Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Hugo Voting – Fiction

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When I posted my votes for the Hugo short fiction categories yesterday, it generated a bit of chat on Twitter suggesting that I was wrong to rank works below No Award. This is the view set out in a Weasel King post that got a lot of coverage but is less clear than it might be on the fact there are two different voting philosophies when using Instant run-off voting.

The first is that you only vote for what you want to win. This is the purist’s philosophy. Under these circumstances, it makes no sense to vote for anything below No Award as they are all equally lacking in merit. In addition, if you only partially complete your ballot, it might have unintended consequences. This is what the body of the Weasel King’s post addresses.

The second is that you rank everything on the ballot from most want to win to least want to win. This is the realist’s philosophy. Under these circumstances, No Award is simply one preference in your hierachy of preferences and it is completely valid to rank those underneath. The Weasel King only belatedly acknowledges this in the comment.

I think it is important to use No Award because we need to be honest with ourselves that no, most of the nominated stories don’t deserve. But this is a symbolic protest; No Award is never going to ‘win’ the category. Under the purist’s philosophy, that would be the end of my involvement in the awards. Fair enough but, since it is unlikely, why engage with the Hugos in the first place? The reason I subscribe to the realist philosophy is that I’ve gone to the trouble of engaging with the awards and reading the shortlists so want to be able to say most of these stories aren’t award worthy but even within these, some are better than others.

So that is the basis on which I’m voting. Here are my votes for all the fiction categories with some adjustments to the ranking of No Award (on the grounds that if I’m making a symbolic protest, I might as well make it as loudly as possible) and asterisks indicating works I feel are ineligible.

Best Novel

1) No Award
2) Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit US / Orbit UK)
3) Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross (Ace / Orbit UK)
4) Parasite by Mira Grant (Orbit US / Orbit UK)
5) Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia (Baen Books)
6) The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books / Orbit UK) *

Best Novella

1) No Award
2) “Equoid” by Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)
3) The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells (Privateer Press)
4) “The Chaplain’s Legacy” by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)
5) “Wakulla Springs” by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages (Tor.com, 10-2013) *

Best Novelette

1) No Award
2) “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” by Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2013)
3) “The Waiting Stars” by Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam)
4) “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com / Tor.com, 09-2013)
5) “Opera Vita Aeterna” by Vox Day (The Last Witchking, Marcher Lord Hinterlands)
6) “The Exchange Officers” by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jan-Feb 2013)

Best Short Story

1) “Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)
2) No Award
2) “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)
3) “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com, 04-2013)
5) “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine, Mar-2013) *

Written by Martin

24 July 2014 at 08:14

Posted in awards, books, sf, short stories

Tagged with

Hugo Voting – Short Fiction

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Here is what I nominated. Here is what I’m voting for:

Best Novella

1) “Equoid” by Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)
2) No Award
3) The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells (Privateer Press)
4) “The Chaplain’s Legacy” by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)
5) “Wakulla Springs” by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages (Tor.com, 10-2013)

Obviously ‘Wakulla Springs is better than either of the two stories above it (indeed, the Torgersen is one of the worst stories I’ve ever read) but I don’t see how it is eligible for an SF award. Equally, I’m sure ‘Six-Gun Snow White’ by Catherynne M. Valente is both better and eligible but Subterranean Press have supplied it as a PDF so I’ve not read it. And, to be honest, I almost put No Award first since moederately fun as the Stross is, it is hardly award worthy.

Best Novellete

1) “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” by Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2013)
2) “The Waiting Stars” by Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam)
3) No Award
4) “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com / Tor.com, 09-2013)
5) “Opera Vita Aeterna” by Vox Day (The Last Witchking, Marcher Lord Hinterlands)
6) “The Exchange Officers” by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jan-Feb 2013)

All read and all eligible but really, I don’t want to vote for any of them. But Chiang’s weakest story is still a Chiang story.

Best Short Story

1) “Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)
2) “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)
3) “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com, 04-2013)
4) No Award
5) “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine, Mar-2013)

As with the Duncan and Klages story, I’m not sure why the Swirsky is eligible for an SF award. The Samatar is the only story on the entire ballot that I think is actually award worthy. However, whilst I don’t particularly like either of the Tor.com stories, at least they are RUMIR and have their heart in the right place.

In a word: depressing.

Written by Martin

23 July 2014 at 20:42

Posted in awards, sf, short stories

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BSFA Review – Vector #276

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Like many of the people reading this, I own hundreds of books I haven’t read. It seems likely that I will die with some of these books unread – and I’m not planning to die for quite a while. However, as you may remember, I recently moved house so the majority of my library is still entombed in boxes. This means that when I fail to keep myself sufficiently supplied with new fiction, I am reliant on the lottery of the charity shop pile containing books rejected by our reviewers. Such was the predicament I found myself in last month.

It didn’t help that the book I had just finished was Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer, a thrillingly cryptic reincarnation of New Wave SF with a thoroughly modern sensibility. You need something decent after a book like that. So my eye was drawn to his quote on the back cover of The Barrow by Mark Smylie. In hindsight, the warning signs where all there. For starters, Vandermeer’s praise – “this fresh take on highly recommended heroic fantasy” – doesn’t even make sense. Then there is the usual fat fantasy cholesterol: it is 700 pages long, preceded by half a dozen maps and rounded out with two epilogues and a glossary. But the real problem, as soon becomes evident, is that Smylie writes comics for a living and hasn’t quite figured out the transition to prose. This means that when he introduces characters, he is thinking not of his reader but of his illustrator.

Here he is introducing the first character in the novel: “He was dressed in a dark brown high-collared long coat of stiff leather, tight blue-black cloth breeches, and black leather boots, all splattered with mud and dirt… A point dagger and heavy-bladed falchion were strapped to his side by a broad black leather baldric.” And the next one: “His fine travel coat and breeches were woven of good dark wool with silk trim…” The clomping foot of nerdism is alive and well; no wonder the book is so bloody long.

I do wonder if its relative brevity is part of the appeal to adults of teen orientated fiction. So the next book I plucked off the shelf was Arclight by Josin L McQuein from Egmont’s new Young Adult imprint, Electric Monkey. It has an enjoyably prickly female protagonist and a weirder setting than the zombie apocalypse it initially resembles but it also has this:

“Move, or I’ll move you.” Tobin shifts his position for better leverage.
Desperation and lack of ideas make me stupid. I grab Tobin’s face with both hands, close my eyes, and kiss him on the mouth.

It is astonishing that such a laughable and regressive cliché can be published in 2014. It killed the book for me – I don’t want to read this rubbish and I don’t want another generation to be taught that female sexuality is a tool for averting male violence. Another of Electric Monkey’s launch titles, Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall, will be reviewed in the next issue and sounds a hell of a lot better.

At this point, I moved to my son’s shelves and from books notionally written for children to books actually written for children. The first of these was an intriguing small press book, London Deep by Robin Price and Paul McGrory, where each page is split equally between prose and illustration with the narrative flipping seamlessly between the two mediums. It is an interesting concept and the stylised black and white art by McGrory is effective. Unfortunately this is not matched by Price’s writing which marries perhaps the most preposterous plot I’ve ever read with relentlessly clumsy prose. I had to stop after a dozen pages.

In contrast, I read dozens and dozens of pages of Zita The Space Girl, Beth Hatke’s SF graphic novel for kids, and could presumably have gone on doing so indefinitely since absolutely nothing happened. In despair, I turned to my local Oxfam where I found a copy of Stonemouth by the late, great Iain Banks for a quid. I overpaid: it is the latest and last iteration of a story he’s told before and told better, a book that makes you gag on its nostalgia. Oh, Banksy.

Luckily, at that point The Method by Juli Zeh – which I longed for in my editorial for Vector #274 – finally dropped through my letterbox. It was every bit as wonderful as I’d hoped.

Reviews

  • We See A Different Frontier, edited by Fabio Fernandes and Djibril al-Ayad (Futurefire.net Publishing, 2013) and Mothership: Tales From Afrofuturism And Beyond, edited by Bill Campbell and Edward Austin Hall (Rosarium Publising, 2013) – Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller
  • Sunshine Patriots by Bill Campbell (Rosarium Publishing, 2013) – Reviewed by Shaun Green
  • Your Brother’s Blood by David Towsey (Jo Fletcher Books, 2013) – Reviewed by Mark Connorton
  • Looking Landwards, edited by Ian Whates (Newcon Press, 2013) – Reviewed by Paul Graham Raven
  • Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit, 2013) – Reviewed by Niall Harrison
  • The Lego Movie (2014) – Reviewed by Leimar Garcia-Siino
  • Ender’s Game And Philosophy: The Logic Gate Is Down, edited by Kevin S. Decker (John Wiley & Sons, 2013) – Reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
  • A Brief Guide To CS Lewis: From Mere Christianity To Narnia by Paul Simpson (Robinson, 2013) – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
  • Proxima by Stephen Baxter and On A Steel Breeze by Alistair Reynolds (Gollancz, 2013) – Reviewed by Martin McGrath
  • The Age Of Scorpio by Gavin Smith (Gollancz, 2013) – Reviewed by Stuart Carter
  • Plastic by Christopher Fowler (Solaris, 2013) – Reviewed by Graham Andrews
  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Tor, 2014) – Reviewed by Mark Connorton
  • The Many-Coloured Land by Julian May (Tor, 2013) – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
  • The City by Stella Gemmell (Corgi, 2013) – Reviewed by Liz Bourke
  • Naomi’s Room and The Silence of Ghosts by Jonathan Aycliffe (Corsair, 2013) – Review by Gary Dalkin
  • Dreams And Shadows by C Robert Cargill (Gollancz, 2013) – Reviewed by Donna Scott
  • The Winter Witch by Paula Brackston (Thomas Dunne Books, 2013) – Reviewed by Alan Fraser
  • Legends, edited by Ian Whates (Newcon Press, 2013) – Reviewed by Tony Jones
  • End Of The Road, edited by Jonathan Oliver (Solaris, 2013) – Reviewed by Donna Scott
  • A Gentle Flow of Ink by Graham Andrews (FeedARead Publishing, 2013) – Reviewed by Kate Onyett
  • How To Be Dead by Dave Turner (Aim For The Head Books, 2013) – Reviewed by Kate Onyett

Written by Martin

14 July 2014 at 21:08

Posted in sf

Tagged with , ,

Coshed

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I just downloaded the 1939 Retro Hugo voter package which means I now have two unread packages to read before voting closes at the end of the month. It’s gonna be tight. Once I finish that, I’ve got two whole weeks to complete my next tranche of homework: preparing for my panels.

Big Anthologies: Bookends or Benchmarks? (Friday 16:30 – 18:00)

There’s a genre tradition of doorstop-sized anthologies that attempt to synopsise a period or style: Ascent of Wonder, The Weird, Twenty-First Century Science Fiction, and others. What makes these anthologies successful, or not? Does ‘success’ mean summarising a past conversation, or influencing the conversation that’s still going on? Or are they always and inevitably doomed enterprises? Is it possible to TOC an age, or a genre? Or are these sorts of anthologies in fact arguments, rather than snapshots?

  • Jo Walton (M)
  • Ellen Datlow
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Jeff VanderMeer

YA on the Big Screen (Saturday 15:00 – 16:30)

The YA publishing boom has been accompanied by a boom in film adaptations, but while some have seen commercial success others have stalled. What does it take to transition from book to film? Are there any special considerations when working with a young adult story? Modern YA is a genre with distinctive tropes — how are these being transferred to the screen? How is “classic” YA adapted in that context? Is this to the original story’s benefit or detriment? Which YA books have successfully made the transition–for good or ill? What stories would make great films, but haven’t yet been done?

  • Carrie Vaughn (M)
  • Amy H. Sturgis
  • Erin M. Underwood
  • Thea James

Just Three Cornettos (Saturday 16:30 – 18:00)

The Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Edgar Wright “Cornetto trilogy” concluded last year with The World’s End, following Sean of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. What is the trilogy’s place in British SF? The panel will discuss why the films’ endings are so unconventional, what the trilogy had to say about topics such as society and consumerism, masculinity and maturity, and the British landscape … And they’ll decide which fence gag is best.

  • Nick Hubble (M)
  • Paul Cornell
  • Rachael Acks
  • Philippa Chapman

Dropping The M (Monday 11:00 – 12:00)

We customarily divide the work of Iain (M) Banks into his sf and his mimetic fiction, but much of the mimetic fiction slips and slides into the fantastic. What if we threw this division out: what other ways of understanding his work can we find? Macro and micro fictions, fictions of family and of friendship, fictions of thinning and fictions of recovery?

  • Farah Mendlesohn (M)
  • Jude Roberts
  • Tony Keen
  • Anna Feruglio Dal Dan

Written by Martin

2 July 2014 at 19:47

Posted in sf

Tagged with

For Tomorrow

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David Hebblethwaite says “contemporary sf published in the UK is punching well below its weight”. He is right.

I’m excited to see authors like Eleanor Catton (who, to my mind, is squarely at the cutting edge of English-language fiction) and Eimear McBride emerging in the mainstream – and especially to see them winning and being shortlisted for multiple awards. But, when I look at genre sf published in the UK, I simply can’t see that they have equivalents emerging. I wish I could. All in all, though, my reading is showing me that sf has a lot of catching up to do.

Nina Allan says there is “a serious problem with the way the larger publishing imprints view SF in the current market”. She is right.

With M. John Harrison, Christopher Priest, Adam Roberts, Ian McDonald and Simon Ings on their roster, Gollancz still surely boasts some of the finest writers in the business. But we’d do well to remember that authors with decades-long careers behind them will always constitute less of a financial risk for the publisher. When it comes to new blood – where the risk lies, in other words – aside from Hannu Rajaniemi I couldn’t think of one new-generation writer Gollancz publish who is actively innovative, who comes anywhere even close to doing what Delany was doing in 1971. That was a scary, scary thought. And if Gollancz, with their venerable back catalogue of masterworks and estimable track record in promoting fresh talent, isn’t actively seeking out newer writers who want to do more than write commercial core genre, who the hell is?

I don’t have anything to add to these two posts – although I have in the past – but I’m glad that David and Nina are making these points.

Written by Martin

6 June 2014 at 13:23

Posted in genre wars, sf

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I’m In Love With Your Brother

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‘Pass This On’ by Dan Sartain – my tune of the month. Admittedly the month in question was April but hey, it’s out now. The video might not be a patch on the original but it has a disgracefully low number of views. So I thought I’d post it here.

Written by Martin

15 May 2014 at 07:12

Posted in music

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50

with 2 comments

My review of Burial At Sea is up now at Strange Horizons.

Astonishingly, it is my fiftieth review for them. To celebrate, I wanted to do something different so I’ve written my first ever review of a computer game. In a way, Burial At Sea is a bizarre choice: the sequel to a game I didn’t like and the prequel to a game I haven’t played. I’m glad I picked it though, both because I enjoyed writing about the game and because it partially redeemed the hours I put into completing Bioshock Infinite.

In other words, Episode 2 raises the gameplay bar considerably but only as high as a solid B. Grading the narrative proves harder because if Episode 1 is the epilogue to Bioshock Infinite then Episode 2 is the prologue to Bioshock. Given I was lost when the story was self-contained, I had no chance when the head of this mega-text looped round to swallow its own tail. So, if you have followed the series from the beginning, I imagine Episode 2 is as satisfying a coda as its creator has claimed. If, like me, you are a late arrival then it only offers a frustrating glimpse into an alternative dimension, one where Bioshock Infinite actually lived up to the praise lavished on it.

I also thought I’d take the opportunity to look back at the last nine years I’ve been writing for Strange Horizons. As I’ve said before, I was motivated to start reviewing by the poor quality of online reviews. I knew I was better at writing about books than other people being published. When I started writing for Strange Horizons, I soon realised that wasn’t enough. I needed to up my game, both for myself and for the magazine, and become a good reviewer in my own right. I’ve now achieved this so, in recent years, I’ve used Strange Horizons as a platform to keep stretching myself.

2005 – 2006: Change

At this point I had been reviewing for four years but I was still very much finding my feet as I moved away from my then preferred length of 500 words towards the greater depth and breadth of essay length-reviews. You can already see a substantial change between the first and the last of these but I’m not really sure I could recommend reading any of them.

1) Nova Scotia: New Speculative Scottish Fiction edited by Neil Williamson and Andrew J. Wilson (Strange Horizons: November 2005)
2) The Clock-King and the Queen of the Hourglass by Vera Nazarian (Strange Horizons: January 2006)
3) Life On Mars 1.1 – 1.3 (Strange Horizons: February 2006)
4) A Darkling Plain by Philip Reeve (Strange Horizons: May 2006)

2007-2010: Consolidation

After an eight month gap, I knuckled down and turned out almost a review a month for 2007 and 2008 before slowing down and stabilising. Practice makes perfect and this is really where I learnt my trade (under the gentle whip-hand of then reviews editor Niall Harrison). Looking back, I’m pleased that there is a good mix of novels, films, short fiction, television and non-fiction here and this was definitely helpful in terms of developing as a writer. I am fond of a lot of these reviews and I’d describe some of them as very good but there are also others I’d revisit. Some particular milestones: my first multi-text review (The Nines, Southland Tales and Doomsday), (The Red Men) and what was for a long time the most commented upon review on the site (Night Of Villjamur).

5) The Fountain (2006) (Strange Horizons: February 2007)
6) Black Man by Richard Morgan (Strange Horizons: April 2007)
7) 28 Weeks Later (2007) (Strange Horizons: June 2007)
8) The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds (Strange Horizons: June 2007)
9) Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch (Strange Horizons: August 2007)
10) Spaceman Blues by Brian Francis Slattery (Strange Horizons: October 2007)
11) The Red Men by Matthew de Abaitua (Strange Horizons: January 2008)
12) The SFWA European Hall of Fame, edited by James Morrow and Kathryn Morrow (Strange Horizons: February 2008)
13) Black Sheep by Ben Peek (Strange Horizons: March 2008)
14) What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction by Paul Kincaid (Strange Horizons: May 2008)
15) The Nines (2007), Southland Tales (2006) and Doomsday (2008) (Strange Horizons: June 2008)
16) Lost Boys by James Miller (Strange Horizons: July 2008)
17) Everything Is Sinister by David Llewellyn and The Heritage by Will Ashon (Strange Horizons: August 2008)
18) Anathem by Neal Stephenson (Strange Horizons: September 2008)
19) The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Strange Horizons: November 2008)
20) Dead Set (Strange Horizons: December 2008)
21) The Chronicles Of The Black Company by Glen Cook (Strange Horizons: January 2009)
22) Subtle Edens, edited by Allen Ashley (Strange Horizons: February 2009)
23) Lost In Space by Toby Litt (Strange Horizons: March 2009)
24) A Thread of Truth by Nina Allan (Strange Horizons: May 2009)
25) Nights Of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton (Strange Horizons: June 2009)
26) God Of Clocks by Alan Campbell (Strange Horizons: July 2009)
27) Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui and Paprika (2006) (Strange Horizons: July 2009)
28) The Ask And The Answer by Patrick Ness (Strange Horizons: August 2009)
29) The Lord of the Sands of Time by Issui Ogawa and All You Need Is KILL by Hiroshi Sakurazaka (Strange Horizons: September 2009)
30) Fifty Key Figures in Science Fiction, edited by Mark Bould, Andrew M Butler, Adam Roberts and Sherryl Vint (Strange Horizons: October 2009)
31) The Year Of The Flood by Margaret Atwood and The Rapture by Liz Jensen (Strange Horizons: January 2010)
32) Kick-Ass (2010) (Strange Horizons: April 2010)
33) Monsters Of Men by Patrick Ness (Strange Horizons: June 2010)
34) Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010) (Strange Horizons: September 2010)

2011-2014: Confidence

Another long gap (during which time I concentrated on reviewing older novels for this blog). When I returned to Strange Horizons, my focus was less on developing my criticism than on my style. A lot of SF novels are outright crap but an even bigger chunk are simply unambitious and make no attempt to engage with the possibilities of literature, particularly with respect to style. That goes double for reviews of SF so I wanted to practice what I preached. I’m pretty pleased with the results and I think you can particularly see this from 2012 onwards.

35) Source Code (2011) (Strange Horizons: April 2011)
36) Twilight Robbery by Frances Hardinge (Strange Horizons: June 2011)
37) In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood (Strange Horizons: October 2011)
38) Blood Red Road by Moira Young (Strange Horizons: February 2012)
39) Artemis by Philip Palmer (Strange Horizons: April 2012)
40) Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway (Strange Horizons: May 2012)
41) Osiris by EJ Swift (Strange Horizons: October 2012)
42) The City’s Son by Tom Pollock (Strange Horizons: January 2013)
43) Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels, 1985-2010 by Damien Broderick and Paul Di Filippo (Strange Horizons: March 2013)
44) No Return by Zachary Jernigan (Strange Horizons: May 2013)
45) Sea Of Ghosts by Alan Campbell (Strange Horizons: August 2013)
46) Dark Waters Of Hagwood by Robin Jarvis (Strange Horizons: September 2013)
47) Drakenfeld by Mark Charan Newton (Strange Horizons: January 2014)
48) Wolves by Simon Ings (Strange Horizons: February 2014)
49) Astra by Naomi Foyle (Strange Horizons: March 2014)

So what next? Another nine years of writing for them, I hope. But I also want to write more away from Strange Horizons. Firstly, having spent years writing 2,000 word reviews, I find myself missing 500 word reviews. The space the internet allows to talk about texts is a huge boon but sometimes a bit of constraint can also be productive. I very much enjoyed writing 500 word reviews for Vector before I took over as reviews editor and it is a form I’m increasingly thinking of returning to. Secondly, I’ve long though a reading diet that consists solely of SF is stunting but that is exactly what has happened with my reviews. Whilst I read a wide range of literature, I only review SF so I’m going to make an effort to actually achieve the last of these resolutions.

Written by Martin

2 May 2014 at 07:25

Posted in books, criticism

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