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"Science Fiction Fandom: your shortlists aren’t very good."
July 18, 2009 2:01 AM   Subscribe

"Science Fiction Fandom: your shortlists aren’t very good." Writer, critic and literary academic Adam Roberts has a problem with the shortlists for the 2009 Hugo Awards: in his view, they're unimaginative, conservative and profoundly lazy. Are his concerns valid? And even if they are, should anyone expect more from a popular nominated award voted on by people eligible only through having joined the current or previous World Science Fiction Convention? Given the existence of jury-selected awards such as the Nebula and Clarke, what's wrong with the Hugo letting ordinary readers and fans having the chance to vote for what they liked?
posted by Major Clanger (157 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
List of nominees here, in case anyone was a flummoxed as I was by the Hugo website.
posted by Ritchie at 2:25 AM on July 18, 2009


Completely tangentially, I wish Ted Chiang would write a novel. I deeply dig his short stories. It'd be fun to see what he would do with some room to stretch.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:32 AM on July 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Anathem has been sitting on my bedside table for two months now, page thirty-something bookmarked. I'm already bored to tears with it, no motivation whatsoever to keep reading. If a fictional novel needs not only a fucking glossary, but a near-apologetic introductory note from the author as well to explain and justify the pointless invention of nonsense words (an SF staple, certainly, but ridiculous in this scale), the book has probably failed.

IANALiteraryCritic, and the failing my actually be mine, but Roberts' views on Anathem definitely struck a chord with me and put some of my vague unease with the book (well, thirty-something pages of it) into words. Seems it will be more of the same for the rest of the brick^Wbook.
posted by lifeless at 2:57 AM on July 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


His links to Abigail Nussbaum contain some actual review-like material about why these are poor choices. Good for people like me who don't really follow the genre.

I wish Neil Gaiman would just fucking go away.
posted by fleacircus at 3:01 AM on July 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


People already have a way of voting for the books they like, its called 'buying' them.
posted by munchbunch at 3:06 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


lifeless, Anathem gets better; keep at it and you will be rewarded with a fairly typical Stephenson novel.
posted by fleacircus at 3:06 AM on July 18, 2009


Anathem has been sitting on my bedside table for two months now, page thirty-something bookmarked. I'm already bored to tears with it, no motivation whatsoever to keep reading. If a fictional novel needs not only a fucking glossary, but a near-apologetic introductory note from the author as well to explain and justify the pointless invention of nonsense words (an SF staple, certainly, but ridiculous in this scale), the book has probably failed.

Well, either the book is a failure for being too complex, or you're just lazy and dumb. Or both, I suppose.

Anyway, the book really starts to pick up after a while, the beginning is kind of a slog if you don't enjoy the "intellectual, philosophical" stuff, but if you don't why would you be reading Neil Stephenson? The vocabulary is really only a stumbling block in beginning of the book, IMO, and the world that's built gets more and more interesting as the book continues.
posted by delmoi at 3:09 AM on July 18, 2009


Am I like the only person who got through Anathem with minimal problems? Maybe there's a required interest in what the book really is, which is pretty Neal Stephenson telling you things he thinks are and would be cool, with a plot tacked on. Like every Neal Stephenson book.

Also, the point is basically "Mass audiences don't appreciate things that challenge them"?

Well, yeah.
posted by Nomiconic at 3:10 AM on July 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


Fandom, when you voted Scalzi’s mediocre Zoe’s War onto the shortlist, did you really ... think: ‘I like Scalzi; I like Scalzi’s blog; and although maybe his novel’s not, you know, Tolstoy or anything, I enjoyed it plenty, and I reckon Scalzi deserves the egoboo.’

That's MetaFilter's Own Scalzi. And if BoingBoing's Own Cory's on the shortlist, then we deserve a place too! Okay, I'm being massively facetious, but gee whizzikers!

He did miss one opportunity at snark (that if he had gone for, would have proven conclusively that he's talking out of his ass)... the brand spanking new "Graphic Story" category includes two books self-published by (gasp!) webcomickers! ("Girl Genius" and "Schlock Mercenary") Which, of course, I see as one of the few signs of hope in an otherwise dismal world.
posted by wendell at 3:20 AM on July 18, 2009


Re: all, Anathem is my first Neal Stephenson book. Based on your comments he's probably not my cup of tea.
posted by lifeless at 3:27 AM on July 18, 2009


Adam Roberts is absolutely correct that this years Hugo Award shortlist (for novel, anyway) has a bunch of mediocrity. And the last couple years have included the mediocre even if they didn't win. And often they didn't: SPIN in 2006 is a seminal work that absolutely deserved to be there. Roberts can kiss my shiny metal ass if he disagrees. But, still, he is 100% on the mark about this year's list.

I wrote a bit of a rant on RASFW (before AT&T killed my usenet access... after nearly half my life on the RASF* hierarchy, the bastards) decrying this years shortlist as the first of a no doubt long string of shortlists that have less to do with the quality of your work than with the level of your visibility on the web. I fear this is here to stay. In brief:

What do Scalzi, Doctorow, Gaiman, and Stross have in common? A heavy and dedicated web presence with plenty of fan interaction. Even Stephenson has some but it's no coincidence that he has the least chummy web presence and is also responsible for the best novel on the shortlist. This isn't to say that the above names have never written great novels. Stross in particular has done some cutting edge work. But this years examples from those four, with the possible exception of the Gaiman, should not be on the shortlist. Scalzi's and Doctorow's shouldn't even have been close. Not close.

But the jury selected awards are not any better. They often select extremely minor works from well-respected names. Ursula K le Guin's POWERS, Nebula peeps? Really? Le Guin is one of the greats but that was nearly 40 years ago. Forty years! Way to show you're not a bunch of old greybeard reactionaries. McDevitt's SEEKER in 2006 instead of SPIN? Are you fucking kidding me? SEEKER is the last in a series of generic books (except the first which was nearly brilliant but fatally flawed by the prologue and epilogue) in which McDevitt depicts the entire galaxy as much like white bread coastal California. And keeps reusing the same plot devices over and over. The main characters were in like four skimmer crashes in three books. No, I'm not kidding; more than one per book. You'd think they would, you know, stop using skimmers. Or maybe remark on their constant miraculous escapes. It's like if that pilot that landed in the Hudson (awesome!) had the same fucking thing happen to him a year later and didn't even remark on the incredible coincidence.

But I digress. The point is that the Nebula has been even worse than the Hugo Awards which, with the notable exception of hometown hero Sawyer winning in Toronto, haven't been that bad in terms of the winners. The Nebulas have been ridiculous.

John W. Campbell Memorial Award, on the other hand, has gone so far beyond the ridiculous as to approach the sublime. It must be some sort of performance art. Ben Bova's TITAN? REALLY? Why not give it to the purple crayon scrawlings of an illiterate schizophrenic while you're at it? Are you kidding?

So, yeah. Hugo Award for Best Novel this year? not a good shortlist. Most juried awards? Terrible. Certainly no better and usually worse than the Hugo Award. Damn, this sounds like a defense of the Hugo. It is not. This years shortlist is a travesty and a sign of things to come. It's just that the others have been this bad for a very long time.
posted by Justinian at 3:28 AM on July 18, 2009 [17 favorites]


One man's purple crayon scrawlings of an illiterate schizophrenic are high art for another man.

Generic note. Haven't read Titan.
posted by lifeless at 3:34 AM on July 18, 2009


oh my god, I just had my first nerdgasm. A post about Adam Roberts decrying the state of science fiction fandom's taste in science fiction! And I got to rant about it! On the internet! I think I need a cigarette.
posted by Justinian at 3:35 AM on July 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


/me retires to hide under a rock, muttering irritably
posted by cstross at 3:46 AM on July 18, 2009 [28 favorites]


I'm on my second reading of Anathem because I loved it so much the first time. However, I don't know if I could have made it through a print version. I'm listening to the audiobook. Same with Jonathan Strange.

And yes, it definitely picks up after a bit. I wish I could give you a page number. Skip the glossary (except the definitions from the chapter beginnings) and timeline. Read them after if you are interested. Everything you need is available from context.
posted by DU at 3:47 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


What's wrong with the Hugo letting ordinary readers and fans having the chance to vote for what they liked?

It's not specific to sci-fi or even writing, but the usual problem with throwing awards open to any-and-every fan is that the "low knowlege voters" overwhelm the thoughtful votes mathematically, and one ends up with a popularity contest on "favorite author" rather than "best book".

So in this case, the bad outcome would be that winners could be "Book 87 of The Darkmoon Trilogy" just because Cassandra Vance* has the most rabid fanbase, and people are really voting for the first sixteen books, mentally. The actual book itself might not even be eligible, might not have been read by the voters, might not even have been published yet.

To jump worlds for a moment, this happens in baseball, where All-Stars are now fan-selected, and are almost always the Most Popular Players, even if they have not had great seasons. There are mechanisms to adjust somewhat for this (players and managers vote for SOME of the positions, and they're usually more knowledgeable), but it's still skewy.

Imagine that videogame-review thread from yesterday, where the guy was criticized for judging a game he only played for two hours. How many voters would not even read the book?

* or whoever.
posted by rokusan at 3:57 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Every review I've read has said that Anathem is even worse that the Baroque Cycle when it comes to extraneous verbiage and digressive chunks of text. Now, I really enjoyed chunks of the Baroque Cycle: some of it is fantastic. Unfortunately wading through the rest to get to those chunks was an exercise in tedium which I'm not keen to repeat.

Justinian: USENET access is available for a small subscription from a number of sources. If you're willing to set up a small newserver of your own, then there are people out there who will happily feed you as much of the textural bits of USENET as you like.

Charlie: probably a wise move. Tryning to defend your own works on the internet is the short path to turning into Anne Rice & nobody wants that. Let the books speak for themselves.
posted by pharm at 4:01 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


They also use instant-runoff voting. Blerch.
posted by fleacircus at 4:03 AM on July 18, 2009


fleacircus: Better than FPP for something like this surely?
posted by pharm at 4:05 AM on July 18, 2009


Those Abigail Nussbaum columns are very interesting reading. Thanks.
posted by Lorc at 4:07 AM on July 18, 2009


I've largely given up on science fiction because the signal to noise ratio is so badly out of whack. It is almost impossible to find the good books.


And keeps reusing the same plot devices over and over. The main characters were in like four skimmer crashes in three books. No, I'm not kidding; more than one per book. You'd think they would, you know, stop using skimmers.



40,000 people a year die in car crashes in the United States. Perhaps he has a handle on human nature?
posted by srboisvert at 4:09 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm muttering irritably because I'm actually agreeing with Justinian about McDevitt. He can write well, it's just that he's taken the adage "write what you know" a little too seriously.
posted by cstross at 4:13 AM on July 18, 2009


Fandom, when you voted Scalzi’s mediocre Zoe’s War onto the shortlist, did you really ... think: ‘I like Scalzi; I like Scalzi’s blog; and although maybe his novel’s not, you know, Tolstoy or anything, I enjoyed it plenty, and I reckon Scalzi deserves the egoboo.’

I agree, considering the novel Zoe's War, as far as I know, doesn't exist. Now, if he argued against Zoe's Tale, I would have taken notice, but since this guy can't even manage to fact-check his own article, I'm going to just call him a crank.
posted by xingcat at 4:30 AM on July 18, 2009


Of the two books I've read in this list cstross's is definitely the best. Little Brother is pretty poor writing masquerading as infantile politicking. You can excuse some of the naivety as it's a YA book, but not all of it.

But then, (and I'm sorry to have to say this directly below the guy who wrote the motherfucking thing), Saturn's Children didn't really do it for me. I loved Glasshose, but SC was meh.

I hope Stross gets it though. If only because it'll piss some people off who really deserve to be pissed off.
posted by seanyboy at 4:30 AM on July 18, 2009


I posted a question on AskMe a little while ago, looking for good (according to a fairly narrow definition, I suppose) SF for an adult reader, and I'm having a great time slowly working my way through the suggestions. (Note to self -- it's good manners to remember to go back and mark some more "best answers.")

From reading these reviews, however, most of the nominated works in this award cycle would leave me absolutely cold. Stephenson in particular is a writer I cannot stand (friends who are fans always insist "You'll love his latest, it's totally awesome," and I never do and it never is), and I've never made it more than a few chapters into a Doctorow without becoming bored to tears.

I've not followed the cycle of awards and nominations in previous years, so perhaps it was better at some point. But this time around, it sure looks like the current batch of nominees were, as the FPP suggests, quite conservative and unappealing.
posted by Forktine at 4:35 AM on July 18, 2009


I'll take my Best Of science fiction in the form of 1970s and '80s annual collections, thank you very much.
posted by cthuljew at 5:06 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Charlie: ah, that wasn't *entirely* clear...
posted by pharm at 5:22 AM on July 18, 2009


pharm, that wasn't my experience with Anathem. Compared to the Baroque Cycle I found it to be focused and straightforward. Faint praise, I know.

As for instant-runoff voting; say you have choices A, B, and C. Everyone likes C, but A and B have loyal followings. For example: some fraternities and sororities voting for who should head the council. Each sends a candidate, but while A and B are the bigger houses, C is the house of the current president. C is well-liked and competent—the fairly clear best choice. I don't think it's an outrageous or edge scenario; I think it would be a common situation in many polarized voter bases (including U.S. Presidential elections if there really were a viable third party, the thing IRV is often mentioned in connection with).

So the A people vote (ACx) and the B people vote (BCx). They don't really think A or B will win, necessarily, but they want to show loyalty and IRV tells them go ahead, it's harmless!

First votes are counted. A gets 38%, B gets 35%, and C gets 27%. C is eliminated, and the winner is probably A. IRV mocks your tears with laughter.

posted by fleacircus at 5:44 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


As far as short fiction goes, I've found Gardner Dozois' annual "Year's Best Science Fiction" anthologies to be pretty much what they say on the tin.
posted by teraflop at 5:56 AM on July 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


These are some unattractive shortlists, judging by the writers on there. I have not read the novels, as I avoid the unattractive hardcover phase of a book's lifecycle, but some of the author picks are telling.

Stephenson, maybe there's a chance he's recovered from the "Is there a David Foster Wallace for sci-fi yet? Well there is NOW!" syndrome he had symptoms of. What happened to stuff like Zodiac, Neal?

Oh, man, Little Brother ... I haven't quite worked up the courage to read it yet, because I know I'm never getting that hour or two back, and I have some other pressing priorities with higher reward, like sorting my toenail collection, but if it is anything like any other Doctorow novel, the protagonists will be young, energetic, and generally well-meaning. They'll be confused and upset by this petty tragedy. At some point someone introduces a new paradigm of whatever, and the excitement will reach the fever pitch of a Bible camp that has just discovered the Song of Solomon.

And there will be no actual ending, because Doctorow gets bored with writing, and must instead go racing out to tell everyone about this exciting new concept! I don't mind a few loose ends, life is never that neat, but damn if Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town isn't like getting mailed a sweater and not only is one sleeve only done down to about the shoulder, the knitting needles are still attached.

Aside from the Stross, who has long been at the "I wish Amazon had a feature where whenever this author releases something in paperback, it'd just show up in my mailbox" level with me, I might, might read Zoe's Tale, because I am foolishly hopeful that it won't just be another tour wobbling between mid-era Heinlein and Card.

I am not someone who expects every sci-fi novel I pick up to blow ... my ... mind .... dude, but checking the back's of some of these novels, most seem to be very comfortable picks. The Chiang pick is neatly canceled out by Elizabeth Bear. If all of these picks were gathered up and placed into a little capsule for aliens to represent "What science-fiction means to us," I would not be the least surprised if the aliens didn't conclude that we were a mostly unimaginative species whose drive for spacefaring, the creation of technology, and sheer invention had been turned inward to a navelgazing exploration of our own clumsy social policies.

On second thought, these picks are perfect.
posted by adipocere at 6:19 AM on July 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


The presence of Little Brother on any fan-driven shortlist almost certainly is the result of the BB self-promotion clan carpet-bombing the nomination process. Even categorized as YA, it's weak stuff.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:19 AM on July 18, 2009


Anybody remember Alfred Bester's The Stars my Destination, K.W. Jeter's first novel Dr. Adder, Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream, maybe Michael Moorcock's brilliantly sacreligious Behold the Man? There's a reason nobody seems to be writing books like that any more. It's because if you write one, nobody will publish it.

It's not that publishers back in the day had keener literary sense; I also remember B. Dalton devoting a meter of shelf space to John Norman. It's that they used to be willing to take a dare for something potentially worthwhile, and now they're chickenshit. Challenging readers doesn't fit the business model.

Of course part of this is giving the audience what it wants, since it's always safer to give your customer what they expect than a surprise they might not like, but it's also because consolidation has left the whole publishing industry in the hands of a few players who don't seem to care all that much about books.

Roberts complains that all this year's nominees are YA, and there's a reason for that too; the YA audience is perceived, probably correctly, as being more open to unconventionality. So in your YA book you can have a dominatrix as a main character, wooo, isn't that daring. Telling half the story in pictures because it's about senesthesia, though, I don't think that would go over any more, even in the YA market.

And at least one of the writers I mentioned above seems to agree.
posted by localroger at 6:24 AM on July 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


fleacircus: Arrows theorem says that every voting system is flawed becuse the voters can hold paradoxical beliefs (as a whole). That doesn't stop almost anything being better than FPP, which goes out of its way to chose perverse outcomes, and forces the electorate to make a maximum likelihood assessment of the voting behaviour of the rest of the electorate before they make their vote, which leads to inherently unstable outcomes.

But this is a complete derail & I'll stop there :)
posted by pharm at 6:46 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ooh, an sf author whining about the fans' choices! I've been following the Hugos since the early '60s, and this has been a constant all that time. Yeah, yeah: you and your four best friends should choose the winners, then they'd be just the kind of thing that deserves to win. Sorry, pal, that's democracy in action. If you don't like it, make your own awards.

what's wrong with the Hugo letting ordinary readers and fans having the chance to vote for what they liked?

Nothing whatever.
posted by languagehat at 6:47 AM on July 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


It isn't just that Doctorow and Scalzi have a lot of fans, it is that they themselves are a conduit though which many people see science fiction as a community. I have to wonder if there is some sort of deference to authority going on. As shepherds of the flock, people perceive them as safe votes, even if their latest works aren't particularly deserving.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 6:48 AM on July 18, 2009


Anathem is excellent as an audiobook, where all the new vocabulary is pronounced for you. I can see the printed book being hard to get through, but the audiobook is really excellent.
posted by JDHarper at 6:55 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Although Adam Roberts does appear to be bit of a twerp, and although his own novels are stuck in an endless groove of unsympathetic-protagonist-blunders-around-gets-hurt-learns-nothing, and although his theory of "alterity" expressed in Science Fiction: the New Critical Idiom is laughably reductionistic; he does appear to be right in this case.

It's annoying.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:11 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


The presence of Little Brother on any fan-driven shortlist almost certainly is the result of the BB self-promotion clan carpet-bombing the nomination process. Even categorized as YA, it's weak stuff.

I agree that Little Brother is not all that and a bag of chips, but you can only nominate in the Hugos if you're a member of the Worldcon, which is not cheap even for a supporting membership (eg, to join next year's con and get voting rights will cost you $50).

If you want to see the effects of BB block-voting, look at the Locus Awards - Doctorow's Overclocked was set to win last year so Locus changed the rules and let subscriber votes count double to stop him winning. Which may be a reason why their voting figures dropped off this year.
posted by penguinliz at 7:18 AM on July 18, 2009


what's wrong with the Hugo letting ordinary readers and fans having the chance to vote for what they liked?

This works great as long as you imagine yourself as an "ordinary reader and fan." We all think we're sensible and good judges, after all. And of course you need a voting mechanism that actually works, unless you really want to see the equivalent of an online poll for everything.

Now imagine a slathering horde made up of voters like, I dunno, Warcraft-playing Comic Book Guy. He doesn't just think your vote is stupid (which would be, like, his right), he's also got nothing better to do than sit there and click "Vote" 3,000 times per day to show you how wrong you are.

(Maybe he even writes a script.)
posted by rokusan at 7:27 AM on July 18, 2009


MY CONTRIBUTION TO THIS THREAD IS AS FOLLOWS:

BATMAN FOR A FUCKING HUGO YOU MUST BE KIDDING ME WHO THE FUCK PICKED THAT

Oh. Right. Carry on.



PS: I am going to make this a graphic post–behold!

;-o This figure represents an evil monocled German stereotype shouting at the Nebula awards committee over something trivial.
posted by Mister_A at 7:34 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Every review I've read has said that Anathem is even worse that the Baroque Cycle when it comes to extraneous verbiage and digressive chunks of text.

I disagree with those reviews (and so, I see, does fleacircus). I only read one book of the Baroque Cycle but it was a massive meandering mess, and I usually like massive meandering messes. Anathem is long and there is a lot in it, but it's way more focused.
posted by dfan at 7:36 AM on July 18, 2009


I stopped reading science-fiction. Now I only read ludicrous-fiction.
posted by humannaire at 7:58 AM on July 18, 2009


In general, anyone who can write science fiction and decry the intelligences of the masses has a resposibillity to study and understand formal voting theory and be able to recommend a system better suited to producing Condorcet Winners. Then he has to explain why the Condorcet Winners are still inadequate, which in this case is because a large number of readers will tend to read only a few books in common, and these will be popular, but probably also mediocre because challenging books don't have mass appeal and marginalized-but-amazing books take a while to filter into the mainstream: longer than an awards cycle, anyway.

Look, science fiction fans don't have time to read everything that publishers produce any longer. There's too much cruft, and we all grew up and got jobs. What science fiction needs is a culture of reviewers (not just one or two authorities) who -do- read everything and can recommend books we're likely to miss and argue with each other about which books were really better. To a certain extent, the awards system can serve as a flashpoint around which such reviews and recommendations take place.

We're all geeks here: don't take awards and honors so seriously. Find somebody who's shortlists you trust, and subscribe to their blog. End of problem.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:58 AM on July 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Argh. "who's whose shortlists"
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:59 AM on July 18, 2009


I don't know what you guys are talking about. Little Brother was incredible, in that WHOA THATS LIKE TOTALLY ME IN THIS STORY sort of way.

ymmv</font
posted by effugas at 7:59 AM on July 18, 2009


Every review I've read has said that Anathem is even worse that the Baroque Cycle when it comes to extraneous verbiage and digressive chunks of text.

I question whether these reviewers even read the book. Despite being long and loose, Anathem is remarkably well-connected. (Well, except for the going over the pole part. That takes forever.)

And speaking of audiobooks, the Little Brother reading is so extremely awful not only did I stop, but it colored my perception of Doctorow (which wasn't that great to begin with, thanks to MeFi haterz).
posted by DU at 8:24 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is this the line for complaints about Anathem?

Cryptonomicon is one of my favorite books of all time, and yet I bounced off Anathem hard.

I've read enough bad SF that I'm now positively allergic to "Calling a Rabbit a Smeerp"* - I find the use of faux-exotic vocabulary to be lazy, stupid, and irritating. Unlike user lifeless above, I don't think I even made it to page 30: the entire book is written in Smeerp, and thus was painful for me to attempt.
*From The Turkey City Lexicon:
Call a Rabbit a Smeerp: A cheap technique for false exoticism, in which common elements of the real world are re-named for a fantastic milieu without any real alteration in their basic nature or behavior. "Smeerps" are especially common in fantasy worlds, where people often ride exotic steeds that look and act just like horses. (Attributed to James Blish.)
That said, yeah, there have been stronger years for the Hugo shortlist. It happens. It was downright embarrassing the year that one of the Harry Potter sequels won as the best SCIENCE FICTION novel of the year.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 8:30 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hugo voter/nominator here. I'm frustrated with the "My Favorite Author" nominations, too. Scalzi can write well, but a novel that spends half the time "fixing" perceived problems with a previous novel (and retreading many of the same plot points) isn't award worthy IMO. And neither is a novel-length Boingboing post.

It's not just the novel nominations that have me puzzled. Mary Robinette Kowal's short story "Evil Robot Monkey" is like four pages long, and is barely a scene, much less a fully developed short story. The only reason I can think that it was nominated was that she read it at a reading with Scalzi. Feh.

I've been seeking out new and wonderful stuff by lesser-known authors to nominate, but so far none of the newbies I nominate have made it on to the ballot. The frustrating thing is that it doesn't take many votes to get on a ballot, (I think it can be as few as 28 to get on the short story ballot), but the $50 fee is a pretty big barrier to getting more people to vote.
posted by creepygirl at 8:38 AM on July 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Ted Chiang should not be writing novels. Ted Chiang should be writing short stories of such elegance and clockwork precision forever.
posted by Artw at 8:39 AM on July 18, 2009 [8 favorites]


From the blog post: "You've plumped for a list that's all YA. Nothing wrong with YA, of course; but is it really the case that all the best long fiction in our genre last year was YA? Does it seem likely to you that this could be the case?"

Yes, actually. A great many of what are considered great literary classics could be considered YA, either because they were originally intended for children, because they feature young protagonists, or because they were/are largely consumed by teenagers. Books marketed to teenagers often seem, to me, to be less concerned with proving something through their writing, more concerned with--I don't know, plot? Readability? Fun? I mean, why wouldn't a reader like that?

I haven't read any of the books on the list. I just hate when writers get all snooty. "Nothing wrong with YA" my ass.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:46 AM on July 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Artw: I do wonder if Ted could keep up that level of quality on something of novel length. Spreading out a short into a full length novel doesn't always improve things. Some authors are just better at the short form, but inevitably move to longer form works because short stories just don't sell as well, thanks to the way the publishing industry works.
posted by pharm at 8:47 AM on July 18, 2009


Audio readings (on Escape Pod) of this year's short fiction Hugo nominees:
26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss, Exhalation, From Babel's Fall'n Glory We Fled, Evil Robot Monkey, Article of Faith.

The first two are my faves, and I peg Exhalation for the win.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:47 AM on July 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Wait, that makes no sense: Lets just say that I think you're right, but I suspect that there's pressure on Ted to write something longer form (that the publisher can sell).
posted by pharm at 8:50 AM on July 18, 2009


Exhalation was very good indeed, yes. But then you come to expect that from Ted Chiang.

A surprising amount of his good stuff is found wild on the web too.

Text:
72 letters. An exceptionally tight and surprisingly complete short story, given the amount of worldbuilding gone into it.
Division by zero which didn't rock my socks, but has some rather interesting ideas.
Understand lkewise.

Podcasts:
Hell is the absence of god - a threatening story about theological philosophy.
The merchant and the alchemist's gate (direct mp3 link) which is a fairly straightforward nested set of parables that are probably sci-fi if you want to get pedantic about it

If you like what I linked, most of these (and others) are found in his collection, Stories of Your Life and Others.
posted by Lorc at 9:00 AM on July 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


I'm not qualified to address the actual subject, since I'm an old geezer who soured on SF long ago, (but still misses it in some corner of his soul so I actually read the post and comments), let me just say, damn, that Abigail Nussbaum can write. Bravo.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:04 AM on July 18, 2009


Roberts misses the Bigger Picture:

The entire point of a fan-based award is that it can differ sharply from a jury-based award. For good or ill.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:08 AM on July 18, 2009


The made-up words in Anathem are not smeerps! They may be a tongue-in-cheek nod to the gimmick, but there is a deliberate and precise reason for them. You are reading the novel in Orth. The narrator is ignorant of the technology of the saeculars, so the jargon is as bizarre to him as it is to you. The faux Latin and Greek words are intended to evoke our ancient civilizations who developed natural philosophy, where in world of the book, the tradition continued unbroken for all those millennia.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 9:09 AM on July 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


[Anathem] is written in Smeerp, and thus was painful for me to attempt.

Except it really isn't. I see how you'd come to that conclusion, but Anathem's similar-sounding words/concepts run deeper than that. And they're integral to the story. It's actually one of my favorite aspects of the book. How Stephenson creates a very-similar-but-actually-different system of science, society, education, language, fauna, and so on.

I didn't read the "Note To The Reader" intro (because the author told me not to), so at first I had no idea why he went through such lengths to create such similar concepts in his novel. But they're there for a reason.
posted by Glee at 9:09 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't think I even made it to page 30: the entire book is written in Smeerp,

From Stephenson's introduction:
Names of some Arbre plant and animal species have been translated into rough Earth equivalents. So these characters may speak of carrots, potatoes, dogs, cats, etc. This doesn't mean that Arbre has exactly the same species.
It is isn't written in Smeerp at all. It is doing something quite specific and different with language but you have to actually read the novel - not just the first 30 pages - to understand this.

On a related point, I think some people might enjoy Adam Roberts review of Anathem.
posted by ninebelow at 9:20 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, no, no - really, I understand what Stephenson's doing with the alternative vocabulary - but that doesn't mean that I don't FLINCH whenever he uses a made-up word.

The reading experience of Anathem was not pleasurable for me. Yes, it's my fault, for having read too much Smeerp as a kid. But I have at least a thousand other books competing for my time, and many of them them are not going to be painful for me to read: Anathem loses.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 9:21 AM on July 18, 2009


Stuff on the list I have read/listened to:

Novels:
The Graveyard Book - YA or not, this is pretty good. It seems vaguely out of place on an SF award shortlist, but I guess people are using the term SF in it’s super-broad right-up-to-the-fuzziest-edges sense here.
Saturn’s Children - Not my favourite Stross (Glasshouse, for instance, is far, far better) but still good stuff - . And no, I can’t see why this would be called a YA novel.

(I shouldn’t comment on the others, which I've not read, but fancy prose does not seem to be the order of the day)

Novellas:
I guess I am not a novella reader

Novelette:
Shoggoths in Bloom - Well, I really liked this, for whatever it’s worth. Interestingly it has race as one of it's themes, given Liz Bears supposed horrible racism.

Short Stories:
26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss - I was deeply surprised at this not winning the Nebula award. TBH I think there's something kind of screwy about the Nebulas.
Evil Robot Monkey - Incredibly short, but well executed and kind of touching. Possibly themost unexpected thing I know of on the list.
Exhalation - Should win.

Hmm, I guiess I've read a lot less than I thought this year. Still, given that evidence I think you could pick up anything on the list and be assured of a good read. No horrible exceptions really spring to mind either. Nothing here is really blowing me away (well, except the always awesome Ted Chiang) Maybe this year was just a slow year?

Oh, and the Best Graphic Story category is a big pile of confused WTF to me.
posted by Artw at 9:30 AM on July 18, 2009


Gah, Nebula awards link should go here.

TBH I think as far as short stories go the BSFA had by far the best list.
posted by Artw at 9:36 AM on July 18, 2009


"The only reason I can think that it was nominated was that she read it at a reading with Scalzi."

I like the idea that I have this strange sort of magic power in which supplicants who but touch the hem of my garment are translated bodily onto the Hugo slate. Because of my ability to force people against their own will to place the works of my choosing on their nomination ballots. FEAR THE MYSTICAL POWER OF THE SCALZI.

The idea that Mary Robinette Kowal, winner of last year's John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer -- won on the strength of her short stories -- might possibly have written a short story that people might like enough to nominate, should not enter your brain at all.

Other than that, you know. We go through this every year: The Hugo shortlist comes out and people find some critical reason to fault it and the choices that the nominators have made. We have the "this is a mediocre list" kvetch every year, regardless of who is on the ballot, although sometimes there are specific kvetches -- in 2005, when the Worldcon was in Edinburgh, there were complaints that the entire Best Novel slate were from UK authors, without an American among them.

Likewise, every year, people who are dissatisfied with the slate find some external explanation (other than the obvious "the people who DID nominate nominated stuff I wouldn't have, not that [often] I bothered to nominate") to explain why the slate is what it is this particular year. This year it's "four of the five nominees have big Internet presences." However, as I've noted elsewhere, correlation is not causation, and the simpler explanation -- enough people read and liked these particular books enough to nominate -- is discounted.

I like this year's slate, but then I would, since I'm on it, and so are a number of my friends, all of whom who have written books I happen to like quite a bit. But independent of that, a) people should not be entirely surprised that an award dependent on voter participation will year in and year out tend toward nominating popular works from popular authors, b) as the voting is entirely open to anyone who buys a $50 supporting membership to the year's Worldcon, those dissatisfied with the annual slate should nominate and then vote. The number of votes required for novels and short stories to get onto the ballot are small enough that many times a single vote can make a difference.
posted by jscalzi at 9:37 AM on July 18, 2009 [8 favorites]


It is isn't written in Smeerp at all. It is doing something quite specific and different with language but you have to actually read the novel - not just the first 30 pages - to understand this.

That's not really true. The vast majority of the terms in the book are for sociological constructs relating to the whole Avout/Concent system. And they are there for a reason, Stephenson didn't just put them in because he's a hack who was trying to make his book more "interesting"

Anyway, unfortunately the beginning is kind of dull, but it really does get better. I don't want to give anything away, but it's not a book about people sitting around a monastery talking about science for 1,000 pages.
posted by delmoi at 9:41 AM on July 18, 2009


I'm actually surprised that no online concents have developed in the Earth Reticulum. I guess the avout life doesn't translate very well to virtual reality.
posted by DU at 9:59 AM on July 18, 2009


*touched hem of Scalzi's pope-dress*

*is cured of leprosy*

*dies from adult-onset SIDS*
posted by Mister_A at 10:01 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've only read one of the nominated books, but I've read earlier books by all of the other short-listed authors, and reviews of the nominated books (and in one case a kind of mea culpa by the author). The complaint rings true to me.

I don't think it matters that people have similar complaints every year. Perhaps the complaint is right every year, I haven't thought about that. But it very much seems right this year.

Are the fans' affections genuine? Well, let's not discount the effects of promoting your book assiduously on one of the best-trafficked sites on the Web. I suppose you can pretzel yourself into thinking that doesn't matter, but would you really want to? Practice some cognitive hygiene, man! But it doesn't matter. The larger point is that, even if voters are really voting for their favorite books, it doesn't look like they've chosen the best books. And that's disappointing.

Earlier posters on why the Hugo process might fail to choose the best books.
posted by grobstein at 10:14 AM on July 18, 2009


I'm actually surprised that no online concents have developed in the Earth Reticulum. I guess the avout life doesn't translate very well to virtual reality.
Avout, using the Reticulum? Blasphemy!
posted by AmberV at 10:17 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Cory Doctorow wrote something? I was unaware. He should have promoted it more.
posted by Ratio at 10:23 AM on July 18, 2009 [10 favorites]


...is there any person not suffering serious imbalances in their brain chemistry who really thinks...Iron Man...comes within a parsec of WALL-E and The Dark Knight in terms of beauty, cultural significance or quality?

If the author really thinks that Dark Knight was any better than Iron Man on the terms listed, I don't know what to say. They were both just very close translations of comics into films. If one belongs, they both do.

And WALL-E was in a different ballpark completely; mentioning it in the same breath as Dark Knight just seems strange.
posted by voltairemodern at 10:25 AM on July 18, 2009


the first of a no doubt long string of shortlists that have less to do with the quality of your work than with the level of your visibility on the web.

Very, very strongly favorited.
posted by Amanojaku at 10:53 AM on July 18, 2009


WALL-E was in a different ballpark completely; mentioning it in the same breath as Dark Knight just seems strange.

Seems apt to me.

Two films about quiet loners in apocalyptic hells-on-earth who have difficulty relating to women.


(Now say: "I'm the goddamn WALL-E.")
posted by rokusan at 10:57 AM on July 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


The problem with Anathem is the completely inhuman characters, not the smeerp.
posted by empath at 11:25 AM on July 18, 2009


Every review I've read has said that Anathem is even worse that the Baroque Cycle when it comes to extraneous verbiage and digressive chunks of text. Now, I really enjoyed chunks of the Baroque Cycle: some of it is fantastic. Unfortunately wading through the rest to get to those chunks was an exercise in tedium which I'm not keen to repeat.


Since there is just so much sheer narrative in the the Baroque Cycle, I felt free to completely skip chapters involving characters I didn't care about. Did the same thing for Vanity Fair, if I recall. The whole series of books was, for me, less about the characters and more about "hey! let's take a tour of the really weird bits of the 17th and 18th centuries thinly disguised as an adventure yarn!" cause I'm a huge history nerd.
posted by The Whelk at 11:33 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was not able to finish either Little Brother or Saturn's Children. The Science Fiction Book Club used to do a better job in steering me toward good books, but now it offers too many brand names who fail to live up to expectations. Still, once or twice a year I'll find some book worth treasuring.
posted by francesca too at 11:40 AM on July 18, 2009


"Practice some cognitive hygiene, man!"

Yes, the nominators overwhelmingly influenced by Web presence for Best Novel are the same nominators who still give the large majority of short fiction nominations to stories appearing in print (and in particular to stories appearing in the "big three" science fiction print magazines, and even more in particular appearing in Asimov's). So they are apparently unduly influenced both by online presence AND by print presence.

My cognitive hygiene is fine, thanks. As someone who has actually spent a fair amount of time over the last few years looking at the Hugo shortlists, I'm fairly confident that no one factor determines a spot on the list, and certainly not merely a large online presence, otherwise (as an example) Cory would be on his third Best Novel nomination rather than his first. Does having a vibrant online presence help? Sure, because in a general sense public visibility doesn't hurt when it comes to popular awards. But at the end of the day enough people have to genuinely like your novel (or short story, or whatever) enough to nominate it -- and people have to bother to nominate at all.

In any event, I'm not sure it entirely tracks that online visibility will cause someone to spend $50 or $225 (the cost of an attending Worldcon membership) just to vote for their online crush. People like their favorite writers, but that's a whole lot of fiscal commitment, and that money could go toward more books. People who buy worldcon memberships are fans of the genre, not just fans of a particular author. You may or may not agree with their nomination choices, but it's not necessarily accurate to suggest they don't have a grip on the range of the current SF field.
posted by jscalzi at 11:50 AM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


[Neal] Stephenson, maybe there's a chance he's recovered from the "Is there a David Foster Wallace for sci-fi yet? Well there is NOW!" syndrome he had symptoms of.

Heh. William Gibson: "Is there a Don Delillo for sci-fi yet? Well there is NOW!"

Somebody do Gaiman. The best I could come up with is "post-Pavement Stephen Malkmus."
posted by Ian A.T. at 11:58 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


the very heart’s-blood of literature is to draw people out of their comfort zone; to challenge and stimulate them, to wake and shake them

As a fan of SF since the golden age, I reject the claims made on SF by you people who worry about it being 'literature'. Screw you.

Golden Age SF reached me in the remote wilderness where I lived and challenged and stimulated me FAR beyond the pale academic bloodless definition of mere literature. They encouraged me to dream that I could get away from the madness all around me and go somewhere in the universe where reason could have a real shot at survival.

Screw your literature. And Bravo for popular opinion. Cuz SF folks are the tops.
posted by Twang at 12:21 PM on July 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Justinian: "SPIN in 2006 is a seminal work that absolutely deserved to be there."

I kept seeing lots of panegyrics to Spin for around a year until I bought it. Reading it, I had this profound sense of promnesia. Like, 'I've read this before'! Then I consciously remembered: Greg Egan's 1992 Quarantine was just one most recent, visible exemplar of this "skyshield" subgenre. I think back to the 1950s SF and something like Poul Anderson's 1954 Brain Wave along with a bunch of 1950s pulps and the minor wave of 1980s "cosmic filter" shorts (mostly UK-oriented). What in Spin is "seminal"? Does the sequel kick it up to a new level?
posted by meehawl at 12:51 PM on July 18, 2009


A few random comments:

I'd have said Stephenson is trying to be Pynchon, not DFW. But then DFW was probably trying to be Pynchon too, or at least doffing his hat in TP's direction. [And the editions of PKD I used to read had a reviewer's description of him as 'a poor man's Thomas Pynchon'; presumably because they thought it was a compliment].

Am I the only one here who actually liked the Baroque Cycle?

Adam Roberts' own writing isn't really that good. Certainly not as good as Stross or Stephenson (yes yes, IMO).

The blog post linked by jscalzi, above, is worth reading.
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:59 PM on July 18, 2009


Well, I liked it. Started being a bit of a slog towards the end though.

That's probably a factor in why i've not read Anatheum. Still, some day.
posted by Artw at 1:55 PM on July 18, 2009


I dug Baroque Cycle (have all three autographed) and Anathem, and thought both were quite superior to his earlier works. However I can certainly see how they (especially the former) would be not only an acquired taste, but one of those things that many folks will just never have the taste-buds for. That's fine, we have millions of books to choose from for this very reason.
posted by AmberV at 2:04 PM on July 18, 2009


I have only read a couple of the short pieces on that list, Shoggoths in Bloom and From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled but both were quite good. If you really want to know what the best short fiction is take teraflop's advice and buy Dozois' Year's Best and decide for yourself. That's been been my approach for the last decade or so. Where the awards really matter is in selecting SF novels to read. Free time is scarcer than the cost of a book. If the awards don't correspond to the best novels of the year what SF novels would mefites say were the best? If you could only read one or two this year what would you choose?
posted by Tashtego at 2:09 PM on July 18, 2009


this years shortlist as the first of a no doubt long string of shortlists that have less to do with the quality of your work than with the level of your visibility on the web.

Is that really that different from the past, when the authors who wrote letters to and columns for the various SF magazines, and schmoozed the convention circuit had the edge? Eventually as everyone moves on to the web, it will even out again.
posted by fings at 2:19 PM on July 18, 2009


Lets just say that I think you're right, but I suspect that there's pressure on Ted [Chiang] to write something longer form (that the publisher can sell).

Yeah, uh, given how shall we say... swimmingly... his foray in working with a publisher to put out a book ("Stories of Your Life and Others") went I suspect this isn't the case. He was such an absolute joy to work with that the publisher essentially gave up and put out something they knew wouldn't sell to the point it almost qualifies as deliberately sabotaging their own sales.

charlie wrote: I'm muttering irritably because I'm actually agreeing with Justinian about McDevitt. He can write well, it's just that he's taken the adage "write what you know" a little too seriously.

That's because you have good taste and a talent for writing even if I thought GLASSHOUSE was better than SATURN'S CHILDREN. I'm sure this opinion will keep you up at night worrying.

re: 4 skimmer crashes in 3 books for the main characters of McDevitt's series. 40,000 people a year die in car crashes in the United States. Perhaps he has a handle on human nature?

Perhaps I was too opaque. These were the same characters and this occured over the span of a few years. And these were all near-death harrowing escapes. And skimmers as depicted are vastly safer than cars to the point that skimmer crashes are extraordinarily rare. And, lastly and tellingly, they were all sabotage. Yes, these people had their skimmers sabotaged 4 times and they didn't think maybe it was time to find another mode of travel or comment on that fact.

Re: John Scalzi's spirited disagreement that web presence is a prime factor in this year's shortlist.

I've made it clear I think that it is, and that going forward we'll see similar things. I don't think pointing out that Doctorow (for example) has in the past published books that didn't make the shortlist is a rebuttal because I think a critical mass has been reach. This is a testable hypothesis and the next 5 to 7 years will reveal who is correct.

What in Spin is "seminal"?

You're right, I shouldn't have said seminal. It's far too early to tell if that's the case. I think it was a stunningly good work but I retract calling it seminal.
posted by Justinian at 3:14 PM on July 18, 2009


It is truly shocking that an open vote may have possibly turned into a partial popularity contest. This has never happened before and will never happen again.

I also like that the boingboing bashers came out of their caves to feast. I just wish that I had remembered my camera. It is especially nice in the spring when the Cory Bashers and the Xeni Bashers put on a display of their plumage for each other while circling the FPP. In the aminal kingdom it is the greatest of mate-selection displays.
posted by Fuka at 3:16 PM on July 18, 2009


It is truly shocking that an open vote may have possibly turned into a partial popularity contest. This has never happened before and will never happen again.

Well aren't you a jaded, special snowflake?
posted by grobstein at 3:59 PM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I also like that the boingboing bashers came out of their caves to feast.

There are nolonger any caves. The hordes outgrew them. They walk among us now, always. And they are Legion, for many devils are entered into them.
posted by Glee at 4:15 PM on July 18, 2009


Ah, this thread makes me want to go re-read Anathem. I liked that & the Baroque Cycle too.

I think the vocabulary in Anathem helped with expectations, like the Linux analogue in Cryptonomicon, "Finux;" it saves readers thinking "oh, that's a _____," & only later realizing that it's different, & then criticizing him for not doing the research.
posted by Pronoiac at 4:53 PM on July 18, 2009


I also like that the boingboing bashers came out of their caves to feast.

Oh grow up. Plenty of people in this thread have offered cogent reasons as to why they don't like Cory Doctorow's writing. It's not some crew of ditto heads going "BOO BOO BOING BOING".
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 5:02 PM on July 18, 2009


I also like that the boingboing bashers came out of their caves to feast.

I stopped reading BoingBoing long ago when I realized it had become an echo chamber for petulant, self-important douchebags and fussy man-children whoenjoy the smell of their own cyber-farts. I bash BoingBoing because it is fun, and almost too easy.

See also: this very telling visualization of Boing Boing word frequency.
posted by Ratio at 5:14 PM on July 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Hmmph. Three of the five Hugo-nominated novelists have accounts at Metafilter. How about that?

Maybe four: did I dream that Neal Stephenson has an account here too?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:50 PM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hell, two of them are in this thread.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 5:53 PM on July 18, 2009


'struth. Congrats to jscalzi and cstross on your nominations!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:33 PM on July 18, 2009


Justinian:

"I don't think pointing out that Doctorow (for example) has in the past published books that didn't make the shortlist is a rebuttal because I think a critical mass has been reach."

So the Internet is absolutely a factor, except when it's not? That makes sense. Likewise I'm sure the fact that Little Brother sold a major multiple of his previous books, hit the NYT bestseller list, and was the subject of an intense marketing push by Tor and received major critical applause and that people like the book has very little to do with the nomination. Nope, it's all just the Internet.

Look, folks: When you say "oh, it's mostly the Internet," you look kind of uninformed, to be polite about it, to those of us who know actually how much work goes into selling and marketing these things. That four out of five nominees have a significant presence on the Internet is utterly unsurprising in a time when nearly all writers are advised to blog and Twitter their hearts out in order to build up a fandom. Internet fame plays a role, sure, but ultimately the fetishistic belief that it is fundamentally causative is just that, fetishistic. You're ultimately just better off accepting the fact that some people just like different books than you might, and they bothered to nominate.
posted by jscalzi at 10:31 PM on July 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Since it's been mentioned... fans of the boing boing mega-thread will be pleased to know that there is a new Violent Blue in boing boings life... how long before it all goes wrong again?
posted by Artw at 10:42 PM on July 18, 2009


1. Good god, what is it with their obsession with porn?
2. I wonder how many of Cory's new YA audience reads Boing Boing.
3. "Takuan" sure comes across as a world-class prick.
posted by Ratio at 11:08 PM on July 18, 2009


1. Good god, what is it with their obsession with porn?

Page impressions --> ad revenue.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:07 AM on July 19, 2009


A type of fiction where Cory Doctorow can win any type of merit-based award is fundamentally flawed.

This has nothing to do with boingboing; it has to do with the man's ability to construct sentences. He could be the coolest, hippest, most cutting-edge copy fighter in town (and he probably is) but that is irrelevant. He is a very, very bad writer -- high school AP english bad -- and his presence on any type of meritorious shortlist invalidates a genre, no matter if it was contemporaries or fans that put him there.

Unless he's gotten like, a hundred thousand times better since I read him about three years ago. In which case, I take back everything above.
posted by Damn That Television at 12:15 AM on July 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


So the Internet is absolutely a factor, except when it's not? That makes sense.

I didn't say that at all. I'm making a hypothesis (which I believe is likely true) and a prediction about the future. I'm saying that the increasing importance of the web and internet has reached a critical mass in terms of promoting books for a Hugo Award and that the result is not what I would consider optimal. I'm not saying Hugo voters are stupid, I'm saying that I think the Hugo Award would be more to my liking if this wasn't the case. I'm not enough of a jerk to imply I'm being objective. And, hell, you admit the increasing importance of the internet in book marketing in your very post.

I don't think I'm peeing in your Cheerios when I say that I believe the internet's increasing importance, which you acknowledge, has in the last couple years reached the point where it has overtaken other factors which I believe should be paramount in choosing the books on the Hugo Award shortlist. But this is academic; one of us will be proven right in the coming years. If your next novel isn't nominated for the Hugo (and is of a quality at least comparable to ZOE'S TALE, which I don't think should be a problem as I obviously consider it not your greatest work... and to be clear, I am a big fan of OLD MAN'S WAR and some of your other work) then I'm out to lunch.

You'll of course argue that it being nominated isn't evidence that I'm right since if ZOE'S TALE was considered one of the best books of the year by Hugo voters, your next book if of comparable quality would quite possibly also be one of the best books of the year. That's true. But certainly the next two or three Hugo shortlists will give us enough examples to at least rule out if one of us is obviously wrong.

And again, if I thought your work wasn't worthwhile I wouldn't give a crap and wouldn't be talking about it. I generally don't bother talking about how bad, say, Tom Kratman's latest fascistic paean is. I just don't think ZOE'S TALE was, for a lot of reasons, one of your better novels. And I also know from reading your blog and so forth that you are going to put exactly no stock in this opinion (and you should not). But I wanted to point out that I am actually a reader of your books... I even have one of those AGENT TO THE STARS with the cover by the Penny Arcade guys... and am not being an internet jerk. I'm a lot more critical of works by somebody I think can write than of somebody I think cannot write.

Look, folks: When you say "oh, it's mostly the Internet," you look kind of uninformed, to be polite about it, to those of us who know actually how much work goes into selling and marketing these things.

I'm sure that's quite true, and if that's what I was saying then you were right. When I point out the correlation here I'm not saying it's MOSTLY the internet. I'm saying that the internet has become a big enough factor that it is putting books that ten years ago wouldn't have made the shortlist onto the shortlist, and I don't think that's a good thing. That could mean the internet is only 10% of the equation. I think it's bigger than that but certainly I wouldn't say it's "mostly" the internet. If you turned in a brown paper bag with your latest John Norman pastiche scribbled on it you would not make the shortlist.

So, no, I'm not making the uninformed statement that the only reason you're on the shortlist is the internet. I'm saying that without the internet I don't think certain books would be on the shortlist, and I absolutely believe that to be true. And those are very different statements.

It's similar to the Sawyer Hugo which I know kind of annoys you when people go on about it, so I won't. I'll only say that it's an analogous case; Sawyer is often on the shortlist because there is a sizable minority of people who really like his work. But he doesn't win because there is a bigger group of people who don't think his books are the best of the year. Except when Worldcon was in Toronto. The fact that it was in Toronto isn't, then, the only reason he won; he's often on the shortlist. But an analysis of the numbers shows it almost certainly put him over the top.

That is not just bitching at a "hometown crowd". Obviously he and you have a big fanbase. I don't think hypothesizing that your heavy interactive internet presence pushed you from 91% to 102% in terms of the vote needed to get on the shortlist is that big a stretch.

Sorry, I just think you're oversimplifying what I'm saying to a point where it is misrepresentative. Maybe that's my fault for being hyperbolic. In any case, it's not as simple as you're making it out to be.
posted by Justinian at 3:44 AM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just lost 5 hours of my life to Abigail Nussbaum's website. Very good reading.
posted by hindmost at 3:47 AM on July 19, 2009


Or—Gaiman’s Jungle Book retread, The Graveyard Book. This is better-made than some of Gaiman’s other novels, and it melts a little corner of my belief that Gaiman is a great writer of graphic novels but an indifferent novelist.
I am so glad to see someone else say that about Gaiman. Everyone seems to loooove his books but I feel like there's something missing at the core of all of them that I can't put my finger on, but that artists seem to fill in the gaps on. Or maybe I just have lower expectations for comics.

The Hugos have always been about what's popular, not what's great. A while back I decided to start reading Hugo and Nebula winning books from the entire history of SF. For the most part, I found that the Hugo-winners were... not as good... as the Nebula-winners. Some were still decent, but it was the Nebula-winners that were more likely to make me think, more likely to remain in my head afterwards, while the Hugo-winners were more likely to just be a light, fun read that I'd kinda seen before.
posted by egypturnash at 4:37 AM on July 19, 2009


Wait a minute... Cory's written a novel?! Why didn't anyone tell me?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:16 AM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


For what it's worth -- now that the voting is closed -- my money is on Cory for the win this year. (Consider: LITTLE BROTHER hit #9 on the New York Times YA bestseller list, meaning lots of exposure. He's got the "home mover" advantage at a Canadian worldcon. And LITTLE BROTHER's subject material is topical and in sync with the zeitgeist.)
posted by cstross at 5:24 AM on July 19, 2009


He is a very, very bad writer

Really? Personally I thought Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom was superb, and though I haven't really liked anything much he's done novel-wise since I thought Overclocked had some great short stories, After the Seige in particular.
posted by Artw at 6:20 AM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Man I really should get in the habit before reading the whole thread to see if someone's already got in a particular snark before me...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:07 AM on July 19, 2009


And LITTLE BROTHER's subject material is topical and in sync with the zeitgeist

It definitely resonates with Cory's target audience -- it's an anthology of his most pedantic blog posts pasted on top of a paranoid adolescent dystopia and peppered with nerd-hipster buzzwords.
posted by Ratio at 7:55 AM on July 19, 2009


Yeah, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is good but Little Brother is a bag of shite. As Ratio say, it is the worst bits of BoingBoing strung together with a horrific CorySue protagonist and a conclusion that actually undermines everything he thinks he was say.
posted by ninebelow at 8:23 AM on July 19, 2009


That's interesting, egypturnash. Last night I checked the Hugo Award History pages and compared with my sci fi shelves. 2004--2009, of the 30 listed: 6 read and 12 still unread. So since 2004 I have bought 18 that're on the Hugo lists (a few more were only on the Nebula lists, and I think at least 10 were on neither but I didn't look beyond 2004).

I don't remember ever paying attention to mentions of awards/nominations making a purchase. (Though I'm sure they had some indirect influence -- extra marketing budget, getting stocked by the bookstores I frequent, etc.)

Made me wonder how I did choose the sci fi books on my shelves. (Only example I remember clearly was becoming a sci fi reader as a teen: heard about this hip new "cyberpunk" thing -- likely years after the fact -- on some obscure late night radio show, got Neuromancer and it blew my mind.) The internet's obviously an influence today, but I don't follow any sci fi blogs/sites/authors, don't care about awards, stopped paying attention to e.g. Amazon's recommendations after the third dud years ago.

Metafilter might be the reason I have Scalzi and Stross books (both authors still unread for some reason, but Old Man's War and Accelerando are on my vacation to-read list).

I do go to the two half-decent bookstores in my small hometown and semi-regularly check the tiny english sci fi sections. So I still buy a fair amount of new books/authors the old-fashioned way: riffling, catching an interesting title, reading the back cover and random passages, even by the cover art (sci fi has some of the most atrocious cover art of any genre so a good looking book catches my eye).

And that pathetically unexamined and uninformed decision-making process has actually performed pretty well.
posted by Glee at 8:48 AM on July 19, 2009


The Science Fiction Industry Needs Reviewers, Not Awards
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:57 AM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


On the Guardian books blog, Sam Jordison is making his way through the Hugo winners of the past... proving that even in the golden age some real duffers were not only nominated but won.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:19 AM on July 19, 2009


Wow, he really doesn't like Fritz Leiber.
posted by Artw at 11:35 AM on July 19, 2009


More so than other popular fiction, science fiction is about
something. Good science fiction is full of interesting ideas. But: if
it's not a good story and doesn't work as entertainment, it doesn't matter
how important someone thinks a book should be.
posted by and for no one at 1:50 PM on July 19, 2009


I am so glad to see someone else say that about Gaiman. Everyone seems to loooove his books but I feel like there's something missing at the core of all of them that I can't put my finger on, but that artists seem to fill in the gaps on. Or maybe I just have lower expectations for comics.

No, I'd agree he hasn't done, in novel form, anything with the punch of A Game of You, for example, or the other great Sandman arcs.

I find his prose short stories very good, I enjoyed American Gods, although it read like Stephen King (and I mean that in a good way) rather than Gaiman, and I found Anansi Boys extremely dissapointing, mostly because it seemed to spend a lot of time telling me what to think about it.
posted by rodgerd at 4:56 PM on July 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


There are specific Nebula and Hugo winners I consider awful. Some of both I consider great. Some of both I consider flawed but interesting. Some of both I consider to be essentially lifetime achievement awards honoring an important author for a minor work. I haven't found either to be constently better than the other.

I loved American Gods and Anansi Boys, but am lukewarm on The Graveyard Book. I think Little Brother had some flaws and some strengths, and I liked it a lot better than many in this thread did. I haven't read the others, but Anathem is on my shelf. I couldn't name, off the top of my head, another 2008 sf novel I read.

Thing is, pretty much no one's qualified to say what the best in the field is, because no one can read anything close to all of it. People mostly read the writers they already like, and they're mostly who get nominated for the awards -- both the Nebula and Hugo short lists come from straight up popularity contests among their respective populations (plus one work added to the Nebula short list by a jury.) The rich get richer.

The net is probably magnifying the power law effect, but it was already there. It'll be interesting to see how it shapes up in years to come.

Bitter arguments about the awards boil down to "your taste in bands sucks."
posted by Zed at 10:03 PM on July 19, 2009


I am so glad to see someone else say that about Gaiman. Everyone seems to loooove his books but I feel like there's something missing at the core of all of them that I can't put my finger on, but that artists seem to fill in the gaps on.

I find his prose overly precious. I'm not quite sure exactly what it is, but I feel like he writes all of them for a precocious 9 year old niece/nephew, even when they're supposedly for adults. I think that's why I enjoyed Coraline much more than American Gods (which I couldn't finish), since I knew I was reading a book for children when I picked it up.

Sandman is still amazing, though.
posted by empath at 11:05 PM on July 19, 2009


I'm working my way through Graveyard Book and it seems to me that Gaiman has gone a bit sentimental with his thing of fantasy lands as less absurd and more authentic than the real-life realms they co-inhabit. Perhaps I'm just jaded, but I really don't get the same feeling that characters are playing with fire when they encounter what lurks behind the mundane.

In films, I'm not offended by Iron Man on the list, but I thought it was a pretty lazy adaptation in contrast to The Dark Knight which I thought was more challenging and ambiguous. But science fiction cinema has been seriously suffering this year.

I've not read any Doctrorow since Someone Comes to Town which is a great and creepy novella if you read every other chapter and sort of ignore the barely-relevant free-bandwidth screed.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:28 AM on July 20, 2009


Iron man and Dark Knight are a testiment to the power of actors: Iron man would be on a par with either an above average Sci Fi original or the second Hulk movie if not for Robert Downy Junior. If not for a superb performance by Heath Ledger (and, lets face it, his subsequence death) Dark Knight would be laughed at as a confused sprawling bore-fest.
posted by Artw at 9:33 AM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just can't get past Christian Bale in Dark Knight. Chris, what gives with the silly voice? So yeah, I agree with Artw, Heath Ledger made the film. Should've called it The Joker.
posted by Mister_A at 1:53 PM on July 20, 2009


Completely tangentially, I wish Ted Chiang would write a novel.

No! Wait! When the djinni offers you three wishes, you don't ask for a Ted Chaing novel, you ask him to grant Ted Chaing the ability to write his perfect short stories 3x faster. (Maybe 4, if it's a particularly awesome and powerful djinni.)
posted by straight at 3:17 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one here who actually liked the Baroque Cycle?

I started the first book twice and kept putting it aside for something else.

Then I discovered the fantastic unabridged audio recording of them (sadly out of print and bizarrely almost impossible to find any trace that it ever existed with Google -- other than links to sites where you might find an alternative way of obtaining it). I wish I could remember the reader's name, but he is fantastic. An absolutely perfect match for Stephenson's writing -- understated, totally getting and bringing out the subtle humor.

Listening to this guy read the Baroque Cycle has been an utter joy. (And when there are the occasional passages where Stephenson goes on too long about something, it's much easier to just let them drift by until he gets back to the good stuff.)
posted by straight at 4:13 PM on July 20, 2009


straight: This may be helpful:

Amazon.com

Audioeditions
Quicksilver:
The Baroque Cycle, Volume One
Author: Neal Stephenson
Reader: Simon Prebble and Stina Nielsen

posted by toddie at 7:11 PM on July 20, 2009


Number crunching the Hugos
posted by Artw at 9:50 AM on July 21, 2009


Weirdly I don't seem to have ever read anything by awards machine Connie Willis. Possibly something I should correct.
posted by Artw at 9:55 AM on July 21, 2009


Weirdly I don't seem to have ever read anything by awards machine Connie Willis. Possibly something I should correct.

Good choice. YMMV obviously. It was quite a while ago, but I remember really liking Doomsday Book and I had a great time reading To Say Nothing Of The Dog. Her "time-travel novels." She has many interesting ideas and an original voice that I personally enjoyed.

(Don't remember much from my other Willis novels: Bellwether and Uncharted Territory, or the short stories in Firewatch. Read them yeeears ago though, so they could well be very good too.)
posted by Glee at 10:23 AM on July 21, 2009


Number crunching the Hugos

This is a cool picture, but I think giving equal weight to the short- and long-form awards is more distorting than enlightening. So Kim Stanley Robinson has two for Best Novel and Spider Robinson has two for short-form, and on this chart they appear to be equally recognized. It's unfair to the Hugo voters because it makes them look even less discerning than they are.
posted by grobstein at 10:28 AM on July 21, 2009


I'd say the Willis to read if you're reading only one is her Fire Watch collection. Then the time travel novels Glee mentions, or the Impossible Things collection.
posted by Zed at 10:43 AM on July 21, 2009


Toddie, thanks, but that's a different version - it's abridged, only the first volume, and has a different reader. I have an unabridged version of all three books, originally released on an enormous pile of cassettes.
posted by straight at 3:12 PM on July 21, 2009


Grobstein, I'm not sure how you think that's distorting? I think the short-form awards are far more important than the novel awards, because that's really the only way that shorter stuff gets any attention at all. (When's the last time you read a review a short story or novella?) And yet the short story is where a lot of the most wonderful, innovative SF happens.

Imagine how impoverished SF would be without the shorter works of Gene Wolfe, Greg Egan, Issac Asimov, Larry Niven, Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Harlan Ellison, Lucius Shepard, Ted Chiang, Bruce Sterling, Damon Knight...(to just name a few of my favorites).
posted by straight at 3:28 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


So possibly we disagree, but I just want to point out that our statements are not in contradiction: on the one hand, the short-form awards can be more important as an institution, for the functional reason you've given. On the other hand, winning a single novel award may say more about the author's strength than winning a single short-form award.
posted by grobstein at 4:19 PM on July 21, 2009


You're right, grobstein, my point was somewhat orthogonal to yours. I think what I meant to say is that, if you agree that the short form is where some of the most interesting and innovative SF happens, then writing the best short story might be more of an accomplishment than writing the best novel.

But I'll just come out and assert that it takes as much or more genius to write the best short story of the year as it does to write the best novel of the year.

And I'll also say that, as I glance over the Hugo and Nebula nominees for the past several years (I'm not widely-read enough to just compare the winners), I think that in most years there are works in the short forms that definitely outshine what I've read of the novels for that year. (But I see too many years where I haven't read the winning novel for me to offer a definite opinion that the best short stuff is better than the best novels.)
posted by straight at 8:06 PM on July 21, 2009


An Open Letter to Adam Roberts
posted by Artw at 11:38 AM on July 22, 2009


From last year: Science fiction awards shortlists are a hotbed of rivalry, intrigue and a desperate desire for literary respectability
posted by Artw at 12:04 PM on July 22, 2009


Kevin Standlee, the chairman of the Hugo Awards Marketing Committee has been commenting over at my blog, and we're having an interesting conversation about how to enhance the quality and authority of science-fiction reviews. If anyone is still paying attention, you should come over and help me persuade him to add a "Best Long-form Review" category to the lineup next year!
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:34 AM on July 24, 2009


I saw your post, anotherpanacea, but it did make me wonder how familar you are with the current state of science fiction reviewing. There are venues like, for example, the New York review of Science Fiction and Strange Horizons as well as reviewers like John Clute.

With regards to a proposed "Best Long-form Review" category, you might not be aware but the BSFA awards have a simialr category as well as a community for making recommendations. This might give you some suggestions.

I guess I should continue this over at your blog.
posted by ninebelow at 6:58 AM on July 24, 2009


The Hugo Awards - Success at Picking the Best, How Well it Represents the Genre, 2009 Predictions & Overlooked Titles
posted by Artw at 9:41 AM on August 5, 2009


2009 Hugo Best Short Story Spotlight

Bit of a diss to Exhalation - "not really about anything"???
posted by Artw at 9:46 AM on August 5, 2009


2009 Hugo Best Novella Spotlight
posted by Artw at 9:46 AM on August 5, 2009


Tor also seem to be doing pieces on each novel in turn: Zöe’s Tale
posted by Artw at 9:54 AM on August 5, 2009


Bit of a diss to Exhalation - "not really about anything"???

Sheesh. What a doofus. How could he write for a SF publication and not realize this story is about entropy? It's quite obviously a (wonderful) contribution to a long-running theme in SF stretching back at least as far as Asimov's "The Last Question".
posted by straight at 12:27 PM on August 5, 2009


I'm sorry, but that guy is a bad reader and should not be published. He also totally misunderstood the ending of Robert Reed's awesome story The Truth.
posted by straight at 12:30 PM on August 5, 2009


2009 Hugo Best Novelette Spotlight
posted by Artw at 12:31 PM on August 5, 2009


straight - well, he is some Steampunk dude. He was probably distracted by all the brass and such. He also missed out on my favourite aspect of the story, how the robots are engaged in a flowering of natural philosophy and discovery of their own inner workings which neatly parralels the birth of science in our own 17th and 18th century.
posted by Artw at 12:36 PM on August 5, 2009


Sheesh. What a doofus.

What is this, the family-friendly corner of MeFi?
posted by fleacircus at 12:34 AM on August 6, 2009


Klima isn't "some Steampunk dude".

It is true that his analysis here is pretty poor but I have to agree with him that 'Exhalation' is good instead of excellent. Sure, it is an allegory of entropy but that is a pretty lame idea for a story. It will obviously win though.
posted by ninebelow at 4:17 AM on August 6, 2009


Has the text of the review been updated? I don't see any ascription of it being "not really about anything." For myself, I feel about "Exhalation" the same way I feel about some Silverberg -- it's technically masterful, but somewhat cold and remote in its perfection.
posted by Zed at 7:48 AM on August 6, 2009


2009 Hugo Best Novel Nominee Spotlight: Saturn’s Children, by Charles Stross
posted by Artw at 9:13 AM on August 6, 2009


I don't see any ascription of it being "not really about anything."

This bit:

When it’s discovered that the source of the air is slowly diminishing over time, I couldn’t help but see the parallel with our own overuse of natural resources. Chiang very cleverly uses his story as an allegory of our own lives and how we are using resources without thinking about the fact that the resources are not endless. Still, I had a lot of difficulty with this story. I kept feeling like I was just missing something in its telling. Like there was some other allegory going on that was completely beyond me.

Also John Klima is the editor of the Hugo and World Fantasy nominated magazine Electric Velocipede. == some steampunk dude.
posted by Artw at 9:15 AM on August 6, 2009


"Exhalation" is a fairly pure example of what is called (often derisively) an "idea story" in which the premise is the story. Plot and characterization are incidental. If contemplation of the sublime is not what you're looking for in literature, it's probably going to leave you cold. Me, that's one of the main reasons I value science fiction, what I consider to be it's chief artistic contribution.

I used to think that the idea story was unique to science fiction, but C.S. Lewis points out that mythology works in a similar way. In his afterward to Till We Have Faces (his greatest work of fiction, a wonderful fantasy novel that tackles religious themes with none of the proselytizing of the Narnia books), he argues that when people think of, say, the myth of Prometheus, they're thinking of the basic plot of someone stealing fire from the gods and being punished with eternal torment, rather than of Aeschylus's play or any other particular telling of the story. People know the stories of Pandora's Box or Icarus's Wings without being able to recall where they read or heard them. Lewis argues that all the power and beauty of these myths is there in the bare bones summary.
posted by straight at 9:32 AM on August 6, 2009


I know who Klima is: Despite the zine's name, it's certainly not a requirement to write steampunk to be considered
posted by ninebelow at 9:45 AM on August 6, 2009


Steampunk dude.
posted by Artw at 9:47 AM on August 6, 2009


"Despite the zine's name, it's certainly not a requirement to write steampunk to be considered, but you will catch my ear if you do."

Steampunk dude.
posted by languagehat at 10:49 AM on August 6, 2009


John Klima.

A steampunk dude.
posted by ninebelow at 11:24 AM on August 6, 2009


He may look like Standard Model SF/Fantasy #1 fan on the outside but I'm sure inside there beats a heart of pure iron. Powered by steam. With lots of cogs. And rods and cams and stuff....
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:54 PM on August 6, 2009


2009 Hugo Best Novel Nominee Spotlight: Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
posted by Artw at 1:16 PM on August 8, 2009


The starshipsofa spin off Sofanauts is podcasting some pretty good coverage of worldcon. And theres some MP3 goodness over at Charlie Stross's website.
posted by Artw at 2:43 PM on August 8, 2009


Convention Reporter - Currently covering the 2009 Worldcon - Anticipation

Hmm... possibly I should be spinning this stuff into a seperate post.
posted by Artw at 2:57 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


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