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…
This is not a post about WHAT to vote for and despite the title, it is even a post telling you how to go about voting. No, it is a post about me thinking about how to vote…and I have done posts on voting strategies for the Hugos in 2015 and 2016 but it is really nice that this time it’s about a nice problem rather than puppy poo.
So Best Series is a special category this year courtesy of Worldcon 2017’s prerogative – rather like an exhibition sport in the Olympics. The nominees are:
- The Craft Sequence, by Max Gladstone (Tor Books)
- The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey (Orbit US / Orbit UK)
- The October Daye Books, by Seanan McGuire (DAW / Corsair)
- The Peter Grant / Rivers of London series, by Ben Aaronovitch (Gollancz / Del Rey / DAW / Subterranean)
- The Temeraire series, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey / Harper Voyager UK)
- The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
Of those, I’ve read ONE of the series completely (The Expanse – as far as it has gone) but know of the others to varying extents.
In the comments to the previous post, Greg and Mark and others made various good points about ways of approaching voting. The issue is that Best Series is not unlike Best Editor Long Form – the normal way of voting in the Hugo Awards doesn’t work (read the relevant stuff and vote). However, unlike Best Editor Long, best series at least has accessible information and works. The problem is that it is way too much volume of stuff to evaluate if you haven’t already been following the series in question. So here are some approaches to choose from.
- No Award. Maybe this category just isn’t meant to be. If it is just fans of series X turning up to vote for their fave then it isn’t really like the other categories. The fun thing about the Hugos is fans reading and thinking about works other fans liked. You can’t feasibly catch up on multiple series and evaluate them in the time available.
- I’m not going to go down this path. I like how Best Series has got stuff in it that wouldn’t necessarily get an individual nod for Best Novel. I may change my mind but let’s see.
- Don’t vote or don’t vote for things you haven’t read. You can’t read them all? OK but maybe this category isn’t for you.
- Yeah but – look at those nominees. The Hugos are great to vote in because they give you an incentive to try out that thing that other people were talking about. You may end up hating or you may end up loving it but that encourages sharing and communication and hence…community. The series nominated are all things I’ve THOUGHT about jumping into or had recommended or read parts of. I’d like to engage more with these nominees.
- Use this category as a proxy for a category you would rather be there. For example, some people vote for Best Editor Long Form as ‘Best Publisher. It’s bending the spirit of things but thinking about a category differently can be a way into making more sense of the nominees. In this case, Best Series is close to Best Novel from a Series. To qualify the Best Series needs a 2016 entry which will typically be a novel, so a different spin on the category makes sense.
- I think this has some merit but judging a series on the most recent book may be flawed. Part of the attraction of series novels is that characters can develop slowly and indirectly over time and hence an individual book may have relatively weak characterisation even though the series as a whole has some depth of character (and the characters are often why people love a series). I think this may be PART of the answer.
- Reputation and review. Other people’s reviews can tell you a lot about a book. For a series, there is going to be a lot more reviews in total than an individual book. Also, people whose opinion you trust are more likely to have encountered a series than an individual book juts by volume of stuff.
- Hmm, not really in the spirit of the Hugo awards, though. I wouldn’t vote in Best Novel that way and over the past couple of years even slogged through some awful crap just on principle of reading what I’m voting on. Maybe Best Series is an exception but…that’s also an argument for point 1 (No Award because Best Series is the start of a slippery slope?). Maybe this is part of an answer? A way of lessening the burden of all that reading but without giving up on the reading altogether?
- Sample! What does a rational person do when there is too much data to process? Sample! Look at a smaller, more manageable subset. This is not unlike just looking at the most recent volume.
- Yeah but, even just reading TWO books from each series I haven’t read is a lot of extra Hugo homework and what if I pick bad examples!
- See what’s in the packet. The Hugo packet gives the finalists a way of shaping how we see a series. Maybe they’ll include a synopsis or highlights or a guide for a reading order (Vorkosigan may need this).
- We’ll have to wait and see what we get but there is no reason to assume that each of the nominees will take the same approach to the packet.
- Read until you’ve got the vibe. Don’t read the whole thing, just read until you feel you can make a judgement.
- Good for weeding out the definite ‘no’ examples but less good for better series.
- Read the whole blinkin’ lot.
- No, I have a life and other hobbies. That’s a LOT of books
I’m tending to all of those strategies at the same time aside from point 8. Use reviews and reputation to prioritise series (4), read more than one entry in the series (but maybe pick novellas etc when available) (3, 5, 7), pick some stuff out at random (5) and for stuff that really didn’t work No Award and for stuff that I couldn’t get a handle on, not vote.
Maybe. I’ll think some more on this.