Tag Archive | science fiction

Gentlefolk, Start Your Rockets, er, Hugo Ballots!

The Hugo trophy given out at NolaCon II, New Orleans, 1988. Trophy designed by: Ned Dameron Photo by: Michael Benveniste

The Hugo trophy given out at NolaCon II, New Orleans, 1988. Trophy designed by: Ned Dameron Photo by: Michael Benveniste

The Hugo Online Ballots have finally opened! Which means I have a lot fewer excuses not to start filling mine out. If you are a Hugo voter (i.e., have a membership to this year’s WorldCon) and you haven’t received the email telling you how to log in and vote, you should probably check your spam folder(s). I haven’t posted any reviews of any of the books or stories or otherwise on the ballots, yet. But some other folks have. I am most enthused about a series of blog posts that Camestros Felapton is putting up this week, here’s the overview: It’s Hugo Fan Writer Finalist Week! Each day this week he is posting a “Hugo Fan Writer: Why you should vote for… ” essay. Because each and everyone one of the six nominees in that category this year are just bloody brilliant fan writers. I wanna give all six of them the rocket.

His reviews give a nice overview of what each of the fan writers produce, with helpful links to stuff the many places you can find their work. Even if you aren’t a Hugo voter, but you love sci fi/fantasy, you should check these six writers out. They are all wonderful.

Just as I’m finding it very difficult to rank the six fan writer nominees, I’m having a nearly equally hard time in the Novel category. I may have to write about that some more later.

But for now, if you’re a voter, go vote! If you’re a fan, go check out those fan writers!

Confessions of a homo godparent, or, Transphobes not welcome here

“Trans women are women. Trans men are men.”

(Click to embiggen)

I really wish I’d seen this post on John Scalzi’s blog before he closed comments: Generation X and Trans Lives. In case you don’t know, Scalzi is a science fiction writer who has won more than a few awards. Despite being what would have been described a couple decades ago as a Rockefeller Republican in his personal political leanings, he is frequently painted as ultra-liberal just because he advocates being kind and respectful of each other. John also happens to be 9 years younger than me, which puts him in what most people call Generation X. And this essay is a thoughtful post about the dismaying fact that a not insignificant fraction of that generation which is often characterized as very open minded, are transphobic.

If you have time to read the post and the comments, it’s worth the time. John moderated the comments for two days before closing them, so it probably won’t be traumatic; but he does let people who remain polite and don’t repeat falsehoods about trans people say a few things that might be a bit upsetting.

I’m going to steal one bit from the middle of John’s piece:

“Understanding one’s own sexism, or racism, or homophobia, or transphobia, isn’t about reaching some plateau and getting to stop. You have to keep working at it.

“Which can be fucking tiring, you know? Now I get why so many people who were 20 or 30 years older than I was would tell me proudly that they marched with MLK or protested in the 60s: Because it was a way of saying “here’s my resume, I’m on the side of angels.” But the 60s were the 60s, and now is now. The fight’s not the same and sooner or later, generationally speaking, there’s always something to trip over.”

John is much kinder to the transphobes he is talking about than I find myself able to be. And I think he might be being kinder than they deserve. Let me explain: some years ago, I was blessed to take part in the birth of the child of two of my best friends. I was in the room when my godchild was born (after a long labor where we were taking turns who was supporting the mom). There is something that happens in your brain/heart when you hold a newborn baby after going through the birthing process. There’s a part of me that said, “I will walk through fire for this kid. I will slay dragons for this kid.”

Some years later, my godchild told us all that we had been using the wrong pronouns. And that their old name was now a dead name. It wasn’t easy to learn the new pronouns and name. Similarly, my sister’s youngest child informed us a year or so ago that we had been using the wrong pronouns, and that they had a new name.

I don’t think I’ve ever dead-named either my godchild or my nibling in person, but I know I have used the wrong pronouns more than once. Forgetting to use the correct pronoun or slippin on a name is tripping over trans issues.

“Trans rights are human rights”

(click to embiggen)

On the other hand, saying that trans women are not really women, repeating lies about trans people, claiming that trans people are threats, denying trans people health care, denying trans people rights? That isn’t tripping over trans issues. That’s erasing. That’s threatening. That’s attacking. That’s harming.

If you believe those things about trans people? That makes you one of the dragons that my godchild and my nibling (and every other trans person out there) needs to be protected from.

The Cabal That Wasn’t or, SF/F award numbers don’t mean what you think they mean

A tangerine-colored spherical space station spinning in the inky blackness of space. This is cover art for the 1977 Discus Editon of Isaac Asimov’s ‘The Planet That Wasn’t’. Art by Dean Ellis

This is cover art for the 1977 Discus Editon of Isaac Asimov’s ‘The Planet That Wasn’t’. Art by Dean Ellis

I’m deep in the middle of reading all the Hugo nominees that I hadn’t previously read so I can fill out my ballot, soon. Plus I’ve been working long hours at the day job while trying to keep up with the shambles that the world seems to be trying to turn itself into. So my attention has been a bit scattered. I was a bit surprised about a week or so ago to see a bunch of references to the “No Men Nominated for Hugos” cross my twitter stream. Which triggered an immediate WTF from me, because without checking the actual list, I thought, “But Ted Chiang, James Corey1, Michael Straczynski, Max Gladstone, and James Nicoll are all on the ballot, aren’t they? And those are just the men I can think of without looking it up!” But seeing so many mentions of it, I started to think that maybe I was confusing the Locus shortlist and/or Nebula shortlist.

I did eventually look up the long list, and confirmed that I was correct that all of those men had, indeed, received nominations23. But then I noticed that all of the books nominated for Best Novel were written by a woman4. And when I followed up to find a blog post from someone commenting on the issue and confirmed that, yes, the anger was about the Best Novel category, and how this is a terrible travesty and more proof that a political conspiracy has taken control of the Hugos, which is more proof of the downfall of civilization, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

They try what Asimov5 used to call a Judo Argument: the art of trying to use the enemy’s own strength against him. Asimov was specifically talking about arguments by people of faith to try to use science to prove the existence of god. But it applies to many other endeavors. In fact, the argument that these people who are upset about the Best Novel category of this year’s Hugo awards are using is specifically what Asimov called The Second Judo Argument:

“Suppose something exists, but the chances of it coming into existence due to random processes are so small (as determined by the laws of statistics and probabilities) that it is virtually impossible to suppose that it exists except as the result of some directing influence.”
—Isaac Asimov, The Planet That Wasn’t, essay 17, “The Judo Argument”

So, the argument that is being advanced, here, is that the having all six nominees in the Best Novel category of the Hugo Awards being written by authors of only one gender is so statistically unlikely that the only logical explanation is some kind of shenanigans. The least irrational way I’ve seen this notion expressed is in the form of a rhetorical question, “Are you seriously telling me that no award-worthy book written by a man in the field of science fiction/fantasy was published in 2019?”

Let me dispense with that question, first. There is nothing in the mission statement of the Hugos, nor in the rules, nor in a reasonable description of the awards that says the ballot must feature every single sf/f book which is worthy of a Hugo. Lots of great books fail to make the short list every year.

Since I participate in the awards, earlier this year I nominated five7 books for this award. Only two of the books I nominated made it to the ballot. Now that the ballot has come out, do I suddenly believe that the other three I nominated aren’t Hugo-worthy? Absolutely not! It just so happens that the four books I didn’t nominate that also did make the ballot were all books I hadn’t read8.

The other thing I want to mention about my nominations: when I went back into my emails to check what I had nominated, one of the five books I nominated was by a man. Was I disappointed that book didn’t make the final ballot? Sure! But not because of the gender of the author, just because it was a book I read recently that I really liked.

Let’s move on to numbers10. The other part of the argument is that having a category on the Hugo ballot dominated by one gender is somehow so incredibly unlikely as to prove some sort of cheating is going on. So, let’s look at the numbers, shall we? First, this 2019 article9 gives a lot of numbers: Gender and the Hugo Awards, by the Numbers. Nicoll breaks out more categories than I will recount here. The two most import numbers for our argument are these: how many times in the history of the Hugos has the Best Novel category been only men? And how many times have all but one nominee been a man?

The answers are enlightening. Out of the 66 years that there has been a Best Novel category for the Hugo Awards, 22 times the shortlist has been all men. That’s 33⅓% of all the years. And out of those 66 years the number of times that all but one nominee was a man is 20, which is just a touch more than 30%. So the number of years in which a single gender indisputably dominated is 64%. Which means that having one gender predominate isn’t a statistical anomaly at all.

Let’s be perfectly clear: this year is the first time, in 66 years of Hugo history, that the Best Novel category has only had women as the authors. But by no means is it the first year that any gender has had a disproportionate place on the ballot. While there were 22 years out of that time when the category had only men, which is a subset of the 42 years out of 66 in which one or fewer of the nominated works’ authors was a woman.

So, at this point we have discredited the idea that the ballot invalidates all work by male authors, and we have invalidated the assertion that a single-gender ballot is statistically unlikely. Maybe that’s where I should stop, but there are more problems here. Those problems are implied above, but the people whose arguments I have dismantled have demonstrated a decided inability to understand implications, so I have a bit more to say.

So, despite my dismantling of the arguments above—specifically that statistically there isn’t a problem in this year’s ballot—that doesn’t mean that there is no change worth discussion. For some context, let’s look at this recent essay: The Decade That Women Won. There has been a change in which gender dominates. What can we infer from the data?

Mathematically from the nomination and winning data we can’t conclude much. Having one gender disproportionately represented is the statistical norm for the entire history of the awards. All that’s happened in recent years is which gender of author that is being nominated most often has changed. There are a lot of perfectly reasonable explanations for this that don’t involve any shenanigans:

  • It could be that enough people are making an effort to read outside their comfort zone that they are encountering more books written by women than they used to.
  • It could be that reviewers and compilers of recommended lists are making more of a conscious effort to review a more diverse selection of works.
  • It could be that social media and other modern communication possibilities provide more ways to circumvent gatekeepers11.
  • It could be a slow generational change that’s just hit a tipping point.
  • It could be that a lot of the fans who are women and/or queer who bought their first WorldCon supporting membership in 201512 in order to protect the integrity of the awards from a slate-voting scheme stuck around13 and we tend to read a more diverse selection of sf/f books than the old guard
  • It could be that more women are managing to sell in the sf/f market than in decades past, and their increased presence is starting to have an effect.
  • It could all be statistical noise.

There is another form of the Judo Argument being used by the people unhappy with this year’s Best Novel nominees: “I thought all you people were opposed to discrimination, yet here you are cheering on the discrimination of men.” First, when I cheered when I saw the list I wasn’t thinking “Oh, look! No men!” No, I was cheering because two books I’d nominated had made the list, and two more that I’d heard enough good things about that I was already planning to read had made the list. Second, when we talked about discrimination against women and other marginalized communities in sf/f publishing and such, we had more statistics than just award ballots. We could show the statistical disproportions in who was published, which books were reviewed, which books were on recommendation lists, and many other statistics which all skewed very strongly toward cishet white men. We don’t have any such statistics showing a sudden skewing in the other direction. Even now, all those other numbers still favor cishet white men. And third, for decades the same people who are complaining now have insisted that an all-male or nearly-all-male ballot absolutely wasn’t discrimination, so they don’t now have the moral right to make that argument.

And that’s the crux of it: the people complaining now never cared during any of those years that no women were nominated. They don’t actually have any trouble with disproportionate nominees or wins. They only have a problem when it isn’t men who are being recognized.

In other words, they aren’t arguing in good faith, which is why their arguments fall flat.


Footnotes:

1. James S.A. Corey is actually a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck… but both of them are men. I just always forget their names, but I know it’s a pen name for two guys, right?

2. Straczynski is nominated in the Best Related Work, and Nicoll in Fan Writer, so if the other people were up in arms about the fiction categories, then I guess we can’t count them, but…

3. Here’s where I pedantically remind myself and the reader that people are not nominated in the fiction categories, but rather specific works of fiction which happen to be written by people.

4. At least one is a trans woman. Which I only mention because at least one of the commentators out there who are angry about no men being nominated in the Best Novel category this year had a side rant about the trans person and how having a trans author on the ballot somehow proof that something untoward has happened in the voting process. The trans woman is a woman, so for the rest of this entry I’m just going to agree that all the authors nominated in the Novel category this year are women, because they are.

5. Asimov was a Grandmaster of Science Fiction and for most of my teens and twenties I thought he was the greatest science fiction author ever. He has considerably tarnished in my eyes since I learned how he treated (and groped and otherwise sexually harassed) women who he encountered at conventions and otherwise. But the notion of a Judo Argument: someone trying to use their opponents’ principals to disprove the opponents’ conclusions, is apt6.

6. For more reasons than one.

7. One of the rules which the World Science Fiction Society adopted recently in order to make Slate Voting Schemes less likely to succeed is that nominators are allowed to nominate no more than 5 titles, while the top 6 nominees will appear on the ballot.

8. Although one of them was a book I had already bought but hadn’t yet read, and one other was in my wishlist, for what it’s worth…

9. Coincidentally written by a man, and even more coincidentally, one of the men I mention earlier who is on this year’s Hugo ballot!

10. In an earlier draft of this post I started to go into statistical theory, because my major at university was mathematics, and if I had gone on to graduate school my plan was to go into statistics, probability, and game theory… but all the math makes some people dizzy. Besides, the people who have asserted the argument I’m refuting clearly don’t understand logic, so…

11. And yes, there have definitely been gatekeepers.

12. My gay self, my bi husband, and a number of others, for example

13. Just as I and my husband have.

We’ve got a lovely bunch of Nebulas!

This year’s Nebula Awards were announced at a live streaming event on Saturday. The Nebulas have been given annually by SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America since 1966. They are meant to recognize the best works of science fiction and fantasy published in the previous year. The winners are selected by the members of SFWA.

This year’s winners are:

Novel

A Song for a New Day, Sarah Pinsker (Berkley)

Novella

This Is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone (Saga)

Novelette

Carpe Glitter, Cat Rambo (Meerkat)

Short Story

“Give the Family My Love”, A.T. Greenblatt (Clarkesworld 2/19)

The Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book

Riverland, Fran Wilde (Amulet)

Game Writing

The Outer Worlds, Leonard Boyarsky, Megan Starks, Kate Dollarhyde, Chris L’Etoile (Obsidian Entertainment)

The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

Good Omens: “Hard Times”, Neil Gaiman (Amazon Studios/BBC Studios)

The Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award

Lois McMaster Bujold

The Kevin O’Donnell, Jr. Service Award

Julia Rios

The Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award

John Picacio
David Gaughran

I’m not a SFWA member so I don’t get a vote in these. But it’s always interesting to see what wins. Since the winning Novella and Novelette are both stories that I including in my nominations for a Hugo, I am clearly happy to see them win. And, of course, I quite love the Good Omens mini series (and I nominated the series as a whole for the Dramatic Presentation, Long From, as well as one episode [but a different one than got the Nebula] in Short Form), so I’m quite happy to see that win. And I’ve long been a fan of Lois McMaster Bujold’s books, so I’m very happy to see her officially recognized as a Grand Master of Science Fiction.

Because I don’t participate in the voting for the Nebulas, I am much less familiar with the rules defining the categories. They don’t have the all the categories that the Hugos do, and while there are a number of times when the same book or story that won a particular category in the Nebulas goes on to also win in the Hugos, it isn’t at all common. The voting pool is a different set for each award (though there is some overlap), so that’s to be expected.

Having the Hugo Voters packed become available the same weekend as the Nebulas were announced–when I am already well into the act to reading as many of the Hugo nominees as I could without the packet (I finished Gideon the Ninth about a half hour before I noticed the email telling me the Hugo Packet was available to download), it was a very science fiction heavy weekend.

Even while the world seemed to be falling down around us.

The Stuff of Legend – loving sf/f and the illusion of logic

"It's only logicial," Spock says.

Spock assures us, “It’s only logicial.” (MemeGenerator.Net)

The stereotype of the logical sci fi nerd who doesn’t understand emotions is an exaggeration… except when it isn’t. There are plenty of science and sci fi fans who live up to that particular stereotype. Not only do they live up to it, many of them embrace some aspects of it—insisting that they are rational beings who follow logic and are not swayed by the chaotic currents of sentimentality or emotion or social convention. I ought to know, because I have sometimes deluded myself in the same way.

As more than one study has shown, emotions are actually necessary to processing logical problems. Our brains have evolved as a system to process information from our senses to evaluate our environment and make decisions about how to survive and succeed, and that processing involves hormones and emotions on at least an equal footing with what most people would think of as pure data. And as a social species, we are hardwired to take in cues from other members of our species into account, as well. This is true whether one is neurotypical or not. How a non-neurotypical person processes some of that input is what’s different, not that they don’t process it at all.

That biological need to take into account the feelings of others isn’t an accident. It’s part of a fundamental aspect of what has made our species successful thus far. Survival of the fittest means the fittest species to fill ecological niches, not the fittest individuals. Social animals, including humans, are fit for the environment because they take care of each other. Not because of a transactional obligation, but because a particular social unit benefits from having many members, sharing the burdens of keeping an eye out for danger, finding food, raising offspring, and so forth. Taking care of each other shouldn’t be thought of as a matter of charity—it should be recognized as necessary to the survival of the species.

And that’s just one of the reasons why feelings are important. Keeping track of each other’s physical and emotional health—maintaining each others’ goodwill and trust—are vital parts of our survival strategy.

But I most often encounter myths about logic divorced from emotion in certain fannish arguments where some people want to assert that there are objective criteria by which one can determine the definitive quality of a particular work. This is usually used as a cudgel to bludgeon fans who like things that the self-proclaimed logician dislikes, as well as fans who do not care for the favored thing of the logician.

And that’s just incorrect.

We’re talking about being fans of something. Since the logician is making a claim of definitive determination, let us turn to the Oxford Dictionary definition of fan which applies: “an enthusiast for a particular person or thing.” This sense of the word is derived from the word fanatic, which Oxford further informs us means: “A fanatical person, a person filled with excessive enthusiasm.”

Enthusiasm is an emotion, specifically a “strong intensity of feeling in favour of something or someone” and a “passionate eagerness or interest.”

Emotions, by definition are not rational.

While it is possible to evaluate a particular work of art (whether a novel, movie, television episode, graphic novel, short story, et cetera) in terms of craftsmanship, it will never be an entirely objective analysis. Feelings, preferences, and expectations will always color these evaluations. That doesn’t mean the evaluations are meaningless, we just have to recognize that there will always be subjectivity involved.

Also, craftsmanship isn’t the be all and end all of art. I might well agree that a particular story employs clever use of language and high skill at plotting and dialogue and characterization, I may also still not like the story for reasons complete separate from craftsmanship. Which is a perfectly valid part of the evaluation, review, and critique process.

Fan are passionate. Many of us love talking about the things we passionately like, and sometimes the things we passionately dislike. Some fans love to debate. Others just discuss. And the level of enthusiasm some of us feel make it sound like we are debating when we think we’re discussing.

Art, story telling, and the appreciation of those things are inherently non-rational. Which means that there is no formula or algorithm to settle upon a definitive, objective, or categorical determination of the relative quality of different works. Because, again, we’re talking about passion, enthusiasm, enjoyment, and satisfaction. All non-rational things.

When who plug in a bunch of non-rational ingredients into a purely rational process, you’re not going to get a meaningful answer.

And that’s simply logical.

“I’m not a lady, I’m a witch” — or, more of why I love sf/f

Photo of a page of a Terry Pratchett book:  “You’d have done the same,” said Lily. “No,”“ said Granny. “I’d have thought the same, but I wouldn’t have done it.” “What difference does that make, deep down?” “You mean you don’t know?” said Nanny Ogg.

Click to embiggen

Many, many years ago a friend was going on and on about this hilarious book he had been reading, and by the end of the conversation had pressed his copy of the paperback in my hand to take home and give it a try. I tried to read it. I really did, but I found it off-putting almost immediately. I think I got about a third of the way through it before I decided it just wasn’t for me. So I gave it back to my friend and confessed that I just hadn’t been able to get into it. He shrugged and we started talking about another book altogether.

About two years later—after I had transferred to university in Seattle—I was involved in a conversation with a couple of different friends who were enthusing about a book and its sequel that they both quite enjoyed. One of them had a copy of the second books with him, and suggested I give it a try. “You don’t need to have read the first book to get this one,” he assured me. The cover looked suspiciously familiar, but I didn’t quite put two-and-two together.

Until later that week when I was trying to read it, and realized that the author of the book was the same as the other book from two years ago, and the protagonist that I had despised before was the main character of this book, too. So I gave it back, thanking my friend from loaning it, but admitting that I hadn’t liked it.

About three years later, on our regular gaming night, a group of friends which included the two guys who had tried to get me into the series before were going on and on and on about this latest book in the series. One of them, however said, “Oh, wait, you already tried these books before, didn’t you?” But one of the other guys chimed in to say that the first three books in the series had not been anywhere near as good as the latest, and the next thing I knew I was borrowing someone’s copy of the eighth book in the series.

Admittedly, the main character of book eight was a completely different character who wasn’t quite as irritating as the other guy had been, but I still found myself getting bogged down and rolling my eyes a lot at things in the book until finally I once again gave up.

A few times over the eight years, some subset of friends or acquaintances in various fannish or gaming situations would talk about the series, including explaining which were their favorites and which they could take or leave. And at least one more time during this interval I picked up another book in the series, but it just didn’t grab me.

I found myself after that in a conversation with another friend about the series. She was a little bit surprised that I didn’t like it, as she thought a lot of the themes the author explored were things I enjoyed. We ended up having a very long conversation about books other people had recommended that we didn’t like, and why we thought that was in various cases. This last conversation happened around the same time that my first husband, Ray, was undergoing chemotherapy. Or maybe it was during one of his surgeries? What I know is that the conversation happened in a waiting room at a medical facility where she was hanging out with me specifically to give me emotion support and distract me a bit.

A few months later, Ray died —just two weeks before Thanksgiving. Just before Christmas, she dropped by one day to drop off a Christmas present, but more importantly, to loan me a few books. Most of the books in the pile I recognized as series that I had been interested in trying one day. And then one of the books was in the series that people had been trying to get me to try for a long time.

She pulled it out of the pile and said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about that conversation we had about why you didn’t like other books in this series. The more I think about it, I think if any of the books will appeal to you, it’s this one. Give it a try. I won’t be offended if you don’t like it.”

It was one of the books I stuck in my suitcase when I went to spent about a week at Mom’s for the holiday. Mom tended to go to bed a lot earlier than I did, at least on the nights that weren’t filled with holiday things with the family. So the first night after Christmas, I was laying in her guest room, trying to occupy myself quietly until I was ready to sleep. And I opened up the loaned copy of Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters. I had intended to just force myself to read it for an hour or so until I go sleepy. Because I was not at all confident that I’d like it any more than any of the other Discworld books I had tried before.

The next thing I knew, I was on the last page of the book. The sun had risen outside. I had stayed up all night, eagerly turning pages to find out what happened next!

I re-read the book from beginning to end two more times before that vacation was over. Shortly after getting home, I was telling my friend how much I loved it and that I knew I needed to get my own copy. A couple days later she dropped by and loaned me the next book from the series with the same character, Witches Abroad. And while at the end of Wyrd Sisters I was a big fan of Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Magrat, and Greebo the world’s scruffiest cat, by the end of Wyrd Sisters, I was ready to say that Granny Weatherwax was the greatest fictional character ever created.

It was at this point that the friend advised me that there was an earlier book starring Granny Weatherwax, but it was “written while Pratchett was still figuring out the world, so it’s almost like she’s only a similar character who happens to have the same name.”

Over the course of the next few months I read all of the witches books in the Discworld series which existed at that time (Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, and Maskerade). By this time I was dating Michael, and he was as surprised as many other friends had been that it had taken me so long to start reading these books. It was his copy of the first Granny Weatherwax book, Equal Rites, that I finally read. And I could see that my other friend had been correct, if I’d read it before I had come to love the more fully realized Granny, I would definitely not have liked it.

Having reached the end of the witch books available at the time, I was eyeing some of the other books in the series, when the friend who had picked Wyrd Sisters for me said, “Skip the earlier guard books. Start with Feet of Clay, then if you like the characters try circling back to the beginning.”

And that’s how I eventually wound up reading (and buying my own copies of) almost the entire Discworld series mostly out of order. Because the earlier ones did make more sense once I had gotten into the mindset of the series overall.

The earliest books in the series feel like broad parodies of epic fantasy novels. They have their funny moments, but when the jokes clunk, they remind me (at least) of the non-parody fantasy books that I love and make me wish I was reading one of those.

Wyrd Sisters, in my humble opinion, was the first time that one of the discworld books became full-on satire. Parodies always contain satirical elements, but a full literary satire doesn’t lampoon or ridicule an individual person or work—it uses the elements of irony and humor to lampoon society as a whole.

Several of the books immediately following Wyrd Sisters strayed a bit back into more broad parody elements, but by Reaper Man and Witches Abroad, Pratchett had finally found the groove of holding up a mirror to the reader and the world we live in rather than poking fun at individual works.

This post was originally supposed to be about Witches Abroad, why I love it, and how it changed the way I looked at the world, so maybe I should get to those specifics.

The premise: the tiny mountain kingdom of Lancre is served by three witches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlik. There are many other witches who live in neighboring and not quite so neighboring communities, but these three form the core of most of the witches books. Nanny Ogg is the ultimate grandmother—she has outlived a rather large number of husbands, has sons working in various jobs in her hometown and the neighboring communities, a large number of daughters-in-law who fear her, and innumerable grandchildren. She loves to drink and is famous for singing a particularly naught song. Magrat is the youngest of the coven, and is prone to trying new and modern things like crystals and meditation. Granny is older, has never married, and would never, ever be described as nice. But she is also the undisputed leader of their coven, and the one that everyone turns to when the situation gets dire.

This particular book is kicked off when a witch who lives in a neighboring county dies, and leaves a powerful magic wand (and the fairy godmothering duties that go with it) to Magrat. And she writes her will in a way that she knows will provoke Granny and Nanny to insist on going with Magrat to help the girl she is now the godmother to.

The middle of the book involves adventures the three witches have traveling through unfamiliar lands (with a lot of funny events along the way). But there is also a growing sense of trouble, as it becomes clear that the goddaughter in the far-off land is under the influence of someone who is quite dangerous, indeed.

When they find the girl (living in a sort of parody of New Orleans), they quickly discover that the other godmother is someone known to Granny and Nanny: Lily Weatherwax, Granny’s older sister.

The image I included above is a bit of dialog from Witches Abroad.

“You’d have done the same,” said Lily.
“No,”“ said Granny. “I’d have thought the same, but I wouldn’t have done it.”
“What difference does that make, deep down?”
“You mean you don’t know?” said Nanny Ogg.
—from Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

Lily does not fit the mold of villain when we first meet her. She is nice and charming. She claims her only goal is to ensure everyone is happy and get what they want. It becomes clear fairly quickly that what Lily really wants is for everyone to act happy and cheerful and more than content with whatever their lot in life is.

I mentioned above that Granny isn’t nice. She is sharp-tongued and blunt. She is ruthless when going up against someone who is causing harm to others. But she isn’t one of those characters who is rough and mean on the outside and turns out to have a soft squishy golden heart. Granny is granite all the way through, but it is a granite of morality.

In the above quote, Lily just given her explanation for why she uses her magic to force people into the roles she deems them suited for. She has explained how people make foolish mistakes, live inefficient lives, and waste a lot of time and effort of frivolities, often causing themselves misery and trouble along the way. Isn’t it better, she argues, for someone like her who can see how they could be happier, to make sure that they are?

When Granny objects, that’s what causes Lily to say, “You’d have done the same.”

It is this exchange that shows the core of Granny’s hard, granite soul. She knows that she is capable of doing immoral things. She has had those unkind, cruel, manipulative thoughts. And she refuses to give in to them. She can be harsh-spoken, but she is always harsher to herself, and she knows that kindness isn’t about how we talk to people, but what we actually do for them.

In more than one of the books, Granny defines evil not as maliciousness nor cruelty nor depravity. No. Evil, she tells us, begins when you start thinking and treating people like things.

The book hits on many other ideas along the way, but I think the heart of it was the revelation that how you treat and care for each other is what matters. And there isn’t a grey area between treating everyone as a person entitled to dignity and consideration, and treating them as expendable.

A round up of Hugo round-ups

(click to embiggen)

I thought that I had tapped the Schedule button on this post last night, so after finishing a somewhat grueling day at work (yes, even when working from home work can be grueling and frustration — but I keep repeating the mantra, “I’m glad I have a job. I’m glad I have a job. I’m glad I have a job…”), making dinner, chatting with my husband, and otherwise winding down from the day, I expected to log in to see how some stats on the blog before I finished a post for Thursday… and here this was not posted. So I decided to re-write the intro to reflect my doofus-ness

So other people have been posting about the Hugo ballot since it came out. This isn’t an exhaustive list, by any means, but I found all of these posts interesting and informative.

Cora Buhlert shares her views on the Retro Hugo nominees: Some Thoughts on the Hugo Award Finalists, Part I: The 1945 Retro Hugo Awards and the 2020 finalists: http://corabuhlert.com/2020/04/10/some-thoughts-on-the-hugo-award-finalists-part-ii-the-2020-hugo-awards/.

Nerds of a Feather have a bit to say: Adri and Joe Talk About Books: The Hugo Awards.

Paul Fraser and SF Magazines has some thoughts: 1945 Retro Hugo Award and 2020 Hugo Award Finalists.

Camestros Felapton has an overview: 2020 Hugo Finalists. And has begun following up with posts on specific categories Dramatic Presentation and Short Stories thus far.

And let’s not forget J.J.’s excellent round-up of where you can find most of the nominees or excerpts thereof, online: Where To Find The 2020 Hugo Award Finalists For Free Online.

Line up your rockets! Or, we have the 2020 Hugo Award Finalists!

Photo © Dave Howell, designer of the base of the 2009 Hugo trophies.

Photo © Dave Howell, designer of the base of the 2009 Hugo trophies.

I first learned of the existence of the Hugos when I found a copy of one of the Hugo Winners anthologies edited (back then) by Isaac Asimov when I was about 12 or 13 years old. His anecdotal description of the awards and the ceremony created a fantasy version of the process for me. For instance, I assumed (incorrectly) that the voting for the awards happened at the convention itself. Anyway, because of that early perception, attending a WorldCon and attending the banquet as a professional writer myself (and maybe even as a nominee!) became my own subconscious prerequisites to voting in the Hugos. This persisted even after, at a later age, when I learned that in order to vote one merely needed to buy a supporting membership, and the voting all happened by mail and online.

While I knew I could just buy a membership and vote, I never actually did it until the Melancholy Canine Kerfuffle motivated me to get involved.

And I’ve been happily nominating, reading the packet after the ballot comes out, and voting ever sense.

Which *drum roll* brings us to—the finalists for the 2020 Hugo Awards and the 1945 Retro Hugo Awards have been announced!

2020 Hugo and Astounding Awards

Best Novel

Only two of the books I nominated made it to the final ballot, but three more were already in my to-be-read pile, so this is a very strong selection, and I suspect I’ll have a very hard time picking in this category.

  • The City in the Middle of the Night, Charlie Jane Anders (Tor; Titan)
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix E. Harrow (Redhook; Orbit UK)
  • The Light Brigade, Kameron Hurley (Saga; Angry Robot UK)
  • A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine (Tor; Tor UK)
  • Middlegame, Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
  • Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir (Tor.com Publishing)

Best Novella

Again, only two of the novellas I nominated made this list, but a couple more were ones I would have nominated if I could nominate more than five. And the other two I’ve heard good things about, so, I’m looking forward to the Hugo packet.

  • To Be Taught, If Fortunate, Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager; Hodder & Stoughton)
  • “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom”, Ted Chiang (Exhalation)
  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015, P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)
  • This Is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone (Saga)
  • In an Absent Dream, Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
  • The Deep, Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes (Saga)

Best Novelette

The further you get down the ballot ballot in the printed fiction categories, the less possible it is that any individual reader has seen a significant fraction of all the stories in that category published in a single year. So I’m not surprised that only one single entry is one that was on my ballot. But several that I haven’t read yet have been written by authors I know are really good, so…

  • “For He Can Creep”, Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com 7/10/19)
  • “Omphalos”, Ted Chiang (Exhalation)
  • “Away with the Wolves”, Sarah Gailey (Uncanny 9-10/19)
  • “Emergency Skin”, N.K. Jemisin (Forward)
  • “The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye”, Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny 7-8/19)
  • “The Archronology of Love”, Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed 4/19)

Best Short Story

I think this is the first time, ever, that four of the stories in this category are ones I had read before the ballot came out. This looks like, again, a great set of nominees.

  • “Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 1/31/19)
  • “As the Last I May Know”, S.L. Huang (Tor.com 10/23/19)
  • “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons 9/9/19)
  • “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, Nibedita Sen (Nightmare 5/19)
  • “Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, Rivers Solomon (Tor.com 7/24/19)
  • “A Catalog of Storms”, Fran Wilde (Uncanny 1-2/19)

Best Series

This is still a very new category, and it’s difficult to know which series are eligible in a give year. Only two of the entries on this list were on my nomination ballot, but I’m familiar with a couple more, and know that they are very good.

  • Winternight, Katherine Arden (Del Rey; Del Rey UK)
  • The Expanse, James S.A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • Luna, Ian McDonald (Tor; Gollancz)
  • InCryptid, Seanan McGuire (DAW)
  • Planetfall, Emma Newman (Ace; Gollancz)
  • Wormwood, Tade Thompson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

Best Related Work

This category is always odd, because it is intentionally a miscellaneous category intended as, among other things, a place to nominate new artforms. Anyway, three things I nominated made it here, so obviously I think it is good. I am delighted that Jeannette Ng’s speech made the list, even though it never occurred to me that it was eligible. On the other hand, I think that other things on the list are more deserving of the trophy. But then, I have to admit that half the reason I’m delighted that the speech is here is precisely because of the people who are furious that it got nominated.

  • Joanna Russ, Gwyneth Jones (University of Illinois Press)
  • The Pleasant Profession of Robert A Heinlein, Farah Mendlesohn (Unbound)
  • “2019 John W. Campbell Award Acceptance Speech”, Jeannette Ng (Dublin 2019 — An Irish Worldcon)
  • The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, Mallory O’Meara (Hanover Square)
  • Becoming Superman: My Journey From Poverty to Hollywood, J. Michael Straczynski (Harper Voyager US)
  • Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin

Best Graphic Story or Comic

When I was younger I was reading comic books as they came out, before they were collected into graphic novels. I tend to wait, now, so I’m not as up on what all is out there, like I used to be. This year while I was trying to fill out my nomination ballot, I learned that almost everything I’d read in the last year had been published earlier, so I didn’t nominate many. Only one title below is one that I have read recently (and nominated). But I’m familiar with several of the writers and artists of the other titles, so I’m looking forward to reading them.

  • Die, Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker, Kieron Gillen, illustrated by Stephanie Hans (Image)
  • The Wicked + The Divine, Volume 9: Okay, Kieron Gillen, illustrated by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson (Image Comics)
  • Monstress, Volume 4: The Chosen, Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image)
  • LaGuardia, Nnedi Okorafor, illustrated by Tana Ford, colours by James Devlin (Berger Books/Dark Horse)
  • Paper Girls, Volume 6, Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang & Matt Wilson (Image)
  • Mooncakes, Wendy Xu & Suzanne Walker (Oni Press; Lion Forge)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Three things I nominated made this list. Two others I have reason to believe are really good. One… one is going under No Award on my ballot already. But I don’t think anyone who knows me will be surprised that the number one slot on my ballot is going to Good Omens

  • Avengers: Endgame
  • Captain Marvel
  • Good Omens
  • Russian Doll, Season One
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
  • Us

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Only one episode I nominated made it to the list. A couple of the other series, I nominated different episodes than are here.

  • Doctor Who: “Resolution”
  • The Expanse: “Cibola Burn”
  • The Good Place: “The Answer”
  • The Mandalorian: “Redemption”
  • Watchmen: “A God Walks into Abar”
  • Watchmen: “This Extraordinary Being”

Best Editor, Short Form

Editor categories are always hard to predict. Three of the editors I nominated made it here. Two of the others I am familiar with their work already. It will be interesting researching the others.

  • Neil Clarke
  • Ellen Datlow
  • C.C. Finlay
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas
  • Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form

The last couple of years what I have tried to do in this category is find out the editor of the novels I nominated. This year, I was only able to find out who was one of the editors of the five novels I nominated. She made it to the list. I really wish the book publishers would make it easier to find who the editors are. It was only after the ballot was released today that I found out that one single editor who wasn’t on my ballot edited two things I nominated. They didn’t make it to the list, and I firmly belief part of the reason is because people like me can’t find out who edited the books we love!

  • Sheila Gilbert
  • Brit Hvide
  • Diana M. Pho
  • Devi Pillai
  • Miriam Weinberg
  • Navah Wolfe

Best Professional Artist

Several great choices. I suspect the ones I’m not familiar with already are good, as well.

  • Tommy Arnold
  • Rovina Cai
  • Galen Dara
  • John Picacio
  • Yuko Shimizu
  • Alyssa Winans

Best Semiprozine

Three of my nominees made it to the list. The other three entries on the list are all things that almost made it. I just read/listen to a LOT. Every one of these publishes good stuff, so another really strong category.

  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies
  • Escape Pod
  • Fireside
  • FIYAH
  • Strange Horizons
  • Uncanny

Best Fanzine

Only one of the things I nominated made it to the list this time, but three more are publications that I quite love, and the other two I’ve never perused before, so I’m looking forward to exploring new things.

  • The Book Smugglers
  • Galactic Journey
  • Journey Planet
  • nerds of a feather, flock together
  • Quick Sip Reviews
  • The Rec Center

Best Fancast

Three of my nominees made the list. I’m familiar with a couple of the others and they almost made the cut. So, once again, a strong category.

  • Be the Serpent
  • The Coode Street Podcast
  • Galactic Suburbia
  • Our Opinions Are Correct
  • Claire Rousseau’s YouTube channel
  • The Skiffy and Fanty Show

Best Fan Writer

I was so happy watching the livestream when this category was announced. Three of the entries were also on my nomination ballot. Two of those are Blog Buddies! And the other three are people whose work I am at least partially familiar with and have enjoyed their work, so this is a category I’ll have a difficult time ranking.

  • Cora Buhlert
  • James Davis Nicoll
  • Alasdair Stuart
  • Bogi Takács
  • Paul Weimer
  • Adam Whitehead

Best Fan Artist

Good list!

  • Iain Clark
  • Sara Felix
  • Grace P. Fong
  • Meg Frank
  • Ariela Housman
  • Elise Matthesen

Lodestar for Best Young Adult Book (Not a Hugo)

Only one book I nominated made it to the list. But part of the problem there is that three other books that did make it were in my to-be-read pile at nomination time and I don’t feel right nominating if I haven’t read it. This is another really strong list and I’m looking forward to finishing a few books and reading two more.

  • The Wicked King, Holly Black (Little, Brown; Hot Key)
  • Deeplight, Frances Hardinge (Macmillan)
  • Minor Mage, T. Kingfisher (Argyll)
  • Catfishing on CatNet, Naomi Kritzer (Tor Teen)
  • Dragon Pearl, Yoon Ha Lee (Disney/Hyperion)
  • Riverland, Fran Wilde (Amulet)

Astounding Award for Best New Writer (Not a Hugo)

This is another really strong list!

  • Sam Hawke*
  • R.F. Kuang*
  • Jenn Lyons
  • Nibedita Sen*
  • Tasha Suri*
  • Emily Tesh

*Second year of eligibility

1945 Retro Hugo Nominees

The Retro Hugos are… weird. At final ballot time I seem to never pick the winners. I know that part of the problem with the Retros is that enough voters vote by looking for familiar names, so when an early story by someone who later became really good is on the ballot, even when that is one of the worst stories that later-famous author ever wrote, and clearly the weakest story on the Retro ballot, it still wins.

That said…

I’m happy that Leigh Brackett has several nominations.

I am even more happy that C.L. Moore is nominated in several categories!

I am delighted that a movie based on a story by Oscar Wilde made it into one of the Dramatic Presentation categories.

Related, a non-fiction book by H.G. Wells is also nominated. Wouldn’t it be awesome if Oscar Wilde and H.G. Wells won Retro Hugos at the same time? I’m just saying!

I am not surprised that Edgar Rice Burroughs appears more than once, but remember he owned his own publishing company by this point, and was churning out work at an insane pace.

The f-ing fascist was nominated in one of the editor categories. I really hope that my fave, Raymond Palmer finally gets one of the Retro Hugos, but we all know it is almost guaranteed to go the fascist, so…

Best Novel

  • “Shadow Over Mars”, Leigh Brackett (Startling Stories Fall ’44)
  • Land of Terror, Edgar Rice Burroughs (Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.)
  • The Golden Fleece, Robert Graves (Cassell)
  • “The Winged Man”, E. Mayne Hull & A.E. Van Vogt (Astounding Science Fiction 5-6/44)
  • The Wind on the Moon, Eric Linklater (Macmillan)
  • Sirius, Olaf Stapledon (Secker & Warberg)

Best Novella

  • “The Jewel of Bas”, Leigh Brackett (Planet Stories Spring ’44)
  • “A God Named Kroo”, Henry Kuttner (Thrilling Wonder Stories Winter ’44)
  • “Trog”, Murray Leinster (Astounding Science Fiction 6/44)
  • “Intruders from the Stars”, Ross Rocklynne (Amazing Stories 1/44)
  • “Killdozer!”, Theodore Sturgeon (Astounding Science Fiction 11/44)
  • “The Changeling”, A.E. van Vogt (Astounding Science Fiction 4/44)

Best Novelette

  • “The Big and the Little”, Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science Fiction 8/44)
  • “Arena”, Fredric Brown (Astounding Science Fiction 6/44)
  • “No Woman Born”, C.L. Moore (Astounding Science Fiction 12/44)
  • “The Children’s Hour”, Lawrence O’Donnell (C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner) (Astounding Science Fiction 3/44)
  • “When the Bough Breaks”, Lewis Padgett (C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner) (Astounding Science Fiction 11/44)
  • “City”, Clifford D. Simak (Astounding Science Fiction 5/44)

Best Short Story

  • “The Wedge”, Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science Fiction 10/44)
  • “I, Rocket”, Ray Bradbury (Amazing Stories 5/44)
  • “And the Gods Laughed”, Fredric Brown (Planet Stories Spring ’44)
  • “Desertion”, Clifford D. Simak (Astounding Science Fiction 11/44)
  • “Huddling Place”, Clifford D. Simak (Astounding Science Fiction 7/44)
  • “Far Centaurus”, A.E. van Vogt (Astounding Science Fiction 1/44)

Best Series

  • Pellucidar, Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Jules de Grandin, Seabury Quinn
  • The Shadow, Maxwell Gibson (Walter B. Grant)
  • Captain Future, Brett Sterling
  • Doc Savage, Kenneth Robeson/Lester Dent
  • Cthulhu Mythos, H.P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, and others

Best Related Work

  • “The Science-Fiction Field”, Leigh Brackett (Writer’s Digest 7/44)
  • Mr. Tompkins Explores the Atom, George Gamow (Cambridge University Press)
  • “The Works of H.P. Lovecraft: Suggestions for a Critical Appraisal”, Fritz Leiber (The Acolyte Fall ’44)
  • Rockets: The Future of Travel Beyond the Stratosphere, Willy Ley (Viking Press)
  • Fancyclopedia, Jack Speer (Forrest J Ackerman)
  • ‘42 To ‘44: A Contemporary Memoir Upon Human Behavior During the Crisis of the World Revolution, H.G. Wells (Secker & Warburg)

Best Graphic Story or Comic

  • Donald Duck: “The Mad Chemist”, Carl Barks (Dell Comics)
  • >Buck Rogers: “Hollow Planetoid”, Dick Calkins (National Newspaper Service)
  • Flash Gordon: “Battle for Tropica”, Alex Raymond (King Features Syndicate)
  • Flash Gordon: “Triumph in Tropica”, Alex Raymond (Kings Features Syndicate)
  • Superman: “The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk”, Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster (DC)
  • The Spirit: “For the Love of Clara Defoe”, Manly Wade Wellman, Lou Fine, and Don Komisarow

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

  • The Canterville Ghost
  • The Curse of the Cat People
  • Donovan’s Brain
  • House of Frankenstein
  • The Invisible Man’s Revenge
  • It Happened Tomorrow

Best Professional Editor, Short Form

  • John W. Campbell, Jr.
  • Oscar J. Friend
  • Mary Gnaedinger
  • Dorothy McIlwraith
  • Raymond A. Palmer
  • W. Scott Peacock

Best Professional Artist

  • Earle Bergey
  • Margaret Brundage
  • Boris Dolgov
  • Matt Fox
  • Paul Orban
  • William Timmins

Best Fanzine

  • The Acolyte
  • Diablerie
  • Futurian War Digest
  • Shangri L’Affaires
  • Voice of the Imagi-Nation
  • Le Zombie

Best Fan Writer

  • Fritz Leiber, Jr.
  • Morojo (Myrtle R. Douglas)
  • J. Michael Rosenblum
  • Jack Speer
  • Bob Tucker
  • Harry Warner, Jr.

Edited to add: Where To Find The 2020 Hugo Award Finalists For Free Online.

The return of the attack of the fumble fingers

Dang it, was barely started on the formatting, let alone my comments!

Okay, now you can read the post: Line up your rockets! Or, we have the 2020 Hugo Award Finalists!

Star Trek: Picard wraps season one in a retro doozy

I have to start this review of the season one finale by paraphrasing Spider Robinson’s famous review of Children of Dune: It’s got plot holes so big you could fly fleets of Borg Cubes through them, but you probably don’t care because it’s such a fun ride. And yes, I think season one as a whole, and the final episode, were fun rides. To quote a friend who is not nearly as hard core of a fan as I am (who binge-watched it at the end and thus didn’t have to wait for any episodes), “Holy shit, that was amazing!”

For all earlier episodes of the series I scheduled my review to publish on the following Monday, in part just so there was some predictability, but there really isn’t a reason to put this off until then.

While there were some groan-worthy moments and several disappointments in the plot, the finale had its amazing moments. And to be perfectly frank, the first season of Star Trek: the Next Generation didn’t hang together half as well as this show has. It’s easy to look back on the old series with rose-colored glasses and only remember the episodes and arcs that we liked and forget the many (or so many) missteps.

Anyway, the rest of this is going to be all spoilers, all the time, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on.

.

If you click through, you’re crossing into the former Neutral Zone without backup!
Read More…

%d bloggers like this: