Saturday, May 30, 2015

Big Boys Don’t Cry by Tom Kr*tman (Castalia House)

Big Boys Don’t Cry by Tom Kr*tman (Castalia House) SPRP

The rest of the conversation, such as was left after the battle, is here

Well, alright then, Mr. Tim "Don't throw me into the briar patch, Brer Fox!" Kratperoffspring. No award it is.  

This is a Sad Puppy and Rabid Puppy nomination.

It is an okay story about the basic training of AIs used in combat. The methods used are cruel, but the humans don't care. They wall off the AI's memories of pain and injury after training is complete, but in the case of Maggie, severe damage during combat allows her (she's a she) to recall the training sessions. All the while she is accessing her memories, she is being investigated for scrap value, and she can see and hear the humans discussing her fate.

It's not a very new concept, but it's handled well. It's just so very long. It's interesting to compare this with Steve Rzasa's story, Turncoat, as the AI warships come to very different conclusions about humans.

Edited for length, 05/31

Methinks Amazon has gone mad

Friday, May 29, 2015

Review: The short fiction of John C Wright (from the Hugo voter's package)

Review: One Bright Star to Guide Them by John C. Wright (Castalia House) SPRP

This story is a Sad Puppy and Rabid Puppy nomination.

Summary: A man who was once big in a childhood imaginary land – or was it? – is called as an adult to continue the struggle. He tracks down his childhood friends to help him defeat the menace which was victorious in the childhood world and is now encroaching on our own Earth.

I can see what he's getting at, but the plethora of things with C S Lewis-style names that he once met, or saved, or was saved by, or lived in, or attended the coronation of are just wearying. He's trying to tell a story of someone who left an enchanted land behind in his childhood in a novella despite the fact that the previous adventures must have filled a trilogy.

The imagination is there, the drive to pound a few Catholic messages home is there, but the writing and editing are not up to the task.

Sample extracts:
The carpet was thick, but his skull still met the floor with a loud noise, and he groaned as drops of blood from his face trickled down.

The wolf leaped on Tommy, but Tommy, despite the nightmarish fears clouding his mind, took the wolf by its shaggy throat with one hand and thrust him back on his haunches.

His or its?

“I remember hearing some very ugly rumors, Richard, about a girl you got in trouble.” Tommy said in a dangerous tone.


Thomas grimaced, and hesitantly stepped up on the sill. The distance to the ground seemed further than it had a moment ago. Dizzy, he clutched the lintels to either side.

Jamb? Casing?

The ink faded into view


The editor of this story is on the short form editor ballot.

Let us eschew messages in our fantasies.

“The National Health Service paid for the abortion,” said Richard with an
indifferent shrug.
“You killed your own child?” Tommy stood up too, his face white with horror.
“Child? Nonsense. It was a mere by-product of conception. It was nothing
more than a minor side effect of the rite needed to summon up certain, shall we say, priapic manifestations of the life-energy.

At first I thought this was clever. The "child" was the product of an act of sex magic. It was literally a by-product of the act. But then I re-read it and it's clearly a by-product of orgasm (like most normal acts of sex magic). It's not a by-product of conception, and indeed it would be extremely icky to have the energy of conception be used as a source of magickal energy.  Conception was unintentional. So the only explanation for Wright's phrasing I can find is that he believes "by-product of conception" is a phrase actually in use. It isn't - the medical wording is "products of conception", not because doctors are mealy-mouthed or PC, but because the aftermath of an abortion or miscarriage includes the placenta and other tissues that aren't part of a fetus. They have to check that all of the products were expelled or the woman may need treatment. Since doctors have to counsel women who dearly wanted a child, it's just not on that they'd call the results of a miscarriage a "by-product".  It's just one of those moments when you realize John C Wright lives in a different world.

Review: “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House) RP

I don't get it. Even the fox, near the end, says:

Fox said, “I hate to admit it, but I do not understand what all these things

You and me both, buddy.

Some, but not all, of the beasts and birds stand around discussing the disappearance of Man. And discussing and discussing. And discussing some more. Eventually they send Cat to the city, and she sees something there but doesn't explain what it is. She then tells them that they, the animals, have begun to speak, like men, which they hadn't noticed during their discussions. They talk about this a lot, and come to the conclusion that since it's Easter, Man will one day die for them in the same way Jesus died for Man. Some of them wonder what will happen to the other beasts that did not turn into pseudo-men. Will these new men have to die for them so they can be saved? They don't know and neither do I.

One thing Larry Correia was very firm on when he created the Sad Puppies was that he hated message fiction, and preferred a good old fashioned story. So,

And there were pleasure houses where harlots plied their trade, and houses of healing where physicians explained which venereal diseases had no cures and arranged for painless suicides, and houses of morticians where disease-raddled bodies were burnt in private, without any ceremony that might attract attention and be bad for business.

Yep, no messages here, no sirree.

It's written in a high register, but Mr. Wright doesn't seem to have had that long experience with King James, or even Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros that the rest of us grew up on. For example:

Fox turned to Wolf, “Nor you nor I shall enter the empty city, and discover the cause of this mystery, shall we? For we are in awe of Man, and have always been his foes.”

Neither, nor; not nor, nor. Has he never read Ursula K LeGuin's From Elfland to Poughkeepsie? Or Diana Wynne-Jones' Tough Guide to Fantasyland?

He also gets into muddles with bathos.

“Twilight of Man, forsooth?” said the Lion in a dangerous purr, settling himself couchant, and swatting away a fly with swish of his long tail.

King of Beasts to a flyswatter in one sentence.

Fox (who cowered, but did not flee) said softly from a safe distance, “Liege, the poopflinger has a point. After all, you cannot press your claim—just and right as it most certainly is—merely by tearing and terrifying the other animals.”

High fantasy to poop and back.

The search for new similes does not go well.

The Cat was soon found sunning herself in the dying rays of the last of the sun, on a rock that leaned like a balcony above a sheer slope.

Are balconies famous for their lean? I thought they were generally horizontal.

And this one infelicity* - is it a joke? The Cat says:

I was forced to wet myself—a humiliation my kind never loves—to cross
the running stream which ran in an endless circle about the round pagoda, and by this I achieved the island.

Get wet. Wetting yourself is something different.

*Infelicity, get it? Felix the cat? Eh?

Hound, although outweighed and overmatched by Lion in every way, stood and snarled, and the ridge of his back stood on end.

I understand the urge to not write the cliché "the hairs on his back stood on end", or "his hackles raised" and I like the "ridge of his back" thing, but if the ridge stood on end, he'd look like a carousel horse with a pole on his back.

Review: “The Plural of Helen of Troy” by John C. Wright (City Beyond Time: Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis, Castalia House) RP

Time travel detective story. Incredibly inventive but not a professional-grade story.

“Pale Realms of Shade” by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House) RP

A supernatural detective becomes a ghost. A million ideas a minute.

Sly had come across the dead body of a man who had — let’s be frank with this now — I rode him pretty hard some times. Okay, all the time. And maybe he put more money into the till than I did, and maybe I should not have been so skinflinted about spending it. Half was his, wasn’t it?


I'll give him this much - he has a heck of an imagination. His characters can't get through a paragraph before they're describing ten amazing adventures they had in the past, or will be having in the future, or are just thinking about. We get multiple tours through Ancient Egypt (and its famous "Coptic jars"), Manx fairy tales, Voodoo, Irish mythology and Narnia. Unfortunately this prolixity doesn't help and often hinders the story underneath. I was more interested in what the kids were said to have done in the past in pseudo-Narnia than what the adult was doing today, and more interested in what the supernatural detective was said to have done while he was alive than what he was now doing as a ghost (getting his sins absolved). If he would just slow down and concentrate on the story...and get his fantasy speech register right...and ixnay on the hard-boiled detective cliches...and a few other things...

Then there's the gender politics. Wright does rather more than sprinkle their gender political messages around. I felt I was being belabored about the head and shoulders with a Clue-By-Four.

Review: Letters from Gardner by Lou Antonelli (The Merry Blacksmith Press) SP (Excerpt from the Hugo voter's package)

Review: Letters from Gardner by Lou Antonelli (The Merry Blacksmith Press) SP (Excerpt from the Hugo voter's package)

The Hugo voter's packet contains about a third of this book. It's a series of short stories by Mr. Antonelli, linked by writing advice he received as feedback from magazine editors, especially Gardner Dozois, on those stories, as well as autobiographical material. He then describes what he did to rewrite or improve the story.

The stories themselves are okay – they remind me of Heinlein, or at least that type of older pulp story. Avram Davidson without the highfalutin' style, maybe. I do like this sort of story. (I've said before that my ideal SF or F story is short and has A Funny Punchline, and at least one of these does.) In the excerpt, we didn't get into any long back-and-forth arguments or discussions with Dozois, so I didn't feel as though I was getting a lot of high-end editorial writing advice. If that was the point of the book, then it's not quite getting there. If the point was to write a folksy memoir and showcase a few stories that were up for a reprint, then it certainly succeeded at that.

My To Be Read pile is already tottering, so I probably won't be buying the rest of Letters from Gardner but I did not begrudge spending the time to read the excerpt.

(If you're after a book on how genre writers write, there are three well-established ones I can recommend: Terry Brooks' Sometimes The Magic Works - Lessons From A Writing Life; Stephen King's On Writing; and Ursula K Le Guin's The Language of the Night, which includes From Elfland to Poughkeepsie, probably the best advice on writing fantasy ever. I also like The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne-Jones, though I find that's one to keep on a coffee-table, to open at random now and again and have a good chuckle.)

Thursday, May 28, 2015


A website dedicated to all the things that have never had a single play on Spotify.

So far they're better than the things that do get plays on Spotify.

I'm currently listening to this, which of course won't appear on Forgotify any more since I've listened to it. It's better than anything appearing on my current free XM Radio prescription.

Edit: Can't even blame that on autocorrect. It's subscription.

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.


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 an uncorrected OCR of 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.  Thanks, Albert Lopez. 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) SP - Included in packet.
  • “Championship B’tok” by Edward M. Lerner (Analog, Sept 2014) SPRP - 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 ( 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:

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.
  • 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:

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
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

Spring Schoenhuth's full page of 2014 art is available at

Ninni Aalto's Christmas calendar, of movie and literary characters as bunnies, is available at

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.


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