Short SF Marathon Week 3

Richly late, halfway through week 4, but here are the short stories reviewed in week 3 of my Short SF Marathon:

  • Day 15: Yoon Ha Lee, Rose Lemberg
  • Day 16: Kelly Link, Ken Liu
  • Day 17: Carmen Maria Machado, Usman T. Malik
  • Day 18: Usman T. Malik,Tim Maughan, Sandra McDonald
  • Day 19: Sam J. Miller, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Sunny Moraine
  • Day 20: Sunny Moraine, John P. Murphy, Anna Noyes
  • Day 21: An Owomoyela, Susan Palwick, K. J. Parker

Annihilation — Jeff VanderMeer

Cover of Annihilation


Annihilation
Jeff VanderMeer
208 pages
published in 2014

Last year Jeff VanderMeer (or rather his publisher) did something rarely done, releasing an entire trilogy in one year. Annihilation is the first of this Southern Reach trilogy and has gotten steady buzz as one of the shoe-ins for Hugo and Nebula nominations; it already managed the latter, in fact. VanderMeer is arguably the father of the American New Weird, that mid-noughties movement that came bubbling up from England and got codified across the pond, mainly through his and Ann VanderMeer’s contributions. I’ve only read one story of his before this, the deliberately confusing The Situation.

Annihilation is a much more straightforward story, of a four woman expedition into Area X, as told by the biologist through her field journal; the other three members are the anthropologist, the surveyor and the psychologist. Their names are never told: “names belonged to where we had come from, not to who we were while embedded in Area X”. They’re the twelfth such expedition into the Area; the previous eleven all came to grief one way or another. What they’re setting out to discover is left vague; they themselves only know in general terms what they’re doing or what they can expect, though the psychologist seems to know more than she lets show.

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2014 Nebula nominations

The SFWA has just announced the shortlist for the 2014 Nebula Awards:

Novel

  • The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Tor)
  • Trial by Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
  • Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu ( ), translated by Ken Liu (Tor)
  • Coming Home, Jack McDevitt (Ace)
  • Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals; Fourth Estate; HarperCollins Canada)

I’ve read two of the six novels on this list, Annihilation and Ancillary Sword. Both The Goblin Emperor and The Three-Body Problem have had a lot of online buzz, with people I trust liking both. As per usual there’s a Jack McDevitt novel on the list, because he either has a lot of friends in SFWA or a lot of blackmail material, as he’s the dullest writer in existence. Gannon I’ve no clue about, but he’s published by Baen and with a few exceptions, the best their writers aim for is “decent”.

Novella

Of these, only Mary Rickert and Rachel Swirsky are on the list of critically acclaimed short SF I’m reading my way through on the booklog. An indication perhaps that there is a rough consensus on what last year’s best stories were, but only a rough consensus.

Novelette

In the novelette category, traditionally the most …awkward… category with both the Nebula and the Hugo as nobody really knows what is and isn’t one, there’s more of a consensus: Richard Bowes, Tom Crosshill, Carmen Maria Machado and Kai Ashante Wilson all are on my list with the same stories. This may just be because fewer novelettes than novellas or short stories are written.

Short Story

In the short story category, there are once again only two stories that overlap: Usman T. Malik’s and Alyssa Wong’s. Again evidence of a lively short story field?

What struck me also is that how little in all these three categories was published in the traditional venues; basically anything that doesn’t have a link above. Two novellas, one novelette and two short stories. The novellas published as chapbooks by Tachyon, the rest in Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

  • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
  • Edge of Tomorrow, Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth (Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
  • Interstellar, Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures)
  • The Lego Movie, Screenplay by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Warner Bros. Pictures)

This award has the same problems as the media Hugos: it’s not where the Nebulas’ focus lies, so the selection is predictable and limited to big budget blockbusters rather than anything surprising. Are these really the best science fiction or fantasy movies from 2014, or just the ones the Nebula nominators have heard of?. I suspect the latter and I don’t see the point in yet another award rewarding the already known and unsurprising.

Granted, you can make the same claim for the novel award, but the difference there is that the Nebula is one of the two top awards in the particular field of SFF novels, while nobody cares about winning the Bradbury. Moreover, while the novel Nebula can be predictable, it isn’t to the extent shown here.

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

  • Unmade, Sarah Rees Brennan (Random House)
  • Salvage, Alexandra Duncan (Greenwillow)
  • Love Is the Drug, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine)
  • Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, A.S. King (Little, Brown)
  • Dirty Wings, Sarah McCarry (St. Martin’s Griffin)
  • Greenglass House, Kate Milford (Clarion)
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Leslye Walton (Candlewick)

If the Nebulas do have to have speciality awards, I’d rather it’s for categories like this, of more direct concern to the SFF field and highlighting a critically underserved branch of SFF.

WTF, have you even seen it?

One William Lehman wrote something stupid about Star Trek:

Say what you will about the SJW Glittery hoo ha crowd, they get this. I speculate that they get it because while we (the guys that grew up watching STOG and said “Hey those doors are COOL, how would you do that for real? Those communicators, could you do that?) went to engineering and hard science classes and started building the future that we wanted, the aforementioned individuals where going to the soft sciences (not real sciences at all in my NSHO) and studied how cultures work.

David Gerrold who, as you know Bob, was actually there at the time as one of the scriptwriters, slapped him down quickly:

I was there. I know what Gene Roddenberry envisioned. He went on at length about it in almost every meeting. He wasn’t about technology, he was about envisioning a world that works for everyone, with no one and nothing left out. Gene Roddenberry was one of the great Social Justice Warriors. You don’t get to claim him or his show as a shield of virtue for a cause he would have disdained.

Most of the stories we wrote were about social justice. “The Cloud Minders,” “A Taste Of Armageddon,” “Errand Of Mercy,” “The Apple,” “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” and so many more. We did stories that were about exploring the universe not just because we could build starships, but because we wanted to know who was out there, what was our place in the universe, and what could we learn from the other races out there?

A very Annie Hall moment:



Of course for those of us who paid attention to sf fandom during that time and long after, the idea of Star Trek of all things hold up as an example of hard science fiction ruined by the social justice warriors, is hilarious. Quite a few fans, the sort of people now screaming about SWJ’s, had no time for the series whatsoever while its fandom was literally run by their greatest enemy: women.

It’s all part of an inept kulturkampf of course, run by people with the barest connection to science fiction fandom as a sort of out of control offshoot of Republican fundraising. The worst part about it is that useful idiots like Lehman actually believe the nonsense they spout.

What would a Ken Macleod Culture novel look like?

So it turns out Iain Banks asked Ken MacLeod to continue the Culture after his death:

MacLeod said: “He had an idea for the next Culture novel and what he said to me was that he would like me to pick it up and run with it in my own way.

“I was very reluctant to agree even though Iain was insistent that it was something I would write in my own way rather than in a pastiche of his.

“Unfortunately, Iain left not even notes I could work from. If he had managed to get through the summer, he hoped to leave enough notes for me to work from if I wanted to.

As you know Bob, the very first Culture novel was dedicated to Ken MacLeod, so there’s no better person than him who could’ve continued the series. I understand why he’s reluctant to do so, but in this case I’d rather liked to have seen it. But at least Kevin J. Anderson can’t get his hands on it.

Short SF Marathon Week 2

The second week of my short sf marathon has just concluded:

  • Day 8: Jeffrey Ford, Karen Joy Fowler, Max Gladstone
  • Day 9: Kathleen Ann Goonan, Theodora Goss, Nicola Griffith
  • Day 10: Shane Halbach, Maria Dahvana Headley, Kat Howard
  • Day 11: Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, N. K. Jemisin, Xia Jia
  • Day 12: Xia Jia, Rachael K. Jones, Stephen Graham Jones
  • Day 13: Vylar Kaftan, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Ellen Klages
  • Day 14: Jay Lake, Rich Larson, Yoon Ha Lee

All her Children Fought



Proof you can tell a science fiction story with only three actors and one, not entirely convincing special effect. Based on the story by Tobias Buckell, who has the story of how it came to be up on his blog. It’s an excellent example of how much you can convey with just a bit of subtle incluing, by working within genre expectations. I can’t be the only one to watch this and be reminded of Ender’s Game, can I?

Some comments: I wonder if the choice of accents for the three actors was deliberate or just a coincidence, but it works in contrasting the boy and his minder with the main character. I’m not sure the premisse of the movie is valid, the reason why it’s young boys/children being sent up there rather than adults, but it makes emotional sense.

Pandora’s Planet — Christopher Anvil

Cover of Pandora's Planet


Pandora’s Planet
Christopher Anvil
192 pages
published in 1972 (original in 1956)

Libertarianism has a well deserved bad reputation in science fiction, largely because so many writers who profess to be adherents also are godawful people who write jack off fantasies about how freedom requires there jackbooted thugs putting their boot in somebody else’s face, whether it’s Heinlein’s repeated wish to kill off all the lawyers or Kratman resurrecting the Waffen SS to deal with an alien invasion. But once upon a time there was a gentler, more humane sort of libertarianism, one that still catered to the prejudices of Analog notorious editor John Campbell Jr, but that hadn’t quite lost its humanity. H. Beam Piper was its best known representative, but there were others, like Christopher Anvil.

Anvil is one of those writers I only ever had heard about, but had never read simply because I’d never seen any of his work for sale, new or secondhand. He was never translated in Dutch as far as I know, one of those minor Analog writers who’d been reasonably popular in the sixties and seventies but was passed by when the genre moved on. From what I gather he specialised in stories in which clever humans put one over militaristic aliens and Pandora’s Planet is in that mold, gently cocking a snoot at authority in general in the process. It’s gentle and not very humourous satire, but much better than the modern libertarian habit of genociding every alien race that looks at Earth funny.

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Half Life — SL Huang

Cover of THalf Life


Half Life
SL Huang
150 pages
published in 2014

SL Huang’s first novel, Zero Sum Game was a tightly plotted, fast paced technothriller, which I only got to know about because I’d been following her blog. The sequel to it I got to read because SL Huang offered a review copy, which is always appreciated. It’s actually the first time that any author has done this, so it’s a bit of new terrain for me as a reviewer. What about ethics in science fiction reviewing? No matter; I would’ve bought this anyway and getting a free book is nice, but had I not liked Half Life I would’ve said so too.

Now when we met Zero Sum Game Cas Russell was an amoral math savant making her living doing …retrieval… work for anybody who could pay. Thanks to the events of that novel she went from being bad at ordinary relationships and not worrying about it to being still bad at them but working on them. In Half Life she goes further; it can be best summed up as “Cas learns the value of friendship through the medium of extreme violence”. It all starts when she gets a somewhat particular retrieval mission, to rescue the daughter of Noah Warren, an ex-engineer laid off from Arkacite Technologies, who claims that they hold her for experiments. Cas is weirdly possessive about kids and even though she immediately notices during the rescue mission that Liliana isn’t a real girl, but an extremely advanced robot, that doesn’t stop Cas from wanting to protect her.

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