So the Eurovision Song Contest was last night. I was watching something else and occasionally switched over, only to decide that I really could not bring myself to care. I finally tuned for the voting only to realise that a) they had changed the voting system and announced first the jury votes in the regular way and then the collated televoting results. Personally, I prefer the old system. Okay, so they apparently wanted to defuse the political nature of the televoting results, but it’s not as if the jury votes aren’t political or as if the whole thing isn’t political in general.
Case in point: Germany finished last for the second time in a row. And unlike last year, where the German song did not even have a whole lot of backing in Germany itself, this year’s entry – “Ghost”, sung by 18-year-old Jamie-Lee – had a lot of popular support. Jamie-Lee was the runaway winner of the German primaries and she’d previously won the German edition of The Voice. I don’t think anybody really expected her to win Eurovision, but everybody expected her to at least place decently.
Okay, so she did have a weird manga-inspired outfit, but there were plenty of equally weird outfits (e.g. the Croatian tree dress, the Polish ringmaster vampire or the Armenian reject from the Black Widow program), so that a girl who looks like a cosplayer at an Anime con doesn’t really stick out all that much. I have heard from some older viewers that they had problems with Jamie-Lee’s outfit (i.e. they didn’t understand it, because they have no idea what mangas or anime are), but these were inevitably the sort of people who also hated the fact that she sang in English like eighty percent of the contestants. And the monolingual defenders of the German language don’t matter and never did.
One potentially problematic aspect is that Jamie-Lee is a white German teenager appropriating Asian culture, but considering we’ve seen all sorts of blatant cultural appropriation at the Eurovision Song Contest before, I doubt that was the deciding factor.
So if there was nothing wrong with the song and the singer, the obvious answer is that bad result for the German entry was due to political reasons. Because apparently, the rest of Europe hates us because of we insist on responsible fiscal policies or because we take our responsibility to help the refugees displaced by other people’s wars seriously, unlike certain other countries, or because they hate Angela Merkel, the best chancellor we’ve had in decades, or because… well, honestly, I no longer care. By this point, I think the German broadcaster ARD should simply get out of both the Song Contest and the European Broadcast Union altogether. Because I don’t see why we should have to pay for the privilege of having 18-year-old girls publicly humiliated. I’m not the only one who thinks so either, here is an article which compiles a bunch of confused and angry social media reactions.
ETA: Composer Ralph Siegel, self-styled Mr. Eurovision, because he wrote more Eurovision entries than anybody else and pretty much dominated the German entries in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, squarely puts the blame on singer Jamie-Lee and on the way the German contestant is selected via a publicly voted primary. Because a “cute little girl from a talent show” couldn’t possibly hack it. I suspect Ralph Siegel would prefer that Germany bow to his superior wisdom and let him write the German entry again. Never mind that in his twenty plus Eurovision attempts, Siegel only ever won once, in 1982, with a sappy song sung by a teen girl. But generally his songs placed badly, because they were hopelessly out of touch, at least by the late 1980s/1990s. So in short, a guy past his prime wants some attention.
Ukraine won by the way with a singer called Jamala performing a song called “1944” about the expulsion of the Crimean Tartars under Joseph Stalin. Okay, so it wasn’t an okay song and clearly heartfelt, especially since singer Jamala drew on her own family history. But don’t believe for a minute that this wasn’t a political vote, especially since Australia was leading after the jury voting (and IMO had the better song). And of course, Russia is thoroughly pissed off (even though their televoters gave Jamala ten points), especially since their contestant only landed in third place, and are threatening to boycott the contest next year. Meanwhile, in the rest of Europe the reaction is, “Yes, please, do, cause we’re kind of tired of your blatant campaigning for a win.”
Also in better news, the winners of the 2015 Nebula Awards were announced tonight and they look very good.
“Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong, winner in the short story category, and Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, winner in the novella category, are both very fine stories. Binti was on my Hugo nomination list, while “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” made my personal longlist. I haven’t read “Our Lady of the Open Road” by Sarah Pinsker, the winner in the novelette category, because it’s not available online as far as I know, but I know that the story has gotten a lot of positive reactions. Correction: I just checked and “Our Lady of the Open Road” is available online here, if you want to read it.
ETA: Here is Alyssa Wong’s acceptance speech, courtesy of her blog.
I haven’t read Updraft by Fran Wilde, winner in YA category, yet, though I’ve heard a lot of good things. As for Uprooted by Naomi Novik, winner in the best novel category, so far I haven’t been overly interested in the book for the reasons outlined here (short version, contains too many “Not my things”), but it’s a novel that has gotten a lot of buzz and is clearly a worthy winner, even though Brandon Kempner of Chaos Horizons and Ceridwen Christensen of the Barnes & Noble blog both predicted that The Fifth Season would win. And who knows, once the Hugo voters’ packet goes online, I may well realise that Uprooted is my thing after all.
That leaves Mad Max: Fury Road in the best damatic presentation category, another worthy winner, which – let’s not forget – was also the big winner at the Oscars this year. Rounding out the 2015 Nebulas, C.J. Cherryh was deserved named SFWA Grandmaster and the two special awards went to the late Sir Terry Pratchett and Lawrence M. Schoen respectively.
So all in all, some very fine winners at the 2015 Nebula Awards, even if not every winner would have been my first choice in the respective category. There is a discussion of the winners in the comments at File 770 BTW. Comparing the Nebula winners with the 2016 Hugo shortlist, you’ll notice that the winners are fairly well represented with Uprooted, Binti and Mad Max: Fury Road all nominated in the respective categories and Alyssa Wong, author of “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers”, nominated for the John W. Campbell Award. The only Nebula winners conspicuously absent from the Hugo shortlist are Updraft, which isn’t that much of a surprise, since the Hugos don’t have a YA category and YA usually has a hard time getting nominated in the regular categories, and “Our Lady of the Open Road”, which may well have been a casualty of canine interference.
Both Joel Cunningham at the Barnes & Noble blog and Andrew Liptak at io9 also point out that the winners of the 2015 Nebula Awards are all women with the sole exception of the dramatic presentation category, in which a movie which featured a plethora of well-drawn and interesting female characters won, even though the nominal protagonist was a man as were the director and writer.
What is more, two of the 2015 Nebula Award winners are women of colour and two of the winning stories feature queer characters and were written by queer authors, at least according to Andrew Liptak. Add in that the Grandmaster Award also went to a woman, the great C.J. Cherryh, and the 2015 Nebulas are a triumph of diversity and a reflection of the changing demographics of the SFF genre. And given the controversy that has been engulfing the Hugo Awards these past three years, this is a very encouraging sign. Yes, the Hugo Awards may be besieged by reactionaries, but they don’t speak for the rest of us.
Talking of which, I was curious and checked out some puppy-affiliated blogs for reactions, since I suspect that whining canines are not exactly happy with this year’s Nebula Award decisions. Most are conspicuously quiet, though Brad Torgersen, spokesperson of last year’s Sad Puppy campaign, laments that Mad Max: Fury Road won over his personal favourite The Martian, which he views as yet another sign of the decline of the genre.
Now I get that Brad Torgersen really, really loved The Martian, ironically for the same reasons that I don’t care for it (the movie was okay, largely due to the excellent actors, but the book was just dull), namely that it feels like a throwback to the 1950s/early 1960s. Now Mad Max: Fury Road is a throwback itself, namely a continuation of a franchise from the 1980s and a return to the trendy punk post-apocalyptica of the time. But Mad Max: Fury Road – which I initially filed under “sequel no one asked for” when it was announced – managed to update its narrative for the 2010s, while The Martian still feels very much like a 1950s/early 1960s work, even though the cast of both book and movie is a lot more diverse than it would have been back then and the special effects are a lot better as well.
As for why Mad Max: Fury Road winning over The Martian is a sign of the decline of the genre, Torgersen points out that The Martian features a positive future you would want to live in (unless you’re Mark Watney stuck on Mars, I suppose), while no one in his right mind would want to live in the world of any of the Mad Max movies. He’s actually right on that point, but it’s still the Ray Bradbury Award for best dramatic presentation and not the award for the best future world to live in. He also points out that The Martian made a lot more money at the box office than Mad Max: Fury Road, which in the “earnings are everything” world of the Sad Puppies must mean that it’s the better movie. But if the Nebula were awarded according to earnings than The Force Awakens should have won, because it outgrossed everything else on the shortlist. Never mind that Mad Max: Fury Road had the misfortune of being released sandwiched between two huge blockbusters in a crowded summer, while The Martian was released in a much less crowded environment. Plus, The Martian was very much marketed at a general audience, whereas Mad Max: Fury Road was clearly aimed at genre viewers. Coincidentally, my personal favourite in the best dramatic presentation category would have been a tie between The Force Awakens and Jessica Jones (haven’t seen Ex Machina yet and don’t care for Pixar’s stuff at all), though I’m perfectly happy with Mad Max: Fury Road as well.
As for the swipes against humanities graduates ruining the genre, because they don’t understand science, can we please just stop it? An author’s educational and professional background does not say anything about the quality of their work. There is an odd insistence in parts of the SFF sphere that “real scientists”, “real engineers” and “real soldiers” (if we’re talking about military SF) make better SFF writers because of their background. This is of course bullshit, because a) there is such a thing as research (just ask Andy Weir), b) having a humanities degree (or indeed no university degree at all) does not necessarily mean that you don’t understand science and c) it’s fiction, i.e. it’s all made up anyway. We don’t insist that mystery writers should be police officers or criminals, that historical fiction writers should be historians or that romance writers should be relationship counsellors or at least happily married. Fantasy writers usually aren’t knights, wizards or demon slayers in real life either. So why the hell is an author’s day job so important in science fiction?
While on the subjects of awards, the HWA also announced the winners of the 2015 Bram Stoker Awards yesterday. Now I’m not all that familiar with the winners, since horror isn’t really my genre, though Andrew Liptak gave the winner in the best novel category, A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay, an excellent review at io9. I’ve also heard praise for Mr. Suicide by Nicole Cushing, winner in the first novel category, and the movie It Follows, winner in the screenply category. What is more, we featured Mercedes M. Yardley, winner in the long fiction category, over at the Speculative Fiction Showcase (though with a different title), where we also featured several works published by Crystal Lake Publishing, who published the winner in the poetry category.
Finally, the winners of the Bram Stoker Awards also have a good gender balance, particularly considering that horror is even more male dominated than science fiction.
So in short, yesterday saw some excellent works win awards and Werder Bremen stay in the Bundesliga. Pity about Eurovision.
Comments are closed, because SFF awards discussion generally brings out the trolls and Eurovision fans can be nasty as well. Ditto for disgruntled football fans.