Friday, March 20, 2009

Hugo Sampling

Though you wouldn't know it from my Knowing and Watchmen reviews (I meant them to be funnier but they're closer to grouchy), recently I've been newly devoted to genre material. Sci-fi and fantasy please. It started with a mad spree of fantasy paperbacks last year (including The Curse of Chalion discussed here) and television's sci-fi block on Friday really ramped it up with that Terminator / Dollhouse / Battlestar cluster-frak. So let's discuss a few nominees for the latest HUGO Awards which were announced yesterday.

Yes Virginia, people are still giving out awards for 2008.

Before we get to the movies here are the Best Novel competitors which one might add to one's kindle, library request or shopping list if one knows how to read.
  • Anathem by Neal Stephenson
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman the awesome.
  • Little Brother (download free) by Cory Doctorow. It's post-terrorist attack speculative sci-fi about a 17 year old in San Francisco, now a police state.
  • Saturn's Children by Charles Stross is about a 23rd century femmebot. With no humans left to service (we've been wiped out!) she agrees to a job transporting a mysterious package. I included the cover left because it made me chuckle but also because I have a question for you. The cinema has a long love affair with prostitutes but have you ever noticed that when genre stories approach the world's oldest profession (A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Blade Runner, Firefly) it's always sort of backgrounded and sexless? Why is that? Here's a review from i09 that makes this sound like a strong satirical sci-fi read. I think I shall try it out. Who's with me?
  • Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi.

Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form
The Dark Knight, which one assumes will win, is up against the year's other critical and populist triumphs: Iron Man and Wall•E. The "one of these things is not like the others" nominee is an audio story collection called METAtropolis which you can download/experience here (Flash required). Galactica groupies should note that two of its men, "Saul" and "Gaeta", are among the voices therein. Finally there's Guillermo Del Toro's Hellboy II: The Golden Army. I never know quite what to make of Del Toro as a filmmaker. He definitely has visual prowess and a "voice" but his storytelling skills can be suspect. So I worry about The Hobbit (2012?) because Peter Jackson wipes the floor with him in terms of "story". Anyway, Hellboy II is a marked improvement over the first. It retains the fun and the color but it's way more coherent.

Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form
I tend to think that the Hugos (and any other awards that split categories this way) have their awards reversed. It's television, not film, that's the "long form" drama. Barring classic old school sitcoms, all of the best television has understood the cumulative potency of slowly unfolding narratives and complex and ever-complicating character arcs. Hollywood has this reversed, too. They really ought to be gravitating towards short stories and novellas for their transfers. Short stories are ideal for cinematic transfers (think Away From Her and Brokeback Mountain) allowing for both fidelity to the source material and the imagination of the new interpreter since they're expected to flesh them out. Hefty novels and comic books really are more suited for serialized television though that's not the way the film and television industries tend to see them. Their eyes can only focus on the green.

So since Battlestar Galactica -- which you can't miss any 45 minutes of lest you be hopelessly confused -- is in "short form" its mid-season finale "Revelations", a total stunner, is a nominee. It's up against two episodes of Doctor Who ("Turn Left" and "Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead"), one chapter of Lost named "Constant" (I don't watch Lost but a good 50% of my friends are obsessed with it so maybe I've missed out), and Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

I'm rooting for Battlestar as I tend to but my favorite episode in Season Four might just be "Six of One" rather than "Revelations". But that's like asking if I'd like a cash prize of 10 million dollars or a cash prize of 10,225,000 euros. It's all good. It's all gold.

The full list of Hugo Nominations

PLEASE NOTE: Some of us will not see the Battlestar series finale when it airs tonight so please no spoilers in the comments.


Ed Howard said...

"The Constant" is indeed a particularly great episode of Lost. I don't watch nearly enough TV to know if it deserves the win against those other shows, but it's really top-notch sci-fi/romance storytelling. The show has recently taken a not-wholly-unexpected turn into time travel sci-fi, and has handled it really well so far.

JA said...

OH MY GOD NAT IT WAS ALL A DREAM! The episode ends with Roslin waking up and finding Helo naked in her shower!


Shawn said...

Every episode/webisode nominated in the Short Form category is A++++ in my book. I will be happy with whoever wins. Seriously I would watch all of them again in a heartbeat. Twice, three times over.

But my vote would probably go to Dr. Horrible if only I could guarantee that BSG wins NEXT YEAR for the series finale and then Lost wins the year after that for their series finale. Oh God, an embarrassment of riches. And why oh why why why are these shows ending?

BTW, I love Doctor Who but I think it's won this award like 2-3 times in a row now, so give some other shows some love.

CrazyCris said...

I have seen all of Lost and I think "The Constant" was one of the best episodes last season.

If you're curious about Lost Nat then trust me you're better off having tuned in late. I started when a friend loaned me seasons 1,2 and 3 for the summer and I was in full procrastination mode (avoiding PhD writing can lead to some very interesting activities) so I saw all three seasons within a month. Having seen the subsequent stuff weekly like everyone else before then is just about driving me crazy! How did people ever manage to get hooked on this?! Their cuts just drive you nuts!!! So many questions that don't get answered until soooo much later. But as a whole Lost is fabulous! I can't wait until it's over and then I'll get hold of the dvds and watch it again to try and find the threads that were linked here and there (much like in BSG).

Sigh! I still can't believe BSG is OVER!!! (or that we have to wait a whole year for Caprica!) snif!

Emily said...

I'll read Saturn's Children with you! We're overdue for a sex worker who is both sensual and strong. I loved Inara from Firefly, but it always seemed like Kaylee was having a lot more fun in the sack (or the engine room, or whatever).

So you think del Toro will ruin The Hobbit? *sigh* I need to go watch the Orlando/Enya video to calm my fragile nerves...

Robert said...

All this talk of good sci-fi vs bad sci-fi has reminded me of how the Sci-Fi channel is changing it's name to SyFy (I kid you not) because they feel that the term "Sci-Fi" is too associated with geeks and nerds... you know, intelligent people who would be in their demographic if they ran more programing like Battlestar Galactica and less like Manquito.


robert. That is stoopid. "SyFy"... what does that even mean?

Robert said...

I'm not sure what they think it means, but I can tell you that in Polish it's slang for "Sexually Transmitted Desease".... I continue to kid you not.

Carl said...

Why is it that the great threads come up when I am traveling?

BSG is waiting for me on tape, power failures notwithstanding. JA, that had better be a "Dallas" joke...

SyFy (or whatever corporate lunacy they come up with next) broke faith with me years ago when they backed out late on a deal to keep J. Michael Straczynski's follow-on to "Babylon 5", called "Crusade", going on the airwaves. Back then, they were not hip-deep in product and could have gotten it for a song. Nothing they do at this point surprises me, except keeping "Battlestar Galactica" on to the end of its run. That was an unprecedented display of good taste and better sense.

The "Best Dramatic Presentation" Hugos have been having some of the same problem that the "Best Picture" Oscar has had...not enough of the voters have seen all the really top quality stuff to render an intelligent opinion, so the ballot is always top-heavy with populist blockbuster entertainment. An example - "Let the Right One In" didn't get in, despite its being near the top of most critical lists for 2008 (and yes, the Hugo can and does recognize straight horror.)

Having said that, "Wall-E" is the film to beat in long-form of the nominees I have seen. I have yet to catch "METAtropolis", though, so that could change. A reminder...the Hugo is a writing award based on the script alone, not the overall production, so things like the incredible Heath Ledger performance and the intense visuals in "The Dark Knight" carry (supposedly) no weight here.

The short-form field is very strong here, but the voters have a track record of favoring the Doctor over the field in general. The principal hope for the competition is the potential for "Dr. Who" to split its vote among two nominees. My bet here, though, is that they go for the intensely moving "Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead" two-parter...that was a kick-ass script even though it recycled some fairly old 'cyber-reality' ideas that have been knocking around the genre for some time now. Shawn is right, but there is a reason the voters keep rewarding this incredible reworking of the Time-Lord's universe.

How sad..."Analog" magazine has no nominees in any of the shorter written form categories. I have loved this publication for better than thirty years, but this points up what has been a continuing slide into mediocrity. Even "Asimov's" is failing to dominate the nominations the way it has in recent years. A signal change in how people get their written entertainment and a warning to those like me who still love their short fiction in periodicals - better start supporting the rags with both quality submissions as well as your coin if you want them to continue.

Damn...I have read not one of the nominees for Best Novel! Time to get cracking...

par3182 said...

dr horrible for the win!

(although all the nominees in that category are truly great)