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).
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:
- Glaze by Kim Curran (Vector #277)
- We See A Different Frontier, edited by Fabio Fernandes and Djibril al-Ayad, and Mothership: Tales From
- Afrofuturism And Beyond, edited by Bill Campbell and Edward Austin Hall (Vector #276)
- Let’s All Go To The Science Fiction Disco, edited by Jonathan Wright (Vector #275)
- Savage City by Sophia McDougall (Vector #274)
- Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse, edited by Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin (Vector #271)
- Sky City: New Science Fiction Stories by Danish Authors, edited by Carl-Eddy Skovgaard (Vector #270)
- The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie (Vector #267)
- The Immersion Book Of SF, edited by Carmelo Rafala (Vector #266)
Secondly, Martin McGrath:
- Gemsigns and Binary by Stephanie Saulter (Vector #278)
- Noir and La Femme, edited by Ian Whates (Vector #277)
- Proxima by Stephen Baxter and On A Steel Breeze by Alastair Reynolds (a shorter version of this review originally published in Vector# 276)
(Apparently I only let Martin review things in pairs.)
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:
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
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
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.
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.
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.
- Europe In Autumn by Dave Hutchinson – 1/2
- Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel – 3/1
- The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August by Claire North – 3/1
- Memory Of Water by Emmi Itäranta – 6/1
- The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey – 9/1
- The Book Of Strange New Things by Michel Faber – 18/1
Incidentally, I reckon this is the best shortlist since 2011.
If you are a member of the BSFA, you have until 1 April to vote in the BSFA Awards. I had hoped to write about the shortlists but, as is increasingly common these days, I’ve run out of time. So instead I’ll briefly follow up my thoughts on nominating for the Non-Fiction Award.
The first thing to say is that I’m very pleased ‘The State Of British SF’ has been shortlisted. This was very much a team effort but it is also the first time I’ve ever been nominated for an award. Which is nice. (In other nice news, I’m also one of the contributors to Speculative Fiction 2014.)
Second, I’m also pleased to see one of my nominations, ‘Deep Forests And Manicured Gardens: A Look At Two New Short Fiction Magazines’, on the shortlist. Since nominating it, Ethan Robinson has posted this very interesting response to both ‘Deep Forests’ and ‘Short Fiction And The Feels’. I think Robinson’s piece is best when describing the latter because of the different political contexts of the two essays under discussion and the fact McCalmont only has a direct stake in one. I don’t think that he would disagree that he has a fondness for rhetoric and grandstanding; often, as in ‘Deep Forests’, I think that can be creative but in ‘The Feels’ it is more destructive. Or, as Robinson puts it: “In general the fact that oppression is something real and concrete that actual human beings have to deal with every moment of their lives, and not just an abstract “issue” for people unaffected by it to have fun opinions about, is something that McCalmont seems utterly unable to grasp.”
Finally, I’m a fan of Paul Kincaid’s criticism and had a quick skim of Call And Response before I sent it out for review so I’m pleased to see his collection on there too. But it does point to the continually problematic nature of the award. Not only do we have books competing with essays, here we have what is essentially a re-print collection competing with a brand new monograph. Meanwhile, Sibilant Fricative by Adam Roberts – which to my mind is essentially the same type of book as Kincaid’s – is ineligible. It is all a bit messy but then this award category always has been and my only solution I can come up with is to abolish it.
Well, it has been a bloody good year for British SF. But, as our BSFA Review Poll shows, it has also been a resurgent year for British SF: it features three debuts and two long overdue returns.
I’m delighted that one of those British debuts jointly tops our poll: The Race by Nina Allan. Over the last decade, Allan has been quietly building one of the most impressive reputations in the short fiction field, culminating in her BSFA Award for Short Fiction last year with Spin. Kerry Dodd reviews the novel overleaf and finds it a “thought provoking and gripping book which peels back the emotive struggles of the human condition, focussing upon the connections between people’s lives, their emotions and, most powerfully, the nature of reality.” Creatively, Allan’s career seems unbounded but the publishing industry needs to catch-up and bring her to a wider audience.
So the community owe thanks to Newcon Press who have been having a pretty good year themselves. As well as The Race, they also published our bronze medallist, The Moon King by Neil Williamson, and the BSFA Award nominated story ‘The Honey Trap’ by Ruth E J Booth (which you can read for yourself in the awards booklet elsewhere in this mailing). Like Allan, Williamson has come up through the short fiction scene – a reminder of how vital Interzone remains as a testing ground for new talent. As Kate Oylett put it in Vector #277: “It’s a real delight to find a debut full-length novel where the characters pop, the situations glisten with sheer wonder and you realise you were meant to have put the book down and gone to bed sensibly a good hour or more ago.”
Nina Allan shares first place with another resurgent writer: Jeff Vandermeer. Who could have predicted that this cult weird fiction author would publish the critical and commercial international science fiction hit of 2014? Still less that it would be a thoroughly contemporary take on the mid-20th Century estrangement of writers like Budrys, Ballard and the Sturgatskys. In our last issue, Dan Hartland described it as “preternaturally fertile, the sort of layered and constructed fiction that readers pine for and so rarely receive” so perhaps it is slightly surprising it didn’t appear on the BSFA Aware shortlist for Best Novel alongside The Race and The Moon King, particularly given this year’s shortlist ran to ten books due to a tie for fourth place.
Dave Hutchinson published his first short story collection in 1978 but didn’t publish a novel till 2001 and has only followed it up now. Likewise Simon Ings’s last science fiction novel came out in 1999. Europe In Autumn (reviewed by Ian Sales) and Wolves both show that British science fiction has been missing out.
No such pause for Ann Leckie. Ancillary Sword (reviewed by Anne F Wilson) immediately followed up 2013’s international sensation, Ancillary Justice. That debut won the BSFA Award for Best Novel – along with every other award going – and you wouldn’t want to bet against it doing the same again. Or indeed for the Hugo.
Robert Jackson Bennett has probably also got a shout of getting on the Hugo ballot with City Of Stairs, another change of direction for this versatile writer. It was reviewed by Gary Dalkin last issue: “an ambitious and accomplished novel with interesting things to suggest about the relationships between peoples, their cultures and their gods.”
Finally, the poll confirms Frances Hardinge’s position as queen of British children’s fiction, sneaks in a characteristically slippery work by Karen Joy Fowler and heralds the arrival of Renaissance Man Paul Kingsnorth. Let’s hope 2015 is half as good.
BSFA Review Poll
=1) The Race by Nina Allan
=1) The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer
3) The Moon King by Neil Williamson
4) Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson
5) Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
6) Wolves by Simon Ings
7) City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
8) Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
9) We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
10) The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth
- The Race by Nina Allan – Reviewed by Kerry Dodd
- Cataveiro by EJ Swift – Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller
- Sibilant Frictive by Adam Roberts – Reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
- Bete by Adam Roberts – Reviewed by Paul Kincaid
- Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie – Reviewed by Anne F Wilson
- Europe In Autumn by Dave Hutchinson – Reviewed by Ian Sales
- Irregularity, edited by Jared Shurin – Reviewed by Aishwarya Subramanian
- Paradox, edited by Ian Whates – Reviewed by Duncan Lawie
- Descent by Ken MacLeod – Reviewed by Lynne Bispham
- War Dogs by Greg Bear – Reviewed by Andy Sawyer
- Defender by Will McIntosh – Reviewed by Shaun Green
- Parasite by Mira Grant – Reviewed by Patrick Mahon
- Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes – Reviewed by Shaun Green
- Cold Turkey by Carole Johnstone – Reviewed by Graham Andrews
“With only ten days left before the Hugo nominating deadline, I’m cutting these posts a little close.” So begins Abigail Nussbaum’s draft ballot for the Hugo short fiction. I think it is safe to say she is miles ahead of me. However – unusually – I’ve read a clutch of very interesting novellas, all of which I would recommend voters check out.
I might manage to post some other short fiction recommendations here too but I thought I’d focus on the long ones first. If you need other suggestions, Nussbaum’s post is an excellent source of tips (even if she does have ‘The Husband Stitch’ by Carmen Maria Machado ‘bubbling under’, the big wronghead).