Monthly Archives: July 2016

No-awarding Editors and Avengers

I’m filling out my Hugo voting ballot and deciding what is going to float and which finalists will sink under the No Award option. Contenders who end up underwater will include, among others, all book editors and all the avengers.

My final votes in the Best Professional Editor (Long Form) and Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) categories — that is, book editors and movies — look like this:

Best Professional Editor (Long Form)

  1. No Award
  2. Sheila E. Gilbert
  3. Liz Gorinsky
  4. Jim Minz
  5. Toni Weisskopf
  6. Vox Day

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. The Martian
  3. Ex Machina
  4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  5. No Award
  6. Avengers: Age of Ultron

I don’t think that any of the novel editors does a bad job (ok, maybe one of them). This is strictly a protest vote against the insane category. How can anybody who is not an industry insider come to any conclusion about who is better than someone else in turning mediocre books into great ones? I have no clue.

Thinking about my own tastes, Gilbert’s list of edited works looked a little better than Gorinsky’s or Minz’s, but readers don’t have access to the editing process that we are really supposed to judge here.

The best alternative for this silly category I can think of would be Best Publisher, so I thought about that for a minute. With these editors, that would be DAW (Gilbert), Tor Books (Gorinsky), Baen (Minz & Weisskopf) and Castalia House (Vox Day).

So, what were the publishers of the year’s best novels?

If the Hugo finalists in the novel category are supposed to indicate which publishers really scored last year, that would be Orbit, Roc, Del Rey and William Morrow. Orbit has in fact two titles in there. No editors working for these publishers are on the Hugo ballot, even though the Hugo nominators consider their end products to be the best in the field.

On the Nebula ballot, the novel finalists’ publishing houses are: Orbit (twice, again), Tor (twice), Baen, Del Rey and Saga. At last some familiar names! However: Gorinsky didn’t edit the Nebula-nominated Tor books (Barsk and Updraft) and Minz didn’t edit the Nebula-nominated Baen book (Raising Caine) — nobody knows what Weisskopf edited because she keeps that a secret.

Yeah. Is this a strange list of best editors in the business or what?

Ok, how about the movies, then? The picks from 1 to 4 require no explanation. Mad Max is a masterpiece whereas The Martian, Ex Machina and the new Star Wars were all solid and enjoyable films. I am a bit saddened by the fact that the end of Ex Machina was so predictable. It was the only movie that wasn’t a sequel or an adaptation with a blockbuster budget and I liked the acting and the atmosphere quite a bit.

For Avengers, there was very little hope, considering my visceral hate of Captain America. He is the most boring and stupid creation in the history of human entertainment and he ruins every film that features him (becoming an agent of Hydra cannot be a bad career move for him). I also found out that I dislike Thor very much. Hulk and Iron Man should dump their loser friends and do it fast if they wish to end up higher on my ballot that sixth in a field of five in the future!

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Aspiration Porn — Campbell Nominee Andy Weir

Category: John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
Slate:
Rabid Puppies

I think there’s still time to tackle a few Hugo nominees — or maybe not, because, as you know, Bob, John W. Campbell Award is not a Hugo. Still, I finally read The Martian, so let’s discuss Andy Weir for a minute.

As I have written earlier, Weir has ended up as a weird political football in the Hugo culture wars. Last year, various Sad/Rabid Puppy activists (such as this one) considered the fact that Weir hasn’t won a Hugo as proof of the literary feminist-communist social justice bias among the Worldcon fans. However, when the final numbers were released, it became clear that without the Puppy campaigns to mess things up, Andy Weir would have been a Campbell Award finalist (and The Martian would have almost made it into the ballot as well — even though it’s possible that it would have been judged ineligible). Instead, four Puppy authors of relatively unknown works were nominated alongside the eventual Campbell winner Wesley Chu and Weir was left on the sixth place (and out of the ballot).

This year, Weir is up there and he got the kennel votes as well.

Original The Martian is better than the Ridley Scott adaptation everybody’s probably seen. In it, the astronaut protagonist gets into more different kinds of trouble and sciences his way out of it, explaining what he does in his log entries. For me, reading the text that supposedly makes up those entries is a more engaging experience than watching Matt Damon do it.

The usual complaint against hard science fiction writing is that it’s technically bad, especially with characters, but Weir manages to write an entertaining superhuman. Come to think of it, that’s what astro/cosmo/taikonauts practically are.

While watching The Martian, I remember enjoying the cosmic visuals, but the reader of the book doesn’t have that and she has to be kept in awe of the science. It was quite impressive, considering that the natural sciences interest me very little. Still, Weir was able to force me into the aspiration porn mindset — ISN’T IT GREAT THAT THE HUMAN RACE HAS DONE SUCH A WONDERFUL THING AS GOING TO SPACE (AND MOSTLY ALSO MAKING IT BACK ALIVE??!!). Yeah, it is. Little less bable about making water and oxygen wouldn’t have hurt, but I guess that really paying attention to these technical details was what Weir’s project was about.

Andy Weir’s own story as a writer is another tale of aspirational pornography: he took some years off to write novels that nobody would buy, started to post his fiction online for free when that didn’t work out and slowly accumulated a readership of likeminded people. The Martian becoming a professionally published novel, a huge bestseller hit and later on a blockbuster movie was just a coincidence. Isn’t it great that a space nerd, who just does what he loves, manages to do such an awesome thing? Yeah!

So, nevermind Donald Trump and Vox Day and all the other party poopers, the human race can pull off pretty great stuff. Like in this video.

The Martian isn’t the best novel I’ve read lately, but I enjoyed it.

Spacefaring, Extradimensional Happy Score: 8.5/10 (and as a Hugo finalist in the Best Dramatic Presentation: Long category, I’ll give The Martian 7/10).

 

Other posts of interest:

Wrapping Up the Related Work Category, And a Personal Note

I’ve read and reviewed — or, in one case, at least interrogated a bit — all the five Hugo awards finalists in the Related Work category. Here are the links in case you want to take a look:

I especially recommend the Vox Day piece. Despite the odious subject, I had sort of fun writing it, and exploring bizarre and alien ways to think about things is always a somewhat SFF-nal experience.

But yeah, there was a lot of toxic stuff there (60%, to be exact), and this category was hit especially bad by Vox Day’s/Theodore Beale’s slate-nominating campaign that was meant to destroy the Hugo awards. Well, the award is still here, and plans are underway to make sure it’s going to survive and become more resistant to gaming, so I’m not worried.

In fact, my optimistic prediction is that the Rabid Puppy contingent will stop trolling the Hugos now that they have done everything they could with the memberships purchased last year — they could nominate this year but cannot vote now and cannot nominate next year. If they want to keep going, they have to give more money to the social justice acronym smurfs who run Worldcons, and, even if they do it, the rule changes mean that they can’t do as much damage in the future.

However, let’s give them slow clap for managing to really mess up the ballot this year.

slowclap

There are related works that deserve a bigger applause, of course. Many interesting things were left off the ballot, for example:

Any other good suggestions?

No matter what the trolls come up with, we can celebrate the good related work stuff by taking a look at it and having a good time.


And finally, the personal note I promised in the post title:

Anybody who is paying attention has probably noticed that I’m not going to review all (or even most) of the 85 Hugo (or Campbell) nominees this year. There’s two weeks left before the voting deadline and I’ve written about 5 of them — so, even though I have numerous superpowers, being able to produce 5.7 blog posts a day is regrettably not one of them.

I have a good reason for this sorry state of affairs, though. We had a new baby added to the family last month and the lovely little rodent has been stealing significant chunks of my spare time since then. So, blame him.

I’m not that late with my reading, though, so maybe I’ll be able cover one or two categories more, or at least a couple of interesting finalists. I was thinking of the Campbells, or possibly the Graphic Story, but we’ll see.

“Appendix N” by Jeffro Johnson

The last finalist in the Best Related Work category is Jeffro Johnson’s “The First Draft of My Appendix N Book”. It’s a post published in Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog last November, and I don’t know why the Hugo administrators have decided to include it like this. I guess the point was to nominate the whole of Johnson’s Appendix N project — that is, the batch of 50+ articles that the blog post links to.

The Rabid Puppies slate (which is probably the driving force behind Johnson’s getting on the finalist list) included the item “Appendix N by Jeffro Johnson” and linked to a post titled “Appendix N Matters”. That is the final chapter which delivers some jabs against the “politically correct” “thought police” that has “taken over# “our culture” — so I can see why Theodore Beale likes to send readers that way, but the bulk of Johnson’s Appendix N project is, luckily, about something else.

Category: Related Work
Slate: Rabid Puppies

But let’s start at the beginning. What the hell is Appendix N, anyway? The title probably leaves most people scratching their heads.

Appendix N is a list of fantasy works that Gary “The Father of Role Playing Games” Gygax mentioned in the Dungeons and Dragons rulebook Dungeon Master’s Guide back in 1979 with “the following authors were of particular inspiration to me”.

dungeonmastersguide

In Castalia House Blog, Jeffro Johnson has been reading through Gygax’s list and blogging about it since 2014. The first 15 chapters were published in 2014, and some of them I already read last year when Johnson was finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo. The last 29 “official” chapters as well as some appendices and extra stuff that Johnson plans to cut were published last year (and are eligible now).

Johnson’s idea is not completely original. In 2013, Tor.com writers Tim Callahan and Mordicai Knode did the exact same thing with their Advanced Readings in Dungeons & Dragons series. Reading some of their thoughts on the Appendix N books alongside Johnson’s series offers an interesting comparison.

I have to say that I enjoyed Callahan and Knode’s take on it significantly more (even though they are dead wrong about Zelazny’s Amber series), but the reason might be that it’s written for a general (or, at least, more general) audience. Johnson is quicker to dive into the intricacies of Dungeons and Dragons which I have never played and do not really care about. He gives lengthy quotes from books and points out D&D stuff that they relate to, and that’s not a very good way to keep me interested.

I did take a look at some of the chapters that deal with books and authors I’m familiar with (a minority, I’m sad to say): Dunsany, Moorcock, Leiber, Farmer, Lovecraft and so on. On top of that, I read few about writers I know next to nothing about, like Gardner F. Fox.

And it’s a mixed bag: some of Johnson’s points were profoundly interesting, some were not and some were deep in wait-what-that’s-not-right territory. Here are examples of all the three:

  1. The setup of Leiber’s Lankhmar stories captures quintessential features of D&D. (Or, as Knode phrased the same point, they are the most Dungeons and Dragons of anything on the Appendix N list.
  2. Elric has so much contempt for honor that real tabletop gamers would whack him.
  3. Lovecraft’s great attention to detail in his writing makes his tales feel very real.

Even though I don’t care about D&D, I respect Johnson’s mission to educate people about the early alternatives to Tolkienesque fantasy which has later taken over and plagues the genre like a fucking leprosy. The science fantasy tradition is fascinating and it’s truly regrettable that it got pushed out of the market back in the day. Or, to be more exact, the worst thing is that it got forgotten and very few casual contemporary fantasy readers know about this stuff.

On the other hand, Johnson takes it all so very seriously. In his concluding and judgemental rant he seems to treat the Appendix as an authoritative, sacred canon that defines which books of the period are worth taking a look at instead of just a list of titles that Gygax happened to read and enjoy.

A tad pompously, Johnson informs us that

[Appendix N] preserves a sense of who we were… and what we could yet become again if we chose to.

Johnson has his headpalm moments when he suggests that, for example, the Earthsea books shouldn’t be on the list because

the defeating of Lovecraftian terrors with the power of friendship really isn’t how anyone handles adventures in a mythical underworld.

Too unrealistic ways to handle adventures in a mythical underworld? Come on. It might be an un-AD&D-ish book, but Zelazny’s Amber books have next to nothing to do with AD&D either. Gygax’s take on why there’s no LeGuin on his list would be interesting to hear but Johnson’s second guessing is not that convincing. On the other hand, I’m ready to forgive him because he plugs Tarzan of the Apes.

But despite Tarzan, my ultimate response is that I feel my time would have been better used if I had read a couple of these books instead of wading through Johnson’s assorted commentary.

Is his Appendix N project a nice thing to have around? Yeah, why not. Is it good enough to be recognized as the absolute best work related to the field of science fiction, fantasy or fandom that was published last year? That’s a tougher one.

Many interesting things were again left off-ballot because of the slate-voting organized by Johnson’s employer — consider the essay collections Speculative Fiction 2014 (edited by Renee Williams and Shaun Duke) and Letters to Tiptree (edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce), or David Langford’s interview collection Crosstalk, or the non-fiction books on Iain M. Banks (by Simone Caroti), Ray Bradbury (by David Seed), Lois McMaster Bujold (by Edward James) and Frederik Pohl (by Michael R. Page). Like last year, it’s a shame.

Johnson certainly isn’t the worst finalist here, but is he good enough? I’m not sure yet.

 

Spacefaring, Extradimensional Happy Score: 5/10