Friday, February 27, 2009

My Nominations for the Hugo Awards

One of the perks of having registered/purchased my membership for Anticipation - the Worldcon this summer in Montreal - nice and early is that I get to submit nominations for the Hugo Awards. Why I've waited until just before the deadline to actually get around and submit said nominations is (as I've noted in my previous post for my Aurora Awards nominations) due to wanting to give myself a little more time to read a couple of more books/stories published in 2008, giving everything I have read and seen some thought, and, of course, a healthy dose of procrastination.

But having finally made some decisions, and most importantly, finally receiving my Hugo pin number from the Anticipation organizers, I've finally put in my two cents. And so my nominees are:

Best Novel:
"Very Hard Choices" by Spider Robinson
"Firstborn" by Arthur C Clarke & Stephen Baxter
"Valley of Day-Glo" by Nick DiChario
"Victory of Eagles" by Naomi Novik

(I left the 5th nomination space empty because I haven't read anything else eligible, or at least nothing I can recall, which means it wouldn't be worthy of nomination anyway.)

Best Novella:
"Ancients of the Earth" by Derryl Murphy
"Wylde's Kingdom" by David Nickle
"Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang" by Gord Sellar

(Not entirely sure if these three are eligible - not sure if Tesseracts Twelve ever got published in the US, but I'm nominating them anyway on the off chance this will work. At any rate, I've left the other 2 nomination spots empty because no other novellas have jumped out at my from this year's reading experience.)

Best Novelette:

(Nothing here. The distinction between Novella and Novelette has always pissed me off - it's not like the medium-length works I read in anthologies or magazines come with word counts beside them! Because of that, I'm not sure if a kind of longer story I've read is in fact a Novelette, or whether it's too long and actually a Novella, or too short and thus a Short Story. Is your head spinning too? No nominations!)

Best Short Story:
"Empire" by Simon Brown
"Smoking, Waiting for the Dawn" by Jason Nahrung

(These two stories from the Australian anthology Dreaming Again just kick ass. Empire, because who doesn't love a smart take on life under the Martian occupation from War of the Worlds, and Smoking because it made me think of John Carpenter's Vampires tempered with the thoughtfulness of Coppola's Dracula. No other nominations because most of the short stories I've soaked up this year were in On Spec, which isn't published in the US.)

Best Related Book:
"The Savage Humanists" edited by Fiona Kelleghan

(I nominated this one for its long, but thoughtful and accurate opening essay about several authors' use of science fiction for social commentary. Didn't read anything else this year that stood out that was non-fiction concerning the genre.)

Best Graphic Story:

(No nominations here because I haven't had the time or resources to read many comics or graphic novels.)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:
"The Dark Knight"
"Iron Man"

(No nomination in the last slot - again, nothing was good or really stuck out.)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:
"BSG: Revelations"
"Reaper: Unseen"

(Nothing else really sticks out)

Best Editor, Short Form:

(Again, no-one really comes to mind from this year.)

Best Editor, Long Form:

(Same as above.)

Best Professional Artist:

(As I mentioned in my previous post, I don't follow the art scene in the genre that closely.)

Best Semiprozine:

(I don't follow this end of things much.)

Best Fanzine:
"SF Signal"

(Assuming, of course, that websites count as 'zines, the boys at SF Signal deserve a nomination!)

Best Fan Writer:

(No-one really jumps out.)

Best Fan Artist:

(Same as above.)

John W. Campbell Award:

(I'm not sure I can think of a new writer who would qualify, so unfortunately, I've got to pass on this one too. Pity, because if I could think of an eligible new writer I'd like to give them a boost.)

Now it's a matter of waiting until voting time.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Nominations for the Aurora Awards

I've been putting off my nominations for this year's Aurora Awards (Canada's highest honour for literary speculative fiction) for a while now. Partly because I was still mulling over which works to nominate, and, admittedly, partly because I just didn't make any time for it. But the deadline's looming (February 28th, for those of you who have been procrastinating like me), so it's gotta be done now.

I don't claim to have read everything published by every Canadian author in 2008, but I've read enough that's good, mediocre and down right sloppy to be comfortable nominating the ones I have encountered that I consider to be the best.

The rules allow for three nominations (each given equal value) in each category. Voting for takes place shortly after the nomination period ends and the Awards will be given out at Anticipation/Worldcon in Montreal this August.

And so, my nominations for the Auroras:

Best Long-Form Work in English:
"Very Hard Choices" by Spider Robinson

(This is my only nomination in this category because I haven't read any other novels that were eligible)

Best Long-Form Work in French:

(No nominations because I haven't read any novels published in French)

Best Short-Form Work in English:
"The Devil's in the Details" by Kevin Cockle - in On Spec, Summer 2008 issue
"Ancients of the Earth" by Derryl Murphy - in Tesseracts Twelve
"Wylde's Kingdom" by David Nickle - in Tesseracts Twelve

(This category was a real tough one to make choices - there were a lot of other really good stories this year, but ultimately, you've got to go with the ones that are not only top notch, but stick out in your memory)

Best Short-Form Work in French:

(Again, no nominations here, not having read any French language publications)

Best Work in English (Other):
"Tesseracts Twelve" edited by Claude Lalumiere
"Identity Theft and other stories" by Robert J Sawyer
On Spec magazine

Best Work in French (Other):

(Same as previous - didn't read anything in French, so no nominations)

Best Artistic Achievement:

(As much as I hate to say it, there wasn't any art this year that really blew me away. Admittedly, I don't tend to nominate art at all though.)

Fan Achievement (Fanzine):
Fan Achievement (Organizational):
Fan Achievement (Other):

(No nominations for any of these final categories because nothing I've come across relating to them this year really stands out. I won't be nominating my own blogs, "bloginhood" and "Not A Planet Anymore" in the fanzine category because I kind of think it's in poor taste to nominate yourself for awards, especially ones of this stature.)

Stay tuned for my Hugo Award nominations tomorrow.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dollhouse Made of Plastic

Warning: Spoilers
(spoilage factor: about the same as an apple that's fallen down a flight of stairs)

Two episodes down and I'm still less than impressed with Whedon's new show "Dollhouse". No interesting dialogue, cliched characters, and this week's story was about as unoriginal as it gets.

How many times have we seen or read about a manhunt where our plucky protagonist is told, "Okay, skippy, you've got --- minutes/seconds/whatever headstart, then I'm comin' after ya!" Chalk one more up to "Dollhouse", and what's really disappointing (especially from a storyteller of Whedon's calibre) is that there's no new angle to it.

With all of the plot possibilities that "Dollhouse" has open to it, why would they retread old ground like this? Granted, the point is that our hero plays a diverse set of roles as she goes from one assignment to another, and not all of them can be new or cool. But at least if there's no way to avoid old hat like this, if no new angles can be found, there should be some sense of tension - and there is none, 'cause it's only episode 2 and we can't kill-off the lead character; or maybe some good banter, but again, none.

Episode 3 of "Dollhouse" hits the air this Friday, and it's going to have to wow me, otherwise it's strike 3. I've got better things to do on a Friday night than waste time on a show that's boring me as much as this one.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Time to Cut the Puppet Strings

"Star Fleet" is back - and I don't mean a revamp of James T. Kirk's employers. A week or two ago, my friend Steve (a fellow fanboy at the office) brought to my attention news that the old marionation series is being re-issued on DVD.

Apparently the show had a big British following. I remember it from when I was a kid back in the early 80's in Ontario... my parents had bought the family's first VCR (wisely: a VHS) and the department store that sold it had its own rental section. After renting "Star Wars" a couple of times and going quickly through the Disney collection, we decided to give "Star Fleet" a try. I mean, it had a blatant SF name - it had to be cool, right? Right? Ugh.

I've never been a fan of marionation to begin with. There's something vaguely creepy about it, especially when it tries to be detailed and real. Amidst the scale furniture and intricate clothing there are these strange big-headed figures that either move in bobbing, syrupy slowness or quick, clumsy jerks. As much as I enjoyed parts of it when I was little, I always found the Christmas classic "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and similar holiday productions to be vaguely unsettling. Worse still was "The New Adventures of Pinochio" on Sunday mornings, followed by some other show that was kind of like the "Addams Family" except in marionation. To this day I don't like that style, which is one of the main reasons why "Team America: World Police" didn't work for me.

"Star Fleet" was worse. It was a science fiction show with lots of scenes of space flight and space battles, but every shot of the cruisers and planets out there in the void felt cramped and clausterphobic. The ship itself looked like a hand-vac with the engine block and foils of an X-Wing fighter lashed on to its aft section. The giant robot didn't do anything for me either. Admittedly, I remember very little of the plot, except that it felt disappointingly like the anime "Battle of the Planets" that had been a staple of my TV watching in the late 70's.

Funny thing though: I hadn't given "Star Fleet" any thought since I'd last seen it as a kid, but as soon as Steve mentioned it, the theme music from the opening title sequence and even the song from the closing credits came back with crystal clarity. I wish they hadn't.

Leave the puppets to biodegrade on the compost heap of the past.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

All of This Has Happened Before...

Warning: spoilers
(spoilage factor: about the same as the fruit Tyrol was looking at just as the nukes fell)

Watching the final season of BSG these past couple of weeks has frequently left me with the same kind of feeling of deja vu that the Final Five Cylons seem to experience on a regular basis. No, that doesn't mean that when I go for a walk along the shore at Boundary Bay that I get the impression I'm in a street market on another world - far from it. Rather, it's the case that some moments in recent episodes seem to have been lifted from other SF productions.

Take last Friday's episode for example. Sam's bullet-wound to the head allows him to see the Final Five's past as well as the big picture, and he's just dying to tell the others. Kara eventually has to decide to allow the doctors to perform the operation that will save his life, but could cause him to lose his newly-acquired memories and awareness. This felt an aweful lot like the episode of "Star Trek: Deep Space 9" where Sisko is endowed with prophetic abilities during his search for a lost Bajoran city, but faces death because of the strain on his body. His son decides to allow the operation that saves him, but costs him his visions. Now, BSG co-creator Ron Moore had a solid history working with DS9, and while I don't know if Moore was around during that particular episode, I wonder if he and his writers aren't drawing from it.

Also last week, the episode's final confrontation between Cavil (or "Jonathan" if you prefer) and Ellen felt familiar. She tries to tell him that it's okay to be who and what he is, and Cavil responds by assuring her he'll open her brain. The whole thing felt distinctly Blade Runner-ish to me. Reminded me a lot of Roy coming for a reckoning with Tyrrel and using his thumbs like egg-beaters in the doctor's eyesockets when he's told that it's fine that he's an android who won't get to live any longer.

Lastly, on the episode two weeks ago, there was Gaeta's last second of life in front of the firing squad. Just before the order to fire is given, he remarks that the pain from his amputation has finally stopped. This cease of pain in the moment before death is one that's been used a few times in other stories, but the one that comes most quickly to mind for me is the death of The Master at the end of "Doctor Who" series 3 where he notes that the drums he's been hearing all his life have finally stopped.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about BSG doing a little borrowing or being inspired by other SF. The adaptations to BSG circumstances have certainly been done well. And yes, BSG has on many previous occasions made allusions both to its predecessor and other shows. But these examples seemed different in a way... perhaps more overt because they had something to do with the plot rather than being merely asides? I'm still trying to figure that out.

Dollhouse Needs A Reno

I'm waiting for Joss Whedon's new series "Dollhouse" to prove it's more than just plastic.

Sure there was an action sequence, and yeah it tried to create a couple of dramatic moments with confrontations with dangerous people and painful memories (sort of) and intense debates about morality, but, as odd as it sounds (especially with a Whedon series), there just didn't seem to be any life in it. All of the actors looked like they were trying to act their parts, as opposed to giving engaging performances where they were their characters. And characters that have a life of their own are crucial to a series like this that isn't giving the audience anything especially new in terms of concepts (we've seen artifically-implanted personalities many times over the years, most recently with Christian Slater's Jekyll & Hyde remake "My Own Worst Enemy" - and if you're looking for an example of people having multiple personality reprogramming sessions, think back to that episode of "Star Trek: Voyager" when the Hirogen turned the ship into a hunting preserve). In fact, it's characters and dialogue that make a Whedon series enjoyable, intelligent and memorable, but so far, nothing's at the level it should be.

Now you may argue that "Dollhouse" is a different type of show than Buffy, "Angel" or "Firefly", and that's true, and so the same types of dialect and terms of reference can't be rehashed. But creating a different mood, world and set of problems doesn't negate the need for characters who make the audience want to pay attention. And the characters in the premier didn't feel authentic enough and didn't say anything compelling enough to really make me care.

To be fair though, it was only the pilot. A lot of great SF shows are pretty wobbly for the first few episodes, or even the first season or two (the first season of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" is absolutely unwatchable, as far as I'm concerned). Maybe "Dollhouse" will get stronger once it gets a few more episodes under its belt. If it lasts that long (and the guessing game about Fox and the awful Friday night slot is a whole different discussion).

I didn't hate Friday's premier, but I didn't love it either. I'll give it another week or two to see if it gets stronger.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

No Room for Fanboys at the Cinema

It looks like on BC's Lower Mainland at least, the movie theatres want geeks to come and spend money on films and popcorn and the like, just as long as the films aren't about geeks themselves. It's pissed me off to no end that in the entire Metro Vancouver region this weekend, not one cinema is devoting a single screen to "Fanboys". Not one!

Now, to be fair, with the amount of incessant tinkering and revising that's been done to this little flick, and with all the delays, it does, admittedly, have a reasonable potential for suckage. And yes, I've read one review so far (the film seems to be strangely absent from reviews in big media here, as though they've all turned their backs on it because it's openly nerdy and thus not cool enough to warrant their "Bride Wars"-obsessed critiques). But to not have at least one multiplex show it on one screen? Come on!

I mean, there are still theatres showing "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (a couple of months after its embarrassing debut) and anyone (like me) who made the mistake of seeing that one knows the only thing it's standing in is a pile of shit as deep as Keannu Reeves' inability to act. Never mind the other crappy new flicks that are fresh out and getting plenty of screen time. Don't the theatre chains know that while they're getting mediocre turnouts for the low-quality mainstream stuff, they'd probably get good turnouts for "Fanboys" even if it isn't that good (and I'm not saying whether it is or isn't 'cause I haven't seen it yet and likely won't for a while at this rate) because they'd probably get a ton of geeks turning out to watch it out of curiousity at how it portrays geek culture. Never mind the flood they'd get if the film's any good. In an age where movie theatres are kicked hard in the bottom line by video stores, sales of DVD's for home viewing, and internet downloads, they can't afford not to diversify and bring in any flick that might attract paying customers, especially fanboys, who tend to come out to flicks like this in flocks and spend lots of money on junk food and video games in the lobby while they're waiting. Way to cultivate a profitable market, Cineplex!

Seattle Drops Out of Worldcon Race

I was greatly disappointed today when I was reading Rob Sawyer's blog and came across word that Seattle has dropped out of the race to host Worldcon in 2011.

Bid organizers say there were other groups competing for the same facilities in the Emerald City during the same period Worldcon was planned, and these other groups were already able to make financial commitments. Unable to get the top-notch facilities they'd wanted, the bid group decided to pull-out, rather than continue with a second-rate setup.

As a result, Reno wins the Worldcon 2011 bid by default.

Good for the Nevada crowd, certainly. But I think Seattle would have made a good location, especially since it's the home to the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. Personally, I would have gone to a Worldcon in Seattle in a heartbeat, because it's just two hours down the road from Vancouver (once you've spent the prerequesite 9 years waiting in line to cross the border, that is) and I've always enjoyed day trips there. Reno, on the other hand, is a bit more of a trek and has (no offence to Reno residents) never much interested me. With any luck, Seattle will be able to pull something together again for a bid in the future.

In the meantime, I'm very much anticipating a good time at Worldcon this summer in Montreal.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Update on the 365 Short Story Challenge

I admit, I've started to fall behind.

The challenge seemed easy at first, read one short story in the evening before resuming whatever novel was in front of me and I'd be able to keep pace. Problem was I got into a stretch of really, really good novels that I didn't want to put down for even a few minutes to allocate time for something short. I mean, with Gaiman's "American Gods", Dan Simmons' "Muse of Fire" and Moore's "Watchmen" can you blame me?

At any rate, now that I'm done "Watchmen" I'm going to be putting the plan back on track. I'm in the middle of a backissue of On Spec (Winter '99) that I picked up at VCon a couple of years ago, and once that's done I'll crack open one of the anthologies I aquired recently and bring the tally up to where it should be, or even put myself ahead of the game again. I'm thinking either of the Australian collection "Dreaming Again" that wife gave to me for Christmas, or "Gaslight Grimoire" (an anthology of fantasy riffs on Sherlock Holmes) which I got at VCon last fall.

As for thoughts on some of the short stories I read just prior to the recent hiatus, the only one that really sticks out in my mind was Claude Lalumiere's "Njabo" (again from a backissue of On Spec - Fall '03). It's the tale of an artist living in a multi-partner family who struggles to come to grips with dreams where her daughter becomes an elephant and leads other pachyderms on a crusade to rid the world of their human tormentors. The strange situations Lalumiere presents always demand that the reader go hunting for metaphors amongst the brush of the story. Here, the obvious one seems to be of the power of art, or, because of the child, of any creative act, to force us to re-evaluate our perception of the world, and to bring the possibility of radical change. Given the diverse natures of the narrator and her partners, and that dispite their differnces they continue to stay together as a family unit and love one-another, and with their ultimate fate steered by the daughter, I wonder too if Lalumiere is using the family as allegory for a Canada, with its diversity, struggling with changing identity, staying together despite the differences of its components, and perhaps with a large, world-changing destiny (though I would hope for one not nearly as violent as that implied by the child's transformation). Always enjoyable to read his stuff.

Now back to the challenge and making up lost ground.