Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Analysis of 2014 Goodreads Science Fiction Choice Awards.



For the second year in a row, I have done a simple analysis of the Goodread’s Choice Awards for science fiction novels. The awards are voted on by members of the Goodreads website. Fifteen of the books are nominated based on their review ratings on Amazon and five more are nominated by readers. The concept part of my analysis is an interpretation of the Goodreads blurb for the novel, which then led me, correctly or not, to allocating the novel a sub-genre (Note: I have changed some of the sub-genre categories since the intial post). 

1. The Martian, Andy Weir (30561 votes)

Concept: An astronaut tries to survive on Mars. Apollo 13 meets Castaway. 
Sub-genre: Thriller 
Series: No 
Debut novel: It appears to be his first novel 
Nationality of Author: American. 

2. Locked In, John Scalzi (14835)

Concept: A virus sweeps the world “locking in” one per cent of the population, they are awake and fully aware, but unable to respond. Some of them have the ability to enter other people’s minds. 
Sub-genre: Thriller 
Series: Book one of a series. 
Debut novel: No 
Nationality of Author: American. 

3. Sand, Hugh Howey (14410)

Concept: In the future the world is covered with sand and money can be made by sand diving and bringing relics from the past to the surface. 
Sub-genre: Post-apocalyptic/thriller.
Series: The novel is an omnibus of five novellas 
Debut novel: No 
Nationality of Author: American. 

4. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North (13421)

Concept: Some people are born, live their lives, die, and then are reborn in the exact same fashion, in the exact same time and place, as their first birth, but with all their memories intact. 
Sub-genre: Time-travel 
Series: No 
Debut novel: No 
Nationality of Author: Claire North is a pseudonym for Catherine Webb who is British. 

5. The Long Mars (The Long Earth 3), Terry Prachett and Stephen Baxter (9927)

Concept: Earth has been ravaged by disaster, the survivors flee to other planets, super bright post-humans begin to emerge from their childhood. 
Sub-genre: Dystopian/Space opera/thriller 
Series: Yes 
Debut novel: No 
Nationality of Authors: Both are British. 

6. Annihilation (South Reach 1), Jeff Vandemeer (9050)

Concept: An expedition of four specialist women is sent to explore the abandoned area X. Eleven previous expeditions have failed. 
Sub-genre: Mystery/thriller 
Series: First in a series 
Debut novel: No 
Nationality of Author: American.

7. Apolonia, Jamie McGuire (8173)

Concept: Rory witnesses a classmate being abducted by soldiers and finds herself immersed in a world of secrets. 
Sub-genre: Romance/thriller 
Series: No 
Debut novel: No 
Nationality of Author: American. 

8. Influx, Daniel Suarez (7962)

Concept: A scientist invents a device that reflects gravity, but is then captured and locked in a high-tech prison with other inventors. 
Sub-genre: Dystopian/thriller 
Series: No 
Debut novel: No 
Nationality of Author: American.

9. California, Edan Lupucki (7218)

Concept: Civilisation has collapsed and a couple escape to the wilderness, but then she gets pregnant and they have to venture to the nearest settlement. 
Sub-genre: Post-apocalyptic 
Series: No 
Debut novel: Yes 
Nationality of Author: American. 

10. Earth Awakens (The First Formic War 3), Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston (6883).

Concept: Set in the future, aliens invade earth. A prequel series to the events in Ender’s Game. 
Sub-genre: Military/alien invasion 
Series: Yes 
Debut novel: No 
Nationality of Author: Both American. 

11. The Flight of the Silvers (Silvers 1), Daniel Price (3005)

Concept: The world ends and some survivors are taken to the future by mysterious strangers. 
Sub-genre: Time-travel 
Series: First in series 
Debut novel: No 
Nationality of Author: American. 

12. Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch 2), Anne Leckie (3005)

Concept: A being who used to one of 1000s of AI units in a large spaceship is given her own ship to investigate corruption within the Radch empire. 
Sub-genre: Military/space opera 
Series: Book two in a series. 
Debut novel: No 
Nationality of Author: American. 

13. Cibola Burn (Expanse 4), James S.A. Corey (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) (2738)

Concept: Settlers battle the company on a planet. 
Sub-genre: Adventure/thriller 
Series: Yes 
Debut novel: No 
Nationality of Authors: Both American. 

14. Heaven’s Queen (Paradox 3), Rachel Bach (2727)

Concept: Devi attempts to save humanity as her own government tries to hunt her down. 
Sub-genre: Space Opera 
Series: Yes 
Debut novel: No 
Nationality of Author: American. 

15. A Better World (Brilliance Saga 2), Marcus Sakey (2395)

Concept: Mutants with special powers threaten the world. 
Sub-genre: Dystopian/thriller 
Series: Yes 
Debut novel: No 
Nationality of Author: American. 

16. World of Trouble (The Last Policeman 3), B.H. Winters (2269)

Concept: A policeman searches for his sister, last seen with armed radicals who had a plan to save the earth from asteroid due to hit in 14 days. 
Sub-genre: Dystopian/thriller 
Series: Yes 
Debut novel: No 
Nationality of Author: American. 

17. Out of the Black (Odyssey One 4), Evan C. Currie (1921)

Concept: An alien attack decimates Earth, other aliens then race to intervene and help the survivors of the attack. 
Sub-genre: Alien Invasion.
Series: Yes 
Debut novel: No 
Nationality of Author: Canadian. 

18. To Honor You Call Us (Man of War 1), H. Paul Honsinger (1685)

Concept: In 2315 aliens are attacking Earth and all that stands between them is a ship with a bad combat record. 
Sub-genre: Space Opera/alien invasion 
Series: First in series. 
Debut novel: Yes 
Nationality of Author: American. 

19. Hollow World, Michael J Sullivan (1234)

Concept: A man time-travels to a future utopia and finds he is the only one capable of investigating a murder. 
Sub-genre: Time-travel/thriller 
Series: No 
Debut novel: No 
Nationality of Author: American. 

20. Lines of Departure (Frontlines 2), Marko Kloos (1181)

Concept: A ship crewed by malcontents battles aliens. 
Sub-genre: Space Opera 
Series: Yes 
Debut novel: No 
Nationality of Author: Born in Germany, lives in the US.

Concept. 


The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August sounds refreshingly interesting - Harry August and some others are born, live their lives, die, and then are reborn in the exact same fashion, in the exact same time and place, as their first birth, but with all their memories intact. Sand also sounds interesting.  But a lot of the concepts of the novels sound very familiar. 

Sub-genre.


Some of the novels fit into a number of sub-genres, like The Long Mars, which appears to be a dystopian-space-opera-thriller. So if you add up the following stats they will come to way over 20. The novels appear to fit into the following sub-genres:

Thriller 12
Dystopian 4
Space Opera 4
Alien Invasion 3 
Time-Travel 3 
Post Apocalyptc 2
Military 2
Mystery 1
Romance 1
Adventure 1

So thrillers are the predominate sub-genre in the Goodreads Choice Awards, with a few dystopian, space opera, post-apocalyptic and time travel novels. 

In the 2013 awards I had the following sub-genres:

Dystopian 6
First Contact 5
Military 2
Space Opera 2
Thriller 2
Military/First Contact 1
Dystopian/Military 1
Techno-Thriller 1

There seem to be a lot more thrillers in 2014, a year where first contact novels fell out of favour. Dystopian novels had a strong presence in both years.

Series. 


Thirteen of the novels were parts of series. Four of those were the first in a series. One (Sand) was an omnibus of five novellas, so only six were standalone novels. This is almost the same as 2013 where 13 novels were also part of a series, five of which were the first book in a series, leaving only seven as standalone novels. 

Debut Novel.


As in 2013, there are only three debut novelists, which makes sense considering eight of the novels were sequels. 

Nationality of Authors.


A couple of the books had two authors. Overwhelmingly the authors were American. The exceptions were three British and one Canadian. The nationalities of the authors was more widely spread in 2013 with 16 Americans, four British, one Australian, one Barbadian and one Canadian. 

Nominated In Both Years.


Twelve authors had novels on both the 2013 and 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards lists. They were Hugh Howey, Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston, John Scalzi, Ben H. Winters, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, Terry Prachett and Stephen Baxter, Marko Kloos, Marcus Sakey, and Anne Leckie. Seven of the books in the 2014 list were sequels to novels in the 2013 list.

How to Write a Favourite Science Fiction Book.


Ideally you will be an already published American author who writes a dystopian/post apocalyptic-thriller series with aliens and time-travelling spaceships in it.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

My Writing in 2014.



I wrote a bit this year, but nowhere near enough.

My Fiction Writing.


I began the year by finally finishing the first draft of my 215,000 word epic, Jack Logan: Astronaut. I then spent a lot of time redrafting an 8,000 word short story and 23,000 word novella. It wasn’t until November that I got stuck into writing when I did National Novel Writing Month for the third time, just making it over 50,000 words for the month. My output then dropped off again in December. I wrote on every day of the year except one, when I had computer problems. 

My Non-fiction Writing


I continued to amaze myself by coming up with ideas for new articles for Divine. The articles need to have a disability angle. I wrote ten articles for them, nine of which have now gone up on the website. I also had one article written at the end of 2013 that went up in early 2014. My favourite of the articles I wrote last year was Petitioning for Change, about petitions started by people with disabilities.
 
I wrote 44 blog posts, the best of which were probably on the Melbourne Writers Festival. It’s getting harder to come up with ideas for posts. I am not confident/arrogant enough to try and tell people how to write, so my posts tend to be more about publishing and books, with a huge bias towards science fiction and apocalyptic fiction.

Other Writing Activities.


I started an online free English course, and lasted only a week. I found the instructions unclear and the responses to requests for clarification came too late. Tens of thousands of people signed up so it was just too huge, I wanted something more intimate. But what can you expect when something is free? I started the course because I wanted to learn a bit more English terminology, as I am incapable of reciting many of the English rules. My English has developed from what looks right to me. I grew up in an era when we were taught little grammar and punctuation.  
 
As mentioned above, I attended the Melbourne Writers Festival. I went to the second weekend and enjoyed listening to emerging writers like Holly Childs and award winning writers like science fiction author Lauren Beukes. One session by Australian small publishers, that included Text and Scribe, finally convinced me that Amazon was evil and I no longer buy books from it or its subsidiary the Book Depository. 

My Writing Plans This Year. 


After last years unrealised grand plans, this year I just hope to finish Branded, the novel I started in National Novel Writing Month. I have written 55,000 words with another 30-40,000 to go. It’s a young adult science fiction novel. I also hope to critique more.   

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What I read last year.



Last year would have to be my worst book-reading year for a long time. I reckon I would have to go back to well before I arrived in Wang, about 15 years ago, to a year when I read less. I only read five books last year. Pretty pathetic really, even if I was tired for just about all of the year.

I do most of my reading at night, just before bed. A few months ago I started to read The Swan Book, by Alexis Wright, and found the first few pages almost impossible to comprehend – it didn’t help that I kept on falling asleep. I tried to get into the novel over the next week or so, but had the same problem. Not the fault of the writer I am sure, just me being too tired.

Of the five books, three were very good science fiction novels, one was an insightful book of poetry – yes I actually read a book of poetry all the way through, so it must have been good – and a western.

The three science fiction novels were Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood, Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie and Lexicon by Max Barry. All were very good, but perhaps the best was Lexicon. It gets the nod because of its originality and it was fun to read – it’s not a comedy, but it is written in a slightly amused tone. I have reviewed all three of the novels on this blog.

The western was Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. It’s a Tsunami of descriptive passages. I can’t imagine a desert being described in so many different ways. It’s a novel where all the characters are either sociopaths or fools or both. The main character turns out to be the desert and the effect it has on a gang travelling through it. I had read McCarthy’s The Road and thought it one of the best apocalyptic novels going round. It too is full of descriptions of the desolate countryside.

Caged Without Walls, by Anthony J. Langford, was the book of poetry. To me, you either get a poet’s writing or you don’t. I am not into re-reading to find hidden meanings or to find any meaning at all in a poem. I am also not into pretty poems about how lovely the world is and how lovely love is. Neither is the writer of this collection. Most of his poems are observations on human nature and how misguided and flawed we are. Caged Without Walls spoke to me. I also reviewed it in a post this year.

I picked up a book last night for the first time this year, and did not fall to sleep while reading its first 35 pages. Zoo City by Lauren Beukes certainly has an intriguing set-up. Hopefully I will be posting a review of it in a couple of weeks.

The one good thing about reading only five books last year is that it should be easy to better that total this year, double it, triple it, quadruple it…

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014's Science Fiction Movies.



Many science fiction movies were released this year. Here’s what I thought of some of them.

The Very Good.  


1) Interstellar. A voyage of discovery. Written and directed by a master of science fiction in Christopher Nolan (Inception, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and staring Mathew McConaughey. The movie is about humanity’s search for a new home to escape the environmental disasters ravaging earth. The story explores the imagined effects of a blackhole on the timeline of an astronaut searching for a habitable planet. The movie is very impressive to look at and listen to, with my seat vibrating in semi-sense-around when a rocket took off. I left the cinema full of wonder about space exploration and what other planets might be like. Interstellar was easily the best science fiction movie of the year.

2) Predestination. A very clever Australian time-travel adventure film. Written and directed by the Speirig brothers and starting unknown Sarah Snook and Ethan Hawke. A temporal agent tries to stop a terrorist setting off a bomb that killed thousands of people. The movie jumps back and forth in time, challenging the viewer to keep track of what is happening to whom and in what time period. Snook’s performance is very impressive. It is the best Australian science fiction movie since the original Mad Max. A very engrossing film. 

3) Europa Report. A voyage of discovery thriller. Written by Phiip Gelatt and directed by Sebastian Cordero. In the not too distant future, a spacecraft is sent from Earth to investigate the possibility of life under Europa’s ice. On the way, communication systems fail, but they decide to continue with their mission. The movie is shot as if all the footage came from surveillance cameras on the spacecraft. It is a very tense movie with a believable space mission, and the exploration of a moon we know little about. (Note: This movie didn’t get a cinema release in Australia but it became available on DVD in 2014). 

4) Edge of Tomorrow. A time-travel action/adventure film. Written by brothers John-Henry and Jez Butterworth, and Christopher McQuarrie, and directed by Doug Liman. It stars Tom Cruise, a man who knows a good science fiction script when he sees one. In the near future, Europe had been invaded by aliens and the Americans are about to launch another D-day to come to their rescue. Cruise plays a callow army media officer who is forced to go in with the invading troops. He is mortally wounded, but instead of dying, his life is reset to the day before the invasion. This time loop occurs  many times as he tries to find a way to defeat the aliens. Edge of Tomorrow has a lot of fun with time-travel and is everything a Hollywood blockbuster should be.
 

The Good. 


5) Transcendence. An ideas driven thriller. Written by Jack Paglen and directed by Wally Pfister. In the near future the memories of a dying scientist (Johnny Depp) are uploaded into a computer creating an artificial intelligence. This AI develops rapidly and revolutionises the use of genetic engineering and nanotechnology.  But governments and luddite terrorists are scared of the AI and try to stop it. This is a movie for those who like their science fiction to be full of ideas. It also probably helps to be a person who ponders how the world will change when the technology spike or singularity starts to transform how we live. This is the first movie I have seen that speculates on how humanity might transition through the technology singularity. I liked the movie’s ambiguity, with the viewer never quite sure of how human the AI is and its benevolence towards humanity. 
 
6) Her. Written and directed by Spike Jonze and staring Jaoquin Phoenix. Set in the near future. A guy buys a new operating system for his computer. The operating system is capable of learning and interacting with its users on an emotional level. It is voiced by Scarlett Johansson, so it’s no surprise when Phoenix’s character falls in love with it. With virtually no special effects, this film is all about dialogue. It sucks the viewer in as we hear the operating system evolve. Her is a science fiction movie that finds a new way to explore the tropes of what it means to be human and what happens when AIs become more intelligent than humans. 

7) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. A sequel to the excellent Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Written by committee and directed by Matt Reeves. It stars Aussie Jason Clarke. The film starts about ten years after the previous film. In that decade, most of humanity has been killed by a virus. A few hundred survivors live in a stockade in San Francisco. They are running out of oil for power generators so they decide to travel to a dam to try and get the hydroelectric power back online, but they run into the apes. This is yet another film about the fear of the other, but instead of white settlers and natives, we have humans and apes. The apes look very real and speak like animals that are trying to master human speech. It is a good action/adventure film, but not as good as its theme-filled predecessor. 

The Okay. 


8) Guardians of the Galaxy. Written by James Gunn and a committee, directed by James Gunn. It starred Aussie Chris Pratt and Bradley Cooper as a wise cracking raccoon. This comedy/space opera is set in the distant future where good natured criminals battle an evil despot for the possession of a device that will enable its holder to rule the galaxy.  A fun movie, with a heap of special effects, but ultimately is not much more than a good versus evil story. 

9) Lucy. Written and directed by Luc Besson who also made the fun Fifth Element.  Scarlett Johansson plays Lucy who is captured by a drug syndicate. She has a package of mind-altering experimental drugs surgically inserted into her body. The bag of drugs burst, flooding her system, and the drugs rapidly expand her mind. The film is based on the false premise that we only use 10% of our brain power, and what we might be capable of if we used more of our brain power. Lucy becomes super intelligent and telepathic and uses her new found traits to battle the drug cartel as they try to retrieve their drugs. The film tries to say something about human evolution, but fails. Lucy is just an okay action film.

10) These Final Hours. An end of the world movie set in Perth. Written and directed by Zac Hilditch. A meteor strikes earth at the beginning of the movie, creating a fireball that slowly circles the earth. Everyone knew the meteor was coming and that there were no escaping its devastation. Nathan Phillips plays the central character, a narcissist who just wants to party with his girlfriend on the final day, but circumstances intervene. I had seen much of the clich├ęd end of the world behaviour before, but the main character’s evolution in his final hours kept me watching. 

11) The Rover. Another Aussie end of the world movie. Written and directed by David Michod. Set in outback Australia just after an economic collapse. Guy Pearce plays the central character whose car is stolen and he tries to get it back. Along the way he encounters many Aussies doing whatever they can to survive. Fortunately there are none of the overdone Mad Max stereotypes that all too frequently populate road-trip apocalyptic movies. No bikies with mohawks appear in The Rover. The collapse is never explained, which adds to the movie’s intrigue, but we do eventually discover what is in the boot of the stolen car. Very atmospheric, and a little bit haunting. 

The Not So Good. 


12) X-Men: Days of Future Past. Another instalment in the hit and miss series. Written by Simon Kinberg and directed by Brian Singer. It took a while to remember what this instalment was about. It involved time-travel so the younger X-men of the previous movie could mingle with their older counterparts from the original movies. There was a memorable slow-motion scene during a prison break out, but apart from that it was just more of good mutants versus bad mutants.  Pretty forgettable really. 

13) Godzilla. A monster movie. Written by Max Borenstein and directed by Gareth Edwards. Japanese scientists wake a monster from its extended hibernation and only Godzilla can stop it destroying San Francisco. I didn’t care about the characters and thought the movie dumb, especially when the main character sets a timer on a nuclear bomb that they first have to transport to Godzilla before setting it off. Why not wait until they are in sight of Godzilla?  Nowhere near as much fun as the 1998 movie. I remember one of the criticisms of that film was that it was mainly set at night so Godzilla didn’t stand out, but the same thing occurred with the new film. 

Other films. 


Films I still want to see that were released last year include Infinite Man and Snowpiercer, neither of which came on at my local cinema. I didn’t bother going to see Robocop after its bad reviews. 

Overall, 2014 was a very good year for science fiction movies, with a great range of sub-genres. Probably the best year since 2009 when District 9, Moon and the Star Trek reboot came out.