Book Review: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Calculating Stars is a superbly written alternate history story, which mixes some very recent concepts and ideas with 1950s social norms.  It offers well developed characters, which the reader can get easily emotionally attached to, as well as sound science.  Some people I have spoken to don’t consider it science fiction, but I tend to disagree: the book is a wonderful throwback to old post-apocalyptic literature like Alas, Babylon, Earth Abides and even Lucifer’s Hammer.  Those comparisons are limited only to the feeling I’ve head the book, though: The Calculating Stars truly stands on its own.

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Musings on Recent Hugo Award Winners (and Why I Didn’t Vote for Them)

It’s no coincidence that the following text reads like the ramblings of an old man who is struggling to understand the current generation.  It’s exactly that.  In the next few paragraphs I’ll try to verbalize why all of my Hugo nominations have been consistently failing to get on the final ballot, and why the vast majority of my Hugo votes usually ends on the very bottom of the voting results.  The problem doesn’t lie with me.  Neither does it lie with everyone else voting for the award.  That’s because there is no problem, just a difference between tastes and preferences.

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Book Review: Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okoafor

The third Binti book may have closed a series of highly successful books.  The first Binti was awarded the Hugo and Nebula awards, among others, for its very original ecosystem of Earth civilizations and aliens.  The second one got nominated for the Hugo and Locus awards, and this book got the Hugo nomination nod.  However, this success had been in a downward spiral, with this title getting the nod only after Martha Wells withdrew two of her novellas out of consideration (she still won with the third one, which she left in the running).  The Binti series is a prime example of what happens when worldbuilding is not enough.

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Book review: The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèli Clark

The Black God’s Drums is a fun little adventure that takes place in a well-developed and engaging alternative timeline.  It may rely a little too heavily on worldbuilding at the expense of the story, but it is still engrossing, reminiscent of old pulp adventures or PC adventure games of the early 1990s.  It is by far the most digestible read among the 2019 Hugo Award novella nominees.

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Book review: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

The Lucky Peach is one of the most compelling time travel stories I’ve read in the recent years.  In an age when almost every viable trope in the time travel subgenre had been explored, Robson makes the wise choice of not focusing on it too much and instead packs this novella with so many other concepts that nearly every reader will find something to hold on to.  From environmentalism, through the ethics of killing, generational changes and body autonomy, to communication technology, this book works on many levels.  However, its greatest strength is that even though it is densely packed with these concepts, The Lucky Peach is still very accessible to its readers.

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Book review: Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

It is exceedingly rare for me to miss my tram stop because I’m so engrossed in a book.  This little gem managed it.  I was absolutely in love with this adult fairy tale.  It features a highly original story, likable characters and very compelling worldbuilding.  And all of it is measured out in small but dense quantities, to force the book into a small, manageable package that can be enjoyed over a long evening.  Or a few tram rides, at least one of which could turn out to be unexpectedly long.

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Safety in Dublin during the 2019 Worldcon

I’ve been living in Dublin for eight years, and for most of the time I’ve walked, run, cycled or taken public transportation.  Prior to that, I spent 16 years in the US and over 20 years in various countries in continental Europe, so I am well aware what differences visitors in Dublin should be expecting.  In addition, I have been hosting meetups for newcomers to Ireland who wish to meet their fellow expats and the locals.  From these meetups I gained understanding of what information was most appreciated by visitors to Dublin.  The following is the safety advice I came up with, and which consists solely of my personal experiences, observations and opinions.  Please note that this describes the worst-case scenarios.  Dublin is a cosmopolitan city, which I’d consider on the safer side of Western Europe.  As such, common sense is usually all that’s needed to keep safe, but I’ll be listing the worst that could happen, and the readers may make up their own mind.

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Book Review: Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

Second in the Murderbot series, Artificial Condition is an endearing piece of science fiction, which has a lot going for it.  In particular, it’s not pretending to be more than it is: an inconsequential story in a large, fleshed-out universe.  I really like these kinds of works.  By focusing on the adventures of a person or two, during a very short time period, they are usually very tightly written and their personal insights into the fictional universe are more important to me than descriptions on a monumental scale.  This novella is a good example of such a story, but the writing isn’t as focused as I’d like it to be.

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Hugos 2019: Best Graphic Story

Graphic novels were a mixed bag this year.  While my top pick got me all teary-eyed, and any of the top three books is a contender for the Hugo award, I feel that many better books, especially those dealing with harder science fiction were overlooked.  Of the six books, only two can conceivably be considered science fiction; the rest is either space opera, fantasy or a straight-up superhero story.  I’m none too fond of nominating volumes within ongoing series, but I have to admit that some of those were much better than standalone volumes this year.  Here are my views on the nominated comic books, sorted from my favorite one.

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Book Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

Sherlock Holmes meets the Culture.  This, in short, will be used by many reviewers of this Hugo-nominated novella.  On a superficial level, this will hold true (after all, I’m using the same analogy), but I think there are a few nuances that make this work well worth reading.  Most notably, given what a prolific writer de Bodard is and how she likes to group her works into a series of fictional universes, this novella marks her third one in the already story-rich (over two dozen short stories) Xuya universe.  It fleshes out the worldbuilding and sets up possibly more works to come.

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