Your Happening World (April 15th through July 15th)

Kiki’s Delivery Service

Feeling under the weather enough today that I had to stay home from work and what better way to recuperate than with tomato soup and a Hayao Miyazaki movie? I hadn’t seen Kiki’s Delivery Service yet though it was released in 1989 and I’d had it in my collection for donkey ages. It seemed the perfect movie to curl up on the couch with a cat for.

Kiki flying into town

Kiki is a thirteen year old girl who wants to fly in her mother’s footsteps and become an independent witch; thirteen is the traditional age for a witch to do so. So she packs her bag, takes her cat and sets out on her mother’s old broom to fly to a new team and be a witch in training for a year, during which she’ll have to discover her speciality. She ends up in the port city of Koriko, which is somewhat inspired by Stockholm but apart from that is an undetermined Europeanesque city in an unnamed country in an unspecified but slightly old fashioned looking time period. I love that aspect of Miyazaki’s work, of how here and in Howl’s Moving Castle he creates a world that’s certainly not modern, but can’t quite be pinned down to one period either.

Kiki looking apprehensive

What’s also great are all the subtle character touches: the way her cat behaves and his body language, the way Kiki herself is apprehensive going to the outside toilet in the place she’s staying in for her first night in the big town. She’d been taken in by the proprietor of a bakery at the outskirts of town, who is very friendly, but her husband is the strong and silent type and when Kiki nearly runs in to him when she’s going to the toilet and he’s starting work, it’s clear she’s uncomfortable and wants to avoid him, in a way you would be staying with a strange family for the first time.

Kiki and Ursula on their way through town

But what struck me the most watching this was how many strong and strong in different way women there were in it. It’s not just Kiki: there’s Osono the baker, who gives Kiki room and board and inspires her to start her flying delivery service. There’s Ursula, the painter, seen above, who Kiki meets on her first, not very succesful assignment and who is crucial to help her overcome her crisis of confidence in the last third of the movie. There are others, like the witch she first meets on her way to town and who gives her advice on how to spent her year in training, or the elderly customer and her servant whom Kiki helps and who help her in turn. This is a movie that passes the Bechdel test with flying colours and is full of women who help each other, rather than being rivals for a male protagonist’s affection. Not to mention men who are supportive of them, not wanting to put them down, like Osono’s husband and Kiki’s friend Tombo, who she has to safe (and does) in a genuinely tense climax.

Osono and husband with new baby

It’s something that shouldn’t be special, should not be so noticable but it does seem sometimes like we backslid quite a lot from the eighties, in that we may be lucky to have two women in a given movie, let alone half a dozen not defined by their relationship to a man.

Snowcrash as written by Reddit

MetaFilter has fun kicking around Ernest Cline’s latest nerd pandering novel. To be fair, it does sound awful:

We’re also told the government has been tracking the habits of its elite players, and when they arrive at their virtual battle stations, they find their favorite snacks waiting for them, their favorite songs queued up to accompany their virtual space fights, not to mention a “special strain of weed that helps people focus and enhances their ability to play videogames” that’s been cultivated just for them. In one revealing moment, Zack calls his mom in midst of the alien invasion and says the words that burn in the heart of every gamer who has ever felt demeaned for the hours they lavish on their favorite hobby: “All those years I spent playing videogames weren’t wasted after all, eh?”


But what struck me the most was this:

Armada is a book designed entirely around getting the reference—high-fiving the readers who recognize its shoutouts while leaving everyone else trapped behind a nerd-culture velvet rope of catchphrases and codes.

Now that’s, as both the MeFi discussion and the original article acknowledge, something that’s deeply ingrained in nerd culture, but Cline’s use feels off. It’s not just that he has contemporary teenagers (or future ones, as in his first novel) obsessed with the pop culture, all the pop culture, of their fathers and grandfathers (mothers not featuring so much), it’s the way in which they do so. Cline’s protagonists are consuming pop culture, not creating it, taking pride in collecting it and showing off their skills in doing so by constant name checking and referencing it.

It’s a very pre-internet view of geekdom, from a time when such knowledge was hard to come by, when it was sometimes genuinely difficult to find a piece of pop culture ephemera if you hadn’t picked it up or seen it when it first came out. This is no longer the case and hasn’t been for at least a decade or two, so that attitude in people who supposedly grew up in the internet age jars. Not only their obsessions are too old for them, but the ways in which they express them are too. Ultimately this is what makes Cline a bad writer, this simple failure to understand that 21st century teenagers wouldn’t have the same hangups as him.

(Title courtesy of Artw.)

World Fantasy Awards 2015 ballot is out

The 2015 World Fantasy Awards shortlist is out, the last major SFF award to do so. In the novel category this is the ballot:

Updating my 2014 noticable SFF novels list I saw that there was only one new entry, David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. This had a lot of buzz last year as a literary type of fantasy that might do well with the more, ahem, broad minded SFF awards but disappoints to have only be nominated for the WFA. The same also goes for City of Stairs, now on two nominations, this one and the Locus Awards. The other three all have won one award each: a Locus Award for Addison, a Nebula for VanderMeer and a Tiptree for Walton.

With all the awards now having announced their shortlist, it’s possible to take a quick look at which novels are “winning”. Only Ann Leckie so far has won more than one award with Ancillary Sword and in total twelve novels share eight awards (with a joint Tiptree winner and both the Kitschies and the Locus award having multiple categories. Four more awards still need to report a winner (the Lambdas have announced but didn’t have a novel win their SFF category): the WFA, Gemmel, Prometheus and of course the Hugo Awards. It will be interesting to see if Cixin Liu will win either the Hugo or the Prometheus, otherwise it will be a bit disappointing to not have it win anything after all the hype.

Best Novel Hugo vote 2015

I don’t have to telly you I won;t be voting for any Puppy candidates, right, so the question becomes which of the three non-Puppy candidates will get my vote. Even diminished, this is a great shortlist:

    The Goblin Emperor — Katherine Addison.

    The Goblin Emperor at heart is a very traditional power fantasy, about the boy of humble origins who becomes emperor by happenstance and now has to very quickly learn how to survive in a world of political intrigue he’s completely unprepared for, filled with people who either want to manipulate him or replace him with a better figurehead. It’s one of those fantasy scenarios other writers can write multiple trilogies about to get to that point, but Katherine Addison has her goblin hero confirmed as the emperor within five pages, the rest of the novel being about him getting to grips with his new job, woefully inadequate though he feels.

    The Three-Body Problem — Cixin Liu

    What makes The Three-Body Problem almost missing out on the Hugo shortlist deeply ironic, is that it’s exactly the kind of oldfashioned hard science fiction the people behind this year’s vote rigging were supposed to be all in favour of. It revolves around the mystery of why all those physicists are killing themselves, the answer to which seems to be that fundamental principles of physics are broken… There are some great moments of sense of wonder, of conceptual breakthrough in it, as well as some characters Asimov would think were a bit two-dimensional.

    Ancillary Sword — Ann Leckie

    Ann Leckie’s debut novel, Ancillary Justice, won about every major science fiction award going: the BSFA, the Clarke, The Nebula and the Hugo, the first time any author won the four most important awards in the field with the same book, let alone with their debut novel. Anticipation has therefore been high for the sequel, not least on my part. Would Leckie been able to keep up the high standard of her debut? Would Ancillary Sword build up on it or be more of the same? Is Ann Leckie really the major new sf talent she seems to be or just a flash in the pan?

    I will be happy to see any of these three novels win, but this will be my voting order. Ann Leckie has had such a good year already I’d rather see either Addison or Liu win, but Addison slightly more just because how much fun The Goblin Emperor was.

The Three-Body Problem — Cixin Liu

Cover of The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem
Cixin Liu
Translation by Ken Liu
302 pages
published in 2008 (English 2014)

If it hadn’t been for Marko Kloos doing the honourable thing and withdrawing his nomination, The Three-Body Problem wouldn’t be on the ballot for this year’s Best Novel Hugo. And that would’ve been a shame, since The Three-Body Problem is the first translated novel to make the shortlist. The start of a trilogy, it originally came out in China in serialisation in 2006, with the novel version coming out in 2008. The English translation was done by Ken Liu, who has won a Hugo Award himself. The sequels will come out this year and next.

What makes The Three-Body Problem almost missing out on the Hugo shortlist deeply ironic, is that it’s exactly the kind of oldfashioned hard science fiction the people behind this year’s vote rigging were supposed to be all in favour of. It revolves around the mystery of why all those physicists are killing themselves, the answer to which seems to be that fundamental principles of physics are broken… There are some great moments of sense of wonder, of conceptual breakthrough in it, as well as some characters Asimov would think were a bit two-dimensional.

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Cruising the information superhighway

Tom Tomorrow cartoon from 1993 about cruising the information superhighway

That Fredric Jameson essay reminded me of something. I couldn’t find it on the interwebs anymore, but the advantage of twenty years or so of copying over unsorted crap from computer to computer is that it can still be available in your backup temp directories. That’s a 1993 Tom Tomorrow cartoon making one of Jameson’s points much more succinctly.

Giving Fredric Jameson the side eye

Quick, which famous cyberpunk novel is recapped here:

On one of those, this is a heist or caper story, in which a group of characters has been assembled to steal a valuable property (in the event a computer hard drive) from the advanced computer of a powerful transgalactic corporation, whose headquarters is based on a satellite in space. In fact, this ostensible corporate theft turns out to be an elaborate screen for something quite different, namely the junction of the two gigantic computers of these rival corporations, and their unification into the most powerful force in the universe (a story not without its family likeness to Ray Kurzwell’s influential fantasy of the post-human “spike,” and in fact already filmed in the 1970 Colossus: The Forbin Project).”

Fredric Jameson thinks it’s Neuromancer. His essay was linked to on Mefi last night and the extract annoyed and intrigued me in equal measure:

“I merely want to remind us that cyberspace is a literary invention and does not really exist, however much time we spend on the computer every day. There is no such space radically different from the empirical, material room we are sitting in, nor do we leave our bodies behind when we enter it, something one rather tends to associate with drugs or the rapture. But it is a literary construction we tend to believe in; and, like the concept of immaterial labor, there are certainly historical reasons for its appearance at the dawn of postmodernity which greatly transcend the technological fact of computer development or the invention of the Internet.”

It’s a conclusion that you could argue is (trivially) true but misses the point of cyberspace and it would be interesting to follow Jameson’s reasoning, but if he’s wrong about something as fundamental to the argument as the plot of the novel he’s basing his critique on and something so trivially checkable, how can I trust the rest of his argument, that he’s honest or careful with the rest of his sources?

Cry little Puppy, cry

Some little shit keen to ride a neonazi’s coattails to imagined Hugo success whinges about being called dishonest:

I did nothing dishonest. The puppies did nothing dishonest. They played by the rules. You know, I get that you object to the fact that they participated. But you have no grounds for saying that I or anyone else did anything dishonest here.

What you’re doing is ugly. It’s just plain ugly. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

For all the internet hard mannery eminating from the Pups, boy are they thin skinned. That seems to be a rightwing trait: not only wanting to win, honestly or otherwise, but wanting their enemies to admire them for doing so, rolling over on cue. But that’s something puppies do, isn’t it?