Friday, March 02, 2012

The 2012 Hugo Awards: My Draft Hugo Ballot

I'm not sure that I've mentioned it here before, but I'm a member of Chicon 7, the 2012 Worldcon that will be held at the end of August in Chicago.  It's a bit up in the air yet whether I'll actually be able to attend, but for the time being I'm a member, which gives me nominating rights for the Hugo awards.  The deadline for submitting nominations is fast approaching--March 11th--and I'm afraid my progress through the ranks of prospective nominees has been poor.  If in previous years I made a point of reading through the year's entire output of short fiction magazines, online and off, and sought out books that might be likely nominees, this year I just haven't had the time.  In the short fiction categories, I've settled for relying on others to thin the herd--the Locus Recommended Reading List (as previously mentioned, Liz has a post linking to those stories on the list that are available online), Rachel Swirsky's recommendation posts (short stories, novelettes, novellas), recommendations from friends, and my own trawling through the archives of online magazines like Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Fantasy Magazine, Subterranean Magazine, and Apex Magazine.  I'm still hoping to get some reading--especially of novels--done before the deadline, but here's what I've got so far.  If you've got comments, or recommendations, I'd love to hear them.

Best Novel:

I've only got one surefire nominee this year--Kameron Hurley's God's War.  I'm also considering nominating Genevieve Valentine's Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti (already a Nebula nominee), a novel that I found flawed on a first reading (see my review at Strange Horizons), but whose strengths have lingered more strongly in my memory since then.  If it weren't so obviously a shoe-in for a nomination even without my help, I'd consider nominating China Miéville's Embassytown, but unlike Mechanique my ambivalence about that novel hasn't faded enough for me to give it my vote.

Other novels that I'm hoping to read before the nomination deadline: Osama by Lavie Tidhar, Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, By Light Alone by Adam Roberts.  Other potential nominees that I'd like to read, but probably won't get to, include Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente, Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi, and The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers.

Best Novella:

I've neglected this category until now, mainly because I can't shake the feeling that the field for works of this length has narrowed so much in recent years that the category is starting to lose its value.  Online magazines don't tend to print novella-length works, and print magazines have been cutting down on them.  Most novellas these days are published as standalone volumes, which creates a fragmented readership whose nominations reflect--even more than in other categories--a preference for certain authors rather than a comprehensive view of the field.  This year, there are several novellas that have been garnering a lot of attention--"Silently and Very Fast" by Catherynne M. Valente, "The Man Who Bridged the Mist" by Kij Johnson, and "The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary" (PDF) by Ken Liu (all three of which are Nebula nominees).  I plan to read them all, but with such a narrow consensus it's hard not to feel that the decision has already been made for me.

Best Novelette:
  • "Six Months, Three Days" by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com) - A man who can see the future meets a woman who sees all possible futures.  They begin to date, as they've both foreseen, even though they both know that the  relationship is doomed to failure after six months and three days.  The characters' respective powers naturally raise the question of free will vs. predestination, which Anders does some interesting things with, but she also draws on the their powers to create a believable, and believably dysfunctional, romantic relationship whose unravelling is ultimately deeply painful.

  • "The House of Aunts" by Zen Cho (GigaNotoSaurus) - It's hard to suppress a groan at Cho's premise--a teenage vampire romance.  But the vampire is not a vampire but a Malaysian monster, and the setting of a Malaysian village changes many, though not all, of the conventions of the teenage characters' lives.  More importantly, however, the central relationship between the protagonist, Ah Lee, and her aunts, is wonderfully drawn--the aunts are, at points, loving, overbearing, uncomprehending, fierce, and gentle, and Ah Lee's interactions with them turn from infuriating to hilarious to touching on a dime.  Add to that a romance that is neither cloying nor too dominant in the story, and you've got a definite winner.  Cho is a new writer, and one to watch--as well as nominating this novelette I plan to nominate her for the Campbell award.

  • "The Vicar of Mars" by Gwyneth Jones (Eclipse Four) - The consensus seems to have settled on Caitlin R. Kiernan's "Tidal Forces" as the standout story from Eclipse Four, but though I liked that story, I was more engaged by Jones's, which is darkly amusing and creepy.  It's a rather perfect distillation-cum-deconstruction of the classic 19th century ghost story, transplanted to Mars and starring an alien, atheist priest.  Though it's set in Jones's Aleutian universe, the story stands quite well on its own, and has stayed with me in the months since I read it.
Other stories that I'm considering nominating are Genevieve Valentine's "The Nearest Thing," a well-done variant on the very familiar story of the inventor who falls in love with an artificial being, and K.J. Parker's "A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong."  I'm particularly uncertain about the latter, which on the one hand is one of the most engaging, perfectly formed stories I've read this year, and on the other hand is a fairly straightforward retelling of Amadeus with almost no fantastical component, and a final twist that makes Amadeus's already troubling message even more so.  I almost find myself wishing that it will be nominated so that I'll have the excuse to discuss it at greater length, but I'm not sure I'm willing to give it my vote.

Best Short Story:

In this category, there's only one story that I'm absolutely certain is going to be on my ballot, Catherynne M. Valente's "The Bread We Eat in Dreams," from Apex Magazine, about a demon who settles near an early American settlement.  It's a very funny story which seems more interested in the settlement's growing pains--particularly the squabbles between Puritans and Catholics--than in the demon, but it brings her in at opportune moments to stir the pot and take the town in a fantastic direction.

Other stories that I'm considering nominating include: "Pack" by Robert Reed (Clarkesworld), a weird story that I nevertheless found strangely compelling; "The Last Sophia" by C.S.E. Cooney (Strange Horizons), a story about a girl forced to carry the children of fairies with an interesting and refreshingly cynical narrative voice; "Her Husband's Hands" by Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed), an affecting story about about a returning veteran and his wife that I found somewhat manipulative; "Shipbirth" by Aliette de Bodard (Asimov's, February 2011), an expansion of her Aztec alternate history into space; and "The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" by E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld), a story that anthropomorphizes the two species in its title in a way that allows them to play out campaigns of competing political theories in the space of a single season.

Best Related Work:

No idea what to nominate here.  It feels a bit inappropriate to nominate the Science Fiction Encyclopedia since a) I'm a contributor, and b) it's still in beta, but I might still do so.

Best Graphic Work:

Not only do I have no idea what to nominate here, I'm not very interested in the category.  Avram Grumer has an interesting list of potential nominees over at Making Light, however.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:
  • Melancholia, dir. Lars von Trier
  • Source Code, dir. Duncan Jones
  • X-Men: First Class, dir. Matthew Vaughn
I'm really of two minds about this ballot.  I'm certain that I want to nominate Melancholia, but am doubtful about the other two, both of which are interesting, enjoyable, but flawed films.  And why, for example, am I nominating X-Men, but not Rise of the Planet of the Apes, an equally interesting, equally flawed summer SF film?  The answer--that X-Men has better characters while Apes shortchanges anyone who is not an ape--doesn't entirely satisfy me.  And while I can justify leaving Another Earth off the list on the grounds that Melancholia does many of the same things, and does them better, I'm not sure about Attack the Block, a film that I found more interesting for its concept than its execution.  Full of unexplored ideas and underdeveloped characters, Attack the Block feels like a film whose script was several drafts short of being ready, but can I justify not nominating it while giving a vote to a less thought-provoking, and perhaps equally wobbly, film like Source Code?  I'll have to think some more about this category.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:
  • Community, "Remedial Chaos Theory" - There's a sense in which nominating this episode feels like a way of sneaking in a beloved, geek-friendly, but nevertheless entirely non-genre show under Hugo's radar, sort of like the knots that some fans are tying themselves in trying to justify a nomination for Sherlock.  But "Remedial Chaos Theory," in which the same story plays out in seven different ways according to the result of a die toss, is an episode that casts Community's prevailing concern with its core group and their relationship in genre terms, showing how each member contributes to the group, and how their absence changes it and creates different outcomes to the same situation.

  • Being Human (UK), "The Longest Day" - The strongest episode in the show's generally strong third season, this episode sees Herrick, the first season's vampire antagonist, returning to plague the main characters as a seemingly helpless amnesiac, sparking a bitter, complicated dispute about the rights and wrongs of this situation that touches on the show's core issues and shows off the characters' strengths and weaknesses.  Given the somewhat disappointing turns that the show has been taking in its fourth season, this is probably the best that Being Human is ever going to be.

  • Misfits, Season three, episode two - There are problems with this episode, mainly a cheerful willingness to retcon a lot of character development from the show's previous two seasons in order to make its plot work, and a tendency, when discussing the realities of the female experience, to go to the rape well too often.  But despite these issues, the episode, in which superpowered youthful offender Curtis explores the implications of his ability to turn into a woman, is one of the most deft, respectful, interesting explorations of gender identity and sexuality I've ever seen, parlaying the show's infamous crudeness into a refreshing frankness about sex and bodily functions.  It's a shame that the rest of the season drops this storyline and its implications for Curtis, but the episode itself is nevertheless laudable.
I'm not quite sure what else to nominate in this category--and given that the Hugo administrators might as well go ahead that engrave Neil Gaiman's name on the trophy right now I'm not feeling terribly motivated to keep looking.  2011 saw some mediocre-to-bad genre TV (Fringe, Falling Skies, Torchwood: Miracle Day) that I don't feel like nominating in general, and some decent-to-good shows (Game of Thrones, Caprica) that didn't feature any standout episodes.  Perhaps the rumors about the death of the TV episode are not premature after all.

I don't have much to write about the other categories, most of which--except for the Campbell, which I feel too woefully under-read to nominate in this year, except for the previously mentioned Zen Cho--I don't care much about anyway.  I'll probably post a more coherent, finalized version of my ballot closer to the nomination deadline.  Until then, your comments are welcome.

11 comments:

Sofia said...

This is my first year to vote and I'm so overwhelmed, I can't even read right unless I'm reading something that doesn't qualify. Thanks for listing both suggestions and places to go for more ideas!

Valente's Deathless is gorgeous--might get my vote. And I did like Embassytown. But I also have this urge to look beyond the usual suspects. Mechanique is definitely a possibility...

Alexander said...

With the close time to deadline and limited availability this probably won't have use, but I've encountered a number of good Best Related Works recently.
Gary Wolfe's Evaporating Genres has drawn a fair amount of praise, less celebrated but to my money just as effective are The Emergence of Latin American Science Fiction (Rachel Haywood Ferreira) and Imagining Mars: A Literary History (Robert Crossley). Both are exactly what they sound like, managing an overview of their topics that points to a lot of common connections and recommendations for specific titles of interest. The Palgrave Anthology Teaching Science Fiction is also very good as a resource for what it's trying to do, with a lot of interesting angles on New Wave and feminist sci-fi as well. A bit exhausting to read the articles back to back, particularly with points of redundancy, but that's not really what the collection is designed to do, and it's pretty thorough. Anyone that has time I'd definitely suggest checking these out.

"Remedial Chaos Theory" and Melancholia will definitely be on my ballot as well, and I liked Attack the Block enough to give it the nudge--there is some core vagueness but it seemed a mostly successful exploration of race and class themes within the SF framing. I'm likely going to have to put Source Code out, I liked it a fair bit while watching, but on reflection I've been won over by the detractors.

Surprised not to see Contagion on the list, there is some emptiness at the core of the film and the happy conclusion is far too abrupt, but it's a pretty substantial investigation of the horror and realism of a global pandemic. I found it a lot more interesting and exciting than X Men First Class, personally.

Niall said...

"some decent-to-good shows (Game of Thrones, Caprica) that didn't feature any standout episodes."

So they could be nominated in Long Form, conceivably? (Similarly, Attack the Block could be nominated in Short Form...)

Liz said...

Tedious Hugo pedantry alert: Caprica's final episodes were released on DVD at the very end of 2010, so I don't think it's eligible this year anyway.

Yeah, I also feel that nominating Remedial Chaos Theory is a bit sneaking it in under the radar, but unlike Sherlock, Remedial Chaos Theory does have an SF component, and I really really like Community so I'm willing to bend the rules slightly.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Alexander:

I liked Attack the Block enough to give it the nudge--there is some core vagueness but it seemed a mostly successful exploration of race and class themes within the SF framing

To me all these issues felt under-explored, the film seemingly satisfied with having raised them, and then coasting on its central premise. Interesting avenues of discussion, such as Moses's claim that the aliens have been unleashed on the block deliberately, or the implicit criticism of Sam for not engaging with her neighbors, are gestured at, and then dropped. If the action and comedy were tighter it might be possible to forgive these flaws, but it's clearly a film that wants to say something about race and class, but can't quite figure out what it is.

Contagion is an interesting suggestion, but I'm not sure that I'd classify it as a genre film. The realism you mention - which is the root of the film's sense of horror - is so prevailing that I might even call it an anti-genre work. Still, I'll have to think about this some more.

Niall:

As Liz says, Caprica may not be eligible at all, but even if it was only five episodes aired in 2011. Game of Thrones could be nominated for BDP-LF, but I'm not sure I liked it enough to do that. You have, however, reminded me that I could nominate American Horror Story in that category.

Attack the Block strikes me as a classic case of the 15% rule doing its job, though again I'm not certain that I want to nominate the film at all.

Raz Greenberg said...

The past year didn't feature many strong genre films, and though I appreciated "Source Code", if I had to pick a worthy winner I would have gone for "Super 8". The concept may not be as innovative as in Jones' film, but it featured a better, trimmer script, with more sympathetic characters (and I liked the characters of "Source Code" quite alot - but I liked the characters of "Super 8" much better), and an overall more polished and entertaining feeling.

ecbatan said...

Well, I'd certainly like to here your comments on "A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong", which I loved, even though I can't buy the central theme. And while I can see the resemblance to AMADEUS, surely much of the pleasure in "Small Price" is in the standard Parker intricate plotting; and in the standard Parker black humor. AMADEUS has its own unique pleasures, but these pleasures are unique to "Small Price".

Such stories, with no fantastic element but which "feel" like fantasy are a bit problematic, eh? But in the end who cares -- if we point to it and say "Fantasy", then it's "Fantasy". And Parker does this a lot -- there's no fantastical element in the ENGINEER TRILOGY, only a very ambiguous one in BLUE AND GOLD, etc.

I guess it's time for me to put together my Hugo ballot.

--
Rich Horton

ecbatan said...

"hear", of course, not "here". Drat!

Alexander said...

On the novels listed here I'm in general agreement, the one's I've read strike me as very good and among the best of the year. I do prefer Valente's Folded World to Deathless, though as the second volume in a trilogy it's less likely to appeal.

Marshall Ryan Maresca said...

As far as the Campbell is concerned, I'm strongly of the opinion that Stina Leicht should get a nod for "Of Blood and Honey" and "And Blue Skies from Pain".

Anonymous said...

Game of Thrones would easily win my vote for short form, particularly "Baelor". Despite some minor issues I had with the show, it had some excellent episodes and acting compared to the rubbish that permeates the genre tv.

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