It’s the most wonderful time of the year — awards eligibility season!
Between freelance games writing collapsing, writing a book that won’t be published until 2024, and spending a lot of my remaining energy promoting my late 2022 book release — Fight, Magic, Items: The History of Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and the Rise of Japanese RPGs in the West last October — 2023 was a quieter year for me in terms of professional writing. In fact, for the first time in several years, the bulk of my work was fannish writing published right here on Astrolabe.
So, this year, I’m eligible in two categories:
- Astrolabe for “Best Fanzine,” and
- Aidan Moher for "Best Fan Writer”
2023 was a terrific year for Astrolabe. I saw nice subscriber growth, and, for the first time, started regularly publishing timed-exclusive content for paid supporters —like features, Astrolabe Digest, and mailbags — alongside several flagship issues of Astrolabe, and the launch of Video Game History Week.
The biggest piece this year was my reported piece on the connection between Sea of Stars developer Sabotage and Jordan Peterson. Second was this feature about Final Fantasy XVI’s ill-considered pursuit of Game of Thrones-style “gritty” storytelling.
Here are some Astrolabe highlights:
You can find all of Astrolabe’s 2023 content here.
I was also really happy to open the platform to some of my favourite writers. Here’s a few examples:
As I mentioned, 2023 wasn’t the most prolific year for me as a professional writer, but I did publish a few things that make me delightfully proud even if they’re outside the scope of the fan categories at the major awards.
Fight, Magic, Items came out in audio! Published by Tantor Media and narrated by the brilliant Eric Michael Summerer, it’s a fabulous way to read the book—and holds a special place in my heart because most of the books I read while researching and writing Fight, Magic, Items were audiobooks. Get it here.
“How the greatest Japanese RPGs of the ‘90s came to the West” for Washington Post (RIP Launcher) is a deep dive history of Japanese RPG localization and how the work of legendary translators like Richard Honeywood and Alexander O. Smith changed what westerners expected from console gaming.
The team had a ton of questions, but “there was no real chain of command to the people who knew the answers,” he explained. And for a game as long and complex as “Xenogears,” one wrong guess could have major repercussions 50 hours of gameplay later. Under Baskett, the team figured “Xenogears” was a typical science fiction action story, Honeywood said, so their version of the anime opening called the ship’s assailants “aliens.” Honeywood saw it differently.
“That’s God attacking them, not aliens,” Honeywood told them after watching the dubbed video. “Read the script. The ship was carrying God, and now God’s attacking them. It’s very vague, but that’s what they’re hinting at in the rest of the game.”
“How Final Fantasy XVI Redefines the Series Again (And Don't Call It a JRPG)” for IGN is a look at how Final Fantasy XVI continued the series tradtiion of redefining “Final Fantasy” with every new title. It dovetails into an interview with the Final Fantasy XVI about what it means to be a Final Fantasy game, and wades into the debate surrounding the usage of the “JRPG” label.
"JRPG" is a vibe. It's a feeling. It's a matrix of inspirations and goals. It's a broad, expanding, and diverse set of themes, inspirations, narrative/gameplay structures that can be used to understand games, but shouldn't be used as an arbitrary label to put them in a clearly defined box.
“The Age of Nostalgia” appeared in Game Informer #354 (as far as I know, it’s not available to read online). From Bloodborne on the PlayStation to Kirby and the Forgotten Land on the Game Boy, this piece is a look at the community of modders, programmers, and artists “demaking” modern games to look, play, and feel like retro games — even, in many cases, running on original retro hardware.
If you’re the voting sort, I’d like to turn your attention to a few things that’ll make my ballots and are absolutely worth your time.
In “Best Fan Writer” and “Best Fanzine” I hope you’ll consider Sarah Gailey and her fabulous community-driven efforts at Stone Soup, Adri Joy, Marc Normandin, Matthew Claxton, Jason Sanford , Nerds of a Feather, Max Gladstone, Eric Garneau, Black Nerd Problems, Amanda Wakaruk & Olav Rokne, Arturo Serrano, Lincoln Michel, and Paul Weimer.
I’ve also read a ton of great books this year, and can highly recommend Travis Baldree’s Bookshops & Bonedust, The Infinity Particle by Wendy Xu, Johnathan Abernathy You Are Kind by Molly McGhee, Yellowface by R.F. Kuang, Video Game of the Year by Jordan Minor, and With Or Without You by Eric Smith.
And, for great books that weren’t published in 2023, and aren’t award eligible, I greatly enjoyed Babel by R.F. Huang, The Spirit of Labyrinths by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel, The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag, Ducks by Kate Beaton, Roll for Initiative by Jaime Formato, and R.A. Salvatore’s Homeland, Exile, and Song of the Risen God.
What’s on your ballot?
There are lots of ways to support Astrolabe and my other work. Check ‘em out!