The winning Hugos have been declared, and I suspect that no one was too surprised by the results. For one, Neil Gaiman‘s The Graveyard Book did indeed take best novel, making this Gaiman’s fourth Hugo win, out of six nominations – one of which, for Anansi Boys, Gaiman actually turned down. Not a bad record, eh?
Other familiar names on the winning list included Ted Chiang, Elizabeth Bear, John Scalzi, Ellen Datlow, Doctor Horrible, WALL-E… I was also very happy to see that Weird Tales won for best semi-prozine only two years after its reorganization/makeover, and that Electric Velocipede won for best fanzine.
I can’t say I’m qualified to blog about genre fiction awards season, given that I generally straggle at least one year behind current offerings in the field, but I’m still having fun following the buzz surrounding the 2009 Hugo Awards and World Fantasy Awards, the shortlists for which have been released.
SF Signal has an interesting panel feature asking a dozen-odd genre folk the following questions about the Hugo Awards:
1. How would you rate the track record of the Hugo Awards at directing readers to the best that the genre has to offer?
2. How well do you think the Hugo shortlist, year over year, represents to the outside world what speculative fiction has to offer?
3. Which of this year’s finalists do you predict will receive the Hugo award for Best Novel?
4. Which of this year’s finalists do you think should receive the Hugo award for Best Novel?
5. Which books do you think were missing from this year’s list of Best Novel finalists?
It went on a bit long for me, so I stopped halfway through, but of what I read, I found Paul Graham Raven‘s answer to #2 particularly interesting and well-articulated. Steve Davidson’s responses were also useful in considering the history, scope, and overall “purpose” of the awards – mainly, that the Hugo Awards were not primarily conceived of as writing awards, but as gestures of recognition to a variety of figures in fandom. I guess that the idea of “best” is compelling enough that that ends up being the focus, as with all awards.
The top two trends in responses:
- The Hugo Awards, being based on the votes of a small subset of people, are more likely to reward a particular sort of popularity than, necessarily, literary merit. This is expressed with varying degrees of resignation and ire by nearly every panelist.
- Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book seems the top pick for best novel, with potential but unlikely competition from Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. (It’s a battle of the Nei/als, as one panelist put it.)
Hugo Awards nominees
World Fantasy Awards nominees
From Arika Okrent’s In the Land of Invented Languages: of the 500 invented languages that Okrent profiles, the two most commonly spoken today are Esperanto and Klingon.
This is probably one of those things that everyone [in nerd land] already knew but me, but still. Wow, Trekkies. I was always a Star Wars girl, but color me impressed. (Also, this makes me wonder how the number of Klingon speakers compares to the number of people who would declare Jedi as their religion.)
Date Read: 2.17.06
Book From: Personal collection
Looking for Jake is Mieville’s first published short story collection, containing tidbits of every lustworthy genre– weird and urban fantasy, sci-fi, noird, horror, and of course, baslag. The collection is an extremely welcome contrast to Mieville’s previous works– one, his first novel, and the other three a sprawling epic trilogy. Mieville definitely clings (and I suspect will always cling) to the urban setting, which in my opinion, is the best type of backdrop to broil all types of conspiracies, folklore, and war. In the case of suspense and horror literature, I feel the urban setting also lends itself very well to relatability, and while you as the reader might find yourself soaring to distant lands and imaginations with high fantasy, urban fantasy brings the weird and excitement directly to you. My reactions to the stories in this collection range from indifferent to eyes-glued-to-the-page drooling– here I have some thoughts and mini-summaries of each story:
Continue reading Looking for Jake, by China Mieville (2005) K
FreakAngels is an ongoing sci-fi/steampunk comic by Warren Ellis, syndicated online for free in weekly, six-page installments. It was begun in February of 2008, and I’ve been following it since then (I think I first saw it publicized on Coilhouse, my favorite blog). It follows the adventures of a group of young psychics who’ve dubbed themselves the FreakAngels, and hold down a corner in a Thames-inundated London.
It’s variously a futuristic survival story and a character-based drama, with a cast of somewhat cliché (one of the characters is basically a clone of Delirium from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman; unsurprisingly, she seems to be the fan favorite) but likable protagonists. The cool, clean art, by Paul Duffield and a team of colorists, tends to be shaky anatomically speaking – noodle fingers are frequently in evidence – but the characters are attractively drawn and the backgrounds are very satisfyingly detailed, especially when it comes to architecture. If some of the FreakAngels’ outfits (and hair colors) are somewhat improbable given their living circumstances… can’t have steampunk without fun clothes. It’s also clear that Ellis has put a good amount of thought into his characters’ survival strategies, so it’s fun to see their efforts at scavenging and rebuilding society via a mix of past and present technology – steampower and solar panels have both come into play.
All in all, FreakAngels will probably appeal to fans of Firefly and similar tales of scrappy, foul-mouthed, hyper-competent, and-therefore-you-must-love-us families thrown together by circumstance. (I personally have mixed feelings about that particular formula as perfected/beaten to death by Joss Whedon, but clearly am susceptible to the charm anyway.)
I suspect I might be hooked in part because of the method of delivery – getting my FreakAngels story kick is a fun way to start a Friday. Print collections are also being issued as the comic goes on.
Date Read: 6.1.09
Book From: Personal collection (purchased via BetterWorld Books)
100 Vicious Little Vampire Stories (ed. Robert Weinberg, Stefan Dziemianowicz, & Martin Greenberg) and I have a history that, like its title, is long and sordid. I first found a battered paperback copy on my fifth-grade teacher’s bookshelf and brought it home with eager trepidation. After reading two or three stories, I got so scared that I brought it back to school and put it back on the shelf. Then, in my typical fashion, I furtively picked it up back off the shelf about a month later and, over the course of the next three or so months, methodically scared myself to death on a regular basis. A++ judgment abilities, as always.
Several of the stories stuck in my head very firmly, and in high school I actually fantasized several times about sneaking back into my middle school expressly to steal my teacher’s copy for keeps. (Yeah, I need better hobbies. But what was the probability of anyone but me reading a book like that anyway?) So egged on by niggling remembrances of moonlit magnolias and glasses full of blood imbibed at spas, I finally ordered a copy of my own (no dust jacket, sigh) from BetterWorld Books this past winter, although I knew that the majority of the book was probably dreck. Continue reading 100 Vicious Little Vampire Stories, ed. Robert Weinberg (1995) E
Author: China Mieville
Book: The City & The City
Sponsor: Harvard Book Store
Venue: First Parish Church; Cambridge, MA
China Mieville is a master. Until you meet him or hear him speak, he is the demigod, the big black ominous fog of Un Lun Dun, the dark force that lurks behind the pages of Perdido Street Station and stares piercingly at you from the back cover so that one can’t help but notice his rippling tatooed biceps, striking piercings, and generally intimidating presence. So naturally, I walked into my first China Mieville author event expecting to cower in the front row before this great Socialist figure (politicians scare me).
I was completely taken aback. Within a couple minutes, and even more so as the evening went on, it became apparent that Mieville was actually rather carefree and … jovial… I might say. A lot of cool and amazing things were said throughout the event. I think I’ll make do with a bit of description and then try to relate some of the highlights of the evening.
Continue reading Author Event: China Mieville overlays The City & The City (June 2009)
Date Read: 3.31.09
Book From: Personal Collection
Warm Bodies is the tale of a zombie in a society of zombies. R (he can’t remember the rest of his name), originally the entirely nameless protagonist of Marion’s beautiful “I Am a Zombie Filled With Love,” here has his story extended: during a raid on a human encampment, he inexplicably makes the decision to shelter a living human girl, so that they make their way together in a stagnating world.
I would primarily describe this novel as cinematic, both in good and bad ways. Good because so many of the scenes are uniquely vivid and striking and just beg to be visualized – zombies swaying back and forth in “church;” R riding an airport’s moving walkway and coming to a stop just opposite his soon-to-be zombie wife; the Stadium that is the center of life for a surviving human community. Bad because most of the plot and execution is cheesy as hell.
This really just needs to be stripped down and rewritten, or at least have a stronger editing hand. It’s not just some of the questionable language (“the sun stood over us like a royal guardian,” “my mystique has thickened and intensified like balsamic reduction”), it’s the overall plot concept. A rebellious, artsy-bohemian girl who Changes Everything by having the protagonist fall in love with her? [SPOILERS FOLLOW; HIGHLIGHT TO SEE] Humans literally being so soulless that they turn into zombies? Please. Pleeeeeease.
The original short story was charming and likable because it was quirky, lovely, and unexpected – this beats all of its loveliness and unexpectedness into a sticky, saccharine pulp. I read most of this with a sort of mild curiosity as a result, rather than real interest, despite the many excellent individual concepts. Still, I love Marion’s work in general, and am extremely excited to see his career take off, so I’m very happy to own one of the few copies (I think about 220 were printed in the end) that he designed and self-published. Signed, too!
Warm Bodies (2009) [K]
Some words (and exploding high-fives) with Isaac Marion
Date Read: 3.15.09
Book From: Personal Collection
A zombie in a post-apocalyptic desolate landscape befriends a rare living girl and finds himself being transformed by his relationship with her. An extension of a short story by the same author: I am a Zombie Filled with Love.
This was… sadly underwhelming and disappointing given Marion’s previous works. I was initially very excited to read this because 1) ZOMBIE FICTION MOG! and 2) the short story was pretty amazing. The first chapter opens up with the original short story, a very poignant 1st person zombie narrative describing the thoughts, feelings, and actions of the narrator during one slice of a day. There is emphasis on the zombie’s inability to think coherently, speak, or process thoughts quickly. The zombie’s outlook on the world is extremely complacent and only slightly quizzical, but it is apparent the zombie brain cannot handle being inquisitive.
In order for Marion to tell the story he wanted to tell, he had to break away from the narrative restraints he set up in the short story by giving his narrator a larger capacity for thought and purpose. However, the result was a rather obvious discontinuity between the first chapter and the next couple chapters in narration, and the subsequent abrupt change in atmosphere and storytelling wasn’t handled very well. Overall, the characters and story were rather predictable, and as ashamed as I am to say this, the story was just cheesy. All of Marion’s works are very romantic, and usually he manages to either avoid cheesiness or fully embrace it and turn it into something special. I lost interest about halfway through Warm Bodies, frustrated by the narrative inconsistencies and the plot.
Although The Inside wasn’t perfect, I think it suited Marion’s style and storytelling better. There was a lot more confidence, atmosphere, and passion in that novel. I guess Warm Bodies still makes for an interesting casual read because it is still zombie fiction for once NOT presented in graphic novel form.
Warm Bodies (2009) [E]
Some words (and exploding high-fives) with Isaac Marion