Thursday, March 07, 2019

The 2019 Hugo Awards: My Hugo Ballot, Media Categories

Part 2 of my ballot covers a lot of the "fun" categories, the ones that get a lot of nominations.  In several of them, it can be pretty easy to guess who the nominees will be, with or without your input.  Still, there's room here for off the wall choices, and for a reminder of how even the most mainstream work can still expand the genre's boundaries and do new things.

Previous posts in this series:

Best Related Work:

As usual, I haven't done nearly enough reading in this category, to the extent that it's hard for me to even imagine how it might shake out.  The recommendation list in this year's Hugo spreadsheet, for example, includes books, essay series, individual essays, and even a recipe (which I've made, by the way, and highly recommend, though I wasn't planning to nominate it for this award).  I will, however, point out that my series A Political History of the Future, which started publication at Lawyers, Guns & Money in 2018, is eligible in this category.

  • "Erin Groans: A Gormenvast Review of Every Adaptation of Mervyn Peake's Titus Books" by Erin Horáková, published at Strange Horizons - Once again, Erin produces the type of in-depth, breathlessly geeky, magnificently erudite deep dive that only she could deliver (and that only Strange Horizons would carry).  This exhaustive review of Gormenghast adaptations covers theater, radio, animation, TV, and even animatronics.  It's not just a survey of how this weird, indefinable, hopelessly flawed work has been adapted, but a meditation on the very concept of adaptation.  As media companies keep trawling the backlogs of genre for the next red-hot IP, "Erin Groans" is an important questioning of what we prioritize when our favorite, idiosyncratic works try to reach a wider audience, and how that process can lose sight of what made those works special in the first place.

Best Graphic Story:

I read a lot of comics in 2018, but I still find myself coming to this category with major gaps in my reading.  In particular, I wish I'd been able to get hold of Ezra Claytan Daniels's Upgrade Soul, and Anna Mill and Luke Jones's Square Eyes (nominated for the Kitschies' Inky Tentacle award for cover art earlier this week), before the nominating deadline.

  • Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal - Collecting strips originally published on Dhaliwal's instagram, Woman World is a wryly funny, low-key twist on a premise, the death of all men, that SF tends to treat with either hysteria or despair.  Its characters, for whom men are figures of myth and confused historical accounts, spend some of their time pondering the lost world represented by the male gender, and Dhaliwal mines some good jokes out of their incomprehension of the fundamental irrationality of our world, such as separate razors for men and women. But for the most part, their lives revolve around what's in them, not what's gone, and the strip's storytelling focuses on a remarkably gentle, humorous post-apocalypse.  (I wrote some more about Woman World, and how science fiction deals with gender in general, in this Political History of the Future entry.)

  • Coda, Volume One by Simon Spurrier and Matías Bergara - If you've been reading fantasy for more than a bit, the concept for this new series from BOOM! might make you roll your eyes.  A post-Tolkien-ian sword & sorcery epic whose sardonic hero keeps poking holes at the heroic conventions of the genre?  Haven't we seen this a million times before?  Well, maybe, but Coda's execution is fresh and delightful, and its main character, a misanthropic ex-bard wandering a landscape left blasted by the final battle against a dark lord, trying to free his warrior wife from a curse, is instantly relatable.  Bergara's almost Seussian artwork gives the comic's world a personality all its own, while remaining true to the conventions of the genre.  This is a fantastic new series.

  • Eternity Girl by Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew - This remarkable miniseries from DC's late, lamented Young Animal imprint takes Chrysalis, a twelfth-tier, much repurposed superhero and uses her to tell an utterly unique story, about a woman who wants to die but is too powerful to achieve it, and decides the only way is to destroy the universe.  Visaggio's story works on multiple levels--as a narrative of depression, as a metafictional meditation on how superhero comics keeps bringing back minor characters and slotting them into new roles and genres, and as a cosmic story about the end of the world, which invents an entire backstage for the universe that is weird and fascinating.  Liew's artwork does a good job of separating the various story strands, and creating the sense that this is both a powerful metaphor for mental illness, and an adventure in which the fate of the universe is at stake.

  • On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden - The first thing you notice about Walden's brick of a graphic novel is the artwork.  Mostly black with splashes of color, it is both a classic take on space, and a completely novel one.  Walden's galaxy is dotted with human outposts, asteroid fragments and floating structures where bizarre animal species and even stranger human cultures flourish.  Spaceflight is achieved aboard semi-organic ships, and space itself is prone to multicolored, reality-bending storms.  Into this extremely different slant on space opera, Walden introduces a gentle but resonant story, about a young woman who takes work on a spaceship while thinking back to her school days and recalling her first love, with a mysterious girl from a little-known outpost.  It's as purely SFnal a story as I've read in comics this year, and a great example of the genre.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:

At some point last year I complained that 2018 wasn't delivering the same caliber of genre films as 2017, and though I still stand by that overall assessment, there's no denying that last year also delivered some of the all-time highlights of SFF filmmaking.  There are a few films I was hoping to watch before the nominating deadline--to my shame, I still haven't seen Annihilation--but my current ballot is so strong that it's hard to imagine anything on it being unseated.

  • Black Panther (review) - I suppose there's no chance that Infinity War won't make it onto this year's ballot, and beyond the fact that it is an objectively bad movie, it seems especially ridiculous to recognize it in a year like this one, when the MCU achieved its creative height (so far?  I suppose there's Black Panther 2 to look forward to) with this movie.  Not just a cultural phenomenon, but a marvel of worldbuilding and smart, politically aware writing.  Black Panther not only sets a benchmark for what superhero films can achieve--in their construction of imaginary worlds, in their handling of real-world politics, in the space they give to multiple, varied female characters, and in the creation of multifaceted, complex villains--it is also an exciting work of science fiction, a meditation about the responsibilities of a post-scarcity utopia towards the world around it that incorporates race and racism in a way that few treatments of this subject have done.

  • Sorry to Bother You (review) - The most original, boundary-pushing SF film of 2018 by far, not only because of its gonzo third act twist, but because of its focus on matters like labor rights and organization.  One of the things I've noticed in writing A Political History of the Future is that we're seeing more and more SF addressing the future of work, from the issue of automation to the question of how labor organizing might work in space.  Sorry to Bother You fits perfectly in that tradition, as a movie in which unionizing is an important, necessary step towards building a better world.  As important as it is for the Hugos to recognize works like Black Panther, I think it's equally vital for them to acknowledge Sorry to Bother You as a major work of science fiction film.

  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (review) - It's quite astonishing that in a year that already gave us Black Panther, we somehow got a second superhero movie that breaks the mold in so many ways, expanding the space allotted to diverse characters in the genre, pushing back against its established visual palette, and offering a quietly revolutionary message.  But whereas Black Panther emerged from the well-oiled machine of the MCU, Spider-Verse seemed to come out of nowhere, a shot in the dark at a character whose rights-holders have spent the last decade flailing.  That the result has been so triumphant, on every level, is more than worthy for recognition by the Hugos.

  • Suspiria - It's been a few months since I watched this strange, digressive, overlong horror extravaganza, and I still find it utterly delightful (in a terrible way, of course).  The thing I love best about Suspiria is that it's not just a movie about witches, covens, and murder.  It's also a movie about art, about giving yourself over to the creative instinct, and holding on to your own identity even when you're bringing another artist's work to life.  The way that Suspiria ties that theme to its premise of a witches' coven running a dance troupe is inspired, as are its observations about totalitarianism and how it seeks to control women.  In a ballot that, whatever its other strong points, is pretty strongly dominated by stories about men, it feels important to recognize one in which women take center stage.

  • The Terror, Season 1 - Long-term readers of these posts know that I have an aversion to nominating TV seasons in this category--it often feels like a way of compensating for the fact that TV writers can't write decent, self-contained episodes anymore.  But I make exceptions for self-contained stories, and The Terror, whose first season adapts the Dan Simmons novel, which dramatizes the doomed Franklin expedition to find the Northwest Passage, is more than worthy of recognition.  A gorgeous but entirely bleak journey into darkness, The Terror is at its best in its quietest moments, when the doomed sailors and officers of the expedition try desperately to hang on to their humanity and one another, only to realize that they can't.  This is also one of the few dramatic genre works from 2018 to deal, even obliquely, with environmentalism, with the entire disaster of the doomed expedition occurring because of the Victorian assumption that white men can always triumph over nature, and nature striking back.  (Sady Doyle has an excellent meditation on the series that discusses its connection to environmentalism and environmental racism.)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:

  • DC's Legends of Tomorrow, "The Good, the Bad, and the Cuddly"- Legends of Tomorrow really came into its own in its third season, finally becoming the Doctor Who-esque romp it was always trying to be.  This episode, the third season finale, sees the show's team of misfits and also-ran superheroes teaming up against a time-destroying demon with their typical lack of self-seriousness, which culminates in the creation of a giant plush doll to act as their joint champion.  No other show on TV is doing anything as weird, as silly, or as kind.

  • The Good Place, "Janet(s)"- I had some reservations about the third season of The Good Place, but "Janet(s)" is one of the show's top episodes, a crowning demonstration of how this show manages to do so much in only a fraction of what other, more prestigious shows take for granted.  In a mere 22 minutes, "Janet(s)" gives D'Arcy Carden a tremendous showcase, expands its cosmological worldbuilding, tools around with the weighty question of identity and continuity of consciousness, and gives us a major romantic moment for Chidi and Eleanor.  This is TV writing at its best and most adventurous.  (I could also make a case for "Jeremy Bearimy", and might in fact end up nominating The Good Place multiple times, but "Janet(s)" is, to my mind, the season's standout episode.)

  • The Haunting of Hill House, "Two Storms" - This is another show that I had problems with, particularly in the follow-up to this episode.  But "Two Storms" is Hill House at its best, marrying formal inventiveness--the entire episode is told in a series of long takes that carry the characters forward and backward in time--with the show's deep understanding of grief, guilt, and painful family connections.  As the Crain family come together for a private viewing of the body of their recently-deceased youngest daughter and sister, her ghost haunts them both literally, and in flashes of the past.  It's the perfect encapsulation of the show's mixture of horror and sorrow.

  • Marvel's Cloak & Dagger, "Lotus Eaters" - Someone should analyze the reasons why, as the skill of writing a decent standalone episode has atrophied from seemingly every genre show's writers' room, the sole exception has been the time loop episode.  It's quite common for episodes like this to become a high point of their show, but Cloak & Dagger, a well-kept secret that has quickly become Marvel TV's most impressive foray, does even better.  This hour, in which heroes Tyrone and Tandy become stuck in a coma patient's mind, treats the time loop as a psychological, rather than practical, trap, with Tyrone scrambling to persuade Tandy to let go of the past, even as her mind is shredded by endless repetition.  It's beautifully done and extremely moving.

  • The X-Files, "Rm9sbG93ZXJz" - For the most part, The X-Files revival was a rather pointless exercise, and season 11 was particularly terrible.  But the sole exception is this episode, a mercifully standalone hour that feels like the sort of thing Black Mirror would deliver if it had more heart.  Nearly wordless--every bit of communication is carried out by app screens and automated devices--the episode expertly uses Mulder and Scully, their well-worn chemistry and individual warmth, to breath life into what might otherwise have been a cynical fable about technology depersonalizing us.  It's a glimpse of what the new X-Files might have been, but also a delightful hour in its own right.

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