Archive for September, 2010

h1

Hugo Follow-up and Other Book Items

September 26, 2010

One thing I like about the Hugo awards is that they release the complete voting and nomination results–see them here. This particular year I think it’s interesting to see that the top two novels started out in a tie, shifted around a little bit as others were eliminated, and then ended in a tie again. It felt like justice was done, as both The City & The City and The Windup Girl are deserving winners.

(If you haven’t looked at the process before, basically each round the lowest-ranked candidate is eliminated and the votes are recounted for the ones that are left, until one gets over 50%)

I think you can also see fan-base voting in the numbers. Sawyer, for example, got a lot of first-place votes, but he didn’t go up very much in the subsequent rounds, meaning that he didn’t get as many high rankings from the other voters. There’s kind of a similar effect for Scalzi in the novella category and for Stross in novelette. Which doesn’t mean they aren’t good, just that opinions are divided on them.

Also, I said something about Dr. Who splitting votes in the short-form drama category, but in this voting system, as long as the Dr. Who fans vote all three of their choices on top, the split doesn’t hurt them and they still win.

Nomination counts I think also give an indicator of fan-base and of what people were reading when there wasn’t an award at stake.

Last week I went to a reading/book signing by William Gibson, for his new novel Zero History, and he made one comment that I thought was very interesting. Since he is known for predicting the effects of new technologies, someone asked him about the future of books, reading and writing. His answer was that when the Internet and HTML started to get popular, people predicted stories full of hyperlinks which would either take you to definitions and explanations of what you were reading, or would allow you to take multiple paths through the story. Nothing like that really caught on, but what did happen was the advent of search engines. Search engines have affected books because now there’s no terminology, idiom, landmark, or anything else so obscure that you can’t look it up on line. So books being written now tend to have less explanations of things because they assume that curious readers can Google. But what’s really interesting is that this affects all books retroactively, so older books are being looked at in new ways. And going forward, we can’t assume that some unknown future technology won’t affect books being written today.

And although Gibson didn’t pursue this idea any farther, the Internet also serves as a platform for fan sites which can also affect the understanding of a book. You can find interactive maps of Middle Earth, class schedules for Hogwarts, and just about any moderately popular book probably has some kind of fan site somewhere. So even writers working with completely made-up material can have their work fully analyzed and annotated on-line, and I wouldn’t be suprised if sometimes the fan’s version could become more “canonical” than the author’s.

To bring this back to the topic of Hugo voting, you also have the effect of on-line criticism. Between blogs, Amazon reviews, and who knows what else, there are lots of recommendations and reviews to be found on-line. Some are well thought-out, but many are just fans expressing their fan-hood, and some are amateur reviewers trying to be “right”, basically agreeing with the majority as a way to demonstrate that they are discerning reviewers (or along the same lines, the derisive trolls who go against the majority as a way to convince themselves that they are smarter than everyone else). The question is, do the same symptoms affect award voters? Do they form opinions based on whose fans shout the loudest? Do they vote for a candidate perceived to be a front-runner, just so they can say they picked the winner? Or maybe they vote more fairly because there’s more information about all of the nominees.

This year, I think all of the Hugo winners are deserving. Next year, who knows? Although even if there is an occasional glitch, I don’t think it will diminish the award overall. But I think the increased availability of information does impact the votes in ways we haven’t figured out how to measure yet.

h1

A New Hugo Ballot

September 5, 2010

Last year I offered my “virtual” Hugo ballot since I failed to read everything before the voting deadline. But this year I did all the reading so this is my actual ballot. Although the importance of the award is debatable, for me the value of voting is that it makes me read new books & new authors (although lately I’ve been buying more books than I have time to read). So, lets see what we have.

Short Story

1. “The Moment” by Lawrence M. Schoen

2. “Spar” by Kij Johnson

3. “Bridesicle” by Will McIntosh

4. “Non-Zero Probabilities” by N. K. Jemisin

5. “The Bride of Frankenstein” by Mike Resnick

These were generally good stories but very dissimilar so it was hard to choose. I went with “The Moment” because I thought it was an interesting take on how aliens might perceive human history. “Spar” was pretty powerful, though, if a bit disturbing. And “Bridesicle” could turn out to be the one I remember best of those three. Also, a story I would have like to see nominated was “The Consciousness Problem” by Mary Robinette Kowal. “Spar” won the Nebula so I suspect it’s the frontrunner here, but you can make a case for all of them to win.

Novellete

1. “Eros, Philia, Agape” by Rachel Swirsky

2. “One of Our Bastards Is Missing” by Paul Cornell

3. “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster

4. “It Takes Two” by Nicola Griffith

5. “The Island” by Peter Watts

6. “Overtime” by Charles Stross

“Eros, Philia, Agape” was definitely my favorite out of this group. The rest had some interesting ideas but also some flaws, or just lacked the same impact. One story that I really liked that didn’t get on the ballot was “This Wind Blowing and This Tide” by Damien Broderick. “Sinner, Baker…” won the Nebula, but I think “The Island” is the favorite here. Not that the story wouldn’t be worthy otherwise, but I think Watts is going to pick up some sentimental votes due to his misadventure with U.S. Homeland Security.

Novella

1. Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow

2. “The Women of Nell Gwynne’s” by Kage Baker

3. “Palimpsest” by Charles Stross

4. “Vishnu at the Cat Circus” by Ian McDonald

5. “Act One” by Nancy Kress

6. The God Engines by John Scalzi

I changed my mind several times on this group, and I would probably change it again if there was another vote tomorrow. Shambling Towards Hiroshima and “The Women of Nell Gwynne’s” I thought were more entertaining, but “Palimpsest” probably had the biggest impact for me, closely followed by “Vishnu at the Cat Circus.” I think Scalzi has the biggest fan base, but Baker has the sentimental vote, and Kress surprised me by winning last year, so I am not going to attempt to predict this category.

Novel

1. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

2. The City & The City by China Mieville

3. Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente

4. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

5. Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson

6. WWW: Wake by Robert J. Sawyer

Last year I thought the Best Novel nominees were easily predictable and I read most of them well in advance. This year I thought there were only two sure things, so I had more reading to do after nominations were announced. The two sure things are at the top of my list, but I’ll start at the bottom.

WWW: Wake revolves around two things, a blind girl gaining sight through technology and the Internet becoming sentient. The blind girl’s storyline was powerful and well done, but the webmind piece I didn’t buy, not that it couldn’t happen but that it wouldn’t happen like that. Julian Comstock also had some interesting characters, but the idea of post-oil society reverting to a Civil War-era aristocracy was another thing that I didn’t buy. Boneshaker was a cool combination of ideas: steampunk, zombies, and the American West. I liked it a lot except that the reveal at the end seemed a little unfair. One character knew the truth all along and just didn’t share it. Palimpsest is worth reading just for the way Valente uses language, creating vivid images of her strange city. The story is interesting but the characters are so obsessive and odd that they are a little hard to relate to.

Those four novels all have some good things about them, but to me the last two separated themselves from the others. I’ll be surprised if one of these two doesn’t win. The City & The City has a totally unique setting, two cities occupying the same physical space. Mieville gets away with never explaining how this happened by doing a great job of making it part of the character’s daily lives. On top of this he sets a pretty good murder mystery, but he structures it so that it couldn’t happen anywhere but this particular pair of cities. The Windup Girl considers at a post-oil world where food becomes the most important resource and power source. Bacigalupi follows several characters from different backgrounds to explore the issues in his world, but he manages to tie the threads together for a powerful ending. You could argue that I’m being a homer by voting for Bacigalupi, since he lives in the same state and usually comes to our local SF convention, but I though The Windup Girl had the biggest impact of any of the novels so I voted it first by a slim margin.

Although it didn’t make the shortlist, I thought Steal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress was another very good novel from 2009. I probably would have put it 3rd or 4th if it had been nominated.

For movies (“Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form”), I’m guessing that Hugo voters are the type of people who would say Avatar was unoriginal. Moon would by my first choice, but since it had a pretty limited release I think Up or District 9 are more likely to win.

I think the TV show category (“Best Dramatic Presentaiton, Short Form”) is interesting because of what it seems to say about the Hugo voting community. I’ve started to get the impression that there is an American bloc, a British bloc, and a Canadian bloc, with each group tending to favor authors and works from their country. The Canadian bloc may be smaller but they also have fewer candidates to support so they still have an impact. Robert Sawyer (Canadian) tends to get a lot of nominations, and then has a lot of critics saying he’s not deserving. I think most voters do vote honestly based on their opinion of the works, but when they haven’t read everything in a particular category it would not be surprising if they showed a little favoritism.

For this particular year, I think Sawyer’s best novel nomination is reasonable. What’s less reasonable is the nomination of Flash Forward the TV series. When Lost, Fringe, and Battlestar Galactica got no nominations, it’s hard to call Flash Forward deserving. But it’s based on a Sawyer novel so it seems to be a strong indicator of the bloc effect. Then you also have Dr. Who, the favorite of the British bloc. This particular year only three new episodes were shown, and all three were nominated. One nomination would be expected, two would be understandable, three seems excessive since none of them were really outstanding. But with only three to choose from, the British bloc must have been pretty unified in their voting. However it could work against them in the final vote since now the American bloc has only Dollhouse now to focus on, while the British bloc may be splitting their vote three ways. We shall see.

The Hugos will be awarded sometime this weekend, but since Worldcon is in Australia I have no idea exactly when it will be. But good luck to all the nominees.