Anticipation

(This is a personal post.)

In little over a week, I’ll be setting out for a long month of events, starting with Nine Worlds Geekfest, followed immediately by Worldcon in Helsinki, and then a week later my annual trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I’m excited and eager, but there’s one little bit of me wondering if it’s a bit too much.

The first convention I attended was Loncon3, the 2014 Worldcon in London. Overall it was pretty great, I enjoyed the panels and readings, but the whole thing was undercut with frustration at myself for not being able to socialise. I’m far too self conscious and uncomfortable to approach people I don’t already know, and I tend to end up staying isolated even among these big groups of people with presumably shared interests. I’m very grateful to Meg Frank, who generously showed me around and introduced me to a bunch of people at Worldcon, but even then I wasn’t really able to engage with people and didn’t feel comfortable approaching them again afterward.

The anxiety and frustration culminated in a bit of a breakdown in my hotel room on the last night, where I’d retreated after leaving the Hugo ceremony and finding I didn’t really know what to do with myself while everyone else was heading off to the various parties. I found myself venting on Twitter, which helped me calm down but wasn’t exactly a good idea.

The second convention I attended was Nine Worlds 2016. I loved Nine Worlds – it covers a very broad range of geeky interests, but comes at every part of it with a focus on inclusion, and the understanding you can love things and still be critical of them. It just ticked all my boxes as far as the programme content went, which is why I immediately bought a ticket to go again this year. But in between panels, I spent most of my time hanging around the edges, sitting alone watching everyone else. I managed to have some fun in the games room, but half my visits there still involved me standing around awkwardly for a few minutes then leaving. This disconnection from the other attendees wasn’t helped by having a hotel room ten minutes walk away. Once again, the con ended with me falling apart back in my room and venting on Twitter.

(I should probably be embarrassed at myself for those tweet threads, but somehow I’m not? I still don’t know if I was attention-seeking or just thinking out loud.)

Which brings me to next month. My third and fourth conventions, back to back. I’m really looking forward to it, and I expect to enjoy it a lot – I’m not really anxious, at the moment. But I think back on those two nights, the hour or so I let myself fall apart each time, and I wonder. What is it going to be like for me, going through that not for 3 or 4 nights but for two long weekends in a row? I don’t see any reason why I should struggle with it now, but I was hardly having a rational reaction the other times it happened. I honestly don’t know if this will get to me again on the same level, or possibly worse.

Overall I expect to enjoy the experience, I just feel like I’ll be going into it constantly anticipating those anxiety-induced tears.

(I guess I’m lucky I only get anxiety, and not depression.)

Thoughts on the 2017 Hugo Award Nominees

The shortlist for the 2017 Hugo Awards was announced yesterday, and it’s looking pretty strong this year. Here are some of my brief thoughts on the ballot.

First, I’m going to address the Puppy issue. The Rabid Puppy campaign led by human garbage fire Theodore Beale is still around, but thanks to some changes in the way nominations are tallied, they were only able to place a maximum of one work in each category on this year’s ballot. Combined with the change to six nominees per category, this has meant a much smaller influence on the shortlist and a much more satisfying field to choose from. There are some obvious outliers on the ballot, but gone are the days of No Awarding four out of five works.

This is a very good list, folks.

Best Novel
All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders
A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers
Death’s End, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee
The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin
Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer

I’ve said before that I didn’t read all that much last year, so I’m a bit behind on this category, having only read The Obelisk Gate and All the Birds in the Sky. The latter was good but didn’t quite work for me, but Jemisin’s novel, the sequel to last year’s winner, was every bit as good as the first. I’ve heard very good things about Ninefox Gambit, and Death’s End is the sequel to 2015’s Best Novel winner, The Three-Body Problem. Honestly, this category is anyone’s guess this year.

Best Novella
The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson
Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire
Penric and the Shaman, by Lois McMaster Bujold
A Taste of Honey, by Kai Ashante Wilson
This Census-Taker, by China Miéville

I read A Taste of Honey just this week, and I’m glad to see it here. Kai Ashante Wilson missed out on a Hugo nomination last year because his novella Sorcerer of the Wildeeps came in at just over 40,000 words, pushing it into the Novel category. The rest of these are titles I’ve heard plenty of talk about, but haven’t read myself yet. I look forward to them. (This Census-Taker was a Puppy pick, but it’s China Miéville, so we can hardly hold that against it.)

Best Novelette
Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex, by Stix Hiscock
“The Art of Space Travel”, by Nina Allan
“The Jewel and Her Lapidary”, by Fran Wilde
“The Tomato Thief”, by Ursula Vernon
“Touring with the Alien”, by Carolyn Ives Gilman
“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay”, by Alyssa Wong

Obvious troll nomination aside, I look forward to reading the work in this category, of which I’ve only read You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay. I suspect I’ll still be rooting for Wong to take the award, though.

Best Short Story
“The City Born Great”, by N. K. Jemisin
“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers”, by Alyssa Wong
“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies”, by Brooke Bolander
“Seasons of Glass and Iron”, by Amal El-Mohtar
“That Game We Played During the War”, by Carrie Vaughn
“An Unimaginable Light”, by John C. Wright

On the other hand, I don’t know where my votes will go in this one. Jemisin, Wong, Bolander, and El-Mohtar are all excellent, and I’m not very familiar with Vaughan. John C. Wright can fuck right off, though.

Best Related Work
The Geek Feminist Revolution, by Kameron Hurley
The Princess Diarist, by Carrie Fisher
Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg, by Robert Silverberg and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
The View From the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaiman
The Women of Harry Potter, by Sarah Gailey
Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Holy hell this category. Fisher, Silverberg, Gaiman, and Le Guin are all Big Names, and you can’t discount the excellent work by Hurley and Gailey. I suspect this one’s heading Carrie Fisher’s way, given the circumstances, but I think you could be happy with any of these winning.

Best Graphic Story
Black Panther, Volume 1: A Nation Under Our Feet, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze
Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening, written by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda
Ms. Marvel, Volume 5: Super Famous, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa
Paper Girls, Volume 1, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matthew Wilson, lettered by Jared Fletcher
Saga, Volume 6, illustrated by Fiona Staples, written by Brian K. Vaughan, lettered by Fonografiks
The Vision, Volume 1: Little Worse Than A Man, written by Tom King, illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta

Another truly excellent selection of work. I’m glad to see Paper Girls make the list, but I’m going to have a very hard time ranking my votes this year. Read all of these, if you haven’t.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Arrival
Deadpool
Ghostbusters
Hidden Figures
Rogue One
Stranger Things, Season One

This is the one category of the Hugos that tends to be most predictable in terms of nominees, and there aren’t really any surprises here. I’m not sure I agree with Ghostbusters being there – it’s a good film (I saw it twice!) but I wouldn’t say best of the year. I’m also a bit disappointed that 10 Cloverfield Lane didn’t make it. I’ll be rooting for Arrival or Hidden Figures to take the rocket.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Black Mirror: “San Junipero”
Doctor Who: “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”
The Expanse: “Leviathan Wakes”
Game of Thrones: “Battle of the Bastards”
Game of Thrones: “The Door”
Splendor & Misery [album], by Clipping

Formerly the Doctor Who category, now overtaken by Game of Thrones (though the Doctor still gets his spot). I’m surprised and disappointed that “The Winds of Winter” came third place of the GoT nominations and lost out – the incredible opening sequence alone deserves the recognition. I’m gunning for “San Junipero” from this list – it ripped my heart out (in a good way. Kinda).

Best Series
The Craft Sequence, by Max Gladstone
The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey
The October Daye Books, by Seanan McGuire
The Peter Grant / Rivers of London series, by Ben Aaronovitch
The Temeraire series, by Naomi Novik
The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is a new category, being trialled this year in advance of members voting on whether to make it a permanent one. And it’s a tricky one. With series you’re looking at a larger body of work, over multiple years, which is going to make it harder to keep up with generally. I can’t help feel that this creates a barrier for people who haven’t started the books but want to vote for the Hugos. (Like myself, having only read one book out of any of the above.) It seems like the kind of category where voting will come down to which property has the largest pre-existing fanbase in the Worldcon membership. (I also wonder what will happen when a popular series publishes a new volume every year.) I suspect McGuire and Bujold have a good shot here, but The Expanse has a TV series so could put up a good fight.
For me, I’m going to eventually read The Expanse and the Craft Sequence, but I don’t know if I’ll get round to it this year. I really have too many books waiting to be read, so this category will miss out on my votes.

I don’t really have much to say in the remaining categories, though Best Fan Writer and the Campbell Award booth look good this year. I’ve never felt familiar enough with the publishing and art categories to comment. Overall this is a strong Hugo ballot, I look forward both to reading everything I’ve missed so far, and to attending the awards ceremony itself in Helsinki.

Congratulations to all the nominees!

2017 – Looking Forward

As Hugo Award season begins with the opening of nominations, I’m thinking about my plans for the year ahead – which include attending Worldcon for the second time (after Loncon3 in 2014), where I’ll get to see the Hugos given out first-hand.

I don’t travel much, but 2016 was a bigger year for me than usual – I spent a week in Norway, I attended Nine Worlds Geekfest in London (which was a really good con, that I wish I’d managed to write something about here), and I took my usual trip to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. In 2017 things are looking similar – I’ll be heading to Scandinavia again, this time to attend Worldcon 75 in Helsinki – unfortunately that doesn’t leave me much time for sightseeing, but I’m going to hang around an extra couple of nights to see the city. I’ll be going back to Nine Worlds, because it really was that good last year. And I’ll probably be going to Edinburgh yet again.

Of course, there’s one issue with these plans: They’re all in August. That is going to be one long and expensive month, which is why I’m not 100% certain about the Edinburgh Fringe this year. The rest of my year will be uneventful, I expect. The first few months of 2017 I’ll be trying, as usual, to get as much Hugo-eligible novel reading done as I can in time for nominations (nominating for the Hugos is a big deal if you care about the results, by the way – in the past categories have been swept by a small handful of voters, though this year there are new rules in place to help with that), which I’m further behind after my shorter-than-usual 2016 reading list.

As for the rest of the year, well. I’ll keep reading, keep gaming, keep watching great films and TV, and maybe even get around to writing about some of it here. More often than last year, at least.

My Hugo Award Nominations, 2016

Today is the last day for submitting Hugo Award nominations, and I’ve been working on finalising my ballot. Below, you’ll find all the works and people I’ve nominated, plus some other bits where there were close calls. I’m making this post mostly as a record for myself of the stuff from 2015 that I liked enough to nominate.

If you’re interested in checking out any of the works I’ve nominated, I believe everything in the Short Story and Novelette categories is freely available online, as is one of the novellas.

Best Novel
– The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu
– Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie
– Uprooted, Naomi Novik
– The Fifth Season, N K Jemisin
– Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace

This was tough to winnow down to 5 nominations. Also in the running were:
– Black Wolves, Kate Elliott
– Radiance, Catherynne M Valente

Best Novella
– Binti, Nnedi Okorafor
– Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, Kai Ashante Wilson
– The New Mother, Eugene Fischer

Technically, Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is above the length requirements for this category at 43k words, but the rules have some allowance for works that are close to the limits and fit the category better.

Best Novelette
– The Oiran’s Song, Isabel Yap
– Ballroom Blitz, Veronica Schanoes

This was a difficult category not because there were a lot of things to choose from, but because I looked at the list of short fiction I’d liked from 2015 and found only one novelette on that list. There’s a surprisingly small amount of fiction published at this length. I managed to catch up and read the Isabel Yap story today, which was recommended on a few other people’s lists, and it immediately went onto my ballot.

Best Short Story
– The Shape of My Name, Nino Cipri
– Madeleine, Amal El-Mohtar
– The Half-Dark Promise, Malon Edwards
– Three Cups of Grief, By Starlight, Aliette de Bodard
– Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers, Alyssa Wong

There are a bunch of other short stories I wanted to read, but I never made time to catch up on all the links I have saved. These five, however, are all deserving of their spot on the ballot, so I don’t feel bad about not seeing all the other options. Also under consideration were:
– Elephants and Corpses, Kameron Hurley
– The Language of Knives, Haralambi Markov
– Planet Lion, Catherynne M Valente

Best Related Work
SFF in Conversation: Foz Meadows – Thoughts on Fanfiction

I don’t keep up with a lot of stuff that fits this category, but I thought this essay by Foz Meadows on fanfiction was excellent, a very in depth exploration of the subject.

Best Graphic Story
– The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 1
– The Wicked + The Divine vol 2
– Bitch Planet vol 1
– Saga vol 5
– Nimona

There are always lots of good comics. Some that didn’t make my ballot this time:
– Ms. Marvel vols 3-4
– Rat Queens vol 2
– ODY-C vol 1

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)
– Mad Max: Fury Road
– Star Wars: The Force Awakens
– Marvel’s Jessica Jones
– Sense8
– Ex Machina

Fury Road all the way. Please don’t lose this to Star Wars. (The others are also good, though I think I’m less excited about Ex Machina.)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)
– “Cut Man”, Marvel’s Daredevil
– “AKA Sin Bin”, Marvel’s Jessica Jones
– “What Is Human?”, Sense8
– “4,722 Hours”, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I’m not all that enthused on this list. They’re decent episodes, but a lot of the TV I’m watching these days works best as single long works.

Best Fan Writer
– Foz Meadows
– Abigail Nussbaum

I don’t keep up with a lot of fan writers, but these two I do are consistently good.

Campbell Award for Best New Writer
– Alyssa Wong
– Sunil Patel
– Isabel Yap

I’ve not read a whole lot of work by these three, but what I have has been strong.

The following categories were left blank, because I don’t really know what to do with them:
Best Editor (Long Form)
Best Editor (Short Form)
Best Semiprozine
Best Fanzine
Best Fancast
Best Fan Artist

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.

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.

Some thoughts on the Sad Puppy Hugos

I wasn’t intending to write about the Hugo Award controversy directly on this blog, but I hit upon something this morning that led me into a brief twitter rant, and decided I had something to say after all.

Whatever is being said about the politics of the sides involved, whatever the accusations being thrown around; regardless of my own distaste for many of the nominees, and regardless of the well known fact that Vox Day, 2014 Sad Puppy nominee and creator of the Rabid Puppy slate, is a racist, sexist bigot, the one fact that remains important in this whole mess is that the Sad Puppy campaign stole the Hugo Awards nomination process.

This really became clear to me when I was once again reading defences of the Sad Puppy slate that talked about how they were open, they asked for suggestions, they created a list more diverse than their previous ones, that they wanted to create a slate based on meritocracy… It’s been in my mind the last couple of days that if they really were seeking more democracy and meritocracy in the Hugos, all they had to do was encourage their followers to nominate. This defender of the Sad Puppies was literally describing the purpose of the Hugo voting process itself. Instead, what the Puppies did was to hold their own nomination process, pick their own ballot, and encourage their followers to vote the slate as curated by themselves. Aware as they were of how few nominations it takes to get onto the ballot, they created a situation where the nomination process for the Hugo Awards was, at least in part, taken out of the hands of the WSFS and given to Brad Torgersen and Vox Day.

I should emphasise that nothing they did was against the rules. I can also believe that Torgersen and the others involved in the Sad Puppies did not anticipate just how skewed the final ballot would look; they did not actually list a full slate of 5 works in each category. What complicated things there is that Vox Day’s Rabid Puppies slate piggybacked on their own, filling in the gaps with works from Day’s own publishing house, and seemingly encouraging a large number of people from outside the usual Hugo voting fandom to take part in order to stick it to “SJWs” in fandom. It’s not clear to me whether there was any real connection between Torgersen and Day’s slates, or if Day simply copied their list.

The fact remains, however, that the Sad Puppies gamed the nomination process – they knew very well how few nominations it takes to reach the ballot. An organised campaign of voting has a huge advantage when all the other votes are uncoordinated.

And that brings me to a second point, which is that those involved in the Sad Puppies slate will often justify their campaign by claiming that this is something that already happens, that people have been campaigning (often they’ll bring up “backdoor deals”) for certain works to make the ballot, and that the more diverse Hugo Awards ballots of recent years is nothing to do with quality and all about these campaigns. It is true that the short fiction categories are notorious for being a broad field with low numbers of nominations and, in the Short Story category particularly, often struggling to place 5 works on the ballot because of the rule that nominees must receive at least 5% of the total nominations – in other words, it doesn’t take many votes to get in. But the very fact that it is so easy for a campaign like the Sad Puppies to flood these categories demonstrates that no such coordination on that scale is being done by other groups. The reason they were successful is precisely because other voters are uncoordinated, their votes spread out based on their own tastes. By succeeding on this scale, I’d argue they’ve proven their own arguments false.

What they’ve proven is that it is possible to steal the Hugo nomination process. They’ve also made it clear that they were the only ones trying to do so.