Amy Pond

SFF Weekend Breakdown: Doctor Who

Doctor Who is bordering on an obsession for me. Oh hell, I can’t lie, there are only about three times where I’ve been this into a show or a movie. The first was Twin Peaks when I was in junior high. The second was the movie Titanic. Usually, this immersion consists of buying everything I can possibly get my hands on that reminds me of said obsession. I bought Laura Palmer’s diary, the Twin Peaks cookbook and the Dale Cooper tapes.

Titanic was a different monster. I wanted to know everything there was about the ill-fated ship. I researched both the history and what Cameron used in the film.

With Doctor Who this fun has spread throughout the family. The youngest in the family insists because she has red hair like Amelia, that we call her “Pond”. We were also walking through Target and came across a shirt that looked similar to what Amy wears in the season 6 opener. She insisted we buy it. We all own sonic screwdrivers, and the girls even bought me a USB Tardis for Christmas this year. I still want the Tom Bakker scarf and a remote control Dalek. My ten year old on the other hand could probably tell you how the Tardis works and sits rapt and loves every episode no matter what happens.

I wish I could be as forgiving. I both cursed and sang Moffat’s praises with the first two episodes of the season. I was terrified and wanted to crawl beneath the covers during parts. The Silence is probably the most disturbing enemy the Doctor has faced since the Weeping Angels and the episodes were cleverly written pulling in elements of season five.

My Top Five, err… Eight Matt Smith Episodes:

“Vincent and the Doctor”
“The 11th Doctor”
The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone
The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang
The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon

So I’m cheating there. But those two parters were pretty amazing.

I find when the cast includes River Song, I tend to enjoy the episodes even more.

And this brings me to the third episode of series six, “The Curse of the Black Spot”. Again, the youngest daughter loved it, hiding her eyes behind her hands and peeking when the evil mermaid/AI/futuristic sickbay doctor came on screen. The 10 year old just sat and stared and loved every minute. “It.was.awesome!”

Unfortunately, I did not. Sometimes I hate myself for growing up. I can’t help but pick apart the issues with this filler episode. Everything from why the “siren” would physically attack people who got in her way or endangered her patients. Didn’t make much sense. I could have seen her placing them in an unbreakable cage instead. I also wondered why despite having the ability to move time/space and teleport the sick and injured to her sickbay, why she did not have the ability to fix them. Lots of unnecessary irony in this episode to build tension I guess.

Granted, I’m not saying Doctor Who is sound scientifically, but usually when the story sucks me in, I can forgive the little or rather large things that don’t seem quite right. There is something about Moffat’s writing that allows me to relax into the tale he’s weaving and emotionally invest myself. I hate to say it, but despite having pirates and some fun moments, there wasn’t any real emotional connection for me. Although to give some credit, I will say the last five minutes were extremely moving and despite knowing that Rory survives, I was worried for him. That right there is the strength of Matt Smith, Karen Gillian and Arthur Dorval.

Good news though – this episode isn’t my least favorite. I still think that goes to the Spitfires in space/Dalek third episode from last season. Too many WTF’s there.

Next week, one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman writes the episode. I hear from numerous sources that this is the gateway drug to get non-Whovians to believe. I hope so and I can’t wait.

Getting Out of Our Own Heads Regarding the Hugos

I eagerly opened the Hugo nomination packet that came in the mail a few weeks ago. As I flipped through the pages, my confidence began to fade. Thoughts like: “How can I possibly give each field a fair evaluation when I haven’t read nearly the amount to make a qualified decision?” or “What works even qualify as a novelette or novella?” or “Where can I find a comprehensive list of everything that’s available?”

As I found myself putting the nomination form aside, those same thoughts evolved into: “I will just have to catch up on everything that was published in 2009, to make the best decision possible.” and “I have to culminate a list of everything that people are putting up for consideration and read it.” and “I shall take note of editors and word counts and artists and…”

The nomination form quickly got buried with the burden of my now self-employed, full time, non-paying job of “Nominatrix Extraordinaire”. For the last twelve days, I couldn’t even tell you where the form went. Sure, I read some books, but they were books I had already decided I wanted to read. I was not as successful coming up with anything else of note.

Then a few days ago, a writer who I was lucky enough to share critiques with at Worldcon sent out a note. Addressed to ‘Devotees of Science Fiction and Fantasy’, it warned of the same mental stagnation that I was experiencing.The email also pointed to an article written by my fellow colleague at Clarkesworld Magazine, Cheryl Morgan. While Cheryl’s point is directly aimed at getting more women on the ballot, I think she nails it on the head that women tend to sabotage themselves when it comes to making decisions of this nature. Granted, this isn’t all women, but it looks like a good portion of the female population tend to crawl inside their own heads. This is not a reaction to fear, but I am clearly one of those women who like to make informed and qualified decisions. The nomination portion of the Hugo Awards does not fit into my orderly world of control.

…reading “everything” is impossible. You just have to look at what you have read and seen, and judge whether you think any of it is good enough to be nominated.

“Really? It’s that easy?” Yep. It is.

Don’t worry if you don’t have views in every category either. If you haven’t read any novellas in the past year, leave that section blank.

But…but!!!

I know, this goes against everything single deep-seated desire to fill in every line in every category. I’ve had to train myself that it is necessary and indeed, appropriate in some cases to skip things with which I’m not famliar.

So my lovely ladies of the universe, go vote. Read Cheryl’s post as to why it is imperative that you do.  Time is running out on the new supporting memberships, so if you can’t get to it, consider becoming a supporting member in order to vote on the forthcoming short lists.

If you are still gung-ho about being “informed” here are a pile of links to peruse with some ideas for the up and coming awards season.

If there are more links which point to either eligibility or recommendations, please feel free to leave them in the comments. I will add them to the post.

Also – I didn’t want to leave this post without a gratuitous pimp for Clarkesworld Magazine which is eligible for the Semi-Prozine category. I love working for this magazine as the Podcast Director and would love to see it recognized.

Review: Scenting the Dark

A dash of reality, a pinch of dream, mix it with a bit of the fantastic and drizzle with understandable science.  Best served with a glass of horror or anticipation. Would there be a recipe for Mary Robinette Kowal’s new chap book, “Scenting the Dark and Other Stories”, that is what it would look like.

Your dish would come out perfect every time.

When the gorgeous little hard cover arrived by mail from Subterrean Press, I was in love. This is one of those books that if seen in a Borders or Barnes and Nobles, I would have instantly picked it up. The cover design by Sandro Castelli can be seen in this post, but it is only when you hold it in your hands, does the true beauty emerge.

As for the stories, Mary crafts each one of the eight shorts with rich details and memorable characters. John Scalzi mentions her humor, empathy and intelligence in the introduction. Of all three, the empathy is contagious. Mary’s characters are real. With both strengths and faults, the people that she writes could be your own family, neighbors or co-workers. One of the biggest assets a short story writer can have is a character to whom the reader can relate. There was someone in all the stories that I read with whom I genuinely connected.

It is a rarity that a writer can make me feel and care about individuals in such a short amount of time, and Mary seems to do it in all the shorts featured in this book. All of her offerings are extremely strong and intelligent, however a few stand out as my favorites.  “Portrait of Ari”, “Scenting the Dark” and “Jaiden’s Weaver”, had the most impact as I hungrily turned each page.

Mary Robinette Kowal won the Campbell award for best new writer and was nominated in the Hugo Award category, Best Short Story for her brilliant flash, “Evil Robot Monkey”. She deserves every bit of praise. If you haven’t purchased this little gem that showcases her wonderful talent, you’re truly missing out.

Available from Subterrean Press.

Book Review: Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling

Calamity becomes my ever-growing stack of books.

See, I have this best friend named Pete. Being the prolific reader that he  is, Pete’s always shoving SF/F books in my face. “You gotta read this one…and this one.” On the rare occasions that I’ve been able to peruse the shelves of a book store with him, he runs around the science fiction and fantasy section like a kid who’s forgotten his Ritalin. “This one looks awesome! This author was in my Viable Paradise class. Here, you’ll love this one.”

So now, I have this ginormous stash of dead trees and yet, I keep going out and buying new books. This bad habit is only propagated by the simple fact that when Pete hands me a novel, it’s usually the first in a series.

“Here. Read this Jim Butcher novel. It’s about wizard detective. You’ll love it.” What is Butcher on now? Writing book 12? (Pauses to look it up) Yep. Book 12 – Changes is due out in April. Damn you! Do you see how this impedes the ever-growing stack of literary material? Not to mention, I loved The Dresden Files so much, I went out and bought his fantasy series, Codex Alera.

Pete turned me on to John Scalzi, Taylor Anderson, Patrick “Patience Waning for Book 2” Rothfuss, George R. R. “Get the Torch and Pitchforks” Martin, John “Oh John Ringo, No” Ringo and yes, S.M. Stirling. Just to name a few.

So, to get to the meat and potatoes of this post, I loved Dies the Fire, and now I will need to go out and purchase more S.M. Stirling books. Ahhh! My other books which have been waiting their turn in line are revolting as I type.  Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman just whispered in a titillating English accent the many ways of my impending death. (I may have to taunt this book a little more.) Honor Harrington, completely out of character, is laughing maniacally in the background while the rest of the vampires, Gods and Goddesses, and war heroes sharpen their weapons of retribution. Wait until The God Engines shows up on my door, or Mary Robinette Kowal’s, Scenting the Dark is delivered.  I may have to resort to napalm.

See, how far behind I am? Dies the Fire, was published in August, 2004. This series of books is about the aftermath of a catastrophic event characters in the novel call The Change. This series takes place in the same universe as Stirling’s Nantucket Series. It follows what happens the exact moment Nantucket is thrust into the past and the consequences that the event has on the natural world and everything that was left behind in the time shift.

Combustion no longer packs the punch it did, making everything that depended on catalyst fuel conversion almost worthless. Guns don’t work, neither do cars, nor steam engines. Fires burn enough to boil water and offer some warmth and light, but not to the extent they once did.

The book works on many levels for me in regards to story, characters and the sheer amount of detail. You can tell Stirling did his research in every arena this book explores. It’s truly heartbreaking as humanity loses itself, as only the few strong survive. Stirling’s portrayal of both adaptation and the lack thereof as familiarity and structure break down is both believable and terrifying. It’s absolutely gut-wrenching to see what some people will resort to in order to survive. Cannibals, rapists, militias gone wild, it’s all there and all very stomach-churning.

Yet, as the world comes crashing down, there are a few who ultimately rise from the ashes and become leaders. We follow Mike Havel, an ex-military outdoors man who begrudgingly finds himself the leader of survivors. It’s very intriguing to see how he and his group evolves post-change. Some people are made of the stuff of heroes and Mike is one of them.The other real main character is the Lady Juniper. A Wiccan before the change, she finds her title of High Priestess to her coven elevated even higher as people flock to her guidance and wisdom.

As with any good book, the conflict is not only the cataclysmic event in this book which alters everything, but people who as with anything, use the chaos and conflict for exploitation. There is always some jackhole who doesn’t care who he hurts, as long as he keeps the money rolling in, is allowed to piss all over people and has a few sex slaves to bang. Being well versed in ancient history doesn’t hurt either. Instead of a gun in his new world order, The Protector, a title which is demanded from his followers, arms his goons with armor and swords. A force to be reckoned with, it’s interesting to see how Mike Havel and Juniper address this threat to an already shaky survival.

The first installment in the trio of books is a hefty read, coming in at just under 600 pages. As I mentioned before, Stirling’s attention to detail is incredible.  In some cases and places it reads like a post-apocalyptic survival manual. One that I will definitely be placing in my survival kit buried out in my back…er, um, I mean… There are also incredible moments dedicated to the Wiccan way of life as well.  All the information and explanations makes every decision made by our protagonists believable. From what my friend Pete has given away in the future novels, we come to understand that the change did not only alter what could be seen and you will suddenly realize why the extensive delineations were necessary.

Highly recommended if you haven’t come across this gem.  I can’t wait to crack into The Protector’s War, which I’ve just purchased from my local Barnes and Noble.

Dammit.

For fans of S.M. Stirling — Pete interviewed him about his body of works back in May of 2008. You can find it here in two parts.

Game Review: Dragon Age:Origins

Alastair Nerys Kiss

Wow.

Just wow. Yes, that is the only word I can possibly utter as I finished Dragon Age: Origins.

I am not lying.

As I played through the 90 hours of story, I kept commenting to my friend Pete that this was probably the best game I’ve ever had the privilege to own. The best game ever made. I’m being totally serious. It’s a pretty big statement to make, and I’ll stand by it.

The world is rich and warm. It plays on familiar fantasy tropes (i.e. good vs. evil) and simultaneously keeps everything fresh.

Bioware is the same company that is making the new Star Wars MMO: The Old Republic. If Dragon Age: Origins is any indication of what is to come, I may never been seen again.

This “choose your own adventure” mechanic was a wild ride from the moment I started. Never have I been moved by story in a video game. There were a few seamless cut-scenes where I found myself crying or staring at the screen in complete and utter awe. There have been fun and frantic rides through games like Half Life 2 and Bioshock, but as far as true immersion in characters and plot, this pulled me in and never let go.

The combat system only adds to the beautiful complexity of this game. If you try to go in with swords afire and without tactical planning, you will get your ass handed to you multiple times. Have you ever had a deadpan conversation with a friend that sounded like this:

Pete: “Umm. Wow.”

Kate: “Umm. What?”

Pete: “The dragon. Yeah, it just picked up Alastair and chewed on him a little. Until, he died.”

Kate: “Yep. It does that.”

Pete: “And there goes my other character.”

Kate:”Yep.”

Pete:”And my whole party.”

Kate:”Hahahahahah.”

Even setting down the difficulty will not get you far. The fighting lures you in the early levels. It’s all glorified gore and easy battles, but as you continue on with the story, it gets substantially harder. A room of ten soldiers and a boss had me pausing and issuing commands every two seconds. There is no tank and spank. You need to approach every battle with strategy and thought.

The picture above is the other favorite thing about the game. You don’t start this adventure with your best friends. Through gifts and social interactions, you butter them up and eventually convince them you’re worth a damn. I chose to romance Alastair, the other Grey Warden in the party. It paid off with a campy but sweet love scene. Bioware chose to leave on the undies, and I can see why they wanted to save their skins from all the watchdog groups out there, but I still think they made the wrong choice. I’ve never understood the mentality that a violence fest, complete with bloody finishing moves is generally accepted, but the minute the kissing starts, we pull our kids away with disgust.

If you’re letting your thirteen year old play this game, you’ve got bigger problems than a 30 second pixelated tender moment.

Regardless, Bioware deserves the ratings it’s getting from the gaming community and I’m already itching to play a sequel.

I’d love to do a voice for one of the characters. Can anyone from Bioware help me out on that one? 😉

Go play this game. You won’t regret it. Oh and get it on the PC. Consoles are for losers. 😉 Okay, maybe not losers, but from what I’ve read, the game is far more challenging and complex when played on a PC.

The Podcast WhirlWind (aka Awesome News!)

Some big news to report on multiple fronts!

I’ve been invited to be “Podcast Director” (get a load of the official title) for Clarkesworld Magazine! That’s right, I’ve joined the staff of the Hugo Nominated Magazine! What will I be doing, exactly? I’ll be coordinating podcasts for the monthly releases, and introducing some new and exciting content as the magazine continues to grow.

Do me a favor? Mention the magazine to your friends, have them mention us to their friends! (I can actually say “us” now! *Squee*)

In other news, I’ve been interviewed by the wonderful Charles Tan over at Bibliophile Stalker. I am quite humbled as this was my first interview ever, but Charles made me feel welcome. Thanks, Charles. You’re the best!

I also have a narration up at Escape Pod as well this week. You should go over there and take a listen! “The Kindness of Strangers” by Nancy Kress opens discussion about our true selves. When disaster of epic proportion, propagated by aliens strikes, who do we become? Do we change or do we show our true colors?  Two more narrations are  in the pipeline for Jeremy Tolbert and the good folks at EP.

I will also have another narration up on Clarkesworld as we hit October 1st. I can’t say much about this one and will update the blog when it comes around. As a narrator, I am still digesting and it’s been a few days since I read it.

Tony C. Smith with StarShipSofa has given me another story to add to the two I’m still working on as well. Again, I’ll update when those are done and published.

I’ve updated the podcasts/narration page with the stuff that is just recently out. Enjoy!

It’s been a whirlwind and I have only to thank those of you who have cheered me on, listened and recommended my readings to others. You guys get all the credit here. Not me.

StarShipSofa Stories Volume One

As we approach StarShipSofa’s 100th Aural Delights episode, host Tony C. Smith has some exciting news. Featuring some of the best authors in the science fiction genre, StarShipSofa Stories — Volume One will be available on September 16, 2009. 

Through the generous contributions of people like Peter Watts, Ken Scholes, Alastair Reynolds, Elizabeth Bear, Gord Sellar, Spider Robinson  and more, StarShipSofa Stories – Volume One  will serve as both a celebration and way to contribute to the audio podcast.  Each sale of the book will go towards keeping the Sofa in orbit and allow us to continue to bring the Science Fiction fan community wonderful and imaginative stories week after week.

If you are considering taking part in the Support our ‘Zines Day on October 1st, conceptualized by Damien G. Walter, this would be a great way to support StarShipSofa and you will get something back!

Pricing is still being worked out but as he said during the latest Aural Delights show, it looks like the PoD book price might be hovering around 8-10 GBP plus shipping and handling.*

Tony will also be releasing the free e-book as well.

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StarShipSofa Stories Volume 1 is only a few days away from going on sale. Here’s a sneak preview of the cover art, designed by Skeet.

Skeet’s brief was to create a picture that would pay homage to the 50s SF pulp magazines. I think he’s produced an amazing piece of work.

Get ready for the 16th September when the book will be available to buy in print form. There will also be a new website and free eBook released on that day.

*Pricing is subject to change as we get closer to publication date.

John and Krissy Scalzi Match Donations Made TODAY ONLY for @StrangeHorizons Fund Drive

Strange Horizons is a Spec-Fic Online Magazine that needs your help. Their August fund drive to raise $7,000.00 is in full effect. With the generosity of John and Krissy Scalzi, any donation made by you, today only will be matched 1 to 1, up to a grand total donation by the Scalzis of $500.00. That’s 27 hours to support online short fiction, because as we all need to propagate through the community, short fiction is not dead!

You can get the full announcement from John, here. The link to donate to Strange Horizon’s is here.

I have donated. How about you?
chicken

More Evidence Pertaining to My Geekiness

My Team Fortress 2 mobile came in the mail today. I’m kinda sad it’s missing the medic, only because that’s the main class that I play. But I have a feeling it would have looked a lot like the pryo. I think out of all of the shadow carvings though, the heavy is my favorite. Ka-boom.

Naturally, I had to hang it near my Portal Companion Cubes which are furiously guarded by the yet unnamed red dragon of desire doom.

What?

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