Today’s featured fanzine is the Hugo Book Club Blog, which just missed the Hugo ballot last year.
So I’m thrilled to welcome Olav Rokne and Amanda Wakaruk of the Hugo Book Club Blog.
The Hugo Book Club Blog is an Edmonton-based amateur publication that tries to offer a positive contribution to discussion of Hugo Awards, Hugo Award nominations, and other related science fiction and fantasy topics.
Although it started out as a private project with an intended audience of a small group of friends, we’ve enjoyed the feedback we’ve heard from a wide variety of members of the SFF fandom community.
Who are the people behind your site or zine?
The blog is maintained by Olav Rokne and Amanda Wakaruk, with contributions from members of the book club including Brian Gooyers, Marshall Boyd, Christy Foley, Kateryna Barnes, Dan Calder, Earl Prusak and Kennith Stasiuk. The Twitter account is mostly Olav.
Blog posts often are based on a first draft that is written collaboratively by Amanda and Olav. These drafts are then circulated to members of the group for feedback and edits. Some posts are drafted by other members of the group, but there is always an effort to build consensus before posting. When the group has strong disagreements about a book, it is our tradition that the person who enjoyed the book most writes the first draft.
Why did you decide to start your site or zine?
Approximately six years ago, a small group of us started up a book club to read all the Hugo-shortlisted novels on the ballot that year, prior to the voting deadline.
(Interestingly, the first book we read as a book club was Markos Kloos’ Lines of Departure, which was pulled from the ballot.)
The group still meets between the Hugo voting cycle to discuss SFF novels that we think might end up on the subsequent year’s ballot, or what might deserve nominations. This month, we’re discussing Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi.
The blog was originally intended for book club members, as a way to share ideas, and a place to post the schedule of book club meetings.
What format do you use for your site or zine (blog, e-mail newsletter, PDF zine, paper zine) and why did you choose this format?
We currently have the blog on a Blogger site “Hugoclub.blogspot.ca.” It was chosen because it was a simple, content-first platform. But we’re starting to outgrow it and have been tentatively looking at more versatile content-management tools.
(A recent revision to the look of the site was prompted by complaints that the old version presented legibility issues.)
The fanzine category at the Hugos is one of the oldest, but also the category which consistently gets the lowest number of votes and nominations. So why do you think fanzines and sites are important?
Because the Hugo Awards are a largely democratic institution, the quality of the awards depends on the participation of an informed and engaged voter base.
Fan sites, fan writing, and fancasts are essential to the democratic nature of these awards, in the same way that journalism that includes informed and engaged political discourse are essential to democracy writ large.
But taken from another angle, if you go back and read fanzines that were published decades ago (which are archived at the remarkable site Fanac.org), you can see how people built a community using mimeographs, letraset, and postage.
It’s a community filled with quirky traditions, but one of those traditions going back a very long way is an ethos of welcoming the square pegs that haven’t found their place in a world full of round holes.
Online content distribution has made it easier to deliver community-building content than it was in the days of physical fanzines, but the premise and the motivations remain the same. Fanzines and fan writing remain an integral part of SFF fandom as a movement.
In the past twenty years, fanzines have increasingly moved online. What do you think the future of fanzines looks like?
Our book club includes librarians and former journalists, and even we are surprised by some of the changes in publishing technology. Who knows what will happen next? Perhaps blockchain-mediated identity verification will drive a new revolution in trustworthy news sources, and we’ll end up singing kumbaya in a unified and peaceful version of fandom. Perhaps the next generation of fans will be dealing with ink-and-paper fanzines delivered by a Kevin-Costner-on-horseback-based mail system. Or perhaps the singularity will happen and every fanzine that could ever exist will be beamed straight into your neuro-cortex.
In the short term, the proliferation of online fanzines and blogging has created a golden age for fan writing, but by bringing people together, it has also created new opportunities for ostracization, cliques, and social fractures in the community. This is a global village, but villages are places of petty rivalries, rumourmongers, and internecine conflicts.
What we’d foresee is a further balkanization of fandom. Which isn’t all bad; it will mean you’re more easily able to find the genre fiction, community, and the types of discussion you are interested in, but it’s also probable that there will be accelerating animosity and strife.
In older fanzines, you see many of the same lines of conflict you see today in the science fiction community. For example in 1946, conservative fan Ben Singer and leftist Chan Davis butted heads over several of the same issues that drove some of the more recent turmoil in fandom between right and left. When these conversations took place over months, using paper fanzines as the forums, it forced the interlocutors to think a bit longer before they sent anything.
The speed of modern technology accelerates the cycle of rhetorical combat, and because modern technology is more democratic it also platforms more radical voices. This all leads to a higher level of divisiveness. Sadly, barring any changes to technology this trend seems likely to continue.
The four fan categories of the Hugos (best fanzine, fan writer, fan artist and fancast) tend to get less attention than the fiction and dramatic presentation categories. Do you have any recommendations for any of the fan categories?
One of our favourite annual traditions with the blog is that each year, we highlight a fan writer who has never appeared on the Hugo ballot that we believe deserves to be recognized. Earlier this year, we posted a profile on Adri Joy, who’s one of the key people at the fanzine Nerds Of A Feather, and has tackled some issues of social justice with nuance and insight. So she’d probably have to be our first recommendation for people to nominate in the fan categories.
In previous years, we’ve profiled Alasdair Stuart and Paul Weimer, both of whom continue to publish excellent critical essays and genre musings.
Someone who doesn’t get the attention he deserves is James W. Harris, who blogs at classicsofsciencefiction.com. He’s been building a database of “Best Science Fiction” lists, and correlating and comparing how often various titles appear, and it’s a pretty interesting project. His blog does focus on a lot of older stories, but he’s not dismissive of the current trends, or of the new crop of younger authors.
In terms of fancasts, Hugo Girl is a relatively new podcast that’s doing excellent work examining Hugo-winning novels from a feminist perspective. The hosts are funny, quippy, and they do their homework. It’s a very good listen.
We’d also recommend the podcast Métis In Space, which focuses on an Indigenous perspective to science fiction and fantasy writ large. They don’t update very often, but they’ve got a lot of great insights when they do put out an episode.
For fan artist, both Andy Everson (K’ómoks) and Aaron Paquette (Cree, Métis) bridging their respective heritages and cultural knowledges with their love for Star Wars is a big hit with us. Another person whose science fiction and fantasy fan art that we enjoy is Edinburgh-based tattoo artist Courtenay Dickson whose work varies from Pokémon, Miyazaki films, Star Wars, Mars Attacks, Animal Crossing and more.
Where can people find you?
The best place to find us is on Twitter at @Hugo_Book_Club. And of course, the blog itself! http://hugoclub.blogspot.com/
Thanks, Olav and Amanda, for stopping by and answering my questions.
Do check out the Hugo Book Club Blog, cause it’s a great site.
Do you have a Hugo eligible fanzine or site and want it featured? Contact me or leave a comment.