Recommended?

I’m not sure whether it’s my preferences changing, or my awareness of the field broadening, or both or something else, but as time goes on I find the Locus Recommended Reading List overlaps less and less with my taste in sf and fantasy. It feels faintly absurd, having this reaction, because the list is so bloated as to make inclusion almost meaningless — there are comfortably more books on the list than I read in a year, and that’s before you start on the short fiction categories. This also means that there’s a fair number of things I like listed; yet I look at it, and think: from Interzone, you recommend “Monetized“, and not “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest…“? You recommend Ken Scholes’ A Weeping Czar Beholds the Fallen Moon“, but not Helen Keeble’s “A Lullaby“? As a science fiction novel, you recommend Steal Across the Sky but not UFO in Her Eyes? In the fantasy novel category, it’s marvellous to see In Great Waters, but where on earth is The Other Lands? This is not frustrating simply because unenlightened fools disagree with me. It’s frustrating because the size of the Recommended Reading List is an indication of one of its goals — basically, canon-formation — and because that goal is not challenged elsewhere in the sf community as much as I would like. If the Locus list was more focused, or if there were other lists the same size treated as equivalent authorities, I wouldn’t be so bothered. But I know that when I want to know what was big ten years ago, the first thing I do is Google the Locus list for that year, because it aims to include everything of significance. And more and more I want to know what they missed.

Ten Things I Want From The Locus Blog

Martin draws my attention to this post by Liza Groen Trombi at the recently-launched Locus Roundtable blog, and this quote in particular:

While most have welcomed the blog and the launch discussion, we have clearly annoyed a few people by not conforming to their ideas of what we ought to be doing. I’m sure this blog will be many things in its time, and all in all I’m very pleased to have it up and running.

I’m among those to have found the “2008 in review” discussion much less time-worthy than I would have expected, though I would describe myself as more frustrated than annoyed; a Locus blog should be a good, interesting and useful thing, but what we’ve had so far has been those things only in brief flashes. But what do I think they should be doing? Well:

  1. Not moderating comments. There has already been some discussion on this point, but at present the fact that every comment is moderated, and that it takes hours for said comments to be approved and appear on the blog, makes something of a mockery of the idea of actual discussion, and is thus rather a disincentive to commenting at all.
  2. Showing complete posts on the blog home page. I can’t be the only one who finds the current brief snippets and “read more” view irritating; I’ve already come to your blog, don’t make me click through to a separate page for every post, please. (If there’s a good reason to hide something — spoilers, for instance — then fine, but I see no reason to make it standard.) On the upside, the full text is syndicated, so I can read it all as long as I don’t actually visit the blog … but of course, that’s another way of driving me away from engaging in discussion.
  3. Discussing specific works of sf. As Jeff VanderMeer pointed out, the paucity of such discussion was (bizarrely, given the people involved) a problem with many of the 2008-in-review posts. But more generally, this is surely something Locus is very strong at, and while I appreciate that most of the contributors’ thoughts about books will be channelled into reviews for the print magazine, I’ve never yet written a review that manages to say everything there is to say about a good book (particularly when writing in a word-limited context). (Actually, there’s something else I’m not clear on: now that the blog exists, will the posting of sample reviews from the print magazine cease and desist? I think it would be nice if it continued.)
  4. Demonstrating awareness of a world beyond Locus. God bless Graham, who is so far the only person to link to anything of substance beyond the Locusosphere, and even linked here! (Paul Witcover did manage some Amazon links, I suppose.) The rest of the posts seem to exist in a sort of splendid isolation, though.
  5. Interacting with said world. This is, surely, part of what blogs are for. Lord knows I’m not always the best at this myself — I frequently find myself contemplating a post in response to something elsewhere, only to find myself without time to write the damn thing, and reduced to lumping it into a link round-up — but it would seem more worthwhile to go over to the Roundtable and post a comment and wait for said comment to appear if there was an indication that they had any interest in listening to what other people are saying.
  6. Providing critical commentary — the history, theory and practice of sf (and fantasy) criticism. This is what they’ve done best so far, up to and including Graham’s post about advocacy and recognition in sf. More please.
  7. Providing publishing commentary. This should be another area a Locus blog could excel in, in part on the news front (I’m sure I’m not the only person to make a beeline for the “books sold” and “books delivered” listings in each issue), but more relevantly for the Roundtable, I would have thought, in terms of commentary — Locus has a unique perspective on the sf market.
  8. Providing other commentary relevant or of interest to the sf community. Which is, basically, code for allowing the bloggers elbow room to talk about whatever catches their fancy.
  9. Failing all of the above, setting up an “about” page wouldn’t be a bad idea. At the moment, there’s just a link from the Locus home-page, with no explanation of what the Roundtable is or what it exists to do; so it’s perhaps not surprising that people have formed opinions about what it should be doing. A line somewhere along the lines of “The staff of Locus discuss X, Y and Z” would do it.
  10. Last but not least, they should be posting pictures of the Locus cat. If there is one. Because, as is well known, no blog is complete without cat-pictures.

If you detect a subtext in my list to the effect that I think they should be writing a blog that’s a bit more like Torque Control, well, there’s probably an element of truth in that; I try to maintain the sort of blog I want to read, after all. But it also boils down to this: a Locus blog, it seems to me, should be the first online stop for intelligent commentary on sf literature and related topics and at present, unfortunately, I don’t think it is. Fingers crossed for the future, though.

Locus Pocus

Gazumped! Neil Clarke posts about the change to the Locus poll scoring system, as described alongside the results in the July 2008 issue:

However, the next thing I see really bothers me and completely invalidates any year-to-year analysis I had planned:

“Results were tabulated using the system put together by webmaster Mark Kelly, with Locus staffers entering votes from mail-in ballots. Results were available almost as soon as the voting closed, much sooner than back in the days of hand-counting. Non-subscribers outnumbered subscribers by so much that, in an attempt to better reflect the Locus magazine readership, we decided to change the counting system, so now subscriber votes count double. (Non-subscribers still managed to out-vote subscribers in most cases where there was disagreement.)”

They changed the vote counting system after the polls closed. If they were so concerned about the results reflecting reader opinion, why allow non-subscribers the chance to vote in the first place? Doing something like this makes it seem like they were unhappy with the results and put a fix in. Given their long-standing reputation, I’m sure that wasn’t their plan, but what were they thinking?

For obvious reasons, Neil is most interested in the effect this has on the “best magazine” category; he also notes the one that first caught my eye, which is the result of Best First Novel. As described by Locus:

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill won by a slim 10 points over The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. This is one place where the doubled subscriber votes made a difference; the Rothfuss had more votes and more first-place votes but subscribers put the Hill first, and their doubled points gave it the edge.

Similarly, in Best Collection:

Connie Willis’s The Winds of Marble Arch and Other Stories won with a lead of just over 70 points, followed by Jack Vance’s The Jack Vance Treasury in second. Cory Doctorow’s Overclocked came in third — despite having the most votes and the most first-place votes. The doubled subscriber votes made Willis, ever a favourite with Locus subscribers, the winner; without the extra points, she would have come in second behind Doctorow, who has a large online fan base.

I have to say I’m deeply disappointed by this. The big selling point of the Locus Awards is, or always has been to me at least, their representativeness, precisely the fact that anyone can vote and that they are thus the best barometer of community-wide opinion that we have. As the notes at the start of this year’s result somewhat smugly put it, “We get more votes than the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy nominations combined … Nominees need at least 20 votes to make the final list, even though it frequently takes less to make the Hugo or Nebula publishing ballots.” All of that is still true, but it seems wrong to imply (as I think it’s intended to imply) that this legitimizes the results when you’ve just changed the scoring system to make some voters more equal than others — particularly if you only make the change after voting has closed, particularly if you only mention it in the print version of the magazine.

Locus Award Winners

See here; finalists here.

SF Novel
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Michael Chabon (HarperCollins)

I think this puts paid to the repeated suggestions that Chabon doesn’t have enough popular support to be a viable candidate for the Hugo. I think he’s going to win.

Fantasy novel
Making Money, Terry Pratchett (Doubleday UK; HarperCollins)

Young adults book
Un Lun Dun, China Miéville (Ballantine Del Rey; Macmillan UK)

First novel
Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill (Morrow; Gollancz)

Novella
“After the Siege”, Cory Doctorow (The Infinite Matrix Jan 2007)

Novelette
“The Witch’s Headstone”, Neil Gaiman (Wizards)

I admit to a feeling of relief that this one didn’t go to “Trunk and Disorderly”. That’s a bad story. But to be honest, “The Witch’s Headstone” felt too much like the novel-excerpt it is to really deserve this.

Short story
“A Small Room in Koboldtown”, Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s Apr/May 2007)

Collection
The Winds of Marble Arch and Other Stories, Connie Willis (Subterranean)

I’m a little surprised Doctorow didn’t win this category as well; I think I also would have preferred it to go to a new collection, rather than a retrospective. Still, Connie Willis Always Wins, I guess.

Anthology
The New Space Opera, Gardner Dozois & Jonathan Strahan, eds. (Eos)

Non-fiction
Breakfast in the Ruins, Barry N. Malzberg (Baen)

I’d have gone with (and indeed voted for) the collection of Russ’s reviews; but this is good too.

Art book
The Arrival, Shaun Tan (Lothian 2006; Scholastic)

Editor
Ellen Datlow

Magazine
F&SF

Publisher
Tor

Artist
Charles Vess

Overall: for me a solid list of winners, but — particularly in the short fiction categories — not a particularly exciting one.