My friend, John C. Wright, has recently created a Patreon account and started serializing a space opera thereon. It is excellent and a great deal of fun. The tale had me from the opening line,
“Aeneas Tell of House of Tell, youngest of the Lords of Creation, was twenty-one when he was assassinated for the first time.”
and did not disappoint. It contains many of the tropes Wright and fans of Wright enjoy, and is currently 2 for 2 in making use of Wright’s favorite word, integument. If you were a fan of The Golden Age series or Count to a Trillion, Superluminary is like the less philosophically inclined, hack-n-slash RPG younger brother. Read it for free, then pay what you like!
Speaking of which…
Some savage morlock crawled out of its pit to mock and sneer at Mr. Wright for not making as much per month as N.K. Jemisin. I aim to fix that. By RDF’s metric, Wright must be a better author than Jemisin if his monthly pledges overtake hers. I hereby double, nay, triple my monthly patronage.
Last few hours to nominate for the 2016 Hugos! I’ve updated my previous posting with a few more items. Now, for the last of my 2015 Hugos reviews.
1. Skin Game, by Jim Butcher
I have not gotten a chance to read the other novels, and it seems unfair to judge them based on hastily skimming excerpts from them, but I am confident that even so, Skin Game would remain on top of my list. It was an excellent installment in a line of excellent installments fourteen and counting (sorry Fool Moon). Butcher’s penchant for invention, wit, characters, and slam bang set pieces was on full display, alongside a twist that makes one want to reread the whole thing with a closer eye. In addition, for me, this was a vote not just for Skin Game, but for all the years that Butcher had been snubbed by the Hugos.
1. “Pale Realms of Shade”, by John C. Wright
Published online prior to its inclusion in The Book of Feasts and Seasons, “Pale Realms of Shade” represents Wright’s first foray (or second, depending on how one interprets the end of “One Bright Star to Guide Them”) into what might be called the metaphysical thriller, which Wright himself describes as a thriller “where reality is out of joint, and the mystery is not who did what, but what is what”. The denouement of a metaphysical thriller is, by original definition, an apocalypse, an ‘uncovering’, and “Pale Realms of Shade” has quite the uncovering. It is, however, not strictly speaking entirely a metaphysical thriller, as it also partakes of being thrillers both mundane and supernatural, wherein our deceased detective protagonist must discover both who killed him, why, and why he is turning into a very angry shade indeed. Wright’s prose are vivid throughout, while the tone runs the gamut from inspiring beauty to revolting horror, and the tale is by turns intriguing, terrifying, heartbreaking, and joyous. With skillful genre-blending, prose, and depth of theme, “Pale Realms of Shade” easily takes its place as top contender for the Hugo.
2. Big Boys Don’t Cry, by Tom Kratman
An explosive, exciting action romp that turns unexpectedly thoughtful and emotional about, of all things, sentient super-tanks that would be considered tremendous instruments of war even by 41st millennium standards. Ratha war machine “Maggie” is critically injured in an ambush, and reminisces on her past campaigns as technicians salvage what they can from her damaged hull and turrets. As she goes deeper into the past, she begins to find memories once hidden away now revealed by the damage to her artificial brain, and they are not happy ones… Kratman’s story is predominantly a speculation on how a living weapon might think, feel, be trained, and operate, but it hits on many notes in the course of the telling, warfighting and the politics of warfighting being recurring themes. Big Boys Don’t Cry is military SF of a high order, and I will definitely be looking into more of Kratman’s writing in the future.
3. “The Plural Helen of Troy”, by John C. Wright
sequel prequel interquel I give up to the excellent “Murder in Metachronopolis”. This one is broken up into fewer, larger chapters than “Murder” was, but is still presented for readings both linear and non-linear. Wright builds on the ideas of the first tale, showing off more of the Paradox Proctor Special Unlimited, and introducing a truly terrifying time-travelers’ boogieman that can time-jump around looking for the perfect moment to strike: the innocuously yet sinisterly named Tin Woodman. Yet, as before later simultaneously I give up, the true danger comes not from external foes, but from the sins and bent desires inside one’s own heart. The denouement takes a very unexpected, genre-blending turn that casts all the tales of Metachronopolis in a new light, delighted me, and strongly recommends the story be read in the order printed the first time through.
4. One Bright Star to Guide Them, by John C. Wright
This work was first published as a short story, then expanded to novella size and republished. I would like to see it expanded further to full novel size, as I see its flaws (chiefest of which is ‘telling rather than showing’) all stemming from trying to do too much in too little space. Star works from the interesting premise of “what happens to the heroes of children’s fantasy stories who have to live normal grown-up lives on Earth after visiting and saving another world as children?”. Unfortunately, our glimpses into the hero’s childhood (a wonderful mash up of Lewis, Alexander, and Cooper) take the form of inelegant expositions given at the drop of a hat by various characters in the course of their conversations. It makes what should feel wondrous and nostalgic sound glib and insipid to my ear. These passages are tributes to stories I loved as a kid, and still do, but even I found myself rolling my eyes after the third or fourth time a character launched into a block of expo-speak that read like a Wikipedia summary.
The other effect of trying to fit what could be a novel’s worth of story into a novella is that I was unable to connect with any of the characters I ought to really care about; I simply didn’t know them well enough by the time something happened to them to feel anything, and I could tell I was meant to feel a great deal. It was frustrating, as this is, by rights, a story I should love, but up until the last two chapters, its execution left me cold (doubly frustrating, as Wright is a genius author, and Star is a personal favorite of his. Alas, I can see only a glimpse of what he sees in it). The last two chapters, are, however, excellent, very on form for Wright, and end on the perfect kind of eucatastrophic twist for the genre he is writing in. “One Bright Star to Guide Them” is a story I really want to love, and would gladly give another chance in an expanded form.
5. “Flow”, by Arlan Andrews, Sr.
A tale of a young lad from a Northern tribe who tags along with a crew of ice merchants as they ride a floe down a flowing river towards Southern towns to take it to market. The idea of ice brokers and ice merchants was new and interesting to me, and the story is well told, having the feel of a fireside tale our hero will pass on to his children in the future. The prose are well executed, and in all respects, “Flow” is a fine, workmanlike piece, yet it lacked the imaginative energy and verve of the preceding four works. There were no moments of breathtaking wonder, gut-wrenching horror, visceral action, or mind-bending eureka. There were no Big Ideas. The tales men might tell about a fire simply cannot compete with the tales men tell about fire.
Best Short Story
1. “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds“, by John C. Wright
A richly written meditation on the fate of Earth’s beasts and birds after the End of Man; think C.S. Lewis by way of Jack Vance. The characterization, mood, and turn of phrase have a timeless quality about them that makes the tale fit seamlessly into the tradition of Great Western Literature. The theological speculation displays a great depth of thought, and concerns an area of much personal interest to me. On top of all these merits, the ending is one of the most moving, not only among the other Hugo contenders, but amongst my copious reading, I have read. It shows the hand of Milton’s Muse.
2. “Totaled“, by Kary English
The intriguing tale of Margaret Hauri, Ph.D, a neuroscientist who, postmortem, finds herself (well, her brain) the subject of her own previous research project. I was particularly impressed when she discovered how to communicate with her former lab partner, despite being a brain in a jar. Her solution displayed the kind of cool thinking under duress that characterizes so many great sci-fi protagonists, and it was for this scene in particular that I ranked “Totaled” the highest of the works after “Parliament”.
3. “On a Spiritual Plain“, by Lou Antonelli
An interesting piece set on a planet with a strong magnetic field, where the souls, or perhaps merely impressions, of the dead are entrapped as electromagnetic phantoms. Upon rereading, this story dropped slightly in my estimation, as I realized the Methodist base chaplain tasked with helping an agnostic human ghost find release does not at any point express concern for the state of the man’s soul; whether he need repent of his sins before moving on. It does not detract from the story that much, but it makes the chaplain feel almost as agnostic as the shade, and represents a missed opportunity to explore the tale’s theme in more depth.
4. “Turncoat“, by Steve Rzasa
I’m afraid this work suffered unfairly from being one of the last stories I read. It is a fine piece about an AI starship contemplating the humanity of its posthuman commanders, it’s human enemies, and itself, while in the middle of some blisteringly fast, exciting, well-written space combat. It is working in a very similar vein as Big Boys Don’t Cry, and I think my opinion of it was lessened by the fact that it was not as deep a tale as the latter, despite being no where near as long. Upon rereading it now, I found I enjoyed it much more as the short story it was written as, and though I do not believe I would change its ranking if voting again (perhaps I might bump it above “On a Spiritual Plain”), ordering short stories 2-4 was very difficult, as all were very different and very good.
Best Related Work
1. Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth, by John C. Wright
Full disclosure: I was a proofreader for this work.
A wonderful compilation of essays from the archives, recent and old, of sci-fi writer John C. Wright’s personal blog. Ranging in tone from humorous to weighty, yet always thoughtful, Wright addresses such topics as the terribleness of The Hobbit films, how to be a writer, philosophy in the works of sci-fi Greats, strong female characters in sci-fi, and the taxonomy of the stages of moral decay, among others, in an incredibly readable, articulate manner. Any one of these essays could have been nominated alone as a related work; taken together, they speak to Wright’s prolificness of writing and depth and broadness of thought.
2. “The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF“, by Ken Burnside
An excellent sci-fi writer’s resource that explores what military actions, tactics, strategy, and logistics in outer space might look like given the current state of scientific knowledge, particularly the Laws of Thermodynamics. It is a quick but fascinating read, and if it weren’t competing against a whole book’s worth of essays, would definitely be worthy of the Hugo (honestly, I feel that perhaps ‘Best Related Work’ ought to be split into ‘long’ and ‘short’ subcategories).
3. “Why Science is Never Settled“, by Tedd Roberts
A timely, topical essay reminding us that the scientific method is just that, a method, and despite what newspapers and politicians like to say, can never be ‘settled’. Roberts takes us on a swift tour through the history of science, pointing out the many now overturned ideas that were thought to be settled once and for all in their day. “The Hot Equations” edged this out for the number two spot, simply because I felt it was more science fiction related than this essay.
I did not get the chance to read all of Wisdom from My Internet, but while what I read was amusing, the work as a whole did not feel science fiction-related enough for me to include it on my ballot.
Best Graphic Story
1. No Award
Seriously. If this is the kind of felgercarb we get when Puppies don’t nominate good works, no wonder the campaign has become a smashing success. I’m not terribly familiar with the wider range of current U.S. graphic novel offerings, but where the hell was Hellboy in Hell?
I’ve got a lot of plane travel to look forward to over the next few two weeks: Pensacola this week and Japan the next. I also have my beloved Kindle Keyboard* stuffed to the brim with Hugo Nominees for Best Novel, Short Story, Novella, and Novelette. Despite what you may have heard, us Sad Puppies like to read things before we vote on them, and I have a golden opportunity here to not only read the heck out of the Hugo packet, but review the heck out of it as well. Some stories will inevitably get more attention than others, but I will make sure each story gets at least one sentence on what there was to like and dislike. I’ve already cracked a few of the novellas, and let me say, Kratman is giving Wright a real run for his money with Big Boys Don’t Cry (this big boy may or may not have cried), but I’ll have to reread Pale Realms of Shade to be sure. One Bright Star to Guide Them, sadly, left me underwhelmed, though I wonder that I may not be the right audience for such a tale, and will perhaps appreciate it more when I have grown older and more tired, and am therefore in greater need of a booster shot of hope.
*This XKCD strip sold me on the merits of the Kindle Keyboard. I successfully went my first two-and-a-half months in Japan with my Kindle as my only mobile communications device. I, no kidding, learned how to drive my predecessor’s stick-shift from Wikihow.
I had sitting before me, freshly unwrapped from the Amazon box, John C. Wright’s The Judge of Ages, and Jim Butcher’s Skin Game. I cracked open Judge first. Fellow fans of the SFF genre, that alone should speak to the quality of Wright’s past works, and the anticipated quality of this one. It did not disappoint.
Are you back? Okay. Against my better judgement, I went and saw the second film. I was pleasantly surprised. I had been the victim of false advertising. I had gone into the film expecting an adaptation, however terrible, of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. No one told me that what they had in fact made was a Darths & Droids movie. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, Darths & Droids is a webcomic that lovingly mocks and sends up the Star Wars films by treating them as if they were tabletop roleplaying games. It was itself inspired by DM of the Rings, which did the same thing to The Lord of the Rings films, which perhaps makes it a more apt comparison. Anyhow, during this process, many plot holes are cleverly filled and inconsistencies easily explained away. So too in this latest film: every single discrepancy, plot contrivance, and out of character behavior in The Desolation of Smaug makes perfect sense if we view it not as an adaptation of The Hobbit, but as an adaptation of the game of The Hobbit.
Read the rest of this entry
…I ended up with some fan art for the Wrightverse, the Lampverse, and the crossover Lampwrightverse. It felt good to put pencil to paper again and doodle, plus I’m finally satisfied with how I draw Meanie Montrose’s hair; it used to come out as this horrible, lumpy clump of scribbles.
Recently (okay, a month and a half ago at this point), I attended the wonderful Doxacon 2013 Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy convention in Virginia. I heard about the con through John C. Wright’s blog, where he announced that he and his wife would be attending as panelists. Realizing a few days prior to the convention that this would be one of my few chances to cosplay a character and meet the character’s creator simultaneously, I gathered together my Quentin Nemo cosplay from a previous con, only to realize that I did not have a staff for it anymore, at least, not one that would be overhead compartment (and TSA) friendly. Gathering together some leftover supplies from a previous prop build, I threw together Quentin’s staff from the first book, Apsu, in a fit of fanboyish fervor during odd hours over the few days before the con. As such, I did not photo document the process as thoroughly as usual, but it was practically all sculpting work, so these in progress and finished shots should give a good idea of the build process. He came out quite the dapper little chap, if I do say so myself (A friendly Briton at the convention, thinking perhaps I was a young Ebenezer Scrooge, informed me it would be excellent for ”thrashing street urchins”. This hypothesis remains untested.).