I feel rather odd reviewing the fan writer category, because… well, partly because reviewing reviewers seems a little navel-gazey, but also because the fan-writer category is essentially the “best blogger” award, and being a blogger who occasionally writes about SFnal stuff myself makes any criticism look like sour grapes.
But I’ve committed to covering everything in the packet here (except the artist ones, because I’m not competent to judge, and the fancast one, because with very few exceptions podcasts bore me), so here are my thoughts, going from best to worst…
Abigail Nussbaum is the only one of the four writers here whose work I was already familiar with. She’s also by far the writer whose style fits my own tastes best — writing long, closely analytical, essays. Of the four essays included here, the most impressive is the piece on Elementary, which manages to tease out the differences between Elementary, House, Sherlock and the original stories very effectively (although a good editor would have picked up on her repeated use of the word “imbibing”, which should really be changed). This is good, smart, criticism that manages to deepen the appreciation for (or in the case of Star Trek Into Darkness, the contempt for) the works she’s discussing.
Kameron Hurley is a name I vaguely recognised. It turned out that I’d read one of her pieces — on the SFWA sexism debacle — before, and it had stuck in my mind, though I hadn’t remembered the source. The posts collected here are all political, though mostly in a way connected to fandom, and so along with that piece there’s one on why USians should sign up for “Obamacare”, one on men muscling in on female-dominated fandoms and how that gives Hurley some insight into why men might (wrongly) object to women in SF fandom, and one on the problems of being a woman who doesn’t just want to be on “women in…” panels, but also doesn’t want the discussion of sexism in SF to be left to men. All very punchy and to the point.
Liz Bourke’s reviews are, in general, rather too short for my taste. By the time she’s done “what the book is about and why I liked it” the review is three quarters over. This is, though, I suspect, more to do with the limitations of the format she’s writing in than with any limitations of her as a writer — there seem to be hints of longer, more discursive, more interesting essays that she could have written in here.
Foz Meadows is generic Tumblr social justice writing. I agree with all the points she makes in her dissections of the bigotry in various SF political controversies over the last year, but I’ve seen the same points made as well or better elsewhere, and know dozens upon dozens of people who write this kind of thing. There’s no real sense of an individual voice here, just an (entirely justified) anger at sexist and racist arseholes expressed in the default Internet language of “I just. I cannot. I have lost the ability to even.” and “WHAT. THE. ACTUAL. FUCK.”
There’s nothing wrong with this, of course — writing is about communication, and part of communication is using the language that your audience uses, so if captioned Futurama gifs are the best way to get the point across to the audience, then they should be used. But the result here is that these pieces could have been written by anyone. They’re perfectly readable, and saying stuff that needed to be said, but not really “best” anything…
One thing that I find pleasing about all four nominees, though, is that it’s clear that even in a year when the Hugo nominations have been distorted by a hard-right block vote, fandom’s idea of what a “fan writer” is is no longer a cranky old man who worships Heinlein, but a sharp, politically-aware, small-l-liberal woman. While I hope that fandom will always be a welcoming place for nerdy, socially-maladjusted, men, any group in which they (we) are the majority quickly develops some very toxic cultural and political views. A lot of the posts collected in these entries are about how threatened a lot of the older SF fans are by those views coming under even the most cursory scrutiny, but I couldn’t be happier that the change in fandom — which has been obvious for at least fifteen years or so to anyone reading LJ and later Tumblr — has percolated through to the Hugos, which are in many ways the voice of fandom as it defines itself.
(There is apparently a fifth entrant in the fan writer category, Mark Oshiro. He did not provide any examples of his writing for the packet, and a quick scan through a couple of his most recent posts didn’t suggest any particular reason for me to keep digging til I found the “good stuff”, whatever that is. I’ll be ranking him below “No Award” — every other nominee at least bothered to put together a decent sample of their best work for readers to judge, while if he’s written anything worth bothering with I have no way of knowing.)