BSFA Awards 2013 - Voting Thoughts

So, last weekend the BSFA Awards booklet (featuring all the nominated short stories) came through my door. Over this week I have read through it all and am now looking at what to vote for. Well, in two categories anyway: short stories and artwork. I have read a grand total of zero of the nominated novels (which is a step even further down than last year) and sadly am not as up to date on the blogs/non-fiction as I would like to be.

Short Fiction

There are six stories on the long list ranging from China Mieville's miniscule Three Moments of an Explosion to the individually published novellas Ian Sales' Adrift on the Sea of Rains and Chris Butler's The Flight of the Ravens - there does seem to be some dispute on the definition of "short" here although the BSFA category does allow for up to 40,000 words.

Interestingly for the British Science Fiction Association there is no emphasis place on the British - publication could be worldwide, authors of any nationality, setting could be anywhere. This positions the awards as being awards of British Science Fiction fans rather than awards of British Science Fiction, a subtle distinction which certainly makes for a more interesting shortlist:

The BSFA awards are presented annually by the British Science Fiction Association, based on a vote of BSFA members and – in recent years – members of the British national science fiction convention Eastercon. They are fan awards that not only seek to honour the most worthy examples in each category, but to promote the genre of science fiction, and get people reading, talking about and enjoying all that contemporary science fiction has to offer.

What I have more mixed feelings about however is the Science Fiction element. I don't like to see rigidly defined categories, or

Having said that, the first to go out the window for the top spot is the fantasy novella. Chris Butler's Flight of the Ravens is a very enjoyable novella, with elements I'd love to work into an RPG campaign, but Science Fiction it is not. Set in an alternative past with gods, demons and magic it's too far from Science Fiction to be getting a Science Fiction award. Having said that, it probably won't be anywhere near the bottom of list either.

That place, I think, will go to China Mieville. Nothing Mieville has done since Bas Lag has grabbed me in the same way - The City and The City, The Kraken and Embassytown have all been good but not as enjoyable as the Bas Lag stuff (the less said about Un Lun Dun the better...). This short just fails to capture me at all. It feels like he's just written down three ideas and then failed to explore them or expand on them.

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz's Song of the Body Cartographer mixes the fantasy and science fiction really well. What I came away from it with though was a transhumanist love story which removes one of the key elements of transhumanism - that the "person" is separate to the "body" and transplanting a person into a new body should retain the memories, the personality, the feelings etc. in the new shell. It suggests a whole different understanding of what "person" is to what I would accept and I don't know that it explains that understanding very well - the nearest I think I come is that it is seen as an external record of lineage rather than self-awareness or consistency of memories, thoughts, feeling and knowledge which at least addresses the transhumanist assumption that the chemicals produced by the body have no impact on the thoughts and feelings.

Tim Maughan's Limited Edition looks at a possible future where sponsorship, gamification and social media have become applied to crime as it happens and the use of that same network to bring out the less savoury side of consumer culture (child labour to produce the desirable goods). They're all interesting ideas I'd love to see developed, I think this story was too short to do that explanation (but nor do I think it could be sustained much longer).

Ian Sales' Adrift on the Sea of Rains posits a reality-travel machine (it doesn't seem to be able to go back in time so much as a different reality at the same time point - the further back, the split, the more energy is required) which a crew of astronauts and scientists on the moon are using to escape their own mutually assured destruction-destroyed Earth to one where they can return 'home' to live. Charting the desperation of a cynical malaise and elation at finding a surviving humanity to "return" to it then throws a twist which feels cliche and predictable. Not my favourite.

Finally then, Aliette de Bodard's Immersion. Mixing several different metaphors of colonialism/freedom from galactic empires for people to break free from to the touristification of cultures through a tool looking and feeling remarkably like Google Glass and the personal addiction which comes with it. It also manages to weave in elements of the Maker and Free Software movements and their desire to see you being able to control the devices you own and, in this case, write and inform of your own culture. This was definitely my favourite of the stories.

Rankings:

  1. Aliette de Bodard Immersion
  2. Chris Butler The Flight of the Ravens
  3. Rochita Loenen-Ruiz Song of the Body Cartographer
  4. Tim Maughan Limited Edition
  5. Ian Sales Adrift on the Sea of Rains
  6. China Mieville Three Moments of an Explosion

Ravens and Body Cartographer may switch round as I think more on Body Cartographer and Explosion may not get onto my ballot paper but I think that's how I'll vote...

Best Artwork

A difficult category this year. I I am immediately consigning Dominic Hardman and Ben Baldwin tot he bottom of the list - I'd love to have Baldwin's painting on my wall more than the others, but the others are wonderful book covers, Harman's I feel is too cliched for me - spaceships and laser guns...

So, Joey Hi-Fi's cover for Thy Kingdom Come is excellent - I love Joey Hi-Fi's work, but the Moth/Butterfly design from Si Scott on Dark Eden is just beautiful (although I wouldn't want it on my wall 8-). This then leaves Blacksheep's design for Jack Glass I love the style of it - a sort of Sci-Fi stained glass window - definitely a book cover in this instance but would love something similar on my wall.

Ranking

  1. Si Scott
  2. Blacksheep
  3. Joey Hi-Fi
  4. Ben Baldwin
  5. Dominic Harman

Again, Blacksheep and Joey Hi-Fi are still battling it out for their places, but that's the general shape of my voting.

Ceremony

Sadly, looking at the EasterCon programme for this year, it looks like BSFA are not doing a speech to go with the ceremony this year. Much as I disliked last year's for it's in-jokeyness and sexist commentary, I thought the idea was great and would have loved to have seen something offered again this year.

Alex
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