Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tor books is going DRM-free

Charlie Stross has some interesting essays on DRM, what Amazon is trying to achieve, and the interests of publishers, here and here. The first was written before Tor - one of the really big sf/f publishers - announced that they're going DRM-free this summer, and the second was written after.

This will be a terrible temptation for me. I had discovered that I can pretty reliably expect Tor hardbacks to automagically show up on the university library shelves, where I work - but it takes several weeks. That's an easy wait when the other option is to pay hardback prices, but if there's a DRM-free e-book for, presumably, less...

Sunday, April 22, 2012

DRM-free vendors

I've finally set up an index of the DRM-free vendors that I've found so far. It's also a tab at the top of the blog; click there for links to stores where you can browse for books. To browse my blog posts about specific DRM-free books, click on the "DRM-free" tag in the tag cloud in the right sidebar (or the bottom of this post).

Monday, April 16, 2012

2012 Hugo voting: Best Novel

On a Hugo voting ballot, you rank your choices from 1-5. When the votes are tallied, if your #1 pick is eliminated, your vote goes to #2 in the next round, and so on.

This is what my vote will probably look like for Best Novel:

#5: Among Others, by Jo Walton

Among Others is the story of a science fiction fan growing up. There is a (side-)plot involving saving the world from her evil mother, but basically the book is a love letter to the genre. I would not be surprised to see it win, but I didn't like it much. The stories the main character reads and references are from about a generation before the ones that were formative for me, so it is - to continue the analogy - a little like reading your parents' love letters, ones where they're talking about how the big events of the time affect their relationship, and Do You Remember When...

That's cool and all, but it loses its intended effect when you are not the intended audience; I do not, in fact, Remember When.

And I was bothered by the perfection of the teenage main character, in how smoothly she handled awkward social situations. It's like she reacts right away in the manner that we, with the wisdom of age upon us now, wish we would have reacted. It feels like looking at the teenage years through weird rose-colored glasses in which you were right, and you were OK, all along, and it was just your environment that sucked. That feels very discordant, to me; it's not how I remember teenagerdom playing out.

#4: A Dance With Dragons, by George R. R. Martin

A Dance With Dragons is the fifth book, of at least seven, in Martin's series A Song of Ice And Fire. I am addicted to the series, and I liked this portion of it a lot, but I would be hard-pressed to tell you what this book in particular was About, and I'm not comfortable calling it Best Novel when so many major events remain at least somewhat unexplained. I have a hard time voting on missing data.

For example, the (spoilery) thing that happens with Jon at the end: what's up, yo? Whether I consider that a bold and masterful stroke, or a total betrayal of readers' expectations, is going to depend on information that won't be revealed until another book. I would be so irate if I voted this Best Novel and then later discovered my interpretation fell more on the "betrayal" side.

[The Hugo voting rules also allow you to vote for "No award". I think I do not dislike the choice of either of the above books enough to be a jerk about it and make No Award my #4 choice, instead. But it's possible.]

#3: Embassytown, by China Mieville

Embassytown is an entry into the "Aliens are really alien, and misunderstanding this has major consequences" subgenre; in this case, it's the nature of language itself that poses a problem between the aliens and the humans. I wasn't terribly captivated by the characters, but the worldbuilding was incredibly rich and inventive, and the way Mieville treats language consequences reminds me of all the things I like about learning foreign languages, both for the foreign language itself and for the way that the learning of it teaches me things I didn't know about my own.

#2: Deadline, by Mira Grant

Deadline is the sequel to last year's Hugo-nominated zombie romp Feed. I really enjoyed it; Grant has a viciously morbid sense of humor that meshes very well with zombie-making viruses. One of the things I like best is that the virus is not just a slapdash excuse for a zombie, applied once and then ignored - everything about the zombie outbreaks is fallout from how viruses work: not just horror, but heavily-researched science fiction too. The virus itself almost becomes a character, in much the same way as Tolkien's One Ring does.

It's hard to discuss Deadline without spoiling Feed, really. The books follow a group of bloggers/journalists (in the future, it's the same thing), who first follow a presidential campaign and later get involved with uncovering zombie conspiracies. There were two places where my jaw dropped, reading Deadline - first at "Good night, George," and then at the final chapter. The first has me debating back and forth with myself over exactly how much screwed up Shaun is (it is well-established that he is screwed up, but how much extra this particular item makes him, is debatable). The second... kind of falls under the same "missing data" issues as A Dance With Dragons has for me. I have a scientific Issue with what's been posited in the final chapter. It's entirely possible Grant has a satisfying explanation for it that will be exposed in the third book, Blackout. I hope that this is the case, but fear it may not be.

A Dance With Dragons' "missing data" issues are not resolvable for me before the Hugo voting deadline, but Deadline's are - Blackout comes out on June 1st, and the voting cutoff is July 31st. It's possible that if Blackout explains the final chapter of Deadline to my satisfaction, it might bump it up to be my #1 favorite of the nominees. But is it fair to include extra data when judging one nominee, when the analogous data is unavailable for another? Is it fair to deliberately wait for that follow-up book, before voting?

#1: Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes was one of the books I nominated (link goes to my review), and I still stand by it as better than all those other books I read and didn't nominate. I imagine this is not an uncommon occurrence among Hugo nominators.

And lastly, I give you:

#0: Otherwise Known As: The Book I Would Have Voted For As #1 If Only The Rest Of The Nominators Had Wised Up And Helped Me Put It On The Shortlist (And I Mean, Seriously, WTF Is Wrong With You People): Deathless, by Catherynne M. Valente

Deathless is the retelling of a Russian folktale, Koschei the Deathless, setting it in the World War II era. It is not a puppies and rainbows fairy tale; it touches on issues of regime change and war, domestic abuse, dysfunctional relationships, and dysfunctional governments. It is beautiful but also brutally heartbreaking, and, AND, it made the traditional Russian folktale last-line-of-the-story about the beer running down over the narrator's beard actually make sense. "It's just something we say at the end of stories," my Russian language teacher told us, when we tried to puzzle out what it meant, what the hell we were losing in translation. But in Valente's hands it kind of made me cry.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

2012 Hugo nominations announced

So this year's Hugo nominations have been announced. Super sad face that my most favoritest picks, Catherynne Valente's Deathless and Genevieve Valentine's Mechanique, were not on the Best Novel shortlist, but happy face that James S. A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes was.

Not everyone agreed with me: OBLIGATORY TANTRUM! But I'm looking forward to seeing the nomination breakdown at the end - was my ballot a tipping point for any of my nominees? How much did my voice matter?

One category it might have made a difference in is Best Novella - there was a tie between two nominees, which means that just one vote made the difference on whether one of those stories showed up at all. All three of my noms made the list. But here is another interesting thing: 5 out of 6 of the Hugo and Nebula novella nominations are identical. Really spectacular stories, smaller numbers of novellas to choose from, or the cascade effect of the Nebula nominees being announced before Hugo nominations were due? (I, for example, discovered two of my noms through the Nebula announcement.)

The only one of the Best Novels I haven't read yet is Deadline, which I acquired during my belated-Christmas spree, so that's where I'm going to start with my voter-education.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

On nominating for the Hugos

Here is a thing that surprised me: although nominating for the Hugo Awards is open to anybody who plunks down the money for it, only about a thousand people do.

A thousand people is a lot, but we hear about the Hugos as being the award from fandom at large - and I don't know how many people that is, but I know it's much larger than a thousand. So why is the voting population such a relatively low number?

I've been thinking about my own reasons for not voting till recently, and realized that - although the $50 for a supporting membership would have been out of my reach for a long time, even had I known then that this was all it took - the primary reason I didn't vote was that I wasn't reading books in the year they came out, so I didn't have enough data to form an opinion worth voting on.

It's actually a pain in the ass to read brand-new books, if you're a more rabid reader than your wallet can reasonably support. Hardcovers are expensive, and if you merely wait a year for the paperback, you can buy two or three books for the same price. New books don't always show up immediately in the library, and have shorter loan periods and longer wait lists than last year's works. New books are rarely to be found in used bookshops. It's just not efficient to be addicted to new releases; you get a much bigger bang for your buck by waiting.

So I think Hugo voters - well, nominators, anyway - aren't really fandom-at-large; they're fandom's-early-adopters, the folks who expend the energy/money to get the crack as soon as it's on the street. Not everybody is this kind of crazy, so it would explain the smaller numbers.