Hugo Awards eligibility & endorsements

I think I’m technically eligible for the following Hugo Awards, though I have zero illusions about winding up on a ballot. There are so many great people out here doing killer work while I flail away on the sidelines.

Best Fan Writer for Twitter/Tumblr/this haphazard blog (especially the Galavant reviews) and the recaps/reviews I do for The Televixen (Into the Badlands & Fear the Walking Dead) (I think?)

Best Fancast for Bossy Britches

Best Related Work for this overinvested and extremely swear-y defense of Jupiter Ascending. (Haha, “best” related work; I just want people to see me get defensive about space opera.)

More importantly! Here are a few of the things I’m endorsing for Hugos this year, most of which are on my nomination form: Continue reading Hugo Awards eligibility & endorsements

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Gee-whiz ideas & mystery novel reviews

Last week Mary Robinette Kowal asked for volunteers to beta a portion of her short story idea generation workshop. After the great experience I had in the Narrative and Diversity workshop with Mary and K. Tempest Bradford, obviously I cleared my calendar and grabbed a spot before the class filled up. (I highly recommend any version of that narrative class if it fits your schedule/budget btw.)

wholeThe short version: you start with a gee-whiz idea (the Big Bad Wolf wants out of his job, say), then using a series of questions (where, who, what do they want, what do they stand to lose, what stands in their way, &c.) flesh out the characters, settings, motivations, and complications. Our first session ran over, and I wasn’t able to attend the followup the next day, but we covered the basics — including a revisit of the MICE (milieu, idea, character, event) quotient for structuring narrative threads. It was so helpful to get a new view of planning out a short story. I get a lot of those gee-whiz ideas that fizzle into nothing because my plotting is weak and I don’t follow Ron Swanson’s advice over there.

This explanation of the class is probably as clear as mud! Lesley Smith has a much more comprehensive review over here. If you have a chance to do any of Mary’s other classes, go for it! You can also check out the Writing Excuses podcast, which is full of great advice and exercises.

In media consumption news, Law & Order still has me deep in its sensationalist claws. I’ve managed to read quite a bit around it, but, no, I won’t be reviewing the absolute mountain of Star Wars pro- and fanfic that litters the last week or so of my internet history. (Except to tell you to read Before the Awakening because it has lovely little backstory encapsulations for the new trio.)

THE STRANGE CRIMES OF LITTLE AFRICA (2015, book, Chesya Burke)
Murder mystery set in Harlem in the 1920s. Though some minor layout issues and spelling errors kept knocking me out of the story, it was a real treat to step into Harlem of the 1920s and follow Ida as she investigates a thorny — and personal — mystery. Lots of familiar names of the period, enough that I also stopped every few chapters to refresh my memory of some of the historical significance. If this is going to be a series, I’ll definitely read more. ★★★★☆

HALF-RESURRECTION BLUES (2015, book, Daniel José Older)
True urban fantasy, almost unputdownable, first in a series! SO GLAD I WAITED UNTIL THE SECOND BOOK WAS RELEASED TO READ THIS ONE. Great worldbuilding and some of the best dialogue and narrative voice I’ve read in a long time. Older has a killer grasp of the cadence of everyday people speaking to each other and thinking to themselves. (I’d put him in the same category as Stephen King and Tana French when it comes to feeling like their fictional characters could walk right off the page.) The paranormal takes the front seat here but, to be real cheesy about it, without losing its heart. ★★★★★

SILENT IN THE GRAVE (2006, book, Deanna Raybourn)
Historical romance/murder mystery, first in a series! Saw a passing retweet that this book was cheap on Amazon, so I grabbed it on a whim and devoured it in less than 24 hours. Wonderfully vivid characters and a twisty mystery that had me utterly convinced of who did what at least seven different and completely wrong times. ★★★★★

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Galavant’s return, and other modernish mythologies

Last year I reviewed the first season of Galavant here, but now you can read the season two reviews over on The Televixen!

I’ve been watching a lot of various Law & Orders over the past month or so, going back to the very first season of the mothership, when it still felt a bit edgy and experimental. The pilot, if you’ve never seen it, is as gritty as the final season was polished, and includes the only instance of onscreen defibrillation on a woman not wearing a bra I’ve ever seen. The funniest thing is how little I remember of individual episodes around very specific moments that are indelibly etched on my brain: Logan punching the councilor, Carmichael’s amazing looks of disdain, Paul Sorvino’s fur hat, Bobby Goren. Also of note: how the tenor of the show’s relationship to NYC changed after 9/11, how McCoy’s hippie liberal attitudes calcified as he aged and his lady ADAs didn’t, Borgia’s egregiously brutal exit, Bobby Goren. There are still about seven hundred seasons left in my rewatch, and at least as many potential write-ups bubbling in the back of my head.

At the other end of the pseudo-medieval spectrum from Galavant:
ROBIN HOOD (2010, movie, Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett)
To be blunt: if it weren’t for a gifset of Oscar Isaac looking ridiculously attractive as Prince King John, I’d have skipped this movie forever. I’ve poked fun at Crowe’s pretensions but genuinely find him a compelling actor most of the time. I even like his singing! Unfortunately he’s stuck in Full Dour for the duration here and it is boring as hell. No joke, it took almost an hour to watch the first twenty minutes because I kept wandering out of the room. There’s also a cast of roughly seven hundred dudes to every woman allowed to walk and talk at the same time, and by half an hour in I was wondering what fantastical miracles of reproduction they achieved to sustain any European population past the 12th century (Hollywood’s really into medieval mpreg, amirite?).

The movie suffers from a reverse Return of the King right at the outset, with three or four distinctly separate openings that barely hang together. It feels more like the opening scenes from a couple of different miniseries cobbled together with Ye Semi-Olde Englishe Gothice PowerPointe slides outlining key historical context because the movie doesn’t trust itself or the audience enough. And then the movie abandons two-thirds of them so it can wallow in the most boring army camp of all time and introduce a bunch more scheming dudes in another part of the woods! Worse, those abandoned plot threads (the struggles between Prince King John and Eleanor of Aquitaine, along with Cate Blanchett’s fierce Marian) comprise the most interesting parts of the movie. There are also a number of minor moments that would have helped elevate the whole thing for me: the artificiality and fickleness of Richard’s relationship to his soldiers and subjects and vice versa. The approaching-sly insinuations about his sexuality. The strange disguises the men of the greenwood employ that hint at the profound societal divide and the tenuousness of so-called civilization. The mechanics of Marian’s survival in a village abandoned by “able” men and plundered by crown, church, and outlaw. Court intrigues! I would have gladly watched two-plus hours of John’s wife and mistress jockeying for position, John’s nobles rebelling against his self-interest and greed, and John and Eleanor wounding each other with barbed tongues.

Alas, the movie’s biggest flaw, aside from the artless direction and unearned emotional payoffs, is that it thinks we’ll be most interested in Russell Crowe’s impostor Robin and in its attempts at equating 12th century feudal inequities with modern-day American class and power struggles with a decidedly libertarian bent. I mean, the latter is actually super interesting, but this is about the most ineffective treatment of that idea since, oh, Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood. I will thank Russell Crowe’s singing for how much folk music was included in the movie, though. Easily the most enjoyable element of the entire thing.

I’d watch again for Oscar Isaac’s artfully obscured bits, but probably only until my crush on him fades. ★☆☆☆☆

In other unearned emotional payoffs:
THE UNDOING OF A LADY (2009, book / romance, Nicola Cornick)
I jumped into this book without reading any of the previous books in the series and really shouldn’t have. The main couple’s relationship was frustratingly rushed, and the progression of each from strong attraction to realizing they were in love didn’t have much emotional impact for me. The secondary characters kind of blended together (so many couples!) and the resolution of the main mystery (which came out of nowhere! I thought this was a standard can’t-deny-our-urges book when all of a sudden someone was murdered, and then not really investigated) didn’t make sense. I gather from context that most of the story was the culmination of events from a prior book. Still, I read the whole thing and enjoyed quite a bit of it. The town’s charming. I probably won’t try the rest of the series. ★★☆☆☆

And a pleasant surprise!
SUPERSTORE (2015-16, TV / NBC, America Ferrara and Ben Feldman)
Binged the first four episodes of this over the weekend and it’s getting a season pass. Cute, friendly, fun workplace comedy in the vein of The Office, with weirdos galore. Unlike The Office it manages a middle America feel that doesn’t feel gratuitously unkind, though there are some low blows. I’m kind of hoping that the central will-they-won’t-they couple won’t in the short- and long-term. America Ferrara plays a nice twist on the uptight, upright workplace expert; Mark McKinney does the weirdest voice I’ve heard from him since Kids in the Hall; and although I didn’t watch Mad Men, I’m on Tumblr enough to be grateful to this show for letting me look at Ben Feldman without thinking about body horror. ★★★★☆

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Introducing @thoreauscope

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months with Henry David Thoreau and Walden. After years of carrying around a tiny copy of the book in a succession of backpacks and purses, I feel like I’m finally really getting what Thoreau was trying to say. From the wonders of a vegan lifestyle to the joys of frugality, even to a radical argument for rejecting rigid gender roles*, ol’ Henry really was on to something.

The "So listen up, capitalist sheep, because I know what's best for you!" is implied.
The “So listen up, capitalist sheep, because I know what’s best for you!” is implied.

It was something kind of irritating, though? For all its cultural cachet and literary importance, Walden is a pretty run of the mill self-help volume. “I went to the woods to learn how to live simply and you can too!” is a gross oversimplification, but what better use is the internet than to let me oversimplify complex things?

So, as I’m finishing up my thesis on Walden, and growing more fond of yet irritated by Thoreau, I started idly wondering what he might do with the power of, say, Twitter. Would he harass the powerful? Proselytize to the meat- and dairy-eaters? Whine about having to get a job? Post an endless stream of #nofilter shots of wildlife and woodlands?

No, say I! He’d do what he does best and become some sort of pearl-dropping guru, doling out advice to people who probably don’t always actually want it. And so: @thoreauscope.

(It’s a Twitter API bot that waits for people to post something with one of a few key phrases, then replies to them with a randomly selected quote from Walden. I wrote it myself with Node.js! And someday when there isn’t a deadline looming, I’ll fix up my code write up exactly how.)

*Seriously, though, he did! My thesis is all about how moving to the woods was in part to reject the expectations Thoreau felt constrained by as a man: that he must earn his living by participating in capitalist structures, that he was expected to marry and have children, that he should act as all the other men in town did. By getting the hell out and building a home barely big enough for himself (…and the occasional strapping young Quebecois, cough cough), Thoreau was all but standing in the middle of Concord and shouting, “You’ll never take me alive, traditional masculinity!!”

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Quick hits: The Loft & January reads

If you listen to The Televoid, which you should, you know that The Loft is finally out in theaters starting this weekend! It was shot back in 2011 and has languished in distributor hell since. It’s a remake of a Belgian film of the same name, in which five married guys share an apartment where they take their girlfriends, mistresses, and conquests. When one of them finds a woman dead in the bed, the secrets they keep threaten to destroy their “perfect” lives.

Here’s the good news: Karl Urban, I guess? Except he seems to think he’s starring in a parody of a hardboiled noir movie, while everyone else is just basic-cabling around the joint.

Here’s the bad: every bit of this movie. Every damn bit. It’s turgid and stale, the kind of thinks-itself-clever movie that should be running late at night on Encore in perpetuity. The dialogue is stilted; the characters reprehensible and barely dimensional; and the twist/reveal is–frankly–ludicrous and nonsensical. The cops are idiots. The movie seems to think the audience is, too. Maybe it takes place in an alternate universe, where humor and shame are largely absent? The pleasure-seeking walking boners that make up the main cast don’t do anything but loudly hate their wives and lives, until it looks like they might lose either of the pair. Most of the women in the cast could have been replaced by table lamps. It’s also strangely prudish about its sexual content. For a movie all about men trying to bone everything on two legs, there’s very little nudity. What little there is, including a total strip-down by Urban, is coyly concealed from our view. (Not that I mind a movie where women aren’t asked to get their breasts out every sixteen seconds, mind.) And, as is all too common, the dead woman at the center of the story is about as much a complex character as the sheets covering most of her R-rated body parts.

Do yourself a favor: wait a few years until this is running late at night on Encore and half-watch it then.

In other, quicker hits, I reviewed two new books this month (in addition to Signal to Noise:

Stealing Marilyn Monroe by Sophie Warren: Juliet Chadwick is an expert art curator, employed by some of the top galleries in the country–under assumed identities that conceal her real calling as a thief. But when the gangsters to whom her incarcerated father owes money come knocking on her door, Juliet has to pull off a big money heist to save both their lives and her collection. Naturally, that heist involves conning a mega-wealthy man and his children, and accidentally falling in love with them along the way.

It was cute! Fast read, fun characters, even a little bit of art history knowledge drop. Conversations that sound like real people talking! The progression of the romance was a little hurried–and Juliet suffers from the all-too-common “oh no he wants someone else!!” confusion that always seems to beset romance heroines after initial bursts of “yesss, he wants my face on his face.” The ending was more neatly wrapped up than I’d have liked, but Juliet was relatable, root-for-able, and charming, and Edward’s kids are fantastic, especially the oldest, Cecilia. I am already lining up for more Cecilia. Write more Cecelia!

Stealing Marilyn Monroe by Sophie Warren will be available 14 April 2015 from Alloy Entertainment. I received an advance copy for review from NetGalley.

Duel with the Devil by Paul Collins: This is a bit of a departure for me. Non-fiction, a mashup of history and true crime. It’s New York in 1799/1800, when Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton teamed up to defend a man accused of murdering a young woman. (WHY CAN’T I GET AWAY FROM DEAD GIRL TOWN.) Though the book is ostensibly about this meeting of rivals, it’s more a chronicle of what was New York’s first big and sensational murder case and how the public reaction to it still echoes today.

Collins writes a hell of a crime story. Even though it played out more than two hundred years ago, the narrative was engaging and kept me interested throughout. The actual crime doesn’t come in until surprisingly late in the book, but it’s hardly noticeable because Collins sweeps you along in everyday detail of early 19th century New York. (I’m excited to spin off into looking up the dozens of passages and references I bookmarked for reading and writing reasons.) But, while the rivalry between Hamilton and Burr was electric in real life, and the book is framed as a rare occasion of their working in concert, very little of the story centers on that interaction. Still, as an example of historical true crime, the book is a satisfying and entertaining read. Recommended for anyone interested in both true crime and the early US.

Duel with the Devil by Paul Collins is available now from Crown. I received a copy for review from Blogging for Books.

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