Monthly Archives: April 2011

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Hugo nominations

The Hugo nominees were announced live at Eastercon (as they were last year, and hopefully will be again). Vince Doherty started the announcements with some graphs and stats, and showed that this year, more people nominated in the Hugos than ever before. He followed it up with the announcement of the fan Hugo categories, and after I had finished applauding for all my friends who were nominated, I realised that the Best Fanzine slate was basically the same as last year. Best Fan Writer has at least one new name and a second-time nominee, and Best Fan Artist has some new nominees (notably Randall Munroe), but the record nomination numbers have failed to have much impact at all. After StarShipSofa’s win last year, I was expecting a flood of podcasts on the ballot, but then I’ve been expecting a flood of blogs to replace fanzines for the past few years, and that hasn’t happened.

Aidan Moher at A Dribble of Ink comments further on the fan Hugos: “Maybe I’m exposing my ignorance here, but beyond StarShipSofa, I haven’t heard of a damn one, nor am I familiar with any of the writers.” Three of the best fan writer nominees have already popped up in comments, so I’m not sure that the fan-writing pool really is largely composed of “older fans whose interaction with the SFF blogosphere is limited”, but wherever their fan writing is taking place, be it in fanzines paper or electronic or on blogs, it seems to be invisible to a large amount of the blogosphere. I know who all the best fan writer nominees are and I am neither old nor ignorant of the blogosphere, but I seem to be in a minority. Do all the blog readers who nominate in the Hugos just not nominate blogs, or do they fail to nominate at all?

It’s not just the fan Hugos which have remained static: Semiprozine has one difference from last year, as Lightspeed knocks off Ansible, in Best Editor Short Form John Joseph Adams bumps Ellen Datlow, and the slate for Best Pro Artist is exactly the same as 2010.

N. K. Jemisin tweeted she was “contemplating what it means that this year’s Hugo noms came fom a record-breaking number of ballots”. And actually, we have some statistics for this year’s nominations already, and those for previous years are (mostly) available, so I have indulged in my favourite nerd hobby and made us some graphs to see what we can tell. (Raw data is in this spreadsheet.)

Here’s a graph showing the total nominations in each category for the last nine years[1]:

Graph of total nomination numbers

From which we can conclude that while there may be more people nominating that ever before, a lot of them only nominate novels. There’s a general upward trend, and it’s more pronounced in some categories (short story is up a bit, and it’s nice to see an increase in nominations for graphic story), but best novel is racing ahead.

It may not be a huge increase in the number of nominators, but there’s still a bump for most categories. Take best fanzine, which has gone from 157 nominators in 2008 to 340 in 2011. Does that mean it it harder to get on the ballot? The answer is yes, but not by much.

Here’s a graph showing the number of nominations the lowest-placed nominee received in each category over the past nine years:

Graph of lowest-placed nominee numbers

From which we can conclude that 2010 was an absolutely stonking year for genre film. Outside the wild oscillations of BDP-LF, there’s not a lot of change in many of the other categories. Making the best fanzine ballot required 43 nominations this year, one less that way back in 2003. Best Graphic Story had 30% more nominations this year, but you only needed 2 more nominations than last year to get on the ballot. (For me, it only underlines the madness of Best Graphic Story that Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour couldn’t muster 21 nominations.) More nominating ballots just means more diversity in what gets nominated – witness Best Short Story, which got more nominating ballots than any year I have data for, and yet there are 4 nominees because no other story got the required 5% of nominations. It’s good to have a large voting pool and a large amount of nominees to vote for, but the consensus still forms around the same nominees as before.

And meanwhile the debate on what fanwriting is and isn’t, and what constitutes a fanzine, and whether we’re too insular and unwelcoming or just upholding fine fannish tradition is already ongoing on the internet, as I expect it to continue breaking out every year about this time until there’s a successful motion to change the rules or we get the heat death of the universe. I don’t have any good answers. I’d like to see more variety in many categories – there are certainly blogs I’d like to see in best fanzine – but I don’t want variety for variety’s sake. I recognise, as Moher mentions, that there is excellent writing in online venues, but I wouldn’t want to see blogs with a greater audience knock fan writing as fine as the writing in Banana Wings off the ballot.

And it’s worth being reminded that even as we have these discussions in the SF bit of the blogosphere about fanzines and fanwriting, there are whole other swathes of fandom out there wondering why we picked “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury” instead of a million other fanvids.

[1] Stats note: I can’t find the total nomination figures for 2007, only the figures for each nominee. Also, the figures for 2010 may not be exact, as they were calculated from the percentages and number who nominated the top nominee in each category, so they’re probably off by one or two.

And for once it wasn’t Sean Bean who got his shirt off

Those who read my previous posts might be interested in these thoughtful reviews and discussion of elf-shagging Dragon Age 2 and Don’t Take it Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story, respectively. And then you could read Dan Hemmens’ review of The Wise Man’s Fear and the discussion of it over at Asking the Wrong Questions, and actually you may as well just go and read all of Ferretbrain and Asking the Wrong Questions. It’s ok, I’ll wait.

I watched Game of Thrones the other day with a mixed group of both book fans, and those who’d never read any of them. I fall into the former group, and I think it’s unsurprising that I loved it, because this is a show, and the first few episodes in particular, where the experience is going to be so different between the different groups of fans that it’s hard to compare them.

(Here be spoilers, by the way.)

Trying to look at it objectively, I think it did the best job it could with the difficult task of introducing a whole new world and set of characters in one hour. Westeros is recognisable as a vaguely medieval world, a setting we’re familiar with, but you have to introduce the big things, like the seven kingdoms and the lands across the sea, and the long seasons turning to winter, not to mention the Wall and what it represents. Certain aspects were barely touched, but they got over the main points, helped by the way that Pentos and Kings Landing really do look different from the chill of the Wall and the grim greyness of Winterfell. Characters I’m not sure they managed as well. There was some debate as to whether they could have left the whole strand in Pentos until the second episode, and focus on the Starks and Lannisters and Baratheons, and there’s some merit to that – more time to dwell on Robert and Ned and how they are friends wouldn’t go amiss, and when they talk about the five Stark children it’s pretty tricky to work out which of the half-dozen children hanging around are actually Starks. I’m not sure that matters, though – what they needed to convey they did, and while it led to occasionally clumsy bits of dialogue about bastards and siblings, it gets across.

But were I coming to the show cold, I don’t think it would have won me over based on this episode. Watching Daenerys be so utterly passive is painful unless you know it’s going to contrast against her actions for the rest of the season; watching Sansa be a typical teenager isn’t as interesting unless you know what it’s setting up (and there’s a hint of it in Cersei’s cool attitude and blunt questions about whether she menstruates). There’s lots of sex, and you couldn’t do without Daenerys and Drogo’s wedding night, or Jaime and Cersei’s tryst in the tower, but it’s a shame that Tyrion’s introduction doesn’t bring out his cleverness as much as his lustiness. And I’m not sure the scene with the young men of Winterfell really needed to stand around chatting while stripped to the waist.

There’s another argument, though – should a show be judged based on a single episode? Yes, it’s important to try and hook your viewers, but especially on the cable television model of short seasons, are viewers more prepared to invest a few more hours before they get the payoff? Alan Sepinwall admits he occasionally uses Wikipedia to keep track of the characters and their relationships (although not for the pilot episode, which he still liked). I’ve done the same, when I was trying to keep track of who was who in Frank Sobotka’s union, or the Barksdale crew. I can think of a whole bunch of recent, really excellent shows where I haven’t been hooked immediately – Mad Men‘s first episode is deeply unsubtle, after the first hour of Treme I could name maybe three characters and one of those was “John Goodman”, and I still don’t know who all the interchangeable gangsters are in Boardwalk Empire. If what it takes to get TV which doesn’t stick to a tried and tested formula of police procedural or plucky lawyer is that I have to be willing to give it a little more time and spend some of it being confused, then I think it’s worth giving it a shot.

Digital Love Stories

I spent a couple of hours this evening playing through don’t take it personally babe, it just ain’t your story. It’s billed as a “visual novel”, and by the end I was wondering whether I wouldn’t have been better off just reading a novel instead.

I downloaded it in the first place because I’d previously played Digital: A Love Story, a game by the same author, and while it did not quite live up to the hype, it had a lot to recommend it. You’re surfing around bulletin boards on your circa-1988 computer, uncovering the story as you go, along with a lot of incidental but amusing side-plots and details. It had a clever concept, some puzzles which were just difficult enough, and the brilliant idea that whenever you hit “reply” to one of these bulletin board messages, you never see what you write – you only see the response, and have to imply what you wrote. Where it fell down was on the story – maybe it was an intentional nod to the 1980s and cyberpunk, but there was no surprise in finding out that the mystery girl I was corresponding with was an AI, and then it went on to do some standard stuff with self-aware AIs and uploading and I’d have to help them in some way, and then there was the ending, and judging by the reviews, nearly everyone found that more affecting than I did.

don’t take it personally, babe, is another game about love and sex and relationships and the internet and how they all interact, although we’ve jumped forward to 2027. You play a high-school teacher in an exclusive private high school, and play through several months with your class, watching their relationships evolve and change, through the uncomfortably voyeuristic mechanism of being able to view all their public and private messages on Amie (the Facebook-equivalent of 2027). It’s much less interactive than Digital – you run through scenes, simultaneously keeping an eye on the main plot and on the conversations the students are having on Amie, until you reach a decision point and have to make a choice. I’ve only played it once, so I don’t know how much influence you can actually have on the story, but while my character was clearly a bit of a dick and a loser, I decided he was not quite enough of a dick to sleep with one of his students. It’s very much playing with the metatextuality – alongside the anime influences, you can check out “12channels”, a version of 4chan which comments on the story like a Greek chorus, and the sections between each chapter are foreshadowing what will happen next. It’s all entertaining enough, and there are some sweet moments – there’s a nicely-handled coming out story, and I felt like my decisions did prod some students towards a happy ending however ineffectual I was.

At the end, it all seemed to be coming to a head. I was about to be rumbled for reading all the kid’s private messages, which seemed a little unfair, since it was part of the game mechanic that I read their messages, and while I might have been able to play the whole game avoiding them, why should I deliberately avoid the interesting parts of the game only to have my character punished for it at the end? Of course, that doesn’t happen – I make a pre-emptive confession of my snooping, which there’s no way to avert, and find the kids knew all along I was reading. It’s trying to say something interesting about privacy and the concepts of public and private lives in the age of ubiquitous social networking, but it didn’t manage to say anything new or unexpected, and it fell flat. I couldn’t help thinking of The Quantum Thief, which I wasn’t completely sold on as a novel but delves into the same ideas of privacy and shared knowledge and different levels of public and private life, and does it in a much more interesting fashion.

The game title is true in some ways – this one ain’t my story. Digital won me over from the start with happy nostalgic memories of usenet and modem connection noises and replying to trolls about spaceship fights, but don’t take it personally is about a future I haven’t grown up in, and doesn’t resonate in the same way. It suffers from lack of interactivity, being a more straightforward story-with-decision-branches, rather than having puzzles to solve. Good and engaging gameplay can compensate for an unoriginal story, or you can get me invested in the protagonist and eager to see what effect my choices have, but when it comes to playing a mostly-fixed character in a mostly-fixed story, it has to be better than just reading a good book instead, and sadly neither of these games have quite reached that level.