Archive for August, 2011

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Hugo Aftermath 2011

August 29, 2011

Once again my Hugo predictions were wrong, wrong, horribly wrong. I did get Novella right, but that was a bit of a runaway. I could claim to have called Long Form Drama but Inception was a shoe-in if ever there was one. Obviously the buzz I was hearing was not coming from the right sources. But just like any sporting event, we don’t really know what we’ve seen until we go INSIDE THE NUMBERS (cue sports highlight show music). So here we go.

Just in case you don’t trust me, the link to the ballot statistics is on the Renovation home page. Also, just to be clear, I am not accusing anyone of stuffing the ballot box or any other unethical activity. I believe the voters honestly voted for what they liked best, and the winners are worthy. For any other discussion of what deserved to win, go back to my previous post to get my opinions. Still, in any voting situation, part of winning is getting your supporters motivated to get out and cast their votes. So my question here is what, besides writing good stories, did our winners do to get their trophies.

In the novel category, I mentioned that Connie Willis had momentum from the Nebulas, so I was on the right track there. I also said Feed was unlikely to win, which was completely wrong. I wondered where all of the new Hugo voters came from, and it looks like a good chunk of them came from the Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant fan club. Feed got the most first place votes, but as the field got whittled down Blackout/All Clear moved ahead. There seems to be a bit of an old school/new school split also, where most of the Jemisin voters landed in Grant’s camp, but the McDonald and Bujold voters leaned towards Willis.

This was the first time since I started this blog that I attended the Hugo ceremony in person (I attended in 2008 also, but the blog was in extra-silent mode back then). So I can add to my analysis the fact that Feed got the biggest crowd response when the nominees were read. On the last day of the convention, Seanan McGuire was at the autographing table at the same time as George R. R. Martin, and her line was nearly as long as his. Feed may not have been my favorite book, but obviously in the wider fan community she’s got quite a following, and since all of those readers will have nomination votes next year, I won’t be surprised if she ends up on the Hugo shortlist again.

In Novella, I don’t think there were any surprises in either the votes or the nominations. Chiang has established himself as a master of the short forms so he probably benefits from the fact that voters will seek out his work when choosing nominees. And since he puts out relatively few stories, he doesn’t have to worry about his votes getting split between several different nominees. Swirsky is starting to get the same kind of attention but she still has some catching up to do.

In Novelette, my pick of “The Jaguar House, in Shadow” came in a solid last place. On one of the panels that I went to at the convention, there was a discussion suggesting that it’s harder to sell stories based around “alien” cultures, whether it’s actual aliens in a science fiction story or non-western-derived cultures in fantasy. The Novella vote may be evidence to support that theory, and I wonder if that also contributed to The Dervish House coming up short among the novels.

In Short Story, “The Things” dominated the nomination votes while “For Want of a Nail” barely qualified. On the final ballot, however, the numbers switched around and “Nail” won fairly easily. So maybe another chunk of those new Hugo voters were Kowal fans. A couple of other possible factors are the fact that Kowal is a past winner of the Campbell award, so she’s established a degree of popularity with Hugo voters, and the fact that she’s from Oregon so this was as close to a home-court convention as she’s likely to get (both of those factors may have benefited Seanan McGuire also, with her being from northern California).

The other interesting aspect of the Short Story vote is that only four nominees reached the threshold of being on 5% of the nominating ballots. I heard some talk that the 5% rule may need some revision, and I think I agree with that. It seems like there are more short stories being published these days across a wide variety of outlets. My understanding is that the rule came about when there were fewer nominating ballots, and there was a chance something could get on the shortlist with only a few votes. But this year, for Short Story the 5% threshold was 26 votes, and the fifth place story that didn’t make it had 25. You could argue that it probably didn’t make much difference in the final vote, but the Hugo winner only got 29 nominations. The bigger issue is that if four votes were taken away from two nominees, then only two stories would have been eligible. I don’t know exactly what the best formula would be, but I think they need to make sure they keep at least four stories on the shortlist so the voters have a good selection to choose from.

Around this time of year the people who didn’t like the winners tend to speak up, and a common complaint is that the Hugo voters are a small, closed, old boy’s network that always votes the same way and is behind the times. But I don’t think you can make that case this year, even though the results did give us several repeat winners. With such a high number of ballots submitted, maybe it’s largely the same convention attendees but there have to be some new voters in the pool. And the votes were hardly unanimous, every candidate had support. It would only have taken a couple hundred more voters to turn any of the results around.

That said, I’m going to make a couple of predictions for next year based solely on fanbases and early buzz, even though I haven’t ready anything yet that will be eligible for 2012. I’m predicting that John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation and China Mieville’s Embassytown wil be on the shortlist. A Dance with Dragons seems like it will probably get votes too, but I think I saw that Martin declined a nomination in the past so he might keep himself off the shortlist. It could be a tight race for the last couple of slots on the ballot, so hopefully this year’s voters will be paying attention when next year’s nomination deadline rolls around.

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My 2011 Hugo Ballot

August 16, 2011

Yes, it’s Hugo time once again, and once again I offer my opinions and predictions. Beware of spoilers.

Best Novel

1 – The Dervish House, Ian McDonald

2 – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N. K. Jemisin

3 – Blackout/All Clear, Connie Willis

4 – Feed, Mira Grant

no vote – Cryoburn, Lois McMaster Bujold

I didn’t read Cryoburn because I didn’t want to pay for a hardcover when I haven’t read previous books in the series, I couldn’t get it in paperback before the voting deadline, and I couldn’t bring myself to read the electronic version on my computer. I haven’t heard any buzz that suggested it was a top contender though. Feed was kind of interesting for how it explained the zombies but a lot of the other stuff I didn’t fully buy in to, and I didn’t really connect with the characters. Blackout and All Clear I enjoyed the characters and the setting but I felt like the plot started to drag towards the end and I knew what was going to happen. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms I thought had great world building, I was just a little disappointed in the resolution. The Dervish House, I liked everything about it. I thought all of the characters were interesting and I was impressed with how he pulled all of the plot threads together and resolved them. I also thought this was more accessible than some of McDonald’s other books, for those that aren’t long-time fans like me.

I also nominated Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay, if that had made the final ballot I probably would have voted it 3rd. Similar to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I thought it had excellent world building but the ending didn’t pay off as well as I would have liked.

Prediction-wise, I think Feed is unlikely to win. Blackout/All Clear won the Nebula so it probably has some momentum, and Willis clearly has a strong fan base. Bujold supposedly has a strong fan base too, but I really haven’t heard anything else to support Cryoburn‘s case. The Dervish House has had the most buzz that I’ve seen, but I don’t know if that will translate into votes. But I’m going to make Dervish House my prediction and hope it’s not a jinx.

Best Novella

1 – “Troika”, Alastair Reynolds

2 – “The Sultan of the Clouds”, Geoffrey A. Landis

3 – “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window”, Rachel Swirsky

4 – “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon”, Elizabeth Hand

no vote – The Lifecycle of Software Objects, Ted Chiang

I was running up against the deadline reading these, so I decided to skip the longest one. That was a mistake. If I had read The Lifecycle of Software Objects I would definitely have voted it first. It was a really interesting look at people developing emotional attachments to digital characters. The other stories were reasonably good but none really struck me as outstanding. “Troika” and “The Sultan of Clouds” I thought ended well. “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers” had an interesting idea but I felt like it could have gone in more interesting places. “Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon” never really got me interested.

I nominated “A History of Terraforming” by Robert Reed, and I would have voted for that ahead of all of these except Lifecycle of Software Objects.

I’m not sure if any of these have a lot of buzz, so I guess anything is possible. “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers” took the Nebula, but to me just based on what was most entertaining to read, Chiang seems like the most likely winner.

Best Novellete

1 – “The Jaguar House, in Shadow”, Aliette de Bodard

2 – “Eight Miles”, Sean McMullen

3 – “The Emperor of Mars”, Allen M. Steele

4 – “Plus or Minus”, James Patrick Kelly

5 – “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made”, Eric James Stone

I guess de Bodard has developed a world, which she used for at least one novel so far, based on modern day civilization but with Chinese and Aztecs as the dominant civilization. “The Jaguar House, in Shadow” comes from that world, although I don’t know how closely it ties into anything else she’s written. However it’s a good story and it stands on its own just fine. I liked the way she flashed back and forth in time to set up all of the elements for the final resolution. “Eight Miles” was also good but I thought the ending came a little to easily for the main character. “The Emperor of Mars” and “Plus or Minus” I thought were not bad but they didn’t wow me. I’m willing to read stories where religion is a theme, where it turns out that God in some form exists, but “That Leviathan” I felt like didn’t give any real justification for why aliens would find anything to believe in an earth religion.

I’m guessing that Kelly will have a strong showing due to name recognition but I think de Bodard is the most likely winner here. I have to admit I was surprised to see that “That Leviathan” won the Nebula.

Best Short Story

1 –” The Things”, Peter Watts

2 – “Ponies”, Kij Johnson

3 – “Amaryllis”, Carrie Vaughn

4 – “For Want of a Nail”, Mary Robinette Kowal

“The Things” is a retelling of The Thing (specifically the 1982 movie, the messy one) from the alien’s perspective. Retelling well-known stories from different points of view has become a fairly standard device, although this seems like an unexpected story to apply that device to. But what makes this story interesting is how well he portrays the alien point of view, the way he sees humans through the alien’s eyes and tries to understand them. Although, working against it is the fact that a reader who doesn’t have that movie as a background will miss a lot of what’s going on. “Ponies” is hard to summarize, you might as well just read it. It distills down to just a few basic elements, but it still manages to pull of a twist with some bite. “Amaryllis” did a good job of implying a larger world while showing only a tiny slice, but I didn’t feel like it had as much drama as the others. “For Want of a Nail” also had an interesting scenario and I thought it was well written, but my complaint was that the story didn’t fit the title, at least as I understand the proverb.

“Ponies” won a Nebula (in a tie). I think Watts has a slight advantage in name recognition and voter goodwill, but that may be neutralized by voters who haven’t seen the movie his story is based on. I guess I’m still going to pick Watts as the winner.

I may do a second post specifically about the nomination of a certain music video in the Short Form Drama category. But this is getting long, so for now I will just say that I voted for Inception as best Long Form Drama and Vincent and the Doctor in Short Form.

One last hedge on all of my predictions: apparently this year pulled in a record number of ballots, more than twice as many as any of the past three years. My question is, where did those voters come from? If they are some kind of coordinated block, they could definitely swing any category they focused on. So there’s definitely a sense that anything could happen and no favorite is safe. But I’m going to assume that they are all unbiased, objective readers, and therefore naturally they will have come to the same conclusions and voted the same as me.