Thursday, May 21, 2015

Thoughts on the Hugo Award Nominees: Fancast

Thursday, May 21, 2015 2
Adventures in SF Publishing Brent Bower (Executive Producer), Kristi Charish, Timothy C. Ward & Moses Siregar III (Co-Hosts, Interviewers and Producers)
Dungeon Crawlers Radio Daniel Swenson (Producer/Host), Travis Alexander & Scott Tomlin (Hosts), Dale Newton (Host/Tech), Damien Swenson (Audio/Video Tech)
Galactic Suburbia Podcast Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
The Sci Phi Show Jason Rennie
Tea and Jeopardy Emma Newman & Peter Newman

It is quite obvious to me that I am not the intended audience for most podcasts. I tend to only listen to one when the subject or the guest strongly interests me, and even then, I seem to be limited by just how much I can take. I do listen, semi-regularly, to Rocket Talk (one of my Hugo nominees for Related Work), occasionally a sports or wrestling related podcast, and then even yet more rarely, stuff like Star Talk, the Agony Column, or the other one I listen to which completely escapes me. 

So, "fancasts". 

As a general rule, for me, shorter is better. I listened to each of the works included in the Hugo voter's packet and am judging solely on that. If there were better examples of each podcast, that's unfortunate, because while all of them have their merits, none are ones I intend to return to.

But listening to two hours of Dungeon Crawlers talking about building role playing campaigns is just too much for me. It's not my thing. It is reasonably competent, but the podcast seemed to be too busy with too many people trying to speak. 

The Sci Phi show should be commended for simply having a very different and specific topic, which is the melding of science fiction and philosophy. Again, not my thing, but except for the really awful fake laughs that are used as transitions (or markers for jokes), Jason Rennie has a decent thing going with this show.  Added bonus, this was a very short episode, less than 30 minutes.

Adventures in SF Publishing is a bit more up my alley, though it ran a full hour, but was otherwise unremarkable.  Galactic Suburbia was a bit better, but still neither truly could grab my interest. It's not you, folks, it's me. Listening to podcasts are just not my thing, but I don't wish to ignore the category completely and some of the work being done here is rather good - for those who appreciate it.

Tea and Jeopardy appears to be in a class by itself. It is very slickly produced and seems to take place in the midst of a proper tea party. Again, this was one of the shorter episodes included and the limited run time accentuates what is cool and quirky about it while never letting what works run for too long.  It is the most worthy of the nominees, I think.

My vote:
1. Tea and Jeopardy
2. Galactic Suburbia
3. Adventures in SF Publishing
4. The Sci Phi Show
5. Dungeon Crawlers Radio


Standard 2015 Hugo Disclaimer:
In a typical year, I just jump right into whichever category I'm writing about and let my thoughts sort out the whole mess. This is not a typical year, so I'd like to start by talking a little bit about how I'm going to work through the various Hugo Award categories and how I am going to vote. Simply put, I am going to read everything. If I feel the work is strong enough to merit a ranked vote, I will vote for it in whatever order feels most appropriate. If I feel the work is not strong enough to merit ranking it above No Award, I will not do so.  But at no point am I making a blanket statement about Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies or that I've heard Thomas Heuvelt may have been campaigning for a nomination or anything else that I am not aware of.  The ballot is what the ballot is and I will treat it as such.

I am also working with the same methodology as I have in the past, which is to say that there are frequently works and writers on the ballot that I simply and strongly disagree with. In most cases, I have still ranked those works above No Award. I don't believe I have always done this, and I know if I had participated last year, one novel would have been below No Award because I bounced so hard off of the first book in that series that I really can't understand how the second also managed a nomination - and that writer is a Hugo favorite. Most stories compare to works that have previously been on the ballot, so those works that meet my low-bar criteria will secure my vote.

I may re-post this message on each article I write about the nominees, just so that we're clear in such a contentious year.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Thoughts on the Hugo Award Nominees: Fan Artist

Wednesday, May 20, 2015 2
Ninni Aalto
Brad Foster
Elizabeth Leggett
Spring Schoenhuth
Steve Stiles

Please see my Hugo disclaimer at the conclusion of this article.  Let us instead jump right into my thoughts on the nominees.

Elizabeth Leggett: Leggett was on my final Hugo nominating ballot and I very much stand behind that nomination and I am quite glad she was able to pick up a Hugo nomination this year.  Check out the link of her work at the top of this article, it's fantastic stuff.

Spring Schoenhuth: Schoenhuth's art is not the same sort of drawing / painting / art that we think about when we think of Hugo art. Schoenhuth does much more of the metal sculpture / jewelry style of art. What she does is excellent, though it isn't completely to my taste for genre art. It's not that I'm a traditionalist, it is more that I more appreciate cover art as science fiction and fantasy art.

No Award: While Foster and Stiles have been perennial nominees, and I had a very nice e-mail exchange with Foster last year when I was looking to highlight the art of all of the nominees (something I do not plan to do this year), I don't feel this art is truly among the best. It is art of a particular style, and I think it has fit the fanzines they have often been published in, but when you compare to Elizabeth Leggett, well, there is no comparison. I appreciated Ninni Aalto's work more than those of Foster and Stiles, but it still doesn't quite rise above and meet the levels of Leggett and Schoenhuth.



My Vote:
1. Elizabeth Leggett
2. Spring Schoenhuth
3. No Award


Standard 2015 Hugo Disclaimer:
In a typical year, I just jump right into whichever category I'm writing about and letting my thoughts sort out the whole mess. This is not a typical year, so I'd like to start by talking a little bit about how I'm going to work through the various Hugo Award categories and how I am going to vote. Simply put, I am going to read everything. If I feel the work is strong enough to merit a ranked vote, I will vote for it in whatever order feels most appropriate. If I feel the work is not strong enough to merit ranking it above No Award, I will not do so.  But at no point am I making a blanket statement about Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies or that I've heard Thomas Heuvelt may have been campaigning for a nomination or anything else that I am not aware of.  The ballot is what the ballot is and I will treat it as such.

I am also working with the same methodology as I have in the past, which is to say that there are frequently works and writers on the ballot that I simply and strongly disagree with. In most cases, I have still ranked those works above No Award. I don't believe I have always done this, and I know if I had participated last year, one novel would have been below No Award because I bounced so hard off of the first book in that series that I really can't understand how the second also managed a nomination - and that writer is a Hugo favorite. Most stories compare to works that have previously been on the ballot, so those works that meet my low-bar criteria will secure my vote.

I may re-post this message on each article I write about the nominees, just so that we're clear in such a contentious year.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Thoughts on the Hugo Award Nominees: Short Story

Tuesday, May 19, 2015 0
Goodnight Stars by Annie Bellet (The End is Now (Apocalypse Triptych Book 2), Broad Reach Publishing)
On A Spiritual Plain by Lou Antonelli (Sci Phi Journal #2, Nov 2014)
The Parliament of Beasts and Birds by John C. Wright (The Book of Feasts & Seasons, Castalia House)
"A Single Samurai", by Steven Diamond (The Baen Big Book of Monsters, Baen Books)
Totaled by Kary English (Galaxy’s Edge magazine, July 2014)
Turncoat by Steve Rzasa (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)

Annie Bellet declined her nomination after the ballot was announced and was replaced with the Steven Diamond story.

In a typical year, I just jump right into whichever category I'm writing about and letting my thoughts sort out the whole mess. This is not a typical year, so I'd like to start by talking a little bit about how I'm going to work through the various Hugo Award categories and how I am going to vote. Simply put, I am going to read everything. If I feel the work is strong enough to merit a ranked vote, I will vote for it in whatever order feels most appropriate. If I feel the work is not strong enough to merit ranking it above No Award, I will not do so.  But at no point am I making a blanket statement about Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies or that I've heard Thomas Heuvelt may have been campaigning for a nomination or anything else that I am not aware of.  The ballot is what the ballot is and I will treat it as such. 

I am also working with the same methodology as I have in the past, which is to say that there are frequently works and writers on the ballot that I simply and strongly disagree with. In most cases, I have still ranked those works above No Award. I don't believe I have always done this, and I know if I had participated last year, one novel would have been below No Award because I bounced so hard off of the first book in that series that I really can't understand how the second also managed a nomination - and that writer is a Hugo favorite. Most stories compare to works that have previously been on the ballot, so those works that meet my low-bar criteria will secure my vote.

I may re-post this message on each article I write about the nominees, just so that we're clear in such a contentious year.

"On a Spiritual Plain" / "A Single Samurai": One thing that I found very interesting about reading through the nominated short works is that they pair very closely in my head in how I would rank them. Antonelli's story of a faith (of sorts) on an alien world and a man trying to lead a human spirit to wherever "moving on" turns out to be. It's a simple story, but cleanly told. The comparison between human faith and that of the alien is interesting. "A Single Samurai", on the other hand, is a story of action, of one samurai taking on a kaiju about to terrorize the samurai's land. There is a certain spirituality to the samurai's thoughts and actions and an economy to the movement and pacing of the story. On a different day, I could flip my ranking of these two stories.

"Totaled" / "Turncoat": While "Totaled" slid down my ballot a bit, Kary English is another writer I want to keep an eye on.  "Totaled" has a slight feel of Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun in that we have a scientist surviving as nothing more than a disembodied brain due to an accident, which ties into the research she was already doing but now can only try to respond to stimulus in a hope to communicate. "Turncoat" is the story of an artificial intelligence of a space ship in the middle of a war, so there is something of a symmetry to "Totaled", though the stories are quite different in tone and style.

No Award: I use No Award reluctantly, and I use it surgically. It is a scalpel, not a scythe.

"The Parliament of Beasts and Birds": I bounced very hard off of this story, which tells of a time after humanity has finally died out and the animals (or a representative from each species) have gathered outside man's final city and they find that they can talk, and they are discussing the very real possibility of redemption after having been kicked out of Eden so many thousands / millions of years in the past. I think it is intended to be a parable or an allegory, but what it is is remarkably heavy handed on the Christian theme with rather poor / oddly formal writing and it really doesn't deserve to be anywhere near this ballot. As such, it will not remain on mine.

"Goodnight Stars": It is worth noting that had Annie Bellet's story remained on the ballot, it would have quite easily been my top pick for Short Story. Bellet is a writer to watch. I would have loved for the opportunity to have voted for "Goodnight Stars".

My vote
1. "On a Spiritual Plain", by Lou Antonelli
2. "A Single Samurai", by Steven Diamond
3. "Totaled", by Kary English
4. "Turncoat", by Steve Rzasa
5. No Award

Monday, May 18, 2015

Hugo Nominee / Voter's Packet Available

Monday, May 18, 2015 0
Via File 770, the Hugo Voter's Packet has been released by Sasquan, the host of 2015's Worldcon.

From the press release:

A digital file of many of the Hugo Award nominees is now available for members of Sasquan to download at http://sasquan.org/hugo-awards/packet_download/. This free download is supplied by the creators and publishers of works that are nominated for the awards. It is free to all current Supporting, Attending and Young Adult members of Sasquan, and those who become members before 31 July 2015. Its purpose is to allow those who are voting on the Hugo Awards to be able to make an informed choice among the nominated works.

All of the short fiction and graphic novels are included in their entirety (((assuming Zombie Nation comes through!))). The packet contains the full text of three of the novels: The Dark between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson, The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, amd The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu. Skin Game by Jim Butcher and Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie are represented by extensive excerpts. One of the five finalists in the Related Work category is represented by an excerpt: Letters from Gardner, by Lou Antonelli. There is some material in each of the other categories except the Dramatic Presentations, but not everyone wanted us to include their work in this packet.

Many of the shorter nominated works had already been made available online (find links here), as is the custom, but not all. The packet appears to have covered all of the short fiction, three of the novels (with excerpts of two), four of the five graphic novels with hope for Zombie Nation, and four of the Related Works (with an excerpt for the last).

So, there may be an addition to the voter's packet (which is slightly annoying to potentially download some stuff twice to get it all, but I'd rather they release as much as they can early and then fill in the holes later as it comes out - that way the maximum amount of reviewing can be done of the nominated works. 

You can find Zombie Nation online, but there's no way to tell what is included in the nominated collection. I've been boldly reading the comic from the start, powering through, but I'm only up to 2013 strips, so it's taking a while. But, you can look at any 2014 work from Zombie Nation and use that to evaluate Carter Reid for Fan Artist if you don't want to wait for Zombie Nation to hit the voter's packet (or attempt to read five years of strips).

Happy reading, y'all.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Books Read: April 2015

Monday, May 04, 2015 2
The beginning of a new month brings with it the opportunity to look back at the month gone bye and to give one last glance at what I most recently read. The below listed books are what I read during the month of April, and the lone link is to the one review I wrote last month. 

1. Dept of Speculation. By Jenny Offill
2. Coming Home, by Jack McDevitt
3. Fool's Fate, by Robin Hobb
4. The Fire Sermon, by Francesca Haig (unfinished)
5. Shards of Honor, by Lois McMaster Bujold
6. 1632, by Eric Flint
7. God Stalk, by P. C. Hodgell (unfinished)
8. Prayers for the Stolen, by Jennifer Clement
9. Ready Player One, by Ernst Cline
10. Persona, by Genevieve Valentine

Best Book of the Month: It is difficult to beat a Robin Hobb novel when it comes to pure quality. Fool's Fate closes out the Tawny Man trilogy, sets up the next stage of Fitz's life and I wish I didn't know there was another set of novels dealing with Fitz and the Fool, because this was a perfect of a place to leave them as we could hope to find. Which is why it cannot possibly last.

Disappointment of the Month: This month's disappointment has to be God Stalk, a novel which for which I received numerous twitter recommendations, but which left me cold, disinterested, and confused as to what was actually happening in the novel. I gave it a fair shake, and now I'm out.

Discovery of the Month: If not for all of the fracas over the Hugo Awards, I may never have read Eric Flint's 1632, which was a fairly enjoyable romp taking a group of twentieth century Americans back into seventeenth century Europe. I already have the next book, Ring of Fire, coming in from the library.

Worth Noting: Ready Player One is 80% my thing, what with all of the older video game nerdery and the overarching online game and the 1980's imagery. That percentage could absolutely increase had the novel been more of a 90's NES / SNES era conversation, but overall, I liked the nerd novel. Not perfect, but entertaining.

Gender Breakdown: For the second month in a row, seven out of the ten books I read were written by women.  Now, it is worth noting that two of them were works that I did not finish, but since I track those books as I do any other, they are being included here in my overall count for the month.  This brings me to 28 out of 44 so far for the year, or 63.64%.  So far I have been doing a great job at sticking with my goal of reading more books written by women than those written by men during this calendar year.


Previous Months:
January
February
March

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Hugo News: Edmund R. Schubert Edition

Tuesday, April 28, 2015 0
Having had a full week without proper news regarding the Hugo Awards, we have news. Edmund R. Shubert, editor of Intergalactic Medicine Show and Hugo Nominee for Editor (Short Form), has withdrawn his nomination.

His initial announcement was posted on the blog of Alethea Kontis as Mr. Schubert does not have a personal blog of his own.  Mr. Schubert writes that he was told by the Hugo administrators that the ballot was frozen (which we were aware of after Black Gate's withdrawal last year),

Unfortunately this may reduce my actions to a symbolic gesture, but I can’t let that prevent me from following my conscience.

So it seems that the best I can do at this stage is ask everyone with a Hugo ballot to pretend I’m not there. Ignore my name, because if they call my name at the award ceremony, I won’t accept the chrome rocketship. My name may be on that ballot, but it’s not there the way I’d have preferred.

As I intend to do with Black Gate's nomination, I will leave Mr. Schubert off of my ballot completely as per his wishes.  Though the ballot is considered frozen by the Hugo administrators (as is their right), I will follow the lead of those wishing to withdraw and vote as if that nominee was no longer on the ballot. It may not be how I would want to vote, but I can only respect the wishes of those who asked off of the ballot.

Mr. Schubert has more to say in an editorial at Intergalactic Medicine Show where he posts a Not-A-Hugo-Sampler sampler issue, writing,

However, I do think it's appropriate to take this opportunity to declare that more reading is always a good thing, and that people should open their minds to new work without pre-judging it. Thus this collection was born.

So, if you're unfamiliar with the work published over at IGMS, here's an opportunity to read some of what Mr. Schubert has published.

I have also updated my list of the Hugo nominees to reflect the withdrawal of Mr. Schubert.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Thoughts on the Hugo Awards: Part Four

Monday, April 27, 2015 8
This doesn't properly fit into my series of posts about the 2015 Hugo Awards nominees, but it is still part of my continuing thoughts surrounding the awards this year.  Specifically, I've been thinking about some stuff Eric Flint wrote about on his blog regarding what we give out Hugo Awards for.

Flint suggest that if the awards are to reflect what is actually being written in science fiction and fantasy, there should be up to four awards given for longer works of fiction.


Short novel (40,000 to either 80,000 or 90,000 words)

Novel

Complete multi-volume novels (often called trilogies, quartets, quintets—but which have a definite ending)

Series

I could live with combining multi-volume novels and series into one award category, but it would be a mistake. Inevitably, it would tend to elevate huge, sprawling—and sometimes wildly popular—series over the more compact works preferred by authors who like to work in trilogies or quartets. They really are two quite different literary forms—I know; I’ve worked in both—and should be treated separately. There is at least as much difference between them in terms of the skills involved as the difference between a novelette and a novella.

As a whole, I like the idea, though I'm going to refine it a bit more to suit my taste. Also, I disagree with Flint a bit since he also writes that he doesn't want to touch the short fiction categories and my preference would be to combine "short story" with "novelette" because other than intellectually understanding that a novelette is a story written with 7500 to 17,500 words, I'm not really sure what the heck of a novelette is. A novella, sure, you know when you're reading a novella.  But the novelette?  That one needs to go. 

More to the point, though, I do like the expansion of the categories for longer fiction.  Since the Hugo Awards currently begins the Novel category at 40,000 words, Flint recommends adding a Short Novel category for that length because it would open the door for more YA and independent authors.  I'm less concerned about that, though I agree with Flint that most traditionally published novels are working much above 80,000 words.

I wouldn't add a Short Novel category. If you think about the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, a 150 page novel is as likely to win the award as a 700 page novel.  The Hugos are not the Pulitzers (for many reasons), but I don't differentiate too much with novel length, and sometimes a shorter novel can be much more appealing than a monster of a tome.  So, I'd keep novel where it is while recognizing that the minimum length for a novel isn't reflective of how novels are being written today.

What I'd like to play with is Flint's suggestions for "Complete Multi-Volume Novels" and "Series".  What I see Flint saying is that the skill required to write a complete series and stick the landing is different enough from writing an ongoing series that they shouldn't be compared in the same way (Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy compared to Jim Butcher's ongoing Dresden Files).  I don't completely agree.

That's not completely true. I agree with what Flint is saying about the skill and technique, I disagree with how he is viewing the categories. I would divide the categories like this:

Novel

Ongoing Series

Completed Series

So Joe, you ask, what the heck are these categories and how are they different than what Eric Flint suggested?  Great question, I reply, let me tell you!

Novel: This category only slightly changes from how it works today. It is for a single volume work of no less than 40,000 words. The change is that I would strike section 3.2.6 from the WSFS Constitution "a work appearing in a number of parts shall be eligible for the year of the final part". 2013's publication of A Memory of Light is how The Wheel of Time was nominated at the 2014 Hugos for Best Novel.  I'd strike this.  Novel is for a single volume, period.  That's it. A Memory of Light is eligible for Novel, The Wheel of Time is not.

Ongoing Series: This is where I start to mess with Flint's suggestion.  Ongoing Series is for ANY series that has not yet been completed. To be eligible for Ongoing Series, a series must have at least two volumes published. However, it does not matter for the terms of this category if the author is planning to write a trilogy with a definite ending (Mistborn) or is writing a potentially open ended series (Dresden Files, Discworld). To be further eligible for a nomination, a new volume must be published during the eligibility year.  Love A Song of Ice and Fire but George Martin hasn't published The Winds of Winter yet?  The series is not eligible for Ongoing Series at the 2016 Hugos unless he gets that book out during calendar year 2015. 

Further, because we need to close one potential loophole here, an Ongoing Series is eligible for nomination ONCE.  What I intend this to mean is that if Mr. Martin publishes The Winds of Winter in 2015, it is eligible for Ongoing Series.  If A Song of Ice and Fire makes the final ballot for Ongoing Series, it is no longer eligible to be nominated in a subsequent year. However, if A Song of Ice and Fire fails to make the final ballot, it will still be eligible for Ongoing Series provided a new volume is published.  A series is considering "Ongoing" until the author or the publisher states that a volume is the "final" or "concluding" volume in that series.

Completed Series: A series is eligible as Completed Series when the announced final volume in the series is published.  A series will not both be eligible for Ongoing and Completed Series in the same year.  Publication of A Memory of Light rendered The Wheel of Time ineligible for Ongoing Series, but eligible for Completed Series.  Something like The Dresden Files would not be eligible for completed series until Jim Butcher announces "this is the final Harry Dresden novel".  If Butcher published a Harry Dresden novel but then two years later said, "oh year, Skin Game was really the last book in the series, sorry guys" The Dresden Files will not be eligible for Completed Series because the series is only eligible in the year the final volume is published.  I don't see this as too big of an issue because most writers want folks to know that they are delivering the promised conclusion to a series.


***

Now, I know all of this would put a certain amount of onus on the Hugo administrators to verify whether a series is ongoing or completed, but I think they already have a responsibility to verify a work is eligible based on word count and year published. It wouldn't be too hard to look this stuff up.  There are grey areas still in place for situations like Glen Cook published the final Black Company novel in 2000 (thus ending the series eligibility) but hinting that there could still be two more books.  There is also the gray area of macro series and micro series. All of the Black Company novels are The Black Company, but there are also The Books of the North, The Books of the South, and The Books of the Glittering Stone. How would those situations be handled?  I think these are overall smaller issues, but worth noting.

In the instance of A Memory of Light, the novel itself would be eligible for Best Novel and could make the ballot for that AND The Wheel of Time could be nominated that same year for Best Completed Series.  I think that would be recognizing two distinct things as the book is not the series and given that very few series works will be nominated past the first volume, it is a small concern.

You could tweak this another way and have Ongoing Series and Completed Series awarded every five years because there are far fewer series being completed each year than there are novels published, so the pool of eligible work is very small and can be inconsistent in quality. I'd be open to that, but it could easily lead to worthwhile works published four years prior being completely forgotten about in favor of the Completed Series of just the last year or two.

Thoughts?
 
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