The Hugos: It’s About Time

The Hugo Nominations came out last week and I am pretty darn excited about most of them. But there were also some deeply problematic things on the ballot, and there has consequently been a lot of discussion about how to handle those.

Here’s my take on things:

Vox Day does not deserve my time

I’m not going to read that story. It might be all right, it might be offensive, I don’t really care. I know some people advocate judging the fiction separately from its author, but I just can’t do that. I already know that I won’t vote for Vox Day.

Look, I’ve paid money to be able to participate in a proud tradition of SFF fandom. I’m so giddy that I’ll be able to attend the Hugo ceremony this year. I’ll be damned if I’m going to facilitate a man who has voiced such loathsome opinions to get up on stage at the Hugos and open his mouth.

So if I know I won’t vote for him, no matter what, why should I bother reading his story? Life is too short to give a man like that the courtesy of my time.

Not sure Larry Correia does either?

I’ve heard Correia speak on various podcasts before and while he never came across as a particularly nasty piece of work, I did not appreciate the tone or content of his voting slate blog post. The fact that he recommended Vox Day’s story really does not ingratiate him to me. I also have absolutely nothing in common with his target audience of, as he puts it, ‘gun nuts’.

But with the Hugos, we’re voting for the stories, not the authors. Surely if I don’t object to him as strongly as to Vox Day, I should read his book and judge it fairly. Well maybe.

His nominated work is the third novel in a series – now, I’m the first to admit I have a chip on my shoulder about works that do not stand alone being nominated for Best Novel. I dislike those because they pose an ultimatum: read all the books that came before, or judge something out of context. Last year I attempted to read Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance without having read any other in the series and it was such an unpleasant experience reading it out of context that it’s pretty much thrown me off of ever reading the Vorkosigan novels.

So I’m not sure I’ll read Correia’s novel. The odds are so small that I would like it at all, it hardly seems worth it. Particularly in a year where I am so enthused by the rest of the ballot: I want to read all the zines, the non-fiction writing, the non-Vox Day short fiction. I’m excited about finishing Parasite, reading Ancillary Justice and Neptune’s Brood. And if I decide to start on The Wheel of Time, goodness knows I won’t have a spare minute to give Warbound.

In short, Larry Correia’s attitude has pushed him to the bottom of the To Read pile, and we all know how often I get to the books stashed down there.

Time? What time? I have no time, I have to read these 14 door-stoppers

And so we come to the thorny question of The Wheel Of Time, which was nominated in its entirety in the Novel category. A lot of the complaints I’ve heard were that it’s a joke for a 14 book series to be nominated as one very, very long serialised story. But the rules are very clear that it is eligible; if it weren’t, the Hugo Committee would not have let it be on the ballot. They will strike things out if they are found to be ineligible.

Apparently there were also complaints about the quality of the work, but these seem simply unjustified to me. I personally think ‘The Name of The Doctor’ was pretty bad, but I’m not arguing that it shouldn’t be on the ballot. I just won’t vote for it. If we all agreed on what’s good, we wouldn’t need the awards at all.

My own complaint is more that it feels unfair to people who are not already fans of The Wheel Of Time. I have every sympathy for fans wanting to posthumously honour Robert Jordan by nominating the whole series rather than the latest instalment alone (written by Brandon Sanderson, who was chosen to complete the series after Jordan’s passing).

However, this means that where I could read Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance as a stand-alone and judge it as such, I can’t do that with The Wheel Of Time. The whole story is nominated, so I’m being asked to have an opinion on 4, 410, 036 words. More than FOUR MILLION WORDS.


How do I do that in four months? Do I not read the other nominated works? Do I use a time turner? I make an effort to read a lot and I know I like at least Sanderson’s writing but even so, 14 books in 4 months is a tall order. Even if I bought all 14 audio books (which I won’t because that would be a ridiculous amount of money), it would still be 461 hours of narration.

What if I can’t do it? I can’t compare something I’ve read to something I’ve not read. I can’t have the same voting experience as someone who has already read all or most of the books. That is taking a choice away from me in this contest, it is disenfranchising me from this vote. It’s like saying ‘You haven’t already read The Wheel Of Time, therefore your opinion isn’t valid here.’

I work for an election provider, so from a professional standpoint I can say that disenfranchising voters from ballots they are eligible to vote in is officially really, really bad. From a personal standpoint, it feels like the old guard of fandom is telling me I’m not a part of their club because I’ve not read this one specific thing. Either way, it’s hurtful, unfair and plain annoying.

If you have any suggestions as to what I could or should do about The Wheel Of Time, I would love to hear them. Let me know in the comments or on twitter, because I think I might like it, if I didn’t feel so annoyed at it!


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

SPOILERS for the film & the first third of the novel will happen, but I’ll stay away from spoilers for the conclusion of the story.

First, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. There were a lot of things I really liked about this first instalment, most of them to do with its execution. It was filmed beautifully and as I saw it in 2D, I didn’t have to worry about the whole 3D HFR debate.

The Hobbit is basically all I loved about the Lord of the Rings – New Zealand is still magnificent, the costumes, props, sets and special effects are still top-notch, the battle scenes are still amazing, and the casting is still spot-on – only with a less doom and end-of-the-world feeling to it.

It was great to see some of my favourite scenes from the book on screen, but some of the additions and changes felt clumsy. It obviously strains under all the setup it has to do for the next two instalments, and is definitely a ‘Part One’ film.

I was mostly distracted by the differences in tone throughout. The film kept going back and forth between tough war scenes (displaying Thorin as Hollywood’s mandatory Hot Tragic Hero) and cheap fart-and-burp jokes (aimed at the younger audience). I couldn’t take the tragedy seriously on the heels of ‘Look, the Troll’s bum smells’, and I ended up rolling my eyes at moments that were meant to be moving.


My Favourite Bits

Martin Freeman’s Face
His facial expressions, his posture and acting – everything he does is just right. He’s such a perfect choice for the part and I know I’ll see the film again mostly for his superb portrayal of the Hobbit. It’s really sad when an adaptation doesn’t do justice to a much beloved character and this is the direct opposite. I loved him before, I love him even better now. Badass Martin Freeman, FTW!

Gollum! Gollum!

GollumGollum was awesome. I loved the whole sequence, from Bilbo hiding under giant mushrooms to his leaping over Gollum to escape the cave. The little tweaks they made were well chosen – I particularly liked the waistcoat buttons. I loved that they still kept a few of the riddles before ‘What do I have in my pocket?’, developing a sense of danger as the riddles get tougher. There were also great additions like Sting’s glow extinguishing when Gollum killed the goblin and the ring slowly falling onto Bilbo’s finger in a clear call-back to the same shot in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Gollum was, as ever, suitably creepy and I had no difficulty in believe Bilbo would spare his life out of pity. Although Gandalf’s advising Bilbo that ‘Courage is also in knowing when not to take a life, but when to spare one’ felt really on the nose.


The New Stuff

The Bad Guys

I was ambivalent about the White Orc Azog, who beheads Thorin’s grandfather Thror. There is good narrative value in having a villain more immediately threatening than Smaug (currently hibernating under piles of Dwarven gold Scrooge-McDuck-style), but I thought his obsession with obliterating the line of Durin didn’t really make sense. I also wondered why the Orcs had to have a spooky Orc-tongue with subtitles when the Goblin had no problems speaking English in funny accents. And why did Bilbo charge straight into Azog’s midriff? If you’re going up against a huge monster they call ‘The Defiler’ and you have an invisibility ring, use it!

The third antagonist introduced was ‘The Necromancer’, who may or may not be Sauron (it wasn’t very clear, but that might have been intentional). Now in the book, Gandalf tells Thorin fairly early on that it was this Necromancer who imprisoned, tortured and killed his father, Thrain. Understandably, Thorin is sad and upset and I could have used that emotion from him, instead of his usual cold anger. It would also have tied in the Necromancer material with the rest of the film, instead of it being a rather strange and puzzling side bit.

The Good Guys (and Saruman)

Gandalf discusses the issue at length with the White Council, who don’t want to let him investigate. I wasn’t invested in the conflict at all, as it didn’t tie in properly with the rest of the plot and we know that Gandalf will research the Necromancer whether Saruman like it or not. It’s fun to see known characters again, but that was definitely when the film felt longest to me.


Another addition was Radagast, the Brown Wizard, who is not only the Doctor, but also saves his pet hedgehog from certain death in his first (really long) scene. I was a bit distracted the streak of dried bird poo down his face, but he was good fun to watch, if a bit OTT. His scene being chased by the Warg-mounted Orcs was so comical it wasn’t scary any more.


The Nitpicking

An Info-Dumpy Prologue

We’re shown the dragon Smaug attacking the Dwarves’ mountain and forcing them into exile, with a sneak peek at the Arkenstone and Legolas’ father Thranduil (both will be important later on). It makes sense to add a battle scene or two to the less-than-action-packed first half of the film, but I’m not sure that right off the bat was the most effective place for it. Rather than showing Thorin’s past as a tragic hero, then Thorin himself, cold and arrogant, why not start by showing his less likeable traits and then revealing the source of his anger and determination? I wish I’d been allowed to see Bilbo’s reaction to Thorin’s tale.

Why the conversation between Bilbo and Frodo, and why talk about the Sacqville-Bagginses? They won’t need foreshadowing or an introduction to be funny if and when they show up later on. The name dropping made the fangirl in me squee, but the scene just felt too long. If they were trying to establish a connection between The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, why not focus on Gandalf and Bilbo’s early interactions? I would have liked to see Bilbo inviting Gandalf for dinner the next day as he does in the book, rather than Gandalf leaving without a word, only to return with thirteen really quite rude house guests.

Shouldn’t I LIKE the Dwarves?

I hated what they did with the Dwarves when they first visit Bilbo. People around us in the cinema were laughing at their hijinks but I couldn’t see the funny. How am I supposed to blame Bilbo for being unhappy about strangers raiding his food stores and messing up his house? Loud and boisterous is one thing, acting like jerks is another.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyThirteen Dwarves surely eat enough that Bilbo would have been annoyed without them being so completely rude. By comparison, the scene where the Dwarves do the dishes singing and throwing plates around was lots of fun and gives me a reason to like them because they’re helping out.

Bilbo and his guests are supposed to be enjoying their dinner together, and I wish that had made it past the promo shots.

It will be interesting to see what the film-makers do with the idea that Thorin’s cousin Dain refused to join the quest, given that the character appears towards the end of the novel. Of course, I expect the Dwarves to succeed in their battles in this first half because I know who makes it to which part of the novel later. So I’m not surprised when they turn out to be massive bad-asses in battle, but their victories would be less ridiculous if Thorin hadn’t taken pains to say that the Company only has a couple of good fighters in it, the rest being only good at eating and drinking.


Wrapping Up

I really enjoyed the film, but I do think they stretched it too much. Two three-hour films or three two-hour films would have been fine, but nine hours total is just pushing it. Perhaps the better format for the story would be a mini-series, but a TV budget wouldn’t allow for such breath-taking execution. Will most definitely see again, hopefully next week with my Mum, who read me The Hobbit in the first place.


The Hobbit: Then and Now Again

When my brother and I were small, my mother read us The Hobbit, and then the Lord of the Rings before bedtime.

If the goal was to get us to sleep (as she claimed it was), then it failed rather tremendously. We got fired up at the story and us pleading for ‘One more page!’, ‘Two more!’, ‘To the end of the chapter, pleeease!’ became a nightly occurrence.

I started reading under the covers with a flashlight, thinking I was sneaky.

However, I don’t doubt for a second that her ulterior motive was to get us wildly hooked on stories for life, and in this she was very, very successful. We became unrepentantly voracious readers and though she did have to spend rather a lot of money on books, I think she was quite pleased with herself on that front.

The Hobbit is one of the first stories I can remember being told, but I hadn’t heard it in a very long time, nor ever read it on my own. When Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings came out I read the trilogy for myself (in French, as well as chosen passages in English), but for some reason, I never did the same with The Hobbit.

So I decided to splash out and get the audiobook for The Hobbit in anticipation of the first film. I also got the new starter set of table-top miniatures from Games Workshop, because I do like things which are tiny and paintable. Also goblins are cool. I have goblins now.

About the audiobook, first I was really annoyed with Audible.com for splitting the book into two parts, each priced at one full credit. As a subscriber, I pay about $15 a month for one credit, which normally buys me one full book. As in one full Connie Willis or Frank Herbert book. Brandon Sanderson’s The Well of Ascension is 29 hours long, and it was one credit. The Hobbit’s audiobook is ‘only’ 11 hours long, making each part among the very shortest audiobooks I own.

I ended up paying for the two parts of the book with dollars rather than credits. I do get a subscriber’s discount, so it was only about $18, but that is quite steep for a regular book, and it is more than I already pay monthly as a subscriber. Yes, Peter Jackson is making three movies and we’ll have to shell out for a 3D ticket each time, but at least there I can see the added value (sets, costumes, props, makeup, etc…). I trust I’ll get something breath-taking for my money, whereas as good as this audiobook was, I really don’t see anything that qualifies it to be pricier than Dune, which is more than twice as long.

Grating pricing strategy aside, I truly enjoyed the book. I didn’t remember most of the story, so I had a lot of fun rediscovering it. The premise for Bilbo accompanying the dwarves was a bit silly (there are thirteen of them, so they need a fourteenth of their company to avoid ill luck) but I was excited enough to just roll with it.

I enjoyed Bilbo’s character very much, particularly his food-related pragmatism (I think I may be a Hobbit at heart) and the difficult decision he makes throughout. I found him a lot more relatable than Frodo, probably because he is able to retain a sense of humour at this point. The ring later spoils him a bit too, as seen in that really creepy scene in the Fellowship when Ian Holm’s Elderly Bilbo wants to keep the Ring for himself.

Rob Inglis’ narration was top-notch, his voice and accent suited Tolkien’s grand use of language perfectly. I am a total sucker for his old-fashioned turns of phrases and his omniscient, fourth-wall-breaking point of view. Inglis also did all the songs wonderfully. A lot of people seem to complain about the songs throughout The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, but they’ve always been a special treat for me, especially in the English versions. The low chorus of the dwarves in the trailer for An Unexpected Journey gives me goose bumps every time.

So, on the whole, I’m very happy that I took the time to rediscover the book before going to see the film. And I am so, SO VERY EXCITED for it!

Dr Who - Asylum of the Daleks

It’s Dr Who time again!

The new series of Dr Who opened yesterday, so naturally we had some friends around to watch the episode and nerd out over it in style.

Pre-Who preparations included watching the Dr Who cast bowling with Wil Wheaton on YouTube and catching up on Pond Life.

We also bought a nifty mcguffin to connect our hitherto games-and-DVDs-only TV to the aerial.

@NickMB even came up with a themed drinking game:

Dr Who drinking game

The episode itself was fun and creepy, if full of things that didn’t really make sense – but I’ve come to accept, especially over the course of the past series, that Things That Don’t Really Make Sense are kind of a fixture on Dr Who.*

What still irks me is that it seems like the writers are trying to have it both ways:
– On the one hand the Doctor is Mr Logical, and figures out something is wrong with Oswin because she claims to be baking but where does she get the ingredients?
– On the other hand, the whole crew escapes on the TARDIS which just happens to have found its way on the Dalek ship somehow.

The Daleks! I loved the idea that the Daleks find beauty in pure hatred, a bit like Dexter admires talented serial killers. And the concept of a planet full of something that actually scares the Daleks (when one Dalek was enough to reduce Nine to panic!) was truly powerful. We’re a far cry from their fantastic Doomsday assertion that the Cybermen ‘ARE-BE-TTER-AT-DY-ING’. Near-fossilised Daleks coming slowly back to life were suitably scary and I loved the very tense moment of panic the Doctor had when he was backed in the door frame.

Of course, the effect was slightly ruined for me by the idea that the Daleks now have a place in their heart for Parliamentary Democracy. The rest of the evening was spent toying with the idea of starting a spoof ‘@DalekMP’, ‘@DalekPM’ or ‘@DalekShadowSec’ twitter account. Shame ‘@DalekBackbencher’ is one character too long for twitter.

Oswin! I enjoyed Oswin as a character, although she seemed very similar to the Doctor in some ways (rapid movements, quick-fire explaining away of her feats of hacking, extreme self-confidence), and just as cheeky as River. Her story felt very creepy and moving, in the same way as that of the little girl who is the library in Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead.

We know by now that the actor who played Oswin will play the new companion in the Christmas special and possibly beyond, and I have to say, I’m not very comfortable right now with the pattern this all seems to form. I do love a good bit of Timey-Wimey, and there is no denying that Steven Moffat has done it beautifully in the past, but this is bordering on too much.

/** Amy & Rory rant **/ Seriously, what the actual nonsense was that? The five minutes of soap-opera ‘I love you more’/’No, I love you more’ mid-episode just completely took me out of the story and left an utterly sour taste in my mouth. What a ridiculous, lazy way to break up the Ponds, not to mention get them back together in five minutes. There is no emotional pay off from their getting back together because we’ve barely had time to see them apart, and have no idea why they are apart. This made me sigh in exasperation, while I cried buckets in the first ten minutes of UP!, which were silent.

Also, one would hope that two people who have lived through such strange stuff as Amy and Rory have since they met the Doctor would realise that, actually, having lots of babies the traditional way is not the only way to raise a family. /** rant **/

* Now that I’m done writing this, I realised I lied a little bit. These things quite obviously still bother me. Mostly it was fine, though the Dalek Parliament is comedy gold waiting to happen. Just, the ’emotional’ stuff was bad storytelling. Not to mention sexist, because that’s another post altogether and many people have already written it, better than me.