My practical experience is that the artist’s work can’t be divided from the artist’s politics. Working relationships are an expression of how one party reads the other’s work. Some writers are never so good as when they’re being critiqued by a particular editor or beta reader or spouse. If you have a mismatch between a copyeditor and an author, that copyeditor will honestly and dutifully perceive a somewhat different set of errors than another copyeditor would. There’ve been comic books whose underlying premises only really worked when the right artist was drawing them.
Have you ever read Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny? They just didn’t mesh. You can hear the gears grinding all the way through that thing, except for the scene with the dog.
Readers will judge the politics. There’s no way to keep that from happening. They may perceive it as (for instance) the difference between a strikingly original, a satisfactory, and a cop-out ending, but they will judge.
I’m attending the 2014 Worldcon, and that means I get to nominate for the Hugo Awards. And, because I’m the kind of shy retiring flower who hesitates to share her opinions, I’m going to tell you all about my nominations!
But I’ll do it in more than one blogpost, because the Hugo Awards have a lot of categories. And one may nominate up to five items in each category.
So, in this first post, let’s talk about:
Best Dramatic Presentation “Long Form” (more than 90 minutes)
Best Dramatic Presentation “Short Form” (less than 90 minutes)
Best Editor Short Form
Best Editor Long Form
Best Professional Artist
Best Fan Writer
Best Fan Artist
Best Dramatic Presentation “Long Form” (more than 90 minutes)
1. Tomb Raider. It’s a brilliant game: it integrates character, narrative, design and gameplay really well. And it plays like good story. Really sodding tense, driven story.
2. Pacific Rim. It is visually amazing, has some solid performances, and is an immense amount of fun.
3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. It’s a flawed film, and a flawed adaptation – but on the other hand, the fact that it’s not perfect doesn’t mean that it isn’t really good. And I really like the fact that Katniss is the stoic silent pragmatic one who finds it hard to express emotions, and Peeta is the sensitive one with all the feelings.
I did not encounter anything else this year that I would like to nominate in this category, although all things considered it probably would not actively hurt if Thor: The Dark World made it onto the ballot. I haven’t seen Frozen, or Gravity although I hear they’re good – and none of the other videogames I played approach Tomb Raider‘s commitment to doing good story.
Best Dramatic Presentation “Short Form” (less than 90 minutes)
I did not watch any SFF television from 2013 – certainly nothing that stands out as memorable.
Best Editor Short Form
I don’t follow the short form of the genre scene all that well. I don’t feel I have enough appreciation of who has edited (or acquired) which excellent stuff consistently well to make a nomination.
Except your man Neil Clarke from Clarkesworld. Clarkesworld always seems to publish real gems.
Best Editor Long Form
An industry award, and one that always seems to me to be slightly odd on an award given by popular vote. How does one judge a “Best Editor”? By the strength of the novels they work on? (But I don’t know who edits even half the books I read.) By how much better they make novels that are submitted to them? (But I don’t know what the novels look like before they come from the presses.)
So this is another one I have to leave blank.
Best Professional Artist
1. Julie Dillon. Her work is brilliant – especially her work with Kate Elliott on The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi-Barahal.
2. Todd Lockwood. I like dragons. I especially like his cover art and interior sketches on Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons.
Best Fan Writer
In this category, I am considering only people who are best known for their work as commentators, rather than as writers of fiction. This is a bit limiting, but – the field’s really wide as it is.
4. Aishwarya Subramanian doesn’t seem to have written as much this year as was my impression in 2012, but what she has written, particularly at Strange Horizons, is really good.
There are a bunch of other interesting people writing about science fiction: Paul Kincaid, Stefan Raets, Renay, Thea James and Ana Grillo, who write at the Booksmugglers, Jared Shurin… and those are just people I’ve read on a semi-regular basis. I can’t choose between them for slot #5.
Best Fan Artist
What do I know about fan art and its artists? I don’t know enough about the people who qualify for this category and their bodies of work to make an informed decision. Blank again!
And that, dear readers, concludes Part I: The Easy Part.
I’m with Alex Dally MacFarlane, on this one, but regardless, you are all cordially invited to the ceremony of betrothal between me and my armchair, which is presently being solemnised.
Less snarkily: I’m a queer person.
I’m still figuring out what that means for me in terms of gender identification, orientation, attraction. Perhaps I’ll never know what it means. In a culture which defines things and traits as masculine and feminine, am I a male person with a female body, or a female person who does male things and feels deeply uneasy with female social roles?
It is much easier not to think about it, and far, far easier not to talk about it. I’m comfortable with celibacy: who I am, who I’m attracted to, might be a much more pressing matter if I was drawn more strongly towards sexual relationships, or if I felt more strongly towards the sexual characteristics of my own body.
Or perhaps I’m more comfortable with celibacy precisely because it means I don’t have to think about what gender means to me personally, as opposed to what being perceived, and living, as a (butch) female person means for me socially.
(This is, I understand, the thing called coming out. Y’know, it’s kind of terrifying? I’m okay with being out about depression and anxiety, but coming out about this is making me shake.)
Science fiction and fantasy is one of the few places where it is possible to conceive of worlds from the ground up that don’t carry the same historical, cultural baggage of binary gender, of masculine and feminine as socially concrete. I was eighteen or nineteen before I realised it was possible for me, for women, to be attracted to both women and men;* several years older, before I got my head around the idea it could be more complicated than that, that the gender you were socially assigned, the role society pressured you to fill, wasn’t necessarily the same as the one inside your head. That the faces we show to the world are all social roles. All performances.
That we can perform differently. Be, differently.
The idea of gender-as-reified, of biology-as-destiny? I’m getting over it.
I don’t know what queerness means for me. I don’t know what their life experiences mean for other people. I don’t even know if I should be coming out and saying this: will it make trouble for me now? In the future?
Probably. I’ll burn that bridge when I get there.
But I do know that SFF is a genre that can, in its stories, show us different views of ourselves. Different ways, perhaps, to be. Maybe – who knows? – better ones.
Break the binary. Break the mould.
Also, me and my armchair? We’re practically married already.
*I’m still convinced at an emotional level that it is somehow fundamentally wrong to like anyone sexually at all. The benefits of a Catholic education are numerous, so it’s said, but… yeah, that’s not really one of them.
The conference is over. This conference, that is, and a very interesting conference it was, indeed.
I will blog about it, as promised. But for today, while my brains are in the process of growing back from the onslaught of shiny interesting new people and thoughts, I think I’ll just round up the links my tabs have accumulated from a weekend with very little chance to participate in the internet.
STAY SAFE: You get to choose what to do, because you’re the only one who knows your situation and what risks you will and won’t take. If not reporting is what you need to do, that’s what you get to do, and if anybody gives you trouble about making that choice to stay safe, you can sic me on them.
So what’s with all the brothels? Because whenever I think of brothels, I think of one question: Who are the women working there? There was no indication in Leviathan Wakes that there were male prostitutes, even though one of the (male) main characters worked as a cop and seemed to have a lot (a lot!) of contact on the job with prostitutes. I’m gonna guess that sure, there might be male prostitutes, but the majority are probably female.
So who are these prostitutes? What kind of a future world is it that permits so much prostitution? Are the prostitutes regulated? Do they have health insurance? Are they part of worker-owned collectives so they don’t have to deal with pimps?
All of which is a way of saying that the big schism in SFF no more between leftwingers and rightwingers than it is between realists and escapists: rather, it’s between those for whom escapism is an extension of privilege, and those for whom escapism is a means of furthering representation. But even then, that’s far from being a binary position: there are many different kinds of privilege, after all, and in accordance with the principles of intersectionality, possessing one type of privilege doesn’t prevent one from lacking another. It’s simply a question of escapism: from what, into what, and above all, why.
Let me get this straight: the way to get rid of sexism is to stop talking about gender? That’s like saying that the way to prevent STDs is to stop talking about sex: in both instances, the latter concept is integral to any meaningful discussion of the former problem, such that omitting it would render the entire exercise moot. And don’t even get me started on the pervasive cissexism of constantly defining gender in terms of plumbing and underwear: the issue at hand is concerns brains, not bodies, and trying to boil it all down to descriptions of bits is both childish and incredibly problematic.
This conversation about review coverage and gender parity isn’t about discrimination against specific authors–it’s about systemic discrimination. In short: the game is rigged and it needs to be un-rigged.
STANBUL, TURKEY—Francesco D’Andria of the University of Salento announced that he has unearthed the structures of Pluto’s Gate, known as the portal to the underworld in Greco-Roman tradition, at the World Heritage site of Hierapolis in southwest Turkey. The remains of a temple, a pool, and a series of steps above a cave that emits poisonous gases were found, in addition to an inscription with a dedication to Pluto… and Kore.
That creative discomfort can make all the difference between great writing and dreck. One could argue the point endlessly, for there are examples to the contrary — snap decisions that turned out to be brilliant, slowly gestated ideas that still turned out useless. I would maintain that such cases are outliers: so much depends on the talent of the individual writer, and on sheer luck. What we want here is a controlled experiment. We could learn a great deal by taking the same writer and putting him through a series of similar projects. In half of them, he would have all the time he wanted to brainstorm, to throw away ideas when he came up with better ones, to tear up drafts, to indulge his creative discomfort. In the other half, whenever he had to make a decision, he would simply take the first workable idea that came to mind. Unfortunately, we can’t hire a writer to go through such an experiment. Fortunately, the experiment has already been made. The writer’s name was George Lucas.
Broderick and Di Filippo turn on the fire hydrant of reference, retire to a safe distance, and let the pressure hose of words flail wildly about, bashing the reader’s brains in… We could charitably say that Broderick and Di Filippo have their hearts in the right place but they are obviously utterly unaware of the manifold traps of words like “indoctrinated” and “exotic.” Unfortunately, such cluelessness recurs, amplified…
…[M]y abiding impression of The 101 Best Novels is of being constantly blindsided; I ended the book not informed or entertained but baffled by these sentence-sized bolts from the blue. I’m sure if Broderick and Di Filippo had a couple of thousand words to write about any of these individual novels or any of the themes they touch on then they would acquit themselves admirably—they obviously know their onions. But their task was something else and, thankless though it was, they were not equal to it. Compression has crushed the life out of their wit and intelligence, leaving the reader with a mangled corpse of a book, punctured by broken bones and leaking shit.
I’ve been thinking about books, written by men, in which women are handled well. Or, to be more specific, in which I think women are handled well. It’s a question I used to be asked while working at the bookstore, and therefore a question I’ve turned over on the inside of my head, time and again.
And this morning, because I am writing and my creative writer brain has slowed, I have returned to this, having spent an evening reading about male gaze.
All of the male authors I’ve recommended or cleared as “writing women well” (Sean Stewart for example) are entirely absent male gaze.
There is a time in the life of otherwise privileged young western people where they become disillusioned with the world around them, once they figure out that parents and teachers are fallible and may even be jerks, that revolutions don’t necessarily lead to freedom, that voting for the right guy doesn’t necessarily mean that the wrong guy won’t win. And the young people going through those realisations tend to develop a taste for dark and gritty entertainment, because hey, the world is bad and western democracy does not work as advertised and now they want entertainment that tells it like it is. For most people, this phase starts sometime in their mid to late teens, which is also why the teen version of grimdark fantasy, dystopian YA, works so well. By their mid twenties to early thirties at the latest, they usually grow out of it. You can actually see this development in the work of several writers and artists. Alan Moore is a good example of this. His earlier work – Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Marvelman, his run on Captain Britain (all written in his late twenties to mid thirties) – is much darker than later works such as Promethea, Tom Strong or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, all written when he was in his late forties to early fifties.
– Aesthetics. Does our current conception of epic fantasy preclude certain imagery, metaphors, sentence construction, etc.? – Structure. How do trends in epic fantasy constrain the narrative structures viable within the sub-genre? – Themes. Are there thematic areas which epic fantasy cannot explore? Moral, ethical, political, sociological models it cannot dramatize?
Update March 8: Gollancz has clarified their position in a blogpost whose content would’ve been helpful in their promo emails. And whose tone seems much more appropriate when speaking to adults than the nicey-nice PR OMG ENTHUSIASM!! of the initial emails…
Welcome to the Team! We are emailing you because you expressed an interest in hearing more about our Fantasy/Dark Fantasy/Horror titles and we think we’ve got the perfect read for you!
We are so excited to be able to share [title redacted] with you.
A few weeks ago, in the interests of SCIENCE, I signed up for the Gollancz Geeks mailing list. (Note: the contact form asks for gender information in a binary configuration. Despite the @Gollancz twitter account responding sympathetically to this concern when I raised it weeks ago, the form remains unchanged.) I view “Let’s start a club!” with a certain suspicion when it comes from profit-making entities – but perhaps Gollancz wouldn’t be entirely tone-deaf and skeevy about it.
Now we want to know what you thought of [title redacted]. Whether you love the book or hate the book we want to hear your opinion. We have 25 copies of [title redacted] to share with you. If you are interested in reviewing [title redacted] please reply to this email. The first 25 people to reply will be sent a copy. We will send t-shirts, bookmarks and badges to everyone who sends back a review by the 6th April 2013. We reserve the right to publish some or all of your reviews on the Gollancz Blog.
I don’t know what they call this in PR. I’ve seen it a bit, though, and I think of it as the forced-enthusiasm cycle. (“Forced” in the sense of “forcing” plants.) It’s irritating because it’s utterly transparent.
Step one: offer a definite but small quantity of a desirable commodity to the fastest and most enthusiastic interested parties. Step two: create minor-but-look-bigger incentives for fast feedback. You’ve pre-selected for positive attitude: even if a half or a quarter respond negatively or indifferently, the rest will be buzzed – in part because they got something for “free,” which always feels like getting away with something.
The forced-enthusiasm cycle works, demonstrably. It’s not even particularly skeevy. What makes this iteration of it skeevy and a wasted opportunity?
We reserve the right to publish some or all of your reviews on the Gollancz Blog
You reserve the right, do you? You’re not asking for the right, but reserving it? Fuck you, pay me. And not with –
We will send t-shirts, bookmarks and badges to everyone who sends back a review
T-shirts? Badges? Presumably with Gollancz’s logo on it, making this an opportunity for this particularly imprint to – ahem – “build its brand.” For free. In the guise of rewarding participation. (Badges? What are we, five now?) Gollancz, me oul’mate me lad – I hope that’s not too familiar, but since you’ve invited me to join your “Team” I think you should be all right with a few liberties – I hate to break it to you, but people tend not have brand investment, so to speak, in publishing houses. Books are not fungible. Your average reader will follow authors and series, not publishing houses.
You’ve wasted an opportunity, me oul’mate me lad – which, since you make a taxable profit and publicity is a business expense, costs you next to nothing – to build investment in other authors and series under contract with you, and get sensible free publicity, by offering tat and not books as swag.
Mind, you’d still have to pay me – or at least ask nicely, I’m not unreasonable – to (re)publish a review of mine. But this reserving rights lark? Come on, me oul’mate. You don’t seriously believe you’re doing anyone a favour here. You’re looking to get publicity for as good as free! And you’re lying to your email list by pretending you’re doing us a good turn. Underneath this nicey-nice PR OMG ENTHUSIASM!!! are all the morals of a hungry shark, and what’s really insulting? You ain’t even bothering to pretend this is an equal exchange wherein we’re doing you a good turn by investing time and energy in being, essentially, Free Publicity, in exchange for Free Shit.
Now, me, I’m a jobbing amateur. Semi-professional, I guess: I writes for some people who pay me in money and some people who don’t pay me at all because I like ’em and sometimes I can use the practice, and on my personal blog I writes just for the hell of it, mostly. It’s not my dayjob. (Although if someone were to hire me to do this sort of thing fulltime I’d probably quit my thesis so fast you wouldn’t even see my supervisor’s head spin.) People send me a review copy, they pays their shot and takes their chances. I’m confident enough to believe it’s an opportunity for them to reach the hundred-odd folks who Stats tells me come to the most popular posts here or however many hundred (thousand? I have to believe there’s more than ten lurkers for every commenter) skim that column I write at Tor.com. It’s not an opportunity for me to make them happy: there’re lots and lots and lots of books in the world, and even if I read more than three a week, reading – and thinking about, and writing about – one person’s instead of another person’s is still a significant investment of my time.
Thank you Team Gollancz Geeks for the incredible reply!
We are so delighted that so many of you are interested in reviewing [title redacted]. We are now in the process of notifying our [title redacted] reviewers. If you have been chosen to review this copy (again this is first come first served) you’ll receive an email by the end of next week.
If you weren’t selected this time to review [title redacted], don’t worry we’ll be contacting you soon about other opportunities.
(May I be snippy here and suggest more attention to punctuation in professional correspondence wouldn’t hurt?)
So, this is March 7th. Gollancz want the book reviewed by April 6th. They’ll notify potential reviewers by the end of next week – say March 15th. Assume the books are put in the post on that date and head out to UK parts only. Allow three to five working days for arrival of books. March 21st, perhaps? You’ve just over two weeks to read and review the book by Gollancz’s imposed deadline if you want their logo’d tat. Anyone else think that’s a little tight?
Gollancz, me oul’mate me lad. You can keep your opportunities. They’re not really opportunities. You’re running a giveaway, be honest. And in return for winning a prize, you want the LUCKY READER!!! to work for you for free.
It’s transparent. And it’s manipulative. And it leaves me feeling pretty cranky and disinclined to pay, y’know, real money for Gollancz books, if they’re going to be this transparently manipulative in their PR endeavours.
Also, nicey-nice PR ENTHUSIASM OMG LOVE TO SHARE!!! gives me hives from the saccharine falsity. So there’s that.
My liver may be fucked but my heart is honest.
And my word is true.
…I’m not nice. I’m not fair.
But, y’know. As the witch said to the bishop. At least I know it.
I’ve been thinking about a question asked by @Gollancz on Twitter. “Epic Fantasy is, by and large, crushingly conservative in its delivery, its politics and its morality. Discuss. And why? (Oh why?)” [7:20 pm DST, Feb 20, 2013.]
Following, and participating in, some of the conversation that followed—which either took the statement for granted or argued that it was an incomplete characterisation of the subgenre—several things occurred to me. The first is that we keep having this conversation, over and over again, without defining our terms. How do we define “epic”? What counts as “conservative”? (It’s a word with multiple axes of interpretation.)