I wanted to do this in two parts, first to look at the packets and then try and look beyond that.
One approach to ranking a set of fanwriters for the Hugo Awards might be to pick the example in the packet for each writer that you thought was the best example of their work and then rank each of those exemplars against each other. I think if I did that, I’d probably put Alasdair Stuart or Foz Meadows highest. But…it doesn’t feel right as a way of evaluating the finalists systematically*.
It fails in a couple of ways:
- Reviews: longer critical essays or essays with personal insights will on a piece-by-piece comparison win out when judging writing. A good functional review will adopt a more ‘objective’ style of informative writing, which is technically hard to do but whose qualities are less obvious.
- Broader aspects of fan writing: Elsa Sjunneson-Henry included a link to a Twitter thread in her packet contribution and it is a good example of how fanwriting also includes commentary in formats other than essays. Compiling news, parodies, event comments on other sites are part of the mix.
With reviews in particular both James Davis Nicoll and Charles Payseur write a lot of what I call broad-survey reviews of short fiction. Those are styles of reviews that provide core details about the work, plot summaries and then some insight into the story. With so much short fiction available, this is the kind of fannish work that’s both vital and also runs the risk of being seen as gatekeeping. Delivering reviews that are both fair and informative and in sufficient number to be useful to a reader looking for stories to read, is a difficult task. I look at the scope of what sites like Rocket Stack Rank (for example) manage to review and I don’t know how people manage it. I can barely find the time to read the stuff I’m actively wanting to read!
This kind of review writing comes down less to individual examples and more to the broad brushstrokes — something which is true when considering Best Fanzine also. How effective are these reviews to me as a reader to finding works I want to read? Note, that reviews and essays that border review and criticism often play a quite different role: that of being part of a conversation about a story. The emphasis then is more on a shared experience between the writer and the reader who may have already read the story.
Of course, that particular set of tunnels in this particular rabbit hole I’m in doesn’t get me much further as I don’t think I can rank the broad-survey style reviews of the finalists any better!
The sense of fanwriting as being something that extends beyond essays and reviews is also important. I concluded my other post on the finalists with a conclusion that the packet process itself may distort how we see fanwriting.
- Bogi Takács — I mainly read eir Twitter account and the insights that gives into somebody participating in fandom with experiences and perspectives different from my own. I think that’s an important kind of fanwriting.
- Foz Meadows — As well as Twitter has a Tumblr that often looks at fan-ficition and the issues around it. Again, not always SFF neccesarily but another important aspect of fanwriting.
- James David Nicolls — His Young People Read Old SFF is always entertaining. Now, the bulk of the text in any entry is quotes from the people who read the story, so I can see why he didn’t include an example in the packet but as a project it is an excellent example of fanwriting as a kind of social glue that helps join fans together.
- Elsa Sjunneson-Henry — I’ve already mentioned twice her Twitter thread on eugenics in SFF. Other media platforms encourage different styles of writing but also disseminate ideas in different ways.
- Alasdair Stuart — He’s involved in some many things that I’d worry I’d miss one. I haven’t read his newsletter but that’s another interesting alternative approach, which carries with it some of the classic elements of fanzines (i.e. a subscriber base).
- Charles Payseur — Drunk reviews of classic Goosebumps! Fanwriting should be fun (at least sometimes) and reflect the many ways we engage with stories whether critically, emotionally or sometimes intoxicatedly.
Oh and am I any closer to ranking these writers? Nope. The dilemma of a strong field is that in the end ranking s come down to small, possibly trivial differences.
*[Also, there is nothing at all wrong with just going with your gut. I’m just heading down my own overly analytic rabbit hole here.]