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Reading for Rockets

I have blogged a great deal about Puppygate and this year's Hugo ballot. However much I mislike how we arrived at this ballot, here it is and here it will remain, and we will have to deal with it. As I've said in my previous posts, I am not endorsing either of the NO AWARD responses, the "Vote NO AWARD on everything" nuclear option, or the milder "Rank All Puppy Nominees Below NO AWARD" alternative. But I certainly do intend to vote, and I urge all of you to do the same.

That means I have a lot of reading to do.

I am not going to report on everything I read on my Not A Blog. I have been a book reviewer and critic in the past, but I'm not one at present. Besides, I have never really liked writing killer reviews, or reading them, and I have the feeling that there will be lots of stuff on this year's ballot that I will not like very much. Also, when reviewing something I feel an ethical obligation to read all of it, and I suspect I will not be reading every word of every story and book on this year's ballot. You don't have to eat a whole steak to know the meat is off. But I will at least sample everything that's been nominated.

Anyway, I may share my thoughts here from time to time, as I read. If you don't see something mentioned, it's either because (1) I didn't like it much, or (2) I haven't gotten to it yet. No doubt my reading program will be aided by the Hugo Packet, where Sasquan sends that out... but as that has not happened yet, I decided to get a head start. (I read all the time in any case, so that's no big change). I don't think I am going to make formal endorsements here -- "You should vote for this" -- though I reserve the right to change my mind about that. And these will not be real reviews, as I said. Just me sharing a few thoughts.

Let me start with Best Novel.

The Big One, as I have called it in the past. Traditionally the last award to be given out on Hugo night, and the most important. The finalists are SKIN GAME by Jim Butcher, LINES OF DEPARTURE by Marko Kloos, THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS by Kevin J. Anderson, ANCILLARY SWORD by Anne Leckie, and THE GOBLIN EMPEROR by Katherine Addison. The first three were Puppy picks, the last two were not. Just to provide some context, and be upfront about any predispositions I might have, let me state that I am very familiar with the work of both Jim Butcher and Kevin J. Anderson. I have never met Butcher in the flesh, to the best of recollection, but I've traded emails with him and bought stories from him for my anthologies. Kevin Anderson is someone I have known for decades, crossing paths with him at many conventions, on panels and at parties. I have never met either Marko Kloos or Katherine Addison, and in fact had never heard of either of them until this ballot. Anne Leckie won the Hugo last year for ANCILLARY JUSTICE, the prequel to this year's contender. I may have met her at Loncon... but if I did, it was only in passing, and I don't recall... I met a lot of people at LonCon.

Enough prelude. To the books. Or book, since I have only read one of them as of yet: Katherine Addison's THE GOBLIN EMPEROR.

I liked it.

It's a fantasy, a novel of court intrigue. Those of you who like that aspect of my own work will probably like THE GOBLIN EMPEROR as well. The characters were well drawn, especially the protagonist, who I found likeable and sympathetic. This is a "low magic" fantasy, something else it shares with GAME OF THRONES. In fact, there's even less magic here than in my own books. No dragons to be found, and though there's talk of ogres and trolls, we never see any. The setting is an Elvish empire, and the hero is the late elf emperor's half-goblin fourth son, unexpectedly elevated to the throne by a tragedy. But Addison's elves are not Tolkien's elves, and her goblins are not Tolkien's goblins, and in fact it is easy to forget that you are reading about elves and goblins entirely, since they all seem just like... well, like people. Which is actually fine by me, you know. I like reading about people.

Do I have cavils? Sure, a few. Some readers complain that my own books have too many characters, and maybe they do... but I swear, THE GOBLIN EMPEROR seems to have just as many, in a book maybe a third the size of one of mine. And the names... Addison has a very complex naming system, which is detailed in an appendix at the end of the book. It's very well worked out and consistent, admirable really, but I confess, all those long complicated hard-to-pronounce hard-to-tell-apart names were giving me a headache after awhile, and I found myself yearning for a goblin named Bob to turn up somewhere (none ever did). Also -- mild spoiler ahead here -- while I loved all the court intrigue, I rather wished for a few more twists. The characters, while well drawn, all struck me as bit too predictable. The ones who seemed to be bad guys turned out to be the bad guys; the ones who seemed to be good guys were all okay. Maybe it's just my own taste, but I would have liked for some of them to have fooled Maia (and me).

Oh, and I really wanted a map. It's fantasy, got to have a map. I kept wanting to look up where all these places were, and there was no map.

Overall, though, I thought this was an enjoyable book. I am glad I read it, and if there's a sequel I will read that as well. THE GOBLIN EMPEROR did not knock me out the way Emily St. John Mandel's STATION ELEVEN (the book I was recommending for the Hugo last month) did, but since STATION ELEVEN is not on the ballot, that's moot. I have yet to read the other four books that ARE on the ballot, so I don't know what my final vote will be... but I know I won't be voting NO AWARD. I'd not be at all displeased if THE GOBLIN EMPEROR claimed the rocket.

(Please keep all comments on topic).


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Will Gardner
Apr. 12th, 2015 11:35 pm (UTC)
My kingdom for a Map
I personally believe that maps are such a key to world building, that if I see a fantasy novel without one, it will strongly influence whether or not I buy the book.
Apr. 13th, 2015 03:28 am (UTC)
Re: My kingdom for a Map
Agreed. It just doesn't feel real until you can get a grip on the places being discussed and/or traveled to and how they relate to one another geographically. I suspect that the main reason for not including a map in many fantasy books I read is the fear of it being out of scale or unrealistic. Frankly, even Tolkien (and to a lesser extent the igenious host of this blog) had some rather unrealistic scale in his geography--but that is beside the point. We don't read sci fi and fantasy for their realism but their surrealism, and a map in such fiction is more a tying together measure for all the universe's places than a matter of realism.
Apr. 12th, 2015 11:39 pm (UTC)
It may help to add that Katherine Addison is truepenny here and Sarah Monette IRL. This is not a secret - it says so in her profile.
Apr. 12th, 2015 11:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks. Did not know that.
(no subject) - hippoiathanatoi - Apr. 13th, 2015 09:12 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 12th, 2015 11:45 pm (UTC)
I have a long standing policy to never trust Elves. I'm on the fence with Goblins. I don't read anywhere near as many novels as I used to, although I'm currently reading "A Clash Of Kings" by George RR Martin with another five novels in the series sitting unread on my bookshelf.

The one big positive from the current fuss is that it has made me want to read more novels again. Whether I'll find the time is another matter.
Apr. 12th, 2015 11:46 pm (UTC)
You have FIVE more novels after CLASH OF KINGS sitting on your bookshelf?

Hmmm. The last two must be THE WINDS OF WINTER and A DREAM OF SPRING.

Could I please borrow your copies???
(no subject) - ciaran_laval - Apr. 12th, 2015 11:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - solitarysputnik - Apr. 12th, 2015 11:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 12th, 2015 11:52 pm (UTC)
I very much enjoyed Goblin Emperor, although I felt the ending was rather abrupt. I finished it, and instantly went to Amazon to get the sequel, quite convinced that the panoply of characters introduced in the novel and the scope of the world and the intriguing under way, surely indicated there was a book 2.

And sadly there was not, and indeed the writer says she has no plans for a sequel.

... I harbour hopes that success at the Hugos might encourage a return trip to the Elven Court...

And I could have sworn my edition had a map. But I may be mistaken.
Apr. 13th, 2015 12:01 am (UTC)
When I read The Goblin Emperor, I had just come off of reading the latest of Cherryh's Foreigner series (where bodyguards also come in fours), and somewhere either right before or right after, Jemisin's Hundred-Thousand Kingdoms. The compare-contrast of the various societies in those three books, plus the authorial choices made for plot-focus, was absolutely fascinating.

PS: once upon a time *mumblecough* years ago, I was a callow teen at a dinky Austin, Texas convention, and you signed my Tuf Voyaging for me, though I was not nearly so gracious or clever as I might have been, when asking. Thank you, so very much. It meant more than I probably showed in my hasty, faintly terrified retreat.
Apr. 13th, 2015 12:33 am (UTC)
Jim Butcher
I don't know much about the hugos and even less about the sad puppies. Although I know somewhat more about them now after reading these posts. I still don't quite get it.

I've read and enjoyed all of jim butcher's Harry Dresden series (of which skin game is the latest). I didn't know it was nominated until I saw it on this list. It's not what I would call literary. Is that the point of the sad puppies - to nominate more popular books?

Does this mean that Jim Butcher is the roose bolton to the sad puppies tywin lannister? Or is he just a jayne westerling? Just wondering how active of a participant he is in this whole bruhaha.
Apr. 13th, 2015 04:15 am (UTC)
Re: Jim Butcher
Jim Butcher is on the Puppy slate, but he has not been an active participant. Or any kind of participant, so far as I know.

He's a good writer. I've enjoyed his Harry Dresden stuff too.
(no subject) - emp_sheeptopia - Apr. 13th, 2015 10:58 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Jim Butcher - javaed_ggz - Apr. 14th, 2015 12:06 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 13th, 2015 12:35 am (UTC)
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Apr. 13th, 2015 12:41 am (UTC)
If anything, these hugos are making me wistful for what could have been on the ballot if it weren't for the Sad Puppies.
Apr. 13th, 2015 12:43 am (UTC)
Looking forward to your "Writing for Rockets" post, where you'll announce that TWOW is ready to be nominated for the next Hugo.

Do you think the Puppies will put it in their recommendations next year?
Apr. 13th, 2015 04:15 am (UTC)
WINDS OF WINTER won't be eligible next year.
How Come? - Justin Biddle - Apr. 13th, 2015 10:42 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: How Come? - davidgoldfarb - Apr. 14th, 2015 02:10 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: How Come? - Justin Biddle - Apr. 14th, 2015 09:15 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: How Come? - davidgoldfarb - Apr. 15th, 2015 04:21 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - Jack Flood - Apr. 13th, 2015 04:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 13th, 2015 04:20 am (UTC)
I wrote about STATION ELEVEN in a previous Not A Blog post. Mostly just to say that I loved it.
(no subject) - katster - Apr. 13th, 2015 04:34 am (UTC) - Expand
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The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Frank Probst - Apr. 13th, 2015 03:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
Vera de Ferran
Apr. 13th, 2015 02:07 am (UTC)
The first time I saw A Game of Thrones at the bookstore it caught my attention because it has maps. =)

I know this is not really the point here, but I maybe you could post from time to time about the books you are reading and recommend. I know there's a list on your website but I think it's out of date. And here, I think, it could be something less formal and gave you less work.

I also think most books have predictable plots and more and more I find it hard to be impressed by a book.
Apr. 13th, 2015 04:19 am (UTC)
Yes, my "WHat I'm Reading" page is years out of date. I have not had the time to keep it up.
Frank Probst
Apr. 13th, 2015 02:14 am (UTC)
Best Novel
It might help if you make it clear that you're only talking about Best Novel nominees here (which is what I think you're doing) rather than the puppy slates in general. I haven't had a chance to read any of them yet, but I have heard good things about The Goblin Emperor, and I know Entertainment Weekly gave a good review to Ancillary Sword, which is probably "Hugo worthy" just by virtue of being the sequel to last year's winner.

I'll try to read whatever ends up in my Hugo nominees packet (which is sometimes only a few chapters and not the whole book), which means I'll be biased to towards things that start off with a bang, but if something seems pretty crappy after the first chapter or two, I'll have no qualms about putting it below No Award.
Apr. 13th, 2015 04:18 am (UTC)
Re: Best Novel
I thought I did make that clear.
Apr. 13th, 2015 03:07 am (UTC)
The Stack
I have the stack for the Best Novel nominations in my reading queue right now.

The challenge for mis comes with books like Skin Game. There's 15 or so books in the series before this one. With so much wood behind the arrow, as it were, it can be hard to keep this book distinct in my mind.

How do you handle it when books that are mid-series like this?
Apr. 13th, 2015 04:17 am (UTC)
Re: The Stack
Last year, the entire WHEEL OF TIME was nominated, but that was an unusual case. Most series books are nominated as single books.

To my mind, that means that should be able to be read as single books. Yes, they may be strong if you know the whole series... but that should not be essential.
Apr. 13th, 2015 03:44 am (UTC)
Thanks for your recommendation!
It's on my list.

But I have your books to read (I'm also reading "A Clash Of Kings"), and all books of "The Saxon Stories" by Bernard Cornwell since "The Lords of the North"(ok, it's not fantasy, but I will read first, haha).
Apr. 13th, 2015 06:18 am (UTC)
Well, I just finished the monumental series of postings making up this entire narrative thread about the Hugo Awards and the ensuing carfuffle! I have to say, that I just read the books and enjoy them, yours and others. Science fiction and fantasy has been for me a lifeline and food for thought always...from when I picked up my first Jules Verne novels, alongside Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault fairy tales accompanied by Homer's Iliad and Odyssey as well as other Greek myths and legends, as a wee lad growing up in what used to be one of the most repressive Communist countries in Eastern Europe (you'll have to guess which one it was...LOL! The years I ended up living as a refugee and ultimately an immigrant were not kind or easy for me and my family. But the one constant thread of familiarity, a continuous source of inspiration and hope for me, even in my darkest days, when my only other companions were uncertainty and despair, was science fiction and fantasy.

I guess my ignorance and lack of awareness of all the topics, information and details on the subject matter at hand, means that I do not qualify as one of those "trufans" mentioned earlier...and you know what? I care not in the least!

I want to thank you Mr. Martin, for taking time out of your considerably busy schedule to explain this entire matter to a civilian such as myself. I am dumbfounded, puzzled and taken aback by all this...and I want to know less and less about this...the minutiae is maddening and really sucks the life out of this community and environment we are all part of.

Books, movies, television series, graphic novels etc. I enjoy them all. Not because of a predilection, recipe or formula...but because of talent, vision, originality and skill! I know this sounds highly self-serving, subjective and perhaps even selfish, but consider me Switzerland on this one.

I don't want to be part of any sides, cliques, groups or factions. Life is too short and oftentimes hard and merciless, as it is precious, to let all that poison, bile and negativity, spoil one of the things that brings pleasure into my life. I have been a long time (perhaps not a "trufan") fan of science fiction and fantasy (and any other sub-genre), and would like to continue doing so. As Einstein once remarked "only two things are infinite, the Universe and human stupidity...and I am not sure about the former...".

Well, I for one would like to stick with the Universe on this one...

Edited at 2015-04-13 06:24 am (UTC)
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