Hugo Award: Related Work

Letters from Gardner by Lou Antonelli

Letters from Antonelli’s editor interspersed with writing advice, anecdotes from Antonelli’s life, and short stories. Self-absorbed and self-congratulatory.

“All the feedback was positive; people said they enjoyed the story, and that I wrote dialogue especially well. That struck a chord and made sense, since as a journalist I interview people all the time. That got the wheels turning upstairs, and I began to think of whether I actually might be able to become a published science fiction author.
The editor who published my first story (“Silvern” in June 2003), Jayme Blashke, commented right off the bat when I first submitted to him, “You seem to have skipped the novice stage of writing.”

Good on ya, mate. Yawn.

Wisdom From My Internet by Michael Z. Williamson

A collection of witticisms from the internet with no context, editorial commentary, or … anything. How is this even a book? Why did anyone think this was one of the 5 most important commentaries on SFF in 2014?

The Mesopotamians designated 40% of grain for beer production. They were also the first great civilization. Coincidence?
Mmmm…schadenfreude! It tastes like someone’s tears!
My parents went to a planet without bilateral symmetry and all I got was this lousy F-shirt.
I can so make fun of reasonable people.
How many reasonable people does it take to change a light-bulb? One.
Unschooling is the theory that kids will figure life out for themselves, just like they did in Lord of the Flies.

“The Hot Equation” by Ken Burnside

Too techy for my taste, but a solid article. Also, eponymous title is eponymous.

“Ignoring thermodynamics is one of the cardinal sins of science fiction authors writing military SF; the same authors who wouldn’t dream of saying that a Colt 1911A fires a .40 caliber bullet will blithely walk into even more galling gaffes through simple ignorance and unquestioned assumptions.”

“Why Science is Never Settled” by Tedd Roberts

A basic introduction to science for non-sciency people. Fine first day of school reading for a middle school or high school science class. XKCD says it more succinctly and entertainingly XKCD: Unscientific and XKCD: The Difference and XKCD: Experimentation (nsfw).

THE HALLMARK OF SCIENCE IS THAT IT IS ALWAYS HYPOTHESIZING, ALWAYS COLLECTING DATA, ALWAYS TESTING, AND ALWAYS REFINING OR LOOKING FOR NEW THEORIES. In fact, the only indication of a good theory is whether one can make valid predictions with the theory. One successful prediction, however, is not enough — after all, just one failed prediction

Transhuman and Subhuman by John C. Wright

“What is wrong is that modern though is caught in the disease of nihilism, the idea that there is no revelation.”

I struggled through the word-salad that is Transhuman and Subhuman. In the end, I skimmed three of the articles, “Transhuman and Subhuman”, “The Golden Compass Points in No Direction”, and “Saving Science Fiction from Strong Female Characters”.

“Transhuman and Subhuman” analyzes magic in SFF. In fantasy magic=miracle, in sci fi magic=scientific miracles (“magic is usually not magic at all, but miracle”). I’m not sure why this distinction is necessary to his argument, but John C. Wright proposes that humans are trying to make better, immortal humans. Who would be devils. And that is wrong.

But I did learn something interesting. “High fantasy has a Roman Catholic flavor to it, whereas Sword-and-Sorcery is somewhat Protestant”. Huh.

“The Golden Compass Points in No Direction”  Did he read the same trilogy that I did?

“Saving Science Fiction from Strong Female Characters”

384450_2644651118579_2027567145_nGirls who do not like love stories are well advised to learn to like them, because such stories deal with the essential and paramount realities on which much or most of that girl’s happiness in life will hinge.”

“when women dress and speak and act like men, some joy is erased from both sexes”

“Women will go insane and go into despair if asked to compete at a male task on male terms with male rules.”

I’m doomed. I can neither deal with the reality of my life nor be the heroine in my own story.

[Yes, I know I should be wearing chaps and a helmet. I put them on before I started bucking up the 10+ fallen maples, I promise.]

Another race for the bottom. Difficult to figure out which was worse, the word-salad that was Transhuman and Subhuman or the not-a-book that was Wisdom From My Internet. In the end, Wright lost because he put words together in a form that can be described as essay and not just random, unrelated scribblings. Neither “The Hot Equation” nor “Why Science is Never Settled” were important enough to rise above No Award, but “The Hot Equation” came closest.

1) No Award
2) “The Hot Equation” by Ken Burnside
3) “Why Science is Never Settled” by Tedd Roberts
4) Letters from Garnder by Lou Antonelli
5) Transhuman and Subhuman by John C. Wright
6) Wisdom From My Internet by Michael Z. Williamson

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The Goblin Emperor

The Goblin EmperorThe Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Goblin Emperor is a fascinating and ambitious work. While I didn’t love it, the premise was interesting enough and the writing strong enough to merit 4 stars. Strong enough that I will automatically try the next novel Katherine Addison writes.

Longer Review
I really loved The Goblin Emperor at first. It was a breath of fresh air — a sympathetic and kind protagonist struggling with being forced into a life he was not prepared for. I loved the first 100 pages. Around page 200, I wondered when this story was going to go somewhere. At 300 pages I started to lose focus. I skimmed the last 50 pages.

Plot and Conflict
This book has no discernible plot structure. Sure, stuff happens, but stuff happening is not a plot. There is court drama, state dinners, discussion of proper manners, and characters agonizing over how to answer correspondence.

Compelling writing needs compelling conflict. The conflicts in the book are petty or go nowhere. A number of relationships are built up and then left unsatisfyingly unfinished.
– The conflict with Setheris just peters out.
– His relationship with his fiancee improves, but then is ignored in the conclusion.
– His relationship with his secretary and his guard doesn’t lead anywhere meaningful
– His relationship with his maternal grandfather is left hanging
– The only relationship that gets a satisfying conclusion is his relationship with the bridge

A couple of thoughts on Worldbuilding
For some reason The Goblin Emperor was set in a Medieval-Byzantine-Steampunk world. How do we know it was a steampunk world? Airships. Why steampunk? Hell-if-I-know. There are elves. And goblins. The only difference between them is the color of their skin and their ears. Why elves? I’m not sure. This novel could easily have been set in China and reminds me strongly of The Red Chamber.

The world is rich in manners and language and customs but not in a way that is gripping. The world is mostly rich in unpronounceable character names and titles. Please, fantasy writers, enough is enough. Enough unpronounceable names. Enough lengthy honorifics. Enough arcane, stilted language. These elements are like hot sauce — a little bit goes a long way, but a heavy hand makes a stew that only a few will enjoy.


My current “Best Novel” ranking is:
2) Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (may get bumped up or down)
4) No Award
5) The Dark Betweeen the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson

– I finished Ancillary Justice so I am ready to start Ancillary Sword.
– I’m on book 10 of the Dresden Files so it will take me a while to get to Skin Game. I’m a little burnt out on Harry, but I am enjoying the rest of the universe so I’ll come back to them eventually. So far the series rises above No Award but I’m not sure it is strong enough to rise above Goblin Emperor in the rankings.
– I read the first chapter of Three Body Problem and it looks really promising.

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The Dark Between the Stars

The Dark Between the StarsThe Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I would like to thank this book — my kitchen is clean and the laundry is folded because every time I picked up this book, I found something more interesting to do.

The writing is stilted and wooden. The dialog is flat. It’s all telling and no showing.

I knew I was in trouble when I read:

Pannebaker had silvery hair and intense eyes, as well as a mustache that framed his mouth all the way down to his chin. Every day in the Sheol lava mines excited him like an adrenaline rush, and his extreme competence sometimes led him to take unwarranted risks for the sheer fun of it.

By page 120 I was skimming instead of reading, waiting for something interesting to happen so I put the book down and abandoned it.

If this is the kind of writing that gets you going, you may enjoy this tedious space opera that has more characters than a Russian novel with none of the charm or drama.

I may try again closer to the Hugos, but for now this is my first DNF in more than a year.


My current “Best Novel” ranking is:
2) Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
4) No Award
5) The Dark Betweeen the Stars by Kevin Anderson

– I finished Ancillary Justice so I am ready to start Ancillary Sword.
– I’m on book 10 of the Dresden Files so it will take me a while to get to Skin Game. I’m a little burnt out on Harry, but I am enjoying the rest of the universe so I’ll come back to them eventually. So far the series rises above No Award but I’m not sure it is strong enough to rise above Goblin Emperor in the rankings.
– I read the first chapter of Three Body Problem and it looks really promising.

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Silhouette of a Sparrow: Review

Cover image & linkA coming of age story set in the 20′s, Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin is a little bit Member of the Wedding (evocative of a time and place) and a little bit Fried Green Tomatoes (a budding relationship between two young women looking to assert themselves). It is charming and beautifully written. This book would be a great historical fiction accompaniment to a High School unit on the roaring 20’s or women’s changing roles in American history.

Gigi struggles to balance her family’s traditional values and expectations for her with her desires and dream (to study ornithology). There is enough tension and drama to keep the pacing tight. And the writing is lovely. Really lovely. And how awesome is a protagonist who says, “I held onto this practice of scientific naming as a small rebellion — a secret whispered between me, the silhouettes, and my bedroom wall.”

Gigi goes from being a passive participant in her life to taking risks (going to the carnival and on the boat trip) and even challenging those around her to change (Miss Maple, Hannah). When her life takes a difficult and unexpected turn, she rises to the occasion and finds her strength. “[I]f I had the courage to [SPOILER], I also had the courage to speak the truth.”

While Gigi is clearly the focus of this book, the secondary characters are not given cookie cutter identities. At the beginning most of the characters think they know who they are and what they want. Gigi says, “I could wrap those pretty words around me like a familiar blanket and fall asleep thinking I knew exactly who I was.” As circumstances challenge their lives and beliefs, Hannah, Avery, and Isabella grow and discover their strengths.

As I finished the book, I wanted to know more. [MILD SPOILER] Did Gigi go to college? Was her relationship with Isabella a summer romance? Did they stay friends? [END SPOILER] And that’s the mark of a good book — a book where I care so much about the characters that I wonder about them long after I finish reading the book. I being so caught up in the world of a book that I feel it’s pull in my non-reading life. “Fly, Gigi, fly!”

I cannot recommend it strongly enough. This is a must read if you love beautifully crafted YA literature.

*Thanks to Milkweed for proving the eARC of this book via Edelweiss*

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Witches: It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

What I’m Reading
Witch Eyes coverWitch Eyes by Scott Tracey (YA, paranormal, witches, contemporary fantasy, lgbt, weird magic, Romeo & Juliet) ★★★★☆

After being raised by his uncle, Braden returns to his hometown where he finds himself drawn into a feud between the two warring witch clans that control the town.

Braden is a great character. He is quirky, funny, and real. The author gives him enough backstory and depth to be sympathetic, believable, and intriguing. And he’s a butt-kicking witch with rare, special magic. Naturally.

Speaking of magic, the magic in this book is weird. Braden has ‘witch’ eyes — when he takes off his glasses, he has overwhelming visions of the present and past. He can see and unravel other’s magic and copy it based on seeing it’s structure. The descriptions of Braden’s magic are strange — full of color, snippets of visuals, and light. I am going to assume that the disorienting descriptions are deliberate since using his magic wears out Braden and gives him migraines that confine him to bed. I’m not sure if the descriptions worked for me.

I love Braden and Trey’s Romeo-and-Juliet-esque relationship. YA characters falling in love at first sight and immediately becoming bonded soulmates is a pet peeve of mine so I really liked that Braden and Trey’s feelings for each other are given time to grow. Their connection believable and I have my fingers crossed that things will work out for them.

I gave the book 4★ for pulling me in, but it’s a weak 4 teetering on 3. The pacing is a little slow at times and some of the reveals could have been handled more organically… but it’s a debut novel so I’m hoping this author’s writing will get stronger as the series progresses. The next book (Demon Eyes) comes out in October. I’m waiting.

Gearbox and I are still working our way through Origami X (MG, how-to, origami, spies, ARC) by Nick Robinson. He’s a good origami folder, so he is testing the instructions for me!

What’s on my TBR Pile:

Dodger by Terry Pratchett (a new YA novel by Terry Pratchett — I am SO excited!)
Geo*Gami by Katherine Gleason
Keshiki Bonzai by Kenji Kobayashi
1Q84 Haruki Murakami (I know. This one has been on the TBR pile for a while.)

For more It’s Monday, What Are You Reading, visit Kellee and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Sheila at Book Journey.

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Seaweed: Review

SeaweedSeaweed by Elle Strauss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A cute and fun YA read. If you are looking for a book that you can read while sitting by the pool, this is probably a good pick.

The story is very fast-paced. It starts off with a mysterious disappearance and never slows down. While the action is fast-paced, I still found myself skimming at times because I never grew attached to Dori, Tor, or Colby. I would have enjoyed a little more character growth or depth.

Seaweed is clean and solidly written — there no typos, major grammatical errors, purple prose, or undecipherable sentences. (Ok… there are probably a few typos, but so few that they did not distract me from the book).

The setting is fun. Not Disney-mermaid but a more realistic and gritty mermaid culture that I am sure I would have been drawn to as a tween.

While I am so, so tired of love triangles, you can see why Colby and Tor are drawn to Dori — she is spunky and athletic. What I didn’t see is what Dori saw in Tor other than novelty.

Unfortunately I found the story too predictable. All of the plot twists (view spoiler)[grandma, the new boy being the other prince, Dori’s origins, the forming gills and rash indicating that Dori was becoming a mermaid (hide spoiler)] were telegraphed too strongly.

A tween looking for a light beach read would love this book. As an adult, I wanted a little more.

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Princess Academy: Review

Princess Academy (Princess Academy, #1)Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Despite the accolades, I kept putting off reading Princess Academy because it looked like a ‘princess’ book. I finally gave it a chance and I am so glad I did — Princess Academy is charming and engaging. I was pulled into the book from the first page. I’ll be picking up the next book without any hesitation.

Miri rocks. She is bright, spunky, resourceful, and wonderfully real. I love when a MG protagonist has real doubts, fears, insecurities. Miri has enough depth and backstory to give the reader many opportunities to connect with her and root for her.

Since the story takes place in a very small part of a bigger world (the whole story takes place within a few miles of a village on a remote mountain), worldbuilding was really important. The villager’s culture (the children’s songs and games, the customs around holding hands and dancing, the miri flowers) gives the world verisimilitude. The setting is vivid and Ms. Hale’s writing evocative: “Winter kept falling from the sky, building up under the windowsills, and crawling with frost over the panes.”

My favorite part of the book is the mountain magic. It’s not quite magic in the fantasy sense… but the connection the miners of Mount. Eskel have with their mountain and each other is magic-like.

As I read the book, I was sure that I knew how the story would end. Boy was I wrong and in such a wonderful way — Princess Academy has a fairy tale, happily-ever-after ending but with a delightful twist.

Oh, and any book where studying economics plays a role in the story is awesome! This book would be a great read-aloud or assigned book as part of a civics or government unit.

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The Death Cure: Review

The Death Cure (Maze Runner, #3)The Death Cure by James Dashner
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Although I did not love The Scorch Trials (book 2), I waited impatiently for The Death Cure because I was eager to have questions answered. Let’s recap some of the questions I had at the end of Book 2:
Why would Tom and Theresa subject themselves and other children to these horrible trials?
How much of what we are learning is real vs lies vs fabricated memories?
Is WICKED really good?
What is really happening in the outside world?

The last question was answered. The others, no so much. Unlike the first two books which were plotted pretty tightly and pulled me along, this book got off to a slow start. It took me 2 weeks to read the first 120 pages and I almost abandoned the book.

There were plot holes. While half of the characters got their memories back… no discussion ever happened between the character that did or didn’t that provided any insight into the motivations and methods of Wicked. The relationship between Thomas and Theresa led nowhere. So much so that when (view spoiler)[Theresa died (hide spoiler)] there was virtually no mention of the event or (view spoiler)[mourning (hide spoiler)].

At the end of 3 books I still feel like I know nothing about Thomas, Theresa, Brenda, Minho, and Newt. I don’t mourn those that died. I didn’t cheer for the deus-ex-machina ending. (view spoiler)[Not everything is better with portals (hide spoiler)].

I started reading this series because my son’s reading teacher recommended it and my son read the first chapter and didn’t like it. When my son asks if he should give this series a second chance, I will tell him to give it a pass.

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Smile: Review

SmileSmile by Raina Telgemeier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My tween knocked out his two front teeth at camp this summer and our friend loaned him this book. I wish I could gift this book to every child that goes through something like this. My son loved it so much I bought him his own copy.

He had been struggling to articulate and process his feelings and experiences — this book has given him a way to talk about the trauma he’s experiencing as well as his fears. He has read it and reread it; we’ve read it together, alternately laughing and crying. He said, “I feel like it’s an autobiography I didn’t write myself.”

I’m hoping his journey back to a normal smile won’t be as long or as difficult as the author’s, but I know this book will keep him company whatever happens.

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The Robot Alphabet

The Robot Alphabet, Cover, FullerWhile browsing around Amazon, I stumbled upon The Robot Alphabet by Amanda Baehr Fuller. The cover was so whimsical, that I immediately downloaded the book.

Amanda is a professional designer and illustrator (she has worked on comics for Scholastic and cartoons for Nickelodeon). Her whimsical illustrations drew me (and my boys) in. The robots are funny and quirky; they each have personalities so you can imagine the back story behind the pictures. Although my boys are well past alphabet book age, they both enjoyed looking at the pictures and were inspired to draw their own alphabet robots.

I’m especially fond of the U is for Umbrella robot. His two tiny robot friends are sitting on his head holding a telescoping umbrella. A little homage to Totoro? We had fun speculating about the relationship between the three robots and how they got stuck in the rain.

I thought it was particularly clever that the featured item is the same color as the word (the word ‘Umbrella’ and the umbrella itself are both teal) to helps kids identify which part of the picture is being described.

Amanda has some samples of her work on her website, Mama Robot.

In other news, we are about 80% of the way through The Amulet of Samarkand (audiobook) and we are still thoroughly enjoying it. Simon Jones (the narrator) brings so much to the book. His sardonic Bartimaeus regularly makes me laugh as I’m driving. I know a book is good when it bleeds into real life. While walking around NYC, we saw a burly man standing protectively near a magical-looking doorway. My husband whispered in my ear, “On the 6th plane, he’s not an ordinary guard.”

What’s on the TBR pile this week?
I have to finish Jayawardhana’s Strange New Worlds (NF, science) before my interlibrary loan expires.
And James Dashner’s The Death Cure (dystopian, YA) finally came in so I’m going to read that. Fingers crossed that it has a satisfying ending!
But mostly I am going to be driving kids to swim team, tennis lesson, dive team, gymnastics, and swim meets. Phew.

For more It’s Monday, What Are You Reading, visit Sheila at Book Journey and Kellee and Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts.

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