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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.

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