Visions of Paradise

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Some observations on the Hugo nominees

As usual, there were some nominations which pleased me, and some which I consider questionable.

In the Best Novel category, Anathem by Neal Stephenson, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and Little Brother by Cory Doctorow were three of the four most acclaimed f&sf novels of the year (along with Iain Banks’ Matter), so it is good to see they all made the Hugo ballot.

Charles Stross (Saturn's Children) and John Scalzi (Zoe's Tale) make the ballot every year without yet winning the award, which seems to indicate they both have a devoted core of followers who like and nominate whatever they write, but their overall popularity is not high enough to translate those nominations into an award. On my list of most acclaimed novels of the year, neither of these two novels even made the top 25 most recommended novels of 2008.

In the Best Novella category, Ian McDonald’s "The Tear" has been widely-acclaimed as the best novella of the year, so it would seem to be the favorite in this category. Ironically, when I reviewed Galactic Empires, that was the only story which I found mostly unreadable and, in fact, I abandoned it about 1/4 the way through it. Besides making the Hugo ballot, the story has been selected for several best-of-the-year volumes, so I guess I should try reading it again, hoping that after the first1/4 it gets better.

The other novella nominees included regulars Nancy Kress ("The Erdmann Nexus") and Robert Reed (“Truth”) as well as relative newcomers Charles Coleman Finlay ("The Political Prisoner") and Benjamin Rosenbaum & Cory Doctorow ("True Names"). While newcomers do win occasional Hugo Awards (such as Elizabeth Bear’s win last year for “Tideline” over a slew of big name authors, including Stephen Baxter and multiple winners Mike Resnick and Michael Swanwick), that was more the exception rather than the rule, so the latter authors might have to wait awhile before winning the award itself.

Overall, the short fiction nominees include 9 stories from the traditional prozines (7 from Asimov’s and 2 from what I consider the superior F&SF), 5 from original anthologies, four from continuing series (Eclipse, The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, and Fast Forward), one from one-shot Galactic Empires, and one from the online zine Baen's Universe. This differs from the best-of-the-year volumes which have been gradually leaning away from the traditional prozines and towards various small-press anthologies and online zines. I do not know whether this means the Hugo Award nominators are more conservative, or that the other outlets do not have audiences large enough to receive enough nominations. In any case, I wonder if the Hugo Awards are actually honoring the “best” stories of 2008 or just the best wide-spread stories?

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form is an interesting group of nominees: Two incredibly popular super-hero movies (The Dark Knight and Iron Man) which are only f&sf peripherally; another popular movie which is more sfnal if less omnipresent when it was released (Hellboy II: The Golden Army), an audio group-novel by well-known f&sf writers (including the very popular John Scalzi and former nominees Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, and Tobias Buckell); and one of the most acclaimed sf movies of recent years, WALL-E. While I lean towards the latter nominee, its heavy competition might knock it out of the running.

I have always had issues with the “continuing” categories Best Editor--Short Form, Best Editor--Long Form, Best Professional Artist, Best Semi-Prozine, Best Fanzine, Best Fan Writer and Best Fan Artist, since from the beginning the awards have tended to go to the same small handful of winners every year. While there are some fine nominees this year, there is not much difference in this year's ballot than those of recent years, so is there much chance the winners will not be repeats from past years as well? For what it’s worth, were I attending the worldcon in Montreal, my ballot would be topped with Gordon Van Gelder, Lou Anders, The New York Review of Science Fiction (I love Locus, but enough is enough!), Steven H Silver (because I favor sf reviews and criticism rather than faanish talk), Challenger (my choice as the best overall genzine), and Brad Foster (I know he won last year, but he does such excellent work, some of it for my own zine; is this bias? If so, I never claimed to be without sin myself).

Good luck to all the nominees!


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