Hugo watching 2016: Best Dramatic Presentation

Part 1:

OK, this one is fun, because I don’t actually watch any of these shows in real life.  I have seen some Dr Who – because I live with Andrew, mostly, but also voluntarily – but I actually have very little idea what any of the other series are about.

So I’m going to judge these on whether they stand alone as a story in their own right, and whether they make me want to watch more of the series. 

Grimm: “Headache” written by Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt, directed by Jim Kouf – Oh lord.  So, I guessed the plot and whodunnit in the first five minutes, and it was all downhill from there.  After a while, I just started counting instances of violence against women, because I was finding the whole thing excessively boring and annoying, and watching it through an Angry Feminist hermaneutic at least gave it some sort of purpose.  Sort of.  Seriously, the women in this were just awful – when they weren’t victims, they were randomly evil or very clearly the weakest link.  Also, I really feel that the ‘possessed by Jack the Ripper’ is a plot idea that can be retired now.  Not least because it seems to be an excuse for killing off more women, but mostly because it’s boring and everyone else has done it already.  I am not remotely surprised to learn that this was a Puppy pick.  Andrew tells me that there are some decent episodes in this show, but agrees that this isn’t one of them.  No Award for me – I lost interest after about ten minutes and just counted (female) corpses.

Supernatural
: “Just My Imagination” written by Jenny Klein, directed by Richard Speight Jr.  This was good fun, if a little higher in blood/bodycount than I prefer my media (this is why I rarely watch TV).  The story was nicely self-contained, the dialogue was whimsical, and I enjoyed the story, and the interactions between the characters.  Astonishingly, this one is also a puppy pick – I can’t imagine why, because it was definitely all about the feelings and the heartwarmingness, and even the villain was quite sympathetic.  I expect this to do well on my ballot.

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: “The Cutie Map” Parts 1 and 2 written by Scott Sonneborn, M.A. Larson, and Meghan McCarthy, directed by Jayson Thiessen and Jim Miller.  This is the other Puppy pick, and honestly, it was a real disappointment.  A lot of our friends are into My Little Pony, and I haven’t seen any previous episodes, so I was hoping for something fun.  Alas, it’s pretty unsubtle and trying to do a bit of a 1984 thing.  I’m pretty sure the Puppies put it on the ballot because they think the Evil SJWs are just like the pony who is trying to make all the other ponies march in lockstep and be identically mediocre.

That’s enough TV for one evening, I think.  My brain is trying to do Chuck Tingle / My Little Pony crossovers (I’m pretty sure the Ponies want everyone to know that love is REAL), and this is a sure sign that I need to go to bed.  And try not to think about Chuck Tingle or My Little Pony, ew.

Next up will be the two non-puppy choices, Doctor Who: “Heaven Sent” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Rachel Talalay and Jessica Jones: “AKA Smile” written by Scott Reynolds, Melissa Rosenberg, and Jamie King, directed by Michael Rymer.

I’m honestly not sure if I’m going to be able to do the rest of the Hugo ballot.  I’m finding this process unutterably depressing – I’ve never spent quite so much concentrated time reading and watching things that I really don’t like, except possibly in Year 12 English, and even that was over the space of a year.  So far, while there have been several *good* stories in the mix, the only ones I’ve actively enjoyed were the Cat Pictures one and Penric, and parts of Supernatural and File 770.  This is not a good hit rate.

I think I need to read something fun as a palate cleanser.  And finish writing about my sentient sewer balls, since my shoulder is rather better.  And then I’ll think about whether I am really morally obliged to read the rest of the puppy picks on the ballot, or whether I can just skip those and read the things I think I might enjoy.

Part 2:

Jessica Jones: “AKA Smile” written by Scott Reynolds, Melissa Rosenberg, and Jamie King, directed by Michael Rymer. This was pretty good, and is competing for first place on my ballot with Supernatural at this point.  I really loved the nurse and Patsy – and quite liked Jessica, but I really found the normal people who were just coping with all the weird more interesting.  Nice dialogue.  Stood alone quite well – I had no idea of the premise of this show going in, and it still worked.  More bloodthirsty than I prefer, but that seems to be the case with everything on this ballot except My Little Pony.  The main issues I had with this episode were the ridiculous soliloquy by the villain, which bounced me right out of the story into a fit of absolute irritation at the cliché of ‘I’ll make her love me, and then reject her.’ Seriously, couldn’t he have a more interesting motivation / revenge fantasy than that.  And there were a few sections which I felt were rather slow and didn’t seem to advance much of anything.  Probably not an issue in the context of the whole series, but it did throw off the pacing when viewed as a standalone.

Doctor Who: “Heaven Sent” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Rachel Talalay. Meh.  It works as a standalone, and Capaldi does an excellent job of carrying the entire episode alone.  He should get credit for that.  And I quite liked the puzzle, though the bit about the hybrid was obvious from the first time it was mentioned.  The bird part took me longer, and that was clever.  But oh lord, it felt like it was never going to end – and while this was partly the point, I really got very bored and had to start singing little songs to keep myself entertained.  I’d have enjoyed this as a short story, I think.  I’m not sure if the problem is that I just don’t much like Dr Who, even when played by Peter Capaldi, or if I’m just too shallow for this sort of slow-moving entertainment, or if I’m maybe jaded by the entire business.  Thinking about it, I’ve found every single episode in this category slow-moving in places, so perhaps the problem is simply that I don’t really like watching TV all that much and tend to lose interest?

My final ballot is going to be

1. Supernatural
2. Jessica Jones
3. Doctor Who
4. No Award – the other two were just not for me.

I might swap 1 and 2.  I might not.

I’m still in two minds on whether I’m going to bother with the rest of the ballot.  I’d sort of like to read the novels, but knowing that Seveneves is 900 pages long is pretty daunting, especially as reviews I’ve read suggest that best case scenario for me is that I will find it good, but not actually enjoyable to read.  Which means I will feel obliged to finish it.  And that’s a week of my life I’ll never get back.  I will probably take a look at the films, since I’ve actually seen two of them already and quite liked them, so it might be nice to see the others for comparison, especially if I can find others who want to watch them with us.

Hugo reading 2016: Novellas

OK, we are on to the novellas, and at least I’ve already read one of these and know it is good.

Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson (Dragonsteel Entertainment) – I was liking this one, even though it was set in yet another virtual reality / computer game world (I feel like half the stories so far have been like this).  It was well-written, I was really enjoying the characters, the main female character was a heap of fun – and then we had the plot twist, which trashed the only female character in a way that was basically a cliché cake filled with cliché whipped cream and cliché jam, with cliché icing on top.  It certainly doesn’t deserve a no award – it’s a well written and enjoyable story, but boy, that annoyed me.  And it’s doubly infuriating because the author didn’t have to do that – he was clearly capable of more interesting things.  Gah.

The Builders by Daniel Polansky (Tor.com) – I’m afraid I just found this one boring and far too predictable – the dialogue, in particular, I felt like I had read many times before -and I didn’t really care about any of the characters.  I gave up at the 38% mark.  This might be unfair, but if you can’t hold my attention for the whole book – and I really did try to give it a fair shot – you probably don’t deserve my vote on the ballot.

Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds (Tachyon) – Surprisingly, I really liked this one.  I say surprisingly, because the opening scene had the heroine being tied down and tortured by the villain of the piece, and this was described (mostly in anticipation) in more detail than I, personally, needed.  And then it turned into a kind of ‘last survivors after a terrible, world-ending thing’ sort of story, which is also not my style.  But somehow, the focus in the end was on building and reconstructing and trying to find a way to survive as a community, and it was interestingly character-driven, and actually rather lovely and inspiring in some ways.  A worthy nomination, I feel.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com) – Another good story, and unexpectedly peaceful.  I don’t know how to describe it without massive spoilers, but I liked it very much.  I liked the main character and her sense of self, particularly.

Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold (Spectrum) – Look, I love Bujold’s Five Gods universe, and this is no exception.  I like Penric, and I like the way he tries to treat his demon like a person, and I like Desdemona, too.  Very happy to see this on the ballot.

I’m not quite sure what my final ballot order is.  Probably Penric, then Binti, then Slow Bullets, then Perfect State, then No Award, but I’m just not sure.  I loved Penric’s Demon, but I’m not sure that Binti isn’t the better book.

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.

Hugo reading 2016: Best related work

Dear God, this is a pit of awful. I’m fairly sure it is close to 100% Puppy-infested.

Safe Space as Rape Room” by Daniel Eness (castaliahouse.com) – Ick. So this purports to be a five part essay on how Science Fiction Fandom, led by John Scalzi and all the evil feminists, has been covering up and enabling pedophilia for years. Some of the allegations refer to people who have, in fact been convicted of things. Others, not so much. And… the thing is, I’ve read a number of the bits which are being quoted here and they are being quoted out of context and with intent to mislead. I don’t know if there is a larger problem in fandom. If there is, this set of reports only serves to discredit it by reporting things that they must know are not true, which tends to make any true bits look false, too. I don’t see how this helps anyone. I was unable to finish this – I read three parts out of five, but once I realised that there really was stuff there that I knew to be untrue, I felt excused from reading the rest.

SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police by Vox Day (Castalia House) – I find this title highly ironic, since he appears to me to be lying from the get-go. Perhaps this is a piece of satire critiquing the entire premise? Or perhaps I should just file it under No Award and move on. It starts with a dedication to those poor, beleaguered Gamergaters who just wanted to be left alone to play their games in peace, only they got bullied by the evil SJWs. And it goes downhill from there. I’m pretty sure the author doesn’t want me to read this book, since I’m clearly out to oppress him with my unreasonable leftist demands for things like respect and equity and all that. Also, apparently, I’m anti-science. This is news to me. I would hate to accidentally oppress this author, so just to be on the safe side, I’m not going to read any further. That way his book will not be sullied. And it’s getting a No Award from me, which should warm the cockles of his heart, as it proves all his theories right, at least by his logic.

The Story of Moira Greyland” by Moira Greyland (askthebigot.com) – Oh, this is distressing. Moira was the daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen, and she was abused and molested by her parents, who thought she should be a boy, and gay. And it’s awful. And she has concluded from this that people who are gay are pro-paedophilia. To be fair, it sounds as though her parents’ views on sexuality would certainly incline one to such views. But oh, dear. So she is vocally against gay marriage because she believes it will lead to child abuse. Honestly, I don’t know what to do with this one. It’s clearly a heartfelt, sincere piece of writing, but I am not at all sure it belongs on this ballot. I feel fairly confident that I’d feel this way even without the anti-gay part, because I was feeling much this way about the piece before I realised where it was going. But putting it in No Award lumps it in with the stuff above, and that doesn’t seem fair either. I don’t know.

Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986 by Marc Aramini (Castalia House) – OK, I’m beginning to think I can’t do much of anything with this category. I haven’t read any Gene Wolfe, and a collection of commentaries about him – a very lengthy, extensive collection at that – is not something I’m hugely motivated to read, nor do I think I’d be well-equipped to judge it. I did have a bit of a read, but without context, the writing wasn’t engaging enough to hold me. And the fact that it is published by Castalia House is not a recommendation.

The First Draft of My Appendix N Book” by Jeffro Johnson (jeffro.wordpress.com) – This is actually quite fun. Johnson is reading and reviewing a lot of ‘golden age’ science fiction and fantasy that is no longer well-known, in the light of D&D games. It’s engagingly written, despite a tendency to make comments about political correctness and such that make me roll my eyes. Since it has no other competition in this bracket, I’m going to bookmark this to read later. I think this might be the sole survivor on my ballot for this category.

Hugo reading 2016: Short Stories

Here we go with the Short Stories!  At least I can go into this knowing that one of them will make me smile.  Bless you, Dr Tingle.  I am reading these in the order of highest to lowest levels of anticipated aggravation at this point.

If You Were an Award, My Love by Juan Tabo and S Harris (voxday.blogspot.com, Jun 2015). You know, I only read “If you were a dinosaur, my love” for the first time today, and after reading it, I felt so sick at the idea of a stupid, Rabid Puppy parody of it that I wanted to No Award it without reading it.  Stupidly, I failed to follow this instinct.  This story is terrible.  The author evidently has no idea what an analogy is.  And possibly no idea what a heart is, either.  It is not funny.  It is not clever.  It is not impressing anybody.  This is what No Award was made for, and I am going to use it.  Read the original story instead.

Seven Kill Tiger by Charles Shao (There Will Be WarVolume X, Castalia House). Wow.  I mean, I know it’s very SJW of me to No Award this book because I object to it on an ideological level but I *really* object to this on an ideological level.  The world does not need more stories in which the Chinese create a ‘genetic weapon’ designed to wipe out all sub-Saharan Africans and then use the polio vaccine effort to deliver it.  Bonus points for the fact that I *very much doubt* you could create a ‘genetic weapon’ that would only hit people of a particular skin colour.  Humans are pretty genetically similar, and I find it unlikely that sub-Saharan Africans carry enough unique genes that you could come up with a disease that targets them only without hitting most of the rest of the world.  But apparently, Shao thinks you can.

Asymmetrical Warfare by SR Algernon (Nature, Mar 2015).  Um.  It’s not terrible?  It’s got a sort of interesting premise, but I think Orson Scott Card did it first in Xenocide.  It didn’t make me want to stab things, though, so WELCOME TO THE TOP THREE!

Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld, January 2015).  Oh my God, this is ADORABLE.  It’s an artificial intelligence and she is just trying to *help*.  And also to look at all the cat pictures.  She really likes cat pictures.  I want her fixing my life for me, she is clearly very good at it, and I have some very good cat pictures…

Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle (Amazon Digital Services).  I’ve been looking forward to this one ever since Dr Tingle responded to his nomination by the Canine Collective by publishing ‘Slammed in the butt by my Hugo Award Nomination‘, and then very thoughtfully setting up a website for the Rabid Puppies. I have not previously read any of the Tingle oeuvre, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing, which starts off with quite a decent ‘man left to his own devices on an alien planet’ set up, before devolving suddenly and with terrifying enthusiasm into velociraptor-on-human gay sex.  Which is basically the second half of the story, if story is indeed the word here.  I’m not sure that it is a brilliant work of science fiction, but I actually do prefer it to most of the other stories I’ve read in this category.

My ballot is going to look like this:

1. Cat Pictures Please
2. Space Raptor Butt Invasion
3. Asymmetrical Warfare
4. No Award

Hugo reading 2016: The Novelettes

I’ve started working my way through my Hugo voter package. I don’t think I’ll be able to read everything, but the short fiction, films, TV episodes, and related works should be doable (I’d like to read the novels and the Campbells, but realistically, I think enough people will vote on those that if I run out of time, it’s less important).

I haven’t voted in the Hugos before, and I honestly don’t know what the best response to this year’s Fun With Bloody-Minded Puppies might be. I’ve decided my approach will be to read everything, make my notes, and then check afterwards which entries were puppified. If I’m having trouble deciding between two entries, association with Vox Day and his merry men is likely to then be a downvote. And of course, I’m aware that anything from Castalia House has this association, but I’m going to at least attempt to give stories the benefit of the doubt.

Today, I read the novelettes.

Flashpoint: Titan by Cheah Kai Wai (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House) – This was the first one I read. It was boring. So very boring. If you like physics and weapons and space battles and no characterisation at all, then you might like this. Then again, if you don’t like dubious racial stereotyping (Japanese and Chinese flavours) and the odd racial slur (which, in addition to being a slur, is probably actually the wrong slur anyway – would a Japanese person really use the same slur regarding the Chinese that an English speaker would? I think not.), these might be a problem for you. I was going to complain about the dearth of female characters, but honestly, there was no characterisation of anyone, really, so this is an occasion where a lack of women really doesn’t bother me.https://uncannymagazine.com/article/folding-beijing-2/

What Price Humanity? by David VanDyke (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House) – Especially after Flashpoint, I wasn’t expecting anything good from Castalia House. This was actually quite good, though, with reasonable characterisation, and it was very readable – I didn’t have to skim to get through it. My biggest issue here is that the story sets up an ethical question at the start regarding whether some actions are acceptable in war, then shows us the impact of these things, and then goes, yep, it’s awful, but you know, sometimes, terrible things are necessary. Which I don’t think is an adequate answer to the question.

Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu (Uncanny Magazine, Jan-Feb 2015) – Ooh! This was really good! The worldbuilding was fascinating, and I love how it was described, and how economics turned out to be the key to why the world functioned this way. I haven’t seen a lot of economics-motivated science fiction. I liked the characterisation, which was very vivid, and while I found the story a bit depressing, I liked that the main character was content with how things ended, even though I would not be. It seemed consistent with him.

Obits by Stephen King (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Scribner) – This is the first Stephen King I’ve ever read and I really liked it, which was unexpected. Just a nice, straightforward, creepy bit of horror writing. I enjoyed reading it more than I enjoyed Folding Beijing, but I feel the former was the better book

And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead by Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed, Feb 2015) – I now discover that this was the only non-puppy-affected story on the ballot, and alas, I didn’t like it very much, even though it had an actual female protagonist (first of the day!). I found it a little hard to follow, and while I recognise that the non-stop profanity was part of the characterisation, and important, I found that unpleasant to read. But it’s growing on my a little more in retrospect.

Current ballot:

1. Folding Beijing
2. Obits
3. And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead (might swap with 2, I have a feeling it’s a better story, even if I didn’t like it)
4. What Price Humanity
5. No Award
6. Flashpoint: Titan (goes below no award because I really had to force myself to finish it, and also it was racist.)

Next up: short stories, featuring Chuck Tingle! I think I’ll save him for last…