Hugo Awards: Short Fiction

I’m not a huge short-fiction reader. It is hard to do short fiction right — when it works it is magic and the rest of the time, not so much
This year’s nominees range from couldn’t-get-through to decent.

“The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C. Wright ☆☆☆☆☆

This story can be categorized as either fable or allegory. It is so tedious that I couldn’t force myself to read without skimming on three different tries. If you found the Christian symbolism in The Last Battle too subtle, you may like this one. It spectacularly fails the “boring lectures and finger-wagging trash” test. “

‘There is no more Woman to step upon your head [..] We are men!’ he declared in a voice full of awe. ‘The gift of fire is ours!’

“On a Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli ★★☆☆☆

The premise is intriguing — the story takes place on a planet whose electromagnetic field is so strong that spirits/souls/ghosts get stuck. Unfortunately, much of the story reads like an encyclopedia entry,

“[t]he Ymilans have a low-tech highly-ritualized culture. Their religion is genuinely unique because the living and the spirits of the dead coexist side by side.”

Please, please, please. Show, don’t tell. Especially in a short story. Drop me into a magnificent world, don’t give me the lecture cliff notes.

“Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa ★★☆☆☆

I was reading Ancillary Justice while I read this story. Both stories are told from a ship’s POV. In both stories the ship has a choice to betray (other AIs/ships in Turncoat, Anaaneder Mianai in Ancillary Justice). In both cases the ship makes a moral choice in honor of the love the ship has for those that serve it. Turncoat suffers in comparison. The writing is wooden. There are huge sections of untagged dialog with no reaction or action, just dialog.

Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing should say of him, “He did not make me,” or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding?”
I did not understand it then. But now, I think I know what it means.

“A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond ★★★☆☆ (pg 145)

Samurai vs Giant Monster — how can you go wrong? This is a fun read. The backstory and cultural history are woven into the story without overwhelming it. The writing is decent. While it does not rise to award-level, it is quite entertaining.

Well, that is the purpose of samurai, is it not? To make the sacrifices—regardless of how difficult or contrary to what logic declares—that no one else will make.

“Totaled” by Kary English ★★★☆☆

Pulled me in from the first paragraph. Threw me into the world and made me want to know who the narrator was, why she was dead, and what research she was part of. Then the story slowly fell apart for me. The Tea Party allegory (“The Treaders said taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for medical care someone else couldn’t afford, so they instituted a review board for totals.”). The cardboard cutout characters. There was so much potential here. I love how she had to use strong images to communicate but her slow degeneration was not as moving as Flowers for Algernon. This story had so much potential — it could have been so much more.

“Hard even to say “no” anymore. The crux of, of it, really. Brownies, vomit. Binary existence. Someone else’s control. Don’t want it. Notvomitnot.”

While I liked “A Single Samurai” and “Totaled”, neither of them are even close to being the best science fiction short story that has come out this year. Oh, Puppies, just because you agree with the message, it does not make the work any less message fiction.

1) No Award
2) “Totaled” by Kary English ★★★☆☆
3) “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond ★★★☆☆
4) “Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa ★★☆☆☆
5) “On a Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli ★★☆☆☆
6) “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C. Wright ☆☆☆☆☆

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Bog! Bog! Bog!

At the corner of our house we have an area where it is difficult to divert the water away from he foundation in an attractive way. I’ve spend the last two weeks digging a dry creek bed (4″ deep, 12″ wide) and filling it with river rocks of different sizes.


The creek empties into a bog. The bog is 12″ deep and filled with peat, sand, and a little soil. Irises, miniature cattails, two kinds of pitcher plants, sweet flag, corkscrew rush, ferns, and lobelia cardinalis are deciding if they want to call the bog home.

How cool is that? My own miniature wetland!

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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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Vogon Poetry and Rabid Puppies

Struggling through some of the nominations on the Rabid Puppy slate, I’ve come to the only logical conclusion I can — Rabid Puppies are Vogons. You remember Vogons, right? They are the aliens from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that demolished the Earth to make way for a new highway. Among their many charming habits is an appreciation of poetry:

Oh freddled gruntbuggly,
Thy micturations are to me
As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee.
Groop, I implore thee, my foonting turlingdromes,
And hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles”

Not every species can appreciate Vogon poetry. It turns out, I don’t appreciate Vogon poetry.

The Rabid Puppies claim they want stories with better ‘plot’. “So the conservative SF fans can get together and let their hair down and talk about stuff they want to talk about (like books with actual plots and dialogue)” (John Ringo)

I’m currently about 80 pages into a RP nominated novel and I have finished several of the RP short stories. Sure, the stories have plot, but plot alone is not enough. The dialog is wooden. There is a whole lot of telling and very little showing. The prose doesn’t sparkle, it doesn’t even shine. There are more characters than a Russian novel and less characterization than Twilight. In other words, it is not the kind of fiction I enjoy.

I can accept that some people genuinely like The Parliament of Thinly Veiled Christian Commentary. Why can’t the puppies understand that people actually *liked* Ancillary Justice not because of any political message it may or may not contain, but because it is a fascinating story with fascinating characters and decent writing.

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I am voting for the HUGO awards this year (and you should, too)

I enjoy cultural voyeurism. I find a corner of the internet and, for months, read the seminal blogs and websites of that culture. Looking at the world through a new lens fascinates me — it is probably why I love speculative fiction.

A couple of years ago, I stumbled on the “manosphere“. Reading the manosphere blogs, I was shocked by their angry, viltriolic rhetoric. *shudder* I never expected that corner of the world to collide with mine.

Lead by Vox Day/Theodore Beale (one of the more repellent manosphere characters whose appalling diatribes got him kicked out of the SFWA) the Rabid Puppies blew up my beloved SFF icon this year — the HUGO awards. With the help (witting or unwitting) of the Sad Puppies, they filled the HUGO nomination slate with their own candidates by using targeted block voting.(Excellent recap by Susan Grimsby at The Daily Kos.).

Why do I care? I have been reading Sci Fi/Fantasy/Speculative fiction for 30 years. As a voracious reader (in High School I would read 5+ books/ week) I noticed that many of my favorite novels (Ender’s Game, Hyperion, Ringworld, Uplift War) had a Hugo on the cover so I began to seek out Hugo winners. I didn’t always like the book, but it was always interesting. Thanks to the Hugo awards I discovered writers like Connie Willis.

I’m not a Fan with a capital F. I don’t go to conventions. I don’t participate in online forums. I’m just a fan. Until this controversy, I never though about voting in the Hugo awards because the people who had the time and energy to read and vote were doing a fine job. If anything good comes of this mess, it is that more people like me will get involved. They will vote. And to vote they will read more awesome books.

I will be voting for the Hugos this year. I will not automatically place anything in the Sad/Rabid Puppy slate below No Award — I will be use the winning stories from the last 30 years as a yardstick by which to judge the candidates. Candidates that do not measure up will be placed below No Award.

So if you love SFF, join me. Pay your $40. Read everything in the packet. Make up your own mind. Use whatever method of judging you deem best. VOTE!

Register as a supporting member of Sasquan (to vote).
Read the books and stories for yourself.

Some links for more info:

Daily Recap of the Mess at File 770: Mike Glyer’s blog
George R. R. Martin’s thoughts
Connie Willis on why she will not be presenting

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Kenning Poetry

In January, I had to pull my younger son, The Chef, out of school. It was a difficult decision and the boy I pulled out was a ghost of the child he had been in August. To rekindle his spark for learning, we focused on history and science. Staring at 500 AD, we delved deep into Vikings, Angles and Saxons. As one of our projects, we wrote Anglo-Saxon riddle poems.

An Anglo-Saxon riddle poem has no set rhythm or rhyme scheme. Instead it has 3 key characteristics:
1) Caesura – a natural break in the middle of the line
2) Alliteration – the stressed syllable after the caesura repeats the first or second stressed syllable of the poem
3) Kennings – a noun or combination of nouns that obliquely describes what a thing is or does or feels like. A couple of examples of kennings: mouse hunter (cat), whale road (sea), storm of swords (battle), sky vermin (bat).

Tolkein’s Lament for the Rohirim loosely follows this poetic form:

Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?

To see a couple of Anglo-Saxon riddle poems (and even hear them read in old English) visit the Swarthmore English Department where Riddle 45 is wonderfully bookish. Here’s an except from riddle 25:

I am man’s treasure, taken from the woods,
Cliff-sides, hill-slopes, valleys, downs;
By day wings bear me in the buzzing air,
Slip me under a sheltering roof–sweet craft.

Did you guess that the first part of Riddle 25 is about honey?
Try your hand at The Chef’s riddle poem:

I am fire serpent, the deadly light,
master of flame. Some call me
treasure hoarder, fire claws.
I’m myth but a legend.
I rise with the fire. I am
the air skier. Who am I?

While you are puzzling it out, please head on over and visit our Poetry Friday friends:

Worm-gatherers (Early Birds)

Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference shares her found poem experiment inspired by a Neil deGrasse Tyson speech.

Julieanne at To Read To Write To Be has an original poem about parenthood inspired by this week’s Teacher Poets workshop.

All early birds should definitely appreciate Violet Nesdoly’s bird-inspired original poem.

At Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme, Matt Forrest Esenwine shares some things worth saying. Also, be sure to visit his last National Poetry month post — it is a fascinating look at thinking like a poet.

Myra at Gathering Books shares her review of the MG novel Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan and the book’s connection to William Carlos Williams’ “The Descent.”

Wrapping up National Poetry Month, Jone at Check It Out shares some wonderful student poetry.

At A Teaching Life, Tara commemorates her beautiful oak by sharing “Woodsman, Spare That Tree”.

Diane Mayr is off to the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. If you don’t see her there, be sure to visit her at Random Noodling where she shares a history poem. You can also visit her at Kurious Kitty where she shares a poem by Sharon Olds or at KK’s Kwotes where she shares a quote by Sharon Olds.

At Author Amok, Laura Shovan has a guest post by Toby Speed. For Toby, who recently moved to New Hampshire, Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” has taken on new and special significance.

At Keri Recommends, enjoy a postcard from one of Jone’s poetry project participants.

Michelle Barnes at Today’s Little Ditty shines her spotlight on Laura Purdie Salas and challenges us to attempt a chinquapin.

At The Poem Farm, Amy Ludwig Vanderwater concludes her April Poetry Project with an original poem — “Thrift Store Goodbye”.

Mid-morning coffee break

Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a God-forsaken Town is at home recovering from dengue fever. Visit her blog to read a dengue-fever inspired poem. Ruth, we all hope you feels better soon!

At TeacherDance, Linda Baie is sharing one of Jone’s postcard project poems and an original poem about seeds.

If spring is bugging you and you need a haiku, visit Anastasia at Poet! Poet!

Tricia at Miss Rumphius Effect has some rainy day poems by Eve Merriam to share. We’ve had rain for a week now so I can really relate to the first poem.

If you want more foul-weather rhymes, visit Liz Steinglass who shares her poem “Dark Skies” and another one of Jone’s postcard project poems.

Laura Purdie Salas shares a wonderful poem by Marilyn Singer about the rainforest.

At Reading to the Core, Catherine shares some writing advice in poetic from by Ron Koertge.

Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading shares another delightful postcard from Jone’s postcard project and an original poem, “Free”.

If you need a melancholy poem with a happy ending, visit Karen Edmisten’s blog.

Lorie Ann Grover has two original haiku to share.

At Bildungrsroman there’s a Carl Sandburg poem for your enjoyment.

Collette Bennett at Used Books in Class celebrates the end of National Poetry Month.

Midnight snack

Emily Jiang shares an original poem about the pipa – a Chinese lute.

At Teaching Authors, JoAnn wraps up National Poetry Month with links to all the read-alouds and Wednesday Writing Workouts. On her personalblog, JoAnn offers up an original poem, “Mittens in May”. If you’ve had a very cold spring, you will really appreciate her poem.

Cathy at Merely Day by Day shares a poem about how Ohio is beautifully colored with blossoming trees.

Please welcome newcomer, Kelly. At her blog Project Chameleon, she writes looking at poems and reimagining the titles into something new.

Ok. I’m now caught up as of 8am on Saturday. Have a lovely Derby Day, all.

And, yes, everyone guessed right. The Chef’s riddle poem is about a dragon.

Next week’s host is the lovely Jama Rattigan over at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.

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Poetry Friday Early Birds!

Welcome, Poetry Friday early birds — leave a comment and I’ll compile your entries with the post when it goes live tomorrow morning!

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Poetry Friday: Snow Day Edition

My kids are waking up to the news that there’s no school today because of the ice/snow storm.


NEX 5R — Minolta Rokkor 100mm Macro — f/4.5, 1/125s, ISO 1600

I whispered the news in Gearbox’s ear and the happy almost-teen went back to sleep. My youngest will soon wake up, jubilant. He’ll be running around the house dancing a jig, like Emily Dickinson.

Snow flakes
By Emily Dickinson

I counted till they danced so
Their slippers leaped the town –
And then I took a pencil
To note the rebels down –
And then they grew so jolly
I did resign the prig –
And ten of my once stately toes
Are marshalled for a jig!

For more Poetry Friday, visit Robin Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge.

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Poetry Friday — holiday feast edition

Inviting a Friend to Supper by Ben Johnson

Tonight, grave sir, both my poor house, and I
Do equally desire your company;
Not that we think us worthy such a guest,
But that your worth will dignify our feast
With those that come, whose grace may make that seem
Something, which else could hope for no esteem.
It is the fair acceptance, sir, creates
The entertainment perfect, not the cates.
Yet shall you have, to rectify your palate

We have a feast of poetry for you this week. The best part? You can eat all you want because this feast has zero calories but will leave you feeling full and happy.(you can read Johnson’s full poem over at Poetry Foundation.)

Appetizers (haiku)

Carmela at Teaching Authors shares a thank you note to school librarians written in the form of a Thanku poem.

Matt Forest is celebrating the transition between fall and winter with a haiku.

Robyn Hood Black is continuing her “We Haiku Here” series featuring speakers from the recent Haiku Society of America regional haikufest in Atlanta. Up today: poet, speaker, college instructor, and editor Laurence Stacey.

Joy at Poetry for Kids also brings us a Thanksgiving haiku.

At On Point, Lorie Ann has a haiku, Santorini Sunset.

Salad Course (seasonal poems)

If you’re on the road this holiday season, you’ll appreciate Mary Lee Hahn’s contribution this week at A Year In Reading.

At Father Goose, Charles Ghinga celebrates winter.

If you’re spending a lot of time in the kitchen, be sure to head over to The Drift Record where Julie shares a Mary Czybist poem. Mary was just named the 2013 winner of the National Book Award for Poetry.

The Main Entree (Thanksgiving poems)

Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference has a several poems from Giving Thanks.

At Tapestry of Words, Becky points us to some books of Thanksgiving poetry and gives a wonderful example of a non-fiction Thanksgiving poem.

Diane Mayr has a smorgasbord for us: at Random Noodling she has an original poem about the Pilgrim women at the first Thanksgiving feast; at Kurious Kitty she presents us with a Valerie Worth Thanksgiving poem; and, in remembrance of the day president John F. Kennedy died, KK’s Kwotes has a quote by JFK.

Michelle Barnes has a clever little greeting card poem about something she’s grateful for this Thanksgiving.

Steven Winthrow at Crackles of Speech has an original poem about giving thanks called Rockhoppers.

Side Dishes (non-fiction, historical)

Laura Shovan at Author Amok has a new post in her kill-your-darlings series. It features an original poem “Freedom Seekers”.

Jone at Check It Out is celebrating one of the CYBILS non-fiction books.

Dessert (sweets and sweet writing projects)

Violet Nesdoly is thinking ahead to Christmas. She has an original poem with a hidden message — can you find it?

Hurry over to Alphabet Soup where Jama is featuring Alphabet Trucks by Samantha Vamos and Ryan O’Rourke. She is offering up lovely, edible trucks — dibs on the chocolate truck.

Amy at The Poem Farm has a poem inspired by a linty pair of pants and an old favorite book.

Alice at Supratentorial shares a writing project she did with her boys based on The Months by Sara Coleridge.

Margaret at Reflections on the Teche is writing poems with her 6th graders featuring repetition.

Cocktails and toddys (Friday additions)

Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe is posting from Boston today with a piece about Amy’s electromagnetic field.

This week at Keri Recommends, Keri shares a book trailer that caused her to fall in love with a book before she has seen it.

Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect offers an original villanelle for the holiday.

Let’s give a big Poetry Friday welcome to a new poster – Max at Teaching from Behind! Max shares an original poem
about waking up to the first real snow of winter and sharing it with his three-year-old daughter.

At The Drawer of M.M. Socks we have a poem called The Artist of Field 122.

Mariletta Robinson is letting us know what Antoine the Anteater is thankful for.

At Bildungsroman we get the first stanza of The Dream by George William Russell.

Liz Steinglass has an apology poem today.

And at Gathering Books we’re in for a yummy fairy treat from Jane Yolen.

Ruth at There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town has a Paul Laurence Dunbar poem today called “Merry Autumn.”

At Mainely Write, Donna shares an original cold weather poem – “Rosy”.

Dia Calhoun has a poem inspired by a photo of a sailboat that caught the light on a dark bay.

Betsy at I Think in Poems shares an original poem about poetry singing a song as the sun sets in red.

Enjoy some Charlotte Zolotow at Semicolon.

*** Good Morning, Poetry Peeps. I think I’m all caught up so if I missed your entry… drop me a line. I’m looking forward to sitting down with a cup of tea later today and really getting to enjoy this poetry feast ***

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