Some Comments on the 2020 Hugo Award Winners

Now that I’ve finally got the discussion about the neverending Hugo ceremony from hell out of the way (see here and here), let’s talk about a much more pleasant topic. For while the 2020 Hugo ceremony may have been an unmitigated disaster, the actual Hugo winners are a very fine selection of works indeed.

The full list of winners is here, commentary by deputy Hugo administrator Nicholas Whyte may be found here and the full voting and nomination statistics are here.

Best Novel

The winner of the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novel is A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine. This is not exactly unexpected, since A Memory Called Empire is a very popular novel and also a highly deserving winner, even though my personal favourite in this category was The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley with A Memory Called Empire in second place. Looking at the voting breakdown, I’m a little surprised that Middlegame finished in second place – not because it’s a bad novel, for it’s not, but because it seemed to get less buzz than the other finalists. But then the 2020 Best Novel ballot was the strongest we’ve had in years and indeed any of the six finalists would have been a most deserving winner.

The Hugo win for A Memory Called Empire is also a win for the space opera resurgence. For while a new type of more diverse space opera has been one of the big trends in SFF in recent years, this hasn’t been reflected very much by the Hugos, where the last space opera to win was Ancillary Justice in 2014, even though we’ve had several space opera finalists since then.

Looking at the nominations, the most notable thing is that The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie got more than enough votes to qualify for the ballot, but was withdrawn by the author. Ann Leckie explains why she declined the Hugo nomination for The Raven Tower here – basically, she felt that as someone who already had four Hugo nominations and one win, she wanted to make room for one of the many great SFF novels, including debut novels, that came out in 2019. And this is why Ann Leckie is a true class act.

Those who worry that too many women are getting nominated for and winning Hugos these days will be pleased to note that there are three novels by male authors on the longlist.

Best Novella 

The 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novella goes to This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and May Gladstone, which was also my top pick in this category. Again, this is not exactly surprising, because This Is How You Lose the Time War truly was a cut above the other novellas last year and also got a lot of buzz.

Those usual suspects will be pleased that men can still win Hugos in 2020. And if you look at the nominations, you’ll also note that there are five male authors on the longlist.

Best Novelette 

The winner of the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novelette is Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemisin. This win surprised me a little, because I found the story a bit too predictable and on the nose. It’s not a bad story, if only because N.K. Jemisin is an excellent writer, but Emergency Skin is a minor Jemisin. But then, even a minor Jemisin is better than the major works of many other writers.

I’m also surprised to see “Omphalos” by Ted Chiang in second place, because I flat out hated that story. I don’t quite get the intense love that Ted Chiang’s work inspires in parts of the Hugo electorate anyway – my reaction to his stories is usually, “Well, I guess it was okay.” Though I did like the other Ted Chiang story on the ballot a lot better than this one.

My personal number one choice in this category was the delightful “For He Can Creep” by Siobhan Carroll, by the way.

Best Short Story

The 2020 Hugo Award for Best Short Story goes to “As the Last I May Know” by S.L. Huang. It’s a strong and harrowing story that was not only one of my nominees, but also my top pick for this category.

That said, the short fiction categories at the 2020 Hugos are full of extremely grim stories with very little lighter fare. Reading too many of them in a row could be downright depressing and I do hope we’ll get a mix of light and dark next year.

Best Series

The winner of the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Series is The Expanse by James S.A. Corey a.k.e Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, which was also my top pick for this category.

The Expanse is also exactly the kind of series that the Best Series was made for, a beloved series where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and where individual volumes often don’t stand alone well enough, even though Leviathan Wakes was a Best Novel finalist in 2012 and the most recent volume Tiamat’s Wrath hit the Best Novel longlist this year.

And those who worry about men not winning any Hugos anymore will be very pleased that the 2020 Hugo winners for Best Series are two men.

Best Related Work

The 2020 Hugo for Best Related Work goes to Jeannette Ng’s acceptance speech for what was then the Campbell Award.

This is one of two 2020 Hugo winnners I really disagree with. Not because I disagree with the points that Jeannette Ng made in her 2019 speech. I very much agree with her, both with regard to the situation in Hongkong (which has gotten much worse since last year) and with regard to Campbell. And of course, people in the SFF community have been discussing that Campbell was a problematic figure for more than seventy years now, which Jeannette Ng acknowledged in this year’s acceptance speech. Leigh Brackett’s Retro Hugo winning essay “The Science Fiction Field” contains some jabs against Campbell – in 1944. Michael Moorcock called Campbell a fascist in the 1960s and he was far from the only one. Over the years, many winners of the Campbell Award, as it was then, have pointed out that Campbell would likely never have published them – one example I remember is Rebecca Roanhorse in 2018. Alec Nevala-Lee wrote a weighty and well researched tome about the intertwined histories of Campbell, his favoured writers and Astounding Science Fiction, which was nominated for a Best Related Work Hugo last year and came in dead last – most likely because the vast majority of voters didn’t even bother to read it.

I would say that John W. Campbell was a more complex figure than the “fucking fascist” Jeannette Ng called him, but then a ninety-second speech doesn’t offer much space for nuance. And this is precisely the problem I have with this Hugo win. Due to the (very wise in retrospect) time restrictions imposed on acceptance speeches in Dublin, Jeannette Ng’s speech is very short. The two acceptance speeches I never got to hold are both under 300 words long and run for about one A4 page in large print (so I wouldn’t have to squint). I think that Jeannette Ng overran her allotted time slightly, because I recall her saying that she’s not finished at one point. But even so, I doubt that her speech is longer than 500 words.  She packed a lot of punch in those few words and her speech clearly had an impact that the many other people who criticised Campbell over the years did not have, because it got the name of the Not-a-Hugo for Best New Writer changed to Astounding Award, which I support, if only because it makes no sense to name the award for the best new writer after an editor who died before most of today’s finalists were even born.

But no matter how impactful, a speech of roughly one A4 page is in no way equivalent to in-depth non-fiction books that are 100s of pages long and a 68 minute documentary. That’s not even comparing apples to oranges, that’s comparing apples to peas.

Now I care about genre-related non-fiction, because works like the Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction or Jeff Rovin‘s various books on pop culture were hugely important to my development as a science fiction fan.  Teenaged me saved up her birthday, Christmas, Freimarkt and good grade money to purchase those non-fiction books, which due to import fees cost me fifty to eighty Deutschmarks a piece, an exorbitant sum for a teenager (and a lot of birthday, Christmases, Freimärkte and good grades). There were also books I read in the store and took notes, but did not purchase, usually because I didn’t have the money. I still have those non-fiction books, too, and the battered dustjackets and spines show how much they were appreciated. I used those books to guide me to SFF authors, books and movies – they were basically a way for me to find more stuff to love (or not love, as it was). These books were also how I absorbed SFF theory and knew terms like New Wave or Cyberpunk ere I had ever read any examples.

This is not the usual way into SFF, but it was mine and that’s why I will always have a soft spot for genre-related non-fiction. And that’s why I’m not happy that the non-fiction works, which for me are the core of the Best Related Work category, are increasingly being crowded out by leftfield finalists. Also, in-depth non-fiction books like The Lady From the Black Lagoon by Mallory O’Meara, The Pleasant Profession of Robert Heinlein by Farah Mendlesohn, Joanna Russ by Gwyneth Jones, Astounding by Alex Nevala-Lee or Arwen Curry’s documentary Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin are very research intensive and can take years to compile and write. I think that we should honour the work that critics and historians do to excavate and remember the history of our genre. And let’s not forget essay collections such as the Octavia Butler and Tiptree collections of recent years or Chicks Dig Time Lords, which so infuriated the puppies, and autobiographies, which offer an insight into the life of a genre personality, whether it’s the diaries of the late Carrie Fisher, Zoe Quinn’s Crash Override or this year’s finalist Becoming Superman, an autobiography so harrowing that it needs a trigger warning. Such works are valuable and I hate to see them crowded out by edgecase finalists.

It’s probably time to overhaul the Best Related Work category, which has become something of a grab bag in recent years, and either split it into Best Related Work Long Form and Short Form, which would give a space not just to works like Jeannette Ng’s acceptance speech but also the essays and articles, which regularly make the longlist and sometimes the shortlist. Another solution would be to keep Best Related Work for non-fiction of whatever medium and create a Hugo category, Special Hugo or Not-a-Hugo for Best Fannish Thing, which would cover acceptance speeches as well as worthy projects like AO3 or the Mexicanx Initiative. If anybody is planning any proposals of that sort to submit at the Discon III Business Meeting, let me know.

Jeannette Ng is a talented writer. Her debut novel was good enough to gather two nominations and one win for what was then the Campbell Award. And I’m sure that we will see more great novels and stories from her in the future, which may well hit the Hugo ballot. But I’d still prefer Best Related Work to be kept for the non-fiction works it was originally intended for.

Best Graphic Story

The winner of the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story is LaGuardia, written by Nnedi Okorafor with art by Tana Ford and colours by James Devlin.

This is another most worthy winner and was not only my top pick in this category, but also one of my nominees. And gorgeous as Monstress is, it’s nonetheless nice to see something else winning for once.

Best Dramatic Presentation Long:

The 2020 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form is Good Omens, written by Neil Gaiman and directed by Douglas MacKinnon. This is another excellent choice, even though I put Captain Marvel in first place in the end. It’s also the long overdue Hugo win for Sir Terry Pratchett, which eluded him during his lifetime. And indeed Neil Gaiman remembered his co-writer Sir Terry in his touching acceptance speech.

I’m a bit surprised that Us ended up fairly low on the ballot, since it seemed to me as if Us was very popular and that I was one of the few people who didn’t care for it. But Us is a very American movie and I suspect that it just didn’t work for many non-American Hugo voters just as it didn’t work for me. The Rise of Skywalker comes unsurprisingly last, because frankly it’s a mess.

Looking at the longlist, I see a lot of unsurprising candidates like The Witcher, The Mandalorian, The Expanse or Spider-Man: Far From Home, but also a number of surprises such as Russell T. Davies dystopian series Years and Years, which is highly worthy but maybe a little too British and too obscure for a Hugo, as well as Alita: Battle Angel, which I remember no one liking, and the Chinese science fiction film The Wandering Earth, which I suspect made the longlist as a result of Chinese fandom making their voices heard.

Best Dramatic Presentation long will be a difficult category to nominate for next year, because there are almost no new movies coming out anymore due to the pandemic. Currently, I have three on my list: The Old Guard, The Invisible Man and The Vast of Night. I suspect we will see more seasons of TV series nominated and also smaller indie films like The Vast of Night making the ballot.

Best Dramatic Presentation Short:

This is the other 2020 Hugo winner I sincerely disagree with, because the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation Short once again goes to the bloody Good Place.

Now I’m on record for intensely disliking The Good Place – I basically find it unwatchable. But even if you actually like The Good Place, does it really need to win three years in a row? Especially since there are so many other fine SFF TV and streaming series. Though the silver lining is that The Good Place ended earlier this year, so we have at most one more year of The Good Place on the Hugo ballot.

My own top pick was The Mandalorian, which was also the only one of my nominees that made it (I also nominated the Good Omens episode, which was disqualified), but then my hit rate for Best Dramatic Presentation Short is abominable. I’m a bit surprised to see the Watchmen episode “This Extraordinary Being” in last place, since that was the one Watchmen episode which not only stood alone, but also was pretty good, whereas I did not care for “A God Walks into Abar” at all.

Best Editor Long and Short:

This is always a difficult category to judge, but Navah Wolfe for Long Form and Ellen Datlow for Short Form are both highly deserving winners. I’m particularly happy for Navah Wolfe, since Saga Press fired her while pregnant and shortly after winning a Hugo.

Best Professional Artist:

The winner of the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist is John Picacio.

Pro Artist is anoter category that’s not easy to judge, because my reaction is to the finalists is usually; “They’re all great. Can’t I put all of them in the number one spot?” But John Picacio is not just a great artist, but also a really cool person (and a Hugo host who does not keep the finalists hanging unnecessarily) and I’m honoured that we were on a panel together.

Best Semiprozine:

The winner of the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine is Uncanny Magazine, making this the fifth win for Uncanny in a row.

Now Uncanny is an excellent magazine, but Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Fireside, FIYAH, Escape Pod and Strange Horizons as well as those semiprozines which did not make the ballot like The Dark, Luna Station Quarterly, Daily Science Fiction, GigaNotoSaurus, Interzone, Cast of Wonders, PseudoPod, PodCastle, etc… all do great work, too, and it would be nice if one of them would get a look in once in a while.

Best Fanzine:

The 2020 Hugo Award for Best Fanzine goes to The Book Smugglers. My own top vote in this category was for Galactic Journey obviously, though I’m very happy for Thea and Ana, who’ve been doing great work for years now.

That said, this is the second year in a row that the Fanzine category only narrowly escaped being no awarded due to too few votes. This is a shame, because fanzine writers and editors do a lot of great work and foster the SFF discourse, all for the love of the genre and with no financial reward. So vote in the Fanzine category, for no awarding a whole category, not because the finalists are unworthy, but because not enough people could be bothered to vote, would be a shame.

I think it’s also time to promote fanzines and sites in the run-up to next year’s Hugos to increase interest in this category.

Best Fancast:

The winner of the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Fancast is Our Opinions Are Correct by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders – or Emily Nutts and Chocolate Jackhammer, as the automatic close captioning thinks they’re called (Looks like hilarious close captioning errors are a recurrent phenomenon with the Hugos). Our Opinions Are Correct is another highly deserving winner, even though my own number one pic was The Skiffy and Fanty Show. Finally, my Mom thinks that Annalee and Charlie Jane are an adorable couple.

Best Fan Writer:

As you all know by now, I didn’t win and so the beautiful trophy will be shipped to Bogi Takács, who is a most worthy winner indeed and has done great work to promote QILTBAG SFF and excavate forgotten works, so three cheers for Bogi.

But as I would have said in the acceptance speech I didn’t get to hold (maybe next year), “As far as I’m concerned, we’re all winners in this category.” And indeed I would have been fine with anyone of us winning, even though you can probably guess who my top pick in this category was. Besides, I finished in second place right out of the gate, which is pretty damn awesome.

If you look at the statistics, I just scraped onto the ballot past Charles Payseur. Adam Whitehead actually had fewer nominations than Charles or me, but Adam had a very focussed group of nominators (ditto for Elsa Sjunneson and Stitch, the one name on the longlist I’m unfamiliar with), whereas people who nominated me were more likely to also nominate Camestros Felapton, Paul Weimer, James Davis Nicoll, Adri Joy or O. Westin (which makes sense, since we all know each other) and therefore EPH weighted those nominations differently.

Camestros Felapton takes a look at the Best Fan Writer longlist and how points were redistributed as nominees dropped off. Camestros has also done a neat graphic representation of how the people on the fan writer longlist are connected to each other. He also looks at how focussed the nominators were in this interesting graph. Once again, Adam Whitehead’s nominators were the most focussed (next to Elsa Sjunneson’s), while mine and Bogi’s were the most distributed of those who made the ballot.

And talking of graphics, this is as good a place as any to point you to the Sankey diagrams of how votes were redistributed among the Hugo finalists that Martin Pyne a.k.a. Goobergunch made.

Best Fan Artist

The 2020 Hugo Award for Best Fan Artist goes to Elise Matthesen, who was also my first pick in this category.

I really like the art categories, because they let me look at beautiful works and take little time. However, I also find them hard to judge, because most of the time I like every finalist’s work.

That said, I have a weakness for jewellery, so whenever there’s a jewellery designer on the ballot, it makes me go, “Shiny! Me want”, so I usually rank them at the top of my ballot. Though once again, this is a category where every finalist would have been a most deserving winner.


The winner of the 2020 Lodestar Award a.k.a. the YA Not-a-Hugo is Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer, which was also my top choice in this category.

Catfishing on CatNet is also a true genre-crossing book, because it not only won the Hugo and was nominated for the Andre Norton Award, but it also won the Edgar Award and was nominated for the Anthony and ITW Awards, so mystery and thriller readers clearly loved it as much as SFF readers did.

In general, I found this year’s Lodestar ballot much stronger than last year’s, which for me was marred by several books having very similar plots, even if the settings were different, and annoying and whiny main characters, which triggered the eight deadly words.


The 2020 Astounding Award for Best New Writer (formerly known as the Campbell Award) goes to R.F. Kuang. Unfortunately, The Poppy War didn’t work for me and indeed my own top pick in this category was Jenn Lyons. However, I’m not surprised that R.F. Kuang won, because she is the only repeat finalist in this category, and I’m sure we’ll see fine work from her in the future.

Though it’s sadly ironic that R.F. Kuang explicitly mentioned in her acceptance that writers of colour will have their names mispronounced, only for George R.R. Martin to mispronounce her name.

And that’s it. The 2020 Hugo commentary post is done, though I still want to link to some reactions to the actual winners:

Unfortunately, the disaster of a Hugo ceremony has sucked all oxygen out of the room, so there are a lot more posts and articles about the ceremony than about the actual winners.

At the Guardian, Alison Flood reports about the Hugo winners and adds some snippets from various acceptance speeches. She also mentions that George R.R. Martin hosted the awards and quotes one of the sensible things he said (considering how much he talked, some of it must have been sensible), but completely fails to comment on the many issues with the ceremony, which takes some doing.

Camestros Felapton takes a look at the Hugo winners and stats (because we all know that the stats are the most fascinating and were eagerly waiting for them to be put up) here.

At Women Write About Comics, Doris V. Sutherland discusses both the 2020 Hugo Award winners as well as the issues with the ceremony.

And that’s it for the 2020 Hugos, which yielded a crop of fine winners and were unfortunately marred by a terrible ceremony that will probably be remembered for its sheer awfulness for a long time.

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First Monday Free Fiction: Picnic at Seashell Beach

After the End - Stories of Life After the ApocalypseWelcome to the August 2020 edition of First Monday Free Fiction. To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on every first Monday of the month. It will remain free to read on this blog for one month, then I’ll take it down and post another story.

You may have noticed that there was no First Monday Free Fiction in July, because with the July Short Story Challenge and everything else going on, I just plain forgot.

This month’s free story is called “Picnic at Seashell Beach” and  may be found in the collection After the End – Stories of Life After the Apocalypse.

So join Pete and Marcie for a post-apocalyptic daytrip and a…

Picnic at Seashell Beach

“Okay, so what are we doing here again?”

Marcie jumped out of the solar car. She put on her shades and adjusted her shawl, even though the sun was already dipping towards the horizon, hanging like an overripe Satsuma in the late afternoon sky.

“It’s an outing.” Pete got out of the car and activated the lock. He opened the tiny trunk and picked up a cool box. “We’re going to have a romantic picnic on the beach.”

“A picnic? Outside? Really?” Marcie applied sunscreen stick to her exposed cheeks and nose. “That’s an… interesting idea.”

“It was my Grandma’s idea, really.” Pete gave Marcie a sheepish look and pulled his cap deeper into his face. “She told me when she and Grandpa were dating, Grandpa didn’t have any money to take her for dinner, so they had a picnic at Seashell Beach instead.”

“And when was that?” Marcie wanted to know. Cause Seashell Beach — which had neither seashells nor a beach these days — was about the least romantic place she could imagine.

Pete shrugged. “I dunno. Sixty, maybe sixty-five years ago. Granny’s getting on in years and Grandpa — well, he’s been dead for almost twenty years now.”

Noticing Marcie’s questioning glance, Pete added, “He died when I was seven. Melanoma got him. He refused to wear sunscreen, you know. Said he never needed any when he was young.”

“Fuck. I’m sorry.”

Pete shrugged again. “There’s no need, really. I barely remember him and what I remember is hospital beds and mottled skin. But Granny, she remembers. They’d been married for almost forty years, you know.”

Marcie nodded, trying and failing to imagine being married for so many years, longer than she and Pete had even been alive. Pete and Marcie had been together for five months now, which made this officially the longest relationship Marcie had ever had, Even the idea that a relationship could last five months and still show no sign of going stale scared her a little, because Marcie had never considered herself the monogamous type. But imagining a relationship lasting for almost forty years — well, that was fucking scary.

“She’s been talking a lot about Grandpa lately and what it was like back when they were dating,” Pete continued, “Her mind’s fading, I think, and the past is a lot clearer to her than the present. Sometimes, she doesn’t even remember that Grandpa’s dead.”


“Well, there’s no official diagnosis, but…” Pete turned to Marcie, his eyes meeting hers behind the shades. “…yeah, I think it is. We’ve been pushing for the doctors to do some tests, but you know what they’re like.”

Marcie nodded. She knew.

“So, well, I told Granny about you, since I’ve heard that it’s important to keep talking to them, even if they’ll forget, and suddenly she started telling me all about that picnic that she and Grandpa had at Seashell Beach and what food they had and how romantic it all was. And then she insisted I should take you to Seashell Beach for a picnic. She even helped me with the food and…” Pete shrugged helplessly. “…she seemed so alive, so there, more present than I’d seen her in a long time. And…”

“…you didn’t want to disappoint her?” Marcie supplied.

Pete shook his head. “Planning the picnic made her so happy, so I thought, ‘Why the hell not?’ Though…” He lowered his eyes to study his feet and the heat-cracked concrete underneath. “…we can take the cool box and go somewhere else, if you want.”

“No, it’s okay,” Marcie assured him, “I mean, since we’re here anyway, we might as well have a look at Seashell Beach.”

She set off, along the cracked concrete walkway that led to the beach, rusted and faded signs pointing the way. Pete followed, lugging the cool box.

“Have you ever been here before?” he asked.

Marcie shook her head. “There wasn’t really a point.”

Both sides of the walkway were lined by decaying structures that had once been motels, trailers, diners and ice cream stands, but now were just ruins slowing dissolving into the sand.

“What about you?”

“Once, back when I was a little kid. It was already fading by then and you had to go to the far end of the pier to finally have some water underneath your feet, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it would get…”

Pete smiled, lost in a private memory.

“There were still seagulls and ice cream stands and motels in those days. I remember the ice cream most of all. And I remember toddling through the sand, every exposed bit of skin smeared with that really nasty, oily sunscreen they had in those days…”

Marcie laughed. “Oh God, yes, I remember that stuff. I hated it, hated having it smeared onto my body.”

“Me, too,” Pete said, “I always cried and complained when Mom tried to apply it. And then Grandma and Grandpa — he was still alive back then, though you could already see the melanoma on his skin — said they shouldn’t force me, that kids never needed sunscreen in the old days. Thankfully, Mom was smart enough not to listen to them…”

“Old people really have a hard time grasping how dangerous the sun is. When I was a kid, I remember my Mom smearing sunscreen first on my grandparents and then on me. Our protests were equally loud. Still, I’m glad that she did it, cause if she hadn’t…” Marcie shuddered. “I mean, can you imagine that people used to voluntarily lie in the sun and tan?”

“I’ve seen photos of Grandma as a young woman in a bikini — yes, they really wore those outside in the sun — and she’s… like… crispy sunburnt brown.”

“She’s lucky she didn’t get melanoma like your Grandpa,” Marcie said.

On the other hand, was dementia really better? Marcie had no idea. Especially since treatment for melanoma was getting steadily better. Dementia, on the other hand, was still incurable.

They passed a lopsided sign. The sign was pockmarked with rust spots, the writing long faded, but you could still make out a laundry list of rules and regulations for behaviour on the beach. “No dogs, no alcohol, no surfing, no diving, no fires, no camping.”

Marcie squinted at the sign. “I wonder if picnics are allowed.”

“Well, they must have been allowed at some point,” Pete remarked, “Unless Grandma made up the whole story about that picnic on the beach.”

More signs followed, just as rusty and eroded as the first. “Warning. No lifeguard on duty. Swim at your own risk.” And finally, a foreboding “Beware of sharks.”

Marcie and Pete posed with the fading signs and snapped pics, just to highlight the absurdity of it all.

“Do you think I should show ‘em to Grandma?” Pete asked, “Or would the shock of what has become of Seashell Beach be too much for her?”

“I don’t know.” Marcie squinted at a bird flying past overhead. “Maybe show her some harmless photos first — say, you and me sitting in the sand, having our picnic — and see how she reacts.”

The bird returned, circling overhead, and emitted a shrill shriek.

“Fuck, that’s a seagull.” Marcie pointed up at the sky. “A bona fide seagull.”

“I’ve heard they can come pretty far inland, fifty, seventy, sometimes even a hundred miles.” Pete flashed Marcie a quick grin. “Still, if there’s a seagull, it means the beach can’t be far.”

The path ended abruptly at a massive dune. Somewhere beyond, a plume of smoke was rising up into the early evening sky. Steps led up to the crest of the dune, half buried. The rusty remnants of a handrail poked out of the sand. There was another sign, too, a lopsided arrow of bleached wood that said “Beach” in faded letters.

“Looks like we’re supposed to go that way,” Marcie said, while Pete snapped another pic.

The dune wasn’t really all that high, but nonetheless trudging up the half buried steps in the residual heat of the evening was more laborious than Marcie would have thought. And unlike Pete, she wasn’t even lugging the cool box.

Then finally, they reached the top and looked out across the world beyond.

There was no sea, of course. Here at Seashell Beach, the ocean had dried up twenty years ago and the real shoreline was a good forty miles further out. And so all that could be seen from the top of the dune were the sand and the mud flats that had once formed the ocean floor.

Pete set down the cool box, spread out the picnic blanket he’d brought and snapped another pic, while Marcie just looked around, marvelling at the view.

Like the path there, the actual beach was littered with the rusty remnants of long gone structures. There were the struts that had once held up the pier, now rotted beyond recognition. And just beside the spot where Pete and Marcie had climbed the top of the dune, the rusty end of a giant waste water pipe stuck randomly out of the sand.

There were other structures, too, their once and current purpose less obvious than the pier struts and the waste water pipe. For the former sea floor was dotted with monstrous assemblies of rusty pipes and tanks that belched clouds of dark smoke into the atmosphere. Marcie briefly regarded the belching monstrosities, wondered how on Earth that sort of thing could be legal, before something far more interesting arrested her attention.

The sea might be long gone, but the ships were not. They were still sitting where they’d run aground when the sea had receded, gigantic rusting reminders of a world long gone. There was one sitting not far from the beach, in full view. A freighter named — so the faded letters on its side said — the Caribbean Princess, registered at Kingston, Jamaica.

“Such a romantic name…” Marcie said, “…for what is just a huge chunk of rusty steel now.”

Though to be honest, the wreck did look rather romantic, as the light of the setting sun painted its rusty hull a coppery gold.

The Caribbean Princess might have been abandoned by her crew, but she was far from deserted. For like most of the beached wrecks that dotted what had once been the Jersey shore, the rusty carcass of the Caribbean Princess had been taken over by scavengers. They’d erected a small cluster of tents and lean-tos in the shadow of the hulking vessel. They’d also bored holes into the hull itself and studded the wreck with wind turbines and solar panels assembled from bits of scrap metal.

As Marcie and Pete watched, they spotted two figures emerging from one of the holes drilled into the hull of the Caribbean Princess. The figures seemed to scan the surroundings — though it was difficult to tell, since they were wearing goggles and thick, protective clothes. And so it was only when one of the figures started towards them, while the other vanished inside the wreck again, that Marcie and Pete realised they had been spotted.

“Uhm, maybe we should leave,” Pete whispered, “Cause some of those scavengers can be… well, rather aggressive.”

Marcie had heard all sorts of rumours and stories about scavengers, too. How they committed crimes, slaughtered men, raped and killed women and kidnapped and ate little children and did all sorts of other unsavoury things.

All her life, she’d been told, “Beware of those scavengers. They’re dangerous and probably not even quite human anymore.”

However, Marcie had never been one to listen to scare stories by older folk. Especially since history had shown that most “Beware of group X” scare stories were just that. Stories without any basis in reality.

So she reached out and put a calming hand on Pete’s knee and shook her head. “I don’t think they’re dangerous. They probably just want to say hallo or make sure that we don’t steal their stuff.”

“They live in a rusty shipwreck,” Pete countered, “What the hell should we steal from them?”

Marcie shrugged. “I don’t know. That ship was a freighter once, wasn’t it? Maybe it was carrying something useful.”

“I doubt it,” Pete said, “And besides, why would we try to steal a twenty-year-old ship’s cargo? That not exactly… — Oh shit, is that a gun?”

Shielding her eyes against the glare of the sinking sun, Marcie peered at the approaching figure, who was indeed carrying a rather suspicious looking oblong object in one hand.

“It’s probably just a very big stick,” she said with more confidence than she really felt.

The figure came ever closer. By now, Marcie could make out more details such as that the stick the figure was carrying really was suspiciously shaped like a gun. What was more, the figure was holding it differently now, with one end pressed against the shoulder and the other pointed right at Marcie and Pete.

“Okay, so it is a gun,” she whispered.

“Fuck! What do we do now?”

Marcie had been asking herself the very same question these past five seconds or so. At first, she considered running away. But it was a long way back to the car and besides, she had no way of knowing if a person paranoid enough to carry a gun in the first place had any qualms about shooting people in the back.

Wordlessly, she raised her hands. Pete did the same.

Still the figure came closer. Like everybody who worked outside during the day, the figure was bundled up from head to toe — Wellington boots, jeans, a long coat — but undeniably male. A cotton scarf was wrapped around his head, tinted goggles shielded his eyes and a bushy black beard covered the rest of his face. But the most notable thing about him was his gun, an ugly pump-action shotgun, which was aimed right at Marcie and Pete.

“Are you cops?” the man demanded in a low grumbling voice.

“We’re not cops,” Marcie replied, staring into the barrel of the shotgun like the proverbial deer in the headlights (never mind that deer were as extinct as gasoline powered cars these days), “Uhm, could you put that away, please? We mean you no harm.”

However, the man did not put the gun away.

“What d’you want then?” he demanded, “If you’re looking for a place, we have no room. If you’re looking for work, we have none. And if you want to steal something…” He waved his gun about.

“We don’t want to steal anything,” Marcie said quickly, “Like I said, we mean you no harm.”

“Well, what do you want then?” the man repeated, “Cause no one ever comes here without wanting something.”

“We… we just wanted to have a picnic…” Pete stammered and nodded at the cool box beside him, “…a picnic on the beach.”

“A picnic?” The man emitted a bitter laugh. “You’re twenty years too late then. Cause there’s no more picnics here in Seashell Beach and there sure as hell ain’t no more beach either.”

“I know,” Pete exclaimed, clearly exasperated, “But my grandparents had a picnic here when they were young some sixty or sixty-five years ago and…” He shrugged helplessly. “…well, I just thought it would be romantic.”

“So you take your girl here to Seashell Beach, a place where no one in their right mind wants to be?” the man demanded, “Don’t ye know this place can be dangerous? Scavengers — well, not us, but the other scavengers, the bad ones — they rape and kill and murder people all the time.”

The man continued muttering something about “stupid privileged middle class kids” under his breath.

Marcie flashed him a broad smile. “Well, we’re lucky we found the good scavengers then.” She nodded at the cool box. “Do you want some… well, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what Pete has packed in that cool box, but I’m sure it’s tasty.”

Coke…” Pete stammered, “S…sandwiches, potato salad, cupcakes. I tried to re… recreate the original picnic as much as possible.”

“That’s very sweet,” Marcie said.

“O…okay, we don’t have any tuna sandwiches, cause tuna is… like… extinct. But we have mock duck, which is almost as good.”

The man, however, was not interested in debating the relative merits of tuna versus mock duck sandwiches.

Coke?” he repeated, “Like… real Coke, not that off-brand dimestore stuff?”

Pete nodded. “Real Coke,” he confirmed, “Even got the really good stuff made with crystal sugar rather than corn syrup.”

“Gimme a Coke!”

With shaking hands, Pete opened the cool box, withdrew a bottle of Coke and handed it to the man.

The man accepted the Coke, though he still managed to keep the gun trained on Pete and Marcie with his free hand.

Pete reached into the cool box again. “Do… do you want a…?”

The man snapped the cap of the bottle with a calloused thumb.

“…a bottle opener?” Pete returned the opener to the box with a sigh.

The man, meanwhile, raised the bottle to his mouth and downed the half the cola in a single fizzy gulp. Silhouetted against the sinking sun, he looked almost like a Coke commercial, if not for the shotgun he still held in his free hand.

“Could… could you put that away?” Marcie tried again, “We mean you no harm…”

“I even gave you a Coke,” Pete added.

“…and besides, it’s really uncomfortable talking to the barrel of a gun.”

The man regarded the gun in his hand, as if he only now remembered it was there. “Oh, sorry,” he grunted and finally lowered the gun, so that the barrel pointed at the sand. “Can’t be too careful these days. Times are hard and lots of people are struggling. Thanks for the Coke, by the way.” He lifted the bottle and took another gulp.

“You’re welcome. I’m Marcie, by the way, and this is Pete. And you are…?”

“Sam,” the man grunted and took yet another gulp.

“And you live here, Sam?” Marcie asked, because it only felt polite to make conversation, “Inside the ship?”

Sam shook his head. “Not inside the ship. Too hot. We live in them tents and huts next to the ship.” He pointed at the jumble of shelters leaning against the ship.

“So you’re from Seashell Beach then?” Marcie asked. She’d heard of people like these, too nostalgic or too stubborn to leave when their communities died.

“Nope,” Sam grunted, “I’m from Pennsylvania originally. Bethlehem.”

Which was just as dead as Seashell Beach now, poisoned and ruined by centuries of mining and smelting. There were a lot of places like that in the US these days, towns and cities where people had once lived, but no longer could. Most of them had long since moved on to better places, but there were always a few who were left behind. Or others like Sam who’d managed to move to a place that was even worse.

“So why here of all places?” Marcie wanted to know.

Sam shrugged. “Ain’t nowhere else I can go.”

“But if you’ve lost your home, there are resettlement camps…”

Marcie seen a documentary about that on TV a few weeks ago and those camps weren’t nearly as bad as they were often made out to be. Everything was clean and really quite civilised and besides, it was certainly better than living in a lean-to in the shadow of a rusty wreck.

But Sam’s eyes narrowed and his grip tightened on his shotgun once more. “Ain’t nowhere else I can go,” he repeated and Marcie thought it wiser not to argue.

“So what do you do here all day?” Pete asked instead, “You just hang out or…?”

Sam shook his head. “Oh no, we work,” he said, something akin to pride in his voice.

“Work?” Pete repeated, “But I thought there was no work left here on the Jersey Shore, now the tourists have all gone.”

“There’s always work,” Sam countered, “You just have to know how to look for it.”

Pete and Marcie exchanged a glance, since they could see nothing that looked even remotely like a place to work anywhere around.

“So what do you work?” Marcie finally asked.

Sam’s eyes narrowed. “You sure ask a lot of questions. You sure you ain’t cops?”

Pete shook his head. “Oh no, we’re just students enjoying our spring break.”

“College, eh? Must be nice to have the money and time to go, especially these days. Me, I never got to go, not even back in the day. Went to work at the mill soon as I finished high school.”

“I’m sorry,” Marcie said, if only because she didn’t know what else to say. Curse Pete for flaunting their privilege quite so openly.

At least, Pete seemed to have recognised his misstep. “Do you want a sandwich?” he asked, “We’ve got egg salad mayo, cheese and soy ham and fake mock duck tuna.”

San cast a longing look at the cool box. “A sandwich would be nice,” he finally said, “Ain’t always easy getting food round here.”

“I can imagine,” Marcie said, slathering her voice with sympathy, “Just help yourself to a sandwich…”

Sam reached into the box and grabbed two sandwiches — egg salad mayo and mock duck pretending to be tuna.

“…or two.”

Marcie and Pete exchanged a glance, while Sam dug in, swallowing half a sandwich in a single bite. Crumbles of egg salad got stuck in his beard.

“That’s a good sandwich,” he said. Or at least, Marcie thought that was what he said, cause the words were rather hard to make out among all the chewing.

They waited for Sam to devour the second sandwich, privately wondering whether there’d be anything left of their picnic at all by the time Sam was finally done.

Maybe, Marcie thought, they’d finally hit upon the kernel of truth inside all of those stories about the murdering and plundering and raping scavengers. They won’t murder or rape you, but they’ll eat all your food. Because apparently, they have none of their own.

“That was good,” Sam said, once he had demolished the mock duck tuna sandwich. He turned to Marcie. “You made them?”

“I made them,” Pete said, “Me and my Grandma.”

“Your Grandma’s a good cook,” Sam said.

He eyed the cool box longingly, so Marcie quickly handed him another sandwich, soy ham and cheese this time.

“Here. You haven’t tried one of those.”

Sam accepted the sandwich and gobbled it up, while Pete looked first at their dwindling food supply inside the cool box and then at Marcie.

“I guess we can always make more,” he whispered.

“These are good”, Sam repeated, still chewing, “Your Grandma’s a really good cook.”

“I’ll tell her, thanks,” Pete said.

“My Grandma, she was a good cook, too,” Sam said, “Always made dinner for me and my sisters, while Dad was out working at the mill and Mom was out working at the diner. Course, she had nothing else to do with my Grandpa gone…” He paused, his eyes taking on a haunted look. “She got widowed young, my Grandma. Vietnam.”

Marcie briefly wondered what one of South East Asia’s boom countries could possibly have done to kill Sam’s grandfather, until she remembered that the US had been at war with Vietnam once, seventy or eighty years ago. Marcie didn’t quite remember the reason — freshman history seemed very distant by now.

“My Grandma is also a widow,” Pete said, “Melanoma.”

Sam nodded knowingly. “Nasty stuff, that. Took one of our people last year, even though we’re always careful to bundle up.”

“How many of you are there anyway?” Pete wanted to know.

“Twenty-seven right now,” Sam said, “Normally, we’re thirty-two, but a few of us are off trading.”

“So what is it you people do here?” Marcie asked, her curiosity getting the better of her once again.

“Work,” Sam grunted. He furtively looked around, but there was no one on the beach except the three of them. “We take rusty steel from the ship and the pipes and the other trash here and smelt it into steel in the furnace back there.” He pointed at one of the smoke belching structures.

“And that’s legal?” Pete asked, while Marcie groaned internally, because the answer was — like — totally bleeding obvious.

“Well…” Sam suddenly became very interested in the sand underneath his Wellington boots. “…not really. But the economy needs steel and it ain’t easy to get anymore, so the authorities turn a blind eye, as long as we’re not too obvious about it.”

“What do you use for fuel?” Marcie asked, morbid curiosity getting the better of her once more.

“Coke,” Sam replied, “Not the drinking kind, the burning kind.”

Marcie had seen the word in that context before, in an industrial history textbook. “Where do you get it? I thought that sort of thing was banned.”

“Well, it is, technically. But there’s still people mining coal and making coke here in Jersey and over in Pennsylvania and that’s where we get it from.”

“And the authorities turn a blind eye?” Pete hazarded a guess.

“Mostly. Sometimes we get cops and environmental types here. Sometimes, they close down a furnace or a colliery or a coking plant. But they always move on somewhere else. People got to live, you know?”

Both Marcie and Pete nodded in agreement.

“So that’s why I was wary of you two at first,” Sam continued, “Cause you’re strangers and college types and I wasn’t sure if you were cops come to close us down…”

“We’re not,” Pete and Marcie said as one.

“But you brought Coke and sandwiches, so I guess you’re okay.” Sam cast another longing look at the cool box. “Talking of which, you got some more of those? Food ain’t always easy to get here and the little ones haven’t had anything good in days.”

“Little ones?” Marcie and Pete exchanged an alarmed look. “You’ve got kids here?”

Sam nodded. “We’re thirty-two altogether, twenty adults and twelve kids. Two of ‘em are mine, Sarah and Sam Junior. Sarah’s nine and Little Sammy is six.”

“And they haven’t eaten yet?” Marcie asked, even more alarmed.

“Sure, they’ve eaten. It’s just…” Sam pretended to study his boots again. “…we don’t get the good stuff all that often out here. And seagull stew gets boring, if you have it all the time…”

Marcie gagged and fought down the impulse to throw up the meal she hadn’t actually had yet. She took another look at Sam — bundled up, bedraggled Sam trying to stay one step ahead of the law — and imagined him sharing a pot of seagull stew — for fuck’s sake, seagull stew — with two equally bedraggled kids. And all of a sudden, she knew what to do.

She picked up the cool box and all but shoved it at Sam. “Here, take it. For the children.”

Pete opened his mouth to protest, but a glare from Marcie silenced him.

“But… that’s your picnic,” Sam stammered, “What… what will you have now?”

“We’ll just sit here and watch the sun set”, Marcie declared, “We can have dinner at home. And you can have dinner with your kids.”

Sam hesitated, so Marcie added. “There’s cupcakes in the box, too. Cupcakes with chocolate and sprinkles. Your kids like cupcakes, don’t they?”

Sam nodded. “Sure they do. They like all sweet things.”

“Then take it. Dinner and cupcakes for your kids.”

“You mean, I can really have the food?” Sam repeated, “All of it? And the box, too?”

Pete opened his mouth to protest, but Marcie overrode him. “Sure,” she said with a sunny smile that was even mostly real.

Sam’s mouth widened into a gap-toothed grin. “Th…thanks. That’s great of you. I’m sorry I thought you was cops at first. Cause you’re cool people, you are. And thank you so very much.”

Sam waved at them and took off towards the rusty wreck, bearing the box like a treasure brought home from a long and hard quest.

“That was our picnic…” Pete grumbled, once Sam was out of earshot, “…and my cool box.”

Marcie looked after Sam, shielding her eyes against the setting sun. “Oh please. He and his family clearly need the food more than we do.”

“But Granny and I — well, mostly Granny — made the sandwiches and the other stuff for you and me. Not for some scavenger who recklessly endangers what’s left of our environment.”

“He has kids,” Marcie pointed out, “They eat stew made out of seagulls.” She turned to Pete, righteous anger flaring in her eyes. “Seagulls.”

“We don’t know if he really has kids…” Pete said, “…or if he’ll really share the food with them. He might’ve been making up shit to gain our pity.”

“They eat seagulls,” Marcie repeated.

Sam had almost reached the jumble of tents and lean-tos huddling in the shadow of the wreck. Up to now, the camp had seemed deserted, but upon Sam’s return, two small figures tumbled out of one of the tents to greet him.

Marcie pointed at the scene. “Look.”

“Okay, so he really does have kids…” Pete admitted.

They watched as Sam opened the cool box and handed something to each kid, probably a sandwich or maybe a cupcake. But whatever it was, it made the kids bounce up and down with excitement.

“…and he really does share the food with them. But it was still our picnic.”

“Oh, come on.” Marcie pointed at Sam and his bouncing kids. “Doesn’t that make you at least a little misty-eyed?”

“Well, I guess it does,” Pete admitted. He pressed a hand to his stomach. “But it also makes me hungry.”

“We can stop for a soy burger on the way home,” Marcie suggested, “I’ll even pay, if it makes you stop grumbling.”

“This was supposed to be a date,” Pete said, “I’ll pay.”

“Let’s say we split, okay?” Marcie settled down on the blanket they had spread out — all that was left of their picnic now — and beckoned to Pete. “But now sit down. The sun is about to set.”

So they sat next to each other on the blanket and watched the sun — bloated and orange now like a gigantic grapefruit — sink beneath the horizon, turning the wreck and the broken pipes and the smoke belching furnace into silhouettes outlined sharply against the raspberry sky.

It was still warm, but nonetheless Pete put his arm around Marcie, who snuggled against him in turn.

She held out her phone and snapped a pic. The two of them sitting on the beach, the setting sun on their faces, as if it was still twenty years ago and Seashell Beach was still a thriving resort and not a ghost town.

“So what do we do about this?” Pete nodded at the plumes of smoke spiralling upwards from the furnace until they met the encroaching night high above. “Shouldn’t we report them?”

“And what will that accomplish?”

“Make someone do something about this,” Pete replied, “I mean, it’s not okay that people live like this, especially not children. And besides, burning coal is forbidden. I think the authorities should know about this.”

“The authorities already know about this and turn a blind eye,” Marcie pointed out, “But if we report these people and someone feels compelled to do something about them, now the public has taken notice, all that will happen is that Sam and his family are driven away from the only home they have. And the rogue wreckers will start over somewhere else.”

“So we do nothing? We just pretend we never saw all this?”

Marcie shook her head. “No, I think we should do something. We should come back here. And bring more food.”

“Another picnic? This time with enough food that there’s something left for us as well?”

“Actually, I was thinking about something a bit bigger,” Marcie said, “We could ask for food donations, maybe rope in a few other people from college and come back here to drop off food.”

Marcie turned to Pete, the idea beginning to take form even as she spoke. “Maybe we could even involve your Grandma. You said she likes to cook and being around people will do her good.”

“And what do I tell her is happening here? After all, she thinks it’s still sixty years ago”

“Tell her these people are refugees who need help,” Marcie said, “It’s not even a lie, is it?”

“And what if she asks what happened to Seashell Beach or where the ocean has gone?”

“Uhm, it’s low tide?” Marcie sighed. “Look, if you don’t like my idea and don’t want to help, that’s okay. But I want to do something for these people.”

Pete shook his head. “No, actually I think your idea is great. And Granny will probably love it. When she was younger, she used to volunteer at a homeless shelter. And she likes kids a lot, so…”

Marcie flashed him a big smile. “So you’re in?”

“Yes, I guess I’m in.”

“Then we should start brainstorming ideas as soon as we get home. Or maybe even over those soy burgers we’ll be having on the way there?”

“When we stop for soy burgers, I won’t brainstorm,” Pete said, “I’ll be wolfing them down, because my stomach is grumbling like crazy.”

“Then afterwards, okay? And Pete…” Marcie leant forward to plant a quick kiss on his lips. “…this picnic was a great idea.”


That’s it for this month’s edition of First Monday Free Fiction. Check back next month, when a new story will be posted.

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More Reactions to the 2020 Hugo Ceremony and a bit about the Retro Hugos

I’d hoped to get my comments on the generally excellent winners of the 2020 Hugo Awards up today (ETA: It’s here). However, this was not to be, for two days later we’re still talking about the neverending Hugo ceremony from hell, as it will probably be known one day, when some toastmaster at the 2060 Hugos will bore the audience to death with remembering how they survived the neverending Hugo ceremony from hell back in the olden days of 2020. And if that toastmaster should be me, you officially have my permission to kick me off that stage.

You can read my account of the ceremony as one of the finalists who were waiting on tenterhooks while George R.R. Martin went on and on and on here. In that post, I also linked to the reactions and summaries of the disaster that was the 2020 Hugo ceremony by Natalie Luhrs, Sean Reads Sci-Fi, Miyuki Jane Pinckard and Matt at Runalong the Shelves.

However, in the past days I’ve come across even more reactions to the 2020 Hugo ceremony from around the web.

ETA: I’ll just keep adding to this post, because more and more reaction posts keep showing up.

My fellow best fan writer finalist Adam Whitehead shares his thoughts on the 2020 Hugo ceremony, including the torturous wait imposed on the finalists. And since Adam is in the UK, he was very much in the same boat as me (and Alasdair Stuart, for that matter) that the ceremony took place in the middle of the night for him.

Erin Underwood, the 2020 DUFF winner who presented the Best Fan Writer category, explains what the 2020 Hugo ceremony was like from the POV of a presenter and confirms that she was never given any guidance in how to pronounce the finalists’ name.

ETA: There also is some coverage of the disastrous Hugo ceremony in mainstream news outlets and major geek news sites, probably because George R.R. Martin was involved.

At the Guardian, Alison Flood reports about the 2020 Hugo winners and completely fails to remark on the many issues with the ceremony, which really takes some doing.

ETA: At Esquire, Gabrielle Bruney has a thoughtful article about the Hugo ceremony mess, in which she also points out the many problematic of A Song of Ice and Fire.

At Vulture, Madison Malone Kircher reports about the 2020 Hugo ceremony with plenty of embedded tweets criticising George R.R. Martin.

At The Mary Sue, Kaila Hale-Stern also weighs in one the 2020 Hugo ceremony and shares various links and tweets.

ETA: Torsten Adair’s report at the comic site The Beat focuses mainly on the Hugo winners, finalists and longlists in the Best Graphic Story and Best Retro Graphic Story categories, but also touches upon the many problems with the ceremony.

ETA: At the New Zealand news site The Spinoff, Sam Brooks reports about the strange, shambling mess that was George R.R. Martin’s hosting of the Hugo Awards ceremony.

Also at The Spinoff, Casey Lucas reports about the other SFF awards ceremony CoNZealand messed up, namely the Sir Julius Vogel Awards, New Zealand’s national science fiction and fantasy awards. All CoNZealand members, regardless of country of origin, were eligible to vote for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards this year, only that hardly anybody knew about this, because it wasn’t publicised. And those who did find out that they were eligible to vote didn’t receive the voters’ packet. And then, to add insult to injury, the Sir Julius Vogel Award ceremony was stuck onto the back of the Retro Hugo ceremony like an afterthought. Given CoNZealand’s track record with award ceremonies, I now wonder whether there were issues with the Prometheus Awards, which are traditionally handed out at Worldcon, too.

ETA: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand, the organisation behing the Sir Julius Vogel Awards, has announced that the voters’ packet for the award will be made available again to CoNZealand members.

Andrew Liptak declares that the 2020 Hugo ceremony was a mess, which it absolutely was.

At Digital Spy, Louise McCreesh reports about the 2020 Hugo ceremony.

At io9, Charles Pulliam-Moore also weighs in on the 2020 Hugo Awards.

At Pharyngula, P.Z. Myers weighs in on the 2020 Hugo ceremony, mostly quoting from Natalie Luhrs’ excellent post.

At The Daily Dot, Rachel Kiley also discusses the 2020 Hugo ceremony and the many, many problems with it.

ETA:, a pop culture site I’d never heard of, reports about the problems with the 2020 Hugo ceremony.

ETA: At Rokzfast, Jacob Tyler weighs in on the issues with the 2020 Hugo ceremony and links to several tweets.

ETA: At Women Write About Comics (which would be a great choice for Best Fanzine next year – hint, hint), Doris V. Sutherland shares her thoughts on the 2020 Hugo Awards, the 1945 Retro Hugo Awards and the 2020 Hugo ceremony.

ETA: New Zealand fan Soon Lee also weighs in on the 2020 Hugo ceremony and particularly focusses on the almost complete lack of any New Zealand content. Soon Lee also points out that it’s offensive that George R.R. Martin seems to assume that New Zealanders have no idea what the Hugos and Worldcon are.

ETA: Discon III, the 2021 Worldcon in Washington DC, has announced that the hosts of their Hugo ceremony will be Malka Older and Sheree Renée Thomas, so the 2021 Hugo ceremony will be a lot younger, a lot less white and a lot less male. After this year’s disaster, I can only see this as a good thing. The toastmasters at Chicon 8, the 2022 Worldcon in Chicago, Illinois, will be Annelee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders, two time Hugo winners for Best Fancast and another excellent choice. So I’ll think we have two good Hugo ceremonies ahead of us.

Another of the many problems with the 2020 Hugo ceremony is that the acceptance speech of Best Editor Long Form winner Navah Wolfe was cut off by a technical glitch. Navah Wolfe has now shared the full text of her speech online, which you can read here, here and here. I think this is my favourite acceptance speech of the night, though most people seem to prefer R.F. Kuang’s. I’m also horrified that it’s even legal in the US for a company to fire an employee who’s pregnant.

Norwegian fan Dag-Erling Smørgrav shares his thoughts on the 2020 Hugo ceremony and particularly focusses on George R.R. Martin and Robert Silverberg repeatedly praising John W. Campbell, which was clearly a jab against the renaming of the former Campbell Award as the Astounding Award and Hugo finalist (and eventual winner) Jeanette Ng. And as I said in my previous post, I have some sympathy that Martin as one of the first finalists ever for the Campbell may not be happy about the renaming (even though the fact that the Campbell Award is now the Astounding Award doesn’t take away Martin’s accomplishment in getting nominated for it in 1973), but the repeated jabs at the Astounding Award and Jeanette Ng were petty and uncalled for.

Sword and sorcery writers Remco van Straten and Angeline B. Adams also weigh in on the 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony in a post fittingly entitled “When Dinosaurs Roamed the Earth”. And indeed it’s interesting that both Dag-Erling Smørgrav and Remco van Straten/Angeline B. Adams evoked dinosaurs in their posts about the 2020 Hugo ceremony. I guess Camestros Felapton, who wrote the brilliant Hugosauriad to discuss how dinosaurs are a recurring theme on the Hugo ballot, has found the dinosaurs at the 2020 Hugos, only that this year they weren’t on the ballot, but up on the stage.

As sword and sorcery writers, Remco van Straten and Angeline B. Adams are well aware that it’s possible to appreciate the SFF of yesteryear while remaining aware of the flaws of these works and their creators and so point out how problematic many of the writers and editors of yesteryear who were explicitly mentioned at the Hugo ceremony truly were.

Van Straten and Adams also have a great post about the controversy surrounding the sword and sorcery anthology Flashing Swords #6, from which several authors pulled their stories, after they became aware that editor Robert M. Price’s foreword was a sexist and transphobic screed. In their post, Van Straten and Adams point out that sword and sorcery was always a diverse genre and that women like C.L. Moore and newly minted Retro Hugo winner Margaret Brundage were an important part of the genre from the beginning and that writers of colour like Samuel R. Delany and Charles R. Saunders and transpeople like artist Jeffrey Catherine Jones were part of the genre at least from the 1960s on. The 2020 Hugo ceremony is only mentioned in passing, but the post very clearly illustrates that the past of our genre was a lot more diverse and a lot less straight, white and male than it is often remembered.

ETA: Robert J. Sawyer weighs in on the problems with the 2020 Hugo ceremony and points out that George R.R. Martin repeatedly referring to various writers and editors by their nicknames alienated the audience even further. Now it’s not too big of a stretch that “Silverbob” refers to Robert Silverberg, who introduced himself as Bob when I was on a panel with him. But the “Piglet” thing threw me, too, since I’ve never heard George Alec Effinger referred to by that name and it’s not easily deducible either.

ETA: At Future Less Travelled, Vivienne Raper, a fan and critic whose taste in books leans more conservative, declares that the 2020 Hugo ceremony was a dumpster fire, which it absolutely was.

ETA: Lela E. Buis also weighs in on the issues with the 2020 Hugo ceremony.

ETA: James Pyles sent me a link to his thoughts about the 2020 Hugo ceremony, so here it is.

ETA: The usual canine suspects are mostly silent about the 2020 Hugos, which means that they’ve moved on, so good for them. Vox Day is mainly starting fights with Patreon these days, but he still can’t resist a quick post about the Hugos, which mainly quotes from the Daily Dot article. Vox also gloats that George R.R. Martin is cancelled now and that he hopes John Scalzi will be next (not that anybody ever brought up Scalzi, except for Vox Day who’s obsessed with him). There’s also a jab against his other obsession N.K. Jemisin, though he seems to have missed that she has won four Hugos by now,  and a lot of use of the word “rape” for a very short post. So in short, business as usual.

ETA: Puppy come lately Jon Del Arroz sees to have moved on to comics these days, but he also feels compelled to weigh in on the Hugo ceremony in this video. Of course, he didn’t even watch the ceremony (well, he saved himself almost four hours by that), because Worldcon and the Hugos are dead and the Hugo winners don’t sell, blah, blah, blah. Never mind that one look at Amazon presents a very different picture. He also thinks it’s ridiculous that people are upset that George R.R. Martin and the other presenters mispronounced several names, which is interesting coming from someone whose name is not pronounced the way you would assume either. As a result, Del Arroz probably gets his share of mispronounciations, too (and he makes a point of saying his name at the beginning of every video, likely to counter that), so you’d think he’d have some sympathy for people being fed up with having their names mispronounced all the time.

YouTube being what it is, I also came across a bunch of other videos from aggrieved white gamer dudes weighing in on the Hugo ceremony, usually without having watched the ceremony or following the Hugos at all, because the Hugos and Worldcon are supposedly irrelevant. What drew their attention was the involvement of George R.R. Martin and the fact that he supposedly was cancelled. Never mind that all of these folks were screaming about the ending of Game of Thrones or the fact that Winds of Winter is still not out not so long ago. There’s a bunch of these videos – apparently, there are a lot of disaffected white gamer dudes with too much time on their hands out there. You can find examples here, here, here and here. I wouldn’t recommend watching them, unless you have a lot of time to kill, since it’s mostly the same blather about SJWs, cancel culture, blue checkmarks on Twitter, Sad Puppies, etc… that we’ve heard umpteen times from that corner before.

British writer Ed Fortune calls the 2020 Hugo Awards ceremony the worst awards ceremony he ever had the misfortune to sit through and also goes into the debacle about the 2019 Hugo Losers Party, where the venue George R.R. Martin booked was too small and several Hugo finalists and their plus ones were left standing outside.

Two time Hugo winner Cheryl Morgan shares her thoughts on the disastrous 2020 Hugo ceremony and also remembers the incident in 2006, where Harlan Ellison groped Connie Willis on stage at the Hugo ceremony, just in case you were wondering if Hugo ceremonies can get worse than what happened this year. Cheryl Morgan also points out that Harlan Ellison at least seemed mortified that his behaviour had damaged the ceremony and the Hugos, even if he didn’t quite understand what the problem was. She is not so sure that George R.R. Martin and Robert Silverberg understand what they did.

Cheryl Morgan also has a follow-up post about how and why Worldcons go wrong, which is well worth reading. Cheryl also points out that pointing fingers at the World Science Fiction Society doesn’t help, because the WSFS is us, i.e. every supporting and attending member of Worldcon.

Jason Sanford also discusses the 2020 Hugo ceremony and the many problems with it. He makes a lot of good points, but then he goes into something I’ve also seen on Twitter, namely that Worldcon is old, irrelevant and in danger of dying and that the big media cons like San Diego Comic Con and Dragon Con in Atlanta are the future.

Leaving aside the irony that the Puppies said the very same thing back in 2015/16, for better or for worse, Worldcon is a different beast than commercial cons like San Diego Comic Con and Dragon Con (and let’s not forget that Dragon Con’s literature trek leans strongly conservative/rightwing, even if the overall membership doesn’t). Worldcon is less polished than the media cons, because it’s entirely run by volunteers. At Worldcon, the barriers between fans and pros are much lower, because everybody is a fan first and a writer, artist, editor, publisher, filmmaker, etc… second. This doesn’t always work out as intended, as this weekend’s events have shown, but I still love the inclusive idea behind it and it makes me sad when I hear of people – often writers and fans of colour – who were made to feel unwelcome at Worldcon. But while Worldcon isn’t perfect, as Cheryl Morgan said, Worldcon is us. We can make it better and many of us try in a myriad of ways, whether it’s people braving the Business Meeting to submit proposals or this year’s Hugo finalists and others who worked behind the scenes to make programming more diverse and inclusive or the many volunteers who keep the convention running.

But the best thing about Worldcon is that it’s not stationary, like San Diego Comic Con, Dragon Con and so many other cons, but that it moves around. Of course, the “World” in Worldcon is still too often ignored, the locations are still too often in the US, though we’ve been seeing more non-US locations in recent years, and whole continents barely get a look in. But while there’s at least a chance that Worldcon will eventually come to your country or continent (plus, if you find enough likeminded fans, you can bid to bring a Worldcon to your country), you’ll always have to go to San Diego to attend Comic Con and to Atlanta with its hellish airport to attend Dragon Con. Entering the US was always an unpleasant experience (ask me why I hate Atlanta airport so much sometime) and it has only gotten worse in the past twenty years and even worse in the past four. Even if they get a visa, which is by no means assured particularly for people from non-western countries, a lot of people from outside the US are reluctant to travel to the US. Some people like Cheryl Morgan are unable to enter the US at all through no fault of their own. So those who are saying, “Worldcon is old and irrelevant, so let it die and go to Dragon Con or San Diego Comic Con instead” are saying to everybody who can’t or won’t travel to the US and everybody inside the US who cannot afford to travel to Atlanta or San Diego, “You don’t matter. We don’t care if you can’t come.” I’m sure that’s not what they mean to say, but that’s how it comes across.

Jason Sanford goes on to declare that the Retro Hugos must die, because John W. Campbell and Cthulhu won Retro Hugos this year. Like so many others who complain about Campbell and Cthulhu and maybe Forrest J. Ackerman, he fails to mention that Leigh Brackett and Margaret Brundage, two awesome women who went unrecognised in their lifetimes, also won Retro Hugos this year.

I’ve already pointed out how strongly I disagree with the people who cry for the Retro Hugos to be abolished, because they don’t agree with some of the winners (and I’m not thrilled about the Retro Hugos for Campbell, Cthulhu and Voice of the Imagi-Nation either). I also strongly disagree with Jason Sanford when he calls Retro Hugo voters “a small group of people stuck in the past giving today’s genre the middle finger”.

I have nominated and voted for the Hugos and Retro Hugos, when they were offered, since 2014. Like so many others, I was frequently underwhelmed by the finalists and winners, so I decided to do something about it. I started the Retro Hugo Recommendation Spreadsheet and Retro Science Fiction Reviews to point potential nominators to worthy works and to show what else was out there beyond the big name writers and editors. I also didn’t vote for or nominated Campbell, Cthulhu and Voice of the Imagi-Nation.

It’s perfectly fine if someone doesn’t want to engage with the Retro Hugos and doesn’t care for older SFF in general. However, if you didn’t bother to nominate and vote, don’t complain about the results. And don’t call those of us who are interested in the history of our genre reactionaries – unless maybe they are presenters hijacking the current day Hugo ceremony to reminisce about the past.

I care about the history of SFF because I think it is important to know where we’ve been to understand where we are now and how we got here. It also infuriates me how much of the history of our genre has been forgotten and erased, how the only ancestors that are remembered are a narrow group of straight white men and tht there’s another round of “Wow, women, writers of colour, LGBTQ writers and other marginalised groups are writing science fiction and fantasy now” every twenty years, even though women, POC, LGBTQ people have always been here, only that their contributions to the genre have been ignored and forgotten.

I like having a way to honour those writers and artists who went unrecognised during their lifetimes. The Retro Hugos are one of the few ways we have to do this. They may not be perfect and I certainly don’t think that John W. Campbell needs yet another Hugo, considering he won plenty during his lifetime. But rather than abolish the Retro Hugos, I’m trying to make them better and also to challenge received wisdom about what the genre was like in days of old, a received wisdom that’s usually much straighter, whiter and male than reality.

ETA: In the latest edition of The Full Lid (which you should subscribe to, if you haven’t already), my fellow best fanwriter finalist Alasdair Stuart also weighs in on CoNZealand, the sidelining of the Sir Julius Vogel Awards, the disastrous 2020 Hugo Award ceremony, where Alasdair was much in the same boat as me, except that he was also up for Best Semiprozine with Escape Pod and had to wait even longer, only to have semiprozines dismissed as “not paying enough”, the unofficial CoNZealand Fringe side programming and the 1945 Retro Hugos.

ETA: At File 770, Chris M. Barkley also weighs in on the 2020 Hugo ceremony, the 2020 Hugo winners and the 1945 Retro Hugos.

ETA: At the blog of the excellent small press Foxspirit Books, Russell A. Smith shares his thoughts about the 2020 Hugo ceremony (which he compares to Lord of the Rings in length) and the 1945 Retro Hugos. It’s a good post, though I have one minor quibble. John W. Campbell “only” won the Retro Hugo for Best Editor, not Best Series because the only potentially eligible series Campbell ever wrote, the Arcot, Morey and Wade series finished in 1931 (which is a good thing, because while these stories influenced a lot of writers from Campbell’s stable, the Arcot, Morey and Wade stories are pretty dreadful) . Instead, the Retro Hugo for Best Series went to the Cthulhu Mythos by that renown racist H.P. Lovecraft and a whole lot of others.

ETA: Jason Sanford is not the only Retro Hugo hater out there. Aaron Pound thinks they’re a joke, because the voters often go for famous names over story quality (which is precisely why I started the spreadsheet and Retro Reviews).

Richard Gadsden has some suggestions to improve the Retro Hugos, which he e-mailed to Chicon 8, the 2022 Worldcon. Once again, he’s completely unaware that there was a crowdsourced eligibility and recommendation spreadsheet or that Paul Fraser assembled links to every single eligible story published in the SFF pulps.

Font Folly also points out that a lot of the problems with the Retro Hugos stem from people trusting received wisdom such as that Astounding was the best SFF magazine of the 1940s and that John W. Campbell was the best editor, even though this isn’t the case when you actually read the magazine, because Astounding actually published a higher ratio of crap than many other magazines, even though they also published a lot of classics.

ETA: Comrade-in-arms Steve J. Wright, who heroically reviewed a whole bunch of Retro Hugo eligible stories and discovered both a lot of dross and some overlooked gems, shares his thoughts on the 1945 Retro Hugo winners here. Steve J. Wright also shares his thoughts on John W. Campbell and points out that even though he did not vote for Campbell, Campbell was a more nuanced figure than the simple “saviour of science fiction” or “fucking fascist” dichotomy makes him out to be.

ETA: Remco van Straten busts another bit of received wisdom regarding the 1945 Retro Hugos and points out that the 1945 Retro Hugo winner for Best Graphic Story Superman: “The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk” is credited to the wrong person, for the art was not by Superman co-creator Joe Shuster, but by Ira Yarbrough, an uncredited artist who worked in Shuster’s studio. But even though Yarbrough and other studio artists were uncredited, golden age Superman fans have long since figured out who drew which stories. So the misattribution is embarrassing and shouldn’t have happened, especially since Alex Raymond’s co-artist Don Moore is credited correctly for Flash Gordon, as are the creators of the nominated Spirit comic, none of whom is Will Eisner. I guess the lesson is to reach out more to golden age comic fandom in correctly sourcing who actually drew those comics.

And yes, Hugo voting already is a lot of work and Retro Hugo voting adds to that workload with the added complication that there is no helpful Hugo voter packet – you have to track down all of that stuff yourself. But I’d rather help voters and nominators to make more informed decisions than to abolish the Retro Hugos altogether, because I don’t like how they turn out.

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Some Reflections on the 2020 Hugo Ceremony a.k.a. Reminiscing with George

This was not the post I wanted to write today. The post that I hoped to write was, “Hey, I won a Hugo. Go me!” However, Bogi Takács won and a most deserving winner they are, too. And in fact, the speech I never got to hold would have specifically said that as far as I am concerned, everybody in the fan writer category was a winner. And besides, I came in second at first try, which is pretty amazing.

So yes, let’s talk about the 2020 Hugo Ceremony. By now, you may have seen some tweets or read some posts about the fact that the 2020 Hugo Ceremony was a) very, very, very long , and b) pretty damn awful. If you have about three hours and forty-eight minutes of time to spare, you can watch the whole thing. Or you can read the summaries by Natalie Luhrs, Sean Reads Sci-Fi, Miyuki Jane Pinckard and Matt at Runalong the Shelves. You can also watch the 2020 Hugo ceremony without all the extraneous blather at the YouTube channel of The Reading Outlaw.

As you know, I was a Hugo finalist this year, so I was in a different position than those watching the regular livestream. I was in the Hugo finalist Zoom, waiting for my categories (I was accepting again for Galactic Journey this year as well as for myself) to be called. And since the fan categories are up first, I was basically sitting there in full ceremony get-up – evening gown, tiara, jewellery – from 1 AM my time on. My elderly parents were there as well. I’d told them that my category would probably come up by 1:30 AM at the latest.

Cora Buhlert in Hugo outfit

Me in my Hugo dress, posing with a bookshelf and Occulus, the friendly eyeball monster.

So the ceremony started, George R.R. Martin appeared on the screen and starting talking. And talking. And talking. He reminisced about his first Worldcon and his first Hugo ceremony in 1971. He reminisced about the first time he was a finalist for what was then the Campbell Award in 1973. Those stories about the olden days were actually interesting, but they also went on for much, much too long. Besides, those stories are better suited to a panel or the bar than to the Hugo ceremony.

When they finally announced the Lodestar and Astounding winners after more than half an hour, I thought, “Okay, now my categories will be up in a few minutes.” And then I saw a message in the Zoom chat from Allan, the tech person in charge of the Hugos who did a great job (and who unlike the finalists, actually had to sit through all three hours and forty-eight minutes of it), that the next video would be 17 minutes long. “That’s a typo”, I thought, “He means 1.7 minutes or 7 minutes.” But it wasn’t a typo. Because George R.R. Martin went on to talk for another 17 minutes.

Meanwhile, the fan category finalists who were up first (and all the other finalists for that matter) were on tenterhooks. My parents were nodding off. My tiara and my bra were hurting and I really needed to go to the bathroom, but didn’t dare to go, before my categories were called.

And because I could see the other finalists in Zoom, I saw that they were in a similar situation. There was one fan category finalist, also in Europe where it was in the middle of the night, who kept fanning themselves and dabbing at their face, because they were obviously hot and sweating. At one point, I said to the screen, “George, please get to the point already, because finalist X is melting.”

Then fanzine and fan writer were called, neither Galactic Journey nor I won, and my parents left, clearly grateful to be finally able to go to bed. I got rid of my bra and my tiara, dressed more comfortably, made myself a tea, got my crochet and settled down again. Fan artist and semiprozine were called, while I was undressing, but I missed nothing during my tea break, because George R.R. Martin was talking again. And then Robert Silverberg talked as well and also for a long time, introducing the editor categories.

By the time best related work was called, I’d had enough and decided to decamp to the after-party and follow the finalist announcements on Twitter. Which I promptly did and I had a great time, too. A lot better time, I bet, than the poor finalists in the fiction categories, who had been waiting for three hours at that point.

Around the same time that I gave up, I saw tweets, Discord messages, etc… from plenty pf people saying the same thing. “Sorry, I’m going to bed, just let me know who won.” And today on Discord, someone said, “Wait a minute, the Hugo ceremony is over?”

“No”, I replied, “George is still sitting in his theatre in Santa Fe reminiscing about the olden days and he’s up to the 1989 Worldcon by now. However, the technician fell asleep and accidentally ripped out the cable.”

Now some of George R.R. Martin’s and Robert Silverberg’s annecdotes might actually have been interesting, if presented on a panel about “Writers remember the olden days” or “Rememberances of Worldcons and Hugos past”. And indeed, there was such a panel. But the Hugo Award Ceremony is not the time to go on endlessly about things that happened decades ago. Instead, the point of the Hugo Ceremony is to honour today’s finalists and winners. Which seemed almost like an afterthought at this year’s ceremony.

I understand that George R.R. Martin is not happy about the name change of the former Campbell, now Astounding Award, considering he was one of the first Campbell finalists. And once again, his remarks would have been appropriate for a hypothetical panel called “Saviour of science fiction or freaking fascist? The complex legacy of John W. Campbell”. However, the 2020 Hugo Ceremony is not the place to go on about what an important figure he was to the genre – and I already shared my thoughts on Campbell in the Retro Hugo post – considering Campbell died before most of this year’s finalists in any category were even born.

What makes this lengthy and rambling Hugo Ceremony even more annoying is that George R.R. Martin (and Robert Silverberg for that matter) both know what it’s like to be a finalist, waiting for your category to be called. After all, they’ve been there several times. So they should have asked themselves, “How would I have felt if this had happened at my first (or second or third) Hugo ceremony as a finalist and the toastmaster had gone on and on and on with anecdotes about Hugo Gernsback?”

And for some Hugo finalists, the lengthy wait was more than an annoyance, but made it impossible for them to accept the Award without violating their religious beliefs. Best Editor winner Navah Wolfe is orthodox Jewish and let the Hugo Ceremony organisers know that she would not be able to accept in person after sunset in her part of the world because of Shabbat. Best Fan Writer winner Bogi Takács was in the same boat, only that fan writer was announced earlier in the evening. Nor is this the first time this has happened, Alix E. Harrow’s designated accepter last year had to drop out, because the Hugo Ceremony coincided with Shabbat. There are a lot of Jewish people in our community and while not all are observant, we nonetheless should be able to find a date and time for the Hugo ceremony that doesn’t force anybody to choose between violating their personal beliefs and accepting a Hugo.

ETA: In the comments, Standback, who was supposed to accept the Hugo for Alix E. Harrow in Dublin and dropped said, said that the ceremony did not conflict with Shabbat after all, but that he had to drop out for other reasons. And of course, Navah Wolfe did win Best Editor last year and was able to accept her award in person. Bogi was a finalist as well, though I’m not sure whether they were at the ceremony. But the fact that Dublin got it right doesn’t excuse that CoNZealand did not take the religious beliefs of at least two finalists into account.

ETA: Several Hugo finalists also report that the overlong Hugo ceremony conflicted with panels or readings they had at what they expected to be after the ceremony. One of my panels was actually scheduled for after the Hugo ceremony, but since every single person on that panel was a Hugo finalist (and one of us – John Picacio – went on to win in his category), we contacted programming and asked them to shift the panel, which they did.

But if the lengthy ramblings of George R.R. Martin were bad, what was even worse was George and other presenters repeatedly mispronouncing the names of Hugo finalists and in one case misgendering finalists (George talked about the young men and women nominated for the Astounding Award, even though this year’s finalists were only women, two of them with ambiguous names). And yes, finalists of colour were the worst affected, but white and western finalists had their names mispronounced as well. In my category alone, Paul Weimer and myself had our names mispronounced (not by George R.R. Martin, who didn’t present our category). Now I’m used to English speaking people mispronouncing my surname as “Bjuhlert”, even though there is no J in my name anywhere, so it’s no big deal for me, though I can understand why particularly people from a non-western background who have their names mispronounced all the time are angry.

But I still have no idea how a native English speaker can mispronounce “Jemisin”. And don’t even get me started on FIYAH Magazine, who had to put up a tweet explaining their name, because Martin mispronounced them, even though the title of the magazine is a phonetic spelling of “fire”. And yes, mistakes happen, but they shouldn’t happen with such frequency and they certainly shouldn’t happen in segments that have been prerecorded, because the good thing about prerecording is that you can do it again, if you mess up the first time around. Not to mention that all Hugo finalists were explicitly asked to provide their pronouns and the phonetic spelling of their names to prevent debacles like this.

As a teacher of German as a foreign language, I know how difficult even seemingly easy names/words can be to pronounce, if one’s native language does not have that particular phoneme. But if George R.R. Martin really couldn’t handle the pronounciation of certain names, they should have let someone else do it. And in fact this was probably the idea behind the “voice of God” that read out the names of the finalists again, because Martin did such a bad job of it.

It’s also not that I haven’t accidentally mispronounced someone’s name either. However, if you’re not sure how to pronounce someone’s name, ask them, cause they’re usually happy to tell you. For example, for the Galactic Journey acceptance speech I never got to hold, I asked how to pronounce the names of those members of the Galactic Journey team where I wasn’t sure. Because getting someone’s name and gender right is basic courtesy.

Also, several people noted that Martin had no problems pronouncing names like Fritz Leiber (and I actually praised him for getting Fritz Leiber’s name correct, before he started mispronouncing everybody else), Robert A. Heinlein and Roger Zelazny, probably because he knew those author personally. But even if he isn’t as familiar with today’s authors, that’s still no excuse to get their names wrong.

That said, while George R.R. Martin may have been the host of the ceremony, organising it was CoNZealand’s job and frankly, they didn’t do it very well. And yes, I understand the technical challenges they were faced with. But would it have been that difficult to ask George R.R. Martin and the other presenters to keep their remarks to 5 minutes per category and edit them down, if necessary? Especially since George R.R. Martin is known for many things, but brevity is not one of them. And would it have been that difficult to make sure that the names of the finalists were pronounced correctly and that the right pronouns are used, especially since they explicitly asked us for that information.

There have also been other criticisms, such as the fact that even though Worldcon was supposed to be held in New Zealand, the Hugo presenters were mostly white Americans as well as a white Brit and a white Australian. The closest the Hugo Ceremony came to New Zealand representation were the congratulations in the M?ori language following every announcement, which the finalists were told to use as a cue. Another finalist and I even asked what the appropriate response to those congratulations would be. They phrase we were given is scribbled – phonetically spelled – on the top of my acceptance speech.

The CoNZealand chairs Norman Cates and Kelly Buehler have now apologised for the Hugo mess, which is a start. And George R.R. Martin himself points out in the comments at File 770 that he was never provided with phonetic spellings of the finalists’ names (which is CoNZealand’s oversight then) and that people generally enjoy his anecdotes. Which I’m sure they do, but maybe not at the Hugo Ceremony.

But in general, this has not been a good experience, especially for the first-time Hugo finalists, of which I am one. First, the pandemic ruined everybody’s chances to enjoy their first time as a Hugo finalist in person at the con (though Discon III, the 2021 Worldcon in Washington DC, has announced that they want to hold a reception for the 2020 Hugo finalists, because they didn’t get one due to the pandemic). Then there was the inconsistent messaging that Hugo finalists received regarding what membership level was required for them to participate in the con and the Hugos and the fact that some Hugo finalists initially didn’t receive any programming at all. Nor is it the Hugo finalists’ job to fix issues with the programming, though we got comped memberships for 47 awesome people of colour, indigenous and otherwise marginalised people out of it, who made Worldcon programming so much better and more diverse. And in general, I enjoyed the first virtual Worldcon a whole lot, but that’s its own post. Nonetheless, I suspect the neverending Hugo Ceremony of 2020 will be talked about for a long time.

The analysis of the Hugo winners will be in a separate post.

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Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month for July 2020

Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month
It’s that time of the month again, time for “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of speculative fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some June books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Once again, we have new releases covering the whole broad spectrum of speculative fiction. This month, we have urban fantasy, science fantasy, fantasy mysteries, paranormal mysteries, paranormal romance, science fiction romance, space opera, military science fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, horror, non-fiction, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, unicorns, necromancers, bounty hunters, galactic peacekeepers, magical assassins, magical cats, code monkeys, crime-busting witches, post-apocalyptic chickens and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Speculative Fiction Showcase, a group blog run by Jessica Rydill and myself, which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things speculative fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

Free Station by Rachel AuckesFree Station by Rachel Auckes:

The Galactic Peacekeepers are being hunted.

The tables have turned. Marshals are going missing.

Marshal Throttle Reyne and her Black Sheep are sent on a mission to investigate the recent surge in pirate attacks. But when the pirates unite and take over Free Station, the headquarters of the Galactic Peacekeepers, the Black Sheep must make a suicide run against the pirates and save the lives of their friends. If they fail, the system will belong to the pirates.

Bounty Hunter: Nothing to Nobody by Rachel AuckesBounty Hunter: Nothing to Nobody by Rachel Auckes:

A dark threat is creeping across the wastelands.

Bounty hunters are the closest thing to law enforcement across the wastelands, but most folks can’t tell the difference between the criminals and their chasers. Havoc Joe Ballast and his team at the Haft Agency are trying to change that by picking their own targets and going after the worst criminals. But that’s not working out so well for them.

They should’ve stuck to the rules.

Their first target, the bloodthirsty Red Dead gang, is terrorizing hapless refugees. Things go bad fast when Havoc and his friends are ambushed and forced to flee to the lawless Wilds. Stranded in deadly territory, the hunters must align with a secret rebel group to survive while turning the tables on their merciless enemies.

Join the bounty hunters as they fight for their lives in the post-apocalyptic wastelands. Their enemies may think they have won, but the hunters are just getting started.

Aloha Thrive by Ginger BoothAloha Thrive by Ginger Booth:

An ex-cop who cannot die. A moon full of settlers who cannot thrive.

Mahina’s terraformers built a high-tech urban paradise. Then Earth flooded the colony with desperate refugees, cop Sass Collier among them.

The settlers who arrived with Sass died decades ago. Outside the citadel, their descendants die weak and young.

Sass fought a rebellion against the city once. She won concessions to give the settlers a chance at health. She paid with 20 years in prison.

Now she’s out, a reformed character. She assembles an oddball crew doing odd jobs. She intends to mind her own business – how to make a profit on the skyship Thrive.

But her fellow settlers are still failing.

While her business model careens toward circus acts, Sass dares to defy the city again, to solve Mahina’s failure to thrive.

Book of Dark Magic by Sara BourgeoisBook of Dark Magic by Sara Bourgeois

When Richard Jordan is found dead in the woods outside of Coventry, the town’s reputation for being paranormal is put into the spotlight.

Richard wasn’t just murdered. The person who found him was shocked by what looked like a Satanic ritual murder.

Suddenly, the town’s regular tourism starts to dry up. In its place is a flood of weirdos and wannabe Satanists who are there to finish the ritual they believe Richard’s murder began.

Is this the apocalyptic scenario that Kinsley was prophesied to stop? Or, did someone want the town drunk dead and used a bunch of dark magical items to make it look paranormal?

What about the mysterious black book that shows up on Kinsley’s doorstep? Does it hold the key to solving the crime, or does it represent something far more sinister?

Come along as Kinsley and friends solve this crime one spell at a time!

The Pegasus Pulp Sampler by Cora BuhlertThe Pegasus Pulp Sampler by Cora Buhlert

Get an overview of the works of Hugo finalist Cora Buhlert and her one-woman small press Pegasus Pulp Publishing.

Space opera, military science fiction, alien invasions, hostile planets, sword and sorcery, pulp thrillers, men’s adventure, murder mysteries, cozy fantasy, historical romance – we have all that and more.

Enjoy twelve novellas, novelettes and short stories in five genres.

Contains the following stories:

•Evacuation Order
•Baptism of Fire
•Mercy Mission
•Acacia Crescent
•Valentine’s Day on Iago Prime
•The Four and a Half Minute Boiled Egg
•The Cork and the Bottle
•The Crawling Death
•Countdown to Death
•The Valley of the Man Vultures
•The Revenant of Wrecker’s Dock
•The Kiss of the Executioner’s Blade

Mist and Magic by Lindsay BurokerMist and Magic by Lindsay Buroker:

As a freelance assassin, Val Thorvald leads a dangerous life.

She’s learned not to stay in the same place for long and not to get too attached to anything. For example, she would never consider adopting a pet.

But when she’s searching for a missing friend, she finds an abandoned silver tiger cub.

The magical feline is clearly from another realm, but Val has no idea which one or how to send it back. All she knows is that it’s the only witness to her friend’s kidnapping.

Val can kick the butts of ogres, trolls, and wizards, but she has no experience taking care of pets—certainly not magical tigers. And as she quickly learns, the cub has teeth like a chainsaw. Soon, everything from her apartment to her seat belts to the hair on her head is in danger.

But if Val can’t forge a bond with the cub, figure out what it knows, and find her missing friend, more than her belongings—and her hair—may be at risk.

Deadland Sentinel by J.N. Chaney and Ell Leigh ClarkeDeadland Sentinel by J.N. Chaney and Ell Leigh Clarke:

With the trafficking ring obliterated, Jack turns his attention to wiping out the dregs of the criminal empire.

But when he arrives to take out a particular scumbag, he only finds the man’s corpse.
And he’s missing a shoe.

As the investigation begins, Jack surmises he has either stumbled into a conspiracy or there’s a serial killer on the loose. The team must mobilize to figure out exactly what is going on.

Corruption, kidnapping, and life as they know it all collide as the group comes up against deadly elements within the very organizations they were sworn to protect.

With their own lives in the balance, and the integrity of the Union government at stake, it’s a race against the clock to figure out who the players are and how to bring them down.

All without being taken out themselves.

Heartless by Dannika DarkHeartless by Dannika Dark:

“For you, I’ll wait an eternity.”

Despite the spoils of a solid relationship and an idyllic life at Keystone, Raven is itching for the thrill of another big case. Things begin to heat up when a dangerous assignment falls in her lap.

Searching for the mastermind behind an illegal fighting ring is no easy feat, but as the weeks roll by, Raven’s undercover job begins to take an unexpected emotional toll. It’s a deadly mission, and if she’s not careful, she could lose everything.

The Ark War by Chris FoxThe Ark War by Chris Fox:

The Ark War Has Begun

War on a scale not seen in this sun-cycle has begun. Nox and his demonic army were thwarted at the Proto-Ark, but not before forging the tool that will hasten the destruction of the world. The Grey Men have a Primary Access Key, and are ready to bring their masters home. The Builders are coming.

Millions of deathless surround Jordan in the broken Ark of the Mother. The only thing standing between Lima and destruction is the last god anyone wants to trust…Irakesh. Jordan follows Sobek to Australia in search of allies, but what lurks there predates humanity.

Blair and Trevor spearhead a desperate gambit to alter time and save the Mother from her death at The First Ark. To do that they need powerful allies. The time has come to wake Jes’ka, so that she can train Liz in the ways of the Ka-Ken. If Blair and Trevor succeed, then ensuring Set doesn’t return to the present falls upon them.

But there is a spy in their midst. The Builders are far, far closer than anyone suspects.

Necrotech by Chris FoxNecrotech by Chris Fox:

The Unseen Fleets Come and Worlds Burn

The Unliving are implacable. Unreasonable. No one knows what they want, beyond souls, and bone for their war machines and ships. Now they’ve set their sights on the Inurans, and hey, I couldn’t wish an army of necromancers on a better target.

There’s just one problem.

I’m trapped on the Inuran Trade Moon, and the necromancers are attacking. Even if I can get the minister back to her ship we’ll still need to find a way to fight their flagship. That’s going to be tough to do without enough magic to power the Word of Xal.

If I pull it off I think I get a bonus though. Also, there’s that living thing.

324 Abercorn by Max Allan Gunnells324 Abercorn by Max Allan Gunnells

Brad Storm doesn’t believe in ghosts, but moving into the house at 324 Abercorn just may change his mind.

Best-selling author Bradley Storm finally has enough money to buy and restore his dream home. Despite 324 Abercorn’s reputation as one of the most haunted houses in America, Bradley isn’t worried. He doesn’t believe in the supernatural. Then strange things begin to happen. Objects no longer where he left them. Phantom noises heard from empty rooms. Shadows glimpsed from the corner of his eye.

Is his house truly haunted, or is there something more sinister happening on the property?

With the help of Bradley’s new boyfriend and a few friends who are just as intrigued with the seemingly inexplicable occurrences surrounding the infamous house, they set out to find the truth of what stalks the halls at 324 Abercorn.

Proudly represented by Crystal Lake Publishing—Tales from the Darkest Depths.

Silent Cravings by Jess Haines and E. BlixSilent Cravings by Jess Haines and E. Blix:

What’s a vampire to do when the werewolf she craves is playing hard to bite?

Christoph needs to save a young girl from a vampire’s clutches. It’s his fault she’s there in the first place—and rescuing her is the only way he might get back into his alpha’s good graces.

Unfortunately for them both, he’s just not that good.

He and his packmate soon find themselves caught and magically “neutered” by enchanted collars so they can’t hurt anyone in the vampire’s entourage.

Just when Christoph thought it couldn’t get any worse, a mute vampire named Mouse decides to claim him as her boy-toy.

She has her own set of problems involving some lingering issues from her past. She hungers for Christoph, but can’t stand to see someone victimized or—even worse—afraid of her.

The two must learn how to live together (and deal with his new fashion accessory)—without driving the rest of the vampire’s household crazy in the process.

Wicked Games by Lily Harper HartWicked Games by Lily Harper Hart

Ivy Morgan knew she was in for a world of hurt when she was sentenced to community service. She had no idea just how bad things were going to be, though. On her first day of picking up trash along the roadside, one of her crew members stumbles over a body, and it happens to belong to someone she knows.

Sasha Carmichael was described as a “good girl” and nobody can figure out how she ended up alone in the woods, so close to a road and help, and abandoned. When Jack Harker and his partner start digging down, though, some dark possibilities come to the surface.

It seems Sasha had ties to more than one person on Ivy’s work crew, which means Shadow Lake’s favorite witch is working with a killer. Finding the guilty party is difficult, especially given the way her crew chief is watching her.

If Ivy sticks even one toe out of line, her community service could be extended. That means her wedding is on the brink and her honeymoon might be lost. Jack isn’t about to let either of those scenarios happen.

It’s going to take both of them working together to solve the crime, and even then nothing is guaranteed.

Hang on to your hats, because murder has come to Shadow Lake and this killer might not be done … by a long shot.

Zero by Simon HaynesZero by Simon Haynes:

Hal Spacejock loves to watch cargo ships taking off for distant star systems.

One day, he promises himself. One day I’ll leave this dump of a planet and explore the galaxy!

But Hal’s not supposed to watch the ships.

No, his job is to load cargo into them… and he’s not very good at it.

After a particularly bad mixup, Hal flees from his boss, certain he’ll get the sack.

Instead, he runs smack-bang into an adventure that will alter the course of his life.

This prequel covers events leading up to Hal 1: A Robot Named Clunk. You can read it before or after any of the main Hal Spacejock novels.

Brewing up a Storm by Amanda M. LeeBrewing Up a Storm by Amanda M. Lee:

Storm season has hit Moonstone Bay and with it comes a whole lot of trouble.

Hadley Hunter thinks she’s ready for what’s to come, but she’s not. Before the storms can wreak havoc on her life, though, she has something even more frightening to deal with … lunch with her boyfriend Galen Blackwood’s mother.

Despite her best intentions, things don’t go as smoothly as Hadley envisioned. Before she has a chance to deal with that, though, the storms bring another surprise in the form of an unconscious woman on the beach and a yacht that keeps appearing (and then disappearing) with each subsequent storm.

Hadley can’t wrap her head around what’s happening, especially when news breaks regarding the identity of the individual who was found in front of the lighthouse. It seems she’s the wife of a very rich and powerful man … who disappeared a year before. In addition to that, the couple had two daughters with them at the time their boat fell off the map. What happened to them?

It’s a race against time for Hadley and her motley band of paranormal friends. They must find the yacht and uncover every horrible secret one family has managed to bury beneath a deep blue sea … and they have to do it with a monster on their tails.

At the heart of almost every family is love. At the heart of this one is despair. Somehow, Hadley will have to overcome her worst fears to become the best witch she possibly can.

Here’s hoping she’s up to the challenge.

A Blood Moon Swindle by W.H. LockA Blood Moon Swindle by W.H. Lock:

It’s the end of the world and it’s all Quinn’s fault.

Quinn is a talented conman and sorcerer, but even the best get caught. On his first day out of prison, Quinn was offered a job he should have refused. Quinn’s parole officer wanted him to steal a skull from a necromancer in Los Angeles.

It all went to downhill from there.

Quinn put together a team of the best criminals he knew. Together they stole the skull without getting caught. Only to be betrayed by one of the team and the parole officer. The pair was secretly working for the archangel Uriel in a plot to end the world.

Quinn and his team tried to stop the trio from getting the last artifact they needed to destroy the world, only to fail at the last moment because of Quinn’s antics.

Now Quinn is on the run from the FBI and his former team and he has made a literal deal with a devil.

If Quinn doesn’t save the world he’ll suffer an eternity of torment at the hands of Mamon, the Demon Prince of Greed. If he saves the world, all the debts he piled up will come due.

And those are the sort of debts that take an IOU.
Can Quinn save the world and escape certain death?

Ex Inferis by Nazri NoorEx Inferis by Nazri Noor:

Get ready for a hell of a ride.

Spoiled, sarcastic, and brutally self-obsessed, fledgling sorcerer Quilliam J. Abernathy has never worked a day in his life. And why should he? Being the half human son of a demon prince comes with its perks, among them a palatial lifestyle of luxury and excess.

But Quill’s comfort comes with a price. He is the Chosen of Asmodeus, destined to destroy the world and fated from birth to become the harbinger of hell. One last trial now stands in his way, the final obstacle to his ascent: a deadly game of devils…

Ex Inferis is the prequel to the Infernal Inheritance urban fantasy series, set several years before the events of the Darkling Mage and Sins of the Father books. Experience Quill’s rise to power as the Chosen of Asmodeus in an intense, action-filled supernatural suspense story filled with demons, devilry, and danger.

Of Flesh and Feathers by L.M. PierceOf Flesh and Feathers by L.M. Pierce:

“A modern Watership Down meets The Walking Dead – but with a lot more feathers.”

A foul wind blows through the chicken coop. The flock’s caretaker no longer comes to collect Chickory’s eggs or bring her feed, and the stench of death is everywhere. Her friend Fayne is haunted by visions of danger, and by a prophecy of safety beyond the farthest horizon a chicken has ever known. With the help of their faithful farm dog, Chickory must convince her flock to follow her into a frightening world of disease and predators, both natural… and unnatural.

Their survival may depend on fateful premonitions, but in order to save the world of humans and birds, Chickory must discover the truth behind the prophecy and the sickness that turned their keepers into killers.

From the mind that brought you Trans Liberty Riot Brigade, L.M. Pierce presents:
Of Flesh and Feathers

Winds of Change by Christine PopeWinds of Change by Christine Pope:

One surge of magical power could free her — or short-circuit her future.

Jake Wilcox thought he’d covered their tracks when he hid his love, weather witch Adara Grant, in a remote Wyoming town under the watchful guard of the Northern Arapahoe. He should have listened to his instincts that he was making a horrible mistake.

Now Addie’s gone, taken in the dead of night by the very nemesis they thought they’d eluded. Locked away so deep in a government testing facility, it’ll take more than magical luck to find her, much less get her out alive.

Addie is living her worst nightmare, and feeling every one of the three thousand miles between her and Jake. The temptation to use her wild gift to free herself is strong — but it’s not just her own life at stake. The facility is full of orphaned witches.

And one faint signal that could be glimmer of hope — or a sign that luck has run out for Addie, Jake, and everyone they love.

Road Seven by Keith RossonRoad Seven by Keith Rosson

Mark Sandoval—resolutely arrogant, covered head to foot in precise geometric scarring, and still marginally famous after Hollywood made an Oscar-winner based off his memoir years before—has been strongly advised by his lawyer to leave the country following a drunken and potentially fatal hit and run. When a woman sends Sandoval grainy footage of what appears to be a unicorn, he quickly hires an assistant and the two head off to the woman’s farm in Hvíldarland, a tiny, remote island off the coast of Iceland. When they arrive on the island and discover that both a military base and the surrounding álagablettur, the nearby woods, are teeming with strangeness and secrets, they begin to realize that a supposed unicorn sighting is the least of their worries.

Fraternity by Alasdair ShawFraternity by Alasdair Shaw:

The Indescribable Joy of Destruction has to choose between his human friends and his fellow Artificial Sentiences.

Legate Olivia Johnson struggles to adjust to life without her enhanced brain implants.

Decurion Anastasia Seivers rejoins the Legion to face her biggest challenge – command.

Together they are closing in on the war criminals in the Red Fleet. Will they succeed in bringing its commander to justice or will he evade their clutches once more?

Fraternity is the last in the trilogy of novels: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

Cosmic Lock by Aurora SpringerCosmic Lock by Aurora Springer:

Three sets of enemies and a wormhole to shut?
Follow the superpowered Griffins on a rollercoaster adventure where new threats counter each success.

Grand Masters Violet and Athanor Griffin return from beyond the Cosmic Rift with two shiploads of rescued children and escaped slaves, but their enemies have not been idle in their absence. Avalon is in flames and their baby son is missing. Finding him may be the easiest of their problems. They must unite the fractious Grand Masters, stop the bloodsucking Ixioths from enslaving sentients, and seal the cosmic rupture to prevent new incursions of the vindictive Nulls. The clock is ticking. They have twelve days to squash their enemies before their final venture into the alternate universe. Can they overcome the challenges and secure peace for the galaxy?

Deception by Glynn StewartDeception by Glynn Stewart:

A new home on the edge of nowhere
A new hope for a peaceful future
An old enemy that won’t let go

Kira Demirci left her homeworld of Apollo pursued by assassins seeking revenge for her victories in the war against the Brisingr Kaiserreich. Now she has a new home and a new role: as the nova fighter wing commander aboard the mercenary carrier Conviction under Captain John Estanza.

Conviction is on retainer with the royal family of Redward, who encourage Kira and her pilots to make themselves a new home on the frontier planet. But there is a reason they want to tie the mercenary carrier’s crew more tightly to themselves and stormclouds are brewing on the horizon.

Those clouds break when a Redward warship goes missing on a standard patrol. Conviction and her fighters are sent out to find the destroyer—but instead they find a deadly plot by old enemies that will bring down the Syntactic Cluster in fire and war.

Unless Kira Demirci can do the impossible.

Lacey and Alex: The Dagger of Ill Repute by V.R. TapscottLacey and Alex: The Dagger of Ill Repute by V.R. Tapscott

Talking Plants, Explosions, Gunfire, Mayhem,
Magic and a Hint of Romance.

Lacey & Alex, roommates in San Francisco, are a barista and a cook by day. By night though, Lacey is a part time private investigator and Alex talks to plants. And they talk back.

In this book, they get dragged into hunting for a lost dagger. Of course, it winds up being so much more than simply a lost dagger.

The pair spend a couple of action-filled weeks travelling from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Barstow to Vegas and all parts between in their hunt for the elusive artifact.

They meet up with loose cannon Stevie and step it up a notch with exploding cars and tension of a whole nother kind, as she makes it clear what she thinks of Lacey.

Olive from Jane Bond shows up with a little tiny insignificant part (heh) and Jane herself has a cameo.

Join Lacey & Alex and Stevie as they have the adventure of a lifetime! Talking plants, explosions, gunfire, mayhem, magic and a little bit of romance all enter the picture before the end, in this slightly humorous, slightly serious, and always fun mystery.

Child of Wrath by R.K. ThorneChild of Wrath by R.K. Thorne:

Commander Ellen Ryu, Lieutenant Kael Sidassian, and the crew of the starship Audacity barely escaped Capital with their lives. Then betrayal kicked down their door. Now they need to clean up the mess.

The one team member they thought was safe has disappeared—their benefactor Doug Simmons. Doug’s former classmate is also in danger, and he’d planned a mission for them to rescue her. And the crew is zeroing in on just what exactly Ellen’s nemesis Dr. Arakovic is planning as the clues sharpen into focus.

Will the team be able to put together the pieces of many different puzzles before it’s too late? Attacked on multiple fronts, Ellen and her crew will have to divide and conquer if they want to triumph.

Because cyborg super soldiers, awkward aliens, gang members with secrets, and an ex-girlfriend from the past are just a few of the problems on their plate.

The baby they’ve been hiding from the entire galaxy is also about to make herself known.


Code Monkey by A.E. WilliamsCode Monkey by A.E. Williams


A.E. Williams opines on more matters of concern to thinking people, philosophers and chicken farmers.

CODE MONKEY follows the trajectory set by ROCKET SURGEON, as A.E. Williams opens up a can of whoop-ass on science, technology, politics and religion. Yeah, all those uncomfortable subjects that polite people eschew during cocktail party banter are just gristle for the mill as far as Williams is concerned.

Rocket Surgeon was just the first stage! Code Monkey ramps it up with a second-stage-to-orbit collection of articles, essays and unpublished works that will leave you shocked, aghast and rolling on the floor laughing.

Follow irascible raconteur, voyeur and mental saboteur A.E. Williams down a whole slew of rabbit holes, conspiracy theories, discussions about the fallacies and truth of the challenges of our times! You’ll discover why Williams is one of the most sought-after essayists on the planet. (Sought after by aliens, Sasquatch, sea serpents and hackers, that is…)

Once more, A.E. takes you by the hand and shoves facts, figures and statistics up your…nose, until you are spitting mad at finding out you have been duped all this time by Big Brother, the Deep State, the Man, the Establishment and even your lying parents! (Oh, for the sake of Santa! How could you!)

Williams regales you with personal tales from the aerospace trenches. He shows why firmly held ‘scientific’ facts are just as suspect as ‘truths’ that have been debunked, time and again. You’ll be cramming your tinfoil hat past your ears as you are exposed to the grim secrets of how the world REALLY works!

And, as always, you’ll chuckle and chortle your way through page after page of outrageous stories, anecdotes and observations by the man Cleopatra* said was “So funny I laughed my asp off!”

Get your copy TODAY and join the ranks of computer-literate primates who have gone bananas over riots, COVID19 and all the troubles in the world that have you praying for the Second Coming, World War 3 or a long-overdue asteroid strike!

*Cleopatra Jones works as a hair stylist in Roanoke, Va.

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Some Thoughts on the 1945 Retro Hugo Winners

The winners of the 1945 Retro Hugos have been announced as well as the winners of the 2020 Sir Julius Vogel Awards. The indefatigable Nicholas Whyte also shares some additional information about the Retro Hugos as well as the full voting and nominations breakdown. Also check out the comments at File 770, where there is a lively discussion going on.

ETA: Adventures Fantastic weighs in on the Retro Hugos and seems quite pleased particularly with some of the winners that caused a bit of an uproar.

ETA 2: 2020 Best Novelette finalist Siobhan Carroll has some thoughts about how to imrpove the Retro Hugos.

So let’s take a look at the individual categories:

Best Novel

Shadow Over Mars a.k.a. The Nemesis from Terra by Leigh Brackett wins Best Novel. I’m really happy about this, because Leigh Brackett is one of the greats of our genre and was never recognised by the Hugos in her lifetime, though she did win a posthumous Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo for The Empire Strikes Back.

That said, I had expected that Sirius by Olaf Stapledon would win, because it is better known. But I guess Stapledon is too Marmite to win. I’m a bit surprised that The Wind on the Moon by Eric Linklater finished in last place, because it is a charming story – unlike the tedious Winged Man.

Best Novella

“Killdozer” by Theodore Sturgeon wins Best Novella. This isn’t a big surprise, because “Killdozer” is the best known story nominated, though it’s not the best story, because “The Jewel of Bas” by Leigh Brackett and “A God Named Kroo” by Henry Kuttner were both better. However, the Retro Hugos are still often determined by name recognition and nostalgia and the efforts of myself and others to change this have only met with mixed success.

That said, it’s a pity that “A God Named Kroo” only barely beat “No Award”, coming in fifth after the unreadable “Trog” and the Van Vogt novella I didn’t get around to reviewing, because I can only tolerate so much Van Vogt.

Best Novelette

The 1945 Retro Hugo for Best Novelette goes to “City” by Clifford D. Simak. This isn’t a huge surprise, because the City cycle is well regarded, still in print and Clifford D. Simak was one of the best writers of the Golden Age. “City” is a pretty good story, too, though not the best City story of 1944 or even the best City novelette, because “Census”, which didn’t make the ballot, is better.

That said, this was not the category I wanted to see Simak win. In fact, I was hoping that C.L. Moore, either with or without Henry Kuttner, would win Best Novelette, because both “No Woman Born” (which finished second) and “The Children’s Hour” (which finished unfairly in sixth place) are great stories.

Though I’m glad that “Arena” by Fredric Brown with its “Genocide is good” message didn’t win, because I feared that it might.

Best Short Story

The winner of the 1945 Retro Hugo for Best Short Story is “I, Rocket” by Ray Bradbury. I have to confess that this win surprised me, because not only was “I, Rocket” not the best story on the ballot – it’s a fine story, but “Desertion” by Clifford D. Simak is much better – it’s not even the best Ray Bradbury story of 1944, because both “The Lake” (which is a classic that has been reprinted lots of times) and the vastly underrated “Morgue Ship” are better. I also have no idea why Retro Hugo voters nominated “I, Rocket” over “The Lake”, though I have no illusions that anybody except me nominated “Morgue Ship”. I’m a bit surprised that “Far Centaurus” by A.E. van Vogt finished in last place, because this is the one van Vogt story on the ballot that’s actually good.

Best Series

The Retro Hugo for Best Series goes to the Cthulhu Mythos by H.P. Lovecraft, August Derleth (via whose stories the mythos qualified seven years after Lovecraft’s death) and many, many others.

There were some complaints about the renown racist H.P. Lovecraft winning a Retro Hugo in 2020. And while I didn’t put the Cthulhu Mythos in first or even second place – my number one was Captain Future who was one of my entry drugs into science fiction – I’m not surprised that it won. Because of all the nominated series, the Cthulhu Mythos is the only one which is still going strong – 83 years after the death of the original author. Also, I don’t view this solely as a win for H.P. Lovecraft, but for everybody who ever wrote a story in the world he created. And this includes authors as diverse as Victor LaValle, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Ruthanna Emrys, Matt Ruff, Neil Gaiman, Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber and many, many others, some of whom would have horrified Lovecraft.

So while Lovecraft was undoubtedly a racist, he also created a universe in which many writers have played over the years, often subverting Lovecraft’s ideas. So I think we should view this as a vote for the universe and everybody who ever wrote in it in the past ninety year. Cthulhu is an icon – more than the Shadow or Doc Savage, who are damned iconic in themselves – and has his own plush toy, so doesn’t he deserve a Hugo?

Best Related Work

The winner of the 1945 Retro Hugo for Best Related Work is “The Science-Fiction Field” by Leigh Brackett. I’m happy that the Retro Hugos have recognised Leigh Brackett not once but twice this year, but I’m still surprised that it won, because “The Science Fiction Field” is probably the most elusive Retro Hugo finalist of 1945.

The essay was originally published in Writer’s Digest and isn’t available online anywhere. The best way to get it is via Windy City Pulp Stories No. 13, which reprinted it a few years ago. I suspect that the publisher of Windy City Pulp Stories was very surprised about the sudden uptick in interest in his magazine.

That said, it is an interesting essay that offers insight both into Leigh Brackett’s writing process and the SFF field as it was in 1944. Who would have guessed that Planet Stories was considered one of the more scientifically accurate publications? There’s also a nice jab against John W. Campbell, whom Brackett famously didn’t get along with, as well as another jab against Weird Tales and their infamously bad payment practice.

Best Graphic Story or Comic

The winner of the 1945 Retro Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story is the Superman comic “The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk” by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

This is one case where I have no idea what the Retro Hugo voters were thinking. Yes, Superman is an iconic character beloved by many and even Mr. Mxyztplk is apparently a popular character, but have the voters looked at the actual comic? For while it’s not as bad as the racist Wonder Woman comic which won last year (and if you voted for that one, don’t complain about Campbell and Cthulhu?) it’s no more than competent.

My first choice was Flash Gordon, because Alex Raymond was probably the best artist working during the Golden Age and this would have been our last chance to honour him. Instead, the to Flash Gordon strips finished last, even lower than Buck Rogers, which was really, really bad.

Looking at the nominations, it seems as if us Mandrake fans need to settle on one story and we might lift Mandrake and Lothar (who was the first black comic hero 30 years before Black Panther) on the ballot next time. And if the Phantom fans would like to rally to the cause as well, we might still get the full Defenders of the Earth on the ballot.

Best Dramatic Presentation Short

We have two winners in the Best Dramatic Presentation category, The Curse of the Cat People and The Canterville Ghost. Both are fine winners and were my number one and two choices in this category. The Canterville Ghost is only the only Retro Hugo finalist, where someone involved with the production is still alive, namely former child actress Margaret O’Brien, then seven years old. The actress who played the little girl in The Curse of the Cat People unfortunately passed away a few years ago.

Best Editor

The winner of the 1945 Retro Hugo for Best Editor is John W. Campbell, which is not exactly a surprise, even though it did cause some wailing and gnashing of teeth, how people can still vote for Campbell after his name was removed from the Not-a-Hugo for Best New Writer, which is now known as the Astounding Award?

But while I agree that it’s not a good idea to name an award for the best new writer of 2020 after a (very problematic) man who died almost fifty years ago, Campbell was the leading figure in the field in the 1940s. And Astounding Science Fiction is still considered the best magazine of the era, even though I for one found that other magazines offered more consistent quality than Astounding, which when it was good, was very good indeed, but which was also truly dreadful, when it was bad.

And indeed, I ranked Dorothy McIlwraith of Weird Tales, W. Scott Peacock of Planet Stories and Raymond Palmer of Amazing Stories above Campbell. Nonetheless, for better or worse, Campbell was one of the most influential figures of our genre, which is why people keep voting for him.

I also suspect that the wins for the Cthulhu Mythos and Campbell prompted the slightly cringeworthy intro by the CoNZealand chairs, in which they talk about how these are works of their time, which may be reactionary today.

Best Professional Artist

The winner of the 1945 Retro Hugo for Best Professional Artist is Margaret Brundage. Now this is one win I’m thrilled about, because Margaret Brundage was not just one of the very few woman artists working during the Golden Age, but also created some absolutely iconic covers for Weird Tales. Margaret Brundage was the first person to picture Conan and Jirel of Joiry (who wears armour rather than lingerie in the story) and who gave us Puritan executions in haute couture gowns (not actually a Solomon Kane cover, though I always assumed it was) as well as the highest selling Weird Tales cover ever. She was also a political radical and very likely LGBTQ. It’s long overdue that the Hugos recognise her work.

Best Fanzine

The 1945 Retro Hugo winner for Best Fanzine is Voice of the Imagi-Nation, edited by Forrest J. Ackerman and Myrtle R. Douglas. This win prompted another round of wailing and gnashing of teeth, because Forrest J. Ackerman was a sexual harrasser. I didn’t vote for it either – not just because I prefer to vote for people who are not sexual harrassers, but also because I don’t find Voice of the Imagi-Nation very good. There were definitely better fanzines out there in 1944, which were not edited by sexual harrassers.

However, people should also note that Ackerman wasn’t even on the ballot for Best Fan Writer this year, a category he used to dominate at the Retro Hugos.

Which brings us to…

Best Fan Writer

The 1945 Best Fan Writer Hugo goes to Fritz Leiber for his contributions to the Lovecraft fanzine The Acolyte. This is the one win where I really think that my Retro Hugo Recommendation Spreadsheet made a difference. Because if I hadn’t found a Fritz Leiber short story, an critical essay about Lovecraft and a poem about the Gray Mouser in The Acolyte, following a trail from ISFDB, and had put his name on the spreadsheet, I doubt that many people would have been aware that Leiber was even eligible.

If we take a look at the full nomination data, I see a couple of other places where the spreadsheet and Retro Reviews had an impact. Would Allison V. Harding have made the novelette longlist with two stories, if I hadn’t enjoyed “Ride the EL to Doom” so much and shouted about it to the world?

Which brings me to the wailing and gnashing of teeth, which is really just focussed on three winners – Campbell, Cthulhu and Ackerman. And yes, I’m not happy with those wins either.

However, after a few years of complaining about bad Retro Hugo finalists and winners, I decided to do something about it. And so I created the spreadsheet and started Retro Reviews to make it easier for voters/nominators to make informed choices and point them at good works that might otherwise be overlooked. I had a lot of fun, too, and discovered stories I might never have read otherwise. It wasn’t just me either. N helped to track down elusive dramatic presentation and related work finalists. Steve J. Wright, Paul Fraser, Don Briago and others reviewed lots of stories, novels and whole magazines.

So in short, several of us got together to put the information out there about what is eligible (obviously not Dave Langford nine years before he was born), what is worth checking out and shared our thoughts on the finalists. And yes, I wish more people would have looked at our work before voting/nominating, because if you look at the nomination data, you’ll see lots of examples of nominations for people and works, which are flat out ineligible. If the voters and nominators don’t pay attention to this in sufficient numbers, there’s little we can do about it.

As for the people complaining about Retro Hugos for Campbell, Cthulhu and Forrest J. Ackerman, did you nominate and vote? Did you point out better choices? Did you point people to unjustly forgotten authors/editors/fan writers? If not, then don’t complain.


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Indie Crime Fiction of the Month for July 2020

Welcome to the latest edition of “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of crime fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some June books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Our new releases cover the broad spectrum of crime fiction. We have cozy mysteries, small town mysteries, animal mysteries, culinary mysteries, historical mysteries, Jazz Age mysteries, paranormal mysteries, fantasy mysteries, hardboiled mysteries, noir, police procedurals, crime thrillers, psychological thrillers, science fiction thrillers, police officers, amateur sleuths, private investigators, forensic linguists, smugglers, kidnappers, crime-busting witches, crime-busting socialites, crime-busting cats, deadly cupcakes and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Crime Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Indie Crime Scene, a group blog which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things crime fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

Book of Dark Magic by Sara BourgeoisBook of Dark Magic by Sara Bourgeois

When Richard Jordan is found dead in the woods outside of Coventry, the town’s reputation for being paranormal is put into the spotlight.

Richard wasn’t just murdered. The person who found him was shocked by what looked like a Satanic ritual murder.

Suddenly, the town’s regular tourism starts to dry up. In its place is a flood of weirdos and wannabe Satanists who are there to finish the ritual they believe Richard’s murder began.

Is this the apocalyptic scenario that Kinsley was prophesied to stop? Or, did someone want the town drunk dead and used a bunch of dark magical items to make it look paranormal?

What about the mysterious black book that shows up on Kinsley’s doorstep? Does it hold the key to solving the crime, or does it represent something far more sinister?

Come along as Kinsley and friends solve this crime one spell at a time!

A Treasured Little Murder by Beth ByersA Treasured Little Murder by Beth Byers:

August 1926

Jack and Ham’s first solo case is placed on pause just as the tale of a treasure is brought to light. ??As the case progresses, Vi and Rita dive in, and somehow it becomes a competition between the two couples. Things, however, take a sideways turn and the couples must unite and work together to protect all they hold dear.

Book TWENTY-THREE in the Violet Carlyle Mysteries. Are you ready for the roaring twenties? You’ll love Vi, her patient husband Jack, her indulgent twin Vic, and their friends.

Deadland Sentinel by J.N. Chaney and Ell Leigh ClarkeDeadland Sentinel by J.N. Chaney and Ell Leigh Clarke:

With the trafficking ring obliterated, Jack turns his attention to wiping out the dregs of the criminal empire.

But when he arrives to take out a particular scumbag, he only finds the man’s corpse.
And he’s missing a shoe.

As the investigation begins, Jack surmises he has either stumbled into a conspiracy or there’s a serial killer on the loose. The team must mobilize to figure out exactly what is going on.

Corruption, kidnapping, and life as they know it all collide as the group comes up against deadly elements within the very organizations they were sworn to protect.

With their own lives in the balance, and the integrity of the Union government at stake, it’s a race against the clock to figure out who the players are and how to bring them down.

All without being taken out themselves.

The Contract by William ColemanThe Contract by William Coleman:

Once a decorated cop, Hawke has fallen from grace and has turned private investigator to make ends meet. His first case is a simple one: follow the woman, Maddie, and get pictures of her having an affair.

But nothing is that simple. Hawke is forced to intervene when the Maddie is almost kidnapped right in front of him. When it happens again, Hawke switches from stalker with a camera to bodyguard with a gun.

The lawyer who hired him is not satisfied with the outcome or that Hawke is looking into who is responsible for the abduction attempts. He threatens Hawke to get him to back down, something not in the investigator’s nature.

To protect Maddie, Hawke must take her along while following the few leads he has to identify who is responsible and why. The closer they get to the truth the more danger they find themselves in.

Will they find who is out to get Maddie before it’s too late?

Cash Up Front by Mike FaricyCash Up Front by Mike Faricy:

Dev Haskell takes his ‘friend with benefits’ Heidi, out to dinner. His late night plans are suddenly put on hold when failed criminal, Tommy Benedetti shows up and forces Heidi into a stretch limo. Benedetti gives Heidi $200,000. Gee, $200,000 in cash, what could possibly go wrong?
There’s only one thing to do and Dev sets out to build a ‘working relationship’with FBI agent Candi Mangle

Another incredibly bizarre Dev Haskell read… Multiple tales wrapped into one crazy adventure.


Wicked Games by Lily Harper HartWicked Games by Lily Harper Hart

Ivy Morgan knew she was in for a world of hurt when she was sentenced to community service. She had no idea just how bad things were going to be, though. On her first day of picking up trash along the roadside, one of her crew members stumbles over a body, and it happens to belong to someone she knows.

Sasha Carmichael was described as a “good girl” and nobody can figure out how she ended up alone in the woods, so close to a road and help, and abandoned. When Jack Harker and his partner start digging down, though, some dark possibilities come to the surface.

It seems Sasha had ties to more than one person on Ivy’s work crew, which means Shadow Lake’s favorite witch is working with a killer. Finding the guilty party is difficult, especially given the way her crew chief is watching her.

If Ivy sticks even one toe out of line, her community service could be extended. That means her wedding is on the brink and her honeymoon might be lost. Jack isn’t about to let either of those scenarios happen.

It’s going to take both of them working together to solve the crime, and even then nothing is guaranteed.

Hang on to your hats, because murder has come to Shadow Lake and this killer might not be done … by a long shot.

Cutthroat Cupcakes by Cate LawleyCutthroat Cupcakes by Cate Lawley:

Killer cupcakes

Seems improbable to Lina, but when an attractive detective snaps cuffs on her and accuses her of witchy crimes she’s forced to reconsider.

The murder weapon? A cupcake topper sold in Lina’s shop, Sticky, Tricky Treats.
The method? A killing curse.
The curse’s origin? Lina…sort of.

Except Lina hadn’t a clue that she was a witch, and certainly didn’t know she’d accidentally cursed some of her confections.
She’s got to catch the killer who’s used her magic to murder or face a conviction as an accessory.
Now, if only the wizard detective assigned to the case weren’t such a distraction.

Cutthroat Cupcakes is a magical witch culinary cozy with a touch of romance, the first of three books in the Cursed Candy Mysteries series!

Brewing up a Storm by Amanda M. LeeBrewing Up a Storm by Amanda M. Lee:

Storm season has hit Moonstone Bay and with it comes a whole lot of trouble.

Hadley Hunter thinks she’s ready for what’s to come, but she’s not. Before the storms can wreak havoc on her life, though, she has something even more frightening to deal with … lunch with her boyfriend Galen Blackwood’s mother.

Despite her best intentions, things don’t go as smoothly as Hadley envisioned. Before she has a chance to deal with that, though, the storms bring another surprise in the form of an unconscious woman on the beach and a yacht that keeps appearing (and then disappearing) with each subsequent storm.

Hadley can’t wrap her head around what’s happening, especially when news breaks regarding the identity of the individual who was found in front of the lighthouse. It seems she’s the wife of a very rich and powerful man … who disappeared a year before. In addition to that, the couple had two daughters with them at the time their boat fell off the map. What happened to them?

It’s a race against time for Hadley and her motley band of paranormal friends. They must find the yacht and uncover every horrible secret one family has managed to bury beneath a deep blue sea … and they have to do it with a monster on their tails.

At the heart of almost every family is love. At the heart of this one is despair. Somehow, Hadley will have to overcome her worst fears to become the best witch she possibly can.

Here’s hoping she’s up to the challenge.

The Collector by John MaherThe Collector by John Maher:

They say human life is the most precious thing. The Collector doesn’t agree.

When world renowned archaeologist Philip Carlton suddenly and unexpectedly commits suicide, the police are called to investigate. Heading up the investigation is Detective Lucy O’Hara, a Forensic Linguist – and she immediately sees something is wrong with the suicide note. In her gut, she knows this was cold-blooded murder.

Battling sceptical superiors and the Irish establishment, Lucy digs for the truth and begins to uncover a shadowy trade in ancient artifacts led by a mysterious figure known only as ‘The Collector’.

As Lucy works to uncover his identity, she soon realises she is up against a ruthless mastermind who is systematically eliminating anyone who might lead her to him. But Lucy won’t give up and soon The Collector turns his attention to her…

The Collector – the first in a gripping new series featuring Detective Lucy O’Hara.

No Little Lies by A.B. PlumNo Little Lies by A.B. Plum

Burying memories sharp enough to raise a welt on the heart can work.

Or not.

Ask Ryn Davis. The adult daughter of a former high-class prostitute, she knows chronic, long-term insomnia reduces repression as a preferred coping technique. Still, she relies on denial.

A phone call from a stranger claiming her mother was murdered twenty years ago turns her life inside out. The reappearance of a forgotten childhood friend exposes buried and forgotten memories. Lies and half-truths torpedo her shaky world.

In this fast-paced psychological thriller, the suspense ratchets up. A psychopath’s ever-present memories drive him to exact revenge for Ryn’s lies about the past. His terrifying game of cat and mouse pit him against her where she is most vulnerable. His ties to organized crime make him even more dangerous.

Who is in control? What really happened to her mother? Why can’t Ryn remember?

Is facing her past the path to survival or death?

Lacey and Alex: The Dagger of Ill Repute by V.R. TapscottLacey and Alex: The Dagger of Ill Repute by V.R. Tapscott

Talking Plants, Explosions, Gunfire, Mayhem,
Magic and a Hint of Romance.

Lacey & Alex, roommates in San Francisco, are a barista and a cook by day. By night though, Lacey is a part time private investigator and Alex talks to plants. And they talk back.

In this book, they get dragged into hunting for a lost dagger. Of course, it winds up being so much more than simply a lost dagger.

The pair spend a couple of action-filled weeks travelling from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Barstow to Vegas and all parts between in their hunt for the elusive artifact.

They meet up with loose cannon Stevie and step it up a notch with exploding cars and tension of a whole nother kind, as she makes it clear what she thinks of Lacey.

Olive from Jane Bond shows up with a little tiny insignificant part (heh) and Jane herself has a cameo.

Join Lacey & Alex and Stevie as they have the adventure of a lifetime! Talking plants, explosions, gunfire, mayhem, magic and a little bit of romance all enter the picture before the end, in this slightly humorous, slightly serious, and always fun mystery.

Northtown Blitz by Robert WhiteNorthtown Blitz by Robert White

“With his usual razor-sharp writing Robert White takes us further into the world of Northtown & Raimo Jarvi in this second book of what is fast turning out to be a must-read series.”

Fresh from the success of his last case we find Raimo Jarvi reaping the benefits of his new-found status as a private detective who gets results.

Bella Cinciarelli was the eldest of three of sisters, all of them famous as high school beauties back in the day, and now one of them is dead. The coroner ruled the death natural causes but Bella is convinced her sister was murdered and she wants Raimo’s help to prove it and bring the murderer to justice.

The problems begin when Raimo realises Bella’s main suspect is her brother-in-law, James delCorelli – lawyer, businessman and county commissioner – a powerful man, a man with powerful friends, and as Raimo soon discovers – not a man you want to get on the wrong side of.

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Cora Goes to CoNZealand, the Virtual 2020 Worldcon

CoNZealand LogoCoNZealand, the virtual 2020 Worldcon, kicks off tomorrow or rather tonight. If you’re a member of CoNZealand, you can see me on the following panels:

The Evolution of Fanzines

Format: Panel

29 Jul 2020, Wednesday 16:00 – 16:50, Programme Room 5 (Zoom Meeting) (Programming)

Fanzines have been a beloved part of fandom for decades, and new ones are still springing up. What are the best new fanzines, and what classic fanzines are still putting out new content? Our panel of creators and enthusiasts discuss the relevance and importance of contemporary fanzines.

Chris Garcia (Team Journey Planet), Wendy Browne (Women Write About Comics), Sarah Gulde (Star Trek Quarterly), Greg Hills (Aesir HeathCare), Cora Buhlert (M), Jeanne Mealy


Come Time Travel with Me – 1965

Format: Panel
30 Jul 2020, Thursday 09:00 – 09:50, Programme Room 1 (Webinar) (Programming)Blast back to 1965: Beatlemania has seized the nation, the Great Society is on the rise, but southeast Asia and America’s inner cities are in turmoil.In geekdom, the Twilight Zone has just ended its five year run, The Outer Limits is off the air, but the Robinsons are about to get Lost in Space, and The Doctor is finishing his second season. Marvel and DC comics have growing stables of superhero teams, featuring a level of diversity and maturity never seen before. Anime is so new that the genre doesn’t have a name yet. Tabletop wargaming has taken off. And at last year’s World Science Fiction convention, a civil war violently split the fans.

Join award-winning SF author, Gideon Marcus, for a whirlwind trip through time: The space race, films, books, music, comics, politics, fashion — we cover it all! You’ll laugh, you’ll learn, and you’ll love it!

Lorelei Marcus (Galactic Journey), Gideon Marcus (Galactic Journey (and Journey Press) ) , Cora Buhlert, Erica Frank (Galactic Journey), Janice Marcus (Galactic Journey, Journey Press)


Cover Art

Format: Panel

31 Jul 2020, Friday 09:00 – 09:50, Programme Room 3 (Webinar) (Programming)

Let’s be truthful: you do judge a book by its cover. Otherwise, why would we bother with beautiful cover art? We will talk about the purpose(s) of the art, cover design, matching art to the story, and good (and maybe a few bad) examples of memorable book covers.

John Picacio, Cora Buhlert (M), Gideon Marcus (Galactic Journey (and Journey Press) ), Pablo Defendini (Fireside), Alyssa Winans


The Second Golden Age: SF of the 1960s

Format: Panel

31 Jul 2020, Friday 11:00 – 11:50, Programme Room 2 (Webinar) (Programming)

There was an explosion of new good SF in the 1960s, with the emergence of great new writers, a number of short story venues that expanded the scope of the field, and a series of classic novels that are still ranked as among the most important in the field’s history.

Dr. Bradford Lyau (M), Robert Silverberg, Cora Buhlert, Dr. Jack Dann, Kathryn Sullivan


Translation: the Key to Open Doors to the Cultural Diversity in SFF

Format: Panel

31 Jul 2020, Friday 12:00 – 12:50, Programme Room 2 (Webinar) (Programming)

Translated SFF are one way of knowing different cultural backgrounds, and is getting more attention than before. Discussion will go around what is the good story to be translated, or what is the key factor in actually selecting stories to be translated, from the editor or translator point of view.

Libia Brenda (Independent), Cora Buhlert (M), Neil Clarke (Clarkesworld Magazine), Mr. Wataru Ishigame (Tokyo Sogensha (Publisher)) , Luis F. Silva


And don’t forget to cheer me on at the Hugo Awards ceremony, where I’m nominated for Best Fan Writer:

Hugo Awards Ceremony

11:00, Saturday 1 Aug 2020 NZST (3 hours 30 minutes)

The biggest event of the convention. Join our toastmaster George R R Martin and special guests, as he presents the Hugo Award winners for 2019.


You can also find me in the Dealers’ Hall, selling e-books, so drop by and say hello.

Also be sure to check out the CoNZealand Yarnbombing gallery, where you can find my creation Occulus the Eyeball Monster with lots of other great yarnbombing projects around the world.

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New Thurvok Adventure Available: The Beast from the Sea of Blood

This will only be a very short new release announcement, because I’m still busy with the July Short Story Challenge, where the aim is to write a short story per day during the month of July. You can follow along my progress here. Furthermore, I’m also busy with Worldcon related stuff and with day job (teaching and translation) stuff, because things tend to happen all at once.

Still, I did manage to publish a new Thurvok adventure just before embarking onto the July Short Story Challenge. It’s called The Beast from the Sea of Blood and was actually written during last year’s July Short Story Challenge. The inspiration was this image of what is presumably Conan by comic artist Gino D’Achille.

So accompany Thurvok, Meldom, Sharenna and Lysha, as they search for a pirate treasure and find…

The Beast from the Sea of Blood
The Beast from the Sea of Blood by Richard Blakemore and Cora BuhlertThey seek a treasure and find a monster…

Thurvok, the sellsword, and his friends Meldom, thief, cutpurse and occasional assassin, the sorceress Sharenna and Meldom’s sweetheart Lysha are on the hunt for a legendary pirate treasure, when they find themselves marooned on a desolate isle. To add insult to injury, there is no treasure on the island. There are, however, monsters…

This is a short story of 5400 words or 20 print pages in the Thurvok sword and sorcery series, but may be read as a standalone. Includes an introduction and afterword.

More information.
Length: 5400 words
List price: 0.99 USD, EUR or GBP
Buy it at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon France, Amazon Netherlands, Amazon Spain, Amazon Italy, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Amazon Brazil, Amazon Japan, Amazon India, Amazon Mexico, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Google Play, Scribd, Smashwords, Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel,, DriveThruFiction, Casa del Libro, Vivlio, 24symbols and XinXii.

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Reminder: Hugo and Retro Hugo Voting Closes on July 22, 2020

Hugo Award Logo

Voting for the Hugos and the Retro Hugos opened in mid July. Because of the delays, the voting deadline has been extended until Wednesday, July 22, 23:59 Pacific Daylight Time/Thursday, 23 July, 18:59 New Zealand time. If you’re an attending or supporting member of CoNZealand, you can log into the members’ area to vote online. The Hugo Voter Packet can also be downloaded there.

Blogging is light this month, because I’m still doing the July Short Story Challenge, where the aim is to write a story per day during the month of July. I have written seventeen stories so far and you can follow along with my progress here.

So this post is just a short PSA that if you’re a CoNZealand member, please vote and make your voice heard. You don’t have to vote in every category – it’s perfectly all right to leave categories blank.

Also please don’t ignore the fan categories (Fanzine, Fan Writer, Fancast, Fan Artist), because the fan categories are full of great finalists who do amazing work for little to no money, all for the love of the genre. And no, I’m not just saying this, because I’m one of them, though I’d of course be thrilled if you were to vote for me. You can also still download my Hugo Voter Packet here, if you want to see what I wrote in 2019.

Camestros Felapton has been doing spotlights of all six Best Fan Writer finalists. Mine is here, but check out all of them, cause we have an amazing line-up of Fan Writer finalists this year.

My fellow Best Fan Writer finalist Alasdair Stuart has also sent out a special edition of his weekly newsletter The Full Lid (which you should absolutely check out), highlighting all of the 2020 Best Fan Writer finalists.

Constanze Hofmann offers an overview over the 2020 Fan Artist finalists and their amazing work here. At the Best Fanzine finalist nerds of a feather, Andrea Johnson is also interviewing this year’s Best Fan Artist finalists and offering samples of their work.

Finally, please don’t ignore the Retro Hugos either. I’ve repeatedly aired my frustrations that the Retro Hugos so often seem to go to the most famous name rather than the best work. That’s why I started the crowdsourced 1945 Retro Hugo Recommendation Spreadsheet as well as Retro Science Fiction Reviews, where I reviewed many eligible stories and most of the finalists in the fiction categories (still missing two (bad) novellas and a novel) to allow Retro Hugo nominators and voters to make more informed choices.

I’ll also post my panel schedule for the now virtual CoNZealand in the next few days, so you know where to find me. I’m looking forward to seeing many of you there.

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