It’s been a while since I’ve offered odds on the Arthur C Clarke Award (and what a good shortlist that was) but today seem like a good opportunity to start again.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie – 1/2
The Machine by James Smythe – 2/1
God’s War by Kameron Hurley – 3/1
The Adjacent by Christopher Priest – 6/1
Nexus by Ramez Naam – 12/1
The Disestablishment Of Paradise by Phillip Mann – 12/1
I should have written about ‘Spin’ by Nina Allan for the BSFA Award short story club by now but I moved house a couple of weeks ago and my copy is packed in a box somewhere. So I’ll be waiting for the awards booklet to be send out to BSFA members before continuing. I used the pause to have a look at the recently announced short story shortlist for the Nebula Awards (all available online) to see if it had any likely contenders for my Hugo ballot. The short answer is no.
This is not to say it is all bad but whilst there are two very good stories on the list, they are no use to me. The first is ‘Selkie Stories Are For Losers’ by Sophia Samatar which I’ve already written about. The second is ‘If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love’ by Rachel Swirsky which contains no speculative elements whatsoever.
Next we have two examples of RUMIR that awards should weed out but instead tend to elevate. ‘Selected Program Notes From The Retrospective Exhibition Of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer’ by Kenneth Schneyer is a slipstream story told through the medium of the title, a frame that exists solely to conceal the fact the doesn’t get any further than feeling very slightly strange. Meanwhile ‘The Sounds Of Old Earth’ sees Matthew Kressel pretending to be Mike Resnick by writing about a dude who neglects his family because of nostalgia but gets a hug in the end.
Finally, there is ‘Alive, Alive Oh’ by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley. This is less a story than a scientific experiment to see how much much contrivance and sentimentality can be crammed into 3,000 words as possible. “Sad and beautiful”, say the comments; “devastating and brilliant”. It is a pile of shite of ‘That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made’ proportions (though not actively offensive in the same way). It is a problem for SF that stories like this regularly get through the slush, the fact they make it on to award shortlists is a travesty.
Oh well, I’m sure the Hugo shortlist will be better…
Best. Semi. Pro. Zine. Just typing it causes me pain. Of all the made up categories, this is the most made up. This places is me in a bit of a quandary because Strange Horizons (which is eligible in the category) is the centre of my SF universe and I’d love to see it recognised. I also think it has a pretty good shot this year since despite being a notionally American magazine, it is very international in content and outlook. But come on! Semi-fucking-prozine! I’ll vote but I sure as hell won’t encourage this idiocy by nominating.
March 2014 is the 25th anniversary of the murder of Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks. I watched the series for the first time last year and it is a gloriously odd. Not just odd in the way we might describe a work as Lynchian these days but often straight up baffling and sometimes simply bad. That goes double for Fire Walk With Me. But when it works, it really works. So I thought I would share my favourite scene from the series, one of the most unexpectedly powerful bits of television I can remember:
The score for Twin Peaks was composed by Angelo Badalamenti and has proved as enduring as the television series itself. This includes ‘Laura’s Theme’ which was a part of my life long before I’d even heard of Lynch via Moby:
Badalamenti describes composing the theme with Lynch at the beginning of this extraordinary Essential Mix by Nicolas Jaar:
(That mix truly is essential, make sure you download it.)
The paradoxes of being a heavy reader is that you don’t really like to receive books as gifts. “Oh, a book! Wonderful! I’ll pencil that in for 2018…” But, of course, a book is never unwelcome. My wife got me The Breakfast Bible by Seb Emina and Malcolm Eggs (of the London Review Of Breakfasts) for Christmas and I’ve been reading it in bite-sized chunks since then. I have learnt many things along the say but the most important is that to make a perfect soft boiled egg, all you need to do is place a large room-temperature egg into simmering water and then put on ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Kate Bush:
When the song is finished so is the egg.
Everyone thinks the Hugos need fixing but everyone has different solution. For example, the G at Nerds Of A Feather suggests in ‘A Modest Proposal For Hugo Reform’ that the number of categories need to be expanded. As I say in the comments, I think the opposite: that number of categories need to be reduced to concentrate on the things the voters know well. The corollary to this is that I think better use should be made of the Best Related category to cover everything the other categories exclude.
The wording of the category is: “The best work related to the field of science fiction, fantasy, or fandom, published in the prior calendar year and which is either non-fiction or noteworthy primarily for aspects other than the fictional text.” That is pretty broad as – in addition, to non-fiction – there are lots of things that are neither fiction or non-fiction. In practice, though, the award is dominated by criticism, biography and writing about writing with the occasional art book thrown in for good measure. So my list of nominations is a deliberate attempt to push the boundaries of the definition.
But just before that, two quick points on exclusions. Discussing Best Editor: Short Form, I said that collections and anthologies were eligible for this category. This is incorrect and was based on a misleading description of the category (from the Nerds Of A Feather post linked above, in fact). I would still like it to be true but there is no way to stretch the actual definition that far so I’ve not included any this time. Discussing Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form, I said that it should really be Best Film. If that ever came to pass then I’d nominate computer games here; since it hasn’t yet, my nomination for Tomb Raider goes where it is most likely to attract other nominations.
1) Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers Of Space by Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman
Popular science book for children in which Dr Walliman’s tour of the solar system is accompanied by Newman’s lovely Soviet-influenced illustrations (all the rage in SF art at the minute). It is simultaneously educational, inspiring and beautiful. If you truly want to install a sense of wonder in your kids, buy them this.
2) Les Revenants by Mogwai
Soundtrack to the French television series by the Scottish post-rock stalwarts. A more sombre affair than their own albums, chilly, coiled and gently menacing. Fuck filk. (By the way, this year’s Rave Tapes is even better.)
3) Speculative Fiction 2012, edited by Justin Landon and Jared Shurin
Collection of the best of internet criticism compiled by one of my Best Fan Writer nominations and some other guy. I don’t own the book but I’ve read the individual pieces. This vote, however, is for the enterprise itself. The baton has now been passed to Ana Grilo and Thea James, the perfect pair of, er, pair of hands.
4) Red Doc> by Anne Carson
take the entirety of the
common sense of humans
and put it in the palm of
your hand and still have
room for your dick.
A mix of poetry, drama and narrative that holds the unique distinction of being shortlisted for both the Kitschies and the TS Elliot Award. It is a painfully grounded fantasy that manages to be instantly welcoming and accessible whilst retaining layer after layer of depth. (Niall Harrison will tell you that this book belongs in the Best Novella category as it is a science fiction or fantasy story of between 17,500 and 40,000 words. Don’t believe his lies.)
5) Sky Arts Ignition: Memory Palace
Exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in which a Hari Kunzi story is matched with twenty works from designers and illustrators (that is Mario Wagner above). If you missed it, a book is available. Here is Lila Garrott’s review for Strange Horizons.
What these nominations all have in common is that they are substantial, discrete pieces of work that are not eligible for any other category. Some people are taking it even further than that and I’ve seen a couple of nominations for individual blog posts such as ‘We Have Always Fought’ (which, incidentally, is being collected in Speculative Fiction 2013). This doesn’t seem quite right to me – it just about works in the BSFA Non-Fiction Award but only just and it is much narrower in scope. Equally, whilst I will be nominating a Janelle Monáe video in Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form, I’m not convinced you can brigade the album and its video into a single Best Related nomination. But more power to them. Just because it isn’t how I see the award, doesn’t mean I want to set up a needlessly complicated definition. This urge to cover and control everything is part of the problem behind several of the current categories when Best Related offers a wonderful opportunity to be unconstrained.
At the risk of repeating myself, I am in favour if giving awards to things that do exist (for example, novels and short stories) and against giving awards for things that don’t exist (for example, novelettes and semiprozines). The best dramatic presentation categories, however, are even worse than nonexistant. Here we have a made-up term for a collection of non-comparable things that have perfectly good names, arbitarily divided by length. To all intents and purposes, Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form is the Best Film category. A film has won every year since the award was created except for 2012 and 52 out of 55 nominees were films. The award definition might talk grandly of “a dramatized production in any medium, including film, television, radio, live theater, computer games or music” but this is obviously bollocks. why not simply reflect the reality by calling it what it is?
The lone non-film winner was the first season of Game Of Thrones because ludicrously episodes of a television series can be nominated in Short Form and the series itself can be nominated in Long Form. The picture with Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form itself is less stark but still overwhelming: a TV episode has won every year except for 2004 and 2009 and 47 out of 55 nominees were TV episodes. Even these two exceptions did not provide good evidence for keeping the criteria open; both ‘Gollum’s Acceptance Speech’ and ‘Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog’ were essentially bonus prizes to well-established and rewarded fandoms.
This year, one of my film nominations is eligible for both Long Form and Short Form because it is 96 minutes long which falls within the 90 minutes, plus or minus 10%, boundary. Obviously I’m not going to nominate it in Short Form but I shouldn’t really have the option. However, since the category is currently open to all ‘dramatic presentations’, I am including one non-film nominee (and will include one non-television nominee for Short Form). But hopefully in the future I won’t have that option either.
1) Upstream Color – I remember very clearly the unexpected mindfuck of watching Shane Carruth’s Primer at the Sci-Fi London film festival, stumbling out into Soho dazed. Terrifyingly, that was a decade ago and it is only now that Carruth has followed up his debut feature. It would be a cliche to say it was worth the wait – a cliche Carruth would probably balk at given his abortive attempts to make other films – but it is a remarkable film, made even more so by extent of the maker’s endevour (Carruth wrote, directed, shot, scored and edited the film as well as playing the lead) It has the beauty of Terrance Malick’s late films with an added intellectual and imaginative heft. It is, in other words, the sort of film that has no chance of getting on the shortlist of the Hugos. Go and watch it immediately and then read Abigail Nussbaum’s four thoughts (a good example of why she should be nominated for Best Fan Writer).
2) Tomb Raider – I first heard of this as ‘the game where Lara gets raped’ which is a pretty good example of the internet’s tendency to work itself up into a froth on the basis of imperfect information. In fact, the latest installment of the series, written by Rhianna Pratchett, is pretty much the opposite. Here is Liz Bourke’s review but the best and most concise description comes from Renay: “escape from Patriarchy Island”. It is also a wonderfully balanced, intuitive and immersive game (exactly the opposite of Bioshock Infinite which a few wrongheads have suggested nominating).
3) Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 – Monster’s Inc is not just a great film but also an extremely original science fiction film. So it was a huge disappointment that the sequel was simply a mildly amusing campus comedy. In contrast, Meatballs 2 is gonzo SF that takes its insane premise – the ability to make it rain food – and runs wild with it. A perfect example of the freedom that exists within children’s animation to produce films that would be considered avant garde in adult Hollywood. Writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are also responsible for The Lego Movie so I’ve got to see that soon. [Edit: Apologies to Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn who actually directed this film - Lord and Miller did the first one.]
4) A Field In England – In short order, Ben Wheatley has established himself as the most exciting director in Britain. His signature is to play with genres and here we have a collision of English civil war, passion play, John Dee occultism and psychedelic trip. It is all satisfyingly odd, if unmistakably a side project. This year he is adapting JG Ballard’s High Rise, which is very exciting, and directing a couple of episodes of Doctor Who, which is deeply conflicting.
5) Byzantium – Do we really need another vampire film? Probably not. But if we have to have them, I’d like more like this. Neil Jordan builds his film around two wonderful performances from Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan as young mother and teenage daughter, locked in that relationship for eternity. Sadly, it is two thirds character study to one third vampire schlock but it is hard not to cheer at the hearty ‘fuck you, vampire patriarchy’ of otherwise silly plot.
I would have liked to post my Short Form nominations at the same time as these but I haven’t found the time for my telly watching yet. Since the point of publicly posting my nominations is to encourage others with voting rights to seek them out, I thought I better just crack on with these ones. Do check them out, if they sound interesting.