These ballot posts I’m doing when I’m ready. I’ve read and reviewed all of these now:
- All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor Books / Titan Books)
- A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager US)
- Death’s End, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (Tor Books / Head of Zeus)
- Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris Books)
- The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin (Orbit Books)
- Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer (Tor Books)
The dilemma I have is with Too Like the Lightning – should I judge it by itself or wait until I’ve read the sequel? A lot rests on the sequel in terms of how I judge the book but the award is just for Too Like the Lightning. So, I’m going to do my list now and reserve my right to change my mind later.
As a set, this is a tougher choice than last year where The Fifth Season stood out despite the high-quality competition. This year there are four books that are vying for my number 1 votes and 2 books that will get my lower preferences.
7 – No spot for No Award. I think every one of these deserves a fraction of my vote.
6 – A Closed and Common Orbit. I know a lot of people have really connected with Becky Chamber’s humane and empathetic take on space-adventure. This one was more planet centred and despite being a sequel stands on its own well. I did enjoy a lot of it but it didn’t grab me the way the other books did.
5. – Death’s End. There are moments of genuine sparkle in this lengthy future history but also parts which just seem like a slog. Full of ideas and the refreshingly different pacing and plotting makes me glad I read it.
So that’s the ‘easy’ bit. The next four are more of a challenge. All six of the nominees pushes boundaries and took the genre to new places but I feel my top four did so with more success. They each have their flaws though. The Obelisk Gate suffers by being a middle novel strung between the intensity of The Fifth Season and the finale. All the Birds… does its own thing but sometimes gets caught between epic and whimsy. Ninefox Gambit‘s brilliance is on a slow burn and its intentionally alienating language hides a more conventional story. Finally Too Like the Lightning is half a story, its plot left hanging.
4. The Obelisk Gate. When quality is this high, small things end up making the difference. With a Hugo already on the shelf for this series, I’ll give my higher votes to the other three. Feels wrong though. Happy to see this win.
3. Too Like the Lightning. Ha! Opposite problem! I don’t know where this book is going whereas The Obelisk Gate I knew where it had been. I can see me changing my mind multiple times. Clever and a great conversation starter.
2. Ninefox Gambit. Or as my spell checker likes to say Nice fox gambit. What if our technology outpaced our capacity to conceptualise our technology? A military space adventure with weapons that manipulate reality and where how you track time can be heretical.
1. All the Birds in the Sky. A story about stories and a story about science and fantasy. Pulled me in and refused to accept any distinctions between magical realism, science fiction, fairy tales or fantasy.
Or, maybe some other order. Can I give them all a 1? Seriously, this was a fun and engaging set of books to read. Ideas you want to share and characters you glad you spent time with (except Mycroft).
The secret forces that control my life have decided that I must do due diligence on the Hugo Award Category: Best Dramatic Presentation – Short. So with a Netflix trial on my phone, I plunge through the airlock and into SyFy’s THE EXPANSE!
The good news is this also is a handy refresher course on James S. A. Corey’s initial novel in the series. The bad news is that I probably shouldn’t have read this review by Laurie Penny first.
If you like the books, then you probably will like the series. The characters are played by people who are each plausibly the character from the book. Few liberties have been taken with the plot and the ones that have are mainly for the better. Sweary UN honcho, Chrisjen Avasarala, has been brought forward into the plot and her story line helps draw out the solar system politics more clearly. There are other tweaks to events that reduce the amount of shuttling about everybody does.
At some point, they decided that Detective Miller’s hat was stupid and he goes largely hatless so we can see his daft haircut. I say daft, but it sort of looks like they are doing a tribute to Bret Ewins/Peter Milligan future existential detective comic book Johnny Nemo. [Also if you haven’t read the books or seen the TV series there are spoilers after the pictures of Johnny Nemo]
The look and setting are both original and familiar: the industrial space faring look from Alien, the space-era poverty from Total Recall, the humdrum below decks of a space station from Babylon 5, or even with Holden’s crew & a stolen ship a feel of Blake’s Seven. Yet there hasn’t really been a substantial TV show with this solar system bound feel or with this kind of faux-realism.
Decent story, with good actors and nice effects, yet oddly conventional and seemingly not eager to push the limits of television. It does end up dragging a bit in the middle but picks up again as the threads of Miller’s investigation of Julie Mao’s disappearance and Holden’s quest to find the people who destroyed The Canterbury start coming together.
The specific Hugo finalist episode is the final episode of Season 1: Leviathan Wakes. Miller pursuit of the truth has led him to Eros Station – a rundown asteroid outpost. Holden and the crew of Rocinante, following their own leads into the mysterious stealth ships that are in the midst precipitating a war between Mars and Earth, have also reached Eros station. However, events have rapidly overtaken them both: Julie Mao is dead – infected with some sort of bio-weapon [ooh! ooh! says everybody who has read the books, we know what that is!]. Meanwhile, the station’s police force has decided to round up everybody on the pretext of a radiation leak. Meanwhile, on Earth, Chrisjen discovers that the conspiracy to set Mars and Earth against each other is even deeper.
It certainly is an episode with tension and some moments of genuine horror. The mounting realisation that a horror is developing on the station, is paralleled by the tensions between the disparate characters. Possibly it would have more impact if I didn’t know the plot. However, I didn’t feel this exceptional television – just a well done season finale with a cliffhanger.
I don’t regret watching it – fun, lots of action and a great sense of plausibility – but not going to be a top pick on my Hugo ballot.
Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is known for its twisty and cynical stories of society and modern technology (particularly media technology) in conflict. Unusually for a critically acclaimed show during the new TV golden age, it isn’t spawned from some other media nor is it a long-form, story-arc dominated serial. Each episode, although tied by common themes, are standalone stories, which puts it closer to the SFF TV tradition of the Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits.
Twisty as it tends to be, it can be hard to review because the central premise of an episode can either be misleading or revealed as a plot twist. San Junipero has elements of both. So beware, some major spoilers after the fold but I’ll say this upfront – this is a touching love story and yes, I did nearly cry a little and it might make you cry a lot by the end.
Experimental Hip Hop group, Clipping are not a stereotypical Hugo nominee but I’d be hard pressed to name an album that is so tightly linked to the Hugo tradition. Science fiction themes are not new to popular music from David Bowie to Janelle Monae but Splendor & Misery approaches science fiction from a different direction musically. Rather than reaching for the broader aesthetics of SF visuals, Splendor & Misery dives directly into science fiction as both a narrative and as a distinct historical genre.
Before I continue, I have to point out the three-part discussion of the story, themes and layers (upon layers) of references in the album:
Given that some are apparently delivered by secret codes, I can’t claim to have spotted every reference. Many of the overt references to other music/performers went right over my head. However, there is no shortage of overt SF references from Delaney (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stars_in_My_Pocket_Like_Grains_of_Sand), Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin (who’d have thought mandible rhymes with ansible?) amid less specific layers of connections with 60s, 70s and 80s space fiction.
Musically it is dominated by rap but interspersed with acapella songs that make use of African American song traditions to establish yet another layer of history and cultural connections. On each dimension, even its sense of the future, the album connects with the past.
So Best Dramatic Presentation? Absolutely and unambiguously, it fits into the category as a worthy nominee. It is (mainly) a science fiction story. Not a vastly original one but one told via a different medium.
The story is told in three (maybe) voices:
- The AI controlling a starship carrying a human cargo. Called ‘mothership’, this is the primary narrator of the story.
- Cargo 2331, a man who escapes from incarceration and takes control of the ship.
- Something best described as a chorus – basically I’m lumping together tracks that divert from the main story to add background, mythology or connections.
The story starts where lots of space ship stories start: something goes wrong – ‘A small anomaly has become evident’. Mothership alerts the crew that the ‘cargo’ is waking up. One in particular, is awake and dangerous and has escaped his confines. 2331 somehow commandeers the ship. Quite what happens to the crew, we don’t know but the AI does reveal as it describes events, that it has methodically killed the rest of the ‘cargo’. 2331 though survives the blow to his head and the ‘fever’ sent as a countermeasure. Watching, the violent, disturbed man who has taken control, Mothership shifts emotionally and decides to protect him, announcing to the ships now seeking to reclaim the stolen spaceship:
Warning: mothership reporting
This will be the last report, turn back, everything is fine
Warning: mothership reporting
Cargo number 2331 is not a danger, let him be
Warning: mothership reporting
If you continue to pursue there will be no choice but to destroy you
Warning: mothership reporting
This love will be defended at all costs, do not fuck with it
Avoiding pursuit via hyperspace (I assume) jumps, 2331 eventually goes on a mission of vengeance (or possibly simply imagines doing so). However, his erratic behaviour leads to a distance between him and the ship. Their personal conflict intensifies until they decide to avoid pursuit permanently and head off into the unknown.
And somebody gotta keep watch where the watch stops
He talks about his pops in polarity
Fingers fantasize of rocks there will never be
“Land ho!” Likely
Lest a hole in the mantle of Heaven
He’s demanding the evidence for something
That maybe never was for anyone
He’s missing something pretty
He’s missing where the air tastes gritty
He’s missing the splendor and misery
Of bodies, of cities, of being missed
In between, the songs hit a background mythology, hint at war, conflict and sinister trade in human beings.
As a story, it becomes more indistinct and tangential through the album. Earlier songs address events more directly, later ones reflect 2331’s possible psychological decay (and he doesn’t start in a great state – alone, wounded and assaulted by disease) and Motherships own ambivalent emotional state. The song Story 5 (about a woman named Grace, a former soldier who attempts to expose the bosses of an unsafe factory and is murdered for it) has no obvious connection to the plot but feels heavy with hidden relevance.
The third time listening through and after reading the ‘prognotes’ articles above, I started REALLY liking this. I don’t think it is easy to instantly like – aside from anything else, there is a distracting amount of things going on. Arguably, it shouldn’t take three long essays to make sense of an otherwise simple tale of hibernating man waking up on a spaceship in deep space but Splendor & Misery is not just cryptic but compressed like some file format that has been encoded to cram as much in as possible, even if it makes difficult to unpack.
I think it will be hard for me to give anything else a 1 in this category.
The finalists are in and the long journey to Helsinki* has begun and so it is time to start working through finalists category by category. As in previous years, my choice of category is done on what I find easiest to write about. I’m starting a little earlier this year because 1. I don’t think we’ll see the same kinds of changes in finalists we saw last two years and 2. there are more finalists per category and most are serious contenders so there is more work to be done.
Fanwriter is as good a place to start as any 🙂
802 ballots cast for 275 nominees. Votes for finalists ranged from 80 to 152.
- Mike Glyer
- Jeffro Johnson
- Natalie Luhrs
- Foz Meadows
- Abigail Nussbaum
- Chuck Tingle
That is an impressive array. It divides into three chunks. Chunk one: established fan writers: Mike Glyer, Natalie Luhrs, Foz Meadows and Abigail Nussbaum. Chunk two: Jeffro Johnson, the Rabid nominee but one with a track record of informed fan writing on genre issues. Chunk three: the inimitable Dr Tingle. The discussion below is in no particular order.
- I’ll discuss Jeffro Johnson first. Yeah, sorry but Castalia House affiliated and volunteer for the Vox Day human ammunition brigade. His boss sees his work as no different from Stix Hiscock’s lame Tingle imitation. The nomination is part of the ongoing Castalia House PR stunt (which includes treating child abuse as a joke) and Vox Days ongoing tantrum about Scalzi/PNH/Tor/N.K.Jemisin/WSFA***/That-kid-who-teased-him-in-kindergarten. Vox himself conceded last year that you can’t separate the Castalia House nominees from him and his issues. So Jeffro, below No Award you go. But, that’s my policy and even a Rabid Puppy deserves due process.
- Jeffro’s own blog is here and the link should take you to 2016 posts https://jeffro.wordpress.com/2016/
- I can’t get the Castalia house blog to filter just on Jeffro’s posts but this link should filter on 2016 http://www.castaliahouse.com/2016/ a lot of Jeffro’s posts here are either news round-ups or puff pieces for Castalia House but there are also pieces on the pulp traditions and tabletop games.
- Jeffro is a competent writer with clear interests in SF and the history of the genre. I can’t say I’ve found any one of his pieces particularly compelling but I’m not really interested in his subject matter. Arguably though, he’s the strongest Rabid nominee we’ve seen who wasn’t either a hostage or co-opted from a Sad Puppy slate.
- Mike Glyer. Host of File 770 and veteran of fandom. As well as being the central news source of things fannish.
- A 2016 File 770 as a PDF fanzine is here http://efanzines.com/File770/File770-166.pdf
- File 770 the blog is here http://file770.com/ – technically you can filter on Mike Glyer as a post author, but as he runs the blog, it will throw up nearly every post.
- As I said last year, Mike Glyer is one of those key people in a large community that helps a community exist. News, history and insightful articles are part of that but also the more sad work of obituaries of notable fans. I’d be happy if he won.
- Natalie Luhrs – in my post last year on this category I specifically mentioned Natalie Luhrs as somebody who should have been a finalist but who was excluded due to Rabid antics.
- I found this piece interesting last year and linked to it at the time http://www.pretty-terrible.com/a-brief-analysis-of-the-locus-recommended-reading-list-2011-2015/
- Also writes for Uncanny (but I couldn’t find a 2016 piece – here’s a 2015 piece http://uncannymagazine.com/article/ethics-in-reviewing/ )
- An interesting and insightful writer and I’d be happy if she won also.
- Foz Meadows – another writer who I’ve linked to previously, most notably for this piece at Blackgate that made baby-vox cry https://www.blackgate.com/2016/12/07/unempathic-bipeds-of-failure-the-relationship-between-stories-and-politics/
- Also I linked to this analysis she did of Uprooted https://fozmeadows.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/uprooted-abuse-ragequitting/
- And yet another writer that I’d be happy if they won! Oh, this is going to be difficult!
- Abigail Nussbaum – the finalist I’ve read the least of. No reason why – I’d even had her blog marked as one I should read more of back in 2015 but…I’m lazy and neglectful of the things I intend to do 😦 [That’s another silly side-effect of the attention I pay to Puppy and Rabid misbehaviour – it means I’ve read more Jeffro Johnson posts about stuff I wasn’t interested in than an interesting blogger writing about stuff I am in interested in. ]
- Her blog is here http://wrongquestions.blogspot.com.au/2016
- In 2017 she also started writing an SF column for New Scientist (but that’s not eligible stuff for this year’s Hugos, obviously)
- What can I say! Another clearly worthy winner!
- Chuck Tingle – the wild card! Chuck came to fame via strange quasi-parodies of obscure subgenres of homoerotic Kindle porn. In 2015 his book titles became in-jokes among fandom and then, probably missing the joke, Vox Day nominated a Chuck Tingle book as part of his 2016 Rabid Puppy slate. At which point VD discovered he had inadvertently summoned a being with more memetastic powers than VD could have imagined. Chuck’s metafictional persona is a timeline jumping paladin fighting to make love real while battling his chocolate milk addiction and weird monsters from the void.
- You can follow Chuck on Twitter to learn about reverse twins, the void and drinking too much chocolate milk.
- Or he has a bunch of weird parody sites such as Buttbart http://www.buttbart.com/ or his recent capture of http://www.stixhiscock.com/
- Chuck’s trolling of the Rabids was very funny but I really didn’t like the suggestion that he be nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation. However, I think he is a 100% legit nominee for Fan Writer. Humour is a core part of fandom and SFF goes with absurdity like cheese & wine, peanut butter & jam(jelly), chocolate & coffee etc. But, probably not going to put him number 1.
So, how will I vote? Don’t know. One of Glyer, Luhrs, Meadows, Nussbaum at 1, then Dr Tingle, then the inimitable Noah Ward. Poor Jeffro – sorry but no place on the ballot for Castalia and given he’s aligned with those who think the Hugos are an indication of bad quality, then he can’t possibly want one.
The Hugo Packet contributions will make a big difference to my final vote I think. The main thing is what a great line up! Also what a clear repudiation of that stupid ‘burn a category to the ground’ rhetoric from the Pups in previous years. We’ve had two+ years of Sad & Rabid nonsense in this category but now that interference has died down to a pathetic lingering whine, the category is more competitive than ever! The main lingering effect is several nominees who should have already won a Hugo for their work.
*[not literally – can’t make it 😦 ]
**[PS Thanks to people who nominated me in this category. I have mixed feelings about that kind of attention but that’s my own silly set of hang-ups. I appreciate it.]
***[The World Writers Science Society Fantasy Fictioneers of Alberta Association]
I’m posting this mainly to make it easier for me to find the link later!
JJ has cleverly collated a list of links to Hugo finalists works/excerpts that are available for free on the net. It is here on File 770 http://file770.com/?p=34237 and makes for a kind of quick Hugo packet for anybody trying to get a head start on Hugo decision making.
Book three of The Three-Body Problem. Book 2 The Dark Forest didn’t have that same spark as the first book but was not unentertaining. What I’ve enjoyed about these books is that the beats and plots changes are unexpected even when the concepts are conventional.
Deaths End, so far, reads more like a direct sequel to The Three Body Problem rather than the Dark Forest. Not only leaping back to the main setting of TBP but going back even further. The book opens with the siege of Constantinople and a neat little SF story about a woman with a surprising power.
If you didn’t like TBP then Deaths End probably isn’t going to be much better for you. However, if you liked TBP but found Book 2 a bit dry, maybe Deaths End is worth a go. We’ll see…