The 2019 Hugo Awards

The Hugos are back! Mercifully, they come with considerably less controversy (as far as I’m aware) this year than even last year 1. There’s some issues with kids having to be supervised at all times (which apparently has to do with Irish alcohol laws), and the super-weird decision to stop allowing supporting memberships to be purchased two weeks before the event, which baffled just about everyone. 

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this year’s Hugos from the non-awards-announcing perspective is the attempt to rollback the “five of six” amendment, which was one of the attempted safeguards against puppy-style block nominating. It’s due to expire soon anyway, but the assertion is that it creates more administrative work for Hugo-party-attenders. It’s further stated that the other puppy-avoidance-tactic rule, E Pluribus Hugo, does most of the heavy lifting where that kind of thing is concerned, and it’s not going anywhere. I have no major opinion on the matter, other than that I like more nominees rather than fewer in general, I guess. 

Beyond that, and some necessary clarification to make the internet itself count as public display and a counting error on the Retro Hugo ballot, it’s all pretty smooth sailing for this, the first Irish Worldcon. Very exciting stuff, and it leaves us with nothing left to do but talk about the actual nominated works.

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Everyone here has done pretty good work and, it seems, is destined to do even more. Jeannette Ng is perhaps the least to my taste 2 of these folks, but she’s still not undeserving. Katherine Arden certainly earns full marks for showing up fully-formed and remarkably prolific. While I haven’t read all of the Winternight books, I liked The Bear and the Nightingale just fine. She also writes young people books, which I have not read but am told are excellent. R.F. Kuang is previously covered in this space 3, and I maintain the opinion that The Poppy War is a tremendous display of talent that I absolutely did not like, although I do look forward to what she writes in the future, given that she’s as good as she is already. Rivers Solomon wrote An Unkindness of Ghosts which is a terrific generation ship novel, and I’m super-excited about what happens next from her. It must be noted, however, that I thought Vina Jie-Min Prasad was the rightful choice last year, and her work this year has only gotten better, so I still think it should be Vina Jie-Min Prasad.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Vina Jie-Min Prasad

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

Without casting major aspersions over things that people otherwise like, this is probably the most difficult this category has gone down in the three years I’ve been writing about the Hugos 4. Rachel Hartman’s Tess of the Road was a convincingly-rendered character study in a character whose thoughts and behavior are tremendously difficult, and who learns how to live in the world in a more comfortable fashion, after some degree of tribulation. She definitely takes on the subject matter directly and unflinchingly (which is admirable), but her style wasn’t something that I ever really engaged with, and I found it (especially in the early going) to be frustratingly repetitive 5, to the point that I had a hard time getting through it. Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince is a court drama about faeries and humans, and is fine for all that, but none of that is anything I engage with as a matter of course, and I didn’t really get into this one either. Dhonielle Clayton’s The Belles takes a big swing at depicting a society that has gone mad in its obsession with “beauty” as the result of an apparently-divine en-uglyfying. The world-building is good, and there are a few moments of pretty effective horror as the nature of the titular belles reveals itself through the narrative, but it’s glued to a pretty standard narrative. The end of the book was very good, however, and made me wish that the first seven-eighths or so had been dismissed in a foreword or something so that we could get the story that happens after this book. It has a sequel, which presumably is that story, and I’ll probably read it because it’s that promising, but this book doesn’t have a whole lot going for it other than several hundred pages of table-setting. Peadar Ó Guilín’s The Invasion is a lot of fun, with a lot of really effective body horror. It’s the sequel to The Call, which was much better, but also blissfully completes the story in two books rather than drawing it out, which I appreciate a lot. It’s nice to see a book that’s so very Irish nominated at the first Irish Worldcon, and it’s definitely a book I’ve recommended, but it’s not got a lot of weight to it, and the first one was better than the second. This category, then, comes down to the same books it did at the Nebulas. Tomi Adeyimi’s Children of Blood and Bone remains more interesting and thought-provoking than well-rendered, and a few months ago, when I had just read it, I was a little more caught up in the emotional content and the richness of the world, and now I just sort of think that perhaps it’ll be better later, when the series develops a bit more plot and a bit less incident. That’s a quibble, though, since it’s still an excellent book. The one at the top for me is Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation, which is probably the first time I’ve  called the win for a piece of alternate-history work (a subgenre I’m not usually super-into), but which is a super-readable, super-affecting, and really well-told bit of Western horror-adjacent writing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Justina Ireland, Dread Nation

Best Art Book

Hokaaaaay, so. I am familiar with all of the books here nominated, but as I’ve mentioned again and again previously, I’m not much for visual art, and have very little to go on in terms of evaluating these other than “I liked the pictures” or “I didn’t like the pictures”. Spectrum 25: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art is largely fine – there’s some good pictures in there! – but runs afoul of my general belief that best-ofs in this kind of thing have to be really exceptional to be competitors, and it isn’t really. Daydreamer’s Journey: The Art of Julie Dillon has the benefit of being about one artist, and it’s much more consistent, but I also find the pictures in there, devoid of their context, to be not as interesting as some of the books that do more story-telling with their art assemblage. The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition is a cool collection of Charles Vess’s excellent art, but it also manages to, however well-rendered, limit the visual representation of one of sf’s finest works to one guy’s idea of it. The pictures are good, but some of the stuff doesn’t look right, and so it’s hard to really get behind it as a thing. It would probably rate higher if I thought of things visually the same way that Charles Vess does, I guess. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – The Art of the Movie has a lot of subtitles and is, as suggested by the title(s), a collection of the concept art of the movie. It’s a wonderful movie (see below), but the concept art is a nice little addition to my enjoyment of the movie, and not really essential to the world. Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth uses a collection of letters and pictures and things to tell the story of J.R.R. Tolkien, and it’s an interesting way to do it, but ultimately it’s not as good a history as the book that I believe is the rightful winner. Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History is not only a collection of art that I’ve spent an enormous amount of my life looking at, but it does a pretty good job of also telling the history of Dungeons & Dragons, and does so better than the Tolkien book, so is the winner here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History,by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, Sam Witwer 

Best Fan Artist

This category was made easier for me by containing the work of artists who don’t work exclusively in pictures, which I appreciate a great deal. Of the “pictures” artists, Likhain is my favorite – her pictures tend to be really busy ink-y things, all spindly lines and color gradients. It’s really effective 6. Meg Frank is also an excellent painter, whose work is more impressionist than representational, although I don’t know if I like it more than the other stuff in the category. I like pretty much all of it more than Grace P. Fong, who’s a good-enough drawer that draws pictures that fail to move me pretty much at all. Spring Schoenhuth works metal into fannish items, all of which look pretty cool, if not actually to my taste. It’s good work, though. Sara Felix is a mixed-media artist whose work is remarkable, and is admirable in its simplicity and directness. She also designs awards, including the 2018 Hugo. But it’s Ariela Housman who does the most interesting stuff to me – mostly text stuff, and she’s a fantastic calligrapher, but she also does illuminations that are terrific 7. She’s probably my favorite of this set.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ariela Housman

Best Professional Artist

There are some extra-heavy hitters in this here category this year. Charles Vess is Charles Vess, and has done fantastic work, but is here primarily for his Earthsea illustrations, about which see above. John Picacio works in a style I actively do not like, and when I encounter one of his covers, I sort of wish I hadn’t. I’m sure it’s someone’s thing (he’s nominated here, after all), but it is decidedly not mine. Jaime Jones did the covers for Martha Wells’s Muderbot books, among others, and those are pretty good, but they’re also not so good that I would declare them deserving of an award of their own. He’s done tonnes of other stuff as well, but those are the things I think of immediately. He’s a highly-realistic artist, which never goes very far with me. Victo Ngai, whose work I’ve praised here in the past, is here largely for covers that I’m not into and her contributions to the Spectrum book, which I was also not into. Shame, really. I’m a little sad that I don’t get more out of Yuko Shimizu’s work – it’s clearly excellent 8, and I suspect that if I knew more about Japan or about visual art generally I might be in better shape as far as appreciating it goes. But I don’t. So it goes. Galen Dara’s work is terrific, and I like her use of color and form, and I often find myself wishing there were more of it, especially her excellent cover for The Future is Blue, which I love.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Galen Dara

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Ok we’re out of the picture-evaluating woods, guys. It gets a lot smoother from here. I’ll start off here by addressing Dirty Computer. This here website is all over the place, content-wise – it sort of has a generalized idea of “looking at the way popularity manifests itself and how we decide to honor things in the popular culture sphere”, which is why so much of it is focused on awards shows. It also has a decided music bent, because most of what I consume in my free time is music 9, so that’s mostly how it comes out. So among the things I champion are pop music, science fiction, and weirdo R&B. Dirty Computer would seem to be directly inside my wheelhouse, and would, in fact, seem to be driving the very wheels of the wheelhouse themselves. It is not. For whatever reason, I have spent most of the last decade bouncing squarely off Janelle Monae. It’s weird and I can’t explain it. I like it fine, and some of the songs are quite good. I admire her as a person who exists out there in the world and does cool stuff. I do not much like Dirty Computer as an album. There. Now we have to wade through a bunch of tv first. Like The Expanse, which is about as good as it can be I suppose, but which I only watch around awards time, and then kind of slog through as much of it as I need to to get the idea. “Abaddon’s Gate” was a good episode, for what it’s worth, but it’s a good episode of an ok tv show. “Rosa” was also a good episode, this time of Doctor Who, a much better tv show, and “Demons of the Punjab” was better still, but since they aren’t comedies, and it’s my long-state belief that television is for comedies 10, they aren’t winners here. Luckily, the best show on television right now is a comedy, and as much as “Janet(s)” is the episode to talk about due to D’Arcy Carden’s tour de force performance as literally everyone in the show, “Jeremy Bearimy” is the better piece of sf, mainly because it does away with the issues that the show necessarily creates timeline-wise, and because it has Chidi’s breakdown, which isn’t great sf, but is one of the funniest things ever committed to television.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Good Place, “Jeremy Bearimy”

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

This is a surprisingly strong field, given that it’s a field of movies. A Quiet Place is a scary good time, but the world itself falls apart if examined at all, and since these awards are meant to be about the fiction itself, rather than the spectacle, I think it probably fails to rise to the occasion. Annihilation was an ambitious swing at making an adaptation out of a work that is particularly hard to adapt, and, while I applaud the effort, certainly, I don’t think it quite passes muster either. Avengers: Infinity War is fine, but is the first three hours of six hours worth of fan-service, so also doesn’t quite make it over the line. Black Panther was nearly as good a superhero movie as has ever been made, and certainly the best one that Disney has accomplished – it has a great villain, a solid authorial position, and a bunch of other stuff that you’d want out of a movie. It comes in third because the other two are just…better. Sorry to Bother You is fantastic and funny, but sort of flops over under the same criteria as A Quiet Place, which is to say that it’s better at being satisfying in the moment than as a piece of narrative 11. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best superhero movie made during my lifetime. The alternate-universe stuff is great, the cast is great, the story is whippy, the villain is evil, the heroics are super, and the whole thing manages to buoy along its message by being, essentially, a perfect movie. Great job, everybody.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Graphic Story

It is the case that I like comics considerably more than I like movies, but also that this field wasn’t as good as it sometimes is. Much of the work was fine, but a lot of it was middle installments of long-running books, which can make it kind of hard to get into choosing it as the recipient of this kind of thing. For example, Saga did just fine with its ninth volume 12, and Paper Girls continues to get better with every volume, but they’re both just middle chapters of longer stories. Monstress has some of the best art currently happening in comics, but I still find the story somewhat difficult to engage with, and it’s never my favorite thing. Nnedi Okarafor’s Black Panther: Long Live the King offers an excellent look at the world in which Black Panther operates, and has a couple of really moving stories in it, but kind of doesn’t stand alone very well, and so doesn’t quite make the cut. Saladin Ahmed’s Abbot is a pretty cool socially-conscious supernatural noir, and is a good beginning to a story that I hope continues for awhile, but also doesn’t seem like it has a real ending. That brings us to On a Sunbeam, which also used to be a webcomic, but which contains an entire story in a really interesting world (or set of worlds, as it were). It’s also about interstellar construction/restoration workers, which pushes all my buttons where sf stories about working-class people are concerned. It’s very good, but it kind of wins by process of elimination, which is why I’m a little down on the category this year. Ah, well. At least none of it is bad.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tillie Walden, On a Sunbeam

Best Related Work

This is a pretty far-reaching and exciting set of nominations. The books are all fine, but none of them really rises above “fine”. Jo Walton’s An Informal History of the Hugos was a great set of blog posts, but reading it as a book is a little more difficult, because it’s easy for it to read like someone just listing books at you. It’s cool to get someone’s read on the set of Hugo nominees and the world around them all, but not a very good reading experience. Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing is good, and a good central repository for Le Guin’s opinions on art and the reasons for making it, but it’s all stuff she’s said elsewhere, and so, while it’s excellent, it’s also not essential. Alec Nevala Lee’s Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard and the Golden Age of Science Fiction is a very good account of four very difficult people, and if you have a lot of interest in the subject matter is about as good as one could hope for, but requires a level of interest that the other works nominated here don’t require. Lindsay Ellis and Angelina Meehan’s The Hobbit Duology is terrific, but similar to Astounding, is probably much better if you’re already obsessed with the material it covers. The Mexicanx Experience at Worldcon 76 is important and essential work, and mostly just isn’t quite as important or essential as An Archive of Our Own. AO3 winning would be a major win for fan culture, and specifically for fanfiction, which has always been a huge and active part of fandom. Since the Hugos are a fan-granted award, it seems to make sense for the thing that would be fan-related would be the one that is fan-focused and fan-driven, and I can’t think of a single reason why it wouldn’t be the best choice in the field.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: An Archive of Our Own

Best Series

This is one of the toughest categories to evaluate. It was introduced last year, and is here again this year, and I’m basically over the same barrell. I’ve read some of all of them, and all of only two, so I’ll make this easy and decide it’s got to be either Yoon Ha Lee’s The Machineries of Empire or Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers. Wayfarers is good, and contains a lot of excellent utopianist humanism, which is right up my alley in the first place, and gets better as it goes, even if the second and third books are shockingly lacking in Dr. Chef-related content. The Machineries of Empire also gets better as it goes along, and in addition to a mind-bending set of rules about how the ships and the people that are on the ships work, and the way that the conflicts are resolved and basically every other aspect of the world-building, it’s also got a twisty plot that actually feels earned and not cheap, and a terrific ending. So I’m going with the Lee, here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Yoon Ha Lee, The Machineries of Empire 

Best Short Story

For whatever reason, the Hugos seem to skew more fantasy-oriented this year. This is fine, and happens from time to time, but it does some damage to the short story category since, as an extremely generalized tendency, fantasy tends to work better at longer lengths, and science fiction tends to work better at shorter lengths. Sarah Pinsker’s “The Court Magician” is, as I have mentioned previously, my least-favorite Sarah Pinsker story yet. It’s still fine, but it’s not really a standout, and while it does its job as a short story well, the other stories here are better. T. Kingfisher’s “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” is also a fun but kind of slight work by one of my very favorite authors. It concerns a young lady and her charms, and specifically the way those charms hold sway over several of the fey, in a nifty reversal of that kind of story. It’s clever and funny, but not the winner. Brooke Bolander’s “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” is similarly funny 13, but also kind of slight, although it’s got a very satisfying ending. P. Djèlí Clark’s “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” is a very good story about the lives of the slaves whose mouths used to hold the titular teeth. I can easily see it being someone’s favorite, but it isn’t really mine. Alix E. Harrow’s “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” is a top-notch story that literalizes both the magic of libraries and the importance of escape through literature. It’s the best of the fantasy stories here by a long chalk. Sarah Gailey’s incredible “STET” is not only a terrific and thought-provoking story, but plays with the form (the actual story itself is told in the editor’s notes and stuff, including the many invocations of the title) in a way that makes it even more impressive, and is the clear winner here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sarah Gailey, “STET”

Best Novelette

I usually mention at this point how I think novelette is a weird length, and how I also think that it’s weird that I have an opinion about the word count of a story. There, now I’ve said that. I mention it primarily because this category, as it has for every “novelette” category in any awards so far, has an eight hundred pound gorilla in it, so I’ve got a little space here. Naomi Kritzer’s “The Thing About Ghost Stories” is a surprising story about an anthropologist who studies ghost visitations and the way that people tell their stories about them. Zen Cho’s “If At First You Don’t Succeed Try, Try Again” is about a dragon that strives to ascend to more, and his relationship with a woman who believes in him. Daryl Gregory’s “Nine Last Days on Planet Earth” is a set of vignettes, and is excellently-drawn, but works better as a sort of tone piece than a story as such. It’s good, though. Simone Heller’s “When We Were Starless” is a fantastic story about memory and robots, and an apocalypse of our devising, and what is forgotten and what is remembered, and the importance of the latter. It’s as beautiful a story as I’ve ever read in which an AI museum docent is a primary character. Tina Connolly’s “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” involves a terrific magic device, and is an excellent revenge story (of which there are not very many) 14. But really, this category has belonged to Brooke Bolander the whole time, and The Only Harmless Great Thing is the best.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Brooke Bolander, The Only Harmless Great Thing

Best Novella

This is a pretty good category, not much out of the ordinary or noteworthy about it in and of itself. P. Djèlí Clark’s The Black God’s Drums is pretty good alternate-history stuff, but feels more like a prelude than an actual story. If there’s no follow-up or sequel or whatever, it will be a strange little orphan in his bibliography. Martha Wells’s Artificial Condition is probably my favorite of the murderbot books, but suffers from being another middle installment 15. Aliette de Bodard’s The Tea Master and the Detective is an effective and surprising detective story with some really well-done world-building in the background of it. Seanan McGuire continues to invent really interesting portal lands for her Wayward Children stories, and Under the Sugar Sky might be the oddest and most interesting one yet. It doesn’t have quite the same quality of story of the other installments, although I do like the protagonist a lot. Kelly Robson’s Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach is the best story about a time-travelling squid-woman I’ve ever read, and is therefore the winner. I may have made this exact same joke back at the Nebulas, but I apologize for nothing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kelly Robson, Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach

Best Novel

And here we are, the most exciting of the categories. Or at least the one that requires the most time investment 16. I’m already in a minority here, mainly by thinking that The Calculating Stars was fine, but not that great. It’s a real crowd-pleaser, though, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see it win. I also wouldn’t harbor any bad feelings about it – it’s good, it’s just not as good as the other stuff in the category. Cathrynne Valente’s Space Opera, by contrast, could not be more directly up my street, from the first word to the last, and so it’s probably the book I enjoyed reading the most and will re-read the most often of all of these, but it’s not really the best book here, so I don’t think it should win. I’d be pleased if it did, though. Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning has a great protagonist and is in a great world 17, but I was a little let down by the ending. NB that this is kind of a recent development, and I liked it a lot more back when I read it around Nebula time. Yoon Ha Lee’s Revenant Gun is the best part of the series I just said was the best series back there a couple of categories ago, but very much does not stand alone, and so is kind of hard to evaluate as its own thing, and thus isn’t really a winner here. Becky Chambers’s Record of a Spaceborn Few is also the best part of its series, and does stand alone very well 18, but just isn’t as good as Spinning Silver. It’s odd for me to call a fantasy book the best of the category, but here I am doing so: Spinning Silver is amazing. It uses a fairy tale as a jumping off point to talk about inequality and privilege, as well as intentions, and the fact that actions have consequences. It’s a real triumph of a book, and it’s the winner here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Naomi Novik, Spinning Silver


  1. where there was some business with panels being handled terribly, and nominees being treated badly, and which I wrote about in last year’s Hugos piece. 
  2.  or, at least, the stuff of hers that I’ve read isn’t to my taste.  
  3. for the Nebulas 
  4. I fully acknowledge that three is not that many years. I get it. 
  5.  probably intentional, I understand, to reinforce just how baked-in to Tess the thoughts and attitudes that she felt governed her life were, but also: still hard to read.  
  6. Gosh I hope that sentence sheds some light on why I don’t talk about pictures more often. 
  7. it’s also worth mentioning here that she’s the woman who is the impetus for there being a reconsideration of “public display” in the nomination guidelines. 
  8. I did like her covers for Unwritten, but those were years ago 
  9. even more than books, in fact 
  10.  primarily for narrative reasons – it’s hard for me to ignore the constraints of the form when it’s telling a purely dramatic story, and I’m sure I’ve written about this somewhere else before, or you can buy me a drink and I’ll explain it to you at great length if you really want to know. I got reasons, is what I’m saying here, although I don’t think they’d be very interesting to anybody else. Or even apply to anybody else.  
  11. Note that I think this makes for a better movie experience, but also probably shouldn’t win awards. I’m trying to be consistent about the place I come from for all these things, is what I’m saying, and I’m not a naturally-consistent man. 
  12.  it’s nominated every year, and I suspect next year, when the tenth volume comes up, I’ll feel it’s more deserving, since the tenth volume represents the halfway point and kind of has a caesura, if not an actual ending. Also it’s followed by a hiatus, so I’ll be desperate for more Saga at this time next year. 
  13.  Well, it is funny, as is “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society,” but they are not actually similar.  
  14.  excellent revenge stories. Non-excellent revenge stories are a dime a dozen and I usually hate them.  
  15. it earns some points back for being the one with ART, the best non-murderbot character in the whole series 
  16.  the astute reader will be able to tell at this point that I am out of things to say in these little category-heading sentences, but I feel like I should say something. I guess this is the price I pay for a non-controversial, relatively-straightforward award situation.  
  17.  although it is not without its controversial possibly-appropriative elements, which I didn’t think about but which have, since I read it, been brought to my attention, so your mileage may vary.  
  18.  all of the Wayfarers books do – they’re connected by world, mostly, and a couple of characters, but they’re not really sequential 

More Like Wouldn’tstock, amirite?

So, Woodstock isn’t happening this year! I’d like to say this is something like a surprise, but of course it isn’t, because of course it was pretty much never going to happen. Oh, sure, Michael Lang had a bunch of lofty stuff to say about toilets or whatever 1, and about politics being the goal so that it wasn’t just a music festival, but also he announced the thing in January of the year that it was happening, which seems patently insane. 

And, it turns out, it was! It was off to a wobbly start basically as soon as it was off to anything, with the folks announcing it being coy about where it was to happen until they decided where they were going to make it happen, and then being extremely coy about the lineup 2 until it was finally too late to not announce it (presumably, I have no idea why they waited so long), and then it was, more or less, exactly what you’d think a Woodstock lineup would be in 2019. This seems, for whatever reason, to be precisely wrong: you’d think any part of it would have been surprising, but it was not. 

Of course, it didn’t turn out to matter. Whatever the list turned out to have been, it lost someone almost immediately, in the form of The Black Keys, who bowed out quickly, citing an unexplained scheduling problem.Now, perhaps this wasn’t a warning klaxon. Perhaps a giant rock band that’s been in existence for a couple of decades just….misread their calendar in regards to a Woodstock event and made a commitment they couldn’t keep. Perhaps that’s what happened. But it seems more likely to me that the “scheduling” problems had more to do with the schedule on the organizers’ end than on any of the bands. This is purely speculative, and I’ve been wrong before, but it sure seems like it all points one way, especially since the Black Keys folks were sure in their press release to point out that they wanted to let the public know before tickets went on sale. 

The tickets, then, were there real telltale sign. The socially-aware, non-music-focused Woodstock incarnation was meant to start selling tickets early for students, which then failed to happen at all. Of course, all tickets failed to happen at all, eventually, and it is at this point that our story, heretofore simmering on the road to failure, runs to a rapid boil.

A major promoter/financial baker, Dentsu Aegis, left the proceedings at this point, leaving the future in jeopardy to pretty much everyone that knew about it except for the stalwartly blinkered Michael Lang, who insisted that the festival “must” happen, and then accused Dentsu Aegis of stealing money from the festival 3, as well as uh…bribing artists to cancel or not play, which positions the actions of a Japanese ad firm as being specifically targeted to bilk Michael Lang. 

Whatever else was going on, this also followed an attempt by the Woodstock folks to reach out to Live Nation and AEG, two giant event promoters, to get their money involved, so it can’t have been as sudden and unforeseen a rug-pull as all that. This is another sort of tell-tale moment, when companies who are in the business of making money putting on giant shows full of famous people say, in effect, that they don’t think that this recognizable brand that represents a show full of the most famous people could possibly recoup this money. Seems like another red flag, but not to our intrepid forger-aheaders. 

It is at this point that the forging-ahead is made more difficult by the loss of the venue, and also another of the event’s producers (CID) in the same day. That’s quite an obstacle. The producer pulling out was never addressed 4 by the Woodstock, nor, for that matter, was the earlier fleeing of the garbage fire on the part of the original producers (Superfly), whom CID replaced 5. But the venue was addressed, with Lang again reiterating that this must happen.

Unfortunately, the state of New York simply did not agree in this read on the destiny of Woodstock 50, rejecting permits and forcing them to regroup around yet another idea, this time with something like a month and a half.

The venue had been a matter of some question from the beginning (as alluded to above), most  notably when, in the process of not actually announcing a venue, Lang declared the Bethel Woods site to be inappropriate for the event since it was “a 15,000 seat shed”, and this would not do for an event that was put together in all of eight months. He alluded, in the announcement that the venue was gone, to having another venue lined up, which turned out to be a nearby race track that also did not want this mess on their hands. At this point, someone at Woodstock re-iterated that they believed that they were being conspired against, stating their “[belief] certain political forces may be working against the resurrection of the Festival”. The evidence on offer in the press release is that the state of New York said some permits were incomplete, but the Woodstock folks said they weren’t incomplete. Obviously. 

Luckily. New York is like, right there by Maryland (?!), so the Merriwether Post Pavillion was willing to uh…jump into the fray and offer their venue for usage of the concert. Since MPP is a 19,000 seat shed, it was deemed adequate by the remaining event organizers 6, whoever they may still have been. It was not, however, deemed adequate by Jay-Z, who took this opportunity to leave the festival, as did John Fogerty and the John Mayer and the Walking Once-Grateful Dead.

Without a fully finalized lineup, with people leaving, and with a venue that is more associated with being the title of an Animal Collective album than peace & love, the promoters threw the last minute hail-mary pass 7 of making it a free event. Operator Seth Hurwitz told Pitchfork at this point that “they do still have a venue if they have a show,” which really makes it seem like the Woodstock folks are the only people in the world who actually believed it was still going to happen. 

And then the rolling boil of failure that got them this far boiled all the way over, leaving a sticky starchy film all over the stovetop, and more artists left, and, finally, the whole thing finally ground to a halt, a couple of weeks before it was actually meant to happen. 

So what do you say about a commemorative music festival that didn’t happen? Well, you say that the world has moved on. When I wrote about festivals before, one of the things that I thought would be interesting about it was that it would be a look at how a Woodstock would look in a world where there were a lot more music festivals than there were in 1969, or even in 1999. 

It turns out that that was what was interesting about it. I don’t know much about how Woodstocks were put together. I’m a classic-rock sort of dude, and I like plenty of Woodstock-type stuff. I’ve seen the movie and read a book or two, I know the stuff that everybody knows, but I don’t know how any of this maps onto what happened previously. 

Here’s what I do know: people know better how to keep people safe and sane at these things, and there are now entire industries devoted to doing so, and for a dude who started the whole idea out to wade on in and seemingly insist that he was entitled to whatever it was that he wanted because he did it before any of the other people involved, well, that seems like, if nothing else, an interesting look at how that sort of thing plays nowadays.

The hubris of insisting that the music festival that you planned must happen again, even after it turns out to be a disaster pretty much every time it goes out 8, to the point where things that really, to the untrained eye, seem like a total failure of a set of people getting their shit together getting blamed on “political forces” and theft, is pretty indicative of several of the very important ways in which the world has moved on. 

There could have been a Woodstock. It probably should have gotten its permits and shit in order a long time ago, well before this one was even announced. It probably should have had a business plan that allowed it to exist. It probably should have involved several fewer last-minute last-ditch last-chance efforts and dragging back into the realm of the living. But it didn’t. Instead what it had was a dude who decided that he had everything going for him no matter what he did, wading into a field that, whatever his influence upon, was doing pretty well without him, and then failed, miserably and publicly, to pull anything at all together. 

Seems a shame, really.


  1. for some of my previous thoughts on this matter, which has given me much mirth over the course of the last six months or so, see previously. 
  2. For more on the announced lineup, see the happier times of, like, this past spring. 
  3. courts eventually ruled that the money was, in fact, due to Dentsu, but that Dentsu didn’t have the right to announce the cancellation of the festival, so it wasn’t, legally, cancelled. Just de facto cancelled, I guess. 
  4. presumably he was not involved in the conspiracy against Michael Lang’s money 
  5. I have no idea how many production companies were involved, nor how many it would normally take, so I don’t know how much of this is germane, which is why it’s all sort of crammed together down here. It seems real bad, but that might be a lot easier to say since I know that the event is already cancelled. 
  6. I’m using the term “organizers” pretty loosely here 
  7. hey look at that! A football reference! 
  8. And, honestly, for all of its portrayal as the locus of a certain kind of countercultural expression/limnation of a cultural moment, from a human and logistics standpoint, every Woodstock was pretty much a nightmare for a goodly number of people involved. 

Shamelessly Punting: An Ordinal Ranking of Awards Shows that I Cover Here

Nebula Awards (book awards get the highest marks, and I’m a dude who loves science fiction most of all)

The Shirley Jackson Awards (second to the Nebulas only because of my warm fuzzy feelings for the latter)

The World Fantasy Awards (I like books, you know? Good stuff, books)

Locus Awards (This one actually has the most useful list of nominees, since it covers the most ground, but I almost never get to all of them, and they’re hard to write about since I have a sort of general-case taste in a bunch of that stuff)

The Hugo Awards (True story: in the pre-Puppies days, you can probably find me not being super into the Hugos! I appreciate that they have an editorial stance – albeit one that comes from the community of Hugos people deciding what they wanted them t be and making them that way, which is pretty great – now, and it’s one that I like, and that’s made the Hugos somewhat more interesting for the time being, but generally speaking I wasn’t into them before that, and may someday go back to not being particularly into them. For now though, I write about them.)

The MTV VMAs (Some awards are here because I respect and care about them, and all of those awards are above the fold here. This one’s here because the telecast is reliably entertaining, and I like music videos as much as I like anything on television, generally)

The BET Hip-Hop Awards (Same deal as the VMAs, although the broadcast tends to be less entertaining. It does have the cyphers, though, which help a great deal and keep it up this high)

The Creative Arts Emmy Awards (It’s like the regular tv emmys except they honor web stuff and stuff that I care about, instead of stuff that I try to watch and mostly don’t, in fact, care about)

The Golden Globe Awards (A looser approach to the awards is also helped by the fact that the Hollywood Foreign Press has generally better taste than the Academy)

The Primetime Emmy Awards (These are mostly fun to yell about, but I usually like the comedy categories just fine)

Goodreads Choice Awards (They’re always a shitshow, but they’re still about books and every once in awhile they don’t infuriate me)

Grammy Awards (Straight up pop-music awards are ok, and the Grammys are the best of them in terms of watching the broadcast because they have the clout to get people involved, but their results are terrible and stupid to the point of legend)

The People’s Choice Awards (Post-E!) (They’re always dumb, but at least E! knows how to make them bright colored)

Billboard Music Awards (the performances are sometimes ok, but the awards are a foregone conclusion and kind of dumb)

MTV Movie & TV Awards (I can’t explain why I think this one is super-boring every year, but I never like watching it, and some of the categories are really dumb)

The American Music Awards (There’s just nothing that makes them stand out, other than their association with Disney, which is hardly a thing

The People’s Choice Awards (Pre-E) (Like the American Music Awards without the Disney angle)

The Academy Awards (Every year I think I’m going to just skip the Oscars entirely. Every year I don’t. I don’t have a very good reason for this, but man oh man do I hate everything about the Oscars)

The Teen Choice Awards (So here at the bottom we get the awards that I genuinely enjoy disliking, this is the first of those because it’s designed to present some sort of old-media idea of what kids are into, and then putting it on broadcast television, for which teenagers are nowhere near the audience. It’s an amazing overcalculation, and it’s a terrible broadcast to boot)

The MTV EMAs (I only wrote about these once, and it was interesting enough pop-video stuff, but it was also not very interesting in and of itself

The ACM Awards (the order of the shows on this list could change from time to time, and this one would have the widest swing, but country music is in such a terrible bro-fuelled, “authenticity”-focused, deeply sexist place from the industry end that it’s really hard to watch the ACM Awards anymore

The iHeart Radio Awards (The last awards-show gasp of the dying terrestrial radio industry is, on top of that, stupid and boring! That makes it fun to write about the bafflement, but not much else)

The CMA Awards (see above w/r/t the ACM awards for everything else, but they’re also so boring I almost never actually write about them)

The Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards (I’ve only written about these once, and I’m unlikely to repeat. They are really dreadful)

The Best Records of July 2019

Lingua Ignota – Caligula (As intense as it is loud, this record has been a real boon for Our Hero, who’s had something of a rough month. I mean, I’d have probably loved it anyway, because it’s super-great)

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – Tracing Back the Radiance (Neither particularly loud nor particularly intense, but only slightly less great than the Lingua Ignota record, this record is a lot more open and collaborative than other JC-L records, and it’s all the better as a result)

Pleasure Leftists – The Gate (they’re almost certainly the best rock band in Cleveland, and this is just a terrific tense rock album)

Oren Ambarchi – Simian Angel (It was a good month to be making semi-ambient semi-noise! This is as compelling a record as Ambarchi has made in several years, and I’m super happy about it)

Blood Orange – Angel’s Pulse (Even the songs that Blood Orange leaves off his albums are better than almost anyone else’s songs)

A Considered Look at Every Inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Part 13

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a place that I find, as an institution, vexing. The actual, physical hall of fame – the pyramidal building on the lake in Cleveland – is pretty cool, but it is spoken and thought of often as an intangible – as a sort of arbitrating body on the worthiness of the body of rock musicians. My thought, for many years upon surveying lists 1 and the like was to think that they have about a fifty percent success rate for getting it anything like right.

But what if it doesn’t? Previously I listened to and considered each of the best-selling albums of all time, and learned that they were considerably more of a mixed bag than I had thought 2. So what if the inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are the same sort of deal?

And so it’s time to dive in and take a look at what the nominees and their enshrinement actually are.

Click the links for Part 1,Part 2Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, and Part 12 of this series.

2008

 

The Dave Clark Five

WHO THEY ARE: A British Invasion that had, somehow, gone heretofore uninducted. 

WHY THEY’RE HERE: I think the better question is why were Herman’s Hermits left out? They were at least funny.

AND…?: I don’t actually have an opinion on the Dave Clark Five. I like their suits. Good look, that. I wish more people did stuff like it. That’s about it.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No. Heck of a start we’re off to, here. 

Leonard Cohen

WHO HE IS: Canada’s finest songwriter not named “Young”. 

 

WHY HE’S HERE: He wrote a tonne of great songs, and although none of them were giant hits, at least one of them (“Hallelujah”) went on to great, soaring heights of popularity 3, and he pretty well established a sort of alternate-model depressive-singer-songwriter that proved to be enormously influential. He was also a Scientologist and I assume they bribed somebody or whatever. 

AND…: Oh, I love Leonard Cohen, or at least I love the Leonard Cohen that I love.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure

Madonna

WHO SHE IS: Oh come on, you all know who Madonna is. She was the subject of the second-highest-traffic post on this site before I changed hosts.

WHY SHE’S HERE: Because, no matter how much I think it’s a travesty of human belief, people seem to believe she’s worth vaunting.

AND…?: I hate Madonna’s music so much. Maybe on aggregate more than anyone else’s taken in purely musical terms 4

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

John Mellencamp

WHO HE IS: A dude from Indiana who (according to legend) used to get really upset about not getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 5

WHY HE’S HERE: Of all the not-Bruce Springsteens the world has produced, he’s one of the not-Bruce Springsteeniest, and has therefore sold a boatload of records and was willing to play ball to an absurd degree with the Powers That Used to Sell Records. So it was probably inevitable, even though I can’t imagine who would listen to his music and be in any way inspired. 

AND…?: It’s not bad, as such. I don’t know that I’ve ever bothered to quantify an opinion about John Mellencamp. I don’t actively like any of it, but it doesn’t send me from the room screaming. I liked that Van Morrison cover he did with Meshell Ndege’ocello

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

The Ventures

WHO THEY ARE: One of precious few instrumental bands in the HOF, and one of the first instrumental rock and roll bands full stop.

 

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They were hugely influential in ways that aren’t usually celebrated here – they used effects heavily, based their albums around concepts, and folded a bunch of different ways of playing into their music before any of those things was commonplace. They managed ot be weird as hell and still have a couple of giant hits 6. Good job, guys.

AND…?: I like the Ventures a lot, and given that a significant percentage of my music-listening free time is spent on instrumental rock music, I probably owe them some literal money or something.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes 

Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff

WHO THEY ARE: They’re the dudes that created the Philly sound.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: When you think of, say, “Me and Mrs. Jones” or “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” or “Love Train,” you’re thinking of the sounds they made in the studio. Hell of a legacy, that, and that’s leaving aside the many, many other songs they made sound awesome.

AND…?: Philly soul is like, the third or fourth best kind of soul 7. I’m happy to see them here.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Absolutely

Little Walter

WHO HE IS: There have been other people inducted who played the harmonica, certainly, but he’s the first guy to get inducted specifically for playing the harmonica.

WHY HE’S HERE: He played the hell out of that harmonica.

AND…?: I mean, he’s inducted as a sideman for playing the harmonica. I dunno, seems legit I guess.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure

2009

Jeff Beck

WHO HE IS: Guitar dude. He was in the Yardbirds. 

WHY HE’S HERE: He’s the guitar dude’s guitar dude. He was as mechanically talented as anyone has ever been. The fact that most of his records are awful and that he hasn’t been in a band people actually listen to for many decades appears not to matter much in this case. Guitar dude. But a bunch of people really do get super into what he does, so it would be impossible to claim he wasn’t pretty influential on a lot of the stuff that got in.

AND…?: There’s good Jeff Beck out there, and the stuff that’s good I like quite a lot, but I haven’t listened to any of it in forever, and there really isn’t that much of it. He’s got a real bad signal-to-noise ratio. 

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: I guess. He’s a heck of a guitar player. 

Little Anthony and the Imperials

WHO THEY ARE: A doo-wop group.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: So, this isn’t specifically about Little Anthony and the Imperials, but this is as good a place as any to say it. As these go on, it becomes apparent that the “big ones” have already gotten in at this point, and the voting-in body hasn’t turned over 8 enough to allow for actually-interesting stuff to be here. There are some good choices in 2009, but really this is about clearing the remaining old-timey doo-wop dudes out, and getting them in there. Whatever Little Anthony and the Imperials may have done, this isn’t about them, this is about a weird sort of past-worshipping completism that, ultimately, is what drags down all endeavors such as this one.

AND…?: They’re fine. I quite like “Tears on My Pillow” and “Take Me Back,” such as it is.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not really

Metallica

WHO THEY ARE: 

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They are the most popular heavy metal band in history, and while heavy metal is never going to have a particularly smooth relationship with the HOF, it’s pretty undeniable that they belong there. They made great records, they sold a bunch of records 9, they’re still out there doing whatever they do for their own reasons. Pretty easy shot, honestly. 

AND…?: Some of it is genuinely terrific music, and has enriched my life immeasurably.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Run-DMC

WHO THEY ARE: Early-ish rappers. 

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, they were revolutionary to the form of hip-hop, certainly. And there were guitars on their records, so they have more to do with rock music than most other rappers. That’s something. I mean, they’re legends of their idiom, and nigh-universally beloved, and made a bunch of people want to do exactly what they were doing, so in that sense they’re here for the same reasons as a bunch of other people, they just didn’t make rock music.

AND…?: They’re fine. I think I’m on the record at this point as not really being a Run-DMC fan, but I get it, and I like some of it well enough. 

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure

Bobby Womack

WHO HE IS: Cleveland’s own! A hometown boy! I could have sworn he had, like, an official nickname but he does not appear to!

WHY HE’S HERE: I could’ve done the thing I did above about Little Anthony down here, but I like Bobby Womack more and he’s from Cleveland, so I’m basically just jazzed about that instead. He sang a bunch of hits, he was good at it, etc. The usual reasons. 

AND…?: He’s very good, I like his songs. Don’t know if he belongs in a Hall of Fame, but he’s good enough.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not really

Wanda Jackson

WHO SHE IS: A recently-retired early rock and roller, notably one of the first women to be one of those.

WHY SHE’S HERE: Well, she’s in the early influencers category despite recording in the same time frame as a whole bunch of people who are inducted as performers, so she’s here for all the right reasons (she was awesome, made great music that influenced thousands, the usual), but she’s in the wrong category, and it’s real fuckin’ hard not to think that’s because she’s a woman who was largely-ignored for several decades following her period of most-frequent activity.

AND…?: Wanda Jackson is great and should be inducted as a performer.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes, but in the wrong category. It’s embarrassing it took them this long, also. 

Bill Black

WHO HE IS: One of the last three people (as of 2019) to be inducted as a sideman. He was Elvis’s bass player.

WHY HE’S HERE: He was Elvis’s bass player.

AND…?: He played the bass on Elvis songs. He did that pretty well, and they are pretty good. Seems pretty open and shut.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure

DJ Fontana

WHO HE IS: One of the last three people (as of 2019) to be inducted as a sideman. He was Elvis’s drummer.

WHY HE’S HERE: He was Elvis’s drummer.

AND…?: He played drums on Elvis songs. He did that pretty well, and they are pretty good. Seems pretty open and shut.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure

Spooner Oldham

WHO HE IS: One of the last three people (as of 2019) to be inducted as a sideman. He played the organ for the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, which is what got him in.

WHY HE’S HERE: He’s inducted as a sideman, and not as a songwriter, which is fucking baffling, since I’ve never been as impressed by the organ playing on the records he played on than by the songs he wrote with Dan Penn. I’m just utterly flummoxed. 2009: the year people were inducted in the wrong category.

AND…?: I have, like, no real opinion about his organ playing. It seems fine. I’ve never listened carefully enough to notice it specifically, but it’s not like I don’t notice it. It could turn out that he was terrific, and I should think this is long-awaited and completely justified. His songs are great, though. Maybe he’ll be inducted twice.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: This is the hardest call so far. I mean, he absolutely deserves a spot, but maybe not as a sideman? I dunno. I guess I say “yes,” tentatively, against the possibility that he doesn’t get in as a songwriter. 


  1. also the centerpiece of the museum itself, for those that have never been there, is a very long video encapsulating each inducted class, with clips of performances by most of them and things like that, and is generally a pretty cool thing to behold. 
  2. although they did, as you can read here and going back from there, skew toward “pretty bad” 
  3. it’s probably telling, in fact, that this is several years after “Hallelujah” got covered to death 
  4. That is to say that there are people that have made music that makes me think of how much I hate them, which I hate more than just the regular bad music that Madonna makes, but without them being terrible would not be as bad. I mean if Ted Nugent were just a regular dude and not a fucking idiot monster, I would hate his music less than Madonna’s, for example. 
  5. I think that I have heard stories about his displeasure that are separate and distinct from the stories I’ve heard about Jon Bon Jovi, but it could also be the case that I’ve lumped them together as “dudes who have the same first name as me that I don’t care about”, in which case if I have spread lies about John Mellencamp, I apologize.  
  6. historically, “Walk, Don’t Run” was a huge one, although the other one, “Telstar,” is the one that most people remember. 
  7. nobody tell Daryl Hall I said so.
     
  8. which will make this somewhat more interesting a few years from 2009 
  9. the fact that these two clauses describe two separate groups of records is not really of concern here 

A Series of Questions for the Potentially 41,000-Year-Old Nematode

 

  1. How are you?
  2. Have you had any trouble adapting your diet to a completely different planet than the one you first left? I suppose the fungi is still probably more or less the same, but phytoplankton has got to be a weird experience
  3. Are you particularly culinary-minded? How would you prefer to prepare phytoplankton to make it more like, you know, the phytoplankton that mom used to make? Again, this assumes that the fungi have changed very little
  4. One of the things that has changed in your time away is that people think about the things that they eat very differently than they used to. For example, when you went into the deep freeze, there really wasn’t any such thing as thinking about what you ate, and now there are all sorts of medical, ethical and other such academic questions. Even if you do not consider it a course worth considering, what would an ethical framework for the consumption of phytoplankton include? Are you interested in developing factory farms and such like humans have or is this going to be a purely found-food sort of arrangement? 
  5. You went into the freeze shortly before the comingling of early hominids that would mark the rise of homo sapiens, were you somehow trying to avoid the entirety of human history? If so, how does it feel to know that you missed it by such a tiny amount?
  6. Is your return in some way connected to the end of the human species? 
  7. Have you ever seen the movie The Thing?
  8. Are you familiar with the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft? 
  9. Similar to the above, if you are presently or choose to become in the future familiar with the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, how much of the personal life of the author and his beliefs do you intend to take into account before you decide on your feelings about the matter?
  10. Do his feelings about other people change when he turns out to be right?
  11. Do you know consciously the name of the entity that you’ll be summoning/awakening, or is this sort of an autonomic process? That is to say, is your eventually bringing around the great terror that mankind cannot understand something you’ll be doing consciously, or is it a reflex?
  12. When whatever happens that brings about the attention of the Old One in question, will humanity be forever enslaved, or instantly obliterated?
  13. Is this going to be a sort of “everything gets eaten” situation, or an “everything just suddenly ceases to exist” situation?
  14. If the former, will the Old One in question have an opinion vis-a-vis the ethical dilemma involved in consuming food on Earth (see question 4), or is the question of consuming food on Earth going to be obviated by the Earth itself being food. This is, obviously, not a question that has an answer if there isn’t going to be any eating going on. 
  15. Is there any way for humanity to be spared, or is this pretty much just a guaranteed thing at this point? 
  16. Obviously I’ve ruled out the possibility of you being some sort of Earth-destroying parasite, because that was something you would have pulled the trigger on immediately. Would you have been insulted by such a line of questioning? 
  17. Is it, in fact, possible for a human to insult a 41,000 year old nematode/harbinger of the end times?
  18. If so, you’re a jerk. A real jerk. And I never asked your name, because I assume you’re too old to have one, since old things blah blah blah nameless horrors, but I bet your name is dumb. Ha. You have a dumb name. Dumb name nematode. Dumb nameatode. So there. 

 

NB the 41,000 year old nematode is probably not, in fact, a 41,000 year old nematode, and so most of my questions are moot. On the off chance that it’s real, though, can somebody figure out a way to get the 41,000 year old nematode to answer them? 

 

[^1]: you probably aren’t familiar with the term academic, nor with the idea of abstracting such a thing, so I will use this footnote – should I do a footnote explaining footnotes, or are you ok with footnotes? – to explain that what I mean here is that they are considered only abstractly, and have nothing to do with, say, the nutritive benefits of the food thus consumed or whatever. 

Somebody Make My Movie (Third Offer)

After the people were gone, the world remained. The people who had formerly occupied it would have been surprised at how things turned out. It took a long time, but into the structures moved the dogs. They had been in the structures, they had built their lives, their entire evolution flipped tracks onto one that was parallel to the people, so it was easy for them to develop the skills necessary to live in the houses.

It started out as straight mimicry. The dogs that were quicker started going through the rituals. The Feeding was accomplished, as was The Walking. A sort of hierarchy began to establish itself. The little dogs, the dogs that had seen the most of the human world from the inside of bags, who had been comfort animals on the planes and in the boardrooms and galleries and at the parties were the first to pick up on how to resume the world there. The little dogs became the intelligentsia, the Eloian ruling class, but there was very little division. 

The big dogs that had been raised for security were immediately retrained to follow the little dogs. There had been pockets of dog life that had relied on such synergy already, and it was natural. It was best to take on as few new things as possible and, as their power and intelligence grew, to merely adopt their new qualities into their old way of life. 

The rural dogs began to adopt the rural ways, continuing to herd and farm and hunt and provide, continuing to make food, with the help of the runners, who were willing to create the structures of a way to convey the food to the others. Something like shipping lines were established, and while the dogs were generally still unwilling to move along to engines, which were loud and unpredictable and required fuel they had no access to generally, they nudged into place, eventually gaining the intelligence to build outright, huge long gleaming rail systems to ease the burden of the pack animals. They knew what they needed, because they had always known what they needed.

The world rebuilt itself, with the dogs in charge. Eventually the set of things that they needed became more complicated and, because it’s how such things go, their language grew to accommodate it. As the complications in brain function necessary to language grew, so did the functions themselves, and with those functions, abstraction. The formerly hierarchical nature became one that was slightly more diplomatic, impelled largely by the smaller dogs, who knew that in a world that prized size and viciousness they had little chance if things changed, if the power were to become imbalanced. 

They adopted, over the course of this new development, the things that would make civilization recognizable as such. Some of the dogs began adopting currency in exchange for labor, which further abstracted the system of economic well-being – they had gone from the communal pack nature to one that, while still considerable more group-oriented than the People had commanded, still valued the family unit more than the abstract group itself. They began, in this way, to move away from direct labor into something more like an economy, which meant that the labor thus done could be done more efficiently by expedient of rewarding the efficient and the capable, and allowing people who were neither to concentrate on those areas where they were both. 

The dogs prospered, and inequality was introduced, and with it the Law, and the concept of Rules, and once again there were Good dogs and Bad dogs. They required rules to tell who was doing the work and who wasn’t, who was adequately paying for the work and who wasn’t, who was mindful of their place in the packs Great and Small and who was not. There were new niches for dogs – there were dogs that descended from the Guards, who became the police officers, who eventually guarded the prisons, there were little dogs whose long, long-ago ancestors had been Well Trained. There were prisons, there were rules about the prisons, there was rehabilitation.

It became apparent that, in addition to the efficiency, dogs now knew boredom. They were willing to do the things dogs did – to sleep, to chase, to run, but their brains were more aware of the despair of ending, there was awareness of the impermanence of the individual. This was a challenge, and it required more sophisticated distractions.

They turned to the human remnants, now even fewer than they had been. The reconstructed the arenas, they rebuilt the fields, they reconsidered the human pastimes of athletic contest. Some of them were difficult to reconstruct, but the field gave them clues. It would, then, surprise the People to know that the game that they adopted first and most vehemently was the one with the baskets. It was readily apparent how it had been played, or at least the general idea of it – there were rectangles, there were suspended hoops, there were balls.

They knew about balls. They loved balls. They had been, before all this, developed to love balls. 

With the decision of athletic contests as a way to pacify by distraction and entertainment came a new kind of dog, one that was good at bouncing the ball up into the hoop, one for whom a very specific kind of teamwork was necessary. 

Other animals did not develop such a way as this. They did not develop language or sports or an economy. The cats looked fondly on a new way to be domestic once more, to not have to do all their own hunting, and the dogs were happy to have them as com-panions, even though the cats never fully assimilated. They never really did so for People either, after all, so nothing changed. 

What was interesting was what had happened to the rest of the People. The ones who had hidden, who had spent generations growing desperate, scared and feral. They had lost the hallmarks of their civilization, they had been diminished, reduced, in terms of the ways their brains could function in the world. But they became more common. It had been how they had done this in the first place, after all, they adopted on a biological level and they became neither ape nor man, a sort of incoherent, thoughtless predator that was a nuisance to the cities that the dogs had built, that were out there as a threat. 

There was talk, after a fashion, of domesticating them. After all, for many thousands of years dogs and the once-People had cohabited. The People had built their civilization with the help of the Dog, and that was not something to be taken lightly, in a long-ago evolutionary sense. There was no real connection, but a Good dog is loyal, and they felt a sort of species-wide need to figure out a new place for the once-People in the world that the dogs had built. 

The efforts failed, generally. People turned out to be even harder to domesticate than cats. They weren’t particularly trainable. They could be taught basic tricks, and they were fairly useful on farms as a way to convey loads of wood and things, if you could keep them from getting distracted or violent. Many tried, and they became common among the rural, and among the lower-class, which dogs it behooved to make friends with so that they were not a threat to the dog families – a dog had to make a certain amount of “friendship” with them to make sure that they wouldn’t turn rapacious. 

It was from this corner, then, that a Dog had the craziest idea yet. He had gone through the effort and was an athlete, playing in the Greatest Game. He showed up, revealing that he had stumbled upon the former-human’s ability to use his hands and thumbs to throw, to shoot, to aim accurately at the nose in such a way that made it easier to score. The dogs were flummoxed, their initial reaction was to react badly, to declare the dog Mad, to do anything except think about the possibility, but the dog was insistent. He was convinced that the not-person would be the thing that could turn around the team’s then-dismal fortunes. He insisted, and it was brought before the Rules.  

But it turned out there was nothing in the rules that said a former person couldn’t play basketball.

Coming this summer to theaters near you, Bud Air: The Former Human that Played Basketball

The Best Songs of the First Half of 2019

So here, as previously addressed, is the list of the best songs of the first half of the year. For a second time, I didn’t have time to get in there and write some stuff about them, but luckily I can take the high ground and insist that this stuff speaks for itself I guess? Anyway, I may come back and fill some of this in later, but if I don’t, thanks for bearing with me. 

Anyway, there’s a tonne of good stuff here! There have been some fairly disappointing records in the first half of the year, but that doesn’t always bear out on the songs list. There’s a Spotify thingy here or at the bottom (I hope), and a download folder here. The Spotify thingy has a different Mandolin Orange song (“Little Margaret” was a bonus track, but “Into the Sun” is a great song anyway, so I just swapped it out). drink up everybody.

Anderson.Paak – Come Home (f Andre 3000)

Beast Coast – Left Hand

Big Brave – Sibling

Heather Woods Broderick – Quicksand

Bill Callahan – What Comes After Certainty

Coathangers – Bimbo

Cocaine Piss – Body Euphoria

The Comet is Coming – Summon the Fire

Cuzco – Old Dog

Dos Monos – Clean Ya Nerves (Cleopatra)

Ryan Dugre – Bali

Earth – Cats on the Briar

Ex Hex – Tough Enough

Fennesz – We Trigger the Sun

Fire! Orchestra – Silver Trees

The Gotobeds – On Loan

Heart Attack Man – Rats in a Bucket

Tim Hecker – That World

Helms Alee – Be Rad Tomorrow

House and Land – Blacksmith

Carly Rae Jepsen – No Drug Like Me

Seba Kaapstaad – Breathe

Mike Krol – Little Drama

Steve Lacy – Guide

Alex Lahey – Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

Lambchop – The December-ish You

Mandolin Orange – Little Margaret

The Mekons – How Many Stars

Mono – Meet Us Where the Night Ends

Bob Mould – Lost Faith

Georgia Anne Muldrow – When the Fonk Radiates

Marissa Nadler – Poison (f John Cale)

Pelican – Full Moon, Black Water

Pirate Ship Quintet – Symmetry is Dead

Priests – Good Time Charlie

Quelle Chris – Guns

Raketkanon – Harry

Rodrigo y Gabriela – Cumbe

Scrolls – Patiently…

Signor Benedick the Moor – OMG

Slowthai – Doorman (f Mura Masa)

Solange – Almeda

Sunn0))) – Aurora

The Tallest Man on Earth – I’m a Stranger Now

Teeth of the Sea – Visitor

Tyler, the Creator – New Magic Wand

William Tyler – Our Lady of the Desert (f Bill Frissell)

Underachievers – Deebo

Chester Watson – Flights (f Kesari)

Xiu Xiu – Normal Love

Honorable Mentions: Big Business – Let Them Grind, Chris Brokaw – His Walking, Lavender Country – Gay Bar Blues, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana, Nowdaze – Ooh Wee, Schoolboy Q – Numb Numb Juice, Oozing Wound – Tween Shitbag

Best Albums of June 2019

Hey guys, the best songs of the first half of the year post is coming up later in the week – stuff has been pretty crazy, and it’ll be devoid of the usual writeups 1, but it’ll be up. I hope you can all forgive me. Anyway these are the best records from this month.

Bill Callahan – Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest (I’m on the record as being in favor of a long wait if it means we get a record this good. Gosh darn this is a wonderful record.)

Shellac – The End of Radio (Shellac is a top-shelf grade-a rock band, and live Shellac is the best version of Shellac. Well-recorded live Shellac, hen, is about the best on-record experience one could hope for)

House and Land – Across the Field (a former member of Pelt and another lady whose credits I should, but don’t, remember make a crazy weird drone-folk record that would be the top record of any other given month)

Pelican – Nighttime Stories (it has recently come to my attention that there are people that do not love Pelican. I do not understand these people.) 

Georgia Anne Muldrew – VWETO II (she makes great singing records, but even better not-singing records, I tell you what.) 


  1. come to think of it, that was the case of the last one also. I guess every six months I’m due a time-eating event these days. Ah, the future. 

The 2019 Locus Awards

The Locus awards are the honoring-the-writers (and writer-adjacent) wing of Locus magazine, the long-running house organ for sff, and, as such, are of particular interest to Our Hero who writes these things. 

I don’t usually write about them, but last year I wrote about the Shirley Jackson awards, and quite enjoyed having a fourth award in the mix 1, I decided to write up the Locus Awards. Easy-peasy, except for one tiny enormous problem. 

While availability isn’t a problem, and most of the stuff here is fairly well-known and therefore already more-or-less on my radar, there are so many things nominated that reading them all isn’t really in the cards 2. So while I did my best to read everything I could, there are, nevertheless, a bunch of them that I simply didn’t get to. 

And that’s only when you consider the categories in which I’m already generally involved. As far as it goes, my exposure to the magazines is generally limited to what’s going on in the wards here and what I find on my own, since I don’t regularly read any of them. I probably should, but I don’t. 

So, to recap: I didn’t read a bunch of this stuff, and I definitely didn’t look at the art books, so I’m going to do this anyway, but instead of writing anything particularly in-depth, like I usually do for book awards posts, I’m just going to move through everything fairly quickly and then circle back and catch the Hugos and the World Fantasy Awards as thoroughly as usual.

Still and all, it was fun to see how much of all this I could get through before this post went up. 

Art Book

As previously mentioned, I did not read the art books. I do not, in fact, read art books in general. However, the Hugos have a best art book category also, and there were several in the readers’ packet, so I have had to figure out how to do so. That said, I’m still not the dude that reads art books, and I don’t have a huge capacity for appreciating and evaluating visual art in and/or of itself, so I’m going to say that Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson & Sam Witwer’s Dungeons & Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History is the one that’s the most fun. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson & Sam Witwer’s Dungeons & Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History 

Non Fiction

The passing of both Gardner Dozois and Urusla K. Le Guin is very sad, and they both have entries here, which seems more concilliatory than something that got in on their own merits – one of the Le Guin books is a very brief set of transcription of some conversations she had with the book’s co-author. She’s a smart, erudite person who talks well about what she does and why she does it, and it’s nice to read, but it’s pretty slight and that’s all it’s got. The other Le Guin here nominated is an excellent overview of her nonfiction and, as such, is very very good. Gardner Dozois’s book reviews are good – he was a truly fantastic reader, which is what made him such an effective editor – but I don’t think they’re adding much to the stock of available critical thought 3. Jo Walton’s A People’s History of the Hugos is good, Jo Walton is another thoughtful critic and reader, and it’s interesting to read such a thing from the perspective of an individual. Jason Heller’s Strange Stars is a weird little look at a very specific set of times and places. I think I’m most impressed by Alec Nevala-Lee’s Astounding, because it manages to make a compelling and interesting story out of a very complicated and thorny set of legacies, centered around a deeply polarizing, problematic figure 4

Artist

This took some googling, and I still think I like Victo Ngai best. I’m pretty sure it lands up this way every single year.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Victo Ngai

Editor

So, the other thing that’s happening here is that the nominations for these awards were announced after the nominations for the Hugos, and these are happening before the Hugos, so the entire period in which to evaluate as many of the works nominated for Locus awards is basically surrounded by the Hugo awards. Which is all said by way of explaining why the things I’ve read and considered and all that are things that are also nominated for other awards. Anyway, I don’t know how to wrestle with the correspondent category in any other awards program, because I don’t really know what I’m meant to be evaluating. I’ll just assume that it’s John Joseph Adams, who seems to be doing the work that I find myself interested in the most of all these people.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: John Joseph Adams

Best Publisher

Andy Duncan, Jeffrey Ford, Mary Rickert and especially Sofia Samatar mean that Small Beer Press continues to be the best press. Also it’s run by literally my favorite writer on the planet.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Small Beer Press

Magazine

Right, so, as mentioned, I don’t actually read many of these. I do, it turns out, read tor.com, so I guess that one has the prominence necessary to convince me to get involved with it, although that has a lot more to do with it being readily available by RSS than anything else. Seems like a bad reason to give an award, but hey, I’m not in charge. Of the awards, I mean. I’m totally in charge of what’s rightful. Obviously. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tor.com

Collection

I appreciate very much the existence of a six billion-page book about the history of the Targaryen family that is very much not another Song of Ice and Fire book. It makes me laugh. I laugh at your pain, Song of Ice and Fire fans, ha ha ha. Anyway, I mentioned Andy Duncan’s collection earlier as being one of the reasons Small Beer Press was great, and it totally is. I liked the Jemisen collection best of these, in any event.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: N.K. Jemisen, How Long Til Black Future Month?

Anthology

There is some terribly good work here, but while I was disposed to be kind of snippy about Dozois’s inclusion in the other category, his Year’s Best Science Fiction is an absolute bedrock series for me 5. So while John Joseph Adams is doing terrific work with his branch of the Best American family, and Jonathan Strahan remains does a similarly-great job in the UK, I think Dozois wins it. That said, I keep not catching up with Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year series, and it’s also good, but I don’t know this one. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Gardner Dozois, ed., The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Thirty-Fifth Annual Collection

Short Story

This is a remarkably solid field, as one would expect. None of them are bad. I really loved “STET,” however, for finding a stimulating human way to tella  story about a thing tha thasn’t happened yet, but almost certainly will. The fact that it does so in the form of notes is an obvious source of pleasure for me, but the nature of the narrative, and the ultimate humanist message, is fantastic. That it does so without condemning the technology that makes the central device of the narrative happen, which would have been easier to do than not, I should think, is admirable and makes it better. Basically I wanted to take advantage of this excuse to write about how much I liked “STET”.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sarah Gailey, “STET”

Novelette

So these were also fairly easy to keep up, given that many of them were a matter of clicking on a link. These categories where I read everything I much easier on my ego, let me tell you. There was some excellent work all over this category, especially by Isabelle Yap and Tina Connolly. Elizabeth Bear and Ken Liu are extremely reliable, but honestly, it all falls down before Brooke Bolander’s amazing The Only Harmless Great Thing, which is probably going to win ever Novelette category on Earth until it’s no longer eligible for such things.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Brooke Bolander, The Only Harmless Great Thing

Novella

The Murderbot books are still great, but they still each feel more like a part of a larger story than like a satisfying standalone part. This is a problem with series books all over, certainly, and I don’t hold it against the Murderbot books more than other books, but it does prevent them from winning here. It’s part of why Kelly Robson’s Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach is such a clear standout – it’s not an abbreviated novel, it’s not a blown-out short story, and it has a complete tale within it, with all the parts necessary. It’s also about a time-travelling octopus-person, which is kind of what I want every story to be about in the first place.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kelly Robson, Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach

First Novel

This is all a pretty exciting group of people. I’m not super-into (like on a personal taste level) much of this for its own sake, but the writers that I’m familiar with that are here nominated are all very good in terms of skill-level, and since nobody writes their first book more than once, it’s worth keeping an eye out to see how they develop. That said, I genuinely loved Trail of Lightning and would be happy to see Roanhorse walk away with it, even over the also-excellent Adeyimi.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Rebecca Roanhorse, Trail of Lightning

Young Adult Novel

It must be the case that you can only be nominated in one category for a work, because otherwise I don’t really know how Children of Blood and Bone isn’t here. As it is, I’m happy that Dread Nation is nominated here as well, because I really liked it and I like pronouncing it the rightful winner of things.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Justina Ireland, Dread Nation

Horror Novel

I do love that there’s a Horror Novel category in the Locus awards. I so often don’t get to write about horror, despite it providing a huge chunk of my for-pleasure reading 6. Stepen King’s The Outsider was pretty well-assembled classic-style monster-focused King, and it brings in a character from his crime novels, which I haven’t read, but who seemed pretty cool. I didn’t like a lot of things about The Hunger, and I’m actually baffled by the amount of acclaim that it received. Like, super-baffled. Like when I say “I didn’t like a lot of things” I could also be saying that I basically didn’t like anything about it. I liked just about everything about The Cabin at the End of the World, but I liked everything and then some about We Sold Our Souls, and will probably never stop praising its joys to the world for the rest of my life. What a terrific book.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Grady Hendrix, We Sold Our Souls

Fantasy Novel

If my praise seemed effusive and evangelical for We Sold Our Souls or The Only Harmless Great Thing, then brother you have not heard me talk about The Mere Wife. Fantasy is only sort of my bag, and even then I really only like the outlier-y type stuff, and so Spinning Silver was also a solid choice, and I liked The Wonder Engine an awful lot, but it was only half a book. The Mere Wife was basically perfect, and is probably the best thing I’ve read all year, and probably for several years prior to that.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Maria Dahvana Headley, The Mere Wife

Science Fiction Novel

I wrote about the Locus awards once before 7, and the only thing I really remember about it was that it was the year that Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 came out, and I was deeply, hideously disappointed in it. I am also very disappointed in Red Moon. The moral of the story, obviously, is that I can only write about the Locus awards in years where I’m disappointed in Kim Stanley Robinson’s work. Sam J. Miller’s Blackfish City was as good as he usually is (which is very good), Cathrynne Valente’s Space Opera might have been the most fun a book can be. Record of a Spaceborn Few continues Becky Chambers’s work as being a really inventive space opera craftswoman. Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Calculating Stars was interesting and worthwhile. Yoon Ha Lee’s Revenant Gun managed to bring an extremely challenging series to a very satisfying end, and deserves all sorts of praise for doing so.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Yoon Ha Lee, Revenant Gun

And there we have it, at least until the Hugos at the end of next month, where I’ll write in more depth about a bunch of these same books!

 


  1. I’m not writing about the Shirley Jackson awards this year for the dumbest reason: my library doesn’t have access to most of the books that are nominated, and many of them are very expensive, and since I don’t know how many of them are the sort of thing I want to own, I opted to instead try out a different award. 
  2. The book awards writeups are usually the ones where I can guarantee I’ve read everything I’m talking about, which makes them just about the only ones. While I do my best to watch/listen to as much stuff as I can for, say, the Emmys or the Billboard awards or whatever, I find it much harder to talk about books I haven’t read than tv shows I haven’t watched. 
  3. especially given that his contributions to the available actual body of work is pretty incredible. 
  4. actually, when Asmiov is the least polarizing, least problematic figure in your book, that’s a real crazy set of people you’ve got there 
  5. I spent hours and hours with various and sundry with them as a lad, I mean, and most of my knowledge of science fiction short stories published during my lifetime and prior to my adulthood comes from these books. Eventually I’ll be writing a long recurring feature about them here, but they’re very long, so it will be some time before that manages to happen. 
  6. The Stoker awards provide much reading grist, but they’re positioned weirdly in the year, and also five is too many awards to write about reasonably. 
  7. the post appears to have been lost to some migration or other