Hugo Awards: packet and voting

I was away from home when the voters’ packet was released, so now I’m catching up! (Definitely would have been nice to have all that reading material on the plane flights. Next time we go on a big trip, hopefully I will have my own tablet.)

I’ve put in votes for the various stories already, since I read a lot of them during the nomination process and right after the nominees were announced – and though I’m technically a Rabid Puppy and a Faceless Minion, I’m afraid I’m not all that great at marching *cough* *hides ROTC rifle drill team patch* and I’ve diverged from the Evil Lord of Evil’s preferences, probably in every category. (The Dark Dread Lord hasn’t revealed his full ballot yet.)

I’ll need to watch and read a few more things in several categories before I complete my ballot, though – a few TV episodes, Related Works, and the Graphic Story nominees. Have to say I’m not as interested in the last two categories, personally – though I have a bookshelf full of manga! I haven’t been reading many graphic stories recently and the webcomics that I do follow aren’t concerned with making it easy to nominate them for the Hugo Award. I may need to become active in the fan forums so that will be fixed for next year…

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Art and Observations

As part of being dragged through many museums in Italy on our ALL THE HISTORY tour, I was struck particularly by the stark difference between the magnificent edifices constructed in centuries in which literally all of the population suffered what we would today consider poverty (most of it grinding and miserable), and the sheer ugliness of “modern” art. We would regularly go from admiring this sort of thing – the interior of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice – to viewing graffiti’d traintrack barriers adorned with lines so primitive they generally did not even rise to the descriptor “cartoonish.” The very few scrawls that did possess even a modicum of depth, perspective, or shading stood out quite dramatically among their peers.

In Germany and Austria, there was less graffiti, and it tended to be more skillfully executed than Italian graffiti. I was greatly amused, however, to read a phrase in English, “art is not illegal” – apparently protesting that spraying ugly paint lines all over someone else’s property without their permission is “art” that shouldn’t be penalized. Predictably, this phrase was scrawled next to some of the primitive and unskilled graffiti – just the kind of “art” that a child still learning fine motor skills produces with crayons.

In any case, viewing many sublimely beautiful and ancient works of art was a wonderful experience, and made me wish that I had taken more art history classes in school, so that I would more fully appreciate the religious symbolism of the amazing frescoes and mosaics. Then I remembered that there is a very good reason the only art history class I took was an honors course (aka, interdisciplinary course with limited enrollment) entitled “World of Michelangelo” that focused not on deconstructing anything but on gaining a fuller appreciation of the history and culture as it influenced the artist. In other words, a real class meant for real education.

The “all the history” is a great deal of exaggeration, of course. But seeing Michelangelo’s “David” in person was absolutely amazing.

(Amusing anecdote: at one point in the museums, it seemed like Jesus was photobombing literally every piece of art ever produced. Usually with his mom. The two of several million* that really stood out to me were Lippi‘s and Michelangelo‘s. Also, be wary of visiting the Uffizi with someone who strides through museums at a great pace and casually disregards the buddy system: I actually had to drag my husband back a room or two (after I found him) because he’d somehow missed “Birth of Venus” despite the enormous crowd standing around staring at it. And I would have preferred to spend more time there than we were allowed in his speedy schedule, but we had to run off for lunch and the Accademia. Two nights in Florence was not enough time, either – unless possibly you somehow arrive earlier in the morning the first day and leave later in the afternoon on the third day, which is not how our train itinerary worked out at all.)

*Also an exaggeration

P.S. Visiting Italy with a latent photographer/history buff is MUCH LESS ROMANTIC than advertised. You know those “Family Circus” dotted travel lines? That’s pretty much what happened. Those of us not possessing Energizer Bunny levels of endurance walked from Point A to Point B in an efficient and sensible manner while “Gone Again” J bounced all over our trajectory looking for the best shots of nearly everything. It became a running joke for us to call, “There’s a better angle over here!” whenever we would pass him studiously taking a photo of something.

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Vacation Chaos!

I’ve just returned yesterday from a pilgrimage to the headquarters of the Evil League of Evil, deep in a volcano in Italy….

Actually, though I was in Italy, a minor faceless minion such as myself did not dare bother the Dark Lord Vox, since he’s a busy person and my husband had booked our itinerary based on his inexhaustible energy for seeing ALL THE HISTORY. Now I need a vacation from my vacation. Especially after having caught the Tourist Cold that everyone seemed to have in public transit.

I left my smartphone at home, since it wouldn’t work to make calls in Europe, but this turned out to be a mistake due to two-factor identification locking me out of my email and my phone’s lackadaisical custodian failing to find a way to turn it off. Thanks for nothing, Microsoft. Nothing super important happened that I would have been able to do anything about anyhow, but I did miss it for basic internet-reading access. I brought a dead-tree book on the trip, but my husband promptly stole it aboard the aircraft when I was looking the other way and kept possession throughout the trip. (LOL)

I haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate airports. And flying on a trans-Atlantic flight with your movie screen out of commission is very boring. I can’t manage to sleep on planes anymore, it’s just too uncomfortable. Especially on the way back, when we all had colds – but at least during that flight, the movie screens were working. I watched Interstellar, which was excellent!

Now I have to get my house back in order after spending three weeks away. Nothing irreplaceable died and no major appliances seem to have gone haywire, so that’s good. I lost some baby fish to jury-rigged equipment failure that I would have been able to prevent if I had been home (sadface) – I believe it happened just two days or so before our scheduled return, so I believe my fish-sitters wouldn’t have come over and noticed something off, since everything is automated (the most maintenance-intensive thing can go for about 4 days at a stretch). Livestock-raising is not compatible with long vacations. The adult fish did just fine, and the school of tank babies increased while we were gone, so it’s a setback but not a huge loss. The planted tank did the best, I think – all the new plants have grown in so it’s a lush forest that actually needs some trimming! That’s not going to happen soon, though. Other things are higher priority – like laundry and food.

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Mental Math

Confluence of reading the comments on Sarah Hoyt’s latest blog post, and a couple of observations.

Kids who do math in their heads hate showing their work. And especially since the “gifted” math students can do all the basic arithmetic in their heads, they get to about halfway through algebra and start hitting a brick wall, because they have no idea how they solve math problems and no way of formally applying the mental procedures to more complex equations. Oh, some of them will reason out the answer – in about twice as long as it takes a “less gifted” student to come up with the correct answer through using the formal process and a pencil and paper.

There was a meme about the Common Core math that was floating around on Facebook for a while, and the explanation of it (see link) actually makes sense. Except that the way people do math in their heads is not congruent to the way people communicate through the language of math on paper. 

Math is a language. Sure, if you asked me “What’s 82 times 4?” and I didn’t have a calculator or pen and paper in hand, I’d do it mentally like this: “8 times 4 is 32, so 80 times 4 is 320, and 2 times 4 is 8, so the answer is 328.” It’s a neat parlor trick (and my Dad used to do that sort of thing all the time when I was a kid and I found it totally aggravating) but it also requires you to have developed a lot of “working memory” for holding numbers in your head and remembering that the important one is 320 while you’re doing 2×4 and adding the result. I’ll often teach my tutoring students to do this if they’re already quite numerically literate and depending a bit too much on their calculators for simple arithmetic. But if I were going to show you “the math” for doing it, I would write it down and do it the “formal proof” way.

Because math is a language that has certain ways of expressing ideas. Which is exactly what I tell my students about a lot of the formulas they use – they’re just abbreviations for certain ideas. And it just helps you do your math homework/tests faster if you have the basic ones memorized… as long as you’ve internalized what they mean so that it’s not just alphanumeric soup to you. (Of course, there’s a certain amount of “fake it til you make it” that works out okay, as long as you can identify which problem type calls for which formula and where all the numbers go.)

Sure, you can do 30 minus 12 by asking yourself “How far is the distance between 30 and 12 on the number line?” – in which case, the correct answer is “eight to twenty, ten to thirty, therefore 18.” And yes, I think this ought to be taught… along with the idea that there is a “formal proof” method of expressing the operation mathematically. Because not every child is going to be able to do all that in their heads, but asking them to write what amounts to an essay on basic arithmetic is hardly any better than making them use a “traditional” method of showing their work. Unless your goal is to ensure that no parent will be able to help their child with their homework so that the kids with invested parents won’t fare any better than the kids with neglectful parents. (But they’ll be equal!)

And yes, I do believe there are teachers dumb enough to require their students to “show their work” using a method that’s meant to be entirely mental or they’ll downgrade the students. (Probably mostly boys, and the exact same ones who already think showing their work is bogus.) Especially since, as a mental technique, there are multiple ways to approach the “leapfrogging” from one number to the next. The point of having a commonly accepted way of expressing mathematical operations on paper is so that people don’t have to spend a lot of mental energy figuring out exactly what’s going on in between each step of the math problem! Especially when they have sixty papers to grade by tomorrow.

I’m sure if you threw out all the grammar and spelling rules and told kids to just make it up as they go along based on what English sounds like, there would be a lot of people screaming bloody murder, too! Thing is, nobody takes the jokes about dropping “ph” for “f” – and so on – seriously. Although I do have to admit, I have heard that there are some benighted souls who think that having their grammar corrected is racism. Hopefully that is an urban legend. But unfortunately I’m sure there are some radical Marxists who would be perfectly willing to promulgate such a belief…

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Hugo Reading: Skin Game

I’m a Dresden Files fan – though I never did really get into the TV show – who’s read all the books and a good chunk of the shorts. (I’m not a big enough fan to keep up with the shorts, so I never know when there’s more of them.) I’d read Skin Game when it first came out, and decided that I’d need to reread it in order to rank it properly against the other Hugo nominees: Ancillary Sword, The Goblin Emperor, The Dark Between The Stars, and The Three Body Problem. (This list is not in preferential order.)

I’m not entirely uncritical of the series – I thought Changes really, really, really sucked. Not because of the plot, but because the entire book was written in a sort of emotionally dissociated manner full of “telling” and not “showing” that ticked me off. Ghost Story was better, and I liked Cold Days as well, but I think Skin Game really hits it out of the park! And I think the work is especially strong because it rewards a re-reading – I didn’t remember every surprise detail but I did remember enough to anticipate the plot twist coming – without my foreknowledge ruining the suspense.

So. I’ve read all the novels nominated for this year’s Hugo Awards. Skin Game is my first choice. The Dark Between The Stars will be my second choice: I have to respect an author that can pull off the Loads And Loads Of Characters plotline without losing my interest! The others, I’m not entirely sure yet; I’ll have to mull things over and consider exactly what principles I should use to rank my non-favorite entries.

I will be keeping an ear to the ground, as far as the anti-Sad-Puppies politicking goes. Because as much as I want to be an idealist like Brad, idealists do not make the rules, and when idealists play against ideologues like the SJW CHORF crowd, they always lose – because idealists play fair, and CHORFs think “fair play” is for their opponents, not themselves. If there is still an anti-SP contingent campaigning for “No Award” scorched-earth against the SP3 works when the ballot deadline rolls around, I’m going to play hardball right back at them. Because I don’t make the rules. THEY make the rules – after all, haven’t they been claiming that the Hugo Award belongs to them this year? (After spending two years claiming that it’s a popular award for all of fandom!) And if they think it’s fine for their side to vote for a Hugo Award according to politics, then that’s exactly what “the rules” are for this competition. At least I can say I’ve read all the works, which is more than they’re willing to do.

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Hugo Reading: A Single Samurai

As far as I know, this story isn’t available for free online anywhere, but Baen is a generous publisher so I’m sure it will be available in the voter packet. I actually own the anthology containing this story – just hadn’t gotten far enough in it to have read it before it was nominated. By people other than myself, in case anyone is wondering.

Well. It’s very… Asian-flavored. My favorite quote about Asian movies goes something like this: “Like King Lear, only more depressing.” And I happen to be a fan of anime like Mononoke, in which (invariably) a lot of (deserving) people die, too.

Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh. It lacks a certain lyrical quality that the best shorts possess. I could overlook the story type not being my favorite if the prose “sparkled” more. I’m not even sure how to describe sparkly prose, though – obviously I have not studied enough Lit courses.

SPOILER:

Continue reading

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Hugo Reading: Totaled

I was poking about on the internet, ending up on Mars Is through MHI, and I saw a link to “Totaled.” Being a little ADHD in my internet consumption (“browser tabs” was either a great invention or THE WORST, I’m not sure which) I decided I had to go read it RIGHT THEN.

Wow – I gotta say, if you’re going to do tug-on-heartstrings soap opera scifi, that is the way to do it. The human pathos is intimately intertwined with the speculative fictional elements in a way that neither one can be extricated from the other – which is precisely what I want to see out of award-worthy works. Great writing is great, for sure – but a scifi/fantasy award needs to go to a scifi/fantasy work. Not a work with only a limp, meaningless gesture towards scifi/fantasy elements.

I didn’t cry at the end, but my eyes definitely prickled.

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