2017 Dragon Awards Winners Announced

The results have been announced and just as with last year, the Hugos have been shown once again to be way outside the mainstream.  Of course, not everything I voted for won.  But enough did and enough other stuff that did win was at least recognizable as SF&F.  Sure, there’s some stuff written by SJW allies but at least it was stuff people actually buy so the really egregious stuff was passed over completely.  Here’s the complete list:

http://awards.dragoncon.org/2017_winners/

Kudos to the winners and especially to Larry and the other puppies, sad and rabid, for starting the fire in that dumpster known as the Hugos.  Like anything that’s been shown defective the Hugos have been replaced with something that actually works.

Ray Bradbury – An American Original – Part 2 – The Short Stories

In the first part of this post, I’ve given a little background on how I became introduced to Ray Bradbury’s stories.  After detailing Dandelion Wine, I feel talking about his shorter works is the next order of business.  I own a collection of these called “The Stories of Ray Bradbury” which includes what Bradbury considered his best 100 short stories.  I went through these today and picked out my favorites.  I feel it’s necessary to qualify that statement.  There are more than a few of Bradbury’s best stories that have become components of the longer work Dandelion Wine.  Since I’ve already reviewed that work I’ve left these short stories out of this selection process.

Here are my selections for the best of the best in the same order as they appear in the book:

  1. The Crowd
  2. The Scythe
  3. The City
  4. There Was an Old Woman
  5. There Will Come Soft Rains
  6. The Veldt
  7. A Sound of Thunder
  8. Invisible Boy
  9. The Fog Horn
  10. Hail and Farewell
  11. The Great Wide World Over There
  12. Skeleton
  13. The Man Upstairs
  14. The Jar
  15. Touched with Fire
  16. The Town Where No One Got Off
  17. Boys! Grow Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar!
  18. The One Who Waits

Now here’s the thing.  I could easily have added double this number.  Almost all the stories are good.  But these are the ones I especially like.  So, this selection probably says more about me than it does about Bradbury’s best of the best.  But that can be said about any critic’s choices.

An interesting fact I discovered after making this list is that there are at least three stories in this list which I don’t think have any SF&F content in them whatsoever.  They are just studies in human nature.  And yet they appear on this list.  Which I take to mean that Bradbury finds people interesting and knows how to make them interesting to his readers.  Now, that may not seem remarkable, but look at the people writing at the same time as Bradbury.  Let’s take Isaac Asimov.  If you read Asimov’s long or short fiction what you will find is that he is a purveyor of ideas.  But his characters, even his protagonists are ciphers.  There isn’t any emotional content worth mentioning.  And that even counts the scenes where the action is dependent on an emotional response from one of his characters.  He could just as well have been describing billiard balls ricocheting around a pool table.  You might even see the psychological logic of the emotional response but you won’t experience empathy or interest in the character as a human being because of it.  It’s just a plot device.

This was why Bradbury was different back then.  He wrote people in SF&F stories as if they actually were people.  Better writers back then were also doing this to some extent.  Heinlein’s characters displayed more individuality than the average and this is one of the reasons why he is still enjoyed.  But Bradbury brought this to a much higher level.

What else can be definitely said about Bradbury’s stories?  I would say that he almost exclusively deals in the foreground of the picture.  By that I mean that his subjects are almost always face to face.  If Arthur C. Clarke were describing a nuclear holocaust you would see it from orbit.  You would see the ballistic paths of the ICBMs and you would be at the top of the parabola when one missile starts to descend.  And you would see the individual nuclear ignitions across the face of the globe like some fireworks display.  That’s not Bradbury.  With him you’ll see the aftermath of a suburban home on the edge of the kill zone.  You’ll see the toaster in the kitchen and you’ll see the shadows of the family imprinted onto the side of the house facing the gamma ray flash.

Even when Bradbury does write a story of aliens invading earth you are not going to get War of the Worlds.  You’ll get that same suburban neighborhood with husbands and housewives and little Jimmy working on his hobby in the basement.

So now I’ve said a bunch of words about Bradbury’s short fiction.  If you’re looking for hard-core technical sf or even just plain old amusing space opera do not stop at Bradbury.  Move right along.  There’s none of that here.  But if you want to delve into the mysterious world within a world that is the human soul take a trip with him.  It might strike a resonant chord.  Or it might not.  Either way you’ll learn something.

Ray Bradbury – An American Original – Part 1 – Dandelion Wine

 

When I was a kid back in the third quarter of the twentieth century I came upon science fiction in the children’s section of the Brooklyn Public Library.  And so I read Heinlein’s and Asimov’s juvenile sf stories.  As I got a little older I was able to borrow from the adult collection and soon discovered all the golden age authors and some of the newer, edgier writers.  But at a certain point I discovered Ray Bradbury.  I remember he had two collections called R is for Rocket, S is for Space.  But when I read them I found out he wasn’t writing space opera.  In fact, some of his stories didn’t seem to be science fiction at all.  At the time, I didn’t know what fantasy was.  They just seemed to be strange stories.  Later on, I found some of his stories showing up on “The Twilight Zone” TV series and this helped me categorize them as something weird and fun.  But whatever I called him Bradbury was different from the other writers I knew.  Each of his stories had to be evaluated on the merits.  Some of his stories lacked fantasy plot elements and at the time these stories seemed lacking in interest.  Others were almost horror stories and these kept my attention best.  Even his most externally identifiable science fiction stories, “The Martian Chronicles,” didn’t feel like other science fiction stories.  Even if there were ray guns and aliens and space ships it didn’t seem as if these were the point of the story.  They were more like parables or morality tales.  And to a kid this was perplexing.  But I always considered Bradbury as something worth reading.  He was high value.

Fast forward twenty years.  It was the late nineteen eighties.  I was in an old used bookstore in Boston during my lunch hour from a design engineering job I had.  I hadn’t read any science fiction in a while.  I was browsing through a pile of books that had been displayed earlier in the year as summer reading.  There was a used hard cover book with a mylar library-type jacket cover on and a cover painting of a little blond haired boy virtually covering the pavement with his chalk drawings of lines and shapes.  The book was called “Dandelion Wine” and the author was Ray Bradbury.  It was a novel length book and it surprised me because I didn’t remember Bradbury writing many novels.  At the time “Fahrenheit 451” was the only one I could think of.

On a lark, I bought it.  I put it on my bookshelf and figured I’d get to it when the project I was on slowed down.  Well I forgot all about that book and before that project slowed down I had changed jobs and was too busy for reading.  It was about nine months later in July, when I picked it up again.  I was going on vacation with my wife and kids to Old Orchard Beach, Maine for a week.  It’s a very working class old beach resort where middle class people go to sit by the ocean and let their kids dig sand castles and swim.  And later on, you can go down to the pier and buy bad pizza and ice cream for your kids and let them get fake tattoos or go down to the amusement park and watch them be centrifuged in the dozen or so kinetic devices that are used to extract dollars from parents and regurgitated food from kids’ stomachs.  The several years I brought my young family there are among the happiest memories I have.

Anyway, when the family settled in the beach house at night and the kids settled down to reading or watching the TV I picked up Dandelion Wine.  And I was surprised to find I had already read it.  But wait, not really, I’d read parts of it.  What Bradbury had done was patch together a number of his older stories along with transition scenes that tied them together, and make a narrative about a summer for a boy and his family and neighbors in Green Town, USA circa 1928.  What it really was, was an ode to the boyhood Ray Bradbury had lived and imagined in Waukegan, Illinois.  He used the memories of his childhood home and passed them through the story writing algorithm in his head and invented a world that struck me as remarkable.  Here were the mundane short stories that as a kid didn’t click with me because there were no monsters or space ships.  Now they were knitted together to talk about what was magical about being a twelve-year-old boy in a small mid-western town in the early twentieth century with three months of summer vacation ahead of you.  They are stories about family and friends and growing up and living and getting old and even dying.  And they are mostly about being a kid.

Since that summer I’ve re-read that book a dozen times in whole or part.  I mostly read it when I have some vacation time in summer.  This year I’ll be sixty.  When I read that book I’m not even sixteen, I’m twelve.  It’s remarkable.  I didn’t grow up in a small town.  I grew up on the relatively mean streets of Brooklyn, NY.  And I was born forty years after him.  But I can understand what he’s saying and feeling in his alter ego character.  He’s captured the essence of boyhood in its quintessential form, summer freedom.  And the setting is a simpler time and place.  It’s idyllic.  Not realistic but almost archetypal.

I imagine there are many for whom this type of story has no appeal.  It’s not high adventure or technical fun.  But if any of this strikes a chord try the book out.

Changeling’s Island by Dave Freer – A Very Short Review (by Proxy)

 

I have a relative, a boy in seventh grade, who is a ravenous reader of science fiction and fantasy (among other things).  Being a conservative and being allergic to anything smacking of political correct narrative fiction I have made it my practice to pass along the older stuff that I grew up on back in the time before fun was banned.  He digests these old books at a rate that seems almost supernatural.  But recently I bought something modern to see how that would fly.

I had heard good things about Dave Freer’s “Changeling’s Island.”  I ordered it on Amazon but instead of the usual two days, it took about two weeks.  I guess it had to be printed on order.  I did a quick read of the first couple of chapters and found it engaging and appropriate for my young reading machine.  I dropped it off a week ago and hoped he would like it.

Well, I spoke with him today and discovered that not only did he like it, he wanted more of the same.  Apparently, this was good stuff.  I told him I didn’t have any more at the moment but would check for more stuff from Freer.  He was unpleased at my unpreparedness to feed the machine with its new fuel of choice.  In desperation, I foisted off a set of the Foundation trilogy on him that I had been holding onto since 1970, and told him I’d try to do better in the future.  So now I have to find out if Freer has any other young adult sf&f available.  If not I’ll be responsible for disappointing the next generation.  Wish me luck.

The Eclectic Prince by Caspar Vega – A Short Book Review

Back on March 14th 2017 I reviewed favorably Mr. Vega’s novella “The Pink Beetle”.  That was the third installment of his “The Young Men in Pain Quartet Book Series.”  The Eclectic Prince is the first installment but the grouping is only thematic and not sequential so you may sample in any order.  As I noted in my earlier book review, Mr. Vega has a very distinct writing style.  He makes sudden transitions and violent plot shifts.  His characters are not introspective but very impulsive and action oriented.  The plot progresses rapidly but rarely linearly.

The first piece of information to convey is that this is an adult book.  There is a fair amount of sexual content that would be entirely inappropriate for even teenagers (in my opinion).  And there are some situations that are fairly disturbing from the point of view of conventional social mores.

Now for some personal information as a point of reference on my taste in books.  Full disclosure, I’m not typically a consumer of dark fiction.  I mostly inhabit the sunnier climes of story-telling.  I will indulge in something like Red Dragon or Silence of the Lambs if it’s very well written but it’s not my usual fare.

The Eclectic Prince is relatively dark.  There aren’t any good guys to cheer.  The protagonist at various times indulges in violent assault of a stranger and murder of a family friend.  And there are even darker doings that I will not mention so as not to spoil the story.  Suffice it to say he’s not such a nice guy.  And he’s not even justified in the sense that he’s getting revenge on someone who committed a terrible wrong against him.  He’s just a sociopath.

The outline of the story is episodic and consists of different vignettes that are tied together by the fantasy mechanism that underlines the story.  This mechanism isn’t entirely clear from the text and this vagueness adds to the seeming randomness of the plot.

Let me sum it up.  It’s a dark disturbing story of an unsympathetic protagonist, a kind of story that I would not typically choose to read.

But it’s well written, original and engaging in a transgressive way.  Once again Mr. Vega is in the tradition of a noir type story with a fantasy framework to remove the bizarre story from the realm of reality.  This allows some justification for suspending a very heavy bias against such a disagreeable protagonist.  For those who seek out this type of story I can wholeheartedly recommend it.  It is not for the faint of heart.

I haven’t decided whether to delve deeper into his quartet.  This type of story is, as I stated above, not my typical choice.  But maybe when I’m in a darker mood I’ll venture in again for another dose.

A Eulogy for Grimm – Part 2 – The Series Finale

A Eulogy for Grimm – Part 1

 

Spoiler Alert.  If you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know, don’t read this.

So, last night I watched it.  Oh, Good Lord.  The only theory that could deflect shame from everyone involved in this fiasco is if the writers had all been fired and instead the Producer’s teenage daughter wrote it, while attending a school dance, while texting her best friends, while breaking up with her boyfriend, during a hurricane.  Even as an ironic joke or as part of a drinking game (let’s say a tequila shot after each important character is brutally slaughtered) it’s unwatchable.  Rather than belabor the point with countless examples of awful television viewing let me cut to the chase.  At the climax of the show the hero is about to betray the world to the devil by surrendering to him this ultimate weapon when he is stopped by a young woman snatching it away.  He then chases her down, beats her into submission and is heading back to surrender it again when his dead mother and dead aunt calling to him from heaven shame him into a debate about fighting back.  But he’s so broken from the beating he’s been given by the devil that the only way he agrees to fight is if his mother and his aunt will fight for and with him.  Think about this for a moment.  A grown man has to be helped in a fight by his mother!  And in fact, most of the damage in the battle is done by his dead female relatives.  This truly represents the low ebb of masculinity on broadcast TV.  After the victory, there’s a sort of alternate reality scene change where all the main characters are alive again and don’t remember any of the climax as if it didn’t actually happen.  Nick starts hugging them all and seems pretty close to blubbering and it’s reminiscent of Dorothy awaking in her bed in Kansas.  “You were there and you were there, and there’s no place like home.”  Good Lord.  Then the very final scene is twenty years in the future and his son and his baby mamma’s daughter (by his mortal enemy and police chief boss) are now Grimms getting ready to head off with Mom and Dad for some good old American Wessen slaughtering.  Good clean fun.  Good Lord.

I confess I liked this show when it first came out.  My only defense is that it was in the early Obama years and I needed something absurd to allow me to think that maybe none of what was going on in the world was real.  After all, if a whole American city could be composed of monsters without any humans suspecting then maybe somehow the world would manage to escape the Obama presidency without mortal damage being done.  Silly me.  Luckily, now we’re in the age of Trump and I don’t need fantasies to distract me.  The reality is bizarre (and entertaining) enough.  So, farewell to Nick and Juliette.  Farewell to Monroe and Rosalee.  Long may you inhabit Wessen-infested make-believe Portland Oregon which is a distinct improvement over the actual horror of SJW infested Portland.

A Eulogy for Grimm – Part 1

A eulogy is supposed to be praise spoken over the deceased at his funeral.  It literally means “good speech” in the Greek.  So technically I suppose this should be called a kakology* because I won’t be saying too much good.  Maybe what this should be called is a post-mortem.

I started watching Grimm when it premiered in 2011.  When it began I thought it was fun.  The special effects were alright and the conceit that just about everyone in Portland Oregon was a monster (called Wesen) hadn’t yet become a reductio ad absurdum.  Also, I hadn’t grown to despise most of the characters yet.

I’ll give my analysis for what went wrong with Grimm.  I think the problem with any of these urban fantasy TV series is the open-ended aspect of weekly TV.  While it is possible to advance the “mythology” component of the show toward some long-term plot line in a way that can be sustained for several seasons, the single episode plot component needs to have some interesting writing each week to prevent the show from seeming repetitive and boring.  I mean, how many ways are there to have the protagonist (Nick, the Grimm) skewer the monster du jour with a sword or a pitch fork or a lawn dart?  Eventually the look of boredom starts showing up even on the well-paid actors’ faces.  This is similar to the problem that occurs on all long-running TV shows but it’s especially dangerous to these fantasy shows because the action is already incredibly close to ridiculous from the get go.  It doesn’t take much to achieve the reductio ad absurdum I mentioned earlier.  After all, hiding the prodigious body count of terminated monsters (who revert to human form upon being deep sixed) is kind of hard to justify over the course of years.  And with just about every individual introduced in the series being a Wesen it seems laughable that they haven’t already taken over Portland and massacred Nick and his friends.

Another problem is the lack of likeability of most of the main characters.   Nick’s girl-friend (Juliette) becomes a Wesen and eventually murders and beheads his mother.  And after Juliette is killed (and then re-animated as an emotionless zombie named Eve) Nick becomes intimate with the Wesen (a hexenbiest or witch named Adalind) that was responsible for Juliette becoming evil.  Her ex-lover (Sean who also happens to be the chief of police and Nick’s boss) goes from being an enemy to an ally to a mortal foe of the good guys,  He is also the step father of Nick’s son.  Basically it’s hard to really take any of the relationships seriously or even remember how we got to where the story stands.  However, over the course of the series, the only character that I didn’t come to despise was Monroe.  Regardless of how idiotic the script that this vegan werewolf clock repairman was given, the actor managed to inject humor and interest in the character.

And finally, the biggest reason Grimm stinks is because the plots are all the same.  The variations for why Wesen were murdering the few humans that exist in Portland or each other were wholly unimportant and extremely boring.

I stopped watching the show a year ago.  When I heard it had been cancelled and only a half season was being produced this year I started watching again.  I wanted to see if a short span allowed the writers to sharpen up the plots and give us something worth watching.  So far it hasn’t.  This Friday (March 31st) is the series finale.  I’ll report back afterwards to document whether they could even salvage that.  I’m not very hopeful.

 

*I prefer transliterating the Greek letter kappa into English with the letter k instead of c.

 

A Eulogy for Grimm – Part 2

Trump vs the Urban Fantasy Debate

Scene 1: Trump Campaign HQ. Two nights before the First Debate.

 

Campaign Manager Steve Bannon (SB):  Mr. Trump, you called for me?

Donald Trump (DT):  Bannon, I need your help preparing for the debate.

SB:  Certainly sir.  Do you need someone to stand in for Mrs. Clinton or the moderator?

DT:  Well sort of.  I need someone who’s the same height and weight as Hillary.

SB:  Uhhhh …… why?

DT:  I need to practice some fighting techniques for when she vamps out and rushes me.

SB:  Mr. Trump, I must assure you that there is absolutely no possibility that Mrs. Clinton is a vampire.  And despite what occurred in Louisiana, you are most definitely not a werewolf.

DT:  Look Bannon, obviously you’re just not as perceptive as I am.  You know, with my werewolf senses and stuff.  Trust me.  It’s completely certain that she is some species of undead and 83% certain to be a vampire.  The science is settled on this point.  You either have to lead, follow or get out of the way.  I intend to lead.  My plan is to replace the drinking water on the stage with holy water and when she drinks it her face and throat will burst into flames.  At that point I intend to stake her and pin her to the podium carpet.  Then I’ll  explain to the Secret Service the importance of decapitating her and stuffing her mouth with garlic as soon as the debate is finished.  My only problem at this point is whether I should go after Bill next or hold off until the full moon.  I believe he is the senior vampire and his strength may be too great for me to take him down without my werewolf power.

SB:  For God’s sake stop this insanity.  You’re running for the most powerful office in the world.  If anyone heard you talking like this you’d be locked up in a nuthouse within an hour.  When I took this job I knew you were goofy but I didn’t think you were bat-shit crazy.  Look I should probably drop a dime on you myself but so help me I need this gig to work.  So come on, snap out of it and try to act sane.

DT:  Bannon, I can’t work with someone so stupid. You’re fired. Now send in Kellyanne so I can get going on this debate prep work.

SB: Goodbye and good riddance you psycho.

Scene 2: First Presidential Debate.

BBC Correspondent (BBCC): Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen and welcome to the BBC radio coverage of the 2016 First Presidential Debate between Democratic Party candidate, the esteemed former First Lady, United States Senator and Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Party candidate, the eccentric failed businessman and reality show personality Donald Trump. The candidates have met for a decidedly tepid handshake and now have taken their places at their podiums. Mrs Clinton is looking decidedly hale and hearty and not at all like the frail elderly person that the Trump campaign has presented her as. As you can now hear Mr. Trump is making some decidedly sophomoric opening remarks about mexican payment for masonry or some such rubbish. Now it is Mrs. Clinton’s turn and as you must hear her diction and elocution is masterful and might I even say delightful. Why it seems entirely possible that Mr. Trump may retreat immediately and vacate the stage in the face of such commanding eloquence. Mrs. Clinton has finished and the studio audience is standing and applauding quite spontaneously. It’s an amazing sight. I think I can be forgiven for saying that a second debate will be completely unnecessary. I feel I must go on the record to congratulate Madam President for this amazing victory. Well done, oh well done.

Trump looks dumbfounded he’s just looking at Hillary as if he expects more punishment from her. Mrs. Clinton is basking in the glow of her still cheering audience. Now she’s reaching for her glass of water for a well deserved beverage. The moderator has asked Trump his first question but the oafish challenger is so overwhelmed by the intellectual beating he’s just taken he hasn’t heard a word of it. He’s still staring at the First Lady as if she will further abuse him while drinking her water. Does he imagine her to be a ventriloquist?

Wait a minute something terrible has just occurred! An enormous flash of light and flames have erupted around the face of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Was the water in the glass actually some kind of incendiary material. A horrible shriek is going up. Oh the poor woman! The secret service is converging on her. They’ve encircled her. Oh help her, help her! She’s on the floor now. But wait the agents are scattering away. All but one. He is holding the First Lady. No she has him. Now he’s screaming. Something unbelievable is occurring. Mrs. Clinton seems to have increased in size and metamorphosed somehow. She is ripping out of the delightful powder blue pantsuit and is taking on a decidedly bat-like appearance. She seems to have exsanguinated the secret service gentleman and is approaching the moderator. This is taking a decidedly unexpected turn and it appears that the moderator feels that Mrs. Clinton has exceeded the already very generous bounds of allowable debating technique at this juncture.

But hold on, Mr. Trump is charging at Mrs. Clinton and appears to have a large pointed wooden implement in his hand. Although this also seems outside the bounds of allowable debating etiquette it appears the moderator is not going to object. Mrs. Clinton must have noticed his approach because she has pivoted away from the moderator and is facing Trump. But alas she is too late. He has implanted the wooden object into Mrs. Clinton’s thoracic region right up to the hilt. And he calls himself a gentleman! Shocking.

Mrs. Clinton has landed on her back and is thrashing about spasmodically. Mr. Trump is standing back. He’s saying something. I can’t make it out. I’m looking at the program feed that we provide for the deaf viewers and it has transcribed his words as “suck on that Bannon.” Well that strikes me as entirely cryptic.

Well Mrs. Clinton appears to have expired and is beginning to deflate down into a dessicated pile of detritus. Mr. Trump is returning to his podium and appears about to speak. Let’s move in for his comments.

DT: Good evening my fellow Americans. Tonight we have witnessed the ultimate proof of the greatness that is Trump. I have saved America from the undead and also higher taxes. Because of the short window of opportunity to select a new democratic candidate I have instructed the Democrats to leave Hillary’s name on the ballot. Let’s face it, anyone they picked at this point is probably also undead and I’ll just have to stake him too. Because of the shocking events of tonight and also because I myself am now a werewolf, I’ve decided to end my campaigning activities and will just wait for your acclamation in November. So go back to your lives and don’t worry about anything. Werewolf Trump has got your back. After my inauguration I’ll be using my special werewolf senses to root out injustice and corruption wherever it exists in the federal government. My summary judgement will be brutal but fair. Also I’ll be taping these events for my new reality series “Vigilante Werewolf President.” It will be hard-hitting but classy. Very little nudity. I predict it will last eight seasons or more. Trump out.