Sunday, June 25, 2006

Miss Thing

posted by Tim Walters @ 4:01 PM

After flirting with a couple of library cataloging applications, I've settled on Library Thing. Rather than a desktop application, it's a web application, which means anyone can see my library. From this we can see that I have 2,414 books (although there are still a few hundred I haven't catalogued), which sounds like a lot until you get a load of this guy.

I can also see all the books I've read since the last time I blogged one:

Ken Macleod: Learning The World (see Hugo commentary)
John Varley: Red Lightning (not as good as Red Thunder, but then again that was pretty damn good)
Neil Hanson: The Confident Hope Of A Miracle: The True Story Of The Spanish Armada (fascinating)
Kate Wilhelm: Storyteller (see H.c.)
Michael Moorcock: Between The Wars (Byzantium Endures/The Laughter Of Carthage/Jerusalem Commands/The Vengeance Of Rome) (This long, vexing masterpiece deserves a real essay. Fortunately, John Clute has provided one.)
John Varley: Millennium (very grabby, wild ending)
Harry Partch: Bitter Music (his hobo journal, and many essays; reminds me of The Motion Of Light In Water, and it's almost that good)
Yevgeny Zamyatin, We (prescient 20s dystopia, beautifully done)
Lin Carter, ed.: Flashing Swords #1 (the Anderson story is excellent, the Vance good, the rest so-so)
Ian Watson: The Embedding (more thriller-y than I remembered, but some good SF aspects as well)
David Deutsch: The Fabric Of Reality (mind-roasting epistemology/science weirdness)
Roger Zelazny: Roadmarks (mid-grade Zelazny; there are worse things to be)
Richard Dawkins: The Blind Watchmaker (we are devo!)
Conjunctions #39: The New Wave Fabulists (very nice slipstream anthology, almost every story is good-to-excellent)
Gene Wolfe: The Fifth Head Of Cerberus (his magnum opus; one of the best books ever)

Gernsback a-go-go

posted by Tim Walters @ 3:36 PM

Here's the current state of my Hugo opinions, having read all the fiction. See also Nicholas Whyte's overview, which agrees with mine to a fair extent, even though I was careful not to read it until I had made my rankings.


1. Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. Here's what I said on Making Light:

Started Spin last night, finished it this morning. I liked it a lot, but unlike the Washington Post I felt that the "literary novel" half of the marriage didn't quite pull its weight. The characters are well-developed and credible, but Wilson achieves that with too much tell and not enough show for my taste, and he has a habit of summarizing conversations that should be written in dialog, which made me think of those Fifties movies that couldn't afford sync sound. I also think that he didn't give the narrator a distinctive enough voice to justify writing the book in first person.

These aren't serious problems, though, and the SFnal aspects are first-rate; once they kicked into gear about halfway through I put off everything else until I finished it.

2. Learning The World by Ken MacLeod. Quite engaging, but I felt that it needed, for lack of a better word, payoff. Still, a pleasant surprise, as I didn't really like The Cassini Division, the only other book of his I'd read.

3. Accelerando by Charles Stross. Good singularity scenario, if very trendy; it's going to seem dated even five years from now, but maybe that's part of the point. Not much novel to go with the scenario.

4. Old Man's War by John Scalzi. Glib Heinlein homage that wisely avoids most of Heinlein's worst habits, the main exception being the narrator's rather smug quality.

I decided not to read the Martin. Life's too short.

Category notes: it's a solid set, but none of them blew me away, or (except for Spin) gave me that frisson of new strangeness I want from the best SF.


1. "Magic For Beginners" by Kelly Link. Best in show. With her new collection, Link has gone from excellent to brilliant; I can't recommend it enough. I also can't explain what's so great about it. You just have to read it. This isn't even the best story in the collection (my vote is "Catskin"), and yet it makes everything else on the ballot seem a little ordinary.

2. "Burn" by James Patrick Kelly. Beautiful, exotic, original and morally complex--a very worthy winner if the other Kelly wasn't kicking so much butt. I will definitely be reading more by him.

3. "The Little Goddess" by Ian McDonald. The elements are a bit stock--the life of a young girl chosen for godhead, nanotech smuggling--but the combination is original, and extremely well done.

4. No Award

5. "Inside Job" by Connie Willis. Not disastrous, but thoroughly mediocre; the sort of story where the main character is an expert on a particular subject, which means both that that subject will, quite implausibly, turn out to be very important to the action of the story, and that the author will make sure that you know how much research she did. Connie Willis' popularity continues to mystify me.

6. "Identity Theft" by Robert Sawyer. Mid-seventies Varley given a radical pleasurectomy.

Category notes: Huge gap between the first three--any of which is better than any of the novel nominees--and the last two. I'm going to be somewhat annoyed if Link doesn't win, but I'm going to be extremely annoyed if Willis or Sawyer wins.


1. "The King Of Where-I-Go" by Howard Waldrop. Nothing new here--a fairly standard time-travel plot--but Waldrop gives us well-drawn characters and a strong sense of place.

2. "Two Hearts" by Peter S. Beagle. Many things to like here, but it's just a touch too sentimental for me to give it the top spot.

3. "The Calorie Man" by Paolo Bacigalupi. I have a bit of a bias against SF stories that seem inspired by current headlines, but this is well enough written that I can't really complain.

4. No Award

5. "I, Robot" by Cory Doctorow. I couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to swallow the premise, the plot twists are visible a mile off, and there isn't enough texture to make up for these problems. It's by no means terrible, but I just can't quite give it a vote.

6. "TelePresence" by Michael A. Burstein. Clunky, cliched, and useless.

Category notes: Seems like the novella is where the action is this year.


1. No Award. I feel like a big ol' curmudgeon, but I just can't get it up for any of these.

2. "The Clockwork Atom Bomb" by Dominic Green. A decent enough thriller, but he throws in a bit of gratuitous callousness at the end that put me off.

3. "Down Memory Lane" by Mike Resnick. Well-written, but doesn't get away with its dubious premise, and reminds one too much of a very famous, much better story.

4. "Singing My Sister Down" by Margo Lanagan. Given all the praise for this, it's very likely that I'm missing something... but if so, I'm still missing it after reading it twice. For one thing, there's no discernible genre content; that probably wouldn't bother me if it were a better story. Unfortunately, it seems both contrived and gloppily sentimental to me. What's the point of a slice-of-life story that doesn't have credible, or at least compellingly strange, humans in it? More than anything, this reminds me of a story I wrote in seventh grade about the last thoughts of a guy falling into a blast furnace. That's not a good thing.

5. "Tk'tk'tk" by David D. Levine. A story of human-alien miscommunication, very reminiscent of "The Moon Moth." Fatally, Levine lacks Vance's deft touch, and the story just plods.

6. "Seventy-Five Years" by Michael A. Burstein. I have a hard time believing this was even published. Now I know how much "multiple Hugo nominee" means on an author's bio.

Category notes: I can't believe these were the best five short stories of the year. I may have to start paying more attention, and nominating.


The only one I've managed to read is Storyteller by Kate Wilhelm, which was kinda meh, so I won't vote in this category unless I somehow manage to round up a reasonable percentage of the other four.


I've only seen two of these--Serenity (good, but not stellar) and Goblet o' Fire (not good). I seem to be immune to the charms of Wallace and Gromit, and Batman for that matter, but I should probably see Narnia before I vote. I'm told that the Harry Potter series gets better again after this one, but I'm not sure I care.

I don't know enough about the rest of the categories to cast a meaningful vote, and probably won't by deadline.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

CAMOUFLAGE ambushes the pack

posted by Todd T @ 5:35 PM

I see that Joe Haldeman's novel CAMOUFLAGE has won the Nebula. I was surprised. I haven't read the other nominees, but CAMOUFLAGE is not what I think of when I think of Nebula work.

I like Haldeman's work, and I liked this book too, really, for what it is. But it does not seem to me to be the pinnacle of the sf writing craft.

It's a near future thriller, pretty well done and certainly entertaining. Two plot threads alternate at first. In one, a creature that has lived in the ocean for millennia, mimicking various species, but cannot remember how it came to be there, comes ashore and stumbles on a human, and by accident and cleverness begins nearly a century of learning about humans and science in an effort to find out if there are others like it. It can change shape given a bit of time, and also size by consuming or dropping mass. As it studies humans, it gains in skill in passing as human, though it needs none of the same resources to be essentially immortal. Just about all of its adventures are fascinating and well thought out. The other thread: a former admiral hires an oceanography company to work on a secret project to recover and study an apparently alien artifact sunk deep in a Pacific trench. This plot is much more routine for the most part - could be straight out of Crichton. Perhaps you will guess that these plots converge eventually.

The writing is good. Haldeman is a fine craftsman. He was shooting for thriller, and he hit the mark. I was always drawn on to see what happened next. But on the way, one finds Haldeman leaving some gaps unsealed, some potholes raced past and not filled. One must accept right off the bat that all the key players will jump in with both feet on a crazy sounding plan. The artifact reveals immediately that it has a perfect mirror surface – does it make sense then to test it at length with ever more powerful lasers? And why let these tremendously powerful lasers bounce up and into the air where they could hit a helicopter full of reporters and other snoops, which we are told are all over the place? No matter, the plot barrels forward. The climactic scene is tense but far too brief and not visually clear enough to be spectacular. The big problem for me, though, is that much of the behavior of two major characters in the latter parts of the book, critical to the plot, simply struck a clanging false note. Impossible to discuss without spoilers, so details are put farther below. Superb writing could force me to believe it, but although there’s plenty of convincing characterization here, I just never did buy the buildup to the climax, nor thus the climax itself. Not a disaster, given the fun along the way, but if we're judging for the ultimate trophy of writerly accomplishment in sf, points must be deducted, I'd think.

So, a Nebula? Not if I were king. Fun? Sure. Maybe Haldeman's sixth or seventh best novel. But I can't really believe that this was the novel most revered by other sf writers in 2005.


After a series of shocking events, some quite intimately personal, it seems to me that Russ is far too slow to grow cautious, far too reliant on a single piece of evidence that convinces him that everything is normal in the face of lots of evidence that just about anything could be way weird. His world should be rocked to the foundation. A still bigger flaw is that I just never believed that the alien could love the human. Haldeman after all has done an excellent job imparting to us just how alien it is, and it should be too alien to form an emotional attachment, though we are told mimicking humans so long is rubbing off on it – but how? Is he going all Sturgeon on us in the last 20 pages? Don't forget that the alien itself has had a number of big revelations - isn't it too distracted by those to think about how to include a human in its life?