Saturday, December 31, 2016

Book Blogger Hop December 30th - January 5th: 185 Is a Square-Free Integer

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Your New Year's Resolution is to read a classic novel that you have never read before. What book will it be?

One of the advantages of having attended a private boarding school for high school is that I read a number of classic works of literature when I was a teenager. Before I reached college, I had read Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Faulkner's Light in August and As I Lay Dying, Twain's Huckleberry Finn, Hemingway's Farewell to Arms, and Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby. I read The Three Musketeers, Les Miserables, L'Etranger, and All Quiet on the Western Front. I read Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, The Red Badge of Courage, Heart of Darkness, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Tess of the d'Urbervilles. I have not read anything close to all of the classic novels, but I have read a lot.

This means that the field of choices I have is limited to some degree. Just picking from the books I own, I could round out my Hemingway reading and pick up The Sun Also Rises. Or I could delve deeper into Faulkner's oeuvre and read The Reivers or Go Down, Moses. Maybe I could try Ben Hur or The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In the end though, I think I will have to settle on Ivanhoe or Don Quixote of the Mancha. I have seen three film adaptations of Ivanhoe, and am somewhat familiar with the story of Don Quixote, but I have never read either book. Those are works that I should probably read some time soon, although I hope to eventually get to every book I have listed in this paragraph.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: POX 186 Is a Small Galaxy

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, December 30, 2016

Follow Friday - The Emperor Diocletian Divided the Roman Empire into Two Parts in 286 A.D.

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Words I Write Crazy.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What blurbs do you feel are wrong or misleading?

The worst book blurbs I have ever seen have been on some of the collaborations between Larry Niven and Steven Barnes. The blurb on the back cover of Achilles Choice is misleading, but that is mostly because the way the core metaphor at the heart of the book is phrased doesn't really make much sense. The book (and the cover blurb) claim that the participants in the Olympic Games of the future are offered "Achilles Choice": A short, glorious life, or a long, uninteresting one. Except that in the book, those Olympians who lose have shortened lives, while those who win find themselves moved to a special category of people and go on to live long and productive lives.

However, the most misleading book blurb I have ever seen was on the Larry Niven and Steven Barnes collaboration The Descent of Anansi, which has this description on its back cover:
It's the American Revolution all over again. But this time it's a rag-tag band of space colonists vs. the United States. And the fate of the world hangs by a thread - 200 miles above the earth.
The problem is that this bears no relationship at all to the contents of the book. There is a colony orbiting the moon, and it does declare independence from the United States, but that one vote is the entirety of the "conflict" between the colonists and the American government. Most of the book is occupied by a bidding war between Japan and Brazil to purchase a monofilament cable from the colony, and the efforts of the loser in that bidding war to seize the property anyway. The blurb is essentially nonsense that seems to have been written by someone unfamiliar with anything in the book beyond possibly skimming through the first chapter. Even assuming the blurb writer had that much familiarity with the book is a stretch.

Follow Friday     Home

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Review - Never Call Retreat by Bruce Catton

Short review: As the war comes to a close, the northerners make plans for the aftermath, and the leaders of the Confederacy descend into delusion and self-destruction.

Grant, Sherman command
The Confederacy's death

Full review: The third, and final volume in Catton’s famous Centennial History of the Civil War, Never Call Retreat details final dying convulsions of the Confederacy, and the relentless men who made it hold on grimly to the last as well as the much less relentless men who drove it to extinction. The book shows that the paradox of the Civil War is that the destruction of the Confederacy was accomplished as much by self-inflicted wounds as it was the result of Union efforts.

This book shows clearly that the tragedy of the Confederacy was not that men like Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan, and Farragut ground it into oblivion, but rather that men like Davis, Hood, and Hunter refused to surrender despite their position being obviously hopeless. Hunter’s delusions are laid out clearly in the book - while Grant laid siege to Richmond, Sherman ranged free in Georgia, and Thomas was pursuing the scattered remnants of Hood’s army, Hunter met with Lincoln to talk peace, and was mortally offended that Lincoln refused to compromise on reunion and emancipation – the only two issues of consequence in the war. Even in late 1864, Hunter expected that Lincoln would treat the defeated Confederacy as an equal, and not the broken, hollow shell that it was.

The central figure of the book is Grant, as the volume covers his Vicksburg campaign, ascension to command the Union armies of the west, and finally command of all the Union armies leading to the long grapple with Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Certainly Lee comes off well in parts of the book – his defeat of Hooker at Chancellorsville, Burnside at Fredericksburg, and subsequent second invasion culminating in the Battle of Gettysburg against Meade. But the book demonstrates convincingly that these were futile efforts: Even had Lee won at Gettysburg, his army would have been too worn down to exploit his victory, and even if it had not, he could not have taken the strongly fortified federal capitol. As Grant found out a year later when he laid siege to Petersburg, a strongly entrenched army was almost undefeatable by assault, and there were more than enough troops in D.C. to ward off any assault before relief could come. Grant, laying siege to Petersburg, had plenty of time, as the Confederacy had no relief troops to send. Lee would have had no such luxury.

Through the volume Catton details the ever more desperate efforts of the Confederate leaders, even as their nation collapsed around them and their own people defected. Wild plans were made to do all manner of things: Plots to bomb hotels in New York, or rob the Union in order to provide for Confederate needs, or steal Union warships, and so on. The lunacy of the Confederate leaders led Davis to relieve Johnston, whose delaying tactics had at least slowed Sherman down, and replace him with Hood and orders to go on the offensive - a disastrous command to an army that was completely ill-equipped to the task and which only left Georgia open to plunder. The whole book gives one a taste for the true feeling of inevitability that must have gripped the entire Confederacy, evidenced by the huge volume of desertions that plagued the Confederate armies and the desperate, incredible, delusional (and, due to historical events moving to fast for it to be put into effect, untested) plan to free and arm slaves to fight in its defense.

In all this, Catton weaves the tale of the political events surrounding the war in the field: The Presidential campaign of 1864, pitting McClellan against Lincoln, the debates in Congress and among members of Lincoln’s cabinet over the questions of reconstruction following the war and the status of the now-freed slaves. Catton makes clear that Booth’s bullet cruelly ended what might have been a kinder and better run reconstruction, more effective at healing the nation than the violent and bitter version created by the enmity between Johnson and the radical Republican Congress. The book ends just after Lincoln’s assassination and the final surrender of the last organized Confederate armies (all of whom had commanders who refused to take to the hills and conduct a bitter guerrilla war: Unlike their political leaders, the Confederate generals were often able to see what was best for the interests of the South, and the Union it would have to rejoin). In many ways, the books are the history of Lincoln as a political figure – he was, after all, a surprise choice for the Republican nomination in 1860, and his death put the cap on the war itself.

This series was first published in 1960 – the centennial of the U.S. Civil War. Every Civil War historian since then has been influenced by this work. For most students of U.S. history, this set of three volumes marks the starting point for their study of the war, and as a result, it is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the period, and the later scholarship on the subject. Without Catton, there would be no Foote, no Burns, and no Shaara. The series is also quite clear and straightforward, laying out an incredibly confusing episode in history in a concise and reasonably easy to understand manner.

Previous book in the series: Terrible Swift Sword

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Review - Terrible Swift Sword by Bruce Catton

Short review: McClellan takes command of the Army of the Potomac and transforms it into a capable fighting force, but he doesn't know what to do with it. Lee takes command of the Army of Northern Virginia, but only after the Confederate cause has been essentially lost.

After First Bull Run
States learn the harshness of war
Bloody Antietam

Full review: This is the second volume in Bruce Catton's three part Centennial History of the Civil War, detailing the events following the First Battle of Bull Run through to the aftermath of the horrifically bloody Battle of Antietam, including the final removal of McClellan from command of the Army of the Potomac. While the first volume was dominated by the politics of the era, this second volume takes place after open hostilities have broken out between the United States and the Confederacy, and as a result substantial attention is given to the military strategies and how they interacted with the politics of both warring nations.

The book covers, for the most part, the period of time that McClellan held command of the Army of the Potomac, and by quoting his arrogant and somewhat delusional letters extensively, demonstrates just how damaging McClellan was to the Union cause in Virginia. To be fair to McClellan, the book also shows how he was instrumental in transforming the chaotic and disorganized Union forces in the Eastern theater into the disciplined and competent Army of the Potomac. In addition, the book demonstrates quite clearly that McClellan's shortcomings as a field commander were not really too severely damaging to the Union cause overall.

For all the press Lee gets as the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, this book makes clear (even if that is not what Catton intended) that by the time he took command of that army in June 1862, the Confederate cause was likely hopeless. One can make an argument that the Confederate cause was hopeless from the start (a position argued quite well by Richard N. Current in his essay in the book Why the North Won the Civil War), but by June 1862, it is pretty clear that the cause was completely lost. The Union had seized Port Royal and the Carolina Outer Banks, closing down most of the Carolina ports, and had taken New Orleans. West Virginia had been carved away from Virginia. In the west, the Confederacy's chance to turn Missouri into a Confederate state had been lost, and their chance to do the same to Kentucky had also slipped away. The Union controlled both the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, and held all of the Mississippi save for that portion of the river around Vicksburg. While the South had been basking in the glory of their victory at Bull Run and found a hero in Robert E. Lee, the North had been busy winning the war.

Catton lays this out step by step, following the course of the war, showing the political realities that drove the men involved, and demonstrating the fates of those who did not recognize, or chose to ignore those political realities (chief among those with a tin ear was McClellan). It also shows how the war transformed from a clash of eager, disorganized militia into a struggle between hardened armies, including showing how McClellan and other commanders were instrumental in transforming the Union forces into professional fighting forces, and how McClellan misused what he had created, as well as showing how Lee was able to take a much less impressive army and bamboozle the ineffectual McClellan. However, the book also gives one the sense that, even though Lee was by nature an aggressive military commander, the risks he took, seen now as brilliant innovative maneuvers, were driven in large part by the fact that he was playing a losing hand, and had to take the extreme long shot gambles he did just to give the Confederacy any chance to win a conflict that it had essentially already lost.

This is a clear, well-written and reasonably comprehensive history of the early years of the central event in U.S. history, and it is a must read for anyone who wants to even begin to consider themselves well-versed on the subject. To a certain extent, this book could be subtitled "The Rise of McClellan and Lee, and the Fall of McClellan", but it also a book about how the enthusiasm and eagerness of the first few months of the war was replaced by a realization of just how hard this war would be, and the effects that this realization engendered. All modern conversations about the Civil War either start with, or are influenced by, Catton's work, and as a result being familiar with this book is almost a necessity.

Previous book in the series: The Coming Fury
Subsequent book in the series: Never Call Retreat

Bruce Catton     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, December 26, 2016

Musical Monday - History Repeating by Shirley Bassey and Propellerheads

One of the depressing things about having studied history is that one can see when it begins to repeat itself. What is even more depressing is realizing that so many of one's fellow citizens are not well-versed enough to see it as well. Over the last several years, many people have been very concerned about what they perceived to be a dearth of science, engineering, and math students, but at the same time, we have seen so many people go through the educational system and emerge without a solid grounding in the humanities, including history, civics, and world affairs. I believe this is in part responsible for the current sad and uninformed shape of the American electorate.

We have seen this sort of thing happen before. It is really no mystery to anyone with an understanding of history as to what happens when a politician resorts to scapegoating minority populations and blaming foreigners for perceived economic woes. There is no real mystery as to what happens when the government is taken over by corporate interests and generals. The lesson history teaches us is that these developments are merely harbingers of far worse to come. I wear a tattoo on my arm that is a quote from the late Senator Daniel Inouye, a veteran of World War II who literally gave his right arm in the defense of American democracy. The quote is "lessons learned must remain", a portion of his speech at the dedication of the memorial to those Japanese-Americans who were placed in internment camps during World War II. This was a warning that we must all remember what was done before so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. Unfortunately, I think that too many Americans have forgotten, and consequently we will have to learn these hard lessons once again. I can only hope that the price of acquiring this wisdom is not too high.

Subsequent Musical Monday: Man in Black by Johnny Cash

Other Holiday Songs     Musical Monday Playlists

Shirley Bassey     Propellerheads     Musical Monday     Home

Sunday, December 25, 2016

2002 Hugo Longlist

The 2002 Hugo Awards were mostly notable for the inclusion of the one-time category of "Best Website", which was promptly won by Locus Online, the internet arm of Locus magazine. The interesting thing about this category is how it shows what a chaotic time the early 2000s were for the internet. Of the other finalists in this category, one - SciFi.Com - has basically disappeared, while another - SF Site - has been reduced to only the most intermittent updates. When one looks at the longlisted nominees, it appears that four have gone out of existence - including the website associated with the show Made in Canada, which seems mildly surprising. Some longlisted nominees are somewhat odd, such as the nomination for The Official Website of Battlefield Earth. I know that Scientologists have a propensity to try to stuff the ballot boxes at the Hugos, but was that really one of the fifteen best science fiction related websites in 2001? Both of the longlisted nominees SF Weekly and SciFiction were once online publications put out by the SciFi Channel, and like SciFi.Com, they have been swallowed up and had their existence more or less erased from the internet.

The fact that several of the websites that made it to the list of finalists or the longlist of nominees have ceased to exist is interesting, but no more so than the fact that a number of semiprozines and fanzines that were nominated years ago have gone out of existence since then. What is interesting is the wide array of types of websites that received nominations. The sites ranged from what were essentially online fanzines, to the official sites of television shows or other science fiction properties, to a clearinghouse for online fiction, to internet archives, to a podcast. It seems that the voters had a widely varied idea of what "Best Website" meant, and to be perfectly honest, the category description didn't give much guidance. Given the extreme diversity of the websites that were nominated, it seems like it would have been an almost impossible task to compare them to one another in any kind of reasonable manner, and so it was probably for the best that the category was not continued beyond this one year.

Best Novel

American Gods by Neil Gaiman [winner]
The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson
Cosmonaut Keep by Ken MacLeod
Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
Passage by Connie Willis
Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

Longlisted Nominees:
Declare by Tim Powers
Deepsix by Jack McDevitt
Nekropolis by Maureen F. McHugh
The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Outpost by Mike Resnick
Point of Dreams by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett
Return to the Whorl by Gene Wolfe
Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
The Skies of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
Spherical Harmonic by Catherine Asaro
Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

Best Novella

The Chief Designer by Andy Duncan
The Diamond Pit by Jack Dann
Fast Times at Fairmont High by Vernor Vinge [winner]
May Be Some Time by Brenda W. Clough
Stealing Alabama by Allen M. Steele

Longlisted Nominees:
Bug Out! by Michael Burstein and Shane Tourtelotte
The Caravan from Troon by Kage Baker
deck.halls@boughs/holly by Connie Willis
Eternity and Afterward by Lucius Shepherd
The Finder by Ursula K. Le Guin
Great Wall of Mars by Alastair Reynolds
The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett
New Light and the Drake Equation by Ian R. MacLeod
Saturday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl's by Adam-Troy Castro
Shady Lady by R. Garcia y Robertson
View Point by Gene Wolfe
Yesterday's Tomorrows by Kate Wilhelm

Best Novelette

The Days Between by Allen M. Steele
Hell Is the Absence of God by Ted Chiang [winner]
Lobsters by Charles Stross
The Return of Spring by Shane Tourtelotte
Undone by James Patrick Kelly

Longlisted Nominees
And No Such Things Grow Here by Nancy Kress
Computer Virus by Nancy Kress
Have Not Have by Geoff Ryman
Into Greenwood by Jim Grimsley
Isabel of the Fall by Ian R. MacLeod
The Measure of All Things by Richard Chwedyk
Mirror by Robert Reed
The Old Rugged Cross by Terry Bisson
The Quijote Robot by Robert Sheckley
Troubadour by Charles Stross

Best Short Story

The Bones of the Earth by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Dog Said Bow-Wow by Michael Swanwick [winner]
The Ghost Pit by Stephen Baxter
Old MacDonald Had a Farm by Mike Resnick
Spaceships by Michael Burstein

Longlisted Nominees
Cold Calculations by Michael Burstein
Cut by Megan Lindholm
In Glory Like Their Star by Gene Wolfe
The Great Miracle by Michael Burstein
Incognita, Inc. by Harlan Ellison
The Infodict by James van Pelt
Interview: On Any Given Day by Maureen F. McHugh
Magpie by Meredith Simmons
Senator Bilbo by Andy Duncan
Whisper by Ray Vukcevich

Best Related Work

The Art of Chesley Bonestell by Ron Miller and Frederick C. Durant, III; with Melvin H. Schuetz [winner]
The Art of Richard Powers by Jane Frank
Being Gardner Dozois by Michael Swanwick
I Have This Nifty Idea, Now What Do I Do With It? edited by Mike Resnick
J.R.R.Tolkien: Author of the Century by Tom Shippey
L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Volume XVII edited by Algis Budrys [ineligible]
Meditations on Middle-Earth edited by Karen Haber

Longlisted Nominees:
Dark Dreamers: Facing the Masters of Fear by Stanley Wiater and Beth Gwinn
The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics by Dennis O'Neill
Deep Future by Stephen Baxter
Fantasy of the 20th Century by Randy Broecher
Paradox: The Art of Stephen Youll by Stephen Youll
Spectrum 8: The Best in Contemporary Fantasy Art edited by Arnie Fenner and Cathy Fenner
Sticks and Bones: The Troublesome Success of Children's Literature by Jack Zipes
The Time Machines: The Story of the Science Fiction Pulp Magazines from the Beginning to 1950 by Mike Ashley
What If Our World Is Their Heaven? The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick edited by Gwen Lee and Doris Elaine Sauter
Which Way to the Future? by Stanley Schmidt

Best Dramatic Presentation

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More, With Feeling
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring [winner]
Monsters, Inc.

Longlisted Nominees:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Body
The Dish
Enterprise: Broken Bow

Farscape: Revenging Angel
Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius
The Mists of Avalon
Moulin Rouge
The Mummy Returns
The Others

Best Professional Editor

Ellen Datlow [winner]
Gardner Dozois
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Stanley Schmidt
Gordon van Gelder

Longlisted Nominees:
Algis Budrys
Laura Anne Gilman
David G. Hartwell
Warren Lapine
Shawna McCarthy
Beth Meacham
Mary Anne Mohanraj
David Pringle
Ian Randal Strock
Terry Windling

Best Professional Artist

Jim Burns
Bob Eggleton
Frank Kelly Freas
Donato Giancola
Michael Whelan [winner]

Longlisted Nominees:
Thomas Canty
David Cherry
Vincent Di Fate
Phil Foglio
Steven Hickman
Paul Kidby
Tom Kidd
John Jude Pelancar
Sergey Poyarkov
Stephen Youll

Best Semi-Prozine

Absolute Magnitude edited by Warren Lapine
Interzone edited by David Pringle
Locus edited by Charles N. Brown [winner]
The New York Review of Science Fiction edited by Kathryn Cramer, David G. Hartwell, and Kevin Maroney
Science Fiction Chronicle edited by Warren Lapine [ineligible]
Speculations edited by Susan Fry

Longlisted Nominees:
Artemis edited by Ian Randal Strock
Cemetery Dance edited by Richard Chizmar
Dreams of Decadence edited by Angela Kessler
Fantastic Stories edited by Ed McFadden
Foundation edited by Paul March-Russell
On Spec edited by Diane Walton
Spectrum SF edited by Paul Fraser
Talebones edited by Patrick Swenson and Honna Swenson
The Third Alternative edited by Andy Cox
Weird Tales edited by Darrell Schweitzer and George Scithers

Best Fanzine

Ansible edited by David Langford [winner]
Challenger edited by Guy Lillian, III
File 770 edited by Mike Glyer
Mimosa edited by Richard Lynch and Nickie Lynch
Plokta edited by Alison Scott, Steve Davis, and Mike Scott

Longlisted Nominees:
Baryon edited by Barry Hunter
Bento edited by David D. Levine and Kate Yule
The Devniad edited by Bob Devney
Emerald City edited by Cheryl Morgan
Fosfax edited by Timothy Lane and Elizabeth Garrott
Knarley Knews edited by Henry L. Welch
Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet edited by Gavin Grant and Kelly Link
Memphen edited by Greg Bridges
Science Fiction Five Yearly edited by Lee Hoffman, Geri Sullivan, Jeff Schalles, and Terry Hughes
Tangent Online edited by David Truesdale
Twink edited by E.B. Frohvet

Best Fan Writer

Jeff Berkwits
Bob Devney
John L. Flynn
Mike Glyer
Dave Langford [winner]
Steven Silver

Longlisted Nominees:
John Hertz
Arthur Hlavaty
Richard Horton
Evelyn Leeper
David D. Levine
Guy Lillian, III
Cheryl Morgan
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Jo Walton

Best Fan Artist

Sheryl Birkhead
Brad Foster
Teddy Harvia [winner]
Sue Mason
Frank Wu

Longlisted Nominees:
Freddie Baer
Kurt Ericksen
Alexis Gilliland
Julia Morgan-Scott
Bill Neville
Steve Stiles
Taral Wayne
D. West
Alan White
Charles Williams

Best Website

Locus Online, webmaster Mark R. Kelly [winner]
SciFi.Com, executive producer Craig Engler
SF Site, publisher and managing editor Rodger Turner
Strange Horizons, edited by Mary Anne Mohanraj
Tangent Online, senior editor David Truesdale, webmaster Tobias Buckell

Longlisted Nominees:

Emerald City edited by Cheryl Morgan
The Fanac Fan History Project, webmaster Edie Stern, published by Steve Pendergrast
Internet Speculative Fiction Database, published by Al von Ruff
Made in Canada
The Official Battlefield Earth Website
SciFi Dimensions edited by John C. Snider
SciFiction edited by Ellen Datlow
SF Revu edited by Gayle Surette
SF Weekly edited by Craig Engler and Brooks Peck
SFF Net, owned by Jeffrey Dwight
Speculations, published by Kent Brewster
Writers of the

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Tobias S. Buckell
Alex Irvine
Wen Spencer
Jo Walton [winner]
Ken Wharton

Longlisted Nominees:
Carol Berg
James Cambias
Jacqueline Carey
Cecilia Dart-Thornton
Charles Coleman Finlay
Alan DeNiro
Michael J. Jasper
Mindy L. Klasky
John Ringo
Carrie Vaughn

Go to previous year's longlist: 2001
Go to subsequent year's longlist: 2003

Go to 2002 Hugo Finalists and Winners

Hugo Longlist Project     Book Award Reviews     Home

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Book Blogger Hop December 23rd - December 29th: Proposition 184 Implemented California's "Three Strikes" Law, Which Was (and Remains) a Terrible Idea

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Do you participate in reading challenges that have you reading for 24 hours, challenges that have a yearly goal, challenges that have you reading certain genres, or do you not participate in challenges?

I participate in a number of challenges every year, thus far they have all been genre related and yearly goal challenges. I have not done any twenty-four hour reading challenges or anything of a similar nature. There are lists of all the challenges that I have participated in (and links to both the challenges themselves and my progress on them) on the sidebar to the right. The exact challenges have changed over the years, mostly because some challenges have gone out of existence, but when that happens, I try to find a similar challenge as a replacement.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: 185 Is a Square-Free Integer

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, December 23, 2016

Follow Friday - Roman Emperor Carinus Was Killed in 285 A.D.; This Is Getting Predictable

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Kati's Bookaholic Rambling Reviews.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Best or favorite villains?

Most of my favorite books don't have particularly memorable villains, or even villains at all. For example, one of my favorite novels is The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, but there isn't really any character in the book who could be called a villain. Another example would be Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress, which is a brilliant book, but doesn't really have a villain. Or a book might have villains, but they aren't particularly notable or memorable, such a Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe.

But the book that has the villain that sticks in my mind the most is Nova by Samuel R Delany, and the villainous Prince Red. In the book, the protagonist Lorq von Ray is the head of the most powerful corporate clan in the Pleiades System and is locked in a struggle for control of the market for illyrion with Red Shift Limited of the Earth-based Draco. The head of Red Shift through much of the book is none other than the temperamental Prince Red, and to a lesser extent, his sister Ruby. Prince Red was born without an arm, and wears a mechanical replacement that makes him physically powerful, and he lashes out any time someone mentions his deformity - most notably one time he lost his temper with Lorq and slashed him across the face with his metal arm. Though Prince Red only appears in a handful of scenes in the book, his malicious presence is felt throughout, and that makes him memorable.

Follow Friday     Home

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Review - The Coming Fury by Bruce Catton

Short review: A comprehensive history of how the 1860 Presidential election set into motion a series of events that led to secession, rebellion, and civil war.

First an election
Then crisis and secession
Finally, a war

Full review: This is the first volume in Bruce Catton's famous history of the U.S. Civil War. Given that I studied Civil War history as an undergraduate (under Michael F. Holt, author of The Political Crisis of the 1850s, a book that is also in my library), I suppose it is kind of surprising that I never read this series until now. I can only say that I wish I had read it sooner. This is, to put it bluntly, one of the most compelling accounts of the events leading to the U.S. Civil War, and that transpired in its early months, that I have read. Despite the fact that it is a survey, and thus unable to go into great detail, it is one of the best overviews of the history of this time period that one can find.

In the first volume, Catton presents a clearly written history of the events between the 1860 Democratic Party Convention in Charleston, South Carolina to the 1861 Battle of Bull Run in Manassas, Virginia. While there isn't anything in the account that I didn't generally know already, Catton links the events together, showing how one foolish idea after another, one miscalculation after another, and one delusion after another all wove together to drive the country away from the delicate political compromises of the 1840s and 1850s first to sectarian extremism, and finally war. Understanding these sorts of connections are the true gateway to really understanding history, and Catton does a masterful job linking them together, showing how one event was influenced by others, and influenced still more in turn.

In The Coming Fury, Catton clearly shows how unready both sides were for the coming conflict, and how both gravely miscalculated the other's intentions. From the bitter, four way presidential campaign in which the only national candidate had no chance of victory, to the bizarre (and ultimately fateful) siege of Fort Sumter, to the Federal government's actions in Missouri to drive out the government of a State that had not seceded, to the clash of rank amateurs that was almost as costly to the victorious Confederates as to the routed Federals many of the events detailed in this volume have an almost farcical tone to them, which serves to underscore the naïveté, the confusion, and the chaos that every person in the U.S. faced during this year.

In contrast to many histories that make the animosities between the factions seem inevitable, and seem like everyone participating knew hostilities were inevitable, Catton, in this volume, shows how men who became implacable adversaries beginning in 1861, grasped to the last at straws that offered any fleeting hope of peace, and the forces (mostly driven by the two sides very incompatible ideas about exactly what they would be negotiating) that made such peace impossible. In many of the chapters the desperation of the parties is almost palpable as they cast about trying to find a solution, any solution, that will allow them to avert the oncoming war. This is in sharp contrast to the many power brokers (most, but not all, of whom were aligned with the doomed pro-slavery pro-secession side) who almost gleefully pushed the country into an armed conflict.

Catton captures this, the last time that true amateurs in politics and warfare would grace the stage, and expertly details the schemes, subterfuges, and blunders they made which resulted in what is still arguably the most pivotal conflict in U.S. history. Most of modern scholarship on the topic of the U.S. Civil War is a reaction to, or an expansion of, Catton's work on the subject, and to truly understand those works, one must start with this one. As one of the foundational works of scholarship about the U.S. Civil War, The Coming Fury and the following two volumes in the series are virtually mandatory works to read for anyone who truly wants to study U.S. history.

Subsequent book in the series: Terrible Swift Sword

Bruce Catton     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review - Michael Moorcock: Fiction, Fantasy, and the World's Pain by Mark Scroggins

Short review: A summary overview of all of Michael Moorcocok's work from the 1950s through to the present day.

Eternal Champion
Balance of Law and Chaos
In the Multiverse

Disclosure: I received this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: Michael Moorcock: Fiction, Fantasy, and the World's Pain is a comprehensive evaluation of Michael Moocock's body of work as a whole, evaluating it from his earliest writings in the 1960s, all the way through to his most recent published works. In the book, Mark Scroggins discusses Moorcock's influences, the recurring themes and elements in Moorcock's work, how they connect to one another, and how they connect to events drawn from Moorcock's life. This is, in short, a book that should interest anyone who is familiar with Moorocok's work, or who wants to become familiar with Moorcock's work.

The book starts off at the beginning of Moorcock's career, discussing the first works that Moorcock published, and then proceeds from there chronologically. As Scroggins notes, due to the almost cyclical nature of many of Moorcock's works, one can enter into them from multiple points, but for the purposes of this book, he decided to start at the beginning and deal with Moorcock's oeuvre more or less in the order that Moorcock wrote them. This works reasonably well as an organizing principle, since it presents Moorcock's career in a manner that highlights his development as a writer, but due to the unique way that Moorcock's works relate to one another, it means that there is a certain repetitiveness to the text as a result, as the recurring themes and elements of the works come up time and again.

Given its importance to Moorcock's work, the "Eternal Champion" cycle is a prominent subject of discussion in the book, which Scroggins returns to time and again. It turns out, the Eternal Champion story was the first thing Moorcock wanted to write, and the book starts by discussing the original John Daker story and from there moves on to the other iterations of the character such as Elric and Hawkmoon. Most critically, the book explores the meaning and evolution of the concepts of Law and Chaos as they apply to the Eternal Champion cycle, as well as Moocock's somewhat clumsy and inherently contradictory efforts to incorporate some of his other characters into the mythos later in his career such as when Moorcock retroactively inserted the von Bek family into it.

The book isn't solely about Moorcock's "Eternal Champion" cycle, despite that theme's dominance in Moorcock's work. The book also discusses the related theme of the "multiverse", which is so critical to Moorcock's work, and the many recurring characters that crop up in various guises across his stories, most notably Jerry Cornelius, and all of his variants. The book also delves a bit into Moorcock's tenure as the editor of New Worlds, and how that affected his thinking and his writing. One of the more fascinating segments discusses the Colonel Pyatt series of books, including a description of just how difficult they were for Moorcock to write owing to their disagreeable protagonist and subject matter.

Scroggins also highlights Moocock's more recent works, such as Silverheart, his collaboration with Storm Constantine, and The Coming of the Terraphiles, his Doctor Who novel. The most interesting discussion of Moorcock's late-career novels relates to the semi-autobiographical book The Whispering Storm, and the quasi-related books Mother London and King of the City, all of which diverge quite significantly from the other works in his career. But this puts into focus what I consider to be one of the few weaknesses of the book: Moorcock's career has been so long and so varied that it is all but impossible to do more than scratch the surface with 169 pages worth of text. Scroggins is able to cover many of the larger recurring themes, but this book is definitely not an in-depth analysis of Moorcock's work. In many cases one of Moorcock's stories is only referenced to say that it is similar to another Moorcock story in theme and nothing more is said about it. To be fair, this kind of treatment is necessary given the volume of work that Moorcock has produced, however it does mean that anyone looking for in-depth critical analysis is likely to come away somewhat disappointed.

Michael Moorcocok: Fiction, Fantasy, and the World's Pain is an overview of Moorcock's work, and nothing more. It is not comprehensive or extensive, providing only a cursory evaluation of the largest themes in Moorcock's oeuvre. That said, this book is an excellent summary and introduction to Moorcock's work, suitable both for someone just starting to read Moorcock, or for a veteran who has already read dozens of his books.

Mark Scroggins     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Review - The Buried Life by Carrie Patel

Short review: There is a rash of murders among the upper crust of the underground city of Recoletta, but the powers that be don't seem all that interested in allowing Inspector Malone to solve them.

Murdered historian
A diligent inspector
Then, revolution

Full review: Carrie Patel's debut novel, The Buried Life is a post-apocalyptic underground murder mystery with elements of political intrigue and revolution thrown in for good measure. Set in the subterranean city of Recoletta, the story starts off with the murder of one of the members of the wealthy "whitenail" upper crust of society, and winds its way through twists and turns until it reaches a literally explosive conclusion. With an atmospheric setting, an intriguing mystery, and fairly well-drawn characters, The Buried Life is a fast-paced book with a lot to offer that is only marred by a couple of minor missteps.

The story in the book is itself somewhat interesting in that there are two viewpoint protagonists. The first, as one would expect in a murder mystery, is a police inspector named Liesl Malone who is assigned to investigate the death of Professor Werner Cahill, a historian from the upper crust of Recolettan society. From the start, this is a complicated case because it turns out that in Patel's imagined future society, the study of history is a tightly regulated and controlled activity, with most citizens kept entirely ignorant of the events of the past. Almost all historians work for the powerful and secretive Directorate of Preservation, which jealously guards its secrets, and aren't about to cooperate with a mere police inspector and her rookie partner just because one of their members has been killed.

The other protagonist is Jane Lin, a laundress with a high society clientele who more or less tumbles into the story by being in the wrong place at the wrong time and seeing something that some powerful people think she should not have. In some ways, Jane is a more interesting character than Liesl - while Liesl is a fairly straight-forward headstrong maverick police officer, Jane is a much more subtle character, often unsure of herself and unsure of her position in society. Unfortunately, Jane's portion of the story is mostly carried by her relationships with Fredrick Anders, her newspaper editor neighbor, and a roguish and somewhat mysterious figure named Roman Arnault who seems to be connected to every underhanded act in the city. Because Jane is used as a conduit to bring these characters into the story, and a linchpin to link them all together, her own story sometimes seems to get a short shrift.

One of the elements that makes The Buried Life what it is is the underground city of Recoletta itself, which is almost a character in its own right. Almost omnipresent in the book, the city is a brooding presence in the background of every scene, with dark steam-filled tunnels, gated communities full of imposing mansions, ballrooms filled with lights, and dour government buildings. The atmosphere provided by the city is gritty, and sometimes almost Dickensian in feel, with the sensibilities of the early grimy and often unfair years of the industrial revolution. What makes the city even more interesting is the fact that despite the crowding and the inequality and the grind of the life lived by its denizens, the fact that its residents continue to live underground is purely a result of cultural inertia - fairly deep in the book it is revealed that the surface is not only habitable, it is inhabited. Whatever disaster drove humanity into underground cities for survival apparently happened so long ago that people had been able to return to recolonize the outside world. Although relatively few scenes take place on the surface, the knowledge that it is there makes the city seem even more confining and oppressive.

The murder mystery at the core of the book works well, rolling along nicely from the start, and unfolding into conspiracy laden political intrigue in short order. Liesl's investigation is first hampered by the intransigence of the Directorate of Preservation, but is soon obstructed by the Council, the ruling body of the city. Forced to conduct their inquiries on the sly, Liesl and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar face official and unofficial resistance at every turn but still push forward as the body count rises and the web of conspirators becomes more and more apparent. The only real misstep the book makes is in the resolution of the murder mystery portion of the book where Liesl and Jane both almost simultaneously run into different people prepared to explain the web of political deceit that resulted in the murders. One person explaining the solution would have been a mild let down, but having two different characters do it to two different protagonists simply causes all of the built up tension to deflate into silliness. The book recovers a bit at the end with some dramatic political developments and a hint of what could be coming in future volumes, so all is not lost, but the flawed resolution of the murder mystery still drags the book down a bit.

Overall, The Buried Life is a fine debut novel from an author who shows a lot of promise. There are so many strong elements to this book that the few flaws are glaring, but can be looked past. The murder mystery is generally well-presented (albeit with one significant problem), the setting is interesting, the characters are mostly well-developed, and the underlying political drama is intriguing. Patel handles all of these elements with an ease that many veteran authors would have a hard time matching. The end result of all of this is a tightly-written, fast-paced and very good novel that will scratch both your mystery itch and your post-apocalyptic dystopia itch.

Subsequent book in the series: Cities and Thrones

Potential 2016 Hugo Nominees

Carrie Patel      Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, December 19, 2016

Musical Monday - The World That He Sees by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra

I'm not much of a believer. Culturally, my background is Christian - specifically small town Midwestern protestant Christian, but these days I mostly line up on the same side as Tim Minchin with respect to religious traditions. I share his love of Christmas as described in his song White Wine in the Sun.

But despite the fact that they are packed in layers of silliness, there are some ideas in the Christian tradition that are good ones, and this song by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra captures one of those good ideas almost perfectly. Specifically, this verse:

And he dreamed of another world
In another time
And another place

Where no man
Has to wear a sign
Saying where he's from
Saying what's his race

And he wants us to believe
This world that he sees

I fear that we may be entering an era in which this idea will be a forlorn hope. The United States has failed to rise to its ideals in the past, with the institution of slavery, followed by legalized segregation, the internment of Japanese-American citizens during world War II, racist immigration policies, and many other national moral failures. Over the last couple of decades, the U.S. seemed to be improving in this regard, and was slowly moving towards actually being a society that kept the promises that its founding documents made. And the majority of voters in the country seem to have wanted the country to keep moving in that direction.

But due to a fluke in the way that Presidents are selected, the incoming administration is headed by a man who campaigned on the idea of labeling people based upon where they come from, what religion they adhere to, and in a de facto manner, what their race is. I fear that we will see the implementation of a registry of Muslims in the country, whether they are citizens or not. I fear that we will see mass deportations of Hispanic immigrants, regardless of their legal status. Both of these policies will be motivated by xenophobic racism. I can already hear the reply - that neither Muslim nor Hispanic is technically a race, but both of those groups are dominated by people who are browner than the white Americans calling for these policies. The telling fact that reveals the racism behind such proffered policies is that those same people who clamor for the removal and exclusion of members of these groups are not making similar calls for people from Poland, or Hungary, and any number of other places. No, the only groups that they call for the government to move against are groups that are overwhelmingly non-white.

The truly sad thing is that many of the people who support these policies appear to be "conservative Christians". But as this song indicates, these proposed policies are entirely antithetical to the core of Christianity. In a larger sense, almost everything this incoming administration stands for is antithetical to the message and teachings of Christianity. If this administration tries to actually implement the promises they made on the campaign trail, then we are in for some very dark times ahead. I hope that the country can pull out of what I believe is the coming tail spin, but it will take a lot of work and effort to do it. I believe that the ideals that the United States was founded upon are the greatest one could choose, and I really hope that we pull back from this cliff that Trump's racism and xenophobia have pushed us towards, and we go back towards living up to those ideals.

Subsequent Musical Monday: History Repeating by Shirley Bassey and Propellerheads

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The Trans-Siberian Orchestra     Musical Monday     Home

Friday, December 16, 2016

Book Blogger Hop December 16th - December 22nd: Remember Gladiator? In Reality, Roman Senators Failed to Assassinate Emperor Commodus in 183 A.D.

Book Blogger Hop

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: What is your favorite holiday beverage to drink while you're reading?

I have a recipe for a really good homemade eggnog, complete with rum, brandy, and bourbon. I love it, but I can't drink it all that often, both because doing so would make me almost permanently tipsy and drive my blood sugar through the roof.

Although I am generally happy to drink commonly available holiday themed products like Cranberry Sprite or Cranberry Ginger Ale if they are what is on offer, the best soda I have ever had for the holidays was Reeds Spiced Apple Cider. It isn't likely to be found on most supermarket shelves - you'll probably have to seek it out at a specialty store like World Market, but it is worth the effort. The soda tastes like someone liquefied an apple pie and made it into a delicious drink, which makes it perfect for the holidays.

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Follow Friday - Roman Emperor Numerian Died in 284 A.D.; This Was Not a Good Era to Be a Roman Emperor

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and a single Follow Friday Featured Blogger each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the Featured Blogger of the week - Turning The Pages.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What protagonist is most like you?

I don't know if I actually reach the standard set by the character, but the protagonist that I always hope to be most like is Atticus Finch from Harper Lee's masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird. I am not certain that anyone could actually rise to that level, but at least it is something to aspire to, which is one of the things that great stories often do: Give us something to aspire to.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Review - Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Short review: The moon blows up on the first page and humanity unites to try to save a handful of people on a space station. Then things get bogged down in discussions about the physics of chains.

First, the global ark
Next, comes the hard rain of death
Then, just seven Eves

Full review: Seveneves is a bloated and turgid mess of a book that is simultaneously both annoyingly brief and way too long. At just over 850 pages long, this book really should have either been trimmed down to half that length, or Stephenson should have expanded it into a two or possibly three book series. As it is, the story is sprawling and unfocused, skimming over large volumes of the story in an almost perfunctory manner, while also getting sidetracked into obsessive detail over minor technical explanations.

The story starts off with a bang, almost literally, as the Earth's moon is destroyed by an unknown cause in the opening sentence. The story also starts off by showing that the humans in Stephenson's reality bear almost no resemblance to actual humans, as they take in this news with an almost dispassionate curiosity, seemingly only worried about the technical aspects of the fact that the Moon had suddenly been somehow shattered into seven large fragments. The story also gets right on to dry technical digressions, as the text spends some time explaining how the attacker in a fencing match is referred to as the "agent" and the defender is referred to as the "patient", and as will become routine for the book, the digression adds almost nothing of value to the story. The first few opening chapters set the tone for the book, and it pretty much never recovers.

The overarching plot of the book is a grand sweeping space operatic tale told with mostly hard science sensibilities. The destruction of the moon starts a process that will result in a shower of meteorites sterilizing the Earth and making it uninhabitable for a period of five thousand years. Almost immediately, all the the nations of the world band together with the goal of making the International Space Station into an ark that will carry a handful of people so that the human race can survive. The "carrot" offered to all of the billions of humans who will be left behind to die on the Earth is that their genetic material will be carried in an archive so that at some point hundreds or thousands of years in the future, children who are technically their descendants can be born. The notion that people facing imminent death would be mollified by the idea that some time in the distant future a test tube baby made at least in part from their sperm or ova might exist. The problem is that's not how people's minds work - we don't love our children just because they share our genetics, but also because they are part of our lives and we can love and share experiences with them. A "relative" who you've never met is something that most people will never care about one way or the other, and yet the supposed intense interest in such persons is the "glue" that holds chaos in check for much of Seveneves.

Throughout the book, the plot lurches forward, sometimes jumping haphazardly from one big event to another, and at other times getting bogged down into tiny details. One constant in the story is that no character ever acts like anything resembling a human being. Among the characters in the story, there are a few who are clearly modeled on real world individuals, and none is more readily apparent than Doctor Dubois Harris, who is clearly inspired by Doctor Neil deGrasse Tyson. Unfortunately, Dubois is such a creepy and amoral character that I had to keep reminding myself that he was only inspired by Tyson so as to not allow the invented character to color my perception of the real individual. Dubois, like Tyson, is a science popularizer, famous for being a television personality who educated the public on scientific subjects with his engaging personality, and for the first segment of the book he does that. But later he is the one who alone among all scientists of the world figures out the impending doom that the Moon's destruction has set in motion, and who then behaves like a man without actual human feeling.

Dubois strikes up a relationship with a woman early in the book, but all we ever really find out about her is that she is a school teacher, and that Dubois gets her pregnant. This pregnancy is important because when Julia Flaherty, the President of the United States who is clearly a stand-in for Hillary Clinton, asks Dubois to go to the ark, his one demand is that the embryo be extracted from his girlfriend and sent to the genetic archive. This seems moderately reasonable until one realizes that Dubois has already existing children, as well as other family, not to mention is girlfriend, and he doesn't really seem to spend much time worrying about their fates. He doesn't try to pull for his graduate student son to get a spot on the ark, or to arrange for his science teacher girlfriend to be given a berth, or anyone else. No, the only thing Dubois cares about is a frozen embryo that constitutes the seed of a person that he will never know. This sort of almost callous disregard for the living and breathing people around them while exalting collections of frozen cells pervades the development of the ark, and it quite simply makes almost every character involved in its creation seem like amoral monsters, the supposedly amiable Doctor Dubois included.

Setting aside the problems with characterization that pervade the book, the story is simply inconsistent - glossing over fairly important developments with almost perfunctory descriptions of them, and repetitively describing technical minutia ad nauseum. For example, the crafting of the international agreement in which all of the nations of the world agree to dedicate all of their energies to the ark takes place entirely off-stage, but the reader is regaled with an extended explanation of the details of chain physics not once, not twice, but three different times in the text. After a splinter group breaks away from the ark and strikes out on their own, their story over the next two years takes place off-camera, and when they remerge, the bitter split between warring factions among their ranks and food shortages that led to cannibalism is summarized after the fact in a recounting barely longer than the description I gave in this sentence. On the other hand, the story of a skeleton crew using miniature robots to steer a comet over the course of a handful of weeks into a rendezvous with the ark is told in exacting and often repetitive detail. At times, it seems that Stephenson simply forgot that he had already told the reader something - for example the multiple times he has a character remind the reader that Julia had used nuclear weapons to defend the ark. Having the text skim through some parts of the story would not be so annoying if it wasn't, at the same time, providing excruciating and duplicative detail at others. In many cases, it felt like there was a much more interesting story going on off-stage than there was contained within the book's pages.

The book can be broadly divided into three segments. In the first, the Moon is destroyed and the ark built. In the second, the "Hard Rain" starts and the ark community has to struggle to survive on their own, a struggle that winds up with the entirety of humanity reduced to eight women - one of whom is post-menopausal and cannot bear children. The remaining women become the "seven Eves" of the title, with each allowed to pick one genetic improvement for their progeny. And then the book skips over the entire process of rebuilding humanity from such tiny roots, and the ensuing development of an orbital culture, political infighting and division, and the reseeding of Earth with life to skip forward five thousand years for the final third of the book to a relatively mundane story about a group of these "new" human races coming into contact with two new groups of humans who never left the Earth - one that built an underground shelter to survive deep within the Earth, and the other that built an undersea ark and survived in the deep oceans. This leap across the millennia to an utterly banal portion of the story is where Seveneves completely breaks down.

One of the biggest problems with the book is contained in this five thousand year gap: After being fairly meticulous and mostly fairly accurate with the physics in the first two segments of the book, Stephenson throws everything away by resorting to absurd cartoon-level biology to explain the development of the multiple races of humanity that descended from the various "Eves". After the detailed physics of the first section, the ridiculous and nonsensical approach to biology that spans the gap between the second and third portion is incredibly jarring, and the resulting story simply disintegrates into goofy silliness. This hand-waving of essentially everything about genetics is, of course, accompanied by detailed explanations of how this future civilization uses nanobots, how individuals get down to and up from the surface of the Earth, and of course, more explanations about the physics of chains. The characters in the book also continue to not act like humans, having created a society that seems incredibly self-absorbed to the extent that any history that doesn't directly trace from the "seven Eves" is seen as an almost inconsequential "side story".

The truly frustrating thing about this book is that one can see the potentially quite good book (or books) hidden within it. Had Stephenson gone through the book to remove the redundant technical descriptions, the pointless digressions, and the simple repetition, the book could probably have been trimmed down a couple of hundred pages and been a lean and fast-paced volume that would hold the reader's attention throughout. Alternatively, each section could have been fleshed out, filling in the parts of the story given cursory attention, resulting in a two or possibly three volume saga. Instead, he chose an in between approach that simply does not work, forcing him to gloss over large chunks of the story with cursory summaries, but still padding the book with repetitious technical explanations. The net effect of this decision is a book that has flashes of brilliance, but is mostly clumsy, unfocused, and gets in its own way.

In the end, Seveneves is a very long and windy failure. It is an ambitious failure, but it never really transforms that ambition into a worthwhile story, and eventually simply collapses in on itself. This is a book that had a lot going for it: A global catastrophe leading to an epic tale of humanity struggling to survive against almost impossible odds with a scope on the grandest scale. Unfortunately, Stephenson takes all of these bold and brilliant elements and fritters them away on dry technical explanations, many of which appear multiple times, and characters that are, both often just barely two-dimensional and, for the most part, almost inhuman in their response to their surroundings. Ultimately, Seveneves feels like a missed opportunity in which what could have been a gloriously epic series ended up being a deeply flawed single volume.

2015 Prometheus Award Winner: Influx by Daniel Suarez
2017 Prometheus Award Winner: TBD

List of Prometheus Award Winners

Potential 2016 Hugo Nominees

2016 Campbell Award Nominees
2016 Hugo Award Finalists
2016 Locus Award Nominees
2016 Prometheus Award Nominees

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Musical Monday - Please Bring Firefly Back (for Christmas) by Mikey Mason

I want a lot of unrealistic things this holiday season. In most cases, what I want are big things that would require a time machine and some serious alterations to the past year. I wouldn't change the whole year, just large chunks of it. Asking for the return of Firefly seems almost plausibly achievable in comparison. I mean, as long as we are asking for things we can't have, we may as well ask for some nice things as well. I'd trade in Serenity in exchange for a couple seasons of episodes. Plus, it would be nice to have Wash back as well, although there's no way to have Shepard Book in a rebooted Firefly, which is a real shame. Hell, as long as we are asking for impossible things, we may as well ask for Ron Glass back too.

Fuck this year. Fuck it straight to hell. Merry Fucking Christmas.

Previous Musical Monday: Christmas Time Is Here by the Vince Guaraldi Trio
Subsequent Musical Monday: The World That He Sees by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra

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