Wednesday, October 28, 2015


I’ve been spending much of this blog’s bandwidth on the Hugo awards this year. I have provided history, and opinion. I have written multiple reviews of the nominated works. I have turned myself into a critic. I think I’ve been a delightfully snarky and insightful critic, but a critic nonetheless.

I am not a big fan of critics. They are too removed from the process of creation. I don’t feel like I have made anything new by being a Hugo critic. No new synthesis, not critical observation, jokes are derivative of the works they mock; I don’t like it.

I have decided to create something more extensive than a blog post. I am going to write a novella. It will be a science fiction novella, and I will use the NANOWRIMO contest to provide a bit of monitoring of my effort so that I stay more focused than my own devices allow.

This means I will not be posting for a bit. I may get one or two posts off, but my attention will be focused on getting the novella written, and then edited. I am more afraid of the editing as I am a lousy editor; you all know that if you have read many of my posts.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

End of days with mayonaise

There is a little disagreement over the possibility that the world will end tomorrow. I know “End” is such a final sounding word, isn’t it? So let us just call it a massive extinction event that calls all the chosen, noble, and great people back to the heavenly father. If I made up some end-times prophesy I would try and make it less patronizing and melodramatic. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” would work for me, but it is a little cliché.

Should the world not end tomorrow it is supposed to definitely end by Monday. I don’t think this is suggesting that the prophesy states that making it to Thursday ensures an unencumbered weekend, but I’m not sure.

The prophesy is centered around counting to seven and an encounter with God himself by a temporarily dead woman by the name of Julie Rowe. The seven is important because it has been 14 years since terrorists flew planes into the World trade center, the pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania; 14 is 2X7. Julie is important because God spoke to her directly, and dropped several not-so-subtle hints that the world was going to end real soon.

Julie is a member in good standing of a religion called “The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day Saints”. The “Later-Day” part of the title is all about the end of the world, or, more precisely, the massive extinction event that calls all the chosen, noble, and great people back to the heavenly father. Tens of thousands of –mostly Mormon- people have bought Sister Rowe’s book(s), and she is a popular speaker at spiritual gatherings. Nonetheless, it is usually bad form to actually produce evidence of the actual end of the world, and this particular world-ending prophesy is no exception. The LDS church has issues the following official statement:

Although Sister Rowe is an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, her book is not endorsed by the Church and should not be recommended to students or used as a resource in teaching them. The experiences she shares are her own personal experiences and do not necessarily reflect Church doctrine or they may distort Church doctrine.

It has also been pointed out that the late Mormon authority Boyd K. Packer (who was famous for his opinions on masturbation and the way women should dress) stated in 2011 that people may even live to see their great grandchildren before the world ended; no need to stop tithing now I suppose.

Tomorrow (Wednesday September 23rd) is the obvious day for the world to end. It is the autumnal equinox, and ending the world in conjunction with some celestial event is much more elegant than just pulling any old date out of the hat. Unfortunately Monday (28th of September) appears to be the more agreed upon date. Does this mean that some people will be able to get to work, have those Monday thoughts where the world is just a huge bag of s**t, and then “poof” it’s all gone? Other people who sleep in may then get the last laugh if the end comes slow enough to get in a laugh.

Actually the end is supposed to be fairly pedestrian (someone once teased me for using that word too often) as ends-of-worlds go.  A giant earthquake-thing will hit somewhere near or around Utah (in other words near the absolute center of the universe). This will cause widespread panic, and be followed by other bad things that will harm people to death and beyond. Because mayhem, panic, and uncomfortably nasty things are forecast the citizens of Utah are stocking up on stuff; stuff like mayonnaise, ammunition, and potato flakes. Sales at some Utah “prepper” stores have been up over 500% of normal for quite a little while.

All this raises many questions; many of which will be answered in time. I for one am not looking forward to the answer to all of the questions. Especially: “What do you do with gallons of expiring mayonnaise?”

Monday, August 24, 2015

No Wins Hugo

This post puts a final nail in the SNARL-Hugo series of posts.  I must admit to being completely put off by the quality of this year's short fiction nominees.  I am afraid we will see this problem again if there is not a revamping of the nomination process. 

This last weekend the Hugo award winners were announced, and the big winner was:


  1.       "No" won handily in five categories (Novella, Short Story, Best Related Work, Editor Short Form, Editor Long Form). 
  2.        "No" came in second in four categories ( Novelette, Professional Artist, Fanzine, Fan Writer), and picked up a prestigious second place John Campbell award for best new writer.
  3.        "No" came in third in two categories (Novel, Fancast)
  4.        "No" came in fourth in one category (Semiprozine)
  5.        "No" came in fifth, beating only one nominee, in only one category (Best Graphic Story)

"No" only failed to place in a couple categories.  Interestingly "No" was shut out in both the dramatic presentations categories; the only categories it had ever won in the past. 

"No" was my personal favorite in the short fiction categories.  I had almost hoped that Kary English's story "Totaled" would have won, but if it had I would have been left thinking that it might have lost to worthy competitors.  I don't think "No" would have beat Kary if there were any other reasonable short stories to judge hers against.  Interestingly the winner of the Novelette category was the only nominated short fiction I have not read.  I will probably not read it as I am just sick of whatever this stuff is that they call short fiction in 2015. 

The thing is that the rabid-sad puppies filled the nominations with work -especially in the short fiction- that was awful.  I should have kept track of the descriptors used to explain how bad people thought the Rabid-Sad puppies work was.  It would have been nice to know if "%!!?# **%$!! That **&p;%;#$!! Was &;*(^)!;$%?" beat out "Can I have my hour back?", or if something more vanilla like "Please get me a plastic spoon so I can scrape the residue left by reading that crap out of my brain!" could chalk up a win. 

The slate-filling is something that is done in reduction down-select voting processes.  In Utah this is the reason behind maintaining a costly caucus-primary system.  Since only two candidates make it from the closed caucus to the public primary it is possible to slate dummy candidates to force out candidates that might win in the primary if the public was given a chance to vote for them.  Since I have been in Utah the slating in caucus has been used to elect Senator Mike Lee, and allowed John Huntsman to be elected governor when the incumbent had something like an 85% approval rating.    It almost worked against Senator Orin Hatch in the last election cycle; hatch went on to win the public primary by a nearly two-to-one margin. The idea to slate out popular candidates in order to control an election is a Utah idea.  Interestingly the two main "sads" in the rabid-sad puppy group are Utahians.  They took what they thought was a winning political strategy from the rooms of the Utah GOP caucus, and applied it to a literary award.

"Our execution wasn't flawless. I made two mistakes, one which was fortuitous as it permitted Three Body Problem to make the shortlist and win, and one which was stupid as it cost us a 6th category in novelette. Our discipline could also have been better, although I don't see that it would have made any difference at all with regards to either the nominations or the awards. But I trust the moderate approach is now sufficiently discredited in everyone's eyes."  -- Vox Day on Vox Popoli 23 August 2015

"From Communists to Muslims to SJWs, various philosophies and religions have been more than happy to attempt to coopt Jesus Christ, because they believe he is dead. What they cannot countenance are the servants of the Living God"  -- Vox Day on Vox Popoli 24 August 2015

In any sacrificial slating there are dummy candidates.  Tim Bridgewater was the dummy GOP candidate for Mike Lee.  Nolan Karras was the dummy GOP candidate for John Huntsman.  In the case of this year's Hugo awards it looked like most of the dummy candidates were just one guy: John C. Wright.  JCW was nominated into so many slots that I would be surprised if it were not some sort of a record.    And all of the work used to nominate him was craptacular.  It was some of the worst written fiction of any length I have ever read in any genre.  The fact that so many of what I hope are JCW's worst works received Hugo nominations does permanent damage to the genre of science fiction.  Already collections that include these turds of stories are being offered for sale with the announcement that they contain "Hugo Nominated" works.  There will be nobody around to say "This story may have been nominated, but it lost to No Award it was so bad".

Reading the Hugo-nominated works of John C. Wright is not just a waste of time it is a waste of interest.  The Hugo process may have finally figured out how to nominate dramatic presentations, but it has failed the written word.  There is a steady stream of ways to be influenced over what TV show to watch; there may be one less way to get reasonable recommendations about what written work is worth reading.  The Hugos does not provide an important voice in the selection of TV shows, but it was (is?) one of only a few for short science fiction works.

"I should mention that during the last few months of the Sad Puppies kerfluffle, I once upon a time accurately described him, Mr. Moshe Feder, and Mrs Irene Gallo of Tor Books as ‘Christ Haters.’ The support of abortion, sodomy, and euthanasia rather unambiguously put a soul into the position of open rebellion against Christian teachings. In addition, any man who bears false witness against his neighbor, delights in poison-tongued gossip, and destroys writing careers of anyone who does not support his politics not only disobeys Christ, but violates the ordinary decency of ordinary men of good will of any faith."  -- John C. Wright on his blog 23 August 2015

There are several conservative commentators who decry the strong showing of "No" at the 2015 Hugos as a petulant attack on the civility and social order.  Most people just don't care, which is actually worse.   Science fiction has actively imagined the downfall of civilization fairly often, but unless people trust the Hugo process to identify the best of science fiction the Hugos awards are literally worthless; there is in fact no other significant purpose for the Hugos.       

"The social justice tendency, here as elsewhere, is driven by anxious white middle-class bloggers and authors who turn their noses up at the tastes of the proletariat. They'd rather celebrate books about coming to terms with the disabled transgender experience than a good story about aliens and ray guns."  -- Milo Yiannopoulos on Breitbart 23 August 2015

If the rabid-sad puppies are successful in pushing the Hugo awards down the path of triviality again next year I will probably join the vast majority of people who don't care about them already. 

The strong "No" showing may be the first step back from the brink for the Hugos.  However, the rabid-sad puppies vow to do the same thing to the Hugos next year.  Vox Day is even holding a special secret workshop for 2016 Hugo strategizing this Thursday (27 August 2015).

The only way to counter that threat is to get enough votes for good works.  But how do you find the really good works out of the seemingly endless morass of science fiction and fantasy?  Well... you could get people to recommend good works to other people who might together nominate them. If you read something worthwhile you need to tell other people about it, and explain why you liked it.  Put your opinion on the line like I did this year.  Help make reading the Hugo nominated works a pleasure in 2016.

Friday, August 14, 2015

How Not to Book a Trip

The following is a guest post by Doris Brody.  She wanted a place to put an HTML formatted story of a birding trip she recently took to Ecuador, and I eagerly offered to put it here.   I hope she does not expect me to edit anything much as my editing skills, as most of my readers know, extend to sometimes paying attention to the automatic spell checker.

Our tour leader is down on all fours and stuck in the mud. He cannot remove his boots until he takes his feet out. He is a mess. Now it is our turn to follow him across the huge mudslide blocking our path. One by one we struggle over getting extremely muddy but luckily avoiding the dangerous pits that lurk beneath the surface.


The mudslides that have plagued the Eastern slope of the Andes in Ecuador this year are an act of God: the Godzilla of all el Ninos. The decision to cross the mudslide is not.

On this birding trip to Ecuador, we have learned several important lessons about how not to book a trip.

  1.  Get a draft itinerary before you pay all your money down (we didn?t). If the itinerary says “lodging at my house” ask questions. (We did, after paying it all. This got us a hotel?more about that later). 
  2.  If the itinerary doesn't specifically say what meals are covered and which are not, ask. Also, if a meal is not covered, ask if the schedule allows time for it, ask where you eat and when (we didn't). We had two breakfasts and three “dinner-lunches” at the leader?s house (hamburgers and hot dogs for two and chicken for the third).
  3. --Ask questions about “little things” like laundry facilities (see picture) and transportation. We had a car and a pick-up truck. The luggage, covered with a tarp, only got a little wet in heavy rains.
  4.  If the activity level is higher than advertised, opt out.  From 10 to 2 there are few birds out, anyway. Mostly, they don?t justify wearing yourself out hiking up steep slopes in high altitude and noontime heat. Opt out. I did.

The morning of our mudslide experience we arrived just after midnight at our hotel in San Rafael, south of Quito. We had to carry our luggage by ourselves up a steep marble-tiled staircase (35 steps) to our room (one double bed, one ¾ bed and one single), which turned out to have only a trickle of ice cold water, and fell asleep (not hard to do after 17 hours of traveling). We got up at 5:30 AM to get ready to be picked up for breakfast. Breakfast, at our tour leader?s house, consisted of 2 small pancakes, syrup and a juice box. No coffee. The house was a mess (hint: apparently garbage collection is infrequent in San Rafael). We headed across the main pass from Quito to the Eastern Slope and out on a long walk up and down steep muddy trails at 9,000 feet and, finally, across the mudslide. Then it was time for lunch, which was supposed to be sandwiches which our leader had made at home. And forgotten them there.  We were offered, and ate, chips, Oreos and water while the two leaders debated whether to eat at a restaurant. 

Laundry "room"

Our final destination that day, Wild Sumaco, in a beautiful bird-filled setting, was everything a well-run comfortable eco-lodge should be. The meals (three a day) were excellent. We saw wonderful birds there. Four days later, we left Wild Sumaco and headed back to Quito (San Rafael) to the same hotel with the assurance that we would have better rooms and hot water. BUT it was Saturday night. The street was a never-ending traffic jam, the sidewalks were packed with people and the solid wall of discos and karaoke bars across the street were at top decibels. Three of us got Jacuzzi rooms on the first floor but two were sent to the top floor again, opened the door and found it inhabited by a soccer team. They got moved down and we all tried to sleep. Without success. The bars closed at 2:30 but the street didn't quiet down until well after 3:30. After that the real noise began to settle down but the car alarms continued to go off. We had no trouble being ready to leave at 5:30 because most of us were still awake. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, toast and a juice box at our leader's house. Still no coffee  Then we were off to 13,000 feet and a hike to a lake. Again, I opted out. I was happy because on the way we got good looks at a couple of Andean condors.

Our accommodations for the next five days were at a farm right next to the town of Mindo. Not all rooms had attached bathrooms and, though clean, the structures were closer to bunkhouse or shack than hotel. But we ate two excellent breakfasts in the main house.  Three breakfasts were take-away ham sandwiches. Only one other meal was included in our package "lunch-dinner" which we ate around 3PM (pizza two days, steak one day and a really nice restaurant one day).

Giant Earthworm

So was the trip a disaster? No. It was an adventure. The other people on the trip were wonderful to travel with and, in addition, they were very good birders. We saw many birds we would have missed if they, with their eagle eyes, had not found them. Our leader and co-leader took us to a restaurant when the sandwiches were left behind, found us another place to stay after the sleepless Saturday night, found a decent hotel in San Rafael after we had to cancel the proposed trip back to the Eastern Slope because the pass was closed, took us to a couple of decent, even good, restaurants for a couple of our dinner-lunches and gave us a delightful day in Quito when we couldn't go back east. And you could (and I did) opt out of the difficult steep up and down marches in the heat and high altitude. Most of all: WE SAW GOOD BIRDS!

The high point of the trip was our day at Refugio Paz de las Aves. On our last day in Mindo we had to be packed and ready to leave at 5:15 so we could reach the cock of the rock lek by dawn. A lek is a place where male birds come to jump around and make noise.  This activity is irresistible to females. Go figure. When we arrived, it was still almost completely dark on the trail to the lek. Our flashlights revealed a number of cows on the narrow path but they moved off and, as we slogged through the mud, it became obvious that not all of the squishy stuff was mud.  The lek was a leafy tree that was already alive with frog-like croaks and squeaks and shaking with jumping birds. As it became lighter the cocks; bright red birds the size of fat crows with black and white wings became visible. Every time a female (a sort of maroon colored bird) arrived the activity hit a frenzied peak and all the males flew off, chasing the female. Then they returned and began croaking, squeaking and jumping again.

Antpitta in the wild

Eventually, it was time for the antpitta feeding.  In 2004 birders discovered Angel Paz, a campesino who was feeding worms to antpittas. Antpittas are very secretive birds and very difficult to see. He had learned to get the birds to come to his whistle to be fed. Word spread and birders converged on Angel?s farm to see the birds. They paid him money. It became a lucrative  business for the Paz family who are now preserving large portions of their farm for birds. Angel's first antpitta, Maria, was a giant antpitta, a particularly rare bird. She is now gone but giant antpittas still come to a whistle, either by him or other members of the family who are now working in the business. We walked up and down steep muddy trails pursuing antpittas and saw four species of these rare birds. It was a magical day.

The last two days of the trip were spent in and around Quito because we could not get back over the pass to the Eastern Slope because of the mudslides. Quito was beautifully spruced up for the Pope's visit and lively with Sunday activity. We were quite happy to have this finale to the trip.

Even the cast of Dragon Ball Z was excited to see the Pope!

Would I go back to Ecuador? Yes.

Would I book another tour company? Yes.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Lending Rainbows

With all the rainbows lighting up the world it is strange to suggest that all in rainbow land is not sparkling in the afterglow of universal love, since such a condition is not uncommon in true rainbow land even when the rainbow nozzles are not turned up full power. The SCOTUS has re-affirmed marriage as a gender-combination-independent Right. Facebook profiles have been rainbow hued to celebrate the SCOTUS decision as the direct result of an app that only colors photos in rainbows. Flags festooned with rainbow-colored bears have sprung up in unlikely places to announce the “final” concert celebrating 50 years of music by the Grateful Dead. Rainbows are everywhere these past few weeks; good rainbows.

The finality of the Grateful Dead concert is hardly the cause of the rainbow problems. Age has unsurprisingly set the parking brakes on the Magical Grateful Dead Bus. Baby-faced Bob Weir will be 68 in October, bass guitarist Phil Lesh celebrated his 75th birthday back in March, and Jerry, who died a couple of days after his 53rd birthday in 1995, would have turned 73 on the first of August. I predict that, within the coming decade, some former deadhead will get a walker and name it “roll away the dew”.

The rainbow problems I speak of are happening within the rainbow family of living light whose annual gathering ended today. It was held this year in the Black Hills National Forest near the Pine Ridge reservation. The Black Hills have been identified as sacred land by members of various Native American tribes; most notably Lakota Sioux from the Pine Ridge reservation. All of the black hills (including almost half of South Dakota, and large chunks of Wyoming, North Dakota, and Nebraska) are also identified as belonging to Native American interests by the treaty of Fort Laramie which was signed in 1868.

In 1980 SCOTUS (United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, 448 U.S. 371 ) awarded hundreds of millions of dollars to the fort Laramie treaty signatories for the land (and years of compound interest at 5%) illegally confiscated since signing the treaty. They did not give the land back, and the bulk of the money has been sitting in an account unclaimed since the award as a statement towards promoting the return of the land.

Due to continually compounding of interest it is estimated that the settlement amount is now worth just north of a billion dollars. This makes the Lakota some of the wealthiest Native Americans in North America. Unfortunately the fact that they do not spend any of the money does little to improve the living conditions on Pine Ridge, and it continues to be one of the poorest places in the United States. Needless to say the decision to keep a billion dollars locked up while many people who could lay claim to the benefit of that money live in extreme poverty is not a universally supported decision.

Days before the Rainbow gathering was to begin a handful of Lakota headed by James Swan and Duane Martin served a legal-looking document to members of the rainbow family claiming that they were not to be allowed to gather in the sacred black hills as defined by the Fort Laramie treaty. This came as a bit of a surprise as Rainbow representatives had gathered permits and permissions from recognized representatives of the Lakota as well as the Forest Service (which currently administers the land).

There are undeniably sacred sites in the black hills. The big ones, like devil’s tower, are on protected federal lands. There are also many little ones; like individual burial sites. However, the Fort Laramie Treaty land mass is huge (millions of acres) and most of it is not a specific sacred site. The Rainbow Family gathering site had no specific sacred sites on it, and so may not have been any more sacred than anywhere in Rapid City or the town of Sturgis (where, for the past 75 years, there is a huge motorcycle rally in August).

It may actually trivialize the problems in the government of Pine Ridge to state that there are long-standing and severe divisions and disunity within it. However, it is difficult to really map the frontlines of the internal political struggles as the federal government is called upon as the root cause somewhere in almost every discussion on the topic. The fact that the federal government’s special relationship with Native American Reservations often makes it the root cause of very local issues does not help defuse those instances where paranoia or simple scapegoating uses the spectre of the “Feds” to displace blame.

In most of the world even the most severe of local political infighting does not usually involve death squads. In 1973 a group of activists took over the historical site of the Wounded Knee massacre in the Pine Ridge reservation. Some were protesting the Federal Government, but most were attempting to oust the tribal president (Richard Wilson). Wilson held the office using actual paramilitary GOONs (Guardians of the Oglala Nation ) to intimidate and even assassinate opponents. Many Lakota died in unexplained car crashes, and as many as 60 of Wilson’s opponents were violently murdered between the Wounded Knee incident and Wilson’s re-election in 1974. To put this into perspective it is more than ten times the violence rate per capita as that seen at the height of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

The Pine Ridge Reservation was at war with itself. Many blame the federal government for either not doing anything or instigating the problems to begin with. The conflict did not go unnoticed by the Feds, and the United States Civil Rights Commission stated that Wilson’s 1974 re-election was invalid because of widespread fear, abuse, and intimidation.

In order to fight in and survive the war that the Pine Ridge reservation was in the mid-70s took conviction and an ability to be violent. It was probably inevitable that the violence from one of the sides would strike out at the Feds. On June 26th 1975 two FBI agents who were performing what regular police would perform anywhere else (attempting to locate a robbery suspect for questioning) were ambushed on the Pine ridge reservation. The two agents radioed in that they were taking automatic rifle fire and were unable to defend themselves adequately with their 38 special revolvers. When their bodies were recovered there were over 125 bullet holes in the agents’ cars. FBI agent Jack Coler was killed by two execution style bullet wounds to his head received after being incapacitated by other wounds in the gunbattle. Agent Ronald Williams had powder burns on his hand where he attempted to shield his face from the gun muzzle from which came the bullet that killed him.

It took hours for the Feds to put together a force of sufficient strength to approach the ambush site. They came under fire, but most of the ambushers had already fled. One ambusher died, and his body was discovered clothed in one of the dead agent’s jacket, which he presumably took as a souvenir. The dead shooter was not one of Wilson’s GOONs. He was a member of AIM (The American Indian Movement). AIM, with its actual movie-star leaders, was the major opposition to Wilson, and lead the Wounded Knee takeover. Suspicion was immediately cast upon Leonard Peltier who coordinated some aspects of AIM security.

Leonard evaded authorities until February 1976. In September of 1975 he narrowly avoided being caught when his RV was pulled over in Oregon. After a brief gun battle Leonard ran away on foot; Jack Coler’s service revolver was found under the front seat of the RV. In his 1999 memoir (I have not actually read the memoir) Leonard admitted to firing on the two agents, but denied firing the close up shots that killed them.

Leonard Peltier’s 1977 trial is widely denounced as a sham. Amnesty international called it an “Unfair Trial” as late as 2010.

Just a few short days after Leonard was apprehended a badly decomposed body of a woman was discovered on the Pine Ridge reservation. It would eventually be identified as Annie Mae Aquash; the highest “ranking” woman in AIM. She had been killed by an execution-style 0.32 caliber bullet to the back of the head. The federal trials of the two men who would ultimately be convicted of Annie’s execution stretched from 2003 to 2006. In 2012 what may be the last state trial for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Annie upheld the conviction for John Graham; formerly a member of AIM. Annie was allegedly on her knees praying for mercy when the bullet entered the back of her skull.

It is widely believed that Annie was either killed by secretive government agents who framed AIM, or conversely, that she knew too much about Leonard’s involvement in the 1975 ambush. Several people have testified that Annie was with them when Leonard allegedly boasted about his involvement in the FBI ambush by saying: “The mother f***er was begging for his life, but I shot him anyway.”.

Out of this madness of violence sprung a collection of –now aging- young activists who are formulating their positions now that the actual leadership of that time are aging out of power. Any threats of violence coming from these people, even indirect threats (like: “If you don’t do what I say I’m not responsible if something bad happens to you”), cannot be easily ignored as bluster.

At the same time that Pine Ridge was experiencing some sort of modern gangster version of the old west the Rainbow Family of Light was beginning to develop. The first national gathering was held at Strawberry Lake Colorado over July 4th weekend in 1972; over 40,000 hippies showed up to that event. First approximations suggest that only a couple thousand may have braved the threats of violence to attend this year’s gathering in South Dakota; better numbers will take a bit of time to develop.

Hippies have even been a part of the evolution of Pine Ridge from hyper-violence to the current status of more simplified abject poverty. The Rainbow Family gatherings are always alcohol free, and hippies helped block roads during protests of reservation border liquor stores (the reservation is removing its anti-alcohol laws). The last treaty council Epyapaha (I think Alex White Plume was the last as it does not appear as if Epyapaha is an official position) famously leveraged the “Lakota Nation” status of the Pine ridge reservation to begin the commercial growing of marijuana.

Native American culture has been an integral part of the Rainbow family since it emerged from the vortex. Teepees are iconic location points at the gathering sites, and many rainbow children profess a strong, if only imagined with good intent, bond with what they think Native American spirituality is. The rainbow gathering is a gathering of tribes, and those tribes are a lot like a conceptualized image of Native American tribes. If there was an actual threat to a real Native American sacred site most rainbow people would walk the long way around.

None of the potential violence materialized. The most vocal Lakota aggressor –Duane Martin- spent a bit of the weekend in jail for unpaid child support. Many more level-headed Lakota activists, a couple wearing t-shirts advertising for the release of Leonard Peltier, actually attended the gathering to build the bridges which will probably result in the kind of non-violent activist alliances that will benefit the future. Unfortunately however, the family’s light was dimmer that it could have been. Many actively avoided this year’s gathering in South Dakota because of the intimidation, or because they did not want to accidentally trample a sacred spot.

Or…. maybe the real reason that so many avoided this year’s gathering was to lend the family’s rainbows to the rest of the country which so desperately needed to borrow them for a bit?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

SNARL: The Journeyman: In the Stone House

There has been a big kerfluffle about the Hugo awards in Science Fiction this year, and most of it has been about the political and cultural implications of the works and the award process. At this point we have a set of nominees. I will be voting in August for which author will take home the coveted rocket-shaped Hugo trophy(s). I have reviewed the five nominees for Best Novella, the five Short Story Nominees, The Five Best Dramatic Presentation Long, and the five Best Dramatic Presentation Short-form nominees .  This is the second of what will be five actual reviews by me of the nominated "Novelette" works of fiction. All of these reviews may (will) contain spoilers.

This is a review of “The Journeyman: In the Stone House” by Michael F. Flynn

I really wanted to like this story. It had some fun characters engaging in delightful dialog. It even provided some jokes for the reader to enjoy at the expense of the characters. I hope the author had fun writing this, because it read as if he did. Unfortunately this does not have enough story in it to make it a great story, and some of the failed experiments the author tried do hold it back from even being a good story. However, I had fun reading this story, and that should count for something; actually it counts for quite a bit, and this story will get five stars (out of ten).

The protagonists are a Mutt and Jeff styled pair of affable primitives called Sammi and Teo. They joke their way through life-and-death situations usually involving their enemy primitive called Kal which is short for Karakalan or Karakalan sunna Vikeram of clan Serpentine. The infusion of dialog humor –especially from the otherwise stoic Sammi- could have pushed this into the realm of reading like a passably entertaining television script, but it did not. Two… no three stars for these entertaining interactions.

The heroes basically become conscripts of a tribe living in a castle. They are taught how to be ass-kicking scouts, and hilarity ensues.

Unfortunately the author’s fetish for long alien words –especially names- grinds some of the dialog down. The author also likes to jump between monikers in a single dialog. It only requires a momentary adjustment to deduce that “The Serp” is “Kal” who was called “Karakalan” in the previous sentence, but it is a moment stolen from otherwise flowing dialog.

The author’s alien word fetish extends beyond names. Luckily he italicizes most of the made-up words. Here is a probably incomplete list: Sawak, schmuck, sprock, plavver, yuke, kospathin, elik, gristlebar, fodanny, valadenny, bo-yashiq. Three of these words are actually names of languages, and one is the name of an honorary title. Some of them sound real enough that I wasted some time trying to look them up; there should actually be something called a gristlebar. When I was done with the list I was struck by how short it was. Reading the story I felt like every-other word was made up.

Looking up words from this story was not always fruitless. Kraal is a South African word for village, and Subedar is a Pakistani name for a military rank that falls between lieutenant and Master Sergeant. The use of somewhat arcane military terms displayed a depth of knowledge by the author that was enlightening. I was left, however, wondering how, given one interesting angle to the novelette, the primitives knew those words.

I do like the ancient astronaut mythos. At some point before the story begins the two protagonists stumbled upon the ancient, but not completely dead, wreckage of Shuttle Starbright-17. The computer (“Ghost Jamly”) makes them “Authorized Personnel”, gives them a quest, and off they go; hilarity and ass-kicking ensues. I love it when an author stitches together spaceships and primitive culture; one more star for this.

Unfortunately the inclusion of the spaceship appears to only be the mechanism for sending up a rather week joke. The people of the castle worship the mythical space-farers, and have a funny holy relic from them. The author provides a picture of the sign from the relic. It includes the rather universal Men’s Bathroom man and some words in three languages including a couple characters in classic Chinese. Are they really worshiping a bathroom door? Google translate tells me the Chinese translates to “Male Toilet, so, yah, I guess so.

A swordfight between Teo and Kal takes up what seems like a lot of the story. I am going to give the author a full star for this fight simply because it is interesting, although somewhat tedious, to read a detailed description of a sword battle.

He stepped out in the batter’s stance, made a right passing step forward and settled the blade onto his upper right arm as he turned his body into a left “augur.” From there, he lifted the hilt up, over, and behind his head to settle into a left-handed batter; then took a left passing step backwards, settling the blade on his left arm in a right augur as he turned.

In the final analysis the author loses more than he gains in his word swamp. For instance I read the term “batter’s stance” and knew what he meant; I pictured a batter at baseball holding his bat. Then I wondered why anyone in this singularly thesaurized story would know what baseball was? And then I began wondering how arcane words had been preserved to accurately describe the items they are used for when people did could not even figure out what a bathroom door was given a choice of three languages and a universal symbol.

The ending would have been a better ending for a chapter than a novelette, but it was a real ending.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

SNARL: Championship B’tok

There has been a big kerfluffle about the Hugo awards in Science Fiction this year, and most of it has been about the political and cultural implications of the works and the award process. At this point we have a set of nominees. I will be voting in August for which author will take home the coveted rocket-shaped Hugo trophy(s). I have reviewed the five nominees for Best Novella, the five Short Story Nominees, The Five Best Dramatic Presentation Long, and the five Best Dramatic Presentation Short-form nominees .  This is the first of what will be five actual reviews by me of the nominated "Novelette" works of fiction. All of these reviews may (will) contain spoilers.

This is a review of “Championship B’tok” by Edward M. Lerner

This novelette lacks several of the critical elements that any string of words needs to tie it up into a story; the most glaring of these exposes itself as a regular disregard for continuity. It is impossible to tell if this story is actually a chapter of a larger story, or it is just half-written. I get the impression that this author may be able to write, and write stories, but this is not one of them. I will eventually pull out a reasonably good excuse for awarding one whole star to this novelette.

The first 1300 words or so (about 10% of the median length for a novelette) is a little character introduction for Captain Lyle Logan and his AI pilot Corrigan. They play chess, and bond, and then set out to investigate a downed MS129 autonomous mining spacecraft. Lyle suits up and examines the crash site to discover what might be a precision attack only to feel something poke him in his back and then “On the emergency radio band, a synthed voice directed, ‘Do not move.’”. Then Lyle and Corrigan are never heard about again, we also never hear anything described as an MS129. We have moved on, or at least the story has, and we don’t need to concern ourselves with those details anymore.

Next we are treated to the first of two chapters from the “Internetopedia”. In it we are introduced to an entire race of aliens known as Hunters or Snakes or K’vithians. We learn they have an “enclave” on a moon of Uranus as a result of some incident. We learn where their home-world star is in the earth’s night sky. We learn they evolved from pack-based carnivores and that because of this they have “developed an economic system of pure laissez-faire, caveat-emptor capitalism, centered on competing clan-based corporations.”. We do not, however, learn what they look like or are we provided any clues as to how they might interact with simple elements of a story, like characters. At first blush this might appear to be done to provide some expert reveal later on in the story, but no, eventually the author just tells you what they look like so you can catch up to what is going on.

“Snakes: Two arms, two legs, and a head. Upright posture. And there any resemblance to humans ended. Whippet-thin. Nostrils set flat in the plane of the face—and a third, upward-gazing eye set near the apex of the skull. Hairless and iridescent-scaled. Glimpses of retractable talons in each fingertip (and, as they wore sandals, each toe). The tallest Snakes stood a quarter meter shorter than she—“

During the course of this novelette we are also “introduced” to the mysterious “Interveners” . This species can apparently look like either Humans or Snakes (and probably whatevers) and have been intervening in Human development through undefined mechanisms for hundreds of millions of years, at least. The Interveners caused the Cambrian explosion of species. They whispered in Marry Shelly’s ear to help create the novel Frankenstein, and by the time this novelette rolls around they are planting bombs and making bad art.

There is something potentially interesting about reading a novelette about aliens where it is revealed that aliens influence the writing of books in order to change the future in which this novel about aliens is written. Unfortunately the author does not develop that spin well, and we are force-fed the notion that the novel Frankenstein prevented Humans from developing certain fruitful types of technology; the fact that I find such a premise preposterous may have made it difficult for me to understand it. Perhaps the author literally meant that the aliens “whispered in Mary Shelly’s ear” and simply wanted to infer that Lord Byron was an alien, and that, by inference, the Intervener aliens were “Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know”?

One thing the author did treat well was the idea of boredom. Some of the more exciting elements of the story occurred when the characters were either really bored or feigning boredom. I really got the feel that boredom was in the air when the author brought it into a scene. This is where this story will earn its star.

The titular game of b’tok is described as if it is a war-simulation video game. The last game is even a simulation of the WWII battle of Midway. Championship b’tok is played “with distraction” and so is “more Machiavellian” than normal b’tok. They play the battle of Midway simulation in a cafeteria for the championship effect the other diners provide.

I’m also not too pleased with the use of the word “Machiavellian” to describe the game. Certainly an AI could be Machiavellian, and there are enough game-play-capable AIs in the story, but b’tok is played between two meat-bag players each time it is played in this novelette. Certainly one, or both, of the players could be “Machiavellian”, but the term is not used to describe the players. Certainly a player’s strategy or tactics could be “Machiavellian”, but the game board is described as being equally difficult for both players. Egalitarianism, even some highly challenging form of indifferent egalitarianism, is not well described using the term “Machiavellian”.

Despite the fact that I eviscerate this novelette I can’t help but picture it as part of a larger story that might work. That larger story may even work well. However, this novelette does not work.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Don't crush THAT Hugo, hand me the SNARL

My ballots for the Best Dramatic Presentation categories are, except where they are not, fairly well developed. I probably will not decide until the last minute about Captain America and the Lego Movie, but one of these will come in 3rd place, and the other will be 4th.

 Best Dramatic Presentation
 Short Form
 Long Form
  1.  Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried
  2. Doctor Who: “Listen
  3. No Award
  4. The Flash: “Pilot
  5. Grimm: “Once We Were Gods

  1.  Interstellar
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy
  3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  4. The Lego Movie
  5. Edge of Tomorrow

I will be using “No Award” in the short form category, but only to distinguish the two works I really think are worthy of a Hugo from the two I do not. The GOT nominee does not appear on my ballot because I have not had access to it; I suspect it would have been a preferred choice, perhaps even my top choice.

The Best Dramatic Presentation category(s) is not a stranger to the “No Award” option. In fact it represents the only real remaining category that has been won overall by “No Award”. “No Award” has won the Best Dramatic Presentation category four times (1959, 1963, 1971, and 1977).  It was not divided into the short and long form categories until 2002. 

I am still wounded over the 1971 loss of “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers” to “No Award”. I remember people using the title of that slab of vinyl to improvise tests of human cognition and communication. Aldus Huxley may have theorized about the “Doors of Perception”, but the Firesign Theater tried to adjust the hinges of those doors with pliers. By manipulating the intonation, spacing, and emphasis of that Hugo-nominated album title one could develop multiple meanings. The spaces within conversations could be filled with experimental versions of the title:

  • Don’t crush THAT dwarf! Hand me the pliers.
  • Don’t Crush THAT! DWARF! Hand me the pliers.
  • Don’t CRUSH that dwarf. Hand me the PLIERS!
  • Don’t crush that dwarf, hand ME the pliers.

Decades later I would find out that “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers” did not barely lose out to “No Award”, and that “Blows Against the Empire “ by Jefferson Starship had actually come in second place. I know that the Jefferson Starship supergroup that put out “Blows Against the Empire” was not really the same band that “Built This City” in  1985 ("Worst song of the 80s" by a Rolling Stone Reader's poll), but the fact that they had the same name, and several of the same members, makes me think it was better that "No Award" won in that year.

In addition to the dubious distinctions of most “No Award” winners, and for propelling films like "Flesh Gordon" (nominated 1975) to prominence, the Best Dramatic Presentation has been a place where stories too far ahead of their time could be reconsidered in a digested visual format some of the members of fandom could better relate to.

During his life none of Ray Bradbury’s stories would be nominated for a standard timeline Hugo. Ray Bradbury is a name that defines the genre of science fiction to generations of readers. The first science fiction I read was Ray Bradbury. In 2004 Worldcon did use their time machine to go back to 1954 and present Bradbury with a Hugo trophy for the novel "Fahrenheit 451", and the adaptations of two of his stories were nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation on that same time-travel excursion. A film version of "Fahrenheit 451" had been nominated for a Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo in 1967; it was the first of four (1967, 1970, 1981,1984) Best Dramatic Presentation nominations that adaptations of Bradbury’s stories would receive before the time travel trip from 2004 to 1954. Because of the timeless excellence of Bradbury’s science fiction and fantasy it is likely that adaptations of his stories will sporadically be nominated far into a future where our Hugo votes are pulled effortlessly from the fabric of our thoughts by the glowing blue Worldcon-being of pure energy.

I am happy with this year’s Best Dramatic Presentation nominations lists. If you vote exactly like me the best nominee will win. If you decide to be wrong and vote differently, and if enough of you vote differently as well, then it is highly likely that another Hugo-worthy nominee will win in these categories.

Remember, that if you want to vote there is still time to buy a sustaining (voting) membership for only $40.

Friday, May 29, 2015

SNARL: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

There has been a big kerfluffle about the Hugo awards in Science Fiction this year, and most of it has been about the political and cultural implications of the works and the award process. At this point we have a set of nominees. I will be voting in August for which author will take home the coveted rocket-shaped Hugo trophy(s). I have read and reviewed the five nominees for Best Novella and for best short story and for short form Best Dramatic Presentation .  Now I tackle all the nominated long form Best Dramatic Presentation nominees. All of these reviews may (will) contain spoilers.

I watched all of these movies before I saw them on the Hugo nominations list. They are all good movies, and worth a bit of hard earned down-time to watch. I get to review them without reflexively asking “Would anybody want to watch/read this?”, and get down to the more important business of defining my own personal opinion. All good reviews are subjective because they arise in part from the reviewer’s enjoyment of the subject, and resonate with the reviewer’s reasons for picking up the subject of the review to begin with.

These reviews will be short. All five nominated works will be reviewed here in this single post. I present them in the order in which they were listed on the Hugo nominations list.

This is a review of the entire Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form category
(1285 nominating ballots, 189 entries, range 204-769)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, concept and story by Ed Brubaker, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Entertainment, Perception, Sony Pictures Imageworks)

This is my least favorite of the movies, and it was a pretty good comic-book movie. The problems I had with it are most likely derived from an accurate presentation of material from the comic books. This movie loses two stars; one for straining my suspension of disbelief too far in attempting to create a too-gigantic hydra conspiracy, and again with the multiple modifications to simple physics needed to visualize the dramatic destruction scenes. The loss of two stars for these elements is probably not fair since these issues most likely arose from talented artists succeeding in creating what they set out to create.

This movie is the work of talented artists. The acting is reserved enough to appear pulled from the pages of a comic book without being wooden or incompetent. The action is well choreographed. I was in awe at how well the CGI overlaid incredible SF action and destruction over wonderful views of Washington DC. The story of two friends uniting after decades apart is touching, and skillfully creates the 4D humanity I have always enjoyed from the 2D offspring of Stan Lee’s creativity.

Go see it. Buy some popcorn, and turn off your cellphone for a little while. I give it 8 stars (out of 10)

Edge of Tomorrow, screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth, directed by Doug Liman (Village Roadshow, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, 3 Arts Entertainment; Viz Productions)

Every time I see Tom Cruise absolutely nailing a science fiction role I can’t help but imagine he has an unfair advantage because, as an outspoken scientologist, he actually believes stuff like this is real. THAT is method acting at its finest. If you cannot stand to sit and watch Tom Cruise for an extended period of time then do not go see this movie.

This movie loses three stars, and for similar reasons. One star gets flushed for the manipulation of physics the artists used to compress the action; I think they wanted to put so much action on the screen at once that they often put heavily incompatible elements too close together. The other star gets flushed by the alien menace. Although there were no glitches (that I saw) in the CGI the characteristics of their movement and abilities made them appear like they were CGI movie effects. The third star is lost for raising too many distracting questions about how there is such a massively high tech futuristic Earth war being fought almost entirely on a tactical level. Din’t the aliens think to destroy the factories where those nifty mech-like battle armor suits were being made? Didn’t they see the D-Day-Like invasion coming and nuke the bases from space before the troops turned towards the English Channel? Perhaps these questions could have been answered, but the constant stream of trivially unanswered questions cost this movie another star.

But this movie shines in so many ways. I LOVE the way they handled time travel. Time travel is so impossible that many writers will pretend that they have a solution only to create a burden for the story when that explanation provides more weight than effect. The writers for Edge of Tomorrow did not even try. They had an alien bleed on another character, and suddenly they were time-looping. They did not insult me with a half-explanation. Anyone watching the movie knows that explanation makes no sense, and this allows the writers to go on to use the time-looping in their story without being encumbered with a threadbare pseudo-science explanation.

The battle armor is great, the battle scenes are fun, the filming is stunning (although a bit heavy on the dark and moody) and I thoroughly enjoyed watching this movie. I give it a well deserved 7 stars (out of 10), and seriously debated giving it 8.

Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)


9 stars (out of 10)

Interstellar, screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, directed by Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Lynda Obst Productions, Syncopy)

This was a great science fiction movie. The characters must grapple with concepts as large as space while in space grappling with being human. I’ve longed to see an intelligent film where a black hole in space cause issues with warping space that the characters have to deal with. The most common complaint I have heard about this movie is that it was confusing and hard to follow…. Well, it is space, turn on your warp drive and catch up!

Yes, there was a big chunk of suspension of disbelief dropped in the laps of the viewer. The whole “we can make anything happen in a black hole that the story progression needs” is goofy. However, on a grander scale, the characters actually looked into a zone where space and time were warping to get a clue about how space and time could be warped.

The writers just ignored many questions. Why was the Earth “dying”? How come going through the wormhole one way was just a little psychedelic, but going through the other way was a watching-time-and-faces-melt-together trip? I think they ignored these –and other- questions well. The story wanted to go on unrestricted by partial answers, and it did.

In the end I am tempted to take a star just because of the length of time Matthew McConaughey was onscreen, but Michael Cain can give any film at least a half a star just by showing up (and he has been in some movies where that half a star is all they got). In the end this film gets 9.5 stars (out of 10)

The Lego Movie, written by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, LEGO System A/S, Vertigo Entertainment, Lin Pictures, Warner Bros. Animation (as Warner Animation Group))

I was tricked into watching the Lego movie after it came out on DVD. I was pleasantly surprised by how really good a movie it was. I expected very little. For several weeks afterwards I would tell people in meetings that “everything is Awesome when you’re part of a team!”. Instead of thinking that it would really require an unhealthy obsession with Lego to give this movie one star I only think that would be needed to give it more than the 8 stars I gave it.

This movie loses two stars because of Lego. One star is lost because it is basically the latest (and best) installment of Lego commercial-based movies. If I wanted to see a Lego advertisement I would …. I actually don’t know because I have no desire to watch Lego advertisements. The other star is lost because it suggests that an expensive complex tabletop display of Lego is somehow connected to imagination in ways that other, less expensive, activities are not. I may have carried these prejudices into the movie, but this is my review.

Despite Lego this movie works on many levels. The idea of gluing bricks is the evil power that drives the conflict in the story. This conflict brilliantly translates into all levels of the story, from the conflict between the man and his son in the “real”world” to the interaction of characters in the fantasy Legoverse. The idea of conformity being examined in a world of mass-manufactured plastic bricks is engaging, as is the “Everything is Awesome!” song used as a soundtrack to that theme.

The animation is superb, the dialog is good enough, but it is threading the conflict through all the many levels that really makes this move worthy of all 8 stars (out of 10)

Thursday, May 28, 2015

SNARL: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

There has been a big kerfluffle about the Hugo awards in Science Fiction this year, and most of it has been about the political and cultural implications of the works and the award process. At this point we have a set of nominees. I will be voting in August for which author will take home the coveted rocket-shaped Hugo trophy(s). I have read and reviewed the five nominees for Best Novella and for best short story.  This is an actual composite review by me of all the nominated short form Best Dramatic Presentation nominees. All of these reviews may (will) contain spoilers.

I am not, in general, a big fan of TV. However, almost everything I watch, or want to watch, is on this list. My reviews for the Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form category will be short. They will be short enough that I can fit them all together on this one post. I present them in the same order in which they appear on the Hugo nominations list.

This is a review of the entire Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form category
(938 nominating ballots, 470 entries, range 71-170)

Doctor Who:Listen”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Douglas Mackinnon (BBC Television).

I kinda overstated not being a fan of TV. Elements of Dr. Who have been a staple part of my family's vernacular for years. Being late is “getting caught up in wibbly-wobbly timey-whimey stuff”. I have been known to offer people jelly beans at oddly inappropriate times, and insist on calling them “Jelly Babbies”. I like the new re-boot (that’s now a decade old, so maybe a little too old to call it a “new” reboot). I like Peter Capaldi as the newest doctor; although if he lightened up on the Scottish accent I might understand a few more of his lines.

I am not a big fan of everything DW. I never much cared for the Sarah Jane Adventures, and the imagining of the Tardis as a big benevolent house is tempting a shark jump, which is almost inconceivable for a series that uses shark-jumping as a plot device. I also did not find “Listen” to be amongst my most favorite episodes.

“Listen” scrapes greatness as a DW episode several times. The idea that the scary monster under the bed could actually be a real monster that is actually under the bed is a classic bit of DW silliness. The use of chalkboards in a hyper-advanced craft with mind-meld interfaces is fun and visually provocative.

The use of touching childhood stories to humanize the Doctor is counter productive. The Doctor appears too human most of the time, and working to make him more human is only work that will have to be undone in the future.

So I have mixed, but generally positive, and admittedly prejudiced, feelings towards this episode of DW. I give it 7 stars (out of 10).

The Flash:Pilot”, teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, story by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, directed by David Nutter (The CW) (Berlanti Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television)

I did not like this show, and the pilot was the only episode I managed to actually watch. The writers did almost engage in the creation of an engaging backstory, but then stopped before they succeeded. I picture it being written by a committee of writers where everyone refuses to really listen to the guy with good ideas unless they can somehow make them their own. The plot suffers, but does not disintegrate. It is the framework for a good story, but not a good story.

All the actors are beautiful and clean. They can deliver lines well enough, but they sounded more like they wanted to be in a “Saved By The Bell” remake rather than a super-hero show. I was not moved by them, but I did not turn off the computer in disgust.

So this was “meh”. I give it 5 stars (out of 10).

Game of Thrones: The Mountain and the Viper”, written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, directed by Alex Graves (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)

I was unable to watch this show. I love the books, and have devoured each one as soon as it came out. I have a first edition copy of the first book. I have heard the show is excellent, and I want to watch it. However, HBO has been aggressively pursuing people who download this, and been making it rather unavailable otherwise. I anticipate binge watching it at some future time, but I cannot give it a rating today.

Grimm:Once We Were Gods”, written by Alan DiFiore, directed by Steven DePaul (NBC) (GK Productions, Hazy Mills Productions, Universal TV)

This was just not very good. It felt like a cute concept had been worn out. The writers use all sorts of made up words, and half the characters get animal heads when they shake their own heads or stretch their necks. The effects look like unsophisticated use of very high-tech equipment.

“Fortunately” I had watched a good portion of an earlier season with my teenage daughters. I had an understanding of what many of the made up words meant, and even recognized most of the characters. However, we stopped watching it because we had been overloaded by stupid in the process, and this episode did not appear to have traveled very far back to the watchable side of the shark.

I basically disliked this. I gave it 3 stars (out of 10).

Orphan Black:By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, ” written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)

Discovering Orphan Black has been discovering something great about TV. The show is complex, reasonably plausible, and wonderfully acted.

The filming ranges from hyper-realist to imaginative. This particular episode uses overexposure in one scene with four characters in it to set a mood that seamlessly integrates one characters coming down off drugs with a convoluted conversation about fear and love between a mother and her daughter. The special effects are understated and brilliant; this episode features a scene where the same actress plays four different people dancing together in the same small space.

The complexity works against voting for this particular episode. There is intricate backstory to almost every scene, and sometimes there are separate backstory to almost every major element in a single scene. The result to someone who has watched the previous episodes is delicious. The result to someone who has not might be confusing.

To get to the bottom of how confusing it might be I successfully invited a friend over to watch this episode (and others on the list) with me. They quickly picked up the major plot elements specific to this episode, but were very much aware of the fact that they were missing huge chunks of the complete story. Missing out on the backstory degraded the watching experience. So I’m going to take a star away from Orphan Black for this incredibly worthwhile aspect of the show which works against them in this particular instance.

Orphan Black scores 9 stars (out of 10).

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

There can be only one SNARL

The short story nominations list provided me with my first Hugo voting dilemma of the year. I think that one of the nominees is a reasonably good short story. The dilemma arises from the fact that the same mechanism which presumably put this short story on the nominations list also filled the other four short story nominations slots, and all the novella nominations slots (and perhaps other categories I have not reviewed here yet), with sub-par entrants. I don’t feel like I could vote for the only short story without tainting that vote with the equivalent of an asterisk.

Were there worthy contenders that were shut out? The other awards that vie for prominence with the Hugos all were able to fill their slates with nominees this year, and none that I have yet seen include any of the Hugo nominated works for short fiction. Normally there is quite a bit of overlap between some of the nominee lists at least. Perhaps I should read some of the stories from the other awards’ lists and compare them with “Totaled” before accepting or rejecting this story based on the mechanism by which it was put on the ballot? Unfortunately I’ve still got a few categories to go, and may not have the time to create a speculative nomination list to vote on. The decision on how I vote –Whether for “Totaled” or “No Award”- may wait until just before I submit my Hugo ballot.

This conundrum motivates me to look at the politics of the 2015 Hugo nomination process a little deeper. Much hay has been made over the use of recommendations for putting items on the Hugo ballot. This was certainly a concern in 2014 and 2013 when Puppy works began showing up on the nominations lists. None of the Puppy contenders won, and some placed after “No Award”. This year the puppies have pushed all other works off of the ballot so it is either them or “No Award” in some categories. There is a very big difference between putting a crappy story or two onto the nominations list and forcing out most if not all worthy contenders.   

Ask why this group of fans, and I am not at all convinced it is a group of fans, did not want to have anyone voting on anything other than their approved list and you will circularly find out that they needed to do this because they were not being allowed to vote on anything other than approved choices. The pre-puppy approval process was some secret –largely invisible- conspiracy of CHORFs and SJWs and SMORFs and other mostly insulting acronym-based names.

Apparently all my motives are political. I recently allowed someone to paste a portion of one of my SNARL reviews on Amazon. They were struck with threats of being reported to Amazon, and told they were following “instructions to give drive-by one-star reviews to Wright because Wright has the wrong politics, wrong religion, and wrong temperament to be permitted to win a Hugo by the politically correct powers-that-be.”. Further, the portion of the review they used was also negative and supposedly proved that I was “ not intellectually equipped to shine Wright's shoes, much less read his work.”. This idea that anyone who does not share your taste for horrifically bad prose is an intellectually inferior pawn in the schemes of some secret cabal sounds familiar to me. It sounds like it would fit seamlessly in to a rant about how the POTUS is a communist dictator and the Sandy Hook massacre was a false-flag operation designed to take away everyone’s guns. If this is to become a standard marketing device for Hugo-nominated works of fiction I want no part in it. I worry that voting for the only good short story from amongst the Hugo nominations will validate the premise that many people I view as really quite a bit more intelligent than myself are not “Intellectually equipped” to read works nominated for a Hugo. Maybe Worldcon can provide a test to weed troglodytes like me out in the future.

This sort of reaction to a bad review is a well-worn bit of self-serving circular "logic". If you don’t like this work you are prejudiced against it and you were not able to judge it based on its quality. The proof that you were not able to judge its quality is that you gave it a bad review.

“I knew that when an admitted right winger got in they would be maligned and politicked against, not for the quality of their art but rather for their unacceptable beliefs.” -- Larry Corriea

“They opposed him, not because of the quality of his work, but because of who he was. In effect, the Left was enforcing a blacklist in which no right-leaning science fiction writer can be allowed to win awards.” -- Robert Tracinski from “The Federalist” 8 April 2015

The generally accepted blame for the poor state of the Hugo award nominations list this year is laid at the feet of a group calling themselves the “Sad Puppies”. “Sad Puppies” is generally blamed on two authors; Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia. The “Sad Puppies” campaign has been going on for a couple years, but did not gain traction before Vox Day swooped in and saved them from extinction by creating, and perhaps financing, the parallel “Rabbid Puppies” campaign. There are very few items on the “Sad Puppies” slate that are not on the “Rabbid Puppies” slate, and fewer still that were only on the “Sad Puppies” slate which made it onto the Hugo nominations list. Still, the “Sad Puppies” is where this idea started, so they are worth a little bit of a look.

One author –Larry Corriea- started the Sad Puppies to get himself nominated for a Hugo. He explains how it is important to “Stick it to the literati” in a series of blog posts titled “How to get Correia nominated for a Hugo” on his blog. Interestingly Larry says he declined a nomination this year because of the level of controversy, and this is one of the reasons why the novel category might have worthy contenders. Another novelist also removed his novel from the list of nominees as he was put on the rabid puppy slate without his knowledge; thus further reducing the number of puppies in the novel category.

Perhaps a little peek under the “Sad Puppies” hood, at Larry Correia, might illuminate where they are coming from?

On an LDS literature site Larry describes himself as: “Writer. Merchant of Death (retired). Firearms Instructor. Accountant.

On a much longer-winded bio from his own blog Larry goes into much more detail. Shortly after Larry converted from Catholicism to Mormonism he headed out on a Mormon mission in Alabama, after which he graduated from Utah State University, and then started his career as an accountant; writing gun-porn fiction for internet gun forums on the side. He eventually put together an entire novel called “Monster Hunter International” which he self published and marketed on the same internet forum till he was able to break out into the real world. The “Real World” began in the ironically named Uncle Hugo’s bookstore until he was picked up by BAEN Books. He then sold a bunch of books, and believed that qualified him for a Hugo award.

Gun forums, like gun shows, are a place where enthusiasts and fanatics find the pace of conflicting viewpoints slowed to the point where their own voices can float to the top in a marshland of decaying violence.  Men -overwhelmingly men- argue incessantly over the relative merits of the 9mm vs 45ACP, and talk about fast draw concealed carry holsters when many of them might be in more physical danger after running a mile than spending a decade unarmed in public.  Some of my hobbies take me to gun shows on occasion, and when I have gone there are tables of books.  At one show -around 2007- I asked a vendor why he was selling so many Y2K books, and he informed me that "you never know when it will come back".  Lots of creative paranoia in the "gun community". 

"Only you can stop literary snobs and their abuse of pulp novelists”—Larry Corriea

Where did such a foolish name as “Sad Puppies” come from? Larry apparently likes cutesy names; he was co-founder of a gunshop he named “Fuzzy Bunny Movie Guns”. The gunshop went under, but the enduring flikr record of it shows racks of plastic-furnitured AK-47s, and glass cases with handguns lovingly laid out for display. “Sad Puppies” is a name derived from the kind of immature humor that wants to be irony when it grows up.

The idea for “Sad Puppies” pre-dates the Hugo kerfluffle. On Larry’s blog one of the first posts he tagged with “Sad Puppies” is a reactionary commentary-style rebuttal to a September 2009 POTUS speech to a joint session of congress, and the next is a similar reactionary commentary to the 2010 SOTU. So “Sad Puppies” in Larry’s mind is political in the strictest sense of the word. Yet somehow everyone else is really political people –whether they say so or not- and poor Larry is just trying to give his embattled writers the only chances available because he perceives them as having been shut out.  And the only way to get "his" writers a fair shake is to shut out any competing works that might try to leverage some unfair literati elitist advantage by not being crappy. 

The reason the Sad puppies can pee all over the Hugo process is because of complacency in fandom. When I talk about complacency I am mostly talking about myself. I ask myself “How can you make good nominations when you haven’t read more than a dozen SF novellas this year?” The nice voters packet provides a guided reading list; the trufans have done the heavy lifting. So far this year there are over 9,000 voting members of worldcon, and membership is open for a few more days. For $40 you can get a vote and a nice electronic voting packet; unfortunately many of the stories in it are crap. Some of the Hugo nominations this year received less than 30 votes. There needs to be some way of bridging the complacency gap so the large numbers of fans who care enough to vote for a Hugo are presented with a couple choices worth voting for.  Perhaps that means I need to get off my rear and wade through the vast number of published SF/F stories to make recommendations and vote during the nomination process instead of waiting until after the nominations list is published.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

SNARL: A Single Samurai

There has been a big kerfluffle about the Hugo awards in Science Fiction this year, and most of it has been about the political and cultural implications of the works and the award process. At this point we have a set of nominees. I will be voting in August for which author will take home the coveted rocket-shaped Hugo trophy(s). I have read and reviewed the five nominees for Best Novella.  This is the fifth of what will be five actual reviews by me of the nominated "short-story" works of fiction. All of these reviews may (will) contain spoilers.

This is a review of "A Single Samurai" by Steven Diamond

This is the recollection of a Samurai’s adventure battling a (怪獣) kaijū by climbing into its skull and then committing ritual suicide.

You can read the above synopsis twice and it will still say the same thing. This Samurai actually climbs up into the giant monster’s skull and then kills himself to kill the giant monster. The really unfortunate thing is that the Samurai must get so close to the giant monster’s brain in order to cause the kaijū to die by killing himself. It would have been much simpler if the Samurai could have destroyed the kaijū by offing himself as soon as he first glimpsed the kaijū; it would have made this entire story delightfully unnecessary.

This story ends with two different issues vigorously competing for the title of “Most annoying thing about this story”. In one corner is the question of how shoving a sword into his own belly helps the Samurai kill the giant Godzilla-like monster. In the other is the question of how the Samurai is recollecting the story to me if he is dead before it ends. Unfortunately it does not matter which wins as the reader is the only real loser.

I also think the proper Japanese term should have been (大怪獣) daikaijū which is the giant monster made famous by the likes of Godzilla and Mothra.

At this point –dear readers- I should point out that writing my own reviews allows me to capriciously score the stories that are reviewed. For this story I am going to award a couple of points. I will give this story one star just for having a daikaijū  in it because I dig daikaijū. I will also give it another star for having a Samurai in it because I like the films of Akira Kurosawa.

The Samurai is obsessed with his weapons, and they are magic. The Samurai’s obsession with the weapons even constitutes some of the proof that they are magic.

“A unique bond is formed between the samurai and his weapons. Should the blade break—which is rare in the extreme—a samurai’s soul breaks with it, and dies. Likewise—and far more common—when a samurai dies, his sword crumbles to dust. “

Somehow that crumbling to dust is the very magic power the Samurai calls upon to kill the giant monster. When the Samurai finally reaches the glowing green room with the suspended green brain in the center of it he realizes that he could hack away at it “for days” without killing the kaijū. So instead he plunges his katana into the house sized kaijū brain with his right hand, and then plunges his wakizashi into his own belly with his left. Somehow the magical connection combined with the crumbling to dust kills kaijū more effectively.

"I had mere moments left, but I knew that when I died, the connection of my life to the kaiju’s would remain. When I died, it would die."

The author wants to create a two-dimensional (at best) Samurai character. The Samurai is not given a name. He imbues it with testosterone-laden machismo ethos: Pain is nothing, Honor is more important than life…. This imbuing is not a subtle process.  The author underlines these attributes in metaphorical crayon.

“Pain is nothing. It is simply a feeling, like hunger, or worry. It can be tolerated and banished with proper discipline. There are demons that live off that pain, that thrive off their victims succumbing to it. So I feel no pain. I do not just ignore it, for that implies a recognition that it was there to begin with. “

Later in the story the author changes his mind about how the Samurai interacts with pain. I get the feeling the author was simply interpreting what he saw on some poorly rendered Japanese-language monster-Samurai anime. The character just did not appear to flow from any understanding of who the character was.

“The ground pitched beneath me and I tumbled, striking my wounded leg. The pain was the worst I had ever felt previously. It was a pain that, even as a samurai, I was unable to ignore.”

I don’t know if it would have made for a better story if the author was able to maintain the Samurai attributes he obviously wanted the Samurai to have. I don’t know if continuity could have saved this character. It probably would have made for a better story if the author decided on who the Samurai was before writing a story starring him.

There is probably a lot implied in this story that I may have missed. That is ironic because I generally feel the author could have implied the entire story instead of going to the trouble of writing it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

SNARL: Turncoat

There has been a big kerfluffle about the Hugo awards in Science Fiction this year, and most of it has been about the political and cultural implications of the works and the award process. At this point we have a set of nominees. I will be voting in August for which author will take home the coveted rocket-shaped Hugo trophy(s). I have read and reviewed the five nominees for Best Novella.  This is the fourth of what will be five actual reviews by me of the nominated "short-story" works of fiction. All of these reviews may (will) contain spoilers.

This is a review of "Turncoat" by Steve Rzasa.

For a story where there is so much happening there is very little going on.

There is a lot of space-battle-porn going on in this story. Lots, and lots, and lots of explosions, and torpepoes, and cannons, and lasers, and BOOM-KABAM-ZZZZIIIITTT-ARRRGHHH-TAKETHAT-BOOOM-PEWPEWPEW. In fact, that is a fairly good summary of the story. I did warn you there would be spoilers in this review. I think I will give it two stars just for the space-battle-porn.

The author does try and inject a little philosophy.  Very little.  I should say the author drops an unattributed bible quote (it is Isaiah 29:16)  into an interlude where I suppose we are to see the protagonist as searching for answers to moral questions, but the AI is never developed to the point where it has a convincing set of morals, so we just see the AI randomly searching databases of philosophy. 

One, however, resonated with me. I find myself running and re-running a single selection from it again and again, fruitlessly seeking to understand it.
 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?”

The story starts with a bit of space-battle-porn where the protagonist AI uses kamikaze nanobots to carefully dismantle an opposing ship’s control systems so a few choice control orders can be slipped in, and the story ends with the protagonist AI simply beaming its entire self over to an opponent ship so he can become the control system for the ship, and end the story. I’m left wondering why simple orders require a nanobot ballet, but huge-bandwidth data dumps with integration boot-up just requires wanting it to happen.

The ending may have been predictable, but I had given up predicting it by the time I got close to it; I was looking forward to the place where the words ended entirely.

One of the things that irked me was the prevailing sense that the author wanted to write science fiction, but disliked science.

I’ve never liked it when authors throw numbers and units around in the futile hope that it creates context. Numbers demand context; they do not intrinsically create it.

I am also nonplussed by awkward units. The author of this story uses decaseconds and kiloseconds as if they speak to the audience. He also uses random bits of precision to make the story sound more “machiney”. The resulting Dunning–Kruger ambiance is annoying at best.

“Thank you, Alpha 7 Alpha. The enemy patrols are more frequent. This is the third such incursion in 584 kiloseconds.”

Why not make it an even 604.8 kiloseconds, and call it a week?

“The explosion is so near, and so intense, it overwhelms my visual and scanner feeds to starboard for nine point eight seconds.”

So all the scanners come online at once in a thousandth of a second? Do some come on at 9.75, and then some at 9.85? Why not call it “about a decasecond” and provide a little acknowledgment that events take time rather than being instantaneous. Also, you’ve already forced your readers to look up decasecond (who uses decasecond? Wiktionary: “Decasecond is not in official scientific usage and is rarely found outside dictionaries and word lists.”) , why not reward them with using it one of the few times when using it makes sense?

“The declaration came forty-seven point six days ago. Any human who resists Integration is now considered outmoded, pre-evolved, unnecessary.”

Is that forty-seven point six days when you started writing the sentence, or when you were done? OK, point one days is a lot longer than it takes to write a sentence. In fact it is impossible to resolve the time it takes to write a sentence using huge units like point one days. Anyone should know the level of precision communicated, and not confuse it for a more significantly-defined time span... Anyone that is except the author, who goes on to make that very same mistake:

“Our preparations take eight point six standard days. That is fifty-seven seconds longer than it takes for our six ships to arrive at Shandari Prime.”

Fifty-seven seconds is actually 0.000659722 days, which is much too small to be communicated with a measurement resolved to only tenths (0.1) of days. Fifty-seven seconds is also a rather awkward number to convert to fractional numbers of days; you need a large amount of precision to effectively denote 57 seconds. If you truncate the fractional day equivalent to 0.0006 days you are only talking about 51.84 seconds, and if you round it up to 0.0007 days you are actually talking about almost a minute and a half. So in order to effectively communicate a number of days that could be resolved to present a fifty-seven second time difference the author would have to say something like “Eight point six zero zero six five nine seven two two standard days”. I know why the author did not do this; it sounds stupid. Of course “eight point six standard days” sounds stupid, and pretending that you can resolve fifty seven seconds in such a number is just ignorant.

I will end this review in six point nine zero four seconds, which is –now-. Unless you are reading really fast, which would make it –now-. Of course you could be an ultra-speed reader, which would allow you to read this last paragraph over twice, and only then realize that the place this review really ended was –now-.