Monday, July 18, 2011

Hugo Thoughts: 'Zines

This is another in a series of posts I've been doing over the past weeks, examining various categories for the 2011 Hugo Awards. I've complained for more years than I care to remember about how Hugo voters seem to vote based on instinct and vague memories rather than by looking at the specific works and years nominated, so I thought it was finally time to stop cursing the darkness and start lighting candles.

(Click on the tag for "Hugo Thoughts" to get the whole series; I've already done short fiction, dramatic presentations, and the fan categories.)

I don't promise to be unbiased here -- in fact, in some categories I am incredibly biased, and in ways that may infuriate some longtime Hugo voters. Such is life. But I do promise to look at the nominees, by my own lights, and think hard about how I think they fit.

Today's categories are yet more that I'm slightly out of touch with, since my days at the bookclubs ended; I don't read a lot of short fiction these days, and I get most of my SFnal news off the web. But I seem to be like the majority of SF readers in both those ways, which may be important.

Best Semiprozine

  • Clarkesworld, edited by Neil Clarke, Cheryl Morgan, Sean Wallace; podcast directed by Kate Baker
  • Interzone, edited by Andy Cox
  • Lightspeed, edited by John Joseph Adams
  • Locus, edited by Liza Groen Trombi and Kirsten Gong-Wong
  • Weird Tales, edited by Ann VanderMeer and Stephen H. Segal
Clarkesworld could be seen as an oddity, or as the future of SFnal publishing, depending on the slant of light where you're standing: it's a free online monthly magazine, with two pieces of fiction, some nonfiction, and an associated podcast. On the one hand, they publish some excellent fiction, as seen by their nomination record (and by the fact that they won this category last year). But, on the other hand, it's an essentially hobby operation: there's no way to make a living from that model. The best thing about Clarkesworld, when it comes to Hugo voting, is that since it is available for free online -- entirely, all the way back to the first issue in 2006 -- a serious reader could easily look at everything they published in 2010.

I've never regularly read Interzone, which may be why it's always seemed amazingly cool to me. (The other reason is because it's British, and all things British are terribly cool to an impressionable young American -- and I first heard of Interzone in the heady cyberpunk years, when it was very cutting-edge and I was very young and impressionable.) Unlike Clarkesworld, Interzone is a real old-fashioned magazine, printed on paper with a cover price, subscriptions, and everything. (And it's in this category due to the complicated semiprozine rules, which I'll admit I've never really understood.) It's been nominated for the Hugo in this category twenty-five times (if I counted correctly), and has won once.

Lightspeed is the newbie in this category, a website magazine on the Clarkesworld model edited by John Joseph Adams (himself a nominee as editor) that started up a little over a year ago. It publishes four stories (two new, two reprint) each month, along with an identical number of non-fiction pieces -- and the fiction is declaredly all science fiction, with none of that icky fantasy allowed in. Like Clarkesworld, a Hugo voter could easily read all of the archives, and see what they published during last year, before voting.

Locus is the 800-pound gorilla in this category, the self-proclaimed (at one time) "newspaper of science fiction," and that description was entirely true for several decades. (If it's less true now, it's only because nobody cares as much about a newspaper these days, in the era of the Internet.) It publishes long, thoughtful reviews from a long list of reviewers monthly -- though everyone in the industry assumes that the Locus editorial position is never to run a negative review -- plus long interviews, long lists of forthcoming books, and other long things that SFF readers appreciate. It used to be absolutely vital, as the only place SFnal publishing/convention/fannish news was reported on and covered in a professional and timely way, but, again, the Internet has stolen a lot of thunder in that area. It's been nominated for the Hugo at least once every year since 1970 (some of those early years had categories for both "Fanzine" and "Amateur Magazine"), and has more Hugos than any other single entity, at 29. Some people think that's too many; Locus has lost this category the last two years, which broke a three-year streak (which was preceded by a nine-year streak, another nine-year streak in "Semiprozine," and four- and six-year streaks in "Fanzine" before that).

Weird Tales is a magazine of ancient lineage, which has an uncanny knack of always being able to find someone to pour more money in to keep it going. (For a while, it appeared to share that knack with the similarly ancient Amazing Stories, but Amazing seems to be finally staying dead this time.) Weird Tales has been around since 1923, and was a major market for H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard in its early days. After a recent editorial turnover, it's now run by Ann VanderMeer, and under her editorship it got its first Hugo nomination in this category in 2009. (It won that year, as well, and was nominated again last year.)

Best Fanzine

  • Banana Wings, edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
  • Challenger, edited by Guy H. Lillian III
  • The Drink Tank, edited by Christopher J Garcia and James Bacon
  • File 770, edited by Mike Glyer
  • StarShipSofa, edited by Tony C. Smith

I'm much less confident about my ability to discern what's special or particular about these 'zines -- even after spending substantial time poking through them, the only thing I'm really sure about is that StarShipSofa is a podcast, and that makes the old-time fanzine types very huffy and argumentative. (Admittedly, it doesn't take much to get any of us SFF folks argumentative.) So let me be factual and brief.

Banana Wings is a British fanzine (from Croydon, whatever that means), which has been quarterly since 2004. It's been nominated in this category five times previously, without winning. Its co-editor, Claire Brialey, was the fan writer nominee who impressed me the most.

Challenger has been going since 1993, and this is its eleventh straight year nominated in this category. It hasn't won yet.

The Drink Tank is up to issue # 287, because it's ostensibly weekly, and started in 2005. (There were 32 issues last year -- not quite weekly, but still really, really often.) It was nominated in this category in 2007.

File 770 is one of the longest-running fanzines still published regularly; it's been coming out since 1978. (And it has a bloggy component now, mostly news-focused, at that link.) It's been nominated in this category twenty-seven times, with six wins.

StarShipSofa is, as I said above, a podcast. (Or an "audio science fiction magazine," as they bill themselves.) It's been running since this time in 2006, and won this category last year, the first time it was nominated.

Remember, Hugo ballots are due July 31st -- thirteen short days from today. What will you vote for. (Or, to be more authentically fannish, what will you vote against?)

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