Hugo Award Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2014 Hugo Awards (and the 1939 Retro Hugo Awards) was just announced. You can see it on the Loncon3 website. I wanted to just make a quick post looking at the shortlist compared to my own nominations.

Overall, 11 of my nominations ended up on the final ballot. Unfortunately, not all of the ones I was most excited about: The Shining Girls, Rupetta, and Locke and Key are nowhere to be found. Oh well.

Also, while Doctor Who used to be a good show, these days I don’t think it really deserves to have two episodes on the ballot. Of these two, “The Name of the Doctor” was bad, “The Day of the Doctor” wasn’t. At least the godawful “The Time of the Doctor” didn’t make it. But, this is a popular vote and it’s a popular show, so no use getting worked up about it. I have no issue with the two other Doctor Who-related things that made the short form ballot – I even nominated one of them.

The Thing That Bothers Me About Spider-Man

(or about the Spider-Man movies, at least,)

…is that they always have to give Peter Parker a love interest whose only purpose is to make him worry about her getting hurt. Whatever else is going on in the story, Peter Parker needs to angst about whether his being Spider-Man puts his girlfriend at risk.

We had five movies of this now. Five movies of Peter breaking up with his girlfriend because he doesn’t want her to get hurt. Five films of her breaking up with him because he can’t make up his mind one way or the other. Five films where villains realise he cares for her and target her specifically, so that Peter has to rescue her. Even when it’s as strong a character as Gwen Stacy in the newer films – who is smarter than Peter, accomplished, independent – she falls into the same role.

Occasionally – such as in the latest film, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – the writing acknowledges Peter’s protectiveness as a problem. Gwen Stacy is intelligent, capable, and independent – and she has specific knowledge that will help with what Peter’s about to do – and when Peter tries to leave her behind to keep her safe, she calls him out on it. But even then, the narrative inevitably goes on to prove Peter right.

These characters, even when they aren’t actually fridged, exist to present the threat of fridging. Their place in the story is to be the potential woman-in-refrigerator, so that Peter Parker can agonise over the danger he is putting them in.

Now maybe it’s true that these issues are just inherited from the comic books, that the creators are adapting the stories that already exist. But by doing that, they must acknowledge that they are perpetuating this trope, the image of the love interest as a victim, or potential victim. After five movies of the same thing, it really starts to stand out. It’s time they tried to do something different.

Quick Book Thoughts – Ancillary Justice

This blog has been pretty quiet for a while. There are things I keep thinking I should write up, but never get round to. One of those things is my thoughts on the books I’ve been reading since January, and for some reason right now – while I’m sitting on the metro on my way to a Tabletop Day event – felt like the time to start. So here are some quick thoughts on Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie.

-

Ancillary Justice has already seen a lot of hype around the net. It’s almost guaranteed to win some awards this year, and deservedly so. It’s an entertaining space opera based around a massive space empire, the Radch – a militaristic, expansionist empire only recently forced to give up expansion by the threat of an alien enemy.

The main character is a space ship. More accurately, she’s the ship Justice of Toren’s last surviving ancillary – humans whose minds have been wiped clean and are controlled by the ship’s AI. Leckie brings up interesting questions of identity and humanity through this ancillary, named Breq. Separated from her ship, to the reader Breq seems to have developed a very human personality, but is pretty unaware of it.

Breq also brings up moral questions. As an ancillary, she is in the body of a human who was forcibly taken to have their memories wiped, their body put on ice, and linked into the hive mind of a space ship to serve as expendable footsoldiers. As the Justice of Toren, she has participated in the annexation of dozens of worlds, usually involving mass killings and the creation of ancillaries from a large portion of the population.

Finally, there’s the book’s treatment of gender. The Radchaai language has no gendered words – the sexes are fully equal. Leckie represents this through the use of female pronouns for all characters, and by Breq incorrectly guessing the gender of people she meets when outside of the Radch. Personally, this aspect really brought out inherent biases in my thinking – it drew attention to the places where I assumed the gender of a character. It also made me notice how I latched on to information on a character’s gender and continued to think of them that way for the rest of the book, even though, as the usage in the book makes clear, it was irrelevant.

Anyway, this has gone on longer than intended (and I’m now finishing it on the train home), so I’ll leave it at this: Ancillary Justice is a very good book – original, interesting, and entertaining. Check it out.

Thursday Linkdump Returns

This will probably not become a regular feature again.

- Riot Square Sanctificare – Molly Crabapple

- Why You Shouldn’t Tell That Random Girl On The Street That She’s Hot

- The Dollar-And-Cents Case Against Hollywood’s Exclusion of Women – fivethirtyeight

- Confirmation Bias, Epic Fantasy, and You – N K Jemisin

- Rising from the Middle East – Arab sci-fi

- Buried Badasses: The Forgotten Heroines of pre-Code Comics – Saladin Ahmed

- Sam Sykes on learning new things

- World Record Book Domino Chain

My Final Hugo Nominations

It’s the last day for Hugo nominations, and I’m pretty sure my ballot will not be changing any more, so here’s what I ended up putting down. As expected, I skipped a lot of categories due to unfamiliarity with the work.

Best Novel
The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes
Rupetta – Nike Sulway
The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie
The Summer Prince – Alaya Dawn Johnson

In total I’ve only read 11 novels published in 2013, and these are my five favourites from that small sample. I do wish I’d had time to get round to more.

Best Related Work
Wonderbook – Jeff VanderMeer
We Have Always Fought – Kameron Hurley (essay)
Tropes Vs Women in Video Games: Damsel in Distress – Anita Sarkeesian

Same things I mentioned in my last post. Could have done with reading around more for ideas.

Best Graphic Story
Locke & Key – Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez
Saga vol. 2 – Brian K Vaughan & Fiona Staples
Bad Machinery: The Case of the Forked Road – John Allison
The Encyclopedia of Early Earth – Isabel Greenberg

I was going through all the various comics and graphic novels I’ve read over the last year trying to work out what best fit my ballot, and decided Greenberg’s book was worth the spot. I considered putting down The Unwritten’s volume 7, The Wound, but felt it was weaker than volume 6 and so passed it over. For the number of comics I’ve been reading this past year, it was surprisingly hard to pick ones I felt deserved a Hugo nomination.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)
Her
Gravity
Tomb Raider
Europa Report

I watched Her last month and really loved it, so threw it straight onto the ballot. Europa Report I quickly slipped in yesterday after seeing it on a lot of other ballots. And Tomb Raider I’ve also seen on a lot of others, and since I thought it was quite a visually stunning game, decided to put it on mine.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)
Black Mirror, “Be Right Back”
Cargo
Welcome to Night Vale, “One Year Later”
An Adventure in Space and Time

No changes here. I have a feeling there are going to be some problems with An Adventure in Space and Time on the final ballot, because it’s listed as either 90 minutes or 83 minutes depending on where you look, and a lot of people are putting it in Long Form.

Best Professional Artist
Olly Moss
Julie Dillon
Joey HiFi
Fiona Staples
J H Williams III

As well as the few of my own favourites I took a look around and picked out some more I really liked the work of to fill out the ballot. I had mentioned Noelle Stephenson in my last post, but I ultimately decided if I want to honour Nimona, a better place to do that is in next year’s Graphic Story nominations, where it’ll be eligible in itself.

Best Fan Writer
Foz Meadows
Kameron Hurley

I confess to once again being woefully underread in a category, but these are two of the people I follow and they write some very strong stuff on the genre and fandom.

John W Campbell Award

I wasn’t going to nominate here, but I’m currently reading A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar, and while I don’t feel it’s quite making it onto my Best Novel ballot, it’s strong enough that I wanted to put Samatar down somewhere – so she gets my only Campbell nomination.

Initial Hugo Thoughts

Hugo Award nominating season is upon us, and as a member of Loncon3, I get to make nominations for the first time. Problem is, I’m not really sure what I’ll be nominating. To help me decide, I’ve been seeking out recommendation posts (such as this one from lady business) for ideas.

I also decided I’d go through the award categories and put down what I’ve currently got in mind for them, and where I need to look into more. I have until the end of March to make nominations, so I’m going to be trying to get to as much eligible content as possible before placing my ballot. When I do, I’ll make another post with my final nominations, for comparison to these early thoughts.

Without further ado:

Best Novel: Awarded for a science fiction or fantasy story of forty thousand (40,000) words or more.

I only read a few 2013 releases last year. Of those, The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes has a definite spot on my ballot. I’m also likely to put down The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman.

For the remaining places, I’m going to spend the next month or so reading 2013 releases. Right now I’m reading the much-hyped Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, and I have a number of other things in mind to read before I nominate. We’ll see where I go with this.

Best Novella: Awarded for a science fiction or fantasy story of between seventeen thousand five hundred (17,500) and forty thousand (40,000) words.
Best Novelette: Awarded for a science fiction or fantasy story of between seven thousand five hundred (7,500) and seventeen thousand five hundred (17,500) words.
Best Short Story: Awarded for science fiction or fantasy story of less than seven thousand five hundred (7,500) words.

Unfortunately I don’t read all that much fiction below novel length, so I’m not sure what to do about these categories. I may have to leave them blank, though I’m considering picking up a “Year’s Best” anthology to get some ideas. Otherwise, the only short fiction I’ve been reading has been Fireside Magazine, a couple of issues of Electric Velocipede, and Weird Fiction Review.

Best Related Work: Awarded to a work related to the field of science fiction, fantasy, or fandom.

Another category I’m not fully up on. I’m wondering if Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook is eligible here. A lot of people have been mentioning Kameron Hurley’s essay “We Have Always Fought”, which is pretty strong contender.

One thing mentioned on that lady business recommendation post I linked above, which hadn’t occured to me, is Anita Sarkeesian‘s Tropes Versus Women in Video Games series. That’s an excellent piece of pop culture criticism and analysis, so I’ve now got that in mind too (most likely for the “Damsel in Distress” videos, as the series as a whole is unfinished).

Best Graphic Story: A science fiction or fantasy story told in graphic form, such as a comic book, graphic novel, or webcomic.

Locke and Key, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. The final issue of this series was published in December, which I believe makes it eligible as a complete work. Easily on of the best graphic stories in recent years – even though I haven’t read the ending yet (I wait for the trade paperbacks), I’m nominating this based on the strength of the first 5 volumes.

Elsewise, a lot of people have been mentioning Saga, which I agree is very good. Howard Tayler brought up Bad Machinery‘s “The Case of the Forked Road”, by John Allison, which I hadn’t thought or for nomination but is definately worth it.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): This Award can be given a dramatized production in any medium, including film, television, radio, live theater, computer games or music. The work must last 90 minutes or longer (excluding commercials).

I’m not decided on this one. Pacific Rim is being mentioned everywhere, and might get on. Gravity was an incredible film, but I’m not convinced it’s science fiction. There was one other thing I thought about but it turns out it’s shorter than I realised.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): This Award can be given a dramatized production in any medium, including film, television, radio, live theater, computer games or music. The work must be less than 90 minutes long (excluding commercials).

One thing I’ve had in mind all year is Black Mirror series 2, episode 1, “Be Right Back”, about a widow who signs up for a service which recreates her husband’s personality from his social media profiles.

I’ve also had a note down since February about this excellent short film, Cargo.

I want to put Welcome To Night Vale on my ballot. Excellent, funny radio drama style weird fiction. Most likely I’ll go for “One Year Later”.

I’m also considering An Adventure in Space and Time here. It’s 83 minutes long, though I originally thought it was long-form length. I’ve complained about the Doctor Who stuff here in the past, but this stands on its own. (Doctor Who itself has stopped producing worthy material. I’m hoping the final ballot reflects its decline, though I doubt it.)

Best Editor (Long Form):
Best Editor (Short Form):

I have no idea. I’m not sure how anyone who doesn’t work inside the industry would know which long form editor worked on a book or understand what they contributed to it. For short form, I just don’t read enough short fiction. I’ll be leaving these out.

Best Professional Artist:

I wanted to put Nimona somewhere on my ballot, but as it’s an unfinished webcomic, I don’t think it’s eligible for graphic story this year. So, I might follow suit with a lot of the recommendations I’ve seen and put Noelle Stephenson down in this category.

Joey Hi-Fi does some really excellent book covers. Cheryl Morgan brought up J. H. Williams III for his Batwoman work, which I’ll consider, and people are mentioning Fiona Staples for Saga.

But overall I’m not familiar enough with artists, so I’ll have to look into it a lot more before nominating.

Best Semiprozine:
Best Fanzine:
Best Fancast:

Not a clue. Not familiar enough with the work done in these categories. Blank spaces all around.

Best Fan Writer:

Another category I’m not too familiar with, but I’m considering Foz Meadows.

Best Fan Artist:

Nope, no idea.

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Not a Hugo.

Another one I would have to do a lot more looking into. Don’t think I’ve read any eligible writers yet.

Frozen without Olaf

I saw Disney’s Frozen just before Christmas, and it’s a pretty good film. I enjoyed it a lot, and particularly liked its subversion of the traditional Disney “true love” trope.

What I didn’t quite enjoy so much was the character of Olaf, the talking snowman. Now, I know these films are targeted at kids, and there’s nothing wrong with putting in these goofy characters for comic relief. I personally just found him a little annoying, and not all that important to the plot.

Anyway, I was idly thinking about this and I decided I’d try to use it as an exercise in building a story, and write down how I’d change Frozen to remove Olaf without significantly altering the story. Here’s what I came up with.

Note: Spoilers to follow. Obviously.

The way I see it, there is one key scene in the movie where Olaf played a significant role such that his removal would cause problems. That scene is toward the end, when the protagonist Anna is locked in a room to die by her fiancé Hans, having just revealed his true nature. Olaf arrives comforts Anna, starts a fire to try to keep her from freezing, and ultimately leads her to realise it was Kristoff she should have gone to, not Hans.

Without Olaf, Anna dies in that room. To make that part work, someone needs to come to her aid. The question is, who could? What other character could help Anna at that time, in that place, without significantly altering the story?

It would help if the film had included some other character in the palace who knew Anna and was close to her, but no such character has been established, and introducing one would require significant changes earlier on that might undermine the image it made of her isolated childhood.

After thinking about this for a while, the solution that finally came to me was to redeem the Duke of Weselton.

The Duke is introduced on the day of Queen Elsa’s coronation. He’s established as a greedy and selfish man whose only interest there is money: the kingdom has been isolated since the King and Queen died, and he wants the newly crowned Queen Elsa to reopen trade with Weselton. When things don’t seem to be going his way, he even instructs his men to kill Elsa, considering Prince Hans more likely to give him what he wants if he becomes King. At the end of the film, he is disgraced, sent home with the news that Elsa is severing all ties with Weselton because of his actions. He is a pretty clear cut villain of the film.

My idea would be to take a slightly different direction with the character. The differences would come in small.

When Hans suggests a search party to retrieve Elsa, he offers his men to help – but the audience would not see him instruct them to kill her. Their attempt on her life would come as a surprise, then, but not an unexpected one, as the Duke seems very much like a villainous character. Most likely the viewer will assume he has evil intentions regardless of whether they are shown.

But later, when Elsa is imprisoned by Hans, he would reveal that he had not intended to bring her back alive – he had, in fact, bribed the Duke of Weselton’s men to kill her, thinking to keep his own hands clean and blame it on the Duke.

Around the time of Anna’s return, when Hans announces that she has died after speaking her wedding vows, the Duke, ever looking to his own self-interest, would attempt to broach the subject if trade with Weselton. To his dismay, he would find that Hans intended to favour his own family’s kingdom, and had no interest in the Duke’s offer.

And thus it is that the Duke, his efforts to gain Hans’ support having been for naught, somehow comes across the room where Anna lies dying. Here, the Duke of Weselton’s true nature is revealed: he is horrified that Hans has left her to die. My Duke is still a weasel of a man, but not a murderer. He is too much a coward to confront the new King and his supporters alone (though he may promise to challenge his rule later, after gathering support), and in any case, Anna asks him to stay with her, believing that she is going to die regardless. So he lights a fire, and tries to comfort her – perhaps he even has daughters of his own, back home – and somehow his words cause her to realise that it is Kristoff she needs to find.

And so the ending proceeds as it did, and the kingdom is saved. And in the end, the Duke of Weselton is granted trade agreements with the kingdom by Queen Elsa (though perhaps not quite so favourable to him as he’d prefer).

The Duke is redeemed while keeping his essential character intact, and with very little difference to the remainder of the story.

And not a single talking snowman was needed.

***

If you’ve read all this, thank you for indulging my nonsense. I’ll just say again that Frozen was great, and I’m not claiming these changes needed to be made. I just thought it was a fun exercise to go through.