Hugos! and NecronomiCon!

CliqueThe Hugo Awards were last night. I did not stay up to watch the livestream because I’m an old lady (they didn’t even START until 11pm EDT). However plenty of people did, so there are a lot of postmortems floating around.

You may remember the controversy a few months ago when the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies, a group of angry conservatives who felt that the reason they weren’t winning Hugos was because of a secret liberal conspiracy and not because they failed at writing good books, teamed up with GamerGaters and stuffed the Hugo nomination ballots with tons of their own works. Even after the ineligible works of theirs were disqualified, a lot of the awards were entirely filled with puppies nominees. Vox Day, head of the group, threatened that they would continue to hold the Hugos hostage every year until people finally gave in and voted for him. Later, when it became apparent that a lot of people were planning to vote “No Award” in those categories where they felt none of the nominees deserved it, Vox Day and the other puppies decided that losing was actually a moral victory for them and that had been their plan all along.

Speeding trainANYWAY. Last night were the Hugos, and here are the results:

  • BEST NOVEL: The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)
  • BEST NOVELETTE: “The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014)
  • BEST GRAPHIC STORY: Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)
  • BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM: Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
  • BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM: Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, ” written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)
  • BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST: Julie Dillon
  • BEST SEMIPROZINE: Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
  • BEST FANZINE: Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery
  • BEST FANCAST: Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
  • BEST FAN WRITER: Laura J. Mixon
  • BEST FAN ARTIST: Elizabeth Leggett
  • JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER: Wesley Chu
  • Best Novella: No Award
  • Best Short Story: No Award
  • Best Related Work: No Award
  • Best Editor Short Form: No Award
  • Best Editor Long Form: No Award

Congrats to the winners! And congrats to No Award most of all. Not a single puppy won an award. The puppies believed that they were taking the awards out of the hands of a liberal minority hell bent on forcing diversity on the world and putting them into the hands of a silent conservative majority, but from the results of this vote, it’s pretty clear that silent majority doesn’t exist. I guess now we wait to see what next year’s awards will bring.

Victory

We'll be backFor further reading:

Chuck Wendig: “The Obligatory Hugo Awards Recap Post

Nicholas Whyte: “Hugo Awards 2015 – full analysis

Tobias Buckell: “What the Alternate Hugo Ballot Would Likely Have Been

Wired Magazine: “Who Won Science Fiction’s Hugo Awards, and Why It Matters

END HUGO RECAP

BEGIN NECRONOMICON COVERAGE

That Cthulhu Sunrise was very tasty.

That Cthulhu Sunrise was very tasty.

So I went to NecronomiCon Providence this weekend! Sort of. I wasn’t actually registered for the con itself, but I went to some of the peripheral events, including the Eldritch Ball, Lovecraft’s 125th birthday celebration, and the dealer’s hall.

NecronomiCon is a conference celebrating the work of H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft was a Providence native and many Providence landmarks made it into his books. Miskatonic University is thought to be modeled after Brown University. Lovecraft’s grave is famously inscribed with the words I AM PROVIDENCE. When I was living off Hope St in Providence, I walked through that graveyard very often.

A tiny Cthulhu on Lovecraft's grave

A tiny Cthulhu on Lovecraft’s grave

The con happens every other year (though this is only the second time it has run), and has attendees from all over the world. Many of the panels are academic, and the con makes it quite clear that though they love his work, Lovecraft’s bigotry and racism are not being overlooked. The setting of the con is gorgeous, with events taking place in the Biltmore Hotel, the Providence Athenaeum, and the First Baptist Church in America.

Overall, a very enjoyable con, with a lot of friendly and enthusiastic attendees. Walking through the city, it was very easy to pick out the con goers out of a crowd. Some of the local response to the con seemed a little stilted (“Hey there NecronomiCon attendees! Boy am I a big fan of that…” *looks at smudged ink on hand* “…Cathy?”) but I may actually register for the con next time and attend it for real.

Big Nazo's Intergalactic Band

Big Nazo’s Intergalactic Band

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Camp Necon and the dog days of summer

These jellyfish were very photogenic.

These jellyfish were very photogenic.

This blog has been sleeping for a little while. I wrote a long post a few days ago but finally had to admit it was too incoherent and meandering so that’s not going to see the light of day. Perhaps I’ll revise it at some point once I try to figure out what point I was trying to make.

I’ve actually been really busy in the last couple weeks, doing summery things like going to the New England Aquarium for my birthday and going to Cape Cod with some friends at their timeshare and saying goodbye to a friend who’s decided to strike out west and find her fortune there. Oh, and I went to Camp Necon, the Northeastern Writers’ Conference. I don’t know why the “wri” is silent in that acronym. Let’s talk about that for a bit.

She died as she lived

She died as she lived

Camp Necon is a very tiny conference mainly focused on horror writing, with shades of speculative fiction thrown in. This year’s guests of honor were Chuck Wendig and Seanan McGuire, who are two of my favorite authors, and since it was close by I decided to commute in every day and attend panels. I went with R.K. Bentley, who’s the head of my writing group and is also local. We were two of only a handful of newbies there, and everyone was very welcoming. The con has been going on for 35 years now and most of the people there attend every year, so it’s very close-knit. I can see why they want to keep their registration capped at 200. It’s more of a gathering of friends than a conference. Still, there were interesting panels and it was tiny enough that I got a chance to talk briefly with both GoHs, so that made my weekend.

The con left me with a massive pile of books to read, more on my list to buy, and a lot of motivation to write darker fantasy. With the pile of books I’ve already borrowed from Rob, and the stuff on my Kindle, I have my next few months booked (heh heh get it) solid. Better get to work. (Just kidding, I’m totally going to play Borderlands).

These are just the books I got on day 1.

These are just the books I got on day 1.

Oh and I booked my excursions today for the Writing Excuses cruise in September. I can’t wait!

Book Rec: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

ancillary

I feel like I don’t actually need to recommend Ancillary Justice, since everyone’s been gushing about it all year. It won the Arthur C. Clarke award for best novel, the Nebula for best novel, the BSFA award for best novel, and currently it’s up for a Hugo for best novel. Plus a boatload of other awards. Still, I’ll toss in my two cents and say that I thought the book was fantastic.

The protagonist of the book is the spaceship Justice of Toren, or rather, the artificial intelligence that controls it. In the world of the novel, the Radch empire has been expanding unstoppably through space, taking over planets left and right. Some ships are crewed by humans, but some are crewed by ancillaries, which are bodies controlled by an artificial intelligence. The bodies themselves are supplied by people whose original personalities have been scraped away. Justice of Toren controls twenty such bodies, with hundreds or even thousands more kept cryogenically frozen in the ship, and can also monitor the emotions and vital signs of the entire crew. At the moment, they’re stationed on a planet that has recently been taken over by the Radch empire.

Running parallel to this is the plotline of Breq, who is one of the ancillaries of Justice of Toren. It’s twenty years later, and for reasons that are initially unclear, Breq is no longer a ship or a crew, but simply one person. She (and in the language of the narrator, all people are ‘she’, even if they are known to be male) is on a solitary mission of revenge and is making her way through a world that does not consider her to be a person.

It’s a very ambitious first novel, and handles the odd narration style beautifully. The writing is spare and elegant, told from the point of view of an AI that tries very hard not to become emotionally involved in the world. Despite the fact that the protagonist is so inhuman, she becomes immensely likeable. The book itself is the first in a trilogy, which I didn’t know when I was reading it but was delighted to find out. Breq is someone I really want to read more about.

I’ll admit that the intricacies of the plot were a little hard to follow at times, and I plan to read the novel again to understand it a bit better. I think the fact that I want to read the sequel so badly speaks well for the writing. It’s a gorgeous first novel and I highly recommend it.

Book rec: Gulp by Mary Roach

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Mary Roach is the kind of nonfiction writer who can make any topic fascinating. No, really, anything. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal is a book about the digestive system, covering topics from the nutritional value of dog food to the optimal decibel level of crunchy snack foods to the stain-fighting properties of saliva. At one point she puts her hand inside of a cow’s stomach. There’s an entire chapter about smuggling drugs inside your rectum.

Roach has a history of finding the absurdity in science. Her other books, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers; Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife; Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex; and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void are all playful but by no means disrespectful looks at serious topics. She gets very in depth with her research and isn’t afraid to ask occasionally embarrassing questions of the experts.

 

This suggests that saliva—or better yet, infant drool—could be used to pretreat food stains. Laundry detergents boast about the enzymes they contain. Are these literally digestive enzymes? I sent an e-mail to the American Cleaning Institute, which sounds like a cutting edge research facility but is really just a trade group formerly and less spiffily known as the Soap and Detergent Association.

 

With no detectable appreciation for the irony of what he had written, press person Brian Sansoni referred me to a chemist named Luis Spitz. And when Dr. Spitz replied, “Sorry, I only know soap-related subjects,” Sansoni—still without a trace of glee—gave me the phone number of a detergent industry consultant named Keith Grime.

Gulp is a book that’ll give you a new understanding of your own internal workings, and if you haven’t read anything by Roach before, it’ll probably act as a gateway drug into everything else she’s ever done. I highly recommend it.

Book rec: The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

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I’ve been recommending Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles to everyone who ranges within earshot of me for the past week or so. My friend William loaned me Cinder because she thought I might be interested in a book written during Nanowrimo. It was on my ‘to be read’ pile for a month or so before I picked it up–and then was completely unable to put it down. I bought Scarlet for my Kindle before I’d finished Cinder, and then bought Cress the same afternoon.

Cinder is a YA science fiction series that retells the story of Cinderella, where Cinder is a cyborg mechanic living in plague-ridden New Beijing. The fairy tale is really only a framework; the real story is a combination thriller/mystery with a touch of romance. Scarlet and Cress add on to the story arc with retellings of Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel, respectively. Meyer is an extremely competent writer who balances a diverse cast of likeable, well-written characters with an exciting plot. This is the kind of book that feels like a guilty pleasure to read. And yes, all three of the books were written during three separate Nanowrimos.

My only complaint is that I thought the series was a trilogy, and was 90% done with Cress when I realized that there was no way the story was going to end anytime soon. The next book, Winter, comes out in 2015. I’m a little disappointed that I binge read them all before I found that out, though I guess that only means I’ll have to re-read the lot of them next year in preparation. It’s not exactly a hardship.

You can find Cinder on Amazon here.

Book Dissection: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

I finished reading NOS4A2 by Joe Hill yesterday. I’d bought it after following him on Twitter, and I only followed him on Twitter because someone else had been retweeting him. That shows the power of Twitter, I guess–I hadn’t even heard of him before that.

It’s a powerful book. It’s something about the ruthless way he has of describing people, and the grim yet vivid settings. What I’m interested in doing is deconstructing the book to see what exactly it is that Hill does right. Because he does do this book right; it’s strong in all the right places, and the pacing is fantastic.

Non-spoilery recap:

Victoria McQueen has a knack for finding things. All she has to do is get on her bike and ride across the Shorter Way Bridge: a bridge that shows up wherever she needs it to, and takes her wherever she wants to go. But she’s not the only one with this kind of ability, and it’s not long before she runs into Charlie Manx, a man who uses his own powers to “rescue” children from their families and take them to Christmasland, where every morning is Christmas morning and every night is Christmas Eve, and Manx can drain away their innocence and humanity to make himself live forever.

In a different writer’s hands, this might have been about 12-year-old Vic’s battle against the evil Manx. But it’s not really about that. Instead, we see how her encounter with Manx and her own odd powers changes the course of her life. What the story really seems to be about is that everything has consequences, and those shortcuts that allow someone to avoid consequences–Vic finding things deemed lost, Manx being able to make himself younger–are the ones that have the greatest cost.

How the sausage is made:

I’ve been interested in figuring out how authors make unpredictable plots. There are thousands of examples of predictable plots repeated weekly on television screens and movie theaters. In many cases, that’s a result of the short format. There’s only so much you can do in a two hour movie, or in a 45 minute tv show where the characters need to end up in much the same place they started. Novels have more room to work with, but a lot of them take predictable paths anyway. So when I see a novel that does it pretty well, I want to figure out how it happened.

In Hill’s case, he lets the story get bigger than it originally appeared. Sure, Vic and Manx meet up, as you’d expect. But that’s not the end of the story. It’s just the jumping off point for the real plot, which takes years to unreel. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense: in a story about consequences, you can’t just end with the confrontation between protagonist and antagonist. You have to see what that confrontation leads to. That’s where the story departs from predictability.

I guess a (possibly simplistic) takeaway from this is that in order to make a plot less predictable, make it about theme, not formula. I’ve seen places where I believe this backfired–China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station springs to mind. That was a book about borders and finding that undefined place where one thing changes into something else, and while I thought it was a gorgeous book (and he’s one of my favorite authors), the ending seemed to rely too much on keeping with the theme than on narrative coherence. Still, it’s a good starting point for plotting. NOS4A2 marries a good theme to a solid plot, and the combination makes for a satisfying story.