No Award Writes Books (and gives one away)

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No Award is coming to a bookshelf near you! Of recent months, No Award has appeared in two books. Liz was critical to the development of them both.

Cranky Ladies of History

Late in 2013, Liz blogged about noted Cranky Lady of History Tsaritsa Sophia Alekseyvna.  First it was a Tumblr post, and when that exploded, she figured it was maybe worth preserving, and cross-posted it to her blog.

It got a tiny bit of attention on WordPress, but attracted a lot of retweets, at which point someone said (to Tansy Rayner Roberts, if memory serves), “Hey, this would make a great anthology.”

Said great anthology then came into existence.

(Despite Liz’s best efforts, nothing else she has ever posted has ever and will ever achieve this level of success.  All those Tumblr ramblings about how Lin Beifong is great, and no one wants to turn Cranky Middle-Aged Cartoon Superheroines into an anthology.  Which is frankly weird.)

Cover of Cranky Ladies of History - red silhouette people

Crowdfunding took place, pitches were submitted, and, miracle of miracles, both Liz and Stephanie had stories accepted.

Stephanie wrote about her favourite pirate and yours, Cheng Shih, Fierce Lady, Pirate, Total Ratbag. There’s not a lot of documentation out there about her, either in English or Chinese texts, so Steph did the best she could (in both English and Chinese, as a noted polyglot) and then wish fulfilled where she couldn’t.

The greatest new thing Steph learnt about Cheng Shih during research for this story was her potential linkages to the start of the Opium War, and her working relationship with Lin Zexu, who started the Opium War. Fighting the British because of opium would have been totally Cheng Shih’s jam, so it sounds legit.

Cheng Shih, like Noted Asian Lee Lin Chin, is one of Steph’s heroes, and if she were to grow up to be just like Cheng Shih, that would be acceptable.

Liz wrote about Queen Mary 1 of England, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, burner of Protestants and all around cranky lady.  But first, she read half a dozen biographies, one of which turned up a truly amazing anecdote.

From memory: Late in Henry VIII’s reign, when Mary was in her late twenties or early thirties, living as far from her family as she could get without actually running away to Europe, Henry-via-retainer sent her a rather shirty letter to the effect of, he had heard she was entertaining “strangers” in her home, and could she not do that?

Mary replied, effectively, “Surely the king doesn’t want me to abandon the principles of Christian hospitality?  I will continue to act as my conscience dictates, thank you.”

And apparently nothing more came of it, because those letters are published in a rare book, of which only six copies exist.  Suffice to say, Liz’s library didn’t hold it.  (David Starkey owns a copy, but somehow it seemed unlikely he’d lend it to anyone.)

What piqued Liz’s imagination was this: who were these “strangers”?  English aristocrats wouldn’t be strangers.  English peasants wouldn’t come to the king’s attention.  So … time travellers?  Aliens?  ALIEN TIME TRAVELLERS?  (The Doctor?)  Faeries?

None of these questions are answered in Liz’s story because it takes place many years earlier, in the weeks before the downfall of Anne Boleyn.  This was particularly fun because Boleyn is remembered as a light-hearted, witty lady — at least, that was how she interacted with men — whereas Mary quickly went from being a happy, gifted child to a dour young woman with an undefined chronic gynecological complaint.

You can purchase Cranky Ladies of History (please do).

Companion Piece

You might not know this, but Liz loves Doctor Who, and Steph knows that time travel is terrible and no one should do it.  Liz says:

Cover of Companion Piece - a pale brown background with a young woman clambering out of a box. This all started back at Aussiecon 4 in 2010.  Liz and future-co-editor L M Myles were in the bar, as often happens at conventions, and they got to talking about the curious lack of substantial books about Doctor Who companions.  A couple exist, but they’re more promotional than analytical, and at least one is best known for the terrible would-be sexy photos it contains. (Tumblrs that should exist: Unsexy Photoshoots Featuring Sci-Fi Actresses Who Deserve Better.)

Fast forward a couple of years, and Liz Myles had co-edited the Hugo-nominated Chicks Unravel Time, a follow-up to the Hugo-winning Chicks Dig Time Lords.  Liz contributed to Chicks Unravel Time, and publisher Lars of Mad Norwegian Press liked her work enough that when we met at ChicagoTARDIS in 2012, he was willing to give them a chance with a companion book.

Fast forward some more years, in which Liz Myles became a podcasting queen and Liz discovered that programming/chairing a convention and editing a book at the same time is a really bad idea.  And we have, at last, got a book.  An actual book that the two Lizes made, full of essays we’re proud of.  Which brings us to…

Steph wasn’t going to submit anything to this anthology. Liz enticed her in with ‘How would you like to write about the least feminist companion and say something nice about her?’ And you know what? Did Steph ever. Steph mainlined hours of Five and Six, and then wrote several thousand words about how the Doctor is terrible and men are terrible and you should all feel terrible, and misogyny is the thing that keeps Peri from embracing her innate awesomeness. Steph is living her best misandrist life, okay? You should, too.

You can purchase Companion Piece from Amazon and similar places.  (If you do, please feel free to throw a review up on Amazon, GoodReads, etc!)

Alternatively, leave a comment here, and you might be RANDOMLY SELECTED to receive a copy.  IT’S THE FIRST NO AWARD GIVEAWAY!

And if that doesn’t work, we’re also giving away two (!) signed (!) copies at Continuum — go buy yourself a membership, then turn up for the closing ceremony.  Guest of Honour Tansy Rayner Roberts is just one of several contributors attending, so it’s not just Liz and Steph writing their names in the book. (And drawing. Steph will be drawing in books)

No Award in Books: The Live Show

There will be panels about both of these books at Continuum, a speculative fiction convention, of which Liz is Chair and Steph is programmer. Continuum is held over the Queen’s Birthday weekend in Melbourne, Steph uses it to push an agenda, and because this is our blog you’ll be hearing more about it over the next two weeks.

Sunday June 7 6pm, Cranky Ladies of History, including editors Tehani Wessely and Tansy Rayner Roberts. Monday June 8, 2pm.

(PS Don’t try first programming and then chairing a con while co-editing a book.  Learn from Liz’s mistakes.  Sleep is a wonderful thing that you will one day miss.)

practical suggestions for riding to work in winter

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Here in Melbourne it’s raining, it’s gross, it’s easy not to cycle. Steph didn’t cycle today because it just all seemed a bit much. But winter riding is GREAT. Team No Award is all about the cycling. So here Steph, along with BFF Danni, bring you practical tips and suggestions for winter cycling. They commute all winter! (Yesterday they got more wet than expected, but it was still great)

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Urbanspoon reviews by Paul Mercurio

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NOT A JOKE: Superdancer of No Award’s childhood, Paul Mercurio, has an Urbanspoon account and he really, really cares about your food.  Paul thinks every dining experience is the Pan Pacifics, and it’s great. He just wants you to be happy!

Volpino - Excellent food and service. "We went to Volpino on Friday night for my Mum's 79th birthday - there were 12 of us and there no complaints from any one! From the outset the service was excellent, very attentive without being pushy and considering how busy they were that night we never had to wait for service or assistance. I love the menu it is the sort of food I enjoy eating and in fact the sort of food I love to cook. The pizza was very authentic, thin crust simple toppings fresh good quality ingredients. I had squid ink pasta with seafood - all of it delicious and the serving size was spot on. My wife had the fish which was delicate fresh clean and also delicious. I could go on about all of the dishes we ordered and ate but quite simply the food and the service was excellent and I was impressed. They were also happy for us to bring in a birthday cake which they hid and then delivered to our table with candles burning. Thanks for a great night to everyone at Volpino and Friday night!! I will definitely be back. "

He wants what’s best for you!

Cammeray Craft - Excellent

He doesn’t want to tell you bad news, but he’s just so disappointed and all he wants is for you to do well!

He knows that when you’re doing work you can still find time for a nice meal.

Zonzo - An absolute delight

He used to own a restaurant called Merc’s Bier, and he totally supports you if you need to be alone – Paul would never shame you for dining on your own.

His Urbanspoon account is a delight:

Look at his excitement! So great.

See more from Paul on Urbanspoon or Twitter. Nobody quote Strictly Ballroom at him or I’ll be very disappointed in you. (You can quote it at me though. Never get tired of NEW STEPS)

motorcycle cop is a sweet nothing

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When Steph is sad, she watches a Henson production. When Steph is happy, she watches a Henson production. When Steph sings, she sings a Henson song. There’s some Muppets in her life, is what we’re saying.

There’s a new trailer for Muppets! It’s not a movie (ps, Walter is the worst new Muppet of the last twenty years, pass it on).


And so Steph, lifelong devotee at the altar of Henson, brings you her most useful Muppet quotes.

When you need to give someone something:

“This is for you” in Clueless Morgan’s clueless voice is one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given. That and “But it’s not even his birthday.” Also this is the greatest Muppet movie ever, I will fight you.

When you need to ask questions or approve of things:

“How are you fixin’ to pay?” “Very popular choice” and “You are all. weirdos.” HELP I LOVE IT.

When giving directions:

When fessing up to something:

“I cannot tell a lie, I ate the whole thing!” GREAT MOMENTS IN ELVIS HISTORY.

When you need to deny something:

“Mother always taught me never eat singing food.”

When you’re announcing things:

“BUSINESS.” “It is the AMERICAN WAY.”

When you need to scold a person:

“Light the lamp not the rat.” And sadly I cannot find “Thank you for making me a part of this” but it is SO USEFUL.

When things stop working:

“Dead Tom’s dead! Long John shot ‘im!”

When you need something from someone:

China Through the Looking Glass

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Ms Genevieve wrote a red carpet rundown about the 2015 Met Gala, and it’s great and you should read it (she has many excellent photos of excellent Chinese women there being fierce). Usually her rundowns are sufficient for me and I don’t need to talk further, but this year’s theme was “China Through the Looking Glass,” and I don’t think it will surprise you to know that I have opinions that need to be discussed in depth.

First of all, if you didn’t already know about Guo Pei, feast your eyes upon her beloved, amazing work. She is China’s premier haute couture designer. She is stunning and talented and I would probably kill a white man for the chance to wear some of her designs. Sometimes when I’m putting together outfits I’m picturing her 2010 One Thousand and Two Arabian Nights Collection in my head as I do it. We should all aspire to One Thousand and Two Arabian Nights.

Chinese woman in a dress designed to evoke blue porcelain

In an interview with Maosuit in 2012, Guo Pei noted:

Often fashion industry executives come to China or visit my studio and are shocked to see the level of fashion in China. One French fashion expert came to visit my studio and was completely surprised to see haute couture in China. He didn’t think it could exist outside Europe. 

Given that atrocity, I’m super glad that Rihanna chose to wear her, and that now lots of people around the world are looking into her work. That’s great! That’s a great outcome from the Met Gala and the theme. What a shame an amazing Chinese couturier can’t get a leg up in the Western fashion world.

(Incidentally, in 2010 she was compared to Charles James, and the NYT suggested she had in fact surpassed Paris designers.)

Anyway.

Let’s talk poppies.

Opium is so fraught in China, particularly in regards to China’s history with Britain and various other Allies. The two Opium Wars occurred due to the colonialist need of Britain and other European countries to force their substandard manufacturing upon China in the 1800s. The history of opium in China is so fraught that an official delegation from the UK in 2010, that included PM David Cameron, was asked not to wear poppies for Remembrance Day because they were a “symbol of China’s humiliation at the hands of Europe.” And then they wore them anyway. (Of course they did)

I guess it shouldn’t surprise us then that, given fashion’s great history of cultural delicacy, a number of people wore dresses (or, in the case of Cara Delevingne, fake tattoos) covered in poppies. To be fair, it’s hardly their fault; an email from Vogue Social Editor Chloe Malle about the theme for China: Through the Looking Glass” mentioned that the official dress code was “China White Tie” and she wasn’t sure how people would interpret that. “China white” is at times a slang name for a type of opiate. So it’s subtle, obviously, and not at all a continuing demonstration of the cultural imperialism of the West. Not at all.

chloe sevigny in a mess of a dress made of traditional silks

And beyond poppies. Here’s the thing about Chloe Sevigny’s dress: each individual component is fine, and can be linked to a specific period in Chinese fashion history, for the most part (that front slit is a choice, I guess). Each of these eras of history had some amazing fashion! Why, then, one would choose to combine eleven trillion dynasties into one outfit is astounding.

The top is clearly half a top. Please witness our Lady of Delight Fan Bing Bing in The Empress of China for an example.

Fang Bing Bing in Empress of China in a red Tang dress

The bottom of Chloe’s dress is clearly attempting to be a cheongsam. Its variations don’t usually include a front slit. It’s not out of the realms of possibility, except that under layer clearly demonstrates it’s a side slit. The under layer is also overly long – traditionally the petticoat is only to above the knee. See one of my favourite ads from the 30s:

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(Don’t do cigarettes, kids) This outfit is see-through and yet entirely still accurate. It’s fitted correctly. Its slit is to the thigh but on the side. It’s tight but moves. You can see the hit of petticoat under there.

And Chloe’s biggest issue is the fit. Cheongsams are exactly tailored, and to wear one that is so long it’s crinkling unattractively on the feet is not really on. And the wrinkles. Cheongsams are kind of hard to wear, why bother wearing one if you’re not going to wear it properly?

Speaking of Our Lady of Beauty and The Most Money of Anyone Else in Chinese Media (she is currently the highest paid actress in the world):

fan bing bing in an amazing bu creation of yellow and green

Christopher Bu often dresses Fan Bing Bing. Would that he dressed all of us, but we wouldn’t be able to do him justice. Specifically I want to note him because he does some of my favourite work with combining traditional elements of Chinese fashion and design with more modern (read: Western) elements, and I adore his embroidery work. You should also be checking out his stuff.

old white lady in pyjamasA note about pyjamas:

Pyjamas make you a Shanghai Auntie, and they’re not the greatest way to evoke China. However what they are is a great joke, because a) everybody has a pair, and b) in 2010, before the World Expo, the Chinese government worked hard to eradicate public pyjama wearing across Shanghai.

Pyjamas were endorsed by Deng Xiao Ping during Opening Up, and became a fashion statement adopted from the West. It was a nice way to imitate the West, which was a big part of Opening Up. Pyjamas were also a matter of convenience – in tiny state housing, why change to dash across the road? Wear your pyjamas. So in terms of attention to theme and weird imperialistic thievery that leads to inappropriate use, this is actually incredibly on point!

And now they’re being worn to the Met! So actually anyone can wear their pyjamas. I endorse it.

You may notice I’ve only mentioned two Chinese designers here! That’s because there weren’t really that many.

Names such as Guo Pei, Christopher Bu and Bao Bao Wan may not trip off the tongue just yet, but they are the vanguard of a new invasion of Chinese fashion designers who don’t resort to the detailing of Chinese traditional dress.

And even the Guardian, which has an article asking where all the Chinese designers were, managed to make it awkward and othering, which makes everyone want to find out more about Chinese designers! Because even as they’re awesome, they’re still exotic, I guess.

(The quote above, incidentally, fails to note that these designers still do amazing traditional detailing, and Bu is known for it.)

Here, let’s palate cleanse with my other favourite Guo Pei creation.

Chinese lady consumed by a black and red dress

prepping for our well-powered dystopia

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Last week Elon Musk, probably secretly a cyborg and/or Iron Man (ETA have just been told his secret identity is ElonMan), revealed Tesla’s new battery storage system, the PowerWall. In brief, in combination with a 2kWh or a 5kWh PV system (super common sizes in Australia), means cheap, long term, accessible renewable energy at an individual level. One of the problems with PV has been an inability to store enough to get through the night, when there’s no sun out recharging the PV, and it’s a peak energy usage time. A great battery would change that, allowing charging and storage to happen through the day.

Renew Economy thinks it doesn’t mean the end of coal, and the removal of houses from the grid, but it certainly changes shit up.

PV panels. It's so beautiful.

In Australia, it definitely makes PV incredibly affordable (when the battery gets here), and makes PV super competitive, what with all the sun we have. And it changes the payback period, which has long been one of the bigger concerns around installing solar power. Origin recently calculated wasted roof space across Australia, and comes in at 5.3 million homes and businesses wasting their roof space, which doesn’t even take into account other spots to put PV (or roofs on which to put gardens, but this is a solar discussion, quokkas!). Basically it’s all our dystopia dreams come true, and I wish I’d known about it last week before I handed in my latest story (more on that when it comes out, but there’s PV and Australia’s dystopia involved).

The Conversation has a great article about the ‘winners and losers’ in this situation; what’s especially great about it is how it clearly highlights that sometimes distribution companies might not allow installation to happen because there are too many systems installed in certain areas, and if that doesn’t sound like a perfect BigPower conspiracy I don’t know what does.

Related, there’s a floating solar-powered waste water treatment plant under construction in South Australia, which is going to be awesome.

And at wired, a solar powered plane. Yes. Give it to me.

Reading the Hugos: The Three-Body Problem by Li Cixin, plus Kevin J Anderson

I loved this book. I inhaled it. I spent two hours sitting on the floor of a cold, empty house, reading it as I waited for a removalist that never came, and I don’t begrudge that time.

And yet, there is a plot-twist so absurd that if it had come from an Anglophone author I would have asked if he was taking writing advice from Rupert Murdoch.  The male protagonist is bland; his family appear for one scene and then vanish, despite numerous developments that would directly affect them; I have doubts about the earth-based worldbuilding, which doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

But I loved it.

It helps that I read the translated version.  A novel in translation can be challenging to read: phrases that felt natural in its original language become clumsy; the dialogue is nearly always stilted.  2013 saw me reading a lot of Japanese and Scandinavian crime fiction, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that my vision of the text was distorted, like I was wearing semi-opaque lenses.  I couldn’t quite bond with those novels.

With The Three-Body Problem, I appreciated that distance, because it kept reminding me not to judge it by the standards I’d apply to western writing.  That helped me tolerate — and even enjoy — the long expository scenes.  It also meant that when I hit the absurd plot twist, I didn’t write it off as hilariously bad right wing propaganda, the way I would if a western author presented such an idea with a straight face.  I’m not really up on contemporary Chinese politics, so I can’t put his work into a proper context.  I had to take it as it is, and that was refreshing.

(I did recognise one political thread: a debate between aliens about the value of totalitarianism versus democracy when it comes to the long-term survival of a culture.  Basically the only thing I know about current Chinese politics is that that is a heated issue.  Cixin himself doesn’t offer any easy answers.)

Probably part of the reason I loved it is that much of the novel is set during and immediately following the Chinese Cultural Revolution.  Reading reviews, I’m quite surprised at how little American readers seem to know about this period — several even seemed to think the setting was a Communist revolution.

I have an advantage, in that my mother studied Mandarin at university in the late 70s/early 80s, at a time when the department was basically run by Maoists.  I scribbled in her copy of the Little Red Book when I was tiny, and I’ve always been really interested in the Cultural Revolution.

One of Cixin’s themes is that everything can be distorted by politics, including the seemingly immutable facts of the universe, and the Cultural Revolution is a perfect example of how that works.  (This also makes my instinctive desire to put his work into its political context seem all the more ridiculous.)

I’ve heard that the second volume in the trilogy is more character-driven, and I really hope that’s the case, because the male protagonist here was passive and quite dull.  (As opposed to the female lead, but to say more would be a spoiler.)  But I did love The Three-Body Problem — it had lots of things I don’t like, yet it executed them all on such a scale, and with such confidence, that I was drawn in despite myself.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, even when I was texting Stephanie to tell her that [SPOILERS] are really [SPOILERS] for a [SPOILER].

At this point, I think The Three-Body Problem is likely to get my first preference in the ballot, and it is absolutely deserving.

Kevin J Anderson’s The Dark Between the Stars, however, is going to go below No Award.  That, too, is deserving.

Obviously Three-Body was going to be a hard act to follow, but The Dark Between the Stars had numerous strikes against it.  I read six chapters (remember, I said I’d give a book three chapters to convince me, so really, I went above and beyond).

I’d complain about Anderson’s two-dimensional female characters, but actually, the men are no better.  I didn’t much care for his depiction of a bitchy, career-driven wife and mother and the husband who kidnaps their son and escapes her.  (It’s not that these things don’t happen, it’s just the complete lack of nuance.)

I had even less time for the clumsy writing, where characters take several chapters to figure out things that were obvious to the reader from the very first scene.  I have no idea what the plot was going to be, or the history of this universe — which I believe is one Anderson has written in before — because the writing was so terrible, my brain just went NOPE and shut down.

An animated gif of an octopus scuttling across the field, the words

That octopus really speaks to me.

Now I’m reading The Outback Stars, which is also terrible, and yet really interesting?  ABORIGINAL RUNES.  But also a completely dysfunctional stores department on a starship, which is (a) interesting; (b) relevant to my peculiar interest in workplace issues; (c) a side of milSF we don’t often get to see.

I mean, that aspect is still terrible (fake rape claims!  All the Japanese officers are either Yakuza or prostitutes!  The space navy is allegedly based on the Australian navy but has US-style rules against fraternisation!), plus I really don’t care for the romance.  And yet I keep reading, because [see (a) through (c)].

Stay tuned for a No Award post about the trilogy.  It’s quite something.

a selfish rabble

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It makes Steph really happy that the selfish rabble of Australians and people around the rest of the world exists. We’re condemning the forced closure of remote communities. May 1 was an international day of protest and action. I was at the Melbourne protest, and we shut down Melbourne during peak hour on a Football Friday.

I got into fights with white men. Exclusively white men, which tells you a lot. Their arguments essentially devolved into two key elements. “You’re losing your audience. You gotta let people get home.” Mad chookas to the chick behind me who followed up my argument, after he got stuck on ‘you gotta let people get home,’ with “People are losing their homes, mate.”

“Peaceful protest does nothing. You have to fight their militia with a militia. You have to militarise.” Also, I note, a white man.

Police look on as protesters stage a sit down protest outside of Flinders Street Station. Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Police look on as protesters stage a sit down protest outside of Flinders Street Station. Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

It was crowded, and we blocked traffic. It was definitely an inconvenience.

Someone from WAR read out what Bolt had written; that it’d be great if we’d done it on a quieter street, making less inconvenience. Which completely misses the point.

I’d like to note, though, that every time someone yelled ‘make room’ for a person with assistive mobility tech, we made room for that person to get through to Flinders Street; often that way was led by a protester clearing space for them.

I loved the guy from Country West of Melbourne who said, “Let me read you something my Great Grandmother wrote me. ‘ALWAYS WAS, ALWAYS WILL BE, ABORIGINAL LAND.'”

There was a passion and a power and a vibe, and please keep on.

There’s a reason why I continue being part of this selfish rabble. It’s not at all to be selfish – surely it is easy to see that this is not selfishness, but selflessness. I am a latecomer to this land – born on stolen land in the 80s, to latecomers to the land. We have plenty of unviable communities remotely, rurally; and at least Indigenous Communities have a cultural connection, have a continuing relationship to the land, and aren’t built on stolen promises and stolen lives and stolen children. If I can fight for my right to vote, or to be allowed to work in this country, both things people had to fight for decades ago for me to do them now, I can damn well fight for the right of Indigenous Australians to live on the land that wasn’t stolen from them.

Some links:

The live blog from The Guardian

At Buzzfeed

At the ABC

A piece on the latest raid at Heirisson Island from a NZ station

You can find more stuff at #sosblakaustralia and by following @sosblakaustralia

Wednesday reading (on Thursday)

Yesterday was just very busy, okay?  On the upside, the old house is now clean and empty, with the very last round of stuff to be picked up this evening.  I guess I can take time out of reading Free Comic Book Day stuff on Saturday to drop off the keys.

Books Recently Read

The Life and Death of Harold Holt by Tom Frame

This wound up being a bit of a slog, which is what happens when you have a subject who’s basically a decent person who avoided major scandals and kept his private life to himself.  But it didn’t destroy my illusions about Holt being quite a good sort, and made me extra-sad that the Liberal Party has become everything that Menzies and Holt wanted to avoid.

Also read: four out of the five Hugo-nominated short stories.  But you all knew that, because that post was the second-most visited on this blog ever.  (The first: the one where I spoil the ending of the Australian Secrets & Lies.  IDK, it got picked up by an entertainment site or something.)

General consensus on that post seems to be that I’m an easy grader.  And I agree; I think I was trying too hard to not seem like I was rejecting stories just because they were on a slate I strongly disagree with.  So I’m inclined to unearth some of the nominated stories of recent years, read those, and reconsider my choices for this year.

Currently reading…

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

A nominated novel, of course, and a very good one so far.  I had heard it described as didactic and heavy on the exposition, which are two of my least favourite things ever in fiction — Stephanie, back in our Ann Leckie discussion, was curious to see how I’d cope with Chinese SF — but so far, so good?

But then, I really need some of the scientific exposition Liu supplies — I don’t have much of an education in science at all, and I just can’t get my head around physics whatsoever.  I struggled with the science in Rosemary Kirstein’s The Steerswoman — note to self, make Stephanie read that series so we can talk about it — so the contemporary/near future/recent past stuff is way over my head.

I’ll do a proper post about The Three-Body Problem when I’m finished.

What I’m reading next…

I have the nominated Kevin J Anderson novel checked out from the elibrary.  I don’t expect it will be difficult.  (Not an insult — I love good, solid storytelling.  I breezed through Leviathan Wakes when that was nominated, and loved it.)

I also have The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald checked out.  I hope it’s good, but Americans writing about Australian Indigenous cultures is always rich with the potential for grossness.  Either way, I’ll probably get a post out of it.  I think Steph is also going to read it, so maybe we can make it substantial.

Liz reads the 2015 Hugo-nominated short stories

I thought that Project: Read As Much As Possible And Vote By Merit would be easier if I didn’t sit around waiting for the voter pack.  Accordingly, I’ve reserved a bunch of the nominated novels at my elibrary of preference.  As for short stories, all but one are available online, and I’ve started reading and organising my preferences.

(I really love preferential voting.  I like to have my senate ballots prepared weeks ahead of an election.  Of course I vote below the line.  SO GREAT.)

The stories!

“On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli

It’s not clear whether this version on Antonelli’s blog is the same as that published in Sci Phi Journal #2.  For the sake of my embarrassment squick, I hope not.  The blog version’s dialogue is full of run on sentences, which (aside from being grammatically problematic) makes it a bit hard to read.  I dearly hope it’s a first draft.

Anyway, it’s a story about an alien planet whose magnetic field creates ghosts of the dead, and a human chaplain who has to deal with the first human ghost.

The concept is mildly interesting, the execution mildly frustrating.  An example:

Ymilans believe–as do many Terran religions–that each individual has a spark of an eternal extra-dimensional over-arching consciousness that is imbued in each of them at birth and ultimately returns to a higher dimensional plane when the physical form is no longer viable. I told him we call it the “soul”. They also know–I won’t say believe because the evidence was obvious on Ymilas–that while alive we develop an electromagnetic imprint as a result of the experiences of life that survives after death. I told Dergec an ancient Terran religion had the same belief, and in fact built elaborate pyramids and tombs filled with personal belongings to keep those spirits happy.

I don’t know that the Egyptian concept of the ba had anything whatsoever to do with electromagnetism, but the Ymilan religion — where ancestors remain part of a person’s life after death — has more to do with Chinese beliefs anyway.  Beliefs which are contemporary and actually practised right now in the actual real world, and aren’t in fact alien in any way whatsoever.  That the author doesn’t seem to realise this is … well, it shows a certain carelessness in research, or a lack of general knowledge, or maybe a cultural arrogance?

I found the writing amateurish and the central idea poorly executed.  This is going above No Award, but only because it’s not actually insulting.

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

This is actually insulting.  If Bible-quoting animals debating their place in the world after the extinction of humanity is your idea of a good time, this might be the story for you.  If you thought that The Last Battle was amazing but needed to make its metaphors more obvious, this is definitely for you. If you like interesting, original and insightful fiction, I’m sorry, you will have to move on.

Wright is trying very hard to incorporate Catholic theology into this story, but the result frankly makes me a bit embarrassed to share a religion with him.  It takes a very talented writer to pull off explicitly Christian references in what appears to be a secondary world fantasy setting, and John C Wright is no C S Lewis.

Going below No Award.

(A note: both of these short stories have been posted to blogs but formatted for paper — indents, no paragraph spacing, etc.  Guys, don’t do that.  It’s fine for a book or ereader, but in the context of a website, it’s just hard to read.  And neither story has been worth the eye strain.)

“Totaled” by Kary English

Finally, some formatting I can read!

And this is the best story so far, which is not to say it’s not derivative in concept and execution, and kind of sexist in its portrayal of the sandwich-fetching grad student hated by the heroine.  A scientist working on the preservation of living tissue after death is killed in an accident, her brain is preserved, but she only gets a short afterlife before decay sets in.

The idea’s been done a bunch of times, but this gets a neat ZOMGObamacare twist: preservation is dependent on your monetary worth.  Death panels, guys! It’s weird and specifically American, but hey, this is an American story.

I’m pretty lukewarm overall, but it was readable (in every sense of the word) and largely inoffensive.  I’m probably going to give this my first preference.

“Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa

Look, the integration of human, AI and spaceship is not a new idea.  Anne McCaffrey wrote The Ship Who Sang before I was born; Ann Leckie gave the concept a powerful new twist, oh, just a couple of years ago.

I guess Rzasa deserves some praise for claiming the subgenre for People Who Aren’t Named Ann(e), but it’s just soooooo boring.  A whole paragraph about the protagonist’s hull and weaponry?  *snore*

This feels like the author read Ancillary Justice and went, “Yes, but what this really needs is less ambiguity and a really boring main character.”  It’s competently written, which is sadly high praise for the short story category this year, but that’s all I can say.

This whole “vote by merits” thing is really hard, guys.  Like, I don’t think that this deserves an award.  And yet two-fifths of the category is SO BAD that the overall standard is so low, I can’t in good conscience NOT place it second on my ballot.

The fifth nominated story is “A Single Samurai” by Stephen Diamond, which doesn’t appear to be available online.  That will have to wait for the voter pack.  Until I’ve read it, my ballot currently looks like:

  1. “Totaled”
  2. “Turncoat”
  3. “On A Spiritual Plain”
  4. No Award
  5. “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds”

(I keep typing “The Parliament of Beats and Birds”, which I presume is about DJs and HORRIBLE AVIANS gathering together to work out their place in the universe after the fall of non-DJ humanity.)

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