Saturday, July 5, 2008

The New Hugo Winners

Since I'm entering the last of the nine volumes that have collected all of the Hugo winning short fiction (with the exceptions of Brian Aldiss's Hothouse stories which won as a set and "...And Call Me Conrad" which won as a novel) I thought I would add the covers to some of these collections. Unfortunately the covers of almost all of them are pretty bad, typically they're little more than a list of stories. Starting with The New Hugo Winners Volume 2, the last that Isaac Asimov who initiated the series edited, Bob Eggleton provided covers for the books.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Review - Star Trek: The Next Generations - "All Good Things"

Star Trek: The Next Generation - "All Good Things"
1995 Hugo Winner for Best Dramatic Presentation

This is the last time that Star Trek won a Hugo award and I find it unlikely that it will win another one in the future (not to pre-judge Abrahm's upcoming restart of the Star Trek film franchise, I just think there's going to be a lot of heavy competition for next year's Hugo). As a result I feel the need to say more about Star Trek and the Hugo awards in general rather than a great deal about this particular episode. If you need a review though...

"All Good Things" is the last episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and they ended on a fine note. Despite thrashing around quite a bit and a final season where I cannot say a single nice thing about any of the episodes except "All Good Things" they managed to turn the end of the show into a coda for the series. In it the persistent god-like antagonist Q returns as Captain Picard finds that he has become unstuck in time ala Slaughterhouse 5. Q once again puts Picard on trial in humanity's place as he did in the pilot episode (and Picard returns to the pilot episode throughout the finale) and informs him that Picard himself is responsible for the damaging the universe and wiping out life on earth. Picard must organize a response from the time periods of the beginning of the series, the end, and more than a decade in the future.

It's the kind of finale that all shows hope for. The viewer finds out what may happen after the credits roll and the conclusion of the characters' stories, it ties to the history of series, and it is a fine story in its own right. It leaves the long time viewer in a satisfying place. If that wasn't enough it manages to deliver the message for the entire series without making it feel like a heavy handed message being dropped on the viewer.

The only downside are the typical ones for Star Trek: The Next Generation: the details of the plot are better left unconsidered since you'll just make yourself go cross eyed sorting out the technobabel. Really it's just better to think of it as "magic" and let it go since the story isn't really dependent on how things work.

This is one of the short list of Next Generation episodes that I enjoy and I find it improbable that anyone with interest in Star Trek hasn't seen it. Of course if you haven't then I'd recommend watching a few other episodes before turning to it since the series finale is dependent on the viewing being familiar with the show for its emotional impact.

So that's out of the way, let's take Trek and the Hugo awards. There have been four times that Star Trek has been given a Hugo. Two of the greatest episodes of the original series were "The Menagerie" and "The City on the Edge of Forever" and they each brought home the award but during the final season 2001 was released and locked the award up. Next Generation had an even rockier time since despite having more than twice as many episodes they also only received two awards. Nothing else has ever won for Star Trek.

It has been a persistent bridesmaid, though. Eight of the ten movies have been nominated skipping over only Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek: Nemesis which are really only appropriate for tormenting sinners in a Boschian vision of hell. Yes, this does mean that Star Trek: Insurrection was nominated in what I can only take as some kind of cruel practical joke. Two episodes of Deep Space Nine were nominated including the episode in which they integrated the new episode with "The Trouble with Tribbles" from the original series. The nominations wisely skipped over Voyager but somehow nominated two episodes of Enterprise in the same year. I can only guess that it was the addition of the Dramatic Presentation Short Form award that year which let them slip onto the ballot.

The point of this is that despite Star Trek's reputation among scifi nerds and a few odd choices it has never been a favored option of the voters at Worldcon. My personal suspicion is that this is due to Star Trek fans having their own segregated conventions. With the huge fans being more likely to go elsewhere the scifi fans who don't have the overwhelming loyalty to the series have been left to select the award.

I can't say that this would be a bad things since the four awards that Star Trek has received are well deserved ones. "Encounter at Farpoint", the pilot of Next Generation, despite being nominated really wasn't worthy of an award. Nor were most of the movies; as much as I like Star Trek 2 it's hard to claim that it's more deserving than Blade Runner.

Also unless the new movie this fall is very impressive and relaunches the franchise I suspect that Star Trek as a media movement is over. The Trek fans of the seventies and eighties have been supplanted by Star Wars fans in the hierarchy of science fiction fans. It's been forty years since the original series aired and the ground has been farmed so often that all that is left is a dead marsh. Star Trek fandom is aging and its rare that you'll find a fan under thirty. Star Trek's time has passed and all good things must come to an end.

Next week Star Trek's upstart rival in the 90's hits the scene in a double episode review that also covers the entire series.

Happy Independance Day!

It's a few days late but happy Independence Day!

Wait, there's another country besides Canada that has its Independence Day in early July?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Few Words on Awards

Tying in with my recent vacation the Origin awards were handed out while I was there and, as per tradition, board gamers and war gamers were instantly outraged at the selection. The hitch with the Origin awards is that the selection process (which is akin to the Hugo awards only with games) is terminally flawed and as a result will likely never be able to hold any merit for people interested in those categories.

Since the majority of this blog is about award winning books I though touching on the major categories of awards and their virtues would be worth a few moments. To do this I'm going to use examples of the three categories for movies: the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, and the People's Choice Awards.

The first and most popular type of award is the peer award; people in the same field select someone from their group to honor. The Academy Awards function like this with only the people working in the specific fields voting on the award winner for that category. In other words if you don't edit movies then you're not eligible to vote for best editing. Another example relevant here is the Nebula awards.

In theory this should mean that people knowledgeable about the field would regularly select the best example from what they know. In practice awards given out in this manner usually suffer from politics: those who are popular, well known, or feeding the group's sense of self importance have a significant advantage. If those tendencies can be held in check then the quality of the winners is on average higher than for other groups but all too often it leads to things like Shakespeare in Love winning (a film I enjoy quite a bit but I also recognize that if you don't know you're Shakespeare you're missing half the film and wouldn't have a clue why a group of people involved in theatrical arts loved it so much).

The second option is the selection committee where a small group of experts review the category and then hand out the award. The Golden Globes use this method as does a minor award you might have heard of called the Nobel Prize.

The problem with this should be immediately evident. The less transparency in the process there is the greater the chance of corruption. The Golden Globes, for example, are handed out by the "Hollywood Foreign Press Association", a mysterious group with unknown members who don't seem to actually induct those in the "foreign press" and have been bought off several times in the past.

Finally there is popular acclaim such as with the People's Choice awards, the Hugos, and the Origin awards. While these awards rarely approach the "best" in a category (and that will always be subjective) they also typically do not select something truly awful. In addition the more narrowly focused the group is that selects the winner the better their selection is likely to be. The People's Choice award will tend to go to the popular films that the masses saw, while the Hugos use a self selecting group of fans of literary science fiction so that brings the average quality of the winner up a notch.

The problem when it comes to the Origins awards is that for several of the categories there are ten times as many RPG, CCG, and LARP players at the convention overwhelming the few thousand board gamers and wargamers voting in those categories. This means that selection is based on the handful of simple but pretty terrible games that they play (Muchkin, Fluxx) or by names that they know (Age of Empires III, Star Craft). It would be as if the Hugo awards were selected by the masses of Star Wars fans who never read a book (yes, you can like both but bear with me for the example).

I think if you know where an award is coming from and how it is selected then you can appreciate them for what they are even when you disagree with the selection. I wouldn't be trying to read and review all of these books if I didn't.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Late Review of Final Crisis 2

Now let's see if they can keep it up for seven issues...

Monday, June 30, 2008

Origins 2008 Recap

So the Origins Game Fair is over and once again it was a nerdy fun time was had by all. The CABS Board Room was, once again, the place to be for board gaming and the free games from Rio Grande attracted an even larger crowd than usual.

I played too many games to list them all: some old favorites, some new ones of interest, and a few stinkers. Highlights were:

The auction where I got the big purchase I was looking for, Battlelore along with the Hill Giant figure and Call to Arms exansion, at a severe discount and if that wasn't enough I bought a 3M edition of Acquire and a brand new copy of Reef Encounter for just pennies on the gaming dollar. I got in a game of Acquire early the next morning and Reef Encounter the next day and I had no complaints on either purchase. Speed Circuit was a mistake; not only were there many copies available after I purchased mine but I took an Avalon Hill edition and the better 3M editions were available (complete with metal cars!) at a dollar each and my copy was missing rules and components. I still have Ricochet Robots from the auction to play but at least that one is in shrink wrap so it is likely complete.

I did particularly poorly in the Settlers of Catan world qualifier. In my first two games I was completely knocked out of the competition by some spectacularly bad luck (we're talking about hitting a trifecta twice in a row level of unlikelyhood; in one game I had a better than 1 in 2 chance of getting resources on any given roll and I still went more than fifteen rolls without developing anything). By the time the third game came around I went a bit whacky and while I could have done better I didn't. The last game I won handily with, finally, a little bit of luck that went my way but it was way too late.

For the actual games I finally got to try Race for the Galaxy as the absolute last game of the con for me. It was a brilliant expansion on the mechanics already used in San Juan and I was disappointed that it was out of print. I also got to try Shogun which was marvelous as a deep euro-style game with an American design sensibility.

Naturally I had a great time and always wish there was more time to play everything. But there's always next year.