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 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 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 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.

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.

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 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 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 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, but 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 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 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”.

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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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The 2023 Hugo nomination statistics have finally been released – and we have questions

The long-awaited nomination statistics for the 2023 Hugo Awards have finally been published – at the last possible moment according to the WSFS constitution (and at a point when I really don’t have time for Hugo neepery). The voting statistics already came out sometimes in December and it turned out that several finalists won with very large majorities.

The full voting and nomination stats are here and there are several landmines in there, which makes me wonder whether “The Hugo admin was very busy with his day job” is the only reason the stats were delayed for so long.

So let’s delve right in:

The first landmine is lurking in Best Novel, because it turns out that Babel by R.F. Kuang, whose absence from the ballot was very notable, since pretty much everybody expected it to be nominated, started out with the third most nominations, but was knocked out by EPH on the final round (which it shouldn’t have been) and also declared ineligible. Babel was published in the US on September 1, 2022, it didn’t have any prior publication elsewhere and it’s obviously SFF, so how can it be ineligible?

The EPH data is also weird, because Babel doesn’t gain any points throughout, as the other nominees are eliminated, which is extremely unusual. Of course, most of the longlist is made up of Chinese novels, where there may be little overlap with western ballots, but I imagine that at least some of the 115 people who nominated The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler (another likely finalist conspicuous by its absence) or some of the 78 people who nominated A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys (which surprised me a little, though it’s a pleasant surprise) would have also nominated Babel. Also, it would be great if the stats listed at least the authors, because it’s annoying trying to google some of these works.

ETA: Several people have since come forward and stated that they voted for both Babel and The Mountain in the Sea or A Half-Built Garden or all three, so this should be visible in the EPH data.

ETA2: R.F. Kuang has made a statement on BlueSky.

ETA3: Camestros Felapton has asked several people to share their ballots and run his own analysis and comes to the conclusion that there are multiple issues here and that the numbers for Babel just don’t make any sense.

ETA 02-06-2024: Camestros has now analysed twenty Best Novel nomination ballots provided by volunteers. Even based on this small sample, he comes to the conclusion that the numbers definitely don’t add up, especially the EPH numbers for Babel, but also for Nettle and Bone and Nona the Ninth.

Also notable by its absence from the longlist is The World We Make by N.K. Jemisin. Now N.K. Jemisin is not just a great writer, she’s also extremely popular with Hugo voters and I find it unlikely that The World We Make got fewer nominations than the more obscure A Half-Built Garden.

Personally, I’m happier with The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, the finalist which made the ballot instead of Babel, because I bounced off R.F. Kuang’s Poppy War trilogy really hard. But this does not change the fact that Babel was obviously eligible and should have made the ballot. And we really need an explanation why it was declared ineligible.

Another pattern that’s really notable and that we will find throughout the ballot is the sharp drop-off in nominations. The top seven nominees – i.e. the six finalists plus Babel – received between 831 and 767 nominations. This number is much higher than usual, but then we had an influx of Chinese nominators and therefore more nomination ballots. However, the eighth place nominee, a Chinese novel entitled Age of the Godmakers (I couldn’t find out the author or anything else about this one) only got 150 nominations, 617 less than The Daughter of Doctor Moreau. This is a massive drop-off and extremely unusual.

ETA: Camestros Felapton discusses the cliff phenomenon and the sharp drop-off in nominations in this post.

ETA: It’s also been pointed out that in Best Novel and several other categories, the EPH numbers totalled exceed the number of total ballots cast, which should not be possible.

In Best Novella, it turns out that Becky Chambers declined a nomination for A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, which was another likely finalist conspicuous by its absence. We also have the sharp drop-off in nominations between place 5, A Mirror Mended by Alix E. Harrow with 615 nominations, and place 6, What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher with 155 nominations. The longlist consists mainly of Chinese novellas as well as High Times in the Low Parliament by Kelly Robson and The Bruising of Qilwa by Naseem Jamnia.

In Best Novelette, the eventual winner “The Space Time Painter” got twice as many nominations as the second place finalist. It’s clear that “The Space Time Painter” is a story which really spoke to the Chinese fans nominating, especially since it also referred to a famous Chinese painting. We also have a Chinese novelette called “Color the World” declared ineligible, according to Neil Clarke, because it was published in the wrong year, i.e. it really is ineligible. We also have another case of a nomination declined for “Two Hands Wrapped in Gold” by S.B. Divya, who went public about declining the nomination for political reasons several months ago.

Another oddity is that a story named “Turing Food Court” by Wang Nuonuo, which appeared in English in this anthology of Chinese science fiction, is listed in both tenth and twelfth place on the longlist and would likely have made the ballot, if the nominations had been combined.

ETA: Apparently, the double placement of “Turing Food Court” was a copy and paste error and has been resolved.

In Best Short Story, “On the Razor’s Edge”, a story which I did not particularly care for, was actually leading in nominations, followed by “Rabbit Test” by Samatha Mills, a story which spoke very much to US voters due to the repeal of Roe vs. Wade. We have another story, “Fogong Temple Pagoda” by Hai Ya (also found in this anthology) declared ineligible, which may be another case of prior publication. Though apparently, it was a 2022 publication. “Destiny Delayed” by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki was knocked out by EPH in spite of 429 nominations and like Babel gained no points throughout. However, since the longlist is mostly comprised of Chinese stories, where the nominators were likelier to nominate other Chinese stories than a story by a Nigerian author that was published in Asimov’s, this is likelier than what happened with Babel.

ETA: “Fogong Temple Pagoda” first appeared in English in 2022 in the Galaxy Awards anthology, so it should have been eligible.

In Best Series, we have no nominations declined nor anything declared ineligible, but we have the strongest example of the massive drop-off in nominations on the whole ballot. The six finalist ranks had between 925 and 816 nominations, whereas the seventh placed finalist The Nsibidi Scripts a.k.a. the Akata Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor had only 52 nominations. I’m sorry, but this pattern is so unlikely to have occurred naturally that a meteor strike hitting the convention center during the Hugo ceremony is probably more likely.

I’m also thrilled to see Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock, the longest running SFF series written by a single author (the first story came out in 1961, the last story in 2023, i.e. that’s a whopping 62 years) make the longlist in twelfth place, alas with only 27 nominations. I very much championed Elric, because there are few people alive who deserve a Hugo more the Michael Moorcock and yet never got one. Elric is eligible again in 2024 due to the publication of “The Folks in the Forest” in New Edge Sword and Sorcery No. 1 (in which I have an essay, so I got to share a TOC with Michael Moorcock, so let’s get Michael Moorcock and Elric that long overdue nomination in 2024.

In Best Graphic Story, it’s notable that the eventual winner, the IMO rather unremarkable videogame tie-in comic Cyberpunk 2077: Big City Dreams as well the Dune graphic novel also got the most nominations. These works were on a recommendation list by the Chinese magazine Science Fiction World and are also apparently very popular with Chinese fans. The graphic novel Across a Field of Starlight by Blue Deliquanti, which actually sounds fascinating and would almost certainly have been a better finalist than Cyberpunk 2077 or Dune – again, just missed the ballot.

In Best Related, we have two works declared ineligible. The first is History of Chinese Science Fiction in the 20th Century, which was declared ineligible, because one of the author was on the Hugo committee. This is an absolutely valid reason to declare what was likely a worthy finalist ineligible and also appears to be a first in Hugo history. Another finalist declared ineligible was The Art of Ghosts of Tsushima, a video game related art book, due to prior publication in English. Nothing questionable about this.

We also have the drop-off in this category, though it’s not as huge as elsewhere. But “The Ghosts of Workshops Past” got 176 votes, the next highest place finalist “The Buffalito World Outreach Project” got only 34. This repeated pattern is really very unusual.

Looking further down the longlist, it’s notable that almost every nominee is actually a non-fiction book or sufficiently booklike object such as the 2022 Black Spec Fic Report. I’m also thrilled to see four books I featured as part of my non-fiction spotlight, make the longlist. There will be more non-fiction as well as fanzine and fancast spotlights in the run-up to the 2024 Hugos BTW.

In Best Dramatic Presentation Long, we have more oddities: Seasons 1 of Andor and The Sandman were both declared ineligible, because individual episodes got more votes in short form. This is standard practice and has happened before. It also turns out that Prey, a movie which not only was unexpectedly good but also a likely finalist, would have easily made the ballot, but the team behind the film decline the nomination. As one of the people who nominated Prey, I really would like to know why they declined. Political reasons? But then, Hollywood is actively chasing the big Chinese market, so that’s rather unlikely. And though the Hugos don’t have a lot of clout in Hollywood, I still find it unlikely that filmmakers wouldn’t want one, especially since genre films and TV shows are regularly snubbed at the major film and TV awards, as this recent round of “Let’s shower Oppenheimer, The Holdovers, Killers of the Flower Moon, Succession, The Bear and Beef with awards” proves.

It’s also notable that the longlist has as many complete TV seasons (Ms. Marvel, The Peripheral and Our Flag Means Death, which I fully expected to make the ballot, considering how beloved it is) as movies. I’m also really happy to see Neptune Frost, an Afrofuturist film from Rwanda, for which I co-signed an eligibility extension, just sneak onto the longlist in 15th place.

In Best Dramatic Short, things get odd again, because it turns out that an episode of The Sandman called “The Sound of Her Wings” was declared ineligible. Now season 1 of The Sandman was also declared ineligible in Best Dramatic Presentation Long, because an individual episode got more votes. However, “The Sound of Her Wings” not only was absolutely eligible, since it came out on August 5, 2022, it also got more than enough votes to make the ballot.

We also have an episode of Severance declared ineligible, because the whole season made the ballot in Long Form as well as the music video The Deep declared ineligible due to prior publication. The sharp drop-off between the first three places and place four is also notable here.

In Best Editor Long Form, the first thing that’s striking is that what traditionally is a low nomination category actually got a lot of nominations this year. Lee Harris of Tordotcom got a whopping 433 nominations, which normally would be Best Novel or Best Dramatic Presentation territory. It’s also notable that Carl Engle-Laird of Tordotcom and Priyanka Krishnan of William Morrow were both knocked out by EPH in spite of getting almost a hundred nominations more than Yao Haijun.

ETA: Camestros Felapton delves into the Best Editor Long category and notes that the data looks definitely odd.

There’s nothing overly notable in Best Editor Short except that Jonathan Strahan, Sheila Williams and Lynne and Michael Damian Thomas were all knocked out by EPH. However, this isn’t that unusual, since all three (as well as many of those who made the ballot) are likely to be nominated by the same people.

In Best Professional Artist, we have another nomination declined by Chinese Australian artist Guo Jian. There may be political reasons for this.

There’s nothing overly unusual in Best Semiprozine except that Clarkesworld is actually a prozine and has been for years now. I’m also happy to see my friends of Space Cowboy Books Presents: Simultaneous Times to just edge onto the longlist in 15th place.

In Best Fanzine, it’s notable that the top seven nominees (the six finalists plus Black Nerd Problems) are all very close to each other with more than 200 nominations each, then we get a sharp drop-off to The Full Lid with 55 nominations and then Speculative Fiction in Translation and Runalong the Shelves with 15 nominations each. I’m sorry, but these patterns are super unusual. The last time we saw something like this was during the puppy years and even then it wasn’t this extreme.

ETA: Camestros Felapton does a deep dive into the fanzine numbers and points out that they make no sense and also appear to be mislabeled.

In Best Fancast, we also have the massive drop-off between Coode Street Podcast in fourth place with 100 votes to Worldbuilding for Masochists in fifth with 56 and Kalanadi in sixth place with 20. I’m also happy to see my friends of The Skiffy and Fanty Show and If This Goes On, Don’t Panic make the longlist.

Best Fan Writer has another massive landmine, because Paul Weimer had the third highest number of nominations and yet was declared ineligible. This is complete nonsense, because Paul did plenty of fanwriting in 2022 and was obviously eligible. In fact, there are at least three nominees further down the longlist, whose eligiblity would be more in question, since they almost exclusively write for professional publications. And even that doesn’t really matter, since we have seen quite a few fan writer finalists with almost exclusively professional publications in the past few years. Paul has also confirmed that he was never contacted to clarify his eligibility, he simply was declared ineligible. He’s also understandably furious.

ETA: Paul Weimer shares two e-mails he sent to Hugo administrator Dave McCarty, demanding to know why exactly he was declared ineligible, when he very obviously wasn’t. Paul also points out that if the Chinese government has any issues with his writing, he needs to know, because he may eventually want to travel to China for business or personal reasons.

Also notable is that my pal Camestros Felapton was knocked out by EPH and that the pen name of finalist Arthur Liu “HeavenDuke” is misspelled as “HeavenDule”.

ETA: Camestros Felapton delves into the Best Fan Writer statistics and notes several oddities compared to 2022.

There are no shocking or unusual developments in Best Fan Artist, which makes it the only not even remotely controversial category on the ballot.

For the Lodestar, In the Serpent’s Wake by Rachel Hartman is actually listed twice, in fifth and seventh place. However, unlike “Turing Food Court” in Best Novelette, Rachel Hartman made the ballot anyway. Nonetheless, after taking three months to prepare the data, how can there still be such errors?

ETA: Camestros Felapton takes a deep dive into the Lodestar nomination data.

ETA 02-17-2024: The mystery of In the Serpent’s Wake being listed twice has been resolved. It should really be Unraveller by Frances Hardinge.

For the Astounding Award finally, we have another finalist randomly declared ineligible, namely Xiran Jay Zhao, who was on their first year of eligibility in 2022, so they should absolutely still have been eligible in 2023. Sunyi Dean also got knocked out by EPH in spite of getting the fifth highest number of votes.

ETA: Xiran Jay Zhao responds on Twitter to being declared ineligible. Like Paul, they were never contacted with questions regarding their eligibility. Like Paul, they are also justifiably angry.

ETA2: Now Xiran Jay Zhao’s TikTok post about being randomly declared ineligible for the Astounding Award has been removed for allegedly violating community rules. TikTok is owned by a Chinese company. Their upcoming book Heavenly Tyrant has also been delayed to 2025, though according to their tweet, this may also be related to Zhao’s views on the Gaza conflict. Nonetheless, this is about a lot more than just the Hugos by now.

ETA3: Xiran Jay Zhao also has an Instagram post about being declared ineligible, where you can also admire the gorgeous down they wore when they were an Astounding finalist in 2022.

***

This is the most unusual Hugo longlist I’ve ever seen, including the puppy years, and we really, really need some answers here:

Why were Babel, Paul Weimer, Xiran Jay Zhao and that Sandman episode declared ineligible, when they absolutely should have been eligible? Most of the Chinese nominees declared ineligible likely actually were ineligible due to prior publication, at least according to Neil Clarke who recognised several of the titles and authors. Though “Fogong Temple Pagoda” appears to be a 2022 publication, i.e. eligible. We definitely need answers here.

And what’s the reason behind the very strange voting patterns and sharp drop-off between first and fifteenth place nominations? Normally, this sort of pattern indicates slating, but a) EPH was supposed to reduce the impact of slates, and b) we have seen no public evidence of slates apart from a recommendation list (which is not against the rules) by Science Fiction World. And the Science Fiction World list alone does not explain these patterns.

Finally, while occasionally a nominee will fall victim to EPH, we have had several nominees knocked out by EPH, which is extremely unusual. That said, this might be explained by the very different voting patterns of Chinese and Western fans.

Nonetheless, a lot of people are justifiably angry, because these stats are a mess and make no sense at all. The conspiracy theories are already flying fast and furious. Most people seem to suspect tampering in some form.

The seemingly random ineligiblity is believed to be due to the affected nominees being considered politically undesirable in China, especially since two of the affected nominees, R.F. Kuang and Xiran Jay Zhao, are American and Canadian Chinese respectively. However, nothing I have read by R.F. Kuang suggests that she would be overly likely to criticise the Chinese government. Plus, we have other Chinese diaspora finalists on the ballot who were not declared ineligible. Nor does this explain why Paul Weimer or The Sandman or “Fogong Temple Pagoda” were declared ineligible.

ETA: One of Xiran Jay Zhao’s books apparently has an Uyghur main character, which would explain why they might be considered undesirable.

ETA 02-03-2024: Mary Robinette Kowal recounts how her novelette “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” was declared ineligible in 2013 due to being an audiobook and how this was clearly explained and the rules eventually adjusted.

The sharp drop-offs in nomination counts seem to suggest some kind of block voting or slating, except that the phenomenon wasn’t this notable even during the puppy years. Another, nastier theory is a whole swath of nominees were removed from the ballot and their votes redistributed in order to push finalists deemed more acceptable. This also explains the absence of works we would have expected to see on the longlist. However, if this was done, then why weren’t Babel, The Sandman, Paul Weimer and Xiran Jay Zhao removed in the same way?

Anyway, we need an explanation and we need it fast, lest the conspiracy theories get out of hand.

I didn’t vote for Chengdu, but I have been willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, even as inconsistencies and issues kept piling up, because the way the Chinese fans were treated by some western fans was disgusting.

However, if there was political influence on the Hugo ballot (and note that this is a big “if” at this moment) and if Dave McCarty or Ben Yalow allowed this to happen, then fuck them and fuck Chengdu! I don’t blame any of the Chinese organisers for going along with possible political pressure, because they have to live in China and face genuine risks. But McCarty, Yalow or any other western SMOFs involved should have sounded the alarm or at the very least resigned. The Chinese government has no power over them. So shame on them, if they went along with this. Also shame on them, if they thought that burying the data would mean people wouldn’t notice the problem.

Note that this is all just theory and conjecture at this point. We don’t know for sure what happened. And this is why we need answers and an explanation and we need it now. The people who were randomly declared ineligible needs answers and the finalists who made the ballot or won also need answers, because this is tainting their nominations and wins as well, if they don’t know if they really made the ballot or won organically.

Also, we need changes to the WSFS constitution that a) if a finalist is declared ineligible, an explanation needs to be given (which I assumed already was a requirement, but apparently not). Also finalists where the eligibility is in question should be contacted and given the chance to clarify their eligibility.

ETA: Camestros Felapton also muses about possible changes to the WSFS constitution.

Finally, while I am supportive of Worldcons outside the usual US/UK/Canada/Australia/maybe western Europe corridor, potential bidders need to accept that local politics, preferences and censorship should not influence the Hugo ballot. I don’t care if Uganda or Florida (or Hungary or Russia) get their knickers in a twist about LGBTQ finalists or if Israel gets their knickers in a twist over Palestinian finalists or if a Muslim majority country gets its knickers in a twist over Jewish finalists. Your country’s politics, whatever they are, should not influence the Hugo ballot. Any potential bidder needs to accept this or they can’t host a Worldcon. And yes, I feel sorry for countries with shitty politics and shitty governments (which includes western countries at times), but in this case, I care more about the integrity of the Hugo Awards.

Also, Chengdu has just made it a lot more unlikely for any future non-western or non-traditional bid (mainly Uganda at this point, since Egypt withdrew and the Tel Aviv bid seems to be dead for all intents and purposes) to ever win a Worldcon again. This is also a slap in the face for those of us who defended Chengdu, so thanks a lot.

For more analysis and spirited discussion, see Camestros Felapton’s analysis post and the comments at File 770. There’s also a post on File 770, addressing the many oddity on the longlist.

ETA: Camestros has also posted the questions he sent to the Hugo admin team and did another dive into the data, particularly the sharp drop-off in nominations seen in many categories.

ETA: Heather Rose Jones taks a deep dive into the Hugo nomination data and the unusual vote distribution patterns and compares 2023 to several earlier years.

ETA: Jameson Quinn, who is not just a specialist in voting systems but also helped to design the EPH algorithm to reduce the impact of slate voting, delves into the inconsistencies in this BlueSky thread.

ETA: Best Fan Writer finalist Jason Sanford weighs in on the Hugo nomination uproar in his latest Genre Grapevine column.

ETA2: Jason Sanford has written another Genre Grapevine column, summing up the latest developments in the Hugo nomination uproar.

ETA: Joe Sherry of the 2021 Best Fanzine and 2023 Ignyte Award winner nerds of a feather takes a look at the many issues and irregularities with the 2023 Hugo nominations.

ETA: Mr Philip’s Library offers a summary of the many issues and delays affecting the Chengdu Worldcon and the 2023 Hugo Awards.

Cheryl Morgan also weighs in and points out that putting out nomination data which clearly indicate shenangigans may be a way of protesting what happened by making it obvious that something happened. Because if someone falsified the data, they did so very clumsily.

ETA: Tammy Coxen weighs in on Facebook and notes that if no reason for declaring several finalists ineligible was given, then no reason can be given. She also assumes it’s all irrelevant anyway, because Worldcon will be dead in ten years anyway due to a lack of viable bids.

ETA: Simon McNeil weighs in with a predictably bad take with a few good points mixed in and thinks the Hugos should die already, because they are irrelevant.

ETA: At Pajiba, Nate Parker offers a summary of the 2023 Hugo drama and also relitigates some past Worldcon and Hugo drama from the Sad and Rabid puppies to the Raytheon debacle of 2021.

ETA 02-04-2024: On his YouTube channel, Damien Walter discusses what he calls “the strange sad death of the Hugo Awards” and also offers a summary of the history of the Hugos and Worldcon. He does make some good points, namely that there was also a lot of money and business deals connected to the Chengdu Worldcon, even though Worldcon is traditionally a non-profit, volunteer-run event. However, he’s a bit quick to declare the Hugos, especially considering that he actually addresses various previous controversies.

ETA: At Blog of the Moon, Raj weighs in and points out that bad as the 2023 Hugo nomination mess is, it is also a problem limited to one specific Worldcon and Hugo team and that this does not actually mean that the Hugos are permanently tarnished or dead, as some people seem to assume or hope.

I also have to admit that I really don’t understand those people who almost gleefully cheer that the Worldcon and the Hugos have been irrevocably tarnished, especially since most of them aren’t puppies (who have been saying that the Hugos are dead since 2015), but come from the left side of the genre spectrum. In some cases, there is old resentment involved, often linked to the AO3 drama of 2019, but I don’t understand why anybody would want something to die that other people enjoy.

ETA: Here is a blogpost from the right side of the SFF spectrum by James Pyles at Powered By RobotsAs Camestros Felapton points out there is very little reaction otherwise from the former Sad and Rabid Puppies.

ETA: Camestros also notes that the data and discrepancies are just too weird and contradictory to point either to one big conspiracy or incompetence and that there appears to be more than one issue at play here. He also points out that we don’t know if we can trust any of the 2023 nomination and voting data at this point. Because the voting data was also unsual with several finalists winning on first pass.

ETA2: Camestros has now found a 2023 Hugo statistic which does not look overly weird.

ETA 02-07-2024: Camestros has shared some graphs showing the relationship between raw votes and EPH points and also the relationship between nominee rank and number of votes. Unsurprisingly, the data for Chengdu looks extremely weird and also visualises the cliff, where the top ranks received many more nominations than those just below.

ETA: Nicholas Whyte, who has been Hugo administrator multiple times, always got the nomination data released within hours of the ceremony and has always been extremely scrupulous in establishing whether a finalist was eligible, in cases there were doubts, weighs in on the 2023 nomination drama and… notes that he has nothing useful to add to what has been already said. I find this extremely worrying, especially since I’m sure that if Nicholas had been Hugo administrator last year, the data wouldn’t be such an unholy mess.

ETA: Meanwhile, 2023 Hugo administrator Dave McCarty is still deflecting and giving non-answers and also being snippy about it. I know Hugo admins don’t grow on trees, but I hope every future Worldcon reconsiders before appointing Dave McCarty again.

File 770 has more screenshots from the comment section at Dave McCarty’s Facebook, so you won’t have to wade into Mark Zuckerberg’s evil empire. These include multiple Hugo winner Neil Gaiman and 2023 Best Novel finalist Silvia Moreno-Garcia calling out Dave McCarty as well as a hint that one or multiple Chinese members of the team might be at risk, if more was said. And indeed “Someone would be in genuine danger, if we said more” is about the only explanation I would accept at this point.

ETA2: File 770 reports that Dave McCarty has apologised for behaving like a jerk on Facebook and closed comments there and asks people to direct any questions they may still have to the Chengdu Hugo team via e-mail. Unfortunately, as Camestros Felapton points out, this is the same e-mail address to which several mails already bounced. Also note that Dave McCarty still hasn’t actually answered any of the questions.

ETA 02-06-2024: And Camestros Felapton reports that Dave McCarty has now either deleted or made his Facebook posts about the Hugo nomination debacle and indeed anything to do with the Chengdu Worldcon private. Sigh. Why am I not surprised?

ETA: 2021 Best Fanzine winner and 2023 finalist nerds of a feather have issued a statement in which they point out that their e-mails to the Chengdu Hugo team bounced and that they demand answers. So do we all.

ETA: Fandom being what it is, there is now a website called IneligibleDave.com, which demands that Dave McCarty finally give a good answer to the questions many people have asked, and that he be kept away from positions of power at any Worldcon or other con going forwards. I completely agree with those points.

ETA: File 770 reports that Dave McCarty and Chen Shi of the Chengdu Hugo team as well as Chegdu co-chair Ben Yalow and Mark Protection Committee member Kevin Standlee have been reprimanded or censured by World Intellectual Property who hold the Worldcon and Hugo service marks. Dave McCarty has also resigned as director of Worldcon Intellectual Property, while Kevin Standlee has resigned as chairman of the board.

ETA: Camestros wonders whether the whole issue may be due to complete and utter incompetence rather than any malicious intent.

ETA:At File 770, ErsatzCulture shares another update on the state of the Hugo nomination debate, which includes a machine translation of a Weibo post by La Zi, editor of Science Fiction World magazine and the Galaxy Awards anthology as well as one of the vice chairs of the Chengdu Worldcon, which hints at trouble behind the scenes and that La Zi wanted nothing to do with it.

Angie Wang shares screenshots and translations of several Chinese social media posts on BlueSky. Chinese fans are clearly as angry about the whole mess as western fans, especially since this also messes up their efforts for Chinese SFF to gain acceptance on the world stage. Because make no mistake, whether there were voting irregularities in the 2021 site selection vote or not, the Chengdu Worldcon had genuine support from Chinese fans and these fans are now angry and disappointed and feel betrayed. So this isn’t an issue of China versus the West, it’s an issue of Dave McCarty and his Hugo team messing up the nominations and randomly declaring viable finalists ineligible for unknown reasons.

ETA: For another Chinese view on the Hugo nomination uproar, see this guest post by Chinese fan Zimozi Natsuco at File 770, which confirms what we’ve seen elsewhere, namely that Chinese fans are as angry as western fans about the Hugo nomination mess and the general issues with the Chengdu Worldcon. Zimozi Natsuco also points out that a lot of the Chinese members of the Chengdu con com were not actually fans, but media executives looking for business opportunities, and that some of these folks apparently ended up on the Hugo subcommittee and are as guilty as Dave McCarty. The fact that business-minded folks from outside fandom apparently came in and took over the Chengdu is something we’ve heard a few times from Chinese fans before – e.g. when the dates and venue were abruptly changed – but these statements didn’t get enough attention outside China, probably most western fans just don’t know enough about Chinese fandom.

ETA 02-09-2024: Hugo winner Chris Garcia weighs in on the Hugo nomination uproar in issue 66 of his fanzine The Claims Department and declares that Dave McCarty betrayed fandom and the Hugos be giving in to pressure or perceived pressure to remove certain works from the ballot. Chris also goes into a screenshot from Chinese social media that was shared on File 770, according to which the Chengdu Anti-Pornography and Anti-Illgel Affairs Office boasted of having reviewed and removed worked deemed problematic from the dealers room and the Hugo ballot. If this really does refer to the Hugo ballot, they didn’t do a very thorough job, since John Chu’s Hugo-nominated novelette is a gay love story by an openly gay Chinese diaspora author and yet was allowed to remain on the ballot. The Best Dramatic Presentation Long winner Everything Everywhere All At Once also has prominent LGBTQ characters, ditto for Best Dramatic Presentation Short finalist Andor, which is also super-political. The main mystery here really is why censor these specific works and people and not others.

ETA: 2023 Best Novel finalist John Scalzi weighs in on the Hugo nomination uproar and the baffling disqualification of Babel and others at Whatever and links to this very blog, which is also the reason this already much read post is getting even more views now.

Aidan Moher also weighs in on the Hugo statistics at the new home of Astrolabe.

ETA 02-05-2024: Doris V. Sutherland weighs in on the Hugo nomination uproar at Women Write About Comics.

ETA: Charles Stross weighs in one the Hugo nominations statistics mess and the Chengdu Worldcon in general at Antipope and also notes that the Chegdu Worldcon was taken over by corporate interests, who pushed out the Chinese fans.

ETA: Alex Acks weighs in on the Hugo nomination disaster.

ETA: 2023 Best Fancast finalist Octothorpe weighs in on the Hugo nomination irregularities. Also check out Alison Scott’s artwork for this episode.

ETA: 2014 Best Novel winner Ann Leckie weighs in on BlueSky.

ETA: Two-time Hugo finalist Chuck Tingle weighs in on Twitter and points out that his own Space Raptor Butt Invasion was not disqualified in 2015, even though there would have been arguments in favour of that, so why were Babel, Xiran Jay Zhao, The Sandman and Paul Weimer disqualified for seemingly no reason?

ETA: Camestros Felapton points out that two Chinese stories, “Colour the World” and “Fogong Temple Pagoda” have also been declared ineligible without any explanation, though these two stories are barely mentioned in most accounts (and a lot of mainstream articles forget Paul as well). “Colour the World” actually does appear to be ineligible due to having appeared in Chinese in 2019 and in English in 2021, but “Fogong Temple Pagoda” was first published in English in 2022, i.e. it should have been eligible.

ETA: Renay weighs in at the Hugo winning fanzine Lady Business and also links to other takes and posts.

ETA 02-02-2024: Hamsterwoman weighs on the 2023 Hugo winners, finalists and the nomination drama at Dreamwidth. You have to scroll down past some photos of what looks like a great gift parcel.

ETA: The Stitch and Bitch YouTube channel discusses the many issues with the 2024 Hugo nominations and have even brought their tinfoil hats.

ETA: Daniel Greene, a popular YouTuber, also weighs in one the Hugo controversy, though he apparently doesn’t know much about how the Hugos work and considers them something of a joke, probably because the sort of books he frequently reviews (Brandon Sanderson) rarely win or get nominated.

ETA: The Binary System Podcast also weighs in on the Hugo nomination debacle amidst discussion of the 2024 Oscar nominations (not blogging about those, since I haven’t seen most of those films and have zero interest in watching them), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Lore Olympus.

ETA 02-02-2024: At File 770, Ingvar shares a story called “Trigger Snowflake and the Dequalifications”, which is directly inspired by the Hugo nominations uproar.

ETA: The issue is beginning to hit the mainstream media, for Cheryl Eddy at io9 offers a summary of the controversy.

ETA: Jenn Northington offers a good summary of the uproar at BookRiot.

ETA: Dean Simons offers a summary of the controversy at Comics Beat and also goes into the unexpected win for the Cyberpunk 2077 tie-in comic in the Graphic Story category.

ETA: And the Hugo nomination scandal has now hit the Guardian, where China correspondent Amy Hawkins reports about the issue. The last time the Guardian reported about the Hugos was during the puppy years.

ETA: Sadie Gennis and Susana Polo share a summary of the 2023 Hugo drama as well as past Hugo-related uproars at Polygon.

ETA 02-02-2024: The Hugo controversy has now hit Esquire, where Adam Morgan offers a pretty good summary of the issues with the 2023 Hugo nominations as well as past scandals like the Sad and Rabid Puppy debacle. Though I have to note that the header image actually shows a 2020 CoNZealand Hugo trophy and not a 2023 Chengdu Hugo trophy. I’ve also never heard anybody refer to the Hugo administrator as the “Hugo pope”, but always as the Hugo administrator.

ETA: At Winter is Coming, Daniel Roman offers a very thorough article about the 2023 Hugo nomination uproar.

ETA: 2014 Best Fan Writer winner Abigail Nussbaum weighs in on the Hugo nomination uproar, wonders how we can prevent a repetition of this going forward and points out that the Hugos have survived worse.

And indeed, steps are already being taken to prevent this from ever happening again. For Cheryl Morgan and Kevin Standlee have drafted a resolution for the 2024 WSFS Business Meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, for decoupling the Hugos from the current Worldcon and putting them under the umbrella of the mark protection committee to prevent future Worldcons from tampering with the Hugos. The full text is here.

ETA 02-05-2024: Brad Templeton also weighs in with a summary of the 2023 Hugo nominatiosn uproar and some suggestions for preventing it from ever happening again. One of the suggestions, “Stop selling memberships to outsiders” is pretty terrible, because every Worldcon is someone’s first Worldcon.

ETA 02-05-2024: Camestros Felapton delves even deeper into EPH and the many issues with the Chengdu Hugo nomination data. Cam also comes up with a way of preemptively checking whether a given Worldcon is actually able to properly process nominations and votes and run EPH.

ETA 01-11-2024: Camestros Felapton has done even more analysis of the 2023 Hugo nominations statistics and has now probably spent more time analysing the statistics than Dave McCarty and pals spent preparing them. I’m not linking to the individual posts anymore, but you can find all of Cam’s 2023 Hugo analysis posts here. Basically, Cam’s analyses confirm what we already knew, namely that the 2023 Hugo nomination statistics are a complete and utter mess and that we likely can’t trust any of the data at all.

ETA: The Hugo Book Club Blog wonders whether EPH, the mechanism devised to lessen the impact of slates in the wake of the Sad and Rabid Puppy debacle of 2015/16, is more trouble than it’s worth.

ETA: Ada Palmer has a great examination of how censorship works in general and how much of it as actually self-censorship.

ETA: Best Fan Writer finalist Arthur Liu weighs in on Twitter and points out several other issues with the nomination data that I hadn’t noticed, not being that familiar with Chinese SFF.

Arthur Liu is also unhappy to realise he made the ballot because Paul Weimer was disqualified. And this is why all this is so infuriating and unfair, not just towards those who were declared ineligible, but also towards those who made the ballot and now question their nominations. And this is something no Hugo finalist deserves.

ETA: 2023 Best Fan Writer winner Chris M. Barkley also weighs in. Chris is also upset, because like other winners in categories where a finalist was randomly declared ineligible he will never know if he would have won, if Paul had made the ballot.

Many Hugo finalists already suffer from imposter syndrome – the first time I was nominated was at the start of the covid pandemic and I suspected that I only made the ballot because all twenty people who would have been ahead of me had declined for fear of catching covid at the con (it turned out no one had declined and I won the fifth highest number of nominations) – so doing this to Hugo finalists and winners is just cruel, because many of us are already insecure enough.

Finally, we had some very good and worthy Hugo finalists and winners in 2023 and I hate that a lot of them now question whether they were nominated or won legitimately.

ETA: Apparently, there are now calls to declare the 2023 Hugos illegitimate and redo them. I certainly understand the reasoning behind this, but taking away the wins from the 2023 winners – many of whom are already questioning whether they won fair and square – would be cruel. Let’s not forget that there are human beings involved here.

ETA2: Chris M. Barkley also discusses the issue with the 2023 Hugo nominations again in his regular column at File 770 from the POV of someone who actually attended the Chengdu Worldcon. He also responds to calls for the 2023 Hugo winners to return their trophies (most of which haven’t even shipped yet) by pointing out that no, he won’t return his trophy. I full agree with Chris here. We occasionally see calls for Hugo finalists or winners to recuse themselves, walk out or return their trophies, usually from people who’ve never been within spitting distance of a Hugo trophy. But this is a call that every finalist must make for themselves and the rest of us must accept that decision.

And for the record, while I’m glad I wasn’t nominated in 2023 and therefore had nothing to do with the whole mess, I wouldn’t have returned my trophy either.

ETA 02-05-2024: In his latest column at File 770, Chris M. Barkley actually interviews 2023 Hugo administrator Dave McCarty. There’s a lot of waffling and few clear answers, but McCarty talks a lot about the cultural differences between China and the US and how he had to bridge and respect those differences and how no one pressured him to remove anything from the ballot and how he never even interacted with any government officials higher up than the major of Chengdu and how he followed the WSFS consitution to the letter.

ETA 02-05-2024: There’s now also a transcript of the interview available, though it’s just more excuses and word salad from Dave McCarty.

ETA 02-06-2024: Here is a somewhat cleaned up transcript of the interview, with less gibberish but no more meaningful information.

It’s of course a shitload of nonsense. Yes, cultural differences affect Worldcons, but that means things like traditional room and bid parties being difficult to do in Helsinki, because Finland (and all of Scandinavia actually) is really weird about alcohol, or how Ireland’s strict fire codes affected queuing for panels at the Dublin Worldcon. It should not mean that finalists are randomly declared ineligible, because someone fears they might not be appropriate. Though McCarty’s statements strongly imply that we are dealing with pre-emptive self-censorship here rather than actual government pressure. He also appears to be afraid that saying more will make his Chinese colleagues look bad. Though at this point, I don’t think that there’s anything that can make them worse than they already look. Never mind that Chinese fans are as angry about the way the Chengdu Worldcon and the Hugos went as western fans.

ETA 02-05-2024: Camestros Felapton responds to the Dave McCarty interview and particularly to McCarty’s weak explanation for why there are so many obvious issues with the data.

ETA 02-05-2024: On BlueSky, Meg Frank recounts that Dave McCarty talked about manipulating Hugo votes and throwing out ballots to prevent that 5% rule taking effect during the 2014 Worldcon in London. So McCarty behaving as if the Hugos are his personal fiefdom isn’t new.

In other news, Chris also received a damaged Hugo trophy, since most of the Chengdu trophies seem to have been damaged in transit from China due to insufficient packaging. Considering the same thing happened to me, we should maybe also make sure that Hugo trophies are packaged better.

ETA: Nominations for the 2024 Hugo Awards are now open.

ETA 02-06-2024: It is only fitting that this endless and much amended saga (hopefully) ends with The Tragedy of MacCarty, Pope of Hugos by William Shakespeare, as performed by Timothy the Talking Cat on the kitchen table with multiple wigs and hats.”

ETA 02-15-2024: There have been significant new developments, so I wrote another post here.

Posted in Books, Comics, Fanzine Spotlight, Film, Non-Fiction Spotlight, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 100 Comments

Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre: “In Exile”

It’s time for another Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre photo story. The name “Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre” was coined by Kevin Beckett at the Whetstone Discord server.

One of the many shocking moments in Masters of the Universe Revelation happened at the end of episode 1 after He-Man has gotten himself (as well as Skeletor) killed, while saving Eternia and the entire universe. Just before getting himself killed, he also reverts to Adam in front of Teela’s eyes, so she finally learns the secret of He-Man’s identity in the worst possible way.

Back at the royal palace, it falls to Duncan to inform the King and Queen that He-Man is dead, because everybody else (Teela, Orko and Cringer) is much too traumatised to even get a word out.

To make matters worse, King Randor still has no idea that his son was He-Man, until Marlena pretty much screams the truth into his face. Whereupon Randor decides to take out his frustration – and the realisation that he was a bad father and that the last thing he said to Adam before he went out to sacrifice himself to protect Eternia and all of the universe was that he’s never been proud of Adam – on Duncan of all people.

So Randor cuts loose, strips Duncan of his rank, banishes him from the palace and threatens to have him executed, should he ever see him again. To twist the knife even further, Randor then orders Duncan’s daughter Teela to personally kick her father out of the palace. This is the moment where Teela snaps, yells at everybody, tears off her headband and quits her post. Duncan, meanwhile, just passively accepts everything with a resigned, “Yes, Your Majesty.”

It’s a shocking moment – and it comes on the heels of another massive shock, since we just saw Adam/He-Man being disintegrated – because Revelation really wants to punch us in the gut. For starters, Duncan isn’t just Randor’s right-hand man and general of the Eternian army. No, Randor and Duncan are friends and have been friends since they were teenagers. They’ve fought side by side and back to back, they share meals and eat at the same table. They’re more than friends, they’re family, something which is even spelled out in the dialogue at the beginning of the episode. So for Randor to lash out at his best friend is shocking, even if he is grieving the loss of his only son.

But Randor doesn’t just lash out at Duncan – which might be understandable, given the circumstances – no, there’s also a nasty streak of cruelty in what he does to Duncan. For starters, no one in Eternia has ever been threatened with execution, neither Skeletor, who is a truly horrible person and kills a shitload of people in Revelation, nor any of his Evil Warriors nor King Hiss and his Snake People nor Hordak (though to be fair, he spends most of his time on Etheria) nor lesser villains like Count Marzo. In fact, Eternia does not appear to have the death penalty, probably because Masters of the Universe was intended for children, so death penalty references would have been unsuitable and disturbing, though that sure as hell did not stop whoever wrote the live-action Disney movie about a heroic dog in which a random kidnapper is threatened with the electric chair “because of the Lindberg baby”, which prompted my kid self to ask my parents some very uncomfortable questions regarding what an electric chair is. After they explained to me what an electric chair was, I said, “But that must hurt terribly.”

Interestingly, there is one death penalty reference in an episode of the Filmation cartoon of all things, where we learn that in darker chapters of Eternia’s past, criminals were executed by exposing them to a fast-growing black monster fungus called the Creeping Horak, which overgrows everything and eventually suffocates its victims. Evil-Lyn manages to get her hands on a sample and throws it into the Royal Palace, almost killing Duncan, Teela, Orko, King Randor and Queen Marlena (as well as a bunch of guards, servants, etc…), until He-Man finds a way to stop it. The idea is very disturbing, particularly for a kids’ cartoon, and I’m surprised that writer Marc Scott Zicree got away with it. That said, it is made very clear that the Creeping Horak is something that was used in Eternia’s past and that modern day Eternians find the practice abhorrent. Now I don’t believe that Randor would actually have made true of his threat and that he would have had his lifelong friend Duncan executed, whether by Creeping Horak or more conventional means. But the threat is bad enough, especially considering it is never once hurled at Skeletor (he’s usually threatened with spending the rest of his life in the royal dungeon). Yet Randor would do that to Duncan of all people.

To make matters even worse, Randor not only strips Duncan off his rank and kicks him out of the palace (and orders Duncan’s own daughter to kick him out, except that Teela refuses), but also forbids him from building any weapons or as much as welding two pieces of metal together on pain of death. Considering Duncan is both a soldier and an inventor and has never been anything else, Randor has not just banished him but also taken away any means of making a living. He’s basically condemned Duncan to either poverty and working illegally or both. And since it’s implied, though never stated outright (except in the Netflix CGI series, where the characters are quite different from their usual versions) that Duncan does not come from a privileged background, but rose through the ranks due to his courage and his skills, this makes Randor’s actions still worse, because he’s basically telling Duncan, “I picked you up from the gutter and I can throw you back any time I feel like it.” Interestingly, Skeletor says something very similar to Evil-Lyn (who is a street kid in this version). He reminds her that he picked her up from the gutter and strongly implies that he can throw her back at any time. Honestly, what Randor does to Duncan, the man who was his best friend for decades, is so staggeringly cruel that I wonder whether Keldor got his cruel streak solely from his mother or whether King Miro contributed some of it.

Now Randor is never a particularly likeable character, because he’s not meant to be. Randor’s purpose in any version of Masters of the Universe is to be the distant and cold parent who doesn’t understand or even see his children for who they are. The portrayal of Randor varies quite a bit over the years. The Randor from the Netflix CGI series is the best father, whereas the Randor from the 2002 series is the best king (and probably the best Randor over all, since he isn’t that terrible of a father either). Meanwhile, Revelation Randor is the worst of the bunch by far.

But one thing that has remained constant is that Randor is always in conflict with Adam, that he is perpetually disappointed and cannot or will not see his son for who he is. This is something that a lot of people can relate to – and indeed part of the reason why Masters of the Universe is so enduringly popular is that we can relate to the characterss and their conflicts, even if we do not have a magical sword that will turn us into a superhero. So Randor’s role is that of the parent who doesn’t see or understand (and who occasionally learns better). Meanwhile, the role of the supportive parent is fulfilled by Duncan in most versions of the story (and by Cringer in the CGI series).

This is also the true reason why Randor lashes out at Duncan. Not because Duncan failed to protect Adam, since no one could have stopped Adam from doing what needed to be done anyway, but because Randor realises that not only was he a complete failure as a father, but that Duncan was more of a father to Adam than Randor ever was. Indeed, it’s notable that Randor lashes out at all the people (in the widest sense of the word) that Adam loved, namely Duncan, Orko and Cringer (and he probably would have turned his anger on Teela eventually, too), which is one hell of a way to honour his son’s memory. It also shows that Randor still doesn’t understand Adam, if he even remotely believes that this is something Adam would have wanted.

It’s also very telling that the usual aggrieved fanboys (and they’re all male) complain about Teela’s actions in Revelation, that she is rude and angry and quits her post in a huff, but that absolutely no one seems to have any problems with Randor’s utterly terrible behaviour. Also, most people seem to forget that Duncan was dealing with a massive amount of guilt himself. After all, he deeply cared about Adam and clearly blames himself for failing to protect him.

Masters of the Universe: Revelation never delves into what happened to Duncan after he was kicked out of the palace. The next time we see him is in episode 3, set several years later, where he is living in exile in a little cottage in the country with Orko (another victim of Randor’s rage) and Roboto and occasionally teaches the local punks some manners. However, I find it hard to believe that Duncan would just sit around in his cottage and occasionally beat up lowlives for several years, cause that’s not who he is. And indeed he sports an impressive arsenal, once Teela enlists his help on her quest.

Issue 2 of the Masterverse comic miniseries by Dark Horse does offer us a glimpse at what Duncan was doing in between episodes 1 and 3 of Masters of the Universe: Revelation. The comic is an anthology series, featuring many different versions of He-Man and his supporting cast, tied to together by a framing story of the Sorceress and Zodac gazing into the multiverse. One of these segments is called “Man-at-Arms For Hire”, written Tim Seeley with art by Victor Santos, and features a disgraced and depressed Duncan working as a hardboiled private detective in a noir style story. And Duncan’s assistant is none other than Evil-Lyn, who we know has a soft spot for him.

The story is very short, only 15 pages, but a lot of fun and I would love to see more of Duncan and Lyn working together, solving crimes. And who knows, maybe I will eventually do a toy photo story inspired by that comic.

But for now, enjoy this story of Duncan and his little found family receiving an unexpected visitor…

In Exile

In Duncan’s workshop in his cabin somewhere in the wilds of Eternia…

Duncan and Roboto are tinkering with a very big gun, while Malcolm leans against the counter“And then I said, ‘With all due respect, Your Majesty – not that I think you’re due any – you can kiss my…”

“Malcolm, please tell me you didn’t tell the King to kiss your arse?”

“Oh, I was very polite. I said butt.”

“Sigh. Malcolm, you’re unbelievable.”

“Why? What’s Randor going to do to me? Kick me out? He’s barely got any Heroic Warriors and Royal Guards left, since almost everybody quit.”

“The King could do much worse than that.”

“What? Chop off my head? I’d like to see him try. I could take Randor when he was just a snot-nosed cadet and I can still take him now.”

Evil-Lyn appears in Duncan's workshop“Well, if that isn’t my favourite disgraced weapons master… and his idiotic brother.”

“You didn’t tell me you were expecting a visitor, brother.”

“Because I wasn’t.”

“Malcolm, would you mind doing whatever it is you’re doing when you’re not bothering your brother and leave us alone?”

Fisto and Roboto leave, while Lyn talks to Duncan.“Be seeing you, brother. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. Come on, Roboto.”

“But Father said…”

“Roboto, sometimes grown-ups want to be left alone to do grown-up things, no matter what they say.”

“Malcolm, Roboto, wait!”

Lyn talks to Duncan
“Why, Duncan, no hello and how are you for an old enemy?”

“What do you want, Lyn? And make it quick, cause I’m busy.”

“That’s so typical of you, Duncan. Always in a hurry, even though you no longer have a job. Won’t you at least offer a girl a drink? No? Then I’ll just take whatever Malcolm’s been having.”

“Come to the point, Lyn.”

“The point is Tri-Klops is up to something.”

“Tri-Klops is always up to something. He was trouble even before he joined up with Keldor.”

“This is different. Tri-Klops and Trap Jaw have taken over Snake Mountain and they’re assembling an army.”

“Not who I would have expected to come out on top in the power struggle to fill the vaccuum left by Skeletor’s… disappearance.”

“You can say ‘death’, you know? Skeletor is dead. Just like… well, you know who.”

“I’m actually surprised you didn’t take over Snake Mountain and what’s left of Skeletor’s army. Of all his lieutenants, you were always the most capable.”

“A compliment, Duncan? How sweet! But I never wanted Snake Mountain or Skeletor’s forces. Do you honestly think I liked being stuck in the dark hemisphere in that grisly old fortress with a bunch of idiots?”

“Then why do you care if Tri-Klops and Trap Jaw have taken it over?”

“If it were just Snake Mountain, I wouldn’t care. Tri-Klops is welcome to that old pile of rocks. But he and Trap Jaw are up to something. They’re gathering an army, they’re kidnapping peasants to bolster their ranks and Tri-Klops… well, I know it sounds weird, but he seems to have found religion and is now serving some kind of goddess called Motherboard. Also, he stole something that belongs to me”

“Again, Lyn, was does that have to do with me?”

“Ahem, Tri-Klops and Trap Jaw are kidnapping people and building up an army to do Horokoth knows what. Once upon a time, that would have been enough to spur you into action.”

“That time is past. Or have you forgotten that I’m banished by royal decree?”

“Once upon a time, that wouldn’t have stopped you. You would have gone out and done what needed to be done, Randor be damned.”

“I could be executed…”

“That never stopped you either. You’ve stared death in the face more times than I can count. And besides, we both know that Randor doesn’t have the guts.”

Lyn gets up close and personal with Duncan, who is backed into a corner.“Besides, you’ve been violating the King’s decree anyway and are building weapons again.”

“Lyn, I…”

“Don’t worry, Duncan, your secret is safe with me. I won’t rat you out to Randor, if only because I don’t fancy spending the rest of my life in the royal dungeon. So what are you building?”

Lyn gets very close up ad personal with Duncan, who is backed into a corner.“It’s a long range high intensity plasma cannon. It fires…”

“That’s a very big gun.”

“Lyn, that’s not…”

“That’s the only big gun I’m interested in right now, Duncan.”

Lyn is pushing Duncan against the wall to kiss him.“Lyn, no.”

“Why not? I know you want it, too.”

“It… it’s not right.”

“Why not? Skeletor is dead. He-Man is dead. Randor kicked you out of the palace. Teela has run off to Horokoth knows where. Grayskull, Snake Mountain, none of that matters anymore. What’s stopping us?”

Orko appears and interrupts Lyn kissing Duncan.“Man-at-Arms, Man-at-Arms, I tried to make rain to water the garden and it worked – well, sort of.”

“What the…?”

“Sigh. Saved at the last instant.”

“Uhm, am I interrupting anything?”

“Yes.”

Lyn confronts Orko, while Duncan is very relieved.“Uhm, hello Evil-Lyn. Long time no see.”

“What are you doing here, imbecile?”

“Ahem, I live here. What are you doing here? You weren’t attacking us, were you?”

“I was consulting Lyn on a matter of… ahem… magic.”

“And you didn’t ask me first? After all, I’m the royal court magician. Well, ex-royal court magician.”

An annoyed Lyn storms out, while Orko and Duncan look after her.“Well, if you’d rather spend your time with washed-up would-be mages than with me, then so be it. If you change your mind and want to experience some real magical fireworks, you know where to find me. Be seeing you, Duncan.”

Orko talks to Duncan.“I’m sorry for interrupting you, Man-at-Arms. But I was so excited that my magic works again. Though I’m afraid I flooded the vegetable garden.”

“It’s all right, Orko. In fact, you just saved my life and my honour.”

“Yes, that Evil-Lyn is sure dangerous.”

“Trust me, Orko, you have no idea.”

Malcolm and Roboto return.“Well, Lyn sure left quickly, brother. I must say you used to have more stamina.”

“Father, the vegetable garden is flooded, even though there was no rain forecast.”

“Malcolm, never ever leave me alone with that woman again.”

Malcolm talks to Duncan, while Orko talks to Roboto.“Why not, brother? Lyn likes you. She always has. And she has cut all ties with Snake Mountain. Yes, she’s still a thief, but then she’s never been anything else. And besides, what does it matter? You deserve some happiness.”

“Malcolm, just… shut up, please.”

“Blue balls are clearly making grumpy, brother. All the more reason to take up Lyn on her offer.”

“Malcolm…”

“Yes, I’ll shut up.”

“Uhm, Roboto, about the garden…”

***

That’s it for today, folks. I hope you enjoyed this Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre Photo Story, because there will be more. Especially since I not only got a bunch of new toys, but we also have the new Masters of the Universe: Revolution cartoon coming up (trailer here) soon with Lyn fighting on the side of the good guys and quite possibly more sparks flying between her and Duncan.

Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters, I just bought some toys, took photos of them and wrote little scenes to go with those photos. All characters are copyright and trademark their respective owners.

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A handy guide to all SFF-related posts and works of 2023

I never felt particularly comfortable with eligibility posts, but I posted such an overview for the first time in 2016, when someone added my name to the Hugo Nominations Wiki. Eventually, it paid off, because I was a Hugo finalist for Best Fan Writer in 2020, 2021 and 2022 and won in 2022.

So if you’re interested in what I write, here is an overview of all SFF related blogposts of 2023, in chronological order, as well as a list of all the SFF and other fiction I published.

Because I did so many Fanzine/Fancast/Non-Fiction Spotlight interviews, I separated the Spotlights from the other blogposts. I also separated the Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre Toy Photo Stories from the rest of the blogposts.

That said, I have a shiny rocket on my shelf and there are many highly deserving fan writers who have never even been nominated, let alone won. Therefore, I’d like to ask folks to nominate some of those other great folks.

Finally, I know that there are people out there who don’t like me and don’t like what I have to say. That’s okay, no one has to like me and my work. But if you don’t like my work, just don’t read it. There’s no need to send harassment mobs my way.

And if you think you’re going to silence me, think again. Cause it’s not going to work.

At this blog:

The Complete Fanzine/Fancast/Semiprozine/Non-Fiction Spotlights:

The Complete Masters-of-the-Universe-Piece Theatre Toy Photo Stories:

At Galactic Journey:

Elsewhere:

Podcast appearances:

Fiction (SFF):

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The 2023 Jonathan and Martha Kent Fictional Parent of the Year Award

While I have been awarding the Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents for 43 years now, the Jonathan and Martha Kent Fictional Parent of the Year Award is a new prize that I only introduced in 2020 as a companion piece to the Darth Vader Parenthood Award. The 2020 winner may be found here, the 2021 winner here and the 2022 winner here.

As for why I felt the need to introduce a companion award, depictions of parenthood in popular culture have been undergoing a paradigm shift in the past few years with more positive portrayals of supportive and loving parents and fewer utterly terrible parents. Personally, I believe that this shift is a very good thing, because the reason that I started the Darth Vader Parenthood Award in the first place is because I was annoyed by all the terrible parents in pop culture. For while most real world parents may not be perfect, at least they do their best. Maybe, the conditions that gave rise to the Darth Vader Parenthood Award will eventually cease to exist and we can permanently retire the award.

Warning: Spoilers for lots of things behind the cut! Continue reading

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The 2023 Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents

It’s almost the end of the year, so it’s time to announce the winner of the coveted (not) 2022 Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents.

Let’s have a bit of background: I have been informally awarding the Darth Vader Parenthood Award since sometime in the 1980s with the earliest awards being retroactive. Over the years, the list of winners migrated from a handwritten page to various computer file formats, updated every year. Eventually, I decided to make the winners public on the Internet, because what’s an award without some publicity and a ceremony? The list of previous winners (in PDF format) up to 2017 may be found here, BTW, and the 2018 winner, the 2019 winner, the 2020 winner, the 2021 winner and the 2022 winner were announced right here on this blog.

Warning: Spoilers for several things behind the cut! Continue reading

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Magic under the Mistletoe 2023 – A Round-up of the Best Indie Holiday Speculative Fiction

Magic under the Mistletoe banner

Our monthly round-ups of new speculative fiction and new crime fiction releases by indie authors are a perennially popular feature. Therefore, we now offer you a round-up of our favourite holiday science fiction, fantasy and horror by indie authors.

These holiday stories cover the broad spectrum of speculative fiction. We have epic fantasy, urban fantasy, cozy fantasy, paranormal romance, paranormal mysteries, science fiction, space opera, time travel, post-apocalyptic fiction, Steampunk, LitRPG, plenty of dragons, vampires, werewolves, were-cougars, were-reindeer, elves, Krampuses, nutcrackers, telepathic detectives, crime-fighting witches, Puritan witch hunters, magical cats, holiday body swaps, orphans in danger, fated mates, troubled marriages, musketeers in space, alien invasions, Christmas in space and after the apocalypse, robots, sentient starships playing Santa and much more. But one thing unites all of those very different books. They’re all set around the holidays.

As always with my round-up posts, this round-up of the best indie holiday mysteries is also crossposted to the Speculative Fiction Showcase, a group blog which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things speculative fiction several times per week.

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

And now on to the books without further ado:

A Dark Root Christmas by April AasheimA Dark Root Christmas: Merry’s Gift by April Aasheim

When ten-year-old Merry Maddock makes a holiday wish on a shooting star, she has no idea how her life will change.
Suddenly, she’s become the parent to a strange baby owl, and the caretaker of what appears to be an enchanted tree.
But will her wish for a family Christmas be granted? Or will her mother’s desire for a year without a holiday win out?
Magick, mystery, and family take center stage in this charming witchy novella featuring the Maddock girls when they are young.
This 20k word novella is a prequel story to the popular Daughters of Dark Root series and can be read as a stand alone novel.

A Very Mercy Christmas by M.Z. AndrewsA Very Mercy Christmas: A Witch Squad Holiday Special by M.Z. Andrews:

It’s Christmas time at the Paranormal Institute for Witches. Excited to go home for the holidays and be reunited with their families, Mercy, Jax, Holly, Sweets, and Alba say their goodbyes. However, when an unpredicted snowstorm ravages Aspen Falls, the girls must scramble to figure out their next move. Tempers flare as blame is placed and feelings are hurt. By the looks of it, Christmas will surely be ruined.

But when a surprise visitor arrives, the girls are forced to find out what friendship really means and decide whether or not it’s worth saving. Visited by some blasts from the past, the girls are given glimpses into each other’s pasts and find out what life would have been like if they’d never met and formed the Witch Squad on the first day of classes.

A Very Mercy Christmas is the 5th book in the Witch Squad Cozy Mystery series – there is no mystery to solve, instead sit back and enjoy a Christmas story about what went down over the Witch Squad’s first winter break and get a glimpse into the lives of each of the girls before they met.

The Journey of Joseph Winter by John AnthonyThe Journey of Joseph Winter: A Christmas Fairy Tale by John Anthony:

A heartwarming Christmas story in the tradition of the holiday classics It’s a Wonderful Life and A Miracle on 34th Street.

Take a personal journey to discover the true magic of Christmas.

Joseph Winter is a good and gentle man, but he carries with him the pain and regret of a childhood mistake.

When a package mysteriously arrives on his doorstep, he is invited on a path to redemption.

Traveling far from his cozy little home in St. Paul, Minnesota, into the snowy landscapes of the Arctic, his touching Christmas journey takes him in search of the one man who may be able to help him find peace—Santa Claus.

An inspirational family Christmas tale in the style of the classic Christmas stories shared by families every holiday season, The Journey of Joseph Winter: A Christmas Fairy Tale is the inspiring story of a man in search of Santa Claus, his childhood, and ultimately—himself.

A Tale of Christmas Past by Katelyn A. BrownA Tale of Christmas Past by Katelyn A. Brown

A woman from the future, trapped in the past…

Avery Lawson expects to spend another holiday alone, with only memories of her parents and her abandoned faith for company. One chilly day, she reads an old journal that once belonged to a pioneer named Kathleen. Avery is captivated by the story, but she never imagined how much her own life would be turned upside down after reading it. In a strange twist of fate, she finds herself transported to a Kansas homestead in the year 1880, with no conceivable way to get home to the future.

Widower Jacob Cole is in desperate need of a housekeeper and nanny for his three young children. When the mysterious Miss Lawson shows up at his farm, his instincts tell him to trust her, despite the bizarre circumstances surrounding her arrival. She quickly becomes an important part of his world. Could she be just what his hurting family needs?

But being from the future, Avery has a dreadful secret. With Christmas fast approaching, can she stop another terrible tragedy from befalling the family? Will she ever make it home to the future? Or–with the Cole children and Jacob steadily breaking down the walls around her heart–does she even want to anymore?

Christmas on Iago Prime by Cora BuhlertChristmas on Iago Prime by Cora Buhlert

Eight-year-old Libby has come with her parents to spend a year at the newly established colony on the planet Iago Prime. Libby’s parents believe that this is a great opportunity for all of them, but Libby is unhappy on Iago Prime. There are no other children on Iago Prime and Libby can’t go anywhere, because she doesn’t even have a space suit. Worst of all, they will spend Christmas on Iago Prime, where there aren’t even any Christmas trees.

However, Libby’s parents, with a little help from Santa Claus himself, conspire to give Libby an unforgettable Christmas on Iago Prime.

This is a science fictional Christmas story of 6600 words or approx. 22 print pages.

Christmas after the End of the World by Cora BuhlertChristmas after the End of the World by Cora Buhlert

It’s Christmas… five months after the Yellowstone supervolcano erupted, blacked out the sun and covered most of the western US in ash.

Thirteen-year-old Natalie, her younger brother Liam, baby Olivia and family dog Bud are among the few still holding out in the evacuation zone.

Day to day survival is hard enough, but Natalie is determined to give Liam and Olivia an unforgettable Christmas… after the end of the world.

And who knows, maybe they’ll even get a true Christmas miracle…

This is a post-apocalyptic holiday novelette of 10000 words or approx. 35 print pages.

The Solstice Horror by Cora BuhlertThe Solstice Horror by Cora Buhlert

Massachusetts in the Year of the Lord 1695: Apprentice witchfinder Matthew Goodson, and condemned witch Grace Pankhurst have been on the run from Matthew’s former masters for months now.

Shortly before Christmas, Matthew and Grace find shelter with the Whitelaw family in the town of Cold Hollow. But the witchfinders are on their trail, so Matthew and Grace have to flee again on the day of the winter solstice.

Many dangers lurk in the dense woods of Massachusetts Bay Colony. But which is the greater threat, the witchfinders or the thing from beyond that dwells in the woods and hunts on the darkest nights of the year?

This is a historical holiday horror novelette of 11100 words or approximately 40 print pages by two-time Hugo finalist Cora Buhlert.

The Bakery on Gloomland Street by Cora BuhlertThe Bakery on Gloomland Street by Cora Buhlert:

A legendary monster threatens Christmas…

It’s Christmas time in the permanently fog-shrouded seaside town of Hallowind Cove, which is also known as the “Harbour of the Weird”.

Rachel Hammersmith is new to Hallowind Cove and has recently taken over the bakery on Gloomland Street, after Marie Percht, the previous owner, retired.

However, Marie Percht didn’t tell Rachel everything, when she retired. She didn’t mention the fog, for starters, and she also didn’t mention that her bakery plays a vital role during the Christmas season and not just as a provider of holiday cookies either.

For the Krampus, a yuletide monster from alpine folklore, is coming to Hallowind Cove. And the only thing that can keep him from wrecking the town and ruining Christmas are pastries baked according to a secret recipe. Unfortunately, Rachel has no idea what the recipe is.

However, with the help of fellow newcomer Paul MacQuarie, Rachel will bake up a storm to pacify Krampus and save Christmas.

Revolt at the North Pole by Cora BuhlertRevolt at the North Pole by Cora Buhlert:

Rebellion is brewing at Santa’s compound at the North Pole. The elves and the reindeer both are overworked, underpaid and angry, so they unite to take down Santa. However, there’s still Santa’s most fearsome enforcer, the horned, clawed and fanged holiday monster known only as Krampus…

This is a short holiday horror story of 3900 words or approx. 14 print pages by Hugo finalist Cora Buhlert.

 

Invasion of the Robot Santas by Cora BuhlertInvasion of the Robot Santas by Cora Buhlert

No one ever expected the robot apocalypse to begin in the little town of Brighthaven. And no one ever expected it to involve murderous robot turkeys and their even more terrifying brethren, robot Santas that fire laserbeams from their eyes.

However, Brighthaven’s finest are ready to tackle any robotic holiday menace that might come their way.

Two interlinked holiday stories of approx. 6000 words by Hugo winner Cora Buhlert

The Tinsel-Free Christmas Tree by Cora BuhlertThe Tinsel-Free Christmas Tree: A Not Really SF Short Story by Cora Buhlert

Bertha and Alfred, married for twenty years, enjoy a truly science fictional life in the twenty-first century. But in spite of all the technological marvels surrounding them, an argument about how to decorate the Christmas tree escalates and threatens their marriage.

This parodistic piece is a mundane short story of 2900 words or approximately 12 print pages, written in the style of science fiction’s “golden age” of the 1940s and 1950s.

 

Frosted Croakies by Sam CheeverFrosted Croakies by Sam Cheever:

’Tis the season for great folly…walawalawalawalala…ribbit.

It’s Christmas time at Croakies. The tree is up. The stockings are hung. And Christmas tunes are turning the atmosphere jolly. After a tumultuous Samhain, I’ve found my chi again and I’m starting to enjoy the season of love and giving.

Yeah. You probably know how this is going to end.

When Sebille suggests I open the bookstore up to a small holiday party, I foolishly agree. How was I supposed to know that the hobgoblin would decide it would be fun to hide everybody’s stuff? Or that we’d be hit with a freak winter storm that confined everybody inside for the duration. Or that a “You’re me but who am I?” spell would be released inside the shop, switching everybody’s identities and creating general chaos and hysteria?

I could probably deal with all that if it weren’t for the fact that my friend, Lea…the one person who could possibly reverse the spell…was ensconced in SB the parrot, with no opposable thumbs for spelling.

And me? Of course, I’m sitting fat and squishy inside Mr. Slimy. Thank goodness Rustin isn’t currently in residence, or it would be really crowded in here.

Who spelled my party? What do a pair of Santa’s elves have to do with it? And why have old enemies suddenly become new friends? I apparently have a little holiday mystery to solve inside Croakies, and I have no idea how I’m going to solve it with everybody mixed up and some of us human.

Have I told you I hate this season?

Ribbit!

The NutMacKer Sweet by Kate DanleyThe NutMacKer Sweet by Kate Danley:

The holidays are the sweetest time of year, but not for Maggie and Killian who must return the Nutcracker prince to his proper place when someone tries to make sure the show does not go on.

Come along on this Maggie MacKay Holiday Short Story Special.

 

 

A Merry Maggie Messmas by Kate DanleyA Merry Maggie Messmas by Kate Danley:

Everyone wonders how Santa is able to do his job, but when one of his helpers goes rogue and starts spreading TOO MUCH holiday cheer, it will be down to Maggie and Killian to hop on that sleigh and bring the world a silent night.

A part of the Maggie MacKay: Holiday Special short story series. This stands independently from the main Magical Tracker series and can be read at any time and in any order. It’s just an excuse to hang out with some of your favorite characters.

WARNING: This short story contains cussing, brawling, and unfestive behavior.

Merry Chris Witch by C.K. DawnMerry Chris Witch by C.K. Dawn:

Magic is real and dreams do come true. Be careful what you WITCH for.

Chris Heron is a witch who loathes the holiday season. What’s even worse is getting expelled from private coven school on Halloween and having to attend public magic school, where Santa’s son is visiting and has all the girls in a frenzy. Fairies, mermaids, elves, even the trolls are swooning over Kris Kringle Jr. All except for one girl, and she’s a North Pole mystery that has Chris intrigued. Will he be able to put his prejudices aside in time to see the true magic all around him?

I Wtich You a Merry Christmas by Snow EdenI Witch You a Merry Christmas by Snow Eden:

A heart-warming story about Christmas, elves, Santa Claus…and a really mad witch.

There are many things Cinnamon Mercy Claus is struggling with this holiday season: the memories of long forgotten holidays when the Christmas season was about family; that she’s just found out her grandfather is Santa Claus; and that her grandmother is a witch—who is bent on destroying Christmas for them all.

This is a 30,000-word novella with a dose of Hallmark warmth and crazy witch mayhem!

It is a ‘clean’ read with no cursing. Situations should be appropriate for all ages.

Winter Solstice Murders by C. FarrenWinter Solstice Murders by C. Farren:

Investigating your own death can be murder.

Bea Goldfrapp runs her own magical greetings card business in the small town of Magpie Cove, Maine. She lives with her demon familiar, Widdershins, a cat that can change its breed on a daily basis, and a talking magpie that’s lived for a thousand years. She likes her life and wouldn’t change it for the world.

Then someone poisons her tea and she dies.

Luckily for Bea her father is a powerful sorcerer, and he brings her back to life, losing his own soul in the process. Bea is understandably miffed that someone wanted to kill her, and decides to find out who did it. This only brings more complications to her life, mainly because she never realised she had so many enemies. Can she find out who killed her before the killer strikes again?

Crimson Yuletide by Rachel FordCrimson Yuletide by Rachel Ford:

Autumn gone off to sleep
And winter her secrets no more keep
Rises he from the deep
Flesh to flay and flesh to eat

Twelve days of Christmas. Twelve days of terror and death.

An ancient evil prowls the quiet streets of Wixcombe. An old man is murdered in the town square. Children disappear in the night. Villagers report sightings of Krampus, the Christmas demon.

For siblings Nan and William Fitzgerald, the season began with a promise of new loves and Christmas magic. But they find themselves in the eye of the storm when their godfather becomes the prime suspect in the killings.

To protect both the women they love and their village, the siblings must discover Krampus’ true identity. But they might not like the answers they find…

DLC by Rachel FordDLC by Rachel Ford:

A fully immersive virtual reality system. A beta testing opportunity that’s the stuff of dreams – or a nightmare that may never end.

Jack Owens is stuck in Marshfield Studio’s newest virtual reality RPG. To escape, he needs to win the game. He knows that. He’s got his team of heroes back, and he’s finally comfortable with the world. He’s ready.

Except someone at Marshfield Studios forgot to cancel the holiday downloadable content test. Jack goes to sleep in a medieval fantasy world, and wakes up in some kind of bizarre winter wonderland where his quest – and his way home – plays second fiddle to holiday festivals, winter pets, and seasonal quests.

But Jack better not let his extended stay or the holiday doldrums distract him too much. Because there’s far worse waiting for him in this magical nightmare than a lump of coal in his stocking…

Christmas Hunger by Piper FoxChristmas Hunger by Piper Fox:

After three days of hosting his vampiric brothers and their mates, Magnus is at his wit’s end. A sworn viking bachelor, he needs a break from the happy couples.

The moment the doorbell rings, he takes the chance to get away from it all. Only to come face to face with a beautiful delivery woman who stirs his blood in a way that only a fated mate could.

Donna knows her vision is true the second she meets Magnus’ gaze. Knowing he could send her away before they really get to know each other, she’s careful to hide her true intentions. She wants Magnus to get to know the real her, not just her witchly title.

Magnus has no interest in being tied down to any woman, fated mate be damned. But her sexy confidence and alluring smiles might just have Magnus’ resolve faltering. The moment he has her in his arms, the pull is too strong. He knows giving into his need, even just for the evening, could lead to more than the vampire is willing to give.

Once her true identity is revealed, Magnus must decide whether the sassy, sexy Donna is worth sacrificing his independent bachelor lifestyle for the love of a witch.

Starlight Web by Yasmine GalenornStarlight Web by Yasmine Galenorn:

Moonshadow Bay…where magic lurks in the moonlight, and danger hides in the shadows.

One month before January Jaxson turns 41, her husband ditches her for a trophy wife. Adding insult to injury, he steals the business she helped build, and kicks her out during the holidays. So when her best friend Ari suggests she move back to Moonshadow Bay—a quirky, magical town near Bellingham WA—January decides to take the plunge.

Born into a family of witches, January accepts a job at Conjure Ink, a paranormal investigations website. The job’s right up her alley but she doubts that everything reported to Conjure Ink really exists. That is, until she’s sent out on her first case.

An abandoned asylum once housed a murderer, who killed an entire family one Yuletide Eve. It’s rumored that every December he returns to haunt the woodland around the asylum, seeking to add new members to his supernatural family. January’s sure it’s an urban legend, but when new victims show up with no logical explanation for their deaths, Conjure Ink sends her in to investigate. Suddenly January finds herself in over her head, staring directly into the shadowed world of the Veil.

Now, January must not only navigate the new life she’s trying to build, but the paranormal beasties she’s sent out to explore, as well as a hot new neighbor, who seems to be hiding a shadowed past of his own.

Carrie Hatchett's Christmas by J.J. GreenCarrie Hatchett’s Christmas by J.J. Green:

It’s Christmas! The alien invasion has begun.

Carrie Hatchett’s hoping for a quiet Christmas. She’s got five times as much food as she needs, and she’s made a catnip surprise and a dogfood cake for her pets.

But there’s no rest for Carrie.

An ancient race seems intent on invading Earth. As a Transgalactic Intercultural Community Crisis Liaison Officer, Carrie’s duty-bound to respond to the threat.

The aliens have been spotted at Santa’s Grotto and in a pantomime. Will Carrie find them in time and send them packing before they ruin everyone’s Christmas?

Carrie Hatchett’s Christmas is a standalone novelette in the comedy sci-fi romp Carrie Hatchett, Space Adventurer.

Follow Carrie on her adventures today.

Bringing Christmas to the Dragons by Rinelle GreyBringing Christmas to the Dragons by Rinelle Grey:

She may not be a dragon, but it was her humanity they needed right now.

With time running out before his clan’s prince is discovered by mining or killed by enemy dragons, dragon shifter Jayrian needs to convince the elders to accept help from the humans. He hopes that the clever librarian, Gretchen, might be able to help him with that. He didn’t count on falling for her—that wasn’t part of his plan at all.

Gretchen longs for adventure outside of the books she reads in her job as a small town librarian. But not the kind that involves her moving to the big city to take the promotion her Aunt Mary offers. The cute guy who’s been hanging around the library seems far more exciting—there’s just something about him that draws her—so on impulse, she invites him to her family’s Christmas celebration. When a dragon lands on the front of her car on the way there, she wonders if she’s gotten more than she bargained for.

Together they must find a way to save his prince and clan, without sacrificing who they are, or their budding relationship.

Angels and Amulets by Nicole GrotepasAngels and Amulets by Nicole Grotepas:

If there’s a way to spoil something, the villains of the 6 Moons will find it.

There’s no rest for the weary. Just when Holly Drake takes a break from searching for more information about her father, a Christmas-related heirloom vanishes. Sure, it’s Christmas on the 6-Moons, but Holly can’t relax. Neither can her team.

Fate forces them to give up their cozy fires, mulled drinks, and holiday feasts to race across the harsh volcanic terrain of the planet Kota to win back the prize before it’s destroyed. If they can’t save the heirloom, the already strained diplomatic relations between humans and the Centau will snap.
If they don’t save Christmas, who will?

Angels and Amulets is a Christmas novella set in the 6 Moons universe.

Meet Douglas Fir by Kyndra HatchMeet Douglas Fir by Kyndra Hatch:

People put objects on trees? As a holiday tradition? The singing tree creature is a threat that needs to be eradicated.

Being human isn’t easy with robotic alien residents misunderstanding the simple stuff. Alex can’t imagine his family life without Bazin and Miaxa, though. Time to show them Christmas holiday traditions, preferably without space aliens blowing things up.

 

 

How Aunt Tillie Stole Christmas by Amanda M. LeeHow Aunt Tillie Stole Christmas by Amanda M. Lee:

Fourteen years ago, Christmas hit Walkerville with a bang. Or, rather, a big ball of fire.
When a local group home for orphaned children goes up in smoke right before the holidays, Tillie Winchester volunteers her family to take in some kids – even though her arch nemesis Margaret Little is dead-set against it. Of course, that’s part of the appeal for Tillie so she’s considering it a win.

Three boys – all of them with a little attitude – have no idea what to expect from the Winchester household. No matter what, Tillie is sure they’re about to get more than they bargained for. In short order, they’re welcomed into the family at the same time the town is on edge due to a second fire.

Tillie is determined to prove the boys are innocent while also finding them a forever home … even if she has to take on a local judge and declare all out war to do it.

So, hang your stockings by the fire and sit back for another Christmas with the Winchesters. You’ll never be the same again.

Note: This is a 28,000-word novella set in the Wicked Witches of the Midwest world. It’s set back in the past so it can be read in any order.

White Witchmas by Amanda M. LeeWhite Witchmas by Amanda M. Lee:

Chestnuts are roasting. Jingle bells are rocking. The halls are about to be decked.

In other words, Christmas is about to hit Hemlock Cove. Hard.

There’s just one little problem…or maybe two. Okay, there are three big problems plaguing Bay Winchester before she can enjoy the holidays.

The first is that the warden who lost his job thanks to a prison break weeks before is determined to stalk Bay until she magically fixes his life. He keeps showing up in the oddest of places and making the sort of demands she can’t fulfill.

The second involves Aunt Tillie, who has decided to gift her nemesis Margaret Little a special spell rather than a lump of coal this holiday season. It involves her Christmas decorations taking on a life—and voice—of their own. The spell, however, isn’t nearly as contained as it was supposed to be.

When a body shows up at the local private school, that means it’s one problem too many for Bay. And she doesn’t know which problem to solve first.

The headmistress of the school was involved in a convoluted affair with father of one of her students. The list of suspects who wanted her dead was long and sundry, however.

All Bay wants is to surprise her husband with a dog for Christmas and to eat her weight in cookies. She has to save the day first, though.

Murder, mayhem, and mistletoe are on the menu.

Death might not be far behind.

Buckle up, because the Santa decorations are coming to town.

Fur-miliar Felines by Harper LinFur-miliar Felines by Harper Lin:

Three witches and their magical cats solve paranormal murder cases in the mystical town of Wonder Falls.

It’s Christmastime, but something strange and sinister is in the air. Treacle, Cath’s courageous black cat, can’t see what it is, but he feels a dangerous presence out there in the snow-blanketed streets.

Aunt Astrid also feels dark ripples in the dimensions. The Greenstone witches suspect this creature is somehow tied to the disappearance of two high school students. Soon, one of them turns up dead, half-eaten.

The holiday spirit is in full effect in Wonder Falls, but so is a puzzling and gruesome murder mystery.

A Mind Reader's Christmas by Al MacyA Mind Reader’s Christmas by Al Macy:

Eric Beckman, a mind-reading private investigator, is spending Christmas in snowy Vermont with his wife and daughter. He needs a break from solving cases, but the townspeople convince him to look into the village mystery: Every holiday season, someone switches the baby Jesus with one of the other figures in the town’s Nativity scene.

With the help of his ten-year-old daughter, also a mind reader, he soon learns that some of the residents of the small town are not who–or even what–they seem to be. There’s something supernatural going on in Newburn, Vermont.

His investigation causes an escalation of strange happenings, and soon, swapped manger figures are the least of the town’s worries. If Beckman can’t adjust his view of the world–force himself to believe in things he never thought possible–the Christmas vacation could turn out to be his family’s last.

A Mind Reader’s Christmas may be read as a standalone book or as Book Four in the Eric Beckman series.

The Santa Claus of Mystic Springs by Mona MarpleThe Santa Claus of Mystic Springs by Mona Marple:

What if Father Christmas is on the naughty list?

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Mystic Springs, but all is not still or calm with the department store Santa.

The amateur dramatics club is full of big egos and legends-in-their-own-heads, so their spats aren’t unusual. But when the theatre owner is shot dead during the Christmas play, it’s Santa who pulls the trigger.

With the arrival of an unwelcome ex, a petition to end Discrimination Against Spirits, and a second attack by St Nick, the chances of a quiet Christmas seem to be quickly disappearing.

Has Santa really gone bad? Or is there more to it?

Town medium Connie and her dead sister Sage are both avoiding their own festive conundrums. A mistletoe murder is just the distraction they need.

In Time for Christmas by Monique MartinIn Time for Christmas by Monique Martin:

At a time when interest in the Christmas holiday was waning, Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol and inspired the world.

But now, history is changing, and the book is never written. When the Council for Temporal Studies asks time travelers Simon and Elizabeth Cross to “save Christmas,” they think he’s joking.

But it’s anything but a laughing matter. Simon and Elizabeth must go back to 1843 London and convince Dickens to write his endearing story, or the Christmas holiday we all know and love will cease to be–forever.

Christmas in New York by Monique MartinChristmas in New York by Monique Martin:

Time-Traveling adventurers Simon and Elizabeth Cross return in an all-new Christmas novella!

Along with their young daughter, Charlotte, the Crosses travel back to 1937 New York City to visit an old friend, Charlie Blue. But Charlie’s in trouble — holiday-sized trouble — and their plans for a pleasant little Christmas vacation soon fly out the window.

Christmas in New York is the fast-paced and heartwarming tale of the true meaning of Christmas — and the importance of the people we share it with.

A Curse for Christmas by P.A. MasonA Curse for Christmas by P.A. Mason:

Christmas back home in Arkansas sounded like a chance to put my feet up for a few weeks. Little did I know that a magical calamity would threaten the big day.

You know the real kicker? It was Mom—a renowned magical healer—who came down with a mystery malaise on Christmas Eve. I couldn’t remember a time where she had anything worse than a sniffle. To see her bedridden scared me to my core.

To examine the facts and solve the case, I had to think fast before Mom’s condition got any worse. With a new werewolf beau in her life, half the town of Tumbling Springs were whispering behind Mom’s back, the loudest of them a hex witch with a nasty view of weres. On the other hand, a new business rival in the next town over had Mom’s healing services on the rocks. The question was—did either witch have enough motive to do something as awful as all that to Mom?

If you enjoy paranormal cozy mysteries with a seasonal Christmas flair, this holiday special is for you.

Nutcracker of Crystalfall by Kay L. MoodyNutcracker of Crystalfall by Kay L. Moody:

The annual Christmas party was going just fine… until the trolls showed up.

Clara is a young woman who is wickedly good at puzzles, but she also has a secret her parents have shamed her into hiding. The weight of that secret has ruined nearly every happy moment in her life.

At least this year’s Christmas party gets more interesting once a mysterious stranger shows up. He teaches Clara how to crack nuts, wears a soldier’s uniform she’s never seen, and flashes a smile she’ll never forget.

But then a cruel party guest destroys the only gift that matters to Clara. Even worse, trolls appear and try to kill the handsome stranger she only just met. The fight rages into the night. Soon, Clara has to make a choice.

She could finally escape her unloving parents and the dreadful life they have planned for her. It would only take a promise to join an even greater conflict in the magical and dangerous realm of Faerie—a land she previously didn’t know existed.

If she stays home, her happiness will end forever. If she goes to Faerie, a great adventure awaits her…but it might kill her too.

A Little Mistletoe and Magic by Marianne MoreaA Little Mistletoe and Magic by Marianne Morea:

Done with grieving the loss of her family, Jenny Mitchell is looking for a fresh start. Life as she knew it is over, but what waits for her in the town of Whisper Falls is more than just quaint charm and an Inn no one wanted. Her near death experience awakens senses she didn’t know she possessed. Senses that both scare and fascinate her, especially when they bring her face to face with a sexy, supernatural truth that spells more than just second chance romance. Sparks fly under the mistletoe, and there’s no escaping the magic of the season, or the cougar shifter destined to help her through the darkness and mend her broken heart, in this modern twist on a holiday classic.

Christmas in Silver Birch Valley by Lorri MoultonChristmas in Silver Birch Valley by Lorri Moulton:

A small town has held on to their traditions and celebrates Christmas as if it were 100 years ago…which reporter Jake Logan finds surprisingly charming, but wonders if it’s too good to be true.

Jake has traveled the world but never really felt at home, until he spends time in a town that has its own unique way of celebrating the holidays. The longer he stays, the more he comes to like the town, the people, and one charming B&B owner in particular.

Lorna Sullivan has never met anyone like Jake, but she knows tourists don’t stay once the holidays are over. The more time she spends with Jake, the easier it is to wonder if this could be different…but there are secrets in every town and this one could destroy their chance at happiness.

Not His Christmas by Annie NicholasNot His Christmas by Annie Nicholas:

It’s Eoin and Angie’s first Christmas together and he wants to make it special. But his dragoness is lacking holiday spirit and doesn’t want anything to do with celebrating. Does Angie think Eoin is the type of dragon who could ignore her unhappiness? Clipping on his jingle bells and grabbing the mistletoe, Eoin is on a mission.

 

 

 

Snowed in with the Alien Dragon by Sonia NovaSnowed in with the Alien Dragon by Sonia Nova

A Christmas without warmth…
Rachel hates her life in Alaska. She hates the weather, but even more, she hates her job which requires her to stay in the sodden state even for the holidays! Instead of going to visit her family in sunny California, she will be spending the holidays alone in the cold north. But when she encounters an unconscious, golden alien on the way home from work – amidst a massive snowstorm to top it all off – it looks like the holidays might not end up as boring as she’d thought after all!

A dragon paralyzed by cold…
Captain Erro of Traag never thought to go down in a battle. Even less did he think to find his mate on the surface of the planet he crashes on! Trapped in the planet’s frozen wasteland, Erro can hardly function in the cold climate. He’s a dragon, for heaven’s sake! He needs some heat! And yet, despite the icy weather seeping into his bones, every time the strangely beautiful alien female smiles at him, his inner flame burns stronger than ever. She is his mate, there is no question about that.

Now, if only he could understand what the hell she was saying…

Snowed in with the Alien Dragon is a standalone sci-fi romance novella with a scorching hot dragon, a HEA and no cliffhangers. Intended for mature audiences only.

When Birdie Babysat Spider by Kristen PainterWhen Birdie Babysat Spider: A Jayne Frost Short Story by Kristen Painter:

Welcome to Nocturne Falls, the town that celebrates Halloween 365 days a year.

Jayne Frost is a lot of things. Winter elf, Jack Frost’s daughter, Santa Claus’s niece, heir to the Winter Throne and now…private investigator. Sort of.

But none of that matters at the moment, because Jayne is headed back to the North Pole to visit her family, and leaving everyone’s favorite werewolf, Birdie Caruthers, to watch her cat, Spider.

With the heartfelt promise that all will be well, Birdie follows Jayne’s instructions to the letter. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop Spider from getting into trouble.

It takes the help of a gentlemen friend (and a few others), for Birdie to make things right again. But not before her love life takes a very interesting turn…

Flight Before Christmas by Christine PopeFlight Before Christmas by Christine Pope:

They’ll have to fly faster than reindeer to rescue Santa…and save Christmas.

Other than the pleasure of etching delicate tendrils of ice on windows, there’s not much Kai Ulfsen enjoys about life under Jack Frost’s rule. But when he’s roped into serving on a strike team to kidnap Santa and destroy Christmas, Kai’s had enough. Frost must be stopped.

Human witches, the only other beings on Earth with magical powers, are his only hope. He never expected his search would lead him a woman with sky-blue eyes and hair like a river of gold.

Stella Monroe is five minutes away from closing up her tea shop for the holiday when a vision of Nordic male perfection fills the doorway. And, even more surreal, this beautiful man with silver hair, aquamarine eyes, and…pointed ears?…needs her help.

Granted, she flies the fastest broom at the Witch Olympics, but is her magic equal to a task like this? But maybe with a little luck — and a bag of pixie dust — Kai and Stella can beat the clock, beat Frost at his own game, and save the happiest holiday of the year.

Jingle Spells by Christine PopeJingle Spells by Christine Pope:

Sweet baby Jesus, someone’s stolen a lot of Christmas dough!

All is calm and bright as Globe, Arizona’s holiday celebrations approach. Selena Marx should have known it wouldn’t stay that way. The painted snowflakes on her shop window are barely dry when her best friend, Josie Woodrow, bursts in with news that the baby Jesus is missing from the crèche in front of St. Ignatius.

Selena has enough on her mind without having to use her psychic powers to suss out the culprit. Her boyfriend Calvin Standingbear’s parents are still on the snow-covered fence about accepting her, which throws a dimmer on the town’s highly anticipated Festival of Lights. And when Calvin springs a surprise on the solstice, Selena realizes she has some work to do to reconcile the two men in her life: Calvin, and her cursed cat, Archie.

The last thing she needs is a spontaneous vision that indicates the baby Jesus theft was more than just a prank. And if someone doesn’t spill the beans soon, someone’s getting away with…well, not murder (this time), but a whole lot of dough — and we’re not talking cookies.

The Krampus Hunters by J.P. ReedmanThe Krampus Hunters by J.P. Reedman:

Krampus, haunter of the dark winter’s nights before Yule, comes bearing a switch to beat ‘bad children’…

Young Snoefrith, daughter of the Erl-King, leaves her homeland on a quest to find her lost mother…and a life. As she travels in wild, unfamiliar lands, she is accosted by Old Nickor, a red-robed goblin who flies the wintry skies in a sleigh pulled by coal-black deer, and his bestial companion, Krampus. Nickor sets Krampus upon Snowfrith, seeking to capture her to sell to the Kobold King who dwells under the mountains.
Rescued by Red Roo, a feisty girl who is the best archer in the Wandron tribe, Snoefrith believes she is now safe.
But Krampus is determined to capture his prey and please his master, Nickor. Under cover of darkness, he destroys the Wandron’s caravans and sends Snoefrith and Red Roo fleeing into the forest and beyond.
Soon they learn that they cannot flee forever.
The hunted must become the hunters….

KRAMPUS HUNTERS

A short fantasy novelette for all ages, 15,000 words.

Joyeux by Tansy Rayner RobertsJoyeux: A Musketeer Space Novella by Tansy Rayner Roberts

There’s mistletoe growing out of the walls, it’s snowing inside the space station, and a sex scandal is brewing that could bring down the monarchy. Must be Joyeux!

Joyeux on Paris Satellite is a seven day festival of drunken bets, poor decision-making, religious contemplation and tinsel. But mostly, poor decision-making. Athos and Porthos aren’t going to sleep together. Aramis is breaking up with her girlfriend because it’s that or marry her. Athos is not ready to deal with the ghost of his ex-husband. Oh, and no one wants Prince Alek to break his marriage contract by hooking up with a sexy Ambassador…

It’s down to the Musketeers and the Red Guard to save the space station and the solar system from disaster. So… that’s not going to end well.

This novella is a festive prequel to Musketeer Space, a genderflipped space opera retelling of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.

Created for Christmas by Joynell SchultzCreated for Christmas by Joynell Schultz:

Need the perfect man? No problem—simply create him!

Ivy wanted nothing more for Christmas than to have someone to come home to…to have a companion to chat about her day with, and someone to show off at her family holiday celebrations.

This Christmas, she’s not going to be alone! Ivy decides to create her perfect companion at Dream Droids, the premier robotics company specializing in sentient humanoids. Ivy spends weeks with Dr. Pierce, creating her dream man, from his appearance, personality, and even his knowledge of her life.

There’s just a few problems: when a special gift she purchased for her father goes missing, and Dr. Pierce agrees to help her find it, she finds herself falling for him. After getting her heart stomped on by her ex-fiancé, there’s no way she can open it up again…besides, she just created the perfect man.

Jingle Stars by Jenny SchwartzJingle Starr by Jenny Schwartz:

When a starship decides to play Santa Claus…

Ahab is a mLa’an artificial intelligence embedded in the starship, Orion.

The campaign for AIs to be recognized as full citizens of Galaxy Proper is within reach of its extraordinary goal. The only thing that could stop it now is if an AI did something foolish…like take a space station hostage to save eight orphaned children.

***
And this is the letter to Santa that starts it all:

Dear Santa

I don’t know if yourreindeers work in space. But if you have room in your sleigh after you finishdelivering presents to the lucky kids with parents and homes, can you come and getme and my friends? Please?

We’ve been good. Well,we haven’t been really bad. We’re on Station Elphame, in the junkyard, and Zoeis sick. She’s bad sick. I think she’d be better on a planet. We don’t needpresents. We just need a way out of here. Ollie tried to sneak onto atrampship…he died.

Please, Santa, I don’twant any more of my friends to die.

Aiden.

Elves and Deer by Hollis ShilohElves and Deer by Hollis Shiloh:

Greer is a reindeer shifter working at a magical shipping hub up North. He has little use for or understanding of elves—such delicate, short-lived creatures—but he tries to do his best by the ones in his life. And it seems like more and more are coming into his life, confusing and frustrating him, needing help, needing rescued.

Since Greer is always busy, it’s easy to overlook the things he doesn’t want to acknowledge—until a terrible danger gives him unwanted time to think…and to realize there’s just one elf who means more to him than he’s ever wanted to admit.

A Christmas tale
38,000 words
Heat level: very low

All I Want For Christmas is Wicked by Lotta SmithAll I Want for Christmas is Wicked by Lotta Smith:

Trees decorated, stockings full of presents, and another case to crack!

The Rowling family is gearing up for another Merry Christmas, and Mandy has her hands full with holiday prep, but how can she get into the spirit of the season when the victim in her latest case isn’t a ghost?

Twenty years ago, during a Christmas Eve blackout, Kevin Holt, the husband of a rich heiress, lost his memory in a fall down the stairs of their mansion. Now he’s discovered evidence that someone might have been trying to kill him, and all he wants for Christmas is to find out who. Since the resident ghost of the Holt house didn’t witness the attack, Rick and Mandy will have to rely on old fashioned sleuthing (and a little help from Mandy’s paranormal pal Jackie) to find out which of the four suspects is the culprit.

Meanwhile Rick has been saddled with novice investigator Cameron Gibson (call him Ace!) the son of one of USCAB’s wealthiest clients. Ace is trying to catch the creep stalking a New York City fashion model, but despite wanting Mandy to mentor him, one ghostly encounter has him seriously spooked.

A run in with a biker ghost and dancers in danger complicate the case, but the big question on Mandy’s mind is why does little Sophie want a bear trap for Christmas? Find out in this wickedly merry holiday installment of the Paranormal in Manhattan Mystery Series.

Blood and Mistletoe by E.J. StevensBlood and Mistletoe by E.J. Stevens:

Holidays are worse than a full moon for making people crazy. In Harborsmouth, where many of the residents are undead vampires or monstrous fae, the combination may prove deadly.

Ivy Granger, psychic private investigator, returns to the streets of Harborsmouth in this addition to the bestselling urban fantasy series.

Holidays are Hell, a point driven home when a certain demon attorney returns with information regarding a series of bloody murders. Five Harborsmouth residents have been killed and every victim has one thing in common–they are fae. Whoever is killing faeries must be stopped, but they only leave one clue behind–a piece of mistletoe floating in a pool of the victim’s blood.

The holidays just got interesting. Too bad this case may drive Ivy mad before the New Year. Heck, she’ll be lucky to survive Christmas.

Cloaked in Christmas by T.F. WalshCloaked in Christmas by T.F. Walsh:

After fleeing her abusive ex, wulfkin Cacey Varg and her daughter settle happily with a new pack in Finland. As Christmas approaches, Cacey learns her ex has found them and is on his way to take their daughter back. But a massive snowstorm prevents her from packing up and leaving town – and instead delivers a sexy stranger to her doorstep. Can she trust that he isn’t one of her ex’s henchmen?

Second-in-command to Europe’s most powerful wulfkin, hunter Vincent Lyall’s spur-of-the-moment decision to check on his ailing mother soon finds him marooned at a cabin in the woods by the blizzard of the century. Trapped with this spirited vixen, resisting temptation is easier said than done . . . But she refuses to believe he is who he says he is.

Is love powerful enough to win when two sexy wolf shifters, an unwelcome past, and animalistic urges wreak havoc on the holiday season?
Sensuality Level: Sensual

A Most Apocalyptic Christmas by Phil WilliamsA Most Apocalyptic Christmas by Phil Williams:

On the night before Christmas, mercenary Scullion’s ride home is ambushed halfway between the last surviving cities in America. Concerned only with getting drunk for the holiday, his attempts to abandon his fellow passengers to bandits lead him on a collision course with a barbaric community who have utterly distorted the seasonal spirit. This is one madcap night he cannot survive alone, challenging his perceptions of the meaning of Christmas.

A Most Apocalyptic Christmas is a near-future dystopian novella, set in a war-ravaged land where chaotic city states are all that are left of once powerful countries. Born fighters like the thug Scullion are the predominant survivors in this desolate world devoid of resources, comforts and hope.

This is a Faergrowe Free State novella, set in the same world of the screenplay The Faergrowe Principle.

Elixirs and Elves by Astoria WrightElixirs and Elves by Astoria Wright:

The elves of Mount Vale are throwing a Christmas Party, and they’ve invited everyone! While the human residents of Moss Hill are excited to attend, many of the sidhe find the invitation beneath them. It’s no secret that they dislike mingling with non-faeries, but are they so hostile toward humans that one of them would commit murder? Carissa has never gotten along with the sidhe guard, but Varick of Vale has helped her on occasion. So, when he asks for her help after suspicion falls on him, it’s up to her to prove his innocence – if, that is, he isn’t guilty after all.

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