30 August 2019

One Year, One Week, and One Night of Parenting

This may be posting at the end of August, but I wrote it back at the beginning of the month-- one year and one week after my son was born.

One Year

It's been a year, but but the last few months of the summer have been the most exciting in some ways. Hayley and I still both have work to get done (how's that book proposal coming, Steve?) but nowhere near as much as we do when the school year is in session. His daycare is in Hayley's high school, so it's only open when school is in session. The system we ended up working out is that she would be primary caregiver Monday/Wednesday/Friday while I went to campus or elsewhere to get writing or other academic activities done, and I would be on Tuesday/Thursday while she prepped for her school year or ran other tasks.

Even though she was usually home for "my" days, this gave me more time with him on my own than I'd had in the past, and I feel like I now have a much better sense of him as a person. Things like "snack" I'd usually been happy to cede to her on weekends during the school year, for example. It especially meant that I would go places with him and without her more often: library storytime, "learn and play" hosted by the children's museum, Publix, or just to a playground to use the swings.

There's also more to him than there was at the beginning of the summer, physically, mentally, and emotionally. He's a hefty twenty-five pounds; having taken his first few consecutive steps in early June (at the age of ten months), he is now a fearless and accomplished walker. He makes sounds that might be words (he definitely has a sound for the cat, which is something like "da"; Hayley gets him to say "quack" when playing with his rubber ducks, and both his grandmothers think he says "book").

More exciting is that he obviously understands us more and more. He quickly picked up "no," shaking his head back and forth whenever we said it. But he also shakes his head "no" even when you don't say it but do mean it: when you restrain his arm to stop him from grabbing the cat food bowl, or when you say something like, "don't do that" or "be careful." Sometimes he even does it when I just say his name, which I guess indicates how often I say his name in an admonishing tone. He also anticipates it-- he'll reach a hand out for the cat food bowl, look up at you, and then shake his head "no" before you even say something.

He understands other things we say, though. We've been reading to him since month one, but he's really into books now. He'll grab books off a shelf in the living room, walk over to you, and thrust them into your lap; I recently figured out that I could say "go get a book" and he would do it. He can listen to me read five books in a row and not get tired. He clearly has his favorites, some of which I enjoy reading (Monsters Love Colors is always fun) and some of which I dread (Star Trek: Little Redshirt's Book of Doom is inexplicably bad but apparently always appealing). Recently he's been climbing into a doll chair we have in the living room; he tries to stand in it, but if you say, "sit down," he (sometimes) immediately does as he's told.

A personality is emerging. A little shy at first around new places and people, but fearless when he settles in. He loves water. The splashpad at one of the local playgrounds is a never-ending source of delight, as is the "water table" that my thoughtful wife suggested we get him as a first birthday present. He cries if you leave him alone, but often he is happy to just play on his own while you are nearby, periodically interacting with you in some way.

At the beginning of the summer, sleep was becoming an issue. He had basically two ways to go to sleep: being breastfed in our bed, or movement. Movement could be holding him while you walked around (this was getting challenging at 25 pounds, though), a baby swing (weight limit: 25 pounds), the car seat, or a walk in his stroller. This meant that while Hayley's ability to put him to sleep was pretty good, my options were sometimes limited, which meant it was difficult to leave me alone with him for an entire day. There was a period where every day one or the other of us took him on a walk in the stroller for his morning nap. Let me tell you, even at 9:30am, walking outside in Florida in June/July is little fun, but I got a lot of audiobooks and podcasts in.

We embarked on "sleep training" using the "Ferber method"; it had some rough spots, but by the end of the summer, he could go to sleep on his own in his crib in his own room pretty smoothly. For night, we do clean-up as a family (he initially found this fun but is beginning to figure out it means his toys are gone), then Hayley dresses him and nurses, then I brush his teeth and read him Goodnight Moon before placing him in the crib. For naps, we do clean-up, then he nurses, and one of us reads him Sandra Boynton's Going to Bed Book. Usually the nursing is breastfeeding even on days where I am primary, but I can do it with a cup of milk.

One Week

The week of his first birthday represented a new parenting challenge, though. Hayley had to attend a training on how to teach AP classes Monday through Thursday; daycare began on Friday, which meant I would be home with him all day every day by myself, responsible for both naps.

It actually went great. There were some tricky naps, but pink noise always did the trick in a pinch, and we had a lot of fun: the Glazer Children's Museum on Monday (his actual birthday; his party had been the previous Saturday), a trip to Publix on Tuesday, the playground and splashpad on Wednesday, and Campbell's Dairyland (our local ice cream utopia) and the pediatrician on Thursday. The Children's Museum is a hugely fun place, even at his age: he spent lots of time in a fake barn running around with a plastic egg in each hand, and I guess that's what counts. I did discover that he could be a little mean-- four times he took or attempted to take a toy from another kid. (One time the kid was bigger than him, and shoved him; he didn't seem to mind!)

He even did great at the pediatrician; I remember on those early visits he would cry after his shots all the way home, and then still more at home. This time he was done crying by the time we were out the door!

At home we entertained ourselves with birthday presents, old favorite toys, and a never-ending stream of books. I have to say, it was nice, and helpful. During the school year it was sometimes easy to feel disconnected from him-- I'd get home, we'd eat dinner, and he'd go to bed. But spending the summer with him and spending days alone with him has definitely sharpened my relationship with him.

But fifteen minutes before Hayley got home Thursday night, my week of solo parenting ended in disaster.

One Night

I was on my laptop on the couch; he was running around playing next to me, though not in a position where I could directly see him. Suddenly he fell over and started crying-- a not infrequent occurrence.

But when I picked him up to comfort him, I saw blood on his face. A lot. There was a little cut (almost a gash?) in his lower lip. I think he must have hit the windowsill near that end of the couch.

I tried to calm him down and stop the bleeding while I waited for Hayley. Since I knew she would be home in fifteen minutes, it seemed premature to rush off somewhere by myself. Trying to read what to do about a mouth cut on my phone and actually doing it at the same time proved difficult, not aided by the fact that he wouldn't let me hold anything in place on his bleeding lip as he screamed and cried. (Though, when I temporarily put him down and stood up to get an icepack, he stopped crying to grab my phone off the floor and excitedly chase the cat, only to resume crying once I picked him up and tried to actually apply the icepack.)

Hayley soon made it home, and soothed him while I called our pediatrician, who said to go to the ER.

By the time we got there, the bleeding was over and he was actually in a great mood. He ran around in circles in the waiting room of the pediatric ER, and seemed particularly excited when he discovered that if he ran at the sliding door, it would open automatically.

The pediatric doctor at the ER ended up recommending stitches. I think that was the moment where it hit me the hardest. I know these things happen (I got my first stitches, also in my lip, at age 2), but man it is tough to look at your kid and think that this is happening to them and maybe if you had been a little more diligent, a little more careful, it wouldn't have had to.

We stayed through the whole thing. They shot some stuff into his nose to make him more... pliable, I guess? It made him think everything was funny. Then numbing stuff in his lip, and then the nurse practitioner sewed it up with five stitches. I had never actually watched someone get stitched before; it is kind of weird to see someone just start sewing parts of a person. The first couple made me flinch, but I got used to watching surprisingly quick.

A popsicle to make sure he was okay, and we were out of there. Surprisingly, the whole visit was just over two hours.

I think he will have a scar now. It felt like it was a pretty big chunk, but it doesn't look like one now. I am taking him to the plastic surgeon (!) for a follow-up soon (or will have done so by the time you read this); I also have to take him to the pediatric dentist to make sure no damage was done to his teeth.

You might think he would have learned something from this experience, but he is of course as fearless as ever.

28 August 2019

Joe Casey's Adventures of Superman #589: Return to Krypton

Return to Krypton: "Fathers" / "Sliding Home" / "Second Honeymoon" / "The Most Dangerous Kryptonian Game" / "Escape from Krypton"

The Adventures of Superman vol. 1 #589 (Apr. 2001)
Superman: Return to Krypton (2004), reprinting Action Comics vol. 1 #776, Superman vol. 2 #166-67, Superman: The Man of Steel #111 (Mar.-Apr. 2001) 

Story: Jeph Loeb, Joe Casey, Mark Schultz, and Joe Kelly
Pencils: Ed McGuinness, Duncan Rouleau, Doug Mahnke, and Kano
Inkers: Cam Smith, Jaime Mendoza, Marlo Alquiza, and Tom Nguyen

Colors: Tanya & Richard Horie and Rob Schwager
Lettering: Richard Starkings, Chris Eliopoulos, and Ken Lopez
Assistant Editor: Tom Palmer, Jr.
Editor: Eddie Berganza 

Joe Casey's second solo issue on Adventures of Superman isn't really a solo issue at all, because Adventures is promptly plunged into a crossover between the four ongoing Super titles, Return to Krypton, and Adventures #589 is thus part two of a four-part story. (The Return to Krypton trade also collects a one-issue prologue, Superman #166.) In this story, the sterile Krypton of John Byrne's Man of Steel reboot is revealed to be an illusion, and the "true" Krypton is something closer to the Krypton that we saw in the comics of the Silver Age; Jor-El created fake data about Krypton for Kal-El so that he wouldn't miss his home. It's a little convoluted-- retconning a retcon always is, I suppose-- and probably doesn't really track with the details of Man of Steel, which I remember really liking, though it's been over a decade since I've read it. In that story, people on Krypton no longer bore children, so baby Kal-El was sent to Earth in a "birthing matrix," and thus literally born in Kansas. Return to Krypton makes it clear that Lara bore Kal-El in her body, and then he was placed in the birthing matrix to be sent to Earth, so the story maintains some details of Man of Steel while ignoring its spirit.

from Superman vol. 2 #167
(script by Jeph Loeb, art by Ed McGuinness & Cam Smith)
Superman learns much of this from a message Jor-El left in his rocket in a crystal. Then, with the help of Professor Hamilton and John Henry Irons, he is able to use thought projection to make an image of Krypton in the Phantom Zone, into which he and Lois travel to see what the planet was "really" like before it was destroyed; the story is ambiguous about whether Clark and Lois actually traveled to Krypton of the past, or if only to a recreation of it. Clark is able to hang out with his parents briefly, but soon events get crazy: he helps Jor-El adjust Krypton's orbit so it won't be destroyed, but this drains his powers so Lara has to rescue him in a rocket, but space travel is against the law, so General Zod comes to arrest Jor-El and Lara, but they all go on the run, and Zod gets angry and deposes the Kryptonian leadership because he blames their complacency for the crisis, and then all of a sudden Jor-El has been made president in a counter-revolution. Whoa.

It's action-packed (particularly part three, Man of Steel #111), which is the big weakness of it all: I feel like this story should have had more emotional weight. This is momentous! But most of the story is spent 1) massaging the continuity to the preferred form of the 2000s writers, and 2) making things explode again and again. The human story gets lost in the middle of it all. I know this is a superhero comic, but I feel like there must have been a way to balance them better than they were.

from The Adventures of Superman vol. 1 #589
(script by Joe Casey, art by Duncan Rouleau
and Jaime Mendoza & Marlo Alquiza)
One thing I do like about these comics is their emphasis on narration. Three of the five issues use narration: the prologue is Pa Kent, while parts one and three are narrated by Lois. This keeps some emphasis on character, and I particularly liked the focus on Lois, who I think could otherwise have very easily gotten lost in the shuffle.

As for the retcons... I dunno. The Steve Mollmann criterion for judging retcons is that The new thing must be at least as interesting, if not more interesting, as the old thing being replaced. I did like Byrne's Man of Steel, especially its vision of Krypton, but I'm open to stories about other forms of Krypton being told. But based on this tale, this new old version of Krypton doesn't have more to offer, but I also believe it could. Weirdly, the story indicates Superman might actually have changed Kryptonian history (wouldn't that have wiped him from existence) and kind of hints that the Man of Steel Krypton still exists. I guess I'll see if either of these ideas are picked up in Adventures going forward.

(Incidentally, the method of the retcon here would itself be retconned! In Superman: Infinite Crisis we're told that Kal-El's backstory changed because of Superboy-Prime punching at the edge of reality, and thus not because Jor-El had been lying about the truth.)


27 August 2019

Review: Transformers: Fall of Cybertron by John Barber and Dheeraj Verma

Comic PDF eBook, n. pag.
Published 2013 (contents: 2012)
Acquired August 2014

Read April 2019
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron

Written by: John Barber
Art by: Dheeraj Verma
Colors by: Sanjay Kharwar & Priscilla Tramontano
Letters by: Chris Mowry

After making my way through all of IDW's original continuity, I'm finally free to explore some other Transformers comics I've picked up along the way, beginning with this, the first of two stories about the Dinobots set in the so-called "Aligned" continuity, an initiative from 2010 to 2017 to create a common continuity for videogames, novels, cartoons, and of course comic books.

I have often thought one of the marks of a good leader was inability to control anger that leads to the destruction of one's own property.
from Transformers: Fall of Cybertron #1

It's a pretty typical John Barber Dinobots story. That guy loves his Dinobots, but is often unable to make me love them. Here, we see where they came from in the Aligned continuity; they were the Lightning Strike Coalition, but when they disobeyed orders to rescue one of their own, they were captured by-- who else-- Shockwave, and he experimented on them to turn them into the Dinobots, though they-- of course-- refused to work for him.

Oh, good. MORE Shockwave monologueing. I sure missed that.
from Transformers: Fall of Cybertron #4

It's okay, you know? Lots of narration, and not as fun as I think a story featuring giant robot dinosaurs ought to be. I think after Barber's frequent use of the Dinobots in the IDW continuity, he doesn't say anything here that he didn't say there. They're angry, and they don't obey the rules, but they have regrets and hidden depths. Sure.

Note: despite the title, Cybertron does not actually fall in this story. That happens in the next Aligned Dinobot story.

Next Week: Later, still on Cybertron... it's time for the Rage of the Dinobots!

26 August 2019

Review: Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes by Andrew E.C. Gaska

Hardcover, 269 pages
Published 2011

Borrowed from the library
Read April 2019
Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes by Andrew E.C. Gaska
story by Andrew E.C. Gaska, Rich Handley, Christian Berntsen, and Erik Matthews

Periodically I read a Planet of the Apes book because, hey, why not? The original films have a kitschy charm and nihilistic streak that makes them endure. My most recent perambulations bring me to Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes, the first original novel set during the continuity of the 1968-73 films. The book is kind of a novelization of the first film, the only one of the five to never be novelized (publishers just reissued Pierre Boulle's original novel with a film tie-in cover instead), and kind of a sidequel to it, as it mostly focuses on minor characters from the first film, and characters who were introduced in later ones.

The main human character is Landon, one of the not-Charlton Heston astronauts from the original film; Conspiracy reveals that he had a much more involved adventure on the planet of the apes than one might have guessed based on the film. It's kind of neat to see the early scenes of the original retold from his viewpoint. Taylor is kind of an asshole when he's not the protagonist. There are also lots of flashbacks that fill in Landon's pre-Liberty 1 life, especially a space mission he undertook a few years earlier along with Maryann Stewart, the female astronaut who dies in suspended animation in the film's opening. To be honest, I struggled to care about him at times; the present-day stuff was interesting, but the flashbacks ultimately came off as pretty pointless.

The main ape characters are Galen, a veterinarian who briefly appeared in the original film, and Milo, a scientist who was introduced in the third film as a close friend of Cornelius and Zira who'd we never heard of before. Galen experiments on Landon, while Milo uses information from Landon to recover the Liberty 1 from beneath the water, setting up and explaining one of the particularly contrived aspects of the third film. To be honest, this is one of those tie-ins where it feels like its whole purpose is not telling a story, but sewing up holes. It does a good job of sewing up holes (I liked the explanation for why the Liberty 1 crashed to begin with, or why someone would even send a rescue mission after a ship that seemingly couldn't return), but Gaska's own story isn't always particularly compelling.

The book is graphic novel-sized (I think it was published by a comic book publisher) and profusely illustrated by some greats of the sf/comics world like Andrew Probert, Dave Dorman, and Thomas Scioli, which was really neat. Worth reading if you've thought a lot about inconsistencies in the Planet of the Apes films (which I have), but maybe not if you just want to read a great story.

23 August 2019

The 2019 Hugo Awards: Results and Final Thoughts

I watched the livestream go out again this year, which really is the way to do it. This year's ceremony was a little longer than last year's, which I liked, as last year's felt a little rushed at times. Both co-hosts-- Irish author Michael Scott and American artist Afua Richardson-- were fantastic. Richardson's mid-show tribute to Nichelle Nichols, complete with an amazing rendition of "Stand by Me," was a real highlight of the whole evening, and made my eyes mist up slightly. The use of live music for when winners walked up to the stage was also a nice touch. (And whenever my twelve-month-old son heard it, he started dancing.)

Once again, it was great to be able to see all these writers go up to the mic and receive their awards, even people who I myself did not vote for or even particularly want to win!

Say what you will about The Good Place, it was super-cool that actress D'Arcy Carden and the writer (I think? I didn't quite catch her introduction) sent a video message accepting the award; last year I complained at how the Best Dramatic Presentation finalists are unrepresented. Also I felt Professor Ada Palmer gave a great speech as she presented the Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

People really need to learn to not depend on their phones for acceptance speeches... and really not depend on logging into their e-mail!

So what did I think of the results? Just some brief thoughts here:

Category What Won Where I Ranked It What I Ranked #1 Where It Placed
Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book Children of Blood and Bone
6th Tess of the Road 3rd
I knew this would win, even though I found little of interest in it myself. I thought Tess of the Road would do worse, though, so I was happy for a third-place showing. Dread Nation, which I rated second, finished second, so that was nice. The category was pretty evenly split in first-round votes among four different titles; CBB, Dread Nation, Tess, and Invasion each had around 200. I'm not very surprised to see that Cruel Prince and The Belles weren't to the taste of the Hugo electorate, though Cruel Prince did edge past Invasion to take fourth.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) The Good Place: "Janet(s)" 3rd Dirty Computer 6th
Dirty Computer was a finalist that was really liked by those who liked it... but not liked by enough people in the end. It had the second most first-round votes: more than "Janet(s)," actually, as The Expanse: "Abbadon's Gate" got the most. But once the other Good Place episode, "Jeremy Bearimy," was eliminated from contention, most of its votes unsurprisingly transferred to "Janet(s)." The two Doctor Who episodes up this year (which I ranked second and fourth) finished in third and fourth.

The long list has some interesting stuff bubbling under with not quite enough nominations to make the ballot: episodes of the new She-Ra in 8th and 13th, an ep of Steven Universe in 10th, and a Star Trek: Discovery episode down in 14th.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 1st Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 1st
This was the only category where I voted for the first-place winner! I was delighted, as it was a very worthy winner. I feel almost embarrassed to see, though, that Infinity War in third somehow beat out Annihilation, A Quiet Place, and Sorry to Bother You. C'mon, people!

Best Graphic Story Monstress: Haven
7th On a Sunbeam
My tastes in comics and those of Hugo voters at large are clearly wildly divergent. The two works I placed below No Award (Monstress and Black Panther: Long Live the King) ranked first and second! On the other hand, On a Sunbeam lands in last, which is just grossly unfair. Why do the Hugo voters love Monstress so much? Can one of them please explain what is actually happening in that series to me? It has now won three years in a row!

The longlist shows some interesting stuff bubbling under, some of which I suspect would have been more to my taste: The Wicked + the Divine (7th), Ms. Marvel: Teenage Wasteland, which I nominated (9th), Mister Miracle, which I read but after nominations closed (14th). I also nominated Transformers: Lost Light, but it didn't place in the top 15.

Best Related Work Archive of Our Own 7th Astounding 6th
Wow, yikes, me totally off based yet again. Great speech by the victors, though, and I like that they're actually leaving the rocket with WSFS because it belongs to fandom, not them. I am really, well, astounded at the poor showing for Astounding. It did not deserve to be beaten by a mediocre Le Guin interview, for sure. It actually got the most nominations, so I'm not sure what happened there. Also bummed that the The Hobbit video essay landed in fifth.

Looking at the longlist, I am pretty relieved I didn't have to read George R.R. Martin's Westeros history, as it missed the ballot by less than half a point.

Best Short Story "A Witch's Guide to Escape" 3rd "The Court Magician" 5th
Hard for me to complain, when I felt this category was kind of mediocre this year. All of the finalists were pretty good, but few were great, so eh. Am kind of sad that Sarah Pinsker keeps getting Hugo nominations but no wins (she's definitely the best short fiction writer I've discovered by getting involved in the Hugos), but I feel like she'll make it someday.

Best Novelette "If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again" 4th The Only Harmless Great Thing 5th
On the other hand, this is hard for me to complain about because the category was so strong! "If at First You Don't Succeed" is an amazing little story, and only ended up in fourth on my ballot because the competition was so strong. I'm not surprised Only Harmless wasn't quite to the taste of the average Hugo voter.

Best Novella Artificial Condition 5th No Award 7th
Okay, I'm not surprised No Award didn't win this category, or even place, and I'm also not surprised that Murderbot won, and I'm also also not surprised that the actual story I ranked second landed down in sixth, Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach. I hope next year is better.

Best Novel The Calculating Stars 2nd Spinning Silver 2nd
Not surprised at this, and pretty happy about it, too; it's the one category where I was roughly in accord all the way down (I placed Space Opera last; it finished in last). Mary Robinette Kowal gave a fantastic acceptance speech, too.

I actually No Awarded Best Series because I don't believe in the category, and I don't rate the Wayfarers books very highly... but I was glad to see Becky Chambers win it. First, because it's the kind of series the category was ostensibly created to honor, one where the constituent parts haven't won, but the whole does. Second, because Chambers gave a great acceptance speech about how Worldcon itself transformed her from a self-published author to one with a book deal! She was quite clearly emotional as she gave her speech, wishing her wife was there to share in the moment instead of back home.

As always, I enjoyed the experience, though I think I didn't enjoy more of the finalists this year than in previous years. Hopefully next year is a return to form. On the other hand, this year's actual process of voting and reading was way better than 2018's.

Now that I've done it three times, it's a thing, so I'll def be back for more!

22 August 2019

Review: The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells by Ben Bova

Trade paperback, 275 pages
Published 2016 (originally 1994)

Acquired July 2019
Read August 2019
The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells by Ben Bova

Based on my short-lived career as an author of mediocre Star Trek tie-ins, I've been assigned to teach a science fiction creative writing class this fall. So, I cast about for a textbook, and after skimming through a couple, decided upon this one, which was focused and straightforward and had some good insights. Bova has had a long career as an sf writer (beginning in 1959, and he had a new novel out this year!), but more importantly he had a strong stint as an editor at Analog (1972-78) and Omni (1978-82). It mostly focused on short fiction (ch. 3-14), though it also touches on novel writing (ch. 15-16, 18).

The book emphasizes four aspects of writing: character, background, conflict, and plot. For each of these aspects, Bova spends a chapter setting up general principles ("theory"). Then, he includes one of his own short stories. Finally, a third chapter explains how that story embodied the principles he set up ("practice"). It's a nice format, let down slightly that (on the basis of this book, at least; I haven't read much by Bova), he's a fairly middling sf writer. Three of the four stories here were good ideas, but coolly written; Bova has set-ups and ideas that could make you feel, but don't. One, "Crisis of the Month," is decidedly poor. However, they are useful at illuminating his ideas, and my plan is to pair his ideas with stories from The Best Science Fiction of the Year for 2018. I like his ideas, especially his take on how to write interesting characters. I do wish he spent more time focusing on what specifically is science fictional in each of the four categories: the background section does this the most, but a lot of his advice is fairly generic to all short fiction.

All that said, if you want a book about writing science fiction and just science fiction, it appears to be one of the strongest out there. My perusal on Amazon was not very promising; a lot of his competitors are unfocused (taking in many speculative genres) or spend a lot of time on basic elements of writing (which Bova assumes one already knows, and is how I would prefer to tackle my class), or just are chaotic (the table of contents for Jeff VanderMeer's Wonderbook, for example, overwhelmed me, though I might take a second look at it). It's not a perfect book, but I suspect it will teach well-- Bova has a very straightforward writing style, very businesslike-- which is the point for me. I guess we'll see this fall!

21 August 2019

Joe Casey's Adventures of Superman: Introduction / #588: "Child's Play" / Reading Order and Index to Posts


Joe Casey's run on Adventures of Superman is one of those runs everyone in comics fandom speaks of in hushed, reverent tones, like Levitz and Giffen on the Legion, or Mark Waid on the Flash, or James Robinson on Starman. Although, it's not quite as widely spoken of as those; it has a more insidery feel than that. To the people that really know their Superman, Joe Casey is where it's at. Most noteworthy is the latter part of his run, where Superman never uses violence, allowing Casey to explore how Superman can be a superhero without throwing a punch.

Except, unlike all of those runs, it's never really been collected. DC has never released an Adventures of Superman by Joe Casey Omnibus, even though they've given the treatment to Justice League Detroit! I don't pretend to understand how DC's collected editions department makes decisions, but I suspect it's at least partially because for much of Casey's run, the four Super titles (Adventures, plain old Superman, Man of Steel, and Action Comics) were treated as one big title. Each week would see one of the four released, with stories rotating through them. So if you collect Casey's work, you have to collect a lot of other stuff too.

So, I spent some time tracking down the series on the secondary market. Casey's run ran from #588 (Mar. 2001) to #623 (Feb. 2004), minus a few fill-ins, a respectable three years that produced thirty-three comics. In addition, I'll be reading any crossovers with the other Super titles in full, sometimes in single issues, sometimes in collected editions (it just depended on what I could get cheaper). And I'll also be reading some other stuff from the era that seemed interesting to me (Traci 13, who I really enjoyed in Blue Beetle and Doctor 13, debuts in Action Comics during this time), as well as folding in Joe Casey's return to the era in his run on Superman Batman. The bottom of this post contains an index to the whole experiment that I'll update as we go.

Up, up, and away!

"Child's Play"

The Adventures of Superman vol. 1 #588 (Mar. 2001)
Writer: Joe Casey
Penciller: Mike S. Miller
Inkers: Jose Marzan, Jr. and Walden Wong
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Asst. Ed.: Tom Palmer, Jr.
Editor: Eddie Berganza 

This is Joe Casey's first solo issue on Adventures of Superman. He was credited as co-writer on #587 with J. M. DeMatteis, but I skipped that, thinking it was mostly a wrapping up of storylines from DeMatteis's run. The story begins in medias res, with everyone in Metropolis, including Superman, acting nasty-- except for Lois. People are rude to each other on the subway, Superman uses his heat vision to graffiti a dam, Clark ignores Lois at work and hits on an attractive young Daily Planet employee. This comes from the era where Clark and Lois are married, and where (as I vaguely remember reading about), Metropolis is a literal city of the future, with flying cars and stuff like that.

It's not explained why only Lois realizes something is going on. Soon she's contacted by a weird spirit lady ("I am the living bridge between the corporeal and the noncorporeal. I see... and am never seen.") who tells her the Clark that Lois sees is only a hollow shell; his real essence lies elsewhere. Lois manages to transfer herself into the "Nightmare Realm" through "Torquasm-Rao," which I'm guessing from context is some kind of Kryptonian mental/meditation technique. It turns out Superman is held captive by some thing called Satanus; he traded his soul for the city of Metropolis. Satanus is using the power of a wheelchair-bound boy named Cary to do all this. Lois and Clark free Cary, Satanus's realm collapses, and they all fly away.

I had thought at first that Casey's run was a clean start and this was all some in medias res stuff, but as it went on, I realized this was picking up from earlier issues; there was too much left unexplained otherwise. Looking at covers shows that this plotline goes back to at least #583. Oh well. I probably didn't want to read all that anyway.

It almost works on its own. I liked Casey's emphasis on Superman as the wellspring of decency in Metropolis; with him gone, the city itself becomes hollow. And I can see the seeds of what is to come in Superman stopping Cary from unnecessary violence in defeating Satanus. Casey and penciller Mike Miller also do a good job with the tone, which is slightly disconcerting. But there are too many unanswered questions and too much unrelayed exposition for this to read compellingly as a single issue to someone who's just come in. The rules of the "game" that let Superman et al. win seem pretty arbitrary, too.

Presumably the good stuff is forthcoming.

Reading Order and Index to Posts

Issue numbers are preceded by "triangle numbers" (which ran across the Super titles, so that you knew how to interweave the four ongoings) where relevant.

20 August 2019

Review: Transformers: Unicron by John Barber, Alex Milne, Sara Pitre-Durocher, Andrew Griffith, Kei Zama, et al.

Comic PDF eBook, n. pag.
Published 2019 (contents: 2018)
Acquired and read April 2019
Transformers: Unicron

Written by John Barber, with Chris Ryall, David Rodriguez, Brandon Easton, Christos Gage, Magdalene Visaggio
Art by Alex Milne
Additional Art by Sara Pitre-Durocher, Andrew Griffith, Kei Zama, David Messina, Nelson Dániel, Juan Samu, Paolo Villanelli, Fico Ossio
Colors by Sebastian Cheng, David Garcia Cruz
Additional Colors by Joana Lafuente, Alessandra Alexakis, Mattia Iacono
Letters by Tom B. Long, with Curtis Fandango

Though I gave up on John Barber's take on Transformers a couple years ago now, I still had some curiosity about how it would all end, and so I dutifully picked up Unicron, which ties up the IDW continuity that began all the way back in Infiltration-- three-and-a-half years of reading for me, and thirteen years of storytelling for them.

I don't know why Rung of all people would be at the center of Optimus's memories of the fallen, but hey, I love Rung, so I'll take it.
from Transformers: Unicron #6 (script by John Barber, art by Alex Milne)

Anyway, it's about as bad as all post-Dark Cybertron John Barber Transformers comics have been. Too many characters I don't care about, too much ancient Transformer mythology, too many banal human beings, too many shoehorned-in other Hasbro properties, too much indecisive Optimus, too many characters reverting again and again. Why did Starscream undo his progress from Till All Are One? Why am I reading about yet another millennia-long Shockwave masterplan? Didn't the jokes about Thundercracker writing screenplays wear thin years ago?

Why yet another story where Prowl is a jerk and this backfires?
from Transformers: Unicron #5 (script by John Barber, art by Alex Milne)

I guess the biggest point of frustration for me is the title character itself. Say what you will about the 1980s Transformers film, but Unicron is awesome in the original sense of the word. Its coming feels ominous and significant and unstoppable; it is the doom of a universe. Where and why does it come from? Irrelevant. It hungers, and it will have you. Here, though, Unicron never dominates. Neither the writing nor the art give it the immensity it deserves, it always feels squeezed in, instead of dominating. And then to give it an origin story that ties into one of the mediocre Hasbro properties! Visionaries, I think? I've already forgotten. This diminishes Unicron and thus the whole story.

I usually like Alex Milne, but his Unicron just feels really unimpressive. Ooh, it's sucking up some rocks.
from Transformers: Unicron #0 (script by John Barber, art by Alex Milne)

The IDW Transformers universe had a strong start in Infiltration, and despite missteps such as All Hail Megatron, went some very interesting, unprecedented places once the war ended. But John Barber, the same architect of those innovations slowly dismantled them after Dark Cybertron and then piled on the mistakes with the Hasbro comics shared universe-- necessitating the destruction of the entire continuity, because there was no other way to reset things to the way they'd been. But that destruction turned out to be as banal and uninteresting as the writing that made it necessary to begin with.

Next Week: Meanwhile, in another universal stream... the Fall of Cybertron!

19 August 2019

Review: Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker

Trade paperback, 286 pages
Published 2019 (contents: 2013-19)

Acquired March 2019
Read April 2019
Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea: Stories by Sarah Pinsker

The whole point of me reading all the Hugo finalists every year was to expose myself to what's happening in contemporary sf. It's given me some good novelists to follow, but when it comes to short sf, my favorite discovery has been Sarah Pinsker, whose "And Then There Were (N-One)" captivated me, and which I reckon deserved to win Best Novella in 2018. This collection brings together thirteen of her short stories, a small sampling of her prolific oeuvre (as of 2018, she had published 45 short works).

Pinsker's writing tends to the literary, which is to my taste. A lot of these are subtle stories, where the sf element isn't the focus as much as the characters. "Talking with Dead People," for example, is about a woman who makes interactive replicas of houses where famous murders happened, and the only sf element is the AI that makes interactivity possible. Or "In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind" is about a marriage, and the sf element is super-slight (and also a spoiler, so I won't say it). And in "The Narwhal," the sf element is buried at the end and not particularly clear. Except for "Narwhal," though, this approached worked for me. Especially "In Joy": the sf element is small, sure, and you could probably take it out and have a story almost as moving, but it adds something, an immensity to the themes and ideas of the story.

Other stories are more blatantly sf. "And We Were Left Darkling" is a beautifully creepy story about alien babies coming to Earth. "Wind Will Rove" is a story about a generation ship and the role of cultural memory. (I thought this was just okay when it was a finalist for Best Novelette, and ranked it fourth, but on rereading, I think I did it a disservice. It has more to say than some of the stories I ranked over it.) This is the third time I've read "And Then There Were (N-One)," and it's still brilliant: a postmodern murder mystery set at a convention of alternate reality duplicates of Sarah Pinsker, a clever meditation on identity and self.

Lots of stories here deal with music and/or climate change. The aforementioned "Wind Will Rove" is one that deals with both, but so do the title story and "Our Lady of the Open Road." "Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea" is about two women in a world where rising sea levels have taken their toll; one is a musician on the cruise ships the wealthy use to avoid consequences. It's a great story of friendship and adversity. "Our Lady" is about one of the last live bands in a world where holographic recordings and plague have made concerts a relic of the past; again, it's a great, well-observed story about holding on to what's meaningful, and learning to let go of what's not. I'm a little skeptical about stories about music (they sometimes get very self-indulgent, I think), but Pinsker excels with this as her topic, and almost makes me want to buy her forthcoming novel about a band. Almost.

They aren't all hits, of course. Some I found a little too abstruse, or there wasn't enough story-- I didn't really get the opening story, "A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide," while "The Low Hum of Her" (a girl and her robot grandmother) and "The Sewell Home for the Temporally Displaced" (what the title says) seemed like they had promising premises, but didn't really deliver on them. But on the whole, this is a great book. Pinsker is a master of the short sf form, and if she publishes more collections, you can bet I will buy them.

16 August 2019

My 2019 Hugo Awards Ballot: Book(ish) Categories

This final post covers my votes in the three of the Hugo categories for book-length works: novels, YA fiction, and nonfiction. (Though, as we'll see, "book" isn't entirely accurate when it comes to half of the Best Related Work finalists.) If I did a full review of a work, I'll link to that here. I only did that if I owned the book: I didn't do it for anything I read an e-version of from the Hugo voters packet, or borrowed from the library. I will also link if the work is available on-line.

Best Novel 

7. Space Opera by Catherynne Valente

I just totally and completely bounced off this book, taking what felt like weeks to crawl through its low page count; I felt it squandered a great premise, though as I said in my review, I suspect it was a premise for a short story, not a novel.

6. Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

I read the first two Galactic Commons novels for the 2017 Hugo Awards; the first left me largely cold, but the second brought tears to my eyes, so I bought the third right when it came out (making it one of two novels on the shortlist I'd read before it was announced). But this was more like the unfocused, low-stakes storytelling of the first novel, and it did little for me. I've seen a lot of praise for these books for how they eschew the usual trappings of space opera for personal stories-- and I'm all for that, I read contemporary literary fiction! But something needs to be at stake for that approach to work, and outside of A Closed and Common Orbit, I never feel like it is in Chambers's work.

5. No Award

I have a couple different personal "No Award" tests. One is: do I understand why someone else likes something, even if I myself do not? Versus, do I find it inexplicable that someone else would like a thing, even if intellectually I know it must be the case? I have no idea what people see in Space Opera and Record of a Spaceborn Few (outside of the premises themselves), and so I have no desire to see them win a Hugo Award. On the other hand, even though I wasn't much into it myself, I can see why someone would like Trail of Lightning.

4. Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

This was fine. As essentially urban fantasy, very much Not My Thing, but I suspect a well-executed example of Not My Thing. I wouldn't be embarrassed if it won, but I wouldn't exactly be excited either, so here it sits.

3. Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee

Revenant Gun is the other Best Novel finalist I'd read in advance, and with a similar reason for Record: it's the third book in a series where I largely bounced off the first installment, but then enjoyed the second enough to pick up the third. I definitely liked it more than Record or Trail, but I don't think it quite delivered on its own potential. A version of this book with more energy could have easily blew me away; as it was, the book kind of fizzles instead of climaxing, and I wouldn't be super-excited if it won. (I suspect it won't, though; the previous two Machineries of Empire books finished in third and fifth.)

2. The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

This is the second-last novel finalist I read, and thank God for it, because after my first four books, I was wondering if this was really the best we could do. But Calculating Stars nailed it-- a great alternate history story with some intense writing and emotional scenes. One of the best of these finalists.

1. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Even though I liked Calculating Stars a lot, I wasn't entirely satisfied with the idea of it as a Best Novel winner; I think I probably would have ranked it fourth or fifth in 2017 if it had been on the ballot then, which was a much stronger year for Best Novel. It does what it want to do very well, but I feel like a winner of the Hugo Award needs to do more than be very good. Spinning Silver is more than very good; it manages to be unique, and timeless, and of its moment all at once. I like Calculating Stars, but it feels very 2018, and I wonder how much people will care about what it's trying to do in 2083 except as an historical document. Spinning Silver also feels very 2018, but I can imagine someone reading it in 2083 and learning something about their own time. This is a great book. It's the clear best on this weak shortlist, but it would be a contender in any year (I'd've ranked it second in 2017, or above any of 2018's finalists.)

Best Related Work

7. Archive of Our Own by the Organization for Transformative Works

I could be mistaken, but I don't think a website has ever been a Hugo finalist before, at least not as a website. The WSFS Constiution specifies that finalists for Related Work must be "either non-fiction or, if fictional, [...] noteworthy primarily for aspects other than the fictional text." So, despite containing 4.7 million fanfictions, Archive of Our Own isn't nominated for them per se, but for the project of archiving and maintaining them. This, I think, is an astoundingly good project, and AO3 is a really well put together website, but I feel like Hugos are for works, not projects, and I find it hard to justify rating a project particularly high in a category with "work" in the title. AO3 deserves all the awards it can get, but this particular one doesn't feel like a good fit.

6. The Mexicanx Initiative Experience at Worldcon 76, founded by John Picacio

This website chronicles the Mexicanx Initiative, where people could pledge money to fund Mexicanx creators to attend Worldcon 76; it funded 50 people, 42 of which ultimately attended. The site contains interviews with key participants, a photo gallery, and A Larger Reality, an anthology of Mexicanx speculative fiction. (Note that I didn't read the anthology because of the stipulation about non-fiction quoted above.) It's a really cool project, decently chronicled (though one kind of wishes for more participant narratives, and the photo gallery is poorly designed) and you can tell how much it meant to its participants but...

5. No Award

...but one of my Hugo Award pet peeves is when they get too self-referential. Is one of the best sf-related things from 2018 that WSFS can find something that WSFS itself did? This isn't as bad as when one of the 2012 Dramatic Presentation finalists was the acceptance speech a Hugo Award winner gave at the 2011 ceremony, but it still smacks of fannishness, and so I am compelled to rank both websites beneath No Award for various reasons.

4. Conversations on Writing by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ultimately, I just felt like there wasn't much to this book; it doesn't compare favorably to Le Guin's Best Related Work finalists from 2017 or 2018, both of which were much more interesting and insightful collections of writing, but I would feel okay about it if it won.

3. An Informal History of the Hugos: A Personal Look Back at the Hugo Awards, 1953-2000 by Jo Walton

Walton's book collects a series of blog posts she made on Tor.com from 2010 to 2011, where in each post she examines what the short list of Hugo Award finalists was for that year, and considers how well the award did at picking out the "best" books, through some combination of 1) has she read them, 2) did she like them, 3) and do they represent the state of sf at that time. I had read some of the blogs, though not systematically; usually, I have just dipped in to get a take on a year I am interested in. Walton's thoughts are interesting, but the book is somewhat overrun by lists: lists of finalists, many of which she doesn't say much about (she mostly comments on Best Novel, with a little commentary on the short fiction categories), as well as lists of books that did not make the finalists, usually culled from other award nominees. I like her comments, and thus I wanted more of them. Thank goodness the book has some extra essays stuck in where she rereads and reviews finalists in depth. I'm currently reading all the Best Novel winners, but she's made me want to read the other finalists, too. (I'll keep my undertaking to a manageable size, though.) The book also includes some of the comments from the blog posts, usually those by Rich Horton and the late Gardner Dozois. Dozois's are insightful, particularly once the book gets to the point where he is editing Asimov's. Horton's started out as more lists (of eligible short fiction), but as the book goes on, he gets better about providing commentary, which is usually interesting. Sometimes Dozois and Horton get more interesting than Walton. Anyway, I liked it well enough, but 500+ pages when so much of it is lists you can get on the Internet is too much, and I got to read it for free in the Hugo voter packet; I probably would have been less into it if I'd shelled out the inane $32 list price for a collection of free-to-read blog posts where much of the best content isn't always by the author.

2. The Hobbit: A Long-Expected Autopsy / The Battle of the Five Studios / The Desolation of Warners, written and edited by Lindsay Ellis and Angelina M

Best Related Work is always hard to make apples-to-apples comparisons in, as nonfiction books alone can be very different to each other; this year is worse than normal because I am meant to compare websites to books to... a YouTube video. But Lindsay Ellis's critique of The Hobbit has a depth to it that's missing from both Conversations on Writing and An Informal History of the Hugos. Running over ninety minutes, it explores the narrative and artistic choices that all too often just do not work, as well as delving into the backstory of how the films came to exist as they are. Ellis even travels to New Zealand and talks to one of the dwarf actors, which turned out to be kind of touching; as he and she both point out, the dwarves are the core of the film at the beginning, but not by the end. She also delves into the labor dispute that rose up around the films' production in New Zealand, which was resolved by the New Zealand government passing a law to restrict labor rights in order to ensure that production remained in the country, which continues to affect it today. Essentially it's a documentary that delves into the transformation between something we loved in childhood but cannot love as adults. Not as impressive an achievement as Astounding, but imagine a big gap between it and everything below it.

1. Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee

This is essentially a biography of John W. Campbell, who as editor of Astounding/Analog from 1937 to 1971 reshaped the genre of science fiction, cultivating many great talents, and publishing many classics of the genre. But because editors do their work through their authors, it also weaves into Campbell's story the stories of three key writers, as indicated in the subtitle. It's a great, fascinating book; I knew a little about Campbell from reading Asimov's autobiographies, but Nevala-Lee dives deeps, showing his transformation to mediocre writer to sterling editor to hateful crackpot across the course of a long life. I didn't know that, for example, he helped Hubbard write Dianetics, or that it was first published in the pages of Astounding (because, surprise, no medical journal would take it). It's well-researched, well-written, and the kind of thing I would expect this category to be rewarding.

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

6. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

If you read my review of this one, you'll know I largely bounced off it, for being derivative and poorly written. Only partway through, and I was already certain it would be near the bottom of my ballot, if not at it.

5. The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

This book was weirdly similar to Tess of the Road (see below): in both, the main character, who shares her name with the protagonist of a famous Thomas Hardy novel, is one of a pair of twin sisters, and the one more prone to acting out, while her twin does everything right. While they are human, they have an older half-sibling who is half magic, from the previous marriage of one of their parents. That all seems very specific, but they're very different books. Jude of The Cruel Prince was abducted from the human world along with her siblings and raised in Faerie by her older sister's father, a warrior fairy. She struggles to fit in, since her fairy classmates taunt her, and eventually finds herself roped into politics of the fairy courts, serving as spy for one of the princes. It's all fine, I'm sure but it's Very Much Not For Me. Ever since The Sandman, I've struggled to care about fairies, and this book did not change my mind. Parts of the book are very obvious and cliched, even though it has some effective twists as well. I didn't care for the narrative voice, which was a bit too much like Children of Blood and Bone's, though not as bad; is that how YA is written now? I did like that I actually kept on forgetting the narrator was a girl at first; Black writes her a plot and a characterization that I feel would usually be the province of a male character (except for the romances, which were the weakest parts anyway). On the other hand, that Jude and her twin wouldn't just move back to Earth didn't seem believable given how awful Faerie is for them, so I don't get why Black established that they could have if they wanted to. So yeah, fine enough, but it doesn't strike me as award-winning.

4. The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

At about page 200, I would have told you I was ranking this at the bottom. This novel is set in a fantasy world where most people are born ugly; special people called "Belles" have the magical power to reshape the body to make people beautiful. The narrator (first-person present tense again; I guess this is the way YA is written now, and I hate it) wants to be "the favorite," the Belle at the Royal Court, but is passed over... then ends up with a second chance. I just did not care about her or her tribulations; the world here seems like it could be interesting, but never clicked for me either. But I did get interested as the plot finally emerged and events accelerated, and I'd say by the end I was more into it than I had been Cruel Prince. Another thing unites CBB, Cruel Prince, and this book, though, and it's that they all lack real resolution because they're all set ups for trilogies. I don't mind trilogies per se but these opening installments just don't stand alone in the way that the trilogy-derived Best Novel finalists of the past couple years have (e.g., Ninefox Gambit, Fifth Season), and I find that hard to reward.

3. The Invasion by Peadar O'Guilin

I really liked the premise of this book. Ireland has been cut off from the outside world for a generation, a generation where every child is called by the Sidhe to the Grey Land during their teen years. At first, only three in a thousand survived, but now kids are enrolled in survival colleges to enable them to last the twenty-four hours you need to last to return to the real world. This book mostly follows two kids who survived such an ordeal in the previous book. I liked the sense of a changed world, but got bored by the actual story told, and neither of the main characters ever grabbed me (though I admit that may have been different if I'd read the first book). Plus, the ending wrapped a lot of stuff up out of basically nowhere, though it does seemingly leave room for a book 3. I'd say pretty comparable to Belles, but better worldbuilding and more interesting premise, and more self-containedness give it the edge. It doesn't really set me alight as a potential winner, though.

2. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Beginning this book, I was worried; it was my fourth present-tense first-person YA narrative, and I was already sick of the style. But I soon warmed to it, because Dread Nation has a distinct narrative voice, and actually makes good use of its tense, shifting between present and past as it shifts back and forth in time. Dread Nation is an alternate history zombie novel, where after the Battle of Gettysburg, the dead ("shamblers") began to walk. The Civil War thus became a zombie war, and American society has restructured around defending against the undead, including taking African-Americans and training them to defend whites from attack. Our narrator is one of those, the daughter of a plantation owner's wife and a slave, who is good at killing shamblers but not good at taking direction. I enjoyed it a lot; Ireland packs in a lot of interesting ideas, and uses the zombie conceit to make some commentary to make some commentary on our own world. (Though it raises some issues I wish it had actually dealt with, like the role of Native Americans in all this.) The dialogue is good, the characters are interesting, and the plot goes in a lot of unexpected but interesting directions. I did have some quibbles with internal chronology, though, and the ending packs in one too many surprise reveals. There is a sequel forthcoming, which I would read, but it works as a standalone.

1. Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

At first, I found this book plodding and a little obvious, but once Tess actually goes on the road, it steadily gets better and better until you're reading something quite special. It's kind of a fantasy riff on Tess of the D'Urbervilles, in big ways and small was, from the double standard of premarital sex for men and women to the solace of physical labor. Seventeen-year-old Tess, always the "bad twin," finally runs away from home shortly after her "good" sister gets married, escaping a negligent father and stringent mother. She teams up with a lizard creature, pretends to be a man, learns the joys of construction work, seeks out the Serpent that birthed the world, learns that sex can be more than she thought, and learns something about herself and the world. With the exception of one bit in the middle where I found the logistics wonky (how did she find time to work on farms while trailing the two ne'er-do-wells, and why did they tolerate her?), I really enjoyed Tess's trek; it's the best sort of travel narrative. My main reservation would be that I feel like it's the kind of YA novel that's not actually for young adults, but for the adults who read YA.

Overall Thoughts

Last year, I was grumpy at the Best Novel finalists. This year, I am slightly less grumpy, in that I think Spinning Silver is clearly better than any of last year's finalists, and is 100% a worthy winner that presents me with what I want in a Hugo finalist. But I found the ranking really easy to do, and I feel like the ideal set of finalists is the one you find difficult to rank. The YA Award, which last year I called a "smashing success"... well, you can see what a struggle it was for me this year. Again, I mourn the lack of any real sf in this category (though the only book I nominated myself, M. T. Anderson's The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, was fantasy). There are clearly a set of trends in YA fiction that are completely incompatible with my tastes.

Based on buzz and other awards, I reckon The Calculating Stars will win Best Novel. If not that, I could imagine Spinning Silver (Novik came in second with her previous fairy tale novel, Uprooted, in 2015); I don't think any of the other four have broad enough appeal to win it. I also reckon very strongly that Children of Blood and Bone will win the Lodestar, though I would love to read a convincing positive review of this book, as I just don't get it. I also suspect Dread Nation has a good shot. I doubt it will be Tess.

Related Work was just an odd duck. I don't think AO3 will get it; there were too many people grumbling about the weirdness of nominating a web site of fiction for not its fiction. Astounding is the most traditional finalist in this category, so I hope that's it, and I feel like it has the broadest appeal. Maybe Walton will appeal to Hugo voters' interest in themselves, though, or maybe the Le Guin streak will go on for a third year. (I miss her, too, but I really don't think she deserves to win it for this.) I've seen some grumbling about the oddness of Related Work, and some wondering if it should go back to "Related Book," but I like it, even AO3. Fandom is a broad church, and a reward like this lets us reward the interesting stuff about sf that is not itself sf. My life would be poorer for not having seen Lindsay Ellis's The Hobbit duology.