Thursday, August 09, 2018

Check out Radio Free Krypton's New Documentary about Prisoners of Gravity

Check out Radio Free Krypton's new documentary about the immensely important science fiction- and fantasy-related TV show of yesteryear, Prisoners of Gravity, called "Inside the Orbit of 'Prisoners of Gravity'".

For those who missed it in its original run on TV Ontario (or on BC's Knowledge Network, which picked it up, as did some PBS stations; or on Canada's Space channel, which rebroadcast it years later), Prisoners of Gravity was a science fiction-, fantasy-, horror-, and comic-related TV show that ran from the late 1980s through the early 90s. The premise was a wacky, yet brilliant, combination of fact and fiction: the host, a fictional character named "Commander Rick" (played by comedian and actor Rick Green) was a fanboy who got fed up with all of the horrible things happening in the world and one day converted his car into a spaceship. Loading his stash of comics, books and other nerd treasures into the car, Commander Rick blasted off into orbit, where he promptly crashed into an abandoned space station, befriended its AI, Nancy, and began pirating TV signals. And that's just the show's intro (delivered as a set of comic book panel illustrations, after the pirate signal interrupts a sedate Canadian nature show [itself entirely fictional]). On the non-fictional side of the show's content, the program revolved around Commander Rick interviewing several sf authors, editors, artists and others about issues ranging from gender representation to the rise of artificial intelligence, to the fan community itself. The guests ranged from titans of the past, like Ray Bradbury, to then-up-and-comers (now giants themselves) like Neil Gaiman, to comic legends like Jack Kirby, to directors like James Cameron. It's been years since the show's been rerun, but many Prisoners of Gravity episodes are now available on Youtube.

Fast-forward to a couple of months ago when the team at Radio Free Krypton radio show/podcast (which is a good show and you should be listening to anyway) decided to put together a four-part doc about the creation, airing and legacy of PoG. Part One of "Inside the Orbit of Prisoners of Gravity" has just hit the air/been uploaded, so I'd highly recommend you follow the link above and give it a listen. It's well put together and contains interviews with Rick Green and PoG producer Mark Askwith about the show's genesis, along with comments from authors Robert J Sawyer and Cory Doctorow about what it meant for sf writers to have a legitimate platform where they were taken seriously as literary professionals and could talk about important issues in the genre and in society as a whole. There are also clips from fans talking about what the show meant to them — including me (but don't let that prevent you from listening [even if my voice was particularly husky that day, making me sound a bit like Rowlf the dog from the Muppets] because everyone else has interesting stuff to say). Really, I'd be recommending this doc even if I wasn't in it because PoG was such an important show and any examination of it is worth listening to.

If the rest of the miniseries is as good as the first part, the cats at RFK should definitely get a nomination for an Aurora Award, or even a Hugo.

Looking forward to listening to the rest of "Inside the Orbit of 'Prisoners of Gravity'" as the episodes become available.



Saturday, August 04, 2018

Digging Away at the Foundation

It's time to confront my fears.

It's been a long time since I've reread Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. More than 20 years. It used to be my favourite science fiction series; one that I held up as an example of the best in the genre, even when it had been years since I'd read it. But over the past decade or so, an ugly suspicion has started to creep into my brain that maybe it wasn't as good as I remembered. Maybe it wasn't any good at all. What if I'd been wrong in my assessment? What if I went back, as a more mature reader who's experienced a much wider variety of what sf has to offer, and reread it again, only to find out that I didn't like it? How much of an emotional blow would that be?

I read Foundation for the first time when I was 11 or 12. As I've mentioned elsewhere on the blog, I'd always been a fan of science fiction and fantasy, but up until that that point, I'd only been reading kid-oriented stuff: Wollheim's The Secret of books and the other old Winston hardbacks from the 1950s (at least the five or six that were in my school library), Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, all kinds of big, flashy, pictoral adaptations of movies available from the Scholastic order system, Choose Your Own Adventure books, Allan Rune Pettersson's Frankenstein's Aunt, and whatever else I could get my hands on at the school and community libraries. And all of that was a good start — I still look back on some of those kids' books with fondness, and reread a couple once every few years and still enjoy them. But I hadn't stepped over to the adult section of the public library yet to explore it's cache of sf. My uncle Malcolm, who was the lone science fiction fan of his generation in the family, decided it was time for me to graduate to the more mature stuff. For Christmas of '85 or '86, he and my aunt Janine gave me a copy of Foundation, and it

Blew.

My.

Mind.

The idea of a small group of scientists with a plan spanning a whole galaxy and a thousand years. The concept of using science to predict the future. The decidedly non-adventurous notion that a gigantic catastrophe can't necessarily be averted, no matter how plucky the group that recognizes the problem when no-one else will, but that the consequences can be minimized — that sometimes victory isn't measured in overcoming disaster as it's unleashed, but recovering from it well. And that recovery itself is often slow, step by step, over a long period of time — beyond a hero's lifetime. And heroes can be people who sit behind desks and talk and research and calculate and think, rather than grabbing a gun and blasting off in a dreadnought for the nearest space battle. It was all so amazing! And so validating for a young nerd who wasn't into barrelling down a sportsball field and knocking other kids over just for kicks.

And so, when I'd finished, I immediately ran to my little local indie bookstore and bought Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation and Foundation's Edge (and, when it came out in '87, Foundation and Earth) and devoured them. And then turned my attention to everything else Asimov wrote that I could get my hands on, which, fortunately, at that time included the historical anthology series he assembled with Martin H Greenberg: Isaac Asimov Presents: The Great SF Stories (I started at #15), which introduced me to dozens of other authors, educated me in the history of the genre, entertained (and occasionally challenged me) with great stories, and prompted me to seek out the work of others like Clarke and Bradbury.

Through my teens and early twenties, I'd come back and reread the Foundation series every few years, and I still enjoyed it with each reread. Going through it in university, I channeled my minor in Philosophy and started to suspect that more than just being a tale of the recovery of galactic civilization after a Roman Empire-like fall, maybe Asimov was also using it as a platform for his own version of Plato's Republic, examining the strengths and weaknesses of different forms of government.

Time passed, and the collection sat in a spot of honour on my shelf and was largely ignored as I read other stuff. In fact, for many years, I didn't read any Asimov at all, except maybe for the odd short story in a best-of or historical anthology, and even then I often skipped over those because I'd already read them in my youth.

And then I got kicked in the literary nards by that old cliche that says you can't really ever go home. It happened with Frank Herbert's Dune (another Christmas present from Uncle Malcolm and Aunt Janine, given the year after they'd presented me with Foundation). I'd loved the Dune series in my teens (well, the first three books anyway — I soldiered through the others but they each got progressively worse), but when I reread it about 11 or 12 years ago in my thirties, it was terrible. I had to wonder, were they always this bad, or was it merely the case that my tastes had just changed that much?

This worried me. What about the other favourites of my youth? Would they suck too?

Bradbury wasn't a problem. He'd kept writing, steadily putting out new collections of short stories every year or two right up until his death in 2012 (most of which were pretty damn good), and I'd read all of them, so I knew I was all right there. Clarke didn't last quite as long (2008), and for the last several years of his life, most of his stuff was co-written with other authors, but once in a while I'd reread 2010: Odyssey Two or one of his other novels or short story collections, and they'd always stood up. But what about Asimov?

I loved his stories so much that I was afraid to reread them, lest he get knocked off his pedestal like Herbert. So I decided to put it to a test: instead of diving right back in to my beloved Foundation, I'd do an exploratory return to his writing through the Robots series (the four Elijah Bailey and R Daneel Olivaw books, not the I, Robot collection). It was awful. While some of Asimov's science fictional ideas were cool, and the worldbuilding was excellent, the quality of his writing was terrible: clumsy and dumb, predictable (yes, even with the understanding that I already knew the stories, having read them before) and boring, with characters that weren't believable. They didn't work very well as science fiction. They didn't work very well as detective mysteries. They didn't really work very well as anything. Asimov was a great ideas guy, but not a very good writer.

In the intervening years, I've reread a couple of his short stories here and there, and they seemed okay for the most part. Maybe Asimov was passible as a short story writer, where he could just stick to saying "Hey! Here's a really cool idea I just had!" rather than longer forms which demand an ability with story and character (not that short stories don't need these things — the medium is just a little more forgiving if a story isn't as strong in those respects because it's short) that he just didn't have.

But the Foundation question still bugged me. Yes, the first three books really weren't novels at all, but rather collections of short stories or novellas that had originally been published separately in magazines, so, as a better short story writer than novelist, I wondered if maybe they were okay. Passable, at least. And yet, taken collectively (especially with the fourth and fifth books, which were written as single novels, rather than assemblages of shorter materials), they represented a long slog, and I wondered if Asimov's long-form weaknesses would show and ruin the experience and the memory for me.

There's only one way to tell though. Suck it up and give it another try. Yeah, I've got a ton of new books in my to-be-read pile (and a bunch that aren't so new!), but sometimes you have to make time to reread some of your old favourites. To remind yourself of why they're your favourites. Or to show yourself how much you've changed over the years, and how some stories and authors — even the ones that you built your appreciation for the genre on — don't age well.

Is it wise to go digging around an old foundation? I'm about to find out.


Thursday, August 02, 2018

Mini Reviews - Tyrants Hiding in Asteroids and Mountains

So, it's been a month since Canada Day. You've had more than enough time to finally come-to after that rager of a party (or, perhaps, in your case, just enough time) and maybe a few too many rye-and-ginger-ales, or a two-four of retro stubbies from your favourite micro brewery, or maybe a regionally-made single malt whisky if you've got pretensions at being a sophisticate (and, since I do have such pretensions, I'd go for a dram of Glen Breton or Pemberton Valley or Shelter Point). You sat up slowly, brushing donut — or, specifically, beaver tail — crumbs off your red t-shirt with ketchup chip-dust-encrusted fingers, scratching at the sweat-stained toque or red stetson plastered to your skull, staring, somewhat alarmed, at the congealing remains of poutine and/or pig tails on the coffee table across your wood-panelled basement, your throat still raw from alternately howling O Canada, The Good Ol' Hockey Game, The Last Saskatchewan Pirate, the Black Fly song, and The Log Driver's Waltz (which you simulated, on said coffee table, while the animated short was crackling across the big screen behind you) for 10 hours straight like a total hoser. We won't even talk about the dried maple syrup that's still around the corners of your mouth. Good on ya, buddy.

And you may think the celebration of the Great White North's 151st is over. But it's not. There's one thing left to do: read some awesome Canadian speculative fiction. Which you should be doing anyway. But just in case you aren't, over on Twitter under the hashtag #CanadianSFAuthors, I started a list of writers from north of the 49th that you should check out, and a confederation of awesome people from around the Twitterverse jumped in and supplied a whole blizzard of other names in retweets and comments under the thread. What they put together glowed like the northern lights.

Here on the blog, since it's time for another set of mini reviews, I've decided to keep the Canada Day party going a little longer by sharing some thoughts about a couple of books that have been sitting on my to-talk-about pile for just such an occasion: The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts and Tyrant's Throne by Sebastien de Castell.

Much like that plate of old poutine you're shying-away from, I'll give you fair warning: Here there be spoilers.

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The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

It's a difficult thing navigating the cold, unforgiving tension of a Peter Watts book about people trapped aboard a starship circling the galaxy, while at the same time the unapologetic silliness of a J Geils Band song is looping through my brain. But that's the challenge I had to deal with reading Watts' newest story, The Freeze-Frame Revolution recently, and now that I've put that parallel out there, I defy you to pick up this book without immediately having those jaunty opening chords bouncing up from the depths of your pop culture reference base. Which might make your reading experience that much more unintentionally disturbing.

The Freeze-Frame Revolution is about the crew of the Eriophora, a large asteroid converted into a black hole-powered starship and sent out at sublight speed to circle the galaxy and build jump gates so the rest of humanity can travel instantaneously between the stars. Most of the builds are handled by the ship's AI, called Chimp; though once in a while (meaning every few thousand or million years) the computer will revive a few of the 30,000-odd crew members from cold storage to supervise some of the more tricky projects. From time to time, they encounter alien life (which sometimes ignores them, and sometimes tries to attack), but there's no sign of humanity coming through the gates, and no signals from home. Some of the crew, when they're awakened for once-in-an-eon shifts, begin to become concerned with the endlessness of their mission: beyond the lack of signals, there's no indication that they're ever going to return to Earth — or that there will even be a home left, or if humanity still exists, or if it exists in a form capable of (or willing to) welcoming them home. And then they start to suspect that Chimp may be killing them. But if you've got a HAL-9000 situation on your hands, how do shut him down if you're asleep most of the time and he can pull the plug anytime he wants? You have to conceive and carry out a plan very, very slowly.

Overall, The Freeze-Frame Revolution isn't as emotionally brutal as most of Watts' stories are: its characters are not subjected to the same level of emotional or physical savagery that those in, say, Blindsight or Starfish are, and, for all the unendingness and possibly pointlessness of the Eriophora crew's mission, the story doesn't have the same degree of existential bleakness of the afore-mentioned others. To that end, it's not as emotionally difficult a journey for the reader as his other stories are either. That said, this is still Peter Watts story, which mean's it's hard science fiction — in his case, not just a reliance on hard science (though greatly extrapolated in this far-future tale), but a story that's hard (if, in this case, to a lesser extent) on the characters, and (somewhat) hard on the reader, and there's a black hole's weight worth of tension, paranoia and fear pressing down on everyone experiencing this narrative.

It's a fairly short book, just 175 pages, making it a novella by today's standards, though it would have been perfectly acceptable as a novel 40-and-more years ago. But its length makes it perfect for the emotional pitch of the story and the way the plot pays-out: any shorter and it would feel rushed; longer, and the tension would feel forced and start to lose its punch. If there's anything that takes away from the story's punch (if only a little), it's the red letter code interspersed throughout the text. With the red letters sticking out like sore thumbs every so often, they draw the reader's attention away from the story as they cause one to wonder what they're all about, or to focus on mentally stringing them together (or recording them on a piece of paper as the reader goes along) to try to make sense of the hidden message. Ultimately, it's an attempt to be clever (in a meta sort of way, reflecting on a particular plot point of the story) and to provide an Easter egg for the reader that the story could do without. That said, the red letters certainly don't ruin it — I found myself starting to tune them out after a while.

I found it interesting that the AI's name was Chimp — a nice, round, funny-sounding name that deceptively makes the reader (and no doubt, initially, the characters) think of an animal that's less intelligent than a human that we can capture and control. Of course, chimps are reasonably intelligent, but more importantly, much stronger than humans, and if they choose to use that strength, they can easily kill people. In the case of TFFR, Chimp isn't as smart as his human crew, but he can kill them any time he wants. I also wonder if maybe his name isn't a kind of allusion to Caesar from Planet of the Apes — the chimp who said "no" — in that Chimp initially appears to be a kind of servant, but ultimately he has the upper hand and doesn't have to take orders from the humans. That said, the comparison breaks down when we consider that Caesar was as intelligent as the humans around him, while Chimp, ultimately, is not.

I also liked that the story serves as a metaphor for life in today's corporate culture. One can do one's job well, but a middle manager (not unusually, one who may be dumber than some of the front-line workers) either alone or acting on orders from unseen, higher authorities who are unanswerable to the people who actually get the job done (in this case, the superior, overseer AI that the protagonist, Sunday, ultimately concludes is lurking behind the scenes), can, without warning, eliminate individuals or entire sections of staff if the numbers suddenly indicate there's an inefficiency or impediment to greater profit that can be removed. They may not kill you literally, but middle managers like Chimp can be just as devastating to individual lives and office morale (never mind the company's ultimate success) when they cut staff in the name of number-driven efficiency/right-sizing. It also serves as a metaphor for projects or departments created by large organizations that lumber off on their assignment, but continue long past the point where they have any point (or, at least, any point that people on the front lines can understand) simply because they have lives of their own, and that there's often a futility of struggling against them, no matter how rational that struggle may be.

Buy this quick read about a very long revolution.

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Tyrant's Throne by Sebastien de Castell

By way of introduction, I have a confession: the end of this book made me cry. Go ahead, call me a wimp. I don't care. You know that part at the end? Where, just for a minute, Falcio gets to talk to... ah well, you'll see.

Tyrant's Throne is the fourth instalment in Sebastien de Castell's The Greatcoats saga, wrapping up the series (for now, anyway). After fighting to rebuild their country from the wreckage of civil war, install their assassinated king's daughter on the throne, overcome betrayal, bring hostile nobles and knights in line, re-establish the rule of law, and, along the way, overthrow a newly-created evil god and a horde of religious fanatics, Falcio, Kest, Brasti and the other Greatcoats (the kingdom of Tristia's wandering judiciary-and-police hybrids) are finally settling-in to resuming their duties of dealing with legal cases and occasionally still convincing, conniving, manipulating, and occasionally strong-arming wayward nobles into the fold. That is, until they receive word that battle-hardened barbarians from a neighbouring land across the mountains (think land-locked Vikings, or alpine Klingons without disruptors) are massing for an invasion in unbeatable numbers. Worse yet: they're being led by a rogue Greatcoat. Now Falcio has to pull together an alliance of Greatcoats, bards, rangers, and even his traditional enemies — the knights and the nobles — to stave-off the invasion so their fledgling kingdom has a chance to get back on its feet.

As usual, de Castell gives us a rollicking swashbuckler that includes laughs, romance, the afore-mentioned tears, and the occasional lesson on some of the basics of surviving a duel. There's also a nice moment in the final battle where music is used to sow confusion among the invaders — something that feels like a friendly nod to the old Macross (or, if you watched it on Saturday mornings here in North America, Robotech) anime series. And, as we've come to expect from the series, it's an exercise in new ways to make Falcio suffer. It's also a satisfying conclusion to the whole affair, and one that makes it (and the whole series) strong enough to warrant a re-read sometime down the road. I'm looking forward to seeing what de Castell writes next.


Friday, June 29, 2018

RIP Harlan Ellison

Another giant of the sf community has fallen: author Harlan Ellison has died at the age of 84.

My first exposure to Ellison's work was something that never failed to provoke a blast of venom from him in later years: the 1973 Canadian TV show The Starlost. The series was about a huge starship carrying the last survivors of Earth in a collection of domes, each habitat having devolved into dangerous societies of the past because the passengers have been adrift for so long that they've forgotten their origins. A trio of plucky young inhabitants (led by 2001's Kier Dullea) discovers the truth about their existence — and the fact that the ship is headed for destruction if they can't figure out how to change its course, and get all of the other passengers on-side. Adventure ensues. It was a complete and utter piece of crap. Even as a kid, I could see that, and even though it was re-run a couple of times over the years, I never watched more than a couple of episodes. Interviews in later years would send Ellison into a froth over his experiences with the studio and network, and his opinion of the Canadian TV industry in general. A bit harsh, considering his complaints about dealing with the American TV industry. In any case, it probably wasn't the best way to be introduced to the creative mind of Ellison, but I was a kid when I saw the reruns in the late 70s, and the only people associated with it that stuck out to me were Dullea and Walter Koenig (though looking at the cast credits on IMDB, I notice that John Colicos of the original Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Nerene Virgin of Today's Special both appeared in episodes) — I didn't know who Ellison was at that point.

Fast-forward to my teenage years, when I started encountering his stories in various anthologies, starting with "Soldier" in Asimov and Martin H Greenberg's Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories: 19 (1957). It wasn't a short story that particularly stood out for me, although, rereading it yesterday, I can see how I would have been struck by its unflinchingly brutal portrayal of war. Other stories would follow, and ones like "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" did tear their way into my memory and leave permanent scars. Round about that time, I was also watching reruns of The Outer Limits, and the new, mid-1980s version of The Twilight Zone that featured episodes he'd written, and they also left a better impression than The Starlost. There were also interview clips of him on Prisoners of Gravity. And, of course, there was the rerun of his brilliantly heart-wrenching Star Trek episode, "The City on the Edge of Forever" (which also ignited his anger, because of its rewrites). I can't say that all of this resulted in me becoming the biggest Ellison fan in history, but I did develop a taste for his writing and started keeping an eye out for it in the bookstore.

Where this really paid-off was in the mid-1990s when White Wolf Borealis released the Edgeworks series of books collecting decades worth of his stories, essays, newspaper columns, and other writings. This was a chance to dive deep into his writing, and going through that water column and down into that seabed, explore Ellison's mind — or, at least the portion of it or version of it that he wanted people to see. Some of the stories were amazing, others were entirely forgettable. But even in the mediocre tales, there was always the chance to see how well Ellison could craft his imagery. How could you possibly forget his comparison of a musician's playing and stage presence to a spider's kiss? But as important as the fiction was the avalanche of essays, columns and reminiscences. This was no-holds-barred, pry-open-your-ears-and-jam-his-opinions-in-them-until-your-head-explodes social commentary and literary and film/TV criticism. I didn't necessarily agree with all of his opinions, or with the way he dealt with people when his ire was (all too frequently) raised, but, damn, it made for absorbing and entertaining reading.

The 90s was also the age of Babylon 5, which listed Ellison as a creative consultant. I don't know to what degree he influenced the series' mastermind and chief writer J Michael Straczynski as the show unfolded, but he deserves thanks for whatever part he played. That show made television, and science fiction as a whole, better.

Getting back to Ellison as a person though... I never had a chance to meet with him. The closest I came was at the Vancouver debut of the documentary about him, Dreams with Sharp Teeth, in 2008 when he phoned between screenings and took questions from the audience. The audience end of the conversation was dominated by old guys from the local sf community, but that was okay; I was content to just sit back and listen, and Ellison was pleasant enough and recounted some interesting stories. Since the announcement of his death, the online sf community has had a lot to say about what he was like. Some remember him as a friend, supporter of other creators, and a staunch defender of writers' rights. I've always loved his impassioned speech in the afore-mentioned Dreams with Sharp Teeth about the despicable behaviour of companies that try to take advantage of writers. While Ellison was specifically talking about how studios try to screw fiction/screen writers, the sentiment applies to how other organizations prey upon non-fiction writers who create communications and marketing materials, especially freelance writers. Working in this field myself, I can't tell you how often I've encountered managers and others in various big orgs that undervalue writers (misguidedly believing "hey, anybody can write, so writers don't deserve much compensation or respect"), and try to pay next to nothing for our efforts. Ellison's charge that these managers would never accept low wages for themselves, and therefore should not expect writers to accept this kind of shafting, and, more importantly, that writers should not allow themselves to be treated this way, has been my mantra for years. And yet, there are also many who highlight his faults, including his ego, temper, treatment of those he decided to look down upon (and here, recalling Ellison's own accounts of dealing with fans sometimes, it's always seemed to me that despite is avowed hatred of bullies, he was something of one himself), and his groping of Connie Willis at the 2006 Hugos. These are serious problems, and anyone who admires his work has to sit back and consider their implications for one's overall opinion of Ellison. Not having known him personally, never having experienced either his friendship and support or his disdain and abuse, and his self-perceived intentions behind them, I don't know how much weight to give either side. Ultimately, as Cory Doctorow points out so eloquently in his obituary for Ellison on Boing Boing, this makes the old curmudgeon human: "... two things can be true: that someone did something bad, and that someone did something good." And so, for those of us who didn't know Harlan Ellison, it's important that we remember both: the good stories and the cautionary tale of bad behaviour.


Saturday, June 09, 2018

Mini Book Review Trio: Explosions, Bobbing for a Big Apple and a Lucky Peach

Recently, I was looking at the to-review pile piling-up on my bookshelf and I thought This is nuts! Why am I letting these things go and only putting out one or two review posts a year, consisting of a dozen books? Not only does it take a long time to write — and read! — those fat compilations, but I've got a move coming up in the next couple of months, and it'll be easy to lose track of which books have been reviewed and which haven't. So I've decided to do something I should have done a few years ago: cut these review lists down. From now on, I think I'll only do three at a time. That's easily digestible and won't take hours to write (and it makes it easier to remember story elements if I'm not trying to recall something from a better part of a year ago!).

For this first reformatted review collection, I've chosen a trio with the common theme of frightening subject matter:  paranormal monsters only held at bay by a few brave superheroes, climate change, and the challenge of making a business pitch. Here now are my rambling meditations on:

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault by James Alan Gardner

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson


As always, consider yourself warned: Here there be spoilers.


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All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault by James Alan Gardner

Imagine a world mostly run by the forces of darkness. Where, sometime in the early 80s, a cabal of vampires, were-creatures, demons and other monsters came out from under the existential bed and offered the chance for anyone with enough money to become one of them (which is entirely metaphorically appropriate, given that the 1980s were the height of predatory financiers trying to seduce the public with shady investment opportunities). It was an offer that attracted most of the rich and celebrities, and pretty much every politician — all of whom used their political, social and economic clout to pass laws legitimizing and protecting (with some restrictions) their predatory behaviour and grip on power, and normal people were left to keep trying to make a living as best they could in a world that's otherwise mostly the same as ours. Think if William Gibson had written Vampire Hunter D. But then, not too many years after, superheroes began to appear, fighting the forces of darkness — and sometimes each other.

That's the set-up for James Alan Gardner's rollicking, funny novel All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault, where University of Waterloo student Kim Lam and her roommates stumble into a lab accident and gain super powers. As they try to get a handle on their new abilities and come to terms with their new identities — and find the right costumes — they have to defend themselves against attacks by spoiled rich kid monsters who appear to be part of some kind of conspiracy. But as the team digs deeper into the mystery, they have to figure out where the real threat (to themselves, the city of Waterloo, and the world) is coming from: the forces of darkness, or another person with superpowers.

You're not supposed to judge a book by its cover (or, by extension, its title), but I would have picked up ATEWSEF just for the title alone. How could you not?! But I'd also heard good things about it prior to its public release when I interviewed Spider Robinson back in 2016, and (especially because of the title) I made a mental note to keep an eye out for it. While the book is a fast read, it's a solid, self-contained story with well-rounded, believable characters, and it left me wanting more of Gardner's 'Explosions universe.

The only thing I didn't like about it was the protagonist talking trash about the St Jacob's Farmers' Market. I spent the first half of my childhood just down the road in Cambridge and went to the St Jacob's market on many weekends. In fact, my ex-wife (who's from Hong Kong, loves markets, and thinks St Jacob's is a piece of heaven) and I made it a priority to hit the market every time we went back east to visit friends and my family over the last two decades. Having been to markets large and small across the country and around the world, I still count St Jacob's as the best. While I agree with Gardner on the principal of "to each his/her own", when the St Jacob's market is destroyed in the book in a monster fight/evil genius device explosion, I almost shed a tear, and when the character Kim/Zircon complains about the place earlier in the story, it was enough that if I was living in the 'Explosions universe, I would have wanted to become a super villain just to wage an epic battle with her over the slight.

That said, you need to run out to the bookstore at super speed and grab a copy of All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault as soon as you can.

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New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson goes bobbing for the Big Apple in his newest novel, New York 2140, which is set in a near future where climate change has flooded the world's coasts — twice! — leaving NYC and other cities having to adapt to life as new versions of Venice.

The story centres around the challenges faced by the residents of Madison Square's Met Life tower — the office building now having been converted into a housing co-op, with a couple of upper floors converted for farming and livestock, and the ground, er, water level used as a boathouse. A couple of software designers camping in the gardens go missing. Two homeless boys get into a series of misadventures (though profitable ones) and need help. There's a treasure hunt. There's a push by unseen forces to get the residents to sell the building. There's a challenge to find a new community-friendly model for financial investment. Many of the residents have to re-invent their lives. And there's one hell of a storm a-comin' that threatens them all.

I think to love New York 2140, you have to love New York. And I don't. I don't have anything against NYC. I just don't care. Never been there, and it's not anywhere near the top of my list of places to see. Who knows, maybe if I do go there someday, I'll change my tune and become a true believer, but I doubt it. Nothing that I've ever seen in the news, or documentaries, or pop culture, and nothing I've ever heard from friends and family who've been there has made me desperate to see it. And the book is such a hymn to the Big Apple, grabbing literary, scientific, historical, and cultural sources to sing parts in the choir backing up the overall story, that a reader who lacks that evangelical ardour for the city is always going to be left standing outside of the church door of Robinson's composition, admiring its architecture, art, and melodies, but unable to truly connect with its soul.

That said, New York 2140 is a good book. The plot kept me wanting to turn the pages, the worldbuilding is detailed and believable and (presumably) seamlessly fuses the look and feel of the city that people know now with its soggy counterpart in Robinson's future, and the characters are three-dimensional people who you would expect to meet on any given day in any city, but probably especially in New York. Among them, I was especially struck by the narrator, or "the citizen" as this person is called in his/her excerpts that punctuate the spaces between chapters. To pick up the metaphor above, the citizen is like a preacher, reverently in awe of his city-god and calling everyone to prayer from the pulpit, while also shaking his head at its occasional Old Testament hardness. As much as these interludes are sermons, they're also worldbuilding sessions, bibliographies, infodumps, and resigned doomsday pronouncements, in tones that alternate between the university intellectual and the wiseass on the street. I kept picturing the voice as Robert De Niro's as he sifts through the wreckage of fires in Backdraft (yeah, I know, Backdraft was set in Chicago, but De Niro never shakes his status as the embodiment of New York).

Something else interesting about the characters was the gender roles. The women of New York's future are (with only two exceptions that I can recall — one of whom is a non-entity only referenced in passing) the leaders. They're the organizers, strategizers, motivators, and inspirers who rally everyone around them, identify what needs to be done, and make sure it gets done. Charlotte is the head of the building's strata council, a lawyer and community organizer, and has the ear of a senior federal official. Gen is a police inspector who seems to get more done than the chief. Amelia, the environmentalist/reality show host, may seem like more of an anime heroine than a serious character, but even she has a leadership role, with a huge internet presence that helps to shape global pop culture opinion. There's Idelba the dredging company owner. The mayor of New York, a crime boss, and the US president are also women. Meanwhile, the men of Robinson's novel, for the most part, are the foot soldiers, wizards and poets — the ones who take orders, run around, and do the work; and the possessors of the esoteric knowledge (whether financial, historical or engineering) needed to accomplish it, or the poets and thinkers cited by the citizen who have celebrated and studied the city in its past.

My only complaints about the novel are of the nitpicking variety. At one point, the citizen proclaims that "finance is not a lifelong vocation". Perhaps things are different in the US (or the climate-change-ravaged future America that Robinson portrays), but I've known a lot of people in finance in Canada who have stayed in the business for the long haul. Then there's Gen's failed police raid on a financial office, where she and her cops show up with the proper paperwork, but are turned away by armed private security guards. Again, maybe things are different legally south of the 49th or in Robinson's future, but up here, if someone interferes with a sanctioned police operation, they get arrested, and if the police are outnumbered, they get backup and arrest everyone. It's these sorts of little things that can pull a reader out of a story. However, these are ultimately trivial details, and the story itself is solid and entertaining (sometimes even funny).

All in all, even if you're like me and indifferent to the Big Apple, it's worth heading to the bookstore to take a bite out of New York 2140.

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Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

So an octopus-centaur-inspired, aging cyborg travels back in time and faces-off against a Sumerian warrior king. That's not what Kelly Robson's Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is about, but the novel does involve those elements. And together they make one hell of a hook.

The story centres around Minh, an environmental survey expert whose lower body is a clutch of six cybernetic prosthetic tentacles, who lives in a post-environmental-and-industrial-collapse Calgary. It's a world that's been ground down into a sullen barrenness so severe that you almost get the impression the author is looking at Gibson's portrayal of human habitat degradation and saying "Oh yeah? Watch this." While she's had a long and respectable career behind her, Minh's current prospects at landing a contract that will help her pay to keep her modest apartment with its view of the mountains are looking dim — until she gets a line on an assignment mapping ecologies around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for a mysterious corporation. A corporation that's invented time travel. With the help of a young assistant who's eager to prove herself, and an old friend with a passion for horses, Minh puts together her bid for the project, lands it, and sets off to 2024 BCE to get the job done. Except her team's arrival exacerbates political strife among the locals, prompting the king and his men to go on the hunt for the supposedly demonic interlopers, whose technological advantages may not be enough to help them survive, let alone get back to the future.

It's a short novel that moves along at a no-nonsense pace so efficiently brisk that it matches perfectly with the "I don't have time for this crap" personality of its protagonist. The fact that the main action of the plot — the attempt to land an environmental survey contract — is so delightfully banal is a master stroke on the author's part. It makes the fairly alien world of the future that Robson presents more recognizable to the reader — these people are working, and going through the motions, much as we do now, and because of that, despite their physical and cultural differences, we're able to empathize with them as human beings.

There are a couple of backstory/worldbuilding elements in the book that I especially enjoyed. The first is the description of humanity's retreat underground in the face of environmental collapse. It feels a lot like a nod to Space Battleship Yamato/Starblazers, though in this case, rather than an alien attack, humanity has only itself to blame.

The second, and more significant and socially interesting element, is the relationship between the two generations: the older cohort, known as "the plague babies", of which Minh is a member, and the younger group (the plague babies' children — of sorts), known as "the fat babies". At one point, Minh's assistant, Kiki, a fat baby, complains that the plague babies have created a world for themselves and now exist just to service the economy, leaving no opportunities for the fat babies, and giving no thought to them. It's a brilliant, scalpel-sharp metaphor for Generation X's rightful indictment of the  Baby Boomers, who built upon the world left to them by the War Generation, made comfortable lives for themselves, then, thinking only of their own enrichment, partly by deliberate design and partly by accident changed the economic and industrial game entirely and refused to leave the workforce, thereby shutting out most of their children from opportunities to advance. Who would have thought a book about a time-travelling octopus-centaur-inspired cyborg environmental surveyor would be the voice of an entire disaffected generation? Then again, what could be more appropriate to the world we live in than a work of science fiction providing this comment?

Something else that comes to mind when reading 'Lucky Peach: I think there needs to be a new sub-genre of speculative fiction used to classify stories where the primary action of the plot concerns common procedures in business or government policy. Oh, sure, there may be weird science fictional or fantastic elements, settings, or societies included as window dressing, but the stories themselves centre around entirely normal, day-to-day affairs that most of us do, or are at least familiar with; the kind of activities that usually come with an emotional involvement ranging between boredom and professional interest. Which is not to say that the stories themselves are boring or pedestrian, rather, they are banal only in the in-world motivations for their plots, and it's a hallmark of their writers' excellence that they can take this kind of subject matter and find the underlying truths, emotional significance, universality, and, yes, even excitement in the telling of the experiences of characters going through them. There aren't a lot of these tales, but they do have a long and venerable history in the genre, starting at least as far back as 1959 with Chandler Davis' tragicomic short story "Adrift on the Policy Level", which follows a scientist on a Dante-esque odyssey through the depths of a corporate bureaucracy on a search to get a new crop-saving chemical accepted for widespread use. More recently, there was Katherine Addison's 2014 novel The Goblin Emperor, which, when its trappings of throne room intrigue and courtly manners are peeled away, is simply a tale about getting government approval to build a bridge. So they're certainly entitled to be grouped into their own "punk" status. After all, if cyberpunk, steampunk, dieselpunk, ecopunk and assorted other speculative fiction subsets deserve the label, why not this niche? So how about banalpunk?  Nah. Some might think that carries a slightly negative connotation. Approvalpunk? Sounds oxymoronic. Proceduralpunk? Maybe, though it sounds vaguely primetime-cop-drama-ish. Projectpunk? A possibility as well, though it lacks a certain panache. What do you think, fellow members of the nerdiverse? What should we call this sub-genre?

Whatever label we slap on this kind of story, Robson's Gods, Monsters, and the Luck Peach is certainly an excellent addition to this distinct sub-genre — and science fiction in general — providing a cracking good — and intelligent and meaningful — read.


Saturday, June 02, 2018

The Empire Strikes Meh - Disney's Overzealous Mining of Star Wars for Gold Comes up with Lead in Solo

Some may find what I'm about to say shocking and disturbing given that I'm a life-long Star Wars fan. But, as much as I hate to say it, Solo: A Star Wars Story was lame.

Not terrible. I'm not saying this instalment was The Star Wars Holiday Special bad. But, like the Millennium Falcon's hyperdrive grinding to a halt outside the asteroid field when Han, Leia and the gang were trying to escape from Hoth in Episode V, 'Solo certainly failed to live up to its potential.

Admittedly, I wasn't that psyched about the film to begin with. I didn't pay much attention to the hype in the months leading up to its release, was indifferent to the teasers and trailers, and didn't put it at the top of my must-watch-for-the-summer-popcorn-movie-season list. In fact, I went to it on opening night more because I knew the little mom-and-pop theatre down the road wouldn't be crowded than out of service to a lifetime of devotion to the saga. That's because (and again, there may be some members of the fan police out there that might want to tear up my nerd community membership) I think I've hit Star Wars overload. Yes, insert gasp of horror.

Remember when the release of a new Star Wars movie was an event? Remember standing for an hour or more in a line that stretched around the block — even when it wasn't opening night? Remember how Star Wars movies used to only come around every couple of years? Sure, in the late 70s and early 80s, the franchise saturated pop culture with a toy line so extensive that the action figures alone outnumbered the stars in the sky. And yeah, there was the aforementioned 70s variety show-style nightmare of the 'Holiday Special, and the sickeningly cute The Ewoks: Caravan of Courage and The Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, and The Ewoks and Droids Saturday morning cartoons (though Droids had some good moments). Not to mention Marvel's Star Wars comic series, and a handful of media tie-in novels (including Splinter in the Mind's Eye and the Lando Calrissian books). But the movies themselves somehow stood apart. Despite their faults, they were special, and everyone seemed to know it, and they were something to look forward to. They had the feel of being hand-crafted — that there was care that went into the making of them.

That feeling even managed to persist in the late 90s when the original trilogy was rereleased, accompanied by a rapidly growing and increasingly complex Expanded Universe of tie-in novels and (courtesy of Dark Horse Comics) comic series (all of which were promptly rebranded as the "Legends" and erased from the series timeline and relevance when Disney took over), video games and toys. Even the much-debated (and by some — not me — reviled) prequel trilogy instalments were events that were anticipated and had the feeling that genuine care was put into their creation.

But not anymore. Now, Disney — in its quest to cash-in on the franchise as much and as often as possible — is cranking Star Wars movies out so frequently, and with an increasing lack of care for quality, that they feel like they've been churned-out by a fully automated factory. Never mind the current lines of toys and comics (some of which, like Marvel's Darth Vader series, are exceptionally good) and video games, there's the Clone Wars animated TV series that's been running for a decade, and the new raft of movies that have been stampeding into theatres with mechanical regularity for the past few years. The Force Awakens was followed a year later by Rogue One, with The Last Jedi a year after that, and, now, 'Solo less than six months later! And, aside from Episode IX, there are other expanded universe movies in development. Whether you're a dedicated speculative fiction fan or just a normal consumer of pop culture, you can't turn around without stumbling over yet another Disney attempt to separate you from your money under the banner of Star Wars (or its other cash cow, the Marvel movie franchise). Didn't like the last one? Don't worry! They'll serve up another instalment with a different flavour in six months to a year. Loved it? Great! They'll have your next fix ready to mainline in a flash! You can't even catch your breath these days for all the Star Wars coming at you — if not actual movies in the theatres, then TV series or a non-stop barrage of teasers and hype on the 'net. The old cliche is that familiarity breeds contempt. I wouldn't go quite that far with the venerable space saga, but in this case, I think it means that Disney has oversaturated us with Star Wars to the point where the inevitable loss of quality can lead to burnout and indifference.

As for the specifics of Solo: A Star Wars Story falling flat, well, as usual:

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.

Overall, Solo: A Star Wars Story is choppy and predictable.

Just as bad, it suffers from a lead actor who neither physically resembles Harrison Ford, nor is able to adequately portray the personality of Han. Instead, Alden Ehrenreich looks more like Stephen Billington playing the prince's friend/lover/advisor Phillip in Braveheart (I kept waiting for Patrick McGoohan to appear and chuck him out a window), and comes off as vaguely like a young Christian Slater — if Slater was overly self-aware and trying too hard to play the Solo part as cute rather than his usual edgy delivery or as the worldly, cynical, sarcastic smuggler that we know from the rest of the series. And yes, I know, this is supposed to be a young Han Solo, but given the character's life experiences to date, I'd expect to see more of the Solo we know from the other movies in this performance, rather than what Ehrenreich and director Ron Howard and the Kasdans offer us, which is a personality who feels like he's been lifted from a teen-oriented vampire drama — a weakly-delivered wannabe who the audience just can't take seriously.

And really, if it's more Han Solo that we, as fans, want, then there's no need for this movie at all: we've already been given Malcolm Reynolds in the 2002 TV series Firefly and its cinematic sequel, Serenity. Between Joss Whedon's writing and Nathan Fillion's performance, the portrayal of Mal was close enough to Han (if not exactly the same) to create the same presence and do the job for this type of story damn near perfectly. Even Firefly's train robbery episode was better than 'Solo.

The film also falls all over itself trying to reference as much as possible of the titular character's canon-referenced backstory, like winning the 'Falcon from Lando in a Sabaac game, or making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, or freeing Chewie from slavery. It also jams in allusions to all other corners of both the active franchise and its old, cast-off properties, from the name of the swamp planet (which came from Splinter in the Mind's Eye), to Darth Maul being alive and well — if prosthetically enhanced (a resurrection courtesy of The Clone Wars TV series), to the roster of galactic ne'er-do-well names casually mentioned (which, and correct me if I'm wrong, I'm pretty sure included the Tonnika sisters from the cantina in A New Hope). The fan servicing was so over the top that if felt like hand-waving on the part of the director and writers to distract the audience from the shortcomings of the story.

On the positive side, the visuals are stunning (which we'd expect from a Star Wars film), and most of the secondary characters and their actors' performances are pretty interesting (with the exclusion of Rio Durant — John Favreau does a capable job with the four-armed, hairless chimp, but ultimately this character's just a slightly less acidic version of Rocket Raccoon). In fact, I think the film could have been a lot better if more screen time had been devoted to further developing the stories of Chewie, Lando, L3-37, or the others. Donald Glover especially is to be commended for doing a wonderful job of stepping into the role of Lando Calrissian. That said, at times he pushes the character hard against the border of campiness — something that isn't helped by the closet scene aboard the 'Falcon, which makes him come off less like Billy Dee Williams' Lando, and more like Cat from Red Dwarf (seriously, watch that scene again and try not to think of Glover in canine fang caps singing "I'm gonna get you, little fishy!"). Val and Beckett were also great characters — I could have watched a whole movie about them, rather than what was created for Solo.

I just wish that instead of the constant avalanche of Star Wars and Marvel movies, Disney would use its considerable money and talent to offer us a little more variety in its live-action fare. I'd love if The Mouse could give us the third part in the Tron series, or the reboot of The Black Hole (both of which were planned but then shelved when Marvel and Star Wars were acquired), or another John Carter flick, or something totally new. Right now, Disney's going for the safe bet of its biggest properties, and maybe because they're trying to generate so much so quickly, they've finally started to spiral into the singularity of mediocrity. It all smacks of Yogurt's line in Spaceballs: "God willing, we'll all meet again in Spaceballs 2: The Search for More Money".

May the Schwartz be with you.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

My Nominations for the 2018 Hugo Awards

Ah, springtime: the season for nerds to naval-gaze — and occasionally wage divisive, self-destructive online wars (causing people outside our community, as well as ourselves, to wonder if perhaps the stereotype of geeks lacking social skills is true) — as we ponder how we're going to fill out our Hugo nomination ballots to recognize the best of last year.

While I can't say I read or watched or listened to everything new in 2017, here's what I think is worthy of consideration (with the nominees in each category listed in no particular order):


BEST NOVEL:

The Dinosaur Princess by Victor Milan. A cracking good read. I hope the author left behind enough draft work or notes for someone else to finish the series on his behalf.

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault by James Alan Gardner. Fast-reading and fun, this book should probably also get a special award for its title.

Mormama by Kit Reed. A smart dissection of family relationships and the weight of history.

Tyrant's Throne by Sebastien de Castell. A good fantasy swashbuckler and fine end to the Greatcoats series. Laugh at me if you want (and many do) but the damn thing even made me cry a little at the end.

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson. A snappy tale of life after climate change in The City That Never Sleeps — and, in this book, never quite dries out.


BEST NOVELLA:

(No nominations made this year because I didn't read any novellas.)


BEST NOVELETTE:

(No nominations made this year because I didn't read any novelettes.)


BEST SHORT STORY:

(I really hate to say it, but no nominations made because I don't think I read enough new short stories this year.)


BEST SERIES:

The Greatcoats series by Sebastien de Castell (with Tyrant's Throne published in 2017). Great action and a lot of heart in these books.

The Wild Cards series, edited by George RR Martin and Melinda Snodgrass (with Mississippi Roll published in 2017). After more than 20 years, these superhero mosaic books are still, well, super!

The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milan (with The Dinosaur Princess published in 2017). This series has been a hell of a lot of fun and it's sad that Milan has passed before it could be finished.


BEST RELATED WORK:

Everyone: Worlds Without Walls, edited by Tony C Smith. While the Hugo notes on nominee eligibility state that "...fiction anthologies generally are not [eligible] because all of the individual works within the anthology are eligible in one of the 'story' categories.", my nomination of this book hinges on the word "generally" because regardless of the quality of the short stories it contains (and many are quite good) the overall book itself, which is (again to quote from the Hugo eligibility notes) "...noteworthy primarily for aspects other than the fictional text..." And this anthology is noteworthy for what it is trying to do: showcase talent from cultures and points of view from around the world, to remind the speculative fiction community that in a time when narrow-minded political, social and economic forces are trying to drive people apart and erect psychological — and physical! — walls between us, the sf community is wonderful because it embraces a universe of different experiences and points of view. The fact that this anthology introduces readers to sf from cultural perspectives they might not have encountered before, and that in doing so it is trying to be an agent of change to persuade us to be more tolerant and inclusive, makes it the ideal recipient for this award.


BEST GRAPHIC STORY:

Ghostbusters 101: Everyone Answers the Call by Eric Burnham, Dan Schoening and Luis Antonio Delgado. A fun adventure uniting the Ghostbusters, the new Ghostbusters of the 2016 reboot, and even an appearance by a member of The Real Ghostbusters cartoon series (really, all this graphic novel needed was a cameo by members of the old The Ghost Busters TV series), with plenty of background Easter eggs.

Aliens: Defiance vol. 2 by Brian Wood, Stephen Thompson, Tony Brescini, Eduardo Francisco and Dan Jackson. Gloomy, desperate and smart, this graphic novel is everything the Aliens franchise does well (and which Alien: Covenant failed to do miserably).


BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION — LONG FORM:

Blade Runner 2049. Sheer brilliance by itself, and an excellent sequel to the original.

The Shape of Water. Smart, heartfelt, and fun. Of course it deserves awards.

Logan. This film has set the bar for serious-toned superhero movies.

Spider-Man: Homecoming. A damn near perfect example of the traditional, fun superhero movie.

The LEGO Batman Movie. Yes, I know, this flick is ultimately and unabashedly a gigantic marketing exercise in selling toys, but for all that, it's highly effective as both a comedy and a superhero movie, and to my mind, the best Batman movie next to 1989's Batman and the animated version of The Dark Knight Returns.

(If I there was room to nominate more than five films, I would have also given the nod to Kong: Skull Island and Midnight Special.)


BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION — SHORT FORM:

"Beyond the Wall", Game of Thrones. Really, how could you not nominate this episode?

"Skipper", Red Dwarf. This episode does what the 'Dwarf does best, and brings things full circle so nicely.

"The Mind Flayer", Stranger Things. How did we feel about Bob leading up to this episode, and then...

"Necropolis", Castlevania. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this series, and what makes this episode so perfect is the way Richard Armitage's character (deliberately played this way) mumbles and grumbles his way through adventure (while occasionally getting kicked in the nards), contrary to the usual style of fantasy heroes, and still manages to be a total badass.

"Bride of Frankenstein", The Frankenstein Chronicles. Another surprise for me in terms of how much I liked this series. It owes as much (or more) to From Hell as it does to Frankenstein, Sean Bean does a fantastic job in his role as a police inspector prying into some strange murders, and this episode in particular was gripping and heart-felt.

(Again, if there was room for more nominations, I probably would have added the season finale of GOT, and possibly an episode of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency or The Punisher.)


BEST PROFESSIONAL EDITOR — LONG FORM:

(No nominations this year.)


BEST PROFESSIONAL EDITOR — SHORT FORM:

(No nominations this year.)


BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST:

Richard Anderson (for the cover & interior art from The Dinosaur Princess by Victor Milan)


BEST SEMIPROZINE:

On-Spec Magazine

Neo Opsis Magazine


BEST FANZINE:

(While I think this blog, bloginhood.com, is pretty good, I also think it's kind of in poor taste to nominate oneself — others should laud one's work — and without time to read other blogs or fanzines this year, I don't have anyone else to nominate, so I'm leaving this category blank.)


BEST FANCAST:

The Three Hoarsemen podcast

The Coode Street podcast

The Star Ship Sofa podcast

The Black Tapes podcast

(Again, I don't feel quite right about nominating myself, so I can't bring myself to nominate the Invaders From Planet 3 podcast, even though I think there were some good interviews last year. Maybe someone else will, although, admittedly, I'm pretty small potatoes in the sf podcasting universe.)


BEST FAN WRITER:

(As noted above, I don't think it's cool to nominate myself, and I haven't had time to read enough other fan writers, so I'm leaving this category blank this year.)


BEST FAN ARTIST:

(No nominations this year.)


AWARD FOR BEST YOUNG ADULT BOOK (NOT A HUGO):

(Didn't read any new YA stuff, so no nominations.)


THE JOHN W CAMPBELL AWARD (NOT A HUGO):

(Didn't read any new stuff this year, so no nominations.)


So that's my two bits.

If you attended last year's Worldcon, or you're going this year, or, like me, you've purchased your membership for Dublin next year, be sure to get your Hugo, etc. nominations in. There's a lot of good stuff out there, and we should all be able to have a say in recognizing some of the best.