Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Hugo Awards 2006: In Depth

Subtitled, of course: 'Harlan Ellison is an Ass.'

I had two great hopes entering the Arena of the Anaheim Convention Center this past Saturday evening. The first was that John Picacio would win a well-deserved Best Artist Hugo, and the second being that George R.R. Martin would finally win that elusive 'big one,' the Best Novel Hugo.

Well, we'll get to that later.

Has anyone taken a look at the votes tallied for the Hugo awards this year? In any year? And then compared them to the Worldcon membership?

Those new to Science Fiction fandom know that the community is very open and welcoming to new members. All are welcome, and even the strangest of personages (furries, klingons) are allowed a place at the collective table. However, a place at the table is the best that one can expect. Do not attempt to voice an actual opinion; it's simply not welcome.

Ever try to tell a SMOFer (Secret Master Of Fandom; Hah! Not so secret anymore!) that there is a better way to do things? You'd have better luck asking Harlan Ellison to act like a decent human being. If things were done a certain way in 1963, then there is obviously little need to consider changing them. For a community built around looking forward through literature, SF fandom is remarkably conservative and dare I say it, archaic in their manner of running conventions and awards.

Take, for instance, the manner in which Hugo votes are tallied. The cut off date for votes was July 31, despite the fact that half of a Worldcon's memberships are purchased at the door. That is half of the membership that is simply unable to vote, simply because they did not plan their year around this event. They still pay full price; in fact, they pay more for their memberships than those who sign up early. This not only punishes those new to fandom, it disenfranchises them and punishes those who are too poor to know in advance whether they will be able to make it to Worldcon. It's everything that the liberal leaning SF fandom purportedly rails against, and would be ironically hilarious if not so depressingly stupid.

With the technological ability of our modern society, how hard would it be to begin and end the voting at the event in which the awards are presented? A couple of computers and a few vote checkers would be all the output needed by the convention committee, and the entirety of the membership would have the opportunity to express their feelings.

Now I've heard it said that this implausible because the Hugo Awards themselves must be engraved in advance of the event. If this is the height of the argument against technological advance and across-the-board fairness and equality by the Old Guard, then I'll happily sink that laughable argument.

Make up engraved plates for all of the nominees. I am reasonably certain that with the 3000+ engineers and rocket scientists in attendance, we could manage to rivet them onto the cute little rocket ships. Hell, I bet one of our numerous PhD.'s could even handle engraving tools.

But such advances would mean that even the (gasp!) SMOFers would be in the dark as to who was getting a rocket, and that simply can't be digested, it seems. It wasn't done that way when Heinlein won, and so, it seems, we can never make things better.

This is a call to everyone who arrived at their first Worldcon and was laughed at for looking for the ballot box. We've come so far socially in the years since the first Worldcons, can we please advance with science now, as well?

For the love of Asimov, only 567 votes were tallied for Best Novel this year, despite Worldcon having over 6000 members. Stop the bloody madness! Until you do, SMOFers, the Hugo will not posses the validity it ought have. It is not the voice of the people; The Locus Award is.


The Hugo Award presentations began with an amusing skit between Robert Silverberg and Toastmaster Connie Willis. Amusing at first, that is, but quickly tired and incredibly overlong. (It's Saturday night at Worldcon, people! There are parties to attend!)

Forrest J. Ackerman was recognized for his contributions to fandom by not only winning the Big Heart Award, but having it renamed in his honor. (Who decides this, SMOFers? Not that Forrie is undeserving -- he most certainly is -- but I don't recall being asked my opinion, despite my so-called 'membership.')

That brings us to the other special recognition award recipient, Harlan Ellison. While I find it incredibly amusing that the two people LACon IV decided to honor absolutely loathe each other, I need to ask just what the hell Harlan Ellison has done in the past 20 years to deserve any recognition whatsoever? Is being the rudest asshole in the history of the community truly an award-worthy accomplishment? Is making him a bloody Grandmaster not enough? (And have we truly run so low on august personages that we ought to make a man who is most famous for editing an anthology a grandmaster of Science Fiction?)

So anyway, Harlan Ellison. It's no secret that Ellison sexually assaulted Connie Willis on stage at the Hugo ceremony; there has been much ado about it. Everything that need be said about it has already been said by far greater minds than mine, and so I will leave it at that. (Though I'd like to point out Nick Mamatas's offer to fly to the next convention to squeeze the evil midgets' man-titties, simply for comedic value.)

What has not been mentioned, in the wake of the assault, is his liberal use of the 'N' word in his panel on Saturday. (Yes, I'll refrain from its use here. I see no reason, as you all know which word I refer to.) I've also not heard tell of his calling the elderly widow of Robert A. Heinlein a 'fucking bitch' during his award acceptance speech. She had said, most likely as a result of his abuse, that although Ellison had more Hugo Awards than her late husband, Heinlein had the 'big ones;' the Best Novel Hugo's, and they were far more important.

I'm just gonna throw this out there, people. Harlan Ellison is not worth having to deal with Harlan Ellison. His work is not that good, and never fucking has been. Sure, he was important during the New Wave, but not remotely as influential as Michael Moorcock. He was edgy and experimental, but not to the level of J.G. Ballard and Samuel R. Delany. He, HE, is simply not worthy of our time or notice anymore, if he ever truly was. His output since the 70's is worthless, and the time spent reading it is time wasted. The only tome bearing his name that can be called required reading is Dangerous Visions, a wonderful anthology featuring the work of far better writers than himself. Yet we as a community allow ourselves to be repeatedly shat upon by a known liar, bully, and now sexual predator. I will never again attend a convention that has Ellison as a member, and those of any conscience ought not either.

Oh, and Harlan, the Best Short Story Hugo is nice and all, but Best Novel is all that anyone ever remembers. Sorry, but Virginia was right, and Robert was so much more important than you, that your attacks are the ramblings of a bitter old man who couldn't and didn't and now never will. I truly hope I've had my last dangerous vision of you.


The Winners:

The Campbell Award for best new writer was awarded to John Scalzi. Congrats to John Scalzi.

The Best Artist Hugo went to Donato Giancola. Though my vote went to John Picacio, and I truly believe he deserved to win, Donato is well and truly worthy of this award. As Picacio magnanimously told me later on, Giancola has earned it. Any awarding other than to one of these two artists would have been a monumental travesty, and I am glad that Donato finally received his Hugo.

The Best Editor Hugo, or as I like to call it, The Editor Whom I'd Most Like To Buy My Craptacular Fanfic For his Magazine/Anthology Pretty, Pretty Please, I Voted For You For A Hugo, Doesn't That Count For Something, Even Though I Have No Idea What You Actually Do To A Story Other Than Buy It And So This Award Is Worth Less Than Best Dressed In My High School Yearbook went to the second biggest asshole of the night, David G. Hartwell. After receiving this *ahem* award that no one in fandom has any right to vote on unless they've had a book/story edited by each and every editor on the nominee list, Hartwell took the stage and began to preach a wonderful assertion that the late Jim Baen ought to be the recipient of this award next year, because he deserved it. However, this large-hearted plea was negated trifold by Hartwell's attack on the deceased: "Though he'd never do the same for me."

How in the hell Hartwell presumes to know just exactly what Baen would do in the event of Hartwell's death is beyond my ability to fathom. Good thing for David that Ellison was present, for if not, this classless tripe would have been the talk of the evening. Between Hartwell and Frenkel, you sure have some beauties, TOR.

The Hugo for Best Dramatic Short went to the unwatchable and laughable Dr. Who. At this point I realize that this particular membership has taste in their ass, and I'm feeling gloomy at the prospects of the remaining awards. I mean, Battlestar Galactica, people! Intelligent television, and one of their best episodes, no less. I should not have been surprised; after all, this is the crowd that supported Star Trek for decades and let Firefly fail in a single season.

The Hugo For Best Dramatic Long went to Serenity, and this was the only award in which my vote went to the winner.

The Hugo For Best Related Book went to Kate Wilhelm. I have no opinion, as I do not read related books.

The Best Short Story Hugo was won by David D. Levine for "Tk'tk'tk," or as I referred to it later that evening in my post-Hugo rant, "Suck'Suck'Suck." I mean, it was better than the Burstein and the Resnick, but against Margo Lanagan? "Singing My Sister Down" was one of the most moving fantasy short stories ever penned. What a travesty. Read it now.

The Best Novellette Hugo went to Peter S. Beagle, the anti-Ellison. One of the nicest men you could ever hope to meet, and an absolutely incredible author. He buried his mother just a few short hours after receiving this award. My heart and thoughts go out to him.

The Best Novella Hugo went to Connie Willis in an incredibly tight race with Kelly Link. Link's story was better, but Willis was the Guest of Honor for this particular convention, and so this was foreseeable, if regrettable. As Willis never had to leave her place as Master of Ceremonies to accept the award, it crossed my mind that she ought to have removed herself from the running, but what is, is. "The Inside Job" is not a bad story, it's just not "Magic For Beginners". (But then, not much is.)

And on to the 'Big One.' (Apologies, Harlan.) The Hugo Award for Best Novel went, deservedly, to Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. (Something I foresaw back in April. Go ahead, look.)

Spin is an excellent novel, and I am glad in many ways that it won. On the other hand, I was incredibly distraught that my friend George did not. This is personal bias rearing it's ugly head, true, but I so wanted to carry him proudly back to his awaiting party, rocketship in hand. He finished fifth of five in the results, and this is what upset my applecart.

Is this the backlash against fantasy we've all been expecting for years now from the SF community? Is it due to A Feast For Crows being the fourth book in a series? I simply don't know, but both theories hold at least some water. Will it be Martin's seventh and final novel that wins the award, a la Peter Jackson's Lord of The Rings movie trilogy? I do not know.

What I do know is that Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series is a pinnacle of speculative fiction; the absolute height to which epic fantasy has thus far brought us; far surpassing the work of Tolkein, Moorcock, Vance, Donaldson, Feist, Williams, and Jordan. It would be criminal if it were not to win the best novel Hugo at some point. But I digress.

Spin contains everything that is good about Science Fiction. I am not, nor will ever claim that a deserving book was not the recipient. Kudos to Wilson; I eagerly await his next.

The ceremony took just over two hours. After which, I returned to my fellowship, the Brotherhood Without Banners, and drank quite heavily. But that, as they say, is another story.

Post Script:

At one point, Robert Silverberg quoted an old George R.R. Martin speech in which Martin stated that his lack of the 'big one' (Best Novel Hugo) was the reason why Joe Haldeman always had the pretty girls around him and Martin, regrettably, never did.

Silverberg ought to have checked his facts, for it seems, as Martin has no doubt learned, that it is not the 'big one' that attracts the girls, but a monumental epic fantasy series. This picture was taken a few hours after the Hugo Awards. I imagine George will survive.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Off to Worldcon

Just finishing up the last minute preperations for my trip to the 64th World Science Fiction Convention in Anaheim, California. At which my intent is to:

A. Spend too much money on collectible books.

B. Get certain treasures autographed, such as my first editions of Dangerous Visions (Harlan Ellison), Dragonflight (Anne McCaffrey), and The Last Unicorn (Peter S. Beagle).

C. Party with, and enjoy the company of, countless friends and the wonderful members of the Brotherhood Without Banners.

On Friday I will be taking part in a live action chess match between Daniel Abraham and George R.R. Martin. Indeed, I will be the 'king' for the undoubted champions, Dorne. (Of A Song of Ice and Fire fame.) This is my first time wearing a costume at a convention, and hopefully my last.

The weeks leading up to this convention have been more than hectic here, and due to an inordinate amount of business travel, I've fallen a bit behind on my reviews. Beginning immediately after Worldcon (and related reports and pictures), I will be posting at least a review a day until I'm caught up.

Books you can expect to get the lowdown on include Lords of Rainbow by Vera Nazarian, Mockingbird by Sean Stewart, Shriek by Jeff VanderMeer, Seven Touches of Music by Zoran Zivkovic, Infoquake by David Louis Edelman, Mappa Mundi by Justina Robson, The Steam Maganate by Dana Copithorne, Scar Night by Alan Campbell, and many more.

I will also be talking about magazines such as Interzone, Electric Velocipede, Locus, and Asimov's. I'll regale you all with tales of book stores I've been fortunate enough to visit on my recent travels, such as DreamHaven Books in Minneapolis. IHIDJGATE will be running strong up until World Fantasy Convention in Austin, TX at the end of the year, at which point I'll have to beg another pause for geeky hijinx and soul recharging.

If you happen to be going to Worldcon this week, look me up at the BWB party following the Hugo's on Saturday night. That is certain to be a party you'd regret missing.

-William Lexner

Monday, August 14, 2006

On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers

Recently re-released (just in time for Pirate of The Caribbean mania) by Babbage Press, On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers is, perhaps, the best pirate novel of all time.

I realize that this is incredibly high praise when taking into consideration Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini, however I stand by the assertion. And not only is It a pirate novel, it's a pirate fantasy novel.


Jack Shandy is on a mission of revenge when his ship is taken by pirates. After attacking the pirate captain (after said captain has killed the original captain of the vessel Shandy was sailing upon) and actually scoring a hit against this feared swordsman, Shandy is given a choice; join us or die.

Being the pragmatic sort, Shandy leaps with both feet into pirate life, replete with voodoo sorcery, constant drunkenness, and shipboard battle. After a run-in with the British fleet, Shandy joins Blackbeard in the search for the mythical Fountain of Youth. Zombies, ghosts, and deadly voodoo magic abound. And the requisite damsel-in-distress, of course.

The prose, plotting, etc? This is Tim Powers, and a Tim Powers novel can stand next to any fantasy novel ever penned. And this is one of his best.

If you enjoy swashbuckling derring-do, or for that matter, loved The Lies of Locke Lamora as much as I did, this is a perfect time to pick up and read On Stranger Tides for a reasonable price.


Collector's Notes:

This is a very interesting title for collectors. (As are most of Powers' novels.) Ultramarine Press produced two limited editions of On Stranger Tides, a lettered and a numbered. The lettered edition is hand bound in full orange leather, and is signed by Powers. It's value is estimated at 750 dollars.

The numbered edition is quarter bound in red Moroccan leather and sells for between 150-250 dollars. The US first edition from ACE Books is worth somewhere between 50-100 dollars, and the UK first edition from Grafton, and is valued the same, between 50 and 100 dollars.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Afghan Campaign by Steven Pressfield

In the company of soldiers
I have no need to explain myself.
In the company of soldiers,
everybody understands.

To repeat the snivelling axiom that 'War is Hell' would be to demean the horrors of war. Oftimes hell is looked forward to as an upgrade in predicament by men in combat, and that certainly holds true for our valiant, confused and ever-so tired soldiers in Steven Pressfield's latest historical, The Afghan Campaign.

Matthias is a Macedonian youth from Appollonia, and together with his best friend Lucas, he follows his two older brothers off to war in the East to serve Alexander The Great. By the time the young soldiers make it out to Alexander's army, he has long since defeated the Persians, and prepares to make war on the Afghani tribes, who stand in his path to India. Seen as an easy campaign, Matthias hopes he will be able to attain some fleeting bit of the glory grasped by his brothers in war against greater nations.

What Matthias discovers is a bit like what the Soviets found in the 1980's in Afghanistan; a bit of what the U.S. has discovered in recent years. Conquering the Afghani people is never easy.

The Afghan Campaign tells the story of a little known piece of history of Alexander The Great, by way of a few of his soldiers. Pressfield is at his absolute best using this narrative strategy, and much like in Gates of Fire before, he uses this technique to shape The Afghan Campaign into a brilliant novel.

Even more so than in his past novels, The Afghan Campaign rang true both in its dialogue and in the situations and problems that these fighting men faced. As a veteran, this truth is all-important to the believability of the tale, and Pressfield succeeded nigh perfectly. My one complaint about this tale was the same fault shared by every great novel; it was too short.

The parallels to our present day problems in the Middle East and in Afghanistan in particular will not be lost on the reader. Each victory is pyrrhic, and each loss calamitous. Whichever side of the argument you may fall, The Afghan Campaign is a great way to gain a sense of exactly what it is that we are up against.


Collector's Notes:

First editions of Gates of Fire are worth a pretty penny, and this novel is just as good. However, the publishers undoubtedly know this, and the print run is not nearly so small. That said, preserving a pristine first of The Afghan Campaign would not be amiss. Pressfield is quickly becoming the best historical fiction author of our time. You ought not miss out.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Crooked Letter by Sean Williams

There's nothing new under the sun. At least that's how it sometimes feels with regards to fantasy of the epic variety. However, Australia's prolific Sean Williams seems to genuinely scamper down untrodden roads in The Crooked Letter.

Set in the same world, as a prequel of sorts, as his previous young adult Book of The Change series, The Crooked Letter is a stark turn towards adult fantasy for Williams. In fact, the book is quite gritty, violent, and very much aimed at a mature audience.

Seth and Hadrian are twins that don't quite get along, but that does not seem to pose much of a problem, as Seth is murdered in cold blood in the very first chapter. But this is fantasy, after all, and so when Seth dies, his spirit passes over to a second realm of existence. The unique bond the twins possess link the two realms, and an evil overlord hopes to use this bond to conquer the first plane.

Mythologies and religious beliefs are melded and warped in a world not unlike our own in many ways. Narration is divided through the separate realms, but manages to weave itself into a wonderful story. The prose is eloquent and the dialogue is flawless.

Isn't the cover magnificent? Go ahead and click on it; you'll get a better view. This wonderful piece was painted by Greg Bridges.

Famous and award-winning in Australia, I must admit complete ignorance of Williams' work prior to this U.S. release from PYR Books. As of late, PYR seems to be the anti-TOR. Not a novel comes from this particular house that is hackneyed or weakly plotted. I don't foresee, for instance, a David Keck or Terry Goodkind in the offing. There was a time, during my fantasy adolescence, where the TOR mountain symbol seemed a seal of quality. While that particular mountain no longer seems to be any guarantor of goodness, the flaming PYR certainly hints at such.

And The Crooked Letter may be their strongest fantasy novel yet. I may not have been a Williams fan prior to it's reading, but I certainly count myself amongst that number now.
8.5/10 Collector's Notes:

Released in 2004 in Australia, the Australian first edition of The Crooked Letter will be the most collectible and/or valuable. That said, if things fall as they ought, this is a book you don't want to miss out on.

Flying home from Minneapolis this week, I noticed a copy of The Crooked Letter in an airport bookstore. Good on PYR for getting this prodigious work out there for people to read and experience. I expect great things will happen.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Bookstore

I spent last week in the city of Los Angeles on business. Business travel, as a rule, if you were not aware, sucks. One shining event in my arduous journey was a trip to a special little book store.

Barry R. Levin Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature is what you would call a high end SF book shop. Located on Santa Monica Boulevard, Levin has peddled the absolute finest in science fiction books, art, and memorabilia for 30 years. To enter his shop is to come into contact with treasures you simply can't find anywhere else; a true experience for the fan and collector.

As I entered the front door, what truly struck me was the obvious value of the stock and the manner in which it was cared for. You can not simply browse like in any run-of-the-mill store. All the shelves are behind locked protective glass. Mr. Levin is quick to retrieve any book you wish to take a look at, but obviously has no patience for browsers. Look, but do not touch.

There's good reason for this policy, however. In Levin's shop you can find a pristine as the day it was pressed, first edition of The Forever War, a signed and absolutely fine edition of Starship Troopers, and just about every Arkham House title ever produced -- in triplicate. Behind his desk is a pristine signed limited edition of H.G. Wells complete works, and if one were to buy such a treasure, it would be packed in the same wooden crate it was shipped in, in the 1920's.

The walls feature original art from the originators of SF art, signed letters and short stories from authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur C. Clarke, and Harlan Ellison, and actual props from classic science fiction films. (Such as a Marine's rifle from Alien.)

There were tomes in this magical shop I'd only heard of prior to this visit, such as Philip K. Dick's limited edition collection from Underwood-Miller, and UK editions of not-so-modern classics. I was like a kid in a candy shop.

Not having the means of a Kennedy, my purchases were meager in comparison to what was available. I was able to acquire a pristine, unread first edition copy of Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins that looked as if it were printed yesterday. I also picked up a signed UK first edition of Wolf's Hour by Robert R. McCammon (The only world hardcover, and very rare.) and a first edition of On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers. (For a song!)

If you live within driving distance or plan on visiting LA this summer for Worldcon, take the time to stop on in. I left the store with a smile, some treasures, and a feeling of wonder in my heart. And that, after all, is what SF is all about.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A Meme

Meme's are certainly not what this site is about. That said, Jay Tomio (best blog around!) has tagged my up for a really neat one, and rules are there for the bending.

Updates to this site have been few and far between of late due to a lot of business travel on my part. The good news is that
I've been reading a lot of good (and not so good) stuff, and the updates/reviews/articles will be coming rapidly for a quite some time.

And so, the meme:

1. One book that changed your life?

My standard answer would be A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. Until reading this tome, I was merely a fan of genre fiction, not the Fan I am today.

In a truly dark time in my life, set against the backdrop of a war-ravaged central Europe, a very close friend of mine died. While cleaning out his personal belongings to send back to his wife, I came across a copy of A Game of Thrones. I had been a fantasy fan, (Tolkien, Jordan, Feist) but had not come across Martin before. (Though I had seen my friend reading it.) He had tried to get me to read it a few times, but it wasn't Jordan, after all, so why bother?

Somehow I deemed it his final wish for me to read this tattered, well-read fantasy novel, and that night I did so. The following day, I read it again. It was exactly what I needed in that dark time; an escape worthy of a life I had a hard time facing. I had held no previous inkling that fantasy could be so damn good, so real; ring so true. I was hooked.

This series of books were the cause of me getting involved in online discussions of books; in my going to my first convention. George himself made me feel at home in fandom and opened up my eyes to authors such as Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, and Robert E. Howard. I had been hooked on genre fiction before, but now I was utterly lost to it. I was a collector.

2. One book you have read more than once?

Re-reading is a common occurrence for me. I could literally list a thousand novels I have read to pieces. The most recent book I have re-read, however, is River of Gods by Ian McDonald. A new classic; destined to be one of the defining science fiction books of this decade.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

Tough call. Perhaps Robinson Crusoe for ideas? Treasure Island?
Gravity's Rainbow so I am certain to actually finish it? A Dance With Dragons, or is that cheating? Probably the answer would be my trusty old U.S. Marine Corps Survival Guide. (It contains gems such as why not to drink coconut milk as your main sustenance -- it's a potent diuretic, will cause you to become incredibly dehydrated, and in volume will cause horrific diarrhea.)

4. One book that made you laugh?

Well, the book that has caused me to laugh the most would be Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. If there is a funnier book ever written, I've not come across it.

One book that made you cry?

Again, the book that made me cry the most was Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Patterson. A Newberry Award winner for best children's book of the year, A Bridge To Terabithia tells a tale of childhoods lost to fantasy, and how the only way in which to endure horrific tragedy exists in the mind and the imagination. A must read for fantasy fans of all ages.

6. One book you wish had been written?

A novel by H.P. Lovecraft? The Last Dangerous Visions? I try not to think about what has not been written, there are so many great works that I still need to read.

7. One book you wish had never had been written?

This could get exhausting. I'll settle for Ulysses by James Joyce. Masturbatory claptrap at its worst. Responsible for leading thousands of talented young novelists into writing unreadable trash, and perhaps the worst standard of literature in existence. Has anyone actually ever enjoyed it? (Or do they just pretend to?)

8. One book you are currently reading?

I'm currently re-reading On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers. It's a powerful pirate novel by one of the best in the business.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge. I keep meaning to get around to it.

10. Now tag five people.

Uhh. I hate tagging people for Meme's. If you desire to fill out this form, please consider yourself tagged and let me know where to read your answers. I'm intrigued.