Archive for the ‘books’ Category

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The Hugo Conversation (Hugo Awards 2016)

October 28, 2016

Hugo conversation

I don’t have much to say about the Hugo award winners this year. As usual my favorites mostly didn’t win, but the stories that did win were all worthy of their awards. The nominees, good and bad, have been discussed to death and I don’t think I have much to add. The same goes for procedural changes, and while I do care about making the process better, I prefer to leave that analysis to the experts who have been studying the options. So what’s left to say?

With the various criticisms that have been made over the past few years, I felt like I needed to re-evaluate my participation and understand how the Hugos were impacting the various groups of Fandom. I have to admit that since I first started voting I’ve taken for granted the idea that they were “science fiction’s most prestigious award” and that by participating I was supporting the advancement of the genre. I was still enjoying the process, but was that enough to justify continuing? If only for my own satisfaction, I felt like I needed to come up with a defense that wasn’t based on politics, story themes or the identities of the groups who were saying that the process wasn’t fair. No, I don’t expect to actually convince the members of those groups of anything, but I want to believe there are other potential fans out there still looking for information, not sure who to believe about this situation. Mostly this is for me, but if others find it useful so much the better.

It starts with the question: who are the voters? The Hugo award is known for being voted on by fans, rather than a jury or a select group. Supporters say that it represents all fans, detractors say that it only represents a small percentage. Who’s right? Both sides kind of agree on the concept of capital F Fans and Fandom, but again they differ on what that represents. Some say Fandom encompasses every Fan who wants to be a part of it, others say it excludes Fans based on what stories they like and what activities they’re involved in. I could argue that they’re both right, that Fandom allows anyone to join who wants to, but relatively few choose to do so, and among those who do there are some identifiable biases. I want to take a step back, though. To me, what makes a fan a Fan is participation. Millions of people may go see the next Star Wars or Avengers movie, but that alone doesn’t make them Fans. Most of them only buy toys for their kids to play with and only wear costumes on Halloween. Capital F Fans are the ones who find a way to keep participating in the experience after the movie or show or book is done. They join clubs, mailing lists, online forums, and they go to conventions. Having any kind of presence in one of those groups is enough, because every Fan draws encouragement from the fact that somebody else shares their passion.

Ronan the Accuser

You stand accused . . . of Fannish activity

Fandom has many overlapping subsets. Some of these are centered on specific franchises: Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, and so on. Some Fans only get involved in a single Fandom, others get participate in several. Fandom can also be grouped by the activities they engage in: cosplay, collecting things like toys, comics, or memorabilia, blogging, fan fiction, fan art, and the list goes on. Again, some fans focus on one activity, some participate in several. Some dedicate all their free time to their activities, some just dabble here and there. There’s no one right way to be a Fan, in fact just the opposite, every Fan defines their own unique space in Fandom. Time and effort is really the key to making a Fan. Buying one comic doesn’t make a Fan a Collector, wearing a costume one time doesn’t make them a Cosplayer. But it isn’t like there’s a test to qualify as a Fan either: you don’t have to spend six months making a costume to be a Cosplayer, and you don’t have to buy 200 comics a year to be a Collector. You don’t have to wear a Star Trek uniform or paint your car like a TARDIS to call yourself a Fan of either of those shows. There isn’t a judge watching you to see if you’re worthy to enter Fandom. A Fan’s Fandoms are determined by which activities interest them to the point where they’re willing to spend that time and effort to participate.

Once I started thinking about Fandom in these terms, it occurred to me that voting on awards is just as much a Fan activity as any of those others. Voting, in this case, doesn’t just mean checking boxes and clicking submit on a form, it means the whole process: researching potential candidates, nominating, reviewing and ranking nominees, presenting the awards, celebrating the winners, and examining all of the voting statistics afterwards. Different voters may emphasize different parts of the process, but they all put time and effort into it, just like Fans of other activities.

So when we talk about a Fan-voted award, we aren’t talking about a random sampling of Fans from across Fandom. We aren’t talking about a group that was selected on some basis, they aren’t necessarily more knowledgeable than anyone else and they don’t have an agenda to push. The core Voter Fan group is unified only by the fact that they enjoy participating in awards. They don’t make up the whole voter population, there will also be occasional participants who are either trying it to see if they enjoy it, or they joined the group for some other reason and they’re voting just because they can, or because they do have a particular story, author or agenda to push (obviously this has been an issue recently). So Voter Fandom doesn’t automatically control the outcome of any particular vote, but they’re usually going to be an influential voice in the proceedings.

This explains why a relatively small group of Fans determines the outcome of some major awards. It’s just not an activity that attracts a big crowd. It doesn’t really have the perks that other forms of Fandom have, no one wants to take your picture, and no one compliments you on your ballot. If anything, it’s just the opposite, lots of people will tell you everything that’s wrong, both with the awards overall and with your personal choices. People often say that award results would be better if there were more voters—I’ve said it myself—even if they don’t agree on what better awards would look like. But while there is always a certain amount of turnover, and there are always new Fans finding their Fandoms, I think the majority of Fans are settled in their choice of activities. I don’t believe there is a massive pool of prospective voters who are just waiting for an invitation.

This can also be seen in the results of other awards. Not all Voter Fans participate in all award votes, but many of them participate in more than one. Voting is what they like to do, so why not take advantage of every opportunity? This doesn’t mean that the same stories win every award, differences in voting structure and voter population usually lead to different results. At the same time though, if an award publishes a list of runners-up, honorable mentions or also-rans, the stories that are popular among Voter Fans are likely to make their appearance, if they don’t win outright. For Voter Fans, that’s often part of the interest, seeing how those differences affect the outcome. They aren’t trying to monopolize all awards, they want to hear what other Fans have to say, but they aren’t going to recuse themselves from voting either. Ultimately the array of awards and winners serve Fandom in general, since there tend to be more great stories than there are awards to recognize them.

Most Fandoms have a public side and a behind-the-scenes area. Cosplayers wear their costumes for everyone to see, Collectors display their collections in one form or another. Cosplayers (I presume) also have message boards where they can talk about new ideas, construction techniques, events, whatever interests them. Collectors have networks where they can buy, sell and trade with each other, discuss and compare finds, and so on. These networks aren’t necessarily hidden, they just aren’t of interest to people who aren’t involved in that Fandom. For Voter Fandom, the public aspect is the announcement of voting results and the handing out of trophies. What happens behind the scenes, though, is what really defines it as a Fandom. “Voter Fandom” works as a label, but I think what this group is really doing is having a conversation about stories. The various voting processes serve to impose some structure on the conversation: at first everything is fair game, then when nominees are announced the focus shifts to the merits of those particular stories, and when the final vote is called it signals time to move on to next year’s batch of stories. This is part of what sets the Hugo awards apart, in particular. Certainly their history and prestige are part of the attraction, but for Voter Fans, the Hugo process stimulates the conversation more than any award I’m aware of. Fans get to vote on the nominees, the finalists, and even the rules that govern them. The structure encourages Fans to read all nominees, making them all part of the conversation. The rules have a high degree of stability, so Fans don’t have to worry about unexpected procedural changes, they can just focus on starting the conversation as early as possible.

The conversation explains why Voter Fans don’t like slates and similar manipulations. Even well-intentioned slates disrupt the flow of the conversation, and malicious slates purposely derail it. They try to shoehorn their stories into the conversation instead of letting it happen organically. Are the wrong stories winning the awards? That’s not for any of us to decide. The prestige of the Hugos, or any other awards, derives from how the winners are judged by history. In the past, the Hugos have largely succeeded on that score, although with a few missteps. Will the same be true of recent winners? It’s too soon to say, but in my opinion at the very least there haven’t been any egregiously weak choices. I’m sure not everyone agrees. But ultimately I would say that each award belongs to the people who vote on it. If the voters vote honestly and are satisfied with the outcome then that has to be enough. It’s no one else’s place to try to impose any sort of agenda on those voters. The whole point of being a Voter Fan is making up your own mind. If certain authors and stories don’t get support for a particular award, that’s just the collective will of the voters asserting itself. If an award can translate the opinions of its voters into a single winner, then it’s served its main purpose.

I think most Voter Fans don’t approach their awards as competitions. They want the winners to be worthy of recognition, representative of what’s good in their respective fields, but they generally don’t get too invested in seeing specific stories win. It only takes a couple of votes to realize that you can’t control the outcome, so you’re better off just congratulating the winners and moving on. Great stories will get recognized as such with or without awards, and you’re not wrong for liking what you like, no matter what other Fans think. That’s all just more fodder for the conversation. So what does an individual Voter Fan get out of being one voice in a crowd? I can really only speak for myself here, but I think this is true for a lot of Voter Fandom: what I get is the discovery of new stories and new writers that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. I get to sample what’s up and coming in the genre, and while it’s not always to my taste, it’s worth it to me to go through a couple of duds to get to a story that really makes me think. Most satisfying of all, though, is when I can recommend a book to someone else, and to have them come back and say they loved it. To me that’s the true essence of being a Voter Fan.

What does this mean for the future of awards? Could the Hugos be eliminated, as certain individuals have expressed a desire to do? Will new awards gain prominence and old awards fade? The thing to remember is that for Voter Fans, voting is part of their Fan DNA. If a given cosplay event was cancelled, the cosplayers would migrate to a new event, or organize their own event if they had to. That’s what’s in their Fan DNA, and they’ll do what’s necessary to be able to express their Fandom. The same is true for Voter Fans. I think it’s highly unlikely that the Hugos would actually be cancelled, but if that happened Voter Fans would not just disappear, they would continue to vote and have their conversation around other awards. Voter Fandom includes quite a few experienced award administrators, so I suspect they could put together a new award pretty easily if they needed to. One way or another, I think Voter Fans are always going to have a voice in greater Fandom. Some may agree with that voice, others may disagree, but no one is going to silence it. The conversation may suffer some brief disruptions but it will find ways to continue.

I started by asking if my enjoyment of the Hugo process justified my participation. My answer now is that not only is enjoyment a good reason, it’s the best reason. Having fun is what Fandom is all about. For anyone who’s gotten interested in the Hugos over the past couple of years, I would say try adding your voice to the conversation. It doesn’t matter what route you took to get here, whether you want change or you like things the way they are. The conversation is always willing to make room for new voices and new ideas, as long as they’re offered constructively. People will disagree with you, people may argue with you, people will probably vote for things you don’t like but that’s all part of the fun. The disagreement helps you define and defend your own taste in stories, and sometimes, if you’re willing to take a few chances, you can find yourself liking something that you didn’t expect to. That, in particular, is why it’s still fun for me, and why I’ll be back to do it again next year.

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2015 Hugo Awards

August 15, 2015

Since I started participating in the Hugo awards, this is the first time it hasn’t been fun. I’m not always enthusiastic about every single nominee, but usually there are several that I’m looking forward to, plus one or two more that surprise me. This year, even the few nominees that earned their way on the ballot didn’t feel particularly outstanding to me. Maybe it was an indifferent year for science fiction and fantasy in general, although I read a few things that I think would have been worthy nominees. Unfortunately, thanks to the actions of various Puppies, the majority of the ballot was swamped with junk instead.

I’m not going to recap who the Puppies are or speculate about what the Puppies were trying to accomplish, whether their arguments have any merit or what the best response is to them. Those topics have been discussed to death on numerous other blogs and I don’t have anything to add. Most of that discussion has been about the Hugo Awards as an institution, though. I want to give the perspective of an individual voter and WorldCon member.

The first year I had an opportunity to attend WorldCon, the Hugo Awards ceremony was probably the thing I was most looking forward to. It felt like a chance to be part of history. As it turned out, the ceremony was a bit of a letdown, not many of the winners were in attendance. WorldCon overall was still a lot of fun, though, and it inspired me to continue participating, usually as a supporting member but I’ve attended once since then and I would like to go to more in the future.

I have to assume that there are a lot of fans this year for whom it is their first WorldCon, or even their first convention of any kind. I think those are the people are the ones who are being hurt the most by this Puppy manipulation of the awards. No matter how good the rest of the convention is, I think it will be hard to ignore the fact that the Hugo ceremony is not going to be what it should be. It will be hard to make a celebration of No Awards, and even for the few good stories that got nominated it will feel like they’re winning by default rather than being measured against strong competition. The WorldCon organizers didn’t ask for all of this to happen at their convention, and who knows when they’ll get another opportunity. Even for the several thousand who joined just to vote on the Hugos, while their participation is welcome, it would be better for everyone if they were doing it because they were interested and wanted to contribute, rather than feeling like this was a job and they had to pick a side.

Everyone says the Hugos will survive, and I tend to agree. I think the Puppy voters will get tired of throwing away their money in the name of making whatever statement they’re trying to make. They will also have a harder time maintaining the charade that their campaign is about anything other than self-promotion, because after this year there will be fewer neutral parties willing to appear on any slate. The nomination rules will probably be changed to make slates less effective, although I’m afraid that will make the whole process more confusing and could scare some potential nominators away. In the long run this will mostly be forgotten, but in the short term it probably means that at least two WorldCons are going to have their Hugos basically invalidated, and I don’t like that they have to make that sacrifice. In my opinion the harassment policy should be invoked against the Puppy organizers and they should be banned from the convention and disqualified from the awards on that basis. I get that the Hugo organizers won’t do this, they would argue that the integrity of the awards depends on strict adherence to the bylaws, not arbitrary decisions by administrators. I could make some counter arguments but I don’t want to go down that road right now. I will just say that when a group has a stated goal of disrupting the awards, it wouldn’t bother me at all if they were barred from participating.

I don’t think there’s any point in making predictions this year. With so many more voters than usual, anything is possible. The Puppies don’t seem to be expecting to win, but whether that means that non-Puppies win or it’s all no awards, who knows? Maybe there was a big influx of Chinese voters who wanted to support Cixin Liu and don’t know anything about Puppies. I’m not really invested in the results this year, I don’t have any favorites that I’m rooting for. I considered skipping this blog post too. But then I realized that’s what the Puppies would want. They want people, at least people who aren’t them, to lose interest. Well, voting this year was less fun and more of a chore, but I did it. Blogging about it wasn’t as much fun either, but blogging about the Hugos seems to be what I do, even if nobody ever sees it. If nothing else, it’s an affirmation that I’m still a part of the process. If I have to put up with a couple of down years before it becomes fun again, I can do that. So I’ll see you back here, same time next year.

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Late and Early Hugo Thoughts

August 17, 2014

I never got around to writing about last year’s (2013) Hugos, either before or after. I can’t say that I had strong feelings about any of the stories on the ballot, but on the other hand I didn’t have strong feelings about any stories that didn’t make the ballot either. So I can’t really say that the nominees were undeserving. I think that’s just the way it goes some years, for any award.

That said, I think Redshirts is a better book than a lot of people give it credit for (if a Hugo award winner can be said to not get credit). Most of the criticism seems to take the form that being a parody, it doesn’t have enough weight and meaning to be worthy of an award. It’s just a rehash of old ideas and old forms that everyone has seen. If it only consisted of the main story, I might agree with some of that, although I would still call it entertaining. But I thought the three codas (well, two of the three) made the difference between entertaining and thought-provoking. So I don’t have a problem with Redshirts as best novel.

That tended to be my view for the rest of the fiction categories too. My first choices generally didn’t win, but I didn’t feel like any of the winners were undeserving.

The biggest takeaway for me really was the realization that an individual voter has more influence during the nomination process than they do in the final vote (I think the same thing is true in political elections, but that’s a topic for another day). That’s where the power of a fan base really comes into play. A large-fan-base author like Gaiman, Scalzi, McGuire, Bujold etc. automatically gets some nominations just because a large number of people read their books, and some percentage of those readers will nominate them. But those authors also usually only account for one or two slots in a category, meaning that the other slots are up for grabs. So as a nominator, it’s worth trying to find books from other authors. If there are really good books out there, often this is how they can climb onto the shortlist.

Fast forward to 2014, and I look like a prophet. Or I would if I had posted those thoughts last year.

Rather than being a competition between fan bases, though, this year it seems to be a competition between groups wanting to make statements. One group wants to make this a lifetime achievement award for a certain author. Another group feels that their political viewpoint is under-represented in the science fiction community and decided to use the Hugo Awards as a way to get their views in front of people’s faces. And there are a few other frequently-nominated names who show up again. Whether or not there was outright campaigning in those cases, I don’t know, I tend to go with the assumption that their fans just happen to overlap with fans of WorldCon.

I will be very interested to see the nomination totals when they’re released, to see just how effective the various campaigns really were. I’m also wondering if any nominations might have been declined. I was really surprised that Neil Gaiman didn’t get nominated this year, and I also wonder if Sanderson might have declined an individual nomination in favor of the series.

I’ve said before that I don’t think winning or losing an award makes a statement about a book’s overall quality or significance. As far as personal preference goes, I would have liked to see Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls get a nomination. The fact that it didn’t doesn’t make me feel wrong for liking it. Along the same lines I don’t think having an occasional unworthy winner invalidates the award. But I would rather not see the Hugo Awards turn into something decided only by campaigns and voting blocs. Personally, my main reason for participating in the Hugos is just that I enjoy it. It forces me to read new books, in theory the best new books, and then I get to have a say in who wins. But if the Hugos turn into a competition to see who can mobilize the biggest fan base, I feel like that would take the fun out of it (and for one of these current campaigns, I feel like that’s their real goal: to take the fun out of the awards and make them less relevant so that they don’t have to feel bad about never winning).

My prediction right now is that none of these campaigned-for stories will win awards. They may get a lot of first place votes, maybe even the most, but because of the voting process the Hugos use, first place votes aren’t everything. The winners are usually the stories that get a lot of second and third place votes to combine with their first place votes. The campaigned-for stories I suspect will get almost no second place votes, and the other three stories will combine their votes behind one candidate which will win.

My hope is that whatever happens this year, it will motivate voters to participate, to read, nominate and vote based on what they read, not what some campaign requested. But it’s a big time commitment to be a really informed voter, every year I wish I had spent more time getting everything read. So I guess we’ll just have to see what happens. I had intentions this year of posting some reviews/recommendations/comments of things I had read. I think what the Hugos need is to have more information available to help readers discover the best stories, and while there are some sources out there, more wouldn’t hurt. I like to think I’ll be even more motivated to do that for next year’s nominations. Not that I’m likely to actually influence any awards, but I would like to think I can be a small part of a larger trend. In the end, whether or not the Hugos continue to work is, like everything else, in the hands of the voters.

And since I managed to post this mere hours before this year’s awards are announced, the winners will probably be known by the time anyone reads this. So I’ll try not to wait the whole year for a follow up.

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Hugo Ballot 2012

September 2, 2012

If I want to get predictions in for this year, I guess this is my last chance, pretty much the final hour. But if I didn’t do Hugo posts on this blog, there would be nothing left. So here we go.

The subtitle for this year: A Dance With Hugos. George R. R. Martin is not only in there with his latest book, but the TV series, his editor, and artwork (by John Picacio) are all up for awards. And not to get ahead of myself, but I suspect the novel award may be the only one that he doesn’t get.

First of all, these were my votes for best novel:

1—Embassytown, China Mieville

2—Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Corey

3—Among Others, Jo Walton

No, I didn’t read A Dance With Dragons. Eventually I’ll read the whole series, but I’m not that far along yet. Friends have told me they don’t think it’s the best book in the series, so I doubt I would have rated it above these three. And Deadline, by Mira Grant, I felt the same way because I wasn’t that interested in the first book in that series.

My prediction is that A Dance With Dragons will get the most first-place votes, but I don’t think it will pick up many votes after that. Embassytown and Among Others I think will share a lot of votes, so whichever one gets eliminated first, the other should pick up most of those votes. What I don’t know is how the Deadline votes will break out. Do Grant’s and Martin’s fan bases overlap, or are they two separate groups? If they overlap, then I think Martin will get most of those votes and Deadline will drop out early, but then either Embassytown or Among Others will collect all the non-Martin votes and move ahead for the win. But if Martin and Grant have separate fan bases, then Deadline might be able to survive against the others, only to come up short against A Dance With Dragons. I’m picking Embassytown to pull it out somehow.

My votes for best novella:

1—“The Man Who Bridged the Mist”, Kij Johnson

2—“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary”, Ken Liu

3—Silently and Very Fast, Catherynne M. Valente

4—“Kiss Me Twice”, Mary Robinette Kowal

I didn’t finish “The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Gilman, and I didn’t get to Countdown by Mira Grant. This was an interesting group of stories, I think a good case could be made for any of them to win. Normally I would probably pick Grant to win a race like this, but Kowal seems to have a lot of fans too, and Valente won the Locus award, so I think they are all contenders. With the runoff voting that the Hugos use, I think anything is possible here.

My votes for best novelette:

1—“Six Months, Three Days”, Charlie Jane Anders

2—“Fields of Gold” Rachel Swirsky

3—“Ray of Light”, Brad R. Torgersen

4—“What We Found”, Geoff Ryman

5—“The Copenhagen Interpretation”, Paul Cornell

I thought “Six Months, Three Days” was far and away the best of this group. Not that the other stories were bad at all, although I thought “The Copenhagen Interpretation” didn’t stand on it’s own very well. But “Six Months, Three Days” was probably my favorite story in any category. Considering that Anders is pretty well known for her work on the io9 blog, I think she stands a good chance to win.

My votes for best short story:

1—“The Paper Menagerie”, Ken Liu

2—“Movement”, Nancy Fulda

3—“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”, E. Lily Yu

4—“The Homecoming”, Mike Resnick

5—“Shadow War of the Night Dragons”, John Scalzi

Another case where the stories were mostly pretty good, but “The Paper Menagerie” was my clear favorite. In terms of predictions, though, this is a tough call. Yu and Fulda seem like up-and-coming writers who will probably have more nominations in the future, but I don’t see either of them winning this one. Resnick, being the guest of honor, is likely to get a lot of votes, and Scalzi is Scalzi. As far as “Shadow War of the Night Dragons” goes, I don’t think it’s a travesty that it was nominated (a travesty is nominating someone’s acceptance speech as a dramatic presentation), but in the long run I don’t think it will be particularly memorable, and even less so without the context in which it was written. We saw last year that it doesn’t take many votes to get nominated for best short story, but once the shortlist is established the leading nominee can slip back in the final vote. I suspect that’s what’s going to happen here, Scalzi will get a good number of first place votes but a higher number of last place/no awards. I’m leaning towards Resnick as the winner.

The other categories I don’t have much to say, except don’t bet against Game of Thrones or Neil Gaiman.

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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.

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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.