Hugo noms: novels

So the deadline for Hugo nominations this year is March 10, so it’s time to get some recommendations down. As always my main interest is with novels, so let’s get those out of the way first. In no particular order:

Otherbound — Corinne Duyvis

What sets this apart from the hundreds of other young adult fantasies are several things. First, there’s the ingenious concept of the protagonist, Nolan, being forced to live somebody else’s life, see through a stranger’s eyes, every time he closes his. Second, Duyvis makes this into a disability more than a superpower. If every time you blink you see through somebody else’s eyes, it’s bound to distract you from the real world. And that has consequences. It’s not the only way Otherbound deals with disability; all three main characters are bound together by their disabilities, their lives interwoven because of it. Third, she has also seriously thought about the consent issues of being able to share someone’s life so intimately. And she manages to do all this and write a gripping adventure story too.

The Mirror Empire — Kameron Hurley

The first book in the new fantasy series by one of the hot new science fiction writers. In some ways it is a traditional epic fantasy, complete with a Big Bad that needs to be defeated, but what makes it special is its worldbuilding. The world of The Mirror Empire is one of the more fully realised, interesting and novel I’ve read in a long time and she manages it without “the great clomping foot of nerdism” stomping down on the story.

Lagoon — Nnedi Okorafor

Written out of frustration with the South African sf movie District 9, this is her version of an alien invasion, set in Lagos, Nigeria. That setting already sets it apart from the ordinary run of invasion stories, usually set in the States or sometimes Europe. But there’s also Okorafor’s unapologetic use of Nigerian English rather than “standard” English. Then there’s the genre breaking Okorafor cheerfully commits here as well, as one chapter frex is told from the perspective of a spider trying to cross a tarmac road, a self aware and evil tarmac road looking for new victims to devour.

Ancillary Sword — Ann Leckie

The sequel to the novel that last year swept the SF awards is just as good. Paradoxically it both takes place on a smaller stage than the previous novel and concernes itself with bigger matters. Most of Ancillary Justice revolved around Breq’s struggle to come to grips with her own identity and her quest for vengeance, her inner turmoil, but Ancillary Sword has those struggles if not entirely resolved, so much so that she’s in full control here. And whereas the focus of the original novel, thanks to its novel use of pronouns, was mainly on gender, here it is on the impact of colonialism, something science fiction as a genre direly needs to come to grips with.

The Stone Boatsmen — Sarah Tolmie

This reminded me of The Steerswoman series, in that it’s the purest of science fiction stories set in what first looks like a fantasy setting, a world with three cities who didn’t even suspect each other’s existence until one navigator prince took the gamble to go look for other cities in the direction the stone boatsmen in the harbour of his city were pointing. What was most impressive about this novel was how free of violence and conflict it was without it being some boring utopian walkthrough.

These are my choices for the Hugo, but that leaves out Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, SL Huang’s Zero Sum Game, Jo Walton’s My Real Children, Andy Weir’s The Martian and Ken Macleod’s Descent as almost equally good choices for the Hugo and I won’t be miffed if any of these end up on the final ballot instead of my choices. But I’m limited to five choices and reluctantly had to leave these out.

Recoloured characters or restored colouration?

An interesting find by Sean Kleefeld: Marvel may have recoloured background characters in their Masterworks series to make their early comics slightly more diverse:

On the one hand, I can appreciate that they were trying to be more inclusive in 1987 when the Masterworks book first came out. As minimal an effort as this was. But what that also does is change the historical record so that it misrepresents where Marvel was at socially in 1962. It makes the company look more progressive than it was. The truth is, as of FF #8, Marvel was not thinking about equal rights or showing people that didn’t look like anyone in their offices.

original and recoloured panels from Fantastic Four 8

However, I’m somewhat skeptical about it that Marvel really was thinking about diversity in 1987, not a period in which it had many titles starring women or characters of colour. Nor can I see the point in just recolouring some random background characters. To me, it looks more as if that character was always supposed to be black, but miscoloured in the original printing. The story was recoloured for the Masterworks edition by Glynis Oliver. Has anybody talked to her to see what she remembers about why this character was recoloured?

She wrote it, but we ignored it

cover of How to Suppress Womens Writing

In his review of More Women of Wonder, James quotes Eleanor Arnason:

“As I said above, what I find interesting about the Bradford discussion is—40 years of history have disappeared. Both the people defending women SFF writers and the people saying women can’t write SFF sound as if they are back in the 1970s. I am disturbed by this, because my writing history is one of the things being disappeared. I have vanished as a writer in this discourse.”

Which struck me because I’d seen the same complaint from Kate Elliot on Twitter not long before about the erasure of her own work from SFF history:

We’re currently in a period where science fiction is slowly learning that women do write and read science fiction, where a new vanguard of high profile female writers is makig waves again. The problem is, we’ve been there before. We’ve been there in the nineties, with the stablishment of the Tiptree Award in the wake of the backlash against feminist science fiction in the eighties and before that, in the first wave of feminist science fiction in the seventies. That latter shoved under the carpet by cyberpunk, as Jeanne Gomoll pointed out in her open letter to Joanna Russ (originally in Aurora 25):

You observed some of the strategies that suppress women’s writing: “She wrote it, but she wrote only one of it,” or “She wrote it, but she had help,” or “She wrote it, but she’s an anomaly.” Well, the late 1970s and early 1980s spawned many women SF writers who wrote quite a bit of highly praised fiction. The old strategies don’t quite work. Here’s the new one: “They wrote it, but they were a fad.”

[...]

In the preface to Burning Chrome, Bruce Sterling rhapsodizes about the quality and promise of the new wave of SF writers, the so-called “cyberpunks” of the late 1980s, and then compares their work to that of the preceding decade:

“The sad truth of the matter is that SF has not been much fun of late. All forms of pop culture go through the doldrums: they catch cold when society sneezes. If SF in the late Seventies was confused, self-involved, and stale, it was scarcely a cause for wonder.”

With a touch of the keys on his word processor, Sterling dumps a decade of SF writing out of cultural memory: the whole decade was boring, symptomatic of a sick culture, not worth writing about. Now, at last, he says, we’re on to the right stuff again.

And this is happening still, if not done so obviously perhaps. I’m guilty of it myself, of ignoring writers like Kate Elliot for far too long, who haven’t been commercially successfull for decades, but who haven’t had much critical attention in all that time. Compare for example Tanya Huff with John Scalzi: both have had commercial success writing good old fashioned adventure science fiction and fantasy, but the Old Man’s War has gotten much more critical reception than Huff’s similar Confederation series. Is this just because Scalzi is a better self promoter, or because it’s easy for fan and critic alike to imagine him as the new Heinlein, while Huff, isn’t?

The history of science fiction is rewritten each year, every decade, but too often it’s still a parade of white men with only the occassional exceptional woman or writer of colour admitted. You can see that logic at work in the Gollancz Science Fiction Masterworks series. If you look at the current crop of Masterworks, not only is the gender imbalance wildly in favour of male writers, those female writers who are on the list are often feminist writers (Russ, Tepper, Tiptree, Le Guin (by default if not inclination)) or represented with atypical science fiction novels (Karen Joy Fowler’s Sarah Canary, M. J. Engh’s Arslan, Cecilia Holland’s Floating Worlds), but much fewer mainstream science fiction authors are represented (Brackett, Wilis, perhaps Griffith). If you look at the earlier series it’s even worse: it’s Sheri S. Tepper, Kate Wilhelm or Ursula Le Guin and together they’re represented by as many entries as Arthur C. Clarke has on his own.

Therefore the impression you get looking at the series is that women write less science fiction than men and when they do, it’s more likely to be political, feminist or in another way not “real” science fiction. It tells a story of the history of science fiction as written by men, where you go from Wells by way of Clarke and Aldiss through Silverberg, Dick and Moorcock to Reynolds and Ryman. It’s where the first draft of sf history is written, in series like this, anthologies with no or few female contributors and with review venues which pay much more attention to male than female writers, publishers with barely a female writer in their roster. We’re sort of getting a little bit of a pushback going in the last six, seven years, more attention for writers who aren’t white, straight cis men, but as Gomoll’s open letter from the mid eighties shows, it’s still easy to dismiss all this once the initial energy of the writers and critics involves dissappates, as it must. Yes, there are grass roots initiatives like Ian Sales’ SF Mistressworks or Nicola Griffith’s The Russ pledge, but those can only do so much.

If we want science fiction to be diverse, we need to be committed to it on every level in science fiction, as reader, critic, editor, writer and publisher, to make the history as well as the present of science fiction be about more than just the usual suspects, to not forget those female writers who also shaped our culture, but weren’t recognised for it. Andre Norton needs to be remembered in the same way as Robert Heinlein, Melissa Scott needs the same recognition as Lewis Shiner, to recognise that the list James put together off the top of his head:

Lynn Abbey, Eleanor Arnason, Octavia Butler, Moyra Caldecott, Jaygee Carr, Joy Chant, Suzy McKee Charnas, C. J. Cherryh, Jo Clayton, Candas Jane Dorsey, Diane Duane, Phyllis Eisenstein, Cynthia Felice, Sheila Finch, Sally Gearhart, Mary Gentle, Dian Girard, Eileen Gunn, Monica Hughes, Diana Wynne Jones, Gwyneth Jones, Leigh Kennedy, Lee Killough, Nancy Kress, Katherine Kurtz, Tanith Lee, Megan Lindholm, Elizabeth A. Lynn, Phillipa Maddern, Ardath Mayhar, Vonda McIntyre, Patricia A. McKillip, Janet Morris, Pat Murphy, Rachel Pollack, Marta Randall, Anne Rice, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Pamela Sargent, Sydney J. Van Scyoc, Susan Shwartz, Nancy Springer, Lisa Tuttle, Joan Vinge, Élisabeth Vonarburg, Cherry Wilder, Connie Willis, Marcia J. Bennett, Mary Brown, Lois McMaster Bujold, Emma Bull, Pat Cadigan, Isobelle Carmody, Brenda W. Clough, Kara Dalkey, Pamela Dean, Susan Dexter, Carole Nelson Douglas, Debra Doyle, Claudia J. Edwards, Doris Egan, Ru Emerson, C.S. Friedman, Anne Gay, Sheila Gilluly, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Lisa Goldstein, Nicola Griffith, Karen Haber, Barbara Hambly, Dorothy Heydt (AKA Katherine Blake), P.C. Hodgell, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Tanya Huff, Kij Johnson, Janet Kagan, Patricia Kennealy-Morrison, Katharine Kerr, Peg Kerr, Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, Rosemary Kirstein, Ellen Kushner, Mercedes Lackey, Sharon Lee, Megan Lindholm, R.A. MacAvoy, Laurie J. Marks, Maureen McHugh, Dee Morrison Meaney, Naomi Mitchison, Elizabeth Moon, Paula Helm Murray, Rebecca Ore, Tamora Pierce, Alis Rasmussen (AKA Kate Elliott), Melanie Rawn, Mickey Zucker Reichert, Jennifer Roberson, Michaela Roessner, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Melissa Scott, Eluki Bes Shahar (AKA Rosemary Edghill), Nisi Shawl, Delia Sherman, Josepha Sherman, Sherwood Smith, Melinda Snodgrass, Midori Snyder, Sara Stamey, Caroline Stevermer, Martha Soukup, Judith Tarr, Sheri S. Tepper, Prof. Mary Turzillo, Paula Volsky, Deborah Wheeler (Deborah J. Ross), Freda Warrington, K.D. Wentworth, Janny Wurts, and Patricia Wrede

…is only the tip of the iceberg.

Short SF Marathon Week 3

Richly late, halfway through week 4, but here are the short stories reviewed in week 3 of my Short SF Marathon:

  • Day 15: Yoon Ha Lee, Rose Lemberg
  • Day 16: Kelly Link, Ken Liu
  • Day 17: Carmen Maria Machado, Usman T. Malik
  • Day 18: Usman T. Malik,Tim Maughan, Sandra McDonald
  • Day 19: Sam J. Miller, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Sunny Moraine
  • Day 20: Sunny Moraine, John P. Murphy, Anna Noyes
  • Day 21: An Owomoyela, Susan Palwick, K. J. Parker

GamerGate is not sexist

The GamerGate view of women

About the only thing missing from this image are the rape meme colours on the clothing, but apart from that it’s the perfect encapsulation of everything that makes GamerGate so obnoxious. Sexist, fatshaming, thinking women can’t be real gamers, steeped in its MRA terminology (“the female imperative”), confusing rape and death threats for criticism. But what’s most striking is the insularity of the “reasoning” behind putting out this image, because it confirms all your worst ideas about GamerGate. Whoever made this surely can’t think this is great propaganda for their side, can they?

Resident Evil: Retribution

Fake Alice closing the door on some zombies

Resident Evil: Retribution is the latest and so far last movie in the Resident Evil franchise. It starts with about ten minutes of recap of the previous movies, after which “Alice” wakes up as a housewife with a husband and a daughter. Cue a few minutes of syrup before the zombies attack. All of which turns out to be a danger room scenario, which the series is inordinately fond off.

Alice unchained

Real Alice meanwhile has been captured and is interrogated by evil Jill Valentine, which eats up a couple more minutes, before a power shutdown, which interestingly also shutdowns Valentine, allows her to escape. Despite the deadline she takes the time to pose here. To be honest, it is a nice shot of Alice in her badass uniform, against that white, sterile Umbrella corps background. Note the change in hair colour and length here.

Alice versus the Japanese zombies

The first real Alice set piece sees her re-enacting the zombie infection of Tokyo, which we know from the last movie but which is news to her. The last zombie facing off against Alice is in fact patient zero. This shot shows off everything I like about her: calm, cool, in control.

Big Wesker is watching you

Enter Wesker, the scumbag villain from the previous movie, the one who made everything worse and is now reassuring Alice that really, honestly, he’s on the side of angels and it’s the Red Queen AI who’s been behind the Umbrella Corp’s actions. Turns out she wants to wipe out the human race, which considering their track record in the previous movies, means she must be carrying out Umbrella’s true wishes.

Leon to the rescue

Wesker has sent a team of professionals to the rescue, including floppy haired Leon, who’s a much more important character in the video games. Here he’s just another bloke with a gun.

Soviet zombies shooting up capitalist Moscow

As the series has progressed, the bullshit has increased, from zombies to super zombies and here we have zombies intelligent enough to use weaponry and jeeps, something not seen in previous movies, so why now? Because it looks cool, probably, and normal zombies aren’t much of a threat anymore.

Good and evil square off

Meanwhile, despite dying in the first movie, that bloke in the middle is Alice’s boyfriend brought back to life by the Red Queen, as are the other non-mooks there. Alice meanwhile has gotten fake Alice’s daughter. The woman in the impractical dress is Ada Wong, yet another mysterious bad ass from the games brought into what’s essentially a drawn out cameo here.

Good and evil square off again

The climax comes with an extended battle on the ice, as brainwashed Jill Valentine goes mano a mano (wait, that’s not quite right) with Alice, while Rain on the right (also killed in movie 1) goes after the rest of the team, now reduced to Ada, Leon and that rapper dude from the previous one. The one true strength of the Resident Evil movies remains that it has so many kick ass women in it: Alice, Valentine, Ada, Claire Renfield, Rain.

Alice meets Wesker again

The movie ends with Alice meeting up with Wesker again, who now is the most powerful man in the world, holed up in the White House, defended by Umbrella and US army troops, the last surviving humans in the world, the logical end result of all of Umbrella’s scheming through the previous movies. Getting stuck in the White House, not the most defensible position in the world, being a prime example.

Asking SF readers to try something new is asking for trouble

K. Tempest Bradford has a modest proposal for (science fiction) readers ot broaden our reading horizons:

The “Reading Only X Writers For A Year” a challenge is one every person who loves to read (and who loves to write) should take. You could, like Lilit Marcus, read only books by women or, like Sunili Govinnage, read only books by people of color. Or you could choose a different axis to focus on: books by trans men and women, books by people from outside the U.S. or in translation, books by people with disabilities.

Science fiction readers responded to this with the openmindedness and willingness to explore new things for which they’re kno-oh gods who am I kidding:

Recently I wrote a thing which brought all the trolls to the yard. I’m used to it, but I wondered what it would look like if I just started saving the hateful tweets people send me in one place. Hateful being attacks on me personally, name calling, threats, etc.

The repeated chorus of how racist or sexist it is to not read white male authors is followed by racist, sexist slurs is …precious. Horrifying but unsurprising to see the slurs, but do these people actualy understand “racist” and “sexist” have an actual meaning?

Sady Puppy wrangler Larry Correia contributed his own very special brand of stupid (from File 770):

But the ironic thing about that picture? Tempest is wearing a Dr. Who shirt. A TV show about a white man and his white female sidekick, created by some white men, with episodes written by… Neil Gaiman.

Never mind that the good Doctor has also had a black British sidekick, or regularly has had adventures with a lesbian lizard woman from the dawn of time and her companion, the idea that reading only writers of colour or only women for a year meaning that you swear off all white men is just so incredibly dumb that you hope Larry doesn’t believe it himself, but you fear he does.

Professional kulturkampfers like Correira of course have to oppose anything that smacks of enlightment, but is it really too much to ask from grownups to stop being so incredibly defensive and be open to new reading experiences?

The Jack McDevitt anomaly

Chaos Horizon analyses the Nebula Award nominations for best novel and stumbles over Jack McDevitt:

Case in point: Jack McDevitt, who now has have 12 (!) Best Novel Nebula nominations. The constant McDevitt nominations are the strangest thing that is currently happening in the Nebulas. That’s not a knock against McDevitt. I’ve read two of McDevitt’s book, The Engines of God and the Nebula winning Seeker. They were both solid space exploration novels: fast-paced, appealing characterization, and professionally done. They didn’t stand out to me, but there’s never anything wrong with writing books people want to read. Still, I’m not sure why McDevitt deserves 12 nominations while similar authors such as Peter F. Hamilton, Alistair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter, etc., are largely ignored by the SFWA voters. To put this in context: McDevitt has more Nebula Best Novel nominations than Neal Stephenson (1), William Gibson (4), and Philip K. Dick (5) combined.

Because the Nebulas are voted on by the SFWA membership and campaigning and voting for it therefore doesn’t happen out in the open as much as it does for the Hugos, it’s difficult to get to understand why McDevitt, out of all decent but not spectacularly good authors has so many nominations but only one win. If it was purely a block of voters liking a certain type of traditional sf novel, you’d expect other, similar authors to show up more, but instead it’s McDevitt year in, year out. Perhaps he just has a lot of friends in SFWA or campaigns well?