We’re a little late on this news, dear readers, for which please accept our humble apologies. However, we are still thrilled and delighted to offer some big Free For All congratulations to David Grossman and Jessica Cohen for the novel A Horse Walks Into a Bar!
Description: The setting is a comedy club in a small Israeli town. An audience that has come expecting an evening of amusement instead sees a comedian falling apart on stage; an act of disintegration, a man crumbling before their eyes as a matter of choice. They could get up and leave, or boo and whistle and drive him from the stage, if they were not so drawn to glimpse his personal hell.
Dovale Gee, a veteran stand-up comic – charming, erratic, repellent – exposes a wound he has been living with for years: a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between the two people who were dearest to him.
The Guardian quoted the chair of judges of the award, who said of Grossman’s work:
“David Grossman has attempted an ambitious high-wire act of a novel, and he’s pulled it off spectacularly…A Horse Walks into a Barshines a spotlight on the effects of grief, without any hint of sentimentality. The central character is challenging and flawed, but completely compelling. We were bowled over by Grossman’s willingness to take emotional as well as stylistic risks: every sentence counts, every word matters in this supreme example of the writer’s craft.”
Grossman shares the award with his translator, Jessica Cohen. The New York Times did an interview with Cohen and Grossman just after the prize was announced at the V&A Museum in London, and discussed the process of finding a translator, and the incredibly laborious, loving effort that goes into translating a work–and often, the un-translatable nature of humor:
“A Horse Walks Into a Bar” obviously raises a particular question of how to translate jokes. Are there any examples of jokes you weren’t able to translate?
COHEN There were a few examples of jokes — not so much because of pacing or sound but because of cultural knowledge a non-Israeli reader wouldn’t have — that just weren’t going to work in English. Obviously if you have to explain something, it’s not funny. There were some cases like that where I managed to come up with a kind of equivalent. Some things we just had to drop.
Hey there! If you’re one of our UK or Northern Irish readers, stop reading and go vote! If you’re in the US, and would like a distraction from…well, mostly everything, then we have an important announcement for you:
Naomi Alderman’s The Power has won the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction!
Alderman’s book is also the first science fiction work to win the prize, which is a huge win for genre fans (like me…and you, I’m sure). Alderman’s win comes just over a decade after her debut novel Disobedience, won the 2006 Orange Award for New Writers.
Tessa Ross, 2017 Chair of Judges, said: “The judges and I were thrilled to make this decision. We debated this wonderful shortlist for many hours but kept returning to Naomi Alderman’s brilliantly imagined dystopia – her big ideas and her fantastic imagination.”
The novel has been described as feminist science fiction, and asks the question what is power: who has it, how do you get it, and what does it do when you have it? And, when you have power, how long before power corrupts you? It follows four main characters: Roxy, the daughter of a London crime lord; Tunde, a journalism student in Lagos; Allie, from the southern states of the US and Margo, a low-level politician. They all feature in a combination of page-turning thriller and thought experiment that attacks some of the biggest issues of our times, including religion, gender politics and censorship.
And if this sounds a bit like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, there’s some good reasons for that; Margaret Atwood actually took Alderman under her wing when her career was just beginning, and the two remain close friends. So those of you currently reading or watching The Handmaid’s Tale, be sure to add this one to your list!
Unfortunately, Alderman’s super-sensational book won’t be released in the US until October of this year, but you can bet we’ll be making a big deal about it when it does! Here’s the cover image to whet your appetite:
Last week, I promised to bring up the issue of class and book awards, and since we didn’t have the time to discuss it last week, as a follow-up to our discussion of the Hugo Awards and the Puppy Invasion, I figured we might as well get to work now, dear readers.
One of the issues that was discussed, as reported by Wired, during the Puppy Horror was the class aspect of the awards. And while most of the points brought up were exclusionary and near-sighted, there is an element to this argument that should be addressed.
In December of 2014, author Adrian McKinty (pictured left, courtesy of The Irish Times), author of the Sean Duffy crime novels, which I adore, and the Michael Forsythe series, which I also adore, among other literary achievements, sat down and wrote a blog post about the Man Booker Prize (fair warning: there is some strong language in the post). In it, he challenged two-time Booker-prize-winning author Peter Carey’s claim that Americans should not be allowed to compete for the prize since it would, essentially, spoil the ‘particular cultural flavour’ of the award.* McKinty used this argument as a jumping-off point to argue that the actual “flavour” of the Booker Prize was classicism, not nationalism. As he noted, the vast, vast majority of the judges for the Booker Prize were attended private schools (which are much more elite than our version), while only 5% of the British population as a whole had attended private schools. The result, he stated, was that:
…the Booker Prize judging panels are almost always made up of posh people and their chairperson is almost always very posh indeed. Posh people naturally would be sympathetic towards books about their own class and resistant to challenges to the status quo, hence Peter Carey’s worry about vulgar Americans entering the fray. (Peter Carey boarded at Geelong Grammar, one of the most expensive and exclusive private schools in Australia.) In consequence the Booker Prize winning novel is often a safe middle class rather dull book.
He also proposed a short set of practices that might help the Booker Prize improve its nominations, which included allowing publishing houses to send in more than one book for consideration (that way they could be riskier in their nominations, rather than nominating books they think will win based on past years), and encouraging genre fiction, because: “The best science fiction, crime fiction and romance writing is often as good as literary fiction but these books seldom make the Booker shortlist because they are considered to be a low form of writing.”
Surprisingly, McKinty’s recommendations may have actually helped. As he noted in a blog post last October (language, again, FYI) the last three winners of the Booker Prize have been working-class, which points to a conscious attempt at diversity among the jury (See Paul Beatty, the most recent winner of the Man Booker Prize, below).
There are two big issues here: class, especially in the United States, is less defined by income, and is much more a social thing, as the Center for Economic and Policy Research examined in a recent survey. That is mostly because the country is so big and diverse that there is no one bracket to determine wealth (look at house prices in Massachusetts vs. Arkansas, for example). Thus, an income that might define you as “middle class” in one area would put you firmly in the “working class”, or even the “working poor” in other places. So there is no one experience of class, or an ideology of class cohesion.
And class is perhaps the only social identifier that is inherently anti-social. Capitalism, by definition, is a competition. In order to win, you have to beat someone else to resources, to funding, to markets, to jobs, etc. It’s why the relationship between classes is always categorized as a “struggle”. McKinty alludes to this in his blog post, but the brutal point is that this “class struggles” makes us instinctively want to punch “downward”, or at those we perceive as “downward”….which is where the intersection of race, gender, nationality, and class all become significant together.
Because one of the positive things about encouraging books from and about “working class people”, especially in the US, is that we would inherently get more books by and about women, people of color, and immigrants, all of whom make up a plurality of the “working class”, and all of whom go under-represented in fiction.
But there is a snag to this. In order to get these stories, we need to encourage these stories. Because the main identifiers of the “working class”, across the board are A) a lack of higher education and B) a lack of access to continuing education and self-development, for reasons of distance, finances, or familial obligations. And that is a huge, huge issue.
Because we are not going to get those stories unless we encourage people to tell those stories. And in order to do that, we need to give people the tools to be storytellers–reading, writing, and practice. But more than that, we need to provide time and space. The first two can be acquire via education. The second two, however, are some of the most difficult to acquire, especially for those without income security. And no book prize in the world is going to improve its “working class” prejudices until we all show that we value everyone’s stories by listening to them, and providing the space for them to be shared.
*I feel the need to state here that Peter Carey is the author of some of the most important books in my life, includingOscar and Lucindaand His Illegal Self, and use this moment to point out that we all, always, have lots of learning and growing to do.
This here is a two-part blog post, dear readers, because awards season is in full swing, and in order to bring you all the late-breaking news, we need to conserve space. So, firstly, we’d like to congratulate David France’s insider account of the AIDS epidemic, How To Survive A Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS, for being the unanimous winner of this year’s Green Carnation Prize!
Chair of judges and internationally acclaimed author John Boyne said: ‘In this time of renewed activism in an increasingly uncertain world, France’s definitive account of the AIDS crisis and the activists who changed the fate of so many lives, seems vital and important to inspire everyone, not just the LGBTQ+ community. We couldn’t be prouder to choose this book as the rightful winner.’
This past weekend, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America held their annual conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and announced the winners of the Nebula Awards.
The Nebulas were first handed out in 1966, as a response to the Edgar Awards (which celebrated the best in the mystery genre). They are selected by, and voted on, by the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. There are those who say that the Nebula is a more discriminating (and, thus, discriminatory) award, as it is selected by other writers, who focus (allegedly) on artistry and composition over the plot elements, pacing, and surprises that might attract a reader. On the other hand, because the Nebula voting is so limited, it also means that they have avoided the kind of scandal that hit the Hugos (see our discussion of Puppies from last week). Thus, while most agree that the Hugo is the more well-recognized of the science fiction awards, the Nebula is a highly–prized sign of recognition from the industry, and from one’s peers.
The award celebration itself sounds like a ridiculous amount of fun, not in the least because of the event’s toast master. As report by The Verge:
The event’s toastmaster was Astronaut Kjell Lindgren, who spent 141 days on the International Space Station as part of the Expedition 44 and Expedition 45 missions, where he served as a flight engineer and mission specialist. You might remember him as one of the astronauts who sampled the first station-grown lettuce and took part in an EVA to upgrade the station. He spoke about how NASA was turning science fiction into science fact, and that as a science fiction fan, it was a pleasure to meet some of his heroes who wrote the stories he grew up with. “I am here today because of science fiction,” he said, “my path to space was paved with books.”
I swoon. I also love knowing that science fiction inspired a real live person to imagine impossible things and to go chasing after them. Let that be your inspiration today, while you head down to the Library to check out these terrific, award-winning books!
The nominations for the 2017 Hugo Awards were announced in April, dear readers, and anticipation is steadily building over which novels will win.
The Hugo Award is the the longest running prize for science fiction or fantasy works, having been established in 1953. Up until 1992, the award was known simply as the Science Fiction Achievement Awards, but was subsequently named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. Gernsbackwas also responsible for creating the idea of a ‘fandom’. When readers wrote into Amazing Stories, their addresses were published along with their letters. As a result readers began to become aware of themselves as fans, and to recognize their collective identity as devotees of the science fiction genre–not bad for 1926.
But “fandom” has its downsides, as well, as few institutions know this better than the Hugo. See, the Hugo Award nominees and winners are chosen by supporting or attending members of the annual World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, with attendees providing nominees, and then the whole group voting in a runoff vote with five nominees per category (unless there is a tie). For each category of Hugo, the voter may rank “No Award” as one of their choices. Voters are instructed that they should do so if they feel that none of the nominees are worthy of the award, or if they feel the category should be abolished entirely.
Anyway, back in 2013, author Larry Correia began speaking with other sci-fi writers (all of whom had been nominated for Hugos, but hadn’t won), and saying wouldn’t it be great if Correia’s novels were nominated for the Hugo Award in order to “poke the establishment in the eye” by nominating “unabashed pulp action that isn’t heavy handed message fic[tion]”. That led to the beginning of a not-so-covert voting bloc that attempted to get Correia’s work Monster Hunter Legion nominated. The bloc called themselves the “Sad Puppies” after a commercial for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal, showing, you guessed it, Sad Puppies, after a blog comment that equated puppy sadness with “boring message-fic winning awards”. And just so we’re clear here, Correia explained what he meant by “boring message-fic winning awards” in an interview with Wired:
He felt that the Hugos had become overly dominated by what he and others call “Social Justice Warriors,” who value politics over plot development. Particular targets of Puppy derision include two 2014 Hugo winners: John Chu’s short story, “The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere,” in which a gay man decides to come out to his traditional Chinese family after the world is beset by a new phenomenon: whenever a person lies, water inexplicably falls on them; and Ann Leckie’s debut novel Ancillary Justice, whose protagonists do not see gender.
The movement was taken over in 2015 by Brad Torgerson, who explained, in the same Wired interview about
“…what he called “the cognitive dissonance of people saying, ‘No, the Hugos are about quality,’ and then at the same time they’re like: ‘Ooh, we can vote for this author because they’re gay, or for this story because it’s got gay characters,’ or, ‘Ooh, we’re going to vote for this author because they’re not white.’ As soon as that becomes the criteria, well, quality goes out the window.”
So the Sad Puppies coordinated, and tried to influence the Hugo nominations by presenting a whole slate of books en masse. They weren’t terribly successful. Seven of the twelve 2014 nominees made it to the final ballot, one nominee each in seven categories, including Correia’s Warbound.
Then, in 2015, the “Rabid Puppies” emerged. And this where things went from generally xenophobic and unwelcoming to flat out virulence. The “Rabid Puppies”, were led by a man named Theodore Beale, but who goes by the name Vox Day, which is a bad attempt as “Vox Dei”, or “Voice of God”. Day is the only person to have been kicked out of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in its nearly fifty year history for horrid, racist remarks he made, and posted, directed at N.K. Jemisin (you are welcome to look them up yourself, should you wish). He delights in being known as “the most despised man in science fiction”. Anyways, in both 2015 and 2016, Beale published a slate of nominees, mostly conservative writers and people from his own publishing house, and told his followers to vote them. In 2016, they nabbed over 60 nominations, with four categories dominated by Beale’s picks.
And authors responded. In 2015, “No Award” was given in five categories, meaning that a majority of voters decided that not giving out an award was better than awarding a Puppy pick. Some categories did award Hugo’s to authors that Puppies had selected, ut they were authors like Neil Gaiman, who was popular enough to win anyway. In 2016, a number of authors declined their nominations, including Brian Sanderson who wrote a blog post regarding the issue. In part, Sanderson said:
I didn’t like the way many of the Puppies talked. They could be belligerent and argumentative, using tactics that felt more likely to silence opposition instead of provoke discussion. In addition, they associated with people even worse…Some leaders in the movement verbally attacked people I respect and love…These awards are supposed to be about the best of sf/f. We are not supposed to vote or nominate simply for our favorite writers, nor choose things just because they advance our viewpoint. (Though things we nominate and vote for can indeed do both things.) We are to examine pieces outside of authorship and pick ones that represent the best of the community…I felt that the slate the Puppies were advocating was dangerous for the award, and against its spirit.
Connie Willis pulled out of presenting a prize, saying her presence would “lend cover and credibility to winners who got the award through bullying and extortion”.
But instead of giving up, or giving in, the majority of science fiction writers voted…and in the end, all four categories for works of fiction went to women, three of whom were women of color, which is pretty terrific, considering that in 2007, there was only one woman nominated at all.
It’s truly disheartening that, rather than supporting the evolution of the genre, or welcoming new authors…or publicly addressing perceived issues with the nominations process in a manner that would allow debate and discussion, a small group of disaffected people would not only attack a valued and deeply significant institution, but would take such delight in it. Correia’s original argument was that the Hugo had become classist, discriminating against perceived ‘low-brow’ authors (we’re going to tackle this tomorrow), and while there is a very valid discussion to be had about class and ‘literature’, there is no call to punish other authors–to insult other authors, to attack other authors–because the market around you is changing. The fact is, it’s no longer 1926, and the kind of privileged literature that could use science fiction as a vehicle for racist, sexist, and generally xenophobic messages has long passed, and the genre has grown and developed too much to go back. And why would we want to, when there are so many other incredible worlds, fascinating ideas, and strange new futures awaiting us in the pens of new authors who are, and will continue, to bring a new worldview to the page?
After the 2016 season, the rules for the Hugo were changed in an attempt to prevent the Puppies from “breaking” the Hugo any further (George R.R. Martin claimed the award had been “broken” by Beale and his pack). And this year’s nominations seem to be pretty straightforward, with the Sad Puppies not mounting a recognizable campaign, and the Rabid Puppies succeeding in securing only one ludicrous nomination among a spectrum of titles that have been both commercially successful, and diverse in terms of content and their author’s identities.
So maybe this year, there is hope for the Hugo. I sincerely hope so. You can read the full list of nominees here.
We’re a little bit late with this news flash, dear readers, but that should not in any way mitigate your–or our–excitement over announcing the winners of the 2016 Bram Stoker A
wards, presented by the Horror Writers Association!
The Stoker Awards celebrate the best in horror writing across genres, from novels to short stories to non-fiction to poetry. As Lisa Morton, President of the HWA (and multiple Stoker-Award Winner in her own right) observed, “The winners for this year’s awards unquestionably represent the continued high-level state of the art in horror writing…Our members and awards juries were dedicated to the selection process for outstanding works of literature, cinema, non-fiction, and poetry.”
The Stoker Awards also, arguably, have the coolest statues. Seriously, look at this thing:
It’s a adorably terrifying haunted house, and the front door opens to reveal the plaque with the winner’s name and book title. I don’t know of too many other awards that are not only so genre-specific, but interactive, as well, so big kudos to the HWA.
And now, without further ado, here are your list of winners! A note: Some of these materials are from online or niche publishers, so wherever possible, we’ve provided Library links. Where library links are not available, the Goodreads page has been linked:
February 20, 1892, was the premiere for Oscar Wilde’s comedic play Lady Windermere’s Fan. It’s a glorious, smart, subversive play that deals with gender assumption, class issues, love, trust, loyalty, and you should read it. Or see it. Or hear a recording of it (I really love this play, if you can’t tell…).
The play was an enormous success, but Oscar’s speech at the end (he was brought out on stage to be applauded, as well) may have actually been the most memorable part of the evening. You can see a reproduction of it here, with Stephen Fry playing Oscar:
Anyways, for the premiere, Oscar arranged for one of the actors to wear a green carnation in his buttonhole. He also gave carnations to his friends who would be attending, so that it would appear that a select number of audience members were in cahoots with the actors over the style. Artist Graham Robertson was one of the people Wilde asked to wear the flower. As the story goes, Robertson asked Wilde what the green carnation was supposed to mean.
“Nothing whatever,” Wilde replied, “but that is just what nobody will guess.”
The story is a good one, and definitely fits with Oscar’s love of gently mocking society at large for being ridiculous, but the truth was that there was a lot of meaning behind the green carnation. Green was the symbol of Irish nationalism, and Oscar, an Irishman himself and a firm believer in the cause of Irish nationalism. It was also the color of absinthe, a hallucinogenic drink that of which Oscar was particularly fond (you can still get it now, but it’s not a hallucinogen anymore…). Finally, to Oscar, green was the color of artists–a green carnation is not natural. You can’t grow them naturally. They have to be created, with intention, and purpose.
Oscar Wilde was also a homosexual, and today, there are a lot of assumptions that the green carnation was a covert symbol of homosexuality. It wasn’t–or, at least, it never seems to have been used as a symbol by Oscar himself to denote homosexuality (it was never referenced at his trials, and he himself never wrote a word about it, though he wrote about his carnations and the color green fairly often). However, there were a number of people who mocked him (covertly and not-so-covertly), and stated that the green carnation was some kind of symbol of depravity.
Since that time, however, the green carnation has been adopted as a highly literary and rather esoteric reference to homosexuality, in deference to Wilde who, in many ways, defined what a homosexual man should look, act, and sound like.
Fast-forward to 2010, when author Paul Magrs, who also writes funny, charming, and very clever books, tweeted about the “scandalous lack of prizes for gay men” in the UK (<– Quoting the tweet there), and he and journalist Simon Savidge decided to set up just such a prize, they decided to name it The Green Carnation Prize. The Prize was originally awarded to the best fiction and memoirs by gay men. In 2012 the prize opened its submission criteria to include all LGBT writers, in 2015 it widened its submission criteria even further including all ‘works of translation’.
Why is this important? You might ask.
It’s important because human beings are herd animals. We accept things are “right” when other people do them/think them/say them/wear them/eat them/sing them/dance with them/etc. first. It’s why it’s so easy to do what everyone else is doing. It’s why humans who do things alone, who are the first to say something or do something is such a momentous event. Affirmation and validation and self-confidence are all wrapped up together in our cave-people brains. And it’s really hard when you are a reader, to never read a book about people like you. Whether the “people like you” have a certain skin color, speak a particularly language, practice a certain set of beliefs, looks a certain way, or loves a certain way, it’s enormously important to our self-understanding to know that there are other people “like us” somewhere in the world.
And, as tribal animals, who understand that taking care of our human tribe is as important as taking care of ourselves, we need to make sure that everyone can find a book in which they can find themselves, and feel like they belong. It might not be a book that you yourself enjoy, or with which you identify–and that’s ok. We’ll find some. Or we’ll write some. Or maybe you’ll write them. But the point is, the more we celebrate diversity in all its forms, the more diversity there will be.
So today, we bring you the Green Carnation Short List. Where the books haven’t yet been released in the US, the WorldCat links are provided. We can get these books for you, if you come in and ask!
The winner will be announced at Foyle’s Book Shop in London on May 22nd!