Since my post about my draft BSFA Awards nominations, two things have happened. First, Best Fan Writer-in-waiting Nina Allan has posted her recommendations for the BSFA Non-Fiction Award. Second, I’ve signed up with Pocket, got the plug-in for Chrome and activated En2Kindle to allow me to automatically save webpages to my Kindle. Since most of my free time is spent away from a computer and my phone is a little too small to make reading articles or stories a pleasure, I’m hopeful that this will allow me to better keep abreast of things rather than bookmarking them for later and never returning. I’ve started by whacking a load of Allan’s recommendations over, including the following pieces from Jonathan McCalmont:
- Short Fiction And The Feels
- ‘Deep Forests And Manicured Gardens: A Look At Two New Short Fiction Magazines’
- ‘A Perspective On Perspectives’
McCalmont should be another Best Fan Writer-in-waiting but I suspect he will be waiting in perpetuity. Over the course of these five posts, he makes a broad ranging assessment of the contemporary SF short fiction that mixes big, bold theorising with a close reading of individual stories. Allan notes that she “remains undecided as to how much of Jonathan’s argument I agree with – all mulchy middle ground, me – but I find much that interests me in his viewpoint, and the gutsiness of his writing always leaves me feeling liberated and inspired generally.” For me, it is not just his gutsiness but his ambition; I quite often disagree with his theories but this big picture approach, grounded but not mired in academic thought, is vanishingly rare.
In terms of the BSFA Awards, I do worry that his vote will be split. Like Allan, I think the three middle posts are essentially a single piece and the strongest individual part of the total argument. But I know Ian Sales in his nomination post went for ‘Short Fiction And The Feels’. Sales also rightly praises Allan’s own non-fiction and says nice things about ‘The State of British SF and Fantasy’, the Strange Horizons symposium both her and me contributed to. I was proud to be a part of it so I’m glad others found it worthwhile.
Speaking of Strange Horizons, I’ve just been commissioned for my first review under the new triumphivrate of editors who have taken over from Abigail Nussbaum (another Best Fan Writer-in-waiting but the one who probably won’t be waiting that long). It will be my first review in a while but hopefully this year I will be producing a bit more non-fiction as well as reading more.
We are half way through the month so it is worth reminding members of the British Science Fiction Association that nominations close for the BSFA Awards at the end of the month. This year they are crowd-sourcing suggestions and, as with the Hugos, I also thought I’d post my draft nominations here.
Best Novel was the easiest category for me this year as I’ve read a surprising amount of good, current fiction. Those who read my last BSFA Review editorial won’t be particularly surprised by my choices:
- The Race by Nina Allan
- Wolves by Simon Ings
- Southern Reach by Jeff Vandermeer
- Echopraxia by Peter Watts
As well as writing one of the best books of the year, Allan has also written a very helpful post covering her candidates for Best Non-Fiction. She starts with an epiphany:
What if every BSFA Awards voter (and Hugo voter) were to read just twenty pieces of new short fiction every year? Surely this would have at least some impact, not just upon individuals’ knowledge of the field but on their sense of investment in the awards process. Whether through random online reading (one of the most radical advancements in the field in recent years has been the increasing quality and availability of free short fiction online) or through the purchase of magazine subscriptions would be down to individual inclination and cash available, but I honestly do think the twenty-shorts-per-year formula would have a considerable effect on the discourse around short fiction. Why not try it and see?
I came to a similar conclusion last (you’ll have seen some of the results of that earlier) and I hope other voters do adopt this approach. Anyway, here are my three favourite stories from my own reading:
- Trading Rosemary by Octavia Cade
- ‘The Bonedrake’s Penance’ by Yoon Ha Lee
- Scale-Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
I’m currently reading through Allan’s recommendations for the fourth slot. Posts like hers provide a vital service in trying to filter the vast about of work out there. Moving from words to Best Artwork, recommendation post are even more helpful as it so easy to quickly check out a large amount of different pieces of art online. Carl V Anderson has got pretty different taste to me but this post is a helpful taster of what is out there. So far I’ve been concentrating on book covers and my three favourites are:
- Wolves by Jeffrey Alan Love
- Voyage Of The Basilisk by Todd Lockwood
- Mirror Empire by Richard Anderson
My final slot goes to ‘The Wasp Factory’ by Tessa Farmer. Which leaves Best Non-Fiction. Despite the fact this is my field, it is often the category I struggle most with. But the single piece of criticism that has stayed with me the most this year is this:
Peachum, the black surgeon, was massaging a heart. Bored, he turned to his wife: “Where’s that lump of sensuality?”
“Polly’s out courting. He’s a very nice man; a Captain, you know. Ever so well turned out, he wears gloves like a Vicky. He’s got this awful scar on his neck though. Well, I suppose he is a war hero.”
At his table, gloved in gore, Peachum ground his molars silently. A scar on his neck, eh?
Several floors below, deep inside the asteroid New London, his daughter was in the process of marrying this scarred captain. Polly was wearing white, of course, and MacHeath was wearing his dress uniform, medals agleam. It was the happiest day of her life. Pirouetting, Polly broke into song:
And Pirate Jenny was dancing for pennies,
The knucklebones tossed in a spin.
A man came running up. Polly tried to think of him as one of the groom’s guests, rather than one of his henchmen. “Boss,” he panted, “the sheriff’s coming.”
“Of course he’s coming, you cretin. I invited him.” And with these words Major Brown appeared, resplendent in the full regalia of the office of High Sheriff.
“Ah, Jackie, it’s been awhile,” exclaimed MacHeath.
They had both seen service on Rakshasha; Brown in the Fleet Aerospace Arm whereas MacHeath had found his true vocation on the ground as a special forces officer. The skills and ideas this had furnished him with had placed a considerable burden on their relationship of late but Brown still found himself inextricably bonded to the man.
“I see you’re married.” With his stained apron and thick forearms, Peachum he looked like a butcher.
Polly held up her hand. “Like my ring?”
His arms uncoiled and, grasping her hand tightly, he appraised the ring. “Aye, it’s very nice. I expect the Duchess of Devonshire thought so too, before it was forcibly removed from her possession. Along with her finger. Well, it does my heart glad to see you married to an amoral sneakthief and prolific rapist. MacHeath is the impacted faeces in the bowels of this fair city-state.”
Polly looked like she had been slapped. “How can you say that?”
Silently Peachum extracted a business card:
“The world is poor, and man’s a shit
And that is all there is to it.”
“I know the fucking family motto,” she spat, stalking off.
MacHeath lay in the arms of a mechanical prostitute, thinking about his father-in-law. Who would have though the old man still had so much pull?
“You shouldn’t have come here, Mac,” pouted Heidi 3000. “I’ve alerted the police to your presence.”
MacHeath sighed. She was, of course, programmed to do this. It had been probably been ill-advised to visit his favourite gynoid knocking shop but emptying his balls helped him think.
On cue a bulky figure in full contact body armour burst through the door. “Coming quietly are we, Mr MacHeath?”
In answer MacHeath unloaded his holdout pistol into the constable’s face and jumped out the window. Whilst this hurt considerably it did not aid his escape as he landed amongst a squad of equally heavily armoured police.
One of them thoughtfully placed an enormous Gauss rifle against his temple. “You’re nicked, sunshine.”
The British were a civilised empire – not for them the laser guillotine. No, MacHeath would be fired out of a cannon into the sun. Brown stood to attention; his dress uniform had seen a lot of use this week. Mac might have been an utter cunt but he had served the empire well. And, in the end, wasn’t that what mattered?
As the air boiled in his lungs and blood leaked from his ears, MacHeath’s life flashed before his eyes. He developed a fierce erection. Before he could start to enjoy himself, he was suddenly displaced from the void. As he hacked and thrashed his way back to life, he became dimly aware of a woman standing over him. If she was human, she certainly wasn’t British but MacHeath had always prided himself on a racial liberalism when it came to attractive females.
“Drugs?” she asked, proffering a steaming bowl.
“Who are you?” MacHeath managed as the fumes hit his veins.
“My name is Rasz-Arguhl Bumpsetta Heraldo Aptimel d’. You can call me Bumpsie. I come from a utopian post-scarcity society in need of a bastard.”
MacHeath spat blood on to the floor. “I’m your man.”
Peachum stared out the porthole at nothingness. He hated bloody deus ex machinas.
Apologies to Gay, Brecht and everyone else.
Today marks the end of National Short Story Week and I actually did read quite a bit of short fiction, including two great stories about the sea.
First up, ‘Drawn Up From Deep Places’ by Gemma Files. This is part of my continued read-through of Beneath Ceaseless Skies and is exactly the sort of ‘Literary Adventure Fantasy’ I’ve been searching for. It is part of a series so I’m looking forward to going back to read ‘Two Captains’ as well as future installments.
Next, ‘The Mussel Eater’ by Octavia Cade. I only discovered Cade earlier in the year but she has had a prolific and impressive 2014. ‘The Mussel Eater’ is shorter and sharper than most of the other work she published this year but is wonderful to have. Equally wonderful to have is Book Smugglers Publishing.
As well as reading, I also made a rare excursion outside the house to see Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy at my old local church, St John’s in Hackney. I hadn’t read anything about the gig in advance so was surprised and pleased to see he was joined by Matt Sweeney which meant we were treated to this rendition of ‘My Home Is The Sea':
I’m writing this a few weeks after Loncon 3 and though – with the aid of green vegetables and a few early nights – I’ve kicked the con crud, I still can’t shake the Hugos hangover. This year’s awards were a pretty poor showing for British SF that reflected a mediocre 2013 in terms of what was published. Not so 2014: Wolves by Simon Ings and The Race by Nina Allan are both works of British SF as well as being simply SF by British authors and are two of the best examples in recent years. Allan, in particular, seems like she is hitting the peak of her career, a deepening and coalescing even of the obvious talent on display in last year’s BSFA Award-winning Spin. Of course, neither have a hope in hell of getting anywhere near the Hugos but I’m hoping the Clarke Award judges and BSFA members may look more favourably on them.
Being less parochial for minute, I’m going to cheat and cast a pre-emptive vote for work that hasn’t actually finished being published yet. However, on the strengths of the first two volumes, Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy is already a clear award contender. Dan Hartland will be reviewing the series for Vector as soon as the final book is out (although he may have to wait for me to read it first).
Short fiction is always harder for me than novels and I need to do much more reading around (or, even, better, I need more people to perform triage for me). I do have one early contender for Best Novella though: ‘Trading Rosemary’ by OJ Cade. A web of memories strung together into a surprisingly satisfying story, it is made b its atmosphere and the steel of its protagonist. I’m really looking forward to reading her latest novella, ‘The Don’t Girls’.
In his review of Noir and La Femme, both edited by Ian Whates, Martin McGrath points readers towards some other potential candidates come awards time, including my own favourite stories in the anthology courtesy of Frances Hardinge and Vector’s own Paul Graham Raven. We have quite a few more anthology reviews forthcoming and my own resolution is to check out the online magazines more often.
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. Best Graphic Story is always a bit of a weak category because the Worldcon membership simply don’t know enough about comics (me included) but this is the real deal. Suzie can make time stop every time she has an orgasm. She thinks she is alone until she meets Jon who has the same ‘gift’. Obviously, they decide to rob a bank. There was so much potential for this to go wrong but Fraction and Zdarsky get it deliriously right. One for your Christmas list.
Oh, and if you were at Loncon, I really hope you saw Tessa Farmer’s extraordinary realisation of a wasp factory, one of several tributes to the late Iain Banks. I’ll certainly be nominating it for the BSFA Award for Best Artwork.
- Noir and La Femme, edited by Ian Whates (Newcon Press, 2014) – Reviewed by Martin McGrath
- Astra by Naomi Foyle (Jo Fletcher Books, 2014) – Reviewed by Jim Steel
- Aliens: Recent Encounters, edited by Alex Dally MacFarlane (Prime, 2013) – Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
- Glaze by Kim Curran (Jurassic London, 2014) – Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller
- Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall (Egmont 2014) – Reviewed by Anne F Wilson
- Lupus Rex by John Carter Cash (Ravenstone Books, 2013) – Reviewed by Alan Fraser
- Martian Sands (PS Publishing, 2013) and The Violent Century (Hodder & Stoughton, 2013) by Lavie Tidhar – Reviewed by Shaun Green
- The Brick Moon & Another Brick In The Moon by Edward Everett Hale and Adam Roberts (Jurassic London, 2014) – Reviewed by Paul Kincaid
- Call And Response (Beccon Publications, 2014) – Reviewed by Andy Sawyer
- The Moon King by Neil Williamson (NewCon Press, 2014) – Reviewed by Kate Onyett
- The Corpse-Rat King by Lee Battersby (Angry Robot, 2012) – Reviewed by Sue Thomason
- The Leopard by KV Johansen (Pyr, 2014) – Reviewed by Graham Andrews
As a coda to my Worldcon report, Strange Horizons have just published a new interview with Iain Banks. The interview was conducted by Jude Roberts, who was with me on that ‘Dropping The M’ panel, as part of her PhD.