Version Control by Dexter Palmer

Version Control by Dexter PalmerI was well more than half way into Version Control, the second novel by Dexter Palmer, when I realized that very little had happened in the novel. But I also realized that I didn’t really mind either:

Sure, there’s something like a time machine (or rather, a causality violation device – the physicist inventor would very much prefer you not call it a time machine) and some barely near-future technology like self-driving cars. But these speculative elements take a back seat to story that is both deeply intelligent and deeply human, a vehicle that Palmer uses to voice all manner of witty observations on everything from social media, to race relations, to religious faith.

This isn’t a book that I can really do justice to in a brief review, so go check out the more competent reviews on NPR or Mashable, or better yet, just go read the novel itself. Easily one of the cleverest, most affecting books I’ve read in recent memory.

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Sleeping GiantsThis debut novel by Québécois author Sylvain Neuvel centers around a top-secret project to unearth an ancient humanoid machine, the parts of which were scattered across the earth and buried in a time before human recollection. A sort of mecha, presumably extra-terrestrial in origin and seemingly impervious to human weapons, the relic promises political and military dominance for whoever succeeds in mastering it.

The novel is told in an ambitious documentary style, eschewing conventional narrative and telling its story instead through a collection of transcripts, articles, and reports. The style works well here, giving the book the raw, unfiltered immediacy of watching breaking news, and the result is a fun page-turner and a promising start to a new series.

I did find some serious flaws, though, that I hope can still be at least partly remedied in subsequent books in the series: The geopolitical implications of this seemingly unbeatable weapon are hinted at from the start of the novel, but they really only unfold toward the very end of the book in a way that I found rushed and unconvincing. Also, I was disappointed to see the machine’s backstory given away in one long info dump rather than teased out more subtly over the span of the series.

Still, it was an entertaining book and a solid debut, and I am very much interested in seeing where the story goes in book two of The Themis Files.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley.

Hugo Recommendation Season: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

So between holiday season and the local windpocalpyse that had us without power for nearly a week, I haven’t been keeping current writing up Hugo recommendations for the last month, but I also haven’t had strong opinions about the recent categories either. I’ve been content to read others’ recommendations, rather than formulating any recommendations of my own, and those have been tremendously helpful.

With Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) coming up, however, I do have some opinions. Rather than yet another review of Mad Max or Star Wars, however, I wanted to suggest something that hasn’t received quite as much critical attention.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell

So, true confession, I haven’t actually read Susanna Clarke’s book on which the seven-part BBC miniseries adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is based. But having read a few disgruntled reviews of the series from fans of the book who objected to the liberties that the BBC took with the source material, I’m at least in a good place to judge the series on its own merits rather than in comparison to a beloved book.

Visually, it’s gorgeous, with a moody, atmospheric palette and beautiful production design, but it’s no secret that the BBC already does period drama well. The truly pleasant surprise was the casting: Bertie Carvel is equally at home playing Jonathan Strange, the waggish upstart, as he is Jonathan Strange, the man pushed in way too deep by his own hubris and self-promotion. And Eddie Marsan, as Mr Norrell, nails the part in both its reclusive timidity and its incendiary jealousy.

There’s some GGI involved – this is an alternative nineteenth-century where magic is real, after all – but the show is tastefully parsimonious in its application, reserving the special effects for climactic scenes where they’ll have the biggest impact, while well-written dialog and character development do the real heavy lifting. The series in total clocks in around seven hours total, but well worth a weekend binge watch.

Hugo Recommendation Season: Galen Dara

Edit: Since I posted this, Lightspeed has announced that, as of 2015, they no longer qualify as a semi-prozine, which means Dara’s 2015 art for Lightspeed is considered professional in Hugo terms, namely her illustrations for And You Shall Know Her By The Trail of Dead, He Came From a Place of Openness and Truth, and Time Bomb Time.

Galen Dara is another artist I’m recommending for the Professional Artist category. Most of her work this year seems to have been in semiprozines like Lightspeed or Fireside (and semiprozine art can be considered only for the Fan Artist category), but she’s also done work that qualifies her for the Professional Artist category.

This year her work has appeared on the cover of Kevin Hearne’s Two Tales of the Iron Druid Chronicles and in the short-story collection Three Slices, including the illustrations for Chuck Wendig’s story “Swallow” and Delilah Dawson’s “Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys,” both shown below.


Not my Circus, Not My Monkeys
I think Dara really excels at using impressionistic brushstrokes and bold color contrasts to produce visceral, dynamic images. Dara won Best Fan Artist in 2013 and was nominated for Best Professional Artist in 2014. But she hasn’t yet taken home a Hugo in the latter, and I really think she merits another shot for this year’s work.

Hugo Recommendation Season: Cynthia Sheppard

It’s professional artist week at the Hugo Recommendation Season blog, and I admit I find it challenging to talk about art. I know what I like, but struggle to explain my reasons. Still, I’ll give it a try.

Cynthia Sheppard is one of the artists whose work caught my attention this year. Her cover art for Karen Memory, below, is probably the work that the most readers will have seen this year. She’s also done covers this year for The Iron Assassin by Ed Greenwood and the forthcoming A Daughter of No Nation by A. M. Dellamonica.

Karen Memory cover art

Sheppard has also done quite a bit of artwork for the Magic: The Gathering card game. Her 2015 work includes Reclusive Artificer, Emeria Shepherd, Send to Sleep, Lithomancer’s Focus, Youthful Scholar, Harsh Sustenance, and Transgress the Mind, the latter shown below.

Transgress the Mind
So what do I like about her work? In particular, I like Sheppard’s atmospheric palette choices and her ability to imply subtle detail with soft painterly brushstrokes. She also demonstrates quite a bit of versatility with well-composed action scenes like Transgress the Mind above, as well as static scenes like the Karen Memory cover.