Thursday, June 26, 2014

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice
Ann Leckie
Orbit: 2013

Ancillary Justice challenges me with every page. The society of the Radch does not recognize gender and the default pronoun used is "she", but when Breq is moving among other cultures, she struggles to pick up the physical clues and markers that would denote whether an individual is male or female.  It is acknowledged in the text, occasionally, when a she might be better described as a male, and some of Breq's pronoun struggles are a plot point, but overall, this is one of the ways in which I was challenged by Ancillary Justice.

Whether or not it matters to the story if a character happens to be a male or happens to be a female, my mind works with pronouns and uses them to shape my perception of the character.  It is an identifying characteristic.  It seems important, but the deeper I read into Ancillary Justice, the less I was convinced of that importance. For a time, I tried to straighten out in my head whether a particular she was actually a male until it finally sunk in that the gender of the character does not matter.  At all. I'm not sure if this is Leckie's intent with how she constructed the novel, but I have to believe that it is.  This is less of a question about how an individual perceives him or herself, and more about how, in this society and culture, it doesn't matter if a particular individual doing a particular job is male or female.  Most are referred to as either "citizen" or by rank if a member of the military.

This is one of the main things that I was processing as I read through Ancillary Justice, though the novel isn't a didactic track on gender or gender relations.  It's a facet of a very rich novel that I kept bumping up against and needed to work through how i perceived characters and gender.  In the end, I went with the easier out and assumed that most characters were, in fact, female based on the pronoun being used.  Unsurprisingly, little changed. 

By the point that I finally found myself reading Ancillary Justice it had won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Nebula Award, the British Science Fiction Association Award, was on the shortlist for the Philip K. Dick Award, is on the Tiptree Award Honor List, and has been nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Novel.  I am probably forgetting several dozen awards at this point.  It has been discussed and praised and has been on my radar for a seriously extended period of time.  All of which to say that Ancillary Justice carries with it a load of baggage and expectation which is entirely unfair to bring to an initial reading of a novel.  How can it possibly live up to all of the hype and expectation that is damn near crushing and is certainly intimidating?

And yet.

Ancillary Justice is thoughtful science fiction, touching on concepts of imperialism, identity, alienation, colonization, annexation, social politics, and class politics.  Breq is an "ancillary", which means that she is an individual which is also part of a group artificial intelligence (sort of), so depending on where in the book's timeline we are at, Breq is a distinct individual that passes as mostly human, one of a group of twenty or so individuals sharing a consciousness but doing different tasks and is known as One Esk, or is the full ship the Justice of Toren and thus one of hundreds of minds.  This is a complicated idea to get across in the novel, but Leckie does it with a disguised ease, which is to say that she made the difficult look easy.

For most of the novel, Leckie alternates chapters with Breq twenty years in the past and Breq in the present. This allows narrative tension in the "present" chapters with what Breq is not telling Seivarden, but this rings true.  It feels like the correct way to tell the story, working with the dual paths of past and present and how the one very much informs the other.  We know something bad and wrong occurred to separate Breq from the other ancillaries and his role as part of Justice of Toren.  We know something was lost.  We don't know how or why, and part of that is what builds to the ultimate conflict of the novel.  It isn't a twist and it isn't a "surprise", but it is shocking all the same.  But, it is shocking in a way that feels authentic.

The amazing thing about Ancillary Justice is despite being nothing like I would have imagined the novel to be, Ancillary Justice is a stunningly good work of fiction that continues to impress as I attempt to think my way through the novel and this review.  I don't know if Ancillary Justice breaks new ground in science fiction.  A number of reviews I have read suggest that it does not, that Ursula LeGuin was doing similar things with gender some forty years ago and she may not have been the first then either.  The thing is, Ancillary Justice is still a vital part of the science fiction conversation today.  Some may find that regressive, that we haven't advanced past stuff being discussed forty years ago, but it is also part of the social landscape of today. These are conversations still happening right now and Ancillary Justice reflects what is going on today.  It happens to do so in a beautiful science fiction novel which is more than worthy of the various awards it has already been nominated for and won.

What I know is that somewhere around the two thirds point in the novel, I was already looking forward to reading Ancillary Sword and that I was both anxious to see how Leckie was going to resolve the conflict of the novel and sad that I was almost done.  I was hooked.  

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fiona Staples: 2014 Hugo Award Nominated Artist Spotlight

Fiona Staples is best known as the artist working on the Hugo, Eisner, Harvey (and probably everything) Award winning comic Saga.  Yes, Saga really is that good, and the art of Fiona Staples is a significant part of Saga's success.  Here is a selection from the recent run of Saga.  Any text on these images are from Brian K. Vaughn.

One of my favorite things about Saga is Lying Cat, and the combination of the art and the interactions of the character is just perfect. 

All images are used with permission.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Forthcoming Books: July - August - September 2014

Coming to the end of 2014's second quarter, it is time to look ahead towards some interesting stuff being published in the next three months.  I'm using the Locus Forthcoming list because even though it may not be exhaustive, it is a fairly representative list of what is coming out over the course of a year.  My list below is based simply on that which strikes my own fancy, and I'm sure I'm overlooking all sorts of excellent stuff that if only I knew more about it or was familiar with the author's work, I would be excited for it.  But, alas, I am not.

July: New Brooks (I can't stop reading Shannara, regardless of quality, but he's leading to an actual ending), new Abercrombie, new Buckell. Good stuff. Happy to see Buckell on a roll with novels again.  The other two are new to me, and I really need to try KJ Parker beyond one of her novellas. 

Half a King, by Joe Abercrombie
The High Druid's Blade, by Terry Brooks
Hurricane Fever, by Tobias Buckell
Academic Exercises, by K. J. Parker
The Guild of Assassins, by Anna Kashina

August: The most important book coming out this month, for me, is Elizabeth Bear's One Eyed Jack.  It is not even close for anything else, and this isn't simply because I deeply admire and appreciate pretty much everything Bear has published. I expect everything else will be excellent, but One Eyed Jack is a novel I never expected to get. Previously, Bear had published four novels in her Promethean Age sequence with Roc, and unfortunately, the publisher decided against buying any more.  This made me sad, but that's life / business / publishing / etc. That was six years ago.  Prime is publishing One Eyed Jack, a new Promethean Age novel! 

The Widow's House, by Daniel Abraham
One Eyed Jack, by Elizabeth Bear
Fool's Assassin, by Robin Hobb
The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin
Lock In, by John Scalzi
The Mirror Empire, by Kameron Hurley

September: By the time Acceptance is published, I will have read Authority and will be ready.  Well, not ready, because I'm not sure you can be ready for VanderMeer, but I'll be...I don't know, I'll be reading the book.  Also, Cherie Priest has a novel featuring Lizzie Borden investigating the supernatural.  Or something.  It sounds awesome. 

Yesterday's Kin, by Nancy Kress
Maplecroft, by Cherie Priest
Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer
The Falcon Throne, by Karen Miller
The Waterborne Blade, by Susan Murray

Monday, June 23, 2014

Gender, and what I read

The latest Rocket Talk podcast brought up the recent column from Lady Business, in which Renay runs copious amounts of data to look at the SFF blogging community and how the community as a whole reviews male and female authors.  The podcast itself is worth listening to, as it is a conversation between Justin and Renay on the survey and what it says about the community.

Project thesis: when looking at a sample of bloggers reviewing SF/F, a majority of men will skew toward reviewing more men. A majority of women will skew toward a more equal gender parity, or the opposite in which they review a majority of women. There will be a handful of outliers.

This is the third year Renay has put in the work to delve into this.  She notes,

Our data for this year doesn't support our thesis quite as strongly as in previous years, but the data still shows that unfortunately, women writers are not being reviewed at the same rate as men.

I have been periodically engaging with this for a number of years.  Less as part of the community as a whole, but more about my own reading habits.  Granted, Renay's survey has more to do with what bloggers are choosing to review, but it does start with what we're reading.  Plus, until this year, I have done very little reviewing over the last three years.  Even counting short stories and graphic novels, I posted all of twelve reviews from 2011 to 2013 (7/12 were of works written by women).  Over a three year period, that's not enough to be significant. 

I noted on Twitter in April that after pulling a quick look at my reading stats over the last six years, the breakdown of the percentage of books written by women I have read ranges between 26% and 45% each year, with a note that it is only this year that my percentage was around 45%. 

That was late April. We are not through June yet, so if I only look at what I've read from January 1 through May 31, I have read 63 books.  27 of them were written by women.  This breaks out to 42.86%.  So, the percentage has dropped a little bit since April. 

This is still one of my most successful years at reading books written by women.  I find this odd and slightly disturbing, because in previous years I had, on a monthly basis, tallied and analyzed my reading breakout. The percentage tended to fall in the 30's.  I actively think about this from time to time, and still I find myself not just reading more men than women, but significantly more men than woman.  I have no idea why this is, except to acknowledge that there is an institutional bias going on.

When I left to enlist in the military three years ago, I pulled myself off of all of the publisher mailing lists I was on, and even though I am back home (I went Reserve, not Active Duty), I am no longer receiving two hundred (or so) books each year in the mail.  If I read something, if I review something, it is because I actively sought out the book to either buy or borrow from the library.  The last four years is all me. 

If asked who my favorite authors are, at any given time, I will mention Elizabeth Bear, Louise Erdrich, and Alison McGhee before I put any thought into the question.  If asked to compile a list, you would find a fairly well gender balanced list of authors or books (depending on the list).  And yet, if you look at a list of what I actually read, you won't find that same balance.  I have no idea why this is.  I can only say that it is.  

One can say that this is about "reading what you want to read", which is both completely true and utter bullshit.  Yes, most people read for pleasure and read "what they want", but examining what you read and why you read it can be valuable, informative, and transformative.  My assumption is that most people don't like only one thing.  I know I don't.  It's not necessarily that I am looking for something shiny and new, but more that I am simply looking for something else that I might enjoy.  Something that brings excellence or beauty or a compelling reading experience, for whatever that means to me on any given day. 

But here's the thing.  I only know about what I know about.  Until I had read Elizabeth Bear, I never knew just how much I would love her writing and how she consistently writes novels that blow me away.  Until I just read Katherine Addison after years of being aware of Sarah Monette (her real name) but never reading Monette's books, I would never have known just how good The Goblin Emperor was.  Insert any writer you want there.  Until I read Carrie Vaughn, I turned away from the thought of the modern urban fantasy / paranormal romance with werewolves and vampires.  The list can go on (and on) with any number of writers in any genre, male or female, because so often you just don't know until you give a book a go. 

This isn't about everyone else.  This is about me.  Who am I reading and why have I made the choices I have?

Who am I missing today?  Who have I been missing for the last twenty years? 

I don't believe it is about crossing an artificial line in the sand for who I should read or how many of books that fit a particular category.  What I do think this is all about is realizing and remembering that no matter what I think I like to read and what my favorite books are, there are all of these other books written by a diverse range of authors that offer so many difference perspectives that, hey, these books are awesome, too.  This isn't about denying one set of books at the expense of another.  This is about embracing as much as possible.  I read Katherine Kerr for the first time last year.  I am about to read Kate Elliott for the first time next month.  I've never read Martha Wells, Trudi Canavan, Diana Gabaldon, or Mary Gentle.  How many of these women have written some of my favorite books if only I take the time to read them?

I need to do a better job of that.

Friday, June 20, 2014

John Picacio: 2014 Hugo Award Nominated Artist Spotlight

You know who John Picacio is, right?  If you've been paying any attention at all to cover art for the last five years, you've seen his work.  Picacio has a very distinctive style and it is often easy to recognize a Picacio cover.  He has twice won the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist, has won a World Fantasy Award, a Chesley, and I'm pretty sure he's been nominated for everything an artist can be nominated for.  If he hasn't, I expect he will be very soon.

I'm a big fan of the "La Luna" piece. Beautiful and striking. Also, "The Good Life."

All images are used with permission.

El Arpa

El Paraguas

La Luna

The Good Life

2014 Calendar

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

The Goblin Emperor
Katherine Addison
Tor: 2014

There is a lot packed into a novel which, at its basest level, is fairly straightforward and seems to work within some fairly standard fantasy tropes.  Except, in the hands of Katherine Addison, there is so much more going on.

Imagine for a moment that you are the son of an emperor, but the sort of son whose very existence is a disappointment to that emperor.  You might also have to imagine what sort of person would be disappointed by the birth of his son, simply for being born and looking a certain way.  You have been shunted off to a distant estate and lived under the care of an uncle who cared nothing for you.  To this point, it sounds a bit like the introduction to Harry Potter or any number of novels.  Your father dies, as does all of his other heirs in the line of succession.  You are now emperor.  You are eighteen years old.

What The Goblin Emperor does so well is place a sheltered young man into a situation where he is completely over his head, and he doesn't know what he doesn't know.  Addison does not shy away from showing where Maia makes mistakes out of ignorance, and that an eighteen year old is not automatically a perfect leader compared to someone who has experience and training.  The entire course of the novel, though, is only over a handful of months.  Addison shows the initial growth of Addison, and while he does surprisingly well due to instinct, empathy, his outsider status, and willingness to buck conventional wisdom, what we don't know is what Maia's long term prospects are.  This is similar to the experience of Mara of the Acoma in Janny Wurts' Empire Trilogy, with an inexperienced young woman having to suddenly take power and figure out how to do a good job and / or simply stay alive and ensure her House's survival.  This is the place that Maia finds himself in.

Another way that this novel works is that the reader gets to experience the capital and the world through the eyes of a character who has been sheltered from that world for most of his life. Maia has been taught how to behave and how to carry himself, but he knows nothing of life at court. Everything is new to Maia and so he notices things that a character who lived her life at court would just gloss past.  Since Maia notices so much, and needs a number of things explained to him, the reader gets more in a way that doesn't require an inexpertly handled chapter long dump of information.  Actually, that would be the exact opposite of what Katherine Addison has done with The Goblin Emperor. Addison is masterful in her writing and construction of this setting and the interaction of the world and the characters and their various prejudices.

The other cool thing is that you get the sense that every character is off doing his or her own thing, working their individual plots and lives and not just waiting for a chance to pop back up on the next page.  That's important. It makes the world feel lived in.  Another thing, which may not be "cool", but Maia is half goblin / half elf, but is now the ruling emperor of the elves. This is not a world free of prejudice, and while I never got the sense that elves and goblins have been at war for millennia, there are some nasty prejudices and racism that crops up. It is quiet, because Maia is the emperor after all, but it is there to be noticed and it is addressed. As I said, this is a lived in world.

The only complaint that I have about The Goblin Emperor is simply that Addison has stated that it is intended to be a standalone book. While I think I would very much like a direct sequel to this book, The Goblin Emperor is a complete story on its own.  Addison says "that story is finished", and it is.  Wanting more is just a mark of how good this book is. The Goblin Emperor is top notch and, I feel confident saying this in June, it is one of the best novels published in 2014.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

John Harris: 2014 Hugo Award Nominated Artist Spotlight

John Harris has twice been nominated for a Hugo Award, which, if you think of it, is completely mind boggling that he has only twice been recognized by the Worldcon voters / nominators.

Harris has a very distinctive and striking style, one which is instantly recognizable as "This is a John Harris cover", a thought which is typically followed by "and it is wonderful."

Take a look at the full image of "Twin Parliaments of Pyrrus", it is a piece done specifically for Loncon and is based on a John Scalzi story, "The Back Channel", which was part of The Human Division (also, see here for a different version of just the art)

All images are used with permission.

Twin Parliaments of Pyrrus

Ancillary Justice, the full cover

Earth Awakens

Ender's Game: The Formic Nurseries

Judge of Ages

The Human Division

The Road to Fire

Monday, June 09, 2014

Spring Schoenhuth: 2014 Hugo Award Nominated Artist Spotlight

Spring Schoenhuth has been nominated for the Best Fan Artist Hugo Award three times.

At least as far back as I have been following the Hugo Awards, the nominees have predominately been those artists working with drawing / painting / visual arts of some sort.  Not exclusively, but predominately.

Spring Schoenhuth is an artist whose work falls outside of the bounds of what most think about when they consider "fan art", but it is equally worthy of consideration.

Her interpretation of the Maria robot from Metropolis is particularly good.

All images are used with permission of the artist.

"Flame On" Retro Rocket

Interpretation of the robot Maria from Metropolis

Chesley Award pin

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Lives of Tao, by Wesley Chu

The Lives of Tao
Wesley Chu
Angry Robot: 2013

Let's get something out of the way up front so that you don't have to read a single thing in any of the following paragraphs: The Lives of Tao is a no-shit flat out awesome book that I cannot recommend highly enough and it was an absolute blast to read.  It is funny, chock full of action, and just really damn good.  Go read it.  Buy a copy. Heck, buy two and throw one of them at a random stranger as they walk by. But read this.  You'll thank me. I don't know who this Wesley Chu person is, but he's written one hell of a book.

Now that we've gotten that little bit of gushing out of the way, let's actually talk about the book a little bit.  I've engaged in some hyperbole, but not quite as much as one might think.  Every few chapters, I excitedly told my wife about the book, quoted something that struck me just right, and then went right back to reading the book. 

Imagine for a moment that millions upon millions of years ago an alien ship crashed on Earth, but the aliens were not able to survive on our world on their own. They had to, for lack of a better word, possess a host.  Consider it something of a symbiotic relationship.  Being otherwise incompatible with our planet, they have been guiding their hosts to eventually find a way to get them off planet.  Consider the most significant individuals in history.  Most of them have been a host for one of these aliens.  Over the last several hundred years, the aliens have been at war with each other, using humanity as the battle ground.  Think of a major conflict.  The aliens had something to do with instigating it, one way or another.

Concept is one thing, and while this is a fairly cool concept, it's the execution where Chu shines. 

Roen is a programmer, an out of shape, unmotivated, self-loathing programmer.  Basically, he would be one of the worst imaginable options for a potential super-spy secret agent type person.  Unfortunately for Tao, the alien creature previously inhabiting a super-competent agent, Roen is the only option it has if it wants to survive after the death of its previous host.  This is nothing more than an accident of circumstance, but it brings Roen into a centuries long war and into a world he had no idea ever existed. 

Through the conversations between Roen and Tao, Wesley Chu fleshes out the nature of this hidden world that we all live in.  All of history happened exactly the way it happened, it's just that nobody ever knew about what was really going on behind the scenes and inside the heads of some of the major players.  This is what Chu is playing with, and though the novel takes place in the present, there is enough of history presented to get a sense of just how big and significant this conflict is.  Because he knows nothing, Roen works as an initial stand in for the reader. Everything needs to be explained to him (and through him, to us), but it never comes across as excessive info-dumping. It is, of course, but it doesn't feel like it, which is important.  It feels organic. 

The Lives of Tao is an exciting debut novel, one which offers so much promise for the future Tao novels (The Deaths of Tao and The Rebirths of Tao).  It is full of action, adventure, intrigue, conspiracy, and humor.  It's got everything I didn't know i was looking for in a book and The Lives of Tao was a complete revelation.  I expected none of this, but read it because Chu was nominated for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer.  Now I know why.  There may be better books out there, but I'm not sure there are many that are nearly this much to read.

As a side note, one can only imagine what the more conspiracy minded readers out there would do with the idea that there are alien hosts "possessing" various leaders and figures throughout history. 

Still here?  Go read the book already!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Dan Dos Santos: 2014 Hugo Award Nominated Artist Spotlight

Dan Dos Santos is a six time nominee for the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist, and has also received a Chesley Award and a Silver Medal from Spectrum (among other awards). Oh, and you've seen his work grace many a book cover (you may recognize his stunning cover of Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker).

One of my favorite aspects of Dos Santos's work is how he uses color as well as just how well he paints vibrant, living people as part of the art. It's just high quality work. My favorite from the set below is "White Trash Zombies Apocalypse".  As a case of the art doing its job, I sort of want to read the book now. 

All images are used with permission of the artist.

Dresden Denarion

White Trash Zombies Apocalypse

Night Broken

Rose Red

Serenity #1

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Books Read: May 2014

Below is a listing of the books I read in the month of May. All links go to my reviews.

1. Fire With Fire, by Charles Gannon
2. The Iron Khan, by Liz Williams
3. The Disappeared, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
4. Farthing, Jo Walton
5. Code of Conduct, by Kristine Smith
6. Insomnia, by Stephen King
7. Starfish, by Peter Watts
8. Coyote, by Allen Steele
9. Liavek, by Will Shetterly and Emma Bull
10. Little Bee, by Chris Cleve
11. A Feast for Crows, by George R. R. Martin
12. The Dinner, by Herman Koch
13. The Public Library, by Robert Dawson
14. Hild, by Nicola Griffith
15. The Twins Platoon, by Christy Sauro
16. Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer

Best Book of the Month: I keep flipping between the Griffith and the VanderMeer, but I'm going to go with Annihilation. In less than two hundred pages, Jeff VanderMeer has written a spare novel that makes me wonder what would happen if Don DeLillo wrote science fiction, but wasn't permitted to use product names for effect. 

Disappointment of the Month: I hesitate to say this because it feels like I am violating some sacred trust of fantasy, and this is more of a mild disappointment than a strong disappointment, but it is the shared world anthology Liavek. Some of the individual stories were strong, but I think I expected something a touch more coherent as a whole. This may have more to do with my own expectations of how the shared world would work here, but these were individual episodes, not something building to a larger singular picture. It was...fine, but I expected something different and stronger.

Discovery of the Month: Why have I not been reading Peter Watts all these years? Starfish was wonderful and everything I didn't know I wanted to read about. I've had a copy for years, but never picked it up until I was traveling and wanted another paperback to bring with me. I should have started sooner.

Worth Noting: Even though I didn't review much this month, I read a number of novels I very much enjoyed. And, I read a number of books that I really should have read years ago so I could be farther along the series than just book one. The Disappeared, Farthing, Code of Conduct, and Starfish were all quite good and now I want read more from each of those authors in each of those series.

Books and Bars: The Dinner is a nasty little book populated with unlikeable characters. I couldn't put it down.

Previous Months

Monday, June 02, 2014

On Blogs and Fanzines

3.3.13: Best Fanzine. Any generally available non-professional periodical publication devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects that by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, that does not qualify as a semiprozine or a fancast, and that in the previous calendar year met neither of the following criteria:

(1) paid its contributors or staff monetarily in other than copies of the publication,

(2) was generally available only for paid purchase.

The above is from the Constitution of the World Science Fiction Society (as of September 2013), and is the definition the category of Best Fanzine.  I wanted to open with the definition because we should be clear as to exactly what we are talking about when we are discussing fanzines. 

I bring this up because Mike Glyer wrote a short article this morning titled "Hugo Nominated Fauxzines" in which he had this to say:

While paging through the Hugo Voter Packet a friend of mine discovered that the four blogs up for Best Fanzine are represented by samples made to look like real magazines, with selections from their entire year’s work and new introductory material.

This annoyed my friend, who is one of the old guard with strong opinions about the difference between fanzines and blogs, and what belongs in the Best Fanzine category.

I almost wrote that "there seems to be a significant disagreement between previous generations of fans and newer fans who came to fandom during the internet age as to what, exactly, a fanzine is", but it would be more accurate to simply say that there is a significant disagreement between those two segments of fandom as to the nature of fanzines (and perhaps fan writing and fan culture in general, but I'm not quite sure about that).

When I last engaged in thinking about and discussing the nature of fanzines, which was mostly during the Hugo Award seasons from 2010 to 2012, I had been stridently in the camp of "Blogs Are the Modern Fanzine!"  I expected and hoped that we would see more blogs nominated as fanzines and a greater recognition of the excellent fan writing that was occurring outside of the "traditional fanzine".  It is important to note that 2009 was the first year the "or the equivalent in other media" distinction was added to the definition in the WSFS Constitution. (see the 2008 constitution).  Prior to this, a blog or anything else that could be considered a fanzine would have to have had discrete issues.

But, "or the equivalent in other media" takes care of that issue.  With the internet and the various publishing platforms which can be utilized to deliver content, having individual "issues" is less vital than it was when a fanzine had to be printed and mailed.  Having discrete issues was the only way to deliver content, whether it was in a fanzine or Sports Illustrated.  Traditional fanzines still exist on the internet and many can be found on efanzines, each with a discrete issue published as a PDF (or whatever format the editor chooses, I imagine).  But with other publishing platforms, the requirement of a discrete issue is eliminated. The site is the destination, with each articles standing on its own or being part of a series of building a conversation.  The opportunity to more rapidly engage in a conversation, either with the content of a given article or with the issues of the genre at large is significant.

Blogs are fanzines, just in a different format.  There is very much a living culture going on in the traditional fanzines (Christopher Garcia is an excellent advocate for them), but a similar fan culture exists outside of the traditional fanzine and blogs are doing the exact same thing as those fanzines, but they are doing so in an ongoing way. The "equivalent in other media" of a blog is simply to continue to produce quality writing.

Ultimately, this is science fiction and fantasy fandom talking about itself and trying to define itself.  My assumption is that we write about science fiction and fantasy because, to some extent, we care about it.  We value it.  We value the ability to participate in a conversation about science fiction and fantasy.  And, because we are talking about fanzines and blogs and the Hugo Award, we also care about the Hugo Awards and wish those awards to remain relevant and continually looking forward and for the best work.  This year, four blogs were nominated for Best Fanzine with one "traditional" fanzine also nominated.

This is what I have been looking to see for several years, but it isn't about excluding the traditional fanzine. It is about being inclusive of the multiple ways fan writing can be delivered.  It is about recognizing that a fanzine can take on many different shapes and sizes, whether it is written by a single author, a team of authors, has an editor curating content or just overseeing a staff of writers. It can be delivered via print, PDF, or a blog. It can allow commenting to further a conversation sparked by an article, or it can require the articles to stand alone and let the conversations occur in other spaces.

A "fanzine" used to mean one specific thing, but the nature of that thing has changed over the years and the definition of the category for the Hugo Award has also changed, just slightly, to allow for additional media to be included.  I can only hope that when it changes again in the future to make room for different forms of fan writing that we cannot imagine today, that we will be welcoming of those new forms of media and "fanzine."  It would be a shame if after clamoring for inclusion of the work that we do, we are unable to see how some unknown form is exactly what we're doing, just in a way we didn't envision.  

Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer

Jeff VanderMeer
FSG Originals: 2014

What can you do when your five senses are not enough? - pg 178
Stripped of so many identifying features, Annihilation is something of an experience in partial sensory deprivation.  Characters are identified by their job description (biologist, psychologist, anthropologist, surveyor), they are investigating someplace simply called Area X, the flora and the fauna are described but not labeled.  Area X becomes something of an alien land, possibly in some sort of terraformed deep country region of Florida, possibly anywhere else. The location of Area X, at this point, is much less important than Area X itself.

Annihilation features the twelfth expedition into Area X, a region cut off from the rest of the land some unknown number of years ago.  There is some sort of barrier that must be crossed, a barrier that separates Area X from what might otherwise be called "the real world", or perhaps the "mundane world".  Area X is a place that seems to drive people crazy, those that are able to cross the barrier, anyway.  Members of previous expeditions have committed suicide, have murdered each other, have returned damaged in some way.  The four women on this expedition know what came before, or, at least, they know what they have been told of what came before. Still they venture in to explore, to document, to discover. Area X is a great unknown, but after twelve expeditions, the information they have is still lacking. 

This is a legitimately unnerving novel. As the expedition begins to explore a structure close to the base camp that was not on any of their maps, the flat out weirdness of Area X begins to be revealed.  With the spare descriptions lacking labels, Annihilation is a novel that exudes unease and fear.  What is going on with Area X?  What is the deal with that structure?  While it is never clear why everyone seems to lose their mind after going into Area X, the sense of fear sets in immediately, as does the effects of Area X.  The place is, for lack of a better term, wrong. Or, just "other". 
If I don't have real answers, it is because we still don't know what questions to ask. Our instruments are useless, our methodology broken, our motivations selfish. - pg 192-193
Perhaps it is only the lack of discrete names for everyday nature that adds to the lingering sense of doom that permeates Annihilation, but it may also be that when something is wrong, something is flat out wrong.  Down the structure, the "tower", the Biologist begins to notice the passing of a creature she describes only as The Crawler, which like the job descriptions of the expedition members, is so generic that it adds to the atmosphere of the novel.

So much is left to the imagination of the reader that there will be countless ideas as to what is going on, what the Crawler might look like, and everything in between. Yet, Annihilation is a novel written by an author in complete control.  The writing is deliberate and VanderMeer has carefully constructed this setting, this place, and what he has revealed is exactly what is needed to tell the story. It is not everything that reader necessarily wants, because exclamations of a harried and confused "what the sweet hell..." that trails off in cautious awe and uneasy understanding are common.

Annihilation is an impressive beginning to the Southern Reach trilogy and if the subsequent volumes are anywhere near as strong as this one, Jeff VanderMeer will have written something impressive indeed.