Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Reinder Dijkhuis’ provisional Hugo nominations ballot

February 28th, 2016 by Reinder

With only a month to go before nominations close, I want to share with people what I'm planning to put on my ballot for the Hugo Awards 2016 nominations. My ballot is not, at this time, complete and even my present list of nominations may change before the deadline as I read other people's nominations posts and more importantly, read the books and articles and watch the movies and shows they nominate. However, I don't want to hold off any longer, because I would like other people to be able to read, watch and consider my recommendations as well. Also, if something turns out not to be eligible or is misspelled or credited to the wrong author or publisher, I would like to hear about it. So, here goes:

Best novel
N.K. Jemisin - The Fifth Season - Orbit
Kim Stanley Robinson - Aurora - Orbit
Nnedi Okorafor - The Book of Phoenix - DAW

Best Novella
Paul Cornell - Witches of Lychford - Tor
Nnedi Okorafor - Binti - Tor
(I have one more work by N.K. Jemisin penciled in but need to confirm whether the novella in question was first published in 2015.)

Best Novelette
Best Short Story
These two categories are still empty as I'm not a big novelette or short story reader. This should be easy to fix.

Best Graphic Story
Brennan Lee Mulligan, Molly Ostertag - Strong Female Protagonist Issue Five - Self-published:
Boulet - The Gaeneviad - Self-published:
Eligibility is a big issue with these works. As far as I can tell, only Chapter 5 of Strong Female Protagonist was published entirely in 2015, but I may be mistaken. The Gaeneviad is a 24-hour comic created in 2014, but the original publication was in French. The English version debuted in February 2015.

Best Related Work
Phil Sandifer - Guided By The Beauty of Their Weapons: Notes on Science Fiction and Culture in the Year of Angry Dogs - Eruditorum Press
Alexandra Erin (Writing as John Z. Upjohn)- Sad Puppies Review Books: Children’s Books Reviewed by Childish Men - Self-published
Alexandra Erin (Writing as Theophilus Pratt)- John Scalzi Is Not A Very Popular Author and I Myself Am Quite Popular - Hymanaeus House
These works are pretty much the best things to come out of last year's kerfuffle. Each of these has a good chance of making it to the shortlist, and of being vigorously no-awarded in the final vote. They have my back, though.

Best Dramatic Presentation, long form
George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris - Mad Max: Fury Road - Warner Bros. Pictures
Best Dramatic Presentation, short form
Bo Johan Renck, David Bowie - Blackstar - Columbia

I am also not a huge watcher of movies and television. That does, however, leave me four more slots in each category for contrarian nominations (of which Blackstar is already one, but don't tell me it doesn't deserve to be on the ballot)

Best Fan Writer
Alexandra Erin
Phil Sandifer
Camestros Felapton
Still needing to find examples for this one. All other categories still empty. Some will stay empty as I'm not that interested in them, or knowledgeable about them. Though it won't hurt anyone at all for me to put Boulet in under Best Professional Artist as well.

Since last May, I've kept a booklog and made a real effort to read more again. Nevertheless, I still don't read as much as I used to, or as much as I feel I should. At some point in my life, buying books and reading stopped being a habit and became something I have to remind myself to get the fuck off Twitter for. I'm working on this: To make more time for absolutely everything else in my life, I installed the Focus app on my Mac computers so that all social media are now unavailable to me for long stretches of time. It's a crutch, but one I clearly need. In March, I will tighten up the settings for it so I'm kicked off earlier and allowed back later.

Full disclosure: In addition to nominating Phil Sandifer in more than one category, I also took a few suggestions from his Hugo ballot, all of them works I read/watched and enjoyed but some of them works that I would not otherwise have considered, such as Blackstar.

I am open to suggestions! Please let me know if there's something I should get the fuck off Twitter for!

Notes/First impressions: The Dark Forest – Cixin Liu, translation by Joel Martinsen

August 30th, 2015 by Reinder

I read The Dark Forest the week before its prequel, The Three-Body Problem won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, 2015. Two-thirds of the way through it, my reading was interrupted for a few days and I had to think hard about whether I wanted to pick it up again. I did, and in the end I was glad I did, but my God, what an unholy mess this novel is, and did I ever have to work hard to make it through the first third of the book.

The Three-Body Problem won its Hugo despite its faults, which were very obvious: Liu’s characters act like puppets, mere functional devices to keep the story going, to push the many interesting, inspired ideas that are also there. Their emotional and actual responses are implausible, their motivation often only hinted at or even completely arbitrary. The ideas were the real stars of The Three-Body Problem, and because the novel hung together well enough as a story, the ideas ensured the novel got enthusiastic responses that took it all the way to the most prestigious award in science fiction fandom.

Wellp, those flaws haven’t been mitigated any in The Dark Forest; I would say they have been exacerbated. Instead of a protagonist who is a bit of a blank slate, we now have one who does whatever it is he does for no good reason at all, and whose actions in the novel include inventing a perfect woman after his romance-writer girlfriend challenges him to (oddly, the fact that she issues this challenge is one of the few things any character does that make sense - the idea that writing is addictive and shapes reality). He then leaves his girlfriend for this imaginary woman, and later, when he is provided with near-infinite financial resources, he locates a real woman who is just like her and has her brought to his mansion, where they start a deep romantic relationship. Prior to this, Liu saw fit to include a few Neal Stephenson-esque digs at post-modern, English Literature Department-approved writing. I kid you not. It doesn’t help that the terms in which this perfect woman is described include lines like

“He was completely overcome by her childlike nature.”
“You’re like the blank space in a traditional painting: pure, but to a mature appreciation, infinitely appealing…”
“She tilted her head, giving his heart a jolt. The naïve expression was one he had seen on her countless times before…”*

I would have thrown the book violently across the room there and then if I hadn’t been reading it in a tent, on an expensive MacBook Pro. I did, however, start live-tweeting my reading for a while and was about ready to switch to hate-reading mode. Trust me, there was plenty to hate, including one paragraph that entirely disqualifies the protagonist from being the hero of absolutely anything, no matter what else he does in the story (which includes some very heroic acts that save the Earth, for the time being, but all of those are done by authorial fiat, because everything in a work of fiction is. I’d write more on that if these blog posts were serious literary criticism, which they're not). I would HOPE that the paragraph in question is only the protagonist’s opinion, not the writer’s, and I’m really surprised that more readers haven’t picked up on it, based on the reviews that I’ve read.

And the plot? Spans two centuries, or rather, fast-forwards two centuries midway through. In a way, this redeems The Dark Forest - moving the action to a more distant-future Earth and removing the romance for the time being allows Liu to do what he is good at: surprising the reader with strong world-building, action sequences that thrill and also surprise, and generally letting his powerful, but well-disciplined imagination run loose. It does not make for a coherent novel, let alone one that deserves another Hugo after putting the reader through all that bullshit in the first third. But it creates the impression that after that very bad novel with the ill-conceived romantic bits, you get to read a second, short novel that is a lot better.

If I was handing out star ratings, which I’m not, because these blog posts are not reviews, the final third would rescue The Dark Forest from being a two-star book and qualify it as a three-star one. Was it worth sticking with the book for that long, though? I’m honestly not sure. There are always other books to read and a book that is worth three stars overall takes time away from reading one that is truly great.

Notes/first impressions: 3 Hugo-nominated graphic novels

May 25th, 2015 by Reinder

Sex Criminals Volume One: One Weird Trick – Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky
Rat Queens Volume One: Sass and Sorcery – Kurtis I. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch
Saga Volume Three – Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples

When I read Ms. Marvel vol.1, I thought that it was a bit flimsy for a graphic novel, especially what with it not being a complete story but more of an opening chapter. Having now read three other works that have been nominated for a Graphic Novel Hugo for 2015, I have to walk that back a little. These three other candidates all have the same problem, and it's the very smoothness of G. Willow Wilson's storytelling that makes it more readily apparent. In a direct comparison with Ms. Marvel these three suffer rather badly. Ms. Marvel tells its story in a very clear and straightforward way so that pre-teens and young teens who may not be the worlds biggest comics fans and who won't have decades of media consumption under their belts will be able to read it easily. Sex Criminals, Rat Queens and Saga are all aimed at older, savvier audiences and try to do different things with how they tell their stories, but they don't do their thing with as much flair and accomplishment as Ms. Marvel does its thing.

Sex Criminals for example, is aimed at adults. Its narrative is dense and multilayered, mixing present-moment, flashbacks and in-the-moment-asides throughout, as well as using colour and effects to indicate when time is stopped or when an aside visually interacts with the present moment. Sometimes it goes quite far in smooshing these approaches together, such as when a character tells a story of something that happened in her past, and interrupts her narration with a "zzzz" sound when the past version of the character in the narration falls asleep for a moment. Thing is, it doesn't always work, and when it does, it ends up papering over some big continuity errors, not the least of which is about when the lead characters know what about their antagonists.The art is also not as lively as that of Ms. Marvel and there are quite a few questionable design and colouring decisions throughout, such as the use of dark(ish) colours and gradients in word balloons.
None of this stops the first volume of Sex Criminals from being a perfectly enjoyable, often witty and thoughtful comic to spend an hour or so with. The lead characters are relatable, flaws and all and there were several good laughs in it. I will check out the next volume some time.

Rat Queens has an ensemble cast, and features elves, witches, brawling and beer. One of its selling points according to the blurb is that it has female characters who are written (by Kurtis J. Wiebe, who is a dude) and drawn (by Roc Upchurch, who is a dude and holy shit it's someone I've followed on DeviantArt for years, and holy shit he's not drawing the comic anymore as of November 2014 because he was arrested for domestic violence that month. I'm out of touch) realistically, with proper characterization and different body types and all. Now that I'm actually typing that sentence, it feels like it's 2004 all over again. This is supposed to be noteworthy? I don't even think the artist does the range of body types all that convincingly, at least not between the four characters that make up the main cast. But I digress. Like Ms. Marvel, this uses lineair style of storytelling, but much more loosely, with harsher, faster transitions and bigger gaps between scenes and chapters. I found it hard to follow in places, though that may have had to do with me being tired at the time, and some of the transitions might have worked better in the monthly or bimonthly installments. There actually appear to be bits missing from the collection: I can't for the life of me figure out what the phrase "what the assassin said" referred to. The assassin, in that one scene, said "Dicks" and then died. Could be bad script editing, could be a page that was accidentally left out of the book. Don't know which option is worse.
I also found the art very uneven. Upchurch has won quite a bit of praise for the things he does well, such as fighting scenes and facial expressions. But in scenes where the backgrounds play a prominent part, his perspective is often off and the compositions can get a bit messy. His page layouts aren't the most readable.
Finally, I found that the sass part of "Sass and sorcery" got on my nerves a bit, as American comic-book witticisms often do. I enjoyed Rat Queens despite its flaws, but those flaws did add up.

And that leaves us with Saga The nominated work here isn't even a first part, but lands the reader in the middle of a story spanning multiple years and a vast fictional universe. This made it difficult for me to get into it at all, but what I could see in front of me honestly didn't help. It's competently done, I guess, and the characters look interesting, but the overall impression I got was that I was looking at a lesser-known Vertigo title. There seemed to be a large number of different things thrown in for no other reason than that they were cool. I might have got more into it if I'd started with volume I, but for the purpose of judging it for the Hugo, to say that is to make excuses for it.

Above, I've dwelled on the flaws of the comics discussed a lot, and I would like to mention that I really did enjoy two of them and found things to enjoy in the third. They have flaws but they're not disastrous ones. As the incompleteness problem is apparently par for the course for this category, I've decided to ignore this and give all works the benefit of the doubt on that score as far as award-worthiness is concerned. I have decided to vote all four above No Award for the Hugos, in, as it happens, the exact same order as I read and discussed them. My preliminary vote for the category, then, is

1. Ms Marvel
2. Sex Criminals
3. Rat Queens
4. Saga
5. No Award.

There is one more nominee that, for reasons I've outlined before, I will skip for now. If I have time, I may check it out and if it rocks my world, it may end up on my ballot. If it turns out to be the only complete work on the ballot, the benefit of the doubt I've given these four works will not apply and they may all end up below No Award (in the same order), so there is ample scope for an upset.

Notes/First impressions: Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie

May 9th, 2015 by Reinder

I'm back to work from vacation, so reading Ancillary Sword took a lot more time than the previous few books, and it was harder for me to get immersed into it. Other than that, it was pretty much what I expected: a strong sequel to Ancillary Justice but a sequel none the less and that sequelness (sequelity?) didn't help it much.

  • In this book, the flashback technique wouldn't have worked as well as in the previous novel in the series, so it wasn't used as much. That did, however, mean that the storytelling was more linear, less mysterious – but also less ostentatiously there.
  • What this novel did do better than its predecessor was the detailed wordbuilding, working from the notion that single-culture planets were to be avoided and using that to make the environment come alive. Not that Ancillary Justice was any slouch at worldbuilding, but in Sword, it's more alive. I liked that a lot.
  • The plot was essentially a mystery in which the criminals reveal themselves through their own actions rather than being found out through the protagonist's brillians, although she does show considerable insight throughout. As plots go, it works, but it's not that special.
  • Leckie spends a lot of time this time around putting her pieces in place and making sure her readers have the right ideas in their heads for the events in the last 50-odd pages to work. Until the novel heats up in those final 50-odd pages, it works mostly as a fantasy of manners similar to The Goblin Emperor and in many ways they are structured very similarly.
  • For a number of reasons, such as being back at work and having to steal reading time fifteen minutes at a time again, as well as being a little under the weather, I can't find a lot of actual enthusiasm in me for this novel. That, however, is not Ancillary Sword's problem. Used to be I'd re-read a novel again for a second impression but what with time being at such a premium still, that is unlikely to happen right now. I already have my next book lined up, which I will be reading with a view to nominating it for the 2016 Hugo awards...

Notes/First Impressions: Ms. Marvel Vol 1: No Normal – G. Willow Wilson (writer), Adrian Alphona, Jake Wyatt (illustrators),

May 5th, 2015 by Reinder
  • This is very much not made for me. Its target audience is about 30 years younger than I am, and I need to keep that in mind.
  • Small-capacity iPads and ebook editions of full-color comics don't go together well. I read this on the 27" iMac. That does not affect my impression at all, but it's worth noting in case I want to read more comics as ebooks. Wonder how it looks on my phone...
  • That said, it looks pretty good on the big screen. I love the art: bright colours, dynamic, distorted yet always on-model and easy to read. A few panels had line tangents, but only comics professionals care about those, and then only when it's somebody whose work they already dislike or who is asking them for advice. Line tangents are amateurish unless a known great of comics makes them. I should teach myself not to notice them.
  • As for the writing, my biggest problem with it was that it was over too soon. It's called a graphic novel but it's really only the beginning of a novel. That's what you get if you collect, what, six monthly issues into a larger volume without considering if it's really a good place to end the volume at. Ah well. It's the Marvel way
  • Other than that, I really had no complaints about the writing. It's a superhero origin story that covers all the expected beats when your newly-minted superhero is a sixteen-year-old Pakistani Muslim girl. Of course she has to juggle her new life as Ms. Marvel with the expectations of her strict family, her school, her mosque, her friends. You know what to expect, and you get it.
  • That said, this could have been a train wreck if the writer hadn't done her homework. I've seen one comic where the writer as well as the artist had both failed to do that, and just assumed that the story to write about Muslims in America is that of a young man's radicalisation, and will a veil out of 1,000 Nights do? Sure it will. Well, here's G. Willow Wilson's Wikipedia bio. Lady did her homework and more, and luckily any bum notes were avoided with ease. I could believe in Kamala, I could believe in her family, her wider circle of friends and the people at her mosque. Lines like "delicious, delicious infidel meat" bring back memories of listening to Muslim teenagers talking about food on the train during Ramadan – as well as being simply a very funny line.
  • I laughed out loud quite a few times, both at the sight gags that Alphona put in the background, and at some dialog/situation-based gags. This doesn't normally happen as I usually find superheroic witticisms tiresome.
  • Much as I enjoyed it, I am reluctant to judge it as a Hugo-worthy effort, though perhaps the full run of the series will be. It's just a bit too unsubstantial at this point for that. I guess it won't look that way if you're 13, but for me that's what I was left with.

What I read on my vacation

May 3rd, 2015 by Reinder

Over the past few years, the amount of time I spent on recreational reading has shriveled to a pale shadow of what it once was. In 2014, I read two novels; in 2013 only one. This is not who I am, so when I had two weeks off without any travel plans, I decided to get back in the habit. The Hugo controversy helped, but it was not my sole motivation. My reading speed is not what it once was, and there were some other things that needed doing, but I did get a few nice novels under my belt as well as some critical writing. Here's what I read over the past two weeks:

The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison
A lovely fantasy of manners/court intrigue (let's call this genre a Ferrero Rocher Opera) that I enjoyed but ultimately did not love. Very much a case of not-my-thing done very well. Likely to be my No. 3 pick for the Hugos this year. Read Martin Wisse's more insightful review or just buy it from Amazon US/Amazon UK.

The Three-Body Problem – Liu Cixin, translation Ken Liu
My likely No. 1 pick for the Hugos this year. A much harder Science Fiction novel carefully plotted around the limitations of sub-light-speed communication, taking in the broad sweep of history over the 50-year period that first contact would take under these conditions, if the civilization you're contacting lives as nearby as theoretically possible. One that I personally couldn't put down. Buy from Amazon US/Amazon UK.

TARDIS Eruditorum - An Unauthorized Critical History of Doctor Who Volume 2: Patrick Troughton   Philip Sandifer
This second volume of Doctor Who-related writings fom Philip Sandifer did not impress me as much as the first. It seemed to me that compared to the first one, it had undergone less revision from the original versions as posted on Sandifer's blog (where you can read the majority of the articles for free). This is just a subjective impression, because even on a vacation I still don't have the time to go through the different versions and compare them directly, but it's one that's backed up by a number of mechanical editing errors I spotted. It's also based on the style of the writing, which is less fluid than Sandifer's is today, and considerably more bloggy than I remembered the first volume being. Also, I kinda dropped out of my attempt at watching the whole classic series during the Troughton years, which means I have less of a connection with this era than with the Hartnell era, which I've seen nearly all existing episodes of. All that being said, Sandifer is one of the best and most accomplished critics writing about Doctor Who today and I recommend buying these books just to subsidize his new writing. Buy from Amazon US/Amazon UK.

The Day the World Turned Upside Down (Novelette) – Thomas Olde Heuvelt, translation Lia Belt
This will likely be the only work I will vote for in the Hugo Best Novelette category, and I may put it below No Award. I can overlook that it doesn't work that well as What We Think Of When We Think Of A Speculative Fiction story, but I can't get over the unlikability of the narrator/protagonist, with the narrative itself being consistently on his side (there is no sign that the narrator/protagonist is aware of what a douche he is, or that he should be. The case for no-awarding it is made in this review by Secritcrush on Livejournal. I didn't read the events in the story as magical realism, but as literary parallelism, but while such a reading is easier to enjoy, it doesn't remove the protagonist's issues entirely. Read for free at Lightspeed magazine, so you don't have to take my word for it.

Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie
Not a Hugo nominee this year, but the book that won all the major awards last year and the prequel to the Leckie novel that is nominated for Best Novel this year. I read the blurb for this one after I took it home, and immediately showed it to my wife, because she plays (played, honestly) Halo and read several Halo novels. I haven't read any of those or played the game myself, but she's told me enough about them to suggest that when the back of a book talks about warships and ship AIs given flesh, that's something that she'd be interested in. She said she was and also that she'd actually heard of the Imperial Radch series that this is the first novel in. Er, I just wrote 500 words on this book today so I don't feel like recapping it right now. Buy it on Amazon US/Amazon UK.

As part of my personal Hugo voting process, but also to help me train up my critical abilities again, I try to write something about all novels and stories I read. I didn't do that for the TARDIS Eruditorium volume, because I don't enjoy writing criticism of criticism anyway. For the time being, I'm doing this in the form of unstructured notes; what I like about doing it that way is that there's no expectations of insight or quality attached to that format. I am not in a place where I can spend a day to hammer out 2500 words of well-structured argument on a book, and it would be very harmful for me to even try. The notes will help me remember, at voting time, what I thought of any of the works read, and hopefully trigger some other memories as well when I go back to them.

I did spend some extra time to add some Amazon links to the paragraphs in this post, containing my old Amazon Associate codes. This was probably pointless as the blog is now much more of a personal thing I write for myself, but you never know if people do decide to purchase, and if they do, that would give me some extra disposable income to buy more books. I would hope, though, that these posts help cause more books being sold! If you read this and want to buy one of the books discussed above, please feel free to ignore the Amazon links and instead support your local book store. My current home town of Hoogezand-Sappemeer (NL) has no real bookstores left. I did some of my shopping in Groningen and was appalled to find out that both major stores selling new books in the center were now part of the same regional chain, offering roughly the same selection of books. I expect they will consolidate to a single location in the center soon as well. For comparison, Hoogezand-Sappemeer, pop. 30,000, still has a good record store and Groningen, pop. 200,000, supports half a dozen record stores.

Or get the electronic editions! That's what I did for several of these.

Notes/First Impressions: Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie

May 3rd, 2015 by Reinder
  • Not a Hugo nominee this year; this is the one that swept all the major SF awards last year.
  • Its sequel, Ancillary Sword is a nominee this year, and I read this one to get up to speed, and also because the two books were placed side by side in Van de Velde bookstore in Groningen.
  • Justice is a gourmet burger of a novel, insubstantial but a lot of fun and mostly not a lot of work to read.
  • That said, the beginning was a bit of work, and not because of the thing that everyone notices about the book. I found the splintered consciousness of the protag to be hard to follow until i got the hang of it. This is not something that would have given me much trouble 20 years ago, so I guess I've gotten dumber since then. Or maybe out of practice at reading carefully. Yeah, that'll be it.
  • The thing that everybody notices is that the protag doesn't understand gender very well and consistently refers to everyone in her own language as "she". This is not particularly confusing. I've not gotten that dumb in the past 20 years.
  • Oddly, no one comments on the same situation in reverse: that the second-person pronoun is ungendered (and unnumbered) in English as in the protag's own language, but not in some of the languages that are foreign to her. This was often enough to take me out of the act of reading for a fraction of a second, make go back to what I just read and go over the same sentence again, whenever the protagonist stumbled on the correct usage, which was consistently rendered in English as "you" regardless. But hey, ungendered "you" is normal, right? We only have issues with ungendered "she", because that's like really far-fetched. Right.
  • Anyway, other than that, it's a straightforward revenge book in which the protagonist gets closer to her target and eventually overtakes her. Then stuff happens that is the sort of stuff that happens when the enemy also has a fractured consciousness and multiple bodiies, and that stuff also leads into the next book.
  • Ancillary Justice has detailed wordbuilding and a strong ability to show that world through a single, biased perspective while also letting its realities shine through.
  • "Empires are evil" is not a message in any meaningful way; it is, however, a point of view. So is "it'd be fun to tell a story of an ungendered culture, and without using the default options for when we don't know a person's gender".I would hope that adult readers would be clear on the difference. Apparently not.
  • If this was this year's nominee for a Hugo, I'd vote for it as my #2 choice. Because sometimes, you just gotta stick up for a novel that's good popcorn reading, has some spaceship action and pew-pews and does all the things you expect of a space opera novel and does them well. That's what this is.

Notes/First Impressions: Thomas Olde Heuvelt – The Day the World Turned Upside Down (trs. Lia Belt)

April 27th, 2015 by Reinder

The Day The World Turned Upside Down at Lightspeed Magazine. 10367 Words, so a really quick read. Don't take me at my word—read it yourself.

Another one that I thought was clearly very good but didn't have any particular resonance with me. The macro/micro/nanocosm conceit is clever and I could see where the author was going with it, but it just didn't sweep me off my feet with it. I should ask some of those who did love it what they thought was so great.

I did like the old women, who I initially imagined as being Fates or Norns, or at least fulfilling a similar role. Much more interesting than Toby, who could have been the protagonist of a Marco Borsato song. Perhaps that's the problem: the idea of breakups-as-the-apocalypse has been thoroughly ruined for me. It goes without saying that the comparison is a bit insulting to the story, which is a good deal better and more artful than that, but still. Something like that gnaws atcha, you know.

And perhaps I should read it in the original Dutch! That option is open to me. I thought that for a non-native speaker, Lia Belt did a good job translating Olde Heuvelt's story into English, but if I'd been the editor, there would have been one or two phrases I'd have had questions about, and one of those was very early on, taking me out of the story a bit. Unlike with Ken Liu's work on the Best Novel candidate, there are no translator's notes, but I did not have the impression that preserving the Dutchness of the story was foremost in Belt's mind, or that it was a desirable approach for this story, whose setting is deliberately kept unspecified.

Notes/First Impressions: Liu Cixin – The Three-Body Problem

April 26th, 2015 by Reinder
  • Wow. This was a good read.
  • The one significant flaw of The Three-Body Problem is a somewhat workmanlike, translator-ish stylie that actually comes from it being translated from the Chinese. Translator Ken Liu has a postscript explaining his approach and as a translator myself, I can't fault it, and I can overlook that it doesn't sing like the style of The Goblin Emperor does.
  • This novel is very cleverly constructed, setting its action over a period that's just long enough for contact between Earth and the alien civilization to occur at the speed of light. Science and mathematics are woven into the narrative as needed, no more, no less, and are rarely obtrusive.
  • The earth side of things stays largely within the boundaries of mundane science fiction, except maybe as far as the environment of the "Three Body" game is concerned: no FTL, no laser guns, near-future, no cheating on the quantum physics, at least as far as I can tell as a non-scientist
  • However, Liu has his cake and eats it with the alien side of things, which he happily situates on a very nearby solar system and allows to develop a workaround for communication at a speed greater than light (also, in a Mundane SF novel, the alien civilisation wouldn't exist at all)
  • I'm intrigued by how much of the novel is set during the Cultural Revolution. I would have assumed that writing about it at that length would still be a taboo in China. Shows how much I know. Maybe it's just too big of a part of Chinese history to ignore if you need a timespan between 50 years ago and today. From what I've heard, Liu is very much an insider in China's elites, and also he seems to take great care not to go too deeply into Chairman Mao's role in the Cultural Revolution, describing it as a period of factional chaos instead.
  • In his own postscript to the novel, Liu takes great care also to emphasize that he is not writing social criticism into his Science Fiction work. No message fiction here, no sirree. But one gets the impression that he does not like fanaticism much and that he sees disillusionment as a corrupting influence on people whose intentions are otherwise good. He also mentions that he cannot ignore the realities of the world entirely.
  • This is not a review, and I don't have a lot to say right now about why I think this is good. But it kept me immersed into its plot from beginning to end, and I preordered the sequel within half an hour of finishing the book.
  • More observations may be added here as I think of them.

A few random thought that may or may not amount to anything

April 23rd, 2015 by Reinder

I'm on vacation, and one of the things I'm doing, in addition to picking up my drawing tools and my guitar, is thinking about future projects. A few thoughts keep creeping up:

  1. I have an encyclopedic recollection of the science fiction I read in my youth, and could probably find any specific quote from at least some of those books by cracking them open at where I expect the page to be. I'd expect this ability to become less accurate the later I've read any novel for the first time, but it's there.
  2. I have a hugely complicated relationship with Heinlein in particular.
  3. I will never again have the time to draw long comics, and perhaps it's time I should put that ambition to bed (there are scenarios for my immediate or more distant future in which I do have that amount of time. They all have the word "unemployable" in them and are extremely bad for myself and worse for my family).
  4. I have, however, written up to 5000 words a day for the past few days, or edited the equivalent based on cost per word. I am probably in a much better position to write prose if I put my mind to it.
  5. Reworking concepts that other authors have used but that didn't really work when they did them, is apparently a thing that is more or less acceptable if you're clear about it and actually do a good job.
  6. My own life and thoughts actually offer some original ideas that I might add to the mix, if I bother to record them. And they wouldn't be obvious ideas either.
  7. In the past few years, since switching careers but also since turning 40, I've noticed an odd kind of halo effect affecting me. I have become invisible to people who want to sell me crap, but people I work with seem to automatically assume that I am supercompetent and have lots of expertise. I am not and don't, but I don't have to work hard to pretend. Why wasn't I warned that this would happen?
  8. There is a big market for traditional science fiction.
  9. A large section of that market is almost eager to be trolled in a big way.
  10. NaNoWriMo is in November

Do I dare to?