Tag Archives: science fiction

Hugo Awards 2012: Best Novella

The Best Novella category was added in 1968. Novellas are defined as stories of between 17,500 and 40,000 words. Many people consider the novella to be a perfect length—long enough to develop a detailed world and interesting characters, but short enough to avoid unnecessary padding. It’s a hard length to get published, though; often not long enough to publish on its own, but too long to easily fit into some magazines or anthologies.

Best Novella Nominations (473 ballots cast [compared to 407 ballots cast in 2011])
(The titles in bold are the ones I nominated.)

120 Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente (24.84%)
111 “The Man Who Bridged The Mist” by Kij Johnson (22.98%)
98 “Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal (20.29%)
76 “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu (15.73%)
47 “The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (9.73%)
47 Countdown by Mira Grant (9.73%)
———————————————————————————-
39 “The Adakian Eagle” by Bradley Denton (8.07%)
38 “The Ants of Flanders” by Robert Reed (7.87%)
27 “With Unclean Hands” by Adam-Troy Castro (5.59%)
22 Gravity Dreams by Stephen Baxter (4.55%)
18 “Martian Chronicles” by Cory Doctorow (3.73%)
18 “The Rat Race” by Cherie Priest (3.73%)
17 “The Alchemist” by Paolo Bacigalupi (3.52%)
16 “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies” by Diana Gabaldon (3.31%)
15 “Angel of Europa” by Allen Steele (3.11%)

Best Novella Final Ballot Results (1493 ballots [compared to 1467 ballots cast in 2011])

My Ranking

Title

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

Round 6

1

“The Man Who Bridged the Mist” (WINNER)

331

331

377

453

492

628

2

“Kiss Me Twice”

315

315

330

370

462

593

7

Countdown

252

252

264

300

372

5

Silently and Very Fast

249

249

255

283

4

“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary”

199

200

208

3

“The Ice Owl”

107

108

6

No Award

40

No Award Tests:
• 1037 ballots rank “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” higher than No Award; 82 ballots rank No Award higher than “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” – PASS
• ((1493-40)/1922 )*100 = 76% – PASS

The remaining places were then calculated to be:
2nd Place – “Kiss Me Twice”
3rd Place – Silently and Very Fast
4th Place – “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary”
5th Place – Countdown
6th Place – “The Ice Owl”

Analysis

Only eight novellas met the 5% cutoff. I think the reason was that there were a handful of strong contenders that dominated the best-of lists. Final voting was very close between the two frontrunners, both published in Asimov’s. Once again, we see that Mira Grant has a passionate following that nominates and votes for her without broad support from the mainstream voters. The Nebula Award went to “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”.

Mini-Reviews

Countdown by Mira Grant (Orbit)

This is a prequel to Grant’s zombie series (Feed, Deadline), recounting the details of how the zombie virus was created. For readers who are familiar with this world, there’s a lot of repetition from the novels. This novella mainly gives Grant an excuse to do a data dump of her detailed biological research. The characters and plot of the story are not very engaging.

“The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (F&SF, Oct.-Nov. 2011)

In the universe of this story humans have invented light-speed transport and primitive instantaneous communication. Rebellious teenager Thorn befriends a mysterious teacher, Master Pregaldin, to fill in some of the gaps in her knowledge and experience left by being dragged from planet to planet by her somewhat immature mother. Meanwhile, an immanent political revolution on the planet threatens to expose Pregaldin’s secret and tear Thorn’s life apart. I found the situations and characters to be interesting, but felt that the ending was a bit out of tune with Thorn’s personality that had been established.

“Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s, June 2011)

This is a police procedural that features two partners: human detective Scott Huang and his artificial intelligence partner, Metta, whose default persona is Mae West. When Metta’s chassis is stolen, Metta is restored from backup to a new chassis and the duo soon connects the crime to a larger conspiracy. I liked this novella a lot. The characters were well-rounded, with clear personalities. The mystery was satisfactorily resolved, although there was a bit of luck involved. The world was consistent and easily pictured. I could see this expanded into a novel; I definitely hope Kowal writes more about this future society.

“The Man Who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s, Oct.-Nov. 2011)

This story is a wonderful piece of world building, concerning an architect who is tasked with building a long bridge across a mysterious valley connecting two isolated villages. The mist that fills the valley has strange properties and is home to large, deadly creatures. One of the beauties of the novella is that Johnson’s descriptions of the mist and the creatures are from the viewpoint of the characters who are so familiar with them that no further descriptions are necessary, letting the readers’ imaginations fill in the gaps. In lesser hands this would have been disastrous, but Johnson deftly weaves the mysteries into her story, letting them take a back seat to the human relationships between the architect and the natives. I hope that there will be more stories set in this fascinating setting.

“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu (Panverse 3)

This is an emotionally charged story of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria during World War II, a brutal time that is ignored in most history lessons, and actually denied by many contemporary government officials. Liu posits a unique time travel technique whereby past events can be witnessed once, and then they are irrevocably erased. The time travelers in the story pick this particular period to study because they don’t want the world to forget a horrible chapter of inhumanity. But by watching history, they obliterate the very memories they are trying to preserve. This presents a terrific dilemma, because now the only records of the atrocities are unverifiable accounts from biased observers. Liu’s writing is very powerful, and although there are some minor flaws in the documentary-style execution and logic of the story, he succeeds in his goal of using science fiction as a tool to bring neglected history to life.

Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, WSFA)

Valente is a stylist who uses poetic imagery to evoke mood. It’s the kind of writing you either love or hate. I’m leaning towards the hate end of the spectrum. The story tells of the relationships between the evolving artificial intelligence called Elefsis and the generations of the human family that owns and operates it. This is very much a character study, told as a fairy tale wrapped with a science fictional covering. This is a metaphor for the chaos that is life and learning, and as such doesn’t provide tidy resolutions.

Hugo Awards 2012: Best Novel

Novels are defined as stories of 40,000 words or more. The titles in bold are the ones I nominated.

2012 Best Novel Nominations (958 ballots cast [compared to 833 ballots cast in 2011])

175 Among Others by Jo Walton (18.27%)
163 Embassytown by China Miéville (17.01%)
130 A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin (13.57%)
81 Deadline by Mira Grant (8.45%)
71 Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (7.41%)
——————————————————————–
70 The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (7.30%)
69 Rule 34 by Charles Stross (7.20%)
66 Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (6.89%)
62 The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemison (6.47%)
61 Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge (6.37%)
60 Zoo City by Lauren Beukes (6.26%)
58 Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine (5.74%)
52 Deathless by Catherynne Valente (5.42%)
49 11/22/63 by Stephen King (5.11%)
49 The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (5.11%)
48 Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi (5.01%)

Best Novel Final Ballot Results (1664 ballots [compared to 1813 ballots cast in 2011])

My Ranking

Title

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

3

Among Others (WINNER)

421

424

493

585

769

2

Embassytown

324

324

392

492

608

6

Deadline

311

312

367

418

4

A Dance With Dragons

316

317

360

1

Leviathan Wakes

260

261

5

No Award

32

No Award Tests
• 1164 ballots rank Among Others higher than No Award, 107 ballots rank No Award higher than Among Others – PASS
• ((1664-32)/1922)*100 = 85% – PASS

The remaining places were then calculated to be:
2nd Place – Embassytown
3rd Place – Leviathan Wakes
4th Place – Deadline
5th Place – A Dance With Dragons

Analysis

The Best Novel category is very strong, with 16 books making the 5% cutoff (Hugo rules stipulate that nominees must have at least 5% of the nominating votes to help indicate widespread support). Two books came within 2 votes of making the final ballot. I tend to nominate well-reviewed books that are nevertheless underdogs—why waste nominations on sure things like A Dance With Dragons? Although the number of nominating ballots went up considerably from last year, the number of final ballots dropped significantly.

Among Others, by a widely respected author and blogger, won the Nebula Award and had appeared on a lot of best-of lists, so there was little surprise that it won. Embassytown garnered a lot of critical praise, but was not an easy read. Leviathan Wakes is the first in a new space opera series, written under a pen name by a duo of George R.R. Martin’s protégées. It managed to climb from fifth to third in the final results, which demonstrated weak support for Deadline, the second book of a series, and A Dance With Dragons, the fifth book of a series. Hugo voters wisely rejected these two books as being incomplete stories.

Mini-Reviews

Among Others by Jo Walton (Tor)

This coming-of-age story of a teenage girl reminded me in tone of To Kill a Mockingbird, except with fairies. The book is an episodic semi-autobiography of Walton’s struggles with an abusive mother, the death of her twin sister, and discovery of science fiction fandom. As a love letter to fandom, it’s not hard to understand the reciprocal love the book received. The prose is beautifully written and evocative, just don’t expect a highly plot-driven adventure. The fantasy elements, to me, were secondary, especially since the protagonist was the only one who could see the fairies. Was she an unreliable narrator? That’s left for the reader to decide.

A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin (Bantam Spectra)

The fifth chapter of Martin’s epic fantasy saga A Song of Ice and Fire, the first half of A Dance With Dragons recounts the adventures of the characters that Martin cut from A Feast for Crows seven years ago. Everyone eventually gets back in sync, just in time for another cliffhanger ending. Let’s hope that it won’t be seven years until Volume 6! When Martin finally finishes this story, I hope he wins every award imaginable, but in the meantime it’s hard to justify voting for a story that is far from complete.

Deadline by Mira Grant (Orbit)

This second volume of Grant’s zombie trilogy was underwhelming. It begins in the middle of the story and ends with not one, but two major cliffhangers. The writing is serviceable, but nothing special. The book is full of plot holes, too. For example, on a cross-country drive the protagonists stop at a service station for gas. Even though the station is closed tight, they have no trouble pumping their gas and going on their way. In another instance, they infiltrate a well-guarded government installation, making their escape only because it has the exact same floor plan as another facility on the other side of the country. Plus, the “surprise” ending is flashed in neon early in the book with the ham-handed revelation that cloning exists in this world. Grant (pen name of prolific podcaster and filker Seanan McGuire) obviously spent a lot of time researching how viruses could produce zombies, but she needed to think a little harder about a plausible plot and more realistic characters.

Embassytown by China Miéville (Macmillan / Del Rey)

Miéville is one of my favorite authors, with his boundless imagination and magnificent use of language. Embassytown’s central theme is how language shapes our perceptions. On a distant planet, aliens and humans try to find commonality, despite fundamental differences in communication styles. When some of the humans interfere with the aliens’ societal customs, conflict is inevitable (where is the Prime Directive when you need it!). Miéville is never one to shy away from an eloquent and rich vocabulary, often inventing words to suit his needs, but Embassytown goes even further in testing the reader’s tolerance for made-up language. This isn’t a quick and easy read, but the astute reader will undoubtedly reap much from this well-crafted parable.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (Orbit)

Corey is the pen name of Daniel Abraham, a long-time collaborator of George R.R. Martin on the Wild Cards books and adaptor of Martin’s works for comics (as well as a respected solo author), and Ty Frank, one of Martin’s personal assistants. Leviathan Wakes is the first in a new space opera series. The story wraps up nicely, but there are definite plot threads that will lead to interesting complications in future volumes. The authors paint a detailed and action-packed universe, with protagonists that are well-developed. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and look forward to more in this series.

Chicon 7

Chicon 7, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention, was held in the Chicago Hyatt Regency from August 30 through September 3, 2012. The convention was the best attended Worldcon since L.A. Con IV in 2006, with almost 5000 warm bodies present.

Overall, I enjoyed Chicon 7 a lot, and didn’t have much to complain about regarding the Hugo winners (the nominees are a different story!). The number of nominations was generally higher than last year for Renovation, perhaps due to a rule change that allowed members of three years’ worth of Worldcons to nominate. However, the number of final ballots was generally lower, sometimes significantly, than last year. I don’t know if this was due to apathy about the quality of nominees, or whether Renovation did a better job of nagging members to vote.

Hyatt Regency – Chicago

The Hyatt Regency is a very large hotel with ample meeting space for a convention of this size. The problem is that the hotel is split into two towers with events in each tower. The way the escalators and elevators were laid out made for difficult navigating within and between the towers and their multiple, arbitrarily color-coded levels. There were a number of complaints from mobility-challenged fans about the inadequacy of handicap access. To confound attendees further, the con organizers somehow thought it was a good idea to include a nonexistent meeting room on the schedule. Apparently, this hoax room is a tradition with Chicago conventions, but the humor was lost on those not in on the joke.

2012 Hugo Trophy

Programming ran continuously from noon on Thursday to mid-afternoon on Monday. While there were plenty of panels worth seeing, and many time slots with multiple items of interest, there were very few “must see” panels. There were a handful of special events, such as the Masquerade and Hugo Award Ceremony, that were highlights. The opening night event at the Adler Planetarium was especially fun and interesting.

The Dealers’ Room was in a nice, large space. It took me a little over an hour to go through it the first time, and I dropped in a couple more times during the weekend. There were a few interesting vendors, but I didn’t end up buying anything. The Art Show was in a large ballroom and had plenty of space. There was the usual mix of professional and amateur 2-D and 3-D works ranging from the awful to the sublime.

George R.R. Martin, Mike Resnick, Joe Haldeman, Robert Silverberg

Panels were varied and well run, heavily weighted towards literature and space exploration, reflecting the strengths of the convention’s guests. There were a handful of panels related to TV and movies, as well as things like costuming and filking that I am not interested in.

Connie Willis, Robert Silverberg

Unlike many recent Worldcons, the only late night activities were filking and parties. Fun, late night programs such as “Just a Minute” and “Match Game” were absent. There were no anime or movie rooms operating at night, which I found strange. (The only film room showed mostly public domain cartoons, and only during the day, as far as I could tell.) There were no screenings of the Hugo nominated dramatic presentations. Apparently, attendance at convention film screenings is too low to justify the cost of renting films and paying technicians to show them. There was a film festival running during the convention which screened independent films; and while I am sure there were some hidden gems amongst the entries, my less-than-satisfying experiences with similar film festivals kept me from exploring this one.

From Dragon*Con: Toni Weisskopf, T.C. McCarthy, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

One of the innovations that the convention tried was to have a number of joint panels with Dragon*Con in Atlanta. I attended a couple of these panels, and for the most part they worked well. Video conferencing is often fraught with technical difficulties, but the technicians had it working smoothly. As long as these two large conventions share Labor Day weekend, it makes sense to do some cross-programming. I hope this will become a regular part of Worldcons to come.

David Brin and Tad Daley discuss the definition of democracy.

Nothing against younger writers, but the old-time raconteurs make the most entertaining and thought-provoking panelists. Examples were Connie Willis and Robert Silverberg riffing on each other, Guest-of-Honor Mike Resnick reminiscing about his career, gray-beards Gardner Dozois, Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Joe Haldeman, and George R. R. Martin recounting the silly things they’ve done individually and together, and David Brin ranting on science and politics.

John Scalzi interviews Story Musgrave.

The highlight of the convention was seeing Guest of Honor Story Musgrave. A veteran of six Space Shuttle flights, including a Hubble Space Telescope repair mission, Musgrave is a real-life Buckaroo Banzai. Surgeon, engineer, pilot, farmer, and poet are just a few of Musgrave’s accomplishments. At 77 years old, he could easily pass for 50. Musgrave’s boundless humor, enthusiasm, and optimism fuel his curiosity and drive. At the same time, he is humble and down-to-earth, and was clearly moved and honored to be recognized by the science fiction community. I was inspired, educated, and entertained by this remarkable person.

An all-volunteer-run event of this scale and quality and complexity is simply amazing. The con committee did an excellent job working in the background to ensure our enjoyment, comfort, and safety. I had a wonderful time, as did the people I talked with. This was a superb convention.

Do the Hugos Need a Young Adult Category?

The members attending the Chicon 7 business meeting voted down a proposal to add a Young Adult (YA) category to the Hugo awards. Perhaps the biggest objection was that the proposal didn’t adequately define what a YA book is. But like a lot of Hugo categories, it seems that the members’ votes determine what belongs in a category, whether it is really appropriate to be there or not. Another objection was that YA is a marketing artifact that could change in the future. This argument is silly, as there has been children’s literature forever, and it’s one of, if not the top, growing segments of the publishing industry. Another argument against a new YA category is that if a book is good enough, it can already be nominated in the Best Novel or Novella categories, as evidenced by the works of J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman. While true, this ignores the works by authors who write fabulous stuff but that doesn’t show up on Best Seller lists. About the only argument that I thought held any real weight was that adults who are not familiar with youth-oriented fiction might have a hard time choosing truly representative works. But this does not stop Hugo voters from voting for Best Editor (Long Form), Graphic Story, or other categories they’re not necessarily familiar with.

The underlying motive for adding a YA category is to put a spotlight on a subgenre that is somewhat neglected. As several members at the meeting pointed out, this kind of recognition would tend to pull in new readers and new convention attenders, and add to the overall positive public relations of the Hugos and Worldcons. The truth is that there is a wealth of great YA science fiction being published that deserves recognition.

It seems to me that there is a fairly simple solution. The Golden Duck awards already recognize science fiction in three age categories: picture book, middle-school book, and the Hal Clement Award for “Young Adult” book. The Golden Ducks are announced during a panel at Worldcon each year. My understanding is that a jury of educators and librarians select the nominees and winners. Why not just move the announcement of winners to the Hugo ceremony, and include the winners in the Hugo publicity and historical records? The heightened visibility and endorsement by the Worldcon membership would be beneficial to all involved. It would eliminate most, if not all, of the objections a separate YA Hugo category engenders.

With its three age group categories, the Golden Ducks address the problem of defining what a YA book is. And, if a book is good enough, it could win both a Golden Duck and a Hugo. As a juried award, it would avoid the problem of unsophisticated readers trying to guess what the best YA books are. It is conceivable that the Golden Ducks could be revamped to be similar to the John W. Campbell award for best new writer, i.e., a non-Hugo that is voted on by the Worldcon membership. I think that the Golden Ducks should remain a juried award to maintain its integrity.

Elevating the visibility and stature of the Golden Duck awards would produce a win-win result that I think should be given serious consideration. It would not need a change to the WSFS constitution. It would require the buy-in of the Hugo and Worldcon committees, but it’s hard to imagine them objecting too much. Yes, it would lengthen the Hugo ceremony, but not by much. Some might argue that this plan would open the doors to other awards to petition to be included in the Hugo ceremony. I don’t think this would be a serious problem.

The benefits of acknowledging great science fiction and fantasy aimed at children far outweigh the negatives.

Prometheus

Prometheus (2012)
Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof; directed by Ridley Scott

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was originally going to give 3 stars to Prometheus for a film with outstanding cinematography and art direction (as with most films by Ridley Scott), but without sympathetic characters who had virtually no chemistry.

After much reflection, though, the horrible science and multiple loose ends forced me to downgrade my rating.

Spoilers ahead

Rather than rehash the many Internet discussions about the unanswered questions and plot holes, I recommend watching this snarky video from Red Letter Media:

I can forgive the unanswered questions about the motives and biology of the aliens in Prometheus. After all, they’re aliens! What I can’t forgive is the awful, awful protocols shown by the human scientists, technicians, and spaceship crew throughout the movie.

To begin with, a legitimate scientific expedition would have started by releasing weather and observation satellites to orbit the planetoid for weeks, perhaps months before Prometheus ever landed. This would determine the most likely places to hunt for aliens, rather than just luckily finding alien structures. Then, the small, remote-controlled probes would be sent into the alien installations to map them thoroughly and take air and soil samples. When pictures of the dead aliens came back, the scientist would spend many hours determining likely scenarios and procedures to avoid a similar fate before setting a foot inside.

The biggest mistake the movie makes, though, is something I haven’t seen discussed anywhere. People have written about the folly of the crew taking off their space suit helmets without checking for microbes or other contaminants. It’s not just the air quality that could cause illness or injury. What hasn’t been mentioned is the danger of the humans contaminating the alien environment. Good scientists are concerned to the point of paranoia about destroying a pristine environment and invalidating their results. This is why Mars rovers are sterilized before they leave Earth. Once an alien planet is contaminated, there’s no way to know what’s alien and what’s not. The crew of Prometheus would have to undergo rigorous decontamination procedures both when exiting the ship and on their return.

Another question that I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere is why would an expedition as well-financed and equipped as Prometheus not have more than one robot? Weyland would want to have as much redundancy as possible to maximize success. Moreover, the humans would need to be cross trained, just as astronauts are now, so that in case of injury or illness there would be someone to fill in the gaps. This goes for the scientists, flight crew, security, and every other function.

Wouldn’t Prometheus be crewed with the absolute best people in every role? People who knew what the mission was and who had trained together for months before leaving Earth. There is no excuse for second-best in a first-contact mission that’s exploring a dangerous alien world.

It’s one thing to have a haunted-house movie filled with naïve teenagers, but it’s quite another to see supposed top scientists do dumb things. With a little more thought, Prometheus could have addressed the plot holes I and others have noted, and as a result been a tighter film with more tension and surprises.

WonderCon 2012, Part 2

Arno Axolotl gets skewered in support of HBO's Game of Thrones.

TV

There were a number of panels relating to TV programs. Prime-time series Person of Interest, Alcatraz, Once Upon a Time, and Community all had well attended presentations. Since WonderCon came before the Fall schedule was announced, there were few new shows in evidence. I didn’t see it, but I think there were some teasers from the new Arrow program that is replacing Smallville.

There were several panels devoted to TV animation. I was unable to get into the Adventure Time panel, the only presentation I missed due to the room being full. I did see the DC Nation panel that previewed clips from Green Lantern: The Animated Series and the second season of Young Justice, as well as some of the short-shorts that they are playing on Saturday mornings. Unfortunately, there was no real mention of the new Batman series or any other possible offerings that may be in development.

Alcatraz panel with stars Jorge Garcia, Sarah Jones, Parminder Nagra, Jonny Coyne, and Robert Forster, plus some of the writers and producers.

x
Movies

One of the more fun panels during the convention was a retrospective of the movies from 1982. With such science fiction and fantasy classics as Star Trek II, Blade Runner, E.T., Tron, Poltergeist, Conan, and The Thing, not to mention cult classics like Megaforce, the panelists had a good time reminiscing and joking about their favorites.

Damon Lindelof and Ridley Scott discuss Prometheus

There were a number of previews for this summer’s blockbusters. Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof were there in person to introduce the latest trailer for Prometheus. I still don’t really know what the movie will be like, but I expect an intelligent, thrilling adventure.

One of the highlights was the trailer for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Produced by Tim Burton and directed by Timur Bekmambetov, this looks to be a wild and exciting movie. Who knew Lincoln was such a bad-ass vampire killer!

Other previews included Battleship, which doesn’t look quite as lame as the first trailer made it look, but think it’s basically Transformers in sheep’s clothing—lots of explosions, but nonsensical. The preview for Snow White and the Huntsman looked interesting—certainly Snow White herself should be a strong female lead.

The weirdest preview was for a film called Sound of My Voice. They showed the first ten minutes of the film that introduced us to a cult based on a charismatic female time traveler (or perhaps a charismatic con artist). After the clip, two supposed members of the cult came on stage in a piece of performance art that I don’t think was well received. Finally, writer/director Zal Batmanglij and writer/lead actor Brit Marling came out to expound on the film a little. It is an ultra low-budget independent film that has been shown on the festival circuit to reasonable success. The film will be widely released in late April. I’m not sure I was wholly convinced to seek it out.

Rounding out the movie previews was a screening of the next DC animated film, Superman vs. The Elite, which comes out in June. I will have a full review later; the snapshot is that this is quite good. DC Animation consistently comes up with good to excellent features, something their live-action counterparts do not. They also teased Batman: The Dark Knight Returns with some short clips. It looked awesome. (Rumors are that the story will be split into two parts, which if true is a good sign that it will not be compromised from the graphic novel by Frank Miller.)

John Carter

John Carter (2012) (IMAX 3D)
Screenplay by Andrew Stanton & Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon, based on the Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs; directed by Andrew Stanton

Guest review by Tommy “Slug” Togath, age 13

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After having recently read A Princess of Mars, I was expecting a pretty good action movie, but I was blown away by how awesome John Carter is! They changed a lot from the book, but kept the basic characters and situations. There were some new characters called Therns, which I understand come from the second book in the series, but I haven’t read yet. The movie is more logical than the book, and the story doesn’t jump around as much as the book. Taylor Kitsch as John Carter did a good job looking and acting like I imagined from the book.

I loved all the Martian characters, especially Woola, John Carter’s brave and loyal pet. He ran very fast and was able to help John Carter get out of a couple of jams. The six-limbed Tharks looked just like I imagined them. The other Martian animals looked and moved like I thought they should.

One of the best changes to the story was to make John Carter’s girlfriend Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) into a more important character. In the book she doesn’t really do much but get mad at John Carter all the time for not knowing her customs, even though she loves him. In the movie they made her a scientist and she also was almost as good as John Carter in fighting with a sword. There were a couple of funny scenes where she was able to protect him from enemies.

Another good change was to explain how John Carter traveled from the Earth to Mars. In the book he just mysteriously goes to sleep in a cave and wakes up on Mars. The movie’s explanation made sense and even helped add to the reason for the actions of the Therns.

I loved how the movie showed John Carter leaping long distances because of his Earth muscles. It was funny when he first arrived on Mars and had to learn how to move without hurting himself. There were lots of battles and fights, especially at the end of the movie, that were a lot of fun to watch because he was able to jump around his enemies.

In the book, a female Thark named Sarkoja (Polly Walker) is mean to John Carter and everyone else. In the movie she didn’t have a very big role, and her final fate was very different than in the book. The part where John Carter was captured in the city of Zodanga, then rescued by his friend Kantos Kan (James Purefoy), was shortened a lot from the book, so if you didn’t read the book you might have been a little confused.

Another change was how John Carter learned to speak the Martian language. In the book he spent weeks with the Thark children learning the language. In the movie Sola (Samantha Morton) gave him a potion that somehow let him understand and speak the language. I guess for a 2-hour movie they had to speed things up, but this was one area where the book was more believable than the movie.

I saw John Carter in IMAX 3D. The sound and music were excellent, but I don’t think the 3D was worth the extra ticket price.

John Carter is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, and I can’t wait to see it again!

John Carter

John Carter (2012) (IMAX 3D)
Screenplay by Andrew Stanton & Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon, based on A Princess of Mars and The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs; directed by Andrew Stanton

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

John Carter combines elements from the first two books of Burroughs’ Mars series with a bunch of new material. It keeps the basic story of how Confederate officer John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), mining for gold in the Arizona territory after the Civil War, finds himself magically transported to Mars, known as Barsoom to its natives. One of the major improvements the film makes to the story is an explanation of exactly how Carter travels between Earth and Mars, which was never adequately explained in the books. In fact, this becomes a major plot point driving much of the action in the film.

Carter’s Earth muscles and anatomy enables him to leap great distances and do other feats of strength. These abilities help him escape the many fights and tight scrapes he gets into. The beings of Barsoom are roughly divided into two races: the six-limbed warrior Tharks led by Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) and the red-skinned “humans” of Helium and Zodanga who are at war with each other.

Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), princess of Helium, has been betrothed to Sab Than (Dominic West) of Zodanga to end the war. However, Sab Than is being manipulated by Matai Shang (Mark Strong), and his shape-shifting, immortal race of Therns. These political machinations are consistent with what Burroughs wrote, although in a much different form. It provides consistent and plausible motivations for the characters. You do have to pay attention, though, or you’ll get lost in the details, but it is a good thing to have something besides mindless battles in a movie like this.

A huge improvement is that Dejah Thoris is a much more nuanced and important character, not just the damsel in distress she is in the books. Here she is not only a beautiful princess, but a renowned scientist and quite handy with a sword. Collins does an excellent job giving strength and dignity to her role.

The special effects are well done, as you would expect from a director who comes from an animation background. There were a couple of traveling matte shots that were slightly off, but for the most part all of the exotic Martians looked and moved realistically. We got to see not only Tharks, but white apes, banths, thoats, and Woola, John Carter’s faithful calot.

Some liberties were taken with Burroughs’ descriptions. For example, John Carter is described as having short hair, and in the movie he has long hair. Kitsch is well muscled, but no real person could ever be as musclebound as Frank Frazetta or other favorite Burroughs’ artists have portrayed him. The red Martians (as well as the Tharks) are oviparous (reproducing by laying eggs), yet Dejah has a belly button. These are really minor quibbles, though. The vast majority of changes, such as Carter’s motivation for not wanting to fight Apaches (or Tharks or Zodangans), are logical improvements.

If there is anything to gripe about, it is the first 20 minutes on Earth which are a little slow getting things set up for Carter’s journey to Mars. Those who have not read the books may also be a bit confused about the importance of the relationship of Sola (Samantha Morton) to Tars Tarkas, which is hastily revealed early in the film rather than dramatically at the end of A Princess of Mars. I also think that the 3D did not add much to the film.

The marketing campaign did not do justice to the film. This is an intelligent, action-packed adventure. Whether you are a Burroughs fan or just want to see an entertaining movie, go see it!

Halting State

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Halting State by Charles Stross is a tour de force melding of police procedural and cyberpunk.  In the year 2018, Sergeant Sue Smith of the Edinburgh constabulary is called to investigate a virtual robbery in an online game space by a band of orcs at a dot-com startup company.  Jack Reed, a computer expert, and Elaine Barnaby, an insurance investigator, are quickly called in to spearhead the insurance company’s investigation.  They soon realize that there is more than meets the eye, and are caught in a web of high-power politics and finance, not to mention murder.  Stross creates a detailed world filled with wonderful gadgets, good characterizations, and plenty of action, not to mention some quirky humor.  Possibly the biggest hurdle in reading the book is that it is written in the second person.  This makes sense for a story centered on role-playing games, since that is how most game masters run their games.  I didn’t find this hard to comprehend (actually, it didn’t really register until about halfway through the book), perhaps since I have played enough D&D to be used to this style.  It’s a brave choice, but I thought it worked fine.  I’ve read several other Stross novels and stories, and have been delighted with all of them.  He has jumped onto my favorites list.

2011 Nebula Awards Nominees Announced

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) announced the nominees for the 2011 Nebula Awards, the nominees for the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and the nominees for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book.

Novel

Novella

Novelette

Short Story

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

  • Attack the Block, Joe Cornish (writer/director) (Optimum Releasing; Screen Gems)
  • Captain America: The First Avenger, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (writers), Joe Johnston (director) (Paramount)
  • Doctor Who: “The Doctor’s Wife,” Neil Gaiman (writer), Richard Clark (director) (BBC Wales)
  • Hugo, John Logan (writer), Martin Scorsese (director) (Paramount)
  • Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen (writer/director) (Sony)
  • Source Code, Ben Ripley (writer), Duncan Jones (director) (Summit)
  • The Adjustment Bureau, George Nolfi (writer/director) (Universal)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book

The winners will be announced at SFWA’s 47th Annual Nebula Awards Weekend, to be held Thursday through Sunday, May 17 to May 20, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. Connie Willis will be the recipient of the 2011 Damon Knight Grand Master Award for her lifetime contributions and achievements in the field. Walter Jon Williams will preside as toastmaster, with Astronaut Michael Fincke as keynote speaker.

The Nebula Awards are voted on, and presented by, active members of  SFWA. Voting will open to SFWA Active members on March 1 and close on March 30.