Hugo Blogging: Best Fan Writer

Once again, there are six nominations for this award, of which five are proper nominees and one is gamed onto the ballot by fascists, and who I will be ranking below “No Award” without reading.

As the one fascist on the list, Jeffro Johnson, unlike the rest of them, seems to have Google alerts set up for his name and care passionately about other people’s opinions of him, I will repeat my quotes from 2015 and 2016, when I actually paid attention to his “work”:

“This might even be worthwhile, if Johnson showed any sign of having any analytical ability, insight, awareness of any literature that *doesn’t* relate in some way to role-playing games, or ability to craft a sentence. Fundamentally Mr. Johnson is just a very, very, very stupid but harmless man who is being used for the second year running by “Day””
“I’m just not interested in what a very dull-witted man without even the most rudimentary of critical analytical tools has to say about them.”
“On the evidence of these pieces, Mr Johnson is an affable, hugely enthusiastic, but rather stupid man with (to put it politely) outdated notions about gender relations.”
“Someone could potentially write an interesting essay on that subject, but that someone won’t be Mr Johnson, whose level of insight doesn’t rise much above “neat! This could make a great game!””

I do not expect Jeffro Johnson’s work to have improved dramatically over the last year, so won’t even bother considering it. The rest of the nominees are ranked below, in order of merit. Some are people whose writings I read regularly, while for others I’m going only from material provided in the Hugo Packet, but I’m trying not to judge unfairly on that basis.

Abigail Nussbaum is possibly the most perceptive SF critic around. I often disagree with her views on the quality of a work, but she’s one of the best people I know of at teasing out threads of thematic meaning, and at talking about why a work matters.

She doesn’t say so explicitly, but her Hugo Packet entry can be read as an implicit defence of identity politics and of what are mockingly referred to as “SJW” attitudes. Nussbaum wrote a great deal last year, and has chosen here reviews, primarily of media SF rather than prose, which examine attitudes towards identity, whether that be her look at the way Ex Machina deals both with consciousness and (obliquely) with trans issues, her discussion of Luke Cage in the context of Black Lives Matter, or her review of Russell T. Davies’ queer version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This is not to say that her writing is heavy-handed political polemic — her work is focused on the art itself, not on putting across her political views — but rather that she is one of those people, all too rare in criticism from the SF fandom mainstream, who can actually read a text on multiple levels and put it into a cultural context. The works she looks at are products of their times, and she reads them as such.

It says something about her work that even though I’ve only seen one of the works she’s examining (Arrival), and even though I’ve read all these essays before, I still reread them with absolute fascination.

Mike Glyer is in many ways the polar opposite of Nussbaum, but would also be a worthy winner. Glyer is not someone who specialises in analysis, or indeed in writing memorable, quotable sentences. Rather, what he does, and well, is news journalism. He collates news from different sources, fact-checks, links, interviews people, and does all the things that a journalist needs to do.

This means that when it comes to providing material for the Hugo Packet Glyer is at a disadvantage when it comes to the others — there are no 6,000-word essays of deep-dive analysis. But the fact is, especially in the last two years with their multiple controversies about fascist entryists in the Hugo Awards, Glyer’s site has been the essential site for anyone wanting to make sense of the world of SF fandom. His work is vital, and he’s done more than anyone else to hold together a community that would, I suspect, have broken down without his work.

Chuck Tingle is a brilliant satirical genius, who also happens to write a lot of gay dinosaur erotica. Last year, the fascists gamed his Space Raptor Butt Invasion onto the Hugo ballot, presumably in the belief that this would embarrass “SJW”s. Instead, Tingle spent a year satirising them with sites like this, raising funds for LGBT charities, and publicising books by authors who the fascists particularly hate.

As a result, this year he is a legitimate nomination, and may well win. His packet entry includes his video about the “Bad Dogs Blues”, links to several interviews, this Storify of his Tweets about the Hugos, and copies of two of his short stories: SLAMMED IN THE BUTT BY MY HUGO AWARD NOMINATION and POUNDED IN THE BUTT BY MY HUGO AWARD LOSS.

These stories are both, ostensibly, gay erotica about anal sex with anthropomorphised concepts, but in the case of these two stories, at least, that makes up a rather small proportion of the actual stories. Rather, these remind me more than anything of Richard Herring’s podcast As It Occurs To Me, which shares a *very* similar aesthetic with them. Both revolve around fictionalised versions of the author using news stories and events in his own life as jumping-off points for metafictional, existentialist, comedy which involves characters commenting on the metafictional nature of their own comments on their own existence, and then commenting on the clichéd nature of such metafictional commentary and the way it’s easy to do to impress the kind of audience that’s impressed by that kind of thing. Both also focus on the author’s own insecurity and need to write quickly, both have their own catchphrase-like vocabulary, and both use science-fictional elements (especially parallel universes). And both are obsessed with anal sex.

I found SLAMMED IN THE BUTT BY MY HUGO AWARD NOMINATION, in particular, absolutely hilarious:

I can’t say that I’m not a little jealous as I sit here in this imaginary coffee shop, my every action meticulously described by some external author who I’ll never meet, but at the same time there is a certain relief to knowing that the future is out of my hands. I am nothing more than a collection of words upon a page, incapable of pain or excitement or love, unless, of course, the writer wants me to be.
But the writer is kind, and I know that he’s brought me here for a reason.
And if you think that it’s unreasonable for me to learn all this from a simple email notification, the author would like me to remind you that I’ve been living in a deeper level of the Tingleverse for years, growing more and more suspicious of the bizarre happenings around me every day. He doesn’t have time to tell you about the fact that my mailman is hunky unicorn in leather, assless chaps, or that the last flight I took was delayed because the planes were all having a hardcore gangbang on the tarmac.

Tingle definitely deserves some sort of award. One real problem with this category for me is that there is no possible way to compare gay erotica about an anthropomorphised concept with a year’s worth of news posts, or either with deep textual analysis of films. My ranking of my top three is based on my personal rather narrow interpretation of what it means to be a “fan writer”, but I’d be very happy if any of them won.

I suspect that I’m rather harsher than I should be on Foz Meadows, and that many people will be ranking her work higher. In part, her relatively low ranking for me is just because the subjects she deals with aren’t ones I’m particularly interested in — I know nothing about the computer game Dragon Age, and I bounce off the Vorkosigan Saga every time I try it, for example. But also, her voice is very close to mine — she’s guilty, like me, of an overuse of asides in the middle of complex sentences, set apart by em-dashes, with too many clauses, for example — and she does the same thing I do of changing register from very high to very low, often in the same sentence. These are tics I dislike in my own work, and seeing them in someone else’s puts me off.

Meadows’ analysis seems, as far as I understand it without having experienced the works she’s talking about, reasonable enough, and certainly her complaints about the representation of bi women are ones I have seen many of my bi friends make. I suspect other people will rank her higher than I do, and I can certainly see the argument for doing so, but the narcissism of small differences makes me rank her fourth. I’ll certainly not be unhappy if she wins though.

And finally (other than No Award and Johnson, in that order) Natalie Luhrs‘ blog entries included in the packet seem unexceptional to me. There are five pieces here. The first is one on the role of women in Hamilton, and may be of more interest to people who like that musical than it is to me, but doesn’t grip me in the way Nussbaum’s writing about things I’ve not seen does. The second is a breakdown by gender and race of the Locus recommended reading lists for several years, and must have required a lot of work. The third is a defence of the romance genre, the fourth is a look at techniques used to silence marginalised people, and the fifth is a set of suggestions on how to fix the problems the World Fantasy Convention has with accessibility and harassment.

All of this is perfectly fine, useful, stuff, but nothing here jumps out as much better than a million other blog posts on similar topics. I don’t want to sound too harsh towards Luhrs here — these essays are the kind of thing I’d gladly share on Twitter if I came across them. This is perfectly good work, just not (in my personal opinion) up to the standard of the other four proper nominees.

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