, just move," I said as I got within three steps.

Inkwell crouched and hissed, standing his ground. I stopped.

"Inkwell McStinkyPants Gjovaag!" I said, "Move your fuzzy little butt!"

"HISSSSSSSSSS!!!!"

Standoff. I couldn't easily get around him and didn't want to frighten him too much, but I really needed to vacuum that floor. So I swung the vacuum slightly in his direction. Inkwell leaned back, still hissing. Ok... I held the vacuum in front of me and proceeded up the stairs. Inkwell retreated slowly, hissing loudly and staying in that feline crouch. I was afraid he'd go into the bedroom, but he backed off in another direction and I made it past him. He then stood at the doorway hissing while I plugged the vacuum in and started to clean.

When I finished, I turned around and Inky was gone. I had cleaned the whole floor and it took me several minutes, so I wasn't surprised he didn't stick around, but I half expected him to remain at the door and hissing.

I wrapped up the cord and carried the vacuum downstairs... where Inkwell was waiting. He stayed back, not blocking my way, but hissed as soon as the vacuum was within a few feet of him. I rolled my eyes and put it away in the closet while he hissed at it. Then he ran over to the door and meowed at the door, sounding exactly like someone telling off a person who had been rude. The meows went on for quite awhile, so I guess he had a lot to say. Finally he finished with a "Hmpf!" and stalked upstairs to see what kind of damage the evil machine had done.

I just stood there, trying really hard not to giggle.

After a couple of minutes he came back downstairs, walked up to me, meowed once very loudly, then jumped into a chair and started to groom himself. The battle was won, the victor needed to get clean.

A Hugo Review: Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) - Deadpool

I've got plenty to read and watch, but hubby and I got Deadpool from the library first, so we watched that this weekend, and I've been thinking about it's likely position in my list. I'll address the elephant in the room first: yes, it was nominated by puppies, but because it was a popular film I'm going to not worry overmuch about that. It might have been nominated anyway, and could have even been a finalist without the puppies. So I'll try to judge it on its own merits.

Second, I had avoided learning anything about this movie well before the Hugo noms came out. I hadn't decided if I was going to ever see it - the Hugo finalists list made that decision for me. I don't know Deadpool well because I haven't read any of the comics featuring him. All I knew going in was that the movie was very raunchy and Deadpool is a smart aleck.

The good: it was remarkably funny, poignant at moments, had a surprisingly sweet message and broke the fourth wall in original ways. The actors were fantastic, from the gloomy teenager to the love interest to the blind woman to Mr. Pool himself. Everyone seemed to be having a great time, and the movie took itself seriously in the right moments and dropped out into insanity with perfect timing. The winks and nods to the audience (including making fun of the Green Lantern movie (which I liked)) were great to see. Stan Lee's cameo still cracks me up. The plot holds together well, and it has a satisfying conclusion. The characters have solid motives (for the most part) and Mr. Pool's cowardice is believable, even though everyone in the audience had to know how she would react once she understood. The use of music was truly inspired and added a lot to both the humor and the pathos.

The bad: Whew, this was violent. True, it's a lot of comic book violence, but it was way overboard in some places. The nudity and language didn't bother me much, but the violence was, at times, a bit too much. It never went so far to make me throw up (like a certain character does) but it was often enough to make me worry a little about having that imagery in my head. Also, the bad guys never get a lot of reason for being bad guys, beyond profit motives. I didn't expect a backstory, but I wish the movie had given just a tiny bit more sense of how they were using super-powered slaves - and the extent of their operations. We got hints, but I would have liked a scene or two more to fully establish them... but that's a minor nit.

Conclusion: I liked it. I didn't love it, but then I'm not a huge Marvel fangirl. It left my brain in an odd place, which happens with some movies. It's not really my cuppa, but it was funny and I can appreciate it for what it is.

I've already seen two of the other finalists in the Dramatic Long category, and at the moment Deadpool is either second or third of the three I've now seen. I'll be rewatching the two I've seen and watching the other three that made the list, and all post on those as I do.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): I've seen Ghostbusters, Rogue One and Deadpool. I need to see Arrival, Hidden Figures and Stranger Things, Season One.