Friday, March 28, 2014

The 2014 Hugo Awards: My Hugo Ballot, Media Categories

Continuing on to the media categories, which include some of the most popular categories on the ballot, and also the ones that have become the least interesting to follow.  The problem of the Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form category is well-known.  For years the award has belonged to Doctor Who, which routinely receives three nominations on the ballot, all but ensuring its victory due to the Hugos' preferential voting system (only Joss Whedon proved himself more powerful).  And this year, that preordained victory doesn't even sting that badly.  As exasperated as I've become with Stephen Moffat's stewardship of Doctor Who, his 50th anniversary special, "The Day of the Doctor," was a genuinely good hour of television, employing Moffat's by-now hoary tics in a way that made them seem new and refreshing, playing with and deepening the revamped series's mythology, and making excellent use of its three stars. Add to that the fact that genre TV remains something of a wasteland, and this becomes one of the least urgent categories on the ballot.

In the Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form category, there has for several years been a trend towards rejecting the original concept of the two categories' split (long form=movies; short form=TV episodes) in favor of nominating entire seasons of TV.  This began in 2008 with the first season of Heroes, when the entire fandom was stunned by the realization that television could do comics-style continuity.  That shock obscured the somewhat dubious argument for pitting films and TV seasons against each other on the basis of running time, which has only grown less convincing as novelistic storytelling on TV has gone from a bold new device to something that even the most mundane procedural will sprinkle in.  This year, I'm seeing a lot of voices calling for the nomination of the first season of Orphan Black in this category.  Leaving aside the fact that I'm not as thrilled with the show as the rest of fandom--I think Tatiana Maslany's multiple lead performances are a stunning technical achievement, but her characters are, with a few exceptions, collections of clichés, and the show's handling of its story and themes is shallow and uninteresting--to describe Orphan Black as a single continuous narrative only exposes how meaningless that term has become.  Rather than having a story, with a beginning, middle and end, Orphan Black takes a page from 24's book, throwing increasingly absurd cliffhangers and plot twists at the screen in order to keep its pace racing and obscure the fact that it has no idea where it's going.  I can easily see why fans would want to nominate the season as a single block, because the show's plotting is so beside the point that it doesn't have a single standout episode, but to me that's an argument not to nominate it at all.

This block of categories, in other words, is divided between those have absolutely no hope of throwing up interesting ballots, and those that I don't know enough about to nominate well in.  So this part of my ballot is going to be a little sparse.  As in my previous ballots, I'd be happy to hear suggestions for my remaining nominating slots, though given the time pressure I might not be able to consider some potential nominees.

Previous posts in this series:
Best Related Work:

This is a category in which I've read nothing eligible this year.  So really I'm relying on other voters to put interesting works here and give me an excuse to read them: nominees I'm hoping to see on the ballot include Afrofuturism by Ytasha L. Womack (see Sofia Samatar's review in Strange Horizons), The Riddles of the Hobbit by Adam Roberts (Katherine Farmar's review), and Parabolas of Science Fiction, edited by Brian Atteberry and Veronica Hollinger (Paul Kincaid's review).  I've seen other nominators place essays in this category, but, though that's an approach that's benefited me in the past (essays of mine have been nominated alongside books, encyclopedias, and blogs in the BSFA's non-fiction category), I'm not sure it makes sense.  In recognizing online essays, it seems to me to make more sense to nominate something like SpecFic 12, which collects a large group (though I'm not sure I'll be doing that myself as I am one of the collected reviewers).

Best Graphic Story:
  • Saga, Volume 2, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples - I'm hardly being original here, but Saga genuinely is as fantastic as everyone says it is.  The story of two soldiers in a futuristic, interplanetary war who fall in love and have a baby, it's remarkable for its vivid, funny characters (not just the leads but the huge cast of secondary characters), but even more so for its enormous, varied world, of which we've only seen a little bit in the first two volumes.

  • XKCD: Time by Randall Munroe - I'm indebted to Niall Harrison for pointing out not only Time's eligibility in this category, but how perfectly it suits the idea at its core.  Time is quintessentially SFnal--it tells the story of two explorers figuring out their world and working out the changes affecting it through observation and deduction--and its method of delivery--a single comic panel changing subtly every few hours over the course of months--is the perfect fusion of low and high tech, old and new methods.  That fans of the comic have rallied to discuss, collate, and compile it, providing the less obsessive with a way of viewing the story--this site, for example, will screen the whole thing in sequence, pausing for significant frames--only makes Time a more perfect embodiment of what should be showing up in this category.
Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form
  • Upstream Color, written and directed by Shane Carruth - This might be the only potential Hugo nominee whose absence from the ballot would leave me genuinely upset.  If there was a more exciting, more important SF film in 2013--or in quite a few years preceding it--I'm struggling to remember what it was, and this fact ought be recognized by the award that purports to stand for the genre.  Upstream Color embodies much of what SF filmmaking should be striving for--interesting ideas, a strange but coherent world, a willingness to challenge its audience not only through storytelling but through the film's visuals and sounds.  It is a genuinely important accomplishment, and it deserves much more than a Hugo nomination, but let's at least give it that.  (I wrote some more about the film earlier this year.)

  • Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, written by Alfonso Cuarón and Jonás Cuarón - There are arguments for not considering Gravity science fiction--it contains no SFnal technologies or scenarios, its story is actively hostile to space exploration.  But months after seeing the film I'm still stunned by it, and its evocation of space.  For all its flaws--in realism, in the thinness of its plot and characters--Gravity makes a compelling argument for bringing more of the future into our present day storytelling, even in the most mundane of ways, and to me this makes it SFnal.  (Again, some more thoughts about the film are here.)

  • Pacific Rim, directed by Guillermo del Toro, written by Guillermo del Toro and Travis Beacham - There are plenty of strikes against this scrappy, monsters-vs-giant-robots film, including the fact that it loses its way, and its female lead, in its second half.  But Pacific Rim is neither a remake nor a sequel, and unlike other 2013 films who share those attributes like Elysium it's actually trying to be fun, and to create a world.  Not to mention that, for all that she's sidelined, the very existence of that female lead--and of major characters who are not white male Americans--makes Pacific Rim unusual and worth rewarding.

  • An Adventure in Space and Time, directed by Terry McDonough, written by Mark Gatiss - This biopic about the early days of Doctor Who revolves around the stories of Verity Lambert, the BBC's first female producer, and William Hartnell, the man who first plays the Doctor.  Its argument for the show's importance can occasionally be wobbly, but in Hartnell in particular it finds a figure who embodies both the show's appeal and its heartbreaking impermanence.
Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form
  • Utopia, episode 1, directed by Marc Munden, written by Dennis Kelly - Rather predictably, Utopia's conspiracy story ended up devolving into silliness by its first season's end, and though I will be watching the second season it won't be with the same urgency as the first.  But the first episode is still stunning on almost every level--story, visuals, music--and deserves to be recognized.

  • The Five-ish Doctors Reboot, written and directed by Peter Davison - Much as I liked "The Day of the Doctor," it can't be denied that its focus is on the new Doctor Who's mythology, and only secondarily on the show's 50th anniversary.  Peter Davison's loving tribute to the series, in which he, Sylvester McCoy, and Colin Baker, angry over being left out of "Day," try to sneak their way onto the set, is a much more fitting tribute.  Featuring a dizzying array of cameos--from the show's history and elsewhere--this short movie is a funny, irreverent, touching reminder of the how much this show has meant to so many people.

  • The Legend of Korra, "Beginnings, Part 1 and 2," directed by Colin Heck, written by Michael Dante DiMartino (part 1), directed by Ian Graham, written by Tim Hedrick (part 2) - Legend of Korra's second season was an improvement on the first only in the sense that its story was merely incoherent, rather than incoherent and enormously problematic.  But this mid-season two-parter, which features the main cast minimally as Korra sinks into a vision of the origins of the Avatar line, is its own, superior entity.  Beautifully animated by Studio Mir, whose absence from some of the second season's other episodes is sadly noticeable, "Beginnings" both builds on Avatar's existing mythology and expands it into its own cosmology.  The rest of season 2 can't hold a candle to this episode, but it stands on its own as one of the loveliest pieces of genre television in 2013.

  • Gravity Falls, "Dreamscaperers," directed by John Aoshima and Joe Pitt, written by Matt Chapman, Alex Hirsch, and Timothy McKeon - That SF fandom hasn't embraced Gravity Falls, a funny, beautifully animated and often creepy series, is one of the tiny tragedies of the last few years, because this show features more interesting genre mythology, and a more coherent magical world, than a lot of fandom favorites.  "Dreamscaperers" advances the show's mythology considerably when it introduces Bill, a demon who traps the main characters in their dreams in an attempt to steal a bit of crucial information.  It's an episode that embodies the show's part-funny, part-scary sensibility.

2 comments:

Standback said...

For "Best Graphic Story," I strongly recommend "Locke and Key," by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. Stunning, creative and heartfelt story. The series has just concluded, making this the year the series as a whole is eligible for the award. (And, I highly recommend it regardless of the Hugos.)

Peter said...

I love Saga as much as anyone, but my vote would also go to Locke and Key. I'll also throw in a superhero comic (thus losing all credibility): Hawkeye by Matt Fraction.

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