Thursday, 21 November 2019

The Politics of Site Selection

In the lead up to this summer’s site-selection vote for the 2021 Worldcon, a small but vocal contingent of fans argued that the convention should not be awarded to any host city in the United States. 

In the end, only about twenty or thirty of the 878 site selection ballots indicated a preference to deny the convention to Washington D.C. (including one voter who explicitly cast their ballot for “Anywhere NOT in the United States.”).

This is not a position that most members of this book club endorse, particularly since a large portion
Clearly the existence of Jedward wasn't
enough to disqualify Ireland from hosting.
 (image via Eurovision.TV) 
of the existing fanbase lives in the United States. Even at Worldcons held overseas, Americans often make up the bulk of the attendance. For example, despite the geographic proximity of the United Kingdom, only 1,044 British citizens attended Worldcon 77 in Dublin, compared to 1,582 people who crossed the Atlantic from the United States for the convention. 

This raises the question of the carbon footprint of Worldcon — might the appropriate choice be to choose convention locations that reduce the amount of flying involved? Making environmental choices would prioritize U.S.-based hosts. If Hugo-winning TV series The Good Place has taught us anything, it’s that few choices are clear-cut good or bad. 

So when should government misdeeds become disqualifying for a potential Worldcon site? Since the arguments to avoid the United States centred around political issues, perhaps the question to ask is, “Under what conditions should the Worldcon membership reject a host country?” 

Perhaps the WSFS could convene a committee looking at various measures of political freedom that could be used to craft minimum requirements for a nation to host Worldcon. Some obvious, base, criteria should include safety, accessibility, civil liberties (such as free speech). Even these simple criteria, of course, are subject to interpretation and discussion. 

For the purpose of discussion, then, the United States of 2021 is less likely to meet security requirements than the United States of 2015 was. Hate crimes (particularly those against latinos) have seen a sharp increase in the past few years, so evidently attending a Worldcon in the United States is now less safe for members of marginalized groups. It is even conceivable that there might come a day when we would actively campaign against hosting any events in the U.S.A. (For the record, neither 2021 nor 2022 is likely to be that day.) 

The frequency of Worldcons being held outside of the United States has increased significantly in the past decade; almost half of all non-American Worldcons have occurred in the past 20 years. Next summer’s Worldcon will mark only the second time that there have been back-to-back non-U.S. Worldcons, and the first time that there have been back-to-back non-North-American Worldcons. This is an interesting development, as it indicates the growing internationalism of fandom, but it also means that a Worldcon might end up being hosted by an undemocratic nation. Would any of us want to attend a Worldcon in North Korea or the Sultanate of Brunei? 

These are obviously ridiculous examples, but it is the marginal cases such as Brazil, Hungary, or Mexico that we should really think about. These are countries that could realistically host a Worldcon and have the sort of fan populations that might consider putting together a bid. But for reasons of personal safety, risk of hate crimes, or government censorship, we would argue they might be less suitable as hosts than the United States. 

It is interesting that the Freedom Of The World Index, ranks the United States as the least free
Chengdu is known for giant pandas,
ancient irrigation systems and the
persecution of religious minorities.
 (Image via internasia.com)
country that has hosted a Worldcon, although the 2023 Chengdu bid would undercut that dubious distinction. 

If the options are “Hold a Worldcon in China, or don’t hold a Worldcon at all that year,” we do not know which option we would choose. But thankfully, that’s not a question that is being asked of site selection voters, as there are two reasonable competing bids for 2023. 

Recent global declines in democratic governance and the rise of authoritarian leaders, combined with the increasing globalization of science fiction fandom means that the question of what conditions qualify a country to host Worldcons is now one that members should begin debating. 

We believe that although the anti-D.C. crowd were premature in suggesting a boycott of the United States, they are right in arguing that the human rights and civil liberties record of a host nation should be significant factors.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

When You Can't Go Home Again

“Generally speaking, a refugee is a displaced person who has been forced to 
cross national boundaries and who cannot return home safely.” Wikipedia 

One of science fiction’s strengths is its ability to engender empathy while expanding our definitions of what it means to be “one of us.” From Asimov’s thought experiments about the rights threshold for machines to Star Trek’s use of Spock to explore neurodivergence, science fiction encourages readers to see the strengths of diverse and inclusive societies.

Given that many of the problems of the 21st century are rooted in a deficit of empathy, fiction grounded in radical empathy — showing compassion to those different from us — is more important than ever.

And that’s where Cory Doctorow’s novella Unauthorized Bread, and K Chess’ novel Famous Men
Unauthorized Bread might
be Doctorow's finest work.
(image via Goodreads)
Who Never Lived
both come in. Both of these new works tackle refugee stories of cultural misalignment with an empathetic lens.

In Unauthorized Bread, the refugee protagonist Salima struggles to make sense of a society weighed down by copyright overreach and a ubiquitous system of digital rights management. Thanks to Doctorow’s expertise on this subject, it’s easy to believe that kitchen appliances might only work with brand-specific consumables, destabilizing perhaps the most sacred of cultural signifiers: How we make and break bread.

Salima provides an outsider’s point of view and is thus able to question the underlying assumptions and defaults of a society that has lost the ability to make choices about one of life’s basic necessities.

While some aspects of Salima’s personality will feel familiar to Doctorow fans, as she is a plucky, can-do attitude technophile, she is also highly observant and reflective, encouraging the reader to consider how technology can serve to both alienate and create community within cultural groups.

While Salima finds some sense of belonging in her new home, the refugees at the heart of K Chess’ Famous Men Who Never Lived remain culturally adrift. The novel explores the lives of Vikram Bhatnagar and Helen “Hel” Nash, who have fled a nuclear apocalypse in a parallel world and find themselves in a New York City that marks and marginalizes them as Universally Displaced Persons (UDP).

Although some UDPs are able to successfully integrate in some ways (e.g., careers), most remain
Whether they're from a parallel timeline,
from another planet, or from anywhere else,
refugees are welcome in our community.
(Image via UN.org
othered and are treated with condescension and prejudice. Vikram, a former PhD student, has found his training doesn’t transfer to the new world. Former surgeon Hel’s certifications have lapsed, and her knowledge is no longer useful.

The book is at its strongest when focusing on the human aspect of this displacement: the cultural touchpoints that only the refugees know; Hel’s mourning for the family she’ll never see again; and the inability of some to find ways to make their skills transferable to the new world’s job market.

While neither of these authors were refugees, their decision to write about the refugee experience might be seen as an empathy-driven extrapolation from the current migrant crisis. Both works are strengthened by a focus on dislocation and we are pleased to be able to put them on our 2020 nominating ballots.

In general, it feels like the depiction of refugees in mainstream science fiction — and the empathy shown towards the plight of displaced persons — has improved over time. There is also a recognition of intergenerational traumas and residual cultural practices, as in the exodan fleet of Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers novels.

Historically, however, many refugee narratives failed to depict the difficulties faced by their real-
It is rare to see Superman experience
the cultural dislocation that many real-
world refugees face. Still it's gratifying
when writers recognize that he would
understand the refugee experience.
(Image via Twitter
world counterparts. The obvious example is Superman, the prototypical displaced person of science fiction. He is raised to be culturally American and is depicted as a perfectly assimilated citizen, a refugee that doesn’t struggle with linguistic barriers, misunderstanding of local cultural practices, finding employment, and other types of social rejection.

Works like Battlestar Galactica and The Songs Of Distant Earth might reflect some of the emotional dislocation experienced by refugees, but the characters in these stories arrive in places that are uninhabited, conveniently omitting issues related to cultural dislocation.

Screen science fiction that depicts refugees includes Alien Nation (1991), District 9 (2009), The Refugees (2015), and The Crossing (2018). But in each, an argument could be made that the focus is placed less on the experience of refugees, and more on the impact of members of the dominant culture into which the refugees are arriving. For example, human Matt Sykes is top-billed in Alien Nation, while his non-human newcomer partner George Francisco is the sidekick.

For a more egregious example, consider the post-apocalyptic TV series Jericho (2006), where an entire episode focuses on the havoc caused by a large group of refugees that passes through town.

Refugees in science fiction is a broad enough topic that it would be near-impossible to fully delve into every example; Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Bio Of A Space Tyrant, Men In Black, Movement and Location, and American War would all qualify.

There are currently more than 70 million people recognized by the United Nations as having been displaced from their countries of origin. Of those, more than 30 million fit the UN definition of refugees. It has never been more important for science fiction to be an engine for radical empathy in support of those displaced due to war, climate change or other disasters.

Friday, 1 November 2019

The Superman Clause

There’s a clause in the WSFS Constitution that allows WorldCon members to add a year of eligibility
Ever wonder why Superman 2 didn't
score a Hugo nod? It came out late in
the year, and fell between the cracks.
(Image via IMDB.com) 
to works that might be nominated for the Hugo Award.

It’s an important rule. It should be used more often, and Hugo nominators should pay attention when it is invoked.

The rule was originally proposed by Catherine Filipowicz and Leslie Turek because of Superman 2. The well-loved second Christopher Reeves Superman movie was released in December, 1980 on only a few dozen screens and failed to make the awards ballot in 1981. Obviously, relatively few Hugo nominators would have had a chance to view the film before the nominating deadline.

Here’s the rule that we now like to think of as the Superman 2 Clause:

3.4.3: In the event that a potential Hugo Award nominee receives extremely limited distribution in the year of its first publication or presentation, its eligibility may be extended for an additional year by a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the intervening Business Meeting of WSFS.

Ratified in 1982, the amendment was first in effect for the eligibility year of 1983. Despite having been on the books for more than 35 years, Rule 3.4.3 has been invoked only about a dozen times by our count (though records aren’t available for some of the intervening years):
Both the movie Predestination
and Jay Shaw (who designed
this movie poster) deserved
attention from Hugo nominators.
(Image via Mondo) 

  • Stet 9 (1999) ⁠— Fanzine
  • True Knowledge of Ken MacLeod (2003) — Best Related Work
  • Up Through A House Of Stairs (2003) — Best Related Work
  • Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (2003) — Best Related Work
  • Seven Beauties of Science Fiction (2008) — Best Related Work
  • Summer Wars (2010) — Best Dramatic Presentation
  • I Remember The Future (2014) — Best Dramatic Presentation
  • Predestination (2014) — Best Dramatic Presentation
  • Kimi No Nawa [A.K.A. “Your Name”] (2015) — Best Dramatic Presentation
  • Prospect (2018) — Best Dramatic Presentation
  • Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin (2018) — Best Related Work
We find it interesting that despite the high quality of these works, only the Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction was actually placed on the Hugo Ballot (and it won a well-deserved Hugo trophy for Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn).

In addition, it’s surprising to us that so many of these works failed to make the Hugo shortlist, since there was clearly a constituency willing to go to bat for them at the business meeting. This may indicate that there is a schism between business meeting attendees and the Worldcon membership at large. Or perhaps it indicates that there is insufficient awareness among the Worldcon membership at large when works have had their eligibility extended.

In the interest of signal-boosting the WSFS business meeting decisions at WorldCon 77, two works have received extended eligibility for 2019: Prospect and The Worlds of Ursula LeGuin. Even though both were released in 2018, they can be nominated for Hugo Awards in their respective categories this year, and we intend to put them both on our ballots.
Prospect can be nominated for the
2020 Hugo because its eligibility
was extended through a WSFS vote.
(Image via Amazon.com) 


In the case of Prospect (for which, full disclosure, members of this book club championed the eligibility extension), the movie received only 23 screenings in 2018, and didn’t become available widely until right around the date of the Hugo nominating deadline. It is, in our opinion, exemplary both in its filmmaking and its contribution to science fiction.

This provision exists to help Hugo Award nominators access and assess books, movies, short stories, etc., even when initial distribution is limited. This is a vital tool, especially for dramatic (and likely independent) presentations that are sometimes only initially available at film festivals, and only become well-known months later.

It’s important for all of us to help shed light on lesser-known works, especially when so much of our media is controlled by a few large corporations. We look forward to doing our part by seeking out and leaning on 3.4.3 when it makes sense to do so.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Cautiously Optimistic About The Best Series Category

We had our doubts about the creation of the Hugo Award for Best Series.

Does the category fill a need? Would the vote just be about name-recognition given how difficult it is to read all the shortlisted works? Might we just see the same set of series showing up on the ballot on alternating years?

But some of these doubts have been allayed by Becky Chambers’ series Wayfarers receiving the
Becky Chambers' win
shows that Best Series
serves a segment of SF
ignored by other Hugos.
(Image via Goodreads)
award in Dublin at Worldcon 77. It’s not just because we enjoyed the Wayfarers novels. This win gives us hope because it demonstrates that the Best Series Hugo can recognize works that weren’t well-served by the pre-existing four fiction categories (novel, novella, short story and novelette).

There are at least two reasons why we consider this to be a monumental win: none of the novels in the series had already been awarded a Hugo; and it recognizes a relatively new talent, as Becky Chambers is both the youngest person to have been shortlisted for Best Series and the youngest to win it by three decades.

These facts may seem like minor distinctions, given that the category has only been around for three years. But to us they are positive indicators that the category might be working as intended.

For the first two years of its existence, the Best Series Hugo Award was presented to a towering icon of science fiction — Lois McMaster Bujold. She has won the Best Novel Hugo more often than any other living author, and each of Bujold’s wins for Best Series involved a series that had previously won her a Hugo or two.

It would be hard to argue that Bujold’s work is not meritorious. But if the Best Series Hugo only ever went to series that include a Hugo-winning novel, it might call into question the need for a series award at all. Giving a Best Series Hugo to Best Novel winners seems a bit redundant.

Did the Vorkoskigan
saga need another
Hugo Award?
(Image via Amazon)
Although two of Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers novels appeared on the shortlist for Best Novel, the majority of the series on the ballot in each of the years the award has existed were composed of previously non-Hugo-shortlisted works (series such as The Centenal Cycle, Rivers Of London, and The Memoirs of Lady Trent.) This indicates strongly that the award is serving a segment of genre fiction that was not served by the existing categories.

It is interesting to note that to date only Seanan McGuire’s October Daye books have made a repeat appearance on the best series shortlist. With six finalists listed in each of three years, one repetitious nominee out of 18 gives us hope that we might continue to see a diverse range of series getting shortlisted. A lack of repeat appearances could indicate that the category is serving a diverse and engaged readership.

It is too early for anyone to pass judgment on whether or not the Best Series Hugo is a useful addition as a category.

But in the long term, we would be happy to be shown that we were wrong in our initial opposition to the creation of this category.

Friday, 27 September 2019

Many Princes; One Crown

Which version of The Little Prince won the Hugo Award?
"A new translation of the
beloved classic."
(Image via Amazon.com)

Was it Katherine Woods’ classic 1943 translation? Was it the 1995 Irene Testot-Ferry translation? Or perhaps it was Richard Howard’s 2000 translation?

Since the initial publication of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's story in 1943, the book has been translated into English on at least seven different occasions, often with markedly different results.

If you’re an anglophone who is over the age of 30, or bought the book used, there’s every chance that you remember Woods’ relatively poetic and lyrical translation. A few might be most familiar with the direct and less florid Testot-Ferry version. Younger readers are likely to be more familiar with the plainspoken and colloquial Howard version of the text.

We argue here that the classic Woods version should be the one that is recognized as being worthy of the award, rather than one of the modern revisions. In particular, this is a Retro Hugo for 1944, and it is based on the work as it appeared in 1944 that votes should have been cast. The Hugo Awards page does specify the publisher, which would lead us to believe that it is indeed the Woods translation that is honoured.

That said, it is the 2000 version that is most readily available today, so a counter-argument could be made that a significant number of Hugo voters at Worldcon 77 were likely to have based their decision on the later version.

The differences between the translations are not insignificant.
Katherine Woods also
translated works such
as Emile Zola's The
Masterpiece, and was
the head of literature
with UNESCO.
(Image via Amazon.com)

As an example, the original Woods translation offers us the following: “It was from words dropped by chance that, little by little, everything was revealed to me.”

The 1995 Testot-Ferry translation flattens that same sentence to “It was thanks to the odd word, here and there, that everything was revealed to me.”

And in 2000, Howard renders this same sentence as “It was things he said quite at random that, bit by bit, explained everything.”

It is clear that the newer translation does not capture the gentleness of the original French phrase: “Ce sont des mots prononcés par hasard qui, peu à peu, m'ont tout révélé.”

The structural changes are mirrored by a narrowing of the vocabulary in the work: ‘a primordial forest’ becomes ‘a jungle.’ A ‘tippler’ becomes a ‘drunkard.’ A ‘spring of fresh water’ becomes a ‘fountain.’

By-and-large, the publishing industry is more sensitive to the work of translators today; today they often they get cover credit that they might not have in the past. For example, in 2014, Ken Liu was recognized on the cover of The Three-Body Problem and was consequently also recognized at the Hugo Awards for his translation work. 

But the case of The Little Prince is more comparable to that of the first translated work to appear on a Hugo Ballot: the 1963 novel Sylva, which was written by French war hero Vercors (A.K.A. Jean Bruller). No translator is mentioned on the dust jacket of the book. And until this summer, when the record was updated at our request, the official Hugo Awards site did not list the name of the translator, Rita Barisse. The Wikipedia entry for the Hugo Awards, and several other publications continue to neglect Barisse’s contribution to the work.

It is important when giving an award to a translated work to recognize the person — or people
The Little Prince has been translated into
more than 250 languages, and is the most
translated non-religious text on Earth.
(Image via Nortsider
— who worked on bridging the linguistic divide, and who interpreted and attempted to capture the tone and rhythm of the original. The translation of foreign works into English is a subtle and often misunderstood art. It is also one that all-too-often has gone unacknowledged.

Both Sylva and The Little Prince were published without translation credit on the cover, so when they were discussed, nominated, and voted on, there was little information provided to voters about whose work went into turning French prose into English.

While Sylva’s translator is easy to identify, and to retroactively credit, The Little Prince is a little less clear. But recognition, and attribution, must be offered.

It is Katherine Woods’ version that helped make the work so successful in North American English markets, it is her work that was available in 1944, and it should be recognized that she is the translator who contributed to the award-winning version of the work.

The WSFS should adopt a consistent practice of acknowledging translators in all instances, both for contemporaneous Hugos and for Retro Hugos. 

Saturday, 21 September 2019

The Privilege Of Magic

The most frightening villain ever to stalk the halls of a school for magic isn’t Voldemort, it’s
Designed by Will Staehle,
the cover of Magic For
Liars is memorably great.
(Image via Amazon)
privilege: the subtle, corrosive force at the heart of Magic For Liars.

At its core, Sarah Gailey’s debut novel is about how the powerful impose their will without consent, and without a second thought. These power dynamics might be portrayed within Magic For Liars as the relationship between the magical and non-magical, but they are grounded in well-observed real-world dynamics between those who have privilege and those who don’t. 

Setting the story at the Osthorne Academy for Young Mages, Gailey uses the standard tropes of the magical academy to explore notions of privilege by telling the story from the perspective of someone who lacks magical ability. The protagonist, private investigator Ivy Gamble, is the non-magical twin sister of a teacher at the school. Ivy is lead by circumstance to investigate a murder within the magical community. 

Through this set-up, Gailey interrogates themes of power, consent, toxic relationships, sibling resentment, and identity. Memorable scenes, such as when a magical healer subjects Ivy to an invasive procedure without asking, or a flashback to a practical joke her sister played on her, effectively reinforce these themes. This is a lot of heavy subtext for a novel with a sprightly cadence and breezy prose, but for the most part it works. 

Some of the things we enjoyed the most about Magic For Liars were what Gailey chose to omit. Rather than deluging the reader with endless explanations of magic or magical society, Gailey focuses on characters and motivations. Rather than treating the sexuality of characters as big revelations, the inclusion of LGBTQ characters is refreshingly natural and casual. 

The magic of privilege enables many
people to become their worst selves.
(Image via Twitter.) 
Because of the massive cultural hegemony of Harry Potter, it’s difficult not to compare any novel about a school for magicians to the one in J.K. Rowling’s best-sellers. But we’d argue that the school in Magic For Liars might more aptly be compared to Eton College, the famous privilege factory that has churned out generations of upper class twits such as David Cameron and Boris Johnson. 

Some have suggested that the book is more comparable to Lev Grossman’s The Magicians than to the Harry Potter series. This is in part due to the age of the students and the mature tone of the books. Most notably, the ability — the privilege —of doing magic enables characters to be their own worst possible selves. Interestingly, Ivy Gamble is a far more likeable protagonist than Quentin Coldwater.

When dealing with characters and their relationships, when dealing with magic as a metaphor for social stratification and when dealing with implied politics, Magic For Liars succeeds, but as a mystery novel, it is somewhat unsatisfying. The investigative threads are occasionally obvious, and the lack of observational acuity among the school faculty beggars belief. Most troubling is the convenient trail of notes left for the protagonist — most of our book club found it too simple to be considered a puzzle.

Gailey’s prose oscillated at times between light and engaging fantasy and noir detective pastiche. Some readers found this tone switching distracting, especially in early chapters where the overuse of similes was especially annoying. One reader almost didn’t finish the book because of lines like “The drought-impossible velvety green lawn that surrounded the school looked like frosting that was waiting to have a finger through it.” It was suggested that this tone might have been intentionally over-the-top to evoke hard-boiled detective prose. 

But despite these quibbles and qualms, it is a book that we recommend. We suspect that it will appeal to many Hugo voters, especially given how the protagonist reminded at least a few of us of Elma York, the hero of Mary Robinette Kowal’s Hugo-winning The Calculating Stars. Much like York, Ivy Gamble is a flawed narrator who deals with anxiety and impostor syndrome, and much like York, she challenges systems of privilege and power.

We look forward to reading Gailey’s subsequent works.

Friday, 30 August 2019

Not On The Shortlist 2019

Every year there are more worthy works than could fit on any Hugo Awards ballot. There will therefore always be works that are not included, no matter how great they may be. As our book club has done in previous years, some of us have selected the works they wish could have made this year's ballot.

(AW) Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster -- Lodestar
It’s rare to have a YA or a fantasy title on my (non-Hugo Book Club) reading list, so it feels a bit odd
Is it a surprise that someone
in this book club was drawn
to a book with strong labour
themes?
(Image via Goodreads) 
to be highlighting a work of YA fantasy as this year’s “should have been nominated novel.” Jonathan Auxier’s Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster is an award-winning work that provides a wonderfully engaging story with smartly-written characters. It also helped me think about what’s often missing from other novels (from all genres and for all reading levels).

Set in 1875 London, the chronologically young but situationally mature Nan Sparrow carries the reader through the dangerous, exploited lives of chimney sweeps. In the Victorian era, those who worked as sweeps were normally between the ages of 4-9; Nan is late career by this measure. Charlie is Nan’s golem (protector), serving as a metaphor for the painful plight of parents who found themselves on the wrong side of the labour and wealth redistribution of the industrial revolution. Sweep is the product of an experienced writer, with skillful narrative construction and delineated sections that (1) build characters and motivation and (2) bring tensions to a coming of age resolution for both Nan and the UK’s social contract.

With entertaining and careful writing about historical stakeholders (e.g. masters and servants, Friendly Societies, a nascent entrepreneurial and middle class), contemporary authors (William Blake, etc.), social conditions, and social progress, this is a work I’d love to see on elementary school curricula.

The afterword explains how Auxier crafted Sweep over many years, marinating ideas about golems and social norms and labour rights until his story elements were seasoned enough to bake into a narrative worth sharing. To be clear, it’s not the length of gestation but the care of crafting that has left an impression — and sets other novels in contrast. A strong novel bears the imprint of a patient and disciplined author; one that is willing to wait until disparate parts are ready to come together in a form worthy of a copy-editor’s effort, a publisher’s support, and a reader’s time.

For the record, I did read to at least a quarter-depth of all the novels included in the 2019 WorldCon voter’s package. If Sweep had been included in the YA list and voters actually read all the nominated works then Auxier would have been the favourite for a Lodestar Award in Dublin.

(BG) Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft
Though only marginally eligible for the Hugo this year, my choice is a 2018 gem: Josiah Bancroft's Senlin Ascends. Senlin Ascends was originally self-published in 2013, but after getting a lot of positive attention out of the 2016 SFBO (Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off) competition was published by Orbit in 2018.

Newlyweds Senlin and Marya are visiting the awe-inspiring Tower of Babel when they are separated. The mysterious Tower is so massive that each floor is its own ringdom (round kingdom) and no one is exactly sure how many floors there even are. So (of course) Senlin must start climbing up through the strange levels of the Tower in search of Marya. Senlin is semi-unlikeable at the start of the novel, but I found myself thoroughly won over and eager for a sequel by the end. Overall Senlin Ascends is a delightful debut, with wonderful prose, compelling characters and a promising world.

(OR) Kiksuya (Westworld Season 2, Episode 8) by Written by Carly Wray & Dan Dietz
If more people had been able to slog through the first seven boring episodes of Westworld’s second
Zahn McClarnon's performance as
Akecheta had pathos and humanity
that helped create the most compelling
hour of television in 2018.
(Image via Forbes
season, we’d wager that the eighth would have made the ballot for Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form.

Set in a western-themed park populated with androids who exist for the entertainment of wealthy visitors, Westworld’s second season depicted a variety of the now self-aware androids attempting to escape their servitude. While the overall season was mediocre at best, "Kiksuya" stood out as a near-perfect episode, shifting the perspective away from the mostly uninteresting set of protagonists that viewers were familiar with, and bringing a set of Indigenous android background characters into sharp focus.

The episode is primarily the story of Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon), leader of the Ghost Nation, and one of the first androids to achieve consciousness. Over the course of the tightly-scripted hour of television, we learn about how the memory of androids in the Ghost Nation have been re-written time and time again. Akecheta’s first life as a peaceful family man gets taken away and replaced with a violent one.

It was difficult not to see the repeated erasure and reprogramming of these Indigenous-presenting androids as a metaphor for historical attempts to erase Indigenous culture in North America. Akecheta’s narrative journey is a continuous attempt to remember who he was, and to reclaim his identity.

Having modeled the Ghost Nation on the real-world Lakota Nations (who live in what is now Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas), the writers and producers of this episode hired Indigenous scholars such as Emmy-winner Larry Poirier and Cordelia White Elk to ensure that the episode accurately depicted Indigenous traditions and cultures whenever possible. The episode’s dialogue is almost entirely in the Lakota language with English subtitles. The episode’s title that translates to ‘Remember.’

If every episode of Westworld had been as good as "Kiksuya," it would have been the best series on the air in 2018.

(KB) Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
Moon of the Crusted Snow was one of the best science-fiction books of 2018, and I wish it had been on the ballot for Best Novel.

Written by Waubgeshig Rice, an Anishinaabe journalist and author, the book asks a question best asked by an Indigenous author: “What happens when a society that already survived their apocalypse faces the crescendo of the climate crisis?” Rice explores this premise in the setting on an Anishinaabe reserve in Northern Ontario. Many “apocalypse-in-action” books are set in the urban environment, so
For many Indigenous
communities, the
apocalypse arrived in
1492. Waubgeshig Rice
explores what happens
to these communities when
the apocalypse hits the rest
of the planet.
(Image via Goodreads)
the realities of a rural, remote life enable a unique perspective not often heard in science fiction.

Another strength of this novel are the characters. The narrative’s main guiding voice is Evan Whitesky, a young father who is trying to relearn his traditional culture. Evan’s role in his community takes readers into the lives of a variety of other characters and their realities. This approach makes the reserve a fully-realized setting, an entire world apart from what most readers know from their day-to-day lives.

Readers learn about the Anishinaabe culture and language alongside Whitesky and his young family, and readers see the traditional knowledge leveraged for survival at the end of the Anthropocene as we know it. This is especially poignant considering the incredible harm Indigenous peoples survived in Canada both in the past (ie. Residential Schools, genocide, land theft) and in the present (ie. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Millennium Scoop). Colonization is a monster in the book, but Rice focuses on celebrating the survivance and thrivance of his people –– a love-letter to his culture.

A unique premise, an introspective philosophical theme, well-written characters –– seems like the sort of work Worldcon attendees would respond to.

(MB) The Quantum Magician by Derek Künsken
The Quantum Magician is Ocean’s Eleven in space and surely deserved a Hugo nod.

Ottawa resident, Derek Künsken, crafts a web of intrigue in which a homo quantus, a genetically engineered human able to read quantum states and make stunning predictions, brings together a team of genetic misfits to con one of the biggest empires in the galaxy. The story has enough twists and turns to keep any one off balance and all the loose ends are tied up in a dramatic finish.

It’s not only a delightful thriller, the story has excellent science fiction chops. There are multiple new branches of humanity, well developed starship propulsion systems, and a sprawling galactic community.

The book raises questions of what it means to be human, loyalty, and belonging. It’s a lot of fun to read gives a person something to think about long after the book is finished.