Should ‘Rhythm of War’ Get a Hugo?

Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Last week, I wrote about my plan to review books that might get nominated for a Hugo award, and so here’s my first entry into that endeavor.

Now anyone who knows me, will know that Brandon Sanderson is by far and away my favorite author. A casual look at my goodreads account will show you that I’ve read well over 30 titles by the man, and when it comes to obsessing over his books, I am pretty much as nerdy, and rabid, as they come. If a new Cosmere book drops, I drop whatever I’m reading at the moment, and usually whatever I am doing to go read it. Even if what I’m doing is traffic.

On this bloggo, I’ve talked about his “short stories” Dreamer, and Snapshot, as well as his YA novel The Rithmatist.

Needless to say, I’m a Fanderson.

Which is why I am utterly shocked to say that Rhythm of War will not be the title I will be nominating for the Hugo come March 19th.

I know! Weird right? I suppose I should explain . . .

Did I enjoy the book?

Oh yes. Immensely. There is no shortage of things to love in Rhythm of War. Without spoiling too much, there are rhythms, and there is war. There is magic (so much magic), and adventure. The characters are flawed and have expertly crafted change arcs. Characters you want to hate, you end up liking, and characters you’ve loved for years, you find maybe aren’t as perfect as you thought. And of course, that awesome moment where everything comes together, and the thing we’ve been building towards for about 1,000 pages, finally happens! And uses up the entirety of the special effects budget (if it were a movie which hopefully someday it will be!).

And as with all of his books, Rhythm of War gives you that sprinkle of answers that only lead to more questions. Worldbuilding on top of worldbuilding until your simply stunned with the complexity of it all.

If you have not read the book yet, please drop traffic and go do so. It is wonderful. I mean that times ten for anyone interested in Cosmere books, or even just the Stormlight Archive in general.

Yes, Brandon Sanderson knows how to give a reader what they want, and Rhythm of War does not disappoint.

So why isn’t it getting your nomination?

Well, to put it simply, it isn’t new.

Still My Fav Stormlight book!

While Rhythm of War is an amazingly written and crafted book, it is amazingly written and crafted in the same way that The Way of Kings (Stormlight Archive 1) was amazingly written and crafted. In the same way as Words of Radiance (Stormlight Archive 2), or Mistborn, or even Elantris or Warbreaker (though those two had some growing pains to be sure).

Rhythm of War seems to be suffering from a problem of scope and time. It is the fourth installment, in what is going to be at least a five books series, and probably a ten-book series, if Brando Sando achieves what he’s set out to do with these books. And at a certain point, it is just an iteration of the premise that Way of Kings began over ten years ago, and (IMHO) Words of Radiance perfected seven years ago.

But the Hugo is supposed to represent the best of Science Fiction and Fantasy right now, in 2021 (or ya know 2020 since that’s when the books were published). Not what was undoubtedly one of the best books of 2011, or 2014.

And so, it’s not my pick this time. I think it belongs on the list for most popular, and it has earned every single reader it has, but I don’t think it quite lines up with what the Hugo is supposed to be and do.

If Brando Sando dropped the first installment of a new series tomorrow, I would absolutely be looking at it for a best of award (if it really was great). But not this time around. Not for Rhythm of War . . .

Anywho, see y’all next time!

The Hugo’s are coming!

Image from Michi Trota on Encyclopedia Britannica

What are those?

So, every year since like 1955 (according to wikipedia), an award is presented at the World Science Fiction Convention for really really “good” science fiction and fantasy writing, whether it be a novel, series, short story or a bunch of other categories. It’s considered one of the top prizes in the field, and usually makes for good reading for anyone interested in the genre. I’ve mentioned these awards in passing when reviewing Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Cameron Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion, but aside from that, it’s never really affected me much except for maybe providing a reading list when I’m looking for some good books (oops I’m realizing I mentioned Hugos in my Redshirts review also).

How is it decided what’s “good”?

Well people vote on it, of course! If you buy a World Science Fiction Convention ticket this year, or attended last year, or bought a supporting membership, then you can nominate titles for the award and vote!

Why am I excited about this?

Because this year, the convention, is supposed to take place in Washington DC (we’ll see what it’s like with Covid). I figured if I was ever going to get a chance to attend, or vote, or have a reason to care about this award, it was going to be this year. So . . .

I bought a ticket!

But now comes the participating part . . . Oh dear.

My Plan:

There’s a ton of books out there that are probably good, and eligible to win the award, so now I must decide which ones I want to nominate, and once the voting begins, which one I want to vote for. Essentially that means I have a lot of reading ahead of me (for me this is actually exciting!). I’ve trolled the internet for a bunch of Best-of-2020 lists for both Science Fiction and Fantasy, and assembled the list you’ll see below.

I hope to be able to read as many of these as possible before the nomination deadline (March 19th 2021), and choose one to push forward. Then, once the finalists arrive, I’ll have some more time to try and finish whichever books move to that round. This list is pretty long, so I’m starting with the books which are standalone, or the first installment in a series (unless I happen to already be caught up which only happened in two cases . . . I bet you can guess which authors they are).

Anyway, I’ve put check boxes by the books I’ve read so far, and I’ll be posting reviews as I find time to write them. Once a review is posted, I’ll turn the list item into a link to the review. You can either keep coming back here, or just follow the blog. On the 19th I’ll try to post which one I’m going to nominate, and why, and then when the finalists come, I’ll say which one I’m going to vote for. Should be a fun time. Well, at the very least, I’m excited.

Here are the books:

  • 2020 Sci-Fi
    • Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
    • The Last Emperox by John Scalzi
    • The space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
    • Agency by William Gibson
    • Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
    • The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez
    • The New Wilderness by Diane Cook
    • Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebochi
    • The book of Koli by M.R. Carey
    • The Hidden Girl by Ken Liu
    • The end of October by Lawrence Wright
    • To Sleep in a sea of stars by Christopher Paolini
    • The mother Code by Carole Stivers
    • Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis
    • Network Effect by Martha Wells
    • Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen
  • 2020 fantasy
    • A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
    • Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
    • The once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
    • The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart
    • Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson
    • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
    • Crescent City by Sarah J Maas
    • The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
    • The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty
    • The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Yo
    • The Girl and the Stars by Mark Lawrence
    • The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
    • Peace Talks by Jim Butcher
    • The Burning God by R.F. Kuang
    • Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
    • Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender

I’m Baaaackkkk!

Apparently, it’s been nearly two years since I posted on this old bloggo, and a lot has happened in that time. I’ve grown older. I’ve gained experience! I have gray in beard now!

And while this blog may have been sitting idle, I have not! I have grown as a person. I have lived!

In my youth, I was but a boy, naively typing away at this keyboard to bring the world reviews of cool books I had read, or my experience at a convention or perhaps — when scraping at the bottom of the barrel — a picture of a cute dog I’d seen. In essence, any random nonsense I wanted to write about.

But now . . . Now everything has changed. Now I have gone to the top of the mountain, and returned with words, and better yet, the correct order in which to write them. From now on, this blog will be about:

cool books I’ve read . . .
my experience as a fan of SF and Fantasy (which will likely include conventions if this pandemic ever ends). . .
or perhaps — when I don’t know what to write about — a picture of a cute dog I’ve seen!

Hmm. Well I guess those are the same things as before. But now I’m older . . . and I got a new keyboard so that has to count for something.

Anyway, a sharp observer will notice that two new sections have been added to the top menu, the first being Fiction, and the second being Making. These are currently, ‘under construction’ so to speak, but I’m hoping to have some content for you soon.

As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t been completely idle during the last two years. I’ve picked up fiction writing as a hobby, and am hoping to be able to share some of what I’ve written to the world once I’m not terrified of letting the world see it. Hopefully that day will be soon.

And making will just be whatever random nonsense I manage to build with a 3D printer. I’m hoping that having a section of it on the menu will inspire me to pursue the hobby.

Anyway, stay tuned for some (hopefully) exciting new posts coming down the way. And here’s Aerosmith so you’ll know how to properly read the title:

The Road to Empire (of Ashes): Review of The Waking Fire

Cover for The Waking Fire

Oooh Dragons

So this post will be a book review, but it will not be about Anthony Ryan’s Empire of Ashes regardless of that book being mentioned in the title of this post.

This post will be about the first book in that series The Waking Fire. Essentially, I was given an ARC of Ryan’s Empire of Ashes, only to realize that it’s the third book in the series . . . and I haven’t read any of the others yet (well I suppose now I’ve read the first one).  So without further ado, the first step in the road . . .

To put it simply, The Waking Fire checks all of the boxes for an epic fantasy and then some. And then some more. Like I kinda imagine the writing process going something like this:

Dragons? Check. Is the fate of the world at stake? Yup! Is there magic? Yes! And it’s color-coded! Good Good. This is very good.

Then it starts to throw in some other elements which are not as ‘stereo typical’ (although I might argue still pretty common) as a tolkeinesque fantasy. Steam punk(ish) time period? Sure let’s do it! Large naval battles? Duh pirates are the best! But do you like spy novels? Uh who doesn’t? And you probably also like adventure stories too? We could throw in a lost civilization . . . Dude The Mummy is like one of my favorite movies.

Ok so we’ve got just a few more things to add. We aren’t done yet? Oh no sir buckle up. Do you like faceless hoards of enemies who’s only purpose is to be mowed down by really big guns? Great! and oh, no it’s not extra, we throw in a planetary alignment with every third trope, it’s destiny after all. Oh oh sorry, how do you like your MacGuffins? Unresolved? We got you fam.

I’ve probably overdone this just a bit. This book really does shine in the depth of its world and the interaction of its characters with each other. No detail about this world was forgotten and each of the characters felt alive and real (except for Clay’s main love interest who doesn’t have a speaking role until the last chapter of the book).

dragon about breathe fire as man watches

I suppose artwork is on the list of things this book does right. I mean just look at this dragon.

I suppose that all books are just a list of their component parts. It’s just unfortunate when the reader can see those parts so explicitly. Joshua S Hill over at Fantasy Book Review addressed this issue as contrivance, noting that all books have parts that are ‘contrived’ but some authors are better at distracting you from it than others. I’m starting to think that Joshua and I have similar tastes and opinions.

Despite all of this, I’ll be reading the second book in the series,  The Legion of Flame, as I am quite curious as to what the next step in our journey will be. I’m not sure whether this will be a trilogy, or longer, but I’m hopeful that book won’t suffer from 2nd book syndrome.

I think that’s all for now.

Robert Sharp’s 01001001 01000011 01000101 a ‘bit’ deep, a bunch cool

Cover: Two children on a cliff overlooking damaged cityscape

Image credit: Daria Schreiber, you can follow her on twitter @Yefimia 

Way back in March of 2015 I reviewed a book called The Good Shabti by Robert Sharp (feel free to read my review of The Good Shabtiand spoiler alert, I loved it!

I love Ancient Egypt and am always hungry for any stories that take place there. And while reading the story, I was impressed by how much detail the author incorporated and how ‘real’ everything seemed while also telling a meaningful story.  A great first impression no doubt.

Needless to say I was ecstatic when Sharp actually contacted me (all these years later) about his new story called ‘01001001 01000011 01000101’ published over at Pornokitsch.

Just looking at the title, I was pretty confident we wouldn’t be cruising the placid waters of the Nile, but I did not expect that we would be sledging through the permanent snow drift of a post societal collapse where children are sent to scavenge for fuel and have no compunction (or at least very little) at burning books to stay warm.

Spoiler alert, I loved this too.

‘01001001 01000011 01000101’ is a tale of survival, but also a question about the value of information to those who can’t use it. What is the purpose of saving and archiving the past if future generations aren’t able to access that knowledge? What is the value saving something for the future, when an immediate benefit can be gained now? Is all of the knowledge in the world more valuable than a human life? All very serious questions.

The word HAPPY and then binary under

How I felt reading this novella. 🙂

I think perhaps my favorite aspect of the story though, is the seemingly random bits of binary code that interrupt the text. I’m a big nerd and just happen to have a binary to text converter in my favorites bar, so an added bit of fun for me was translating the code along the way and attempting to reflect on what it said as I continued reading.

I’m waffling on whether or not I recommend this approach as it was a bit hard to remember what the last part said while reading the newest sequence and also keeping track of the story. I may just advise collecting all of them along the way and translating them all at once at the end. Even so, I very much enjoyed how these interruptions sort of jolt you through the story. You’re kind of reading one part and then you skip ahead a bit. It feels a little like listening to a scratched CD (anybody remember those days?), but in a good way. Neat effect.

Finally, you should all be proud of how many different ways I used the word ‘bit’ just then and didn’t make a joke about it in reference to that word being a portmanteau of binary digit . . . Just be proud ok!

TLDR:

I highly recommend this piece. Sharp continues to bring a tremendous attention to detail and craftsmanship to his work. Where in the past it was focusing on the little details of an ancient civilization which immerse the reader into the story, now it is the small details of the actual form of the piece which again immerse you into a pretty philosophical story. Go read it!

Oh and here’s just a bit (this one I didn’t even mean to do) of fun since we’re talking about binary so much and I just love Flight of the Conchords. Binary solo! 


Continue reading

The Refrigerator Monologues: Critique Served Cold

the-refrigerator-monologues-9781481459341_hrPlease read this book.

I hate it when reviewers simply summarize what they’ve read, but honestly I’m not sure how to talk about this book without giving some kind of background, so I’ll give you the premise instead. Essentially, Catherynne M. Valente has written a parody of our most beloved super heroes, but instead of focusing on the men-in-tights, she gives us the stories of their dead lovers.

Why Should I care?

Well for one, it’s pretty amazing. These women’s stories are angry, sad, stunning, whimsical, nostalgic, pitiful, miraculous, inspiring, morose and so much more . . . all at the same time. In a post for Mary Sue, Valente gives her inspiration for the book (apparently, Spiderman 2, cuban cocktails and Gail Simmone’s Women In Refrigerators) and describes her own work as:

” . . . putting the calligraphy aside and just punching a page over and over until it breaks.”

That sentence alone is an example of the precision and awareness Valente can bring to her words. She does so throughout the entirety of The Refrigerator Monologues. 

If you’re a comic book fan, you’ll probably enjoy the crap out of spotting these unique, and often silly, analogues to MC and DC universes (Valente had to create her own entirely different universe). If you’re not a huge fan of comics? You’ll probably still get a kick out of it. All the majors are pretty mainstream now, and even a lot of the minors are in the public eye. You’ll know what’s going on.

But you said it critiques comics . . .

. . . and in a lot of cases it does so harshly. With this in mind, it might be easy to pass up.  After all, who wants to read a book that just condemns a thing that they love?

Please don’t pass it up.

It’s obvious that while Valente recognizes a lot of problems in the ways women have been represented in comics, she still loves them. The stories are carefully (and excellently) written. They are clever in their characterizations, tone, and story arcs. This can only come from someone who truly cares for the genre.  I think my favorite is the 2nd story, about Julia Ash, but each one I read, I though “Oh so-and-so would get a kick out of this one” or “Wow. I wish [Insert ‘I-have-friends‘ name] had read this. S/he would love it.”

It doesn’t take much to see there is a bit of a feminist thing going on in “Geekdom” (I’m really understating this lol) and I think this is, and will be, an important part of whatever ‘Geek Feminism’ evolves into. In my (irrelevant) opinion it is certainly a worthy addition. I hope that we all go out and read this book now, and that in 10 or 20 years (hell maybe 5?) people will be assigned this in their literature classes.

So . . . ?

So go read this one. Talk about it with your friends. Post about it online. And leave me your thoughts in the comments.

eyesidarenotmeet_full

Image by Yuko Shimizu

Also, don’t hate me for knocking off The Skim in writing/formatting this post. It just sort of happened.

UPDATE: I always end up doing this in a way that isn’t a true update but whatever. If you want to check out another story (a free one) that deals with women and refrigerators, please go check out Sunny Moraine’s eyes I dare not meet in dreams which Tor.com has recently posted. Apparently, it was posted at another website back in 2015 but now it’s Tor’s. It is very different in tone, meaning and style, but I think Moraine’s reaction to the Women in Refrigerators trope is as important as anything else I’ve written on this topic. Also, Lady Business seems to have done a good job explaining everything if it’s at all weird or confusing. Ok. Carry on!

 

 

Dreamer: A Different Flavor for Brandon Sanderson

Dreamer
This was an interesting (little) piece from Brandon Sanderson. I don’t really think of Sanderson’s books as being overtly moral. We watch his protagonists struggle with situations that are truly pretty grim, but through it all we kind of have a feeling of which way north is. Even if it gets a little bit fuzzy sometimes.

And for all that we know which way is north, it never feels forced or belligerent. It’s not shouting in the front row but somewhere in the back. Hidden but we know it is there and it is reassuring.

Dreamer seems to be missing this quality.

We are so wrapped up in the action of this piece that even though we realize the consequences of the game we’re playing (there are a few lines that make it pretty explicit), we have to work at being horrified by them. We want Dreamer to catch Phi. We want Dreamer to win, even though the cost for doing so is quite high for everyone except Dreamer and Phi.

All in all it’s a bit disorienting. But good disorienting? What I can pin down is that I’m very impressed that I’m able to think/write this much about such a short story. After all, it was only 12 pages. I think that means it was good. 🙂

Trying to Get Caught Up on Scalzi (Review of Miniatures & Redshirts)

Miniatures
Miniatures was a very quick and fun read. The stories are short and very easy to speed through (I think I read the whole thing in two sittings). For fans who have read a lot of Scalzi in the past, this collection displays all of the trademark imagination and humor that we associate with a Scalzi novel. For people who have never read one of his novels, I feel that you’ll get a pretty good feeling for his style and what kind of stories he writes. Nothing in this collection was earth shattering but all of the stories were enjoyable and most made me laugh. If you’re feeling that you’ve been in a bit of a rut when it comes to what you’ve been reading, this collection will be a breath of fresh air.

Also, many of the stories were written a pretty long while ago. Around eight years ago and further back. It’s amazing to me how prescient they were reading them in 2017. Not in terms of technology that we have today (many of the stories don’t have really visible future tech), but in terms of subject matter. For instance one story was written in 2008 posits an alternate history in which Vladimir Putin is the first person on moon. Not sure what Putin was doing back in 2008 but he’s certainly relevant today. Another story (written in 2010) forms a scenario in which yogurt takes over the world. I think the mixed feelings of “How could this have happened?” and “Is this a joke?” perfectly reflect the way many Democrats feel after this most recent election. To think that it was written 7 years ago . . .

red shirtsMoving onward, I have been doing a bit of “catching up” in terms of Scalzi’s catalog. I just finished Redshirts but elected not to give it its own post as it’s a Hugo award winner and probably has had enough written about it. Needless to say, I enjoyed Redshirts a lot, but am surprised by just how critically acclaimed it was. A quick look at the other authors nominated that year show: Kim Stanely Robinson, Saladin Ahmed, Mira Grant, and Lois McMaster Bujold. Seems a strong roster. I’ve not read any of these other authors but am familiar with their work (except Bujold). I also feel that if Redshirts had been nominated for the most recent Hugo award, it would not have stood a chance. Definitely interesting to see how awards change and how “what’s popular” changes over time.

Looking forward, I may try to read Lock In quickly before Collapsing Empire comes out. I’ve been told it is very different from Scalzi’s other works which seem to all be Star Trek parodies in one way or another (with Redshirts being literally a Star Trek parody). I’m very interested to see what Scalzi would write about when he isn’t writing about shooting things in space. Until next time . . .

The Stars Are Legion: Half Space Opera, Half Surgery

the-stars-are-legion-final-coverSeriously though. This one’s a bit . . . gooey.

Remember Osmosis Jones? This book’s setting is like that, except turned up to eleven and not for kids. Basically, most of our story takes place inside a big a planet that is living and breathing just like we are. Instead of being made of rock, water, and precious metals, this planet is made of skin, veins, teeth, flesh and tentacles. Yea, tentacles.

There are many of these planets (hence ‘Legion’) and the protagonists must travel to a few (really where the space opera part comes in) and explore the depths of another. If you’re bothered by words like ‘placenta’ and ‘afterbirth’ showing up too many times on a page, then you may want to pass this one by.

Indeed the setting is probably the biggest hurdle to enjoying this story. However, after a while, you kind of get desensitized to it. After a longer while you realize just how critical these pieces are to the larger story (and messaging) Hurley is trying to create.

I suspect many will find The Stars Are Legion Hugo worthy and indeed it should probably get nominated (already found one review talking awards). I’ve been trying to relearn and improve my knowledge of the more technical parts of writing fiction. Hurley shows herself to be a master of these technical aspects. A great opening sentence (Simply: “I remember throwing away a child” Like who doesn’t want to read more after that?), sparse but meaningful use of onomatopoeia, and good use of POV to slowly reveal pertinent information for the reader (you can tell what I’ve been studying this week haha).

It’s setting, and use of POV, seem reminiscent of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, which I loved, and the cast of only female characters (there is obviously a statement about gender happening here) certainly puts the book in conversation with Leckie’s book. However, I’m unsure if it is as effective.

In all, I enjoyed reading this book very much. Ken Liu’s cover endorsement of “mind-bending” is absolutely true and I feel the book is worth picking up just to explore the setting alone. It certainly shocks and there is a good deal of awe. The fact that we get an intricate story is even better. If there is a sequel, I hope it’s revealed what some of these ‘terrible things’ are that the protagonists keep thinking back on although it is implied that they might only look towards the future.  We will see.

That’s all for now folks. Happy surgery!

Review of Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson

snapshotEnjoyable. I will probably look into Reckoners series now (like I wasn’t going to already). I think maybe he tried to do a little too much at the end but the story was still very good.

Snapshot is basically a detective story. I occasionally read detective stories (Ok that’s a lie. Apparently I’ve read a lot) and enjoy them though my bag is much more in the SF and Fantasy realm. Indeed I’ve read a few SFF stories that are basically just detective novels (with all the bad writing and misogyny) set in a science fiction or fantastic world. These types of stories are often disappointing as we’re not progressing in either genre. Snapshot does not feel this way to me. If anything it is a detective story with one fantastical (SF?) element: the Snapshot.

As such the expectations being met, broken, or subverted are unique to detective stories. His effort here is not simply: “Look! I mashed two genres together!”. But it seems he really wanted to add something to the detective genre and I feel he’s done that to an extent.

Perhaps what was showcased the most for me was Sanderson’s ability to write characters. They always seem incredibly real and I enjoy the little quirks he gives them to make them feel that way. Snapshot is no exception. You get to witness an incredible series of events that happen to very likable (well at the very least very sympathetic) people. I wouldn’t ask for more.

Please feel free to comment your thoughts, impressions, praise, or random blatherings. I’m always up for talking Brandon Sanderson.