Sunday, March 22, 2020

Made To Order: Robots and Revolution, Edited by Jonathan Strahan

As I’ve explained before, I’m not usually a fan of anthologies. The quality and tones of the stories can be highly variable, which I find personally jarring, and one story not to my taste can make me stop reading the whole volume. When I read short stories, I always prefer single authors collections. 


So why did I request a eARC of Made To Order:Robots and Revolution from NetGalley? 

Well, for starters, I love robots. Always have. Who doesn’t? Remember that part in the beginning of Futurama, when Fry was so excited to have a robot for a best friend because it had always been his dream? I could totally relate. As a kid I remember getting My Robot Buddy by Alfred Slote from the library and I loved the Norby books by Janet and  Isaac Asimov. I wanted to BE C-3P0. Bottom line: I heart robots. 

On top of that, I saw the list of contributors to the collection and I decided to take a chance. There are new stories here by authors I love, including Sarah Pinsker, Peter F. Hamilton, Brooke Bolander, and Annalee Newitz. 

Peter F. Hamilton is most well known for his tomes and doorstops, not his short fiction. But that didn’t make this story, Sonnie’s Union, any less enjoyable. It was a return to his Confederation universe and was excellent, but it really stretched the idea of what is a “robot” beyond what I personally feel is the limit. The story is centered on a woman whose consciousness inhabited a body that was sort of a golem or chimera. To me, once it gets too biological, it stops feeling like a robot. Otherwise, very fun story. 

Sarah Pinsker is one of my new favorite authors. I loved her debut novel, A Song For A New Day, whose near future world of social distancing following a plague and terrorist attacks doesn’t seem so implausible anymore. She wrote Bigger Fish, a detective story that, like Hamilton’s story, is excellent in spite of the lack of traditional SF robots. Instead, the robotic characters are the AIs running a smart home. This story is not to be missed. 

Annalee Newitz also wrote about an AI and not a more traditional robot in The Translator. After the masterful job she did creating the robot protagonist Paladin in her debut novel Autonomous, I was very excited to see what she would do her. I was not disappointed (except for the lack of a traditional clanking robot). Her story is rich and full of heart. 

I could go on about all of the other stories in the anthology, but those three were my favorites. This book is definitely worth checking out!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Beneath The Rising by Premee Mohamed

After reading this book, I will definitely pick up the next book by Premee Mohamed.  This author has a great deal of potential and I look forward to seeing what else she writes.

I wanted to start out with that because I didn’t want anyone to think that I was being too negative about this novel, because there were a number of things I didn’t like.  To be honest, there were times when it felt like a slog and I was tempted to not finish it.  But one thing kept coming back - the raw truth of the central relationship.

 It I’m getting ahead of myself.  This book is in a genre that is not particularly my jam.  I don’t often go for Lovecraftian horrors.  I’m mostly a science fiction fan who also loves fantasy.  I wouldn’t have ever requested an eARC from Netgalley until I read about the book and author on Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog’s My Favorite Bit feature.  Reading what the author wrote about herself and her book made me immediately request an eARC, so thanks to both Mary Robinette and Netgalley for getting me this book.

This novel is the author’s first traditionally published book, and it feels a lot like a first novel.  A lot of the descriptions are lyrical and poetic, which makes it very jarring when the book switches into vernacular.  Apparently, it WAS a first novel, one the author wrote in 2002, which might explain the choice of the alternate history setting where the September 11th attacks did not succeed.  I later read Ms. Mohamed’s Big Idea guest post on John Scaliz’s Whatever blog and I thought to myself, this person seems awesome.  She wrote this book originally when in school working on a genetics degree and it totally brought me back to my own Drosophila lab days.

A lot of the writing feels rough.  The Eldridge monsters start out scary,  but quickly begin to feel repetitive and boring.  The globetrotting quest feels as pro forma as a game of 80’s Carmen Sandiego.

So why do I think this is an author worth following? Simple.  She totally captured the feeling of being the needier person in an unbalanced friendship.  Have you ever had a friendship where you constantly thought to yourself “why is this person even friends with me?” Where your depth of feeling far outpaced the other person’s? Where you constantly felt that you weren’t pulling your weight and you kept waiting for the other person to drift away? This author totally captured all of those raw, visceral feelings and put them down on the page.  That’s why I’ll be watching it for what she does next.  

Sunday, March 15, 2020

My 2020 Hugo nominating ballot

The world is falling apart and I feel like I’m a minor character in Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book or Sarah Pinsker’s A Song For A New Day, or possibly Mira Grant’s Feed. I’m working on some more reviews, but until then, I thought I might as well post my nominations for the Hugo Awards. Let’s hope we’re all around this summer to see who wins.

Best Novel
  • The City in the Middle of the Night ; Charlie Jane Anders; Tor
  • The Light Brigade; Kameron Hurley ; Saga
  • Middlegame ; Seanan McGuire ;
  • A Song for a New Day; Sarah Pinsker; Berkeley 
  • The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl; Theodora Goss; Saga
Best Novella
  • In an Absent Dream; Seanan McGuire ; publishing 
  • To Be Taught, If Fortunate; Becky Chambers ; Harper Voyager 
  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015; Clark, P. Djeli; publishing 
  • In the Shadow of Spindrift House; Mira Grant; Subterranean Press
  • Minor Mage; T. Kingfisher; Red Wombat Studio
Best Novelette
  • The Narwhal ; Sarah Pinsker; Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea
  • Emergency Skin; N K Jemisin; Forward by Amazon
Best Short Story
  • Any Way the Wind Blows; Seanan McGuire ;
  • Articulated Restraint ; Mary Robinette Kowal ;
  • The Bookstore at the End of America; Charlie Jane Anders; A People’s Future of the United States
  • Old Media; Annalee Newitz;
Best Series
  • Expanse; James S.A. Corey ; Tiamat’s Wrath
  • Incryptid ; Seanan McGuire ; That Ain’t Witchcraft
  • Athena Club; Theodora Goss; The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl
  • Valdemar; Mercedes Lackey; Eye Spy
  • Axiom; Tim Pratt; Forbidden Stars
Best Related Work
  • Becoming Superman ; J. Michael Straczynski; Harper Collins 
  • Transformers: A Visual History; Jim Sorenson; Viz publishing 
  • Hugosauriad: a dinography of the Hugo Awards; Camestros Felapton;
Best Graphic Story or Comic
  • Amazing Nightcrawler; Seanan McGuire ; Marvel
  • Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 9; Ryan North; Marvel
  • Spider-Gwen: Ghost Spider vol 2; Seanan McGuire ; Marvel
  • Wonder Twins vol 1; Mark Russel; DC
  • Sunny rolls the Dice; Jennifer L Holm; Scholastic 
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
  • Star Trek:Discovery season 2; CBS All Access
  • Avengers Endgame; Disney 
  • Spider-man Far From Home; Sony
  • Good Omens; Amazon
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
  • Steven Universe The Movie; Steven Universe ; Cartoon Network
Best Editor, Long Form
  • Lee Harris
  • Navah Wolfe
Best Fanzine
  • Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together
  • Disciples of Boltax
Best Fancast
  • Jay and Miles Xplain the X-men 
  • The Greatest Generation
  • The Greatest Discovery 
  • Our Opinions Are Correct
  • Wow in the World
Best Fan Writer
Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book (not a Hugo)
  • Alien: Echo; Mira Grant; Imprint
  • Sunny Rolls the Dice; Jennifer Holm; Scholastic 
  • Dragon Pearl; Yoon Ha Lee; Disney Hyperion
  • Catfishing on Catnet; Naomi Kritzer; Tor Teen
Astounding Award for the best new science fiction writer, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo)
  • RF Kuang; Dragon Republic

Sunday, March 1, 2020

DC Comics: Heroes in Crisis by Tom King

I love Tom King.  He’s a super nice guy.  I met him last year at NYCC and he was totally polite and kind to the awkward fanboying I engaged in.  I really like his writing style and have loved his work on Batman and The Vision and Mr. Miracle.  I look forward to his Adam Strange.  So know it is not a knee jerk reaction to say that Heroes in Crisis just did not work for me.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love many things about it.  I love the structure of his comics, his use of 9 panel grids, and the way his character’s voices seem so natural.  I love the grand idea behind it - even superheroes need help sometimes.  Even now, in the early 21st century, mental health problems are still stigmatized.  People suffering from them are often coded as villains, especially in comic books.  So it is a very powerful thing to help normalize to the comic reading audience that everyone needs help some time and just because someone is suffering does not automatically make them a Joker or a Mr. Zsasz.   I don’t even dislike him for using Wally West as the fulcrum of his story - Wally was, in my opinion, an unnecessary victim of the new 52 - there was no room for most legacy characters when all of the silver age heroes were de-aged and restored to their prime in new #1s.  When Geoff Johns finally brought Wally back I was thrilled! But by not restoring his family, it removed some of the most important parts of Wally’s story.  I really appreciate what Tom King was trying to do, showing us just how devastating and debilitating it would be to suddenly not only lose your children, but, find they had been wiped from existence and, on top of that, to find out that your wife/partner/best friend didn’t even remember you.  That would fracture anyone.

I objected to the fact that Tom King made Wally a killer (although not a murderer, it is clearly involuntary) who tried to cover up his crime and implicate two innocent people.  I know that Mr. King was trying to show how broken Wally was and how much damage his trauma had done to his character and his psyche, but it still felt like character assassination to me.  I am not saying I have an easy solution to this narrative problem, and I understand that my feeling upset at this turn of events might be exactly what the author intended, but it still felt out of character to me.

Likewise, Wally’s willingness to use time travel to falsely implicate Booster Gold and Harley Quinn doesn’t jibe with his unwillingness to use the same time travel ability to undo all of the deaths he just caused.  His reference to not making the same mistake Barry made that led to Flashpoint felt hollow to me - it was a false analogy because Barry’s Flashpoint timeline meddling dealt with events years in his past that would have obvious ripple effects, whereas Wally could’ve gone back in time ten minutes after everyone died to prevent it from happening.  

I am not currently reading Doomsday Clock,  and other DC Comics as they are coming out now,  it it seems from the Previews that Wally now has both the Moebius Chair and Dr. Manhattan’s powers, so I hope that a reality warp is coming soon that allows him to restore all of the wrongly killed characters to life, including Wally’s children.  I will wait and hope that he gets a happy ending soon. Or, if not an ending, at least a more uplifting status quo.