It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


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Well, the Hugos… are not

So they went and announced this year’s Hugo shortlists last Saturday evening, and it was all looking quite good for a bit… and then it turned into a total bag of shite. My dissatisfaction with the Hugos over the past few years has hardly been much of a secret, and I was mentally preparing myself to be disappointed yet again. But for one brief moment there, as the fan categories shortlists appeared, I was actually hopeful. And then…

Three things happened.

hugo_sm

First, a bunch of right-wing scumbags campaigned to get some of their right-wing scumbag friends onto various of the shortlists. And they mostly succeeded – of the twelve people on their “ideal ballot”, seven made it onto the shortlists. What they did was perfectly well within the rules, and similar campaigns have taken place in the past – although none have been as successful as this one. Let’s be clear about this, however – this wasn’t because they wanted to see their friends on the shortlists, this was a direct attack on a part of genre fandom. And yes, it’s an attack on the part that exhibits the qualities genre fandom should exhibit – inclusivity instead of misogyny and homophobia, diversity instead of racism and marginalisation, progressiveness instead of regressiveness… you know, the qualities associated with civilised human beings.

Secondly, some bright spark discovered that the entire Wheel of Time was eligible for Best Novel as a single work. And enough people voted for it so it’s made the shortlist. That’s fourteen fat epic fantasy novels which vary in quality from mediocre to rubbish. There’s no denying they’re a notable genre achievement, but a Hugo Award for Best Novel is not the way to recognise that. The series’ presence on the shortlist only makes the award even more of a laughing stock than it already was.

And finally, despite some small victories which reflect the genre and fandom which interest me, the same old names appear, demonstrating little or no progression in the tastes of the bulk of the Hugo electorate. But then, I suppose, it has little to do with taste – and zero to do with “best”. Fandom is now partisan to an extent it never has been before, and becoming increasingly so each year. People nominate their favourite authors, irrespective of whether the work in question is award-worthy – because if you think Neptune’s Brood and Parasite are the best sf novels of last year, you need to read a hell of a lot more widely. There’s a reason they haven’t appeared on any other award shortlist.

The reason all this has taken place – or rather, the reason the shortlists are like this, is because so few people vote in the awards that blocs don’t have to be especially large to have an impact. The only way to prevent this from occurring again is to open the voting to a wider pool. But that won’t happen because the Hugo Award is heavily invested in protecting a model of fandom which hasn’t existed for decades and it has the bureaucracy in place to ensure change is either extremely difficult or impossible.

Given this, I think there are five possible responses:

1. Pretend it’s just a “blip” and treat this year’s awards just the same as other years. It isn’t the same, of course, and it would be either foolish or mendacious to suggest it is. Taking this option would require total blindness to the situation.

2. Vote “no award” in preference to anything by the right-wing scum. This at least would have the benefit of showing the right-wingers exactly what they’re worth. Likewise for the Wheel of Time. Nonetheless, it would still require treating the shortlists seriously – and I think the fiction categories are beyond that.

3. Vote “no award” in preference to everything on the shortlists. Doing this would certainly send a message – the 2013 Hugos were so shit, no awards were given at all. But while that may be true of the fiction categories, it isn’t for some of the others – and it’s unfair that they should also suffer.

4. Vote for the right-wing scum, in the hope they win and destroy what little credibility the Hugos have remaining. Again, like 3., this punishes everybody and not just those who deserve it.

5. Don’t vote, don’t attend the award ceremony; having nothing to do with the Hugos ever again.

According to the Loncon 3 website, 6786 people have purchased attending or supporting memberships for the convention. There will likely be a couple of thousand walk-ins too. Only 1923 people voted in the Hugo awards. The figures look even worse by category – 1595 for novel, 847 for novella, 728 for novelette and 865 for short story. So for best novel, I make that 23.5% of the membership. Over three-quarters of Worldcon members couldn’t give a shit about the Hugo Award for Best Novel. That number has just increased by one. Apologies to the people I know and like on the various ballots – I know it’s unfair on them – but I’ve had it with the Hugos. I will not be voting. Nor will I attend the ceremony. And if I’d been on any of the fiction shortlists, I would have pulled my story.

It goes without saying that my one vote will have zero impact on the final results, whether I choose to exercise it or not. I choose not to. I will do the same next year, even though I am eligible.

Finally, one last request: the Hugo needs to remove the word “world” from its constitution. It is not a world sf award, it is an American one. It should at least have the decency to acknowledge that.


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Thoughts on the 2014 Clarke Award shortlist

Last night, they announced this year’s Clarke Award shortlist, and it looks like:

My first thought was that it’s a surprisingly safe shortlist. But then it struck me that with three debuts, “safe” is probably not the right word to use. And yet, in genre terms, in regards to the definition of science fiction with which this year’s jury were apparently working… it is sort of safe. Thankfully, there’s no talking horses (just perambulatory trees), but neither is there the usual left-field literary-fiction-dabbling-in-sf pick.

Unusually, I’ve read four of the books already – and one of them, the Priest, I’d planned to read. Nexus I’d ignored after seeing two negative reviews of it – in Vector and Strange Horizons. But of the books I have read… I thought both the Leckie and the Hurley good, and have written about them – see here and here. It’s also hard not to see Ancillary Justice as the sf book of 2013, given the buzz that’s surrounded it and its appearance so far on the BSFA and Nebula shortlists (and I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t make the Hugo shortlist as well). Smythe’s The Machine is also very good. And as a literary fiction pick is hardly a contentious choice – while Blue Door describes itself as a publisher of “commercial literary fiction” (an oxymoron, surely?), Smythe has also been published by Harper Voyager, a sf imprint. And The Machine is pleasingly Ballardian.

Then there’s the Mann… I’m a fan of Mann’s sf and I have copies of all his books (see here). But The Disestablishment of Paradise is his first novel since 1996, and a lot has changed since then. Which, sadly, means that The Disestablishment of Paradise feels very old-fashioned. The writing is assured, the structure is handled well, the world-building is clever… but the pace drags, the dialogue is stilted, and the interactions between the characters read like they come from a book written fifty years ago. I’ve not read The Adjacent, although I was planning to as part of my Hugo reading. But Priest is pretty much the Grand Old Man of British literary sf (from the inside, that is), a previous Clarke winner, and a four-time BSFA novel winner (the last in 2012). While The Adjacent‘s presence was by no means a certainty, the odds must have been good it would be there. Finally, all I know about Nexus is what I’ve read in a pair of not-very-complimentary reviews. Which makes its appearance on the list a surprise – but we’ll see what’s said about it now that it’s a finalist.

The Clarke Award has a history of generating odd shortlists. This year’s is perhaps the least contentious for a number of years. But it’s also quite a strong list, with some excellent books on it. Three speak to the future of the genre, two are by old hands, and one updates a 20th Century mode of sf for the 21st Century. That’s a pretty good spread. Who the eventual winner will be, however, is anybody’s guess…


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My final Hugo ballot

I have spent much of the past half a dozen weeks or so catching up on my Hugo reading so I could round out the draft Hugo ballot I posted back in early February. Obviously, this didn’t mean reading every piece of fiction published in 2013, I had to choose what to read. And I made my choices according to a number of factors – authors I’d read before and appreciated, word of mouth, recommendations from friends and acquaintances, even other people’s posted Hugo ballots… Some novellas and short stories I wanted to read, but didn’t have access to copies since I don’t subscribe to the Big Three and I haven’t bought every original anthology published in 2013.

So there are some things to bear in mind about my choices. First, they’re limited by what I had access to. Second, I’ve nominated some of my my own works because a) I’m allowed to, and b) it’s not like they’ll get hundreds of votes anyway, and c) I wouldn’t have written the damn things if I didn’t think they were good. (And it’s not like I was massively prolific in 2013 anyway – only two novellas and two short stories.)

I should also point out that I don’t actually have much time for the Hugo Awards as awards. The results – or even the shortlists – almost never reflect my tastes, and its winners are by no means the “best” of the year in their categories (and that’s not just a “taste” thing). The Hugos are a popularity contest and I’m not in tune with the electorate in any meaningful way. (Although, to be honest, I’ve been somewhat surprised – and scared – that I noted Sofia Samatar’s ‘Selkie Stories are for Losers’ as a story worth nominating when I first read it back in January 2013, and I seem to be in agreement in that regard with a lot of people as it’s appeared on several award shortlists and Hugo ballots. On the other hand, it does demonstrate my belief that fiction can be objectively good, if so many people with different tastes have recognised Samatar’s story as award-worthy.)

Given my continual dissatisfaction with the Hugos – its categories, its rules, its shortlists and winners throughout the decades and years… – you’d have thought I’d refrain from nominating or voting in this year’s awards. Certainly I see no point in buying a worldcon supporting membership simply for the “privilege” of voting. But I will be attending Loncon 3, and I bought a membership to be at the convention not to vote in the awards. It’s a side… er, well, not “-benefit”; not really a “bonus” either. It’s something I can do because I’ll be attending the worldcon. And, since there are a few points I’d like to make about the Hugo Awards, I decided to make those points this year by nominating works.

novel
1 A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki (Canongate)
2 Empty Space: A Haunting, M John Harrison (Night Shade Books)
3 Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit)
4 Life After Life, Kate Atkinson (Doubleday)
5 The Machine, James Smythe (Blue Door)

There are several books I didn’t manage to read in time which were possible contenders: Shaman, Kim Stanley Robinson; Strange Bodies, Marcel Theroux; The Adjacent, Christopher Priest… And plenty I did read that didn’t make the cut (see here and here). But looking at other people’s posted ballots, I don’t think there are any other books I’ve missed I might consider award-worthy. (Although Larry Nolen did suggest some translated books which looked interesting – can’t find the damn titles now, though…)

novella
1 The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself, Ian Sales (Whippleshield Books)
2 Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above, Ian Sales (Whippleshield Books)
3 Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance, Paul Park (PS Publishing)
4 Spin, Nina Allen (TTA Press)

I like novellas, I think it’s an interesting length – both to write and to read. But I think it’s best-suited to book format. In other words, it takes up too much real-estate in a magazine, and is too long to read online. But not many small presses publish original novellas in hardback or paperback, and of those that do few of them are the sort of genre fiction that I like. In other words, I read very few novellas published in 2013. So I spent last weekend hunting around online for suitable candidates… without success. I bought only two novellas published last year, and both made my ballot.

Yes, I am ignoring the novelette category. Novelettes should die. There is no need for a category for “medium-length stories”. There is more difference between a 17,500-word novella and a 39,000-word novella than there is between a 1,000-word short story and a 17,400-word short story.

short story
1 ‘The Incurable Irony of the Man Who Rode the Rocket Sled’, Ian Sales (The Orphan)
2 ‘Selkie Stories are for Losers’, Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons)
3 ‘Golden Apple’, Sophia McDougall (The Lowest Heaven)
4 ‘A Bridge of Words’, Dinesh Rao (We See a Different Frontier)
5 ‘The International Studbook of the Giant Panda’, Carlos Hernandez (Interzone)

The first test of a good story is: did I make it through to the end? Most I give up on after only a handful of paragraphs. Of the stories I did finish, the above are the ones I thought the best. I note that another story from The Lowest Heaven has proven a more popular pick than mine; and the same is also true for We See a Different Frontier. Both are excellent anthologies, incidentally; and proof that there really needs to be a Best Original Anthology Hugo.

related work
1 Red Doc>, Anne Carson (Knopf)
2 Beyond Apollo, David SF Portree
3 The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, Peter Davison (BBC)
4 ‘A Genre in Crisis: On Paul Di Filippo’s “Wikiworld”‘, Paul Graham Raven (Los Angeles Review of Books)
5 100 Great Science Fiction Stories by Women (iansales.com)

Ah, I hear you cry, your choices make no sense! Red Doc> is fiction, Beyond Apollo is a fanzine, The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot is a dramatic presentation! Except… there is no category for poetry, so I’m putting Red Doc> here. Beyond Apollo is not about science fiction or fantasy or even fandom, it is about science and engineering, so I’m putting it here. The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot is not science fiction, it is about a science fiction programme and set very much in the real world… so I’m putting it here. Paul Graham Raven’s excellent review is about the most traditional item on my ballot. And I’ve given my last slot to the list of 100 Great Science Fiction Stories by Women I published – but which was contributed to by many – because it was an important project.

semiprozine
1 Interzone
2 Vector
3 Strange Horizons

fanzine
1 SF Mistressworks
2 Pornokitsch
3 Nerds of a Feather
4 Sibilant Fricative
5 Good Show Sir

fan writer
1 Liz Bourke
2 Jonathan McCalmont
3 Abigail Nussbaum
4 Jared Shurin
5 Nina Allan

Yes, I have ignored some of the categories. I will not be voting for them either. Yes, some of my choices are not obvious fits for the categories in which I’ve put them. But I profoundly disagree with the definitions of some of the categories – I mean, “semiprozine”? Who the fuck thinks its definition is even remotely sensible or workable? – and I have chosen to express this disagreement by nominating things where I think they should go.

I expect to be thoroughly disappointed by the eventual shortlists. Perhaps one or two of my fiction choices will make it onto the final ballot – Ancillary Justice is, I think, a shoo-in; likewise the Samatar short story. Nina Allan’s Spin is a possibility. But I’ll be bloody surprised if any of the others make the cut. As for the not-fiction categories… if every nominee for fanzine is a paper fanzine, or every nominee for fan writer is someone who writes for paper fanzines… then I’ll consider fandom officially dead.

Finally, Loncon 3 will also be awarding Retro Hugos, for works published 75 years ago in 1938. So not only are voters expected to be familiar with every piece of genre fiction published last year, but also for a year decades before they were born? Fuck off. Loncon 3 has provided a handy list of what was published in 1938, for those of you daft enough to take the whole thing seriously. I will say only this: I have read only one of the eligible novels, Galactic Patrol by EE ‘Doc’ Smith, and it was unutterably shit… and yet it and its sequels, the Lensman series, are still celebrated today as “classic” science fiction…


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What did I nominate?

There’s an excellent post here by Adam Roberts, written with his characteristic perspicacity and wit, on awards and self-pimping. Now I must hang my head in shame, as I did post a little something of that sort back in December, but in my defence I’m just farting in a thunderstorm. (And Adam himself admits he’d thought The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself was published in 2012, and I wanted to make people aware that it was actually out in 2013. Note to self: do not publish anything in January.) However, I was intending to post something here about what I’d myself nominated for the BSFA (and I will likely do the same for the Hugo), just as soon as I’d figured out what I was going to choose…

Each year, I tell myself I will read more short fiction, or I will read more books during their year of publication. Each year, I fail to do so. So it’s a rare year when I get to actually cobble together a list of nominations in all four BSFA categories – novel, short fiction, non-fiction, artwork – of reasonable length. This year, sadly, is no exception. So, for what it’s worth, these are what I’ve nominated so far…

Novel
Checking back over my records, I see I’ve read nineteen books published in 2013, but only six of them are genre novels. Which doesn’t give me much of a pool to nominate from – but the following are easily the best of those six, and I’d be happy to nominate them even if I’d read ninety books published in 2013.

Short Story
At the start of the year, I made an effort to keep abreast of new genre short fiction as it was published – not just in the various online venues I regularly visit, but also the genre print magazines to which I subscribe – which would be, er, Interzone. Sadly, that effort didn’t last long. I did, however, read two genre anthologies published in 2013, and both contained some very good fiction.

As for the non-fiction and artwork categories… I’ll be spending this weekend trying to cobble together a short list of each to nominate (nominations close on Tuesday 14 January). And I have until 31 March to decide what I’m going to nominate for the 2013 Hugo Awards…


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Goings on and off

Last weekend saw numerous awards handed out in science fiction and fantasy. Sadly, Adrift on the Sea of Rains didn’t win the 2012 Sidewise Award for Short-Form Alternate History. That went to Rick Wilber’s ‘Something Real’, first published in Asimov’s and apparently about a baseball player who turns spy during an alternate WWII. Still, I was surprised, and very pleased, to be shortlisted – and while The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself may be predominantly hard sf, Then Will The Great Wash Deep Above is pretty much pure alternate history… So maybe next year.

Of course, the best-known award handed out over the weekend was the Hugo Award. In sixteen separate categories. The Hugo is a popular vote award, and its results reflect that. The winner was John Scalzi’s Redshirts, a book I will admit appeals to me not one bit, nor from the reviews I’ve read would it seem to qualify as the best science fiction novel published in 2012. But that’s the way the award works. Good to see Pat Cadigan win a long-deserved Hugo for best novelette, though I think it’s long past time the category was hurled into the outer darkness. The short story ballot contained only three stories and I was disappointed Aliette’s ‘Immersion’ didn’t win, but Ken Liu’s brand of sentimentality seems to be serving him well – this is his second Hugo win in two years. I’m not much interested in the other categories, especially those which cling to old modes of fandom for dear life and are being badly distorted by recent years’ results.

Other big sf news includes the death of Frederik Pohl at the age of 93. He wrote a huge number of books, and I think I’ve read around a dozen of them. Some of them I remember as pretty good, possibly even genre classics – like Gateway and Man Plus – but others seemed very forgettable, such as Narabedla Ltd, Mining the Oort or Homegoing. But that’s an occupational hazard of being so prolific, or having so long a career. However, Pohl was also an influential editor and like a lot of sf authors and editors of his generation helped shape the genre of science fiction as we now know it – for good or ill. Pohl is the second author of his generation to die this year. The other was Jack Vance, who was also very prolific. I think I’ve read about two-thirds of Vance’s sf output. He died back in May. Vance’s fiction had a very distinctive voice, and while his novels were of variable quality they were also very recognisable. He wrote pulp, but it was better-than-average pulp, and occasionally it transcended its pulpish origins. While it’s always sad when writers whose fiction has brought you pleasure die, the books of the late Iain Banks meant far more to me than those of Vance or Pohl.

On a personal note, I recently dropped the price of the paperback edition of The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself for UK buyers by £1 on the Whippleshield Books online shop, so order your copy now. I’ve dropped the ebook price as well – across all platforms and sites. Also, you can now listen to the audio version of Adrift on the Sea of Rains on Starship Sofa (part one is currently up, I assume part 2 will appear this week). Rather than have narrator Logan Waterman read out the glossary, we agreed I would post it online – you can find it here.

I also decided a couple of weeks ago that Whippleshield Books is going to publish a series of mini-anthologies in paperback and ebook, each one containing no more than four or five stories. The submission period doesn’t open until 1 November, and I’ll post more about it then, but here’s the original announcement. I’m also playing around with an idea for a non-genre-specific ebook-only mini-anthology series, but we’ll see how Aphrodite Terra goes. Meanwhile, Apollo Quartet 3 Then Will The Great Wash Deep Above is taking shape nicely. I hope to be able to post the cover art and the back-cover blurb soon.

SF Mistressworks has had to go to a fortnightly schedule. I’ve been providing every other review for the last twelve months, and writing a book review once a fortnight was affecting all the other things I have – or would like – to do. Every other review will still be by me – at least until I build up a bigger backlog of reviews – but now I only have to write one a month. I’d been hoping to get more short fiction done this year but had been finding it difficult. This should help. Incidentally, I have no plans to let SF Mistressworks lapse or close. It’s been going now for over two years, and I plan to keep it running until there are no more eligible books to review – although given its policy of allowing multiple reviews of books, that might never happen…

My list of 100 Great Science Fiction Stories by Women continues to get hits every day – in fact, it’s the most popular post on this blog by quite a margin. I never managed to figure out how many times it was reblogged on Tumblr, but I think it was in triple figures; and it was also linked to by a number of blogs and other sites. Perhaps it’s time to start working on a 100 Great Science Fiction Novels by Women list… though I’d expect that to prove a lot more contentious (“where’s x?! How dare you miss out y?!). We shall see.

Meanwhile on this blog, I shall continue to write about the books I’ve read, post photographs of the books I’ve bought, try and define science fiction, post pictures of cool aircraft, ships, submersibles, cars, Brutalist buildings and futurist fashions… and write posts on any other topic which takes my fancy at the time. Blogging is allegedly on its way out – why generate original content when you can just reblog someone else’s content? why comment on something when you can just click “like”? – but I think I’ll carry on doing it for a while yet…


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Locus All-Centuries Poll short fiction results

Locus posted the short fiction results to its poll a couple of days ago and the results are… not entirely unexpected. Americocentric. A little more diverse in terms of race and gender than the novel results, but not by that much. And yes, pretty much exclusively Anglophone. But let’s see how my choices did…

20th Century SF/F Novella
22 – 1 ‘Great Work of Time’, John Crowley (1989)
6 – 2 ‘The Fifth Head of Cerberus’, Gene Wolfe (1972)
51 – 3 ‘Forgiveness Day’, Ursula K Le Guin (1994)
0 – 4 ‘Equator’, Brian W Aldiss (1958)
72 – 5 ‘Green Mars’, Kim Stanley Robinson (1985)
83 – 6 ‘Marrow’, Robert Reed (1997)
0 – 7 ‘Secrets’, Ian Watson (1997)
1 – 8 ‘Story of Your Life’, Ted Chiang (1998)
71 – 9 ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, Richard Cowper (1976)
10

Well, I picked the number one novella, although I had it down at number eight. A single Aldiss novella barely made the top fifty – so much for his sixty-year career (though I will admit ‘Equator’ is not generally seen as one of his career highlights; I still love it, however.) A single Ian Watson novelette made it to number 117 – so there’s another British author who has been cruelly neglected.

Instead, the actual top twenty had Chiang, old favourites like Heinlein and Simak and John W Campbell and Sturgeon and Lovecraft, and six women (including US middle-aged fan favourite Connie Willis). Most, surprisingly, are science fiction, rather than fantasy.

20th Century SF/F Novelette
108 – 1 ‘The Barbie Murders’, John Varley (1978)
170 – 2 ‘Beauty and the Opéra or the Phantom Beast’, Suzy McKee Charnas (1996)
0 – 3 ‘The Time-Tombs’, JG Ballard (1963)
73 – 4 ‘A Little Something For Us Tempunauts’, Philip K Dick (1974)
157 – 5 ‘Black Air’, Kim Stanley Robinson (1983)
0 – 6 ‘The Last Days of Shandakor’, Leigh Brackett (1952)
100 – 7 ‘No Woman Born’, CL Moore (1944)
0 – 8 ‘FOAM’, Brian W Aldiss (1991)
44 – 9 ‘Swarm’, Bruce Sterling (1982)
0 – 10 ‘Housecall’, Terry Dowling (1986)

A few more zeros here, meaning no one selected those choices as their number one. My highest placer is Bruce Sterling at 44, and I thought that was my most commercial pick. I should have instead listed ‘The View From Venus: A Case Study’ by Karen Joy Fowler, which, er, no one picked at all.

The actual top twenty has the execrable ‘Nightfall’ at number two. Kill it with fire. And another Asimov at number four. Plus Harlan Ellison (it’s harder to know which to despise more, the man or his fiction). Three women, although Tiptree is selected twice. Samuel Delany sneaks in at number sixteen. All twenty novelettes are by Americans (the first Brit appears at 41).

20th Century SF/F Short Story
56 – 1 ‘And I Awoke And Found Me Here On The Cold Hill Side’, James Tiptree Jr. (1972)
25 – 2 ‘Air Raid’, John Varley (1977)
0 – 3 ‘Forward Echoes (AKA Identifying the Object)’, Gwyneth Jones (1990)
213 – 4 ‘The Lake of Tuonela’, Keith Roberts (1973)
0 – 5 ‘The Road To Jerusalem’, Mary Gentle (1991)
0 – 6 ‘A Map of the Mines of Barnath’, Sean Williams (1995)
0 – 7 ‘The Brains Of Rats’, Michael Blumlein (1986)
22 – 8 ‘Aye, And Gomorrah’, Samuel R Delany (1967)
276 – 9 ‘A Gift From The Culture’, Iain M Banks (1987)
101 – 10 ‘The Gernsback Continuum’, William Gibson (1981)

I wasn’t expecting to have many popular choices in this category, but not a single one of mine made it into the top twenty. Delany came highest at 22, and then Varley at 25. And they’re popular works of sf. I got four zeroes.

The actual results featured Ellison (3), Heinlein (2), Clarke (3), Asimov, Bradbury (2)… It’s Dead White Male time. (Except Ellison isn’t dead, of course.) Four women. JG Ballard’s highest placing is 47, which is dismaying. Looking at the results, I see a lot of stories that are repeatedly anthologised. Well, there you go…

21st Century SF/F Novella
59 – 1 ‘Arkfall’, Carolyn Ives Gilman (2008)
0 – 2 ‘My Death’, Lisa Tuttle (2004)
6 – 3 ‘Diamond Dogs’, Alastair Reynolds (2001)
0 – 4 ‘Dangerous Space’, Kelley Eskridge (2007)
0 – 5 ‘A Writer’s Life’, Eric Brown (2001)

I’ve read two of the novellas which made the top ten in this category. One of them was the Reynolds. I was surprised Carolyn Ives Gilman didn’t get zero, but then it was originally published in Asimov’s. Two of the others were original novellas from PS Publishing, so no surprise with the zeroes there…

21st Century SF/F Novelette
2 – 1 ‘The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate’, Ted Chiang (2007)
66 – 2 ‘Divining Light’, Ted Kosmatka (2008)
3
4
5

I freely admit to being crap at this category. Not only is the novelette a completely useless category and should be roundly expunged from, well, everything, but I’ve not read enough long short fiction published this century. Still, my number one choice made number two. Still, Chiang… (On the other hand, he also made the number one spot.)

As it is, the top ten are all genre darlings – Chiang, Link, Gaiman, Stross, Miéville, Bacigalupi…

21st Century SF/F Short Story

I was so rubbish at this one, I couldn’t think of a single story to nominate. If I had chosen the story I remembered after the deadline, ‘The Avatar of Background Noise’, Toiya Kristen Finley, it would have come… nowhere. No one picked it. Instead, we got ten relatively recent award winners, with a couple of outliers – Le Guin and Swanwick.

We can thus conclude that all worthwhile science fiction and fantasy short fiction is written by a group of about thirty people, over half of whom are dead. Of course, this is a consequence of the small number of voters, most of whom probably fit a fairly similar profile. I’m not sure how useful an exercise that makes the poll, though as a guideline for changing a reader’s approach to the genre it offers a possible blueprint. You know, don’t read the writers in the top twenties for each category, read other ones instead, ones you may not have come across before. Diversify your diet of genre fiction. Add some diversity to it.

And finally, I just have to say something about the amazingly stupid remark made in the comment thread on the results page:

“If there was more women and minorities that cared enough to vote in this poll, then there would have been more females and minorities on the list. you cannot blame others for it.”

Poor grammar aside, it’s a remarkably dumb thing to say. Because of course only women and minorities nominate women and minorities. And women only vote for women, just as minorities only vote for minorities. Someone take away Maddog’s computer, he’s clearly too stupid to use it properly.


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The Novel Poll results are in

… and oh dear. Well, that’s a little embarrassing. The results for the novels for the Locus All-Centuries Poll are in – see here. The best science fiction novel of the twentieth century is apparently Frank Herbert’s Dune, the best fantasy novel of the twentieth century is The Lord of the Rings, the best sf novel of the twenty-first century is John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, and the best fantasy novel of the twenty-first century is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

These results only show that most people confuse popularity with quality. I love Dune and I’ve read it many times, but it’s not a very well-written book. In fact, Herbert’s prose rarely rises above the embarrassingly bad. The Lord of the Rings is the giant elephant in the fantasy room, and it’s about time fantasy got over it. The less said about the twenty-first century novel choices, the better. I’ve read neither, I have no intention of reading them, they are not books I’d ever consider would merit the description “best”.

Unsurprisingly, my own choices did woefully badly. Only one actually made it onto a list – Watership Down at number ten on the 20th Century Fantasy Novel. For the record, here are the actual positions of my choices, where 0 (zero) means the book was not chosen as number one on a list by anyone.

20th Century SF Novel
221 – 1 Coelestis, Paul Park (1993)
206 – 2 Dhalgren, Samuel R Delany (1975)
16 – 3 The Dispossessed, Ursula K Le Guin (1974)
283 – 4 Kairos, Gwyneth Jones (1988)
0 – 5 Synthajoy, DG Compton (1968)
349 – 6 Ash: A Secret History, Mary Gentle (2000)
0 – 7 Where Time Winds Blow, Robert Holdstock (1981)
35 – 8 Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson (1992)
0 – 9 Take Back Plenty, Colin Greenland (1990)
76 – 10 The Female Man, Joanna Russ (1975)

20th Century Fantasy Novel
229 – 1 Aegypt, John Crowley (1987)
265 – 2 In Viriconium, M John Harrison (1982)
236 – 3 Rats & Gargoyles, Mary Gentle (1990)
34 – 4 Mythago Wood, Robert Holdstock (1984)
0 – 5 Lens of the World, RA McAvoy (1990)
10 – 6 Watership Down, Richard Adams (1972)
102 – 7 The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman (1995)
62 – 8 Tehanu, Ursula K Le Guin (1990)
18 – 9 The Book Of The New Sun, Gene Wolfe (1983)
0 – 10 The Grail of Hearts, Susan Shwartz (1992)

21st Century SF Novel
14 – 1 Light, M John Harrison (2002)
67 – 2 Life, Gwyneth Jones (2004)
0 – 3 Ascent, Jed Mercurio (2007)
0 – 4 Alanya to Alanya, L Timmel Duchamp (2005)
0 – 5 The Caryatids, Bruce Sterling (2009)

21st Century Fantasy Novel
0 – 1 Evening’s Empire, David Herter (2002)
87 – 2 A Princess of Roumania, Paul Park (2005)
0 – 3 Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land, John Crowley (2005)
155 – 4 Hav, Jan Morris (2006)
0 – 5 Lord of Stone, Keith Brooke (2001)

So there we have it: popularity contest picks most popular novels and calls them “best”. In other words, a total waste of time. I knew going in that some of my choices were reasonably obscure – not totally obscure, as they were published by major publishing houses – but even so I expected some people to recognise their quality. Sadly not. And even my choices for the more popular and better-known authors didn’t even make it into the final top ten or top five. I mean, no halfway-intelligent person can consider Old Man’s War to be a better book than Light. Not, and be taken seriously. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Sf and fantasy aren’t taken seriously. And never will be as long as we pull stupid strokes like the results of this poll.

So, science fiction and fantasy, go and stand in the corner.


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Locus poll adden-doh

So, a day or two after I filled in my selections for the Locus Poll of Polls (see here), I stumbled across this Mind Meld I did back in October 2010 on my perfect short fiction anthology. While most of the TOC made it into my categories for the polls, some didn’t and I wish I’d managed to remember them. The missing ones were:

‘That Only a Mother’, Judith Merrill (short story, 1948)
I went for ‘No Woman Born’ by CL Moore instead. I’d have to reread both to decide which of the two I should have chosen. It might have been both.

‘The Sword of Rhiannon’, Leigh Brackett (novel, 1949)
This is apparently a novel, so it doesn’t even belong in a short fiction anthology. Whoops. I picked Brackett’s ‘The Last Days of Shandrakor’ for my 20th Century SF/F Novelette category.

‘A Woman Naked’, Christopher Priest (short story, 1974)
I did think about including this one, but I had more than ten choices for my 20th Century SF/F Short Story category. Even though some turned out to be novelettes, I still had to say no to a couple of titles. Incidentally, I wrote a guest post on this story on Gav Reads – see here.

‘The View from Venus: A Case Study’, Karen Joy Fowler (novelette, 1986)
I considered this one too, but I thought it was a short story and I was over-subscribed in that category. But I’ve just looked on isfdb.org and it’s down as a novelette. So I should have included it in that category, probably in place of the Sterling or the Dowling.

‘In Saturn Time’, William Barton (short story, 1995)
Like the Priest, I considered this, but had no free space in the category.

‘Beside the Sea’, Keith Brooke (short story, 1995)
I’d forgotten about this one, but I suspect it wouldn’t have made the cut anyway. Though it is an excellent short story.

‘The Avatar of Background Noise’, Toiya Kristen Finley (short story, 2006)
I wish I’d remembered this one. I left my 21st Century SF/F Short Story category blank, but I’d have included this one if I’d remembered it. Argh.

I only managed nine in the 20th Century SF/F Novella category, two in the 21st Century SF/F Novelette, and none in 21st Century SF/F Short Story. I think I need to read more short fiction from the first decade of this century. It’s not like I’m prevented from doing so – I have a huge pile of Interzones, a shelf full of Postscripts, and a whole bunch of other magazines and anthologies…

So, I think, as a resolution for 2013, I shall work towards putting together a short fiction best of the year, as I do every year for books, films and albums. That should encourage me to read more short stories. I’ll not differentiate between short story, novelette or novella – they’ll all be munged together into one list. Nor will I work overly hard at reading as much as possible. If a story doesn’t grab me within the first 500 to 1,000 words, I’ll not bother finishing it. I’ll stick to the venues I usually frequent, though if someone recommends a story published elsewhere I’ll give it a go. Hopefully, by the end of the year I’ll have enough to choose from to list the five best. I’ll even be able to pick stories to nominate for the BSFA Award. (hint, hint.)


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The humungous Locus poll and my picks for it

I hate polls; polls are stupid things. Picking the best fiction with a popularity contest? Fail. But I had a bash at it anyway. Not that my choices are likely to appear in the final top ten in any category, or cause anything but the tiniest amount of skew in the results. But it was sort of fun as an intellectual exercise.

Picking out the novels was easy enough, but the short fiction categories were hard, especially the 21st century ones. Some stories stay with you for years afterwards, but they’re few and far between. And numbers alone – plus the fact I don’t read every piece of short fiction as it’s published – means I probably encountered few memorable stories during the first decade of this century.

Anyway, for what it’s worth here are my picks:

20th Century SF Novel
1 Coelestis, Paul Park (1993)
2 Dhalgren, Samuel R Delany (1975)
3 The Dispossessed, Ursula K Le Guin (1974)
4 Kairos, Gwyneth Jones (1988)
5 Synthajoy, DG Compton (1968)
6 Ash: A Secret History, Mary Gentle (2000)
7 Where Time Winds Blow, Robert Holdstock (1981)
8 Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson (1992)
9 Take Back Plenty, Colin Greenland (1990)
10 The Female Man, Joanna Russ (1975)

20th Century Fantasy Novel
1 Aegypt, John Crowley (1987)
2 In Viriconium, M John Harrison (1982)
3 Rats & Gargoyles, Mary Gentle (1990)
4 Mythago Wood, Robert Holdstock (1984)
5 Lens of the World, RA McAvoy (1990)
6 Watership Down, Richard Adams (1972)
7 The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman (1995)
8 Tehanu, Ursula K Le Guin (1990)
9 The Book Of The New Sun, Gene Wolfe (1983)
10 The Grail of Hearts, Susan Shwartz (1992)

20th Century SF/F Novella
1 ‘Great Work of Time’, John Crowley (1989)
2 ‘The Fifth Head of Cerberus’, Gene Wolfe (1972)
3 ‘Forgiveness Day’, Ursula K Le Guin (1994)
4 ‘Equator’, Brian W Aldiss (1958)
5 ‘Green Mars’, Kim Stanley Robinson (1985)
6 ‘Marrow’, Robert Reed (1997)
7 ‘Secrets’, Ian Watson (1997)
8 ‘Story of Your Life’, Ted Chiang (1998)
9 ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, Richard Cowper (1976)
10

20th Century SF/F Novelette
1 ‘The Barbie Murders’, John Varley (1978)
2 ‘Beauty and the Opéra or the Phantom Beast’, Suzy McKee Charnas (1996)
3 ‘The Time-Tombs’, JG Ballard (1963)
4 ‘A Little Something For Us Tempunauts’, Philip K Dick (1974)
5 ‘Black Air’, Kim Stanley Robinson (1983)
6 ‘The Last Days of Shandakor’, Leigh Brackett (1952)
7 ‘No Woman Born’, CL Moore (1944)
8 ‘FOAM’, Brian W Aldiss (1991)
9 ‘Swarm’, Bruce Sterling (1982)
10 ‘Housecall’, Terry Dowling (1986)

20th Century SF/F Short Story
1 ‘And I Awoke And Found Me Here On The Cold Hill Side’, James Tiptree Jr. (1972)
2 ‘Air Raid’, John Varley (1977)
3 ‘Forward Echoes (AKA Identifying the Object)’, Gwyneth Jones (1990)
4 ‘The Lake of Tuonela’, Keith Roberts (1973)
5 ‘The Road To Jerusalem’, Mary Gentle (1991)
6 ‘A Map of the Mines of Barnath’, Sean Williams (1995)
7 ‘The Brains Of Rats’, Michael Blumlein (1986)
8 ‘Aye, And Gomorrah’, Samuel R Delany (1967)
9 ‘A Gift From The Culture’, Iain M Banks (1987)
10 ‘The Gernsback Continuum’, William Gibson (1981)

21st Century SF Novel
1 Light, M John Harrison (2002)
2 Life, Gwyneth Jones (2004)
3 Ascent, Jed Mercurio (2007)
4 Alanya to Alanya, L Timmel Duchamp (2005)
5 The Caryatids, Bruce Sterling (2009)

21st Century Fantasy Novel
1 Evening’s Empire, David Herter (2002)
2 A Princess of Roumania, Paul Park (2005)
3 Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land, John Crowley (2005)
4 Hav, Jan Morris (2006)
5 Lord of Stone, Keith Brooke (2001)

21st Century SF/F Novella
1 ‘Arkfall’, Carolyn Ives Gilman (2008)
2 ‘My Death’, Lisa Tuttle (2004)
3 ‘Diamond Dogs’, Alastair Reynolds (2001)
4 ‘Dangerous Space’, Kelley Eskridge (2007)
5 ‘A Writer’s Life’, Eric Brown (2001)

21st Century SF/F Novelette
1 ‘The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate’, Ted Chiang (2007)
2 ‘Divining Light’, Ted Kosmatka (2008)
3
4
5

21st Century SF/F Short Story
1
2
3
4
5

Well, the same names crop up in most lists, but that’s because I think those writers are amongst the most interesting in genre fiction. I did trawl through the lists of suggested titles provided by Locus, but there were few novels or stories I liked or thought especially good – in fact, many of choices above don’t appear on any of their lists. I’ve not read enough 21st century short fiction to pick the five best. I managed it with a handful of novellas and novelettes, but short stories?

(No doubt I’ll think of possible titles the moment I hit the “Publish” button on this post…)

And let me once more ask what on earth is the use of the novelette? It’s an entirely arbitrary and useless category. Anything bigger than a short story but smaller than a novel is a novella. The only places where novelette is used as a category is in the Big Three genre magazines and US genre awards. And it seems to me it only exists so the big friendly and incestuous club of US genre writers have an excuse to give each other yet another award. Get rid of it, please.


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A good year for… something

Sometimes I feel like Bart Simpson when he keeps on reaching for the doughnut Lisa Simpson has electrified. Each year, I eagerly await the shortlists for the Arthur C Clarke and Hugo Awards; each year, I’m disappointed by the novels or short fiction chosen by one or both. I have already written about the Clarke (see here). I’d like The Testament of Jessie Lamb to win, but I expect Embassytown will. (Incidentally, it occurred to me reading Adam Roberts’ excellent report on the Clarke shortlist books here and here that his response to The Testament of Jessie Lamb mirrors mine to Embassytown; and vice versa. Sort of.)

Then there’s the Hugo Award shortlists…

The less said about the novel shortlist, the better. Oh, all right…

My thoughts on Leviathan Wakes are laid out quite clearly in my review on SFF Chronicles here. I am quite angry it has been shortlisted. I gave up on A Song of Ice and Fire several years ago after reading one of its humungous installments in which fuck-all happened. I gave up on epic fantasy as a genre a couple of years ago after getting sick to death of its shallowness, its use of rape as a trope, and its general lack of invention or innovation (though I will acknowledge there are some worth reading – RA McAvoy’s Lens of the World trilogy, Steph Swainston, KJ Parker, Carolyn Ives Gilman, A Princess of Roumania, for example). Deadline is the middle book of a trilogy about zombies. Zombies are passé, they have been done to, er, undeath. It’s time they were put to, um, rest. The world has moved on, it’s all krakens and sea monsters now. I think. Among Others I have heard mostly good things about, but I have not read it. And Embassytown, while I think it does not entirely succeed (see here), is probably the one book that does belong on this shortlist.

If I had bothered to pay for the privilege of voting, my choices would go: 1) Embassytown, 2) Among Others, 3) No Award

And the short fiction shortlist:

The Resnick is old-fashioned crap. As have been every one of his shortlisted stories in recent years. Clearly he has his fans; clearly they need to read a lot more widely. The Liu is what I think of as a “clarion-style story”. It is sentimental, uses a metaphor to illustrate its core emotional argument, and then beats that metaphor to death. I do not like such stories. The Scalzi is a jolly jape and does not belong within five thousand kilometres of a shortlist. Unless said shortlist was posted on April 1st. This one was not. Shortlisting Scalzi’s spoof does not prove that fandom has a sense of humour, it proves only that it thinks one of the best five stories written during the previous year was a stupid spoof knocked off in a weekend by a popular writer. That’s not only dumb, it’s a perversion of the whole concept of “best short story”. Nancy Fulda’s story is another “well-meaning parents try to use tech to cure autistic kid” story. There’s usually half a dozen of them published in any one year. Fulda’s is no better and no worse than most but, crucially, it brings nothing new to the trope. It’s also sentimental; I don’t like sentimental. The Yu is a piece of whimsy which threatens to mean more than it seems but never quite does so. It at least has some claim to a place on the shortlist.

My votes, had I paid to vote, would be: 1) E Lily Yu, 2) No Award.

I shall whinge about the novelettes and novellas in another post. I shall not bother with the other categories. I still don’t understand why fandom bothers with the dramatic presentation Hugos. The film and television industries have their own awards ceremony, and they spent a shitload more money on them than sf does. As for the remaining categories…

Did I say “bah humbug”? If I haven’t, take it as, er, read…

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