Christina Vasilevski

Toronto Writer/Editor for Content Strategy, Content Design & UX.

My 2012 Hugo Award Nominations

Today was the deadline for this year’s Hugo Award nominations, so I finally got down to work and submitted my ballot.

I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable of the field to submit nominations in every category, but I also wanted to talk about what works I did nominate, and why. So here goes:

Best Novel

Best Novelette

  • Fade to White by Catherynne M. Valente, published by Clarkesworld Magazine – Valente is one of those authors I desperately want a blood transfusion from, in the hopes that I might absorb and recreate her writerly amazingness. Like the previous year’s “Silently and Very Fast”, this story examines the uneasy ways in which technology and progress affect our bodies and our families, but this time through the lens of 50’s boosterism and Cold War paranoia. The full text is available to read here.
  • The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal – A lovely story that blends together The Wizard of Oz; 50’s-era retro futurism; and painful truths about old age, losing the one you love, and balancing your family hopes with your career. You don’t think it would work,  but it totally does. The full text is available to read here.

The whole “revisionist look at the 50’s” theme present in both stories is just a coincidence, I swear.

Best Short Story

This is the category I felt most informed about because of all the stories I consume, but even so, the frontrunners were obvious.

  • Robot by Helena Bell, published in Clarkesworld Magazine – The thing I love about this story is that it’s written in second person – and God, does Helena Bell make it work. This has to be one of the most jaw-dropping, inventive, virtuoso-like (virtuosic?) stories of 2012. The full text is available to read here, but I honestly think it’s better in its audio form – Cat Rambo’s narration gives it an extra edge of pain and verisimilitude. You can listen to the podcast version here.
  • Immersion by Aliette de Bodard, published in Clarkesworld Magazine – This was one of the most heartbreaking stories I heard last year. This is one in a string of stories written by Aliette de Bodard taking place in the future on a series of Vietnamese space stations. She is one of several authors whose writing has forced me to analyze my position as privileged reader and writer of speculative fiction – being that I’m white, anglo, straight, ablebodied, and cis-gendered – and for that I am grateful. The full text is available to read here.
  • Spindles by L.B. Gale, published in Lightspeed Magazine – This one is a bit more experimental, but I’m a sucker for stories that reinvent and subvert fairy tale tropes, and this one has a healthy, heaping tablespoon of feminist dissent. The full text is available to read here.
  • The Seven Samovars by Peter Sursi, published in Lightspeed Magazine – This one isn’t as “deep” or issues-laden as the nominees above, but there’s something about the breeziness and whimsy of it that I dig. It’s quite dialgoue-heavy, but it works because it sells the otherworldliness of the story’s setting; I would love to work at a coffee shop like the one in the story – either that, or have a cup of Erzebet’s mint, basil, and lemon verbena tea, which sounds delicious. The full text is available to read here.
  • Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain by Cat Rambo, published in her anthology Near + Far by Hydra House – Cat Rambo read this story aloud at the 2012 World Fantasy Convention in Toronto, and it made me and the audience gasp. Literally. I figure any story that can do that is worth greater attention. The full text is available to read here.

Best Related Work

  • Writing Excuses with Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells – This podcast has taught me so much about writing in the year and a half that I’ve been listening to it. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Best Editor, Short Form

  • Lynne M. Thomas for Apex Magazine – I really love Apex in the short time that I’ve been subscribing to it, so I might as well give it, and her, another form of support.
  • John Joseph Adams for Lightspeed Magazine – It took me a long time to get into the groove of Lightspeed after I subscribed to it. A lot of the time, I don’t like the stories and novellas he chooses for this magazine. However, his choices do display a consistent editorial sensibility, and for that, I respect him.

Best Editor, Long Form

  • Brett Savory of ChiZine Publications
  • Sandra Kasturi of ChiZine Publications

What can I say? I love me some ChiZine. I love the work they put out (as evidenced by my Best Novel nominations above), and I love the fact that they’re based in Toronto like I am.

Best Fan Artist

I found these suggestions through Twitter – thanks, Mary Robinette Kowal and co!

Best Semiprozine

I subscribe to the first three magazines, and read slush (quite happily!) for the fourth. There is no way I can be objective about this category.

Best Fancast

  • SF Squeecast – Yes, this won the Hugo last year, but I only started listening to it a few weeks ago, and it’s amazing. I love the hosts’ crazy conversations.
  • SF Crossing the Gulf – I love Karen Lord, so I’ll gladly support the podcast she cohosts with Karen Burnham.
  • The Geeks Guide to the Galaxy – Transcripts of GGG’s interviews show up in my electronic subscription to Lightspeed Magazine, and I quite enjoy them, so this gets a nod. One caveat, though: I much prefer the transcripts over the original audio versions.

Best Fan Writer

  • Requires Only That You Hate – Like I mentioned above, several websites in the last year have made me re-examine the privilege that I hold in regards to being a “normative” consumer and (hopefully) producer of fiction. I’m nowhere near close to writing truly inclusive, progressive fiction, but Requires Only That You Hate, with its queer, feminist, and PoC critical lens, does a fine job of lobbing introspective grenades.

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

  • Damien Walters Grintalis – Here I admit my bias again: Damien is an editor at Electric Velocipede, which I read slush for. I haven’t read her debut novel Ink, but several short stories of hers are available online, and they’re dark, literary, and fantastic. Try these on for size if you’re interested: When She is Empty and They Make of You a Monster.
  • Peter Sursi – As I mentioned above, I quite liked “The Seven Samovars,” and figured that since he was one of the few new/upcoming writers on my ballot, I should show him some support.
  • L.B. Gale – Same thing. I liked “Spindles”, and I also quite like her blog, so I want to support someone new and awesome.
  • Rachel Hartman – Seraphina was Hartman’s debut, and as far as I’m aware, she hasn’t published anything else. Since her book was one of my favourites of last year, it’s foolish to leave her off the list.

So that’s my ballot for the year. What about you? Even though today’s the deadline, what remarkable fiction from 2012 can you recommend?

Should eBooks have DRM?

I bought myself a Kobo Touch last year for Boxing Day, as I figured that reading eBooks would give me a better understanding of changes within the publishing industry. I chose the Kobo over other eReaders for a number of reasons, but I liked the fact that it supported ePub, the (current) industry format, and that you could expand your library by inserting a MicroSD card into the device. A homegrown alternative to Amazon could do all that and get excellent reviews from Wired in the process? Sign me up!

Once I started using the Kobo, though, Digital Rights Management (DRM) software reared its ugly head, and things weren’t so simple. Books bought through the Kobo store can’t be transferred onto a Micro SD card – instead, they are automatically stored on the Kobo eReader itself. The innate storage capacity of the Kobo Touch is 1 GB, which is good, but not great, hence the allure of being able to expand your library through the Micro SD.

However, books from the Kobo store are normally formatted with Adobe’s DRM, and the Micro SD can store eBooks only if the stored files contain no DRM at all. This means that I can’t save space on my Kobo by transferring Kobo’s ebooks to the card. Sure, I can delete the Kobo books once I’m done and then download them again for free if I wish, but that’s an unpleasant solution at best.

Isn’t having a huge number of books at your fingertips one of the biggest reasons why people buy eReaders? Maintaining a large collection is rather hard to do without the extra storage capacity the Micro SD provides, and the Micro SD card is incompatible with Kobo’s own store. This is critical to understand.

So, here we come to today. The next series of Canada Reads debates starts in a few days, and I haven’t read any of the books in the lineup. I want to read at least a few of them, so I researched what eBook options were available. Here are the results:

  • All 5 books are available at the Kobo store
  • One of those books, Carmen Aguirre’s Something Fierce, was available only from the Kobo store
  • Two of those books, Ken Dryden’s The Game and Marina Nemat’s Prisoner of Tehran, were available for purchase from the publishers’ websites
    • Wiley, publisher of The Game, explicitly stated on the purchase page that the eBook had Adobe DRM enabled
    • Penguin, the publisher of Prisoner of Tehran, didn’t state whether the eBook had DRM, but a subsequent search of the site revealed that Penguin books do have DRM enabled
  • The two remaining books, Dave Bidini’s On a Cold Road and John Vaillant’s The Tiger, were available for download from the Sony eReader store at much higher prices

The result? I didn’t buy any of the five books promoted by Canada Reads, and placed eBook holds through the Toronto Public Library instead.

This evening I encountered something completely different. Quite by accident (thank you, Strange Horizons book reviews!) I stumbled upon The Bone Spindle published by Aqueduct Press. I hadn’t heard of either the book or the publisher, but the review was so intriguing that I bought the book once I found out that Aqueduct Press specialized in publishing feminist science fiction.

It turns out that Aqueduct Press sells ePub books without any sort of DRM. Finally, a publisher whose wares I could buy without using up my Kobo’s limited storage!

Poking around on Aqueduct’s blog led me to Fantasy Magazine (now merged with Lightspeed Magazine). And Lightspeed led me to Weightless Books. Let’s take a look at Weightless’ About page, shall we?

We sell DRM-free ebooks because we believe those who buy ebooks here should be able to move them around between their devices at will.

What we’re hoping to do here is to make this the first site to go to for interesting ebooks from independent presses.

Let’s go over that a bit more slowly:

  1. None of the books or magazine subscriptions that Weightless Books sells contain any DRM.
  2. They sell books from independent presses, meaning that the books have gone through some sort of editorial process before publication.

Weightless Books is okay with selling quality books without subjecting me to the anti-piracy hassle that traditional publishers would typically force down my throat? You mean to say that because of this policy, I can buy as many books as I want and store them without any fuss on my capacious Micro SD card? How amazing! It’s difficult to explain how much peril my credit card is in now.

Because of the lack of DRM on both sites, I bought both The Bone Spindle and a year-long subscription to Lightspeed Magazine. Those purchases cost just over $30 total. And it was precisely because of the existence of DRM software (and what DRM meant in terms of my eReader’s storage capacity) that I decided against buying bestselling books offered by the traditional publishing establishment.

This leads me to wonder: How many others are there like me with the same concerns about DRM, and how much do we represent in lost sales? More importantly, will publishers ever regard DRM software as a limiting factor in the way that I do?