So I've been kind of quiet lately. (Granted, I haven't been posting much here, but I'll also be linking this to Facebook, and I've been quieter than usual there.) The TL;DR is that I had a kidney stone removed last week, and I'm slowly recovering. I hope to be back to normal soonish.

The longer story. Warning, gross and uncomfortable )

My original hope was to only take Monday and Tuesday off. I ended up working half days the rest of the week, as that was all I could manage. The best thing is that I've had a lot of time to read, so I've now finished all the Hugo nominees in short story and novelette (they're all available online), and all but one of the novella nominees. (The China Mieville story is expensive, and I'm not a huge fan of his work, so I'll wait to see if it's in the electronic packet from the convention.) Now it's on to the four novels I haven't read yet. I've also started watching "Stranger Things".

It gets a little better each day. I have my membership and room for FilKONtario, but won't decide until Thursday or Friday whether or not I'm going.
As I've done in past years, here's my cinematic top ten (well, OK, eleven), Hugo edition. It was an amazing year for animation, but much weaker than 2015 for literary-related works. The top five of this list will be on my Hugo nominating ballot.

Honorable Mention: The Little Prince. A lyrical, charming adaptation-with-framing-device of Saint-Exupéry's classic.

10. Alice and the Extraordinary World. A marvelous bit of animated steampunk, complete with amazing inventions, wild escapes, and engaging characters. Obscure, but recommended.

9. Captain America: Civil War. Its biggest drawback is the downbeat ending, which is, I admit, an unfair criterion, but it's my list and I can be unfair if I want to. Otherwise, big-studio filmmaking at its most skilled. Great cast, and the fight between the two teams was the best action sequence of the year.

8. Moana. Yes, it's a Disney Princess movie, but it's one without even the hint of a love interest, which breaks a major component of the formula. The chemistry between the two leads adds energy to an already-solid script, gorgeous visuals, and ear-catching songs.

7. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Proving that Rowling can write scripts as well as books. I liked the people, loved the creatures, and admired the misdirection involving the villain.

6. Ghostbusters. Comedy is subjective, and this one cracked me up several times. Holtzmann is my favorite character of the year.

5. Doctor Strange. This is the one that deserves the Special Effects Oscar. A top-notch cast, and visually beautiful, obviously done by someone who knows and loves Steve Ditko's artistic contribution to the original comics. The script's pretty good, too.

4. Zootopia. There are tons of animated movies where animals are given the intelligence and personalities of humans, and I wouldn't for a moment consider them Hugo-worthy. So why Zootopia? In one sfnal word, worldbuilding. The writers gave careful thought to how a city shared by myriad species, large, small, herbivore, and carnovire, would operate - the neighborhoods, the politics, law enforcement, and more. That elevates a very good movie to an outstanding one.

3. Kubo and the Two Strings. The most original fantasy of the year. Lots of stuff I'd never seen before, which scores major points with me.

2. Arrival. The one major 2016 SF movie based on written SF, and it's quality all the way.

Before finishing, I feel obliged to remind everyone that the rules for the Dramatic Presentation: Long Form Hugo state that it's for a work of "dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects". In the past, this has led to nominations for both Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff. Which is why I'm perfectly comfortable with my top nomination.

1. Hidden Figures. Fascinating, heroic, heartbreaking, and triumphant, this is the only movie on this list that moved me to tears. Do Not Miss This One.
At FilKONtario, as part of my Hall of Fame concert, I assembled a chorus to perform my and Michael McGonagle's four part arrangement of Heinlein's "The Green Hills of Earth". Video of the performance is now available on YouTube, here: https://youtu.be/-OGlNPd59sE
Two days ago I had the great honor of being inducted into the Filk Hall of Fame. This is the speech I gave.

Thank you to the Hall of Fame jury for choosing me for induction, and for all the hard work they do every year. Thank you, many times over, to anyone who thought I was worth the time, thought, and effort required to write a nomination. A belated thank you to the people who made me feel welcome and accepted when I was new to filk, especially the always-gracious Gordy Dickson, and my friend and mentor, the always-challenging Bob Asprin. As for the rest of you, well, that gets to the heart of what I want to say.

You've just heard a recitation of things I have supposedly given, or tried to give, to filk – both the music and the community. In return, I'd like to take a few moments to talk about some of the wonderful and awesome gifts – for they bring me both wonder and awe - that filk has given to me.

Filk has given me an education in both writing and performing

It's done this in three ways. First, by surrounding me with brilliant, creative, inspiring, generous people who give of their music and themselves, who are happy to share their techniques and views, and who are constantly showing me new and different ways of thinking and working.

Second, by giving me and endless and ongoing string of opportunities to place my craft in front of an audience and learn from them. Each performance is a lesson in what works and what doesn't, when to push and when to pull back, how to find the truth of a song, a poem, a character, a feeling. I've been given the means and the motivation to practice, practice, practice. And forty years later, here I am at Carnegie Hall.

Third, and perhaps most important, filk has taught me a better definition of success. If the whole room is laughing or applauding, that's great. I'll take that. But if a song has meaning for one listener, that's a success, too.

Filk has given me a home

When I arrive at a filk con, I'm surrounded by people who speak with the same vocabulary, who share the values of the community, who are there for many of the same reasons. Like, I suspect, just about everyone here, I've had my days, even whole weekends, of feeling excluded, of thinking of myself as an outsider looking in. It can be hard to get past that. But I've come to know, on a deep level, that this is a place I belong. It's a place where I might end up missing that concert I wanted to hear because I fell into a fascinating conversation with people I may have known for decades, or may have only spoken to a few times. It's a place where I know I can get up and dance when the music moves me, and not be judged on the quality of my movement. It's a place where I can be certain that at some point during the weekend, my voice will become one piece of a much greater whole, as harmonies and instrumentals ring through the circle. Whether I'm in Mississauga, or Columbus, or Atlanta, or Seattle, or Jersey City, or Basingstoke, I know I'm home. Which brings me to . . .

Filk has given me joy

Joy, and the ways in which it differs from simple happiness, is a personal thing. I can't define it. But I know it comes in different flavors. When that greater whole I just referred to coalesces, and fills my awareness, that's a joyful moment. When someone who's been working up their nerve, sometimes for months or years, sings in front of other people for the first time since childhood, that's a joyful moment. When someone who's found their voice here keeps going, keeps on singing or playing or reciting, and manages, whether through applied hard work or simple repetition, to get better and build confidence, that's a whole series of joyful moments. Those moments accumulate, and build, and keep me connected to this community in a way that will never be broken.

Filk has kept me young

There are people I count as friends here who range from a decade or more older than me to three decades or more younger. That's a source of both satisfaction and occasional astonishment. I love and value my long time friends. I also love and value the way the filk community gives me regular chances to make new friends, to hear new voices, to be exposed to new styles of music. That's important to who I am, or at least try to be. While I treasure and respect the historians among us, my own inclination is to focus on looking forward more than back. I hope it will remain central to our beliefs and practices to work on making newcomers of all musical genres and experience levels feel accepted and appreciated.

Finally . . .

Filk has given me the impetus to try to be a better person, and lessons on how to accomplish that

Being part of the filk community means being surrounded by valuable lessons.

Some of those lessons reinforce things we learned as small children. Share. Take turns. Look out for each other. Don't be mean.

Some of the lessons are a little more sophisticated. Be generous with praise, and stingy with criticism. It's not a competition, so try not to compare yourself to other people. Recognize and appreciate the work of people who aren't in the spotlight. Remember that most of the time, it's not about you.

Some are lessons of affirmation and inspiration that we can all sing together, ranging from “Time won't drive us down to dust again” to “We're all mad here, and it's OK”.

But the most fundamental lesson, and here I will steal shamelessly from an essay I wrote several years ago, is the power inherent in a single word: listen.

Filk's greatest strength lies in the deeply ingrained philosophy that everyone has the right to express themselves creatively, to, as Sally Childs-Helton and Kathleen Sloan put it, "take back the right to sing and play."

But, all unknowing, we've done something even greater than that. We don't just say, "Express yourself." We say, "If you choose to express yourself, we will listen to you."

For listening, as distinct from merely hearing, is not passive. Listening says things. It says, "We acknowledge you." It says, "You have value." It says, "We may or may not agree with you, but we will not just dismiss you." And when we in filk listen, it also says, "The act of expressing yourself will not bring you harm." (That last has a power almost beyond comprehension, as there can be so much fear, so much past repression, so many old scars, that must be overcome.)

These are, to be sure, ideals, and as humans we don't always live up to them. I know I fail on a regular basis. But it's important that we keep trying.

For in saying these things, we change lives. We reach out to the hesitant, the shy, the frightened. We tell them that, with hands and voices joined, we can make a better life in a better world. We imbue them with the sure and certain knowledge that their words, their music, the children of their souls, will not just echo in the void.

That, more than anything else, is why you are and will remain my people, my tribe, my world-wide small town.

And so, on this ninth day of April, two thousand sixteen, it is with love, and joy, and gratitude, with considerable pride and a perhaps-unaccustomed measure of humility, with an open heart and always, always with open ears, that I accept this honor. Thank you.
Time for my apparently-becoming-annual roundup of the genre movies and miniseries I watched in 2015. The top five are the ones that will appear on my Hugo ballot. That does, admittedly, influence the order, as I tend to favor more literary and intellectual works when nominating.

10. Cinderella. It's a live-action riff on the Disney Animated version, and so doesn't offer much that's new. In a stronger year, it wouldn't make the top 10. That said, the cast is engaging, Kenneth Branagh's direction is impeccable, and the production design is gorgeous. The sequence of the coachman, footmen, horses and carriage changing back to goose, lizards, mice, and pumpkin as they careen down the road is a high point.

9. Ant-Man. easily my favorite comic book movie of the year. Fun, fun, fun.

8. Tomorrowland. The one that divided critics and viewers. I fall on the "loved it" side. Which is predictable, as I'm a big fan of director Brad Bird, and a sucker for positive, hopeful messages.

7. Mad Max: Fury Road. No question, it's wonderfully made in every aspect, and I'm glad I saw it in the theater. It's just not the kind of thing that appeals to me on an emotional level.

6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I had a fantastic time seeing it with friends, loved Rey in particular, and look forward to seeing the next chapter. It drops this far because of there just isn't anything particularly new here, and I favor originality.

5. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Of the three major TV mini-series drawn from genre literature, this was, to me, the best. It was mostly faithful to the book, including reproducing the overall tone of the original, and had a great cast.

4. Inside Out. One of Pixar's all-time best, which is saying one hell of a lot. Touching, hilarious, massively imaginative, and full of things I've never seen before, including the core message.

3. Ex Machina. The most intelligent original SF script of the year, brought to life by a great cast and good direction. The shots of naked women did seem a bit gratuitous at times, but not enough to throw me out of the story.

2. Predestination. The Spierig brothers have pulled off the all-too-rare trick of taking a classic SF story (Heinlein's "All You Zombies", in case you didn't know), adapting it faithfully, extending it in ways that logically follow from the text of the story, and making a compelling, suspenseful film out of it. I was a co-sponsor of the motion at the 2015 Worldcon Business Meeting to extend its eligibility to this year.

1. The Martian. What can I say? Everything worked.
Back in April, in this post, I noted that the people most hurt in this year's Hugo controversy were those who had been pushed off the ballot to make room for the nominees from the two Puppy slates. This is what I proposed:

1) Over the next four months, set aside a little money each month. Whatever you can afford, nothing more.

2) Once the figures are released, I (and, I hope, others) will create and post, as widely as possible, the Puppy-Free Ballot (PFB). In each Hugo or Campbell category, the PFB will list the top five (or more, in case of ties) nominees that did not appear on either Puppy slate.

3) Within the limits of your budget, choose actions from this list:

- Buy nominated PFB Novels
- Buy nominated PFB Graphic Novels
- Buy nominated PFB Related Works
- Buy anthologies that contain nominated PFB Novellas, Novelettes, and Short Stories
- Subscribe to magazines that contain nominated PFB Novellas, Novelettes, and Short Stories
- Subscribe to nominated PFB Semiprozines
- Buy works by PFB Campbell nominees
- Buy works edited by PFB Editor nominees (both Long and Short Form)
- Buy books or prints by nominated PFB Artists

And now it's time for me to follow through on step 2. I've thought about it, and in the interest of making both my life and yours a little easier, I'm going to modify that plan just a little. All I'll be listing here is those works that should have made it on to the Hugo final ballot, but didn't.

Best Novel
City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett
Lock In, by John Scalzi

Best Novella
Grand Jete (The Great Leap), by Rachel Swirsky
The Mothers of Voorhisville, by Mary Rickert
The Regular, by Ken Liu
The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss
Yesterday's Kin, by Nancy Kress

Best Novelette
The Devil in America, by Kai Ashante WIlson
Each to Each, by Seanan McGuire
The Litany of Earth, by Ruthana Emrya
The Magician and Laplace's Demon, by Tom Crosshill

Best Short Story
The Breath of War, by Aliette de Bodard
Jackalope Wives, by Ursula Vernon
A Kiss with Teeth, by Max Gladstone
The Truth About Owls, by Amal El-Mohtar
When it Ends, He Catches Her, by Eugie Foster

Best Related Work
Chicks Dig Gaming, edited by Jennifer Brozak, Robert Smith?, and Lars Pearson
Invisible: Personal Essays on Representation in SF/F, edited by Jim Hines
Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology, by Brandon Sanderson et. al.
Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, by Anita Sarkeesian (This is a series of YouTube videos. Be aware that if you follow the link, the first video will start playing.)
What Makes This Book So Great, by Jo Walton

Best Graphic Story
Saga, Volume 4, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Big Hero 6
Snowpiercer
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: "Turn, Turn, Turn"
Game of Thrones: "The Lion and the Rose"
The Legend of Korra: "The Last Stand"

Best Editor, Short Form
John Joseph Adams
Neil Clarke
Ellen Datlow
Jonathan Strahan
Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form
Liz Gorinsky
Lee Harris
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Beth Meacham
Anne Perry

Best Professional Artist
Galen Dara
Stephan Martiniere
Chris McGrath
John Picacio

Best Semiprozine
The Book Smugglers, edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James
Interzone, edited by Andy Cox

Best Fanzine
A Dribble of Ink, edited by Aiden Moher
The Drink Tank, edited by Vanessa Applegate, James Bacon, and Christopher J. Garcia
File 770, edited by Mike Glyer
Lady Business, edited by Renay and Jodie

Best Fancast
The Coode Street Podcast, by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
The Skiffy and Fanty Show, by Shaun Duke, Julia Rios, Paul Weimer, Mike Underwood, David Annadale, Rachael Acks, and Jen Zink
Verity!, by Deborah Stanish, Erika Ensign, Katrina Griffiths, L.M. Myles, Lynne M. Thomas, and Tansy Rayner Roberts

Best Fan Writer
Liz Bourke
Natalie Luhrs
Abigail Nussbaum
Mark Oshiro

Campbell Award
Usman T. Malik
Carmen Maria Marchado
Django Wexler
Andy Weir
Alyssa Wong

NOTE: I'm including an extra name in the Campbell list because Andy Weir may be ineligible for the same reason that his novel "The Martian" was ineligible - it was first (self) published in 2012.

If any of the names or links here are incorrect, or there's a better link for a particular nominee, please let me know in comments, and I'll correct it.

Many, many thanks to all the online publishers of short fiction, who made it possible to link to most of the short fiction nominees for free. They are:

Apex Magazine
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Clarkesworld
Daily Science Fiction
Lightspeed
Strange Horizons
Subterranean Press
Tor
So, I did it, kinda. I listened, kinda, to both the people who said that nominated works deserved fair consideration, and to those who said vote order matters, even coming after No Award. So I read, tried to read, or skimmed every nominee in the Hugo packet.

I did this knowing that some of the works would, read or not, be ranked below No Award. Which works? Anything published by Castalia House. I find Theodore Beale's writings reprehensible, and will not do anything that might conceivably lead to his being able to refer to himself as a Hugo winner. But even those, I looked at.

I was strict. I've voted on the Hugos many times, including the last several years consecutively, so I have my own standard of what constitutes good writing. And I've used No Award in the past, when I felt a nominee or two in a given category didn't live up to that standard.

Did I find any nominees from either Puppy slate that I was willing to place above No Award?

Yes, but not many. Here they are:

Skin Game, by Jim Butcher. I've only read the first Harry Dresden novel, so I did feel a little lost without all the backstory, and not particularly inclined to buy the whole book based on the sample included in the packet. But Butcher is certainly a good writer, good enough that I placed him fourth on my ballot, after The Three Body Problem, The Goblin Emperor, and Ancillary Sword. (As to The Dark Between the Stars, sorry, no. I know Anderson has devoted fans. But I read the first few chapters, and, well, it's in sixth.)

Kary English. In the three shorter fiction categories, the only nominee I placed above No Award was the only non-Puppy nominee, "The Day the World Turned Upside Down". Everything else fell short, sometimes way, way, way short. Still, of all the other nominees, the only one that came close for me was the short story "Totaled" by Kary English. In the end, I couldn't quite move it up because I couldn't swallow the huge coincidence at the center of the story. But the writing was good enough that I gave English my first-place vote for the Campbell, ahead of Wesley Chu.

Dramatic Presentation. These are the two categories where I ignored the slates entirely. I ranked the nominees based on my opinions, where I had them. (I haven't seen the "Grimm" or "Game of Thrones" episodes.) I gave my first place Long Form vote to "Guardians of the Galaxy" because I loved it and nominated it. I gave my second place Short Form vote (after "Orphan Black") to "The Flash" because I loved it and nominated it. (Granted, I nominated a different episode, but the pilot is also good.) I didn't list No Award in either category.

Editor, Short Form. I found enough of interest in their two packet-included anthologies that I voted Jennifer Brozek first, and Bryan Thomas Schmidt second.

Editor, Long Form. Sheila Gilbert of DAW is, among other things, the editor of Seanan McGuire's books. Seanan is one of my current favorites, and has acknowledged Gilbert's work many times, so that's enough to get her a first-place vote.

And that's it.
I've been thinking today of the experience of watching a movie, and how interactive a thing it is, how tied to everything we bring to it. Our reactions are shaped by our individual expectations, tastes, and attitudes, but also by our previous experiences, both as they shape those tastes and attitudes, and as they relate directly to what's in front of us.

This morning, I went to an early matinee of "Mad Max: Fury Road". I haven't seen any of the previous "Mad Max" movies. I had no particular objection to them, they just didn't seem like my kind of thing. Generally speaking, I'm more interested in characters, plot and world-building than I am in action sequences.

But over the last several years, I've come to treat the percentages on Rotten Tomatoes as a pretty reliable barometer. When I see that 98% of a movie's reviews are positive, that's something I want to check out. Not to mention that the buzz I've seen among people I know tells me that it's likely to be a Hugo contender next year. So off to the theater I went.

What I saw was, no question. expertly done. The action sequences were amazing, the pacing outstanding, and the characters involving and, where appropriate, sympathetic. In short, it's one hell of a good movie. I can't say I loved it. I did admire it, and ended up liking it very much, and I'm glad I went.

What's interesting to me is to compare that experience to the one I had yesterday.

My close friends probably know that I have a sentimental streak a mile wide, and a real soft spot for positive, hopeful characters and messages. For example, I can look back to the 2000 Hugo ballot, covering works from 1999. It was one of the strongest years ever for Dramatic Presentation nominees. The final five included "Galaxy Quest" (the winner), "The Sixth Sense", "Being John Malkovich", and "The Matrix". And then there was the one I fell in love with, and voted for: Brad Bird's directing debut, "The Iron Giant".

Bird's next film, "The Incredibles", put him at the top of my must-watch list. "Ratatouille" and "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" only solidified that position.

So I had the highest of hopes for "Tomorrowland". Loved the idea, loved the trailers. It was, easily, my most-anticipated film of this year.

Then I saw the reviews roll in. Critics have been split 50/50, calling it everything from clumsy to preachy to mechanical. Can you blame me for feeling some trepidation as Sharon and I settled into our seats? Would it be as big a letdown as I feared?

To hell with the critics. I loved it.

I must admit, it started by hitting me right in the memory bank. There's a sequence in the beginning that takes place at the 1964 World's Fair in New York. I was there (I was eight), and Bird took me right back.

Mostly, though, it got me with good old fashioned sense-of-wonder, combined with a hearty serving of optimism. The scene in Paris left me grinning, the actors brought conviction to their heroics, and the admittedly-sappy ending made me tear up, just a little. Maybe, in some ways, it wasn't the best movie I saw this weekend. But it's the one that was made for me.

In the end, I was reminded that my tastes are my own, and that sometimes those tastes don't line up with those of the majority. And that's exactly how it should be.

(I still plan to vote for "Guardians of the Galaxy" in this year's Hugos, though. :) )
Note: This post specifically relates to the current controversy over the nominations for the 2015 Hugo Awards. If you have no idea what I'm referring to, and don't really care, you'll probably want to skip the whole thing. If you want to learn more, this is a pretty good place to start, and will help what follows make some sense.

Over the last six days, I've read a lot of discussion about the RP/SP slates, and the effect they've had. It's been an upsetting and frustrating week for a lot of us. Part of that is the very human (and often very fannish) feeling that we ought to be able to Do Something. And I think we can. It'll take some planning and commitment, but the opportunity is there.

I've seen many people write about the harm done to the awards themselves, now and in the future, and what, if anything, can be done to minimize that harm in the future. I agree that it's something we should consider.

But there are people, specific people, who have been harmed this year. I mean the people whose works and bodies of work would have earned them a place on this year's final Hugo ballot, had they not been pushed off by the Puppy-slate entries. These are the folks who have been well and truly bitten by the Puppies.

In late August, we'll know who those people are. Once the Hugos have been awarded at Sasquan, the Hugo Subcommittee will release a set of numbers showing how many nominations were submitted for each of the top fifteen or so nominees in each category. This PDF shows the 2014 figures, with the nomination numbers starting on page 19.

Once that's out, I will figure out which five novels would have ended up on the final ballot if all of the Puppy-slate nominees had been removed.

Then I'll buy them. (I've already bought Ancillary Sword and The Goblin Emperor without waiting to see whether or not they're in the free packet.)

It's simple, really. I'll fill out and submit my final Hugo ballot, yes, but now that the Puppies have hijacked the awards, my wallet is the best voting mechanism I have this year. If some authors were cheated out of the honor of a nomination, let's offer them some compensation in the form of increased sales.

And now, in the interest of raising that compensation to a meaningful level, I hereby announce the Help the Bitten initiative.

Here's what I propose, and plan to do:

1) Over the next four months, set aside a little money each month. Whatever you can afford, nothing more.

2) Once the figures are released, I (and, I hope, others) will create and post, as widely as possible, the Puppy-Free Ballot (PFB). In each Hugo or Campbell category, the PFB will list the top five (or more, in case of ties) nominees that did not appear on either Puppy slate.

3) Within the limits of your budget, choose actions from this list:

- Buy nominated PFB Novels
- Buy nominated PFB Graphic Novels
- Buy nominated PFB Related Works
- Buy anthologies that contain nominated PFB Novellas, Novelettes, and Short Stories
- Subscribe to magazines that contain nominated PFB Novellas, Novelettes, and Short Stories
- Subscribe to nominated PFB Semiprozines
- Buy works by PFB Campbell nominees
- Buy works edited by PFB Editor nominees (both Long and Short Form)
- Buy books or prints by nominated PFB Artists

I admit to being at something of a loss as to what to do for the PFB nominees in the Fan categories. I'd love to hear your ideas.

If you like this idea, I hope you'll consider boosting the signal.

If you have an idea for a nifty slogan, or cool piece of artwork, I'll be happy to share it what social media outlets I have (Dreamwidth, LiveJournal, Facebook, and Google+).

Thank you.
Choosing TV episodes is harder than choosing movies. There are so many episodes to choose from, and my natural inclination is to try to spread things out among multiple shows. But the urge to do a list is irresistible. I settled on eleven instead of 10 this time out. As with movies, the top 5 will be on my Hugo nominating ballot.

11) Doctor Who: "Mummy on the Orient Express" This wasn't my favorite season of DW, but it had its pleasures. I'm not entirely sure why, but the retro feel of this episode is what stuck with me.

10) Haven: "The Old Switcheroo" (2-part episode) Haven is reliably, consistently interesting, especially for the characters/actors. Which makes choosing this episode easy. By grabbing on to the old body switching trope, and giving the actors a chance to have some fun playing each other's characters, they created something that rose above their usual level.

9) Warehouse 13: "Savage Seduction" I'm going to miss W13 - we need more shows that have their balance of action and silliness. And nothing was sillier than this episode, where the characters were trapped in a telenovela.

8) Constantine: "Blessed are the Damned" Constantine may be the most faithful comic book adaptation currently on TV, and one of the most faithful ever. That was a compliment. They've captured the feel of the DC/Vertigo comic, and Matt Ryan is a close to a live action John Constantine as I could have imagined. "BatD" stood out for the twists and turns involved, the angelic characters, and the balance between the single-episode plot and the overall story arc.

7) The Neighbors: "Oscar Party" No action here, just silliness. The Neighbors made me laugh on a regular basis, and played some wonderful games with the fourth wall. Obviously, with a comedy, I'm going to pick the one I thought was funniest.

6) Agents of Shield "Beginning of the End" AoS started slowly, then picked up tremendously in the second half of its first season, building to a great season finale.

5) The Flash: "Going Rogue" The Flash is one of my three favorite new shows of the year. (See The Librarians, below. The other, Jane the Virgin, isn't genre.) There were lots of good episodes, but the chemistry between Barry and Felicity (visiting from Arrow) put "Going Rogue" over the top.

4) Sleepy Hollow: "Bad Blood" From the beginning, Sleepy Hollow has exceeded expectations. The first season ended with one of the best cliffhangers I've seen.

3) The Librarians: "And Santa's Midnight Run" I normally hate Christmas episodes. They're preachy, sappy, and forced. This was none of those things, thanks to a smart script, a note-perfect guest performance by Bruce Campbell as Santa, and a chance to learn more about a couple of the lead characters. Damn, I like this show.

2) Phineas and Ferb: "Klimpaloon Ultimatum" I've been a P&F fan for years. Which means, in this case, that I'm making a pick based purely on what I love about the show, and ignoring episodes that might better appeal to Hugo voters. What other show would even come up with the concept of Klimpaloon "the magical old-timey bathing suit that lives in the Himilayas", let alone come back and do a second episode centered around it? Not to mention gags like a show sponsored by Random Swimwear, whose slogan is "Get Wet. Arbitrarily." Really, you should be watching this show, preferably from the beginning.

1) Orphan Black: "By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried" Sometimes, it comes down to a single scene. Orphan Black built up an outstanding, twisty arc. But in addition to everything the show already did well, the season finale gave us the dance party scene, showing us what the amazing Tatiana Maslany can do with just body language, and what this show can do to grab our attention with fairly low-tech effects.
It's the end of the year, and once again I can't resist doing a movie wrap-up. Below I'll list the ten best science fiction and fantasy films I saw in 2014. The top five will probably end up on my Hugo ballot. I say "probably" because there are a few well-reviewed movies from last year that I haven't yet seen. They are:

Only Lovers Left Alive (I'll see that in another week, as I've set the DVR to record when Starz airs it on January 5th.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Song of the Sea

The most prominent titles that miss the cut are:

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies. I didn't like the first Hobbit movie, and haven't yet read anything that convinces me the other two are worth paying to see.

Interstellar: There's some truly beautiful visual work here, and some big ideas. Sadly, it felt crowded, clunky, and overlong, and had several moments where I didn't believe the character actions and reactions.

Edge of Tomorrow: It's a great example of what it is. What it is is a video game, complete with infinite replays.

Godzilla: The Godzilla fans I saw it with loved it. It wasn't made for me.

And I recommend The Wind Rises, but it's historical biography, not science fiction or fantasy

On to the list:

10: X-Men: Days of Future Past. A good, solid superhero movie, with a fine cast. The big battle scenes dragged on a little long for my taste. Still, there's a lot to like.

9: Big Hero 6. Disney storytelling (that's more of a compliment than a criticism, honest) applied to an anime-ish concept. I had a wonderful time, even while recognizing how safe some of the choices were. A great all-ages movie.

8: The Lego Movie. I think it's been just a little overpraised, but there's no denying that it exceeded expectations. I loved the rapid-fire stream of gags, Chris Pratt's slightly idiotic everyman optimism, and the non-animated scenes that gave it a surprising depth of emotion.

7: Captain America: The Winter Soldier. As much a spy thriller as a superhero movie, and completely successful in both genres. What sticks with me the most is the easy banter between Cap and the Black Window – non-romantic male/female friendships this good shouldn't be this rare.

6: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1. The only real complaint is that it's not a whole story, which I knew going in. Jennifer Lawrence continues to impress, there were a couple of plot twists I didn't see coming, and the technical aspects, from pacing to visuals, kept me in the story throughout. I'm looking forward to seeing Part 2.

5: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Proof that motion capture, with the right actors, can be a tool to build memorable characters. I cared about Caesar as much as I did any protagonist this year. Put those characters into tense situations and beautifully-crafted action scenes, and you have my full attention.

4: Into the Woods. As maybe 2% of the people reading this don't already know, I'm a Stephen Sondheim fanboy. And this is the best screen adaptation to date of any Sondheim musical. (Granted, there haven't been that many of them.) Go knowing that this is a dark take on fairy tales, and there's not much happily ever after to be found, but do go.

3: How to Train Your Dragon 2. The best animated film I saw (in a year filled with good animated films), and the best Dreamworks animated film to date. The visuals are stunning, but don't overwhelm the story. And the characterization, especially the relationships, is fully believable. In fact, what elevates the film this high in my list is a single scene, in which Viking chief Stoic woos his long-lost wife with song.

2: Guardians of the Galaxy. I'll be genuinely surprised if this isn't next year's Hugo winner. I left grinning, unable to name a single thing the filmmakers and cast did wrong. What a fun ride.

1: Her. I'm doing something unprecedented here, and putting the same movie on two consecutive best lists, and two consecutive Hugo nominating ballots. My rationale for doing so is that it opened in limited release in late December of 2013 (to make it Oscar-eligible), then in wide release in early 2014, so it really counts as more of a 2014 release. My reason for doing so is that it's the best science fiction movie of the last several years, and deserves recognition within our community. (It already has the Oscar, the Golden Globe, and the Writer's Guild award for best original screenplay.) The world-building is detailed, rich, and plausible. The ideas are brilliantly developed. The acting, especially by Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlet Johansson, is top-notch. If you haven't yet seen it, find it.

Overall, a damn good year, I'd say.

A sonnet

Nov. 13th, 2014 03:37 pm
Inspired by a visit to Pop Sonnets, and by my granddaughter Krysti singing a song whose identity will quickly become obvious:

'Tis obvious to all who might observe
I do not lack for tissue adipose
Yet when my nether regions sway and swerve
It sparks desire in young men to be close
There is no single best in body size
And though practicioners of graphic arts
Might claim that only they are truly wise
Do not allow them to distort thy parts
As Mother said, for worry leave no room
Bounteous pulchritude should celebrate
And shake it, shake it, for thou hast boom boom
And thou art true perfection, heel to pate
The treble is what I shall never chase
Because you know I'm all about that bass
There are two[2] kinds of reasons why we sing. There's singing to feed your ego, and there's singing to feed your soul.

That sounds pretty stark, doesn't it? Clear cut, black and white. But it's not, not really. There's actually nothing inherently wrong with having an ego.[3] Having too much ego can be a bad thing, but so can having too little.

Too much ego leads you to show off, to constantly try to draw attention to yourself. Too much ego breeds arrogance and a lack of consideration for others. In filk terms, too much ego leads to filkhogging. After all, if you're there, why would people want to listen to anyone else? Excessive ego, in short, can lead to everyone thinking you're an asshole. And being right.

But too little ego can leave you always sitting in the back, telling yourself you're not good enough. Too little ego leaves you convinced that nobody will like your singing, so why try? Lack of ego is what breeds "I can't", and all the reasons we come up with to support it.

Worse yet, if there's anything in you that wants to sing, all those years of "I can't" can be toxic. You can end up feeling left out, like you're not really a part of the community. You can build up resentment, wondering why no one will give you a chance. Which, I'm both sorry and sad to say, is sometimes because you never gave yourself one.

Ego in moderation works for you. Ego is a spur to effort. Ego can be why we practice. Ego leads us to hone our craft. And ego isn't just wanting others to applaud, or laugh, or cry, or tell you they loved what you did, though those all feel great. It's the satisfaction that comes when you can honestly believe that you did something well, and created something worthwhile.

But.

While feeding your ego isn't necessarily a bad reason to sing, it's not, by itself, a sufficient reason.

I'll tell you a secret that's not a secret. All those people you come to cons to hear? The ones whose CDs you buy, and videos you watch? The ones whose songs you have memorized? Ego is a part of why they work as hard as they do, and that hard work is what makes them so good. But it's not why they do what they do. Their craft may earn your respect and admiration, but their love and passion for their art is what touches your heart.

They sing to feed their souls. And so do the people in the circle with quiet, quavering voices, who don't always hit the right notes, but who still manage to make you feel something, and leave you glad they sang.

When you sing because there's something you need to say, and there's a song that says it better than any other way you know, that's singing to feed your soul, whether you wrote that song or not. When there's a song that you haven't heard in the circle in a while, and you know that it must be shared with those who haven't heard it yet, that's singing to feed your soul. When you sing just because singing makes you feel good in a way that nothing else does, that's singing to feed your soul.

When you sing because it eases your pain, or lifts your spirit, or because you can't imagine living the rest of your life not singing, you're singing to feed your soul.

And the best thing is that if you're doing that, all that other stuff doesn't matter. Hitting all the right notes? Doesn't matter. Remembering the words without reading them as you sing? Doesn't matter. Being a charismatic performer? Definitely doesn't matter. You're singing for you. You can be aware of how everyone else in the room is reacting, sure, but that reaction doesn't control you. Applause is nice. That's all it is. Deep down, you know you don't have to have it.

The glorious, joyful truth is that feeding your soul is, all by itself, more than sufficient reason to sing.

Here's the bottom line:

If you want the things that feed your ego, you have to work for them. Practice. Get better. Learn your craft. Go for it.

If, however, the only thing you want is to sing, then sing. Forget everything else, and do what you need to do.

Sing for yourself.

Sing for the pure joy of singing, and having sung.

Sing to feed your soul.

I'll be listening.



[1] I'm allowing myself a little artistic license here, using "sing" to refer to singing, instrumentals, spoken word, dance, etc. It would be more accurate to say "perform", but "sing" just flows better, y'know?

[2] Any statement that divides the world in two is almost certain to be an oversimplification. In this case, I think it's a useful oversimplification.

[3] Those who know me will be shocked, shocked to find that I would say this.[4]

[4] Yes, that's a Casablanca reference, and yes, I'm using too many footnotes. I'll stop now.
I just premiered this song at OVFF this past weekend. The tune is from SJ Tucker's album "Wonders", which I love very much. You can hear the original song here.

This tune got stuck in my head because I knew it reminded me of some other song, but couldn't figure out which one. Drives ya nuts, lemme tell ya. I finally figured that part out a few weeks ago, and my first thought was, "It'll be fun if I mix the lyrics from this song with the tune to that one." But somehow I couldn't leave it at that, and it turned into something a little different. I'm very happy with it.

Song of The Nanny
TTTO: "Song of the Witches" by SJ Tucker
Lyrics coyright by Robert and Richard Sherman and Mark Bernstein

Now as the ladder of life has been strung
You may think a sweep's on the bottommost rung
Though I spends me time in the ashes and smoke
In this 'ole wide world there's no happier bloke

Up where the smoke is all billered and curled
'Tween pavement and stars is the chimney sweep's world
Where there's hardly no day and hardly no night
There you'll see things half in shadow and halfway in light

Chim, chiminee, chim, chiminee, chim, chim, cher-ee
A sweep is as lucky as lucky can be
Chim, chiminee, chim, chiminee, chim, chim, cher-oo
Good luck will rub off when I shakes hands with you
It's true (La, la)
Or blow me a kiss (La, la)
And that's lucky too

She came to the door on the day the wind blew
Brought by a letter that went up the flue
We saw she was special, and hoped she would stay
She was practically perfect in every way

She slid up the bannister ever so quick
Her carpetbag full of suprises and tricks
The songbirds entreat us to join in their tune
For work becomes play if you just add a sugar-filled spoon

Chim, chiminee, chim, chiminee, chim, chim, cher-ee
Wonders surround us for those who would see
Chim, chiminee, chim, chiminee, chim, chim, cher-oo
Instead of what's real why not look for what's true?
Please do

Let's go fly a kite and we'll feel the wind's drag
Then feed the birds, only tuppence a bag
We'll float through the air borne on laughter we love
Then step in time 'cross the rooftops above

Join hands together and jump, do not balk
Into a land drawn on sidewalk with chalk
This holiday's jolly, and soon we may chance
On the band members dressed all in pearls and the penguins who dance

Chim, chiminee, chim, chiminee, chim, chim, cher-ee
Who knows what we'll do and who knows what we'll be?
Chim, chiminee, chim, chiminee, chim, chim, cher-oo
And "Stay Awake" lulls us to dreaming when day is through

And when the wind shifts, and she says she must leave
We know we'll miss her, but we will not grieve
For we know the magic we've found will abide
When a family stands hand in hand, side by side

And those of us drawn to this story give thanks
For the time we could spend with the family Banks
So sing out this ultimate spell word with us
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

Grown up concerns have not broken us yet
For we have seen wonders and will not forget
When life weighs heavy, we know what to do
Sing chim, chiminee, chim, chim, cher-ee, chim cher-oo

(To the original tune, final line)
Chim, chiminee, chim, chim, cher-ee, chim cher-oo
Pacific Rim is Big Dumb Fun with occasional flashes of Batguano Crazy, and I'm glad I saw it. There's plenty of MSTy material here - stereotyped characters, cliched dialogue, and lots and lots of things that don't stand up to any level of logical examination. None of which has anything to do with why I'd go to a movie like this. The acting is a competent and better, the visual design of the monsters and robots is striking, the action scenes mostly work, and the sheer sense of size and scope is genuinely impressive. Director Guillermo del Toro, who also directed Pan's Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies, has a great sense of pacing and knows when to put in little touches (there's a brief shot of a Newton's Cradle that made me laugh out loud).

The biggest problem with Pacific Rim, not too surprisingly, is the sexism. (There's ethnic stereotyping as well.) Apparently, nobody here ever even heard of the Bechdel Test. There's only one female character of any significance, and she's a) the only one who cries, and does it often, b) is defined by her relationships with her father-figure and her partner/potential lover, and c) has only one short scene in which she appears strong. C'mon, Hollywood, you can do better.

I saw it in IMAX 3D. I'll give the IMAX a strong recommendation, as this is exactly the kind of movie that was meant for the huge screen. The 3D is a tossup. It did make some scenes more immersive, but some of the action scenes were too dark.

If any part of you reacts to the idea of giant robots fighting giant monsters with "Cool!", then yes, see this one.
Normally, I wait to post songs until after I've sung them in public for the first time. I'm making an exception here because this one is meant to be a singalong. I'm hoping some of you will look it over, and listen to this rough vocal track, so you can join in at OVFF. My apologies for getting it out so close to the con, but I just finished it yesterday.

This is for anyone at their first OVFF, or first filk con, or first con.

Welcome Home
Music and Lyrics (c) 2012 Mark Bernstein

Hi, it's good to see you
No, we haven't met
But I've worn the expression I see there on your face
That mix of hope and wonder
And a bit of doubt and fear
That most of us remember from when we first found this place
It's really just a small town
Though it stretches 'round the globe
And the village square's a circle, like the one you're in today
And it's thrilling and it's daunting
As you try to take it in
So I thought that I should stop and smile, and take your hand, and say

CHORUS
        Welcome home
        Though your face may be new
        Welcome home
        We've been waiting for you
        Take your place and sing your song here
        There's no way to do it wrong here
        Welcome home; You do belong here
        Welcome home, welcome home

Yes, we'd love to hear you
No, that's not a rule
Whether you perform or not will always be your choice
But if you feel the yearning, and don't know where to start
Maybe we can sit with you and help you find your voice
Some write, some sing, some strum or bow
And some can do it all
But all of us are listeners and that's what makes us strong
And if the key's elusive, well,
That will come with time
Just sing for joy, and for yourself, and we'll all sing along

CHORUS

BRIDGE
                We'll try to keep you safe here
                But people make mistakes
                Sometimes we may be thoughtless
                And leave you sick and sore
                We hope that you'll forgive us
                And take the risk again
                Of letting music draw you in
                To sit with us once more


If you're here to listen
And maybe harmonize
We thank you and we value you, for we know what you bring
Community is sharing
Joy shared is multiplied
And even when the mouth is still, the heart and soul can sing
So welcome to our village
Welcome to our town
We hope you'll make new friends and find the things you love to do
And maybe as time passes
You'll find that it's your turn
To offer up an empty chair and say to someone new

CHORUS
        Welcome home, welcome home
        Welcome home, welcome home
Something a little more palatable, courtesy of Tom Lehrer and the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles.


May as well use this to test DW's ability to embed media:

Let's see if the DW crosspost footer shows up correctly in LJ this time.
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