Review of Plural of Helen of Troy

Book Review – Plural of Helen of Troy by John C. Wright


How many stories have you read or films have you watched that incorporate time travel as part of the plot? Quite a few, I expect. And how many of those actually deal with the morality of time travel itself, instead of purely using it as a mechanism to generate a fish out of water scenario? Not so many. What would society look like if technologies existed to manipulate time however you saw fit?


Plural of Helen of Troy is one of a collection of short stories that deal with these very questions, entitled City Beyond Time, Tales of the Fall of Metachronopolis.


Murder in Metachronopols and Plural of Helen of Troy bookend this collection of short stories and are both set in the city outside of time itself, in which the Time Wardens rule with impunity and seemingly limitless power, able to retroactively go back in time and manipulate every event to reach the outcome they desire, transporting people and technology from every time period in history to their magnificent timeless city to act as their servants and playthings. Both stories are centred around a hard-boiled film-noir style detective who used to work for the Time Wardens as a problem solver (i.e. hitman). In Murder in Metachronopolis, he is attempting to solve his own murder in the future, in Plural of Helen of Troy, he is trying to save the most beautiful woman in history, one of many versions of Helen of Troy, from being attacked by someone who is close to the Time Wardens and aided by one of their deadliest robotic henchmen.

Both stories are told out of chronological sequence, which suits a story about time manipulation and is done so well that it is not confusing, instead each jump forward and backward in time either throws new light on or raises the stakes of what is happening in the main story thread. There is a lot of great humour, for example:


I ran up the nearer ramp toward the girl and sprinted toward my death.

I’d had a pretty good life, I guess. I had no complaints.

Strike that. My life stank like an incontinent skunk pie sandwich with no mustard, if one of the slices was the crusty heel no one likes to eat, and I had loads of complaints.

And the action sequences are intense and tactically brilliant, including how the deadlock is broken between two weapon systems that can perfectly predict and counteract each other.

Of the two stories, I’d say that Murder in Metachronopolis has more depth and emotional impact, while Plural of Helen of Troy is more fun. Both are masterfully crafted, insightful and rewarding to read, and I cannot recommend them enough. I could say much the same for every story in the collection without reservation. If I had to pick between the above two stories, I’d go for Murder in Metachronopolis, but it was first published earlier than the rest, hence ineligible for the Hugo this year.


If you haven’t yet sampled this great collection from a master of the art, you are missing out.

A Vote for No Award is a vote that Vox is right

It seems those who continue to have a hissy fit over the Hugo awards have painted themselves into an odd corner. All these calls for NO AWARD because the “Hugos have been gamed” or that the “Hugos are our award” and all the rest of the drivel leave them in an problematic position. Many of them are already on record as saying, essentially, “I don’t care about the quality of the books I am voting NO AWARD on principle!”, so it is reasonable to assume many of the NO AWARD votes will be cast out of spite and not because they read the books and didn’t like them. It is too late to protest otherwise, louder voices have already said that “principle” demands they vote NO AWARD. Any cries to the contrary can reasonably be dismissed as lies because if the Sad Puppies hit pieces are anything to go by, telling bald faced and obvious lies is second nature to the “NO AWARD” crowd.

I wonder if they realize that this is probably to some degree, exactly what Vox wants to see happen. That voting NO AWARD, after everything that has been said, will vindicate perfectly the narrative he has promulgated that says “The only care about being gate keepers and they hate those who dare to threaten their power”. It will vindicate Larry and Brad as well, and vindicate everything Sad and Rabid puppies has been about.

Some people have even suggested the Hugos be canceled this year over everything that has happened. I have it on good advice that this is a very unlikely outcome and it would be legally a breach of contract and problematic but that has never stopped some people from being stupid. So i’d like to state for the record, if they Hugos are canceled I will want my $40 voting membership back and would regard it as an act of fraud by the Worldcon group to do such a thing. I doubt I would be alone in this either and I do have it on good legal advice that this would likely be grounds for a class action law suit to recover the money.

I can also see some childish idiots, if any of the Sad or Rabid puppies win an award, booing as it is handed out. This would also vindicate Vox and be seen as evidence he was right as well.

So to the SJW I say, do what ever you like, show the world that Vox is right, show everybody that everything that has been said about SF being infested with a collection of SJW thugs bent on control and the crushing of dissenting ideas is true, that they only want skin deep diversity. Show the world that the SJW cares nothing for science fiction and that it is all about a lunatic ideology. Show everybody who is on the fence that the reasonable and sane voices in the argument are Larry and Brad and that the petty thuggish children are his opponents. Show everybody that Vox may be an “extremist” but he isn’t nearly as extreme as those with a lust for power that will burn the Hugos to the ground if they can’t have their way.

So vote NO AWARD, demand the Hugos be canceled and the voting rules changed, Boo the awards. You will hear the echos of laughter from Vox’s dark mountain death fortress as he sits atop his throne of stuffed endangered species sipping the blood of an infant from the skull of its twin, or so I assume is the case based on the way the SJW’s characterize him.

Or, you know, just read the stories and pick the best one like an adult.

Kicking Puppies While They Are Down

Sad Puppies

This weekend, a lot of fans have acted in a disappointing, mob-mentality manner. Fans, I’m sorry to say, on both sides.

A lot of good authors received Hugo award nominations on Saturday…after hard work and the support of many fans.

But two people crying “The sky is falling! Gamergate is coming!” ruined it for a great many people.

The idea came into people’s heads that the Hugos had been hijacked and the nominations were illegitimate—people who did not bother looking into how the Sad Puppies campaign was run. (There was even a libelous—quickly retracted—Entertainment Weekly article based on some of this false information. EW had to issue a lengthy apology.)

Folks, it is true that more fans chose this year’s winners than any other year. But the difference between this year and last year was: 199.

Yep. 199 more fans signed up.

Not really an attack by the galloping hordes.

For this…199 new votes this year…people are calling to vote No Award, rather than read the works and pick the one you find the best.

What is this, folks? Elementary school?

So why did people say that Gamergate swung the vote?

Because one—note the word ONE—longtime fan is a Gamergate guy, too, and wrote a tweet calling on friends to support his favorite authors.

This gentleman, who goes by the name of Daddy Warpig, left this in the comments a post about the EW article:

Daddy Warpig commented on Entertainment Weekly guilty of libel?

BRAD: A letter I sent to the editors of Entertainment Weekly. To whom it may concern, I am writing to point out some …

As the shining, guilt-proving link between #GamerGate and Sad Puppies (according to Patrick Nielsen Hayden and followers):

1 – I only nominated works I read.

2 – I didn’t nominate Sad Puppies works I had read, because I didn’t believe they deserved it.

3 – I nominated other works I felt deserved it, which didn’t make it.

I’m glad I participated, and I’m looking forward to participating next year.

Also, I’m a nobody, who had nothing to do with Sad Puppies except sending out some tweets and joining Sasquan. PNH used my tweets to defame everyone in Sad Puppies. That’s despicable.

The people of Sad Puppies won a victory. #GamerGate had little or nothing to do with it.

Congrats, and good luck beating No Award!

For this, you kicked your friends when they were vulnerable?

And the Puppy fans, alas, were hardly better. For every Hugo nomination receiver I know who was attacked, I know an innocent Liberal fan who was ravaged by Puppy supporters.

Yesterday was a sad day for fluffy baby animals of all varieties.


Were the Hugo’s rigged?


I saw this interesting response on Facebook to the Hugo Award announcement and it got me thinking. I’m referring to John’s comment “Heavily gamed”. This is the suggestion originally made by Larry Correia and others based on the curiously skewed nature of the Hugo slate in past years.

I doubt the data exists, and if it does I doubt it would be released, but the question could certainly be answered definitively by releasing all of the voting data with the names of the persons voting. If block rigged voting exists it would be immediately obvious from sets of data from past years in the Hugo’s for the 10 years or so in question. I’m assuming for one reason or another the data wouldn’t be released but it would certainly answer and refute the accusation of block voting in the past that all of the current accusers deny. Even if the names were substituted for id numbers and the id numbers matched across names over the years (So we don’t know who #5497 is but any time #5497 votes we can see who they voted for), that would probably still provide interesting information.

I suspect what I ask is impossible, but if people are going to start threatening to vote “no award” and scream about how it was “fixed” and so on, then they have a golden opportunity to show Larry and the others up as wildly mistaken and foolish for engaging in silly conspiracy theories. If of course they are block voting and trying to act as gate-keepers and keep the riffraff out, then the voting data would probably show this as well. I guess it depends if you have something to hide. I realize it will likely be impossible to get the information to settle the question one way or the other so this will have to remain in the realm of idle speculation. Still it would be nice to see the question definitively answered one way or the other, even if the exact names were redacted.

First They Came For The Oscars: My Take On The Hugos.


With the Hugo Nominations being announced tomorrow, the topic of what is right or wrong with the award is quite popular right now.

I am going to take a step away from most of the discussion on this topic and say that I do not believe the issue is political.

Sure, at the moment, one group is on one side of the political spectrum and the other is on the other, but that is not the issue that is actually before us.

The issue is: Insular vs. Populous

Let me tell you a little about my background and why I believe this.

When I was young, I worked for my father. My father distributed movies to television. He would find public domain movies with expired copyrights (or no copyright, the laws were different then), find rental companies (reel–this was before tape) that had copies, and make these copies available to television stations to use for mid-afternoon and late night filler.

Doesn’t sound like much, but he put two kids through expensive colleges on that work.

My job, among other things, was to write catalogues. We did our catalogues along different themes: women’s movies, cowboy movies, scary movies, and—most importantly—Academy Award Winners.

Have you ever read the list of Oscar nominees for 1939? This was before they limited the number of nominations to five (which they seem to have moved away from again). It read:

o          Gone With the Wind

o          Dark Victory

o            Goodbye, Mr. Chips

o          Love Affair

o          Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

o            Ninotchka

o          Of Mice and Men

o            Stagecoach

o          The Wizard of Oz

o            Wuthering Heights

Can you imagine even half of those movies getting a nomination today? Do you think Gone With the Wind would still win? Would Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or even The Wizard of Oz still be listed?

Let me put this very clearly: Had this been 1939, everyone’s favorite movie of 2014 would have at least received a nomination, if not actually won—instead of receiving nominations for things like Make-Up and Visual Effects and losing to a move called Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)—which I had never heard of until I looked it up. (This does not mean it is not a good movie…but it sure as Sundays means it’s not a popular movie.)

I am speaking, of course, of Guardians of the Galaxy.

(Okay, disclaimer Guardians of the Galaxy, much as I absolutely loved it, was not my favorite movie of 2015. That distinction falls to my new top favorite movie, Winter’s Tale, which really did deserve an award, but instead was watched by six guys, one whom wandered into the theatre by mistake, a tree, and me. But I digress.)

Oh, come on! You are thinking, a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy would never win best picture!

To which I say: Exactly!

What is the point of a Best Picture award that has nothing to do with the best picture of the year?

Really, the Oscar award should be called Top Artsy Film.

What happened to the award that used to go to movies like It Happened One Night and Gigi? My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music?

Can you imagine those movies winning today?

When did it become “Award for the snobbiest movie of the year?”

Okay, that’s not entirely fair, good movies do occasionally win, but, imho, the best movies of the year haven’t won in years. And it seems to have gotten worse in the last decade.

Why is this?

Is it a secret conspiracy? An evil plot? Demons?

Possibly demons, but I don’t think so.

I think it is a natural process that I will call saturation.

The Academy Awards are voted on by…the Academy For Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. These are serious professionals who care about the business. This means they watch LOTS of movies.

Lots. Scads, even.

And, like reviewers, who often pan movies audiences love, they begin to put a higher and higher value on originality.

Because they’ve seen it before. They want something new.

Also, they like things that are creative because they build on other things, things only they have seen. This movie harkens back in a clever way to one from fifty years ago. That impresses someone who has seen both movies.

It doesn’t do jack for the public.

So, the insular quality of the voting audience has, over the years, made the Oscars go from topical to trivial.

And good movies go by unnoticed and unremarked upon…except in the box office.

(Unless they are the best movie of the year, which only got viewed by six folks, a tree, and me. But I digress.)

So…what about the Hugos?

Same thing happened.

Hugos used to go to the big, commercially successful books everyone loved. (Like The Martian. I think we all agree…on both sides of the great Hugo divide…that The Martian would have deserved the Best Novel award this year, had it been eligible.)

And they voted for books on both sides of the political spetrum, as evidenced as the winners for 1960 ad 1962:

1960  Starship Stormtroopers by Robert Heinlein

1962 Stranger In A Strange Bed by Robert Heinlein

See? Both sides represented. ;-P

There were winners people still love today, such as Dune and Lord of Light. And winners that, nowadays, I alone still remember and like, such as And Call Me Conrad (This Immortal).

But back then, there was a regular corollary between the books that won and the books that were selling to general fandom.

Nowadays, the Hugos seem to have gone the way of the Academy Awards—being awarded by a relatively small group of fans who have read it all. So they look for very different things in a book than the general reading public.

There is nothing wrong with this.

(Brief side note: people I have spoken to disagree on the merits of last year’s winner. I have not read it. It could be terrific. But I note that while a few people say they actually liked the book, most seem to like it because it got rid of he and she. In particular, because they thought this was some step kind of forward in women’s rights.

Folks, the Chinese language does not have he and she…and it hasn’t exactly opened their eyes on the matter of equal rights for the sexes. Okay, back to our main programming.)

But a vote from a small crowd of fans is not the same as a vote from a large one.

So lets look at two things in particular: Larry Correia and Redshirts.

Larry Correia.

Never mind what you think of his politics, Larry Correia SELLS!  (He puts more aside in one quarter of the year for estimated taxes than quite a few authors I know have made in their entire writing career. )

What’s more, people LOVE his stuff.

Teenage girls, school teachers, librarians, technical writers, erudite psychiatrists. What do they all have in common? They are all reading Hard Magic or the Monster Hunter books.

The excitement about Correia among fans reminds me of George. R. R. Martin about ten or fifteen years ago, when his third book had come out and not all that many people had heard of him, but if you had, oh my, did you go crazy with book love when you discovered that your neighbor who you ran into at the school bus stop was also a fan of Game of Thrones. Or Butcher. Even today, diverse fans across the spectrum light up at the mention of Harry Dresden.

That’s the kind of excitement Correia’s books are garnering.

Are his books the best written this year?

Maybe, maybe not. But I enjoyed Hard Magic tremendously, and if a book like that won an award, I would not thing the award ill served.

Even if there are better books out there, a pertinent, up-to-date award would at least give Correia and Butcher a nod…because the same fans who lay down their dollars so enthusiastically for these gentlemen’s books would tend to suggest them.

But before the last two years, these authors were not even getting suggested—because fans in general were no longer voting for the award.

Many fans I know don’t even know the Hugos exist. Which is a crime. If not for the present and the future, the dignity and name of the Hugos should be more widely known so as to encourage new fans to seek out the excellent winners of yester year.

Second case: Redshirts.

I have not read Redshirts, but I have heard a lot of flack about it getting an award. But I am not entirely sure the flack is merited. Here’s why:

I recently had lunch with a writer friend. While chatting over lunch, she mentioned that when she wants to share SF with someone who has never read it, she always recommends Scalzi, Old Man’s War, in particular. It was a great book, she explained, for introducing those dignified fellows at work to the world of science fiction.

And I realized that she was right. The very complaints I had heard about Old Man’s War, that it was derivative of earlier science fiction works, becomes a virtue if you want to introduce someone to the very ideas that those older books represented without overwhelming the person.

I am reminded of Eragon. A friend said he never read it because he was told, “Don’t bother. You’ve already read all those books” ( i.e. the books it was derived from. )

But my eldest son LOVED it. He’d never read the many things it borrowed from.

The story was new to him.

So, did Redshirts win its Hugo on its merits?

Probably not. Throughout time immemorial, works often win based on how much readers liked the author’s previous works. So, it was partially due to reader’s admiration for Old Man’s War that Redshirts got its nomination…a book, as we have just learned, that is useful for lowering the heavy investment cost sometimes involved with entering our beloved field.

Any writer who helps draw in new fans deserves a Hugo nod.

But Redshirts had something else going for it as well. Nostalgia. So many of us came into fandom through Star Trek. A book nod to the power of Star Trek delights us even as Galaxy Quest delighted us. (Hey, it really wasn’t a great movie…but who can resist being amused by it.)

Now, you can argue that Redshirts getting an award for nostalgic reasons is a blow against the Hugos because it is like the Academy voting for movies that have in-references to other movies.

Or you can argue that it is a win for the Hugos, because the book really did have a broad fan appeal—to the many, many fans who so love Star Trek.

I’m not going to take sides on that. For the point of this article, it doesn’t matter.

But if Redshirts had won with 30,000 fans voting or 100,000 fans voting, the answer would be much more clear than the current situation, where the Hugo was awarded by the 6,060 people voting at World Con 2013. (No slight against these good folks, mind you! They went and voted! It’s our own fault, if the rest of us don’t up and participate!)

There was a recent much copied quote about the Hugos belonging to a small group of people.

This should not be.

Science fiction already has an Academy-like award presented by field professionals. It’s called the Nebulas. The Hugos were supposed to be the popular vote.

The question is: How can it become popular again?


How you can help with Sad Puppies 3


Brad has an update on the SAd Puppies 3 Campaing. Don’t forget you need to get (at least) a voting membership for Sasquan

“And when the three puppy astronauts — Ray, Isaac, and Frank — observed the lay of the alien land on Hugo World, they let out a forlorn howl. For they saw nothing but tedious ‘message’ fiction, depressing talk-talk stories about amoral people with severe ennui, and literary MFA novels. Not a rocketship nor a ray gun in sight. ‘Can someone please give us some explosions?’ the puppies cried in unison. ‘I mean, we were promised explosions! And kick-ass laser battles! And all we got were some lousy t-shirts that said, This is what a feminist looks like! We don’t want that stupid crap! We came to have fun! At least give us loud bowling shirts with babes on them; like the one that comet guy wore!’”

Yes, friends, the time is near — for you to put your money where your instinct for rambunctious irreverence is. January 31 is your final day to register as a member of Sasquan, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention. Of course, you don’t have to be a Sasquan member to participate in the Hugo award voting and nominations. You can also be a member of either Loncon 3 (last year’s Worldcon) or MidAmeriCon II (next year’s Worldcon.) If you have a membership for any of these, you’re good to go for the Hugo nomination period. Otherwise, if you’re new to SAD PUPPIES and you want to join the pack effort, sign up for Sasquan now! It’s your chance (as a science fiction or fantasy fan, of any type, any style, any age, or any interest) to make your voice heard — to put some genuine prestige back into SF/F’s self-branded “most prestigious science fiction award.”

As noted in earlier SAD PUPPIES 3 posts, the point of the PUPPIES campaign 2015 is to try to get both people and works onto the ballot who are both a) wholly deserving and b) unlikely to ever be there, due to Worldcon’s ever-skewing and ever-more-politicized voting trends. There is also c) the push to expand the Hugos to include SF/F gaming in one or more categories — a project that will take multiple Worldcons to effect.

So, please don’t hesitate. The door slams shut at midnight in eleven days. And if you don’t have the cash for a full membership, no worries. Supporting memberships cost less, and are just as valid at the ballot box. So add your voice to the din, and help combat puppy sadness! This is YOUR genre and YOUR award. Not the trophy of a secluded club. Yours. The tie-in novel fan, the gamer, the anime enthusiast, Star Wars and Star Trek fans, Marvel comics (and comics movies) fans, and so forth. EVERYBODY deserves a seat at the table, and a chance to be heard.

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