Hugo Voting (Graphic Novels, Related Works, Fan Artists)

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

July 30, 2011 -- !:15 p.m.

" 'I think he's saying we have to keep talking to to ourself for the sake of exposition.' "

" 'That's going to kill efficiency.' "

" 'It'll be hard on the fourth wall, too.' "

-- Dialogue from Schlock Mercenary

Since I put so much time into writing last month, I won't have time to review all the Hugo categories, unfortunately. I'm trying to stuff what I can into the last few days.


My favorites:

1) The Unwritten
2) Grandville Mon Amour
3) Schlock Mercenary
4) Fables
5) Girl Genius

I'm not a graphic novel reader per se--I've read the high watermarks of the genre, such as Watchman and some of Frank Miller, but other than that, my background mostly consists of manga. Compared to manga, American comic books are surprisingly dense, word-wise. I was surprised to also see some of the art wasn't as fantastic as I was expecting. It was definitely better than I can do, just not what I was expecting.

Despite my vote, the clear consensus favorite in this category is Girl Genius, which has won every year since the graphic novel category was introduced. But I like a little variety in my winners. This was the first sample of Girl Genius I've ever read, so I got dropped into the middle, but the characters were vivid and I like the art. The colors really pop and there are some nice moments. That is one high-quality web comic. Still, the lack of ability for a n00b like me to get in immediately would have tucked this one lower down on my list anyway, though maybe not quite so low down.

On the other side of the coin, I was surprised to find myself really enjoying The Unwritten. From page 1, I was practically set against it. You have a really pretentious (in my eyes) literary introduction talking about how the book is a groundbreaking look at the way we tell stories, and that we should consider it more of an anthology because the stories weren't intensely related plotwise but we shouldn't worry about that and we don't even need the mystery solved because the ideas are so awesome...

Anytime someone has 1) a plot with a mystery 2) has someone saying the mystery doesn't need solving in the intro is always going to get my danders up.

So between that and the poor scan quality that makes it difficult to read the blog posts which are mixed with the comics in a Watchman-like combo, I was prepared to give this graphic novel its thirty pages and then give it a miss.

But the thing is--I couldn't. The premise is interesting, the idea is interesting, the dialogue is great, and when I put the book down, this was the only graphic novel I was itching to see the sequel too. Mostly because the story ends on a cliffhanger, unfortunately. It gets minus marks for that. But I love the mix of surreality (is that a word?) and banality, adult humor and childlike enchantment. It's very meta and interesting.

So what's it about? Well, picture if J.K. Rowling had one son and named him Harry Potter. And little Harry Potter has to grow up in the shadow of the books, especially after his father disappeared. And little Harry Potter gets stuffed in jail after he mass-murders a house full of people. Only he claims he was framed, but the prison warden doesn't believe him and sets Potter up to be killed because he feels like Potter ruined his children's childhood by bloodying the Potter name.

Oh, but all the weird fantasy stuff? Yeah, it might be real.

Bet you didn't see that coming (rolls eyes.)

Okay, so maybe some of the twists aren't the most original. (Visiting the Third Reich? There goes that whole Nazi time vortex thing again)...but I'm all for comics that have little girls shouting the latin phrase for eye-poke while eye-poking a boy who just told her to come sit on his wand.

Naturally, adult content warning. It's wonderful, the way the author managed to capture the different narrative styles whenever it starts a character in another world/book. The flashes of the fake Harry Potter narrative feel a lot like Harry Potter, just like the narrative voice for the Beatrix Potter/Winnie the Pooh parody at the end is also spot-on-awesome. It reminded me of the South Park Christmas Critter episode, with less Jew-baiting.

My second favorite graphic novel was Grandville, which boosts my favorite art of the bunch. Some people might look at the animals and bright colors and call it cartoonish, but I like a little color in my art.

Grandville one features an alternative history where humans are (mostly) replaced by humanlike animals. A detective starts looking for a dangerous terrorist who has a Jack-the-Ripper penchant for killing prostitutes. So it's like Sherlock Holmes...if Sherlock Holmes was a giant badger. A mystery, shootouts, damaged damsels and political connivance -- this is pulpy, good fun. While the Unwritten shoots for great heights and sometimes misses, Grandville Mon Amour delivers exactly what I wanted. This is one I wouldn't mind owning in paper, and I'll have to look for it next time I'm at my local comics shop. Check out the youtube ad for it here.

I like Howard Taylor, and Schlock Mercenary makes me laugh (not to mention be impressed by the sheer content--I'm 400 pages in and still not finished), but Grandville and the Unwritten appealed to me more this time around. Maybe another year.

Fables has gotten really good critical reviews, and it has an interesting concept, but I couldn't get into it, perhaps because this is another one where I was dropped mid-series. I'll try to read it again when I have more time.


This is a really tricky category, because its so wide open. How do you compare a set of book reviews to a biography of Heinlein to a podcast on writing? It's like evaluating apples and orangutans.

I looked for criteria to judge on but found diddly-squat. We're just supposed to pick the best, whatever that means.

Well, two of the entries specialized in offering advice to new writers, which is great, but I wasn't sure that's what the Hugo celebrates, so sorry, Writing Excuses. We'll kiss and make-up in the morning.

In the end, I'm going with 'Chicks Dig Timelords', which is a collection of female voices dealing with Who and Who fandom. It contains many different voices--from new fans to old fans, costumers to voice actors--but all of them share a love of the campy, wonderfulness of Dr. Who. But I found it interesting beyond Who-dom, because it was also about carving out a female space in a male-world, one which (according to some of the writers) were full of 'Get Rid Of Slimy girlS' society, especially since the shippers were polluting their pure Who with romance.

Anyway, I don't have much of a dog in this fight, but I enjoyed the discussion, the reminiscences, and the spunky voices of the essayists kept me turning the pages. The collection contains entries from several other Hugo-nominated authors too (such as Mary Robinette Kowal and one of the authors of Feed) so it's not just fem and queer-lit professors.

It hits my sweet spots (feminism and science fiction) as well as capturing an interesting moment in pop culture history about a silly, bubble-wrap and tinfoil show that managed to capture the imagination of a generation.

My doctor is still Tom Baker though. You just can't beat that scarf. His fashion sense shaped my fierceness into what it is today. ^_^


I thought about skipping this category. I'm probably skipping the fan writing one just because I don't have enough awareness of the community to know what offers the most merit. But the artist who drew xkcd is nominated, and I don't think people who live off their art count as non-professional, so I figure I'll try and counter the legion of fans who will vote for him, even though I like xkcd.

But I liked Maureen Starkey's stuff, and some of the other artists too. Though some of the scantily clad females look very cold.

Anyway, that's my first round of Hugo pics. Now I'm working through the short stories, novelettes, novellas and other vision stuff. More later.

Skin Farm

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

July 29, 2011 -- 6:18 p.m.
Draft v. 1.0 is...


If that's not worth a few extra exclamation marks, I'm not sure what is.

I need to iron out some inconsistencies, esp. in the ending, then it's off to alpha readers, followed by query time.

And then the merry-go-round starts all over again. A writer's life, eh?

One Hundred Thousand Kingdoms Review (Hugo Reading)

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

July 21, 2011 -- 1:35 p.m.

I just got cool news. I signed up for the writing workshops at Worldcon and one of my workshop leaders is going to be N.K. Nemisin, which makes the timing of this review fun. It will be interesting to see what she has to say about my work, because while she's an awesome author, from what little I've read of her work, our styles will be completely, entirely different. It made me wish I'd submitted something a little more surreal/descriptive than Skin Farm, which is fun but very...well, plain-spoken. Purposefully so, since the main character is illiterate.

The other writer working with our group is Louise Marley, who I've never heard of before, but her body of work looks interesting. I'll have to pick on up before I go.

Anyway, onto The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms: (shouldn't be any spoilers)

HTK came out with more hype for any debut fantasy novel I've seen than Name of the Wind. Because of all the news swirling around it (and because the name made me expect Hundred Thousand Kingdoms = hundred thousand potential novels...), I was expecting some new sword and sorcery along the release of a new NoTW or a new Scott R. Bakker series sort of thing.

What I got was entirely different.

From the get-go, there's conflict. A child whose own mother even never wanted her born. A dangerous new world floating above the crowds, full of people who titter behind their hands at the protagonist, Yeine, who seems to have been brought only to serve as a sacrificial lamb on a chain. A lamb who might not even survive the day, for as night falls, she's being chased by a ravenous half-man, half-beast through glowing corridors, some of which will respond to her very thoughts.

In the back of the book, Nemisin lists her influences. Octivia Butler is among them, which doesn't surprise me, because this book reminds me of Butler's Patternist series in terms of style. The plot also strikes me as Butler-ian. Black girl from 'barbaric' (ironic air quotes applied) matriarchal backwater gets invited to rich white people's court by her maternal grandfather after her mother (who fled the court to marry the protagonist's mother) is murdered.

I point it out the race because it's there, but it's subtle. It's more about the characters than race/class politics.

I like how Nemisin manages to blend a lot of elements into one, not-too-big book. There's a mystery (who killed the protag's mom and why?) politics (need to manipulate one faction against the other) and religion. That last is especially intriguing, and builds the backbone of the work. If John Milton's Lucifer and a few of his angels were kicked out of heaven, confined inside mortal bodies and given to one hierarchical family to be used as weapons, it would be a bit like this book.

Since family conflict and religious conflict are two of what I love to see most in fantasy literature, this one hits most of my sweet spots. My only quibble was that I'd like to see more try-fail from the protagonist, who has gods at her beck and call. It seems like, with all that power, she could try to do something more. I understood that she was a) in a new place, b) limited by the fact everyone else around her also could command the gods and c) that none of her scurrilous family could be fatally harmed by said god-weapons, but still, I would have liked to see her try more, even if it meant failing. One scene in particular would have resonated more if the villain had caught a god-weapon spying on her instead of just singling him out because she wanted to hurt someone.

That passivity reminded me a little of Butler as well. In books like Dawn, she'd put the characters in situations where they were completely helpless (or only had the illusion of free will) and make her readers squirm. I loved that style when I first read it, but am a little less enamored of it now, maybe because I feel far too helpless sometimes in my own life and I read (like the blog says) for escape. For the belief/illusion that one person can be powerful and potent. And the protagonist in this book is powerful--but not because of her choices, but because of what others made her.

The obligatory romance also wasn't my cup of tea. Since being sexually assaulted, I don't have much truck with women falling in love with men who could violently hurt them even if, theoretically, the men 'didn't mean to.' But I understand that my taste is not everyone's. Also, I wished I could have seen a little more of the female gods.

That said, this book was tremendously awesome. I enjoyed the book a lot and thought it was beautifully written. The setting was fantastic fun. From the first pages, I was hurtling through, hungry for more. I almost started reading it again from the beginning as soon as I put it down.

The style is definitely on the literary side, which I love to see in fantasy, because as much as my own style is pretty simple, I like to see variation in a genre. One of the interesting things Nemisin does is, instead of a straight narrative, the character is constantly engaging in asides--sometimes from her present self, sometimes from her future self looking back--very complicated, but it never lost me as a reader even though Nemisin's juggling so many balls.

I especially enjoyed the conversations the protagonists had with 'herself.' You'll understand what I mean if you read the book.

For a sample of her style, take this excerpt from one of my favorite scenes (Minor spoiler, naturally. Well, kind of, since it's out of context):

[I]n that sliver of time, I felt the power around me coalesce, malice-hard and sharp as crystal.
* * *
That this analogy occurred to me should have been a warning.
* * *
Rish swung. I held still, tense for the blow. Three inches from my face Rish’s fist seemed to glance off something no one could see—and when it did, there was a high hard clacking sound, like stone striking stone.

Rish drew his hand away, startled and perhaps puzzled by his failure to put me in my place. He looked at his fist, on which a patch of shining, faceted black had appeared about the knuckles. I was close enough to see the flesh around this patch blistering, beading with moisture like meat cooked over a flame. Except it was not burning, but freezing; I could feel the waft of cold air from where I stood. The effect was the same, however, and as the flesh withered and crisped away as if it had been charred, what appeared underneath was not raw flesh, but stone.

If that bit made you want to read more, go pick up Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

I can tell already that choosing Hugos is going to be like picking teeth out of my spine. I also watched Doctor Who's version of the Christmas Carol, nominated as a short, and loved it, even though the science was complete bunk. (Proper frequency, my foot...) I thought it was a new twist on an old classic, and who doesn't like seeing Dumbledore as Scrooge? Or a shark pulling a sleigh? This is must-see Christmas watching, along with Futurama's X-mas episode and the Grinch Who Stole Christmas (the cartoon, not the Jim Carrey version).

Hugo Reading!

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

June 18, 2011 -- 4:28 p.m.

So I've finally had time to begin my Hugo reading.

I haven't actually read any of the previous books by this year's Hugo nominees, so it's exciting and kind of disorienting for those books that plop me down mid-series. From discussion boards, Ian McDonald seems to be the inside favorite, but Connie Willis won the Nebula, so I wouldn't count her out yet.

Though seeing a WWII travel book made me feel like writing a story where a history professor comments: "You know, why do time travelers never seem to end up in Africa? Isn't that a little weird?" And then having it turn out there's some sort of time-nexus that will automatically draw all time travelers to WWII where they will be given the opportunity to kill Hitler only to a) have something go terribly wrong or b) alter their own futures in a horrible way. And the time travel nexus was created by aliens who wanted to mock us.

Well, what else could explain how the time travelers ALWAYS end up there, except when they're going to assist with the assassination of J.F.K. instead...

As a postscript, apparently China banned shows about Time Travel. Odd.

(Spoiler-Free) Review of A Dance with Dragons

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

July 14, 2011 -- 7:17 p.m.

Woo! It finally came. In my younger years, I would have read this book straight through in one day, 1000 pages or no, but now I'm made of less stern stuff. I had to fit it into two.

The hardcover is beautiful. I just liked holding the book. I almost didn't want to read it, because it looks so pristine.

So what about the contents?

As always, George R.R. Martin is a fantastic worldbuilder and storyteller. It's easy to get swept away into Westoros. Between the return of old favorites characters, the addition of new favorites and the thickening of the plot, there was a lot here to love.

On the other hand, if you're new to Martin, just picking up his books after seeing the TV series, this probably isn't the place to start. Because this is dense, and the pacing can be a little frustrating.

Like its brother, Feast of Crows, this is a turning point in the series. This feels like it's going away from the mystery/political conflict that drove the first few books and becomes more of a travelogue. So there's a heavy heaping of wonder--I appreciated the idea of a medieval/magic leper type camp especially--along with lots of legends to unravel, but I think fans may miss the tightly wound plot of the first few books. Earlier, most of the storylines took place on the same continent and you could see more direct reactions on how characters' decisions affected one another. This time around, the threads here feel more spaced out.

There's definitely also a sense of 'darkest before the dawn.' We're hitting the middle of the series, which means that characters are going to suffer. And some of them suffer hard. There are no good choices, and some of the bright spots that used to lighten the tortured characters' souls are missing. Maybe fewer heads roll here, but it felt to me that this book offered fewer servings of hope than any other book in the series. And pretty much every plot ends on a cliffhanger, so don't expect too much satisfaction on that score. Though, since I've been studying G.R.R.M. for years and know his tricks well, I'm pretty sure I know where 90 percent of those cliffhangers are going to end. Yet he does manage to keep me guessing.

With all that said, would I still recommend A Dance with Dragons? Absolutely, if you don't mind dark fantasy. I feel it was worth the wait. While I may not see where everything is going now, the skill with which Martin handles his twists and turns convinces me that we are in capable hands. This book is a page-turner. About 400 in, I found myself struggling to put the book down. It kept calling, even when I had better things to do. I may not have liked this one as much as Storm of Swords, despite their comparable length, but it's still George R.R. Martin. And he's still fantastic. And some things are best savored slowly.

Still, I think the next book will be a test of fire. I think everyone was expecting more character convergences, but there wasn't much of that. If G.R.R.M. truly intends to end it all in two more books more, everything needs to be turned up a notch.

Neil Gaiman Interview

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

July 12, 2011 -- 9:51 a.m.

There's a great Neil Gaiman interview over at A.V. Club. You should go read it, if you liked American Gods. Go on. I'll wait.

"'[B]estseller' can be a publishing category as much as it can be anything else. It means that the book is going to be on certain shelves, pushed a certain way. Back then, it mattered. I don’t honestly know that it matters anymore. The whole shape of bookselling has changed. Back then, it meant that your publisher would pay for your book to be on the table by the door when you went into a Barnes & Noble or a Borders. There would be those tables, and the publisher is paying for it to be stacked on those tables, rather than back in a particular area. So I knew that because I was being published as a bestseller, I could be a lot more cavalier with my genre distinctions. And I hoped that people who would like it would find it. And I think eventually they did."

While you're reading that, I'll be watching this awesome fake movie trailer.