Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Draft Hugo Ballot 2015

Welcome to my Second Annual Draft Hugo Ballot! This year I’ve loosened the reins a bit and brought in some outside assistance from fellow nerds of a feather Charles, English Scribbler, Mike and Vance--mostly in the short fiction categories (which I was exceedingly grumpy about in 2014) and in the graphic fiction and dramatic presentation categories (which I consumed far too little of in 2014). The rest is mine, for better or for worse.

As a disclaimer, I should probably also mention that ‘nerds of a feather, flock together’ is eligible in the Best Fanzine category. So if you read and enjoy what we post on this site, and are going to fill in a ballot (you can sign up here), I encourage you to consider us alongside the other blogs and print ‘zines you enjoy reading.

[If you do happen to nominate us, our official name is ‘nerds of a feather, flock together,’ edited by The G and Vance Kotrla).]

Returning to this list of Hugo nominees, and particularly to the fan categories, I feel obliged to mention that there are many more deserving folks than there are spaces on the ballot. That’s speaks to the richness of our discourse but also makes me feel like any list I could draw up would insufficiently capture the range of awesomeness that I’ve observed over the past year. I could easily make another list full of great stuff from deserving people.

On the other side of the coin, you may notice a few categories missing. That’s because there are some I feel unqualified to discuss (such as the artist categories) or just don’t feel like nominating anything (due to the aforementioned grumpiness). But enough about all that--on to the nominees! (Purchase links at the bottom.)

Part I: Creative Products

Best Novel

These all feature on my Best of 2014 post for The Book Smugglers, so forgive me if the copy looks familiar...

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf)

“In some ways, the book feels like a sequel to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (and it is arguably framed as such). At other points it resembles a science fictional riff on Roberto Bolaño’s magisterial 2666. But here’s the thing: Station Eleven isn’t just very good literary fiction in speculative clothing; it’s also very good at being speculative fiction—something litfic authors rarely manage when “slumming it” in genre. Easily the best novel I read in 2014, and one I imagine I’ll re-read periodically for the rest of my life.” (The G)

A Darkling Sea by James Cambias (Tor)

“Equally a tale of first contact and how good intentions can go awry, A Darkling Sea is smart and sociologically complex “hard” SF—the kind of thing I often long for but rarely find.” (The G)

 Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski (Orbit/Gollancz)

“As I wrote in my review, ‘there are a lot more decent fantasy novels than detractors might believe, [but] very few can credibly claim to be significant works of literature. Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher Cycle is a rare exception.’ A highly significant work of genre fiction that deserves to be much more widely read than it is. Also far, far more sophisticated than the two video games. (Oh, and if you decide to read the series, please start with the short story collection The Last Wish.)” (The G)

Eternal Sky Trilogy [Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, Steles of the Sky] by Elizabeth Bear (Tor)

“I’m going to follow Aidan of A Dribble of Ink (as I do in many things) and nominate this for the Hugo under the “Wheel of Time Rule.” Though the ending to Bear’s “silk road fantasy” may not have been as superlative as the start, I honestly can’t remember the last time I read a fantasy trilogy this good.” (The G)

City of Stairs by Robert J. Bennett (Broadway Books)

City of Stairs has a briskly paced plot and well-rounded characters, both of which are integral to its success. But it’s the way Bennett smashes past the genre’s assumptions and conventions of world building that really make it stand out. Plus the whole cars but no guns thing—Bennett doesn’t really make a big deal out of it but I found the notion fascinating.” A shot of fresh air in a genre that can be very stale and crusty. (The G)

Best Novella

Scale-Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (Immersion Press)

I understand that some will view anything with Sriduangkaew's name attached as toxic, and I understand why. But one of my 2015 resolutions is to respect the Barthesian author/text distinction to the best of my ability. Accordingly, I think texts should ideally be considered on their own merits and not through the prism of the author's person (or vice versa). Of course this is not always possible and people draw the line in different places. However, I am compelled to note that Scale-Bright was--by far--the best novella I read in 2014. Strong characters, confident world-building (based on Chinese mythology) and elegant prose--exactly what I look for in fantasy. (The G)

Best Novelette
"Dancing with Batgirl in the Land of Nod" by Will McIntosh (The End is Now)

About the world ending and the choices people make when faced with such an event. A sad look at nostalgia, loss, and endings. (Charles)

The Magician and Laplace's Demon” by Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld)

A great story that explores the intersection of magic and science, computers and humanity. (Charles)

Heaven Thunders the Truth” by K. J. Parker (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Another year, another top-notch gritty fantasy from Parker features in the middle-sized categories. Should anyone be surprised? Parker is one of the few remaining practitioners who can write a compact novel with a linear plot and make it feel like nothing’s left out. (The G)
We are the Cloud” by Sam J. Miller (Lightspeed)

A very painful, personal piece, heavily coated in early 1990s nostalgia. That did turn some people off, as it ends up being more about the writer and similarly-aged readers working through their own personal issues (related to growing older and less connected to the totems of youth and adolescence) than speculation. But, being both a fan of Miller's writing and somewhat forgiving of nostalgia, this one really resonated with me--especially since I am that similarly-aged reader. (The G)

Best Short Story

Didn’t realize Lightspeed had such a good year until I saw how it accounted for 3/5 of our short story picks (and 2/4 of the alternates).
Candy Girl” by Chikodili Emelumadu (Apex)

A bitingly funny commentary on cultural appropriation as a woman is first transformed into chocolate and then consumed. That it doesn't end there is a great twist. (Charles)

What Glistens Back” by Sunny Moraine (Lightspeed)

A man falls toward the surface of an alien world while saying his last goodbyes to his husband. Heartbreaking in every way, it focuses on the human spirit spreading out among the stars and is hopeful and tragic and made me cry so much. (Charles)

"Four Days of Christmas" by Tim Maughan (Terraform)

Inspired by a visit to the factory in China where 60 percent of all Christmas products are made (the subject of this non-fiction article), "Four Days of Christmas" features strong writing and highly focused (and unsettling) speculation on realistic future(s). If you ask me, this is what science fiction was made for. (The G)
“A Tank Only Fears Four Things” by Seth Dickinson (Lightspeed)

A woman must recover after war, when she literally was a tank, to find a purpose in life, and perhaps some human contact. About dealing with the scars left long after the fighting is done, the story managed to be uplifting and genuine. (Charles)
INELIGIBLE BUT STILL AWESOME:The Herons of Mer D'Ouest” by Matthew Bennardo (Lightspeed)

This historical horror is superb, frankly. Told in the form of 1764 diary entries, it charts the discovery by an early American pioneer of a local tribe and the monsters that they fight. The haunting imagery is wonderful, and the resulting violence outlandish and yet believable. (English Scribbler)

Best Related Work

I’ll be honest here and state that I don’t really understand the point of a category that compares 1,000 word blog posts with books. And what about post series, you know, statements broken into several component pieces either because they took time to write or because the author didn’t want to inundate her/his readers with too much at once? Do those count as multiple “related works” or a single “related work?”
Speculative Fiction 2013 edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James (Jurassic London)

This yearly anthology of writing on SF/F continues to impress. And we’re featured in it! (Not that this is why it impresses--just saying.) (The G)

Call and Response by Paul Kincaid (Beccon)

A collection of must-read essays by the guy I consider to be one of--if not the--preeminent critics in SF/F. (The G)

Deep Forests and Manicured Gardens - A Look at Two New Short Fiction Magazines” by Jonathan McCalmont (Ruthless Culture)

I’ve linked to the binding post, because my understanding of the rules is that post series not compiled in a single publication (like a book) aren’t eligible while single essays are. But really you should read the other two entries to get an idea of why this is such an important piece of criticism. Also served as the prompt for our first Perspectives post. (The G)

Best Graphic Story

Locke and Key: Alpha and Omega by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)

The emotional ride with the Locke family came to a stunning conclusion in my favorite comic series of all-time. I can't think of any series (television, film, or written) that has so appropriately parted ways with its fans. It was so heart breaking and fulfilling and I can't imagine ever enjoying a series as much as this one. (Mike). Puts a period at the end of what is frankly the most engrossing comic saga I've ever read. The end of the story of the Locke family's stay in Keyhouse is so, so sad and so beautiful. The ending more than lived up to the high expectations set by the earlier volumes. (Vance)

Sex Criminals, Vol. 1 by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky (Check)

I think I've pretty much aged out of my titillation phase, so I didn't rush out to get SEX CRIMINALS until it had been recommended by several people. What I found was a stunningly inventive sci-fi story like a filthy episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE that was also laugh-out-loud funny, even while the characters experienced grim and frightening things. (Vance)

Trillium by Jeff Lemire (Vertigo)

One of the most creative sci-fi titles I read in 2014, Trillium captivates your imagination as the reader explores the budding relationship between two individuals separated by over 2,000 years. Lemire continues to flex his artistic chops as he is able to balance the juxtaposition of a beautiful love story with the sheer terror of The Caul. Lemire is one of the most creative and talented individuals in any medium. (Mike)

Saga Vol. 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Vertigo)

If say anything negative about this title Lying Cat will call me out on it. An epic sci-fi tale of star crossed lovers told from the perspective of their child that will appeal to a broad range of fans. An epic saga (sorry) that everyone should read. There is a reason it won the Hugo in 2013 and has a great chance of repeating. (Mike)

The Wake by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy (Vertigo)

Technically this started in 2013, but kept going into 2014, so I *think* it’s eligible. It’s also a hyper-experimental, freaky science fiction/horror mashup marked by great writing and seriously high quality art. (The G)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long-Form)
Big Hero 6 (dir. Don Hall and Chris Williams)

This was the most magical, most captivating sci-fi film I saw this year. From the emotional core of the film to the individual characters, there was nothing that didn't grab me in a major way. This also has the distinction of becoming my son's first favorite film — that first movie where you "get it," what film is capable of, like Ghostbusters was for me. (Vance)

**Guardians of the Galaxy (dir. James Gunn)

I honestly feel bad that all three of my nods are to Disney movies, which certainly don't need any more help, but they're the best I saw in 2014. The sci-fi comedy is always a tightrope act, but when it works it's probably my favorite kind of movie. Guardians works. (Vance)**

Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier (dir. Anthony and Joe Russo)

What a strange year for Marvel releases, that their lightest, funniest film is paired with their most serious-minded. Cap 2 does something I really never considered, and does it very well, which is to cross a political thriller with a superhero film. I mean, for your plugged-in, thinking moviegoer, this is a film tailor-made for our times, and which evokes favorable comparisons with classics of 1970s paranoia like Three Days of the Condor. It also embraces the emotional pain of its characters, from Steve Rogers' displacement in time and Sam Wilson's struggles to adjust to civilian life after the war, to the gut-punch of learning the Winter Soldier's identity and what that means to Cap. Plus, the action is just badass. This is a sequel that, to me, exceeds its predecessor in every way. (Vance)

[Anything but] Interstellar (dir. Christopher Nolan)

A visually beautiful film unfortunately paired to a hackneyed, nonsensical and frequently cringe-worthy screenplay. Sorry, Shaun! (The G)

Part II: Fan Categories and Quasi-Fan Categories

Best Semiprozine

I’m thumbing my nose at the established pro-paying markets this year, mostly because I want to give a signal boost to a few deserving folks who might be off the radar, but also because I question whether “semi-pro” is an appropriate label for established, high-profile and pro-paying online magazines like Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons or Lightspeed. Not that they shouldn’t be up for an award--they should--but in a new/appropriate category in which they would be considered alongside Asimov’s and F&SF.
Interzone (edited by Andy Cox)

I read pretty much every issue of Interzone in 2014, and was consistently impressed--not just with the fiction, but also the reviews and essays, which are often an afterthought for fiction magazines. Many of my favorite British critics and reviewers--for example, Maureen Kincaid-Speller, Ian Sales, Jonathan McCalmont--are on the team. Top quality stuff.

Pornokitsch (edited by Jared Shurin and Anna Perry)

Like us, Pornokitsch cast a wide net across geekdom. But it covers an even wider terrain than we do, yet does so with a voice that is clear, strong and unmistakable for anything else. As someone who’s tried hard to build an “identity” for a fundamentally eclectic blog, I can attest to how difficult that is to accomplish. Somehow Jared and Anne manage to come off as high-brow but not snooty, a delicate balance to maintain, yet maintain it they do--even when discussing things like D&D.

The Book Smugglers (edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James)

One of the best, most professional and most readable blogs out there, The Book Smugglers are now publishing short fiction. And not just any short fiction, but really, really good stuff--with a mild emphasis on YA too, which adds to the thematic and stylistic diversity of the overall short fiction market.

Fantasy Scroll Magazine (edited by Iulian Ionescu)

This is a new, fantasy and science fiction venture but one that already feels like it's been around forever. The inaugural issue could serve as a masterclass on how to make a semipro-paying relevant, though I suspect FSM fast on its way to evolving into a fully-fledged pro-paying market. 

Bastion Science Fiction Magazine (edited by R. Leigh Hennig)

In the interests of transparency, I should note that they published a short story of mine. However, I hope that doesn't give the wrong impression about my including them on this list. I read Bastion regularly, and though it can be a bit uneven, I highly value the fact that, in an environment with increasingly indistinct borders between science fiction and fantasy, Bastion publishes stories that are both strictly science fiction and often quite different from what you see published elsewhere.
Best Fanzine

For this category, I simply asked myself: which sites or print ‘zines (that fit the criteria of what is or isn’t a fanzine) did I read the most in 2014? And the fact is there were too many to mention, so I picked the five that most consistently did it for me over the course of the past 12 months.
SF Mistressworks (edited by Ian Sales)

Year after year, Ian Sales’ blog dedicated to the secret history of female-written science fiction uncovers more top-quality (and important!) stuff that’s been neglected, looked past or left on the shelf in favor of the Asimovs, Heinleins and Clarkes of genre history. Depending on your perspective, SF Mistressworks either provides a long overdue complement or much needed correction to the dominant narrative. Either way, it’s highly valuable and deserves recognition as such.
A Dribble of Ink (edited by Aidan Moher)

Initially I wasn't sure whether I should re-nominate last year’s winner, but A Dribble of Ink is just too impressive not to. Someone (Justin I think) once said that Aidan Moher’s fantasy-oriented blog was evolving into something more akin to a magazine, and I think that’s even more so today than it was at the time (2013 I think). The writing, whether Aidan’s or from one of his many illustrious guest posters, is consistently top-flight, while the gorgeous site design leaves everything else in its dust.

Lady Business (edited by Renay, Ana and Jodie)

I’ve been reading Renay’s work for a while now, but 2014 was the year I really came to appreciate Lady Business and its signature voice, which combines the casual style of a fansite with the heft of critique. And in 2014 they added some quality new features, such as "Short Business" (a short fiction review series). Of course the ultimate compliment I can pay the Feminist Ponies is to say that, even when I disagree vociferously with their conclusions, I always leave wondering if I just wasn’t looking at things right. And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s the mark of a great review.

Violin in a Void (edited by Lauren Smith)

I don’t remember how I discovered the Africa-based blog Violin in a Void (founder Lauren is from South Africa and, until recently, lived in Ethiopia), but I quickly recognized its reviews for their insight and general high quality. Tilts more fantasy than SF, but there’s enough of both to satisfy both halves of fandom. A site I really hope more people take notice of in 2015.

SFSignal (edited by John DiNardo)
Yes I know they wouldn’t accept the award if given to them, but there are several people writing for the site whose work I’d like to recognize for the top-notch stuff it is: Paul Weimer, Andrea Johnson, Rob Bedford, Sarah Chorn and Rachel Cordasco, among others. So there!

Best Fan Writer

Another category with too many deserving folks for five slots...
Jonathan McCalmont

Last year I called Jonathan “acerbic in the best possible way,” further celebrating “his broadsides against the hypocrisies and absurdities of fandom.” Both statements stand--but, if anything, Jonathan upped his game in 2014. His "Future Interrupted" column for Interzone and blog posts at Ruthless Culture demonstrate a sharp critical eye, wonderfully sophisticated writing and a unique ability to frame current discourses within genre history and social theory. Though there are a lot of critics/reviewers I enjoy reading, Jonathan is one who most consistently inspires me. Now get back on twitter already!

Natalie Luhrs

Every year there’s an essay or post series that shakes me out of my comfort zone. This year it was Natalie’s heartbreaking post on Marion Zimmer Bradley and her family’s sordid history of pedophilia. I loved The Mists of Avalon as a child, and learned to value its ideas as an adult; as such, the revelations triggered an extra level of dismay beyond the shock and horror of the revelations themselves. Though “Silence is Complicity” was not the only essay on the topic in 2014, it was the one that best framed the story for me.

Foz Meadows

Her essays and opinion pieces are remarkable for their insight and her writing is really sophisticated. But in 2014 I also discovered how good Foz is at constructing a book review (thanks to doozies like this one for A Dribble of Ink). Simply put, she's operating on another level.

Justin Landon

Staffers Book Review is dearly departed from this mortal coil, but Justin is still out there making his (typically strong) opinions known. And thank goodness for that--he’s consistently one of the most entertaining and informative voices out there. Absolutely one of the best and someone deserves to be recognized as such.

Martin Lewis/Petto

Martin’s output slowed in 2014, but I guess the less he produces the more I value him as a critic. Martin, as it happens, may pull the fewest in the business, and he’s a great writer. Fandom needs more voices like his.

Best Fancast

Rocket Talk (Justin Landon)

Well, you knew that even if he shut down his blog, Justin wouldn’t shut up, right? I mean, this is a guy who loves to talk genre, and unlike many of us, he’s got an excellent speaking voice. So I guess you could say Tor.com’s podcast is the perfect venue! In all seriousness, Rocket Talk was my single favorite podcast of 2014. Great, high-level conversations and always fun.
Skiffy and Fanty (Shaun Duke, Jen Zinc, Paul Weimer, Rachel Acks, Julia Rios, Michael Underwood, David Annandale and Stina Leicht) 
My other favorite podcast--one that consistently impresses with its professionalism and quality of discourse (and lack of insider/card-table-style chitchat--the failing of many a podcast). Though I nominated them last year as well, I think Skiffy and Fanty got even better in 2014. Also love the range of tastes and insight that its many contributors provide.

Midnight in Karachi (Mahvesh Murad)

Mahvesh is someone whose work I only discovered recently, but both her podcast and print reviews bring the awesome. She’s fast becoming one of my favorite critical voices in fandom. 

The Coode Street Podcast (Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe)

Always great listening to these guys.

Part III: Support the Creative Folks (and us)!


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
A Darkling Sea by James Cambias
Range of Ghosts/Shattered Pillars/Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear
Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
Scale-Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew


The End is Nigh (Apocalypse Triptych Book 1) (Anthology)
Clarkesworld (Magazine)
Apex (Magazine)
Beneath Ceaseless Skies (Magazine) 
Lightspeed (Magazine)
Fantasy Scroll (Magazine)
Bastion Science Fiction (Magazine)
Graphic Novels/Collections

Alpha & Omega (Locke & Key) by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Sex Criminals, Vol. 1 by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
Trillium by Jeff Lemire
Saga, Vol. 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
The Wake by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy

Related Works

Speculative Fiction 2013: The year's best online reviews, essays and commentary (Volume 2) edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James
Call and Response by Paul Kincaid


POSTED BY: The G--purveyor of nerdliness, genre fanatic and Nerds of a
Feather founder/administrator (2012).