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Sorry to say that I was a bit disappointed by this volume, the first of a new presentation of Elric in internal chronological order. About half of the book is the script of an Elric-before-he-was-King graphic novel, which is OK but I'd have preferred to get the real thing. There are some interesting essays and short pieces front and back, but I think it's really one for the Elric or Moorcock completist, and I am not one.
This is yet more evidence of the Australian surge in feminist sf commentary (which, let's be very clear, is a Good Thing) spearheaded by the Galactic Suburbia team, two of whom have assembled this volume of (mostly) letters in tribute to James Tiptree jr / Alice Sheldon who was born 100 years ago this month. The first half has literally dozens of letters written to Tiptree / Sheldon by today's writers, reflecting on what she means for them. They are mostly very short, but long enough to make an impression: I now want to get hold of more work by Theodora Goss and Bogi Takács. We then get the actual correspondence between Ursula Le Guin and Alice Sheldon after she was unmasked as female by Jeffrey D. Smith (who was to become her devoted literary executor). I found this exchange of letters tremendously engaging and moving. More correspondence follows to and (mostly) from Joanna Russ, and the collection closes with previously published material by Helen merrick and Justine Larbalstier, and a new essay from Michael Swanwick, about the importance of Tiptree's writing.

When I read books about sf, I want i) a better understanding of stuff I have already read and ii) suggestions of stuff I might read in the future which may appeal to me. I got both from this book, and I imagine that I will be adding it to my nomination lists for both the Best Related Work Hugo and the BSFA Award for Best Non-Fiction in 2016.

Reading short fiction for the Hugos

I am one of those people who, until this year, let the Hugo nominations guide my reading of short SF rather than the other way round. Clearly that was one of the factors that allowed the recent unpleasantness to develop, so I'm going to make a serious effort to remedy that and read more (ie any) sf short stories published this year before the deadline, which will presumably be in the early spring of 2016.

The problem is, where to start? There is so much of it.

Well, with the guidance of the Wikipedia (yes, I know) articles on the short fiction categories, and my own notes, I've compiled a list of the places of publication of the short fiction I actually voted for in the last five un-puppied years.

2010
Short Story: Spar, by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld)
    winner was Bridesicle by Will McIntosh (Asimov's)
Novelette: It Takes Two, by Nicola Griffith (Clarkesworld)
    winner was The Island, by Peter Watts (The New Space Opera vol 2)
Novella: The God Engines, by John Scalzi (Subterranean Press)
    winner was Palimpsest, by Charles Stross

2011
Short Story: For Want of a Nail, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov's) - I voted for the winner
Novelette: Eight Miles, by Sean McMullen (Analog)
    winner was The Emperor of Mars, by Allen Steele (Asimov's)
Novella: The Lifecycle of Software Objects, by Ted Chiang (Subterranean Press) - I voted for the winner

2012
Short Story: Movement, by Nancy Fulda (Asimov's)
    winner was The Paper Menagerie, by Ken Liu (F&SF)
Novelette: "Six Months, Three Days", by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com) - I voted for the winner
Novella: The Man Who Bridged the Mist, by Kij Johnson (Asimov's) - I voted for the winner

2013
Short Story: Mono no Aware by Ken Liu (Lightspeed Magazine) - I voted for the winner
Novelette: "Fade to White", by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld)
    winner was The Girl-Thing Who Went Out For Sushi, by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity)
Novella: The Emperor’s Soul, by Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications) - I voted for the winner

2014
Short Story: The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere, by John Chu (Tor.com) - I voted for the winner
Novelette: The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling, by Ted Chiang (Subterranean Press)
    winner was The Lady Astronaut of Mars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor.com)
Novella: Six-Gun Snow White, by Catherynne M. Valente (Tor.com)
    winner was Equoid, by Charles Stross (Tor.com)

This really does help me to drill down. In the last five puppy-free years, I voted for three stories published by each of Asimov's Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Subterranean Press and Tor.com (and both Asimov's and Tor published two winners which I did not myself vote for). If they've publsighed stuff that I liked in the past, it's likely that they will do so in the future. So I'm inclined to make my contribution to the 2016 nominations by reading the short fiction published in those venues this year, along with anything else that should catch my eye in the meatime (such as Penrtic's Demon, which at present is the only item on my nomination lists for short fiction). I'll also add Strange Horizons, which I always enjoy. Any other recommendations are also welcome.

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Apparently it's #WorldFrankensteinDay today

And the first science fiction book with a partly Irish setting was...

The Land of Green Plums, by Herta Müller

A grim but very effectively told tale, of being an ethnic minority (in this case, German speakers) in a totalitarian Nationalist state (in this case, Ceaușescu's Ronmania) told in a bleak style of low-level horror. Our unnamed protagonist sees one close friend driven to suicide, and tries to form a nucleus of friendship with some other ethnic Germans in their regional capital, where they are kept under constant intrusive surveillance by the Securitate. Very vivid and ends unhappily. This book won the 1998 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and helped its writer win the 2009 Novel Prize for Literature.

Predicting the Hugos: How it worked out

My survey of bloggers called two out of four fiction categories correctly, the No Awards for Best Novella aand Best Short Story, with two near misses; The Three-Body Problem was essentially level-pegging with The Goblin Emperor in my survey, as in real life, and No Award, which was the winner in my survey, actually got most first preference votes in the count though was overtaken on transfers by the winner. (Actually my first survey at the start of July had Three-Body Problem ahead, and No Award with less of a lead in the Novelette category. I have sometimes found in election camapigns that one's gut feeling in the early days is a better guide to the outcome.) Incidentally none of the bloggers in my survey got all four outcomes that they wanted, though there were several with three out of four.

My original reporting of the Goodreads/LibraryThing stats for the Best Novel shortlist omitted the eventual winner, which was added only at a later stage. I've rerun the numbers, and the order is about the same, with The Three-Body Problem in the same rank as Marko Kloos' Lines of Departure:
Goodreads LibraryThing
owners av rating owners av rating
Skin Game, by Jim Butcher 34,039 4.55 844 4.31
Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie 8,858 4.05 551 4.09
The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison 6,220 4.08 508 4.23
The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu 5,980 4.00 394 3.82
The Dark Between The Stars, by Kevin J. Anderson 664 3.54 75 3.11

Not very surprisingly, this reveals that The Dark Between The Stars was a very weak choice, with by a long way the lowest rankings both of ownership and of user rating on both systems. Skin Game clearly has a lot of fans who rate it highly, but I don't think it would have won even if it had reached the ballot without puppies; Hugo voters have very rarely backed a later book in a series where they have not already given the award to an earlier one.

A little more surprising is that The Three-Body Problem is second last on both metrics on both systems. On Goodreads it's within the margin of error, but on LT it is quite some way behind in ratings despite a similar level of ownership. This of course demonstrates only that Hugo voters have different opinions from users of Goodreads and LibraryThing, and that consequently statistics from the latter are of limited value when trying to predict the behaviour of the former.

Penric's Demon, by Lois McMaster Bujold

After ten years away, we are back to the world of The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls and The Hallowed Hunt, with a novella about a young lordling who, much to his dismay, is possessed by a demon with several mature female personalities. It retreads some ground from the earlier books, but is basically a good read from one of my favourite writers, and will probably get one of my Best Novella nominations for next year's Hugos.
This was just published today, though not for the first time: Tolkien's treatment of the Kullervo story from the Kalevala, Finland's national epic, was previously published in the Journal of Tolkien Studies, so is not (as I at first hoped it might be) eligible for next year's Hugos (probably in the Best Short Story category). To be honest, even if today were its first publication, it would be a tough sell to Hugo voters because Tolkien neglected to finish it back in 1914 (the most likely date of composition).

I was very interested in this anyway, as a fan of both Sibelius and Tolkien. Sibelius's Kullervo Symphony is one of my favourite pieces by him, featuring deep orchestral and choral action as he tells the tragic story of the antihero and his sister. Tolkien might have been aware of its existence but could not have heard it when he wrote his own "Kullervo" in 1912-14; its last performance in Sibelius's lifetime was in 1893, shortly after Tolkien's first birthday, and Sibelius refused to allow it to be published until shortly before his death in 1957. So it's a case of two artists who I greatly admire taking the same subject matter completely independently within about 20 years of each other.

To describe Tolkien's work as a translation is to rather miss the point. This is a different case from his Beowulf which I wrote about a few months back. To illustrate, here is the passage describing the death of Kullervo's sister, in the original Finnish and two nineteenth century English verse translations, with Tolkien's prose version underneath:
Sai toki sanoneheksi,
kerran kertoelleheksi:
heti repsahti re'estä,
siitä juoksihe jokehen,
kosken kuohu'un kovahan,
palavahan pyörtehesen.
Siihen surmansa sukesi,
kuolemansa kohtaeli;
löyti turvan Tuonelassa,
armon aaltojen seassa.
Scarcely had the maiden spoken,
When she bounded from the snow-sledge,
Rushed upon the rolling river,
To the cataract's commotion,
To the fiery stream and whirlpool.
Thus Kullervo's lovely sister
Hastened to her own destruction,
To her death by fire and water,
Found her peace in Tuonela,
In the sacred stream of Mana.
Soon as she had finished speaking,
And her speech had scarce completed,
Quickly from the sledge she darted,
And she rushed into the river,
In the furious foaming cataract,
And amid the raging whirlpool,
There she found the death she sought for,
There at length did death o'ertake her,
Found in Tuonela a refuge,
In the waves she found compassion.
Tolkien: And before he could leap up and grasp her she sped across the glade (for they abode in a wild dwelling nigh to the glade spoken to him by the Blue Forest Woman) like a shivering ray of light in the dawn light scarce seeming to touch the green dewy grass till she came to the triple fall and cast her over it down its silver column to the ugly depths even as Kullervo came up with her and her last wail he heard and stood heavy bent on the brink as a lump of rock till the sun rose and thereat the grass grew green, birds sang and the flowers opened and midday passed and all things seemed happy: and Kullervo cursed them, for he loved her.

Now, first of all, no English translation is ever going to capture the Finnish metre and alliteration (heavily copied by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for Hiawatha); even if you don't know a word of the language, you can look at the extract above and see the repeated initial s, k, r, j, k, p, s, k, t, a in each line. The Finnish relies a lot also on repeated vocabulary, which looks very weird in most other languages (so most transltors try to find ways around it).

Tolkien's approach was not to even try, but to change the game. His Kullervo and his sister have had an ongoing relationship (sponsored by the Blue Forest Woman, who is an invention of Tolkien's not found in the Kalevala) rather than the brief encounter in the original (which features also two other women who successfully spurn Kullervo's advances). His description of the scene is far more detailed and naturalistic than the stark skeletal Finnish original, told in a stream of expression reminiscent of Woolf or Joyce (though he could hardly have read either in 1912). Also it has to be said that Tolkien's description of the scene centres more on Kullervo's perceptions than his sister's emotions.

But the biggest change of all is the context. In the Kalevala, this scene happens as soon as both Kullervo and his sister work ou their relationship. In Tolkien's version, she realises the truth but goes to her watery grave without telling her brother, who was to have found out from their mother in the bit Tolkien didn't get around to writing. It's the sharpest of many innovations in Tolkien's version, all of which basically reinforce the narrative (which is a tad confused in the orignal), and several of which can be directly tied to Tolkien's own biography and personal experience. The core incest story of Kullervo is of course also a core part of The Children of Húrin, the most successful part of The Silmarillion, though Kullervo and Túrin are very different characters and the bits about Kullervo's faithful dog were used by Tolkien instead for Beren.

Tolkien's "Kullervo" takes up less than a quarter of the newly published volume. The rest includes two versions of a lecture by Tolkien about the Kalevala, and a piece by Verlyn Flieger looking at the importance of the "Kullervo" piece in Tolkien's career. The lecture is typically lucid, and attempts to share his enthusiasm for an obscure language's national masterwork to a receptive but uninformed audience, with some rather profound reflections.

As the world grows older there is loss and gain –let us not with modern insolence and blindness imagine it all gain (lest this happen such songs as the ‘Land of Heroes’ [Kalevala] are left for our disillusionment); but neither must we with neo-pagan obscurity of thought imagine it all loss.

Fair play to the man, who despite his tremendous expertise in Germanic languages retained a genuinely keen interest in the lore of the Celts and Finns.

As Flieger suggests, "Kullervo" is a very important moment in Tolkien's own writing - his first attempt to take the ancient tales and craft something new out of them. The future writing of The Silmarillion wasn't really in Tolkien's mind when he wrote "Kullervo"; but "Kullervo" is very important as a pointer to The Silmarillion and to everything else. The fact that he didn't finish it is in itself significant - perhaps he realised that his future was never going to be in adapting other work for a new audience, but in taking its ideas and making them his own.

Anyway, as I said, I don't think that "The Story of Kullervo" itself is a convincing Hugo nominee, however cool it might be to nominate a century-old piece by the greatest writer of fantasy; but I think the book as a whole is a very interesting contribution to Tolkieniana and thus to understanding the overall growth of the genre, and I expect that I'll be nominating it for both the Best Related Work Hugo and the BSFA Award for Best Non-Fiction next year.

Thursday reading

Current
Watership Down, by Richard Adams (a chapter a week)
11/22/63, by Stephen King
Letters to Tiptree, eds Alissa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce
Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories, by Michael Moorcock

Last books finished
Space Helmet for a Cow, by Paul Kirkley
Naamah's Kiss, by Jacqueline Carey
Penric's Demon, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Land of Green Plums, by Herta Muller
The Story of Kullervo, by J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Verlyn Flieger

Next books
The Redbreast, by Jo Nesbø
The Twenty-Two Letters, by Clive King

Books acquired in last week
The End of All Things, by John ScalzI
Jews vs Aliens, eds Rebecca Levene & Lavie Tidhar
Jews vs Zombies, eds Rebecca Levene & Lavie Tidhar
Letters to Tiptree, eds Alissa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce
Peter Davison's Book of Alien Monsters
Peter Davison's Book of Alien Planets
The Story of Kullervo, by J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Verlyn Flieger

Space Helmet for a Cow, by Paul Kirkley

Yet another history-of-Doctor-Who book, but one with a difference: rather than analysing the stories for content or cultural context, Kirkley tells the story from the production point of view, including inside details of how each Doctor was hired and how each departed, and what the background mood music was like in the production team. I knew some of this but by no means all, and the full gory details of the friction between Eric Saward and John Nathan-Turner really made my jaw drop. The whole is written in a breezy style, with invented conversations jostling with real interview material (the difference clearly signalled in that the real quotes are given proper citations). I think it ends up being rather a good gateway drug for those who think they might want to read more about Who but aren't sure where to start - the end points, obviously, being Wood and Miles' About Time series and Philip Sandifer's TARDIS Eruditorum. And even those of us who thought we knew it all may get some surprises. This volume covers all of Old Who; I will get the second volume, which apparently starts with Dimensions in Time.

Transition, by Iain Banks

I'm sorry to say that this late Iain Banks work didn't really grab me. The idea of people with access to different parallel universes trying to pull off politically convenient changes to their timeline is not original to him, and has been done better by others (most recently in The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, which we shortlisted for the Clarke Award). A lot of the characters are simply nasty without the redeeming virtues of depth or reflecting our own lived reality. One of my favourite writers, but really not one of my favourite books of his.

Next year's Hugos: What I'm going to do

Mike Glyer over at File 770 has a tremendous assembly of reaction to the Hugo Awards, including some truly epic whining from the Sad Puppies (and my own post from Sunday morning). The votes were clearly cast against the slates on principle (apart from BDP) rather than on the quality of the work - there is no other way to read the figures. I'm sure that voters were motivated in this by 1) a general reaction against slates, 2) dislike of the politics of the slatemongers and 3) disgust at the poor quality of some of the slated candidates, in I think roughly that order, and I don't see any point in pretending that the votes against, say, Weisskopf and Gilbert were motivated by a strong feeling that Liz Gorinsky was in fact the best editor of the year rather than by the feeling that Weisskopf and Gilbert were on the ballot through illegitimate tactics. Fans rejected their candidacy not because of the quality of their work, but because of how they had got there (though it should be added that Weisskopf supplied very little evidence in her own support).

That wasn't quite as harsh a reaction as I would have liked, of course. Like Matt Foster, I would have preferred No Award to win in the categories where there was only one non-puppy candidate, and therefore no clear choice between legitimate candidates. This view came closest to prevailing in Best Novelette, where No Award actually got the most first preferences but lost on transfers from slated works. However, fandom as a whole clearly took the view that it is preferable to hand out the rockets to non-slate candidates, to make sure that the message is heard loud and clear, and I certainly do not begrudge or challenge the victories of Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Julie Dillon, Journey Planet, Laura J. Mixon and Wesley Chu, all of whom got my second preference.

Having had 48 hours to let it sink in that a clear majority of voting fans simply rejected the slate, I am basically sad but relieved, and still angry at those who cannot accept that they did a stupid, venal and evil thing which fandom at large refused to tolerate. Mike Glyer's roundup catches the most prominent frothing responses, but there is plenty more out there. But now that it is all over, there is little point in reading the words of people I disagree with for the sake of being outraged.

Instead, I recognise that my own failure to nominate this year was part of the problem, and I am going to make damn sure that between now and the nomination deadline in 2016 I have read much more widely in this year's published SF, including short fiction, graphic stories and related works, and I will aim to nominate five in each category. Brandon Kempner published a watchlist for novels some time ago, and there are a couple of other initiatives here and here covering more categories. I shall also regularly review where I've got to and what I currently feel like nominating. (At present the only SF published in 2015 that I have read is the four Doctor Who spinoff novels, of which the best is City of Death, but I know that they are unlikely to get on the final ballot and will save my nominations for more likely candidates.)

The more people who do this, the more likely that we can cut off any renewed attempt at slate-mongering at the nominations stage. Don't (just) get mad; get even.

Naamah's Kiss, by Jacqueline Carey

Having finished the second of Carey's Kushiel trilogies a few weeks ago, it's time to get started on the third. But we are a hundred years on now; everyone we knew from the previous six books has faded into history, and we have a new young female protagonist, drawing from the legacy of Kushiel's Justice as one of the old inhabitants of Alba (ie britain), following her destiny to Ch'in in the far East where she must liberate a princess who has been possessed by a dragon.

It's unusually episodic for a Carey novel - there are three distinct parts, the "British" bit, the "French" bit and the "Chinese" bit, with the journey from "France" to "China" somewhat handwaved away, and I almost felt once we reached the Ch'in empire that we'd spent 400 pages preparing for the main bit of plot. But perhaps we are working into Carey's world in a new century; we need to start off in old familiar territory, to get a sense of how it has changed, before exploring the newer side.

Moirin, of course, shags almost every attractive high-born man and woman in sight (and one coachman), and pays perhaps a bit more of an emotional price for it than some of Carey's previous protagonists even if the sex is a bit less kinky than in previous volumes. Much more than in previous volumes, Moirin and her friends and relatives must engage with non-human, non-physical entities - the great bear spirit in "Britain", the dark powers summoned by her student friends in "France", and the dragon in "China". I found it interesting that an element of the internal Ch'in struggle was the use of gunpowder for military purposes, with the very firm conclusion that it was inappropriate for this world, which must stay firmly medieval and magical in its technology.

Anyway, very engaging as usual, and a reasonable starting point for those who have not read the previous two trilogies, as it is much less closely linked to them than they are to each other. I have the next volume on the shelf, and must make sure to get the last as well.
Two spinoff series of books about Doctor Who companions have started this year - one is a secret history of the Brigadier between The Web of Fear and The Invasion, the other is a "What Happened Next" set of stories about audio companion Erimem, a young woman who was rescued from the fate of being a forgotten Egyptian pharaoh by the Fifth Doctor and Peri and stayed with them from 2001 until 2008 when she was married off to the new ruler of Peladon. Here she is brought back to adventure by her creators, Iain McLaughlin and Claire Bartlett (with a foreword by Caroline Morris who played her on audio and has now given up acting for other behind the scenes media work). It's a decent enough story; Erimem appears in a 21st century university museum, with convenient amnesia of her adventures since leaving Egypt, and gets swept up into faculty politics with demonic forces and the Battle of Actium. I was entertained and I will get the next in the series.

Tomato and tuna pilaf

Another recipe from Delicious magazine.

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This is pretty straightforward and easy to do, so straightforward that I feel it barely counts as a recipe!

The two points I needed to watch were 1) making sure I had a casserole of the right sort of size, and 2) remembering that the beans actually need to be cooked before you add them at the end (but there's plenty of time to do that while the rice is in the oven). I added coriander as well as cayenne, and I think one could reasonably be more adventurous with the spices. Apart from that, it's quick and tasty.

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History, by Elsa Morante

This is one of the 100 greatest books ever according to the Norwegian Book Clubs, but I note that none of my friends on LibraryThing and nobody who I actually know on Goodreads has read it, so it's likely that you haven't read it either. (Unless you are peadarog or mojosmom, the atter of whom put in a strong recommendation.)

You've missed a treat. I think this is one of the best novels I've read about the second world war and its aftermath - the life of a child in Rome in the 1940s, conceived in violence, his (secretly Jewish) mother and brother doing their best to survive in awful circumstances. While others spout political certainties (whether of ideology or geopolitical alliance), the harsh reality for those whose lives are wrecked by conflict remains the same. Each chapter, covering a year, is prefaced by a headline summary of the major political developments of that year as a sort of political canvas against which the domestic drama plays out. It is not fast-paced, but I found it intensely absorbing, and it deserves to be much better known in the English-speaking world.

The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri

I see that this has had mixed reviews, but I very much enjoyed it - a story of an Indian immigrant to America, whose political brother is killed by state violence in Calcutta, leaving his pregnant wife to be adopted, and indeed married, by the protagonist. This obviously leads to some grimly fascinating (and entirely believable) family dynamics over the decades, interlocking with the experience of Asian immigrants in even a relatively liberal part of the USA. Tightly written with what one could almost call vivid understatement in places.

Hugo Awards 2015 - full analysis

There were very few close results this year. Hugo voters delivered decisive verdicts on what they wanted and didn't want to win. Outside the Dramatic Presentation categories, not a single Puppy nominee beat No Award. No Award won five categories, all on the first count, and also got the most first preferences for Best Novelette. Also worth noting that the two fiction categories that were awarded went to translated works, the first time that translations have ever won Hugos for fiction as far as I know.

I have found only two contests (and pretty minor at that) where the margin was less than 50 votes - Bryan Thomas Schmidt beat Vox Day for fourth place in Best Editor (Short Form) by 12 votes, and Steve Stiles beat Brad Foster for fourth place in Best Fan Artist by 37. Most years there would be at least half a dozen.

Wesley Chu, Elizabeth Leggett, Laura J. Mixon, Journey Planet, Orphan Black, The Day The World Turned Upside Down and The Three-Body Problem all won their awards despite being the last finalist nominated.

At the nominations stage, there were also very few near misses, thanks in part to the lock that the Puppies managed to achieve on this part of the process.
  • The tightest squeeze for the ballot was in Best Fancast, where The Coode Street Podcast missed by one vote, Verity! by three and The Skiffy and Fanty Show by nine.
  • Saga vol 4 missed Best Graphic Story by a single vote (was it eligible?) and the latest Schlock Mercenary by nine.
  • Seanan McGuire's Each to Each missed Best Novelette by three votes, and Kai Ashante Wilson's The Devil in America missed it by seven.
  • Maurine Starkey missed Best Fan Artist by three votes, and seven others were less than ten below the cutoff.
  • The Drink Tank missed Best Fanzine by eight votes. For Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form), Agents of Shield: Turn, Turn, Turn missed by nine votes and Game of Thrones: The Lion and the Rose by ten.
  • The Book Smugglers missed Best Semiprozine by 10 votes.
  • Charles E. Gannon's Trial By Fire was 11 votes off the Best Novel ballot, and Andy Weir was likewise 11 behind Wesley Chu for the Campbell Award.
Edited to add: See also Brandon Kempner's analysis; he puts the total number of Rabid voters at a bit above 500, and the total Sads a bit less.

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Let's hope that this is more enjoyable next year.

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It all could have been more difficult. The campaign to No Award the Puppy slates this year was made much easier by two factors, both of which were eerily predicted by Cat (I think catsittingstill) in a comment on Brad Torgersen's blog after last year:

Next time, bring your best game. Read a lot, talk among each other, pick your *best* stories. No bland reguritated elf seeks god never finds him though but boy won’t it upset the Hugo voters stories. Encourage your readers to nominate for quality, and *only* to nominate things they have actually read and liked. If you get stuff among the finalists, encourage your readers to read *everything* before voting. Even if there are people on the other side that aren’t taking the high road, after this year’s performance, you can’t afford to play tit-for-tat.

Remember that it’s partly a popularity contest. Choose for your spokesman someone who can avoid being a weapons-grade jerk in public... You desperately need a spokesperson who can respond to an essay about moving beyond binary gender–if they respond at all–with a “I’m sure you thought it went without saying, but just in case, don’t forget to write a good story also” instead of a 4,000 word rant attacking a position–“don’t bother writing good stories”–that the essay writer never took. You need someone who doesn’t accuse the average WorldCon voter of lying about what we like–voting for stuff we hate because of the author’s race or sexual preference.

If you want the Hugos to be about the best pulp, fine; people can like pulp and that’s okay–you’ll need about 3K more voters who prefer pulp to literary, but that could be possible. But you really need a leader for your campaign who can avoid antagonizing the neutrals.

It's reasonable to say that this advice was completely ignored. Brad Torgersen bragged of the "open" "transparent" process by which his slate was selected, but in fact it was just him and his mates deciding which of their mates should be on the list, without any actual judgement about quality. For all the Puppy complaints about cliques, political messages and works getting nominated which are of poor quality and are't sfnal enough, in too many cases they did exactly what they accused the imaginary cabal of doing. And people notice.

Cat's second point is even more important. Correia, as Puppy spokesman, was petulant but at least persistent. Torgersen was far worse: he is good at stringing words together to make an emotional point, not always that good at choosing the right word to make an intellectual point, and lousy at engaging with other people's arguments. Journalists who knew little of the situation and suddenly needed to write about it took one look at his blog, with made-up acronyms and made-up enemies, and decided who was right and who was wrong pretty quickly. That impression would have been confirmed by looking at other Puppy blogs, or indeed reading the comments to Torgersen's, in which one Puppy author threatened to turn up at an opponent's house - which he had located - with a gun.

It would have been tougher to argue for No Award this year if the Puppies had chosen better material and had had a spokesperson who cultivated the neutrals rather than annoying them. Will they learn for next year? I doubt it.
Buffy: The Lost Slayer: Prophecies, by Christopher Golden
Buffy: The Lost Slayer: Dark Times, by Christopher Golden
Buffy: The Lost Slayer: King of the Dead, by Christopher Golden
Buffy: The Lost Slayer: Original Sins, by Christopher Golden

I remain a huge fan of Buffy - we've just finished re-watching up to the end of Season Three, the one with the Mayor - but I had never read any of the books, and so approached this four-part novel with interest. (I had previously read, but not been hugely impressed by, a spinoff novel of a BBC webcast series co-written by Golden and Amber Benson.)

Set in early Season Four (Xander and Anya are together, so are Oz and Willow), this has Buffy yanked forward to an alternative future in which Giles has been turned vampire by the ancient demon Camazotz (I'd always thought that was just the evil planet of A Wrinkle in Time, but it turns out that it's also the name of an Aztec god of bats). This gives Golden licence to kill off many characters both new and old, before returning Buffy to our time line where everything is almost as before. It's well enough written, with reflections on how the other characters would have developed in five years where they had continued the fight without Buffy.

I'm troubled, though, as I was in the other book I read by this author, that the story ends up on the wrong side of colonialism - Camazotz, who is after all a native American entity, is rapidly outsmarted by vampire Giles who takes charge of his realm and allows the indigenous inhabitants only as much licence as he finds amusing; and this is presented as a natural development. So I may cast my reading of Buffy a bit wider, but I think I will try other writers next.

Selected Essays, by Virginia Woolf

A classic selection of non-fiction by Woolf, in four sections: writing about literature, writing about life and death, writing about women, and observational pieces. It's all very good, and each section has a standout piece. "Character in Fiction" has a very entertaining passage comparing British, French and Russian writers. Her obituary of her father is moving and lucid. Her essay on "Women and Fiction" hopes for better days to come. And the observational pieces are all great, with the best being "Street Haunting", which converts buying a new pencil into an epiphany. All recommended.

Links I found interesting for 22-08-2015

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A gazetteer presentation of important places in the history of Tudor England, as far as they can still be seen. Slightly frustrating that Ireland, Scotland and even Wales are omitted. The geographic order of presentation means that incidents from the late fifteenth century appear next to those of the early seventeenth, with all the bits in between jumbled throughout the pages. But at the same time, there is plenty to write about, and lots of good stories to tell linked with particular localities, some of which were new to me (poor Catherine of Aragon ended up associated with a lot of different places). More useful for people who spend more time kn England than I do.

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