Monday, April 25, 2011

The 2011 Hugo Awards: Thoughts on the Nominations

The list of nominations was announced two hours ago and is by now all over the internet--for example.  Some comments.
  • The pleasure of seeing four women on the best novel ballot (to match the female-dominated, yet hardly overlapping, Nebula ballot) is undercut by how thoroughly unappetizing I find the actual ballot.  I was looking forward to reading Ian McDonald's The Dervish House (which just yesterday won the BSFA award, and is strongly tipped to win the Clarke award later this week) and N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but even fans of Lois McMaster Bujold and Connie Willis seem to consider Cryoburn and Blackout/All Clear lesser works (and in the latter case I've already expressed my objection on principle to the two volumes being nominated as a single work) and nothing I've heard about Feed excites me particularly.  In light of this, I'm not planning to become an associate member of Renovation, but I will be resuming my short fiction Hugo blogging.

  • Speaking of short fiction, I've deliberately kept away from genre short stories in the last year so I don't have much to say yet about the actual nominees, but my first reaction after looking at the ballots is: no Mike Resnick!  I don't dare imagine that this is a sign of genuine change--probably Resnick simply didn't publish an eligible story in 2010--and the fact is that Resnick is still on the Hugo ballot, in the Best Related Work category, for his book, with Barry N. Malzberg, The Business of Science Fiction: Two Insiders Discuss Writing and Publishing.  But just the thought of facing a Hugo read-through without the dreaded prospect of a Resnick story puts a bounce in my step.

  • Staying with the short fiction ballots, I see that Analog has two nominated novelettes, the first time that magazine has received a nomination since 2006 (in that year, Michael A. Burstein received a best short story nomination for "Seventy Five Years," still the very worst piece of fiction I've read in all my Hugo shortlist reviews; it would be nice to think that Analog's dry spell was some sort of cosmic punishment).  Magazines continue to be pushed out of the Best Novella category in favor of standalone volumes and anthologies--or, which is more likely, to push themselves out by publishing fewer novellas.  On the other hand, after several years of strong showings from online venues and anthologies, print magazines dominate the novelette categories, and except for Elizabeth Hand's novella nomination from Neil Gaiman and Al Sarantonio's Stories, there are no anthology stories on the ballot.

  • Can the best graphic story category die now?  It was a nice idea but this is clearly not the fandom to make it work.

  • Were it not for the parlous state of genre TV nowadays, I'd start agitating for a change in the Hugo rules saying that there can only be one nomination per show in the Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form category. There's just no fun to the category any more--we all know that multiple nominations for Doctor Who will translate into a Who voting block that'll defeat all other comers, and the result is foregone.  But there's so little worth watching in genre these days that I even though I was underwhelmed by Stephen Moffat's debut season (and would have traded "A Christmas Carol"'s slot for one for "The Lodger") I can't think of too many other nominees that truly deserve to be on the ballot.  (I would have liked to see Caprica nominated, but that was never going to happen, though I am surprised that Futurama's "The Late Philip J. Fry" didn't make it on to the ballot.)  Though Shaun Tan's Oscar-winning short The Lost Thing and the perplexing fan video "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury" are amusing entries on the ballot, I wish there was more worthwhile TV out there so I could get worked up over the inevitability of it being trounced by Doctor Who.

  • The Short Form category looks to get even more unexciting in 2012.  Neil Gaiman has written a Doctor Who episode.  Short of Doctor Horrible 2 happening within the next eight months, I think we might as well hand Gaiman his Hugo now and get the hassle out of the way.

  • I have nothing of interest to say about the Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form category except to note that there are three children's films on it.  It is mildly amusing to wonder whose fen are more powerful, Inception or Scott Pilgrim, but as I didn't care for the former and found the latter entertaining but problematic, I can't work up much enthusiasm.

  • An interesting comment on the live feed reporting the nominations got me thinking: as nice as it is to see a new face in the Best Fan Artist category, does Randall Munroe truly belong there?  XKCD is, after all, a business.  Does the fact that the strips are offered free of charge while the money is made selling merchandise really make Munroe a fan, rather than professional, artist?

13 comments:

mondyboy said...

I know it's only a four minute music video, but I do love the fact that "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury" was nominated.

Alexander said...

I find the "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury" thing rather pointless. It's just a joke, doubly so to have it actually on the ballot. Granted the state of SF/Fantasy television is pretty pathetic, but I think there were things of a bit more substance that could have gotten up. Sometimes my interactions with larger fandom makes it seem less like a difference in taste, and more like we have very different assumptions of what the award or science fiction generally is for.

An impression rather reinforced by the appalling novel ballet of this year. Nice to see a less male dominated slate, and I'd have loved to see the 2010 works by Valente, Moss, Cherryh, Okorafor, Thomas or many others. Instead we've got a faux-clever irrationally worldbuilt zombie novel, an overly predictable return to Vorkosgian by an author clearly bored by the endeavor, and a world war two retrospective that's agonizing to read, and earns the dubious distinctions of Willis' most irritating contrivances to date. Well, The Dervish House is great, and Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is pretty good. It's still dispiriting that 60% of the shortlist (ignoring the two in one non-special of Willis' duology) was in my bottom tier for 2010 books read so far.

I've read very little of the short fiction, will be looking forward to the reviews here on them. No obvious danger signs in the authors names, hopefully this will be rewarding.

Wesley said...

I'm glad to know that I'm not the only person out there who's seriously unimpressed by each year's "best graphic story" nominees. There were some genuinely great genre comics released in the past year--I was hoping to see Jim Woodring's Weathercraft and Cathy Malkasian's Temperance on the shortlist. What we got instead was ludicrous.

Rich Horton said...

The Dervish House seems probably the best novel of 2010 to me -- it was the best I've read, anyway. My other nominees were all first novels, and all quite good, but still first novels: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Passion Play, and The Quantum Thief.

I haven't read the Jemisin novel, though I have a copy and mean to -- it's a first novel, too, right? It looks likely to be good. I like Bujold, but Cryoburn was, as Alexander says, tired, and surely not Hugo-worthy. I haven't read the others, wasn't really planning to. (Well, actually someday I'll probably get to the Willis, but I don't know when. And if Feed is about zombies, count me out!)

I love XKCD, and it's definitely science fictional, but I agree, it feels like a professional enterprise to me.

The novella shortlist is pretty exceptional, really. (I've got three of the stories in my book, and the Chiang story was also very good, if not really his best, and the Reynolds is solid but not to my mind brilliant.)

I though novelette was a strangely weak category overall this year -- not this shortlist, I mean, but the entire field. I did like, but not love, "Eight Miles" and "Plus or Minus" and "The Jaguar House, in Shadow". The Steele story is decent, and the Eric James Stone story is OK but not all that great. (Certainly not Burstein level, though.)

As for short story, I thought Kij Johnson's piece too obvious, too blatant, in its message. Kowal's piece is nice, and Vaughn's is quite nice, but neither is great. Peter Watts's story is brilliant, clearly the best on the shortlist. Alas, there were other stories as good that were left off: "Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain" by Yoon Ha Lee, "Under the Moons of Venus" by Damien Broderick, "Stereogram of the Grey Fort, in the Days of Her Glory" by Paul M. Berger, just to name three.

So, just as with the Nebula list, my beef is not so much with the stories on the list -- which are mostly at least OK -- as with the many better stories that were left off. (Except in novella -- I mean, I have four or five novellas I preferred to the Chiang and Reynolds, but to have three of my favorites and two good ones on the list is all I can really ask.)

Alexander said...

For short stories the only I've read so far is "The Things" which struck me as Watts going too far. There's interesting things he does, but the final line destroys the notion of a subtle enough picture to work, the major insights are (atypically for Watts) rather obvious, and the whole thing is too reliant on the previous film to work. I hope there's better stories on that ballot, as I'm not even sure this work rates higher than No Award for me. Probably does, in the end, but I'm not very enthusiastic about it. Kij Johnson is an author I've alternately thought was amazing and rather weak, I'll be curious to see how this piece strikes me.

Novellas does look promising, and has the only writing category I got more than one vote in (two, the Chiang and Reynolds). I've also read the Swirsky, when it became Nebula nominated, I didn't love it and it didn't quite make my vote, but it's not a bad story by any means. Last year the novellas were the least interesting category, the year before about the most, I'll be interested in seeing how this balances out as a whole.

Anonymous said...

Do I detect a bias for a Female Dominated Best Novel Field and then a Bias against a fine writer in Mike Resnick.

Well we do like what we like, even if we like to point the finger.

Sometimes when you point the finger so much, you can see chocolate on it, But don't Sniff it for Gods Sake!

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Wesley:

I'm not even knowledgeable enough about comics to know which nominees are more worthwhile than the ones that made it onto the ballot - it just seems implausible that the very same nominees should just happen to be the most deserving in their category three years running. The problem is that in this respect, if in no other, I seem to be representative of the Hugo voters, who don't seem to be literate enough in comics to address the full breadth of the field.

Rich:

Of the nominated stories, I've read the Chiang and the Watts. Without even having read the other novellas, I'd have trouble giving the Hugo to the Chiang, which has some interesting ideas but doesn't quite work. And I agree with Alexander that the Watts depends too much on a familiarity with its source, which I haven't seen.

It was certainly my experience last year that any pleasure I took in the nominated stories was obscured by the knowledge that more worthwhile stories had been left off. One of the reasons I stayed away from genre shorts this year.

Anon.:

What you detect - and congratulations on mastering the investigative technique known as "reading" - are my views. You may call them biases if it makes you feel better about the fact that someone disagrees with you.

Nathaniel Katz said...

Anonymous: I'm confused by the word 'bias.' Resnick is a writer. Our host is a reviewer. When a reviewer gives a writer a bad review, this is not a bias at work but rather an opinion. How would a review (or a reviewer) operate without biases and, more importantly, why would they? If all we were after was a list of the winners sans commentary, why are we on a review blog at all?

I've only read a single Resnick story - his offering in the April/May Asimov's just now - and, while I did not have as negative an opinion as Abigail, the amount of sweet, sweet syrup covering every sentence was unmistakable.

For the ballot as a whole, I find myself without much to say, really. I've read an embarrassingly small portion of what's on it. I just started paying attention to short fiction this year, so have little to say about what was published last year (though I suppose I will, eventually, read the nominated tales). For novels, I've only read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which was certainly interesting but was, to my mind, also quite flawed. The Dervish House is high on my list, but not yet in my possession. Bujold and Willis are both authors I've been meaning to read, but I've been told that neither of the nominated works are good entry points (nor their best work) and so haven't read them. And Feed I just haven't heard all that much about, though I'll now look further into it. I suppose that, if nothing else, I'll make an effort to read the winners in each category.

Nick said...

"even fans of Lois McMaster Bujold and Connie Willis seem to consider Cryoburn and Blackout/All Clear lesser works"

Indeed. And, given the copious inaccuracies in the latter, I doubt any British fans will be voting for it. In all, though, it feels a bit as if the best novel slate is giving with one hand and taking away with the other.

"Can the best graphic story category die now? It was a nice idea but this is clearly not the fandom to make it work."

I've been complaining about this category every year since the first one; the first year I pointed out all the problems but was told that it's early days and I should give it a chance; the second year I pointed out that problems were developing exactly as I predicted, and that urgent action should be taken to fix it before it became (more of) a trend, and was basically rubbished by people connected to the awards who told me that (a) I didn't understand things properly, and (b) as far as they're concerned it's not broken.

This year, I've not said anything (until now) because I'd just be saying the same things I said last year. And, quite frankly, I don't care any more. Works get nominated because their creators lobby for it (Hello, Schlock Mercenary!), no-one's interested in trying to fix it, and in the comics world it's gone from laughing stock to total irrelevance now.

"I'm not even knowledgeable enough about comics to know which nominees are more worthwhile than the ones that made it onto the ballot"

Part of the problem is that while there are very good SF comics out there, they don't get reviewed outside of the comics sphere and inside the SF sphere, so - as you demonstrate - people simply aren't aware of them. I'm trying to go my own part to get them wider reviewed, but so far Real Life[tm] has frequently got in the way of my efforts. So much so that, while last year I could give chapter and verse over what was available that was so much better, this year I'm almost as out-as-touch as the next man.

"it just seems implausible that the very same nominees should just happen to be the most deserving in their category three years running"

Indeed; and as I've clearly demonstrated in past year, they're nominated because either the creators are out there saying "Our work is eligible, please nominate it" or because it's simply the most visible work out there, that is, the one everyone's heard of, or written by someone everyone's heard of.

"The problem is that in this respect, if in no other, I seem to be representative of the Hugo voters, who don't seem to be literate enough in comics to address the full breadth of the field."

It's not just the voters not being literate enough, it's also the rules not being clear enough, so even those who are reasonably literate have a little trouble getting a handle on what exactly they should be nominating or not.

"Does the fact that the strips are offered free of charge while the money is made selling merchandise really make Munroe a fan, rather than professional, artist?"

No.

If you take the above to be true, then Cory Doctorow is a fan writer, not a pro, because he makes his books available free on the internet.

Benjamin said...

Nick: the salient difference between Doctorow and Munroe is that, while Doctorow does offer his work free online, he also sells that same work in book form, which forms a significant portion of his income. Munroe, on the other hand, does not profit from selling print versions of his comics, but instead by selling merchandise based on these comics.
This may be splitting hairs, and I am not myself certain that Munroe ought to be eligible, but I do think this is enough of a difference to invalidate the Doctorow-Munroe comparison. If Munroe made most of his income from selling books that collected his comic strips, the analogy would be clear, but as it is it is rather more muddy.

Nick said...

"Munroe, on the other hand, does not profit from selling print versions of his comics"

Incorrect; as a quick search of Amazon for 'Xkcd' would've shown you the following book - http://www.amazon.com/xkcd-0-Randall-Munroe/dp/0615314465/ - which collects selected personal and fan favorites from Munroe's first 600 comics.

If Munroe wasn't selling that book, I wouldn't have made the comparison to Doctorow. As it is, I stand by what I said.

Nick said...

Hrm. I commented before, but Blogger appears to have deleted it.

Simply said, Munroe does sell an Xkcd book. So I stand by my Doctorow comparison.

A A. Roi said...

Beyond some of the questionable Best Novel nominations (Not that this is new in even in something as lauded as the Oscars this is the case), the dramatic presentation short form category is an embarrassment for the most part. Doctor Who is utter fluff. 'Fuck Me Ray Bradbury' getting a nomination is inexplicable. As amusing as it is, does it really benefit the the Hugos that a novelty fan video is up for a (supposedly)serious award? Nominating it would be like nominating something like 'Bored of the Rings' or 'Sense and Sensibility and Zombies' for best novel. Apparently Hugo attendees are also not literate enough in the 'Dramatic Presentation, short form' area to know what they are nominating either.

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