July 12, 2015

The Hugo Project: Best Semiprozine/Best Fanzine

(Note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of posts reviewing as many of the 2015 Hugo nominees as I can before the July 31 deadline, and explaining why I will or will not vote for them.)

So I've gotten to these two funny categories that I find hard to understand. What's the difference between a semiprozine and a fanzine? According to the Hugo website, the former is:

Semiprozine is the most complicated category because of the need to define semi-professional. A lot of science fiction and fantasy magazines are run on a semi-professional basis: that is they pay a little, but generally not enough to make a living for anyone. The object of this category is to separate such things from fanzines, which are generally loss-making hobbyist pursuits. To qualify a publication must not be professional (see above) and must meet at least one of the following criteria:

The publication pays its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication.

The publication was generally available only for paid purchase.

A fanzine is described thusly:

This Award is for anything that is neither professional nor semi-professional and that does not qualify as a Fancast (see below). The publication must also satisfy the rule of a minimum of 4 issues, at least one of which must have appeared in the year of eligibility.

The ballot for Semiprozine includes two entries also on the Impacted Canines ballot. In my effort to be somewhat objective (although my patience is wearing mighty thin) I went through both samples offered, and I must say in my view they simply aren't of Hugo-winning quality. This leaves three magazines, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Lightspeed and Strange Horizons.

This was actually a pretty tough choice. Full disclosure: I have a current subscription to Beneath Ceaseless Skies through Weightless Books, and I participated in Lightspeed's "Queers Destroy Science Fiction" Kickstarter, with one of my perks being a year's subscription to that magazine along with its entire back catalog. I also love John Joseph Adams' editorial abilities and own several of his anthologies. So I am quite familiar with the high quality of two of the three.

Strange Horizons, though, was a new beast for me. It seems to be an entirely online magazine (whose website, in my opinion, is in desperate need of an update). The Hugo packet sample offered an intriguing mix of stories, reviews (there's nothing I like better than a well-written book review, and theirs just show me how far I have yet to go in that regard) and poetry.

What made me sad, though, and also angry, was some of the stories I read from these three magazines, notably "21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus One)" and "A Moon For the Unborn" from the Strange Horizons sample, and "In the Dying Light, We Saw a Shape" from the Lightspeed issue. To be frank, these were stories that should have been on the Hugo ballot, instead of the Nutty Nugget nonsense we actually received. ("When It Ends, He Catches Her" by the late Eugie Foster is another such story.) These stories' quality, compared to what we ended up getting, is breathtaking. This made me revise my opinion of my vote for Best Short Story. I have nothing against Kary English and I'll be looking for her work in the future, but her nominated story simply does not hold a candle to these, and due to that I cannot vote for it. The Hugo stories should be the best short stories across the entire range of the field, not the best weapons porn, or somebody's best buddy, or someone's own tiny publishing house.

Anyway. [rant over] Strange Horizons is the most wide-ranging and eclectic of the three, and due to this it edged out Lightspeed for my top vote. My rankings for Best Semiprozine are:

1) Strange Horizons
2) Lightspeed
3) Beneath Ceaseless Skies
4) No Award

Now: for Best Fanzine, Black Gate has withdrawn from the ballot due to the Impacted Canines' shenanigans, which saddens me (although I certainly understand), as they probably would have gotten my top spot. As for the remaining nominees:

The Revenge of Hump Day: HELL NO. This is "Wisdom From My Internet"-style bullshit.
Tangent Online: So-so. It's okay, I suppose, but not really Hugo quality.
Elitist Book Reviews: I will bookmark this; as I stated previously, I love a good book review.
Journey Planet: Oh my goodness. Dr Who? Now I must admit to a serious lack of geek cred here: I know nothing about Dr. Who, except for what I've read in various places. Never watched an episode. I certainly don't share the obvious fanaticism for the series on display in this fanzine. That being said, it's a well-written, well-edited zine, and the sample issues eventually verged into other subjects, such as sports. This greater and deeper breadth of subject matter eventually compelled me to give it the top spot, just ahead of Elitist. My rankings for Best Fanzine:

1) Journey Planet
2) Elitist Book Reviews
3) No Award

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