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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Steven desJardins' LiveJournal:

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Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
12:57 pm
2017 Hugo thoughts, part 1
The 2016 Hugo finalists are being announced in a few minutes, making this the perfect time to post my thoughts on fiction eligible for next year's award.

(That sounds like a joke, but isn't. Up until the nominating deadline, I was only reading fiction published last year. After nominations closed, I made an effort to catch up on what I'd missed, so I would be better prepared for next year. Once the finalists have been announced, I'll be busy for a while reading those. So: summary time.)

I ended up rating everything I read from zero to five stars, depending on how likely I am to put it on my nominating ballot, and whether I'd recommend it to others. Five stars means it's almost definitely going on my ballot, four stars means it's a strong contender, three stars means it's probably not going on my ballot but I'd recommend it, two stars are the mass of good stories that I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend, one star are stories that I would recommend against reading, and zero stars are stories that the author should feel shame for having written. Nothing so far has gotten zero or five stars.

long list of storiesCollapse )
Sunday, March 20th, 2016
8:55 pm
2016 Hugo ballot: fiction picks
I think I'm just about glutted on short fiction. I won't say my ballot choices are final, but aside from a novel or two, I'm not eager to do much more reading.

ballot choicesCollapse )

Also worth noting, Abigail Nussbaum posted this list of her Hugo picks. This came to my attention because some idiots were giving her crap for saying she'd mostly read stories that were available for free online; it seems worth noting that, even though there's no overlap between her short story/novelette picks and mine, she has picked what I consider to be strong stories, and her fifteen choices include stories from nine different publishers, which is more diversity than I managed. You could do worse for suggestions.
Monday, March 14th, 2016
5:50 pm
2016 Hugo ballot, updated
Since my last post, I've read most of the Asimov's Reader's Choice nominees, most of the special Queers Destroy Science Fiction! issue of Lightspeed magazine, and some of the Nebula nominees and the new fiction in the Stories For Chip collection.

I've added the novelette "Jamaica Ginger" by Nalo Hopkinson and Nisi Shawl (from Stories For Chip) to my ballot. The Molenstraat Music Festival, one of the Asimov's Reader's Choice finalists, is also going on my novelette ballot, although it's a pretty shaky fifth place. In general, I felt like the Asimov's stories suffered from blandness: they seem to be stories written for an audience that wants stories like they've been reading in Asimov's for the last thirty years, whereas I'd much rather encounter something novel and unexpected.

There were also several good stories from Queers Destroy Science Fiction!Madeleine by Amal El-Mohtar, "How to Remember to Forget to Remember" by Rose Lemberg, and "The Astrakhan, The Homburg, and the Red Red Coal" by Chaz Brenchley, which might have made my ballot if I'd liked the ending more—which I at least considered for my ballot. At this point I've found at least six stories for each of the fiction categories (Dramatic Presentation excluded) that I'd be happy to put on my ballot, so it's getting harder and harder for stories to even make it to the consideration stage.

In the Graphic Story category, I've added The Wicked + The Divine vol. 2: Fandemonium by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McElvie, Matthew Wilson and Clayton Cowles to my ballot. (Volume 3 is also eligible, but I think Volume 2 is a bit stronger.)

I've given a bit of thought to the criteria I've been using to nominate stories. I've considered tactical voting—dropping works like Ariah, a novel which hasn't gotten much attention, and "Jamaica Ginger", a story from a respected but not hugely read anthology, which have no chance of making the ballot, in favor of works that I think are strong, deserving works that do have a chance—and rejected it. Maybe I might drop a fifth-favorite work with no chance in favor of my sixth-favorite work when I have just a very faint preference, but in practice I've had a pretty firm gut feeling which works belong at the top of my list, and I'm not going to go against that instinct.

I've also observed a preference for stories that seem to prefer kindness to brutality. The world of Ariah is as ugly as the world of And You Shall Know Her By The Trail Of Dead (a Nebula finalist by Brooke Bolander), but the characters of Ariah are trying to create pockets of peace and virtue in an unjust world, while the characters in the Bolander story are just trying to be better at killing people than the people who want to kill them. I don't object to stories set in bleak backgrounds, but I do want there to be forces in that world acting towards progress, even if only in the scope of their own personal influence.

Incidentally, one of the perks of backing James Nicoll's Patreon is that I can occasionally suggest books for him to review. He recently posted a review of Ariah.

(First part of my Hugo thoughts here.)
Monday, March 7th, 2016
10:18 pm
2016 Hugo nominations: Campbell update
Up and Coming, a massive sampler of fiction from Campbell-eligible authors, is now available as a free download. 1.1 million words of fiction from 120 authors.

I noticed that Iona Sharma, one of the authors I'm considering for a novella nomination, is in her second year of Campbell eligibility, so I've added her to my ballot in that category.

Further updates to my original nominating post as reading progresses.
Friday, March 4th, 2016
2:11 pm
2016 Hugo nomination thoughts
I've been making a special effort this year to cast a full (and fully informed) Hugo nominating ballot in at least the major categories, for reasons that should be obvious if you've been following the controversies of the last couple of years. (If you haven't, well, it's a Long Story™.) I've done quite a lot of novel reading, and much more short fiction reading than usual, and have come up with a large number of excellent stories I can recommend.

Recommended readingCollapse )

The ballot deadline is the end of March, so I have time to do more reading before then.
Saturday, February 13th, 2016
7:07 pm
4-4
Today is the first time since I was three years old that the Supreme Court hasn't been controlled by a majority of Republican appointees.
Sunday, March 22nd, 2015
2:06 pm
DC Gameday: Dust Devils
I played three RPG's during DC Gameday, a local mini-convention, last weekend. Two of them were all right, but nothing particular memorable. The Dust Devils session, though, was a complete blast and one of the most memorable RPG's I've played.

session reportCollapse )
Saturday, March 7th, 2015
8:09 pm
2015 Hugo Nominations: At Least 40% Unprepared
The deadline for Hugo nominations is Tuesday, and, as usual, I am woefully behind in reading short fiction. I have read about 80% of Long Hidden, a very good anthology about underrepresented viewpoints, but I still have no novellas and only one novelette on my shortlist. Ordinarily, I would simply skip the categories I was poorly read in, but a group of conservatives is trying to get a slate of crap nominees on the ballot through block voting, and they might well succeed. (I wouldn't object to a recommended reading list, but actual block voting is very different and in my eyes very scummy. Last year, they got several crummy stories on the ballot, which mostly finished behind "No Award" in the final voting.) I feel obliged to help increase turnout, which hopefully will help counter at least slightly their tactics, and maybe reduce the amount of garbage I have to read before casting my final ballot.

There's a strong crop of novels up this year. My Real Children by Jo Walton is spectacularly good, and I also enjoyed The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison tremendously. Steven Brust's Hawk is a solid entry in the Vlad Taltos series, which fully deserves "cumulative achievement" bonus Hugo nominating points. I would like to read The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu before the nominating deadline, but I'm not sure if I'll make it. (More translated fiction on the Hugo ballot, please!) And I'm considering adding the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff Van Der Meer (eligible as a whole, since it comprises a single story) and The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher, which I would be sad to see beat out any of my three favorites, but which is still a fun book I wouldn't mind getting some notice.

I plan to read at least one novelette and one novella each day until the voting deadline, drawing on recommended reading lists, preferably more. So far the only one on my nomination list is Ken Liu's "Knotting Grass, Hidden Ring", from Long Hidden.

So far my three favorite short stories from Long Hidden are "Neither Witch Nor Fairy" by Nghi Vo, "Ogres of East Africa" by Sofia Samatar, and Marigolds by L. S. Johnson. They'll be on my ballot unless something bumps them off.

There were a lot of good comics last year. Right now my list contains The Order of the Stick: Blood Runs In the Family by Rich Burlew, The Shadow Hero Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew, Silver Surfer: New Dawn by Dan Slott and Michael Allred, Widdershins vol. 4: Piece of Cake by Kate Ashwin, and Atomic Robo vol. 8: The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener. I'm particularly fond of the first two.

For Fan Writer, I'd like Abi Sutherland, of Making Light, to get her due. James Nicoll has also been doing really good work on his review site.

If you have suggestions for me to look at in the next couple of days, particularly for short fiction or some of the categories I haven't mentioned, feel free to mention them in comments.
Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014
10:22 pm
RPG Trivia
I signed up for an online Pathfinder one-shot, since I haven't played a D&D-style game in 30-odd years and felt like I should give it a shot. I chose the swashbuckler class, and the GM asked me to write up a bit of background.

The Secret Origin of KelmarCollapse )
Sunday, October 12th, 2014
9:44 am
Virtuacon 2014
RPGGeek had an online convention this weekend, and I participated in three RPG sessions.

session reportsCollapse )

I think the Fate session was my favorite—the player playing Tink was a hoot. But Mouse Guard also had a surprisingly satisfactory story arc. Good weekend.
Saturday, June 28th, 2014
2:47 am
Dice Bowl
I've collected quite a few wooden dice over the past year (from Artisan Dice), and I recently bought a English Walnut bowl which makes a nice display vessel. I found at Origins that I really do like playing with nice dice, and that these dice are even nicer to play with than I'd thought.

big pictureCollapse )
1:18 am
Origins: Sunday
I just played one game on Sunday, but it was a lot of fun.

Iron EddaCollapse )
1:15 am
Origins: Saturday
Three games on Saturday.

Saturday gamesCollapse )
1:06 am
Origins: Friday
Another three games on Friday.

Friday gamesCollapse )
12:51 am
Origins: Thursday
I played three games at Origins on Thursday.

Thursday gamesCollapse )
Monday, June 23rd, 2014
6:01 pm
Origins: Wednesday
I ended up playing mostly RPG's at Origins this year, along with just one card game and no board games. I am (slowly) writing up my experiences.

I spent most of my time in the Indy Games on Demand room, but that hadn't opened up yet on Wednesday, so I signed up for two short events.

Wednesday eventsCollapse )
Sunday, October 27th, 2013
9:28 pm
Thoughts on World Fantasy Convention
World Fantasy Convention has always been an oddity. Most science conventions are run by local fan groups, who put on the same convention each year. A few, like Worldcon, are mobile and run by different fan groups each year, with future locations chosen by members of the current convention. World Fantasy is run by a different fan group each year, but the sites aren't chosen by fans. They're chosen by the parent organization's board, which tolerates fan attendance, but considers it their duty not to cater to fans. The board favors high-priced hotels, and high membership fees. They're proud of it being a "professional" conference, and they're pretty openly elitist about what they consider professional.

For the past few years, World Fantasy has had a lousy track record with handicapped access. Even when programming was accessible, attendees has trouble getting handicapped-accessible hotel rooms, getting into hotel restaurants, etc. This year, the committee chose a Brighton hotel that's grandfathered out of British accessibility laws, and put the registration area and some programming in rooms that either aren't accessible or that are very inconvenient to access, and they've been snotty in response to complaints. They've also been snotty in response to questions about gender parity on programming, pissed people off with tone-deaf explanations for fan-unfriendly policies (such as charging a fee for kaffeeklatsches, which are traditionally a free event, on the grounds that it discourages people from changing their minds after they sign up), and pissed more people off with insulting panel descriptions (calling female writers "broads", for instance). Thirty years ago, ten years ago, maybe even five years ago, neanderthal attitudes might have gone unremarked, but fandom has been developing a stronger sense of fairness. Effectively excluding the disabled by choosing a non-accessible venue may be legal, but it's not moral, any more than excluding blacks by choosing an all-white country club would be. Snidely dismissing people's concerns about gender balance is, again, a moral issue: I don't expect everyone to share my feminist priorities, but I do expect people to accept the principle that equality is a respectable goal.

Elitism is baked into WFC's core, and this seems to be the year it turned toxic. I am very glad that I did not buy a membership, and I'm nearly as relieved to find that none of this year's chairs are on the staff of next year's London Worldcon, which I am going to.

I'm sure that there will be better World Fantasy Conventions in the future. I know most of the people running next year's WFC, just outside DC, and I'm sure they'll do better. But I've been uncomfortable with WFC for a while, enough that I hadn't bought a membership even though it was local, and this year's trainwreck has pushed me to a decision. I will not attend World Fantasy Convention, not next year, not ever. The convention no longer deserves to exist. Maybe if the leadership changes, I'll reconsider. But for the foreseeable future, I'll spend my time and money elsewhere.

(Note what WFC's public bidding requirements have to say about handicapped access. Oh, you guessed it: their formal bidding requirements have nothing to say about handicapped access.)

I also will not support any Worldcon bid that has any of the current chairs in any significant position. (For future reference: Amanda Foubister. Stephen Jones. Michael Marshall Smith.) It may not be much, but if I raise my concerns at bid parties, it could eventually help make a difference.
Saturday, October 26th, 2013
12:12 am
RPG Report: Golden Sky Stories
I played Golden Sky Stories online last week, as part of Virtuacon '13. It's a Japanese game, in which you play henge, talking animals who can turn into humans and use other magical powers. The goal of each session is to help solve problems that the local villagers have. It's designed to be positive and non-violent.

Session reportCollapse )

It was an enjoyable game, but maybe a bit too low-key.
Saturday, October 12th, 2013
10:45 pm
A Penny For My Thoughts RPG
I played my first online RPG game today, a session of A Penny For My Thoughts. This is an improv-inspired storytelling game. The premise is that you're a therapy group using an experimental drug that allows you to share each other's memories. You start out knowing nothing about yourself. When you recover a memory, you draw a trigger out of a hat: my first one was "the ache in my shoulder". Then each of the other players asks you a leading question about the memory, which you must answer "yes" to. My character"s storyCollapse )

It's an interesting game. I think I retained a bit too much control, and if I play again I'll try to come up with decision points where I'm not anticipating a particular answer. But the combination of a random memory trigger and leading questions from other players really does open up situations you aren't prepared for: it's a very clever game engine.
Monday, September 16th, 2013
11:53 am
Best of TIFF 2013
11 days, 33 films. (It would have been 34 films, but one was cancelled due to projector problems. TIFF does not offer apologies or refunds for cancelled films, by the way; you can exchange your useless ticket for another film, if you can find one that's not sold out and fits into a hole in your schedule. Asshats.)

I'm going to quickly run through my favorites, in the order I saw them.

An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker. A Bosnian family is refused emergency care when the mother suffers a miscarriage. Based on a true story: the director read a newspaper article about the incident, and asked the family to re-enact the events day by day. Extraordinarily naturalistic and real.

Hateship Loveship. Based on an Alice Munro story. Kristen Wiig gives a brilliantly understated performance as taciturn housekeeper who, when she sees what she believes to be an opportunity for love, goes to extraordinary lengths to obtain it. This film makes a type of character who's often overlooked, both in movies and real life, the star, and shows how much depth lies unseen.

Only Lovers Left Alive. When I read the description, this film went straight to the bottom of my list, then when I saw who was behind it, it went straight to the top. Jim Jarmusch directs a vampire movie with Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, and John Hurt as vampire Christopher Marlowe. Stylish as hell. If you like Jim Jarmusch movies, you'll like this one.

Can a Song Save Your Life? From the director of Once, a film about a washed-up music producer who spots a songwriter in a bar, organizes no-budget recording sessions which turn into a hit album. No real surprises in this film, it just does what you expect and does it well.

Burning Bush. A student sets himself on fire to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Police, activists, lawyers react. Over the course of time, what galvanized Czech society seems to fade into a minor incident, but the closing credits have one hell of a kicker. Four hours long, but worth it.

We Are the Best! 13-year-old Swedish girls form a punk rock band in the '80's. Feel-good movie for those who say the hell with what society expects from women.

Tracks. Based on the memoir by Robyn Davidson, who walked 2700 kilometers through the Australian with only four camels for company. An interesting look at an extreme introvert, and a gripping adventure story.

The Wind Rises. Hayao Miyazaki's final movie, about the aircraft designer who built Japan's Zero airplane. Engineering as a heroic pursuit. The disconnect between the purity of his vision and the horror his designs facilitate is acknowledged, even emphasized, but at its heart this is a movie about the abstract pursuit of excellence. I need to see this again, and think about what it means.

Sarah Prefers to Run. It's hard to say what makes this film so appealing. At its heart is the character of Sarah who—prefers to run. Whatever else there may be, she prefers to run, which is incredibly frustrating for anyone who wants to get close to her. A really brilliant first feature.

Heart of a Lion. Finnish skinhead dates waitress, then discovers she has a son by a black father. Doesn't flinch from the ugliness of Nazi subculture, manages to find room for hope.
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