Wrap up of the 2018 Hugo Reviews

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Now that I’ve reviewed all the works, it’s time to take a look at the Hugo finalists, and how they fell out this year. Most notable is the absence of Vox Day’s Rabid Puppy inputs, which in the past couple or three award cycles has provided the male diversity. That means ordinary cis men were totally shut out of three of the four Hugo fiction categories for 2018, with Best Short Story, Best Novelette and Best Novella featuring only women, trans and non-binary authors. The Best Novel category also featured two finalists who are possibly political appointees meant as a slap-in-the-face to Vox Day, these being his nemeses N.K. Jemisin and John Scalzi. That leaves the white-male-masterful-crusader Kim Stanley Robinson as the really big wild card in the whole thing.

The next notable feature was the high rate of correspondence between the finalists for the Hugo and the Nebula Award. For the Best Short Story category the only difference was that two men nominated for the Nebula were replaced by women or trans writers. In the Best Novelette category, the same thing happened, but one additional woman was nominated. The most significant difference was in the Best Novel category, where only two of the finalists were the same. This strongly suggests how the same limited system produces both sets of nominees.

Next, the Hugo Awards drew from the same restricted number of publishers as the Nebula. In the novel category, this included: 4 from Orbit, 1 from Tor and 1 from Solaris. In the novella category: 5 from Tor.com and 1 from Uncanny. The novelette and short story categories showed slightly more diversity, drawing from Uncanny, Clarkesworld, Tor.com, Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Apex. Looking at these results, it’s clear why Rocket Stack Rank only reviews particular magazines. This is pretty much the list of shorter-than-novel publishers with inputs into the Nebula and Hugo Awards. Print magazines are doing so poorly, RSR can probably leave Asimov’s, Analog and F&SF off pretty soon without missing anything important.

Looking at what’s normally counted for diversity, the Hugo has done reasonably well. Best Novel includes 3 women, 2 men, 1 trans, 1 Asian and 1 African American writer. Best Novella includes 5 women, 0 men, 1 non-binary, 1 Asian and 1 African American writer. Best Novelette category includes 4 women, 0 men, 2 trans and 3 Asian writers. Best Short Story includes 6 women, 0 men, 3 Asian and 1 Native American writer. Those who recall my comments from last year will know I’m glad to see a Native American writer appear in the finalists, but we’re still short of Hispanics. These figures work out to be 75% women, 12.5% trans, 8% men and 4% non-binary. Looking at the counted racial categories, it works out to be 55% whites, 33% Asian, 8% African American and 4% Native American. Clearly the preferred finalists are young white and Asian women, while men, African Americans and Hispanics are all hugely underrepresented based on their population demographics. The one finalist works out okay for Native Americans, who are about 2% of the US population.

A couple of things stood out in the themes. First, the list included several repeat appearances from previous years, and also followed the Nebula tendency to nominate the same author in multiple categories. These included Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Sarah Pinsker and Yoon Ha Lee. The list of Hugo finalists avoided the tendency the Nebula finalists showed for editors, publishers and other industry insiders, but included at least a couple of short works written by popular novelists within the universe of their novels. I took this as unduly promotional. Like the Nebulas, there seemed to be a strong preference for stories with non-binary or trans characters.

This list leans heavily to fantasy and soft science fiction, with a serious lack of ideas and/or hard science fiction. I don’t think Nagata’s work qualifies, regardless that it’s set on Mars. The real stand-out, different work here, again, was Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, which actually attempted to deal with hard science, real politics and real threats to humanity’s future. This is the kind of important work I’d prefer to see appear on the awards ballots.

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Review of “Dirty Old Town” by Richard Bowes

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This novelette is fantasy and a finalist for the 2017 Nebula Award. It was published by F&SF magazine. The title of the story comes from a song by Ewan MacColl.

The narrator describes his childhood years growing up in an Irish neighborhood of Boston. He is bullied by boys from school, and his grandmother gives him a magic charm to protect himself. One of the boys is Eddie Mackey, but after his grandfather intervenes, the two become friends. Later Eddie goes off to the Vietnam War and then goes to acting school. When they meet again, the narrator is a playwright and Eddie is a young actor getting started. They become lovers, but then separate as Eddie goes off to Hollywood. Later they get back together after Eddie wins a Golden Globe for his work in a TV series called Dirty Old Town. Can they make one of Eddie’s dreams come true together?

This story is heavily character driven, without any real plot. The narrator talks about his childhood and the magic his grandparents shared, about struggling as a playwright and meeting Eddie off and on over the years. It’s a rambling reminiscence that comes together suddenly into a meaningful story at the end. It’s also metafiction to an extent, as the narrator includes sections he’s apparently written about similar characters.

Not so good points: The main complaints I’d have about this story is the length of the reminiscence and the liberal inclusion of metafiction, which I thought confused the storyline. Also, the magical workings here aren’t very well defined. Grandmother’s charm clearly works, but the rest of what the narrator considers magic is pretty nebulous. I’m thinking the dreams are symbolic rather than magical.

Four stars.

Congrats to the 2018 Hugo Finalists!

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Here’s what I got for the diversity count: Short stories – 6 women, 0 men, 3 Asian, 1 mixed race African/Native American. Novelettes – 5 women, 1 trans, 3 Asian. Novellas – 5 women, 1 trans, 1 Asian, 1 African American, 1 bipolar. Novels – 4 women, 2 men, 1 Asian, 1 African American.

Three short stories, 2 novelettes and 1 novella (6 of 24) are from Uncanny; 1 short story, 1 novelette, 5 novellas and 1 novel (8 of 24) are from Tor and Orbit published 4 of the 6 novels. The pro print magazines scored poorly, as Asimov’s squeaked in with one entry, but F&SF and Analog were totally shut out this year.

As usual, there’s quite a bit of overlap between these finalists and those of the Nebula Award, including 4 of 6 short stories, 3 of 6 novelettes, 4 of 6 novellas and 2 of 6 novels. Like the Nebulas, there is also repetition of names, as Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Sarah Pinsker and Yoon Ha Lee appear in more than one category. There’s also overlap with last years’ Hugo finalist list: N.K. Jemisin, Yoon Ha Lee, Seanan McGuire, Fran Wilde and Ursula Vernon were all finalists in 2017. Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin and Nnedi Okorifor were finalists in 2016.

Best Novel

The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi (Tor)
New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
Provenance, by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty (Orbit)
The Stone Sky, by N. K. Jemisin (Orbit)

Best Novella

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)
And Then There Were (N-One), by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, Mar-Apr 2017)
Binti: Home, by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing)
The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang (Tor.com Publishing)
Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing)

Best Novelette

“Children of Thorns, Children of Water“, by Aliette de Bodard (Uncanny, Jul-Aug 2017)
“Extracurricular Activities“, by Yoon Ha Lee (Tor.com, February 15, 2017)
“The Secret Life of Bots“, by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, Sep 2017)
“A Series of Steaks“, by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld, Jan 2017)
“Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time“, by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny, May-Jun 2017)
“Wind Will Rove“, by Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s, Sep-Oct 2017)

Best Short Story

“Carnival Nine“, by Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, May 2017)
“Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand“, by Fran Wilde (Uncanny, Sep-Oct 2017)
“Fandom for Robots“, by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Uncanny, Sep-Oct 2017)
“The Martian Obelisk“, by Linda Nagata (Tor.com, July 19, 2017)
“Sun, Moon, Dust“, by Ursula Vernon (Uncanny, May-Jun 2017)
“Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™“, by Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex, Aug 2017)

Review of “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian ExperienceTM” by Rebecca Roanhorse

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This story is a finalist for the 2017 Nebula, the 2018 Hugo Award and the 2018 World Fantasy Award. It was published in Apex Magazine. Roanhorse is biracial Native American and African American and lives in New Mexico. This review contains spoilers.

Jesse Turnblatt is a Native American working at a business that provides “authentic” Native American experiences to tourists through virtual reality. His boss isn’t really concerned about how his employees feel about the offerings, but Jesse really needs to keep his job, as a recent bout of unemployment has strained his marriage. Luckily, most people just want a simple Vision Quest. Jesse has a customer, so he enters virtual reality, presenting himself as a noble savage with muscled abs, and goes into his routine. However, this doesn’t seem to be what the customer wants. Instead, the man is waiting for him at the neighborhood bar afterward. The man looks white, but thinks he’s part Cherokee, and just seems to want to talk about Native Americans. They become friends, meeting a couple of times a week at the bar to talk. Then Jesse catches cold, and when he recovers, he finds “White Wolf” has taken over his job, his friends and his household. Jesse falls into depression, goes on a bender. Is there anything he can do about this?

So, the big question here is about what’s reality and what’s not. It might be hard to figure out, but Roanhorse has given us plenty of clues: a quote from Sherman Alexie at the beginning and a disconnect at the end that suggests it’s VR. But then, it’s the author’s reality, too. You can read this as fantasy, if you want, as reality that’s suddenly dropped into surrealism, or as SF, where it’s all just a virtual reality experience. Whichever, Roanhorse’s message is clear.

Good points: It’s very well constructed, and the meaning slips up on you gradually. There’s a feeling of foreboding about it when Jesse starts meeting the guy in the bar, so you suspect things aren’t going to go well.

Not so good points: This is a social justice message, but the narrative seems mainly intellectual, and it only skims along the surface. It’s not deep or disturbing enough to represent the disadvantages Native Americans actually face (or worse, have faced in the past). Roanhorse let us off the hook at the end.

Four stars.

World Fantasy Awards

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While I’ve been doing my own thing, the World Fantasy Awards have happened. Here’s the list of nominees. Many of these are the usual suspects, but I’ll try to do some reviews to fill out the rest of the fiction categories. Many congrats to the winners!

Novel
• Winner: The Sudden Appearance of Hope, Claire North (Redhook; Orbit UK)
• Borderline, Mishell Baker (Saga)
• Roadsouls, Betsy James (Aqueduct)
• The Obelisk Gate, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
• Lovecraft Country, Matt Ruff (Harper)

Long Fiction
• Winner: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson (Tor.com Publishing)
• The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle (Tor.com Publishing)
• Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
• “Bloodybones,” Paul F. Olson (Whispered Echoes)
• A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com Publishing)

Short Fiction
• Winner: “Das Steingeschöpf,” G.V. Anderson (Strange Horizons 12/12/16)
• “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies,” Brooke Bolander (Uncanny 11-12/16)
• “Seasons of Glass and Iron,” Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood)
• “Little Widow,” Maria Dahvana Headley (Nightmare 9/16)
• “The Fall Shall Further the Flight in Me,” Rachael K. Jones (Clockwork Phoenix 5)

Anthology
• Winner: Dreaming in the Dark, Jack Dann, ed. (PS Australia)
• Clockwork Phoenix 5, Mike Allen, ed. (Mythic Delirium)
• Children of Lovecraft, Ellen Datlow, ed. (Dark Horse)
• The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016, Karen Joy Fowler & John Joseph Adams, eds. (Mariner)
• The Starlit Wood, Dominik Parisien & Navah Wolfe, eds. (Saga)

Collection
• Winner: A Natural History of Hell, Jeffrey Ford (Small Beer)
• Sharp Ends, Joe Abercrombie (Orbit US; Gollancz)
• On the Eyeball Floor and Other Stories, Tina Connolly (Fairwood)
• Vacui Magia, L.S. Johnson (Traversing Z Press)
• The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, Ken Liu (Saga; Head of Zeus)

Artist
• Winner: Jeffrey Alan Love
• Greg Bridges
• Julie Dillon
• Paul Lewin
• Victo Ngai

Special Award, Professional
• Winner: Michael Levy & Farah Mendelsohn, for Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction(Cambridge University Press)L. Timmel Duchamp, for Aqueduct Press
• C.C. Finlay, for editing F&SF
• Kelly Link, for contributions to the genre
• Joe Monti, for contributions to the genre

Special Award, Non-Professional
• Winner: Neile Graham, for fostering excellence in the genre through her role as Workshop Director, Clarion West
• Scott H. Andrews, for Beneath Ceaseless Skies
• Malcom R. Phifer & Michael C. Phifer, for their publication The Fantasy Illustration Library, Volume Two: Gods and Goddesses (Michael Publishing)
• Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, for Uncanny
• Brian White, for Fireside Fiction Company

2017 Nebula Winners

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I’m running way behind on my commentary, so I’m sure everyone has seen the Nebula results by now. If any readers have somehow missed them, here they are:

BEST NOVEL
All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders (Tor; Titan)
BEST NOVELLA
Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
BEST NOVELETTE
“The Long Fall Up,” William Ledbetter (F&SF)
BEST SHORT STORY
“Seasons of Glass and Iron,” Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood)

A quick review of news articles on the winners shows mention of the high diversity in the nominations this year. This comes through in the results, too. It’s good to see a hard SF story represented—Ledbetter’s “The Long Fall Up.” These are all deserving, and many congrats to the winners!

Review of “The Long Fall Up” by William Ledbetter

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This novelette is a Nebula finalist published by The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It ended up with 8 recommendations on the Nebula Recommended Reading List.

Humanity has built a Bernal type space habitat with a population of about 27K people. Fertility and therefore expansion into space is controlled by a large corporation based on research that indicates embryos don’t develop properly in zero gravity. Veronica challenges this restriction by getting pregnant and heading outbound in a spacecraft. The corporation sends an agent to bring her back, and he eventually starts to see this as a rescue mission. However, he finds the AI in his craft is programmed to eliminate both Veronica and the developing fetus. He works to outsmart it, but now Veronica has gone into labor. Will he be in time for his rescue?

I actually read this one when it was published and I can’t find my copy of the magazine right now to refresh my experience with it. However, here’s what I recall. Pros: This is hard SF, which I’m glad to see on the ballot. It’s strongly plotted and, as far as I could tell, well researched and accurate as far as space travel and AIs go. It leans fairly heavily to technical details, mounting tension and emotional impact, so tends to neglect characterizations, imagery, etc. Because of this, it didn’t have the emotional impact it would have had if we’d known Veronica better.

Cons: This is still another story about abusing and/or murdering children. I’m up to six in the count so far in this year’s reviews.

Three and a half stars.

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