When the Sad Puppies affair happened, it should have rung two alarm bells, not just one. Don't get me wrong, it was good to see people galvanised by the realisation that scifi and fantasy were full of racists, sexists, homophobes and transphobes. A lot of us had been telling that for a long time, even experienced it painfully. The alarm bell came late. Very late. But it came and that was good because from that emerged a realisation that things were wrong. Please note I'm saying realisation and not necessarily action…
The second alarm bell didn't happen. The second alarm bell should have been: "What the ef is wrong with an organisation whose awards can be manipulated in such a way?" A few voices though raised the issue. As for the racism, sexism, etc. in times not-so-long past (or present), no one really listened, or people said, "But look! It's robust! We've tweaked the rules and avoided the worst!" That, in itself, should have been a worry: preserving the institution was more important than attacking the root of the problems, its own organisation.
Fast forward 2020 and the Saudi Arabia bid. All of a sudden, everyone realises that there is a problem. Well, yes, there effing is. I won't get into why the idea of hosting a con in Saudi Arabia is a bad idea because, honestly, if you can't understand it or if you find excuses to it, you should stop reading right now.
But the fact is that we have now people asking: "How did that happen?" Well, in the same way that the Sad Puppies happened. The only thing you need to vote in the Hugos or the bids is money.
Basically, WorldCon and the Hugos is an oligarchy.
Let's face it, WorldCon was in its inception as much "world" as the US baseball championship is "World" series. But the thing is, if it's written on the door long enough, people end up believing it. And while an old guard is still wondering what happened to PDFs fanzines, a lot of new, diverse, creators and readers who passed the threshold are saying that there's something rotten in here.
But who has the money and the time to decide on what happens and on how the organisation changes (or not)? Again, the oligarchy.
And one of the things that leaves me bemused is how all those people say that they are not a hierarchical organisation, not top-down, that they're anarchists really. They are absolutely blind to the fact that they may not be hierarchical inside the circle but to actually reach the circle, you already have to belong to the top, or at least the upper-middle of the social hierarchy because, let's remind it again, time and money. And no, that doesn't bloody make you an anarchist at all. Please check the definition because when you say that you look perfectly ridiculous to anyone who knows what anarchy is.
At the same time, the magnificent effort pulled by a team of dedicated fans and creators to bring CoNZealand Fringe into existence proved that something else is possible. Something relevant, international, and diverse. I think that, nonetheless, the Fringe has one limit. Through the quarantine, a lot of us have learned that online is fine, but with meatspace also comes a different kind of relationships, very valuable, whether it is a quiet smoke outside when you meet writers or others fans, getting into a passionate discussion with strangers around a drink, deciding to wander into the streets in a city you don't know with your mates…
All things that won't be possible in Saudi Arabia if you're LGBTQ+ or a woman alone. But it's fine, it's fine. The good people with all the money and time on their hands will save us with their enlightened voting. Amazing how reminiscent that is to me of some regimes during the Antiquity or the Third Republic in France (spoiler: there was an actual anarchist revolution in the middle of that, La Commune).
After the absolute clusterfork that the ceremony was, I saw some people realising that less than 2000 people vote in the Hugos. Less than 2000 people for the SFF awards that is the most recognised around the world. It is in the favour of wonderful, talented and hard working creators right now, and I am delighted with the results. But it also means that a) the Hugos are not representative of the community at large and b) what happens when the people, whose only qualification is to have money, decide that all this "diversity thing is fine but let's go back to some proper serious mediocre white men"? Because it'll happen. Conservatism always pushes bach and with less than 2000 voters, the Hugos are easy to hijack if you have the money for it and an agenda less transparent than the Puppies'.
Where's the future? Is it in waiting for an organisation that changes so slowly that it makes the Jurassic look positively modern to finally catch up? Is it in going fully online and finally getting us rid of the money constraints that exclude so many fans year after year? Is it in building something new, both online and in meatspace, leaving the old to those who faithfully guard it with their rituals and ceremonies?
As far as I'm concerned, I'm always fond of saying: burn it to the ground!
I haven't put in my votes yet, but I thought I'd do a quick recap, like Hammard did, about what I read and liked.
Sadly, I've had to pull out of three categories this year for the first round (fantasy, blurred boundaries and short stories) but I fully intend to get back to at least two of those for the second round, particularly since the fantasy category seems to be very exciting.
Science-Fiction category: this will be the hardest. There are three novels I want to give my vote to. Three novels I absolutely want in the second round. The Outside by Ada Hoffmann, which blew me away last year and has perfect neurodiverse rep; A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, which has an extraordinary pace, excellent world building and a remarkable rep of colonialism; All City by Alex DiFrancesco, which also blew me away and was the topical novel I didn't know I wanted to read. But I can only nominate two (first one gets two points, second one gets one point). This is going to hurt so much.
Novella category: A lot of contenders here for me, and some novellas which are definitely not my own cup of tea but very much to the liking of my fellow jurors! One of the most interesting things with SCKA is also how debating about the books with others can have you digging deeper into things you had initally dismissed, to realise that there was more to it than you first thought, or how some aspects you weren't keen on were balanced by things that made the novella worthwhile. My own highlights include Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky; Incompleteness Theories by Wole Talabi; The Deep by Rivers Solomon.
Series category: One of the things I particularly appreciate with SCKA is how it makes us read books we wouldn't read otherwise. In the series category, I really enjoyed reading the Sword and Fire trilogy by Melissa Caruso which was gathering dust on my TBR. Sometimes also, it just confirms that, nope, this book isn't your cup of tea at all! Apart from Caruso's series, my others highlights include, without a surprise if you follow this blog, Rosewater by Tade Thompson, and The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams.
The deadline for putting our votes in is 19 July 2020. So stay tuned... The results are coming in shortly. Who will make it to the second round? (Dun, dun, dun...)
The adventure started in 2017 and we've enjoyed it so much that we're back again!
Early in January, a group of readers assembled, heroes ready to tackle an extra to-be-read pile, and not a small one too!
We are now in July, the pile is done and dusted and the voting is now happening.
I live about 30 kilometres from Cannes. So when I realised that Sheree Renée Thomas, writer and editor of the Dark Matter anthology (among others) would be there to talk about Afrofuturism, I had to be there. She very graciously added me to the guest list so I could attend the panels and, very excited about the prospect, there I went.
Please note that all errors in quotes or any misattribution of a quote would be entirely mine. Feel free to drop me a line if I did a mistake.
What? You've missed what the The Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards are?
Well, it's a totally hype (seven pretty obscure readers and bookbloggers), very glamourous (mostly reading in their PJs at home), completely professional (making it up as they go along) new SFF award (we will hand out paintd pebbles to the winners if we meet them). Oh, also, there'll be drinking, as Bethan says. (For more information, please, check here.)
Anyway, here's a first update on what's happening in the offing.
With 2017 drawing to a close, it's time to look back on the blog in 2017.
In 2017, I had set myself a couple of goals, and both were achieved, I'm proud to say:
One of my initial goals was also to review two books a month. I suddenly changed gears barely a few weeks into 2017 by publishing three reviews a month. It seems to me like a good balance between my free time to write reviews and what a (very!) hypothetical reader faithfully following my recommendations would read within a month.
I'm pretty happy about all the books I've reviewed. Looking back, yes, there are one or two that I wonder why I actually ended up reviewing them because a few months later I can say that I'm not as enthusiastic about them as I was when reading them. But for the vast majority, I stand by every single word I wrote.
I'm also quite happy about the variety and diversity I've achieved through the reviews.
You can check below the complete publication schedule with the details, including gender, race, nationality of writers ; genres ; small press / big press ; gender of the characters, etc. So if you enjoy doing statistics, be my guest! I'm pretty proud that I covered writers from almost every continent. I was also quite surprised - not - when I realised that most of the female main characters in the books I read were written by female writers.
Please note: the disparity between male and female writers is because I reviewed an uneven number of novels. But parity remains when you look at the reviews since the opening of the blog and will continue in 2018 when the first novel reviewed will be written by a female writer.
What about 2018?
I still won't apply any quota to QUILTBAG writers as it proves tricky since not all writers announce to the world if they are QUILTBAG and I certainly won't go to pester them to know about it.
I hope you enjoyed the reviews in 2017 and that you will enjoy those to come in 2018. Thanks to every single one of you reading and following the blog and spreading the word about it!
When I was reviewing only one book a month, it was quite easy to see which were my eleven favourite scifi and fantasy stories of the year (the single collection made twelve). Since I've considerably increased the number of reviews per month in 2017, it may not be as visible. On the other hand, I've reviewed more books because I've read great stories and that one review a month wasn't enough anymore.
So, let's now pick la crème de la crème from my 2017 reads! Here are the books that you really must catch up if you haven't read them.
Please note these aren't necessarily books published in 2017. The books are in the order I read them.
Here I am, reading a scifi novel. Let's call it The Graffiti Artist by Joseph Franzen. In The Graffiti Artist, there's a matriarchal society established on another planet. I felt at first ill at ease. At page 60, I'm now cringing. I don't think I'm going to read much more than another 40 pages.
But the thing is, if on the cover it said The Graffiti Artist is written by Josephina Franzen rather than Joseph Franzen, I'd have been willing to give it a much more extended chance.
So my question is: would an own voices novel avoid any misunderstanding regarding what the writer tries to convey?
SPOILER WARNING FOR: The Power, by Naomi Alderman; In the Mother's Land, by Élisabeth Vonarburg.
So you know how it is: you want to do The Ultimate Reading List, the one packed with all the essentials that people Need To Read (note the caps to emphasize intent). And then you delete the draft over and over again because you can't do it, there's always something more that you need to add or that you forget, and in the end it's some kind of Moby Dick: huge, bloated, unkillable and always tantalising you.
But what if you asked people to give you a hand rather than going all Achab?
So, inspired by Hammard's list on Twitter, I set out to ask my Twitter followers help in drawing up The Ultimate Reading List, the one with the essential scifi and fantasy books since the 1960s, with ten books per decade.
The process, including all the nominations, the numbers, etc., is detailed at the end of the post.
The books are ordered within each decade by the number of votes they received.
Scotland... Home to R.L. Stevenson, Charlie Stross, Iain M. Banks, Laura Lam, Christopher Brookmyre, J. K. Rowling, Ken McLeod, Arthur Conan Doyle, and I'm missing a lot!
So, obviously, when I went to Scotland for a few days, it was also to geek out. And Leigh, being a proud Glaswegian, was the perfect guide so we geeked out in pair!
Gareth Beniston (whose blog you can find here) wrote a very interesting blog post on the Shadow Clarke website about quotas (here).
While it addresses the issue in the context of an award, I wanted to address the issue in the context of a book blog, particularly one such as mine which has strict guidelines, a.k.a. quotas.
Matt from Runalongtheshelves and I were eagerly waiting for the Clarke shortlist. Here it is and we started chatting about it.
(Please note that this is a conversation, as indicated by the word "Conversation" in the title of the post. For the reviews, you can head to the "Reviews" section of the site or follow the links.)
The 2017 Clarke Award shortlist will be published tomorrow but I had decided this year to explore the submission list before it. Here's a breakdown of what I read and my own shortlist established with a jury comprised of me, myself and I - we were not always in agreement but managed to keep things civil.
I've been reading a lot of novellas lately, most quite excellent - something I already addressed here - and I read in succession Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw and The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (review to be published on July 1st and I'll rave about it).
What struck me most about those two novellas was how much Lovecraft's universe was an influence for both. "But", are you thinking, "Lovecraft was a stinking white male racist. Isn't there a paradox here?"
I won't examine "why" Khaw and LaValle both wrote stories that can very much be considered part of the Lovecraft legacy, but what interested me was to examine the parallels and how, as writers of colour both, they also distance themselves from this legacy.
Please be aware there'll be spoilers for both these novellas in what follows.
"While we were reading" is an irregular feature about reading science-fiction and fantasy. Nothing fancy, come as you are.
It is also home to all the Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards announcements.