Should ‘Network Effect’ get a Hugo?

A beautiful day for some Murderbot ūüôā

Hello. We’re back with another exciting episode of “Do I think this book I read would/should get a Hugo”.

Martha Wells is another author I’ve become a big fan of over the last several years (although one I’ve apparently never posted about on this blog). I first came across All Systems Red, the first installment in what has become The Murderbot Diaries, back in 2017 and according to Goodreads, actually read the darn thing in April of 2018.

By this point, it had already won an Alex Award, and was on the list of Verge’s Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Novels of 2017, which I suppose is a tad confusing, since it is in fact, a novella. By the end of 2018, Murderbot had won a Hugo, a Nebula, and the Locus Award for best novella.

The hype was real . . .

And completely warranted. Murderbot was a fresh take. We have all seen, read, and built up a healthy fear of autonomous robots. In nearly all instances, they are designed to kill people, or they “go bad” and figure out how to kill people on their own. At their most heroic, they still kill a bunch of people, but not the ones we’re rooting for so that’s good even though we’re still kinda worried that whatever black-box logic has kept them from killing us, will suddenly change, and they’ll start doing what they do best, killing all the humans (also us).

I suppose Murderbot falls into this last category, as it uses all its super advanced equipment, methods, and strategy to save a couple of researchers (mostly by killing things that are trying to kill those researchers), but the book makes the killing machine its protagonist. We get to look inside the black box. As we read, we learn why this particular killing machine is on our side.

Namely that is because it doesn’t want to fail its contract. It doesn’t want to fail its contract because this will make it harder for it to sit around in its repair cube (or really anywhere) and watch its favorite TV show.

This is — not necessarily surprisingly; but refreshingly — incredibly relatable.

Who here has not undertaken extreme measures in the pursuit of laziness? I thought so. And then there are the themes. Trust, free will, what it means to be human (and in later installments: trauma, friendship, recovery and consent) . . . All the important stuff. But all of it through the lens (camera footage?) of our incredibly likeable protagonist.

So you liked the first one, what about the others?

Oh yes. There are three other novellas within the series before we reach the topic of this post (which I will also reach any moment now). All of them are excellent reads which I devoured one after the other, until I was anxiously awaiting the most recent addition.

Lovely Murderbot Covers

And this most recent one?

A great read as well, if not quite as good as the others. As this was the first ‘novel length’ Murderbot adventure, I felt myself missing the quick pace of the novellas. Not to say that this book dragged necessarily, but I think the smaller scope of the previous adventures were a key factor in their success. If you have not yet read this book, definitely go ahead and jump it to the top of the TBR pile.

So Hugo then?

Sadly no. Murderbot is by far one of my favorite characters in fiction right now and I will gladly pay whatever money they charge for the next installment (and any after that!), but I think its chances are suffering a bit from the same thing that I mentioned in my Rhythm of War post last week, it’s no longer new. Network Effect is the fifth installment of a series that seems to be showing little signs of slowing down. I believe at least one more novel is going to come out soon, and who knows how many more after that.

Plus, as a novella, Murderbot has already taken home a Hugo. It’s time to share Murderbot . . . SHARE!

I’m just kidding. I don’t think that’s how the Hugo’s should work. If you write several excellent novels, whether one after the other, or in different years, you should not have to relinquish your chances based on past performance.

Murderbot has come a long way since All Systems Red, and has managed to keep all of what won it so many awards back in 2018, and perhaps even tread territory in subsequent installments that would have made it worthy in 2019. But for 2020, for Network Effect, it just didn’t quite get there.

Thanks all! Please leave any comments or insights in the comment section. Looking forward to hearing y’all’s thoughts. Until next time . . .

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 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.

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 . . .

Jurassic Chronicles a bit of a bust.

jurassic-chronicles-ebookI was very excited to read this book. I was familiar with Victor Milan’s Dinosaur Lords and honestly just love dinos. Unfortunately, this book did not really deliver as advertised (or at least not how I imagined it should have / what I thought I would be reading).

There are dinosaurs in the book but that is kind of the only engagement with the theme of the anthology. I think the story that most exemplified what I felt the anthology should have been composed of was Harry Manners’ “Szcar’s Trial”. It’s POV of an actual dinosaur that comes into contact with some alien technology. While the tech is important to the plot, it is really Szcar’s battle for acceptance within the pack that composes “the story”. Very well done.

The other stories seem to just be little asides from the different authors’ other projects that they just threw dinos in to bring awareness of their other works. Didn’t feel like there were many stories written specifically for the theme of the anthology even though it is obvious that all the stories were basically commissioned

Even Milan’s story “A Spear for Allosaur” can kinda be thought of in this way, but I enjoyed it much more as I was already familiar with the Dino Lords “universe”. For anyone who is familiar with that series, we get to see a young Karyl and the story really shows how much the character has changed and developed into the Karyl we know now.

In all, I’ll be looking out for stuff from Harry Manners and will continue being a fan of Victor Milan, but otherwise, was not super impressed by this anthology. This is my first ‘Future Chronicles’ anthology so hopefully the others will prove better ūüôā

Monday Started on Saturday but not close enough to the end.

mondaystartsonsaturdayOk. Maybe that is a bit harsh.

I’ve just finished reading Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Monday Starts on Saturday.¬†Honestly,¬†this book was super clever, but other than its cleverness, I’m not sure what I really gained from reading it. Certainly towards the end of the book, when the “big reveal” happens (if you could call it that) it is sufficiently mind blowing and I was curious as to why no one (except maybe Dr. Who) had ever thought of something like this. But once I realized that was what this book was about, I realized that most of the rest of it was simply put there to distract you from what probably could have been accomplished in 20 pgs not 200.

Now I also realize that much of it was also (likely) a commentary on Soviet Russia, but as with many other Russian books I’ve tried to read, I don’t know enough of the history to really keep a hold on things. That’s my fault though. I suppose I should get learned.

I guess I was just expecting something different. ¬†I’ve really only just found out about¬†Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, and it seems that they are popping up everywhere. First in this recommendation¬†from SF Gateway, then in a list of Most Underrated Sci-Fi Authors over at OMNI. Even one of my co-workers recommended them (sorry no link ūüėČ )

However, after reading the whole thing, I felt somewhat like I’d been duped. Honestly, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I feel like I didn’t get it.

I’ll probably give Arkady and Boris another try. Much hype, very renowned. Plus Monday Starts on Saturday seems to have ended on a bit of a cliff hanger. I may pick up the sequel (Tale of the Troika), but I’d also like to try something of their’s that is unrelated to this. Maybe I’ll get more of what I was looking for (whatever that was).

*Note: Apparently there is a pretty rich and exciting world of Russian Sci-Fi out there so I’ll be looking into that. Found this list on Goodreads and apparently Macmillan did a series of Best Soviet Science Fiction. What I think may be really interesting is the stuff that is post Soviets though. I found a good place to start on Wikipedia.¬† We’ll see what I accomplish.

Stay Crazy: A New POV on Mental Illness

Well, I’d like to start this review by saying, I ACTUALLY FINISHED THIS BOOK!!

Honestly, this is a bit of an accomplishment for me considering the last book I actually finished was¬†Easy Go back in the beginning of July (and before that? a guide to freelancing back in May!!). I guess that doesn’t seem like a long time but I think I’ve started about a book a week since then and haven’t made it through a single one of em. I suppose that’s another post altogether.

StayCrazyCoverAnyway . . .¬†Stay Crazy. Erica Satifka’s debut novel is really something different. Narrated from the point of view of a Schizophrenic protagonist, there is a lot that we could expect from just the premise alone. We’re used to reading Gothic tales of large houses and doppelgangers which we use as metaphors to explore the psyche and glean inferences of what it might be like to have such an affliction. Those stories never leave us feeling anything good towards whatever condition they’re attempting to expound upon.¬†Stay Crazy is much more practical . . . and much more modern.

We don’t have castles or crypts but instead a big-box discount store. We don’t have nameless horrors (although we kind of do), but we do have a detective calling the shots from another dimension (basically aliens). And we also have a snarky college dropout who knows that a frozen dinner couldn’t really be talking to her, but that doesn’t matter as she can still hear what it’s saying and it sounds pretty important.

What I liked about the book is that the take feels so genuine. Satifka isn’t trying to reach some fundamental of mental illness that we have to tease out or extrapolate. She’s writing about one condition that she has clearly done her homework on, and has built a character and story around. And once things start moving, it becomes a nail-biter pretty quickly.

My only problem with the story is that we don’t have any other points of view. We are in a constant state of: “Is this really happening?” or “Ok but what’s really going on?”. I suppose the answer to that question isn’t super important and actually, it was probably a shrewd move on the author’s part not to give us closure as I expect people living with a mental illness of this type never get a definitive answer either.

My last criticism of the story relates to what I said above. There are a few scenes that I could’t really place in the overall narrative other than just general craziness which would perhaps be a symptom (side effect?) of the character’s struggle with mental illness. I suppose these sequences helped get across the point of “this is what it’s like” but I never did figure out if they served some other purpose as well.

In all, this is definitely a book I would talk to my friends about (and have already done so) if for nothing more than it seems unique. I’ve not yet read a book that attempts to make someone with Schizophrenia the focus point of a novel. And if I have, I’ve not yet read one that does so in a way that doesn’t paint them as some kind of freak or villain, but as someone who struggling towards a better life, and happens to have some extra obstacles thrown in their way.

Until next time . . . Stay Crazy ūüėČ

 

Easy Go: A Different Crichton

Easy Go - CoverMichael Crichton’s¬†Easy Go was both a pleasure and a let down to read. The book was originally published under a pseudonym John Lange, and with the title¬†The Last Tomb.¬†I first became aware of “Easy Go” (and John Lange) through a¬†Humble Bundle mystery bundle in which it was included. Though none of the other books in the bundle seemed remotely interesting, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that Michael Crichton had a pseudonym . . .

And that I didn’t already know about him!

I mean this was MICHAEL CHRICHTON!!! The author of some of my absolute favorite books!¬†Sphere, Timeline, State of Fear, Next!¬†For god’s sake, he wrote¬†Jurassic¬†Park!!¬†

JURASSIC F–ing PARK!!

Hell, I even enjoyed Pirate Latitudes although it was a bit of a left turn for Crichton. But this whole time, John Lange has been lurking out there, waiting. And no one bothered to tell me. Le sigh.

Anyway, I looked up the synopsis and¬†Easy Go promised adventure and danger, and romance. Honestly, it all seemed a bit more like one of those old pulpy adventure novels than a true Michael Crichton book. However, Crichton is an amazing author and I figured if anyone could do this right it was him. Plus the story takes place in Egypt and is about digging up a tomb. It’s exactly this setting and premise that I’ve been itching for modern authors to write but alas am unfulfilled.

Zero Cool

No Chill Brah

So how was it? A bit of a let down. While the synopsis had made it seem like one of those old pulpy adventure novels, the actual novel confirmed it. Most of the characters in the novel are hardly characters at all. They fill roles, and exist mostly to get the protagonist to the next portion of the plot. And there is no attempt to hide this from the reader at all. One of the characters, upon meeting another character, is like “Oh. You must be the [enter heist role hear] “.

Also, there were some little things throughout the novel that made it really feel dated. I think the most glaring was the way women were depicted in the novel. Almost every woman in the novel except the main love interest was a prostitute. The pretty much constant innuendo between the male and female lead was bordering on exhausting (although there is a line from the female lead which calls this out. After the male lead makes some mildly suggestive quip she says something like “Wow. You’re so corny.” or some such nonsense).

I really threw in the towel when Lisa (the female lead) lights a cigarette for Pierce (male lead) and it’s noticed how capable she is at this task: “like a man”. Good lord. Kill me now.

However, it wasn’t all bad. Crichton seems to have done his research about ancient Egypt (though his depiction of modern Egypt seemed a bit stereotypical). So far as I can tell, all the pyramids were in the right place (I’ll be honest though I didn’t fact check) and a significant number of pharaohs are mentioned. It was this part of it that made the book feel the most like a Crichton novel. The rest of it was . . . disappointing.

In all I enjoyed the adventure as well as the fact that it had something to do with Ancient Egypt. As for the rest, I can see why he chose to write under a pseudonym though it’s a wonder he chose to write that way at all.

Until next time . . .

The Truth About Dinosaur Lords

Great cover

Great cover

I’ve been looking around and haven’t seen a lot of negative press about Dinosaur Lords. Which honestly, I wouldn’t have expected based on the premise alone. I also haven’t really seen a lot of press at all about The Dinosaur Lords which is very surprising considering how excited it seemed like the zeitgeist was to read it.¬†However, after reading a bit into the book, I’ve decided that something should be said. Here goes:

The Dinosaur Lords has a really cool premise. I can’t believe no one has done this before. Unfortunately, I felt there were some problems with the execution. Mostly, I found the writing style did more to obscure what was happening in each scene than show us. I recommended this book to a friend before reading it and each day we’d meet up and be like “So what happened in here?” Nine times out of ten one of us was like “OH! Now I get it”.

All of that being said, it’s still a good read. I think the sheer coolness of KNIGHTS RIDING DINOS!! will be enough for most people to enjoy it. And honestly, it should be enough.

I’d love it if someone took the time to make a map of Paradise. When I first cracked open the book and saw the Portrait of La Merced I was like “Finally, a fantasy novel that doesn’t have an overbearing map that I won’t look at”. Then as I got into the book further, I realized that is exactly what the book needed.

I guess the the last thing I’ll say is, this book is not yet “… a cross between Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones” as promised by GRRM. It is dark enough in places to be like GoT and has dinos (so Jurassic Park) but it somehow seemed to fall short of that mark. Its obvious to me that this is going to be a series, but I think this opening could have benefited from a little more closure. I feel like I watched the first part of a miniseries which just ended after 450 pages and I’m not sure what larger story each character’s plots are involved in. Or whether or not they relate at all.

I hope there is a sequel to this, but I’d like to see it carefully done. I think that is all. Don’t murder me in the comments.