Science Fiction Blog

Thoughts on the science-fiction and fantasy genres, which emphasis more on books than on films or TV.

The Dragon Awards

Dragon Award So the inaugural Dragon Awards have seen wins for Larry Correia, John C Wright and Sir Terry Pratchett, amongst others.

Even though “The Shepherd’s Crown” wasn’t quite up to the standard of the works that made his reputation, it’s hard to begrudge that win. Since Sir Terry is no longer with us, his posthumous final book was the one and only time he’s ever going to be eligible for a Dragon. He’s one of the true giants of fantasy, perhaps second only to J R R Tolkien in public name recognition, and an award that’s as much for lifetime achievement is still deserved.

The awards as a whole do celebrate the populist commercial end of SFF at the expense of the literary, and is skewed heavily towards American authors whose work isn’t easy to get hold of on this side of the Atlantic. So I’m not convinced the Dragon Awards represent the state of the art in science-fiction any more than the Hugo Awards do. If anything, the two awards are almost mirror images of each other, each seemingly over representing the favourites of one tribe at the expense of rival tribes.

There is a very big overlap between Vox Day’s stated personal choices and the eventual winners, so much so that accusations of ballot-stuffing have surfaced. And that has to be a bit of a red flag. But it’s also true that the Sad Puppy leaders past and present have been promoting the Dragons very heavily, and their fans and supporters may have participated in disproportionate numbers. We shall have to see how the award develops over the coming years.

Anyway, congratulations to all the winners, even those who don’t share my political world-view. And to those who dismiss the award’s legitimacy because the wrong people won, remember that some people said exactly the same about The Hugos.

Over to you. What do you think of the results? Do they represent a radical alternative to The Hugos, or do they represent too narrow a tribe?

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Some thoughts on The Hugos

The results of the Hugo Awards were entirely predictable.

As a fan of Alastair Reynolds it’s disappointing that his novella “Slow Bullets” didn’t win, but at least it didn’t get no-awarded for the crime of having been nominated by the wrong people, something I feared might happen. But much as I’m a huge fan of his writing, it’s difficult to imagine the sort of story he writes ever winning a Hugo; it’s like expecting The Guardian to name a prog-metal record as its critics’ album of the year.

It’s also disappointing that Noah Ward beat Chuck Tingle, his “clown car crashing a sombre chapel” is a good antidote too much po-faced seriousness. And it’s a real shame that they chose to vote for No Award over Larry Elmore as Best Professional Artist for what seemed like purely political reasons.

The reactions are exactly as expected too. The left-leaning media are hailing it as a victory in sending the puppies packing, while Sad Puppy organisers past and present complain that Worldcon are circling the wagons to shut out anyone not of their tribe, and predict the Hugos will now slowly decline into irrelevance, with the newer and more broadly-based Dragons taking their place.

The fact that there was a sharp decline in voting this year, down by almost half from last year and actually less than the number of votes in the nomination round is quite significant. After the mass no-awarding of last year many of the people who wanted wider participation seem to have concluded there was no point throwing good money after bad, and didn’t buy supporting memberships for this year.

I have concluded two things about the Sad Puppies this year. First, by running recommended reading lists rather than explicit slates, none of which had five and only five nominations, Amanda Green and Kate Paulk are not guilty of serious wrongdoing. Second, by combination of lack of numbers and not voting in lockstep they had relatively little influence. It was Vox Day and his Rabid Puppies whose blatantly political list swept entire categories. This was just as true last year, though it suited agendas on both sides to pretend otherwise. But this year anyone who still conflates the Sad and Rabid Puppies has an agenda, and isn’t to be trusted. Damien Walter, I’m looking at you…

The Worldcon business committee have rightly ratified EPH, but unfortunately have passed a second proposal for Three Stage Voting (3SV), which sends out all the wrong signals. EPH, while promoted as defence against slates, is a politically-neutral proportional voting system. 3SV is explicitly about preserving the purity of the awards by gatekeeping out Bad People. It institutionalises tyranny of the majority, and almost guaranteed to be misused in the next fandom war which will be about something completely different.

As I’ve said before, Worldcon needs to make up its mind what what the Hugos are supposed to represent. Vox Day’s campaigns have given them two choices; either they open up the nominations to a wider audience and dilute his influence, or they circle the wagons to shut out outsiders. They appear to have chosen the latter. Will the Hugos now become the SFF equivalent of the CRS awards?

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James Worrad on Chuck Tingle: SF’s Lord Of Misrule

James Worrad has a really good piece on Chuck Tingle and this year’s Hugo Awards. (I have left the Anglo-Saxon words in)

Within SFF, I see this Apollo/Dionysos spectrum as the vertical Y axis to the horizontal X of the political left/right. And what we have right now, in this godforsaken year of our lord 2016, is a left/right spectrum pulling at either end with the side effect of warping the vertical axis violently upward into the Apollonian (I hope you can picture that, I’m not sure WordPress comes with a chart making option). The result: lean times for Dionysos.

Currently, what unites the gun-waving right wing SF pundit and his Tumblr-wielding lefty opposite is a half-conscious desire for the genre to be about something rather than just be. In that respect they are both the priests of Apollo, with an insatiable need to place laws and structure and context upon a genre that, at it’s core, is a wide hot mess of contradiction and nebulousness. It’s an understandable urge, this need to tame. We’re in an era that’s impossible to comprehend or predict. It’s frightening. And a sense–perhaps even illusion–of control can alleviate that fear.

But the Dionysian is what makes science fiction, fantasy and horror truly shine. It’s its ‘killer app’, if you will. And, beneath all the absurdity, sodomy and raptors, I think that’s what Chuck Tingle represents. That’s why everyone is talking about him (Well, that and the dino-fucking). He stirs the near-lost sense of senselessness in us fans, the primal chaos that’s the deadly serious part of fun.

Read the whole thing: I love the image of the clown car crashing into the sombre chapel.

The last couple of years have seen the Hugo Awards devolve into a bitter turf war between two rival cliques of writers and fans, neither of whom are as representative as SF as a whole as they like to think they are. And that turf war has ifself bogged down in a bitter stalemate in which SF as a whole is the loser.

So I hope Chuck Tingle takes home a rocket. And in future years the Hugos revert to celebrating SF’s sense of wonder instead of backward-looking turf wars.

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Gerry Anderson tech moves from Russia to China

There ought to be a prize for rediculously “out there” engineering ideas. This one’s described as as a ‘straddling bus’ design to beat traffic jams though since it runs on rails it’s technically a tram rather than a bus.

All it needs is for International Rescue to save the day when something goes horribly wrong.

Click in the link to watch the video on the Guardian site.

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Lovecraft and the Fear of Ick

Thought-provoking post by Zak Smith on Lovecraft, Nerds And The Uses of Ick. H. P. Lovecraft is one of the most controversial figures in SF and gaming cultures. His massive misogyny and racism cannot be denied, yet the visceral power of his horrors mean he’s still one of the most influential writers of the genre. But both his bigotry and the power of his writing stem from the same fear of the Other.

Lovecraftian disgust is visceral, the kind that goes ick. The feeling of having a gun to your head isn’t ick. Ick is a fear of life–someone else’s icky life. Fear of mollusks, for instance–which are totally harmless–is Lovecraftian.

He then turns to the RPG world’s rather messy culture wars,  drawing parallels between Lovecraft’s fears and hangups with those of the faction who wish to sanitise and bowdlerise the RPG hobby.

When there is ick, there is fear, where there’s fear there is ignorance, where there’s ignorance there’s disgust, and where there’s disgust, prejudice.

I’m not enirely convinced that calling out some game designers by name is productive, but the points he makes are still valid.

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Booky McBookface, by Noah Ward

So Vox Day has managed to crap all over the Hugo Awards for the second year running, flooding some categories completely and getting stories with titles “If You Were An Award, My Love” and “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” on the ballot.

What muddies the waters is that Day has also taken some reputable authors who deserved to get nominated anyway and covered them with his stink, I feel for Alastair Reynolds, who’s novella “Slow Bullets” has made the nominations and now risks becoming a political football.

This year it’s important to note that The Sad Puppies, run this year by Kate Paulk and Amanda Green, did not run slates as such, with recommendation lists that ranged from two or three entries in some categories to as many as ten in each of the fiction categories. At no point did they recommend five and only five nominations for any category.

The heavy overlap between Vox Day’s and Brad Torgersen’s Rabid and Sad Puppies slates last year obscured the fact that it was Vox Day who really did the damage. Wherever the two slates differed, it was Vox Day’s choices that made the ballot. This year there is no room for any doubt who the villain is, and I’m going to assume anyone who continues to blur the difference between the Sad Puppies and the Rabid ones is either ignorant or has an agenda.

I’m not a Worldcon member, but that’s not going to stop me giving unsolicited advice. So here’s my off-the-top-of-my-head recommendations.

First, ratify E Pluribus Hugo. This is ought to be such a no-brainer than anyone that attempts to argue otherwise is not to be trusted. It won’t fix everything, but it will make it harder for any well-organised minority to swamp the ballot.

Second, think very hard about the wisdom of repeating last year’s block no-awarding everything tainted, throwing good people under the bus in an attempt to preserve the purity of the awards. That stank when they did it to people like Toni Weisskopf last year. The garbage from VD’s cronies you can no award to oblivion if it’s as awful as it sounds from the titles. But remember that burning down The Hugos is VD’s goal, and no-awarding deserving nominees like Toni Weisskopf or Alastair Reynolds gives him what he wants.

Third, recognise that the Sad Puppies and the Rabid ones are very different things, and try to build bridges with the some of the first of those groups, or at least avoid rhetoric or behaviour that further deepens the divide with anyone who’s not an actual acolyte of Vox Day. The mass no-awarding of last year did not help in that regard.

One problem with the Hugo Awards in recent years seems to be the lack of any consensus about what they’re supposed to represent. Do they represent the very best of science fiction and fantasy as a whole, or do they represent the favourites of a far narrower subset of fandom? Are they really publicly-voted awards, or closer to juried awards with an unusually large jury? And above all how much are they American rather than international?

At the moment they’ve neither quite one thing or the other, and that’s one root of the problem.

You could argue that the world of SF/F is now too broad and too diverse for a single set of awards to serve as a Gold Standard, there need to be alternative awards created for different crowds, and new awards like The Dragons are a step in that direction. So complaining that “Heroic Engineer” stories never get Hugo nominations is like complaining about the lack of rock and metal in the Mercury Music Prize when the Kerrang awards exist.

Only once Worldcon decide exactly what the Hugos are and who they are supposed to be for can they treat Vox Day as damage and route around him. At the moment he is still outmanoeuvring them, rendering last years Hugo Ceremony a pyrrhic victory.

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The Dragon Awards

The Dragon Awards

The long-established SF convention DragonCon has announced a new set of science fiction & fantasy awards, The Dragons.

Welcome to the first annual Dragon Awards! As a part of our 30th Anniversary as the nation’s largest fan-run convention, we are introducing a new way to recognize excellence in all things Science Fiction and Fantasy. These awards will be by the fans, for the fans, and are your chance to reward those who have made real contributions to SF, books, games, comics, and shows. Not only can you nominate and vote, the Dragon Awards lets you share your support with others!

As well as awards for comics, games, TV and Films, there are seven different “Best Novel” categories covering different sub-genres; Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal, Military, Alternate World, Post-Apocalyptic and Horror. There are notably no awards for less than novel length fiction.

Votes both for the nominations and the final ballot are open to anyone without the need to register for the convention itself or pay to be a supporting member, and you get one and only one nomination vote in each category.

It’s early days yet, and I’m sure there are plenty of bugs that will need to be worked out over the first couple of years. Certainly the focus on sub-genres could end up rewarding work that’s faithful to genre tropes at the expense of perhaps more imaginative works that defy easy pigeon-holing. There’s nothing I’ve seen that implies you can’t nominate something the crosses genre boundaries more than once in different categories, but genre-straddling works still risk getting their votes split.

Given the increasingly bitter wars over the Hugo Awards a rival high-profile award organised in a radically-different way does seem like the best way do go. In recent years the Hugos have come to represent one subset of science fiction & fantasy at the expense of others, which has left some readers feeling disenfranchised, one cause of the bitter fighting over the nominations last year. Far better to give the Hugos some serious competition in the shape of a rival high-profile award, and for those disenfranchised fans to put their energies into that.

Seen in the light it’s even possible that some of The Dragons’ apparent flaws are deliberate design features, in that the awards are intended to showcase the sorts of novels that have been passed over by The Hugos in recent years.

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The Hugo Wars start up again

The Hugo Awards saga is getting ugly again. One of my favourite authors, with whom I’ve had quite a few entertaining conversations on Twitter, has a novella included in the infamous Sad Puppies list, and has demanded its removal.

It was probably a vain hope that there would be any kind of reconciliation and bridge-building this year; the mass use of No Award last year probably killed any chances of that, and since then both sides have doubled down. Now they just trading insults and engaging in competitive name-calling. Innocent authors like that favourite of mine get caught up in a bitter war that’s not of their making and forced into a position where whatever they do it will be wrong.

I had considered signing up for supporting membership this year and voting in the nominations process, but now I’m very glad I didn’t. I want no part of this.

At the heart of the war over the Hugos is the question of what these awards are supposed to represent and who they belong to.

The best music awards are those that are honest and unambiguous about what they represent. The Brits represent mass-market commercial pop without pretending to be anything else. At the opposite pole the CRS Awards represent the favourites of a small and self-selecting circle of enthusiastic supporters of the grassroots progressive rock scene and doesn’t claim to be anything more than that. Even the Prog Awards with its entirely arbitrary nominations process exists solely to gain positive media coverage for progressive rock as a whole, and doesn’t really pretend otherwise. Nobody really cares who wins.

The worse kind of music awards are those that give out mixed messages over what they’re supposed to represent. The juried Mercury Music Prize is the poster child for this, with its opaque nomination process and the way it’s always highly genre-specific, or at least genre-excluding, while pretending it isn’t. And we can’t not mention the fiasco of last years Guardian’s reader’s album of the year, when they held an open public vote, then eliminated the finalists they didn’t like for reasons that have never had a satisfactory explanation.

Worldcon does need to make up it’s mind exactly what they want The Hugos to be. Do they want to preserve its purity even at the expense of its continuing relevance? Or do the Hugos need to be held in a bigger tent covering a wider range of science-fiction and fantasy in order to maintain its cultural prominence? Or will the change in the voting system next year sufficiently defang the puppies to take the heat out of the thing?

And similarly the Sad Puppies need to ask themselves; why do The Hugos matter to them? Should they stop trying to gatecrash a party for which they’ve repeatedly been told they’re not welcome at, and instead start their own?

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Batman vs. Superman is being panned by the critics, who make it sound like it’s the tipping point where big-budget superhero films fall out of critical and public favour. What’s its rock equivalent? Yes’ “Tales from Topographic Oceans” (Self-indulgent creative overreach), ELP’s “Love Beach” (Dying gasp of a spent creative force) or Metallica and Lou Reed’s “Lulu” (Ill-conceived collaboration done for largely cynical reasons)?  Over to you…

Posted on by Tim Hall | 4 Comments

The March of Technology

Goot post by Stephen Tall on why he has given up on Channel 4’s ‘Spin’. It’s because it seems to ignore the existence of the internet and social media, and that absence breaks suspension of disbelief in what is supposed to be a present-day drama.

* News breaks of French presidential hopeful Anne Visage’s affair with the recently blown-up former President. Her campaign manager is issued with the urgent warning… “this story will hit the news-stands in just a few hours’ time!”. Because, obviously, we’re all ignorant of what the newspapers are saying til we walk past les kiosques in the morning and Twitter stops at the white cliffs of Dover.

* A key witness — the one person who can testify to the motives of the President’s assassin — is being hunted by the French authorities desperate to ensure their state-sanctioned lie of terrorism isn’t challenged. Tensely, he hunkers down for a couple of days until a journalist with a TV camera can arrive and film his evidence. On tape. Seriously. No suggestion is made that he might tell his story using the smart-phone he’s carrying and post it to the Internet. Or even tweet his testimony.

If somebody had written that twenty years ago, not a word of it would have made any sense. We are indeed living in a science-fiction future, just not quite the science-fiction future we were promised.

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