Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #60

Short Takes: Zack Snyder’s Justice League, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, the Discon III Update and the Georgia/Dragoncon Situation

By Chris M. Barkley:

Zach Synder’s Justice League ( Warner Brothers/DC Comics, 4 hours 2 minutes) with Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, Connie Neilsen and J.K. Simmons. Story and screenplay by Chris Terrio, Will Beall and Zack Snyder, Directed by Zack Snyder.

Bechdel Test: Passed.

I want to start by saying that I have a very soft spot in my heart for the Justice League. Back in 1997, I wrote a 13,000 plus word essay for the print edition of File 770 detailing my two year odyssey to obtain a copy of Justice League of America #47, the second part of a memorable JLA – Justice Society annual team up. The hunt for that comic book started my education about the history of comics and eventually, a decade later, to my entry into sf fandom.

When the first version of Justice League was released in November of 2017, I had no idea that Autumn, the daughter of director Zach Snyder and co-producer and partner Deborah, had died March of that year during post-production and that they had stepped away to deal with their grief.

Writer-director Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Avengers) was brought in for extensive re-writes and re-shooting major portions of the film. Even though the film went on to earn $657 million at the box office, it was considered a financial failure for failing to earn back enough to cover its production and marketing costs.

(For the record, I gave the original film a enthusiastic review here in a File 770 column: “Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #20”.) 

Had I known then what I know now, had I been better informed,I would have written a very, VERY different review…

When we left Batman at the end of the previous film, Dawn of Justice, he was in a very tight fix: Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) had hinted that he had signaled dark forces from beyond Earth that Superman (Henry Cavill) was dead and the planet was ripe for the taking.

When an alien emissary known as Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) invades Earth looking for a set of powerful alien artifacts known as Mother Boxes, Bruce Wayne, along with Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), seek out and recruit other super powered individuals (Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller)  to help against the threat.

But after being on the losing end of several encounters with Steppenwolf, Batman eventually realizes that the only way they may have a chance to survive is to revive Superman from the dead, even though they have no idea whether or not it will work or not.

The fan-driven drumbeat to release the “Snyder Cut” of Justice League began before the end theatrical run of the original film. And when the social media uprising started, I thought it was extremely foolish to expect Warner Brothers to even respond. Never in the history of filmmaking or marketing had a film studio seriously contemplated doing what happened after nearly two years of hectoring, with Warner Brothers shelling out a reported $70 million dollars to complete a film that only existed digitally on Zach Snyder’s laptop.

What was produced is remarkable; a complete origin story of Victor Stone/Cyborg,  the emotional fallout that Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent suffered from the loss of their beloved Clark Kent, the fleshing out Barry Allen’s (Ezra Miller) slightly goofball but brilliant scientist and several tantalizing looks at DC Comics ultimate villain, Darkseid (voiced by Ray Porter).

So forget about what the naysayers are saying; Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a big, exciting, sprawling, violent, intense, profane, beautiful and ultimately moving film.

Snyder may never write or direct another DC property but he exits this arena leaving everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING) on the field for us to admire. To him, the cast and crew and especially to his filmmaking partner Deborah Snyder, I say BRAVO!

2034: A Novel of the Next World War by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis, Penguin Press, March 2021, 320 pages.

When I was a lad in high school in the early 1970’s, I read John Hersey’s classic and landmark piece of historical journalism, Hiroshima, which chronicled the struggles of six survivors of the first atom bomb attack. Upon reading it, I hoped that every President of the United States, and every leader of a nation who had atomic weapons, should have some incentive to read it.

When it was published, in its entirety, in the August 31, 1946 issue of The New Yorker, it caused a shocking and sickening realization to unaware civilians that this new type warfare could herald the end of civilization. (Fallout, Lesley M.M. Blume’s equally compelling story of how John Hersey circumvented the US military’s coverup of what really happened at Hiroshima, was published last August).

In the seventy-five years since those attacks, the human race has, on several precarious occasions, managed to avert the end of the world. But since then, it seems to me that the further away we have come since Hiroshima and Nagasaki the more people have truly forgotten how horrible atomic warfare could actually be.

This past Christmas I received a year’s subscription to WIRED Magazine. The very first copy I received was the February issue, which entirely devoted (for the first time, I believe) to a work of fiction, an excerpt of the novel 2034: A History of the Next World War by Admiral Jim Stavridis, USN (Ret.) and Elliot Ackerman.

As I read the excerpt, which vividly and realistically describes a expansive international conflict between China and the United States, I got the same terrifying feeling of dread I  felt when I first read Hiroshima.

It begins when a flotilla of US destroyers are lured into an elaborate trap while at the same time an advanced Navy fighter jet is inexplicably hijacked in mid-flight and grounded in Iran. From there, various characters from all over the world are drawn together as the drumbeat of war grows louder and no one at any level of the crisis seems to be inclined to stop the oncoming catastrophe. 

I had just finished reading 2034 on March 28th when the New York Times published the story below, which announced a 25-year alliance between China and Iran, which happened a mere 20 days after its publication: “China, With $400 Billion Iran Deal, Could Deepen Influence in Mideast”.

This novel, written by two veterans who have an extraordinary and extensive experience with the military and governmental affairs, is an alarming piece of speculative fiction that has every possibility of being prescient in EVERY sense of the word. I urge everyone to read it because if the prospect of this scenario doesn’t scare you shitless, I don’t know what will…

Additional (and IMPORTANT) Reading:  “What Did I Just Read? A Conversation With the Authors of ‘2034’”.

The Discon III Update

This past Sunday, the DisCon III convention committee issued an update on the current situation regarding the Wardman Park Hotel and whether or not the Worldcon would be virtual or in-person:
“Update on Convention Dates and Hotels”.

As you can see, there isn’t much to report on either front.

And seeing that we are on the cusp of April, I would not be pushing the panic button just yet. But if there isn’t any movement by mid to late May, I think the convention committee should seriously think about an all virtual convention.

If the American gets it act together and the vaccination rate reaches 90% or better by mid-summer, I think it MIGHT be safe to hold a full or partial in-person convention.

But until there’s some breaking news, all we can do is wait.

With some degree of measured optimism, I can truthfully say that  I’m fine with that.

The Dragoncon/Georgia Situation

By now, nearly every conrunner and convention committee knows what’s going on in the state of Georgia.

To wit; on Thursday, March 26, the Georgia House of Representatives and the state Senate passed SB202, a “voter reform bill”, in rapid fashion on that very same day. Governor Brian Kemp said that the bill was created mainly in response to what he referred to as allegations of “fraud and irregularities” and “five-hour-long lines at the polls” in the 2020 election. He also stated that the “election reforms” would restore “voter confidence” in the state’s election processes.

Oh, if only that were true.

Many critics of the bill have claimed that the creation of the bill and it’s rather astonishing rate of passage to Governor Kemp’s desk was in direct response to President Joe Biden’s narrow victory in the November elections, followed by the election of two Democratic US Senators in a special election held in early January of this year.

Some of the more odious parts of the legislation include the arbitrary removal of Georgia’s current chief elections officer, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and of any county’s board of elections should there be any recurrence of what the House and Senate obliquely determine to be “voting irregularities”. And never mind that the new law would also severely restrict voting by mail and outlaw the giving of food or water to any voters waiting in line to combat what the Republicans called “potential voting electioneering and influencing”.

What the governor and Georgia Republican state legislators conveniently forget to mention is that it was Kemp, as the previous Secretary of State in 2018, in league with the legislature, were responsible for a number of changes, including overseeing the removal of voting machines and the closing of polling places in majority black districts, which resulted in people waiting for many hours in line to cast their ballots.    

Compounding all of this was the arrest of Democratic representative Park Cannon, who was taken into custody and forcibly removed by five white Georgia State Troopers as she sought entry to witness Governor Kemp’s signing of SB202, which was being done in the Governor’s Ceremonial Office with the door marked with a “Governor’s Staff Only” sign. When Cannon knocked on the door, she was seized and handcuffed in a very humiliating manner and was subsequently charged with two felonies, felony obstruction and preventing or disrupting a general assembly session. (Representative Cannon was released on bail several hours later.)

Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be of any concern to organized fandom (I mean, besides the threat of voter voter suppression and a general threat to democracy) if it weren’t for the fact that Dragon Con, arguably one of the largest annual gathering of fans in the United States, is permanently headquartered in Georgia capitol, Atlanta.

As of this post, there has been no comment yet from the Dragon Con convention committee or its board of directors. I suspect that they are carefully weighing their options seeing that a number of progressive political activists are calling for a boycott of Georgia businesses, venues and events. It should be noted that a majority of their fan base has been known to lean to the right politically. But there is no telling how many of them outside that base will react to a pro or con statement from Dragon Con. 

Luckily (I suppose), for Dragon Con, the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing and while there are three vaccines in circulation at the moment, no one is quite sure whether or not it will be safe enough to attend a convention in person safely.

Having said that. Dragon Con can easily punt their way out of this situation by calling for a virtual convention and hoping that the growing numbers of activists, business, judicial and political forces can make Governor Kemp and Georgia Republican lawmakers see the error of their ways and just make this all go away.

But, as a major, for profit business concern in the state of Georgia, they cannot afford to do nothing. The longer they wait, the more complicit and compromised Dragon Con will be perceived by a significant number of fans. Enough fans, I would think, to affect either their standing in the community, their financial bottom line, or both.

They cannot escape making some sort of statement about the situation. As of this post, there hasn’t been any word from Dragon Con on this situation. The authors, editors, artists, cosplayers and fans who do care about the precarious state of affairs in the state of Georgia do have a tremendous amount of influence in fandom and have long memories as well.

Tick-Tock,Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock….  

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #59

Top Recommendations for the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation,

Part Two – Stand Alone Films

By Chris M. Barkley:  Decisions, decisions, decisions…and time is running out.

In Part One of my Recommendations for the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, I listed a relatively INSANE number of television series that were eligible in our pandemic year of 2020.

While the Covid-19 pandemic may have been box office poison (literally) for theater owners, movie lovers who were mostly confined to their homes had plenty of options, thanks to the abundance of premium and streaming channels eager to serve (and collect cold hard cash from) a captive audience.

But theaters aren’t down for the count just yet; with several vaccines in circulation and the infection rates projected to drop precipitously by the end of the year, I have no doubt whatsoever that people (like myself) who are starving for a complete spectrum of theatrical experiences are definitely going out when it’s safe and that going to the movies will be at the top of nearly everyone’s to do list.

And thankfully, some of the highly-anticipated films postponed from last year will make their big screen debuts in 2021; Denis Villenueve’s adaptation of Dune, Marvel’s Black Widow, Morbius, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Shang-Chi, A Quiet Place Part II, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, DC’s Suicide Squad sequel and the fourth film in The Matrix series are on the schedule.

But, before I reveal my BDP Hugo Nomination Ballot choices, let’s contemplate these ten outstanding films from 2020.

The Invisible Man (Blumhouse Productions/Universal,124 minutes), with Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodger, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman and. Written and Directed by Leigh Whannell based on H.G. Wells novel The Invisible Man.

One of the oldest storytelling tropes in the books is throwing an entirely innocent person into an impossible pit of problems and seeing if they can emerge from the ordeal relatively intact.

In this modern retelling of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) barely escapes from an abusive partner Adrian (Oliver Jackson- Cohen). And just when she thinks she’s quite safe, Cecilia is beset by the odd feeling she is being observed and other strange occurrences. And by the time figures out she’s being stalked by an invisible tormentor, her family, friends and most notably the police, think she has most definitely lost her mind.

This movie has everything going for it, a crackling script full of mayhem, murder and suspense, some impeccable direction and special effects and some superb acting from the lead actors, Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodger,  Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman and Storm Reid. Somewhere, Alfred Hitchcock is smiling because this is precisely the sort of film he would make if he were around today. 

Tenet (Warner Brothers, 150 minutes), with John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Dibecki, Micael Caine and Kenneth Branagh. Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan.

After an extraction mission in Ukraine goes disastrously sideways, an unnamed CIA field operative (John David Washington) is recruited into a mysterious organization called TENET, which is (seemingly) dedicated to looking into strange anomalies. “The Protagonist’s” first case is to investigate who is receiving weapons being sent back through time from the future (through a process called “inverted entropy”). His “antagonist” is Andrei Sator, a ruthless Russian arms dealer, whose estranged wife Kat, (Elizabeth Dibecki) could hold the key to destroying his empire.

The plot description I outlined above is far, FAR more complex than I can possibly do justice to. What makes Tenet a fantastic film is that it is not only a “anti-James Bond” film, it is also essentially an “anti-time travel” tale as well, as it perfectly subverts genre tropes by setting a whole new set of cinematic rules. This high octane, mind bending thrill ride is certainly the equal of (or BETTER) than Inception, Christopher Nolan’s 2010 BDP Long Form Hugo winner.

YES, Christopher Nolan is screwing around with our heads again and I am LOVING every moment of it.

The Old Guard (Netflix, 125 Minutes) with Charlize Theron, Kiki Layne, Marwan Kenzari, Matthias Schoenaerts, Luca Marinelli, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Harry Melling. Written by Greg Rucka, based on The Old Guard by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández, Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood.

“Forever Is Harder Than It Looks” is the promotional tagline of The Old Guard, and a brilliantly realized adaptation of  Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernándezo’s graphic novel.  If you think immortal beings have it easy, this film disabuses you of that notion from its bloody and brutal start..

Andromache of Scythia (Charlize Theron) and her crew of deadly mercenaries, Booker, Joe, and Nicky (Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli are quick healing immortals who live in the shadows. Their activities and remarkable regenerative powers come to the attention of Merrick (Harry Melling), the head of a pharmaceutical firm who wants to capture and experiment on them. Things become even more complicated when they have to take a newly emerged immortal Nile (Kiki Layne) under their protection while constantly on the run from Merrick’s forces.

What makes The Old Guard a cut above other entries in this genre is not the explosive action sequences (which it has aplenty), but an unusual amount of emotional heft (mostly delivered by the immortals in the cast) that other films are sadly lacking. This film demands that you sit up and pay attention to their plight and that is rare and noteworthy.

Wonder Woman 1984 (Warner Brothers, 151 Minutes) with Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright and Connie Neilsen. Written by Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham, based on Wonder Woman by William Moulton Marston. Directed by Patty Jenkins.

It distresses me no end when armchair film critics and film fans on social media go out of their way to lambast a popular film when they have no idea how films are actually made.

Wonder Woman may have been created by psychologist William Moulton Marston in 1941, but today this comic book icon is the sole intellectual property of DC Comics and Warner Brothers. They, and corporations like them, are actually run by lawyers, agents, accountants and marketing drones, not creative artists.

And since they value it as a very valuable commodity, it took decades for a theatrical Wonder Woman film to be developed and made. And by an incredible stroke of good luck, they chose a gifted director, Patty Jenkins, to bring Wonder Woman to the big screen and grossing over $820 million dollars at the box office.

But Jenkins did not have total creative control of the first film; late in the filming, executives did think very much of the more subtle (and decidedly non-violent) ending she and the screenwriters came up with. Instead, they forced her to film a more bombastic endgame, figuring that audiences would just love a Die Hard-like finish.

Segue to filming the sequel; when Jenkins presented the new screenplay, co-written with Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham, the lengthy opening sequence featured a young Diana being taught an important lesson by her mother Hippolyta (Connie Neilsen) and aunt Antiope (Robin Wright). When the studio executives gave her notes indicating that that the sequence was unnecessary, Jenkins, having been burned once before, drew a line in the sand and said that the sequence was going to be done or she wouldn’t be doing this project. The executives, fearing a fan backlash and no 2020 summer tentpole film to present backed down.

Wonder Woman 1984 finds Diana Price (Gal Gadot) still mourning for her lost love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who sacrificed himself during the climactic battle of the first film. A chance encounter with an ancient artifact seemingly revives Trevor from the dead and attracts the attention of a fellow scientist Roberta Minerva (Kristen Wiig) and a power mad businessman Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) whose plans may bring on an apocalyptic event…

While the film itself received decidedly mixed reviews from film critics, a large number of fans were calling it a complete and utter failure. (As of this writing, WW1984 is rated  5.4/10 on IMDb, 59% on Rotten Tomatoes, 60% on MetaCritic and 67% on Google.com)

As for myself, I loved it and think it is quite as Hugo worthy as its predecessor. And yes, I plan on buying the Blu-Ray edition when it comes out at the end of the month. Enough said.

Palm Springs (Limelight Productions, 90 Minutes) with Christin Miloti, Andy Samberg, J.K. Simmons, Peter Gallagher, Tyler Hoechlin and Meredith Hagner. Written by Andy Siaraand Max Barbakow, Directed by Max Barbakow.

When I first heard about the buzz being generated by time loop comedy Palm Springs at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020, I admit I rolled my eyes a little at the prospect. Because these tales of repeated time travel paradox have become its own sub-genre since 1993’s Groundhog’s Day and I can only account for a handful which are of any merit (Looper, The Edge of Tomorrow, Interstellar and Source Code being my primary choices on the subject.)

I also admit that I am not really a fan of Andy Samberg’s work as an actor, at least until I saw Palm Springs. Samberg plays Nyles, a wedding guest who became trapped in a time loop. When he starts flirting with the bride’s troubled sister, Sarah (Christin Miloti), she returns his interest. But their romantic interlude is interrupted when a mysterious stranger named Roy (J. K. Simmons) suddenly and savagely attacks Myles and Sarah finds herself trapped in the loop as well.

Besides being an outstanding comedy, Palm Springs is also an introspective character study of three people trapped in a circumstance that is seeming out of their control and mediation on love, relationships and drinking WAY too much alcohol at weddings. And seeing that it clocks in at ninety minutes, it’s one of the rare feature films these days that can safely be nominated in the Short Form category.

Soul (Pixar/Walt Disney, 101 Minutes) with Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Angela Bassett, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Questlove, Alice Braga and Phylicia Rashad. Music by Trent Reznor, Atticus Finch and Jon Batiste. Written by Pete Docter, Mike Jones and Kemp Powers, Directed by Pete Docter.

Just when you think the geniuses at Pixar cannot possibly outdo themselves, they damned well do it AGAIN.

Joe Gardner (Jamir Foxx) a middle aged, middle grade music teacher in New York
City is still dreaming of scoring his big break as a jazz musician. When his friend Lamont (Questlove) gets him an audition to play with the great contemporary jazz player Dorothea Williams, he impresses her with his piano prowess and gets a gig playing in her band. Unfortunately for Joe, he’s so excited that falls down a manhole and finds himself struggling to escape “the Great Beyond”, where all souls migrate to after death. With the help of 22 (Tina Fey), a pesky proto-soul trying to figure out her path in the universe, Joe just may make it back to Earth in time for his gig…

If I were going to introduce a child to a film that might instill a love of music, especially an enduring art form like jazz, I would definitely make sure they saw Soul (SORRY, Not Sorry, La La Land!). The ambient score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch combined with the original songs by jazz composer Jon Batiste are perfectly bound together. I can say without any hesitation at all that Soul is probably the front runner to be nominated and win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film.  

And the voice casting is spot on and the plot is light, airy, and not terribly scary, which makes it perfectly suitable for kids and the Hugo Awards final ballot as well.     

The Midnight Sky (Netflix/Smokehouse Pictures, 118 Minutes), with George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo , Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Tiffany Boone and Caoilinn Springall. Screenplay by Mark L. Smith, Directed by George Clooney.

The Midnight Sky was yet another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, having a limited theatrical release last December followed by a quick turnaround to Netflix shortly thereafter. Almost immediately the word spread pretty quickly that it was either too slow, too episodic or too depressing. Of course, being the contrarian I am, I say nonsense.

George Clooney plays Augustine Lofthouse, a seriously ill scientist who is on his own after an Arctic research station is abandoned in the wake of an unnamed ecological calamity sweeping the Earth. He has given himself the task of making contact and warning off the Aether, a manned spacecraft with a crew returning from a successful mission from Jupiter. His task is complicated when he finds himself caring for a little girl who was supposed to have been evacuated earlier.

Meanwhile, aboard the Aether, the crew (Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo , Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir and Tiffany Boone) are facing their own set of problems; despite their best efforts they have lost contact with Earth and have an unexpected course correction that takes their ship into an dangerous and uncharted section of the solar system. 

Eventually, the story of these characters come together towards the end of this beautiful and poignant film which, through no fault of its own,had the bad timing to come out during a worldwide pandemic. Eventually, I hope The Midnight Sky will eventually find an audience that will appreciate it for what it is, a soulful parable about the endurance of the human spirit under crushing circumstances.

Sputnik (Vodorod Pictures/Sony Pictures/Hulu, 113 Minutes), with Oksana Akinshina, Pyotr Fyodorov, Fyodor Bondarchuk and Anton Vasiliev. Written by Oleg Malovichko and Andrei Zolotarev, Directed by Egor Abramenko.

While I have nothing but scorn and contempt for the political situation in Russia, I can easily and eagerly praise one of their horror films, which is one of the best genre films released in 2020.

Set in 1983, a Soviet space mission ends tragically when one cosmonaut is killed and another, Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov), suffers a traumatic injury. Quarantined at a remote military base, he is examined at length by Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina), a controversial neurophysiologist brought in by the base commander, Colonel Semiradov (Fyodor Bondarchuk).

Klimova soon finds out her true mission is to study and eventually find a way to control an alien creature inhabiting Konstantin’s body so the military can deploy it as a biological weapon. But Konstantin, and the creature, have other plans…

I haven’t watched very many foreign sf films until this past year and I more or less picked Sputnik out of the cornucopia of genre films made available on various streaming services. And I was quite surprised at how tightly scripted, well acted and directed Sputnik is. And on top of that, the production design, practical and visual effects are the equal of any other film made today. Sputnik deserves your attention as a potential Hugo nominee this year.

Possessor (Elevation Pictures, 104 Minutes) with Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Written and Directed by Brandon Cronenberg.

One of the last movies I came across that really intrigued me was Possessor, which turned up on the Thrilllist.com and the Film School Rejects websites as highly recommended.

The setup is perfectly twisted; Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) may seem like a divorced woman who still has some feelings for her ex-husband Michael (Rossif Sutherland) and her adorable son Ira (Gage Graham-Arbuthnot), but you would be dead wrong, in every sense of the word.

Vos is a cold blooded assassin who employs a high tech trick; she has her personality electronically inserted into a person who has access to the intended target who then kills and conviently commits suicide or is killed by the police. And Vos is pretty good at her job until she gradually starts losing control of her latest host, Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), the fiance of Ava Parse (Tuppence Middleton). Vos is possessing him in order to kill Ava and her father John (Sean Bean) in a murderous power grab by their board of directors.

As Vos spirals out of control, she finds herself in a constant battle against her increasingly fragmented memories and personality versus Tate’s traumatized and confused persona.

Possessor is the second feature film of Brandon Cronenberg, the son of the acclaimed Canadian director (and occasional actor) David Cronenberg. And from the looks of this film, we can see that the creative apple of this family fell VERY close to the trunk of the tree. If anything, the younger Cronenberg has taken his father’s themes of body horror, self loathing, sexuality and questions of personal identity to the Nth degree. I am not very fond of horror movies on the whole but I must say that I will be very, VERY interested in seeing his next film project.

Hamilton (5000 Broadway Productions/Walt Disney, 160 Minutes) with Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom, Jr., Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Daveed Diggs, Christopher Jackson, Jonathan Groff, Anthony Ramos Okieriete Onaodowan and Jasmine Cephas Jones as Peggy. Written and Composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Directed by Thomas Kail.

And finally, we have Hamilton.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s extraordinary musical dramatizing the life and times of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is an incredible marriage of song, story and history.

I am not here to sell you on how brilliant the melding of hip hop, rap and traditional Broadway into the score is. Or how great the costuming, lighting, choreography and production design are. Nor am I going to tell you what this rendition of historical events is even more potent and heart rending as Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards classic 1776. 

(But, C’MON MAN; Daveed Digg’s electrifying performance in the double role of the Marquis de Lafayette AND Thomas Jefferson alone is worth a Hugo nomination. But, I digress…)

But what I am telling you is that when a cast made of mostly people of color portray some of the most famous figures in American history not only gives a new perspective on how troubled America’s origins (and its subsequent action since then) are, it also is an infectious and energetic retelling that will inspire theater goers AND film fans for generations to come.

And through that particular lens I proclaim that this production of Hamilton most DEFINITELY qualifies as a tale of alternative history.

I am nominating Hamilton for a Hugo Award in the Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form category.

Anyone want to duel about it?


Stand Alone Films: Honorable Mentions

  • The Vast of Night
  • Bird of Prey OR the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn

Other Eligible 2020 Films of Note

  • Mulan (Walt Disney/Good Fear Productions)
  • Freaky (Universal/Blumhouse)
  • Onward ( Pixar/Walt Disney)
  • The Witches (HBO Max/Warner Brothers)
  • Vivarium (XYZ Films/Fantastic Films)
  • Time To Hunt (Netflix)
  • Archive (Vertical Entertainment)
  • Synchronic (XYZ Films)
  • Love and Monsters (Paramount)
  • Bill and Ted Face the Music (Orion/United Artists)
  • Save Yourselves (Bleecker Street)
  • Spontaneous (Paramount)
  • Sea Fever (Signature Entertainment)

After months of watching and research, filling in the ten slots on my Hugo Nomination Ballot was hard. In fact, the selection process was so tough, I’m not quite sure I’ve made my final choices. But, as of Sunday evening, I chose these productions as my nominees in the Best Dramatic Presentation categories:

Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form Nominees

  1. Dark – Season Three
  2. Lovecraft Country
  3. Tenet
  4. The Midnight Sun
  5. Hamilton

Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form

  1. Palm Springs
  2. Star Trek Discovery – Terra Firma Parts 1 & 2
  3. The Mandalorian – “Chapter 15: The Believer” with “Chapter 16: The Rescue”
  4. Soul
  5. Star Trek: Picard – Episodes 9 & 10 (“Broken Pieces”and “Et in Arcadia Ego”).

To those of you who have read both of these columns, I hope you have found the information and opinions I have presented here helpful and informative. I urge everyone to nominate and submit their favorite books, stories, non-fiction works, films, tv shows and other dramatic works by the upcoming deadline, which is 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time (PDT) on Thursday, March 19, 2021.

Good Luck choosing!

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #58

Top Recommendations for the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Part One

By Chris M. Barkley: The end of January marked the beginning of the nomination period for the 2021 Hugo Awards, which will remain open until March 19th at Midnight (Pacific Daylight Time).

We all continue to slog through and survive the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-2021 (so far) by wearing a mask in public, practicing social distancing, staying out of theaters and mostly sheltering in place. 

And the thing that REALLY helped us all from going mad in confinement was the incredible cornucopia of films, streaming series and special events that could have easily filled a dozen Best Dramatic Presentation Long and Short Form ballots this year.

In a perfect world, all of these nominees would be on the ballot. But, alas, we are limited by the number of slots available to fill in.

My criteria for a work being “Hugo Worthy” is obviously going to differ from yours. Also, I fully recognize that what I might consider the cream of the crop does not even begin to scratch the surface of other dramatic works; the plays, short videos and music albums that first saw the light of day in 2020. 

At this point, I’d like to climb up on my soapbox and complain, LOUDLY, about the inequities of the Best Dramatic Presentation split, which, ironically, I and several others originally proposed at the Aussiecon 3 World Science Fiction Society Business Meeting in 1999 and helped along to its inauguration at Torcon III in 2003. 

Here is the current wording of the Best Dramatic Presentation in the WSFS Constitution:

3.3.8: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form. Any theatrical feature or other production, with a complete running time of more than 90 minutes, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during the previous calendar year. 

3.3.9: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. Any television program or other production, with a complete running time of 90 minutes or less, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during the previous calendar year.   

To the casual observer, this seems like an excellent division that could neatly separate most theatrical movies from television episodes, which for the most part it did during the first decade of its existence.

But the number of fantasy, horror and sf projects in every medium has grown exponentially over the past two decades. Although several ideas about amending the BDP Hugo categories have been explored and proposed in the past few years, my good friend and (legendary) UK fan, Vincent Docherty, came up with what we thought was a serviceable solution several years ago. After consulting with Mr. Docherty, I made a few slight changes in the original proposal and offer them here publicly for the first time:

Best Dramatic Presentation – Feature Film:  Any theatrical, feature length film for screening, television, the internet or any other source, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during the previous calendar year. 

Best Dramatic Presentation – Episodic Series: Any continuing television series, presented on television, the internet or any other source, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during the previous calendar year. 

Best Dramatic Presentation –  Other Forms: Any visual program OR any other media production, which is neither a stand alone feature film or a television series, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during the previous calendar year. 

I think this proposal easily separates movies, television series and individual episodes of anthology series, plays, music albums and practically any other qualifying works. Whether or not this, or anything like it, will ever be implemented will be up to the members of the WSFS Business Meeting. 

One of the continuing pet peeves I have had with Hugo voters over the past few years is that they still tend to nominate individual episodes of a miniseries or a continuing series instead of nominating the whole work. I was especially disappointed when HBO’s Watchmen and The Mandalorian, which were both obviously serial stories, had individual episodes nominated and were not nominated on the whole as a series as they should have been. As a result, neither project won Hugo Awards.

In the capsule reviews I am offering below, I have separated the feature films (which will be presented in Part Two of this column) from the ongoing series. And while I will offer some suggested episodes for individual honors, I also heartily opine that each should be nominated in the Long Form category, too.  (Happily climbs off the soapbox…)

So, let’s move on to this year’s prospective nominees…

[Capsule reviews begin after the jump.]

Continue reading

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #57

Cover by Luigi-is-number-one at www.deviantart.com

We NEED To Talk About Worldcon (and the Hugo Awards, too)…

By Chris M. Barkley: This coming June, I will be celebrating my forty-fifth anniversary in science fiction fandom.

I have attended over two hundred conventions since 1976, including twenty-nine World Science Fiction conventions. I not only went to those Worldcons, I also had the pleasure of serving at a majority of them in some capacity, as a volunteer, staff member, office head or, in one instance at Chicon 2000, as a hotel liaison and a member of the Chair’s Staff.

Needless to say, I have witnessed or participated in a number of remarkable, bizarre and historic incidents during my tenure working at Worldcons. I not only know how the sausage was made, I helped make it as well.

Having been privy to what goes into producing a Worldcon, I have looked on in despair at the recent developments regarding this year’s Worldcon convention, DisCon III. The squabbling and outrage over the costs of the Hugo Award Pre-Ceremony Reception and the listing of nominees on the award might have gone as just business as usual if it hadn’t directly lead to the resignation of Co-Chair Colette Fozard and the designated Division Head, Jared Dashoff, who was to administer the 2021 Hugo Awards and site selection for the 2023 Worldcon. Ms. Fozard left over the vehement backlash and vicious personal attacks made against her and Mr. Dashoff (and the Hugo Administrator he was working with) resigned over the Convention Committee’s handling of the nomination controversy.   . 

And when you add the ongoing pandemic, the uncertainty over the prospects of holding an in-person convention by August AND recently announced bankruptcy of one of DisCon III main hotels, the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, it seems like a recipe for an epic disaster.

Yet, despite these setbacks and obstacles, my intuition tells me that these difficulties will be overcome and there will be a Worldcon in Washington D.C. Because any fannish historian will tell you that committees and veteran fan volunteers are determined and are not easily deterred.

But there is a deeper concern over the future of non-profit, fan run conventions.

The internet, the various new ways and forms of nearly instantaneous communications and the advent of social media have been a double edged sword for fandom and pose a vital question for fandom: Do the benefits of technology outweigh the darker, toxic effects of human interaction? And how long will it be before these complex volunteer endeavors become financially unviable.  

After decades of observation, it seems to me that the problems the World Science Fiction Society face are dogmatically systemic. 

To wit, all of those who either hold positions of authority in fandom for an inordinate amount of time have become so enamored with the way things have been done, over and over again, that they are unable, or unwilling, to evolve with the times.

We have built an elaborate web of fail-safes over time; the Fannish Inquisition, The annual WSFS Business Meeting, SMOFCon and its companion the email listserv, Connrunner.org and other various websites, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.

And yet, Worldcons keep on making the same planning faux pas and blunders, and have subsequently been the victim of trolls, disruptors, outliers and racists. 

Clearly and obviously, some swift and decisive action needs to be taken.

And make no mistake about it; when fandom WANTS to be swift and decisive, they can. We only have to go back and see what happened during the Puppygate Crisis of the previous decade, in which divisive slate nominations and voting was effectively squashed.

THAT sort of dynamic action is needed, right now.

I offer the following recommendations:

  1. The next several Worldcons and bidding committees need to either hire or seek pro-bono help from professional convention consultants about our con-running standards, organizational planning and practices. I say this as an insider who has been volunteering at cons and Worldcons over since 1983. We NEED someone from the outside looking in because despite all of our efforts to run better conventions, we need someone to take a hard, objective look at what we do. Trying to reinvent the same wheel all over again with each new Worldcon committee isn’t very productive.
  2. There is  an overall and ongoing concern is the perpetuation of gatekeeping in  fandom. I know this, I’ve seen it in action and have had numerous, personal experiences myself. The fact is, those of us who have been in the vanguard of conrunning this past generation are all getting old. If we want our conventions and traditions to continue much past the current decade, we need to get more people involved in fandom who will be imbued with the enthusiasm to continue on. While self examination is certainly called for here, the need to be less dismissive of new ideas and people (and the perceived gatekeeping that goes along with it) is more important.
  3. We should amend the WSFS Constitution to allow the Business Meeting to occur outside of the realm of the main convention several times a year, either at SMOFCons, regional conventions, neutral sites not involved in a bid for a Worldcon or via Skype, Zoom or other meeting apps. These meetings should be widely publicized and open to the general public to attend in person or remotely. If anyone wanted to present business, raise objections or vote on motions, they would either have to be a current member of a Worldcon or be given the opportunity to buy a current supporting or attending membership. Of course, the main objections to this proposal would be that either it might be too complicated to accomplish OR bad actors may want to disrupt the process. I think that it is worth that risk to present what the Business meeting does transparently to the public and drum up support from those who may be unaware or curious about the Worldcon and the Hugo Awards. And who knows, perhaps some of those people will end up attending or helping current or future conventions. 
  4. I have either sponsored or instigated many changes in the Hugo Awards over the past twenty years. My goal was to help raise its profile to the world, to honor those who were not being given enough attention by fandom and to keep them viable in an increasingly crowded media landscape. It seemed obvious to me that as recently as five years ago, several categories, including the Best Dramatic Presentation, Editor, Artist and Related Work categories were badly in need of an overhaul due to the changing scope and presentations of the categories involved. Whether this would involve an expansion or retraction of the number of awards we give out is a serious issue that has been repeatedly postponed or regulated by committees by the Business Meeting for quite a while now. The needless quibbling over what should happen must come to an end and some definitive decisions need to be made. For the record, I agree that as many essential nominees should be listed on the nominating and final ballot. 
  5. As for the Hugo Award itself and the expenses they incur, I offer several options to consider: We can consider amending the WSFS Constitution to hold Worldcon on a biannual basis and consider a blanket two year period for nominations. If that idea is too radical, how about splitting all the categories up and awarding a set every other year? Or, if we choose, we can keep the current system but establish a copyrighted, affordable and standard base (using the Academy Awards Oscar base as an example) for future use. 

Now, I can imagine that some of the fannish pundits reading this have rejected nearly every suggestion I have outlined above out of hand. I will refer them back to the comment I made earlier about being more self critical and listening more.

My objective here is twofold; first, to get your attention and secondly, to tell as many people as possible that fandom has some big problems looming on the horizon. 

I have tried, at the WSFS Business Meetings, at conventions and throughout the columns I have written over the past few years in these columns, have either tried to present my experiences, offer solutions or, in this case, sound the alarm to a set of growing concerns.

After twenty years of either attending or offering legislation at the WSFS Business Meeting, I declared in 2019 that I would no longer attend, for reasons that I have outlined here in previous columns. I have taken up a new role.  

If fandom is a proverbial glass house, I’m the fellow chucking the rocks at the windows.

To get your attention. For our own good.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #56

Exiting Trumplandia, November-December 2020

By Chris M. Barkley:

Scott Heins/Getty Images

FOUR YEARS AGO, 22 November 2016: “Barkley — Since You (Didn’t) Ask — Trumplandia, Weeks One and Two”.

On October 28th, 1937, astronomer Karl Reinmuth of Heidelberg University made a momentous discovery, a fast-moving asteroid with a diameter of 2700 feet, which he dubbed Hermes. Reinmuth lost track of Hermes after a few days but it was estimated to have come within 300,000 miles of the Earth’s orbit. 

Students of astronomy would be happy to point out to you that in terms of magnitude, the Earth just barely escaped being hit by a devastating, possibly even an extinction level event.

On November 7th, at 11:38 AM EST, America dodged its own version of Hermes, when the Associated Press called the state of Pennsylvania for Joseph R. Biden, Jr., projecting a total of 279 Electoral Votes and the right to be called President-Elect.

All across America, celebrations sprang up spontaneously in several major cities. As the news broke that afternoon, church bells across Europe rang continuously for hours.

And Monday, December 14, 2020, will go down as one of the momentous days in American History,

-At 2:28 PM Pacific Time, Electoral College delegates at the state capitol of California cast 55 votes for Joseph R. Biden for President of the United States and Kamala Harris as Vice President, officially and legally confirming both to serve a four-year term starting next month.

– In the early morning hours of the same day, thousands of frontline health care workers and elderly patients all over North America began receiving a COVID-19 vaccine developed (at “warp speed”, as it were) by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.

– And, on the other side of the coin, the United States officially recorded its 300,000th death of the pandemic (although that total may be significantly higher once other unrecorded deaths are factored in at a later date. 

But it hasn’t been all sweetness and light In the six weeks since Associated Press called the state of Pennsylvania Biden, unofficially sealing the election for Biden and Harris.

I remember the moment very well; Juli, having been driven stir crazy by our county’s Covid status (RED, verging on PURPLE) and the drawn out election results, had opted to go to Trader Joe’s to do some safely distanced shopping. I, on the other hand, decided to stay home and putter around the house to keep tabs on statistician/reporter/cult nerd obsession Steve Kornacki on MSNBC. (NOTE: He became so popular, NBC Sports ‘promoted” him to their NFL telecasts to provide football playoff forecasts and predictions.)

At around 11:30 AM Eastern time, I was busy vacuuming the living room the AP call was announced. I YELLED out my delight and sent Juli a text IN ALL CAPS! When she got hope, we popped open a bottle of champagne, toasted and got slightly drunk. Similarly, when California cast its Electoral votes last Monday, some celebratory day drinking was called for…

The current occupant of the White, whom I described in a 2016 column as a “racist, sexist, xenophobe, and the alleged perpetrator of numerous sexual assaults,” has not gone quietly into that good, political night. In fact, in the weeks that have passed since November 7th, he has claimed, falsely, that he actually “won” the election because of voter fraud, faulty voting machines and a myriad of other untrue musings, unproven conspiracy theories and outright lies. 

Additionally, he has shown VERY little interest in actually governing since the election, even as the number of infected people is rising perilously, both branches of Congress have been deadlocked over a pandemic relief package, virus vaccines are in short supply due to lack of government intervention and most of the country’s systems have seemingly been penetrated by Russian backed hackers who were just detected this past week after several months of activity.  

And while the Biden-Harris ticket garnered more than 81.2 million votes, the opposition ticket racked up 74.2 million votes. I used to believe that there were more of us than there were of the odious “them”, who have no qualms supporting a man and administration who are seeming hell bent on undermining the foundations of democracy itself. 

But, on the bright side, we’re within sight of the end of this political and health crisis and I am cautiously optimistic.

I say cautiously because we are possibly eight or nine months away from having a majority of the country vaccinated, which would mean that DisCon III might be able to hold the Worldcon in Washington D.C. safely, with the country under better management.

I, along with thousands of other con-going fans, writers, editors, artists and publishers will rejoice when the all-clear is given and will happily resume flooding hotels and convention centers around the world. 

Looking back over the past four years, I can also point to the things that kept us all inspired (and somewhat sane) during this tumultuous period. The podcasts and fanzines. The novels and collections. The fan and professional magazines and artists. The comics, manga and graphic novels. 

And, of course, the television and films; Star Trek Discovery and The Mandalorian (both of which I’ll be reviewing by the end of the year), The Expanse, Wonder Woman and The Midnight Sky (BOTH opening Christmas Day!), The Good Place, Good Omens, Doctor Who, the films of Marvel Studios and much, too much more to list here. 

And when we do reconvene, we should all pause, give thanks for surviving and reflect on what happened during this pandemic. We should also mourn our dead, from natural causes, accidents, or the virus, who were some of our best and brightest souls. 

Ad Astra to the departed and Happy Holidays to us all. The BEST is yet to come. (Fingers Crossed!)

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #55

Remain In Light 

By Chris M. Barkley:

(Author’s Note: I had originally wanted to write a three part retrospective history on the past four years, with the first two parts cleverly titled “Stop Making Sense” and “Life During Wartime”. But, as we all hurtle towards the MOST important federal election in the history of America, I thought a change of tone and focus was sorely needed. NOT that I’m going to ignore that completely, though. Thank You for your time and attention…Chris B.)

Photo by Charlie Moorman
Photo by Laura Moorman

We live in a very fractious and troubled age. And that’s putting it mildly. 

I have been suffering through many sleepless nights over the past nine months; very often I have awakened for no reason at all at three or four in the morning with tears in my eyes. 

Between the COVID-19 pandemic and its ever growing death count, the subsequent economic turmoil it caused, the social unrest that followed in the wake of the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and many other African Americans and the lack of coherent leadership from the current administration is enough to keep any sane person up all night.

And for me, it begs several questions; was America EVER great, or were we collectively just fooling ourselves all along? Do we have a future? And most importantly, where is America headed next after the end of the election season on Tuesday, November 3rd?

With all of this going on, the moments of joy or hope were few and far between. But they were there, and I was lucky enough to have a life-affirming miracle come to me.

On April 1st, my daughter, Laura Moorman (nee Barkley) and her husband, Charlie Moorman, announced that they were expecting a child. This was met with widespread skepticism by myself and my partner, Juli, since Laura has professed on many occasions over the years to her mother, myself, her siblings and friends that she was perfectly happy being childless. 

This belief was reinforced because of the image of an alien baby accompanying the “announcement”on her Facebook page. 

So, you can imagine my shock and surprise when Laura posted an image of a very REAL photo of a pregnancy test with a positive result later that same day. Welcoming a pandemic baby was definitely not on my 2020 bingo card, but it was a welcome and heartening one, to be sure.

(Also: This is proof positive that my daughter inherited my sense of humor. Because I LOVE a good prank and I totally would have done something like this if I were in her situation. So, Yay!)

A sign recently posted near a synagogue around the corner from my home. Photo by Chris Barkley

But what sort of world has little Navia been born into? Well, I feel as though that collectively, we have failed her in many respects.

Currently, our planet is undergoing climate change. More heat, more severe storms and other sorts of inclement weather. We have a BIG pollution problem, especially with plastic. Southwest Ohio has a plentiful supply of water at the moment, but that could change in the next decade or so. If she or her parents decide to move, they will have to take droughts, susceptibility to forest fires, mudslides and flooding. I hate to even mention the long overdue earthquake from the New Madrid Fault along the Arkansas-Tennessee-Missouri border or the faint possibility of a major volcano erupting somewhere in the United States in her lifetime.

We are still a long way from solving widespread poverty, affordable housing and income inequality. The running culture wars between the two main political parties will probably continue for some time.

And even if there is a change of administrations in the next two and a half months, there are other obstacles for Navia to face. Being bi-racial, there will still be people out there who will hate her on sight because of her parentage. 

As she grows up, she will still face racism and sexism. There will be people who will try to regulate or restrict her reproductive rights. And if she finds that she is gay, bisexual, trans, non-binary or just queer, there will still be side glances, unwanted attention and anger over her decisions.     

Then, there’s the COVID-19 pandemic. As I write this, in November of 2020, we still have a significant number of the populace unwilling to socially distance AND wear a mask, lack a simplified and effective treatment for the disease or, most importantly, a vaccine to prevent the further spread and future outbreaks.

That’s MOST of the bad news. But, there is some good news.

First of all, Navia has two loving parents, Laura and Charlie. And backing them up are several sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and other relatives. Whatever she decides to do, she has an army of love backing her up.

And in that army, Navia will have the benefit of several hundred years of wisdom and advice. And in addition, she will have access to the most modern technology and information retrieval. She’ll also have the opportunity to get the best education and advice on what she might want to pursue in her lifetime.

But, there’s more. Much more.

Navia’s name came from her father, Charlie. He told me that it came to him in a dream, shortly after Laura found out she was pregnant and they began discussing what to name their baby. 

Her name, derived from the Sanskrit language, means “Rose that has blossomed”. The Urban Dictionary weighs in with this definition:

Navia is a kind, fun, nice loving, beautiful girl. She’s also a badass, if you piss her off, you’re screwed. She’s the best girl you’ll meet, and everyone will be after her. Navia also means success. She will achieve her goals no matter what gets in her way.”

So, future suitors should beware.

Navia Moorman was born on October 7th, 2020. My partner Juli and I had the pleasure of meeting her in person two and a half weeks later. 

As my daughter placed her into my arms, I felt an enormous amount of pride and love for Navia and her parents. It rather boggles my mind that in the years after I have passed on, one quarter of my genome will still be wandering around, having adventures as Navia discovers herself and her purpose in life. In turn, I am humbled and honored to be alive to bear witness to a new light being kindled in this universe. 

It is the light she brings into this world that gives me hope. A hope that cannot be extinguished by all of the horror, madness and suffering that preceded her birth a few weeks ago. 

A hope that Navia, and the newly born members of this generation can and will heal the Earth and bring people closer together. 

Photo by Juli Marr

Several days later, I awoke again in the middle of the night. But this time, instead of tears and fear, I came to realize that I had more to offer than my wisdom and knowledge.

The very next morning, I began planning to make a Time Capsule for Navia.

Over the four decades that I have been in fandom, I have collected a lot of stuff.

And now, like grandparents throughout history, I have someone to pass these precious heirlooms along to.

There is (or rather, was) a common belief in fandom that the ideal age for a child to be formally introduced to the concepts of fantasy and science fiction is when they reached ten years old.

I’m almost sure that probably isn’t exactly true for most 21st century children nowadays because they are exposed to many more sources of media that I could have imagined when I was ten.

I will leave the timing to her parents, but essentially, I am planning to stock the time capsule with a cornucopia of cultural items I would imagine might appeal to a ten year old.

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling: NEVER MIND her recent transphobic comments, the value of her creation far outweighs and supersedes any her personal problems. The adventures of Harry, Hermione and Ron have been proven to be universal and timeless. And I have no doubt that they will remain so for some time to come.

Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine by Jay Williams and William Abrashkin: The third book in the Danny Dunn series finds the would-be boy inventor and his friends “borrowing” the computer of his scientist mentor to DO THEIR HOMEWORK! I loved this book as a kid because of the audacity of the story and the consequences they faced when their plot was discovered by their very wise teacher. 

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov: If you’re going to be formally introduced to robots, why not read the classic that codified how robots were perceived in the mid-20th century. The stories may be a bit creaky to some but I think a young person could still be entertained by them.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (YA novel and 2018 film): The Oprah Winfrey produced film was panned and underrated at the time of its release. But Storm Reid, a biracial actor who plays the lead, Meg Murray, is brilliant in the role and is the beating heart of this movie. I think Navia will be thrilled to see someone just like her in the middle of a fantasy movie. I can only hope that she will also be enchanted by the novel as well. I know that some people find the christian subtext and allegory a bit troubling but I didn’t have a problem with it when I re-read it. We’ll see, I suppose.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman (novel and the classic 1988 film): I really don’t have to explain this, do I? Enough said.

What movies could possibly scare a ten-year-old a decade from now? I’m betting that Ghostbusters (1984 and 2016 versions), Poltergeist (1984), ET (1982), Labyrinth (1985) and, of course, Beetlejuice (1988), can still get the job done

In addition to all of this, there will be comics and graphic novels, buttons, DVDs of Star Trek (Season One of the Original Series), Star Wars (Episode One: The Phantom Menace), Doctor Who (Eccelston and Tennant’s episodes), some fannish clothing, hats and a few other surprises.

I’m also going to put a note in the time capsule as well. It will say:

Dear Navia,

We know you may not like every single thing in this little package from your grandfather’s past. These are the things that he knew and loved from the time we were your age upwards to when we both became adults.

If you have any siblings by the time you read this, we hope that your parents have taught you that it is always better to share your things with them than hoarding them all for yourself.

Always remember, it is better to give than receive and that the love you make for others should always be equal (or more) than the love you take.

Be Well, Live Long and Prosper,

Your Grandfather and Grandmother

Chris B. & Juli

PS: We also included a 500 Lumen (that’s REALLY BRIGHT, trust us on this) so that you may enjoy some of your books under your bedcovers after mom and dad go to to sleep.

If you’re into that sort of thing. Which you just might be.

PPS: Batteries Not Included.

C &J

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #54

Crisis Point: The 2020 World Fantasy Convention 

By Chris M. Barkley: On the few occasions that I was privileged to head up the World Science Fiction Convention’s Press Office, I gave my staff members a great deal of latitude in their duties. However, I had only one directive that was absolutely sacred; if they spotted a member, staffer or volunteer that was in need of assistance, they were to stop whatever they were doing and render assistance.   

In my 44-plus years of congoing, volunteering and activism, I have come to believe that fandom is family; we may not all be related on a familial basis and we all may not agree on certain points or get along with each other, but more often than not, we try to be available to each other and when the offer of help is made, it is be heartfelt and genuine. 

So I felt more than a bit of discomfort when I initially heard about the travails of the 2020 World Fantasy Convention. 

The controversy surrounding the Salt Lake City based bid started when the preliminary list of convention programming items were posted online, which is chronicled here. miyuki jane pinckard, an eminent writer and game designer offered her concerns in an open letter that was published on a Google Docs page.

The most immediate reactions to the posting were swift and harsh, charging that the programming staff was elitist, racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic and generally tone deaf.

Well known author and editor K. Tempest Bradford has an extensive history of difficulties and criticisms of WFC which she lays out here. Bradford, and others whom she offers evidentiary links to, are spot on about how previous World Fantasy Convention Board of Directors and convention committees have repeatedly failed to address a variety of issues. Mainly of accessibility for disabled members, sexual harassment and a lack of diversity in programming and staffing at conventions among MANY other things.

Ms. Bradford did not pull any punches in her commentary; condemning the Chair, Ginny Smith and WFC’s Board of Directors for not responding sooner to her email entreaties about systemic problems they continually seem to suffer from over a long period of time. In an addendum to her blog post, dated October 10th), Ms. Bradford wrote the following:

It has now been almost 10 years of this. At this point, if you are attending and/or participating in WFC 2020 you are participating in a system that is unsafe for BIPOC and other marginalized attendees and has been for a long time.

And yes, even if they “fix” the many program items with problematic content thanks to help from panelists, I still say: don’t go. Remember, we’ve done this dance before. More than once. And they were offered help and guidance on how not to have this happen. Don’t reward them by accepting last-minute changes that had to be spearheaded by folks who have probably already done too much emotional labor around this.

It should not be on BIPOC and other marginalized folks to clean up after white people who refuse to do right unless Twitter gets mad at them.

I asked folks on Twitter not to help them with programming for these reasons and then I said:

Hey there white, able-bodied, cishet ppl of SFF who constantly claim allyship with marginalized folk: Now’s the time to prove it.

WFC depends on you to come even if BIPOC don’t. Therefore: drop your membership or, at least, rescind participation on panels. Take a stand.

I stand by this ask. Even though I’m apparently being too “extreme“. This hella long post is my testament to why.

So, it appears to me that Ms. Bradford, and many others it seems, have come to the conclusion that the World Fantasy Convention no longer has any value and must be boycotted or ended completely. Doors are to be slammed closed, roads completely destroyed and bridges are to be set alight and burn brightly.

I am going to beg to differ.

But, before I do so, I am going to point out a few things.

I have only attended one and a quarter World Fantasy Conventions in my life. I went to the 1983 convention in Chicago, which featured Gene Wolfe and Manly Wade Wellman as the author guests, Rowwena Morrrill as the Artist GoH and Robert Bloch as the Toastmaster. It was a very relaxed and rather subdued convention in comparison to the six Worldcons I had previously attended. And hey, I got to meet and chat with Fritz Leiber! I had a good time.

As I became more involved with attending and working at Worldcons, I just couldn’t fit the WFC into my schedule, either economically or timewise. I did have the opportunity to go on a day trip to the 2010 Convention in Columbus and hang out in the public areas for a few hours and chat with a few friends, but that was about all. This is the extent of my involvement with the WFC.

Reader, this past Thursday evening, I received an email from Ginny Smith, asking for my help. I got around to reading it Friday morning. 

At this point in time, I was unaware of miyuki jane pinckard’s letter nor had read Ms. Bradford’s or anyone else’s comments on Twitter.

It wouldn’t have made any difference if I had. Ms. Smith, a person who I had never heard of or met before, asked for my help. 

And I, without hesitation said yes. Why?

First, because it is my nature to help. Maybe it’s a remnant of my Catholic grade school upbringing, my Boy Scout training or my unbreakable convention rule. My first instinct is to render assistance, if possible. 

Secondly, I live by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King,Jr., whose framed picture hangs prominently on my office wall and features the following quote, “The time is always right to do what is right.”  

I Immediately sought out and found the File 770 post, pinckard’s letter and Ms. Bradford’s comments. Frankly, none of what I found looked good for Ms. Smith or the convention. She explained to me in a follow up email that she was a complete novice at con-running and was in way over her head from the start. She also told me that she had made several apologies about the snafu and that others beside myself were helping out as well.

One of those people is Christine Taylor-Butler, an African-American author who is a graduate of MIT and Art & Design. She is the creator of the The Lost Tribes young adult series and an impressive number of other fiction and non-fiction books (80!) for children whose various subjects range from a biography of Michelle Obama, to the physical sciences, geography and United States History and Civics.

The other person declined to be identified. The reason she specifically stated was that she doesn’t want others to assume that she is available to perform a similar function for dozens of other conventions. Actually, what she was quoted saying, “I’m simply taking the principle of white people helping to clean up the messes white people have created.” So, respect.

Ms. Smith specifically asked me to review a number of the program items that people found objectionable and offer some insights on how they could be revised to be more inclusive and not offensive. 

I spent a majority of my day Saturday writing up critiques of the titles and descriptions of the panels. I also gave her a few pointed comments on how the Board could have been more helpful in her endeavors. Here are two of the examples:


  • Program Item 30: Norse and Germanic Fantasy: The Northern Thing

Original Description: “Beowulf to the Niebelungenlied, Norse and Germanic myth have been one of the major notes sounded by European and Anglophone fantasy and arguably the basis of sword and sorcery as we know it. We find such echoes from the works of William Morris, J.R.R. Tolkein, Paul Anderson From to more recent works like David Drake, Diana Paxson, George R.R. Martin, and Marvel Comics Thor. Let us explore this particular magic…“

Criticism: “The disparity present in compiling the cultural traditions of the entire rest of the world into one panel while devoting an entire panel on Norse and Germanic tales is telling. This is the most highly detailed panel, with specific authors mentioned, a courtesy that was not afforded the other panels. There is also no attempt to address the problematic side of Norse mythology and its co-option by white supremacists and fascists, including the Nazis. This should absolutely be part of any panel about being inspired by Norse mythology. And yet, the panel fails to actually name any Nordic writers and focuses entirely on Anglophone writers.”

Revised Suggestion: “From Beowulf to the Niebelungenlied, Norse and Germanic myth have been one of the major notes sounded by European and Anglophone fantasy and arguably the basis of sword and sorcery as we know it. Let us explore this particular magic.”

My Commentary: It seems to me (at least) that the critics of this description doth protest TOO MUCH. (Climbs onto soapbox). I may be Black, but even I am aware of the Norse and German influences generally in Westen culture. And YES, it is both intriguing, thrilling AND problematic. Do the critics think that the panelists are unaware of those problems or wouldn’t actually discuss them? Do the racist undertones really NEED to be described in the panel description? (Climbs off soapbox). So, what the objection is REALLY about is that this is yet another panel about the subject, which they are probably tired of seeing. Point taken. So, the panelists can either have a discussion about how those writers have influenced modern fantasy or they drill down on the older regional writers of the genre. The new description could be adapted to go either way, in my opinion. By the way, it’s Poul Anderson, not Paul Anderson. You’ll get a ton of side eye from eagle eyed fantasy fans for a mistake like that and deservedly so.


  • Program Item 54: Female Tropes and Archetypes

Original Description: “Women characters for years were mostly helpmates and love interests or the reward for an adventure well done. But changes in society have brought a welcome change to this restrictive way of viewing half the populace. How are today’s authors pushing past the old, tired tropes to bring a more real and interesting take on their female characters?”

Criticism: “Female Tropes and Archetypes” feels like a topic that was covered twenty years ago.

Revised Description: None, with this note: “Again, we’re not sure how to respond to this. Yes, it’s a topic that has been covered but continues to have an impact on the genre. So… we’re inclined to leave this one alone?”

My Commentary: OK, this is an easy fix; the problem here is that the panel is gender specific and not very inclusive to other people. So,my suggestion would be: remove “Women” from the title and description and call it Tropes and Archetypes in Fantasy (Modern or Otherwise): Fantasy  characters of all ages, genders and a spectrum of sexualities populate the landscape of Modern Fantasy. Gradual political and societal changes over the past few decades have brought a welcome change to the restrictive way of viewing others who had not previously been considered in the genre. How are today’s authors pushing past the old, tired tropes to bring a more real and interesting take on their fantasy characters?”


In total, I offered my suggestions for eight other programming items that were point of contention.

After the disastrous fiasco of the 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony, it would have been very easy to heed Ms. Bradford and others, and just let the WFC crash and burn on the tarmac and left as a stark warning to other con-runners. 

I, for better or worse, am not one of those people. I believe that the Hugo Awards Ceremony could have been saved with some last minute intervention. I also believe the same can be said of this year’s World Fantasy Convention. 

Ginny Smith, her convention committee and, I hope, its Board of Directors, are working night and day to try to put on a convention that is worthy of attending (albeit virtually) and not fall victim to their earlier mistakes.  

If they were truly as racist and insensitive as their critics have claimed, they could have thrown up their hands and said, ‘This is OUR convention, WE run it as we see fit and YOU  can take it or leave it.” That’s not what I have experienced over the past several days.

Earlier today, the World Fantasy Convention Board of Directors released a statement to me, via an email from Ginny Smith:

“The WFC Board is sensitive to the criticisms by members from marginalized communities within the fantasy and horror genres. We acknowledge the minimal representation of these diverse populations on the Board and are taking steps to rectify that lack of perspective. We have voted to add at least one ex officio member to our number to review future WFC programs. We are currently reaching out to proposed candidates to discuss and will release a statement when the new Board member(s) are chosen.” 

– The World Fantasy Convention Board of Directors 

2020 marks the forty-sixth year for the World Fantasy Convention. In spite of its ongoing problems, I still believe that it still is a vital part of our fannish community and should not be canceled or abandoned. 

I HOPE that the calamitous events and harsh, but justifiable criticisms leveled this year’s edition can finally be the tipping point that finally puts this convention on the right path. This will also involve a lot of introspection AND changes by the Board of Directors, which, among other things, being more transparent about the bidding process, staffing, volunteer memberships, programming, the awards and most importantly, how they operate. 

Because it’s always the right time to open the doors of inquiry, build cultural roadways and reconstruct those emotional bridges.

Right here, right now and without delay!

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #53

Some Birthday Thoughts – 64th Annual Edition

By Chris M. Barkley: 

Chris M. Barkley. Photo by Juli Marr.

When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a Valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine
If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four

– John Lennon and Paul McCartney, circa 1967.

One of my earliest childhood memories occurred fifty-seven years ago this week; on Wednesday, August 28th 1963, I clearly remember parking myself in front of my grandmother’s Philco television for an afternoon of cartoons and silliness that I was accustomed to.

Instead, I saw a sea of faces. All gathered at that time by what I took to be a large lake. The faces, mostly of black people but with a sprinkling of others mixed in, all gathered near a domed building. I tried other channels. It was on all three major network stations. I was so mesmerized by this mass of humanity that was speaking and cheering that I gave up on seeing cartoons and watched for a while… 

What I was witnessing of course, was the March on Washington For Civil Rights, centered around the Lincoln Memorial, was one of the most galvanizing events of American history at that time. I had just turned seven years old.

When I was that small child, I was totally oblivious to the troubles of the world: racial prejudice and strife, lynchings (still a THING back then, people), stranger danger or pedophile priests, redlining, segregation and the ongoing Cold War with various Communist entities. 

I’ve been told that when I was a boy, I was very shy and often seeking solitude, either by myself or curled up with any of a number of Dr. Seuss books my parents bought for me. 

There’s also this: sometimes, I would inexplicably wake up in the middle of the night and wonder about the future. Would I be alive to see it? What would it be like? Where would my parents and siblings be? I spent countless nights wrestling with these existential questions…

Now, on this end of the timeline and on the occasion of my 64th birthday, I can stand back and recall all of those struggles and how I dealt with them, one by one. There was a steep learning curve as I navigated through life; with school, dealing with other people, raging hormones, the bullies, beatings, self-doubt and several bouts of deep depression.

And against all odds, I survived, alive, well and somewhat healthy for my age.

And as I sit and write this, I see history repeating itself. This past Thursday, August 28th 2020, I again saw a sea of faces, a glorious rainbow of skin color, in high definition, all calling out for justice, equality and peace. But this gathering was concerned with the same sorts of basic issues that could have been ripped from a mid-20th century newspaper; racial strife, gun violence, police brutality, rioting in the streets and voter suppression. 

America today seems more like the America of 1968, when we seemed to be a mess, politically, physically and socially divided to the point of militancy, with the added complication of a pandemic disease which has no known effective treatment, vaccine or cure.  

All this leaves me wondering, after nearly sixty years, why do a substantial number of American white people still loathe, discriminate and outright hate people of color such as myself, simply because we look different or have differing attitudes and opinions. We may not have originated on this continent but neither did they!

THIS is not the science fictional future I signed up for.

And the answer is this; we, collectively, have not had a reckoning with our past history of the illegal taking of land from Native Americans, the enslavement of African natives and the combination of systemic racism that on the surface,  promises an abundance of freedom and opportunity but, in fact, has created a de facto caste system of poverty and income inequality.

The ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic and the less than adequate response to the emergency (and other malicious missteps) by the current administration has shorn away the thin veneer of propaganda that the United States is a shining monument of freedom. 

And yet…

People, immigrants, illegal or otherwise, still want to come here. They want to come even though the President can’t string two coherent sentence together without the help of a teleprompter, the people he has chosen to guide governmental policies are incompetent or corrupt, the Majority Leader of the United States Senate deliberately subverts the process of democracy on a regular basis and a good portion of the white population doesn’t want them there.

Why? Because they have seen glimpses of how great we can be. 

We have enacted civil rights legislation. Our collective efforts put twelve men on the moon and returned them all safely to Earth. Our technological innovations are still admired to a certain extent. We continue to fight against climate change and environmental reforms even when the government refuses to acknowledge it. Our athletes are showing that they are politically aware and active. Our artists still have the right to express themselves freely, through books, paintings, sculptures, music and architecture.

And when black people, like Jacob Blake, Breonna Taylor, Botham Jean, Atatianna Jefferson, Philando Castille and George Floyd and are murdered in their homes or in the street by the police, the collective outrage is felt by many more than just the Black Community alone.

And then, most notably, there are the visual arts: Star Trek. And Star Wars. The Marvel Universe of films. Babylon 5. The Expanse. The Good Place. Rick and Morty, And, yes, The Orville and Galaxy Quest as well.

These films and television shows are our true brand and main calling card; the possible futures that may not be pretty, desirable or very easy, but they are thrilling to experience and definitely show that we have some sort of future to look forward to and it is worth living for.

I still wake up in the middle of the night, moreso in the past six months. As I lie in bed, I still worry about the future. Although now I mostly wonder what will happen in the November elections, if I have taken enough precautions so I don’t become ill and what sort of future my grandchildren will inherit from us. And, more morbidly and with growing distress, how much time I may have left to live.

Somehow, some way, I still believe that there is hope for myself, our country and the world. That’s probably due to my lifelong love of science fiction and fantasy. 

That spark of optimism, buried deep within even the darkest of the novels, stories and films that I have loved and enjoyed all of these years, has kept my own spirits alive and well. I have chosen to embrace the future, not be consumed by it.

Because ready or not, the future is now. 

This column is dedicated to the memory of Chadwick Boseman, a splendid human being and an extraordinary actor. Best known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Black Panther, he spoke the following lines, which resonates, for America and the world at large, NOW, more than ever. Rest In Peace, My King; we will always be inspired by you and the many roles you played, to make this a better world…

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #52

A Few (Pointed) Observations of the 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony

By Chris M. Barkley:  I usually don’t offer any commentary after the Hugo Awards are given out because the will of the voters has been expressed and as the song goes, “Some will win, some will lose, some of them will sing the blues.”

And when you consider what happened last Saturday morning in Wellington, New Zealand, I think what unfolded may have looked really bad, but it could have been far, far worse.

Having said that, I think the CoNZealand Hugo Awards Ceremony team deserves a modicum of credit for bringing us a telecast of the awards at all under somewhat grueling circumstances;  even though there were a number of other glitches that were glaringly evident as time went on.

And on.

AND ON…

THE HUGO AWARDS CEREMONY

Yes, the CoNZealand Hugo Awards Ceremony will probably go down as one of the longest and most poorly executed as of now and well into the near future. I am quite sure that everyone involved, and I definitely include George R.R. Martin and the CoNZealand production team had the best of intentions.

I believe that he, and Robert Silverberg, were trying to convey to a global audience the grand, sweeping history and the importance of the award, which is still, after sixty-seven (67!) years, the only prestigious literary award given to authors and artists by readers. But they took an awfully long time to convey that. 

When planning something as arduous as the Hugo Awards Ceremony, the uppermost thing to keep in mind is that brevity and conciseness are your friends and droning on and boring your audience is not what you want under any circumstances. A VERY tight script would have redeemed this broadcast.

Also, and more importantly, GRRM and the producers on his end completely misread the audience tuning in. While his folksy reminiscing and cute anecdotes about the good old days of pre-internet fandom may have been entirely appropriate on a Worldcon panel (of which I have no doubt he has done countless times beforehand) his comments were perceived by the somewhat younger crowd as meandering, problematic and boring. His stories were about as meaningful and relevant as Henry Ford regaling Elon Musk about what a genius idea the production line was.

I am rather puzzled how GRRM, a seasoned writer/producer of several tv shows, could have possibly not foreseen this Titanic-sized iceberg in the making. And with at the very least five or so months of advanced planning, it was entirely avoidable. 

But there’s the rub; this fiasco was NOT entirely GRRM’s fault. He had plenty of help. 

Someone in CoNZealand’s end of the production and the producer in charge of GRRM’s studio, whom I do not know and cannot readily find,  should have recognized the problems at the scripting stage and should be held ultimately responsible for this fiasco. And whomever they are, they should have provided GRRM with the proper pronunciations of the nominee’s names far in advance of the start of the Ceremony.

Very little responsibility should fall on the line producers of the broadcast, Directors Alan Bond and Dragos Ruiu, who were recruited late in the process.   

The script GRRM and his producers had drafted by early July had a proposed running time in excess of OVER THREE HOURS, and that was without the recipients’ speeches! That’s as long as some of the more egregious Academy Awards telecasts of recent years. The final running time of the Ceremony (including the Hugo Award recipients’ speeches) clocked in at three hours thirty-four minutes and fifty-eight seconds. (And for those of you keeping score at home, no, it was not as long as Gone with the Wind; it would have needed yet another 24 minutes to accomplish that. But it sure FELT like it…)

Several days after CoNZealand ended and the bloody autopsies of the broadcast were in full swing, I came across a Facebook post that claimed that the original tech crew had been unceremoniously sacked and had to sign non-disclosure agreements to boot.   

And then there was also this curious post from a recent File 770 comments page:

Chip Hitchcock on August 6, 2020 at 8:30 am wrote:

“@Soon Lee: I’m sympathetic to the issues brought up by having to pivot so close to curtain time. ISTM that the program book should not have been one of those, but the slow connections in the Hugo ceremony (explained in another thread as having been picked up on 3 days’ notice because the original team crumped) is understandable.”

Curious about these claims, I spent several days seeking out, contacting and speaking extensively with a source who worked on the convention. I can completely debunk and dispose both pieces of gossip:

The original technical crew did not “crump”. Nor were they sacked or forced to sign NDAs.

According to my source, the decision was made to replace the New Zealand crew by the American based production team on the evening of July 29 (the first day of the convention) at the request of the US-based producers. This request was made directly by them to the Events Division Head, Mel Duncan. The explanation that was offered was that the tech crew was too widely distributed across several time zones (AEST/NZST/PDT/EDT) and the producers wished to use a centralized crew based solely in the Pacific Daylight Time zone.

That is all fine and well in theory, BUT the original crew had already gone through several rehearsals already and may have been in a better position to handle the technical issues or difficulties that occurred. Or not. We’ll never know for certain.

One thing is certain, GRRM and the production team haven given the World Science Fiction Society a big, black eye. Needless to say, this terrible program has churned up a considerable amount of negative reactions from a wide spectrum of fans and critics. How bad? One acclaimed Hugo Nominated Best Series author, Tade Thompson, was so disgusted by the perceived racism (in praise of problematic writers and editors from generations ago) that he publicly announced on Twitter that he would no longer accept any future nominations from WSFS. So yes, really bad.   

(For those of you who are curious, there is a fan edited version of the Ceremony that is an hour and forty two minutes long.)

BEST RELATED WORK and BEST NOVELLA

The BEST part of the broadcast was the acceptance speeches by the recipients, they were fantastic! In particular, I was especially happy for Jeannette Ng, whose speech at the Dublin 2019 Worldcon accepting the (now former) John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer won the 2020 Best Related Work category. I was privileged to be in the room when it happened; her scathing condemnation of white privilege, fascism and racism was truly one of the most electrifying moments in modern literature and subsequently made headlines around the world. Ms. Ng’s acceptance speech was also heartfelt and stirring, too. 

Of all of the fiction award winners, my only lament is that Ted Chiang’s magnificent novella, “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom”, was bested by “This Is How You Lose the Time War”. But Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s story was an epic tour-de-force and just as deserving.

THE 1945 RETRO-HUGOS

I had other concerns. 

When the Retro-Hugo Awards were first established in 1996, it was generally thought that it would be a good idea to honor works of fantasy and science fiction from 50, 75 and 100 years ago. And now after honoring eight years (1938,1940, 1942-1945, 1950 and 1953), folks are having second thoughts about the whole endeavor.

The good news is that the late Leigh Brackett and artist Margaret Brundage were big winners. Brackett won twice, the first for her novel Shadow Over Mars (aka The Nemesis From Terra) and in the Best Related Work for her Writer’s Digest article, “The Science Fiction Field”. The late Ms. Brundage was honored as the Best Artist of 1944, primarily for her artwork that year for Weird Tales

The bad news, as far as I was concerned, was yet another Short Form Editor award for John W. Campbell, Jr and a Best Series award for H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.

It seems to me it’s as though when the Retro-Hugos are handed out, the nominators and voters seem to punch Campbell’s award ticket EVERY SINGLE TIME. I freely admit that, without question, he was one of the most influential editors of 20th century sf literature. And despite being a bit of a weird, cranky, an eccentric and a virulent racist, he was revered by his peers and fans alike for decades.

And because of those beliefs, I don’t think that Campbell is held in such high regard by a majority of contemporary fans, writers and editors. But the Hugo Award is not given for a person’s beliefs and character, they are given for the work that has been done. And as much as I may dislike JWC as a person, there is no doubt he did some admirable work, in his era.

By my count, Campbell’s work has netted him fifteen Hugo Awards, eight of those being Retro-Hugos. The question I have is this; how much adulation is enough? Because it seems to me that even with some of the more recent revelations of Campbell’s true nature, there is a die-hard cadre of enthusiasts who will continue giving his surviving family members a Hugo Award in spite of those personal criticisms of his character.      

Well, I stopped nominating and voting for John W. Campbell, Jr.on my Retro ballot years ago. Because there were other editors of that early era who deserve recognition, too. 

As for H.P. Lovecraft, I also recognize that he has had a lasting influence in modern day fantasy and horror. He is also a very disturbing individual and racist whose writing style was admired by his contemporaries and many, many others after his death. Despite that, I have no love or admiration for his work, no matter what his personal views were.I find his works turgid, stomach-turning and generally unpleasant. So my opposition to honoring Lovecraft’s work is strictly aesthetic not personal.

In closing, I will note that Clifford Simak’s “Desertion”, the runner up in the Short Story category, was one of the most enthralling tales that I had ever read in my youth.  It is a far superior story in comparison to the winner, Ray Bradbury’s “I, Rocket”. I think that Bradbury’s long literary shadow was at work here and I believe that honoring such an inferior story would shock and dismay him.

BEST SEMI-PROZONE and BEST EDITOR, LONG & SHORT FORM

Somewhere in the middle of this miasma of an awards show, both GRRM and author Robert Silverberg mused at length about the Best Semiprozine and the Long and Short Form Editing categories. Specifically, why were these awards named in such a manner.

Well, if they knew their Hugo Awards history, they would have known that the Semiprozine category was first awarded in 1984 and, according to Wikipedia, “…is given each year for semi-professionally-edited magazines related to science fiction or fantasy which had published four or more issues, with at least one issue appearing in the previous calendar year.” The award was dominated for decades by Locus Magazine (with 8 wins as Best Fanzine in the 13 years before the creation of the Semiprozine category, followed by another 22 wins until a WSFS Constitution rules change in 2012 made it ineligible in that category.)

I was so disgusted by this category and Locus’ repeated wins that I was once recruited by Discon III Fan Guest of Honor Ben Yalow to try and KILL it altogether at a WSFS Business Meeting. Obviously, we did not succeed, at least, in this timeline. But that’s another story for another day…

In the past decade, there have been meaningful attempts to draft a constitutional amendment to make this category more relevant (and ditch the unwieldy name as well). 

This rather dovetails with Mr. Silverberg’s comments about how odd it was to have a long and short form award for editors. Having labored for three agonizing years in the conclave of SMOFs email lists and the Business Meetings, I can tell Mr. Silverberg that I was in the room where it happened and that he really, REALLY, doesn’t want to know how this particular sausage was made. 

What I can tell you is that the intent of splitting up the Editing category was to find a way to honor magazine/anthology editors and book editors, who had been sadly neglected over the decades. How neglected, you may ask? 

The last two Hugo Award winning book editors were Judy-Lynn Del Rey (1986) and Terry Carr (1987). Both were deceased by the time they were honored..

Ideally, in the 21st century, this mess can be easily solved by establishing the following categories:

  • Best Magazine: Any magazine (in print or online) related to science fiction or fantasy which had published four or more issues or edited volumes in the previous calendar year.
  • Best Anthology or Collection: Any Anthology of original stories or a single author collection related to science fiction or fantasy published in the previous calendar year.
  • Best Book Editor:The editor of at least four (4) novel length works primarily devoted to science fiction and / or fantasy published in the previous calendar year that do not qualify as a magazine or a website.

The only thing needed for the last category to work is the establishment of a uniform commitment by publishers to credit the novel’s editor in every book. Besty Wollheim of DAW Books has been working for the past two years to make this happen. Bravo to her!

There has been some disturbing news in the past few years that certain members of the Business Meeting might be open to abandoning the Book Editor category in favor of a Best Publisher or Imprint Award. I think that would be a terrible shame to shunt book editors back into the shadows after thirteen years in the limelight.  

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION LONG & SHORT FORM

One of the most egregious oversights this year was the omission of the HBO mini-series, Chernobyl from the Long Form category.

If fans had enough gumption to nominate a film like Hidden Figures, which brilliantly dramatized the work of African-American “calculators” who helped guide the Mercury spaceflight program of the 1960’s, what was the impediment to nominating the chilling and dystopian epic of the worst nuclear disaster on record?

In a similar vein, I practically shouted to anyone who would listen that fans should NOT nominate individual episodes of Watchmen, the acclaimed ten part series that served  as a “indirect sequel” to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s 1986 Hugo Award winning graphic novel.

And it ALMOST worked; an official statement from CoNZealnd’s Hugo Award Administrators posted on the voting results read as follows:

Watchmen gained enough votes to qualify in this category (81), but two individual episodes also qualified for the Short Form category (“A God Walk Into Abar” 81, “This Extraordinary Being,” 54) with more votes collectively. The Administrators therefore removed Watchmen from this category.”

UGH!   

With Watchmen relegated to two episodes in the Short Form Category, the beneficiary of that move was The Rise of Skywalker, who slipped into the sixth spot with 75 nominations. Next in line was Spider-Man: Far From Home with 74 nominations. (See the 2020 Hugo voting statistics here.)

And what’s this? The entire season of Russian Doll was nominated????? Russian Doll but not Watchmen? That’s the year 2020 for you; all crazy, all of the time. 

So with Chernobyl nowhere to be seen and Watchmen regulated out of the Long Form competition, is anyone surprised that the adaptation of Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens (also nominated as a series) was the eventual winner? A good choice, yes, But personally, I’d like to think that Watchmen would have given them a run for their money.

In the Short Form category, the same story, same show, a related result:

“Good Omens: Hard Times (Episode 3)” gained enough votes to qualify in this category (108 nominations), but the entire series of Good Omens also qualified for the Long Form category, with more votes. The Administrators therefore removed “Good Omens: Hard Times” from this category.”

The beneficiary here? The Doctor Who episode “Resolution”, which was promoted on the ballot, just ahead of an episode of The Good Place, “Pandemonium”.

And as much as I like Michael Shur’s comedy of moral philosophy and demonic manners, I heart simply aches that “The Answer” was given the nod over two of Watchmen’s incredible episodes, “A God Walks into Abar” and “This Extraordinary Being.” 

This sort of heartbreak could be avoided if the WSFS Business meeting would come to its senses and adopt the common sense solution that fellow fan Vincent Docherty and I formally proposed two years ago at ConJose (and can be found in Appendix B: 2018 Report of the Hugo Awards Study Committee, on page 27). 

Best Dramatic Presentation: Series – Any TV or streaming series of four 60 minute episodes or more than 240 minutes.

Best Dramatic Presentation: Episodic Form – TV or any other dramatic form, 30-89 minutes.

Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form – For films, audio books, theatrical productions, 90 minutes or more.

Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form – Any dramatic form of 30 minutes or less.

Yes, FOUR categories of Dramatic Presentation. If anyone has a better idea, please step forward at the Business Meeting and be prepared to be hammered down.

So, until the proposal above comes to pass (or something like it), my advice to all of you nominating voters stands; if you love this year’s series of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Homecoming, Lovecraft Country or The Umbrella Academy, DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT nominate individual episodes, nominate the whole series. That’s what the Long Form Category was created to honor in the first place. 

THE LODESTAR AWARD FOR BEST YOUNG ADULT BOOK

No one has EVER explained to my complete and utter satisfaction as to why this cannot be a Hugo Award category.

NO. ONE.

I hope it happens one day. Soon.

In the meantime, CONGRATULATIONS to Naomi Kritzer for her winning book, Catfishing on CatNet. Well Done! 

THIS award should be either a Hugo Award category OR renamed to honor the works and memory of  Ursula K. Le Guin. At this point, either would suit me just fine. Just Sayin’…

Cats Sleep on SFF:
Hamilton: The Revolution

Chris Barkley’s cat must be the only creature who ever went to sleep in the middle of something by Lin-Manuel Miranda!

I was working on the article in my office and when I turned around to take a break, our cat, Nova, was curled up with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tome about the hit musical. 

If you accept the premise of it being a I work of alternative history (which I ardently DO!) then this should easily qualify for your ongoing series…


Photos of your felines resting on genre works are welcome. Send to mikeglyer (at) cs (dot) com