2018 Nebula Nominees: Best Novel

The 2018 Nebula nominees were announced on Thursday, and for once I have actually read all of the Best Novel nominees before the announcement. (Not the case for the short fiction; I’m hoping to track all of it down before Hugo nominations close, but we’ll see.) Accordingly, some quick thoughts. Big spoilers are encoded via ROT13, although I’ve left some vague points about endings in the clear so if you want to read these books blind, stop reading now.

First of all, this list definitely skews more fantasy than science fiction, and series fiction is still big:

  • The Calculating Stars is alternate history, about an accelerated space program developed after a meteorite wipes out much of the Eastern Seaboard and sets in motion some unpleasant climate effects. I called it “SF-adjacent alternate history” on Twitter; the genre has always had a soft spot for anything related to the space program even if going to the moon is more science fact than science fiction. First in a series (at least from a novel perspective), although it stands alone fine.
  • The Poppy War is secondary-world fantasy inspired by China. More specifically, the second part is specifically inspired by the Second Sino-Japanese War, but with more gods. First in a planned trilogy; the main plot is resolved but the consequences of such are mostly left to the sequel.
  • Blackfish City is the only novel on the list that I’d really describe as science fiction.  It’s dystopian SF, set post-climate catastrophe, set in a floating city where the breaks are beginning to show. Actually stand-alone!
  • Spinning Silver is Russian fairy-tale inspired fantasy. The other stand-alone; the cover art invites comparison to Uprooted, but they’re only connected insofar as they’re both fantasies based on Eastern European fairy tales.
  • Witchmark is secondary-world fantasy in a Western setting reminiscent of Edwardian Britain. It’s also a (m/m) romance. First in a series, and I’m not sure that it stands alone particularly well given gjb snpgvbaf ba gur oevax bs tbvat gb jne jvgu rnpu bgure as you turn the final page.
  • Trail of Lightning is post-apocalyptic urban fantasy set in the Navajo Nation. It’s the first in a planned four-book series, and stands alone reasonably well plotwise (although it also ends with gur znva punenpgref abg fcrnxvat gb rnpu bgure, so yeah).

Climate change is also one of the obvious themes running through this list; it’s directly featured in both Blackfish City and Trail of Lightning, and there’s an alternate version in The Calculating Stars. Given that it’s probably the biggest crisis we as a civilization face, this seems only appropriate.

Half of these are first novels, and Blackfish City is a second novel. There’s a lot of exciting new talent in speculative fiction and this list does a good job of highlighting that.

Is this particularly similar to my Hugo nominating ballot? Not really. There’s a little overlap, but while I enjoyed most of these enough to want to read the sequels when they come out my socks generally stayed on. I’m not sure there’s much of a takeaway here other than “SFWA’s tastes are broadly different than mine”, but unfortunately “I liked this but didn’t super love it” is a zone that I find particularly difficult to write about. I will try to have a better post on the Hugo finalists once that is timely.

I don’t want to dig too deep into issues of representation as I suspect I am not the best person to talk about them, but we did have some notable Jewish representation in two of the novels listed. First the one I liked: the protagonist of The Calculating Stars is a Jewish woman from South Carolina. Her Jewishness is a core part of who she is, but at the same time doesn’t feel overwhelming in a way that might feel stereotypical. And I expect for many readers the existence of a large Southern Jewish community might come as a surprise. (If that’s you: read a history book.)

That brings us to Spinning Silver. The Russian Jews in this novel might be closer to my actual ancestors, but unfortunately, while their portrayal is positive (and a lot of people liked it! YMMV), this ended up really detracting from the book for me. First off, one of the main characters (and our first narrator) is a Jewish moneylender; this is historically accurate for, well, the reasons stated in the book, but “Jews are good with money” is so tired of a stereotype at this point that it’s really hard for me to get excited about reading something where a main character is, in fact, a Jew who is good with money (and centrally so), even if no disrespect is intended and it’s not presented as a universal truth.

Second, Spinning Silver is set in a secondary-world Russia with all the names changed a bit, except Jewish people are still the House of Israel and use real Jewish prayers. So does the Land of Israel exist in this setting? Does Egypt? Did the Jewish population actually come over from a portal that got opened up on our Earth early in the Diaspora? (I’d read that.) The typography doesn’t help either, with the prominent descender on the capital “J” making every incidence of the word “Jew” seem like a shout in my head.

Finally, the ending specifically involves na npghny Wrjvfu oyrffvat orvat hfrq sbe zntvpny rssrpg, at which point I pretty much had to put the book down to “yikes”. There is no implication anywhere earlier in the book that Wrjf ner zntvp va guvf frggvat, and sadly jr ner abg zntvp va erny yvsr either. I’d probably be a bit annoyed at gur qrhf rk znpuvan anyway but I was extremely put off by the way it was invoked. While I can see why people liked Spinning Silver (and I really liked Uprooted, for that matter), I found the above just too annoying to ignore.

Books Acquired, 12-17 February 2019

Untitled
Hopefully the big book doesn’t decide to eat the others.

First off, a free download from last Tuesday:

Polk, C. L. Witchmark. Tor.com, 2018. eBook. This month’s free Tor.com eBook Club giveaway. First in a planned series. Fantasy mystery / romance; I will have more thoughts when I write up my post on this year’s Nebula nominees.

I finally had a free weekend day with decent weather on Sunday but slept too late for any worthwhile peakbagging. (And given the clouds atop both the Diablo and Santa Cruz Mountains, I’m not sure how great any views would have been anyway.) I did hit up the San Carlos Library book sale with an eye towards maybe tagging one of the local peaks there—this didn’t happen because said peaks are full of houses. Paid $4 for:

Egan, Greg. Permutation City. Millennium, 1994. First edition hardcover, with the “export” dustjacket that doesn’t have a stated price and cost me some time verifying that it wasn’t a book club edition. Campbell Memorial Award winner. This usually goes for triple digits online so getting it for $2 was a bit of a steal.

Jordan, Robert. The Fires of Heaven. Tor, 1993. First edition hardcover, with one long noticeable crease to the spine portion of the jacket and a previous owner’s name pencilled on the corner of the title page. Fifth book (of 14) of The Wheel of Time, and I’ve already got The Dragon Reborn and The Shadow Rising in first edition hardcover.

Mid-May Monterey Peakbagging

Chews Ridge (5045′)
Eagle Peak (1607′)
Ollason Peak (1799′)
13 May 2017

20170513_120221 (1)

20170513_120724

It was a temperate Saturday in May and my eyes were wandering south for some peakbagging. I had climbed the highest point of Monterey County the year before, but there are three other peaks in the county with at least two thousand feet of topographic prominence. Today’s objective was an easy one: Chews Ridge, which rises to 5045 feet at its highest point. It’s easily reached off of Tassajara Road. I took a nice leisurely stroll around the fire lookout that crowns the highest point of the ridge, as well as the nearby MIRA Observatory. As befitting a peak in the northern Los Padres National Forest, there are great views of the Ventanas, from Uncle Sam Mountain to Junipero Serra Peak, the county high point.

20170513_chews

 

Chews Ridge has great views but isn’t much of a hike, and I was hungry for more. So I headed off to Toro County Park. Via the East Ridge Trail, I first obtained Eagle Peak, which is really just a little bump that happens to be on the California Coastal Peaks list, and then continued to Ollason Peak via Toro Park Peak. As is common in northern California parks, I saw a few cows on the way.

Ollason Peak overlooks the city of Salinas, Monterey’s county seat. It’s overshadowed by Simas Peak, which I believe to be the highest point in Toro County Park at 2129 feet. (And yet is not on any peak lists. Might have to write my own to remedy that, although I should probably actually go there first.) After enjoying the views, I hiked out via the Red Tail Canyon and Gibson Gap trails.

20170513_toro

California P2Ks: 13/164
California Coastal Peak List: 41/302

Sunnyvale City Council Votes, 5 February 2019

Disclosure: I am one of the people appointed to the Citizen Advisory Committee. 

Hendricks Smith Melton Klein Larsson Fong Goldman
Consent Calendar Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Appoint the Citizen Advisory Committee on Outreach Related to Electoral System Changes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Abstain
Authorize Purchase of Park Land from Corn Palace Property Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Sunnyvale City Council Votes, 29 January 2019

 

Hendricks Smith Melton Klein Larsson Fong Goldman
Consent Calendar Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Appeal of Planning Commission Denial of the Conditional Use Permit (Summit Denali High School) — Approval (Melton substitute) No No Yes No No Yes No
Appeal of Planning Commission Denial of the Conditional Use Permit (Summit Denali High School) — Continue to April 23 (Hendricks motion) Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Introduce an Ordinance to add sign code provisions for theaters on the second floor Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Accept Grant Funding from CPUC Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Text of Motions Relating to the Summit High School Use Permit

Hendricks motion: That (1) the item be continued to April 23, (2) staff and the applicant create a solution that will impose penalties for inappropriate parking behavior and define the appropriate thresholds, (3) staff and the applicant look at use permit renewal at a staff level in five years, and (4) staff to figure what mechanisms (if possible) to limit the discussion to just the new information being brought forward as much as legally possible.

Melton substitute motion: That the project is approved with changes: (1) the use permit is valid for five years, (2) in conformance with the findings for the parking issue, condition of approval that the applicant come up with a certain amount of parking at an alternate site within 1 mile; enough parking to get rid of the mechanical lift parking structure, and (3) a condition of approval for the 18 front parking spaces to be available to the public for non-essential hour usage with the liability to be the responsibility of the property owner.

Sunnyvale City Council Votes, 15 January 2019

 

Hendricks Smith Melton Klein Larsson Fong Goldman
Consent Calendar Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
2019 Priority Advocacy Issues and Long-term Legislative Advocacy Positions, as amended Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Increase the City Manager’s Salary by 4½% Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Amendment to the 2019 Priority Advocacy Issues: Added a phrase to item 3 (Environmental Regulatory & Conservation Issues) regarding the continued viability of CCAs.

Sunnyvale City Council Votes, 8 January 2019

 

Melton Smith Klein Hendricks Griffith Larsson Goldman
Certification of 2018 Election Results Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Melton Smith Klein Hendricks Fong Larsson Goldman
Selection of Mayor – Hendricks Yes Abstain Abstain Yes Abstain Yes Abstain
Selection of Mayor – Klein Yes Yes Yes Abstain Yes Abstain Yes
Selection of Vice Mayor – Melton Yes Abstain Abstain Yes Abstain Yes Yes
Adopt the City Council Meeting Calendar, as amended Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Ratify Community Member Appointments Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Reaffirm Board and Commission Liaison Assignments Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Continue Council Subcommittees Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Appointments to External IGR Agencies Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Ratify Appointments Made by Outside Agencies Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Amendments to the City Council Regular Meeting Calendar: Strike the “tentative” language for March 5 and change December 17 to December 10.

Additional appointments to external IGR agencies: Councilmember Smith to the Grand Boulevard Initiative Task Force, Alternate; Councilmember Hendricks to the El Camino Real Rapid Transit Policy Advisory Board (PAB).

Additional appointment made by an outside agency: Councilmember Smith to the Santa Clara County Recycling and Waste Reduction Commission.

2018 Highpointing, and What Comes Next

MartinPyne_CountyHighPoints
My current county high point completion map.

I didn’t have a particularly productive year in terms of county highpointing in 2018. The biggest reason for this is simple distance. With a couple access-related exceptions, I’ve now climbed every county high point that can be done in a single day from my home. The other problem is time and energy. I did San Gorgonio Mountain and Mt. Eddy, this year’s two ultras, as full-weekend trips, but that does require spending pretty much the entire weekend away from home, and with the usual schedule of “hike Sunday morning and then drive back” that means going pretty much right from a long drive to bed to work.

The other issue I ran into was that having a narrow vacation window is a good way to be vulnerable to weather problems. My vacation plan this year was to spend the first half of a week or so near the Nevada–California border and claim successively higher high points, then head back home and go to the Worldcon. Unfortunately, the week in question was plagued with atmospheric instability that led to two of three hikes having to be aborted early; I didn’t even bother attempting White Mountain Peak given the low likelihood of pre-thunderstorm success and car-camping fatigue.

I’m not sure what lessons to take away from the above. I don’t really have a way to try to reschedule vacations on short notice based on the forecast. The best plan would have probably been to go somewhere else, although in this particular case the need to get advance permission from the Army for Mt. Grant would have made that difficult as well. Still, worth noting for future years.

In 2019, I am planning on hiking Thurston Peak, high point of Davis and Morgan Counties in Utah, at some point over Independence Day weekend in conjunction with Westercon. (There will be ribbons.) Apart from that, I’m not really sure what county high points are on the docket for next year, as I will be using most of my vacation time on a trip to Ireland for the Dublin Worldcon. (As I do not expect to have a car there, sadly neither Carrauntoohil or Kippure are likely.) I might look at using some or all of Labor Day Weekend to tackle Hat/Eagle or Salmon/Bear. Depending on snow levels, it might also be possible to leverage Memorial Day Weekend into a couple county high points. I’d still really like to get White Mountain Peak done, but I’m not quite sure how to acclimate sensibly over the necessarily short amount of time I’d have.

In the mean time, there are still plenty of other peaks to ascend. I have twenty-five peaks remaining on the SF Bay Nifty Ninety list, and hope to finish them off in the first half of next year. The biggest limiting factors here are Brushy Peak, which can only be legally accessed via a $40+ tour that you have to sign up for, and the peaks in Henry Coe that are best accessed via the seasonally-closed Dowdy Ranch entrance.

There are also plenty of unclimbed peaks (e.g. Konocti) relatively nearby with 2000 feet of prominence, are the most prominent point in their county, or are otherwise of interest (e.g. South Chalone Peak, the Pinnacles Wilderness high point). If nothing else, Tahoe is still fairly close and has plenty of interesting mountains that are not county high points. Hopefully 2019 will see less fire and smoke.

Here at Acrophilia, I’m hoping to keep the posts about peaks climbed in the last couple years coming at noon on Fridays until I’m caught up. No guarantees, but that’s the schedule I’m working towards.

2018 year-end statistics:

  • New county high points: 6 (54 total)
  • Home glob: 46 counties (+7), 123,603 square miles (+37,211)
  • New 2000′ prominence peaks: 5
  • New SF Bay Nifty Ninety peaks: 34
  • Highest and most prominent peak climbed: San Gorgonio Mountain (11,499′)
  • Highest point reached: the side of Boundary Peak at about 12,480′
  • New peaks (min. 300′ prominence) climbed: 22
  • P-Index: 93