Hugo Fan Writer: Why you should vote for…James Davis Nicoll

Post number two (collect them all!) in our Hugo Fan Writer profiles.

James Davis Nicoll:
Other Sites:

We could, if we felt inclined, classify fan writing into the three ‘ews’: news, views and reviews. James leads his Hugo packet contribution with reviews and while those are excellent they perhaps underplay his history as a blogger, commentator, epigramist and person around whom stories happen ( James is both a pioneer in online fandom and also a key piece of infrastructure.

In James’s DreamWidth bio he describes himself:

“I was born in Canada, learned English in the UK, learned English again in Canada and aside from various trips abroad have spent most of my adult life in Kitchener, Ontario. I ran a hobby shop for 17 years and now am a free-lance book reviewer and game editor, occupations that have taught me how to budget.”

Whereas TV Tropes is more expansive:

James Nicoll is a sharp-witted observer of the foibles of science fiction authors and their works, though somewhat Unluckily Lucky when it comes to personal safety (to the point where reporting one his numerous brushes with near-death earned the label “Nicoll Event.”) Coined the trope “Brain Eater”, which is now Filibuster Freefall, and is also the creator of the famous “Purity of the English Language” quote.

The theme that has emerged from the Hugo-voter’s collective intelligence this year is fan writers as connections between worlds. The most apparent aspect of that in James’s work is his Young People Read Old SFF project ( which puts classic science fiction stories in front of young people (or sometimes current science fiction in front of old people). As a project it is a fascinating example of how ‘fan writing’ exceed simple definition. The posts show how reading is a conversation with texts and with others reading those texts. James’s role is to facilitate the process but by doing so the whole project turns the process of review into a deeper form of literary criticism.

Hugo Packet

In 2019 James Davis Nicoll reviewed on average 20 books a month – that’s about two books every three days. So picking between these must have been a tough choice for him. The packet has boiled it down to five reviews that cover a variety of genres: some 1980’s sci-fi from Walter John Williams, Gideon Marcus’s Rediscovery: SF by Women 1958 – 1963 anthology, a contemporary single author anthology, a webtoon and a manga.

It is a smart choice of examples as it allow him to show off the range of approaches to reviewing. One of the key aspects is introducing people to stories that they weren’t aware of, for example You can read his review here or in the packet.


4 responses to “Hugo Fan Writer: Why you should vote for…James Davis Nicoll”

  1. I hope these appreciations aren’t just a set-up for a “Why You Should Vote For” entry that just says ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


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