Draft Hugo Award Ballot 2014 – The Fan Categories (Best Fan Writer, Best Fanzine, Best Fan Artist, Best Fancast)
You can find my other nominations for the 2014 Hugo Awards here:
We are told that fandom used to be one big family. We are told that fans not only shared a set of common institutions but also a set of values and ideals that helped them to determine what was a good novel and who was a good fan writer. Sure… not everyone agreed with each other all the time but chances were that if you considered yourself a fan then you would at least know and respect the people who made it onto the shortlists of the fan categories.
Whether or not this state of grace ever existed, it is now long dead. Like a fresh-faced young universe, fandom is fragmenting at the speed of light. Where once there was a more-or-less unified social hierarchy, now there are dozens of hierarchies and affinity groups split along methodological, geographical, political, generational and literary lines. Every few months, an argument erupts and another corner of fandom shatters; followers are culled, blog-rolls are amended, friendly direct messages are reborn as frustrated sub-tweets. Given that it is in the nature of fandom to become both more diverse and less coherent, expressing any kind of opinion about the activities of people operating outside of your immediate affinity group is not just difficult but downright hazardous. People are increasingly afraid to speak their minds and it is not hard to see why.
The more fandom descends into a patchwork of bellowing cliques, the more we seek to limit ourselves to the people whose values and experiences match our own. Huddled for warmth around a shared sense of outrage over the fact that not everyone shares our worldview, we are increasingly slow to express ourselves publically lest we get on the wrong side of the wrong fan. These days, saying the wrong thing can get you smeared, bullied, doxed, threatened with rape, threatened with professional consequences and blackballed from convention programming. The worse thing about these tactics is not that they exist but that they remain incredibly effective; nothing makes you more likely to reconsider your approach to fan writing than a fear of overwhelming and disproportionate reprisals.
Given the increasingly confrontational character of Science Fiction fandom, fan writing is beginning to take on something of a heroic aspect, doubly so when that fan writing involves speaking truth to power, puncturing hype with snarky commentary or taking so wide a view of the field and genre that this week’s hot new property is revealed as little more than a talentless hack leaping on an already overburdened bandwagon. My fan category nominations are explicitly and unapologetically political: I am nominating the people and publications that best embody what I hope for in fan culture. Each of these nominees (in their own often imperfect ways) embodies the change that I want to see in fan culture.
NB – I’m including, where relevant, links to some alternative nomination posts. Some people have produced individual posts for each category, some have produced posts covering partial lists and others have made all their recommendations in a single post, for ease of use, I’ve included links to relevant posts in each section so I’m probably going to make trackback functions implode. I’ve also left empty slots in the Best Fancast and Best Fanzine categories as I’m still making my mind up about certain fanworks. If anyone decides to make a nominations post, please leave a comment but personal eligibility comments will be treated as spam ;-)
My Nominations for Best Fan Writer
Liz Bourke – I seldom agree with Liz Bourke about anything; She not only devotes most of her critical output to books I would never ever read, she routinely gets excited about books that strike me as over-hyped and disappointing. However, despite almost never agreeing with Liz, I think that she is well on the way to becoming one of the foremost critics of the 2010s. Perfectly adapted to the current cultural climate, Liz manages to be erudite without seeming inaccessible and a passionate advocate who never compromises her intellectual integrity. Pretty much everything that Liz writes for Strange Horizons and Tor.com is worth looking at but I particularly enjoyed her review of Charlie Stross’s Neptune’s Brood and her attempt to work out why it is that romance figures in so many fictional stories.
Renay – Having cut her teeth in another set of fandoms, Renay washed up on the shores of SFF with a very different set of expectations. Unlike most bloggers who start churning out reviews in the hope of attracting readers and free books, Renay writes about her experiences of being a fan and what those experiences tell us about our culture as a whole. Recruited by Strange Horizons to replace Mark Plummer’s increasingly dusty and impenetrable missives, Renay’s emotional openness positions her as a modern heir to the values of traditional fan writing but where most traditional fan writers have doubts and bitterness, Renay has passion and certainty. Renay’s early SH columns are some of the finest social criticism that online fandom has ever produced but her decision to push back against the encroachment of professionals into fannish spaces resulted in threats from the sexually backward fanbase of a failed TV writer and so her more recent columns have tended to be more personal and understated affairs. While I completely understand this shift in emphasis and enjoy the new direction, I hope that Renay’s journey will loop back round to the path she set out on as Renay’s experiences and sensibilities give genre culture an excuse to re-examine old assumptions and break with destructive habits. Aside from her contributions to Strange Horizons, Renay also contributes to the groupblog Lady Business, the podcast Lady Business + and is a staff member at the Organization for Transformative Works, a non-profit devoted to preserving the history of fanworks and fan cultures.
Martin Lewis – Martin Petto (to give him his married fiction-writing name) is perhaps best known for his withering and insightful Strange Horizons reviews, his venomous trawls through celebrated short fiction anthologies and his willingness to publically criticise popular fans and authors when they misbehave or talk total rubbish. The fact that Martin does all of these things with a style and voice that is uniquely his own makes him more than worthy of consideration for the Best Fan Writer award but what makes him so special is the unfashionable disconnect between his tone and his level of engagement. Usually, when people interact with genre culture in an abrupt and coruscating manner, it is a sign that they have either been marginalised by genre culture or are naturally working their way out of the field. However, despite often coming across as incredibly grumpy, Martin has invested years of his life in British fan culture and continues to be one of the people who works to keep the lights on. Aside from being a former Clarke Award judge and a contributor to the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Martin is also a long-serving reviews editor for Vector, the critical ‘zine published by the British Science Fiction Association. Most people who achieve this level of prominence in fannish circles find their teeth being blunted by the need to maintain friendships and climb greasy polls but Martin has found a way to combine punkish iconoclasm with a tireless devotion to institutions created while he was still a child.
Abigail Nussbaum – Abigail’s continued absence from the Hugo ballot has become something of a cause celebre in certain corners of fandom and it is easy to see why. Abigail’s blog continues to be a model of intelligent commentary on genre film, books and TV while her Strange Horizons reviews (including this two-part examination of the 2013 Clarke Award shortlist) are textbook examples of how to drill down into a text without losing sight of broader concerns. Abigail also has one of the more distinctive voices in the genre community; even and rigorous in a time when theatrical anger and selective interpretation are rife, Abigail Nussbaum’s writing is civilised in all the best possible ways. Now the reviews editor for Strange Horizons, Abigail is perhaps less visible than she once was but, like Martin Lewis, her willingness to invest herself in the organs of the field and help them to improve benefits absolutely everyone with an interest in Science Fiction.
Paul Kincaid – Paul has two things against him when it comes to receiving Best Fan Writer nominations: The first is that he was active in the field when it was decided that being an exceptional critic meant that you were not, by definition, a fan writer. The second is that Paul Kincaid has been at the pinnacle of genre criticism for decades and has already won awards, built awards and achieved everything that a critic can reasonably hope to achieve in a field that remains largely ambivalent about the kind of ambitious think-pieces that Kincaid is used to turning out. Frankly, I think that both sets of caveats are complete horseshit: Paul Kincaid remains one of the most distinctive voices in the history of genre criticism… while 2013 did not bring a repeat performance of 2012’s devastating broadside against contemporary genre writing, it did bring some incredibly intricate genre thinking as well as a much welcome expansion of Paul’s writing about history and culture. Aside from writing a short fiction column for Vector, contributing to the group blog Big Other and writing for a number of different venues including Strange Horizons and The SF Site, Paul maintains a rather splendid blog that he has been using to republish many of his previously ‘zine-locked reviews and columns.
Alternate Lists of Suggestions
- Martin Lewis
- Mari Ness
- Book Smugglers
- Justin Landon
- Lady Business
- Ian Mond
- Nerds of a Feather
- Liz Bourke
- Aidan Moher
- Adam Whitehead
- Hugo Recommendations LJ (this will fill-up with time)
My Nominations for Best Fanzine
I am looking forward to seeing 2014’s Fanzine shortlist as recent years have seen a concerted effort to raise awareness of the fact that just because something is published using blogging software, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a fanzine. This concerted effort resulted in back-to-back Best Fanzine victories for SF Signal as their unquestionably amateur status and independence from different affinity groups meant that they were a candidate that everyone could agree on. Given that SF Signal have now recused themselves from further consideration, there is a risk that the award will fall back on old habits and return to being dominated by the increasingly shabby and isolationist traditional fanzine scene but hopefully SF Signal’s victories will have got the message across and people will look beyond SF Signal to the wealth of online fanzines for their nominations. However, while I have a history of being extremely critical of traditional fanzines, I do not wish to see them disappear or killed off. In fact, I would love to be able to nominate a traditional fanzine for this award but I don’t think that any of the zines put out through the e-fanzines portal comes anywhere close to my personal benchmarks of quality and engagement. I would dearly love for some new blood to make its way into the world of traditional fanzines but I have yet to see any sign of such a renaissance. Maybe next year?
Pornokitsch (Link) – One of the things I wish online fan culture would embrace is the idea that not everything needs to be about genre all the time. Many bloggers who stray across the line into blogging about personal matters and various interests are surprised to find that their audiences actually respond. The reason for this is that nobody thinks or talks about books in a vacuum; everything we do and everything we think feeds into everything else and by writing about stuff that isn’t necessarily relevant to genre culture you are allowing people to get a better idea of your voice and your perspective. Pornokitsch is personal in the best possible way: aside from having an incredibly idiosyncratic approach to genre, Jared Shurin and Anne C. Perry fill their shared blog with all kinds of weird and wonderful finds from old public information films to reviews of hardboiled crime novels and the joys of old school gaming (as in Bridge… not AD&D).
Nerds of a Feather (Link) – A relatively new addition to the genre scene, Nerds of a Feather is a group blog that tries to cover everything genre-related from books, to films, to comics, to games and all the delicious overlap in between. The challenge of this type of endeavour lies in determining how to deploy one’s time and resources: There is literally so much geek-related stuff out there that even a team of a thousand bloggers would still only scratch the surface of the American popular culture industry. Faced with this overwhelming torrent of cultural matter, many group blogs allow either the PR business or the internet as a whole to set their agenda resulting in the same slavish attention being paid to the same narrow selection of franchises: Doctor Who, Marvel Comics, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and anything that has passed across the desk of Joss Whedon. While Nerds of a Feather does occasionally cover this stuff, the bulk of their output is dominated by things that are just a couple of steps outside the mainstream. In other words, this is a broad geek blog but the broadness of the perspective remains personal enough to ensure that the coverage never feels lazy or cynical. The writing in Nerds of a Feather is systematically excellent and it looks surprisingly good for a Blogger template too.
The Hooded Utilitarian (Link) – Kept afloat by the relentlessly industrious Noah Berlatsky, The Hooded Utilitarian is first and foremost a place where incredibly smart people come to write about comics. Aside from publishing some really high-level criticism from an astonishingly large pool of writers, Hooded Utilitarian also engages with geek culture on a day-to-day basis with opinion pieces and dissections written from a thoroughly progressive perspective by someone who is clearly working very hard indeed to educate himself and the people around him. Given that the Hooded Utilitarian is primarily about comics, I have little faith in it ever appearing on a Hugo ballot but the style, energy and tone of the website is so relentlessly awesome that I genuinely hope my nomination will raise awareness of this site’s existence and maybe encourage a few other people to nominate it.
SF Mistressworks (Link) – Originally created by Ian Sales as a response to Gollancz’s shameful failure to include enough books by women in their SF Masterworks series, SF Mistressworks has expanded with time to become one of the most important resources in online genre culture. The idea behind the website is simple: If you have reviewed a Science Fiction novel written by a woman, send Ian the review and he will republish it on his site. Aside from being a living, breathing monument to the role of women in shaping Science Fiction, the site is a really vital reminder that women’s contributions to genre culture do not begin and end with getting new books reviewed, getting women on awards shortlists and getting more women into anthologies. Acknowledging genre culture’s debt to women is also a process of exhumation through which the forgotten voices of the past are introduced to a new generation of readers. Frankly, I cannot think of a more important contribution to the goal of getting more women into writing Science Fiction… if you think that women can’t or won’t write SF then SF Mistressworks will prove you horribly and scandalously wrong.
Alternate Lists of Suggestions
- Book Smugglers (repeat)
- Justin Landon (repeat)
- Aidan Moher (repeat)
- Lady Business (repeat)
- Nerds of a Feather (repeat)
- Adam Whitehead (repeat)
- Martin Lewis
My Nominations for Best Fan Artist
The Fan Artist category was created to reflect the fact that traditional fanzines would frequently run art fragments and comic strips as a way of breaking up the text and making their fanzines look less like manuscripts and more like magazines. The problem is that, these days, people tend to use photos rather than artwork and so the Fan Artist niche has effectively disappeared. We might as well give out a Hugo Award to the most reliable mimeograph machine repairperson.
I intend to vote NO AWARD and would very much like to see this category merged with the Best Professional Artist category in order to create a Best Artist category that more effectively reflects the freelance and semi-professional status of most practicing genre artists. Also, I suspect it would make Taral Wayne weep hot salty tears and quite possibly catch fire.
Alternate Lists of Suggestions
My Nominations for Best Fancast
The Best Fancast category is what happens when a bunch of incompetent geriatric reactionaries try to gerrymander the Hugo Awards. Horrified by StarShipSofa’s victory in the 2010 Best Fanzine category, the SMOFs voted to create an entirely new category in an effort to keep the Fanzine category free from the taint of 21st Century technology. The result was a Hugo category devoted to a form of fanwork that was really only just starting to get off the ground. Devoid of history or any critical filtering that might raise awareness about good podcasts, the Best Fancast category predictably came to be dominated by the podcast that featured the most recognisable professional names. Poorly produced and unbearably smug, the SF Squeecast dominated the award for the first two years of its existence but now that they have decided to decline future nominations, we have a chance to look at what a more mature podcasting field has to offer. In truth, it’s still a little bit too small for comfort but there are still some excellent podcasts kicking about the place.
The Coode Street Podcast (Link)– Hosted by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe, Coode Street remains the gold standard for genre discussion and interviews. Now nearing 200 episodes, the Coode Street Podcast has waxed and waned a number of times before putting itself on a more robust footing that saw it improve drastically all the way through 2013. Early episodes of the podcast tended to rely quite a bit on Wolfe’s ability to talk at great length about pretty much every aspect of Science Fiction and Fantasy you care to mention. However, Strahan’s decision to appear on other podcasts and to work at keeping his podcast moving have resulted in a much better balance between the warmth of Wolfe’s erudition and the heat of Strahan’s willingness to ask awkward questions and explore unpopular ideas. This more balanced dynamic is particularly evident in the show’s interview episodes where the two hosts noticeably work together to find which kinds of questions draw the best responses from their guests. Indeed, I used to dread the interview episodes but now I don’t think that you will find a better genre interview than the ones that Gary and Jonathan conducted with Paolo Bacigalupi and M. John Harrison. Even the podcast’s infamous rambling has been reigned in by the decision to focus each episode on a limited set of themes. I adore the Coode Street Podcast and it brings me great joy to see it getting better and better with each passing year.
The Writer and The Critic (Link) – More so than any other form of fanwork, podcasts rely upon the personalities of their hosts and the relationships that bind them. As time passes, it is only natural for people to change and while some podcasts adapt and grow to fit new dynamics, others struggle with old voices that no longer fit the people who use them. This pressure to evolve is particularly evident in the way that The Writer and The Critic seems to be passing through a transitional phase. Back in 2010, TW+TC exploded onto the scene with an ironclad formula and an interpersonal dynamic that was an absolute joy to behold. Nominally comprising a bit of chat followed by an in-depth discussion of two (or more) genre titles, the podcast used the fantastically funny and endearing relationship between its hosts Ian Mond and Kirstyn McDermott to ask difficult questions of important books and the culture that surrounded them: Ian was funny, Kirstyn was wise and together they were not just entertaining but downright addictive. The challenge now facing The Writer and The Critic is that, in the four years since this podcast began, its hosts have very obviously grown up: Once a gloriously obnoxious manchild overflowing with uncomfortable but necessary questions, Ian has matured in a sensitive and astute critic who is very much aware of his privilege and the need to confront it. Now a widely-respected and award-winning author in her own right, Kirstyn sounds increasingly uncomfortable breaking bones and exposing poor writing in the way that she once did. Subject to extended gaps due to major upheavals in the lives of both hosts, TW+TC is still finding its grown-up voice and has settled into a less contentious format in which important and well-received books are subjected to serious and respectful discussion rather than snark and brutal deconstruction. Whether the snark returns or whether TW+TC finds a new format with which to move forward, 2013 was still an excellent and Hugo-worthy year for a podcast that remains very close to my heart. Particularly brilliant were the episodes “’Infinite Jest’ and ‘House of Leaves’”, “’Life After Life’ and ‘The Testament of Jessie Lamb’” and “’Feed’ and ‘Some Kind of Fairy Tale’”.
Shooting The Poo (Link) – By far the most popular of all podcasting formats is the ‘Brocast’: Get a load of white dudes, stick them in front of microphones and record them as they talk shit about popular culture. Part of the Mond and McDermott podcasting empire, Shooting the Poo could easily have fallen into this tired format as it involves Mitch, Dave and Mondy occasionally getting together to discuss films and comics. What elevates Shooting the Poo above its hundreds of competitors is the singular nature of its obsessions (documentary film and indie comics) and the fact that the hosts rock up to the podcast having done their research and taken the time to form complex and interesting opinions about the subjects they’re discussing. Much like The Writer and The Critic, Shooting the Poo has matured with time, transitioning from a raucous and occasionally quite confrontational roundtable to a more focused journey through a particular cultural milieu. What I love about this podcast is the sense of guided introduction; if you know nothing about indie comics then listen to the indie comics episode and you will get everything you need to start exploring by yourself. If you have never read any Stephen King or read any Image Comics then the boys (and woman) have you covered. Subject to the same schedule disruptions as The Writer and The Critic, Shooting the Poo only released 4 episodes last year but they’re still technically eligible and have already released 2 episodes this year.
The Skiffy and Fanty Show (Link) – Shaun Duke and Jen Zink’s podcast has nearly reached the two hundred episode mark and is really no closer to resolving its identity crisis. An unusual mix of three different formats, the show rotates between roundtable discussions, extended interviews and getting shitfaced and talking about crappy movies. What this means in practice is that some days, Skiffy and Fanty is an intelligent and thought provoking podcast desperate to engage with substantial issues, other days it’s just people giggling and you never know which one you’re going to get until you actually sit down and listen. On a good day, Skiffy and Fanty includes sensational interviews like the one with Nick Mamatas and excellent round-tables like the one in which the group discuss their Hugo voting with a refreshing degree of candour. I’m nominating this podcast because I enjoy those good days and wish there were more of them. As a side note, Skiffy and Fanty now comes with a frequently updated website which, by virtue of being an unpaid group blog, qualifies for the Best Fanzine category.
Alternate Lists of Suggestions