The Continuing Feminization of Major SFF Awards?

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If anyone noticed, all four of the 2017 Nebula fiction winners were women. In 2016 William Ledbetter was the single male winner in the novelette category. In 2015 all the winners were women. In 2014 Jeff VanderMeer was the single male winner in the novel category. In 2013 all the winners were women. You have to go back to 2012 to find equity, when Kim Stanley Robinson and Andy Duncan won in the novel and novelette categories and Nancy Kress and Aliette de Bodard won in the novelette and short story categories. At least the 2017 Nebula finalists indicated an effort toward sexual diversity, as the list included at least one man in each category, with the total ending up at 5/25 or 20%.

For the 2018 Hugo, only the novel category has even the possibility of a male winner. In 2017 all the Hugo winners were women. Same for 2016. 2015 was a weird year, when No Award won two of the categories and Liu Cixin and Thomas Olde Heuvelt won the other two. You have to go back to 2014 to find equity, where Charles Stross won the novella category and John Chu won the short story category, while Ann Leckie won in the novel category and Mary Robinette Kowal won for the best novelette. For the 2018 Hugos this year, the number of men in the list of finalists is 2/24 or just 8%.

In 2017 the World Fantasy Award short and long fiction winners were all women. Same for 2016. In 2015, the winners were all men, and in 2014 there was a mix of 2 women and 1 man. You’ll never get equity in this one, as there are only three categories.

I’ve not done a statistical analysis, but just looking at the results, especially for the Nebula and Hugo Awards, suggests a definite trend for female winners. Last year I noticed a flurry of articles about the triumph for diversity in the awards because of all female winners in the face of continued prejudice, etc., but this year I haven’t seen much of that type comment, although one article did note that women had dominated “yet again.” Instead, the remarks seemed to be more about racial diversity and Jemisin’s third win in a row.

So, can I gather from this result that there’s a certain discomfort growing about the continued domination of women in the awards? Even Jemisin might be getting suspicious. She didn’t bother to show up to collect her third Nebula, apparently preferring to stay home and write on her current project instead.

In the early years of the science fiction awards, men always dominated, of course. So, why are men suddenly writing so poorly? Clearly this isn’t just a problem with white men, since in 2017 Asian, Hispanic, black and Native American men didn’t measure up, either. So, why not? Why is what the women wrote so much better?

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Review of Provenance by Ann Leckie

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This novel is a finalist in the 2018 Hugo Awards. It is science fiction and falls into the same universe as the Imperial Radch novels, presumably beginning a new series. It’s published by Orbit. This review contains spoilers.

Ingray’s aristocratic mother has set her adoptive children into competition to become her heir. Ingray comes up with a plan to retrieve Pahlad Budrakim out of “Compassionate Removal,” hoping e will offer to return artifacts e was supposed to have stolen. The retrieval takes all Ingray’s financial resources, but goes off as planned. However, Captain Uisine of the ship where she booked passage won’t take Pahlad as a passenger without eir assent. Meanwhile the Geck ambassador arrives in pursuit of Tic Uisine, posing the danger of treaty breaches. Things go from bad to worse, there’s a murder, and Ingray ends up offering herself as a hostage in exchange for her mother in an Omkem attack gone wrong. Can she deal with the politics and get out of the situation alive?

Although Leckie hit the big time with space opera and this novel falls into the same universe, I’m not sure it qualifies as the same. Instead, it’s more of a political intrigue, or maybe a cozy mystery. It’s a smooth, easy read with quaint world-building, weird mechanical puppets, mild humor and budding romances. Ingray’s hardworking translation app is a total hoot. There was also something of a twist ending when Ingray decides on a private life of activism instead of a political career.

On the not so great side, this is really dull and plodding as a political intrigue. The characters seem childish and naïve, events are simplistic and Ingray is wildly untalented as a schemer. It is absolutely unexplained why she would spend her entire net-worth on a half-baked scheme to convince Pahlad to give her the artifacts e supposedly stole. She takes huge risks and then sits and cries when thing turn out scary. Her brother Danach is an idiot, too, and mom is seriously in trouble for a workable heir. Also, given the treaty, I don’t understand why the Geck ambassador is allowed to run rampant through the human spaces.

Three stars.

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Congrats to the Nebula winners!

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Best Novel: The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Best Novella: All Systems Red by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)
Best Novelette: “A Human Stain” by Kelly Robson (Tor.com 1/4/17)
Best Short Story: “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™” by Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex 8/17)

That means I’ll be moving on to reviewing the Hugo finalists in the fiction categories. As in recent years, I’m expecting that the Hugo choices are more politically charged.

As usual, I don’t have a whole lot left to review. In the short story category, 4 out of 6 are the same for the two lists of award finalists; in the novelette category, 3 of 6 are the same and in the novella category, 4 of 6 are the same. I’ve got the most work to do in the novel category, where only 2 of the 6 are repeats. There is also a similarity in the names from previous years, with recent winners N.K. Jemisin, Ann Leckie, Yoon Ha Lee, Seanan McGuire, Ursula Vernon and Nnedi Okorafor putting in repeat appearances.

For anyone interested in how many fiction works have won both the Nebula and Hugo Award, I see there’s a list at Wikipedia.

Are Pronouns Really that Important?

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Recently I’ve gotten, not just one, but two surveys from organizations asking about my gender identity/sexuality and what pronouns I’d prefer to use. Presumably this is so groups I’m affiliated with can 1) make a count of non-binary and/or genderqueer authors and 2) keep track of how everybody wants to be addressed. This makes it seem like an opportune time to discuss pronouns.

For anyone who is totally out of the loop on this, I’ll make an effort to explain—not that I’m an expert, of course, or even keeping up. Correct usage seems to shift significantly over time. “Genderqueer” is a term for people whose gender identity lies outside of what is considered normal male and female genders—gender being a role, as opposed to a sex, which is based on equipment. Someone who is genderqueer might express femininity, masculinity, neither or both as part of their gender identity. Related to this, gender neutrality is a movement to reduce gender-based discrimination through establishment of gender-neutral language, including pronouns.

This explains the recent innovation of “Latinx” instead of “Latino” or “Latina,” for example. There is also a considerable list of pronouns which have been advanced as gender-neutral. Because of the extensive variety of individual preferences, progressive organizations are apparently finding they need to set up databases to keep track of who prefers what. For anyone interested in the associated discussion, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson recently made an entrance onto the international stage by refusing to go along with this at the University of Toronto where he works. The review site Rocket Stack Rank was also called out recently for complaining about the non-standard usage.

There has been a flow of books and stories recently that use these non-traditional pronouns. Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series is one example, as is Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota, both recognized with major awards. On the short story side, examples include “The Worldless” by Indrapramit Das, “Deep Waters Call Out to What is Deeper Still” by Sarah Frost and “The Pigeon Summer” by Brit Mandelo.

So, how do these non-traditional pronouns actually work out in practice? Do they accomplish what they’re designed to do? Do they improve the readability of the story or novel where they’re used?

Use of “they” and “their” has become so prevalent that I see Liz Bourke recently imposed this form on the genderless Murderbot, who is not a human being and correctly designated as an “it” by its creator Martha Wells.

Comments on the issue are welcome.

Finalists for the Dragon Awards

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paper-and-pencil
While I’m looking at awards, here’s the new kid of the block. The Dragon Awards seems aimed to award fan favorites, and they’ve encouraged campaigning and fan initiatives in the nomination process. Although I understand the list below hasn’t been officially announced, it is out and about. So, we can have a look at the results and see 1) who’s popular and 2) who has a fan base that stepped up to nominate.

Clearly white men turned out to vote their taste on this one. Out of the forty-six nominees in the main fiction categories below, there are 12 women. That’s about 4 men for every woman that made the list of finalists. Of the forty-six, 4 were racial minorities (that I could identify). These include Larry Correia (Hispanic), N.K. Jemisin (African American) and R.R. Virdi (Asian). Jemisin is a finalist in two categories. Presumably this reflects the interests of attendees at DragonCon.

Interestingly, I’m seeing some different names in this list. If you normally watch just the Nebula Awards, the Locus Awards and the Hugo Awards, you get the idea that there is only a small group of people who are representing excellence in SF and fantasy fiction writing. However, looking at this group, you get the idea that these awards are only showing one side of the picture.

1. Best Science Fiction Novel (5 men/1 woman – 0 racial minorities)

Agent of the Imperium by Marc Miller
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Life Engineered by J-F Dubeau
Raising Caine by Charles E. Gannon
Somewhither: A Tale of the Unwitheriing Realm by John C. Wright

2. Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal) (6 men/1 woman – 3 racial minorities)

Asteroid Made of Dragons by G. Derek Adams
Blood Hound by James Osiris Baldwin
Changeling’s Island by Dave Freer
The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Grave Measures by R.R. Virdi
Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia

3. Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel (4 men/4 women – 0 racial minorities)

Calamity by Brandon Sanderson
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Changeling’s Island by Dave Freer
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley
Trix and the Faerie Queen by Alethea Kontis
Updraft by Fran Wilde

4. Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel (6 men/1 woman – 0 racial minorities)

Allies and Enemies: Fallen by Amy J. Murphy
Blood in the Water by Taylor Anderson
Chains of Command by Marko Kloos
The End of All Things by John Scalzi
Hell’s Foundations Quiver by David Weber
The Price of Valor by Django Wexler
Wrath of an Angry God: A Military Space Opera by Gibson Michaels

5. Best Alternate History Novel (6 men/1 woman – 0 racial minorities)

1635: A Parcel of Rogues by Eric Flint & Andrew Dennis
1636: The Cardinal Virtues by Eric Flint & Walter H. Hunt
Bombs Away: The Hot War by Harry Turtledove
Deadlands: Ghostwalkers by Jonathan Maberry
Germanica by Robert Conroy
League of Dragons by Naomi Novik

6. Best Apocalyptic Novel (4 men/2 women – 1 racial minority

Chasing Freedom by Marina Fontaine
Ctrl Alt Revolt! by Nick Cole
Dark Age by Felix O. Hartmann
The Desert and the Blade by S.M. Stirling
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
A Time to Die by Mark Wandrey

7. Best Horror Novel (4 men/2 women – 0 racial minorities)

Alice by Christina Henry
Chapelwood by Cherie Priest
Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay
Honor at Stake by Declan Finn
An Unattractive Vampire by Jim McDoniel
Souldancer by Brian Niemeier

Chaos Horizon predicts the Hugos

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FeatherPenClipArtWith the Hugo Award announcement only 10 days away, the ever-interesting Chaos Horizon has posted predictions. Based on statistical analysis of past trends, here would be the expected results for Best Novel:

Uprooted 27.1%
Ancillary Mercy 20.5%
Seveneves 20.0%
The Fifth Season 17.1%
The Aeronaut’s Windlass 15.3%

However, the Sad/Rabid Puppy movement in the last few years has turned the Hugo voting into, well, chaos. Factors that complicate the results include the Sad and Rabid Puppy voting blocs, the knee-jerk No Award responses, and the fevered efforts of Hugo Award supporters to make sense of all the mess. As a result, Chaos Horizon is predicting the following:

1. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
2. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
3. Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
4. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
5. The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

This is based 1) on the popularity of Novik’s novel and 2) on what’s likely to be left standing after the scuffle at the ballot box. I have to say I think Brandon is right about the ultimate winner, but I’d place the runners-up in a different order.

Anybody else have an opinion?

Shades of Moby-Dick

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Edward Lear
This year and last both, I’ve waded through some pretty long novels as part of doing the reviews of the Nebula and Hugo finalists. For someone who likes to read short books, this has a) been hard work, and b) suggested an interesting trend. What’s going on with the weighty tomes?

Last year The Dark between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson came in at a hefty 800 pages and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword at 400 pages. This year Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves ran 883 pages; Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings ran 656 pages; Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass ran 640 pages; N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season ran 450 pages, and Naomi Novik’s Uprooted ran 464 pages. So, are longer books considered weightier, more developed or somehow more award-worthy than shorter books? Are shorter books considered too “young adult”? Is there a trend for publishers to prefer longer novels? For example, I notice that Baen’s author’s guidelines request manuscripts of 100K words or longer, which means their minimum word limit starts at 400 pages.

Of course, the length of a book isn’t really a big deal if you’re enjoying the story or love the author’s style. In that case, you want it to go on as long as possible. Maybe that’s the conventional wisdom publishers are going by—if you have a hit author, you need to encourage him/her to string the story out as long as possible.

Whatever, I didn’t think most of these books above justified the length. Leckie’s Ancillary Sword and Novik’s Uprooted moved along fairly smartly, but the others really suffered because of the length, i.e. became terminally boring for the modern ADD-afflicted reader (me). If I hadn’t been reading to vote for the awards, I wouldn’t have finished any of them.

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