June 2nd, 2012


Links I found interesting for 02-06-2012


2012 Hugos: Best Fan Writer

I'm a bit concerned that my write-ups of the Hugo nominations so far have been too grumpy. Perhaps it's due to my listing the nominees in reverse order of preference; writing about the ones I didn't like puts me (and possibly my reader) in a bad mood before I reach the ones I did like. So for the next few lists I'm going to apply the principle of listing the nominees in the order I intend to vote for them, and hope to say more nice things as a result.

Once again, Best Fan Writer is a category I don't think I have ever cast a complete ballot in previously. As someone whose fandom experience is largely on-line and occasionally in-person, I know three of the nominees as people rather than as writers, and had not read much by the other two at all. So I'm basing my vote entirely on the contents of the Hugo Voter Packet, rather than on any of their other writings that I may have seen, because with the exception of Steven Silver's livejournal entries, I haven't seen any. Anyway, I found it pretty straightforward to rank the candidates as follows:

1) Claire Brialey. Four solid pieces, three about fannish subjects, and one about last summer's riots in England. All well written and well presented, and felt to me like they described parts of my fannish and personal universe. Easy decision to give her my top vote. (NB that Brialey is the only female nominee in this category.)

2) James Bacon. One standout piece - "Hurt: A Dog Day Afternoon" - which is a brilliant and moving meditation on being a dog-loving train driver, the best single item of any of the nominated pieces. The other two pieces, on military sf and Irish-language sf, grabbed me less and had some imperfect editing.

3) Jim C. Hines. The only nominee whose entries are mostly blog posts. Best is the one on Jane C. Hines. Others include a parody of a song I don't know, complaints about genre-bashing, and dealing with sexual harassment.

4) Steven H. Silver. Three very short pieces (of which the best is the Anne McCaffrey obituary from The Drink Tank #299) and also the June 2011 news posts from SF Signal. All presented as a single document.

5) Chris Garcia. Four short pieces presented as a single document. The best is "The City of LA: A Love Story" from The Drink Tank #300. Other topics covered are the film Rollerball, what it feels like to win a Hugo, and the museum in one's head.

All entirely subjective, of course, and I think reasonable people can disagree about any of these rankings. I note, though I think it is coincidental, that the two writers I ranked last were the two whose writing is represented by single documents rather than by separate files for each article.

See also: Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist | Best Fan Artist

2012 Hugos: Best Fancast

I can be absolutely certain that I have never voted in this category before, because neither has anybody else. I'm not a big podcast listener - my audio enjoyment tends to be Big Finish plays, Doctor Who-related audiobooks, and the odd documentary or drama from the BBC. I did listen to the Big Finish podcasts regularly at one point but have lost track of them recently.

I'm therefore judging the Best Fancast entries largely - but not entirely - on the basis of what's in the Hugo voter packet - a single release from each of the series, though a more informed voter would have been listening to all of them all year and would be able to judge on the basis of the sequence as a whole. I'm therefore aware that judgements on the particular episodes in question may not be fair when applied to the entire series. But I'm afraid that's the breaks.

As with the Best Fan Writer category, I'm going to list them from top to bottom of my ballot paper.

1) Galactic Suburbia - specifically Episode 32 - worked really well for me; three Australian women discussing what they enjoy within the genre with tremendous humour and enthusiasm; also generally decent production values (only StarshipSofa is better on that score), and a varied and interesting agenda. If I take up podcasts as a habit I will start here.

2) SF Squeecast - specifically Episode 7. Very nearly as enjoyable as Galactic Suburbia, but slightly more difficult to listen to, and the discussion with five people all talking from different places gets a bit confused in places, reminding me of work teleconferences (and not really in a good way). Still, good fun.

3) The Coode Street Podcast - specifically Episode 65, included with the Hugo Voter Package, and Episode 77, which I listened to shortly after it was first released. Both feature the two regular hosts with a female interviewee, in one case author Jo Walton, in the other the ten-year-old daughter of one of the regulars. While the conversation is interesting enough, having a single guest means less variety of topic, and also less entertaining banter than one gets between a regular cast of contributors. Also the sound quality in the Walton interview was not always great (she is perfectly audible but her interviewers aren't).

4) The SF Signal Podcast - specifically Podcast #26 on e-book publishing, a subject which I have seen discussed much more satisfactorily in on-line formats (where one can easily link to supporting evidence and statistics rather than appear to be randomly quoting them). I felt it was using new technology to replicate the experience of being at a convention panel, which seems a bit like reinventing the wheel; the others listed above exploit the possibilities of the podcast format much more imaginatively. I note that the episode description says that the Podcast had "given our regular panelists the night off" and wonder if they might have been better advised to submit an episode which included the regular panelists for the Hugo Voter Package.

5) StarShipSofa - specifically Episode 201, which features a monologue by a biologist, a reading of half of a Geoffrey A. Landis story, and an interview with an author I hadn't read; much the longest of the files in the Voter Packet at 86 minutes. StarShipSofa won the Hugo for Best Fanzine two years ago, and it is basically an audio version of a fanzine, rather than a podcast, and really seems made for a different decade than the other nominees. The audio quality is better than any of the other nominees by far, perhaps because (apart from the interview) it consists of recorded sequences of single speakers put together. I was frankly disappointed - I had listened to the StarShipSofa interview with Fred Pohl and Jack Vance in 2010 and hugely enjoyed that, but this really didn't do much for me. 

But if the Hugo voters want audio fanzines and/or audio versions of convention panels, then I guess my preferences will be outvoted.

See also: Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist | Best Fan Writer | Best Fan Artist

May Books 14) Tickling the English, by Dara Ó Briain

A wise choice of Christmas present from manjushra, this is another in the sub-genre of books about the English and Englishness also pursued by Jeremy Paxman and Bill Bryson (and to an extent Stuart Maconie). It struck home particularly for me because Ó Briain is an Irish man married to a very intelligent Englishwoman, a situation with which I am not unacquainted, and because I like Ó Briain's sense of humour and occasional bafflement at the surrealism of life in general. (We also have a vague personal connection via the Byrne family.)

The framework of the book is Ó Briain's tour around England (with short excursions elsewhere, particularly to Dublin but memorably also to Jersey), with anecdotes of his interactions with the crowd on each show and reflections on local history and various aspects of Englishness, including race and diversity . There is also a rather moving conversation with Ken Dodd (the inventor of the tickling stick referenced in the title). His main conclusion is that the English actually rather like being gloomy; that England / the UK is fairly consistently about fifth in everything, but mourns not being top. Tho that he adds that the English have a peculiar paranoia about their young people (ASBOs, etc), and some very trenchant observations about the differences between England and Ireland (the contrast between St George's Day and St Patrick's Day is particularly telling).

Looking at on-line reviews I see several who are baffled because they don't get the Irish bit (some of whom are even more baffled because they don't know much about England and had hoped in vain to learn the basics here). I see others who know Ó Briain's work too well and are disappointed that the book reflects his stage show too closely. Fortunately I am in neither category and thoroughly enjoyed it. Paxman's book is probably better (and Bryson's certainly worse) but this is the most fun.

May Books 15) The Shadows of Avalon, by Paul Cornell

This is surely one of the better Eighth Doctor Adventures, in a series that I was somewhat losing confidence in a few volumes back; by odd coincidence, it is set in 2012. We start off with a good chunk of the novel exploring what's happened to the Brigadier recently (last seen, from his own point of view anyway, in the very first Eighth Doctor novel, The Dying Days) and the peculiar dimensional opening between present day England and the magical parallel world of Avalon, where humans and the reptiles sometimes known as Silurians struggle for mastery of the land, and the British Army and two meddling Time Lords get caught up in the local power politics. The opening section is absolutely gripping; it settles down a bit as it goes on, but never lost my attention. The book also brings up the concept of a person becoming a Tardis, and vice versa, which is of course picked up and developed by Neil Gaiman in The Doctor's Wife.

Depending on how one counts Minuet in Hell (and I'd rather not), this is actually the last appearance of the Brigadier in the Doctor's personal timeline, though he remains a constant point of reference and appears in several spinoff stories (including an SJA episode) right up until his departure is reported on-screen in last year's series. It's a good way for the character to bow out.

May Books 16) Surface Detail, by Iain Banks

Not an outstanding novel from Banks, and one that I felt was perhaps twice as long as it needed to be - gareth_rees had warned of some of its deficiencies and his criticisms are valid. The bits I enjoyed most concerned the story of the indentured slave Lededje Y'breq, unexpectedly liberated and preparing vengeance on her former master - the "surface detail" of the title appears to refer both to the tattoo that was the mark of her indenture and the new one she acquires from the Culture. But too many of the other plot strands were pursued at greater length than they could really bear before fizzling out.

(I have logged 18 books in total for May. Two friends sent me manuscripts of their unpublished books - one an sf novel, the other a historical Northern Ireland-related topic - and happened to get me at the right moment, so I am tallying those as well for my total.)
doctor who

June Books 1) Autonomy, by Daniel Blythe

Slightly sad to say that this is the last of the main sequence of Tenth Doctor novels for me to read. It's not a bad one, though my favourite remains Gary Russell's Beautiful Chaos. (It's also set partly in 2012, as was The Shadows of Avalon which I read earlier in the week.) Blythe brings back the Autons with a proper reboot, updating them to the new century in a way that wasn't possible for the TV episode Rose (which also rebooted the Autons, but much else besides) and actually paving the way slightly for the new wrinkles to the Autons that we saw in the first Matt Smith season. Lots of decent action, though the gruesome deaths don't quite fit with the general impression of Who novels of that year of writing for a younger age group.

NB also an odd mention of my adopted land on page 40:
The Doctor raised his eyebrows at the wild lurches the train was giving. 'The speed this thing's going...' he muttered to himself. 'The brakes must be the size of Belgium!' He knew the ride was meant to be exciting, but from the start something about it had left himwondering if it was meant to be taken at quite such a pace.
I guess a bit of a reference to Time Crash there.