Visceral, gut-level, tautological fun

16 04 2015

I’ve had a couple of attempts at writing much longer, messier posts on this subject, but I think what I’m trying to get at, in witnessing and reacting to the Hugo-related maelstrom of the past (and doubtless coming) days, crystallises down to this: what is so wrong with wanting to embrace diversity — and, for that matter, tolerance — in science fiction?

SF should be colourblind, genderblind, all kinds of accepting. It is after all the literature, not of the past, but of the future. Let’s take it there.

In other matters arising

7 04 2015

Life goes on, even in the midst of a Hugo nominations maelstrom, and here in the Antipodes, the synchronised Australian and NZ natcons — neither of which I was able to attend — have seen the parcelling out of Ditmar, Sir Julius Vogel, and other awards, under considerably less contentious circumstances than have attended the Hugo noms.  The Ditmar summary can be seen here, and the SJVs here. (Yes, I know the ‘Ditmar’ link isn’t to an official results page, but it’s a source I trust, in the apparent absence of the official page at this time.)

Hearty congratulations to all the winners — I’m especially pleased to see, on the NZ side, SJVs go to Paul Mannering for his marvellously daffy novel Engines of Empathy (thoroughly recommended), to Lee Murray for her short story ‘Inside Ferndale’, and to A J Fitzwater for her well-deserved Best New Talent award. (A J has a novella — the cover story, in fact, in the upcoming ASIM 61, which has been upcoming for so long that I’m sure it’s starting to seem like the Cathedral of Chalesm. But the issue is, honestly, almost complete …) And there’s a long list of good names on the Ditmar sheet as well, but I’d like to single out the hardworking and multi-talented Donna Maree Hanson who has claimed the A Bertram Chandler award this year.

Hugo nominations: Fan, incoming, 3, 2, 1 …

5 04 2015

The 2015 Hugo award nominations have been announced, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine is shortlisted among those in the ‘Best Semiprozine’ category. A Hugo nomination is, of course, marvellous recognition for the achievements of a little Australian-based magazine, which has played its part in starting the careers of a great many local and overseas specfic authors, and which has given many members of the Andromeda Spaceways team, myself included, a great deal of useful experience in the tasks associated with publishing. As a member of the ASIM team, I ought to feel considerable pride in the nomination; and yet I cannot, not as I should. For it appears we did not get there under our own steam, but as one of the recommendations listed on the ‘Sad Puppies 3′ slate.

Lest this be seen as mere coincidence, I don’t see how it can be. ASIM‘s never been Hugo-shortlisted before, not even in the wake of the 2010 Worldcon in Melbourne. And 51 of the 60 ‘serving suggestions’ on the Sad Puppies 3 slate have found their way onto the Hugo ballot. All of Sad Puppies’ recommendations for Novella, Novelette, Related Work, Graphic Story, Long Form Editor, Short Form Editor, Professional Artist, Fanzine, Fancast, and John W Campbell Award got through to the ballot; there was no category in which some Sad Puppies rec did not get through. There is, of course, other stuff on the ballot as well; but it’s damned hard to see this as anything other than a disappointing exercise in tribalism, and as something, therefore, which immeasurably cheapens the ballot for anyone who finds themselves on it through such means.

There were three ‘slate’ recommendations for the semiprozine category: ASIM, Abyss & Apex, and Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show. I cannot help but feel that OSC’s IGMS was probably, for reasons of hierarchy and politics, the first preference of the slate organisers, and that ASIM and Abyss & Apex were there perhaps merely to lend some semblance of impartiality to the Sad Puppies’ list of recommendations, and may have owed as much to their position in the alphabet — you don’t have to trawl far through Ralan’s to find us — as to their merits as purveyors of fine speculative fiction. (I mean no disrespect at all to Abyss & Apex through this conjecture, by the way, and would point you towards that magazine’s own gracious and measured response to the current imbroglio, which is well worth reading. As, indeed, is the magazine.) Like ASIM, Abyss & Apex made it through to the ballot; IGMS missed out.

There’s always this problem with fan-based awards: each friend a potential vote; the drive to the formation of alliances, cliques, blocs. And it’s not so difficult to cross that line from recommendation to apparent organisation; but it’s disastrous for fandom when it happens. Because how do you fight a bloc, except with another bloc?

Of course, on one level, all that Sad Puppies 3 have done is to put up a ‘list of recommendations’, which is not so far from what I (and a million-and-one other fans) have done in advance of various upcoming award seasons. But I always take care (I hope) to point out that interested parties should only vote in accordance with their own wishes, and for things that they themselves have read, or viewed, and personally enjoyed. Because that’s what the vote is supposed to be. Anything else is drifting into a mockery. I’ve been fortunate to have been the recipient of two fan-based awards to date (the Sir Julius Vogel Awards, for 2009 and 2013): I didn’t court them; I cherish them; and I would feel as cheated as, I’m sure, would my competitors, if I discovered that my success in either of those categories had arisen through bloc voting. And the SJVs are, let’s face it, small beer up against the Hugos. (Delicious beer nonetheless. Kiwis are excellent brewmasters.)

So ASIM is on the Hugo ballot. We at the magazine have known about this for about ten days’ time, and have long since sent through the acceptance. But because none of us are exactly active in US fandom, we only became aware of the Sad Puppies connection very late in the piece — in fact, a scant three days before the nominations were made public, and well after all the dust had settled on the nomination process itself. ASIM was never informed about our inclusion on the Sad Puppies 3 slate — if we had been, I very strongly suspect our response would have been a resounding ‘Hell, No’ — and there was no time, nor any point, in looking to remove ourselves once we did get there.

My own take on this is that a Sad Puppies vote for ASIM is a ‘pity-sex’ vote. This doesn’t benefit the magazine, doesn’t benefit fandom, not one bit. Fans who are eligible to vote should only endorse ASIM (which, btw, will be included in some form in the Hugo voters’ packet) if they’ve read and enjoyed the magazine, and judged it worthy of the award against the current competition. That’s what voting is supposed to be about. Sometimes we forget that.

A book review, with digressions: The Listener, by Tove Jansson

4 03 2015


I first purchased this book in 1981, but I have had to wait thirty-three-and-a-bit years to read it. For I originally obtained it in its initial Swedish form, as the book Lyssnerskan (in which form it was, I was told, even back then, already out of print, just ten years after publication; but, having ordered a job lot of some ten of Tove Jansson’s titles from her Swedish publisher, I received it in the company of the rest of the order — evidently, they succeeded in rustling up a copy of the book for me). Alas, learning Swedish did not turn out to be so straightforward an endeavour as I had hoped it would be, though I did manage to get about a third of the way through Jansson’s Den ärliga bedragaren (recently published, in English, as the novel The True Deceiver) before I admitted to myself, sometime in 1982, that I was missing far too many of the nuances of her prose in my halting attempts at dictionary-assisted-translation for the effort to be worthwhile.


From the above, you may get the impression that I am some sort of Tove Jansson tragic; and yes, I must concede that that is true. It has actually been some years since I have re-read the Moomin books, and yet they, and her hauntingly episodic novel The Summer Book, hold a place in my heart that no other works, by any other author, have yet succeeded in usurping. The belated availability, in English translation, of a steadily-growing list of Jansson’s work for adults – in her lifetime, her only non-Moomin books available in English were her heavily memoirish adult debut Sculptor’s Daughter; The Summer Book, also closely drawn from life (its protagonists represent her dying mother and her niece); and the not-always-convincing novel Sun City – is a cause for bittersweet celebration. It is, perhaps, inevitable that the renewed recognition she is receiving is posthumous; but I wish this had all come sooner, while she lived.

If you have read Jansson’s Moomin books, and if you are somewhat familiar with the body of work of her compatriot Jean Sibelius, you might, perhaps, note a similarity in development. The early examples of both canons are effusive, unrestrained, busy, rich in contrasts, and often very energetic; later examples show much greater restraint and a fine sense of subtlety, with a tendency towards minimalism or towards the use of negative space. (Listen to the tonal sparseness of Sibelius’s Tapiola, one of his last works, and compare it to the final Moomin novel, Moominvalley in November, which is such an exercise in negative space that the Moomins do not, in fact, feature directly at all.) While such a trajectory of artistic development, over the course of a career, is not necessarily unusual, it does seem as though in both Jansson’s and Sibelius’s case it’s taken rather to an extreme; I’m loathe to pin it down to anything characteristically Finnish, or more broadly Scandinavian, but one has to wonder. (I’m not aware, by the way, whether Sibelius and Jansson ever crossed paths, I suspect probably not, since he was fifty years or so her senior, though they did have at least one mutual friend: Sibelius’s biographer and confidante, Erik Tawaststjerna, was a childhood playmate of Jansson’s, and apparently features in Sculptor’s Daughter as the small runny-nosed child who is afraid of bears.) But I have probably digressed long enough. Isn’t this supposed to be a book review?

I was somewhat surprised to learn that The Listener was in fact Jansson’s second book for adults, published in 1971 and predating The Summer Book by a year. (I had always thought that The Summer Book followed directly on after Sculptor’s Daughter.) Reading these stories now, it seems a shame we have had to wait more than forty years for their English translation. They are in their quiet way (and so much of Jansson’s work is quiet) quite outstanding, and I would venture to suggest that The Listener may in fact constitute the best introduction to Jansson’s work for adults for those readers who know of her only as a writer for children. (This is not necessarily to say that The Listener is her best adults’ book per se – I still believe The Summer Book merits that title – but, rather, the collection of short stories provides a somewhat more accessible initial sampler of her work than does the episodic novel. And this first collection of her short fiction has the advantage that the stories are more classically plotted, for the most part, than is the case with her later stories, some of which hew so close to the dictum of white-space prose that they are essentially just lists, more-or-less eschewing an overt plot entirely …)

So, then: the stories in The Listener. There are eighteen in total, several of them so short as to be essentially mere vignettes – flash fiction, I suppose, although the term did not exist at the time of their writing. By and large, it is the longer stories that are the more memorable, for here Jansson has greater rein to show her ability to completely capture, in a sequence of deft, pure, carefully-chosen words, a scene, an event, a betrayal, a secret, a hidden truth that lies at the kernel of us all … I shan’t detail every story, believing it will serve you better if you discover your own favourites among the book’s pages, but the tales that particularly resonated with me were the title story, of a trusted aunt who finds herself so overwhelmed by the burden of familial confidences that she is prepared to take desperate measures; the wonderfully gothic ‘Black—White’, dedicated to Edward Gorey, in which an artist, under pressure to deliver a set of illustrations for a horror anthology, decamps to a relative’s house for some peace and quiet; ‘A Love Story’, in which a couple on holiday in Venice must decide how they are going to handle an obsession with a well-sculpted pair of buttocks; ‘Grey Duchesse’, in which a seamstress is fated to see when those around her are soon to face death, and to need to speak of this; the almost unbearably anticipatory ‘Blasting’, wherein a demolitions expert takes his behaviourally-challenged son out on an assignment with him to the skerries, where he has been contracted to dispose of a fifteen-ton boulder; and ‘The Squirrel’, the collection’s closing story and its longest, in which a middle-aged woman, living alone on a small, treeless Gulf of Finland island, engages in a madeira-fuelled, no-holds-barred battle of wits with a squirrel that arrives one autumn morning on a length of driftwood. The capsule descriptions offered above for these stories might well sound unprepossessing, but in Jansson’s hands the most seemingly innocuous or inconsequential item can become crucial, and utterly compelling; at their best, these are stories that just cannot be improved upon.

Some much-delayed updatery

1 03 2015

It’s been — gosh, look, is that the time? — a shamefully long interval since my last posting on this here corner of teh interwebs, and there are a few items of news, which I shall run through:

1) I’m delighted to see that Charlotte Nash‘s excellently dark deep space yarn ‘Dellinger‘,* which saw publication in last year’s Use Only As Directed anthology (which I co-edited with Edwina Harvey, and which, as I believe I may have mentioned once or twice, is published by Peggy Bright Books), has been shortlisted for an Aurealis Award in the Best Science Fiction Short Story category. (And she gets to double-dip, because she also has an unrelated story, ‘The Ghost of Hephaestus’, shortlisted in Best Fantasy Short Story.) Go Charlotte!

(In a more general sense, it’s good to see other noteworthy names among the shortlistees, and I wish all of the entrants the best of fortune.)

2) I’m also delighted, and more than a little gobsmacked, to discover that my collection Difficult Second Album: more stories about Xenobiology, Space Elevators, and Bats Out Of Hell has also been Aurealis Award-shortlisted, in the Best Collection category. (The competition comprises Lisa Hannett, Rosaleen Love, Ian McHugh, and no less than three Angela Slatters, which is pretty formidable company; I wish them all the best of luck.) And I’m also grateful for the editorial interventions of Edwina Harvey, who ensured that the collection pulled its textual socks up and washed behind its metaphorical ears and, in short, made sure that it was in the best possible shape to venture its way out into the wider world.

2a) I’ve been somewhat remiss, by the way, in failing to report the most recent review of Difficult Second Album, so I’ll do that now. Damien Smith has reviewed it for SQ Mag. I’d encourage you, as always, to follow the link for the full review, but I’ll excerpt here his summary: “in spite of any difficulties associated with stepping up and producing a great follow up collection, I’m going to come straight out and say I really enjoyed this book.

3) A couple of posts back, I mentioned that my distinctly-frivolous story ‘Insecure Alternation‘** was scheduled for publication in AntipodeanSF‘s gala 200th issue. It’s been out for a few weeks now (and in fact I may shortly need to update that link, when the March release of AntipodeanSF is rolled out).

4) Also out for a few weeks now: the latest issue of Aurealis, which features my xenobiological survey novelette ‘Like a Boojum‘, with a wonderful illustration by Lynette Watters. (I always find it a thrill to see an artist’s depiction of something I’ve expressed in word-pictures, as though I’ve succeeded in co-opting someone else into my particular delusions of make-believe.)


* In the interests of completeness, or circle-squaring, or something, it’s perhaps pertinent to point people towards the blog interview I conducted with Charlotte last year, where she talks about the origins of ‘Dellinger’, her writing philosophy, and other good stuff.

** That title, it should be noted, is in fact a fairly meaningless anagram. But since the entire story– [explanation truncated for the avoidance of spoilers]

Two things …

11 12 2014

One: when a week or more ago I announced the upcoming appearance of one of my pieces in AntipodeanSF issue 200, I somehow failed to notice that another of my contributions had just come out in AntipodeanSF issue 198. It’s called ‘News Just To Hand‘.

Two: Peggy Bright Books is currently holding an end-of-year sale, to run (as the term would suggest) until the end of the year. All Peggy Bright Book e-book titles are reduced to $1.99AUD for the duration, and there are reductions in the prices for most of the (earlier) paperback titles as well. You can find further details on the PBB website here.

Also in the slow-off-the-mark department:

30 11 2014

… a couple of further announcements.


First, it gives me great pleasure to announce that no less than four of the stories from Next, last year’s CSFG anthology (which Rob Porteous and I co-edited) have made it into the Table of Contents for the 2013 Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror anthology edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene, and published by Ticonderoga Publications.

The four stories are Claire McKenna‘s ‘The Ninety Two’, Angela Rega‘s ‘Almost Beautiful’, Nicky Rowlands‘ ‘On The Wall’, and Janeen Webb‘s ‘Hell Is Where The Heart Is’. It’s wonderful to see these stories get the recognition they deserve; it’s a pity there couldn’t be room in the Year’s Best TOC for all of the Next stories, but of course them’s the breaks, and four stories making the cut is a very nice affirmation for Next as well as for the authors so chosen.


The other item of business is to unveil what I hope will be on sale in the final week or so of 2014: Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine issue 61, which I have (it seems) been editing for much too long, and which is now almost through the process of layout. The issue of ASIM comprises the following (listed by author order, not in TOC order):

David Barber, ‘A Critic Reviews Pioneer 10′ (poem)
Mark Bondurant, ‘Dry Run’
Fred Coppersmith, “When Jane Was Nine’
A J Fitzwater, ‘Long’s Confandabulous Clockwork Circus And Carnival, and Cats of Many Persuasions’
Kimberley Gaal, ‘In Sheep’s Clothing’
Sinthia J Higgen-Bottom, ‘The First Of His Kind’
Kathleen Jennings, ‘An Apocalypse in Six Genres’ (poem)
Ambelin Kwaymullina, ‘Continuum X Guest of Honour Speech’ (nonfiction)
Rich Larson, ‘Seachange’
Sean Monaghan, ‘Double Team’
Charlotte Nash, ‘Alchemy and Ice’
Patrice Sarath, ‘Bad Dog’
George S Walker, ‘Empty Nesting Velocity’
Sean Williams, ‘Immaterial Progress’

It goes almost without saying that all of the above are excellent. Plus there are illustrations by the redoubtable triumvirate of Lewis Morley, Shauna O’Meara, and SpAE.

I’ll provide an update (and a cover pic) when it’s released to the wild.


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