October 17 2013

The Incrementalists

The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White is a book of many threads. Two threads are the points of view of Phil and Ren. Phil is an Incrementalist, a member of a secret group who try to gradually improve the world by changing things for the better. A nudge here, a nudge there. They are also, functionally immortal. That’s a few more threads.
For you pleasure, there are also explorations of consciousness vs. memory vs. personality and the role of fear in causing damage to the bindings of society. You’ll get some observations on poker and on good meals with good conversation. Watch for cards as they get palmed and people who may not be as annoying as others have made them out to be.
Brust and White weave together a tale out of these slowly gathered threads. If you want to see the tapestry that emerges, you’ll have to pay attention. This isn’t a book that allows for a shallow reading. You get thrown in the deep end and the action starts quicker than you may even notice.
I enjoyed the journey contained in the weaving of the tale and won’t take that journey away from you with a bunch of explanation of the details that you should really experience as you reach them.
As I read this, I heard the sounds of pigeons under the chestnut trees on the Champs-Elysées, of purring cats and the smells of old bookstores and chocolate. I’ll leave it to you to find out why and just remark that this is a very good book.

September 13 2013

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is a fantastic multi-layered novel. I don’t want to get too specific about what the layers are as discovering them is part of the delight and sorrow contained in the book. On one layer, it is about the events that happen to two young English women in WWII. One becomes a pilot and one a spy who is captured by the Gestapo.
Both of these young women are brought to life in the pages with amazing vibrancy. We enter the tale as the captured woman writes of her story and the story of the pilot at the command and coercion of the Gestapo. This is another layer–a story being told as a story is being told.
I’m not going to venture with many more details other than that I enjoyed the book immensely and highly recommend it.

September 12 2013

The Thousand Names

I had a great deal of fun reading The Thousand Names by Django Wexler. This is a bright new fantasy set in an era roughly on par technologically with our own Napoleonic era but not in our world.
The story is mainly told from the point of view of two characters. One of the these characters is Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, the commander of what he presumes to be a soon evacuated garrison of Vordanai soldiers in the remote land of Khandar. He is pretty sure they will be evacuated as we find him settled in an out of date fort along the Khandar coast. The Vordanai have been forced to retreat here from the capital due to a religious rebellion among the Khandari.
The other pov character is Winter Ihernglass. We meet Winter as a ranker in the Vordanai forces who has been hiding out and masquerading as a man (we find this out right away). We get a view of the soldiers from the top and the bottom here.
When the new commander, Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, arrives both Winter and Marcus assumptions are overturned as Janus shows he is determined to advance into Khandar rather than load everyone back into the ships. I enjoyed Janus’ characterization very much. Some mystery and a very nice job of showing rather than telling.
The battle scenes in the book are very well done. I’ve read some accounts of battles with infantry squares and cannon work and this matched up very well.
The magic has a brief appearance at the start of the book and then slowly builds through the rest. There is a nice little mystery regarding magic use here also–you’ll see.
I thought all of the sides in the conflict (there are more than two) are portrayed well. There are good and bad characters among the Vordanai and the Khandari just as you will find at large in the world.
I am quite looking forward to book 2.

August 28 2013

Brain to Brain

This is extremely interesting. Researchers at the University of Washington (Seattle) have leveraged two existing technologies–electroencephalography (EEG) for recording brain signals from the scalp and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for stimulating the brain to allow one test subject to control the finger of another test subject (both humans).
The experimental setup looks like this:

Below is a video of the test in action.

August 28 2013

Arcane Disk

Whilst perusing an assortment of oddities in an old steamer trunk I found in the attic, I was struck by an inscription upon a fire glazed disk. I will attempt here to reproduce this:


The disk, measuring some five inches and with a slight hump, is much heavier than one would expect. The inscribed forms give every appearance of having been created at the same time as the object upon which they reside. Further study will be needed.

August 16 2013

Mark Reads — John Dies at the End

The epilogue for “John Dies at the End” was extra fun for me as I commissioned the videos. Mark Oshiro does various stuff, but in particular he reads things for the first time and writes about it on markreads.net. In addition to just writing about things, Mark will do a video of himself reading (and reacting) chapters from the book. “John Dies at the End” contains a bunch of weird things that are fun and disturbing and strange and horrifying and sometimes insulting and sometimes peg on. So, of course, it seemed like a good idea to watch Mark as he read the final part of the book. It was. Mark did an excellent job.
By the way, I liked both “John Dies at the End” and the sequel, “This Book is Full of Spiders” but then, I’m a tad twisted so they were almost bound to appeal to me.

July 16 2013

My Hugo 2013 Votes

Here are my picks for the 2013 Hugo awards. You can follow the links where I have posted reviews for individual works. In each category, you can rank your preferences (1 being best). They encourage you not to vote for categories in which you have no experience (don’t just guess in other words). I’ve read (or watched or seen as appropriate) everything that I voted on. I didn’t individually review everything.

Best Novel

Best Novella

  • San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats, Mira Grant (Orbit)
  • The Emperor’s Soul, Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications)
  • On a Red Station, Drifting, Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
  • “The Stars Do Not Lie”, Jay Lake (Asimov’s, Oct-Nov 2012)
  • After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications)

Best Novelette (The Novelette category seemed to be particularly strong to me. These were all really good stories and ranking was fairly hard.

  • “In Sea-Salt Tears”, Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
  • “Rat-Catcher”, Seanan McGuire ( A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)
  • “The Boy Who Cast No Shadow”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
  • “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi”, Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
  • “Fade To White”, Catherynne M. Valente ( Clarkesworld, August 2012)

Best Short Story

  • “Mono no Aware”, Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)
  • “Mantis Wives”, Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
  • “Immersion”, Aliette de Bodard ( Clarkesworld, June 2012)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  • The Avengers, Screenplay & Directed by Joss Whedon (Marvel Studios, Disney, Paramount)
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, Directed by Peter Jackson (WingNut Films, New Line Cinema, MGM, Warner Bros)
  • Looper, Screenplay and Directed by Rian Johnson (FilmDistrict, EndGame Entertainment)
  • The Cabin in the Woods, Screenplay by Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon; Directed by Drew Goddard (Mutant Enemy, Lionsgate)
  • The Hunger Games, Screenplay by Gary Ross & Suzanne Collins, Directed by Gary Ross (Lionsgate, Color Force)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form(I haven’t seen the “Game of Thrones” entry–that is why it does not appear here.)

  • Fringe, “Letters of Transit”, Written by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Akiva Goldsman, J.H.Wyman, Jeff Pinkner. Directed by Joe Chappelle (Fox)
  • Doctor Who, “The Snowmen”, written by Steven Moffat; directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Wales)
  • Doctor Who, “The Angels Take Manhattan”, Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
  • Doctor Who, “Asylum of the Daleks”, Written by Steven Moffat; Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)

Best Editor, Long Form

  • Lou Anders
  • Sheila Gilbert
  • Liz Gorinsky
  • Patrick Nielsen Hayden
  • Toni Weisskopf

Best Fan Writer

  • Mark Oshiro

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

  • Chuck Wendig*
  • Stina Leicht*
  • Mur Lafferty*
  • Zen Cho*
  • Max Gladstone
July 12 2013

2013 Hugo Short Stories

There are three entries in the Best Short Story category for the 2013 Hugo awards.

  • “Immersion”, Aliette de Bodard ( Clarkesworld, June 2012)
  • “Mantis Wives”, Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
  • Mono no Aware”, Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)

The short story category has only three nominees as, to be nominated:

No nominee shall appear on the final Award ballot if it received fewer nominations than five percent (5%) of the number of ballots listing one or more nominations in that category, except that the first three eligible nominees, including any ties, shall always be listed.

So, either there were no other nominees with 5 or greater percent of the vote or these were the top three.

In “Mono no Aware”, Ken Liu has crafted a very good story about life, death and sacrifice. We see the story from the point of view of Hiroto. Hiroto tells us of his present in a lightsail generation ship launched from Earth. Hiroto tells us of his past as a child and learning of the disaster in an asteroid that is going to strike Earth. People react both poorly and well and Hiroto tells us something of what he thinks it means to be Japanese.

I am not sure I would really term “Mantis Wives” a short story and I’m not sure that I wouldn’t. It anthropomorphizes the Mantis and various sorts of the mating habits of the female. It is very short and may have been saying something else, but then maybe not.

“Immersion” is a decent story about the effects of technology and cultural impingement. It is set in the same universe as Bodard’s “On a Red Station Drfting.” It didn’t really succeed in sparking my interest. That doesn’t mean it won’t be of interest to someone else, of course.