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My BSFA vote for Best Non-Fiction

Now that Nina Allan's essay is available in electronic form (for a price), I feel able to rank the BSFA Non-Fiction shortlist. (I am still thinking about Best Short Fiction, and still finishing one of the novels.)

5) “Time Pieces: Doctor Change or Doctor Die”, by Nina Allan. I don't particularly mind one way or the other if a future incarnation of the Doctor is female, though clearly other feel much more strongly than I do - the first person to suggest it, as far as I know, was Tom Baker in his valedictory press conference in 1980. But I don't think A.L. Kennedy is a key figure in the debate; she has written precisely one Doctor Who book, admittedly a good one, twice (first in short form and then expanded to full length). It would have been more enlightening to parse the cryptic hints dropped now and then by the show-runners, on and off the record, about the Doctor's possible future gender identity.

4) “From Annihilation to Acceptance: a writer’s surreal journey”, by Jeff Vandermeer. A frustrating essay for me. I often enjoy accounts of how-the-book-was-writ and how-the-show-was-made, and I quite enjoyed the Southern Reach trilogy when I read it for the Clarke Award (though not enough to shortlist it). However this piece didn't bridge the gaps between creative effort and working life sufficiently to interest me.

3) “What Price, Your Critical Agency?”, by Jonathan McCalmont. Now we're getting into the stuff I really did enjoy. This is an interesting examination of the unwritten Faustian deal between publisher and reviewer, and raises very interesting questions. (I should make it clear that I have usually paid for the books I review here.) It's a longish blog post with one good idea, developed in detail.

2) Rave and Let Die: The SF and Fantasy of 2014, by Adam Roberts. I enjoyed this when I read it for the BSFA long list, and I stand by that judgement. Probably none of the individual essays is as strong as the Jonathan McCalmont piece I am ranking below it, but the cumulative effect is greater and, as far as I am concerned, more award-worthy. I can live with non-fiction awards occasionally going to blog posts, but most work is improved by going through the refining fire of the publication process.

1) Letters to Tiptree, eds Alisa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce. I got this more or less the day it was published, and hugely enjoyed it. It's a lovely, original, stimulating, tragic take on a hugely important figure in the history of the genre, including also some moving correspondence from Sheldon herself. As soon as I read it, I suspected I would end up giving it my vote; and I will.

I've complained tediously in past years that the BSFA Non-Fiction category was not really delivering a usable shortlist. This year, the two-stage nomination process has clearly made a difference in this case. None of these nominees is bad; two of them didn't appeal to me, but I can understand how they might appeal to others; and any one of them is better than any of the finalists for Best Related Work that Brad Torgersen and Vox Day put on last year's Hugo ballot.

It will be interesting to hear the reflections of those most closely involved as to whether the (considerable) extra effort that the new method requires of a volunteer staff is justified by an improved output. But I think the output in the Non-Fiction category has definitely improved.

Incidentally, the BSFA award for Non-Fiction has been awarded a total of 11 times - to twelve men and one woman (she and one of the men have won twice). Does that really reflect the state of commentary on the genre?

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