Saturday, 27 June 2015

Work in Progress: 27th June 2015

Due to last week's marathon reflections on the Hugos I'm behind in my weekly blog post about what I've been doing: writing, reading and watching stuff that I've enjoyed.

Last week wasn't only hectic for all the writing I did, here on the blog, and the editing of my second novel, but also for attending an afternoon's workshop called Ultra-Wearable Physiological Sensing held at Imperial College.  It was five talks on the use of sensors in gathering medical information using new technologies and access routes, for example the ear canal.  The talks were: Challenges in MOD-related wearable sensing by Brigadier Professor Tim Hodgetts, Ultra-wearable sensing: Ear EEG and collocated sensors by Dr. Valentin Goverdovsky, The pulse of performance: Investigating the psychophysiology of performance under stress by Professor Aaron Williamson, Ultrawearable sensing meets complexity science: Stress and consciousness applications by Professor Danilo Mandic, and The role of sleep and the impact of sleep loss by Professor Mary Morrell.

I got to ask a couple of questions, which surprised me, as I hadn't expected to be able to ask anything sensible.  I was also quite surprised that one of the research teams work was effectively re-inventing the wheel from first principles.  This is not a condemnation of their work, because it was rather lovely to see them validate research in my specialist area without any of the political infighting that has beset psychological therapies.

After this most stimulating set of afternoon talks we rushed over to hear the inaugural lecture of Professor Arttu Rajantie called Playing the quantum field, which you can watch by clicking the link, explaining the standard model, and his work into magnetic monopoles.  Fortunately, because I've been reading Our Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark, I was able keep up with most of the talk, except for the squiggly mathematics stuff, but one can't be good at everything.  Then to cap a wonderful day off we went for the post lecture supper, which had a very nice cold buffet selection, and a rather yummy apple pie dessert.

This week we've finished watching season two and started on  season three of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.  It's light and fluffy, and we like it despite the silliness of the stories, because it keeps true to the emotional stuff.

Writing wise I've written 4,651 words for the blog, added 471 words to the current draft of my second novel, while managing to edit 7,754 words last week, and 9,778 words this week.  I'm now writing a new scene for chapter fifteen before moving onto act three.  So this has been a productive week for me.  Next week I'm attending Science in Science Fiction at Imperial College run by Dr. David Clements who also write science fiction.

Catch you all on the bounce.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Hugo Reflections: Part 7 The Future


Part 1 link
Part 2 link
Part 3 link
Part 4 link
Part 5 link
Part 6 link

So what if anything can I draw from this series of posts that reflected on the books I've read during the course of my life?

Adding up all the books I've mentioned in my posts I see that I've read 43 of the 62 Hugo award winners, and 91 of the 227 works that were nominated.  This adds up to 153 out of a total of 289 books.  Sheesh I've given away or sold off more books than that during this time.  Even taking this into account the total number of books is less than 10% of the total number I've ever read.  Also, the problem is that back in the day (circa 1953 of thereabouts) 150 books were published in a year, and since then this has risen to a peak of about 1500 books releases over the same period.  That's a ten fold increase.

Meanwhile the Hugo nominees have remained around five over the entire period.  Perhaps this needs looking at in light of the changing volume in the genre?

However, I think I need to point out is that anecdote is not data.  While the numbers of books I've read can be quantified, I'm a single point.  Or put in other words a data set of one.  Therefore one cannot draw any real conclusions about the state of the Hugos from my narrative.

But here's the thing; you knew this was coming, because otherwise why would I spend all this time talking about the Hugo awards.  My point is very simple.  The Hugos have been awarded to sixty-two books, and yes that makes them a thing worth winning, but it doesn't mean that all the other books that didn't win weren't good books.

So yes it sucks not get a Hugo, because it always sucks to lose.

But voting and stuff is not a simple problem.  One only has to look at the arguments around first past the post versus proportional representation, and whether or not instant run off voting is best, to realise that this is the case.  If it were not the case we'd already have a perfect answer that was fair.  But, like lots of things in life, things are not fair.  Not because we don't want them to be, or because we don't think it's worth striving to be fair, but because some things are just difficult to achieve, and subject to forces one cannot control.

I always tell people who complain that life's not fair that I'm glad it's not fair, because if life were fair then everything bad that happened to me would have happened because I deserved it.  Therefore, by analogy, if the Hugo awards could be made to be totally fair, and you deserved to win and lost, then you would have been were robbed, which would be totally unfair.

So in short; cue Highlander meme, there can be only one!*

And finally, in relation to people on either side of the puppy debate getting angry because other people were angry.  No matter how angry one gets about something, venting one's feelings doesn't help.  It's worse than that.  Venting your anger will reinforce what you're feeling, and increase the intensity of your anger, not reduce it and leave you feeling better.  Furthermore, getting angry just makes it more likely you'll become angry again, which is why I wrote this piece the way I have.  Better to look at the positive side of things.

In this case the positive thing to take away from the Hugos is the years of  pleasure I've had from reading books, where 90% have never won an award.  And no-one can take that away from me.

* Sometimes two if there is a draw.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Hugo Reflections: Part 6 - 2003 to 2014

After going Conjose we started going to other SF conventions, and have now been to nine more; mostly those that are in or near London.  You can read about three of them by clicking this link.

Again the link for the Hugo Wikipedia page is here.
2003 to 2012

In this decade have I well and truly passed the peak of reading Hugo award winners and nominees.  In fact it looks like I've fallen off the map.  The only Hugo award winner that I read was Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge.  I really like his work, and I bought the hardback as soon as I saw it on the shelf at Forbidden Planet.

Of the nominees I've read nine of the forty works.  Old Man's War by John Scalzi, Blindsight by Peter Watts, The Last Colony by by John Scalzi, Halting State by Charles Stross, Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold.  For the record Scalzi, Stross and Watts were all new to me authors that I discovered either by word of mouth or through the internet during this period.

I should add that in general I'm reading Hugo award winners and nominees years after their original publication date.  Also, I have on my to be read pile one other Hugo nominee novel Mira Grant's (a pseudonym of Seanan McGuire) Feed, which I picked up recently to try.
2013 & 2014

So now we enter the beginning of the seventh decade of the Hugos, and soon my fifth decade as a reader of science fiction.  This may well make me a boring old fogie or not, depending on how one sees such things (get off my lawn!)  At the end of 2012 I had a change of career, in that I decided to take a sabbatical from working in mental health care.  I started writing again, after more than a twenty year break by restarting work on a novel I began in 1988.

In this time I've read both Hugo award winners (Redshirts & Ancillary Justice), and two of the eight nominees: Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold, and Warbound by Larry Correia.  If my writing career takes off I imagine that the number of Hugo winners and nominees will rise.  It's kind of inevitable really as one wants to keep abreast of what people are reading.

I've also read two of this years nominees, which as far as I'm concerned puts me ahead of the curve.


Tomorrow I will sum up my thought about the Hugos and the debate that has been causing a storm across the internet.  But the first post I started this series with had a list of a few authors whose work I'd read, but whom had not been nominated at the time for a Hugo or won the award.  So I thought I'd like to end with a few random books by authors I love that I would have liked to have seen in the running for the Hugo (year of publication, so they would be in the following years award).

1985 Wizard of the Pigeons by Megan Lindholm aka Robin Hobb.
1989 A Talent for War by Jack McDevitt.
1990 The Ring of Charon by Roger MacBride-Allen.
1990 Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett.
1990 Angel Station by Walter Jon Williams.
1991 Hardwired by Walter Jon Williams.
1992 Grunts! by Mary Gentle.
1994 The Engines of God by Jack McDevitt.
1996 Excession by Iain M. Banks.
2000 Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle.
2000 Storm Front by Jim Butcher.
2002 The Praxis by  Walter Jon Williams.
2002 Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan.
2003 Spin State by Chris Moriarty.
2004 Century Rain by Alistair Reynolds.
2010 Truth of Valor by Tanya Huff.
2011 Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge.
2012 Silence by Michelle Sagara.
2013 The Coldest Girl in Cold Town by Holly Black.
2014 Maplecroft by Cherie Priest.

As I compiled this list what I found it harder for me to add books that I've read the closer I got to the current date (big gap between 2004 and 2010 for example).

I think this is indicates that I'm always reading behind the curve, except for those few authors I will buy in hardback as soon as something appears from them.  Reflecting back for a moment, when I started to read I could on occasion manage three books a day.  My average, I guess, was more like a book a day.  But nowadays  I'm only reading a book a week, at most, sometimes less.  This sort of change in volume means there's no way I can keep up with all the new novels coming out in a year.

So it's no wonder I'm behind the curve, which probably makes me a boring old fogie.  Anyway, see you tomorrow for my summary.

Part seven link.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Hugo Reflections: Part 5 - 1993 to 2002

Now I'm into my fourth decade of reading SF.  I went to Helicon in 1993, but after this I didn't go to another convention again until 2002 when I return to fandom by attending ConJosé the 2002 Worldcon in San Jose, which was the first convention my partner ever attended.  Talk about being thrown in at the deep end.

Again the link for the Hugo Wikipedia page is here.
1993 to 2002 

Looking at the awards I have managed to read five of the eleven winners in this period, and only four of the forty nominees.  Given how few of the Hugo award winners and nominees I've read it's easiest for me to list them, rather than trying to encapsulate all the books I haven't read (check out the link for all the books).

The award winners I've read were: A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge, Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold, Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman, A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling.  However none of these were bought because they were Hugo award winners, assuming that makes sense.  I was blown away by A Fire Upon the Deep and I've just snapped up anything by Vernor Vinge ever since.  Likewise for Bujold's work, and Rowling's books were read mostly so that I could talk to my clients at work who were enjoying the stories.

Therefore it's no surprise to find that of three the books nominated for the Hugo were by two of the authors in the award winning list: Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold, Brightness Reef by David Brin, A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling.

This seems to indicate a complete collapse in the number of books I'm reading, except I bought and read a whole bunch of books, even though I will qualify my statement by saying I wasn't reading as much during this period as I used to.  In this case mostly because I had a shed load of text books to read for the diploma in mental health studies I was studying for.  The job I then went into was quite demanding, which also had a considerable impact on how much I read. Still, saying that my book collection kept growing.

Part six link.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Hugo Reflections: Part 4 - 1983 to 1992

Beginning my second decade of reading SF, which ends around the time my life became more interesting than I really care to talk about.  I had been writing stuff on and off for a number of years, and selling some non-fiction work to magazines, but an enforced change career meant I put everything on hold.  The harsh reality of needing to be able to afford to have somewhere to live and food to eat.  Boring real life stuff, which resulted in me gafiating from SF Fandom.

During this period I attended Seacon in 1984, and even did some gophering, and as I've said I was Doris Lessing's minder during the con.  I even published a fanzine,and I was also a member of P-APA for a while.  I know I went to both Yorcon 3 in 1985, and Albacon3 1986, followed by Conspiracy, which was the 1987 Worldcon.  So definitely this period reperesent my peak involvement with SF Fandom and its effects on my reading choices.

Again the link for the Hugo Wikipedia page is here.
1983 to 1992 

There were ten winners during this period, and forty-one other novels that were nominated.  I've read nine of the ten winners, and fifteen of the forty-one runners up. This is the first decade where I haven't read all the nominees in any of the given years.  The only Hugo winner I've not read was Hyperion by Dan Simmons.

Given that now I have more nominees that I've not read, rather than listing them all I shall just list one's that I want to comment on.

First off is Friday by Robert A. Heinlein,  which for me probably marks peak Heinlein, because I stopped reading any of his new books after Time Enough for Love.  I still enjoy re-reading his earlier works, but once he started writing big fat doorstops I walked.  I think this may mean I have an aversion to reading big fat doorstop books, which would also include his Job: A Comedy of Justice.  However, I will note for the record that I've re-read quite a few of Heinlein's novels since then, Double Star being one of my favourites along with The Moon is  Harsh Mistress, and Starship Troopers.

Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov, didn't grab me, and this again probably indicates I've reached peak Asimov.  In this case it was more a matter that I missed the book at a time when I had other stuff to contend with, and I wanted to read different books.  Again I've re-read a couple of his books since then.  The End of Eternity, because it's my favourite novel of his, and I recently bought another copy of The Gods Themselves to re-read, because it deals with parallel universes.

I have also not read Integral Trees by Larry Niven.  The concept didn't grab me, and again I think this means I've reached peak Niven.  However, while I've not read Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, I may well read it someday, because alien elephants.  Again I've re-read The Mote in Gods Eye and The Moat Around Murchison's Eye aka The Gripping Hand between then and now.  Clearly some stories appeal to my tastes, which when you think about it is obvious.  It's what defines our tastes; what we like and dislike.

The real surprise for me from this period is how little of Greg Bear's work I've read.  This may be down to senility, and being unable to tell Bear, Brin and Benford apart (that's a joke).  So that's all I have to say today, more tomorrow.

Part five link.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Hugo Reflections: Part 3 - 1973 to 1982

I went to my first convention in 1976, which if my memory serves me correctly was called Lunicon, where I saw Arthur C. Clarke talk, amongst other things (the editors of White Dwarf were there and I bought a subsciption to the magazine).  It was a tiny one day, and I mean really tiny as an event held in one room.  From there it was one small step to take my first step into UK SF fandom, and I attended Skycon in 1978, which was the British national SF Eastercon, which as it's name suggests is traditionally held over the Easter weekend.  The next year I attended my first Worldcon, Seacon.

This I guess marks my entry to SF Fandom, rather than just being a fan of SF.

I remember going to at least one of the Albacon's in Glasgow, but can't remember if it was the 1980 or 1983 one.  I certainly went to Yorcon 2 in Leeds 1981, and I think Channelcon in Brighton 1982.  But apart from attending conventions, reading any fanzines I got given, I wasn't particularly active in fandom, for example producing a fanzine or helping to run conventions.

Though, as I'm writing this down I remembered I did start a fan group with my friend Dave Harwood, an under appreciated comic artist, while I was living in Southend-on-Sea.  It was really David and Ashley go drinking and talk about SF books, films and comics.  Alex Stewart aka Sandy Mitchell was a regular attendee, driving all the way down from Colchester, and usually bringing friends with him like Susan Francis and John Murphy.

Those were the days when we were young and full of energy, and would do crazy stuff like drive to Wales for the chance to attend a party.  Anyway, again I've put the link for the Hugo Wikipedia page here.
Third Decade 1983 to 1992 

There were ten winners during this period, and forty-one other novels that were nominated. I've read eight of the ten winners, and twenty-three of the forty-one runners up.  The only year where I read all the contenders was 1975.

The two Hugo winners I've not read were: Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre, and The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge. Both of these rather shocked me, because again I remember reading other books from both these authors, which only goes to illustrate that one doesn't necessarily read everything by a given author or remember what you've read. In this case I've read a lot of Vonda N. McIntyre's tie in novels, being a big Star Trek fan who wanted to read well written books in this universe. The only book I've read by Joan D. Vinge was her Star Wars tie in novelization.

Of the runners up the one's I haven't read are: There Will Be Time by Poul Anderson, The Book of Skulls, and Dying Inside (two nominations in one year) by Robert Silverberg, A Choice of Gods by Clifford D. Simak, The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold, The Stochastic Man by Robert Silverberg, and Shadrach in the Furnace also by Robert Silverberg, The Forbidden Tower by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Dying of the Light by George R. R. Martin, The White Dragon by Anne McCaffrey, Blind Voices by Tom Reamy, Titan by John Varley, Jem by Frederik Pohl, Harpist in the Wind by Patricia A. McKillip, On Wings of Song by Thomas Disch, Lord Valentine's Castle by Robert Silverberg, Wizard by John Varley, The Many-Colored Land by Julian May, Project Pope by Clifford D. Simak.

Clearly I haven't read as much  Robert Silverberg or for that matter as much Clifford D. Simak as I thought I had, or at least what I've read didn't make the Hugo shortlist;  I did check and I guess I must have mostly read their shorter works.  I'm surprised by the inclusion of the David Gerrold story, and while I've read a fair bit of Anne McCaffrey I stopped reading the dragon books after the second novel in the series.

Of these I think I will try to get hold of a copy of  Blind Voices by Tom Reamy, who I've never heard of, and when I checked the link on the wiki I discovered this was his first and last novel.  He died just before publication, slumped over the first seven pages of his next novel. The review suggests he was a promising writer who may have had a substantial career in the genre.

So not only can you not win, but you can win and not see that you've won.  It sucks sometimes, and sometimes it really sucks.

Part four link.