Review of Hugo Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form 2015

written by David Steffen

All of the nominees for this Hugo category this year were also nominees for the Ray Bradbury Award that goes with the Nebulas, which I reviewed over here.  At the time, Interstellar wasn’t available to rent yet, so I didn’t review that.  So, these are all repeats of that previous set of reviews, except Interstellar which I’ve watched since then.

1.  Edge of Tomorrow, Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Earth is under attack from an alien force known only as mimics, viciously deadly enemies that humans have only one battle against.  Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) works in PR for the US military and has been ordered to the frontier of the war in France.  The general in charge of the war effort orders Cage to go to the front lines to cover the war.  When Cage attempts to blackmail his way out of the mission, he is taken under arrest and dropped at the front with the claim that he had tried to go AWOL and so is quickly forced into service, given only the most passing training in the mechsuits that are standard issue, and dropped into battle with everyone else.  This area was supposed to be fairly quiet, but the battle here is intense.  Cage manages to kill one of the mimics, but dies in the act, only to wake up earlier in the day when he’d woken on the base in handcuffs after the general had him arrested. He dies again, and again, and again.  No one else has any memory of reliving the day except for Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the super-soldier nicknamed “Full Metal Bitch” after she wreaked havoc against the mimics in the only battle against the mimics that the humans have won.  She confides that she had won that battle because she had gone through the same thing he had–as long as he dies he will always restart at the same time and place.

I avoided this movie in theaters, because I haven’t really gone to any Tom Cruise movies since he kindof went publicly nuts.  But I rented this one since it was nominated.  I thought Tom Cruise was back to old form in it, and even if you don’t like it, well you get to see him die literally dozens of times.  I thought Emily Blunt was especially good in her role as Rita, powerful but still affected by the PTSD of dying over and over and seeing so many die around her over.  The looping-after-death element makes for a cool dynamic when well-plotted and when placed against large enough obstacles, which was well done here.  Good spec FX, good casting all around, solidly entertaining.

2.  Interstellar, screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, directed by Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Lynda Obst Productions, Syncopy)

Widespread crop blight has put the world’s food supply in jeopardy, and the sustainability of life on earth is in serious question.  Much of the population is focused on farming efforts, pushing back against the inevitable as the Midwest turns back into a dust bowl.  Cooper (Matthew McConaghey) is a widowed farmer living with his father-in-law, son, and daughter.  His daughter Murphy believes she has a poltergeist in her room that knocks her books from her shelf, and though Cooper doesn’t believe in ghosts, he encourages her to measure and record the things she sees.  They find that there are binary coordinates coded into waves of gravity–they follow those coordinates and find a top secret research facility led by Dr. John Brand (Michael Caine).  A wormhole has opened up near Saturn that opens to an unknown location in another galaxy, and they have been working in secret to colonize any inhabitable planets they may find on the other end of the wormhole.  Some people have already been sent through to scout, and some information has been relayed which suggests some of the planets might be inhabitable.  They recruit Cooper to pilot the mission.  He reluctantly agrees, for the sake of saving his family, even though he will miss his children growing up while he is gone.  He goes on the mission with two others, Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) and two other scientists, as well as two repurposed military robots, TARS and CASE.  While Cooper and the others continue on their mission, Dr. Brand and the other scientists on Earth try to solve the remaining problems necessary for the colonization effort to be successful if Cooper and the others can find a habitable planet.

I was skeptical of Matthew McConaghey, because I haven’t seen him in a lot of things that I thought he was particularly good in, but this was probably the best acting I’ve seen from him–I thought he was very convincing.  The casting all around was very good, no complaints there.  I thought as the movie progressed that the convenient reveal of the wormhole was kind of a deus ex machina in terms of this universe, not in terms of the movie, since it appears early in the movie.  It’s clear that the people in the movie in general are of no better preparation for the end of humanity than we are in our world, but in their world a convenient solution shows up right when it’s needed.  This ends up making some sense later on, but it kind of had me skeptical as well.

The robots were kind of weird.  I like robots, don’t get me wrong, but they were rectangular prisms that usually seemed to be too awkward to be threatening military units, though they did show their mobility and abilities better later in the movie.  I was often distracted by the weird design, though, when I was supposed to be paying attention to other things.

There are a lot of good, convincing special effects, tense moments, a lot of good emotional tension with family’s split by the tension and especially with Cooper fighting so hard to succeed at his mission–even if he can never see his family again he is fighting for their survival.  This is a major theme in the movie, used to good effect, the discussion of of how family love like that, while we generally think of it as positive, can make you consider only your personal relationships over the fate of humanity, choosing personal connections over the survival of the species.

3.  The Lego Movie, Screenplay by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller  (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Emmett Brickowski is just a regular guy, pretty much the poster child for averageness in a world of Legos.  He does everything exactly the way he’s supposed to do, but no one pays much attention to him.  He meets a strange woman name WyldStyle who tells him he is the subject of a prophecy, the most interesting person in the world and the one who will save everyone from President Business who rules over all of Brickburg.  WyldStyle is a master builder, a rare class of lego person who can take random Lego parts and turn them into a variety of imaginative things.  She is part of an organized rebellion of master builders, and Emmett joins them in their fight.

I enjoyed this story thoroughly from beginning to end.  The voice acting is great all around (particularly that of Chris Pratt as Emmett, Nick Offerson as Metal Beard, Will Arnett as Batman, and Liam Neeson as Good Cop/Bad Cop).  Lots of fun, weird imagination, and as they see out of the worlds they travel and into the real world there’s actually a relatable real life story tied into it.  Great stuff all around.

 4.  Guardians of the Galaxy, Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

I hadn’t heard of this Marvel franchise until this movie came out, one of the more obscure ones.  In 1988 a young Peter Quill is abducted by aliens by a band of space pirates and is raised as one of them.  In the present day he has his own ship and has grown up to be a bounty hunter (Starlord by name), taking whatever odd jobs he can find for money.  After taking what seems to be a pretty straightforward job to find and deliver an orb, he’s suddenly the focus of attention from the assassin Gamora as well as the bounty hunters Groot (a tree person) and Rocket (a one-of-a-kind genetically modified raccoon) who are all after the orb.  In the scuffle for the orb, they are all arrested and locked in a prison. Gamora tells them of her adoptive father Thanos who wants the orb for nefarious plans. They decide their only chance of escape is to work together, with help from another prisoner Drax the Destroyer, and stop Thanos.

Solidly fun, another Chris Pratt work, probably my favorite role that I have seen him in.  Great casting all around, with Bradley Cooper memorably voicing Rocket.  Action-packed, solidly fun popcorn movie.  Lots of memorable lines, memorable fights, really no complaints all around. 

5.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Two years after the Battle of New York (depicted in The Avengers), Captain Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) is working for Nick Fury at SHIELD, and trying to adjust to modern society.  SHIELD is on the brink of completing one of its most ambitious projects, a set of three helicarriers that fly in low orbit and link to a network of spy satellites that are meant to find and kill threats to society all over the globe.  Not long before the project comes to fruition, Nick Fury is hit with a large scale and no-holds-barred attack led by a mysterious assassin known only as the Winter Soldier.  Despite all of Fury’s security measures, he barely escapes with his life to warn Rogers that SHIELD is compromised.  Rogers works together with Natalia Romanoff aka the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to get to the bottom of it.

This was one of my least favorite Marvel movies in the recent years of the franchise, which almost always produces movies I enjoy.  There was certainly a lot going on, but the movie was quite long and it seemed like the fight scenes were drawn out way way too long, as if the director thought the movie needed to be padded.  Neither the fight scenes nor the non-fight scenes did a lot to hold my attention.  It might just be because I’m more interested in the superheroes with more fun powers instead of just the shield.  For me the highlight of the movie was the platonic friendship between Rogers and Romanoff–a fun dynamic there.

Almost-Hugo Review: Dog’s Body by Sarah A. Hoyt

written by David Steffen

“Almost-Hugo Review”? What’s that? If you’re not familiar with the minutiae of the Hugo rules, there’s an odd rule that makes no sense to me. When tallying up the nominations, ordinarily the top five counts for a particular category end up on the final ballot. Except if a story has less than 5% of the total vote. What’s the purpose of that? I don’t know. The percentages for individual stories are going to tend to be lower if there are more voters and if there are more stories that people felt moved by. More voters is good–this year there were almost twice the previous record of voters for a variety of reasons. More stories moving people is good. So… why does that mean we get less Hugo nominees? No sense whatsoever.

Anyway, after the Hugo award are given out they publish more voting numbers, including the stories that were close to being nominated but not quite, and so with that data, we can find out who only missed nomination by that pointless 5% rule. This year, there were only four nominees on the final ballot due to that rule. The story that got bumped off the bottom was “Dog’s Body” by Sarah A. Hoyt which you can read for free online–(really, 4.4% of the votes somehow makes this get bumped off the ballot when the 5.0% was the winning story?). So, since Sarah’s story got bumped off the ballot on that stupid rule, I figured the least I could do would be to give her story a review like the rest.

The protagonist of “Dog’s Body” is a cryptojournalist who goes to locations that have reported sightings of Big Foot or other such modern day mythical creatures. He’s never found anything on these trips, and he has no reason to think that he’ll find anything real on this trip to Goldport, Colorado. This is a strange one, though, in that there hasn’t been just one sighting reported, but a whole bunch of them from dragons to room-sized cockroaches to squirrels wearing berets, and the photos of the creatures don’t have the defects typical of Photoshopped images. While he’s driving through the area, he sees a dog being chased by an angry mob, and he rescues the dog from its aggressors. The dog turns out to be a teenage girl shapeshifter who has been held captive by con artists who use her as part of their schemes. Our protagonist chooses to help her get out of the trouble she’s in.

I thought the idea of the story was very interesting and there was a lot of potential in the setup, but I thought the story as a whole was slow paced and ended up feeling pretty dull and unengaging. It’s quite a ways into the story with the protagonist rambling about his past cryptid searches (which I didn’t care in the slightest about) before the rescue of the dog happens. It got more interesting at that point, but there’s quite a bit more story before anything more than vague and nebulous threats actually impinge upon the narrative. In the end, I didn’t think the story was bad. It was a serviceable adventure narrative, but not one that really impressed me with any imagination nor with any real emotional engagement. On the bright side, it had a clear speculative element, unlike “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” and “Selkie Stories are For Losers”, and it had an actual narrative instead of a collection of random stuff, unlike “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket”. This was probably my 2nd choice of the 5, but not good enough for me to have voted for it on the final ballot.

Hugo Novel Review (Partial): Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross

written by David Steffen

Neptune'sBroodThis is the first year that I’ve actually managed to read all of the nominees in the Hugo novel category, at least a portion of each. Charles Stross’s Neptune’s Brood is the last of the batch, and I only got my hands on it mid-July when I borrowed it from a friend–the publishers decided not to put it in the Hugo packet, and neither Stross nor Penguin were interested in providing a review copy so I had been intending to just skip the book until the opportunity to borrow it came up. I haven’t finished reading the whole book yet. I’m at about page 150 of 340. But the Hugo deadline is tomorrow and this is the last posting slot I have before the deadline, so if I want to share my review before the deadline it’s got to be a partial. You can consider this part 1 of the review; I’ll write up the rest when I’ve finished the book.

Neptune’s Brood takes place in the universe of Stross’s book Saturn’s Children, but can easily be read as a standalone. I’ve not read Saturn’s Children, but from what I gather, Neptune’s Brood is not a sequel and the time lapsed between the two is so long that there aren’t any narrative lines from one to the other in any case. If you like one, I’d guess you’d like the other, but they can be enjoyed independently.

In the universe of Neptune’s Brood, human life as we would recognize it (known in that time and place as “Fragile”) has gone extinct more than once, only to be revived. That kind of body is just generally not suitable for the rigors of space travel, the radiation and longevity problems inherent in the medium. A person’s mind is backed up on soul chips, electronic wafers that contain the essence of their mind. Without a brain a soul chip is just an inert data card, but any body is eminently replaceable. A new body can be grown for a soul chip, and the soul-chip will then decompress the mind it stores into the body. Humanity as it exists is spread across a large number of interstellar colonies. Colonization is far from easy; it is both extremely expensive and prone to failure, and also a very very slow process. Once a colony has been established, a communications beacon can be established and can import the minds of colonists that can be printed on soul chips and grown new bodies, so it is only the first colonists who have to travel by starship. Stross has clearly put a lot of thought and planning into the economy and technology that supports the spread of humanity through the stars. The explanations of them are very interesting, and I expect they would be even more so to someone whose academic focused centered around economics or space travel. And in particular, the problem of how to deal with interstellar economics without dodging around the problem of communications limited by lightspeed. There are no ansibles or wormholes or anything like that to work around the problems. It deals with them with the limitations as we understand them now. From my point of view, at least, it all seems very plausible.

Krina Alizond-114 is a historian of accountancy practices on a lengthy academic pilgrimage who learns that her sister Ana has disappeared from where she had been living on the water-world of Shin-Tethys, so Krina sets out to Shin-Tethys to find her. Eager to book the fastest passage possible on short notice, she takes a job doing unskilled labor for a Church of the Fragile. The Church is literally built in the shape of a church building as it would exist on a planetary surface, an ungainly and unfunctional shape for a starcraft to be sure. On the previous journey, a deadly accident killed several members of the crew, and several more deserted upon landing, so the Deacon is looking for help to keep the ship functional until new bodies can be grown for the dead crew members. Krina can tell early on that something fishy is going on with the crew, but soon she has to deal with the inhuman assassin stowaway intent on killing her, as well as on the insurance-underwriting pirates that capture the Church vessel and demand that Krina tell them how to find Ana so that the pirates don’t bankrupt themselves paying for Ana’s life insurance policy.

The worldbuilding of Neptune’s brood is dense. There’s a lot of meat there. Interesting stuff, and he’s taken it all into account with the history and plotting in the book. But it does take some heavy chewing to get through it all. I think that this is a large part of why I didn’t feel that the plot had much tension before about page 70. Up until that point I was considering whether I wanted to keep reading, and I could’ve gone either way, but was interested in the worldbuilding as it was rolling out so decided to keep going. I’m glad that I did because at about page 70 all the tension hits from about three directions at once and is still keeping me interested at page 140. So, if you’re like me and you really want some action, some plot to keep you going, just stick through the beginning stretch and there’s plenty of action after that to get you going. Just stick with it. It’s worth it.

Beyond that, I haven’t made it far enough in the book to say I’d recommend it for sure, but between the very interesting and complex worldbuilding and the action and plot that are now in full swing, I’m sure that enough of my interest has been captured that I will read to the end of the book. I think the odds are pretty good I’ll recommend the book as a whole–it’s a rare book that loses me once I’m halfway through, mostly just if the ending is so terrible that it ruins what came before it in retrospect. Once I finish the book (probably in a few weeks), I’ll report back on what I thought of the rest of it.

 

My Hugo Ballot 2014

The voting deadline for the Hugo Awards is tomorrow, July 31st, and I’ve read as much of the Hugo content as I’m going to have time for. So, the time has come for me to cast my ballot and put awards aside until next year. As I’ve done the last couple years, I’ve publicly shared what my ballot is going to look like, as kind of a final section of my Hugo review that is kind of an overarching look at what I thought of the categories. I didn’t read work in all the categories, so I’ve abstained from voting in those that I had no familiarity with and left them off the ballot.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with how the voting system works, it used an instant runoff scheme which allows you to rank all of your choices. First, they count everyone’s first choice. If no one gets more than half the votes, then the lowest ranked one in that scheme is eliminated, and anyone who chose that one as their first choice then has their 2nd choice tallied instead. And so on until there is a clear winner. It is possible to vote for “No Award” which you do if you would rather no one win at all than for the remaining ones to win, and in the end if too many ranked No Award above the eventual vote-winner, then no award is given.

 

Best Novel

  1. The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books / Orbit UK) (I reviewed it here)
  2. Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK) (I reviewed it here)
  3. Neptune’s Brood, Charles Stross (Ace / Orbit UK) (will post review on July 30)
  4. Parasite, Mira Grant (Orbit US/Orbit UK) (I reviewed it here)
  5. No Award

I also reviewed Larry Correia’s Warbound here but ranked it below No Award. I didn’t get a copy of Neptune’s Brood until quite late in the game. I won’t finish it before the deadline but I’ve read far enough to get an overall impression to rank it here. I originally planned to post this ballot on July 30, but decided to post my partial review of Neptune’s Brood on that day to give me a couple more days of reading.

 

Best Novella

  1. “Equoid”, Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)
  2. “The Chaplain’s Legacy”, Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)
  3. No Award

I reviewed this year’s Novella category here for more details.

 

Best Novelette

  1. “The Waiting Stars”, Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam)
  2. “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”, Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2013)
  3. “The Lady Astronaut of Mars”, Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com/Tor.com, 09-2013)
  4. No Award

I reviewed this year’s nominees here for more details.

 

Best Short Story

  1. “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”, John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)
  2. No Award

I reviewed this year’s nominees here for more details.

 

Best Related Work

  1. “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative”, Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)

 

Best Graphic Story

  1. The Meathouse Man, adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Raya Golden (Jet City Comics)
  2. Girl Genius, Volume 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City, written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
  3. No Award

I reviewed this year’s nominees here for more details.

 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  1. Iron Man 3, screenplay by Drew Pearce & Shane Black, directed by Shane Black (Marvel Studios; DMG Entertainment; Paramount Pictures)
  2. Gravity, written by Alfonso CuarÃ’ n & JonÃ’ s CuarÃ’ n, directed by Alfonso CuarÃ’ n (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films; Warner Bros.)
  3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, screenplay by Simon Beaufoy & Michael Arndt, directed by Francis Lawrence (Color Force; Lionsgate)
  4. Frozen,screenplay by Jennifer Lee, directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee (Walt Disney Studios)
  5. Pacific Rim, screenplay by Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro, directed by Guillermo del Toro (Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros., Disney Double Dare You)

I reviewed this year’s nominees here for more details.

 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  1. Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere”, written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  2. No Award

Game of Thrones is awesome, and that was one of the best episodes in the series so far. I haven’t seen the rest of the category, but I am tired of episodes of Dr. Who dominating the ballot. There ARE other worthwhile things being published in SF, people. I’d rather Dr. Who would not be on the ballot or win anymore, so I’m voting accordingly. I haven’t seen Orphan Black, don’t know anything about it–so I don’t want to vote for it with no knowledge, but to vote No Award above Dr. Who episodes there’s nothing to do but lump Orphan Black in with them.

 

Best Editor, Short Form

  1. John Joseph Adams
  2. Neil Clarke
  3. Sheila Williams

 

Best Professional Artist

  1. Dan Dos Santos
  2. Julie Dillon
  3. John Picacio
  4. John Harris
  5. Galen Dara

I based these entirely on the portfolio included in the Hugo packet. Though I do have a soft spot for Dos Santos–I have an autographed print of his portrait of Moiraine Damodred hanging in my office at home. They’re all good but I tend to like the styles that make the people seem very real, and convince me that everything unrealistic is just as real.

 

Best Semiprozine

  1. Lightspeed Magazine
  2. Beneath Ceaseless Skies

 

Best Fanzine

  1. Dribble of Ink

 

Best Fancast

  1. No Award

It’s not that I hate the nominees. It’s just that, with all the amazing fiction podcasts out there, I find it extremely disappointing that only nonfiction podcasts are on the ballot, and that the only fiction podcast that’s ever been on the ballot had to heavily pander to get there. If fiction podcasts aren’t going to be recognized in this category, then I hope this trial category is short-lived.

 

Best Fan Writer

  1. Kameron Hurley

 

Best Fan Artist

  1. Sarah Webb

I based these entirely on the portfolio included in the Hugo packet, which only included work from three of the five nominees for some reason.

 

Hugo Novel Review: Warbound by Larry Correia

Warbound is the third book in Larry Correia’s Grimnoir Chronicles, preceded by Hard Magic and Spellbound. It takes place in a fantasy alternate-history 1930s. The branch in history took place in the 1850s when a magical force called The Power chose some subset of humanity to draw on its magical resources and become superpowered to give them the power to fight against the monstrous Pathfinder that eats magic and twists that magic to its own devices. And the Pathfinder itself is only an advance scout of its even more powerful master.

Enough people have been chosen by the Power that their abilities have become well known and part of national military forces, mostly used for international conflicts. Not many believe in the Pathfinders and even fewer believe that there is an even more dire threat waiting to attack the earth. But one organization, the Grimnoir, stands vigil. And now they’re going on the offensive.

Since this is book three in a series I started with the assumption that I’d be lost a goodly portion of the time. I admit I was interested in the challenge–I did that quite a few times in high school when I could only get books from a very limited school library that had a few fantasy books but often not all the ones in a series so I had to learn to hit the ground running and pick things up as I went.

In Warbound I had no difficulty with figuring out the setting, the characters, or the situation. In fact, even with this as my first introduction to the setting I thought some of the reveal of that setting was rather belabored. The action would regularly stop for a half a page or a page while I get an infodump detailed enough to be out of place in most any character POV. I read one-fourth of the way through the book, figuring that was more than charitable if I hadn’t been drawn in yet by that point, and it seemed like that section of the book at least was significantly bulkier than it really needed to be.

That first section of the book mostly follows Jake Sullivan, leader of the attack against the Pathfinder’s master, recruiting and organizing his attack force from Grimnoir volunteers and other sources. Which is all well and good, but that section just went on way too long and with not much to hold my interest.

Several of the sections followed Faye, an Active (the name for the superpowered folk) who has been given the gift/curse of the Spellbound so that she takes the magical power of any person she kills. As her sections unroll she finds a reluctant mentor who may help her understand and control this attribute. But again, I found these sections lacking in much to hold my interest. Maybe that section was hurt particularly by my lack of background in the series, maybe there was something in her history that would’ve made me about her.

The prologue of the book was certainly action-packed, and that part was by far the most interesting followed by these slower sections. I wouldn’t say I was hooked by these parts to be sure I was going to read a whole book, but I also wasn’t focusing on when I’d let myself set the book aside.

I suggest skipping this book. Maybe some Warbound fans can chime in on why the rest of the book is great, but that first quarter of it just wasn’t enough to make me want to keep on spending my time on it. It was heavy on infodumps, light on action and character building, and overall just didn’t make me want to keep turning the pages.