Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Hugo Ballot 2019, Part Three: Related Work, Dramatic Presentations, and More

Some Hugo Award statues of various years

At last I have arrived at Part Three of my Hugo ballot for 2019!  (Check out Part One and Part Two to see how I voted for novel, novella, novelette, and short story).  In this part I'll discuss categories including Best Related Work, Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form), Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form), and some of the artist and fan categories.  There are just too many categories, and I lack the time or discernment to vote for all of them.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Hugo Ballot 2019, Part Two: Novelette and Short Story

My Hugo ballot continues!  (Check out Part One to learn more about the Hugo awards and to see how I voted for best novel and best novella).  In this post I'll cover the categories for novelette and short story.  In Part Three I'll get to other categories, like related work, dramatic presentation (long and short), and whatever else I can get to by July 31.  Seriously, how could one person possibly be educated enough to vote for all these categories?

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Hugo Ballot 2019, Part One: Novel and Novella

Ballots for the 2019 Hugos are due in just a few days on July 31.  See here for the full list of finalists.  If you want to vote, too, check out how to do so here either as a supporting member from your armchair or as an attending member in Dublin, but do it soon!

I've been voting for the Hugos since 2016 (ironically it was the obnoxious Sad and Rabid Puppies that motivated me to get involved back then, and thankfully they have since taken their yapping elsewhere). Every year I tell myself I'm going to start reading the finalists earlier.  This year I failed even more than usual and didn't really get started until mid-June.  I may end up voting in fewer categories.  Oh, well.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Lady Astronaut Mashup: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

I thoroughly enjoyed Mary Robinette Kowal's The Calculating Stars, an alternate history mashup of Hidden Figures, The Right Stuff, and classic science fiction, all wrapped up in a thinly-veiled metaphor for climate change.  That doesn't entirely do it justice, of course, but you'll have to read it for yourself to see what I mean by all that.  I enjoyed this Hugo finalist so much, I just might give it my #1 spot on my ballot due in a few days.  Stay tuned to this blog to find out!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Dinétah After the Apocalype: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

I loved Rebecca Roanhorse's Hugo-winning short story, "Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience," so I was really looking forward to seeing what she did with a novel, which is this year a Hugo finalist.  While I can't say I liked Trail of Lightning as much as the previous short story, it's definitely an interesting read.

The first thing to note is that Trail of Lightning combines three things that may not have been combined before: Diné-inspired fantasy, urban fantasy, and post-apocalyptic science fiction.  For the most part, it works pretty well.  I was pulled into the book more than I expected, especially since I'm generally not the biggest fan of urban fantasy (I have only read one of the Dresden books, which I thought was fun, but haven't felt the need to read more ... yeah, I know, I'm a terrible person).

Let's talk about the three elements and how they interacted and where they maybe didn't work so well.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

50 Years After the Moon Landing: Where Are We Now?

Today is the 50thanniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin becoming the first humans to walk on the moon with Michael Collins staying in orbit. (Since I first read about the Apollo 11 mission as a kid, I’ve always felt bad for Collins who went all the way to the moon without going for a walk!)
Usually statements like “one of the most amazing achievements in human history” are hyperbole, but in this case it’s completely true. The moon landing is well worth celebrating today. Have a party, raise a quiet toast to humanity, read NASA’s account here, or take a moment to glance at the moon and think, “God damn, humans went there!”
While celebration is a big part of this anniversary, for me it prompts the question: where are we 50 years later both when it comes to space exploration and our general condition here on Earth?
Space exploration, to put it mildly, has not gone the way many science fiction fans (including myself) have hoped.  Sure, we have the International Space Station and robotic missions to Mars and the rest of the solar system.  Voyager 1 and 2 are now in interstellar space. But no humans have been to the moon since 1972, and there have been no human missions elsewhere.  For people who read the great mid-20th century science fiction authors like Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein, this seems like a huge disappointment.  We were supposed to be living on the moon and Mars by now. Instead we got Twitter and Apple watches.
But is space exploration all that great a thing, anyway?  Sending humans into space is extremely expensive and dangerous, as my first major space memory, the Challenger disaster, demonstrates.  Would we be better off turning our attention to Earthly matters?  Why go to space when huge issues like poverty and climate change demand our attention here on Earth?  I’m not sure.
I admit that a lot of my love of space exploration stems from a romantic feeling, which is in turn spurred by my love of science fiction.  But it’s that very love of science fiction that tells me that venturing into space just might tell us a lot both about the universe and about ourselves (see Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy or Ursula Le Guin’s Hainish novels for a bit on both fronts).  And as Octavia Butler suggested in her Earthseed duology, maybe we need a big goal like space exploration to keep us focused on something better than historical human preoccupations like killing and exploiting each other.
And for that matter, how are things here on Earth 50 years later?  The late 1960’s was a tumultuous era on Earth, times which it seems like we are re-entering today.  For sake of simplicity and familiarity, I’ll limit myself to the USA, but much could be said in many other places throughout the world (India, Brazil, Europe, etc.).
Who would have thought that 51 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. we would have actual Nazis marching in the streets of America, emboldened by a sitting President who regularly says racist things and enforces cruel, racist immigration policies?  Who could have predicted 46 years after Roe v. Wade that many states would be instituting some of the harshest restrictions on abortion to date, or that 50 years after Stonewall it would still be legal to fire someone for being LGBTQ in over half the country?  Or that 55 years after Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty, we would possibly be returning to 1920’s levels of economic inequality?
Given the resurgence, or at least increased visibility, of morally regressive tendencies in the last few years, how far have we really come in the last 50 years?  Interestingly, Octavia Butler maybe could have predicted this, given her depiction of a Presidential candidate who wanted to “make America great again.”
I don’t need to continue spelling things out.  The last few years have been a huge disappointment, at least for progressive types, many of whom, like me, have in retrospect been a bit naïve.
Yet, here’s a consideration: The fact that so many people are so disgusted is itself a good sign.  If everybody was on board with the recent surge in bigotry and injustice, nobody would be noticing or speaking out or complaining about it.  This feeling of despondency itself contains the seed of something better, a measure of where we might go, to hitherto unexplored territories of justice.
And maybe, just maybe, this spirit of pushing boundaries, of – dare I say it? – going where no one has gone before, is where something like space exploration and true justice for all coincide.  We’ve never had a reasonably just society and we’ve never adequately explored our extraterrestrial neighborhood.  We’ve had brief glimpses of both so far in science, science fiction, and social movements. 

So, maybe the moon landing of July 20, 1969 can represent our glimpses of new and better things for humanity. It is with this hope that I celebrate today.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Disco Turing: Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

I really, really loved Catherynne M. Valente's Space Opera, a sort of Douglas Adams-style take on the Eurovision Song Contest.  I'm not sure if this book is entirely groundbreaking or whether it deserves a Hugo Award and it has its share of problems (for example, it's all just a bit too much sometimes), but I just might give it my #1 spot for the Hugo Awards because I love humorous science fiction and I think the universe might be a better place if we had more of it.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Tales from the Beach

The beach in Panama City Beach, Florida, USA

This year my wife and I took our usual beach vacation around our anniversary.  We've been to Panama City Beach on the Florida panhandle a few times now (see, for instance, this post from 2017, "A Nerd at the Beach"), but this year we had a new thing to contend with: Tropical Storm Barry!  It was headed for Louisiana, but here's a thing about tropical storms: they are really big and affect a lot of surrounding areas.  We only had one day with a lot of rain, but the sea was so rough and the risk of rip currents so high that nobody was allowed to swim in the ocean during most of our trip.  How did we fare despite this calamity?  Here are some short tales that might tell.