Hugo reading 2018: Best Fanzine category

I’m not going to be reviewing this section in depth unless I come across something I really love, because reviewing collections of things is fairly hard work, and I’m just not THAT enamoured of fanzines.

So, Journey Planet seems to have quite an interesting premise.  They pick a topic each month, and articles and illustrations / photos centre on that topic.  It’s part history, part anecdotes, part reviews, and the topics are very diverse. Topics in the voter pack include ’40 years of Glasgow Conventions’, which is mostly people’s memories of various cons and is almost archival in its approach; ‘Irish Comics’, which includes interviews with said comic book writers, samples of their work, and reviews of it; ‘The Disney Railroad’ which… has articles about the history of the railroad at Disneyland; ‘Programmatic’, which has lots of people talking about how to create an interesting program; ‘Bob Wilkins’, which has photographs, reviews, an interview, and a series of loving obituaries; and apparently ‘Disney’ again.

I think if you like the idea of digging deep into a completely random subject on a monthly basis, you’ll probably have fun with this.  I may possibly be sulking because their issue on Richard III was not in the voter pack.  It’s an interesting premise for a fanzine, but none of their topics really grabbed me this time.

Nerds of a Feather
is a more conventional zine, I think.  The sampler includes a bunch of book reviews, and then a collection of essays talking about dystopias in fiction.  I especially liked the in-depth history of dystopias in fiction.  They also had a nice collection of reviews of The Last Jedi, which I haven’t seen, but I love spoilers, so that’s OK.  I really enjoyed these, particularly the two longer reviews which went into quite a bit of detail about why they liked and disliked what they did on philosophical and political levels.  (The negative review was particularly interesting, because he felt that it worked as a film, it just didn’t grab him as a good Star Wars film.  Also, he felt it was telling a story that Star Wars had told before, and he thinks there are more interesting ones to tell.  But there was none of the Girl Cooties rubbish here, thankfully).  The sampler then has several interviews, and then lots of discussion of what makes Horror horror.  This wasn’t really of interest to me, so I stopped reading.

I do think this is a more interesting, if less idiosyncratic, fanzine than Journey Planet, so it will score above it on my ballot.

Galactic Journey invites us to the world of the early 1960s.  I don’t really want to go to this world, but ok. This seems to be reviews of books published in this era, articles purporting to be from that time (including one on the first American to orbit the earth, which I’ve just realised must have been the mission the women were working on in Hidden Figures), a review of a convention themed around 1961 science fiction, reviews of fashion magazines – in short, the fandom we are zine-ing about is the early 60s.

It’s an appealing conceit.  My inner historian is delighted.  I love the idea of it.  But a part of me is a little less certain – I can’t put my finger on why, exactly, but something about it says very plainly ‘there is no place here for you’.  I don’t think I would have been very happy living in America 1963, but it’s more visceral than that.  I don’t quite know what to make of it.

I do feel like it belongs high on the ballot, though, because it is trying to do an interesting thing, and I think it’s doing it quite well (though I suspect only someone who was actually alive in the early 60s could judge that).

Rocket Stack Rank gives us three samples to read.  First up, we get a sampler containing four articles.  The first three are really proper, scientific articles on fannish topics.  One is an analysis of how the various puppy slates affected the Hugos between 2014 and 2017; the second discusses which of the various purported solutions would have the desired effect (of not allowing a slate to have a statistically unreasonable effect on the nominees); and the third looks at how story length affects award success. They provide graphs and numbers and describe their methods in such meticulous mathematical detail that I became completely lost.  But as far as my not-particularly-stats-aware brain can tell, they are doing what they are trying to do and doing it well.  And if they aren’t, they are certainly being transparent enough with their data that someone else could usefully critique it.  The final article is a con report, and much more readable!

Sample 2 is a list of the various works that are considered among the year’s best SF/F, either because they have been recommended by prolific reviewers, nominated for awards, or included in Year’s Best anthologies.  And then there are a lot of mini-reviews.  The methodology for selecting the stories is laid out in a level of detail that I found hilarious – this is someone who cannot switch off his inner statistician.  I liked the short reviews, and agreed with them for the most part.  Sample 3 is the same thing, except that it’s just for the current month.  Which is enough.

I liked this quite a bit, mostly because I find scientists fairly adorable.  I am perverse enough in this respect to put it high on my ballot.

File 770 I’m not going to review, because there is TOO MUCH to read, and I have already read a bunch of Mike Glyer’s stuff elsewhere.  Also, I wind up on their site a few times a year, to get my reliable what-has-blown-up-now-in-the-SFF-world news.  So I know that they do solid reporting – they feel more like a fan newspaper than a fanzine, actually – but their articles don’t tend to grab me.

SF Bluestocking gave us two samples to read.  The first contains a handful of nice, long-form book reviews.  It’s hard to judge reviews of books one hasn’t read, unless they make you want to go out and read the book immediately, but two of the reviews were of books I have read, which made it more interesting.  I liked her review of The Bear and the Nightingale, and I can absolutely see why  she found the treatment of Vasilisa’s stepmother troubling, as I also found it uncomfortable (though… I don’t think she is entirely right, given the expectations of the characters and their culture.  I don’t think she is entirely wrong, either, but I think it’s a little more complicated than that.)  I enjoyed her review of Infomocracy, too, and agree that it is a more optimistic world than it at first appears.  I did not read the movie and TV reviews, since they seemed to be all of programs I haven’t seen or don’t much like.

The second sample is from a read-along of Gormenghast.  She’s reading and commentating on three chapters per blog post, so she goes into quite a lot of detail, right down to linguistic and thematic elements.  Again, apparently I’m illiterate, because I haven’t read this, either.  There’s nothing like reading a lot of book reviews to make you feel as though you never read anything worthwhile…

OK, so where does that leave me with this part of the ballot?

I think I’d  put Nerds of a Feather first – their package really appealed to me, and I liked their writing style.  Second place is probably Rocket Star Rank, which I’m unlikely ever to read, but one has to support the shameless use of mathematics in reviewing.  Maybe Galactic Journey next, because it’s an interesting idea.  File 770, because I do, actually, refer to it often enough that they deserve my vote.  SF Bluestocking I might vote for higher in another year, but they didn’t grab me this time.  And that leaves Journey Planet, which is endearing in its strangely random assortment of fandoms, but pretty thoroughly not for me.

Hugo reading 2016: Fanzines

I think this might be an area I’m not well-qualified to judge, because I really don’t know what the standard should be, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.

Castalia House Blog edited by Jeffro Johnson – they provided a wealth of things to read, mostly about gaming.  Overall impression was that I was the wrong audience – I found it all fairly boring, except when it managed to be mildly annoying about gender essentialism and (I suspect) coded racism.

Superversive SF edited by Jason Rennie – Again, I’m the wrong audience.  But I didn’t spot anything obviously obnoxious this time!

Tangent Online edited by Dave Truesdale – This is interesting because the sample they give us in the Hugo pack is an article where the Sad Puppies set out their agenda for this year, which is to be inclusive and make a recommendation list for the Hugos that invites input from fans of al stripes. And then it lists all the stories recommended.  Which is ace, but I can’t actually see any of the stories that made it onto the ballot here, so I’m wondering what happened?  Because many of those that made it onto the ballot were allegedly in the Sad Puppy final ten. 

File 770 edited by Mike Glyer – The sample provided a best of, and I was pretty much sold from the point when they did a Dr Seuss version of Lord of the Rings.  And Ursula Vernon’s play ‘If you were a platypus, my darling’.  They also provided a 48-page newsletter.  I am becoming increasingly perfunctory here.  I read about 10 pages, and it’s a nice newsletter that assumes the readers all know each other and the people being talked about.  I could imagine the Bujold List producing a newsletter that read like this.  So that’s rather nice.

Lady Business edited by Clare, Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, and Susan – this is a study that purports to show that SFF books by or about cis-women win fewer awards than those by or about cis-men.  Their methodology looks OK to me, as far as I can judge.  Their conclusions are depressing.  Is this actually a fanzine, though?

My scores:

1. File 770
2. Tangent Online, because I think they were trying
3. Lady Business – a good study, but not convinced it belongs in this category

I’m not scoring the other two, because I can’t actually tell whether they are boring or whether I am.  I suspect I am.   But I was still able to appreciate the three I’ve grouped above them.