Announcing the Hugo Awards of 2018

The Hugo Awards for 2018 were announced Sunday night! And history has been made!

The fiction awards are as follows:

Best Novel: The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin. This is the one that made history. N.K. Jemisin as won the Best Novel award three years in a row, for her The Broken Earth series. I will admit that this isn’t my favorite novel of the nominees, but it is the “weightiest” and the most significant. It’s a terrific win, and I’m pleased it did so.

Best Novella: All Systems Red by Martha Wells. This is my favorite of the novella nominees in a strong slate. A terrific main character in a terrific story; I keep telling everyone how great this story is.

Best Novelette: “The Secret Life of Bots” by Suzanne Palmer. This was number two on my list, and I’m quite content that it won.

Best Short Story: “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™,” by Rebecca Roanhorse. Again, not my favorite, but a good selection from a good slate.

Finally, since I’ve spent all this time reading and reviewing the entries this year, I’ve bought a supporting membership for next year. (I’d love to go to Dublin, but I just don’t see that happening.)

Book Review – An Informal History of the Hugos by Jo Walton

This book started out as a series of posts on Tor.com call Revisiting the Hugos. It was the author’s, Jo Walton’s, look at the Hugos. She look at not just the winners, but the nominees, the books that didn’t make the short list, the other awards, and anything else she found interesting. When putting the book together, she included some of the most relevant of the comments; mostly those from fellow writers and editors.

That highlights the strength and weakness of this book. It’s put together by someone who isn’t only a science fiction/fantasy fan, but by a professional writer who has spent years not just reading but studying the works in the field. The comments that she uses are primarily from editors, who know the field as professionals, not as “simple” fans. The book covers not simply the works, but their place in historical and cultural context, how well they’ve aged, and how well they’re remembered.

Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I’d read just a year or two at a time. I had to slog and really force my way through it, but I kept thinking that, at some point, I was going to want to go back and read this or that entry again, with more careful attention to it. I never paid a lot of attention to the politics, history, and culture of the science fiction community as a whole; I just read what I enjoyed that I could find.

The tone of the book is informal and chatty; it sounds very much like a conversation. My biggest issue with it is that she puts so much information into each year that it’s intimidating. She talks about books that she read once thirty years ago with actual memory of it; I struggle to do the same with some books I read last year, or last month.

She covers the Hugo Awards, mostly for the novels but the shorter works are discussed and all other awards are at least briefly mentioned, from 1953 to 2000. There’s a lot of material here and I look forward to reading it again…one chapter (year) at a time.

Walton, Jo. An Informal History of the Hugos. New York, NY: Tor Books, 2018. Kindle edition. Amazon. August 7, 2018.

Politics – The Sheep and the Goats

I’ve mentioned that the above parable is one of my foundational beliefs, for politics, religion, and life. For me, here’s what that means.

If you don’t know the passage, it’s in Matthew 25:31-46. To paraphrase it, Jesus tells His disciples that, when He is on His throne of glory, He will gather the people and divide them based on how they have treated Him. He gives six conditions: hunger, thirst, a stranger, naked, sick and in prison. And when the people say, “We never did these things,” He tells them that as they have done to the least of His brothers, so they have done to Him. (Note: since every translation I have read of this uses “brothers” for both genders, I am doing so as well.)

In discussing this as political actions that a Christian should take, there are two basic arguments that people have used to state that this doesn’t apply to political actions, just personal ones.

The first argument is the one that I consider the more defensible one: Jesus is talking personal action, not government action. This is true. However, I vote as a Christian, and I believe in voting for policies that I believe are better for all of us, which means voting for policies that support the “least of our brothers”. The Jewish people of the time, the ones that Jesus was preaching to, had a long history that supporting those less fortunate than themselves was a moral and social good. The Romans, the people in charge of the government of the time, the government that we are supposed to read in the Bible as somewhere between callous and evil, on the other hand, viewed helping those less fortunate as generally a bad idea. To me, it makes more sense to those of us trying to follow Jesus’ teachings to support those less fortunate. In addition to being a more Christian thing to do, studies have shown that it costs less to give support up front than to have to deal with the consequences later on.

The second argument is one that I have a great deal of trouble with: that “of my brothers” doesn’t include all of humanity, which is my reading. They limit that group to their fellow Christians, or their fellow countrymen, or those who are part of some group that they belong to. I disagree. Throughout the four Gospels, Jesus makes it clear that we are all in this together, that “neighbor” is to be defined broadly, and that He speaks to everyone. To me, that means that we are to view everyone as our brothers, and to care for all of humanity. Anything else seems wrong to me.

As I stated earlier, in the passage, Jesus identifies six conditions in which He was in need that those who He considered His sheep provided for, and I intend on discussing them in later blog posts.

Review: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

This is a book that I’ve seen a number of times that looked interesting but, for a variety of reasons, I’ve never picked it up. A good friend of mine recently recommended it, so I read it, and I’m so glad I did.

This is an historical novel, expanding the story of Dinah from Genesis 34. The author states that this isn’t an attempt at telling the “real” story, but a fictionalization from what is in the Bible and what is known about the peoples of that area of that time.

Briefly, the story of Genesis 34 states that Dinah, Jacob’s daughter by Leah, went into the area to visit the women. Shalem, the son of Hamor, raped her, but then decided he was in love with her and asked his father to get her as his bride. Hamor went to talk with Jacob, asking for Dinah as his son’s wife and offering that Jacob could set her bride price. Jacob did so, but several days later, some of Dinah’s brothers went and killed all of the males of the city in revenge for their sister’s rape.

My interpretation of this story is that it’s telling the story of the transition away from “kidnapping the bride.” At the end of the story, Dinah is left as either a defiled maiden or a widow. We hear nothing more about her. As with many stories in the Bible about women, her sole purpose is to marry as a virgin and provide sons to her husband; anything else leaves her defiled and rejected.

Diamant takes this skeletal story and adds flesh to it. We see the world through Dinah’s eyes, and it is mostly a world of women. At that time, the world of men and the world of women were largely separate; Dinah knows her father and her brothers, but her deep relationships are with her mother and aunts. It is a world of polygamy; her aunts are also her father’s wives and many of her brothers are half-brothers. She follows the mother and mother-aunts she adores; learning their skills, and how to handle their strengths and weaknesses. She has less contact with her brothers and much less with her father. The image that the book continually comes back to is that of the “red tent”, or menstrual tent/hut, of the title.

A little over halfway through the book, Diamant tells the story from Genesis 34. What is stated in starkly simple words, with Dinah no more than a casus belli, takes pages of description. In the novel, unlike in Genesis, Dinah is not a victim. She is a willing and enthusiastic participant. Although she and Shalem are in part manipulated–his mother sees them as a good match, both personally and for their communities–their passion for one another is real and reciprocated. Dinah ignores the social stigma of what she is doing and allows Shalem to ask his father to send a royal bride price for her.

What happens between the Hamor, Jacob and Dinah’s brothers is part misunderstanding and part stiff-necked pride. Dinah’s wishes and interests aren’t taken into consideration; it is her father, her brothers, and their pride which are given priority. In the end, what happens is tragedy for Dinah; her husband and all of the males of his family are killed. She is brought back to her family still reeling from the carnage around her.

No longer willing to be a part of the men who destroyed the family she had joined, she curses her father and brothers and returns to her mother-in-law. They leave for her mother-in-law’s family, in Egypt. The last third of the story is set in Egypt, and tells the story of the rest of Dinah’s life.

This is a bare-bones description of a book that is rich in description, of the characters, the cultures, and the world in which the book is set. The author acknowledges in an interview included for this twentieth anniversary of the original publication that we don’t know if the culture truly works the way she wrote it. A good example is the menstrual tent: it is used in many cultures of the area in both space and time, but we don’t know if it was used in that part of Canaan.

The Red Tent is not an expansion of the historical events of Genesis 34. It is a fictional creation using those events as a starting point of a beautifully rich story of a young woman and the alien world in which she lived. I highly recommend it.

Diamant, Anita. The Red Tent. New York, NY: Picador, 1997. Kindle edition. Amazon.

Hugo Awards To Be Announced

On August 19, 2018, the Hugo Awards will be announced at Worldcon 76 in San Jose, California.  The finalists are listed below; the links go to my reviews of the work.  There’s some really good reading here; please enjoy!

Best Novel

Of the six novels, my favorite is Provenance, followed by New York 2140 and Six Wakes.  Judging by the last two years and the year’s Nebula awards, I suspect that The Stone Sky will be the winner.  Ultimately, they’re all good, solid reads.

For the next three categories, I reviewed all of the candidates for both the Hugo and Nebula finalists in one entry.  So, you can get even more reading if you so desire.

Best Novella

  • All Systems Red, by Martha Wells.
  • “And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker.
  • Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor.
  • The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang.
  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire.
  • River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey.

Again, some really good reading here.  MURDERBOT!  (Excuse me.)  My favorite is All Systems Red; in fact, I can’t wait until Rogue Protocol, the third in the series comes out next week.  After that, I recommend “And Then There Were (N-One)” and River of Teeth.  I’m really hoping I’ve picked the winner in this one; it’s delightful.

Best Novelette

  • “Children of Thorns, Children of Water,” by Aliette de Bodard.
  • “Extracurricular Activities,” by Yoon Ha Lee.
  • “The Secret Life of Bots,” by Suzanne Palmer.
  • “A Series of Steaks,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad.
  • “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time,” by K.M. Szpara.
  • “Wind Will Rove,” by Sarah Pinsker.

My favorite of this group is “Wind Will Rove.”  I made my husband read it, which mostly I don’t bother with.  I also enjoyed “The Secret Life of Bots” and “A Series of Steaks”.  The other three didn’t appeal to me, but they’re well-written.

Best Short Story

  • Carnival Nine,” by Caroline M. Yoachim.
  • “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand,” by Fran Wilde.
  • “Fandom for Robots,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad.
  • “The Martian Obelisk,” by Linda Nagata.
  • “Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon.
  • “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™,” by Rebecca Roanhorse.

My favorite of these is “Fandom for Robots,” with “The Martian Obelisk” and “Sun, Moon, Dust” following.

In short, there is a lot of good reading in the lead-up to the Hugo Awards this month.  While you’re at the beach, or wherever you go vacationing, take some with you.  And enjoy!

I’ll repeat this post the day before the awards and follow the day after with a list of the winners.

Review – European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss

This is the second book in The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club. The first book in the series, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, was nominated for the Nebula award and the World Fantasy award, and was a fun read.

This book starts off planning the trip set up at the end of the first one, an expedition to visit Mary Jekyll’s former governess, Mina Harker nee Murray, and to rescue Lucinda Van Helsing. And the adventure itself is fun, full of adventure, kidnappings, fights, romance, and lots of familiar names. The seven women from the first novel all have their parts to play in this one, with several new women in this, from Dracula and Sherlock Holmes. After the rescue, our heroines take off to stop a Royal Society-type organization that is creating more monsters.

I didn’t enjoy this book nearly as much as the first one, and I think the reason is that, at 720 pages, it was too long. There are two stories, related, but I think it would have worked better if the stories had been separated. And, since the book was so long, the comments from the other women, which tend to be funny and add color and character, became distracting.

I’m hoping that the author gets advice to shorten her books so that the next entry in the series will be as entertaining as the first one.

Goss, Theodora. European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. New York, NY: Saga Press, 2018. Kindle edition. Amazon.

Review – Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

I suspect that, like Uprooted by the same author, Spinning Silver will be nominated for the Nebula and Hugo awards next year.  It is engaging and well-written and will certainly be a good contender for either award.  I especially enjoyed this novel because the central characters are all female and willing to take action to change their lives, and because it isn’t set in the standard Western European fairy tale kingdom, but an Eastern European one, which means that things aren’t as standard.  (Warning: there are spoilers in this review for the novel.)

The novel revolves around three young women, all of them isolated, belittled and scorned, who decide to take what actions they can to improve their lives or the lives of those they love.  Miryem Mandelstam, the Jewish moneylender’s daughter, is the only one who truly feels loved at the beginning of the novel, is also the one who sets things in motion. When the Staryk, winter fairies, begin expanding the winter, her mother becomes sick.  Her father is notoriously bad at collecting the debts owed him, so Miryem goes out and begins doing so to get what is needed to help her mother get well. Her parents are horrified, but aren’t capable of taking over the job, so she continues.

The second of the three young women is Wanda, the daughter of one of the farmers in the nameless town in which the novel begins.  Her mother dies after giving birth to eight children, of whom only three survive: Wanda, Sergey and Stepon. While trying to recover from the final birth, her father Gorek borrows six kopeks from Miryem’s father.  After drinking two and gambling two, he uses the last two to get medicine for his wife, which isn’t enough to save her. Years later, when Miryem begins collecting what her father is owed, Gorek claims he cannot pay.  Deciding that this is probably true, Miryem bargains instead for Wanda’s labor to care for the Mandelstams.

For Wanda, the most passive of the three young women, this is a rescue.  As long as she has to work for Miryem, her father can’t sell her off to be married.  In addition, once she begins to work for Miryem and her family, she discovers love and care that she hasn’t had since her mother’s death.  It is Wanda who uses the metaphor that Miryem can spin silver into gold by watching her employer turn a small investment into a greater profit.

The Staryk king hears this and comes for Miryem.  He first gives her a silver kopek and tells her to turn it to gold.  She goes to the jeweler fiance of her cousin, he turns the silver into a ring, and they sell that ring to Vysnia’s duke in return for a single gold coin.  As is common with fairy tales, the king demands greater quantities of gold. In return, he will not kill Miryem, but will marry her. The second quantity is turned into a necklace and the third into a crown.  All three are bought by the duke to give to his daughter, Irina, to convince the tsar to marry her. Irina is the third of the young women at the center of the novel.

Each of the young women has to face a trial at the hands of the brutal and violent men in control of their lives and, ultimately, wrest control back to their own hands.  Each of them finds strength in community, and in the women, and sometimes the men, in their lives. As with traditional fairy tales, the risks are perhaps greater than the reward, but that reward is not insubstantial.  And in the end, these women rescue each other.

The connection to Rumpelstiltskin is a little on the thin side, but that was never the main charm of this novel anyway.  That is in the women.
Novik, Naomi.  Spinning SIlver.  New York, NY:  Del Rey, 2018. Kindle edition.  Amazon.

Politics – At the Core

Political discussion in this country has become a minefield.  People who used to be friends are finding themselves separated by chasms that seem insurmountable.  Our two political parties seem unable to find compromises on anything.  And the daily news, especially right now, with the children at the border, continues to get worse.  Like everyone else, I have opinions.  Mine are grounded in what I believe are good morals, ethics, facts and law.  I express them as truth and I make no apologies for that.  But.

First and foremost, we are all human.  We disagree, but underneath, we are still one.  Although I disagree, vehemently in some cases, with the opposing viewpoint, with a few exceptions, I know that the other side isn’t evil.  Even those we now view as evil rarely see themselves as such.

As humans, we frequently view an issue as having two sides.  For better or worse, we then divide ourselves into two camps, but the problem is that there are many issues and few cases in which the people in one group agree on everything.

Looking at the various political issues that we generally view as “important” when it comes to political discussions and voting, the two general principles that people use to determine what their beliefs are on a specific issue.  Please note:  what follows is MASSIVE generalization; people’s consideration is much more complex than this.

The first is that people tend to divide up the world into “Us” and “Them”.  In and of itself, this isn’t a bad thing; sometimes, a situation does have two different sides.  The issue is in how large the “Us” group is and how large the “Them” group is.  The larger the “Us” group is, the more an individual believes in the positives of diversity, of identity politics, in seeing the citizens of other nations in a positive light.  The larger the “Them” group is, the more an individual doesn’t see discrimination, the more they are angered by identity politics, by being asked to understand those who are different from them, the more they see those of other nations in a negative light.  To me, we are best off in keeping the “Us” group large, comprising the entire human race.  We are best keeping the “Them” group small, and only applying it at all to specific situations.  First and foremost, we are all human.

The second principle is that of predestination, although it is usually known as the “Protestant Work Ethic”.  Basically, it means that many people believe that what happens to other people was brought upon themselves.  One common way in which this manifests itself is when people argue against welfare because they believe that most of those receiving it are lazy and are just scamming the system.  If shown an individual case, especially of someone they know, and they’ll agree that it was just bad luck and that they need the help, but they don’t generalize it to most of those in need.  In addition, they express the belief that it is better that no one be given assistance that doesn’t need it, even if that means that some who do need it won’t get it.

I don’t believe in predestination, I do believe that most people want to be independent, and I think that a safety net for those who need it is essential.  I think that “Us” means all of humanity and that “Them” is an occasionally useful, temporary description.  Over all, in no particular order, I’m a liberal, a Democrat, a Christian, a middle-aged wife and mother, full-time employed, an American … and a member of the human race.  Come join me.

My Belief in God

I consider myself a Christian.  I’m currently attending an Episcopal church about four weeks out of five.  My political views are a direct response of my religious beliefs.  I believe in God.

After reading that paragraph, most people would think that they know what I believe in.  Depending on the individual person, some would be right and others wrong.  That’s because when I talk about my beliefs, I don’t necessarily mean what others do.  So, I’m going to explain my beliefs below to make them clearer.  Note:  I am not apologizing for my beliefs.  I’m not trying to convert anyone else to my beliefs.  I am describing what I believe.

My interests for as long as I can remember, my academic training, and my current interests are that of a scientist, or at least an educated non-scientist.  I believe that reason, rationality, and logic are the best ways to understand the world around us, and the best ways to make decisions about the right thing to do.  I won’t deny a fascination with non-scientific topics, but overall I believe that the world works along rational, scientific lines.  That doesn’t mean we necessarily understand our universe–it’s big, complicated, and we’re still working on understanding the principles–but I believe that, ultimately, the explanation will hinge on reason and logic.

What does this mean for religious belief?  First, I believe in God; however, I am the first to acknowledge that I can give no logical, rational basis for that belief.  I was brought up to believe in God, it became part of my belief system, and I’ve never seen a reason to change it.  At the same time, I have never seen a logical argument for the belief in God that didn’t have at least one hole in the argument.

I do not believe that Christianity is the only path to a relationship with the Divine.  Although there are differences between different religions, I believe that most, if not all, of them point to the Divine.  Since I was raised as a Christian, that is the path that is most comfortable, but it isn’t the only path and there are others that I also find comfortable.

I do not believe that the Bible is the literal truth, at least, not in its entirety.  I believe it is filled with poetic, metaphorical, ethical and moral truths, but I do not consider it a primary source of literal truth.  If there is a story in the Bible that can be taken literally or metaphorically, and the metaphorical explanation accords with scientific research, I will believe that the story is not literal, but metaphorical.  The classic examples of this are the Creation story (Big Bang and Creationism) and Noah’s Ark .  This has major implications when we discuss Jesus.

I am not sure if Jesus the Christ existed as an historical person.  The New Testament, in and of itself, is not sufficient evidence that He existed, and the other documents typically used to “prove” His existence have issues with them.  The Reverend John Shelby Spong used the term the “Easter Event”; something happened in the middle of the first century of the Common Era.  We don’t know what it was, but Christianity grew from that event (or series of events).  The understanding of a personal relationship with the Divine, and the forgiving of sins to reunite with the Divine, and the social justice from the Old Testament, are the key features of Christianity that arose from then that I follow.

Add to all of this that my beloved spouse of thirty years is an agnostic, and has been one since about twelve.  At the same time, he is a very social person and is enjoying the church we’ve been attending; however, he won’t say what he doesn’t believe, so he doesn’t join in with the prayers, readings, and so forth.  Nor does he go up to the Communion rail, although when attendance is especially sparse and our priest calls us all up to the altar, he does go up and ask for a blessing.  To his mind, as a regular attendee, staying back is ruder than asking for a blessing is inappropriate.  Yes, he has thought all of that out carefully.  For those who ask why he attends in the first place, there are two reasons.  First, in addition to being a believer, I’m painfully shy and wind up in a corner in this kind of social situation where I don’t know anyone.  Second, he loves people in all of their many forms, loves me and wants to support me, and is growing to love the community we’re joining.  He also believes in many of the ethics and morals that the church is teaching; he just can’t say he believes in God or Jesus.

With all of the above in mind, I’m working on two separate projects.  The first one is going through the Bible and explaining, to myself and to anyone else who is interested, the meaning of the Bible, section by section.  The four Gospels have 91 chapters with 3,779 verses and that’s where I’m starting.  The second project is to take the standard things the congregant is expected to say in a typical church service and to try to understand them as a sympathetic non-believer, to try to find a way that someone like my spouse can say them without feeling that they are being dishonest.  I may get nowhere with it, but I suspect it will leave me understanding them better, which is at least all to the good.

So, there you have it.  I know I’m too serious, too academic, overly precise, and more than a little abnormal as a Christian for many of you out there.  But that’s okay.  The Bible tells me, literally, poetically, metaphorically, that I’m a beloved daughter of God/dess, and I’m doing the best that I can.

Blessings to you all.

Review – The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

In 1969, the four Gold siblings, Varya, Daniel, Klara, and Simon, go to visit a fortuneteller on Hester Street.  They don’t go to get their fortune told, but to find out when they will die.  The rest of The Immortalists follow the siblings as they live their lives until each of them, except the last, dies.

This book is an unusual one for me.  When I read fiction, it is usually genre fiction: fantasy, science fiction, alternate history, mystery, and combinations thereof.  This novel is none of those: it is a story of a family as they live, and die, from 1969 until today, with forays into the past to see their parents and where they come from, in both literal and metaphorical terms.

Although I had a hard time getting involved with the story, I suspect that was less to do with it and more to do with me.  The characters were complex and the story was well-told, with forays into pre-and-early-AIDS San Francisco, stage magic, and longevity research.  The story focuses on the four siblings, but we get to see four generations of the Gold family, in glimpses at the very least.

As would be expected from the synopsis, it’s a story about family, about dying, about living, and, of course, about love.  Love and life in all its messy glory.

Not my usual cup of tea, but I enjoyed it more than most of its type.

 

Benjamin, Chloe.  The Immortalists.  New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018.  Kindle edition.  Amazon.