Ah, remember those halcyon long-ago days of 2015, when the worst fascists could do by manipulating voting systems was to get themselves nominations for a minor literary award, rather than take over most of the Anglophone world? That was good, wasn’t it?
Anyway, one bit of encouraging news is that the battle against that particular set of fascists seems to have been won. The combination of burn-it-all-down rage from people like Phil Sandifer, electoral system hacking from people like Bruce Schneier, scrupulously moderate disapproval from people like George R.R. Martin, and the fascists’ own lack of attention span has meant that they’re now a spent force in the Hugo Awards. (And yes, I do think *all* those things played some important part — one can argue about how much each contributed, but all contributed something).
This year’s list of finalists is, by some way, the most impressive in a decade or so. Yes, a couple of fascist entries made the list, but with six finalists instead of five in every category they can be ranked below “no award” and the other five entries still treated as proper Hugo finalist lists. So we have real shortlists again.
And those proper lists are exactly the sort of thing we should be seeing. Tons of writers of colour, lots of women, at least one trans person — and every one of them there entirely on the merits of their writing. There are some who are not to my personal taste — and I may well even rank some below No Award, and be horribly critical of them when I review them — but with the exception of the fascist ringers (“Vox Day”, Castalia Blog, John C. Wright, Cirsova, The Rageaholic, Alex Garner, Mansik Yang, and J. Mulrooney if you were wondering) they are entirely respectable choices at worst, and astonishing pieces of work at best.
I’ll be posting reviews of almost everything (other than fascist ringers) nominated between now and the close of voting. I won’t be doing Dramatic Presentation Short Form because the category doesn’t interest me much, and won’t be doing Series because I believe the category shouldn’t exist, but will do the rest.
To start with (and in advance of the Hugo Packet coming out, assuming one does) here are my views on Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form, since I happen to have seen (almost) all of them already.
This is a *wonderful* selection of films — so much so that my rankings of the top three may well change several times between now and my final ballot. Any of my top three choices would be an excellent winner, and the other three would all be reasonable choices. But here are my rankings as of right now, from best to worst.
1) Arrival. I wrote a full review of this here, and I remain hugely impressed with the film. It’s probably not my favourite of the films nominated, but it’s the one that most does what I want from science fiction — it’s a real film of ideas, of a kind SF cinema only produces once a decade or so, and I desperately want there to be far more films like it. Some of the other films on the list do what they do better than this does, but what they do is the same thing many other films do. This, though, is doing something you’ll not see anywhere else. The most intelligent SF film I’ve seen in a long time.
2) Ghostbusters. I reviewed this at the time it came out, too, and the criticisms I made of it then stand, especially the criticism of Patty being essentially a Mammy character (a real problem with the film, and one that I very much hope a sequel will rectify). There are other problems with it as well — the edit of the theatrical release clearly chops out at least one subplot (apparently restored in the director’s cut, which I’ve not seen), and some of the story beats are predictable a mile off. But… I’ve watched this film at least seven times now, and enjoyed every viewing of it. And while it’s only a very enjoyable fun blockbuster to me, it’s a film that *really meant something* to a lot of women I know, who for the first time saw people like themselves in heroic roles — especially Holzmann, who is coded as both queer and autistic, and who touches many queer autistic women in a way I can’t possibly understand, but I can see. That matters.
Fundamentally, Arrival is for me, and Ghostbusters is for many of my best friends. I’ll probably rank Arrival first, but I’ll be happy if Ghostbusters wins.
3. Hidden Figures And speaking of representation… a film entirely about black women scientists, and another worthy winner. I’ve only seen this once, and very recently, so it hasn’t had as much time to solidify in my opinions, but this is probably the best film as a film of the bunch. It’s a Hollywoodisation of real events, so a lot of it is not exactly historically accurate (especially Kevin Costner’s white saviour character made up out of whole cloth, but also the events have been telescoped into a much shorter timeframe) but the women in this film did and do exist, did do the things they’re portrayed as doing, and deserve celebration. This film looks at the lives of black women employed to perform calculations as part of the space programme, and tells a very compelling story about their achievements. It, too, is flawed — in particular in portraying racism as a problem caused by bad white people and fixable at least in part by good white people, rather than as a systemic problem — but it’s a very, very, good film, and the things it values are things that are important. It isn’t as much to my personal taste as the two films above, but it’s absolutely a worthy winner as well.
I still don’t know for sure that that is the order I’ll be ranking them in, but I’ll be happy if any of them win.
4. Deadpool. I wasn’t as impressed by this as everyone else, but it’s amusing enough if you like the sort of childish humour you get in South Park or Rick & Morty, and while the principal character is a psychopath with no redeeming features other than charm, the film does at least acknowledge that that’s what he is. There’s some genuinely clever stuff in there, but it’s fundamentally a film I could have seen Kevin Smith making in the late 90s. I’d have loved it then, but I’m not a teenage boy any more. But teenage boys deserve stuff for them, too, and as stuff aimed at teenage boys goes it’s not bad.
5. Stranger Things. This is, on the other hand, aimed exactly at my demographic. It’s aimed at white men in their late thirties or early forties, who have nostalgic memories of the 80s, who as kids played Dungeons & Dragons, read Stephen King books (especially It and The Body), and watched The Goonies, Poltergeist, and ET.
And it does a great job of evoking the atmosphere of those things. But fundamentally, that’s all it’s doing — and it does it at a much greater length than the plot justifies (see this very good piece on “plotblocking” which talks about it).
It’s fine for what it is, and I know a lot of people liked it a lot more than I did. But it didn’t really work for me.
6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story I only actually saw the first twenty minutes or so of this in the cinema, as the audio description wasn’t working for my wife so we left, and I haven’t yet bothered to watch the rest. What I saw was a perfectly adequate Star War, and it did all the Star Warsy stuff one would expect from a Star War, but I’m not a massive fan of Star Wars anyway (I don’t hate it or anything, it just doesn’t push my buttons).
I’m told by those who have seen the whole thing that it’s quite a good Star War, and I see no reason not to believe them, so I wouldn’t put it below No Award, but nor would I rank it above any of the others.
So that’s my first post on this year’s Hugo Awards. Some fine films. Go and watch them.
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