The Anubis Gates

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Wow. Where do I even start with The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers? What a strange book. You’ve got time travel, sorcery, body switching werewolves, gypsies, beggars, insane clowns, dopplegangers, and Egyptian gods all rolled up into one fast-paced and chaotic story.

Chaotic. I think that’s the keyword here. The story is fun and sometimes funny, but it’s also a bit all over the place and can be hard to keep it all straight. It’s definitely one of the more interesting stories that I’ve read, but I think perhaps it’s almost a bit too interesting. There’s just so much going on…

And then there’s the hapless protagonist, Brendan Doyle. He’s probably the most helpless and pathetic main character that I’ve encountered since Arthur Dent. Unfortunately, I didn’t find him quite as lovable as Hitchhiker’s Guide’s unlucky protagonist. I will give Doyle some credit though; he did manage to grow as a character over the course of the novel and became considerably more likable and respectable by the conclusion.

Overall, I enjoyed The Anubis Gates, but, even though it was very fast-paced, it didn’t leave my dying to continue to reading. I’m giving it 3 out of 5 stars.

The Broken Eye

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After listening to The Blinding Knife, book 2 of Brent Weeks’ epic Lightbringer saga, I decided to jump right into book 3. Honestly, with the cliffhanger ending of book 2, I really had no choice–I had to find out what was going to happen.

Overall, I don’t think The Broken Eye was quite as strong as The Blinding Knife, but it was still very enjoyable. The overall plot didn’t really move forward all that much. The events of The Blinding Knife required some amount of regrouping and rebuilding on both sides of the conflict and The Broken Eye was set during that period. What that meant was a lot of setup and a focus on the main characters and plots surrounding the Chromeria. But what it also meant was very little focus on the conflict with the Color Prince.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I liked the novel and I enjoyed spending more time with the characters (because they are pretty awesome across the board), but I was a little disappointed that the battle with the Color Prince was so downplayed. I’m also not sure how I feel about Gavin’s storyline. Gavin’s story was interesting and engaging enough in its own right, but it was so separate from everything else–it’s almost like Weeks was looking for a way to sideline Gavin for a while without killing him.

That said, the ending was outstanding. Weeks did an amazing job setting the stage for book 4 and ensuring that his ravenous readers would stick around to read it. Personally, I’m really glad that it’s coming out next month so I won’t have to wait long to dig in!

The Blinding Knife

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I read the first in the Lightbringer series, Black Prism, three years ago. I enjoyed it for the most part, but I wasn’t immediately sure if I would continue the series. Eventually, however, I grabbed the audiobook for The Blinding Knife and I’m glad I did because it was definitely a step up.

I’m not sure if Simon Vance’s brilliant narration was the main difference or if the story/writing improved, but I definitely enjoyed book two quite a lot. That said, while I liked the book as a 32 year old man, I probably would have loved it as an 18-year-old, maybe even a 25-year-old. There were a few “slightly juvenile” bits that didn’t work as well for me today that I probably would have enjoyed (or wouldn’t have noticed) when I was a bit younger.

All in all, Brent Weeks did a great job telling an exciting and enrapturing story. I really like Gavin as a character and Kip was a lot less annoying, even pretty likable, in book two.

There was really just one scene that bothered me. I’m going to into spoilers here so stop reading if you haven’t finished the book…

There was this scene where a girl creeps in Gavin’s bed and he thinks that it’s Kariss. When he realizes that it’s not, at exactly the same time that Kariss actually comes into the room to seduce Gavin herself, causing Kariss to flee, he flies into a rage and murders the girl.

Admittedly, Gavin is horror struck and seeks to punish himself, but without much ado, the whole matter is pretty much written off and Gavin is given a reprieve for various reasons, most notably that his colors are out of sync, which may be causing him to behave erratically. Eventually, he apologizes to Kariss and they get married.

From a plotting standpoint, little is actually accomplished with this, because if the girl hadn’t been there, Gavin would have just ended up with Kariss sooner (although maybe this was necessary for Gavin to deal with Dazen). But from a moral standpoint, holy crap, how can everyone just let this go so easily? When our protagonist, who isn’t perfect but is generally pretty moralistic, murders someone, it’s a big deal. I mean, he should probably have gone to prison, but instead he was forgiven in nearly the blink of an eye because the girl was a bit of a “slattern” and he’s the Prism.

As you can tell, I did not like this scene. It didn’t seem fitting for Gavin’s character and it was really pretty insulting towards that poor girl and women in general. I wish it wasn’t in the book because I don’t think it added anything of value. I still gave the book 4 stars, but perhaps it would have been 5 without this incident.

My Hugo Ballot Is In!

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Today is the last day of voting for the Hugo Awards and I wanted to share a few things about my experience as a first-time voter.

#1 – The Hugo packet was really helpful.

I was able to use that to get more familiar with certain categories, works, and individuals and vote for more things than I had expected when initially reviewing the ballot. The packet included some whole works (all of the novellas were included in full), some samples, example works from artists, and even bios for certain individuals. I ended up reading three of the included novellas, one novel, and reviewed what I had time for, which, admittedly, was not everything. Still, it was very helpful and certainly made me feel a bit better about my vote (and about the cost of participation).

#2 – I still left more than half of the ballot blank.

I simply did not have enough familiarity with certain topics, let alone the nominated works or individuals within the topic, to make an informed vote. This was particularly true in most of the short fiction categories, as that is an area of reading that I don’t delve into with any regularity.

#3 – I generally avoided No Award.

There were one or two times that I used it strategically to help keep certain entries (which I felt were particularly undeserving) from winning, but, for the most part, I didn’t feel good about using that option or really feel like I knew the works well enough to determine whether they were “good enough” for a Hugo.

#4 – I could do with less drama.

I get why the slates have emerged and also why so many people are upset about it, but it really does make the whole experience a bit less fun than I had expected. Yes, I certainly did take enjoyment in certain aspects of the process, but I also felt compelled to make myself aware of which works were part of slates and I’m sure that impacted my vote to some degree. However, I generally just tried to vote for what I liked best. I know that I voted for works or individuals that were on slates and I don’t really care. If they win, hopefully, it’s because the most people voted for them and they deserve it.

#5 – I don’t know if I’ll vote next year.

Keeping up with all of the works that come out in a year and then selectively reading those works just so you have enough information to nominate is tough. I ended up keeping a list of novels published in 2015 that caught my attention and then I would try to grab titles from that list whenever I could. I also kept a document to keep track of good television episodes, movies, artists, and so forth so I would have a pool of options to nominate from.

Probably the biggest issue for me though was simply making the conscious effort to read new books, and then attempting to choose those that you think will be “award worthy.” I don’t read that many books each year so that means that some older novels that I really wanted to read have to get pushed back or, who knows, I might not end up reading them at all. It makes choosing your next read a bit more complicated and I’m not sure how much I really enjoyed that end of it.

It was also pretty disheartening going through all of the efforts to nominate and then see mostly slate nominations make it to the final ballot. I know that new rules will be in place for next year, but it’s still not clear how effective they will be.

#6 – I’m happy I voted.

Even with all of the caveats, I’m still glad that I participated. I felt more connected to the SFF community and I got to learn more about one of the most prominent SFF awards. It was an interesting experience and, although I may or may not vote again next, I suspect that I will vote again.

Best of luck to all of the nominated works and individuals!

 

Uprooted

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It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a book, but, after reading Uprooted, I feel compelled to note just how much I loved it. Although Novik may be known for her Temeraire series, I fully expect that Uprooted will be considered her masterwork.

I don’t want to dive too deep here so I’ll simply say that Uprooted is a great story with excellent characters. The world (at least what we know of it) is quite small, but its intimacy works quite well. Agnieszka is simply an amazingly rich character, one that I won’t soon forget. She is smart and compassionate and very feisty. And The Dragon is her nearly her exact opposite.

In a way, Uprooted is a simple story, but it’s told in such a rich way… I can’t adequately describe why I liked the novel so much, but I did and I would recommend it almost anyone, fantasy reader or not.

A Note About the Hugos

I ended up reading this because it was included in the Hugo voter’s packet (technically, a sample was included but you could get the full version for free by emailing Random House, which I did) and I had heard so many good things that I decided I should read it before I voted.

Although I really liked N.K. Jemisin’s novel, I ended up ranking it as #2 on my ballot and ranked Uprooted as #1 because it was just that good. I hope it wins, but I would be just as happy if Jemisin wins. I’m sure all of the novels are worthy, but those are those are the only two from the ballot that I read.

I Need to Talk About Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis

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FYI: This article will contain spoilers.

I picked up Dawn, the first book in the Xenogensis series by Octavia Butler, during an Audible sale. I didn’t know much about it other than that it was a highly praised first encounter story by a highly praised SF author. I started listening with an open mind and I was immediately engaged. The protagonist was a strong-willed, rational, intelligent women named Lilith. The setting was suitably mysterious, strange, and terrifying.

Everything was off to a good start. And then things got weird. And I do me weird. As it turns out, the aliens (Oankali) that saved the human race from the brink of extinction only did so because they found humans to be genetically compatible. You see, the Oankali require a sort of genetic symbiosis in order to survive. They must interbreed and essentially create a new species that will ultimately replace its predecessors. This evolution is part of their very nature.

And of course this led to a lot of alien intercourse. This was a bit uncomfortable to read at first, but I think it was intentional on the part of the author. The human situation is bad–there aren’t many of them left and those that still live have been brought aboard an alien spacecraft to help the Oankali procreate. They have little choice in the matter, but the aliens are masters of chemical and genetic manipulation and make the experience pleasant to the extreme. That said, it’s still basically rape.

The humans know this, but the Oankali have also sterilized them and will keep them that way until the time is right for the lot of them to start producing new offspring, which will be human-alien hybrids. Oh, and by the way, it takes three to make a baby this way: one male human, one female human, and one neuter alien (Ooloi). But a family unit also exists that includes a male alien and a female alien as well, so five in all.

As I noted previously, things get pretty weird, but some of the humans, including Lilith, are willing to look past all of the transgressions in order to have a chance at a family again, something most humans did not expect to have considering that they had been trying to survive a nuclear holocaust when the alien’s arrived.

And that nuclear holocaust is a huge point of contention for the Oakali. It serves as proof that humans cannot evolve beyond their nature, which has the fatal combination of intelligence and hierarchy. This is what the Oakali refer to as the “contradiction.” That means, the aliens see what they are doing as a service to humanity, because they will be correcting the contradiction through genetic modification during reproduction.

That’s a lot of process. With Dawn, Butler presented a very complicated situation that I found difficult to sort out. Initially, I wanted the humans to rise up an destroy their alien overlords. But as I continued reading I realized that these “overlords” are also pacifistic and actually need humans to continue as a species. So even though they don’t ask for permission (which is troubling), since they don’t really even understand the concept of human rights, it’s hard to say what they’re doing is absolutely wrong, it’s just alien.

It seems like Butler does not have a lot of faith in humanity. She always makes it clear that the humans cannot, under any circumstances, beat the aliens. But she doesn’t go out of her way to justify the Oakali’s cause either. However, what she does do is make you consider another perspective and really try to understand it. Some of the humans rebel, which seems to say that Butler believes that some people will never be able to come to grips with something new, something completely different from what they know. It reminds me a lot of the way that people think about race and I assume that’s what Butler wants. It’s an important topic, especially in the United States, and an extremely complicated one, just like the situation in Dawn.

As the books continue, the human race is allowed to create a non-alien colony on Mars so that their race can continue, even though the aliens expect it to fail because of humanity’s inherent contradiction. The humans that stay on Earth continue to interbreed with the aliens and their offspring continue to evolve and change. Most of the humans are content, but it’s clear that they have moments where they feel like they have lost part of their own humanity or like that they have betrayed their race.

The series concludes with no clear resolution. There is no epic battle between humans and aliens. No winner. No loser. There is only peace and evolution and compromise. And perhaps that’s the real takeaway, that in order to have peace, to find common ground, to compromise, there can be no true winner or loser. Both sides must find common ground, must adapt and grow together, and become something more and less than they were before.

It’s not an easy message. Even as I type these words, I find them unsettling in some ways. Change can be scary. I don’t know if I could do what Lilith does. I don’t know if I’m capable, but what I can say is that Octavia Butler made me think about things in ways that I had not before and maybe even expanded my ability for compassion and to compromise.

Hugo Nominations: Best Novel

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I just finished reading N.K. Jemison’s The Fifth Season and that’s the last book published in 2015 that I’ll finish before Hugo nominations are due at the end of the month. In the end, I started 10 eligible novels, but only finished 9 of them. Here’s the list:

 

  1. Firefight by Brandon Sanderson
  2. The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan
  3. Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
  4. The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
  5. The Fold by Peter Clines
  6. Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley
  7. Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson
  8. Golden Son by Pierce Brown
  9. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemison
  10. The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard (did not finish)

There are several novels that I really wanted to read (particularly V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic and Fran Wilde’s Updraft) that I didn’t get to and I have to wonder if any of them would have made my nomination ballot. I actually think it’s a distinct possibility since I rated only two novels at five stars from this list: Golden Son by Pierce Brown and The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemison.

I will obviously nominate those two novels, because I thought they were both excellent (for entirely different reasons), but the real challenge will be selecting the other three. Let’s see if I can narrow this down…

…I’m ruling out The House of Shattered Wings because I didn’t like it well enough to finish.

…I think I will eliminate both of the Sanderson novels, even though he is most certainly one of my favorite authors. I just didn’t think Firefight or Shadows of Self were among Sanderson’s finest works, or even as good as the first in each of their respective series for that matter.

…I think I’m going to rule out Providence of Fire, because, despite what I’m seeing from a lot of other folks, I don’t think this series is really doing anything new and, in fact, I find to be completely laden with RPG-inspired tropes. It was still a decent read, but I don’t think I liked it well enough to put it on my ballot.

… I think I’m also going to knock out The Fold, which I thought was amazingly fun through about the first two thirds and then it turned a weird direction and it kind of lost me. Again, I still liked the novel, but I think I’m going to leave it off.

 

That means that The Grace of KingsThe Autumn Republic, and Nemesis Games are the only three left and I think they are all worthy of a Hugo nomination. So my ballot of best novel will be (in order of date read):

  1. The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan
  2. Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
  3. The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
  4. Golden Son by Pierce Brown
  5. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemison

And I think I’m pretty happy with that.

 

Hugo Nominations, Part I

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Last weekend, I started entering my Hugo ballot. I’ve currently provided all five available nominations in the following categories:

  • Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)
  • Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)
  • Best Professional Artist
  • Best Fancast

I’ve also provided a few nominations for:

  • Best Fan Writer
  • The John W. Campbell Award (not a Hugo)

There are A LOT of categories that I have not touched and that’s largely because I don’t really read short stories. I will definitely nominate five novels before the end of the month, but I want to N.K. Jemison’s The Fifth Season before I do so. I may ultimately try to sneak in one more novel, but we’ll see.

This has been a pretty fun process, but it kind of takes a lot of planning and research. I ended up creating a document to track the various categories. Basically, any time I came across a really cool book cover or watch an especially good episode of television, I noted it in the document. But even then, I found that I had to look up a lot of information in order to fill out the ballot. I’m kind of surprised just how laborious the entire process is, but perhaps that simply reflects the passion of the community.

Anyways, I’m looking forward to submitting my nominations and seeing the shortlists (which I think come out around Easter). It will be interesting to see if other voters liked any of the same works that I did. And then I’ll have to read some of the other nominated works so I can make an informed vote, which doesn’t sound bad at all.

The House of Shattered Wings

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I won a copy of Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings from Tor.com last year and I had intended to read it before submitting my Hugo nominations at the end of March, but, after reading about a quarter of the novel, I decided to set it aside. This is something that I do very rarely, because I like to finish things that I start, but also because I’m pretty good at picking out books that I like.

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get into this book and I was not making very much progress so I decided it would be a better use of my time to move onto something else. I almost gave up after about 50 pages and then decided to stick with it, but then ended up giving up a little later anyways.

Perhaps the biggest problem for me was that, while the setting was very cool, the characters were not. The protagonist was the most apathetic character I think I’ve even come across and it’s really pretty hard to get into a book about a character that doesn’t really care about anything. I mean, if the characters don’t even care, why should I? I think the author probably came up the setting first and really fell in love with it and then tried to find a story and characters to fit with it, but the latter part just didn’t work out.

But even though the setting was really neat–basically a post apocalyptic Paris run by fallen angels–it wasn’t really well defined and that really bugged me too. I was really impressed with de Bodard’s power of description, but it was really hard to get a feel for what actually happened to cause this current state of things. They were too many subtle hints and not enough storytelling.

And maybe that was another problem. The hints implied that a very bloody war had taken place, which might have made a more successful setting than the aftermath where, strangely, no one seemed all that interested in putting things back together. I mean, isn’t rebuilding what you usually do after a disaster?

Anyways, I’m sure some people liked the book and I’m happy for them. This one wasn’t for me so I decided to move on. Now I’m reading Douglas Adam’s The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. I thought about reading something Hug0 eligible, but my wife got me this one for Christmas and sometimes I’m my own worst enemy. ;)

Hugo Nominations Are Open!

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Just a quick note. Nominations for the Hugo Awards opened today. I plan to buy a supporting membership soon so I can participate. Nominations are open until March 31 so I’ll probably hold off until I’ve had a chance to read a couple more novels that I’ve got in the queue (Golden Son by Pierce Brown and The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard), but I may also try to sneak in a couple of novellas so that I’ve got something to contribute to that category (and because there are a few that I’m really excited to read).