It’s worth talking about LMBPN publishing when talking about the Nebula nominees

Over the past few days the conversation has been focused on the author self-help group 20booksto50K in connection with some interesting Nebula Award finalists (if you are a late arrival just read Cora’s round-up here: http://corabuhlert.com/2019/02/28/some-reactions-to-the-2018-nebula-award-finalists/ ). However, there’s a different way of looking at the 20booksto50K related finalists — by common publisher.

LMBPN Publishing (https://lmbpn.com/books-by-lmbpn-publishing/ ) is a publisher run by Michael Anderle and which publisher Craig Martelle, the two names most associated with 20booksto50K.

“LMBPN is the publishing company for the Kurtherian Gambit, Oriceran, Protected by the Damned and other Universes. In addition to Michael Anderle, we have published in ebook, book, and audio format collaborations with Justin Sloan, Craig Martelle, TS Paul, CM Raymond, and LE Barbant, Paul C. Middleton, Amy Hopkins, Ell Leigh Clarke, PT Hylton, Candy Crum, Martha Carr, Sarah Boyce, A. L. Knorr, Sarah Knoffke, and many others.”

https://lmbpn.com/about/

Of the 20booksto50K listed finalists:

  • Fire Ant** by Jonathan Brazee (Nebula Finalist) Brazee was published in the LMBPN anthology The Expanding Universe 4: Space Adventure, Alien Contact, & Military Science Fiction. “Checkmate by Jonathan P. Brazee: Winning is everything, especially in war.” https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07HDRRYSH/ref=sr_1_51?keywords=LMBPN+Publishing&qid=1551342434&s=gateway&sr=8-51
  • Messenger** R.R. Virdi and Yudhanjaya Wijeratne (Nebula Finalist) This story also appeared in the LMBPN anthology The Expanding Universe 4: Space Adventure, Alien Contact, & Military Science Fiction.
  • A Light in the Dark, AK DuBoff (Nebula Finalist) DuBoff co-writes with Anderle the “Uprise Sage” for LMBPN https://lmbpn.com/books-by-lmbpn-publishing/
  • (ETA) Going Dark Richard Fox (Nebula Finalist) Fox had a story in “The Expanding Universe 3: Space Opera, Military SciFi, Space Adventure, & Alien Contact!” the previous volume to the one listed above. Amazon lists this as published by CreateSpace (i.e Amazon) but it’s a LMBPN series.

Of the six works listed on the 20booksto50K not-a-slate, half two-thirds were by authors that had been published by LMBPN. That’s not a claim that LMBPN engaged in any shenanigans but given the 20booksto50K is a trademark owned by LMBPN which is also owned by Anderle, the not-a-slate looks increasingly like not a good idea.

(a tip of the hat for help given with this post)

Wow, the Dragon Award website has been updated!

There’s now a nomination button that works and the front page invites you to nominate. Also the dates are largely right. True the ‘register to vote page’ still says “Welcome to the third annual Dragon Awards!” but baby steps. http://awards.dragoncon.org/

Anyway, any passing 20booksto50K authors dropping buy, the Dragons are fine with active campaigning, slates and other activities 🙂

Meanwhile Declan Finn is off to a quick start with nominations here http://www.declanfinn.com/2019/02/return-of-dragons-2019.html

Just a note on the spam filter

For a few weeks now I’ve been getting literally thousands of spam comments on a single Doctor Who post. Because sometimes legitimate comments end up in the spam, I’ve shifted the very specific spam I’m getting to that post into the Trash filter instead of the Spam filter. Even so, I used to be able to do a regular check of the spam filter for anybody who had accidentally got caught.

If your comment doesn’t appear and it wasn’t an attempt to get me to buy some kind of cannabis based substance, then it might either be in moderation in which case I’ll spot it and release it soon enough or it’s in Spam and you might have to let me know.

Nebula Shorts: Rhett C. Bruno – “Interview for the End of the World”

First cab off the rank for the Nebula finalist short stories is “Interview for the End of the World”. The story is a spin off from Bruno’s “Titan’s Children” book series and acts as a kind of origin/backstory to the setting of those stories, describing events that led to establishment of a human colony on Titan.

The first person narrator, Director Darian Trass, is a brilliant billionaire inventor who hasn’t met a problem he couldn’t solve, including the end of the world. A huge asteroid is heading towards Earth and Trass has built a spaceship to get a select three thousand survivors off Earth to establish a colony on Titan. Having built the ship, he is left with two other problems, picking the candidates to put aboard the ship and how to cope with the rejected candidates and other desperate people surrounding his desert compound.

The story starts with Trass interviewing a potential candidate about 5 days before the asteroid is due to impact:

“…Frank Drayton. Twenty-seven years old and already a world-renowned horticulturalist. Not the most exciting job, but a necessary addition for a colony on a hostile world. He was marked for possible acceptance, but nobody got a spot in the Titan Project without me looking them in the eyes first.”

Excerpt From: Rhett Bruno. “Interview for the End of the World.”

The surname is significant to readers of Bruno’s book series. Drayton explains he has no family connections and that he thinks he would be useful to the project.

The story then skips 120 hours later, with less than a day to go before the asteroid hits. Drayton has been caught trying to smuggle somebody into the compound. It turns out that Drayton had hidden the fact that he had a young duaghter. The crowd outside the compound are aware of this and are angry because they feel cheated. As matters escalate, Trass nobly decides to not board the ship and gives his place up for Drayton’s daughter. He stays behind to help launch the ship and then runs from the angry mob who have broken into the compound once Trass’s soldiers had boarded the ship. He drinks a last glass of whisky and raises a glass to the departing ship.

This is not a particularly good story in any sense. It has a plot and it has some clear stakes but aside from that it is hard to pick out much positive to say about it. The central character is presented as heroic but comes across as an arsehole — maybe that was the intent, in which case that’s an interesting aspect of the story but I don’t think it is intentional.

The actual prose is clunky and full of pointless explanation. It’s a struggle to wade through the words.

“My office door creaked open. Sgt. Hale, my head of security, ushered in the Titan Project’s next candidate. I quickly downed the remnants of a glass of lukewarm whiskey in my liver-spotted hand to calm my mind, then placed it down behind my computer screen. Sgt. Hale and I exchanged a nod before he exited, leaving myself and the candidate alone.”

Excerpt From: Rhett Bruno. “Interview for the End of the World.”

It reads like a how-to-write example, as in rather than say that Trass is old mention his liver spotted hands! Except in a first person narrative and surrounded by a whole bunch of other scene setting aspects. Not every story written like a description of what you might see on a TV screen is bad but it is hard to write well this way. Visual media allow you to take in lots of small details quickly but also skip over what you don’t focus on. An episode of a TV show where this story was the plot may well show where Trass places his whisky glass or that Sgt Hale exchanges a nod but fill a short story with these quasi stage directions and you end up with a lot of verbiage.

In an intentionally slow scene like the initial interview, the effect isn’t too terrible. With action scenes, it’s even worse. For example, at the end of the story Trass has helped launch the ship and has distracted the invading mob who are now chasing him instead of besieging the ship.

“I wasn’t far enough ahead of the mob to take the elevator, so I entered the emergency stairwell. My legs felt like jelly by the time I reached the hallway six stories up. My office glowed at the other end of it like a beacon. Apparently, I’d left my lights on. The rest of the floor was dark.
I sprinted toward my office, locking the door as soon as I made it inside. A few seconds later, the mob pounded on it. I wasn’t worried. The door was installed by the company that I’d started from nothing, and our products always worked. It would hold long enough.”

Excerpt From: Rhett Bruno. “Interview for the End of the World.”

“our products always worked” in this case the creaking door from the first paragraph was also, what? A mob proof office door? It’s not just that the additional details, instead of adding colour or depth to the story just hinder the prose, they also make very little sense. The author wants Trass to have time to have a last drink of whisky and also wants him chased by a mob, so his office door needs to be strong enough to stop somebody kicking it down and so that needs explaining etc.

Or take this section from the first part of the story which tries to pack in as much backstory as possible:

“I grabbed a half-empty bottle of whiskey from under my desk and refilled the glass sitting by my keyboard. It was the only thing that quieted the voices bouncing around in my head of everyone I already had or was planning to reject. I was inches away from a much-needed sip when my door swung open.
Kara, my assistant, froze in the entrance. Her expression soured when she noticed the glass I held. She’d been with me since her parents died in a car accident, leaving her an orphan at only ten years old. My company was working on implementing the automated vehicle network at the time, so I legally adopted her. At first, it was admittedly a publicity stunt, and then I fell in love with her. I always found myself shocked upon realizing what a beautiful, intelligent young woman she’d grown into. She had the brains to take over Trass Industries from me one day… if not for the end of the known world.”

Excerpt From: Rhett Bruno. “Interview for the End of the World.”

So what do we have? The best thing about the story is the plot and that’s thin. I’ve read worse prose but this is not in any sense great writing. Maybe fans of the books which the story connects with may enjoy the insights and backstory provided but as a stand-alone story this is very weak. I struggle to see why amid many other stories somebody would pick this one out as particularly notable. The title is good? I’m at a loss to find any feature here that amounts to more than ‘not terrible’ and can’t help but notice multiple features that need substantial work.

Next few days are Nebula Shorts Days!

Yes, I’ll be posting a review a day of each of the Nebula Short Story finalists. Using JJ’s helpful File770 post and some minor wrangling to get the none free-stuff, I have each of the stories:

I might get to other categories but Shorts is where I already need to do some extra reading before Hugo nominations close.

[ETA: an earlier version of this post included a link to a PDF of Going Dark by Richard Fox. The author has indicated that the PDF is pirated and has asked for the link to be removed, which it has. Apologies to Richard Fox.]

The end of Pell

The most senior Australian Catholic and one of the most senior officials of the Catholic Church globally, George Pell was found guilty of child sexual assault. Pell has been not only a strongly reactionary figure within Catholicism but also in Australian politics. A friend of former PM Tony Abbott, his willingness to lecture the nation on issues of sexual morality was just part of his gamut of far-right opinions. He was happy to use his office to also spread lies about climate change — notably the denialist Global Warming Policy have since scrubbed his 2011 speech endorsing their positions but Trump’s EPA lead Scott Pruitt also sought to recruit Pell as a voice to boost global warming denial.

The man has been a personification of the bully, both in how he treated victims and families of victims of abuse within Catholic organizations but also in his wider political stances in which he always chose to boost the rich & powerful and target the marginalized and vulnerable. We now know that the tendency to abuse authority had a more direct and evil aspect to it.

A side aspect of the case has been the court’s suppression order of the verdict. Pell was found guilty in December but the Australian press has only been able to legally report on the verdict since yesterday. The restriction was due to a second set of charges against Pell that would need to have been tried separately with a new jury. This second trial was unable to proceed and hence the suppression order was lifted.

There is much wailing about this in the media. The Daily Beast back in December simply ignored the order and reported on the verdict. Other outlets have been more responsible. Yet we still have the press complaining about it (eg this Guardian piece https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/commentisfree/2019/feb/27/pells-trial-shows-courts-cant-keep-secrets-in-the-internet-age )

I was aware of the verdict prior to the lifting of the order but I know many Australians who were not and only found out about it yesterday. To that extent the order did what it needed to do: make it possible that a jury could be empaneled to hear the second case. A right to a fair trial is more important than immediate press coverage, even for an appalling person like Pell. It is important not just for the rights of accused but also for victims. A delay in press coverage hurt nobody and didn’t help Pell — his reputation and status was not protected by the delay. Media outlets just have to get over themselves, confusing the importance of free-speech with a need for immediacy and being the first, is not a net benefit to anybody. A modicum of patience so that intrinsically traumatic legal processes can be conducted humanely for all involved manifestly is more important.

The Dragon Prince Season 2

I reviewed the first “book” of this animated series here. The main thing to note about season 2 is that paired with the first season, there is a more substantial story. With now 18 episodes in total, there is a more rounded feel to the characters and better immersion into the world.

Season 2 also has a slightly different story-telling pace. Season 1 split between two halves: the first doing a lot of backstory, world-building and setting up the stakes and characters and the second being more episodic. Season 2 has fewer events and let’s the the story follow it’s own logic more.

Aside from that, the basic qualities of the show is the same. A relatively conventional fantasy setting (elves, dragons, magic-systems) but with more diverse characters and a rejection of some plot cliches (the younger of the two brothers is the heir to throne, the brothers are nice to each other and aren’t rivals, the antagonists are sort-of nice people trying to do their best). It’s a very anti-cynical show, which is nice. There is a possible big-bad introduced to the story now but mainly the conflicts have been established by people believing they are acting for the best, while not recognizing the needs or beliefs of others.

A charming, very kid friendly fantasy with enough dark moments to give the story some bite.