January 3rd, 2016


Hugo-eligible short fiction Jul-Sep 2015: my first take

As in my two previous posts, I've read through the short fiction output of Tor.com, Clarkesworld, Asimov's and Strange Horizons for the third quarter of this year, plus one novella from Subterranean Press and four novellas from Tor.com (but see my doubts on that score below), following my methodology. I had hoped to finish this at the beginning of September, but got sidetracked by investigating the Retro Hugo eligible fiction of 1940, a satisfying but lengthy process. My conclusions are as follows:

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I see that my tastes are in almost complete opposition to Greg Hullender's aggregation at Rocket Stack Rank (apart from "The Hunger Tower"), but I really appreciate the work he has done in pulling the lists of recommended stories together for July, August and September. Likewise I have precisely one crossover (Priya Sharma's "Fabulous Beasts") with the Ladybusiness list for the third quarter. Tastes vary.

What I'm still considering for nomination


Lois McMaster Bujold, Penric's Demon (Spectrum)
Paul Cornell, Witches of Lychford
Eugene Fischer, "The New Mother" (Asimov's, Apr/May 2015)
Kristine Kathryn Rusch "Inhuman Garbage" (Asimov's, Mar 2015)
Allen M. Steele, "The Long Wait" (Asimov's, Jan 2015)

Eneasz Brodski, "Red Legacy" (Asimov's, Feb 2015)
Paul Evanby, "Utrechtenaar" (1, 2 - Strange Horizons, June 2015 - surprised to find it only 9,000 words)
Sarah Pinsker, "Our Lady of the Open Road" (Asimov's, Jun 2015)
Priya Sharma, "Fabulous Beasts" (Tor.com, July 2015)
Vandana Singh, "Ambiguity Machines: An Examination" (Tor.com, Apr 2015 - at 7800 words it just scrapes into this category)

Short Stories
Karl Bunker, "Caisson" (Asimov's, August 2015)
Nino Cipri, "The Shape of My Name" (Tor.com, Mar 2015)
L.S. Johnson, "Vacui Magia" (Strange Horizons, Jan 2015)
Jay O'Connell, "Willing Flesh" (Asimov's, Apr/May 2015)
Robert Reed, "The Empress in Her Glory" (Clarkesworld, Apr 2015)
Kelly Robson, "The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill" (Clarkesworld, Feb 2015)
Iona Sharma, "Nine Thousand Hours" (Strange Horizons, April 2015)
Natalia Theodoridou, "Android Whores Can't Cry" (Clarkesworld, July 2015)

All three categories full, but I shall read the fourth quarter's sf from those outlets anyway, and a few more, then start pruning.

The Helliconia Trilogy, by Brian Aldiss

Regular readers will know that Brian Aldiss is one of my favourite writers, and the Helliconia trilogy is one of his core works: three novels set centuries apart on Helliconia, a planet whose orbit brings it from freezing winter to hot summer over the centuries, and whose two major races (humans and horned furry Pharos) are under constant observation from Earth. Aldiss himself promoted it at the time as a major breakthrough, and I think it was - for him, as it was his first really long fiction, and for the genre, in that he caught the wave of Gaia-style ecology but managed to wear his (extensive) research pretty lightly while hanging interesting stories on the context.

Reading Helliconia Spring when it first came out in 1982, when I was 15, was tremendously exciting. I last reread it, along with the other two, on holiday in Croatia in 1996, I think. I'm glad to say that it pretty much stands the test of time. It is in two parts, the first being the short tale of Yuli, who escapes the (vividly drawn) theocratic underground city of Pannoval (I was sorry that we saw no more of it) to bring new expertise to the town which becomes known as Oldorando, and the second, many generations later, being the story of how the people of Oldorando adapt to the coming of Spring. We readers are told what is going on in terms of climate change, but the characters are in the situation of their world gradually (and sometimes suddenly) changing out of all recognition.

Helliconia Spring popped up on my reading list again thanks to having won the BSFA Award in 1983 (beating a pretty tough field: Little, Big, Nebula-winning No Enemy But Time, Philip K. Dick's The Divine Invasion and Gene Wolfe's The Sword of the Lictor; the Hugo that year went to Foundation's Edge). It also won the Campbell Memorial Award (again beating No Enemy But Time).

Helliconia Summer also still worked for me - the twist here is that the Earth observation satellite sends a volunteer from its crew to the surface of Helliconia, where he knows he will not survive long due to a lack of immunity from local diseases, but gets very much mixed up in a complex dynastic / political / gendered dispute among local rulers. Aldiss plays the theme of technologically advanced individual failing to impress a much more medieval civilisation very nicely. It didn't win any awards, the BSFA going that year to Tik-Tok.

On the other hand, Helliconia Winter didn't work for me anything like as well as the first two. I found the plot meandering, the gender politics pretty unpleasant, and the Earth observation sections taken in unwelcome and not very interesting directions. I may be in a minority; it also won the BSFA award, though I must say I have not heard of three of its four opponents - Free Live Free by Gene Wolfe, Kiteworld by Keith Roberts and The Warrior Who Carried Life, by Geoff Ryman, though of course I know other work by all three authors. The other BSFA nominee that year was The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers, which I read and loved when it came out. The Hugo and Nebula that year both went to Neuromancer. None of the BSFA shortlist was on either the Hugo or Nebula ballots.

Anyway, a refreshing return to an old favourite.

BSFA Award: second round stats

The BSFA has announced the opening of Round 2 of this year's BSFA Awards. This time round, nominations were accepted in all categories to the end of December; we now have January to winnow down the candidates to a final four in each case. As usual, the list of Best Novel options gives me grist for my statistical mill: here they are, listed in descending order of aggregate popularity on Goodreads and LibraryThing (the number in each case is the number of users who own each book).

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It becomes painfully clear that Goodreads has about 80 times as many users as LibraryThing!

I'm baffled by the one book which has hundreds of Goodreads owners, but none at all on LibraryThing as far as I can see. Sure, it's self-published (and you'll spot some similar patterns on the list), but that skew is extraordinary.