Thursday, March 22, 2012

2011 Nebula nominees: what I could find DRM-free

This year's Nebula (and Norton) nominees are listed here - links to the online short fiction already exist there, so I'm not going to reproduce those. But all the novels link to B&N or Amazon, and those guys use DRM on their e-books. Here are the DRM-free editions I found.

I'm pleased to have discovered two new-to-me DRM-free ebook vendors, but it's kind of a bummer that, out of 14 titles, only 3 are available like this. It would be nice if I just missed something - let me know if you find one.


God's War, by Kameron Hurley: $6 at Baen Ebooks

Mechanique, by Genevieve Valentine: Lizbatty says she found this at Wizard's Tower. At the time of this writing, Wizard's Tower is changing hosts, so I'll update this to link more directly when it comes back up. Updated: £4.49 at Wizard's Tower.

The Freedom Maze, by Delia Sherman: $9.95 at Weightless Books

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Discipline fail

Not even close to the entirety of the to-be-read pile.

While fishing through my wallet for something else entirely, I re-discovered a $100 bill my husband's grandmother gave me for Christmas.

I remembered that I meant to not buy books until just before reading them, but I ceased to care. I also seem to have managed to spend more than my Christmas gift.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Watching Game of Thrones

We've been watching the HBO Game of Thrones this past week or so, one episode a night. We just finished last night.

It's very condensed, isn't it? I guess it would have to be, to fit the timeframe. But it seems to skip all my favorite lines, and there's not nearly as much direwolf action as there ought to be. For most of it, you can almost forget that the Stark kids even have wolves. You wouldn't necessarily notice that Samwell is supposed to be brilliant and bookish, because he's mostly portrayed as fat and cowardly. Which he is, of course, but that's not all he is. I wish there were a director's cut that were, like, 100 episodes long and went over every scene in perfect detail. Alas!

But I think the Hollywood tradition of casting kids older than their characters loses some of the flavor of the story - the mistakes that the Stark kids make are supposed to be from naivete, but they look old enough that they ought to know better. Especially poor Sansa. But then - I remember having contempt for Sansa's position the first time I read her, too. It wasn't till three or four books in (and me getting ten years older) that I realized I had been just like her as a kid, not just like Arya as I'd have wished to be, and started really looking forward to Sansa's redemption. I don't know. Maybe Sansa always looks stupid the first time you read/see her, and I'm bringing my wished-for-Sansa to the table too early.

We like what they've done with Cersei, though. In the books, she's the one character who is actually more appalling when you read her point of view than she was when seen from another person's viewpoint. I like this Cersei much better.

They've changed very little from book to screen, which is impressive; the differences are primarily just omissions/condensations of lesser events. If you like the HBO series, read the books: they're just like it, but more so.*

But it's a very different thing, the watching. I've had to throw the blanket over my head kind of a lot; I don't know how we'll make it through the even more brutal events still to come. It would have to involve a lot of blanket.

* But by the same token, if you don't like the HBO series, you might not want to read the books - they're just like it, but more so.

Friday, March 9, 2012

DRM-free science fiction for girls: the Vorkosigan saga

Two birds, one stone: Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series is awesome science fiction, with stuff for girls, and the ebooks are available DRM-free from Baen ebooks, the publisher.

Miles Vorkosigan wants nothing more than to be a great military leader for the Barrayan Empire, like his father and grandfather before him. He would be amazing at it: he's brilliant, persuasive, inspiring, energetic, persistent... but he can't pass the physical tests to enter the academy. He's too short, and his bones are so brittle he could break them if he just tripped and fell. He's trying to prove his worth in a place where killing deformed babies at birth still hasn't quite gone out of style. His father's world isn't ready to accept him.

But he's his mother's son, too. Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan was captain of a survey ship for the much more liberal Beta Colony, an explorer and a war hero against the Barrayaran Empire in which she now lives. She doesn't think very highly of the way Barrayar treats its weaker members of society: the poor, the handicapped, the women. "Barrayar eats its children," she says. She's a major player in dragging Barrayar out of its dark ages, and a role model for Miles (and the reader, IMO) in how people ought to treat each other, and how far you should be willing to go to bring that about.

There are two really good entry points to the series, IMO: The Warrior's Apprentice, which is Miles's first book, and Cordelia's Honor, the omnibus of Cordelia's two books.

Cordelia's Honor, with Cordelia as the point of view character, addresses women's issues directly: how does a woman who has power and status in her own liberal society adapt to a more feudal, military one, in which she is expected to have none? Cordelia never buckles - she never forgets that she is strong and does have the power to effect change, despite most Barrayarans' constant insistence otherwise. And Cordelia's the one who's right, even as she operates within the constraints Barrayar puts on her. In Shards of Honor (the first book in the omnibus), she's interacting with Barrayar as a soldier in a wartime situation; in Barrayar (the second), she now lives on Barrayar, where she's expected to be nothing more than wife and mother. But civil war breaks out, and Cordelia's motherhood becomes a battleground in the process. Barrayar addresses a lot of issues with pregnancy and the uterine replicators that replace it; recovering missing children; defending the children you have whether or not they're yours; and the power inherent in a mother's influence on her child.

Miles's books are less direct; in them, the appeal-for-reasons-of-being-female is more an issue of positive representation. Every one of Miles's love interests has a life of her own. They are not his sidekicks; they are not his prizes; their happy endings are different from Miles's. Many of them take one look at Barrayar's patriarchy and say Hell no; I won't follow you there. And Miles is a respectful, intelligent dude - he never once downplays their problems, never once tries to claim that Barrayar isn't a backwards little hellhole for women. But he can't abandon Barrayar, because he's trying to make it better.

This is my favorite series of books ever. I really can't recommend it highly enough.

You can read most of the series in e-book DRM-free, for free. [Update, 7/17/2012: no longer available for free. ALAS! See comments.] (It's missing Memory, but is otherwise complete up to Cryoburn.) The whole series was published by Baen, who are eminently reasonable folks about this sort of thing; they treat the ebooks they offer for free as advertising. The hope is that you'll read it, love it, and buy it; there's a longer explanation of it under "More information about our ebook Benefactors" here, where apparently a whole bunch of CDs from other Baen series are also available. (! I did not know. I will have to poke around on those.)

Anyway, The Warrior's Apprentice is contained in the omnibus Young Miles. Cordelia's Honor is actually two books - Shards of Honor and Barrayar - but you can only get it in the omnibus these days.

You can buy them in e-book (any format) from Baen's store - full list of Vorkosigan titles here. It looks like you could log in again to re-download at any time, or in a different format. They've got something called "MicroPay" which looks like store credit - I didn't play with that.

Also: there's a new book in the series coming out in November! It's about Ivan-you-idiot! I'm excited. Do you think he'll finally get involved in a long-term relationship? I've been looking forward to that since A Civil Campaign. I kind of hope he marries a girl just like his mother. It would be hilarious.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

New project on this blog: science fiction for girls

I am a terrible artist.
Ever since reading that really ridiculous list, I've been thinking about which science fiction books I would recommend for girls. Initially I was thinking of it as something similar to a "top 10" list, but that's a very static solution to a very dynamic question. Why limit it to 10, when there are more than that? Why either limit it to only the books that I've already read and can recommend, or delay talking about it until I've read every book in the world (ha ha)? Why limit it to only things that have already been published, when new ones are coming out all the time?

So instead, I'm going to blog about them one at a time, add an "SF for girls" label, and eventually index them on one of the tabs up there, as an open-ended project.

Rules of the game:

1. I'll be talking largely about books, but I'm also going to include movies or TV shows or video games or whatever format is taken by a story I feel fits the theme. They're all gateway drugs to each other.

2. By "for girls", I mean: these are books that have something to like about them because you are a girl; they say something relevant and useful about being female.

3. By "for girls", I also mean: these are books that are appropriate for young people. I don't mean there's no sex, violence, or strong language - coddling is unnecessary, IMO. What I mean is that there are two major ways women's issues get addressed in fiction: (a) empower the woman, and see what she does; (b) utterly crush the woman like a bug beneath your heel, and see what she does, or fails to be able to do. Which one would you rather give your daughter first, while you say, "See what you have to look forward to in life?" I don't care how many awards it's gotten or how "classic" it is; if it's soul-crushing, it will not be on my list.

4. By "for girls", I do not mean "not for boys". That would be ridiculous.

5. Appreciation of the story should not require a history lesson. I don't care if it was radically feminist "for its time". Let's take Star Trek, the original series, for example: in the 1960s it was daring and amazing to make a black woman an officer of significant rank on a spaceship. But in the 2010s it is insulting that she is the only one, she's the secretary, and her boss is a smarmy womanizer. Lieutenant Uhura was a role model for a 1960s woman - but we are not raising 1960s women anymore. Revolutionary feminist works are important, but when they do their job, they change the world: and by changing our society's expectations for women they shove themselves off this list.

6. What, exactly, constitutes "science fiction" is a matter of some debate. Science fiction and fantasy share a fanbase, and many of their subgenres blur the lines between them. For this project, where there's doubt, I'm going to define it as fiction whose worldbuilding more closely resembles physics than magic. Virus zombies: science fiction. Voodoo zombies: fantasy. Clockwork and airships steampunk: science fiction. Victorian-era werewolf steampunk: fantasy. I think that this is the most useful definition in this context, because I believe there's correlation between the issues of "girls in science fiction" and "girls in science". Again: gateway drugs for each other. This is why science fiction for girls matters.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed

I haven't read much non-Eurocentric fantasy, and I've liked this guy's short stories, so I planned on savoring this one: no juggling books and babies! No constant interruptions! I would read this book after the kids went to bed, with a glass of wine! Or maybe while the kids were still awake, if I could escape to the bathtub!

In practice, what happened was that I took the book and the wine to the bathtub or the comfy chair, read three pages, and promptly fell asleep. Newborns, man.

So it took me forever to finish, and when it got to the action at the end, I did wind up juggling book and baby because I couldn't bear to read it only three pages at a time anymore.

It's about a crochety old ghul hunter, Adoulla, on his last and most terrible hunt. (The worldbuilding is based on Islam: magic flows from God, and ghuls are nasty monsters created by followers of the Traitorous Angel.) He's got a young apprentice, Raseed, a holy warrior who is very concerned about his righteousness in the eyes of God. They meet a young girl, Zamia, who's hunting the same ghuls, which massacred her tribe. They go to two of Adoulla's friends, a married couple who had retired from ghul hunting, for help. The five of them remind me of a D&D party (or at least, D&D parties from my very limited D&D experience under like two DMs). Rather than beating up ghuls from start to finish, the story's events involve a lot of the research they have to do to figure out who the ghul hunter is, what he wants, and how to track him down.

I think what I liked best about this book was how the characters' outlook on ghul hunting differed along the age gap more than the gender gap. The older characters were all, "I'm too old for this shit!" And both younger characters were like, "WE WILL KICK THEIR ASSES!" while secretly thinking, Oh God, am I doing it all wrong? The older characters are more comfortable in their skins, their roles in society, and their relationships with God, but Raseed and Zamia are both still trying to figure it out.

The primary antagonist was a kind of uncomplex, pure evil dude. He wasn't even really important except for, y'know, all those ghuls he sent running around wrecking the place. That wasn't as interesting as it could be, but I guess that's how the kind of guy who would serve the Traitorous Angel rolls? But the secondary antagonist/folk hero, the Falcon Prince, was much better - it wasn't till the end that you saw which way he'd fall, and I think the why of it was still unclear. Was he a good man doing bad things to achieve a noble purpose, or a bad man pretending to be good because the Robin Hood shtick gets you a lot of followers?


Around the web:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeiffer

Why You Shouldn't Make Your Apocalypse Preparations Based On What You Read In Fiction:

Well water requires a pump. A pump requires electricity. When the apocalypse comes and the power goes out forever, the pump will fail, and your house will not have water. "Our house has well water" does not automatically solve the problem of where you will get your water during the apocalypse (although in this book, it does).

If you want water in your house, you would have to rig up some kind of hand pump instead. Then we're talking about hauling buckets of water up from the basement, not opening the kitchen faucet and having the water pour out.

Bonus: often well water contains too much iron or sulfur or bacteria; people buy various machinery to clean it up. Any of those that require electricity will fail, too. Your water will taste funny, and if the well is contaminated you might get sick. These are also things you would have to either find a manual fix for or live(/die) with.

That's about all I have to say about this book. I didn't like it, but this is the only thing worth really bitching about.

Friday, March 2, 2012

DRM-free ebooks: Angry Robot (publisher)

I've never fully bought the "now you're locked into Amazon" argument against their DRM; I think that's a little bit of an exaggeration. Amazon would like me to be locked into them, certainly. But let us suppose for a moment that I am a thoroughly obedient-to-authority personage who wouldn't even consider breaking the DRM on my 40-some locked e-books to take them to another device: even then, I am not locked into buying from Amazon, forever and ever, amen. Those 40 e-books are locked to Amazon; I am not. I don't have to trade in my Kindle to buy a Nook and take my future business elsewhere. Until the day my Kindle breaks and I can't/won't replace it, I don't lose access to those 40 e-books. I could give Amazon the finger tomorrow.

Actually, I decided to start giving Amazon the finger yesterday.

Because that DRM is still a problem, and it will bite me in the ass someday. Amazon shouldn't get to say I can only use their hardware. They shouldn't get to say I can't loan the books I bought. They shouldn't get to impose restrictions on my purchases that make it difficult for me to use those purchases in the future, as technology changes, better devices come out, and obsolete devices disappear. Someday, my Kindle will break, and I will have to decide what to buy as a replacement, and "another Kindle" might not be my preferred option anymore. Someday, the world will stop using .azw format. Someday, devices will stop supporting the .azw format. Someday, I am going to have to figure out how to recover those 40 books, or replace them. Better that this be a problem for 40 books than 400 or 4000.

So I've decided to make a real effort to buy DRM-free e-books from now on*. Sometimes Amazon e-books will be DRM-free - the ones I bought that were published by Subterranean Press were - but there's no way to know that before you buy it.**

I turned off my Kindle's wireless, and plan to leave it off permanently, so that I have to go to my computer to buy and transfer e-books anyway - thus making Amazon's store no more convenient than anyone else's. (Side benefit: this also removes Amazon's ability to 1984 my device.)

I've found that author websites will often direct you to several places where their books can be purchased. The book I was looking for was Aliette de Bodard's Servant of the Underworld (and its buddies in the trilogy); the purchase options her page listed included her publisher, Angry Robot, who sells DRM-free e-books.

They sell them in .epub format. Between their suggestion in their FAQs to buy from Amazon for your Kindle (since .epub is not a Kindle-supported format), and the fact that all their prices were in pounds, I did go to Amazon first***, on the chance that Angry Robot Kindle books would be like Subterranean Press ones - DRM-free. But they weren't; Amazon had added DRM to the file anyway.

So I recommend against doing that. Because the Angry Robot .epubs are DRM-free, you can convert them to .mobi with Calibre, which is the format the Kindle will read - so it is, in fact, immediately useful that the files are DRM-free.

I was a little intimidated by the prospect of an international purchase, because I'm chickenshit on trying things I don't fully understand, but it turned out to be really easy. You make an account on the site based on your email address; you put the e-book in your cart just like anyplace else; the purchase goes through Paypal, who will take your credit card and take care of the pounds/dollars conversion for you. When the transaction's done, you go back to Angry Robot - either through the link at the end of the Paypal transaction, or the one in the confirmation email - to download your .epub. And it looks like you could get back to that page at any time, to re-download later. (I did not test that.)

Caveat: the e-books did cost more at Angry Robot than at Amazon - about $6 instead of $3. Still within the range I expected to pay; still less than the paperbacks; still less than the future cost of replacing the book, if lost to the whims of technological change; and, IMO, a small price to pay for principle.

So that's one! One DRM-free e-book source! Ah ha ha ha! I do know of a few others; I figure I'll blog about them one by one as I buy from them, and eventually assemble a page on the blog to collect the list all in one place.

* Honestly, I should have been doing it all along. I knew when I bought the Kindle that this was a problem: that Amazon would make it too easy to buy their shit instead of someone else's. I was weak, and preoccupied with Major Life Events. Mea culpa.

** Googling suggests that the Amazon page should say something about "simultaneous device" usage being "unlimited" on a DRM-free title. I remember seeing that detail once upon a time, but I didn't think it meant that. At any rate, I couldn't find that information on any of my test titles now, DRM-free or not. So that is not, in fact, a reliable way to determine the DRM status of a Kindle title.

*** Honestly, I shouldn't have. The finger to Amazon! But I wanted to see if the publisher not desiring DRM was enough to make it a DRM-free Kindle book. And the answer is no: Amazon apparently adds DRM by default unless the publisher actually jumps through some hoops to forbid it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Best (free) short fiction of 2011 (according to me)

I didn't read much short fiction over the course of last year, but failing to do so now would have left wide swaths of my Hugo ballot empty. This was fixable; the short fiction I would have been reading is the kind that's free online, and it's still there. So I've been head-down in last year's webzines lately.

I managed, Clarkesworld, Apex, Strange Horizons, and part of Lightspeed - I meant to read more, but I ran out of steam, and it turns out there are zillions of webzines I hadn't known about. It was kind of an impossible task, reading it all before the nomination deadline.

These were my favorite stories:

The Bread We Eat In Dreams, by Catherynne Valente
The Tolling of Pavlov's Bells, by Seanan McGuire
Tying Knots, by Ken Liu (also in audio form)
The Architect of Heaven, by Jason K. Chapman (also in audio form)
The Leavings of the Wolf, by Elizabeth Bear
Sirius, by Ben Peek (also in audio form)
Making My Entrance Again With My Usual Flair, by Ken Scholes
The Desecrator, by Steven Brust
Eight, by Corinne Duyvis
Ragnarok, by Paul Park and Richard Anderson
The Ghost of Cwmlech Manor, by Delia Sherman
The Widow and the Xir, by Indrapramit Das
Silently and Very Fast (part 1)(part 2)(part 3), by Catherynne Valente (also in audio: 1 2 3)
Kiss Me Twice, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Ghostweight, by Yoon Ha Lee (also in audio form)
Trickster, by Mari Ness (also in audio form)
A Militant Peace, by David Klecha and Tobias S. Buckell (also in audio form)
A Clean Sweep With All The Trimmings, by James Alan Gardner