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Reading for Hugos

In my copious spare time (hoo-hah), I am continuing to work my way through the ballot for this years's Hugo Awards.

Just finished THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM, by Cixin Liu, originally written in Chinese and translated by Ken Liu. This was the novel that just missed in the original round of nominations, only to secure a place on the ballot when Marko Kloos withdrew. In a half-century of Hugo Awards, there have been very few non-English originals ever nominated, and certainly never one from China, so THREE-BODY is a breakthrough book in that respect, and a sign that "worldcon" is (very slowly) becoming more global.

This is a very unusual book, a unique blend of scientific and philosophical speculation, politics and history, conspiracy theory and cosmology, where kings and emperors from both western and Chinese history mingle in a dreamlike game world, while cops and physicists deal with global conspiracies, murders, and alien invasions in the real world.

It's a worthy nominee.

If you like lots of science in your SF, this is a book for you, especially if you love theoretical physics, astrophysics, and mathemathics. The Chinese background is fascinating, especially the look at the Cultural Revolution and its aftereffects. And the prose is very clean and tight, which is not always the case with translations, which sometimes come across as a bit clunky. Ken Liu did a fine job, in that respect; the writing flows.

The central character at the heart of the novel is a fascinating and complex creation, but she is not the protagonist for most of the book, and the character who does fill that role comes across as very flat, more a viewpoint than a person. One of the secondary players, an abrasive cop, is much more successful; he's a bit of an asshole, but the story really comes to life whenever he's on stage.

All in all, I liked THREE-BODY PROBLEM, but I can't say I loved it. I thought the book started off very strong, but sagged in the middle before picking up speed again toward the end. And the ultimate ending was unsatisfying... mainly because, as I now see, this is just the first of three. I DO want to know what happens next, though. So I will be reading the next.

Now that THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM is on the ballot, I'd say that it is the likely favorite to win (and I am pretty sure it is about to pick up the Nebula as well). It seems to have admirers on both sides of Puppygate, which will stand it in good stead, and it should do very well with hard science fans and the ANALOG readers.

I am not going to reveal which book is going to get my own Hugo vote... only which ones I think are Hugo-worthy, and deserving of a spot above NO AWARD. So far, both THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM and THE GOBLIN EMPEROR rank above the line for me.

The other nominees still await my attention.

Anyone else read the Cixin Liu yet? What did you think of it?

Talking about books, after all, is what these awards are supposed to be about.


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May. 11th, 2015 01:26 am (UTC)
Reading for Hugos?? Yes, let's all do that!! Part 1
I am challenging the SF fan community to turn this year of contention upside down. I have seen firestorms tear through the blogosphere, culminating in movements and actions that may further polarize the fanbase and permanently harm the credibility of the Hugo Awards (or further harm its credibility, depending upon your viewpoint). As much as this year has been filled with missteps, in my starry-eyed idealism of SF writing and writers, I believe this hostage crisis could be turned into an engaging turning point.

I am challenging George R. R. Martin and Larry Correia to stand behind your claims that you want the Hugos to be about the writing, not the writer’s politics or history. However this kooky situation happened, move forward in a way that’s constructive for the whole community. I challenge you to agree on a specific mutual schedule to release your reviews of each of the Hugo nominees in turn. Announce the schedule in advance so fans can have read each one as the discussion comes up. The Hugo ballots allow each member to change their vote until July 31. Ask fans to hold their voting until and unless they have read the full slate of nominees, and suggest they read more than one reviews of each before casting their ballots.

I challenge the rest of the SF blogging community to join in the schedule. I chose the name of Martin and Correia above because a specific challenge has more impact than some vague generic suggestion. Take the schedule agreed upon by Martin and Correia and turn it into a one-by-one celebration of the better SF released this past year. I’m looking at you Mr. Day, Ms. Hate, Mr. Torgerson, and the whole SF community – join the scheduled discussions and post your review of each work in turn. I challenge the online community to formulate a simple clearinghouse webpage where readers can find links to reviews with a simple set of ratings for reviews (perhaps: “I agree; useful,” “I disagree; useful,” “I agree; not useful,” “I disagree; not useful”) so that readers and writers can find discussion to enrich their understanding and reviews to challenge their preconceptions without having to wade through dozens of derivative re-interpretations, attacks on reviewers, attacks based on how something got nominated, and trolling reviews.

I challenge SF fans to join in and make this a celebration of Science Fiction writing. It can be a big expenditure, but set aside the money to buy or borrow each novel and join in the discussions as each one gets considered in turn. Buy a voting or attending membership in Worldcon and cast a ballot based on your own conclusions about each work. If you think one or more nominees fall below the quality where it deserves a Hugo, cast a “No Award” vote in your ranking. Make a commitment to consider each work carefully, no matter how the ballot was formulated this year or who nominated each work, using the “No Award” vote carefully, not as a protest.

I challenge the nominees who withdrew from the Hugo ballot to reinstate yourself and let your works get discussed in the open air. If your work falls below the “No Award” voting line, accept it, read some of the non-trolling reviews, and turn out some kick-ass fiction in the future. If your work wins, then accept that a flawed process happened to shine a light on you and be happy for it.

***to be continued***
May. 11th, 2015 01:28 am (UTC)
Reading for Hugos?? Yes, let's all do that!! Part 2
***continued post***

If you nominated a slate of candidates, I challenge you to urge your own fans to read every nominee and vote by the same criteria. Then, trust this process and accept a “No Award” vote wherever it may fall without punitive threats ahead of time or actions afterwards. The Hugo process is flawed and ultimately operates on the same model as the fee-per-vote American Idol TV show. You’ve demonstrated that, with a few instructions to its massive fanbase, the Twilight vampire novel franchise could dominate the Hugos utterly. Instead of tearing everything down to nothing to continue proving your point, I challenge you to participate and help the Hugo nominations and awards to honor the best in the field.

I challenge Connie Willis to reinstate herself in the event and be part of a Worldcon that could symbolize a new inclusiveness. This year’s process may be flawed, but maybe it was better for a fan group to exploit the flaw than for an entity with a commercial interest in the result.

Worldcon, I challenge you to embrace a new tide of members and funnel the flow into a positive, dynamic process. If you don’t want the Hugo process to become hostage to voting blocks and whims, you could limit the nominating process (and even the voting) to people who have been members for three years or more, which would reduce the probability that a small group railroads the process and ensures high-quality nominees and winners. But that is also a retreat and entrenchment. Or, you could have a wider base of fans join and participate, which does risk the Hugos becoming a list of the year’s bestsellers. I challenge you to rejuvenate the process and prepare for the future of SF by taking the more risky second path, mitigating the risks by assisting engaged fans to find a spectrum of carefully-considered reviews and discussions of new SF with less immersion in mudslinging and rants.

If you all join in, then I will challenge myself to become an engaged SF fan as I have never been in the past. I will read each of the nominated works by the designated discussion date. I’ll read a range of reviews by people with various viewpoints. I will get a Worldcon membership, and I will vote responsibly. Heck, I’ll get an attending membership and watch the awards handed out. And I will remain engaged in future years, and get involved at the nominating stage for Hugos, with my nominations based on the writing, not the writer. And I bet that many other fans will do the same. After nominations are set, I bet that fans will look forward to and prepare for an annual set of Hugo Award nominee review/discussion dates like Oprah fans prepared for and watched Oprah Book Club. Now, wouldn’t that be cool?

I challenge the SF fan community to take the polarizing events of this past year as a wake-up call. It could be destructive or it could be an exciting opportunity to reinvigorate discussion of new SF based on its merits.

Thank you for your consideration,

Frank Probst
May. 11th, 2015 11:01 pm (UTC)
Dramatic Presentation, Long & Short Form
Can we discuss one of these categories next? Until I get my voter packet, I won't be reading of the written nominees, so I figured now might be a good time to talk about these. Thanks!
May. 11th, 2015 11:30 pm (UTC)
3-Body - Not character driven enough for me
I appreciate the history lessons from another culture, but this one is not grabbing me. In fact, I'm finding myself dreading visiting this bleak landscape to the point of giving up. I mean, I can appreciate "bleak", but I have to care about the characters (ahem, Abercrombie). Otherwise experiencing a story just feels like root canal. I'm moving on to Ancillary Justice (because I am constitutionally incapable of starting a story anywhere except where the storyteller starts it) .

By the way, I adored The Goblin Emperor to the point of uncritical, cooing, cream-filled delight. So I guess I don't necessarily need multilayered characters. Just need to love the characters.

I'm glad I tried it, though. The first chapter, with its description of the horrific and senseless violence reminded me rather uncomfortably of the Internet, with its virtual mobs, vicious and stupid attacks, and ugly factions. I hope all that ugliness stays virtual. The Cultural Revolution is an object lesson in what can happen if it doesn't.
Tobias Blub
May. 14th, 2015 09:52 pm (UTC)
I bought it a few day after your entry here and I finished it last night.
I really liked it. I'm studying physics so I am at least remotely familiar with most of the science (but I'm far away from understanding everything).

Of course there were some negative things.
In the end the science seemed exaggerated and wrong. Actually the whole ending seemed a bit rushed, unbelievable or "just wrong" in contrast to the first half.
Many people said Wang is just a flat character and I agree. In addition he is maybe the most foolish professor of physics in existence. Surprisingly I still kind of liked him as a viewpoint character, or at least it didn't bother me much.

I liked the insight into the Chinese history and mentality. I liked the video game, but sadly it was kind of anti-climatic.
I'm looking forward to the translation of the next part, I hope it will stay science and society centered (and not just a "war novel"). And I hope the rushed ending of the first novel just means, that the author wanted to start the next story arc quickly and that the pace will be appropriate again.
May. 15th, 2015 05:01 am (UTC)
Chinese fiction vs. Chinese themed fiction
Hard scifi isn't my usual wheelhouse so I probably would not have picked this up if Cixin wasn't Chinese, so I just want to say I think it's interesting how many Chinese writers (Liu himself, Yiyun Li, Mo Yan, Han Shaogong, etc.) use fiction as a way of both dealing with the past Communist Revolution and writing more obliquely about modern China/Chinese people. (I'm still kind of amazed that Ai Weiwei still so totally misses the boat on Mo Yan's fiction.)

To be honest, I just really appreciate this book for showing a more complicated and truer side of Chinese people that is very little depicted here.
May. 15th, 2015 08:24 pm (UTC)
Dude Take Your Time
Mr Martin,

This is not regarding your subject and for that I apologize.

I always wanted to write to you but figured you get enough mail so I never did.

I must admit I started reading your work after season 2 ended and I saw Sam getting ready to be trampled by a horde of White Walkers. I decided to start with AGoT obviously. I absolutely fell in love with your writing. THE DETAIL is so RICH. I like to listen to audio books and listening to Roy Dotrice read your words are extremely entertaining.

I finished ADWD and decided to check out your other work. A friend of mine had a horror anthology and loaned it to me and wanted me to read "The Sandkings." Holy Smokes!

I began to go through GRRM withdrawl so I bought your first short story anthology. I really enjoyed how you described what was going on in your life as you wrote each story.

Anyway, I remember listening to The Grateful Dead with my father and in one of the concerts Pigpen (a band member) remarked to the audience "More, More, More" The audience's thirst for their music could not be sated and this more or less angered Pig Pen (I think it was him may have been some other band member) he was going against mob mentality. Which is what you are up against. (No shit, I know.)

They are the vocal minority. Every true fan of yours would never EVER DREAM of putting you in a position where you feel you do nothing less then pure magic. I know you are humble and a human and are susceptible to online criticism like we all are but as you know we are dealing with an immediate gratification generation. These kids grab their iPad and summon content to distract them from their worthless existence for a few mins but when something truly gets them deep in the gut as your writing does they get GREEDY. YOU ARE THEIRS. YOU HAVE NO INTRISIC VALUE AS A PERSON. THE ONLY REASON YOU EXIST IS TO GIVE ME ENTERTAINMENT. It's fucking bullshit and it scares the shit out of me to know that this is what American culture and the Internet are doing to fucking civilization. Pretty much Joffrey. Except there are MILLIONS of them.

I love your work. Your a wonderful author and I always look forward to your stories. I feel like every time you read or hear "hurry up" you should pretend they said, "I can't live without you please love me." Actually that would probably make me feel worse don't do that.

I just wanted you to know there is one person out there who is deeply touched by your writing and is offended and ashamed when someone treats you like a fucking object.
May. 17th, 2015 01:59 am (UTC)
Re: Dude Take Your Time
Thanks for all the kind words. They are appreciated.
May. 17th, 2015 01:06 am (UTC)
Three Body Problem.
THE THREE BODY PROBLEM sounds somewhat up my alley I'll have to check it out. What are your thoughts on modern sci-fi being inspired by older sci-fi (asimov certainly left his mark) and old sea faring stories instead of modern issues?

I just read John Scalzi's OLD MAN'S WAR series and it was a surprising departure from this extrapolating upon modern America with invisible wars affecting only a few in the soldier class. Also its use of technology and how powerful pieces of tech (the brainpal) will probably used for mundane procrastinating (checking sports scores in company meetings and such).

Also, why do interviewers never seem to want to talk sci-fi with you? It would be much more interesting than asking you the same questions and for some reason expecting you to play critic to a running TV series based on your books.

Edited at 2015-05-17 01:07 am (UTC)
May. 18th, 2015 07:49 am (UTC)
Wait until you read Book-2
I am a Chinese and I read all 3 books of 3 body problem.
I have to say book 1 sucked (at least when compare with book 2, or book 3) too much side story leading nowhere and characters not needed at all. Book 2 really opens up the conflict in different levels, it's more story-line focused and bring more surprises. Book 3 drives along the sci-fi/philosophy a little too far ...

So for haters or even lovers, better judge after reading book 2, you could skip book 3 though :)

Edited at 2015-05-18 08:24 am (UTC)
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