Category Archives: Awards

Hugo Recommendations – Everything Else

I had the best of intentions this year: I was going to read lots and blog lots and give lots of Hugo recommendations in good time for everyone to read them. Complete fail. I managed a thorough post for Graphic Story, here’s my scattered and incomplete suggestions for the rest of the categories:

Novel
I’m not particularly well-read this year, and there have been some disappointments among the 2012 books I did read. I’m almost certainly going with Jack Glass by Adam Roberts, which is another clever, interesting SF novel from an author who writes a refreshingly different book every single time, and Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway, which similarly plays to my tastest by being smart and fun and thought-provoking. And I’m probably going with Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson, which I only just finished, but is an interesting take on religion and faith and where they collide with modern technology and social change.

Novelette
“Fade to White”, Catherynne Valente
“One Little Room an Everywhere”, KJ Parker
“Arbeitskraft”, Nick Mamatas
“Good Hunting”, Ken Liu

Short Story
“Mantis Wives”, Kij Johnson
“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” Ken Liu (again)

Related Work
It’s been pointed out to me at the last minute that Red Plenty by Francis Spufford is a 2012 book in the US, which makes it eligible; and it’s not exactly fiction or non-fiction but a non-fiction book which feels like a science fiction novel. That’s sufficient to get it in Best Related for me, and no weirder than much of the stuff in this catch-all category.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Let’s face it, this is the Avengers vs Game of Thrones vs Hobbit bunfight with Looper as an outside bet, so I’m nominating Mass Effect 3 and Dishonored.

Best Professional Artist
We can nominate comic artists here, right?
Stephanie Hans, for the gorgeous painted covers and interiors for Journey Into Mystery
Yuko Shimizu, for the covers of The Unwritten, and The Future is Japanese
Butch Guice, for the dark and noir-y art which is the the best thing about Brubaker’s slightly disappointing run on Winter Soldier

Fan Artist
Noelle Stephenson/gingerhaze, for a lot of Avengers and Hobbit comics. Poor Hawkeye, so objectified.

Fanzine
Ferretbrain. A mix of reviews, longer articles, opinions pieces, and a lively comments section.

Fan Writer
Lots of possibilities here – Martin Lewis deserves a nomination for his continuing argument with The Space Opera Renaissance, and Genevieve Valentine for funny and perceptive reviews of the worst film have to offer – but my main message is that we should be nominating Abigail Nussbaum, who gets closer to a nomination every year but never quite makes it, and reading through even a fraction of the commentary on her blog over the past year should convince you how wrong that is.

Short version: Abigail Nussbaum, Red Plenty, Ferretbrain.

My Ballot for the Best Graphic Story Hugo

In no particular order except the first:
Journey Into Mystery, Kieron Gillen, Matt Fraction on the crossovers, and a dozen artists
aka, how Kieron Gillen took a lesser-known Marvel title and filled tumblr with ALL THE FEELS. Right, back up. Journey Into Mystery is the story of Loki, who, in a previous arc I never read and don’t care about, was killed, and has cheated death to be reincarnated as a child. It’s all part of his older self’s larger plan, which Kid Loki chooses to ignore and forge his own path. It isn’t easy because he might be a kid but he’s still the God of Mischief and no one feels like trusting him, even if he’s trying to help. He spends 30 issues building up what cleverer people than me called “Ponzi scheme heroism” (spoilers in that link), pulling off a win each time but pushing the reckoning further down the road. He does it with a supporting cast of disdainful best friends, a foul-mouthed hellhound named Thori, the shirtless son of Satan, and Tony Wilson as the arch-druid leader of the mechanized cities of the industrial revolution. Kid Loki is funny, engaging, occasionally infuriating, and you root for him to win, because everyone deserves a second chance, right? And it fits all this into the constraints of the occasional comic-spanning crossover – the crossover with New Mutants feels unneccessary, but the issues where they fit Loki into the Fear Itself arc manage to work not only in the comic, but as part of the wider story (unlike Invincible Iron Man, which sets up a plot to be resolved off-screen, THANKS). It wraps up in a big crossover with The Mighty Thor as Loki’s pigeons come home to roost, and then upends it all with a final epilogue with Stephanie Hans’s amazingly gorgeous art throughout (which is so good it makes me forgive some of the less-good artists from the middle section). It’s that comic series where I heard it was good and planned to pick it up someday and got sucked into reading all of it just in time for the last issue to crush me, like it crushed all of tumblr (and fortunately someone already wrote the post on JiM’s fanbase and why it garnered the fans it did), and you should all nominate it before I take to Twitter and go on about my epic feels or something.
Hugo nerdery side note: So what do I nominate for a 31-part story which has collected shorter arcs but forms a complete whole? Do I nominate Manchester Gods, as an arc which finished in 2012? Everything Burns, the final crossover story which also finished in 2012? Just issue 645, which is a spectacular standalone? I count it is as one complete story so I’m going to nominate that. Let’s all do the same, yes?

Saga, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Everyone loves Saga – I think it was on every best-of-2012 list I read – and so I feel out of step by saying I only think it’s pretty great so far. It’s the story of Alana and Marko, star-crossed lovers from either side of a galactic war, and their newborn daughter (and narrator from the future) Hazel, and how they try and stay ahead of the different factions trying to catch up with them. And everything with Alana and Marko is pretty great – they bicker and disagree and make up, like you might if you were on the run with a newborn child, and it feels like a relationship in progress. What is a little more hit-and-miss is everything else. There’s magic and future tech and spider-legged bounty hunters and ghosts and spaceships and people with television sets for heads and a cat that can tell if you’re lying (actually, lying cat is pretty great), and having all that appear in the first 6 issues is a bit throw it all at the wall and see what sticks. And as ever I could have done without the side-plot which adds some grim and gritty via child abuse. When it’s not cramming everything in, it’s great – the art is great in a non-flashy way (I apologise in advance for my lack of ability to describe art), not particularly stylised or playing around with layouts, it’s just excellently drawn people looking like people. With wings and horns and sometimes a television set for a head.

Prophet, Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milonogiannis
This is a revamp of a past Rob Liefeld comic, not that you can tell or care once they’ve booted the action ten thousand years into the future. It is the kind of off-the-wall SF that I think Saga is going for, but Prophet has fully committed to the weird, to the point where I’m not quite sure what is going on some of the time but I’m compelled to read on anyway. The first mini-arc follows John Prophet, a human who awakes in the far future and follows the mysterious instructions which compel him to cross an alien landscape so he can climb a tower and awaken an empire. He fights his way through a mold city and a caravan of elephant-like creatures, disrupts the rebirth of the caravan king, loses an arm and gains a living carapace that forms external lungs… It’s the same throw everything at the wall approach, but there’s no relatable characters having snarky discussions, only bleak, weird landscapes, narration instead of dialogue, played in a much more serious tone. The end of the first arc reveals that there is not one John Prophet, but some unknown number of clones, and the grandaddy of them all may be back. The art feels like the little I’ve seen of French comics and Moebius’s planetscapes, lots of weird alien detail and sound effects (both those examples by Simon Roy, my favourite of the artists in volume one), and it’s not like anything else I read this year.

The Manhattan Projects, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra
The Manhattan Project, with a twist. Lots of twists. Evil twins and interdimensional portals and aliens and Wernher von Braun with a robot arm. You might be sensing a theme by now, which is that I like my comics with lots of big off-the-wall ideas, and you’d be right, but that’s not all I like. There’s a column by Chris Sims, which of course I cannot find right now to link, that talks about the way comics can be awesome because so many of them were jam-packed with amazing ideas, but that that wasn’t enough to make a good comic, you needed the rest of the book to back it up. The Manhattan Projects has a first arc which piles up the new mythology, brings in interesting new characters, sets up a neat cliffhanger for every issue, and ends with a bang. I wasn’t a huge fan of the art initially but it’s grown on me, and when you’re depicting real people it’s nice that they look like them. I should also credit the colourist Jordie Bellaire, for some great vibrant colours, and a smart use of red and blue to tell some key bits of the story..

Hawkeye, Matt Fraction, David Aja, Javier Pullido
This could so easily have been an attempt to cash in on the Avengers movie. That’s got Hawkeye in it, right? And everyone loves Jeremy Renner’s arms, never mind that Hawkeye in the film gets the least personality or development of any of the Avengers. (The Comixology Hawkeye blurb calls him “the breakout star” of Avengers, lol.) Maybe that’s why they are free to totally ignore this and write a fun story about Clint Barton aka Hawkeye, sometime Avenger but mostly just a guy who has barbecues with his neighbours and looks after his dog and sometimes gets abducted by helicarrier. And then there’s Kate Bishop, who is also Hawkeye, and not Clint’s student or girlfriend or sidekick but partner in having adventures and mostly making it out alright except for Clint sometimes getting punched in the face. This is the least sure of my nominations, because I haven’t read the latest volume of Chew yet, but volume six of a long-running series doesn’t really have a chance of a nomination, and Hawkeye has this panel. Dd I mention the art is excellent? Neat panel layouts, lots of stripped-down purples and blues, I’m not quite as fond of Javier Pullido’s two issue run but we have previously established that I am a sucker for a good sound effect.

tl;dr: I like big ideas, bad science, art that makes people look like actual people, and superhero comics that mess around with the idea of superhero comics.
My Best Graphic Story ballot is:
Journey Into Mystery #622-#645, Kieron Gillen, Matt Fraction, Doug Braithwaite, Richard Elson, Pasqual Ferry, Whilce Portacio, Mitch Breitweiser, Carmine di Giandomenico, Alan Davis, Stephanie Hans
Hawkeye, Volume #1: My Life as a Weapon, Matt Fraction, David Aja, Javier Pullido
Saga, Volume #1, Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
The Manhattan Projects, Volume #1: Science Bad, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra
Prophet Volume #1: Remission, Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milonogiannis

The BSFA Awards

So. That BSFA Award Ceremony, eh?

John Meaney was this year’s host, and after the presentation of the James White Award, he fired up his Powerpoint and launched into his introduction. You can follow the rest of the story on Twitter, where what would in the pre-social media age have been people nudging their neighbours to check they weren’t alone in their bafflement became a running back-channel commentary on what was unfolding. At first I thought it was just going to be not funny[1], but in hindsight the picture of Meaney holding a gun and joking about it was a sign of things to come, and we moved into putting up pictures of Lauren Beukes to show she was not only a great writer but so very gorgeous, and a story about Lavie Tidhar and how Israelis like martial arts, and you can see how the tweets moved from bafflement into being actively offended and pissed off. When he started to discuss gender parity and a panel on women in SF I decided that life was too short and walked out, and I wasn’t the only one to leave.

(The main hall at the Radisson Edwardian is huge and I was sat near the back of the audience, and when the hall lights go down and the stage lights go up it’s almost impossible to see the audience from the stage. So walking out was less a protest that I expected anyone involved to notice, and more a self-preservation instinct.)

There’s a response from an attendee who was not a BSFA member here, and Rose Fox rounds up some more comments on Genreville. Cheryl Morgan has some wise commentary, and if you want to watch the ceremony yourself it’s available online, because not only was there an audience at the con it was streamed live on the internet. James Nicoll and his commenters discuss it here. Meaney has also responded, rather disappointingly to my mind.

I am hoping that the BSFA will respond with an apology – people were offended and upset, and the organisation as a whole needs to take responsibility for what was said on their watch. I know that it’s a volunteer organisation, and it’s not fun to put time and effort into a hobby and to have people respond with unhappiness and anger and tell us when we’re being sexist and racist, but we can’t use the fact that we are volunteers to shield ourselves when we fuck up. An apology, and a promise that in future they will try to do better, will go a long way. They’ve done it before, they can do it again.

There’s a wider point I want to make, though – one reason why this went down so poorly is the context of a convention where there seemed to be a concerted effort to work on the issues we have about diversity and inclusivity and to stop riding the failboat, reflected in some incredibly positive coverage in the mainstream media. I’m not saying we are anywhere near finished working on our issues – we’ve barely started – but I felt more positive than I have at any previous events about both our ability to actually work towards these goals and also our ability to hold our hands up, apologise when we get it wrong, and keep the process going until we get it right.

And into this environment came a speech which relied on stereotypes and terrible Powerpoint, and the defence is that it’s not so bad because everyone is friends and can take a joke. I had no idea that “Meaney-Lally insults are a con tradition” and I’m hardly new to conventions, and while there is a place for in-jokes and poking fun at our friends, I would suggest that maybe the place to do this is not at the flagship event of the BSFA, with a large audience who aren’t familiar with your jokes. The impression it gives is that the BSFA is a cliquey bunch of mates who are out of touch with what was actually happening at the convention and in the wider world, and that’s not going to attract new members to the organisation. Even if the jokes were funny and non-offensive, I’m wondering if a different strategy wouldn’t be better – do as the Clarke Award does, and talk about the nominees, introduce them and the organisation to the audience, and look like we’re a set of professionals who care about what we do and the image we present.

[1] I did chuckle at a picture of Christopher Priest in a funny hat, because I am 12.

My 2011 Hugo Ballot

I am comically last-minute sorting out my Hugo ballot, and despite having three days left I still aspire to read an impractical amount of stuff before the deadline (and that assumes I don’t get sucked straight into Mass Effect 3 this weekend). A few scattered thoughts:

Best Novel

  • Embassytown, China Mieville
  • By Light Alone, Adam Roberts
  • God’s War, Kameron Hurley

… and two others. One of them will probably be The Magician King, in spite of my disagreements with the ending. The other might be David Anthony Durham’s The Sacred Band, but I have to read it first; I’m probably missing something obvious, but I can’t think what it is. Notable 2011 books I haven’t read include Zoo City, Mechanique, The Islanders, and The Testament of Jessie Lamb, and that’s just counting the ones I own. Fail.

Short Fiction
I read most of my short fiction online, which means I’ve read very few novellas as online fiction tends to the short and sweet. I can’t work out if Ahmed Khaled Towfik’s Utopia is a novella or not, but I don’t think it would make my novel ballot cut and my novella ballot is mostly empyu, so it will go in novella. In novelette and short story, I’ve read a reasonable amount this year, but nothing in particular has really stood out, except for one story which will definitely make my novelette ballot: “Not the End of the World” by Sophia McDougall, from Pandemonium: Stories of the Smoke. I haven’t read a lot of terrible stories this year, but I’ve read a lot where I thought they were pretty good but failed for one reason or another, and a few where I couldn’t say there was anything exactly wrong with them, they just didn’t work for me. “Not the End of the World” just clicks everything into place: pacing, characters, slowly unfolding plot and revelations, it all worked.

Other stories which will probably end up on my ballot:

  • “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu from Clarkesworld
  • “Semiramis” by Genevieve Valentine from Clarkesworld
  • “Six Months, Three Days” by Charlie Jane Anders at tor.com
  • “Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky in Eclipse Four
  • “Tidal Forces” by Caitlin Kiernan in Eclipse Four
  • “Widows in the World” by Gavin Grant from Strange Horizons
  • And some other stories, depending on how much I get through of my timely purchase of The Year’s Best SF&F.

    Dramatic Presentations Short and Long
    Do you remember when The Guardian decided The Wire was the best thing ever, and wouldn’t shut up about how great it was in completely unrelated posts until you were sick of it? That is me and Community right now. Nominate “Remedial Chaos Theory” for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, because let’s face it, nothing can stop the juggernaut that is Doctor Who and Neil Gaiman combined, so we may as well get something fun on the ballot. I’ll wear a black goatee!

    As for BDP:Long Form, I plan to nominate Portal 2, because it is brilliant and provided me with more entertainment than almsot anything else from last year. Let’s go to space!

    Best Fan Writer
    Let’s nominate Abigail Nussbaum. Here is a selection of her excellent writing from the past year: book reviews from Terry Pratchett’s Snuff to the work of Gwyneth Jones and a fascinating review of MJ Engh’s Arslan (and be sure to read the comments on that one), and equally brilliant writing on SF&F TV and film. Whether I agree or disagree with her opinions, it’s never less than interesting to read them.

    In summary: “Not the End of the World”, “Remedial Chaos Theory”, Portal 2, Abigail Nussbaum.

The Kitschies

The winners of the Kitschies were announced on Friday night, which basically proved I am horrendously bad at predicting awards. I posted my predictions over at Martin’s blog, and managed a 1 in 3 success rate. The success was the Golden Tentacle category, where having read only God’s War I nonetheless felt confident in predicting it would win, and I knew I was correct even before the judges made a remark about the winner being about organ donation. Score one for me, and a well-deserved winner of a fetching and cuddly trophy.

For the Inky Tentacle I had an obvious front-runner in the form of A Monster Calls, which is full of gorgeous, unsettling illustrations, and even taking the cover alone I didn’t see how the others could compete against that. But I didn’t think the rest of the covers on the shortlist were all that brilliant – no nods for the stylish, slightly retro cover for By Light Alone, or the striking cover of The Kingdom of Gods, and even if you’re more into graphic design and layout than actual artwork, I’d still take the cover of Osama, or maybe the foreboding image from Zone One over most of the nominees. The eventual winner was the cover for Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf, which just proves that it is very difficult to second-guess someone’s taste in art when you are clearly miles and miles apart.

I had a strong personal frontrunner for the Inky Tentacle, and a strong suspicion that I would be completely wrong. I thought the Red Tentacle would be much easier to predict, but I was once again totally off. I like A Monster Calls a lot – it is moving and emotional and beautifully illustrated, and the more I think about it the more I realise how beautiful the pacing is, building up to the climax which is not shocking but satisying and sad all the same. It made me cry, a wee bit, and not a lot of books do that. If I were picking the best book of the year, with no other criteria, I might be tempted to choose it.

But the Kitschies do have criteria. They are for the year’s “most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works”, and even without having read the whole shortlist, I have a hard time seeing how A Monster Calls fulfils these better than two of the other novels – Osama and Embassytown. Osama engages with violence and terrorism through the trappings of noir and pulp fiction, while Embassytown is a dissertation of language and linguistics and philosophy wrapped up in a space opera. Both reward careful reading and thinking and have sparked extensive discussion, while A Monster Calls is a book I reacted to on an entirely different, emotional level. Perhaps, as as was suggested while queueing for fish and chips shortly before the award presentation, I am looking at the criteria for awards in the wrong way – having decided all these books were progressive, entertaining, and intelligent enough to be on the shortlist, it remained only to pick the best of the five as the winner. But I’m still a little surprised by the choice.

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.

A note on the Locus Poll

A couple of tweets I read this morning, referenced by some discussion which took place well before I was awake:

@clarkesworld Have you voted in the Locus Poll this year? http://tinyurl.com/4ajnnst More people that vote = less worry about the subscriber doublevotes

@clarkesworld Besides we really should be supporting the only significant award process in the genre that doesn’t cost you a penny. #locuspoll

This is a sentiment that I fundamentally disagree with, and in a more wordy fashion than will fit into 140 characters. Yes, I can vote in the Locus Poll for free, but everyone who pays gets two votes. I don’t think this makes it a free award, and I don’t want to support the practice by getting lots of people to vote. In fact I would like everyone to stop voting in the poll, so they don’t get to have a large voting base at the same time as treating the opinions of everyone who doesn’t pay them as only 50% as worthy as those who do. (Basically, everything that Abigail said.)

If you want a big, free, popular vote award open to all, how about the SFX Awards? Voting isn’t open right now, so I can’t double-check the rules, but I’m pretty sure anyone can vote on their website without them downweighting your vote based on whether you read the magazine or not.