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If you're planning to nominate for The Hugo Awards you need to have your membership (supporting or otherwise) for MidAmeriCon II by now. Nominations for The Hugo Awards have opened. Hugo PINs are now apparently on their way out. This thing is really happening.

If you're anything like me, then you briefly freaked out when you saw the announcement that nominations had opened. THERE'S JUST NOT ENOUGH TIME - my brain screams until it calms the fuck down and remembers that I can nominate right up until March 31st. It's going to be OK, everyone.

Still, we should probably get down to business. There's lots (and lots and lots) to see and do. Here's what I've been concentrating on in the last few weeks:

Started The Wrath and The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh (Eligible for Best Novel and The Campbell Award)

The Wrath and The Dawn is loosely based on the story of Sherazad from A Thousand and One Nights. In Renee Ahdieh's version, a bloodthirsty ruler still weds and then executes a new women each dawn. The book's heroine, Shazi, volunteers to marry the bloodthirsty Khalid, determined to delay her execution long enough to kill the man who murdered her best friend. She begins by spinning him a never-ending story to buy herself the time to discover his weaknesses but the longer Shazi spends in Khalid's company the more confused she becomes. Khalid isn't the ruthless misogynist his citizens fear, and against her will Shazi finds herself falling in love with her new husband.

The Wrath and the Dawn is a compelling book, full of sumptuously written description. Renee Ahdieh is a solid writer who knows how to convince a reader that a story is pacey even though most of the time its plot keeps the reader hanging around in suspense. Shazi is a fantastic heroine - smart and skilled. And I really liked how often the storytelling perspective switched between characters (another aspect of the writing that helped to create the impression of a narrative that was going places). I can see why so much praise has been heaped on this YA debut from a storytelling perspective.

However, I don't think I'm being unreasonable to say that if someone kills your best friend, whatever the reason, romance is OFF the table. I had such a hard time with this book because I just could not comprehend how a woman could fall in love with her best friend's murderer, especially because Khalid has also ordered the execution of many other young women. At one point Shazi even has a silken cord around her own neck, and yet she manages to see through that attempt on her life to Khalid's vulnerable nature. And it takes the better part of the book for Shazi to find out that magical reasons compelled him to order all of these deaths.

I can understand Shazi feeling empathy and understanding once she finds out Khalid is cursed. I can see how she might feel attracted to him. Love though - I can't even approach that mindset. I just kept seeing this scene from The OC where Summer explains just how much of a hole Marissa's death has left in her life, and having a minor breakdown every fifty pages. The Wrath and The Dawn bases its whole concept around the importance of female friendship; Shazi is willing to potentially sacrifice herself to avenge her best friend. Yet, I came away feeling like the book had absolutely no concept of what friendship means. In case anyone is unclear, friendship means never dating your BFFs murderer.

There are also issues of consent that the book never really deals with. Shazi has sex with Khalid as part of a plan to win his trust so she can get close enough to kill him but of course she doesn't really want to sleep with him. Then when the two fall in love she takes great pleasure in the physical side of their relationship. The shape and feel of these sex scenes are different but I would have liked to see the book openly address the difference somehow.

Read Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Eligible in Best Novella)

So, it seems that everyone loves Binti except me. While I thought Nnedi Okorafor's novella was an imaginative story (Okorafor is one of the most consistently original and imaginative SFF writers I know) sometimes I found it a tough book to connect to emotionally.

Binti's story of leaving her home and culture is easy to empathise with because it is explored in as much length as the novella can afford. Her fears and sadness are referred back to throughout the novel, and the reader feels her emotions strongly because they spend time getting to know a bit about Binti. This contrasts strongly with the sudden murder of every other background character on board Binti's spaceship. Despite supposedly being huge driving plot events, their deaths largely cease to matter and it feel like the pain of this mass killing is pushed into the background so that the novel can make particular points unimpeded. Victoria Hoyle explains it best when she says 'Nobody seems to be very angry at the things that have just happened; those deaths are reduced to the latest in a string of inter-species atrocities and distanced in a way that doesn't seem to do them justice at all.' In light of this reading, casting Binti as a novella which deliberately models a different narrative path - one of forgiveness and nonviolence - only goes so far for me because forgiveness can take place alongside non-violent consequences.

I am not doing very well with my reading for the novella category so far. And, in the face of so much praise for Binti, I'm tempted to throw up my hands and say SFF novellas just aren't for me. However, knowing that some literary novellas are embedded in my soul for life, and having briefly interned at a publisher that only produced novellas, I'm loath to call it quits with this category just yet. Onwards then to The Waters of Versailles by Kelly Robson.

Re-read Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona (Not eligible for The Hugos Awards 2016)

I wanted to re-read No Normal before I read the next three collected volumes of Ms. Marvel, which are all eligible for The Hugo Awards this year. Good news - it's still great! More of my thoughts on Ms. Marvel to come shortly.

Finally read Ms. Marvel, Vol. 2: Generation Why and Ms. Marvel, Vol. 3: Crushed (Both eligible for Best Graphic Story)

How is anyone going to decide which volume of Ms. Marvel to nominate? Are you going to nominate all three eligible volumes? Are you going to flip a coin? Please give me your wisdom! I liked both of the message storylines in these two volumes. I enjoyed the side stories with other Marvel superheroes. "Enjoyed," she says! As if I didn't immediately flip out the moment I saw that selfie of Wolverine and Kamala. They battled mind controlled alligators in a sewer together and then she elected him her mentor - be still my heart! Does anyone know if they meet again in other comics?

Otherwise, it's been great to learn more about the origin of Kamala's superpowers along the way. And Queen Medusa is perfect for these comics because, among other things, she has amazing hair just like Kamala.

In terms of art, I am still not keen when comics change artists mid-volume, and that happened in both of these volumes. Renay explained why it happens, so I probably won't moan about it anymore because it sounds like line artists have it tough. Instead I'll try to (mostly) talk about what I did like about the art in these two volumes. Three of the issues in Generation Why are drawn by Adrian Alphono who I of think of as drawing "my" Kamala. Hurray! I was OK with the two issues Jacob Wyatt drew for Generation Why, even though he does her hair so differently. It helped that those issues featured Kamala's adventures with Wolverine. And I liked the three issues drawn by Takeshi Miyazawa in Crushed once I got used to Kamala looking a little different. I could not get used to the way she was drawn in Shield #2, which was included at the back of Crushed though.

Re-watched Episode 1, and watched Episode 2 of Mr Robot (Episodes eligible for Best Dramatic Presentation - Short Form. Series eligible for Best Dramatic Presentation - Long Form.)

More on the re-watch of Episode 1 soon. Re-watching did encourage me to continue on and see how Episode 2 played out. Elliot has it tough in this episode. His crack habit is spiralling. He gets offered a job by a very enamoured Lex Luther style corporate villain. Mr Robot turns out to be an abusive mentor. At least he still has Krista - I am very invested in him continuing to see his therapist, especially because his conversation with Darlene implies he's losing memories. I'm not having the best time remembering what's happened in this program myself, which might mean I don't care enough about it or that I'm not watching the episodes close enough together. Again, let's see how this goes.

Re-watched Episode 1 - 5 of 12 Monkeys (Episodes eligible for Best Dramatic Presentation - Short Form. Series eligible for Best Dramatic Presentation - Long Form.)

I have so much TV to catch up on before nominations close this year. In 2015, I dropped a lot of shows part way through; mainly because my shift patterns meant I wasn't able to keep up with a lot of regular weekly watching. I got about halfway through the first series of 12 Monkeys but wasn't confident I could just pick the show up from that mid-series point, so I'm embarking on a rewatch and so far it's going pretty well.

I remember thinking 12 Monkeys had potential (although it always reminds me of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and ends up suffering in comparison). It's very interesting to see a time travel show where the main character allows himself to be so uncompromising because, in his mind, everyone in the past is dead. The rewatch reminded me that the pilot is definitely one of the best of the episodes of SFF TV I saw last year. It sets up its premise, provides some surprises, walks the viewer through some of this world's time travel law, establishes a strong relationship between its main characters, and includes an individual adventure. I like that 12 Monkeys is a little creepier than your average time travel drama. It's got its little toe dipped in horror and that can yield some surprises. And I'm really into all the female characters: Jones is awful and great; Cassie is firm and smart and, even though I'm really skeeved by the way the show has almost festishised Jennifer's mental illness, I think the actress playing her is giving good acting considering what she's been asked to do. Also, Cole's face is pretty great even if I think he's a terrible person.

Watched Mad Max: Fury Road (Film eligible for Best Dramatic Presentation - Long Form)

In some ways, Mad Max: Fury Road wasn't quite what I was expecting after the fansplosion that surrounded it. It's exciting to see an SFF film built around a basic feminist principle (you can't own women) and a feminist quest story. And I agree that the film is deliberately set up so that the women in the film carry more of its substance, and often inform more of its heart, than the male character whose name is in the film's title. However, from all the fanwork I've seen about the film, I kind of expected the narrative to connect more actively with Furiosa and the Wives. I guess I was expecting the film to drive the viewer's connection with the women, whereas it is more a story which provides the pieces and often expects viewers to make its own fan-meta out of them.

Maybe my reaction is a consequence of Fury Road's storytelling style vs. the kind of feminist warrior stories I'm used to. It's approach is very different from say The Hunger Games, The Sarah Connor Chronicles and even Kameron Hurley's Bel Dame Apocraphya series, which I heard it compared to in some circles. It's more hands off than those stories. There are fewer loving closeups of the female character's facial expressions, none of the female characters' internal monologues are revealed to the viewer, and very few solo moments spotlighting the individual female characters (although when they do happen, woah).

Still, Fury Road is a fierce film, and it's easy to see why so many people love it. Furiosa is a wonderful freedom fighter - adept, commanding, and as fair as she can be in a dead world. Her developing relationship with Max is that of two solo fighters who see themselves mirrored in another, and respect each other. The scene where he hands her the gun and she uses his shoulder as a brace position - I died! And I particularly enjoyed the fact that even though at heart Fury Road is a big blockbuster built out of car chases and fight scenes it doesn't exhausts the viewer's patience by padding these scenes. Its creators knows how to pace a film, which seems like a lost art these days. Plus, the style and cinematography is gorgeous. Most importantly, Fury Road is a film committed to being different in many ways. And it does different very well. I can see why fans are so passionate about it because there's so much to unpick in this relatively short post-apocalyptic film. We could certainly use more films that are as willing to experiment as Fury Road. I liked it very much.

That's it for this edition of The Little Rocket That Could. I am currently buried under a monster cold so I will save my thoughts on Planetfall, The Invisible Library, SuperMutant Magic Academy and "Ginga" until next time. Generally though I advise you to go out and stuff all four into your eyes as soon as possible. Abandon all literary decorum and just devour them asap.

Date: 2016-02-03 11:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] readingtheend.pip.verisignlabs.com
Someone described Mad Max to me as a movie-length feminist car chase, and it was, I guess, but I think I'd have enjoyed it more if the ways in which it was feminist had been hyped to me less. All through the movie, I kept thinking -- but the other women, the ones providing milk, you left them all behind, and what are we supposed to do with that? The hot thin ones all get to escape, and the fat ones are stuck at the Citadel still hooked up to machines and things? :/

Date: 2016-02-04 02:45 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I definitely agree in terms of The Wrath and the Dawn. Have you tried E.K. Johnston's A Thousand Nights? She's playing with the same story, but she's super aware of the issues involved in the situation and it's largely focused on the narrator's relationships with her sister and mothers.

-Maureen E

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