The 2015 Hugo Imbroglio

The 2015 Hugo Imbroglio

I am well aware that the world awaits the Two Dudes hot take on Hugo shenanigans, and it’s high time we used the word “imbroglio” here on the blog, so gather round while Uncle Pep tells another story of Valiant Brad and his struggle against The Glitter and Pan-Asian Cuisine Gang, also known in some circles as “Social Justice Warriors,” because apparently it’s a bad thing to be all for such tyrannies as justice. God bless America. This may constitute a politics trigger warning for any readers out there who dream of being spanked by Ayn Rand (“You’ve been a bad, naughty capitalist!”), so those folks should consider themselves warned.

Anyone not currently up on The Great Hugo Imbroglio of 2015 is welcome to read my last articulate and impassioned exposition on the matter, though it may not be worth the indigestion. Unfortunately for me, soon after I posted that self-assured attack on the Sad Puppies, the Hugo nominations were announced and my predictions looked pretty bad. While statistically unsurprising, the Sad Puppy domination of the nomination process was a massive disappointment. Parenthetically, the Hugos are announced at Norwescon, in that great bastion of conservative white privilege called Seattle, so I can only imagine the rage. Probably for the best that my wife and I nixed an expensive trip to the con and spent the day with the kids at Seattle’s SF Museum instead. (Parenthetical to the parenthetical, I took a leak next to none other than George RR Martin at said museum. Or at least, I’m about 99% sure it was him. I said nothing.)

Back on topic. The fallout from the nomination debacle has been impressive. Connie Willis publicly turned down the request to present at the Hugos in a heartfelt and very sad letter. Nominees have denied themselves a chance at Hugo glory and withdrawn their nominated works. Marko Kroos pulled his novel from the slate today, winning acclaim from many and disgust from others. (One commenter compared Kroos’ withdrawal to Germans watching Jews get gassed, but I’m going to assume that this is a minority view.) Beyond this, I’ll skip the big picture for the most part, since people with much more brainpower and/or writing skill than I have thoroughly deconstructed things. (Scalzi is a good place to start of course, or the aforementioned GRRM.) I have a few loosely related thoughts on the matter that may not organize themselves into a focused takedown or anything, but here we go.

I will say first that I am irate that the American Culture War has jumped the firebreak into SF. I would much prefer to enjoy my exploding spaceships in peace, but one has to fight these battles on every front or we will never conquer. And conquer we will. Anyone feeling too down about things should read The Emerging Democratic Majority, which takes on US politics, but is really about everything. SF is growing younger, more diverse, and more inclusive at an increasing rate. We can’t be passive about things, and there will be ugly moments, but it won’t be long before our numbers are overwhelming. People of all colors, genders, persuasions, and world views are joining the conversation; this is one brand of squeezable ketchup that isn’t going back in the bottle. The Glitter and Pan-Asian Cuisine Gang is the wave of the future. (It’s also healthier and more delicious. Teriyaki for everyone!) Valiant Brad fears that we are crushing Tradition under our sparkly boot heels, but I have every confidence that we can appreciate the heritage of SF while taking it to new, exciting places.

But what to do in the mean time with Valiant Brad’s allies? A thorny topic indeed. I don’t know Brad Torgerson personally, but I am far too familiar with the culture he lives in. After all, I grew up in the Mormon Corridor (I-15 from Cardston to Vegas, with a spur into Phoenix) and left many friends and family there when I finally ran screaming from Utah in 2002. Brad’s religion expressly forbids any sort of diversity-motivated hatred, and I have no doubt that Brad himself is a decent guy. Unfortunately, Mormons have a checkered history of racism, homophobia, and misogyny, and there is a deeply rooted strain of benevolent bigotry in Mormonism. (Full disclosure: I am Mormon myself, for those who are new to the party here, and I am allowed to say things like this. Anti-Mormon spittle flinging from anyone, no matter the political or religious affiliation, will be squashed like a loathsome cockroach.) I fear that Brad, no matter how well meaning, has a blind spot right where all the non-white, female, and/or LGBT people are, a blind spot endemic to his native culture that I am not immune to either. I don’t think he sees the full implications of what is going on here.

Worse, he refuses to repudiate the spiritual leader of Puppy-dom, the singularly distasteful Vox Day. (Speaking of loathsome cockroaches.) If the gentle reader is not acquainted with dear Vox, count your blessings. Anyone looking to be outraged is welcome to Google the man, just be ready for a shower afterwards. Possibly in hydrochloric acid. Larry Correia, the other power behind the Sad Puppies, strikes me as a most unpleasant and angry man, but I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on more serious charges. Vox, however, is a racist and misogynist of the worst kind, and his Rabid Puppies Hugo attacks are about as subtle and useful as a catastrophically soiled diaper. Brad is on record as refusing to “shun” Vox, because I guess he’s reaching out in love to change the guy’s mind? Because Vox is actually a nice guy and just a little misunderstood?

It’s awfully hard for the rest of us to take demands to respect “good stories” seriously when they all seem beholden to someone who calls black people “savages” and periodically says positive things about rape. Is Valiant Brad really so sheltered that he misses this point? Is he just willing to forgive a little irrational hate here and there because someone believes in a similar god and economic system? This baffles me more than anything. I get the fear and anger. I understand gaming a system to either win a few prizes or take the institution down out of spite. I know too well jealousy at others’ success and the conviction that the whole thing is rigged. I am, believe it or not, guilty of some of these from time to time, though I have not yet succeeded in winning a vaguely phallic book award by convincing a load of other angry people to pony up forty bucks to vote for me.

But I just can’t fathom hitching my wagon to a destructive and hate-filled human being, just for… well, I’m not actually certain what they’re trying to accomplish. It it’s respect they want, they’d better jettison the evil dude in a hurry, or any shred of legitimacy that may be hanging on will evaporate. That fig leaf is wearing thin. In the end though, this will all blow over. There will be an asterisk or two next to the awards this year, and maybe next, and things will settle back down. After all, no less a figure of the patriarchy than Bill O’Reilly admitted that LGBT acceptance is winning the day because we have the argument for love on our side, and all the opposition can do is thump a Bible in anger. SF is no different, and I hope Valiant Brad catches on before it’s too late. I’ll even spring for the pho when he joins us.

The Hobbit (Movies)

The Hobbit (Movies)

I spent most of last week beset by illness, a situation further exacerbated by a serious case of the busies. The result? Blog neglect bordering on the criminal. Fortunately there is light at the end of the tunnel, though I suppose it’s possible that said light is an oncoming freight train.

Anyway, one more reason I have written less is a new cable connection to the Attic. I finally gave in, mostly because Spring is coming and I enjoy the daily background noise of Mariners baseball. There are other bonuses, free HBO for two years among them. I may or may not try Game of Thrones, but Mrs. Pep and I were quick to pounce on two Hobbit movies available for streaming. Shameful for a Tolkien fan like me to admit that I hadn’t yet seen any of the three, but that is the sad reality of my cinematic life.

I guess anyone who lives above ground knows that the movies are quite different from the books. While watching, I found it best to divide the changes into two groups: those made for cinematic convention and those made to give the movies the tone and weight that The Lord of the Rings more naturally holds. In general, I disagreed with the first, but have few complaints with the second. I haven’t read The Hobbit in a good twenty years or so, which leaves me somewhat less qualified to condemn much. I have a fear of writing, “I can’t believe that Peter Jackson did such and such, which no doubt left Tolkien spinning in his grave,” only to find out that the scene I ranted about was lifted word for word from the book. Stranger things have happened.

Let’s dig into the groan inducing bits first. I don’t do well with cliché or convention at the best of times, but movies drive me battier than most. The Hobbit manages to avoid many of the narrative excesses of typical Hollywood fare, but I suspect that has much to do with Tolkien’s willfully obtuse storytelling. (LOTR is notorious for violating rule after rule of good novel writing.) The films cave in to other flaws though. I don’t know if it’s the condensed run time to blame, but drama and action seem dialed up to an unreasonable degree in most mainstream movies. The pernicious influence of James Cameron and Michael Bay, perhaps? Unfortunately, The Hobbit is no exception. The action sequences are breathtaking to be sure, but everything seems more kinetic than it needs to be. I wouldn’t mind a few more less dramatic scenes, notably the trolls and the chase leading up to Rivendell.

Related to this is the constant fever pitch of conflict that must be drummed up at all times in cinema. Does Thorin really need to be pursued by Azog all the time? Does Laketown really need a moustachio-twirling and villainous mayor who opposes the brave and democratic, if surly and disreputable, rabble-rouser? Do the wood elves have to be not just aloof and isolationist, but full-on antagonists? I would have preferred a slightly more placid tale, though this is something I find myself saying almost every time I watch a movie or TV show. (I should note that most of my complaints about LOTR, particularly The Two Towers, fall along similar lines.)

On the other hand, there are changes I can get behind. The Hobbit is a pleasant book, but always feels like a light appetizer to me. This is especially true when one thinks about what is really going on in the background; something Jackson can’t avoid now that he’s unleashed LOTR on the world. Bilbo’s ring may have been a random trinket at the time, but we know what it really is and can’t possibly be expected to say something like, “Oh, well lucky Bilbo! What a convenient and useful little thing that ring is!” (Or Tolkien may have known full well. I’m uncertain, but I don’t remember any foreboding in the book.) The ring is the most obvious example, but there are others.

The throwaway line in the book about Gandalf going out to evict The Necromancer from Mirkwood is the biggest addition, and deserves the expansion Jackson gives it. In some ways, this is the real story of the time; dwarves and dragons are much more of a sidenote. Another point of interest is the opinions other factions show about the dwarves’ quest. Again, nothing much is said about this in the book, but re-establishing a powerful dwarven kingdom is a politically unsettling act. The wealth and industrial power of Thorin’s scattered people is going to rearrange the balance of power with humans and elves and, as Gandalf casually mentions, will attract attention in the coming war with Sauron. All of this is glossed over in the book, but adds a deeper context and perhaps a reason why Gandalf is engaged in the first place. I suppose it’s not in keeping with the happy go lucky tone of the book to talk about global economics or the imminent rise of Sauron, but I prefer it.

So this is probably the worst movie review anywhere, with no references to camera work, direction, acting, or anything. Trust Two Dudes to turn Hollywood movies into politico-economic analyses of imaginary places. Though at this point, I am just happy to be posting again, so I trust that loyal fans will roll with it all. I enjoyed The Hobbit, or at least what I have seen thus far, though I admit to preferring LOTR. I’ll watch the third as soon as I can, and may post more, if further reaction seems warranted.

Reading Habits

Reading Habits

Work right now is a speeding freight train, if every box car was actually a dumpster filled with burning tires and every bridge was under frantic construction as the smoking, metal beast approaches; I labor madly at each bridge to cobble something together that barely supports weight if nobody looks too closely, before speeding off to the next. Fingers in dikes, etc. Reading time has slowed to a turgid crawl, and with it easy blog topics. I’ve started several posts, only to abandon them two paragraphs in as boring and self-indulgent. Into the breach comes an emergency post from Far Beyond Reality, which gives me a chance to prattle about myself while I put together the next award-winning essay. Enjoy, all.

1. What was the last sf/f/h book you finished reading?

The Bonehunters by Steven Erikson, as any faithful Two Dudes follower would know. Almost done with Alastair Reynolds’ On the Steel Breeze.

2. What was the last sf/f/h book you did not finish reading and why?

Toshokan Senso, because it was an awkward love story set in a barely tenable future Tokyo, which glossed over everything I thought might be interesting in favor of annoying people having hate-crushes on each other. Incidentally, my wife enjoyed it greatly.

3. What was the last sf/f/h book you read that you liked but most people didn’t?

I have no idea. David Brin’s Existence sparked the most heated discussion I guess. I can’t think of anything else I staunchly defend against an ignorant majority.

4. What was the last sf/f/h book you read that you disliked but most people liked?

Probably either Name of the Wind or Game of Thrones. They may be very good, but I bounced off pretty hard and didn’t press on with either.

5. How long do your single-sitting reading sessions usually last?

Maybe 20 minutes, unless everyone else is asleep and I’m really into something.

6. What are you currently reading?

The aforementioned Reynolds, The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher, and Interstellar Patrol II by Christopher Anvil. The latter two are mostly on hold while I finish up library books (Reynolds). Oh, and I have a few pages left of Saraba Yurei, which I cheated and wrote about anyway last January.

7. Do you like it so far?

Um, referring only to the Reynolds at this point, yes, though I wish he’d stop being pastoral and go back to being weird. Those books were more fun.

8. How long ago did you buy the book you are currently reading (or the last book you read)?

Library. I mostly read library books, ARCs, or something I bought in a book sale grab bag.

9. What was the last physical sf/f/h book you bought?

Good question. Probably a pile of Japanese SF when I was there last November. I buy very little, except at the Half Price Books warehouse sales. ($20 bucks to fill a bag! That’s potentially 50 paperbacks!)

10. What is the sf/f/h sub-genre you like the most and why?

My heart belongs to Hard SF. In my younger days, I wanted to be an astronomer until calculus destroyed any illusions I had about my competence. Hard SF satisfies my brainy side while giving me the outer space that I will never get to experience in person. I also enjoy cyberpunk and space opera a great deal.

11. What is the sf/f/h sub-genre you dislike the most and why?

Er, romance? I guess? Horror, if we’re including it in the speculative family. I have enough worries in my life without intentionally scaring myself.

12. What is your favorite electronic reading device?

I have the cheapest Kindle available. There’s probably better out there.

13. What was the last sf/f/h eBook you bought?

I don’t think I have ever purchased an ebook.

14. Do you read books exclusively in one format (physical/electronic)?

As with music, it is the content that concerns me, not the medium. I will read whatever is available, though I confess to favoring the Kindle for anything over 400 pages or so. Wrist fatigue and all. Oh, and the Kindle is the business when I travel to Japan. To think that I used to haul around 20+ CDs and 5-6 books in my carry-on.

15. Do you read ebooks exclusively on a single device, ie. an eBook reader, a smartphone or a tablet?

I periodically read on a computer. I own a Kindle. I have no smartphone, the kids and wife dominate the tablets. I would guess that I’m running a 70-30 print to ebook ratio right now.

The Bonehunters

The Bonehunters
Steven Erikson

I started reading Gardens of the Moon, the first Malazan Book of the Fallen, is 2007 or so. Many years later, I am through Book Six, though I have yet to write about any of them here. This is partly because I was already a third of the way in before Two Dudes even got off the ground, but mostly because I don’t know how to approach a ten volume epic in a single blog post. In fact, I’m not sure how to approach the whole of the Malazan series as a reader, let alone a critic. I believe the longest series I have read to this point in my life is six books long, when series is defined as a single narrative arc, not just stuff written in the same universe. Ten volumes, each a thousand pages or so each? I forget stuff inside a single book while I read, let along something I read four years ago.

Excuses aside, it’s time to talk about Malazan. My silent blog partner swears by the series, and any of our conversations about fantasy inevitably return to Erikson. I am not nearly the fantasy gourmet that he is, but I read many of what are now considered the roots of the genre. I am less up on current hits, but feel qualified enough to take on something major like Erikson’s Malazan and start to assess its position in fantasy. If the author ultimately succeeds at what I think he’s trying to do, Malazan will rank as one of the great, defining fantasy series of this era.

Before we dig in, I have one quick question. With all the outrage and arguing about grimdark, why does Erikson seem to get a pass? I rarely if ever see Malazan mentioned, though untold thousands have suffered grisly, horrid deaths and plenty of “bad’ people are viewpoint characters. Maybe the relative lack of rape? Too few f-words? I admit a hazy understanding of correct grit usage in fantasy, but these books seem a touch darker than, say, Shannara. Maybe I’m missing something crucial, or maybe it’s actually a pointless and silly argument.

Anyway, time to pull our heads out of the metaphysical clouds of genre. For those who are unfamiliar, Malazan Book of the Fallen is a ten volume fantasy series centered on the fictional Malazan Empire. The plot starts some time in Book Three, but doesn’t really get underway until Book Six. I suppose it demands a certain level of patience, but things are always entertaining enough to keep my attention. Erikson’s background in anthropology gives weight to the world building, which is stunning. Nothing in here is bland cliché, from the races and kingdoms on down to the salt of the earth types that form the core of the viewpoint characters. The world benefits from many years of gaming by the author and his collaborators, which is not normally the case. I can think of few bits of advice I would rather give to an aspiring author than, “Don’t novelize your role playing sessions. Nobody cares about them.” In this case however, Erikson’s deep experience within his own world is a huge plus.

One reason I waited so long to write is that figuring out what Erikson is after took me six books to get a handle on. (Or at least to think I have a handle on it.) My take goes back to some talks Jose, the other Dude, and I had about fantasy as a genre. We speculated, and I think most of us would agree, that fantasy offers the most freedom to the author of any genre, because anything is possible so long as some form of internal consistency is maintained. No constraints of the real world, of science, of history, or anything else. We just say, “Magic!” and nobody can impose any limits that the author doesn’t already set out. This may also be fantasy’s great curse, since the lack of walls makes it all the more frustrating when so much fantasy follows the same conventions. This tendency is at its very worst in epic fantasy, with its elves, dwarves, and farm boys of destiny.

Erikson seems to have looked at this situation and made two decisions. First, he is going to blow up every cliché possible. Second, he is going to write the epic-est epic fantasy ever. Sick of elves? How about Jaghut and T’lan Imass instead? Love battles between giant armies? What if the gods are physically joining in? Enjoy that thrill of the world possibly ending? How about the world, and all the parallel realms attached to it burning down? I’ve used the guitar amps turned to eleven joke before, but Malazan sets new standards. It’s like the Texas of fantasy – everything’s bigger – if Texas was a continent-spanning empire peopled with eight foot tall, invincible warriors, Houston burning down, Dallas decimated by plague, Tim Duncan (famous San Antonio basketball player) ascending to super-mortal status and slaying dinosaur-sized ravenous dogs, and mad wizards running rampant through Waco.

Come to think of it, this is a Texas I can get behind. Can we make this happen?

Anyway, Erikson keeps this insane contraption running through thousands and thousands of pages, with the operatic pathos plowing full steam through people’s souls, but just enough jokes and sidelong glances to convince me that he is utterly self-aware about the whole thing. Every time I think Erikson’s maxed out the chaos, he finds another dial marked “EPIC” or “AMAZEBALLS” to crank up. In the wrong hands (*cough* Michael Bay *cough*), it would all just be tiresome. With Malazan? Tremendous fun. It’s about time someone tossed out close European analogues and blew everything up. If we can make all of our own rules, why not go crazy? Why not push everything to the logical and narrative limit? Isn’t this why we read fantasy after all? Jose maintains that this is the whole reason the genre exists, and he will fight and die on this hill. We read fantasy for the jaw-dropping moments that turn our brains to jelly, the instant when horizons explode out past anything we’ve dreamed of prior, and the scenes of our wildest imaginings put down on paper. Or at least I do. Named swords and lost princes are cute, but I think it’s my right to demand more.

More in this case is Malazan, and it’s probably something every fantasy grognard should read. It is not however one of those places that any reader would want to visit. Malazanians must breed like rabbits to maintain the population, since the average lifespan in this place is about seventeen minutes. The series might have the highest horrible deaths per capita of anything I’ve read. Yes, yes, Game of Thrones, GRRM killing everyone, I know, I know. My understanding though is that he mostly targets people’s favorite characters. Erikson is more indiscriminate, randomly torching, plaguing, butchering, or magicking entire cities. The body count (and detailed descriptions thereof) may not be to everyone’s liking. That aside, it’s maniacally entertaining stuff. High level to be sure, since the reader is thrown to the wolves with no, “As you know, Bob…” breaks to catch anyone up, but a landmark bit of writing.

I will probably write more about this as I get closer to knocking out the whole ten books. There’s lots to say, especially if I turn the spoiler filter off. I’ll leave it here for now and hope that other readers sound off with comments that spark scintillating conversation.

The Straits of Galahesh

The Straits of Galahesh
Bradley Beaulieu

I’ve been fighting with this post for several days, but it stubbornly resists any kind of hook or angle. I still want to talk about The Straits of Galahesh though, so in the absence of profound or witty concept to hang this post on, I may have to write a straight up book review. Heaven forbid.

I read and reviewed The Winds of Khalakovo some time ago, and named it one of my best reads of 2013. Beaulieu’s unique world fit well with the sympathetic characters and non-stop action; I burned through the book in a couple of days and was immediately ready for more. However, despite the author graciously providing me with ebooks of the next two volumes, one thing or another got in the way and I didn’t start into Book Two until early 2015. Straits took much longer than Winds to complete, something I initially chalked up to changes in my reading habits. Thinking more and poking around other reactions, I’ve decided that it wasn’t just me. Straits is a deeper, more complex book that demands more effort than the first. It takes longer to set up, longer to get into, and longer to pay off, while dealing with the dreaded Middle Book Syndrome.

While Winds was big on swashbuckling in a comparatively small geographic and chronological area, Straits takes the time to expand the story both further into Beaulieu’s world and deeper into the history of Anuskaya. There are still plenty of swashes to buckle this time around, but in more kingdoms (Istanbul analog!) and with more and better bad guys. Anuskaya, with its windships and islands in the sky, is even more beguiling than in Winds. Beaulieu has created one of my favorite fantasy worlds here, improving it vastly by introducing new places. I didn’t think it would get much better after the first book, but the author surprised me. Yes, this remains the ever popular Seek and Slay the Evil Wizard storyline, but now we have the philosophical underpinnings to his dastardly plot! On the whole, the series benefits from the broader view. There is a trade-off as Beaulieu has to spend a substantial pagecount in the setup, but once things finally get rolling the momentum is undeniable.

It’s hard to assess the plot and write the sort of convoluted, analytical stuff that Two Dudes normally presents without first seeing where everything ends up in Book Three. Eye rolling and accusations of having entirely too much spare time will have to wait. The wait shouldn’t be too long though, since I am eager to wrap this up and find out what happens. The world might literally end, if the author is feeling so inclined, and the body count is just high enough that favorite characters may have to make the ultimate sacrifice to stop the evil, if vaguely well-intentioned, Evil Wizard from unleashing a hellish nirvana on everyone. True love will likely prevail however, just because it always does. That said, anyone who liked the first book will find no reason to skip the second. My expectations for the third are high.

The Goblin Emperor

The Goblin Emperor
Katherine Addison

I haven’t written a book review in quite some time, so Katherine Addison’s newest seems a good place to pick back up. I didn’t initially plan on reading this, as everything about it screams “tween book,” from the name to the cute cover. The Goblin Emperor has steadily drawn good reviews though, so I decided to check it out. I”m glad that I did – this is a lovely, charming book. It’s hopeful, positive, complex, and beautifully written. In other words, Mom, since I know you’re reading this, go get The Goblin Emperor from the library. I think it’s what you’ve been looking for.

The plot has been well-covered elsewhere, so I will be brief. Maia, our erstwhile hero, is the half-elven, half-goblin son of the elven emperor, banished to a remote outpost and mostly forgotten. Within a paragraph or two however, the emperor and all his heirs are killed in an airship crash, leaving Maia next in line for the throne. Maia is dragged back to the palace, crowned, and forced to learn his way around a court that never cared much about him or expects even the barest hint of competence from him. This being the happy tale that it is, Maia slowly grows into his role, finds his way around the stupendously detailed and intricately described elven kingdom, and engages in mild hijinks. Addison gives us many fascinating characters along the way, with their factions, conspiracies, friendships, and pasts. It seems like a setup for adolescent Life Lessons, but is actually much more. The worldbuilding is first rate, the politics have depth, and the author doesn’t shy away from many realities of imperial rule. Bad things happen to some people, but never gratuitously or gleefully, and the vibe remains hopeful throughout.

Let me just mention a few expectations I had for the book that were happily betrayed. Biggest of all is the deceiving YA veneer, a quick way to put me off. (Nothing wrong with YA, I just have no patience for reading about children while I spend so much time worrying about my own.) Maia is eighteen and coming into adulthood here, but his late adolescence is mercifully not the focus. In fact, there are plenty of situations and issues that I think would go over many teens’ heads, particularly the politics and culture of Maya’s kingdom, which can be dense and unforgiving at times. The book is rightfully not marketed at youth, title and cover art notwithstanding. Semi-related to this is romance. No love triangles to deal with, minimal angst caused by the opposite gender, no moon-faced longing, and a coldly realistic portrayal of royal marriage. (Again, nothing wrong with romance, I simply have no desire to deal with anyone else’s broken heart. I’m long since done with all that falling in love crap.) Finally, and perhaps most surprising, this isn’t a tale about racism. Everything is primed for an allegory of the mixed ethnicity child gaining everyone’s grudging acceptance as we all learn a bit more about tolerance, but the train veers off these tracks quickly and decisively. Maia’s goblin blood is an issue to be sure, but not in any way that we might expect. Elves and goblins are roughly equals in this world, with their own kingdoms and cultures, but a relationship that seems to be generally free of hierarchy. What could have been a story about racial subjugation, immigration, or some other contemporary problem instead portrays a relationship roughly as fraught as the modern day English and French. My feelings about diversity in SF are much more positive than romance or teen-agers, but I still enjoyed the gentle subversion of my predictions.

On the other hand, Addison digs at some fascinating questions with what the book really is. David Brin is on record multiple times with his opinion that we humans somehow crave feudalism, that something in our lizard brains secretly loves kings and emperors. I am generally skeptical of this, but then I look around at pop culture and the news. We won’t even start with Disney princesses, but what really kills me is the British royal family. I live in a country that was founded in opposition to hereditary rulers, and yet I see thousands of Americans, many with ancestors who died fighting for (a form of) democracy, getting all weepy over Princess Kate and her stupid weddings and babies. It makes me want to don a tricorn hat, cross the Delaware River in the snow, and put some Hessian mercenaries to the sword while waving the Declaration of Independence in my non-bayonet hand. Maybe Brin is on to something after all.

This digression has a point. I wonder if part of the broad appeal to The Goblin Emperor is the young emperor himself. He is, in a way, the idealized projection of ourselves as a just king. Maia espouses tolerance, gender equality, respect for learning and the sciences, and the good of the realm above self-aggrandizement. He has his flaws, is awkward with pretty women, occasionally crumples under stress, and really just wants a friend, not unlike many of us. He is aware of the inequality, poverty, and suffering in his empire and seems to want to do something about it. I quite like Maia and think he would be someone to admire, were he actually running a neighboring kingdom. Canada, for example.

And yet, while Maia is an Everyman, he is an Everyman born to an emperor. Maia is not the head of state because he is qualified, or because the voice of the people chose him, but instead through the luck of birth and a deeply tragic transportation mishap. Can he really wield supreme executive authority just because some watery tart threw a sword at him? Haven’t we done away with most royalty precisely because Maia is such an aberration? I doubt that Addison wrote this purely to question our views of government, but this is the sort of thing that occupies my brain during descriptions of royal finery or ceremony. I admit to possibly being a weirdo.

This is the scenic route to my conclusion, which is that The Goblin Emperor is utterly charming. There is a set of readers that will no doubt demand more action (flying heads!), more magic (fireballs!), or just more wide screen drama (epic battles!), but they will miss the charms of this relatively quiet book. I hope there is more to the story here, because I cared about the people involved and want to spend more time with them. They felt real, which is more than can be said for far too many stories out there.

Translation Wishes

Translation Wishes

So I recently wandered past a place called Smartling, a website translation business, and saw a question about books people want to see in translation, the nature of language, communication across cultures, and other weighty things. As a blogger who regularly deals with Japanese books in translation, this made me think a bit. The original question may have had more noble novels in mind: Dickens, perhaps, or Proust. This blog being what it is however, thoughts quickly went in more, shall we say, exciting directions. We have our reputations to uphold after all, and what would the masses think if something called “Two Dudes in an Attic” suddenly transmogrified into a sock puppet for Camus? That said, it seems wrong to just give up and search for pulpy space opera about carnivorous, spacefaring arachnids who molest scantily clad, but daintily nubile maidens, so some middle ground must be found. In that spirit, Two Dudes presents Two Things in the Attic that we would love to see in Japanese, if they have not already somehow been translated without either of us realizing it.

First up is the imminently respectable 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson. Long time readers will remember this as my pick for best book of 2012, longest review of 2012 on the site, and one of my most-cited books out there. I want this to be translated because I find 2312 to be the ultimate in science fiction. It is ten pounds of wild but plausible future imaginings in a five pound bag. It is warning about our current foolishness, but paints a wildly optimistic picture of how we might rise above the looming disasters. It has progressive and challenging gender concepts, and is one of the few voices out there urging a progression past capitalism to something better and more sustainable. There are cities that move across the surface of Mercury on tracks powered by the Sun and space elevators on Earth with participatory opera. Hollowed asteroids with all sorts of habitats and cultures hurtle through orbit while extinct animals parachute through the Earth’s skies. There is a deadly mystery and an intrepid romance, both spanning the Solar System. If there is one book out there that says, “Hey, pay attention to SF! It shows a new way forward,” it would be 2312. I can’t think of another book that deserves more attention and conversation.

As a potential translation, 2312 has the bonus of being fairly straightforward. There are lots of big ideas, but nothing we don’t have plenty of words for. It doesn’t depend on humor or cultural references, nor is it excessively poetic or dense. Just lots of fascinating topics that can cut across any language or society, and so eminently translatable.

Now that the high culture stuff is out of the way, I present my next translation dream: Star Control II. Plenty of obstacles to this one, not the least: who has the spare time and money to translate a 20+ year old computer game? Once available, who is going to play it? Another massive challenge would be somehow making this game as funny in Japanese as it is in English. I like to think of myself as a relatively humorous guy, and I can get Japanese people laughing with the best of them. (No mean feat, that, especially Japanese from outside the Osaka region.) But even I am at a complete loss when it comes to translating the Spathi or Umgah. The Mycon? Forget it.

I don’t know that one could pick a “best” computer game of all time, but SC2 has to make the Top Ten. The Ur-Quan are some of the best villains in SF history. The exploration aspect remains unmatched. The future history and denizens of the SC galaxy are both among my favorite in all SF, not just games. There is an entire generation of gamers in the West that should play this game, and there must be millions of gamers around the world that will never have the chance due to language. Star Control II translation is the humanitarian service project that gamers everywhere owe it to the world to undertake, if for no other reason than to put “I grow turgid. Violent action ensues” into as many tongues as possible.

And there you have it. I don’t know if Smartling had this foolishness in mind when they wrote to me, but I can pretty much guarantee that nobody else will give these answers. Now, on to the translating!