Sasquan: Day 4

By yesterday (Saturday. It was yesterday when I originally wrote this post.), I had come to accept that pretty much anything I could learn and hear on a general panel is something that I could also have learned online or in a book, especially if it’s writing related. Therefore, I drilled down and focused on connections and autographs, things that I cannot get in some way just by being online.

I did attend one panel, but I can not even remember what it was—it obviously wasn’t incredibly important. (Looking back on the pictures, it was a

I did attend 2 Kaffee Klatches, with Mur Lafferty and Joshua Bilmes. The KK with Mur was a delight—she’s an excellent author and a nice and funny person. I’ve been a fan of her I Should Be Writing podcast for years, and I’ve read both of her Shambling Guide books, so I was excited to finally meet her. The KK was really informal, and it provided a nice opportunity to get to know Mur and her other fans.

The Bilmes KK was quite the opposite. Bilmes is the president for life of a literary agency which represents, among others, Sanderson, Brett, and Charlaine Harris. He’s a much different person from Mur, and the KK was run much more strictly. We went around the circle and introduced ourselves, then asked a single question which he answered at length. At the end, we talked about submission. It was very educational, and also, I expect, will be a valuable connection in the future. I did not, however, get any kind of personal connection or conversation out of the KK. I found both KKs to be highly valuable, and I am glad I attended both, they were just completely different.

After that, it was time for some fun. I went to the signing up some up-and-coming kid named George R. R. Martin. You should look up his stuff. Some of his books are pretty good, and he might be big some day.

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Then I went through the Sanderson signing line, getting him to do dueling signatures for me. I’ll do another post once I get home and can unpack everything about the dueling signatures, which is a project I quite enjoyed working on. I felt a little silly going through his signing line after hanging out with him for dinner and playing Magic with him, but I did it and he was nice, as always. I also helped out to a small degree with directing his signing line, an enjoyable task that I would like to do more of in the future.

Post Sanderson, I went to dinner with Alice and Lyndsey. The food was decent, and the company was great.

The big event of the day was the Hugo Ceremony. I debated not going, simply because of all of the debate and nastiness surrounding the various parties contesting the award this year. However, while I am definitely intending to attend future cons, I’m not sure when I’ll get back to another WorldCon, and I knew it was going to be a historic Hugo ceremony regardless of the outcome, simply due to the number of voters. So, I went. I ended up sitting next to The Peter, which was awesome, and Scott Lynch and Elizabeth Bear were sitting a few rows in front of me.

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Hugo Crowd.

The ceremony itself was run by David Gerrold and Tananarive Due, who did an excellent job of entertaining the crowd and moving through the various ceremonies of the evening which had to happen before the awards themselves were given out. And then the awards were given out.

Wes Chu won the Campbell award, which set the tone for the night. Wes was the only non-puppy nominee on the slate and, in the opinion of many, the best writer of the group. I’ve read his latest book and it is freaking amazing. He deserved this award, and I expect that he would have, at the least, come in second even without the puppy nominees, if not outright won the award. He got up on stage and gave what I felt to be the most hilarious speech of the night, and had parts of the crowd in hysterical laughter.

During the ceremony, the grim reaper and a Dalek both put on appearances, keeping the mood as light as possible. They were quite well done, and I got a group picture with said dalek after the ceremony. The organizers put their full effort into making the ceremony as good as they could, and I personally think they succeeded.

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L-R: Nate, Alice, Dalek, Peter, Lyndsey, Me.

The rest of the awards proceeded apace, with many of the expected nominees winning. Before last night (Saturday), there had been a total of 5 “No Award”s given over the entire course of the Hugos’ 65-ish year history. Last night, as you’ve probably heard, there were another 5. All of the puppy-dominated categories were completely shut down, and the awards were tense for both the presenters and the audience.

The best novel award was presented by Kjell Lindgren, from the International Space Station. The award went to The Three-Body Problem, the first translated work to ever win a Hugo novel award. It was an amazing experience, and regardless of everything else was a historic moment for the Hugo Award.

I’m glad that I attended the ceremony, and I think that, regardless of the politics surrounding it, several awards went to deserving winners–Wes Chu in particular. Looking at the long-lists, I think the biggest travesty was that The Slow Regard of Silent Things didn’t even get a novella nomination. Regardless, I attended the Hugos and then crashed so I would be a little rested for the last day.

Novella Review: The Emperor’s Soul

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From Goodreads:

A heretic thief is the empire’s only hope in this fascinating tale that inhabits the same world as the popular novel, Elantris.

Shai is a Forger, a foreigner who can flawlessly copy and re-create any item by rewriting its history with skillful magic. Condemned to death after trying to steal the emperor’s scepter, she is given one opportunity to save herself. Though her skill as a Forger is considered an abomination by her captors, Shai will attempt to create a new soul for the emperor, who is almost dead.

Probing deeply into his life, she discovers Emperor Ashravan’s truest nature—and the opportunity to exploit it. Her only possible ally is one who is truly loyal to the emperor, but councilor Gaotona must overcome his prejudices to understand that Shai’s forgery is as much artistry as it is deception.

Brandon Sanderson is often known for his longer works—his 350k+ word epic entries into the Wheel of Time series or the Stormlight Archive. But he is a much, much more versatile author than most people typically realize, and has written in various genres and at almost every conceivable length. He has written a few short stories, several novellas, his Alcatraz series of middle grade novels comes in at around 40-50k words, his YA series come in at 100k, his epics at 250k-400k.

In The Emperor’s Soul, one of Sanderson’s entries into the novella category, we are returned to the world of Sel, the world in which the novel Elantris took place. But if you haven’t read Elantris, don’t worry. This novella takes place on a completely separate continent, and there are only a handful of well-hidden clues that they are even set in the same world—but if you’ve read Elantris, you will likely pick up on the hidden easter-eggs that Sanderson has scattered throughout the novella.

The Emperor’s Soul takes place largely in a single room, following Shai’s efforts to, well, rebuild the Emperor’s Soul. In the hands of a lesser author, this could easily have become a boring novella, a philosophical mess of exposition and “deep thoughts” on life. But instead, through Sanderson’s impressive range of talents, we are given something much different. Shai’s voice comes alive in the novella, and she is truly, truly, a marvelous, complex, powerful character. We are somehow given her history and enough information to round out her character and her abilities, while never being bored with info-dumps. I found it very interesting to spend time in Shai’s head, watching her work through and brilliantly conquer the problems set before her.

Yet, perhaps, she is arguably not the only main character of the novella, though the vast majority of it is told through her viewpoint. While we never see him, The Imperial Fool, the one who set off the events that led to Shai being captured, is a character who should be familiar to Sanderson Cosmere buffs. Once you’ve read the novella, you should head over to Sanderson’s website to check out the deleted prologue, in which Shai actually converses with the Fool. It has some interesting tidbits, for sure.

The other most interesting character is definitely Gaotona, an Arbiter of the Empire, one of the men who shall decide Shai’s fate. At first utterly repulsed by the magic that Shai works, Gaotona is forced to watch over her and try to understand the process she is going through, so that he can verify that she is doing what she promised. His journey, though told mostly through Shai’s eyes, is also quite interesting.

The magic that Shai works is another trademark Sanderson system, utterly interesting, and based largely on the stamp system used in Taiwan. In fact, the entire novella has an oriental feel, something refreshingly different from the vaguely European settings that permeate most fantasy works these days. I am curious to see, in future works, how the magic of The Emperor’s Soul fits with the very different magic of Elantris, since they are both set on Sel. Also, there’s a very nice easter-egg relating to the magic system here that you will only catch if you’ve read Elantris.

The Emperor’s Soul won the Hugo award for best novella in 2013, and it undoubtedly deserved the award. Not only is it a fun, quick read (Every time I have read this, it’s been in a single sitting.), with an action-packed ending, but it is also a reflection on what art is, what beauty is, and what really is and is not a lie. It’s also an examination, although obliquely, of what makes up a person’s soul, and makes them who they are. In particular, though he is not really a character of the novella, we get to know Emperor Ashravan through Shai’s efforts to recreate his soul, a decidedly interesting look at things we don’t see very often.

In summary, The Emperor’s Soul is a trademark Sanderson, with a brilliant magic system and utterly intriguing characters, with just enough Cosmere related easter-eggs to keep the rabid fans pleased, while still tending to a more literary direction than many of Sanderson’s works, and is highly deserving of the Hugo Award that it won. Five of Five stars, an read that you really should pick up as soon as you can.

Brandon Sanderson.

The Emperor’s Soul on Amazon.

The Emperor’s Soul on Goodreads.

Book Review: Ancillary Justice

 

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From the back cover:

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was Justice of Toren–a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.

An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose–to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch.

I read Ancillary Justice earlier this year as an attempt to prepare myself for voting in the Hugo Awards for the first time. The results of the voting have just come in, and Ancillary Justice has won the Hugo Award, making it the first novel ever to win the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Arthur C. Clarke awards, considered by some to be the “triple crown” of the sci-fi and fantasy world. Ancillary Justice is Leckie’s first published novel, making this feat even more impressive.

The non-linear structure of the story is confusing at first. It’s told in two parts, the present and a series of flashbacks. I don’t have page- or word-counts, but it felt like the flashbacks took up nearly as much of the novel as the present time viewpoints, and I’m not a huge fan of flashbacks. That being said, these flashbacks were written well. I was never confused as to where or when I was, a problem I’ve run into with many books in the past.

The ideas behind the novel are very engaging, and Breq’s character most of all. She is–or was–an AI, capable of simultaneously inhabiting the bodies of hundreds, or even thousands of captives at once, allowing her to not only serve the crew herself as a ship (She is not allowed to be her own crew.), but also maintain a presence on a nearby planet. We see much, much more of this in the flashback chapters, which makes them absolutely critical for an understanding of her current situation, where she had been broken off from the ship, and is trapped in a single one of the bodies she once inhabited, reducing her to something nearly human.

Her struggle, an attempt to take revenge on the person–a term I use loosely here–who did this to her, has consumed her life since this event, and we meet her as she nears the point where she will have all of the tools she will need. Her drive for revenge is what pushes the novel along.

However, I feel that it gets distracted in places. The flashback chapters start out by simply showing us the world–fascinating through the PoV of an AI, but still mostly exposition–and I had a hard time getting through the first part of the book. Also, Breq takes some side-trips on her journey to attain the items she needs that I didn’t see any reason for in the plot, which frustrated me. I felt the book itself could have been shorter, and would have benefitted from it, mostly from a pacing perspective.

The ending was simultaneously satisfying and annoying. Ancillary Justice is the first book in a planned trilogy. The second book, Ancillary Sword, comes out on October 7th, less than two months from now. Ancillary Justice doesn’t tie up as many threads as I was hoping it would, but it does seem like it will fit well into the context of the trilogy. I’ll be getting the other books as they come out. I’m hoping the second book will be structured a little differently, with more action and less time on flashbacks. I can’t say much more about the ending without spoilers, so you’ll have to read it yourself to understand what I’m saying.

No review of Ancillary Justice would be complete without talking about the “pronoun thing”. In the language of the Radch, In which Breq thinks and speaks, all sentient beings are referred to as “she”, regardless of other considerations. This becomes apparent when Breq is required to interact with those outside of the empire, and often becomes confused by which pronoun to use. She notes that it is easier to just use one, and that it is often confusing to try to distinguish male and female among the many species which inhabit the galaxy, many of which have different visible sexual dimorphisms, or at times none at all.

This use has been praised by many in the SF/F community as progressive, and it is one of the reasons why the book has won so many awards over the past year. I personally found it to be an interesting–if distracting–world-building element an the beginning, which blended into the universe by the end of the story. I would be very interested to see how they would handle this in a movie or television adaptation of the series, where the viewers would have visual cues on the genders of the characters.

Verdict: Well worth the read, and I have no problems with Ancillary Justice winning the awards it did (Though I was pulling for The Wheel of Time for the Hugo.), as it was well written and contained some absolutely brilliant ideas. I found the flashbacks to be info-heavy, the pacing sometimes slow, and the ending slightly dissatisfying (Though it’s the first in a series, so it’s understandable.). The characters were well written, and the central conflict seemed very realistic. I’d recommend, but it’s not at the top of my list. Four out of Five stars. It’ll be interesting to see how Ancillary Sword does in next year’s awards.

Links:

Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Sword