Caldream and Podcasts Update

Just to let people know what’s going on.
I now have ten days off work. I intend to use four of them — Monday through Thursday next week — to get the final touches done to the book, after taking a couple of days’ break from everything today and tomorrow.
With luck, I’ll get the ebooks out to Kickstarter and Patreon backers on Friday morning, before heading off to the Monkees show in London.
After a few days to get feedback, I’ll post a revised version of the ebooks to Patreon and Kickstarter, and that will also be the text used in the print copies. I expect to put the print version and revised ebook up for sale within a couple of weeks.
I also intend to get the backlog of podcasts done on Monday. Again, sorry for the incredibly light month this month (though I tried to make it up to Patreons with the most recent Patreon-only post) — I should be getting the results of my blood tests a week on Monday, and then I’ll know what the cause of my fatigue for the last month has been, and have some idea of how to treat it.

The Shepherd’s Crown

The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld, #41; Tiffany Aching, #5)The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It could have been a lot worse.
As Rob Wilkins explains in the afterword, Terry Pratchett hadn’t actually finished writing this when he died. Pratchett’s working methods, as described by Wilkins, involved writing scenes and piecing them together, finding the story, and then rewriting and adding scenes. Here we have something that isn’t quite the end process of that. We have something that can be read, coherently, from beginning to end as a narrative, but is not quite formed.
There is, as Wilkins says, a beginning, middle, and end. But some of it has clearly been worked on rather more than other bits. There’s some absolutely atrocious writing in the first few chapters — Terrance Dicks-on-autopilot level simple sentences and “as you know, your father, the king” dialogue, with no hint of characterisation (not helped by some shoddy copyediting). This worried me at first, as given that Pratchett died of Alzheimer’s, I was beginning to think that his faculties had declined so much in his last months that the writer who I loved so much had gone before writing this.
But somewhere around page sixty or seventy, the writing style starts to improve dramatically, and it’s apparent that Pratchett *wasn’t* failing as a writer — the writing in the first few chapters is obviously a sketch of what would have been there, a skeleton onto which he would have added characterisation and prose style if he’d been able to do any further drafts.
And there are other signs that the book was unfinished, too. There’s a subplot — involving Geoffrey and the old men — that has a couple of scenes, but which clearly would have been filled out much more if Pratchett could have finished the book in the way he wanted to. The climax is rushed, and rather unsatisfying.
But the middle two hundred and fifty pages or so of the book is up to the standards of the other Tiffany Aching books, and that’s saying something. It’s clearly a “last Witches book” — everyone returns for one last time, including some unexpected cameos, and it’s a book about death. Pratchett hadn’t included Death, who had appeared in every Discworld novel up until his diagnosis, in the last couple of books, understandably, but here he returns, and entirely appropriately.
The Geoffrey subplot, sketched in though it is, clearly provides a reflection of the very first witches book, Equal Rites, closing the story where it began, but there are echoes here of many other books. The character growth of one villainous character is very like that of one in Thief of Time. Lords and Ladies and (to a lesser extent) Raising Steam are also present in between the words.
It’s a book about death, but also about new life. Tiffany Aching has always been a character in the shadow of her dead grandmother, but one who has been growing into her own power, and that’s continued here. We say goodbye here to favourite characters, and to an entire world, but it will live on without us.
It’s also a sombre book — there are very few laugh-out-loud jokes in here, but a lot that’s thought-provoking, and moving.
It’s very, very hard to judge this objectively. I’ve been a fan of Pratchett for a quarter of a century, since as an eleven-year-old I read Sourcery and assumed that “Terry Pratchett” must be a pseudonym for Douglas Adams, because who else could write like that?
Now, of course, I know the difference. Adams was a cynic — a very funny writer, but a shallow one, able to see the world only through a filter of anger and despair. He was a great comedy writer, but limited.
Pratchett, on the other hand, was wise, and kinder-spirited. Pratchett, like Adams, could get enraged at the world’s follies, but he could see that there were other things in the world. Temperamentally, I’m closer to Adams, but I like to think something of Pratchett has rubbed off.
And this is the thing. This is the last work of someone who has influenced my thought, and my life, in ways I can’t begin to sum up sensibly. Without Pratchett, I wouldn’t have the friends I have, wouldn’t think the things I do, wouldn’t be the person I am.
So yes, this is a first draft, a sketch of the proper book it should have been. But the book it’s a sketch of might have been his best, and even in this state it’s a far more fitting capstone to the Discworld and to Pterry’s career than Raising Steam, which may have been his worst.
Goodbye, Pterry, and thank you.

View all my reviews

Puppymandias

I met a traveler from the manosphere
Who said: “Two vast and pointless walls of text
Stand on a website. near them there appears,
An author promo photograph, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that the camera well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Vox Day, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The empty awards shelves stretch far away

(Oh, and unlike John C Wright, I can spell Shelley)

Hugo Blogging: Real Best Short Stories

These are my reviews (from Goodreads) of the five stories that *would* have made the ballot had the Puppyfascists not broken this year’s Hugos.
In general, these are not particularly my kind of thing — too much atmosphere and character, and not enough plot or ideas, for my personal taste. But comparing them to Puppyshit is like night and day — all are well-written, interesting, and fundamentally generous-spirited stories, unlike the crap on the ballot.

A Kiss With TeethA Kiss With Teeth by Max Gladstone
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An enjoyable, but overall rather lightweight, story about a vampire having a midlife crisis, and about settling down without losing sight of your own identity.
Of all the not-Hugo-nominated-because-of-fascist-entryist stories, this one is the most my kind of thing, but at the same time it’s also, I think, objectively the weakest. A good, but not great, story, but at least three thousand times better than anything that kept it off the ballot.

When It Ends, He Catches HerWhen It Ends, He Catches Her by Eugie Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A rather lovely short-short story, whose genre is not immediately apparent (but is spoilered in some of the other reviews here). The story’s thoughts on death take on an extra poignancy when one knows that the author was terminally ill when writing it, and died the day after publication.
This is one of several stories that should have been on the Hugo ballot this year, were the awards not hijacked by fascists. It’s better than anything that made the list.

Jackalope WivesJackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very strong story about choices and patriarchy, responsibilities and rewards. The basic plot is a selkie story, as so many of the most popular recent fantasy stories have been, but this one is written in a style that reminds me of Stephen King’s better work — apart from the main character, who seems to come straight from Pratchett. In another world I can imagine Granny Weatherwax making exactly the same choices, and for the same reasons.
Another short story that would have been on the Hugo ballot were it not for vote-rigging fascists getting vastly inferior work on there instead.

The Truth About OwlsThe Truth About Owls by Amal El-Mohtar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A very well-written short story, in which the SF/F elements are very minimal, but with a lot to say. Rather than being driven by plot, it’s driven by a set of associations and allusions — folk storytelling traditions, the experience of immigrants whose families are torn apart, assimilation, the Mabinogion, owls, self-harm…
It’s a story about identity, and how identities are imposed on us rather than chosen by us, and so as someone who is the societal default in most ways (straight white cis man) I found it impressive more than moving. I suspect that those who are, like the protagonist of the story, immigrants or religious minorities or (it is strongly implied, but not said outright) women attracted to other women, or mixed race, may have a rather stronger emotional reaction to it than I did.
This is one of several stories that should have been on the Hugo ballot this year, were the awards not hijacked by fascists. It’s better than anything that made the list. I’m sure the fascists were very glad to keep this one off, as it’s everything they hate

The Breath of WarThe Breath of War by Aliette de Bodard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not really my sort of thing. A story about a world where women have to carve golems that will in turn bring their babies to life when they’re born, and a woman who chooses instead of carving a human-shaped one to carve a spaceship that will end a war she hates. I’m not a huge fan of stories about war anyway, and while this is essentially a fantasy story, it has enough SF trappings that the magical stuff that drives the story doesn’t quite work for me.
This is one of several stories that should have been on the Hugo ballot this year, were the awards not hijacked by fascists. While it’s not to my taste, it’s far better than anything that made the list.

View all my reviews

All You Fascists Are Bound To Lose…

So the Puppyfascists lost, with No Award beating them in every category where they were the only nominees, and with Guardians of the Galaxy their only actual winner (a shame, as it’s a horrible film, but it’s a horrible film that would have won without them).

I am very glad. There were three separate, good, reasons to vote against the Puppyfascists:
1) They were fascists, using the Hugos to push their own evil politics. They are violent bigots, trying to turn a field which has always been one that respected a diverse set of views into one which only allows a range from right-libertarian through to Nazism and theocracy. Their threats of violence (including an attempted SWATting of the convention itself by Lou Antonelli) and their turning a literary award into a tool for advancing their evil should have got them all disqualified even absent everything else.
2) They were cheats. Using slate voting — and especially slates voted on by entryists from other hard-right bigot movements like Gamergate rather than actual fans — is a deliberate attempt to game the system. Basic game theory says that defectors in an iterated prisoner’s dilemma need to be punished.
3) They were crap. The very best things on the Puppyfascist slates were Skin Game and Totaled, which were competent of their type but didn’t even rise to good, let alone award-worthy.

Any one of these would have been a reason to cheer last night’s results.

We now also know the people who *would* have made the list were it not for the Puppyfascists. I intend to buy, read, and review all the fiction and related work finalists I’ve not already read, as these are the real finalists to my mind. The real finalists kept off the ballot in those categories are:

Best novel
John Scalzi — Lock-In (I’ve already read and reviewed this. I’d have ranked it above no award, but below the eventual winner)
Robert Jackson Bennett — City of Stairs

Best novella
Patrick Rothfuss –The Slow Regard of Silent Things
Ken Liu — The Regular
Nancy Kress — Yesterday’s Kin
Rachel Swirsky — Grand Jete (The Great Leap)
Mary Ricker — The Mothers of Voorhisville

Best novelette
Seanan McGuire — Each to Each
Kai Ashante Wilson — The Devil In America
Ruthana Emrys –The Litany of Earth
Tom Crosshill — The Magician and Laplace’s Demon

Best Short Story
Ursula Vernon — Jackalope Wives
Aliette de Bodard — The Breath of War
Amal El Mohtar– The Truth About Owls
Eugie Foster — When it Ends, He Catches Her
Max Gladstone –A Kiss With Teeth

Best Related Work
Jo Walton — What Makes This Book so Great
Various — Chicks Dig Gaming
Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler — Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology (I’ve already read this and wasn’t hugely impressed)
Jim C. Hines — Invisible: Personal Essays on Representation in SF
Anita Sarkeesian — Tropes vs Women: Women as Background Decoration

I hope many others will do this too. I’ve always used the Hugos as a way to discover new, good, work, and don’t want the Puppyfascists to spoil that, too.

Now I just hope that Worldcon vote in favour of E Pluribus Hugo, so next year will be the last time we deal with this nonsense.

Blogroll Updated

For the reasons given by Fred Clark here I’ve updated my blogroll. I’ve removed anything that hadn’t had a post in six months or more, and added a lot of new ones or ones that I’d somehow missed.

I’ve tried to improve the gender balance, but it’s still too skewed towards cis men (about 60/40 cis men/other, which is better than it was, but still not good). I’m aware this is a problem. and I’m going to continue to try to improve it. I’m sure there are women and non-binary people who should be on the list and aren’t.

But anyway. Updated blogroll. Over there ——>

Proper post tonight