Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Hugos - Midamericon 2 - 2016

Dave Kyle said they couldn't sit there.
See what you made them do, Dave?
So, the Hugo Award nominees have been announced, and the expected gnashing of teeth has begun.

As in previous years, there has been a great deal of comment on the various Puppy campaigns, most of which I personally believe is moot.  Here's the thing:

Yes, previous Sad Puppy campaigns have been very poorly thought out, and structured in a way that was nearly guaranteed to raise hackles among the regular Worldcon crowd. Presented as "slates", the whole thing rather smacked of the effort of L. Ron Hubbard's religious faithful to suborn the Hugos in 1987.[1] Quite apart from the reaction to a perceived attempt to game the system for personal gain, it was perhaps to be expected that the fen would come out in droves to gripe and block the effort just on principle given the appearance of being railroaded.  After all, this is the community that produced the Balcony Insurgents[2], whose main objection appears to be having been told what to do.

Enough, though: this year's effort seems to have been thought through a little more thoroughly[3], with a good effort made to produce an extensive list of options spanning the available categories. Suggestions by not only the Puppy faithful but others appear to have been honoured so long as the announced rules were followed, and the result is – to be frank – much stronger than it has been in the past.  Given the number of suggestions in most categories, it’s much harder to call this Sad Puppy list a prescribed slate – though there was some discomfort expressed in some quarters regarding how late the actual publication was (and of course there were those who felt less than honoured, shall we say, to be included in the recommendations).

Not to be out-done, however, the Rabid variety generated their own list, and in this case it was very much according to previous years: each category contained no more than the number of spaces available on the Hugo nomination form (in some cases fewer) and despite an admonition from the organizers (organizer?) that it was not to be viewed as a slate, it was inevitable that the fen would see it as such and seethe accordingly.

Given the unavoidable mental association between the Sad and Rabid varieties, the various correspondences between the 2016 Hugo finalists announced by the Midamericon 2 Hugo committee on April 26 and the Puppy list/slate have unfortunately generated…ah…sarcastic commentary.[4]

Nevertheless and regardless, there seem to be some quite viable contenders on the ballot this year, and I sincerely hope that the unfortunate idée fixe some fen have that leads them to reflexively vote No Award at the slightest sign of Puppy taint will take a break this year: quite a few of the finalists deserve to be considered on their own merits.

Under Best Novel, we find the following:

§  Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
§  The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher (Roc)
§  The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
§  Seveneves: A Novel by Neal Stephenson (William Morrow)
§  Uprooted by Naomi Novik (Del Rey)

Ann Leckie has been a nominee in this category three years running, and took a rocket home in 2014 – it seems likely that her latest installment in the Ancillary series is a worthy contender, even if this particular style of SF isn’t to your taste. Similarly, Neal Stephenson is no stranger, having been nominated in 2009 and 2006 as well as winning the category in 1996 with his well-known novel The Diamond Age. I confess I’m more sceptical of Jim Butcher’s offering here – he’s a solid writer and I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of his work, but what I’ve read so far hasn’t really been Hugo material in its own right. But then, some authors spring upon the scene fully formed while others earn their chops over time. Perhaps this is the one that will really wow me?  I really can’t comment on the other two entries, but given their company I’d be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Best Novella might be a bit more contentious, I suppose:

§  Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (
§  The Builders by Daniel Polansky (
§  Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold (Spectrum)
§  Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson (Dragonsteel Entertainment)
§  Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds (Tachyon)

But here we also have some interesting suggestions. Alastair Reynolds is, in my opinion, overdue for some recognition and I’m very happy to see his story Slow Bullets made the final cut.  Nnedi Okorafor is also a very interesting writer, and although I haven’t read Binti myself yet the excerpt available at TOR’s website and what I’ve seen of Okorafor’s work makes me confident it’s a solid contender as well.  I’d be happier in this category if there were more names I knew (let alone works) but nevertheless it looks like we have two very different options to vote for – and I very much look forward to seeing how the other three measure up.

Best Novelette is another complicated category, but even there seem to be at least three strong options:

§   “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed, Feb 2015)
§  “Flashpoint: Titan” by CHEAH Kai Wai (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
§  “Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu (Uncanny Magazine, Jan-Feb 2015)
§  “Obits” by Stephen King (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Scribner)
§  “What Price Humanity?” by David VanDyke (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)

Brooke Bolander’s offering is one I found very interesting when I ran across it in Lightspeed last year, and although I didn’t nominate it myself  I can definitely see the appeal – I will be rereading it again through a new lens, and wonder how it will stack up. Was it just the story’s unusual narrative approach that pulled it down a bit for me (i.e. was it just a matter of taste)? Only considering it on its own merits will tell me. Stephen King is one of those authors who you might say has a list of nominations and awards of various kinds (including the Hugos, twice) as long as your arm – provided your arm is mutated to freakish proportions. I haven’t read Obits but let’s be honest: given King’s track record it would be strange if it wasn’t at least a solid story, and from there it’s as much a matter of taste as technique.  I’m not familiar with the two options taken from There Will Be War – but Folding Beijing is definitely a contender. It’s available online – check it out!

Now, I’ll confess that for me the Best Short Story category is a definite disappointment:

§   “Asymmetrical Warfare” by S. R. Algernon (Nature, Mar 2015)
§  The Commuter by Thomas A. Mays (Stealth)
§  “If You Were an Award, My Love” by Juan Tabo and S. Harris (, Jun 2015)
§  “Seven Kill Tiger” by Charles Shao (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
§  Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle (Amazon Digital Services)

I’m very happy to see Algernon’s story “Asymmetrical Warfare” on the list of course, if only because I’ve been following Nature’s Futures feature for some time now, and have been impressed by how it’s come along.  It’s beyond time that they got the kind of recognition they’ve been working for. I don’t know The Commuter or Seven Kill Tiger so can’t really comment, but my heart sank when I saw the two “poison” entries on the list. I know why they’re there, of course, but I don’t have to like it.  Still, with confidence that Mays and Shao have produced something that can reasonably compete, it’s not a total loss. My real beef here is that short form simply doesn’t get the attention it deserves in these days of never-ending epic novel series.

As for the rest of the Works categories – well yes, there probably are some items here that maybe don’t deserve sneers but deep sighs of disappointment, but on the whole these relatively unassuming awards don’t seem to have had much to do with the kerfuffles over the last few years, and to be frank they look pretty normal to me.

Best Related Work is probably the worst offender here, with only one real contender  - the Gene Wolfe retrospective - that isn’t obviously being pushed by Puppy sympathizers.[5] Of the others, I will be excited to see Jeffro Johnson’s book once it’s actually in its final form, and the pieces by Eness and Greyland though deeply disturbing are certainly on topics that need to be discussed openly if they’re to be dealt with in any community regardless of what you think of the actual contents. As for the last: well. Battle lines were drawn years ago, so I don’t suppose this is much of a surprise to anyone.

Best Graphic Story isn’t a category I normally even consider, so it’s hard to say, though I recognise some names as worth looking more closely so presumably those who do vote here will see some strong options.

I confess that most years I’m not that impressed by any of the Dramatic Presentation options even if I know what they are, so who knows.

As for the Editor categories, particularly in the Short Form section I confess I really can’t see why anyone would be up in arms here – these are all solid choices, and I’ll personally find it very difficult to choose. I suppose in my case Mr. Pournelle will likely sink to the bottom, however, just because of the relative paucity of material on which to judge him – but then, perhaps some of those There Will Be War offerings in the Works categories will impress me sufficiently to push him back up.  Fnord knows he’s earned his spurs! Long Form will no doubt cause some gnashing of teeth considering the first name on the list, but otherwise again the choices seem solid.  The only real objection I have is that these days it’s hard to judge the editors in Long Form just because of how the industry has changed over the decades. Still, there seem to be a few names there deserving of recognition, including one who was unjustly snubbed last year because the wrong people liked her.

Semiprozine, Fanzine, and Fancast all seem like ordinary, solid categories for me – and in particular Semiprozine’s options are going to be hard to choose between for me. I’m also pleased to see Tales to Terrify on the list – I don’t often bother with the Fan categories at all, but this team definitely deserves your patronage, along with the others working on the Districts of Wonder ‘casts. If you’re not listening, you’re missing out on some great chatter – not to mention the stories!

So there you have it. Yes, the Puppies had an influence this year, but the massive influx of new voters last year seems to have reduced the impact of strange statistical anomalies that have plagued the Hugos for years (seriously, the very small voter pool combined with relatively low proportional participation contributed to some very odd effects). We still seem to be in the grip of a major fandom holy war, but “this too shall pass” as they say, and if membership and participation can be kept up - perhaps even grown! – it seems likely that the nominations and final voting will settle down into more normal patterns in a few years.

Fingers crossed in that regard, anyway.


[1] Peter Nicholls' personal account of the Conspiracy '87 fiasco can be read here - no doubt there will be similar accounts in the future by the MCs of similarly embattled Hugo ceremonies.

[2] The insurgents themselves included a number of prominent fans of the era who objected to paying $7 for the ticket to the Hugo banquet (mainly on the strength of the menu, which was apparently indifferent compared to what you could get for much less at a restaurant in New York at the time).  Nevertheless, they wanted to hear the Guest of Honor (Al Capp, the cartoonist responsible for Lil Abner) and see the awards ceremony, so they trundled up to the ballroom balcony to watch. According to Dave Kyle's account, he had merely been responding to the fire marshal's concerns in the midst of a harrowing effort to keep Nycon II on an even keel while his fiance Ruth Landis was being propositioned by the GoH. Whatever the true story, the fans were incensed, and that banquet exclusion was later denounced in their fanzines as wicked, barbarous and against ghod, if Fancyclopedia 2 can be trusted.

[3] Yes, I did have to.

[4] As of this writing, File770’s helpful cross-reference table showing the correspondences was unavailable, probably due to multiple links to it at venues such as io9 – however, for those who might be interested I should think this link will eventually function again.

[5] Even that one probably is of course, given the venue, as it’s not likely core Worldcon fandom even knew it existed, but those who did know surely consider it a worthy effort.

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