Thursday, March 09, 2017

The 2017 Hugo Awards: My Hugo Ballot, Publishing and Fan Categories

The trait that most sets the categories in this post apart from the rest of the Hugo ballot is that there doesn't tend to be much movement here.  Magazines that do good work tend to keep doing it.  Writers who produce excellent criticism will (happily) keep writing.  So the excitement of ferreting out the year's best work, of happening across a new discovery, is a little muted here.  Especially in my case, since so many nominees in these categories that I've been stumping for for years have continued to be ignored by the greater nominating membership (in other words, what is it going to take for Victo Ngai to get a Best Professional Artist nomination?).  Nevertheless, this year's reading has reminded me that it is possible to be surprised even by venues and writers you thought you knew well, as I elaborate below.

(As usual, I've omitted the editor categories where I don't feel qualified to nominate, and Best Fancast, because I don't really care for podcasts.  I also relied a great deal on the Hugo Eligible Art tumblr, and on the Hugo Nominations Spreadsheet, for suggestions in the art categories.)

Previous posts in this series:


Best Semiprozine:

  • GigaNotoSaurus (editor: Rashida J. Smith) - I continue to be blown away by this how this small magazine consistently delivers excellent work in the most unassuming setting ever.  For a magazine that publishes only twelve stories in a year to constantly end up with multiple selections on my ballot (this year I have a novella and novelette selection from here) is a pretty impressive hit rate.

  • Lightspeed Magazine (editor-in-chief: John Joseph Adams) - Lightspeed surprised me this year by developing something I had learned not to look for in online short fiction magazines--a clear and strongly-felt editorial voice.  In a significant departure from previous years, the stories Lightspeed published in 2016 tended overwhelmingly to be science fiction, to be focused on near-future issues caused by the interaction of society and technology, and to be strongly political.  That's not necessarily how I'd like all my short fiction, but it's interesting to see one venue with such a distinctive focus.

  • Liminal Stories (editors: Shannon Peavey and Kelly Sandoval) - This is a new magazine, and I haven't completely plumbed its depths yet.  But what I've seen has impressed me--Joseph Allen Hill, whose "The Venus Effect" was such a wonderful surprise, had another, very interesting story here, "You Can't See it 'til it's Finished", and the rest of their roster is an interesting combination of familiar names and new ones.

  • Strange Horizons (editor-in-chief: Niall Harrison) - The mothership, and still one of the most ambitious and hardworking genre magazines out there.  Strange Horizons had a great 2016--a successful fund drive, finally transitioning to a new website, and setting up several important projects that'll be debuting throughout 2017.  And through it all, it continued to publish excellent fiction and non-fiction--it's not a coincidence that all but one of my Best Fan Writer nominees did some of their best work for this magazine.

Best Fanzine:

I'm on the verge of no longer nominating in this category.  I don't like the idea of nominating personal blogs here--with the existence of the Best Fan Writer category, and the fact that Best Related Work is increasingly being used to recognize individual blog posts or series, it seems like an unnecessary duplication--and there are few group blogs I might consider nominating that do not quickly cross the boundary into the Best Semiprozine category.  I'm going to nominate Ladybusiness and People of Color in European Art History, both of which continue to do good work in their chosen fields, but it's not a category I'm particularly invested in.

Best Professional Artist:

What I really want to do, though I can't quite justify it to myself, is nominate Mark Bryan, whose painting "The Nightmare" uses genre imagery to perfectly capture the horrors of the nascent Trump presidency.  But, apart from everything else, I'm pretty sure "The Nightmare" is a 2017 work, so I'll refrain, difficult as it will be.

  • Likhain - In 2016, Likhain continued to draw on Filipino influences to create truly unique and breathtaking art.  See, for example, her cover illustration for Zen Cho's novelette The Terracotta Bride.

  • Victo Ngai - Look, guys, this is getting ridiculous.  Ngai is on the verge of being so big that nominating her for a Hugo would almost be an insult, so the fact that the fandom can't get its act together to recognize an artist who has been getting commissions from Apple, Lincoln, and the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy, who has been honored by Forbes as one of the top illustrators under 30, is more of a ding to us than to her.  We're lucky to still have Ngai creating works in the genre--this year, she contributed an illustration for Charlie Jane Ander's Tor.com story "Clover", and the cover designs for Nisi Shawl's Everfair and Kij Johnson's The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe.  But she won't be around forever, and we should recognize her while we can.

  • Yuko Shimizu - Shimizu, too, is an artist whom the Hugo voters have been sleeping on for far too long.  In 2016, her genre-related work includes this variant cover for Dark Horse's Firefly comic, and an illustration for Laurie Penny's story "Your Orisons May Be Recorded" at Tor.com.

  • Sana Takeda - I wasn't as blown away by Marjorie Liu's Monstress as a lot of people (though I did like it quite a bit).  But there's no denying that Takeda's artwork in that comic is stunning, and unlike anything that is being done in the field.  The lush, busy illustrations are what makes the world of Monstress real, and particularly their hints of the bizarre, such as the old, dead gods who float across the world's sky, to the inhabitants' general apathy.

  • Gabriel Hernandez Walta - The Vision was one of the most astonishing and thought-provoking comics I've ever read, and it could never have achieved its affect without Walta's artwork.  Deceptively realistic, Walta's careful attention to details, and his orderly panels, make the world that the Visions make their home in feel real, and then oppressive as the demands of normalcy turn out to be more than they can cope with.  When the story inevitably bursts into violence, Walta is right there to convey both the urgency of the action, and the horror of its aftermath.

Best Fan Artist:

  • Vesa Lehtimäki - Lehtimäki's Star Wars focused photo-series, which combines real locations, photoshopped spaceships, and Lego figurines, is utterly delightful and unique even in the rather busy field of Star Wars fan art.

  • Daniel Shaffer - Shaffer's deceptively simple illustrations feel like something out of a fairy tale, but also have a weight of weirdness that sets them apart.

  • Nuria Tamarit - What wins me over about Tamarit's illustration is the expression of her characters.  Even in the most fantastic situations, they seem exasperated, amused, or even bored.

  • Vacuumslayer - In 2016, vacuumslayer continued to manipulate stock images to create truly unusual, Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired images.  This one feels particularly pertinent.

  • Kathryn M. Weaver - Weaver's illustrations initially seem similar to a lot of fantasy-themed art, but slowly you notice the slightly off touches, the hints of weirdness, that give them their own personality.

Best Fan Writer:

  • Nina Allan - In 2016, Allan continued in her role as one of our top critics, a writer who knows how to keenly dissect a work by a popular author, and how to introduce readers to writers they'd never even heard of and make them sound completely enticing.  Perhaps her most important work from last year is her commentary on the Clarke Award shortlist, which eventually lead to her establishing the Shadow Clarke Jury.

  • Megan AM - Another writer I encountered while reviewing the Clarke shortlist (and who is also involved in the Shadow Clarke project).  Megan's commentary on the shortlisted books was incisive and insightful, and as I continued reading her during the rest of the year I discovered the kind of book blogger I'd thought was no longer to be found.  Happily, I was wrong.

  • Vajra Chandrasekera - Vajra went from strength to strength in 2016, writing short fiction, taking over as a fiction editor for Strange Horizons, and continuing to write reviews and even a column, Marginalia.  That column, in particular, is what I want to highlight here even though it was short-lived--it drew my attention to books I would never have heard about, and in a way that made them sound completely necessary.  But don't overlook Vajra's excellent reviews, for example of Nnedi Okorafor's Binti, or Victor LaValle's The Ballad of Black Tom.

  • Erin Horáková - Erin has been one of Strange Horizons's top critics for years, but 2016 was a banner year for her.  She published the magnificent essay "Boucher, Backbone, and Blake - the Legacy of Blakes 7" (currently nominated for the BSFA's nonfiction award), as well as several magnificent reviews--see, for example, this one of Steven Universe.  She also reignited her blog, where she published several important pieces--this review of Neil Gaiman's illustrated story The Sleeper and the Spindle is particularly sharp on Gaiman's appeal and how people who encountered him as teenagers in the 90s see him today.

  • Samira Nadkarni - You may, like me, have encountered Samira on twitter, where she is a delightful and insightful critic (check out her trenchant twitter-thread on the massive blind spots with how Captain America: Civil War constructs its geopolitical situation).  It's no surprise that Strange Horizons wanted her to write for them, and the results have been magnificent.  Her review of Shadowhunters remains one of the best dissections of the current state of genre TV I've ever read, and her non-review of the anthology Deserts of Fire is a stern but necessary denunciation of its project and the limitations of how it executed it.  For a more upbeat take, check out her delightful (and delighted) review of the Bollywood superhero movie A Flying Jatt.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Lightspeed is no longer eligible for semiprozine as they are now pro, and Liminal Stories don't have enough issues for eligibility yet, see http://semiprozine.org/semiprozine-directory/

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