Discworld for the Best Novel Hugo?

Charlie Stross has an interesting idea:

To clarify, novel series are currently eligible for the Best Hugo Award, as seen by the inclusion of The Wheel of Time last year, though it’s of course arguable whether or not the Discworld series could be seen as a single story under its rules. If not, one could also argue that with the last Tiffany Aching novel having been released, that particular sub-series should be nominated instead.

Should this be done? That’s a harder question to argue. Terry Pratchett himself declined at least one Hugo nomination some years ago and while a nice gesture, he himself is of course not around anymore to see it. Quality wise the Discworld series in parts is as good as anything that ever won a Hugo, while even its worst parts are nowhere near as bad as the worst novels to have won the Hugo. But still, should the Best Novel Hugo go to a sentimental gesture? Or would it be better to just nominate the last Discworld novel ever on its own merits?

I don’t think I would include the series on my ballot, as a) I don’t like the idea of having proper novels compete with series anyway and b) I’d rather see a living author get the recognition. Pterry really doesn’t need a Hugo, even if it is a nice gesture. However, I reserve the right to change my mind if I can’t find five worthy novels to nominate this year.

Get real. Jonathan Jones is just a professional troll

It doesn’t matter to me if Jonathan Jones’s latest column is cynical clickbair or literary snobbery. I have never read a single one of his columns and I never plan to. Life’s too short.

It’s only are still lingering collective inferiority complex that makes us want to defend Pratchett against such a dumb and pointless attack, to take his bait. A certain annoyance at seeing him attacked in such a cowardly and dismissive manner of course also plays a role, but in the end what does it matter? Jones can hurt neither Pratchett nor his reputation and ultimately all that happens is that the Grauniad gets a few more clicks on a bank holiday.

World Fantasy Awards 2015 ballot is out

The 2015 World Fantasy Awards shortlist is out, the last major SFF award to do so. In the novel category this is the ballot:

Updating my 2014 noticable SFF novels list I saw that there was only one new entry, David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. This had a lot of buzz last year as a literary type of fantasy that might do well with the more, ahem, broad minded SFF awards but disappoints to have only be nominated for the WFA. The same also goes for City of Stairs, now on two nominations, this one and the Locus Awards. The other three all have won one award each: a Locus Award for Addison, a Nebula for VanderMeer and a Tiptree for Walton.

With all the awards now having announced their shortlist, it’s possible to take a quick look at which novels are “winning”. Only Ann Leckie so far has won more than one award with Ancillary Sword and in total twelve novels share eight awards (with a joint Tiptree winner and both the Kitschies and the Locus award having multiple categories. Four more awards still need to report a winner (the Lambdas have announced but didn’t have a novel win their SFF category): the WFA, Gemmel, Prometheus and of course the Hugo Awards. It will be interesting to see if Cixin Liu will win either the Hugo or the Prometheus, otherwise it will be a bit disappointing to not have it win anything after all the hype.

Best Novel Hugo vote 2015

I don’t have to telly you I won;t be voting for any Puppy candidates, right, so the question becomes which of the three non-Puppy candidates will get my vote. Even diminished, this is a great shortlist:

    The Goblin Emperor — Katherine Addison.

    The Goblin Emperor at heart is a very traditional power fantasy, about the boy of humble origins who becomes emperor by happenstance and now has to very quickly learn how to survive in a world of political intrigue he’s completely unprepared for, filled with people who either want to manipulate him or replace him with a better figurehead. It’s one of those fantasy scenarios other writers can write multiple trilogies about to get to that point, but Katherine Addison has her goblin hero confirmed as the emperor within five pages, the rest of the novel being about him getting to grips with his new job, woefully inadequate though he feels.

    The Three-Body Problem — Cixin Liu

    What makes The Three-Body Problem almost missing out on the Hugo shortlist deeply ironic, is that it’s exactly the kind of oldfashioned hard science fiction the people behind this year’s vote rigging were supposed to be all in favour of. It revolves around the mystery of why all those physicists are killing themselves, the answer to which seems to be that fundamental principles of physics are broken… There are some great moments of sense of wonder, of conceptual breakthrough in it, as well as some characters Asimov would think were a bit two-dimensional.

    Ancillary Sword — Ann Leckie

    Ann Leckie’s debut novel, Ancillary Justice, won about every major science fiction award going: the BSFA, the Clarke, The Nebula and the Hugo, the first time any author won the four most important awards in the field with the same book, let alone with their debut novel. Anticipation has therefore been high for the sequel, not least on my part. Would Leckie been able to keep up the high standard of her debut? Would Ancillary Sword build up on it or be more of the same? Is Ann Leckie really the major new sf talent she seems to be or just a flash in the pan?

    I will be happy to see any of these three novels win, but this will be my voting order. Ann Leckie has had such a good year already I’d rather see either Addison or Liu win, but Addison slightly more just because how much fun The Goblin Emperor was.

Mistaken Hugo voters or just unlucky writers?

Eric Flint, in the middle of another what’s likely to be an illfated attempt to talk sense into the Puppies, also talks about the way in which the Hugo Awards have overlooked or slighted some of the best authors working in science fiction & fantasy over the decades:

The Hugo voters, in their wisdom or lack thereof, decided that Christopher Anvil, Hal Clement, L. Sprague de Camp, Richard Matheson, Andre Norton, Fred Saberhagen, James H. Schmitz, A.E. Van Vogt and Jack Williamson were not very noteworthy. Of those nine authors, five of them are now in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and two out of the other four—Anvil and Schmitz—have had their complete works reissued in modern editions. (Full disclosure: Okay, fine, I’m the one who edited those reissues—but they sold pretty damn well for reissue volumes.)

Quite clearly, the Hugo voters were… ah, mistaken. (That sounds more dignified than “full of crap.”) Those are not the only times that Hugo voters have been…. ah, mistaken. They certainly won’t be the last, either. In this, the Hugos are like all awards. You win some, you lose some, so to speak.

It would be nitpicking to complain that Jack Williamson and Richard Matheson at least did get some Hugo recognition, that Van Vogt wrote his best work before the Hugos got established, or that some of the examples aren’t actually all that good, there still remains the question of how so many writers with such long careers were overlooked (and Flint’s examples could of course be extended with dozens more). Is that really the fault of the Hugo voters, just bad luck, or perhaps the simple fact that not all deserving kids can win prizes every time?

Surprisingly, I think it’s the latter. The long and short of it is that in any given year, there are twenty places on the Hugo ballot for a fiction writer: five each for Best Novel, Novella, Novelette and Short Story, give or take the occasional tie. That’s a high bar to clear for any writer, to get one of those slots, never mind win. Especially since the seventies, when fantasy and science fiction have exploded in popularity and size, the chances are high some deserving novel or story is going to be overlooked. (I know that even without the Puppy shenanigans, I easily had six or seven candidates for five slots in the Best Novel category.)

I think Flint has made a category error in other words, in complaining that deserving writers have been overlooked when the awards are actually for stories. It’s no good saying that a given writer is good enough to get a Hugo Award, you need to prove that in a given year, any given year, their best work would stack up to or beat that of their competition. And of course you also have to back that up with more than just your own taste. Jo Walton attempted to do this, in a series for Tor.com a few years ago, comparing what was won and nominated to what wasn’t, but as I recall for the most part she’d been satisfied that each year at least had credible candidates for each category, with some notable exceptions.

Now my personal opinion, which I think I share with Flint up to a point, is that the Hugos did start to falter from somewhere in the late seventies or early eighties as the SFF field exploded but Worldcon stagnated and aged. So many of the novels winning the Hugos in the last thirty years to me are no more than decent rather than brilliant, occasionally awarded for who wrote rather than their own merits. This again changed for the better in more recent years, thanks in no small measure to the Hugo Voter Packet and the better promotion of supporting memberships, but then the Puppies happened.