Monday
Aug062018

Rogue Protocol

This is the latest in the Murderbot diaries, a novella series about a cyborg-ish security unit who just wants to hide in its cargo box and watch TV while its humans are constantly demanding its attention. I love how Murderbot is always so down on what idiots its humans are while being begrudgingly fond of them.

In this one, Murderbot is a long way away from its almost-friends, trying not to worry about or get too attached to yet another group of humans who just can't seem to keep themselves from almost getting killed.

Murderbot is out on the edge of the galaxy, trying to find some solid evidence against the company that tried to kill its humans in the first book, All Systems Red. It gets a lot more than it bargained for in this book.

Murderbot still can't handle its soppy emotions, but is having a lot more of them, slowly inching toward acting more human. Of course, being human means being vulnerable, and Murderbot suffers a heartbreaking loss in this one that really shows it where its metaphorical heart lies, no matter how resistant it is.

The action in this story, like the others, is nonstop and the snark brilliantly keeps pace. I would ride or die for Murderbot. I've already preordered the final novella in the series and look forward to the full length novel slated to come out in a couple of years.

Wednesday
Jul252018

2018 Hugo Reading Round-Up

Okay, I have finally (with a week to spare!) finished my Hugo reading. Below are the major prose categories, with my choices in bold. I've included links to my reviews of the novels and the longer novellas, but will give a quick summary of what I thought of the shorter formats.

Best Novel

  • The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi (Tor)
  • New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit); note: DNF so no review, I really didn't like the author's style and the story just didn't grab me
  • Provenance, by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
  • Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
  • Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty (Orbit)
  • The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)

Best Novella

  • All Systems Red, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)
  • “And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017); note: really cool idea but still not really doing it for me
  • Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing)
  • The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang (Tor.com Publishing); note: DNF (for now), the world-building is really fascinating but the characters and story weren't grabbing me, but I'll likely go back to it when I have more time/patience
  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
  • River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing)

Best Novelette

  • “Children of Thorns, Children of Water,” by Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny, July-August 2017); note: this was a neat story set in a world I'm familiar with, but it didn't quite have the teeth to compete with my top pick
  • “Extracurricular Activities,” by Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com, February 15, 2017); note: also set in a world I'm familiar with, and a lot of fun, but lacking "teeth"
  • “The Secret Life of Bots,” by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, September 2017); note: one of many fun stories on this ballot about the life and humanity of bots, this one had all the stakes but also a hopeful ending that I needed
  • “A Series of Steaks,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld, January 2017); note: this story was a lot of fun, but really felt like it should have been written from the assistant's POV since she was the real hero anyway
  • “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time,” by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny, May/June2017); note: This was a gut punch of a story and I really really liked it, but it was a little bleaker than I like, even if the ending was hopeful. Also, I dislike vampire stories in general.
  • “Wind Will Rove,” by Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s, September/October 2017); note: Cool concept but it really felt like a slog to read.

Best Short Story

  • “Carnival Nine,” by Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2017); note: This story was way too bleak for me.
  • “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand,” by Fran Wilde (Uncanny, September/October 2017); note: I wanted to like this one but it just wasn't for me.
  • “Fandom for Robots,” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Uncanny, September/October 2017); note: This one was a lot of fun, just didn't hold up against the fierce competition.
  • “The Martian Obelisk,” by Linda Nagata (Tor.com, July 19, 2017); note: This story was so bleak I was depressed for days, even if the ending had a smidge of hope
  • “Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon, (Uncanny, May/June 2017); note: This was a bit of a gut punch, but in a good way. It's still making me happy and it's been weeks since I read it.
  • “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™,” by Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex, August 2017); note: It was hard to choose between this and Vernon's story, but in the end this one just left me feeling absolutely gutted and I'm just so done with bleak stories right now.

As a side note, Tor.com is really kicking ass and taking names with its novella publishing line. I'm actually looking at writing a novella to send in to them, since they're kind of on fire right now. I love the novella format! A little more meat than a short story or novelette, without the time sink of a novel.

There was a lot of great SFF released last year! Some of which didn't make it onto the final ballot and choosing favourites in some of these categories was really difficult, to the point I was often deciding on the subjective principle of "it made me happy" because all of these stories are just so damn good.

I hope you'll go out and find the stories on this list. They're well worth the time! And I leave for California in exactly 2 weeks! (Even if it's nearly a month until the actual Hugos, which I'm going to miss anyway because the award ceremony is on Sunday night... who does that?)

Monday
Jul232018

Skyfarer

With my Hugo reading mostly done I finally get to read books for fun again! (Okay, most of the Hugo reading has been fun, but it's also been a bit of a chore because it's reading on a deadline, which is less fun).

So this book is definitely fun. It's billed as a Star-Wars inspired space fantasy and yes, that is a very good description for it. The SW parallels are pretty obvious. I thought it also had something of a Firefly feel to it too, especially the crew's relationship to their ship, Elysium, and to each other.

It's hard to talk about this book without spoilers, but the characters are fascinating and the world-building is pretty cool and it's got a fairly diverse cast, even if the characters who get the most page-time are both white. The villain, Azrael, is especially fascinating and I look forward to seeing where his character arc goes in the next book. (I will definitely read the next book.)

Anyway, this is an exciting, somewhat fluffy space adventure that fans of Star Wars and Firefly will like. And I didn't notice it doing anything squicky with representation, so that's definitely a bonus. Go forth and enjoy!

Wednesday
Jul042018

Provenance

Hurray! I've now read all of the novels on the Hugo ballot! Just one novella and one novelette left to go and I'll be done reading everything on the slate. Yay!

So anyway, this book is a bit of a space adventure about a young woman trying to best her brother at basically life in order to become their foster mother's heir. She mucks it up a lot. And she's so naive it makes me twitch.

The book has plenty of tension as the political drama unfolds, involving rogue alien starship captains and very strange ambassadors. I think this is the part of the book, along with the painfully naive MC, that made this book a bit of a slog for me to read. The plot was a bit simple and I kept looking for the twist and there was never really much of a twist until the end and by then I was expecting it.

I guess this book was too fluffy and predictable for me. Though I really REALLY liked how all the characters strove to treat each other with dignity and respect. And I especially liked that when one of the enby characters took on a new name, e refused to interact with anyone who didn't call em by the correct name. (e and em are the pronouns the author chooses for enbies in this book. it took some getting used to but wasn't a big deal)

Anyway, I can see why so many people loved this book and why it would get a Hugo nod, but it just wasn't for me.

Friday
Jun152018

The Life You Can Save

So I finished this book over a week ago and have put off reviewing it while I tried to process it and look into some of the suggestions it has to make, since the book was published 10 years ago and things change. But I think I'm still too furious and maybe even a little hopeless to adequately talk about this book. If you're angry over recent events and want to do more to help, this book (or website, see below) are a great place to start. There's always action we can take.

This book is about what wealthy nations, and well-off individuals within those nations, can do to help alleviate (and maybe even wipe out) the worst of global poverty. If you need convincing that this is even something we should care about, the book has some really good philosophical arguments that covers all the major rebuttals to helping others.

And I was shocked at how little we need to give (if everyone making a certain income were to give a certain very small percentage of that -- see image below) in order to make a tangible difference in global poverty rates.

I've never needed convincing that we should help. It's just always hard to know how to help. Particularly, how to tell if a charity will use the funds it receives adequately and efficiently and whether that charity's help is actually doing any good.

Thankfully, the book provides some excellent resources in finding efficient and effective charities in the fight against global poverty. The author even has a website to facilitate finding the right charity and cause. If you're like me and want to help but don't know where to start, start here: https://www.thelifeyoucansave.org/

If you want to help but don't think you can really afford it, still check out the website and maybe the book too. There are lots of ways to give.

If you don't think you need to help, you're probably a bad person stop reading my blog. And maybe read the book and rethink your priorities.

For me, I don't have a lot of spoons or time (I already volunteer a lot elsewhere) but I've got more than enough money. My household does just fine. So I give financially. We happily pay our exorbitant taxes and will happily pay even more if we know those taxes are going to social programs that help those who don't have what we have (and that help us the next time one of us ends up needing it).

Digression: When my daughter's birth was a complicated one that involved many forms of intervention and then she spent her first week in NICU. The only thing we had to pay for was parking. Even the midwife was covered by OHIP. I will never not happily pay my taxes.

I'm trying not to be holier than thou here, but I'm short on spoons lately so I'm just going to be blunt about all this. The book encourages people to talk about what they give. It gives examples of different organizations where members are devoted to giving and some give away half their earnings. The book stresses that talking about giving helps normalize it. I guess it acts as a stepping stone from being locked into consumerism to being more generous.

There are always stupid expenses we sink money into that with a little reprioritizing, we can funnel that money somewhere else. Don't be Bezos and hoard billions at the expense of others. You're (probably) not a dragon. When your needs are met? Consider helping meet someone else's needs.

Honestly, I'd love to live in a society where people wear their wealth on their sleeve not by the stupid fancy car or oversized house or whatever other garbage we waste money on, but instead in showing off how much they've given. That might be a little perverse, but if it helps people I don't actually fucking care.

Anyway, I've been giving to a lot of charities for a long time. This book only recently helped me start looking into better ways to give globally. Last year, my household donated somewhere in the ballpark of $10,000. I'm too lazy to dig out the tax receipts to give you the exact amount, but 10k is close.

I donate monthly (between $10-$35 each) to several charities. I'm now up to giving over $145 per month to charities. And then I occasionally give larger one time donations when I've got a larger sum to give. When I start thinking about new crap I don't need, I give the money to charity instead.

Okay, here are the charities I give to fairly regularly (some of them are monthly, others get a lump sum once or twice a year): Amnesty International, ACLU, CNIB, HBSPCA (where I got one of my dogs), Heart & Stroke, my daughter's school, KWHS (where I got another of my dogs), the bursary program at my university, NaNoWriMo, Planned Parenthood, RAINN, Reception House (KW refugee centre), Sobriety Centre, SPLC, UNCR, Worldbuilders

Yes, I recognize some of these charities are not the greatest. I'll probably start redirecting some of my more local giving toward international charities combating poverty. But I won't stop caring about arts programs and dogs. Heh.

The charities I've started giving to more recently, as a result of this book and talking with the friend (Cat London) who recommended it to me: OxFam and Kiva, where I'm giving five $25 loans to women in some of the world's poorest countries. I need to look into some other options and charities, but I plan to give more. Either five more Kiva loans or upping my monthly donations to OxFam (or both).

That amount of giving hasn't cut into my well-being at all. I spend less on stuff I don't need. I go to the library more since one of my biggest expenses has been books. I've started getting clothing custom tailored since I'm more likely to actually wear it instead of having a wasteful closet full of stuff I hate, plus for me (as a plus-size woman) tailoring costs the same as buying off the rack anyway. (And then I get to support local and the quality is infinitely better anyway.) I recently dropped off at Goodwill a huge box full of clothing I wasn't wearing.

Before people come at me about it, I understand that I'm extremely privileged. I don't expect everyone to give as much as I do. But if you're reading this from a computer or phone, you're also more privileged than probably half the world's population. And if you're just scraping by financially, remember there are other ways to give. You can always donate your time or stuff you're not using.

For those of you doing fine, consider giving financially. The book had a handy guide to giving based on income:

That maybe seems like a lot. If you're resistant or hesitant, browse the website or flip through the book. Take a closer look at where you're spending your money and ask yourself if you really need some of the stuff cluttering up your house. And no one's saying you have to donate nearly this much. Every little bit helps.

Anyway, the world is on fire, but here's one more tool to combating the flames. Go forth and do something good.