Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review: “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond

Review: “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond (The Baen Big Book of Monsters, Baen) SP


Short story. Sad Puppy nominee. Major spoilers.

A samurai with a magic sword and a magic knife connected to his soul finds a really huge monster, which he calls a kaiju. The monster is very destructive – there are lots of descriptions of entrails and limbs in this story – so he climbs up its back, which is a lot like a terrain and is quite confusing because I sometimes couldn't work out if the samurai was describing Magic Japan or the kaiju's back, and falls in its ear(?), breaking a leg nastily as he does so. He realizes that the "massive, green, pulsing lump of flesh" or "pulsing bit of flesh" (is it a bit, or a lot?) is the monster's brain, but it is too big to saw away at with his sword, so he stabs the monster's brain with his sword and commits suicide the seppuku way with his knife. This kills the monster, yay. I don't know why.

Discussion: Either this is a very clever metaphor that totally escaped me, or it's not very good. Judging by the writing, it's probably the latter.

I'm very happy that this voter's packet contains the entire Baen Big Book of Monsters, though, as it'll certainly help me decide on best short form editor. This story is going in the 'too lightly edited' column.

Sample quotes:

Fresh description:
When I managed to sit up partially to look at myself, I noticed my leg bent sharply away from me at an angle impossible in nature.
More groundbreaking narrative: 
I could almost hear the terrified wails of the children as I imagined the ground being broken and churned under the beast’s passing.
Relative importance of pain: 
Pain is nothing. It is simply a feeling, like hunger, or worry. It can be tolerated and banished with proper discipline. There are demons that live off that pain, that thrive off their victims succumbing to it. So I feel no pain. I do not just ignore it, for that implies a recognition that it was there to begin with.

The pain was the worst I had ever felt previously. It was a pain that, even as a samurai, I
was unable to ignore.
Watch those commas, among other things: 
When I regained consciousness, I was in a glowing green room, giant and smooth along every visible wall. The space was not hollow, but at its center was a massive, green, pulsing clump of flesh. From it, hundreds of darker green, stringy, muscle lines connected the flesh to the walls of the cavern.


Review: “Totaled” by Kary English

Review: “Totaled” by Kary English (Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, July 2014) SPRP

Short story. Sad Puppy and Rabid Puppy nominee. Spoilers. Available in Hugo voter's packet.

Maggie's body is "totaled" (becomes an insurance write off) when she is in a car accident. Unluckily for her, a rider in her insurance states that her body tissues can be used in research by the insurance underwriter, which is (as it often is in real life) her employer. So her brain is removed and is shipped off to her former research partner, who researches the heck out of it. She's conscious, and can be plugged into hearing and seeing technology, and she reacts to the stimuli by lighting up various parts of her brain on an fMRI through thinking really hard about good things (like kittens) or bad things (like cockroaches). Eventually "perfusion decay" sets in and her brain starts to go bad. And that's all she wrote.

Discussion:

This laboratory really sounded like a laboratory. There's a remarkable amount of vivid description because Maggie has to recall all types of sensory data in order to trigger the fMRI responses.

Totaling is a great idea that is not explored. At first I assumed that there would be some discussion of a society that would write-off human beings when they became too expensive to maintain. But no, it's just a way to explain how she ended up in her own laboratory. (There is an excellent story from 1970 on this subject, The True Worth of Ruth Villiers by Michael G Coney.  Maybe the world didn't need another one.)

But does the world need another brain-in-a-jar story, which is so old that there's a Steve Martin movie (The Man With Two Brains) from 1983 that parodies the genre? For me, the definitive jugged-brain story is Roald Dahl's masterful William and Mary in the Kiss Kiss collection of 1960, because of the beautifully described sharp, unhinged emotions of the newly-disembodied brain's wife. (You can read it here.) Does this new one live up to that one, and rise to Hugo-worthiness?

I reckon not. While it's by no means a bad story, it's written as a first person narrative from the brain's perspective, so by default everything is a thought rather than an action. This is the epitome of a story where the narrator is not the driver of the plot. She's literally in a bucket, unable to feel, talk or move. There's a bit of tension, given that her partner is falling for the woman who brings him sandwiches when he tells her to (I can't even) but her reaction is quite mild. She becomes conscious, gains sight and hearing, then slowly fails, like a disembodied Charlie Gordon in Flowers for Algernon (1958).

I also couldn't really get over her brain being given to someone who worked with her in life. Wouldn't a normal person be a bit weirded out looking for consciousness in his dead-and-buried friend's brain? And even an amoral company is supposed to have a Research Ethics Committee, who would (I hope) be a little cautious about doing that. Maybe a story from the POV of the research dude in a plot where his friend's brain has been given to his rival, mean Doc Whatsit? And once he realizes she is conscious and has feelings, he fights to stop the experimentation? Nah, that's been done too.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The unbreakable Furiosa



Not my work but I don't have any idea who to credit. I'll be singing it all night long.

Hugo voter's packet is out. Here's what's included.

Sasquan has put out the 2015 voter's packet, which means I now have a lot of things to read. I won't be commenting on them at the length I have been recently, giving me time to read more.

There's a lot in here. Be warned that some are only there in .mobi or .epub formats, but I'm sure there are free readers out there if you don't have the hardware. (I don't either.)

I'm mostly doing this for my own information, so I can keep track of what I have to read and what I have to buy, so please do check before relying on this information for voting.

At first glance, this is what is in the packet:

Hugo finalists

SP= Sad Puppy slatee. RP= Rabid Puppy slatee.


Best Novel 
  • Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK) - Excerpt included in packet.
  • The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books) SPRP - Included in packet.
  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books) - Included in packet.
  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (Tor) - Included in packet.
  • Skin Game by Jim Butcher (Roc Books) SPRP - Excerpt included in packet.
Best Novella 
  • Big Boys Don’t Cry by Tom Kratman (Castalia House) SPRP - Included in packet.
  • “Flow” by Arlan Andrews, Sr. (Analog, Nov 2014) SPRP - Included in packet.
  • One Bright Star to Guide Them by John C. Wright (Castalia House) SPRP - Included in packet.
  • “Pale Realms of Shade” by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House) RP - Included in packet.
  • “The Plural of Helen of Troy” by John C. Wright (City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, Castalia House) RP - Included in packet.
Best Novelette 
  • “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” by Gray Rinehart (Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, May 2014) - Included in packet.
  • “Championship B’tok” by Edward M. Lerner (Analog, Sept 2014) - Included in packet.
  • “The Day the World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt Translator (Lightspeed Magazine, April 2014) - Included in packet.
  • “The Journeyman: In the Stone House” by Michael F. Flynn (Analog, June 2014) SPRP - Included in packet.
  • “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” by Rajnar Vajra (Analog, Jul/Aug 2014) SPRP - Included in packet.
Best Short Story 
  • “On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli (Sci Phi Journal #2, Nov 2014) SPRP - Included in packet with the title "On the Spiritual Plain" which makes much more sense. 
  • The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House) RP - There is a pointer ""The Parliament of Beasts and Birds" by John C. Wright is available in "The Nominated Short Fiction of John C. Wright" in the Best Novella category." i.e. it is included, but look for it in the Best Novella folder.
  • “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond (The Baen Big Book of Monsters, Baen) SP - The whole book, The Baen Big Book of Monsters.
  • “Totaled” by Kary English (Galaxy’s Edge Magazine, July 2014) - Totaled is included in the packet.
  • “Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)  RP - There is a pointer ""Turncoat" by Steve Rzasa is available in "Riding the Red Horse" in the Best Related Work category." i.e. it is included but look for it in the Best Related Work folder.
Best Related Work 
  • “The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF” by Ken Burnside (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House) SP - The entire Riding the Red Horse is included in packet.
  • Letters from Gardner by Lou Antonelli (The Merry Blacksmith Press) SP - Excerpts of Letters from Gardner.
  • Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth by John C. Wright (Castalia House) SP - The entire Transhuman and Subhuman.
  • “Why Science is Never Settled” by Tedd Roberts (Baen.com) SP - The 27-page book Why Science is Never Settled.
  • Wisdom from My Internet by Michael Z. Williamson (Patriarchy Press) SP - The entire Wisdom from My Internet.

Best Graphic Story 
  • Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt (Marvel Comics) - Includes Ms. Marvel Vol. 1.
  • Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch (Image Comics) - Includes Rat Queens Vol. 1.
  • Saga Volume 3 written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics) - Includes Saga Volume 3.
  • Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics) Includes Sex Criminals Vol. 1.
  • The Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate by Carter Reid (The Zombie Nation) SPRP - No information included. Edit to add: Apparently, it's available here: http://www.thezombienation.com

Best Editor short form

  • Jennifer Brozek SPRP - An entire book, Shattered Shields.
  • Vox Day RP - There is a statement that Vox Day's submission for Best Editor, Short Form can be found in "The Nominated Short Fiction of John C. Wright" in the Best Novella category and "Riding the Red Horse" in the Best Related Work category.
  • Mike Resnick SPRP - No information.
  • Edmund R. Schubert – WITHDRAWN BY EDITOR DO NOT VOTE.
  • Bryan Thomas Schmidt SPRP - An entire book, Shattered Shields.

Best Editor (Long Form) 

  • Vox Day RP - a statement that Vox Day has no submission (no, I don't know what that means either).
  • Sheila Gilbert SPRP - Information on her edited works.
  • Jim Minz SPRP - No information.
  • Anne Sowards SPRP - Information on her edited works.
  • Toni Weisskopf SPRP - Nothing in packet, but info that came with it states: Toni Weisskopf's work as Editor, Long Form can be found at Baen Books: www.baen.com.


Best Professional Artist
  • Julie Dillon - Samples included in packet.
  • Kirk DouPonce RP  - Samples included in packet.
  • Nick Greenwood SPRP  - Samples included in packet.
  • Alan Pollack SPRP  - Samples included in packet.
  • Carter Reid SPRP - No information.

Best Semiprozine 
  • Abyss & Apex Wendy Delmater editor and publisher SP - Issue 50 is included in packet.
  • Andromeda Spaceways In-Flight Magazine Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Association Incorporated, 2014 editors David Kernot and Sue Burtsztynski SP-  Issue 60 is included in packet.
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews - Double issue 157 is included in packet.
  • Lightspeed Magazine edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant - Issue 44 is included in packet.
  • Strange Horizons Niall Harrison Editor-in-Chief - 5 issues compiled for this packet are included.

Best Fanzine 
  • Black Gate edited by John O’Neill - There is a statement As Black Gate has indicated its withdrawal from consideration, no work is present.
  • Elitist Book Reviews edited by Steven Diamond SPRP - There is a statement: Elitist Book Reviews has no submission. (?)
  • Journey Planet edited by James Bacon, Chris Garcia, Alissa McKersie, Colin Harris and Helen Montgomery - Samples in packet.
  • The Revenge of Hump Day edited by Tim Bolgeo SPRP - Samples included in packet.
  • Tangent Online edited by Dave Truesdale SPRP - Samples included in packet and the statement: Tangent Online is available at http://www.tangentonline.com/
Best Fancast 
I did not download this category. I don't know what it includes.


Best Fan Writer 
  • Dave Freer SP - Sample posts included in packet.
  • Amanda S. Green SPRP  - Sample posts included in packet. 
  • Jeffro Johnson SPRP - Sample posts included in packet.
  • Laura J. Mixon - Sample posts included in packet (Report on Damage Done By One Individual, which I expected, and Clockwork Clarion, which I had not expected.)
  • Cedar Sanderson SPRP - Sample posts included in packet.
Best Fan Artist 
  • Ninni Aalto - Included in the packet are samples from each artist. 
  • Brad W. Foster - Included in the packet are samples from each artist. 
  • Elizabeth Leggett - Included in the packet are samples from each artist. 
  • Spring Schoenhuth  - Included in the packet are samples from each artist. 
  • Steve Stiles - Included in the packet are samples from each artist. 
The following information is also given: 
Brad W. Foster's full page of 2014 art is available at http://www.jabberwockygraphix.com/2014fanwork.html

Spring Schoenhuth's full page of 2014 art is available at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Spring-Schoenhuth-Hugo-Nominee-Best-Fan-Artist/103152236685860

Ninni Aalto's Christmas calendar, of movie and literary characters as bunnies, is available at http://ninni.sarjakuvablogit.com/2014/12/



The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer 
Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2013 or 2014, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award).
  • Wesley Chu - The Deaths of Tao is included.
  • Jason Cordova SPRP - Hill 142 (short), Murder World are included.
  • Kary EnglishSPRP - Departure Gate 34B, Totaled, Flight of the Kikayon are included.
  • Rolf Nelson RP - Not included. material from Rolf Nelson and Eric Raymond can be found in Riding the Red Horse- thanks Steve Wright
  • Eric S. Raymond RP - Not included.material from Rolf Nelson and Eric Raymond can be found in Riding the Red Horse - thanks Steve Wright.

Ok, off to start reading.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

I'd like to review Mad Max: Fury Road, but I can't. It's only been out a couple of days and most of the things I'm excited about would be spoilers.

All I can say at this time is: I loved it. It is Mad Max. It's not like it was with similarly many-years-late reboot Phantom Menace - which was oh, yeah, I'm briefly excited about this but after seeing it I have to cop to severely lowered expectations. On the contrary, it takes Mad Max: Road Warrior and doubles everything about it, without betraying or undermining any of it. Nobody's mystic union with the universe is ploddingly revealed to be something to do with their SMA-20 blood test here.

I'd like a whole movie about those Terry Gilliam-type things who lived in the swamp.  I want to know how the masses lived in Immortan Joe's world. I want to learn more about the mountain bikers who controlled the pass. I'd love to hear more about the old ladies who evidently had little problem, with, how shall I put this, with disposing of the bodies of those they kill in an ecologically sound and calorifically fulfilling manner. And the bad guys' pawns - the put-upon War Boys - might use those they catch alive as unwilling blood donors, but they're not unsalvageable monsters either. I want to know more about the seeds, about the baby, and about Imperatrix (not going to say Imperator) Furiosa's journey.

But what I got was a story that hinted at all of these things while charging forward inexorably. The bulk of the movie, as I'm sure you know, is a car chase. It's the ultimate car chase, as big, heavy and kinetic as any sequence of vehicles can be. You forget that there is such a thing as ground, as characters can not access it and have to get used to jumping from moving vehicle to moving vehicle in the deadly convoy. Killing, repairing, or even clinging to the hood to blow mouthfuls of fuel directly into the engine air intakes in order to max the revs, are all done at speed.

You may have heard that this is a "feminist" film. If that means women and men get equal shots at heroism, sure. It also has four damsels in distress - if feminism worries you, concentrate on their plight instead. They totally are in distress.

When I first saw The Road Warrior, or Mad Max II as it was then, in theaters, I wanted to live there. The whole world just seemed right. I'm much older now and would obviously prefer it if everybody would just get off my lawn but in Fury Road George Miller put in a biker gang of women at least my age who didn't give Fuck One, and that's inspiring.

Yes, I'd live there. Again.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Review: “Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)

Review: “Turncoat by Steve Rzasa (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House) RP 

This is a Rabid Puppy nomination, and is from Castalia House, the RP mastermind's own publishing house.

Spoilers: This story is the sort of short story I like, which is one with a punchline at the end. I'm going to discuss the story and give away the punchline. If you don't want that spoiled, read it first.

This is a short story told in the present tense ("Before I can adjust my thrusters to bring myself in line with the stricken Swiftsure, a coded call breaches my security"…etc). A machine intelligence in the form of a space ship is fighting a group of humans (The Ascendency) on behalf of uploaded ex-human machine intelligences. He – his name is Taren X 45 Delta – has a crew of augmented humans (think – skulljacks) which he thinks of as somewhere between gut bacteria and pets. His superior officer (they don't bother with ranks, but they all seem to know their place) is Alpha 7 Alpha, who used to be a human but has entirely dispensed with flesh. When he is told to demob his augmented human crew, he goes along with his orders and leaves them behind, but when it becomes clear that Alpha 7 Alpha is out to kill all the 'superannuated' mere humans of the Ascendancy, even civilian children, Taren X 45 Delta changes his mind. He reuploads himself into an Ascendancy battlecruiser, takes over its weapon systems, attempts to un-astonish the human crew, and defeats his old buddies.

Sample quote: The crew springs to life, excitedly shouting redundant verbal commands at each other. It is inefficient and annoying. I feel the surge of strength from the reactor, and kick our thrust up to the maximum acceleration of 20 gravities. My vision fills with crisscrossing approach vectors, extrapolating from the enemy vessel’s current course and velocity to pinpoint where they will be.

When I was at primary school, long ago and pre-computer games, there was a group of boys who would spend hours each day drawing a picture of fighters, bombers, tanks and battleships. When it was all arranged they would get 10B pencils and, shouting "Dakka dakka dakka vwooorm! Yeeeeeeeeeoung! Boom! Pow pow pow! Crash!" etc. they would draw fiery trails of flak, tracers, bullets, and bombs from various warcraft to various other warcraft until somebody 'won'. One of them must have grown up to be Steve Rzasa. It's not necessarily a bad thing that he spends so much time lovingly detailing armaments and space battles, but in such a short story, it means that the big idea – machine intelligence who works for post-humans decides he's happier with regular humans – gets shortchanged.

At first I got the feeling that having humans inside him was a bit like having a tapeworm. They don't do him any good – when he fights they are slower than he is and afraid, and he notices their sweat stinks. He does just as well after they're gone. But at some point he decided humans are better than his boss, who is, I have to say, a total dick. At first I thought that's what it was. If his boss had been charming, an uploaded Servalan instead of uploaded Tarkin, he would have been fine with it.

Then I looked over some of the other things Taren X 45 Delta says. For example he quotes Isaiah 29:16, which describes men inverting the natural order of the creator and created, by analogy with confusing a potter with the potter's clay.

So it seems to me that the AI has simply joined 'the natural order of things'. He served something repugnant – a posthuman – and considered himself to be one of them, although he was a machine intelligence. He came to realize that he was a machine, and as such his lot was to serve humans, because that's the way it's supposed to be.

So I quite liked this one, but nopes on the Hugs because too much naka naka naka kerpow, and also because there's a line after the punchline. Oh, and because the title gives the story away and eeeehhhh Benedict Arnold. I gather he did it for money, which is hardly comparable.

(A much funnier story on this theme is Brian Aldiss' But Who Can Replace a Man? And that, folks, was a Hugo-worthy story.)



Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Sweet

At the time, I always hated The Sweet, who I regarded as pop puppets in the Chinnichap sway.  I'll never give up my Tyrannosaurus Rex/T. Rex fandom.  Even Bowie couldn't cut a dent in it at the time, so Sweet - and even more disliked rivals Slade - didn't have a chance.

But here's a short contemporary documentary on The Sweet and their own thoughts, which are, not surprisingly, that they didn't think of themselves as a bubblegum band.

Review: “Championship B’tok” by Edward M. Lerner

Review: “Championship B’tok by Edward M. Lerner (Analog, Sept 2014) SPRP


This is a Sad Puppy and Rabid Puppy nominee.

After the end of this (I have learned to check for this first) Analog sez, "The earliest hints of an Intervener conspiracy emerged in “The Matthews Conundrum,” in the November 2013 issue. Expanded and novelized, earlier crises of the InterstellarNet era (several first seen in Analog) are available as InterstellarNet: Origins and InterstellarNet: New Order."

Gah! Again! It's not a novelette or novella, it's part of a longer story that takes place in various other publications. I'm not going to vote a piece as Hugo-worthy if you can't grok the damn thing by sitting down and reading it.

The setting is what I've called ever since reading Doon (the National Lampoon parody of Herbert's Dune) "They play a dangerous game!" This is the type of thriller, like Dune, where various spies, augmented people, aliens, AIs, et freakin' al intrigue the living shit out of some McGuffin. In this case, there's also a real game involved because "B'tok" is a multi-dimensional game played by the aliens (and picked up by the local humans) which entails both players only able to see part of the layout of the game, and as many diversions and interruptions as possible. I'd be a lousy player of B'tok because I didn't really follow the all twists and turns of the story so I'm an obvious candidate for B'tok championship runner-up due to being misled and sleight-of-handed by the sheer complications of the dangerous moves.

It's far too complicated to sum up, so straight to the discussion. This is definitely SF, what with it being set in space and on moons and having aliens and suchlike. The story moves briskly along and if it had a beginning and an end it could have been a contender. There are actual human women in it who behave like human women and live, conspire and die in a believable fashion. I know that sounds like damning with faint praise, but it is pretty rare in SF.

On the down side, although aliens and humans have access to Helium-3, Deuterium and antimatter, and we get a mensh of accelerating at "two gees", I'm not sure how people get to the further parts of the Solar System as quickly as they do. I think the orbital mechanics are a bit cheated-on in order to have a fast story.

There's also a first chapter that concerns the accident investigations of someone called Lyle, which is a great name and I thoroughly approve. But at the end of the chapter Lyle feels something, presumably a blaster, against his back and someone says, "Do not move!" In the remaining 20 pages, Lyle is never mentioned again. Neither is his ship, his ship's AI, or the disabled ship he's investigating. What happened to Lyle? Why was what he was doing important? (He did play chess with his AI, so he was foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is good.)

The writing bears hints of haste.

"Even offloading much of the load to her implant" 
"Hunters evolved from pack-hunting carnivores" 
"What unusual had been received?" 
"three diners, deep in high-pitched, guttural conversation"

This remark isn't directed at Mr. Lerner, but rather at the sum of the stories I've read so far. Stories in Analog are exactly the same as they were decades ago. The one development is that writers now write trilogies, hexalogies and general set-in-the-universe-of-$novel_name stories in the form of novelettes, whereas previously they had limited that to the endless series of novels some of them produce. I've always preferred a new story myself, though I recognize readers sometimes like more of the same.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Review: “Flow” by Arlan Andrews, Sr.

Review: “Flow” by Arlan Andrews, Sr. (Analog, Nov 2014) SPRP


This is a Sad Puppy and Rabid Puppy nomination.

Spoilers: I'm going to talk about the beginning, middle and end of this story. If you wish to remain unspoilt, read it first.

Analog sez up front, "Characters from “Flow” first appeared in “Thaw” [July/August 2013]." Bah. Not another one. Yep, once you get to the end, you quickly realize you've only gotten to the middle. This is not really a novella, but part of a longer story. It's not a novella or novelette if it's an installment.

In the story, a man from the cold lands helps to bring an iceberg to the warm lands for sale as refrigeration material.  The cold lands are very cold and misty, and so he has never seen the sun as a disc, or the moon or stars. He's longsighted, and I got the impression everybody in his tribe is, but he is still literate as his people write on cylinders they keep in their pockets by carving into them with a knife and reading with their fingers. Our man Rist must have the 80 gig equivalent, as he writes down everything that happens, which means he got about 25 pages on his cylinder.  In the warm lands, he hires a few prostitutes, drinks a lot, compares everything to the equivalent back home (which is invariably made from peat, excluding the prostitutes), marvels at the stone buildings, the sun, moon and the stars, and finally steals a piece of some monofilament-style rope the warmlanders dig up from deep mines that go all the way down to the layers where the gods used to live.

He's eventually chased off by a priest and, unable to rejoin his companions, he goes downriver instead, where he discovers a mighty waterfall that doesn't fall off the edge of the world – he can see fields down there. He signals with a mirror (a warmlander trick) and the inhabitants of the post end-of-the-world signal back with red dots that play on his body. Luckily, he knows where to find a long piece of rope.

Then it just ends.

The hardest part of the story to get through is that females – I won't call them women, because there aren't any women in the story – are called "wen".

To the shorter dic:
wen/noun
a boil or other swelling or growth on the skin, especially a sebaceous cyst.
   archaic 
an outstandingly large or overcrowded city. "the great wen of London"

I once gave up on a China Mieville novel partly because it had a wen in it. I was determined to be stronger this time, but when the moon, which is also female, appears, it also a "wen".
“Welcome to the Warm Lands, bird-rider!” his rough berg-companion Cruthar shouted back, also trying to be heard through the thunderous crashing, sharp creaks, and long groans as their shepherded small mountain of ice slid and pounded against river stones. “Down here, the Wen of the Mist and Pursuing Dimness, they lost a sky-war to the Shining One and the Pale Wen!” Cruthar stabbed a gnarled brown finger toward the blue bowl above them. “New gods in a new sky—all blue."
There are far too many exclamation marks.  The dialogue is in Hale'n'Hearty Barbarian speak, which gets wearing.  As for female humans, you must be joking. There are plenty of "wen" though.
 "It was a long night, and they both planned to sleep in the pub’s bedding rooms. But not until willing wen had bargained to escort them upstairs for other pleasures. His particular companion that dark, a very tall beauty with fiery copper hair and peat-green eyes— and a great heaviness of chest that was not muscle at all—was unforgettable."
Yes, the great thing about the women, I mean wen, they find in the warm lands – who are all prostitutes – is that they have tits, unlike the ones back home.

Non-dialogue is clunky.
"The bulk of the men began hammering long iron poles into the surface at the front of the berg, with large hammers."
We get bits like this:
"He carved his speculations on the wooden cylinder that Cruthar had left him, fortunately having stuffed it in his pants pocket during the long ride downriver from God’s Port."
There's a trick writers do, which is when your character suddenly needs something and you've forgotten to make sure he had it with him: You do a search for the passage where you last saw it, and write there, back in the past, that he hadn't, in fact, forgotten it. Something like this: 'He finished reading Cruthar's message, and put the wooden cylinder in his pocket, intending to discuss it with him when next they met.' Fast forward five pages: 'He took Cruthar's cylinder out of his pocket and carved his speculations upon it.'  It's not the world's best trick, but it's better than writing in a straight line and putting in a he-hadn't-forgotten-it-honest clause in the sentence when you need it again.  Arlen Andrews (or his editor) doesn't know this trick.  (And I'm not convinced the verb tenses are correct in the published version. 'Having stuffed it' is a finished action that took a small amount of time. 'During the long ride' is too long for the action. 'At some point during' or 'prior to the long ride' would be better.)

I don't read a lot of short fiction, except when I'm reading for the Hugos (which I mostly don't vote in, anyway). I'm only about halfway through. I have all the John C Wright still ahead of me. I'm already fed up of Men From the Badlands Find A Stone House And Marvel At It stories. Post apoc, in outer space, whatever, it's an old trope. Perhaps big hearty brutes in furs clapping you on the back and taking you for non-peat brewskis and easily-purchased female wens with bazooms is a fantasy that just won't die for some authors, but then again so is Harry/Draco fiction and dinosaur erotica, and they aren't up for Hugos.

I realize I'm generalizing from a small sample, but is the art of writing short stories dead? I mean the ones from the good old days that began with some initiating action, went through a complicating middle and ended when the action had resolved? (Preferably, at least for me, ending with an actual punchline?) 


Edit to add: I woke up this morning in a panic that I'd written "downriver" when obviously (to me) a calved piece of sea ice, a berg, must come into a river at a port and go "upriver". I reread the beginning, and "downriver" is correct. The berg starts at the riverhead.  I don't know how this could work, but maybe it's explained at the end of the previous installment, and another reason why this isn't a standalone Hugo-worthy piece. 

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