Interim Post – Making Lame Excuses

It’s been a long time since I posted, so this is that inevitable post about why I’m not posting. My reasons are twofold:

1. The next book in Asimov’s series, Robots and Empire is NOT available as an ebook. This means that I had to either order it or hunt it down somewhere. I did manage to find it in my library system, and I’m about halfway through now. I also have a harder time reading regular books now. I suppose because it’s not just sitting there on my computer/tablet/smartphone for me to pick up wherever I left off when a have time. Instead, I have to remember to bring the physical book with me to places, which is much harder.

2. I have a job and September is a busy time. By the time I get home from work, I’m not in the mood to do much of anything but veg in front of the television. The thought required to process a book you intend to review is just not there.

So, that’s why there hasn’t been a post in a couple of weeks. I promise I haven’t forgotten you and I am working on it. The book is due back at the library in a week and I’d hate to have to renew it, so a review should be up sometime soon.

 

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Sex, Lies, and Robotic Recording Equipment

First things first, The Robots of Dawn is by far the best mystery of the Elijah Baley trilogy. I had absolutely no idea “whodunnit” until about 3 pages before it was officially revealed, (and that only with a gigantic clue that would be hard for anyone to miss) and no idea of the HOW until it was explained to me. Not only that, looking back, all the clues were there in the text to be found, which is always my favorite kind of mystery. Well done, Asimov! However, it is, as always, the political and social implications of the story that provide the real interest.

Imagined statement by this cover artist: “Read the book? Why?! Everything I need to know is in the title. There’s a robot (I made him giant, everyone loves a giant robot!) and Dawn, which told me the background should be yellow. I don’t need to read the book to figure that out.”

I suppose, having said that, I should actually describe the mystery! The Robots of Dawn picks up a couple of years after the events of The Naked Sun. Baley has a small group of people (including his son) interested in colonizing space who spend time Outside, tilling soil and doing the things that robots normally do on Earth. He’s been trying to get permission to go to Aurora and petition the government there for assistance in their colonization plans, specifically they need spaceships. He’s been repeatedly denied this opportunity, and then his old acquaintance Fastolfe, the Auroran roboticist and Daneel’s creator, whom Baley first met in Caves of Steel, requests his assistance with a problem. Jander, Fastolfe’s second humaniform robot, has ceased operation (he’s been killed) and the political implications could destroy Fastolfe, Earth, and Baley himself.

Fastolfe is a supporter of Baley’s ideals. He believes (as we know from Caves of Steel) that it is Earthmen who should populate the galaxy. With their short lives and overcrowded planet, they will bring about an age of Galactic Empire. Fastolfe’s opponents, the Globalist Party, believe that Aurorans should settle the galaxy, using humaniform robots as a kind of advanced guard, to build a civilization the settlers will be able to move into without doing any of the hard work. However, Fastolfe, the only man who knows the secret to building humaniform robots, has refused to share his knowledge, putting a significant wrench into the plans of the Globalists. Jander’s destruction comes into play as a political pawn because Fastolfe is the only man who would know how to cause the positronic problems that killed him, yet insists he didn’t do it and it must have been a spontaneous event. Regardless of whether he’s guilty or not, the Globalists will use his implicit guilt to undermine his position, intimating that he killed his own robot in order to prevent them from learning and turning the Auroran legislature to the Globalist point of view. If they succeed and Earth is denied its opportunity to colonize, it will be only a matter of time before the stagnant Earth falls to inevitable entropy. Almost as a side note, Baley’s superior has made it clear that if he does not succeed, he will be decommissioned and lose all status. In short, the stakes have never been higher.

This book looks BO-RING!

Over the course of two and a half days, Baley infuriates various Aurorans. Further confronts his own fears. Cements his relationship with Daneel. Makes strange, incomprehensible leaps of logic. Complains about everything that is different from Earth. And solves a couple of crimish type things. It’s official, Baley bugs the crap out of me. He’s inconsistent and just generally annoying. Thankfully, his character is not essential to enjoyment of these books!

Within the first few paragraphs of The Robots of Dawn (1983), it’s evident that it was written decades after Caves of Steel (1954) and The Naked Sun (1957). There’s an obvious stylistic difference to the prose as well as a lack of inane ’50s slang from Bentley Baley who’s “Gee!’s” and “Golly!s”  nearly ruined Caves of Steel for me. More than that though, the social content of this book exemplified the decades of change that had occurred in America and the world since the previous stories.

Say, that robot looks like it’s obeying the First Law!

Each of the books has explored the societal differences of the planets they take place on, in addition to exploring the possible directions our society has open to us. In Caves of Steel we saw a world where privacy was non-existent, and therefore prized above almost everything; while at the same time being eschewed for the comfort of ever-present people in the Cities of Earth. For instance, in the communal Men’s Personals (bathrooms) speech of any kind was taboo, and it was customary to ignore your fellows to offer the illusion of privacy, and yet, when Baley gained the right to have running water in his home, he felt odd performing his ablutions away from his community.

What is that robot looking at? If I read the book will I find out? (Answer: No)

The Naked Sun explores Earth’s societal opposite. A sparsely populated world has evolved to the point that personal contact, even between husband and wife, is something to be avoided whenever possible. Marital relations are scheduled (seemingly by the government) and perfunctory. The mere threat of meeting in person, being Seen, is enough to drive one man to suicide!

Perhaps, the societal more most explored in The Robots of Dawn is a natural extension of the two from the previous books, but I have a difficult time believing it would have been nearly as frank or explicit had it been written in the late 1950s or early 1960s. It is, in a word, sex. Aurora turns out to be a society where sex is a simple part of one’s daily interactions with others. While marriage exists, it is short-term and is an expression of two people’s intention to have children together more than a result of love or mutual affection. Meanwhile, Aurorans have ritualized the act of sex to be more like an activity two people might choose to do together to pass the time, much like watching a movie or having a drink. Gladia, the Solarian woman we first met in The Naked Sun has been living on Aurora since the end of that story and speaks frankly of the sexual differences and disappointments she’s experienced on both worlds. While it is an integral part of the plot, would it have been possible prior to the sexual revolution of the late 1960s and 1970s? I’m not so sure.

The last chapter also shows the 25 year gap between books as it seeks to set up the events of the Empire and Foundation books, further proving that I made the right decision to go back to the beginning after my reading of Prelude to Foundation showed me just how interwoven the series are.

 

Oops! Probably Should Have Called that Last Post Something Else!

I truly had every intention of updating my last post first thing Monday morning, but I woke up with a migraine and there was absolutely no way I was going to be able to write coherently. The migraine led to a bout of insomnia that night which left me completely out of it yesterday as well. Today though, I feel human enough to pontificate on the Hugo Awards Ceremony.

First of all, as one of the creators of the “livid Twitter messages”, I was happy to see Ustream issue an apology and start working to make sure that what happened won’t happen again. Annoyingly, the feed cut out right as they got to the awards I had actually voted for. (I just didn’t have time to get to the fan created content, I’ll start earlier next year!)

2012 Hugo Award base design by Deb Kosiba

This was the first time I’d watched any part of the Hugos (other than the Dramatic Presentation Short Form-nominated Drink Tank acceptance speech) in addition to being the first time I voted. I have to say, this is my kind of awards show! Despite the fact that most people are dressed up, there’s a wonderfully casual atmosphere that comes from everyone in the room loving the same thing (in this case SF/F) that isn’t there in the more popular Hollywood awards shows. I found myself truly enjoying every acceptance speech, even for those categories I knew nothing about, which is a rarity.

I also loved watching John Scalzi joking around and generally being a giant nerd. Having my favorite author up there facilitating everything, made it that much more awesome!

While the UStream simulcast was up, I was randomly checking in on Twitter, but once that went down I was following the event almost exclusively via Twitter and found that that wasn’t so bad either. I like being able to see real-time reactions from other fans and Neil Gaiman’s tweet shortly after winning was awesome. All-in-all, it was a great experience and assuming Ustream fixes the copyright issue, I’ll happily watch again next year!

For those who haven’t yet seen them, here are the Hugo results, with my thoughts on the winners:

Best Novel: Among Others by Jo Walton

This was my number one choice. The prose was absolutely beautiful and I found myself engrossed in the story. The sci-fi classics devoured by the main character definitely had a hand in the conception of this blog. I couldn’t have been happier that this amazing novel won.

Best Novella: The Man Who Bridged the Mist by Kij Johnson

Again, this was my number one choice. Like Among Others, it has a somewhat low-fantasy vibe which it combines with sci-fi ideas to create a story that I still think about at random times throughout the day. It touched me in a way I can’t really explain. I was gratified that others might feel the same.

Best Novelette: Six Months, Three Days by Charlie Jane Anders

I was generally less impressed with the novelettes that were nominated than the previous categories, but this one was a standout, and I voted it my number one choice. The idea was engaging. Somewhat reminiscent of The Time Traveler’s Wife but with its own conceit that was simultaneously thought-provoking and heart-breaking.

Best Short Story: The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu

I had a tough time making the call between this and John Scalzi’s The Shadow War of the Night Dragon: Book One: The Dead City. Two VERY different stories, I ended up putting Scalzi’s on top simply because it was such a refreshing break from the other nominees, which made me cry to varying degrees. The Paper Menagerie made me cry the most. In fact, in the course of reading the nominees, I had occasion to read three different stories by Liu and I was impressed by all of them. I fully intend to hunt down more of his work, and was in no way disappointed by his win.

Best Graphic Novel: Digger by Ursula Vernon

I have in-depth reviews of the graphic novel nominees up on my comics site, so I’ll keep this brief. This was, again, my number one choice and I was super happy that this awesome (complete) story won!

Best Related Work: The Encylopedia of Science Fiction, Third Edition edited by John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls, and Graham Sleight

I honestly don’t remember how I voted on these. I was under-whelmed by the nominees in general and had a difficult time comparing such disparate formats to each other.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: The Game of Thrones, Season One

I first read Game of Thrones and its sequels about 10 years ago, so when I found out it was being developed into a series, I was very excited and followed along during production of the pilot. I don’t subscribe to HBO, so I didn’t watch it until it came out on Blu-ray, but I was excited by how many people seemed to truly love it. When I sat down to watch it, therefore, it was with high expectations. Perhaps too high. I just didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the rest of the world seems to. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it, but Captain America: The First Avenger got my top vote.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: “The Doctor’s Wife” Doctor Who written by Neil Gaiman and directed by Richard Clark

In voting, this was another toss-up category for me. I’m a HUGE Doctor Who fan, and this episode was hands down my favorite of last season. However, I’m also a huge Community fan, and “Remedial Chaos Theory” was the best of their last season. In the end, I put Community in my top slot, as Doctor Who has won something like 6 years in a row and I think Dan Harmon deserves an award for his work. (Season four just won’t be the same without him.)

Best Editor, Short Form: Sheila Williams

This was also a strange category, I especially had trouble comparing the short story collections with the SF/F magazines. Not having read any of those magazines before, I went with my gut reaction and voted for Stanley Schmidt. I liked them all enough to have since subscribed though.

Best Editor, Long Form: Betsy Wolheim

The Hugo Voter’s Packet gives you a list of books the long form editor worked on during the Hugo year and there was no way that I was going to be able to read them all, so I ranked the two who had books I had already read and left the others blank. Betsy Wolheim wasn’t one of the ones I ranked, but that was more that I just hadn’t read any of her authors than saying anything about her work.

That was the last category I voted in, but I’ll include the rest of the winners, just to have a complete list.

Best Professional Artist: John Picacio (I didn’t feel I knew enough about SF/F art to make an informed decision, but his drawing of Bran and the 3-eyed crow is stunning).

Best Semiprozine: Locus

Best Fanzine: SF Signal

Best Fan Writer: Jim C. Hines

Best Fan Artist: Maurine Starkey

Best Fancast: SF Squeecast

John W. Campbell Award: E. Lily Yu

And that’s it. All in all, a great experience. I hope to be able to participate in the nominations this year as well.

Add your thoughts on the awards in the comments!

 

Real Post Coming Tomorrow

Just finished watching/reading the 2012 Hugo Awards from Chicon 7. I imagine much will be said in the coming hours about the Ustream debacle so I’ll try to avoid that. I’m also very tired because it is well past my bedtime, but I wanted to say a quick HELL YEAH to the winners, many of whom were my #1 choices. I’ll write more tomorrow. In the meantime, check my Twitter feed in the sidebar to get some idea of how the night went.