Back to the Hugos: 1995!

The Hugo Awards are this weekend! But time-travel Hugos are much more fun! So let’s go Back to the Hugos: 1995!

The member vote for Best Novel:


Oh, Hugo voters… AYFKM? I thought we had finally reached an understanding after last decade.


MY pretend, retro ballot for Best Novel:


(Interesting note: Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower made the shortlist but was deemed inelegible.)


Wrong, Hugo voters. You got it ALL wrong.

Allow me to explain:

Brittle Innings is a rich, full-bodied tale about humanity and its monsters in the pre-Civil Rights era South, and involves brilliant literary interplay. It’s gorgeous. Towing Jehovah is an intelligent, biting, religious satire that offends everybody, even the intended audience. Beggars and Choosers is brimful of imaginative near-future technology with (often over-involved) philosophical ponderings, and its problematic nature makes analysis even more worthwhile. Bujold’s Mirror Dance is the “Give your sociopathic clone son a starship” edition of the “Save-yo-fetuses” series, which always puts my deeply internalized pro-choice sensibilities on edge, not to mention the elevation of uberwealthy characters undermines difficult moral quandaries by making them easy, fun to read, and not really a big deal. And Mother of Storms is a kitchen sink filler-thriller about superficial character cliches surviving a global weather disaster.


If the Spaz Clumpies are correct about post-1985 SF, 1995 should be an ideal indicator of a liberal and literary hijacking of the Hugo Awards. Continue reading

Mirror Dance (Vorkosigan Saga #8) (1994) by Lois McMaster Bujold


Hey! It’s Richard Branson, everybody!

With clones and diplomatic intrigue muddling up the Vorkosigan lifestyle, yet again, another adventure takes Miles out of the picture. Instead of our normal Vorkosigan friends, Mirror Dance offers a unique point-of-view, that of an intruder, giving fans, and detractors, a new perspective on this wealthy Barrayaran family

A series with character, as in strictly character driven, with things happening and things to be accomplished, Mirror Dance belongs somewhere in the early middle of this lengthy series that revolves around members of the same noble family. The Vorkosigan series reminds me of a dollhouse where the fashionable and wealthy characters leave their mansions each day, and drive their expensive, powerful cars (or starships), to run errands and have adventures. Maybe someone gets kidnapped, or deals with a bad guy, or sinks into quicksand… I’m pretty sure I played out these plots with my dolls as a little girl. (Though my dolls did more dressing up than hijacking of rocket ships, but they were pretty adventurous.)

In this episode, Miles’ doppelgänger, Mark, the genetic clone brother who was originally created for the infiltration and destruction of the Vorkosigan family, tricks Miles’ mercenaries into aiding in the rescue of other clones held on Jackson’s Whole. Miles finds out, but before he can put a stop to the violent conflict that follows, he is killed by a grenade. His body is cryogenically frozen for future medical attention, but then lost in space in the chaos of battle. Despite this, the Vorkosigans accept Mark into their home, but Mark feels responsible for the loss of his hated clone/brother/enemy, and his investigative actions result in his own imprisonment and subsequent torture.

But, like the adventures of Barbie and Ken, it’s always going to work out for Miles and his lot, and there is always the same root, the same hearth, the same heart to which they return. But unlike Barbie and Ken, the Vorkosigan charisma and fortitude might be entertaining and inspiring enough to distract from the aristocratic glaze of this elite Barrayaran family. Continue reading

Paladin of Souls (2003) by Lois McMaster Bujold

paladinofsouls1stI enjoyed Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion (2001) more than I had anticipated, which means it was okay, not terrible, and way better than the books from her Vorkosigan series. (This is an example of why I am incapable of rating books using a number system.) Although Chalion was pleasant, it concluded satisfactorily, calling to question the need for a follow-up novel. I loved series novels in my younger years, but I have little patience for them now that I recognize them as money-milkers that are never as strong as a single, thorough story with a beginning, middle, and end between the covers.

Authors: Unless you’re writing a lame kid’s series, cram it in to one book. If your ideas are not good enough for the first book, or you haven’t even thought about it until the fans started asking, please, for the love of the Bastard, let it be. Bujold circumvents this rule by remaining in the same Chalion universe, but pursues the stories of new and minor characters in a different part of the world. She also addresses some of the weaknesses in her previous novel.

In other words, Paladin of Souls is not what I had feared: The Continued Amazing Adventures of Cazaril and Friends (and gods).

Continue reading

The Curse of Chalion (2001) by Lois McMaster Bujold

The_curse_of_chalion_coverWhen a demon is in your belly and it has nothing to do with last night’s dinner…

It seems my latest theme is reading the fantasy works of popular science fiction authors. I’ve made a few bleak attempts into Bujold’s Vorkosigan universe only to be disappointed by this vaunted female SF author, but I wanted to give her another try. I feared The Curse of Chalion would be much of the same: stilted plot driven by stilted dialogue dumps, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that her fantasy writing style relies more upon narrative than dialogue. Overall, Chalion is a pleasant read with a well-developed spiritual world, but it offers little to challenge the intellect or contribute to the genre.

Continue reading

Shards of Honor/Barrayar (Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold

256px-Welpe_2011 (1)

By Sigismund von Dobschütz (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

I didn’t really like the artwork on these books, so here’s a picture of an adorable little puppy.

I wanted to hate this book, just so I could call it Sharts of Honor, but my ambivalence toward this series is bereft of any emotion strong enough to justify the effort of a scatological insult. Actually, I really wanted to love these two novels, just so I could identify with the legions of Lois McMaster Bujold fans who buoy her consistent status as the second most nominated, and second most won, author of Hugo Best Novel Awards.

But, alas, I remain unimpressed. I’m sorry, Bujold fans. Once again, I am just not cool enough to fit with the in-crowd. Continue reading

2013 Hugo Best Novel Announced! Redshirts wins? I have an opinion about that.


I stayed up late last night to learn the results of the 2013 Hugo Awards that were announced in San Antonio at LoneStarCon. I opted to follow along on Twitter while watching the series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

And how fitting, considering Redshirts won. If you’ve read my previous post about each of the 2013 nominees, you would understand why I am both shocked and confused. Although I thoroughly enjoyed Redshirts, it was a little too flippant and silly to deserve such a career-making prize. The story was, at best, a fun, fanboy parody of a space opera, with the novelty of a meta-twist at the end. That, and John Scalzi’s growing fandom was enough to expect a nomination, but I really did not expect it to win the award. The story was so tongue-in-cheek, I’m surprised Scalzi isn’t walking around with a hole in the side of his face.

Then, the other shocker. Lois McMaster Bujold’s Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance won 2nd place. WTF? Apparently, a weak plot with two-dimensional characters and poor writing does not matter if you add it your previously long-standing and highly acclaimed series.

So, what have I learned this year? Never underestimate the loyalty of the fans.

Furthermore, my expected winner (2013) and hopeful winner (Throne of the Crescent Moon) landed 3rd and 4th spots, while Blackout, a book I was surprised to enjoy, got last place.

I suck at awards predictions. This is like junior-high me and the MTV music video awards all over again. Only popular people win.


Despite the status and clout that comes with a Hugo win, they are, after all, fan awards. One cannot expect that every year will recognize the most well-written, thought-provoking, and original contributions to the SF/F genre. Admittedly, this was a weak year for nominations. None of the nominees blew me away, and none of them deserved 5 stars. But, with such a weak ballot, I had a slight hope that a newcomer like Saladin Ahmed and his strong, unique characters and non-white fantasy world would get some deserving attention. But, I’m hearing he’s making it a trilogy, so maybe we’ll see him nominated again.

And with that, the 2013 Hugo cycle has come to a close. I’m ready to keep my ear to the ground for next year’s nominees, which will be announced mid-spring, with the awards happening this time next year in London.


Who Shall It Be? The Hugo Best Novel Nominees of 2013


Today is the final day of voting for the 2013 Hugo Awards. I spent the past month reading all of the nominees for Best Novel (listed above), and here are my brief thoughts:

1. Redshirts by John Scalzi

So silly, but so fun! This is a must read for any Star Trek fan, and includes a total meta twist in the last section of the book.  The first chapter was my favorite part and could stand alone as a great tongue-in-cheek short story.

2. Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

This is a beautiful fantasy novel full of magic and Islāmic culture. It was refreshing to read a fantasy novel that wasn’t full of white people. Ahmed deserves the Hugo just for breaking cultural barriers in fantasy fiction.

3. 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

This is your travel guide to space, 300 years into the future. Although the novel is driven quirky, flawed characters, the real meat of this story is KSR’s meticulous descriptions of travel within the solar system. Take a mental journey on his terraformed asteroids.

4. Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

My least favorite of the five novels, this book is an obvious placeholder within a (probably) stronger series of novels. The characters are cute, but there isn’t much at stake to make one turn the page, and most revelations are presented through tedious dialogue. There just isn’t much action. Still, it has stirred enough curiosity in me to attempt more of the earlier, and stronger, novels in the series. I’m not giving up on you yet, Ms. McMaster Bujold.

5. Blackout by Mira Grant

Yes, apparently you can do more with zombies! Blackout provides a satisfying ending to a trilogy full of action, conspiracy, and truth-telling. It also adds a twist that I know I saw coming, but I didn’t think the author would have the balls to do.  But, she did it, and surprised the hell out of me. The story was worth that surprise alone. (Full disclosure, I accidentally skipped the second book in trilogy. I kind of wish I hadn’t, but it’s too late, now.)

So, who wins my vote? Honestly, I wouldn’t count any of these novels as favorites of mine, so it’s good I’m not voting. They were all strong 4 star books, with the exception of CVA. I think I would like to see Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon win, just because the world he built felt so unique and refreshing, but I suspect KSR’s 2312 will win. It’s just as deserving, although the underlying mystery and resolution in 2312 were somewhat weak. I also wouldn’t complain if MIra Grant won for Blackout, seeing as she has been nominated for every book in the trilogy and never won, and the stories were certainly unique and captivating.

I guess there just wasn’t a clear winner in my mind this year. We’ll find out next month when the winner is announced.

In the meantime, I’m currently reading the eagerly awaited The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel by Neil Gaiman, a likely Best Novel nominee in 2014.


Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance (Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold


Is it my fault because it was my first foray into the Vorkosigan series? Maybe I should have read a few of the earlier novels to get a taste of McMaster Bujold’s world. I weighed that option considerably, and chose to go ahead with this book for two reasons. First, I was in a hurry. Hugo voting takes place next month, which is a deadline I set for myself to have read all the nominees for best novel. Two, I wanted to see what it was like to jump in the middle of a series. It was an experiment.

But the book wasn’t that great, and I don’t think it had anything to do with my jumping in the middle.


Ivan Vorpatril, the least bright of the Vor clan, works a safe and simple bureaucratic job on the planet of Komarr. That is, until is sketchy buddy Byerly gets him wrapped up in the affairs of two exotic, and attractive, illegal aliens. Could this be Ivan’s chance to finally live up to his family’s legacy, and possibly find love?

Things I liked:
1.  The protagonists are likable enough. Unambitious heroes are kind of appealing, although they can get boring if they are not surrounded by enough struggle, which is the failure of this novel. The lead character, Ivan Vorkosigan, is the “idiot” of the Vorpatril series, and this is the first novel that centers on his life. At first, he kind of reminded me of Jez from Peep Show, which helped me to like him more. His romance with Tej is cute, but could have been more compelling if the author had taken more risks with her characters.
2. I got enough of a taste of the Vorkosigan world that I might want to try another book one day. The promising reviews of other novels in this series make me think I just ran into a dud. Some of the outlying characters in this story happen to be main characters in other stories, and their personalities promise more depth. This particular novel hints at enough of their struggles to interest me.

Things I didn’t like:
1. The novel is full of lazy writing. Bujold completely ignores that old writing adage, “Show me, don’t tell me”? Every bit of planning, deceit, and intrigue is revealed in dialogue. Long, boring dialogue. It includes lots of scenes of people sitting in living rooms, or dining rooms, or studies, and talking about things that are going on. Only Dostoevsky can get away with that. Hardly any revelations occur through action and surprise. I can’t believe this book is nominated for awards.
2. The plot is clumsy and contrived. The entire plot for Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is contrived. Nothing about this book feels organic. It is as if the author started with the ending (which I think she probably did, because it appears she is now just inserting new books into the middle of her acclaimed series), and plotted things backwards to justify the ending.
3.  The stakes are never high enough to matter. Why is the big heist such a secret if nobody cares in the end. Besides, there is an unsaid understanding that anyone who knows anything is going to tell everyone else. Any scheme bungle is greeted with a fist shaking and a “Why you… grumble, grumble, grumble,” but nothing more. There is no convincing danger for any of the characters.

Perhaps Ms. McMaster Bujold’s techniques are another way to develop the unambitious natures of her two protagonists. I can give her that, but it’s a little too meta if that’s her excuse for the forced and artificial plot that makes up Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance. I’m not done with the Vorkosigan world just yet, though. All of those 4-star reviews make me think this book is the product of a strong series, so I’ll be trying one of the earlier, Hugo-winning novels in the near future.