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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
29 May 2015 @ 12:03 pm
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
28 May 2015 @ 12:03 pm
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
27 May 2015 @ 09:51 pm
(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of posts reviewing as many of the Hugo nominees as I can before the July 31 deadline, and explaining why I will or will not vote for them.)

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I've forgotten where I picked this up--I've been using it for my desktop wallpaper for quite a while now. It's actually a fair illustration of the last nominated short story, "A Single Samurai," which I've read now that I've downloaded the Hugo packet. This story is about a kaiju, a monster so huge it's the size of a mountain, so immense it grows trees and has wildlife and its own ecosystems. Only this monster awakens and goes rampaging through the countryside, and the nameless protagonist, the "Single Samurai" of the title, climbs up its sides in a doomed attempt to kill it.

This story started out in a fairly competent fashion, but when I got to its abrupt ending, I thought, "Is this all? Kee-ripes. This got nominated for a Hugo?" This is partly because the freaking first-person narrator dies in the end. I could have gone with this, maybe, if the story had been written in the first person, present tense, or if the plot twist was executed with the skill and (to be frank) balls of the narrator Georgia Mason's dying in Mira Grant's excellent Feed, where her last mention in that book is a blog post written literally as the zombie virus is taking her over. (For the record, that also made me cry, dammit.) Unfortunately, Steven Diamond is no Mira Grant; his anonymous Samurai ("Who am I? Samurai." What the hell is that? An advertisement for The Magical Monster-Slayer: Kaiju Katanas?) just stabs the creature's brain with his ensouled katana, and while still holding it, rips his own guts out with his equally magical wakizashi, and with his own dying, takes the kaiju with him. Bang bang the hero is dead, with no mention of the fact that this story opens with a nice rumination on his father, and a flashback of his father later on. It's written with the implication of the narrator looking back on his life. Which makes his sudden death impossibly jarring.

(Of course, Mr. Who Am I also falls into a cave that contains the monster's brain [both cave and brain are a sickly green]. Come on, people. I may know next to nothing about kaiju, but hell, even Godzilla had a skull.)

"Today, a single samurai killed a mountain." Bah. This story is mildly interesting in spots, but it's certainly not Hugo-worthy. My ranking of the Short Story nominees will remain unchanged.
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
27 May 2015 @ 12:03 pm
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of posts reviewing as many of the 2015 Hugo nominees as I can before the July 31 deadline, and explaining why I will or will not vote for them.)

This is the final entry in the Best Novelette category, and the only one not on the Impacted Canines' ballots. It gained its spot because a John C. Wright story was disqualified, and this story, in 6th place, was placed on the final ballot. (There's one good thing to come out of that--at least I didn't have to suffer through another John C. Wright abomination.) For all my complaining about the Canid nominees, this does prove one thing: people other than Pupsters can nominate nonsense.

To be blunt, this is crap. Beautifully written crap, to be sure; but still crap.

The first three paragraphs explain the story's premise.

That day, the world turned upside down.

We didn’t know why it happened. Some of us wondered whether it was our fault. Whether we had been praying to the wrong gods, or whether we had said the wrong things. But it wasn’t like that—the world simply turned upside down.

Scientists lucky enough to survive the event said that it wasn’t so much that gravity had disappeared, but that it had flipped over, as if our planet had suddenly lost all of its mass and was surrounded by some colossal object. Religious people, unlucky enough to survive the miracle, said that life was give and take, and that God was now, after so many years of giving, finally taking. But there was no colossal object, and being taken by God is a dubious given.

This is, of course, completely implausible,  but no more so than some other common science-fiction tropes, such as faster-than-light travel. It's what the author does with his impossible trope that ruins the story.

Tired of her burden, Mother Earth shook off anything that wasn’t tied firmly down to her surface. In one upwards thrust, it all fell into the atmosphere. Planes, satellites, and space stations disappeared into the vacuum, and even Father Moon was pushed away from us. We saw him dwindle and dwindle, until he landed in his own sad orbit around the sun. He never even said goodbye.

And me?

I was lying on the couch, not doing anything really. I wasn’t reading a book or watching TV. If the world had come to an end, I wouldn’t even have noticed.

I was staring at my phone, waiting for you to call.

There, of course, is the problem in a nutshell. Toby, one of the most whiny-ass protagonists I have ever come across, uses this terrible situation, which would have resulted in the deaths of billions of people and the destruction of civilization, to bitch and moan about his ex-girlfriend, Sophie, who broke up with him the day before. He embarks upon an Incredible Upside-Down Journey, bearing Sophie's goldfish Bubbles (IN A BOTTLE OF SEVEN-UP FOR FRAK'S SAKE) and a girl he half-heartedly rescues along the way, Dawnie.

I gather the reader is supposed to sympathize with this character; he's the Broken-Hearted Protagonist, after all. But he soon establishes himself as the typical Nice Guy--in other words, not nice at all.

For the first half hour I resolved to show myself a valuable and sound person and not throw in the towel. I forced my tears back into my eyes and started doing the dishes. But as your lips on the glasses dissolved in the suds, I was constantly being haunted by visions of other men caressing the skin I wanted to caress, kissing the mouth I wanted to kiss, and fucking the girl I had made love to for such long nights.

(snip)

The end of the world creates two sorts of people: heroes and cowards. When the dangling woman had finally gathered enough courage to glance over her shoulder and saw me clambering from the open window, one end of the lashing rope tied around the couch in the living room and the other end around my waist, she must have thought I belonged to the former. Unaware of something cold that had seized me that same moment, she mumbled, “Thank God.” And not much later, as I reached and I stretched, as I tensed and I leaned, engrossed in efforts to try and get a hold of the goldfish in his bottle on the bottom of the gutter, the woman plummeted down, thinking of a long and fertile life, and neither you nor I would ever know her name.

At the end of the world, it’s every man for himself.

You had taught me that, Sophie.

When Toby finally gets to Sophie's house, instead of helping her with her injuries, and trying to figure out a way to survive in this horrifying new world, he starts to fight with her about the end of their relationship all over again, and expects her to fall at his feet now that he's made it all the way across the Upside-Down to be with her.

I pushed gently away from you so I could look you in the eye. “You called me.”

“Yes.”

“Sophie.”

You let go of me and hoisted yourself up, because you couldn’t handle the situation.

But I clasped your hand and said, “I’ve missed you, Sophie.”

“Stop it.” A tear trickled down your cheek. “I’m so worried about Mom and Dad. I haven’t heard from them. I haven’t seen anyone since it happened, not a single soul. Do you know if help is coming?”

I felt myself growing faint inside. “I came, didn’t I?”

You looked at me for a long time. “I’m sorry about how it all turned out.”

“Yeah. Me too,” I said. “I liked it better when everything was still right-side up. Made it a lot easier to see each other.”

“Toby.”

“Well, sorry—” My voice shook, looking for purchase. “—I just don’t know how to deal with it. Everything has changed now, right? Can’t we . . .”

“Toby.”

“But couldn’t we—”

“Don’t, Toby.”

I couldn’t hold back my tears. “But I’ll do everything differently.”

“You weren’t the one who had to do things differently.”

“I can’t handle this alone.”

“Sure you can.”

“But I love you.”

(snip)

“I love you!” I tried to scream, but my love rose in bubbles to the surface and burst apart. Weakened, I wheeled my arms, pounding on the plastic. And behind the label you looked away; you didn’t see that I was drowning. I sank down in a slow spiral, hitting the bottom of the 7-Up bottle with a muffled thump.

My lungs filled up with tears as I whispered, “Please . . .”

And you said, “I need time.”

(snip)

But I had already gone through the kitchen and didn’t hear you. Hanging from the banister, I lowered myself to the upstairs floor. After everything I had been through, after the countless times I had risked my life to take Bubbles to you, trying in vain to still my love for you with my love for you, and scrambling up from the pounding surf of a dying Earth . . . you need time? How much more time do you think the world will give you, Sophie?

Great Cthulhu, what an ass. And in the middle of a freaking holocaust, to boot. Did he ever think that a few things might be more important than his hurt fee-fees?

After this point in the story, we see Sophie no more; for all we know, Toby has left her to die. He returns to two old ladies in a hanging caravan, where he earlier left the girl, Dawnie, and descends via the hanging rope ladder they have left behind, into the sky, which is actually the new ground of this new Earth. He doesn't know what he'll find, but he's still complaining.

I think I want you to know that you hurt me so incredibly badly, Sophie. Now I’m going down the ladder. Searching for solid ground beneath my feet. It’s not easy. I’m terrified of what I will find down there. But I close my eyes and keep descending. Sometimes the ropes shake and I imagine it’s you following me, somewhere up there in the fog. But maybe it’s just the wind. And I realize I don’t care either way. I am somebody, too.

Blargh.

Again, this is beautifully written. The writer is more than just competent; he's a lovely stylist, far beyond anyone from, say, Castalia House. I would like to try some of his other stories (once I get the taste of this one out of my mouth). That doesn't keep this particular story from being utterly stupid, and unworthy of a Hugo, in my opinion.

So: I have finished this category, and this is how I will vote.

1) "Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium"

2) No Award

Since I don't want any of the other stories to come within shouting distance of winning.

Now that I've downloaded the Hugo voting packet, I'm trying to figure out what category to tackle next. Stay tuned, folks.
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
24 May 2015 @ 12:02 pm
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of posts reviewing as many nominees on the 2015 Hugo ballot as I can before the July 31 deadline, and explaining why I will or will not vote for them.)

This is a strange book. It falls into a genre I generally avoid like the plague. It is the hardest of hard science fiction, chock full of physics references, and its entire plot hinges on (if I'm reading this correctly) a real-life physics conundrum called the "Three Body Problem." I usually don't read books like this because I don't understand them; the science hurtles right over my head, and most of the time I find them to be full of infodumps and cardboard characters.

Complicating this particular book is the fact that its author, Cixin Liu, is something of a hero in China and this book is a translation. The translation seems to be very good; there are a few Translator's Notes, which are informative and occasionally amusing, but for the most part the translator does his job and stays out of the book's way. The book is naturally steeped in Chinese culture and history (the Cultural Revolution), and while that is not a bad thing in and of itself, it betrays the book's first problem. It is glacially paced, and for over half the book nothing much seems to happen. I hesitate to condemn this because it simply might be the Chinese style of writing. Also, since this is a hard SF novel, the science needs to be set up and explained for the book to work at all. If your tolerance for this kind of thing is low, just be aware of it.

The characters are...another problem. To put it bluntly, one of the two main characters, Ye Wenjie, comes across as a sociopath. She is damaged by the Cultural Revolution, and seeing her father beaten to death by the Red Guard right before her eyes; but she murders two people in her turn (one of which is her husband) and does not seem to have a smidgen of regret. (Of course, she is also the architect of humans' first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, and since she basically tells said civilization to come here and wipe us out, as humanity is not worth saving, she doesn't seem to have any regrets about that either.) None of the other characters are very distinctive, and it was hard to tell them apart, for me at least. The aliens, the Trisolarians, are even more guilty of this; during the two chapters written from their point of view, the author has a conversation between various Trisolarian higher-ups that goes on for pages, with little or no effort to differentiate who is speaking. As the entire race seems to consist of emotionless authoritarian SOBs who declare they cannot coexist with humans and intend to destroy them, I suppose that's appropriate.

This is an incredibly complex book, and sometimes I felt like I would need some sort of physics degree to understand it. I suppose it would reward additional readings, if one cared to do that. I do not. The best way to put it is that I appreciate the author and respect what he's trying to do, but I do not like his book very much.

On the other hand, I appreciate Ann Leckie and respect the world she has created in Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword; but more than that, I like both books. Love them, in fact.

That's the difference.

The only reason this book is on the Hugo ballot is because of the shenanigans of the Impacted Canines; one of the original slate authors, Marko Kloos, withdrew his nomination, making room for this book. One could argue it should have been on the ballot from the get-go, but at least it didn't get there because of the egomania of Theodore Beale. (I've been trying to ignore that and evaluate each nominee, whether Canine-pooped or not, on its own merits. So far, with only two exceptions, there aren't any.) I've heard rumblings that it has a good chance of winning, and it would be worthy, I guess. But for me, it doesn't hold a candle to Ancillary Sword, and I intend to vote accordingly.
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
23 May 2015 @ 12:03 pm
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of posts where I review as many of the 2015 Hugo nominees in the time I have left before the July 31 deadline, and explain why I will or will not vote for them.)

This story is a little more like the Analog I remember. It's an old-fashioned first-contact story (the subtitle, "A Golden Age Tale," is something of a dead giveaway) with a fairly interesting alien species and a clever method of solving the problem, based on "an old Persian fable" the protagonist heard as a child. That protagonist, Emily Asari, is actually the most compelling thing about the story; instead of being the cliched hardnosed kickass heroine, this is an ordinary, not overly brave person who observes, and thinks, and eventually figures things out.

Having said that, there's really nothing all that memorable about this story. It certainly didn't knock my socks off the way "Earth to Alluvium" did. The writing is competent (although the author does tend to info-dump a bit) and the characterization adequate. However, I think Hugos should be awarded to something a bit more memorable than "adequate." Until I finish the category, "Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium" remains the frontrunner.
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
22 May 2015 @ 12:03 pm
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
21 May 2015 @ 12:03 pm
  • Wed, 18:02: Heh. @RandPaul's doing another kinda-sorta filibuster. Wonder if he's using a catheter this time. #maddow #UniteBlue #fb
  • Wed, 18:05: RT @demiboystump: lmao can i just say “feminazis” aren’t real. Stop equating genocide to that one time a girl told you to stop being a sexi…
  • Wed, 18:35: RT @goodsababu: Just the idea of 15-20 GOP candidates "running" for something strikes me as the race from Monty Python's Twit Olympics. #m
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
20 May 2015 @ 12:03 pm
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of posts reviewing as many of the 2015 Hugo nominees as I have time for before the July 31 deadline, and explaining why I will or will not vote for them.)

I'm beginning to think it might be a good thing I haven't read Analog in recent years. Judging from its stories on the Hugo ballot, the quality has fallen way off. Now, you would expect this kind of thing from Castalia House (since everything I've read from that publisher is just awful), but I was still under the impression that Analog is supposed to be something a standard-bearer, the magazine of aliens and hard science and honest-to-goodness sensawunda.

Well, judging from this story, Analog is full of wonder, all right. The wonder of outright ridiculousness.

(Although, to be fair, this could be the fault of the people nominating for the Impacted Canines, since so far, with some rare exceptions, their judgment has proven to be spectacularly bad. Still, I always thought Analog had better editors than this.)

This story opens with a quote from Louis L'amour: "The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail." That right there sets the tone for the entire story: an uneasy melding of Western and science fiction tropes, full of cliches and idiotic names and grating dialect and horrendous dialogue, culminating in a sword-fight that's just...dreck. Long-drawn-out, incredibly unsuspenseful, and absolutely pointless.

I mean, fifteen minutes of a Firefly episode is better than this.

Let's test-drive a few character names: Sammi o' th' Eagles (Sherman Alexie would snarl and spit at this, especially since this character sounded uncomfortably like a dumbed-down Tonto), Teodorq sunna Nagarajan the Ironhand, our so-called hero; Figa Anya Goregovona Herpstonesdoor (also known as "the princess," "Princess Anya," or, to Teodorq, simply "babe"), and Wisdom Sharee Mikahali Fulenenberk.

Dear Lord. Tolkien is thrashing in his grave.

Now: an excerpt of the story's wonderful dialogue.

“Well, Bowman and his crew are fixing to move out west. He’s been building carts and wagons and stealing all the horses he can lay hold of. If’n you don’t push him, he’ll be gone before the Sperm shoots out.”

The Wisdom paused, startled, his marking feather half-raised. “The . . . Sperm?”

“Stupid plainsman means Consort. Enters Sun when in heat. Later Sun give birth.”

The old man’s eyes brightened. “Ah, you mean the Red Sun!” He scratched the paper briskly with his feather.

“You spilled that readily enough,” said the princess. “I mean about Bowman’s plans, not your sperm.”

“Hey, babe, it’s bad cess to the Timberlake folk west of the stony river that Bowman’s gonna muscle in on ’em, but it ain’t no skin off my nose.”

“And what is meant by ‘babe’?”

“In the sprock, it is a term of respect for important women.”

I think we hit the trifecta there: sexism, terrible jokes, and all-around cringe-worthiness. I suppose there's an outside chance this could be some sort of Joss Whedon satire, but any way you look at it, it's just bad.

Sorry, folks. There's no way in hell I'm going to the Stone House, and as far as I'm concerned, the Rocket will blast right by it.
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
19 May 2015 @ 12:03 pm
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
18 May 2015 @ 09:22 pm
(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series reviewing as many of the 2015 Hugo nominees as I can before the July 31 deadline, and explaining why I will or will not vote for them.)

This is the second story from Analog I've read (or rather, in this case, tried to read) and I'm surprised by the lack of quality. I started bouncing off this five pages in; the mild interest generated by the character in the first teeny-tiny "chapter" soon dissipated when he and his little cliffhanger completely disappeared, and were never mentioned again. That felt like a cheat, to say the least, and I skimmed through the rest of the story. I remember reading somewhere (can't find the link now) that this is a novel excerpt, and the ending justifies that notion; it's choppy and abrupt and resolves nothing, and certainly didn't encourage me to read the entire book. Not that I would read this anyway. I didn't relate to it at all, and have no interest in pursuing the characters further.

Not good enough to remember, not bad enough to fisk. This is not a recipe for a Hugo award.
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
18 May 2015 @ 12:03 pm
  • Sun, 19:38: RT @AnonClasWar: So armed white gang members KILL 9 people, they are ARRESTED. #TamirRice plays with a toy gun, is shot dead on sight SMF…
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  • Sun, 19:42: RT @ChartaCourseUSA Based on #police response, seems like #TamirRice would've been better off in that #Waco bar than at the playground.
  • Sun, 19:44: RT @capetownbrown: Mike Brown—who never killed anyone in his life—was shot down in the street by a cop, yet he, the victim, was called a "t…
  • Sun, 19:44: RT @capetownbrown: White biker thugs shoot each other up in public, kill 9, injure 16, go for police, hundreds of weapons recovered, and it…
  • Sun, 19:44: RT @capetownbrown: AT THIS POINT, IF YOU CAN'T SEE THE MEDIA BIAS—WITH THE PRESUMPTION OF BLACK GUILT AND WHITE INNOCENCE—IT'S BECAUSE YOU …
  • Sun, 19:54: RT @docrocktex26: Where is @GregAbbott_TX? The bikers are invading Waco but your state guard is too busy mobilizing against wingnut conspir…
  • Sun, 19:54: RT @drumbeats4peace: On behalf of all white people, I'd like to apologize for the actions of gangs in Waco. There's no understanding the id…
  • Sun, 19:55: RT @JesseLaGreca: White people kill multiple people = brawl Black people do ANYTHING = Thugs + 24/7 hair on fire coverage + Bill O'Reilly …
  • Sun, 20:48: RT @cmclymer: Black men rioting in #Ferguson: "vicious thugs, menace to society" White gang bikers murder 9 in #Waco: "things got out of h…
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
17 May 2015 @ 12:02 pm
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of posts reviewing the 2015 Hugo nominees, or as many of them as I have time for before the voting deadline, and explaining why I will or will not vote for them.)

I'm now beginning the Best Novelette category, and this story surprised me. It's a professional-grade story, even better than Kary English's "Totaled," and certainly worthy of a rocket. Of course, the irony is that the editor of the magazine (Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show) in which it appeared, Edmund R. Schubert, has withdrawn from the awards and officially requested that voters not consider him for Best Short Form Editor.

Which, of course, creates a conundrum, because this is a helluva story. It's a meditation on colonization, and death, and the human response to subjugation by an alien species, the fascinating Peshari. (They have six legs and four genders, and a horror of being buried, derived from a traumatizing incident in the species' past. The protagonist, Phil Keller, who is dying of cancer, reads this information in the reports on the Peshari landing on Alluvium [the human colony], and comes up with a way to defeat them, using the "pseudo-lizards' " own psychology against them. It's rather ingenious.) This story is not long, but it packs a lot of information, dropped in quite naturally without infodumps. It also has a nice flow, and quiet and thoughtful characterization.

I'll have to read the rest of the stories in the category to see how this one stacks up, but it seems like I'll have a decision to make. Do I go ahead and vote for this story, even though its editor has withdrawn, due to the slate-gaming antics of the Vituperative Impacted Puppies? (If you don't know what that means, don't worry about it--you're probably better off.) I know many people are voting against all slate entries on general principle. I'm voting against nearly all of the slate entries I've read so far, just because they're of almost uniformly rotten quality.

But there are exceptions to everything, and this is a big one.

Well. We shall see. But do read this. It's really good.
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
16 May 2015 @ 12:03 pm
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
15 May 2015 @ 12:03 pm
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
14 May 2015 @ 12:03 pm
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
13 May 2015 @ 09:34 pm
(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series discussing as many of the 2015 Hugo nominations as I can, and why I will or will not vote for them.)

As soon as I started reading this, I thought: "Hot damn! A competently written story!" I had almost forgotten such a thing existed.

Unfortunately, that's about all I can say for it. I'm a bit surprised Analog published this; it doesn't seem like their kind of thing, although I will admit it's been a few years since I've been a regular reader. I'm sure it will appeal to some people, but to me it was so relentlessly dull and mediocre I couldn't get into it. The characters didn't interest me at all (and the nearly complete lack of women didn't help). Nothing much seemed to happen, and in the very last paragraph, when Rist lowered himself to the Bottom Lands, I decided I didn't care if his biter-web broke and he plummeted all the way to the bottom. (Mercifully, the story ended there.)

(This is the last of the Novella nominees available for free on the net. I did look up a Kindle sample of Tom Kratman's "Big Boys Don't Cry" on Amazon and read it all the way through, but within the first couple of pages it became clear that this was just more Castalia House-published, Theodore Beale-edited, badly written weapons porn. Just no, people.)

(It also cemented my conviction that my vote for Best Short Form/Long Form editor, whatever it may be, will not go to Theodore Beale/Vox Day under any circumstances. If an editor is supposed to be judged by his/her output...well, as far as I'm concerned, Mr. Beale's output should be flushed down the toilet. It consists of stuff that a decent editor would have never let see the light of day, and neither it nor he is worthy of a Hugo.)

Now. How will I vote in this category?

It's quite simple. That handsome gentleman, that lovely lady, the Honorable Noah Ward, takes this one in a runaway.

I don't feel the least bit guilty about this, either. In my view, nothing in this category is Hugo-worthy, and most of it is downright stupid. So just remember this for next year, kids: If you want votes, nominate better stories!

Now: On to the novelettes (for real this time).
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
13 May 2015 @ 12:03 pm
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
12 May 2015 @ 12:03 pm
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"A Diarist...with a Megaphone"
11 May 2015 @ 12:02 pm
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