Hugo Winners 2018! A few thoughts

I need to finish my Hugo reviews – sorry, folks. Life got busy.  A few comments while I’m thinking about it today…..

Best Novel:
Winner: NK Jemisin’s The Stone Sky.  I heartily agree!

Jemisin’s trilogy is a resounding success. It’s the only second-person writing that’s ever worked for me, because she has a necessary and clear reason to use that approach, and she deployed it well. If you haven’t read The Fifth Season (my review) and The Obelisk Gate (my review) along with this year’s Hugo winner, you now have THREE Hugo Awards to spur you forward. No other author has scored a hat trick like this in Hugo history.  Plus, TNT is turning the series into a TV event – so read the books first!!

Amazon link to the trilogy or Apple iBook or Audiobook

Best Novella:
Winner:  All Systems Red by Martha Wells.  Yes!

I voted for Binti as #1, but this novella was a strong second and I’m thrilled that it won the award this year.  You’ll fall in love with Murderbot just like I did. The story serves up great military science fiction and characterization, and gives us a good window for grappling with the continuing question of how we define personhood and the tendency of humans to oppress those whom we dehumanize or strip of self-determination.  You can buy Wells’s novella on Amazon or Apple and it’s worth the dollars (plus you can support an author!)

Best Novelette:
Winner: “Secret Life of Bots” by Suzanne Palmer

This is a delightful long story, one of my favorites this year though I voted for “Wind Will Rove” as the winner (Sarah Pinsker). I need to write a separate review of “Wind” here for y’all. It’s one of the most meaningful stories I’ve read in a long time.  But readers make meaning as we read, bringing our own reality into the equation as we judge the merits of a story.

“Wind Will Rove” tops my list because it’s a story about music and a story about teaching and a story about space exploration, and I love all of those things.  But that doesn’t diminish Palmer’s excellent tale and I’m not sorry “Secret Life of Bots” took the crown.  Her bot story made me smile and reminded me of the best from people like Scalzi. (Published in September 2017 issue of Clarkesworld magazine.)

Best Short Story:
Winner: “Welcome to your authentic Indian experience” by Rebecca Roanhorse (also the John W Campbell winner this year)

This is probably my largest divergence from the Hugo lineup this year. I put Roanhorse’s short story #4 on my ballot, behind “Fandom for Robots,” “The Martian Obelisk,” and “Sun, Moon, and Dust.”  It’s hard with short stories to settle on meaningful criteria for judging the works. Am I going by “feels”? Or story construction? Artistry of language? Punch and surprise? Big Central Question?

No complaints that Roanhorse won. The only short story I didn’t particularly like was “Clearly lettered in a mostly steady hand.” The other 5 were solid.

Best Related Work:  won by Ursula LeGuin.  I’m still not willing to acknowledge the loss of LeGuin, and apparently many of us are in that same spot. I did vote for Zoe Quinn’s book because I think the whole Gamergate dustup needs to be documented, dissected, and studied if we’re ever to get a handle on the toxic masculinity that dominates so much online discourse. But every word from LeGuin is a treasure, especially now that she’s gone.

Best Graphic Story:  I love Monstress, and it won!  But how on earth did My Favorite Thing is Monsters not WIN THE BALLOT this year?  It’s a remarkable work.  Read about it here:

If this sounds like a wild story, so is the tale of how Ferris came to write it. She was a 40-year-old single mom who supported herself doing illustrations when she was bitten by a mosquito, she contracted West Nile virus, became paralyzed from the waist down, and lost the use of her drawing hand. Fighting chronic pain, she taught herself to draw again, then reinvented herself as a graphic novelist, spending six long years creating what’s clearly an emotional autobiography.

And man, does her commitment show. Breaking away from the panel format customary in comics, Ferris’s densely-imagined, crosshatched images explode with a visual freedom I’ve not seen in a graphic novel. And she uses that freedom to give us, well — everything.

I cannot praise Ferris’s GN enough. You should immediately put this on your reading list.  Amazon link.

And I also highly recommend the Monstress series, which took home the award again this year. It’s beautifully drawn and a great story. I voted for the lead artist as Best Professional Artist, and I’m glad she won!
  

Best Long Form and Short Form Drama: I voted for Get Out above Wonder Woman, but WW was a lovely film and gave us the female superhero we always knew we wanted. No issues with how that turned out.

And that’s it for my commentary — I didn’t vote for the other categories (editor, magazine, fan writer, YA, Campbell, etc) because I don’t spend enough time in those worlds to cast a fair vote.

This was a great year for the Hugo Awards, IMO. The nominees were diverse, the selections were interesting and skilled. I’m so glad the “Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies” years seem to have passed.

DO YOU WANT TO VOTE IN THE HUGO AWARDS?

It’s open to all fans who hold a voting membership for the upcoming year’s WorldCon convention.  No attendance required; all voting is done online. Voting members receive a packet of PDFs of the various nominations (including selections from the novels and book-length works) in early June and voting closes in late July. Visit the site for more information. 

My husband and I have been voting for the past several years, and it’s enriched my summer reading. Even if you don’t spring to buy a membership and vote, the nominee lists for the Locus, Hugo, and Nebula Awards are always public. No excuse for not having great reading material at hand! 😉

One more spread from My Favorite Thing is Monsters.

Music Monday: Tunes for the week

Man, it’s been forever since I laid down a Music Monday post!  Must remedy immediately!

Music continues to hold a large space in my life, though it’s been diminished significantly over the past few years. Being away from a large body of students has cut off my access to the latest/newest bits of pop culture. I can skim media feeds but it’s not the same as being hooked into the stream directly. I do miss that.

Is it just me, or is pop radio TERRIBLE this year? I’m hardly in the car anymore, now that I work from home, but I’m counting it a blessing given the bland grey dull tunes that hit me anytime I turn on the radio. A friend of mine described the entire pop ecosystem right now as “f***n mumble rap* and I think she’s got a point.  (For the record, she listens to plenty of rap – the good stuff that never makes it to mainstream radio.)  The rock stations aren’t much better; I feel like I’ve heard the Standard White People Catalog of 70s Rock, 80s Hits, 90s Grunge and 00s Alt Rock way too many times now.

So I’ve leaned into Apple Music to discover new sounds and review some old ones.  Nothing here is particularly “new,” just new to me – and recommended.

For today’s Music Monday:   3 albums and 1 Apple Music playlist that should be in your feed for this week. Listen happy, friends!

Andra Day: Cheers to the Fall

So many things to love about this album. Day’s voice reminds me of the greatest Motown enhanced by everything ’90s R&B has to offer. The tracks move through a soundscape reminiscent of the ’60s, walking through your ears like a woman in a sleek dress in a Bond movie – the Sean Connery series, or the first Daniel Craig one.  Take track #2, “Only Love.”  I hear crisp martinis and red lipstick in these grooves, and it’s hard to have a bad day when Andra Day is laying down the soundtrack.  Get it on Amazon or listen on Apple Music.

London Grammar: Truth is a Beautiful Thing

The lead single off this album, “Rooting for You,” has gotten airplay in various places. It’s lush and mournful, dreamy and beautiful. Play this whole album as background to a dinner outside on your patio under the evening twilight, or sit outside yourself tonight and sip a frosty beverage as the sun goes down.  Get it on Amazon or Apple Music 

Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer

 I’m in love with this album. It’s spicy and saucy and a little….dirty. lol   Every track sizzles with slick beats and sultry vocals. If you have time, treat yourself to watching the 45-minute “Emotion Picture” version of the album: a sci-fi story about assimilation vs love. I can’t list a particular favorite track because I’d have to list the entire album. Not an exaggeration.   Dirty Computer on Amazon. Or on Apple Music

PLAYLIST: The Rocket 100 (curated by Elton John) – Apple Music

This will cure my pop radio blues! Only Elton John could put together a playlist of music so varied and interesting yet so ….pop. I’m a rock girl most of the time, but sometimes I want the lighter, happy tunes that pop should provide. The summer of 2018 hasn’t dished out many singles that I’ve loved, but I can always turn on Sir Elton’s playlist and instantly improve my day!  Skip anything you don’t enjoy — there’s over SIX hours of music here if you listen to the whole thing!  In fact, I wish every retail establishment would throw out their tired background music and replace it with this.

https://embed.music.apple.com/us/playlist/elton-johns-playlist/pl.9192e00c1da741719f7b4816d164031e?app=music&at=1000lNKc

Bonus Track: North Carolina hardcore band Hopesfall broke up like a decade ago, but they’re back with a single and now a whole album (via Apple or Amazon)!  It’s solid, and I’m glad to see them back!  Why do I care? Apparently the music we grow up with sticks with us.

https://embed.music.apple.com/us/album/arbiter/1370595882?app=music&at=1000lNKc

The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral | Hapgood

Honestly one of the most interesting things I’ve read in a while. His thesis is that the early days of the Web (hypertext) were headed toward a “garden” approach, where humans collaboratively curated and organized knowledge for broad consumption.
But what we’ve ended up with is a “stream,” like the FB timeline you’re reading right now. Blogging, social media – these are individualistic and competitive; they’re about adding a piece of knowledge to a biased pile that I’m constantly building for myself.
 
The ethics of information management, of civic discourse, of the Internet — it’s all in this essay. This may be one of my favorite reads in a while (and it’s from 2016, so I’m super late to the party here) because he not only identifies one of the elements making Internet discourse so toxic, he’s also identifying potential paths toward a solution….. if people will have them.

Concert Review: Evanescence with Lindsey Stirling

Evanescence with Lindsey Stirling
Heritage Memorial Park Ampitheatre
Simpsonville, SC
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Lindsey Stirling in Concert//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Quick thoughts about this show:

Opener:  Cello Gram
A dude with a cello and a dude playing one of those wooden box percussion drum things.  Cool.  Fun.   And their stuff is on Apple Music and Amazon, so go look them up.

Main: Evanescence reminded me of how much I enjoyed their first album and why. I’ve had some of those songs running through my head ever since we left the show, but not in a bad, annoying way.  Amy Lee’s vocals are great as ever.

The real draw for this show, to me, was seeing everything played live with a full orchestra (featuring local musicians, conducted by someone on the tour).  There’s a richness to the orchestral sound that no amplified electronica can match.

The newest album releases Lee to redraft some of her old material in new ways and to add a few more songs to the pile. Yes, it’s all basically the same sound, but it was lovely.

Top songs for me:  My Immortal, Lithium   Latest album on Amazon // Apple Music

Headliner: Lindsey Stirling was a tour de force, exploding onto the stage with dancers and sets and 3 layers of costumes. Have you watched her on YouTube? Then you know what we saw. It was fun and light and beautiful.

I listened to Evanescence – I have hardly any photos — but I shot dozens of pictures during Stirling’s set.  I didn’t have a telephoto lens good enough to grab any really great shots, but the colors were so lovely.

Lindsey Stirling on Apple Music // on Amazon

The crowd featured teenagers, Millennials, and lots of GenX folks, especially women and married couples. I had to wonder if the men were there because their wives dragged them or because this goth rock music appeals to them too and they weren’t ashamed to admit it. 😉

A lovely evening under the stars, once the setting sun tempered the August heat.  Our friends nabbed a great spot to the right of center in the GA area, just behind the separating wall for the seating area. Will definitely sit there again.

 

 

 

 

A tiny rant re: pronouns

I’m slogging through a book — review will follow soon — that’s using two different systems of gender-neutral pronouns: xe/xir and e/eir depending on the culture of the person in question.

So here’s my tiny rant, to all you sci-fi authors out there:

I applaud your actions that incite progress in accepting a wide variety of humans in our present reality via the way you imagine future or fictional worlds.

However, your readers live in this one, and we currently have no established, familiar, comfortable gender-neutral pronoun set, though they/them works ok in real life.  Generally, if I’m talking about someone I know to someone else who knows them, the pronouns aren’t a big deal. We both know Mickey, and we can talk about Mickey in a text message without breaking syntactic sense: “I’ve asked Mickey to bring their cooler too, in case we need it. They said they’ll be here around 3pm.”  

In a story, it’s different.  In a story, where everyone is made up and nothing can be assumed, the author has to create reality for the reading one word at a time. In that environment, the gender-neutral pronouns are disruptive. Actually, I think they make some books and stories unreadable.

Just to be clear, I’m NOT saying it’s ever ok to misgender individual people in real life.  If  I had a friend who wanted me to use xe/xer as xer pronouns, I would do so without complaint….because it’s a small thing for me to do but large in acknowledging who xe is.  However, the reality of xer’s full existence as a person looms large beyond the pronoun selection. Zer’s face comes to mind when I use zer’s name.

[See how annoying that paragraph is, because you don’t have this person firmly planted in your own mind?  Yeah. Try reading 300 pages of it.] 

Pronouns are the backbone of a language, along with other critical “function words” like prepositions. Central grammatical structures change slowly over time, if they change at all. English has been using I/you/she/they pronouns for what, a thousand years now? We can count on one hand the significant shifts to core grammar: the loss of thou/thee and ye from 2nd person pronouns; the Great Vowel Shift; the elimination of verb endings for individual person/number in the indicative. (We went from “I know, thou knowest, he knows” to “I know, you know, he knows.”)

By the 21st century we’ve lost a lot of clausal complexity, and YA writers are addicted to tagging every single line of dialogue with a “he/she said” marker. (Lazy writing!)  Latin endings are nearly dead…. I cringe when I hear “indexes” and especially “curriculums.” *shudder*  And the subjunctive mood is on its deathbed. Am I the only person who shouts correct grammar at the radio when the singer intones, “I wish she was you?” But those shifts are minor compared to the loss of verb endings or changes to pronoun structure in the early Modern era. Most of the time, our language keeps up with the times by shedding old words, inventing some new syntax (especially among youth), and adding new vocabulary every day.  Not by breaking its spine on purpose to insert a new one.

I sincerely hope that English speakers come up with an agreed set of neutral pronouns, since it seems like we indeed need them.  I don’t know anyone personally who is genderqueer, but I want them to have pronouns available, and I’m happy for all kinds of people to see themselves represented fairly in stories.

But right now, this thing that sci-fi writers are trying to do?  This is too much. 

You can’t shove whole new systems of pronouns at people in a 300 page novel and assume it’s just going to work. I read a story for the Hugo ballot this year that focused on a set of twins. One was clearly female and the other was genderqueer until [he] chose not to be. When they were children, the author referred to individual twins using “they/them”
….except they are TWINS.
For crying out loud.  How the hell am I ever supposed to know whether the author was referring to one twin or the other or both of them?  

If I hadn’t been reading for Hugo voting, I would have stopped immediately.  Linguistic confusion makes poor writing, no matter how noble your cause.

Also, the current slate of popular sci-fi novels are stocked with like 50% non-hetero people and 25% genderqueer people, but …. human reproduction doesn’t work like that! This isn’t how biological evolution tends to progress. Current demographic data is fuzzy, but recent data suggests the entire population of LGBTQ+ individuals is less than 5%.

Look, I get it. Oppression leads to revolt which leads to change — and that is GOOD. I want to see acceptance be the norm in society, so the 5% of non-hetero folks are happy being who they are without fear. And making sure people have stories that reflect who they are.  All of those things are good, and we’re getting a lot more of it in mainline media now, not just fringe.

But this pronoun thing has got to get sorted out, and it’s not going to happen by every frackin’ book published in 2018 using xim, ze, or eir to refer to characters constantly.

I think this current trend (especially in sci-fi/fantasy) reduces these characters to merely their gender identity, often giving us little else to round out the picture.  As a reader, I’m left with an odd mental picture of a person who’s nothing but zir genitalia and sexual preferences and fashion habits. I think that’s reductionist and demeaning to the real humans who exist as genderqueer.

I fully support the inclusion of all kinds of characters into all kinds of stories. It’s just that few fictional universes make sense with majorly disruptive notions of gender identity crammed into the cultural development and world-building because “that’s what all the cool kids are doing these days. ”

Ursula LeGuin wrote one of the best novels I’ve ever read, Left Hand of Darkness (Amazon), about a planet whose people exist within a single gender identity except when they differentiate for mating. I wasn’t annoyed by her prose even once.  Authors can tell incredible, powerful stories without annoying the hell out of their readers by futzing with one of the backbone features of English syntax.

I’m firmly on the side of the SJW’s making life better for all people, but I’m longing for the pronoun fest to calm down so I can get back to reading stories for the reason I pick up books: to be challenged by big ideas and to learn something about humanity.  Not to wander each page in confusion wondering who said what, or stopping every fifth word to process a sentence like “E sent xim a note through eir datapad asking if xe could bring eir’s favorite wine for supper tonight.”

Ugh. *puts book down, walks away*

/rant

 

Advice from my 40-something self to my 20-something self

*taps* Hello? Hellooooo? Is this thing on? (You never know with time travel equipment.)

Ok. I’ve got a chance to send some advice back to my younger self, and I think it’s worth the risks. If I poof out of existence because I tangled the timelines…well, I guess this post will disappear too.

But not before I pass along some good stuff, the hard-earned coin of these past couple decades.

Don’t buy things. Buy experiences.

Young Self, I’ve been sending a lot of your stuff to Goodwill and eBay this year, stuff I bought when I was your age and then didn’t really use much. It’s easy when you’re just starting out in life to buy things that other people use because they seem to be getting so much good use out of them.

Here’s the thing: we Americans are hoarders. We’re consumers. We consume things then leave their discarded husks around to clutter up shelves and closets and the garage. It’s dumb, and it spawns a lot of needless dusting and angst. Let. It. Go.

All you need in your kitchen is …

  • An excellent set of knives. When the Cutco Guy shows up at your door sometime in 2002, make sure you let him in. Yes, the price is outrageous, but good tools cost money. No, you can’t afford it – buy a set anyway. We’ve been using these knives for 15+ years now and I thank Hephaestus for them every single day. We got them re-honed and factory sharpened a couple years ago. I plan to use them till I die, and then my friends can argue over who gets to inherit them.
  • A 12″ cast iron skillet and a 6″ cast iron skillet. You hardly need any other skillets. I don’t know why I waited so long to discover the magic of cast iron, but I’m going to blame it on the stupidity of youth. We make a breakfast scramble in the little one at least once a week and use the big one for nearly everything.
  • An enameled cast iron Dutch oven. This is the other half of my short list of “indispensable cookware.” You can make soup, stew, cacciatore, gravy, roasted meat, braised beef, slow cooked pulled pork….. it’s a magical device. It’s heavy, yeah, but it’s worth it. Make this beer braised pork roast and these carnitas and this Belgian beef stew all year long.  I have the one by Food Network because who has money for LeCruset?
  • Round out the cookware with a heavy sauce pan (I have a great anodized aluminum one from Calphalon), a cheap big pot for pasta (big and thin so it boils fast; mine is left over from a T-Fal set), and a small LeCruset metal enameled pot for making rice or cheesy grits. Any small, heavy pot will get a lot of use.
  • A small supply of high quality tools, preferably ones that do multiple jobs (Alton Brown’s rule). My list includes silicon scrapers and stiff spatulas that resist high heat or work for scraping a batter bowl; wooden spoons for cooking because they can handle high heat and a lot of abuse; a sturdy nylon whisk and a pan whisk (so handy – go buy one), good quality ice cream scoop (this one has held up for at least 15 years) and pie server (Pampered Chef wins here); a citrus reamer (I use this metal coated one); a thin and very sharp knife (I got a few of them free at Pampered Chef parties but you can buy them inexpensively on Amazon); and these little spatulas from Pampered Chef which are absolutely perfect for cookies. We also use stainless steel measuring cups (for dry ingredients) and spoons all the time, and a classic set of Pyrex 1 cup, 2 cup, and 4 cup for liquids. Just like Mom’s! 😉

I’ve got a few other random kitchen tools tucked away, but I’ve gotten rid of a whole bunch of them and I feel so much better.

You don’t need to hoard recipes, except a few proven winners. I have a few handwritten cards of my dad’s recipes (still) and the ones given to me by ladies at my bridal shower (though I’ve cooked only a few…..hmmmm….probably should dig into those).  You’ll soon learn that cooking is an art and a set of heuristics rather than an exact science, and I pull out recipes only rarely.  I pared down my cookbook collection as well, though I did keep a few standards or really pretty ones.

This is our #1 favorite coffee-making machine. We got ours from Amazon; click the image to check it out.  Morning coffee is an amazing, sensory ritual – and takes less than 5 min.

Throw out that damn automatic drip coffee maker. Blech. Ours broke one morning 4 or 5 years ago so we turned to Google in desperation to figure out how the “uncivilized” world makes coffee. Discovered that we were the heathens, imprisoning our coffee for years in that sad machine. We’ve settled now on a simple Bodum vessel and a Black & Decker electric kettle (which also helps out for heating water for pasta). Coffee takes 109x better and our morning coffee ritual (which takes barely 5 minutes) is genuinely satisfying.

I don’t know why I waited 10+ years to buy myself an electric can opener (this is ours and we love it). Sometimes you hate doing a particular chore and it’s worth stepping up to a better tool. I should have bought one in Year One of our marriage. Durp.    I put my KitchenAid stand mixer in this same category. It’s 20 years old and trucking right along.  I’ve used it to make bread dough, cheesecakes, and mashed potatoes, but Coart uses it all the time to mix up chocolate chip cookie batter — and that’s a holy rite which shall never be interrupted.

Ok, enough kitchen…. on to other topics…..

Don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t, even to keep other people happy. Hold your head high when you walk into the liquor store or when you wear that pink shirt and short shorts or when you duck into Hot Topic to see what the kids are into these days or when you crank up the volume on your playlist. I still remember a lady at church talking about hiding beer in her grocery cart and feeling like she had to justify herself to people in the store: “I’m buying it for taco soup!” Look: No one cares why you’re buying beer. And if they do, is it any of their damn business? NOPE. Don’t hang out with judgey people and don’t let them dictate your actions. (But don’t be a jerk either – it’s obviously kind and caring to avoid engaging in actions you know will offend a friend.  I’m talking about the non-friends who exist in your personal orbit.) 

Thing is, there’s a lot of pressure on you to stay within particular boundaries, especially when you’re a teacher.  Don’t go out looking for trouble, but don’t ever pretend to be something you aren’t. Eventually people will figure it out. (And teenagers will detect bullshit immediately.)

If something is wrong or harmful or unkind, don’t do it.  If it’s not any of those categories, then don’t pretend like you don’t do it if you do.  Simple as that.

This is on my list for the front door area as soon as planting season hits. (Links to Amazon)

Plant stuff in the yard the first year you buy the house! Don’t wait around (like we did, thinking “we’ll get to it….”) because then you’ll end up owning the same house for 15 years but still have zero landscaping except now you’re angry about how much nicer your yard would’ve looked by now if you’d scraped together some money for landscaping from the very start.  Skip 4 Starbucks runs and buy a plant or a load of topsoil instead. 

Stop working for low pay. This one might be controversial, younger self, and I’m not trying to tell you what to do. Other than this: take time to sketch out a career plan. Don’t just let your career happen to you. And don’t allow your skills to be undervalued in your earnings, unless you’re getting something else equally valuable (like experience or learned skills or fulfillment).

Get better sooner at making a monthly budget and sticking to it. You aren’t good at this. And growing up poor warped your understanding of money and finances. I know you know that you’ll get more out of retirement savings if you start sooner. Start with something like Acorns with loose change, at first.   I know it’s hard to forego current delights for the sake of future investment. Not working for low pay will help you fix that problem, but adjusting your lifestyle down to enjoy experiences rather than material goods helps too. Go find a friend and hang out. You don’t need to spend $60 to visit Biltmore to do that effectively.

Don’t pay for cable. Don’t steal it either….just….hang in there. They’re going to invent this service called Netflix and also YouTube and then this other thing called Hulu and then you’ll have all the TV you’ll ever need. If you’re really lucky, you’ll have friends who pay for cable but share their online account password with you so you can watch this hot show on HBO called Game of Thrones.

 

I think my connection is fading, so last thing:   Take care of the kids who need you –they’re going to grow up into amazing adults one day, and they’ll appreciate what you invested in them. Don’t stop fighting for the kids no one else thinks will make it. The underdogs can make it – they just need a hand up.

Peace out.