Hugo Choices 8: Best Semiprozine – Sci-Phi beats No Award

Previously on Hugo Choices:

Current Hugo State of Play

Hugo Choices 1: Best Novel

Hugo Choices 2: Best Related Work – The Story of Moira Greyland

Hugo Choices 3: Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form

Hugo Choices 4: Best Short Story

Hugo Choices 5: Best Fanzine

Hugo Choices 6: Best Fan Writer

Hugo Choices 7: Best Editor – Long Form

Best Semiprozine

Another category where I did my homework in advance. Yes, this category has its flaws and the concept of a “semiprozine” is odd but thanks to the handy directory it is well defined by example if not conceptually.

I think, putting everything else aside, that the category has a stand-out winner this year with Uncanny. Covers, stories, articles are all top notch and various parts of it are in contention elsewhere in the Hugos. Stories like Wooden Feathers and Folding Beijing are notable stories in their own right. It also carried highly talked about fan writing such as “The Call of the Sad Whelkins: The Continued Relevance of How To Suppress Women’s Writing” by Annalee Flower Horne and Natalie Luhrs. If it was the only sci-phi magazine you read in 2015 you’d have a good feel for the state of play in this years Hugo’s. Arguably that is a flaw – maybe it is TOO tailored to a Worldcon/Hugo-voting audience?

The middle three are harder to rank. Daily Science Fiction does the thing that it does (delivers science fiction daily), Beneath Ceaseless Skies has its moments but I think Strange Horizons has a better Hugo packet entry overall.

Putting politics, puppydom and strange conversations with Jason Rennie aside, I don’t think it is unfair to say that Sci-Phi Journal is the weakest of the five. However, weakest does not equal weak and weak does not equal bad. However, I’ve set myself some rules and the question at hand is whether it beats No Award.

There are some structural things in Sci-Phi’s favour. This is a competitive category with a largely reasonable set of finalists and (IMHO) probably the best semiprozine from 2015 as a finalist. So the pressure is off No Award as a filter of quality in response to slates/shenanigans distorting the selection of finalists. Having said that, Sci-Phi is clearly the beneficiary of Rabid shenanigans.

The overall quality, based on its Hugo packet contribution isn’t wholly woeful but it isn’t great. However, there is a lot to like about what Jason Rennie is trying to do. Given all the moaning I’ve done both about the Puppies last year and about modern conservatism, it is to his credit that he is actually trying to do something positive. Sci-Phi tries to foster the kind of writing culture that the Puppies claimed was missing but also tries to do so at an intellectual level. It encourages philosophical reflection and it positions itself as a dialogue among like-minded people. It is largely of the right but it isn’t dominated by dull screeds about how mean and horrid the left are. That is all positive and creditable.

As a philosophical magazine, it is also not great. The essay of resolving free-will against an omniscient god suggests that such a god could just know of all possible futures but it doesn’t really consider why that solution doesn’t remotely help resolve the question at hand. However, again what are we judging? The semiprozine as a sum of its contents or the semiprozine as an entity? As it is a philosophical semiprozine, I’m going to go with the notion of judging it by what it is trying to do and not just what it has managed to achieve.

What Sad Puppies (particularly SP4) has inadvertently demonstrated, is that the lack of authentic conservative voices in modern science fiction lies less with sinister conspiracies or SJW gate-keepers but rather a genuine lack of conservatives writing SF/F of any great depth. Sci-Phi journal hasn’t fixed that problem but at least it is attempting to do something constructive about it.

So while the Rabids may have pushed Sci-Phi journal onto the ballot before it was really ready to be taken out of the oven, and while it remains somewhat undercooked and has yet to rise to its full potential, I’m going to say it does eke its way past No Award – that three-headed Cerebus like monster lurking on the ballot.

So my rankings (the middle three still likely to change)
1. Uncanny
2. Strange Horizons
3. Beneath Ceaseless Skies
4. Daily Science Fiction
5. Sci-Phi Journal
6. No Award doesn’t make the ballot. The comparison work would have been Uncanny but it’s on the ballot.

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16 comments

  1. JJ

    You’re more generous than I am. A weak entry combined with deliberate participation in the Puppy cheating puts them solidly below No Award on my ballot.

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    • camestrosfelapton

      Fair enough. Think about it this way, Uncanny is a delightful meal, balanced, original, tasty and satisfying. Sci Phi isn’t but then Sci Phi has set itself the task of cooking the meal with odd ingredients and unusual cooking methods. Its like a haggis flavoured cheesecake – that it isn’t wholly inedible is an achievement. Uncanny has taken the easy way out by publishing quality pieces by really good writers at the top of their game 🙂
      OK, on reflection that is a really bad argument…

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    • Lurkertype

      Same here. I don’t think its quality makes it Hugo-worthy, and then being a Puppy choice seals its doom. Below NA it is.
      Uncanny is clearly #1, but 2-3 are in flux for me.

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  2. Bartimaeus

    As a first time voter, I feel a bit guilty about voting in the Semiprozine and Short Form Editor categories since I’ve read only a few stories (4 or 5 from each magazine). Now those 4-5 stories were the most well reviewed ones (using the aggregate of Locus, SFRevu, “Year’s Best” anthologies, etc. that RSR provides), so I think it’s a fairly good quality metric – eg., “how does the very best of Clarkesworld stack up against the very best of other magazines?” But I’m certainly not as well informed as a regular subscriber who can factor in stuff like month-to-month consistency, % of terrible stories, etc.

    I’d be very interested in knowing how much the average Hugo voter has read from each magazine. How many are regular subscribers? Perhaps this could be embedded as a poll in the voting stage (like the Locus poll).

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    • camestrosfelapton

      I think the Hugo packet works well for semis as there is an additional point of info in that the sample a zine gives is what THEY think is their best. Short form and the ‘zine categories are in part about curating skills I guess. How good they are at pulling good stuff together…

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  4. Mark

    I strongly suspect I’ll be placing Uncanny at #1 as well – I’ve read enough BCS and Strange Horizons to know they’re strong but Uncanny beats them out for me. I’m currently pondering BCS at #2, because I like their fantastical output, but I suspect I’m an outlier and most people will place Strange Horizons and Uncanny in the top two spots.

    Your point about Uncanny being tailored is an interesting one – there’s no doubt it’s been very carefully launched and designed to be like catnip to a certain type of reader who maps onto the WorldCon membership rather well. In terms of how to launch a zine into a small and crowded market it’s pretty much a study in how to do it. I’m sure they think it’s a positive though. It’ll be interesting to see how well Mothership Zeta does next year, as they’ve clearly followed many of the same principles but crucially have taken a different tone and haven’t gone fully free.

    I don’t have an opinion on Sci-Phi yet (I wasn’t impressed by their free content last year but am keeping an open mind until I read their packet) but the point that they are at least putting their money where their mouth is, is a good one. There’s another puppy-adjacent zine been launched called Cirsova, focusing on S&S and planetary adventure stories. Fighting in the marketplace rather than on the Hugo ballot is much more preferable IMO.

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    • azazel

      Deep Magic magazine, an e-zine of “clean” and “morally responsible” SFF that ran for a few years in the aughts, has also recently had a rebirth. No puppy connections that I’m aware of, but it’s another venue for the kind of fiction they say they want. Like you, I’m fine with all that – the more stories out there, the better.

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      • Mark

        Azazel, thanks, that’s rather interesting. Looks like they’ll be an eligible semipro for next year so I’ll check them out.

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  10. Phil Sandifer

    Only just reading this, and too late to make any changes, but I believe Sci-Phi Journal is Castalia-related. They used to come up occasionally on the Dumpster Fire That Walks Like a Man’s “Castalia Affiliates” ad spot, and are sold through the Castalia store’s “Associates” section.

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    • camestrosfelapton

      They are certainly in the orbit. The older version of the journal was sold via the Castalia House online-shop. However, last year Jason Rennie told me that they weren’t connected except via Castalia re-selling them.
      So a borderline case, imho. I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt (twice) because I kind of like the idea of them. But that is a hard position to defend.

      I think that the right is such an intellectual dessert at the moment and so consumed with anti-intellectual sentiment that even Sci-Phi’s half-baked neo-Thomism is an improvement on the general level of discourse.

      Having said that, they fit within that same sphere of idolatry of medieval scholasticism that you can find with John C Wright and Vox Day, that also looks more like the Rabid Puppy camp than the Sad camp.

      Also I’m over thinking this.

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