My Hugo Ballot 2014

The voting deadline for the Hugo Awards is tomorrow, July 31st, and I’ve read as much of the Hugo content as I’m going to have time for. So, the time has come for me to cast my ballot and put awards aside until next year. As I’ve done the last couple years, I’ve publicly shared what my ballot is going to look like, as kind of a final section of my Hugo review that is kind of an overarching look at what I thought of the categories. I didn’t read work in all the categories, so I’ve abstained from voting in those that I had no familiarity with and left them off the ballot.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with how the voting system works, it used an instant runoff scheme which allows you to rank all of your choices. First, they count everyone’s first choice. If no one gets more than half the votes, then the lowest ranked one in that scheme is eliminated, and anyone who chose that one as their first choice then has their 2nd choice tallied instead. And so on until there is a clear winner. It is possible to vote for “No Award” which you do if you would rather no one win at all than for the remaining ones to win, and in the end if too many ranked No Award above the eventual vote-winner, then no award is given.

 

Best Novel

  1. The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books / Orbit UK) (I reviewed it here)
  2. Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK) (I reviewed it here)
  3. Neptune’s Brood, Charles Stross (Ace / Orbit UK) (will post review on July 30)
  4. Parasite, Mira Grant (Orbit US/Orbit UK) (I reviewed it here)
  5. No Award

I also reviewed Larry Correia’s Warbound here but ranked it below No Award. I didn’t get a copy of Neptune’s Brood until quite late in the game. I won’t finish it before the deadline but I’ve read far enough to get an overall impression to rank it here. I originally planned to post this ballot on July 30, but decided to post my partial review of Neptune’s Brood on that day to give me a couple more days of reading.

 

Best Novella

  1. “Equoid”, Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)
  2. “The Chaplain’s Legacy”, Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)
  3. No Award

I reviewed this year’s Novella category here for more details.

 

Best Novelette

  1. “The Waiting Stars”, Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam)
  2. “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”, Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2013)
  3. “The Lady Astronaut of Mars”, Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com/Tor.com, 09-2013)
  4. No Award

I reviewed this year’s nominees here for more details.

 

Best Short Story

  1. “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”, John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)
  2. No Award

I reviewed this year’s nominees here for more details.

 

Best Related Work

  1. “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative”, Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)

 

Best Graphic Story

  1. The Meathouse Man, adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Raya Golden (Jet City Comics)
  2. Girl Genius, Volume 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City, written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
  3. No Award

I reviewed this year’s nominees here for more details.

 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  1. Iron Man 3, screenplay by Drew Pearce & Shane Black, directed by Shane Black (Marvel Studios; DMG Entertainment; Paramount Pictures)
  2. Gravity, written by Alfonso CuarÃ’ n & JonÃ’ s CuarÃ’ n, directed by Alfonso CuarÃ’ n (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films; Warner Bros.)
  3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, screenplay by Simon Beaufoy & Michael Arndt, directed by Francis Lawrence (Color Force; Lionsgate)
  4. Frozen,screenplay by Jennifer Lee, directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee (Walt Disney Studios)
  5. Pacific Rim, screenplay by Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro, directed by Guillermo del Toro (Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros., Disney Double Dare You)

I reviewed this year’s nominees here for more details.

 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  1. Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere”, written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  2. No Award

Game of Thrones is awesome, and that was one of the best episodes in the series so far. I haven’t seen the rest of the category, but I am tired of episodes of Dr. Who dominating the ballot. There ARE other worthwhile things being published in SF, people. I’d rather Dr. Who would not be on the ballot or win anymore, so I’m voting accordingly. I haven’t seen Orphan Black, don’t know anything about it–so I don’t want to vote for it with no knowledge, but to vote No Award above Dr. Who episodes there’s nothing to do but lump Orphan Black in with them.

 

Best Editor, Short Form

  1. John Joseph Adams
  2. Neil Clarke
  3. Sheila Williams

 

Best Professional Artist

  1. Dan Dos Santos
  2. Julie Dillon
  3. John Picacio
  4. John Harris
  5. Galen Dara

I based these entirely on the portfolio included in the Hugo packet. Though I do have a soft spot for Dos Santos–I have an autographed print of his portrait of Moiraine Damodred hanging in my office at home. They’re all good but I tend to like the styles that make the people seem very real, and convince me that everything unrealistic is just as real.

 

Best Semiprozine

  1. Lightspeed Magazine
  2. Beneath Ceaseless Skies

 

Best Fanzine

  1. Dribble of Ink

 

Best Fancast

  1. No Award

It’s not that I hate the nominees. It’s just that, with all the amazing fiction podcasts out there, I find it extremely disappointing that only nonfiction podcasts are on the ballot, and that the only fiction podcast that’s ever been on the ballot had to heavily pander to get there. If fiction podcasts aren’t going to be recognized in this category, then I hope this trial category is short-lived.

 

Best Fan Writer

  1. Kameron Hurley

 

Best Fan Artist

  1. Sarah Webb

I based these entirely on the portfolio included in the Hugo packet, which only included work from three of the five nominees for some reason.

 

Hugo Graphic Story Review 2014

written by David Steffen

And here’s the graphic story section of my Hugo review. This is one I look forward to every year because it’s kind of a wild card. I never know what to expect out of this because I don’t really follow graphic stories at all. Last year I got to read Schlock Mercenary for the first time. This time I get to read Girl Genius for the first time.

Note that there was one story that I didn’t read and review because for whatever reason it wasn’t included in the Hugo packet: That was Saga Volume 2. I reviewed Saga Volume 1 last year which you can read here.

 

1. The Meathouse Man, adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Raya Golden (Jet City Comics)
This story follows a hopeful young man in a bleak future. The least desirable jobs on the least desirable planets are done by “corpse” workers, the bodies of debtors and criminals whose brains have been replaced with remote control implants. The protagonist is a handler whose job is to control a crew of corpses for mining work. He tags along with his fellow miners to the local meathouse a house of prostitutes where the talent are more corpse workers. But he’s not like the other guys. He doesn’t just want to have sex with dead meat. He wants love.

This story is bleak as hell, both in the setting (though of course the characters are used to that) and in the themes and conclusion the character draws from his experiences. I don’t buy into the message the character tries to convey in the story, but for me to enjoy it I don’t have to buy into it I just have to believe that he could have that message.

 

2. Girl Genius, Volume 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City, written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
Agatha Heterodyne is the last of a mythically heroic bloodline and is also a spark (a trait that makes her a genius, it’s basically a mad scientist gene). The Wulfenbach Empire that controls Europa is after her for both of these reasons and will stop at nothing to get her. After many adventures in the previous issues, she has made her way to her ancestral home in Mechanicsburg and has convinced the town and the intelligent Castle itself of her identity. But while she’s done this, a number of other sparks have gathered their own tiny but dangerous armies, and the Wulfenbach Empire itself is poised to attack. She has to figure out how to fully activate Castle’s defenses to defend herself and her town.

Not too surprisingly, there was a lot of this story I didn’t follow. There was a nice summary page at the beginning that summed up much of what I paraphrased in my own summary, which was immensely helpful. There were a lot of character relationships I didn’t really follow–was never really sure if particular people were essentially good guys or essentially bad guys. There were also a lot of other things that raised more qeustions than answers. What’s with the talking cat courtier? What are the jagers, why do they have viciously pointed teeth and all talk with barely understandable exaggerated accents? That’s not really a flaw in the story itself, since volume thirteen is the first one I’ve ever read. So I’m not going to hold that against it, although it did make it hard to get really really into it fully.

Still, it seemed like it had good characters, some good humor, and lots of very clever ideas–the idea of a mad scientist as a protagonist and pinning them against a world where their mad scientist skills have to be pushed to their limits just to survive. Great idea and I think that if I had kept up with this one in the past this could be a really solid entry in the series. Really, considering I’m jumping in way late in the series, I couldn’t expect more.

 

3. “Time”, Randall Munroe (XKCD)
The sea is rising. Two friends from a clan of people who make their living scavenging trash from the leavings of a bigger society explore inland to see what they can see.

This story was rolled out as frames released periodically, numbering at about 3000 in total. If you follow the link i provided with the list entry, you can see one place where they’re all collected together in an easy to use format. You can either set the animation to play automatically where it will pause longer on special frames (like ones with dialog). Or you can go through yourself, including using the mouse wheel to go through them at your own pace (which is what I did).

I love XKCD. I thought the premise of the story was really solid and enjoyed it especially as the tension ramped up in the last sections of the story. But I thought the pacing could use a lot of work. The first section was about building a bunch of sand castles. Which was cute, but not exactly tense. There was some foreshadowing there as they notice the sea level is rising but I really wanted that to ramp up the tension. Their trip inland was likewise just kind of on their whim, just to see what they could find, not exactly tense though there was certainly an element of danger in exploring the unknown. I thought the story really picked up when they finally meet someone who can make some explanations, and I thought the method for showing the language barrier was a clever one (the text of the dialog is all smudged and overwritten with other words so that you’re lucky if you can make out the gist).

So, I thought it was all pretty decent, and was tense in the end, but could’ve used some more work on the pacing.

 

4. “The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who”, written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Jimmy Broxton (Doctor Who Special 2013, IDW)
The Tardis takes a wrong turn and Dr. Who ends up in our world and meets a girl who is a huge Dr. Who fan. He attends a Dr. Who convention and has to find a way to get back home, all while helping the girl.

Judging by the Hugo vote every year, I’m the only SF fan left who isn’t also a Dr. Who fan. I’ve seen clips but not a whole episode, so I can’t say I dislike it but so far I haven’t felt moved to seek it out either, and I do find it a little annoying when the show dominates the Hugo Dramatic Presentation Short Form every year.

So I’m clearly not the intended audience for this story. I read it through, gave it a shot. It was clearly meant to be campy, but if you don’t reside in that camp it doesn’t have much appeal, yeah? It probably isn’t the best choice of the first full installment of Dr. Who media to consume since it is so self-referential and I obviously don’t get all the references. But it doesn’t move me to want to find more.

The Best of Clarkesworld 2013

written by David Steffen

Clarkesworld has expanded since I did the last list! Now they provide two reprint stories per month on top of the three originals that they were already publishing. And they’re in the middle of a subscription drive and if they meet their goal they’ll add another original to the mix. All of their stories are podcasted (most read by the very talented and extremely personable Kate Baker). It continues to be edited by Neil Clarke, and Neil recently announced that Clarkesworld is no longer eligible for the Best Semi-prozine Hugo Award because they made too much money. This is great news because it signals that the magazine is growing and doing well. You can still nominate the stories, and can nominate Neil himself for Best Editor, Short Form.

So, with this increase in publication rate, they put out a whopping 55 stories in the year of 2013.

 

The List

1. The Promise of Space by James Patrick Kelly
One of my favorite stories in recent memory, about a brain-damaged former astronaut and the artificial intelligence augment which tries to restore him to himself, and trying to re-establish a relationship with his wife. Unlike most stories on the podcast, which are read by Kate Baker alone, this was read by Kate Baker with the author James Patrick Kelly as the two main characters. I think I would’ve liked the story without that reading, but that reading really made it above and beyond IMO. Easily one of my Hugo picks for the year.

2. A Night at the Tarn House by George R. R. Martin
A story about a confrontation at an inn between several super-powered sorcerous types with different motivations and different abilities. It keeps you guessing until the end who will come out on top.

3. Mar Pacifico by Greg Mellor
Nanomachines have run so rampant that they have subsumed the ocean itself and many of the lifeforms on the planet. This is the story about one family’s fight against the all-consuming machines.

4. The Urashima Effect by E. Lily Yu
A space travel SF story with a fairy tale analog all wrapped up inside it. Well told, heartfelt.

5. The Wanderers by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
Aliens visit Earth who know us only by our entertainments, and are especially fans of the more gruesome ones that convince them that we will not treat them as monsters. But where is everybody?

6. 1016 to 1 by James Patrick Kelly
Another story by Mr. Kelly, of a time traveler visiting the past to try to prevent World War III.

 

Honorable Mentions

Melt With You by Emily C. Skaftun

Spar (The Bacon Remix) by Kij Johnson
(note, this is a silly version of a much more serious and adult story Spar previously published in Clarkesworld)

Out of Copyright by Charles Sheffield

 

My Hugo Ballot 2013

written by David Steffen

I’ve spent the last several months reviewing award nominees. I decided to take it one step further and post the final decisions that I plan to post to my Hugo ballot with explanations (where I deem them necessary) about why I voted the way I did. I encourage anyone reading this to post discussion in the comments about how they voted, why I am wrong in my choices, etc.

What makes this more interesting is that the Hugo Awards use an instant runoff voting system. You rank your changes from 1-x, and can also set a number to the “No Award” category. You can find all the nitty gritty details at the Hugo Page explaining votes. I like the system a lot, much more than just a simple single-cast vote, because if your primary vote is for the least popular story, your other preferences still count for something.

If you are a nominee, keep in mind that I am just judging these based on my own preferences and, though I aim to not make my reviews mean, if you don’t want to hear my honest opinion of your work than you might want to skip this article.

For a full list of the nominees, see the original announcement on the Hugo site.

 

Best Novel

1. Redshirts, John Scalzi (Tor; Gollancz)
2. Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW; Gollancz ’13)

Reasoning: I’ve only had time to read one book and a partial so far. I finished Redshirts and reviewed it here–I enjoyed it quite well, though there were some parts I didn’t like it was huge amounts of fun. I’ve started Throne of the Crescent Moon but haven’t finished it yet. Throne of the Crescent Moon is a solid book so far, but even though it has the strength of being set in a non-European based fantasy world, it still lacks the novelty that Redshirts has for me.

 

Best Novella

1. The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications)
2. After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications)
3. San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats by Mira Grant (Orbit)
4. The Stars Do Not Lie by Jay Lake (Asimov’s, Oct-Nov 2012)
5. No Award

Reasoning: The only story that I disliked enough to prefer no award was “On a Red Station, Drifting” by Aliette de Bodard. See my Novella Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.

 

Best Novelette

1. In Sea-Salt Tears by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
2. The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
3. Rat-Catcher by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)
4. The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
5. No Award

Reasoning: The only story that I disliked enough to prefer no award was “Fade to White” by Catherynne M. Valente. See my Novelette Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.

 

Best Short Story

1. Immersion by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld, June 2012)

2. Mono No Aware by Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)

3. No Award

Reasoning: The only story that I disliked enough to prefer no award was “Mantis Wives” by Kij Johnson. See my Short Story Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.

 

Best Graphic Story

1. Locke & Key, Vol. 5: Clockworks, Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)

2. Schlock Mercenary: Random Access Memorabilia Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (Hypernode Media)

3. Saga, Volume One, Brian K. Vaughn, art by Fiona Staples (Image)

4. No Award

Reasoning: See my Graphic Story Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.

 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

1. The Cabin in the Woods
2. The Avengers
3. The Hunger Games
4. Looper
5. The Hobbit

Reasoning: See my Dramatic Presentation, Long Form Hugo 2013 Review for more detail. I didn’t regret the time spent on any of the movies, so I gave them all a rank.

 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

1. Game of Thrones, “Blackwater”, Written by George R.R. Martin, Directed by Neil Marshall. Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (HBO)

Reasoning: I’ve never seen an episode of Dr. Who (gasp!), so I can’t comment on the show in any way. I’ve only ever seen the pilot episode of Fringe, which did not inspire me to watch further even though I was excited about the show from the trailers. But my wife and I are avid watchers of the Game of Thrones series. The show is really solid throughout, great writing, casting, special effects, set design, costume design, everything is really stellar. And this episode was an especially awesome episode of a major battle, with great tension and great action all around. Even if I had been familiar with any of the other nominees, it likely would’ve come on top.

I don’t have anything against any of the other four winning the award, so I’m not casting a “No Award” vote for this category. I’m sure that one of the Dr. Who episodes will win anyway.

 

Best Editor, Short Form

1. Neil Clarke
Neil does great work at Clarkesworld, and I look forward to every episode of Clarkesworld. I tend to have a bit of a polar reaction to Clarkesworld stories. I either love them or don’t get them at all. But when I love them, the stories are well worth listening to the others to get to. Also, as a writer, I appreciate Clarkesworld’s lightning-fast response times.

2. John Joseph Adams
I enjoy listening to the Lightspeed podcast as well. I tend to have a polar reaction to Lightspeed stories as well, and a similar appreciation for lightning-fast response times, and it was hard to decide which to rank higher. He and Neil are ranked close enough in my mind that it’s almost a toss-up between the two and I just gave Neil the edge because he’s been a head editor longer. It’s for cases like this that I really appreciate the instant runoff voting.

3. Stanley Schmidt
I am often not a huge fan of Analog stories, often too nuts-and-bolts for me. But they’ve published some really great ones. I will immediately buy any issue with Juliette Wade in the pages, because her linguistics-based SF stories that have run there are among my favorites. There was a Wade story last year, too, a definite bonus. This was Stanley’s last year as editor so it would be neat to see him win, but I’d rather vote based on who I thought was the best rather than nominating for warm fuzzies about the guy who retired.

4. Sheila Williams
I don’t read Asimov’s very regularly, simply because they don’t have a podcast. I have read good stories in the issues that I’ve bought, so I’d have no complaints about her winning.

Reasoning: I’m not familiar with Jonathan Strahan one way or the other. I’m not going to cast a vote for him, but I’m also not casting a “No Award” either.

 

Best Professional Artist

1. Dan Dos Santos
Dan Dos Santos is awesome. I have a print of his depiction of Moiraine Damodred on my office wall. I love his other art as well, such as his Warbreaker cover. He just has a very skilled hand and great eye. I rarely enjoy others’ cover art as much as his. His character art in particular is really great–the examples in the Hugo packet are good ones, especially the baby-toting warrior woman, and the punk woman in the bathroom.

2. John Picacio
I picked for a large part because of the Hyperion cover with the elaborate mechanical monstrosity holding a human infant. His other covers are really good too.

3. Julie Dillon
I LOVE the “Afternoon Walk” image, with all the monsters being walked like dogs in the park.

4. Chris McGrath
I like the gritty style of these, almost like found photos of fantastical places.

5. Vincent Chong

Reasoning: They always say not to judge a book by its cover, but in this case I had to judge the artist by his cover. The only one I’m very familiar with is Dos Santos, so I had to judge based only on the samples. This was a hard category to pick favorites. I would not be disappointed for any of these five who won the award. But, I’ve gotta pick someone.

 

 

Best Semiprozine

1. Beneath Ceaseless Skies
2. Clarkesworld
3. Lightspeed
4. Apex
5. Strange Horizons

Reasoning: See my Semiprozine Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.

 

Best Fanzine

1. SF Signal

Reasoning: I’ve enjoyed going to SF Signal for various content for years, so I’ll happily give them my vote. The other four I am aware of, but have never read. I’m not using the “No Award” vote, because I don’t have anything against the other four.

 

Best Fancast

1. No Award
2. SF Squeecast
3. SF Signal Podcast
4. Galactic Suburbia Podcast
5. The Coode Street Podcast

Reasoning: This is the second year that the Best Fancast category has been running, and all five of last years nominees are nominated again. This makes me think that no one is actually listening to them and is just nominating past nominees as a habit. I think this may also have to do with confusion over the classification of podcasts who pay their authors, like Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Escape Pod, Drabblecast, and so on. By the word of the rules, these would all be considered Fancasts but many people might guess that they would be classified as Semiprozines. I asked the question of the Hugo committee long before the nomination period ended to clarify publicly the classification of these, but they never responded to me. This is hurting my favorite magazine’s chances of getting award nominations because anyone who wants to nominate them may be splitting across categories. I was very disappointed that the Hugo Committee didn’t respond to my question.

In large part to raise my small voice of protest about the Hugo Committee’s lack of clarification, I am choosing No Award as my primary vote. I would love to see a quality fiction podcast get award nominations, and maybe even win. No offense to the nonfiction podcasters who do good work, but if I wanted to listen to a conversation about SF I would just talk to someone about SF. It’s the stories that I’m here for. And if my favorite fiction podcasts aren’t allowed into the category, then I’m not interested in the category.

It also bothers me that StarShipSofa is the lone fiction podcast representative, because their constant over-self-promotion, Hugo vote begging, unfiltered content , lack of payment is just too many factors that bother me about them. And that’s even not including the aborted nonfiction project they had planned some years ago to supporting a plagiaristic audio adaptation–it was aborted when the moral problems were pointed out to Tony, but I felt that an editor shouldn’t need to have this pointed out to him. It may seem wrong to criticize a “fancast” nominee for unprofessional policies, but venues like Escape Pod and Toasted Cake have shown me that just because a podcast is staffed by volunteers in their spare time doesn’t mean that there have to be no standards.

So I’ve ranked the four nonfiction podcasts about StarShipSofa so that even if “No Award” gets eliminated as a possibility, I’ll be encouraging one of the others to get the award rather than StarShipSofa.

 

Best Fan Artist

1. Spring Schoenhuth
I love the jewelry designs of Schoenhuth, particularly the Robot Transformation, and the Four Electron Atoms designs. I don’t generally wear jewelry other than my wedding ring but those make me want to start.

2. Galen Dara
a really neat dreamlike style. I particularly like the Ghost River Red image. It feels like a story, and the vivid reds of the hero and the shadowy adversary are very eye catching and intriguing.

3. Brad W. Foster

4. Maurine Starkey

5. Steve Stiles

Reasoning: As with the Professional Artist category, I had to judge these by their samples and would not be disappointed if any particular one of these won, but again i have to choose.

 

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (Not a Hugo)

1. Mur Lafferty

Reasoning: I confess that Mur is the only one whose stories I am familiar with, and I ran out of time to read the contributed works of the other authors. So, certainly no reason to use the No Award, but my lone vote is cast for Mur.

 

Conclusion

And that’s my take and my voting strategy on all of the categories where I picked up enough of the material to be able to cast votes. There are three categories that I didn’t touch at all: Best Fan Writer, Best Editor Long Form, and Best Related Work. In the In the Related Work category, I did not have time to read any of the nominees. In the Fan Writer and Editor Long Form, I am unfamiliar with these people’s work.

How did you vote? Care to share, drop a comment. I’ve enjoyed putting this together, and I think I’ll try to do the same series of articles again next year. Let me know if you enjoyed it, folks! Do you find it appealing to see how someone else spent his votes?

“WorldCon 2012 Con Report” or “David Steffen Finds Fandom”

written by David Steffen

I’m beginning to write this article from the huge lobby of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Chicago. It’s 10 o’clock Monday morning, the last day of WorldCon, which this year is Chicon 7. As I sit here and watch the escalators, ambushing familiar faces to sneak in some goodbyes, I am feeling very nostalgic about the weekend already.

This is the first big SF convention that I’ve ever been to, and the only one where I came with a large number of friends I’d known ahead of time. The only convention I’ve been to besides this has been MiniCon in the Twin Cities, which is a few hundred people, and although I’ve made some friends there, I didn’t know any of them ahead of time. Here at WorldCon there are literally dozens of people whom I have met in some respect, varying from casual acquaintances from forums, to editors who have considered my stories for their magazines, to close friends who I’ve been in continuous contact with for years. I tried to write down all the names of these people I’d met, and came up with at least 60, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some, with another dozen that I would’ve liked to meet but never quite got the chance.

I think I finally understand, to a much larger extent, what fandom is all about. The greatest thing about SF fandom is how welcoming it is to everyone. No matter what race, nationality, religion, sexuality, body type, no matter what, you are welcomed with open arms. I’ve always loved that, but previously–I don’t know exactly how to explain this–although I never felt unwelcome, I don’t think I ever felt like I was a PART of the group. I felt like I was being welcomed warmly into a group but not exactly part of the group. I think that everything about it was the way I have approached MiniCon attendance. I go to MiniCon during the day, show up at the first panel that I’m interested in and leave after the last panel I’m interested in. Since so much of the programming emphasizes panels, it seemed to me like panels were what it was about (despite others telling me that that wasn’t the point at all). And I would talk to people as the opportunity arose, but since I was so panel-focused, most of the time I spent was sitting listening to other people talk without a lot of opportunity for conversation with others. But now I’m realizing that the way that I have been approaching MiniCon is all wrong. Panels are good, but they’re not the point.

I can pinpoint the moment when this became real to me. One of the first panels I went to was “Short Story as Proving Ground” with some panelists that I’ve known online, Brad Torgersen, Vylar Kaftan, and others. I arrived late, and so I didn’t get a chance to talk to anyone beforehand. After the panel, I met quite a few people that I’ve known online for a long time, shook some hands and was quite happy to be meeting them. But when I met Annie Bellet, who’s been a friend online for years, she didn’t go for a handshake, she immediately gave me a big hug. And moments later a similar greeting from another longtime friend, Laurie Gailunas. I really felt, at that moment, like these people aren’t just friends, aren’t just colleagues. These people are family, welcoming me with open arms. I realize that sounds corny. But that’s how it felt, and that feeling has persisted through the rest of the con. So, thanks Annie, Laurie, and thanks everyone else who has made me feel so welcome.

I’m not even sure where to get started with this con report.

Dude, you’re really only getting STARTED? You’ve written flash fiction stories that are shorter than that introduction.

Don’t pay attention to that italicized bit. That’s my internal critic. He’s just cranky from being ignored–I don’t know how he got out of the dungeon. Anyway, back to the topic of where to get started: I thought about splitting it up by day, but figured that would get a bit too dry of a “list” format that wouldn’t at all match how I feel about my first big con experience.

The People

There is no way that I can possibly list all of the people that I met this weekend, so I’m not even going to try. I will mention a few. I roomed with Donald Mead and Bryant Thomas Schmidt, both very nice guys. I was very excited to meet Annie Bellet, Hugo-nominated Brad Torgersen, Laurie Gailunas, and Alastair Mayer, who I’ve been in a writing group with for the last few years. There are so many others that I met that I know through various forums or publications, Brennan Harvey, Thomas Carpenter, Alex Kane, Laurie Tom, Dawn Bonnana, Christie Yant (who wrote my favorite story in years, the Three Feats of Agani), Nancy Fulda, Gio Clairval. Many others whose work I have enjoyed over the years, like Rajan Khanna, David D. Levine, Ferret Steinmetz. And I got an autograph from Mr. George R. R. Martin, while managing not to go too fanboy on him.

As I have been sitting here writing this article, others have come and gone around me. I have been sitting next to a woman for the last hour as I type away, and moments ago realized that the woman is LaShawn Wanak, whom I have had many a discussion about fiction on the Escape Artists forums over the last few years! Man this is a crazy place, to meet so many people I know digitally.

The Editors

Wait, wait, aren’t editors people? What kind of stupid categories are these, anyway?

I concede that editors are people. Many of them might even be entirely human. Not John Joseph Adams, clearly, because he regularly violates causality by sending rejections from his Lightspeed EVEN BEFORE the story has been sent to him and somehow he does this without unraveling spacetime. On top of that, no flesh and blood human being could possibly juggle all the anthologies that he puts together all at the same time. Regardless of his superhuman state, he seems to be a very nice guy, even though he’s rejected my stories more than any other editor on the planet.

Also met Gordon Van Gelder, who was one of the first editors I submitted to at Fantasy & Science Fiction. And Stanley Schmidt, the current editor of Analog who has seen all the SF stories I’ve written, as well as Trevor Quachri, who will soon be inundated by my stories in Stan’s stead. Jason Sizemore. And Mur Lafferty, who has the unique distinction in my mind of being the only magazine editor I’ve met who has bought a story from me (for Escape Pod).

It was fun meeting these people, whom I’ve corresponded with so often, if in only the most spare and businesslike way.

Those dulcet tones

What kind of stupid category is that? “Those dulcet tones”. Sheesh.

There was one very small category of people whom I was especially excited to meet.

Wait, wait, so you had a category called “The People” followed by two categories which are subsets of people. Your Software Engineer’s license is going to be revoked if anyone ever founds out–

Ah, that’s better. I found my handy dandy internal critic club that I’d left in my other pants, and put it to good use. He’s back in the dungeons where he belongs. Anyway…

So this very small category is but a category of two, podcast hosts who have been keeping me company in a unidirectional fashion on my daily commute. Mur Lafferty, editor and host of Escape Pod, and Kate Baker, host and narrator of the Clarkesworld podcast. I have talked to both of them before this convention. Mur has bought one of my stories. I’ve talked to Kate before, both as part of her work as a staff member of SFWA, and to share my Best of Clarkesworld lists. Corresponding with them via email was one thing, but easy enough to separate from the podcast because of the different medium. Talking to them in person, though, was very strange (in the best possible way). I have listened to both of them for SO many hours, I felt like I was talking to best friends of many years. They both have such beautiful reading voices.

It sort of reminded me of those times when I’ve gone to a play with incredibly good actors, and then greeted the actors afterward. Theater can establish such a perceived intimacy that it’s easy to feel like you know the person as a close friend, and so if I follow my instinct and greet them as a warm friend without thinking, it’s very confusing for both parties. I think in this case it was more so, because I have listened to them both for so many hours. I kept waiting for Kate to say “Let me tell you a story.”

It was really, really surreal, as if I talked to my iPod and it suddenly started responding to me. And, so far, I haven’t been served a restraining order, so at the very least I think I managed not to creep either of them out with one-sided over-familiarity.

The Parties

Every night, parties. Usually I don’t like parties much, but these are writer parties. Many familiar faces, and you can stand around and talk about writing. There’s not really anybody in real life that I talk to about writing without them getting bored after a few minutes, so this was a lot of fun. Tor and Baen both hosted big parties, but one of the highlights of the weekend was the “Pink and Blue” release party of Cat Rambo and Stina Leicht. Cat Rambo just released an anthology of her short stories titled “Near + Far” (she’s the pink) and Stina Leicht (she’s the blue) something as well, I think it was her book “Of Blood and Honey”. This was a highlight of the weekend, a good turnout with lots of people I wanted to meet.

Panels/Events

I’ll just list the ones I went to briefly, for anyone who’d like to know more than I said, ask in the comments.

Thursday

Opening Ceremonies–formatted like a late-night talk show with the entertaining John Scalzi as host, he interviewed all of the major guests of the con.
Mike Resnick Reading
Nancy Fulda Reading
The Short Story as Testing Ground–This was the first panel I went to that I’d mentioned previously, with Brad and Vylar as panelists. Good content, but especially exciting to meet a bunch of people after.

Friday

Mark J. Ferrari Reading–I’ve critiqued some book chapters of Mark’s upcoming book, was nice to meet him
George R. R. Martin Autograph Session–Got a copy of “Game of Thrones” autographed
John Joseph Adams Reading–Fiction reading of stories bought by JJA, including by Christie Yant and David D. Levine. Very enjoyable, especially Levine’s clever parody of Superman from a Lex Luthor point of view justifying his seemingly evil actions.
Filling the Magazines–Great panel of editors, Gordon Van Gelder, Stanley Schmidt, John Joseph Adams, Jason Sizemore, Ellen Datlow
Ferrett Steinmetz Reading–I think Ferrett’s really hit his stride lately, I like each story more and more.
Open Mic Reading–Ferrett inexplicably was scheduled for another 90 minute session and he opened it up for volunteers. I was very happy about this since I registered for the con much too late to be in any programming. So I read my favorite of my own work, the unpublished “Hungry Void”. I had a lot of trouble keeping my voice steady because that story always makes me want to cry.

Saturday

Codex Breakfast–Great fun to meet dozens from my favorite online writer’s forum
George R. R. Martin Interview
Effective Habits for Aspiring Authors–
A panel with Annie Bellet and Brad Torgersen
Critique Session–My sole programming commitment, Deirdre Saoirse Moen and I lead a critique session of 3 authors who signed up. A very enjoyable experience. I like critiquing anyway, was enjoyable to do this in person for a change.
Escape Pod Meetup–I showed up very late for this due to the critique session commitment, but was happy to find some people still hanging around. Met some great people involved in one of my favorite podcasts.

Sunday

The Future of Analog–Panel including Stanley Schmidt (editor until Friday), Trevor Quachri (editor after Friday), Brad Torgersen and Richard Lovett to discuss the editorial change and just generally the future of the magazine.
Podcasting 101–Okay, so I have little interest in starting a podcast (though I’d like to try some voice acting). I mostly went to hear Mur Lafferty and Kate Baker talk.
Neil Gaimain Theatre–One of four plays performed at this convention written by Neil Gaiman, this one a reimagining of the Snow White story with the stepmother as the hero and Snow White as a vampire. It feels entirely more real than the original story.

The Hugos

The Hugo award ceremony was a lot of fun. John Scalzi made a very entertaining host. This was an odd experience too, because it had a feel very much like the major award ceremonies you see on TV (but without the upstaging and with half the runtime), but I KNOW some of these people. I was particularly rooting for Brad Torgersen, Mur Lafferty, and Nancy Fulda to win in their respective categories. They didn’t, but I hope they’re not too disappointed about it–to be voted by fandom to be one of the top 5 favorite in any category is an amazing accomplishment.

I won’t list all the winners here, because those have been published for days. I was excited to see Jim C. Hines win for Best Fan Writer. If you haven’t read his blog posts about female and male poses on fantasy covers, you should–he actually reproduces all of the poses he discusses, to both thought-provoking points and comic effect. I was disappointed that the “Remedial Chaos Theory” of Community didn’t win for Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form, because that category is always dominated by Dr. Who. Game of Thrones Season 1 on HBO won Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form, against a tough field. Ken Liu‘s “Paper Menagerie” for Best Short Story, a well deserved win, that story is so good.

Wrap Up

I’m wrapping this up in my office at home on Wednesday, having hopped a plane home on Monday and gone back to my engineering work yesterday. I still feel a bit disoriented, culture-shock I guess, at being back in my daily life instead of this brief but intense visit into the convention scene.

This has been a really great experience for me, which I’m having trouble finding just the right words to describe. I feel like I’ve found fandom, after never quite being able to see quite where or what it was, and when I finally got here someone had saved a seat for me. Thank you to everyone who has made me feel so welcome–even just the little things added up to a great experience.

The Best of Lightspeed (& Fantasy) Podcast

written by David Steffen

John Joseph Adams has been getting a lot of attention in recent years. He used to be the slush reader for Fantasy & Science Fiction, but has gone one to be the editor and publisher of Lightspeed, and of their horror sister Nightmare. He has also published quite a few themed fiction anthologies like The Living Dead, Wastelands, and By Blood We Live.

Fantasy Magazine has been around for quite a few years. Lightspeed is only a couple years old, started by Fantasy‘s publisher Sean Wallace and edited by John Joseph Adams. In 2011 John Joseph Adams became the editor and publisher of both, and chose to consolidate the two into a single magazine titled Lightspeed, but which contains the same amount of fantasy and science fiction stories that the individual magazines had carried. From the beginning Lightspeed has had a podcast that has broadcast all of their stories alongside the text publications. When JJA took over Fantasy, he started their podcast as well, but it only lasted 10 episodes before the merger absorbed Fantasy into Lightspeed.

So this is a “Best of” list combining all of Lightspeed‘s podcasted backlog, combined with the 10 Fantasy Magazine episodes in consideration as well.

 

1. The Way of Cross and Dragon by George R. R. Martin
Yes, Lightspeed has managed to attract some big household names like George R. R. Martin. This particular short story was published before I was born. But George is not on this list because he’s well known. These lists are based strictly on merit–I considered his story on the same grounds as everyone else. My #2 choice was very close to this story in my ranking, but this one edged it out because it is centered around my favorite topic for speculation–religion. This story is about a member of an intergalactic Catholic church in the future who is tasked with rooting out heretics in far-flung star systems. He is sent toward a particularly strange sect centered around Judas Iscariot.

2. The Old Equations by Jake Kerr
Based around a future civilization with quantum-based technology, which is an alternate future, based around a past in which Albert Einstein’s theories were dismissed as nonsense. In this future, one of the first interstellar trips at near-light speed is begun. Since they don’t understand the concepts of relativity, they have to figure out all those problematic details as they go. An interesting science problem, with a strong human story at the core of it. In some ways it reminds me of the excellent flash story “Deep Moves” by Bill Highsmith (which I cannot seem to find active link for, too bad)

3. The Taste of Starlight by John R. Fultz
Fair warning: This one will likely be too dark for many viewers. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. A long-haul intergalactic trip with a crew in stasis goes wrong in mid-flight when the cryochambers become damaged and a crew member wakes up years too early. He can’t re-enter cryo, and he has to figure out a way to stay alive until the end of the flight. An entire colony’s survival depends on his technical skills, after all.

4. Using it and Losing It by Jonathan Lethem
A man who is sick of dealing with people enjoys a visit to a country where he does not speak the language because of the freedom from conversation it grants him. Returning home, he decides that he wants that freedom in the comfort of his own country, and he sets out to forcefully forget all language.

5. A Hole to China by Catherynne M. Valente
A very fascinating story in the age-old tradition of a child who finds a secret fantasy world. A girl sets out to dig a hole to China and finds hidden worlds beneath her backyard. Lots of great worldbuilding here, a lot of fun to read.

6. Mama, We are Zhenya, Your Son by Tom Crosshill
I always like a good story from a skewed perspective. This story is told from the point of view of a Russian child who is the subject of scientific experiments to see if he can be taught to move and manipulate objects on a quantum level. It’s a bit confusing at first, because the boy does not understand what is happening very clearly, but stick with it and it sorts itself out.

7. Transcript of Interaction Between Astronaut Mike Scudderman and the OnStar Hands-Free A.I. Crash Advisor by Grady Hendrix
“You are going to die,” are the first words from the OnStar crash advisor after crash landing on a planet. (don’t worry, that happens right away, that’s not a spoiler). This story is exactly what the title makes it sound like. Lots of fun, dark humor, and the ending is superb.

8.ÂÂ More Than the Sum of His Parts by Joe Haldeman
A man badly injured in an industrial accident is reconstructed with cyborg parts. The story begins as he is going through his procedures, and progresses as he becomes more and more familiar with his new superhuman abilities, and how they set him apart in every way from his fellow men.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Bubbles by David Brin

Dark Sanctuary by Gregory Benford

Four Short Novels by Joe Haldeman
“Eventually it came to pass that no one ever had to die.” A vague opening that could lead any number of routes to tell a good story. In this case, Joe Haldeman has taken this beginning and gone four separate ways for it. Generally these are very high level, often without individual characters, or I probably would’ve ranked this one higher, but it was very interesting, if not emotionally engaging. It’s illustrative of the concept of story triggers, wherein a single prompt can send four authors in four completely different direction, but with just one author involved.

Lessons From a Clockwork Queen by Megan Arkenberg
Generally this one is written a bit distantly for my tastes, but the ideas in it are good enough, and the writing is charming enough that I liked it nonetheless. It’s written as a fairy tale story about a clockwork queen, with fable-style morals sprinkled throughout.