Hugo Awards – The Nominee Highlights – Best Semiprozine and Best Graphic Novel

Since voting closes at the end of July and there are more categories than there are weeks, I’m going to start doubling up and possibly even tripling in some cases. As always, finalists are listed on the Hugo site.

Best Semiprozine

As seems to be the trend, nominating ballot counts in this category more than doubled from 660 last year to this year’s 1457 nominating ballots. All my short-short reviews are based on the sample content provided in the Hugo packet – I’m presuming it’s the best of the eligible material as decided by the editors (I certainly hope so – why would anyone send less than their best?). Regardless, opinions here are very much mine.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews – The sample was a nice, cleanly edited file of stories that were well-written but honestly left me cold. There didn’t seem to be anything beyond beautifully presented emptiness – something I found depressingly common to most of the finalists, to be honest. Maybe my standards here are too high, but I would like to actually care how a story ends even if I don’t particularly like it. Others are welcome to disagree with great vehemence if they wish.

Daily Science Fiction edited by Michele-Lee Barasso and Jonathan Laden – The content here is rather more on the quirky side, but still fundamentally did nothing for me. Once again, I can appreciate the technical skill without seeing any of that extra that makes for true artistry. Or I’m asking for too much.

Sci Phi Journal edited by Jason Rennie – Sci Phi was the only finalist with any content that drew me in, and honestly, not all of it. I could have done without the philosophical questions at the end of each fiction piece, although that is the journal’s signature, so I guess it’s required. I’d rather ponder the questions the stories in questions raised without the explicit pointers – although I will say they weren’t as heavy-handed as they could have been, and they did highlight the issues quite well. I’m just fussy, I guess.

Strange Horizons edited by Catherine Krahe, Julia Rios, A. J. Odasso, Vanessa Rose Phin, Maureen Kincaid Speller, and the Strange Horizons staff – Again, a zine of beautifully written, exquisite prose gems that left me either vaguely unsatisfied or vaguely repelled. Neither of which is a particularly good reaction, because I can’t remember a single individual piece.

Uncanny Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, and Erika Ensign & Steven Schapansky – Okay, it’s a bit unfair that Uncanny being the last in the list should get a mere “ditto”, but seriously, that’s what it feels like.

Of the five finalists, four were so indistinguishable in terms of the kind of content they presented that I don’t remember enough of any of them to say if any were in any way better or more memorable.

Of course, you may utterly disagree and think I’m a raving looney, so go check out their content for yourself and make your own decisions before you cast your votes. I’m not here to tell anyone what to vote for – I’m just giving my honest and slightly toned down opinions of everything I’ve looked at as a kind of perverse public service cum masochistic impulse.

Best Graphic Story

This category is another one with more than double the nomination ballots than last year: from 785 to 1838. It’s also a challenging one to comment on, with two episodic webcomics and three paper graphic stories written long-form (that is, they aren’t a strip at a time or several strips at a time).

The Divine written by Boaz Lavie, art by Asaf Hanuka and Tomer Hanuka (First Second) – I couldn’t find a website for this work, so the wikipedia entry will have to do. This is a disturbing and evocative piece with extremely well-drawn art, characters who I could follow and care about, and a plot that packs a solid punch. I’m still not entirely sure what I think of it, but I’m still thinking about it which suggests there’s a lot more there to unpack.

Erin Dies Alone written by Grey Carter, art by Cory Rydell  – This finalist is a webcomic filled with game geekery as well as an interesting mix of wry humor overlying rather deeper questions of identity and pathology (which are not directly addressed in the strips I looked at, but they’re unquestionably there). You’ll have to go to the site and find the qualifying strips yourself (try not to get caught up in it if, like me, you have limited time and too many webcomics already).

Full Frontal Nerdity by Aaron Williams. This is another humor and game geeky webcomic, less serious than Erin Dies Alone but with some pointed humor in places. Once again, you’ll need to browse the qualifying strips yourself and risk being sucked in.

Invisible Republic Vol 1 written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, art by Gabriel Hardman (Image Comics)  – This is the first part of an intriguing science fiction mystery/thriller series that raises more questions than it answers (as it should). The art can be a bit dark and it’s not always easy to see which characters are who in the busier scenes, but it’s certainly a worthy contender.

The Sandman: Overture written by Neil Gaiman, art by J.H. Williams III (Vertigo) – I have to admit that without any background in the character or the Gaiman Sandman ‘verse I found the sample beautifully drawn and so completely bewildering I had no idea what was going on or why I should care. This may be one of those pieces where you need to have followed from the beginning to be able to follow now (I hope so, because otherwise it’s more like an avant garde art piece where it needs lengthy explanations of what the artist is trying to represent because everyone looks at it and has no idea).

Read the works in the voters packet, read the archives for the other two works, and cast your vote where you believe it should go.

P.S. For those who want the numbers, the detailed data for last year’s awards is available here .

19 thoughts on “Hugo Awards – The Nominee Highlights – Best Semiprozine and Best Graphic Novel

  1. Thanks for the praise for Sci Phi Journal. Jason kindly let me put together the packet. I decided to put in one story and one article from each of last years’ issues, to be more representative than a simple ‘best of the year’ collection. This means that some really great stuff from some of the stronger issues didn’t make the cut.

  2. Hey, Kate, shoot me a message, and I’ll kick you over a copy of our Issue #1; we’ll kick the pants off folks in 2017!

        1. Something should come through. If you get multiples, my email software is having fits at me.

  3. The Sandman graphic novel series focused on anthropomorphic representations of vast psychological forces, with the principle character being that of Dream. It started out as a horror comic (as that was the only genre that it could be shoehorned into) and ended by literally creating a new genre space for graphic stories like it—dark fantasy, basically, and a meta overview of the process of story.

    So I’m not particularly surprised that the prequel sample seems odd without context; from what I’ve heard, it’s gone over very well with the fans of the original series (and I am looking forward to acquiring a copy at some point.) If you ever want to read the original series, your best bet is to either find a copy at the library (nicely collected into ten volumes or so) or find someone who was a teenaged comic geek in the 90s, especially if they were goth.

    1. This would explain why it left me totally lost: there must have been a LOT in there that fans of the original series would have recognized immediately where all I saw were confusing shifts that made no sense.

      1. When you have a character that is *literally* Dream, with all of the quick context shifting that implies, yeah, it’s not going to be easy to jump into the deep end.

  4. Invisible Republic is a bit easier to follow on paper. OTOH, losing track of who’s where makes sense in such a chaotic setting. Sandman definitely is better with contextual knowledge.

    SciPhi Journal and Cirsova are both great. Next year for Cirsova!

    1. I imagine it would be: the medium does make a difference, and yes, the setting is indeed chaotic.

      I’ve had a few comments now about Sandman: something written for a known fan base is going to be harder for someone new to come in. That also means that unless there’s a substantial Sandman fanbase among the Hugo voters, Overture is likely to be somewhat handicapped, simply because people who’ve never encountered the series could vote it down on their confusion.

      1. Then the whole run of Naruto definitely should have been nominated instead. 🙂

        Well, if I can be bothered I may suggest it again when the next generation series ends.

      2. It’s Neil Gaiman. The other four nominees are the ones with the handicap, if we’re talking traditional WorldCon fandom. The only way he does not win is if No Award sweeps away everything Rabid Puppies nominated.

  5. OVERTURE is definitely not aimed at new readers. It’s mostly a reward for old readers, a promise Gaiman made that one day he’d tell the fans what the central character was up to before the first issue. So, yeah, only hardcore fans will find it satisfying.

    1. So I gather. There’s a place for that, and I’m quite sure I’ve done the same thing to others when I head off on weird geeky tangents.

      It’s good to know that the piece does make sense to fans who know the background: that means it’s just a matter of experience, not outright incomprehensibility.

      1. It probably doesn’t help that Gaiman’s natural style is to hint around the edges. Very nice for mystery readers and folk who like to read in between the lines, but a lot harder for people who haven’t had to do that a lot. (As an example, the graphic novel The Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch is a story about abusive relationships as remembered from childhood, and there are huge gaps in the memory and places where the reader has to apply adult knowledge to things a child only half hears. And that’s a *complete* story.)

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