Welcome back to Reading the Hugos, our regular summer series covering as many Hugo Award categories as possible. Today we're looking at the Fan Writers. If you're not familiar, those are the writers doing exactly what I'm doing here (only better) - writing about science fiction and fantasy and the various intersections with real life and politics and awards and with other works and with absolutely anything connected to the genre at all - except that we're all doing this work and this writing because it's a conversation that we value and the writing is meaningful to us. Hopefully it is meaningful to others.
This is somewhat difficult category because the award is for a person, not for an individual work. Like the Campbell, we're trying to compare a body of work against a body of work and figure out which has the most weight and which has the most importance. I doubt it is possible, but here's my look at the six finalists for Fan Writer.
Mike Glyer: I find File 770 a valuable resource for fannish news within and around science fiction and fantasy. Glyer’s Pixel Scroll roundups are a quick daily check to see what’s going on, what I might have missed, what I want to miss, and what I should consider paying attention to. While there is writing involved in setting up the Pixel Scroll posts, it’s not what I look for out of fan writing. There is value in the writing of the news roundups, and I value those but it’s not “fan writing” in the sense of what I want out of a fan writer.
For his actual fan writing credits, Glyer does strong work in eulogizing the passing of notable fans. He brings out stories and lives that many readers may not have known of those who have been important in the building of fan convention community over the decades. As a whole, though, Glyer’s fan writing does not appeal to me. The most notable bits of writing are those where he engages with the Sad and Rapid Puppies (in previous years, but occasionally addressed in 2017) as well with Jon Del Arroz, who seems to be an offshoot of those campaigns. It’s not enough to push Glyer’s fan writing farther up the ballot or above No Award.
Bogi Takacs: I’ve seen Takacs pop up on my twitter feed commenting on various aspects of genre, but I had never read much of their writing. Based on the writing samples including in the Voter’s Packet (and suggestive from their Twitter bio), Takacs is focused on marginalized communities intersecting with science fiction and fantasy. To be quickly reductive, Takacs is Hungarian, Queer, and Jewish – all of which comes through in the focus of the included writing samples – it is a case where identity is part and parcel of the writing. Bogi Takacs’ voice is vital and important.
Camestros Felapton: I was most familiar with Camestros from his commenting over at File 770 and the occasional link back to his own blog. Here, he has included a much more robust Voter Packet entry than most. Half of his fan writing is the stuff I would be looking for from a contributor to Nerds of a Feather. The other half really annoys me. The annoying half is stuff like Timothy the Cat, Ask a Triceratops, A Cat Reviews La La Land – the stuff that isn’t straight up essays and reviews and is more Felapton playing around. I’m being a little harsh here and I’m probably stretching the truth when I say that half annoys me. The truth is it just isn’t my thing and I think it detracts from the stuff that I do appreciate and do like. It’s a small knock down compared to some of the other very strong writers on the ballot.
Sarah Gailey: Years ago Jo Walton was writing fantastically compelling essays at Tor.com. Whether she was revisiting her favorites like Steven Brust and CJ Cherryh, looking at the Hugo Awards, or whatever else struck her fancy, she was killing it. She was killing it to the point there was some chatter about nominating her for Best Fan Writer. I can’t source this, but I remember her writing, telling people not to nominate her because she wasn’t eligible – because this was paid writing (though not well paid) and Tor.com was a professional publication, if mostly for fiction. I’ve since struggled with that idea in other categories, not nominating the lamentably mothballed Rocket Talk podcast because it was hosted at Tor.com as one example. I still struggle, though I think that fan / pro ship has pretty well sailed regarding whether the fan writer gets paid and whether a podcast is hosted on the website of a professional entity (see 8-4 Play in 2016 for Fancast).
I bring all of that up here because the three contributions from Sarah Gailey in the voter packet are from Tor.com and Uncanny Magazine (a semiprozine, which is an entirely separate discussion). Is it fan writing or is it paid professional writing? I’m still not sure where the line is, and I’m not sure it is a battle I have in me to fight today.
Whether you view her writing as fannish or professional, Sarah Gailey’s essays are superb. With clear eyes and clear writing, Gailey gets to the heart of whatever she is writing about, digging deep below the surface to hit a point of view that perhaps isn’t as talked about as often in wide open spaces.
Foz Meadows: It's no secret that Foz Meadows is smart as hell as a fan writer. She has twice been a finalist for Fan Writer (2014 and 2017) and that's no mistake. She writes deeply incisive commentary on all the fannish stuff that I enjoy, but brings a perspective that I both appreciate and need. Whether she is writing about Star Wars or Final Fantasy or Godzilla or digging into why someone who wants "realistic" rather than "diverse" books might have a problem with perspective, Meadows brings nuanced truth and understanding.
There are many ways that I appreciate fan writing because there are many shapes that fan writing can take, and Meadows is among the best.
Charles Payseur: Out of all of the writers on the Fan Writer ballot, I was the most familiar with Charles Payseur. After all, for three years he was an important contributor to Nerds of a Feather. He was our short fiction reviewer. We were sad to see him leave at the end of the year, but recognized he was moving onward and upward. He’s been doing his own thing at Quick Sip Reviews and was branching out to other venues, including The Book Smugglers (a Hugo finalist this year for Semiprozine). Any time I’ve needed to get a quick take on a short story, I went to Quick Sip Reviews to see what Charles had to say. Charles is sharp, incisive, sensitive, considerate, passionate, and thoughtful reviewer and essayist. If I ever wrote (and published) a story, I would want Charles to review it. He’s one of the best and most prolific short fiction reviewers out there.
1. Charles Payseur
2. Foz Meadows
3. Sarah Gailey
4. Camestros Felapton
5. Bogi Takacs
6. No Award
7. Mike Glyer
Our Previous Coverage
John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.