Hugo Awards

The Three-Body Problem

The ascension of geek culture in the United States has meant that long marginalized genres like Science Fiction have become more acceptable, or at least tolerated. Ironically, this acknowledgement from the literary mainstream seems to be part of the current culture war, what with Sad Puppies whining about message fiction and anti-puppies trying to counter the surprisingly successful efforts to return SF to the gutter (as it were). While many have cast this as a political issue, and there certainly is a political component, I’ve always thought that Eric S. Raymond’s analysis of the situation, based more on the qualities of literary fiction, was more cogent:

Literary status envy is the condition of people who think that all genre fiction would be improved by adopting the devices and priorities of late 19th- and then 20th-century literary fiction. Such people prize the “novel of character” and stylistic sophistication above all else. They have almost no interest in ideas outside of esthetic theory and a very narrow range of socio-political criticism. They think competent characters and happy endings are jejune, unsophisticated, artistically uninteresting. They love them some angst.

People like this are toxic to SF, because the lit-fic agenda clashes badly with the deep norms of SF. Many honestly think they can fix science fiction by raising its standards of characterization and prose quality, but wind up doing tremendous iatrogenic damage because they don’t realize that fixating on those things (rather than the goals of affirming rational knowability and inducing a sense of conceptual breakthrough) produces not better SF but a bad imitation of literary fiction that is much worse SF.

Into this weary situation comes The Three-Body Problem, by China’s most popular science-fiction writer Liu Cixin (translated by Ken Liu, no relation). In China, the situation is somewhat different. After decades in which Chinese SF was subject to the whims of Communist Party rule, first as a way to “popularizing science for socialist purposes”, then as a pariah that was “promoting decadent capitalist elements”, it appears that SF is on the rise again. Liu has capitalized on the rising sentiment, and his most popular books are now getting translated and generating buzz amongst SF fandom.

Liu’s work is often described in terms of Golden Age SF, and in particular, the work of Arthur C. Clarke. At first, I was not sure if this book would be living up to that promise. There was a great deal of time and attention placed on cultural forces acting on science towards the beginning of the book (in particular, Liu spends a fair amount of time with the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 60s and 70s). Then there are some interesting, but seemingly not SF occurrences, such as a scientist who notices a number in his photographs. It appears to be a countdown, but he cannot account for how the number is appearing or what it is counting down to. There are a host of other, seemingly impossible events. There is a video game that is oddly hallucinatory and difficult to get through. And so on…

It turns out that this is all window dressing. The historical bits set the scene, the seemingly impossible occurrences generate a crisis amongst Earth scientists, and the video game holds the key to explaining what is going on. This episodic and oddly disjointed setup starts to click at some point, and the pieces start to fall together. Sometimes, it’s a little clunky or overwrought, but it comes together well in the end.

At its heart, it’s a first contact story, and if you’re familiar with those, you know that fiction rarely shies away from the inherent possibilities for conflict there. It was again a bit worrying at the start, because one of the main factions on earth are people who want the aliens to come to our planet because they don’t think the human race is worthy of existence (or something along those pessimistic lines), but it seems clear that this is not where the series is going, it’s just part of a lengthy setup. The aliens themselves are rather interesting, existing in a Tri-Solar system (one of a few references to the titular “three bodies”), a wildly unpredictable state of affairs that has guided their evolution and frequently destroys their civilizations (when, for example, two or three of the suns are in certain configuration, the planet becomes, shall we say, unsuitable to life.)

This is all a bit unconventional from a Western point of view, and why wouldn’t it be? It’s also one of the things that makes this an interesting book to grapple with. From a plot or character standpoint, it feels a bit lacking, but there are many rich thematic elements that one could explore here. These basically come down to competition and disruption. The conflict between civilizations at this book’s core could easily be applied to more mundane struggles, from industrial competition, to the rise of China in relation to the West. Disruption is a key element of business, creating and/or destroying markets, often through the use of technology. It is how people react to such disruptions that are the point, and the rival factions on earth reacting to the coming Aliens is a good example.

There are some fantastical elements that threaten to break it away from SF, especially earlier in the book. As mentioned above, these do come together well enough in the end, though Liu’s cleverness is in the way he sets it up. The early, nearly complete lack of realism sets a point of reference such that, when Liu does get around to explaining why these things are happening, it feels acceptable even though it’s mostly hokum. Chaos Horizon explains it well:

While some of the scientific sections are sound, others are deliberately exaggerated. Near the end, there’s a bravura sequence where an alien civilization “unravels” a proton from 11 dimensions to 1, 2, and 3 dimensions, and then inscribes some sort of computer on that seemingly miniscule space. It’s one of the most fascinating pieces of bullshit I’ve read in years, but it is bullshit nonetheless.

Fascinating bullshit, indeed. I was more than willing to go with it.

This being the first book in a trilogy, little is resolved in the end, though it does finish on a positive note and it leaves you wanting more. The next volume is scheduled to be published next year, and I’m greatly looking forward to it, which says a lot.

I read this earlier in the year as part of my Hugo Award coverage. It came out late last year and was steadily building steam, and once it was nominated for a Nebula award, I thought I should check it out. I’m glad I did, and it made my Hugo ballot, but once the official nominees were released (and this book wasn’t on their), I kinda scuttled doing a full review. However, since this year’s Hugo awards are so weirdly contentious, one of the Best Novel nominees dropped out of the race. I’m not sure if this is unprecedented or not, but it’s highly unlikely nonetheless (authors often refuse their nomination, but are given a chance to do so before the finalists are announced – this situation where an author sees the lay of the year’s Hugo land and simply opts out was surprising) and many were expecting this to mean that the Best Novel category would only include 4 nominees. After all, adding the next most popular nominee would tell everyone who got the least nominating votes (info that is only published after the awards are handed out) and honestly, given the current situation, this precedent seems ripe for abuse. Nevertheless, the Hugo administrators opted to fill the open slot with The Three-Body Problem (a non-Puppy nominee, though from what I’ve seen, the Puppies seem to really enjoy this book). From left off the ballot to potential winner, quite a turn of events. Of the two nominees I’ve read, this is clearly ahead and could possibly take my number 1 vote. It is a bit of an odd duck, but I quite enjoyed it.

Link Dump: Hugo Reactions

It’s been about a week since the Hugo finalists were announced… and there’s been way too much commentary to comb through. I’m going to post a few links here, but know that there are others who are doing a far better job summarizing the commentary, and to be quite honest, I’m already burnt out on the politics of the thing. This will most likely be my last post on the subject, though I suspect I’ll get pulled back in depending on how recklessly No Award is deployed in the final tally. For the record, I think Sad Puppies 3 was far more successful than anyone thought (which includes them) and as such, I’m going to be somewhat leery of slates in the future (my preference would be for Sad Puppies 4 to simply encourage participation and maybe include an open post about eligible books as opposed to a straight slate). I have a hard time believing most of the conspiracies being thrown around, and am emphatically against the abuse that’s been generated (which goes both ways). I don’t like guilt by association and generally assume good faith in participants. Many nominees are being thrown under a bus for petty reasons, and that seems silly to me. As always, I plan to read and vote accordingly. Anywho, here are some other folks commenting on the slate.

  • File 770 has been all over this thing, with daily updates and link roundups that are well worth checking out. If you’re the type who wants to continue devouring commentary, this is the place to go.
  • Chaos Horizon has been doing some excellent statistical analyses based on available data. It seems likely that there are at least some voters who nominated the straight puppy slate, though there’s not enough information to say for sure. Honestly, I don’t know that there ever will, though when the full numbers are released in August, we’ll be able to speculate on a maximum impact (but even that won’t prove anything). My anecdotal experience in looking at puppy nominators is that they are people who only voted for things they read and liked (and thus did not nominate the full ballot).
  • A Note About the Hugo Nominations This Year – Like last year, John Scalzi’s reaction has been eminently reasonable:

    2. I’m very pleased for the several friends and/or writers who are on the ballot this year. This includes everyone in the Best Novel category, all of whom I consider friends, and any of whom I would be happy to see take home a rocket this year. And as always, I congratulate all the nominees for the Hugo and the Campbell. It’s fun to be nominated, and nice to get recognition. I’ll be voting.

    3. This year I’ll do what I always do when voting for the Hugos, which is to rank the nominees every category according to how I think they (and/or their particular works in question) deserve to ranked. Preferential balloting is a useful thing. I will be reading quite a lot.

    …In sum: I think it’s possible for voters to thread the needle and give creators fair consideration while also expressing displeasure (if indeed one is displeased) at the idea of slates, or people trolling the award. This might take a little work, but then voting on the Hugos should be a little bit of work, don’t you think. This is a good year to do that.

    Well said.

  • Thoughts on the 2015 Hugo Award Nominees – Joe Sherry has reasonable things to say, and unlike 99.9% of other commentary, he also posted some thoughts on the actual ballot. I’m more or less in line with this approach:

    At this point I have read far too many articles written on both sides of the debate, and while I’m not willing to say “I hate everyone equally”, I can say that I’m fairly well annoyed by most people. I am not on the side of the Sad Puppies because generally, the sort of book and the sort of story I enjoy reading is already what is frequently represented by the Hugos (though there are certain authors I am very, very confused by how frequently they are nominated for stuff – but I’ve always chalked it up to different and divergent tastes and nothing more). But, I do agree with one of their stated aims: which is that more people should be involved in the Hugo awards. Heck, the people who nominated and vote are only a small fraction of the people who actually attend Worldcon. Get them involved, too, somehow. Everything might look different if that happened.

    So, what am I going to do?

    I’m going to read everything on the ballot and hope that the Hugo voter packet is inclusive of everything on it (minus the dramatic presentations), and then I’m going to vote accordingly. I look forward to the Hugo Awards every year and enjoy thinking about them, talking about them, occasionally writing way too many words about them. Before I knew anything about the awards, I believed that they were the premier award in science fiction and fantasy. The best of the best. The Oscar of the genre. Later I learned that the Hugos were nothing more than an award given out by a particular community, and only nominated and voted on by a very small subset of that same community. The Hugos are reflective of a particular group of people, just as the Nebulas are, and the World Fantasy Awards are (the three I awards I care most about) – but the Hugos is the one I can participate in, which makes it special even knowing what I do about it. So, I respect the process of the award and will treat all the nominees fairly and at face value – and I think it is disappointing that I felt the need to write that sentence.

    Again, reasonable stuff.

  • The Disavowal – A Sad Puppy nominee disavows stuff.
  • Mary Anne Mohanraj also has reasonable things to say. She leads with a Bujold reference and takes Miles’ wisdom to heart, assuming good faith and providing some reasonable suggestions for the future.
  • If you’re bitching about the Hugo Awards, you’re part of the problem. A more cynical approach here, but worth noting.
  • Please stop with the death threats and the hate mail. Very nice to see Mary Robinette Kowal’s reasonable comments:

    Folks. Do not send death threats to Larry Correia, Brad Torgersen or anyone else on the Sad Puppies slate. That is a shitty thing to do. Stop it.

    I, too, am angry about how things went down with the Hugos, but am also realistic about the fact that much of the work — not all of it — but a lot of it is on there because people are legitimately excited about it. Yes, there are some things from Rabid Puppies that seem to be there purely for shock value. But others? Sheila Gilbert does damn good work. Jim Butcher is a serious writer.

    Hey, look, another person has actually looked at the ballot. And she also took the rather noble step of sponsoring 10 supporting memberships for folks who want to vote but can’t afford it… an effort that has caught on with other folks to the point where there are now 75 sponsored memberships. Well done.

  • George R.R. Martin has been pretty active this week, and this post on Hatespeech is just one of them:

    And now there’s Puppygate, and I have been posting about that, and in the course of which I have had some exchanges with Larry Correia, the founder of Sad Puppies, and Brad Torgensen, who ran the SP3 slate. And both of them tell similar tales: of anonymous phone calls, libel and slander, vicious emails, death threats… death threats! All of these, presumably, coming from “my side” of fandom, those who oppose the Puppies. Do I believe them? I don’t want to believe them. I would rather cling to the belief that my side is better than that. That’s hard to do these days, As strongly as I disagree with Torgensen and Correia about the Hugo Awards, and probably a hundred other issues, I have no reason to think them liars. I think they are telling the truth, just as Quinn and Sarkeesian and Wu were. On the internet, it seems, abuse trumps debate every time.

    Death threats. Really? Really???

  • …to my people, don’t blame Tor – Larry Correia also jumps on the “stop being jerks” bandwagon:

    Don’t threaten to boycott anybody because of their business associations, because that’s exactly the kind of boorish behavior that’s been done to us.

    Don’t post links to a torrent site and suggest that people pirate stuff instead of giving a publishing house money. Do you have any idea how offensive it is to do that on a professional author’s feed?

    Tor seems to be a major boogeyman for some people, for some reason.

  • Vox plays chicken with Worldcon – Brad Torgersen (organizer of the Sad Puppy 3 campaign) has some choice words for No Award voters (i.e. folks who vow to vote No Award above everything on the Puppy slates), including Vox Day’s thread to No Award 2016:

    Frankly, I think everybody should just do what Mary Robinette Kowal and Dan Wells and Scalzi and Correia and Jason Sanford and myself have been recommending you do, and read your voter packet and vote like the stories and books are just stories and books.

    If Vox borks the Hugos in 2016, he is the biggest asshole SF/F has ever seen in its history.

    Vox, please don’t be an asshole.

    If the people who hate Vox bork the Hugos in 2015, they are the biggest assholes SF/F has ever seen in its history.

    Vox-haters, please don’t be assholes.

    This is getting ridiculous. For the record, I think voting No Award above (or in place of) something just because it appears on a puppy slate is a bad idea. It is actually allowed technically if you read the rules closely, but it’s a pretty crappy thing to do. I don’t think slates are a great thing either, but the No Award approach is worse. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Or something like that.

Alright, so there’s some sampling of stuff. Like I said, I can’t really keep up and at this point, I’m ready to just move on and start reading the actual work (because why spend that time reading vitriol and disingenuous arguments?) Care to join me? Oh, and by the way, comments are working again! Huzzah!

The 2015 Hugo Awards: Initial Thoughts

The nominees for the 2015 Hugo Awards were announced yesterday, and the entire world is losing their shit because the Sad Puppy campaign has pretty much run away with the slate. Assorted thoughts below:

  • My ballot faired quite poorly indeed! Not counting the Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form category (because it’s a pretty mainstream category, though I’ll have some additional thoughts on this below), only one nominee made it to the official ballot, and that was a (mostly accidental) overlap with the Sad Puppy campaign. In fairness, Ken Burnside’s The Hot Equations (in Best Related Work) is a worthy nominee with an endearing nod to SF right in its title. I find my lack of success here mildly amusing in that this is what the majority of Sad Puppy nominators must have felt in years past, but what most of the Sad Puppy opposition is feeling right now (even if I don’t particularly subscribe to either side in the battle).
  • When I first saw the Sad Puppy slate (and Rabid Puppy slate), I thought the dramatic increase in suggested works would result in a decrease in concentration amongst the choices, thus spreading out the voting and yielding relatively few successes. I was incredibly wrong in this prediction. It appears that the Puppy campaigns were remarkably effective this year, with 61 nominees appearing on at least one of the lists (only 24 of the nominees did not appear on either list, and many of those were in categories that the Puppies did not bother to include in their ballots). I predict widespread panic, bleating, and protest voting (“No Award” will be deployed with reckless abandon). Then again, I’ve been pretty wrong about everything else, so who knows?
  • Personally, while I don’t really identify as a Sad Puppy, I never bore them ill will and their notion of emphasizing fun storytelling over boring literary fiction conventions was attractive to me (my nominations for the fiction categories had no overlap with the Puppy ballots, but I suspect many Puppies would enjoy them). That being said, I can’t help but feel like the pendulum has swung too far in their direction. If I were running Sad Puppies next year, I would focus on encouraging participation rather than posting a list of approved works. I don’t expect this to happen, but as I’ve amply demonstrated, I’m the worst and am often wrong.
  • The whole kerfluffle comes down to assumptions of bad faith. The Puppies assume that people nominate things according to political merit rather than quality and rebel against that notion, the anti-puppies assume that the puppies are just blindly nominating the suggested slates (without having read the stories, etc…), again for political reasons. This is why people decry the inclusion of politics in previously non-political arenas. My assumption is of good faith, and as with last year, I’m just going to read the nominated works and vote accordingly. I’m already pretty sick of all the digital ink being spilled about the politics of all this stuff, and don’t expect to have much more to say about it.
  • Let’s take a closer look at the Novel category:
    • Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie – Sequel to last year’s unstoppable winner, Ancillary Justice, this is one of the few non-puppy nominees to become a finalist and the only nominee that I’ve already read. Alas, I was not as big a fan of this one as the first book in the series.
    • The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson – A puppy nominee, this looks to be a standalone (or start of a trilogy) set in the context of a larger setting. My only experience with Anderson was his not-so-great Star Wars Jedi Academy trilogy. Timothy Zahn basically reignited Star Wars fever in the early 90s with his Thrawn Trilogy (the first and to my knowledge, best of the modern expanded universe stories) and Anderson quickly doused it with his trilogy (at least, for me). But it’s been, like, 20 years, and this book seems like it could work well enough, so there is that. I actually have a modest amount of hope for this one.
    • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison – The other non-puppy nominee, a well regarded fantasy novel that seems like it could be a lot of fun. Looking forward to this one.
    • Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos – Appears to be a military SF story, the second in a series. The whole series this is always kinda annoying, but these do seem up my alley and they appear to be short page turners. Definitely looking forward to this one.
    • Skin Game by Jim Butcher – Of the Sad Puppy nominees, I was most expecting this one to win. Butcher’s Desden Files series is immensely popular. I suspect the reason that none of the previous books were nominated is that urban fantasy is just not something that normally does well with Hugo voters. I’m decidedly mixed on the Dresden Files books. I’ve read the first three, enjoyed two of them and hated one (the second one, with the werewolves). That being said, it’s not really one of my favorite series. This being the 15th book in the long-running series, I also find myself wondering how standalone it would be (but I’m not going to read the intervening 11 books just to come up to speed).

    This is actually a pretty good mix of sub-genres here. Two space operas (one trending more literary than the other), one mil-SF, one straight-up fantasy, and one urban fantasy. Obviously, I still have to read 4 of the nominees, but I actually think this slate is more attractive to me than last year’s…

  • The Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form list is decent enough, I guess, but I always find it odd that the Hugo for best movie always seems to be mostly mainstream blockbusters and not the little indie SF movies (which are often much better at capturing the sensawunda of written SF). For instance, I was really hoping that Coherence and The One I Love would get some love and heck, even the dreaded Vox Day included Coherence in his Rabid Puppies list, but alas, we get 5 blockbusters. But they are actually very good blockbusters, so there is that. Update: There is speculation that Coherence was left off because IMDB marks it as a 2013 release and thus would not be eligible for a 2014 award. Dooks.

Comments are still borked right now, so if you have any comments, feel free to email me at mciocco at gmail or hit me up on twitter @mciocco (or @kaedrinbeer if you’re a lush). Apologies, I am the worst. Will have to make a more concerted effort to fix the problems with comments in the near future.

So there you have it. I don’t think I’ll be spending much time on the whole political war going on with this stuff, but I suspect it will be unavoidable in some places. Expect some link roundups in the near future, followed by reviews. I will still try my best to let the works speak for themselves though. It may be a few weeks before I finish off my current reading, so I probably won’t get to any reviews until May-ish.

My 2015 Hugo Award Nominations

The Hugo Award Nomination Period ended last night, and miracle of miracles, I managed to get my ballot in on time. I suppose the value of posting this list after the deadline is questionable, but we’re that kind of timely here at Kaedrin (meaning, not timely at all). But I suppose if you’re looking to see what I enjoyed from last year’s spate of Science Fiction, this is a pretty good place to start. For the most part, this is just an expanded version of the list I posted in January, and that commentary is generally just as relevant here (most of the comments here will be about the additions and possibly some general expectations). Additions are noted with an asterisk (*)

Best Novel:

My initial three picks were all longshots. A Darkling Sea has a very outside chance (but I’m guessing it unlikely, and its buzz factor seems to be waning), The Martian suffers from an eligibility question (more on why I’m still including it here, though at this point, I think everyone’s fears mean that even if is eligible, it won’t get nominated because everyone is leaving it off their list), and A Sword Into Darkness is self-published mil-SF that the literati probably would hate. The two additions are considerably more likely to be nominated. Annihilation is a near certain shoe-in for a nomination (it’s already got a Nebula nom) and pretty good odds on taking the prize. I just finished The Three-Body Problem myself and will probably write a full post about it at some point, but it’s been steadily picking up steam since it’s release in November. Unfortunately, a lot of mainstream buzz (like this New Yorker article) appear to be hitting a little too late to really influence the nomination process. On the other hand, it did garner a Nebula nomination and it ticks a bunch of typical Hugo checkboxes, so it’s got a good chance. While I wasn’t a huge fan, I would also predict Leckie’s Ancillary Sword will grab a nomination because of the runaway success of Ancillary Justice (last year’s winner) and generally positive reviews. Scalzi’s Lock In has a decent chance, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets left out either. I’m betting Correia will be one of the few beneficiaries of the Sad Puppy campaign, and possibly Butcher’s Skin Game while we’re at it. There’s usually some sort of fantasy novel in contention as well, but I’m not too familiar with those…

Best Novelette

Still not sure if the first two are actually Novelettes, but hey, I’m putting them there. Wanna fight about it? The addition is The Bonedrake’s Penance, which I guess has some mild buzz, and Yoon Ha Lee seems like a rising star type (I’m certainly a new fan). No idea what else would tickle fandom for these short fiction categories.

Best Short Story:

  • Periapsis by James L. Cambias (from Hieroglyph)
  • Covenant by Elizabeth Bear (from Hieroglyph)
  • The Day It All Ended by Charlie Jane Anders (from Hieroglyph)
  • Passage of Earth by Michael Swanwick (from Clarkesworld)*
  • The Knight of Chains, the Deuce of Stars by Yoon Ha Lee (from Space Opera)*

Note that Tuesdays With Molakesh the Destroyer by Megan Grey is not eligible for this year’s awards (something about the magazine being a January 2015 edition that just happened to be available in December). It will, however, be eligible next year (at which point, I genuinely expect it to be nominated). Covenant seems to have buzz and Hieroglyph was a popular anthology, so it has that going for it. Passage of Earth also feels like it has some buzz. However, the short story category is infamously fickle, with votes spread out amongst the widest range of stories (many stories which could potentially be nominated aren’t because they fall short of getting 5% of the overall vote). It’s always something of a crapshoot. All I know is that I liked just about all of the short stories I read this year much better than any of the nominees from last year.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:

Coherence and The One I Love are far and above my favorites of the year and I’m pretty sure they won’t even come close to being nominated (both recommended though!). I swapped out The Lego Movie for Interstellar (though I think both of those will end up making the cut) I also wouldn’t be surprised if movies I didn’t care for do well, notably Snowpiercer.

Best Related Work:

This is a weird, catch-all category, but I actually think these two things have a good chance of winning (gasp, I aligned with the Sad Puppies on one of these). One thing I feel bad about is not nominating A Report on Damage Done by One Individual Under Several Names by Laura Mixon. It’s placement in terms of categories is unclear though. George R.R. Martin apparently recommended her for Best Fan Writer, which didn’t seem quite right, and I just plain forgot to add it to my ballot last night. Which is a shame, because that is some tour-de-force shit that Mixon put together there.

Best Professional Artist:

  • Stephan Martiniere for covers like The Immortality Game and Shield and Crocus*

Yeah, I guess I fell for Ted Cross’s push for Stephan (who provided the art for Cross’s book), but this artist is genuinely talented and I kinda love his covers.

Best Fan Writer:

I don’t have a lot here, but Nussbaum is a regular read and I think she should have won last year, so here we are again.

And that just about covers it. Official nominations will be announced, as usual, during the inexplicable Easter day timeframe, so look for some comments on the subject then.

SF Short Story Review, Part 1

I was pretty disappointed by last year’s Hugo slate of short stories, so I wanted to make sure I read enough stories this year to nominate worthwhile stuff. Of course, the short fiction categories are infamously fickle and don’t enjoy quite as much in the way of convergence as the novels do (meaning that a very wide array of stories are nominated with little chance of any individual story standing out from the crowd – this is why there often isn’t a full ballot nominated, as many of the contenders never reach the 5% threshold needed to make the Hugo ballot). The good news here, though, is that I enjoyed almost all of the stories in this post a lot more than almost any of the stories nominated in short fiction categories last year. Go figure. That being said, I will probably only nominate a couple of these because there’s only so many slots…

  • Whaliens (aka How to Win a Hugo Award) by Lavie Tidhar (Short Story, ~4900 words) – This is a goofy little story about whale-like aliens (i.e. Whaliens) that visit Earth and demand to convert to Judaism. As the alternate title might indicate, it also involves a dismissive sub-plot about science fiction writers that feels rather petty and dismissive. It’s a fun, short read and worth checking out, but it’s not going to be on my ballot.
  • Toad Words by Ursula Vernon (Short Story, ~800 words) – This year’s “If You Were a Dinosaur My Love”, it is marginally more fantastical, but still pretty emphatically not my thing.
  • Tuesdays With Molakesh the Destroyer by Megan Grey (Short Story, ~4000 words) – Every once in a while, you hear about how someone infamous and/or super evil spends their spare time doing mundane things like watching Seinfeld or something, and that kinda tickles me. So this story about a fire demon ironically condemned to live out his retirement in exile in Minnesota (i.e. a very cold, snowy place) really clicked with me. Molakesh enjoys hot chocolate and chatting with his teenaged neighbor. There’s a moment when I was worried that this story would go off the rails, but it sticks the ending, and I found this the most enjoyable of the stories in this post. Will almost certainly make my ballot.
  • Passage of Earth by Michael Swanwick (Short Story, ~7400 words) – Interesting story about an autopsy performed on an alien that takes a hard turn about halfway through. It descends a bit into literary angst for a while, but it’s not undone by it and reasons its way to a natural conclusion. Strong contender for my ballot.
  • The Innocence of a Place by Margaret Ronald (Short Story, ~4100 words) – Haunting tale of a historian’s attempt to understand the disappearance of students from the Braxton Academy for Young Girls. There’s a beautifully ominous tone to the story and it is very effective… as horror. As the obvious explanations are thrown out, what is left is speculation on the fantastical, so I don’t know that this is quite as non-SF as, say, last year’s Wakulla Springs, but it’s borderline. I don’t think I’d nominate it, but I would not get worked up about it if it got nominated…
  • Brute by Rich Larson (Short story, ~4800 words) – Entirely predictable tale of two scavengers who run across a piece of technology that bonds to one of them and gives him super powers or something like that. It’s the sort of thing you’ve seen a million times, but it is a reasonably well executed version of the story. That being said, it’s not exactly award-worthy material.
  • Death and the Girl from Pi Delta Zeta, by Helen Marshall – Seems like it would hit on that mundane life of infamous personages thing that I like so much, but this one is distinctly less effective to my mind. Well executed for what it is, but not really my thing.
  • Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology by Theodora Goss (Short Story, ~6800 words) – A bunch of anthropology students invent a country from scratch and are then surprised to learn that the country they made up actually exists. They go to visit and find that many of the small details they have invented for the culture have unintended consequences. This becomes particularly important when one of the anthropologists marries the princess. A dense, Borges-like story (Borges is explicitly referenced in the story, so this is an obvious referent) that I found appealing and interesting. A potential nominee…
  • The Bonedrake’s Penance by Yoon Ha Lee (Novelette, ~9800 words) – Notable for its elaborate but not overwhelming worldbuilding, this follows the story of a human girl raced by an alien war machine that had given up war. Perhaps more concerned with that central relationship than the detailed setting, it works better than I’d expect. Would love to read more from Yoon Ha Lee… Would be a contender for my ballot if I hadn’t actually done so:
  • The Knight of Chains, the Deuce of Stars by Yoon Ha Lee (Short Story, ~5700 words) – So I did seek out more Yoon Ha Lee, and this one is even better than the last one. Interestingly, there are a lot of similarities. Both have an archive of sorts (games, in this one), a guardian (a warden, in this one), and both feature disgraced warriors of some kind. This one is about the warden of a collection of games and a warrior who intends to bargain for a game that will help her keep a promise. They play a game with high stakes and the byzantine worldbuilding implied by the games is quite impressive.

I may sneak in a few more stories before the deadline, but I’m planning on posting my updated ballot on Sunday, so stay tuned.

Hugo Awards: Puppies Unleashed

As Hugo Awards nomination season hits full swing, the Sad Puppy slates have finally be unleashed. For the uninitiated, the Sad Puppies are a semi-organized response to the notion that recent Hugo slates have trended away from traditional SF, with it’s emphasis on sense of wonder and storytelling (the name emerges out of the notion that recent Hugo slates were so depressing that they were making cute puppies sad, or something along those lines). There is an ideological component to the movement as well, and it seems the Right/Libertarian are on the Puppies’ side, while Left/SJW are opposed. Or something. In reality, I don’t really buy that dichotomy, and that’s one of the reasons I can’t seem to get on board with the typical responses to the Sad Puppies (for it or against it). To me, it’s just another input into the process, which is pretty much how it’s supposed to work.

For the record, Brad Torgersen has posted the official Sad Puppy slate over at his blog. Vox Day has posted a variant, which he calls (perhaps unsurprisingly, given his usual tone) Rabid Puppies. There’s a pretty large overlap, though enough differences to be annoying. Assorted thoughts and ramblings are below:

  • The first thing that jumps out at me with these slates is how huge they are (both are basically a full nominating ballot – somewhere on the order of 50-75 overall between the two lists). I think part of the reason Sad Puppies 2 enjoyed success last year was that the list was relatively small (12 choices in various categories), so the impact was concentrated on those works. Remember, the people who nominate for the hugo are actually people! They will not have read this entire slate and chances are, there are plenty of things on the slate that they did read, but would not nominate. Anecdotal evidence indicates this was the case last year, and even the hard numbers show that there was significant variance in the amount of nominating votes for each work. I expect people’s votes will be spread out across the entire slate, and since there are so many options, that may spread things too thin.
  • Comparing the two lists is interesting, as is the tone in which they’re presented. Torgersen is very careful to indicate that his list “is a recommendation. Not an absolute.” He has repeatedly mentioned that it’s not about politics, but about story and fun. He also acknowledges the idea that you might not like works on the slate (though “we suspect you might”). Torgersen also, much to his credit, made sure that his own works would not appear on his slate. Day, on the other hand, is extremely combative about the whole situation and appears to be much more ideologically motivated (he explicitly mentions the “science fiction Right”). He encourages folks who trust his opinion on the subject to “nominate them precisely as they are”. He also nominated himself in multiple categories (though in the editing categories, not the fiction categories). On the other hand, he nominated Coherence on the Dramatic Presentation Long Form category, which is a personal favorite that I’d love to see get nominated (even though it probably wouldn’t). This is why I can never get on board with Sad Puppies, nor can I really get too worked up about it either. Just because a work appears there doesn’t mean it is or is not worthy of a nomination.
  • In terms of The Martian, it looks like fears of its eligibility (or lack thereof) means that it was not included in either slate. I actually emailed the Sasquan administrators, but their (perfectly reasonable) response was: “the standard Hugo committee policy for many years has been to not make suggestions on nominations or rule on eligibility of nominated items until nominations close”. Apparently, when eligibility of a specific work was announced in the past, other nominees felt it represented an endorsement, so the policy is to maintain impartiality. This makes perfect sense. Interestingly, Vox Day actually quotes me on the matter, though as usual, his tone is way more combative and makes my post seem equally so, even though I’m not. My example of a self-published work that was later published and then nominated was John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. Day hates Scalzi, and uses my example as evidence that the Hugos are corrupt or something. This was not my intention at all, and it’s weird to see my words deployed in such a fashion. Indeed, I’ve always thought that the Sad Puppy attitude towards Scalzi has been rather weird. Yes, Scalzi is outspoken on his blog about certain leftist issues, but for the most part, his fiction is fantastic and entertaining stuff. You could make an argument that something like Redshirts was only nominated because he’s popular with a certain segment of fandom, but that’s the kind of thing that happens with populist awards. More to the point, Scalzi’s work tends to be that more old-school science fiction. Redshirts has it’s flaws, but it’s a very fun book, exactly the sort of thing I’d expect to see on the Sad Puppy slate (except that, obviously, it enjoys wide popularity across most of fandom). That never made sense to me. On the other hand, “Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” is, in fact, a pretty lame nomination.
  • Eric S. Raymond appears on both slates as a nominee for the Campbell Award (for the most promising new writer in SF), which, as he himself notes, is a little strange:

    I will stipulate that I think my one published work of SF, the short story Sucker Punch, isn’t bad. If it were someone else’s and I was wearing my reviewer hat, I’d probably say something encouraging about it being a solid, craftsmanlike first effort that delivers what its opening promises and suggests the author might be able to deliver quality work in the future.

    But, Campbell Award material? A brilliant comet in the SF firmament I am not. I don’t really feel like I belong on that shortlist – and if I’m wrong and I actually do, I fear for the health of the field.

    What bothers me more is the suspicion that my name has been put forward for what amount to political reasons.

    I’ve read Sucker Punch and think it’s a perfectly cromulent short story, but if I were to nominate it for something, it’d be for the short story category (which, I suspect will not happen, since it will probably be a crowded category for me by the time nominations close). As a Campbell nominee, I would want some sense that he, you know, intends to write a lot more fiction. I have no doubt that he could write more fiction (even great fiction), I just don’t see him taking that on. He’s been pretty clear that his focus is on hacking and Open Source advocacy (at which, he is very good and very successful) and that he did this mostly on a lark. Which makes this nomination kinda confusing. (Update: he basically confirms this in the comments)

  • Speaking of Eric Raymond, he has some keen insights into the whole culture war of sorts that’s happening in SF right now (of which Sad Puppies is a symptom) that pretty well match up with where I’m coming from. His key insight is that this is not a political issue, but rather a matter of “Literary Status Envy”:

    Literary status envy is the condition of people who think that all genre fiction would be improved by adopting the devices and priorities of late 19th- and then 20th-century literary fiction. Such people prize the “novel of character” and stylistic sophistication above all else. They have almost no interest in ideas outside of esthetic theory and a very narrow range of socio-political criticism. They think competent characters and happy endings are jejune, unsophisticated, artistically uninteresting. They love them some angst.

    People like this are toxic to SF, because the lit-fic agenda clashes badly with the deep norms of SF. Many honestly think they can fix science fiction by raising its standards of characterization and prose quality, but wind up doing tremendous iatrogenic damage because they don’t realize that fixating on those things (rather than the goals of affirming rational knowability and inducing a sense of conceptual breakthrough) produces not better SF but a bad imitation of literary fiction that is much worse SF.

    His post on the deep norms of SF is also worth checking out. I find myself mostly agreeing with this analysis (and honestly, he gives a much better primer for the factions involved and general situation than I do above). All those things that literary fiction hates are what I love about science fiction. And I tend to dislike the angst that permeates literary fiction (that this often manifests as wallowing in identity politics and misery is incidental). This focus on literary fiction is why stuff like Wakulla Springs gets nominated for a Hugo, despite not even being slightly SF or even Fantasy. It’s a very well written story, to be sure, but it’s so far outside the boundaries of any type of genre fiction (let along SF) that I can see why the Sad Puppy campaign is happening.

So there you have it. I do not particularly hate or love Sad Puppies. Call that feckless if you want. I just know what I like. Sometimes that happens to coincide with the Sad Puppies, sometimes not. Go figure.

Link Dump: Hugo Nomination Edition

Just some links that may prove to be of some use for folks in the Hugo nomination game.

  • 2015 Hugo Sheet of Doom – This is a public Google doc with potential nominees broken out in each category. Some of the nominees are clearly, er, longshots, but at least it’s a source where things are categorized by, um, category (so you don’t need to figure out a way to hack a Kindle book/story to do a word count or something). It’s public, so you can add stuff if you’d like, but play nice (I did my part and added Coherence and The One I Love to the Long Form Dramatic Presentation Category – and you should totally watch and nominate if you like them, because I’m doubting they will get there without a little help).
  • Chaos Horizon – An extremely thorough attempt to predict Hugo and Nebula (novel) nominees. It is basically a value neutral attempt, so there’s very little in the way of proselytizing, just lots of collation and correlation, and plenty of analysis. Dude is even starting to predict the 2016 Hugos
  • Announcing Sad Puppies 3 – Brad Torgerson takes the baton from Larry Correia and is leading the charge this year. It is mildly less combative, but will no doubt raise a lot of hackles when it manages to get something nominated. It does still seem less about “These books are awesome and deserve recognition” and more about “Other people are ideological and we need to fight them” or some such thing. I can’t ever seem to get on board with this because it’s just too whiny. He’s also written a few follow up posts, but has not posted a list yet (and frankly, I would not really recommend wading through the comments). It’s worth noting, though, that the folks who bought a supporting membership last year are still eligible to nominate this year, so there’s a fair chance that we’ll see more Sad Puppy nominees…

That’s all for now. I’m sure I’ll be posting more about the Hugos as time goes on.

Hugo Award Season 2014

It’s that time of year again. The Hugo Award Nomination Period has begun, and of course, all the requisite whining has begun. People whining about Awards Eligibility Posts, people whining about politics, people whining about the people whining about politics. And wonder of wonders, some people are actually talking about books they like, compiling lists of things to check out before nominations close, or coming up with thorough models to predict who will get a nomination this year. How revolutionary. I’ll do my best to focus on same, but I’m sure I’ll be sucked into some controversy or other.

Last year, I was a little gunshy about participating in the nomination process. This was mostly due to the fact that I hadn’t really read a comprehensive selection of 2013 books or stories. It was also before I realized that some people don’t bother reading all the nominees before voting or nominate things for purely ideological reasons. I also realized that I was very nearly one of the two votes that could have put Lauren Beukes’s excellent time travel serial killer novel The Shining Girls on the ballot. This year, I won’t claim to have read particularly deep into the catalog, but I read more than I did last time and there are definitely some stories I would like to nominate. My current nomination ballot, some thoughts on same, and some things I’d like to read before I finalize my ballot are below. Knock yourself out. Comments are still wonky, so if you have any recommendations, feel free to email me at mciocco at gmail or hit me up on twitter @mciocco (or @kaedrinbeer if you’re a lush).

Best Novel:

All three are kinda longshots. A Darkling Sea has the best chance to make it, as there is at least some minimal buzz surrounding it. A Sword Into Darkness is self-published and not typical Hugo material, but I really enjoyed it (and not for nothing, but there’s a fair chance it would make the Sad Puppies slate, which could improve its chances). The Martian suffers from eligibility issues – it was self published in 2012, then snapped up by a publisher and put into fancy editions and audio books in 2014 (where it has sold extremely well). General consensus seems to be that it will not be eligible, but I think there are a few things going for it. One is that self-published works that get bought up by a real publisher and come out a year or two later have made it onto the ballot before (an example that comes to mind is Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, which was self-published in 2003 or 2004, after which it was promptly bought up by Tor and republished in 2005, garnering a Hugo nomination in 2006). Another is that I’ve heard that version published in 2014 has some differences from the self-published version, but I have not confirmed that (and it’s very possible that this is not true), which might call some things into question. In any case, unless someone official makes a definitive statement about The Martian being ineligible, I plan to include it on my ballot.

Best Novelette?

  • Atmosphæra Incognita by Neal Stephenson (from Hieroglyph)
  • A Hotel in Antarctica by Geoffrey Landis (from Hieroglyph)

Here’s the thing with short fiction, I think it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between a short story and a novella and a novel, but when you throw novelette into the mix, it becomes much less intuitive. I’m pretty sure the above two stories are long enough to be a Novelette, but I’m not positive. Also, you’ll be seeing a lot of Hieroglyph in the nominations today. Hopefully I’ll be able to pad this out with some other sources of short fiction as time goes on. Also, maybe I’ll find a novella or two!

Best Short Story:

  • Periapsis by James L. Cambias (from Hieroglyph)
  • Covenant by Elizabeth Bear (from Hieroglyph)
  • The Day It All Ended by Charlie Jane Anders (from Hieroglyph)

This is a a pretty good list here, and I’m reasonably certain that at least one will come close (Covenant seems to have some buzz). I will most certainly be checking out additional short stories though, so hopefully I can find some more nominees.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:

While I don’t claim comprehensive selection in my reading, I’m much closer when it comes to film. Alas, I’m pretty sure my two favorite nominees (Coherence and The One I Love) will not make the cut, and the one I’m most ambivalent about (Interstellar) seems to be a shoe-in. I also wouldn’t be surprised if movies I didn’t care for do well, notably Snowpiercer.

Again, comments are still wonky on here right now, so if you have any recommendations, feel free to email me at mciocco at gmail or hit me up on twitter @mciocco (or @kaedrinbeer if you’re a lush).

I think we’ll leave it there for now and revisit some other categories or perhaps some stuff I want to read next week. Until then, happy nominating.