Tag Archives: Seanan McGuire

Hugo Award Finalists, 2013 – First Impressions

2312As always, the finalists for the Hugo Awards and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer are an interesting lot with a few surprises and a number of disappointments. The 1343 valid nominating ballots represent a record number, more than 20% above last year’s previous record. The winners will be announced Sunday, September 1, 2013, during the Hugo Awards Ceremony at LoneStarCon 3 in San Antonio, Texas.

As usual, I am looking forward to my yearly journey through the contemporary science fiction world, even if the Hugo Award itself is becoming more of a popularity contest among fan personalities than ever before. Here are my initial thoughts about the nominees.

Best Novel (1113 ballots)

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
Blackout by Mira Grant (Orbit)
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi (Tor)
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (DAW)

2312 appeared on almost every best-of list and should be the odds-on favorite to win. Saladin Ahmed’s first novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon, also received widespread accolades. John Scalzi’s Redshirts received some praise, but my guess, not having read it yet, is that readers liked its lighthearted premise of what it’s like to be a Star Trek crewmember more than its actual literary merits. Scalzi is also a popular fan personality, which helps his visibility. Lois McMaster Bujold is another fan favorite, having been nominated many, many times. My opinion is that her books are solid mid-list action-adventure tales, but mostly just comfort food for fans who relate well to her protagonist who overcomes major physical disabilities to become a badass soldier and politician. Blackout, by Seanan McGuire writing as Mira Grant, was on zero best-of lists and no other award short lists (at least, that I saw). But McGuire is a hugely popular blogger and podcaster whose celebrity within the fan community gives her a disproportionate advantage. The more of McGuire’s work I read, the less impressed I am. This is all the more disappointing because well-reviewed books such as Intrusion by Ken MacLeod, Jack Glass by Adam Roberts, The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin, The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan, and Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal, among others, were ignored.

Asimovs_Oct-Nov_2012Best Novella (587 ballots)

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications)
The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications)
On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats by Mira Grant (Orbit)
“The Stars Do Not Lie” by Jay Lake (Asimov’s, Oct-Nov 2012)

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall; On a Red Station, Drifting; and “The Stars Do Not Lie” were all well reviewed and all are on the Nebula ballot. Neither The Emperor’s Soul nor San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats appeared on any best-of or award lists that I saw. Here again, Sanderson’s and Grant’s fan popularity rather than the merits of their stories likely put them on the final ballot. The title of Grant’s story indicates it may be little more than fan fiction related to Joss Whedon’s hugely popular SF franchise, Firefly.

Best Novelette (616 ballots)

“The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
“Fade To White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
“The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
“In Sea-Salt Tears” by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
“Rat-Catcher” by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)

The love-fest for Seanan McGuire continues, incredulously including a self-published story. I’m not familiar with the other novelettes, so I am hoping that they will be decent. Certainly, Valente and Cadigan have produced top-notch work in the past.

Best Short Story (662 ballots)

“Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld, June 2012)
“Mantis Wives” by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
“Mono no Aware” by Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)

All these stories undoubtedly deserve to be on the ballot. The sad news is that there are only three nominees because no other works received the minimum 5% of the votes required by the World Science Fiction Society constitution. I suspect this is due to a large number of good short stories that spread votes wide and thin.

Best Related Work (584 ballots)

The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature Edited by Edward James & Farah Mendlesohn (Cambridge UP)
Chicks Dig Comics: A Celebration of Comic Books by the Women Who Love Them Edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Sigrid Ellis (Mad Norwegian Press)
Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who Edited by Deborah Stanish & L.M. Myles (Mad Norwegian Press)
I Have an Idea for a Book… The Bibliography of Martin H. Greenberg Compiled by Martin H. Greenberg, edited by John Helfers (The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box)
Writing Excuses Season Seven by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler and Jordan Sanderson

This is a hard category to say much about. The variety of potential works is vast, so almost anything can appear. Farah Mendlesohn has produced a number of well received scholarly works in the past few years, so I expect The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literatures deserves its place on the final ballot. Previous volumes of Writing Excuses were pretty informative, so I’m not surprised to see it nominated again. I have no idea what Chicks Dig Comics or Chicks Unravel Time are, but from the titles they must be part of a female-centric critical series. Martin H. Greenberg’s book sounds like little more than a list, so I’m not sure what value it has, other than to honor one of the great anthologists of all time. I’m a little surprised there are no art books on the final ballot.

sagaBest Graphic Story (427 ballots)

Grandville Bête Noire written and illustrated by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse Comics, Jonathan Cape)
Locke & Key Volume 5: Clockworks written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
Saga, Volume One written by Brian K. Vaughn, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
Schlock Mercenary: Random Access Memorabilia by Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (Hypernode Media)
Saucer Country, Volume 1: Run written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Ryan Kelly, Jimmy Broxton and Goran Sudžuka (Vertigo)

I’m actually pleasantly surprised by how good the selections are for this category, with the exception of Schlock Mercenary, a lightweight gag comic. It is a travesty that it is on the list and Batman: The Court of Owls is not. The voters have no trouble putting superhero stories in the Dramatic Presentation category, but for some reason resist them in their natural home, the Graphic Story category.

looperBest Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) (787 ballots)

The Avengers Screenplay & Directed by Joss Whedon (Marvel Studios, Disney, Paramount)
The Cabin in the Woods Screenplay by Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon; Directed by Drew Goddard (Mutant Enemy, Lionsgate)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, Directed by Peter Jackson (WingNut Films, New Line Cinema, MGM, Warner Bros)
The Hunger Games Screenplay by Gary Ross & Suzanne Collins, Directed by Gary Ross (Lionsgate, Color Force)
Looper Screenplay and Directed by Rian Johnson (FilmDistrict, EndGame Entertainment)

There are no surprises here, other than not seeing Game of Thrones, Season 2.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) (597 ballots)

Doctor Who:“The Angels Take Manhattan” Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
Doctor Who:“Asylum of the Daleks” Written by Steven Moffat; Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
Doctor Who:“The Snowmen” Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Wales)
Fringe:“Letters of Transit” Written by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Akiva Goldsman, J.H.Wyman, Jeff Pinkner. Directed by Joe Chappelle (Fox)
Game of Thrones:“Blackwater” Written by George R.R. Martin, Directed by Neil Marshall. Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (HBO)

As I predicted, there are the usual three episodes of Doctor Who and two other sacrificial lambs. My only question is why a single episode of Game of Thrones is nominated. As established last year, Game of Thrones should be considered as one ten-part presentation. Nominating a single episode is like nominating a single chapter from a book. In any case, it doesn’t matter, since it’s a foregone conclusion that Doctor Who will win.

Best Editor – Short Form (526 ballots)

John Joseph Adams
Neil Clarke
Stanley Schmidt
Jonathan Strahan
Sheila Williams

The usual suspects are nominated once again. My hope is that the retiring Stanley Schmidt will finally receive his due.

Best Editor – Long Form (408 ballots)

Lou Anders
Sheila Gilbert
Liz Gorinsky
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Toni Weisskopf

This is a category that very few people are really interested in. I certainly am not.

Julie-DillonBest Professional Artist (519 ballots)

Vincent Chong
Julie Dillon
Dan Dos Santos
Chris McGrath
John Picacio

A mixture of some old favorites along with some new faces. There are so many good professional artists that it is hard to pick a slate of nominees without offending some really deserving candidates. And picking a clear winner is nearly impossible.

Best Semiprozine (404 ballots)

Apex Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Jason Sizemore and Michael Damian Thomas
Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews
Clarkesworld edited by Neil Clarke, Jason Heller, Sean Wallace and Kate Baker
Lightspeed edited by John Joseph Adams and Stefan Rudnicki
Strange Horizons edited by Niall Harrison, Jed Hartman, Brit Mandelo, An Owomoyela, Julia Rios, Abigail Nussbaum, Sonya Taaffe, Dave Nagdeman and Rebecca Cross

It baffles me why this category should exist at all. Either you’re a professional magazine or you’re not. This wishy-washy half-measure should be abolished. For example, Clarkesworld published three Hugo nominees this year compared to one for Asimov’s and zero for Analog and F&SF. If that’s not a professional magazine, I don’t know what is.

Best Fanzine (370 ballots)

Banana Wings edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
The Drink Tank edited by Chris Garcia and James Bacon
Elitist Book Reviews edited by Steven Diamond
Journey Planet edited by James Bacon, Chris Garcia, Emma J. King, Helen J. Montgomery and Pete Young
SF Signal edited by John DeNardo, JP Frantz, and Patrick Hester

The Hugo voters inexplicably changed the eligibility rules this year to exclude virtually all online fanzines. Why supposedly forward-looking science fiction fans chose to regress to only printed periodicals is a mystery.

Best Fancast (346 ballots)

The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester, John DeNardo, and JP Frantz
SF Squeecast, Elizabeth Bear, Paul Cornell, Seanan McGuire, Lynne M. Thomas, Catherynne M. Valente (Presenters) and David McHone-Chase (Technical Producer)
StarShipSofa, Tony C. Smith

Although the Hugo voters have excluded online fanzines, they have embraced podcasts. However, the same titles appear year after year, and frankly, I have not been impressed with any of them. Episodes of news and opinion shows are almost always too long and often lack organization. StarShipSofa’s selection of audio stories is underwhelming. I’m still looking for a SF podcast with value-added information that’s worth my time. I suspect others feel the same way, since this category had the second-lowest number of nominating ballots.

Best Fan Writer (485 ballots)

James Bacon
Christopher J Garcia
Mark Oshiro
Tansy Rayner Roberts
Steven H Silver

Mostly the same names we see every year in the mutual-admiration society known as fandom.

Best Fan Artist (293 ballots)

Galen Dara
Brad W. Foster
Spring Schoenhuth
Maurine Starkey
Steve Stiles

Here’s another list of mostly familiar names. At least professional artist Randall Munroe did not make the final ballot this year.

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (476 ballots)

Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2011 or 2012, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award).

Zen Cho *
Max Gladstone
Mur Lafferty *
Stina Leicht *
Chuck Wendig *

* Finalists in their 2nd year of eligibility.

Mur Lafferty and Stina Leicht were both nominated last year, so I expect one of them will win this year. I am completely unfamiliar with the other three nominees.

Hugo Awards: Fan and Semiprozine Categories

Fanzines and Semiprozines

The Best Fanzine award was first presented in 1955. Science fiction fandom is largely based on the amateur fan magazines that have been published since 1930. Fanzines predate the first science fiction conventions. Fanzines are forums for fans to write on all kinds of topics of interest to each other. Fanzines are labors of love, with editors typically not accepting any kind of paid subscriptions, instead trading letters of comment or postage with other fans. The earliest fanzines were generally mimeographed, then xerographed, and in the past few years websites and blogs have dominated. The podcast StarShipSofa won in 2010.

During the 1970s, Locus ruled the Best Fanzine award. Locus had clearly moved to a more professional level than typical fanzines, with paid subscriptions and providing its editors with a nontrivial income. At about the same time, other “semiprofessional” magazines, such as Interzone and Science Fiction Chronicle, were gaining popularity. As a result, the Best Semiprozine category was established in 1984 so that traditional fanzines could more fairly compete against each other. Locus has been nominated as a semiprozine every year since then, winning 22 times, including this year.

Because of the domination by Locus, an ad hoc committee was appointed by the Worldcon Business Meeting in 2009 to look at the rules governing semiprozines. Many people felt that Locus had become a wholly professional magazine and should no longer be qualified to compete in the semiprozine category, but that the rules as written weren’t specific enough to move Locus out of contention. A few fans just wanted to eliminate the category altogether.

Semiprozines Redefined

The committee presented its findings and recommendations at the Business Meeting last year at Renovation. With some slight changes in wording, the Business Meeting approved the committee’s proposal and it was finalized with a few minor changes at Chicon 7. The proposal redefines several publications as professional magazines. Interzone, Lightspeed, Locus, and Weird Tales will no longer be considered semiprozines based on their employee’s income or their publisher’s owner/employee’s income. Clarkesworld will likely move out of the semiprozine category within a year or two (its editor withdrew it from the semiprozine final Hugo ballot this year).

What’s the Problem?

In my mind this does not solve the problem, it just moves it elsewhere. There is no Best Professional Magazine category for these publications to move to. Best Editor is not the same thing as Best Magazine. An editor has a large part to play in defining a magazine, but by no means the only one. To maintain parity, there needs to be a Best Professional Magazine category—well actually, a Best Collection award might be a better definition so as to include original anthologies.

Moreover, semiprofessional is a wishy-washy definition at best. Publishers of semiprozines want to have their cake and eat it, too. If they are publishing professional articles and stories, it’s irrelevant to me as a reader whether they are making or losing money. If a publication sells subscriptions, is available for sale at newsstands, collects donations, or pays any of its staff or contributors, it is a professional publication. The semiprozine publishers claim they want to create a level playing field, but that is an idealistic dream. The awards don’t differentiate in other categories regarding financial support. Two years ago, the small film Moon won over behemoth Avatar. In fact, independent films have gone head to head with major studio productions many times. In the 1980s and 1990s digest magazines successfully competed with the well-financed magazine Omni. Lightspeed and Clarkesworld have had short stories nominated. In addition, Lightspeed’s editor, John Joseph Adams, and Clarkesworld’s editor, Neil Clarke, were nominated as Best Editor, Short Form. So to say that semiprozines need a separate category is disingenuous. Good science fiction is good science fiction, no matter where it is published.

Another problem I have with the semiprozine definition is that it requires the semiprozine publishers to confirm that they are eligible before receiving the nominations (Yes/No answer). No other category is required to provide this kind of self-reported proof of eligibility. Do we trust the publishers to tell the truth about their finances without doing an audit? Would the Hugo Award Administrator be required to examine the publishers’ tax returns? I don’t think so. What if a publication is found to be fudging the truth after the nominations come out? After the final results are announced?

Fancasts

This year’s Business Meeting ratified a proposal to create a Best Fancast category, removing podcasts from Best Fanzine consideration, rightfully realizing that the printed word is significantly different from audio and video broadcasts. Unfortunately, a parallel change to remove audio and video from the semiprozine category was not made. Additionally, they didn’t define what constitutes a fancast, leaving open the possibility that a mixed media publication could find itself in limbo. With the rise of Kindle and iPad apps, this is a definite possibility.

In anticipation of the permanent Best Fancast category, Chicon 7 included a special Best Fancast Hugo category this year. SF Squeecast, a collaboration between Hugo-nominated authors Seanan McGuire, Paul Cornell, Elizabeth Bear, and Catherynne M. Valente, along with Lynne M. Thomas, won this award. Frankly, I was underwhelmed by all of the nominees, but there were twelve podcasts that made the 5% eligibility cutoff, so there are obviously a number of well-regarded podcasts available.

Professional Fans

This brings up an interesting point. The winners of the Best Fancast Hugo are professional writers. The winner of the Best Fan Writer was Jim C. Hines, a professional writer. The leader in the first five rounds of voting for Best Fan Artist was Randall Munroe, a professional artist. I don’t know what this means, exactly, but it’s clear that name recognition goes a long way, and, at least for this year, the lines between fan, semiprofessional, and professional were extremely blurry.

Note: this is an updated version of an article that appeared in Axolotlburg News in September 2011.

Hugo Awards 2012: Best Novel

Novels are defined as stories of 40,000 words or more. The titles in bold are the ones I nominated.

2012 Best Novel Nominations (958 ballots cast [compared to 833 ballots cast in 2011])

175 Among Others by Jo Walton (18.27%)
163 Embassytown by China Miéville (17.01%)
130 A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin (13.57%)
81 Deadline by Mira Grant (8.45%)
71 Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (7.41%)
——————————————————————–
70 The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (7.30%)
69 Rule 34 by Charles Stross (7.20%)
66 Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (6.89%)
62 The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemison (6.47%)
61 Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge (6.37%)
60 Zoo City by Lauren Beukes (6.26%)
58 Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine (5.74%)
52 Deathless by Catherynne Valente (5.42%)
49 11/22/63 by Stephen King (5.11%)
49 The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (5.11%)
48 Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi (5.01%)

Best Novel Final Ballot Results (1664 ballots [compared to 1813 ballots cast in 2011])

My Ranking

Title

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

3

Among Others (WINNER)

421

424

493

585

769

2

Embassytown

324

324

392

492

608

6

Deadline

311

312

367

418

4

A Dance With Dragons

316

317

360

1

Leviathan Wakes

260

261

5

No Award

32

No Award Tests
• 1164 ballots rank Among Others higher than No Award, 107 ballots rank No Award higher than Among Others – PASS
• ((1664-32)/1922)*100 = 85% – PASS

The remaining places were then calculated to be:
2nd Place – Embassytown
3rd Place – Leviathan Wakes
4th Place – Deadline
5th Place – A Dance With Dragons

Analysis

The Best Novel category is very strong, with 16 books making the 5% cutoff (Hugo rules stipulate that nominees must have at least 5% of the nominating votes to help indicate widespread support). Two books came within 2 votes of making the final ballot. I tend to nominate well-reviewed books that are nevertheless underdogs—why waste nominations on sure things like A Dance With Dragons? Although the number of nominating ballots went up considerably from last year, the number of final ballots dropped significantly.

Among Others, by a widely respected author and blogger, won the Nebula Award and had appeared on a lot of best-of lists, so there was little surprise that it won. Embassytown garnered a lot of critical praise, but was not an easy read. Leviathan Wakes is the first in a new space opera series, written under a pen name by a duo of George R.R. Martin’s protégées. It managed to climb from fifth to third in the final results, which demonstrated weak support for Deadline, the second book of a series, and A Dance With Dragons, the fifth book of a series. Hugo voters wisely rejected these two books as being incomplete stories.

Mini-Reviews

Among Others by Jo Walton (Tor)

This coming-of-age story of a teenage girl reminded me in tone of To Kill a Mockingbird, except with fairies. The book is an episodic semi-autobiography of Walton’s struggles with an abusive mother, the death of her twin sister, and discovery of science fiction fandom. As a love letter to fandom, it’s not hard to understand the reciprocal love the book received. The prose is beautifully written and evocative, just don’t expect a highly plot-driven adventure. The fantasy elements, to me, were secondary, especially since the protagonist was the only one who could see the fairies. Was she an unreliable narrator? That’s left for the reader to decide.

A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin (Bantam Spectra)

The fifth chapter of Martin’s epic fantasy saga A Song of Ice and Fire, the first half of A Dance With Dragons recounts the adventures of the characters that Martin cut from A Feast for Crows seven years ago. Everyone eventually gets back in sync, just in time for another cliffhanger ending. Let’s hope that it won’t be seven years until Volume 6! When Martin finally finishes this story, I hope he wins every award imaginable, but in the meantime it’s hard to justify voting for a story that is far from complete.

Deadline by Mira Grant (Orbit)

This second volume of Grant’s zombie trilogy was underwhelming. It begins in the middle of the story and ends with not one, but two major cliffhangers. The writing is serviceable, but nothing special. The book is full of plot holes, too. For example, on a cross-country drive the protagonists stop at a service station for gas. Even though the station is closed tight, they have no trouble pumping their gas and going on their way. In another instance, they infiltrate a well-guarded government installation, making their escape only because it has the exact same floor plan as another facility on the other side of the country. Plus, the “surprise” ending is flashed in neon early in the book with the ham-handed revelation that cloning exists in this world. Grant (pen name of prolific podcaster and filker Seanan McGuire) obviously spent a lot of time researching how viruses could produce zombies, but she needed to think a little harder about a plausible plot and more realistic characters.

Embassytown by China Miéville (Macmillan / Del Rey)

Miéville is one of my favorite authors, with his boundless imagination and magnificent use of language. Embassytown’s central theme is how language shapes our perceptions. On a distant planet, aliens and humans try to find commonality, despite fundamental differences in communication styles. When some of the humans interfere with the aliens’ societal customs, conflict is inevitable (where is the Prime Directive when you need it!). Miéville is never one to shy away from an eloquent and rich vocabulary, often inventing words to suit his needs, but Embassytown goes even further in testing the reader’s tolerance for made-up language. This isn’t a quick and easy read, but the astute reader will undoubtedly reap much from this well-crafted parable.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (Orbit)

Corey is the pen name of Daniel Abraham, a long-time collaborator of George R.R. Martin on the Wild Cards books and adaptor of Martin’s works for comics (as well as a respected solo author), and Ty Frank, one of Martin’s personal assistants. Leviathan Wakes is the first in a new space opera series. The story wraps up nicely, but there are definite plot threads that will lead to interesting complications in future volumes. The authors paint a detailed and action-packed universe, with protagonists that are well-developed. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and look forward to more in this series.