Sunday, May 31, 2015

Elitist Book Reviews, edited by Steven Diamond

Another 2015 Best Fanzine Hugo nominee. Also, another review zine.

Unfortunately, during as much of the nominated year as I could push through, it's visually hard to read--light text on dark grey background. I also didn't find the tone and style of the reviews engaging, but I was probably less receptive because of the dark background and very light, thin text. For me, that's a dealbreaker. If I'm going to read it, it has to be readable.

Not recommended.

The Revenge of Hump Day--Hugo Nominated Best Fanzine

Included in the sample are a perfectly charming Christmas story that, except that it is "Uncle Timmy's" heartfelt personal experience, is in no way original; a collection of unoriginal and unfunny "jokes"; fannish and sf-related news items that would have been very interesting and useful to the target audience when published; real-world political opinion pieces, some by "Uncle Timmy" and some not.

It's all perfectly competently and clearly written. I'm sure it's well-received by its intended audience. On the other hand, I don't see any exceptional excellence.

Withholding final judgment till I've read samples of the other nominees.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Sex Criminals Volume 1:One Weird Trick (Sex Criminals #1-5), by Matt Fraction (writer) Chip Zdarsky (artist)

Image Comics, ISBN 9781607069461, April 2014

This one I did not expect to like. I got a surprise. It's intelligent, thoughtful, does some really interesting things, and Suzie, as an adult, is a librarian, and a well-done librarian is always a win for me, Yes, it's self-indulgent. So sue me.

As a preteen and teen, Suzie is put through major trauma, with the senseless murder of her father, and her mother's retreat into an alcoholic haze of grief. As she starts to mature physically, Suzie mostly has to figure things out on her own, with the dubious help of school health class and her doctor. The utterly mundane, conventional answers provided wouldn't necessarily be much help to the average kid. Unfortunately, Suzie is not the average kid. When she has an orgasm, time stops. Not a metaphor; literally. Time stops for some period of time that is, for obvious reasons, difficult for her to measure. She calls that experience/place "The Quiet," and it's both wonderful and terrifying.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Zombie Nation, by Carter Reid

There is no story here, only, as far as I can see, the daily lame joke. The art is not good enough to be a distraction from anything, much less the complete absence of story. The site is tricky to navigate to get to the nominated (2014) material.

A complete loss, in my opinion.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Saga (Collected Editions #3), by Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Fiona Staples (artist)

Image Comics, ISBN 9781607069317, March 2014

There's a war going on, among alien races, and two of our principal characters are soldiers for opposing sides who fell in love, had a baby, and took off to raise their child together. There's technology, robots and space ships, here, except that one of the spaceships at least is a tree, and people talk about healing spells, not medication or surgery.

It's the third book in the series, so a lot of the background is just assumed. I have no idea what the war is about, or if Wreathians and Landfallians just hate each other. It's confusing and left me frustrated.

Despite that, I got to like Marko (the Wreathian) and Alana (the Landfallian), as well as some other characters. The artwork is lovely and, honestly, held me until I started to get caught up in the characters.

In the end, though, I think too much of the background needed for the story to make sense is just not here. It's likely in the two earlier volumes, but it's not here in Volume 3, which is what I'm being asked to judge. I suspect I would like this a good deal better if I'd read the earlier volumes. As is, though? Art, very nice. Story, meh.

I received this as part of the Hugo Voters' packet.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Rat Queens, by Kurtis J. Wiebe (writer), Roc Upchurch (illustrator)

Image Comics, ISBN 9781607069454, 2014

Booze-guzzling, death-dealing, battle maidens-for-hire.

This is so not my thing.

The art is excellent. The writing is quite good. There's a plot--but here's where I run into trouble. The plot appears to be mainly a vehicle for as much violence and carousing as possible. There's more than just violence and carousing. There is character development, and despite this being identified as Volume 1, I had a strong sense of there being more backstory than is included, that might have featured in earlier works in which perhaps the Rat Queens weren't the central characters, but played a role.

If that's correct, if this is part of a larger whole, I'm at a disadvantage in evaluating it. Yet even if that's correct, this is still not something I would ordinarily choose to read. That's not to say other people won't love it, particularly as I do think the art is excellent.

I received this work in the Hugo Voters' packet.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1, by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Adrian Alphona (artist), Ian Herring (colorist), Sara Pichelli (cover)

Marvel, 2014

Kamala Khan is just an ordinary girl, growing up in Jersey City, with parents who are a bit strict, but very loving.

Until she breaks curfew, goes to a party with boys and alcohol, doesn't like it, and gets lost in a weird fog going home. Surely she must be hallucinating or dreaming her encounter with The Avengers! Hallucination or not, she confesses her dream to be one of them, to be Captain Marvel--and wakes up with some very disturbing new abilities.

Having superpowers and rocking the thigh-high boot look does not, as she had imagined, make her happy. In fact, it makes her life complete chaos. Helping people does, though, even when it's rescuing the school Mean Girl from a near-disaster of her own making.

If only she had an answer she could give her parents about where she disappears to all day, and why she's over an hour late to her cousin's pre-wedding party.

It's You, by Jane Porter

Penguin Group, ISBN 9780425277157, June 2015

Over a year after his death, Alison McAdams is still emotionally hamstrung by the suicide of her fiancé, Andrew Morris. It doesn't help that her mother died a few weeks after that, and it may not help that Alison, a dentist, as Andrew was, is working in Andrew's father's dental practice. She'd like her father, now living in a retirement community in Napa Valley, to come live with her in Scottsdale, but he refuses.

Reluctantly, she takes a month off of work to go visit her father.

On the plane flight, she makes a new friend, Diana, a florist. At Napa Estates, she meets her father's friends, including a very prickly old woman named Edie Stephens. Edie had gone to Germany to study music before WWII, then went to work for the US Embassy there, and met and fell in love with a German officer, Franz.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Jeffro Johnson Hugo Nomination Fanwriter Sample

The last of the Fan Writer Hugo nominees.

I've never been a serious gamer, and these selections will work better for those who are. It's mainly about the interrelationships between gaming and major parts of our fantasy and science fiction heritage. I totally get the love letter to Jack Vance's Dying Earth. The enthusiasm for E.C. Tubb's Dumarest as "awesome" because, in one book, Derai, he dumps his girlfriend on page three, and then threatens a man who is dead broke to collect payment from him, is harder to understand. Johnson cheerily assures us that Mal Reynolds is far inferior, because he can't always manage to get paid. Another section looks at a much-treasured old favorite of mine, The High Crusade. Johnson's view of this seems to be that Anderson was making an early warning against the Social Justice Warriors, i.e., anyone even slightly to the left of Attila the Hun, whom Johnson believes are ruining modern society. It seems we were all far better off under feudal lords and, I gather, paternal authority, though I may be over-reading, there. At any rate, in Johnson's view, the alien empire represents everything that's wrong with 21st century Europe and America.

I don't find this convincing, at all. Some, of course, will find it more persuasive, and regardless of that, a greater interest in gaming will make the whole much more interesting. This might be the best of the Puppy Fan Writer nominees. At the very least, I can see real substance in it that doesn't work for me, but surely will for its intended audience.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Laura J. Mixon Hugo Nominee Fanwriter Sample

Laura Mixon's fanwriting sample is, quite logically, her thorough, documented exposure of the rage blogger Requires Hate/Benjanun Sriduangkaew.

This is a clear, well-supported explanation of Requires Hate's multiple online identities, cyberstalking, and harassment, as well as her habitual deletion of hateful posts after the fact, making it hard for her victims to prove what happened to them. Mixon has included only episodes that she can document, and includes screen caps. Names are included only with the agreement of the individual. This was a major service to the sf community, and it's well-written.


The Field Trip, by R.A. Andrade

Selladore Press, ISBN 9780990325420, May 2015

Ross Barton is a botanist, a professor at the University of Indiana. It's established early on that he's a nice guy but socially awkward with women. However, he also has some serious grit, demonstrated by his heroic actions when there's a crash at the airport where he's taking helicopter flying lessons.

But Ross isn't sticking around Indianapolis for the summer. He's heading off to Vermont for a research trip, collecting data for an evolution-modeling computer program. He leaves behind, for further consideration later, a relationship with a girlfriend that he's recently learned, due to an overheard telephone conversation, is a good deal less romantic than he had imagined. Marsha is in it for connection and security, not because she finds him exciting and romantic.

So off he goes to Vermont, where nothing about his first couple of days goes right. The motel is a dump, his upset over discovering Marsha's real intentions led him to leave behind vital supplies he now has to buy all over again, and in the process, he literally walks into a lovely but hostile woman who says her name is Jay.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Cedar Sanderson Hugo Nomination Fanwriting Samples

Another of the Hugo fanwriter nominees.

Sadly, not that different from the other Puppy fanwriter nominees.

The distinctive feature here is that she congratulates herself on being feminine and a lady, as well as, of course, strong--unlike, we are given to understand, those silly and obnoxious feminists. She demands equality, and likes it when men put her on a pedestal, and doesn't seem to notice the contradiction. Feminists are women seeking notoriety based solely on their femaleness, and want to grind men under their heels. There's a long rant about lazy, wish-fulfillment fantasy, which does in fact say some useful and interesting things. She might publish her MilSF novel under her husband's name rather than her own,'s not at all clear why.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Dave Freer Hugo Fanwriter Nomination Samples

Another Best Fanwriter nominee from the Puppies.

There really isn't much to say. A larger sample than Amanda Greens, 21 pages, but if anything there is even less here. All the hate-spewing at "SJWs" and "GHHs", plus misogyny, plus a heaping helping of self-congratulation for being fair, open-minded, and helpful to aspiring writers.

Not recommended.

Big Boys Don't Cry, by Tom Kratman

Castalia House, February 2014

Another Hugo nominee from the Puppies.

Magnolia, a.k.a. Maggie, is a Ratha, an armored war machine in the military forces of a starfaring and aggressive Earth culture. It is gradually revealed to us that pretty much everything about this Earth culture is bad. When first attacked by aggressive aliens, Earth takes a while to gear up to fight effectively because the government is so corrupt and bureaucratic. We meet Maggie when she's been irrecoverably damaged and will be dismantled for parts, and we learn her story, and Earth's, as she sorts through her memories. This includes memories that had been locked from her conscious awareness for security reasons, but which are somehow freed up by the damage to her machinery.

And Maggie is pretty much the only decent being in the story.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Amanda S. Green Fanwriter Samples

My latest venture into reading the Hugo voters' packet. Another Puppy nominee.

The sample provided is sixteen pages, several different selections of Green's fanwriting. Except that they are not all different. One selection, the last, four pages long, is a fairly straightforward piece of fanwriting on the subject of worldbuilding, tropes, and keeping your characters consistent even while letting them grow.

The other twelve pages are equally straightforward spewing of hate at SJWs (social justice warriors), GHHs (glittery hoo hahs) and pretty much anyone a bit to the left of Attila the Hun. There is no interest or willingness to engage with anyone with whom she disagrees, or even to extend the most basic of respect to fellow human beings. If she disagrees with you, she must also make clear that she disrespects you.

A complete waste. This has no place on the Hugo ballot.

A Single Samurai (in The Baen Big Book of Monsters), by Steven Diamond

Baen, ISBN 9781476736990, October 2014

The only short story Hugo nominee that had to wait until the Hugo packet was released. Let it be noted that Baen, always a leader in trusting the reader with ebooks, included the entire Baen Big Book of Monsters in the Hugo packet, not just the nominated material.

Which makes it a shame that I can't like this story better. It's not terrible, but at no point does it really grab me. A samurai finds an awakened kaiju, the size of a mountain, and climbs it in order to find a way to kill it before it has destroyed the entire country. We get a great deal of Tell about the samurai's weapons, mystic significance, and his father's death, There's a bit of action involving some large, cat-like creatures, and then more Tell about why slicing up the creature's brain won't be sufficient. And then the mystic stuff helps bring us to an end.

It's not a rip-roaring good story, and the writing, the use of language, is more pretentious than elegant.

Not recommended.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Pale Realms of Shade (in The Book of Feasts & Seasons), by John C. Wright

Castalia House, November 2014

Another Puppy entry on the Hugo ballot.

The surprise twist here is that this one isn't bad.

A dead gumshoe finds himself pulled back to Earth for a conversation with his widow. She's having trouble collecting on his insurance policy because the company is arguing that he committed suicide. He didn't, but he's not all that interested in manifesting to the judge to say so.

Subsequent manifestations spill out more bits of the story of his death, plus his frustrations with the afterlife, and very soon to an encounter with real temptation. We learn that he got himself into this mess with decisions made not only along the course of his life, but at the very moment after death. He's now a poltergeist, and the tempting and only "easy" course is revenge on his partner.

Based on reading all the other Wright fiction nominees, I kept waiting for this to go bad places. It didn't. It's a solid story that, given it is explicitly religious fiction, expresses beliefs and values that have a strong and positive resonance for me. It won't work for other people for the very reasons it does work for me, and it's not so good that it blows me away, but this is the first of the Puppy nominees whose placement on my ballot I will have to think seriously about.

Make of that what you will.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Plural of Helen of Troy (from the collection City Beyond Time), by John C. Wright

Castalia House, June 2014

Another Hugo nominee from the Puppy slates.

The city of Metachronopolis is ruled by the Time Wardens, and peopled by historical figures the Wardens find interesting, entertaining, or useful. One of them is Jacob Frontino, now working as a detective. There are multiple copies of Helen of Troy, most of them actually copies of Marilyn Monroe.

There's a plot here, but time travel can make even a simple plot complicated, and Wright has no interest in people following the story. The nonlinear storytelling was a "feature" I didn't need in a story where I already had difficulty caring what happened to the characters.

It has so much potential to be interesting, and so much fail in the execution.

Monday, May 18, 2015

One Bright Star to Guide Them, by John C. Wright

Castalia House, September 2014

This wants so badly to be an allegorical fable in the manner of C.S. Lewis's Narnia. And it fails so, so badly.

Years ago when they were children, Tommy and his three friends went on an adventure to a magical land and helped defeat evil and restore the true king, to the benefit of Earth as well as the magical realm. Now, with a boring job in the City, he's just gotten a promotion that he doesn't want, and a momentary encounter reminds him of his forgotten adventure. Suddenly, the magical cat Tybalt is with him again, with the Key that will send him off on a new adventure to confront a worse crisis.

This could have been so promising.

There's nothing especially original here, but that's the least of it. Tommy goes to see one of his old friends, Richard, and the initial conversation is downright painful. The Tommy we've seen so far can't be this naive and oblivious. Then he starts being wise and experienced again. And when things continue to spiral out of control as Richard betrays him to the evil powers, the chapter ends with Tommy flat on his back, unable to see or move.

The next chapter starts several months later, with Tommy visiting another old friend, Sally, and telling her what happened.

It's a perfect example of Tell rather than Show, and things don't get better from there. Altogether frustrating.

Not recommended.

The Sound of Glass, by Karen White

Penguin Group, ISBN 9780451470898, May 2015

Merritt Heyward survived a painful seven-year marriage to Cal Heyward, and two years after his tragic death in a fire, she hasn't healed and hasn't forgiven herself. It's a complete surprise when she is notified that she has inherited Cal's family home in South Carolina, on the death of Cal's grandmother.

Cal had never told her much of his family history, which was fine with Merritt. She didn't want to discuss her own family history, and her estrangement from her father after his remarriage to a woman only five years older than Merritt. Inheriting the house, as much of a surprise as it is, seems like an opportunity for a fresh start, away from Maine and her old life. Almost immediately on arriving in Beaufort, though, she meets Cal's younger brother, Gibbes, the town's pediatrician. Not long after, there's another surprise. Her estranged father died recently, and his widow, Loralee, arrives on Merritt's new doorstep with her half-brother, ten-year-old Owen, whom she's never met.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution, by Neil deGrasse Tyson (author), Donald Goldsmith (author), Kevin Kenerly (narrator)

Blackstone Audio, September 2014 (original publication 2004)

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith giving us the lowdown on what we know about the origins of--everything. The universe, the solar system, our own planet, life, and a good deal else. This book was written in 2004, so some things have already changed. For instance, Pluto and Ceres are now officially dwarf planets, and we know more about the moons of Jupiter and Saturn than we did eleven years ago. This is still a good, solid, interesting book, that will expand your knowledge of the universe we live in. It's a great read, or a great listen. I don't think I'm off base in saying that while Kevin Kenerly's voice doesn't really sound like Tyson's, he does have Tyson's speech patterns down, and for me that enhanced the listening experience.


Flow, by Arlan Andrews

Rist is a young man of prosperous and high-ranking family in the frozen north. His family sells icebergs to ice merchants who guide them south to the Warm Lands and sell them there. Rist and his twin brother Rusk have traveled north to see the source of the icebergs; Rist decides to travel south with the ice merchants to see the Warm Lands and what they do with the ice.

He's a likable young man, with a lively curiosity, and as he sees lands, sights, and people he's never seen before, his mind opens wider, and he makes notes on everything he sees, and his thoughts about it, to take home to his father and brother. In the tradition of science fiction travelogues, it's a good one.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Journeyman: In the Stone House, by Michael F. Flynn

In a story that seems to be set after a collapse of civilization, plainsman Teodorq and his friend Sammi o' the Eagles (whom he apparently met in an earlier story) come upon a large stone structure, unlike anything they've seen before. It's peopled, and defended, by soldiers in metal armor. Teodorq and Sammi have their own goals they're after, and Teodorq is being pursued by the brother of a young man he killed, but the head of this little armed settlement isn't interested in having them continue on their way without answering some questions, And, well, Teodorq would like a chance to steal a sword.

Structurally, this isn't a bad story. The plot is a little thin, with much of the little that happens relying on events in the prior story. The conflict between Teodorq and his tribal rival, as well as the fact that Teodorq and Sammi's interests, while closely aligned, aren't the same, does provide some story-telling meat.

Unfortunately, Teodorq, and sometimes Sammi, use casual, current-day slang and express attitudes that would be familiar coming from guys in their lat teens and twenties hanging out on a street corner. Teodorq cheerfully addresses the chief's daughter as "Babe," and I'm surprised he doesn't engage in any catcalls. That, along with similar unlikely language and mannerisms, kicked me right out of the story every time.

I'm really disappointed. I expected much better from Michael Flynn.

Not recommended.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium, by Gray Rinehart

Humans established a colony on a reasonably hospitable planet, and were doing well there, until another species, the Peshari, moved in and conquered them. The Peshari mostly let the humans run their own affairs, except that they keep ratcheting down the technology humans are allowed to have. A while back, their medical nanobots came off the permitted list, and one of the humans, Keller, has cancer.

He also has a plan.

Keller has been studying the Peshari, including reading all prior cultural research on them, and he has an idea. It's a clever idea, using a feature of their own culture and folklore, and the differences between that and human culture and folklore, against them.

This is a competently, professionally done story, and a good read. I recommend it on that basis. However, it's no more than competent and professional, and a Hugo winner needs to be more than just competent and professional.

Recommended as an enjoyable read, but not as a Hugo winner.

The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale, by Rajnar Vajra

There's a story here, and it's decently written. Unfortunately, it's also a bit cliched, and in some ways strains my suspension of disbelief in ways that are not good.

Emily Asgari, from Earth, and her two teammates, both male, a Martian and a Venusian, are cadets in the Exoplanetary Explorers corps, and ought to be heading off for their first training mission next weekend.  Of course they go out to a bar, pick the wrong bar, and get in a big fight. They then get dressed down for this idiocy, not by any of the immediate or intermediate superiors who might do it, but by the commandant of the corps. Their punishment seems equally extreme, unless these three have a long record of trouble-making of which we are not told. They can either get kicked out of the corps, or go on, not a training mission, but a very real mission to pull back a team that has been in place for decades. That mission is being declared a failure, and the team is being pulled out right now. There's some degree of urgency, so of course it makes sense to take along three cadets with not even a training mission behind them, as punishment for a bar fight.

On the ship, they're confined to quarters, with no contact with the people they'll be working with on arrival, and the idiot that actually started the fight is not allowed any communication with the other two. Makes. Total. Sense. Right?

The issue on the planet they're headed to is that there's a clearly intelligent species there--they have some electronics--but it's been impossible to establish any communication with them at all. This ought to be an interesting conundrum, and fun to see how our three cadets find the solution the experienced people haven't yet. Unfortunately, the aliens wind up snapping my suspension of disbelief. What's going on with the aliens is not just non-obvious; it's ridiculous. I can't say more than that without spoilers, but this was just too much for me.

Not recommended.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1), by Ann Leckie (author), Celeste Ciulla (narrator)

Recorded Book, November 2013 (original publication January 2013)

Okay, I need a break from reviewing this year's disappointing Hugo nominees.

Ancillary Justice is last year's Best Novel Hugo winner, and it's exactly the kind of story, the Sad Puppies say they want. Action, adventure, space ships, strong characters, and fun to read.

Breq is, when we meet her, the sole surviving segment of the Radch troop carrier Justice of Toren. We don't realize at first that she used to be the AI operating the entire ship and all its ancillaries. She's on a very personal mission. In alternating sections we follow her current quest, and the events nineteen years ago that sent her on it.

The Day the World Turned Upside Down, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (author), Lia Velt (translator)

So, one day, gravity stops working, and everything not firmly nailed down falls upwards.

Except that the river water stays where it is and continues to flow normally, and this is important later in the story.

There isn't even a handwave at a cause for any of this, neither a fantasy nor a science-fictional reason for it. Our viewpoint character, Toby, is a sad, whiny creature, barely distracted by all this from the awful fact of his girlfriend having dumped him the day before.

The story is competently written, but it's the worst sort of "literary" fictions: Nothing needs to make any sense, and the protagonist is not someone I'm inclined to care about at all, for good or ill. I don't care what happens to him.

"The Day the World Turned Upside Down" was not on either the Sad Puppies or the Rabid Puppies list, and did not initially  make the ballot. It replaced "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus," by John C. Wright, after that was declared ineligible due to prior publication.

Not recommended.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Championship B'Tok, by Edward M. Lerner

My latest adventure in reading this year's Hugo nominees.

Earth has well-developed in-system space travel, colonies on other planets, and an over-arching government for the system called the United Planets. They're also in contact with several out-solar alien species, even though Earth doesn't have an interstellar drive--at least not yet.

Some years previously, a clan of an alien species known as the Snakes came barrelling into Sol system in a starship stolen from another species, called the Centaurs. Their plan to repair their fading clan fortunes by conquering Sol system failed spectacularly, Earth forces captured the starship, and the Snakes have a contained and regulated colony on Uranus and its moons.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Parliament of Beasts and Birds, by John C. Wright

Published in the collection The Book of Feasts & Seasons, by John C. Wright, from Castalia House.

This is just awful. Overblown language, a conceit of great significance and depth, while actually being quite shallow.

Not really readable.

Turncoat, by Steve Rzasa

'Turncoat' is another of the 2015 Hugo Award short fiction nominees, appearing in Riding the Red Horse, edited by Tom Kratman and Vox Day, published by Castalia House.

Our narrator is the AI controlling a space battleship in the forces of the posthumans, engaged in a war against the human Ascendancy. As events progress, new, aggressively eliminationist orders from the posthuman command level lead the AI to make some decisions about where its real loyalties lie.

It's a premise with so much promise, and the execution is just so poor. We have badly done weapons porn. We have almost comically cardboard villainy by the posthuman upper command. The hero AI talks about humans in terms indicating utter contempt, and then says it's humans that make it feel alive--before any of the events that apparently lead to the change of allegiance.

There is no there there, and this story has no place on a Hugo ballot.

Totaled, by Kary English

Another 2015 Hugo nominee from the Sad Puppies slate. Quite competently written, and there are some interesting ideas. Maggie Hauri, a research scientist in brain/computer interface, is killed in a car accident. Due to the research rider on her insurance policy, her still-aware brain becomes a research subject in what was her own lab.

This ought to be an affecting story, as Maggie first struggles to communicate with her former research partner, then gradually deteriorates as her brain runs up against the limits of the technology keeping it functioning. Unfortunately, it simply does not work for me. The project head is a cardboard cutout. Taking a brain on life support to a school recital or graduation is just bizarre. The "totaled" concept for human beings, the idea that beyond a certain cost level an injured or ill person doesn't get treatment even if it would fix them, is meant to be the shocking idea here, but it plays little real role in the story. Leaving it out would have changed the story very little.

A Hugo nominee should be something more than competent. Not recommended.

On a Spiritual Plain, by Lou Antonelli

This is one of the 2015 Hugo short story nominees, from the Sad Puppies slate. I'm not going to go into any detail about the Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies slates, other than to say that those are in fact their own chosen names for themselves. Beyond that, if you want to know about the controversy, use Google.

The chaplain at a human base on a planet with native inhabitants is the narrator of this story. It's a planet that's geologically very active, with a powerful electromagnetic field, and the personalities of the Ymilan natives do not dissipate upon death. They stick around as Helpful Ancestors for a few generations. The chaplain discovers what happens next when the first human dies on the planet.

The prose is pedestrian. Our chaplain narrator is a nice young man, helpful and well-intentioned, but very bland. There's no real depth or detail to the culture and belief system of the Ymilans--and if this planet has more than one culture, nothing in this story hints at it.

It's not a terrible story. If I'd read it when I was twelve, I suspect I'd have found it exciting and mind-opening. I'm not twelve anymore, and there's nothing about this story that raises it to the level of "worthy Hugo nominee."

Friday, May 8, 2015

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass: With an Excerpt From the Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll, by Lewis Carroll (author), Stuart Dodgson Collingwood (author), Alison Larkin (narrator)

British Classic Audio and BMA, April 2015

This is a really beautiful recording of Lewis Carroll's classic children's books. In the first, Alice sees a rabbit wearing a waistcoat, who pulls a watch out of his pocket and frets about being late, and she follows him down his rabbit hole. She finds herself in a surreal and comical landscape, with food that makes her shrink or grow when eaten, talking animals, a cat that appears and disappears in stages, and a royal court composed of a deck of cards ruled by the King and Queen of Hearts.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Ruins of War (Mason Collins #1), by John A. Connell

Berkley, ISBN 9780425278956, May 2015

It's winter 1945, and Mason Collins, former Chicago homicide detective, now an Army criminal investigator, is hunting a killer in Munich. This is no ordinary murderer. He's dissecting and dismembering his victims alive, with surgical skill, and enacting strange rituals with their remains. Mason, having been a prisoner of war as well as a soldier, has no love for the Germans, but the horror is too much for him to accept his immediate superior's pressure: That this is a German killing Germans, and not a major concern of the US military.

Even if it means cooperating with the German police, he'll do his job as he sees it, and find the killer. Mason's newly assigned partner, a woman war reporter, a member of his old unit in Army intelligence, and a senior German Munich police inspector, all play important roles in tracking the killer, and following him into places where Mason's own life is in real danger.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Nobody's Child (Georgia Davis, Book 4), by Libby Fischer Hellmann (author), Beth Richmond (narrator)

Red Herring Press, August 2014

Georgia Davis, former cop, now private investigator, gets an odd "no one there" phone call while investigating a flash mob store robbery. Shortly thereafter, she gets a note in the mail, written on a deli food wrapper, that claims to be from her half sister Savannah, saying that she's in Chicago and pregnant, and will Georgia please find her?

Georgia didn't know she had a half sister. She hasn't heard from her mother since JoBeth left her father when she was a child.

And so begins a frightening journey through sex trafficking, baby selling, organ selling, and the Russian mob.