Random Randomness, 4/13/2015

“So much of life, it seems to me, is determined by pure randomness.” — Sidney Poitier

It looked something like this.

I’m a Lumberjack, and I’m Okay: My Lovely Wife announced it was Fred Trims the Trees Day a couple of weeks ago, and who am I to argue with a beautiful woman whose college transcript includes courses in Ornamental Horticulture? I proceeded to snip, saw, and curse the superfluous branch-age from our much-neglected complement of maple, crabapple, peach, juniper, cottonwood, and redbud trees. In the following days, I slowly hacked the resulting enormous pile of deadwood into bite-sized fragments suitable for scooping into the tidy paper bags mandated by our refuse-collection company.

That left me with the equivalent of three or four small-tree-equivalents of lumber too thick to cut into tiny pieces with manual tools, and My Fair City Government (perhaps prodded by one of my friendly neighbors) grew impatient with my progress and left me a polite note characterizing the stack of tree limbs on my lawn a “public nuisance.” This required drastic action. I bought an economical and sort-of eco-friendly electric chainsaw (it consumes lubricating oil as fast as my mower consumes gasoline) to finish the job. Besides making me feel quite manly and Bruce Campbell-ish—Hail to the king, baby!—it made short work of the heavy branches, which I now must tie into tidy little bundles of cordwood with the biodegradable jute twine mandated by our refuse-collection company. I hope to finish by first frost.

No, smart guy, I can’t afford a wood chipper. Not after buying the chainsaw.

Kickback (chainsaw): “The most common cause of serious chainsaw injury accidents. It may occur when the moving chain at the nose or tip of the guide bar touches an object, or when the wood closes in and pinches the saw chain in the cut. Can cause a lightning-fast reverse reaction, kicking the guide bar up and back toward the operator.” Ouchies. My chainsaw includes several safety features that help prevent kickback injuries, including a tip guard, handle guard, and dead-man switch. Yes, that last one is very reassuring.

ddWhat I’m Watching on Netflix: Daredevil and Gilmore Girls. Make of that what you will. So far, I think this Daredevil is the best screen adaptation of Marvel’s two-fisted, powers-lite, urban vigilante to date (which isn’t saying much, but that doesn’t diminish the quality). There are plenty of both funny and thoughtful interludes between the brilliantly choreographed action sequences, and the characters are making a great first impression. As for Gilmore Girls, you’ll find it listed in the encyclopedia under “Witty Banter.” Rory Gilmore has not a little in common with my Darling Daughter, who is away at college and missed greatly at home.

Kickback (bribery): A form of negotiated bribery in which a commission is paid to the bribe-taker as a quid pro quo for services rendered.” In Daredevil, for example, insolvent lawyers Foggy Nelson and Matt Murdock provide Cuban cigars for NYPD Sgt. Brett Mahoney’s mother, in exchange for Mahoney’s tips on potential clients. Okay, that’s not exactly a kickback, but you get the idea.

What I’m Reading: Hugo-nominated short stories. I’ve compiled a list of links to all the fiction nominees, free or otherwise, here. Summary of the ongoing nomination/voting kerfluffle, here. A couple of good posts from prominent authors on either side of the kerfluffle that serve to frame the debate, here and here. My reactions to the short story nominees, in brief:

“Turncoat,” by Steve Rzasa: A transhuman warship reconsiders its role in an interstellar conflict. Good mix of action and thoughtfulness. I liked it.

“Totaled,” by Kary English: Life beyond death, after a fashion, trapped inside a disembodied brain and fighting against time to salvage both meaning and peace at the end. Brings all the feels. I liked it.

“On a Spiritual Plain,” by Lou Antonelli: Ruminations on death and immortality as an inexperienced chaplain tries to help the lost essence of a human being on a planet of alien ghosts find its way home. I liked it.

“The Parliament of Beasts and Birds,” by John C. Wright: Who will inherit the Earth at the End of Days? I wasn’t so enthralled with this one. It felt too ponderous and emotionally detached to be effective as a short.

“Goodnight Stars,” by Annie Bellet: Haven’t read it yet, but I’ve heard good things about it. I’ll update later if I can get hold of the anthology it’s in.

UPDATE, 15 Apr 2015: Ms. Bellet has withdrawn her story from the Hugo ballot. Details here. I’m still planning to find her story and read it (Further update: It’s available for free reading in several formats on the anthology website). No word yet on whether another nominee will move up to take its place.

UPDATE, 16 Apr 2015: Steven Diamond’s short story, “A Single Samurai,” has assumed the ballot position vacated by “Goodnight Stars.”

UPDATE, 28 Apr 2015: I read “Goodnight Stars” and enjoyed it very much. A meteor strike on the moon cascades into devastation on Earth, and an astronaut’s daughter struggles to survive the disaster and come to terms with its implications. A fine story, and it’s a shame it was withdrawn, though I can sympathize with the author’s reasons for doing so. I’m sure we’ll see more award-caliber work from Annie Bellet soon.

And I’d like to add that pressuring authors to withdraw nominated stories via rumor-mongering and explicit or implied threat to their careers, livelihoods, or personal safety is a deed much more foul than any purported public or private “gaming” of the nomination process by one or more third parties. I’ve had it with these little bands of vigilantes who perpetuate stupid political flame wars and spend most of their time shooting noncombatants. I’m about ready to abandon genre and focus what remains of my productive writing life on non-fiction, not that anybody would probably notice. Perhaps some nice travelogues…

Bottom-line, I think there’s enough quality among the stories in this category, when I compare them to last year’s nominees, that there’s little justification for voting “No Award” overall other than as a symbolic protest against the Puppies. My opinion only, your mileage may vary.

Kickback (social): “A get-together consisting of close friends, partying and drinking.” I understand there are a lot of kickbacks at Worldcon, for both winners and losers, after the Hugo Award presentation.

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