As for why I felt the need to introduce a companion award, depictions of parenthood in popular culture are currently experiencing something of a paradigm shift 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, especially since most real world parents may not be perfect, but 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.
Welcome to the latest edition of “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”.
So what is “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of crime fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some November books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.
Our new releases cover the broad spectrum of crime fiction. We have hardboiled mysteries, cozy mysteries, holiday mysteries, animal mysteries, historical mysteries, Jazz Age mysteries, paranormal mysteries, psychological mysteries, crime thrillers, adventure thrillers, historical thrillers, police procedurals, police officers, amateur sleuths, spies, FBI agents, police psychologists, con artists, vigilantes, serial killers, heists, prison breaks, organised crime, crime-busting witches, crime-busting socialites, crime-busting golden retrievers, murder and mayhem aboard ocean liners and in New York City, London, New Orleans, Maine, Texas, Arizona, Delaware, Washington state, Cuba, the Caribbean and much more.
Don’t forget that Indie Crime Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Indie Crime Scene, a group blog which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things crime fiction several times per week.
As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.
In the summer of 1923, danger crosses the Atlantic, as Lillian Crawford sets out on a voyage to England…
Banishment from New York aboard a magnificent luxury liner should have been the wealthy socialite’s ideal escape from disgrace, but everything changes when a moonlit stroll leaves Lillian the only witness to a shocking murder.
Could a hot tempered American millionaire be behind the killing? Or perhaps a certain handsome, blind pianist who guards a secret? And what does the victim’s bitter wife have to hide?
Determined to answer questions no one else is asking, Lillian enlists the aid of her twin brother Felix – as often as she can drag him away from the card tables. The Crawford siblings’ idyllic voyage becomes a fight for their lives, as they race to uncover the identity of a killer…before they become the next victims.
Vi and friends are ready to dive into anything but London. The days have turned dreary, and these days they’re proactive about avoiding the blues. So, they pack their bags and head to the country where they’re hoping to find clear skies and cheery days.
They aren’t surprised, however, when a storm rolls in. They’re even excited when they’re invited to a local contest for the best snow sculpture. They find their way to the meadow, and they play in the snow. They drink an excess of cocoa. Except during the celebration, a body is found. A body with something they recognize. Maybe it was an accident? Evidence seems to suggest otherwise and–once again–the murderous hand of fate has struck.
There’s no such thing as a free cruise in Cuban American author Teresa Dovalpage’s addictively clever new Havana mystery.
Cuban-born Mercedes Spivey and her American husband, Nolan, win a five-day cruise to Cuba. Although the circumstances surrounding the prize seem a little suspicious to Mercedes, Nolan’s current unemployment and their need to spice up their marriage make the decision a no-brainer. Once aboard, Mercedes is surprised to see two people she met through her ex-boyfriend Lorenzo: former University of Havana professor Selfa Segarra and down-on-his-luck Spanish writer Javier Jurado. Even stranger: they also received a free cruise.
When Selfa disappears on their first day at sea, Mercedes and Javier begin to wonder if their presence on the cruise is more than coincidence. Mercedes confides her worries to her husband, but he convinces her that it’s all in her head.
However, when Javier dies under mysterious circumstances after disembarking in Havana, and Nolan is nowhere to be found, Mercedes scrambles through the city looking for him, fearing her suspicions were correct all along.
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?
You better watch your back. You better do your best to hide.
Because at Whitehorn there are strange forces at play.
Someone or something is watching.
And the bizarre death within a secured room is only the beginning…
Within a short period of time FBI agent Blake Wilder has had to overcome many life altering events. From the relief of discovering the truth of her past and having the reunion she had always dreamed of.
To becoming suffocated by the feelings of grief and failure, feelings that nearly resulted in her death.
Safe to say, Blake Wilder is far from looking forward to the festivities to come.
Blake and her team are summoned to a small town in northern Washington to investigate the mysterious death of a patient at Whitehorn.
A case with no prints and no evidence that anyone had entered the victim’s room the night of her death.
A strangely perplexing and unfathomable death. And the patients and staff at Whitehorn believe that it was the spirit of the woman’s boyfriend—a man she’d killed—coming back from the grave to have his revenge.
When Blake discovers that the victim is not what she appears to be and the case takes a more shocking turn. Blake finds herself in an inescapable fight, a fight of the ghosts of the girl’s past and Blake’s very own ghosts of present and future to come.
You better watch out. You better hide.
Because a night at The Asylum could bring forth a darkness that may lead to an untimely demise.
Ofelia Archer has a lot on her plate. Between building renovations for her new business endeavor and plans to move in with her boyfriend for the duration of the construction, she doesn’t have time for anything else. All that changes when a teenage girl is almost abducted in front of her bar.
Ofelia and her boyfriend Zacharias “Zach” Sully intervene, save the girl, and believe they have the kidnapper caged in … only to find that he’s somehow escaped in plain sight. When digging further, they find there have been a string of disappearances from the outer parishes, something someone is working hard to keep under wraps.
Ofelia and Sully are on the case, but the harder they look, the more trouble they find. It seems the girls that are being targeted are from poorer areas. The only girl from an opulent family to be targeted is the one they managed to save. But why?
Ofelia may be comfortable in the French Quarter but Bywater is where she’s needed. Unfortunately, the people there aren’t open to trusting newcomers. As she tries to ingratiate herself, she befriends a local artist … who may just be a target herself.
Ofelia lives in a magical world, a world where she’s often the queen. This time, she may be in over her head. The stakes are too high to abandon the mission, though, and she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth … even if it will leave a scar on the city she loves so much.
Buckle up, because it’s going to be a bumpy – and magical – ride.
The Morgan family is taking their first family vacation, and since they let their youngest member pick the place, that means Mammoth Cave National Park is on the menu. Ivy Morgan-Harker and her husband Jack aren’t exactly excited about exploring caves, but they’re committed to making sure the vacation is a success.
The first stop on their trip is Casper Creek, a cosplay western town perched atop a mountain. There Hannah Hickok, a witch like Ivy, runs things. The Casper Creek workers have their hands full. It seems local kids are going missing – three in only a few weeks – and the cause of their disappearances might be supernatural in nature.
Ivy’s nephew JJ is the one who uncovers the biggest clue when he inadvertently stumbles over one of the missing kids. Unfortunately, the child who returned isn’t the one who disappeared. There’s something off about him, although nobody can ascertain exactly what.
Hannah and Ivy recognize each other for what they are on first meeting, and it’s a good thing, because they’re going to have to work together to solve a huge mystery … and keep JJ safe in the process.
There are more than witches and demons haunting the hills surrounding Casper Creek. Ivy and Hannah are going to find out exactly what sort of horrors are being hidden in one small community.
They’re determined to make things right. They just have to survive to do it.
Sometimes the truth is as slippery and hard to grasp as a mermaid…
A dark, smog-filled London doesn’t seem very Christmassy, or exciting, but then Posie Parker, London’s premier female Private Detective receives an urgent call from one of her oldest friends; Rufus, Earl of Cardigeon.
Summoned to ‘The Mermaid’, an ancient hotel in Rye, on the Sussex Coast, in the heart of smuggling country, Posie, together with her husband, Richard, finds her friend in a real state.
Rufus has been promised answers about his missing wife, Dolly, but instead there’s simply a bizarre string of events: a priceless car mysteriously driven off a cliff; a missing Frenchman, and telegrams from men who simply don’t exist. While Richard Lovelace, Chief Commissioner of New Scotland Yard tries to work out if Rufus himself is the target of a complicated plot, Posie has her own investigations to make.
The local tragedy of a missing dancer has been dealt with by local police as an open-and-shut case. But Posie soon discovers it is anything but. And she suspects foul play.
And as the snow falls, and Christmas lights go up, secrets are revealed, and Posie becomes involved in perhaps her most personal case so far. She becomes aware that danger lurks at ‘The Mermaid’, and not just for Rufus.
WHO READS PEOPLE BETTER—A COP, A CON, OR A VERY SHREWD SHRINK?
A down-and-out, wheelchair-bound lonely man calls 911 from a trailer that’s just burst into flames. The tragic fire claims the man’s life. It seems like an accident until the cops find a few arguments against that theory. And another puzzler — the dispatcher seems to be keeping some dangerous secrets…
Police psychologist Dot Meyerhoff, on call to counsel police station employees, soon finds herself trying to help the traumatized dispatcher. But as the action-packed investigation accelerates, Dot can’t help but get drawn into an ever-expanding series of crimes seemingly orchestrated by the scariest prison mastermind this side of Hannibal Lecter.
As Dot helps track down the possible arsonist, she proves herself a sensitive yet doggedly persistent sleuth — even when ordered to mind her own business. The gripping case drags her through the seedy underbelly of her small town, and finally to the local prison. During a couple of risky trips to the lockup, she becomes reacquainted with the imprisoned puppetmaster, who also happens — coincidentally? — to be a menacing old friend…
Colleagues and friends keep warning her away from the ruthless and powerful criminal, which is excellent advice, right? If only good advice were easy to take…
Charlie Rhodes has the one thing she always wanted but was afraid to admit. The parents who gave her up for adoption are back in her life, but the transition from orphan to adult child isn’t going to be an easy one. Before she can commit to the process, however, a new job pops up for the Legacy Foundation and she’s whisked away to upstate Washington.
A group of teens celebrating graduation and preparing for college have gone missing in Nighthawk, a former boomtown that has exactly one resident, a crazy old bootlegger who wanders the area dropping ominous warnings before disappearing into the darkness.
The Legacy Foundation is called out when several bodies are found, all with the sort of injuries that can’t be easily explained, and local law enforcement officials find themselves stumped. From the first day at the town, Charlie knows they’re in trouble as the memories of one of the missing teens threaten to overwhelm her. Is the girl still alive? Did she fall with the others and simply hasn’t been found? More importantly, what are they dealing with?
The specter of an evil witch hangs over Charlie and she’s eager for something else to focus on. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done when it becomes apparent that Sybil knows exactly where they are.
There’s more than one killer in the Washington woods, and both serve as a significant threat to Charlie. She’ll need to overcome two threats to keep her team safe … and figure out the one thing that’s so far evaded her.
What does Sybil want? You’re about to find out, and the answer might shake the foundation of everything Charlie believes she knows.
FIRST FIRE ALL THE LAWYERS — THEN PLAN A PRISON BREAK
While unwinding from her most recent criminal masterwork, one-of-a-kind con artist Dani Silver receives some harsh news: her much beloved brother has gone missing. Dani immediately uses her ample resources to dig up his whereabouts: it turns out he’s stuck in prison after being framed as a drug dealer. After being railroaded, the poor guy got doomed to a life sentence in solitary confinement.
Dani won’t stand for this—he’s her favorite brother, after all, and and not only that, just about everybody’s favorite person. A great guy who’s the exact opposite of Dani and her infamous grifter father—an honest man.
And sure enough, it turns out he not only saw something he shouldn’t have–he has proof. Hence the infinite jailtime.
Easy peasy, then—all Dani has to do is assemble a crack team to perform the most unthinkable of cons: a jailbreak. And then clear her brother of his alleged crimes. And incidentally somehow make some cash while doing it—because crack jailbreak teams don’t come cheap.
Caught between the Great Depression and a massive heatwave, New York is a city on the edge. Businesses close up shop, breadlines grow longer, and riots are almost a daily occurrence.
When corrupt NYPD Detective Charlie Doherty is assigned to investigate a dead body in a flophouse, he knows there’s more here than meets the eye. He quickly discovers that the girl’s death is tied to one of the most powerful families in New York, and a kidnapping case that could tear the city apart.
In a chase that takes Doherty from the mansions of Fifth Avenue, to the slums of the Lower East Side, all the way to City Hall itself, Doherty is in a race against time to find the people responsible for putting his city on a slow burn.
Logan Wolf was the Behavioral Analysis Unit’s most-respected profiler. Then a serial killer murdered his wife and tore his life apart. Now he’s a vigilante fugitive, hiding from the FBI while he hunts the nation’s deadliest criminals.
When a college student and her boyfriend vanish in West Texas, Wolf suspects the Devil’s Rock killer. But the FBI hasn’t captured the murderer, and after a decade of terror, the trail is turning cold.
Posing as the missing girl’s uncle, Wolf investigates the tiny town of Dusk Corners, the last place anyone saw the students alive. But the local sheriff doesn’t trust Wolf, and it’s just a matter of time before he learns Wolf’s true identity.
To solve the mystery, Wolf must dodge the FBI and power-hungry sheriff. But a killer deadlier than any he’s encountered lies in wait.
Two parents die and two families mourn, in very different ways.
Amateur sleuth Steve Levitan and his clue-sniffing golden retriever Rochester face two deaths in the 12th full-length novel in this long-running series. An Alzheimer’s patient slips away from home on his own and tumbles into the Delaware River. And then Steve’s love Lili suffers the crushing loss of her mother in a Miami Beach hospital.
Eckhardt Lalor left behind a fortune in real estate, a fractured family, and a bitter legacy as a city slumlord. Does that add up to murder? There’s no question of what killed Benita Weinstock—a dodgy heart—but her death rocks her daughter’s world, and Steve’s.
It will be up to Rochester to solve the crime and heal his humans in this new mystery with heart — and fur!
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.
Jesse McDermitt discovers an environmental nightmare of deception and greed taking place in Central America. A cartel is branching into smuggling things other than drugs. And they’re doing it quite effectively.
The Honduran rain forests and its inhabitants are at peril. The cartel needs hidden places to grow coca, used in the manufacture of cocaine. The exotic and endangered hardwood trees are cut and sold on the black market, along with any creature found dwelling deep in the humid jungle.
Environmental activists in the area who try to intercede are swiftly dealt with in the manner the cartel deals with anyone who stands between them and the almighty dollar—with a sharp machete.
Having so many moving parts and numerous smuggling routes, can Jesse and the crew of Ambrosia, on a dive vacation in the Bay Islands of Honduras, be able to make a difference? Or will the beautiful reef surrounding the island of Utila be Ambrosia’s grave?
The much delayed Hawkeye and Star Trek Discovery reviews are coming, but first of all, here is the final new release announcement for 2021. And it’s even a double new release announcement for what turned out to be a new series entitled Witchfinders.
The genesis of this series was this post by horror author Grady Hendrix at com, wherein Hendrix say that the depiction of criminal profilers in popular culture is closer to 17th century Puritan witchfinders than to actual profilers. So I thought, “Why not write a story that’s Criminal Minds, but with Puritan witch hunters?”
That story was The Witchfinder’s Apprentice and features a quartet of witchfinders that is very loosely based on the male members of the Criminal Minds team. Matthew Goodson, the titular appretice, is based of Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) and sticks closest to the character in the TV show. Gideon Jacobs is based on Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin) with a dash of Inigo Montaya from The Princess Bride (also played by Patinkin) thrown in. Master Caine Hopkins is based on Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Gibson) and Fear-God Moody is based on Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore), though in the case of the last three nothing except the physical description remained of the Criminal Minds characters (and in the case of Fear-God not even that, because Shemar Moore is handsome, while Fear-God is scarred), largely because the Criminal Minds characters are heroic figures, while the witchfinders are very much not.
Criminal Minds is a mystery show at heart, so I gave my witchfinders a mystery to solve and sent them to the small Massachusetts town of Redemption, which is beset by a wave of mysterious illnesses and deaths. There is a natural explanation for these illnesses and deaths, but to a witchfinder, there can only be one solution to every mystery, namely “witches did it.”
And so the witchfinders arrest two teenaged girls, including Grace Pankhurst, whose torture and impending execution plunges Matthew into a crisis of conscience and faith.
So prepare to meet…
The Witchfinder’s Apprentice Massachusetts in the Year of the Lord 1695: Matthew Goodson, eighteen years of age, is apprenticed to a team of experienced witchfinders, who travel from village to village and town to town to uncover witchcraft, examine the evidence, interrogate suspects and stamp out evil.
When a wave of mysterious illnesses and deaths hits the town of Redemption, the witchfinders are called in and quickly arrest a suspect, a teenaged girl named Grace Pankhurst.
Matthew has long been having his doubts about the witchfinders and the righteousness of their mission. The interrogation of Grace brings those doubts to a flashpoint. But is Grace truly innocent or has Matthew fallen under the spell of a comely witch?
This is a historical horror story of 5500 words or approximately 20 print pages by two-time Hugo finalist Cora Buhlert.
The Witchfinder’s Apprentice came out in October, though I forgot to mention it here. It was well received and readers were asking about a sequel.
Meanwhile, I was trying to come up with an idea for my annual holiday and came up empty, because I just didn’t feel the holiday spirit and wasn’t in the mood for a fluffy Christmas romance. Instead, my brain wanted to write horror or sword and sorcery.
Since sword and sorcery tends to have prehistoric or secondary world settings, a sword and sorcery Christmas story was out. However, a holiday horror story should be possible. Matthew and Grace were also still very much on my mind, so I came up with the brilliant idea to write a historical holiday horror story as a sequel to The Witchfinder’s Apprentice.
This plan quickly ran into a problem, because it turned out that the Puritans, notorious killjoys that they are, did not celebrate Christmas and that Christmas was actually banned in Massachusetts for several years. However, there were not just Puritans (and witches) living in Massachusetts, so I could have a Christmas celebration after all and also give Matthew yet more reason to question the prejudices installed by his Puritan upbringing.
Of course, the witchfinders – now reduced to a trio – reappear as well and they’re as dogged and fanatical as ever. We do learn a bit more about Fear-God Moody – who, even though he is the executioner and torturer, is the most sympathetic of the three witchfinders – and how he came to join the witchfinders in this story.
While I was writing The Solstice Horror, I was rereading the adventures of Robert E. Howard’s Puritan avenger Solomon Kane (who is a fascinating character, about whom I should write a standalone post some time), so there is a bit of Solomon Kane in this story as well.
In The Witchfinder’s Apprentice, the only supernatural element was that some witches are real. The Solstice Horror, however, introduces a more overt supernatural element in the form of Lovecraftian monsters. For where would you find them, if not in New England?
So follow Grace and Matthew, as they face down…
The Solstice Horror 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 latest Star Trek Discovery and Hawkeye reviews is coming, but for now, let’s talk about the 2021 Hugo Award winners. I’d hoped to get this post up a few days ago, but I was busy, so it’s a few days late.
This is not quite the post I hoped to write. The post that I hoped to write was, “Hey, I won a Hugo. Go me!” However, Elsa Sjunneson won and a most deserving winner she is, too. I came in second. But then, the whole Fan Writer category was full of awesome people, everyone of whom would have been a highly deserving winner. And in fact, the speech I never got to hold would have specifically said that as far as I am concerned, everybody in the Fan Writer category is a winner.
As you probably know, I was a Hugo finalist for Best Fan Writer this year. However, due to the continuing covid pandemic and the generally terrible timing of having a Worldcon on the fourth advent weekend, I couldn’t attend in person. Luckily, DisCon III was a hybrid event and while the virtual components didn’t always work as well as they should have (a full DisCon III report is coming, though likely after the holidays), DisCon III did a really good job taking care of the Hugo finalists both virtually on on site.
Due to the six hour time difference between Washington DC and Germany, the ceremony was supposed to start at 2 AM my time. An added complication was that I had a German class in the morning, so no sleeping in, and a Worldcon panel in the afternoon, so no afternoon nap either. I did manage to take a nap from 8 to 9 PM, but I was still pretty tired.
In the late afternoon, I did dress up in my full Hugo outfit – evening gown, tiara, jewellery, etc… – so my Dad could take a few photos. Unfortunately, he’s not nearly as good a photographer as Olav Rokne and Amanda Wakaruk of the Best Fanzine finalist Unofficial Hugo Book Club Blog who did the official photos this year, which you can see here.
Meanwhile, here are the pics my Dad took of me in my parents’ living room:
Behold my Hugo gown and tiara. I think I look like I just stepped out of the cover of a late 1920s issue of Weird Tales.
And here is another photo, where you can see the necklace and tiara better.
Here’s a close-up look at my Hugo tiara/circlet. It’s flexible, so it fits around the head, though I had to fasten it with hairpins.
Once my Dad had taken the photos, I changed to regular house clothes again, because the ceremony was still several hours away and while the gown is not uncomfortable, it’s also for those wide sleeves to get caught on something. Plus, the tiara tends to slip after a while.
The Hugo ceremony was supposed to start at 2 AM. Sometime during Saturday evening, I got an e-mail that it would be delayed and start an hour later, i.e. 3 AM my time, due to a technical issue, which later turned out to be a small electrical fire in the ballroom where the Hugo ceremony was due to be held.
The pre-Hugo reception was still supposed to start two hours before the ceremony and there was a virtual version via Zoom. So I dialled into Zoom at a little after midnight and hung out with Best Novelette finalist (and eventual winner) Sarah Pinsker, who tested positive for covid (thankfully asymptomatic) on the day before the con and couldn’t attend in person, Best Editor finalists Navah Wolfe and Sheila E. Gilbert, Best Pro Artist finalist and friend Alyssa Winans, Best Short Story finalist John Wiswell and Brandon O’Brien, poetry editor of the Best Semiprozine finalist (and eventual winner) FIYAH as well as Alyshondra Meacham, who played hostess for the virtual finalists. We admired each other’s outfits, Alyssa’s freshly baked crab bread and the antics of Sarah’s dog.
The Zoom party was beamed into the main party via a tablet or laptop, so we could see our fellow finalists in Washington DC and could talk to them. Plenty of people came over to say hello and good luck. Outfits were admired – and honestly, the Hugos have the best range of outfits. It’s like the Oscars, only crazier. After all, we had two of Santa’s elves there, otherwise known as John and Krissy Scalzi. And best of all, you have a lot of people with realistic bodies at the Hugos. The masks made it a bit difficult to recognise people, even if I knew them, though thankfully Sarah was really good at recognising people under their masks. The noise level in the ballroom also made it difficult to talk, so we made signs to hold up saying things like “Good luck!”, “Great dress/suit/outfit” and – this was John Wiswell’s – “I’m rooting for you and only you, I promise.” I enjoyed the whole set-up a lot and hope that future Worldcons adopt this idea, so even finalists who cannot be present in person get a taste of the ceremony.
About 45 minutes before the ceremony was due to start, we were transferred to the finalist Zoom green room. I did a mike and light check, redonned my gown and tiara and waited for the show to start. There was a brief announcement that the Hugo Awards were sponsored by Google and another company whose name I did not catch, though my Dad did and remarked, “Raytheon Technologies: They make radar systems.” And this was literally all I noticed about what would turn out to be the night’s biggest scandal until I woke up the next day around noon and saw people deeply upset about a sponsor. Though I did find it a little weird that sponsors were named before the start of the Hugo ceremony, because I had never experienced this before.
If you were on the ground in Washington DC, the Raytheon sponsorship would have been a bit more visible, since there logo appears in the Hugo ceremony program and was also plastered all over a red carpet photo area. Though most finalists failed to notice this, because if you’re a Hugo finalist, you’re nervous and the sponsor name and logo are the least of your concerns. Even if you notice the logo and sponsor name, you’re unlikely to google them in the middle of the ceremony, simply because you have other concerns at the time. And indeed, the sponsor never even came up in conversation during the virtual after-party (more on that later), most likely because no one had registered what sort of company was sponsoring the event at the time.
I don’t really want to talk about the sponsors of the Hugo ceremony here, but about the wonderful winners. However, since we’re apparently obliged to offer our two cents on the Raytheon controversy, here are mine: Having a company like Raytheon Technologies, even their Space and Intelligence division, sponsor a Worldcon and the Hugo ceremony was a spectacularly bad and tone-deaf decision. Worldcon is an international convention and its membership includes people from countries, whose inhabitants have found themselves on the wrong side of a Raytheon made missile. Honestly, how could anybody ever think that this decision was remotely acceptable. It was also apparently illegal, because an individual Worldcon can’t sell sponsorships for the Hugos, only the WSFS can and they had no idea about the sponsorship until the ceremony.
Also, none of the finalists were informed about the sponsors in any of the umpteen e-mails we got from DisCon III. Pretty much all finalists are angry to utterly furious about this decision. There are finalists whose religious beliefs are violated by being associated with a weapons manufacturer, finalists who are getting massive pushback from their fans, finalists who worry about professional consequences, because they work for peace and human rights organisations in their day job. If the Raytheon thing had been known beforehand, there would have been massive pushback, and part of me suspects that this is precisely the reason why no one knew until the night of the ceremony. Yet, now the finalists and winners are being harrassed about the whole thing and suddenly associated with a company none of us want anything to do with. See this open letter by Worldcon member Jake Casella Brookins who wonders how complicit the Hugo finalists are in the Raytheon thing.
However, what makes this whole Raytheon thing even more infuriating – beyond the fact that it happened in the first place – is that it’s sucking all the air out of the room. Instead of celebrating the many great works that won a Hugo, we’re arguing about Raytheon and giving them free publicity. Yes, it’s mostly bad publicity, but even that is giving them attention. Plus, much of the harassment of Hugo finalists is coming from a clique surrounding what is essentially a troll with an agenda that I’m pretty sure goes far beyond outrage about a weapons manufacturer sponsoring the Hugos. Especially since the same clique was involved in another harassment incident less then a month ago. Personally, I think that we should no more feed trolls than feed Raytheon.
Now I’ve wasted way too many words on DisCon’s bad decisions and a terrible company, let’s get to the actual ceremony, which was very good indeed, especially after last year’s complete and utter disaster. Hosts Sheree Renee Thomas and Andrea Hairston did a great job and made the ceremony move along at a snappy pace. And after last year, we all appreciated a snappy pace.
So let’s finally get to the actual Hugo winners:
The 2021 Hugo Award for Best Novel goes to Network Effect by Martha Wells, which wasn’t exactly a surprise, considering how beloved the Murderbot series is by pretty much everybody. A look at the voting breakdown shows Network Effect leading by a large margin from the start, but then everybody loves Murderbot. I’m a bit surprised that Harrow the Ninth finished in last place, but then it was not only a sequel, but also something of a Marmite book.
If you look at the nominations, Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia barely missed the ballot, which is a pity, since I enjoyed it more than some of the books that actually made the ballot.
The usual suspects who worry about the lack of men on the Best Novel ballot will be pleased to note the presence of Kim Stanley Robinson, John Scalzi and T.J. Klune on the longlist. The longlist also offers something of a surprise, because at No. 14 there is a novel called The Rude Eye of Rebellion by one J.R.H. Lawless. I had never heard of either the novel or the author, which is extremely unusual for the Hugo longlist. A look at the EPH distribution also shows that there was little overlap with other novels nominated in the same category. I guess this is a case of enthusiastic fans of one author buying Worldcon memberships to nominate them, especially since J.R.H. Lawless also shows up on the longlist for the Astounding Award.
The winner of the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Novella is The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo. I have to admit this win surprised me, because while I have read the novella, I remember barely anything about it only a few months later. There usually is one Hugo finalist like this for me – a book or story I read and promptly forget, so that come voting time I have to remind myself what that one was about. It’s usually not a story I dislike, because I do remember the ones I didn’t like.
There are no real surprises on the longlist except maybe for The Stone Weta by New Zealand author Octavia Cade, which wasn’t on my radar at all. But then, Worldcon was theoretically in New Zealand last year.
The 2021 Hugo Award for Best Novelette goes to Sarah Pinsker for “Two Truths and a Lie” and a most deserved win it is, too. But then, the novelette category was very strong this year with only one story I didn’t like.
The voting breakdown shows that the infamous “Helicopter Story” by Isabel Fall was leading after the first three rounds, but was then overtaken by “Two Truths and a Lie” and two other stories to finish in fifth place. I guess this is due to the fact that it’s very much a Marmite story. Those who enjoyed it love it very much indeed, but it generated little support (and even intense dislike) outside its fanbase. I’m one of those who disliked the story, though I’m glad it was not no awarded, because Isabel Fall doesn’t deserve that. Especially since she was also dragged into the Raytheon controversy due to the theme of her story.
The longlist doesn’t offer a lot of surprised, though a story from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction made the longlist, something which is rare for the formerly Big Three print zines these days.
Best Short Story
The winner of the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Short Story is “Metal Like Blood in the Dark” by T. Kingfisher a.k.a. Ursula Vernon, who also regaled the audience with fascinating facts about slime mold in lieu of an acceptance speech.
This was another extremely strong category and indeed, any one of the six finalists would have been a most worthy winner.
ETA: Several people pointed out that the story “This is New Gehesran Calling” by Rebecca Fraimow was actually published in the anthology Consolation Songs, edited by Iona Datt Sharma. The story generated some fanfiction, so when I googled the title, the AO3 link came up first, hence my mistake.
The winner of the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Series is… Murderbot! But then, as I said, everybody loves Murderbot, who has won four Hugos by now, making Martha Wells one of the comparatively few people to win two Hugos in the same year.
I have said several times that IMO the Best Series Hugo (which was voted a permanent Hugo at the DisCon III business meeting) isn’t working the way it was originally intended, namely to award popular long-running series, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We do have one such series – October Daye – on the shortlist and several more – The Dresden Files, Peter Grant/Rivers of London, Foreigner or the Liaden Universe – on the longlist. But all too often, the finalists are trilogies, often ones where one or several volumes were nominated for Best Novel, or cases of “If you squint really hard, these novels set in the same universe form a series.”
But even though I’m not always happy with the finalists for Best Series, the winners so far have all been beloved and most worthy series.
The 2021 Hugo Award for Best Related Work goes to Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley. This wasn’t my favourite in this category – that would be A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky by Lynell George – but it’s a win I’m very happy with.
It is my fervent belief that the Best Related Work category should be more non-fiction books as well as the occasional essay or documentary. In practice, however, it is increasingly turning into a grab bag category for Best Fannish Thing. Therefore, I’m happy that an actual book – even if it was not a non-fiction book per se, but something which would not have fit any other category – won this year.
This year, there were two edge case finalists – the virtual conventions FIYAHCon and CoNZealand Fringe – on the ballot (three, if you count The Last Bronycon documentary) as well as one highly controversial finalist, Natalie Luhrs’ sweary essay about last year’s never-ending Hugo ceremony from hell. As a result, Best Related has an extremely high No Award count this year, particularly Natalie Luhrs’ essay and CoNZealand Fringe.
Meanwhile, a look at the longlist reveals just what a mess the Best Related Work category is. There are five actual non-fiction books on the longlist, several of whom would have been highly worthy finalists, as well as three articles/essays (I would be okay with those, though I prefer meatier books to articles) and two more finalists – the Concellation 2020 Facebook Group and the Hugo Spreadsheet of Doom – which, though worthy projects, don’t really belong here.
A lot of great SFF related non-fiction books have been published in 2021 and I do hope that we see some of those on the Hugo ballot next year rather than yet more Best Fannish Thing finalists.
Best Graphic Story
The winner of the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story is Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, written by Octavia Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy and illustrated by John Jennings. This is not particularly surprising, considering Parable of the Sower is a beloved (and timely) work by a beloved author.
Best Dramatic Presentation Long
The 2021 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form goes to The Old Guard, which made me very happy, since this was hands down my favourite in this category. But then, I was quite underwhelmed by the other finalists in this category.
A look at the nomination data reveals that season 2 of The Mandalorian would have made the ballot , but was disqualified due to gaining more nominations in short form. Further down the ballot, we have several TV show seasons – often better TV shows than what made the ballot in Best Related Short, including the German made Netflix show Dark. The movies that missed the ballot – the delightful Wolfwalkers, scrappy indie flick The Vast of Night and a feminist take on The Invisible Man – are better than what was actually nominated, too. I’m a bit surprised that Wonder Woman 1984 didn’t even make the longlist, because I actually enjoyed it more than the first one. But then a lot of people really seemed to dislike it.
Best Dramatic Presentation Short
The winner of the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation is once again an episode of The Good Place.
This is the one Hugo win this year I’m really unhappy with. Yes, I know a lot of people really, really love The Good Place (though a lot of people, including me, also really hate it), but did it really need to win four years in a row? Especially considering that we’re in an unprecedented age of excellent SFF TV.
And indeed, a look at the longlist gives us several episodes of Star Trek Discovery and Star Trek Picard, one episode each of Lovecraft Country, What We Do in the Shadows and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as additional episodes of The Mandalorian, She-Ra and Doctor Who.
Best Editor Short
The 2021 Hugo Award for Best Editor Short Form goes to Ellen Datlow. Now Ellen Datlow is undoubtedly a most accomplished editor and worthy winner. However, she has also won in this category seven times already, so I would have been happy to see someone else win.
I’m also surprised that C.C. Finlay finished in last place, since he did a great job on The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, plus this was the last chance to honour him.
Best Editor Long
The winner of the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Editor Long Form is Diana M. Pho and a most deserving winner she is, too.
A look at the nominations reveals that due to the magic of EPH Toni Weisskopf of Baen Books would have made the ballot, but declined the nomination. Now Toni Weisskopf was originally announced to be one of the Guests of Honour of DisCon III, but after Best Fan Writer finalist Jason Sanford reported that the Baen Books‘ forum Baen’s Bar hosted hate speech and incitement to terrorism on a subforum, something which got Sanford inundated with harassment and which Toni Weisskopf defended as free speech, Weisskopf withdrew from her Guest of Honour spot.
The people who nominated her for Best Editor were either infuriated by this – since Worldcon Guest of Honours withdrawing or being uninvited almost never happens – or they are die-hard Baen Books fans or both. The EPH data also shows that there was very little overlap with other finalists in this category, confirming that Baen Books has an almost cult-like following in its niche, but increasingly less relevance in the wider genre. Personally, I also think Toni Weisskopf was probably wise to withdraw, because the chance that she would have been no awarded again is pretty high, especially after her response to the Baen’s Bar incident.
Best Professional Artist
The 2021 Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist goes to Rovina Cai.
This was probably the most difficult category for me to rank, because all of the finalists did amazing work. And indeed, the artist I placed last only ended up there, because he had won in this category before, while the others hadn’t.
The winner of the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine is FIYAH Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction.
I was in the bathroom, getting into more comfortable clothes, when this category was announced and my cheers were so loud that the neighbours probably woke up, because this win made me so happy. FIYAH has been doing stellar work for several years now. They’re also lovely people and I’m so happy for them that they finally won. Besides, much as I like Uncanny, there are other semiprozines doing great work out there.
Looking at the longlist, the Escape Artists podcast empire did really way with Escape Pod and Podcastle making the ballot and PseudoPod and Cast of Wonders making the longlist. Two of the magazines on the longlist, Lightspeed and Clarkesworld, are pro mags and therefore ineligible. It’s great to see Anathema recognised.
The 2021 Hugo Award for Best Fanzine goes to nerds of a feather. This is a highly deserved win for a fanzine that has been nominated several times, but never won so far. Plus, they’re friends.
On the longlist, we see that my other blogging home Galactic Journey just missed the ballot. There are a lot of other good fanzines on the longlist as well such as SF in Translation, Salon Futura, Women Write About Comics and The Drink Tank.
The winner of the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Fancast is The Coode Street Podcast. This is another win that is not only highly deserved, but has also been a long time coming, because The Coode Street Podcast has been nominated many times, but never won so far.
The longlist has a lot of great podcasts like Octothorpe, Hugo Girl!, Hugos There and Our Opinions Are Correct. However, there are also many podcasts I’ve never heard of, even though I interviewed a whole lot of podcasters for the Fancast Spotlight project. It seems we really are in the golden age of SFF podcasting.
Best Fan Writer
As mentioned above, Elsa Sjunneson won and she is a highly deserving winner and also delivered a great acceptance speech. I finished in second place and actually led in the first round.
There are 57 Hugo voters out there who hate all of us so much – probably because we don’t write for traditional paper fanzines – that they no award the entire category. You can’t help these people and I don’t worry about them. Meanwhile, I’m happy that not a lot more people hated me personally so much that they no awarded me than no awarded the whole category.
The longlist reveals a lot of worthy candidates, including Athena Scalzi in what would be one of the very few cases (the only other one I can think of are Mike and Laura Resnick) of two generations of the same family earning Hugo nominations.
Best Fan Artist
The winner of the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Fan Artist is Sara Felix. This is the other Hugo winner that made me cheer out loud – not just because Sara does excellent work, though she does and I love her tiaras, but she is someone who has been nominated many times and even designed several Hugo bases as well as the Lodestar Award and pin and has yet never won.
The nomination data reveals that the excellent Thai artist Tithi Luadthong, whose amazing work graces the cover of my In Love and War series and several Kurval stories, actually had sufficient votes to make the ballot, but had no eligible work produced in 2021. I suspect this is due to the labyrinthine (and in dire need of an overhaul) rules for the Best Fan Artist Hugo, because I personally saw new Tithi Luadthong artwork in 2021.
The 2021 Hugo Award for Best Videogame goes to Hades.
This was a one-of special Hugo awarded by DisCon III, probably as a trial to see if there is sufficient interest in a permanent videogame category.
I’m not a gamer, so I was initially sceptical about this category. Besides, there already are plenty of awards for videogames, so do they really need a Hugo, too?
However, I chanced to chat with Hades developer Greg Kasavin at the virtual Hugo after-party for a while and he was lovely and also absolutely over the moon to have won, which made me a lot more positively inclined towards that category. For even though I don’t particularly care about videogames, the Hugo Award really made someone’s day and that’s great.
The winner of the 2021 Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book is A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher a.k.a. Ursula Vernon, making her the second double winner of the night after Martha Wells.
I loved A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking – after all, it has magical sourdough – so I’m thrilled to see it recognised here.
The Lodestar was also reratified at the DisCon III business meeting and is now a permanent not-a-Hugo.
The 2021 Astounding Award for Best New Writer goes to Emily Tesh.
I have to admit that this win astounded me. Not because Emily Tesh doesn’t do good work – she does – but because this category was extremely strong this year.
The runner-up on the longlist is Caitlin Starling, who would be highly deserving, only that I’m not sure she is actually eligible, since she has an active horror career.
Our friend J.R.H. Lawless shows up further down the longlist again with seventeen of his fans nominating him.
All in all, there are some excellent Hugo winners this year with only one winner (The Good Place) I’m not happy with. Even though I lost, I finished in second place again, which is great as well.
After the ceremony, I went for a quick walk and then attended the virtual after-party (the name Hugo Losers Party has thankfully been retired). The set-up was similar to the set-up of the reception with the virtual finalists being beamed into the main ballroom.
And so I had a great time with Sarah Pinsker and her sister Amira, Navah Wolfe, Alyssa Winans, my fellow Best Fan Writer finalist Charles Payseur, Hades developer Greg Kasavin and Brandon O’Brien with whom I have hung out at three Hugo after-parties (Dublin, CoNZealand and DisCon III) in a row now.
Around a quarter past six, the virtual party broke up and I went to bed, only to awake to the Raytheon controversy.
Still, the Raytheon thing aside, I had a great time. Besides, we have a most excellent set of Hugo winners this year and I wish we would talk more about that and less about the weapons company which managed to sponsor the Hugos.
A full con report of DisCon III is coming in a few days, once I’ve gotten past the TV show backlog.
Comments are open, but if anybody wants to troll about Baen, Raytheon or anything else, I shall be moderating with extreme prejudice.
In the meantime, I have another Fancast Spotlight for you. For more about the Fanzine/Fancast Spotlight project, go here. You can also check out the other great fanzines and fancasts featured by clicking here.
Therefore, I’m happy to welcome Jordan Douglas Smith of The Dark Crusade to my blog:
Tell us about your podcast or channel.
The Dark Crusade is dedicated to the life and work of writer/editor/publisher Karl Edward Wagner. We are systematically moving through his work, discussing it from a historical and literary lens. In addition to the podcast, we have a companion blog that covers additional facts about the stories, links to scholarship, and overviews of some of the collections Wagner has edited.
Who are the people behind your podcast or channel?
I would say I’m (Jordan Douglas Smith) the driving force behind the project. In the first season, I was joined by F. N. York. After that, Jonathan Gelatt came on as co-host.
Why did you decide to start your podcast or channel?
It started as an obsession with Karl Edward Wagner. I was enthralled with his ability to wear the three different hats of writer, editor, and publisher. On top of that, he was a book collector!
The more I learned about him; I began to see an emerging narrative where he was a champion of the unknown writer, both new writers on the scene and writers who were fading into obscurity. My own experience of Wagner was that he was fading into obscurity, and folks from my generation and younger weren’t familiar with his work.
I want to spread the word and make sure he remains in the conversation. And if folks want to learn more about him, they have a place to go, a place to start looking deeper. The podcast also gives me the structure to continue my research of Wagner as I try to paint my own picture of who he was.
What format do you use for your podcast or channel and why did you choose this format?
We examine his stories one at a time, dedicating a whole episode to each tale or several episodes to each novel. I build each season around a book or two. Season one was his horror collection In a Lonely Place. In season two, we switched to his gothic fantasy character Kane, covering Night Winds and Bloodstone, and in season three, we returned to Kane covering Dark Crusade and Death Angel’s Shadow.
The idea is that if you can get your hands on a copy of his work, you can listen to a whole season of the show. Since a lot of his work is hard to find, especially the horror, I didn’t want to jump around a lot among his collections.
I love the individual story format. I have a background as a theater actor; one thing you do in theater is repeat the same story over and over and over, night after night. Something really unlocks when you keep examining the same story again and again. In the prep for these episodes, I try to recreate that feeling and peel the story apart, line by line, looking for every kernel of influence and nuance.
The fan categories at the Hugos were there at the very beginning, but they are also the categories which consistently gets the lowest number of votes and nominations. So why do you think fanzines, fancasts and other fan projects are important?
So many reasons. The most important reason is community. Fans can go to these focal points and meet other folks with similar interests. So many times, my base of knowledge and my exposure to work is expanded and enriched.
These fan communities can also become a breeding ground for the future editors and writers of their genres. I have seen several editorial relationships spring from these areas. It’s also the perfect realm to cut your teeth and begin building experience producing your own media and writing.
To be crass, fan projects are also helpful to sales. Fan movements tend to snowball and become large marketing machines. Honestly, that is in the back of my mind. If we can get enough Wagner fans talking about him and bring on enough new folks, someone will see the dollar signs and reissue the work in affordable versions.
In the past twenty years, fanzines have increasingly moved online and fancasts have sprung up. What do you think the future of fan media looks like?
Hard to say. I think it’s going to continue moving into the digital realm. We’re going to see more fan YouTubers and more podcasts. At the same time, I feel like I’ve seen a yearning for physical media. Cracking the nut of funding something like that will be a determining factor, I’m sure.
I have also recently begun to go back to cons. They have been wonderful but also not nearly as packed as before. Many of the programming has been hybrid, which allows fans to experience some of the cons from home. I think some of that community fan experience will also transition online. I’m not sure if cons will be as well attended as in the past.
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. Are there any awesome fanzines, fancasts, fan writers and fan artists you’d like to recommend?
I have been obsessed with the Whetstone discord recently. It has a welcoming vibe and a ton of enthusiasm for sword & sorcery. It is a sort of companion space to Whetstone magazine (which I’m loving).
I’m also a regular listener of Appendix N, Rogues in the House, Lovecraft eZine, and for film fans Fragments of Fear, a Giallo podcast! Can I also add Oliver Brackenbury’s podcast So I’m Writing a Novel…? It is a mix of interviews and episodes about his journey writing a novel. Oliver himself has been a champion of other folks in the community spreading the good word of fandom and helping connect people.
I also read James Maliszewski’s Grognardia and Brian Murphy’s The Silver Key.
Congressional On-Site Viewing (Virtual), Thursday, December 16, 1:00 pm EST
In honor of his recent passing, our panelists explore the continuing influence of Charles Saunders’ inversion of sword and sorcery — “sword and soul” — on current writers and publishers such as P. Djeli Clark, Nalo Hopkinson, Troy Wiggins, and Sheree Renée Thomas. Learn how FIYAH Magazine and others are continuing Saunders’ work of encouraging Black speculative fiction writing collectives. Hear about the efforts to turn the Imaro books into a TV series.
Panelists: Carl Cipra, Sheree Renée Thomas, Milton Davis, Cora Buhlert
The late Charles R. Saunders is a writer I wish more people would read, but as happens so often with writers from marginalised backgrounds, he is not nearly as well known as he should be. I’m very happy to be on this panel and talk about his work, so drop by to learn more about Charles Saunders and then go out and buy all of his books.
Harris (Virtual), Friday, December 17, 10:00 am EST
Online small group conversation with Cora Buhlert.
Advance signup is required to attend this session. Please use the “Access Virtual Link” below to register through SignupGenius. A Zoom meeting link will be emailed to registered participants 24 hours before the Kaffeeklatsch begins. The email you use to sign up must match the email associated with your DisCon III registration.
This is the first time I’m doing a Kaffeeklatsch (and for me it will actually be coffee time), so sign up and drop by to chat with me, so I won’t be sitting there all alone drinking coffee and eating holiday cookies.
Congressional On-Site Viewing (Virtual), Saturday, December 18, 10:00 am EST
Writing passionately about our genres is, for many of us, what it’s all about. The internet has supported an explosion of fan writing in many forms, on many topics. Good-quality fan writing can now be found about almost every thing. In this panel Hugo-nominated authors will talk about their fan writing, why they write it, and what they think makes good fan writing.