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May 19, 2014

Let’s talk about the Hugo Best Novel nominees! With SPOILERS!
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:11 PM * 176 comments

It occurs to me that we might benefit from a spoileriffic thread for the Hugo novels. It would be a lot easier to talk about the nominees without having to lapse into ROT-13 all the time.

So if you don’t want to know about the time the Justice of Toren visited Shin-Tethys with a load of crates stamped “SymboGen”, or why Faye Vierra thought that one of them was a good place to hide from the Aes Sedai, maybe skip this thread.

But if you do want to talk about the nominees, about what worked and what didn’t, and how you’re thinking of voting, and why, here’s a place to do it.

To remind everyone, the Hugo nominees for Best Novel are:

  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  • Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross
  • Parasite by Mira Grant
  • Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia
  • The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Mod note: Making Light has already seen a lot of discussion of the nomination process, the reasoning behind some of the nominations, and assorted related issues in our community. I trust it’s clear to everyone that this thread is not intended to rehash or continue that conversation. Nor is it a venue to parachute into with a single comprehensive post and then flap off again. Come to discuss, listen, and learn…or don’t.

Comments on Let's talk about the Hugo Best Novel nominees! With SPOILERS!:
#1 ::: iucounu ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2014, 06:04 PM:

Well, the only one I've read, shamefully, is ANCILLARY JUSTICE, but I liked that lots and lots. It struck me as being very like vintage Iain M Banks, and in a year that we were all mourning him, that felt very good. I'd be happy to see it win the Hugo.

I've seen criticism of the pronoun thing, and I've never really agreed with it; I enjoyed the slight jar and realignment that it causes. My only criticism would be that I think the last quarter of the book has issues - it doesn't have the same kind of impact as, say, THE PLAYER OF GAMES.

I haven't read WoT but I'm slightly uncomfortable with the whole cycle being up for Best Novel, and I say that having read plenty of persuasive and cogent argument the other way. It just doesn't quite feel right, but I'm not sure I could persuasively and cogently argue the point.

#2 ::: Ha ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2014, 06:15 PM:

Well, I've read ANCILLARY JUSTICE, all of WOT, and NEPTUNE'S BROOD. I've no intention of reading PARASITE nor WARBOUND since I'm definitely, all the way to this side of NOT being into horror and gun porn.

Since I like Stross, I wish I could have given him the nod, but NB was just focused a little too much on the economic underpinnings of his universe which mirrored real-life so left a bad taste in my mouth.

So, I'm currently dithering between WOT and AJ. I like AJ but WOT's first book blew me away more. OTOH, all of WOT is . . . not to the same caliber. So, I guess I'll flip a coin on the day of votin.

#3 ::: -dsr- ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2014, 07:26 PM:

I've read all of these except Wall of Text, and I'm not ruling that out for future reading. Here's my take on the merits:

Ancillary Justice is going to win the Hugo, just as it did the Nebula. Why? Because it's capital-N New, shiny and different, and even does Romans In Space differently. Quality plus novelty.

Neptune's Brood is a Big Idea novel of the sort that often wins Hugos, and I like it a lot -- but it's not a remarkable book for Charlie, not a miraculous departure from what might be expected from him. Similarly, Parasite is a good but not amazing novel: Seanan put on the Mira hat and wrote something that will please people who liked the Feed books, has an amnesiac narrator who is more likable than Corwin of Amber, and twists the plot in interesting directions.

And Warbound: the magic system was done better by WORM (See, be warned that it's awesome, but a million words of awesome... that's a lot.), the combat was done better in Correia's previous book in the series, and there's nothing new under the sun there. It's a perfectly fine book, but it does not try to push its own boundaries.

Does anyone who has read it want to argue that WoT is both unusually good and unusually new? Or does it have some other pleasure that should give it a lift in the balloting?

#4 ::: Mike G. ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2014, 09:00 PM:

dsr @3: Darn, Worm, that should have been nominated. That was awesome.

Of the current nominees, I'm guessing it will go to AJ. I read all of WoT, and it had some cool ideas, but it seriously needed to be trimmed by at least 20% in most books (and in the case of 1 of the books, where Nothing Happened, 90%).

#5 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2014, 09:04 PM:

I’ve read Ancillary Justice and Neptune’s Brood. Not for the Hugos — I finished Justice a few days before the nominees were announced, and Brood a few months ago.

I admired Leckie’s gender pronoun trick. In case any of you missed it: Her narrator character was raised in a culture that doesn’t take much notice of gender; doesn’t mark it linguistically, or require gender-specific clothing. As a result, the narrator never acquired the knack of distinguishing gender. Like Stephen Colbert’s character with race, she can’t see gender — people tell her that she’s female, and she believes them because she always has to clean up their messes. So she uses female pronouns for everyone, even characters we are otherwise told (by other characters) are male. Anyway, yeah, that was clever, and I found myself constantly envisioning the characters one way and then having to redraw them in my head, which was a fun challenge. And the plot that drives the book was clever. But I found myself wanting to like the book more than I actually did, probably because the language was just so dry. I recognize that the dryness was probably an artifact of the nature of the narrator, but there are ways to liven up a book with a dry narrator, and I wish Leckie’d taken advantage of them.

Stross’s book is ambitious as hell — he postulates (and explains the workings of) a new economic system built around sub-light interstellar colonization, invents a scam to go with the economic system, and then invents a second scam that the first is a cover for. But I thought the ending turned the protagonist into a mouthpiece through which Charlie could vent his frustrated anger at the rentier class (no doubt exacerbated after reading David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years, a quote from which opens Brood).

#6 ::: snowcrash ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2014, 09:53 PM:

Read ANCILLARY JUSTICE back when it came out, and was suitably impressed. I don't read as much sci-fi as I used to, but this and the Expanse books were really excellent. AJ manages to be both epic and personal, which is no mean feat. The gender-pronoun thing was pretty well done as well.
NEPTUNE'S BROOD is on the reading list, lowered expectations as I have yet to find a Stross book that I like.
PARASITE and WARBOUND - stopped at 50 pages on both as lost interest/ freaked out. Not really stuff I normally read.
WoT - Heh. Having read this for the last 15+ years, and given that this was my introduction to the online SF fan community (*waves at RASFWRJ elders*), I can't overstate the impact it's had on me as a reader of SF. Judging the WHOLE thing... can't really give it first preference in good faith.

#7 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2014, 10:21 PM:

I just finished Parasite, and have read AJ and Neptune.

Parasite will do no better than 3rd on my ballot. The big "surprise" (anti-parasite narrator is really a sentient parasite) I saw coming about a third of the way in. The other "surprise" (Big Corporate used parts of narrator in next-gen parasites) hasn't dropped yet but McGuire's telegraphing that so hard they can get it in orbit.

Neptune is really cool, although Stross's "humanity is shit" can be a downer, so AJ gets my #1 vote. Haven't read Wall of Words yet (and probably won't) nor the Correia, so the race for me right now is who gets #4 slot.

#8 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2014, 10:51 PM:

Have fun in the thread, everyone -- I'll be catching back up once I've read Parasite and Ancillary Justice. (I've reserved 'em at my local library, so not too far in the future.)

#9 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2014, 11:16 PM:

AJ seems to be very popular in the LA public library system: three copies on shelves, three on hold, three 'in transit' (whatever that means) and the rest (six or eight) are checked out.

#10 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2014, 11:28 PM:

I loved Ancilllary Justice. The way I had to twist my head around gender and identity made me happy. I liked the first planet, with the children in their gloves bringing flowers to the shrine, and the political net drawing remorselessly around the competent and upright lieutenant*. I supposed I liked Breq in part because I like unreliable narrators. At my book group, we discussed it for nearly a full hour, and it was really fun to see what pronouns people used for the characters. The women tended to use feminine; the men used male.

I just finished Neptune's Brood and thoroughly enjoyed it. The world building for it and Saturn's Children (which I read first) is fun and interesting. I got a kick out of the mermaid historian forensic accountant and the batlike/foxlike piratical insurance auditor fighting space battles. There are lots of delicious little jokes, from the (very brief and plausible) zombie robot to the Monty Python reference. I found it suspenseful, interesting, and a fast read. It did not; however, knock me over the way AJ did.

I thoroughly enjoyed Parasite, but I didn't think it was quite as good as the Newsflesh trilogy. I read it several months ago, and I'm not remembering enough specifics to articulate why it's not my first pick. I really liked the protagonist and was pulling for her.

I just picked up Warbound today.

I have no intention of trying to read the entire WOT series before the votes are due. I will read some of it—who knows, if it grabs my interest, I might get through it if I don't get a job soon! My expectations are muted because it seems as if every comment I've seen by someone who describes themself as a big fan of WOT includes them apologizing for weaknesses in the series.

*I would just like to point out that I managed to type lieutenant with the correct spelling, with no prompting from spellcheck. This is a first in my life, and I'm very proud.

#11 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2014, 07:31 AM:

I enjoyed Parasite, and it's a solid enough example of SF horror, but it feels a little light for a Hugo book. I kept comparing it to stories like The Screwfly Solution, and I was hoping for more of a SF punch.

I loved Neptune's Brood, but then again, I'm a huge fan of Stross's hard SF. This will definitely go near the top of my ballot. Even if it's not Stross's best book, he's in fine form, and his world is endlessly inventive. The undersea miners, for example, were simply marvelous.

I've made it about 20% of the way into Ancillary Justice, but I haven't yet reached takeoff speed. It's clearly a good book, so I'll try again when I have more time. This still has a chance at my top slot depending on how the rest of the book goes.

As for the the Wheel of Time, well, I've made it halfway through The Eye of the World. I really want to finish volume one, but I think I've read five other novels as procrastination in the meantime. Perhaps I would have loved this if I had found it on the shelves of my school library back in the 80s. But in 2014, after a lifetime of reading fantasy, there's nothing here that pulls me in. Farm boys who are secret heroes? Dark riders on horseback? Faceless evil hordes? Any novel which plays these tropes straight is going to lose me today. And it's on the 2014 ballot, so I think it's fair to judge it by modern standards.

Also, I personally consider 800-page novels and endless series to be grave artistic faults that can only be justified by amazing writing. (I'm so not the target audience here.) So WoT is going near the bottom of my ballot. But I'll probably continue plowing through volume one, and maybe it will finally click for me.

I'm waiting for the voter packet to read Warbound. I do like the occasional bit of military SF, so let's see how it goes.

#12 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2014, 08:45 AM:

I have read only WoT, but I'm not a person for whom spoilers are a problem, so I'll participate.

dsr @ 3

The things WoT does exceptionally well are characterization and world-building. From a very stock-character beginning in book 1, the characters round out both as you learn more and as they have experiences. Better than anything else I've read, it does a good job of capturing "every person is the central character of their own story" and "who you are today is not who you were last year." There are at least a dozen fully-developed characters, and another couple dozen fairly-developed characters. (For comparison-that second couple dozen are more developed than anyone but the heroine in (e.g.) Charlie Stross's Merchant Princes.) There are at least three cultures that are well-developed, and several more that are at least thoroughly sketched.

The trade-off is that there are so many interesting characters, in so many different places, that keeping track of everything is difficult, and I think that the story got too big for the author to handle by 6 books in. It's a sprawling, slow-moving epic of a story; that's a genre I like, but it's not to everyone's taste.

I do recommend, if you aren't going to read the whole thing, starting with book 2; it has more story and less introduction than book 1.

Think of it as fantasy for fans of Hardy and Dickens.

#13 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2014, 09:51 AM:

Avram @ 5
"Her narrator character was raised in a culture that doesn’t take much notice of gender; doesn’t mark it linguistically, or require gender-specific clothing. As a result, the narrator never acquired the knack of distinguishing gender."

The narrator character being an artificial intelligence may also have something to to with it. I'm not sure that the non-AI members of the narrator's culture are quite as oblivious as the narrator.

#14 ::: Stephen Hope ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2014, 10:38 AM:

I read up to about book 5 or so of the Wheel of Time when it was coming out, and eventually drifted away from it as it seemed to get more bogged down. I kept telling myself I'd get back to it one day, but as the internet broadened my options from what the local book-store held, I never did. One of my workmates raves about it, though, so I'll look at finishing it before the vote if possible.

I've read the other four, before the nominations. I read about 150 new works last year, and rated ten of them (not all eligible) five stars. Three of those were Ancillary Justice, Neptune's Brood and Warbound. Parasite just didn't grab me as much, it only got four.

Warbound works better if you've read the whole trilogy - it's definitely one story. In some ways it's the setting that I like most, Faye is probably the most interesting character.

Neptune's Brood sort of snuck up on me - it's not my favourite Stross series, but I enjoyed it.

Ancillary Justice is probably my front runner at the moment. I liked the setting, the ancillary idea was interesting.

#15 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2014, 10:49 AM:

I liked all three of Ancillary Justice, Neptune's Brood and Parasite. That is the (fairly close) order I would rank them at the moment.
The pronouns are what get mentioned a lot in Ancillary Justice and I liked how that pointed out some interesting characteristics of the groups in the novel and my default assumptions. What I really liked was the dealing of distributed consciousness with Breq's parts in the various stories, the ships and the leader of the Radch. I found the base quest story to also be entertaining and the world building with hints towards what is to come was nicely laid out.
The sub-light economic system of Neptune's Brood was masterfully done and I enjoy things like that. As Erik K.@11 mentioned, the undersea miners are an amazing example of a non-human species. The background universe of NB with its post-biological human basis has all sorts of room to develop interesting ideas that point back to biologicals and forward to trans human ideas.
Parasite was a nice take on a cause of "zombieism." I liked the exploration of what it means to be human from the non-zombie worm beings perspective. The narrator didn't quite gel with me. I figured out the reveal about her fairly early on and part of her personality was almost certainly related to that.

I read the first 5-7 books of the WoT when they came out. The first 3 were decent enough fantasy with some nice world building. After that they got rather stuck in nothing happening and I stopped reading the series. Since we are considering the series as a whole, the middle books force me to rate it lower in the vote. I haven't read the concluding volumes and will probably try them when the packet comes out.

I haven't read Warbound yet.

#16 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2014, 11:08 AM:

My major objection to Ancillary Justice is that it posesses no ending at all. It simply stops at a scene-change and now I get to wait for the other half of the novel. I have a strong suspicion that the split between Justice and Sword was entirely pagecount based.

This in no way changes the fact that it is the piece of fiction that has blown my mind hardest in years. I love the whole take on colonialism (which will be discussed in detail at WisCon next weekend), and having a gender-blind AI main character. I think the rest of the Radch are similarly clueless from the POV of non-Radch, gender-seeing cultures, by the way that Breq's speech issues immediately clue people in as to zir culture, not to the fact that zie's an AI.

Ancillaries are wonderfully creepy and disturbing and problematic, even from the point of view of those who use them all the time, and that's as it should be.

WoT ... I used to recommend it to friends who hadn't read it (back when there were only 7 books of it or so) by saying, "If you have the willpower to stop at three books and pretend it's a trilogy with an ambiguous ending, it has a neat magic system and some really cool worldbuilding, with characters that engage. But after about book 4, every book expects you have JUST finished reading the previous, and doesn't bother to provide enough clues for you to have any idea what was happening in the plot three books ago if you haven't JUST read them."

Also, IMHO he should have calved off the entire Seanchan plot and POVs into their own, separate series of novels, like McCaffrey did with the Moreta/Nerilka pair. He was already juggling way too many plot threads to do justice to any of them BEFORE a new culture suddenly shows up on the seashore and steals 1/3-1/2 of all the available pages in each book ...

I generally find it a really bad sign when, in a series, the doorstop novels start taking place over less than a week of time each. It shows the author is getting bogged down in myriad gobs of stuff and no longer interested in putting a book's worth of story in each book. It happened in Jean Auel's Ayla books, and it was a problem there, too.

#17 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2014, 12:01 PM:

P J Evans (9): "In transit" means it's on the way from one branch to another, either to fill a hold or because it was returned somewhere besides its home location.

#18 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2014, 12:25 PM:

Eric K @ 11, Steve Halter @ 15: I adored the undersea miners in Neptune's Brood. I could understand Ana's decision to join them.

#19 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2014, 12:35 PM:

Thanks - the library site probably has a translation for that somewhere, but it isn't on the same page as 'where are the copies'.

#20 ::: Michael Johnston ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2014, 01:44 PM:

When I first started reading Ancillary Justice, I was annoyed at the pronoun "game," as I stupidly called it at the time. But the more I read, the more I confronted my irritation, the more I realized what Ann was doing, intentionally or not, and was a literal revelation of my default assumptions, and as I started to realize that, I began to enjoy the book even more than I already had been.

I wrote a post on it on my own blog, if anyone's interested: Here

For that alone I consider it the most important book I read in 2013, and I read a lot.

#21 ::: cheem ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2014, 03:10 PM:

I'm not sure if I got the point of the pronoun game in AJ. The narrator is unreliable as it is. When it became apparent that the narrator came from a culture that did not distinguish things by gender, I figured that 'she' was just a placeholder. It could have been 'he' or 'hir', but the pronoun used didn't convey any information as to gender any more.

This doesn't mean that I considered all characters to be ungendered... in my mind's eye, Seivarden was male (but we were told this), Awn was male, Skaaiata was female (too much anime on my part), the Lord of the Radch's gender drifted and the protagonist's gender was irrelevant (it never really crossed my mind to consider whether the protagonist was male or female). But the net effect on me was to change what the pronoun 'she' meant from 'third person, female' to 'third person'.

#22 ::: BigHank53 ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2014, 03:48 PM:

I haven't read the Mira Grant and so cannot comment on it. Ancillary Justice was going okay for me until the imperial leader confesses they've been conquering all these low-tech backwater worlds to pay for the empire itself, which practically made me toss the book. They have starships and space stations and a noble class and a mind-linked army with a thousand-year supply of frozen soldiers, and you expect me to believe they're somehow poor? They're pretty much the definition of a post-scarcity society. There aren't any resources a backwater world would have that it wouldn't be cheaper to buy instead of conquering and appropriating. It's a major plot point in the book, and it didn't make sense.

#23 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2014, 04:29 PM:

I had the opposite reaction, BigHank53; I thought Ah, interesting to *not* assume that the shiny high tech society isn't resource-limited. I didn't think any of the cool stuff they were described as having would get around resource limitation. Rather, the more amazing, the more expensive.

What did you think was the free-stuff-forever tech?

#24 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2014, 06:13 PM:

I remember thinking the WOT books were implementing some variant of Zeno's paradox, with each successive book after book 6 or so covering half as much elapsed time as the previous book, but with twice as many narrative threads. Ideally, it would have ended with a book about the last battle in which each page was the end of the world as seen by one minor viewpoint character.

I enjoyed reading them all, and will probably reread them all at some point, but the series really dragged at some point.

If you want to speed up your rereading of the books, or relive them without going through all the pages again, I very much enjoyed Leigh Butler's reread here. She went through each book and summarized what happened and discussed it in context. I don't know whether it would work to read that if you hadn't read all the books, though.

#25 ::: BigHank53 ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2014, 10:57 PM:

clew, there's a lot of reasons I would have accepted for imperial expansion: a divine mandate, military adventurism to draw off ambitious nobles, a societal refusal to use birth control, or political paranoia. But trying to turn a profit? How? If, for example, the USA were to invade and occupy Costa Rica, I don't see how the USA could hope to turn a profit on all the bananas they were the new owners of. Costa Rica doesn't have much that the USA does want. Other than the bananas, and it's not like they're all that expensive.

I don't think there was any free-stuff-forever tech at all...but there were enough signals given that it was a fabulously wealthy society. If you are going to have people wearing expensive handmade gloves, for example, that implies the following: enough people want such gloves that it is an industry. People earn a living by making such gloves. The gloves are priced accordingly, which means a lot of people have enough money to blow on the things. Leckie drops similar hints when describing the temples, the flower arrangements, the custom uniforms, jewelry, and elaborate rituals and staff.

The formal name for these sorts of conspicuous consumption is a Veblen good, which I learned a little while ago. There's boatloads of cash in Leckie's empire; they just have a distribution problem.

It's not so much a matter of free-stuff-forever, it's a matter of stuff becoming so cheap that ordinary market fluctuations become irritants as opposed to life-threatening catastrophes. I find it difficult to believe that a tech base capable of supporting an enormous fleet of warships and space stations wouldn't also develop space-based mining, if only so that they didn't have to haul everything they wanted out of a gravity well. And avoid the environmental downsides of mining on a habitable biosphere.

Japan maintained an isolationist stance for centuries. If they'd been entirely self sufficient in terms of raw materials and energy, they probably could have kept it up indefinitely.

#26 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2014, 12:20 AM:

It's pretty clear to me that we do know the gender of both "Breq" and Anaander Mianaai: both of them are ungendered, because both of them are distributed consciousnesses. Neither Justice of Toren nor One Esk has a gender, or a biological sex, and "Breq" is just the last remaining fragment of those entities. She certainly doesn't attach much importance to the biological details of the one body she has left.

#27 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2014, 12:35 AM:

well, maybe, BigHank83, but the US regularly performs `throwing a little South American country against a wall' to squash dissent, and we're richer than they are. Also, "temples, the flower arrangements, the custom uniforms, jewelry, and elaborate rituals and staff" have been found in societies we wouldn't think of as rich overall (ancient anywhere). Imperial-worthy gloves are more affordable if the glover who spends a year making them is in a relatively poor society. (Indeed, a rich society might have better job options than being a glover.)

Late Cyborgian Holocausts?.

Who knows? maybe the second volume will be more explicit!

#28 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2014, 02:54 AM:

I'm familiar enough with Roman imperial history, which is basically a long narrative of economic bleeding-out via external trade, to find the economics of Ancillary Justice perfectly plausible.

Remember that even if some consortia/forces do mine asteroids, there's no saying that the resultant resources are distributed efficiently enough to prevent economic hardship at a central level. Indeed, look at our own circumstances, where there's a good deal of wealth, but highly inefficient distribution, leading to the curtailment of committed governmental functions and the bankruptcy of entire cities.

To be honest, I would expect more visible worldbuilding to have to go into a post-scarcity milieu than one where, despite the advances of technology and exploration, economics are still a constraint. It's the one thing I was never happy with about the Culture: how did they get from here-ish to there? How did the rich finally decide that enough really was enough, and consent to the elimination of even relative poverty?

#29 ::: Soru ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2014, 12:09 PM:

If you choose not to conquer, then one thing guaranteed be scarce are the things you can only get by conquering. And then, if you keep caring about price, eventually the price of those things rises enough your society can't afford its scruples any more.

Elaborate hand-made gloves, the kind that take more time to make than they are likely to be worn for, are just the kind of good that can get you into that trouble. By definition, you can't create something of equal value in a lesser amount of time .

But those people on that planet down there could...

#30 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2014, 01:58 PM:

* checks in *

* waves *

* expresses willingness to answer direct questions about Neptune's Brood *

* checks out again *

(Meta: I think it'd be inappropriate for me to engage with this thread as a regular participant, but answering direct questions is another matter. If requested, I can also suggest to Seanan and Ann that they might like to drop by.)

#31 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2014, 02:05 PM:

As moderator, I'm certainly happy for the authors of the nominees to be around and answer direct questions*. I think it could make for very interesting conversation.

I think we're all aware of how these sorts of conversations can go awry, and I'll be happy to assist, either on-thread or via private communication, to reduce the chances that that may occur.

Also, it's perfectly fine if any author does not want to participate.

* [insert obviously interested and intrigued comment about the precise manner of Robert Jordan's participation here]

#32 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2014, 02:38 PM:

[insert obviously interested and intrigued comment about the precise manner of Robert Jordan's participation here] dust off your ouija board?

#33 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2014, 03:42 PM:

Does ML's server support Ouija Board Over IP?

#34 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2014, 03:51 PM:

Speculating about what makes The Culture possible rather than a future with the wealth distribution Piketty describes:

The super-wealthy individuals of the Culture are the Minds. There's no explicit mention of Asimov's Three Laws, but I think it plausible that the initial directed evolution of the Minds selected against the sociopathic tendencies apparent amongst the the human super-wealthy in our world, on general principles of safe and sensible engineering. And, knowing some of the crazy engineering things humans did do, the Culture gets its fair share of super-wealthy loonies despite that. Banks mentions such Minds, and the conflicts within his books imply some risky levels of self-interest amongst the Minds.

Somebody tried to design the first Minds, and that would make some difference. And Minds as the Culture's equivalents of the billionaires of our world seems obvious. Consider Bill Gates and Elon Musk as examples, while a certain religion-founding pulp-SF-writer-who-shall-not-be-named-where-Google-may-index has certain Mind-like characteristics which could drive a plot.

#35 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2014, 03:56 PM:


I haven't read the book, so this is just talking about the question of imperialism becoming uneconomical.

First, I think it's a common pattern for colonialism to be uneconomical (even ruinously expensive) for the country engaging in it, but fabulously profitable for the insiders who get the colony's oil rights or whatever. So it's quite possible to have colonialism that is overall not really very sensible, but which is profitable to enough important and powerful people within your society to still go on. ISTR that Adam Smith thought this was basically what was going on with most of Britain's colonies. (And a variant of this is that if gives you a place to send your troublemakers and unneeded third sons and such--go take up the white man's burden...far away from the rest of us.)

Second, I think the desire for power over people is very powerful in humans. (Who knows whether it would be among aliens.) In a wealthy and well-run society it's hard to exert a lot of power over other people--you can threaten to fire your employees, but it's not like they're going to starve if you fire them, and they may even have the power to resist being fired. Or you can yell at your kids, but if you start beating them up, the police will show up at your door with some pointed questions. But the rules may be much looser in a colony under your control--the locals may be starving and willing to put up with anything to get enough food to eat; they may be unprotected by either your society's laws or any ability of their own to retaliate for bad treatment, etc. (Think of why some folks go to the third world to hire prostitutes.)

Third, I think some people really crave the power to engineer a society according to their ideals. They're convinced they know what should be done, and they're tired of dealing with recalcitrant fellow citizens who don't know what's good for them. Colonialism gives them a chance to go play with real societies, with people who don't have the power to refuse to go along. (I have long suspected that a lot of US foreign policy is actually driven by this desire.)

All those could easily lead to continued colonialism (perhaps with a face-saving economic justification that doesn't really hold up under close examination) in a society that doesn't remotely need or even benefit from conquering colonies in material terms.

#36 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2014, 04:04 PM:


I always sort-of think of Minds as keeping humans around in much the same way that humans keep pets around. There is genuine affection and caring there, but the society couldn't possibly function without the Minds in anything like its current form.

It would be fun to write a Culture story wherein some attack from outside incapacitated all the Minds in some area for awhile, while leaving enough of the automation working that you didn't have the whole orbital get hit by a meteor or slide off its orbit into the sun[1] or whatever. Would some of the surviving humans/drones decide to become warlords or bossmen or something? It's hard to imagine that happening, but maybe it would.

[1] Should have mounted those attitude jets....

#37 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2014, 04:25 PM:


I think I found Excession to be his least convincing Culture story, because the Minds were most of the main characters moving the action, and they weren't remotely smart or unwholesomely weird enough. By contrast, I thought the Minds in Surface Detail actually did work pretty well--perhaps because they mostly weren't interacting, and the main one that spent any time onstage was a warship Mind.

Out of curiosity, did Banks know he was close to the end of his life when he wrote his last couple books? They both were very focused on death and what happens after in the materialistic technological world of The Culture, in a way that made me wonder whether his own personal situation was influencing the stories he wrote.

#38 ::: Ann Leckie ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2014, 04:46 PM:

Charlie @ 30

No need to suggest I drop by! I am already here, being an occasional lurker at ML anyway.

I'm working on the assumption that it would be a bad idea to participate unless explicitly asked. I'm happy to answer direct questions, though.

#39 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2014, 05:33 PM:

The only one I've read from this batch is Ancillary Justice and I can only waste people's time by agreeing with every word iocounu said at #1 - it's strongly reminiscent of Banks, the messing with pronouns is fun and instructive and it does suffer from a bit of a stodgy dull patch near the end. The depictions of conspiracies in a world where minds may span a large number of bodies are amusing too.

It's not the best thing I've ever read, but it's a very clear signpost to expect really good work from Ann Leckie over the next few years.

#40 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2014, 11:25 PM:

Albatross writes in #33:

Does ML's server support Ouija Board Over IP?

Shouldn't the protocol be the other way around?

#41 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2014, 02:55 AM:

(Oops, not actually spam there, rather another case of Mistaken Type Your Name Here Box Syndrome. My apologies to the moderators.)

#42 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2014, 03:26 AM:

I wonder, in an idle kind of way, whether the fact that one of the nominees is hard-economics SF influences our collective reading of the other nominees.

Actually, I don't. Of course it does, since we are inevitably comparing the works to one another as part of the ranking process. But I find it interesting to pick at to how the nominees will be read differently because of the context created by the other nominees, and what multiplicity of readings that opens up.

#43 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2014, 08:21 AM:

Albatross @37: Iain didn't realize he had cancer until very late in the game. He was working on "The Quarry" and having lower back pain, which he attributed to bad posture ... then began showing signs of jaundice, at which point he went to the doctor, far too late to do any good. (It was an aggressive gall bladder/pancreatic/liver malignancy that grew rapidly and caused no symptoms until it was both inoperable and too advanced for radiation/chemo. At first diagnosis he was given 3-6 months to live, and he made it through 4 months.)

He told the BBC that he poured his bitterness into a particular part of "The Quarry", but that's the only book directly affected by it.

(Shortly before the end he was talking about making notes for a further Culture novel he'd been thinking about and passing them to Ken Macleod to work with, but the end came far faster than anyone expected, and no such notes were ever written down. (Source: personal discussions with Ken and Iain's other literary executor, Andrew J. Wilson.)

#44 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2014, 08:27 AM:

I just want to say that albatross @ 24 gives the best two-sentence summary of the awesome and
annoying feature of WoT that I've ever seen.

Just so I can look at it again:
I remember thinking the WOT books were implementing some variant of Zeno's paradox, with each successive book after book 6 or so covering half as much elapsed time as the previous book, but with twice as many narrative threads. Ideally, it would have ended with a book about the last battle in which each page was the end of the world as seen by one minor viewpoint character.

#45 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2014, 11:50 AM:

Charlie:The squid miner-collective in Neptune's Brood was really interesting in that they seemed to really be throwing off much of the baggage still left over from the biological human "ancestors." You mention they modified their neural architecture from the human norm in order to perform their team mining more easily. That's an nice example of self directed evolutionary action. In addition to the desired mining effects, it also seems to have resulted in (or enabled) the interesting social/political changes for the squids. They seem to be the nicest people that Krina encounters. If you wanted to talk about the squids more, I certainly wouldn't object.

You have a nice post on Exoplanetography of Shin-Tethys. It looks like some nice research into exoplanets went into building Shin-Tethys.

#46 ::: Cat ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2014, 07:00 PM:

I have a question for Ann Leckie.

If it wasn't intended to be deliberately ambiguous, what is the relationship between Justice of Toren, One Esk, and Breq?

My impression was that Justice of Toren equals ship, ancillaries, and all, One Esk equals the subset of Justice of Toren that is in some number of ancillary bodies (but nowhere near all the acillary bodies--I think the ancillary bodies are grouped by deck?) and Breq is the single ancillary body--who perhaps didn't even have a name until she (and I'm using that pronoun as Breq would) was cut off from the rest of Justice/One Esk.

But I've only read it the once and maybe I missed something.

#47 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2014, 07:03 PM:

My impression (one reader's opinion!) was that when sync is live, they are very nearly all the same consciousness, simultaneously. When the sync goes out, (as with the Imperial Presence when distributed universe-wide) individuation can occur ...

#48 ::: Ann Leckie ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2014, 12:11 PM:

Cat @46--basically, yes, though the boundaries (if there are anything like boundaries in that situation) are really fluid. Until there's only Breq, of course.

Elliot @47--more or less, yeah.

#49 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2014, 06:07 AM:

So I've finished Parasite now, which makes three candidates I've read. (Still Warbound and whatever I decide to do about WoT to go.)

I have to say, if I were to pick a third nominee after Ancillary Justice and Neptune's Brood, it would not have been Parasite. I don't like books where the viewpoint character is mysteriously stopped from thinking something through. And pretty much every interaction with her parents after the SymboGen security forces enter her house has the feeling of unbalanced unfairness: characters behaving mysteriously for reasons that sound more like excuses when they come out. Both of these things make me feel railroaded through the story.

I don't know. It's possible that something in me started looking for excuses not to like the book when Sal (a) said she liked taking very long showers, and (b) used a four-head shower for white noise to cover a phone call. There's no way she lived in a the San Francisco Bay Area for six years without discovering that that is heavily deprecated behavior. Also, the Bay Bridge is not a Faraday cage, and if it were, I would think it would block cell phone calls but not bluetooth rather than the other way around.

Were I to pick a third book to nominate, I think I'd have chosen Hild or, if that isn't SFnal enough to qualify (perhaps it's more properly historical fiction), The Incrementalists.

#50 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2014, 10:09 AM:

Abi... McGuire grew up and lives in Concord, and we may even have crossed paths because she's a regular of the same comic bookstore I'd go to, so I presume her character's overuse of water is an indication of a negative character trait. I haven't read the book yet though. That being said, I think her October Daye novels were better deserving of making it to the Hugo finals, but then again, as I once said here, Urban Fantasy as it is currently defined tends to be ignored by the voters.

#51 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2014, 10:58 AM:

It's not a negative-vs-positive character trait; it's that the character did these things with no awareness that they were bad or good. I simply cannot picture her having lived in a shared household (as she did) without conversations about water use from the people paying the bills. That should reflect in her narrative as she talks about long showers, the way that not giving urine samples in public or cleaning up food spills do.

If Seanan grew up in Concord, this surprises me even more.

I suppose we all bounce off of our own things. But this one really pulled the plug on my suspension of disbelief.

#52 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2014, 11:09 AM:

That does seem strange.

#53 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2014, 07:31 PM:

Abi@51, Seanan's younger than we are, missed the heavy drought years of the late 70s. (I haven't read the book yet, so don't have context for how it plays.)

#54 ::: Nancy ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2014, 10:13 PM:

I was surprised too to read of hour long showers, but I wonder if there is supposed to have been a change in climate, so it rains more now. When they go to visit Dr. Cale, and drive through a run-down section of Concord, Sal says she guesses they never expected to run out of cheap gas and good weather.

#55 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2014, 07:00 PM:

I'm reading Warbound now. I'm well past the "catching the reader up on the first two books" point, but I'm still feeling like there are pretty big expository blobs. I also think the style is more Tell than Show. There's a lot of explanation that someone is nice, jealous, smart ... whatever.

The action sequences are nice and crisp, which is good. I dislike fight scenes written in such a way that I can't tell what's happening.

#56 ::: Cat ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2014, 07:33 PM:

For those who are interested, I wrote a song for _Ancillary Justice_, specifically for One Esk.

The lyrics are here. There's an mp3 and pdf sheet music linked at the top of the page, just under the title.

#57 ::: Jason ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2014, 10:53 PM:

I bounced off Parasite and I think that the quality of WoT is far too uneven to deserve a nod. While Sanderson's previous volumes were OK, the last one was a major disappointment. I liked Ancillary Justice, but I don't think that it's a game-changing book as some seem to think. I really didn't pay much attention to the whole pronoun thing as that seemed reasonable given Breq's background. I did have a hard time accepting the political economy of the empire given its access to space-based resources. Haven't read Neptune's Brood yet, although I've got it in the stack. Warbound was fun, but not Hugo-worthy, IMO.

#58 ::: dcb sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2014, 07:50 AM:

Boring spam.

#59 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2014, 11:44 AM:


I think Sanderson did a better job of writing those last three books than Jordan was doing toward the end, probably because Jordan was in failing health. But by the end of the series, especially the last book, the story was so overdetermined from past bits of foreshadowing and major plot themes, and there were so many moving parts that had to be brought together, that he almost didn't have any choices as a writer.

I didn't like the technique for resolving Rand's descent into darkness. There had to be a resolution, or Rand was going down the Mashadar path of being as evil as the shadow. But somehow, I didn't buy it.

#60 ::: James Harvey ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2014, 06:28 AM:

Well, I've only read Neptune's Brood and about the first five books of WoT so far.

Having thrown about the fifth of the WoT books across the room with great force, I think it's safe to say that I won't be nominating that work. I'm not a huge fan of GRRM's Song of Ice and Fire, but I do appreciate his attempts to introduce some element of unpredictability and a real sense of peril for his characters. Robert Jordan has none of this: you meet four kids in a village in book one, and know you are going to be following them to the end. I'm afraid I felt that it was 4.5 million words of derivative make-it-up-as-you-go-along plotting. It's got to have compelling story, great characters and utterly believable, nuanced world building. Comparisons to LotR are laughable. But let's compare to another Hugo winner: Dune. Not in the same league.

Neptune's Brood is a far more interesting article. Great plot and characters overlaying an interesting economic premise. I don't think it is quite up there with the simply wonderful Accelerando, but it would be a worth winner.

All I have to do is read the others now! Especially looking forward to Ancillary Justice from the favourable noise I have heard so far from people whose opinions I respect.

#61 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2014, 10:05 AM:

abi@49&51:I agree with the not appreciating having the main character stopped from figuring things out. There did seem to be a bit of artificialness about that.
The general feeling I got with the water usage vs the urine sampling and such was that her family was basically terrified of doing anything that might further break their strangely returned daughter. That and being from the Midwest, water overuse isn't quite the visceral base level concern for me.
But, all of the various actions and discrepancies added up to a picture of someone who was very different. I think that this was all probably intentional on Seanan's part as then the reveal that she is a sentient tapeworm replacement doesn't seem particularly out of place.
For me, this created a bit of a remove from Sal. I'm not sure if this was intentional or not.

This year, I followed a nomination strategy of winnowing my choices down to my absolute favorites and so I decided to only nominate two novels--Ancillary Justice and Something More Than Night. My thinking was that these were my two favorite and I would be decisive in regards to picking the books I most wanted to win. Unfortunately, I now see that I should do a full slate, including books I wouldn't mind winning, based upon the events of this nomination cycle.
The next two books I would have filled out my list with would have been The Incrementalists and Neptune's Brood. I'm not sure about choice number five.

#62 ::: Jason ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2014, 11:57 AM:

albatross@59: I expected that the finale would be problematic as it pretty much had to wrap up the multitude of plotlines to satisfy fan expectations. What I didn't expect was that a lot of the action would be boring; for all that the various battles/encounters were balanced on knife edges, I just didn't care very much. It's been long enough now that I don't really remember the details, but it got kinda tedious.

#63 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2014, 04:34 PM:

Steve @61:
But, all of the various actions and discrepancies added up to a picture of someone who was very different. I think that this was all probably intentional on Seanan's part as then the reveal that she is a sentient tapeworm replacement doesn't seem particularly out of place.

I think she did a very good job of making Sal (a) distinct from Sally (though it seems that no one liked Sally at all, which seems implausible), and (b) clearly enough displaced from "normal" context that she could be a tapeworm.

And I really did like Tansy, in the same way I like Jayne in Firefly: in earshot but out of line of fire.

#64 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2014, 05:11 PM:

abi@63:Oh, yeah, Tansy was great fun. I liked her although, as you say, so long as you don't actually need to be anywhere near her.

#65 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2014, 04:08 AM:

Cat @ #46 writes: Justice of Toren equals ship, ancillaries, and all, One Esk equals the subset of Justice of Toren that is in some number of ancillary bodies ... and Breq is the single ancillary body.

Having just finished reading it (once), I think One Esk is 20 ancillaries. Breq is a name adopted by the sole survivor (not called Breq before that, called One Esk Nineteen or something).

I think she's the replacement ancillary with a poor singing voice we see a grumpy medtech adding to One Esk when Awn goes to Medical on her return to Justice of Toren - so the viewpoint character for the later narrative thread is in a body that wasn't even on the planet Shis'urna for the earlier thread.

#66 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2014, 08:36 PM:

I've started Anathem (that was a Hugo nominee, right?) and am past the halfway point.

Bought the massive hardcover it as soon as it came out-- unusual for me, but I'll do it for Neal Stephenson. I read the first chapter and realized this was going to take real concentration. So I set it down.

Here we are, six years later. Over and over again I have gazed wistfully at Anathem on the shelf, and told myself "but I have to read this other thing I'm reading first." Farah Mendelsohn's talk, at the Royal Society, about representations of the Royal Society in SF and fantasy noodged me into pulling the big black tome down and opening it again.

It's swell. Indeed, there was some uphill travel while getting the hang of Stephenson's very strange world, and while conquering his innumerable specialized words. (Wouldn't be surprised if there's a glossary at the end, but I am too proud of my SF-reading powers to look.) But I built momentum, as I always knew I would, and am enjoying the ride. As I sometimes say of Vernor Vinge, I am the sort of reader Stephenson is writing for. (I like infodumps and digressions just fine.)

I am hopelessly behind on this century's novels, but I recently read Ancillary Justice, which was as good as everyone says.

And I got the jump on next year's Hugos by reading Andy Weir's The Martian. Summary: robinsonade with hydrazine.

If Crusoe were a wiseacre blogger, improvising survival on Mars by repurposing a lot of NASA hardware, this is the book he'd have written. Wonderful. If it sounds like it might be your thing, read it.

Rocket-scientist nitpicking:* The book doesn't work unless EVA (extravehicular activity) is easy and frequent, yet despite the abundant description of his activities working with other systems, we don't hear much about maintaining the hero's space suit. This wrinkle is easy enough to forgive, however.

*Because I think it's expected of me.

#67 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2014, 09:19 PM:

Indeed, there is a glossary in the back. You can mostly figure stuff out without it, but it helps some.

#68 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2014, 12:14 PM:

#67, P. J. Evans:

Good to know. But I'm still too proud to use it.

#69 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2014, 04:08 AM:

The Hugo Voter Packet is out.

The internet will collapse today. Film at 1011

#70 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2014, 08:54 AM:

Dave Bell @69, it is? I haven't gotten a notification yet. Maybe they're rolling it out in stages?

#71 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2014, 09:18 AM:

The packet is at:
Hugo Packet

I hadn't gotten an email yet either, so the heads up here is appreciated.

#72 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2014, 09:58 AM:

Steve Halter @71, I'm downloading even as I type. Thank you for the link!

#73 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2014, 05:27 PM:

abi@51: Is it possible that she sees the overuse of water as so obviously wrong that it can be used to indicate a flaw, even though no one actually draws attention to its wrongness? I mean, if there were a character who ate puppies, we would know that this character was flawed, even if no one commented on how bad it is to eat puppies.

#74 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2014, 03:27 AM:

Arrgh. The Kindle is hiding, so I'll have to read load the Hugo downloads onto the tablet, and the Android version of the Kindle reader is annoyingly badly designed. On the other hand, reading PDFs on the Kindle was painful, since at least in previous years they were formatted for A-size or something similarly large. Moving many megabytes.

#75 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2014, 03:50 PM:

cheem @ 21: Odd, I'd gotten the impression that Awn was female and Skaaiat was male. This was after wondering, during their night together, what genders they were. Then I decided that it didn't really matter unless they faced some prejudice because of it, and that if I felt like I *had* to know then I should pay attention next time someone who isn't Radch refers to them by pronoun.

Bill Higgins @ 66: I'd be amazed if The Martian doesn't make the Hugo ballot next year. I thought of it as something like Carl Sagan and Carl Hiaasen collaborating on a Jack London-esque story set on Mars.

Ann: in Chapter 6, was Seven Issa leading up to asking if One Esk liked her and/or confessing that she liked One Esk, or was that just an allusion to ships having favorites, and nothing more?

#76 ::: Ann Leckie ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2014, 05:34 PM:

johnofjack @ 75 Seven Issa suspected (or was afraid that) she'd offended One Esk by speaking disrespectfully of Lt Awn, and was looking for more information. It's mostly meant to suggest (or begin to suggest) to the reader that while One Esk isn't saying anything direct about how it feels, those feelings are nonetheless there and in some cases noticeable to those who know it well and can be bothered to care enough to look for it.

#77 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2014, 05:50 PM:

Thanks, Ann. I did like the use of Breq/One Esk as an unreliable narrator (and, as mentioned above, the description of the multiple points of view while One Esk / Justice of Toren). I'm looking forward to the sequel.

#78 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: June 04, 2014, 04:42 PM:

I read through Warbound. I was fairly unimpressed with both the style and the plot. The writing was often turgid. For example,
here is a bit from the Prologue:

"Indeed . . ." Okubo nodded in agreement, not that he was worried about a mind reader stealing his secrets. He had already demonstrated on more than one occasion that attempting such a thing had terrible consequences. In fact, an attempt had been made by a Qing spy only a few days before. The man had been subtle in the ways of magic, but when Okubo had sensed the intrusion, he had surged his own Power and ruptured vessels in the spy’s brain so forcefully that blood had squirted from the man’s ears.

The copy text for the book claims that it is meant to be noirish, but Correia seems to have taken that to mean pot-boiler with graphic violence. Then, there were the numerous Randian messages embedded amidst the info dumps. Lot's of telling rather than showing.
I won't be putting Warbound on my Hugo ballot as it didn't really seem to measure up to the other candidates to me.

#79 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2014, 04:53 AM:

"Indeed..." Niall nodded in agreement, not that he was worried about Warbound winning a Hugo. In fact, he had perused an abbreviated extract from the Prologue only minutes before, and it was so ludicrous that coffee had squirted from his nose.

#80 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2014, 09:05 AM:

I've just started reading the Correia. To be accurate, I'm maybe halfway through the first novel; the actual nominee is novel #3. (And I'll give Baen appropriate credit here; they put novels 1 and 2 into the Hugo packet, so Warbound can be read in context. Tor and Baen are both really making Orbit UK look bad, here...)

So far, I'd characterize it as Noir With Psychics And Magic. The writing strikes me as a little clumsy; I think he's trying to be Mickey Spillane and not quite hitting the mark. The world-building is also a little unsatisfying; I find it hard to believe that 1930s America would be significantly unchanged (other than a much larger use of dirigibles, and, honestly, who doesn't like dirigibles?) in a timeline where magicians/psychics have been running around for a hundred years in the open. (Novels where the fantastical element hides in the shadows mostly unseen don't have this problem, but that's not the case here.) If you were to drop my parents off in the Chicago of this world, I honestly don't think they'd notice any major differences from the Chicago of their childhood. Other than dirigibles. <grin>

Overall, the first book strikes me as beach reading; not dreadful, but I wouldn't be looking for the sequel if I didn't feel I should at least attempt to read Warbound as a Hugo voter.

It doesn't make me think, like the Lecke or the Stross, or to a lesser extent the Grant. It doesn't make me feel, like the Grant. It doesn't connect with me on either an intellectual or emotional level.

I've not gotten to Warbound yet. Perhaps the writing improves. I'll give it its fair chance.

#81 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2014, 05:37 PM:

I'm reading (at) a library copy of Ancillary Justice, and keep losing interest-so I'm only about 20 pages in. Does anyone else recognize this/have a suggestion? Lots of people liked it--I keep finding it boring and giving up.

#82 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2014, 07:06 PM:

SamChevre @81, as my grandmother used to say, "It's a good thing we don't all like the same thing, or just think what an oatmeal shortage there'd be."

In other words, if it doesn't work for you, it doesn't work for you. If you bounce off it too hard, don't make yourself finish it just because you think you should....

I'm having much the same reaction to the Correia, which I'm finding a rather predictable 1950s-pulp-style potboiler. Good beach reading, I suppose, but I don't consider it Hugo material, since (in my opinion) SF writing has improved considerably over the last 60 years...

#83 ::: Bill Stewart sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2014, 07:51 PM:

spammity spam.

#84 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2014, 08:09 PM:

SamChevre @ 81 & Cassy B. @ 83: Yes, no need to push through a novel that you're not enjoying. I was raving on Facebook today about The Goldfinch. Two people said they'd started it and lost interest, and a third shared how much they'd enjoyed it, too.

The Correia didn't do much for me. I did push along a fair way—I gave it time to do expository blobs establishing what happened in books 1 & 2—but it never got interesting to me. I've read and enjoyed other books that are noir and/or have a band of adventurers fighting against overwhelming odds, but this one didn't grab me.

#85 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2014, 12:51 PM:

I'm doing a drive by here, since I've only just finished Parasite, and have (some) of the others coming when the library holds finally take hold.

Abi@49-- The faraday cage annoyed me greatly. So much else seems at least plausible from a science standpoint, but then you get the phone ringing in a Faraday cage thing.

1) If a cell phone is working, it's not a faraday cage.
2) If the phone is working, what's the jammer doing?
3) If a phone works, a bug could work.
4) Bluetooth already works in the nearly faraday cage of a car, since both bits are inside.

I suppose some of it is Sally's unreliable understanding of the science -- It was mentioned that the surveillance was better and more pervasive than they were expecting. But that was the shower scene, not the Bay Bridge.

#86 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2014, 02:05 PM:

You're using logic! *g*

(Failure of suspension of disbelief is so much fun.)

#87 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2014, 02:01 AM:

Eric@85, there's been a discussion on the Cryptography mailing list about whether a refrigerator is an adequate Faraday cage to keep a bugged cellphone from sending/receiving signals (probably not; designed to be airtight, but rubber seals aren't RF-tight), or whether a microwave oven was better (because it's designed to keep similar wavelengths from leaking out), and somebody suggested "well obviously you put the phone in a microwave oven in the refrigerator."
So having been exposed to Making Light for a few years, there was one obvious response, being

This is just to say

I have microwaved
the phones
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for crypto.

Forgive me
they were rf-sensitive
so smoky
and so cold.

#88 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2014, 11:23 AM:

Cassy B @ 80, and generally: is it fair to vote on volume N of an N-logy according to one's evaluation of the entire set? I expect this approach has affected other nominations (cf Harpist in the Wind), but it grates on me -- especially in a year when WoT was nominated as a set. My \personal/ take is that no volume K should rate highly if it needs volumes K-1 etc. to make sense.

SamChevre @ 81: IMO, 20 pages isn't much to try to get into a book. Kate Wilhelm used to mark Clarion works with a red line indicating where she lost interest, but those were short stories; IMO, a novel should be given more time to get moving. (YMMV, of course -- but try 50 pages? And note that Leckie is showing Now and Then in parallel, so each needs its own time to get moving.) I wasn't as blown away by AJ as some have been(*); however, I found the story interesting; the viewpoint shuffle between the unit-of-twenty and the sole remainder was illuminating.

(*) IMO, some readers treated the gender ]unrecognition[ as a major political breakthrough, where to me it read as a (minor?) consequence of an AI directing pithed humans; I'm not even sure I believe it works, because in retrospect it seemed to me that enough undirected people appear to care about gender that the troops' not recognizing it could make occupation/governance more difficult. Or were the only people who cared about gender lumpen/thugs/...? (IIRC, none of the conquered people in AJ were as irritable about ]offenses to women[ as (e.g.) Iraqis or Afghanis in the recent Western invasions -- but were they all so careless of gender that ]remotes[ who couldn't see gender would never do something to upset the locals? Or were the units so overwhelming that upsetting the locals wasn't a concern, at least until someone started interfering with communications among units?
      Ann -- is any of the above coherent enough for you to clarify?

#89 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2014, 12:36 PM:

Not one to let a theory get in the way of a good experiment, I tried various Faraday cages with my iPod Touch. (note, cell phones wouldn't work here, since the local terrain blocks cell signals. YFMV)

1) Chest freezer - 0% ping loss
2) Fridge - 0% ping loss
3) Microwave (off) - 100% ping loss
4a) Aluminim foil hat^H^H^Henvelope, not quite closed, 0% ping loss
4b) Aluminum foil envelope, folded closed around all edges - 100% ping loss

If you're going to choose an appliance as a Faraday cage, the experiment points to a microwave. Now, if you're just trying to ignore the calls from a superior officer when you're trying to get married, I suppose a freezer would work for that.

#90 ::: Ann Leckie ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2014, 08:02 PM:

CHip @ 88

It's not that Breq can't see gender, or doesn't understand it. It's that her native culture just doesn't care about it, her native language doesn't mark for it (well, kind of obviously the language makes a human/non-human distinction but anyway), and different cultures categorize people differently--and mark those categories in different ways. She has to stop and think, and sometimes use rules that, in the way of such rules, aren't actually constant. "If they're wearing a skirt, they're female." Except when it's a kilt or a cassock, right? Or a lungi? Oh, I forgot to mention those. But those are just, you know, exceptions.

And that doesn't even take into account the ways that body shape doesn't always match up with gender.

(I'm also given to understand that people whose first language doesn't have gendered pronouns, but who have no trouble with the concept of gender generally, will sometimes use the wrong one when speaking a language like English, which does--not because they can't tell the gender of the person they're speaking about, but because automatically assigning the right one isn't such an entrenched part of their mental furniture. So it's already a really easy mistake to make in the real world.)

In Ors, One Esk doesn't have much trouble with it. In other similar situations, where One Esk has been in one place for some time and knows the culture well, it has very little trouble with it. Breq, in the "present" timeline, isn't in such a situation.

Honestly, I've been surprised at how large it's loomed in so many readers' experiences of the book. I thought it was an interesting worldbuilding detail, and I enjoyed the way it reframed my vision of the story to use a feminine default. Still, if it's leading some folks to rethink some of their assumptions about gender, I won't complain.

Or were the only people who cared about gender lumpen/thugs/...?

Depends who's answering the question, doesn't it? I'll just say that Breq isn't providing a particularly balanced (let alone complete) picture of how annexations go. And I doubt very much that many invading/occupying Radchaai care much if they tick off the locals, until the locals become citizens. In the case of Ors, the worst of it was pretty much past (in theory, anyway), and anyone disposed to be too offended (at least out loud) was gone. And by then One Esk had a fairly good handle on local customs.

Does that help?

SamChevre @ 81

Personally, my philosophy is that unless there's some compelling reason, life is too short to read books I'm not enjoying. Whether you put AJ down now, or keep going, thanks for giving it a shot.

I have seen several readers say that they weren't all in till around page 100--granted, that's a pretty fair distance to ask someone to slog before deciding to put a book down. Still, if you continue and find, after that chapter end, that you're still not enjoying it, well, it probably won't get much better for you.

It's no biggie, not every reader will enjoy every book.

#91 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2014, 08:21 PM:

I've read it once, and it will probably take another couple of times to really see some of the things going on. A good sign though, is that I get to the end and wonder what's going to happen next.

(I'd love to see the glass bridges.)

#92 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2014, 11:39 PM:

Anyone want to talk about the Novella nominees? I've read two so far; Equoid and Wakulla Springs.

My thoughts on those two novellas follow, with spoilers.....

Wakulla Springs was well-written, insightful, and put me solidly into an alien land (for me, being African American in the Jim Crow South is a very alien land indeed). Was it fantasy? I'm not sure. Only the very last line hinted at it...

Equoid was a nasty (and I mean that in a good way) horror story. I'll never look at a unicorn quite the same way again....

At this point, I think I'm rating Equoid a little higher than Wakulla Springs, only because Wakulla Springs didn't engage my sensa-wonder quite so much. (Well, Equoid didn't engage the sensa-wonder so much as the sensa-eldrich-horror. But it also had humor, which I appreciate in a dark story....) I'm looking forward to reading the other three contenders.

#93 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2014, 10:53 AM:

Cassy B: Well, one paragraph of Wakulla Springs (other than the last) is definitely fantasy, but yes, the story as a whole didn't seem to be fantastic in any particular way. It strikes me as an example of a tendency, which comes up in a few of this year's Hugo and Nebula nominations, and which I find rather dangerous, to co-opt stuff into our genre because we like it.

Regarding Equoid: it turns heavily on a set of references (not the ones to Lovecraft) which are not actually spelt out, and I'm not sure how well the work is question is known outside the UK. Can I ask if everyone has spotted them? (Though this may be the wrong place to ask - I suspect the work may be better known at Making Light than in the world at large.)

I have also read Six-Gun Snow White, which I was impressed by (is a six-gun a kind of gun, by the way, because otherwise I don't understand the title?) and The Butcher of Khardov, of which I can only say 'If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing that you will like'. At the moment my computer is refusing to print out the fifth nominee.

#94 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2014, 11:07 AM:

Andrew M @93,

"six-gun" comes out of dime novels and western movies (and also used as "six-shooter"). It's the fictional cowboy's revolver, which need not have been a Colt. It usually suggests a character who uses it, a gun-man, rather than the more commonplace ordinary guy who carries a gun but rarely fires it.

One of my US cousins carried a gun when out riding. The only time she used it was as a distress signal after a fall. The noise carries a long way.

"six-gun" is much more Wyatt Earp, or Dillinger.

#95 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2014, 11:40 AM:

Thanks. My immediate interpretation was that she carried six guns, but that didn't seem probable, and anyway wasn't supported by anything in the text.

#96 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2014, 02:19 PM:

"Six-guns" were revolvers that carried six bullets, which was fairly standard; some revolvers carried 12 bullets, which was not standard. Derringers carried smaller numbers of bullets, depending on their sizes. All of this dates back to the "Wild West" years, and predates magazines (that is, prepacked sets of bullets for modern guns). All of these guns were pistols, or hand guns, and not rifles.

#97 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2014, 04:12 PM:

Not to be confused with Twelve-Gun Tweeney, of course.

#98 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2014, 04:14 PM:

Yeah, I was going to do a sub-novel thread, with links to online sources and all, but life and insomnia overtook me. So do feel free to repurpose this one. :)

#99 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2014, 05:59 PM:

Ginger @96

While revolvers with a different number of chambers did appear in Victorian times, and 5-shot revolvers were certainly around, as well as the awkwardly large pistols such as the LeMat with 9 chambers, I wonder a little if the 6-chamber option had some advantage in the manufacturing.

#100 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2014, 06:12 PM:

Dave Bell @99: A 60-degree angle (necessary for fitting six equal objects around a circle) is significantly easier to generate than a 72-degree angle (necessary for five equal objects around a circle. Did you ever have to draw a daisy with a compass when you were in school? That's part of why 6 is easier.

#101 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2014, 07:05 PM:

Once you start making actual revolvers (single barrel rather than pepperbox), you have proper machine tools which include lathes and dividing heads, so "odd" numbers of chambers are less of a problem.

Derringers were usually 1, 2 or 4 shot (of effectively pepperbox construction.

There was a Lancaster .455" handgun, I think that is definitely not a derringer due to its sheer size and weight.

Pin-fire pistols were made in all sorts of configurations, from single shot concealable, 2-shot (side by side) Howdah pistols (more like a hand-cannon in .5" smoothbore for defending your elephant against boarding tigers) up to 9 or 12 shot pocket revolvers and pepperboxes (some of truly appalling build quality).

"If you build it, someone would buy it" seems to have been their motto.

Automatics were another matter, the Royal Navy were not impressed by the Webley-Mars Automatic Pistol, declaring: "No one who fired once with this pistol ever wished to fire it again." (Admittedly it was more of a pocket field-piece, with ballistics (and recoil) that would not be matched until the .357 and .44 magnum appeared on the scene, but the Navy preferred Webley revolvers.)

#102 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2014, 08:50 PM:

Andrew M @ 93:: Regarding Equoid: it turns heavily on a set of references (not the ones to Lovecraft) which are not actually spelt out, and I'm not sure how well the work is question is known outside the UK. Can I ask if everyone has spotted them? I read it several weeks ago, so there may be others that have slipped my mind, but I recall being delighted by several to Pbyq Pbzsbeg Snez.

#103 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2014, 08:54 PM:

On the novellas: I wasn't a fan Catherynne Valente's short fiction on recent ballots, but I loved Six-Gun Snow White.

#104 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2014, 09:21 PM:

I enjoyed The Lady Astronaut of Mars quite a bit. I rather liked the Oz parallel and the writing style was grade A.
The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling was well done and I enjoyed it although there was, for me, a bit of a feeling of disconnection from the story. I think that may have been on purpose as a subtext to the paralleling of writing and digital memory.
The Waiting Stars was also nicely done although it didn't appeal to me quite as much as the previous two.

The Exchange Officers could have shaped up to a decent enough piece of action fluff with some good editing. As it stands, the writing was awkward enough to detract from the story flow.
Opera Vita Aeterna is not good. The plot manages to both meander and rush. The writing style is clunky and the philosophy trite. This work is not at all at the level I expect from a Hugo candidate.

#105 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2014, 09:52 PM:

janetl@103:That's the main non-Lovecraftian reference I believe. I both enjoyed Equoid a lot and was skwicked out a lot at the same time in a lovely fashion that I enjoyed immensely. Equoid almost certainly be at the top of my ballot.
The use of the Lovecraft letters and the procurement forms (recall Shub-Niggurath [The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young] as a reason for those forms reappearing) played off of both each other and the story itself and served to ramp up the tension in a way that was really well done (I thought). The "Unicorn" and some of the Lovecraft letters were horrifying but they also work rather well with the mythos of Lovecraft himself. As "Case Nightmare Green" draws closer, it would seem that Bob's world is going to get rather more horrifying.
Also note that the story takes place prior to "The Fuller Memorandum, so Bob is still working for Iris. And, it is Iris who sends him on this adventure ...

Six-Gun Snow White and Wakulla Springs are both solid nominees. I love Valente's prose and I liked the western riff on Snow White but I would put it behind Equoid with Wakulla Springs coming in third.

#106 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 04:33 PM:

A friend who will be teaching a writing class asked if I could recommend recent short fiction and novellas. The only things I could reliably find & remember by name are the Hugo nominees, since I have them listed in spreadsheets with my notes. I made up a list of my favorites, and while I was looking it over, realized how thoroughly non-dead-white-male the pieces were. Six-Gun Snow White for example, is written by a woman, the protagonist is a woman, and the story is about how American society at that time oppressed anyone who wasn't a white male with property. If he actually uses any of them, they will be quite a counterpoint to the old canon.

#107 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: June 14, 2014, 06:53 PM:

My computer seems very reluctant to print the works of Brad Torgersen. I managed to get it to print out his novella in the end, but now it's objecting to his novelette. (It printed Day without any difficulty, so...)

Also, novelettes are short, aren't they? I think quite a lot of classic 'short stories' must actually be novelettes in Hugo terms.

#108 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2014, 09:30 AM:

Andrew M @93, on another forum, a Brit detailed all the various references to popular children's programs and slang like "jam sandwich".

Which I, as a benighted colonial, found very useful.

She was amazed that the story held up as a (darkly) funny story even to people who didn't get 80% of the references. But even in America, we have bureaucracy...


#109 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2014, 11:28 AM:

Cassy B: I was indeed thinking of Pbyq Pbzsbeg Snez, but I think it's more than just background; it is actually important to the plot. Bob solves the mystery by working out that this is the place where Nqn Qbbz fnj fbzrguvat anfgl va gur jbbqfurq.

#110 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 15, 2014, 11:40 AM:

Andrew M @109, obviously I'm going to have to get my hands on a copy of Pbyq Pbzsbeg Snez...

#111 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2014, 09:01 AM:

Ok, so I've delved into the Novelette and Short Story categories. Some thoughts, ROT-13ed because this is technically the Novel (and Novella) thread...


I rank “The Waiting Stars” first, although it was a VERY close decision between it and “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” (which I place second). Both are lovely, well-told, and very poignant tales, with strong character development. I put Waiting Stars higher because I genuinely didn't expect the reveal until just before it happened. “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” was well-conceived, but it was a little too much lecture and a little too little story. “The Exchange Officers”, at four, made me say "meh". Not good, not bad, just there. “Opera Vita Aeterna” was full of purple prose that would have put Jack Vance's Dying Earth books to shame; it read like a parody of a fantasy story. Dead last.

Short Stories:

First. “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” is a beautiful tale, with amazing character development, and a surprising amount of hope and redemption at the end. Second. “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” is charming and has heart, but it didn't resonate as well for me as "The Water that Falls". Third place for me goes to “Selkie Stories Are for Losers”, also a strong tale, like coffee is strong; dark and bitter. (This whole field was actually quite good, unlike the Novelettes....) And I really did love “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” (I had to hunt it down on the web, but it's freely available; I assume that's why it wasn't in my Hugo packet) -- my only gripe with "Dinosaur" is that it's not actually SFnal. So it gets a reluctant fourth place (I'd love to rank it higher, but....)

Now I'm off to tackle the Campbell nominees....

[ROT-13 text transformed to plaintext — Idumea Arbacoochee, Rotter of Thirteens]

#112 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2014, 09:05 AM:

Since I didn't end up having the spoons to do a sub-novel thread, feel free to not ROT-13. Shall I decode yours?

#113 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2014, 09:21 AM:

Abi @112, feel free to rotate the text. I wasn't sure if I should rot-13 it or not, so I decided "better safe than sorry." <smile>

#114 ::: Idumea Arbacoochee, Gardener of Threads ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2014, 09:24 AM:

Cassy B @113:

Done. Thanks.

#115 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2014, 01:21 PM:

OK: novelettes. I agree with Cassy B about the top two, but would put 'The Lady Astronaut' first, because I still find 'The Waiting Stars' a bit confusing. Why are the Outsiders doing what they are doing? Is it a 'the body cannot live without the mind' thing? But why do they want the bodies of the ships to live? I believe this is part of a whole universe that Aliette de Bodard has created; it might be clearer if I had more context.

'The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling' seems to me a bit plodding; 'too much lecture' describes it well. I do wonder if I have missed something, because it seems to me that the inset story does not - at least obviously - illustrate the point the narrator is trying to make. The Tiv seem to prefer the truth of feeling to the truth of fact, and the story does not - to one not already disposed to believe it - show that they are wrong.

I have still not managed to get 'The Exchange Officers' to print out.

And then, 'Opera Vita Aeterna'. Yes, the prose is terrible. Also, the Latin... You could, I suppose, argue that as it's a parallel universe, they have a language that's not quite Latin: but VD has rather spoilt that, I believe, by claiming that the title is in Italian. As a story, though, I didn't find it too bad. It didn't strike me at all as an in-your-face religious allegory; indeed, if I didn't know about the author I would have been uncertain whether he was a religious believer. The end is nicely ambiguous; the question of the immortality of the soul is not resolved (I find the way this is framed annoying from a philosophical point of view, but that's a side-issue), but the minds of the characters achieve immortality through their work.

#116 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2014, 05:37 PM:

I've read Neptune's Brood, Ancillary Justice, and Parasite so far, and will probably be ranking them in that order. I'll take a look at Hard Magic if I finish the novels in the packet by the Campbell nominees in time for voting, and if that's good enough I'll go on to Warbound. I certainly won't have time to read The Wheel of Time before the voting deadline, but I've been convinced by discussions here and elsewhere to check it out at some point.

Of the novel nominees I read, Parasite is the most readable; I think it's the longest of them, but I read it in the shortest time, with no interruptions to read other things. I interrupted both Neptune's Brood and Ancillary Justice with short fiction or parts of other novels, Neptune's Brood because I was in the middle of a long novel (Kathleen Norris's Saturday's Child, which Jo Walton recommended) when it came in from the library and I didn't want to lose the thread of either so I alternated them, and Ancillary Justice because it just couldn't hold my attention for that long at a time (though I did eventually finish it). I think Parasite is the strongest on characterization, which is really saying something considering how interesting Breq and Krina are, and it has as gripping, fast-moving plot, but it's just not as mind-blowing as the other two, and mind-blowingness is a quality that weighs more heavily in my Hugo voting than the other fine qualities that Parasite possesses in abundance. Also, it has less closure than the other two, or (if I recall correctly) Feed; someone earlier in the thread commented that Ancillary Justice felt like it ended on a cliffhanger, but I had that feeling much more strongly with Parasite.

Sal is probably the most believably interesting character in any of the books I've read lately, Hugo nominee or not. Her situation is similar to that of the main character in "Second Person, Present Tense" by Daryl Gregory, but different enough to feel like it's not a rip-off; and the way her character has been shaped by the unusual circumstances of her new life is believably portrayed with lots of cool thinky bits. I loved the line (paraphrasing because I've already returned the book to the library) about the sky being the perfect blue of surgical gloves, for instance, and the way she falls asleep while getting blood drawn or a gel ultrasound, and lots of other little touches. There are bunches of other strong characters: Sal's sister and father, Nathan, Dr. Cale, Sherman, Tansy... more I think than in either of the other nominees I've read.

The idea of a gender-blind character goes back at least to Raphael Carter's "The Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation", but I don't know that anyone has used one as a first-person narrator before. Other than that, though, Ancillary Justice didn't impress me as much as Neptune's Brood did with its worldbuilding and plotting. It's very good, but I feel like it's been overhyped a bit; as I said earlier, I kept putting it down for a while to read other things, but I kept coming back to it too. (The same thing happened with Sofia Samatar's A Stranger in Olondria, which I wanted to love more than I did.)

cheem @21:

in my mind's eye, Seivarden was male (but we were told this), Awn was male, Skaaiata was female (too much anime on my part), the Lord of the Radch's gender drifted and the protagonist's gender was irrelevant

Interesting. My vague impression was that Awn was female and Skaaiat was male, but that's just a vague impression; the only major characters I noticed definite clues about were Seivarden (male, according to Breq's memories), Anaander Mianaai (male, according to the pronoun Dr. Strigan uses), and the priest of Ikkt (whose beard is mentioned). One of the people in the bar in the first scene calls Breq "tough little girl," which implies that her one remaining body is female, but she probably has no gender identity as such.

Matt Austern @26:

Breq says in chapter 6 Anaander Mianaai has "thousands of bodies, all of them genetically identical," which I read to mean they're all clones of their original body. And Dr. Strigan uses "he", which probably implies that those identical bodies are all male. There's also the fact that Breq and others instantly recognize Anaander Mianaai when they see them in whatever body. Maybe half of them were grown with a borrowed X chromosome in place of the Y, and citizens of the Radch would still only have to recognize two different faces and bodies for their ruler, but they can't make their bodies as diverse as a starship's ancillaries or they'd forfeit that instant recognizability; and there's no support in the text that I can see for supposing Anaander Mianaai has bodies of different sexes.

Chris Gerrib @7:

I don't think the reveal at the end was necessarily supposed to be a big surprise; it had been foreshadowed clearly at least halfway through the book and maybe earlier. I was pretty sure of it after the scene where Sal faints during the first conversation in Dr. Cale's lab, though I'd suspected it earlier. I think the reader is *supposed* to figure it out long before Sal because Sal is in denial about it.

#117 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2014, 05:46 PM:

I've read all but one of the novellas, and all the short stories, but not many of the novelettes yet. I'd rank the novellas I've read thus: "Wakulla Springs", "Six-Gun Snow White", "Equoid". "The Chaplain's Legacy" isn't bad, but I'm not sure it's Hugo quality either. "The Butcher of Khardov" looks like RPG tie-in fiction, and I'm not sure it will stand alone for people who know nothing of the setting.

Of the novelettes I've read so far I think "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" is better than "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling", which is below par for Ted Chiang but would still be a worthy winner.

The short stories are all so good I'll have a hard time ranking them.

Of the Campbell nominees, I've read things by Max Gladstone, Sofia Samatar and
Benjanun Sriduangkaew. I thought Three Parts Dead was better than A Stranger in Olondria, but not by a large margin, and Sriduangkaew's short stories are also excellent in their kind; it will be hard to rank them.

Cassy B. @92:

Was it [Wakulla Springs] fantasy? I'm not sure. Only the very last line hinted at it...

I think I saw a couple of hints earlier on, but I haven't read it in several weeks and can't remember for sure. I think one was in the early scene where the main character is walking through the woods, and sees/hears something mysterious that might be the same cryptid her descendant sees in the final scene.

#118 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2014, 08:51 PM:

Ok, finished two of the Campbell nominees. Thoughts thus far: Nexus is fast-paced and the story and characters sucked me in. Ranking it high (how high depends on the other candidates).

Lives of Tao claims, on the cover-blurb, to be laugh-out-loud funny. For me, however, it wasn't even mildly humorous. I thought he did a nice job of getting Chicago right, however. Not ranking particularly high (depending, &ct).

#119 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2014, 09:25 PM:

I've given up on the novels: Ancillary Justice was the one I thought I might like, and I never managed to get into it. (Horror and pulp are just not my styles.)

Short stories: I liked "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love", but had the same problem with it as with Wakulla Springs[1]--not enough fantastic elements for a sci fi/fantasy award[2]. "Ink Readers" was similarly problematic--a good story, not enough sci-fi; the writing was a bit clunkier, but the story was a bit more fantastic, the "If you were..". All three also suffered from a bit too much "stock villain" for my tastes. "Selkie Stories are for Losers" was a much less predictable story, and much more fantastic--even though the fantasticness was mostly off-stage. "The Water that Falls on You from Nowhere" was the strongest story for me, with the fantastic element central to the story and the resolution (although stereotypical "happy ending") developing in a surprising way.

1) I really liked the characters and long-term view of Wakulla Springs; very well worth reading, but ranked lowest because it's not fantasy.
2) Both felt like good non-genre fiction. The narrative style of "If You Were..." feels very literary to me.

#120 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2014, 08:14 AM:

Jim Henry @ 116: ... I don't think the reveal at the end was necessarily supposed to be a big surprise; it had been foreshadowed clearly at least halfway through the book and maybe earlier. I was pretty sure of it after the scene where Sal faints during the first conversation in Dr. Cale's lab, though I'd suspected it earlier. I think the reader is *supposed* to figure it out long before Sal because Sal is in denial about it.

I agree.

#121 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2014, 02:17 AM:

I've finished the three Orbit excerpts, and am starting on the Correia trilogy. Is it reasonable to start with Warbound by itself, or do I need to read the first two volumes before starting it?

#122 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2014, 07:16 AM:

Bill Stewart @121, the Correia is one of those Action-Packed-Serials; I read the whole trilogy and I'm not sure I'd've really understood what the heck was going on if I hadn't. (On the other hand, the Bad Guys are Bad, the Good Guys are Good, and it never hurts to have a Bigger Gun does kinda sum up the first two novels....) YMMV.

#123 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2014, 08:32 AM:

Bill Stewart@121:I didn't read the first two Grimnoir books. If I had found myself enthralled by the third (nominated) volume, Warbound, I would have gone back and read them. Warbound gave me quite enough information about itself that I had no need to read the others.
Short form:I didn't like Warbound at all. Reading its predecessors would not have helped.

#124 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2014, 05:07 PM:

Short Stories:

None of these really enthused me. I thought 'The Water that Falls' was the best, and 'Selkie Stories' was OK. I didn't like 'Ink Readers' at all. I don't think it carries off the jokey style in which it is written. One of the commenters on very reasonably compares it to Terry Pratchett, and a more remote influence would be Ernest Bramah, but they have a sureness of touch which this doesn't.

And then 'If you were a Dinosaur...' - well, is it SF? The story the speaker is telling is (i.e. speculative fiction) - she actually comments on it being fantasy rather than science fiction - but the story she is in isn't. I really don't like the 'this can't be mainstream, it's good' attitude in general, but I think this really is a borderline case.

There is an awful lot of meta-ness in this year's short fiction. Is this usual?

Having now managed to read the Torgersen stories: 'The Exchange Officers' is possibly the least interesting story I have ever read. 'The Chaplain's Legacy', on the other hand, did seem to me to be a rather interesting idea, though I don't think all aspects of it were handled well. It's strangely similar to 'Opera Vita Aeterna', both being about the meeting of religious and non-religious minds, and both reaching an ambiguous conclusion. (Though I believe this is part of a larger project of Torgersen's, so it may be that in the complete thing there is less ambiguity.)

#125 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2014, 11:58 PM:

I've read several more works by the Campbell nominees. Nexus is quite good, strong on science-fictional extrapolation and plot and pretty decent on characterization; I look forward to reading the sequels. The Lives of Tao was pretty enjoyable overall, and I really liked the relationship between the main human character and his alien symbiont, but some of the secret history left a bad taste in my mouth -- the way it gives credit to meddling aliens for many of humans' major achievements throughout history. I probably won't read the sequels to this one. Two Serpents Rise was about as good as Three Parts Dead; at the moment I'd tend to rank the Campbell nominees Gladstone, Samatar, Sridankaew, Naam, Chu, but I might rank Sridankaew higher after re-reading some of those stories shortly before voting.

I just started reading Hard Magic, and almost gave up on it partway through the prologue, but it gets better after that. It's not great, but it's good enough I'll probably finish it and maybe read the whole trilogy. Warbound would have to be a lot better than this to rank higher than No Award on my ballot, though.

#126 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2014, 02:16 AM:

I ended up reading about 20 pages of Correia's Volume I, then switched over to Warbound; it was a useful introduction to some of the main characters. Then I read about as much of Warbound as the Orbit excerpts provided of their novels, and decided that that was enough of that :-) On to The Wheel Of Time!

#127 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2014, 01:56 PM:

Well, I'm maybe a quarter of the way through the Campbell nominee Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria The language is beautiful and evocative, but so far, at least to me, it's like eating perfume; there's no *substance* to it. I feel like I *should* like it more than I *do* like it.

Still, Stranger is well-written enough I'll continue on, with the hope of encountering some meat, or perhaps a strange and wonderful flower. (Also, some sfnal element would be nice...)

I've not read the Sriduankaew yet, so I don't know where that'll rank. For now, though, I'm ranking Gladstone, then Naam, then Samatar (thus far; ranking subject to change as I finish the novel) and Chu is last. The Chu just didn't work for me.

#128 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2014, 06:13 PM:

Cassy B: Well, you could say it is speculative simply in being set in a world which is clearly not our own, but no, it does get more speculative than that. It also acquires more of a plot - though not, I think, a plot in which everything fits together; it is more the intersection of a number of lives, each with their own story. I quite liked this, but I can see that others might not.

It is a very rich book - rich as a cake is rich - and demands to be read slowly (which makes the Hugo packet experience rather frustrating). Nevertheless I think it is the best thing I have found in the Hugo packet so far.

Which brings me to a question. Some of the material in the Hugo packet (including all the short fiction) is in RTF or PDF, and so can be read on a traditional computer. But other things (including much of the Campbell stuff) are in formats that demand a dedicated e-book reader. Is there any way round this (other than buying the books)?

#129 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2014, 06:22 PM:

Andrew@128:For ePub files, you can get free readers from a variety of places for a computer. For example, the free Nook reader from Barnes and Noble or the calibre reader.
You can then import the ePub file into the particular reader.

#130 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2014, 06:45 PM:

Calibre is a very good reader program. I use it myself.

#131 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2014, 07:17 PM:

Andrew M@128

Most (possibly all) of the major ebook readers have free versions for Windows PC, Ipad/Iphone, and Android.

(Obviously, different free versions for the different platforms.)

#132 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2014, 11:52 PM:

For ePub files, I'm using Calibre on my computer (running Ubuntu) and Aldiko on my phone (Android). Aldiko is mostly pretty good -- I haven't compared it to other phone ebook readers, but it seems to lose some formatting compared to Calibre. The telepathic dialogue in The Lives of Tao for instance was italicized in Calibre but not in Aldiko, which was confusing until I got used to it. And the scene breaks (blank line between paragraphs) in the Correia ebooks show up in Calibre but not in Aldiko.

#133 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2014, 09:11 AM:

Last night, at about 11:30, I panicked that I hadn't gotten around to actually voting for the Hugos and I would miss the deadline! Panic averted when I realized the date is the end of July, not June. I went ahead and voted in the categories where I'd already made up my mind. Whew.

My book group was divided on A Stranger in Olondria, with some people loving it, and some people finding it too slow. A the time of our meeting, I hadn't finished it yet, thought it was beautiful, and too slow. I did finish it, and decided slow was OK. I don't need to be propelled through every book. The characters and world are still alive in my imagination, and I read it 8 months ago. Selkie Stories are for Losers certainly isn't slow paced.

#134 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2014, 10:09 AM:

Jim Henry @ 132, I ended up reading Lives of Tao in Sigil (an epub editor) because my new Kobo Aura didn't show the italics. Which is odd, because it's showing the italics in Stranger in Olondria just fine... but I had to edit in non-breaking spaces into the thought-breaks for the thought-breaks to show up, so that didn't display perfectly, either. (I'm hoping that as publishers get more used to ebooks, they'll start putting * * * in every thought-break, not just the ones that fall on the hardcopy pageturn. I've taken to editing in either hard linespaces by using non-breaking spaces, or three-asterisks, in purchased ebooks to enhance readability. Gotta love Sigil.)

#135 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2014, 11:12 AM:

#134: Some fans write fanfiction. Cassy goes way beyond that, into fancopyediting!

#136 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2014, 11:51 AM:

Bill Higgins @135, <snork> What can I say, I have blue pencil in my soul. Poorly edited books make me sad. Very, very sad.

#137 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2014, 12:22 PM:

Thanks to all for the advice.

Also, the RetroHugo voter package has appeared. Since LonCon can be rather slow in telling us these things, I thought you should know. Can we discuss RetroHugos here?

#138 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2014, 02:38 PM:

Andrew M @137, thanks for the headsup!

#139 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2014, 02:48 PM:

I looked inside the epubs for The Lives of Tao and Spellboudn and found that the former uses <span class="i"> tags, presumably with something in the stylesheet to make them italicized, while the latter uses <i> tags. Probably Aldiko is paying less attention to style sheets than Calibre (maybe none at all?).

For scene breaks, Spellbound (and presumably the other Baen ebooks) is using two <p> tags containing <br> tags, with class attributes that probably reference something in the stylesheet. Not sure why the hard line breaks wouldn't work in Aldiko, even without the style sheet stuff.

Fancopyediting: I've been known, when I read a work of amateur fiction online and want to save an offline copy to re-read, to correct typos in my copy.

#140 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2014, 03:20 PM:

Andrew M@137:
Can we discuss RetroHugos here?

Oh, yes, let's.

#141 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2014, 03:05 PM:

Currently working my way through the Retro-Hugo short fiction; (note that not everything is there).

But there is an issue about the Retro-Hugo novels which I wanted to bring up. The Sword in the Stone exists in a number of versions. I was going to say that there were two versions, but on checking the details I find there are three. The original British edition had an episode with anthropophagi; the American edition replaced it with an episode involving a griffin and other such creatures. These were both published in 1938, and so would have been eligible for a Hugo in 1939. However, the work was later revised for inclusion in the omnibus edition, The Once and Future King, and it was only then - long after 1938 - that two of the most memorable passages, about the ants and the geese, were added. (Nothing, if I remember rightly, was cut out to make room for the geese; the ants replaced a passage about a snake.) These had originally been written for a different book, The Book of Merlyn, but this was not published in White's lifetime, and so he transposed them into the new edition of TSITS.

While these are among the best-known passages in the work, some people feel that they don't fit very well into the book as a whole, so their absence might affect people's votes either way.

#142 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2014, 02:58 AM:

Re: The Sword in the Stone:

I'm not sure which early edition it's based on, but the paperback I have with a cover illustration based on the Disney movie has a transformation duel between Merlin and Madam Mim which wasn't in the omnibus Once and Future King version. And the episode about Robin and Marian and the fairies was heavily rewritten for the omnibus, mostly if not entirely for the better; the racist and anachronistic minstrel show was replaced by more historically appropriate stuff involving pre-British aboriginals, IIRC. There are other differences I can't recall at the moment.

I've just finished reading the Grimnoir Chronicles, which were surprisingly good -- much better than Monster Hunter International or other luminifices' [*] comments about this series would have led me to expect. Still not as good as the Best Novel nominees I'd read earlier, but a fun, fast-moving adventure story with a fairly high degree of I-want-to-read-it-osity, some nifty alternate history and a well thought-out if not terribly original magic system. Warbound ranks fourth on my ballot, but I'm not putting it below No Award.

One thing I'll give Correia huge props for: Buckminster Fuller does not get enough love from writers of secret history and alternate history. Correia mentions the old standbys Edison and Tesla in the backstory, but he gives Fuller an onstage role and he totally steals every scene he appears in. Characterization isn't Correia's strong suit, but he's not so terrible at it as some of his unfans have made out, I think.

[*] Latinists, is that the correct plural of "luminifex"? And is "luminifex" itself well-formed?

#143 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2014, 03:55 PM:

I don't recall a minstrel show, but that may be because I wouldn't have been able to recognise it at the time. But I think that this may be what I was referring to as the replacement of anthrophagi with griffins (they aren't just griffins - those come in as attendants to fairies), in which case this change would already have been made in the 1938 American edition. Clearly more research is needed. If anyone has access to more than one edition, could they check where they differ?

Retro-Hugo short fiction is proving a bit frustrating. I don't think we were promised a Retro-Hugo packet at all, so we can't really complain if not everything is in it, but it is annoying not to be able to see the full selection (and of course the works not included are not as easy to obtain as with the current Hugos). This is especially so with novellas, where only two are available, one of which raises in an especially intense way the 'separating the author from the work' problem, while the other includes lines like 'watery orbs avidly dwelt on the girl's nudity'.

#144 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: July 08, 2014, 12:31 PM:

OK: I have managed to find copies both of the 1938 British edition and of the Once and Future King (my university library has both, oddly enough), so here is a comparison of the two versions. If anyone a copy of the 1938 American version, it would be interesting to find out how it compares with either of these.

1. In chapter 6, the 1938 edition has the capture of Wart and Kay by the witch Madam Mim, and Merlyn’s duel with her. The omnibus leaves all this out – it has the opening scene where a crow flies off with Wart’s arrow, and Kay says ‘it was a witch’, but this is not followed up. (The crow with the arrow reappears in the Morgan le Fay sequence, turning this scene into a teaser for that.)

2. In chapters 10-12, in both versions, the boys meet Robin Wood (sic) and Maid Marion, and go on an expedition with them, but while in the 1938 version the expedition is against Anthropophagi, in the omnibus it is against ‘the Oldest Ones of All’, i.e. fairies, with their ruler Morgan le Fay, whose castle is guarded by a griffin. (The Anthropophagi are derived from descriptions of weird kinds of human being described in mediaeval bestiaries; I don’t see anything particularly resembling a minstrel show, but I may be missing something.) The way the scene is transformed, with a lot of old material being reused, is quite clever; but there are some interesting added references to the outlaws being Saxons.

3. In chapter 13, in the 1938 version, Wart is transformed into a snake, and meets another snake who tells him about reptilian history. In the omnibus this is completely replaced by the episode where he is turned into an ant, and becomes involved in an antish war.

4. In chapter 18, Wart is transformed into an owl and learns to fly, but after this the stories diverge. (I was wrong here about just how it works.) In the 1938 version he is taken by Archimedes, Merlyn’s pet owl, to meet his mother Athene, who reveals to him the Dream of the Trees and the Dream of the Stones. In the omnibus he becomes a wild goose, and flies with the wild geese, learning of their peaceful way of life.

5. In chapter 19 the 1938 version has a trip to the castle of Galapas, the giant, which in the omnibus is cut out to make room for the second half to the wild goose episode.

6. In chapter 21, in which Wart meets a badger, the omnibus edition adds a short discussion of war, ending ‘Which did you like best, the ants or the wild geese?’

#145 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2014, 09:39 AM:

I have a 1963 Dell paperback. The copyright page is not terribly clear about which earlier edition it is based upon; it says "Copyright 1939".

The Robin Wood episode clearly involves fairies, and skimming through I don't see a reference to Anthropophagi. In chapter 11, Wart and Kay go with Robin and Marian (spelled with an 'a') to the Siege of Air and Darkness, Queen Morgan the Fay's castle. The boys go in alone and encounter a series of anachronistic temptations to gluttony, various 19th and 20th century scenes including this:

Every possible kind of ice-cream sundae was conveyed along the top of this bar, together with plates of cream buns, éclairs, and pâtisseries belges. Behind the bar, twenty charming negro minstrels were singing most soulfully: [... parody of "Suwanee River"]

I haven't re-read the whole book recently, but maybe I will; right now I'm focusing on the Retro Hugo nominees I haven't read yet. I've read several of the short fiction nominees from the packet in the last few days. "Hollerbochen's Dilemma" by Ray Bradbury is an embarrassingly bad piece of juvenilia. (If there were Retro Campbell Awards, Bradbury wouldn't have been eligible until 1942; his first pro sale was in 1941, "Hollerbochen's Dilemma" and his next few stories appearing in fanzines.) "Pigeons from Hell" by Robert E. Howard and "The Faithful" by Lester Del Rey are fairly good but not great. "Werewoman" by C.L. Moore is the best of the short fiction nominees I've read so far, but still not as good as many of C.L. Moore's other stories. I've read "Hyperpilosity" and "Helen O'Loy" before and remember them being pretty good, but I haven't re-read them recently. I started reading "Carson of Venus" but decided against continuing when I realized it was the third in a series and a bit confusing despite a well-intentioned "story so far" prologue.

#146 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2014, 09:55 AM:

As for nominees not in the packet, here are some ISFDB entries for collections and anthologies those stories have appeared in: A Matter of Form, Who Goes There?, Sleepers of Mars, Rule 18, Dead Knowledge.

#147 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: July 09, 2014, 01:19 PM:

OK: the Morgan Le Fay scene is fundamentally the same as in the omnibus (and yes, it is Marian, sorry) but the actual bit you quote has been cut out. Does your version have an extract from an Irish poem? It looks to me rather as if it has been inserted to fill up space, so perhaps it has replaced this passage. So I think that what you have is the first American edition, and it would seem that the minstrels are only in that, not in either the British original or the omnibus.

I agree about 'Hollerbochen's' (or possibly Hellerbochen's) 'Dilemma'; I take it that it got on the ballot simply on the basis of 'Oh gosh, Ray Bradbury had a story published that year!'.

Thanks for the links. I've realised that I do know 'A Matter of Form' (it was my first introduction to the pineal gland); it is a clasic work, and I think should be worthy of support by people wishing to avoid both Randian politics and avid orbs.

#148 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2014, 02:14 PM:

Regarding Editors: Short Fiction -- I'm not sure what the voting criteria should be. Specifically, I've so far only half-read the Adams anthology, and I like the stories he's collected and the format he's collected them into, nor are there any obvious editorial problems (grammar, spelling, incomplete thoughts) -- but I'm finding the interstitial bits really, really spoilerific and annoying, to the point where I've started skipping them. And that's the editor, too, isn't it?

#149 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2014, 04:18 PM:

My understanding is that 'Best Professional Editor' (not at that time designated 'Short Form', but primarily intended for that field) replaced 'Best Professional Magazine', in order to allow editors of anthologies to be honoured as well. So I think the award should be seen as for the product, where both content and presentation can be taken into account.

(Why, one might wonder, did they not create an award for 'Best Anthology'? I take it so as not to multiply the number of Hugos unduly. Little did they know....)

#150 ::: Danny Sichel ::: (view all by) ::: July 11, 2014, 04:51 PM:

For the Best Editor (Long Form), I look at the lists of the books with which the nominees were involved in the past year, and vote for whoever's list seems most interesting. Is there any other way of judging?

(This is why I left Toni Weisskopf off my ballot: no such list was supplied for her, so I couldn't judge. Unless... is it 'everything Baen published'?)

Incidentally, I reviewed Beale's story, first on Pharyngula and then on Scalzi's Whatever; I'm a bit reluctant to post it a third time.

#151 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2014, 03:19 PM:

I've come across a rather odd thing: The Legion of Time contains a reference to Los Alamos. As I understand it, the Los Alamos Laboratory was founded in 1943. Either Williamson had genuine knowledge of the future, or, more prosaically, what we have is not the version of the story published in 1938. (There certainly are different versions of it; it appeared as part of a book in 1952, though it looks as if the version of it we have isn't quite that either.)

#152 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2014, 08:46 PM:

Yeah, not gonna make it through all my reading this year. Sigh. However, I have read AJ, and really liked it. One of the places I really fail as a reader is the "unreliable narrator". In what ways is Breq unreliable? I can see that she has a point of view, and there's the obvious bit where her memories were tampered with, but is there more than that?

I loved reading _Parasite_, but was hugely disappointed with the reveal, which I had figured out in the first fifty pages. Watching Sal be in denial just didn't work for me. Which is the only explanation for why the big reveal fell flat, I guess, because I was supposed to be emotionally involved with her denial rather than impatiently waiting for the reveal. But there was something about the denial that just didn't work, emotionally. It looked like authorial manipulation rather than authentic emotional damage.

I am trying to read Warbound. Not very far in, but I am hating it a lot. Possibly having read the first two books would help, but at the moment I am dealing with a guy with apparently infinite magical powers, who is totes the best warrior EVAR who is, just at this instant, quite literally covered in blood. Um, bored with bored sauce does not cover my reaction, here. Also, the battle? A battle with no plan, no strategy, no logistics? The plan, explicitly, is three words, "Kill them all." Um, how is that fun? Where milsf is fun for me is the complexity of the endeavor. Logistics, always logistics, but after that, strategy is interesting. I confess that tactics, not so much, and the actual blow by blow the least interesting of all. Not sure how much more I will read.

I am hoping, before the deadline is up, to read Neptune's Brood and most if not all of the short fiction. I am not going to get to the Campbell nominations in time, alas, nor will I vote on the Retros. I have doubts about the legitimacy of the existence of the Retros, actually, so that's not much of a loss.

Sigh. Time. Why did they make so little of it?

#153 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2014, 10:41 PM:

Lydy@152: I read the whole Grimnoir trilogy, and based on your reaction to the start of Warbound I confidently predict that you won't like any of the rest of the trilogy any better.

I've finished the Hugo fiction (Novel slate: AJ, Brood, Parasite [about which I have the same caveats as you], No Award, Wheel of Time, Warbound) and have moved on to the Campbell novels. I've finished Three Parts Dead and am a bit puzzled because I feel like I ought to have loved it but I found it just somehow a little bit lacking in I-want-to-read-it-osity. I do plan to read his other two novels, later on. I've just today started A Stranger in Olondria and am really enjoying the prose but am wondering, a quarter of the way in, whether it's going to develop a plot. I'll cope if it doesn't, to be sure.

#154 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2014, 11:03 PM:

David Goldfarb @ 153, your reaction to Three Parts Dead is very much like my reaction to Stranger in Olondria; I kept feeling I *should* really be loving the novel... and yet I kept wandering away and finding reasons to do other things rather than finish it.

(As my grandmother used to say, "It's a good thing we don't all like the same things, or think what a shortage of oatmeal there'd be.")

And the "Grimnoir" books were flat-out 1950s pulp. I really think the genre has matured some since then.


#155 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 14, 2014, 11:17 PM:

I really did like Three Parts Dead, in pretty much exactly the way you thought you should be liking it, David G. And I haven't been reading all that much recently, but devoured it and am halfway through the second book (which does not feature the same characters at all, it's just set on the same world). I found its combination of fantasy and mystery elements very engaging.

#156 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2014, 04:42 PM:

For Novel I went with:
Ancillary Justice
Neptune's Brood
Wheel of Time

I left Warbound off my ballot.

For Novella:
Six-Gun Snow White
Wakulla Springs
The Butcher of Khardov
The Chaplain’s Legacy

For Novelette:
The Lady Astronaut of Mars
The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling
The Waiting Stars

I did not include either Opera Vita Aeterna or The Exchange Officers on my ballot

And, for short story (the toughest to rank I thought):
The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere
If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love
Selkie Stories Are for Losers
The Ink Readers of Doi Saket

#157 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2014, 07:14 PM:

Steve Halter @156, your list is very nearly the same as mine, except I rated The Waiting Stars higher.

#158 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: July 15, 2014, 10:40 PM:

I think the short stories are all very good. It's the toughest part of the ballot for me.

#159 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2014, 12:30 AM:

Steve Halter@156: Your novel slate and my novel slate are equivalent, if I'm not mistaken.

I rank the shorts, "Dinosaur", "Water", "Ink Readers", "Selkie Stories" but I have no strong quarrel with anyone who places them differently because, like janetl, I think the ranks are all quite close.

#160 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2014, 08:51 AM:

Cassie B@157:The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling and The Waiting Stars were close for me, but I liked the style of "Truth" slightly more.

David Goldfarb@159:Yes, I think our novel slates are functionally the same.
I agree that the shorts were all quite good and ranking them was a challenge.
By the way, I agreed with your post on the Warbound appreciation thread at

#161 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2014, 03:56 AM:

Steve Halter: That screed about Warbound had been bouncing in my head for a while, and that seemed like a reasonable place to put it. Glad to hear it struck a chord with someone: for obvious reasons I decided not to engage with the people in the thread.

#162 ::: Steve Halter ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2014, 10:58 AM:

If the raw data of the voting were available, I think it would show some really interesting groupings and patterns. From reading through various comments here and on and otherwheres, it seems like there are definite patterns along the lines of if X likes Y in category A, then X probably preferred Q in category C.
Probably nothing deeply profound there, but it would be fun to run some nice data visualizers against it.

#163 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2014, 04:24 PM:

Retro-Hugo: Novels.

I'm assuming the serious contest is between Lewis and White, and I think that's fair. I haven't yet decided which to put first. However, I have read at least part of all the others.

I read about half of Galactic Patrol, and found it rather heavy going - too much emphasis on technology, too much enthusing about the utter heroicness of our heroes. I know the series is a really important factor in the development of science fiction - though perhaps later books more than this one - and I think there probably are more interesting ideas further along, but it takes a lot of work to get to them. (It was interesting, though, to read something written before the discovery of hyperspace. When Lensmen want to travel faster than light, they just do, through normal space - whoosh!)

The Legion of Time has the benefit of being short. (It's really striking how short something can be and count as a novel for Hugo purposes.) It has the 'gosh we are heroic' thing again, and also irresistible women, who, though they do in fact take the initiative in much of the plot, nevertheless aren't really developed as characters. But it does turn on quite an interesting scientific idea - it's not good science, of course, but it doesn't seem to me to be utterly incoherent science: it uses the idea of a fifth dimension, which I think you do need to make that kind of modification of timestreams work. I believe the idea of the tiny point of divergence which decides between amazingly different futures was a distinctive development, at least within the recognised SF genre, when Williamson came up with it. I also thought the twist was quite well handled - at least, I didn't spot the significance of 'John Barr' when he was first mentioned, and wondered idly if he was a real person - though that may just be because I am stupid.

Carson of Venus is a different kind of work - while Smith and Williamson both very much belong to the science fiction genre, with emphasis on the possibilities of science, Burroughs is working in an older tradition, which is fundamentally fantastic, where space has just become the best place to locate a fantastic world. The prologue makes it clear that this is in the same universe as John Carter, which was written before the organised science fiction genre began. I found it extremely readable, and the hero much less annoying than others - perhaps because it is first person, so he can't keep telling us how amazing he is, perhaps because his advantages just come from access to a distinctive technology. It even has a woman (though, to be sure, not the hero's loved one) taking a prominent and active role. It has all sorts of defects - things keep turning out amazingly luckily for the hero; when they do go wrong for him it is through people's idiocy; and perhaps the presentation of the 'Zanis' is too light-hearted (though in fairness, they do have a darker aspect, of which we aren't told much because the tortures are too horrible to describe). But on the whole I was surprised by how much I liked it.

#164 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2014, 04:56 PM:

Well, the Lensmen don't just whoosh through normal space FTL, they have to neutralize their inertia. (Which would not possibly work the way Smith has it working, but never mind.) It's certainly true that Smith takes no account of relativity.

There is some use of hyperspace later on in the series, although the Bergenholm drive remains the main method of going FTL.

#165 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2014, 07:25 PM:

John and I have been reading The Number of the Beast at bedtime, and talking about/back to it meanwhiles. It leads to a lot of googling to find out if Event/Concept X was out and about before the book's writing, or after -- Heinlein got Jossed by reality on several things, for example a lot of the things he has Gay Deceiver capable of dealing with early in the book turn out to be fairly difficult to teach computers to do, while other things we now know to be easy, she can't.

Books utilizing faster-than-light travel before we discovered some of the things we now know about how spacetime works, sounds like that kind of thing.

When we finish this one I want to go on to Jurassic Park, because I want to hear John's reaction to reading-aloud the computer-code sections. :->

#166 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: July 18, 2014, 05:01 PM:

Is it really scientific developments which have caused the change in the way faster-than-light travel is presented, or rather literary ones? Smith certainly knew that some significant discovery would have to be made before we could do it - in that sense, as David Goldfarb says, it isn't just 'whoosh'. But he had, from our present (literary) perspective, an odd idea of what that discovery would be.

#167 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2014, 02:38 PM:

So, this year's novels.

I read the first hundred pages or so of Warbound, and saw no great reason to go further; I did not object to it particularly, but there was nothing in it to excite me.

Parasite was immensely readable - as soon as I had read the extract in the packet I went out and bought a copy, so I could find out what happened next, while I was still pondering whether to do the same with Leckie and Stross - but I agree with all those who say that it lacked depth.

So to Ancillary Justice and Neptune's Brood. I'll try to say something about these individually later, but my first thought was how much they have in common. A protagonist who is humanoid but not human; large time-spans; a quest. Also, they are in a way similar in narrative structure; we do not get, until quite late in the book, a full picture of what is going on. Of course that's true (at least officially) in Parasite as well, but there it's because the narrator herself doesn't know; in both the other two she knows at least a lot of what's happening, but isn't telling us, preferring to let it unfold slowly.

But another thing that links the two works, I think, is that they are both Science Fiction - the capitals are intentional - that is, they have the kind of purpose with which science fiction is traditionally associated; they express a vision of what the future of humanity (or non-humanity) might be like. Parasite is clearly science fiction within the meaning of the act - it's set in the future, and has an imagined scientific development as its basis - but it's not Science Fiction in the same way; it's using a science fictional setting to do something else. Science Fiction in this sense doesn't get Hugos that often nowadays, having to contend with fantasy, other kinds of science fiction, and harder-to-classify speculative works, so it will be interesting if one of these wins.

#168 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2014, 05:53 PM:

I found Orbit's choice of only publishing excepts of its nominees in the readers' packet annoying. For Neptune's Brood and Parasite, the excerpts were enough for me to get into the meat of the story. But for Ancillary Justice, while it was enough to see that the author had some interesting ideas and some writing talent, it wasn't enough to grab me or get past the "so this is a version of Culture Ships with remote-control slaves instead of a sense of humor" impression. I may read the rest of it some day, but not before the deadline, and it's getting my last-place vote, behind Warbound which isn't bad for a 3-volume comic book novel. I don't think I'd have voted that way based on the full novel, so the publisher has lost my vote in return for a potential paperback sale.

Novellas: Six-Gun, Equoid, Wakulla, No Award, Chaplain's.

Novelette: Lady Astronaut, Truth of Fact, Waiting Stars, No Award, Opera. (I thought Opera was bad, but at least it was interesting bad, ok for an SF pulp magazine, as opposed to Exchange Officers, which was better written and wasn't as annoying but was a content-free waste of electrons.)

Short Story: Dinosaur, Water, Selkie, kind of a long gap between 3 and 4, Ink Readers.

Graphic: I wish Saga had been included; Vol 1 was pretty good. I'm putting No Award 5th, ahead of Meathouse. Ranking the others is going to be hard.

Ranking fan artists is going to be hard.

Campbell: I keep bouncing off Olondria, though it's beautifully written. I'll probably pick Gladstone, Naam, Chu for the first 3, but may flip a coin, Sriduangkaew 5th, not bad but not grabbing me.

For the retros, I need to at least take the time for the short stories and artists and maybe novelettes, and War of the Worlds is getting my vote for dramatic presentation (some of the others were better books, but the radio version's impact was immense.)

#169 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2014, 06:57 PM:

I just realized something. Is this the first year when a majority of the best-novel nominees have female (I'm giving Justice of Toren a courtesy female, since it's her default) protagonists/viewpoint characters?

#170 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2014, 11:15 PM:

Elliott @169:

Just looking at the last few years, I see:

2010: one with a single female viewpoint character, two with a single male POV character, and three with multiple viewpoint chars of both sexes.

2011: two female, one male, two with multiple POV characters of both sexes.

2012: two female, one male, two multiple/both sexes.

2013: all five have multiple viewpoint characters of both sexes. (More than two sexes in the case of 2312.)

2014: two female, one ambiguously gendered, two multiple/both sexes.

I'm going by hearsay on The Wheel of Time and A Dance with Dragons (2012), and by memory on all the others. Further back I either haven't read all five nominees or don't trust my memory.

So female solo POV characters have outnumbered male solo POV characters several times.

#171 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2014, 11:17 AM:

Retro-Hugos: short fiction.

I have now managed to find enough that I think I can vote in all categories with a good conscience, though I am holding off actually voting in case I find one of the missing ones.

Novellas: My favourite is still 'A Matter of Form', which I must have first read about thirty years ago, and could still remember lines from; it's an interesting (though, of course, wrong) science-fictional idea, and the way it's told, in a detective format, sets it apart from much of the science fiction of the time. 'Who Goes There?' is a classic work, and is certainly an exciting story - I'd bet on that one to win, I think. I'm annoyed not only by Ayn Rand's politics but also by her linguistics, which seem to be an extreme Sapir-Whorfianism: her characters are clearly perfectly capable of talking about themselves as individuals by using 'we', so there's no reason the discovery of the word 'I' should have such a devastating effect. 'Anthem' is well-written, though; I never lost interest; and I would put it above 'The Time Trap', with its obsession with nudity; that one seems to have all the problems I saw in The Legion of Time, with none of the merits.

Novelettes: this is the hardest. I've only seen the three in the packet, and of those I think I would go for 'Hollywood on the Moon', which is an entertaining romp, though scientifically quite weird (the Moon is shaped like an egg?). Of the two horror stories, I didn't much like 'Werewoman' - I'm not fond of the 'nameless evil' sort of horror; 'Pigeons from Hell' worked better as a story, but I had problems with the way it uses the idea of corrupt African magic. (There is an aristocratic white villain, but she has clearly debased herself by going in for this corrupt magic.)

Short stories: I think 'Hyperpilosity' is much the best; basically a humorous work, but turning on a quite interesting scientific idea. 'The Faithful' is quite a nice elegiac piece - if it were written now I think we'd expect more of a twist to it. (It's nicely modest about space exploration; two thousand years from now we have colonised the moon, but not managed to settle Mars or Venus, only sending expeditions there which did not return.) 'Helen O'Loy' is a nice idea, but I'm worried by just how much Helen is a stereotypical woman - she gets her idea of love from romantic novels and TV series. 'Hellerbochen's Dilemma' can be ignored, for reasons mentioned earlier. As for 'How we Went to Mars', Clarke's juvenilia is a lot better then Bradbury's, but it would be hard not to be.

#172 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2014, 05:25 PM:

I don't know if anyone will ever see this, as the thread has long since dropped off the front page, but as I had various thoughts during the reading which I had no time to write down before the voting deadline, I may as well record them here for posterity.

Ancillary Justice: it took me a while to get into this; at first it seemed a very cold work - though that, I think,is because of the narrator, who someone actually describes as cold at one point. But it turned out to be a very interesting and thought-provoking story.

I am a bit worried, as some others have been, about the way people have enthused over the gender thing, as if that were what made the book significant, when it does not really seem to be the most important thing about the story. I don't have any problems with the gender thing itself, though; it's possible that there could be a society that took no account of gender in that way; and I don't find the use of 'she' worrying. It is quite often used in a gender-neutral way (though not usually of named individuals) in academic writing; and I think it's actually an advantage that it does not constantly draw attention to itself in a way that a gender-neutral pronoun (either a constructed one, or 'they' used of named individuals) would do. I did, though, occasionally find myself getting caught saying 'It's interesting that a woman is doing this - oh!'. (Do we know Jen Shinnan's real gender, of instance?)

One thing that struck me is that, without in any way denying the interesting new things the book does, it is in some ways a very traditional work. Jo Walton had a post at a while ago asking 'Have we lost the future?'; this, I think, is evidence that we have not; it is set in a recognisable future, in space, with aliens, and even has hyperspatial travel. If it wins, it will be the first time that such a story has done so since 2000: since then we have had we have had fantasy, AH, unclassifiable speculative, science fiction used so as to do other things, and two works (Vinge and Baciagalupi) which can reasonably be said to be about the future, but in both cases the near future.

I don't think the story could really have ended elsewhere than where it does; an act of Breq's life has ended, and what happens next is something new. Some people have suggested that it should have stopped before the last chapter, but it seems to me that what Anaander says in the last chapter - that even if you think both alternatives you have to choose between are bad (since whichever Anaander wins, she will still be a tyrant) it is not the case that the choice makes no difference - is true and important.

Taking up a recent debate, the book takes religion seriously - it doesn't endorse it, but then neither, explicitly, do Torgersen and Day. I was particularly interested in the planet with songs which go back to Earth (ooh, and I recognised L'homme arme), and an annoying monotheistic religion, which clearly recalls the position of both Judaism and Christianity within the Roman Empire (and the emperor Julian did indeed call Christians 'atheists'). Does the image of the figure with the broom and three rodents point to anything in particular?

One thing I wondered about was the real status of the ancillary bodies. Strigan says that he might be able to recover the original personality of Breq's body; Breq says 'that person is dead', but I am not sure she is entirely right. When a new body is incorporated into One Esk (which seems to be the one she ends up with), she is annoyed because not only does it not have a good singing voice, but it doesn't know any good songs - which implies the bodies are actually expected to bring knowledge into the compound personality, suggesting their original selves have not wholly gone.

And is there a Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy reference?

All in all, I don't find this as amazing a work as some do, but the Hugo isn't necessarily for an amazing work; it's for the best, and I'm happy to call this the best.

#173 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2014, 05:34 PM:

Neptune's Brood: I was not so happy with this. For one thing, despite the careful explanations, I remained unclear on just how the financial system worked and, therefore, on whether the scam on which the plot turns is really possible.

I also found the cleverness of the book rather annoying. (This may not be a fair reaction, since I enjoy some books which revel in cleverness: but here for some reason it was unsatisfying.) This, again, is partly because of the narrator, but not entirely, since her personality does not explain the allusions. I'm not too worried by the Monty Python thing, which can be considered the initial conceit - how could an insurance company become pirates? - but Bezos worms? (And what should we make of the planet called Mira?)

I did quite like the squids (talking, in outer space), which I take it account for the title, but their part in the story is in the end quite small.

Rather to my surprise I ended up ranking this below Parasite.

#174 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2014, 06:19 PM:

This moose found it very difficult to choose between Neptune's Brood and Ancillary Justice. Both of them were extremely good and very enjoyable. Parasite was not my cup of tea, I'm afraid, though I did give the sample a fair try.

Moose rating:

1 - NB (for real space travel, a workable economic model, and communist squid).

2 - AJ (Next-best space opera I've read in a long time, the AI in a human body protagonist, and the character development as the story progresses.) I want this one in hardcover, please, and eagerly await the sequel(s). (Sequelae?)

3 - Parasite.

The rest is silence.

#175 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2014, 08:18 AM:

The Wheel of Time: initially I thought I could ignore this, but being dissatisfied with three of the other nominations I ended up deciding I could not. Obviously I was not going to read the whole thing in the time allowed, so I mugged up on the plot, and read the first volume, to get a feel for the writing. (And it was enough to move me to read more at some point in the next ten years, so the nomination has achieved something.)

Just two comments. First, I was reading this at the same time as Girl Genius, and they struck me as strangely similar. I think GG can be seen as an epic fantasy plot in a steampunk setting, and the kind of epic fantasy it is, with many warring kingdoms and factions and endless complications, rather recalls Jordan.

Secondly, this, from Eye of the World ch. 17. 'The Great Hunt of the Horn... There were so many tales to be told about each of the Hunters, and so many Hunters to tell of, that no two tellings were ever the same. The whole of it in one telling would have taken a week or more.' I'm sure WoT fans know this passage well, but it amused me.

#176 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2014, 07:03 PM:

Johnofjack writes in #75:

Bill Higgins @ 66: I'd be amazed if The Martian doesn't make the Hugo ballot next year. I thought of it as something like Carl Sagan and Carl Hiaasen collaborating on a Jack London-esque story set on Mars.

I've just learned that the book was self-published for Kindle in 2012, and issued by Crown Books this year in hardcover to become The Book Everybody Was Reading.

So (much like Andy Weir's narrator) we missed the boat. We should have nominated The Martian for a Hugo in 2013. It won't be eligible in 2015.

To relieve your sadness at learning this, enjoy Andy Weir giving a 44-minute talk and reading at the Googleplex.

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