So, it is that time of year again. Or rather it was a month ago; I missed the actual anniversary of this blog which is probably symptomatic of its gentle decline. DOn’t get me wrong, I still enjoy blogging – to some extent I need blogging – but a lack of time and energy and the immediacy of Twitter mean I do it a lot less. As this year’s top ten shows, Everything Is Nice does still provide two valuable services: helping (or otherwise) students and feeding the awards beast.
1) Woman On The Edge Of Time – Marge Piercy is assigned in college. (Up six places from last year)
2) ‘Nine Lives’ by Ursula K LeGuin – Ursula K LeGuin is assigned in college. (Non-mover)
3) Why I Think Author Eligibility Posts Are Selfish, Destructive And Counter-Productive – Talking awards. Negative. (New entry)
4) The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie – Joe Abercrombie is a very popular writer. (Down one place)
5) Hugo Nominations: Best Fan Writer – Talking awards. Positive. (New entry)
6) Elementary – Mark C Newton is a very nice writer. (New entry)
7) A Game Of Two Halves – Talking awards. Half positive, half negative. (New entry)
8) Epic Fantasy Vs Sword & Sorcery – Perhaps a suggestion that there is insufficient critical writing about epic fantasy out there? (Down three places)
9) ‘The Star’ by Arthur C Clarke – Arthur C Clarke is assigned in college. (Non-mover)
10) ‘Selkie Stories Are For Losers’ by Sofia Samatar – Sofia Samatar is a very good writer. (New entry)
Last year, in order to make nominations for awards, I relied on other people reading extensively and making recommendations. This yea, I thought maybe I should do some of the hard work. So I’ve just read the first six months of Beneath Ceaseless Skies which I picked because it gets less coverage than some of the other online magazines, I appreciate its specific remit and I’ve clicked with their stories before. Turns out that the three best stories published were from the usual suspects:
- ‘The Bonedrake’s Penance’ by Yoon Ha Lee
- ‘Golden Daughter, Stone Wife’ by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
- ‘Women In Sandstone’ by Alex Dally MacFarlane
If you are looking for award fodder, these are the ones to read and I think the Lee is the best. But whilst it is obviously no bad thing that this generation of young, talent writers are regularly turning out high quality work, all three stories share a mythic, poetic tone that is quite a way from the magazines strapline of “Literary Adventure Fantasy” and could easily have appeared in other magazines such as Strange Horizons. As well as this type of story, what I also want from BCS is the best sort of epic fantasy novel condensed into short form. The beginning of the year saw a trio of strong core genre stories that nearly fit the bill and I’d particularly recommend the Austin:
- ‘Atonement’ by Alec Austin
- ‘The Year Of The Silent Birds’ by Siobhan Carrol
- ‘The Face In The Window’ by Brian McClellan
I’d also love to see a really well-executed pulp appear in BCS. Sadly the two pulp pastiches present, ‘Sweetwater Notion And The Hallelujah Kid’ by KC Ball and ‘The Goddess Deception’ by Dean Wells, are almost fun but ultimately fall flat on their faces (Wells has another much worse story in another issue).
Reading the stories in one go also makes it easy to identify two editorial weaknesses. Firstly, a fondness for Americana. Partially this is just a matter of taste as I really don’t care for it but I do think the bar is set a bit lower for these stories just because they scratch an editorial itch. ‘Engine Song’ by Nathaniel Lee and ‘The Use And The Need’ by M. Bennardo are truly terrible (although Lee has a much better story in another issue). Secondly and more fundamentally, far too many of these stories are just too short. This isn’t necessarily a question of word count but rather that they are simply slices of larger stories. Time after time, stories either stop abruptly or reach the next, non-existent, chapter. Short fiction is hard and making a satisfactorily self-contained story is hardest of all.
Right, straight after I talked about David Mitchell’s key position as a non-genre writer, he writes his most genre work ever. So this is what his SF novel looks like to me:
- A Hot Spell: Nina Allan
- Myrrrh Is Mine: David Mitchell
- New Year’s Day: Mitchell again. Ah yes, the only good bit of the book is the one he repeats.
- The Wedding Bash: Iain Banks
- Crispin Hersey’s Lonely Planet: Adam Roberts (although he won’t thank me).
- An Horologist’s Labyrinth: Nick Harkaway
- Sheep’s Head: Ken MacLeod
When Worldcon was held in Glasgow in 1995 I was too young to attend but promised myself I would go the next time it came to the UK. But in 2005, when it returned to Glasgow, I found myself utterly alienated from fandom and stayed at home. The pendulum swings and in 2014 I found myself very much part of fandom establishment and attending my first Worldcon. It was great.
My article on Loncon 3 is up now at the Los Angeles Review Of Books. It is mostly about the Hugos (with a little bit about the British bust) so if you want a proper con report to give you a flavour of the event, I’d recommend this one by Aishwarya Subramanian (who it was lovely to finally meet in person).
The article is also a tribute to the late Iain Banks which is slightly ironic because my last act at the convention was to slag him off on the ‘Dropping The M’ panel on Monday morning. This consisted of five fans of the man’s work nonetheless grappling with some of his manifest failings. It was enjoyable but everyone in the room was clearly winding down. Likewise, my first panel – ‘Big Anthologies: Bookends or Benchmarks?’ on Friday – seemed like a warm up. This consisted of three major anthologists plus me in the role of reader. But since moderator Jo Walton occupied the same role, I was a bit superfluous. This was rather cruelly confirmed when the panel ended and the audience rushed up to get their books signed by everyone but me. However, my two back-to-back Saturday panels – ‘YA on the Big Screen’ and ‘Just Three Cornettos’ – were bloody brilliant. A great mix of panelists, sensitive moderation and a hugely engaged audience. As David Hebblethwaite has said, it is a wonderful and unique experience.
Only one sleep till Worldcon – this is my con anthem.
In advance of Loncon 3, Strange Horizons have published ‘The State of British SF and Fantasy: A Symposium’ which includes an article by me on the boom in non-genre science fiction over the last decade:
This is because the last decade or so has seen an acceleration of what can uglily but accurately be described as non-genre SF. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that this trend has occurred in parallel with the emergence of the New Weird since it points to a generation shift. Just as contemporary genre authors are writing in the context of several mature subgenres and so are influenced by all of them, so too contemporary literary authors have increasingly been immersed in science fiction through their formative years. (Equally, you could probably say the same about non-genre fantasy but that has always been a less rigidly demarcated and fractious boundary.)
Genre fantasy is probably a bit overlooked by the symposium too. This is understandable since it takes place in the context of comparing the current state to that in the boom year’s of British science fiction in the previous two decades. However, as Andrew M Butler notes ‘Thirteen Ways Of Looking At The British Boom’, the essay that provided the springboard for this symposium:
“It is asserted that there is currently a boom within British science fiction… The Boom is thought of mostly as a British Science Fiction Boom, and to limit it to this genre is clearly within the parameters of a journal named Science Fiction Studies. But there is also a parallel boom within fantasy and horror, as well as within children’s fiction.”
It strikes me that we have seen a British fantasy boom over the last decade but we lack the critical infrastructure to discuss this in the same way as we discussed the earlier British science fiction boom. So perhaps this symposium will act as a bit of a challenge in this respect. And I wonder if this boom will have a similar effect in shifting non-genre fantasy further from its comfort zone (say the magical realist, lightly supernatural end of the spectrum) in the same way non-genre SF has gradually expanded from dystopias and post-apocalyptic scenarios. After all, literary historical fiction is extremely popular and it is only short hop over the fence into epic fantasy. Yet a book like The Kingdom Of Fanes by Amanda Prantera (1995) which does this is extremely rare (the author notes, “Ignored by critics and readers alike, I stubbornly maintain this is the best thing I have ever done.”)
The other ommission I acknowledge in my piece is the lack of coverage of children’s SF. I simply ran out of time and space but reading Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner (2013) immediate afterwards made me regret this more than usual. It is a brilliant novel, sharing something of the tone and setting of Jed Mercurio’s Ascent and making equally few consessions to the reader. It was also eligible but not submitted for the Arthur C Clarke Award the year it had an all male shortlist. The problems with the genre science fiction market for women over the last decade have been much remarked upon but what is interesting is that over the same period the literary and children’s markets offer a counterfactual in which high quality science fiction is regularly published by women. The pendulum is starting to swing back but it is an important reminder of th eneed to look beyond our doorstep.
1) Sarah Webb
2) Mandie Manzano
3) No Award
4) Spring Schoenhuth
5) Brad W. Foster
6) Steve Stiles
1) Julie Dillon
2) Fiona Staples
3) John Harris
4) No Award
5) Galen Dara
6) John Picacio
7) Daniel Dos Santos
Best Graphic Story
1) Saga, Volume 2 written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
2) “Time” by Randall Munroe (XKCD)
3) No Award
4) The Meathouse Man adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Raya Golden (Jet City Comics)
5) Girl Genius, Volume 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
6) “The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who” written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Jimmy Broxton (Doctor Who Special 2013, IDW)
On balance, probably more interesting than the fiction categories.