2017 Hugo Awards Recommendations: What should I read/watch?

2017 is here, and that means it's time to ask for recommendations for the Hugo Awards. Sadly, I have not been able to read nearly as much from 2016 as I would have liked, so I expect this to be one hell of a reading session for me! So, suggest some things! I'm looking for fiction and non-fiction in every category, pro and amateur artists, films, television shows, and anything else that fits! Use the form below to send your suggestions! Read More

The Science Fiction Canon: Function, Limits, and Problems

I have spent a lot of my time in graduate school thinking about how to talk about literary canons and ways to disrupt them. The literature classes I teach always include works that have otherwise been excluded from the Western Canon in a deliberate attempt to draw into question how canons are formed and the limited scope they present to us as readers. It's a tightrope game. On the one hand, survey courses have to teach students about crucial works of literature in an effort to provide some kind useful and repeatable literary knowledge base. On the other hand, simply repeating the canon is sort of like reading the headlines in a newspaper without ever looking at the article itself; sure, you'll have a firm understanding of a literary tradition, but you're missing out on a wide range of compelling material that could make for an even deeper reading of a field. In the realm of science fiction, that can be a bit tricky. Because science fiction is already a small bubble of a much larger literary world, text selections are often arbitrary or based on vague notions of what appears to be the "common core" of the field (we'll come back to this in a bit). Worse, science fiction "people" too often assume they know what the canon "is" and push that perspective on others as if it has weight -- which it does due to the power of cultural suggestion. I've heard too many stories of someone in the science fiction community telling someone else that they have to read X and Y if they want to be considered "educated" about the field; ironically, you'll hear the same ten names repeated in these claims, suggesting such individuals have a less comprehensive knowledge of the field than they assume. There are two false assumptions in these claims:
  1. That they speak using the authority of an existing literary canon.
  2. That the purpose of a canon is to provide a reading list one must consume to be considered "knowledgeable" about a field.
I'll return to the first of these later. The second assumption is remarkably easy to debunk. Let's use Western Canon as an example.[note]To be clear, I am not suggesting that the Western Canon is anywhere close to a perfect list. It has huge problems. It is, however, a useful starting point. Indeed, knowing something about the Western Canon is a great way to identify the gaps, which is one of my favorite things to do in my survey courses.[/note] Read More

Addendum: Strong Male Characters (or, That Rogue One Review is Full of Crap)

Two days ago, I wrote a post about "strong male characters" that took to task some comments made in a review by Todd McCarthy. At the time, I had not seen Rogue One, so my argument essentially rested on the idea that we don't need "strong male characters" in every movie. Now that I have seen the movie, I feel it necessary to come back to McCarthy's review to address the substance of the claims. Expect some spoilers ahead! As a reminder, here is the relevant quote from McCarthy's review:
What the film really lacks is a strong and vigorous male lead (such as Han Solo or John Boyega's Finn in The Force Awakens) to balance more equally with Jyn and supply a sparring partner. None of the men here has real physical or vocal stature, nor any scenes in which they can decisively emerge from the pack in a way that engages audience enthusiasm. Both Luna and Ahmed have proved themselves repeatedly in big-screen and television performances, but their characters never pop here, to the film's detriment. And given that Jyn is rather less gung-ho and imposing than was Ridley's Rey, there's an overall feel of less physical capacity on the part of the main characters.
None of this is remotely accurate. Actually, I'd hazard to call it complete and utter bullshit. Read More

Strong Male Leads (Or, Why You Don’t Need Them in Every Goddamn Movie)

The Bourne Identity007: SpecterThe Fast and FuriousThe Dark KnightIndiana Jones, and Rocky. What do these films have in common? Well, aside from being action films and most of them featuring the name of the main character in the title, all of these films have male leads and, at best, female supporting characters. Is this a problem for these franchises? Not really. A series about Rocky should probably feature Rocky, after all, and it makes sense that the same be true for most of the films I just listed. For the most part, men dominate action franchises, with some notable exceptions[note]The Tomb Raider series, Resident EvilUnderworld, and The Hunger Games are some notable exceptions. A more complete list of female-led action films/franchises can be found here.[/note] That's been the way of things for decades, and only until recently has that power been properly challenged, with more and more female-led action franchises hitting our screens. It's a good thing. Some of those new franchises are fan-friggin-tastic. And those other franchises are fantastic, too. We can have both! Which brings me to the latest "men aren't getting their fair share" argument in film... By now, some of you have seen Todd McCarthy's review of Rogue One at The Hollywood Reporter. As far as reviews go, it's a fairly standard piece; read it if you like, but be warned there are some spoilers. Part of the reason McCarthy's review has garnered a lot of attention, particularly on Twitter, is the following quote: Read More

Gym Reads Poll #3 (Non-U.S. Edition): What should I read next?

It's that time again!  Another Gym Reads Poll!  Thus far, you all have made me read the following:
  • The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, Jr. (1978)(podcast forthcoming)
  • Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler (1991)
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (1997)(almost done)
Now, I need something new to read while I'm at the gym.  This time, I'm mixing things up by providing a list of books by authors who are not originally from the United States.  The following list includes authors from England, Australia, India, Nigeria, Jamaica, South Africa, Portugal, Ireland, and Germany! Read More

2016 WISB Awards: The Winners

Now that awards season is in full swing, it's time to release the winners of the 2016 WISB Awards.  As with every year of the award, the winners are selected from my reading and viewing experiences throughout 2015 and during my annual Hugo Awards reading binge.  As such, the long list included works published decades ago. Unlike previous years, the 2016 WISB Awards included a long list, which you should check out to see all the great stuff I enjoyed.  You might also check out the 2016 Hugo Awards Reading/Watching List, which includes works from my original list and works suggested by readers. As with every year of the awards, these selections are based entirely on my own tastes, which are imperfect, narrow, and weird. The winners are below the fold.  Some of the categories include runners up; the categories that do not contained far fewer entries on the long list, and so including a short list would basically have included the long list anyway. Read More

Shaun’s Rambles 013: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (w/ Special Guest Mareen Kincaid Speller)

Geek references + the Dominican Republic = instance classic.  In this episode, Maureen Kincaid Speller joins me to discuss the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.  We tackle the novel's treatment of geekery, its exploration of masculinity, romance, and the coming-of-age narrative, and much more! I hope you enjoy it! Read More

2016 WISB Awards Long List

It's that time of year:  time for me to release some kind of list of things I loved in 2015.  This year is different, though.  This year, I'm releasing a long list for the WISB Awards, and it is from this list that I'll select the winners of my annual WISB awards, the jury-less, vote-less monstrosity of an award that is only of value to myself. Since I cannot include my own work on the following long list, I'll include those works here:
  • Best Fancast:  The Skiffy and Fanty Show (Shaun Duke, Julia Rios, Paul Weimer, Mike Underwood, Rachael Acks, David Annandale, and Jen Zink); Totally Pretentious (Shaun Duke and David Annandale)
  • Best Non-Fiction Work:  Speculative Fiction 2014:  The Year's Best Online Reviews, Essays, and Commentary edited by Renee Williams and Shaun Duke (Book Smugglers Publishing)
If you feel there's a glaring ommission, let me know in the comments.  I haven't read everything there is to read (obviously), and it's likely I've missed a lot of really great work. Now here's the official 2016 WISB Awards Long List: Read More

The 2016 Hugo Awards Reading/Watching List (or, My Next Few Months)

Last month, I asked for recommendations for my annual Hugo Awards reading bonanza.  A bunch of you responded with books, movies, TV shows, cookbooks, and so on.  The form will remain open for the next month or so, so if you haven't submitted anything or want to submit some more stuff, go for it! So, without further delay, here is the big massive monster list of stuff I'll be reading or watching for the next few months: Read More