divisionsandprecisions: (dry)
Here is my summary of the first 50 pages: In the early 20th century, the members of a secret society grab their guns, jump in their dirigible, and head out to do battle with the two greatest threats to Earth. One, an evil alien and his zombie army here to steal all Earth's magic, and, two, Democrats. Favorite quote: "The world was carnage. The desert was wet with slaughter."

To Larry Correia's credit, he does have level a mastery of the craft of writing, and an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink adventure can be a lot of fun to read and obviously entertains many readers. But it is not an example of the literary excellence I would like to vote for to receive a Hugo.
divisionsandprecisions: (dry)
An unusual nominee, in that the entire series was nominated on its completion. This rule was presumably designed to permit nomination of books first published as serials in magazines. The whole thing is about eleven thousand pages, and it is included in the voter packet in its entirety. I decided to try to read at least the first novel before voting.

It seems to be built out of the most overused fantasy tropes—idealized Medieval world, orphan of mysterious origin discovers magical powers and starts on a quest to help the wizards in their fight against the dark lord and his army of trolls blah blah blah. Jordan has an interesting grasp of details at time (almost fractal, details of details), like when the heroes need the town gates opened for them at midnight, we hear the clanking sound that the ratcheting locking mechanism makes in the quiet darkness. He also makes an effort to ensure that the dozens of characters have individual personalities and qualities, which adds a lot of depth.

But it's dull. There is nothing to excite a sense of wonder. There is no evidence of the sort of creative imagination that makes your head spin. Nothing to create the kind of mood that sucks you in until the outside world disappears (except near the beginning). Combined with the unvarying tone (Jordon shows no trace of humor or playfulness), reading this book has turned into a slog. I am curious what it will turn into over the thousands of pages remaining that has made some people like it so much.

I figure if I keep this on my Nook, I can be sure of never being stuck with nothing to read for at least a decade.
divisionsandprecisions: (dry)
Orbit only provided an excerpt, so that is all that I read. The beginning of the plot was a horrid cliche--beneficial genetically engineered parasites have been developed, but now people are mysteriously turning into zombies! Thank goodness the scientists tell us that the parasites are "genetically stable" and are "unable to reproduce outside the laboratory." The characters, mostly scientists and doctors, talk and act like 15 year olds. The writing is limp and colorless. Events leave me constantly saying "Huh, that doesn't seem right..." For example the unexplained absence of smart phones, ipods, and tablets in 2027—the tech and the lifestyle feel like about 2003, odd for a book written in probably 2012.

I think that the target audience for this book was not yet born when the book Jurassic Park came out, so the bit of foreshadowing I quoted would not make them laugh out loud. I can't see anything in the excerpt that would make the book worthy of a Hugo nomination. Lots of good books aren't, but that is the standard I am applying here.

divisionsandprecisions: (dry)
Neptune's Brood by Charlie Stross is an example of Stross's specialty, economic science fiction. Although in this case, the economic thought experiment is clearly at the center, not like the Merchant Princes where it initially lies obscured by a veneer of fantasy. The novel, subtitled "A Space Opera," is a conscious homage to Heinlein, most specifically the novel Friday, just as the first novel in the series, Saturn's Children, was.

Neptune's Brood has, like Friday, a quick-thinking and resourceful female adventurer as hero of the opera, named Krina. The story is recounted by the main character in the past tense, with a faint Heinleinian edge of condescending hyper-competence that seems to say that no danger was ever more than mildly concerning and no hardship was more than in inconvenience. I found that this extra distance dampens the effect of the story. In Friday, this makes some thematic sense, because the deeper focus of the story was on the attempts by Friday, an augmented human, to find a welcoming niche in human society. This emotional level doesn't exist in Neptune's Brood. On the other hand, not adding in an analog to this part of Friday allowed Stross to excise the vile sexism rampant in Heinlein's work (only some of which can be excused as writing for the audience of the day).

The series of reversals and denouments that drives the plot, especially toward the end, is more complex, surprising, and interesting than anything from Heinlein's era.

In much of Stross's work, the universe in which the action occurs acts almost like another character, whether in the form of an omnipotent AI, nameless horrors sleeping in the deeps, or a traversable multiverse. Not in this case. The most interesting world building, a water-covered planet, doesns't appear until halfway through, and it is not as well developed as I would like. In an interesting antiparallel, Friday through the book continuously loses allies, increasing the narrative tension, until she faces her last challenge alone, while Krina starts alone and accumulates helpers, which I think gives less impact to the story.

divisionsandprecisions: (dry)
My first novel read from the list of nominees was Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie.

It was an interesting debut novel. Often first novels show an unconstrained exuberance, the author's idea generator out of control. This was the opposite, perfectly restrained, concise, nothing wasted.

The novel is built out of space opera tropes---space ships, AIs, war between alien empires, planetary invasions. But the major themes are not typical for the subgenre---privilege, sexual and social discrimination. SF has been grappling with these themes for at least 4 decades, but here they worked into the story with a deftness rarely seen. A typical attempt from 70s SF leaves the reader trying to sort out a mess of unreadable invented pronouns, but Ann Leckie simply tells us that the dominant culture makes no distinction between male and female, and every character in the book is referred to as "she". It feels very natural, but the cumulative effect is large. Similarly, the novel is not a polemic about the evils of social privilege, it includes the reality of it in the cultural backdrop.

The character development is unusually deep for the space opera subgenre. The story is more character driven than plot driven. The pacing is also atypical. Instead of a roller coaster, it is like a train leaving the station that accelerates slowly but continuously. I am concerned that its Hugo chances will be particularly harmed by Orbit's decision to include only an excerpt in the voter packet (the voter packet has not been released yet, so I purchased this myself).

The world building is spartan, but had rich detail where it comes into play in the story. Where the world-building in some works peters out into vague generalities, here it seems mostly omitted as irrelevant. It is imaginative and realistic when included. Ann Leckie knows how to deploy just the right amount of detail to establish an interesting setting. So we get a wonderful description of the native building style, multi-story buildings with no permanent walls, just screens for internal walls and emergency shutters for the outside, but when the characters need to take a fishing boat, it is just a boat.

This novel deserves the awards it has received, and I would not be surprised if it won the Hugo. Now, I need to start the Charlie Stross novel.
divisionsandprecisions: (dry)
The only novels included in the voter packet will be 5,000 pages or whatever of Wheel of Time and possibly the political nomination. The rest are all published by the same publisher, who decided not to allow them in, only excerpts.


From a marketing point of view, excerpts makes more senseā€”I expect I will go buy at least my top choice or two.

Hugos

Apr. 30th, 2014 08:58 am
divisionsandprecisions: (dry)
Waiting waiting waiting for my Hugo voter packet.

I decided for various reasons that this was a good year to get a supporting membership and try out the voter packet. Lots of people still seem unaware that $43 gets you electronic versions of most of the works plus the right to vote. Loncon website doesn't make it easy to figure out.

Thinking about writing out my thoughts as I read works, to make it easier to decide how to vote, and LJ is still a good platform for that. I will have to look around to see if there are any active communities here for such discussions.

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