Everything Is Nice

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

BSFA Review – Vector #280

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You are about to read a dirty word but please don’t turn the page, I promise it is only a passing reference. So, the Hugos… wasn’t that a great shortlist for Best Graphic Story? Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, The Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate and three Image titles: Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass And Sorcery, Saga Volume 3 and Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick. After years of being an embarrassment, Best Graphic Story is now the least embarrassing shortlist on the ballot.

Whilst I was waiting for Image to release the second collected volume of Sex Criminals, I came across another one of their titles in a local charity shop. As it were. If Sex Criminals is an attention grabbing name, Sex: Summer Of Hard is about as subtle as an erect penis waggling in your face. However, the nakedness of its name does not immediately live up to expectations. Instead we have the first volume of a comic that appears to be asking the question, what would happen if Bruce Wayne hung up his cowl?

Simon Cooke is a 35 year old billionaire playboy. Up until seven months ago, he was also the Armored Saint. As is traditional, this superhero alter-ego was motivated not by inequality or poverty but rather the “complete and utter decadence” of the city. Did I mention that he is blond?

Having promised his Alfred figure that he will quit his night job, Cooke returns to Saturn City in order to begin running the family business. As you can imagine, the hard-working professionals who actually run the global company are thrilled. After a hard day doing nothing, Cooke decides to unwind by heading to an exclusive brothel. One which just happens to be owned by one of his ex-nemeses, Annabelle Lagravenese AKA supervillian Shadow Lynx AKA his ultimate unrequited crush. She is as incredulous as the reader:

Guess I’ll just have to take your word for it that you’re not here on some sort of bizarre reconnaissance mission…
Of course, that opens up an even more interesting possibility…
…your curious, aren’t you?
Not that I blame you. The way you were living, it stands to reason that once you hung up the helmet, the psychological floodgates would open up, big time…

Battle through all that highlighter pen – heavy handily and repetitively used throughout the book’s dialogue to convey emphasis – and you find that the comic is really answering another question: what if Bruce Wayne was a virgin?

It is certainly a novel premise but not exactly one the world has been calling out for. “Do you know how many times I’ve played drunk?” Cooke says to his lawyer at one point. The implication that he’s being playing the playboy seems to extend to the Playboy models seen on his arm. His lawyer encourages him to live the life for real: “Imagine if Tinto Brass made a film about Saturn City.” This drinking binge climaxes in a bizarre scene in which the wasted pair suddenly become irresistible to women. Of course they do.

Alongside this we get a lurid, conventional superhero story starring Cooke’s Robin figure, Keenan, who has now taken up the mantle. This comes complete with grotesque geriatric kingpin, one minute having sex with a prostitute and shooting her in the back of the head at the point of orgasm, the next pulling all a man’s teeth out and having him raped by a Pulp Fiction-style gimp. “The kind of stuff we used to get from Preacher,” notes a cover. This is intended as praise but instead is true in the sense it is primitive, adolescent schlock. As so often happens with comics, the conservative is presented as the subversive.

When Sex isn’t being offensive, it is being silly or just dull. It lacks all of the wit and subtly of its near namesake Sex Criminals. Which is a shame because superhero suppression is clearly fertile territory in which to sow a psychodrama but Joe Casey’s writing buries this potential and Piotr Kowalski’s newspaper strip-style artwork tramps down the soil. Instead we get Frank Miller’s take on Eyes Wide Shut which is every bit as unappealing as it sounds.

I’m surprised the Puppies didn’t nominate it for a Hugo.

Reviews

  • Stay by John Clute (Beccon Press, 2014) – Reviewed by Paul Graham Raven

  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Sceptre, 2014) – Reviewed by Anthony Nanson

  • The Best British Fantasy 2014, edited by Steve Haynes (Salt Publishing, 2014) and Year’s Best Weird Fiction: Volume One, edited by Laird Barron and Michael Kelly (Undertow Publications, 2014) – Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite

  • The Way Inn by Will Wiles (Fourth Estate, 2015) – Review by Gary Dalkin
  • The Peripheral by William Gibson (Viking, 2014) – Reviewed by Kerry Dodd
  • Langue[dot]doc 1305 by Gillian Polack (Satalye Publishing, 2014) – Reviewed by Shana Worthen
  • Saint Rebor by Adam Roberts (NewCon Press, 2015) – Reviewed by Ian Watson
  • The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord (Jo Fletcher Books, 2014) – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
  • The Grasshopper’s Child by Gwyneth Jones (TJoy Books UK, 2014) – Review by Ian Sales
  • The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman (Tor UK, 2015) – Reviewed by Cherith Baldry

  • Folk’d by Laurence Donaghy (Blackstaff Press, 2013) – Reviewed by Susan Oke

  • The Good Shabti by Robert Sharp (Jurassic London, 2015) – Review by Gary Dalkin

Written by Martin

1 July 2015 at 17:01

Posted in sf

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Hugo Voting – Best Artist

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As a break from writing, the art categories. Let’s start with Best Fan Artist since it is traditionally the worst category in the Hugos and even in the era of the Puppies when it has stiff competition, it is still pretty fucking bad.

1) Elizabeth Leggett – I hate the fan/pro distinction and think it should be abolished. I’m not clear why Leggett is a fan rather than a pro but regardless, she is the only artist in the category.
2) No Award
3) Spring Schoenhuth – A Finding Nemo/Dr Who mash-up and some average jewellery.

4) Steve Stiles – Shitty fanzine cartoons.
5) Ninni Aalto – A cartoon of Jeff VanderMeer as a mushroom. Nuff said.
6) Brad W Foster – Every single year. What the fuck?

And now Best Professional Artist which is better but not as much as you might hope:

beneath_the_surface_by_juliedillon

1) Julie Dillon – Again, the only really artist here and also the only one to show any creativity at all (see my favourite image from here above). I’m not her biggest fan but she wins this by a country mile.
2) No Award
3) Nick Greenwood – Competent generic imagery.
4) Kirk DuoPonce -The Derek Zoolander of SF art.
5) Alan Pollock – A teenager’s sketches for a crap action movie.
6) Carter Reid – No contribution to the voter package.

Written by Martin

21 June 2015 at 19:22

Posted in art, awards, sf

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Hugo Voting – Best Short Story

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After Best Fan Writer, we turn to my votes for Best Short Story:

1) No Award
2) ‘A Single Samurai’ by Steven Diamond
3) ‘Totaled’ by Kary English

4) ‘Turncoat’ by Steve Rzasa
5) ‘On A Spiritual Plain’ by Lou Antonelli
6) ‘The Parliament Of Beasts And Birds’ by John C Wright

As always, a line break indicates Double No Award and an asterisk indicates it isn’t even bloody eligible for the award. If you want to read more about my thoughts on the stories, Strange Horizons have just published my review of the shortlist:

This year, however, saw the return of organised slate voting under the banner of Sad Puppies—spearheaded by 2014 Hugo nominee, shit writer, and dumbass Brad Torgensen—and Rabid Puppies, spearheaded by 2014 Hugo nominee, shit writer, and total fucking scumbag Vox Day. In contrast to last year’s limited Sad Puppy success, this year their campaigns swept the board. There is only one non-Puppy story out of fifteen, and that story is only there because the Puppies managed to nominate an ineligible story from 2013 that was subsequently removed.

And why did they decide to wreck the Hugos in this fashion? To redress a balance. To remove all the Politically Correct crap that has clogged up the award for so long and replace it with honest, hardworking, conservative, Christian fiction. As Torgersen so memorably put it: “Nutty Nuggets, Nutty Nuggets, Nutty Nuggets, Nutty Nuggets, Nutty Nuggets, Nutty Nuggets.” They have loudly proclaimed that the 2015 Hugo shortlists represent the very best fiction that this wing of fandom has to offer, so it seemed only fair to take them at their word. What unexpected delights would I find amongst this treasure trove of under-acclaimed fiction? If you’ve read anything that any of the Puppies have ever written, I think you can see where this is heading; I intended to read all three short fiction categories but I gave up after Best Story.

That isn’t quite true, I actually managed to read one of the Best Novellettes. At 7,500 to 17,500 words, the stories in this spurious category can be less concerned about economy which is just as well as Edward M Lerner isn’t at all concerned with economy. ‘Championship B’tok’ is structured as a mini-novel with 10 chapters that hop from viewpoint to viewpoint and those annoying infodumps dressed up as documents from the future (the cringe-inducingly named Internetopedia). After a few stretches of his fingers, I’m sure Lerner could type this stuff all day without breaking a sweat. In fact, this is the eighth story in his Interstellar Net space opera series and there are constant reference to previously described events and gaps where knowledge is assumed. So instead of a premise, we have plot – or rather pieces of plot from a megatext. Doughty human spy-spy Carl Rowland must outwit the inscrutably cunning Snakes, intern aliens who don’t know their place, whilst journalist-spy Corinne Elman is investigating a galaxy-spanning conspiracy. Are the two connected!? As the title suggests, it is a load of old arse. The first chapter is entirely unconnected to the following nine, the final chapter doesn’t resolve anything, really the story is only notable for Lerner’s touchingly misplaced faith in the rule of law.

You can see why a story as strenuously undemanding and casually conservative as this appeals to Puppy voters though. Not to mention parochial; as is so often the case, the imagined future is actually a projected mid-20th Century America is which Walter Cronkite (born 1916) is a relevant journalistic benchmark and impressionism (most prominent in the late 1800s) is considered outré. The central game of B’tok, which turns out to not be very important at all, is a recreation of the Battle of Midway. I am too young, too foreign, too interested in literature to be the audience for this work. So I take my hat off to Chance Morrison who is reading them all.

Written by Martin

9 June 2015 at 09:21

Posted in awards, sf

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Hugo Voting – Fan Writer

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Now that the Hugo voter package is out, this is the first of a series of posts about how I am voting in this year’s Hugo Awards. Due to manipulation of the ballot by groups of idiots called Puppies things are a bit different this year and some people are only voting on the Puppy free shortlist. This is a totally legitimate approach but not one I am taking. If I was taking this approach, however, I would have only one person to vote for in this category: Laura Mixon. Instead, here are my votes:

1) No Award
2) Laura J Mixon – For reasons set out here.

3) Amanda S Green – Basically a stream of consciousness only tangentially related to SF that is randomly peppered with the letters SJW and GHH.
4) Cedar Sanderson – As above but with extra anti-feminism.
5) David Freer – As above (including literally published on the same blog as Sanderson) but actually insane.
6) Jeffro Johnson – No accessible contribution included in Hugo voter package and I’m not about to go and seek out Puppy work.

If you set out to find the worst fan writing available, you’d probably end up with something like this (and this pattern seems to hold true in Best Related). The Puppies think that not only is this writing not shit, it is the best published in the field in 2014. They are fucking jokers. And the biggest laugh comes from Freer’s advertorial introduction to his contribution to the package:

When I was told my name had been suggested for this I wrote – on Mad Genius Cloud – thank you, but really younger writers (not old professionals like me) needed to be considered, and would be helped by it, not me. As usual, nobody listened. Surprise. I am not their owner or master. They are adults who can make up their own mind, or not.

O bold free thinkers!

Written by Martin

20 May 2015 at 12:50

Posted in awards, sf

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SpecFic14

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SpecFic2014-41

As I mentioned the other day, my blog post ‘Why I Think Author Eligibility Posts Are Selfish, Destructive And Counter-Productive’ is available in Speculative Fiction 2014: The Year’s Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary, edition is edited by Renee Williams and Shaun Duke. The subtitle is pretty self-explanatory and I’m very pleased that my piece has been selected. Looking back, if I was to select my own favourite from y writing in 2014, it would be this review and this commentary (and this comment).

Foz Meadows and Foz Meadows and Mark Oshiro will be edited this year’s volume and, if you’ve read anything particularly good in 2015, nominations are open. I’ve suggested this and this so far.

Written by Martin

6 May 2015 at 12:22

Posted in criticism, sf

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BSFA Review, Er, Reviews

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As you should have clocked by now, I update my BSFA Review editorials when my reviewers post their pieces online on their own sites. Usually this is pretty sporadic but two people have had a bit of a splurge recently so I thought I’d draw attention to the extra goodness now available.

Firstly, Maureen Kincaid Speller:

Secondly, Martin McGrath:

(Apparently I only let Martin review things in pairs.)

Written by Martin

30 April 2015 at 19:01

Posted in books, sf

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Actually, It’s About Ethics In Award Nominations

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So, as promised, let’s turn to the nominees for this year’s Hugo Awards. Lots has already been said and I’ve no wish to repeat it but here are some good pieces which summarise the issues. The upshot is that this year – as last year – I am going to use No Award a lot but unusually lots of other people might join me. This is why I don’t think the Sad/Rabid Puppies have killed the Hugos; it is easy to influence the nominations but hard to influence the vote as we saw last year with Vox Day placing below No Award. The effect will be massively multiplied this year and after a couple of fruitless attempts, I think the Puppies will just get bored. The question then is how do we get through those couple of attempts with our sanity intact and some works that aren’t irredeemable on the shortlist. To that end I was suggest everyone reads the excellent Plokta proposal:

The problem with the puppy slates is not that they’ve got stuff on the ballot. They’re members of the Worldcon, and they’re entitled to have the stuff they nominated on the ballot, regardless of their decision processes in making their choices. The problem is that they have kept off the ballot some other stuff that most voters would probably prefer to vote for. So what we should be doing is preventing a slate from forcing stuff off the ballot, not from getting stuff on the ballot. The voters can then use their alternative vote preferences to take care of the slate, as happened last year when the slate failed to completely dominate any categories.

I really hope something comes of this but, to be honest, weathering the Puppy storm is the easy bit. The harder part is having a conversation about how we, collectively, nominate works for the Hugos.

Honestly, after last year I never wanted to write about eligibility posts again. It was an important piece and I’m glad I wrote it (and that the editors of Speculative Fiction 2014 are reprinting it, despite disagreeing with it) but the discussion around it was so polarised and productive as to be draining. As I said when last year’s shortlists were announced, I do think there is a connection between author’s publishing their eligibility and the rise of nomination slates but I had no intention of being dragged into it all again this year, an intention only strengthen by seeing it play out again in exactly the same way. However, at the same time, I’ve been increasingly doing my own lobbying as well as mulling over Abigail Nussbaum’s increasingly militant line on awards recommendations:

Last year when the nominees were announced there were several attempts to distinguish between “good” and “bad” campaigning–to argue, for example, that Larry Correia’s Sad Puppies ballot (which gave us Vox Day, Hugo nominee), and the campaign to get all fourteen Wheel of Time novels nominated for Best Novel, were substantively different from, say, my posting my Hugo recommendations on this blog, or John Scalzi recommending me for the Best Fan Writer Hugo. I don’t believe that’s true.

I disagree with Nussbaum – I think there is a substantive difference – but I also think there should be more discussion of these issues. Recognising that this might be difficult, I’d like to propose a framework for this discussion. I’m not saying that this framework is right or definitive but I do hope it is at least helpful. First of all, I think there are three axes to consider: someone’s authority, the extent to which they direct others and their own self-interest. Secondly, the range of each axis is quite large:

Authority

1 – Some random person on the internet
2 – Someone with a social media network including Hugo voters
3 – Someone with a large social media network including Hugo voters or an author
4 – An author with a large following
5 – A superstar author

Direction

1 – Listing your nominations without comment
2 – Recommending multiple works to consider or posting your own eligibility
3 – Recommending specific works to nominate
4 – Actively campaigning for specific works
5 – Actively campaigning for a full slate

Self-interest

1 – No relationship with the person you recommend
2 – Acquaintance, colleague or part of social network
3 – Friend
4 – Yourself
5 – Yourself and your friends

Finally, the way in which the three interact means there is likely to be a large grey area in the middle. I’m going to suggest scoring six or less counts as ‘good’ behaviour and scoring 12 or more counts as ‘bad’ behaviour with everything in the middle up for discussion. So let’s consider two baseline case:

But what about less clear cases? As linked above, I used a BSFA Review editorial last year to encourage people to start thinking about their Hugo nominations as well as discussion some of the things I would be nominating. My strongest recommendation was for the Best Graphic Story category: “But if I could compel you to go out and read one piece of fiction it would be Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky.” If I’d posted this here my authority would be a 2, in a BSFA publication it is probably 3. I’d suggest my direction is also a 3. Compare this to George RR Martin’s recommendation of Laura J Mixon for Best Fan Writer: “So I’m nominating Mixon for Best Fan Writer, and I urge you to do the same.” Not only is his direction stronger, his authority is several orders of magnitude bigger.

me

GRRM

As it turns out, both our picks made the shortlist. It is possible Mixon only made it because a member of the Sad/Rabid Puppy slate declined his nomination but it seems likely that Martin’s intervention had some effect whereas I’m pretty sure my own effect was negligible. But we’ve no way of knowing. Likewise, it seems likely that John Scalzi’s recommendations for Best Fan Writer last year had some effect: “Abigail Nussbaum is another excellent candidate for a win, in my opinion… These are just four people off the top of my head; there are many more.” However, the direction is even weaker than mine and spread across multiple candidates. I’d also suggest his authority is weaker than Martin’s but this is a good example of how my methodology does a good job of making the highly subjective seem more objective. Nonetheless, I do think this helps expose that there are different shades of grey here. Which finally brings us to eligibility posts. Here I think the picture for Scalzi is very different and, indeed, that is one of the reasons he has been so keen to use his platform to promote others. But, of course, most authors don’t have this platform.

scalzi

Scalzi 2

So what does this all mean? Not much; re-label the points on the axes or change the shade of the radar charts and suddenly says something very different. This is very much one perspective. But I hope it does show that there is a continuum of behaviour here that we are all part of and that is it worth talking about the way we behave as a community since, after all, the Hugos are community awards.

Written by Martin

10 April 2015 at 14:25

Posted in awards, sf

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