The Hugo Shortlist is out, gentlemen, gentlewomen and gentle-people-of-non-normative genders. And I have many, many strong emotions about the nominees. Remembering, of course, that I’m pretty damn passionate about the Hugo Awards, full stop. I am, after all, the girl who got dressed up to watch the Hugo livestreaming last year. So it should come as no surprise (not to repeat myself) that I have many, many strong emotions about the nominees.
I may (or may not) have screamed in (happy, happy) shock when I got to best fancast. I may (or may not) have hollered in appreciation when I saw how many times Ken Liu, Catherynne Valente and Seanan McGuire were nominated. I may (or may not) have rolled my eyes when I saw certain nominees. I may (or may not) have yelled at the computer for a good three minutes when I realized certain crucial works had not received nods.
But since my incoherent yelling has never helped anyone, let’s go through the nominees, shall we? I’m going to list each category, and post my thoughts. Warnings: All Caps will be used. Frequently. For reference (if you’re interested), here’s my original ballot.
- Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)
- A Dance With Dragons, George R. R. Martin (Bantam Spectra)
- Deadline, Mira Grant (Orbit)
- Embassytown, China Miéville (Macmillan / Del Rey)
- Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Corey (Orbit)
I can’t help feeling a disappointed at this shortlist, despite the fact that it contains three of my five picks. It’s just so… expected. I mean, I am pleased as punch to see Among Others, Deadline and Embassytown on there, don’t get me wrong! I’m ecstatic to see Mira Grant get another nod, because damn, that woman can write. And thank the voters that Among Others is on there – it’s a stupendous piece of work. But I have to admit, these five novels have a lot of in common with each other.
I like to think of it as a menu. Classic science fiction and fantasy is chocolate cake, and who doesn’t like chocolate cake? But at the same time… do we want five pieces of chocolate cake? Because that’s what this shortlist feels like. Leviathan Wakes, Embassytown and Among Others are all nostalgic novels, throwbacks to “classic” science fiction. Now, in reading Embassytown and Among Others, I thought both re-vamped the style of “classic” SF in really interesting ways… and yet. They might be chocolate cake with unexpected filling, but they’re still chocolate cake. A Dance with Dragons isn’t classic SF, but it’s classic Epic Fantasy. My impression – having read neither book, but having read a fair amount of reviews for both – is that A Dance with Dragons is the fantasy equivalent of a Leviathan Wakes. It’s comfort food – again, chocolate cake, albeit chocolate cake with swords rather than spaceships.
Deadline is the closest thing to a truly innovative novel here – it’s a postmodern zombie story that melds horror and SF. I don’t think there’s anything like Deadline on the market today. It stands on its own. I’m so glad the series is receiving continued recognition – it does all kinds of fascinating, provocative things with fear and science and family relations, things that take real guts and talent to pull off. The fact that it’s so popular speaks well, I think, of the tastes of the Speculative Fiction reading public. But it’s also an expected choice, in the sense that the first novel in the series, Feed, almost won the Hugo award last year. So Deadline isn’t chocolate cake, but it’s still chocolate. Chocolate mousse, maybe.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with chocolate cake (and mousse). But only chocolate cake? When we have an entire menu of options to choose from? It feels a bit restrictive. Where is the love for people who took real narrative risks and pulled them off? Where is the recognition for authors who whipped up a batch of peanut-butter-kiwi-upside-down-cake and managed to make it delicious despite the terrible name?
To me, the three most innovative novels of the year (that I read) were Catherynne Valente’s Deathless, N.K. Jemisin’s The Kingdom of the Gods and Kameron Hurley’s God’s War. I would have given up a slice of chocolate cake for some Raspberry Souffle (Valente), an Irish Coffee (Jemisin) or a big chunk of Baclava (Hurley). I think those culinary shocks are necessary to keep the genre fresh. Remember when Catherynne Valente’s Palimpsest landed on the Hugo ballot two years ago, and the community exploded with shock and horror? Where’s THAT reaction? I see a lot of people in the blogosphere who are disappointed, but there’s no real outrage. Give me some outrage.
(astute readers may note that I did not nominate Catherynne Valente’s Deathless, and so I shouldn’t complain about it not showing up on the Hugo Ballot. This is a perfectly valid point. However, I hadn’t read it by the deadline, and although I suspected I would love it with a passion, I couldn’t in all honesty nominate it without having finished it. I did love it).
The other thing that makes me call the list restrictive is the race and gender stuff. Because I am your humorless feminist social-justice crusader, and I must complain about these things. Unless I’m making a terrible mistake with Leviathan Wakes, all five novels are set in either North-America or a Western-derived landscape. Yes, Leviathan Wakes occurs in space, but it doesn’t seem to be God’s War or Firefly, which take place in a non-western outer-space. All the authors are white. Excluding A Dance with Dragons, which has no central protagonist (as far as I know), three of the four protagonists are white men. The heroine of Embassytown has no stated race (as I recall), but the default assumption is that she’s white. Not to beat a dead horse, but… I mean… speculative fiction is the literature of alienation (at least according to China Mielville. And me). And we can’t even alienate ourselves away from North American settings and heroes?
Okay, complaints done. On the other hand, there are no duds (again, I haven’t read A Dance With Dragons or Leviathan Wakes, so I may change my mind about this). This isn’t 2010, when The Windup Girl got a nod despite being a terrible sandwich of cultural appropriation with rape fantasies as the amuse-bouche (fortunately it didn’t win…oh, wait). I can appreciate a lack of duds. I just wish there was some pizzazz.
I’m reviewing the short fiction sections as a group, since I know far less about them:
- Countdown, Mira Grant (Orbit)
- “The Ice Owl”, Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
- “Kiss Me Twice”, Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s)
- “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”, Kij Johnson (Asimov’s)
- “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary”, Ken Liu (Panverse 3)
- Silently and Very Fast, Catherynne M. Valente (WSFA)
- “The Copenhagen Interpretation”, Paul Cornell (Asimov’s)
- “Fields of Gold”, Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse Four)
- “Ray of Light”, Brad R. Torgersen (Analog)
- “Six Months, Three Days”, Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com)
- “What We Found”, Geoff Ryman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
Best Short Story
- “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”, E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld)
- “The Homecoming”, Mike Resnick (Asimov’s)
- “Movement”, Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s)
- “The Paper Menagerie”, Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
- “Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue”, John Scalzi (Tor.com)
If you consult my Hugo ballot, you’ll note that I didn’t have a whole lot of nominations for the short fiction field. Mostly because it’s not my field of expertise. I’m working on it! That said, I’m ecstatic to see some of my favorite authors on the list. Ken Liu, my short-fiction crush of 2011, is on there twice. Catherynne Valente gets a nod for her first major work of science fiction, which – yes. I say Yes, and I add “Please, sir, can I have some more?” Science Fiction needs Catherynne Valente desperately (let us note that I haven’t read Silently and Very Fast, so I might…change my mind. But I doubt it). My favorite novella of 2011, “Kiss Me Twice” is also front and center (ah, Mary Robinette Kowal). And Geoff Ryman and Rachel Swirsky, two authors I adore, are both nominees.
If anything, I’m excited by all the incredible short fiction I’m going to get to read in the next months. I’m thrilled that I finally have a good excuse to read John Scalzi, whose non-fiction work I adore. And apparently, the short story he wrote was an elaborate April Fool’s Joke, so I know I’m going to love it. All of this quells my slight disappointment at not seeing Karen Joy Fowler’s fantastic “Younger Women” or Catherynne Valente’s “The Bread we Eat in Dreams” get a nod.
(There’s also a lesson here: the less I know about something, the less likely I am to complain about it).
Best Related Work
- The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Third Edition, edited by John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls, and Graham Sleight (Gollancz)
- Jar Jar Binks Must Die…and other Observations about Science Fiction Movies, Daniel M. Kimmel (Fantastic Books)
- The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature, Jeff VanderMeer and S. J. Chambers (Abrams Image)
- Wicked Girls (CD), Seanan McGuire
- Writing Excuses, Season 6 (podcast series), Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Jordan Sanderson
Best Graphic Story
- Digger, by Ursula Vernon (Sofawolf Press)
- Fables Vol 15: Rose Red, by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham (Vertigo)
- Locke & Key Volume 4: Keys To The Kingdom, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
- Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication, written and illustrated by Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (The Tayler Corporation)
- The Unwritten (Volume 4): Leviathan, created by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, written by Mike Carey, illustrated by Peter Gross (Vertigo)
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
- Captain America: The First Avenger, screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephan McFeely; directed by Joe Johnston (Marvel)
- Game of Thrones (Season 1), created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss;
written by David Benioff, D. B. Weiss, Bryan Cogman, Jane Espenson, and George R. R. Martin; directed by Brian Kirk, Daniel Minahan, Tim van Patten, and Alan Taylor (HBO)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, screenplay by Steve Kloves; directed by David Yates (Warner Bros.)
- Hugo, screenplay by John Logan; directed by Martin Scorsese (Paramount)
- Source Code, screenplay by Ben Ripley; directed by Duncan Jones (Vendome Pictures)
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
- Doctor Who, ”The Doctor’s Wife”, written by Neil Gaiman; directed by Richard Clark (BBC Wales)
- “The Drink Tank’s Hugo Acceptance Speech”, Christopher J Garcia and James Bacon (Renovation)
- Doctor Who, ”The Girl Who Waited”, written by Tom MacRae; directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
- Doctor Who, ”A Good Man Goes to War”, written by Steven Moffat; directed by Peter Hoar (BBC Wales)
- Community, ”Remedial Chaos Theory”, written by Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna; directed by Jeff Melman (NBC)
I know absolutely nothing about the Best Related Works and Best Graphic Story shortlists, but I’m, as ever, looking forwards to discovering them as I make my final selections. I can’t say I’m that excited about the Best Dramatic Presentation shortlists (either of them) although I think it’s fantastic that Game of Thrones got nominated as an entire series – I’m not sure that’s ever happened before. Given it’s popularity, I think it might give even Harry Potter a run for it’s money. I’m also quite happy to see that Community got a nomination, because I just started watching, and I absolutely love the series – even if it’s not “traditional” science fiction (well, it’s not science fiction at all. But that’s not the point).
I will pop up as feminist commenter 101 to point out that ALL the best Long form dramatic nominees (except Game of Thrones, which doesn’t have a central protagonist) have male heroes. And that none of them (again, excluding Game of Thrones) pass the Bechdel Test. Harry Potter does if you squint sideways, and count a conversation as a woman saying something to another woman for three seconds and receiving absolutely no reply. I don’t.
But I shall move on from the Bechdel test (sigh). Especially since next year, we’ll have Prometheus. There are women in the trailer for that movie. Hopefully they will talk to each other. Hopefully the movie will be nominated for a Hugo. Oh, and we’ll have The Hunger Games, which passes with flying colors. Which will also (hopefully) be nominated.
Although it is sad to see the continuing dominance of Doctor Who – not because Doctor Who is a bad show, don’t get me wrong – but because there are other great SciFi shows that deserve to be nominated. Fringe, anyone? Individual episodes of Game of Thrones? The British version of Being Human? Doctor Who is not the only player in the field, but you wouldn’t know that from the ballot. And especially when Fringe has been so consistently mind-blowing… and is a science fiction show about a woman… which would get me to shut up about gender equality for thirty seconds…
Oh, and as someone who watched The Hugos live last year, may I just say that Christopher Garcia’s Acceptance Speech absolutely deserves to be on the shortlist? Because it does. I might even vote for it.
- Apex Magazine, edited by Catherynne M. Valente, Lynne M. Thomas, and Jason Sizemore
- Interzone, edited by Andy Cox
- Lightspeed, edited by John Joseph Adams
- Locus, edited by Liza Groen Trombi, Kirsten Gong-Wong, et al.
- New York Review of Science Fiction, edited by David G. Hartwell, Kevin J. Maroney, Kris Dikeman, and Avram Grumer
- Banana Wings, edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
- The Drink Tank, edited by James Bacon and Christopher J Garcia
- File 770, edited by Mike Glyer
- Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, et al.
- SF Signal, edited by John DeNardo
- The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan & Gary K. Wolfe
- Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alex Pierce, and Tansy Rayner Roberts (presenters) and Andrew Finch (producer)
- SF Signal Podcast, John DeNardo and JP Frantz (presenters), Patrick Hester (producer)
- SF Squeecast, Lynne M. Thomas, Seanan McGuire, Paul Cornell, Elizabeth Bear, and Catherynne M. Valente
- StarShipSofa, Tony C. Smith
I don’t really have much to say about best Semi-prozine. I am shocked that Clarkesworld, which has won for the past two years, wasn’t even nominated, but I’m wondering if the magazine didn’t withdraw itself from consideration like Girl Genius did. Anyone know? Oh, and I’m ecstatic to see Catherynne Valente nominated for her work on Apex – she did a fantastic job, and it’s a much-needed magazine in our field.
I have absolutely nothing to say about fanzines – I’m not even going to wade into the “are blogs fanzines” debate, because I’m just not informed enough.
This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for.
GALACTIC SUBURBIA WAS NOMINATED FOR BEST FANCAST OH MY FREAKING GOD I CAN’T BELIEVE IT, GALACTIC SUBURBIA AAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA! YEs!
(congratulations to all the other nominees, by the way)
YES! GALACTIC SUBURBIA FOR THE WIN!
I actually let out a loud WHOOOP when I saw Galactic Suburbia on there. I hoped beyond all hope they would get a nomination, but because they’re a feminist Australian podcast, I didn’t think there was any way they would. The fact that they did – that they got this kind of recognition – makes me absolutely ecstatic. I hope the nomination brings them even more visibility; they deserve it. They bring us news and recommendations, but they do it with that little extra something – and with that feminist analysis – that makes me want to listen to them all day. They’re also just damn fun – you wouldn’t think three women analyzing gender issues in speculative fiction would be a barrel of laughs, but I laugh so hard when I listen to them. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s addictive, it’s brilliant. Whenever I listen to other podcasts, I always end up thinking “I wonder what Tansy, Allysa and Alex would say about that?”
I’m so FREAKING HAPPY they got nominated. To me, it makes up for all the disappointments in all the other categories.
Yes, thank you very much. I will have that giant box of feminist cookies (Galactic Suburbia) and leave you to your cake. But as you can see above, they also have CAKE. So you should listen to it. For the Cookies. And the Cake.
(Yes, I am aware that I’m making no sense. I’m so pleased I can’t think straight)
Finishing up with the final categories:
Best Editor, Long Form
- Lou Anders
- Liz Gorinsky
- Anne Lesley Groell
- Patrick Nielsen Hayden
- Betsy Wollheim
It is beyond me why Dev Pillai and Jeremy Lassen didn’t score nominations for their fantastic work on the NK Jemisin trilogy and the God’s War trilogy respectively, but I will refrain from comment, since I don’t know much about their competitors. I am pleased to see Anne Lesley Groell and Liz Gorinsky get nods, however.
Best Editor, Short Form
- John Joseph Adams
- Neil Clarke
- Stanley Schmidt
- Jonathan Strahan
- Sheila Williams
Best Professional Artist
- Dan dos Santos
- Bob Eggleton
- Michael Komarck
- Stephan Martiniere
- John Picacio
No comment except… you know what’s coming… five men, no women? Wow.
Best Fan Artist
- Brad W. Foster
- Randall Munroe
- Spring Schoenhuth
- Maurine Starkey
- Steve Stiles
- Taral Wayne
And still, I say, no comment! Except that I hope to discover their work soon.
Best Fan Writer
- James Bacon
- Claire Brialey
- Christopher J. Garcia
- Jim C. Hines
- Steven H Silver
I only follow Jim C. Hines closely, but I’m pleased he got a nomination. His blog is fantastic. And hilarious. And he covers lots of feminist issues. If you want a great example of his work, try this one on book covers.
The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
- Mur Lafferty
- Stina Leicht
- Karen Lord
- Brad R. Torgersen
- E. Lily Yu
Really pleased to see Karen Lord on there, obviously, since I gave her first novel such a resounding YES MORE PLEASE of a review. And since I predicted she would show up on many genre award shortlists in the future. I do like to be proved right. I’m also glad to see E. Lily Yu on the list; I loved (and nominated) her short story The Anarchist Wasps and Cartographer Bees.
Again, I’m looking forward to discovering all of these authors’ works so I can vote for them properly.
So overall – well, I’m mixed. I’m ecstatic about some things – the multiple nominations for Catherynne Valente, Ken Liu and Seanan McGuire; the fact that Seanan McGuire broke the glass ceiling and became the first woman to ever be nominated FOUR TIMES (twice as her alter-ego, Mira Grant) for the Hugo; the nomination for GALACTIC SUBURBIA IS THE BEST THING EVER. I’m really excited over the prospect of discovering new fiction, art, essays etc. as I prepare to vote. But I am a bit disappointed that the shortlist for best novels feels so restrictive. It does seem like a step back from last year.
But there’s one thing I’m certain about. I cannot wait to be at the Hugo ceremonies. I’ll be the girl throwing herself under chairs rather than come within a ten foot radius of my favorite authors, many of whom have threatened to be there (famous people scare me). I’ll be the one freaking out because I just caught a glimpse of Catherynne Valente. I’ll be the one taking notes furiously. I’ll be the one clapping at people’s awesome fashion. I’ll be the one muffling screams when my favorites win. I may even be the one with an awesome younger brother (if I can find a way to bring him with me, he’s coming).
I can’t wait.
Other Reactions to the Hugos:
Comments on the Hugo Shortlist by Staffer’s Book Reviews
Hugo Nominations Out: What Will You Wear? by Tansy Rayner Roberts
And Catherynne Valente’s Perfectly Reasonable Reaction to getting Three Nominations
Also, an important post on gender and fanwriting from Rose Lemberg: Best Fan Writers Hugo – And Women Writers
I don’t have time to do a gender and race breakdown of the nominees right now, although I will be posting one once school gets out. In the meantime, James Nicholl has published a gender breakdown
“Always Wear Armor When Walking Through the Classics Department”: A Review of Tam Lin by Pamela DeanPosted: April 4, 2012
Hello everyone, and welcome back to your regularly scheduled blog posts – the ones where I try to review all that is Fantasy And Science Fiction before the beginning of the summer. Because that’s totally possible, especially now that my workload has lightened and I’ve only got three essays and two finals to work on!
But before I start to freak out, I’d like to remind everyone that the Hugo Nominations are coming out this weekend (OH GOD). I will be covering those sometime in the next few posts. I’ll also be posting some kind of rant about the Hunger Games/Trayvon Martin correlation, so watch out for that.
Book: Tam Lin
Author: Pamela Dean
Publisher: Firebird Fantasy
***Mild Spoilers for the Entire Book***
In my University, there’s a tunnel between our Arts Building and our Library of Incredible Inefficiency.*
* (I’m not a fan of the main library. But moving right along).
I love this tunnel. It’s a road out of time and space, made of sharp turns that make you quickly lose sight of where you were, and where you’re going. There’s a hint of the medieval about it – a bizarre gate right in the middle that reminds me of torture chambers and ancient sewer systems. But it’s not all medieval either: the copper piping and the violent fluorescent lights give a 19th century Science Fiction vibe. This tunnel would be a great set for a remake of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Or Thomas Lewis’s The Monk.
And sometimes there’s graffiti.
Over time, I’ve learned not to look at the graffiti. It only disappoints me. It does not match the atmosphere of the tunnel at all, but simply repeats the usual “My Life Sucks” and “LOL’s” that are found at every graffitied location in the school.
Yes, in fact, I judge the quality of graffiti. Is originality too much to ask for in our public defacement?
Absolutely not. Consider the case of Blackstock College, the setting of Pamela Dean’s cult fantasy novel, Tam Lin. Students aren’t writing LOL in those tunnels:
“First ten lines of the Iliad. That’s been there long and long. Somebody ought to touch it up.” (52)
When Janet and her newfound college friends find an Iliad quote in a tunnel on their first day of school, they start arguing over the best translation of the greek, and then exchange quotations for a few lines, before ending with an impromptu recitation of my (second) favorite Keats’ poem: “On Chapman’s Homer.”“His tone was rather sardonic; but it hardly mattered. Lost, thought Janet. He quotes Keats, too. Well, let’s enjoy it, then. She said, ‘Round many western islands have I been Which bards in fealty to Apollo Hold.”
Robin rattled “But never did I breath its pure serene Til I heard Chapman speak loud and bold,” and began walking again. “We’ll miss dinner,” he added.
If the past paragraph or two bores you to death… this book is probably not for you. But if you’re the kind of person who goes through tunnels and buildings and matches them to the setting of your favorite novel; if you fall into friendships with people based on the books and movies they can quote in their sleep; if you long to find the free, passionate discussion that can only exist in a group of similarly obsessed people, the discussion where everyone trips over their words and jumps in on the ends of each others sentences -
Tam Lin is the book for you.
Janet, the main character of Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, is a new student at Blackstock college. Her Advisor keeps pushing her to be a classics major, but Janet hears (and notices) that All the Classics Majors are Crazy. Besides, she know she wants to be an english major, because “if the thing you liked best to do in the world was read, and somebody offered to pay you room and board and give you a liberal arts degree if you would just read for four years, wouldn’t you do it?”
(there is only one right answer to that question, and it starts with a “y”)
Tam Lin follows Janet and her friends’ four years at Blackstock. On top of all the academic drama and the intellectual, quote-heavy dialogue, there is, of course, a supernatural plot – but it’s so subtle and quiet, you won’t notice it until it hits you in the face. Pamela Dean interlaces the “realism” of the plot with moments of absurdity – for example, Janet and her roommate Molly wake up several times during the semester to find classic books of literary criticism (and when I say classic, I’m not talking Roland Barthes – I mean literary criticism written during the Victorian Era) just outside their window.
They’ve been told there’s a ghost; they have no other explanation for how such rare texts keep appearing. There’s also something strange going on with the classics students, who are all terrified of Professor Medeous, the department head. But all of these mysteries are kept just below the surface, and allowed to grow into full bloom near the end. It is with no particular sense of urgency that we and Janet discover the truth – and by then, Pamela Dean has led up to it so organically that the revelation seems just as realistic as anything else in the novel. Pamela Dean is so skilled with her subtle allusions that the Star Trek Enterprise could have landed in the middle of campus, and I wouldn’t have thought it out of the ordinary.
What makes this novel particularly appealing to me, to English literature lovers, and to nerds of all stripes is that the academic endeavor is the point of the story, not the backdrop. There are lots of movies, books and TV shows that are set in colleges or high schools, but there, the classroom is the setting, and the relationship drama (Gossip Girl), or the action story (Spiderman) is the focus. Here, the opposite is true: the characters are passionately, madly, lovingly enthralled by the work they do and their relationships (platonic or romantic) grow from their obsessions. Janet, for example, falls in “like” with Nick after hearing him recite Keats. Astute reader, meanwhile, note how much better a match she is for Thomas, who takes her to see Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and The Persecution and Assassination of Jean Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis De Sade.**
(another reason I love Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin: I’ve been involved in productions of all three of those plays.)
Janet realizes Nick’s potential herself after watching a play “about two people named Thomas and Jennet (…) she knew perfectly well, that if examined with the eye of logic, these associations would unravel.” (408).
But in Tam Lin, as in life, the associations don’t unravel. Not really. Tam Lin never slips into the (popular) fallacy that art is somehow “detached” from everyday life, that it’s entertainment, that it doesn’t really matter. Instead, Tam Lin treats Janet’s forays into literature with as much seriousness as it does her forays into sex and relationships.
You shouldn’t worry, however, if you don’t have a strong English Literature background, or if you’re not interested in literature in the least. I’m an English Literature major, and I missed about ⅓ of the allusions in the novel. Doesn’t matter. Despite the specificity of Janet’s dialogue, it’s her passion – her nerdiness – that makes her so easy to like. The novel describes, without mockery, the passions and obsessions that end up shaping our lives, no matter how obscure or “unimportant” they are.
In this vein, one of my favorite scenes in the novel depicts a conversation between Janet and Nick, Janet’s first boyfriend at Blackstock College. Nick has a strong pedantic streak, which leads to a memorable argument where Janet tries to convince Nick that the only writer who resembles Shakespeare is Keats:
“Keat seems so much like whom?”
“Keats? That querulous, agonizing little emotion ridden pestilence beffudled liverer’s son?”
“All right,” said Janet. “All right.” What in the would could she recite? He knew the sonnet “On Chapman’ Homer”, most of the rest he probably would have labeled querelous.”Not “Ode to a Nightingale” which had illnesses and drugs in it (…) I’ll give you querulous, Janet though, and cleared her throat:
“This Living Hand, now warm and capable of earnest grasping would, if it were cold And in the icy silence of the tomb, So haunt,they days and chill thy dreaming nights That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood (…)”
“Nicks hands had fallen to his side. Janet, looking straight at him now that she had done remembering, and feeling a little smug, realized witha shock that he had turned rather pale. He pushed his glasses up his nose with a hand that shook. “That’s Measure for Measure,” he said, just audibly. “Or The Winter’s Tale. Or Troilus and Cressida. I always forget what gems are hidden in that dunghep. That’s not Keats, is it?” (…)
“Yes it is,” said Janet. To her fury, she sounded apologetic. “It was written in the margin of The Cap and Bell. His unfinished play.”
“I cry you mercy,” said Nick, getting up. “I’m unwell. No, it’s all right, don’t bother. I’ll call you later.” (116).
This is such a perfect scene. Of course an argument about Keats and Shakespeare is of critical importance. Of course one might need a bit of a lie down after realizing how much Keats does sound like Shakespeare. Of course such a fundamental shift in one’s worldview might take a few hours of bed-rest to get used to. It only makes sense.
Tam Lin understands the joy of finding people who share your language – the moment of recognition when you realize you don’t have to perform your life in a bizarrely constructed vernacular, but can slide into speech that reflects your thoughts.I’ve been lucky enough to be in a few groups like that – where we all speak the same language. Usually they involve theater, and only last a few weeks. Still, there’s something magical about them – about that intensity of communication. Who doesn’t want that?
Now, before you get the wrong idea, I should make something clear. Although I get quite sentimental writing about Tam Lin, and although Pamela Dean wrote it as a love letter to her college experiences, Tam Lin itself is not a sentimental novel. It’s clear and crisp and fast; there’s a sharpness to it that belies any sentimentality.
A big part of the reason Dean manages to prevent Tam Lin from sliding into an overwrought, overly indulgent novel is her brisk, no-nonsense prose. There’s a reason I’ve quoted the novel so thoroughly (and not just because I want to make some kind of obscure “meta” joke about allusion). Dean’s style is clear and concise and crisp. It pulls you along, demands your attention. No pausing, no stopping, make sure you turn the lights on as you go.
I knew I was in good hands when I got the description of Janet’s thrilling escape from her friends:
“Janet crawled along as fast as she could manage, bumping her head and cursing Nick Tooley and his children unto the nth generation, until she found a suitable hollow by catching her knee in it. She removed the knee, saying “shit, shit, shit,” under her breath because there was no time to think of anything creative, and scooped leaves and dry needles out of the hollow. She dumped Schiller into it unceremoniously, covered him over, limped on through the larch grove to the sidewalk, trudged down it to the bottom of the hill, and took off running in plain sight along the edge of the lake just as the chase came howling past the Fine Arts building.” (82)
Dean’s description is masterclass in efficiency, sly humor, and style. Let us all pause to consider how many more words most writers would take to say exactly the same thing (hell, let us all pause to consider how many CHAPTERS more I would take to say the same thing).
The other thing that makes the novel seem so grounded (and this is a supremely grounded novel) is it’s insights into the academic process. Especially if you are, or have ever been, in College.
For example, we have the (invisible, but at the same time completely obvious) fight between the Classics Department and the English Department. The whole thing starts to feel like two armies recruiting students to their cause. Every time Janet goes to consult her academic advisor, Melinda Wolfe, a classics professor, Wolfe tried to steer her into becoming a classics major. At one point, Wolfe goes “if you read science fiction, you’ll like Herodotus,” which made me howl with laughter. Because who hasn’t had a Professor be like “Come to the Biology/Latin/English/History/Dark Side Department. WE HAVE COOKIES/Herodotus/genetic experimentation/Shakespeare/Crazy Department Heads who Might Be Sleeping with Everyone.
Most Professors I know have been more subtle about it, but yeah, I’ve been there. And hey, I’m an English major because of two such pushy Professors. Not going to name names, but they know who they are (actually, they have no idea).
There’s also this brilliant moment from Janet’s father, an English Professor:
“Take it from me,” said her father. “It is possible to get a Ph.D in English while ignoring no less than three literary periods. You must have read something in all of them, so as to fling their names about, but you can be quite ignorance of at least three and still do very nicely.”
“Which three are you ignorant of?” said Janet.
“The moderns, the whole of the twelfth century and the jacobeans.”
Which just explains everything about every Professor I’ve take a class with, ever.
And that’s, maybe, what I loved most about Tam Lin. Every page felt like I was discovering a secret – a familiar secret. A secret I’d always known was there. It’s real life, but it’s real life with that extra-sharp twist of insight – real life with all the magical underpinnings revealed, from Professorial mysteries to the gossip between nerds. Tam Lin lets you in on the secrets. It’s a story that oozes with so much intelligence and acceptance and joy – joy of learning, joy of growing, joy of confusion – that it’s one of the few novels I actually made an effort to read slower. I didn’t want to leave its coy, secretive, joyous pages.
Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin is one of the rare speculative fiction novels I recommend without pause to my English Major Friends. Or to my non-Science Fiction reading friends. Trust me. You will like it. Even if you don’t like magic. Trust me. You should read it. Everyone should read it. If the above review has you interested, drop everything and read it. Trust me, it’s a thousand times better than anything I could describe. You will like it. A lot.
And it’s a rare novel that can get me to engage in some public defacement of my own. But in no small part thanks to Tam Lin, there’s now a Shakespeare quote plastered between some of the LOL graffiti on the walls of my favorite tunnel. From Richard III. Maybe it’ll start a tradition (but don’t tell anyone. Can you get expelled for graffiti? Oh God.)
Pamela Dean on Tam Lin:
“It all reminded me of college, where the fear of getting pregnant collaborated with the conviction that you weren’t nearly as smart as you’d thought you were, that you would never amount to anything, even if all the Professors thought you were a genius, and the world was going to hell so fast that you’d be lucky to have a B.A. to show the devil when it got there to produce a sub-clinical state of frenzy; where juggling your love life with anything else was almost but never quite completely impossible, where we all did any number of foolish and peculiar things while surrounded by and occasionally even absorbing the wisdom of the ages.” (460)
Blackstock College, by the way, is based on Pamela Dean’s real college (at least in appearance) – a small liberal arts college in Minnesota called Carleton College. I visited Carleton as a high-schooler (I was deciding where to apply for University) and I can attest to how gorgeous a campus it is. Even under the pouring rain, it was absolutely beautiful.
*** We do have some great graffiti in my college. Mostly in the girl’s bathrooms (can’t speak to the boy’s). The best one is “Books Before Boys Because Boys Bring Babies.” Indeed.
Other Reviews of Tam Lin by Pamela Dean:
Tansy Rayner Roberts: The Lady’s Not For Burning - it was Rayner Roberts’s love for Tam Lin on the podcast Galactic Suburbia that got me to pick up the book to begin with (I owe her a debt of gratitude for that one) and her written review is equally good.
Tor.com: College as A Magic Garden: Why Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin is a Book You’ll Either Love or Hate (Jo Walton). (I love Jo Walton)
I go through a lot of books - most years, I read at least a hundred and twenty novels. Last year, I hit 162 books, which was a record for me.
Before you ask: of course, I count! I’m so competitive that I can’t help but compete with myself (can I read more than 160 books this year? Or will last-year me win? NEVER). It’s pathetic. But hey, it gets me to read.
Since I consume so many books, there’s no way I can ever review all of them on this blog – or even most of them. Thus, I’m planning on doing a monthly roundup, which will allow me to discuss most of them briefly. And then I can stop feeling guilty that I’m not reviewing all my favorites.
I’m also doing these roundups because I’m a narcissistic, self-obsessed literature student who likes to obsessively document all the books she reads. But we don’t need to go there.
I’m starting with February books, even though it’s March. March isn’t over yet; it’s not too late to talk about February. At least, that’s what I tell myself (allow me my delusions).
The reviews follow the list:
(note: any book that is starred (*) and in italics is one I enjoyed enough to recommend)
1. Dawn by Octavia Butler **
2. Groundings for the Metaphysics of Morals by Kant
3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen **
4. The Studhorse Man by Robert Kroescht
5. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins **
6. Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware
7. The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton **
8. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton **
9. Green Grass and Running Water by Thomas King **
10. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen **
11. Genealogy of Morals by Nietzsche **
12. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons **
13. Asterios Polyp by David Mazzochelli **
14. The Day of the Locust by Nathaneal West
15. Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine **
16. The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaage
17. I Never Liked You by Chester Brown
18. Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey **
Given how busy a month February was, I’m retrospectively shocked by how much I managed to read. Eighteen books? Really?
But most of them are books I read for school – twelve out of eighteen, in fact. If I didn’t have to read for class, this would be quite a sparse list. It’s hard to be a vigilante literature reader… I need some kind of structure.
February was a bit of a low month in terms of quality. I only liked twelve out of the eighteen, which sounds decent, but is far below my personal averages. And a lot of the books I didn’t like, I really didn’t like – The Studhorse Man, for example, was a complete trainwreck for me.
That said, there were a few standouts. Other than the Austens, which are always a treat, I thoroughly enjoyed Genevieve Valentine’s Mechanique (nominated for a Nebula in 2012), Jacqueline Carey’s Santa Oliva, David Mazzochelli’s Asterios Polyp and Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water.
My two favorites this month were Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm and Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw. Both are genre-defying, hilarity-inducing mashups with lots and lots of knotty thematic stuff for me to sink my metaphorical teeth into (I assure you, I do not chew books, except when they’re made out of candy).
Stella Gibbons Cold Comfort Farm is a mashup of the highest order. In the book, it’s as if Emma Woodhouse from Jane Austen’s Emma suddenly showed up on the set of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and proceeded to put everyone’s life in order.
With no-nonsense vigor and an arch sense of humor, Flora Post (the Emma Woodhouse lookalike) sends the brooding, woman-hating man of mystery (*cough* HEATHCLIFF *cough* ) off to become a Hollywood movie star. She transforms the imp-like but beautiful young woman (*cough* Catherine Linton *cough*) into a desirable mate for the local aristocrat. She teaches the overly fertile maid the importance of contraception. She deals with Aunt Doom (yes, her name is Aunt Doom), the owner of Cold Comfort Farm, and a woman who has refused to come out of her room for some sixty years, because she saw “something in the woodshed” as a girl.
The book also presents some subtle discussions of feminism and the treatment of female authorship. When Flora meets an aspiring author (Mr. Meyerberg), he tries to convince her that the Bronte sister’s entire oeuvre was written by Branwen (their brother).** Mr. Meyerberg pursues Flora romantically, and blames her indifference on sexual frigidity.
The whole story is funny as hell, in a mischievous, high-wire sort of way. I’d be fascinated to read the scholarship on the piece, because there’s so much rich, tangled intertextuality to work through.
Jo Waltons’ Tooth and Claw, meanwhile, is another 19th century parody (what can I say? I love the 19th century. I love parodies). Walton writes a typical Victorian comedy of manners: everyone tries to get married and find their vicarage and display proper conduct all while keeping their clothes in perfec order. But the “everyone” she writes about aren’t humans. They’re dragons.
Yes, you read that right. Every character in the novel is a dragon, from blushing maiden to overbearing aristocrat.
It shouldn’t work, but it does, in large part because of how Walton uses the biological realities of being a dragon to explain the bizarre traditions of Victorian society. For example, we finally understand why victorian girls weren’t allowed around men. When men get too close to virgin dragons, the virgin’s scales “blush” red, and everyone knows they’ve been near a man, bringing on scandal.
Walton explains the perpetual survival of the aristocracy in a similar way. Aristocratic dragons are allowed the first bite of any dead dragon. They, for example, get to eat the stunted children of their tenants. Dragons grow big depending on the amount of dragon-flesh they eat – and since the size of a dragon determines their ability to survive a fight, aristocrats will always have a physical advantage over their tenants.
In these, and many other examples, Walton cleverly reworks the tropes of two genres (dragon stories and Victorian comedy of manners). It was a fantastic, funny, flaming (sometimes literally) read. And I hold out hope that there might be a sequel someday.
** Cue obligatory Joanna Russ reference. As Russ points out in her non-fiction masterpiece How to Suppress Women’s Writing, the easiest way to marginalize womens’ writing is to yell “SHE DIDN’T WRITE IT!
Mr. Meyerburg, Joanna is Judging You.
The Nebula Nominations are Here! The Nebula Nominations are Here! AAAH!
In case you don’t know, the Nebulas are annual awards given to the best science fiction and fantasy of the year (novel, novelette, short story, movie etc.). Unlike the Hugos, the Nebulas are decided by not fandom, but by creators: only members of the Science fiction and Fantasy Writers of American (SFWA) can vote. They’re pretty crucial awards – in fact, I’d put them right up there with the Hugo and the World Fantasy Award, in terms of visibility and importance to the field.
So the Nebula Shortlist coming out? Totally warrants a freakout.
But before I have the aforementioned freakout, a digression (about another freakout).
Tor.com runs an annual reader’s poll on the best novel of the year. Since they’re a major SF/F hub, I assume that the poll is pretty, well, popular, and so the results might be a bellweather for the Nebulas and the Hugos. And ever since I’ve seen the aforementioned results, I’ve been having a minor freakout.
The freakout goes like this: OH GOD, a list of the ten books and exactly ONE woman. No authors of color (as far as I can tell – please, someone correct me if I’m wrong). And NO support for the really awesomepants genre-defying, mind-bending fantasmagorical novels I think are the “best” of the year. NOOOO, the Hugos and the Nebulas are CLEARLY going to be a two-man race between PAT ROTHFUSS AND GEORGE RR. MARTIN, WHYYYYYYYY?
My freakout kept increasing as I read every category (again: one woman in the short story category. Is there a quota system I’m unaware of?) You can witness the results of said freakout in my post about the Hugo nominations. (Fair warning: it’s quite a long post).
I will admit, I’m the only person I know who would get this worked out about awards that haven’t even been announced yet. Such is my curse.
But for today, my friends, my curse has been lifted, because the Nebula Awards shortlist is OUT. And it is telling me that I should never, ever, ever pay attention to the Tor Reader’s Poll. Because the shortlist?
Is wearing the awesomepants.
I actually gasped when I saw the best novel category. Do you know why? Because N.K Jemisin is BACK on it, ladies and gentlemen. WHOOO HOOO!
I was convinced The Kingdom of the Gods wouldn’t make it on the ballot, because it’s the third book in the trilogy (usually not nominated in these sorts of things) and it was released in late October last year, and there wasn’t the same buzz around it there was around The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Which was really unfortunate, because The Kingdom of the Gods is, in my opinion, even better than The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. It’s absolutely incredible, and I’ve been moping around because I thought it would not get the recognition it so richly deserved. But it has! Hurrah! Go N.K Jemisin!
And then, the shortlist continued its wardrobe of awesomeness by including Jo Walton’s Among Others – one of my favorite reads of the past year (and the only female-authored novel to crack the top ten in Tor’s Reader Poll). Jo Walton, or, as I like to call her: Jo “genre boundaries? What genre boundaries?” Walton.
I am fully committed to any author who writes a Victorian comedy of manners starring a pose of dragons (Tooth and Claw). Or an author who writes a story about a young witch discovering science fiction.
Of course, when I saw China Mielville’s Embassytown was on the shortlist, I knew the Nebulas were going full-out. Oh yeah. The shortlist was putting on its high heels, man. As everyone and their grandmother knows, I am slightly obsessed with China Mielville. He’s one of those hyped authors who truly deserves the hype. He also never rests on his laurels – all of his novels are different from one another, and each one of them is difficult and challenging in new ways. I always approach Mielville with a bit of trepidation because I never know if he’s going to pull it off. It’s like each one of his novels is a roller coaster, but there aren’t any tracks under the car, and Mielville’s sitting there, assuring me that yes, the roller coaster will make it back to the ground safely, and before I can protest, he locks the doors and I can’t get out. But somehow, the roller coaster DOES make it onto the ground, and I’m always amazed it hasn’t fallen out of the sky, and I can never quite figure out how he’s done it. He’s that kind of storyteller.
I was also quite pleased to see Genevieve Valentine’s Mechanique on there – I finished it last week, and I thought it was fantastic. Valentine managed to take two things I was getting a bit tired of – Steampunk and circus novels – and make them fresh and interesting by pushing the conventions to that weird, dark place I always hoped they would go to. Plus, I love a good narrative about the posthuman. I’m not sure I liked Mechanique as much as I did some other of 2011’s books, but it’s one I can get behind for the nomination.
And then I saw Kameron Hurley’s God’s War was on the ballot, and I realized that the shortlist wasn’t just wearing the awesomepants. It was wearing the diamond-incrusted, Jean-Paul Gaultier designed awesomepants.
When the ladies of the (wonderful) podcast Galactic Suburbia described God’s War, I though “There’s no way I’m not going to love this.” It’s about an assassin. There are aliens. And a holy war. And a planet settled by muslims. And people sell their wombs. And there’s BOXING. And bugs. Lots and lots and lots of bugs.
And I was right. I did love it. I’m planning on posting a full review at some point in the future, so I will restrain myself for now. But it’s a great, great book, and the fact that it was nominated for a Nebula (rather than burned to the ground for its radical feminism), gives me hope.
Sadly, I have nothing to say about Jack McDevitt’s Firebird, because… I haven’t read it. Whoops. I haven’t even really heard of it, so I will need to track it down and discover why it’s on the ballot. But given the standard of the other nominees, I’m sure it’s fantastic.
Going back to my fears that the ballot would time-travel back into the dark days of all-white men? Incorrect! Of the best novel authors, four are women, two are men. Hurrah! The trend of women being recognized in the SF/F field continues!
As far as I know, NK Jemisin is the only author of color recognized (again, anyone with clarifications there should let me know, because I don’t want to erase anyone). But two of the novels are in a non-european setting (The Kingdom of the Gods and God’s War) and Valentine’s novel has quite a few non-white characters (I don’t know about Firebird).
I have a lot less to say about the non-novel categories, since I haven’t read that much short fiction this year (or any year, really. I’m working on it). But I let out my second gasp-whoop of the night (after N.K. Jemisin) for Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie.” It’s a story that made me get teary-eyed in a public space. Enough said.
I’m also very excited to see that some of my favorite writers - Catherynne Valente, Kij Johnson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Rachel Swirsky and Geoff Ryman – were nominated for their work in short fiction. At some point, I’m planning on actually reading the entire short fiction ballot and writing up thoughts on it… but not until I get some more homework done.
I was a bit disappointed to see X-Men: First Class hadn’t made it onto the dramatic presentation shortlist. Because homoerotic tension should ALWAYS be rewarded with a Nebula. No, actually, unresolved homoerotic tension should be rewarded with a Nebula nomination… but then lose to a movie that actually RESOLVED the aforementioned homoerotic tension. And the Neil Gaiman-penned episode of Dr. Who, “The Doctor’s wife” got a nod, which is great, since I’m sure it will lead to Neil Gaiman doing this again (I love Neil Gaiman).
Finally, regarding the Andre Norton award for Young Adult fiction (which is… not a Nebula?I never quite understand the relationship between two, but they’re given at the same ceremony, and they’re announced at the same time).
I have only read two novels on the shortlist, but based on those two alone, I can tell you that the Andre Norton award is wearing an awesomeskirt to match the Nebula’s awesomepants. Those two books, are, of course, Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch (soccer!) and Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze, both of which I thought were fantastic. The Freedom Maze, in particular, is an Acheivement of a novel (capital A and all). It proves once more that YA can handle difficult and complex topics just as deftly and intelligently as “grown-up” books. If not more.
Also, the cover is amazing. I’m just saying.
Going back to my epic freakout over the Tor.com results, I will quickly give a gender/race breakdown of the Nebulas (again, I don’t know all of these authors, and wikipedia/image searches will only tell me so much. Correct my errors if you see them).
1 POC (People of Color)
3 women (do not be fooled by the “Charlie” in Charlie Jane Anders. I almost was (thank Claude for Wikipedia). She is, in fact, female)
Hey, all in all, that’s pretty good! Maybe the Hugos and the World Fantasy awards will be a bloodbath. Maybe all the WINNERS will be white men. You never know. (It’s not paranoia if they’re really trying to kill you).
But for now, my friends, I listen to the message the Nebulas are sending me.
“Shut up, disoriented chick,” sayeth the Nebulas. “We have not yet fallen back to the dark side. We are wearing the awesomepants. And the awesomeshirt. And the awesome high-heels. We will not go back to the drab blue jeans and T-shirt of old.”
And that’s a message I can get behind.
This summer, half my family was in South Africa, half my family was camping – and I was stuck at home working. I’m not bitter at all, can you tell?
Actually, I’m not that bitter. My family being away meant I had the house to myself, which was glorious. I did enjoy the solitude, particularly in late July when I had a most fantastic evening. I cooked myself a nice dinner, I dressed up (I am not even joking. There was makeup. I broke out the good eyeliner). I set my computer up on the table; I turned on the internet and I sat down on the (very comfortable) couch to watch the live-stream of the Hugo awards.
To a passerby, I must have looked nuts – a girl all alone in her house, wearing a poofy lace dress and occasionally jumping up and down like a maniac (I have no shame. I love Mary Robinette Kowal).
As you can tell, Hugo awards are a big deal to me.
When I realized I knew absolutely nothing about my favorite genre – Sci-Fi / Fantasy, in case you were wondering – I went straight to the Hugos, and started reading my way through the Best Novel shortlists.Thanks to this little exercise, I discovered most of my favorite contemporary genre writers. Last summer it was China Mielville and Catherynne Valente. This summer, it was Lois McMaster Bujold, N.K. Jemisin, and Mira Grant. Oh, and the fabulous Connie Willis.
The Hugo nominees were what got me excited about SF/F again. Before I started reading the shortlist, I was so entrenched in “classic” fantasy and SF that I was beginning to worry that the genre was stale. Or that I’d outgrown it. But no one who has read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Feed, Palimpsest and The City and the City in the space of two years could call the genre stale with a straight face.
This year, however, the Hugos are an even bigger deal to me. World Con is taking place in Chicago, which is only a two hour drive from my hometown. For the first – and possibly last time (at least until I stop being a poor literature student) – I can actually afford to go. I can go to WorldCon. Where there will be awesome people. And fans. And writers. AND THE HUGO CEREMONIES.
I can be there when they give the awards.
Excuse me, I think I need to lie down for a minute or two. I’ll be back.
I’m back. Sorry about that. The Hugos will do that to a girl.
Of course, if I was going to be at the Hugos, I had to buy a supporting membership so that I could NOMINATE for the Hugos. Got mine the day before the deadline, I might add – nothing like putting things off till the last minute!
For me, nominating is almost a bigger deal than getting to vote, in that I think shortlists are a better representation of the field than the winners. I’m in no way implying that the winners aren’t important, but when we make a shortlist, we make a statement about what we think our genre is and where we hope it goes. We reward the kinds of experiments – or the kinds of traditions – that we find valuable. We reveal the kinds of writing we think are worthy, and the topics we think are important.
A shortlist says something about who we are.
Now, I’m about to complain for a bit. And I realize there’s something unfair about complaining about a shortlist that doesn’t exist yet. But – I don’t care. I like complaining. And this way, if I’m right, I get to feel triumphant (especially since I can point to the blog and go “Look! I predicted this would happen in March! And it did!). And if I’m wrong, I get to feel relieved. It’s a win-win situation.
Last year’s best novel shortlist was glorious, but frankly, I’m a little worried that this year is going to let me down. The Hugo-related chatter I hear on the blogs and the interwebs is heavy on the white male authored, very classic fantasy/ SF. From this chatter, I would put money down on Patrick Rothfuss and George RR Martin both being nominated, and tentatively guess that Lev C. Grossman and China Mielville will round out the top four. The fifth seat is harder to judge, but Hannu Rajaniemi and John Scalzi both have a decent shot.
I’m not seeing any of the same momentum around female or non-white authors.
(It should be noted that I have not read either Hannu Rajaniemi or John Scalzi’s work (which is pretty pathetic of me), but I intend to remedy that forthwith. It should also be noted that my complaints about the Hugos is in no way a complaint against the individual authors I think will be nominated. I love Mielville. I love Grossman. I think Scalzi’s non-fiction is fantastic, and I’m sure I’ll love his fiction. I am not criticizing these people for being popular or well-liked. They deserve the accolades they get.)
Classic fantasy and SF is great, and far be it from me to condemn white male authors. Some of my favorite genre authors are white and male: China Mielville, Neal Gaiman, Lev C. Grossman, H.G. Wells, Bram Stroker etc. Hey, some of my favorite people are white and male! (Hi, little brother).
But last year’s shortlist was such a revolutionary statement about the state of our genre. It was everything I wanted in a list – recognition for some traditionally acclaimed writers who were still being awesome (Lois McMaster Bujold and Connie Willis), praise for writers who were taking risks and expanding the frontiers of the genre (N.K. Jemisin, Mira Grant, Ian McDonald); it had more gender and racial diversity (both within and without the books) than we’ve seen in a long time – I was ecstatic. Four of the five nominees were women (I KNOW). One was a black woman (two would have been black women if they’d nominated Nnedi Okorafor (No, I’m still not over it)). Two of the novels were dominated by characters of colour (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Dervish House). We had a post-colonial epic fantasy, a post-modern zombie apocalypse, cyberpunk set in Turkey, time travel, and a Vorkosigan novel. The only way I could possibly have been happier is if they’d also nominated Nnedi Okorafor, but I’m a perfectionist.
“Wow,” I thought. “All those people who say SF/F is a staid, conservative genre can go eat my copy of the Lord of the Rings. This is a popularly nominated shortlist, and look who and what is on it! And those people who say SF/F is a “male” genre? They can go jump in a lake.”
And call me crazy, but I was hoping that this would start a trend. I’m not saying that a year’s worth of reversion to the default white male will stop SF/F’s evolution in its tracks, but I was crossing my fingers for another surprising, interesting ballot, and right now I’m worried that it’s going to be “well, that was expected.”
We’ll see. I could be paranoid. But just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss aren’t trying to kill my shortlist.
(For the record, I do like George R.R. Martin’s work. I’ve only read Game of Thrones, so I’m not yet on the bandwagon. But I think he’s quite good. I do not like Patrick Rothfuss’s work, and I don’t understand the hype around him, which makes the fact that he’s probably going to get nominated and win all the more irritating. At the same time, it is entirely possible that I’m missing something important about Rothfuss. If so, forgive my idiocy).
Ah, my readers, I can hear the your complaints already. “Well, if you don’t like the shortlist, why don’t you nominate? Also, why are you complaining about a shortlist that doesn’t exist yet?”
I refuse to address the second question. We’ve already established that I’m a chronic complainer, and that no logic in the universe can stop me. But to the first question: Fair point! I thought of that myself. And having spent my hard-earned money to buy a supporting membership, I did, in fact, nominate.
But what did I nominate? Good question! I know you are all dying to know the answer, but if some of you would prefer not to die of boredom, turn back now, or forever hold your peace.
The Kingdom of the Gods by N.K. Jemisin: it’s everything I never knew I wanted from an epic fantasy series. For me, at least, this series has completely changed my idea of epic fantasy, and what I think the genre can do. It’s provocative. It’s got amazing characters. It’s got incredible diversity (Queers! Women! Almost everyone is a Person of Color! Gods! Humans! Demons!) It’s got a plot with twists and turns that actually manages to keep my attention (usually after the twelfth twist, I’m done). And it’s that rarity: a last book in a trilogy that actually manages to be the best book in the trilogy. Which is saying something, because The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms? Probably my favorite book published in 2010.
Among Others by Jo Walton: Another genre-bending work: it’s a story about a young witch who finds her place in the world by discovering science fiction. I have high hopes that this one will actually end up on the ballot. It absolutely deserves to be there. It’s a love letter to reading, coupled with a description of the awkward, horrible pain of growing up when you’ve already got a grown ups’ maturity and intelligence. It’s smart and insightful, and quietly moving, and you don’t even realize how good it is until a week later, when you have a “duh” moment.
Deadline by Mira Grant: The sequel to Feed. Or: what happens after you shoot your sister (who was transforming into a zombie). Hey, she did ask you to.
All zombie novels have some measure of social commentary, but none of them do it as subversively and intelligently as Feed and Deadline do. On the flip side, NOT all zombie novels have the depth of characterization that Grant’s do. Grant makes you fall in love with characters, and then she throws them on the ground and jumps on them over and over again and makes you watch, and it’s horrible. And wonderful. So wonderful. Deadline had me pounding at my brother’s door in the wee hours of the morning, because I just could not handle the pain Sean was going through (after major revelation 101). I never thought I would care so much about a book about zombies, but I did, and for that, Deadline got a nomination from me.
Embassytown by China Mielville: I’m a huge Mielville fan (he’s my designated male author-crush), but I actually didn’t enjoy Embassytown that much. I did, however, greatly admire it, and I think it’s got a chance to become a classic of the genre. It’s one of the most interesting alien stories I’ve read in quite some time, and reminds me of my all-time favorite sci-fi novel, The Sparrow. Both deal with similar themes – diplomacy, communication, colonialism. Except here, the conflict comes from the colonialism of language.
Embassytown has an incredibly claustrophobic feel to it. Humanity has abandoned the planet and its human inhabitants to the tender mercies of the indigenous aliens. The human inhabitants, meanwhile, have abandoned greater humanity. The characters are completely and utterly alone. And even in the lulls, the reader can feel the oppression of space all around you.
God’s War by Kameron Hurley: I knew I was going to like this novel before I read it, and I did. Correction: I loved it. Any novel that opens with the heroine selling her womb is going to be a favorite. Heck, the first twenty pages alone are worth a Hugo nomination: I certainly knew it was going on my ballot at that point. It’s set in a militaristic, muslim matriarchy, which seems like a giant oxymoron waiting to happen, but Hurley makes it work. It’s about an assassin. It’s got aliens. It’s got war. It’s got lots and lots of gender examination and body horror and an amazing central character who will sell her womb and seduce your women and assassinate your deserters, and she’ll break a sweat doing it (I love a hero who doesn’t pretend that hard things aren’t hard work) and then she’ll go get drunk.
There are also a lot of bugs. Which I thought I would have a problem with. But I didn’t. I love the bugs. Bugpunk = awesome.
“Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal.
Confession: I only read three novellas this year, and this is the one I thought was worth putting on the ballot. Kowal confuses the living daylights out of me. I discovered her through her novel Shades of Milk and Honey, which is essentially Jane Austen with Magic. But her short fiction is pure SF. Actually, it’s SF with a liberal application of hardboiled detective, two genres that are… very different from Jane Austen. “Kiss Me Twice” is absolutely fantastic – it’s about what happens when AI’s stop functioning in a society where police work depends on AI. A great examination both of AI’s as conscious beings, and of AI’s as human technology, which is a difficult balance to strike.
“Younger Women” by Karen Joy Fowler:
if you don’t like Twilight, you’ll like “Younger Women.” It’s Twilight from the perspective of the parent. It’s the story that goes: “Hey, what’s with all these thousand year old vampires and these seventeen year old girls?” And it’s fantastic.
“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu: Liu zeros into an oft-forgotten facet of magic: magic as a method of cultural transmission. Magic as something you share as a family. Magic as the way you communicate your culture to other people. The story is quietly, gorgeously emotional.
“The Cartographer Wasps and Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu: There are wasps. They make maps. They colonize the bees. The bees become anarchists. It sounds insane. In the hands of Yu, it’s completely and utterly realistic. And interesting. Oh, and also a little insane.
“The Bread We Eat in Dreams” by Catherynne Valente: Oh, Cat, how do you do it? Please, explain to me how you do it? Because I don’t think I’ve read anything of yours that isn’t absolutely exquisite and absolutely monstrous at the same time. I should have known that only you could take the salem witch trials, and puritanism, and new world colonization, and infused them with richness and warmth and canny sarcasm. You’re one of the few authors I know who looks at monstrosity – be it human monstrosity (femaleness, queerness, non-whiteness), or real monstrosity (demons, mermaids and griffins, oh my!) – and manages to look beyond the disadvantages of monstrosity. You write powerful monsters. You write the monsters we are, and the monsters we want to be.
Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form:
X-Men: First Class: I had so many problems with this movie, but it was still the best SF/F I saw all year. Especially the romance between Charles and Erik. And the makeout scene (listen, I don’t care that it didn’t happen. It did. Everyone knows it did).
Best Editor, Long form:
It’s surprisingly difficult to find out who edited what! Even the internet isn’t that helpful. I had to dig through author acknowledgments and industry blogs to come up with a list of names, but having done my research, I’m quite satisfied with this group of nominees:
Devi Pillai (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms trilogy, the Parasol Protectorate and Kate Elliot’s Cold Magic)
Jeremy Lassen (God’s War, Of Blood & Honey)
Anne Groell (Blackout/All Clear, The Game of Thrones series)
Kelly Link – I’m not 100% sure she’s eligible, but if she is, she should get a nomination for her work at Small Beer Press (The Freedom Maze)
There is a special Fancast category this year (what’s a fancast, you ask? A Podcast!), and I think we all know who I’m going to nominate for that: GALACTIC SUBURBIA, FOR THE WIN!
Man, I love that show. I’m going to write a post on it eventually. Because it is made of awesome. I hope they get a nomination – I’m pretty convinced they won’t, because it’s three Australian women talking about SF/F and feminism, which pretty much takes them out of the running. But they deserve it. Because they are awesome. And they make me read ALL the good books.
And that’s me done (for now). Any thoughts on my list? Any other Hugo nominators in the house? Will you be at WorldCon? If so, want to be friends? CAN ANYONE HEAR ME?