Interview: Betsy Wollheim

625529_576885235658092_918951020_nBetsy Wollheim has an advantage unique in speculative fiction book publishing. She is owner, editor, and publisher of DAW and it is a private company. She recently won her first Hugo for Best Editor. She tells Diabolical Plots what she wants and doesn’t want from authors.

 

CARL SLAUGHTER: DAW has been described as a place to pursue a career, not just to get published. What happens at DAW that makes authors want to call it their home?

BETSY WOLLHEIM: DAW is a family business, we don’t publish by committee, and we consider our authors part of our publishing family. As a small company, we can’t compete in the “who will pay me the highest advance this time around” game. Not to say that we can’t or don’t pay large, competitive advances, we do, but they tend to be to authors who are loyal to our company. Sheila and I work too hard and care too much to publish authors who change publishing houses with each book or series. We want to know that our work will pay off in years to come for both the company and our authors. We’re in it for the long run and we want our authors to be also.

 

CS: You’ve described Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name on the Wind as the most brilliant first fantasy novel you’ve seen in 30 years. What is it about The Name on the Wind that distinguishes it from other first time fantasy novels?

BW: Prefer not to answer this question, if you don’t mind. After 40 years, you just know when you find something that is extraordinary.

 

CS: Are there any subgenres you are specifically looking for, any you definitely don’t accept, any you like but get too much of, any you like but don’t get enough of?

BW: I look for gripping writing, not specific subgenres. For me, it’s about the quality of writing.

 

CS: How many novel manuscripts submissions do you receive per year? How many of those submitted manuscripts do you buy? How many novels a year do you publish by first time novelists?

BW: Many, many, many submissions–electronic and paper. I don’t count them for sanity reasons. I *hope* to find many new novelists. I’m always happy when I find someone new–the more new good writers the better, I would publish a new author every month if I found one worthy. Most submissions have sub-par, not professional level writing, unfortunately.

 

CS: Do you read every manuscript or use slush readers?

BW: My staff pre-sifts the slush–I have far too much work, and unfortunately no clone.

 

CS: Are you hands on with revision? How extensive and how long is the revision process?

BW: How extensive depends on the novel and the author. Rewrites can take years, or not be needed at all and everything in between. Yes, I’m hands on.

 

CS: How far are you willing to go with a diamond in the rough, whether that diamond be the author or the story?

BW: As far as I need to. When I find a diamond in the rough, I will do whatever it takes if I feel that someone has the potential. I put Pat Rothfuss in the #1 New York Times slot with his second published novel.

 

CS: Do you meet with would-be novelists at conventions? How do you prefer to be approached? Verbal pitch, written pitch, sample chapters, full manuscript? Do you quiz the author about the story? Give them a yes or no answer on the spot or get back with them?

BW: I’ve always thought that “pitches” belong in Hollywood. To publish a novel, the editor has to have the entire thing. If a person has talent and willingness, any problematic aspect can be changed, but if a person can’t maintain for the length of a novel, he or she is not a novelist. Anyone can come up with a pitch. Show me the entire book. Anything else is useless. No, I would never meet with a “would-be” novelist. If you haven’t actually completed a full length work, you have no right to call yourself a novelist! The only “pitches” I consider are from my already published authors–they can sell me a book or a series with one sentence!

 

CS: What are the most frequent questions you receive from writers at conventions/workshops?

BW: What are you looking for? To which I respond: “professional quality writing.”

 

CS: Advice to aspiring writers?

BW: Join a writer’s group. Don’t be defensive about criticism. Don’t try to write like someone else. Write from inside you.

 

Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

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 (Part 2): Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross

written by David Steffen

Neptune'sBrood

This is a continuation of the partial review of Neptune’s Brood I posted in July. As I said in that review, the book took a while to hook me on the plot, but got me early with the interesting worldbuilding involving posthuman android bodies with transmittable, transferrable minds. The protagonist, Krina-Alizond-114 is a historian of accountacy practices, specializing in the history of FTL scams. FTL travel has never been invented in this universe, but neither has anyone proven that it’s impossible, so every once in a while someone claims to have found the secret and seeks to collect tons of money from fraud. As the book starts, Krina is en route to the water planet Shin-Tethys to find out what happened to her missing sister.

Overall, I liked the book for similar reasons as I mentioned in the initial review–really interesting worldbuilding, particularly around the speculation of a plausible financial system that would work in an intergalactic civilization that operates by the physical laws as we understand them, particularly the speed of light limit on communication. And once the action finally starts, it keeps up that pace pretty steadily.

But there were some things that bugged me, to an extent that I wouldn’t recommend the book without caveat.

1. The backstory of what reasons really underlie Krina’s trip to Shin-Tethys are given in trickles at intervals throughout the book. I thought much of this information came too late, so that by the time it came, I had to re-evaluate significant portions of what the character had revealed before.

2. Very near the end there’s a big reveal that, although the reasons behind it are revealed, comes out of the blue as completely absurd in its magnitude. I had trouble swallowing that one.

3. The ending was very unsatisfying. Deus ex machina. Much too easy after the rest of the book is full of nearly insurmountable challenges. It seemed like the challenges had stacked up and up to such a degree that Stross wrote himself into a corner and had to just cheat his way around the ending.

Overall, the book had a lot of really great parts, and has a lot to recommend it. In the end I didn’t feel that it really stuck the landing.

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 Graphic Story Review 2014

written by David Steffen

And here’s the graphic story section of my Hugo review. This is one I look forward to every year because it’s kind of a wild card. I never know what to expect out of this because I don’t really follow graphic stories at all. Last year I got to read Schlock Mercenary for the first time. This time I get to read Girl Genius for the first time.

Note that there was one story that I didn’t read and review because for whatever reason it wasn’t included in the Hugo packet: That was Saga Volume 2. I reviewed Saga Volume 1 last year which you can read here.

 

1. The Meathouse Man, adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Raya Golden (Jet City Comics)
This story follows a hopeful young man in a bleak future. The least desirable jobs on the least desirable planets are done by “corpse” workers, the bodies of debtors and criminals whose brains have been replaced with remote control implants. The protagonist is a handler whose job is to control a crew of corpses for mining work. He tags along with his fellow miners to the local meathouse a house of prostitutes where the talent are more corpse workers. But he’s not like the other guys. He doesn’t just want to have sex with dead meat. He wants love.

This story is bleak as hell, both in the setting (though of course the characters are used to that) and in the themes and conclusion the character draws from his experiences. I don’t buy into the message the character tries to convey in the story, but for me to enjoy it I don’t have to buy into it I just have to believe that he could have that message.

 

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)
Agatha Heterodyne is the last of a mythically heroic bloodline and is also a spark (a trait that makes her a genius, it’s basically a mad scientist gene). The Wulfenbach Empire that controls Europa is after her for both of these reasons and will stop at nothing to get her. After many adventures in the previous issues, she has made her way to her ancestral home in Mechanicsburg and has convinced the town and the intelligent Castle itself of her identity. But while she’s done this, a number of other sparks have gathered their own tiny but dangerous armies, and the Wulfenbach Empire itself is poised to attack. She has to figure out how to fully activate Castle’s defenses to defend herself and her town.

Not too surprisingly, there was a lot of this story I didn’t follow. There was a nice summary page at the beginning that summed up much of what I paraphrased in my own summary, which was immensely helpful. There were a lot of character relationships I didn’t really follow–was never really sure if particular people were essentially good guys or essentially bad guys. There were also a lot of other things that raised more qeustions than answers. What’s with the talking cat courtier? What are the jagers, why do they have viciously pointed teeth and all talk with barely understandable exaggerated accents? That’s not really a flaw in the story itself, since volume thirteen is the first one I’ve ever read. So I’m not going to hold that against it, although it did make it hard to get really really into it fully.

Still, it seemed like it had good characters, some good humor, and lots of very clever ideas–the idea of a mad scientist as a protagonist and pinning them against a world where their mad scientist skills have to be pushed to their limits just to survive. Great idea and I think that if I had kept up with this one in the past this could be a really solid entry in the series. Really, considering I’m jumping in way late in the series, I couldn’t expect more.

 

3. “Time”, Randall Munroe (XKCD)
The sea is rising. Two friends from a clan of people who make their living scavenging trash from the leavings of a bigger society explore inland to see what they can see.

This story was rolled out as frames released periodically, numbering at about 3000 in total. If you follow the link i provided with the list entry, you can see one place where they’re all collected together in an easy to use format. You can either set the animation to play automatically where it will pause longer on special frames (like ones with dialog). Or you can go through yourself, including using the mouse wheel to go through them at your own pace (which is what I did).

I love XKCD. I thought the premise of the story was really solid and enjoyed it especially as the tension ramped up in the last sections of the story. But I thought the pacing could use a lot of work. The first section was about building a bunch of sand castles. Which was cute, but not exactly tense. There was some foreshadowing there as they notice the sea level is rising but I really wanted that to ramp up the tension. Their trip inland was likewise just kind of on their whim, just to see what they could find, not exactly tense though there was certainly an element of danger in exploring the unknown. I thought the story really picked up when they finally meet someone who can make some explanations, and I thought the method for showing the language barrier was a clever one (the text of the dialog is all smudged and overwritten with other words so that you’re lucky if you can make out the gist).

So, I thought it was all pretty decent, and was tense in the end, but could’ve used some more work on the pacing.

 

4. “The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who”, written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Jimmy Broxton (Doctor Who Special 2013, IDW)
The Tardis takes a wrong turn and Dr. Who ends up in our world and meets a girl who is a huge Dr. Who fan. He attends a Dr. Who convention and has to find a way to get back home, all while helping the girl.

Judging by the Hugo vote every year, I’m the only SF fan left who isn’t also a Dr. Who fan. I’ve seen clips but not a whole episode, so I can’t say I dislike it but so far I haven’t felt moved to seek it out either, and I do find it a little annoying when the show dominates the Hugo Dramatic Presentation Short Form every year.

So I’m clearly not the intended audience for this story. I read it through, gave it a shot. It was clearly meant to be campy, but if you don’t reside in that camp it doesn’t have much appeal, yeah? It probably isn’t the best choice of the first full installment of Dr. Who media to consume since it is so self-referential and I obviously don’t get all the references. But it doesn’t move me to want to find more.

Review: Hugo Short Story Nominees

written by David Steffen

And here it is my favorite category of my favorite SF award, the Hugo Award for Short Story. Another smaller batch this year because the Hugo rules require the nominees to have a minimum of 5% of the total nomination ballot. On the one hand, it’s great that there are so many great short stories being published every year that the nominating vote is spread that thin. On the other hand, I want more stories and it’s disappointing to have less stories to read just because there are more great stories out there this year than ever based on an arbitrary percentage threshold.

Neil Clarke, editor of Clarkesworld, has posted an editorial suggesting that the rule be changed to encourage more short stories to end up on the ballot in the face of increasing Hugo voters. Personally, I would love to see that rule changed. My preference would be to allow the top 5 and count any ties for 5th place as nominees. A too-large ballot can be detrimental if you’re using a simple voting scheme where each voter picks only one story–two stories by one author will self-compete and if people’s first and second choices are very close in their mind there would be no way for them to support both. But the Hugo Awards use an instant runoff scheme where you can rank all the stories in the order that you like them, so if your favorite gets eliminated your vote will still support your second favorite, and so on.

The rules can change if people get involved and raise their voice about what they want. A few years ago, Neil Clarke was a major voice in saving the SemiProZine category by helping people understand the value in the award, and this can be the same.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s go on to the stories!

 

1. “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”, John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)
A few years ago, the world inexplicably changed so that any lie you utter would be met with a downpour of cold water that falls from nowhere combined with a feeling of angst, both proportional to the audacity of your lie. These effects can only be counteracted by saying something unequivocal. You can avoid saying the truth and you can mislead as long as you don’t utter something that can’t be untrue. The protagonist Matt is gay and has managed to avoid coming out to his traditional-minded Chinese parents for years. Now Matt and his boyfriend Gus have decided they want to get married, and Matt needs to break the news to his parents, over his sister’s objections.

At first I thought the speculative element of the water was more than a bit corny. But the story doesn’t make a joke of this concept and runs with it. As with the best speculative fiction, it’s not about the speculative element. It’s about how that element allows us to look at the real world through the lens of the speculative. This story did an excellent job of that. It’s a great story, well told, and I highly recommend it. Easy choice in this category.

 

2. “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com, 04-2013)
People send their dreams and wishes floating down the Mae Ping River with the hope that those dreams will be captured, read and come true. It is a surprise what some wish for and why. One can never know what’s inside someone’s heart,what they really truly want, and those dreams sometimes reveal our true selves.”

This is the introduction before the story starts, and the story is exactly what is described by those few sentences. The story starts by explaining the wishes of a bunch of people that are cast into the river, and then as the story plays out it’s shown how those wishes are granted, not always in a straightforward fashion. Young Tangmoo dies in the opening paragraphs, drowned in that same river, and the story rolls back to reveal his wish and the wishes of others.

This was an interesting thought experiment about how one must be careful what one wishes for, but to me it never really extended beyond a thought experiment. Some of the turns of phrase were interesting and strange and definitely lent something to the story. But in the end I just was never really connected with it, and the concept itself was also not something new to me. Not bad by any means, but easily forgettable.

 

3. If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love”, Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine, Mar-2013)
This story starts out with the whimsical hypothetical in the title, as spoken by a woman to a friend she loves dearly, and continues on to give real life reasons why she is pondering this whimsy.

The characters read as real once the story got to the story, but I found all the hypotheticals more irritating than entertaining or illuminating. If A, then B. If B, then C. If C, then D. A story this short shouldn’t feel too long, but to me it did. Eventually the story gets to the actual story behind the hypotheticals, but by that time I was just impatient for it to be over.

 

4. Selkie Stories Are for Losers”, Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)
A girl’s mother leaves her family behind. The girl thinks the circumstances imply that her mother is a selkie (a mythical shapeshifting creature that could turn into a seal by pulling on her sealskin, but would be trapped in human form if that skin was stolen).

Most of the body of the story is the girl criticizing the tropes of selkie stories, which I wasn’t very interested in, partly because I haven’t seen enough selkie stories to really say whether her tropes are actually accurate or not. While some of the circumstances of her mother leaving match a selkie story, I didn’t see any really strong evidence that that was the case, so it just seemed to be a story about a neurotic fixation caused by family trauma. The family trauma, perhaps I should’ve felt moved by, but it happened before the story started, and rather than confront the real situation she spends all of her time obsessing about selkie stories.

Not my thing, I guess.

Interview: Ken Liu

interview by Carl Slaughter
introduction by David Steffen

ken_liu_small

If you’ve kept up with science fiction publications in the last few years, you’ve probably at least heard the name Ken Liu. Dozens of his stories have been published just in the last couple of years in the biggest and best SF publications out there today, including F&SF, Analog, Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction… The list goes on and on. He won the Hugo for “Mono No Aware” this year. He won the Hugo and the Nebula for “The Paper Menagerie” last year, one of my personal favorite stories I’ve read in years. I just read a fun story by him on the Drabblecast titled “The Call of the Pancake Factory”, about a representative of a certain supercorporation amusement park happening to cross paths with a cult of Cthulhu–great story. He’s on a roll, and showing no signs of stopping. He’s a great writer and you should check out his work if you ever get a chance to read it.

 

You’ve been getting an awful lot of stories published the last few years. Did you build up an archive or have you just been a really busy guy lately?

For the longest time, I wrote very slowly, and so there never really was much “inventory.” But I’ve been writing at a somewhat steady, faster pace for the last four years. The more I write, the more ideas I seem to have. So that has worked out well.

 

How do you maintain quality and quantity? Natural talent, hard work, long hours, disciplined lifestyle, or some combination?

I think over time, I’ve learned to do a better job of picking out which story ideas seem cool but won’t work, which ones are good for flash pieces, and which ones are good for longer development. That has helped to reduce the number of stories I have to trunk.

I’ve also learned to work better under deadline. Knowing how long it takes me to finish a story and polish it to the point where I’m satisfied with it builds confidence, and that makes it easier to take up new projects and plan them into my schedule.

 

What’s your day job? How do you find time for family, the office, and the keyboard?

I used to be a programmer, became a corporate attorney, and now I work as a litigation consultant for high-tech patent cases, which sort of combines my areas of expertise. It’s very interesting, stimulating work, and probably helps with giving me story ideas.

I have two young children at home, ages 3 and 1. As anyone with young children knows, they severely constrain your writing time. I’ve learned to be better about time management and use the little writing time I do have more efficiently. For example, I try to do some drafting on my commuter rail ride every day.

I can’t say I’ve got it figured out. My novel revisions are going much more slowly than I’d like, partly due to the lack of uninterrupted writing time. But plenty of writers have figured out such a balance before, I just need to keep on working on my process and improve it.

 

Some author’s sell to the same two or three markets or half a dozen markets. You’ve been selling to every market under the sun. What’s the explanation? Diverse material? Looks better on your resume? Just like to shop around?

I enjoy working with different editors. Every editor has taught me something new. And I do write a wide variety of stories, so some stories might be a better fit with F&SF while others might work better at Analog. Not every editor likes everything I write.

I also like being exposed to new readers through new markets, so being published in multiple markets has worked out well for me.

 

You’ve been winning and being nominated for a lot of awards. Mike Resnick said about awards, “When you walk out of the convention, nobody on the street knows who you are.” This in contrast to, for example, the Oscar. How has winning famous awards affected you personally? How has it affected your career? More sales? More fan mail? Invitations to speak at conventions? Requests for interviews?

I can’t say it has affected my personal life significantly — I did get a lot of congratulations from my friends and co-workers, which made me very happy. I think the stories that were nominated got more readers, and of course I’m happy about that.

Career wise, since I don’t have a novel, I can’t point to any concrete sales boost from the awards. I do think some of the translation deals I’ve gotten were due to the awards — if nothing else, they help with name recognition, especially overseas.

Unless people ask about the awards though, I just don’t think about them much. I’m very grateful to have been nominated and to have won some of them, but what keeps me writing isn’t the desire for awards, but to write stories that I want to read myself.

 

You’ve been concentrating on short stories. What does the novel horizon look like?

I’m working on a novel, an epic fantasy of sorts, set in a secondary world created by my wife and me together. The setting is an archipelago, and there are magical creatures, gods, and lots of fanciful machines based on ancient Chinese mechanical engineering. The plot is loosely adapted from the historical legends about the founding of the Han Dynasty, and some of the cultural aspects are derived from classical East Asian elements.

The first draft is done, but there’s a lot of rewriting left still.

 

What about the screen market? Any queries to or from Hollywood to buy or write scripts?

I do like scripts, and want to get better at writing them. But there’s not much of a market for them unless you’re in Hollywood, so, for now, I’m focusing just on narrative fiction.

 

What’s the market like for science fiction in China? Aren’t they more into traditional fantasy? You know, beings with magical powers. Personification of animals, like the famous Chinese novel, “Journey to the West.” (Or is it more accurately translated, “The Journey West”?) Is there a market in China for traditional science fiction? Biotechnology, space travel, etc.

I’m not an expert on the Chinese science fiction market, but from what I’ve seen, science fiction does very well there. Of course, China is a very big country, so even if only a small percentage of readers are interested in science fiction, the absolute numbers are going to be big. Liu Cixin’s Three-Body trilogy, for example, sold some 400,000 copies, and that’s a hard science fiction first contact story. (I’ve been engaged to translate the first book of the trilogy, The Three-Body Problem, into English, and Tor Books will be publishing the book in the US in 2014.)

A lot of my writer friends in China — in science fiction, fantasy, and slip-stream — seem to have many more readers (even if they don’t all have novels out yet). And even my own stories, translated into Chinese, seem to have generated more feedback than they received in English. So I’d say the market is very healthy, overall.

 

Besides China, how are overseas sales going?

I have a Japanese collection coming out from Hayakawa Publishing in 2015, and I’ve sold a few reprints to markets in France, Spain, Italy, and other countries. Sometimes I get a chance to work directly with the translators, and that’s always such a pleasure.

 

You have all your stories critiqued on the Critters Online Workshop. How has that affected your writing and your sales?

I haven’t used Critters for most of my fiction for a while now. Over time, I’ve developed a circle of beta readers (several of whom I met through critters) whose opinions I trust, and it’s just more efficient to get their take than to go through critters, especially when I’m under tight deadlines.

I think Critters taught me, above all, how to figure out which critiques are helpful and which ones are not. When you’re relatively inexperienced as a writer, there’s a lot of benefit to getting a wide range of opinions because they help you figure out who your target audience is. Learning to ignore opinions from people who aren’t in your target audience is a difficult lesson because our natural tendency as writers is to try to please everyone. But that’s impossible, and it’s better that you learn this lesson earlier rather than later.

 

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Listen when other writers share their process and try their techniques out, but don’t be surprised when most of them don’t work for you — but also be prepared for the possibility that a few will. You won’t know which is which until you try them though.

 

Carl_eagle

Carl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

 

His training is in journalism, and he has an essay on culture printed in the Korea Times and Beijing Review. He has two science fiction novels in the works and is deep into research for an environmental short story project.

 

Carl currently teaches in China where electricity is an inconsistent commodity.

 

My Hugo Ballot 2013

written by David Steffen

I’ve spent the last several months reviewing award nominees. I decided to take it one step further and post the final decisions that I plan to post to my Hugo ballot with explanations (where I deem them necessary) about why I voted the way I did. I encourage anyone reading this to post discussion in the comments about how they voted, why I am wrong in my choices, etc.

What makes this more interesting is that the Hugo Awards use an instant runoff voting system. You rank your changes from 1-x, and can also set a number to the “No Award” category. You can find all the nitty gritty details at the Hugo Page explaining votes. I like the system a lot, much more than just a simple single-cast vote, because if your primary vote is for the least popular story, your other preferences still count for something.

If you are a nominee, keep in mind that I am just judging these based on my own preferences and, though I aim to not make my reviews mean, if you don’t want to hear my honest opinion of your work than you might want to skip this article.

For a full list of the nominees, see the original announcement on the Hugo site.

 

Best Novel

1. Redshirts, John Scalzi (Tor; Gollancz)
2. Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW; Gollancz ’13)

Reasoning: I’ve only had time to read one book and a partial so far. I finished Redshirts and reviewed it here–I enjoyed it quite well, though there were some parts I didn’t like it was huge amounts of fun. I’ve started Throne of the Crescent Moon but haven’t finished it yet. Throne of the Crescent Moon is a solid book so far, but even though it has the strength of being set in a non-European based fantasy world, it still lacks the novelty that Redshirts has for me.

 

Best Novella

1. The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications)
2. After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications)
3. San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats by Mira Grant (Orbit)
4. The Stars Do Not Lie by Jay Lake (Asimov’s, Oct-Nov 2012)
5. No Award

Reasoning: The only story that I disliked enough to prefer no award was “On a Red Station, Drifting” by Aliette de Bodard. See my Novella Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.

 

Best Novelette

1. In Sea-Salt Tears by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
2. The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
3. Rat-Catcher by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)
4. The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
5. No Award

Reasoning: The only story that I disliked enough to prefer no award was “Fade to White” by Catherynne M. Valente. See my Novelette Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.

 

Best Short Story

1. Immersion by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld, June 2012)

2. Mono No Aware by Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)

3. No Award

Reasoning: The only story that I disliked enough to prefer no award was “Mantis Wives” by Kij Johnson. See my Short Story Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.

 

Best Graphic Story

1. Locke & Key, Vol. 5: Clockworks, Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)

2. Schlock Mercenary: Random Access Memorabilia Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (Hypernode Media)

3. Saga, Volume One, Brian K. Vaughn, art by Fiona Staples (Image)

4. No Award

Reasoning: See my Graphic Story Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.

 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

1. The Cabin in the Woods
2. The Avengers
3. The Hunger Games
4. Looper
5. The Hobbit

Reasoning: See my Dramatic Presentation, Long Form Hugo 2013 Review for more detail. I didn’t regret the time spent on any of the movies, so I gave them all a rank.

 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

1. Game of Thrones, “Blackwater”, Written by George R.R. Martin, Directed by Neil Marshall. Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (HBO)

Reasoning: I’ve never seen an episode of Dr. Who (gasp!), so I can’t comment on the show in any way. I’ve only ever seen the pilot episode of Fringe, which did not inspire me to watch further even though I was excited about the show from the trailers. But my wife and I are avid watchers of the Game of Thrones series. The show is really solid throughout, great writing, casting, special effects, set design, costume design, everything is really stellar. And this episode was an especially awesome episode of a major battle, with great tension and great action all around. Even if I had been familiar with any of the other nominees, it likely would’ve come on top.

I don’t have anything against any of the other four winning the award, so I’m not casting a “No Award” vote for this category. I’m sure that one of the Dr. Who episodes will win anyway.

 

Best Editor, Short Form

1. Neil Clarke
Neil does great work at Clarkesworld, and I look forward to every episode of Clarkesworld. I tend to have a bit of a polar reaction to Clarkesworld stories. I either love them or don’t get them at all. But when I love them, the stories are well worth listening to the others to get to. Also, as a writer, I appreciate Clarkesworld’s lightning-fast response times.

2. John Joseph Adams
I enjoy listening to the Lightspeed podcast as well. I tend to have a polar reaction to Lightspeed stories as well, and a similar appreciation for lightning-fast response times, and it was hard to decide which to rank higher. He and Neil are ranked close enough in my mind that it’s almost a toss-up between the two and I just gave Neil the edge because he’s been a head editor longer. It’s for cases like this that I really appreciate the instant runoff voting.

3. Stanley Schmidt
I am often not a huge fan of Analog stories, often too nuts-and-bolts for me. But they’ve published some really great ones. I will immediately buy any issue with Juliette Wade in the pages, because her linguistics-based SF stories that have run there are among my favorites. There was a Wade story last year, too, a definite bonus. This was Stanley’s last year as editor so it would be neat to see him win, but I’d rather vote based on who I thought was the best rather than nominating for warm fuzzies about the guy who retired.

4. Sheila Williams
I don’t read Asimov’s very regularly, simply because they don’t have a podcast. I have read good stories in the issues that I’ve bought, so I’d have no complaints about her winning.

Reasoning: I’m not familiar with Jonathan Strahan one way or the other. I’m not going to cast a vote for him, but I’m also not casting a “No Award” either.

 

Best Professional Artist

1. Dan Dos Santos
Dan Dos Santos is awesome. I have a print of his depiction of Moiraine Damodred on my office wall. I love his other art as well, such as his Warbreaker cover. He just has a very skilled hand and great eye. I rarely enjoy others’ cover art as much as his. His character art in particular is really great–the examples in the Hugo packet are good ones, especially the baby-toting warrior woman, and the punk woman in the bathroom.

2. John Picacio
I picked for a large part because of the Hyperion cover with the elaborate mechanical monstrosity holding a human infant. His other covers are really good too.

3. Julie Dillon
I LOVE the “Afternoon Walk” image, with all the monsters being walked like dogs in the park.

4. Chris McGrath
I like the gritty style of these, almost like found photos of fantastical places.

5. Vincent Chong

Reasoning: They always say not to judge a book by its cover, but in this case I had to judge the artist by his cover. The only one I’m very familiar with is Dos Santos, so I had to judge based only on the samples. This was a hard category to pick favorites. I would not be disappointed for any of these five who won the award. But, I’ve gotta pick someone.

 

 

Best Semiprozine

1. Beneath Ceaseless Skies
2. Clarkesworld
3. Lightspeed
4. Apex
5. Strange Horizons

Reasoning: See my Semiprozine Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.

 

Best Fanzine

1. SF Signal

Reasoning: I’ve enjoyed going to SF Signal for various content for years, so I’ll happily give them my vote. The other four I am aware of, but have never read. I’m not using the “No Award” vote, because I don’t have anything against the other four.

 

Best Fancast

1. No Award
2. SF Squeecast
3. SF Signal Podcast
4. Galactic Suburbia Podcast
5. The Coode Street Podcast

Reasoning: This is the second year that the Best Fancast category has been running, and all five of last years nominees are nominated again. This makes me think that no one is actually listening to them and is just nominating past nominees as a habit. I think this may also have to do with confusion over the classification of podcasts who pay their authors, like Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Escape Pod, Drabblecast, and so on. By the word of the rules, these would all be considered Fancasts but many people might guess that they would be classified as Semiprozines. I asked the question of the Hugo committee long before the nomination period ended to clarify publicly the classification of these, but they never responded to me. This is hurting my favorite magazine’s chances of getting award nominations because anyone who wants to nominate them may be splitting across categories. I was very disappointed that the Hugo Committee didn’t respond to my question.

In large part to raise my small voice of protest about the Hugo Committee’s lack of clarification, I am choosing No Award as my primary vote. I would love to see a quality fiction podcast get award nominations, and maybe even win. No offense to the nonfiction podcasters who do good work, but if I wanted to listen to a conversation about SF I would just talk to someone about SF. It’s the stories that I’m here for. And if my favorite fiction podcasts aren’t allowed into the category, then I’m not interested in the category.

It also bothers me that StarShipSofa is the lone fiction podcast representative, because their constant over-self-promotion, Hugo vote begging, unfiltered content , lack of payment is just too many factors that bother me about them. And that’s even not including the aborted nonfiction project they had planned some years ago to supporting a plagiaristic audio adaptation–it was aborted when the moral problems were pointed out to Tony, but I felt that an editor shouldn’t need to have this pointed out to him. It may seem wrong to criticize a “fancast” nominee for unprofessional policies, but venues like Escape Pod and Toasted Cake have shown me that just because a podcast is staffed by volunteers in their spare time doesn’t mean that there have to be no standards.

So I’ve ranked the four nonfiction podcasts about StarShipSofa so that even if “No Award” gets eliminated as a possibility, I’ll be encouraging one of the others to get the award rather than StarShipSofa.

 

Best Fan Artist

1. Spring Schoenhuth
I love the jewelry designs of Schoenhuth, particularly the Robot Transformation, and the Four Electron Atoms designs. I don’t generally wear jewelry other than my wedding ring but those make me want to start.

2. Galen Dara
a really neat dreamlike style. I particularly like the Ghost River Red image. It feels like a story, and the vivid reds of the hero and the shadowy adversary are very eye catching and intriguing.

3. Brad W. Foster

4. Maurine Starkey

5. Steve Stiles

Reasoning: As with the Professional Artist category, I had to judge these by their samples and would not be disappointed if any particular one of these won, but again i have to choose.

 

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (Not a Hugo)

1. Mur Lafferty

Reasoning: I confess that Mur is the only one whose stories I am familiar with, and I ran out of time to read the contributed works of the other authors. So, certainly no reason to use the No Award, but my lone vote is cast for Mur.

 

Conclusion

And that’s my take and my voting strategy on all of the categories where I picked up enough of the material to be able to cast votes. There are three categories that I didn’t touch at all: Best Fan Writer, Best Editor Long Form, and Best Related Work. In the In the Related Work category, I did not have time to read any of the nominees. In the Fan Writer and Editor Long Form, I am unfamiliar with these people’s work.

How did you vote? Care to share, drop a comment. I’ve enjoyed putting this together, and I think I’ll try to do the same series of articles again next year. Let me know if you enjoyed it, folks! Do you find it appealing to see how someone else spent his votes?

Review: Hugo Graphic Story Nominees 2012

written by David Steffen

Since the vast majority of my fiction intake is through audio, while I’m driving or doing dishes or picking up sticks or what-have-you, I have made little effort to keep up with graphic stories, even though I am a fan of the medium . Other than some classic X-Men and Spider-Man comics anyway.

So, here’s my chance to read some of the most popular of the year. Some of these are part of series, in which case I can only judge them based on themselves, not on any knowledge of the rest of the series, so keep that in mind.

 

Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story

1. Locke & Key, Vol. 5: Clockworks, Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
The main characters of this story live in the present, the children of the Locke family who live in a very strange home in Lovecraft, Massachusetts. They have a strange family history dating back to 1775 (portrayed in the opening chapter of this issue) in which rebels hiding from British soldiers in the Revolutionary War come across a transdimensional door that opens into a world of demons. One look through the doorway, and they snare your mind and twist your intentions. When demons try to cross through they are reduced to hunks of “whispering iron”, a metal which is not obtained through any other way. To save the rebels, the young locksmith and heir of the Locke family forges some of the whispering iron into a lock to hold the transdimensional door shut. Over the years he forges other keys with the whispering iron, each with its own specific magical purpose, and these keys are passed down from generation to generation.

As you might expect, it’s a bit of a learning curve to pick up book 5 in a series of 6. The initial scenes of this one take place in 1775 before anything supernatural is known, but then suddenly in Chapter Two you’re thrown back into the present where there are a bunch of keys which are already taken for granted and used nonchalantly while I tried to figure out what the heck was happening. A couple of strange little nonhuman characters were especially confusing until the main characters see them and explain them in some brief dialog. Obviously this is no fault of the book itself, but at my own reading them out of order. I did eventually figure out everything I needed to understand, and by the climax of the story I understood the rules of the world well enough that I could understand the stakes.

This story was awesome. Very well inked, colored, very well written, scary as hell in parts, and funny in others. This story does a good job explaining who appears to be the main villain, a plotline which will presumably be solved in the next book. I now want to go find the previous four stories in the series, and then read the conclusion in book six.

 

2. Schlock Mercenary: Random Access Memorabilia Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (Hypernode Media)
The titular character Schlock is an amorphous alien blob who is a member of Tagon’s Toughs interstellar mercenary troop. They have hired on to run security for a colony of Gavs, a race of people who are all copies of the same person (presumably the reason for this was covered in a previous issue, I don’t really know). Things are quiet. Too quiet. Something is bound to go horribly wrong.

I found the main plot of this pretty entertaining, action packed and fun.

Unfortunately, as far as I’m concerned, that main plot didn’t actually get going in any interesting fashion until page 140 of 294 when things start really going wrong. From then on it was well-paced and interesting. The first 50 pages or so appeared to be slow-paced mop-up of the previous issue, which was hard to follow, all the more so because apparently the previous issue involved many of the main characters’ memories being wiped and rewritten, and now memory restoration is happening. A large portion of the story space was taken up with character development of characters I don’t know or care anything about.

This perceived pacing problem is no big surprise for a series that I started on issue # 13, and really it’s probably no flaw in the comic itself for someone who has followed the series. But since I am judging it by this issue alone, the pacing issues are a major flaw.

 

3. Saga, Volume One, Brian K. Vaughn, art by Fiona Staples (Image)

Baby Hazel is born into a war-torn region of space where fights constantly rage between the planet Landfall and its moon Wreath. She is the child of a man and a woman who are fugitives from opposite sides of the conflict. Meanwhile, bounty hunters hired close in on them.

This story was okay. It seemed to depend primarily on empathizing with Marko and Alana, the fugitive parents, but they never felt like real people to me. Something about their dialogue just made them seem too artificial to care about. Hazel might be a person to empathize with, but in the story she’s only hours and days old, and so is largely unaware of her surroundings. And the story is narrated by her as a retrospective, so obviously she’s survived and done okay for herself. I didn’t really feel connected to other characters in the story either.

It didn’t help that there were some elements of the story that made if very hard to take seriously, such as the character named Prince Robot IV, who is a part of subset of the population that has CRT monitors for heads for no reason that I was able to discern.

The one thing that had me perked up and paying attention was the character The Stalk. She is badass and it would be fun to see a CG version of her.

That said, the drawings were of good quality, the plot was coherent, and I was interested in The Stalk character. But that’s not nearly enough to carry this story.

 

 

4. Grandville BÃ’ te Noire, Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse Comics; Jonathan Cape)
“Two hundred years ago Britain lost the Napoleonic War. As with the rest of Europe, it was invaded by France and the members of its royal family were guillotined. It had been part of the French Empire until 23 years ago, when it was begrudgingly given independence after a prolonged campaign of civil disobedience and anarchist bombings. Ten weeks ago, France experienced a revolution following the death of Emperor Napoleon XII and is now ruled by the Revolutionary Council.” This is the introduction to the story, giving you a good taste of its alt-history origins. So far so good, we know the branching point of history, and we have an idea where that’s taken us. The story follows Detective-inspective LeBrock of Scotland Yard and his Watson-esque sidekick Roderick as they investigate the murder of a prominent artist. And he’s just the badger for the job–oh, right, instead of people this world is populated by anthropomorphic animals.

LeBrock seems to be kind of a mix of a Sherlock Holmes kind of detective (complete with his Watson-esque Roderick, a mouse with an over-the-top dialect) and a James Bond kind of government agent. The alt-hist aspect of it is interesting, to see what kind of world the creator imagined from that branching point. Personally, though, I found the choice to mix anthroporphic animals with alt-hist to be distracting and detrimental to my immersion in the story. The two genres just clash with each other, and badly. Alt-hist is generally grounded in plausibility, finding a reasonable branching point and showing us how different things could be. But at no point is there any reason why the animals are there instead of humans. If we were literally replaced by a variety of animals, I can’t believe that human history wouldn’t be MUCH MORE different, certainly not with the same occupations, same cities, etc, that we have today. With the combination of the two I just found it hard to consider the story anything but a big absurd joke. It’s not that humans have just been swapped out for the sake of drawing differently shaped faces either–humans are present in this world as an oppressed minority that the other species call “doughfaces”, who are picketing for rights–this half-inclusion of them just makes things all the more confusing and annoying to me.

Also, I’ve never been a huge fan of mystery stories anyway, I just don’t get that wrapped up in trying to figure it out, and so with the combination of that and the constant distraction of the weird population, I just really didn’t get into this.

The art of this graphic story was well drawn, though I found some of the anthropomorphic animals to be pretty creepy, especially when they’re naked.

 

5. Saucer Country, Volume 1: Run, Paul Cornell, art by Ryan Kelly, Jimmy Broxton & Goran SudÃ… uka (Vertigo)

Presidential candidate Governor Arcadia Alvarado wakes up in her car with her ex-husband, having lost some time. Her recent memories are consistent with alien abduction cases. She must decide what to do in response to this, and how it affects her Presidential campaigning.

I don’t get what this story is supposed to be about. I mean, obviously, about alien abductions on the surface. Alvarado and her staff work toward finding the truth of her experience and the experiences of others, but by the end of the story you just end up with some random images for clues, a handful of competing and conflicting interpretations of what “alien abduction” actually means, and the last chapter is just a rambling treatise detailing one person’s opinion about alien abductions.

To me this reads like an essay written by a UFO enthusiast, shoehorned awkwardly into a story structure with illustrations. It’s not really a story. I guess if you want to hear a person’s opinions on UFO abductions you might enjoy it. But if you’re looking for a story, it’s a disappointment.

This is just volume 1 of the story, but I’d say that any volume of any story needs to have some story arc of its own that is satisfying in its own, just as any book in a series of books. This volume fails at that and I wouldn’t buy a second volume based on this.