The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

The Books I Read: July – August 2017

bookshelf books

 

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I expected this to be like Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. And I got what I wanted. It’s a tightly paced retelling of the old Norse creation myths. Problem is, there aren’t many of them. I suspect that’s more to do with lack of surviving source material, given what Neil Gaiman says in the foreword. Maybe a long time ago there were scrolls and scrolls of Loki and Thor stories. Now all we’ve got are comic books. And if you’re any fan of Marvel’s interpretations, this is required reading.

The nice thing is that the re-tellings are up to date. I expected something Shakespearean or textbook-dry, like Hamilton. But the narration feels like an old storyteller sitting down by the fire, telling yarns to the grandchildren. The details behind Ragnarok and Fenrir and Loki are fascinating. It’s funny and suspenseful and creative. There are one-liners and drama and character flaws & flawed actions. It’s flavorful.

If you haven’t picked up Neil Gaiman before, this might be a good one to try. The content doesn’t consist of his usual dreamlike, abstract faire (that I’m not too fond of either). And you can tell it’s material he’s passionate about.

Tough Sh*t: Life Advice From a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good by Kevin Smith

One night, before going out, Kevin Smith asks his wife “Can I stare at your asshole while I jack off?”

So depending on your reaction to that line, you can judge your potential interest in this tome.

Kevin Smith is, uh, an interesting fellow. Well, what I can I say? He was one of the voices of a generation. You look at the nineties and people think Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee, and Kevin Smith. The guy is, at heart, a storyteller. I could listen to him talk about Superman and the Giant Spider all day.

And that’s what this book is. You get to hear how he met his wife, the making/publication of Red State, the Southwest “too fat to fly” fiasco, the up and down relationship with The Weinstein Company. The nice thing about Smith is he’s able to admit his wrongs and justify his rights. He never assumes he’s the smartest guy in the room and always gets feedback on if he’s showing his own ass (because that’s easy to do when your content consists of stinkpalming stoners and Carlin-esque religion satire).

The book is equal combinations of crudeness and heart, black humor and childlike wonder. It’s a good book for insight on the Hollywood scene, especially for potential indie film-makers. And it gives more inspiration that “you can make it” than “this is how to make it” (which is really all luck more than anything).

The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War by Michael Sharra
(unfinished)

I might have finished if I hadn’t realized there were SparkNotes for it. Also a movie. Also, I didn’t care enough about the characters to know if they lived or died. And these are real characters that I know if they lived or died (spoiler: they all died… eventually).

I put it on my to-read list because I heard that this is the book that inspired Joss Whedon to make Firefly. Well, I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. But when I got to 40%, I realized I had gotten everything the book had to offer. The prose is dry and the characters read robotically. Maybe that’s to do with their military upbringing, but it’s hard to sympathize with the team that’s not fighting for the right side, even if they may or may not “believe” in that side’s cause (which is stupid, but I’m digressing).

If this was meant to teach me about war novels, I learned that they are boring. The plot is mechanical. Arguing about strategy–“take that hill.” We took that hill. Our guys got shot. We shot their guys. Argue, argue. Decide on more strategy. It’s how I imagine Warhammer novels are.

And then there’s the constant self-doubt of anyone in power. I imagine that’s true, but it gets annoying to constantly read about. The historical factor isn’t enough to pull me in either. Plus I know how it ends. So what did I come here for?

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

The city government grants a con artist a second lease on life if he can get the post office up and running. The mail system’s fallen into disrepair since the clacks (a telegraph/semaphore system) went up. But the evil business that owns them has been embezzling and employee safety has paid the price. So it’s David vs. Goliath as the thief has to figure out not only how to eschew his criminal background, but also how to deliver floors full of letters as he avoids the shadowy businessmen.

This is an adventure story. It’s not dissimilar to any other Pratchett – if you’ve read one of them, you’ve know what to expect. And this won’t convince you otherwise. I picked it up because it’s the highest rated/ranked Discworld novel in the series, and thought I should read this if not any others.

I consider Pratchett to the be the fantasy equivalent of Douglas Adams. That means events take a backseat to world-building and situation-explaining. Plot pacing is sacrificed for humor. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Written humor is hard because you lose all elements of timing. So if you can get a chuckle out of anyone, you’ve accomplished a great deal. And this got several chuckles from me.

The key negative is the unlikable characters. The con man doesn’t really want to be there. The government is forcing him in this job on threat of death. His chief ally at the post office is an old man who’d rather see tradition served than do any work. Plus a young man who might be autistic (he collects pins and goes into fits when routine is broken). No one is particularly charming, but Iron Man seems to get away with it. The other problem is too many subplots, due to the too many characters, which is par for the course in Discworld.

It’s a book of contradictions, but a solid four stars.

13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison
(unfinished)

It’s full of cliches. The story makes a promise in the first chapter that doesn’t get fulfilled or hinted at for the next four or five. Which means it’s a cheat.

This girl is apparently the one who can see fairies and thus under their constant threat (because she could reveal their existence). This means a bunch of hijinks that can’t be explained has already happened and the mother has no choice but to send her troubled child to live with her grandmother in the country. There’s a neighbor boy who’s kind of annoying, weird neighbors, parents who don’t understand, falling in love with a library, and a witch who gives her a trinket for no reason. Didn’t I see this already in Coraline?

There’s more narration than dialogue. No one has any personality. The character makes no connections or relationships in this new setting. Events happen without being rooted in some cause. The protagonist has no “save the cat” moment. She’s a whiny inactive protagonist. And lots of telling. There’s even a gypsy woman (and I thought that term was racist).

This is just some thirteen-year-old’s badly conceived fantasy.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

All the characters here are broken. And thus, interesting. But this is not a fantasy novel. This is a standard YA novel with real-life problems. Non-real elements are minor and don’t affect the plot.

Something’s going on in the background of said plot. Something “Harry Potter” or “Buffy” involving a Big Bad and Apocalypses. But that’s not what the story is about. This is about the extras that end up in the B-roll, when the cameras pan over the ambulances. Who are those people?

One is gay. One is going to a war-torn third world country after graduation. One is a recovering anorexic. And one (the main character) has a compulsion disorder. There is magic in the world, but no one is using it. No one wants to. They’ve seen what happens to the kids who do. They’re stressing about college, graduation, dating, whether he-likes-her-but-does-she-like-me. It’s nice to see a deconstruction of the hero’s journey, but hard to do well. This one does. The style reminds me of John Green writing a Harry Potter background character or A.S. King (“Please Ignore Vera Dietz”).

Just After Sunset by Stephen King
(unfinished)

I read the first six stories. Only one provoked any reaction from me, thus I put it down. They’re all typical Stephen King — overwritten and full of generic description. I think he’s said everything he’s needed to say, and now he’s repeating himself.

Plus the thing about short stories is that they never seem to matter to the world within. They’re never important or epic. There’s no point to invest in one because it’s gone as soon as you do. They’re just slices of life.

They’re also not scary. He’s gone from tangible horror to the existential slipstream hypnosis or something like that. There’s a Family Guy joke where King’s publisher is asking for his next idea. King looks around the office and grabs a lamp. “For my next book, um… this couple is… um… attacked by, um… a lamp monster! Oooh…” There is LITERALLY a story like that, but it’s a stationary bike. “Ooh, look at the scary stationary bike. Ooh, you don’t know where it’s taking you. Ooh, is it making you hallucinate or is it real?” Please.

I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie by Roger Ebert

I enjoyed “Your Movie Sucks”, and thought this one would be even better, because it might include more movies I’m familiar with. But that’s not the case. It cuts off in 1999 and includes a ton of stinkers that I don’t remember at all. (There’s even a review of a MST3K movie, I thought that was a neat anachronism.)

This one seems to lack the vitriol that the sequel had. Probably because Ebert hadn’t reached peak cynicism yet. I thought I’d enjoy hearing his witty evisceration of my nostalgic classics, but those were few and far between. It’s too bad you can’t buy just the reviews of the movies you want to read about.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

I cannot remember why I put this on my to-read list. It’s like a combo of John Scalzi and Leviathan Wakes. The characters are colorful, like a readable Firefly, but painted with a comic book brush. So they’re actually happy–not sullen or brooding or grimdark. That’s weird to me, but welcome. But after I finished, I was of two minds about it.

One one hand, it’s amateur hour. The entire middle could be removed without affecting the plot. Each chapter is episodic and self-contained. Some characters get a lot of screen time. Others you forget are there.

There’s an illusion of consequences to character actions… but nothing really happens. For example, the main character has a “the liar revealed” moment, and it affects nothing because everybody is so nice. No one dies. No one loses an hand or a mentor. Nothing changes anyone or anything. Nobody gets to say “Man, I regret doing that thing” or “I was wrong to do that”.

Finally, the “episodes” get transparently political. There is one that’s an immigration allegory. One that’s a LGBTQ rights allegory. One about religious freedom.

On the other hand, these are fun characters. They’re enjoyable to be around. They’re funny and smart, they don’t make stupid decisions. They’re practical and don’t fall into space opera tropes. It’s a little like Star Wars if it was created by the person who wrote My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It’s not morose empire drama. But I don’t think I’ll read the second one.

The Sliding Scale of Infidelity

sex doll couch video games

I was talking about this with my wife the other day. Apparently there is some new sex robot that can replicate emotions and give responses. I’m sure it’s not much better than a furby. But it reminded me that we are facing a paradigm shift in technology + sex and it’s going to go common soon.

I can’t remember where I read it, but there’s a quote that says “As soon as a new technology is invented, people will figure out a way to use it for sex”. It happened with paintings, the telephone, the video tape, and so on. I don’t know if the same debates occurred back then, but I know that today’s technology allows to get into some very gray area regarding infidelity.

Case in point, there’s a scene in Bad Moms (2016 starring Mila Kunis) where the husband is on the computer masturbating. The wife thinks it’s just porn, but he’s webcamming with another girl. I don’t know if this is a camgirl or a normal citizen. It’s someone he’s established rapport with, that much is known.

The wife (and mine) considered this cheating. But no fluids were exchanged. They were never in the same room together. In fact, they had never met IRL and lived in different states.

To be clear, I’m not saying this ISN’T cheating. I’m saying it’s an interesting debate. I understand both sides of the issue. On one hand, feelings were hurt. On the other hand, how different is this than pornography or strippers? To what degree of intimacy was exchanged?

And that’s just today. I don’t know what it was like in the past days–I guess women didn’t feel like they had voice enough to protest their husbands sexual escapades. But now that we’ve got stronger women PLUS accelerating technology, a hand must be raised.

And it’s interesting that this “accelerated technology” is pretty much devoted to giving humans artificial experiences. I grew up in a time when the greatest advance in VR was A) that thing at the State Fair where you shoot dragons or your friend in Blockoland or B) Virtual Boy.

Right now, sex dolls are still tossed in the uncanny valley, but eventually, they will make a human-passable gynoid. Is a nearly human gynoid worse or better than watching a camgirl?

When I try and evaluate “am I masturbating or am I having an affair?” I think of it on a scale from 0 (monogamous, no fear of betrayal) to 10 (you’ve been unfaithful to me, I want a divorce). Here are some things that are going to have to be placed on that scale:

  • A full-size sex doll with no electronics or moving parts
  • A sex doll that can have a face projected onto it (any face you want)
  • A sex doll with moving parts and electronics (meant to be as close to a human as possible)
  • A non-humanoid robot that can give a handjob
  • Virtual reality porn
  • Virtual reality porn with a peripheral
  • Virtual reality porn with a haptic suit
  • A sex game on a Kinect (or perhaps virtual sex on the Kinect)
  • Attaching a fleshlight to an iPad.
  • Anything you can make with a 3-D printer
  • Interacting one-on-one with a camgirl (compare to getting a lap dance with a stripper)
  • Interacting one-on-one with someone on ChatRoulette

  • Using a remotely-operated sex toy (they’ve got everything from kissing simulators to virtual vajayjays).
  • Putting on Google Glasses and face-swapping your partner with someone else.

To me, none of these sound terribly appealing. Maybe the most likely one I’d get is something VR for the cell phone. Nothing too expensive. I’ve got kids, I’ve got to hide it, you know. I can’t put on a haptic suit every time. But the thing about VR is it does feel a leetle beet too much like having sex with someone who’s not my wife. Also, someone could walk in and I’d never know it.

For me personally, I think a big part comes from “is there a human on the other end or not”? Although this is not an end-all/be-all. Men can fall in love with a non-feeling object. We’re living in a world where people marry their pillows, for God’s sake.

Ultimately, it comes down to what’s okay between you and your spouse. And these days that may not be so cut and dried. So that means some uncomfortable communications are going to have to occur, and it’s better they occur sooner than later.

Guilt Over Unfinished Books

unfinished book question mark

I stopped reading two books in the past few weeks.  Both were well-liked, critical successes, science fiction award winners.  But they just didn’t appeal to me.  One was Saturn’s Children.  It’s supposed to be about a gynoid sexbot.  It’s got a sexy android on the cover.  But she never has sex — all the humans are dead.  So she’s trying to get by in a roboconomy spread across the solar system.  It’s full of true science with high speed/time dilation and light side/dark side maglev mega-cities.  Very descriptive on the environment, but not so much on the people (especially with no humans).

So I end up feeling no attachment to the character.  It’s like a book with Asperger’s Syndrome — no emotion.  Excitement, yes.  But I realized that I just don’t care if anyone lives or dies, so I stopped reading (at about 20%).  It just wasn’t fun anymore.

The Night Sessions was much the same way.  So much back story, and about topics I’m just not interested in — religious fundamentalism, UK politics, crime investigation.

Both these books were recommended for the ways in which they used robots (future novel material).  But I never really wrapped my head around it.  They always seemed like humans with robot features. Like humans with cybernetic implants, like self-growing hair.

I hate when I decide not to finish a book.  Especially one with lots of awards and critical acclaim.  I feel like a dummy.  I’m not able to appreciate the fine literature here.  They’re not bad books, they’re just not for me.  I’m just not interested in what happens next.  It’s like all those Katharine Porter and William Faulkner novels they make you read in Post-Modern American Literature class in college.  They aren’t classic “everyone-must-read” books like Stranger in a Strange Land, so I don’t feel too bad.  But I feel like I couldn’t give the author even one book’s worth of attention.

Am I getting anything out of them?  Yeah, sort of.  But I also feel like, at twenty percent, I’ve gotten everything out of it that I could.  The rest is just filler.  Meanwhile, I get more pleasure of YA books like Fly on the Wall or Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.  Those books entertain me, but I feel like they’re “not-as-smart”?  Like they’re the pizza of the book world.  And you can make fine pizza, like Lock-In.  But unless you partake of fine dining establishments like The Night Sessions, people call your palate into question.  And your ability to make food yourself.

So if I only read books that entertain me, does that mean I’m destined to be a bad writer?  Someone once said to me that “being a writer means you are doing homework all the time”.  That scared me, but one person’s advice is not the sum total of all writing.  I also don’t give it much credence because I just don’t want to believe it.  I’ve done some research for some books, like mermaid biology, but I’d hardly call that homework.  And no one’s keeping score.  No one’s giving me an F for not doing my homework.

I guess the real proof will be in the pudding.  My stories will demonstrate the effort that’s put in.  If I make good enough stories, maybe I won’t need to do so much homework.  I just feel like I have other books I’d rather read than ones that would “make me a better person”.  Life is too short to read books you don’t really want to.

The 2014 Hugos and Where You Can Find Them

BEST NOVEL
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Excerpt) WINNER!
Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross (Excerpt)
Parasite by Mira Grant (Excerpt)
Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia (Amazon Excerpt)
The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Excerpt)

BEST NOVELLA
The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells (PDF Excerpt)
“The Chaplain’s Legacy” by Brad Torgersen
“Equoid” by Charles Stross (Full) WINNER!
“Six-Gun Snow White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Excerpt)
“Wakulla Springs” by Andy Duncan & Ellen Klages (Full)

BEST NOVELETTE
“The Exchange Officers” by Brad Torgersen
“The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Full) WINNER!
“Opera Vita Aeterna” by Vox Day (EPUB Full)
“The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” by Ted Chiang (Full)
“The Waiting Stars” by Aliette de Bodard (Full)

BEST SHORT STORY
“If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (Full)
“The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Full)
“Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar (Full)
“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Full) WINNER!

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The 2013 Hugos and Where You Can Find Them

BEST NOVEL (40,000+ words)
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Amazon Excerpt) Skip it
Blackout by Mira Grant (Excerpt) Thumbs Up!
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (Excerpt) Either way
Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi (Excerpt) Thumbs Up! WINNER!
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (Excerpt) Either way

BEST NOVELLA (17,500 – 40,000 words)
“After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall” by Nancy Kress (Amazon Excerpt) Either way
“The Emperor’s Soul” by Brandon Sanderson (Excerpt) Either way WINNER!
“On a Red Station, Drifting” by Aliette de Bodard (Excerpt) Skip it
“San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats” by Mira Grant (Amazon Excerpt) Thumbs Up!
“The Stars Do Not Lie” by Jay Lake (Full) Skip it

BEST NOVELLETTE (7,500 – 17,500 words)
“The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Full) Thumbs Up!
“Fade to White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Full) (Audio Version) Thumbs Up!
“The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan WINNER!
“In Sea-Salt Tears” by Seanan McGuire Thumbs Up!
“Rat-Catcher” by Seanan McGuire

BEST SHORT STORY (less than 7,500 words)
“Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard (Full) (Audio Version) Either way
“Mantis Wives” by Kij Johnson Either way
“Mono no Aware” by Ken Liu (Amazon Full) Thumbs Up! WINNER!

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My Nebula Ratings

Each year, I read through the nominations for the Hugos and Nebulas that I can (the ones available in some form, excerpt or full). I give them my “Thumbs Up“, “Skip It” or “Either way” vote. Now these are completely arbitrary ratings, based on my opinion. The opinion of a citizen, a man with a college degree, but not a masters. A man with no real literary background or experience. A lowercase-A author.

My main concern is the ones I rate “Skip it”. They’re usually stories that are too complicated or sequels to something. Like this year I gave a “Skip it” to Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Glamour and Glass”. Miss Kowal’s a wonderful person — ally of Scalzi and co-anchor of Writing Excuses. But A) her novel’s a sequel B) it’s based on regency novels (Jane Austen stuff).

But it was never my taste to begin with. I tend to give “Skip It”s to novels with too much internationalization, high science, and experimental works. Last year nothing I voted “Skip It” won anything.

Also, is “Skip it” even the right term to use? I’m a lowly consumer, prone to idiotic things, not sophisticated prose. Is it right to tell you to not bother with something? Does anyone even care about my opinion? Does anyone follow these recommendations? I’m just an uncultured bastard. I can’t vote in these things. I’ve never had a book published. I’m not part of the SFWA. Who am I to say you should skip a story? Does it help you at all?

The 2012 Nebulas And Where To Find Them

galaxy nebula

BEST NOVEL (40,000+ words)
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (Excerpt) Either way
Ironskin by Tina Connolly (Excerpt) [Book Trailer] Thumbs Up!
The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin (Excerpt) Skip it
The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan (Amazon Excerpt) [Book Trailer] Thumbs Up!
Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal (Excerpt) Skip it
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Amazon Excerpt) Skip it WINNER!

BEST NOVELLA (17,500 – 40,000 words)
“On a Red Station, Drifting” by Aliette de Bodard (Excerpt) Skip it
“After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall” by Nancy Kress (Amazon Excerpt) Either way WINNER!
“The Stars Do Not Lie” by Jay Lake (Full) Skip it
“All the Flavors” by Ken Liu (Full) Thumbs Up!
“Katabasis” by Robert Reed
“Barry’s Tale” by Lawence M. Schoen (Full) Thumbs Up!

BEST NOVELLETTE (7,500 – 17,500 words)
“The Pyre of New Day” by Catherine Asaro (Full) Thumbs Up!
“Close Encounters” by Andy Duncan WINNER!
“The Waves” by Ken Liu (Full) Thumbs Up!
“The Finite Canvas” by Brit Mandelo (Full) Thumbs Up!
“Swift, Brutal Retaliation” by Meghan McCarron (Full) Either way
“Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia” by Rachel Swirsky Thumbs Up!
“Fade to White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Full) (Audio Version) Thumbs Up!

BEST SHORT STORY (less than 7,500 words)
“Robot” by Helena Bell (Full) (Audio Version) Thumbs Up!
“Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard (Full) (Audio Version) Either way WINNER!
“Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes” by Tom Crosshill (Full) (Audio Version) Thumbs Up!
“Nanny’s Day” by Leah Cypess Thumbs Up!
“Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream” by Maria Dahvana Headley (Full) (Audio Version) Skip it
“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” by Ken Liu (Full) (Audio Version) Thumbs Up!
“Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain” by Cat Rambo (Full) (Audio Version) Either way

Nothing much to not about this year’s nominees. I see quite a few females up here. There are more non-unique female nominations than male, and not by a small margin. That’s nice to see.

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