reading

Because What We Really Need Is More Hugo Awards Drama

The Sad Puppies are going to make another go of it next year. My understanding is that they are not planning on slate voting this time around, and if that's the case, I wish them well. A group working to bring more awareness to science fiction and to highlight works that might not otherwise get much attention strikes me as admirable.

I feel for the Sad Puppies, because they're in difficult-bordering-on-hopeless situation. Let's say that you're taking a poll of the "six best songs of the summer!" If fifty one percent of your voting population like opera and forty nine percent prefer rap*, then there is a very good chance that every song on your list is going to be an opera song. This is a feature of how some voting systems are set up. Please don't make me link the "Spider Jerusalem on voting" rant.

Another thing which may be working against them is the inertia of familiarity. If a reader likes a particular author's voice, they will probably prefer that author's work and cast their vote for that author even if the objective "quality" of that work, however you can objectively definite it, is not equal to that of other works. I am reasonably sure that, if a Terry Pratchett novel were nominated for literally anything, it would take a massive gulf in quality to get me to vote for other works. That's my own subjective bias. I won't argue that it's a good or a bad thing, but it is a real thing and I am certain I'm not alone in this.

To me, these two factors are a reasonable explanation of why certain authors and types of books continue to be nominated and win Hugo awards. It strikes me as far more plausible than a cabal of liberal insiders gaming the system. I'm not saying it can't exist, but rather that I haven't seen any evidence to that effect.

Those were the two problems the puppies faced at the outset. There are now two more, and they're going to turn an uphill struggle into one that I can't see them winning.

Sorry. It's impossible for me to think of "rabid puppies" and not think of Old Yeller.

Sorry. It's impossible for me to think of "rabid puppies" and not think of Old Yeller.

The first problem, obviously, is that their name has been soiled. The puppies brand is associated with slate voting, an association that will not serve them well (see below). Even worse, they're associated with the rabid puppies, and that's poison. The leader of the rabid puppies has an enormous amount of personal baggage and he has a history of taking groups with a legitimate beef and turning them into frothing partisans. Even if sad puppies 4 try to distance themselves from their earlier tactics and allies, I don't think people will swift to forget.

The bigger problem, and the one which I believe probably dooms the puppies, is that the massive uptick in voter participation at Sasquan was ruinous for their slate. While many of those voters certainly had reasons other than "not liking the books" for voting against the puppies (see above), this suggests very strongly that the puppies do not represent a silent majority. Based on the numbers I've seen, I'd expect the puppies percentage of support to scale inversely with the number of voters.

Some people have suggested that the puppy slates losing to "No Award" is incontrovertible proof that the puppies claims are objectively correct and the Hugo awards are run by a clique hell-bent on ensuring the political correctness of award winners.  That's not merely hyperbolic; it's simply not true that the voting results prove anything of the sort. It's not helpful to anyone to distort the truth in that fashion, and if this kind of rhetoric is indicative of what we have to look forward to for the next twelve months, it's possible that "No Award" will be the big winner again next year, and no one who cares even a little bit about science fiction wants to see that.

Please do not interpret this as an anti-puppy statement. I just happen to be a cat person.

Please do not interpret this as an anti-puppy statement. I just happen to be a cat person.

Sometimes, the spirit can be too willing

For someone who has read, and re-read, every issue of Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman," I don't know very much about dreams. I know that I have them, and that I seldom remember them, and with one notable exception, they don't seem to have any literal relationship to anything going on in m life. I guess I know about as much as anyone who dreams.

I did have one awful dream when I was going through my divorce, and by "awful" I obviously mean "wonderful." I dreamed that my soon-to-be-ex-wife had gathered all of my friends and family together and, in front of them all, begged me to take her back. It was an unsually vivid dream and as I was waking, I remember mentally trying to take hold of it and make the dream real. It's the only dream I've ever had that made me cry when I woke up.

I've been dreaming more vividly lately than any other time I can remember in my life. The dreams haven't been so obviously tied to any event in my life as the one during my divorce. They tend to involve friends or family in odd contexts doing even odder things. For example, last night, I dreamed that my best friend was taking his dog to visit all seven continents. He took the dog to the continental (and fictitious) "four corners" where four continents met at a single point. It never felt real, and I can't imagine why I had this dream specifically, but this sort of thing is happening almost every night these days.

My wife mentioned that she understood dreams to be how your mind "unpacks" the days events, like running a defrag on a hard drive. I haven't done enough research on my own (which is kind of embarrassing, really) to know the state of current study on the subject of dreams, but her suggestion made sense to me.

I know I've written more than once about reading "Against The Day," but it's long, it's a slow read, and it's engrossing as anything I've ever picked up, so of course I'm going to be writing about it for a while. It's a strange and challenging book, as one might expect of Pynchon, and I think it's what's causing me to dream so much. The dreams certainly picked up in frequency when I started reading it, and while they're not related to any of the characters, the tone of the dreams, as well as the geography, is in keeping with the novel. 

Now I'm curious: Have any of you ever experienced anything like this? Has a novel ever caused you to dream more often, or more vividly? It seems like the sort of thing that would happen, but like I said, I haven't done my home work so I'm dealing strictly with the anecdotal at this point. While we're at it, are there any particularly good books about dreams that any of you would recommend?

-RK

Of course, the only question was "Which Sandman image would I choose?" I'm partial to this version, but off the top of my head, I can't think of a single subpar artist who ever worked on the book.

Of course, the only question was "Which Sandman image would I choose?" I'm partial to this version, but off the top of my head, I can't think of a single subpar artist who ever worked on the book.



Four comics and some very disturbing fairy tales

Yesterday, I mentioned that I got to see the works of some of my beloved impressionists. What I didn't tell you was the the highlight of the day, hands down, was the Natalie Frank Grimm's Fairy Tales exhibition. I've always known, on an abstract level, that the original versions of these stories were very dark and extremely carnal in nature. I've never read the originals, but I've read several which hinted at the more adult version of the stories. The second collection of Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman," The Doll's House,  changed the way I looked at the Red Riding Hood story.

Natalie Frank takes that to a whole 'nother level. She is a visceral artist in the most literal sense of the word. She doesn't merely illustrate the stories; she gets at the disturbing, gut-level...horror? Is it horror? That's not quite the right word, but it's in the ballpark. Her work is unflinchingly bright and she borders it almost like a circus freak-show poster. Rather than listening to me continue to try to describe it, I urge you to check out her work for yourself. I found it unforgettable in the way a really excellent nightmare is hard to shake. 

This weekend's comic book haul was the most literal representation of a "mixed bag" one could hope for. The first one I read was issue 6 of Grant Morrison's "Annihilator." This final issue was classic Morrison in that I'm not going to be certain I've understood what was going on until I go back and re-read the previous issues. Re-read them several times, in all likelihood. With most writers, you might think that this was meant as a complaint, but if you're at all familiar with Morrison, you know that this is part and parcel to reading his work.  Frazer Irving's art is stunning. I didn't much care for his earlier work with Morrison on Klarion the With Boy, but that as more do to with the specific book than Irving's ability. He produces almost psychedelic images that are very much his own, which, given the history of comic book art, is very impressive indeed. I'm very nearly certain that this book is a work of genius.

The next one in the pile was issue 3 of Warren Ellis' "Injection." We're only just now starting to get a tiny peek at what's going on and it looks like it's going to be spectacular. Ellis reminds me of one of my favorite sci-fi authors, Larry Niven, in that he can take a really weird idea or two and craft a compelling story around it. Add in the fact that Ellis has become a true craftsman at telling the story, which isn't at all the same thing as having a compelling story to tell, and you get the start of what promises to be a hell of a book. The dialog crackles without getting corny, the beats land reliably, and you find yourself really wishing the whole thing were already available in a collection. Oh, and Declan Shalvey's art fits like a glove He and Ellis worked together on a spectacular Moon Knight run which featured some of the best art the character has every seen (and Moon Knight has always been more about look that story.) This is a very different story with sprawling locations, huge exteriors and tight interiors. It's got to be a challenge and he seems very much up for it.

It's been far, far too long since I've been able to pick up a new Jhonen Vasquez comic book, and it's been too long since we've had any new Invader Zim material to devour. Both of these problems are now official solved with the release of Invader Zim #1. The weight of expectations made me a little nervous about picking this one up, but it's a worthy successor on all levels. That is to say, it's funny. It's really, really funny. Now, I suspect it's even funnier if you've seen the old Nickelodeon show a gazillion times. You won't be able to read the dialog without hearing the voices from the show in your head. But, I suspect this would work for readers who've never seen the show. If anything the tone and voice of the characters is even stronger than in the original. I'm not 100% sold on Aaron Alexovich's and Megan Lawton's somewhat streamlined take on the art, but I'm pretty sure it will grow on me. Vasquez' visual style has always been busy to an almost distracting degree, and I suspect that once I get used to the change, I'll grow to like it.

The last book wasn't anywhere nearly as successful. I picked up issue #1 of J.G. Jones' and Mark Waid's Strange Fruit. Let's start with what's good: Jones' art is absolutely stellar. It evokes an era and a point-of-view beautifully. It's been compared to Norman Rockwell and the comparison has some merit. I think that the intent here is to write a powerful story on race relations and I think that this is a project the writers believe in deeply.

Reading it, though, it didn't work for me. From a standpoint of mechanics, it was very much a typical superhero origin story: Set the stage, identify the villains, identify the need for the hero, and then unveil the hero at the end. However, trying to  paste tropes that work in ,say, Superman's origin into what is meant to be a very serious Book With A Message On Race feels off to me. There's a better, more thorough discussion of the problems with this book over at Women Write About Comics. J.A. Micheline makes a powerful argument that Strange Fruit shouldn't have even been made. I'm torn on that conclusion. I'm suspicious of arguments that tell writers what subjects they may and may not cover, but I do think when you're wading out into the realm of other people's experiences, you have an obligation to get it exactly, perfectly right. 

 

I'm not familiar with "The Six Swans" I think I ought to rectify that.

Warren Ellis and why "Book Reviewer" ought to be something one can make a career of

Let me be blunt: Warren Ellis writes about books in a way that makes me want to read them.

This is an exceptionally rare skill and it ought to be the sort of skill which provides one with a comfortable income, homes on several continents, cars so rare that racing games have never even heard of them, several ponies (because who wouldn't want a pony) and the absolute best chemical amusement aids money can buy. You probably think that I'm exaggerating, but I'm dead serious. The ability to make people make a point of seeking out and reading books is like alchemy in that it's a both a lost art and probably impossible.

I've always found most book reviews strangely bloodless. If you're passionate about something, you ought to feel compelled to bust out a few superlatives. Instead, you mostly get a generic plot-summary, some historical background, a personal anecdote, and maybe a few sentences on something like "voice." I've read very few reviews that made me more interested in a book than I already was. I don't want a book report; I want reasons to read it (or avoid it).

Check out this Warren Ellis write-up of Don Winslow's The Power of the Dog. Does that make you want to read some Don Winslow? I know it sure as hell works for me. I've never read Don Winslow, and now I feel like this is a serious failing on my part.

Thomas Pynchon's Against The Day wasn't really on my radar until I read what Mr. Ellis had to say about it. After reading that (and if you haven't, go back and please, please do so), how could I not read it? I'm halfway through it and it's utterly spellbinding.

See? "Spellbinding?" How does that make you want to read a book? That's what I'm talking about. It's not as easy as it sounds, is it? It's an under-appreciated talent that deserves more respect. And cash. Lots and lots of cash.

EDIT: Here's another one: Warren Ellis on The Water Knife

No, not  this  Warren Ellis. The other one. Don't feel bad; they get this sort of thing a lot.   

No, not this Warren Ellis. The other one. Don't feel bad; they get this sort of thing a lot.