It’s time for the not-so-big one but bigger than the two other ones!
In other news: things aren’t looking good for me versus Best Series, in which I’ve read exactly ZERO extra since the Hugo finalists were announced. Best Series – the category that somehow manages to combine elements of both the protestant work ethic and Catholic guilt in one package.
There is a lot to praise in this category. There is a lot of variety in the styles of stories and the finalists genuinely look like a selection of what is worth paying attention to in the field. Particular congratulations to the Hugo packet organiser, who manage to get full versions of the works into the packet.
Less good in terms of variety is that the finalists split neatly between Marvel and Image. Possibly as a legacy of the previous Rabid vandalism, people have gone for safer choices?
How to pick? I think it is important that what gets rewarded is story. That doesn’t mean artwork or other elements of graphic stories be ignored but it does mean that story comes first. Each of the finalists are part of either an on-going series or volumes of a longer story. Judging them needs to take into account the extent that what we are seeing is an incomplete part of something longer.
In reverse order:
7. No ‘No Award’ in this category. All good stuff, worth reading and worthy of a nomination.
6. Black Panther, Volume 1: A Nation Under Our Feet, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze (Marvel). Off to Wakanda to see what the Black Panther is up to and it is bad news all round. This is a story about the perils of being in charge and the emphasis is on things spiralling out of control. It is both a bug and a feature of the story that multiple story lines are competing for attention but overall this volume by itself is unsatisfying. This is all set-up and while it cleverly depicts a good man desperately trying to hold a country together amid gathering crisis, it isn’t in itself a succesful story.
5. Saga, Volume 6, illustrated by Fiona Staples, written by Brian K. Vaughan, lettered by Fonografiks (Image). The Staples/Vaughan space opera about star-crossed lovers keeps powering on. Tricky to review because this is Volume 6 in what has always been quite openly a saga. Read it, enjoy it but if you haven’t read volumes 1 to 5, it won’t make a lot of sense.
4. The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man, written by Tom King, illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta (Marvel). The Vision, the synthetic being who is also a long running member of The Avengers, has constructed himself a family and moved to the suburbs. The premise suggests either comedy or a sprialling descent into suburban psychological horror and the writers decided not to pick comedy. Secrets and lies confront bigotry and fear and things just get worse. It is well put together but I found it dissatisfying and so much of the story relies on the central characters not anticipating events.
3. Paper Girls, Volume 1, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matthew Wilson, lettered by Jared Fletcher (Image). Another Brian K. Vaughan entry – this time a Stranger Things like 1980s set story about a group of teenage girls who deliver newspapers in a suburban neighbourhood. Things get weird very quickly as a future factional war and time-travel intrude into their lives. Entertaining but I feel the story could have gone slower and given more time for the characters of the girls to be fleshed out a bit more.
2. Ms. Marvel, Volume 5: Super Famous, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa (Marvel). Ironically this is the most conventional of the finalists in so far as it is a Marvel superhero comic with cameos from Iron Man and features Hydra as the bad guys (minor spoiler there – sorry). Yet it is also the finalist that offers a complete story arc for its character as Ms Marvel tackles the demands of being an Avenger, corporate gentrification, mind control, school life and the demands of her somewhat traditional Pakistani-American family. Witty and humane, Ms Marvel navigates a tricky line between falling into pastiche and parody of the superhero genre while not taking itself too seriously. You don’t need to have read the previous volumes but you do need a sense of who is who.
1. Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening, written by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image). Dense and detailed both in plot and artwork, this volume feels longer than it is but in a good way. A fantasy with some substantial world building set in a world split between humans and half-human ‘Arcanics’ as well as a sinister holy order of witches (on the human side) and some kind of god-like demons. Also, it has talking cats in it – more than one! Great stuff and a standout in a high quality field.
The story form so nice I spelt it twice and then some more.
Five solid stories with a better mix of science fiction and fantasy – plus one entry not worth bothering with. As with the other short fiction, I’m finding it hard to rank these and may well change my rankings.
In reverse order my take on things:
7. Not ballot worthy: Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex, by Stix Hiscock (self-published). As a crude joke I suppose it might get a paragraph of absurd humour out of the concept. However, this nominee from the Rabid Puppies has none of Chuck Tingle’s wit or commitment. It doesn’t know what it is and hence fails as erotica, sci-fi, humour or absurdism.
6. No Award. Not as strong a contender as previous years but once again it gets a minor boost from the activity of Rabid Puppy griefing.
5. “The Jewel and Her Lapidary”, by Fran Wilde (Tor.com, May 2016). A fantasy story set in a kingdom where royal “jewels” control psychic gems via their servant “lapidaries” to whom they are bonded. The story flows better on a second reading but first time through I found the two central characters too similar and the relative roles in the magical powers unclear. At the same time, the story didn’t seem to progress much. However, I was more charmed by it on a second reading. Fran Wilde has strong talent for world-building and even on that first reading I felt I had a real sense of the place the story was set. The use of a travel-guide’s excerpt set further into the future of the story helped create a sense of place.
4. “Touring with the Alien”, by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld Magazine, April 2016). An interesting road trip story as an alien’s human interpreter and an intelligent but not self-aware alien are driven around parts of the US. I liked the broad sketch of the story but I found it didn’t really draw me in. The concept of the aliens who can become addicted to a human’s capacity for conciousness was an interesting one. At first I thought it was perhaps under-explored as an idea but maybe the balance was just right for a story of this length i.e. it left you considering the implications. In particular there is an important question about deciet and deception that is not expressed but is implied.
3. “The Tomato Thief”, by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, January 2016). Grandma Harken is back and somebody is stealing her tomatoes. The Jackalope Wives was one of my favourite stories from 2014 and this story shares the character of Grandma Harken and her down-to-earth wisdom and powers. The surrounding world she lives in is sketched out further with hints at bigger and weirder ideas (the train-gods) in a desert town in a not-exactly-USA. Some fantasy action, an original-but-familiar protagonist, a strong sense of folk tales and gardening tips.
2. “The Art of Space Travel”, by Nina Allan (Tor.com , July 2016). Primarily a story about a woman whose mother’s health and mental capacity is slowly failing, and a story about her unanswered questions on the identity of her father. The backdrop is against a London hotel preparing for the visit of astronauts for a new mission to Mars. Threaded through the story are two disasters: a previous failed Mars mission in which the crew all died (one of whom may have been the central character’s father) and a disasterous aircraft accident that is implicated in the mother’s failing health. That is a lot to cram into a relatively short piece of writing and wisely Nina Allan concentrates on the human story. Even so, the story feels unfinished and a number of elements (particularly around the aircrash but also the journalist who is clearly digging into aspects of the crash) are left unresolved. So while I was impressed by the story I also felt unsatisfied by it, like I’d been cheated out of a longer more complex tale.
1. “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay”, by Alyssa Wong (Uncanny Magazine, May 2016) I’m actually surprised that this is my number one. I find Wong’s stories creep me out and leave me feeling disturbed. Yet I also find her writing draws me in quickly into stories that I don’t like conceptually. So, do I like her stories or not? I don’t know, so I’ll blame my lack of understanding of my own views on her talent.
Back out into the desert with this story in a weird-west tale of greedy mine owners and two orphans living in a brothel. The undead haunt the surroundings but there is nothing stylistically that make this a zombie-story.
I think my top three may wander around in order. All of the top five I really enjoyed reading.
I think it is fair to say that the most serious damage done to a Hugo category during the Puppy campaigns (both Sad and Rabid) was to the Short Story category. No Award won in 2015 when faced with a set of stories that at best rose to the level of mediocre. Upsettingly the choice in 2016 was on average even worse, only the single (and excellent fun) ‘Cat Pictures Please’ prevented No Award from winning again. Yes, other categories had similar troubles but the short story is an important element of Science Fiction as a genre and in the history of fandom.
The boast of the Rabid Puppies was that No Award winning meant the category had somehow been burnt to the ground. Painting themselves as vandals, there was much crowing about they had managed to get nominated in 2015 and 2016 (although Chuck Tingle’s nomination backfired on them). So to 2017 and what does the nearly-Puppy free scorched Earth of a category look like? Fresh, exciting and full of difficult choices. Why it’s almost like ‘burn the category down’ was confused delusional bullshit.
Tough, tough, job ranking five of these but I’ll try! User experience may vary and I can see me changing my mind on these.
In reverse order:
7. Won’t get on the ballot: John C Wright’s walking advert for the Three Stage Voting proposal. Bad even by John C Wright’s standards. Interesting how even Wright’s sycophants aren’t praising it.
6. No Award. Making a strong case for itself as there is still some trash to take out.
5. “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” Alyssa Wong.
I did enjoy this and it would be a worthy winner but…this is a competition and it has to fight off some excellent competition. The alternative-timeline snippets make the story hard to work as a short story and it may have worked better as a longer story.
4. “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” Bo Bolander
I nominated this punchy, super short revenge story. It does a lot of work with very few words but…the very nature of it means there is not much in the way of characterisation or plot development. The cruelty of having to pick between these stories forces me into finding fault when really this story does not NEED these things – it is great as it is and expanding it would undermine its sense of anger.
3. “The City Born Great” N.K.Jemisin
I really liked this story that takes the term “urban fantasy” literally and celebrates the freaky alien monsters that so much of humanity lives in and which we call “cities”.
2. “That Game We Played During the War” Carrie Vaughan
Not a story that was on my radar and a nice find in the Hugo Packet. Almost a textbook demonstration of an effective science fiction short story – setting, character, interpersonal relationship against which wider events (a war) and science fiction concepts (one side has telepathy, the other side doesn’t) but written with a fresh perspective.
- “Seasons of Glass and Iron” Amal El-Mohtar
It had a tough job against strong competition but I do think this one stood out. The story takes two elements from lesser-known fairy tales: a woman who has to live on top of a glass mountain and a woman who has to walk the earth in iron shoes until their soles are worn away. El-Mohtar captures the atmosphere of the stories but also turns them to her own purposes.
And what a great set of reads those five stories were!
I appreciate that is rather like saying ‘don’t stick beans up your nose’ but I am seriously suggesting people don’t read it. It is (I assume unintentionally) a nasty violent sexual assault fantasy with overtones of child abuse. I doubt that is what John C. Wright intended, indeed I imagine he may think of it as morally uplifting but the finished product is bad both morally and as a piece of writing and even by the standards of John C. Wright. I’d say it is easily the most repugnant piece of writing of his I’ve read.
A summary and discussion below the fold.
No, but seriously: http://file770.com/?p=35109&cpage=1#comment-636799
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Other ballot posts here https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/category/hugo2017ballot/
- Arrival, screenplay by Eric Heisserer based on a short story by Ted Chiang, directed by Denis Villeneuve (21 Laps Entertainment/FilmNation Entertainment/Lava Bear Films)
- Deadpool, screenplay by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, directed by Tim Miller (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Marvel Entertainment/Kinberg Genre/The Donners’ Company/TSG Entertainment)
- Ghostbusters, screenplay by Katie Dippold & Paul Feig, directed by Paul Feig (Columbia Pictures/LStar Capital/Village Roadshow Pictures/Pascal Pictures/Feigco Entertainment/Ghostcorps/The Montecito Picture Company)
- Hidden Figures, screenplay by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, directed by Theodore Melfi (Fox 2000 Pictures/Chernin Entertainment/Levantine Films/TSG Entertainment)
- Rogue One, screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, directed by Gareth Edwards (Lucasfilm/Allison Shearmur Productions/Black Hangar Studios/Stereo D/Walt Disney Pictures)
- Stranger Things, Season One, created by the Duffer Brothers (21 Laps Entertainment/Monkey Massacre)
For me, this category splits into neat groups of two:
5&6 – just above No award: Deadpool and Ghostbusters.
Deadpool was fun and a great attempt at making a film that matches the character’s quirks and humour. However, it was nothing really remarkable – a funnier, bloodier, more sex-positive take on the superhero genre amid a large number of superhero films.
Ghostbuster was, for a remake of a well-loved film, fresh and competent and funny. Kate Mckinnon’s Holtzmann added some extra zing. But…well it was a remake and it didn’t really do anything startlingly new story wise. Fun but not special.
I’d put them both above No Award but only just – not because they were bad films but because I think we can demand better of SF filmmaking. Yes, I’m cool with remakes and more comic book characters getting on screen but for awards, I want to see more challenging stuff.
3&4 – good but not great: Rogue One and Stranger Things.
Rogue One took a war film sensibility and applied it to Star Wars and came up with a thrilling space adventure. A moving, if inevitable, ending added depth beyond the main Star Wars family-themed plot.
Stranger Things also delved deep into the late 20th -century nostalgia mines and found gold, precious metals and a portal to the vale of shadows. A great cast and some creepy scares all combined for some great television.
Both really enjoyable and great examples of how working within established genre constraints can still lead to clever, fresh-feeling dramas. But can the bar be set higher? Yes, it can.
1&2 – I just can’t pick between: Arrival and Hidden Figures.
Arrival was a solid SF film with a clever mix of concepts. The structure was cleverly executed to bring home the theme of beings who don’t perceive time was we do. Despite the time messing, the film avoided feeling intentionally confused. Really good stuff. More films like this, please.
Hidden Figures, on the other hand, fictionalised real events around space travel. Part sitcom, part triumph-over-adversity, part nerds sciencing the shit of things, what was there not to love about this film? OK, Kevin Costner’s white saviour bit maybe was less lovable.
I really can’t pick between these two. Original, well acted and focused on very plausible scientific characters using their minds to engage with things beyond the mundane world.