Hugo Awards 2015: I Don't Have Time To Read This Crap

Seriously, I was busy watching the Women's World Cup Football. So, I guess I should be almost grateful to the racist misogynists for poisoning the Hugo ballots with poor quality work as it meant I had a lot less reading to get through. Except by the time I got round to reading the shorter-than-a-novel works, I'd forgotten how pervasive the poison was.

Full of good intentions, I started on the Best Short Story category. The first one was Turncoat and I didn't get far before... whyyyy is this so bad? Oh dear. And I promptly consulted a website which would help me avoid the bad.

So for the record, Best Novella, Best Short Story and Best Related Work got No Award from me. Best Novelette had one possible candidate, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, the Dutch author who's been nominated for the third year running. Unfortunately for him, I couldn't decide how much of The Day The World Turned Upside Down was pure metaphor and I disliked his protagonist anyway, so put No Award down for that category too.

Actually, it would get boring if I listed all my No Awards. But I wanted to take some responsibility, because although it doesn't affect me so much personally, I know a lot of people have agonised over what's happened to the Hugo Awards in the last couple of years and they have spent a lot of time deciding what would be the fair and right way to vote.

By the way, someone once gifted Wingnut a stamp that does actually say, "I don't have time to read this crap". I love that stamp. It was originally meant for students, but I wish I knew which box it was in.

Hugo Awards: Best Novel 2015

Months ago, I knew I would have a hard time choosing between The Goblin Emperor and Ancillary Sword. With the Hugo Award voting deadline coming up, I finished The Three-Body Problem this week and found myself with a Three Book Problem that I needed to have a good night's sleep on.

(1) The Goblin Emperor - Katherine Addison This promised to contain much court politics and intrigue and I was definitely looking forward to having a good wallow. As an added bonus, it's about what happens after a downtrodden individual has become the Chosen One, ie, emperor in this case, and how they come to terms with it. But what makes me want to give Addison the Hugo is that she presents us with a protagonist who is a fundamentally decent person.

(2) Ancillary Sword - Ann Leckie The first novel in this trilogy, Ancillary Justice, was a compactly written space opera that won all the awards last year. Instead of going bigger and better with Sword, Leckie chose to explore her themes of colonialism, power and identity in a smaller setting with a more intimate focus on her protagonist. A good choice and I'd be happy to see Leckie win another Hugo for it.

(3) The Three-Body Problem - Cixin Liu This book is massively popular in China and has now, several years after its release, been translated into English by Ken Liu. In this first book in a series, messages are secretly being sent to aliens who might be invaders or saviours, or both. The numerous old school scientific info dumps were enjoyable, the numerous old school plot and character info dumps less so and they slowed down what could otherwise have read as a great tech thriller. That said, I look forward to reading more of this series and I wouldn't be at all upset if this got a Hugo.

(4) No Award Unfortunately, some racist misogynists got together and succeeded in getting their preferred works on the ballot. Because... they hate the Hugos so much that they want their side to win some. Even though some of "their" side turned out not to be on their side. Whatever, I don't have time for this, so No Award goes above their selections.

USA vs Japan, or, the goalfest known as the FIFA Women's World Cup Final 2015

Or, what the hell just happened there?!!!

It's as well I couldn't watch the final live because I'd never have gotten to sleep afterward. This match had the extra interest of being a rerun of 2011's final, which Japan won after the USA fell apart in the penalty shootout.

The USA was my pick (just like, ahem, last time) because they were the most complete team. But I didn't think I'd be sitting there with my mouth hanging open when Carli Lloyd scored within three minutes of the whistle blowing. And that was just the start...

5' Why did I bother to close my mouth? The USA open up the Japanese defence again, so that their captain can score, again.

13' Lauren Holiday takes her turn. 3-0. I'll just keep my mouth open for the rest this match like I'm catching flies, it'll save time.

16' Just as well I was still catching flies. Hattrick for Lloyd with a shot from halfway! 4-0.

27' The Japanese clearly aren't going to lay down and die. That was one beautifully measured goal by Ogimi. 4-1. They sub on two fresh attackers, including veteran Homare Sawa who captained Japan to victory four years ago.

52' Own goal by Johnston thanks to a Japanese free kick. 4-2.

54' Should've kept eyes as well as mouth open. I blinked and there was another goal for the USA. 5-2. You can see all the goals here, btw.

The teams didn't seem to think this was enough because there was still plenty of attacking play. But there was no coming back for Japan. USA's set pieces were better and they didn't leave Japan a whole lot of time for their passing game. Big congrats to the winners, it was very much deserved.

As both teams have a number of big names who will be retiring soon, I look forward to seeing what the refreshed teams bring to the game in France in 2019!

New Year's Resolution - Take Up Your Pens!

hand writing a letter
Even though we're halfway through January, this seems like a good day to share the only New Year's resolution I ever made. I'm not sure what sparked it off, but a few years ago I decided to do something on the broad theme of human rights every day.

To increase the chances of my resolution succeeding, the actions had to be small and measurable. The main one was writing letters to governments and embassies regarding human rights abuses in their countries, mostly based off Amnesty's cases.

The actions also had to become a habit for the resolution to succeed. So that's how I wound up eating breakfast with one hand and saving the world with the other hand, every morning.

Due to the recent murders in Paris, I'm doing it again, although this time with slightly more focus on freedom of speech matters. Will you join me?

It doesn't have to be every day, if that doesn't work for you, but something regular would be good. Letter writing, signing petitions, they do have effect and it's better than putting your head in your hands in despair and doing nothing. Although that last is an understandable response to the horrors in Paris, Nigeria and elsewhere. Just not every day. Pick up a pen. Do something. Please.

My Hugo Votes: Best Novelette 2014

It's sad to have to employ the No Award Hammer again, but once it's out, it's out.

(1) “The Waiting Stars” - Aliette de Bodard. Here De Bodard brings the same high quality space opera that made me vote her into first place last year. The ending has a twist, which I only just saw coming.

(2) [Hugo winner] “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” - Mary Robinette Kowal. A lovely story about family. What happens when you get your dream, lose it and are offered it back at a high price? Unfortunately, the addition of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz doesn't actually add anything.

(3) No Award

(4) “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” by Ted Chiang. New technology contributes to widening gaps in how people perceive events and relationships. The story is destroyed partway through when a character misremembers something important about his daughter in a way that is absolutely not credible.

Right, I think that's all I'm going to get through tonight!

My Hugo Votes: Best Novella 2014

Once again, Novella = 17,500 to 40,000 words and Novelette = 7,500 to 17,500 words. Does anyone actually care about the distinction? Maybe it would be better to fold the two categories into one and open up the remaining space to Best YA Novel.

That said, the first two novellas were very worthwhile.

(1) Six-Gun Snow White - Catherynne M. Valente A clear winner for this category. The name Snow White isn't a description of what the character is, but of what she never can be. Native American tales mixed with European tales mixed with gender issues mixed with colonialism, mixed with... The ending doesn't do quite do the rest of the story justice, but that would be hard.

(2) “Wakulla Springs” - Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages This is SF in the sense that it builds on SF movie history, if you consider Tarzan to be SF. It's not the first category that springs to my mind, to be honest.

A few other people have left it off their ballot because they didn't consider the story to be SF. It also made me think, because the only proper SFnal bit was at the end but felt tacked on. But I haven't the heart because I did love the characters and the story.

(3) No Award

[Hugo winner] “Equoid” by Charles Stross This is part of his "Laundry" series, which I've never read.
It was slow to get started and erratically paced after that. Every time it looks like it might get up, it stumbles over its own overly self-aware prose. Further, if you're going to make me read about girls being abused, you'd better make it worth it.

There's two more nominees, but I'd rather spend time dusting off the draft post for Novelette.

My Hugo Votes: Best Short Story 2014

Tough field! My nominated winner, John Chu, is certainly worth a click of your time.

(1) [Hugo winner] “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” - John Chu
The undoubted winner. Lovely and emotional story of a man struggling to come out to his family. The primary conceit of water falling when someone lies is gently dealt with.

(2) Selkie Stories Are for Losers” - Sofia Samatar
Another one focussing on families and relationships, though this one is rather sadder. Not sure I like the way the story is broken up.

(3) “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” - Rachel Swirsky
Well, that was different. Not sure if she quite pulls it off. It's technically clever; like Kij Johnson but a bit better.

(4) “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” - Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Second appearance by the Dutch author after last year's debut. Enjoyable, witty and touching, with some lovely images, e.g., the sister drowning in fabric. But has he done his research? I have a friend from Thailand and I'm not even sure I want to ask her what she thinks. [Edit: Apologies to the author for doubting him, he is familiar with the area.]

Note: this category has only four nominees due to a 5% requirement under the society's constitution. At least that's one more than last year but it's an unfortunate problem for this category.

My Hugo Votes: Best Novel 2014

Less than half a day to choose your favourites for the Hugo awards! The bad news is that I had to do remarkably little reading to come to my conclusions. The good news is that my winner is a discovery on a par with N. K. Jemisin's 100,000 Kingdoms which was a nominee in 2011.

(1) [Hugo winner] Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie The buzz around this debut novel was so strong that I confidently bought it for my brother's birthday last year before having ever read it myself (he loved it). It went on to win a number of awards, including the Nebula. If there's any justice, the Hugo will be added to the list.

There's been a lot of focus on what Leckie does with gender. Namely, the citizens of the ruling empire don't distinguish genders. Leckie uses female pronouns for everyone whenever writing from the Radch point of view. But tackling assumptions around gender is hardly the end of the book's ambition. It takes on identity and colonisation too.

It's also ambitious in structure, not just in the way that the past and present narrative threads are woven together but the way the scope of the first person viewpoint changes. She has a great eye for detail, whether for small characters or large empires. It's also surprisingly short for a space opera. Everything's very compactly written.

I'm not sure whether it's overdoing it to compare Leckie to Ursula K. LeGuin and Iain M. Banks already but...

(2) Neptune's Brood - Charlie Stross The protagonist is an accountant! Stross probably deserves a round of applause just for that. And for being the first, as far as I know, to take on the subject of interstellar finance and economics. It's a bit above my paygrade, to be honest.

It was enjoyable but, as usual, I wish he'd take it easy on the infodumps. And step away from the thesaurus.

(3) No Award

and what didn't make it onto my ballot and why.

(4) Parasite - Mira Grant
As a greenie, I'm supportive of recycling books. Just not so much their contents.

Basically, I haven't liked anything she's written since she first appeared on the Hugo ballot a couple of years ago with Feed. Well, she's written another SF/horror with zombies. Except this time it's a pharmaceutical company that developed a parasite designed to live in the human gut and keep it healthy. Clearly she enjoyed doing the research. But the resulting book has the same problems as before: same smart-ass dialogue that makes all the characters sound alike, unbelievable characters, etc.

I skipped to the ending to find that had been left to the sequel. For that alone, I wouldn't want to vote it an award.

Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson Well-meaning fans want Hugo recognition for the series now that Brandon Sanderson has finished Jordan's work. Sorry, but I'm not even going to start considering it. There's an argument for having a Hugo to recognise series but the Novel Ballot isn't the place to have it.

Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia Some people have been playing silly games with the Hugo ballot which means I'm not going to bother to read some of the nominated works. Martin has details, if you care. I didn't rate Correia highly when he was a nominee for Best New Writer in 2011 and I've heard nothing that will make regret having not read this.

I've just realised that everything on the ballot is part of a trilogy or a series. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to the rest of the Imperial Radch trilogy.

Dutch House Hunting Drinking Game

It's ungrateful of me, but a mere three weeks of house hunting in Leiden was enough to inspire this drinking game.

"But wait, Kim, you don't..." I know, I know. Just imagine me taking calming sips of tea.


A Buddha
A Buddha in the toilet
Anything from the HEMA[1]
...and another sip if you own it
Anything from Blokker[2]
...and another sip if you own it
IKEA furniture
...and another sip if you know its name
House owner destroying stereotype of all Dutch being neat freaks[3]
A locked room mystery[4]
A living museum (R.I.P. gran or grandad)
A Temple to Brown
A Temple to White Walls (actually don't bother, there's not enough alcohol in the world)
Leiden Special: any reference to the "beloved", "well-loved", "much loved", etc, Professors' Neighbourhood.

How about that? There is such a thing as too much tea.

[1] Think Farmers
[2] Think The Warehouse
[3] Along with any chance of selling their house
[4] No idea how the photographer got in, but, if the photos and floor plan are any guide, they're not getting out.

Bikes - some of the bad bits...

The Netherlands is often praised as a paradise for bikes. Well, who knows where bikes' souls go after they've been drowned at the bottom of a canal?

But here in the corporeal realm, I can tell you that while cycling is mostly heavenly, there are also plenty of moments from hell.

Let's go to hell first, it's more fun.

Beginning with the low-grade aggravations which gradually poison the soul... Tourists who can't distinguish between a road and a footpath. New students in September who don't know where they're going in the twisty maze of alleyways, all alike. High schoolers cycling three abreast overtaking high schoolers cycling three abreast. Trying to get a new-fangled bike into an old-fangled bike rack. It goes on.

Actually, I caused my share of moments when I first came back. I badly misjudged overtaking one time, but the offended party responded with a kindly, "no harm done." It's something I strive to remember when someone makes a mistake in front of me.

However, it's hard to hold onto that spirit of forgiveness around mopeds. They're allowed on many cycle lanes but most are souped-up to exceed the 25kph limit. Furthermore, they have a bad habit of getting impatient with, e.g., high schoolers cycling three abreast, and then pulling out far too wide to overtake, to the possum-like horror of any cyclist coming the other way.

But clearly, there's a difference between a mistake and the deliberate flouting of all common sense.

Texting while cycling, for example. I have no words. (The Netherlands also has no words in law -- it's legal!)

Which brings me to the single outright most stupidest thing I've seen. It's common enough to see romantics holding hands while cycling side by side. But this pair on the Breestraat...

Let me explain. The Breestraat is one of Leiden's two main shopping streets. It's car-free, to leave room for the 600 buses that pass through there every weekday. And taxis, delivery trucks and anyone who thinks the rules don't apply to them.

This is where our two lovers decided to stage their parting kiss, while cycling, one on a regular bike and one on a CARGO bike...!!!

Romance isn't dead. At least, not yet.