Peakbagging Pictures, Part Three

I’ve been pretty bad about updating pictures and other anecdotes of my various adventures here (and elsewhere). I’m probably not going to get up-to-date by the end of the year. But I’ll see what I can do.

Below the fold, here’s some stuff from the first five months of 2016. I also went back and fixed the pictures that weren’t displaying from the first two posts. Continue reading “Peakbagging Pictures, Part Three”

Fantastic Canon and Where to Find It

I should probably disclose up front that I’m not particularly interested in seeing the new Fantastic Beasts movie. I read and enjoyed the Harry Potter series when growing up like many my age but I know a lot of people that care a lot more about it than I do. (Playing real-life quidditch for six years will help with that.) But I do find one aspect of the many criticisms of this movie (see, e.g. this (spoiler-filled) article) fascinating: the continuity problems.

The question I’d like to step back and think about is: what specifically are the Fantastic Beasts movies in continuity with?

The most obvious problem is that the original Harry Potter movies and the books aren’t the same. While the books themselves are only in continuity with each other (unlike Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010: Odyssey Two, which is a sequel to the 2001 movie rather than the book), the movies are in a somewhat more complex state of being in loose continuity with both themselves and the books—I’ve seen criticisms that they are difficult to follow if one is not familiar with the source material. (A full discussion of their differences would likely be a full essay in and of itself, and frankly one that many other fans are more qualified to write.) The Harry Potter series is also notable for being one where the movie adaptations started coming out before the books finished, so a lot of readers’ interpretations of later books were necessarily skewed by movie interpretations of the earlier books. Most references in media to Harry Potter rely on the movies, as does the Orlando theme park.

Now, the flip side of arguing “movies are only in continuity with other movies” is J. K. Rowling’s statement that the movies are canonical because she’s writing them. While I’d argue that this is overly simplistic on its face (movies are inherently collaborative in ways that novels are not), the more interesting question is what weight we, as fans, should even place on this statement, and whether Harry Potter canon should even be considered open. Rowling has become notorious for dropping additional information that reinterprets the original novel series years after their publication. It is of course her right as the author to want Harry Potter to conform to her vision. But the reader has a right to what they get out of a novel’s text, too. Reacting to a book after you read it is just as valid as reacting to a story after reading the wiki and getting more information that wasn’t in the books. And it’s well-documented that an author’s intent can change post-publication: look at Fahrenheit 451, which Ray Bradbury described in 1956 as being primarily about censorship but later claimed that it was in fact a criticism of mass media.

And of course there’s the niggling little problem of defining the authoritative text of the books. I read the first American editions, which infamously make nontrivial and inconsistent changes to the British texts; the substitution of “Sorcerer’s Stone” for “Philosopher’s Stone” is the most prominent, but I will always have a special place in my heart for the Year 2 password to Dumbledore’s office changing from “lemon drop” in Chamber of Secrets to “sherbert lemon” in Goblet of Fire. The Harry Potter Lexicon lists the changes between the U.K. and U.S. editions and also mentions revisions made to the text in 2004 to fix continuity issues. Ultimately I’d think the “author’s preferred text” would be that found in revised British editions, which isn’t the text I’ve actually read.

The other and more insidious problem with allowing the powers that be to define the canon is that they have a financial incentive to tell you “yes, this is canon to the thing you love and therefore you must watch it”. There can be value in larger franchises in avoiding confusion as to what is and is not in continuity, but the only real risk of confusion here is where you stand as a fan. We’re not going to have a Great Assembly or Ecumenical Council of Fandom to decide what’s in and what’s out (and fandom needs no excuse to schism). If you’re having a conversation where the exact scope of continuity matters, it’s good to state your opinion upfront to avoid misunderstandings, but other than that, it’s your right to read and enjoy what you want.

Ultimately the original Harry Potter series told a story. It was a good story. It ended. The Fantastic Beasts movies are also telling a story. Whether or not you believe it to be another section of the Harry Potter canon or mere apocrypha is up to you.

Peakbagging Pictures, Part Two

I’ve been pretty bad about updating pictures and other anecdotes of my various adventures here (and elsewhere). I’m not quite sure I can get up-to-date by the end of the year, especially as hopefully I’m not done going outside for the year, Camp Fire smoke aside. But I’ll see what I can do.

Below the fold, here’s some stuff from the final five months of 2015. Continue reading “Peakbagging Pictures, Part Two”

Peakbagging Pictures, Part One

I’ve been pretty bad about updating pictures and other anecdotes of my various adventures here (and elsewhere). I’m not quite sure I can get up-to-date by the end of the year, especially as hopefully I’m not done going outside for the year, Camp Fire smoke aside. But I’ll see what I can do.

Below the fold, here’s some stuff from the first seven months of 2015. Continue reading “Peakbagging Pictures, Part One”

On Calling Elections

It’s always fun on Election Night to see the networks balancing the urge to be first in calling a winner with the need to be sufficiently cautious and not miscall. In 2000, the former prevailed with the infamous premature Florida calls. In 2002, the networks overcorrected, taking nearly an hour to call a Virginia Senate race with no Democratic candidate. Since then, we’ve been moving back to faster calls.

This year the most notable gaffe was in a southern New Mexico House race, which networks called for Yvette Herrell (R) before realizing that there were about six thousand outstanding ballots in Doña Ana County. When counted, these (unsurprisingly) put Xochita Torres Small (D) over the top. Another error occurred in the Arizona Secretary of State race, which appears to be a case of underestimating just how Democratic the late-counted vote in Arizona was. Both California and Arizona take a while to count all of their votes, and the votes that get counted on Election Night tend to be more Republican by quite a few percentage points than the remainder.

I get frustrated when I hear people refer to calls—either by the networks or the usually-more-cautious AP—as “official”. From a legal perspective, election results are only official when certified, which can take anywhere from a week to a month, depending on the state. Projected winners are just that, a projection that when all of the votes are counted, X will win. (And on Election Night, we sometimes saw TV commentators committing the even greater sin of deeming an early Republican lead in the Montana Senate race meaningful without noting that the biggest counties yet to report were consistently Democratic.)

Of course, waiting for states to finish counting prevents us from having instant hot takes about what the election means. Hell, why wait for the West to even start reporting when you can extrapolate based on early returns from the rest of the country? (Democrats, of course, ended up gaining 10-12 House seats and 2 Senate seats just in Western states.)

Election projections are fun. But as a news consumer, be smart about how you interpret them.

2018 Hugo Ramblings

By now, if you care about these things you’ve probably heard about The Stone Sky‘s Hugo win for Best Novel, and the unprecedented threepeat for N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. The series is well-deserving of its accolades and if you haven’t read it you should really get around to it sooner rather than later. (With the caveat that the series deals with multigenerational slavery and oppression—all of the content warnings you’d think apply, do.) Also, if you haven’t watched Jemisin’s acceptance speech (I got to watch it live!), now probably isn’t a bad time to fix that.

This is where I confess that I didn’t put The Stone Sky first on my ballot this year.

And the reason I didn’t do so is simple: One of the factors I consider for “Best Novel” is whether a work stands by itself. Being in a series is and of itself not a flaw, but I felt that there were other novels on the ballot that were better if you hadn’t read anything else.

But this isn’t a one-novel issue. Of the five other novels on this year’s ballot:

  • New York 2140 and Six Wakes are completely standalone.
  • Provenance is in the same universe as the Imperial Radch trilogy but is disconnected from the above. It stands alone fine.
  • Raven Stratagem is the second book in a trilogy. I personally think it would work well enough even if you haven’t read Ninefox Gambit, but YMMV. (And read Ninefox Gambit.)
  • The Collapsing Empire is the first book in a series of at least two books.

I downranked The Collapsing Empire on my ballot for being almost entirely setup and deferring most of the resolution to the next book. Given that it placed second in the voting, I’m going to guess that most voters don’t share my complaints about incomplete works. (But I will still make them.)

Last year was similar:

  • All the Birds in the Sky is completely standalone.
  • A Closed and Common Orbit is a sequel, but you don’t need to have read A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet first. (Although it spoils what happens to one of the latter’s characters.)
  • Ninefox Gambit is the first in a trilogy.
  • Death’s End is the third in a trilogy.
  • The Obelisk Gate is, of course, the second in a trilogy.
  • Too Like the Lightning is the first in a four-book series, but more importantly, it’s almost inseparable from Seven Surrenders.

I think the Terra Ignota universe is definitely worthy of being Hugo-nominated, but I would have much rather seen Too Like the Lightning / Seven Surrenders been nominated as one work under Subsection 3.2.4 of the WSFS Constitution. However, with a couple notable exceptions (Blackout / All ClearThe Wheel of Time), most books are nominated as novels and not as “works appearing in a number of parts”, and I can’t blame people for doing the thing that makes intuitive sense. Heck, I could go back to the 1980s and argue that Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun should have been nominated similarly (setting aside that this may only have been possible since 1998, depending on interpretation).

Of course, starting last year we have a Best Series Award! But so far that has mostly posed its own problems. N. K. Jemisin declined a nomination for The Broken Earth on the grounds that it wasn’t really fair to have multiple shots at an award for the same work, and while I would have happily voted for it, I do think she’s got a fair point that we shouldn’t just be using Best Series to award works we’ve already awarded. Indeed, the first two winners of Best Series have been Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga and World of the Five Gods. Both of these awards felt to some extent more about recognizing the past than the present; Vorkosigan won Hugos in 1990 (“The Mountains of Mourning”), 1991 (The Vor Game), 1992 (Barrayar), and 1995 (Mirror Dance), while Five Gods won a Hugo in 2004 (Paladin of Souls). Obviously the more recent eligibility hooks exist (hey, I voted for Vorkosigan too) but I’m hoping that going forward we recognize series that haven’t been already recognized.

This year’s Series longlist also suggests that the rule about not nominating series that were just nominated (specifically, you need at least two new installments and 240,000 new words) isn’t clearly understood yet, given that all four Series finalists from last year that saw a new installment in 2017 made the longlist despite not being eligible. As far as I can tell, none of these finalists, except for October Daye, will be eligible next year either. I think the re-eligibility requirements are strict enough that it will prevent series coming back in alternating years, which would be bad for the award even if it would make voting in the category a lot easier. But I worry that we’ll have to dig pretty deep down the longlist to find six eligible series next year. (On the other hand, last year’s longlist only has one series that made the ballot this year. So we’ll see.)

I didn’t do so great in my desire for complete series, either, given that InCryptid placed second. I did find it interesting that it did significantly better than Seanan McGuire’s other big series, October Daye, which placed sixth last year, even though I feel (and I don’t think it’s just me) that the latter is generally stronger work. I don’t know whether to ascribe this to stronger competition last year, a different voting base, or just me having opinions that are out-of-step with everybody else again.

The Best Series award will face re-ratification at the 2021 Worldcon. As you can probably tell, I have a lot of mixed feelings about this award. I have concerns about its functionality but I’m also glad it led me to the likes of Martha Wells’s Books of the Raksura that deserve recognition and that I may not have ever encountered otherwise . I am really interested in seeing how it plays out over the next couple years.

Some other quick notes:

  • E Pluribus Hugo impacted this year’s Novel ballot by replacing The Stars Are Legion and Autonomous (which got more raw nominations) with New York 2140 and The Collapsing Empire. I liked Autonomous better than the latter two (I haven’t read The Stars Are Legion yet), but I’m not going to object: besides defending against slates, one of the benefits of E Pluribus Hugo is that it ensures that more strains of fandom (at least, WSFS/Worldcon fandom) are represented and both novels have their strong supporters. (And as noted, Collapsing Empire ultimately placed second.) As I noted in a File 770 comment, one thing I found interesting is that if Raven Stratagem had received 2.58 more EPH points (and the status quo held elsewhere, which is admittedly unlikely), The Stars Are Legion would have been nominated over New York 2140.
  • The Hugo and Nebula winners this year converged in Novel, Novella, and Short Story. Meanwhile, the respective Novelette winners weren’t even on the other’s shortlist. I believe the last time the awards recognized the same winner in three of the four categories was 2012 (Among Others, “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”, “The Paper Menagerie”).
  • In light of Uncanny‘s well-deserved wins, I’ve seen some discussion about how the Editor – Short Form and Semiprozine categories allow two shots at Hugos for the same work. I’ve mentioned Series above, but I haven’t seen much talk about how this is also a potential issue in the Graphic Story and Professional Artist categories, where Monstress won the former and Sana Takada, artist of the same, won the latter. I don’t think this is anything worth addressing right now (Professional Artist is not frequently understood as a proxy award in the same way that the Editor awards are) but bears monitoring going forward.
  • This year’s WSFS Business Meeting didn’t make any major changes to the Hugos. The YA Award is finally named the Lodestar.
  • Judging by the longlist, the alt-right attack on the Hugos is finally over, other than their little Saturday protest. Way to protest people donating blood, dumbasses.
  • File 770 took home a well-deserved award for Best Fanzine. File 770 and its commentariat played a nontrivial role in my decision to attend Worldcon this year and it was a great pleasure to meet everybody that was at the Thursday and Friday meetups. Even if Thursday’s musical experience was an unexpected horror.
  • As may be obvious from the above comment, I had a great time at Worldcon this year. Over the course of the convention I went from “eh there is probably no way I will be able to afford to go to another one until 2021” to “… I really want to make Dublin happen.” I don’t know if I will, but I’m already starting to glance at flight prices….

If you’re interested in nominating and voting for the 2019 Hugo Awards, you can purchase a supporting membership in the 2019 Worldcon for €40 (~47 USD).

On the Hugo Award for Best Series

Last year, the WorldCon business meeting approved a new Hugo Award for Best Series. What’s eligible for this award?

A multi-installment science fiction or fantasy story, unified by elements such as plot, characters, setting, and presentation, appearing in at least three (3) installments consisting in total of at least 240,000 words by the close of 2017, at least one (1) installment of which was published in 2017.

This is, by design, very open-ended. There is no requirement that a series be completed—and that’s fine, because neither the Hugo Administrator nor Hugo voters should be expected to be clairvoyant. The 1966 Worldcon voted Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy a special “Best All-Time Series” award under the assumption that it would end with Second Foundation; in 1966, Foundation’s Edge and its progeny could not have been reasonably foreseen.

However, just because something can’t be legislated doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be kept in mind while nominating and voting. The standard I intend to apply is that to be worthy of a Best Series Hugo, a story must be fully satisfying even if no other installments are ever published. This does not necessarily mean a story must be conclusively over. For instance, while I can certainly imagine new installments in the Vorkosigan Saga, last year’s winner in the award’s trial run (and if Lois McMaster Bujold wants to write them I’d happily read them), my enjoyment of the series will not be diminished if Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is ultimately the final installment. But I don’t think a series that is clearly incomplete is award-worthy, and I’m not inclined to grant credit for future work. Everybody can think of a series that started strong and then went off the rails. I’m not comfortable coming back in the future and saying “this received the Best Series Award but you need to ignore its conclusion”. I don’t even love new books getting a “Hugo-Nominated [or Hugo Winning] Series” stamp from their publisher when the Hugo electorate hasn’t had a chance to read the book yet, although I recognize that marketers are going to pull that kind of thing regardless.

I do not intend to nominate any series that does not meet this criteria, and I urge others to do likewise. I will also likely rank any clearly incomplete series nominated below No Award, although I might consider a series whose final installment is published in 2018 before the voting deadline, as such a series would be ineligible for future nomination. And yes, I fully anticipate that I will rank something I quite like below No Award.

While I strongly believe that an incomplete series isn’t award-worthy, I’m also motivated a bit by necessary reading triage. Last year’s Best Series nominations involved, if I’m counting right, 52 novels and assorted short fiction. I might be able to read all of that in the two-and-a-half months available for voting, but it would be a close call, especially given that I occasionally like to do things with my spare time other than reading. And that’s not factoring in the six novels, six novellas, six related works, the new YA award, the Campbell Award, etc. on the ballot. (Obviously I will have read some of these already, but likely not enough to make a huge difference. I also don’t think I’ve read much from 1942, and there are Retro Hugos….) While I might want to read incomplete series that end up getting nominated (recommendations are a good thing, especially when the Hugo Packet provides free samples), I’m not going to feel pressured to do so before July.

I know I’m conflating “incomplete” with “fully satisfying if no other installments are ever published”, which isn’t completely accurate. The biggest tension here is series that are unified by setting but have neither a single overarching story nor a defined endpoint. The obvious example to me is the Discworld, which I would argue to be clearly award-worthy but also didn’t “complete” until after Terry Pratchett’s death. The old quotation about recognizing people while they’re alive to enjoy it applies. Of course, the same issues with potential future quality decline apply as well. Some questions don’t have easy answers.

While it might be difficult to find satisfactory completed series every year, N. K. Jemisin’s exceptional Broken Earth trilogy is eligible for the 2018 Best Series Hugo. I’m nominating it. If you haven’t read it, I highly encourage you to do so.