Friday, March 20, 2009

Hugo Season

The Hugo nominations are also out this week, somewhat sooner than I had expected. In all the fun and exasperation of trying to figure out what my own nominees were going to be, I sort of lost sight of the fact that the shortlist would be what it has always been--stodgy, middle-of-the-road, and old-fashioned. So I'm probably a little more disappointed than I ought to be by a ballot that does include a sizable proportion of stories I liked. Niall has the whole ballot, but here are my thoughts on the categories I can speak knowledgeably on (by the way, I note that Niall reprints the nominations in the order listed on the Anticipation website, which is not alphabetical by either title or author's name; should we draw conclusions from this about the number of nominations received by each work?):

Best Novel:
  • Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Anathem by Neal Stephenson
  • Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi
  • Saturn's Children by Charles Stross
It was pretty obvious that this year's shortlist was going to be dominated by YA and YA-tinged fiction, and I had resigned myself to Little Brother being on it (I'm being a little unfair--I haven't read the book yet--but everything I've heard leads to believe I'm going to hate it) as well as The Graveyard Book (though I thought there was a chance that Gaiman might refuse the nomination as he did for the vastly superior Anansi Boys). I was hoping, however, that some of the more impressive genre YA novels of the year--Nation, Tender Morsels, by all accounts The Knife of Never Letting Go and Hunger Games--might get in as well.

Best Novella:
  • "True Names" by Cory Doctorow and Benjamin Rosenbaum (Fast Forward 2)
  • "The Political Prisoner" by Charles Coleman Finlay (F&SF, August 2008)
  • "The Erdmann Nexus" by Nancy Kress (Asimov's, October/November 2008)
  • "The Tear" by Ian McDonald (Galactic Empires)
  • "Truth" by Robert Reed (Asimov's, October/November 2008)
I was unimpressed by both the Finlay and Kress (what is it with her nursing home novellas and their inexplicable popularity?) when I read them for my Hugo ballot, but "True Names" and "Truth" were the two best novellas on it, and I've heard good things about "The Tear," so all told this is a strong ballot.

Best Novelette:
With the exception of the Resnick (sigh) all of these stories were on my second tier of potential nominees. So while it certainly can't be said that this is a bad list, I am disappointed that none of the more exciting stories I read are on it. I'm particularly baffled by the love for Gardner's story, an enjoyable piece which has nevertheless been wildly overpraised.

Best Short Story:
  • "Exhalation" by Ted Chiang (Eclipse 2)
  • "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss" by Kij Johnson (Asimov's, July 2008)
  • "Evil Robot Monkey" by Mary Robinette Kowal (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
  • "Article of Faith" by Mike Resnick (Baen's Universe, October 2008)
  • "From Babel's Fall'n Glory We Fled" by Michael Swanwick (Asimov's, February 2008)
Hurray, more Resnick. The Johnson is another story that readership seems to have gone crazy over this year. I liked it better than the Gardner, but still not enough to understand what the fuss is over (I had a similar reaction to Johnson's similarly well received "The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change" last year). Of the remaining nominees I've only read the Chiang, so it's too soon to say whether this is a strong ballot or not. I was hoping Margo Lanagan's "The Goosle" would get in, but I think its popularity might have been blown out of proportion by the crush to stomp on Dave Truesdale's wrongheaded criticism of it.

I note, by the way, that it's been a very good year for Asimov's, and somewhat less so for original story anthologies, but not such a good year for the other print magazines. This despite the fact that Asimov's was the most wildly inconsistent market I read in 2008--quite a few outstanding stories, lots of terrible ones, and very little in between.

The Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form ballot is too boring to discuss except for the presence of the audiobook METAtropolis, though I suspect that's mainly due to the Scalzi effect.

Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form:
  • Battlestar Galactica, "Revelations"
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
  • Doctor Who, "Silence in the Library"/"The Forests of the Dead"
  • Doctor Who, "Turn Left"
  • Lost, "The Constant"
Not terribly exciting, but pretty much as I expected. I'm a little surprised to see the wildly divisive "Revelations" up here as the Galactica nomination, but I suppose the show didn't have many standout individual episodes in 2008. "The Constant" was a shoo-in given the enthusiasm for it, and the Doctor Who contingent is still out in force--I'm more pleased by the "Turn Left" nomination than the underwhelming library two-parter, though I still wish "Midnight" had gotten a nod. And, of course, Dr. Horrible is going to take the award in a walk.

Rather shockingly, no one seems to have done this yet: in the fiction categories, there are 21 19 nominees, of which 4, or 19% 21%, are women (UPDATE: fixed because I can't count). Not as bad as recent years, but still not very good. There's also only one woman on the Campbell ballot.

I'll probably wait until all the nominated stories are online before I start posting my shortlist reviews. I think I need a short Hugo break right now.

8 comments:

Dr Plokta said...

The nominations are in alphabetical order by title, ignoring articles. There are no conclusions to be drawn.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Yes, my spelling skills are obviously not up to snuff. So much for that idea.

Raz Greenberg said...

Ok, time to say this, especially now that people can't stop talking about how Dollhouse isn't up to Joss' standards: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along isn't either. The nomination of it, and its almost-certain winning, is a victory for fan enthusiasm over common sense (flashback to the Hugo nomination - not to mention winning - of Yoda's acceptance speech at the MTV movie awards several years back).
I mean, really! The whole thing is a 43-minute exercise at telling wisecrack jokes. If this was a student film, I'd say that the person who did it has a potential, if he'll learn to distinguish between being smart and being a smartass. But coming from the man who did "Buffy", this isn't a step forward. What did he try to prove? That he can get six-figures-actors to work for him on a shoe-string budget? That having a strong basic plot just isn't important for him, as long as he can show how clever he is with dialogue and songs? This is his magnum-opus, his dream-project? This?

Abigail Nussbaum said...

I liked Dr. Horrible a great deal more than you did (obviously, since I nominated it). Is it the best thing Whedon has ever written? Of course not, but that's not what the award is for, and though you're obviously right that fan enthusiasm is driving his nomination (as indeed it's driving many of the nominations on the ballot) that's neither unexpected in a popular vote award, nor entirely outside the award's scope.

More importantly, it wasn't a terrifically strong year for genre television. I don't know whether I would have picked Dr. Horrible for the Hugo over my other short form nominees, but it's certainly head and shoulders above the other works on the final ballot.

(Gollum's acceptance speech, not Yoda's, as I recall.)

Liz said...

Yeah, I think I am a little more disappointed than I otherwise would be if I hadn't nominated. But I nominated a lot of UK-only books, which were unlikely to make it on there. I am more invested in the fan categories than yuo are, so they are my biggest disappointment - I was hoping that Fan Writer would get a big shakeup this year, after Scalzi won, but it hasn't made any difference.

Hoggy said...

19 nominees in the fiction categories, surely? 2 by Resnick, one written and one co-written by Doctorow.

iainjclark said...

Like you I'd rather have seen Midnight nominated than Turn Left. Turn Left is an enjoyable spin on a well-worn SF premise and has a few pleasingly spiky moments, but Midnight is a much more interesting bit of mainstream TV (even if it is at heart just a warmed over anthology tale).

I enjoyed Dr Horrible a great deal. I agree it's not Whedon's best, but it's a very long way from being nominated on Whedon's reputation alone. Flaws aside I really liked it - funny, catchy, and with a nice streak of darkness. Of course Whedon was only one of four writers.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Liz:

I wasn't expecting great things from the fan writer category. Scalzi's nominations and win were only a shakeup in the sense that a new name was added to the small list of people who consistently end up on that ballot. I have no doubt that if he hadn't announced his intention to decline a nomination in this category (for which I think he should be lauded), Scalzi would have been nominated, and perhaps won again, this year. Maybe there ought to be a rule that a best fan writer nominee becomes ineligible for the award for the next year or two, thus forcing other names onto the ballot.

Hoggy:

Gah, apparently I can't count either. Fixed.

Iain:

I think what I liked best about "Midnight" was that it was so completely different from anything else new Who has done, whereas "Turn Left", though a good episode, is also retread of "Father's Day."

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