Thursday, April 23, 2015

Grace of Kings

I read Grace of Kings, Ken Liu's phenomenal debut novel over the last couple weeks and really enjoyed it!  It's a book that does a lot of very interesting things with style.  It's set in a far-eastern setting but deliberately avoids easy analogs to China and elsewhere.  It's a big, complicated, wonderful book.  You should go read it.  If you're an author, you should probably figure out how it works.  If we don't look back in 5-10 years and comment on Grace of Kings' influence on the genre, I'm going to be very disappointed.

I'm not going to attempt to write a review of Grace of Kings.  I don't think I've got the skill to write such a review, and I think there's too much to dig into for a single review anyway.  If you'd like a general review, Justin Landon wrote one for Tor.Com.  Kate Elliott (at A Dribble of Ink) and The Book Smugglers both have good posts that focus on gender in the Grace of Kings.  Down at the bottom, I'm including a link to all the tweets I wrote along the way.

In lieu of a review, here are some observations/questions that Grace of Kings prompted that I'd love to dig into.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Did you read Short SFF recently? Do you want to?

Did you read Short Stories, Novelettes or Novellas in the past few months? Did you like them? Would you like to share those recommendations with other people?!?

Renay and Jodie of Ladybusiness, Cecily, and I want to know about your favorite short fiction!  So that we can share the love.  So we've got a survey up from April 6 - April 27 (so today through the last Monday in April which makes sense in my head if only in my head).  Tell us about the short fiction written in the first quarter of 2015 that you loved!

Share! Recommend! Tell other people! 

Recommend!  We'll report back on what we've found and heard about in May!

If you don't read short fiction, you should.  Here are three stories from three different magazines that publish it.  You can start with one & then go explore from there.  Hit me up on Twitter if you'd like more venue recommendations, though I certainly don't have an exhaustive list.

Cat Pictures, Please from Clarkesworld is a charming little story about an AI that likes cat pictures.  Wasn't quite my cup of tea, but you might like it.

With a Golden Risha from Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, in which a talented bard is swept up by pirates!

The Half-Dark Promise from Shimmer, a story about a girl with a steam-clock heart making her way home late at night through the haunted streets of Chicago.  Compelling voice!

Go! read these!  Read more from these venues.  Read other things.  Then tell us about them! We want to hear!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Oh Fandom ...

Oh Fandom ...

I've been reading SFF for a while, and recently started listening to and joining in the conversations about diversity, and you're making me sad right now.*

During these conversations, a few points have come up:

  • First, when you're looking at an institution, results matter more than intentions.
  • Second, diversity is hard, and when you're not getting diverse and interesting results you probably need to do more outreach.
Let's look at the last few years of the Hugos fandom, and in particular the downballot items where things like insularity are a lot more likely to show up.  Lots of the same names appearing over and over again.  Plenty of people and organizations that are "Hugo Darlings" which can be expected to place well in the Hugos even if they're not getting critical attention elsewhere.  Do we want to be diverse, in terms of voices, creators, and stories? Yes.  Are we succeeding in that? Eh, maybe.  Results matter more than intentions, and the results (again especially downballot) for the past years of Hugos are not signs of a healthy community.

Now it's easy to look at the Sad/Rabid Puppies this year and see some great explosion of awful, but really these guys are a symptom of the notion that diversity is hard.  They're not the only symptom of the past few years (lets go ahead and rehash the well-worn and familiar Hugo arguments), and they're not even the only symptoms this year.  Who's the 5th Fan Writer this year: someone who's claim to fame is most charitably a work of policing borders.  The best writer the non-Puppies could come up with is someone who's working on keeping up the borders and defining who's in and out.  

Diversity is hard.  Results matter.  When you're seeing uninteresting lists and the same sorts of people and voices showing up year after year after year, you probably need to do more outreach.  

I don't know how I'm going to vote this year.  I don't think it's my business to tell anyone else how they should react.  I do know that I'm going to keep voting on the Hugos for a while.  "Hugo Award Winner" meant a lot to me growing up.  Now, being able to participate in defining "the best" of this SFF community I'm falling more and more in love with is a wonderful thing! I got such pleasure out of passing around names and stories and books and participating in all of these conversations this year.  It was great! Thank you so much for that experience!

So fandom, let's work on getting a healthier Hugo voting community.  There are some wonderful people out there who fielded questions (and a certain amount of venting) from me and many other people about eligibility and categories.  Who built tools to help us make recommendations, discover great stories, and build our ballot.  I'd like to extend my thanks to those people.  Let me know how I can help you even more next year.

Maybe let's not be quite as happy when someone pops up to say "what's the latest kerfuffle?"  That's not really the sign of a healthy community.

Fandom, I love you.  I really do.  You've had me in tears of joy and laughter on multiple occasions recently.  Even the grumbles about award categories have a feel of love and warmth much of the time.  The joy and celebration of the Tiptree Award announcements this morning were great!  But let's look at the lists of nominees we've had recently, the number of nominators we've had recently, and the sorts of arguments we've been having recently.  There may be culture wars raging, and block voting may be a problem, but it's also just one of the symptoms of a way that our community isn't healthy.  So maybe we could build a bigger, healthier, more diverse community? Maybe?  

*Yes, this is prompted by the Hugo nominations, SP/RP wins, and the resulting fallout.  I'm going to assume that if you're here, you know what I'm talking about.  If not, google will probably help you find something elsewhere.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A thing I have not done

It will come as no surprise to people who follow me on Twitter that I'm a pretty big fan of podcasts.  Since before Serial* even, since that's probably something I should say to sound like a hipster.  Kai Ryssdal and the excellent folks at Marketplace keep me company every weekday while I clean.  Michelle Philippe's daily updates make me grin.  NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour brightens every Friday as Linda, Glen, Stephen and the gang say really smart things about topics I didn't think I'd care about and make me reconsider my own media engagement while also persuading me that perhaps Pop Culture isn't beneath NPR's dignity.  I've listened to 49 different programs, am subscribed to 39, and probably listen to more than half the episodes of about 20 of them.  I listen to a lot of podcasts.  I argue along on Twitter with the good folks at Intelligence Squared (who even change my mind sometimes), and enjoy having my mind blown weekly by Melvyn Bragg and his guests.  I'm enough of a public radio enthusiast to enjoy it's own inside baseball podcast: Current's The Pub (I think Adam Ragusea is overly optimistic about the virtues a diverse newsroom can bring, but that's audio I should be sending him, not typing here).

I listen to a lot of podcasts.

I try really hard to listen to SFF podcasts.  I really do.  If you can name one, I've probably tried it.  And probably dropped it.  Most likely it's over an hour long, and if you're going to be that long you'd better be either fascinating & well-edited or a guilty pleasure whose voices I've become accustomed to. Most SFF podcasts I've listened to seem to either feature interviews with authors on the publicity circuit or resemble a panel of friends at a con sitting & chatting and having fun together.  Neither of these are necessarily bad, but they're not the podcast I want to listen to.  Tea & Jeopardy with Emma Newman is a ray of sunshine.  Renay and Ana in Fangirl Happy Hour have become a podcast I schedule my week around.  Writing Excuses is short and smart, but also targeted at authors, which I'm not.  My perfect podcast isn't out there, yet.

My perfect podcast is about 25-30 minutes long.  It features readers rather than authors, with a focus on the reading experience.  I want to pump my fist in my recognition when someone mentions books, scenes, and characters I recognize.  I want to put some titles on a list for my next trip to the library or bookstore.  I want to discover how readers who love the books I love have come to them, and what they see in those books.  I don't really care much about characters (or maybe characterization, the concepts are a little fuzzy in my head), so I'm hoping to get someone to explain them to me.  Ditto with prose, which I've always viewed as simply the words needed to get me my story and particularly the wondrous worldbuilding I've fallen in love with.

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and I haven't found that one yet.

But that's the great thing about podcasts - anyone can make one.  Get a microphone and a domain, be able to record a Skype conversation if you want to get fancy with interviews.  I've been planning on starting one for a bit now.  The one that I want to listen to.  I even did a couple test interviews and got one edited to a state that I like.  I had a great discussion with a good friend about Ancillary Justice that made me want to read it again.  I've recorded about three other pieces that I'd want to fit into a podcast.

And now I'm throwing up hurdles to myself.  The quality won't be good enough.  I won't be able to get any guests and I don't have anything interesting to say.  Good interviews are hard and bad interviews really bother me.  Imposter syndrome of all sorts.  I am (re)discovering that I'm not actually good at follow-through.

So, um, if anyone has words of advice or encouragement, kicks in the pants or practical suggestions, I'll take them.

*Secret confession - I listened to only about half of Serial and didn't particularly like it for lots of reasons that I don't want to throw quickly on a blog, but would love to chat about if you're so inclined.