Monday, August 31, 2015

Hugos, Puppies, and the Aftermath

Yes, I'm a little late weighing in. I didn't take my computer on vacation (for reasons that have a lot to do with US customs policies).

But I'm going to weigh in.

First of all, I'd like to address a complaint I've seen that the Hugo Committee should have discounted the "obviously political" No Award votes.

If they had the freedom under the rules to do that kind of thing - then they could have stopped the slate voting.

Or wait, actually? They couldn't have.

It might be obvious that if a large number of people vote No Award in a category that there might be something other than people hating everything on the ballot - but there's no way to determine for each individual ballot what the motivation for No Award was. Any more than they could prove any individual ballot that happened to match the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies slates was a slate vote. Disqualifying a vote needs to be done based off of proof, not pattern matching.

Nobody broke the rules and there is no way to enforce rules against this kind of thing.

So, onto my opinion on the No Award voting in general. I've stated in the past that I disagree with this tactic - and I still do. That said, I admit that I voted for Mr. Ward a few times myself this time - based on either the inferior quality of the work or, in the case of Fan Writer, based on excessively political and in one case actively nasty samples presented to the voters. No Award is there to allow people to state that they dislike everything in a category. (It's not the same thing as simply not voting a category, which the rules also allow. I didn't vote in Best Fanzine because I hadn't read any of them and none of them provided samples).

Now, here's my analysis of the categories in a purely, completely, utterly subjective manner.

Best Novel: The Three Body Problem.

I absolutely agree. I'm going to say this was the best science fiction book I read in 2015. (Not the best fantasy - which I'll be nominating next year, trust me). It was fantastic. It stayed with me in a way few books have and reminded me of Isaac Asimov's famous Nightfall. I loved it. Yes, that's subjective, but art criticism generally is. In fact, with the exception of No Award, the finalists were listed in the exact order I picked them. Apparently I have more popular taste than I thought.

Best Novella: No Award

Okay. I actually think Flow might have deserved to win. And surprisingly I quite liked Big Boys Don't Cry. But with three stories from the same person (here's a suggestion to the Hugo Committee - maybe we could change the rules so that somebody can't be nominated more than one in the same category in the same year?) I can see how people thought this category was skewed. And to be honest, I don't care for Wright's work at all. He's failing to be C.S. Lewis quite badly, in my entirely subjective opinion. So I suppose I'm not that upset.

Best Novelette: The Day The World Turned Upside Down.

I hated it. Hated, hated, hated. And I enjoyed Flynn's story and Lerner's both a lot. This is one where the politics disappointed me. I think that it resulted in an inferior work winning. Now, as a long term Analog reader (and Analog contributor) I probably have a strong bias in favor of, well, the kind of science fiction published in Analog. But I wasn't happy with what won at all.

Best Short Story: No Award

Grrr. I really liked Kary English's story. None of the rest hugely impressed me, but I think that one deserved it. But, I suppose, the point was made.

Best Related Work: No Award

Close to being in agreement here. I've read much better than any of the entries. Burnside's essay was interesting and so was Roberts', but I'm not sure either was Hugo worthy. Close enough that I personally didn't no award them, but...

Best Graphic Story: Ms Marvel Volume 1

I think this is an example of an active fanbase pushing a story over the top. The Carol Corps are, well...numerous, loud, and quite willing to campaign for what they love. ;). Now, I love Kamala Khan too. I adore how she talks like she hangs out on tumblr too much. But I don't agree that it's better than Saga. Sorry, Carol Corps. I do agree that Rat Queens, which is well written but not to my taste was better than Sex Criminals, though. I normally like Fraction, but Sex Criminals did nothing for me whatsoever.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Guardians of the Galaxy

This was a case where nobody seemed to care that Guardians of the Galaxy was on the slate. I certainly didn't. I'd have liked to see Interstellar placed higher not because I liked it but because I'd like to see more things like it made. The Winter Soldier came second and is as close to a perfect movie as I've seen lately. (I picked Guardians of the Galaxy over it because it's more science fictional).

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Orphan Black "By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried"

This is the one that made me squee. Yes, I'm a massive Whovian. Yes, Listen was an awesome episode. But Doctor Who has a collection of rocket ships already, whilst Orphan Black is of equal quality and underrated. Highly underrated. It's a strange show, and is honestly more techno-thriller than true science fiction, but... Hey, who gets the rocket ship? Can we at least lend it to Tatiana Maslany?

Best editor, Short Form: No Award

I think Mike Resnick or Jennifer Brozek actually did deserve it, but I may be biased because I like Jennifer Brozek. Vox Day...well, let's say he impresses me as an editor as much as Wright impresses me as a writer. That is, not at all.

Best editor, Long Form: No Award

I think Weisskopf deserved it and I'm not alone. But maybe she can get nominated again without the shenanigans?

Best Professional Artist: Julie Dillon

With everyone else put below Mr. Ward. Sad. It took me forever to decide this category because everyone was so good. Which is as it should be.

Best Semiprozine: Lightspeed Magazine

Not arguing with this. I think I may like Beneath Ceaseless Skies better, but John Joseph Adams is a fantastic editor.

Best Fanzine: Journey Planet

I didn't vote this category due to lack of familiarity.

Best Fancast: Galactic Suburbia Podcast.

I preferred Tea and Jeopardy for its interesting framing device. Interestingly, the shorter casts were higher quality. Podcasters take note.

Best Fan Writer: Laura J. Mixon

This is the category I threw up my hands at...and I'm pretty sure Mixon wasn't the one person I put above No Award. She was also the one not conservative person. I preferred...I don't remember who it is right now, but one of the more conservative writers presented reviews of golden age science fiction books rather than politics.

Best Fan Artist: Elizabeth Leggett

Again, all of the artists were excellent. Or I'm just bad at critiquing art.

John W. Campbell: Wesley Chu

I picked Kary English over Wesley Chu, but not upset that he got it.

Overall I have very mixed feelings...but I'm still thrilled Orphan Black is getting the recognition it deserves.

Friday, August 14, 2015


...I'm heading out of town for two weeks. Thus, this blog will be going dark until I get back. (Family stuff plus vacation).

Tianjin Explosion

My thoughts are going out to the people of Tianjin, China.

A chemical warehouse in the port, owned by a company called Ruihui Logistics, caught fire. The company was storing chemicals illegally. Apparently the law says that "dangerous chemicals" should be stored at least 1km from "public buildings and transport networks." There were at least three large apartment buildings within that radius.

Because of "lack of communication" firefighters used water on the fire, which reacted with one of the hazardous chemicals that shouldn't have been there to cause a massive explosion. 721 people were injured badly enough to go to the hospital, with 25 in critical condition. 6,000 people have been evacuated from homes close to the fire (which is not fully out) because of concerns about toxic chemicals.

56 people died, including 21 firefighters. (Several more firefighters are missing and the death toll is likely to go up a little).

Oh, and the blast destroyed an entire lot full of cars that were waiting shipment (For some reason, the news agencies are all loving this titbit).

Basically, it's a mess - and a mess which could easily have been avoided. The existing laws were more than sufficient to protect people. If they'd been enforced.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Naming The Planets

We're discovering a lot of new planets lately.

The organization responsible for naming planets is the International Astronomical Union.

And they're running a contest. First, they allowed astronomy clubs and similar organizations to put together a list of proposals for names for 20 exo planets. Now it's time for the rest of us.

Go to this link to vote on names. I'm putting mine in right now. (Yeah, yeah, I should be working, but how can I resist?)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Circumbinary Planets

Much of the new Star Wars trailer happens on Tatooine (And I'd love to know who crashed that Star Destroyer).

Until very recently, Tatooine was considered impossible. It's what we call a circumbinary planet - a planet that orbits around two suns. For this to happen, the two suns have to be close together. (If they're further apart, any planets will be non-circumbinary or S-type planets, orbiting only one of the two suns).

We've now discovered a number of circumbinary planets, and the latest, Kepler-453 b, is in the habitable zone (of the 10 circumbinary planets discovered, 3 are in the zone). However, this isn't Tatooine - Kepler-453 b is believed to be a gas giant (It could theoretically have habitable moons, however - and think about that. Living on a moon around a gas giant and having two suns to deal with).

The planet also has a tilted orbit. If we hadn't spotted it now, it would have been 50 years before we could have detected another transit.

As a note, planets have also been found in three and four star systems. We still don't understand how planets can even form in complex solar systems.

Cixin Liu explores the idea of a planet in an unstable multiple system in The Three-Body Problem (probably the best science fiction novel I've read recently - and I just realized it has sequels. Get them translated stat!)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Space Lettuce?

Apparently, it tastes good. Astronauts on the ISS taste-tested space grown lettuce as part of an experiment to, well, grow lettuce in microgravity for long space voyages. Red romaine, to be precise.

This isn't the first time the system, which includes drip irrigation (the only kind that works in space) has been used to grow lettuce, but it's the first time NASA has let the astronauts and cosmonauts on board actually sample it.

Supposedly, it tastes like arugula. Mmm.

Monday, August 10, 2015


...may want to avoid Rowlett, a suburb in Dallas. It's been taken over by giant spider webs.

Not to worry - the web spinners are harmless. More to the point, they like eating midges and gnats, and build communal webs, which can be huge, to collect gluts of food. In other words, leave them alone, they're eating horrible bitey things.

(Which is why I generally leave spiders alone. Anything that eats horrible bitey things is my friend. Unless it's hourglass shaped, of course).

Friday, August 7, 2015

Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

I almost didn't write this one. Why?

I've been a Stephenson fan for years, and I adored Anathem. I wasn't so keen on Reamde, but everyone has an off day.

I have rarely been so disappointed in a book as I was in this one.

The concept is intriguing. An unknown force blows up the moon (Most likely a wandering singularity). Fortunately, the moon takes an extended time to explode. Humanity launches a massive project to evacuate a small but genetically diverse population to space. Needless to say it doesn't go well.

Then the book (no spoilers, this is in the blurb) leaps forward to the recolonization and reterraforming (it's a word now) of Earth.

Unfortunately, the execution was deeply flawed. In the first two thirds of the book, Stephenson repeatedly stops the story to educate his reader on orbital mechanics - either through straight up exposition, lectures given by a thinly veiled Neil DeGrasse Tyson insert (I'm sure he had permission ;)), or the repeated introduction of new characters to give the experts somebody to explain it to. In fact, there's more exposition about orbital mechanics and space survival than actual story. What could and should (Stephenson has written brilliant thrillers) have been a dramatic apocalyptic story turned into, frankly, a bit of a yawn.

The second part of the book skips through a ton of stuff I actually did want to read about, but is at least more like what I expect from Stephenson. Until it practically stops mid sentence.

I don't know quite what happened here - too tight a deadline? Arguments with his editor? It's still Stephenson, so it doesn't quite cross the line into terrible...but it's not what he's capable of. Nor is it the book I actually was hoping I'd get when I picked it up and read the blurb.

Sorry, Mr. Stephenson. You missed the mark with this one.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Summer's so green...

...and winter's grey. Well, most places. The seasonal change in color is distinct (unless you live in the tropics).

It's so distinct that our brains actually adjust how we perceive color depending on the time of year. (The study was done at the University of York, my alma mater).

Of course, it's all to help us pick things out of a sea of green in summer, or spot that ice on the sidewalk in winter.

Needless to say this study was done in a temperate area. Presumably, humans who live in tropical Africa or India don't see, pun intended, any changes.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Babies and Bonobos

Anyone who's handled a human baby knows that they make the same dang noise regardless of what they want and you have to work it out from context.

Adult humans, of course, have this beautiful and complex means of communication we call "language."

Turns out the same thing babies do. They make peeping sounds that can mean a number of things depending on context.

Is this, then, the earliest evolution of true language?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Wandering Stars?

30% of the stars in the Milky Way have moved a long way from where they were "born." That's a lot - and it says a galaxy is a dynamic and ever changing thing, not some static arrangement of stars as we might think it is.

For the most part, stars are moving in and out in relation to the galactic core. Given how inhospitable the galactic core is, this may say something about the chances of intelligent life, unfortunately.

Monday, August 3, 2015


Hey, guys. The cute hitchhiking robot was not one of our new overlords. At least, I don't think so. (Personally, I'm starting to think robots would do a better job of running the planet).

In proof that hitchhiking isn't safe for anyone, the Hitchbot was found "dismembered" in Philadelphia.

Really, America? Really. Leave the cute little guy alone. (It's likely a new Hitchbot will be built and the company will try again).