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. 

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