Dear L. Neil Smith,

Next time, ask the publisher to spend more than $1 on cover design. The current cover for Taflak Lysandra will not sell to people who aren’t already looking for your more obscure works.

51IppMoEcoL SX331 BO1 204 203 200

At least on the original cover, in which Elsie was drawn rather than pasted from cheap 3D software, the artist actually skimmed the book and understood that she was a petite blonde wearing an environment suit and carrying a sidearm, not Lara Croft in a Victoria’s Secret “encounter” suit toting a blaster bigger than she is. Seriously, she’s what, 14? [Update: 15, and considers herself a shapeless maybe-never-bloomer, especially compared to the other human female around]

(admittedly, she’s also supposed to be dark-skinned, being a test-tube baby with a healthy percentage of Australian aborigine in the mix, but whitening your hero on the cover was a definite thing back in the Eighties, so I doubt the original artist had a choice)

Also, I haven’t the slightest idea what she’s shooting at on the new cover, but I can instantly recognize both of the other characters on the original.

(and damned if I didn’t spend half an hour searching the house for my copy, and I still can’t figure out why I can’t find it; I know for a fact that I’ve seen it in the past few years, because I remember opening it up and reading a chapter)

And, yes, the new cover for Brightsuit MacBear is only less ridiculous because it at least looks like an environment suit of some kind, as imagined by someone completely unfamiliar with the book and the universe it’s set in. Still scraping the bottom of the barrel for cheap 3D cut-and-paste.

[Update: a reread reminds me that Mac and Elsie shouldn’t be the same age. Elsie was 9 in Tom Paine Maru (276 AL), and Mac’s father was alive and well. Brightsuit takes place in 283 AL, if Pemot is being precise, which works for Elsie but not Mac.]

R.I.P Tanith Lee

SF/F writer Tanith Lee died last week. Bummer.

The Three-Body Problem Problem

This Chinese SF novel is being praised as good old-fashioned hard science fiction, filled with powerful and fantastic ultra-science and a gripping plot that uncovers a secret war against humanity that opens Earth up to alien conquest.

Yeah, not so much. The only two on-camera technologies that exceed present-day capabilities are:

  1. The bad guys remotely project a countdown timer into Our Hero's field of vision. At the end of the book, they use this technology again to project a short insult to the eyes of a small group of people.
  2. The good guys use Our Hero's experimental nanomaterial to construct monomolecular garrotes that slice an oil tanker into ribbons as it passes through the Panama Canal.

You have a well-funded secret society that sincerely believes in an upcoming alien invasion, but despite the complete lack of hard evidence, a room full of generals (and one suspicious old cop) is convinced that they desperately need to destroy that tanker in a way that kills everyone on board before they can delete their files (which are believed to contain additional messages from the aliens). Why a tanker? Because it was in fact a sea-faring radio telescope, used to carry out decades of two-way communication with the invaders.

But let’s assume for the moment that all of the third-hand evidence collected from the conspirators and the tanker is true, and aliens really are on their way to conquer Earth. What is their powerful and fantastic ultra-science weapon (singular, despite the blurbs)?


The stupid, it burns us…

I really hope this is not representative of The Three-Body Problem, the last of the Hugo-nominated novels I’m reading:

"...he had successfully predicted the birth defects associated with long-term consumption of genetically modified foods. He had also predicted the ecological disasters that would come with cultivation of genetically modified crops."

This part of the book is set in the more-or-less present day, and our allegedly-reliable narrator treats these statements as simple fact. Fortunately, it’s soon followed with:

"He believed that technological progress was a disease in human society. The explosive development of technology was analogous to the growth of cancer cells, and the results would be identical: the exhaustion of all sources of nourishment, the destruction of organs, and the final death of the host body."

With any luck, this batshit-crazy luddite will be one of the villains. Or a spear-carrier soon to depart from the plot. Fingers crossed, because there’s a page and a half of this nonsense before he ever utters a word.

Update and SPOILER! after the jump:


Hugo voting packet now available

I just downloaded the voting packet for this year’s Hugo Awards, and unlike the folks who’ve sworn to vote in lockstep against anything that was nominated by wrongfans, I intend to read the whole thing before casting my votes.

Updates as I read them.

Graphic Story
I've read the four Graphic Story entries in the packet (The Zombie Nation Book #2 was not included). None of them are even half as good as any Astro City collection, but it wasn't nominated, and they were, so I'm tentatively going with Ms Marvel. It starts off with a whiff of pre-emptive outrage, as if the creators are daring Hatey McWhiteHate to jump on the Haternet and start ranting about brown people and evil mooslims stealin our white blonde superchicks, but fortunately they get over it, and go on to tell a half-decent origin story that's saved from mediocrity by an excellent heroine and a well-drawn 2.5-dimensional family. If they keep the focus on heroine and family, it will be pretty good. I plan to buy a physical copy.

Saga is imaginative and has nice art, but all I knew about it before reading volume 3 was a vague memory of controversy over the graphic depiction of childbirth in an earlier issue; the story didn't grab me, but it's well-done. Rat Queens is straightforward RPG grrl-power fantasy; meh. Sex Criminals feels like it was written 20 years ago and drawn today, and it's not as titillating as the creators think; also meh.

The Zombie Nation is a webcomic, but I suppose I'll have to poke around to find out what's included in book 2, to evaluate it properly.
Skin Game has an early lead, on the grounds that I've already read it at least five times. People unfamiliar with The Dresden Files may have difficulty getting into book 15, but while there's a crapton of context, I think it actually does a pretty good job of establishing the universe and characters for a new reader.

I'm just starting Ancillary Sword, and between the terrible blurb on Amazon, the clunky exposition on the first few pages, the fact that it's book 2, and the names that were generated with a set of Boggle dice, it's not grabbing me. The publisher supplied a hundred-page excerpt, and I'll give it a fair shot, but I'd have already put it back on the shelf if I'd found it in a book store. (Update: finished the excerpt, managed to adjust to the awkward prose style, not really interested in any of the characters or what happens to them)

Nominally the first book in a trilogy, The Dark Between The Stars is completely impenetrable unless you've read the previous seven books and kept detailed notes. There are at least a dozen vaguely-connected point-of-view characters (9 in the first 10 chapters!), and I'd already forgotten the first three when I reached chapter four. I see no reason to continue. The editor should be smacked for not insisting on an intro, given that even for a loyal reader, it's been six years since the previous book set in this universe.

The Goblin Emperor is a court intrigue drama set in a lightly-sketched fantasy world. That is, the protagonist goes through a series of experiences that happen to take place in a world that has races called elves and goblins, a world that you learn very little about. It is slow and well-mannered, and the protagonist faces no serious challenges or setbacks; he merely accepts his place in the world and performs his duty, while surrounded by characters whose personalities remain as unexplored as his world. It is neither exciting nor boring, and yet I managed to finish it, setting it above Ancillary and Dark. I would not give it an award, and had I been its editor, I would have told the author to use it as the backstory for an actual fantasy novel about the priest-detective who solves the murder mystery that put the protagonist on the throne. He at least gets to live in the world that the emperor rules.

I'm now 58% (Kindle) of the way through The Three-Body Problem, and I am completely baffled by Theresa Nielsen Hayden's claim that "If they're participating because they love the genre, and they're into old-fashioned SF virtues, then surely they'll have nominated The Three-Body Problem", because I've yet to encounter anything resembling SF in the book (oh, wait; there's the thing with the timestamp that's forgotten almost immediately in favor of playing the dullest online game in history). In fact, it reads as if the author was told that SF consists of making frequent references to science and scientists in a contemporary novel. Browsing spoilers, it appears that there is actual significant SFnal content coming up, but if true, the only award this novel deserves so far is The Buried Lede. Seriously, in promoting this (on their web site and apparently nowhere else), Tor.com promised: "A covert military project. A secret war revealed as the worst fight that humanity has ever faced. Baffling mysteries. A series of ultra-science weapons, each more powerful and fantastic than the last, including one technology described as more important than nuclear bombs. Aliens that may be saviors, or invaders, or both." At 58% I've got a military project and baffling mysteries, and none of the rest; some guy in a bar has claimed that there are aliens, but he's an idiot. I can't recall any classic SF that took this long to get to the point, but perhaps TNH can enlighten me. (update: I just read chapter 30; this book is horseshit)
The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale is a breath of fresh air after slogging through TBP. It's not just a good yarn filled with crunchy SF tropes, it's unapologetically optimistic about humanity.
Short Story
Totaled isn't bad. I didn't find it particularly compelling, and it's a bit rushed, but not bad. I'm not terribly optimistic about any of the others, so while it would set a pretty low bar for "award-winning", I won't No-Award it; I'll just leave it off my ballot. Actually, I refuse to No-Award anything this year, because it's become a weapon to shout down Wrongfans.

A Single Samurai suffers from lengthy as-you-know-Bob exposition delivered in an affected style that might work for people who only know samurai from subtitled movies. I lost interest fast.

Cory Doctorow is a liar and a bigot

In the past I’ve found Cory Doctorow vaguely amusing as a gullible technophile and leftist shill, but this is bald-faced lying. Also libel.

"The 'Puppies' are a coalition of right-wing and white-supremacist groups who pushed a slate of ideologically pure nominees onto the Hugo Award ballot, complaining that you could no longer judge books by their covers, and that science fiction had changed to reflect the world since the 1970s."
    --- Cory Doctorow, lying son-of-a-bitch

This is what he thinks of SF fans who like books he doesn’t like. It would cause me to stop buying his books if I’d ever started.

I see what you did there…

SFWA proposes a method for handling the orphan-works problem, and subtly knifes their customers:

A growing percentage of e-book licensing transactions (often erroneously referred to as "sales")...

When Tor offers a “potentially award-winning” (now that several people have withdrawn from this year’s Hugo nominations, anyway) ebook for $12.99, and the paperback for $13.50, I’d like to know exactly why I should settle for a DRM-laden “licensing transaction” instead of a good old-fashioned “sale”.

For that matter, $13.50 for the paperback? Fuck that. If we get a free copy in the Hugo voting packet, I’ll read it. Otherwise, there are plenty of other good SF books to read; I can wait until this one drops to a reasonable price.

Refusing to be eaten

"But fandom's furious identitarians succeeded where racists failed. Identitarians insist they want what I want, a world where everyone is equal. But to make that world, they attack anyone who wants equality in the wrong way. Perhaps my greatest disappointment with them is they happily use the tactics of racists and bigots--- mockery, death threats, blacklisting, and censorship."
    --- Will Shetterly

Will, it’s because they are racists and bigots, and proud of it.