Back to the Hugos! 2006.

It’s Hugo NIGHT! No Award will win! SJW works that aren’t that revolutionary will win! Puppet-slated works that were actually popular between both factions will win! And people won’t talk about it in any honest way until the historical narrative shows up far down the road! If they talk about these books at all! Because old is bad and these nominees will soon be old!

But the historical narrative of the 2016 Hugos isn’t here yet. So you know what that means… it’s time to go… Back to the Hugos!

Hugo Year: 2006

2006. Well, you know what happened. It was practically yesterday. But before this election. And Brexit. And the selfie-stick. So it couldn’t have been that bad, right?

Meanwhile, at another L.A. Con (IV), Connie Willis hosted the Hugo Awards, just like she did in ’96.

The list:

Screenshot 2016-08-13 at 10.14.09 PM

The Winner: SPIN by Robert Charles Wilson, followed by LEARNING THE WORLD by Ken MacLeod, A FEAST FOR CROWS by George R. R. Martin, OLD MAN’S WAR by John Scalzi, and ACCELERANDO by Charles Stross.

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Learning the World (2005) by Ken MacLeod

LearningtheWorld1Little Green Men are so Roswell.

Bugs have dominated the sci-fi alien landscape throughout its long history, from Wells’ spindly invaders to Clement’s didactic caterpillars to the Heinlein/Haldeman/Card &Scalzi spectrum of buggers. It’s a natural fit: with those extra articulated legs and absent the puppy dog eyes, bugs really are Earth’s other. With the exception of sci-fi’s obsession with busty cat ladies, mammalian aliens don’t appear as often as bug aliens, for to put fur and whiskers on an alien might run the risk of Disneyfied anthropomorphizing at worse, Petting Zoo People at best, and almost always something dumb and unimaginative, like NivPourn’s stomping elephants; rarely ever Tepper’s eerie horselike foxen.

But while bats get page time in the horror and supernatural romance subgenres, this is the first time I’ve ever encountered actual, literal Alien Space Bats. Continue reading

Off-Roading with A Game of Thrones: A Feast for Crows (2005) by George R. R. Martin

AFeastforCrowsWith the prevalence of book-turned-motion-picture phenomena, it’s often difficult for the casual observer to distinguish between book chatter and screen chatter, especially when a story is portrayed in pop culture dialogue as an amorphous series of iconically conventional moments. With the Game of Thrones series in particular, only the most sub-rock inhabitant will be unaware of its signature moves: the shocking deaths, the shocking rapes, the shocking betrayals, all amid the doom of impending seasonal transition. Continue reading

Accelerando (2005) (Singularity #3) by Charles Stross

Accelerando1Charles Stross is an anomaly, of sorts. His genre style borrows more from American formula than British intuition, yet his stories contain just enough “pints” and jokey references to English socio-geographies to be unmistakably British. Yet his popularity among US sci-fi readers is undeniable, and I’ve gotten the impression, from interviews and his blog, that he purposely designs his books for the American genre market, because that’s where the money is.

So it’s no wonder that Stross is not one of my favorite writers, but it’s also no wonder why he is one of the most popular working SF authors today, and why he remains on solid footing in the American market. He contrives far-future universes populated with super-intelligent aliens, exciting tech advances, and charismatic characters based on familiar molds. Readers who whine about the death of the SF genre at the hands of a literary invasion should be perfectly pleased with Stross’ success. (And if they’re not, then those complaints must derive from other agendas.)
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Spin (2005) by Robert Charles Wilson

Spin(1stEd)In the subgenre of “community trapped—possibly by aliens,” Robert Charles Wilson has at least two entries to his credit that I know of, and his bibliography suggests more. I’ve speculated before that Stephen King’s 2009 TV-deal-bait book Under the Dome might have been inspired by Wilson’s work, perhaps to exercise some leftover ideas from The Stand (1978). It’s not surprising that science fiction authors find this premise attractive with its promise of a literal microcosm, an ideal setting for a large cast full of character tensions ready to boil over.

In Spin (2005), Wilson expands the claustrophobic microcosm idea, cloistering the entire Earth into his fictional bubble, while keeping the cast minimal. Spin is a reread for me, though it was so long ago, all I remember thinking afterwards is that maybe spacey science fiction isn’t all that bad and perhaps I should try reading more. Continue reading

The 2015 Blewgo Awards! It’s not what you think!

Welcome to the 2015 Blewgo Awards! As in, I blew it for not reading these 2014 buzzed-about SF novels sooner. It sounds like it might be a porn award, but it’s not!

The shortlist was determined by me, based on an unscientific selection of novels I neglected during my 2014-novel reading extravaganza but remained implanted in my memory for whatever reason.

The 2015 Blewgo Award ceremony was held on Saturday night, in my kitchen, over a bowl of soup. The guests of honor were a couple of moths bodyslamming the window, and a gecko that wanted to eat those moths. It was an intimate affair.

The winner was determined by a panel of me. Continue reading

The Kappa Child (2001) by Hiromi Goto

TheKappaChildIt hasn’t been since Babel-17 that I clambered onto the couch on a Saturday morning, just to read a few pages, and barely moved until I absolutely had to. Like its name suggests, this is a book that will inhabit you.

It starts with some silliness: A quirky driver in the midst of traffic chaos. Honking horns, clanking shopping carts, CB static; a lotta onomatopoeia. Some over-the-top quirkiness. This protagonist is quirky, the quirky narrative wants us to know.

So I think, aww man, this is going to be too cutesy for me. I don’t think I’m going to like it. Like a briny sea, it’s just too much quirkiness to sink below the surface. Consciousness of the act of reading keeps me afloat.

But then suddenly, I sink. It probably took me about 25 pages.

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Back to the Hugos: 2005!

The Hugo Awards are this weekend! But time-travel Hugos are much more fun! So let’s go Back to the Hugos: 2005!

The member vote for Best Novel:

JonathanStrange1RiverofGods2TheAlgebraistIronSunrise2ironcouncil2

Susanna Clarke wins! Booyah!

And look. At that. List. It’s so British. It’s so Leftist. I bet when these books get together, all they do is argue about Jeremy Corbyn.

(This WorldCon was held in Glasgow, btw.)

My pretend, retro ballot for Best Novel:

JonathanStrange1RiverofGods2ironcouncil2TheAlgebraistIronSunrise2

Hugo voters, we almost agree again! That’s twice! In six decades!

Susanna Clarke won my heart long before I had even heard of the Hugo Awards, and, upon reread, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell—  despite having a title I can never remember– maintains its status as one of the best novels I have ever read. River of Gods is another of McDonald’s gorgeous feats of culture, technology, and depth, and would have been my top pick, if not for Clarke’s presence on the list. Love him or hate him (or sometimes both), genre readers may have suffered Miéville fatigue by 2005 thanks to overexposure and the endearingly annoying style of SF’s little brother, but I enjoyed the chug-chug meditative nature of Iron Council, and I wish it had been my first Miéville. It kept me soothed during a grim trip to Atlanta and the bumpiest return flight I’ve ever had in my life. As for The AlgebraistI think I need to read a better Banks.

I had an odd, parallel experience with Iron Sunrisewhich accompanied me on a long bus ride during which I was assaulted by Hollywood blockbusters in the form of mall security personnel and a J-Lo sex-thriller. (Don’t cheat on your husbands, ladies. You’ll be stalked and assaulted and you’ll find your best friend’s body stuffed in a fridge. Men are scary, so you should behave.) Iron Sunrise (and its predecessor, Singularity Sky) seems to mimic these lame Hollywood cliches with its bumbling male protagonist and its femme fatale heroine who uses sex as a weapon. I wasn’t impressed.

*****

It’s a good thing the Schmuckies keep changing their argument, otherwise they’d have me pretty well defeated right now. But even so, as we have learned, this uber-progressive list is a throwback to the old days of Hugo shortlists. This liberal preference is nothing new. And complaints about a literati invasion aren’t valid when I can’t think of two books that better represent a fun, meaningless space romp than Iron Sunrise and The Algebraist. And finally, the 2005 shortlist, like over 90% of the 66 previous shortlists is completely and utterly white.

As for this year’s shortlist, where a space opera, an alien invasion story*, and a throne inheritance drama will battle one another for the top spot. The only real difference is that a few other bought, but irrelevant titles have crowded the discussion. It should be a bland night for THE BEST SF NOVEL IN THE ENTIRE WORLD.

Okay, snarkasm done. This week has earned me a few titles:

And:

And:

Well, I’d rather be Ranty and Snarky than Rabid and Sad. Or Pathetic, more like.

But back to 2005, how about a hollah for this non-American, progressive-leaning list! Maybe do that again some day, Hugo voters! Maybe with fewer white people next time!

*A previous version left off the alien invasion story. Let us not forget that it was not on the original list, making the 2015 shortlist even more unbalanced.

Iron Sunrise (2004) by Charles Stross

IronSunriseIn 2003’s Singularity Sky, Charles Stross introduces us to a post-singularity universe, where a hivemind spaceship drops mobile phones to the citizens of a technologically-repressed planet. He jabs, he winks, he plays with tropes, and spouts his wisdom through the forms of Rachel and Martin, two undercover spies who get involved in related hijinks.

In Iron Sunrise, Stross returns us to the same universe, but this time he is darker, less jokey, and plays it slightly more subtle, although he still delivers a humdrum science fiction spy story supported by the two-dimensional Rachel and Martin, but this time starring a snarky teen techno-goth girl and rough-around-edges warblogger.

In four strands that eventually intertwine, our characters investigate the mysterious obliteration of New Moscow, the planetary home of 16-year-old Victoria “Wednesday” Strowger. Wednesday’s family escapes the blast, only to be murdered later while she’s at a party. Wednesday’s reliable, but invisible friend, Herman, helps her escape the planet by starship, where her path eventually collides with warblogger Frank, and special agent Rachel Mansour, recently assigned to investigate the bombing of New Moscow. The team must put this puzzle together amid bombs, brawls, and backlash from what is basically the Aryan Borg. Continue reading

River of Gods (2004) by Ian McDonald

RiverofGods1Rich in content, dazzling in delivery, McDonald’s 2004 collage of near-future India is a deeper pre-echo of its 2010 sibling The Dervish House: a multi-character exploration of culture and high-tech speculations that clash amidst an urban heat wave. Less friendly, with less charm and more grit than The Dervish House, there’s no cute little boy with his toy bot to sweeten the plot when things get ugly.

As with all culture novels written by an outsider, the outsider reader must go in with hesitation; this cannot be the book to define India, no matter how well-rounded and respectful its depiction may appear. This can only be a book to define McDonald’s visions of technological and social evolution in a third-world society.

It’s the year 2047, the centennial of Indian Independence,

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