Previously on Hugo Choices:
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)
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.