Hugo Recommendation Season: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

So between holiday season and the local windpocalpyse that had us without power for nearly a week, I haven’t been keeping current writing up Hugo recommendations for the last month, but I also haven’t had strong opinions about the recent categories either. I’ve been content to read others’ recommendations, rather than formulating any recommendations of my own, and those have been tremendously helpful.

With Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) coming up, however, I do have some opinions. Rather than yet another review of Mad Max or Star Wars, however, I wanted to suggest something that hasn’t received quite as much critical attention.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell

So, true confession, I haven’t actually read Susanna Clarke’s book on which the seven-part BBC miniseries adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is based. But having read a few disgruntled reviews of the series from fans of the book who objected to the liberties that the BBC took with the source material, I’m at least in a good place to judge the series on its own merits rather than in comparison to a beloved book.

Visually, it’s gorgeous, with a moody, atmospheric palette and beautiful production design, but it’s no secret that the BBC already does period drama well. The truly pleasant surprise was the casting: Bertie Carvel is equally at home playing Jonathan Strange, the waggish upstart, as he is Jonathan Strange, the man pushed in way too deep by his own hubris and self-promotion. And Eddie Marsan, as Mr Norrell, nails the part in both its reclusive timidity and its incendiary jealousy.

There’s some GGI involved – this is an alternative nineteenth-century where magic is real, after all – but the show is tastefully parsimonious in its application, reserving the special effects for climactic scenes where they’ll have the biggest impact, while well-written dialog and character development do the real heavy lifting. The series in total clocks in around seven hours total, but well worth a weekend binge watch.

Hugo Recommendation Season: Galen Dara

Edit: Since I posted this, Lightspeed has announced that, as of 2015, they no longer qualify as a semi-prozine, which means Dara’s 2015 art for Lightspeed is considered professional in Hugo terms, namely her illustrations for And You Shall Know Her By The Trail of Dead, He Came From a Place of Openness and Truth, and Time Bomb Time.

Galen Dara is another artist I’m recommending for the Professional Artist category. Most of her work this year seems to have been in semiprozines like Lightspeed or Fireside (and semiprozine art can be considered only for the Fan Artist category), but she’s also done work that qualifies her for the Professional Artist category.

This year her work has appeared on the cover of Kevin Hearne’s Two Tales of the Iron Druid Chronicles and in the short-story collection Three Slices, including the illustrations for Chuck Wendig’s story “Swallow” and Delilah Dawson’s “Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys,” both shown below.

Swallow

Not my Circus, Not My Monkeys
I think Dara really excels at using impressionistic brushstrokes and bold color contrasts to produce visceral, dynamic images. Dara won Best Fan Artist in 2013 and was nominated for Best Professional Artist in 2014. But she hasn’t yet taken home a Hugo in the latter, and I really think she merits another shot for this year’s work.

Hugo Recommendation Season: Cynthia Sheppard

It’s professional artist week at the Hugo Recommendation Season blog, and I admit I find it challenging to talk about art. I know what I like, but struggle to explain my reasons. Still, I’ll give it a try.

Cynthia Sheppard is one of the artists whose work caught my attention this year. Her cover art for Karen Memory, below, is probably the work that the most readers will have seen this year. She’s also done covers this year for The Iron Assassin by Ed Greenwood and the forthcoming A Daughter of No Nation by A. M. Dellamonica.

Karen Memory cover art

Sheppard has also done quite a bit of artwork for the Magic: The Gathering card game. Her 2015 work includes Reclusive Artificer, Emeria Shepherd, Send to Sleep, Lithomancer’s Focus, Youthful Scholar, Harsh Sustenance, and Transgress the Mind, the latter shown below.

Transgress the Mind
So what do I like about her work? In particular, I like Sheppard’s atmospheric palette choices and her ability to imply subtle detail with soft painterly brushstrokes. She also demonstrates quite a bit of versatility with well-composed action scenes like Transgress the Mind above, as well as static scenes like the Karen Memory cover.

Hugo Recommendation Season: Rhiannon Thomas

So, next week on the 2016 Hugo Recommendation Season blog is Best Fan Writer, and so far, my list of possible nominees is made up almost entirely of individuals who have been nominated in the past or who nearly made the cut for last year’s nominations.

I expect that most of them will show up in next week’s roundups, so rather than repeat those, I figured I’d recommend someone who hasn’t gotten as much buzz: Rhiannon Thomas blogs regularly at her website, Feminist Fiction, where she discusses movies, television, novels, and video games, mostly of the SF and fantasy variety.

Feminist Fiction

She approaches media from a feminist perspective, obviously, but her writing tends to be casual and accessible, avoiding overly academic arguments or specialized jargon. She also frequently discusses YA fiction – Thomas’ own debut YA novel was published earlier this year – which doesn’t otherwise tend to get much attention among the usual suspects for Best Fan Writer.

Some of her more popular posts this year, judging from the lively comment threads, include “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken: Why that scene made no sense,” “Ant Man and the problem of Marvel’s necessary women,”  and “How to be a female superhero according to Age of Ultron,” if you want a representative sample.

She’s not quite as prolific a blogger as most of the others on my list of potential nominees, but most of what she does write is substantive and very readable.

Hugo Recommendation Season: Uncanny and Lightspeed

Edit: Since I posted this, Lightspeed announced that they’re no longer eligible for consideration in the semiprozine category. Still, they had some great 2015 short fiction, so be sure to check them out. Uncanny is still eligible.

A few months back, Ken Marable started the Hugo Recommendation Season blog in order to “encourage and focus discussion on award worthy works,” “better inform the nominating population of fans,” and “give every Hugo category its due attention.” And I figured participating would be as good an opportunity as any for me to somewhat finalize my own thoughts on what I plan to nominate for the 2016 Hugos. I say “somewhat finalize” because, of course, the whole point is to share and discuss recommendations and it’s certainly possible – indeed, I hope it likely – that I’ll discover something in the process that I’ve previously overlooked.

So this week, the focus is on the Best Semiprozine category, which, I have to say is a bit of an oddball. From what I’ve read, the category was first created in 1984 because Locus Magazine had been dominating the Fanzine category, having won in six of the previous eight years. The Best Semiprozine category, with its slightly esoteric eligibility rules, gave Locus an entirely different category to dominate instead (which it continued to do until another rules change in 2012 made it ineligible for that one also).

In any case, the folks at semiprozine.org have simplified things for Hugo voters by listing all the eligible publications on their semiprozine directory page, and I have two “definitely nominating” picks from that list: Lightspeed Magazine and Uncanny Magazine, both of which have contributed more than any other semiprozine to my list of potential nominations in the short fiction categories.

Lightspeed Magazine #63 with cover by Reiko Murakami
Lightspeed Magazine #63 with cover by Reiko Murakami

Lightspeed was last year’s winner, and they’ve continued to publish great material in 2015 including novelettes by Brooke Bolander, Dale Bailey, and Andrea Hairston; short stories by Kat Howard, Seanan McGuire, and Amal El-Mohtar; and interviews with Ann Leckie, Patrick Rothfuss, and Kazuo Ishiguro.

I particularly like their artist showcases, which have included artists like Julie Dillon and Wylie Beckert, as well as artists from outside the Anglophone world, like Li Shuxing and Elena Bespalova. The addition of podcasts for many of their stories is a nice bonus, as was their Queers Destroy Science Fiction special issue, highlighting LGBTQIA writers and artists and their experiences in the genre.

Uncanny Magazine #4 with cover by Tran Nguyen
Uncanny Magazine #4 with cover by Tran Nguyen

Uncanny Magazine, by contrast, is a comparatively new publication: they didn’t have enough issues to meet the eligibility requirement last year, but they’re now well past the minimum required for the Hugo, and they just recently met their funding goal on Kickstarter for year two.

Uncanny supplied some of my favorite short stories this year, including “The Heat of Us: Notes Toward An Oral History,” Sam J. Miller’s speculative alternate history of the Stonewall Riots; “In Libres,” Elizabeth Bear’s story of research students in a labyrinthine magical library;  and “The Midnight Hour,” Mary Robinette Kowal’s tale of a mad king cursed to only one hour of lucidity a day.

As someone who’s completely new to organized fandom, I also appreciated the magazine’s non-fiction articles related to the history of fandom and its contemporary issues. A couple of representative examples include “The Future’s Been Here Since 1939: Female Fans, Cosplay, and Conventions” by Erica McGillivray and “Diversity Panels Are the Beginning, Not the End” by Michi Trota.

Added bonuses include great cover art by Julie Dillon, Tran Nguyen, Antonio Caparo, and others, as well as podcast versions of the stories, poems, and interviews.

I also appreciate that both Uncanny and Lightspeed offer ePub downloads for purchase (Lightspeed directly through their site, Uncanny through Weightless Books) for those who prefer the flexibility and formatting options that allows. Finally, both sites are attractive and easy to use, which admittedly, for me, has a huge influence over whether I’m willing to spend time with a site’s content.