Sunday, 12 May 2024

Links to the Hugo Awards 2024 short fiction

Again for this year, I’m pulling together the freely-available Hugo-award finalists in the short fiction categories, with links where I can find them, to make it easier to read them.  It looks like all the English-language entries are available online, but most of the Chinese ones aren’t.

Best Short Story

These finalists don’t seem to be freely available:

  • Answerless Journey, Han Song, translated by Alex Woodend
  • Tasting the Future Delicacy Three Times, by Baoshu

Best Novelette

This finalist doesn’t seem to be freely available:

  • I AM AI, by Ai Jiang

Thursday, 7 March 2024

My Hugo nominations 2024

As a member of the 2024 WorldCon in Glasgow, I’m entitled to both nominate and vote in the Hugo Awards awarded at that convention (and nominate for 2025).  Notwithstanding recent events, the Hugo awards have traditionally been one of the big awards of the speculative fiction genre, and I was excited to be able to take part.  I’m not usually great at reading very recent works (usually waiting a year for the paperback to come out), but for nominations I splashed out a bit so that I’d be able to nominate in an informed way.  Nomination ends on Saturday and I’ve been filling in my ballot over the last few weeks.  Below the cut is what I’m nominating.


Saturday, 3 February 2024

Podcast recommendations update

I wrote a series of posts in 2021 about podcasts that I listen to and since it’s been a couple of years and things have changed, I thought I’d write an update with new recommendations and remembering the ones that have ended in that period.

Ended, changed, and ones I’ve just given up on

So several podcasts that I listed in my earlier series have ended, changed, become irregular, or I’ve just given up on.

Despite saying a number of times that they had new episodes coming, Robby the Robot’s Waiting haven’t released a new episode since September 2021.  I suspect it was mostly a pandemic project for all the hosts, and now that they’re no longer locked down, they’re away doing other things.  Reply All had several internal scandals, and eventually wound itself up in June 2022.  My Dad Wrote a Porno also decided to stop after the sixth book in the series, although they’re currently running a series monthly “best of” shows and keep talking about mysterious future plans.

Reasons to be Cheerful has changed its format.  Since there’s a good chance that the Labour Party will win the next election, they don’t think they’ll have time to do the in-depth analysis that they’ve been doing, but they’ve changed up to just getting together every week for a chat (they call it the “cheerful chataroo”). Dungeons and Daddies finished their previous story arc and moved on to a new season playing the grandchildren of their previous characters, and that just wasn’t as much fun for me so I gave that one up.  Finally, while Til Dice Do Us Part is still going, it’s now on a very irregular schedule, partly down to host health issues, and partly just life getting in the way.  A new episode is always something to celebrate though.

New podcasts

I’ve added a whole bunch of new podcasts since 2021, so here’s a few of my favourites


New releases of Octothorpe are posted on noted SF fan site File 770, which is where I first heard about it.  One of the episode illustrations must have caught my eye, and I went and listened to an episode.  I immediately started binging the archive and I still get a little hit of dopamine every time a new episode appears in my podcast feed.  Octothorpe was started at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, by three British SF fans, talking mostly about fandom and a little bit about actual SFF material.  I was still only part way through the archive when one of the hosts made the mistake of inviting letters of comment on older episodes.  I immediately started doing so on Twitter as I was going along and got to hear them being read out on the podcast, which just led to me writing to them more.  They ran their own online con during the pandemic (although I think that was before I started listening) and I’ve already met John at Satellite 8, and hope to meet the other hosts, Alison and Liz, at the Glasgow 2024 WorldCon.

They’ve recently hit their episode century, and episodes are released every two weeks, and tend to be about an hour long.  Octothorpe has been nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Fancast several times now, although it has yet to win.

Hugo Girl!

Hugo Girl! consists of three (space) feminists reviewing Hugo Award winning novels, and anything else that takes their fancy.  They’re sharp, clever and funny and their analysis is always incisive and in-depth.  I love listening to their reviews, even when they hate a book that I’ve really liked.  They take serious notes and discuss the books in depth, with regular segments including “goodies from GoodReads” where they look for other reviews of the book (usually at the lower end of the scale, since those tend to be funnier); “feminist favourite” and “misogynist moment” for the best and worst parts of the book from a feminist point of view; “boob talk” for male gaze; and, of course, the all important question: is this book more Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?

There should be a Hugo Girl! representation at the Glasgow 2024 WorldCon, and I hope to increase my SF podcasters collection by meeting one or more of them there.

There’s over 80 episodes out so far, and episodes are released monthly, and tend to be about an hour long.  Hugo Girl! won the 2023 Hugo Award for Best Fancast (and, in a very classy move, have permanently recused themselves from consideration in future).

The Irish History Podcast

I know as little about Irish history as I did about Indian history, so I thought I’d try to correct that, after giving up on the History of India podcast.  I think I found this by just searching in my podcast app, I tried a couple of episodes and decided to keep it.  The presenter, Fin Dwyer, is an historian, but the episodes are much less dry than Kit Patrick’s style of presenting.  The earliest episodes in my feed discuss the early medieval history of Ireland, including the Viking invasion and going up to the Norman conquest in the 11th and 12th centuries.  I dipped in and out of this series, but too much of it was just kings and dates.  But moving forward a bit, there were a lot of interesting series focussing more on the social history of Ireland, which is something I’m much more interested in.

There was a long series on Great Famine in Ireland, something which (somehow) made me hate the English establishment even more than I already did, and I’ve just finished a series on Irish involvement in the Spanish Civil War.

There’s over 350 episodes in the archive.  Episodes are released (more or less) weekly and tend to be 30-40 minutes long.

Our Fake History

A podcast about “what’s fact, what’s fiction, and what’s such a good story that it simply must be told”.  It’s a really interesting podcast deconstructing historical myths, looking for the truth behind the fiction.  Subjects in the past have included Cleopatra, the Salem witch trials, the origins of modern wrestling and the history of martial arts.  The host, Sebastian Major, is engaging and he researches his topics well, making clear what sources he’s drawing from.  It’s very wide ranging, and often in depth.  Some topics will be covered in a single episode, but some will extend to series of up to three episodes.  He’ll not go beyond three episodes on a single topic, but that means that some of the episodes can run really long, if he’s got a lot to say.

There’s over 200 episodes in the archive.  Episodes are released fortnightly and tend to be about 60-80 minutes long.

Be the Serpent

Be the Serpent is a podcast of “extremely deep literary merit”.  And from that, you can imagine how seriously the hosts take themselves.  They spend a lot of time discussing the craft of writing and storytelling, looking at aspects such as cities, character deaths, witches, monster sex, and an awful lot of dick jokes!  The three hosts are all fantasy authors (I’ve managed to read novels by two of them so far) and listening to three people deep in the thick of it discussing aspects of their craft is fascinating.  They also very much respect fanfic and tend to include a fanfic story as one of their “tentpoles” around which to discuss the topic of the episode.  I think I picked this up because I was looking for new SF-related podcasts and was looking at nominations for Best Fancast over the last few years and picked this one to give a go.

This podcast is actually over.  They decided to wind it up at episode 100 (I’m about half way through the archive so far) and episodes tend to be about an hour long.

There’s other podcasts I’ve picked up since my last post, but these are my favourites.  Not that I need any more, but do you have any recommendations of podcasts that you’ve enjoyed?

Wednesday, 24 January 2024

The debacle around the 2023 Hugo Awards

I’m not going to go over the drama surrounding the 2023 Hugo Awards that erupted following the release of the nomination stats. File 770, Cora Buhlert and Camestros Felapton have detailed analysis and commentary, if you want the gory details (it’s even made the mainstream media!).  There’s been some great analysis around the blogophere, but, as you’d expect, there’s a degree of hysteria as well, with some commentators suggesting that the awards are, or could become, irrevocably tarnished. I think this is a definite overreaction.  I agree this is different to what happened during Puppy-gate, because this time it’s the award process itself that is under question, not an external group trying to game the awards, which themselves remain transparent.  This time round, there’s no transparency at all, with obfuscation and diversion from Dave McCarty, the Hugo administrator for this year.

But, for me, at least, this is very much a 2023 problem, not a problem with the awards as a whole.  I think the lesson to learn here is to not let McCarty have oversight of the awards, and that people will be watching Glasgow very closely (as they should), but I think there’s enough eyeballs on the awards to ensure that either their integrity remains intact, or that (as in this case) any meddling is caught quickly – I think the full 2023 stats had been up for only hours before the first social media and blog posts about the anomalies started going up.  The community cares about these awards.  There’s pride that they’re regularly referred to as the leading awards in the SFF field and I think this love is already being demonstrated in not just the detailed analysis of the stats, but also all the attention being paid to the WSFS constitution and its structures to try and find a way to prevent this from happening again.

In the end, since each WorldCon is an entirely independent beast, we can’t say that a previous mess will necessarily infect the next one, since there will (almost certainly) be entirely different groups of people running them (and hopefully willing to learn lessons from their predecessors).  I’ve got no answers myself, but I’ve got faith that the community will work something out.

Saturday, 13 January 2024

Favourite books of 2023

According to GoodReads, I read 115 books in 2023.  I review them all over at BooksOfTheMoon, but I thought I’d pull out some of my highlights of the year.  Since I’ve already reviewed them, I’m not going say much about them, but I will link to the full review.

  • The Kaiju Preservation Society, by John Scalzi
    A really fun popcorn book of escaping lockdown to work for a society that preserves kaiju.  Everything you need to know about this book is in the title
  • Legends & Lattes, by Travis Baldree
    Warm, comforting and sweet.  I’d make a comparison to some sort of fancy coffee drink, but I don’t like coffee and know nothing about it, but this low-stakes story was a big hug of a novel
  • Bookshops & Bonedust, by Travis Baldree
    The prequel to Legends & Lattes sees a young Viv making friends with a bookshop owner.  Every bit as delightful as the first book.
  • The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches, by Sangu Mandanna
    I’ve read more romance (mostly romantasy) this year than usual and I adored this story of a lonely witch finding love and family with a grumpy (Northern Irish!) librarian
  • Light From Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki
    A story of belonging and acceptance, love and music.  Heartbreaking at times, but utterly wonderful
  • Central Station, by Lavie Tidhar
    A book where the writing reminded me of Ray Bradbury, in the best way. Wonderful lyricism and characters, albeit not much in the way of plot

And a couple of series to round things off.

  • I was introduced to the Gobbelino London books by a friend a few years ago, and have thoroughly enjoyed this snarky cat PI and his bumbling human sidekick, trying to make living as supernatural PIs in Leeds.  The first book in the series is Gobbelino London & a Scourge of Pleasantries and the whole series is currently on Kindle Unlimited
  • I picked up the first Beware of Chicken book on a whim, because it was also on Kindle Unlimited, and proceeded to tear through the whole series.  In what is a bit of a theme for me over the last few years, it’s sweet, full of found family and the peril is mild at worst (at least until the third book).  I’m now reading through the newer stuff as it’s being written on Royal Road since the current volume is still ongoing

So there’s your lot.  If you’ve read and enjoyed (or, indeed, hated!) any of them, I’d love to hear about it.  Leave a comment here, on the review itself, or ping me on social media (see the sidebar to the left).

Thursday, 11 January 2024

On leaving Twitter

When I first heard of Twitter, I really didn’t get it at all.  It was only several years later, after I got my first smartphone, at the start of the last decade, that I started to get an inkling of the point of microblogging.  I signed up for an account and quickly got hooked.  Just over a decade later, I’ve finally given up on the platform.  Not microblogging as a whole, just on Twitter.  One of the things I loved about Twitter was that everyone was there.  From my real-world pals, to people working in my industry, to celebrities, to journalists, to companies.  You could keep up with breaking news; you could complain about a company, and stuff would often get done; and you could just post memes at your friends.

It wasn’t perfect.  Content moderation was never as strong as it should have been, and when everyone’s there, that attracts bad actors, trolls, mischief makers and so forth.  But it was never bad enough to drive me away.  Until Musk took over, and made everything ten times worse.  I nearly stopped when he killed third-party clients, but I grumbled and made the move to the official (and much worse) client; but when I realised that my feed was mostly just news, companies and adverts, I just gave up.  The fun stuff that used to intersperse the doom was gone.

I didn’t stop immediately.  I had had a Mastodon account for some time, and so went back to have another look.  Lots of people were jumping ship and creating Mastodon accounts, so I had  bunch of people to follow.  But I’d also still drop in on Twitter regularly.  A few months later, Jennie emailed me asking if I’d like a BlueSky invite, so I thought I’d give it a try.  I now split my time between the two platforms, which have a different feel to them, and eventually stopped checking Twitter entirely.  Mastodon still feels like the Linux of social media, despite various changes to improve the experience of people joining the service a number of things still feel clunky; whereas BlueSky seems more mainstream (albeit oh so horny!).  It’s also still in beta, which, of course, affects the feel of it (if we’re friends, and you’re not yet on BlueSky and would like to be, ping me for an invite).

So I’m still on social media and microblogging.  But also, I think that people should go back to writing longer form thoughts on their own blogs, which won’t be vulnerable to awful billionaires buying them up and destroying them.  And we should bring back RSS for aggregation (I still don’t understand why the BBC dropped RSS on their journalists’ blogs, but then, the BBC have made some baffling decisions regarding their news site over the last few years).  I was scarred by Google killing Reader, so rather than move to one of the other cloud-hosted services, which might also just disappear, I set up a web server on a Raspberry Pi and run my own RSS aggregator there.

Twitter at its best was a wonderful thing, and I don’t think we’ll see something like that again, as social media is now fragmented into all all these different services.  But like I say, I’m not going to stop microblogging.  I’m on these services and I’m going to keep posting on both of them for the moment.  Until the next calamity, when I guess I’ll move on again.  I’ll even try to post here a bit more frequently.

Tuesday, 9 January 2024

End of an era

Some of the first posts I ever made on the first version of this blog, back in the early years of the new century, were about ObSys, the online course management system that I’d been working on.  Yesterday I logged the ticket to finally shut down the server that it lives on, and that was actioned today.  After over twenty years of faithful service, ObSys is no more.

It was originally built purely to let students sign up to courses that my department ran, but it was a bespoke application and I added features as they were needed within the department and it ended up being pretty powerful.  If you look at it today, it looks pretty antique.  Although the student-facing screens were semi-regularly updated to fit the then-current University website template, the admin screens are stuck with a template from when those early days.  But that still belies the functionality of the system.

From a technical point of view, I started writing it in around 2002, when the only Java web technologies were servlets and JSPs.  No Spring, no MVC, no IoC, just raw servlets and JSPs.  Not even filters.  I had to write my own database connection pool library.  And it was a a more naive era, before anyone had ever heard of Little Bobby Tables. I finally replaced the final string concatenation for queries with prepared statements just last year, at the same time as I finally shook up the infrastructure, bringing it up to a modern platform.  I honestly thought it would last another twenty years.

But my colleague, the one who managed the courses, retired a few years ago.  He was really the one who had liked and still used ObSys.  The folk who were left kept it going for a bit but they’ve finally decided that they want something different.  I’m a bit disappointed that they didn’t talk to me to see if we could add additional features to ObSys, but I can see they might want something off the shelf, not relying on just me as a developer, and my colleagues who have probably never even checked out the source code.

So all good things, and all that.  I’m still proud of ObSys. The work that went into it, and the fact that it was integral to the running of the department for many years.  How many software systems in the internet era can say they’ve lasted so long?

Monday, 1 January 2024

Happy New Year

Happy new year to everyone!  My annual retrospective is now up, as usual, on my website.

We’ve come to the end of twenty twenty three
It wasn’t a great year, to put it mildly
But it’ll worry us no more
As we boot it out the door
And welcome in twenty twenty four

Happy New Year

Tuesday, 11 July 2023

Links to the Hugo Awards 2023 short fiction

Once again, I’m pulling together a list of the freely available short fiction nominated for this year’s Hugo Awards since I can’t find one that exists already. This year the WorldCon is going to be in Chengdu, China, which means there were a lot more Chinese fans eligible to both nominate and vote in the Hugos.  This has led to a number of untranslated Chinese works being nominated, which will make for an interesting awards – I think this is the first time that it’s happened, and it’ll be interesting to see how it pans out, and if there will be any translations (in both directions) made available in the Hugo packet (if there is a Hugo packet).  Anyway, the list, with links, where I could find them, is below.

Best Short Story

These are Chinese-language only and I can’t find English translations.

  • The White Cliff, Lu Ban
  • On the Razor’s Edge, Jiang Bo
  • Resurrection, Ren Qing
  • Zhurong on Mars, Regina Kanyu Wang

Best Novelette

This story is Chinese-language only and I can’t find an English translation.

  • The Space-Time Painter, Hai Ya

Wednesday, 31 May 2023

Satellite 8 report addendum: Covid policy

In my Satellite 8 con report I completely forgot to talk about the con’s Covid policy.  In outline, they expected everyone to be vaccinated; to take an LFT before the con started; and masks should be worn in convention spaces when not actively eating or drinking.  I took my LFT the morning of the con and took a photo as requested which was duly checked at registration.  Technically,  I guess you could have taken a photo of some other test, but that seems like going to a lot of effort for something that’s really not hard.  If people forgot, the con had a stack of tests there and you could do one before registering.  I don’t know if anyone actually tested positive or stayed away because of it.

Masking during the con itself was intermittent at best.  In programme items, eyeballing the room (and obviously limited to the events I went to), I’d guess maybe around 50% of people were masked.  Probably less in the corridors and dealers room.  I tried to wear my mask where I could, but I ended up unmasked in the con bar, and for evening events.  The riskiest event was probably the ceilidh on the Friday evening, where we were dancing in very close proximity and nobody was masked (except Red the Wizard, who I was so impressed with remaining masked and hatted the whole event!  Must have been exhausting!).

I guess everyone has their own personal risk profile – and when I went on the Govan stones tour, we were taken by taxi, and someone did ask if we would prefer if everyone was masked or not (we didn’t mind remaining unmasked), but that’s the sort of new etiquette that will take some time to get used to.

All in all, I didn’t feel unsafe at the con.  Having everyone be vaccinated (although they didn’t actually check vaccination status at registration) and taking a test to show that you’re not contagious at the start gave me confidence.  And there was enough masking throughout to suggest that people were taking it seriously. I don’t know if they’re tracking any Covid infections from the con, but I’ve not heard of any so far.  I’ve taken a couple of tests in the days after the con, but I’m still coming out negative (which is positive, if you know what I mean 🙂  ).

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