Sunday, April 24, 2011

2011 Hugo Award Shortlist: Initial Reactions

Nominees have just been announced. This will be my second consecutive year as a Hugo voter. My initial response to each category:

Best Novel:

Cryoburn, Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
Feed, Mira Grant (Orbit)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
The Dervish House, Ian McDonald (Pyr; Gollancz)
Blackout/All Clear, Connie Willis (Spectra)

This is a terrible shortlist. I appear to be in the minority on my dislike for Blackout/All Clear, and am in the distinct minority for my objections to Feed. I retain objections, though, and don't see these works as at all representative of the best of the year, in ambition, writing, basic quality control or in using tools of the genre. Willis' work is profoundly boring and stylistically framed. Feed banks heavily on the thoroughness of its imaginative concept while failing to think through its setting effectively and indulging in the worst kind of political strawmen and idiot plotting. One can read the novel in a more effective sense in, as the recent Strange Horizons review has it[1], as a sharp media satire, and that takes a little of the bitter taste from my mouth. Not all of it, though, as I'm not at all convinced that was the book Grant wrote. Cryoburn isn't as bad as either, but is in some ways even more disappointing: a strong writer returning to a familiar setting and doing about the minimum effort to string together a conventional plot. At least Feed and Blackout/All Clear were clearly significant investments in their author's time, for all that I felt it was misapplied they were labors of enthusiasm. Cryoburn suggests quite strongly that Bujold was bored and making little effort, re-running familiar scenarios into predictable plot that doesn't challenge or grow the characters. The politics are simplistic, the only powerful moments come in a coda unconnected to the main story, and the whole thing looks very tossed together. It's very dispiriting that readers will be so eager to embrace a familiar author and setting that they'd give nominee status to such a weak return.

The Dervish House is magnificent and hopefully it can win, but nothing else on the shortlist comes close to meriting its place. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is pretty good and does approach some themes in an interesting manner, but it fails to follow through on the implications enough. And while there's no Sawyer here, the result remains a shortlist that's 60% mediocre. Much weaker than last year's novel list, and almost as bad as 2009's. Although there at least is something to be said that the list isn't as familiar, with a number of new authors and returning ones at least not nominated recently. I'll also note that it's an 80% female shortlist, for what I'm guessing may be the highest ratio. It's a pity that on the level of content the voters seem to have generally embraced a conentional style over substance, with a focus on familiar World War Two moralizing, a regurgitation of the Vorkosigan setting and yet another exploration of the zombie phenomenon. In part I'm reacting to the disconnect from my own top preferences and votes, but beyond that I do feel there are a number of objective problems with this as a set of best science fiction and fantasy of the year. At least there is Dervish House, and to a lesser extent the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.


Best Novella:

"The Lifecycle of Software Objects, Ted Chiang" (Subterranean)
‘‘The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon'', Elizabeth Hand (Stories)
‘‘The Sultan of the Clouds'', Geoffrey A. Landis (Asimov's 9/10)
‘‘Troika'', Alastair Reynolds (Godlike Machines)
‘‘The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen's Window'', Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Summer 2010)

Three of these items I've read, two I voted for. Not at all surprised to see Chiang get in, am surprised and pleased that Reynolds made it. I've read the Swirsky and didn't vote for it, but I'm not too disgruntled it made it on, it's a decent enough story is not exceptional. Haven't read the other two, or their authors before, will look forward to this in the Hugo packet. Will have to see how they turn out, at present this looks like a stronger shortlist than last year's. 40% female shortlist.

Best Novelette:
‘‘The Jaguar House, in Shadow'', Aliette de Bodard (Asimov's 7/10)
‘‘Plus or Minus'', James Patrick Kelly (Asimov's 12/10)
‘‘Eight Miles'', Sean McMullen (Analog 9/10)
‘‘The Emperor of Mars'', Allen M. Steele (Asimov's 6/10)
‘‘That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made'', Eric James Stone (Analog 9/10

Haven't read any of these. Aliette de Boddard I was impressed with in her recent novel and I've heard good things about McMullen, beyond that it's a mystery. Look forward to diving into this, it seems the novelette category is usually pretty good and I don't see any glaring indications of clunkers. 20% female shortlist.

Best Short Story:
‘‘Ponies'', Kij Johnson ( 11/17/10)
‘‘For Want of a Nail'', Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov's 12/10)
‘‘Amaryllis'', Carrie Vaughn (Lightspeed 6/10)
‘‘The Things'', Peter Watts (Clarkesworld 1/10)

No Resnick on this or the other short fiction! Somewhat disturbing indication of the low attention given to short fiction, though, as there were only enough votes with 5% to clear four nominees. I've read the Watts and viewed it as fairly weak, undermined by his usual failings and not offering as much substance as his short fiction usually delivers. I'm familiar with Johnson and Kowal, both have done good stuff and I've seen Johnson do great work. Not familiar with Vaughn. 75% female shortlist.

Best Related Work:

*Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve, William H. Patterson, Jr. (Tor)
*The Business of Science Fiction: Two Insiders Discuss Writing and Publishing, Mike Resnick & Barry N. Malzberg (McFarland)
*Writing Excuses, Season 4, Brandon Sanderson, Jordan Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Dan Wells
*Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It, Lynne M. Thomas & Tara O'Shea, eds. (Mad Norwegian)
*Bearings: Reviews 1997-2001, Gary K. Wolfe (Beccon)

One of these works I voted for, the Wolfe reviews, which are really quite nice. Beyond that I've heard of the Chicks Dig Time Lords anthology, sounds a little shallow and fannish but has work by Valente and has an intriguing topic so I'm looking forward to it. I'm fairly indifferent to the Writing Excuses one at this time, but I'll leave room to be impressed by the voters' packet samples. The Business of Science Fiction looks actively irritating to me--a twist of fate that he's finally off the short fiction nominees but I'll have to read him regardless. I suppose I should reserve judgement, but given his business plan over at leas the last few years of getting sales and awards from terrible fiction, I'm not optimistic. And I'm almost certain I'm not going to like the Heinlein-focused work, I'm not at all interested in hearing more about him, and am pretty anti-Heinlein as a whole.

Best Graphic Story:

*The Unwritten, Vol. 2: Inside Man, Mike Carey; art by Peter Gross (Vertigo)
*Girl Genius, Volume 10: Agatha Heterodyne and the Guardian Muse, Phil & Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio (Airship Entertainment)
*Grandville Mon Amour, Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse)
*Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel, Howard Tayler (Hypernode)
*Fables: Witches, Bill Willingham; art by Mark Buckingham (Vertigo)

Not interested in this category at all. I do notice that it's largely the same comic lines as it was last year.

Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
How to Train Your Dragon
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Toy Story 3

The most predictable category. I've seen Inception and Toy Story 3, and indeed voted for both, they're worthy nominees although I'm more interested in Toy Story 3 despite its weak genre content. Haven't seen the other three but they seem to be well regarded, I hadn't pegged Harry Potter getting in for some reason, but I'll take a look at these. There weren't a huge amount of options available for this category.

Best Dramatic Presentation Short
Doctor Who: ‘‘A Christmas Carol''
Doctor Who: ‘‘The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang''
Doctor Who: ‘‘Vincent and the Doctor''
Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury
The Lost Thing

Not all Doctor Who as I'd expected, never heard of the other two. The majority that is Doctor Who is far from ideal. "The Pandorica Opens"/"The Big Bang" is quite deserving, but I've never thought "Vincent and the Doctor" was worth the claim, and "A Christimas Carol" is incredibly low-stakes fluff with major plot holes. There were much better episodes to pick for the past season.


Lou Anders
Ginjer Buchanan
Moshe Feder
Liz Gorinsky
Nick Mamatas
Beth Meacham
Juliet Ulman


John Joseph Adams
Stanley Schmidt
Jonathan Strahan
Gordon Van Gelder
Sheila Williams


Daniel Dos Santos
Bob Eggleton
Stephan Martiniere
John Picacio
Shaun Tan


Weird Tales


Banana Wings
The Drink Tank
File 770

Don't care about any of these.

Best Fan Writer

James Bacon
Claire Brialey
Christopher J Garcia
James Nicoll
Steven H Silver

These are none of the people I voted for, and I'm not even sure I've heard about these.

Best Fan Artist:
Brad W. Foster
Randall Munroe
Maurine Starkey
Steve Stiles
Taral Wayne

The only name I recognize is Randall Munroe. Mixed feelings here, xkcd is a great strip, but not one that really deserves to have artwork as such lauded.

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer:
Saladin Ahmed
Lauren Beukes
Larry Correia
Lev Grossman
Dan Wells

Full backing for the Beukes, relative ignorance for the rest. Interesting that all of this shortlist are in their second year of eligibility.


  1. Hi - I have linked to this from for comparative purposes!

  2. This is actually a review for the combined books, "Blackout" and "All Clear," since one really doesn't work without the other. Although I haven't read all of Connie Willis' books, I truly enjoyed "Doomsday" so came to Blackout-All Clear combo with high expectations.

    It's very good, sort of. The attention to detail was mesmerizing and the scenarios, thrilling. Historians from over a hundred years beyond World War II go back in time to England to experience the fears and hardships of the local "contemps" first-hand. What a great learning experience! Except our characters become stuck in time when the passage points or "drops" stop working. There is a real chance they will never get out; there is a real chance they have tampered with events either subtley or dramatically, but in such a way that the future they came from doesn't even exist anymore. I love this story idea.