The 2013 and 2014 WISB Awards


It’s been almost two years since I last posted my selections for the WISB Awards.  The 2013 Awards should have gone up in January of 2014, but I got a tad overwhelmed with podcasting, Hugo stuff, and academia.  Such is life!

But now the awards are back like a weird plague that never really goes away, but takes brief hiatuses to make you feel safe from its wicked grasp.

To make up for the absence of the awards last year, I’m going to double up this year, which makes this doubly hard, since I cannot fall to temptation by allowing myself to select best books or movies I enjoyed in 2014, even though I’m basically in love with so many things right now (new and old).

First, the rules:

  • I must have consumed the item in 2013 or 2014.[1]
  • No more than 3 runners up per category.
  • I can drop or add categories as necessary.
  • I will use “genre” to mean “science fiction and fantasy” in order to distinguish categories without using 3 extra words.

So, without further ado, here are the 2013 and 2014 WISB Awards:

Best Novel
2014 Selection:  City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (Broadway Books)

Bennett’s recent novel brought a delicious noir flavor to an imperialist landscape in a world where the gods have been murdered…maybe.  It’s the kind of book someone like me devours because it hits all of their little interest buttons.  Colonialism and empire?  Check.  Cultural exploration?  Check.  Colonial detectives?  Check.  Weird world-changing craziness?  And check.  There were a lot of great novels in 2014, but this one still haunts me, and it will probably haunt me for years to come.

Runners Up:  Breach Zone by Myke Cole (Ace Books), Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Orbit Books), and The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar (Hodder and Stoughton)

2013 Selection:  Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit Books)

By now, you’ve heard so much about this book that you’re probably not surprised that it graced my WISB Awards list in some fashion.  Leckie’s debut novel took the science fiction field by storm, garnering wins from just about every science fiction award.  It was probably the single most talked about science fiction novel in 2013 — and possibly in the last decade.  And it deserved all of that attention.  Leckie’s novel took some familiar ideas and beautifully weaved them into a complex, socio-political jacket of colonialism.  It’s the kind of book I would teach if ever given the opportunity, because it’s just that good.

Runners Up:  The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (Little, Brown, and Company), Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan (Orbit Books), and Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson (Grand Central Publishing)

Best Collection or Anthology
2014 Selection:  N/A

For some monumentally stupid reason, I have not read enough collections or anthologies this year, which means I am a terrible person…

2013 Selection:  Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee (Prime Books)

I was blown away by Yoon Ha Lee’s collection of stories from Prime Books.  Though I’d read some of her work before (mostly through Clarkesworld), the collection of stories in Conservation of Shadows were so refreshing that I have continued to read everything Lee has written since 2013.  If you’re looking for unique, intellectual, and diverse/rich short fiction, Conservation of Shadows is the place to go.

Runners Up:  Mothership:  Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond edited by Bill Campbell and Edward Austin Hall (Rosarium Publishing) and The Love Machine and Other Contraptions by Nir Yaniv (infinity plus)

Best Publisher
2014 Selection:  Tor Books

Tor continues to be on the forefront of science fiction and fantasy publishing.  This year, they released a number of superb titles and were involved in everything from traditional sf/f fair to English translation, including Ken Liu’s translation of Liu Cixin’s The Three Body Problem.  Tor is always high on my favorite publishers list because they always strive for greater and better publishing pastures.

Runners Up:  Angry Robot Books, Orbit Books, and Hodder and Stoughton

2013 Selection:  Orbit Books

Orbit had a good year in 2013.  A really good year.  They published Brian McClellan’s Promise of Blood and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, both of which are superb works.  On top of that, they continue to publish the James S.A. Corey Expanse novels.  These elements alone made Orbit one of the top spots for sf/f fiction.  Hopefully, they will continue to publish new and exceptional works in 2015.

Runners Up:  Tor Books, Angry Robot Books, and Hodder and Stoughton

Best Magazine
2014 Selection:

2014 was certainly’s year.  They published another excellent story by John Chu (“A Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Proposed Trade-Offs for the Overhaul of the Barricade”), one by Ken Lieu (“Reborn”), and one by Yoon Ha Lee (“Combustion Hour”) — all writers whose work I gobble up like some kind of writerly pumpkin pie.  We will see how the awards season will turn out for them, but I suspect we’ll see quite a few stories on the Hugo ballot!

Runners Up:  ClarkesworldStrange Horizons and Interzone

2013 Selection:  Clarkesworld

In the last few years, Clarkesworld has published some pretty extraordinary fiction.  In 2013, they were on top of their game.  They published “Effigy Nights” by Yoon Ha Lee, “Silent Bridge, Pale Cascade” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, and a ton of other amazing work, including some from Aliette de Bodard (sweet heavens yes).  Clarkesworld, of course, has been consistently good for years, but for reasons that I can’t quite explain, it has been my go-to-magazine since 2013 — hence its placement on this list.

Runners Up:  Strange Horizons, Interzone, and

Best Cover
2014 Selection:  The Pilgrims by Will Elliot (art by Kekai Kotaki)

The artwork for Will Elliot’s second novel so overwhelmed me when I first saw it that I promptly forgot the name of the book.  All I could remember was that gorgeous cover art.  Granted, the cover art is supposed to make me remember the book, but I think there is something of value in art that explodes something in your mind.  Kotaki’s cover for The Pilgrims did just that.  And my mind is still exploding now that I own the book.  That cover.  Oh my gosh.  That cover.

2013 Selection:  Mothership:  Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond edited by Bill Campbell and Edward Austin Hall (art by John Jennings)

I picked up a copy of John Jennings’ incredible art book at World Fantasy Con this year after I realized he was the artist for Mothership, and then I had him sign the darn thing.  The cover for Mothership is unlike anything I’d ever seen before — granted, I’m not much of an art critic, so you’ll excuse me for any massive gaps in my knowledge here.  There’s something strange and surreal about the structure and color, which may explain why Mothership sat on my desk even after it should have made its way to the leaning pile of books.  It might also explain how I ended up at the Rosarium Publishing booth at World Fantasy Con:  the art jumps out at you, grabs you by the throat, and demands you give it attention.  I like that.

Best Film
2014 Selection:  Interstellar (2014; Christopher Nolan)

I maintain that Interstellar is the best film of the year, and easily one of the top 10 science fiction films since 2000.  Having seen it three times, I am still in awe of the film’s breadth.  It is not just epic in scale, but in intellectual depth, too, exploring the dynamic structure of human selfhood through a tale of space exploration, salvation, and redemption.  If there is one film that deserves recognition as a cinematic achievement this year, Nolan’s magnum opus is it.

Runners Up:  Jodorovsky’s Dune (2013), Snowpiercer (2013), and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).

2013 Selection:  Pacific Rim (2013)

I had a hard time picking a winner for 2013.  While Pacific Rim isn’t the strongest film in terms of narrative depth or performance, it does win top marks for being an exciting blockbuster with more than just flashy graphics.  In fact, this may be one of the smarter big budget “monsters” (heh) we have seen in a while, showing a keen awareness of its source material and a willingness to buck blockbuster trends by giving us a compelling and diverse cast of characters with, for the most part, interesting personalities, motivations, and/or stories.  This film deserves to be seen.  Even more, it deserves to be loved.

Runners Up:  The World’s End (2013), Her (2013), and Gravity (2013).

Best Genre Television Show
2014 Selection:  Arrow (2012-Present)

I didn’t start watching Arrow until 2014.  In fact, I avoided it like the plague because I assumed the quality of shows coming out of the CW would leave me wanting.  Boy was I wrong.  After the first week of watching Arrow (Season One) on Netflix, I was hooked.  Of course, by “first week” I mean “almost an entire season gobbled up in a matter of 7 days.”  Still, I couldn’t help but love the show.  It was campy, but aware.  The action sequences were surprisingly good, the narrative compelling, and the characters complex.  Oh, and John Barrowman played a villain.  What more could you want?

Runners Up:  How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014), Supernatural (Seasons One and Two), and

2013 Selection:  Sleep Hollow (2013-present)

By far the most exciting, batshit crazy fantasy television show in 2013, let alone the last decade, Sleepy Hollow gave the world what so many of us wanted:  diversity, solid writing, delicious camp, and total ownage of its fantastic insanity.  This is the show that gave us a cast featuring people of color and women in positions of power (or, where not, with copious amounts of agency), a main male lead who needed his partner as much as she needed him, and a beautifully-crafted narrative spanning back to the American Revolution.  You couldn’t go wrong with Sleepy Hollow in 2013.

Runners Up:  Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005), Game of Thrones (2011-present), and Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001)

Best Non-Genre Film
2014 Selection:  A Most Wanted Man (2014)

One of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final performances, A Most Wanted Man (based on John le Carré’s novel of the same name) was a nuanced, low-key spy thriller fit for a man of Hoffman’s talents.  The film’s examination of the internal politics of counter-terrorism operations and the hopelessly gray morality of the same was one of the most nuanced I have seen to date.  But it is the film’s intentionally anti-climactic denouement that sets this film apart; far from indulging in the excesses of its subgenre, A Most Wanted Man commits nuclear war against itself, ripping apart the notion that reality will ever conform to the whims of a subgenre.

Runners Up:  Chef (2014)

2013 Selection:  12 Years a Slave (2013)

Whether it was the film’s willingness to show the horrific brutality of its source material or the incredible performances of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michale Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o (for which she received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress), 12 Years a Slave was easily the best film of 2013 for me.  I still cannot believe that Ejiofor did not win an Oscar for his performance, as I am still haunted by the depth of his performance as Solomun Northup.  And Nyong’o’s debut performance was equally amazing here.  In fact, this film is just amazing.  Period.  And it really deserves to be remembered for a long time to come.

Runners Up:  Captain Phillips (2013)

Best Non-Genre Television Show
2014 Selection:  Vikings (2013-present)

Vikings is one of those shows that probably should suck, but is so deliciously good that I look forward to its return each season.  Whether the show is accurate doesn’t phase me much (it’s probably not).  I love the interpersonal relationships, the politics, and the complexity of Viking culture as it is imagined in this show.  And all of that took a dark turn in the second season, which gave this show an extra edge.  Hopefully, future seasons will continue to ramp up the intensity.

Runners Up:  The Following (2013-present), Hannibal (2013-present) and The League (2009-present).

2013 Selection:  The Following (2013-present)

If there’s a serial killer show with a more complicated scheme than this one, I haven’t seen it.  The first season of The Following not only featured Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy as Lecter/Graham style foils (amusing when you consider that Hannibal also exists), but also so much plot turning, twisting, and unraveling that each episode seemed to offer up something more shocking than the last.  And though the whole “serial killer uses Poe” thing felt a bit tired in 2013, the focus on Joe Carroll’s (Purefoy) narrative “scheme” gave the show a burst of originality.  It was hard not to devour this one.

Runners Up:  Hannibal (2013-present) and Vikings (2013-present)

Best Podcast (That Isn’t The Skiffy and Fanty Show)
2014 Selection:  Doorway to the Hidden World

A sleeper classic if there ever was one.  And Kevin Lux, the show’s host, would probably blame it on the Habsburgs.  Doorway to the Hidden World is everything you could want in a conspiracy-based satirical podcast.  Bizarre theories about who controls the world.  Advertisements for fringe cults.  Answers to the world’s most pressing mysteries.  The Omega Man references in that one episode.  If you’re a fan of Welcome to Night Vale, then you will love Doorway to the Hidden World, because it’s just darned good stuff.

Runners Up:  The Incomparable, Rocket Talk, and The Writer and the Critic

2013 Selection:  The Coode Street Podcast

Jonathan and Gary were on top of their game in 2013.  They may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but their frank discussion of sf/f’s history, politics, and important or forgotten works made them a go-to for me in 2013.  Combining decades of knowledge, Jonathan and Gary gave podcasting something it sorely deserved:  an older generation’s view of the field.  Now that they’ve switched over to, I suspect they’ll remain a staple in the field for years to come.

Runners Up:  The Writer and the CriticGalactic Suburbia, and the Outer Alliance Podcast

Best Non-Genre-Specific Podcast

2014 Selection:  We Hate Movies

At some point during 2014, I discovered a whole bunch of movie-related podcasts.  We Hate Movies was one of them.  Focused on mostly bad movies, the hosts of this largely comical show rip apart their subjects with jokes, impressions, and a whole lot of (probably unintentional) analysis.  Given that one of my favorite things to do on The Skiffy and Fanty Show is to review bad movies, it’s easy to see why I love this show.  It’s now one of my go-to-podcasts for movie discussion.

Runners Up:  How Did This Get Made?, Stuff You Missed in History Class, and The Book was Better

2013 Selection:  Stuff You Missed in History Class

This is one of my staples.  The show focuses on the lesser known details of various events in history, from the popular (Amelia Earhart) to the surprisingly unknown (the Egg Nog Riot).  It’s a treasure trove of well-research facts and weirdness spanning centuries.  If there is a non-fiction show you should be listening to, then it should be this one.

Runners Up:  This American Life, StarTalk Radio, and Read It and Weep!

The 2013 and 2014 Kudos Award
2014 Selection:  Natalie Luhrs
Like many writers who have challenged sexism within sf/f (Hurley included), Luhrs has had to deal with an extraordinary amount of grief for her efforts.  Her coverage of the SFWA Bulletin fiasco this year is well worth reading; her blog (now at a new site) continues to offer excellent commentary, typically on issues of gender in sf/f (see her stuff on WisCon, for example).  There is no doubt that Luhrs is (or should be) a powerhouse in the field, and I expect more awesome work from her throughout 2015.  Now if only we could get her on that Hugo Awards shortlist for Best Fan Writer…
2013 Selection:  Kameron Hurley
Let’s be honest.  You don’t really need to know why Kameron Hurley deserves a Kudos Award, right?  You know she won a bunch of Hugo Awards for her non-fiction work, and you probably also know that she’s one of the most visible feminists in the sf/f field.  As a challenger of structural sexism within sf/f, Hurley’s voice has been a necessary one for the “fight” in which so many of us have been engaged (many for a lot longer than myself).  Her personalized approach to essays gives her work a unique voice, too.  Whether she intended to or not, Hurley has had a profound impact on sf/f, and will continue to have that impact for the foreseeable future, whether as a non-fiction writer or an sf/f novelist.

The 2013 and 2014 Wappa Wag Award 

(i.e. the Worst Person Who Happens to be in Genre Award)
(Yes, I changed the name.)

2014 Selection:  #GamerGate

I’ve written about GamerGate already.  It’s hard to describe the movement in any positive way.  For every group of individuals who honestly care about journalistic ethics, there are a sea of loud-mouthed trolls who cry about Social Justice Warriors and just about everything but journalistic ethics.  And as much as those same people try to claim that GamerGate isn’t about violence against women, dozens of threats have been made in the group’s name, most of them explicitly driven by an anti-feminism, anti-woman agenda that has always been embedded within the “movement.”  Just recently, members of GamerGate doxxed a transgender gamer, and it became clear from the 8Chan boards (and elsewhere) that this was fed by a bigoted transphobic campaign.  Whatever good used to exist in GamerGate has been so utterly tainted by association that I still think people who honestly stand for journalistic ethics are beyond foolish to continue to use the name.  Worse, GamerGate has done absolutely nothing to bridge the gap between those who stand for ethics and those who believe they are under attack by a culture of misogyny and/or bigotry (a point proven by so many GamerGaters); instead, we have an infinite divide.  And division is hardly the best strategy for a group which has historically been shit on by the world.
2013 Selection:  Theodore Beale (a.k.a. Vox Day)

If you don’t know who Vox Day is by now, then you’ve been sleeping under a rock.  Throughout 2013, he was the voice of blatant sexism and racism in the sf/f community.  His attack on N.K. Jemisin eventually led to his expulsion from the SFWA (based on a rules violation, though so many members of the SFWA certainly wanted him gone long before he gave them an excuse to throw him out).  And his longstanding “feud” with John Scalzi is almost legendary at this point, if only because his obsession with calling Scalzi an admitted rapist is so patently absurd as to be comical.  But there’s nothing comical about Vox Day.  If you’re brave, you can Google his name.  I, however, am unlikely to talk about him again on this blog.


[1]:  I base my selections on what I consumed during the year because I never have enough time to catch every awesome thing out there; I always end up having to go back to fill in gaps.  Sometimes, I don’t even know that I should see or read something until the year after it releases, which is a shame, but also a consequence of living on a planet with a ridiculous 24-hour day.  Also:  Netflix.

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

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