22 August 2017

Hugos 2017: Saga, Book Two by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan

The past couple weeks have seen a few Doctor Who reviews of mine appear at USF, all of Big Finish's recent trilogy featuring the Season Nineteen TARDIS team of the Fifth Doctor, Adric, Tegan, and Nyssa: The Star Men, The Contingency Club, and Zaltys. Read 'em!

Comic hardcover, 464 pages
Published 2017 (contents: 2014-16)

Acquired May 2017
Read July 2017
Saga, Book Two

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Lettering+Design: Fonografiks

My Hugo blogging comes to a belated end with the second Saga compilation-- appropriately enough, I guess, as I started this whole adventure with the first one. Saga, Book Two is "more of the same" in a way that makes it hard to say anything about it that you don't say about the first one. Like: more weird space creatures, more romance, more sex, more grossness, more occasional heart-warming moments, more senseless brutality. If anything's changed, it's that Fiona Staples has got even better at what she does. The visuals of this series are just splendid, communicating character and story seemingly effortlessly while also being quite nice to look at. (And she does her own coloring! And she handwrites the captions!)

In this set of adventures, Marko, Alana, Hazel, and family/company live on one planet for a while while Alana tries out an acting career (and Marko flirts with a dance teacher), terrorists kidnap the characters, and Hazel spends some time in a prison camp while her parents search for her. Big jumps of time are covered here, more than in Book One, but Saga effortlessly mixes the crude and the cosmic in a way like nothing else... though maybe at times Staples and Brian Vaughan could go a little less crude. If there's anything not to like, it's that interesting side characters are brutally killed off with such regularity that at a certain point you stop caring about new characters because you don't expect them to make it, and you're more often right than not (though they do mislead you a couple times based on this expectation). I really enjoy the weird melange of characters here, as well as Vaughan and Staples's continual resistance to imposing a status quo. Though at times I'll admit I want it to slow down, so both I and the characters can process things. But that's clearly not going to happen! This phase of Vaughan's career is all about the speed. And let's be fair, he (and Staples) are good at it.

Next Week: Back to the "deboot" version of the Legion of Super-Heroes, in Superman and the Legion!

21 August 2017

Review: Top 10: The Forty-Niners by Alan Moore and Gene Ha

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2005

Acquired and read September 2016
Top 10: The Forty-Niners

Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Gene Ha
Colorist: Art Lyon
Lettering, Logos and Design: Todd Klein

Alan Moore and Gene Ha return to Top 10 to fill in some of the backstory of Neopolis. Following World War II, the United States confines its "science heroes" to the city of Neopolis. Heroes accustomed to ruling the battlefield during the war, like Steve "Jetlad" Traynor and Leni "Sky Witch" Muller, must adjust to life as civilians, and figure out a use for their powers outside of a military setting.

It's a book about finding your purpose in peace. Steve and Leni find theirs, but many of their fellow veterans can't manage it. Leni joins the Neopolis Police Department; Steve becomes a mechanic for the Skysharks, an aerial squadron. Though, since he's the captain of the Neopolis P.D. by the time of the present-day Top 10 stories, we know he must join up eventually. The original run of Top 10 revealed at its very end that Steve was gay (which he seemingly kept on the downlow from his fellow officers), and his finding of purpose is as much a finding of himself, as he tries to force a relationship with Leni that neither of them really wants in order to deny part of his own nature.

C'mon, Steve, admit the truth!

I really liked Leni, too: a statuesque woman who initially fought on the wrong side during World War II, now trying to make good. Her subplot, like the original Top 10 books, blends superhero stories with police procedural in a way I found satisfying-- instead of the police vs. the mob, it's the police vs. organized vampires.

I guess you could say the police are... on a witch-hunt.

Gene Ha is always a strong artist, but this is probably one of his very best books, with great character, clear storytelling and emotion, and some beautiful scenes. Art Lyon's subdued coloring adds to the retro feel as well as to the book's morose, contemplative vibe as its characters find their places in a less colorful world than the one they knew during the war.

Ha captures the scale of Neopolis ever better here than in the original Top 10 series, I think.

Overall, a much better permutation of Top 10 than Beyond the Farthest Precinct. Now I just have to hunt down Smax!

18 August 2017

The 2017 Hugo Awards: Results and Final Thoughts

So, with the announcements of the winners, the 2017 Hugo Awards have come to an end. I was looking forward to watching the livestream of the awards ceremony, as the rare example of an awards ceremony based on something I actually cared about, even if I couldn't quite watch it live; because Worldcon was in Finland this year, the awards were at 12:30pm Eastern time, and I was running errands during the day, but my plan was to come home and watch it ASAP without reading the results ahead of time so it would be "as live" anyway. But, my plans were foiled, the livestream failed, and I just had to read the results on-line.

So what did I think? Just some brief thoughts here:

Category What Won Where I Ranked It What I Ranked #1 Where It Placed
Best Novel The Obelisk Gate 3rd Too Like the Lightning 5th
Hard for me to object to my third-place choice winning when I declared that "I'd be pleased if anything in my top four won in Best Novel"; however, Too Like the Lightning came in second-last! I really enjoyed, but more than that, I predicted that either it or All the Birds in the Sky (which finished second) would win. I did say it would be tight, though, and I was right; four of the novels received first-place votes within a thirty-vote range of each other (out of 2,339 votes cast).
Best Novella Every Heart a Doorway 2nd This Census-Taker 6th
Obviously my choices are doing really well so far! Every Heart a Doorway is a worthy winner, and actually, I did predict that my first-place choice would not come in first. Little did I know how right I was.
Best Novelette "The Tomato Thief" 1st "The Tomato Thief" 1st
Obviously the Hugo voters are wise. I declared I was "pretty confident" they shared my taste in this category, and I was right; if you look at the full vote breakdown, it's a clear favorite. Incidentally, Alien Stripper Boned from Behind by the T-Rex came in below No Award, but 45 people voted for it to come in first, which I guess tells you how many people are just voting to troll.
Best Short Story "Seasons of Glass and Iron" 1st "Seasons of Glass and Iron" 1st
Again, the Hugo voters and I were in clear alignment. A well-deserved win. "Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies," one of two stories in this category I voted below No Award, didn't place below it, but did come in second-last place. For me, both novelette and short story were categories with one clear best and then many good-ish/so-so stories, so I was glad the one I pegged as best was also seen as such by the community.
Best Related Work Words Are My Matter 1st Words Are My Matter 1st
Three for five for groupmind alignment! Interestingly, if you look at the full breakdown, Words Are My Matter actually received the third-highest amount of first place votes, but the Hugo's instant runoff voting meant that it ended up taking first place as its competitors were eliminated. I find it somewhat inexplicable that The Princess Diarist landed in second, though, and I was surprised Neil Gaiman was down in fourth (though, I guess I had him in third).
Best Graphic Story Monstress: Awakening 5th The Vision: Little Worse than a Man 6th
This was a very strong category, so I have no complaints with a work I ranked fifth coming in first, as I thought my top five "ranged from very good to great." But I am utterly baffled that The Vision came in last, and quite definitively so (it only got 149 first place votes, compared to Monstress's 517). To me, its quality seemed so obvious. At least my second-place choice of Ms. Marvel came in second. What's wrong with you people?
Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) Arrival 1st Arrival 1st
I had no doubt, and indeed, 1278 of 2885 votes cast were for Arrival-- I haven't checked systematically, but I think it must be the best showing in the whole 2017 Hugos. I was surprised to see Stranger Things (which I ranked second) down in fourth though.
Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) The Expanse: "Leviathan Wakes" 2nd Black Mirror: "San Junipero" 2nd
As you can see, me and the voters ended up not really far off from one another. I was sad that Splendor & Misery finished last, though. Surely more interesting stuff was going on in here than in Doctor Who or Game of Thrones? Though I guess I oughtn't be surprised that sf fans didn't vote for a hip-hop album. Not that I have many stones to throw.

I didn't vote in Best Series, but I had a strong suspicion that the Vorkosigan saga would crush it, and I was right. Ninety-three people voted for No Award in Best Series, as I did, but the World Science Fiction Society business meeting ratified the category permanently going forward.

Overall, I really enjoyed this experience. It's nice to really be on top of contemporary sf for once (though many of the books I read have sequels out now that I need to read!); a lot of these books I intended to read someday, but I got to read them now (I always like excuses to ignore my self-imposed reading list sequence). I also liked feeling like part of a community. I mean, I don't know if anyone was reading my comments, but I was reading lots of other people's as I went, which I always enjoy. Plus, I got to make lists, and we all know how much I like lists.

Hopefully I can do it again next year. And maybe someday I could even go to a Worldcon. 2019 in Ireland sounds fun!

17 August 2017

Review: Vision, Science and Literature by Martin Willis

Hardcover, 295 pages
Published 2011
Borrowed from the library
Read August 2016
Vision, Science and Literature, 1870-1920: Ocular Horizons
by Martin Willis

Martin Willis is a kindred spirit when it comes to the study of literature of science: he's interested not in what scientists and writers saw, but how. That said, he (thankfully, I suppose) is interested in scientific vision in a very different way than I am. His book has an interesting arrangement, divided in spatial vision and temporal vision. Spatial vision is then divided into small-scale (microscopy) and large-scale (telescopy), while temporal vision is split into past-focused (archaeology) and future-focused (spiritualism). Each of these four sections is then divided into two chapters, giving a total of eight chapters.

Willis is one of those critics who treats literature as simply another example of a cultural phenomenon he's interested in, so his book flits easily from debates over germ theory to Le Fanu's "Carmilla" to a London guidebook to antivivisection protestors to Dracula in the microscopy subsection, for example. I hadn't read much about archaeology as a science, so that was a useful and interesting discussion, but the best part of the book was the last section, an examination of Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle in parallel. Houdini was a magician who did not believe in spiritualism; Doyle was a spiritualist who invented the ultimate rationalist. The two corresponded for a brief time and even met in 1920, and Holmes and Houdini even died around the same time! Willis shows how both were concerned with vision, but in ways that sometimes concurred and sometimes diverged: both connected visual unease to crime (178), and both needed the eye to be trickable (183); Houdini was disillusioned at Doyle's observational naiveté (203); Doyle believed in séances, which insist on the eye's deficiency, while Houdini celebrated the ability of the eye to learn (218). It's the best kind of comparison, one which provides a new perspective on both its subjects.

16 August 2017

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part LXXII: Convergence: Flashpoint, Book 1

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2015 (contents: 2015)
Borrowed from the library
Read July 2017
Convergence: Flashpoint, Book 1

Writers: Dan Jurgens, Greg Rucka, Frank Tieri, Alisa Kwitney, and Gail Simone
Art: Lee Weeks, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund, Cully Hamner, Vicente Cifuentes, Rick Leonardi & Mark Pennington, and Jan Duursema & Dan Parsons
Colorists: Brad Anderson, Dave McCaig, Monica Kubina, Steve Buccellato, and Wes Dzioba
Lettering: Sal Cipriano, Tom Napolitano, Corey Breen, Nick J. Napolitano, Dezi Sienty, and Carlos M. Mangual

The Flashpoint volumes of Convergence strike me as distinct from the earlier ones. Almost all of the characters in the Crisis, Infinite Earths, and Zero Hour volumes continued to exist after the points where they were plucked from for these tales: the Earth-One Legion had many more adventures, so did the Justice Society, so did Aquaman and Kyle Rayner. Those stories mostly revisited old status quos that the characters had moved on from. But Convergence: Flashpoint picks its characters from around the time of Flashpoint: this is, from around the time they ceased to exist. After Flashpoint, the Superman we'd been following in DC Comics since 1985 was gone, so was Renee Montoya, so was Stephanie Brown, so was Nightwing and Oracle. DC brought them back in different forms, but these characters just stopped, without endings.

So Convergence: Flashpoint is different, in that many of its stories seek to give closure to characters whose stories never received it. How did Clark Kent's marriage to Lois Lane turn out? Did Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson get over there will-they-won't-they thing? How did Stephanie Brown's tenure as Batgirl go? What ever came of Renee's weird relationship with Harvey Dent, the man who had outed her?

All of these questions (with the added complication that the characters spent a year in a domed Gotham) are answered in Convergence: Flashpoint. Unlike with some volumes of Convergence, these are character versions I'm familiar with: I know the post-Crisis, married Superman; I know Nightwing and Oracle from reading all of Birds of Prey; I know Renee Montoya from Gotham Central and 52. So these stories carried a lot more weight than the ones in, say, Infinite Earths or Zero Hour. Plus, in many cases, the writers in this volume worked on these characters themselves. Dan Jurgens wrote and drew the post-Crisis Superman a lot in the 1990s, Greg Rucka didn't create Renee but he may as well have, and Gail Simone defined Oracle in what's still the best Birds of Prey run.

All of this is to say that as exercises in nostalgia and loose ends, these stories mostly worked for me. The Superman tale, where Lois ends up giving birth to a super-baby, is a heartwarming one of how Superman stands for light against darkness. I liked that Rucka used the Convergence framework to have "our" Harvey Dent confront a version of himself who never became Two-Face in a city-to-city fight unlike any other in the series so far. I actually haven't read a lot of Stephanie Brown Batgirl stories, but this seemed a fitting and cute way of tying up her adventures, with her finally finding an identity of her own. And though I never was a Babs/Dick shipper, letting them both get married and be badasses one last time is a nice final story. There's some great art, too; both Lee Wees and the Dan Jurgens/Norm Rapmund team draw a stunningly heroic Superman; and I was delighted to see Jan Duursema (who I know from decades of Star Wars comics for Dark Horse) doing her thing in the DC universe.

The book's not perfect. I've complained before that the rules for city battles are different in each story, and the ones in the Stephanie Brown story are in particular difficult to reconcile with other volumes-- Stephanie finds out she's Gotham's champion from watching tv (did Telos send them a new bulletin?) among other weirdnesses, and in the Nightwing/Oracle story, Telos has enforcer robots that appear in none other of the thirty-five Convergence battles I've read thus far. Also, I've never read the pre-Flashpoint Justice League, but Frank Tieri's take on it doesn't make me want to. They're obnoxious "strong female character" types, and they don't exactly acquit themselves well here.

The title has a double meaning. These are the versions of the characters from the time of Flashpoint, but in all of the stories, they're fighting Gotham from the "Flashpoint" universe. This actually worked surprisingly well, especially in the first story, where Jurgens extracts some pathos from having the Flashpoint Kal-El ("Subject One") meet the Earth-Zero Lois Lane, and having the Flashpoint Thomas Wayne (who realizes these characters come from the same world as the Flash he met) get to talk to Superman about the kind of man his son became. Wayne's sadness that his universe didn't vanish in a flash is a nice touch.

Next Week: Nothing! This feature goes on temporary hiatus as I transition between states and jobs. Once I get reliable access to an interlibrary loan service again, though, things will pick back up with Convergence: Flashpoint, Book 2 on some future Wednesday. I had hoped to get through all of Convergence before the hiatus, but it was not to be.

15 August 2017

Hugos 2017: Death's End by Cixin Liu

Trade paperback, 724 pages
Published 2017 (originally 2010)

Acquired May 2017
Read July 2017
Death's End by Cixin Liu

Each successive Remembrance of Earth's Past novel has gotten longer than the previous, duller than the previous, and worse than the previous. I struggled with Death's End a lot, though maybe that was exacerbated by my need to read all 700+ pages quickly because I was coming up tight on the Hugo voting deadline. As in The Dark Forest, the bland characters here are less than interesting, but unlike in The Dark Forest, the cool concepts don't seem to come very quick or fast to make up for it. Every now and then something really arresting happens (the Post-Deterrence Era was traumatizing, and the journey into the four-dimensional realm was great), but then it goes back to slow banalities.

That is, until the end. The last couple hundred pages suddenly get weird and wacky and completely fascinating, with low-entropy entities and fantastic weaponry and beautiful imagery and a mind-boggling scale beyond anything seen in this series up to now by several orders of magnitude. If the whole book had been like that, or if we'd just gotten to that stuff sooner, this would have been a much better book, but it was just so boring to get there that I got intensely frustrated.

This Friday: My reaction to the actual Hugo results!

Next Week: At last, my Hugo journey comes to a belated end, in Saga, Book Two!

14 August 2017

Review: Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct by Paul Di Filippo and Jerry Ordway

Comic trade paperback, 122 pages
Published 2006 (contents: 2005-06) 

Acquired and read September 2016
Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct

Writer: Paul Di Filippo
Artist: Jerry Ordway
Colors: Wendy Broome, Jeromy Cox, Jonny Rench with Randy Mayor
Letters: Todd Klein

The third Top 10 book picks up five years after the previous one, with a set of new recruits joining the Neopolis Police Department at the same time the mayor puts a new commissioner in charge. New writer Paul Di Filippo tries to do like Alan Moore did, and balance a number of ongoing plots, but with more characters and fewer issues, it seems like nothing gets the time it deserves. Interesting ideas are raised and then never come back, or have almost no impact on the story. How was Joe Pi affected by his undercover mission? Did Smax ever find an apartment that would suit the residency requirement? What happened to the new precinct captain and the new mayor's war on terror? Where did Toy Box's boyfriend come from anyway?

Yeah,why not introduce magic powers from a magic box to resolve the corner you've written yourself into?
from Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct #5

The death of a key character's family member warrants a mere page; the resurrection of another key character doesn't even get that. (Why bring someone back to life and give them one line of dialogue in over a hundred pages?) The overarching plotline is tied up when some guy just turns up and tells someone she has a power she didn't know about. That power works, the end. It's nice to see these characters and concepts again, but Di Filippo doesn't do them justice: this book has neither the laughs nor the drama of the first two. I hope that when Zander Cannon takes over as writer, it's better than this.

Clear and communicative and unassuming: the best of comic art.
from Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct #3

Who does do Top 10 justice is Jerry Ordway. Ordway is one of those guys who should always be drawing more comics, and his traditional heroic style is different than that of Gene Ha and Zander Cannon, but just as suited to Neopolis and its inhabitants. He has a mastery of facial expressions, and the storytelling is always clean and clear. The book looks great even when nothing great is happening.

11 August 2017

Steve and Hayley Watch Farscape: Season 1, Episodes 17-20

1x17: “Through the Looking Glass”

  • HAYLEY: The episode opens with Moya’s crew eating dinner together, and I don’t think we’ve seen such a domestic scene with them all together like that before. One of the first things I noticed was that Chiana’s mannerisms have toned down since “Durka Returns,” which is inevitable, I suppose, but I expected we’d see more of her adjustment.
  • STEVE: Hm, I hadn’t caught that, actually. But given she’s not being tortured, I guess she has an excuse to be less weird.
  • H: The crew are bickering over whether or not they’re going to leave Moya, because the pregnancy is once again affecting her ability to starburst. But Moya (listening in on their argument through the DRDs) starbursts anyway to try to prove them wrong-- and ends up stuck, fractured into multiple versions of herself in an in-between dimension. This has got to be another common sci fi trope, right?
  • S: What? Really? Obviously I spend a lot of time trying to match this show into patterns established by older sci-fi shows, but twenty minutes into this one, and I was like, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this. This one was weird! (Eventually I did come up with one, in a sense, but I’ll get to that later.)
  • H: I guess I was thinking of something like Star Trek’s “Wink of an Eye,” which admittedly doesn’t have different versions of the Enterprise, but it does feature different crew members existing at different speeds on the Enterprise, and therefore not being able to interact with each other. But what Farscape does here is indeed much more weird, and alien, and disorienting.
  • S: Moya is fractured across three primary color dimensions with physical rules unlike our own: the red one has a light that makes you feel sick to your stomach, the blue one is so loud it’s impossible to hear, and the yellow one makes you… find everything hilarious? It’s so bizarre and strange-- I loved it. I really like sci-fi stories where there’s a sense that our knowledge and understanding has broken down, and also ones where things from incomprehensible worlds are pushing their way into our own (I wrote one!), and this hit all the right buttons for me. The parallel Moyas were all really well done.
  • H: I thought the yellow one was the weakest, and after having sight and sound messed with, I expected another one of the five senses to be somehow impaired.
  • S: That’s part of why I liked it, I think-- it was just so different. And in some way it’s the most frightening, a universe where you just can’t think the way you want to think.
  • H: That’s true, now that you point it out. It is the version that you’re most likely to get trapped in, because you could stop taking anything seriously. And it gave Rygel a good excuse to make some ridiculous jokes.
  • S: The episode also lets us see some of the characters at their best, like D’Argo’s ingenuity in the red universe, or Aeryn’s growing understanding of technology-- the bit where she tells Crichton the sequence for putting the engines in reverse was cute. I guess we don’t see Rygel and Chiana at their best, but it was funny. (As was D’Argo’s frustration over Crichton’s vomiting.) Lots of good character bits in this one on the whole; I felt bad for Pilot when he was pleading with the crew to not abandon Moya at the beginning, and the scene where John talks to Pilot in Pilot’s chamber was really good too.
  • H: Zhaan has a moment when she puts her priest vestments back on; I do remember that she was no longer wearing them based on a conversation some episodes back, but I wish her vestments looked more different from her street clothes to better signal when she is and isn’t feeling priestly. I guess I just assumed earlier in the season that she took her wrap-thing on and off based on how warm it was, like John wearing his vest or not.
  • S: Yeah, I hadn’t registered the change and/or its significance until John commented on it.
  • H: The thing I really liked about this episode is that it divided all of the characters, and Crichton had to run back and forth between the different Moyas, gathering information and relaying instructions to everyone else. It nicely paralleled the differing motivations of all of the characters (as symbolized by the argument at the beginning of the episode), while showing that Crichton really is the glue holding them together.
  • S: Nice point. So about two-thirds of the way through, I did think of an analogue-- John avoiding the light made me think of the third ever Doctor Who serial, The Edge of Destruction, where a stuck spring in the fast return switch has the TARDIS hurtling backwards in time out of control as increasingly strange things happen in the ship (including a very bright light that comes pouring in through the doors when they open in flight). It’s a key story, because it’s where the original TARDIS crew moves from distrust (the Doctor and Susan vs. Ian and Barbara) to the beginnings of friendship-- and indeed, this episode gives us a scene where everyone ends up in Pilot’s controls just laughing in exhilaration that they’ve survived, and then a parallel scene to the opening, where the crew eats dinner together, but much more harmoniously. This weird experience has brought everyone together, and “Through the Looking Glass” gives us our first indication that these people aren’t just tolerating each other, but becoming a functional unit.
  • H: And that, right there, is exactly why we wanted to watch this show in the first place.

1x18: “A Bug’s Life”

  • STEVE: In this episode, the arrival of a group of Peacekeepers on a secret mission causes the crew to decide to bluff it out: Crichton and Aeryn will pretend to be in control of a Leviathan with the other characters as their prisoner. This requires Crichton to pretend to be a Peacekeeper commander, and let’s get this out of the way: Crichton’s accent is absolutely terrible.
  • HAYLEY: It definitely is, but I actually sort of love that he adopts it. It makes absolutely no sense: surely, given the translator microbes, it doesn’t matter what accent he speaks in?
  • S: And if it does matter, surely everyone would know the jig is up as soon as he opens his mouth?
  • H: But yet for some reason I can’t explain, I kind of think it’s awesome to see him strutting around in red leather, confidently speaking his lines in an affected accent.
  • S: Indeed, that opinion is completely inexplicable.
  • H: Maybe it’s the leather. Anyway, the jig is very nearly up soon after, as neither Chiana nor Rygel can resist opening the Peacekeepers’ secret locked box. They accidentally unleash an “intellant” virus. “Virus” is used fairly loosely here, although it is an infectious lifeform of some sort, it can only infect one person at a time, until it can spend enough time in one host to replicate itself by producing spores. It also seems to have self-awareness, perhaps; its host acts in the interest of the virus while infected. So when the virus ends up in Chiana, she claims it’s actually in Rygel, leading him to go into hiding and the others to begin a search for him.
  • S: This is another episode where I feel compelled to say, “I thought it was fine.” In an imagined version of this episode, you could get a lot of tension out of Moya’s crew having to deceive the Peacekeepers and save themselves from an intruder, but I don’t think this episode quite lands it. There are some good character bits (as ever) and for me that’s what made it work: D’Argo’s reaction to being “reimprisoned,” for example, I thought was really well done.
  • H: I agree with that assessment. There are also some good scenes between Aeryn and the Peacekeeper captain Larraq, where you get a sense of how Aeryn could have been happy in her life as a Peacekeeper. But in terms of the actual plot, the resolution is mediocre at best. There’s some science mumbo-jumbo that shouldn’t make sense to anyone who’s taken high school chemistry: the virus makes its host’s body acidic, but only after it has left, and Zhaan concocts some kind of alkaline antibody to negate what she calls an “acid-based lifeform.”
  • S: Well, I don’t even know that much about chemistry, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that something that can take over all your brain functions somehow leaves no physical trace! It also bothered me that this virus that people cower from in fear and can devastate entire star systems and is worth Peacekeeper commandos tracking for a year can be defeated by something Zhaan can whip up with her limited resources and limited medical skills in about fifteen minutes.
  • H: Ha, yeah. So this one is not the best. Did it have any other redeeming moments for you?
  • S: I actually did really like the stand-off at the end; I thought the episode did a good job of making it chaotic with everyone distrusting everyone else every which way.
  • H: They end up all standing in a circle pointing guns at each other. I agree, I liked that scene.
  • S: Unexpectedly, for what seems like kind of a standalone story, this one turns out to have a lot of ramifications in...

1x19: “Nerve”

  • HAYLEY: During the chaotic final stand-off of “A Bug’s Life,” Larraq stabbed Aeryn. It had seemed like a minor injury at the time, but at the beginning of this episode, Aeryn reveals that it severed an important nerve, which will lead to her dying very soon unless she gets medical treatment involving a tissue graft from a compatible Peacekeeper donor. Larraq had also given Moya’s crew the location of a secret Peacekeeper base in the Uncharted Territories, so Crichton gets to disguise himself as a Peacekeeper again (terrible fake accent and all) in order to enter the base to try to obtain the tissue needed to save Aeryn’s life.
  • STEVE: This one was also on my Blockbuster Best of Season One DVD, and though it’s pretty obvious why given how important it is (and also it’s pretty good I guess), but on the other hand, in retrospect, it’s kind of surprising because it pulls together a ton of threads from across the whole first season: Gilina from “PK Tech Girl,” Crais’s going rogue in “That Old Black Magic,” Moya’s pregnancy from “They’ve Got a Secret,” the desirability of wormhole technology established in “Till the Blood Runs Clear,” and maybe most importantly, we learn there was a secret message communicated to Crichton by the aliens in “A Human Reaction.” I really enjoyed the way this episode took all of these threads and began to pull them together to create an unexpected and tense hour of television.
  • H: True-- I was not expecting that many of these one-offs would serve to set up a bigger story, especially not in the first season! Gilina wastes no time in risking her own skin to help Crichton and Chiana (who comes along as a “distraction”). It’s one thing for Gilina to help out Moya’s crew when there are no other Peackeepers around (and Aeryn’s pointing a gun at her), but Crichton must have left a pretty big impression for her to take the risks she did here.
  • S: But it’s an impression he can’t live up to, since in the interim he’s begun (kind of) a thing with Aeryn, setting Gilina up for disappointment. He obviously doesn’t want to get all passionate with Gilina, but also doesn’t want to tell her the truth. (And, naturally, neither does Chiana.) I liked her in “PK Tech Girl,” so it was nice to see her here-- but it’s the best kind of reappearance, where everything’s changed. It would be easy for her to just be a “friendly insider” character, but her presence complicates as much as it simplifies.
  • H: Despite her assistance in passing Peacekeeper security checks and in acquiring what they need to cure Aeryn, Crichton is inexplicably caught as an intruder when a new villain, Scorpius, catches sight of him. (I thought it was interesting to see that not all Peacekeepers are Sebaceans.) I have to admit, although I’m pretty good at avoiding spoilers, I must have come across something recently that mentioned there would be a recurring villain named Scorpius introduced sometime soon. (I don’t know what!)
  • S: I thought that the scenes set in Scorpius’s laboratory were very effective-- both Wayne Pygram’s performance and the set design/lighting are intense. I don’t know why his memory-extracting chair has to rotate, but it does make the scenes disorienting, especially when he rides along with it.
  • H: The close-up shots of Crichton help sell the disorientation, too. The chair is definitely the most frightening weapon we’ve seen so far in Farscape, and John clearly knows what’s at risk if he reveals Moya’s location or pregnancy. The reveal of secret wormhole knowledge inside his brain from the aliens in “A Human Reaction” is a surprising twist, and also amps up the tension.
  • S: All the stuff on the base was great-- the subterfuge feels more tense than in “A Bug’s Life” (even if Crichton’s accent is no better), and this is the first episode to really make use of Chiana since she joined the crew. What we see of her is great-- she’s the most amoral and least principled of Moya’s crew, even less so than Rygel, willing to use sex and/or violence to do whatever needs doing.
  • H: She’s got several excellent scenes, whether it’s flirting salaciously with the creep Commander Javio, or working alongside Gilina once Crichton’s captured--
  • S: --or setting Javio on fire!
  • H: I was getting to that! That scene really floored me, and drove home Chiana’s amorality. Does Javio deserve getting set on fire? Probably. But no one else on Moya’s crew, regardless of how much they engage in violence, would quite go that far!
  • S: Yeah. But obviously Chiana isn’t completely amoral, or she wouldn’t have gone with Crichton to begin with. (Unless she was convinced Crichton was going to frell it up and saw a potential way off Moya before the dren hit the fan.)
  • H: She seems to legitimately want to help in this case, as evidenced by her rescuing the medicine that Crichton had hidden and returning it to Moya in order to save Aeryn’s life. She just will clearly do whatever it takes to achieve what she wants. And not just when it’s killing evil sexual predators-- she also lies to the overly-earnest Gilina, telling her Crichton is in love with her and that they’ll come back with reinforcements to rescue her as well. (If the latter isn’t a lie, it’s at least stretching the truth, and it seems unlikely that Chiana is sincere.)
  • S: Meanwhile, on Moya, the once utilitarian D’Argo continues to become a big softy. We don’t see a lot of the ship in this episode, but what we do see shows the crew really has bonded. D’Argo comes up with a plan to save Aeryn’s life that contradicts a promise he made her, so he won’t let her know-- and even Rygel agrees that the crew has to do the right thing by Aeryn.
  • H: D’Argo’s heart just seems to get bigger every episode! It’s adorable. Meanwhile, back on the base, Crais makes his first appearance since “That Old Black Magic.” Somehow, next to Scorpius and Javio, he doesn’t seem nearly as intimidating as he used to.
  • S: I thought it was interesting to complicate the Peacekeepers a bit: here we have three different Peacekeeper leaders, and all three want different things. (Though one’s dead now.) And I guess Moya will be caught in the middle.
  • H: I did like the scene in Crichton’s jail cell, when Crais tries to bluff that he’s already caught Moya and the others. John cleverly plays along, but asks if everyone onboard is okay-- ensuring that he knows Crais is lying, but Crais doesn’t know that he knows he’s lying.
  • S: So this most exciting and most tense of episodes leads to our first Farscape cliffhanger! Were you surprised?
  • H: I wouldn’t say I expected a two-parter at this point in the season, but I can’t really say I was surprised by it, either. It’s a big enough story that I’m glad they’re giving it the time. (Of course, I say that now-- we’ll see how I feel after we watch the resolution.)

1x20: “The Hidden Memory”

  • STEVE: Crichton gets away, Stark gets away, the baby Leviathan is born, Crais gets his comeuppance… all it cost was Gilina’s life.
  • HAYLEY: Overall this was a great episode, and while it might not have as many surprising revelations as “Nerve,” I’d say that it’s a satisfying second part to the story. Except, of course, I’m not happy that Gilina had to die. And it was so predictable.
  • S: Yeah, I felt like the writer was taking the easy way out. Once you set up the idea that they want Gilina to come with them, but she’s in love with John, you know she’s dead because the show can’t afford to bring her on board. And it seems morally negligent-- if John hadn’t been so hell-bent to save Aeryn’s life, Gilina never would have been in any danger.
  • H: I briefly hoped that her death would be averted, when she makes the decision towards the end not to go with them after all, and runs off through the base’s corridors. But no, she had to pop up at the end for no good reason and get shot by Scorpius. I agree, that was lazy writing.
  • S: It’s one of those instances where you can see the hand of the writer at work; the story never made it feel like it had to happen. And it seems cheap that the only consequence the crew experiences is the death of a guest character, even if she was one they really liked.
  • H: On the positive side, we get some interesting scenes of Scorpius interrogating Crais in the chair, and we learn some interesting things about John’s crazy cellmate Stark, who turns out to be holding a kind of energy source inside his head, which emits light and healing energy and also protects his thoughts and memories from Scorpius.
  • S: I had totally forgotten about Stark until he turned up in “Nerve,” but immediately upon seeing him I remembered that visual of him pulling open his mask to reveal the light. What a weird, great image.
  • H: And I love the enigma surrounding what Scorpius wants to get out of him-- “the memory of a place I saw when I was a boy.” Later, Stark willingly gives the memory of that place to Gilina, to grant her some peace on her deathbed. It’s weird and spiritual and interesting, and I love that Farscape doesn’t back away from going there.
  • S: Yeah, there’s clearly more to be told about Stark and his people (making it all the more annoying that he vanished without comment before the next episode begins!). I did also like the stuff with Crais here, as you said. Though it somewhat stretches credulity that Gilina can insert a perfect false memory of Crais and Crichton conspiring into the Aurora Chair, I liked seeing our once-proud Peacekeeper captain end up on the wrong end of his people’s cruelty. And that scene where Aeryn finds him stuck in it and turns the machine up to max is just chilling.
  • H: That scene might mean I need to take back what I said about Chiana in “Nerve”: that no one else in Moya’s crew would go as far as she did when she burnt Javio to a crisp. Here, Aeryn demonstrates a pretty remarkable level of cruelty and revenge. (The difference, I suppose, is that for Aeryn this is deeply personal.)
  • S: It was a great scene, though. The trajectory of the season has been Aeryn’s slow rejection of Peacekeeper ways. Back in “Till the Blood Runs Clear” she was still entertaining the fantasy of returning to the Peacekeepers (with a dishonorable discharge, albeit) and even in “A Bug’s Life” she seems flattered when the commando guy tells her she should join them. Here you see Claudia Black almost still considering Crais’s order for a moment (“As a Peacekeeper, you took a blood-oath to obey your commanding officer. Till death.”), but then she rejects him completely and utterly (“You will never order me again.”). Black is great at doing a lot with just a small twitch of her face and voice.
  • H: Meanwhile, Moya has gone into full labor, and Chiana has to help with the birthing process. In an interesting twist, Moya’s offspring is not normal; he is, instead, covered with Peacekeeper weaponry. I really enjoyed some of the banter between Chiana and Rygel during the scenes leading up to the birth; especially Rygel’s declaration that he’s had hundreds of progeny who were “tiny and handsome-- like their father!” I was not a huge fan, however, of the forced physical proximity of the two of them, when Moya had to vent pressure and they took refuge in some kind of storage tank. Rygel practically sexually assaults Chiana, and that’s just not funny.
  • S: It’s a little out of character for him, given he’s previously claimed to find humanoids repulsive.
  • H: Yes and no; he’s made some remarks in the past that suggest otherwise, but he’s never quite gone this far before. I guess the show is trying it to make it seem like Chiana is incredibly attractive regardless of species? I don’t know.
  • S: It was funny when he farted helium. I had forgotten about that; I don’t think we’ve seen it since the premiere.
  • H: And was Rygel’s hand on the glass of the pressure tank a reference to Titanic? I did sort of laugh at that, as weird as it was.
  • S: Totally on a different topic, I don’t know why Scorpius wears that headgear, but I love how his outfit looks like an insect carapace, like he’s a beetle.
  • H: I find the headgear distracting. Like, I find myself wondering why he needs the two little parts that wrap around the parts of his chin. Sometimes he when he talks I just look at those and wonder if it’s a separate piece that he just puts on his chin, or if it’s attached to the rest of the headpiece. So I guess I don’t love it, but it doesn’t detract from Scorpius being creepy and unsettling.
  • S: Wayne Pygram is great though. He’s very menacing. He’s one of those people whose very calmness is frightening.
  • H: And now, even though Gilina managed to temporarily shield Moya from the base’s sensors, Moya’s unable to starburst with her offspring-- meaning that she won’t get very far away before Scorpius follows, with some very real motivation to re-capture John.
All screencaps courtesy FarscapeCaps.com.

10 August 2017

Review: The Final War by Louis Tracy

Hardcover, 372 pages
Published 1896
Borrowed from my advisor
Read October 2013
The Final War: A Story of the Great Betrayal
by Louis Tracy

One of many pieces of 1890s future-war fiction I've read, this one is among the worst (I don't think it even has characters as such) but also the most influential. Along with Angel of the Revolution, it pretty much set the standard for the genre's form in the 1890s. France and Germany go to war with the world; reluctant Britain just has to conquer the world in order to save it, allying itself with the United States. The U.S. and the U.K. might seem as though they're in opposition at times, but really they're united by blood, history, language, feeling, character, and destiny. Eventually even the Germans sign on board: they're good Saxons, after all. The Final War is racial in the extreme. The moral superiority of the Anglo-Saxons stems from their military superiority which stems from their technological superiority. Because an Englishman invents the electric rifle, Britain wins the global war and therefore assumes control over all. That's just survival of the fittest, which is Darwin, which is science, and you can't argue with science, can you? Also it's the Divine Will. So basically everyone in the world is cool with the British takeover, because, hey, they're evolutionarily superior, and at least they're not French or Russian. The success of races was from Greek to Roman to Saxon: the Greeks were the Age of Art, the Romans the Age of Law, and now it's the Age of Science.

Anyway, this is basically the distilled version of everything George Griffith ever wrote, but considerably less fun-- there are no air-ships, no sexy princesses, no exciting battle sequences, no sexual thrill of complete obliteration, just banal war narrative and racism.

The original cover (1896, Pearson) is pretty swank, though. Love that little embossed bomb smoking.

09 August 2017

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part LXXI: Convergence: Zero Hour, Book 2

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2015 (contents: 2015)
Borrowed from the library
Read July 2017
Convergence: Zero Hour, Book 2

Writers: Tony Bedard, Larry Hama, Keith Giffen, and Louise Simonson
Artists: Cliff Richards, Philip Tan & Jason Paz/Rob Hunter, Rick Leonardi & Dan Green, Ron Wagner & Bill Reinhold, Timothy Green II & Joseph Silver, June Brigman & Roy Richardson
Color: John Rauch, Elmer Santos, and Paul Mounts
Letterers: Dave Sharpe, Steve Wands, and Corey Breen

This volume collects the Convergence adventures of five more sets of 1990s heroes, hailing from September 1994 or thereabouts. There's the hook-handed Aquaman (he lost the real hand in September 1994's Aquaman #2); Batman is joined by Azrael, who substituted for him during the Knightfall storyline (February 1993 through August 1994); Kyle Rayner is Green Lantern (he took over in March 1994's Green Lantern #50), and Hal Jordan has become Parallax; Supergirl is a protoplasmic blob from a pocket universe (she adopted the role in February 1992), working for Lex Luthor, who's transferred his brain into a younger, sexier, Australianer, hairier clone body (he first appeared in October 1990; the two dated until Supergirl #4 in May 1994, so there's some timeline wonkiness here); and John Henry Irons, who substituted for Superman while he was dead, is the superhero-in-his-own-right Steel (he got his own series in February 1994).

Maybe I lack nostalgia for these 1990s set-ups (I've read very little of any of them, except clone Luthor and protoplasmic Supergirl both feature in the Death of/World Without a/Return of Superman trilogy). Like all of these Convergence stories, it has to contrive to get the heroes all in the same city; apparently that was because everyone turned up in Metropolis to fight Parallax. Does this mean the city was domed during the events of Zero Hour? I don't remember the events of Zero Hour well enough to say; it seems a pretty tepid explanation that Azrael came to Metropolis because couldn't "miss a gathering of heroes like that." Additionally, the stories are inconsistent as to whether Superman was in the dome or not. He doesn't actually appear, but Kyle includes him among those who forgave Hal for his actions as Parallax, while on the other hand, both Steel and Lex mention that he's absent.

Whatever. Probably none of this really matters, what matters is the story... but I didn't really care about the stories here. It's impossible to care about Aquaman, the Azrael story was pretty uninteresting, and I don't know what planet Keith Giffen was on when he wrote the Supergirl tale, but it is bonkers, and sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way, most often in a what is this i don't even way. I did like that Parallax isn't evil per se (remember Hal's actions were all in aid of trying to bring back the destroyed Coast City), so he ruthlessly fights on behalf of the city against its enemies, and Kyle has to try to stop him from going overboard. But even though in theory I do like the character of Steel, his story still didn't do much for me, even if it did reunite the actual creative team the character had back in the 1990s.

Probably part of the problem is that in three of these stories, the opponents are from the Wildstorm universe. This is definitely thematically appropriate, as Wildstorm is the most 1990s thing of them all, and thank God that Grifter doesn't turn up, but seriously, who gives a shit about Wildstorm? And these folks are like the Wildstorm also-rans; I could tolerate the Authority or maybe even Stormwatch, but Gen¹³ and Wetworks? In two of the stories, it's the denizens of Earth-6, which is kind of random, but thankfully Giffen makes a joke at the expense of that randomness. Earth-6's Lady Quark was a member of L.E.G.I.O.N., which Giffen wrote, and he has a joke about that, though it's anachronistic to say the least.

Anyway, whatever. All the 1990s stuff I cared about was frontloaded in the first Convergence: Zero Hour volume, which didn't leave me with much to enjoy here.

Next Week: Superman, the Question, the Justice League of America, Stephanie Brown, and Nightwing and Oracle battle for their lives in Convergence: Flashpoint, Book 1!

08 August 2017

Hugos 2017: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Trade paperback, 317 pages
Published 2016

Acquired May 2017
Read July 2017
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

This book was weird and difficult to follow. I had known that would be the case going in, and I had even read some explanations of it on /r/printSF beforehand... and I still had no idea what was going on. It's space opera, but battle has something to do with people's beliefs in calendar systems? It didn't matter how many explanations I read, I just had no idea what was actually happening when people fought in this book. It's deliberately disorienting, which can be interesting, but Yoon Ha Lee did not pull it off successfully, just leaving me frustrated and eager to get the whole thing over with as I increasingly lost interest. If I don't know how your world works, it's hard for me to care who controls it.

Next Week: A last attempt to solve the three-body problem in Death's End!

07 August 2017

Review: The Program Era by Mark McGurl

Hardcover, 466 pages
Published 2011 (originally 2009)
Borrowed from the library
Read September 2016
The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing
by Mark McGurl

This book is not the book I thought it would be. I didn't like it very much as a result. I don't know if that's Mark McGurl's fault or mine. I expected a history of American creative writing programs, their tenets and philosophies, and an overview of how that had shaped American fiction post-1945. Instead I got a series of interpretations of post-1945 American novels I hadn't read, through the lens of the fact that their authors had gone to college and taken creative writing courses. I was looking for something general, but the book turned out to be too specific for me to engage with in an interesting way. I kind of think it's McGurl's fault, because at one point he says his book wants "to track a period in which institutions, not individuals, have come to the fore as the sine qua non of postwar literary production" (368). Except that his book talks about individuals a whole lot and institutions barely at all.

The book also includes a lot of goofy charts. They have a lot of arrows on them, but never illuminated a concept for me. The Venn diagrams were in particular impenetrable, and seem to have been drawn by someone who had no idea how Venn diagrams work.

04 August 2017

My Hugo Awards 2017 Votes: Book Categories

This final post covers my votes in the three Hugo categories for book-length works: novels, graphic stories, and nonfiction. If I did a full review of a work, I'll link to that here. (Note that if you're reading this before 22 August, not all of those full reviews will have gone live yet.) I only did that if I owned the book: I didn't do it for anything I read an e-version of from the Hugo voters packet, or borrowed from the library (as in the case of Princess Diarist). If the work is freely available on-line, I'll link to that. (Thankfully there is no work of which both of those things is true.)

Best Graphic Story

6. Black Panther: A Nation under Our Feet, Book One, script by Ta-Nehisi Coates, art by Brian Stelfreeze

I wanted to like this, and possibly I will like this. The four issues collected here are clearly just the opening act of a larger story; A Nation under Our Feet is apparently slated to run across three volumes of Black Panther. But what's here is alienating, assuming the reader knows more about Blank Panther backstory than I did. What happened to Black Panther's sister, and why doesn't he have any control over his own country? Or, if this stuff isn't preexisting backstory, it's just alienating. There are definitely some neat things going on here. I liked the sense of Wakanda as a real place with factions and tensions and multiple competing histories, and I liked the two lesbian warriors who go rogue (though no one properly explains what is the organization they went rogue from), and Stelfreeze occasionally does some really arresting stuff with his visuals, and the idea that a superhero whose core identity is being a superking has to confront a popular revolution is cool, and leads to good quotations about power and leadership. But at times this book felt like epigrams strung together with imagery, not a story.

5. Monstress: Awakening, script by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda

In the discrete story stakes, Monstress is somewhere above Paper Girls and below Ms. Marvel. Events come to a climax, but there's clearly a much bigger story we're only beginning to see. But what a story. Sana Takeda's art is absolutely gorgeous, a pointed contrast to the often horrific events it depicts. In a fantasy world inhabited by five races-- humans, gods, Ancients, Arcanics (human/Ancient hybrids), and talking cats-- a seventeen-year-old Arcanic girl goes into the dark heart of humanity to root out the secret of her own existence, something relating to the Old Gods. There's sometimes too much to keep track of, but the core characters are pretty great; I particularly enjoy Maika's friend the world-weary cat Ren, and also I have a lot of affection for the improbably cute fox Arcanic, Kippa. Lush stuff, and a series I will definitely continue to read. If it loses out to Paper Girls, it's only because Paper Girls just hits my buttons in a way this does not, as I tend more toward sf than fantasy.

4. Paper Girls 1, script by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Cliff Chiang

A group of bicycle-riding children living in the Midwest in the 1980s encounter something out of this world. I guess 2016 was a bit of a moment for this-- it's like Stranger Things but with preteen girls. Anyway, this was good: funny at times, horrifying at others, inventive in the way that Brian K. Vaughan often is of late (I mean, I liked Y: The Last Man a lot, but this and Saga show that he's upped his game since), and Cliff Chiang is one of my favorite comics artists, so I'm happy to see him show his stuff on something creator-owned instead of being relegated to Green Arrow and Black Canary or whatever. This is clearly the first chapter in a larger story, not a story complete in itself, which partially motivates my placement of it here. Stands on its own more than a volume of Black Panther but less than one of Ms. Marvel. I don't have a problem with that in a general sense, it's one of the things that attracts me to the whole serial comic book medium, but will Vaughan and Chiang stick the landing? I want to know that before I praise it too effusively. I guess this is a limitation of the Best Graphic Story category I don't know of a way to overcome, except maybe in renominating the entirety of Paper Girls as complete work whenever it comes to a conclusion.

3. Saga, Volume Six, script by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples

I ended up being very torn about the relative rankings of the two Brian K. Vaughan comics, and torn about potential tie-breakers: do I break the tie by going with a return to a world I enjoy? Or do I count inventing something new as superior? In the end I decided that I could appreciate Saga, Volume Six more than Paper Girls 1 because there's a coherent story and thematic unity about prisons (the ones we're put in and the ones we put ourselves in) in volume 6 of Saga, while Paper Girls feels more like it just stops without resolving story or theme. Plus it might just be the familiarity that makes me like the Saga characters more, but that's still something, and I'm going with it. There are no cute walrus farmers* or exiled robot princes in Paper Girls.

2. Ms. Marvel: Super Famous; script by G. Willow Wilson; art by Takeshi Miyazawa, Adrian Alphona, and Nico Leon

Ms. Marvel is one of two comics I buy on a monthly basis, so this was actually the only finalist in this category I'd read already; I brushed back through the issues (vol. 4, #1-6) instead of rereading the whole thing. In the two story arcs collected here, Kamala fights gentrification in Jersey City (it turns out to be a HYDRA plot) and accidentally creates an army of duplicates of herself. There's a lot of good teen stuff here: learning how to deal with friends in romantic relationships, learning how to find your limits, learning how to deal with family members in romantic relationships. The second story is in particular just brilliantly hilarious; Nico Leon draws an amazing army of Ms. Marvel duplicates, and the bit where Kamala's friend Bruno summons Loki is delightful. Ms. Marvel is one of the best things going right now in superhero comics. The only bad thing about this volume is that Adrian Alphona, who drew most of G. Willow Wilson's original run, only draws ten pages of it. I have actually liked Takeshi Miyazawa since Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, but Alphona defined Kamala and her world, and I'm sad that as it's gone on, he's drawn less and less of it for whatever reasons.

1. The Vision: Little Worse than a Man, script by Tom King, art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta

It was a tough choice for me between The Vision and Ms. Marvel, but I guess in a tie I give the pip to the first volume of something new over the fifth volume of something not quite as new. The Vision places the Avengers' best synthezoid in the D.C. suburbs with a newly constructed family (one wife, two kids) as he takes up a new job as the president's Avengers liaison. Things quickly get out of control, though, as the Visions are subject to prejudice from the locals and assault by supervillains in suburbia. King is a brutal, economic writer (if I'd been a supporting member of Worldcon earlier, I'd've nominated his excellent Omega Men run) who brings something really special to the way he tells this story (great captions!), and Gabriel Hernandez Walta matches his sensibilities, with a simple style that belies the brutality underneath this world (our world) and a great way with facial expressions. Walta's Visions hit the uncanny valley perfectly.

Best Novel 

6. Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

This was the only Best Novel finalist I just completely bounced off of-- I enjoyed everything ranked above it to varying degrees, but I just could not get into this book. That said, I wouldn't object if it won; it seemed like the kind of book that could be someone else's cup of tea (and it must have been many people's cup of tea to end up a finalist), but it very much was not mine. Too frustrating and inexplicable to be interesting or enjoyable.

5. Death's End by Cixin Liu

The top three books were hard to rank; the bottom three much more easy. Though Death's End probably has more of sfnal interest than A Closed and Common Orbit, sf is about more than neat ideas-- a good novel also needs a compelling story or stories, and Death's End did not, whereas as I got emotionally involved in A Closed and Common Orbit... despite not wanting to! And the ideas in Death's End just weren't as interesting as those in the first two Remembrance of Earth's Past novels in any case. If all three books had been as good as The Three-Body Problem, I could see this ending up higher on my ballot, but Death's End was not as good as the first two, so oh well.

4. A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Even if I did end up getting a bit misty-eyed while reading A Closed and Common Orbit, and even if it provides a complete adventure in a way that The Obelisk Gate and Too Like the Lightning it did, it's still hard for me to claim that it's better than those books. I mean, it's very good, but if science fiction should invent new realities for the purposes of thought experiment (and though that's just one thing it does, but it's an important one to me), A Closed and Common Orbit is just not as ambitious as the other two. It's a strong slate that could push a book this emotional this far down, I think.

3. The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin

I found this tough to rate versus Too Like the Lightning, I think partially because both are incomplete works-- The Obelisk Gate is reasonably satisfying on its own, but it is pretty clearly the middle chapters of a longer story, meaning that in some sense it will have to be judged retrospectively, once I have complete information on how that longer story succeeds. But I did really like it regardless.

2. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

I will note that this is, like, impossible. All the Birds and Obelisk Gate and Closed and Common and are all three very strong books that did not nail things 100%. Each book has elements that makes it award-worthy, and aspects that hold it back no matter how great it is. I ended up ranking All the Birds here because I felt like it satisfied me more than Obelisk Gate, yet lacked the ambition of Too Like the Lightning. On a different day I could probably totally rejuggle everything under my first-place choice and still be satisfied with the resultant list.

1. Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Though this is no more a complete story than The Obelisk Gate, possibly even less so as the book doesn't really have an ending, kind of just coming to a stop that will be picked up in Seven Surrenders, Too Like the Lightning feels like the greater achievement to me, in that Jemisin is revisiting a world (even if she is fleshing it out in doing so) while Palmer is establishing a new one, and quite successfully at that.

Best Related Work

7. Women of Harry Potter by Sarah Gailey

Not actually a book (I guess a "related work" doesn't have to be but usually is), but a series of blog posts on Tor.com, five as of the end of 2016 (six now), discussing female Harry Potter characters. Gailey doesn't write academic-style criticism; these are very enthusiastic tributes more than anything else, which often felt like they reflected what fans want the characters to be like more than what they actually are like. Well written, I guess, but they left me cold.

6. No Award

I'm having a hard time justifying the idea that the Hugo Award would go to a series of five so-so blog posts. (Kameron Hurley won the category in 2014 for a single blog essay, but that essay was much better than any of these.) On the other hand, even though I didn't like Traveler of Worlds very much, I can see how someone might like it, so I ranked it higher than No Award.

5. Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

If you hang on to Robert Silverberg's every word, this might be the book for you. It's hard for me to imagine why you would, though, as I found the questions and answers here largely superficial. Zinos-Amaro rockets through scintillating questions such as, what kind of food does Silverberg like to eat? and how does he organize his day? But even when Zinos-Amaro asks interesting questions, Silverberg largely fails to answer them interestingly; a big deal is made about Silverberg's travel and how it broadened his mind, but when Zinos-Amaro asks for an example, the best Silverberg can do is to explain that he got lost once and his wife's iPhone's GPS saved them, so he learned smartphones aren't that bad. Whoa! It also would have been nice if Zinos-Amaro had edited out the bits where he asked Silverberg a question and Silverberg said he had no opinion on the topic. Plus Silverberg goes on rants about how people in their thirties have no manners when they eat out. Scintillating! I haven't read much of Silverberg's fiction (no novels, just a few short stories); possibly if you did, you would like this more than me. Silverberg rags on Thomas Hardy for a few pages and, well, I know who I think will endure in that contest.

4. The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

This book collects a diary Carrie Fisher kept during the filming of Star Wars in 1976, a mix of poetry and prose written about her relationship with Harrison Ford, framed by Fisher's take on that relationship now. Interesting enough for what it is, and I suppose it's nice to have story out there-- but there's actually not much of a story there. Ford was in his mid-thirties and married and away from home (Star Wars was filmed in the UK), while Fisher was nineteen and acting more worldly than she actually was, and they had sex on the weekends but little connection-- Fisher was kind of in love, but then they flew back to the United States and it was all over. There is the occasional real interesting moment, like an incident where she really connects with Ford when she flawlessly imitates his walk. Fisher's thoughts on the way Leia and the Star Wars phenomenon shaped her life are interesting, though it would have been nice to have heard more about her returning to the character for The Force Awakens, which she only alludes to. Like a lot of the book, though, this section feels padded, as if Fisher is vamping to fill up space to justify this being its own volume. It's quite short, but it's still too long.

3. The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

This was a fun collection of various pieces of nonfiction Gaiman has written across his career, ranging from 1989 to 2016. It's a hodgepodge (or an olio as the LA Times crossword might say) of speeches, introductions, newspaper columns, and all sorts. There's a lot to like here: Gaiman is a lively, engaging writer, enthusiastic in his appreciations, and usually humorous. There are only so many introductions you can read in a row, though, especially as Gaiman comes across as vaguely skeptical of the whole concept of the introduction, but my main takeaway from reading this was how invested Gaiman is not just in the genre of speculative fiction, but its fandom and its fans. We could do a lot worse. (Also, his thoughts on genre contrast in interesting and productive ways with Le Guin's below.)

2. The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

A collection of essays on topics related to feminist geekdom, some previously published (mostly on the author's blog), some original to the book. The very best one is an analysis of masculinity in True Detective, which really effectively blends the critical, the personal, and the political in a way that illuminates both True Detective and general cultural trends. I also really liked the last essay, about llamas as a metaphor for how stories shape our perceptions of history. If they had all been as good as those two (and some others were), this would have got my top spot, I think, but Hurley has a tendency to wax in generalities that prevents her from being as insightful as she might.

1. Words Are My Matter by Ursula K. Le Guin

I'd place this book almost on a par with Gaiman's collection, as they're pretty similar works. What gave Le Guin the edge for me was its focus (at over 500 pages I eventually got tired of Gaiman's ideas in a way I didn't with Le Guin's 300) and her book reviews, which are more critically successful than anything in Gaiman's book, as fun as it was to read.

Overall Thoughts

I feel like both Best Graphic Story and Best Novel were very strong categories this year. I remember looking at some shortlists a few years ago when Best Graphic Story was first being implemented and being flabbergasted at the abysmal quality of some of the stuff; though I didn't like Black Panther, I can see how someone else might, and the other five works ranged from very good to great in my estimation.

Similarly, I'd be pleased if anything in my top four won in Best Novel; I thought they were all great books in very different ways, and ranking the top tier especially was completely impossible. Space opera, epic fantasy, utopian sf, hybrid speculative fiction-- all very different breeds of genre fiction, but all doing what it ought to do best. I look forward to reading the follow-ups to A Closed and Common Orbit, The Obelisk Gate, and Too Like the Lightning. My guess is that Too Like the Lightning or All the Birds will win, but I think it will be tight.

Related Work I enjoyed the least of these categories. Le Guin is great, of course, but if the other two book categories are pushing the genre forward in new and interesting ways, there's something retrograde about a category dominated by authors who came to prominence in the 1950s (Silverberg), the 1970s (Le Guin), and the 1980s (Gaiman), and one who's famous for being in a movie. I mean, this category is always going to be backward-looking by nature, but I don't feel like it needs to be this backward looking.

In Two Weeks: I react to the actual award winners, and also sum up my thoughts on this whole Hugo process.

* A walrus who farms, not a farmer of walruses.