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28 June 2018

Tasting the bitter coffee of the Nebula Humble Bundle

It's more of a mixed bag

Some years ago, when I lived in a shared appartment, one of my flatmates was an Italian with high culinary aspirations. But he was also a bit thrifty. So one day he went to a discount super market and bought a bag of coffee of their house brand. It did not take him very long to find out that what he bought was total rubbish and basically not drinkable, of which he complained loudly to me. I basically told him: "What did you expect from a bag of coffee for 1.50 Euro? Just throw it away and buy something better." But no, he insisted on finishing that bag of coffee, drinking all the bitter and foul tasting black fluid he produced with it.

Last month I came across a "Humble Bundle" of science fiction books. In case you don't know the "humble bundle" thing, it's some organization that sells bundles of software (mostly games) or ebooks, the buyer can set the price, and everything over a certain amounts goes to charity. Obviously the quality of the products in the bundle can vary quite a bit. In any case, I wanted something to read and was open to try my luck. The bundle was called: "Super Nebula Author Showcase 2018 presented by SFWA!"

I didn't look too close at the description - and actually I can't link to the description of this bundle, since it seems that they don't keep historical content. The only description I can still see from their blog is "Nebula: Not just the daughter of Thanos. The Nebula Awards bundle is back with another shining compilation of some of the best speculative fiction ever published."

In any case, based on the title, what I thought I would get was some new science fiction books. Basically the stuff that people submitted to the Nebula awards in 2018. That wasn't really what I got. The first surprise was that there was a lot of "Fantasy" amongst the books. Instead of space faring, laser wielding alien races, I got dragons and elfs shooting magic arrows. Ah well, it said "speculative fiction" there in that description, I should have paid closer attention.

The books weren't all from 2018 or even recent either. In fact there are titles going back to 1972. I guess that's what the words "ever published" were referring to. In hindsight, I'm not complaining about that, since the older ones are some of the best ones that I've read so far. John Brunner's "The Sheep Look Up" had me confused totally as to when it was written and what timeframe of possible future it was meant to play. The level of destruction of nature and the details of that seemed to hint to something a few years of from now, but then there were no personal computers or digital photography etc. Turns out it's from 72, but he hit the nail on the head quite often. Not an easy read, the kind of book that has little structure and not really any protagonist, likeable or not. At first I found it really depressing and wanted to quit it many times. In the end I still found it really, really depressing, but I was glad I had read through it.

I'm not really complaining about the inclusion of "Fantasy" titles either. I think the book I liked best so far (I haven't read all of them yet), is Ursula K. Le Guin's "Power". This is some kind of "young adult" book, which basically means it has a nice ending. It also has a likeable protagonist, much in difference to Mr. Brunner's book. There are some depressing spots, but the end makes up for it. Really recommended, to the level that I'm planning to go and find more of her books to read.

So where does the "bitter coffee" analogy comes in? There are a lot of books in there that seem to be some kind of installment-based, serialized content. You get the first book, and from the start it's clear that they will just set up the stage so that you will go and buy the rest of them. That first book does not even have a real story arch. Some of those books are barely at the level of fanfic. "The Silent Strength of Stones" (by Nina Kiriki Hoffmann) is one such example. It's utter, total rubbish. This is where I continued to drink the bitter, ill-tasting fluid, just to find out where it will end up. Turns out it's "we set up this magical fantasy world, now go out and buy more installments". At least there are no vampires - though I guess with the rate of having to invent new characters and "magic" to make up for the lack of storyline, that might come up too in a later book. I'm not going to find out.

Some others of the books (that I haven't read yet), are even declared as "So and so (Season 1)", written by a bunch of authors. I blame the "netflix culture" of serialized content on this one. These people don't seems to be interested to write a book that has a message or tells a complete story. They don't want to be Hemingway giving you the tale of this old guy who goes out sailing. What they want is to do the next thing like those serials they watch on their computer, endlessly spinning some meaningless blabber on. Oh, and it should have cool magic stuff, like this other serial they watched.

I will continue reading the books in the bundle, but I will only do short tastings of the more bitter fluids, discarding those books that are utter crap from now on. I am not under any obligation to finish up a bag of cheap coffee.

Posted by betabug at 10:37 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
ch athens
Life in Athens (Greece) for a foreigner from the other side of the mountains. And with an interest in digital life and the feeling of change in a big city. Multilingual English - German - Greek.
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