Hugosauriad 4.8: Uncanny Magazine and The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters… by Brooke Bolander

The history of the Hugo Awards is intimately connected to the history of science-fiction and fantasy magazines. For decades Best Novel winners were often first published as serialised stories in the most notable magazines. By 2019 the age of the news stand sci-fi magazine was long over, although some venerable magazines were still in publication (e.g. Analog) and Amazing Stories had returned via the power of Kickstarter.

The magazine was from dead though. The business models had changed and the mode of distribution was radically different but the Hugo Awards at the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century were still influenced by magazines. Uncanny is a ‘semiprozine’ a science-fiction magazine that pays writers but also has some of the volunteer qualities of a fanzine. Starting life at the end of 2014 just before the height of the Sad Puppy debarkle, Uncanny quickly gained a strong reputation for the quality of its stories. It won it’s first Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine in 2016 and then won each year up to and including 2019. Founders and editors of Uncanny, Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas have also been finalists in the Best Editor Short Form category in 2017, 18 & 19 and won the category in 2018. A total of six short stories published by Uncanny have been Hugo Finalists since 2017. It is an impressive CV.

Part of its popularity lies with how it uses a mixes of models as a business:

How You Can Read Uncanny:
” Uncanny issues are published as eBooks (mobi, pdf, epub) bimonthly on the first Tuesday of each month through all of the major online eBook stores. Every issue contains 5-6 new short stories, 1 reprinted stories, 3 poems, 4 nonfiction essays, and 2 interviews, at minimum.
Subscribers and those purchasing single issues get each issue in its entirety up front.
You can subscribe to Uncanny Magazine through Weightless Books. You can also subscribe through Amazon in order to get Uncanny Magazine sent directly to your Kindle. Subscriptions not only get you all of the content on the day of the release, they will also make it possible for Uncanny to continue past our Year Two Kickstarter.
Those reading online for free will be able to read the first half of the issue online when the eBook is released, but will have to wait a month for the second half to appear on the first Tuesday of the next month at http://uncannymagazine.com/.
We also produce a monthly podcast featuring a story, a poem, and an interview that is likewise released on the first Tuesday of each month.
https://uncannymagazine.com/about/

Uncanny Magazine, About https://uncannymagazine.com/about/

Providing stories online for free makes it much easier for people to share stories that they enjoyed which in turn helps any award buzz a story might get. Subscriber and advertising revenue is supplemented by crowdfunding for special issues. One such issues was the 2018 ‘Shared universes dinosaur’ issue (https://uncannymagazine.com/uncanny-magazine-issue-23-cover-and-table-of-contents/ ). The contents page alone shows the extent to which Uncanny influences and is influenced by the Hugo Awards with contributors who have been finalists or winners of artist, fan-writing, editing, short fiction and novel categories.

Editor Lynne Thomas has past form with the Hugo Awards and dinosaur having been the editor for Rachel Swirsky’s “If You Were a Dinosaur My Love” in 2013 at Apex magazine. A whole issue devoted to dinosaur stories arose out of a Twitter discussion in 2017 and evolved into a series of very slightly connected stories. The frame is a corporation experimenting with recreating dinosaurs and also with time-travel and perhaps inter dimensional portals.

“On the largest island sits a shimmering crater filled with mysterious energies, where dinosaurs sometimes wander and often end up elsewhere… or elsewhen. The portal, accidentally created by The Owen Corporation for unknown reasons, is a gateway to other worlds, times, and dimensions, and it is growing. Soon, the experimental dinosaurs may very well overwhelm the entire multiverse.”

The Uncanny Dinosaurs—Introduction by Brooke Bolander, Sam J. Miller, Mari Ness, Nicasio Andres Reed, A. Merc Rustad & Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, K.M. Szpara, JY Yang, and Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, ed. Thomas, Lynne M. . Uncanny Magazine Issue 23: July/August 2018 . Uncanny Magazine. Kindle Edition.

The ten stories that follow place dinosaurs in different times and settings and genres. Only five of the stories directly connect with the “Owen Corporation” framing device, with K.M.Szpara’s “You Can Make a Dinosaur but You Can’t Help Me” looking closest. It follows the transgender son of the titular Owen of the Owen Corporation as he attempts to reconnect with his distance and unaccepting father on his Jurassic Park-like island. Red Lizard Brigade by Sam J. Miller imagines an attempted defection from a Soviet military unit that has gained access to dinosaurs via a portal that the Own Corporation wants. Bones in the Rock imagines a dinosaur who has been serially re-incarnated after a faustian pact at the end of the cretaceous, who is now a paleontologist searching for the bones of her dead lover. By Claw, By Hand by Silent Speech by Elsa Sjunneson-Henry and A. Merc Rustad is a story of deaf scientist attempting to teach sign language to a deadly raptor on the Owen Corportation’s island. Give the People What They Want by Alex Bledsoe uses the time travel premise to suggest a reason why people might attempt to make illicit videos of dinosaurs…

The other five stories place dinosaurs in more unusual settings. Mari Ness’s poem ‘Expecting a Dinosaur’ examines how social media would react to a sudden appearance of dinosaurs. Everything Under Heaven is a fantasy story with an East Asian setting where dinosaurs and flying reptiles have become an unwelcome intrusion of ‘dragons’. The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon, California, and the Unknown by Brit E. B. Hvide, follows the doomed Donner Party on its 1840s trek westward but with the added addition of a ‘strange bird’ with a taste for meat. Mary Robinette Kowal’s ‘Nails in My Feet’ is a very short account of a puppet dinosaur abandoned in a cupboard, that I can’t help feel like a coda to Bradbury’s Prehistoric Producer.

The story I haven’t mentioned yet is Brooke Bolander’s The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat. It does, as the old advert on British TV used to say, what it says on the tin. Three raptor sisters and a prince who was indeed made out of meat (as they normally are). The story starts in a very familiar and yet unusual way:

“Once upon a time, long, long, long, long, long, long, ago, there were three raptor sisters, hatched beneath a lucky star. They lived in a wood together, they stole sheep and cattle together, and all in all, there was no tighter-knit hunting pride of matriarchal dromaeosauridae between the mountains and the sea.”

The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander, ed. Thomas, Lynne M. . Uncanny Magazine Issue 23: July/August 2018 . Uncanny Magazine. Kindle Edition.

We’ve ,met as long ago as the 1950s, intelligent dinosaurs with functioning societies. More recently, Sawyer’s Far-seer had dinosaurs as protagonists within a dinosaur society. Bolander’s story pitches into a story where dinosaurs have a folklore and can partake in fairy-tales.

A foolish prince wanders into territory that is the hunting ground of three raptors. The raptors are surprised and decide that he must be part of some human plot. One of them (called Ceecee) decides to trick the prince into taking her back to his castle, so that she can ascertain what the humans are put to. Unfortunately for Ceecee, she had not planned on the obliviousness of the prince and she finds herself stuck in the castle. In the same castle she encounters the princess betrothed to the prince. The princess is both wise and a witch but is unable to win Ceecee’s trust. Inevitably matters come to a head and the prince using drugged meat manages to shackle Ceecee making her escape even more impossible.

“Ceecee was not asleep. She lay curled in a feathery heap in the floor of her stall. Already there were welts and bare spots among her snout plumage where the iron muzzle had rubbed. “I’m sorry,” said the Princess. “I didn’t know he was going to do this. I didn’t see it coming.” Rrr, said Ceecee. “He didn’t outwit me,” the Princess snapped, “he accidentally figured out how to stitch two thoughts together to make a third. But all that is beside the point. Listen.” Ceecee didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. “In my room, there is a scrying vessel, and in that scrying vessel I have seen your sisters, slipping towards the castle along the old road. They are coming to save you. If they kill the guards at the gate, more will come, with pikes and arrows and swords, and both of them will die.” All Ceecee could manage in response to this news was a low moan of misery. Her claws were dulled and her jaws held fast. Even if she escaped, how could she possibly help them? Perhaps sensing her thoughts—for again, this good mammal had many talents—the Princess raised a hand. “You cannot help them,” she said. “They cannot storm the castle by force. What they need now is stealth. They need trickery, and they need an ally to help them.” And here she smiled, with her flat, dull teeth. No beautiful curved sickle of bone, that smile, but it held its own kind of danger. “You cannot help them,” she repeated, “but I can.”

The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander, ed. Thomas, Lynne M. . Uncanny Magazine Issue 23: July/August 2018 . Uncanny Magazine. Kindle Edition.

Ever since Bob Peck said “clever girl” just before being eaten by a pack of velociraptors in Jurassic Park, the dromaeosaur has been the dinosaur most associated with cunning and intelligence. In Bolander’s story Ceecee picks up the role of the folk tale protagonist who lives by her wits and whose natural intelligence and curiosity gets her both into and out of trouble. It is a surprisingly good fit that puts the raptor into a class of animal characters along with foxes and cats. Smaller predators whose cleverness can backfire against them.

Bolander’s raptors are modern dinosaurs not just in terms of their wits or their capacity to shift beyond the normal dino-narrative but also because they are beautifully feathered.

“The court was more than a little disconcerted when the Prince came back missing his prize stallion. The fact that he rode a rainbow-feathered creature with cunning eyes, a snout full of sharp white teeth, and lethal claws on each bipedal foot, was also the source of much talk, but the loss of the thoroughbred was a blow to all and sundry, for he had been a stud of some renown.

The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander, ed. Thomas, Lynne M. . Uncanny Magazine Issue 23: July/August 2018 . Uncanny Magazine. Kindle Edition.

Of course I’m highlighting this story from the issue in particular because it was also a Hugo Award finalist in 2019 for best short story. Of the other stories in the issue, K.M.Szpara’s “You Can Make a Dinosaur but You Can’t Help Me” received enough nominations to appear on the long list but enough to be a finalist.

So where are dinosaurs at the end of 2019? The dinosaur as slow or redundant or past its time is not something we see but in this project we haven’t seen much of that view of dinosaurs. The idea of dinosaurs as intelligent is surprisingly old but a genuine change dating from Jurassic park forward is of some dinosaurs being cunning and wily. The association of dinosaurs with sex is a surprising development but not one confined only to porn parodies.

“On the screen, she watched the velociraptor mating orgy in the clearing ahead. Tails whipped through the air as partners changed, and high-pitched, bird-like cries rang out. It was a seething mass of feathers, claws, and teeth, with an occasional glimpse of the massive toe talons used both for killing, and for digging into the hides of mates. To Holden it was one of the least erotic things imaginable, but since the Breach of ’69, a small community of men—it was always men—had sprung up who found it unbelievably exciting, and were willing to pay for the privilege of jerking off to it. That image always left her a bit nauseous.”

Give The People What They Want by Alex Bledsoe, ed. Thomas, Lynne M. . Uncanny Magazine Issue 23: July/August 2018 . Uncanny Magazine. Kindle Edition.

The shift in popular understanding that dinosaurs, in particular theropods, were probably bird like is also a change in how dinosaurs are represented. The idea provides a richer range of templates of both behaviour and symbolism to draw upon.

Next time: Time to wrap up and call it a day.

Just one more Hugo stat

There’s no great significance here, it is just a figure I calculated and thought I’d share.

The Hugo stats gave figures for the number of nominating votes and the number of things nominated. The actual number of votes per nominee will follow some sort of power-law distribution but what if we just divide the number of votes by the number of nominees. This is like pretending all the nominees got the same number of votes.

A big number means there are lot more votes than nominees i.e. the field of things to nominate is relatively small compared to the number of people nominating. A small number means the field is big compared to the number of people nominating. [I think BDP-S is misleading, each episode would count as a nominee but the pool of shows is small]

Novella and Short have the biggest contrast and reflect very different sizes of the pools of works being nominated. The mean is about 3, so Fanzine is normal by this measure but this reflects a smaller pool with a smaller number of voters i.e. the two things balance out.

Category Spread
Novel 3
Novella 6
Novelette 3
Short 1
Series 4
BRW 3
Graphic 2
BDP-S 5
BDP-L 2
Editor-S 4
Editor-L 4
Pro-Art 2
Semipro 6
Fanzine 3
Fancast 2
Fan writer 2
Fan art 2
Art-book 3
Lodestar 2
Campbell 3

Hugo 2019 Stats

The results are in and it is time to look at what won and lost. Stats are here: https://dublin2019.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/201Hu@o%5Efulre@su@lt@s.pdf My ballot (sort of) is here https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/08/02/how-i-hugo-voted-in-some-categories/

I think overall it was mainly safe, relatively conservative picks overall with only Archive of Our Own for Best Related Work being a case of the Hugo voters pushing the boundaries a bit. Otherwise, my impression was voers picked the safer choices out of an impressive field. Of course, with strong finalists there were no obvious bad choices on the menu.

Novel

My top two picks were Spinning Silver and The Calculating Stars. The final result reversed that order, with Calculating beating Silver. The nomination stats show a similar order for these top two works. Some strong contenders in the longlist such as Blackfish City, Foundryside and The Poppy War. Voters were spoiled for choice.

I’m surprised Trail of Lightning beat Revenant Gun in the run-offs but for non-fans of either Lightning is the more accessible work. The most marmite-like of the six, Space Opera came sixth.

Novella

Again my top two were The Tea Master and the Detective and Artificial Condition and those canny Hugo voters swapped them round! In the longlist there are only two novellas I recognised, so I guess I need to read more novellas!

Novelette

I thought The Only Harmless Great Thing would win and looking at the nomination long list, it had the strongest showing in the nomination round. This was a particularly strong field though but I was a little surprised that Zen Cho’s “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again” won. It’s a great story though that sticks with you. Again, when you have a set of strong choices it can feel a bit random as to who wins.

Short Story

I was wayyyy off here. I would have liked to STET or The Nine Negro Teeth win. A Witches Guide to Escape is a great story though but I liked the inventiveness of my top picks more.

There’s a story in the longlist called “You Can Make a Dinosaur But You Can’t Help Me ” which I haven’t read but am now obliged to!

Best Series

I didn’t vote in this in the end. I liked the idea of the category in principle but you just can’t vote in it the way you can vote in the other categories. You can really only vote for stuff you’ve already read and that’s not what I get out of the Hugo Awards.

Having said that, I think Wayfarers is a good win. It’s a popular series with multiple Hugo nods but it isn’t going to be a winner. Mind you the same is true for Machineries of Empire. I’d have liked to see The Centenal Cycle win also but inevitably the bigger name series is more likely to win.

In the longlist Earthsea is an interesting contender that didn’t quite make it. I guess if the eligibility argument had been more widely known it might have been in the running. I’m surprised the Rivers of London series wasn’t higher also given how many people tell me to read it.

Best Related Work

Archive of Our Own romped home in the final ballot, way ahead of the next contender, a ghostly if benevolent Ursula Le Guin. I’m surprised Astounding came last but it is another case of somebody has to come sixth.

Some interesting long list contenders including Ryan North’s ‘How to Invent Everything’.

Best Graphic Story

I do really enjoy Monsteress but there is a tendency for this category to get a bit stagnant. Even the longlist doesn’t throw up much that is new.

BDP – Long

I really wanted Sorry to Bother You do better but this was a year for impressive and good rather than impressively weird. So Spiderverse it was, which was a safely offbeat choice of superhero movie in a year dominated by them.

She-Ra is way down there in the long list but I wouldn’t be surprised to see season 3 gather a lot more votes next year.

BDP – Short

The Good Place was an interesting choice last year and much less interesting as a choice this year. She-Ra is there in the long list again and much closer to being a finalist.

Skipping on to Semiprozine

Uncanny. Yes, it’s good. Yes, safe choice again. I thought this might be a bit of a big year for Fireside but while it got a lot of recognition in the finalists it didn’t score any wins.

Fanzine

File 770 bowing out helped Rocket Stack Rank onto the ballot. I’m glad Lady Business won and the longlist suggests a healthy competition in the world of Fanzines.

Fanwriter

I’m glad Foz Meadows won but there was plenty of other names I’d have been happy to see win. Some great writers in the long list as well

EPH

I’m not seeing any EPH quirks i.e. where the finalists are not the top set of nominations. The nearest example is in Fanzine, where Galactic Journey and Rocket Stack Rank both had 35 nominations but GJ had a few more points than RSR. {ETA} I wasn’t seeing them because I wasn’t looking properly! The lower raw-nomination finalist was often a bit further up the list from the cut off on points.

  • Lodestar: The Invasion O’Guilin 34 beat Skyward Sanderson 35
  • Best Editor Short: Gardner Dozois 73 beat Jonathan Strahan 79
  • Best graphic story: On a Sunbeam Walden 33 beat The Wicked + The Divine Vol 7: Mothering Invention Gillon/McKelvie 36

Watching the Hugo Awards

Just placing these links here so they are easy to find:

Live video streaming is via Vimeo https://vimeo.com/354200839 and rather nicely the link tells me what time the event is scheduled in my time zone: 5 am Monday Morning Sydney time. So I shan’t be watching with a pint of Guinness in hand. Luckily that’s about half-an-hour after my usual wake-up time*.

Live text coverage is here: http://www.thehugoawards.org/2019/08/2019-hugo-award-ceremony-live-coverage/

I will probably post some live reactions on Twitter but otherwise I won’t have time until later in the day for any posts or analysis.

*[this is the one fact about my meat-robot self that people find horrifying. I’m an early riser, that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily an inhuman monster.]

How I hugo-voted (in some categories)

This is how my final votes broke down for categories some key categories.*

Novel: This was a set of three pairs. The overall order of those pairs was clear to me but the order within those pairs wasn’t.

  1. Spinning Silver
  2. The Calculating Stars
  3. Space Opera
  4. Revenant Gun
  5. Trail of Lightning
  6. Record of a Spaceborn Few
  7. No award

Novella: whattttt…something beat Murderbot? Sure, sentient spaceship ina Holmes pastiche managed to take the lead on the final spot. Forgive me Murderbot! Actually another set of three pairs.

  1. The Tea Master and the Detective
  2. Artificial Condition
  3. The Black God’s Drums
  4. Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach
  5. Beneath the Sugar Sky
  6. Binti: The Night Masquerade

Novelette: This was the hardest-in-a-good-way category. The rather sentimental “If at First…” was briefly 1 and then I had a look again at “The Only…” and remembered why I assumed it would win from when I first read it. Good grief this was a strong category this year. If anyone of these win I will nod sagely and say “of course, obviously”.

  1. The Only Harmless Great Thing
  2. “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections”
  3. “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again”
  4. “The Thing About Ghost Stories”
  5. “Nine Last Days on Planet Earth”
  6. “When We Were Starless”

Short Story: In the end STET delivered the inventiveness I crave. Looking now I’d change the order of some of these. I should have put “…Raptor Sisters…” higher but I think I double guessed myself because I’m on a dinosaur binge at the moment so down rated it because I decided I was overrating it [cue self-referential spiral].

  1. “STET”
  2. “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington”
  3. “The Court Magician”
  4. “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society”
  5. “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies”
  6. “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat”

Editor Long: every Hugo voter has to have a category they hate vote in – it’s in the rules and a long tradition. “12.7.9.6 Members will pick one category in which they hate vote ‘No Award’ out of frustration with their dislike of the category.” You can’t argue with the rules. Sorry.

  1. No award

Fan Writer: The thing with the ‘name’ categories is I feel like a shit putting anybody 6th. I can’t give an explanation for this ordering and the more I look at it the 1 and 2 places are mainly ‘I hadn’t read much of these two people prior’ so they were new and shiny to me. All creditable winners — the eligibility question of some pieces I put to one side.**

  1. Alasdair Stuart
  2. Elsa Sjunneson-Henry
  3. Foz Meadows
  4. James Davis Nicoll
  5. Bogi Takács
  6. Charles Payseur

*[For security reasons I’ve swapped some choices round in a few places so as to no leave a virtual signature but only when the rank was arbitrary i.e. 50/50 could have gone the other way]

**[It is was it is. Fixing it is the issue.]

How many finalists? Crunching continued…

This is a follow up to the earlier post. Read that post first for background and the data I’m looking at.

I’ve looked at 2018 Hugo data for both stages:

  • The nomination stage by EPH
  • The final voting stage by IRV

My impression was that there are some changes in the ranking between the two but not so many as to cast doubt on the nomination process itself nor so few changes as to make the final voting stage redundant. It looks like things are pretty much in a sweet spot:

  • final winners are often the top finalists — which implies there’s not a mismatch between how people nominate and how they vote (or between the people voting at each stage etc)
  • low ranked finalists often do better in the final voting — which implies that there is a lot of value in a two stage process.

To show that here is a graph of how the rankings compare between EPH stage 1 and IRV stage 2 of the Hugo voting process:

The width of a blob indicates the frequency of that pair of ranks. For example there were 9 cases of 1st rank EPH coming 1st in the final stage and 10 cases of 4th ranked finalist coming 3rd in the final stage. I’m not sure if a simple linear regression is appropriate with this data but Excel tells me that the first stage voting accounts for about 25% of the variance in the second stage ranks.

However, can we look at this data and say how long the finalist list should be? Are there ENOUGH finalists? Should there be a list of 7 or 8? Putting administrative and practical limits aside I think we can examine this question with the data.

Obviously, I’m only looking at one year, so any conclusions are tentative and limited. I could look further but recent data is weird due to Puppy activities and there have been rule changes since. So, I’m sticking with 2018 (also I’m lazy).

One graph I drew was to look at the distribution of the differences in rank between the two stages.

Again we can see that no change (zero on the x-axis) is common but that bigger changes in rank happen. Unfortunately, we really can’t take this as being true of every ranking. Obviously rank 6 finalists can only either stay the same of go upwards.

A different way of thinking about the issue would be to consider what would happen with different number of finalists. For example, what if in 2018 there was only 1 finalist per category? Yes, that’s silly be we can work out that of the 15 categories I looked at, 9 would have the same winner as what actually happened and that 6 wouldn’t. 1 finalist would contain 60% of the actual winners.

  • 1 finalist: 9 or 60% of winners
  • 2 finalists: 12 or 80% of winners
  • 3 finalists: 14 or 93% of winners
  • 4 finalists: 14 or 93% of winners (i.e. no extra winners)
  • 5 finalists: 15 or 100% of winners
  • 6 finalists: 15 or 100% of winners

So for most categories 3 finalists would just about do. Adding finalists after 3 brings only small gains but 2018 still need 5 finalists to capture all the eventual winners.

Now, obviously, if we added more finalists people’s choices and the voting would change but we can see from the trend that the gains trail off quickly after 3 finalists.

So is five enough? Five clearly works but that’s actually an argument for having six finalists if you want to be confident you’ve got all the plausible contenders. As we definitely got one fifth ranked finalist winning a category (Rebecca Roanhorse in the Campbell Award) there’s maybe a 6% chance of rank 5 finalist winning (one winner out of 15).

Add in the possibility of one finalist being in some way dodgy or have cheated etc then 6 is a safe contingency. Does the same argument not work for 7 or 8 finalists? No, because we can see that the gains trail off rapidly after 3 finalists. Five is probably enough, six is almost certainly enough.

Crunching reform or rollback

There is an on-going discussion at File770 on the 5/6 Hugo nomination rule:

While the Sad and Rabid Puppies slates were filling up most of the slots on the 2015 and 2016 Hugo ballots, majorities at the Worldcon business meetings passed and ratified several rules changes that made it much more difficult for that to keep on happening. The success of these majorities has tended to overshadow how many fans did not want any changes made – no matter how often Vox Day dictated what made the ballot – or else did not want these particularchanges made. And there are business meeting regulars who evidently feel now is the time to start turning back the clock.  
Here’s a matched set of proposals to end the “5 and 6” part of the Hugo nomination reforms. If you are going to the Dublin 2019 business meeting, you will have to decide whether the claims made about convenience and efficiency warrant undoing the protective rules put on the books just a few years ago.

http://file770.com/reform-or-rollback/

The proposal states that:

“The losers will be those who had placed sixth in recent years. There is only one case of a sixth-placed finalist at nominations stage going on to win the Hugo in the last three years (the rather odd situation of Best Fan Artist in 2017, where two finalists were disqualified). On the other hand, a reduced pool of finalists increases the cachet of being among that number.”

I have some doubts about this point. Firstly, 2017 and 2018 isn’t a lot to go on and 2017 still had some residual Rabid Puppy action and hence isn’t a great example for 6th places. We really only have 2018 as ‘regular’ year of the two big voting reforms EPH and 5/6.

I won’t rehash all the arguments from the File770 discussion (at least not yet) but I did want to look at the specific issue of how likely is it that a 6th place nominee might win the Hugo in their category.

Obviously, there are zero examples of this from 2018 but it would be wrong to infer that the answer is therefore zero chance. Instead, I decided to look at how ranks change between the EPH nomination stage and the instant run-off voting (IRV) final stage.

To do that I looked at the nomination rank (EPH) and final rank (IRV) of Hugo and Campbell nominees from 2018. I discarded categories which had declined nominations because I felt they might have weird impacts. Here’s an example of the Novel data:

IRV EPH Dif Mag Finalist Category
1 1 0 0 The Stone Sky Novel
5 2 -3 3 Raven Stratagem Novel
4 3 -1 1 Six Wakes Novel
3 4 1 1 Provenance Novel
2 5 3 3 The Collapsing Empire Novel
6 6 0 0 New York 2140 Novel

In the example: IRV column shows the rank of the work through the elimination process; EPH shows the nomination rank; Dif is EPH minus IRV (negative means the work was less popular in the 2nd stage); Mag is the magnitude of the change regardless of direction.

The average difference has to come to zero (everything balances out) but the (mean) average of the magnitude comes to 1.27 i.e. on average finalists shift about one place from first round to second round. Of the 90 finalists listed 25 had no change, 34 changed by 1 (i.e. the modal change), 19 by 2, 7 by 3, 4 by 4 and only 1 by 5. That last change was a drop from 1 to 6 rather than a rise but does demonstrate the scale of possible change.

How about 6th placers in general? The magnitude of the shift for those ranked 6th in nominations was 1.2 but that was also the average of the difference (i.e. with direction). Of course, if you are in 6th place you can’t get a negative change in your rank in the second stage because you can’t get lower (assuming you don’t get No Award of course and I didn’t model that).

Of the 15 6th placers I looked at, 5 didn’t shift at all, 4 shifted up by 1, 5 shifted by 2 and 1 shifted by 4 (Sheila Williams in Best Editor Short).

I’ll put all the numbers after the fold but I think the figures point to it being unlikely in general that a 6th placer will go on to win in the second round but not so unlikely that we won’t see it every so often.

Data in EPH rank descending order after the fold.

Continue reading “Crunching reform or rollback”

Hugo 2019 – I’m not doing Best Series

The past two times I’ve found Best Series intractable but this year I was more hopeful I’d engage constructively with it. I’ve read some of all of each of the nominees, although only a small amount of two of them. Laundry Files, Centenal Cycle, Machineries of Empire and Wayfarers are each series that I’ve read all the novels and some of the shorter texts for. So I’ve done enough reading already to engage with two-thirds of the finalists.

So what’s the hold up? Of the four I can put Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers to one side. I get what people like about it but it’s just not for me. That gets me to three series that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Hoorah! But what’s next? It’s not just that they are each quite different, that is true of most Hugo finalists in most years. It’s that I really can’t find a way in to talk about them.

My gut suggests that the intended purpose of the category was too reward books that collectively do something that wouldn’t be recognised by the Hugo Awards when looked at as individual works. That would suggest to me that The Laundry Files is the obvious choice and to some extent Machineries of Empire is missing the point of the category as a finalist.

On the other side, the books of Machineries of Empire have been strong contenders for Best Novel. It seems absurd to say that a set of books that has won or been finalists for major awards, isn’t collectively Best Series.

And having said all that, I think the Centenal Cycle is much stronger as a set of stories than any one of the individual books. It set me thinking about so many issues and it’s one of those stories that just grows in my estimation the longer I think about it. No one of the novels had quite the mind-blowing impact of something like Ninefox Gambit but collectively this is a powerful series.

Final rankings are hard for any category but here it is more that I’d rank them differently depending on how I think about Best Series. I was even wondering if being a finalist for Best Novel should even be a disqualification for Best Series (i.e. subtracted from the word count) to make the award more distinct from Best Novel…and then I thought that was mean and unfair…and then I rethought that thought because otherwise series of books that had been past finalists will always have an advantage because Hugo voters are more likely to have read at least some of the series, turning Best Series into a consolation prize rather than a thing in its own right. Then Timothy slapped me, not because I was spiralling out of control but just because he’s a violent apex predator in a tiny body.

Centenal Laundry Gambit it is then.

Hugo 2019 – Looking at Fanwriters Part 2

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.]

Hugo 2019 – Looking at Fan Writers Part 1

“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.