Hugo Blogging 1: Chicks Dig Time Lords

I’ve been thinking for a while that I need to start reading more science fiction (especially as I’ve been *writing* more SF, and it’s a field that demands keeping up with what’s current). Other than Charles Stross, Greg Egan and Neal Stephenson, I’ve read fairly little from the last thirty years or so (oddly, while I prefer SF to fantasy, I’ve read far more fantasy from my own lifetime than SF), though I have an exhaustive knowledge of the field before that.

So I decided to get the Hugo packet, to get an idea of the current state of the best in the field, and vote in the Hugos for the first time.

(I note incidentally, that the Hugos are awarded by AV *and* have a ‘none of the above’ option and so are more democratic than our Commons elections will be. Not that I’m bitter. (I am bitter.))

While I’ve got it, I thought I might as well blog my reactions to the various entries as I read them. First up, an entry in the “Best Related Work” category

Chicks Dig Time Lords is a book I *wanted* to like. It’s published by Mad Norwegian, who among other books have published almost all the Faction Paradox books and the wonderful About Time series of guidebooks, and who are a very small independent company. And it’s about the female experience of fandom, something that’s been neglected.

I certainly wouldn’t have any hesitation in recommending it to some people, but I am so far from the target audience for this that it’s not funny. While the promotion for the book has described it as being about female fandom, it’s actually, for the most part, about a very specific part of female fandom – namely people who will use the word ‘squee’ on a regular basis. We’re actually, here, looking at a snapshot of a sub-subculture – one that grew up around the website Outpost Gallifrey and communities on LiveJournal in the middle of the last decade, one mostly based around enjoying the Welsh series, and one that is extremely uncritical of the show itself.

Now, this is not an invalid perspective, and it is one that deserves to be shared, but this book seems written for people who already have that perspective. Words like ‘squee’ or ‘aca-fan’ are thrown around with an assumption that one has the cultural context to appreciate not just the literal meaning of the words but some kind of subtextual nuance for them. (I had to google aca-fan, having never come across the term before).

Far too much of the book is made up of short autobiographical sketches of very similar-sounding people. There must be at least four or five essays in here which could be summed up as “I remember watching Tom Baker on the PBS affiliate for my Midwestern US state with my annoying kid brother when I was a kid in the 80s. All the other kids at my school thought I was weird for liking this weird English English weird English thing with wobbly sets, so I grew out of it. But then Russel T Davies brought it back and I fell in love with all the characters, especially Jack Harkness, and SQUEE!”

Now, again, I am not criticising this as a perspective – as one of the essays (by Kate Orman, one of the better writers involved) is titled, “If I Can’t Squee, I Don’t Want to be Part of Your Revolution”, and enthusiasm is the reason why anyone becomes a fan of anything. And I would have a *LOT* of explaining to do to my wife when she gets back from visiting her Minnesotan parents tomorrow if I tried to say that the perspective of women who grew up in the midwestern US in the 1980s didn’t deserve to be shared.

But I am, fundamentally, an analytical person. Descriptions of how something makes you feel do very little for me, compared to descriptions of *why* something makes you feel that way (or attempts to make the reader feel the same way). I also find it far more revealing sometime to talk about something’s failures than its successes – I’d rather read About Time or The Discontinuity Guide than something that didn’t talk about Doctor Who’s flaws, for the same reasons I’d rather read Liberator than a Lib Dem party press release. And the analytical is pretty much absent from this book. Which is OK. That’s not what it’s for. It’s a celebration. I’m just not a very celebratory person.

Of these autobiographical sketch things, the best by far is “Mathematical Excellence: A Documentary” by Seanan McGuire, which moves away from the generic and had me genuinely laughing quite hard, as well as being moved by the rather poignant ending. Most of the rest of the pieces in this vein are descriptions of emotions, while McGuire’s piece inspires those emotions in the reader. Maybe more of the other pieces would, if I were part of the target audience.

More interesting from my point of view are the descriptions of fan creativity – people talking about creating costumes for their own imagined characters in the Doctor Who fictional universe, or writing fan fiction, or making fan videos. This is something that female fandom has been far more willing to do than male fandom generally (all exceptions duly noted – of course any female/male split is an artificial division, but this book *exists* because of that artificial distinction) – to take elements of others’ work and reimagine them as elements in their own creative projects.

Still, though, by the nature of the book, these essays are too short to properly go into the issues involved or the process of making these things, and I get the impression that a far more interesting book (from my point of view) could have been made just using examples of this fan-art (though I understand that it would be prohibitively difficult to do legally). At least one representative piece of this fan art has been included, a comic strip called Torchwood Babiez. Unfortunately, it didn’t display properly in my ebook reader.

And the book is rounded out by a few interviews with women who have been involved in Doctor Who, mostly actors who have performed for Big Finish, which might be interesting to those who’ve not read interviews with these people before.

It sounds like I’m being terribly critical of this book, and I’m really not. If you’ve taken part in online new-Who fandom, especially on LiveJournal or the old Outpost Gallifrey, this book will probably be precisely your thing, and I know some of my friends have been and are part of that world. The writers are obviously intelligent, talented people for the most part, and I can’t imagine a better book of this type. But it’s emphatically not for me. But that’s OK – not everything has to be. It’s an open-hearted, welcoming, *friendly* book, and that I’m a cold-hearted joyless curmudgeon is, essentially, my problem, not the book’s.

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9 Responses to Hugo Blogging 1: Chicks Dig Time Lords

  1. Mike Taylor says:

    Torchwood Babiez is terribly easy to find online — at http://tw-babiez.livejournal.com for example. But it seems rather redundant given that Torchwood is already a (not very good) fanfic.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Thanks. A quick look suggests it’s also not my kind of thing, but I think the strip in the book was specially done for it and is a sort of ‘making of Torchwood Babiez’ thing.

      And while I agree that Torchwood isn’t very good, in my very limited experience, fanfiction based on bad art is better than fanfiction based on good art (all else being equal) because it’s at least partly driven by the desire to do it *properly*…

      • Mike Taylor says:

        Yes, I can imagine that. Despite never having previously perpetrated Fan Art myself, I was sorely tempted to write an alternative The Almost People script.

  2. Wesley says:

    I’m not convinced that either the Hugo or Nebula nominees truly represent the best in the field–my experience has been that the novel shortlists will include one or two genuinely good books and one or two really lousy books, the rest being average. The other categories are pretty similar (except for the “Best Graphic Story” Hugo shortlist–as a comics snob, I’m always more annoyed by it than I really should be).

    (My take on this year’s Hugo novel ballot: I loved The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I’m a big fan of Lois McMaster Bujold and I enjoyed Cryoburn, but it’s one of her lesser books and anyone unfamiliar with her work would be better off starting elsewhere. I can’t honestly give an opinion on the other books, because this year I’m not even curious about most of the list–Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House is probably very good, but everyone has writers they just can’t get interested in, and McDonald appears to be one of mine. As decent as she sometimes is at shorter lengths, nothing could induce me to read 1200 pages of Connie Willis. And Feed might well be brilliant, but I’ll never know because I am sick to death of zombies.)

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Looking at Best Graphic Story, I strongly suspect that the only thing that’s on the shortlist that should be is Grandville Mon Amour.

      And obviously nothing’s going to be a perfect summary of the entire field, but I’m hoping to find one or two writers whose work I’ll enjoy, and if nothing else there are a ton of short stories, what with the various magazines etc.

  3. Emily says:

    “This is something that female fandom has been far more willing to do than male fandom generally … to take elements of others’ work and reimagine them as elements in their own creative projects.”

    Do you think this is true of fan-art or creative work more generally? When I read this, I immediately thought of your posts about Klarion and The Doctor’s Wife, which highlight male authors doing exactly that.

    (I’m interested in your opinion, not trying to make a cheap point.)

    • I have a marvellous answer to this which this comment field is too small to contain…

      More seriously, obviously all creative work is influenced by all other creative work, especially (as in the two examples you mention) when working within established ‘media properties’. But I think there’s a distinction to be made between:

      1) Using those ideas of other people’s that are within the realm of the genre you’re working in. If I’m writing a Doctor Who story I’d feel like the TARDIS was something anyone could use, like if I’m writing a blues song I’ll assume that a twelve bar blues progression is fair game. This is what I see Gaiman’s story as, though there could also be an element of 3) in that.

      2) Referencing other people’s work in a totally independent work, to add a commentary or a layer of subtext to both works. Examples here would be, say, The Waste Land or Ulysses.

      3) Making a new, transformative work that is in theory a competitor to the original work – containing elements from it but fundamentally reimagined to suit the new author’s purposes. For example someone writing a comic where the Doctor is a baby fox and the Master is a wolf or something.

      Now I was specifically talking about 3), which seems to have far more of a tradition in female than male fandom. Which isn’t to say that male fans don’t do that sometimes, and is *certainly* not to say all female fans do. It’s also true that the borders between these three things are somewhat blurred.

  4. Holly says:

    And I would have a *LOT* of explaining to do to my wife

    Who, ha, also caught a couple of Doctor Whos on PBS (they were sometimes after Red Dwarf, which I watched far more religiously). I just never really noticed it then. How different life might be if I had!

  5. Pingback: Hugo Blogging 2: Grandville, Feed, Blackout, Cryoburn « Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

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