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My Draft Hugo Ballot 2013

February 18, 2013

Why I am Nominating
For reasons that probably made a good deal more sense to me at the time, I decided to purchase a supporting membership of LonCon3 on the understanding that this world give me voting rights over not one, nor two, but three sets of Hugo Awards. Feeel the Poweeeeer! Edit: Evidently I do not have all that much power… as a supporting member of LonCon3 I can nominate in 2013, 2014, 2015 but only vote in 2014. *sadface*

Given that I spent much of 2012 being disappointed by the state of contemporary science fiction, I actually hesitated quite a bit over whether or not to submit any nominations. I am aware that I did not read as much genre fiction in 2012 as I have in the past and that what genre fiction I did enjoy was mostly by white men. Thus, by choosing to submit a list of nominations to the Hugo Awards, I am doing absolutely nothing to disrupt the field’s historic tendency to exclude and marginalise anyone who is not a straight white man. To the extent that I am part of anything, I am part of The Problem. However, The Problem is not the only issue facing the Hugos as we progress further and further into the 21st Century.

When considering whether or not to engage with the Hugo Awards this year, I tried to find out what other people were nominating. One of the best ways of encouraging people to engage with a democratic process is to demonstrate that people like them are already invested in the process. If people see that others with similar tastes and values are participating in a popular vote then they are less likely to think that their engagement will be a waste of time. I’m not sure exactly what I expected to find when I began searching for Hugo Award nomination posts but what I hoped to find was lots of different types of fan listing their nominations and discussing not only the best works of 2012 but also the best films, the best TV and the most award-worthy fans. In other words, posts like these:

Each of these posts suggests possible nominations and goes out of its way to articulate what it is about these people and works that make them worthy of our attention. Some of these lists are even written with The Problem in mind and attempt to address it by drawing our attention to people who are on the receiving end of the field’s historical inequalities. Unfortunately, while I did find a few posts attempting to widen people’s nomination horizons, what I mostly found were people trying to get other people to vote for them:

Let me be absolutely clear: My issue is not with the fact that people feel the need to remind their fans that they are eligible for particular awards. I know that publishers now leave authors to do the brunt of their own publicity and I know that the sales and PR boosts that come from winning an award can make the difference between being a full-time writer and sticking with the day job. My issue is not with the people engaged in the grinding and socially awkward task of being a professional writer but with the people who remind others of their eligibility whilst conveniently failing to acknowledge the existence of works other than their own.

The difference between the two lists is that while the first group of posts encourages people to think and talk about the best the field has to offer, the second group concerns itself solely with getting out an existing vote. The real tragedy here is that because the second type of post is far more common than the first, there has been little actual discussion of whom and what deserves a place on the Hugo ballot. Sure people will discuss the shortlists once they’re revealed but that discussion does not challenge existing voting patterns or ask questions about the types of people who show up on award shortlists. Rather than talking about the field and encouraging it to evolve, people are simply campaigning for recognition with it. Given the existence of The Problem and the field’s tendency to overlook certain writers and fans simply because of their race, gender or sexuality, I find this lack of engagement with the nomination process to be deeply troubling. Indeed, if you’re moaning about the lack of women or POC on the Hugo shortlists then you are already too late to make a difference to that particular year. Where there should be disagreement, self-examination and community, there is currently only the gentle sound of logrolling.

Despite being part of The Problem, I offer this list of nominations in the hope that it will inspire people to think about who they nominate and why they do it.

 2012Hugo

Who I Am Nominating

Best Novel

  • The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan (Roc) – Much like Kiernan’s Shirley Jackson and World Fantasy award-nominated The Red Tree, The Drowning Girl uses genre as a means of exploring the interaction between reality, delusion, spirituality and escapism. Beautifully written and seemingly so close to the autobiographical metal that it is occasionally uncomfortable to read, The Drowning Girl is not just the best genre book of the year, it is a book that shines a unique light on the 21st Century tendency to define oneself in terms of one’s favoured cultural artefacts. I would even go so far as to say that The Drowning Girl captures what it is like to be alive in the 21st Century in much the same way as Dante captured what it was like to be a medieval Catholic.
  • Jack Glass by Adam Roberts (Gollancz) - A lot of contemporary science fiction owes an obvious debt to the past. Indeed, many contemporary novels either explicitly refer to the history of the field or present themselves as radically new journeys across already familiar ground. Adam Roberts does both of these things but does so in such a way as to leave you wondering about why those other books assumed the form they did. Jack Glass offers not just a fascinating collision between golden age science fiction and golden age detective fiction but a profoundly affecting meditation on why people are attracted to old genre certainties in the first place.
  • Empty Space by M. John Harrison (Gollancz) – M. John Harrison’s Light is the greatest of all science fiction novels. A work of peerless intelligence and grace, it sucks the marrow from the bones of science fiction leaving cold, wet bafflement in the place where imperial certainty once stood. To read Light and its sequel Nova Swing is to watch a beautiful face being pounded into offal by wave after wave of brutal deconstruction. A nose shatters and a heroic starship captain is reinvented as an agoraphobic technocrat who somehow mislaid her humanity. An eye swells shut and a world-changing scientist is revealed to be a superstitious and misogynistic serial killer. A jawbone snaps and an elaborately conceived future society collapses into a sprawling urban maze beyond the grasp of either government or physics. However, as brutal and sadistic as Harrison’s deconstructions appear, the face he leaves us is far more beautiful than the one we walked in with… Empty Space does not just complete the Kefahuchi Tract sequence, it also presents us with an entirely new way of doing science fiction, a form that eschews the clomping foot of human cognition and engages directly with a universe as vast and terrible as it is inscrutable. This is not the science fiction of George Lucas and Gene Rodenberry but that of Terrence Malick, Andrei Tarkovsky, Georges Bataille and Emil Cioran. This is what science fiction should have been from the very beginning.
  • Analogue: A Hate Story by Christine Love (link) – Analogue has little or no chance of making it onto the Hugo ballot as it is not only a video game but an independent video game released without the immense advertising spend that accompanies most big games. However, while Analogue may feature game-like elements that need to be ‘beaten’ in order to progress the narrative, Love’s game is technically a visual novel in that the experience it offers is one based primarily on reading emails and journal entries extracted from the decaying memory banks of a long-lost generation ship.  Leading you through the computer system with the help of several AI personalities, Analogue tells the story of a contemporary society regressing into a state of atavistic misogyny in which women are treated as little more than slaves. Having drowned the reader in a sea of misery and violence, Love brilliantly pulls back from the brink of tragedy and asks for our judgement: Was this society too sick to survive? Did it deserve what it got? Can hideous violence ever be an acceptable response to systemic violence and degradation? Written with immense humanity and a good deal of technical panache, Christine Love shines a light into the future of written science fiction.

HugoAward

Best Novella

  • “Adrift on the Sea of Rains” by Ian Sales (Whippleshield Books) – Ostensibly a Hard SF story set in a world where Nazi super science has allowed America to build a working moon base, much of what is interesting about Adrift is concealed behind a dense thicket of acronyms, engineering jargon and quasi-military org-speak. Initially quite off-putting, this wall of technobabble soon reveals itself as a manifestation of growing mental instability. Indeed, trapped in a small moon base with people they don’t like while the world dies, Sales’ astronauts fill their heads with technobabble and routine maintenance as a means of blotting out their hopelessness and mutual resentment. When an astronaut suddenly snaps and lets a colleague have it for some minor transgression we realise that this is not a dam breaking but a fissure forming… all that rage and sorrow has to go somewhere! Deftly characterised and written with a truly unique sensibility, Sales takes the linguistic tics of Hard SF and uses them to tell an entirely different kind of story.

HugoAward

Best Novelette

  • “Arbeitskraft” by Nick Mamatas (Link) – Despite its roots in Moorcock’s anti-Imperialist Oswald Bastable series, Steampunk has required something of a reputation for reactionary politics. Set in a Victorian empire with advanced steam-based technology, Steampunk fiction is often marketed as harmless escapist fluff despite the fact that it employs images, events and names that continue to be politically sensitive. Nick Mamatas’s novella confronts this reputation head-on with one of the most politically engaged piece of genre writing I have ever seen. Set amidst traditional Steampunk Victoriana, the story tells of Friedrich Engels attempting to construct an AI based upon the writings and personality of Karl Marx. Musing not only upon the British class system but also the liberal tendency to perpetuate inequalities in the name of ‘progress’ and ‘stability’ the story builds and builds towards what can only be described as a beautifully ambivalent singularity. Angry, horrifying and beautifully paced, this story is a great example of what Steampunk tropes can do when they cease to serve reactionary narratives.

HugoAward

Best Short Fiction

  • “Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld #69) – “Immersion” is a perfect example of what 21st Century science fiction should be doing. Set on an alien world where the natives use technology to make their perceptions and reactions more hospitable to tourists, the story uses a science fictional conceit to explore the psychological legacy of Western colonialism. Elegant, concise and imbued with slow-burning rage, “Immersion” articulates what it is like to grow up in a culture that has internalised the racial prejudices of its colonial oppressors to the point where people hate not only their own skin but their own culture too.
  • “Limited Edition” by Tim Maughan (Arc #1.3) – Much like de Bodard’s “Immersion”, Maughan’s story uses science fiction as a means of making sense of the world around us. However, rather than exploring race, Maughan delves into the role of consumerism in the 2011 London riots. Set in Bristol, the story follows a group of kids as they loot a shoe shop and upload the results of their spree to social media as part of a competition with rioters the world over. Filtered through a mesh of cyberpunky angst and regional dialects, the story ends by pulling back and asking who actually benefits from these acts of wanton destruction. The kids may be turning anti-social behaviour into a game but they certainly aren’t the ones who designed the system.
  • “The Memcordist” by Lavie Tidhar (Eclipse Online) – Tidhar is a writer who deploys tropes in an almost impressionistic manner. What I mean by this is that rather than servicing the plot or serving as an end in their own right, Tidhar invokes genre ideas as a way of creating emotional textures: A parallel universe here, a political icon there, an allusion to old novels, a reference to FTL travel… all of these things leave emotional traces and Tidhar’s greatest skill lies in his capacity to force these emotional traces into complex and compelling emotional payloads that leave you both moved and unsure as to what it is that moved you. Set in a futuristic solar system where social media popularity supports the economy, “The Memcordist” tells of a character drifting from one encounter to the next in search of someone he loves. While these various encounters are only loosely tied together narratively speaking, the protagonist makes frequent references to the fact that his decisions are not fitting with the narrative arcs his followers expect. What makes this story awesome is that while it is all about someone who feels to pressure to conform to expected narratives, the nature of those narratives is far from evident to the reader. As outsiders, these narratives do not matter to us and so we do not feel their pull… all we feel are the emotions of the characters as they drift from one emotional encounter to another.

HugoAward

Best Related Work

  • Extreme Metaphors: Interviews with J.G. Ballard 1967-2008 edited by Simon Sellars and Dan O’Hara (Fourth Estate) – Ballard’s tendency to return again and again to certain themes and ideas lends his career a uniquely narrative dimension. To read Ballard’s works in order is to see how certain ideas developed over time and this collection of interviews adds to this impression by cataloguing the changes in how Ballard unpacked these ideas at different points in his career.  Particularly wonderful is the way that he effectively disowns the idea of the future as early as 1974… decades before William Gibson realised that you could basically write science fiction and set it in the present day. One for Ballard nerds perhaps but it’s still a great collection of really thoughtful conversations about science fiction, society, art and media.

HugoAward

Best Graphic Story

Created in 2009, The Hugo Best Graphic Story has struggled with the fact that Hugo Voters evidently do not follow contemporary comics. Dominated by the webcomic Girl Genius until its authors formally declined nomination in 2012, the award’s narrow pool of nominees and lack of engagement with comic culture as a whole lead to it being widely seen as an embarrassing failed experiment. Unfortunately, rather than allowing the award to drift off into the sunset, the greybeards of Chicon 7 voted to ratify the award meaning that it is now a permanent part of the Hugo landscape.

While anyone with an ounce of common sense could have told you that Hugo voters do not read comics, I believe that a lack of engagement with other forms of genre writing is a weakness common to the field as a whole. Indeed, while this field may like to think of itself as being about speculative fiction, the truth is that it is really about SF that is published by a narrow range of genre imprints. Write for a different form or a different type of publisher and you are effectively dead to the field and will be ignored by virtually all of its critical gatekeepers. As someone who realises that science fictional ideas are not only found in books and magazines, I welcome the idea of a comic Hugo but I am also aware that the community’s enduring lack of curiosity will continue to make such awards deeply problematic.

My knowledge of comics is not particularly deep and I have always found it deeply frustrating that, despite constructing elaborate narrative continuities, American comic publishers make it almost impossible to work out which comics to buy if you want to work your way through a particular storyline in the correct order. As a result, I have chosen to nominate four graphic novels that either begin new storylines or serve as a good jumping-on point for an already existing narrative or character:

  • Captain Marvel “In Pursuit of Flight” (Marvel) by Kelly Sue DeConnick – Carol Danvers is an old hand at the super hero game but she is struck by self-doubt when Captain America suggests that she might want to think about assuming the mantel of the male hero Captain Marvel. In search of answers and inspiration, Danvers turns to a group of female pilots who, though hugely talented, were drummed out of the astronaut programme by NASA’s male administrators. Filled with action, time-travel and some absolutely beautiful characterisation, the comic explores the historic marginalisation of women and the guilt that a modern woman might feel over her own comparative lack of ambition.
  • Saga “Volume 1” (Image) by Brian K. Vaughan – Set in a galaxy where two alien races are at war, Saga tells of two former soldiers who fall in love, have a kid and go on the run when their respective armies decide that this miscegenation deal really isn’t on. Brilliantly drawn, wittily written and positively overflowing with nuanced observations about the emotional dynamics of younger couples, Saga is an immensely entertaining story about a pacifist wizard, a blaster-wielding young mother, a disembodied teenaged babysitter and the robotic noblemen and principled bounty hunters that want to see them dead and dismembered.
  • Manhattan Projects “1” (Image) by Jonathan Hickman – What if the scientists involved in the Manhattan Project had been considerably smarter than they were? What if they had been considerably less moral? Set in a world where the American nuclear weapons programme was nothing but a cover for a vast network of gonzo science projects, MP features Robert J. Oppenheimer’s cannibalistic younger brother, an alcoholic Einstein, a narcissistic Richard Feynman and an AI version of FDR who battle aliens, Japanese death-Buddhists and versions of themselves from other worlds and realities. Relentlessly imaginative, incredibly fun and gloriously fucked-up, MP is 1940s American science red in tooth and claw.
  • Prophet “1 – Remission” (Image) – A revival of a 90s grimdark comic about a homicidal supersoldier, Prophet is set 10,000 years in the future on an Earth inhabited entirely by weird alien species. Released from a stasis pod buried deep within the Earth, John Prophet stalks, murders and eats his way across the planet in order to re-activate a satellite that will awaken the long-lost Human Empire. Brilliantly drawn and incredibly weird, Prophet reads like the gene-spliced bastard of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars Chronicles and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Incal and Metabarons comics. Reading this comic, I was struck by quite how much science fiction lost when it reduced its visual iconography to that of NASA, Star Trek, Star Wars and Blade Runner.

HugoAward

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)

  • Dredd (Trailer) by Pete Travis – Set in a sprawling post-apocalyptic metropolis that is equal parts Mexico City and London, the film finds the fascistic and uncompromising 2000AD character Judge Dredd having to break in a new partner who was fast-tracked through the academy because of her psychic powers. Sent to investigate a disturbance in a vast tower block, the pair soon find themselves locked-in with a gang of heavily armed drug dealers. Beautifully shot, flawlessly paced and brilliantly designed, Dredd is first and foremost an awesome action film but beneath the dazzling 3D and the trippy mind-control sequences, the film also explores the tension that exists between the symbolically male urge to dominate and control and the more traditionally female tendency to understand and persuade. Given the different power levels between Dredd and his partner Anderson, it would have been easy for Dredd to fall into the trap of being about women having to prove themselves in a man’s world but the strength, agency and downright brutality of Olivia Thirlby’s Judge Anderson make this a far more progressive and nuanced film than might reasonably have been expected.
  • The Secret World of Arrietty (Trailer) by Hiromasa Yonebayashi – Studio Ghibli’s adaptation of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers. Transported to suburban Japan, the film tells the story of an isolated colony of finger-sized humans living behind the skirting boards of an old family home. Once a thriving society, the Borrowers have dwindled to a small family unit whose youngest daughter Arrietty cannot wait to explore the human world. Reckless and head-strong, Arrietty’s haste to encounter the human world causes the inhabitants of the house to discover the Borrowers and attempt to flush them out. Beautifully characterised and magically animated, Yonebayashi’s film does an absolutely wonderful job of capturing how huge and terrifying a human home can seem when you’re only 6 inches tall.

HugoAward

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

This category has come to be dominated by Doctor Who and when I say ‘dominated’ I mean that it is almost unimaginable that anything other than Doctor Who could possibly win this award. As someone who hates Doctor Who, this is somewhat irksome. As someone with an interest in short form genre storytelling, this situation is intolerable. Some attempts have been made to generate support for an episode of My Little Pony but there is actually a more reasonable and artistically progressive alternative. While many people assume that BDP (SF) is just Hugo-speak for ‘Best Genre TV Episode’, the wording of the award is quite specific that the difference between BDP (SF) and BDP (LF) is not medium but length. Josh Trank’s ultra low-budget SF Film Chronicle is 89-minutes long and I think everyone should nominate it in this category:

  • Chronicle (trailer) by Josh Trank – The film tells of a group of high school boys who stumble across an alien artefact and begin developing telekinetic powers. While much of the film’s foreground is dominated by the raw spectacle of what the boys can do with their powers, the dramatic meat of the film lies in its humane and detailed exploration of a troubled teenager who suddenly finds himself being the centre of attention. Indeed, while two of the boys are already popular enough that they can cope with the pressures of power and success, one of the boys struggles with the attention and eventually withdraws from the world. Initially, his friends react by ostracising him and this makes him withdraw even further but the film ends with an absolutely heart-breaking sequence in which the troubled teen must be stopped by the person who understands him most. Also, you have to love a film whose ending so closely resembles that of the legendary anime Akira. Andreeeeew! Maaaaaatt! Tetsuooooo! Kanedaaaaa!

HugoAward

Best Semiprozine

Long dominated by Locus and increasingly defined by a weird semantic power struggle between supporters of Locus and Clarkesworld, this category is a conceptual clusterfuck so profound that there is now an entire website devoted to making sense of the Hugo Awards’ risible distinction between professional and semi-professional. Seriously: If you need a whole fucking website to explain what a category means then that category has no basis in reality and should not appear on a popular ballot. Popular ballots need to be grounded in popular opinion and if the people cannot reach an opinion without interpreters then your popular awards are in need of urgent reform.

  • Interzone (link) – Known primarily as a short fiction venue, Interzone is arguably the best non-fiction SF magazine in the field today. Packed with book reviews by some of the most insightful critics operating in the field today, the magazine also features insightful film commentary by the great Nick Lowe and selected morsels from David Langford’s parish newsletter Ansible.
  • Black Static (link) – Interzone’s horror and dark fantasy stable mate is similarly well endowed when it comes to non-fiction. Aside from fascinating columns by some of the field’s best-known writers, the magazine also boasts a superb DVD column by Tony Lee and a magnificently curated and expansive book column by Peter Tennant.
  • Strange Horizons (link) – Increasingly well known and respected for its short-fiction output, Strange Horizons also boasts regular columnists, non-fiction articles, poetry and a new podcast. It is also one of the only online publications to put out well-edited and high-minded book and film reviews. Boasting some of the most impressive younger critics in the field today, Strange Horizons remains the high watermark for online genre reviewing.
  • The Cascadia Subduction Zone (link) – Over the past ten years there have been repeated attempts to carve out online spaces where Feminist genre writings might receive the attention they deserve. While some have been more successful than others, it seems safe to say that none have acquired the combination of visibility and accessibility enjoyed by WisCon… until now. Since its launch in 2011 The Cascadia Subduction Zone has emerged as one of the best critical journals the field has to offer. More substantial and engaged than the New York Review of Science Fiction whilst refusing to fall into the same academic impenetrability trap as Science Fiction Studies, The CSZ is everything a modern critical journal should be… and it is unashamedly devoted to women writers.

Full Disclosure: I have, in the past, written for both Strange Horizons and Interzone.

HugoAward

Best Fanzine

Up until recently, this category was the sole preserve of people working in the field of traditional fanzines. In fact, it was not until SF Signal carried home the Hugo in 2012 that people seemed to realise that the people who maintain successful blogs and websites are also fans producing ‘zines.

One explanation for the category’s tendency to ignore anything that doesn’t resemble a traditional fanzine is that the Hugo Awards define ‘fanzine’ in accordance with the same absurd and grotesquely counter-intuitive demarcation criteria that plague the Semiprozine category. According to the World Science Fiction Society constitution, a fanzine is any publication that isn’t a legume but is a four-sided geometrical figure though the exact geometrical status of a publication is subject to verification by a grand jury comprised of the surviving members of the 84th United States Congress and the Finnish Pagan Metal Band Moonsorrow.

Rather than attempt to extract some sense from this hollow-skulled administrative groupthink, I’ve decided to just nominate my favourite non-paying genre websites:

  • Pornokitsch (link) – Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin’s ambitious and beautifully curated group blog provides reviews of genre materials new and old. Aside from providing the world with great non-fiction writing, the Pornokitsch crew have also set up a non-profit publishing house and a foundation serving their progressive genre fiction awards The Kitschies.
  • FerretBrain (link) – While it may describe itself as an “irregular e-zine about stuff”, FerretBrain offers spirited and occasionally vicious reviews of genre fiction and other forms of geek culture. In addition to hosting articles by its large stable of writers, Ferretbrain also serves as an online community and a purveyor of podcasts.
  • World SF Blog (link) – Lavie Tidhar and Charles A. Tan’s group blog publishes news items and articles designed to draw the field’s attention to the work of writers from outside of the established British and American scenes. People frequently complain about the invisibility of international writers and the World SF Blog is one of only a few venues fighting to raise their visibility. The blog has also taken to kickstarting travel funds for foreign writers in order to help them visit large conventions.
  • Nerds of a Feather (link) – Although less than a year old, this group blog has worked hard to attract attention with an admirably broad focus upon all sorts of genre works including films, comics and games. These types of blogs may be comparatively common given the relentless expansion of geek culture over the years but the quality of the writing makes this site particularly worthy of our attention.
  • SF Mistressworks (link) – Inspired by the historical failure to pay women writers the critical attention they deserve (and the lack of books by Women in Gollancz’s SF Materworks series) SF Mistressworks publishes and re-publishes reviews of books by women. Wisely curated and regularly updated, this site is an absolutely invaluable online resource.

HugoAward

Best Editor (Long and Short Form)

These are two very strange awards as it is not entirely clear how one is supposed to make an informed decision.

While the SF field has a number of very gifted editors who work tirelessly to improve the manuscripts presented them, the field does not have a culture of editorial transparency that might allow us to see and appreciate the work done by Long Form editors. It’s not as if everyone knows that the first draft of Empty Space was written in crayon on the back of a placemat or that the original draft of Jack Glass was so impossibly beautiful that the postman spontaneously combusted whilst delivering it to the publisher. Frankly, I have no idea who is and is not a decent Long Form Editor and nor does anyone else outside of the publishing business. I strongly suspect that this award exists solely as a means of luring long form editors to Worldcon in the hope that authors will follow them in search of networking opportunities. Having said this, I trust Jonathan Strahan when he says that everyone knows that Gollancz’s Malcolm Edwards is one of the finest editors in the field and given that he is the Group Publisher and Deputy Chief Executive of Orion Books, I’m inclined to believe him (also it would be nice to break Tor Books’ near-monopoly of the shortlists).

  • Andy Cox – Editor of both Interzone and Black Static, Cox not only produces two of the finest non-fiction venues in the field, he has also helped to launch the careers of a number of up-and-coming authors including the wonderful Aliette de Bodard and Nina Allan.
  • Jonathan Strahan – Aside from serving as reviews editor for Locus magazine and producing a weekly podcast, Strahan has also taken his respected Eclipse anthology series online and continued to produce new anthologies filling a number of niches. Comfortably one of the most thoughtful and visible editors in the field of short fiction, Strahan’s lack of a Hugo award is beginning to look more than a little bit silly.

HugoAward

Best Fan and Professional Artist

As someone who pays no attention whatsoever to ‘fan art’, I would not even begin to know where to look in order to work out who to vote for. I did take a look through the work of recent winners such as Maurine Starkey and Brad W. Foster and I was quite taken aback by the low standards of their work. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that this category has become something of an embarrassment. With regards to the Professional award, I admit to being quite uninformed:

  • Joey Hi-Fi (link)– Established a reputation for himself thanks to a series of eye-catching covers for the work of Lauren Beukes. Given the standard of the work that won him a nomination for the BSFA award, I see no reason not to consider him one of the most gifted cover designers in the field.

HugoAward

Best Fan Writer

David Langford dominated this category for over twenty years and the award has yet to find a credible modern identity. The problem is that Langford’s reign spanned the period when the Internet not only emerged but became the primary focus for many people’s written fan activity. These were the years in which the foundations of modern fan writing should have been laid down but instead people continued to vote for David Langford as his was the only name that everyone recognised. Having failed to recognise that blogging was a legitimate form of fan writing, the Hugo voters reacted to the end of Langford’s reign by handing the award to a series of professional authors who also happen to blog.

For the record, I do not think that professional authors such as John Scalzi, Fredrik Pohl and Jim C. Hines should be winning awards for their Fan Writing. I realise that this injunction has no basis in the actual rules but I think that it is a shame to take an award designed to celebrate the devotion of ordinary science fiction fans and turn it into yet another award handed out to jobbing authors. Thankfully, Cheryl Morgan and Claire Brialey have also won the award and while Brialey’s refusal to make her work easily available online strikes me as bizarre, I do think that the writing of Morgan and Brialey is considerably closer to the spirit of this award than that of Hines, Scalzi and Pohl.

  • Requireshate (link) – Both a talented reviewer and a tireless social media presence, Requireshate patrols the backwaters of genre fiction sniffing out and exposing traces of sexism and racism. Hugely controversial thanks to her provocative rhetoric and willingness to pick fights with well-known authors and popular fans, Requireshate is a voice as unique as it is necessary.
  • Abigail Nussbaum (link) – Aside from being a contributor to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and reviews editor for Strange Horizons, Abigail is also one of the most gifted critics of her generation. Her blog Asking the Wrong Questions covers not just books but film, TV and other cultural matters in a style as elegant as it is uncompromising.
  • Liz Bourke (link) – A frequent contributor to both Strange Horizons and Tor.com, Liz is not only a brilliantly entertaining and insightful critic, she is also willing to read the types of books that critics often avoid. For example, while a lot of critics jump at the chance to write about M. John Harrison, Liz champions lesbian romances and ploughs through secondary world fantasy series. Liz’s now-infamous take down of Michael J. Sullivan is all the more enjoyable for the fact that Liz slates his novel from the perspective of someone who actually likes that kind of work. Anyone can write about brilliant books and appear brilliant, it takes real talent to walk away from a book like Theft of Swords looking insightful, sensitive and humane.
  • Aishwarya Subramanian (link) – As with Liz Bourke, I appreciate Aisha’s writing precisely because she enjoys books that I simply could not read. A regular contributor to a number of Indian newspapers as well as a prolific blogger in her spare time, Aisha covers Indian literary culture with warmth, wit and a pronounced love of genre tropes. People in the field often wring their hands and complain about the lack of fresh voices and people knowledgeable about the literatures of other cultures and this is precisely what Aisha offers. Wise and gentle, knowledgeable and enthusiastic, Aisha is the type of fan writer that a truly global SF scene demands.
  • Karen Burnham (link) – A regular contributor to SF Signal and Strange Horizons as well as the guiding light behind the Locus Roundtable Blog and the SF Crossing the Void podcast with Karen Lord, Karen is an insightful writer as well as an absolutely tireless builder of bridges between the field’s increasingly fragmented and insular sub-cultural niches.

HugoAward

Best Fancast

Creating a Best Fancast category is easily the wisest piece of Hugo administrative business in the last twenty years. Ostensibly cobbled together to keep the audio-cooties out of the Best Fanzine category, Best Fancast is a magnificently forward-looking award that embraces new forms of fan activity before they get too big for Hugo voters to engage with (which is precisely what happened with blogs).

The only downside to this award is that, much like the Fanzine award, it has come to be dominated by people who are professionally active within the field. The inaugural Hugo went to the pro-packed Squeecast and even my nominations feature authors and publishing professionals. I did toy with the idea of only nominating fancasts run by people who exist solely as fans (such as the SF Signal Podcast or Skiffy and Fanty) but this is still quite an undeveloped area of fan activity and the simple fact is that these pro-heavy podcasts tend to be closer to what I want from a fancast than the more authentically fannish ones.

  • The Coode Street Podcast (link) – The unofficial podcast of Locus magazine in that it features both the magazine’s reviews editor Jonathan Strahan and it’s most widely respected critic Gary K. Wolfe. Given how unstructured the show can be, it is hard to pin down Coode Street’s appeal other than by saying that it is a fun and energetic chat between two experienced and celebrated participants in the field. There are times when the podcast can become mired in the consensus opinions of the hosts and the people around them but in their defence, the Mullahs of Coode Street do routinely reach out to writers and critics with radically different opinions. There are also times when the unstructured nature of the show reaps real rewards as ‘interview’ shows rapidly move beyond plugging latest works and out into a wider world of science fictional thinking.
  • The Writer and The Critic (link) – I’ve been a fan of The Writer and The Critic since its very first episode and it has never once faltered in its brilliance. Hosted by Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond, the show is based around in-depth (and spoilerific) discussions of works from across the SF, F and H spectrum. Aside from the insightful and frequently hilarious comments made during these discussions, the podcast also features Ian Mond’s on-going attempt to get his head around the problems of racism and sexism affecting both the field and society as a whole. While many men might have nodded and bluffed their way through these types of discussion, Ian lays his privilege bare in the hope that acknowledging its existence will help him to escape it. In essence, Ian is acting as a sort of holy fool who asks the stupid questions that nobody else would dare to ask and because Kirstyn answers Ian with infinite patience and intelligence, Ian’s journey of discovery becomes our own. As a straight white male who is positively drowning in privilege, I have found Mondy and Kirstyn’s discussions of gender to be of enormous help. I could really go on about how much I love this podcast but I will conclude by saying that Kirstyn McDermott is one of the smartest people in the field and her willingness to use her writing skills as a critical tool is a reminder of quite how much the field lost when genre writers stopped acting as critics. The Writer and The Critic is currently on hiatus but I cannot wait for its return.
  • The Outer Alliance Podcast (link) – Hosted by Julia Rios, the Outer Alliance Podcast features news items, interviews and con panels with a LGBT focus. This elevator pitch alone was sufficient to win both my attention and my nomination. Despite being straight, I have always enjoyed LGBT film and literature and I would like to see more of those concerns and perspectives crop up in genre writing. Indeed, by drawing our attention to LGBT issues and writers in the field, Julia is not only helping to confront the field’s prejudices, she is also encouraging LGBT to find their own voices and share them with the rest of the field. I am also nominating Julia as I think she is one of best interviewers in the field as she encourages her subjects to talk about themselves and their lives rather than simply their work. This style of interview, though comparatively common in mainstream literature, has never really caught on in genre circles and I hope that Julia’s willingness to actually delve behind the PR encourages others to do the same.
  • Galactic Suburbia (link) – In the three years since its launch, Alisa Krasnostein, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Alex Pierce’s podcast has become a strategic asset in the on-going battle to challenge the prejudices of the field. Sharp, insightful but also warm and communal, Galactic Suburbia shines the light of feminism on the darkest corners of genre culture without ever seeming overly combative or snarky. I include this podcast as I think that its hosts do genuinely good work and that the field needs this type of podcast but I am frequently left wishing that the gloves would sometimes come off. Indeed, this is one of the great problems with celebrating professionals for their fannish undertakings: When Requireshate attacks an author for their sexism and racism, she does so with the knowledge that her lack of professional involvement in the field leaves her free to say anything she wants. When Galactic Suburbia tackles an issue of racism and sexism, I am always aware that the hosts are professionally engaged in the field and that they want to ‘get on’ and make friends. I really admire the work done by Galactic Suburbia but there are some truths that can only be seen from a position of alienation and only voiced when the speaker has nothing to lose.
26 Comments
  1. February 18, 2013 11:23 am

    Thanks, Jonathan.

    As I said to you on twitter, your explanations are as valuable as the list itself.

    And if you listened to a certain episode of the SF Signal podcast, you know I agree entirely with you about the Best Fan writer award in terms of professional writers winning it.

  2. February 18, 2013 12:08 pm

    Hi Paul :-)

    Yes, I know that you’ve been quite vocal about fan awards being for fans and I think we are of one mind on that particular issue. I would be surprised if Jo Walton didn’t make it onto the Fan Writer shortlist this year and I suspect Hines might return… I don’t think anyone should be in a position to win a Best Novel Hugo one year and a Best Fan Writer Hugo the next… that’s just ridiculous.

    It could well be that hard-and-fast distinctions between Pro, Semi-Pro and Fan are not actually possible in this field but I really think it’s terribly sad that people are failing to realise that fans contribute to the field in a way that professionals do not and cannot.

  3. February 18, 2013 1:53 pm

    Hey, thanks for linking to SandF and opening the discussion. I’ve generally accepted as a personal rule that you are allowed to mention your eligible materials once. After that, you’re just annoying. Some people like to constantly say “I’m eligible, I’m eligible, I’m eligible.” I don’t see the point of that.

    But you are right that it might be more interesting to discuss what is eligible outside of personal products. That may have to be our first March episode, which will drop right before the awards anyway.

    Anywho! Thanks for opening the discussion :)

  4. February 18, 2013 2:51 pm

    God damnit, John. Now when I publish my own planned list of recommendations next week, it’s going to look like a reaction to this post! Egads.

    Kidding, of course. Though I do plan on my own list, and there are a few things here that I hadn’t thought of and will need to try to squeeze in between now and March 10th. Thanks for the list.

  5. February 18, 2013 6:04 pm

    Thanks for dropping by Aidan and Shaun :-)

    I can understand why you’d be tempted to put up a ‘nominate me!’ post quite quickly as pulling together a list of potential nominations is quite a time-consuming task. However, when you stick up a post that encourages people to vote for you while doing nothing to help other people reach their own conclusions it looks like you’re using the Hugo process purely for your own personal glory.

    Authors do this type of thing because they’re financially invested in the awards process and an award is a good way of boosting their profile, shifting units and getting a better publishing deal next time they negotiate. Reviewers and podcasters, on the other hand, really should do better.

    If you’re going to pimp your own work, do it in the context of something suggesting other potential nominees. That way you’re not only raising your own visibility… you’re also contributing to the culture surrounding the awards.

  6. February 18, 2013 6:18 pm

    Point taken. I think last year we mentioned others. I might have just been lazy as heck this year, and that largely because of my work schedule. But we’ll do a podcast about our nominations at the start of March. Promise. And unlike Aidan, I will totally admit that we’re doing it because of you :P.

    Out of pure self interesting: I am constantly trying to improve SandF. We do try to run the show as fans (hence the fun Torture Cinema stuff), but with a critical flare. If ever you’d like to offer constructive criticism, don’t hesitate. This show means a lot to me, and we do have some huge plans for the next two years (even Paul doesn’t know what I’m doing for 2015) that might be more to your interest. But being a better show matters for me.

    (Sorry I am not engaging in more detail. Sending this between teaching hours).

  7. February 18, 2013 6:25 pm

    Thanks very much for the Fan Writer shout-out, Jonathan! However, all things being equal, I’d rather see a Fancast nomination for SF Crossing the Gulf. I think better critical insight comes out of any one of those podcasts than any single piece I’ve written over the past few years.

  8. February 18, 2013 11:21 pm

    Let me preface this response by saying that I’m choosing my words very carefully, to hopefully come across as pensive and contemplative (which I am), and not defensive (which I’m trying my best not to be). As Shaun says about S&F, I’m always looking to improve A Dribble of Ink and my contributions to the genre discussion, and I think you raise a very fine point about the discussion surrounding the Hugo awards, particularly the fan awards.

    Last year, I spoke with John Denardo, editor, and now Hugo Winning editor, of SF Signal, about this situation at length. John was very hesitant to write a post about the Hugo eligibility of SF Signal, despite it being in a prominent position within the community and in a prime place to strike against the traditional fanzines that have dominated the category since its inception. The main point that I drew up against John’s hesitancy was that the strength of SF Signal was in its breadth and the volume of its contributors. If John wasn’t willing to toot his own horn, due to humility, I argued that it was worthwhile to promote all the various writers that he had assembled, a pool that, while not, perhaps reaching the quality of the fanzines it would compete against, certainly boasted an quantity of decent-to-good writers that few websites of ‘Fanzines’ of any sort could compete with. John wrote that post, and won the Hugo award. While he was the only one on stage accepting the award, he listed many of those contributors and thanked them, for the site’s success is built on their backs. Did SF Signal win the Hugo because of that post. Probably not. Should John have written it? I still believe so.

    Regarding my own post, I decided to use the same advice that I gave to John, and dedicated 90% of the post to promoting writers other than myself who have contributed to A Dribble of Ink during the eligibility period. This allows readers who are new to the site, or have been directed there through posts similar to this one, to find the best content that the blog or writer has to offer, instead of wading through a year’s worth of content. It is in this way that I branded the post as a ‘Best of A Dribble of Ink,’ post as much as a ‘Hugo Eligibility’ post. I’ll be changing the title of the post in my sidebar once Hugo nominations are closed. Is it self-promotion? Certainly. More than that, it’s celebrating and drawing attention to some of the great articles that I had the privilege to publish. Is that self-promotion? I’m not sure.

    Last year, my first time nominating for the Hugos, I posted my suggestions/nominations after I made them. In retrospect, this post came too late and was too scant on detail. Earlier this year, I attempted to start this discussion early, but was met (mostly) with crickets, which was disappointing. This spring, I plan to writing another nominations post, but ahead of schedule, to hopefully, like you have for me, turn people’s attention to books and people that they may have overlooked. It’s an area of ongoing improvement for me, certainly.

    I question, however, your hesitancy towards such posts from on blogs and bloggers. You appear to accept that its necessary for authors and editors to gather together the best of their work from the eligible year, to contain in one place, for easy access, everything that they feel makes them a potential candidate for the award. I agree. However, in one breath you suggest that reviewers and podcasters (and I’ll lump bloggers in there, too) should “do better,” and then in the next you mention the struggle that bloggers/online writers have had in drawing attention to their legitimacy in the ‘Fan Writer’ and ‘Fanzine’ categories. The community is small enough that it is difficult for anyone to fight that fight, myself included, without seeming like they’re also attempting to promote their own work. Financial stakes, which is about all that separates ‘Pro’ writers from ‘Fan’ writers, is important, of course, but I don’t know that it gives anymore weight or reason to those writers to write eligibility posts. Being a fan writer yourself, I’m sure you’ll admit that the work we do is as important to us as a novel or short story is to an author.

    The alternative, I fear, is that the blogosphere begins to look like a massive circle jerk of bloggers promoting each other’s work, which has its own set of problems, mainly that we fall into the same clique-like nature that has harmed the ‘Fan Writer’ and ‘Fanzine’ awards due to the insular nature of the Fanzine community. Of course, I’ve no issue with people spreading word about their favourites, and encouraging others to do the same, but lest it become a popularity contest (though, in the end, I suppose that’s all the Hugos are), I think it’s important for online fan writers to stand behind their work and promote it openly, especially at a time when many new readers and voters might be introduced to their sites through recommendation posts on other blogs.

    As you ultimately suggest, a better solution isn’t necessarily a cessation of these eligibility posts from bloggers like myself, but to balance them also with a recommendations posts that celebrates and promotes the various writers/editors/fellow fan writers that we feel are deserving of the award. I fully agree that more engagement and openness with the nomination process, especially in the online community, which is still trying to determine its place within the overall awards landscape, and have been very vocal in my protests against the current ‘Fan’ awards establishment. Ultimately, I believe you’re right in calling out fan writers for not engaging more with the Hugo Award nomination process, but I think that condemning eligibility posts is counter-productive towards opening those fields to new writers and publications.

    Certainly a lot of food-for-thought here, Jonathan. Thanks again for bringing this up. :)

  9. February 19, 2013 8:50 am

    “Seriously: If you need a whole fucking website to explain what a category means then that category has no basis in reality and should not appear on a popular ballot.”

    Yes!

    Also, thanks!

  10. February 19, 2013 8:52 am

    Oh, also: “I see no reason not to consider [Joey Hi-Fi] one of the most gifted cover designers in the field.”

    Double yes! He’s astounding.

    (Last sentence included so I didn’t end everything with an exclamation point.)

  11. February 19, 2013 8:57 am

    Hi Shaun :-)

    I think you have every right to be proud of Skiffy and Fanty. I’ve actually listened to most of the episodes you’ve put out and I think you do really excellent work.

    To be honest, I don’t really have any constructive criticism to offer because I think the show is perfectly what it is: You’re passionate, you’re varied, you’re not afraid to raise unconventional ideas and you have your own voice and sensibilities. A little while ago I was trying to remember where I had heard someone say something and I couldn’t be sure of whether it was S and F or the SF Signal Podcast and then I thought ‘That’s more of a Skiffy and Fanty thing to say’ and it was… so clearly you’re doing something right!

    The only reason I didn’t nominate you is that my personality is such that I tend to enjoy discussions that engage with the field on a more critical and political level than is common on Skiffy and Fanty. So while I really really enjoyed your episode dealing with older works of SF, I tend to struggle with the episodes in which authors pimp their latest works… but then I always struggle with that type of thing and realise that the problem has more to do with me than with the field itself.

    Seriously, keep doing what you’re doing… you’ve every right to be proud.

  12. February 19, 2013 9:24 am

    Aidan —

    I think you make many interesting and worthwhile points. I am particularly mindful of the dangers of blogging becoming an enormous circle-jerk as the names I’ve put forward for fan writer are people who move in similar online circles to my own. I look at the current fan writing culture and I see that there’s maybe a dozen people writing for maybe half a dozen fanzines and it’s ridiculous how closed-off and insular that world has become. I did note your attempts to reach out to the traditional fanzine crowd and you did at least get them to acknowledge your existence… which is something of a minor triumph in itself. I have thought about doing something similar and so I’ve read quite a few of the fanzines on efanzines.com, I’ve struggled to find a point of entry. I did write a LoC to a traditional fanzine earlier this year but all I did was yell at them :-)

    With regards to self-promotion, I realise that I have an *issue* with this and that my issue is possibly not entirely rational. I don’t like people putting out eligibility posts because I think it turns a process designed to identify the best into a process designed to identify to most popular. Yes, there are people who will vote for Neil Gaiman and Connie Willis without actually reading their work but eligibility posts seem to encourage everyone to do this all the time and that’s really really harmful. I can’t find the link at the moment but last year’s Ditmars (the big Australian award) generated some controversy as one alliance of writers basically hoovered up all the awards. When people complained about block voting, someone pointed out that the Ditmars have always been about power blocks and the reason it’s about power blocks is because people are voting for the people they like rather than the works they most enjoyed. Eligibility posts are effective means of ‘getting out the vote’ but they encourage block voting and popularity contests rather than discussions of what is best in the field and if a popular award isn’t at least theoretically about selecting the best things in the field then it has no reason to exist.

    I expect authors to ‘get out the vote’ because authors are selfish creatures who can afford to turn awards into popularity contests. When the scene collapses into bitterness and recrimination, they can jump the fence and go write YA or Horror or Detective Fiction. I expect better of fans and reviewers because these are the cultural spaces where we live… fans built and maintain the Hugos and the blogosphere, not authors.

    All I’m asking for is that If you’re going to toot your own horn and try and get out the vote, you do so in a manner that encourages wider discussion. Recommend that people vote for you but recommend other people too!

  13. February 19, 2013 3:31 pm

    Thanks for letting me know you like the show, Jonathan! And I agree that we don’t tend to cover the political subjects as often on our show. I think part of that is because there are so many shows that already do so in a more concentrated form than we can manage without drastically changing the format (Galactic Suburbia on feminism, for example — we’ve covered issues related to women in SF/F before, but let’s face it…we’re never going to get to their depth without becoming their clone). As such, we tend to only get into the politics when a big thing is going on. I’d like to have more in-depth discussion about the field, though, and I suspect that will happen in 2014 and 2015, which will see some format shifts for the show due to, well, I can’t say. Secrets :P (not big shifts, mind). I like to think we try to ride the fine line between “just another fan show” and “one of those niche shows that enjoys its politics very much.”

    I do appreciate your kind words, though. I’ll take all you’ve said to heart and do some thinking about the show. Even though you say I shouldn’t change anything, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to make it, well, better :P

  14. February 19, 2013 4:12 pm

    Another Best of Year SF is here…

    http://www.concatenation.org/news/news1~13.html#best_books

    and

    http://www.concatenation.org/news/news1~13.html#best_films

    …and there is some overlap with your lists

  15. February 26, 2013 11:53 pm

    Submitted for your consideration, The Incomparable Podcast – [link removed by JM] – a fan podcast (disclosure: I am the host!) that’s genre focused, critical, and not hosted by SF professionals. In case you haven’t heard of us! (We won the Parsec award last year, given out at DragonCon.)

  16. February 28, 2013 11:08 pm

    Urgh…

    Firstly, this is my list of nominees… I’m happy for people to link to their recommendations but if you’d bothered to read my post, you would have seen that I moan extensively about people who plug their own work rather than the work of the people around. As a result, I consider this comment is spam and I’m removing the link.

    Secondly, I suspect that The Incomparable is not actually eligible for a Hugo as the Fancast category is open only to non-paying ventures. I don’t know for certain that 5by5 pay its hosts but I’d be surprised if they didn’t.

    Thirdly, I have actually listened to The Incomparable and while I think your opinions are well-formed and often incisive, I bounced out of it pretty quickly as you cover a lot of areas that do not interest me in the least.

  17. March 1, 2013 12:17 am

    Personally, I’m surprised not to see Brit Mandelo on more of the Fan Hugo nomination lists. And downright astonished to be appearing on anyone’s myself. (In a “People! What are you smoking?!” kind of astonishment.)

    I suspect I should write a “What I Would Nominate If I Could Nominate” list myself at some point. Be a good excuse to go through the archives of 2012.

  18. March 1, 2013 8:02 am

    I very much enjoy Brit’s work and have a huge amount of respect for her critical acumen.

    I didn’t nominate her because she isn’t what I would consider a fan writer. She’s had stories, anthologies and critical essays published by proper venues and so I would put her in the same category as people like Hines and Scalzi: People who interact with the field on a professional basis whilst continuing to produce work for fannish-type venues.

    She is technically eligible and I would rather see her win it than Scalzi, Hines or Walton… but I don’t think she’s a fan writer anymore.

  19. March 6, 2013 9:20 pm

    Hi Jonathan,

    First off, I’m pretty flattered that you put our blog in the same category as Ferretbrain, the World SF blog and all the others. Kind of awesome, actually.

    More importantly, your post both highlights the fact that there is a lot of good going on in the genre(s) at the moment and makes a clear case on behalf of all of us who feel frustrated with what awards season has become. After all, few of these worthwhile nominees are likely to actually win a Hugo (or even get nominated in many cases), while plenty of blander, more establishment figures will.

    I do have high hopes for the short story category, though, and particularly for “Immersion” sweeping the biggies (no offense to Tim or the other worthy short fiction authors, but that story is just so damned good).

Trackbacks

  1. What I’d Nominate If I Could Nominate: the Hugo Awards | Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
  2. Linky roundup | Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
  3. Sunday Links, March 10, 2013 | Like Fire
  4. How to Fix (Discussion of) The Hugo Awards | Ruthless Culture
  5. What I Want, Exactly | Everything Is Nice
  6. Subject to Interpretation: the 2013 Hugo Nominated Short Stories | Yet There Are Statues
  7. Hugo Nominations – Best Fan Writer | Everything Is Nice

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