Cozy Space Opera, Cozy Mysteries and the Domestic Sphere

At Strange Horizons, Joyce Chng hosts a round-table about domestic space opera, featuring Ann Leckie, Jennifer Foehner Wells, Judith Tarr and Foz Meadows. It’s a great discussion and I urge everyone to read it.

Now domestic space opera is a subgenre in which I have a lot of interest, partly because I like to read it and partly because I also consider some of my writing domestic space opera. Though I tend to use the term cozy space opera for the In Love and War series, though it also applies to the Shattered Empire series and the Iago Prime stories.

I already explained in this post why I tend to call the In Love and War series cozy space opera. In short, I put the recipe for a dish enjoyed by the characters in the back of Freedom’s Horizon. And because recipes in the back of the book are mainly found in the cozy mystery genre, I half-jokingly said, “Well, it looks like I’m writing cozy space opera.” And then I realised that yes, that’s very much what I’m writing.

Now cozy mystery is probably the most domestic of the many subgenres of the mystery/thriller/crime/suspense mega-genre. Not that suspense and psychological thrillers can absolutely be domestic, too, and often are, from old-sytle gothic suspense like Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca or Mary Stewart’s gothics (after all, Joanna Russ once said that gothics are stories about women afraid of their husbands) via the romantic suspense subgenre to modern psychological thrillers in the Gone Girl and Girl on the Train mode. And the proliferation of “girl” titles of course codes the modern psychological thriller as feminine, even if the authors are actually men writing under female pen names. What is more, long-running mystery series spend more and more time on the detective’s home life the longer they go on, see the Inspector Lynley Mysteries by Elizabeth George, the Commissario Brunetti Mysteries by Donna Leon, the Kurt Wallander Mysteries by Henning Mankell and many more in the same vein.

However, while gothics and psychological thrillers focus on the dark side of the domestic sphere and the home life of series detectives is rarely happy and features a lot of heartbreak, whether it’s Thomas Lynley’s troubled relationship and eventual marriage to Helen and her tragic death (spoiler whiteout) or Kurt Wallander struggling with his relationship to his daughter, his dementia stricken father and in the last book, his own slow slide into dementia, cozy mysteries celebrate the domestic.

The protagonist of the typical cozy mystery series is inevitably a young woman. Many series focus on traditionally female coded domestic activities such as cooking, baking, sewing, quilting, knitting, etc… and even offer recipes and patterns in the back of the books. Cozies also celebrate community. Cozy heroines are rarely loners or at least not for long. They live in small towns with closely knit communities, they have plenty of friends and family, including female friends and older women who support them. These communities are mostly supportive rather than hostile. The cozy heroine tends to fall in love over the course of the series and sometimes gets married and even has children, but the relationship is portrayed as positive and enriching, rather than limiting. There are no murderous husbands in cozies and while tragically dead spouses are not unheard of (Charlaine Harris had a series along those lines), they are rare and tend to really piss off the readership. In short, cozy mysteries are stories about communities and the domestic, which happen to contain a few murders to spice things up a little.

And like all things that are female coded and focus on domesticity, cozy mysteries are widely derided. Here is Otto Penzler, eminence gris of the mystery genre, ranting about cozies back in 2005 and again in 2006 as well as Lee Goldberg offering a rebuttal. And what is Otto Penzler’s problem with cozy mysteries? They are lightweight, they have pun-laden titles and bright, cartoony covers, they focus on trivial matters such as fashion or food, while male authors, even the humorous ones, deal with weighty matters such as the destruction of Florida’s environment. Sound familiar?

Cozy or domestic space opera faces many of the same criticisms as cozy mysteries. Take for example, this article by one Paul Cook, which was published at Amazing Stories back in 2013 (discussed in detail with rebuttals here), in which he declares that Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series is not science fiction, because it pays too much attention on frivolous matters such as fashion, food, balls, courtships, etc… and does not focus enough on whatever Paul Cook thinks is relevant. Thankfully, Hugo voters in 2017 disagreed and awarded the Vorkosigan series the first ever Best Series Hugo.

Or look at some of the extremely rude and dismissive comments by the 2017 Shadow Clarke jury regarding A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers, which once again was dismissed as “not science fiction” (in spite of taking place in a technologically advanced multi-species intergalactic civilisation and having an advanced AI in an illegal android body and an artificially created clone as its protagonists), because it was considered too lightweight (apparently, the question of who counts as human/a citizen is not serious enough) and too much like a science fiction TV series.

Or look at how both A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers and Provenance by Ann Leckie finished fairly far down the ballot at the 2017 and 2018 Hugo Awards respectively, because they were considered lightweight books, even though both books actually have a lot to say about identity, history and who does and does not count as human. Of course, the winner in those years, N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, does address those very same issues and is at its heart a story about family, a story about a mother and her daughter, and also in many ways a domestic tale, though not a space opera. But the trilogy is also a lot grimmer than either A Closed and Common Orbit or Provenance even in their darkest moments and darkess is still valued higher than light.

As for space opera, let’s not forget that the term was originally coined as a derogatory one (you can view the first usage by Wilson Tucker here), an analogue not just to horse operas a.k.a. westerns but also to soap operas, which in those days meant melodramatic radio serials sponsored by washing powder and detergent companies. So “space opera”, from its very earliest use on, refers not just to Bat Durston type westerns in space but also to domestic melodramas set in outer space. It was also very much intended to differentiate the “good stuff” (serious business hard SF) from the “bad stuff” (space opera).

And even though the vast majority of authors who committed Bat Durston style stories were probably male, space opera very quickly became coded female, when it was derided, and male, when it was not. In the Strange Horizons round-table linked above, Foz Meadows says the following:

I don’t agree that space opera has always been perceived as masculine, and especially not hyper-masculine. Quite the opposite: in my experience, space opera has traditionally been viewed as feminine, which usually sees it pitted against the more “masculine” subgenres of hard or military SF.

Foz Meadows’ remark very much echoes this 2013 comment by Ann Leckie in an interview (together with Rachel Bach) with Romantic Times:

So I was pretty surprised when I was first introduced to the idea that girls didn’t like science fiction. And more than a little confused. But I figured that must be because I mostly read space opera, and that was where the science fictional women hung out. Of course, often enough these days I hear that space opera is quintessentially manly. I don’t know, I guess I don’t read the right sort.

Also note that approximately fifteen years ago, when the New British Space Opera ruled supreme and space opera was written mainly by white British dudes, the subgenre was very well regarded. Fast forward ten to fifteen years and the very same critics who praised the umpteenth pale Iain M. Banks imitation to high heavens are falling over their own feet to complain about Ancillary Justice winning all the awards, even though it’s not really all that original, and to complain that Becky Chambers was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award two years in a row and also got a Hugo nomination and a nomination for the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction, even though the books are unoriginal and basically just fanfiction and probably not science fiction at all (just read the Shadow Clarke links above). And anyway, all this newfangled space opera that does not worship at the altar of Iain M. Banks (who really does not deserve the toxic fan club he ended up with) and does not care about details a certain author considers important is just doing science fiction wrong.

Let’s have another quote from the Strange Horizons round-table, also by Foz Meadows:

When I think about stories that lack domesticity, their defining characteristic isn’t a total absence of human moments, because that’s not really possible when you’re writing about people; rather, it’s the presence of an unchallenged monoculture whose specifics are, by and large, considered unimportant to the narrative: where the story is fixated on roles and hierarchies (commanders, kings, advisors, weapons specialists), and on grand ideas and intellectual conceits, but without any real discussion or investigation of how they interact with everything else in that setting. When that happens, it’s like someone has gone in and sliced away all the bits of humanity they don’t find interesting—all the art and childbirth and psychology and food and other such ‘soft science’ tchotchkes—and has attempted to define a culture, or an empire, or a spaceship, by what’s left.

This very much mirrors how I feel about the so-called New British Space Opera. The worlds and the characters inevitably felt flat and underdeveloped to me, for all the miraculous technology portrayed and for all the meticulously developed economic systems and equally meticulously plotted out orbital mechanics. Even if there was character development and conflict, e.g. two people falling in love or a father seeking out his estranged son, there was no real emotion behind it. In many ways, those books felt as if highly advanced AIs had attempted to write fiction, even though they’d never interacted with actual human beings before. Though I suspect that Murderbot or Computron from Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s story “Fandom For Robots” would do better than that.

The gulf between New British Space Opera and military science fiction, particularly the cookie cutter stuff that clogs up the Kindle store, could not be greater and yet both subgenres often share the same sense of flatness. In bad military science fiction, there is the military, which is patterned either after the US Marine Corps or British Royal Navy of the Napoleonic era, because there have been no other ways of organising military forces ever, there is maybe a vaguely described government, usually some kind of empire or maybe a confederation/republic that is the US in all but in name, and nothing else. Weapons and ships and sometimes uniforms (but not too often, because uniforms equals fashion equals girl cooties) are described in loving detail, but everything else remains vague. The books describe heroic soldiers fighting and dying to defend Earth/their homeworld/humanity from the evil invading insectoid or reptilian aliens or occasionally from evil space communists, but you have no idea what they’re even fighting for, because their world has no art, no music, no food, no sports, in fact there doesn’t even seem to be any world outside the military at all. Sometimes, there is a wife or in the really progressive stories a husband waiting at home, but we never see them and they never impact the plot. Nor do we ever see what those wifes and husbands are doing while their heroic soldier partners are away. The enemy, whether it’s evil aliens or evil space communists, equally seems to have no real reason to fight for, no motivation beyond “they’re evil because they’re evil” or “they’ve evil because they’re communists”. Not that the authors have even the slightest idea what communists are.

The crime fiction equivalent to this BTW is the flat detective. The flat detective is inevitably an older white man with zero defining characteristics , no hobbies or quirks and absolutely no life outside his job. If the flat detective has a wife, a husband, a family or even a home, we never see any of that. The flat detective only exists to solve crimes and then to shuffle off into whatever closet he is stored in during his off-times. The crimes investigated by the flat detective are curiously flat as well, undefined upper middle class people killing each other in undefined suburbs. When I was younger, I used to call these characters robo-investigators, but that’s not fair, because unlike the flat detective, R. Daneel Olivaw and Raymond Electromatic actually do have personalities.

I don’t think the flat detective was ever particularly common in literature beyond the short mysteries found in the backpages of German magazines, where every character is thinly sketched. But in the 1970s and well into the 1980s, pretty much ever German TV detective was a flat detective. Derrick, Der Alte, Der Kommissar, the various early Tatort detectives, none of them had much in the way of personality. It’s probably telling that I couldn’t even tell you the names of the lead characters in Der Alte and Der Kommissar without looking them up. Coincidentally, the proliferation of flat detectives on German TV is also why Horst Schimanski, though about as far from cozy mystery as you can get, was such as breath of fresh air, when he burst onto West German TV screens back in 1981. Because here was finally an actual character investigating crimes in realistic looking Duisburg working class neighbourhoods, not a cardboard cutout investigating crimes in paper towns. Coincidentally, we first meet Schimanski in a domestic setting, puttering about in his kitchen and mixing himself an anti-hangover drink before heading out into the mean streets of Duisburg Ruhrort to fight crime. The Schimanski Tatorte were also the first to move away from bland white middle class people committing bland crimes and took the viewer into Turkish and Polish immigrant communities and into the sort of white working class communities that were rapidly vanishing at the time those films were made. They would also have featured the first prominent gay character on German TV, if star Götz George had his way.

I don’t want to read or write about flat people living in flat worlds. When I was younger, I was willing to give a lot of older flat world science fiction a pass, because science fiction was not easy to come by, and simply did the work of fleshing out the work and the characters myself, as often becomes painfully clear, if I revisit a book I read as a teen and find that many details I so clearly remembered just aren’t there and never existed except in my own head. For example, I was absolutely convinced that Gregory Powell, one half of the troubleshooting duo Powell and Donovan from Isaac Asimov’s robot stories, was black. But when I reread “Runaround” for the 1943 Retro Hugos, I realised that Powell’s race is never mentioned. Neither is Donovan’s, for that matter (I imagined Donovan as an attractive white man, by the way, and Powell as an attractive black man). Gregory Powell was only black in my head, because I imagined him that way.

But while I may have been willing to do the work of fleshing out flat worlds and flat characters myself in my teens, I’m no longer willing to do so today. Because there are so much better books out there these days, books with fully realised worlds, worlds which have art and food and fashion and crappy soap operas and pop music and most importantly, women of all ages, people of colour, LGBT characters, children and communities.

I also strive to create fully realised worlds, at least the little slices of them that we see, in my own stories, even though I usually couldn’t tell you anything about the orbital mechanics of the worlds we visit unless it becomes important for the plot somehow. But I can tell you about all about their culture, the food they eat, the clothes they wear, their entertainment preferences, the games and sports they play and the music they listen to. And so Anjali and Mikhail aren’t just soldiers, they’re people. Sure, Anjali is very much into weapons, which is rather annoying to write, because I have to come up with all sorts of details that matter to her, when all that matters to me is “Does it do what I need it to do?” I even have a cheat sheet with all the various names and model numbers of the output of the House of Marcasona, finest gunsmiths in the Empire. Mikhail is more pragmatic about weapons, using whatever is at hand, though he also remains stubbornly attached to his Special Commando Forces edition blaster, even though it’s objectively not all that good.

But Anjali also loves to cook and has very strong opinions about proper food. She loves the melodramatic vid dramas of her homeworld, much to Mikhail’s bemusement, and idolises Stella d’Anvers, the great diva of the Imperial Opera House (but then the entire galaxy adores her and even the people of the Republic eagerly follow her performances). Anjali also likes pretty clothes, though so far the plot hasn’t given her much of a chance to wear anything except utility clothes. Due to spending most of his life in one institution or another, being forced to do as he was told, Mikhail had less chance to develop personal likes and dislikes. Plus, as a spy he has been trained to fit into whatever role he’s playing at the moment (I’d initially planned for the Special Commando Forces to be more like space marines and they sometimes are that, but as the series developed it turned out that a lot of what they did were undercover missions in hostile territory). Still, there are things about Mikhail that are uniquely him, such as his insistence to wear his hair long, a small act of defiance against regulations that forced him to wear it short for much of his life. Mikhail has serious food issues due to his deprived childhood, which is why it’s perfect that I partnered him with someone who likes to cook and feed people. Mikhail also has something of a sweet tooth, another result of his deprived childhood. He clings to the culture of his lost homeworld and the language that hardly anybody speaks anymore, so he seeks out worlds that are a little bit similar (there is a reason that there are so many East European flavoured worlds in the In Love and War series) and drinks vodka, though he doesn’t even like it. Mikhail also has a thing for the long-running vid drama Starship, which is a bit as if Star Trek was a soap opera (well, more of a soap opera than it already is) and had been running continuouly for a hundred years or so.

I like stories about outsider and loners finding each other and forming communities and found families, so that’s what I write. This found family aspect is strong in both the Shattered Empire stories (and I’m gonna write more of them some day, though I can only write in one space opera universe at the time) and the In Love and War stories. One of my big themes that plays out in both space opera series is people who have lost their homes and usually families, either due to death and violence (Ethan, Mikhail, Elijah Tyrone, even Brian Mayhew, who was supposed to be a villain) or rejection (Anjali, Carlotta) or never had one in the first place (Holly and very likely Arthur Madden) and try to rebuild what they lost on their own terms. Once I figures this out, by the way, it became a lot clearer to me why my characters, even if they were supposed to be fugitives on the run like Anjali and Mikhail, quickly did start to build communities of friends around them and eventually families. Okay, so I’m not there yet, but then it’s still quite early in Mikhail and Anjali’s relationship (they celebrate their first anniversary in an upcoming story) and having children is not something they’ve even talked about at this point, beyond the fact that it would be a really bad idea given their current circumstances. Of course, the universe doesn’t really care about that.

But even though my main characters are a childless couple, there are children in the In Love and War series, from Tasha and Spencer Tyrone from Freedom’s Horizon to Anjali’s younger sisters Lalita and Sundari and the other children Mikhail meets in the camp for war orphan where he grows up in Dreaming of the Stars. And in the prequel novella Evacuation Order, which is already out, though not yet officially announced, we meet Mikhail’s older sister Katya as well as a very young Mikhail, and a whole spaceship full of refugee children, including newborn babies. We also finally get to see what really happened to Jagellowsk and just why there is such a bond between Mikhail and his former commander Brian Mayhew, no matter what Mayhew does later on.

And of course, Brian Mayhew was one of the biggest surprises to me, since he was originally simply intended to be a fairly one note villain, existing solely to hunt down Mikhail and Anjali (which he does, with greater zeal than is justified), until I wanted to have him do a villainous thing and he flat out refused and told me that this is not who he is and how could I ever think he’d do such a thing. He became a lot more interesting from there on, a man who essentially wants to do the right thing (and Brian Mayhew is very much the hero of Evacuation Order) and eventually got pulled into doing horrible things in the name of what he believes is good and right. He’ll eventually get his redemption arc, but it won’t be easy, because he really has done some awful things.

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Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month for August 2018

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 July 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 Amazon.com, 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 epic fantasy, urban fantasy, dark fantasy, YA fantasy, cozy fantasy, portal fantasy, paranormal mystery, science fiction thrillers, space opera, military science fiction, science fantasy, dystopian fiction, prehistoric fiction, horror, Steampunk, Mannerpunk, time travel, witches, dragons, robots, haunted houses, ghost marines, dinosaurs in love, planetkiller weapons, pirates, airships, kidnapped maidens, UFO conspiracies, space mages, prison breaks, magical portals, haunted music venues 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:

The Codex of Desire by Lauren AlderThe Codex of Desire by Lauren Alder:

Love and violence, war and lust, lies and betrayal — even intelligent feathered dinosaurs fell prey to such savage impulses, more than 67 million years ago.

When Raoul Deguchi, a human palaeontologist, touches the alien-forged metal band wrapped around the forearm of a small theropod dinosaur fossil, he is mentally transported back in time to experience the tragic intersection of five dinosaur lives. Girn’ash, a shrewd and secretive female slave, falls in love with Tir’at~Esk, a dashing military prisoner — and will do anything in her meagre power to win his freedom. But Girn’ash’s queen is determined to coerce the handsome warrior into her harem, and when so many ferocious desires collide it might doom an entire civilization to nuclear extinction.

Fleet Commander Recon by Shane Lochlann BlackFleet Commander Recon by Shane Lochlann Black:

For starship captains, there are some things more important than capital weapons and mechanized infantry.

Jayce Hunter’s flagship is grounded. The majority of the battleship Argent’s space wing is either missing or destroyed, and the Judge Advocate is preparing a defense against the possibility of a general court martial aimed at Jayce and the rest of Admiral Powers’ so-called “alarmist” political allies.

Meanwhile, with her mentor veteran cruiser captain Patrick Enright in a coma from which he may never awaken, Jayce vows to hunt down the ambush fleet responsible for the destruction of the starship Revenge and the possible murder of her twin brother, Captain Jason Hunter.

After doing her best to comfort her shaken mother, and even as she fights her own worst fears Jason may truly be gone, the former Perseus Task Force Flag and skipper of the advanced strike cruiser DSS Fury pushes her authority to the limit and re-classifies her command Skywatch Special Forces Recon. Now all she needs is a team willing to share the risk of piracy charges to return to Bayone and finish what the traitorous Colonel Atwell started.

Argent’s amphibious forces are fighting to survive on the surface of an inter-dimensionally trapped planet overrun by treacherous enemies. A previously unknown alien faction armed with destructive riflecutter weapons has blockaded the sector. Now it is up to two stranded marines, a recon K-9, ten fugitive officers and an unexpected ally to fight their way through spacetime and venture deep into the unexplored labyrinth under the Lethe Deeps planetary defense base.

There they may finally discover the secrets of the mysterious Ithis technology and use it to learn the true fate of the one man who can beat Colonel Atwell at his own game.

Unification by Jonathan P. BrazeeUnification by Jonathan P. Brazee:

The Corps has been integrated by imperial decree—but that doesn’t mean everyone accepts the wyntonan Marines. Despite an impressive combat record as a grunt, Corporal Leif Hollow struggles to become an effective NCO and leader of Marines.

When then the trumpets of war sound, however, Marines forget about differences and come together to accomplish the mission. But when the odds are stacked against them, and the empire’s very existence is at stake, will that be enough?

The Lord of Always by David BrianThe Lord of Always by David Brian:

Can this really be the remains of an angel? And if it is, shouldn’t we all tremble in anticipation of what awaits at our end?

For Frank and Roz Tanner, booking a honeymoon at Penhale House, set amid beautiful Cornish landscapes, should have been the perfect getaway. But the house sits on a nexus point; a gateway to demonic realms.

Amid a turbulence of twisting realities, and facing legions of fallen angels and nightmarish servitors, Frank and Roz become separated. Frank turns to a local pensioner for assistance. But the enigmatic George Smoke is a man who offers more questions than answers.

Confronted by dark gods and cosmic abominations, Frank faces a battle for his wife’s soul. It seems a fight he is destined to lose… but he must succeed. Saving Roz is the key to everything.

Evacuation Order by Cora BuhlertEvacuation Order by Cora Buhlert:

When the test of a planet killer weapon goes awry, the light cruiser Fearless Explorer is ordered to the planet Jagellowsk to evacuate the scientists in charge of the test before the planet breaks apart. But in defiance of orders, Captain Brian Mayhew and his crew decide to aid the civilian evacuation efforts instead.

Meanwhile, on Jagellowsk, thirteen-year-old Katya Grikova is desperate to get herself and her little brother Misha to safety from the ever stronger seismic shocks that are rocking the planet.

The Fearless Explorer is Katya and Misha’s only chance to get away from Jagellowsk. But Captain Brian Mayhew and his crew cannot evacuate all the children waiting for rescue…

This is a prequel novella of 29000 words or approximately 100 print pages in the “In Love and War” series, but may be read as a standalone.

Eye of Truth by Lindsay BurokerEye of Truth by Lindsay Buroker:

After ten years at war, Jev Dharrow looks forward to hanging up his sword, relaxing with a cool mug of ale, and forgetting that the love of his life married another man while he was gone. But when his ship sails into port, a beautiful woman wearing the garb of an inquisitor from one of the religious orders waits to arrest him.

His crime?

He’s accused of stealing an ancient artifact with the power to start another war. Jev would gladly hand over the artifact to stop more suffering, but he has no idea where it is or even what it looks like. The inquisitor woman definitely has the wrong person.

Inquisitor Zenia Cham grew up with nothing, but she has distinguished herself as one of the most capable law enforcers in the city, and she’s next in line to become archmage of the temple. All she has to do is find the Eye of Truth, and her superiors are certain that Jev has it.

He tries to charm her with his twinkling eyes and easy smile, but she’s not letting any man get between her and her dreams. Especially not a thief.

If Jev can’t convince Zenia they’re on the same side, find the artifact, and clear his name, his homecoming will turn into a jail sentence. Or worse.

Missing Signal by Seb DoubinskyMissing Signal by Seb Doubinsky:

From Seb Doubinsky, author of The Song of Synth, The Babylonian Trilogy, White City, Absinth, Omega Gray and Suan Ming, comes his highly anticipated next installment in the City-States Cycle.

Missing Signal—a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a government conspiracy? Agent Terrence Kovacs has worked for the New Petersburg Counter-Intel Department propagating fake UFO stories for so long that even he has a hard time separating fact from fiction. Especially when he’s approached by a beautiful woman named Vita, who claims she’s been sent from another planet to liberate Earth.

Prison Break by Rachel FordPrison Break by Rachel Ford, narrated by Jill Myers:

Mercy is weakness. Forgiveness is blasphemy. Sin is crime. The unholy trinity – monotheists, polytheists, and technotheists – rule in unison. Justice is not blind, but soulless.

In a city of stratified wealth and endemic poverty, Father Edlin tries to make a difference. His little church and free clinics provide a flicker of hope to the downtrodden populace. But not for long.

The men with guns show up, and it’s only a matter of time before a forced confession of heresy is extracted. Now Father Edlin sits in a cell, awaiting the fulfillment of his death sentence. But somewhere in the night, a friend lurks, waiting for the chance to pay off an old debt….

War Mage by Chris FoxWar Mage by Chris Fox:

The Krox have finally reached their end game, and the sector will never be the same. Their relentless fleet darkens the skies of New Texas, home of the fabled Ternus shipyards. Their only hope lies with their sworn allies, the Shayans. But the Shayans refuse to help.

Only Aran and his company can keep their leadership alive long enough for Voria to bring reinforcements and the fabled Spellship. If they fail, the entire world burns, and Ternus morale will collapse with it.

But the war is merely a smokescreen for something much more sinister. Teodros, Guardian of Krox, plans to use the distraction to resurrect his dark father. If he is not stopped, Krox will live again.

Behind it all Talifax schemes, and Nara will pay the price.

The Fila Epiphany by J.J. GreenThe Fila Epiphany by J.J. Green

Humanity’s first deep space colony.

Humanity’s last hope.

Treachery and sabotage have dogged the early days of the Nova Fortuna colonization project, and worse problems lie in wait.

The data the colonists received about their planet was wrong. No one knows what predatory life forms threaten the colonists. Ethan makes it his job to find out. At the same time, geneticist Cariad tries to root out any remaining saboteurs while also working to rebuild the colonists’ gene pool.

If Cariad and Ethan don’t succeed in securing the colony’s safety the last surviving flame of humanity will be snuffed out.

The Fila Deception is book two in the compelling, provocative space colonization series, Space Colony One.

A Portion of Dragon and Chips by Simon HaynesA Portion of Dragon and Chips by Simon Haynes:

“An insane, inspired blend of high fantasy and low humour”

When a battered old robot washes up on the shores of the Old Kingdom, it signals the end of a fragile alliance amongst the four ancient lands.
It turns out dragons are really tasty, and having filleted, boned and baked their scaly allies to the very brink of extinction, no single kingdom can hope to win out against the other three.
Into this shaky impasse steps the mechanical man, impervious to crude weapons, magic, suspicious wedding feasts, poisoned wine, and fire of any colour, be it wild, angry or just slightly annoyed.
Each kingdom stakes their claim to the mechanical marvel, convinced the mysterious creature will lead them to a crushing victory against the others once they teach it to fly. And breathe fire. And, you know, ignore the Three Laws.
It’s just a pity none of them thought to ask the robot what it wants.

Featuring Clunk – the beloved robot from the Hal Spacejock series – as well as the oddball protagonists from The Desolator and Thonn!, this novel promises to bring you the biggest laughs of the year.

Welcome to the Show, edited by Matt Hayward and Doug MuranoWelcome to the Show: 17 Horror Stories – One Legendary Venue, edited by Matt Hayward and Doug Murano:

17 horror Stories. One legendary music venue.

We all know the old cliché: Sex, drugs and rock and roll. Now, add demons, other dimensions, monsters, revenge, human sacrifice, and a dash of the truly inexplicable. This is the story of the (fictional) San Francisco music venue, The Shantyman.

In Welcome to the Show, seventeen of today’s hottest writers of horror and dark fiction come together in devilish harmony to trace The Shantyman’s history from its disturbing birth through its apocalyptic encore.

Featuring stories by Brian Keene, John Skipp, Mary SanGiovanni, Robert Ford, Max Booth III, Glenn Rolfe, Matt Hayward, Bryan Smith, Matt Serafini, Kelli Owen, Jonathan Janz, Patrick Lacey, Adam Cesare, Alan M Clark, Somer Canon, Rachel Autumn Deering and Jeff Strand.

Compiled by Matt Hayward. Edited by Doug Murano.

Bring your curiosity, but leave your inhibitions at the door. The show is about to begin…

Queen of the Shining Sea by Miranda HonfleurQueen of the Shining Sea by Miranda Honfleur:

Enemy mages and ships. An all-powerful organization gone rogue. One woman refuses to stand aside.

After the Divinity reveals its dark intentions, Rielle and her friends patrol the Shining Sea, doing all they can to stem the tide of gold flowing into Magehold and the dangerous goods flowing out. Facing Immortals and pirates at every turn, they wage battle after battle against clandestine Divinity ships in an effort to weaken its ability to grasp for power.

Meanwhile, Veris draws near and the Dragon King hunts Jon, whose life hangs in the balance as Olivia and Samara seek answers to heal his heart. As the werewolf presence in Emaurria escalates, Brennan is forced to confront both sides of his werewolf–noble identity and choose whether to reject it or embrace it. In a harsh and deadly wilderness, Leigh and Ambriel search for clues about the Sundering ritual, hoping to seal away the violent Immortals and save the land for good.

But the Divinity does not accept defeat — and when the Grand Divinus strikes back, it is not at Rielle but at Emaurria. Will she give up her war against the Divinity, or will Emaurria fall?

A Splash of Truth by Amy HopkinsA Splash of Truth by Amy Hopkins:

A boy is missing, and Emma needs to find him fast. The High Seat’s request to hunt down a traitor on the Council will just have to wait.

When Emma’s search leads her to the gritty underground where half-blood children are made to fight for sport, she’ll require every ounce of cunning and skill she has to bring the operation down. She must not only mingle with the arrogant nobles who run the operation but finally face down the one person who means her the most harm – her sister, Aveline.

Putting off the High Seat’s task, however, may be a bigger risk than she bargained for…

Witch Out of Water by Amanda M. LeeWitch Out of Water by Amanda M. Lee:

Hadley Hunter is the new witch in a town overflowing with paranormal beings. She’s ready to settle, but odd things keeping cropping up and knocking her off her game.
In addition to dating Moonstone Bay’s sheriff Galen Blackwood, Hadley has her hands full when she helps discover a body at a local festival and uncovers a decades’ old feud between two warring families.

The stories are flying fast and furious and the suspects are racking up. At the top of the list is local enigma Booker, a mysterious soul who Hadley is determined to chase until he starts giving answers about his hidden past.

Galen and Booker are at odds – and it’s over more than just the dead body – and Hadley feels caught in the middle. When another witch shows an interest in her magical development, Hadley is eager for a breather. Unfortunately for her, the old witch in town might not be on the up and up.

Hadley has a lot to do. She needs to solve a murder, figure out what’s up with the other witch and get to know a few more locals. That’s on top of bonding with a grandfather she didn’t even know she had. She doesn’t have a job but she’s always working at something … as long as she survives to see another fantastic island sunrise, that is.

Step Into Magic by Day LeitaoStep Into Magic by Day Leitao:

Not special. Not chosen. But she’s got magical shoes.

14-year old Karina doesn’t know what she wants, but knows what she’s found—fascinating silver shoes. Fascinating, dangerous, and potentially evil. On the upside, they do bring cool visitors. When a princess invites her to go to Whyland, of course she accepts. There’s that little “let’s destroy the shoes” detail she’s not crazy about, but hey, free trip. Alternate world.

But Whyland is nothing like she expected. Karina finds herself stuck in a kingdom she doesn’t understand, with no clue on who to trust. Before saving anyone, she’d better save herself—if she figures out how.

For 16-year-old Cayla, destroying the shoes is her much-wanted chance to prove her worth to her father, the king, and gain freedom. It might also be her chance to see Darian after more than one year apart. Does he still like her? Did he ever? But these are not the only questions she finds an answer for. Soon she realizes that all her learning and fighting skills are no match for the truths she’s about to face.

Step into Magic is a fun YA portal fantasy adventure. If you like books with friendships between girls, subtle romance, and some mystery, get Step into Magic now.

Spells & Death by Rachel MedhurstSpells & Death by Rachel Medhurst:

Part witch, part ghost, total book nerd.

I’m a dead witch. Sort of. As a pure Essex witch, I’m permanently attached to Mother Earth’s ley lines. Pure magic equals life force. Which is the only thing that’s stopping my body from dying and my soul from moving on.

A Paranormal MI5 agent, my life work is to protect the ley lines. The magic contained within them is sacred, pure. When a serial killer starts leaving clues for me, I quickly realise that not only does he know my secret, he’s trying to steal the magic out from under me.

As each new body is found, I feel the lessening of magic that keeps me alive. I have no choice but to tell the one person I trust. Dave, the cute admin guy. Although he sits behind a desk, his geeky mind could solve anything. Together, we have to find the serial killer, before he drains the Earth of magic, and kills every living thing on it.

Virtue at Market Price by M.E. Meegs and E. Pluribus Van SkyeVirtue at Market Price by M.E. Meegs and E. Pluribus Van Skye:

In April 1924, airship pirates descend on the luxury liner S.S. Paris and make off with twenty-odd female captives. When the various authorities appear powerless to act, one man steps forward, pledging himself to recover said booty and thereby render American womanhood secure.

Unfortunately for all concerned, that man is E. Pluribus Van Slyke….

Motivated by his twin appetites for personal enrichment and female companionship, this trans-oceanic con man and cashiered naval officer deftly persuades a succession of equally ignoble characters of his suitability for the task. Then, given command of a decrepit airship, Van Slyke heads into the empyrean with a crew of halfwits, misfits, and felons.

But this voyage into the unknown is doubly so, for it soon becomes obvious the pirates who raided the Paris descended from fictional skies. In this parallel world our would-be hero finds himself at the mercy of rum-running cutthroats and throat-cutting buccaneers. Will he survive his confrontation with the fastidious Jack Tigue, a pirate renowned for his tasteful wardrobe and his habit of eviscerating opponents? Not to mention the anachronistic Jean Lafitte and his diabolical manicure of torture?

Barely. But most dangerous of all is yet to come: Captain Bonnet, the mad pirate of Barbados. For on departing his company, Van Slyke finds himself betrothed to not one, not two, not three, but five of the Mortal Sins!

The Apple-Tree Throne by Premee MohamedThe Apple-Tree Throne by Premee Mohamed:

It is the turn of the century in an England that never was. Bright new aqua-plants are generating electricity for the streetlights; news can be easily had on the radio-viz; and in Gundisalvus’ Land, the war is over and the soldiers are beginning to trickle home. Amongst these is Lt. Benjamin Braddock, survivor of the massacre that ended the war, and begrudgingly ready to return to a world that, well, doesn’t seem to need him any more than it did in peacetime. His friends have homes and families to return to, while he’s got nothing but his discharge papers and a couple of unwanted medals. Oh, and one new thing: the furious ghost of his commanding officer.

Fortunately, since the officer’s family is so vehemently adamant that Braddock join their rich and carefree fold, he doesn’t have much time to fret about being haunted. But the secrets of the war are about to catch up to them all.

Betrayed by Vanessa NelsonBetrayed by Vanessa Nelson:

A missing war mage. Death in the heartland.

Settling into her new life in the human world, the last thing Arrow expects is a request for aid from the Erith. The Erith’s favourite war mage is missing and Arrow is asked to investigate.

For the first time in her life, she is allowed into the Erith’s fabled heartland. It does not take long for Arrow to realise that the heartland is like the Erith themselves. Full of wonder, breathtakingly beautiful, and deadly.

Arrow is drawn into investigating a death at the very heart of the Erith’s homeland with the growing sense that there is far more wrong and far more at stake than a simple murder and missing mage.

Klone's Stronghold by Joyce Reynolds-WardKlone’s Stronghold by Joyce Reynolds-Ward:

In a world of supernatural beings, not knowing what you are is dangerous.

After Reeni Dutta’s ex-husband Karl attacks her at a music festival, she finds a refuge teaching cryptid construct children at Klone’s Stronghold in northeastern Oregon’s isolated Bucket Mountains. But things are not as they seem at the Stronghold, from the older proprietors of a nearby store and the Stronghold’s leader Alexander Reed Klone, to Reeni herself. She discovers it’s not just Karl who seeks to control who and what she is, but forces from her past that threaten her present. Can she learn the truth about herself and do what is needed in time to defend the Stronghold?

A Quiet Rebellion: Restitution by M.H. ThaungA Quiet Rebellion: Restitution by M.H. Thaung:

Jonathan burns for revenge after fleeing the city with only a stolen uniform and shoes—and a murder charge hanging over him. Unscrupulous scientist Silvers imprisoned him to experiment on, because Jonathan’s cursed with a secret, dangerous power. Jonathan will have to survive, reach Silvers and kill him to prevent him from doing further damage.

Rural herbalist Annetta is mortified after accidentally triggering Jonathan’s power the last time he visited her town. Convinced he’s a threat, she throws her efforts into developing a remedy to prevent him from killing again.

An escaped murderer is just another headache for Eleanor. It’s not easy being queen. She needs to negotiate the moral maze that curses raise and avoid being assassinated like her father.

With such disparate goals, will the right people come out on top?

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Indie Crime Fiction of the Month for August 2018

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 speculative fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some July 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 Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Our new releases cover the broad spectrum of crime fiction. We have cozy mysteries, hardboiled mysteries, small town mysteries, historical mysteries, paranormal mysteries, children’s mysteries, crime thrillers, adventure thrillers, noir, private investigators, amateur sleuths, serial killers, kipnappings, missing persons, missing Shakespeare manuscripts, ex-CIA agents, ex-marines, intrepid reporters, crime-busting witches, crime-busting watchmakers, murder in Louisiana, Iowa, Wyoming, LA and the Caribbean 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:

Shady Shenanigans by Wendy ByrneShady Shenanigans in Iowa by Wendy Byrne:

Former Manhattanite Izzy Lewis is finally settling into small town life in Inez, Iowa—she’s got her adventurous surrogate grandmothers, the Q’s, her hot boyfriend, Gabe, and the rest of the small town’s characters to make sure her days are never boring. But when
her good friend Sheriff Nate Crowder’s ex-wife goes missing, right after having a loud argument with him, things go from interesting to downright dangerous.

When a vengeful DA sets his sights on Nate as the prime suspect in his ex’s disappearance, Izzy and the Qs jump into action. But between leads that go nowhere, mysterious strangers, enemies becoming friends, and an Izzy double stirring up trouble, they have their hands full trying to figure out what happened to Nate’s ex. With the sheriff suspended, the clock ticking, and the danger closing in, can Izzy find out the truth… before she and the Q’s are the next victims?

Flea Flicker by David ChillFlea Flicker by David Chill:

When a young football coach doesn’t come home one night, his beautiful young wife turns to Private Investigator Burnside to locate him. But things are not the way they seem in this riveting page-turner, and a simple missing persons case evolves into a shocking murder. There are no shortage of suspects in this intricately woven story, and P.I. Burnside must overcome the many obstacles in his path to get to the truth that no one seems eager to learn.

The 9th Burnside novel is a treat to read, as the story brings back some fascinating characters from Burnside’s past – as well as adding a host of new ones. And it wouldn’t be a Burnside novel without the wise cracking gumshoe engaging in the sharp and cutting banter that has come to define this award-winning series.

Don't Forget Me by Stacy ClaflinDon’t Forget Me by Stacy Claflin:

When things can’t get any worse, they always do…

Alex Mercer and his fiancée Zoey have weathered many storms, but this latest one might be too much for even them. She’s hiding a secret she fears will send him running for the hills, and she has to tell him before he finds out on his own. Time is definitely not on her side. But with his busy hours at the police academy, there hardly seems a moment to open up to him.

Alex knows something is wrong with Zoey, but he’s too preoccupied to dig into it. Not only is the academy leaving him physically and mentally drained, he’s convinced he’s seeing Flynn Myer, the man who is supposedly in jail for abducting his daughter. No one believes him, but then he starts getting texts trying to arrange a meeting between him Myer.

Meanwhile, Alex’s boss and mentor, Captain Nick Fleshman, is on the case of a serial killer whose burial ground has been unearthed at the home of one of his deputies—one he has a secret relationship with. While he considers the implications of recusing himself, her father becomes the prime suspect.

Alex wants to help Nick and needs to help Zoey, all while trying to put the Myer case to bed for good. But everyone’s secrets are slowing him down, and the killer is on the prowl again. Alex needs more time, but that’s the one thing no one has left.

Dying Breath by M.A. ComleyDying Breath by M.A. Comley

She had everything…

Until she drew her dying breath.

DI Kayli Bright receives a disturbing call that she finds impossible to ignore. The case is an unusual one that forces her to dig deep to find the answers.

Was Jessica’s death a simple accident?

Or did she lose her life due to something far more sinister?

Can Kayli sift through the shocking deception she uncovers during the investigation to find the truth?

Grab this thriller today if you enjoy an intriguing mystery that will keep you turning the pages.

Reel of Fortune by Jana DeLeonReel of Fortune by Jana DeLeon:

Nothing says Welcome Home like a murder.

It’s official. Fortune Redding is out of the CIA and a newly minted resident of Sinful, Louisiana. She never expected her homecoming to be all apple pie and hugs, but a murder wasn’t on her list of things to deal with before she’d even gotten her name stenciled on her mailbox.

Boone Carre—Hooch, to the locals—was a drunk and a louse and had shafted pretty much everyone he’d ever done business with. So when someone kills him, there is no shortage of suspects. Unfortunately, Ally is at the top of the list.

Fortune, Ida Belle, and Gertie know that Ally isn’t capable of murdering anyone, but with an ambitious ADA looking to make a name for himself, and the local gossip train intent on finding someone to blame, they know they have to find the killer and clear Ally’s name.

Bolt from the Blue by Cynthia E. HurstBolt from the Blue by Cynthia E. Hurst:

Luke Alden had everything to live for – a good job, a loving wife and a child on the way – until the events of one stormy night destroyed it all. Some people said it was an act of God, but police in the Cotswold market town suspect it was a very human hand that started a fire and left Alden to die inside a burning building. Did someone resent Alden’s good fortune enough to kill him, or was there another motive? Clock repairer Jacob Silver and his housemaid Sarah Simm join forces with the police to track down a killer who is as elusive as a bolt of lightning, and just as destructive.

‘Bolt from the Blue’ is the seventh book in the Silver and Simm Victorian Mysteries series.

Witch Out of Water by Amanda M. LeeWitch Out of Water by Amanda M. Lee:

Hadley Hunter is the new witch in a town overflowing with paranormal beings. She’s ready to settle, but odd things keeping cropping up and knocking her off her game.
In addition to dating Moonstone Bay’s sheriff Galen Blackwood, Hadley has her hands full when she helps discover a body at a local festival and uncovers a decades’ old feud between two warring families.

The stories are flying fast and furious and the suspects are racking up. At the top of the list is local enigma Booker, a mysterious soul who Hadley is determined to chase until he starts giving answers about his hidden past.

Galen and Booker are at odds – and it’s over more than just the dead body – and Hadley feels caught in the middle. When another witch shows an interest in her magical development, Hadley is eager for a breather. Unfortunately for her, the old witch in town might not be on the up and up.

Hadley has a lot to do. She needs to solve a murder, figure out what’s up with the other witch and get to know a few more locals. That’s on top of bonding with a grandfather she didn’t even know she had. She doesn’t have a job but she’s always working at something … as long as she survives to see another fantastic island sunrise, that is.

Cold Open by Patricia McLinnCold Open by Patricia McLinn

As spring beckons, winter chill remains …

In television, a cold open sometimes rolls before the opening credits, often a teaser to news or a feature to follow. For TV journalist Elizabeth Margaret “E.M.” Danniher, a nippy March and April are just a tease for spring after a long Wyoming winter. In her short time in Sherman, she’s learned that winter starts in October and might not end until June. Since last June, a series of murders have tested her and her KWMT-TV colleagues’ reporting – and amateur sleuth — skills. And the small town’s rumor mill is churning about her relationship with handsome sports reporter Mike Paycik – or is it rugged rancher Tom Burrell?

As winter winds down, Elizabeth is ready for spring and looking for a place of her own. Ah, a little peace and quiet as she begins to settle in Cottonwood County. That is, until she discovers homicide at her front door.

Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror by Geoffrey McSkimmingPhyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror by Geoffrey McSkimming:

Phyllis Wong, that keen young magician with a talent for sleuthing and getting to the bottom of the strangest mysteries, is back! Incredibly valuable first editions of Shakespeare’s collected plays are appearing for sale, and Chief Inspector Barry Inglis of the Fine Arts and Antiques Squad suspects foul play. These rare First Folios are in mint condition, but seemingly are not forgeries. Where on Earth could they have come from? Has a crime been committed?

Luckily Phyllis is on the case. She suspects villainy dating back to the time of Shakespeare himself, which seems to be seeping into the 21st century. How can she convince Chief Inspector Inglis what’s going on? And how can she do this without giving away the greatest magical secret of all time?

As Phyllis herself says: ‘Fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen … the ride will get bumpy!’

Drip Drop Dead by Willow RoseDrip Drop Dead by Willow Rose:

Watch out! The past will always haunt you.

When you hear the dripping…RUN and don’t look back!

Things are going well for Emma Frost for once. She has a sweet boyfriend and has just finished a new book. Her daughter, Maya, is doing well in high school and even Victor is thriving and playing with his new best friend, the strange girl who fell from the sky.

But soon, a murder shocks the island of Fanoe, when a woman is found dead in her bed with no apparent signs of having been killed. But as they find out she died by drowning, and more deaths like it begin to occur around the peaceful island, Emma once again finds herself following signs that lead to her own front door while chasing a killer quite out of the ordinary.

Emma has to ask herself the question: What exactly is going on in her island home and especially underneath it?

As the investigation moves on, and terrifying answers begin to emerge, Willow Rose’s compelling story evolves rapidly, resulting in a novel with almost agonizing suspense.

Rising Force by Wayne StinnettRising Force by Wayne Stinnett:

Paradise has a price. For Jesse McDermitt, that price is his moral compass and a bullet.

The retired Marine and charter skipper takes on a passenger in Nassau, a young woman who is a breath of fresh air. She introduces him to the laid-back cruising crowd on an idyllic small cay in the Berry Islands. Jesse takes to the relaxing lifestyle like a fish to water.

Living each day on its own terms is a new experience for Jesse, but it doesn’t last long. Trouble always seems to find him. When Jesse gets word that someone is destroying nearby patch reefs and poaching sea turtles — and that all this is happening in the same area where a trio of sadistic murderers may be hiding — it triggers his instincts for investigation.

Has Jesse’s urge to find out the truth cost him everything? He came to the Bahamas on a fool’s errand to reconnect with a lost love. The image of her on a beach in the Virgin Islands fills his mind as he passes out from loss of blood…

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More Reactions to the 2018 Hugo Awards and Other WorldCon 76 Links

Since my last post, some more reactions to the 2018 Hugo Awards have trickled in.

For starters, if you want to watch the Hugo ceremony with your own eyes, the video of the ceremony is now online. And if you want to admire the clothes worn by finalists, winners and presenters a little more closely, Olav Rokne and Amanda Wakaruk share several photos they’ve taken before the ceremony, as does Alyshondra Meacham. Olav Rokne and Amanda Wakaruk have also uploaded several photos of the Masquerade, so you can admire the amazing costumes.

At nerds of a feather, Joe Sherry shares his thoughts and reactions regarding the 2018 Hugo Award winners and also thanks everybody who nominated and voted for them.

Martha Wells, Hugo finalist in best series and Hugo winner in best novella, shares her experiences at WorldCon 76 and also offers her account of the Hugo ceremony. Martha Wells has also posted some photos of the Hugo Losers Party hosted every year by George R.R. Martin.

And if you want to see the dancing robots at the Hugo Losers Party in action, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro has you covered.

Hugo master of ceremonies and WorldCon 76 guest of honor Jon Picacio has posted an extensive con report at his website, including plenty of photos. He discusses the Mexicanx Initiative to bring 100 Mexican fans and creators to WorldCon 76 as well as the Chesley Awards, the Hugo ceremony and the Hugo Losers Party.

At Dreaming About Other Worlds, Aaron Pound weighs in on the 2018 Hugo Awards and 1943 Retro Hugo Awards and also takes a look at the longlists in the respective categories. Aaron also made the effort to add the author and editor names to the novels, stories, magazines, fanzines, fancasts, etc… on the longlist, which is very much appreciated, because it makes tracking down novels, stories, magazines, etc… easier.

In its editorial section, the Guardian shares its official view on science fiction, namely that N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy deserves its three Hugo Awards, because it is a gift to culture. It’s a lovely editorial and high praise for N.K. Jemisin (oh, how I wish that German newspapers would even have an official view on science fiction). Unfortunately, the comment section is full of pissed off puppies and the usual “I don’t care about an author’s race and gender, but I only read books by white men, because white men are objectively the best, not that I’d know, cause I don’t care about skin colour” concern trolls.

As for the “But what about the poor white menz” brigade, Desirina Boskovich has some facts:

I just did the count and six men named Robert won the Hugo Award for Best Novel over the years. Robert A. Heinlein won four best novel Hugos (as well as a bunch of Retro Hugos), Robert J. Sawyer and Robert Charles Wilson won one each. If you add in the short fiction categories, you get another five Roberts. Three of those are Robert Silverberg plus Robert Bloch and Robert Reed. You also get a whole lot of Johns, Jacks and Fritzes in the fiction categories. All the Fritzes are Fritz Leiber, by the way. Not that he hasn’t deserved it, but those who are worried that white men are an endangered species at the Hugo Awards would do well to remember that there are literally more Hugo winners who are white guys named Robert than there are Hugo winners who are writers of colour.

I found the Desirina Koskovich tweet as well as several other posts linked herein via File 770, which is not just an indispensible resource for every SF fan, but also deserves every single Hugo it has won. And everybody worried about Mike Glyer who was hospitalised a few hours before the Hugo ceremony and had to have a pacemaker implanted will be happy to hear that Mike is doing much better.

Also at File 770, Jo Van Ekern, who accepted File 770‘s Hugo on Mike Glyer’s behalf, shares her adventures at WorldCon 76, a San José hospital, the Hugo ceremony and the Hugo Losers Party. Turns out that Jo also injured herself outside the hospital, so that Hugo Award nearly landed two people in hospital.

As for future WorldCons, next year’s WorldCon will be in Dublin, Republic of Ireland. the concomm also asks everybody interested in participating in the programme to fill out the programme participant form and/or the programme idea suggestion form, because they cannot contact people who haven’t given their consent to be contacted due to the annoying GDPR law. I’m definitely attending WorldCon 77 in Dublin BTW and hope to see you there.

WorldCon 2020 will be called ConZealand and will take place in Wellington, New Zealand. File 770 has some relevant links as well as a cute announcement video, which even includes a welcome from New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

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In Memoriam Dieter Thomas Heck

German TV personality and actor Dieter Thomas Heck died today aged 80. Here is a video obituary with many clips, courtesy of ZDF. Unfortunately, there is no English language obituary anywhere (honestly, Deutsche Welle, that’s your job), so I had to write one myself.

If you grew up in West Germany in the 1970s and 1980s, Dieter Thomas Heck was part of your life, because he was always on your TV screen (unless you were one of those poor kids whose parents did not have a TV, that is). Dieter Thomas Heck hosted quiz shows, game shows, music shows, always recognizable by his hairstyle, his glasses, his mannerisms and his unique motormouth voice.

If you’re my age, you probably first encountered Dieter Thomas Heck via the show ZDF Hitparade, which he hosted from 1969 to 1984. Hitparade was your typical music program. Several popular songs – all of them sung in German, international hits need not apply – were performed live in front of a studio audience and later a winner was determined, first via mailed postcards and later via televoting, as Heck himself explains in this clip. The winner would then compete again in the next show. It was a simple concept, but one that worked. Dieter Thomas Heck was a large part of the reason why the show worked so well – and it’s telling that it floundered after he left, though it held on until 2000. His fast talking presentation, combined with the ultra-conservative look of the car salesman he used to be, were a large part of what made the show. Hitparade has no conventional scrolling end credits BTW. Instead, Dieter Thomas Heck spoke the end credits in superfast mode. What makes Dieter Thomas Heck’s fast talking even more amazing is that Heck actually had a speech impediment, a stutter that was caused by the trauma of being trapped under rubble during a WWII bombing as a small child. Singing and acting helped young Dieter Thomas Heck, still named Carl Dieter Heckscher then, overcome his stutter and paved the way for his radio and TV career.

If Hitparade ever was cool, it was not in my lifetime. Hitparade was always the dreaded family viewing, something intended for audiences from 3 to 90. Nonetheless, we all watched it. In a world with only three TV channels, it wasn’t as if there was much competition, after all. Not that there weren’t other, more exciting music programs. But Musikladen, still the crown jewel of German music television, where you could see all the big international stars live on TV, aired in a late evening slot. Too late, if you were a kid. Hitparade, however, aired in an early evening slot – half past seven to quarter past eight – on Saturday nights, and being allowed to watch Hitparade before being sent to bed was the highlight of the week in my early childhood. There was also disco with Ilja Richter, which alternated with Hitparade in its Saturday night slot for a while. disco had international stars, though not nearly as many as the name would suggest. Most of disco‘s line-up was the same old German Schlager music that you could also hear on Hitparade. Besides, disco also included a lot of skits featuring host Ilja Richter, while Hitparade was only music. Which show was better was a huge playground debate in kindergarten and primary school. I tended a bit towards Hitparade, because it was just music and no stupid skits. Though disco did have Blondie perform, while Hitparade just had Heino and the like.

But change eventually came even to the good old Hitparade. It arrived in the early 1980s in the form of the Neue Deutsche Welle and strange bands and singers in strange outfits who invaded the staid Hitparade literally like aliens from a distant galaxy. Instead of Heino, Roland Kaiser, Rex Gildo, Costa Cordalis, Lena Valaitis, Katja Ebstein and the rest of them, you suddenly had the sheer absurdity of Trio performing “Da-Da-Da” (still one of the very few genuine world hits from Germany) or Hubert Kah singing “Sternenhimmel” (who actually got booed, when they won) or DÖF performing “Codo” (basically a science fiction epic in the form of a pop song) or the Spider Murphy Gang performing “Skandal im Sperrbezirk” (no Hitparade clip, though they must have been there, cause everybody was) and “Peep Peep”, which taught a generation about phone sex (Me aged 9: “And people pay for that?”) and peep shows (Me aged 9: “And people pay for that, too?”). Coincidentally, the Munich phone number mentioned in “Skandal im Sperrbezirk” is still blocked 36 years later, because everybody who winds up with that phone number finds themselves inundated with calls from people looking for Rosi and her phone sex line.

Dieter Thomas Heck obviously was no fan of the Neue Deutsche Welle songs that gradually took over his program, though he did play them. Though looking back, the difference between some of the softer Neue Deutsche welle songs like “Kleine Taschenlampe brenn” by Markus (okay, so I just wanted to post that clip) and the sappier Schlager songs of the same era isn’t all that great. Interestingly, one of the very few songs that Heck did not want to play and only very coolly announced was “Bruttosozialproduct” by Geier Sturzflug, the song that taught a generation what a gros national product was. Honestly, one of these days I’m going to write a book entitled “Everything I needed to know I learned from the Neue Deutsche Welle”. I’ve never quite understood why Heck disliked “Bruttosozialprodukt” so much and yet happily played the much bawdier Spider Murphy Gang songs. Supposedly, he disliked the song because it lampooned the economic growth politics of the early Kohl era. Because in real life, Heck was as conservative as his TV persona and actually campaigned for the conservative CDU at a time when celebrities involving themselves in election campaigns was still considered extremely gauche and a big no-no.

Dieter Thomas Heck left the Hitparade behind not long after the Neue Deutsche Welle invasion. I suspect the fact that German language music had changed away from what he was comfortable with had much to do with his exit after fifteen years. The Hitparade limped on until 2000 under a series of successors and even opened its stage for English language songs, provided the singers and/or producers were German, but it had long lost its must watch status by then. In fact, I stopped watching Hitparade not long after Heck left, but then I was rapidly aging out of the Hitparade demographic by then and had found better places to see better music.

But reducing Dieter Thomas Heck’s life merely to the fifteen years of Hitparade would be wrong, because he did so much more. He hosted quiz shows like Die Pyramide, sport programs like Das aktuelle Sportstudio, other music programs like Musik liegt in der Luft or the bane of my teen years, Melodien für Millionen (Melodies for Millions) or as we nicknamed it, “Melodien für Melonen” (Melodies for Melons). Melodien für Melonen was a terribly sappy program where usually elderly people talked about their lost lovers, parents, siblings or whatever, then a song that was important to them was played and then the lost person would come on stage for a tearful reunion. Melodien für Melonen lasted from 1985 to 2007, when Dieter Thomas Heck retired from TV. Heck was also extremely active in collecting donations for various charitable causes, usually via hosting charity galas and extravaganzas.

Dieter Thomas Heck was one of the last of the great entertainers and presenters of German TV, so his death is in many ways the end of an era. Most of his contemporaries – Hans Joachim Kuhlenkampf, Hans Rosenthal, Heinz Schenk, Peter Frankenfeld, Robert Lemke. Kurt Felix – have already gone to that great TV studio in the sky. Frank Elstner is the only one who’s still around as well as Thomas Gottschalk who belongs to the next generation of German TV entertainers. As for Dieter Thomas Heck, I knew that he was ill, because I occasionally saw headlines like “Dieter Thomas Heck – Death Drama” on the covers of the celebrity gossip mags in the supermarket. However, at least half of those headlines are wholly imaginary and the rest usually refer to some celebrities third cousin being ill, so I did not pay a whole lot of attention.

But though Dieter Thomas Heck is best remembered as a TV presenter, he also was an actor. For some reason, he often played villains or at least deeply unlikable characters. I guess screenwriters and perhaps even Heck himself wanted to subvert his conservative Dad image.

And then there is my all-time favourite Dieter Thomas Heck peformance, which combines his TV presentation and his acting skills. For in 1970, Dieter Thomas Heck played the host of the fictional TV show in Das Millionenspiel (The Million Game), an SF film about a reality TV show where contestants are hunted by professional killers, competing for a prize of one million deutschmark. Das Millionenspiel was based on a short story by Robert Sheckley (for which the ZDF neglected to license the rights from Sheckley, instead licensing them from Sheckley’s German publisher, so Sheckley never saw a dime). Even 48 years later, Das Millionenspiel is still a brilliant bit of television that caused a scandal upon first airing, because many people mistook the fictional TV program for a real show and wrote in to protest the inhumanity of the whole thing, apply as contestants or in a handful of cases as hunters.

Though not the star of the film, Dieter Thomas Heck is a large part of the reason why it is so brilliant. Because he played the fictional host of a fictional TV show in a dystopian world just like he hosted Hitparade every week. What is more, the fictional show looks just like a real 1970s game show, complete with live studio audience and weird musical interludes and performances by the TV ballet, which makes it incredibly creepy. The fake ad breaks full of fake ads for fake products reinforce this feeling, though German TV did not have ad breaks during evening programs in the 1970s. Rewatching Das Millionenspiel today feels eerily like watching a TV show from a parallel universe.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. The entire film is on YouTube and you can watch it below. Heck first appears at the 8 minute mark BTW. So in memory of Dieter Thomas Heck I give you his finest hour in Das Millionenspiel:

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Reactions to the 2018 Hugo Award Winners

I already shared my own reactions to the 2018 Hugo Award winners as well as some reactions from around the web in yesterday’s post. However, since then I’ve come across a couple more reaction posts from around the web.

At Women Write About Comics, Doris V. Sutherland talks about this year’s Hugo winners and also touches upon the earlier WorldCon 76 programming controversy and the even earlier controversy surrounding the short fiction review site Rocket Stack Rank. Doris V. Sutherland has also reviewed all the novel and novella as well as novelette and short story finalists for the 2018 Hugo Awards.

On his blog, Steve J. Wright shares his thoughts on the 2018 Hugo Award winners and the 1943 Retro Hugo Award winners. Like me, he does not much care for The Good Place as well as the two winning Heinlein stories in the Retro Hugos.

Font Folly compares his ballot with the 2018 Hugo winners and realises that he never actually put N.K. Jemisin’s triple Hugo winning trilogy in first place. Coincidentally, neither did I. It’s not that I don’t feel that N.K. Jemisin is a most worthy Hugo winner, for she absolutely is. It’s just that there was always at least one book I liked better. For that matter, the last time and only time my first choice won in the best novel category was Ancillary Justice in 2014.

Font Folly also explains why he feels more drawn to stories by women, writers of colour and LGBT writers, probably in response to the handwringing in various places (for a taste, check out the comments on this File 770 post) that for the second year in a row, all Hugo winners in the fiction categories were women (and psst, don’t tell them, but in 2016 the winners in the fiction categories were four women, three of them women of colour, and Andy Weir). Interestingly, those handwringers worry very much about the statistical improbability of only women winning two years in a row, but seem notably less concerned about the fact that only white men won Hugos for a whole fifteen years in a row, even though we know that women were nominated as early as the third ever Hugo Awards in 1956. I also don’t recall the “But what about the poor menz” brigade being overly concerned that all but one Hugo finalist in the fiction categories was male as late as 2007.

Font Folly also pointed me to this post by Alexandra Erin, in which she muses about WorldCons and the Hugos in general. Alexandra Erin points out that what makes WorldCon so great is the community and how generally welcoming it is (occasional idiots notwithstanding). And what makes the Hugos great is that they arise from this community. I agree with her and indeed I wrote something similar in my WorldCon 75 after-action report last year.

Best fanwriter finalist Camestros Felapton digs into the Hugo numbers to analyse the impact of “No Award” and the EPH system of weighing the nominations to reduce the impact of slates, used for the first time in 2017.

It turns out that “No Award” is a factor even when there is no puppy poo on the ballot due to people no awarding works they dislike/don’t consider Hugo worthy and some people also no awarding entire categories (series, fancast, the editing categories) they believe should not exist. Now I don’t really get the latter – if I don’t want to vote in a category for whatever reason, I simply leave it blank. But I do no award finalists I intensely dislike and/or do not consider Hugo worthy and/or feel do not belong in that category, cause that’s what “No Award” is for. I have also no awarded finalists in the pre-puppy era. The first year, I voted for the Hugo, I was depressed because I had to put several finalists under no award, either because they were just dreadful or miscategorised. I felt quite about that at the time. Then came the puppy years and “no award” became a serious contender. And ever since then, I find that I am far more willing to pull the “no award” trigger.

As for the impact of EPH, it turns out that without EPH, The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley and Autonomous by Annalee Newitz would have replaced The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi and New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, the two IMO weakest works on this year’s best novel ballot. But then, I suspect that The Stars Are Legion and Autonomous are more likely to appeal to the same voter/nominator pool that also liked The Stone Sky, Raven Strategem or Provenance or Six Wakes for that matter, while John Scalzi and Kim Stanley Robinson both have strong fanbases, but those fanbases, particularly Robinson’s, don’t seem to have as much overlap with the fanbases for the other books. So in short, EPH seems to work as intended, even if I personally would have been happier with The Stars Are Legion and Autonomous.

On a related note, Camestros Felapton also wonders what is a fan writer anyway and what does and does not constitute fan writing.

ETA: Inspired by N.K. Jemisin’s triple Hugo win, Mike Glyer compiled a list of all those who have won three or more consecutive Hugos in the same category. The record holder is Dave Langford BTW who won best fan writer every single year from 1989 to 2007.

ETA 2: Sal Pizarro reports about the 2018 Hugo Awards for the San José Mercury and also particularly focusses on the fact that so many women, including women of colour, won.

Regarding people not happy about the 2018 Hugo winners, the Vox Day post I linked to in my last post (archive.is link) also contains an alleged quote from Robert Silverberg, in which he declares that he hasn’t read N.K. Jemisin’s triple Hugo winning trilogy, but found her acceptance speech vulgar, because she wasn’t properly grateful or something. Like many others I dismissed that quote as Vox making up stuff, but Laura Resnick and John Scalzi have both confirmed that the quote is genuine, though it was apparently a comment made on a private e-mail list that turned out to be not as private as Robert Silverberg thought. Besides, it’s not his place to criticise how other writers celebrate their Hugo wins. I also find it a bit sad that one of the greats of our genre and an annual WorldCon attendant since 1953 can’t find the time to read a Hugo winning novel. It’s okay if he doesn’t like the books and if he doesn’t want to read the whole trilogy, but not having read even one volume is rather sad.

N.K. Jemisin herself has the following response:

At Facebook, Katherine Kerr and Laura Resnick also respond to complaints that N.K. Jemisin and the other Hugo winners and finalists of colour as well as those who have voted for them have engaged in “identity politics” by pointing out that promoting straight white men is also identity politics, especially since straight white men are actually a minority of the world population.

I already posted some reactions from the puppy camp in my last post. For more voices from the puppy camp (all links go to archive.is), here is 2016 Campbell Award finalist Brian Niemeier complaining that the Hugo voters are unimaginative, because they awarded N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy three years in a row. As I said above, I never actually placed any of the Broken Earth books in first place either, because there was always at least one book I liked better. Alas, Niemeier fails to tell us what he would have preferred to win instead. He also harbours under the misapprehension that Tor has dropped John Scalzi (they didn’t; his career is going fine) and that Tor publishes N.K. Jemisin (The Broken Earth trilogy was actually published by Orbit). The rest of the usual blah-blah about how traditional publishing is doomed and indies are the future, though there is no mention of the Dragon Awards this time around. Niemeier also can’t resist a swipe at Catherynne M. Valente, who became the subject of truly nasty harassment campaign after she tweeted about the alt-right rally outside WorldCon 76. Cause for some reason, several puppy types and fellow travellers assumed she was calling them Nazis – even though she was referring to the protesters at the rally and none of the various puppies were actually there – and decided to spew hatred and death threats at a pregnant woman.

Meanwhile, Sad Puppies founder Larry Correia wishes to let K. Tempest Bradford (and presumably everybody else) know that he is totally over WorldCon and the Hugos and just doesn’t care anymore. The rest of the post is a mix of Correia bragging about his mountain, his car and his guns, as if he were the guy from this classic 1995 bank commercial, and telling K. Tempest Bradford how utterly irrelevant she is. Because he doesn’t care anymore, you see.

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Comments on the 2018 Hugo Awards Winners

So the 2018 Hugo Awards were awarded tonight. The full list of winners may be found here, while the detailed breakdown of votes and nominations is here. Finally, if you want to see my comments on the finalists, back when they were announced, go here.

This year, my hit rate this year was even worse than last year, because only four of my first choices won, while two finalists I had no awarded, because I really did not like them, won their respective categories as well. I’ll talk about one of them later. I won’t talk about the other. But then, I guess that my low hit rate in the past two years is a sign that things are back to normal after the puppy years, where the number of good choices was strongly curtailed in many categories. However, my tastes have always been out of step with those of the larger Hugo electorate, even though I am much happier overall with the finalists and winners now than I was ten or twenty years ago.

The 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novel goes to The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin and this time, she was even able to accept her award in person, wearing an utterly gorgeous gown. This win wasn’t exactly unexpected, considering that the first two books in the trilogy already won in 2016 and 2017 respectively, making N.K. Jemisin the first writer ever to win back to back to back Hugos in any of the fiction categories. The entire Broken Earth trilogy would also have been nominated in best series, but N.K. Jemisin declines the nomination. What is more, the 2017 Best Novel ballot was a lot stronger than the 2018 Best Novel ballot. New York 2140 was very much a “love it or hate it” book (I’m in the “hate it” category, but then none of Kim Stanley Robinson’s books have ever done it for me) and such books are unlikely to win. Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty is a perfectly fine murder mystery in space, but not as strong as some of the other finalists. Meanwhile, The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi was just weak and didn’t offer anything that other books (some of them released in the same year) didn’t already do better. I was surprised that it finished in second place. I know Scalzi has a big fanbase, but he has written much better books than this one.

Raven Strategem is an excellent novel (and was my first choice in this category), but was hampered by being the second book in a trilogy where the first did not win. In fact, I do feel a bit sorry for Yoon Ha Lee, whose outstanding trilogy remained unrecognized by the major genre awards so far, largely because it happened to come out at the same time as N.K. Jemisin’s outstanding trilogy. However, I do hope that Hugo voters will recognise the Machineries of Empire trilogy in some form (either best novel or best series) next year. Provenance by Ann Leckie finally is a lovely story (and was my second choice), but it’s cozier and lighter than the other finalists in this category, basically a caper novel in a science fiction setting. Some people also had issues with the protagonist who is a bit naive and not hypercompetent – and we all know how science fiction fans love their hypercompetent protagonists. It’s not that Provenance doesn’t have anything to say – in fact, it has a lot to say about family, identity, history and how people often manufacture both from whole cloth. If anything The Collapsing Empire was a more lightweight work than Provenance, in spite of its galaxy spanning scope and the fact that it’s apparently an analogy for climate change (but then New York 2140 already has that angle covered in a non-metaphorical way). But in the end how Hugo voters tend to prefer high stakes to small stakes stories (and both Provenance and Six Wakes had smaller stakes) and grim and serious stories over lighter stories, particularly in this rather grim time in American history.

The 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella goes, again unsurprisingly, to All Systems Red by Martha Wells, but then this charming novella about the grumpy security robot Murderbot was the big favourite in this category and also won the Nebula. It also was my first choice in this category, by the way. Contrary to what I said before, here we have proof that cozier stories with smaller stakes can win. The excellent and innovative “And Then There Were (N-One)” by Sarah Pinsker finished highly deserved in second place. I’m a bit surprised that Sarah Gailey’s delightful River of Teeth finished last, but then this novella hit so many of my personal sweet spots that I was willing to overlook its weaknesses. And besides, Sarah Gailey did get to take home a Hugo in a different category.

The 2018 Hugo Award for best novelette goes to “The Secret Life of Bots” by Suzanne Palmer. Again, this is a highly deserved win and this story was also my second choice from an extremely strong ballot. In fact, there was not a single bad story nominated in the novelette category, though some were better than others. Coincidentally, this makes two wins this year for stories with robot protagonists and there was another robot story nominated in the short story category. But then, stories told from the POV of highly advanced and curiously human AIs are one of the big SF trends of recent years. See also the Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie (the first book of which, Ancillary Justice, won the Hugo and everything else there is to win in 2014), “Cat Pictures, Please” by Naomi Kritzer (which won the Hugo in 2016), “Damage” by David D. Levine (knocked off the Hugo ballot by puppy shenanigans), the not very good puppy story about a sentient warship, and now Murderbot, Suzanne Palmer’s aged repair bots who happen to save humanity and Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s fanfiction writing robot from “Fandom for Robots”.

The 2018 Hugo Award for best short story goes to “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience (TM)” by Rebecca Roanhorse. It’s a fine story and a well deserved win, though it wasn’t my first choice. Though I can absolutely see why it won. Because Hugo voters value novelty and “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience (TM)” did offer plenty of novelty. It’s also a more substantial tale than the delightful “Fandom for Robots” and “Sun, Moon, Dust”. “The Martian Obelisk” is fine, but not quite as innovative as “Welcome”. And “Carnival Nine” (which I disliked) and “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” were both divisive “love ’em or hate ’em” stories. Coincidentally, Rebecca Roanhorse also got to take home the Campbell Award (not a Hugo) for the best new writer, making her the first writer to win both the Campbell and a Hugo in a fiction category in the same year since Barry Longyear in 1980. Rebecca Roanhorse’s Campbell win was highly deserved, too, even though my personal favourite was Rivers Solomon, whom I hope we will see on the Hugo ballot again some other year.

The 2018 Hugo Award for Best Series goes once again to Lois McMaster Bujold for The World of the Five Gods (which was also my first choice), making Lois McMaster Bujold the first and only person to win the best series award back to back and the only person other than Isaac Asimov, who won a lifetime achievement type best series award for the Foundation series, to ever win the best series award. Okay, so the regular best series Hugo is only in its second year, but it’s still a remarkable achievement. Though I’m still not convinced that the best series Hugo really does what it was supposed to do, namely award the sort of series that are hugely popular, but usually overlooked by the best novel awards, because individual installments don’t stand alone all that well and because the sum is greater than its parts. But so far, what we see in this category are a lot of the same finalists we also see in the other fiction categories. Lois McMaster Bujold, much as I love her work, has plenty of wins and nominations for both the Vorkosigan series and the Five Gods series. Perennial Hugo favourite Seanan McGuire has plenty of Hugo nominations and at least one win, though not for the October Daye and InCryptid series (that is, I think an October Daye short story was nominated a few years back). The Divine Cities by Robert Jackson Bennett never had a Hugo nomination, because the individual volumes got knocked off the ballot by the puppies. Broken Earth, The Expanse and the Craft sequence, all of which would have been nominated, but declined (Broken Earth) or were disqualified have had individual volumes (and in the case of Max Gladstone, the author) recognised before. In fact, the only 2018 best series finalist that matched the description of “popular, but doesn’t fit onto the best novel ballot” is Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, which isn’t to my taste at all. And Brandon Sanderson did have Hugo nominations and even a win before, just not for Stormlight Archives. Meanwhile, names that I expected to see on the best series ballot – Diana Gabaldon, Ilona Andrews, Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher, J.D. Robb, Charlaine Harris, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Nalini Singh, etc… – didn’t even make the longlist. Okay, so Butcher hasn’t published a new novel since 2015 (and no new Dresden Files novel since 2014 – thanks a lot, puppies), but the others had eligible work in popular, long-running series. In fact, best series is the category where my tastes are most notably out of step with the Hugo electorate. I also don’t feel that it works as intended, especially since we’ve run out of Lois McMaster Bujold series to nominate.

The inaugural YA Not a Hugo, to be named Lodestar from next year on, goes to Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. It’s a good and not exactly surprising choice, considering that Nnedi Okorafor’s work is popular with the Hugo electorate, but also with actual YA readers. In general, the YA award got off to a good start. It will be interesting to see where the Lodestar goes next.

The winner of the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Related Work is No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin. Again, this is not exactly a surprise, because this is after all the last chance to honour one of the true greats of our genre. Though a previously unpublished short story by Ursula K. Le Guin came out this year, so there is one more chance next year. Coincidentally, this is the seventh Hugo win for Ursula K. le Guin. Interestingly, the other finalist in this category featuring a luminary of the field who only recently left us, Nat Segaloff’s biography of Harlan Ellison, finished in last place. But then, a biography is a different beast than a collection of essays by a beloved late author. I’m surprised, though not displeased that Crash Override by Zoe Quinn finished in second place, for while it’s certainly an important and harrowing work, its connection to the genre is also slighter than with the other works. I’m a bit disappointed that Paul Kincaid’s scholarly biography of Iain Banks didn’t finish higher, but then my preference for scholarly works about science fiction, fantasy and horror in this category is not shared by the rest of the Hugo electorate.

The 2018 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story goes to Volume 2 of Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda, who also got to take home to Hugo for Best Professional Artist. Both wins are highly deserved. Meanwhile, the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Fan Artist goes to Geneva Benton, once again highly deserved.

Uncanny Magazine wins the 2018 Hugo Award for best semiprozine, while Lynne and Michael D. Thomas also win the Best Editor Short Form Hugo. Once more, these are not exactly surprising wins, because if you look at the Hugo and Nebula finalists in the past few years, a whole lot of them were published in Uncanny. It’s much as with John W. Campbell in the Retro Hugos, whatever you think of Campbell as a person and editor (and unlike Campbell, I like what the Thomases are doing a lot), the record speaks for itself. And at the moment, Uncanny dominates the short story and novelette categories, while Tor.com dominates the novella category via its (excellent) novella line. Best Editor Long Form goes to Sheila Gilbert, another well deserved win.

So let’s take a look at the two dramatic presentation categories: The 2018 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form goes to Wonder Woman, which was a bit of a surprise to me, since I expected Get Out! to win. My own top vote went to Thor: Ragnarok, by the way. On the other hand, Wonder Woman is a very popular film which also proves that DC can make a decent superhero film, after all. Though I wasn’t all that impressed with Wonder Woman. It was all right, Gal Gadot was great as Diana and there were some neat moments, but the anachronistic World War I setting and the German stock villains (though the ultimate villain was not German in the end) put me off. I also didn’t like the fact that the film used a real historical figure, German WWI general Erich Ludendorff, and inserted him into an otherwise fictional setting and even had Diana kill him.. But while the real Erich Ludendorff was a horrible person, he actually survived the end of WWI by nineteen years. They could have just as easily used a fictional general. Not to mention that Wonder Woman totally missed on whose side the Ottoman Empire was in WWII. Hint, it was not on the British/French side and also committed some truly horrific acts against its own population. Of course, the Turkish guy who is a member of Steve Trevor’s squad might well be an Ottoman defector (which would make for an interesting story), but if so, the movie never makes that clear. Honestly, if you want to play in the margins of history, do make sure to get your history right or at least don’t contradict known history. Nothing seen in Captain America: The First Avenger or the Agent Carter TV show ever happened either, but at least the film and TV show don’t contradict actual history beyond things like racially integrated troops, when they would have been segregated in real life. Coincidentally, my parents, both of whom are Wonder Woman fans from way back (my Mom’s fandom goes back to the Lynda Carter series, while my Dad even read some Goden Age Wonder Woman comics) were both disappointed by the movie as well. Their verdict was “This is an okay war film, but that’s not our Wonder Woman.” And when it came to filling the last slot on her ballot, my Mom nominated Logan over Wonder Woman and The Last Jedi. But then I guess many people were so starved for a superhero film with a female lead that they were willing to overlook the issues with Wonder Woman.

All that sounds as if I’m displeased that Wonder Woman won, but I’m not, not really. I did rank Wonder Woman above “No Award” in fourth place, I think, and I am actually looking forward to the upcoming 1980s set Wonder Woman film, which should avoid some of the problems with the earlier movie. Coincidentally, I am a bit surprised that The Shape of Water, which is one of the very few genre films to ever win an Oscar for best picture, finished only in fifth place, but then The Shape of Water seems to be the rare genre movie, which is more popular among mainstream than among genre audiences. No idea why, since I personally think it’s a lovely film.

On the other hand, I am extremely displeased with the winner for Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form. In fact, when the winner was announced, I emitted the sort of screams of pure frustration with other people’s bad taste that I normally emit only during the Oscars, because the winner was one of the two nominated episodes of The Good Place, a show which I dislike with intense passion and promptly no awarded. With other TV shows I dislike with a passion (the new Battlestar Galactica, Orphan Black), I at least managed to watch at least one full episode, maybe even more. With The Good Place, I lasted five minutes, then I had to switch off the TV, because it was just so awful. With other Hugo finalists I don’t personally care for, I can at least see why others like them, but with The Good Place I can’t see any redeeming characteristics at all. Honestly, as far as I am concerned, The Good Place is the worst non-puppy Hugo finalist I have ever seen. And even some of the puppy finalists were not that bad. It’s certainly the worst winner in the Hugo’s 65 year history so far. Okay, so there is They’d rather be right in 1954, generally considered to be the worst Hugo winner of all time. Now I haven’t read They’d rather be right, but it has to be very bad indeed to compete with The Good Place.

What makes the Hugo win for The Good Place even more infuriating is that unlike one year, where the choice was choice was between four different Doctor Who episodes and Orphan Black, so anybody who did not want to vote for Doctor Who automatically defaulted to Orphan Black, there actually were pretty good choices in the Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form category this year. The Black Mirror episode “USS Callister” was excellent, “Magic To Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” was the one genuinely good episode in the otherwise very uneven first season of Star Trek Discovery and the obligatory Doctor Who episode was pretty good and also a multi-Doctor adventure and a regeneration episode (double regeneration episode, actually), both of which tend to be fan favourites. Not to mention all the fine SFF shows, which did not even make the longlist like Outlander, The Orville, the various DC and Marvel superhero shows, Westworld, Stranger Things and of course The Handmaid’s Tale. Because the genre show that won Emmys, Golden Globes and BAFTAs isn’t good enough for the Hugos, because some people are still pissed off about something that Margaret Atwood may or may not have said fifteen years ago. So with such good choices (plus the clipping song, which is nice, but an outlier), why on Earth would anybody vote for a crappy afterlife sitcom, which thinks it’s funny to stage a real world scenario of the sort of contrived moral dilemmas that are inexplicably popular in the US (The episode that won is called “The Trolley Problem”) and pour a bucket of Kryolan blood on its leads? For that matter, why is Best Dramatic Presentation Short the one category where Hugo voters continue to forget that they tend to prefer darker and more serious works?

Okay, so now I’ve finished ranting about the dramatic presentation categories, let’s take a look at the fan categories, which were a mix of the expected and the unexpected: File 770 takes Best Fanzine, which was not exactly unexpected and well deserved (though my top vote was for Galactic Journey), because File 770 is an institution and an indispensable resource for the community. Unfortunately, Mike Glyer was unable to accept his Hugo in person, because he was taken to hospital only hours before the ceremony. So Jo Van Ekern delivered a heartfelt acceptance speech in Mike’s stead, in which Mike also withdrew himself and File 770 from future Hugo nominations, which is a great gesture.

Best Fancast went to Ditch Diggers, which I for one did not expect, though I liked what I heard. Best Fanwriter went to Sarah Gailey, which I also did not expect, since I had expected a three way race between Foz Meadows, Mike Glyer and Camestros Felapton with Bogi Takács as a potential dark horse candidate. Sarah Gailey, meanwhile, I did not expect to win at all. But then, Sarah Gailey is a writers whose fiction I like much better than her non-fiction (like I said, I loved River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow), whereas with Kameron Hurley and Jeff VanderMeer, I like their non-fiction better than their fiction.

For more discussion on the 2018 Hugo Award winners, see this thread at File 770. Best fanwriter finalist Camestros Felapton shares his thoughts here and last year’s and next year’s Hugo administrator Nicholas Whyte offers his analysis of the results here. Over at Whatever, John Scalzi offers a brief update and a photo from the Hugo Losers’ Party and declares that he is honoured to have come in second to N.K. Jemisin. Beth Elderkin’s Hugo article at io9 also focusses mainly on N.K. Jemisin’s historic Hugo win, as does Joel Cunningham’s post at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

The ceremony itself was a lot more political this year than in previous years, which will piss off the usual suspects. Several winners made references to living in dark times in their acceptance speeches, Mike Glyer and N.K. Jemisin inserted jabs against the puppies into their acceptance speeches (you can read N.k. Jemisin’s acceptance speech here), George R.R. Martin inserted a jab against the Dragon Awards and those who think they’re better than the Hugos into his speech and Sheila Gilbert urged everybody to vote in the US midterm elections this November. Now I actually agree with her that if you can vote for the Hugos, you can vote in political elections (and the Hugos are more work). But plenty of Hugo voters are not American and therefore not eligible to vote in the US midterm elections.

In general, the 2018 Hugos are another triumph for women and creators of colour. All fiction Hugos as well as the Campbell and YA not-a-Hugo/Lodestar went to women this year, three of them women of colour. Women also dominate the other categories. The winners in the art and graphic story categories are all women of colour. Women won best fanwriter and best editor long form. A woman directed the best dramatic presentation long form winner, even though the screenwriters were men. Fancast, semiprozine and best editor short form all went to male/female teams. The only all-male winners were the team behind The Good Place and Mike Glyer for File 770. International creators did not fare so well in the 2018 Hugos. Several were nominated, but the only non-American winner is Sana Takeda, who is Japanese. But then, WorldCon was in the US this year.

The fact that the 2018 Hugos were once again dominated by women, including several women of colour, will of course upset the usual suspects (all links go to archive.org). Here is a not so usual suspect (plus some usual suspects in the comments) with the usual claim that people are not nominating and voting for what they like, but on the basis of race and gender and that the Hugos are suffering from affirmative action. And here is a more usual suspect lamenting that there are way too many women nominated for and winning Hugos and that the Dragons Awards are much better, probably due to being much more male dominated.

Now I can only speak for myself, but I only nominate works I like and vote accordingly. And yes, I usually nominate a lot of women, people of colour and LGBT people, but that’s because I genuinely like those works. I also find that I do tend to prefer works by women to works by men, because works by women are more to my taste and less likely to contain certain irritating tropes. Though I nominated several men, including a few straight white men, too.

Besides, as I said here, considering it took fifteen years for the first woman to win a Hugo and seventeen for the first writer of colour, the straight white men are still far ahead in the big picture. A few female dominated years don’t change that. If only women and people of colour win Hugos for fifteen years in a row, then you can come back and complain. Not to mention that there were male winners at the 2018 Hugo Awards. Last I checked, Mike Glyer, Matt Wallace and Michael D. Thomas were all male (and white). Ditto for the team behind The Good Place and the screenwriters of Wonder Woman.

Meanwhile, Vox Day declares victory, for of course he does. Apparently, now the aim of the Rabid Puppy campaign was to boost N.K. Jemisin’s career or something (not that she needs it). And no, I don’t get it either. Though he did take the time to listen to N.K. Jemisin acceptance speech and did notice that the rocket-shaped middle finger she spoke of is directed at him.

Meanwhile, Jon Del Arroz also declares victory, for of course he does, in spite of his failure to get into an event that banned him months ago and the truly pathetic turnout of his rally against discrimination of conservatives or against pedophilia in fandom or against far left violence or whatever it was supposed to be about in the end. In the footage I saw, the counter-protesters also seemed to outnumber the protesters, while the police outnumbered both groups. But then, Del Arroz couldn’t attend his rally due to a family emergency, so he has to rely on hearsay. Though I also find it interesting that he claims to know exactly that WorldCon 76 and most panels weren’t worth it, even though he never got further than the lobby of the convention centre.

Still, they can declare victory all they want, as long as they walk off to do their own thing and leave the rest of us to do ours.

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An Awards Post that’s not about the Hugos

The 2018 Hugo Awards ceremony is still a couple of hours away. And due to the awkward timing (the ceremony starts at 5 AM German time), you probably can’t expect a post from me about it until tomorrow night.

However, I can reports that the winners for another award, namely the winners of the 2018 eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook Awards have been announced today and my In Love and War prequel story “Baptism of Fire” is a runner-up in the best short story category.

Congrats to all the winners and thank you to everybody who nominated and voted or me.

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Some Comments on the 1943 Retro Hugo Award Winners

Before the main event on Sunday, the 1943 Retro Hugos were awarded last night at WorldCon 76 in San José, California. The full list of winners may be found here. The full detailed results of the votes and nominations may be found here.

Short verdict: Wow, that’s a lot of Heinlein.

Longer verdict: That’s really a lot of Heinlein.

For my detailed verdict, see behind the cut. Continue reading

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Cora blogs elsewhere yet again…

Today, I’m over at Galactic Journey again, this time with a look at the state of East German and East European (well, Polish, since East Germany already had Stanislaw Lem translations at the time) science fiction back in 1963.

For those who don’t know, Galactic Journey is a fanzine that’s set 55 years in the past (and was rewarded by a Hugo nomination in the distant future of 2018), i.e. as far as Galactic Journey is concerned it’s August 1963, John F. Kennedy is still president of the US, Konrad Adenauer is still German chancellor and Philip K. Dick will win the Hugo Award for best novel for The Man in the High Castle in a few weeks time, while Jack Vance will win the best short fiction Hugo for “The Dragon Masters”, beating my personal favourite, Fritz Leiber’s supremely creepy “The Unholy Grail”, which by some coincidence I just reread and still found as excellent as I remembered.

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