(Note: This is the latest, and the last, in an ongoing series of posts discussing the 2015 Hugo nominees, and explaining why I will or will not vote for them.)
And now we come down to the wire, and the Big One, as George R.R. Martin calls it. Best Novel. If you've read this series of posts, you pretty much know which book I'm going to vote for, but I wanted to make it official, and also explain why I have ranked the books in the order which they will appear on my ballot.
Not on ballot and did not finish: The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson
I just couldn't with this one. I've never been fond of ten-pound doorstoppers with endless viewpoint characters anyway, and this book did not even have the charm of good writing or an engaging plot to recommend it. Add to this the fact that a great many of those viewpoint characters came across as downright stupid, and my response is: Nope.
5) Skin Game, Jim Butcher
This book is frothy and fun, and ultimately forgettable. It's a very good Harry Dresden/urban fantasy book (and urban fantasy, as a genre, is sadly underrepresented at the Hugos, as well as other major awards), but in comparison to the other books on the ballot it simply falls short.
4) The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
It's notable that a translated novel originally published in China in 2008 even got on the ballot to begin with (no thanks to the Impacted Canines--its being there at all is solely due to Marko Kloos' withdrawal). This book is stuffed full of physics and hard science ideas, and I admire the ambition of its author. Unfortunately, his characters are not well developed, and I need a balance of good characterization and good ideas to vote any book as Best Novel of the year.
3) No Award
2) The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison
Talk about an 180-degree turn--this book is all about characterization. It's the story of an unprepared kid who becomes Emperor and has to navigate his way though bloody, shark-infested waters. It's the ultimate triumph of brains over brawn, of intellect and kindness winning over cruelty and ambition. Maia starts out as passive and confused, and just along for the ride; but at the end of the book he becomes, as the title of Part Five proclaims, "Edrehasivar the Bridge-Builder." That's not a bad sort of person to be, and how he gets there is fascinating.
1) Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie
I said a long time ago it would take one helluva book to knock Leckie out of my top spot. Katherine Addison came damned close, but in the end I have to go with Ann Leckie. I know some people were disappointed with this, the quieter middle book in the Ancillary trilogy, but to me this is a tighter, more focused, and ultimately better book than Ancillary Justice. Leckie takes a deep dive into the character of Breq, and also reveals more of the fascinating and horrifying Radchaai society. I've preordered the third book, and I can't wait.
So this is the end of my Hugo recaps. I started these reviews because the ongoing Canine clusterfuck moved me to buy a supporting membership for Sasquan. I'm also planning to buy a membership for next year's Worldcon so I can nominate. With that in mind, as I get back to more normal blogging, I will mention stories, books, movies and TV shows that I think are worthy of consideration for next year's Hugos.
It's been fun, people. Now, anyone who cares about science fiction and the future of the Hugos needs to get out and vote.
(Note: This is the latest, and the last, in an ongoing series of posts discussing the 2015 Hugo nominees, and explaining why I will or will not vote for them.)
So I've gotten to these two funny categories that I find hard to understand. What's the difference between a semiprozine and a fanzine? According to the Hugo website, the former is:
Semiprozine is the most complicated category because of the need to define semi-professional. A lot of science fiction and fantasy magazines are run on a semi-professional basis: that is they pay a little, but generally not enough to make a living for anyone. The object of this category is to separate such things from fanzines, which are generally loss-making hobbyist pursuits. To qualify a publication must not be professional (see above) and must meet at least one of the following criteria:
The publication pays its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication.
The publication was generally available only for paid purchase.
A fanzine is described thusly:
This Award is for anything that is neither professional nor semi-professional and that does not qualify as a Fancast (see below). The publication must also satisfy the rule of a minimum of 4 issues, at least one of which must have appeared in the year of eligibility.
This was actually a pretty tough choice. Full disclosure: I have a current subscription to Beneath Ceaseless Skies through Weightless Books, and I participated in Lightspeed's "Queers Destroy Science Fiction" Kickstarter, with one of my perks being a year's subscription to that magazine along with its entire back catalog. I also love John Joseph Adams' editorial abilities and own several of his anthologies. So I am quite familiar with the high quality of two of the three.
Strange Horizons, though, was a new beast for me. It seems to be an entirely online magazine (whose website, in my opinion, is in desperate need of an update). The Hugo packet sample offered an intriguing mix of stories, reviews (there's nothing I like better than a well-written book review, and theirs just show me how far I have yet to go in that regard) and poetry.
What made me sad, though, and also angry, was some of the stories I read from these three magazines, notably "21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus One)" and "A Moon For the Unborn" from the Strange Horizons sample, and "In the Dying Light, We Saw a Shape" from the Lightspeed issue. To be frank, these were stories that should have been on the Hugo ballot, instead of the Nutty Nugget nonsense we actually received. ("When It Ends, He Catches Her" by the late Eugie Foster is another such story.) These stories' quality, compared to what we ended up getting, is breathtaking. This made me revise my opinion of my vote for Best Short Story. I have nothing against Kary English and I'll be looking for her work in the future, but her nominated story simply does not hold a candle to these, and due to that I cannot vote for it. The Hugo stories should be the best short stories across the entire range of the field, not the best weapons porn, or somebody's best buddy, or someone's own tiny publishing house.
Anyway. [rant over] Strange Horizons is the most wide-ranging and eclectic of the three, and due to this it edged out Lightspeed for my top vote. My rankings for Best Semiprozine are:
1) Strange Horizons
3) Beneath Ceaseless Skies
4) No Award
Now: for Best Fanzine, Black Gate has withdrawn from the ballot due to the Impacted Canines' shenanigans, which saddens me (although I certainly understand), as they probably would have gotten my top spot. As for the remaining nominees:
The Revenge of Hump Day: HELL NO. This is "Wisdom From My Internet"-style bullshit.
Tangent Online: So-so. It's okay, I suppose, but not really Hugo quality.
Elitist Book Reviews: I will bookmark this; as I stated previously, I love a good book review.
Journey Planet: Oh my goodness. Dr Who? Now I must admit to a serious lack of geek cred here: I know nothing about Dr. Who, except for what I've read in various places. Never watched an episode. I certainly don't share the obvious fanaticism for the series on display in this fanzine. That being said, it's a well-written, well-edited zine, and the sample issues eventually verged into other subjects, such as sports. This greater and deeper breadth of subject matter eventually compelled me to give it the top spot, just ahead of Elitist. My rankings for Best Fanzine:
1) Journey Planet
2) Elitist Book Reviews
3) No Award
Best Fan Artist: This is a pretty weird category, I think. To be frank, I didn't care for any of the nominees that much. I wouldn't have purchased their work to display on my wall. Elizabeth Leggett had one sample that kinda sorta drew my eye ("Emancipation"); it's pretty surreal. But in the end, I wasn't gosh-wow enough about it to vote for her.
Best Professional Artist: My goodness, what a contrast. When you say "Oh, that's cool!" several times as you're scanning the various artists' samples, you know you've hit the jackpot. Of course, this is for Professional artist, so that's a bit of a difference.
Several of these artists I would definitely put on my wall, or at the very least, use for computer desktop backgrounds. These include Nick Greenwood's "Dragon," Kirk DouPonce's "Hugo 6" and "Hugo 8" (I would have called them "Emerald-Eyed Skull" and "Girl Climbing Out of Laptop" respectively), and well, just about all of Julie Dillon's work. Julie's samples were awash with detail and color, and her characters were marvelously diverse. My favorite, "Menagerie," showed a girl in a wheelchair feeding her flock of many brightly colored birds--parrots, peacocks, what have you.
So: my rankings in this category.
1) Julie Dillon
2) Kirk DouPonce
3) Nick Greenwood
4) No Award
5) Alan Pollack
(Carter Reid is left off the ballot because I realized he draws that awful Zombie webcomic. No thank you.)
Yes, I am getting to the bottom of my ballot. For anyone who's curious, I'm saving Best Novel for last.
The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer advertises itself, famously, as "not-a-Hugo," celebrating what the Worldcon community decides is the best new science fiction/fantasy writer of the year. Unfortunately, like so much of the rest of the ballot, this category has been tainted by the shenanigans of the Impacted Canines.
(Forgive me for sounding testy. Several weeks of slogging through godawfully bad stories not worth their weight in puppy piss will do that to you. I mean, if you're going to behave lawfully-but-unethically and game the awards, can't you at least nominate something halfway decent? Apparently not, as most of the ballot proves.)
Listed from worst to best.
5) Jason Cordova
Reading one story was enough to turn me off this writer. A World War II retelling with the Germans riding giant white mutated spiders (the "dreaded German Hollenspinne division"), defending machine gun nests in a forest called Belleau Wood, and the Americans sending in two specially-bred, equally giant lions, also ridden like horses by their handlers, to kill the "hellspiders"? Two-thousand-pound lions, working for the US Navy and the Marines? (These actually sound like prehistoric cave lions, and there's no explanation given as to how or why the Americans would have such an animal.) Both of the lions, Ghost and King, along with their handlers, ended up dying, by the way. For frak's sake. The only thing that could have amused me about this story is if the lions had been named Ghost and Darkness, after the campy Michael Douglas movie.
4) Rolf Nelson
I had a heckuva time finding any work by this guy, as there was nothing from him in the Campbell Hugo packet. (I eventually realized he has a story in the included Castalia House collection Riding the Red Horse.) He does have one book on Amazon, The Stars Came Back. I tried to read a sample of this and bounced off it so hard I hit the opposite wall; it's written in script format, all cut-tos and fade-ins and fade-outs, which grated on me in very short order. (Obviously I would never make any kind of Hollywood slush reader.) No thank you.
The story in Riding the Red Horse, "Shakedown Cruise," started out as unremarkable military SF. (Lest you think I know nothing about the genre, I am right now in the midst of a really good MilSF novel, The Machine Awakes by Adam Christopher. "Shakedown Cruise" does not compare.) A few pages in, something struck me as odd. At first it was one sentence, than an entire paragraph, then several paragraphs...abruptly switching from past tense to present tense and back again. This jarring back-and-forth pattern continued for the rest of the story.
Now, I honestly do not mind present tense. I read a lot of YA, and present tense is almost a young-adult default. HOWEVER. I expect any use of present tense (that is, if you don't start your book or story that way from the beginning) to make a bit of sense and be used with a purpose; i.e., either for certain characters and/or flashbacks, and definitely with a page or chapter break. Just throwing it into your story willy-nilly, with no explanation or warning, smacks of either poor writing or poor editing, or both. In this case, since this is a Castalia House publication (the publisher of, among others, the purple prose-eater John C. Wright), I rather think it's both. At any rate, this bouncing between tenses ruined the story for me, and I hadn't been all that into it to begin with.
3) Eric S. Raymond
This writer, as far as I can tell, has one published fiction story, "Sucker Punch," found in Riding the Red Horse. (Although he has apparently written a great deal of nonfiction work; see his home page here.) This was something of a surprise, as it's a competent, professional effort (and it sticks its tenses). The focus is on the weaponry and the battle strategy, meaning the characters suffer as a result, but overall it's not bad. Unfortunately, I cannot bring myself to give Mr. Raymond a Campbell Award on the basis of one story.
2) Kary English
I've read and liked Ms. English before--I'm voting for her story, "Totaled," for Best Short Story. The samples for the Campbell packet included one piece, "Flight of the Kikayon," that I actually liked better than "Totaled." She is definitely a writer to watch.
However, she's not my choice for Best New Writer. That goes to:
1) Wesley Chu.
I haven't read all of his novel, The Deaths of Tao, but I've read enough to make him my pick. The quality of his writing is immediately apparent.
So: My ballot rankings for the Campbell:
1) Wesley Chu
2) Kary English
3) No Award
Best Graphic Story. Now this is a category I know little about, as I am seriously not into comics. I never got into them when I was younger, and in fact I tended to look down on them, considering them obviously inferior to books. The closest thing to a comic book I remember reading is (anybody remember them?) a Big Little Book, in this case the old-fashioned Fantastic Four with the orange Ben Grimm. (Actually, I just found it on Amazon--it's The Fantastic Four in the House of Horrors.) I don't remember much about the story, as the last several pages were missing, which frustrated me to no end.
So I am (or was) very much a comics virgin. Now I won't be so crude as to say I just popped my comics cherry (wink wink) but I did chew it up and spit out the pit.
Rating the four non-Canine nominees, from bottom to top:
Sorry, I just couldn't get into this. I think the word is "bounce." Maybe because it's Volume Three, Chapter Thirteen, but it seemed like there was too much backstory I neither knew or cared to know.
3) Sex Criminals
I suppose the idea is original enough--certain people can freeze time during and after orgasm (at least until they get aroused again), and they use what they call "the Quiet" to steal money to rescue their local library. This seems completely contrary to human nature, wherein if people could actually do this, they would have sex just to get off and get rich. Also, as far as that goes, why is Suzanne even bothering with this weird loser? Surely she could do better with just her favorite vibrator, in terms of not sharing the wealth, having a better chance of getting away from the Sex Police, and avoiding Jon's ill-timed boner knocking them out of the Quiet.
2) Ms. Marvel
Now we're getting into an actual story, and one that is far better than the first two. This is the tale of sixteen-year-old Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American with the usual adolescent problems intensified by the unique complications of her Muslim culture and customs, being made a superhero quite by accident. In this story, she is dealing both with the typical teenage angst of a girl trying to find herself and break out of her parents' narrow box, and the challenge of attempting to control her superpowers and use them for good. However, I wish "Hugo Voters Packet" hadn't been stamped across every page (why? none of the other nominees was like this) as it interfered with quite a few of the dialogue balloons.
This comic was certainly Hugo-worthy, and had it not been for that other nominee, I would have voted for Ms. Marvel first. But the remaining nominee is:
1) Rat Queens
I loved Rat Queens from the very first panel.
As far as I'm concerned, this has it all: four great characters, a compelling storyline, sass, intelligence, female bonding/friendship, ample passing of the Bechdel test, humor, and heartbreak.
I don't know much about the history of comics, so I couldn't say if it's derivative, poorly drawn, etc etc. Just comparing my top two, I think Ms. Marvel was a bit better drawn, but Rat Queens has the superior story. It takes my top spot.
But there was one other nominee, wasn't there? The Impacted Canines choice?
Yes, there was. A webcomic, Zombie Nation, and the less said about this the better. It has no storyline, no compelling characters, and doesn't come within spitting distance of the worst of the other four. It's almost as bad as John C. Wright's preachified polemics and that Wisdom From My Internet abomination.
But this category does provide an example of what the rest of the ballot should have been. One Canine nomination against true quality stuff. In the categories that are all, or nearly all, Canines, to my mind there is no vote beyond No Award (with only a few exceptions) because the Canines' choices are not only derived from an unethical (if legal) slate--they are all that bad. This category, with more proportional representation of Canine and non-Canine, drives the point home.
(I realize the Canines will say the same thing about, for example, last year's ballot. But come on. As far as good writing goes, Ann Leckie, Katherine Addison, and John C. Wright/Tom Kratman/Michael Z. Williamson aren't even in the same universe.)
So: for this category, my vote is as follows.
1) Rat Queens
2) Ms. Marvel
3) Sex Criminals
4) No Award
This review is going to be short because I am really, really getting tired of certain, ah, canid "nominees."
Also, I will not vote for anyone for Best Fan Writer who bleats about "glittery hoo hahs."
That is all.
My rankings for this category:
1. Laura J. Mixon
2. No Award
3. Jeffro Johnson
(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of posts reviewing as many nominees on the 2015 Hugo ballot as I can before the July 31 deadline, and explaining why I will or will not vote for them.)
Skin Game, by Jim Butcher, #15 in the Harry Dresden urban fantasy series, is the only Hugo nominee I read prior to the ballot's being announced. My 5-star review is here. Full disclosure: I own the entire series, the last two in hardback (thank goodness for Hasting's 75% off clearance sales). I stand by everything I said in that review: Jim Butcher is a master at plotting, even though I'm beginning to think he should get on with his apocalypse already. The books are great fun reads, and this particular title is an excellent Harry Dresden book.
Having said that, the question now becomes: How does it compare to books outside its urban-fantasy bubble, and what, if anything, makes it a contender for Best SFF Novel of the Year?
Just to dip my toe into this year's Hugo controversy a teeny-tiny bit for context: Some of the current kerfluffle is the objection by certain, ah, canids, to books that supposedly place Message over Story. (Also that the book covers don't adequately represent what's inside, which is just weird--I mean, what are the back covers, with their little mini-summaries, for? Just to hold the pages together?) Over the past few months, literally millions of words have been written about this, by people far wiser than I. Many have pointed out that messages (along with weird covers) have always been part and parcel of the books produced in this field, and the gentle (or sometimes not-so-gentle) suggestion has been made that it's the nature of the messages that certain, ah, canids are objecting to. If the message is to their taste, they approve; if not, they snarl and spit unpronounceable, cheesy acronyms at the perceived offenders.
To this issue, I can only relate how I feel, which is thus:
If your Story doesn't have a Message, your Story isn't worth shit.
I always thought that was the explicit role of art and literature, to shine a light on the process of being human. The SFF field is uniquely positioned to accomplish this task; the mirror that is a society and/or a race of beings invented out of whole cloth reflects the human experience even more brightly. Or it should, if the author is doing his/her job.
That, my friends, is the Ultimate Message Fiction: if I stare into the abyss (or the alien's sight and/or other sensory appendages) and the abyss stares back...then what does that make me?
This isn't to say the Story of how I got to the abyss isn't important. For example, I am right now reading, in addition to the Hugo stuff, a book of short stories by Native American writer Sherman Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. These stories are beautifully written and are a harrowing depiction of modern Native American experience: the desperation, the alcoholism, the black humor, the sickening sense of betrayal, the despair of a conquered, all but annihilated people...it's all there. At the same time, as amazing as these stories are, they are tough to get through--not only because of the subject matter, but because almost nothing happens. These are not so much stories as they are character sketches and vignettes. There is no overarching goal, no struggle--other than the struggle for survival, which given said subject matter and the fact that Alexie is generally described as a "literary" writer, is certainly worthy, but it's not what I would define as an exciting story.
(Although I recently heard that Sherman Alexie has also written a George Armstrong Custer zombie story. That description alone makes me want to search for it.)
So I know you have to have a Protagonist with a Goal navigating Obstacles, at a minimum, for a Hugo-worthy story. But if you have said Protagonist striving for his/her goal with no thought, no reflection, and no "what does this all mean?" when s/he finally stares into the abyss...well, then, you get crap like John Norman's Gor.
Yes, I have read a few Gor books. A long time ago, before I became aware of their ugly misogynistic aspects. Here's the thing, though: until all this Hugo stuff came up, and everybody started talking about the early days of the field, and the type of stuff published Way Back When, I had actually forgotten I had read them...because they were all Story with no Message. (Putting aside that whole women-are-only-good-for-fucking-and-
Now that I've grown up a bit, I do not like that kind of story. (I also do not like a story of "manly men doing manly things," as a certain, ah, canine once put it. After a while that sort of cookie-cutter stuff gets boring as hell.) Yes, I want my Protagonist to navigate Obstacles and reach his/her Goal...but I also want a Declaration of what it means to get there, and a Reflection on just how looking into that abyss informs the Protagonist about the human experience.
In short, I want my Story, but I also want my story to have an effing Message. Sure, I want to have fun, but I also want to think. And the best books, the ones that resonate in my mind long after I reach "the end," are, to me, the only books worthy of a Hugo award.
My favorite example of this is the book so harangued by certain, ah, canids: Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie.
That book swept nearly every award it was nominated for last year, and deservedly so, in my mind. There are so many layers to this book, so many wonderful Messages: an artificial intelligence (at one time an actual starship) forced into a single human brain, an exploration of gender, the deconstruction of the horror and cruelty of an interstellar empire, a ruthless, fascinating society built on expansion and conquering...all wrapped up in a rip-rollicking Space Opera that leaves the reader breathless.
As far as I'm concerned, Ancillary Justice and Peter Watts' Blindsight are the two best SF books I've read in years. Both of them left me thinking after I closed the back cover. (And why in hell didn't Blindsight win the Best Novel Hugo? Watts wuz robbed, I tell you.) Needless to say, this year I'm going to vote for Ancillary Sword (unless Kevin J. Anderson's The Dark Between the Stars sucker-punches me to the floor; but given the reviews I've read by others, I have my doubts). It's a slower, tighter, more focused story, and I actually liked it better than its predecessor.
Skin Game simply does not reach those lofty heights. Sure, it's a fun read...but it's also a forgettable one. As I said, I appreciate it because it's a master class in plotting, but that's as far as it goes, and it will not get my vote.
I've decided to take the last nominees from Best Related Work in a lump, mainly because there's some more stuff coming up from Castalia House, and I want to hold my nose and get through it as quickly as possible.
"Why Science is Never Settled," Tedd Roberts
I've never heard of Tedd Roberts (apparently a pseudonym) but in this piece he comes across as a competent scientist and peer reviewer. Unfortunately, that's all I can say about the piece itself: competent. The subject is mildly interesting, but his treatment thereof is at best mediocre. Not Hugo-worthy.
"The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF," Ken Burnside
This has a lot of physics in it, which the author explains fairly well, but suffers from the same affliction as The Three-Body Problem: dry, stilted prose. This is better than "Why Science is Never Settled," as the ideas seem to be well thought out and would apply more to SF writers, but it's still nothing outstanding.
"Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth," John C. Wright
Oh dear dog, heeeeeeerrrrrree's Johnny again. If nothing else, Mr. Wright's nominations in this packet prove to me that I shall never spend one thin dime of my money on any of his work in the real world, and really, as much as I appreciate the free works in the Hugo packet, in the case of Mr. Wright, they were still far too expensive. The prospect of plowing through all 329 pages of this hot mess is too daunting even for me; therefore I will touch on a few random essays.
The Hobbit; or, The Desolation of Tolkien
This made me fall over and thrash on the floor, because...gasp! choke! spit! it was almost....nearly....possibly....good. If Mr. Wright would confine his so-called "writing" to movie and/or book reviews, he might actually be readable. His natural bent towards purplelicious prose (or, as Eric Flint so memorably put it, "This is an example of what I think of as the Saudi School of Prose. No noun may go out in public unless she is veiled by grandiloquence and accompanied by an adjective.") combined with the unleashing of his Inner Snark (and really, she should get out of the Vatican more often), produced something that actually held my attention all the way through.
Referring to Tauriel:
Then the Stupidity Hammer lashes out again, this time as a blow to the groin of every man in the audience, because, SURPRISE! The young and eternally lovely elf-maiden, instead of doing elf-maidenly things like dancing in the moonlight on the surface of enchanted lakes or singing magical songs to beguile the watchful terrors of Thangorodim, turns out to be Xena the Warrior Elf Princess. Yes, she is the roughest, toughest, most kick-ass Spartan Marine Navy SEAL Special Forces Ninja Battlebabe in the entire warrior-harem of the elf-lord's politically correct gender-neutral and gender-accomodating fashion-model army. She makes as much sense as a platoon of bathing beauty Cataphracts or the dread and dreaded Playboy Bunny Brute Squad.
Heaven forbid Mr. Wright see Mad Max: Fury Road. He will simultaneously blow up the Internet and win a Pulitzer Prize.
Okay, what's next?
(Keeps advancing pages in e-reader...stumbles across some more book reviews that make me take back the point made above; for instance, in reviewing Philip Pullman, Wright is as painfully long and Saudi-infested as Eric Flint stated)
Is there any more there there?
(Stares with open mouth at Saving Science Fiction From Strong Female Characters and Restless Heart of Darkness; Great Cthulhu, what utter dreck)
(End of ebook)
Apparently not. Unfortunately, one snarkalicious movie review does not a Hugo Award make. (As an aside, Theodore Beale edited this mess? What was his role as editor, to pat Little Johnny on the head and tell him, "You're the Bestest Science Fiction Writer Evahhhhhhh!" If so, he did Mr. Wright no favors.)
So, to sum up the category of Best Related Works:
Mr. Noah Award in a runaway. In fact, Noah is the equivalent of the magnificent Secretariat thundering down the stretch in the Belmont Stakes, straight and true and overpowering, leaving his competitors in the dust.
This book surprised the heck out of me. I checked it out from the library rather skeptical as to whether or not I would like it. "Court intrigue," as I've heard it described, is not really my thing. However, once I started reading the very first chapter, where this hapless eighteen-year-old kid is woken out of a sound sleep with the news that his estranged father and brothers have died in an airship crash, and he is now Emperor...
...well, the author sucked me right in, and we're off to the races.
I adore this book. As well as "court intrigue," I've heard it described as "mannerpunk" and "competence porn," and as much as I would like to get away from the urge to punkify/pornify everything, all three descriptions have their merits. This book succeeds because the characterization is just fantastic: we spend the entire book in a tight third-person focus on that eighteen-year-old kid, Maia Drazhar, and his struggles to succeed in this shark-infested pool he has been suddenly thrown into. He was never raised to be Emperor; indeed, his father banished Maia after his mother's death ten years before, and has paid not a whit of attention to him since. Plus Maia's guardian is an abusive SOB who later gets his comeuppance, yessss, Preciousssss. (Although not in the way you would think, as Maia is not a violent or vengeful person.)
I've heard people complaining that nothing happens in this book, and I can only shake my head and wonder what they were actually reading. I guess it's because most of the action here is interior and based on characterization, rather than exterior and based on plot. What I mean by this is that Maia doesn't become a bloodthirsty Emperor waging wars, participating in swordfights, and proclaiming "Off with their heads!"; he works to understand the ugly backstabbing court he has been thrown into, and in the process both grows as a person (becoming assertive and confrontational where necessary, instead of the overwhelmed, passive kid he started out being) and learns how to manipulate the culture of the court to his benefit. This is a theme throughout the entire book, and it is a delight to follow.
Neither Maia or any of the characters are human. Maia is half goblin/half elf, and the other characters are either-or. I'd have to read the book again to be certain, but I don't think there is a human to be found. The characters have various nonhuman eye/skin colors--Maia himself is slate-grey, with light grey eyes, and his grandfather is "goblin-black," with "lurid orange" eyes. Also, everybody has movable ears, rather like a German Shepherd, as far as I can tell. Reading the messages given off by the ears is an important element of body language. Which is all fine, of course--what I'm saying is that there isn't quite enough backstory and detail given re: the culture of the elves and goblins to really differentiate them from, say, the court of Henry VIII. But this is a minor nitpick and does not distract from the wonderful story.
Without such terrific characterization, this book simply would not work, and I commend the author. I'm aware that it won't be for everyone, but I urge you to give it a try. You may be as pleasantly surprised as I was. As a matter of fact, this book came damned close to knocking Ancillary Sword out of the top spot. I finally decided to place it second, because the Radchaai culture and the character of Breq is, in the end, the more thought-provoking of the two, at least for me. But I would be happy if either of these books was awarded Best Novel.
This Related Works nominee, an excerpt from a longer book, was downloaded from the Hugo packet. I hadn't been terribly impressed by Mr. Antonelli's short story, but this is quite a bit better. As he says, it's a combination memoir/how-to/history, with the focus (at least on the chapters included in the excerpt) of his relationship with Gardner Duzois and how Antonelli used Mr. Duzois's personalized critiques of his rejected stories to improve his writing.
(Gardner Duzois comes across as a wonderfully knowledgeable, thoughtful editor, with very good insights both into the story process and Mr. Antonelli's stories in particular.)
Having said all that, "Letters From Gardner" is just...okay. It's certainly not actively bad like most of the other Impacted Canine stuff I've read. I actually preferred some of the stories in this excerpt (particularly "Body By Fisher") to the Antonelli story nominated this year. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite knock my socks off, which is the criteria I've been using. I'll have to finish the category to have a fuller picture, though.
Apparently, in deciding to review the Related Works category next, I've entered the self-flagellating phase of this endeavor. Another unpleasant encounter with John C. Wright awaits me; I'm saving his entry till last. I picked "Wisdom From My Internet" to review first, mainly to see if all the rumblings I've heard about it are true, and it is indeed the worst thing to disgrace the ballot in decades.
May I be perfectly frank for a moment?
Great Cthulhu, kill me now.
What the hell is this shit?
I really don't want to hurt Michael Z. Williamson's feelings, but I'm afraid it's going to be unavoidable. I'm assuming he possesses an average or even greater-than-average intelligence, since he is after all a writer. Therefore, I cannot fathom what he was thinking, loosing this fulminating excreta on an unsuspecting world. This does not even have the inexperienced well-meaning of a trunk novel. (Especially since it's not a novel at all, and has nothing to do with either science or fiction, or even coherence.) It should, bluntly, be taken out back and shot, then stomped into the ground and burned, the ashes thereafter buried and the earth atop them salted, so until the expansion of the Sun and the death of the Earth however many billions of years in the future, it shall never be seen or thought of again.
I'm not even going to quote from it, because I would end up posting all 113 pages and violating fair use, and my fisking thereof would be War and Peace-like in its length. (I will say the "Sex" section is particularly stupid.) The best way I can sum it up is this.
I've been on Twitter for not quite five years. In that time, I've amassed 12,600 tweets. I do tend to be a wordy wench, using &'s and u's and other abbreviations to shoehorn my tweets under the limit, so let's assume an average of 125 words per tweet. This comes out to...well, let's say a Brandon Sanderson-sized doorstop. If I attempted to publish this meandering, narcissistic nonsense (although I really hope every publishing house would laugh in my face), then I would have the equivalent of Wisdom From My Internet.
Would it be worthy of a Hugo, or even of being on the ballot?
OH HELL NO.
Neither is this.
I've forgotten where I picked this up--I've been using it for my desktop wallpaper for quite a while now. It's actually a fair illustration of the last nominated short story, "A Single Samurai," which I've read now that I've downloaded the Hugo packet. This story is about a kaiju, a monster so huge it's the size of a mountain, so immense it grows trees and has wildlife and its own ecosystems. Only this monster awakens and goes rampaging through the countryside, and the nameless protagonist, the "Single Samurai" of the title, climbs up its sides in a doomed attempt to kill it.
This story started out in a fairly competent fashion, but when I got to its abrupt ending, I thought, "Is this all? Kee-ripes. This got nominated for a Hugo?" This is partly because the freaking first-person narrator dies in the end. I could have gone with this, maybe, if the story had been written in the first person, present tense, or if the plot twist was executed with the skill and (to be frank) balls of the narrator Georgia Mason's dying in Mira Grant's excellent Feed, where her last mention in that book is a blog post written literally as the zombie virus is taking her over. (For the record, that also made me cry, dammit.) Unfortunately, Steven Diamond is no Mira Grant; his anonymous Samurai ("Who am I? Samurai." What the hell is that? An advertisement for The Magical Monster-Slayer: Kaiju Katanas?) just stabs the creature's brain with his ensouled katana, and while still holding it, rips his own guts out with his equally magical wakizashi, and with his own dying, takes the kaiju with him. Bang bang the hero is dead, with no mention of the fact that this story opens with a nice rumination on his father, and a flashback of his father later on. It's written with the implication of the narrator looking back on his life. Which makes his sudden death impossibly jarring.
(Of course, Mr. Who Am I also falls into a cave that contains the monster's brain [both cave and brain are a sickly green]. Come on, people. I may know next to nothing about kaiju, but hell, even Godzilla had a skull.)
"Today, a single samurai killed a mountain." Bah. This story is mildly interesting in spots, but it's certainly not Hugo-worthy. My ranking of the Short Story nominees will remain unchanged.
This is the final entry in the Best Novelette category, and the only one not on the Impacted Canines' ballots. It gained its spot because a John C. Wright story was disqualified, and this story, in 6th place, was placed on the final ballot. (There's one good thing to come out of that--at least I didn't have to suffer through another John C. Wright abomination.) For all my complaining about the Canid nominees, this does prove one thing: people other than Pupsters can nominate nonsense.
To be blunt, this is crap. Beautifully written crap, to be sure; but still crap.
The first three paragraphs explain the story's premise.
That day, the world turned upside down.
We didn’t know why it happened. Some of us wondered whether it was our fault. Whether we had been praying to the wrong gods, or whether we had said the wrong things. But it wasn’t like that—the world simply turned upside down.
Scientists lucky enough to survive the event said that it wasn’t so much that gravity had disappeared, but that it had flipped over, as if our planet had suddenly lost all of its mass and was surrounded by some colossal object. Religious people, unlucky enough to survive the miracle, said that life was give and take, and that God was now, after so many years of giving, finally taking. But there was no colossal object, and being taken by God is a dubious given.
This is, of course, completely implausible, but no more so than some other common science-fiction tropes, such as faster-than-light travel. It's what the author does with his impossible trope that ruins the story.
Tired of her burden, Mother Earth shook off anything that wasn’t tied firmly down to her surface. In one upwards thrust, it all fell into the atmosphere. Planes, satellites, and space stations disappeared into the vacuum, and even Father Moon was pushed away from us. We saw him dwindle and dwindle, until he landed in his own sad orbit around the sun. He never even said goodbye.
I was lying on the couch, not doing anything really. I wasn’t reading a book or watching TV. If the world had come to an end, I wouldn’t even have noticed.
I was staring at my phone, waiting for you to call.
There, of course, is the problem in a nutshell. Toby, one of the most whiny-ass protagonists I have ever come across, uses this terrible situation, which would have resulted in the deaths of billions of people and the destruction of civilization, to bitch and moan about his ex-girlfriend, Sophie, who broke up with him the day before. He embarks upon an Incredible Upside-Down Journey, bearing Sophie's goldfish Bubbles (IN A BOTTLE OF SEVEN-UP FOR FRAK'S SAKE) and a girl he half-heartedly rescues along the way, Dawnie.
I gather the reader is supposed to sympathize with this character; he's the Broken-Hearted Protagonist, after all. But he soon establishes himself as the typical Nice Guy--in other words, not nice at all.
For the first half hour I resolved to show myself a valuable and sound person and not throw in the towel. I forced my tears back into my eyes and started doing the dishes. But as your lips on the glasses dissolved in the suds, I was constantly being haunted by visions of other men caressing the skin I wanted to caress, kissing the mouth I wanted to kiss, and fucking the girl I had made love to for such long nights.
The end of the world creates two sorts of people: heroes and cowards. When the dangling woman had finally gathered enough courage to glance over her shoulder and saw me clambering from the open window, one end of the lashing rope tied around the couch in the living room and the other end around my waist, she must have thought I belonged to the former. Unaware of something cold that had seized me that same moment, she mumbled, “Thank God.” And not much later, as I reached and I stretched, as I tensed and I leaned, engrossed in efforts to try and get a hold of the goldfish in his bottle on the bottom of the gutter, the woman plummeted down, thinking of a long and fertile life, and neither you nor I would ever know her name.
At the end of the world, it’s every man for himself.
You had taught me that, Sophie.
When Toby finally gets to Sophie's house, instead of helping her with her injuries, and trying to figure out a way to survive in this horrifying new world, he starts to fight with her about the end of their relationship all over again, and expects her to fall at his feet now that he's made it all the way across the Upside-Down to be with her.
I pushed gently away from you so I could look you in the eye. “You called me.”
You let go of me and hoisted yourself up, because you couldn’t handle the situation.
But I clasped your hand and said, “I’ve missed you, Sophie.”
“Stop it.” A tear trickled down your cheek. “I’m so worried about Mom and Dad. I haven’t heard from them. I haven’t seen anyone since it happened, not a single soul. Do you know if help is coming?”
I felt myself growing faint inside. “I came, didn’t I?”
You looked at me for a long time. “I’m sorry about how it all turned out.”
“Yeah. Me too,” I said. “I liked it better when everything was still right-side up. Made it a lot easier to see each other.”
“Well, sorry—” My voice shook, looking for purchase. “—I just don’t know how to deal with it. Everything has changed now, right? Can’t we . . .”
“But couldn’t we—”
I couldn’t hold back my tears. “But I’ll do everything differently.”
“You weren’t the one who had to do things differently.”
“I can’t handle this alone.”
“Sure you can.”
“But I love you.”
“I love you!” I tried to scream, but my love rose in bubbles to the surface and burst apart. Weakened, I wheeled my arms, pounding on the plastic. And behind the label you looked away; you didn’t see that I was drowning. I sank down in a slow spiral, hitting the bottom of the 7-Up bottle with a muffled thump.
My lungs filled up with tears as I whispered, “Please . . .”
And you said, “I need time.”
But I had already gone through the kitchen and didn’t hear you. Hanging from the banister, I lowered myself to the upstairs floor. After everything I had been through, after the countless times I had risked my life to take Bubbles to you, trying in vain to still my love for you with my love for you, and scrambling up from the pounding surf of a dying Earth . . . you need time? How much more time do you think the world will give you, Sophie?
Great Cthulhu, what an ass. And in the middle of a freaking holocaust, to boot. Did he ever think that a few things might be more important than his hurt fee-fees?
After this point in the story, we see Sophie no more; for all we know, Toby has left her to die. He returns to two old ladies in a hanging caravan, where he earlier left the girl, Dawnie, and descends via the hanging rope ladder they have left behind, into the sky, which is actually the new ground of this new Earth. He doesn't know what he'll find, but he's still complaining.
I think I want you to know that you hurt me so incredibly badly, Sophie. Now I’m going down the ladder. Searching for solid ground beneath my feet. It’s not easy. I’m terrified of what I will find down there. But I close my eyes and keep descending. Sometimes the ropes shake and I imagine it’s you following me, somewhere up there in the fog. But maybe it’s just the wind. And I realize I don’t care either way. I am somebody, too.
Again, this is beautifully written. The writer is more than just competent; he's a lovely stylist, far beyond anyone from, say, Castalia House. I would like to try some of his other stories (once I get the taste of this one out of my mouth). That doesn't keep this particular story from being utterly stupid, and unworthy of a Hugo, in my opinion.
So: I have finished this category, and this is how I will vote.
1) "Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium"
2) No Award
Since I don't want any of the other stories to come within shouting distance of winning.
Now that I've downloaded the Hugo voting packet, I'm trying to figure out what category to tackle next. Stay tuned, folks.
This is a strange book. It falls into a genre I generally avoid like the plague. It is the hardest of hard science fiction, chock full of physics references, and its entire plot hinges on (if I'm reading this correctly) a real-life physics conundrum called the "Three Body Problem." I usually don't read books like this because I don't understand them; the science hurtles right over my head, and most of the time I find them to be full of infodumps and cardboard characters.
Complicating this particular book is the fact that its author, Cixin Liu, is something of a hero in China and this book is a translation. The translation seems to be very good; there are a few Translator's Notes, which are informative and occasionally amusing, but for the most part the translator does his job and stays out of the book's way. The book is naturally steeped in Chinese culture and history (the Cultural Revolution), and while that is not a bad thing in and of itself, it betrays the book's first problem. It is glacially paced, and for over half the book nothing much seems to happen. I hesitate to condemn this because it simply might be the Chinese style of writing. Also, since this is a hard SF novel, the science needs to be set up and explained for the book to work at all. If your tolerance for this kind of thing is low, just be aware of it.
The characters are...another problem. To put it bluntly, one of the two main characters, Ye Wenjie, comes across as a sociopath. She is damaged by the Cultural Revolution, and seeing her father beaten to death by the Red Guard right before her eyes; but she murders two people in her turn (one of which is her husband) and does not seem to have a smidgen of regret. (Of course, she is also the architect of humans' first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, and since she basically tells said civilization to come here and wipe us out, as humanity is not worth saving, she doesn't seem to have any regrets about that either.) None of the other characters are very distinctive, and it was hard to tell them apart, for me at least. The aliens, the Trisolarians, are even more guilty of this; during the two chapters written from their point of view, the author has a conversation between various Trisolarian higher-ups that goes on for pages, with little or no effort to differentiate who is speaking. As the entire race seems to consist of emotionless authoritarian SOBs who declare they cannot coexist with humans and intend to destroy them, I suppose that's appropriate.
This is an incredibly complex book, and sometimes I felt like I would need some sort of physics degree to understand it. I suppose it would reward additional readings, if one cared to do that. I do not. The best way to put it is that I appreciate the author and respect what he's trying to do, but I do not like his book very much.
On the other hand, I appreciate Ann Leckie and respect the world she has created in Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword; but more than that, I like both books. Love them, in fact.
That's the difference.
The only reason this book is on the Hugo ballot is because of the shenanigans of the Impacted Canines; one of the original slate authors, Marko Kloos, withdrew his nomination, making room for this book. One could argue it should have been on the ballot from the get-go, but at least it didn't get there because of the egomania of Theodore Beale. (I've been trying to ignore that and evaluate each nominee, whether Canine-pooped or not, on its own merits. So far, with only two exceptions, there aren't any.) I've heard rumblings that it has a good chance of winning, and it would be worthy, I guess. But for me, it doesn't hold a candle to Ancillary Sword, and I intend to vote accordingly.
This story is a little more like the Analog I remember. It's an old-fashioned first-contact story (the subtitle, "A Golden Age Tale," is something of a dead giveaway) with a fairly interesting alien species and a clever method of solving the problem, based on "an old Persian fable" the protagonist heard as a child. That protagonist, Emily Asari, is actually the most compelling thing about the story; instead of being the cliched hardnosed kickass heroine, this is an ordinary, not overly brave person who observes, and thinks, and eventually figures things out.
Having said that, there's really nothing all that memorable about this story. It certainly didn't knock my socks off the way "Earth to Alluvium" did. The writing is competent (although the author does tend to info-dump a bit) and the characterization adequate. However, I think Hugos should be awarded to something a bit more memorable than "adequate." Until I finish the category, "Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium" remains the frontrunner.
I'm beginning to think it might be a good thing I haven't read Analog in recent years. Judging from its stories on the Hugo ballot, the quality has fallen way off. Now, you would expect this kind of thing from Castalia House (since everything I've read from that publisher is just awful), but I was still under the impression that Analog is supposed to be something a standard-bearer, the magazine of aliens and hard science and honest-to-goodness sensawunda.
Well, judging from this story, Analog is full of wonder, all right. The wonder of outright ridiculousness.
(Although, to be fair, this could be the fault of the people nominating for the Impacted Canines, since so far, with some rare exceptions, their judgment has proven to be spectacularly bad. Still, I always thought Analog had better editors than this.)
This story opens with a quote from Louis L'amour: "The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail." That right there sets the tone for the entire story: an uneasy melding of Western and science fiction tropes, full of cliches and idiotic names and grating dialect and horrendous dialogue, culminating in a sword-fight that's just...dreck. Long-drawn-out, incredibly unsuspenseful, and absolutely pointless.
I mean, fifteen minutes of a Firefly episode is better than this.
Let's test-drive a few character names: Sammi o' th' Eagles (Sherman Alexie would snarl and spit at this, especially since this character sounded uncomfortably like a dumbed-down Tonto), Teodorq sunna Nagarajan the Ironhand, our so-called hero; Figa Anya Goregovona Herpstonesdoor (also known as "the princess," "Princess Anya," or, to Teodorq, simply "babe"), and Wisdom Sharee Mikahali Fulenenberk.
Dear Lord. Tolkien is thrashing in his grave.
Now: an excerpt of the story's wonderful dialogue.
“Well, Bowman and his crew are fixing to move out west. He’s been building carts and wagons and stealing all the horses he can lay hold of. If’n you don’t push him, he’ll be gone before the Sperm shoots out.”
The Wisdom paused, startled, his marking feather half-raised. “The . . . Sperm?”
“Stupid plainsman means Consort. Enters Sun when in heat. Later Sun give birth.”
The old man’s eyes brightened. “Ah, you mean the Red Sun!” He scratched the paper briskly with his feather.
“You spilled that readily enough,” said the princess. “I mean about Bowman’s plans, not your sperm.”
“Hey, babe, it’s bad cess to the Timberlake folk west of the stony river that Bowman’s gonna muscle in on ’em, but it ain’t no skin off my nose.”
“And what is meant by ‘babe’?”
“In the sprock, it is a term of respect for important women.”
I think we hit the trifecta there: sexism, terrible jokes, and all-around cringe-worthiness. I suppose there's an outside chance this could be some sort of Joss Whedon satire, but any way you look at it, it's just bad.
Sorry, folks. There's no way in hell I'm going to the Stone House, and as far as I'm concerned, the Rocket will blast right by it.
This is the second story from Analog I've read (or rather, in this case, tried to read) and I'm surprised by the lack of quality. I started bouncing off this five pages in; the mild interest generated by the character in the first teeny-tiny "chapter" soon dissipated when he and his little cliffhanger completely disappeared, and were never mentioned again. That felt like a cheat, to say the least, and I skimmed through the rest of the story. I remember reading somewhere (can't find the link now) that this is a novel excerpt, and the ending justifies that notion; it's choppy and abrupt and resolves nothing, and certainly didn't encourage me to read the entire book. Not that I would read this anyway. I didn't relate to it at all, and have no interest in pursuing the characters further.
Not good enough to remember, not bad enough to fisk. This is not a recipe for a Hugo award.
I'm now beginning the Best Novelette category, and this story surprised me. It's a professional-grade story, even better than Kary English's "Totaled," and certainly worthy of a rocket. Of course, the irony is that the editor of the magazine (Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show) in which it appeared, Edmund R. Schubert, has withdrawn from the awards and officially requested that voters not consider him for Best Short Form Editor.
Which, of course, creates a conundrum, because this is a helluva story. It's a meditation on colonization, and death, and the human response to subjugation by an alien species, the fascinating Peshari. (They have six legs and four genders, and a horror of being buried, derived from a traumatizing incident in the species' past. The protagonist, Phil Keller, who is dying of cancer, reads this information in the reports on the Peshari landing on Alluvium [the human colony], and comes up with a way to defeat them, using the "pseudo-lizards' " own psychology against them. It's rather ingenious.) This story is not long, but it packs a lot of information, dropped in quite naturally without infodumps. It also has a nice flow, and quiet and thoughtful characterization.
I'll have to read the rest of the stories in the category to see how this one stacks up, but it seems like I'll have a decision to make. Do I go ahead and vote for this story, even though its editor has withdrawn, due to the slate-gaming antics of the Vituperative Impacted Puppies? (If you don't know what that means, don't worry about it--you're probably better off.) I know many people are voting against all slate entries on general principle. I'm voting against nearly all of the slate entries I've read so far, just because they're of almost uniformly rotten quality.
But there are exceptions to everything, and this is a big one.
Well. We shall see. But do read this. It's really good.
As soon as I started reading this, I thought: "Hot damn! A competently written story!" I had almost forgotten such a thing existed.
Unfortunately, that's about all I can say for it. I'm a bit surprised Analog published this; it doesn't seem like their kind of thing, although I will admit it's been a few years since I've been a regular reader. I'm sure it will appeal to some people, but to me it was so relentlessly dull and mediocre I couldn't get into it. The characters didn't interest me at all (and the nearly complete lack of women didn't help). Nothing much seemed to happen, and in the very last paragraph, when Rist lowered himself to the Bottom Lands, I decided I didn't care if his biter-web broke and he plummeted all the way to the bottom. (Mercifully, the story ended there.)
(This is the last of the Novella nominees available for free on the net. I did look up a Kindle sample of Tom Kratman's "Big Boys Don't Cry" on Amazon and read it all the way through, but within the first couple of pages it became clear that this was just more Castalia House-published, Theodore Beale-edited, badly written weapons porn. Just no, people.)
(It also cemented my conviction that my vote for Best Short Form/Long Form editor, whatever it may be, will not go to Theodore Beale/Vox Day under any circumstances. If an editor is supposed to be judged by his/her output...well, as far as I'm concerned, Mr. Beale's output should be flushed down the toilet. It consists of stuff that a decent editor would have never let see the light of day, and neither it nor he is worthy of a Hugo.)
Now. How will I vote in this category?
It's quite simple. That handsome gentleman, that lovely lady, the Honorable Noah Ward, takes this one in a runaway.
I don't feel the least bit guilty about this, either. In my view, nothing in this category is Hugo-worthy, and most of it is downright stupid. So just remember this for next year, kids: If you want votes, nominate better stories!
Now: On to the novelettes (for real this time).
Holy shit. I swear, John C. Wright is going to be the death of me.
I think this is the worst of his three nominated novellas, and that's a damned low bar to clear. I forced myself to slog through it, mainly because I couldn't believe how bad it was. It couldn't make up its mind what it wanted to be; is it a noir detective story, or a ghost story, or a faery story, or a dead-man-seeking-absolution story, or was it, at the very end, a religious allegory of this same dead man being hustled off to the gathering of the first Christians at Pentecost (Wright is obsessed with Pentecost, for some reason) to have his sins forgiven?
It's all of these. It's also a freaking mess, and makes no sense whatsoever. I know this is fantasy, but every story should have its own internal rules and stick to them. Wright discards his rules left and right, or doesn't bother to set them up in the first place.
It's also just badly written, with juvenile mistakes. To wit:
I looked around again, this time with my eyes closed. I could feel the beat of life inside him, like heat from an unseen campfire. I finally understood what drove vampires crazy: Being able to feel being alive, but not being able to truly be alive. Drinking the living blood and feeling it inside you, just for a moment. Almost like the real thing. Undead onanism.
And with those final two words, the reader's suspension of belief crashes and burns. Undead onanism? There aren't enough heads and desks in the entire goddamned world for that. It's the most ridiculous metaphor I've ever heard. The definition of onanism, according to Merriam-Webster: 1. Masturbation; 2. Coitus interruptus; and 3. Self-gratification. What in the hell do any of those have do with vampires and drinking blood?
Onward we go, more's the pity.
It might have been a cluttered museum closed for repair, or maybe an abandoned antique shop. Here were masks on the wall of long-nosed creatures with spiked chins, or bat-eared creatures with curving fangs, or albino foxes smiling sweetly; next to the masks were braided whips on hooks with bits of bone and metal woven into the lash; next were staples in the walls from which dangled chains with manacles and gyves.
A wall niche held a blue-faced idol of a many-armed goddess. One leg was raised in a dance-step, each of her hands was holding a bloody weapon or severed head, while a necklace of skulls was draped across the outrageous metal balloons of her breasts. She was stepping on a kowtowing dwarf.
On one shelf were knives with serrated brass-knuckles built into the guards; other shelves held Coptic jars, or bottles filled with pickled meats or eyes or organs; in the back corner loomed an iron maiden, gently smiling, complete with channels in the base for the blood to run into a water bowl for the cat.
And this royal purple puffery, which is lacking only the slime and tentacles of Nyarlathotep, runs on and on and on for the next freaking page. Dude! Has anybody ever told you that LESS IS MORE?
The characters also have, shall we say, unique methods of speech.
"Your will is of no matter," he smiled, keeping his lips together.
Doesn't this flout Dialogue Writing 101? How, pray tell, can someone smile words, especially through pressed lips?
Also, Heaven forbid that John C. Wright ever write an actual sex scene. This is bad enough.
"He will be as you are now. Is that so bad? And do you know, ah, do you know why he is here? He forgot his hat. In the room, in the dark, when he clutched her beautiful and sweating hot body in his arms, when they rutted like swine in heat, grunting, and he poured his sperm into her in a vast, hot, stiff explosion, a joy lost now to you forever. He took no pills. He remembers. And with your death, he is free to enjoy her and use her and spew his seed into her as he might spit into a spittoon on the floor, until the amusement of plundering you of yours is weariness to him. Is this not cause enough to kill? It is justice. The scale is unbalanced. Strike! Strike the flint against the steel! And you shall be whole!"
You know, Mr. Wright, there's this little contest called the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. That's where this crapola belongs. Not on the Hugo ballot.
Here came images from the mythic memory of mankind. But in one and one place only, they were different. The images of a mythical and timeless events were linked by rays of light like a tree to specific events that happened at specific places in the mortal world. It was like a road or a path or a tunnel reaching from the deep parts of eternity, far too far for me to reach, up to the mortal time. It was a pathway or pillar spanning the whole deep of the sea from the surface to the bottomlessness depths.
That isn't even a comprehensible paragraph, never mind its use of words that have never existed in any dictionary.
The story ends with a poem by William Cullen Bryant, "Thanatopsis," from which the title is taken.
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan that moves,
To the pale realms of shade, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one that wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
Now there's a piece of writing. And every single line of it is better than this bovine excrement.