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January 28th, 2017

Hugo Thoughts: Dramatic Presentation

That Finnish Worldcon has opened Hugo nominations for 2016, and all over the internet the usual suspects are stirring and sharing their thoughts and recommendations. Being very suspicious my own self, I thought I'd chirp in with my own notions, as I have in years past.

First, the basics (forgive me if you have read this before, which most of you have):

To nominate, you need to be a member of at least one of these three worldcons:
-- MidAmericon II, last year's Kansas City worldcon,
-- the current year's worldcon, in Helsinki,
-- the 2018 worldcon, ConJose II, in San Jose, California.

If you were a member of MAC II, you're set. If not, you need to join one or the other of the forthcoming cons... and to secure nominating rights, you need to do that by January 31. Which means you have THREE MORE DAYS to join. Once you've signed up, though, you'll have another six weeks or so to decide what you want to nominate. You do NOT have to attend to be able to nominate. Supporting Memberships are also available, at a much lower rate.

To join the Helsinki con, go to:
http://www.worldcon.fi/

To join for San Jose, the address is:
http://www.worldcon76.org/

Once you've signed up, you will be sent your own personalized link to the nominations page, which will allow you to nominate the books, stories, movies, television shows, artists, fans, and editors whose work most wowed you this past year.

The Hugo Awards were first given in 1953, and remain our field's most prestigious, important, and meaningful awards. The list of Hugo winners is a Who's Who in science fiction and fantasy, and you can have a voice in determining which names are added to that distinguished roster besides those of Alfred Bester, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. Le Guin, Jack Vance, Connie Willis, Samuel R. Delany, N.K. Jemisin, James Tiptree Jr, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Gardner Dozois, Lois McMaster Bujold, Orson Scott Card, Poul Anderson, Frank Herbert, Anne Leckie, Anne McCaffery, and so many many more.

Today I thought I'd ruminate a bit on the Dramatic Presentation Hugos. There are two of those: Long Form and Short Form. For all practical purposes, Long Form means "feature films" and Short Form means "television episodes," though the rules actually allow all sorts of other things to be nominated (live theatre, radio plays, easter eggs, slide shows, albums, once even an acceptance speech from the previous year, which was kind of the height of stupidity). But the only real hard and fast criterion here is running time.

This year's Long Form race is going to be dominated by two movies, I have no doubt. ROGUE ONE is a Star Wars film, and a pretty good one at that (the best since THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, imnsho); it has to be the odds on favorite going in. ARRIVAL, however, could give it some tough competition; a brilliant, powerful adaptation of a Ted Chiang story, relentlessly intelligent, well filmed, well acted (how Amy Adams did not get an Oscar nod I will never understand).

If we presume that ROGUE ONE and ARRIVAL are shoe-ins, though, the question remains as to what will occupy the other four slots on the final ballot. Certainly there were other genre movies released last year. DR. STRANGE, INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE, PASSENGERS, A MONSTER CALLS, THE JUNGLE BOOK, GHOSTBUSTERS, X-MEN, STAR TREK, yadda yadda yadda. Myself, I liked some of these a lot, other less, and still others I have yet to see. Some may make my ballot.

There's another option, however: television series. And it's an option well worth considering.

See, the rules allow a television show to be nominated in two different ways. You can nominate an individual episode of a series in Short Form, so long as it is under ninety minutes, or you can nominate an entire season as a whole in Long Form. (You can actually do both if you really like a show, but the Hugo administrators will then make the showrunners chose which nomination to accept, so the same show cannot appear simultaneous in both categories). Most recently, it happened to GAME OF THRONES. At the Chicago worldcon, GAME OF THRONES season one won the rocket in Long Form, ahead of several feature films. (In subsequent years, however, GOT won in Short Form, for individual episodes).

In today's television world, there are two different sorts of shows: episodic series, where every week tells a self-contained story with a beginning, middle, and an end, and serial shows, where the entire season is one story, one continuous dramatic arc, with no resolution until the final episode (if then). LAW & ORDER is its various incarnations is an example of the former, HBO's recent brilliant courtroom drama THE NIGHT OF an instance of the latter. In the not-too-distant past, episodic shows used to dominate television drama, but in recent years that has definitely changed. These days we have a real mix, though to my mind the best shows are almost all serials. The longer format allows you to do so much more.

This is truly the Golden Age for science fiction and fantasy on television, with more interesting series than ever before... most of them serial dramas. WESTWORLD, for instance. Terrific show. But the entire season is one story. To me, it makes no sense to pick an episode at random and nominate it in Short Form, when every episode depended so much on what had come before and what was to follow. I will be nominating WESTWORLD season one in Long Form, and I urge other WESTWORLD fans to do the same. Then we have STRANGER THINGS, recent Golden Globe nominee, another cool new genre show... I loved the series, but looking back, did I love one episode? No, I loved the whole story, so I'd nominate STRANGER THINGS, season one. Ditto for PENNY DREADFUL, the final season, which wrapped up in fine style last year. You could also make a case for MR. ROBOT, if you consider that sf.

And, of course, there's GAME OF THRONES. Our sixth season won an unprecedented number of Emmys, setting an all-time record. And there are individual episodes that won Emmy acclaim: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss won for writing for "Battle of the Bastards," Miguel Sapochnik took the directing Emmy for the same episode, and "The Door" also earned a directing nomination for Jack Bender. But it was the season as a whole that won for Best Drama, and for me, at least, it makes the most sense to nominate GAME OF THRONES, season six, in Long Form.

When I look at the other movies eligible this year, aside from the Big Two, I see some good work, for sure... but nothing that stands head and shoulders above shows like WESTWORLD, STRANGER THINGS, PENNY DREADFUL, and GOT. I think the time has come for serial television drama to have more of a presence in the Long Form category.

And what about Short Form, you ask?

There are still plenty of episodic shows left, more than enough to fill that category. GRIMM and ORPHAN BLACK and FLASH have all been nominated in recent years, and their fans will likely have favorite episodes again this year. And then there are the anthology shows, the most outstanding of which is BLACK MIRROR. As with TWILIGHT ZONE and OUTER LIMITS in days of yore, every episode of BLACK MIRROR is self-contained, and many of them are brilliant. (Dark as hell, disturbing, but masterfully done). Your favorite BLACK MIRROR episodes should definitely be nominated here; so far, the show has been criminally overlooked in the Hugos. Of course, there's DR. WHO as well. I don't know which episodes will be nominated this year, but there will surely be one. Or two. Or three. Or four. For GOT fans who reject my Long Form argument, or prefer to nominate in both categories, "The Door" and "Battle of the Bastards" are the likely contenders.

And then there is the interesting case of THE EXPANSE. You could make a good argument for nominating the entire first season of THE EXPANSE in Long Form, as with WESTWORLD or GAME OF THRONES or STRANGER THINGS, since it is one continuous story. However, the airing dates of THE EXPANSE season one straddled the calendar year, so half of the episodes came out in 2015. Not sure what that does to the show's eligibilty. (Two of those early episodes did garner considerable support last year, and would likely have made the ballot if not for the Puppies). In light of that complication, I think EXPANSE fans (like me) should probably nominate their favorite episode in Short Form. My pick would be the season finale, "Leviathan Wakes." Originally broadcast on February 2, 2016, it is clearly eligible, whereas the earlier episodes are not.

Those are my thoughts on the Drama categories in this year's Hugo Awards. You're welcome to share your own. (As ever, please stay ON TOPIC or your comments will be nuked).

No matter which shows and movies you chose to nominate... NOMINATE. Surely the events of 2016 have demonstrated the importance of voter turnout.

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