The Hub Awards, 2008

 

Welcome to the second Annual Hub Awards. ish.

 

As with last year’s star-studded ceremony, the Hub Awards are simply a chance for me (your genial host, Lee Harris) to reflect on some of the genre highlights of my year. (Important note: These are my choices, and do not reflect the views of other members of the editorial team at Hub).This list includes a number of “Best Of”s. These include categories such as “Best Horror Novel” and “Best Film”. These aren’t necessarily items that were published/released in 2008; rather, they are indicative of the best I have enjoyed this year – thus, there may be works that have been produced prior to 2007, but that (for whatever reason) I didn’t get the opportunity to enjoy them when they were first released. So… onto the Awards…

 

1.    Best Science Fiction Novel

2.    Best Horror Novel

3.    Best Fantasy Novel

4.    Best Comedy Novel

5.    Best TV Tie-In Novel

6.    Best Comedy (Audio)

7.    Best Film

8.    Best TV Series

9.    Best Audio Drama

10.  Best Comic or Collection

11.  Best Writer

12.  Best Collection (single author)

13.  Best Anthology

14.  Best Artist

15.  Best Short Story (within Hub)

16.  Best Short Story (non-Hub)

17.  Best Podcast

18.  Best Dead Tree Magazine (UK)

19.  Best Website for Timewasting

20.  Best Blog

 

1.    Best Science Fiction Novel

I’ve enjoyed quite a few SF novels over the past 12 months. Personal favourites include Eric Brown’s Kethani (strictly speaking, a collection of his Kethani short stories, with linking material to enable Solaris to release it as a novel) and Charles Stross’ superb Halting State. For sheer fun, however, the award goes jointly to John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades. I’ve enjoyed Scalzi’s non-fiction for a little while, and felt it was time to check out his fiction back catalogue so I plumped for these two books (re-released with artwork by Vincent Chong). Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades are cracking reads, and great adventures.

 

2.    Best Horror Novel

It’s been a slow year for horror for me. A couple of new writers (Bill Hussey and Joseph D’Lacey) burst onto the scene to wide acclaim, though their books still adorn my ever-growing “to read” pile. Despite reading a relatively small number of horror books this year, I’ve been lucky to have chosen some pretty good ones. Adam Neville’s Banquet for the Damned was first published four years ago by UK independent press PS Publishing, and rereleased by Virgin Books this year. Neville’s only horror novel to date (he specialises in erotic fiction), Banquet is a masterpiece in atmosphere and pace. If I hadn’t taken Ramsey Campbell’s The Grin of the Dark on holiday with me, however, it might have won. However, I did. Somewhat embarrassingly, The Grin of the Dark is the first of Campbell’s novels I have read. I recall attempting (and giving up) on one of his books about 25 years ago (I don’t recall which one) and in retrospect I suspect my reading preferences at the rime were just not sufficiently matured to appreciate his prose. The Grin of the Dark contains some of the most disturbing imagery and subtle horror I have ever read, and I found myself curling my legs up while reading it, knowing that the shadows in the room couldn’t hurt me, but lifting my feet of the floor anyway. Just in case. A magnificent book, and the reason my bookshelf is now groaning under the weight of Ramsey Campbell books awaiting reading.

 

3.    Best Fantasy Novel

It’s been a strong year for fantasy. Ian C Esselmont’s Return of the Crimson Guard is typical of the high standards set this year (if we dismiss the multitude of “Oh, my – that man I fancy is a vampire” novels). Runner-up this year is a novel that crossed genre boundaries. Part fantasy, part horror, part crime novel, Simon Spurrier’s Contract succeeded on every level. My choice, though, is a book that was re-released in January, though it was first published in December 2006. Markus Zusak’s exceptional The Book Thief. Though only just qualifying as fantasy (the story is narrated by Death, though the events in the tale are not fantastical in the slightest), I’ve allowed its inclusion, as it is such a wonderful read. If you are not reduced to tears (or at least, wipe away a discreet droplet of condensation that has somehow found its way to your eye) then you need to book a visit to get your emotion circuits overhauled.

 

4.    Best Comedy Novel

Not a great year for genre comedy, unfortunately. I enjoyed Christopher Moore’s The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, but not enough to want to honour it with something as life-changing as a Hub Award. No ‘Best Comedy Novel’ award this year, therefore.

 

5.    Best TV Tie-In Novel

I don’t read a lot of tie-ins, but I do read the occasional Doctor Who and Torchwood books, as they are regularly sent to me by BBC Books. It’s not surprising, therefore, that a Doctor Who book should emerge triumphant again, this year. What’s more surprising, perhaps, is that the author is the same winner as last year. The Ghosts of India shows what a solid grasp Mark Morris has of the characters and the style of Who. Plotting and pacing is top-notch, and though the book was perhaps let down by an overly-simplistic resolution (though, remember the Who range are aimed at the YA market, rather than us seasoned old fogies), Ghosts is another reason Moffatt should be giving serious consideration to booking Morris for season 5 of new Who.

 

6.    Best Comedy (Audio)

Quite a strong year, with Dirk Maggs’ fine adaptation of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, as well as another season of Old Harry’s Game. The winner by a country mile, however, is the Ladbroke/Hokus Bloke adaptation of Robert Rankin’s The Brightonomicon, distributed by BBC Audio Books. On reading the cast list it would be easy to assume the production company had an infinite budget – David Warner, Andy Serkis, Mark Wing-Davey, and a cast of dozens (and you will have heard of most of them). This 13-part series also boasts one of the best (and most appropriate) theme tunes I have heard on an audio production. It is a fine introduction to the work of Rankin, and one of the few “must have”s of the year.

 

7.    Best Film

Oh, what a year this was. Anticipation at year-start was high, with Iron Man to look forward to, a new Pixar movie, and even a new Indiana Jones film! Del Toro was back with a sequel to Hellboy, and everyone was talking about the new Batman movie…

 

Iron Man was tremendous fun, and another year might easily have won. Del Toro disappointed with Hellboy II, however, which looked stunning, but lacked coherence. I didn’t watch Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull until just before Christmas, so I had already read numerous reviews stating how bad the film was. Anticipating something sub-par, my expectations were lowered, and I actually ended up enjoying the film as a result. It didn’t win, though – I didn’t enjoy it that much!

 

The prize fight, then, is between Wall-E and The Dark Knight. Pixar’s tale of a garbage clearance robot and his love for another droid is wonderful, and even manages to eclipse Monsters, Inc as their best movie. Heath Ledger’s tour-de-force in The Dark Knight, however, combined with Aaron Eckhart’s considered performance as Harvey Dent, gives Nolan’s Batman sequel the edge – despite Bale’s frankly ridiculous Batman voice (buy some cough medicine, for goodness sake!)

 

8.    Best TV Series

Last year’s winner (Heroes) was never going to be in the running, which is a shame as the format still has plenty of life left in it. In the UK we had probably the best season so far of Doctor Who (winning yet another Hugo in the process) and our answer to Heroes was the late-night comedy No Heroics – the story of a few low-rent superheroes and their mundane lives (special mention has to go to James Lance for his performance as “Timebomb” – he manages to make his gay, alcoholic, sex-addicted sadist of a character one of the most watchable characters on television this year, easily outclassing everyone else in this hit-and-miss (though mainly hit) comedy).

 

Apparitions also impressed, though I didn’t see all of the episodes, but I’ll certainly be buying the box set.

 

The US, meanwhile, gave us Pushing Daisies, Chuck, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Battlestar Galactica. The winner, though, didn’t even appear on television, but I’m stretching the scope of this award to allow it in – they’re my awards, and I can do what I like with them, so there! :-p Doctor Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, though only 45 minutes in total (3 x 15 minute internet-broadcast episodes) raised the bar for online content (legal online content, that is). The story of the world’s sweetest supervillain (the titular Doctor Horrible) and his quest to join The Evil League of Evil supervillain team, the show contained humour, pathos, and enough songs to fill a Broadway musical (now there’s a thought…) If you didn’t catch it first time around you can now buy it on DVD from Amazon.com (and it includes Commentary: The Musical – a whole new 45 minute musical commentary from the stars and producers).

 

9.    Best Audio Drama

As ever, Big Finish dominate the audio drama recommendations this year, and as good as their Doctor Who range undoubtedly is, the quality is variable. For sheer consistency as well as listenability, their Sapphire and Steel range cannot be beaten. With a few excellent adventures to choose from this year, the award goes to Sapphire and Steel 3.1: Second Sight – an episode in which we find Sapphire and Steel have been missing for so long that they have been replaced by a new team – meet the next Sapphire and Steel…

 

10.  Best Comic or Collection

Tempted though I am to award this to Watchmen (I re-read it twice this year), the award should really give given to a comic I have not read prior to 2008. Easily the most interesting (both in terms of content and distribution) is Warren EllisFreakangels. Distributed free of charge online, and later collected into a print edition, Freakangels is everything you expect from Ellis, and well worth your time.

 

11.  Best Writer

This award almost went to Russell T Davies for his non-fiction expose of the writer’s craft: A Writer’s Life – full of fascinating insights into the mind of a television scriptwriter/producer, it is easily the best non-fiction book of the year. However, Ramsey Campbell’s The Grin of the Dark was a revelation to me – after many, many years of reading horror I had become somewhat immune to its effects. The Grin of the Dark disturbed me again, and made me watch at shadows, which is why Ramsey Campbell is this year’s recipient.

 

12.  Best Collection

Single-author collections do not sell particularly well, which is why mainstream publishers tend to steer clear of them (except when written by A-list authors). We turn our attention, therefore, to the small presses for the best collections of 2008. The award was almost won by Allyson Bird’s impressive debut collection, Bull Running for Girls. However, I was lucky enough to spend some time with Rob Shearman at this year’s FantasyCon, and he mentioned he had a collection which was (at the time) being considered for a World Fantasy Award. I picked up a copy from the dealers’room, and started reading it when I got home. Published by Comma Press, Tiny Deaths contains tales of horror, fantasy, delusion and some decidedly non-genre tales. `The writing is wonderful, the characters interesting and believable, and the humour (when present) is genuinely laugh-out-loud. Not only the best collection I read this year, but perhaps the best collection I have ever read! Buy a copy now.

 

13.  Best Anthology

While small presses also have a goodly number of anthologies out, mainstream publishers also excel in this category – largely, it has to be admitted, due to their annual “Best Of” compilations. These compilations are dominated by three editors – Ellen Datlow, Gardner Dozois and Stephen Jones. It’s a Stephen Jones book that takes home the prize this year – The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 20 contains no sub-par tales, and it should be on the bookshelf of every horror fan.

 

14.  Best Artist

For his work on the two John Scalzi books in the “Best SF Novel” category, once again this goes to Vincent Chong.

 

15.  Best Short Story (within Hub)

It’s been a strong year for fiction at Hub magazine, and among the pearls I have discovered a few diamonds. Guy Haley’s Kasimir Larkin’s Last Sale was one of my favourites – nothing much happens (which is kind of the point), but there is some lovely characterization within the story. Way back in January in our start-of-year Flash Fiction Special, Tony Ballantyne gave us the wonderful Why Are Rocks? which will resonate with any parent, and which comes a close second to the winner in this category – Eric Brown’s People of Planet Earth. I’m a big fan of Eric’s writing, and when he told me he had a story that he was sure would never be accepted anywhere as it was just too disgusting to print, I knew it was something Hub had to have! It didn’t disappoint, and garnered some of the best reviews of any Hub story to date.

 

16.  Best Short Story (non-Hub)

Taken from Robert Shearman’s Tiny Deaths collection, Favourite takes the prize, though the standard is so high throughout the book, it could have been any one of another half-dozen or so (including the World Fantasy Award nominated Damned if you Don’t).

 

17.  Best Podcast

For services to both the podcasting community, and would-be-writers, Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing (www.IShouldBeWriting.com) is a clear winner for the second year running. For years she has been offering advice to wannabe writers as well as presenting lessons based on her own successes and mistakes, and is a must-listen for anyone starting out in writing.

 

18.  Best Dead Tree Magazine (UK)

Last year’s winner – DeathRay – has had a tough year. Financial problems meant that its publication schedule became somewhat erratic, and after being rescued by Rebellion, it went quarterly for one issue and now publishes on a bi-monthly schedule, though the quality of the writing remains top-notch. SciFi Now, on the other hand, never fails to disappoint. Backed from the start by one of the UK’s major magazine publishers, SFN certainly has the pedigree to succeed, but it all feels a little rushed. In contrast, the UK’s best-selling genre magazine, SFX, appears to be watching the competition very closely. It has gone through a number of changes over the last year – changes of style, changes of content – and the changes all help to make the magazine fresh once again. For consistency of quality, scheduling and for giving the readers what they want, SFX is this year’s winner.

(Disclosure notice: I am a regular reviewer for DeathRay)

 

19.  Best Website for Timewasting

The site I have probably wasted more time on than any this year is Facebook – for Scrabulous earlier in the year, and latterly almost exclusively for the status updates alone. As this is not specifically a genre site, however, it cannot really be considered for this award. I’ve also spent an inordinate amount of time on other sites including Torque Control (excellent, in-depth critical analysis), SFX (daily news snippets) and various author blogs, but I am pleased to say that the site I come back to time and again is the winner of last year’s award, the Velcro City Tourist Board. Paul Raven trawls the net looking for interesting snippets, and then links to them. He’s like an advance Google scouting party for genre enthusiasts.

 

20.  Best Blog

This is a tricky one, as there are a growing number of authors who either understand the value of regular blogging, or simply enjoy doing it (or both). Frequent haunts include WarrenEllis.com, NeilGaiman.com and Scalzi.com. Last year’s winner (John Scalzi’s for his Whatever column) went on to win the Best Fanwriter Hugo award. His site (found at whatever.scalzi.com) contains daily musings on life, politics, writing and the genre community. Often updated several times a day, this continues to be a fascinating read, and wins the Hub Magazine Best Blog award for the second year running!

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