The first three are in the realm of SF politics. “Axanar Lawsuit Settled” is a straightforward report of the settlement between Axanar, creators of a fan-made Star Trek Film, and Paramount and CBS, the producers of Star Trek itself. It seems that Paramount and CBS decided to let Axanar keep showing their film, provided they made no profit from it. We then have “Jon Del Arroz Off BayCon 2017 Program, Claims Decision Is Politically Motivated”, in which he presents Jon Del Arroz’s statement, alongside BayCon saying “well, actually, we just wanted to have different speakers some years, rather than having the same speakers every year, so we declined to invite a bunch of our regulars, and in fact we’ve already invited Del Arroz back for next year, though we’re kind of reconsidering that now.” It seems to be a reasonably even-handed story, quoting each party substantially and in context, with a small amount of commentary, but the comments go ballistic because anything with US politics in it tends to do that now. The final piece is “Saying No”, which I’d describe as being Puppy-Adjacent, and in part addresses those comments.
There is a fun article called “Oscar Gaffe Brings Back Memories of SF Award Blunders” which reminisces about various times when the wrong names were read out at the Hugos and the Nebulas (the one about Gene Wolfe is particularly wrenching).
We then have obituaries for Peter Weston, Ed Bryant and Milt Stevens, none of whom I knew, but they are again well-written pieces.
“Pixel Scroll 12/31/17 Another Scroll Over, a Pixel Just Begun” is an end of year round-up of interesting articles which are mostly other people’s end of year round-ups. Recursive!
Basically, I’d characterise Glyer’s work as good, straightforward journalism. It doesn’t set my world on fire, but he’s very reliable and I tend to think of him as my trusted source of fandom news. He’s certainly worthy of being on the ballot, but it will be interesting to see what the other writers in this category are like.
Next up is Bogi Takács, who has provided six essays to review.
“The Mutant’s Apprentice: Superhero registration tropes, power fantasies and Western-centrism” talks about why superheroes and magic users tend to be subject to compulsory registration or guild memberships. Takács’ thesis is that this was intended to be a way of talking about racism and anti-semitism without having to do so directly (or in ways that censorship boards would object to) – but that this became subverted in the minds of (white, male) fans as being about people being oppressed because they were exceptional, just as many fans of comics view themselves as oppressed by the mainstream… thus leading to the opposite effect to that intended by the artists. It’s a depressing thesis, but Takács writes about it convincingly.
“[Novel review] A Jewish State in Germany? Judenstaat, Or Historical Speculation in the VHS Era” is a review of a novel by Simone Zelitch in which after World War Two, a Jewish state was established in Saxony. It sounds bizarre and fascinating, actually – the novel is apparently very much steeped in Jewish culture, and also knows its Eastern European / life under the Communist Regime tropes, with Chasidic Jews living in Soviet-style apartment complexes and the tension around the fact that many Communists were secular Jews. (Takács is Hungarian, and expresses appreciation of the fact that Zelitch got so much right, which is unusual for novels by Americans set behind the old iron curtain).
“[Novella review] The Kid from Hell by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky (multiple translators)” was apparently such an effective and moving anti-war book that it was banned in Hungary, its country of origin, for many years, and could in fact be read in translation in English well before it could be read in Hungarian. It is set in a ‘utopian’ far future where Communism has triumphed and is trying to ‘progress’ new cultures to make them happier. As the authors of this were Jewish (a community which the Communists also tried to progress), the ambiguous nature of this help is made clear. It sounds like an unpleasant book – the viewpoint character is a deliberately horrible person – but I’m fascinated at this window into works written in Communist Hungary.
“[Novelette review] Alone, on the Wind by Karla Schmidt (translated from the German by Lara Harmon), Clarkesworld #88, August 2016.” is a brief, fairly negative review of a book that it well-written and well-translated but has some fairly problematic tropes.
Overall, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading Takács’ work. Having grown up towards the end of the Iron Curtain era, I’m fascinated by these sorts of internal glimpses of what was behind it – the cultural history, if you like. It’s not a perspective you get a lot of in SF written in English, and I’m very glad to have it. Takács definitely winning so far for me.
“Facing Facts: American Identity is Based on Alternate History” is a very compelling piece pointing out that the history we tend to learn in schools is already alternate history – it’s a history where everything was fine, where wars were only fought for good reasons, where exploring the world was about discovery and bringing civilisation, not about greed or gold, where slavery didn’t exist, or where it did, slaves were treated well, where racism was solved in the 1960s. It’s a provocative point of view, and one that will stay with me.
It’s also a strangely frustrating view, in the light of her own alternate history fiction – because while she certainly had a diverse cast in her story, she didn’t seem to me to be doing a lot with her alternate history setting. I realise that this is harder to do in a novella format, and particularly if what you want to write is a light-hearted caper, but given how creatively she thinks about history and alternate history when writing an essay, I can’t help feeling a bit sad that she wasn’t more creative when writing a story set in an alternate America.
Next, we get an essay from Uncanny magazine – ‘City of Villains: Why I Don’t Trust Batman‘. This is a lot of fun. It’s about living in Gotham city if you are just a regular, poor person, who grew up in an orphanage after your dad got killed by a supervillain and your mum ran off to become a supervillain. The trouble is, the kind of jobs you get if you have a limited education and money tend to be pretty basic – building, painting, a bit of security. And if your boss happens to turn out to be a supervillain, guess who suffers the consequences? The story does a nice job of interrogating the Lone Vigilante Hero trope – as well as the Beneficent Billionaire trope. It’s nice that the billionaire funds orphanages, but why does Gotham City need so many? It’s nice that the vigilante hero fights crime, but how is it fair that he can do so outside the law, and with no regard for bystanders? Might there not be better ways to ‘save’ the city, if one doesn’t have to be seen as the hero at all times?
I’m sure there are holes in this argument. I’m sure that Andrew will come here and pick them. But as someone who isn’t all that invested in the Batman mythos, I found this a delightful deconstruction of the idea.
The third article provided by Gailey is “This Future Looks Familiar: Watching Blade Runner in 2017“. I have not seen Blade Runner. I don’t know what it is supposed to be about. Gailey hasn’t seen it before either, and is a bit horrified by the familiarity of what she is viewing – boiled down to sheer plot, we have a man who takes the job of tracking down and killing escaped slaves. There is one slave he doesn’t kill – he keeps her for his own, instead. And – at least to Gailey’s viewing, the protagonist is the character we are meant to feel sympathy with. We are meant to see him as a good man making difficult choices, and the slaves as not fully human.
Not having seen Blade Runner, I have no way of knowing what the intent of the directors and writers was. But reading the synopsis… yeah. That does seem to be what it’s about. The replicants are AIs, not human, but it does still seem to have some really disturbing parallels to the sort of racism and police brutality that has been getting so much news coverage in the last few years. And I can certainly see being unable to see anything *else* in the movie once one has seen that.
Gailey is definitely a worthy nomination for this Hugo. At present, I’m having a hard time choosing between her and Takács for best writer, because while I love Gailey’s work so far, her worldview is more familiar to me and similar to other things I read – Takács has perspectives I don’t encounter often.
Moving on to Charles Payseur, we get five articles to read.
“LIVER BEWARE! You’re in for a Drunk Review of Goosebumps #12: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR”. What it says on the box. It’s a review of what turns out to be a really terribly bad Goosebumps books, which Payseur hates quite thoroughly. I’m enjoying his writing style while drunk and infuriated, but that’s about it.
Overall, I enjoyed Payseur, and am ranking him about equal with Mike Glyer. Which means I have two ties in my lineup, and that’s going to be great when I go to vote, but I’ll deal with that then!
There was a really fun and spoilerific review of The Last Jedi, which I have not seen yet, but I love spoilerific reviews of things I haven’t seen, so that was fine, which particularly looked at how it plays with and subverts tropes from earlier films. He made the interesting and quite plausible argument that once one sets aside the purely political criticisms, many of those that remain in fact spring from people who hated the prequels but nonetheless internalised them in particular ways that have shaped their expectations.
Other reviews in the area of science fiction were a discussion of whether Hidden Figures can be counted as science fiction (it’s about science, it isn’t a documentary, it’s fictionalised…), and an article about the ways in which he thinks the new Star Trek just doesn’t work (mostly because it can’t quite decide what it’s trying to do.). Another article was a little piece of research about Henry Still, who was nominated for a Hugo in 1956 alongside Ellison, Silverberg and Herbert in the category of upcoming writers, and then disappeared off the radar. He tries to discover what happened to him and may well have succeeded.
Timothy the Cat has a few pieces. There is a review of La La Land which is a dialogue between Camestros and Timothy. Timothy thinks that he is going to see a Star Wars film, and takes a while to be disabused of this notion. Having found that it is not, he decides that, fine then, it’s really just like Inception. He seems to mostly find this in order to annoy Camestros. This made for a highly entertaining and surprisingly insightful review, which also managed to include the main critiques I’ve heard of the film. Nice work. Timothy also goes to WorldCon, which turns out to be the vet. This is also funny and sarcastic and endearing.
“The witch Frisby approached the oven, her humanist boots clipping the floor in a rhythm like the spears of Menelaus approaching the walls of Illium.
Speaking of Mycroft, Camestros’ review of Too Like the Lightning was particularly thought-provoking. He likes it, but can’t recommend it – he agrees more with its detractors than its fans, and thinks that it is woefully incomplete, but he still likes it. I found myself agreeing with a lot of his review, while still loathing the book itself.
Also, he’s an Aussie! Yay for Aussie writers!
Foz Meadows provides us with 5 articles to read. The first, “Westworld: (De)Humanising the Other” is a review of the HBO show Westworld, which sounds absolutely horrific, frankly. Apparently it’s very well acted and directed, but… well, the very premise of people being able to go to this theme park where all the hosts are AIs who behave like humans and can pass a Turing test but basically exist for tourists to act out their Wild West fantasies on or with (mostly on, apparently) is pretty repellant. Meadows deconstructs this further – beyond the inevitable (and gratuitously sexualised) abuse of the AIs, there is the treatment of LGBTQI characters (who are either villainous, doomed, or both), and the extra level of degradation dealt out to Hosts who appear to be people of colour.
To be fair, I’ve never heard of the show, but if the premise is as written, it’s hard to imagine how it could be anything other than deeply squicky.
Her next article is called “Shin Godzilla: Disasters, Tropes & Cultural Memory”. This is a Japanese disaster film, and Meadows’ review centres around how different the tropes are to the sort of tropes found in American disaster movies. Japan is a country that puts a fair bit of effort into disaster preparedness and values cooperation and knowledge, and the movie reflects this, with the disaster/monster itself as the main antagonist to be defeated – American disaster movies tend to reflect an idea that if disaster strikes, it will be every man for himself, and any sort of organised structure or authority (the government, the army) will in fact be adding to the problems and be something the heroes have to overcome. This is a troubling cultural insight – libertarian ideals seem to be baked into US culture at an even deeper level than I’d have thought, even in the so called ‘liberal’ media.
“YA Discourse: Witch vs Vulture” deconstructs a recent controversy among YA readers and reviewers over Laurie Forest’s book, Black Witch; a review that quoted it extensively, claiming that it was deeply toxic and bigoted; and the inevitable flustercluck in response to that review. The key sentence, I think, is this one:
She moves on from the book and the general controversy around it (which takes the shape of pretty much every controversy I’ve seen around a book in the last decade) to thinking about cultural change online and the intersection of this with young people who are just beginning to make their own literary judgments online. There are so many obnoxious folk out there who like to pretend to want to be educated on Diversity 101 that people have been burned out on helping them, and start defaulting to rudeness in answering those sorts of questions, which is rough on young people who genuinely are trying to figure things out (and possibly the goal of some of the obnoxious folk in the first place.)
I didn’t really engage with the last two essays, “Movie Thoughts: SF, Pulp & Grit”, which is about Alien: Covenant, and “Final Fantasy FXV: Thoughts”. I think they are perfectly good examples of their type, but of limited interest to me.
This is a hard category to judge, because everything was pretty good. Camestros Felapton is definitely getting my first place vote. After that, I think I have Sarah Gailey and Bogi Takács (final order may change), the first for some really interesting essays, and the second for a really interesting perspective; Foz Meadows, Charles Payseur and Mike Glyer are kind of equal fourth for me, but will probably go in that order. I feel bad about putting Glyer last – I feel bad about putting ANYONE last. Really, there was nothing bad in this section, so I may still mess around with my votes down the track.
Felapton was a real find, however. I’m very glad I read him.