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.

Favorite Books of 2014

This list is going to be presented in 2 parts. The first part is the books I read for the first time in 2014, but which were not released that year. The second is 2014 releases that I read and really enjoyed. I didn’t put any rereads on this list, to prevent it from being 100% Sanderson. Neither list has a strict number of books on it, they’re just however many books I really enjoyed. I’m hoping this list will be longer next year, as I want to get more reading done. (Goals/resolutions post coming… Tomorrow?)

2014 Most enjoyed backlist books.

3. The Last Unicorn

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This is something of a classic that a lot of people couldn’t believe that I’d never read–and I see why. It’s not an epic tale, but it’s a touching one. It’s a beautiful story that just resonates in some way that is timeless and is difficult to describe. Really good read, and quick too. Definitely recommended.

2. The Android’s Dream

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I think one of my problems with many sci-fi novels is that they try to dig into the technology to make it “hard” sci-fi, and they do it wrong. Often, it’s obvious that the author has no idea what they are talking about, and it just makes me cringe. This happens particularly often in the realm of computers… Or perhaps I just notice it more because I’m a computer science major in college and spend an unhealthy amount of time working with the things every day. That’s why The Android’s Dream was so incredibly refreshing. It’s computer technology, hackers, aliens, and all the stuff that makes sci-fi cool. Done right. It’s very accurate, but it’s also riotously funny, completely self-contained, and never gets distracted from the hugely entertaining plot. This one really exceeded my expectations and I’m surprised there isn’t more hype about it. You can find my review here.

1. A Storm of Swords

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Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire is a modern classic, and it’s hard to believe that I only started reading this series in 2013 and finished in 2014. (Up to A Dance with Dragons, the last book that is actually out.) GRRM is an absolute master of characterization and satisfying, interesting grey characters. I’m constantly left in awe of his work, and the second half A Storm of Swords, with The Red and Purple Weddings, the trial and combat, and the appearance of a certain someone in the epilogue, is one of the most gut wrenching and amazing things I’ve ever read. You can get away with not reading the books after this, but everyone should at least read up through here. It would be criminal not to.

2014 Most enjoyed releases.

6. What If?

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This is a non-fiction book, which is why I’ve stuck it at the end of the list. It’s quite a departure from my usual fare–I typically only read books like this when I have to for a class. This one, based on the popular What If? columns that xkcd writer Randall Munroe offers up on his website, is simultaneously one of the most entertaining and educational books I’ve ever read. You don’t need to be an uber nerd to understand what’s going on here–Munroe does a great job of explaining the results of his questions without going into the unnecessary details of the formulas he had to use. You will enjoy this one regardless. I promise. My review is here.

5. The Mirror Empire.

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I really enjoyed this one a lot. It had some of the most creative worldbuilding that I’ve ever seen. More inventive, honestly, than even some of Sanderson’s worlds. It really blew my mind, and the plot is utterly brilliant as well. I wish I could have said I completely loved it, but it left me confused in places and I felt it could have used a little smoothing out. Still, I did enjoy it, and I have high hopes for the next book in the series, Empire Ascendant. My review can be found here.

4. Ghost Train to New Orleans.

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This was a fun little read that I wasn’t quite expecting to be this good. I’m not a huge urban fantasy fan (Though a few of my friends are trying to convert me.), but I enjoyed the first book in the series enough to get this one on release day. If we’re going purely by enjoyment versus expectations, this one exceeded my expectations more than any other book on the list. My review resides here.

3. The Crimson Campaign.

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Brian McClellan in one of those guys who just won’t stop writing good stuff. In-between producing an amazing novel every year, he’s written several short stories and novellas in his powder mage world, which explores what happens when magic meets (and comes from) gunpowder. It’s a fascinating blend that I haven’t seen anywhere else, and his ability to ramp up the tension is superb. His first book, Promise of Blood, was an excellent, solid, four-star book that even earned him a well deserved cover-quote from Sanderson himself. The Crimson Campaign was even better in every way, and I tore through it as soon as I had the chance. Highly recommended. My review can be found here.

2. The Emperor’s Blades.

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This book was getting a lot of hype, so I figured that, when I received an ARC, I should probably read it. I did. I’m glad that I did. It was utterly incredible. I have never read a book with such incredibly tense pacing, certainly not of this length. What Staveley has managed here is nothing short of magical, especially in his debut. This isn’t just a book that I highly recommend, this is a book that I very nearly demand that you read. My drooling review is here.

1. WORDS OF RADIANCE.

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(I know that’s not the cover, but it’s one of the amazing end-pages and it’s just too beautiful to not use.)

I do not have enough superlatives to describe this book. Sanderson’s early books, Elantris and Warbreaker, are good, with very powerful surprise endings. He outdid himself with the Mistborn trilogy, which is still one of the most feels-inducing, beautiful things I have ever read. There are, perhaps, only a handful of books in all of fantasy literature that I would compare to the Mistborn trilogy, and most of those would be to describe how Mistborn is better. Then Sanderson wrote The Way of Kings. It is incredible. Simply put, when I read it, my initial thoughts (When I could think again) went something like, “This is the best book I have ever read. There will not be a better book. I’m sorry to all of the other books I ever read.” I felt the same way when I reread it last year. And then Words of Radiance came out. My mind has never, ever, been blown so much. World of Radiance is as big of an improvement on The Way of Kings as the Way of Kings is over every other book written. I was not able to write a review that did this book justice. I’ll try when I reread it, but I’m not making any promises.

That’s it for me. I read a total of 42 books, plus numerous novellas and short stories in 2014, and these were the ones I most enjoyed. I hope everyone else had a great year and found many books that they enjoyed as well! I’m looking forward to 2015 and the books it will bring. 🙂

Book Review: Ghost Train to New Orleans

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WARNING: This post contains major spoilers for book 1 in the Shambling Guides series, “The Shambling Guide to New York City.” If you haven’t read it, go read that instead of this review. It was a great book, though I never wrote an official review.

I am, admittedly, a fan of Mur’s I Should Be Writing podcast, and that was the reason I picked up her first traditionally published novel, “The Shambling Guide to New York City” last year when it came out. That is, however, not why I had this book delivered on release day. That was because Shambling Guide, the first book in the series, was a delightful read, and it made me want to read this book as well. (I will buy a single book from an author out of loyalty or interest. If I buy more, it’s because I liked the first one.)

The Ghost Train to New Orleans starts in New York City, not long after the end of the first book. Zoë is trying to figure out her new city talker powers and come to terms with the friends she has lost. Before she has time to do this, however, she is sent away to New Orleans by her boss, to write the second shambling guide.

Before she leaves, she goes to talk to Arthur, who is now kind-of her boyfriend. They discover that the medicine he needs to keep him from turning completely into a zombie has gone missing, and they have no way to contact the only person they know who can make more. Thus, Arthur decides to accompany Zoë to New Orleans, where the teacher of the man who made his potion–and possibly the only other person who can make it–lives, if she’s still alive.

The group, including several of Zoë’s coworkers, depart on the titular Ghost Train, where Zoë is forced to sit in the human car, a victim of “discrimination”. There, she meets another city talker, and the train is attacked by ghost horsemen.

I won’t say much more about the plot, because that would spoil large portions of the novel for you, and I don’t want to do that. Suffice to say, the action starts high, and only continues to ratchet up, right up to the end, which was incredibly tense and well-crafted.

While the first book focused on learning the world of the coterie (magical beings that live hidden among us), and that was necessary for our first introduction to the world, this one takes advantage of the fact that we’ve seen much of that already to instead dig deeper into the history of the hidden world, as well as introducing some very interesting characters, both human and not.

While the first book also focused heavily on the writing aspect of Zoë’s life–she works for a company that writes guides for coterie who wish to visit the various cities–this volume does most of that off-screen, though we still get little snippets of the guide itself between every chapter. I like that we don’t have to deal with much of the actual writing, though we still have the team dynamics, but I also feel that the little bits of the guide itself that we see are really neat.

The ending is adrenaline-filled, and satisfying, though not everything is butterflies and flowers. A warning: While the first book felt like a stand-alone with sequel potential, Ghost Train will leave you begging for the third entry into the series. I hope the wait isn’t too long, and I intend to pre-order my copy as soon as I can.

Conclusion: While I don’t normally read urban fantasy, I loved this book. I unabashedly give it five of five stars, and a hearty recommendation. Mur not only talks the talk, she walks the walk.

You can find the book here on Amazon and here on Goodreads. Mur’s website can be found here (And if you want to be a writer and don’t listen to I Should be Writing, well… You Should be Listening.).