Thursday, February 19, 2015

My Nominations for the 2015 Hugo Awards

There can be a lot of hand-wringing when it comes time to make nominations for the Hugo Awards. After all, with so many small publishers offering so many novels and collections alongside those put out by the larger, traditional SF publishing houses (or, substitute production companies if you want to focus on TV and the movies), and so many works being offered from around the world, it's pretty much impossible to have read or seen everything genre-related that's been generated in a year, begging the question of whether one can legitimately make nominations if one hasn't seen or read everything there is to see or read. Then there's the issue of whether one's nominations will make a difference. To borrow a thought from one of SF Signal's Three Hoarsemen (I think it might have been Fred) last year, there used to be a time when the annual SF output was much smaller, and it was possible to have seen or read everything (or most of the major works) from a given year, and because of that, the SF community had a common language or set of terms of reference when making Hugo nominations — one could nominate a work of excellence knowing that a lot of others in the community probably felt the same way, or at least had heard of what you were talking about, and thus one's nomination stood a reasonable chance of actually getting support, and maybe landing the award itself. Today, on the other hand, with so much out there, the community is much more fragmented, and it's increasingly the case that one can nominate a work — even a book, story, or movie of tremendous excellence — but because of the huge number of choices, the percentages of fans who are making similar nominations or backing the same nomination are getting much smaller.

Is it fair to make a nomination? Is it worth while?

I used to worry about this sort of thing a lot when it came to making award nominations (whether it was the Hugos, on the rare occasions when I went to Worldcons, or the Auroras). But I've slowly started growing indifferent to that kind of angst. I'm the first to admit that I haven't read or watched everything new in a given year — I can't! I have a life, not to mention one hell of a reading and viewing backlog because of the aforementioned avalanche of interesting stuff. And as far as low likelihoods of stories or novels that I nominate actually making it to the podium? Well, as Han Solo famously said: "Never tell me the odds!" Sometimes it's more important just to make the attempt, to nominate the thing and show fellow fans (and possibly its creators) that it's a thing worth paying attention to, even if only half a dozen other people ever bother paying attention to it.

So, about a week ago, I just got on with it and filed my nominations for the 2015 Hugo Awards.

For what it's worth, here they are:

Best Novel:
Echopraxia by Peter Watts
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
Traitor's Blade by Sebastien De Castille

I've reviewed all three of these novels previously on the blog, so I won't bother to summarize, but, of the few new novels of 2014 that I read last year, I'd say these are the worthies. Traitor's Blade, being the fun, fast-reading romp that it is, is very much the dark horse here — I suspect there aren't many other voters out there who've read it, and it certainly isn't as heavy a book in terms of subject matter or meaning. But, seeing as how it was a damn fun read, I think it's worth the nod. The other two books here speak for themselves — if you've read them, how could you not nominate them?

Best Novella:
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

Another short book that I've already reviewed here, but I'll say again that it was such a finely-crafted and sweet little story that it would be a crime not to include it on the nomination roster. I don't think I read any other novellas in 2014 that were published that year, so I can't make any other nominations.

Best Novelette:
The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman

This one was a little problematic, in that I seem to recall reading that the copyright for this story is actually a couple of years old. And yet, this (the illustrated hardcover chapbook from William Morrow/Harper Collins) is the first time I've encountered it, and it appears to (at least) be the first time it's been published with the accompanying illustrations. So, because it was so damn absorbing for such a little tale (and probably because it was also very much on my mind with my reading of it coinciding very closely with my trip to Scotland in the wake of attending Worldcon in London last year), I figured I'd nominate it in hopes that it's actually eligible and that enough other people had read it and agreed on its worthiness. Again, no other novelettes read last year from last year, or, at least, none that I can recall, so there are no other nominations from me in this category.

Best Short Story:
"The Body Politic" by John Jantunen in Fractured — Tales of the Canadian Post Apocalypse
"Maxim Fujiyama and Other Persons" by Claude Lalumiere in Fractured — Tales of the Canadian Post Apocalypse
"Manitou-Wapow" by GMB Chomichuk in Fractured — Tales of the Canadian Post Apocalypse
"Empty Heat" by Agnes Cadieux in On Spec Magazine (Summer 2014)
"Persistence of Vision" by Orrin Grey in Fractured — Tales of the Canadian Post Apocalypse

Yes, most of these come from the same anthology, but that collection was just so damn good (hands down one of the three best anthologies I've read in the last decade — along with Old Mars and Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories) and these particular stories were so incredible that it would have been inexcusable not to nominate them. Granted, because all of these stories are Canadian, it's highly unlikely many — if any — of them will receive other nominations or make it to the final ballot, but, odds aside (sing it, Han!), they are worthy of nomination none-the-less.

Best Related Work:
Pass. Nothing came to mind.

Best Graphic Story:
Nemo — The Roses of Berlin by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman and Eddie Campbell

I've always enjoyed Moore and O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novels, and 'Roses certainly didn't disappoint. As for The Truth, well, given the sheer number of illustrations (and their importance in heightening the mood of the tale) in this book, I think it ought to qualify for this category.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form):
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Lego Movie
The Interview
Captain America — The Winter Soldier
The Hobbit — The Battle of Five Armies

Without a doubt, 'Guardians was the best SF movie of the year. If it doesn't take the Hugo, I'll... well, actually, I'll just assume that enough other people liked other movies a little more. Anyway. The Lego Movie, aside from being a nakedly crass marketing opportunity, was smart and pretty damn funny (once it got past a little initial slowness), and worth a nod. The Interview? Science fiction? Well, yes. It's either set in the near future or an alternate present (where the enormously unlikely possibility of an idiot talk show host and his more realistic producer getting invited to North Korea, and playing a role in upsetting the Kim regime, actually happens), so that's SF in my books (if barely). Will this movie get the Hugo? Not a chance. But it's worth a nomination. And then 'Cap is back in a generally interesting flick, if one that lost me at the end with the threat of the helicarrier apocalypse that probably could have been put to a swift end by any first world country possessing defence satellites. I'm comfortable nominating it anyway. And lastly, The Hobbit conclusion. A little more problematic with this one because I found the movie too choppy, and there were more scenes that proved that overall, Jackson and company may love Tolkien's works, but they don't really understand them. Still, it was a big effort to conclude a series that's been a big effort, and one that was, overall, entertaining, so I'm giving this flick the nomination nod too.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form):
"Grand Guignol" from Penny Dreadful
"The Watchers on the Wall" from Game of Thrones
"Listen" from Doctor Who
"The Saint of Last Resorts" from Constantine
"The Laws of Gods and Men" from Game of Thrones

If you haven't been watching Penny Dreadful, you should be. Go out and rent it right now. It's smart and dark and viscerally unsettling, and it brings all the classic Victorian monsters together in one setting without being silly. "Grand Guignol" was the perfect season finale, and because it left me in a state of frustration waiting for next season to begin, it's definitely worth a Hugo. Two nominations for Game of Thrones are in order (and, let's face it, the show probably deserves more nods for more of last season's episodes, but we've gotta be fair to the other good programs out there in TVland), those being for "The Watchers on the Wall" — the big payoff battle between the Night's Watch and the Wildlings that we've all been waiting for — and "The Laws of Gods and Men" — focusing on the trial of Tyrion Lannister and some first-class acting by Peter Dinklage. Constantine was a bit of a surprise last fall — I wasn't sure what DC would do with the character for TV, but it quickly proved itself to be a very entertaining show that doesn't pull any punches. "The Saint of Last Resorts" was a brutal half-season break finale that left me wanting more, so, cue-up the nomination. And "Listen" was probably the most frightening Doctor Who episode since "Blink", especially since the attempt to neatly and soothingly tie things up at the end was in no way convincing. I'd be content if this episode lands the award, though, really, I'd like to see Penny Dreadful get it.

Best Professional Editor (Short Form):
Pass. None really stood out last year.

Best Professional Editor (Long Form):
Pass. Same as above.

Best Professional Artist:
Pass. In this case, I thought that not having seen enough art from 2014 was a legitimate reason not to nominate in this category, and I found the nomination criteria to be a little confusing.

Best Semiprozine:
On Spec

On Spec's been my go-to mag for years. Of course I'm going to nominate them! Besides, they need all the love they can get after the damn Canada Council pulled their funding last year.

Best Fanzine:
Pass. SF Signal took itself out of the running to give others a chance (an unquestionably classy act), so I can't vote for them. I do visit other sites/blogs from time to time, but not often enough to warrant a nomination. And I can't nominate my own blog because I would consider that to be bad form. So... pass.

Best Fancast:
The Three Hoarsemen
The SF Signal Podcast

I think everyone should nominate The Three Hoarsemen for Best Fancast this year. Really. It is probably the best SF-related podcast out there. The hosts are knowledgable, easy conversationalists who air thoughtful discussions on all manner of stories (whether they be in book, comic, TV or movie form) that are guaranteed to draw the listener in. There's no grandstanding or interruption of one-another, and when they pick guests, those participants are chosen for their intelligence and interesting points of view, and they absorb seamlessly into the show, so that it feels like they've always been a part of it. Indeed, the only flaws with the Hoarsemen are that their episodes aren't more frequent (but, hey, I guess they're allowed to have lives), and that nearly every episode will add to your list of books/comics/etc that you previously didn't know that you needed to have, but now have to run out and get as soon as possible. The Three Hoarsemen is the show that deserves to win. That said, if you have to nominate another podcast, the SF Signal Podcast is the one to give the nod to. Generally entertaining and with a lot of names coming in and out to offer varying perspectives, there's a reason why this podcast landed the Hugo last year, and is worthy of consideration again.

Best Fan Writer:
Pass. I've read a lot of articles and whatnot over the past year, some by very talented people, but none of them has really stayed with me, and, if I can't remember a person's articles (or at least one of them), can I really nominate them? And, like with the Best Fanzine category, I can't nominate myself, because then I'd be an ass. Or, at least, more of an ass than I already am, and there are just some lines I'm not willing to cross.

Best Fan Artist:
Pass. Again, as good as some pieces of art that I've seen have been, nothing really stands out in memory.

The John W Campbell Award:
Pass. I don't think I read any new writers in 2014 who fit the criteria (although, it's possible I have, and at the time I just didn't recognize that they were new writers, or I don't have a full grasp of the nomination criteria).

So those are my nominations for the Hugos. If you're still pondering yourself, maybe some of these will give you some suggestions. And, at the very least, if you haven't read/seen/listened-to these works before, maybe reading this will prompt you to give some of them a try (hopefully my ramblings won't drive you away from them!).

Best of luck to everyone nominated for a Hugo or the John W Campbell Award this year!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Robotech

Once in a while, an anime series explodes into global consciousness in a way that gets everyone talking, and becomes a benchmark for a generation. In the mid-late 70s, it was Star Blazers (originally Space Battleship Yamato to the Japanese audience), a show that made a huge imprint on my mind as a little kid; meanwhile, in Quebec, they had Captain Harlock the space pirate; later, Battle of the Planets (a.k.a. G-Force on our schoolyard playground, and Gatchaman originally in Japan) was all the rage, though I remember it being on after school, rather than Saturday mornings. But by the mid-80s, it was Robotech that had invaded just about everyone's TVs.

Brought to North America and other markets by Harmony Gold, Robotech was actually an extended combination of three separate Japanese series: The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, The Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber Mospeada. The first group of episodes (using the Macross series) followed the lives of a group of people aboard a huge starship called the SDF-1 — originally an alien vessel that had crashed on Earth and been refitted by humanity — as it fled across the solar system in an effort to escape the alien Zentraedi forces (giant, cloned humanoids bred for war in the service of their creators) who claimed ownership of it. The second instalment (built off of Southern Cross), involved the next generation of heroes — specifically the daughter of two of the characters from the first instalment — now allied with the Zentraedi and trying to defend the Earth from an invasion by the Robotech Masters, the creators of the giants. The third part (using Mospeada) took place years later, during a human rebellion against the Invid, another alien force that had taken over the Earth in an attempt to reclaim the flower of life/protoculture stolen by the Robotech Masters centuries earlier and carried to our world by renegade Zentraedi aboard the SDF-1. (Convoluted enough for ya? Well, this was the simple version of the plot summary!)

What made Robotech different than other Saturday morning fare — indeed, more than many other anime series that have been exported to North America in the decades since then — was that the plot revolved around something more than just fighting badguys in a battle-of-the-week scenario. Instead, the story was truly about relationships between people (the love triangle between pilot Rich Hunter, second-in-command Lisa Hayes, and pop singer Lynn Minmay/Minmei in the first instalment — though I can't remember the characters and relationships in the second and third parts), and the power of music and emotion. And notably, music and human emotions — at least in the first instalment — proved to be more powerful weapons than the squadrons of transformable fighter plane mechs or space cruisers. It was also a series that — flying in the face of tradition for science fiction and action cartoons — had the guts to take a break from the action and give its characters quiet time to pause and reflect on their lives, relationships, and emotional states. Sure, the relationships between the characters (especially Rick and Minmei) regularly descended into melodrama (though the portrayal of Roy Fokker and Claudia Grant's partnership was actually very mature), but there was a serious attempt to make these people three-dimensional, and even the melodrama is somewhat understandable when put in the context of many of these characters being teenagers or in their young twenties. Even supporting characters, like the SDF-1's Captain Gloval, or the aliens Commander Breetai and his advisor Exedor, seemed well thought-out and believable. Aside from the occasional tediousness of dialogue that's sometimes top-heavy with excessive compound sentences (again, probably forgivable in light of the production team having to sync the English script over animation patterned for a Japanese script and speech patterns), overall, Robotech was a pretty good show (good enough that I picked up the first instalment on DVD a number of years ago, and still watch the odd episode on occasion).

So why dust this old chestnut off for the Saturday Morning Cartoon Rewatch all of a sudden? Recently, I read that a sub-unit of Warner Brothers is taking a run at producing a live-action movie based on Robotech. Now, like all Hollywood gossip, this is something that fans can't put a lot of stock into, especially since there have been rumours of Robotech projects before. Basically, you've got to put it out of mind until an official trailer is released, and even then you've got to keep your cool until the real deal hits the big screen, because anything could happen to sink the project, or, even if it's produced, delay or prevent screening. And yet, this newest rumour provides us with a good excuse to look back at the original TV show, and remember why it was good enough to cause all this fuss in the first place.

With an action figure in one hand, and a bowl of cereal in another, it's time to watch an episode of Robotech! (part 1 of episode 27, "Force of Arms")

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Saturday Morning Cartoons - When Video Games Ruled the Airwaves Part 3

Our stack of quarters is running low, and the cereal box is nearly empty, but we've got enough left to get through two more video game-inspired Saturday morning cartoons. And then home gaming systems and home computers will radically improve, and society in general will just sort of shift, and arcades will become unpopular and less and less profitable, and Saturday morning cartoons will fall by the wayside, and none of this will have any relevance anymore. [shudders] Yeah.

But we'll make it all relevant. Just one more time. Here on the Saturday Morning Cartoon Rewatch:

Everybody knows who Mario is. But do you remember a simpler time in the digital plumber's life? A time before he started traipsing through rows of magic mushrooms, skipping over turtles, and grasping at gold hanging just above reach in the sky? Before his brother Luigi started tagging along? Before the spinoff go-cart races? When he wasn't even the one on the branding?

Remember when it was all about love?

There was once a game called Donkey Kong, where Mario was focussed on one thing, and one thing only: rescuing his girlfriend from the clutches of an over-sized, demented ape holed-up in a construction site.

That game inspired a Saturday morning cartoon. A cartoon which was not remotely about love. Instead, it followed the simple, tried-and-true Saturday morning formula of pursuit and the evasion of capture. Donkey Kong the cartoon followed the adventures of Mario and his coworker/girlfriend Pauline as they chased the giant titular gorilla across the country, trying to recapture him after his escape from a circus. Once in a while, the big guy would grab the girl, but Mario would always manage to free her, and Donkey Kong would always manage to get away. (full episode)

When Raiders of the Lost Ark whipped audiences into a diselpunk pre-War action frenzy in the early 80s, it wasn't too long before various copycats did their best on TV and in the movies to pick up where Indy left off. The realm of video games was no exception. Atari brought us the vine-swinging, crocodile-dodging thrills of Pitfall, and so when cartoons started using video games as inspiration, it was a given that this one would make the cut. Pitfall! was about the adventures of Harry, a treasure hunter, who would journey around the world to, you know, hunt for treasure. He was joined by his niece and his pet cougar. Hijinks ensued. (intro)

And that wraps-up our series on video game-inspired cartoons. Join us next week for other (hopefully better) animated adventures. But that doesn't mean you have to stay away for a full week. You can always come to the blog more often to read other stuff. In fact, I hope you would! Though, admittedly, I wouldn't blame you if you didn't. Sigh. Excuse me while I drown my sorrows in another bowl of cereal...