Science Fiction Blog

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

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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James Worrad and The Waste-Ground

James Worrad writes in general agreement with an earlier post by Mark E Lawrence on the politicisation of SF fandom.

For my own part, jumping on the right wing Sad puppies foam-fest is utterly, comprehensively unthinkable. Just no. Writing impassioned common-all-garden social justice speeches is a lot more attractive (I agree on the basic stuff after all. I consider myself left wing) and in my needier moments I’ve thought about doing so. But, ultimately, I feel it would be to betray the multicultural British city that raised me (Oddly, social justice terms and philosophies become more impractical the deeper into a multicultural provincial UK city you go, in the same manner you saw less and less jingoism and flag-waving the closer you got to the trenches in World War 1. People are too busy just getting on with things).

I have a lot of sympathy for this. I have noticed that his post coming under fire from some of the usual suspects on Twitter. which is predictable if depressing.  It gives the impression that the SF world is dominated by two rival cliques who wear rheir (American) politics on their sleeves, and those who aren’t willing to adopt the dogmas of either tribe are feeling  increasingly alienated. When you hear people implying that being a political moderate is a symptom of privilege…

Last year I bought some recently-released SF/F novels without waiting for them to come out in paperback, with a view of nominating one or more them for a Hugo award, as a supporting member. But I’m come to the conclusion that I’d probably be wasting my money. What’s the point of paying good money to nominate something you think is worthy, only to find its nomination was championed by the wrong people, and either the author will be forced to decline the nomination or be ostracised, or it will be voted down by massed no-awards.

I’m still an SF reader. But when it comes to fandom, it’s a case of not my circus, not my monkeys.

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Only in Russia

I have often wondered whether a generation of engineers who grew up in the Soviet Union used to watch episodes of Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds and saw it as an example of western technology that they had to compete with.

It’s the only plausible explanation for some of the things they built.

The spirit lives on in Russia today. This amphibious all-terrain vehicle is exactly the sort of thing you might expect to find in one of Thunderbird 2′s pods.

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Jumping the Shark?

No longer the preserve of the hardcore geek, comics are moving away from superheroes and into a new golden age of creativity and diversity. We talk to the indie writers and artists inking the changes

The way this article has been framed epitomises everything I have come to loathe about the recent direction of The Guardian’s cultural coverage.

Canadian video game journalist Liana Kerzner has called it out for benevolent sexism, rightly stating that women are people, not benevolent pink aliens. What’s infuriating to me is the implied zero-sum game. It could have praised radical new creators taking comics in exciting new directions in their own right. But no, they had to take a swipe at the things many other people love along with their audiences. And aren’t women allowed to be geeks too?

That’s before we note that the whole thing is probably a generation out of date.

It gives all the appearance of bottom-feeding clickbait, cynically calculated to push people’s buttons. I sometimes wonder how much of the “angry male nerd” subculture that seems to see any media that’s not for them as a threat is really a backlash against nonsense like this.

The irony is there may be a chance that the article itself is a fine and insightful piece. But the way it’s been framed puts you off reading.

The same sort of thing has been spreading like pondweed across the music section of late too, much of it ludicrously ill-informed and under-researched. Last summer we had thinkpiece after thinkpiece demanding that rock and metal festivals add more dance-pop to their bills in the name of gender equality, all written by people who had clearly never heard of Nightwish or Within Temptation or Arch Enemy or Myrkur. They even tried to call out rapper MIA for appropriation of Indian culture despite the fact she’s of south Asian descent herself! It got to the point where one of their own staff writers had to point out on Twitter how embarrassingly stupid that was.

There are still some good writers like Dom Lawson and Alexis Petridis contributing to the music section who clearly demonstrate a deep knowledge and love of music. But it seems their writing in increasingly drowned out by clickbait drivel.

Much as I hate to say it, I think the proverbial shark has been jumped.

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Television and Film Crossovers We’d Like to See

Some silliness that started on Twitter. Twitter is good for things like this, especially late at night. What crossovers between different television and film properties would we like to see. Forget Dr Who meets Star Trek when The Doctor joines forces with Starfleet to defeat an alliance of Daleks and Klingons. We can surely be far more creative than that.

Eastenders and The Blob

Because who doesn’t want to see the entire cast of the world’s most annoying soap opera eaten by a giant alien blob from outer space?

Later with Jools Holland and Night of the Lepus

Mediocre indie bands attacked by giant carnivorous rabbits. With a soundtrack of boogie-woogie piano. What’s not to like about that?

BBC Question Time and The Teletubbies

Because Tinky Winky, La-La, Dipsy and Po will always make more sense than Nigel Farage.

The Clangers and H.G.Well’s War of the Worlds

With the aid of the Iron Chicken, the comet-dwelling pink rats build a fleet of tripod war machines and lay waste to Woking. Did you know each tripod has a Clanger sitting in the cockpit and aiming the heat-ray?

Crossroads (the legendary 70s soap opera) and Crossroads (the Robert Johnson blues standard)

Starring Stevie Vai as The Devil’s guitarist, scaring the life out of Benny.

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“A fight between the childish politics of the 1970s and the equally childish politics of the 1950s” – The best description of the culture wars in science fiction fandom I’ve yet seen.

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Mainstream vs Popular?

Over on Twitter, Serdar Yegulalp made the observation that “Mainstream” and “Popular” art, while they often overlap, are not the same thing. The former is that which gets widespread attention in the media, while the latter is what actually sells. This is a split that’s been apparent in rock music for years to anyone’s who’s paying attention. “Mainstream” nowadays tends to equate to “Indie”, despite that being one aesthetic of many, largely because that’s what has the greatest appeal to those who write about music in the media. So a mid-level indie act who sell modest numbers of albums and concert tickets get to play on “Later with Jools Holland” and are considered mainstream in a way the far bigger-selling Iron Maiden are not. It’s something most rock and metal fans have learned to live with, though it’s still galling to see the media gatekeepers give so much space to things like Metallica’s appallingly dreadful collaboration with Lou Reed just because Reed is fashionable with the elite tastemakers in a way no metal band can ever be. Metallica themselves never got a look in when they were in their prime.

Even more true in the book publishing world, of course, where “Literary Fiction”, that etiolated genre that pretends it’s not a genre punches way above it’s weight when it comes to critical attention. It’s also why I suspect the fight over the Hugo Awards within science fiction isn’t just a turf war between political tribes. Is there something of a Mainstream/Popular split going on too, with a disconnect between the books and stories that get media attention (and win all the awards), and the books that sell in large numbers? Do the major SF awards disproportionately reward the literary equivalent of “indie music” at the expense of other aesthetics?

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What has the Kepler Space Telescope found around the mysterious star between Cygnus and Lyra? Are the objects orbiting the star some previously unknown natural phenomenon, or are they really, as some have suggested, massive structures built by an alien civilisation?

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