June 8th, 2012


Links I found interesting for 08-06-2012


June Books 2) Habibi, by Craig Thompson

I very much enjoyed Thomson's graphic novel Blankets, but was aware that Habibi came with substantial warnings about cultural appropriation: it's a love story of two kids trying to escape and build a life of their own in a fictional Middle Eastern country, which is half Arabian Nights fantasy and half modern oil metropolis. It's beautifully drawn and the central characters (including the wonderful Noah the Fisherman) very well portrayed; and the whole thing draws deeply from the wells of Arabic (and also Persian) lore and culture.

It does have some serious problems. Nadim Damluji discusses his issues with the depiction of Arab men here and takes it up with Thompson here; like him I also don't quite see where Habibi is in dialogue with Orientalism rather than simply performing it. (I thought the farting dwarf was well over the top, too.) Also there is some very nasty sexual assault in the book, and even though it is not depicted graphically on the page there is a serious squick factor which readers should be warned about.

Thompson wanted to do some imaginative cultural exploration in the aftermath of 9/11, and has certainly done so, though I'm not sure it went quite in the direction intended. But that happens to all of us, really.

June Books 3) The House That Jack Built, by Guy Adams

Again, a decent Torchwood novel - I remain impressed by the overall quality of the range - this time featuring a time-travel mystery centred around a particular Cardiff house, one which Jack himself has personal links to. Adams is a good descriptive writer and takes us much further into Jack's background over the decades in Cardiff than other authors have done, with decently creepy alien forces to boot. Another good 'un.

June Books 4) The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell

A very interesting and short book on how epidemics - particularly epidemics of ideas, the kind of thing we now call memes - spread among humanity. Gladwell identifies three distinct groups of people who become instrumental in selling innovation (or indeed decay) to the rest of us: Mavens, who just love collecting knowledge and shring it; Connectors, who are the vectors for transmitting new things to other people; and Salesmen, who are the persuaders necessary for a critical mass of Connectors to take on the ideas of the Mavens. It's not a perfect typology - I think I have some elements of both Maven and Connector, and a small amount of Salesman, and also I think that there are cases of quite different diffusion (and Gladwell indeed gives some examples which don't actually fit). It also struck me that I had read a fair bit of this before, whether in newspaper extracts of Gladwell's writing or in other books. But I'm very sympathetic to the basic point, which is that the crucial determinant of whether ideas become generally accepted is more often the way in which they come to be presented to the population as a whole, rather than their actual truth content. And it is breezily written, and as I said mercifully short.

June Books 5) Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord

A really excellent short novel, part of the Hugo Voter Package as Lord is a Campbell nominee this year; a fairy-tale set in Senegal, with various spirit creatures (some of which clearly have sfnal counterparts) helping our heroine interrogate the roles that society has set for her. I can't really do it justice in a short write-up and haven't the energy right now to do a longer one, but there are a load of other positive reviews of this around the internet. I will look out for more from this writer.

Hugos 2012: The John W. Campbell Award (Not A Hugo)

The nominees for John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer submitted a diverse portfolio of work for voters to consider last year - five novels and five short stories between the five candidates. This year it is even more diverse and overall a little sparser: one long novel, one short novel, three short stories (twice) and one short story. It is therefore very difficult to make an objective judgement based on the material we have in front of us, and I suspect most voters won't even try. Some may of course have read other work by some of the writers; many, I suspect - myself included, as I will explain below - will allow their votes to be influenced by their personal knowledge of the candidates, rather than solely by an objective assessment of their writing. (Actually the award itself is a bit ambiguous - it is for "the best new science fiction or fantasy writer whose first work of science fiction or fantasy was published in a professional publication in the previous two years", not for the author of the best work by a new writer to published in a professional publication in the previous two years, which may or may not be significant). Utterly subjectively and a little unfairly, then, my votes are as follows:

1) Karen Lord. Redemption in Indigo is a brilliant piece taking a different culture and telling a credible story about it, as I just said. If there is any justice (and, an important proviso, if her other work which I have not raed is as good as this) she should win the award easily.

2) Stina Leicht. The author was kind enough to consult me on the Northern Irish aspects of ...And Blue Skies from Pain, the sequel to Of Blood and Honey which is the book included in the Hugo pack, and I appreciate that attention, even though Martin McGrath has thoroughly and mercilessly catalogued the deficiencies of the setting. It's an honest if imperfect effort to write urban fantasy in the unlikely setting of 1970s Belfast, and I'll give the author my second place.

3) E. Lily Yu. This is a vote on (paucity of) quantity as much as quality; three very short stories are actually rather difficult to rate against two novels, and although all three are pretty good, there's a part of me that wants to reward the authors here for the total enjoyment they have given me; and 14 pages just isn't the same as 200 or 300.

4) No Award. I explain my methodology below.

[no vote] Brad Torgersen. Torgersen has submitted three stories, including one which I had already read as it was on one of the Hugo shortlists, and I didn't much like any of them. They are all about a troubled male character after the Earth has been destroyed reassessing his relationship with the woman of his life (in one case his daughter, in another his wife, in another his adoptive mother), and all could have been written (and in some case were written better) in the 1950s. One of these lucky ladies is described as "literally flowing with stories and spunk". Maybe not literally literally. And maybe not the same kind of "spunk" that leapt to my mind, though that may be a dialectal variation - an unexpected ejaculation, perhaps.

[no vote] Mur Lafferty. This is a slightly different matter: While E. Lily Yu submitted only 14 pages, at least they were of three different stories so one feels able to make some kind of overall assessment. Lafferty has submitted a single 7-page story, and I simply don't feel that I have enough evidence to judge her ability. I was originally going to simply leave her off the ballot and vote down to Torgersen, but then realised that that raised the awful possibility that my vote might count for Torgersen against Lafferty. So the only sensible course is to leave them both out.

I suspect it's between Torgersen and Leicht, judging by their respective followings on-line, so if my vote ends up being tallied for Leicht I am not at all displeased.

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 | Best Fancast