Friday, February 28, 2014

Good Night to The Red Knight

I hate to give up on a book.

It means I've wasted time reading a few chapters or however many pages of something that wasn't interesting, entertaining or educational, when I could have been reading something else.

It means I've wasted money that could have been spent on something else.

It means that because I haven't finished it, I can't even add it to my What the bookworm just ate list.

And - sometimes, anyway - it leaves me with the nagging worry that if I'd persevered just a little longer, I would have got to the part in the story that would make it all worth while.

Only sometimes, though. Usually, it's pretty clear after a couple of chapters whether there's any hope for the thing, and, if a book hasn't been able to engage me by then, it's unlikely it ever will, and regret fizzles pretty quickly.

Miles Cameron's The Red Knight - Book 1 of the Traitor Son Cycle is just such a book.

On the surface, it had elements that should have worked: knights and mercenaries, deaths at the hands (or claws) of nasty critters, a land on the edge of a threatening magical wilderness, and dragons - my favourite mythical creature of all! - or, at least, their stunted cousins the wyverns. And it's written by a Canadian, and I like to support local authors when I can.

Unfortunately, The Red Knight was just too boring for me to be bothered finishing. After two chapters and 50-odd pages, nothing really happens except lengthy descriptions of clothing and armor, and a whole catalogue of characters exchanging typical and utterly forgettable dialogue. Sure, there's a brief bit about a bear-baiting session that goes wrong, and a subsequent tussle with the beast, but that's about it.

Even the opening scene, with the titular Red Knight's cursory investigation into a slaughter at a farm, is detached to the point of being offhand and blase. Sure, we're dealing with a character who's a sellsword with no real emotional involvement in what's happened to the victims, but if the author can't imbue the description of a killing ground with palpable menace and horror, then something's wrong. Ultimately, it's a scene where nothing much happens except mercenaries kind of looking around at stuff. But there's a huge difference between just looking and thinking about something that happened a while ago, and actually showing us the action as it happens. This rather passive passage is really not a great way to set the pace of a novel, much less an entire series.

This especially bodes ill when you consider the sheer size of this monster door-stopper of a book. If it can't engage the reader in the opening scene - a setting of violence - how can it possibly sustain interest throughout the rest of its bloated length (or its sequels). Consider other long books that launched heavy-weight series: the prologue of George RR Martin's A Game of Thrones kicks off immediately with urgency and a sense of men being hunted - even though they're only sitting around a campfire - as one of the rangers from the Night's Watch tries to get the rest of his band to abandon the wilderness for their fort - a prologue that ends with the rangers ambushed and fighting a losing battle against the White Walkers and their undead soldiers. Then there's the prologue to Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World: Lews Therin, having just killed everyone around him, blows the shit out of the top of the Dragonmount. Action. Big stakes. Characters who you're immediately drawn to. Stuff actually happening that compels the reader to keep reading. The Red Knight? Not so much.

So, The Red Knight will be chucked in my "to donate" box, unfinished and, ultimately, unremembered. Pity.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My Nominations for the 2014 Hugos

Ask any crowd of fanboys what they think about awards that are given for books/TV/movies/whatever, and you're liable to get at least a dozen answers about whether a trophy is useful to consider as a recommendation when buying a book or comic, or when deciding which show or flick to watch; or about the merits or flaws of judging or voting systems; what a year's win says about fans and fan culture; whether a work that's singled-out as a year's best will actually stand the test of time and become canon; or whether we should even have them.

For my part, in general, I like the idea of a community recognizing the top achievements of writers, artists and others in a given year. Sure, there can be flaws in selection systems, and yeah, it's not uncommon for people to be of the opinion that more deserving works have been overlooked, but no system is perfect, and, at the end of the day, I think we, as a community, should take every opportunity we can to applaud creative people who've done terrific work, and, along with reviews and recommendations, awards are a good way of doing that.

So, as part of my preparations for this summer's trip to the UK for Loncon3/Worldcon72, today I sent in my nominations for this year's Hugo Awards. While I certainly can't claim to have read or watched everything that was released in 2013, of those SF works that I have consumed, the ones I've nominated are ones that I feel strongly about.

Here are my nominations (in no particular order within their categories):

Best Novel:
  • Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson
  • River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • Son of Destruction by Kit Reed
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  • Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest
If I had to bet, I'd guess that given his world-wide stature, the intense buzz, and the effect of this year's reading/signing tour, Gaiman's probably got the inside track (at least of these books, but possibly compared to the entire genre's output last year as well). With good reason - TOATEOTL is one hell of a good read. But so are the others I've suggested for consideration. I've previously talked about how much I loved River of Stars and Son of Destruction here on the blog, and tweeted about Fiddlehead and Burning Paradise, both excellent reads as well. As much as I'd be happy if Gaiman makes it to the final ballot and wins, I think I'd be happier if one of the others secures a win without the benefit of a media juggernaut.

Best Novella:
Didn't nominate anything for this one. I don't read as many mags as I should, and, as far as short story anthologies go, I read for the enjoyment of the stories, not to sit there and do a word count. Sure, I could probably look up eligibility lists online, but that's really more effort than I want to go through. If I like a shorter work, I'll nominate it for the Short Story category and let the judges sort out whether it belongs in one of the longer-form categories or not.

Best Novelette:
Same as above.

Best Short Story:
This category is unfair - especially in a year when I've read a bunch of anthologies, in addition to whatever magazines I've picked up - because there are always so many good short stories out there. Five seems too few to nominate! Anyway, here goes:
  • "Nocturne" by E. L. Chen, from Masked Mosaic - Canadian Super Stories
  • "The Secret History of the Intrepids" by D. K. Latta, from Masked Mosaic - Canadian Super Stories
  • "The Creep" by Michael S. Chong, from Masked Mosaic - Canadian Super Stories
  • "The Queen of the Night's Aria" by Ian McDonald, from Old Mars
  • "The Ugly Duckling" by Matthew Hughes, from Old Mars

Best Related Work:
Just one nomination in this category, because this intro/essay was so truly exceptional, it's in a class by itself, in my opinion:
  • "Introduction: Red Planet Blues" by George R. R. Martin, from Old Mars

Best Graphic Story:
  • Kill Shakespeare volume 3 - The Tide of Blood by Anthony Del Col, Conor McCreery, and Andy Belanger
  • Nemo - Heart of Ice by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form):
There was a lot of garbage on the big screen this year, and I'll be immensely disappointed if that enormous shitpile Star Trek - Into Darkness gets any love; same with the lame ducks Man of Steel and Iron Man 3. But there were a quartet of films that I found pretty entertaining that are worth of the Hugo nod:
  • This Is The End
  • The World's End
  • Pacific Rim
  • The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form):
As usual with TV, there's a lot that flickers briefly on the radar, but, though entertaining, is ultimately forgettable. Here are some exceptions - stories that really stayed with me, especially because they were so very good:
  • An Adventure in Space and Time
  • Doctor Who - The Day of the Doctor
  • Game of Thrones - And Now His Watch Is Ended
  • Game of Thrones - The Rains of Castermere

Best Editor (Short Form):
  • Claude Lalumiere (for Masked Mosaic - Canadian Super Stories)
  • George R. R. Martin (for Old Mars)
  • Gardner Dozois (for Old Mars)

Best Editor (Long Form):
Sadly, I've gotta confess, I don't give the editors of novels nearly as much credit as they deserve. I've always just concentrated on the writers, so I can't really nominate anyone here.

Best Professional Artist:
  • Andy Belanger for Kill Shakespeare

Best Semiprozine:
Unfortunately, I just haven't read enough semiprozines this year to make any nominations.

Best Fanzine:
I would have nominated SF Signal in a heartbeat for this one, because, for years, it's been the number one go-to destination for all things related to speculative fiction. However, "the bagel overlord" and his gang have decided to abstain from consideration this year, in order to allow others to have a shot at the award - a truly classy move which makes SF Signal even more cool. But, the upshot is that I don't really have any other fanzine sites that I'd like to nominate, because I just haven't made enough time over the past year to read more of them. Big oversight on my part, I know, because the geek-o-verse is populated with a lot of interesting folks running their own cool sites, but time's at a premium, so, here we are.

Best Fancast:
  • The Three Hoarsemen (Sure, they're only got a couple of episodes under their belts, but Fred Kiesche, Jeff Patterson, and John Stevens are just so damn entertaining and knowledgable that they deserve this award. So much so, that I'm deliberately not going to nominate SF Signal's flagship podcast, the SF Signal Podcast - which is also pretty enjoyable - just to give the newcomers a better shot. Strategic nominating, people! Strategic nominating!)
  • Caustic Soda (They don't always talk about SF-related things, but when they do, they do it well. Sodajerks of the world, unite!)

Best Fan Writer:
When I've got time to read fan articles, as good as many of them are, I don't think I follow any one individual closely enough to really nominate one over the others, so I'm taking a pass on filling-in any names in this category.

Best Fan Artist:
Similar to the above excuse. I've seen stuff I've liked, but nothing specifically new to 2013 that's flat-out arrested me and stopped me in my tracks - probably because I simply haven't seen enough. Takin' a pass on this one too.

John W. Campbell Award:
I hate to admit it, but with the reading I've had time to do in the past year, I don't know of any new authors whose names have stuck with me. It's likely that I've read some, and it's likely their stuff has been good, but nothing that's floored me enough to make me remember this far down the road that there was a work by a newbie that I just had to nominate, so I'm goin' for a threefer, and taking yet another pass.

So those are my nominations for the 2014 Hugos. Hopefully some will make it to the final ballot.

If you're going to Loncon 3 this year, Sasquon next year, or if you were at Lone Star Con 3 last year, then you're eligible to nominate your favourites for the Hugos. Can't make the cons, but still want to interfere in the course of Hugo history? Get a supporting membership and then get your nomination in!

Good luck to everyone who's nominated by anyone! And, thanks to all the authors and artists who put stuff out there in 2013, making SF a more interesting place!