Exploring the Hude Solar System (with Bonus Gothic Abbey Ruins)

The Easter weekend was rather gray and rainy (and marred by Sahara dust in the upper atmosphere), but Palm Sunday was a lovely sunny day, just perfect for a trip to the countryside. So I decided to use the opportunity to explore the Hude solar system.

You probably wonder, “What in the universe is the Hude solar system?”

Hude is a town of a little more than 16000 people halfway between Bremen and Oldenburg. It was first mentioned in 1232 AD as the site of a Cistercian Abbey, the ruins of which are still visible today and something of a local tourist attraction. You can see some pictures of the very spooky and gothic ruined abbey below the cut:
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Some Thoughts on the 2024 Hugo Finalists

The 2024 Hugo finalists were announced today – on Good Friday, which is a really terrible time to do this. I thought that John Scalzi had persuaded the powers that be that announcing Hugo finalists on a long holiday weekend is a terrible idea, but apparently that lesson has been forgotten. The fact that it’s also the end of the month and the quarter, which is again a super-busy time, and that the EU is switching to daylight savings time this weekend doesn’t help either.

Last year, we got an early preview of the Hugo finalists due to one of the many screw-ups of the Chengdu Worldcon. This year, everybody who’s in the Hugo finalist Discord server got an early preview due to an e-mail with an invite link to the server going out a day before the official announcement, which made me excited for what looked like a most excellent Hugo ballot.

So – since this is a busy weekend for me – let’s delve right into the individual categories:

Best Novel

Translation State by Ann Leckie and Witch King by Martha Wells were the latest novels by two very popular writers and also made the Nebula ballot, so I’m not at all surprised to see them here. Both novels were also on my personal Hugo ballot.

Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh was another of my personal nominees and I’m very glad to see it made the ballot.

The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty was on my personal longlist, but didn’t make my ballot in the end. Nonetheless, I’m glad to see it nominated.

The Saint of Bright Doors by Vajra Chandrasekera got a lot of buzz last year and is also a Nebula finalist. I haven’t yet read it, but I’m looking forward to checking it out.

John Scalzi is a hugely popular author with multiple Hugo nominations and wins under his belt. Nonetheless, I’m a little surprised to see Starter Villain make the ballot, because the critical response to that novel was somewhat mixed with many folks thinking it was a weaker work by Scalzi.

Martha Wells also would have made the ballot with System Collapse, the latest Murderbot novel, but as with the Nebulas, she chose to withdraw, which is a classy move IMO.

A Chinese novel, Cosmo Wings by Jiang Bo, also received enough nominations to make the ballot, but was disqualified due to having been published in 2024. Coincidentally, this means that Cosmo Wings will actually be eligible next year. And since this novel was clearly popular enough to receive enough nominations to make the Hugo ballot, maybe a US or UK publishers will pick it up and have it translated – hint, hint.

Indeed, the influx of Chinese fans from last year did leave an impact on the ballot in several categories. Of course, every member of the Chengdu Worldcon still had nominating rights, so this shouldn’t be too unexpected. It will be interesting to see if Chinese fans will continue to participate and if we will continue to see more Chinese works on the ballot going forward.

All in all, this is a very good list. Three of my personal nominees made the ballot. I suspect one of the other two will be further down the longlist, while the final one was a longshot.

Publisherwise, one finalist was published by Tor, three by Tordotcom (which is not the same as Tor, though they are part of the same publishing conglomerate), the remaining two were published by Orbit and Harper Voyager respectively.

Will this stop the “But only Tor gets nominated” conspiracy theories?  Probably not, since those are no more rooted in reality than conspiracy theories usually are. I also suspect that the folks who complain about not enough men getting nominated for Hugos these days will not be happy with the nominations for John Scalzi and Vajra Chandrasekera.

Diversity count: 4 women, 2 men, 1 author of colour, 2 international authors*.

Best Novella

In this category, we have an interesting mix of returning favourites and new finalists.

Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher and The Mimmicking of Known Successes by Malka Older definitely fall under returning favourites. They’re both very good stories, too.

Nghi Vo is another returning favourite in this category, though I haven’t yet read Mammoths at the Gates. And while Arkady Martine has never been nominated in the novella category before, she won Best Novel twice in the past four years, so she definitely counts as a returning favourite. Rose/House was also on my ballot BTW.

We also have two Chinese finalists in this category, “Life Does Not Allow Us to Meet” by He Xi and “Seeds of Mercury” by Wang Jinkang, both translated by Alex Woodend. I’m not familiar with either of these novellas, but I’m looking forward to checking them out.

With regard to publishers, one finalist was published by Tor, two by Tordotcom, one by Subterranean and two appeared in the anthology Adventures in Space: New Short stories by Chinese & English Science Fiction Writers. So the Tor/Tordotcom dominance in this category appears to be broken.

Diversity count: 4 women, 3 men (including the translator), 4 authors of colour, 2 international authors.

Best Novelette

In this category, we have yet another mix of returning favourites and new finalists.

I really enjoyed “The Year Without Sunshine” by Naomi Kritzer, which was on my personal ballot and is also a Nebula finalist in this category.

“Ivy, Angelica, Bay” by C.L. Polk is another story I enjoyed and am glad to see nominated. It was on my personal longlist, but did not make my ballot in the end.

Sarah Pinsker has been nominated several times in the various short fiction categories and her stories are always worth reading. I don’t think I read her nominated novelette “One Man’s Treasure”, though I look forward to checking it out.

Nghi Vo puts in a second appearance on the ballot with “On the Fox Roads”, which I haven’t yet read either.

I AM AI by Ai Jiang got a lot of buzz last year and is also a Nebula finalist. Again, I haven’t read it yet.

Finally, we’ve got another Chinese finalist with “Introduction to 2181 Overture, Second Edition” by Gu Shi, translated by Emily Jin. Once again, I haven’t read this story yet.

There also was a withdrawal in this category, because Chinese author Hai Ya, who won this category in a landslide last year with “The Space Time Painter” withdrew his novelette “The Far North”.

Regarding publishers, we have two stories published in Uncanny, two at Tor.com, one in Clarkesworld and one is a standalone novelette, so there’s a nice mix.

Diversity count: 6 women (including the translator), 1 non-binary, 5 authors/translators of colour, 2 international authors.

Best Short Story

This category is yet another mix of familiar and new names. There also is zero overlap with my personal ballot.

Naomi Kritzer makes her second appearance on the ballot with “Better Living Through Algorithms”, a story I enjoyed and which was on my personal longlist, but didn’t make my ballot in the end

“How to Raise a Kraken in Your Bathtub” by P. Djèlí Clark is another story I enjoyed, but didn’t nominate.

“The Mausoleum’s Children” by Aliette de Bodard completely passed me by for some reason, though I usually enjoy her work, so I look forward to reading it.

“The Sound of Children Screaming” by Rachael K. Jones is another story I haven’t read, though I look forward to checking it out.

Finally, we have two more Chinese finalists, “Answerless Journey” by Han Song, translated by Alex Woodend, and “Tasting the Future Delicacy Three Times” by Baoshu, which does not appear to have an English translation at this time. Again, I haven’t read either of these, though I look forward to checking them out.

With regard to publishers, two stories hail from Uncanny, one each from Clarkesworld and Nightmare Magazine, one is from the Chinese Galaxy’s Edge magazine (not to be confused with the English language magazine of the same name) and one from the anthology Adventures in Space: New Short stories by Chinese & English Science Fiction Writers.

Diversity count: 3 women, 4 men (including the translator), 4 authors of colour, 3 international authors

Best Series

The Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie came out just before the Best Series Hugo was introduced and so never got a chance at a category it would likely have won. However, Translation State is set in the same universe, starring a secondary character from the first trilogy, so Imperial Radch gets another shot.

Seanan McGuire has been a steady presence in this category since its inception due to being extremely prolific. Of her various series, October Daye is probably my favourite, so I’m happy to see it on the ballot.

The Universe of Xuya by Aliette de Bodard has been nominated in this category before as well. I usually enjoy the Xuya stories as well, though they’re only a series if you squint really hard.

The Laundry Files by Charles Stross is another series we’ve seen in this category before. I’m afraid this series didn’t work for me the last time around, but I’ll give it another try.

Adrian Tchaikovsky actually won in this category last year with Children of Time, but has since disavowed his Hugo win due to the shenangigans of Dave McCarty and the Chengdu Hugo team. This year, he’s back with another series, The Final Architecture trilogy and I’m glad he’s getting another shot at Hugo glory.

I haven’t read The Last Binding by Freya Marske, though I look forward to checking it out.

With regard to publishers, we have a wild mix with Tordotcom (who actually dominate more than Tor prime), Orbit, DAW, Gollancz and a bunch of short fiction publishers.

Diversity count: 4 women, 2 men, 1 author of colour, 4 international authors

Best Graphic Story or Comic

This category has the tendency to get a little stale with the same long-running series getting nominated over and over again.

This year, however, we have only one returning favourite, Volume 11 of Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. This one was also on my ballot.

Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons by Kelly Sue DeConnick with art by Phil Jimenez, Gene Ha and Nicola Scott comes closest to holding up the flag for American superhero comics. It’s also a very good book.

As for the remaining four finalists, I’m afraid I’ve never heard of any of them, though I’m excited to check them out.

That said, of course I have heard of The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin, though I’m not familiar with the comic adaptation.

Bea Wolf by Zach Weinersmith and Boulet completely passed me by. According to the blurb, it’s a middle grade graphic novel retelling of Beowulf, which sounds really cool actually. Zach Weinersmith also shows further down the ballot in Best Related.

I’ve enjoyed several works by Paul Cornell in various media, but I hadn’t heard of  his graphic novel The Witches of World War II with art by Valeria Burzo before. It appears to be an alternate history about a coven of witches trying to use their magic to stop the Nazis and World War II, though apparently it’s based an real events, because a British coven really did try to do something like this in 1940. Anyway, this sounds like a fascinating story.

Only two of the six finalists in this category were published by traditional comic publishers, Image and DC respectively. The others were published by graphic novel imprints, but then graphic storytelling is increasingly moving away towards that format.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make comics.

Best Related

I guess everybody knows my strong preference for well-researched non-fiction in this category by now, so I’m pleased that five of six finalists in this category are actually books.

The late Maureen Kincaid Speller was an always insightful critic, so I’m glad to see the collection  A Traveller in Time: The Critical Practice of Maureen Kincaid Speller by Maureen Kincaid Speller, edited by Nina Allan, on the ballot.

Volumes 2 and 3 of Chinese Science Fiction: An Oral History, edited by Yang Feng, are the sequels to the first volume which was nominated in this category last year and most worthy they are, too.

All These Worlds: Reviews & Essays by Niall Harrison does exactly what it says on the tin. I haven’t this collection yet, but it’s exactly the sort of thing I like to see in this category.

A City on Mars by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith is an illustrated popular science book about how feasible it is to colonise Mars. I wasn’t familiar with this book at all, though again it absolutely fits into this category.

The Culture: The Drawings by Iain M. Banks is an art book collecting drawings that the late Iain M. Banks did of spacecraft, locations, etc… of his Culture series. Again, I had no idea that this book existed, but it’s most fitting finalist.

Finally, we have a podcast or rather videocast named Discover X nominated in this category. Discover X appears to be a collection of interviews with various SMOFs and SFF professionaly done by Tina Wong at last year’s Chengdu Worldcon.

Discover X was initially nominated in Best Fancast, but since it is a professional project, it was moved into Best Related. This isn’t the first time a professional podcast was nominated in Best Related. Writing Excuses was nominated in this category several times approx. 10 years ago.  I’m not very happy with podcasts nominated in Best Related, but since there is no professional podcast (procast?) category, there really is no other place to put them. And podcasts are among the less edgy of the many edge finalists we’ve seen in this category in recent years.

There also was a withdrawl is this category, because Bigolas Dickolas Wolfwood was nominated for a viral tweet promoting the Hugo-winning novella This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, which pushed the book up various bestseller lists due to Bigolas Dickolas Wolfwood’s many Twitter followers. Now the Bigolas Dickolas Wolfwood affair is a perfect example of how word of mouth works and can catapult a work into the stratosphere. Bigolas Dickolas Wolfwood also appears to be a great person and it was very classy of them to decline a nomination. However, this nomination also illustrates why the Best Related Work needs to be reformed and the definition tightened. Because how on Earth can you compare a single tweet, even one which sold thousands of books, with a 400 page non-fiction book?

And even if we limited Best Related to non-fiction books and long essays, we’d still get a wide range of potential finalists as this year’s ballot shows.

Diversity count: 4 women, 4 men, 2 writers/podcasters of colour, a whopping 6 international writers/podcasters.

Best Dramatic Presentation Long

Not a lot of surprises in this category, but many popular movies.

Barbie was the most popular film of 2023 and also actually good, so I’m not surprised at all to see it nominated.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves was a lot of fun and was also very positively received in the SFF community, though it’s apparently considered a commercial flop due to being steamrolled the Super Mario Bros Movie, which came out around the same time. Nonetheless, it’s not surprise to see this film nominated. Barbie and Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves were also both on my personal ballot.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is the sequel to the 2019 Hugo winner Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and was also an Oscar nominee. It’s also a very good film, so I’m not surprised to see it nominated.

Nimona is an adaption of a popular graphic novel, which just missed the ballot the year it was eligible. It also was an Oscar nominee and critical success and therefore isn’t a surprising finalist.

Now I really, really dislike Poor Things and will no award it, but it was an Oscar nominee in multiple categories and won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, so its nomination was probably inevitable. Though I’m glad we dodged the bullet of having Oppenheimer on the ballot as well, which wasn’t that unlikely, since we have had several science fact movies (Hidden Figures, Apollo 13, The Right Stuff) nominated in this category before.

Finally, we have The Wandering Earth II, a highly popular Chinese film based on the eponymous novel by Liu Cixin. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it’s not an unexpected finalist at all.

ETA: The team behind The Wandering Earth II are also clearly happy about the nomination and posted this celebratory tweet on Weibo, China’s Twitter/BlueSky/Threads equivalent.

Conspicuous by their absence are Godzilla Minus One and The Boy and the Heron. Both came out around new year in the US, so people may have been confused about their eligibility. Indeed, these two might need an eligibility extension.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make movies.

Best Dramatic Presentation Short

The episode “Long, Long Time” from The Last of Us is a sweet and heartbreaking unlikely gay love story between a steroetypical prepper living his best post-apocalyptic life and a cultured urbane man who stumbled into one of his traps. “Long, Long Time” was probably the most outstanding 45 minutes of TV that aired last year and also appeared on the ballots of various mainstream awards like the Emmys or the Golden Globes. In short, this is an absolutely worthy finalist and likely winner. This episode was also on my ballot.

“Glorious Purpose”, the series finale of Loki, provided the perfect ending to Loki’s journey in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This one was also on my ballot.

After two years of absence, Doctor Who is back on the Hugo ballot with the specials “The Giggle” and “Wild Blue Yonder”. “The Giggle” was indeed a very good episode with some great performances by David Tennant, Neil Patrick Harris, Catherine Tate and Ncuti Gatwa. I haven’t watched “Wild Blue Yonder” yet.

The various incarnations of Star Trek used to be a constant presence on the Hugo ballot, but since its return in 2017, Star Trek hasn’t gotten as much Hugo love as it once did.  This year now, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is represented twice on the ballot with what are possibly its most gimmicky episodes, the musical episode “Subspace Rhapsody” and “These Old Scientists”, which was a crossover with the animated Star Trek: Lower Decks. I actually did have an episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds on my ballot, though it wasn’t either of these.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make TV shows.

Best Game or Interactive Work

This is a brand-new category and one I can’t say much about, because I’m not a gamer. That said, even I have heard of Baldur’s Gate 3, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Star Wars: Jedi Survivor. Chants of Semnaar is also a Nebula finalist in this category and supposedly very good. I’m afraid I’m not familiar with Alan Wake 2 and DREDGE at all, though one of the DREDGE developers joined the Hugo finalist Discord and seems to be a very nice person.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make games.

Best Editor Long

This is another category with the tendency to get stale, because there are only so many editors working in SFF. However, this year we have some new names on the ballot.

Lindsay Hall, who also won last year, Ruoxi Chen, Lee Harris of Tordotcom and Yao Haijun of Science Fiction World have all been on the ballot before. David Thomas Moore of Rebellion Publishing and Kelly Lonesome of Tor Nightfire are both new to this category. There also was a withdrawal by Natasha Bardon of Harper Voyager UK and Magpie Books.

ETA: Natasha Bardon has given her reasons for withdrawing at Instagram. Basically, she feels unable to accept a nomination because she fears a repetition of last year’s shenanigans. Natasha Bardon was also the editor of Babel by R.F. Kuang, the most high profile random disqualification of last year, which may well have influenced her decision.

Diversity count: 3 women, 3 men, 2 editors of colour, 2 international editors.

Best Editor Short

Scott H. Andrews of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld, Jonathan Strahan of Lightspeed and Lynne and Michael Damian Thomas of Uncanny have all been on the ballot in this category before.

Yang Feng of Eight Light Minutes Culture was a finalist in this category last year and return this year. Liu Weijia of Science Fiction World is a first time finalist in this category.

Diversity count: 2 women, 5 men, 2 editors of colour, 3 international editors

Best Professional Artist

We have a great mix of artists in this category, including a few new names.

For starters, I’m happy to see my friend Alyssa Winans on the ballot again. Rovina Cai is another artist who has been nominated in this category before and also won in 2021 and 2022. Galen Dara and Dan Dos Santos have also been on the ballot before, though it’s been a few years. Micaela Alcaino, a UK based artist, was a new name for me, though I’ve definitely admired her work before. Tristan Elwell is another artist I wasn’t familiar with before now, though I like his work.

Diversity count: 4 women, 2 men, 4 artists of colour, 2 international artists

Best Semiprozine

This category often consists of “the usual suspects”, which is why it’s pleasant when there has been some shake-up.

Uncanny has been on the ballot every year since its inception and has won most of them and is clearly the eight hundred pound gorilla in this category. However, they do excellent work, to.

Strange Horizons has also been nominated countless times (well, not really, but I’m not going to count how many times they’ve been on the ballot), but have yet to win. Maybe this is their year at last.

Escape Pod has been on a ballot a few times as well and is holding up the flag for audio fiction. Like Strange Horizons, they have yet to win.

FIYAH Literary Magazine is one of the most exciting new genre magazines to burst onto the scene in recent years and highly deserving 2021 winner in this category.

khoréo (apologies that WordPress butchered the title again) is another exciting newish magazine focussed on SFF from South East Asia. This is their second year on the ballot.

Finally, GigaNotoSaurus has been around for more than ten years and has been doing great work all that time, but they don’t get a lot of Hugo love, probably because they only publish a single longer story per issue. I’m really happy to see them recognised.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make magazines.

ETA 04-12-2024: Andy Rose interviews LaShawn Wanak, editor of GigaNotoSaurus, for the radio station 89.9 FM in Madison, Wisconsin.

Best Fanzine

We have several returning favourites in this category. Like all of the fan categories, it’s also a category that’s full of people I consider friends.

nerds of a feather and Journey Planet both have several nominations and one win each under their belt. I’m also happy to see my friends Olav and Amanda on the ballot again with the Unofficial Hugo Book Club Blog. After a year of absence, my good pal Alasdair Stuart is also back on the ballot with The Full Lid.

Black Nerd Problems made the Hugo longlist, but just missed the shortlist several times in recent years. They do great work and I’m glad they finally made the ballot.

Idea by Geri Sullivan was completely new to me. It seems to be a PDF zine with a print edition and thus a more traditional type of fanzine than what we normally see in this category. It’s always nice to see more traditional zines make the Hugo ballot and I’m looking forward to checking them out.

Sadly, my good friends of Galactic Journey did not make the ballot this year. But then there are a lot of great fanzines out there and new blood on the ballot is always welcome. Besides, there’s always next year.

And speaking of Galactic Journey, here is my latest article for them where I look at the non-Conan works of Robert E. Howard that came back into print in the late 1960s following the runaway success of the Lancer Conan reprints.

Earlier this month, I also reviewed The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs, a delightful fantasy novel from 1969, which nowadays is mostly remembered for being one of the more obscure works in Appendix N of the original Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master Handbook, as well as Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, a stonecold classic, which I review from the POV of someone who knew survivors of the firebombing of Dresden on February 14, 1945.

So check out what we do at Galactic Journey and maybe consider nominating us next year.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make fanzines.

Best Fancast

Again, we have a nice mix of returning favourites and newcomers in the category.

For starters, I’m happy to see my good friends of Octothorpe, my other good friends of Worldbuilding for Masochists and yet another good friend of Hugos There on the ballot again.

The Coode Street Podcast, meanwhile, is the elder statesman in this category and has been on the ballot almost every year since its inception. Coincidentally, I was on a different podcast with Gary K. Wolfe, one half of the Coode Street team, on the day after the nominations were announced.

Publishing Rodeo is a new entry in this category and I’m excited to check them out.

Finally, we have a Chinese fancast on the ballot with Science Fiction Fans Buma. We almost would have had two more Chinese podcasts on the ballot, but Discover X and Diu Diu Sci Fi Radio were both found to be ineligible due to being professional productions. And before any conspiracy theories arise, this is perfectly normal and within the rules, because the fancast category is only for fan productions, not professional productions. Discover X was moved into Best Related, where professional non-fiction podcasts usually. Diu Diu Sci Fi Radio apparently did not have sufficient nominations to be moved into Best Related.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to produce podcasts.

ETA: Dirk Knudsen wrote a lovely profile of Seath Heasley of Hugos There for The Hillsboro Herald. That’s Hillsboro in Oregon, since there are several in the US and beyond.

Best Fan Writer

This is another category that’s close to my heart for obvious reasons and also one that’s full of friends.

After last year’s shenanigans, I’m really, really glad to see my friend Paul Weimer back on the Hugo ballot. I’m also glad to see my friends Jason Sanford, Alasdair Stuart and James Davis Nicoll nominated, since they all do great work.

All of the four above are reviewers, interviewers and non-fiction writers. However, Best Fan Writer is not limited to non-fiction writers, but also open to fiction. And hence we have two stalwarts of Twitter micro-fiction on the ballot, Bitter Karella of The Midnight Society and Örjan Westin of Micro-SFF. Coincidentally, Örjan Westin is likely also the first Swedish Hugo finalist ever.

Another good friend of mine, Camestros Felapton, received enough nominations to make the ballot but declined for reasons he explains here.

Diversity count: 1 woman, 5 men, 3 international writers

Personally, I think this is an excellent ballot and it will be very hard to rank the finalists. However, there have been some complaints that the Fan Writer category is also very male and entirely white this year. This is not wrong and indeed there are some excellent fan writers of colour out there whom I’d love to see on the ballot one day, such as Arturo Serrano, Ann Michelle Harris, Wendy Browne, Arthur Liu, RiverFlow, Juan Sanmiguel, Aigner Loren Wilson, etc…

That said, we still have a great Fan Writer ballot this year.

Best Fan Artist

This year’s Best Fan Artist ballot is very similar to last year’s. Iain J. Clark, Laya Rose, Alison Scott and España Sheriff are all back from last year. Sara Felix wasn’t on the ballot last year, but has had several previous nominations. Dante Luiz has been nominated as part of the Strange Horizons editorial collective before, but this is his first solo nomination. They’re all fine artists who do good work.

Diversity count: 4 women, 2 men, 1 artist of colour, 5 international artists

Lodestar

I’m not the target demographic for YA and freely admit that this is a category I often have issues with – such as the year when three books on the ballot had the exact same character set-up and plot, only set in different worlds, and it wasn’t even that exciting the first time around. Or the year (may have been the same year) where my late Mom had a Worldcon membership and exclaimed in exasperation after trying to make her way through the Lodestar finalists, “I pity the poor kids who have to read this stuff.” My answer was, “Mom, the kids enjoy those books. You’re over seventy and obviously not the target audience.”

That said, I’m actually pleased with this year’s Lodestar ballot, since the books appear to be an interesting and also diverse bunch. Plus, I have enjoyed previous works by several of the authors.

Promises Stronger than Darkness by Charlie Jane Anders is the third book in her Unstoppable series. The first two books in the series were also nominated for the Lodestar and enjoyed them both.

Frances Hardinge is one of the comparatively few YA authors whose books I unreservedly enjoy, so I’m glad to see Unraveller nominated, especially after it was disqualified last year due to confusion about the publication date. This was also on my personal ballot.

Naomi Kritzer makes her third appearance on this year’s Hugo and not-technically-a-Hugo ballot with Liberty’s Daughter. I haven’t read this book yet, but I enjoyed Naomi Kritzer’s previous CatNet YA novels.

Garth Nix is a big name in YA and middle grade fiction, but The Sinister Booksellers of Bath is his first appearance on the Hugo/Lodestar ballot. It sounds interesting and has a great title, so I look forward to checking it out.

To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose got a lot of buzz last year. I haven’t read, but again I look forward to checking it out.

Abeni’s Song by P. Djèlí Clark completely escaped my notice, though I have enjoyed much of Clark’s adult fiction and look forward to reading it.

There are some complaints that several books on the Lodestar ballot are not technically YA. Abeni’s Song is apparently considered middle grade, while two others are not explicitly marketed as YA.

However, the ethos behind the Hugos and also the not-technically-a-Hugo awards has always been that the nominators determine what goes into which category and that the administrator honours this decision, unless it directly clashes with the rules. However, the WSFS constitution does not actually define what counts as YA. So books that feel like YA due to the content and the age and behaviour of the characters may be nominated for the Lodestar, even if they are not explicitly marketed as YA. This is what happened with Naomi Novik’s Scholomance books. They may not be marketed as YA, but they sure as hell feel like it. And since the Hugos have no middle grade category, middle grade books go into the Lodestar as well.

Diversity count: 4 women, 2 men, 2 authors of colour, 2 international authors

Astounding

Ai Jiang burst onto the scene in the past years and is also a finalist for Best Novelette this year, so it’s no surprise to see her on the ballot.

I really enjoyed Hannah Kaner’s debut novel Godkiller, so I’m glad to see her nominated for the Astounding Award.

Sunyi Dean’s debut novel The Book Eaters certainly made a splash in 2022 and I’m happy to see her on the ballot. Sunyi Dean is also a finalist for Best Fancast with her co-host.

The Death I Gave Him by Em X. Liu is part of the mini-trend of science fiction mysteries as well as a Hamlet adaptation and got a lot of buzz last year. I enjoyed the novel a lot.

Moniquill Blackgoose is a Lodestar finalist this year and reappears in the other not-technically-a-Hugo category, the Astounding Award. There were some questions regarding her eligibility, since Moniquill Blackgoose had a quite prolific career writing SFF erotica under another name going back several years. However, the Astounding rules specify a certain payment and print run/sales threshold, otherwise even a poem or a short story printed in a high school paper would count towards Astounding eligibility. Moniquill Blackgoose’s previous publications did not meet that threshold according to this comment by the Glasgow Hugo team at File 770.  The Compton Crook apparently has different rules and decided that Moniquill Blackgoose was not eligible.

Finally, another one of last year’s random disqualified nominees Xiran Jay Zhao makes an appearance on the ballot, even though 2023 was theoretically their second and last of Astounding eligibility. However, Dell Magazines, who sponsors the award, have decided to extend their eligiblity by one year due to Xiran Jay Zhao being unfairly denied their deserved spot on the ballot last year.

This is one time where the fact that the Astounding Award (and the Lodestar) are not technically Hugo Awards has a positive effect. For while Hugo eligiblity can and has been extended, e.g. for movies which played at a few festivals but did not get a wide theatrical release until the following year, this decision would have to be made at last year’s WSFS Business Meeting in Chengdu, when we did not yet know about the random disqualifications Dell Magazines, however, could unilaterally decide to extend Zhao’s eligibility, because the Astounding is their award and not beholden to WSFS rules.

Diversity count: 4 women, 2 non-binary, 5 authors of colour, 4 international authors

***

And that’s it for the 2024 Hugo finalists. Personally, I think it’s a very good ballot with comparatively few finalists which are not to my taste. And every year, there are finalists which are not to my taste.

I’m also pleased to see several Chinese works make the ballot, though it remains to be seen whether this is a transitory phenomenon or whether we will see more Chinese participation and more international participation in the Hugos in general going forward. Because there is a whole world of wonderful SFF out there that’s not currently available in English.

So far, I haven’t seen a lot of Hugo finalist commentary around the web. Camestros Felapton has a few comments on the Hugo finalists and there’s also some discussion going on in the comments.

An SFF writer named A.P. Howell also comments on the 2024 Hugo finalists and is pleased that Xiran Jay Zhao had their Astounding eligibility extended by another year.  Nonetheless, Howell still doesn’t trust the Hugos very much after last year’s scandal, which is of course her good right.

That said, no one who was part of last year’s Hugo team is involved with this year’s Hugos and they will very likely never be involved with the Hugos again. And, as I’ve said before, the reason this scandal came to light at all is because the Hugos are one of the most transparent awards in existence.

Meanwhile, e.g. the administrators of the Dragon Awards, administrators whose identities are unknown, have the right to determine finalists without paying any heed to the actual nominations according to the rules of their award. I’m not saying that they do this, but they absolutely have the right. The Dragon Awards have also never released exact voting and participation numbers. And this is just one example. Very few awards are as transparent as the Hugo and yet you have people screaming that the Hugos are finished and that they will never trust them again (including one person who was happy enough to accept a Hugo nomination barely a month after they declared the Hugos tainted forever), when other awards could be doing similar shenanigans behind the scenes (again, I’m not saying that they are – most likely they’re not) and no one would ever know.

ETA 04-01-2024: Best Fan Writer finalist Jason Sanford weighs in on the 2024 Hugo finalist announcement as well as the lingering effects of last year’s scandal in his latest Genre Grapevine column.

ETA 04-07-2024: 2023 Hugo winner for Best Fan Writer Chris M. Barkley shares his thoughts on the 2024 Hugo finalists at File 770.

ETA 04-01-2024: Best Novel finalist John Scalzi comments on finding himself a Hugo finalist again for Starter Villain and also comments on Natasha Bardon’s reasons for declining a Best Editor nomination. John Scalzi also points out that even though he was the one who criticised announcing the Hugo finalists over the Easter weekend, he can understand why it was done on Good Friday this year.

ETA 04-01-2024: Best Fanzine finalist nerds of a feather have also released a statement about their Hugo nomination in the light of what happened last year.

ETA 04-02-2024: At Women Write About Comics (which would be a great Best Fanzine finalist – hint, hint), Doris V. Sutherland weighs in on the 2024 Hugo finalist announcement and also recaps the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal for those who missed it.

Talking of the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal, a certain person named Dave has been refused a membership to Levitation, the 2024 Eastercon in Telford, UK, and was escorted off the premises by security after they refused to honour this decision con committee. A second person of controversial interest was allowed to remain under certain conditions. We do not know who this person is, but we suspect their first name may be Ben. I should not feel Schadenfreude at this, but I do.

I’ll keep the comments open for now, but if things get rude or people start fighting each other, I reserve the right to close them.

*I define “international” as a writer/creator living outside the US. If we include writers who are first or second generation immigrants, there would be several more. I’ve also stopped counting LGBTQ+ finalists for the diversity count, because it’s very difficult to determine, since not everybody is out. Apologies if I’ve accidentally misgendered anybody.

 

Posted in Books, Comics, Fanzine Spotlight, Film, Non-Fiction Spotlight, Semiprozine Spotlight, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Some Comments on the 2023 Nebula Finalists

The finalists for the 2023 Nebula Awards were announced today. The video of the live announcement may be found here.

Normally, the Nebula finalists are announced shortly before Hugo nominations close, giving people the chance to catch up with works they might have missed. This year, however, the Hugo nomination period was uncommonly short and nominations closed last Saturday. It will be interesting to see if this means that there is less overlap between the Hugos and Nebulas than usual.

For personal reasons, I didn’t get to read nearly as much as I wanted to last year, so there are a lot of finalists here that I haven’t yet read and can’t say a lot about.

Nonetheless, let’s delve right into the individual categories:

Best Novel:

There are not a lot of surprises in this category, which is full of well regarded novels that got a lot of buzz.

Translation State by Ann Leckie and Witch King by Martha Wells were the most recent novels by two very popular writers. Both were also on my personal Hugo ballot. The Water Outlaws by S.L. Huang also got quite a bit of buzz, plus it’s a lot of fun and I’m glad to see it nominated.

I haven’t yet read either Shigidi and the Brass Head of Obalufon by Wole Talabi or The Saint of Bright Doors by Vajra Chandrasekera, though both novels got a lot of buzz last year, so I’m not at all surprised to see them on Nebula ballot. Ditto for The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz, which I also haven’t yet read.

There also was a withdrawal in this category, because Martha Wells withdrew “System Collapse”, the latest Murderbot novel.

Diversity count: 3 women, 2 men, 1 non-binary, 3 authors of colour, 2 international authors

Best Novella:

I enjoyed Untethered Sky by Fonda Lee a lot and it was also on my personal Hugo ballot. T. Kingfisher is a perpetual Hugo and Nebula favourite and Thornhedge is also a great story, though it didn’t make my Hugo ballot in the end, because there only are so many slots.

The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Older got a lot of buzz last year and is part of a mini-trend of SFF mysteries (as is Shigidi and the Brass Head of Obalufon). Oddly enough, I wasn’t aware that The Mimicking of Known Successes was a novella. For some reason, I assumed that this was a novel.

Nghi Vo is another author whose name we’ve seen on the Nebula and Hugo ballot several times in recent years, though I haven’t yet read Mammoths at the Gates.

Ai Jiang burst onto the SFF scene in the past two years and was a Nebula finalist for Best Short Story as well as an Ignyte Award winner last year. I haven’t yet read her nominated novella “Linghun”.

I have enjoyed several works by Kelly Barnhill, though again I haven’t yet read her nominated novella The Crane Husband.

As in previous years, Tor and Tordotcom dominate this category with five our of six finalists due to Tordotcom‘s popular novella line. This isn’t overly unexpected, because Tor and Tordotcom do great work and have a lot of marketing clout. Though I do wish that people would look beyond them once in a while, because publishers not named Tor also publish great novellas on occasion.

Diversity count: 6 women, 4 authors of colour, 2 international authors

Best Novelette:

I always enjoy Naomi Kritzer’s stories and her Nebula nominated novelette “The Year Without Sunshine” was also on my personal Hugo ballot.

Wole Talabi and Ai Jiang are represented in this category again with “Saturday’s Song” and the delightfully (and fittingly) entitled I Am AI respectively.

Eugenia Triantafyllou has been making a name for herself with her poetic, dark and thoughtful SFF stories in recent years and I’m glad to see “Six Versions of My Brother Found Under the Bridge“ on the Nebula ballot.

I’m really, really glad to see my pal Renan Bernardo nominated for his story “A Short Biography of a Conscious Chair“. It’s also great to see a story in translation on the Nebula ballot, since this happens much too rarely.

In spite of its striking title, “Imagine: Purple-Haired Girl Shooting Down The Moon“ by Angela Liu completely passed me by. However, I look forward to reading it.

We also have a good mix of story sources in this category with Uncanny, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Samovar in what is their first ever Nebula nomination, I believe, and a standalone novelette represented.

Diversity count: 4 women, 2 men, 4 authors of colour, 4 international authors

Best Short Story:

Naomi Kritzer  is represented in this category again with “Better Living Through Algorithms”, a story I enjoyed, but which did not make my personal Hugo ballot in the end.

I also enjoyed “Tantie Merle and the Farmhand 4200“ by R.S.A Garcia, though once again it didn’t make my personal Hugo ballot.

John Wiswell’s stories are always worth reading and I did nominate one of his stories for the Hugo, though it was “So You Want To Kiss Your Nemesis?”, not his Nebula nominated “Bad Doors”.

“Once Upon a Time at The Oakmont“ by P.A. Cornell,  “The Sound of Children Screaming” by Rachael K. Jones and “Window Boy“ by Thomas Ha completely passed me by, I’m afraid, though I look forward to checking them out.

Once again, we have a good mix of story sources in this category with two stories each appearing in Uncanny and Clarkesworld, one in the late-lamented Fantasy Magazine and one in Nightmare Magazine.

Diversity count: 4 women, 2 men, 3 authors of colour, 2 international authors

Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction:

We have only four finalists in this category this year and zero overlap with my Lodestar ballot.

Naomi Kritzer is represented once again with Liberty’s Daughter. This is really shaping up to be her year.

To Shape a Dragon’s Breath by Moniquill Blackgoose got a lot of positive buzz last year, though I haven’t read it yet.

J. Dianne Dotson and I follow each other on social media, so I’m glad to see her novel The Inn at the Amethyst Lantern on the Nebula ballot.

Greg Van Eekhout has been nominated in this category for his middle grade books before, though I haven’t read The Ghost Job.

Diversity count: 3 women, 1 man, 2 authors of colour

Nebula Award for Game Writing:

As usual, I can’t say very much about this category, because I’m not a gamer. That said, even I have heard about Baldur’s Gate 3. I’m a bit surprised that Legends of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom didn’t make the ballot, because that’s the other 2023 video game that got so much attention that even non-gamers like me have heard of it.

I enjoyed the Machineries of Empire novels by Yoon Ha Lee very much, though I had no idea that there now is a roleplaying game set in this universe.

I have never heard of any of the other finalists in this category, sorry, though The Bread Must Rise has a great title.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make games.

Ray Bradbury Nebula Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation:

This category is full of very good and not particularly surprising finalists and also has a fair amount of overlap with my personal Hugo ballot.

Barbie was the most successful movie of 2023 and it was good, too. It may have been mostly snubbed by the Oscars (even the song that won the Oscar was not the best song from the film), but I’m not at all surprised to see it nominated here. Barbie was also on my personal Hugo ballot.

The episode “Long, Long Time” from The Last of Us was a true standout, an unlikely gay love story after the zombie apocalypse between Bill,  your stereotypical conspiracy theorist doomsday prepper, who sees his secret wish for the end of the world come true, and Frank, urban, cultured, left-leaning. They meet when Frank stumbles into one of Bill’s traps, bond over their shared love for music, fine food and Linda Ronstadt and have a happy approximately twenty year relationship in their private little world. It’s an amazing piece of TV and already won multiple mainstream awards, breaking through the stranglehold that Succession and The Bear had on TV awards this year. This was also on my personal Hugo ballot.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves was one of the most pleasant cinematic surprises last year. Given how utterly terrible the last attempt at a Dungeons & Dragons movie was, no one expected much from this one and then it turned out to be really good and funny, too. Sadly, it apparently wasn’t successful enough to get a sequel greenlit, probably because the inexplicably popular Super Mario Movie came out around the same time and flattened everything else. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves was also on my personal Hugo ballot.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is the sequel to the popular, Oscar- and Hugo-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, so I’m not at all surprised to see it nominated.

The nomination for The Boy and the Heron also isn’t a surprise, because a) it’s Hayao Miyasaki’s supposedly last film and b) it already won an Oscar. I haven’t yet seen the film, though I expect that it will be very good.

Nimona is another film I haven’t yet seen, partly due to having bounced off previous projects by N.D. Stevenson. That said, I’m not surprised to see it nominated here, because it got a lot of positive attention in the SFF community and also was an Oscar nominee.

I’m a bit surprised that Godzilla Minus One did not make the ballot, considering how popular and good that film was. Thankfully, Oppenheimer and Poor Things, both of which I intensely dislike, are also absent.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make movies and TV shows.

***

I don’t see any strong trends this year, though some of the trends we’ve seen in past years such as stories focussing on robots and AI, fairy tale retellings, horror and SFF mysteries continue to be in evidence this year.

All in all, this is a very good and diverse Nebula ballot. I’m also happy to see so many international writer and creators on the ballot. The usual suspects will probably complain, but then they always do.

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A Conan by Any Other Name…

In episode 5 of Masters of the Universe: Revelation, Teela and friends visit Preternia a.k.a. Eternia’s equivalent of Valhalla, where fallen heroes and heroines spend eternity riding dinosaurs, going on pretend hunts and telling stories by the side of a campfire in the shadow of one of the most awesome playsets ever produced. As afterlives go, this one is incredibly charming, because it’s basically a six-year-old’s idea of heaven.

Among the fallen heroes inhabiting Preternia is a fellow who basically looks like post-1960s depictions of Conan of Cimmeria to the point that I initially referred to the character as “Conan” in my review. However, this guy’s name is Vikor and he is a Masters of the Universe character, though a rather obscure one. He also had a figure in the Masters of the Universe Classics collector toyline, which I recently got for a good price. Now I have all the Preternian heroes in seven inch scale except for Wun-Dar and I’ll get him eventually, too.

Masters of the Universe Classics

Conan? No, Vikor.

Vikor was based on some very early concept art for what would eventually become Masters of the Universe. You can see the original drawing by Mark Taylor here. In 2011, an action figure based on this concept design was released in the Masters of the Universe Classics toyline. The character was named Vikor, because a) Early Concept Art He-Man is a rather dull and stupid name, and b) to turn him into a unique character who could (and did) show up in future Masters of the Universe comics, cartoons, etc…, as Scott Neitlich, Mattel brand manager in charge of the Masters of the Universe Classics toyline explains in this video.

Now Scott Neitlich is somewhat controversial in Masters of the Universe fandom – not without reason, because he tends to be very grumpy and sour grapes about the Masters of the Universe toylines and cartoons that came after his tenure. I think he has been predicting the imminent death of the Masterverse and Origins toylines for two years now and he keeps dissing Masters of the Universe Revelation and Revolution. He’s also got problematic views on gender, though sadly that sort of thing is common in the toy industry – see the aggressive gendering of toys.

That said, the Classics toyline not only kept interest in Masters of the Universe alive, when there were neither cartoons nor comics around, many characters also only ever appeared as toys in the Classics line. That’s why I have been buying Classics figures of late, because that’s the only way to get some of the lesser known characters who will likely never be made again. Besides, they’re really great action figures which would have deserved wider distribution.

Furthermore, a lot of the character, species and place names originate with Scott Neitlich’s character bios and mini-comics for the Classics line and have since been used by the various comics and cartoons that came after. Because whenever you look up what the real name of e.g. Ram-Man, Clamp Champ or Beast-Man is (since they were obviously not born with those names), the Classics bios come up, so later writers used those names. This is also how Vikor, who was recast as “the He-Man of the North”, a former champion of Grayskull, ended up in Masters of the Universe: Revelation, because the writers looked for dead heroes and champions to populate Preternia and came upon Vikor and Wun-Dar, another character who owes his name and backstory to Scott Neitlich.

However, it later turned out that the drawing of the character who would become known as Vikor had nothing to do with Masters of the Universe, after all. According to artist Mark Taylor, who should know, it was instead intended for a never produced Conan toyline and ended up in the Masters of the Universe file by accident. So Vikor doesn’t just happen to look like Conan, he actually is Conan by another name.

But it gets even weirder. Because a later, semi-official Masters of the Universe bio actually borrowed the plot of the 1982 Conan the Barbarian movie for Vikor’s backstory. According to this, Vikor’s father was a blacksmith named Vulkar who forged the Sword of Gaz. However, the Great Black Wizard, another never produced concept figure with a cool look and a rather disappointing name (I mean, honestly, they couldn’t do better than Great Black Wizard?), attacked the village, murdered Vikor’s parents and stole the sword. Just like Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian, the Great Black Wizard is also associated with the villainous Snake People of Eternia, who are of course borrowed wholesale from Robert E. Howard’s 1929 novelette “The Shadow Kingdom”, which introduced Kull of Atlantis and the Valusian Serpent Men and is widely considered the first sword and sorcery story.

When I looked up the Great Black Wizard, I found lots of custom figures, so he apparently is popular, though I have to admit that I’d never heard of this guy before today. And if you think that the Great Black Wizard looks a little familiar, that’s because he’s either a time-displaced Skeletor or Keldor according to those semi-official bios.

Vikor, who is described as “an axe-wielding mercenary from the North” here (to quote the Ninth Doctor, “Lots of planets have a North”) goes after the Great Black Wizard to get the sword back. He obviously doesn’t kill the Great Black Wizard, because – duh – Skeletor never stays dead for long. Vikor does get his sword back, though, and goes on to become champion of Grayskull, battling the likes of Draego-Man (a character created for the Classics toyline, who is a very cool but pricy action figure), the Crimson Countess – not the character from The Boys, but a vampiric Masters of the Universe villainess who never had a figure, and Queen Tyrantula, a spider woman villainess who never had a figure either.

Now Masters of the Universe came along at the tail end of the second sword and sorcery boom and borrows heavily from the sword and sorcery genre both visually and with regard to ideas, with some Lovecraft, Tolkien, silver age superhero comic and pulp science fiction influences added. In my review of Masters of the Universe: Revelation, part 1, I wrote:

He-Man is basically a Frank Frazetta Conan cover come to animated life and given a dye job (or John Jakes’ Brak the Barbarian with a haircut), while Teela is C.L. Moore’s Jirel of Joiry (a parallel that Masters of the Universe: Revelation makes very clear) with Red Sonja mixed in. Orko is the less capable relative of Sheelba of the Eyeless Face and Ningauble of the Seven Eyes from Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories. Mer-Man and his mer-people are Lovecraft’s Deep Ones by another name, the Snake Men literally are the Serpent Men from Robert E. Howard’s Kull stories. There are also various Cthulhu inspired things with tentacles. Skeletor is certainly influenced by Howard villains such as Thoth-Amon and Thulsa Doom, who also affects the skull face look. Scareglow, a glow-in-the-dark Skeletor variant which does appear in Masters of the Universe: Revelation, is borrowed from the Floating Skull, a villain in the Conan story “Red Nails”. Though Eternia also borrows a lot from the related sword and planet genre, since the Eternians do have energy weapons and all sorts of impractical but cool vehicles.

There are more pulp SFF influences throughout Masters of the Universe, e.g. He-Man and his friends frequently battled Lovecraftian monsters in the Filmation cartoon, while the Evil Horde are basically horror movie reimagined.

However, Vikor isn’t just obviously influenced by Conan, he basically is Conan by another name. In fact, I now imagine that Conan fell through a portal to Eternia one day – Castle Grayskull is full of portals to other universes and dimensions or maybe he met Gwildor and his cosmic key – possibly pursuing Thoth Amon Thulsa Doom The Great Black Wizard Skeletor, and stayed for a while, battling monsters, bedding maidens and becoming champion of Grayskull, before he returned to the Hyborian Age. And he called himself Vikor for reasons best known to himself. After all, Conan has taken other names such as Amra before. As for why he wound up in Preternia after death, apparently Preternia is for heroic beings from all over the universe. After all, Stonedar is briefly glimpsed in Preternia at the end of Masters of the Universe: Revolution and he never even set foot on Eternia in that version of the story.

But whether he’s Vikor or Conan, he is a cool figure and I’m glad that I got him. Also, expect a new toy photo story about how Conan came to Eternia and became Vikor soon.

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An Open Letter to the 2024 Hugo Finalists, Whoever They May Be

This is an updated repost of this post from 2021, this post from 2022 and this post from last year, which a lot of people found helpful. There also a Chinese translation of the 2024 post to be found in issue 14 the Hugo winning fanzine Zero Gravity Newspaper.

Nominations for the 2024 Hugo Awards closed yesterday and the finalists are expected to be announced in a few weeks.

Right now, no one except for possibly the Hugo administrators knows who those finalists will be. And yes, I deliberately posted this so shortly after the Hugo nominations closed that the e-mails won’t have gone out yet and no one knows who the finalists are.

However, sometime in the next two weeks or so, some of you will receive an e-mail from the Glasgow Worldcon, informing you that you are a finalist for the 2024 Hugo Award and asking you whether you want to accept the nomination. Some of you will have received such e-mails before, for others it will be the first time.

But whether it’s your first or your twentieth nomination, congratulations! That’s awesome.

As a first time recipient of such an e-mail in 2020 as well as a Hugo finalist in 2021 and Hugo winner in 2022, here are a few things I’ve learned:

  1. The e-mail may not look like you think it will. When I got the e-mail from CoNZealand in 2020, the subject line was “CoNZealand Hugo Awards Confidential”. I was exhausted that day and waiting for two important e-mails, so I scanned right past that subject line, because I assumed it was the convention newsletter. I only opened the mail, because none of the two important e-mails had come yet, so I thought I might as well check out the CoNZealand e-mail while I was waiting. Good thing that I did.
  2. If you receive an e-mail from the Glasgow Worldcon, please reply as soon as you can whether you accept the nomination or not. If there are questions with regard to eligibility, answer them as soon as possible. The Hugo administrator and their team work very hard, so don’t make their job any harder than it has to be.
  3. The Glasgow team will also ask you to keep quiet about your nomination until the official announcement. Please don’t violate this, because you don’t want to steal Glasgow’s thunder!
  4. The period between the time when the finalists are notified and when the Hugo finalists are officially announced can be weird, because while you know that you’re a finalist, almost nobody else does. I blogged a bit about my experiences in 2020 here. Basically, I kept having the niggling fear that there had been some terrible mistake and that I wasn’t a finalist after all or that I only was a finalist because all twenty people who would have been ahead of me had withdrawn. From talking to other first time finalists, I learned that I wasn’t alone in this. And while I can’t guarantee that terrible mistakes won’t happen, the chance that the wrong person is notified about being a Hugo finalist is extremely small. So relax. You really are a Hugo finalist, even if nobody else knows it yet.
  5. In 2023, it turned out that the Hugo nominations had been massively tampered with by Hugo administration team. However, this was the first time something like that happened and no member of the 2023 team is involved in any way with the 2024 Hugos, so chances of it happening again are minuscle.
  6. Do something nice for yourself to celebrate. Have an ice cream, a nice box of chocolates, a glass of champagne, a good beer, a bubble bath, whatever it is that makes you happy. You’re a Hugo finalist, so you damn well deserve to celebrate in private.
  7. You can tell a few people you trust about your nomination as long as you know they won’t blab it all over the internet. Before the official announcement, a handful of people knew I was a Hugo finalist. These include my parents (whose reaction was, “That’s nice,” before turning back to watch a rerun of Midsomer Murders), some folks from Galactic Journey and others in the SFF community, who knew not to say anything before the official announcement, as well as my accountant (because I asked her if buying an evening gown for the Hugo ceremony was tax-deductible – it’s not BTW) and the guy who repaired my patio, because he just happened to be there, when I got the e-mail. Neither the accountant nor the patio guy are SFF fans, so chances of a leak were zero. They both also probably thought I was quite mad.
  8. If you are nominated in a fiction category – i.e. short story, novelette, novella, novel, Series, Lodestar or Astounding – or nominated for a non-fiction book or essay in Best Related Work, you should let your editor and/or publisher know that you’re a finalist. They work in the industry and therefore know not to say anything and they may want to prepare some kind of congratulatory tweet, post or other promotion effort. Finally, editors are also thrilled when one of their authors is nominated.
  9. One thing I did not do is tell people about my nomination who might be up in the same category. Because I didn’t know who else was nominated (you don’t before the official announcement) and didn’t want anybody to feel disappointed, because I was a finalist and they were not.
  10. Even if you can’t publicly talk about your Hugo nomination just yet, there are still a few things you can do in the meantime. For example, you can update your bio to mention that you’re a Hugo finalist or write a bio, if you don’t have one yet. Important: Don’t upload your updated bio anywhere until the official announcement has been made! In fact, I spent a chunk of the evening after the Hugo finalists had been announced updating my bio everywhere it appears.
  11. In fact – and this is important – don’t upload anything that mentions your Hugo nomination anywhere on the internet, until the official announcement has been made. Even if you set a Tweet or blogpost to go live after the announcement has been made, don’t upload it yet. Because mistakes happen, you accidentally hit “publish” rather than “schedule” or a post goes live too early. I had my celebratory blogpost ready to go in Word, but I only uploaded it with links and a few comments added once the announcement had been made.
  12. Another thing you can do in the meantime is prepare a media kit, if you haven’t got one already. You can see mine here and there are also plenty of pages around the web that tell you what a media kit is supposed to contain. Important: Get permission to use any photos that you did not take yourself.
  13. Another thing you can do is write a press release about your Hugo nomination. It doesn’t matter which category you’re nominated in, whether it’s Best Novel or a fan category. Write a press release anyway. There are plenty of places around the web which tell you how to write a press release. It varies from country to country, so make sure you get the correct format for your country. My press releases from 2020, 2o21 and 2022 (in German) are here. Then make a list of the contact info for the relevant newspapers, radio stations and other media outlets in your region or country. Once the nominations have been announced, send your press release as well as the link to your media kit to those media outlets. The press release linked above netted me two in-depth profiles and a bonus article in two different newspapers in 2020 and two more in-depth profiles in 2021 as well as an article and an interview in 2022, which is much more than I’d hoped for.
    ETA: Because this came in the Hugo finalist Discord, if media attention for yourself or your work could cause a problem with your day job, talk to a union representative, workers council member or – if none of those are available – a trustworthy co-worker first to make sure you’re not accidentally jeopardizing your job.
  14. Consider whether you want to attend Worldcon and the ceremony. First of all, get a Worldcon membership, if you haven’t got one already. Like most recent Worldcons, Glasgow offers a reduced rate for people attending their first ever Worldcon. You can also start looking for flights, hotels, etc…. If you need to apply for a visa, do so now. If money is an issue, as it’s for many of us, think about crowdfunding your Worldcon trip, as several finalists have done in recent years. However, don’t start your crowdfunding campaign, until after the finalists have been announced.
  15. If you want to participate in programming,  sign up at the Glasgow Worldcon website. Do this as early as possible, so the programming team doesn’t have to find suitable programming for you at the last minute.
  16. Finally, start thinking about your Hugo voter packet. If you need to get permission to include certain texts or images, contact the relevant people.

Finally, here are a few observations regarding what happens after the Hugo finalists are announced:

  1. A lot of people will congratulate you. These will be people you expect – friends, peers, etc… – but also people you don’t expect. After the newspaper articles mentioned above came out, I suddenly got congratulations from translation customers, various relatives, neighbours, former classmates, my plumber and my Dad’s diabetes doctor among others. Enjoy the experience, thank everybody and don’t forget to congratulate your fellow finalists.
  2. Some people will also not congratulate you and again, some of these will be people you don’t expect. There are several reasons why someone might not congratulate you and most of them are not malicious. For example, some people might simply not have seen the news yet. Or they may not understand the significance, since not everybody is plugged into the SFF community and knows how important the Hugos are. Of course, there will also be a few people who think that you don’t deserve your nomination. Ignore them!
  3. Your fellow Hugo finalists are not your rivals, they are your peers. You’ll probably know some of them already and if not, you’ll quickly get to know them. And yes, only one of you will get to take home the rocket in the end, but all six of you are amazing and in a way, you’re all winners. This also applies across categories. I met a lot of great people in the SFF community and even made new friends, just because we were on the Hugo ballot in the same year.
  4. In general, there is a sense of community to siblinghood among Hugo finalists. Whether you’re a bestselling author or a first-time finalist in a fan category, you’re all in this together. There is usually a private group for Hugo finalists to chat, ask questions, share gripes, post photos of Hugo gowns, tiaras and pets, etc…
  5. If you’re not part of the Worldcon SFF community and don’t know anybody else on the ballot, don’t worry! You’ll get to know the others soon enough and pretty much everybody in this community is lovely and very welcoming. If you’re a repeat finalist, reach out to the first-timers to make them welcome.
  6. As a Hugo finalist, you will get plenty of e-mails from Glasgow about anything from the Hugo voter packet via the program book to the ceremony itself. Pay attention to those e-mails, send any information requested in time and check your spam folder. You don’t accidentally want to miss something important.
  7. Once the Hugo finalists have been announced, there will be people who have opinions about the ballot. Most will be positive or at least fair – I always try to be fair in my own Hugo and Nebula finalist commentaries, even if I don’t care for some of the finalists – but some will be not. There are always people who think that your category or the entire ballot is too male, not male enough, too white, not white enough, too queer, not queer enough, too American, not American enough, too bestselling, not bestselling enough – you get the idea. There will be people who complain that only people no one knows got nominated or that only the usual suspects got nominated – and multiple bestsellers and Hugo winners can be “people no one knows”, while first or second time finalists can be “the usual suspects”. Some of these people won’t even wait 24 hours after the Hugo finalists have been announced to air their opinions – at least they didn’t in 2021. Some will even tag you, just to make sure you don’t miss their very important opinions. The best thing to do is ignore those people.
  8. A handful of people seem to have made it their life’s mission to mock and harass Hugo finalists. Ignore them and block them on social media and don’t let them get you down. Most of them are just jealous.
  9. There will be drama. So far, I’ve never seen a Worldcon that did not have at least some degree of drama and I have been a Worldcon member since 2014. It rarely gets as bad as it did in 2023, but there’s always drama of some kind. Often, this drama affects the Hugo finalists in some way. Sometimes, the Hugo finalists even band together and try to resolve this drama. How you engages with whatever this year’s drama will be is up to you. However, don’t let it get you down. Drama is normal. At this point, I would be more surprised at a Worldcon without drama than at one which has some degree of drama. And usually, everybody winds up having a great time anyway.

So what happens, if you win?

  1. Basically more of the same. Lots of people will congratulate you, most of them with genuine enthusiasm, a few very grudgingly (one in my case, not a fellow finalist) and some not at all.
  2. Make sure to have your acceptance speech ready before the ceremony with the names of all the people you want to thank. Check with people how their names are pronounced, if you aren’t sure. Always have a printed paper copy of your speech, because phones can and do break down, run out of juice, fail to have reception or get overloaded with messages at the crucial moment.
  3. After you win a Hugo, you should prepare another press release and send it to all the local, regional and national media you can think of. I actually wrote mine at six AM in the morning after the winners had been announced.
  4. Don’t forget to update your bio wherever it appears. That includes anthologies or magazines where you’ve been accepted, but which aren’t out yet.
  5. Your “market value” (for lack of a better word) does go up with your first nomination, goes up even further with your second and even more, if you win. For example, I got a story acceptance in the mail literally the day after I won. Of course, the story might have been accepted anyway, but the timing was still interesting. I also gained a bunch of new Twitter followers with every nomination and winning a Hugo pushed me over the 3000 follower mark for the first time. You’ll get invited to cons and you’ll notice that your name will start to show up on covers of anthologies or magazines, sometimes with “Hugo winner” attached. However, you’ll still get rejections as well, because even Hugo winners get rejected and that’s perfectly normal.
  6. You’ll also find that you have acquired more clout in the SFF community, something which also happens once you get nominated. Use what influence you have in the SFF community for good, to uplift and support others.
  7. One thing I noticed is that I would sometimes find myself thinking, “Wait a minute, I have a Hugo and [insert name of vastly more important genre person here] doesn’t? How on Earth did that happen?”
  8. That said, certain people will still call you a nobody who barely sells any books or a fake fan or whatever. This literally happened to me approx. a month after I won the Hugo, when I got into an argument about a TV show with the adherents of one of those “We hate everything” outrage clickbait YouTube channels. I pointed out that I really enjoyed the object of their rage du jour and so did many others and was called “not a real fan” in response. When I said, “Dude, I’m the 2022 Hugo winner for Best Fan Writer”, I was told that awards didn’t matter, that I was clearly not a real fan, because I didn’t hate the thing. Best just ignore those people and privately think, “Guess who has a shiny rocket? Hint, it’s not you.”
  9. Sometimes, it gets worse than online arguments with idiots. Because as I said above, there are a handful of people who seem to have made it their life’s mission to harass Hugo finalists and winners and will use any excuse, no matter how small, to send their flying monkeys after you. That happened to me, almost to the day a year after I won the Hugo, and I’ve seen it happen to others. Often, not a lot of people will help you and sometimes people you know and actually were friendly with before will join in. The best thing to do is to liberally mute and block harassers and if necessary, break off contact with some folks. On the plus side, you’ll know who your friends are afterwards. Also, never let yourself be silenced, because that’s what these folks want.

Finally – and this is the most important point – enjoy your experience! You’re a Hugo finalist, i.e. your peers consider you and your work one of the six best in your respective category. That’s amazing, so celebrate!

Posted in Books, General | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

My Mom, Barbara Buhlert (1942 – 2024)

Once again, this isn’t a post I wanted to write today or any other day. But as some of you may already know, my Mom died February 12, only four and a half months after my Dad.

Mom’s death wasn’t as unexpected and sudden as Dad’s, since she’d been dealing with various health issues since 2017 (and in retrospect, some issues popped up before that) and her condition badly declined in the past two years, starting with hip replacement surgery in 2022. Both diagnosis and surgery were delayed due to the pandemic and she never really recovered, but instead was worse off after the surgery. Before her hip replacement surgery, she’d been able to walk around with a walker inside the hourse, go to the bathroom, etc… Afterwards, she had to use a wheelchair and could only stand for short periods.

Since February 2022, my Mom experienced a succession of hospital stays. I think she’s been in every single Bremen hospital except Bremen-Nord, sometimes more than once. as well as several hospitals in the surrounding small towns and a stay in a physical therapy clinic. Since October 2023 alone, she’s racked up four hospital stays. And with every hospital stay, her condition deteriorated further. She never regained her ability to walk after the hip replacement surgery in 2022. After a succession of hospital stays in early 2023, she lost her ability to stand up for brief periods and had to move into a nursing home, because Dad and I couldn’t care for her at home anymore, in spite of home care nurses coming in every day. And after the latest round of hospital stays this winter, she wasn’t even able to sit in her wheelchair any longer, but instead lay in bed all day. Her eyesight had badly declined as well and I couldn’t even take her to the optician to get new glasses.

Considering that the hospital doctor, who diagnosed Mom was rheumatic vasculitis, told us around this time last year that she would probably die sooner rather than later, Mom held on for longer than expected. That said, the person she once was was long gone by end, though gimmers of her former personality occasionally shone through.

For example, during one of my last visits, I told her about the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal – Mom has been a Hugo voter herself in the not too distant past – and mentioned that several finalists had been disqualified for reasons that were then still unknown. Mom has met Paul Weimer and she’s enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s work in the past, so I wasn’t surprised, when she remembered them. However, she also remembered who R.F. Kuang – whom she only saw once at the virtual 2020 Hugo ceremony, when Kuang won the Astounding Award – was, which surprised the heck out of me. At any rate, she muttered, “That silly little girl” (Mom was very much not impressed with R.F. Kuang’s acceptance speech), when I told her about R.F. Kuang being disqualified, which was probably the last time her former personality came through.

The last time I visited Mom, four days before she died, she barely opened her eyes, when I came into the room.  I didn’t stay very long, because she kept falling asleep. Normally, I would have visited her on the weekend, but I had caught a mild cold (which eventually developed into a fully blown bronchitis), so I stayed at home so as not to infect Mom or anybody else.

Early on Monday morning, I went to the grocery story and had just arrived on the parking lot, when my phone rang and a nurse from the care home told me that they’d found Mom dead in her bed that morning. Apparently, she’d had a mild fever the night before, but nothing indicated that she wouldn’t survive the night. I actually called up her doctor, who also signed the death certificate, what had caused her death in the end and he didn’t really know either beyond “a combination of issues”.

Because Mom had been steadily declining for several years, her death wasn’t as unexpected or shocking as Dad’s, though it still hurts. It also came at a really bad time for me, because I was extremely busy with translation work not to mention sick and had to deal with organising the funeral, cleaning out her room at the nursing home and administrative stuff on top of everything else. I also had to call up various relatives, neighbours and friends, some of whom I had already called about Dad four months, and tried to track down my Mom’s surviving cousins. And unlike Dad, Mom had a lot of cousins. Anyway, I reconnected with a bunch of family members I hadn’t seen in years and in one case never. I also learned that one of my second cousins is a big Star Trek fan and runs a Star Trek cooking channel on YouTube.

There are more photos of Mom than of Dad, including quite a few photos showing her as a kid and teenager. But the older photos are all pre-digital. I also don’t have a lot of very recent ones, because I didn’t want to document her decline. But here is a photo from Christmas 2020, where she was still herself and mostly well:

Barbara Buhlert 2020

My Mom at Christmas 2020

And here’s Mom and Dad’s wedding photo from 1965:

1965 wedding portrait

Here are my parents at their wedding in 1965. My Mom has a marvelous beehive. The bouquet is quite interesting as well. According to my Mom, the dangling eight-shapes were two small myrtle wreaths, myrtle being the traditional choice for wedding wreaths and bouquets in Germany.

Memorial corner

The nursing home where my Mom spent the last year has a memorial corner for inhabitant who have died. This is what it looked like when I cleared out Mom’s room.

Mom’s memorial service was yesterday. The actual funeral is next week, because the cemetery is on the far side of town – the grave is a family grave and has been there since 1913, while the family moved to other parts of town. A lot of the guests are elderly and so I didn’t want them to have to drive all over town. Besides, there was a public transport strike and a “climate strike” protest on the day of the memorial, which actually kept two guests from attending, because they couldn’t make it through the traffic.

The service was lovely and thankfully no surprise funeral crashers showed up to disrupt the proceedings speaking in the voice of Captain Kirk. It was a non-religious service at a funeral chapel. Here in Germany, you can hire speakers for non-religious memorial services and the funeral homes all have chapels.

This is what the chapel looked like. I had asked for donations to charity instead of floral arrangements, because I feel that spending a lot of money on flowers that will only wilt away is a waste. Besides, it looks lovely as it is:

Mom's memorial service

Mom’s memorial service

After the service, there was the traditional post-funeral coffee, cake and sandwiches at a local restaurant. Sometimes, there’s also chicken soup, but I didn’t order that. Because a few people couldn’t attend, we had cake and sandwiches left over. My cousin, who’s headteacher of an elementary school, took the leftover cake to feed her teaching staff and I took the remaining sandwiches and gave them to the neighbours who couldn’t attend due to a covid infection.

This time around, I even remembered to take a photo of the assembled friends and family members. With Dad, I forgot.

Post-funeral coffee table Post funeral coffee table

I still have to get through the actual funeral next week. Regular blogging will resume eventually. And if I owe you an e-mail, I’m sorry and I’ll get back to you soon.

Posted in Personal | Tagged , | 8 Comments

The 2023 Hugo Nomination Scandal Gets Worse

I already spent thousands of words writing about the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal and frankly I don’t want to deal with this anymore at all. For starters, this is the time when we should be talking about the 2024 Hugo nominations and not still be talking about last year’s longlist. Also, I have plenty of other problems right now and really no time for more Hugo drama.

However, the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal just got a lot worse and this bombshell is so big that it requires its own post.

One of the last bigger updates to my previous Hugo post apart from “Well, the numbers make even less sense now than before” stuff was that 2023 Best Fan Writer winner Chris M. Barkley actually got hold of 2023 Hugo administrator Dave McCarty at the 2024 Capricon convention in Chicago and managed to interview him. The result was 45 minutes of Dave McCarty making excuses and saying basically nothing. There’s also a transcript here, which is just much empty blathering as the audio recording.

However, it turns out that Dave McCarty wasn’t the only member of the 2023 Hugo committee that Chris talked to at Capricon. He also talked to Diane Lacey, another member of the 2023 Hugo committee, who was a lot more forthcoming than McCarty and provided Chris with several internal e-mails from the Hugo committee as well as a spreadsheet regarding elgibility checks, which clearly show that the western members of the Hugo committee pre-emptively flagged works and individuals that might be considered politically problematic in China.

Chris and 2023 Best Fan Writer finalist Jason Sanford analysed the e-mails and compiled this report, which you can read at File 770 or at Jason’s Genre Grapevine column. Head over there and read it and then come back. There’s also some interesting discussions in the comments, including comments from Chinese fans.

The e-mails leaked by Diane Lacey may be found here and the also leaked eligibility check spreadsheet may be found here.

Basically, Diane Lacey and Kat Jones (who, for full disclosure, was Hugo admin when I won in 2022, and with whom I’ve only had positive interactions so far) were in charge of researching the eligibility of potential Hugo finalists. This is nothing new and happens every year. Basically, the Hugo team tracks the top ten or so nominees and preemptively collects contact data and checks their eligibility, e.g. was the book or story actually published in the relevant year. This is the reason why Hugo finalists are normally contacted very quickly after nominations close, because the team already has the contact data and has done preliminary checks.

This year, however, the Hugo team members who check eligibility were also asked to check whether any of the works or individuals had been critical of China or – to quote Dave McCarty – “if the work focuses on China, Taiwan, Tibet or other topics that may be an issue in China”. McCarty also made it clear in that first e-mail that it may be necessary to pull some works and individuals from the ballot, because Chinese law demands it.

So rather than resign, that’s exactly what the Hugo team did – they highlighted potential issues with various nominees. Babel by R.F. Kuang was flagged as potentially problematic, even though the person doing the flagging hadn’t read the book, but only knew it was about China. The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia was also flagged for containing Chinese immigrant workers, but unlike Babel was eventually allowed to make the ballot.

The fan writer (and also fanzine, though we don’t have details there) category was flagged as full potentially problematic people, since several nominees had made remarks that might be construed as critical of China or had shared news stories about China or – shock and horror – reviewed books that dealt with Chinese topics. Several people were also flagged for agreeing with Jeannette Ng’s remarks about Hongkong back in 2019. Indeed, the only potential fan writer finalist deemed safe was O.Westin, who writes Twitter microfiction. Bitter Karella’s Twitter microfiction was flagged as potentially problematic. Paul Weimer, who was eventually disqualified, was flagged as having visited Tibet and having extensively shared photos of his visit. However, Paul never visited Tibet at all, but neighbouring Nepal. Meanwhile, Best Novel winner Ursula Vernon a.k.a. T. Kingfisher actually did visit Tibet, but this apparently escaped the notice of the censors. Never mind that I don’t see why merely visiting a place would be a problem, especially since the Chinese government actually wants tourists to visit their country.

For the Astounding Award, Xiran Jay Zhao, who was eventually disqualified, Naseem Jamnia, who was allowed to remain on the ballot, and Sue Lyn Tan (who does not appear in the final nomination data) were flagged as potentially problematic. Xiran Jay Zhao and Sue Lyn Tan were flagged for having written about Chinese history and mythology, while Naseem Jamnia was flagged for being non-binary, trans and outspoken about it.

We still don’t know what the problem with that Sandman episode was and why it was disqualified. At this point, it might have been something as simple as a character eating Chinese food in the episode. Because apparently, the only way you were safe from being flagged as a potential issue was never to have mentioned China at all and not to be LGBTQ+ and outspoken about it either.

This is absolutely horrifying and even worse than we thought. I should also probably link to Ada Palmer’s great post about censorship and self-censorship again, because that’s exactly what happened here. It wasn’t that some Chinese government censor waltzed in and struck works and individuals from the Hugo ballot. No, the Hugo team preeemptively identified works and individuals that might upset some hypothetical Chinese government censor. And they also compiled dossiers about potential Hugo finalists and combed their social media feeds for potentially problematic content, which reminds me far more of the Stasi than of a Hugo committee. Camestros Felapton shares his reaction to reading a dossier compiled about himself and his work here.

Worse, the Hugo committee weren’t even very good and consistent about it. Note that Paul was flagged for having visited Tibet, when he never actually did, whereas the Hugo finalist who actually did visit Tibet was not flagged. I freely admit that I haven’t read Babel, but what I’ve read by R.F. Kuang does not strike me as overly critical of China, rather the opposite. Also note that Babel was actually published in China, so actual Chinese government censors clearly don’t view the novel as problematic. And while Xiran Jay Zhao is very outspoken politically (currently mostly about Gaza, but since I don’t follow them, I don’t know what they tweeted and tiktoked about in 2022/2023), they were not flagged for that, but for the fact that their work is based on Chinese history. Meanwhile, the self-censors completely missed that S.B. Divya has been highly critical of China (and actually declined her nomination because of this). They also missed that John Chu, S.L. Huang and Richard Man are all members of the Chinese diaspora and John Chu’s Hugo-nominated novelette is a gay superhero story.

There are a couple of other landmines in the report, namely that several Chinese language works were apparently removed for alleged slating before they even made the longlist. Note that Dave McCarty was also the Hugo administrator in 2016, i.e. one of the Puppy years, where slating very definitely took place, and yet found himself unable to remove any of the slate finalists from the ballot. And while I have no idea what We Live in Nanjing by Tianrui Shuofu and the other Chinese novels which appear on the eligibility spreadsheet but not on the ballot, are about, they can’t possibly be worse than such literary gems as “If You Were an Award, My Love” by Juan Tabo and S. Harris or “Safe Space as Rape Room” by Daniel Eness, both of which Dave McCarty allowed to make the ballot in 2016.

ETA 02-16-2024: Vajra Chandrasekera points out on BlueSky that the alleged “slate” Dave McCarty was referring to was really a recommendation list by the Chinese science fiction magazine Science Fiction World and that there was nothing whatsoever problematic about it.

ETA 02-17-2024: Camestros Felapton compares the leaked validation spreadsheet to the Science Fiction World recommendation list. We’ve known about the Science Fiction World list for a while now BTW. It’s likely what boosted the Dune and Cyberpunk 2077 graphic novels, which got little buzz in the West, onto the ballot. And once again, there is nothing wrong with recommendation lists.

ETA 02-18-2024: A BlueSky user named Ricecooker has taken it upon themselves to list the Chinese titles and authors found on the validation spreadsheet, but not on the ballot.

ETA 02-18-2024: Zionius shares a detailed blogpost about the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal and also compares the validation spreadsheet to the Science Fiction World recommendation list.

ETA 02-23-2024: Francesca Myman points out in a three part Facebook post that just letting the works from the Science Fiction World recommendation list make the ballot en masse would also have “resolved” Dave McCarty and pals’ perceived need to censor the Hugo finalists, because Science Fiction World, being a Chinese publication, would know what would upset the censors and what wouldn’t. Francesca Myman also notes that Science Fiction World specifically solicited recommendations for non-Chinese SFF that their readers might not be familiar with.

ETA 02-20-2024: Camestros Felapton notes that Dave McCarty simply replacing Chinese works from the Science Fiction World recommendation list with western works does not explain the nomination cliff phenomenon, especially since the number of works recommended by Science Fiction World doesn’t match the number of works on the clifftop in many categories. Camestros also notes that the only evidence we have for this alleged slate is that someone, most likely Dave McCarty, told Diane Lacey that there was a slate. And we know by now that McCarty is not even remotely trustworthy.

ETA 02-23-2024: Camestros Felapton and Heather Rose Jones have compiled a detailed report digging into all the inconsistencies and issues with the 2023 Hugo nomination data.

ETA 02-24-2024: A Chinese science fiction fan named Prograft responds to Cam’s and Heather’s report with some background info about the Chinese works found on the validation spreadsheet and the Hugo longlist and notes that some of the Chinese Best Series nominees really seem to have been ineligible.

Apparently, Dave McCarty also always planned to release the full nomination stats as late as possible, i.e. ninety days after the Hugo winners were announced, in  order to protect that Chinese members of the Hugo team from possible reprisals. At least, that’s what he claimed.

Also note that we still don’t know why the nominations stats that were released make no sense and are riddled with obvious and less obvious errors.

ETA 02-15-2024: Camestros Felapton explains that he believes what happened is that the entire nomination data was tampered with multiple times to reach a desired outcome of a ballot with both Chinese and western works that were deemed politically inoffensive, but with headline categories like Best Novel or Best Series having only western finalists to ensure western winners and therefore international media coverage. This is as good an explanation as anything else.

ETA 02-17-2024: Camestros has analysed the validation spreadsheet and compared it to the actual ballot. He has also managed to solve the lingering mystery why In the Serpent’s Wake by Rachel Hartman is listed twice on the Lodestar longlist. It’s a mistake and the second Serpent’s Wake should really be Unraveller by Frances Hardinge.

This is utterly infuriating. Everybody who has been following the Hugos and Worldcon for a while knows that there were concerns about the Chengdu Worldcon, including potential censorship issues, from the start. Since those genuine concerns were often also mixed with blatant xenophobia, they were easier to dismiss than they probably should have been. However, one thing that I and others kept pointing out that even if the Chinese members of the Hugo team might bow to political pressure (and note that I absolutely don’t blame any of them for what happened), we should have faith in the western members of the Hugo team to do what’s right, to not bow to political pressure and to refuse to have anything to do with censorship.

However, it turns out that’s exactly what they did. They happily went along with perceived political pressure (because we don’t know, if there was any actual pressure exerted on anybody) and preemptively vetted nominees for potential issues rather than resign in protest and sound the alarm. And yes, Kat Jones eventually did leave the 2023 Hugo team (and was not listed as a member on the Chengdu site) and Diana Lacey eventually sounded the alarm, but this should have happened much sooner. Meanwhile, Dave McCarty and Chengdu co-chair Ben Yalow happily went along with everything.

File 770 also shares these two statements by Kat Jones and Diane Lacey.

ETA 02-15-2024: Esther MacCallum-Stewart. chair of the 2024 Worldcon in Glasgow, Scotland, has released a statement that Kat Jones is no longer the 2024 Hugo administrator and will play no official role in the convention. They have also promised maximum transparency about withdrawls and decisions regarding ineligiblity.

ETA 02-24-2024: Nicholas Whyte announces that he is now Hugo administrator for the 2024 Worldcon in Glasgow and also goes into the decisions he had to make regarding eligibility. IMO Nicholas is a great choice, simply because he is very careful to take the will of the Hugo nominators into account as far as possible, especially concerning edge cases. And yes, I disagree with a lot of the edge cases in Best Related, but that’s a problem with a category definition that’s much too lose and really needs to fixed, not with the Hugo adminstrator who’s faced with hundreds of people nominating a fanfiction archive in what was traditionally the non-fiction category.

ETA 02-16-2024: Diane Lacey has resigned from CanSmofs, the group behind the 2027 Worldcon bid for Montreal, Canada.

ETA 02-18-2024: Dave McCarty and Cheryl Morgan (who had nothing to do with this whole mess) have resigned from the Hugo Award Marketing Committee.

ETA 02-19-2024: Cheryl Morgan explains why she resigned from the Hugo Award Marketing Committee, even though she had nothing whatsoever to do with the Chengdu Worldcon. Basically, she feared reputational and legal repercussions, so the mountain of crap perpetrated by Dave McCarty and pals is now even harming people who had whatsoever to do with the whole mess.

ETA: 03-07-2024: At Salon Futura, Cheryl Morgan also addresses some of the weirder conspiracy theories surround the 2023 Hugo Awards and the Hugos in general as well as what can and can’t be done to prevent a repeat of last year’s drama in the future. Cheryl also explains why the World Science Fiction Society is organised the way it is.

ETA 02-25-2024: File 770 shares a press release by the WSFS Mark Protection Committee about actions taken in response to the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal.

ETA 03-13-2024: I didn’t think that Dave McCarty still had defenders, but apparently the Starship Fonzie podcast of the Milwaukee Science Fiction & Fantasy League indeed defends his actions.

ETA 02-16-2024: Mary Robinette Kowal, 2023 Hugo finalist for Best Novel and chair of the 2021 Worldcon in Washington DC, shares her experiences with Dave McCarty and Ben Yalow in this thread on BlueSky, which includes some troubling details about McCarty’s proprietary software to count Hugo votes (which is not the same software used by other Worldcons) and also confirms that it wasn’t the Chinese members of the Chengdu committee who refused to disinvite Sergey Lukyanenko as Guest of Honour following his horrible comments about the war in Ukraine, but Ben Yalow who believes that Guests of Honour should never be disinvited for any reason.

ETA 02-19-2024: And it gets even worse. Turns out that Dave McCarty is an abuser and sexual harasser, too, with multiple incidents and complaints going back to at least 2011 according to Meg Frank and Jesi Lipp. Honestly, why was this guy not kicked to the curb years ago and why do we even have Codes of Conduct, if we don’t enforce them?

ETA 02-23-2024: Vox Day feels the need to weigh in on the sexual harassment allegations (archive.org link). He’s also still pissed off that N.K. Jemisin has won several Hugos.

ETA 02-24-2024: Camestros Felapton notes that Larry Correia is cross that neither Cam nor anybody else is talking about him. Of course, Larry also gets cross when people he doesn’t like do write about him, since “angry” is is default state.

I have to admit that I haven’t checked very dilligently what the former puppies and hangers on have to say, because a) I have limited time and would rather use that to locate constructive commentary, b) puppy poo is not very pleasant to read and c) a lot of the former puppies are hanging out almost entirely on Facebook these days, where I don’t have an account and where it’s impossible to find anything without an account.

A cursory look at Larry Correia’s blog yields only this post by someone named Jack Wylder (archive.org link), which is the basically invective laden conspiracy theory stuff about how the Hugos have been vetting authors and excluding them based on political views for ages. Nevermind that Larry Correia and the puppies themselves disproved this with their antics, since none of the works they pushed onto the ballot were ever disqualified, unless they really weren’t eligible. And the Hugo admins during the puppy years included many of the same people who are involved in the current scandal.

ETA 03-17-2024: On BlueSky, Chris M. Barkley highlighted a Twitter post by Larry Correia, in which he called Chris and Jason Sanford “arseholes” and also went on about Chinese Communists, even though we know that the people who tampered with the Hugos weren’t Chinese Communists at all, but western SMOFs.  But then Larry Correia apparently thinks that everybody who is not a Baen author or an explicit fan of his work is an “arsehole”. He also seems to think a lot of people are Chinese Communists – at any rate I faintly recall him ranting about File 770 getting a lot of hits from China.

ETA 03-01-2024: Camestros Felapton clearly has a stronger stomach than me and has dug up an article about the 2023 Hugo controversy at the far right site The Federalist, written by Baen author and Dragon Award winners D.J. Butler.

D.J. Butler won the 2020 Dragon Award for best alternate history novel and he clearly seems to get his fiction and non-fiction writing conflated, because the article reads very much like an alternate history of the Hugo Awards and the Sad and Rabid Puppy drama. At any rate, if Butler’s version of events is true in some universe, it’s certainly not the one we’re living in.

Today wasn’t a great day for me, so I’m not really in the mood to rebut Butler’s nonsense (and that’s exactly what it is) point by point. Besides, Cam already did so. That said, until now I had always considered Butler one of the better Baen authors, who’s not a jerk and whose Indrajit & Fix sword and sorcery stories might actually be up my alley. But that Federalist article does not make me eager to read more of Butler’s work.

ETA 02-16-2024: On BlueSky, Courtney Milan shares some strategies for handling censorship requests without complying.

ETA 02-21-2024: At Medium, D.G. Valdron uses the Hugo nomination scandal as an illustration for the slippery slopes of moral compromises and how easily many people give in to perceived pressure. Valdron also claims that the Hugos are completely irrelevant, probably because D.G. Valdron doesn’t care about them. Well, I don’t particularly care about the Stanley Cup or the Superbowl or the World Series or the Grammy Awards or the Tony Awards or even the US National Book Awards either, but nonetheless I wouldn’t call them irrelevant.

ETA 03-17-2024: In his latest column for File 770, Chris M. Barkley responds to D.G. Valdron among others and basically tells Valdron where to stuff it. Whereupon Valdron shows up in the comments, complains about Chris misspelling their name and hilariously addresses Chris as “Mr. Glyer”. Valdron also wants us to know that they are very tough and have been in fights on parking lots.

Chris also reports about being suspended from the Washington Science Fiction Association Facebook group in response to his report about Dave McCarty’s shenangigans, about Larry Correia calling him an arsehole and some rando accusing Chris, a black man, of having won a Hugo because of racism.

What is more, Chris also unrecuses himself from Hugo consideration for 2025.

Finally, I also want to share this part from Chris and Jason’s report:

This report’s authors attempted to reach out to Chinese genre fans for comment, but did not receive any responses in time to include in this report.

An explanation for what might be happening came from Pablo Vazquez, a traveling genre fan and co-chair of the 12th North American Science Fiction Convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Vazquez is also well known for his connections with genre fans around the world.

When Vazquez was asked if he could help connect the authors with any fans in China who might comment for this report, he said “I’m sorry. They do not want to speak to the media even anonymously.”

As Vazquez stated in a follow-up comment, “I have a lot of love for Chinese fandom and my friendships and connections there run deep. That’s a real and vibrant fandom there that is, like us, wanting very little to do with their government being involved in their fandom. They definitely don’t think it’s their government and instead think its corporate interests or, even worse, a fan/pro organization. Honestly, they seem more scared by that than anything else which saddens me to see and despite multiple attempts to get them to share their story they seem really hesitant.”

He elaborated further: “They don’t seem to fear official reprisal (the CPC seems to want to find who’s responsible for embarrassing them on the world stage actually) but rather ostracization from their community or its outright destruction. If I were to hazard a guess, the way we blew up this affair in the international media has now put this fandom in very serious trouble. Previously, it was one of the few major avenues of free speech left in China. Now, after all this, the continuation of that freedom seems highly unlikely.”

Whether there actually was any active political pressure on the local or provincial level or not, it’s obvious that the Chinese Communist Party is clearly not happy that what was supposed to be a good-will propaganda event blew up in their faces and embarassed the country internationally. And while the Chinese government doesn’t particularly care about an SFF con in Chengdu, they clearly do care about being embarassed.

However, what’s most heartbreaking here is that the Chinese fans – who are not to blame for any of this and indeed are as angry as we are – are now at risk of losing SFF fandom as their safe space due to increased poltical attention. Because fandom is often a safe space for those who don’t quite fit into the mainstream, particularly in authoritarian countries. Not just in China, but also e.g. in Eastern Europe pre-1989. We’ve also had several cases in recent years of China cracking down on fandom spaces such as blocking AO3 or a general crackdown on celebrity fandom culture. It’s understandable that Chinese SFF fans now fear that they may be next and I really, really hope that this won’t happen.

This was supposed to be a Worldcon that would bring Chinese and western SFF fans together. But, largely due to the cowardice of several western SMOFs, it became a complete disaster that will harm not only the reputation of Worldcon and the Hugos, but may also harm Chinese SFF fandom who really don’t deserve any of this crap.

ETA 02-15-2014: John Scalzi weighs in on the Hugo scandal at Whatever and also wonders how to make sure something like this never happens again.

John Scalzi also points out that some people are always very eager to declare the Hugos dead for good this time, but that the Hugos have weathered other storms and will weather this one, too.

And indeed I saw some disturbing comments at BlueSky that not just the 2023 Hugo results cannot be trusted, but that all Hugo results shouldn’t be trusted, because most likely other politcally undesired finalists such as Palestinians or LGBTQ+ might have been removed from the ballot, too.

Which, sorry, is bullshit. For starters, there have been many LGBTQ+ Hugo finalists and winners over the years and there has been at least one Palestinian Hugo finalist.

ETA 02-28-2024: Michael J. DeLuca talks about the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal at The Mossy Skull and also repeats the point about Palestinians being shut out from the Hugos. Not sure if he was the one making this claim on BlueSky or if that was someone else.

Michael J. DeLuca also makes an important point, namely that many SFF magazines use only PayPal to pay their authors, which is an issue, because PayPal does not operate in certain countries. And not just countries that are subject to economic sanctions like Russia and Belarus (and denying writers and artists from those countries publication or payment is not doing one bit to stop the war in Ukraine or topple Putin and Lukachenko), but also countries that are considered high risk for fraud or crime or terrorism. However, the difficulties of making international payments in an increasingly globalised world is an issue that goes way beyond the SFF community.

Besides, the Hugos are as transparent as an award can be. I don’t know of any other award which publishes detailed voting and nomination statistics. Indeed, the reason that the massive tampering with the 2023 Hugo ballot was discovered is because of glaring issues in the nomination statistics. If similar issues had arisen before, someone would have noticed, because we’re a community full of people who do data analysis for fun.

ETA: 03-13-2024: Camestros Felapton explains why he trusts the Hugos, namely because they are extremely transparent, so that even more subtle attempts to tamper with the nominations than what happened in 2023 would have been detected.

ETA 02-17-2024: On BlueSky, Camestros Felapton explains that he analysed the nomination data for every year going back to 2017, when EPH was introduced, and found no issues. So yes, the previous results are legit, whether you like it or not.

Finally, I also feel sorry for the 2023 Hugo finalists and winners who now feel even more unsure of themselves and their win/nomination than before.

ETA 02-18-2024: Samantha Mills, who won the 2023 Hugo Award for Best Short Story for “Rabbit Test”, says that she can no longer consider herself a Hugo winner, because her story most likely wouldn’t have made the ballot, if many ballots hadn’t been tossed out.  I find this incredibly sad.

ETA 02-21-2024: Adrian Tchaikovsky, who won the 2023 Hugo Award for Best Series for Children of Time, has also said that he does no longer consider himself a Hugo winner either. Once again, I find this decision very sad, because these were good works and good winners.

ETA 03-10-2024: The crew of the most excellent Hugo Girl! podcast, who had initially recused themselves after their win in 2023, have unrecused themselves from the 2025 Hugo Awards onwards.

ETA 02-18-2024: Meanwhile, the usual suspects have apparently harassed Best Novel winner T. Kingfisher a.k.a. Ursula Vernon online for not following Samantha Mills’ lead. I would say, “Can we please not do this?”, but that bunch won’t listen anyway, since harassing Hugo winners and finalists is one of the few joys they have in their sad little lives.

The closest comparison here are probably the 2015 and 2016 Hugo finalists (and to a lesser degree the 2014 and 2017 Hugo finalists). Everybody knows that many of the finalists on those ballots shouldn’t have been there and only made the ballot due to the Sad and Rabid Puppy slates. Yet those works are still listed as finalists – even eye-bleedingly terrible stuff like “Safe Space as a Rape Room” or SJWs Always Lie. And the winners are still listed as winners and to my knowledge, none of them have disavowed their win (and many of the slate finalists still call themselves Hugo finalists, too), even though there were a few who won by default due to being the only non-slate (and often the only non-terrible) finalist on the ballot that year.

IMO this is also how we should treat the 2023 Hugos. Yes, we know that many of those finalists shouldn’t have been on the ballot, but we voted based on what was there and we have some good winners. And overall, the 2023 Hugo ballot was much better than the shitshow that was 2015/2016.

ETA 02-18-2024: Wendy Xu, who was nominated for her graphic novel Mooncakes in 2020 (when Tammy Coxen was Hugo administrator), has now renounced that nomination and is ashamed to be associated with the Hugos. That’s her choice, but personally I feel that’s a complete overeaction.

Also, you won’t get that from me. I’m proud of my three Hugo nominations and of my Hugo win, all of which I won fair and square.

ETA 02-17-2024: Science fiction writer Elizabeth Bonesteel also briefly weighs in on the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal as part of a longer post about her less than ideal publishing experience and writes how sorry she feels for the authors who were Hugo finalists and even winners in 2023 and who now have that achievement tarnished through no fault of their own.

BTW, if you haven’t already, go and read Elizabeth Bonesteel’s Central Corps series. They’re very good, basically a darker Star Trek. That first book, The Cold Between, was on my Hugo ballot in 2017.

ETA 02-15-2024: The mainstream news coverage is coming a lot quicker this time around, because Amy Hawkins at the Guardian reports about the latest developments in the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal.

ETA 02-16-2024: For more mainstream coverage, BBC Radio 4 Front Row covers the Hugo nomination scandal and also offers interviews with writers Andrew Hawkins and Emma Rice.

ETA 02-16-2024: For yet more mainstream coverage, Mithil Aggarwal reports about the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal at NBC News and also interviews Paul Weimer, one of the ineligibles.

ETA 02-17-2024: The mainstream coverage continues with Alexandra Alter’s very good article in the New York Times, linked here via File 770‘s gift link. Correct me, if I’m wrong, but I don’t think the New York Times reported about the puppy drama.

ETA 02-23-2024: More mainstream coverage courtesdy of Andrew Limbong at NPR, which includes interviews with Diane Lacey, Jason Sanford and Chris M. Barkley as well as a clip from Chris’ interview with Dave McCarty.

ETA 02-17-2024: Nardos Haile offers yet more mainstream coverage at Salon.

ETA 02-18-2024: Zoe Guy offers a detailed rundown on the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal at Vulture.

ETA 03-01-2024: Simina Mistreanu briefly discusses the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal, though her article for Associated Press focusses more on the history of SFF fandom in China and the Chengdu Worldcon in general.

ETA 02-17-2024: Lauren Irwin offers a brief summary of the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal in her article at the conservative US news site The Hill.

ETA 02-21-2024: Here is some mainstream coverage from Sweden, courtesy of Alice Hermansson at Dagens Nyheter.

ETA 02-16-2024: Sophia Stewart at Publishers Weekly mostly focusses on the statement by Esther McCallum-Stewart, chair of the 2024 Worldcon in Glasgow, in her article about the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal.

ETA 02-16-2024: Cheryl Eddy shares a summary of the latest revelations regarding the Hugo nomination scandal at io9.

ETA 02-24-2024: The Passive Voice, a blog by an IP lawyer that used to be really popular in indie writer circles, also weighs in on the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal, drawing mostly on Cheryl Eddy’s io9 article. The few comments added by the blog’s author Passive Guy show that while Passive Guy may know a lot about IP law, he knows nothing about how the Hugos and Worldcon work. The comments are full of pooping puppies and remind me why I stopped following that blog ages ago.

ETA 02-16-2024: At Boing Boing, Ruben Bolling also shares an update of the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal.

ETA 02-16-2024: At Reactor, the website formerly known as Tor.com, Vanessa Armstrong offers a summary of the latest state of the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal.

ETA 03-05-2024: Locus has expanded its original report about the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal with new information.

ETA 02-23-2024: Andrea Johnson interviews Chris M. Barkley and Jason Sanford at the RetroRockets podcast.

ETA 02-16-2024: YouTuber Daniel Greene discusses the latest developments in the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal as well as the Cait Corrain review bombing scandal (which I didn’t cover here, so just google her name and you should find it).

ETA 02-24-2024: Daniel Greene has made a follow-up video discussing even more latest developments in the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal. Sadly, there are some puppies pooping in the comments.

ETA 02-21-2024: Here is an Italian article about the 2023 Hugo nomination scandal at the Italian genre site Fantascienza.com

ETA 02-18-2024: The 2021 Hugo winner for Best Fanzine nerds of a feather weighs in on the latest Hugo revelations.

ETA 02-16-2024: The estimable Dr. Chuck Tingle weighs in on Twitter and points out that some people said he made the Hugos illegitimate, when “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 2016, courtesy of Vox Day and his obsession with dinosaur erotica, even though the admin team (and the 2016 Hugo admin was none other than Dave McCarty) did things that were so much worse. Though I only recall a few people explicitly singling out Chuck Tingle among all the Rabid Puppy finalists and hostages (and there were many, many worse works on the 2016 Hugo ballot than “Space Raptor Butt Invasion”), especially not after Chuck Tingle epically trolled the puppies. Because love is real.

ETA 02-21-2024: At her blog, 2014 Hugo winner for Best Fan Writer Abigail Nussbaum notes that the 2023 Hugo nominations scandal got even worse.

ETA 02-16-2024: At New Scientist, Emily H. Wilson briefly addresses the current scandal and then looks back at the past glories of the Hugos.

ETA 03-10-2024: Here’s a call for submissions for an upcoming issue of the Hugo winning fanzine Journey Planet looking for proposals how to prevent the shitshow that was the 2023 Hugo Awards from ever happening again and generally improve the Hugo process. For this issue, editors James Bacon and Chris Garcia will be joined by guest editor Paul Weimer, who was one of the many victims of the 2023 Hugo mess.

ETA 02-16-2024: Fandom has a way of turning lemons Hugo drama into lemonade art, so enjoy Trish E. Matson’s poem “A Vanilla Villain’s Variant Villanelle”.

ETA 03-30-2024: A certain person named Dave has been refused a membership to Levitation, the 2024 Eastercon in Telford, UK, and was escorted off the premises by security after they refused to honour this decision con committee. A second person of controversial interest was allowed to remain under certain conditions. We do not know who this person is, but we suspect their first name may be Ben.

Posted in Books, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Return of the Son of the Bride of the Grimdark Debate

In the early days of this relaunched blog, I wrote several times about the debate about grimdark fantasy, then one of the hottest subgenres on the market, which also attracted its share of criticism both from the left for its sometimes rampant misogyny and violence against women and from the right for soiling the memory of Tolkien and the numinous sanctity of the fantasy genre or some such thing.

Fast forward eleven years and grimdark fantasy is still a thing, but not nearly as dominant as it once was, while cozy fantasy, romantasy, hopepunk and other subgenres are ascendent and we’re debating about other subjects. Yet the grimdark debate just lurched back into the room like the rotting undead corpse that it is.

The necromancer who revived the rotting corpse this time around is one Sebastian Milbank, executive editor at a conservative British magazine called The Critic. Amidst articles about Brexit, the war in Ukraine, why young people should join the Army, cancel culture, gender-critical feminists (a.k.a. TERFs) and other conservative talking points, Milbank wrote this essay complaining about grimdark fantasy, how it’s somehow all Michael Moorcock’s fault and how Tolkien is superior. Found via File 770.

The essay feels as if it time-traveled here from the early 2010s, probably because it did. The examples of grimdark fantasy Milbank gives are the same examples we talked about eleven years ago, namely Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and its TV adaptation Game of Thrones. A couple of other TV shows are mentioned as well – Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire and The Walking Dead – none of which are grimdark fantasy and two of which aren’t even fantasy at all. It’s also notable that all of the authors have long since moved on to other series and that all of the TV shows ended years ago, except for The Walking Dead, which still has new spin-offs coming out. Honestly, has Sebastian Milbank read a single novel or watched a single TV show that came out in the last five years?

In addition to the general grime, darkness and cycnicism, Milbank’s main issue with grimdark fantasy is not the prevalence of sexual violence and violence against women in general in some (and it was never all of them) grimdark works, which was a main point of criticism eleven years ago, but the fact that grimdark fantasy portrays religion negatively. And guess who’s to blame for this sorry state of affairs? Yes, the Left. Nevermind that grimdark fantasy was never a particularly left-leaning subgenre.

Sebastian Milbank then goes into the history of the fantasy genre or rather his idea of what the history of the fantasy genre is. Which unfortunately is completely and utterly wrong. Basically, Milbank assumes that the fantasy genre began with J.R.R. Tolkien. Which is a common misconception, but still wrong.

To be fair, Milbank does briefly go into pre-Tolkien fantasy and mentions E.R. Eddison, G.K. Chesterton (of course) and E. Nesbit, all of whom he classifies as “Edwardian neo-medieval romance”. He completely fails to mention Lord Dunsany who was a lot more influential than any of the writers he does mention, as well as Mervyn Peake, Hope Mirrless, Evangeline Walton and other early twentieth century mostly British writers of what we would now call fantasy.

ETA: Evangeline Walton was actually American.

Milbank also completely ignores pre-WWII American fantasy writing, which flourished in the pages of Weird Tales, Unknown, Strange Stories, Black Cat and short-lived amateur magazines and the motley mix of gothic ghost stories, paranormal investigators, cosmic horror, historical fantasy, sword and sorcery, contemporary fantasy and haunted machinery horror found in their pages. There is no mention of Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, C.L. Moore, Henry Kuttner, Manly Wade Wellman, Robert Bloch, Jack Williamson, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Poul Anderson, August Derleth, L. Sprague De Camp, Dorothy Quick, Allison W. Harding, Mary Elizabeth Counselman and many, many others, even though the influence of these works and their writers continues to be felt today. Conan is mentioned once, in the context of an actor dressed up as Conan and wielding Xena’s weapon at San Diego Comic Con.

Another thing that Milbank gets wrong is that Tolkien’s impact was immediate, when it was really much delayed. When The Hobbit came out in 1937, it was viewed as a children’s book. And when The Lord of the Rings came out in 1954/55, it did gain critical acclaim, but little notice among SFF fandom, because it was a pricey hardcover trilogy published in the UK in a field that was dominated by American magazines and paperbacks. The reason why no volume of The Lord of the Rings was nominated for a Hugo is that way too few SFF fans even knew the books existed at the time.

It was only when Donald Wollheim (illegally) published The Lord of the Rings in paperback in the US in 1965 that the books found a new appreciative audience and gradually turned into the phenomenon they became. Together with Lancer reprinting Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories from the 1930s in paperback, the fantasy revival that had been simmering since the late 1950s suddenly burst into overdrive and in the next decade most pre-WWII fantasy, both British and American, was reprinted in paperback form after being out of print for thirty or more years and new fantasy novels inspired by older works started to appear.

Nor was the fantasy boom of the late 1960s and early 1970s overly Tolkien-inspired.  If anything, it was a lot more Robert E. Howard inspired, because it was the era of the big sword and sorcery revival as well as of more idiosyncratic works like A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin and The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. Tolkien’s work was popular and beloved during this time, but he was just one writer and not yet the titan he would become. Nor was there a distinction made between epic or high fantasy on the one hand and sword and sorcery on the other. Tolkien was mentioned in the same breath as Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber or Clark Ashton Smith and discussed a lot in the pages of Amra, the fanzine that served as the water cooler of the burgeoning sword and sorcery community.

Tolkienesque big fat quest fantasy didn’t become a thing until 1977, four years after Tolkien’s death, when The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks was published. And Sword of Shannara was just one book, a Tolkien clone in a sea of Clonans. It was only when it The Sword of Shannara and its sequels became a massive success and the changing economics of the publishing industry favoured longer books that vaguely Tolkienesque big fat quest fantasy started smothering all other strands of fantasy, including sword and sorcery, which had by now turned increasingly repetitive. We cannot blame J.R.R. Tolkien for this development, because he was dead when it happened. We can’t even blame Terry Brooks, because he was just one writer who inadvertedly started a trend. Maybe we can blame Lester and Judi-Lynn Del Rey who published big fat epic quest fantasy by the truckload, because that stuff sold like gangbusters. But they were just giving the public what it wanted at the time.

Big fat quest fantasy started to go stale around the turn of the millennium, as the Wheel of Time was idling on, though the first cracks were apparent as early as the late 1980s when contemporary fantasy, which had been dormant since the 1940s, made a tentative comeback, now renamed urban fantasy. This subgenre would explode in the early 2000s, around the same time as grimdark fantasy, though it attracted little notice at the time, because the writers and readers of urban fantasy were mostly women.

Even darker, grimmer takes on Tolkienesque fantasy were nothing new. Lord Foul’s Bane, the first book of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever by Stephen R. Donaldson, came out in 1977, the same year as Sword of Shannara, and already bore many of the hallmarks of what would eventually be called grimdark fantasy such as a cynical and nihilistic and morally dark grey protagonist and a graphic rape scene very early in the first book.

A Game of Thrones, the first volume of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, came out in 1996 and is often viewed as the start of the grimdark trend, though personally I consider it part of a completely different trend which went mostly unnoticed at the time because it played out across different genres and subgenres. Starting in the late 1980s, several multi-volume speculative sagas appeared, which often followed a large cast of characters, often with multiple POVs, over years and decades, focussed on political machinations and occasionally massive battles and featured more graphic sex and violence than was commonly found in SFF at the time. Other examples are the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold, the Deathstalker series by Simon R. Green and the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. You could probably throw The Expanse by James S.A. Corey in there as well, though that series also includes other influences. These books are normally not grouped together, because they are in different genres and subgenres, but they have a lot of similarities and were inspired in part by the massive historical sagas of writers like Dorothy Dunnett, Anne Golon, John Jakes (himself a participant in the 1960s fantasy revival) or James Mitchener as well as the so-called bodiceripper historical romances of the 1970s and 1980s, only with added SFF elements.

Anyway, by the turn of the millennium, just as the Lord of the Rings movies were breaking box office records, everybody was thoroughly sick of increasingly pale copies of The Sword of Shannara, which itself was a copy The Lord of the Rings. It was time for something new, so a couple of trends and subgenres emerged. First we had the New Weird, which quickly fizzled out. We had the urban fantasy and paranormal romance boom, which brought fantasy back into a modern day setting and harkened back to the paranormal investigators and contemporary fantasy of the 1930s and 1940s. And from approx. 2008 on, we had what would eventually be called grimdark fantasy, partially inspired by A Song of Ice and Fire and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever and also the first and second sword and sorcery boom and taking its name from the Warhammer 40000 games, but its own thing altogether.

However, Sebastian Milbank does not blame A Song of Ice and Fire or The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever or Warhammer 40000, let alone the glut of extruded big fat fantasy product on bookstore shelves in the late 1990s for the rise of grimdark fantasy. No, he blames Michael Moorcock and Philip Pullman. Milbank writes:

An early foe was Michael Moorcock, whose own writings — full of bitter and murderous anti-heroes, doomed romances and bleak accounts of human nature — essentially set the template for much of the anti-Tolkien strain in fantasy writing.

That description matches Elric of Melniboné – now elgible again for the Hugo Award for Best Series due to the publication of the Elric story “The Folk of the Forest” in New Edge Sword and Sorcery No. 1 (hint, hint) – though Elric is not and never was the anti-Aragorn or anti-Frodo. He is the anti-Conan and the Elric stories and novels (as well as the Corum novels and many others) are sword and sorcery and seminal works of the second sword and sorcery boom at that. They’re not responses to Tolkien but to Robert E. Howard. And yes, Elric has left his mark on the fantasy genre, partly inspiring The Witcher stories and novels by Andrzej Sapkowski (which also heavily draw on East European literature and folklore) and the white-haired incestous Targaryens of A Song of Ice and Fire fame.

However, Milbank never mentions Moorcock’s best known character. Instead, he focusses on Moorcock’s 1978 essay “Epic Pooh”, which does criticise Tolkien along with C.S. Lewis, A.A. Milne and Richard Adams and a certain strain of English fantasy in general. He also focusses the 1966 novel Behold the Man, which heavily and heavy-handedly criticises Christianity and – to be fair – is very much a work of its time and doesn’t hold up very well. I remember that no one at Galactic Journey even wanted to cover that one. Finally, he mentions the Von Bek cycle of the 1980s. These works are of course a tiny fraction of Michael Moorcock’s massive output, but they match Milbank’s stereotypes. And claiming that the creator of Elric and editor of New Worlds was “vigorously chasing literary fashion” is just laughable.

ETA: The expanded novel version of Behold the Man, which was published in 1969, just came up for review again at Galactic Journey and once again no one wanted to cover it. Also, Behold the Man is not grimdark fantasy and never was, but part of that peculiarly British subgenre of “Let’s write something incredibly shocking about Christianity in general and Jesus in particular.” Other examples include Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, the comic series Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon (which borrowed the mentally disabled messiah bit straight from Moorcock)  and many others. Kevin Smith’s 1999 movie Dogma is a rare American example.

As for Philip Pullman, not only does Pullman not write grimdark fantasy but YA fantasy, the His Dark Materials books are also a response to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia novels and not to Tolkien. Well, at least, he is responding to an Inkling, but the wrong one. I’m also pretty certain that the grimdark fantasy writers of the 2000s and 2010s were not inspired by His Dark Materials and Philip Pullman.

But the weirdest thing about Milbank’s essay are not the wearyingly familiar points he makes – “Fantasy needs more religion and morality. We need don’t need subversion” – but the timing. What on Earth possessed him to write that essay now, when grimdark fantasy is still chugging along, but no longer dominant, while the most exciting developments in fantasy are happening elsewhere? Is this an essay left over from the early 2010s, which he found on his harddrive and decided to publish? It’s certainly possible, especially since the newest works referenced are Captain America: Civil War from 2014 and the TV show The Boys from 2019. Neither of which are grimdark fantasy, but superhero stories or rather subversions thereof. And subversions of superhero tropes are no more new than grimdark fantasy. Alan Moore’s take on Miracleman/Marvelman came out in 1982, Watchmen in 1985.

If Milbank is looking for more hopeful and less cynical fantasy, there are plenty of options and he might enjoy the works of Travis Baldree (though there are lesbians and non-evil orcs), T. Kingfisher or Alix E. Harrow. If he wants religious fantasy, well, there was the Superversive movement which sprang up in the wake of the Sad and Rabid Puppies, though that mostly seems to have fizzled out.

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The Revolution Will Be Televised: Some Thoughts on Masters of the Universe Revolution

When the first half of Masters of the Universe: Revelation came out in the summer of 2021, I watched it with very few preconceptions beyond having seen some really cool looking trailers and promo images and thinking, “This looks like the He-Man I remember from my childhood, only with better animation.”

I was thankfully oblivious of the controversies and flat-out falsehoods spread by some clickbait YouTube channels of the “We hate everything, cause it’s woke now” variety, largely because I finally persuaded YouTube to stop recommending such channels to me.

I did hear about the “Teela is a lesbian now” rumours, since those also popped up outside the YouTube rage channel biotope. This annoyed me a little, because Adora had just been reimagined as a lesbian in the 2018 She-Ra series and while I generally liked that storyline and found it compelling, I felt making Teela lesbian as well would have been overkill. Never mind that I was a lot more invested in the romance between Teela and Adam/He-Man than I’d ever been in any She-Ra/Adora’s love interests. Of course, the “Teela is a lesbian now” rumours turned out to be completely false, fuelled by the sort of people who mistake every close friendship between members of the same sex for romance.

Nonetheless, I went into Revelation with very few expectations beyond “This looks good and will hopefully provide some nostalgic fun.” And should I not enjoy the show for some reason, I would simply stop watching like I did with the She-Ra reboot that never quite did it for me, mostly because I really, really disliked the animation style. And yes, I know N.D. Stevenson just got an Oscar nomination for Nimona, but I still dislike the style.

So I watched Revelation and it turned out to be not just some nostalgic fun, but so much more. Here was the He-Man story I always wanted to see, a series which took the characters seriously in all their beautiful absurdity and found new depths in them and even managed to make me cry (something western animation in general very rarely does – crying is for anime), while also harkening back to the early 20th SFF which had inspired Masters of the Universe in the first place. Plus, the animation was gorgeous and finally looked as good as the Filmation cartoon looked in my memory, but never in reality, and the voice cast was stellar.

In short, Masters of the Universe Revelation was amazing, even though the usual suspects hated it, because women and people of colour got things to do (never mind that the original Filmation cartoon had plenty of strong women and people of colour in prominent roles) and because Teela, who has always been portrayed as a hothead all the way back to the original Filmation cartoon, was justifiably angry at being kept in the dark about Adam’s secret. Also, she finally had a more realistic body now and sported a new haircut. And one of the clickbait rage channels decided to pick a fight with showrunner Kevin Smith, claiming that he lied to them and demanding an apology. That same clickbait rage channel is now furious that they were not given an advance screener for Revolution BTW, while other smaller YouTube channels were. Gee, I wonder why that is.

The second half of Masters of the Universe Revelation came out four months after the first and ended with one hell of a teaser for a potential second season. And then the long wait for Masters of the Universe Revolution began. Until this week…

And once Masters of the Universe Revolution finally came out, it of course had to come out in a week where Dave McCarty decided to release obviously messed up Hugo nomination statistics and plunged all fandom into all-out war. Yeah, thanks a lot for that, Dave.

However, I still got to watch Masters of the Universe Revolution on release day and damn it, this one is a banger. While watching, I cried, I cheered and exclaimed several variations of “Fuck”, “Shit” and “Oh my God!”

Warning: Spoilers under the cut! And trust me, you don’t want to be spoiled for this, so go and watch Revolution and then come back here to read my analysis. Continue reading

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Comic Review: Masters of the Universe: Forge of Destiny by Tim Seeley and Eddie Nunez

My regular comic collecting days are almost twenty years behind me by now, but I still pick up the occasional comic book that interests me. And so I headed to my local comic shop to pick up Masters of the Universe: Forge of Destiny, a four issue mini-series by Tim Seeley and Eddie Nunez, published by Dark Horse Comics.

As for why I bought this particular comic, for starters I happen to like Masters of the Universe, as regular readers of this blog will know. What is more, the Masters of Universe comics, especially the DC Comics run that started in 2012, have been remarkably good, particularly considering they’re media and toy tie-in comics. But then toy tie-in comics are often remarkably good. For example, Marvel‘s Rom the Spaceknight and Micronauts both outlasted the rather shortlived toylines that inspired them. Finally, I have enjoyed all of the Masters of the Universe comics that Tim Seeley has written so far. My favourite is probably Masters of the Multiverse (I talk a bit more about that comic here), though I also liked the recent Masterverse mini-series (which partially inspired this Masters-of-the-Universe-piece Theatre toy photo story as well as this one) and the Injustice versus Masters of the Universe crossover.

Note that I wrote this review before Masters of the Universe: Revolution was released, so there’s some speculation in here, which may turn out to be wrong. I was actually planning to post this review much earlier, but then Dave McCarty had to go and mess with the Hugo nominations, leading to a multi-day drama.

Warning! There are some spoilers in the following! Continue reading

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