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: The God Engines by John Scalzi

I got to hear John read the first chapter of this novella at Worldcon this past August. The first thing I noticed when he read was the complete lack of humor. There are no chapter long fart jokes as experienced in The Android’s Dream. There are no quirky one-liners to break the tension.  John took The God Engines completely seriously and it’s all the better for it.

In fact, the conflict in this story builds like a tidal wave. This along with memorable and vividly drawn characters, a deep story which had me thinking about my own application of faith, and a rather distressing but wholly necessary conclusion, makes for an excellent piece of cross-genre fiction.

It’s science fiction with some dark fantasy mixed in. I would think even a horror fan would walk away from this novella satisfied. I couldn’t help turn each page with a racing heart wondering what would happen next. It’s a quick little read, but one that follows you after you’ve closed the back cover.

I really want to get into the meat and bones of this book to discuss what it meant on a much deeper religious/spiritual level to me and how I applied it to my constant questioning of faith.

Yet, it will break my own rules about spoilerific book reviews. With this post, I’m ultimately trying to get you interested in the book without giving anything away, which is becoming increasingly hard to do with each word because I want to talk about the details.

Perhaps I need some first made iron to keep me in my own bonds.

Go get this book. You won’t regret it. It has firmly displaced my love for “The Sagan Diary” as my favorite John Scalzi work, and I won’t be surprised if it supplants your favorite to date as well.

Available from Subterranean Press. Looks like they are out of the Limited but do have some trade available. The illustrations from Vincent Chong are amazing as usual.

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.

2009 Podcast Wrap-Up

So I was updating all of my pages on my site today. I just wanted to give you the impressive count of podcasts/specials I’ve done for 2009.

For Clarkesworld Magazine:

For 2010 – Neil Clarke and I’ve planned on doubling the podcast output. Released on the 1st and 15th of every month, it’ll add more content for you to enjoy. Some will be read by me, and others will be read by their authors.

For Escape Pod:

For StarShipSofa:

  • Stories and Poems Read: 8 since January 2009
  • Authors: Ted Kosmatka, Mark Rich, Tim Pratt, Mike Allen, Charles Saplack, CL Holland, Aliette de Bodard
  • Words Read: 15,000 words

For Fantasy Magazine

  • Stories Read: 1 for podcast promo CD
  • Author: Jessica J. Lee
  • Words Read: 2000 words

For Mythic Delirium:

  • Poems Read: 4 poems
  • Authors: Holly Dworken Cooley, Lindsey Nair, Constance Cooper, Ann K. Schwader
  • Words Read: 700 words approx

For Peter Hodges:

  • Stories Read: 3
  • Words: 10,000 words

For A Magazine Which Shall Remain Nameless Who Had Me Do Three Stories, promised to post them and then they disappeared:

  • Short Stories Read: 3
  • Words Read: 15000 words

Total For 2009

  • Stories and Poems Read: 29
  • Words Read: 98700 words

Holy crap! That isn’t even counting the other projects I had relating to voice over work, including company training videos and phone greetings.  You do realize that around 100K words is a standard science fiction/fantasy novel length. I read a whole book to you guys! Man, my lips are tired! 🙂

When you break it down, it’s a little over 2 narrations a month. Hourly commitment to a standard 5000 word story is about 3-5 hours after recording and editing, some were longer and some were most certainly shorter. So if I were to guestimate the amount of time it took over the year to podcast, it would be upwards in the 150-200 hours range. 100 hours would be if they all took 3 hours to complete. Again, some where really short, others were all nighters.

This is just mind boggling to me. The average cost and industry standard for a narrator to complete an audio book is around $150.00 – $300.00 per finished hour. Sometimes, depending on who you are, a famous actor or something) You’ll get paid a lump sum to read a popular book. So if I treated this as an actual business, and expected compensation from my clients, I would have made, (we’ll go with 20 hours of finished audio here) $3000.00 on the low end and $6,000.00 on the high end of that price range.

Haha – well here’s to volunteer work. May 2010 prove to be a little more fruitful in the terms of compensation. Mama wants a new MacBook Pro.

**Granted, I’m not going to say that I wasn’t compensated this year for some of the work I did. So thank you to those (you know who you are) who did. The whole narration compensation discussion is definitely a topic I will be bringing up later. There are some things I’ve learned which makes me kinda mad.

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.

Download of Home Again

Here is the corrected Christmas song. I wanted to thank everyone for all the e-mail, off-line comments and blog reactions to my first original holiday composition! A big thanks to Vince O’Connor for playing it on wely.com tonight!

This song also comes with warm wishes for the holiday, to you and yours, from me and mine. 😉

Enjoy:

Home Again

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.

Review: 2012

Disclaimer: This review is not for the faint of heart. It also contains spoilers.

Dear Roland Emmerich,

I have to thank you. When I used to mention to my friends how much of a disaster movie addict I was, I’d constantly have to defend my cinematic tastes. Now that I’m done watching the massive visual jackoff session you’ve labeled a movie, I must thank you for curing me of my affliction.

First and foremost, props to cast. Aside from the weird Fabio moment by Sasha (Yohann Urb) at the Las Vegas airport, and the over-the-top ranting by Oliver Platt, the movie was pretty well acted. Props to John Cusack, Amanda Peet, and Liam James for making a dysfunctional family in the midst of a crisis, believable.. uh, er, for the most part. I’m personally going with the bad script excuse.

I’ve  loved Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor since I first saw them in MI:2 and Serenity respectively. They deserve scripts much better than this.

When I spoke to my best friend about this, Pete mentioned that there were some “Oh come on!” moments in the beginning, but the special effects started to suck you in as the movie progressed.I hate to say it, but those moments of incredulity never went away for me as time progressed.

This overly long piece of garbage would have been better with a lot of edits.

Let’s trim just a little, shall we?

1.) The scene with the Russian boxer in Las Vegas. Why did you waste five minutes of my time with that? You could have opened on him sitting at the fight with his girlfriend. He gets a call to start boarding. Done.

2.) The extra footage of Danny Glover, attending to the doomed people of Washington D.C. I love Danny Glover. I love Danny Glover as President.I get that he was valiant up and to his last breath.  However, going back after his last Presidential address to watch him die by shoving the U.S.S John F. Kennedy up  his ass was a bit much, no? That selection of scenes could have saved another five minutes.

3.) The multiple script decisions that afforded the Curtis children, unnecessary danger. “Oh, it’s okay,our little girl can come with me as the world goes to shit, as I go try to find a map from the crazy guy standing next to a volcano.”  Stay with the motherfucking plane! Jeez.

4.) All of the cruise ship scenes could have been nixed. Just show the big boat biting it like the Titanic under a huge wave.  Neither story on that ship resonated with me. You could have had the quartet playing “Nearer My God to Thee” and I wouldn’t have been emotionally affected. That would have saved about 10 minutes.

On the same note: I didn’t truly care about anyone in this movie, save for the poor Indian scientist who bites it with his wife and child. It was almost like you and your writers were trying too hard for character development with too many people and in the end, no one got the attention they truly needed.

5.) The canine high wire act. What the fuck was that? Why is it in every single disaster movie, the dog lives? Why again was valuable time wasted to watch a Pomeranian make it to safety? Do you think after destroying the fucking planet that I would care about a damn dog? I’m pretty depressed after watching millions of people just end, but yay, the dog lives. (Insert eye roll here)

6.) The Sasha death scene. I actually thought I heard you scream, “Fooled You!” as the plane finally nose dived down the mountain side. It wasn’t even added suspense. It was just cruel. 2 minutes.

This movie could have been right up there with greats like, The Core and Twister and Independence Day. (Hey, don’t knock some good fun destruction!) I think ultimately where this movie fails is that it tried to be too much of everything and ended up losing its own identity in the process.

Furthermore, the science in this movie…sucks. I’m sure most people will see a cell phone call while the world is on fire as plausible. Hell, where do I sign up with a carrier who is that good? I can see their slogan now — “When the world goes to shit on December 21, 2012, don’t forget to say goodbye with our reliable network and family share plan!”

Ugh. So yeah. Bleh. I will concede that there were moments of pwnage, especially, the destruction of LA, the Yellowstone volcano (Where was the massive shockwave that would have killed everyone in that area, btw?) and the sheer scale of the arks.

Yet, there are too many things the story wants to pass as possible and factual that I couldn’t wrap my analytical mind around. I was never engaged by the story to just sit back and enjoy the ride. Instead, I was strapped to my chair and forced to swallow bullshit for almost three hours.

Now can you see why I’m so irate?

Being the anxious person that I am, I did carry around irrational fear we were all going to meet our makers in a similar fashion, but I’d like to thank you for easing my fear that it will not go down the way you’ve said it will.

Please don’t make any more movies.

Most sincerely,

Kate Baker

P.S. You might want to go back and look at where Cusack cuts his head open under water. Miraculously when he survives being submerged and unconscious for a good few minutes, there is no cut. Ooooh. Editfail for joo.