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I've been kind of busy with studying Dutch, and cleaning house, but I just finished another Puppy Pick and I'm ready to talk about that.

Championship B'tok.

This is a chunk of a novel. It looks as if someone picked out chapters, say, four through six, labeled them "novelette" and mailed it off. I can only hope that Analog is publishing it as a serial or something. The backstory is filled in to some extent, but the business end has been haggled off and the raveled ends haven't even been woven back into the story. I thought a puppy had chewed off the ending for _Flow_ but this is worse.

The character(s) we start out with is left on a cliffhanger two pages in. We never find out what happened. Another major character disappears a few pages before the end. We never find out what happened there either. The story also ends with one group about to ambush another. Repeat after me: and we never find out what happened.

Closure? What is closure?

For the record, B'tok is a chess-like game that some aliens play and also a metaphor for political maneuvering and espionage.

And I think I know what the Pups liked about it (well, they liked that it was on a slate, but I think I know why the slate-makers, whoever they are, chose it): it has two explosions.

If it had been a whole story there would have been some point to this; the characters are cardboardy but since they don't try to have any serious relationships their 2D status does not get in the way, and I liked what he did with the alien language. (The aliens don't have verbs--which is pretty damn alien, I agree--and in their conversations with each other this is pretty faithfully followed, and yet you can still tell exactly what they mean. Not bad.)

However it is meant to be judged as it stands and my answer is that is not a story; a story has an end.
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So a whole novella of Puppy material is a bit indigestible, so I took a rest by just reading a novelette: _ The Journeyman In The Stone House_ by Michael F. Flynn, published in Analog, (I'm guessing Brad has a subscription to Analog, maybe?)

This one was a bit better. There is one woman character, even if she isn't present for much of the story, who actually merits a name and has a few lines, so go Mr. Flynn. While nothing like parity, it is a significant step up from _Flow_. The main characters, Teodorq and Sammi are reasonably fun, even if the main conflict and means of resolving it are stereotypical dominance issues. The hints of multiple cultures meeting at a single stress point were also kind of interesting.

I suspect this of being a part cut out of a larger story, (Teodorq and Sammi met a stranded AI which has commissioned them to find its people, I think) and pretty much zero progress is made on that, nor do the main characters seem to care either way. There is some joking around with a door that might be either very funny or rather childish depending on your personal inclinations.

This is apparently a story within a series, which hurts its ability to stand alone, in my opinion, especially at the end, but I suppose if you have to choose so much of your short fiction from a single magazine, that's going to leave you making some tradeoffs.

Verdict: one of the better Puppy Picks so far. It really couldn't hold a candle to any of my choices, in my opinion, but I'm grateful for the respite.
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So I have been working my way through the Hugo Ballot, since some of it is available free on the Web. As people who have been paying attention to the Hugos know, most of the nominees were chosen by Brad Torgersen and Vox Day (and possibly Larry Corriea, John C. Wright, and Sarah Hoyt helping them.)

I will be voting everything that appeared on a slate below No Award this year. Those who don't understand why are free to check out my posts on how slates distort the nomination process, Part 1, as well as Part 2 and Part 3. I make no promises about how I will handle slates next year as the Puppies logical next step next year is to slate people and works they hate that they believe have a chance at the Hugos.

However I said I would read the Puppy picks, and I will. There are two reasons for this, first, what if Puppies are right and they actually have a line on good works and authors I have overlooked? Second, I expect the fight for sixth place to be hard and bitter, and how will I know which works to put there if I haven't read them?

So, one of the Novellas that the Puppies picked for the best of the best of conservative science fiction (or whatever they're calling it these days) is _Flow_ by Arlan Andrews Sr.

This is a story about a man, who joins the men who take icebergs downriver (never mind how difficult it would be to ride an iceberg down a wild river without overturning it and killing yourself) to sell them to the men in the warmlands city below, who have wild and mysterious things like sunshine and mirrors and ancient artifacts that the men use to catch icebergs. If you're noticing a lot of men in this recounting and a paucity of women, let me assure you that there are women; they are there for the real people to have sex with them. One of the women even has a name, but I'm not sure if she counts since she's the main character's mother. She doesn't actually appear, or do anything, or say anything to anyone. The unforgettable (unforgettable because, unlike the women the main character is used to, she has breasts) woman the main character has sex with (twice, yet!) in the warmlands city does not actually merit a name, as I recall. Nor does she do anything else.

If you easily accept the idea that the only thing women in the city are doing that is worth mentioning is having sex, the rest of the story is . . . a little lacking in the end department, as the character does rappels off a cliff toward an unknown but apparently higher tech land below as an ending to the story. Aside from that it's not particularly bad, which makes it a standout among Puppy picks so far.

The "women only having sex" thing made me wonder was Mr. Andrews was like, so I went and had a look at his interview with Brad Torgersen. (For those who understandably don't follow Mr. Torgersen's blog, he has been writing puff pieces for the various successful Puppy Nominees.) In this interview Mr Andrews mentions "I still look for new ideas, new concepts, things I would never have thought of, cool technologies, new kinds of human relationships."

Women as only entities for having sex... does not really strike me as a new kind of human relationship but there wasn't really anything else in this story that seemed to fit that bill either, so perhaps it seems new to Mr. Andrews.
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I spent most of last week pretty sick. Coughing like crazy, and a snot monster took up residence in my nose and for several days I was also nauseated so I wasn't eating much, though I did manage to stay hydrated this time, go me.

Now I am only garden-variety sick, but the chores have piled up while I wasn't able to get to them.

On the other hand, the Hugo Voting opened, so I have put in my preliminary votes. The way the Hugo voting works I can change my votes right up to the last minute, as I read and ponder more of the things. But I wanted to make sure my anti-slate protest would register even if I got hit by a car tomorrow (not that it's very likely, but still) so I put No Award first in all the Puppy-locked categories, and the non-Puppy contenders (if necessary in a random order, since in some cases I haven't read everything yet) and No Award in Puppy infested categories.

Thinking about the Graphic Novel category was fun: there was only one Puppy in that category, and I bought all the nonPuppy nominees to kind of make it up to myself about the Puppies, so I'm going to discuss that one in more detail here.

They were all fun. I don't read graphic novels much, mostly because they are so expensive they are just out of my price range as a regular thing. This is kind of a pity, as I wouldn't mind reading more of this kind of thing.

4) Sex Criminals. This one starts with a strange premise. For one young woman, time stops when she has an orgasm. She can walk around and do things and everyone else is just frozen in time. It turns out she's not alone in this capacity, and one day she meets a compatible partner--with a penchant for transgressing against societal norms during this period of frozen time. He talks her into committing a crime and things go from there.

3) Rat Queens. An all-woman D&D party. Fighter and cleric, magic user and rogue. But the town they live in is having a hard time living with their increasing destructiveness and contempt for the local community norms, and someone is sending them into situations that are getting harder and harder to survive. I haven't quite finished this one yet.

2) Saga Volume 3 I have read the background on this one, because Volume 2 was nominated last year. This is an interesting saga that follows the fortunes of two star-crossed lovers--soldiers on opposite sides of an inter-planetary war who loved, and accidentally started a family. Higher ups (on both sides, I think) want this inconvenient Romeo and Juliette pair--and especially their abomination of a baby--dead, and the killer for hire on their trail turns out to be easier for the reader to sympathize with than one might think.

1) Ms. Marvel. The new Ms. Marvel is a Muslim girl from New Jersey, trying to balance her family's expectations of a good girl's place with her own belief, inculcated by her father, that to save one life is to save the world entire. On her side, weird shape-shifting powers granted by a passing night mist, and a good friend with a knack for inventing. Ranged against her, a supervillian who is apparently running a drug ring, if I understand this right.

So that has been cool.

I have also read (most of) the short stories. These are all Puppy noms, and are going after No Award in any case, but I am reading them to find out what the Puppies think is so great they are willing to resort to a slate to shove it on the rest of us. However one of the short stories is not available on the internet, so I will have to wait for the voter's packet.

Note that any Puppy nom that doesn't get into the voter's packet or isn't otherwise available free just doesn't get read as far as I am concerned. I will be God damned if I will give a penny to someone who used a slate. I will read them, and that out of the goodness of my heart, but if you used a slate to wreck the Hugo nominations to make money you can just go to Hell.
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I saw Storm Siren pop up on the Big Idea series that John Scalzi does on Whatever. New book, by a woman author I'd never read before--I had just decided to read two of these a month, so I surfed over to Amazon and bought it for my Kindle (note to self--can't keep doing this; have spent too much money on books this month.)

It's a story set on another world, with a medieval or renaissance tech level, where the protagonist is a slave, from a hated magical race. Sold (for the fourteenth time in two years)--this time to a noblewoman with grand plans, she will be trained to use her powers in war to save a country that mistreats her. But killing is the last thing she wants to do, something she will put everything at risk to avoid.

It makes me sad to say that this one didn't do it for me.

Part of my problem lay with the language, which was sometimes novel enough to be clunky. The whole story is written in first person present tense, which is unusual but can be made to work. But periodic phrases would just ring false in my ear. Like "Those, my dear, are the golden-egged questions, aren't they?..." And "When he strides over, his snarled expression does nothing to hide his intrigue." I just... I found myself falling out of the story trying to picture the sort of face that could become snarled. Cthulhu pops to mind.

There were some interesting ideas about magic, but some weird ones also. Magic runs in family lines, appearing sporadically, and manifesting as control over different elements--in the earth water air fire sense. These "elementals" are physically different from ordinary people, the most obvious trait being white hair.

However, there is one character whose talent is to block magic. Oddly, as far as I'm concerned, he seems to nullify what I would have thought of as the non-magical physical results of using magic, (Imagine someone with fire talent sets the house on fire. It sets fire to the neighbor's house. This character would probably be able to part the flames at the neighbor's house. That kind of thing.) I'm one of those rotten people who likes magic to *make sense* and I had a hard time accepting this.

Some characters have good reason to be emotionally volatile, but their volatility seems just a bit too convenient. The supposedly suave and sophisticated courtiers seem to have little control over their emotions and let damaging information slip so easily one wonders how they have avoided discovery to this point. The main character is admittedly young, but the attempts to manipulate her are so transparent to the reader that one would expect her to realize she's being played also, at least some of the time.

In the end I just couldn't get into this one. I finished it, and won't spoil the ending for you, but I have not written a song for it, and don't think that's going to happen.

Next up--I usually intend to do books for this series, but I found a great short story I can't resist. If you would like to read along it's posted for free at Tor.com; it's called Seven Commentaries On An Imperfect Land by Ruthanna Emrys.

Coming Soon: Lock-in, The Winter Long.

And, as before, if you have found great books or long or short stories published this year that you think I should look at, let me know.

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