Monday, August 17, 2015

Hugo Awards 2015: A Consideration of the Sources

And so to a consideration of some of the Hugo nominees themselves.  This more or less amounts to a "Books read in May/June" post, which I've deliberately held onto until now because it didn't seem quite right to comment on my own voting choices until after voting on the Hugo Awards closed last month.  But I wanted to get this in before the results are announced next week at Worldcon.  I'll be interested to see the voting statistics when they're made available, hopefully not too long after Worldcon.

The Hugo Award categories that have been most heavily affected by the slate campaigns are all the shorter fiction categories (Novella, Novelette and Short Story), Best Related Work, both Best Editor categories and Best Fan Writer.  The Best Novel and the two Best Dramatic Presentation categories were less heavily affected by the slate campaigns (it's roughly half and half).  Hardly affected at all, probably because the slate-makers didn't take much of an interest in it, is the Best Graphic Story category.  I'll pass over the Dramatic Presentation categories and the esoterica and talk a bit more about the print categories.

Now, I'll admit that I don't read a lot of short fiction and tend not to pay a lot of attention to those categories, so as much as their hijack irks me on principle, in all honesty it doesn't make a lot of difference to me as a reader.  It's nice to be able to read a good shorter piece while considering the Hugo nominees, and it's a shame that there really weren't any good shorter pieces this year - even the small handful of non-slate nominees were a disappointment - but I'll get over it.  I put down No Award for all three categories.

The write-off of the Best Related Work category is much more disappointing, because I do love a good bit of lit. crit. and analysis around SF.  The best item on offer this year was a short article advising writers of military SF to take thermodynamics into account when writing their action scenes, which just looks like 101 stuff to me.  The rest of the nominees were vacuous dreck, and two of them weren't even related to SF, so why the hell they weren't removed from the shortlist on eligibility grounds is beyond me.  I put down No Award for this category too.

Best Novel

Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie
Sequel to the previous year's winner of every award available, Ancillary Justice.  Another extremely good novel in my opinion.  It's more straightforward, playing out in one continuous narrative whereas Justice switched between "present" and "past" narratives to reveal its story.  It starts out looking like another slice of grand space opera, but partway in it becomes clear that it's actually going to be a small-scale character piece; the larger scale does creep back in right at the end.  My vote: 1st place.

The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J Anderson
First in a series that ties in with a previous, very long series of space opera novels.  I could say that this book met all my generic, uninspired Star Wars knock-off needs for the year, but that would be unfair.  It exceeded them.  My vote: 4th place.

The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison
One of those novels that subverts epic fantasy.  I'm in favour of this as a concept, but haven't found many examples that I like, probably mainly because I don't much like epic fantasy itself.  This is a perfectly good example, but I felt that it dragged heavily.  The cod archaic speech patterns didn't help much.  My vote: 3rd place.

The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu (trans. Ken Liu)
First of a trilogy written by one of China's top SF writers, and thus the only novel nominee this year to go any way at all to putting the "world" into "Worldcon".  Starts out as an intriguing mystery with an engaging backdrop of Maoist China, but lurches into a generic alien invasion runaround about two thirds in.  My vote: 2nd place.

Skin Game, Jim Butcher
Book #5,000,001 in the Dresden Files series.  Competently written pap.  Butcher's obviously found a formula that works for him - again and again and again - and I'm very happy for him.  I just don't see any artistic or literary merit in it.  My vote: unranked.

Best Graphic Story

Ms Marvel, vol 1: No Normal, G Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona & Jake wyatt
As a teenage superhero origin story, fairly ordinary.  Making the heroine the Muslim American daughter of Pakistani immigrants is a bit different, and certainly a welcome bit of diversity in a largely white, Anglo-American and predominantly male subgenre.  The art looks kind of fluffy, but at least it's a change from the usual photo-reference style of superhero art.  My vote: 3rd place.

Rat Queens, vol 1: Sass and Sorcery, Kurtis J Weibe & Roc Upchurch
A grungy comedy D&D-style fantasy story with an all-female cast.  Nice art, some smart dialogue.  I'd be prepared to seek out vol 2.  My vote: 2nd place.

Saga, vol 3, Brian K Vaughan & Fiona Staples
This is of course still terrific, but in judging it as a book in its own right - as opposed to a middle volume of an ongoing story - I find it relies too heavily on the reader's awareness of vols 1 and 2 to stand on it own.  My vote: 4th place.

Sex Criminals, vol 1: One Weird Trick, Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky
The only one of this year's nominees to do anything of significant interest with narrative form, character subjectivity and artistic presentation (notwithstanding Kamala Khan's mystic vision in issue 1 of Ms Marvel).  Also the only one that has something unusual to say, being a consideration of the ways in which we learn and talk about sex.  Heartfelt, honest, filthy and sniggeringly funny in equal measure; all this, and a SF action story too!  My vote: 1st place.

The Zombie Nation, vol 2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate, Carter Reid
Apparently a print collection of a webcomic, but widespread reports suggest that nobody has actually seen the print version.  The webcomic itself is easily found, and is nothing in any way outstanding or interesting.  There are hundreds of webcomics just like this, and dozens of much better ones.  My vote: unranked.

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