Hugo Awards Voting Adventure Wrap-Up

My weekend got away from me and I didn’t make my final post of how I voted for the remainder of the 2014 Hugo Award categories I hadn’t previously discussed.  I did carve out two hours on Sunday afternoon to watch the live streaming of the Hugo Awards ceremony (which streaming went off with hardly a hitch, especially as compared to the Retro Hugo Awards ceremony from last Thursday night).

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Audiobook Review: Rendezvous with Rama by Clarke (4 Stars)

RendevousWithRamabyClarkeRendezvous with Rama by Arthur C Clarke

Read by Peter Ganim

4 out of 5 stars

Original novel winner of the following awards: Hugo Award for Best Novel (1974), Nebula Award for Best Novel (1973), Locus Award for Best Novel (1974), British Science Fiction Association Award for Novel (1974), Jupiter Award for Best Novel (1974), Seiun Award for Best Foreign Novel (1980), John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1974)

Synopsis:   At first, only a few things are known about the celestial object that astronomers dub Rama. It is huge, weighing more than ten trillion tons. And it is hurtling through the solar system at inconceivable speed. Then a space probe confirms the unthinkable: Rama is no natural object. It is, incredibly, an interstellar spacecraft. Space explorers and planet-bound scientists alike prepare for mankind’s first encounter with alien intelligence. It will kindle their wildest dreams…and fan their darkest fears. For no one knows who the Ramans are or why they have come. And now the moment of rendezvous awaits – just behind a Raman airlock door. Includes an exclusive introduction by Hugo Award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer

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Book Review: The Fall of Hyperion by Simmons (3.5 Stars)

The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

3.5 out of 5 stars

Read in January 2009

Warning: Spoilers

I liked this novel better than the first installment, Hyperion, and it probably rates 3.5 stars. After I sleep on it, I may up my rating to four stars, but for now it will sit comfortably at three stars.

We return to the story very nearly where we left off. Thankfully, Dan Simmons abandoned the Canterbury Tales frame tale format and returned to a more linear point of view. Linear is probably not the best word to fit a tale that spans time and space and the places that exist beyond and between both.

The Titanic struggle of survival of the human race unfolds in spurts through the dreams of Joseph Severn, the reincarnated cybrid that was formerly John Keats. His dreams are the real-time happenings across the galaxy, mostly focused on Hyperion, the stage for the final battle between man and machine.

It’s not until late in the novel that we learn the TechnoCore’s true plans to further enslave humanity to spur its evolution of the Universal Intelligence (an uber AI that is their created or perfected god). The TechnoCore tricks the Hegemony to committing two-thirds of its military to the Hyperion system and fakes a massive Ouster invasion on several key Web worlds. Their goal is to force the humans into the labyrinths, infecting them with the cruciform parasites (which resurrect and reconstruct the dead infinitely, eventually reducing the host to mental retardation but leaving the body and brain intact). The TechnoCore uses human brain/nerve cells for raw computing power and the UI will use the billions trapped in the labyrinth eternally, dooming humanity to slavery and imbecility.

Severn/Keats learns the location of the TechnoCore’s hidden home and relays the information to the CEO of the Hegemony. With only minutes to go before the TechnoCore unleashes a planetary purging via deathwand device aimed at Hyperion, the CEO orders the Web of farcasters destroyed (simultaneously across the galaxy), cutting off all travel and communications, but also destroying the TechnoCore’s haven. Humanity is left to recover without the crutches of TechnoCore technology and in some cases stranded on planets with little or no arable land. Humans learn to adapt and survive.

The irony or pun or twisted morale of the story seemed to hinge upon a literary device referred to as deus ex machina which I had to research to understand. Simmons took the translation quite literally and applied it unforgivingly to his creation.

I was relieved that Rachel was “cured” of her Merlin’s disease but disappointed in the revelation of her alternate identity.

Book Review: Neuromancer by Gibson (3 Stars)

Neuromancer by William Gibson

3 out of 5 stars

Read in December 2008

It was difficult to stay focused on this novel, its story and it’s characters. If I could, I would probably give this 2.5 stars rather than 3 stars, but I’ll be lenient since was a triple award winner in the 80s.

However, it really hasn’t stood the test of time well. If I had read this when published, which would have been my first year in college as an engineer/math/computer science college student, it would have been cutting edge, or more appropriately, bleeding edge.

But the character development was lost in the weird heist-like saga of these individuals thrown together by an immoral and immortal AI manipulating them and the world. It was sad that I couldn’t care what happened to them or their acquaintances or their world. Some of the action was top-notch, but much of their motivations were harsh, raw and confusing.

I can see where Hollywood has reworked this idea many times over the last two decades, most notably The Matrix and Johnny Mneumonic and a spattering of television episodes (a couple of X Files and a Lone Gunman one that I can remember off the top of my head).

Book Review: The Einstein Intersection by Delany (3 Stars)

The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany

3 out of 5 stars

Read in May 2009

Warning: Spoilers

This is the strangest science fiction story I have ever read! I spent most of the journey completely confused. Pieces of the puzzles fell into place as Lobey reached his destination through death, resurrection and rebirth.

Told by the descendants of aliens who occupied an abandoned Earth, I slowly discovered the current tenants tried to revive and relive human genetics and history (or mythology in most cases) to the detriment of their own future. A revolution roils beneath the surface between those who maintain the original mission and those who want to break free of humanity’s death throes to forge a new frontier.

The explanation for the arrival of the aliens is the crux of the title The Einstein Intersection:

“(T)wo mathematicians between them ended an age and began another for our hosts, the ghosts called Man. One was Einstein, who with his Theory of Relativity defined the limits of man’s perception by expressing mathematically just how far the condition of the observer influences the thing he perceives. … The other was Gödel, a contemporary of Einstein, who was the first to bring back a mathematically precise statement about the vaster realm beyond the limits Einstein had defined: In any classical mathematical system, there are an infinite number of true theorems which, though contained in the original system, cannot be deduced from it. … The visible effects of the Einstein theory leaped up on a convex curve, its productions huge in the first century after its discovery, then leveling off. The productions of Gödel’s law crept up on a concave curve, microscopic at first, then leaping to equal the Einstein curve, cross it, outstrip it. At the point of intersection, humanity was able to reach the limits of the known universe with ships and projection forces that are still available to anyone who wants to use them … and when Gödel’s law eagled over Einstein’s, its shadow fell on a deserted Earth. {emphasis added}

I read this novel to compare it to the other Hugo winners/nominee’s from 1968. I followed Lord of Light (the Hugo winner) with this one. I’m beginning to wonder if there was something strange in the water back in 1968 … perhaps Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds?

Book Review: Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein (3 Stars)

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

2.5-3 out of 5 stars

Read in October 2008

Warning: Spoilers

I read this for the GoodReads SciFi and Fantasy book club hear at GoodReads. It’s also the first Heinlein I remember reading (circa October 2008).

I found the first part of this book, probably the first half or so, to be a great story and mostly a science fiction story that I could really enjoy. An expedition to Mars ceases communicating with Earth and a rescue mission is not launched for several years. The only survivor of the original expedition isn’t even one of the original crew members, but the offspring of one of the couples. He has been raised by Martians from birth (his mother died bearing him and his father died as well). So he has no common points of references with humans. He is transported to Earth and kept under heavy guard at a medical facility until his body can acclimate to Earth’s environment and gravity.

Access to “the Man from Mars” is strictly regulated and you can start to see the political plotting and machinations within the first chapter or so. However, once the Man from Mars makes his escape from his governmental custodians, and furthers his education of all things Earth-like or human-like, Heinlein attempts to preach his vision of society. Subtle it is not.

The culmination of Mike’s teachings leads to his martyrdom but it felt dissatisfying to me, perhaps even hollow. It’s easy to change the world around you when you have unlimited wealth and unlimited power (abilities he was taught by the Martians). It left me wondering, if he had been left on a street corner with no wealth, no friends, nothing at all, would he have made any impact on our society?

Back in the early 60s, all of these new ideas about sex and religion and gender roles was probably shocking. Some of it is still a bit shocking to me, and I grew up in the 60s.

Better than 2.5 stars, but not quite a 3 star for me.  I’m glad I read this Hugo winner from Heinlein.

Update April 2013:  Since October 2008, I’ve read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers, both of which I enjoyed and liked much better than this novel.

Book Review: A Fire Upon the Deep by Vinge (3 Stars)

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

3 out of 5 stars

Read in January 2009

I read this for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club at GoodReads. It was the science fiction theme (space opera) selection for January 2009.

I must admit that only about a third or half of this story kept my interest. I was drawn in to the plight of Jefri and Johanna. And, by proximity, the inhabitants of the Tines world where Jefri and Johanna’s parents crash landed them and left them stranded and orphaned.

The rest of the tale, which most likely qualifies as the space opera epic, was confusing, sometimes appeared to be pointless, boring and just plain slow. As I approached the end, I admit I skimmed nearly all the parts that dealt with Ravna, Pham, the Skoderiders, the Blight and the chase to the Tines world.

If it weren’t for the uniqueness of the Tines world and the independent struggles of Jefri and Johanna, I probably would have given this a two star rating. But I love the resilience of Jefri and his ability to assimilate and adapt to Amdi, an eight-member pack of about the same maturity level as Jefri but extraordinarily gifted in mathematics. And Johanna was the rebellious teenager, convinced she was the only survivor of the crash and out to get revenge on the packs who had ambushed her family. Great drama, politics and manipulation, espionage and intrigue – all you could want to keep you riveted to the page.

The ending was a bit tragic and I was left with uncertainty as to the Blight and the Countermeasure’s struggle. I was never really given the chance to determine if the Blight or the Countermeasure were “evil” or “good” so I was ambivalent as to the Titanic struggle between the two. The only thing certain is that both the Blight and the Countermeasure destroyed billions upon billions of lives and whole swaths of civilizations in a large portion of the Galaxy. For that alone, neither of them are classified as “good” to me.

Book Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Clarke (4 Stars)

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

4 out of 5 stars

Read in January 2009

Warning: Spoilers

This novel was rich on many levels. It was fantasy, for it had magic and fairies, but it was also historical fiction, possibly even an alternate history of Britain during and shortly after the Napoleonic Wars. It’s pacing matched that of the times, sedate and thoughtful, rich in detail and characters.

Gilbert Norrell is a miserly magician of Yorkshire who hoards any and all books of magic he can get his hands on. His first act of magic in the novel actually results in the dissolution of a society of theoretical magicians in York for the sole purpose of making himself the only magician in Britain.

Jonathan Strange is an idle gentleman who stumbles upon his talent for magic and like a moth to the flame, flies to Mr. Norrell, the only source of magical information, and becomes his pupil. Their association lasts for several months until Strange surpasses Norrell in inventiveness and intuition and Norrell sends him to assist the army in Spain.

In Spain, Strange eventually becomes indispensable to Lord Wellington, initially by providing magic roads for the British Army to use which disappear back to a morass of mud just in time for the French Army to get bogged down in. Finally, Strange’s magic turns the tide of the Battle of Waterloo and thus ends the reign of Emperor Bounaparte.

Three background characters are pivotal to the story. The first is Emma Wintertowne, who eventually becomes Lady Pole after marrying Sir Walter Pole. But only after she is resurrected by Mr. Norrell with his second and most famous act of magic. But Norrell bargains away half of Emma’s life to the fairy he summoned to resurrect her, a fairy gentleman we know only as “the gentleman with the thistle-down hair.” This resurrection results in the enchantment and imprisonment of Lady Pole in the fairy hall of Lost-hope, doomed to dance and endless balls or participate in pointless processions.

The second supporting character also enchanted by the fairy gentleman is Sir Walter’s butler, a black man named Stephen Black. The fairy took a queer liking and attachment to Stephen and forced him to attend the same balls and processions that Lady Pole suffered. Both Lady Pole and Stephen were returned to the real world each morning, but they both suffered exhaustion and distraction from living a double life, which both were prevented from relating to others of their predicament.

The third enchanted and most tragic figure was Strange’s wife, Arabella. Because Arabella struck up a friendship with the ailing Lady Pole, she came into the sphere of the gentleman with the thistle-down hair. He immediately sought to enchant her permanently to the halls of Lost-hope. With Stephen’s reluctant assistance, he was able to pull Arabella into fairy, seemingly causing her to perish to her family and friends.

Strange was nearly mad with grief but was eventually persuaded to take a long holiday on the continent, where he met another English family, the Greysteels. It seemed he was on the path of a second marriage to Flora Greysteel, when he discovered a pathway to fairy, stumbling upon the hall of Lost-hope and learning of the fates of Lady Pole, Stephen and his wife, Arabella. The rest of the novel is Strange’s struggle to free the women. As we learn later, Stephen breaks his own and Arabella’s enchantments when the opportunity presents itself.

Two of the most interesting supporting characters were Mr. Childermass, Mr. Norrell’s strangely independent servant, and Vinculus, a seedy street sorcerer of London, run out of town by Mr. Norrell thanks to the efficient efforts of Mr. Childermass. Both of these characters provide some of the most colorful scenes and plots to the novel.

And in the background, every present in the sky, on the wind or sleeping in the stones, is the Raven King, a mythic being from Britain’s past, a king who reigned in Northern England, in fairy and in Hell. He is vital and instrumental in the return of English magic.

The ending was sad and somewhat tragic, but not unexpected.

If you enjoy historical fiction, especially of the early 19th century, you will enjoy this novel and savor it for many hours, especially curled up by the fire with a warm cup of tea.

Book Review: Ender’s Game by Card (4 stars)

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

4 out of 5 stars

Read in Dec 2008

WARNING: Spoilers

I liked everything about this book, except perhaps the ending. And I can’t even say that I particularly disliked the ending; it just made my soul ache with remorse and regret – for Ender, for humanity, for the buggers.

Ender is six years old when we meet him. He is the third son of the Wiggins and a child genius. Not surprising, consider both of his older siblings are both child prodigies, but with vastly different temperaments. The Wiggins were allowed to have a third child as part of an experiment; an effort to create the best of both of the other siblings and something to could be molded into a perfect military savior.

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Book Review: Hyperion by Simmons (3 Stars)

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

3 out of 5 stars

Read in December 2008

I’m disappointed. Just when I was getting pieces of the puzzle and a few of the questions answered, the story ends. Abruptly. Thank goodness I didn’t read this when it was first published or I would probably also be angry.

This is a re-imagining or a re-working of the literary frame tale, similar to Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales but as science fiction space opera.

Seven pilgrims en route to Hyperion to petition the Shrike, also known as the Lord of Pain and the Avatar of Final Atonement. Each pilgrim tells their tale to the other pilgrims in the hope that they collectively will discover why they were chosen for the final pilgrimage. Each of the tales reveals each pilgrim’s connections to Hyperion and insights into the Shrike and the Time Tombs. And between the tales, we eek out what’s really going on in the love triangle gone nearly to the brink of interstellar war between the Hegemony (static humanity), the Ousters (evolved humanity) and the TechnoCore (AIs).

Along the way, one of the pilgrims is either murdered or fakes his death to disappear. There is some concern that their party is no longer a prime number, a requirement for the Shrike Pilgrimage. After the last tale is told, the pilgrims decide to proceed to the Time Tombs at dawn. And there the novel ends.

I didn’t connect with any of the characters. And I’m left with more questions than answers. I’m not sure I feel compelled to seek the answers. Perhaps time will tell.