Hugo Award Results 2015

The Hugo Award winners were announced in the middle of the night (from my perspective, at least), and it looks like the anti-slate ballots won out. No Award prevailed in the all-Puppy categories, and Puppy nominees lost even in Dramatic Presentation: Short Form, where I’d expected Game of Thrones to take another award. I guess that episode being on the slates was just enough to tip the balance in favour of Orphan Black.

There’s only one results I have much of a disagreement with, as I don’t think Laura J. Mixon’s report on Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s history merited a Best Fan Writer award, but other than that the results are about as good as they could’ve been. (I also gave my reasoning in a previous post as to why I voted No Award above Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s novelette, but I’m more okay with that win.)

The detailed voting breakdowns were also released, letting us see exactly how the votes fell, and also the numbers on all the nominating ballots. There were almost 6000 total ballots cast for the awards, and from my first glance it looks like nearly 3000 people were No Awarding the Puppy slates in the major categories. By contrast, the Puppies swept the nominations with around 300 nominating ballots – most non-slate nominees got less than 100 votes. I see the gap between voting and nomination numbers as a big problem with the Hugos – while the voters on the final ballot tend to pick quality in the end, the works they’re choosing from are put on the shortlist by a relatively tiny minority, and it is incredibly easy to steal a category. In short fiction, the Puppies could have swept with only a third of the ballots they got.

The Puppy controversy got a lot of people to sign up to vote in the final awards this year, and I’m very interested now to see what happens to the nominations for next year. I suspect a lot of people don’t bother because they feel like they haven’t read enough; I’d encourage anyone who can to nominate works they enjoyed anyway. It’s easier to get a nominating membership than a voting one – you only have to be a member of one Worldcon to get nominating rights for three years (you can nominate the year before and the year after your membership); you have to buy membership every year to vote.


In other, more exciting news (for me, anyway), Helsinki won the vote to host Worldcon 75 in 2017! I intend to attend this one, my second ever Worldcon after Loncon3. I’m happy to see another European Worldcon not just because I can attend, but also because the Worldcons tend to spend the majority of years in the U.S., which is great for American fans (and yes, they remain the majority of Worldcon attendees), but not very good for the “world” part of Worldcon. Next year the convention is in America for the 5th time in 6 years, and the bids for 2018 are all American so far – a win for the main alternative, Washington D.C., most likely would have meant 8 U.S. Worldcons in a decade.

So, congratulations to the Helsinki in 2017 bid, I look forward to visiting Finland in a couple of years.

Edinburgh 2015 – Day 2

Little late writing this one up. I’m back home now from my very short visit to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which was pretty good. The only real problem I had is that I turned out to be really awful at successfully attending free shows – nearly every one I went to was full when I got there. I guess in future I need to allow more time, because not only would I miss the show I’d wanted to see, but I’d also not be able to find an alternative because I’d only really given myself exactly that hour before I had to head for a paid show.

That started straight away on Saturday, when I tried to start the day with David Callaghan’s “No Momentum”. When that fell through, I decided I should work out where one of the other venues was while I had the time. My last show of the day was a long walk out of the centre, and I wasn’t entirely sure how to get there – and it’s a good thing I did a trial run, because I got lost. I eventually did find the place, then walked all the way back for a quick lunch.

My actual first show of the day, then, was Austentatious, who perform a different improvised Jane Austen novel every day. The title that came out of the hat this time was “Magic Mike at Pemberley”, and the group seemed to have a lot of fun with that.

Next up I was supposed to go see “Worst Show on the Fringe”, which is some short sets by comedians who have received one star reviews in the past. Unfortunately I got a bit lost and never made it to the venue. I headed into the nearby Free Sisters instead to see a show that was about to start, and that one turned out to be full. Not a great beginning to the day, really. I was determined not to miss the next one on the list, so for the next half hour or so I headed along the Royal Mile. Not the best idea, as it turned out, because it was packed so full you could barely move. I did however get to see a man juggling flaming torches while riding a unicycle balanced on a rope, so that was something.

The next free show on my schedule was Tamar Broadbent’s “Brave New Girl”, and I made sure I set off a lot earlier for this one. Turns out that was a good idea, because the venue was not making things easy to find. I had no idea which room it was in in Cowgatehead, there were no directions, and when I finally found the schedule which showed the room I was looking for, it was posted on the back of a closed door.

I saw Tamar Broadbent perform last year, and enjoyed it a lot, so I was glad to get to catch her again. She’s a really funny musical comedian, and I recommend anyone who’s at the Fringe try to catch her show (note: not for kids).

From that I rushed straight over to Pleasance Dome for more musical comedy in Yve Blake’s “Lie Collector”. Blake collects true stories of lies people have told and turns them into songs. It’s kind of a delightfully weird show, with a sometimes over-the-top and shouty performance from Blake, lots of ridiculous costumes and plenty of mugging. The show gets into some fairly serious material toward the end, and there was at least one of the true confessions used in the show that I’m not entirely sure how to feel about it being used in this way. Still, I overall enjoyed the show, it was an interesting mix of silly and serious.

Another quick rush down to the next venue followed. The next show up was Sarah Kendall’s “A Day in October”. This was a really strong show – funny and touching, and just a really excellent work of storytelling. I think this was probably the most well-crafted standup performance I saw on the fringe this year.

I had yet another free show in mind to follow, and bearing in mind that I’d missed three shows in two days so far because I didn’t get there early enough, I was making extra sure now. After a quick burger for dinner, I arrived very early at the venue for Sarah Bennetto’s free show… which wasn’t happening. If I’d looked into things further when I was planning I might have known this in advance: Sarah Bennetto wasn’t available this weekend, and instead her show was being covered by Amy Howerska, who was doing extra free performances of her usually-paid show, “Sasspot”. I didn’t find this out until the performance was starting, so that was a surprise. It turned out to be a pretty fun show, about growing up in a family of professional skydivers, and how funerals are much better than weddings. Funny thing: Howerska’s show was one of the ones I’d considered when working out what to see this weekend, and I’d come close to buying a ticket to her show instead of one of the others.

Finally, I walked a mile in 15 minutes to get to my final show of the day, Daniel Sloss’ “Dark”. This was yet another great show, and it got the biggest laughs out of anything I saw all weekend. It’s also the first time I’ve seen someone perform a Fringe show with live signing on stage for deaf audience members, which is a great idea. (It was also nice to be in a comfortable, air-conditioned theatre after a day of tiny boiling hot rooms.)

All in all, despite missing a couple of planned shows I had a really great day yesterday. My feet are killing me from all the walking (huge blisters), but I had a good time and that’s what matters.

Wish I’d not been so dumb as to go “well, I’ll maybe just do two nights this year” when I finally decided to book my trip. A weekend at the Fringe is definitely an annual thing for me now, and I’ll probably stick to three nights like last year. It’s impossible to fit everything in, and two days (one of which starts after 3pm because of travel) is hardly anything. Looking forward to next time.

Edinburgh 2015 – Day 1

I’m back in Edinburgh this weekend for my annual visit to the Edinburgh fringe festival. Only staying two nights this year, and yesterday was my first day. As usual, I planned my whole trip out in advance, and as usual the plans didn’t last long.

I arrived in the afternoon just late enough to not be able to go to the first free show I’d intended to after checking in to the hotel, so instead I took a look at what was starting soon and went to see a free show by Hari Sriskantha. It was a decent enough standup set, though maybe a bit unpolished; worth it if you’re just looking to kill some time like I was.

My first paid show was a little bit later, this was Rhys James: Remains. James does standup mixed with some poetry, and the show was smart and well done – I enjoyed it a lot. Recommended. Afterwards, I was meant to go to another free show, which was at a venue quite a long way out from everywhere else. Me being me, I managed to talk myself out of seeing it by the time I got there. Instead, I walked all the way back where I’d came and went for a proper meal, which I probably wouldn’t have done if I’d gone to the show.

I figured I’d fit in another free show after dinner, since I had a lot of time left over, and decided to go and see Ahir Shah’s show. I saw Shah in the same place last year, and it was one of my favourite shows, so it seemed like a good bet. Unfortunately, when I got there the room was full, so I had to miss out. On top of that, it was now only a bit more than an hour until my next show, and I couldn’t see anything else I could get to that would be over in time. I went back to my hotel and spent an hour catching up with newly revealed Hearthstone cards instead.

The third show of the day was Luisa Omielan’s “Am I Right Ladies?!”. This one was a lot of fun, my favourite of the day. The show’s filled with a lot of positive messages about sex and body image and dealing with depression, all wrapped up in Omielan’s ridiculous clowning – it’s a very funny show, and well worth seeing. Unfortunately,  she’s only performing three nights this year.

I ended the night with Loren O’Brien’s “aLOne”. I was surprised by how tiny the audience for this one was for a paid show; only about a dozen people, and I think this maybe spoilt the atmosphere of the show a bit. Honestly this one was a bit underwhelming. I’m not sure exactly why; the jokes were there, and O’Brien seemed like a talented perfomer, but there weren’t really any big laughs from the show and a lot of it seemed to fall flat. I had seen one segment of the show online before going, and O’Brien did it much better there than she did last night, so maybe she just wasn’t quite on form (performing for a mostly empty room can’t help). There’s something very close to a good show there, but she didn’t quite pull it off.

And that was it for my first day at the Fringe. Full day today, so I should see more than yesterday. Here’s hoping they’re all good ones.

How I Voted on the Hugos

Here’s how my final ballot looks, with a few comments on my decision making.

Best Novel
1. Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie
2. The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison
3. The Three-Body Problem – Liu Cixin (trans. Ken Liu)

Personal taste making a lot of difference here. A lot of people have praised the Three-Body Problem highly, but it just didn’t quite do it for me.

Best Novella
1. No Award

Best Novelette
1. No Award
2. The Day the World Turned Upside Down – Thomas Olde Heuvelt

This was an odd one for me. I read Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s story, and while it wasn’t bad, I just couldn’t say it was as good as or better than the works I nominated for this category. If I had read it prior to nominating, I don’t think I would have considered it. So it goes under No Award.

Best Short Story
1. No Award

Best Related Work
1. No Award

Best Graphic Story
1. Sex Criminals vol. 1 – Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky
2. Ms. Marvel vol. 1 – G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona & Jake Wyatt
3. Rat Queens vol. 1 – Kurtis J. Weibe & Roc Upchurch
4. Saga vol. 3 – Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
5. No Award

The best category on the ballot. This was a tough call, as all four of the above are great. I think my personal hype for Saga has died off a bit, so ultimately after a little thought I placed it below the other three. Ms. Marvel is one of the best titles coming out from the “big two” publishers right now, and Rat Queens is a lot of fun, but I had to give the edge to the excellent and hilarious Sex Criminals.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)
1. Guardians of the Galaxy
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
3. Edge of Tomorrow
4. Interstellar

Another category that was tough to call. Guardians got the top because it’s one of the only films I’ve enjoyed so much I went back to see it a second time. (Bring on next year, when I’ll be championing Mad Max: Fury Road all the way.)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)
1. Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”
2. Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper”

This is more a nod to the show Orphan Black than the episode itself, which maybe contradicts my voting strategy in other places. I nominated the penultimate episode, and thought the finale was a bit dumb. Oh well.

Best Semiprozine
1. Beneath Ceaseless Skies
2. Lightspeed Magazine
3. Strange Horizons

I don’t understand why this category exists, when “Best Prozine” doesn’t. Anyway! Three fiction venues I’ve read a helluva lot of good stories from in the past year.

Best Fan Writer
1. No Award

Best Professional Editor (Long and Short Form), Best Professional Artist, Best Fan Artist, Best Fanzine, Best Fancast, John W. Campbell Award
I did not vote in these categories, generally due to not being familiar with the nominees.

Your Favourites Are Not Objective

Title is stating the obvious, right? You’d think.

First up, go read this post on by Liz Bourke. It’s an old story: a couple of famous white male authors listed their favourite writers. Their lists were entirely white and male. Liz Bourke argues, quite rightly, that this was avoidable, and that people have a responsibility to think about who they’re including or excluding when they make such lists.

Cue the comments, which were flooded with (presumably) white, male readers making the oh-so-predictable response: why should the authors’ identities affect what is their favourite? It sounds reasonable, until you actually apply some thought to the issue.

If I asked you to name your ten favourite authors, could you do so easily, without hesitation? All ten? I couldn’t. Thing is, a lot of authors have very different things that make them good, that are hard to rank directly against one another. I dare say that after the first few names, most people would be stopping to consider whether to include author A at the expense of author B. I myself would probably name author A on one day, and then author B when asked the same question a week later – and both lists would be equally true. “Favourite” is a tricky thing to narrow down, and any list of favourites is going to be, on some level, a deliberately curated selection, not an absolute answer.

So, your list of ten favourites is not actually a list of favourites. But what does this have to do with the diversity of the list? Well, a lack of diversity in your list of favourites can mean a few things. The article above points out that, statistically speaking, a list is unlikely to be entirely white and male by chance alone. If the identity of an author did not factor in at all, lists like that would be far less common. So what are the reasons your favourites are all white men?

1) The books you read are all by white men. This is unlikely to happen by accident – 51% of the population is female – so a bias must exist somewhere. This could be systematic bias in publishing and marketing. It could be that you yourself have a bias – conscious or not – when choosing what to read. And of course it could be because these recommendation lists we’re talking about already disproportionately favour white male authors. (It’s actually all three.) In any case, this suggests you’re not choosing your “favourites” from a representative sample, and you should maybe start to think more about who you’re choosing to read.

2) You like the books you read by white men more. Say this the wrong way and it sounds bad, right? You’re not sexist or racist, it’s just that these books you like happen to be by white men! Think, however, about what this really implies. As I’ve said above, it’s unlikely to happen by chance. There are two explanations: either you’re saying that white men are just better at writing good books, or you’re not reading the right non-white and/or non-male authors. The answer, again, is to pay more attention and try to read more diversely.

3) You enjoy writers of all backgrounds, but you’re choosing to only include white men in your list of recommendations… for some reason. You like author B well enough, but you’re going to put author A on your list. Truth be told, there’s not much between the two, and a list with author B wouldn’t really be less representative of your tastes, but you want to be as close to your absolute top ten favourites as possible. Why should it matter if you then look at the list and realise that decision means your list has no women on it? It’s your favourites, right? Because of points 1 and 2, that’s why. When you could publish a list that included some diversity, without really compromising your tastes, but choose not to, you’re adding to the bias that leads to other people not reading those diverse voices, which continues the cycle of bias in recommendation and reading choices and keeps non-male and non-white writers underrepresented.

Point 3 is why Liz Bourke talks about people having a responsibility to include diversity. The fact that recommendations completely lacking in diversity are so common demonstrates that there’s a widespread bias that goes against the common sense that writers of different backgrounds should all be equally capable of writing good books. This bias is not something that will correct itself, spontaneously, but it something that can only be countered by being more conscious of what we read, and what we recommend others read.

It should be weird to look at the books you’ve been reading and realise they’re all by men. If you write down your favourites and, against all probability, they’re all white men, it should make you wonder what’s been missed out.

Listening to the Discworld

For the last few months, I’ve been listening to Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels on audiobook. I’d read a lot of the books when I was in school, and always meant to get back to it sometime. I guess Pratchett’s death finally prompted me to do it.

I started where I had left off almost 15 years ago, downloading Men at Arms, the 15th Discworld novel. I can hardly remember what happened in the earlier books now, but it was easy enough to pick it up here. Men at Arms was excellent; almost 10 books further down, it’s still one of the best I’ve listened to. The City Watch books seem to stand uniformly above the others – there’s something about coming back to these characters, the city of Ankh-Morpork, and the kind of stories Pratchett tells through them that appeals to me more than do the Witches, Rincewind, or Susan Sto Helit.

It’s interesting to hear the way Pratchett builds upon the Discworld, on its places and characters, book by book. Each one take up something new, expands upon ideas introduced in earlier books, and works to create this rich, living world with strong continuity which nevertheless manages to stay accessible at each step. Pratchett’s is an oeuvre of strong stand-alone novels that you could pick up individually at any point, but are all the more rewarding when you’ve read those that come before.

I hadn’t listened to audiobooks before, but it seemed the most convenient way to fit them into my schedule. Listening to the audio production of a book has been quite a different experience from reading them; it took me some time to get used to the narrator, Nigel Planer, because his voice was so far from what I would have given the books in my own mind. But I soon grew accustomed to him, and to the distinct and recognisable voices he gave to each of the many characters, to the point that when the narrator changed – on The Fifth Elephant, the book I’m currently listening to, which is read by Stephen Briggs – it all felt very wrong (I’ve spent the early chapters repeatedly thinking “that’s not what he/she’s supposed to sound like!”). Still, whoever’s reading them, it’s Terry Pratchett’s words, his wit, and most of all his characters that shine through.

If you’ve never visited the Discworld before, I can highly recommend it. Pratchett’s work is funny, finely crafted, and full of heart. (Many readers would recommend starting with the completely standalone Small Gods.) I only feel sorry that at the pace I’m getting through them, I’ll run out of his books all too soon.

Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Familiar (Volume 1)

If you’re a fan of Mark Z. Danielewski’s work, you’ll know something of what to expect from The Familiar. His most famous book, House of Leaves, is known for its typographical trickery, its hidden messages, narratives within narratives, and copious footnotes. Nothing he writes is straightforward. If you liked House of Leaves, you might like The Familiar. But it definitely won’t be to everyone’s taste.

The Familiar Volume 1: One Rainy Day in May, to give the book its full title, is the story of a young girl, Xanther, who suffers from epilepsy, on her way with her father, Anwar, to pick up a dog. Instead, Xanther winds up bringing something else home. It’s also the story of an addict in Singapore, computer scientists on the run in Texas, a gang leader in LA, a Turkish cop, an Armenian cab driver, and a Mexican whose profession remains unclear at this point – all taking place over the same day, told chronologically. How these stories tie together remains unclear even at the end of the novel: Danielewski intends to tell this story over 27 volumes, a TV series in book form, and this 800-page tome is just the first episode.

Each of the nine main characters – along with some extra voices – has their own font, their own colour in the corner of the page, and their own grammatical, typographical, and linguistic quirks. The narratives are pretty much stream-of-consciousness, and are often deliberately difficult to read. Xanther’s parents Anwar and Astair, for example, both think in multiple nested parentheses, which can often cause you to lose the thread of a sentence. Jingjing’s chapters, set in Singapore, are written in Singlish, with dialogue sometimes in Mandarin, Cantonese, and Russian; full comprehension was beyond me, but I could get the right idea most of the time.

There’s hardly any plot to be found here. The meat of the book is Xanther, Anwar and Astair’s day, while Luther, the gang leader, has an entirely unconnected (at this point) story, and Jingjing goes through his own eventful day. The rest of the characters generally have only a couple of chapters each, things that give only enough to introduce who they are, and rarely explain what they do or want. If you’re after a fast-paced story, look elsewhere – this may be one of the slowest-moving books ever written.

I’ve ended this book with far more questions than answers. There are things going on here that aren’t explained in the least. What is The Familiar – the overall story – about? Well, at this point I can say it’s about a mysterious cat found by a young girl, and also possibly about artificial intelligence, and it may even all be taking place inside a simulated reality. At this point I can hardly say.

For all its deliberate obtuseness, its lack of answers, and its barely-there plot, I went into this thinking of it as “episode one” of a series, and I so wasn’t quite as disappointed as some reviewers seem to have been. For all its 800 pages it certainly does match the plot content of a one hour television show. While slow in places, I personally found it kind of fascinating, and my head is crammed full of thoughts and questions about where this is going.

I’ll be picking up Volume 2 in September. Whether I’ll stick it out the full 27 volumes – if Danielewski manages to hit that ambitious target – remains to be seen.