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Archive for September 2022

The Decline And Fall Of The Big Three Empire

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My review of The Rise Of The Cyberzines by Mike Ashley was published in the BSFA Review #18. This will be available as a free download on the BSFA’s website in a couple of months and I’ll post a link then. But for now (and following the recent announcement of this year’s Hugos) I wanted to pick up on a point I make in the review:

Ashley writes that “this volume [became] longer than anticipated and has meant that I have had to prune the appendices.” As we’ve seen, there are other things he could have pruned but there are still near enough a hundred pages of appendices, almost entirely a list of every issue of every magazine covered by the book. This raw data is a valuable resource… for a small number of people. What would have been more useful was greater analysis but elsewhere Ashley doesn’t take a very data-driven approach to the book.

He opens the book with the killer fact that “the last short story from a traditional print magazine to win [the Hugo Award] was in 2012, and the last to be nominated was in 2018.” It is pretty eye-opening reading this now; from the standpoint of 1991, it seems miraculous. But the book contains only ten tables and not a single one of them compares 1991 to 2020.

The first table, right on the second page, summarises the venues responsible for the most Hugo and Locus nominations and Gardner Dozois ‘Year’s Best’ selections between 1991-5. This clearly shows Asimov’s domination of the field and is a fascinating and succinct snapshot of the first half of the Nineties. The exercise is repeated but in a different format and with a different scope of Hugo, Locus and Nebula nominations for 1996-2001. Then bizarrely we jump to Nebula nominees only for 2013-2016.

So I thought I’d do a few charts myself to accompany the review. Firstly, one that tells the whole story of the book:

Second, a variation on this theme highlighting the extraordinary fading of Asimov’s dominance over the last couple of decades (and particularly the last ten years):

And finally a pair showing the end of the print era and the rise of the online area, highlighting a potential successor Big Three but also the greater market diversity.

Written by Martin

15 September 2022 at 06:51

Holding On For Tomorrow

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A decade ago, I started reading The Space Opera Renaissance as a short story project. I haven’t finished it yet so apologies if you’ve been waiting for that. However, from time to time I have read a story and sometimes even a book.

I’ve just read Tomorrow’s Parties: Life in the Anthropocene, edited by Jonathan Strahan, and wanted to leave a few thoughts here:

‘Drone Pirates Of Silicon Valley’ by Meg EllisonA Cory Doctorow YA story. Nuff said :(11
‘Down & Out In Exile Park’ by Tade ThompsonThe characters and set dressing were enjoyable but Thompson was in search of a plot and a purpose.32
‘Once Upon A Future In The West’ by Daryl GregoryArchtetypes of the old West updated for the 21st Century in a snappy, clever story that stays just on the right side of contrivance.
‘Crisis Actors’ by Greg EganA reverse ferret of a story that tries to be clever and doesn’t really land either the psychology of denialism or its twist.
‘When The Tide Rises’ by Sarah GaileyA nicely observed story about the paralysing crush of corporate capitalism but really could have been set in any context.
‘I Give You The Moon’ by Justina RobsonThe first story to really nail the brief and happily it is a lovely piece of writing too. Maybe hopepunk is okay!
‘Do You Hear The Fungi Sing?’ by Chen Qiufan (translated by Emily Jin)What if Air by Geoff Ryman but magic mushrooms? There was lots to admire here but didn’t quite click for me.
‘Legion’ by Malka OlderCommunity theatre two-hander where the author’s thumb jabs the scales harder and harder. Nothing to do with the brief.
‘The Ferryman’ by Saad Z HossainA good companion piece to Robson’s story. Would have been 20% better without the single footnote.42
‘After The Storm’ by James BradleyMid-21st Century slide of life that is simultaneously powerful and a bit dull.35

So a better an average original anthology in terms of quality, I would say, with Gregory and Robson probably my favourite. But it is really notable how few writers really engaged with the brief. These are interestingly imagined near future but not “glimpses of what life might be like… as we live with climate change” as set out in Strahan’s introduction and as framed by Bradley’s opening interview with Kim Stanley Robinson. That interview quotes the aphorism that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”; what this book suggests is that it is easier to imagine the implications of capitalism than the implications of climate and too much science fiction is caught on the twin prongs of apocalpyse and dystopia.

Written by Martin

8 September 2022 at 12:13

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