Category: Hugo2017Ballot

Why I’m not watching Game of Thrones

I suppose like many people, George R.R. Martin’s epic A Song of Fire and Ice came to my attention when Neil Gaiman famously gave pestering fans of the books a dressing down in 2009: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2009/05/entitlement-issues.html

“Look, this may not be palatable, Gareth, and I keep trying to come up with a better way to put it, but the simplicity of things, at least from my perspective is this:

George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.

This is a useful thing to know, perhaps a useful thing to point out when you find yourself thinking that possibly George is, indeed, your bitch, and should be out there typing what you want to read right now.

People are not machines. Writers and artists aren’t machines.

You’re complaining about George doing other things than writing the books you want to read as if your buying the first book in the series was a contract with him: that you would pay over your ten dollars, and George for his part would spend every waking hour until the series was done, writing the rest of the books for you.

No such contract existed. You were paying your ten dollars for the book you were reading, and I assume that you enjoyed it because you want to know what happens next.”

Ironically, being curious to see what the fuss was, I re-broke my oft-broken rule of not reading a lengthy fantasy series until it was done.  Being somewhat wise, I purchased a secondhand paperback of Game of Thrones. Again, like many people, I found that first book OK but wasn’t sure where it was going and was taken aback by the shocking death of a central character.

Well, then I binge read another one and another one and then found myself empathising with poor old Gareth who had been so adeptly schooled by Mr Gaiman.

Around the same time, a HBO television series of the books was in production. Given HBO’s reputation for intelligent drama, this was an exciting step for a SFFnal book series. I’d recently binge-watched a DVD box set of The Wire and if a Game of Thrones TV series was half as well done as that, well, that would be something.

Yet, I made a decision not to watch it.

Partly, that was an easy decision. I didn’t have cable and if it ended up on broadcast TV then it would be at least a year later, it would be bought up by a commercial TV station and would wander around the schedules. However, I also decided not to seek it out when the inevitable DVD’s were released.

I don’t mind catching up on a TV series after it’s done – I only started watching Breaking Bad last year, for example – so I didn’t mind missing out when Game of Thrones rapidly became a must-see.

So why not watch it? Partly it was the sexual violence of the books. It isn’t that I think fiction or drama should never depict sexual violence – it is something that is in the world and expunging it from fiction does not protect people from it – but on film, there is an inevitable increase in how graphical and traumatically it is portrayed. I was concerned too, that this element would be further emphasised by a TV show in an attempt to assert that it was a show for adults in an attempt to over-compensate for a perception of fantasy being a juvenile genre.

Partly it was because I’d rather read the books (although now the TV series has overtaken the books, this may seem less wise). Partly it was because TV can maybe do more interesting things when it develops shows based on the strengths of the medium. Partly I don’t have a good reason and laziness is as good an explanation as any. Partly it was so I didn’t need to avoid spoilers (although again this is now less wise).

But I can’t ignore the show either. Its popularity combined with the familiarity of the characters and events makes it easy to follow the chatter around the show. The fan theories and the speculation and the association of specific characters with specific actors.

So, two episodes of Game of Thrones Season 6 have been nominated for Hugo Awards in 2017. In theory, given the alignment of books versus TV series, I could get a season 6 DVD set or stream it and still make sense of who is who and where everybody is in the plot. But I’m not going to. True, I can’t truly claim to know what the TV series is like without watching it but I have a pretty good idea both in terms of what is good and what is bad about it. Instead, I’ll not place either of them on my ballot and as ‘no award’ won’t be on my ballot for this category either then I’m not deeming them unworthy of an award either.

Review: Death’s End by Cixin Liu – Hugo2017

About halfway through Death’s End, the central character Cheng Xin meets with Yun Tianming – a human who has been living within the hostile alien society of Trisolaris. Change Xin (and humanity) are desperate to discover how to survive in what they have come to realise is an inherently hostile universe. Yun Tianming is eager to help but the Trisolarans do not wish for humanity to gain any advantage. Under threat of immediate execution of Cheng Xin, if he reveals anything, Yun Tianming decides to tell her three interconnected fairy tales – ostensibly stories they shared as children.

The stories appear to be charming fables about magical paintings, a beautiful princess, giants and tyrannical usurpers. However, each one is a layered metaphor revealing deeper secrets about how the universe works. That each story contains some elements that are metaphors and some that are simply decorative flourishes is clear to humanity’s scientists and leaders but they have no clear way of separating the message from the medium.

The whole of Death’s End can feel like Yun Tianming’s fairy tales – some of it feels like filler, sets of events that are there just to move the characters further into the future, while other parts feel like they are attempting to make a wider observation about human society. The core character, Cheng Xin is portrayed as both clever and compassionate but also repeatedly placed in positions of almost dictatorial power over humanity – and on each occasion, she fails to make the ‘right’ decision by being too considerate and too inclined towards peace.

Given the basic premise established in the previous book, The Dark Forest, that each and every intelligent species in the universe is locked in an inescapable kill-or-be-killed conflict, it isn’t surprising that throughout the book borderline psychopathic men are shown to be right in retrospect and Cheng Xin’s humanism is repeatedly shown to be disastrous. Indeed, Cheng Xin’s one cynical act early in the book (involving Yun Tianming) is what proves to be her wisest choice.

As with the previous novels in the trilogy (The Three Body Problem, and The Dark Forest), Death’s End is clever and ambitious, spanning centuries (and eventually aeons) and rarely following predictable beats. At times it really sparkles but much of the time it falls into the same trap as The Dark Forest, recounting sequences of events with shallow characterisation that feel oddly inconsequential given the momentous themes of humanity’s survival.

In the latter half of the book, Cheng Xin is woken from hibernation to find that humanity is mainly living in space habitats, orbiting the Sun but hidden behind Jupiter and other gas giants. The story spends some time discussing the different styles of shapes for each habitat and Cheng Xin visits several. Why? Like much of the info-dumps in the book it feels both perfunctory and important – rather like a fairy tale or something like the Voyage of Saint Brendan where he visits one unusual island after another but the deeper significance is unobvious (or just not there). So, rather like Yun Tianming’s fairy tales, you are left wondering what is of deeper significance and what is simply the connective tissue of a story.

Undoubtedly epic in scope, the moments of sparkle feel overwhelmed by a focus on details that feel irrelevant. Inherently trapped between fatalism and endorsement of a merciless view of survival at all cost, this is not an easy read. In the end though, I am reminded of the immortal words of the Simpson family:

Marge: Well, then maybe the moral is, no good deed goes unrewarded.
Homer: Wait a minute! If I hadn’t written that nasty letter we wouldn’t have gotten anything.
Marge: Mmmm… then I guess the moral is, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Lisa: Maybe there is no moral, Mom.
Homer: Exactly! It’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.
Marge: But it certainly was a memorable few days.
Homer: Amen to that.

It certainly was a memorable few days.

Review: The Expanse (TV Show) & More Specifically Leviathan Wakes – Hugo2017

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]

 

johnny_nemo

Nemo’s hair flips to the right.

1452618524_will-miller-find-whereabouts-mao

Miller’s hair flips to the left.

 

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.

Hugo 2017: Fanwriter

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.
  • 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/
  • 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]