Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2017 Hugo nominations - a rough cut

Here's my first draft of Hugo nominations, at least the ones I care about (read - the fan stuff, because as far as I'm concerned the saving grace of the Hugos is getting to cheer on the people who've made me a better reader).  I haven't yet gone through & reviewed the linkposts I did intermittently this year, the 25 or so links I have saved for future linkposts, or really looked at the Hugo Nom spreadsheet of Doom or Wiki (though I'll try to add some things to them soon, pending move and life and whatnot), so I reserve the right to change these.  I am, however, going to try to stick to 5, in the spirit of how Hugos actually work.

(This is technically also an award eligibility post, since I am nominating myself for the thing* I am eligible for)

Fancast -
Storyological is the best genre podcast out there.  The short story discussions are excellent, Chris and E. G. have great banter while staying close the the topic & getting in and out quickly.  I love it.

Fangirl Happy Hour is appointment listening for me, and I think Renay & Ana have hit their stride this year.  Their chemistry is great, I'm often surprised by the topics they come up with, and I am always delighted by the discussions.  Whether talking about a movie I half-remember, a comic I'm only vaguely aware of, or engaging with a book or story I've read (yes, these are my favorite segments, but I'm glad that they're sprinkled among many others, because I've learned to love and examine what I love by listening to Renay & Ana love and examine what they love), I genuinely enjoy their discussions.  The fangirls are enthusiastic about what they enjoy, honest and thoughtful in their criticism, and willing to examine their own biases.  I aspire to do half as well.

Flash Forward has been a little bit uneven this year as Rose Eveleth got herself a real job making other really good podcasts, but also it's an excellent podcast that shows why she got a real job making really good podcasts.  The imagined futures each episode are delightful & thought-provoking, and Rose always finds guests and angles that I wouldn't have expected to examine further implications.

Cabbages & Kings.  I'm pretty proud of my podcast this year, even if I didn't get out as many episodes as I'd hoped (sorry!).  I'd recommend the Clarke Award discussions, and my interview with Jenn Brissett, in which you can hear her explaining her book to me & me saying "oohhh ... now I get it!" right in the midst of the interview, because I'm a fan, not a professional.  What're your favorites?

Midnight in Karachi - Mahvesh remains the best author interviewer I've listened to.  Her discussion with Indra Das was excellent, if you need a place to start.  (Also, listen to Mahvesh be excited about interviewing Margaret freaking Atwood!) (Hugo neepery - as this is affiliated with tordotcom, it may not be eligible as a "fan" thing.  I think it should qualify, and I'm nominating it.  The judges can correct me if they'd like) (Further neepery - I'm *pretty sure* that the plain meaning** of fancast precludes fiction podcasts.  The community has seemed to agree in the past.  But last year a fiction podcast made the five finalists.  So maybe Podcastle & whatnot should be included and fancast can become a weird second best-editor-short-fiction category, since I'm sure the fiction podcasts would swamp anything else I've mentioned)

A few notes - I have a tendency to look at recommendation lists as white as this with a jaundiced eye, and wonder what wonders the recommender simply ignores.   I'm aware of at least three genres of fancasts that I'm more or less unaware of.  There are a bunch of blerd podcasts - I've enjoyed Nerds of Prey when I listened.  In general, these tend to be a bit longer & heavier on the "friends hanging out" dynamic than *I* like, which is why I don't stick with them.  Your mileage may vary, and I'd suggest trying them.  I don't watch youtube book review people (BookTubers, I think they call themselves), because really if you're watching TV it should be science experiments with kids, DS9 or Gilmore Girls, amirite?  I'm aware of Claire Rousseau and SFF180 because they are also on Twitter, you could start there.  I also don't really do TV recap/discussion shows, so no Down and Safe, no Game of Thrones or Westworld fan theories, no Star Trek discussions for me.  Again, if that's your cup of tea, I am a bad recommender.

Fan Writer -
Vajra Chandrasekara remains excellent.  Here are reviews of Binti & Ballad of Black Tom.

Abigail Nussbaum is also excellent (I'll *read* reviews of TV shows, just not listen).  Here's her reviews of the Clarke shortlist.

Megan of CouchToMoon is my favorite writer out there now, and definitely in the "fan" category.  Her reviews are biting where she's critical, thoughtful where warranted, and she's very good at picking out what she does like.  Plus, she's inspiring me to read much farther afield than I would have otherwise.  (And yes, that's exactly why I invited her on the podcast)

Charles Payseur does excellent and copious short fiction reviews (again, why I invited him to contribute to Cabbages & Kings), and is another who I think sits firmly & deservedly in the "Fan" category

OJ Cade - I'm recommending her based on the Food & Horror series (about which more below).  This may change, but that series was excellent, and I'd be delighted to nominate her on its strength alone.

Fanzine -
LadyBusiness is the best blog going right now.  They've got a strong group of contributors, regular installments that I appreciate, and individual essays and series that pop up & generally delight me.

Nerds of a Feather is also good, and seems to fall well within the "fan zine" intended meaning.

SF In Translation from Rachel Cordasco popped up this year, and I'm finding it really useful as I try to stretch my reading.  There's an essay from Linda Holmes that I think about frequently about what you build and how that can be seen in who and what come out of it.  A host of regular contributors to SFSignal have gone on to other great things, and this is one that I've been particularly pleased to see grow.

I dunno, what else? (I object to File770 for various reasons that have been litigated plenty on Twitter, but otherwise I'm open to suggestions)

Best Related Work -
Speculative Blackness took my understanding of what Science Fiction is, how black authors and artists fit within it, and turned it at a sharp angle in a really helpful way.  Plus, it demonstrated really useful reading techniques that I'm still trying to incorporate into my own thoughts.  I need to reread this and follow up both on the art professor Carrington recommended and the reading methods he encourages.

Modern Masters of Science Fiction: Octavia E Butler.  Gerry Canavan's book is excellent. It's readable, and follows Butler's biography and bibliography, along with insights from the copious journals, rough drafts, and revisions newly available at the Huntington Library.  Nuanced without ever feeling voyeuristic, this made me re-evaluate my picture of Butler and her works, as well as inspiring me to read those I haven't encountered yet.

Food and Horror: This sequence at Book Smugglers by OJ Cade was amazing.  Thorough and thoughtful, Cade has inspired me to want to read horror, and to bring a clearer understanding of the impact of the stories.

Nothing Beside Remains - Jonathon McCalmont's history of the New Weird is really interesting even as I'm mostly oblivious to what the New Weird is/was.  I'd particularly recommend the conclusion, and his ideas about what it means to identify literary movements either in hindsight or as they coalesce.

I'm undecided beyond that.  Maybe Kate Elliott's "Writing Women Characters into Epic Fantasy Without Quotas" or Sarah Gailey's series at tordotcom, or Jared & Mahvesh's reread of Dragonlance? Help me out here people - there must be something better!

I'm still hopelessly at sea for fiction.  "One Way Out", the blog entry is going in my short story ballot.  Ballad of Black Tom, A Taste of Honey, and Bethany will probably all be on my novella ballot.  (briefly on Bethany - it's Adam Roberts writing about traveling back to the time of Christ.  If you're familiar with Adam Roberts, that will tell you whether you'll enjoy this immensely as I did.  If you've not read him yet, I can personally vouch for Jack Glass, and have heard only good things about The Thing Itself).  I liked Obelisk Gate and Wall of Storms.  Neither quite as much as their predecessors, but both of those were on my ballot last year, and these probably will be this year, and I'd guess Everfair will join them.  I didn't read all that many 2016 novels.  Here's my reading log so far if you're so inclined.

Strange Horizons will be on my semiprozine ballot.

I'll leave graphic novels, movies, and TV shows to other people.  I'd nominate series if any of the series that I'm following were long enough, but until then, I'll ignore the category because that's far too much effort to invest for Hugo nomination purposes. I also reserve the right to change everything up there as I'm reminded of or pointed to other good works.  Leave me a note in the comments, or stop by the Cabbages & Kings Imzy page to discuss further!

*I am technically eligible in fanzine because I have text - namely the transcripts, and as a fan writer because I wrote words about SFF in the last year, but whatever nominations I get'll be in fancast. Last year I did not make the longlist of nominated podcasts, a result I don't expect to change, but that's mostly beside the point.

**Section 3.3.13 of the constitution which I can only find here as an ugly PDF says "and that does not qualify as a dramatic presentation." and 3.3.7 & 3.3.8 specify Dramatic Presentation as "Any television program or other production, with a complete running time of 90 minutes or less, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects" which I think should exclude fiction podcasts, except Tales to Terrify was a finalist, so what do I know?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Best Fancast

I've been reminded that in 2 weeks, Kansas City hosts WorldCon, an annual Science Fiction/Fantasy convention where (among other things), the Hugo awards will be handed out.  During WorldCon, the WSFSBM (World Science Fiction Society Business Meeting) will happen, and among other things, the group will decide whether or not to retain the Best Fancast category for the Hugo awards.  (This is small potatoes compared to other business, but I care a little bit about podcasts because I listen to them a lot and make one).

tl;dr - There are a lot of good fancasts worth of being recognized.  I'm not sure the award text, admins, or community are well suited to doing that, but that's par for the course with the Hugos.

I've had a little rant about Best Fancast building for a while, so I'm just going to spit it out here rather than clogging Twitter timelines.  I have a bit of a dog in the fight, since I host a podcast (apologies for the summer hiatus) that is eligible for Best Fancast, but I think the odds of being nominated are pretty slim, and I'll be happy with Cabbages & Kings with or without a Hugo nod.

So - on its surface I think that Best Fancast is a remarkably excellent and forward-looking award.  We're possibly in the midst of a podcast boom, and there are still niches being carved out specifically oriented around speculative fiction: there's the old guard - some SFF-focused friends sitting and chatting (last year's winners Galactic Suburbia, The Cooode St Podcast, and Fangirl Happy Hour, among others), the person or people interviewing guests (often authors on book tour, but we'll try not to hold that against them) (Skiffy & Fanty, Cooking the Books, and Tea & Jeopardy come to mind, along with Midnight in Karachi, which to my mind is the best of the bunch) (Cabbages & Kings kind of fits here), there are comics-adjacent friends chatting, and a whole slew of blerd podcasts that often touch on SFF stuff (shout out to Nerds of Prey, though I admit that in general these are too rambly for my tastes).  There are some difficult to categorize podcasts finding their own way (Flash Forward pod is the best, but also Imaginary Worlds, a part of the Panoply network), and I don't even know about Booktube, the various show recap/discussion podcasts, behemoths like The Incomparable network, and I'm sure many others.  It's a good time for fan podcasts, broadly defined.

But ... (of course there's a but, actually a few).

Here's the text of the amendment:

3.3.14: Best Fancast. Any generally available non-professional audio or video periodical devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects that by the close of the previous calendar year has released four (4) or more episodes, at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and that does not qualify as a dramatic presentation.

The fan community has generally assumed that "does not qualify as a dramatic presentation" means no fiction podcasts (no Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, or Uncanny, to name a few magazines that are often up for Hugos in one way or another).  This means that many of the podcasts that people love to listen to (the above, plus things like Black Tapes, Limetown, Escape Pod, or Glittership) are out.  Which kinda makes sense in terms of not awarding the same thing many times, but doesn't make a lot of sense in terms of how people think about podcasts.  Lots of podcast fans listen to fiction podcasts.  Many listen only to fiction podcasts.  And then they can't nominate their favorite podcasts, which is dumb.  Especially since this year's nominees include Tales to Terrify, which seems to be a fiction podcast.  Maybe next year Lightspeed, Clarkesworld and Uncanny can duke it out here, too.  Or maybe the admins just made a mistake?

Then there's the "non-professional", which I think was an attempt to make sure that Geeks Guide to the Galaxy didn't win everything (have you listened? their production values are not professional), but then ends up (maybe? probably? no way to ask the admins) excluding Writing Excuses, Rocket Talk (which is often interested in fandom writ large), and one of my favorites Midnight in Karachi.  It's not clear to me that there are professional podcasts with an unfair advantage in the Hugos that need excluding.  It's pretty clear that there are some which seem to be pretty fannish that seem to be excluded.

So the award text isn't great.  And I'm not sure it's being administered well.  Then there's the actual people nominating for hugos.  Even setting aside the current puppy debacle, it's not clear that the big exciting picture I painted of new podcasts and genres popping up is being seen by the folks who nominate for hugos.  I try to keep my ear out for good new podcasts, and while I see a lot of interest in various fiction podcasts that appear, I don't see a lot of nonfiction/discussion podcasts being mentioned.  Or YouTube channels being cheered.  It's not clear to me that the community that's voting for their favorite blogs & best novels/short stories has enough overlap with podcast listeners to meaningfully award this category.  It's dumb when because of their voting community Locus puts up "best of" award nominees that look like men write SF, women write fantasy, and Joe Abercrombie writes YA.  If the Hugo voting group isn't interested enough in the variety of speculative fiction podcasts out there to come up with a good list of nominees, then maybe the award isn't well served by the fans.  The Parsecs exist, after all. (Though I know very little about them)

Every objection there (that the category is not well-defined to meet the actual way people are consuming media these days, that the administration doesn't seem clear, and that the voting community might not know enough to hand out a representative award) could almost certainly be applied to just about every other Hugo Award category, of course.

So in two weeks, the World Science Fiction Society Business Meeting will vote (among other things), on whether to keep best Fancast.  I honestly don't much care which way they vote, and I'm not sure which way I'd vote if I were there.  A feature of the Hugos is that the award categories are such that they can be endlessly argued.  Might as well keep around one more to argue about, I guess? Or maybe this should be the hill to die on where fans valiantly take a stand and say an award's not worth handing out if we can't do it pretty well?  (Though I think YA is the category that keeps ending up on that hill, and I think the gendered aspects of that market explain that pretty damn well).

Rachel Acks will probably be liveblogging.  Galen Charlton may be tweeting again.  I'll be paying attention.  Yay impending WSFSBM!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Fans, criticism, hugos

I was reading Miss Rumphius to Tadpole tonight, and because of Ann Leckie’s recent blog post, I started thinking about the omniscient narrator - the young niece relating her great-aunt’s story who appears at the very beginning and end of the book.  Because of Kate Schapira, I wondered about planting Lupines everywhere. Is this a native species? What’s the impact of an extra five bushels of seeds in a localized area?

I started engaging with SFF books and blogs on Twitter a few years ago, and a watershed moment was tweeting & blogging Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History.  I wrote a bit about Marigolds, and how the ending seemed a bit pat and happy. And Leonicka pointed out how uncommon it is to find sex workers with agency and happiness in fiction.  And other people taught me about the Tragic Queer trope, and how comforting it is not to read that.

For the last couple years, I've not only had the pleasure of reading amazing stories (short and long), but also reading and listening to the voices of authors and fans engaging with the stories I love.  A list is by necessity incomplete, but it is Kate Elliott who makes me asks where the groups of women are, and Renay and the editors of Lady Business who make me ask why the story I'm reading is important, and which stories are being ignored to tell this one.  Troy Wiggins & Daniel José Older have made me ask myself why dialect or a turn of phrase makes me uncomfortable, rather than blaming the author. A whole series of posts have me wondering what Science Fiction is and how it differs from Fantasy and how things all fit together.

And the thing is that each story is it’s own thing.  I can reread it (and I love rereading, which we’ll discuss another time), but I can’t read an amalgam of Black Wolves and City of Roses (nor, I think, would I want to).  But all the criticism accretes. It’s in the air and having imbibed it I take it with me to every new story.  (Even if I want to put it aside, so as to avoid being punched in the face when I come across something like Dark Orbit that forgets empathy for its blind characters by the end).

Once a year, a bunch of the people I talk to about science fiction and fantasy get together as part of a larger group and we talk about the best of last year.  And that gets published as The Hugo Awards (first finalists, then winner).  The finalists are announced at noon on Tuesday.  And I have a lot of negative feelings.  

But once a year I have an excuse to celebrate and thank the people who have contributed to the joy and meaning I've taken from every story I've read recently.  I look to the Nebulas and Kitschies for interesting fiction nominations (and maybe the Clarke Awards which’ll be announced Wednesday!), but the Hugos are my chance to talk about fan writing and criticism and podcasts.

To that end, some writing, writers, and podcasters I bring to your attention:

Vajra again, on Binti.

John Clute on The Buried Giant and Maureen Speller in Cabbages & Kings (they both talked about the narrator at least glancingly, reminding me of Ann Leckie's post above) (yes, I'm sneaking in references to my own podcast)

Kip again, on prose style.

I don't like everything about Adam Whitehead’s History of Epic Fantasy blog series, but I like that he made it & made me want to quibble with some of it.

I think that BookSmugglers publish a lot of fascinating stuff - I’d particularly recommend Octavia Cade’s series and the now completed tour through the Newberry’s

Abigail Nussbaum is excellent.  Batman V Superman is just one example of why

I really like the editors of LadyBusiness.  I'll particularly mention the Xena rewatch and Jodie’s short fiction discussions.  I often disagree with her overall assessments of the story, but always find what she has to say really interesting.

Speaking of short fiction, I cannot recommend Storyological, which dissects 2 short stories/week in a reasonable timeframe, highly enough.

And speaking of joyful romps through past media, Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin have been rereading the Dragonlance chronicles.  (I think they’re also going to bring us stories of Djinn sometime in the future)

And since I have begun talking about podcasts, let me unleash the floodgates: Mahvesh is the best author interviewer out there, The Coode Street podcast has blind spots big enough to drive a truck through but also strong perspectives and a deep knowledge of the history of the genre.  Rocket Talk ranges from random hanging out with friends to some of the best SFF/Industry discussion out there, with a few odd trips along the way. (Did I just link to both of Justin's episodes with Kate Elliott? Of course I did.  She's a brilliant podcast guest.)  Emma Newman’s blend of fiction and author interview on Tea & Jeopardy is delightful, and the ladies of Fangirl Happy Hour have strong perspectives, many interests, and nearly always leave me smiling in delight.  For movie and comics fans, the ladies of Nerds of Preycast are also worth a listen.  I will never be unhappy to hear the jingle of the Three Hoarsemen in my earbuds.

I would especially mention Flash Forward Pod.  Rose Eveleth is making something special. She’s thinking deeply and bringing an amazing set of perspectives for a podcast hosted by a single person.  Every two weeks, she blends a fictional future with very relevant real-world stories to connect how we are living now to the world we are creating for ourselves out somewhere in the future.

Kate Schapira does something similar with her #climateanxieties blog.

And Ebony Elizabeth Thomas thinks about children’s literature and the world we are making for our children with each and every story we tell.

Leslie Light is out there searching for and reviewing the fiction she wants to see written and spotlighted. Charles Payseur does yeoman’s work reviewing all the short fiction fit to pixelize.  Nerds-Feather (where he contributes) called him the definition of a fan writer, and I couldn’t agree more.  Meanwhile @MicroSFF is off writing even more short fiction (though sadly I don’t think this is one of the venues Charles reviews)

The hugo finalists will be out soon.  A few years ago, it was exciting to see my interests converging with the larger nominating group.  This year, I don’t expect that.  And frankly, as my interests move around, I’m not sure there will ever be such a convergence again.  I’m finding myself increasingly aware that there are important differences between Science Fiction and Fantasy, and curious about the genre I didn’t read as much.  I just finished Speculative Blackness, and I find myself wanting more long-form criticism (a relief - I was worried Twitter had broken me forever).  Hopefully this list a year from now will have more books (Ebony Thomas has one coming, I believe!), names like Paul Kincaid, Edward Said, and Samuel Delany, who I’ve always *meant* to read but never gotten around to.  The Rhetorics of Fantasy is on my to-read, but that list of SF critics I’ve heard of is suspiciously devoid of women.  I get to discover them!

I want to be better, this year, about thanking and praising these writers as and when I meet them.  I’m also going to put as many of them as I can on my nominating ballot next year.  And most of them won’t appear in the list of 5 finalists. Which is fine.  They will, each and every one of them, inform everything I’m reading going forward.  For that, I’m deeply grateful. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Reading #SpeculativeBlackness - Prologue

I'm reading Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction by Professor andré carrington PhD, and want to jot down some thoughts after the preface.  (It seems *really* interesting, if you're up for academic texts)

First, prof carrington seems not primarily interested in how "race" is written about in genre.  (I was expecting, for instance, some talk about how monsters & aliens are often standins for "The Other", which is often "black people" or more broadly people of color).  Instead, the book seems like it's going to deal with how race-the-social-construct is portrayed and also constructed in "speculative fiction" texts considered broadly.  (Most of the "texts" look like they're going to be comics/fanzines/TV shows, and rather than trying to define "speculative fiction", the book seems to take an "I know it when I see it & when I see how people interact with it" approach).  These texts are primarily pop culture, and race is a social construct that is to some extent always being renegotiated, so it *looks like* we're going to be looking both at how black culture comes into SFF, but also how SFF reflects/constructs black culture.  (And it seems this'll be in part contrasted with how SFF interacted with gender & the feminist movement in the 60's and after.)

There are two key ideas that jumped out at me (beyond that this is an exchange between texts and consumers who live in a society that's constructing & defining ideas of "race") - notions of Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, and The Whiteness of SFF vs. Speculative Blackness.

Readings - paranoid reading is (essentially, maybe?) reading to find your agenda.  The Sad Puppies pointing to award lists of books and authors who aren't white guys & asserting it's *because* they aren't white guys, and there's a cultural movement to praise not-white-guys.  (My example, not the author's).  Or I have a tendency when reading especially older SFF books to ask "who's not represented?  Why aren't they here?", sometimes at the expense of focusing on what the story is trying to do.

Reparative reading is not necessarily in contrast to paranoid reading. Instead, it's a reading that acknowledges that entrenched power structures mean some stories and storytellers are overrepresented in SFF (*all* of the Farmboys With Destiny told by white men), and seeks to find other stories and storytellers who have been erased or marginalized by patriarchy, white supremacy, eurocentrism, etc. and present a collection of stories and storytellers that repairs the damage done by these power structures in order to present a more diverse (more complete?) picture of the field (if one that does not necessarily map to the demographics of how many books/stories were printed in a given period).  I like the idea of reparative reading a lot.  It appeals to me, and I think I find it a more comforting idea than "making up your own canon" which I've seen thrown around a few times.  I want to sit with it & poke at it & see where it takes me.

Prof carrington (I'm capitalizing as he does in his Twitter bio, fwiw) also talks about The Whiteness of SFF and Speculative Blackness.  I think I'm more clear on the second than the first, so I'll start there.
Speculative blackness basically acknowledges that there are some areas of popular culture (Jazz and other musical trends where I'm woefully ignorant so won't try to say more) where black culture can be more easily seen and defined.  (There's a bit about seeing black culture appropriated, and also culture as either resistance or capitulation and how this is a false binary, but I didn't connect as much with that).  Rather than trying to find blackness in SFF, Speculative Blackness centers black culture, and sees the ways it manifests in speculative texts.  So Afrofuturism which was expressed in visual arts, Sun Ra's performances, and also speculative fiction can be talked about first as the movement and then fit into SFF so it's not a marginal part of SFF but an extension of blackness (centering the black cultural movement rather than SFF).  Afrofuturism, Surrealism, presentation of The Other, and Horror are all movements where black cultural production also appears in SFF.

I think that the Whiteness of SFF connects to reparative reading.  The notion that SFF has been dominated by white storytellers & stories, and so trying to look for blackness in that sea of white would inevitably see it as somehow opposing/subverting/being overwhelmed and set up false dichotomies, rather than seeing speculative blackness as an extension of other black aesthetic movements.

I'm probably missing a lot.  I'm certainly really looking forward to this book, though a bit disappointed that there'll be more non-books in it than I'd first thought, since I don't know much about comics or music.  Still, that means I've got a chance to learn!

I'll be doing a combination of tweets @kingcabbagecast using the #SpeculativeBlackness hashtag and posts like this when my thoughts are too much for a tweetstorm.  If you're reading, feel free to add a comment or tweet me!