Archive for April 2014
A double apology. Firstly, I should have congratulated Nina Allan for winning the BSFA Award for Short Fiction with Spin when the awards were announced. Secondly, I should have reviewed the novella but – as with Ian Sales’s BSFA Award-winning novella last year – I failed to get round to it. I was reminded of this by Daniel Libris’s recent review so go and read that then go and buy Allan’s book.
Congratulations to all the other winners and commisserations to the others on the short fiction award shortlist:
Strange Horizons have published their annual SF Count which aims to draw attention to imbalances in literary coverage. You will be unsurprised to learn that coverage of and by men still disproportionately dominates. However, 2013 was a relatively positive year for the BSFA Review.
35.77% of our reviews were of books by women, considerably up on last year’s 26.8% (and the year before that. Whilst this clearly isn’t parity, it is actually above the baseline of 33.1% of SF books published in the UK. (Obviously that baseline isn’t completely reliable so please check the SF Count itself for their full methodology.) It is also by some margin the highest figure out of Foundation, Interzone and SFX, the other UK publications.
The same is true of the percentage of our reviewers who are women (a third, up from 23.5% the year before). Given Vector has far more reviewers than the other publications this also means that, in absolute term, we have many more female reviewers. But again, this is a long way off parity and doesn’t even meet the baseline of the approximately 40% of the British Science Fiction Association’s members who are women.
For the first time, this year the SF Count also includes data on black and minority ethnic writers and reviewers. You will see Vector comes dead last on the first of these measures having published only five reviews of books by BME writers (although given the number of reviews we publish – 133 last year – the proportion is always going to be relatively low). On reviewers, it would be nice to say we are doing rather better since Vector is sitting comfortably in the middle of the table. And yet Vector only had two BME reviewer. So actually we only look good in comparison to the seven magazines who had no such reviewers at all (including Interzone and SFX).
Unlike with women, there is no baseline of either books received or membership numbers to compare these figures against. The UK is a very white country – 87.1% – something that is easy to forget if you live in London and spend a lot of time online. My suspicion is UK SF fandom is even whiter. One of Vector’s BME reviewers was my roommate at World Fantasy Con in Brighton last October which was very handy for me as, whenever I wanted to find him, I just had to scan the dealer’s room for the only brown person. That isn’t quite true – American author and editor Bill Campbell was dilligently manning the Rosarium Publishing table and reviews of two of his books will be in the forthcoming issue of the BSFA Review – but there were definitely more women with pink hair present than there were people of colour.
This isn’t intended as an excuse. The UK, including publishing and fandom, is not entirely white and, indeed, is becoming less so. It is important that an organisation like the British Science Fiction Association reflects this fact. I’m grateful for the SF Count for holding me to account and I hope the membership will do the same. Please do contact either me or Donna Scott, chair of the BSFA, if you are interested in reviewing for us or have any thoughts about how the BSFA and its magazines can do more to promote equality and diversity within SF.
So the The 2014 Hugo shortlist is out (as is the 1939 Retro Hugo shortlist, if you are into that sort of thing). I put a lot of thought into the awards this year so I was pleased to see so many of my nominations made it through:
- Best Short Story: ‘Selkie Stories Are For Losers’ by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons)
- Best Related Work: Speculative Fiction 2012 by Justin Landon & Jared Shurin (Jurassic London)
- Best Graphic Story: Saga, Volume 2 written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics ) and “Time” by Randall Munroe (XKCD)
- Best Professional Artist: Galen Dara
- Best Fanzine: The Book Smugglers edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James, A Dribble of Ink edited by Aidan Moher and Pornokitsch edited by Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin
- Best Fan Writer: Abigail Nussbaum
- Best Fan Artist: Mandie Manzano and Sarah Webb
- John W Campbell Award For Best New Writer: Sofia Samatar and Benjanun Sriduangkaew
Of the things I didn’t nominate, I was particularly pleased to see Liz Bourke for Best Fan Writer, Strange Horizons for Best Semiprozine and ‘The Lady Astronaut of Mars’ by Mary Robinette Kowal for Best Novelette. However, the righting of the wrong done to Robinette Kowal was about all the fiction categories had going for them and my pleasure at the bottom half of the ballot soon turned to frustration as the top half was announced.
Partly that was because the 14 book Wheel Of Time series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson was nominated for Best Novel after some bright spark noticed it was notionally eligible under section 3.2.6 of the WSFS Constitution: “Works appearing in a series are eligible as individual works, but the series as a whole is not eligible. However, a work appearing in a number of parts shall be eligible for the year of the final part.” Obviously fandom took the bait, despite the fact it clearly isn’t a novel and wasn’t even all written by the same person. On the plus side, it does mean that Adam Roberts’s lengthy evisceration of the series could be eligible for Best Related Work if he can bring himself to read the final three Sanderson volumes.
More than that, however, was the presence of a load of old shite from the Baen/Analog end of the spectrum, including a story from Vox Day. The quality of this fiction is a guess; I will read it and come to a judgement when the voter pack is sent out (although I’m not helpful). What isn’t a guess is the fact that they are on the shortlist because of concerted mutual lobbying. This is a pretty obvious outcome of fan culture endorsing award lobbying so you can’t then turn around and complain that the wrong people were more successful at lobbying.
As I mentioned, I moved recently. The reason I needed to leave my beloved flat was not just the constant accumulation of books but the birth of my son. That event also occasioned me changing my surname so I could share his. On one level, this is simple: you just send off a form and a cheque. On another, it is a thorny tangle of beaucracy and identity. Changing over to Martin Petto on my work IT and HR systems was simple, as was changing my multiple social media accounts. Other things took longer which is why 14 months later by wallet still contains cards with a mixture of names on them. Hardest of all, however, was working out what to do about my ‘professional’ name (don’t laugh). Having spent over a decade writing under my old name, I found it hard to make a clean break so you’ll probably have noticed that I’m still reviewing as Martin Lewis. The rough rule of thumb I had adopted (until very recently) was that I’d keep Lewis for ‘old things’ and use Petto for ‘new things’. To my surprise, one of those new things has turned out to be this:
So yeah, I am one of the contributers to Pandemonium: The Rite Of Spring, the latest chapbook from Jurassic London. This foray into fiction has obviously been met with some gentle teasing from fellow critics but it does open up some further questions of identity. For example, it is not uncommon for it to be suggested that critics are wannabe writers or that ‘those who can, do’. I’m not a wannabe writer, I am actual writer, just one who chooses to write non-fiction rather than fiction. So a part of me feels like a traitor to the fellowship of critics and mourns the loss of the armour of my purity. But a bigger part of me doesn’t give a shit. My story, ‘Letter From the President Of The British Board Of Film Censors’, was an experiment for myself (less formal than this one but an experiment nonetheless). It was fun to write and I hope it is fun to read. If not, here is some Phil Ochs: