“Qui quos recenset recensere” is what Google Translate gives me for “who reviews those who review”. My first attempt was “who reviews the reviewers” but it wouldn’t translate “reviewers”. I wanted something closer to the famous Juvenal epigram “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes”, but “Quis recenset ipsos recensere” back translated to “Who has an account of themselves to review the”. I have no idea how Latin works of course and a smart-alec quote to start this post ended up as a pointless (but pleasurable) waste of time.
Putting my time wasting aside, there is a lot of stuff in the Hugo Packet for Best Fan Writer this year. Disappointingly not one of them have a puzzle corner in their Hugo Packet contributions! However, there is plenty of good reading from all the finalists.
The challenge of what and how much to put in the packet is clear. Of the six finalists James Davis Nicoll presents the most volume. It’s important you read his overview file first [James Davis Nicoll Hugo Overview.docx] which explains the difference between the epub document and the pdf. It also has links to much of his other writing. The epub is a collection of 16 reviews and the pdf is a collection of even more reviews. The sheer amount of writing he does is astounding and then doubly astounding because it’s excellent stuff.
The leanest packet contribution is from Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, which collates three excellent essays from Tor.com, Fireside and Uncanny. There’s also a link at the end to a Twitter thread she wrote that is well worth reading on eugenics in science-fiction [ twitter.com/snarkbat/status/1032406100400906240 ]. Links to Twitter and Tumblr and other social media platforms highlight how the Hugo packet may distort perceptions of fan writing by placing emphasis on the essay as the predominate mode of fan writing.
As well as essays in general, the Hugo packet contributions inevitably have a lot of reviews. Bogi Takács contribution is mainly reviews, which is interesting because I mainly read eir Twitter and more general commentary. Aside from reviews the essay “Why women + non-binary is not a good idea” that looks at how to include more inclusive language in calls for contribution. I also liked the inclusion of “Worldcon panel resources 1-3” as it demonstrates that collating resources and making lists is a key part of fan writing in the sense of writing for fans and writing that makes fandom work.
On the other hand, I think of Charles Payseur mainly as a reviewer but there are also more personal essays in his packet such as Feminist Futures: WisCon and Me and the opening essay Shout. His Quick Sip reviews are there as well with a round-up of Fiyah Magazine #7. The short review form is a challenging thing to write — attempting to give a sense of a story without just recounting the plot. Personally, I really struggle to write about shorter fiction and I often have to re-read a story and go-away and think about it to write anything. Payseur does an excellent job of pulling out the essence of multiple stories.
Foz Meadows offers five essays from her own blog and from The Book Smugglers that are more critical pieces. I think the most interesting piece is her review/essay of Final Fantasy XV. This is not a game I have played or have any intention of playing and have no particular interest in but Meadows’s essay really pulls you into what the game is like and why.
I feel like I’ve been missing out by not reading more of Alasdair Stuart’s writing. His packet contribution is a set of five essays as separate PDFs. They all really good but I think I enjoyed “Mr Burt” the most and was most moved by Joy and Applause.
And having read through the packet entries, I am no closer to voting beyond “I read this person regularly” versus “I don’t read this person much”. All worthy entries but I worry that the packet process gives a distorted view of fan writing as mainly reviews with some critical essays. I don’t want that to be read as disparaging reviews as part of fan writing, they are always going to be a key part of it.