I am a supporting member of Loncon 3, which is the location of this year's World Science Fiction Convention. Because of this, I was eligible to vote in this year's Hugo Awards. This is the first in what I intend to be multiple posts in which I set forth how I voted in the various categories in which I am voting, and explain why I made these choices.
The first category I am posting is the Best Fancast category. After winning the Hugo two years in a row, the members of the SF Squeecast declared themselves ineligible for the award, and as a result none of the nominees in 2014 have won the award before. I listened to at least four or five recent episodes all of the nominated podcasts in preparation for voting. In some cases, I have listened to many more episodes. I think this is a sufficient number of episodes to get a feel for the quality of each of these podcasts. Without further ado, here is how I ranked the nominated podcasts:
1. Galactic Suburbia Podcast (actual finish 3rd): Hosted by Alisa, Alex, and Tansy, Galactic Suburbia is by far the best podcast nominated for the Hugo award. The episodes generally follow a standard format that start with a general discussion about recent events in the genre fiction world, followed by a recap of the "culture consumed" by each host since the last installment of the show. These segments are interlaced with comments concerning the lives of the hosts, feminism, other issues related to science fiction and fantasy, and, of course, cake. The best part of the podcast is the fast-paced, insightful, witty, and humorous nature of the round table discussion that gives the whole podcast an energy that is simply lacking in any of its competitors.
2. Doctor Who: Verity! (actual finish 6th): The gap between the Galactic Suburbia podcast and the Verity podcast is quite large. If the rules allowed me to rank Verity as my third or fourth choice without putting anyone in between it and Galactic Suburbia (and without ranking "No Award" in between the two), I would. In short, every podcast from here down is simply not nearly as good as Galactic Suburbia. That is not to say that Verity doesn't have its merits. For one thing, there is some cast crossover with Galactic Suburbia, which is a plus. And on the whole the hosts of the show are interesting speakers, and keep the discussions flowing. But the drawback of the podcast is that it is entirely Dr. Who focused. This isn't a bad thing necessarily, I am a long time Dr. Who fan, but what it does mean is that when the show is on hiatus between seasons, as it is now, the cast is left with topics such as discussing novel adaptations and recounting the influence of decades old books analyzing the series upon their personal development as fans of the show. To put it bluntly, despite an engaging cast, the extremely narrow focus of the podcast hampers it somewhat, and pushes it out of first place.
3. The Coode Street Podcast (actual finish 2nd): Hosted by Gary Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan, the Coode Street Podcast is a general science fiction show. Overall it is fairly interesting, with the only caveat being that it can drag a little bit. One thing I've noticed is that a lot of podcasts really ought to have a harsher editor who will take their hour long episodes and trim them down by a fair amount. Because nothing kills my interest in a podcast than long, drawn-out episodes on a single topic. On the plus side, this allows Wolfe and Strahan to go into a lot of depth on the topics they discuss and the people they interview, but this also makes for very long and tiring experience as the hosts tend to ramble and wander a fair amount. The irony of the Coode Street Podcast is that the material presented in the shows would be interesting, but the way it is presented often makes it decidedly not so.
4. The Writer and the Critic (actual finish 7th): Everything that was said about The Coode Street Podcast applies to The Writer and the Critic, only more so. Both Kirstyn and Ian are quite knowledgeable about genre fiction, which allows them to delve quite deeply into the topics they cover. The problem is that the show is very slow and its episodes clock in at about an hour and a half, making for an almost tedious experience.
5. Tea and Jeopardy (actual finish 4th): This show is essentially an interview show in which the host Emma Newman sits down and has a conversation with guests, usually science fiction or fantasy authors. I'm not a huge fan of interview shows, even on podcasts that I normally enjoy, and the fact that this is basically the entire format for this show is a major strike against it in my book. Someone who likes lots of interview episodes would probably have a different opinion of the podcast, but I don't like interview episodes, and as a result, Tea and Jeopardy gets a fairly low ranking from me.
6. SF Signal Podcast (actual finish 1st): There's nothing particularly wrong with the SF Signal Podcast, but there isn't anything particularly notable about it either. There is also another wide gulf in quality between Tea and Jeopardy, and the SF Signal Podcast. The primary problem with the podcast is that Patrick Hester is simply dull and uninteresting as a host. Even though the podcast frequently gets interesting authors as interview subjects, and can have some interesting people on their panel shows, the show is continually dragged down to tedium by Hester, who is not nearly as interesting or humorous as he seems to think he is. This podcast isn't bad, but there's no real reason to bother to listen to it either.
7. No Award (actual finish 8th): If none of the podcasts listed above win the Hugo in this category I'd rather see no award granted because, for rather obvious reasons, I don't think the remaining podcast should win the award.
8. The Skiffy and Fanty Show (actual finish 5th): This podcast is, in a word, unlistenable. I have sat through several episodes, and each one was worse than the last. The podcast is slow, dull, and disorganized. The hosts are tedious and unfunny. I've listened to interviews, panel shows, and one attempt at a sketch show in which one cast member attempted to speak while doing a Sean Connery impersonation and all were simply atrocious. The episodes were all uniformly awful. This show, quite simply, has no business being on a Hugo ballot. I'll probably leave this entry off of my voting ballot entirely, and if I rank it, it will be below "No Award".
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