Hugo Nominees: Longer Short Fiction

A little while ago, I griped about the Short Story nominees for this year's Hugo Awards. I've now finished the nominees in the Novella and Novelette categories, so I thought I'd comment on them as well.

As a general matter, I'd just about be willing to contribute money toward a fund to buy supporting memberships for fans who can't generally afford Worldcon, in hopes of getting fewer nominees that suck. Seriously. It only takes 20-ish nominations to get a story on the ballot in one of the short fiction categories, and this would be a worthy project if it meant not having to read another mawkish Mike Resnick story in a mode that was hopelessly cliched before I was born.

Anyway, the stand-out piece of the lot is "Truth" by Robert Reed, in the Novella category. It's very much a George W. Bush-era story, but manages to rise above the cheaply topical with a terrific hook and an excellent voice and characters. If you only read one Hugo-nominated work of short fiction, this should be the one.

And, honestly, I'm tempted to say that you should read only one of the Hugo-nominated works of short fiction.

These two categories are pretty thin. The next best story is "The Ray-Gun: A Love Story," a novelette by James Alan Gardner that does a sort of Kelly Link-ish thing where the SF element is there mostly as an excuse to present a detailed story about everyday life. The prose and narrative voice aren't as charming as Link at her best, but it's a good piece of work.

Everything else has major flaws. I got about a third of the way into the Doctorow/ Rosenbaum novella "True Names" before saying the Eight Deadly Words ("I don't care what happens to these programs"). "The Tear" by Ian McDonald has the grand sweep thing going for it, but the characters are pretty flat. "The Erdmann Nexus" by Nancy Kress has good characters, but ruins it by saying stupid things about quantum physics. And "The Political Prisoner" by Charles Coleman Finlay is this year's version of Paolo Bacigalupi's "Yellow Card Man" from a couple of years ago, only marginally less brutally unpleasant to read.

Speaking of Paolo Bacigalupi, he has a novelette nominated, "the Gambler," which is considerably less unpleasant to read than "Yellow Card Man." Unfortunately, it's several thousand words about how modern Americans are all horrible people for not caring enough about Serious Issues, and I can get that in a much more convenient blog form, thanks very much.

The other two reasonable nominees, Elizabeth Bear's "Shoggoths in Bloom" and John Kessel's "Pride and Prometheus" are the sort of "look at how clever I am!" pro-level fanfic (Lovecraft and Austen/Frankenstein) that always rubs me the wrong way when Neil Gaiman does it. Neither have much point beyond the playing around with other author's worlds, and I'm pretty sure that I'm missing a bunch of stuff in the Kessel story, by virtue of not having read Pride and Prejudice.

And then there's Mike Resnick's "Alistair Baffle's Emporium of Wonders." Not to put too fine a point on it, but how on earth is this shit getting nominated? Are there legions of Hugo voters who have spent the last sixty years in cryogenic suspension, and find this stuff bracing and new? Evil time travelers from the future deliberately trying to give me a stroke for some obscure reason?

I'm fairly confident that the mysterious magical store thing was pretty well played out before I was born, and this brings nothing new to that tattered and worn-out table. The prose is nothing special, the story doesn't ring any changes on the dusty old theme, and even the names of the characters are ridiculously cliche. And the worst part is, the whole thing is suffused with a sense that the author thinks he's being incredibly clever.

I don't know why I even bothered to read this, after the literary cow-pie to the face that was "Article of Faith," but I guess I was hoping for some glimmer of worth that might justify the fact that he's had at least three stories nominated in the last handful of years. But this just keeps alive his perfect streak of nominations for mawkishly sentimental warmed-over crap on subjects that were getting a little overdone when my father was a kid.

Seriously, how does this shit keep getting on the ballot? And how can we stop it from happening again? Because if you want money, I'll contribute money toward paying people to vote better stuff onto the ballot.

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Well, Worldcon membership is $210 per person and as you said, it only takes 20ish votes. So buying memberships for 20ish people on the condition that they nominate what you ask for should only cost you around $4,500 (including your membership and vote).

Assuming you actually do this, what would you have them nominate?

Well, Worldcon membership is $210 per person and as you said, it only takes 20ish votes. So buying memberships for 20ish people on the condition that they nominate what you ask for should only cost you around $4,500 (including your membership and vote).

That's the price for an attending membership. You can get voting rights by buying a supporting membership, which is only $50, which drops the price to about $1000. (Also, the $210 figure is Australian dollars, not US dollars.)

As for suggested alternatives, I don't read a great deal of short fiction, but I'll go out on a limb and guess that the works on the Locus Recommended Reading list are almost certain to be better than the Resnick stories. I say this because while they do include all the halfway decent stories, they do not include the two Resnick stories, which is a sure indication of good taste on their part. If you want something more specific than that, I'll note that there are three (!) novelettes and one short story by Peter S. Beagle on the list.

From the Worldcon 2009 (Anticipation) site
Membership:
240 CAD/AUD 210 USD 135£ 150⬠20000¥

But yes, supporting membership is only $50.

I was curious about what you'd nominate because you seemed to be sure there was better stuff out there. I thought that was because you'd read better stuff.

Will you be reading the novels as well?

I was curious about what you'd nominate because you seemed to be sure there was better stuff out there. I thought that was because you'd read better stuff.

In the case of the Resnick stories, they're bad enough in an absolute sense that I don't need to have read anything else to know that there were better stories published this year. Unless the five nominated stories were the only five stories in that category in the entire year, there's got to be better work out there.

The Bear and Kessel stories aren't nearly as bad, they're just very much not to my taste. They're perfectly well written, and I can see how they would appeal to people with different tastes than mine, and thus end up on the ballot, but I don't find them interesting.

Will you be reading the novels as well?

I've read four of the five novels, and have no intention of reading Saturn's Children. Charlie Stross doing a late-Heinlein tribute novel is not something I'm likely to enjoy, and life is just too short.

I haven't decided the full order of the list, yet, but Anathem is going to be at the top. I'll post my ballot after I send it in.

I just finished Saturn's Children a few days ago, and I feel 100% confident in stating that you won't regret that decision.

The three short-fiction categories should have been consolidated years ago. Stories like that used to be the heart of the SF genre, but are now a small arty appendix.

By Johan Larson (not verified) on 12 Jun 2009 #permalink

Johan:

The three short-fiction categories should have been consolidated years ago.

Well, that's certainly a good way to increase attendance at the WSFS Business Meeting, as every SFWA member will be mobilized to show up to vote down such a proposal.

Note that I'm not arguing against the idea (or for it -- I'm chairman of the WSFS Business Meeting this year and am officially neutral). I'm just pointing out the practical issue that anyone planning to introduce such changes is likely to face. The reason you probably don't see any of the regular Business Meeting attendees proposing such a thing is that some of them (it was before my time) remember the last time there was any shrinkage here. In the 1970s, the two "middle fiction" categories were collapsed together. I'm told that Harlan Ellison led an impassioned campaign to split them back apart again.

The Hugo Award categories are decided by the members of WSFS. Most of the time, only about 100 "regulars" turn up for the Business Meeting, but there are a lot more people who keep their ear to the ground for changes and who will turn up to vote for -- or more likely against -- ratification of some changes. So it doesn't matter if some proposal is "right" in some cosmic sense; what matters is "can you get enough votes to make it stick for two years and also not get reversed the moment you look away."

(This is why it took the better part of a decade to split Dramatic Presentation, by the way. It took that long to get anything approaching a consensus about what sort of change, if any, was needed, and the result was a compromise anyway, in the sense that it appears to have made everyone unhappy in some way.)

But if you're interested in tilting at the windmill and are a member of Anticipation, contact me directly and I'll help you through the process of proposing a constitutional amendment that would accomplish your desired goal.

Johan:

The three short-fiction categories should have been consolidated years ago.

Well, that's certainly a good way to increase attendance at the WSFS Business Meeting, as every SFWA member will be mobilized to show up to vote down such a proposal.

Note that I'm not arguing against the idea (or for it -- I'm chairman of the WSFS Business Meeting this year and am officially neutral). I'm just pointing out the practical issue that anyone planning to introduce such changes is likely to face. The reason you probably don't see any of the regular Business Meeting attendees proposing such a thing is that some of them (it was before my time) remember the last time there was any shrinkage here. In the 1970s, the two "middle fiction" categories were collapsed together. I'm told that Harlan Ellison led an impassioned campaign to split them back apart again.

The Hugo Award categories are decided by the members of WSFS. Most of the time, only about 100 "regulars" turn up for the Business Meeting, but there are a lot more people who keep their ear to the ground for changes and who will turn up to vote for -- or more likely against -- ratification of some changes. So it doesn't matter if some proposal is "right" in some cosmic sense; what matters is "can you get enough votes to make it stick for two years and also not get reversed the moment you look away."

(This is why it took the better part of a decade to split Dramatic Presentation, by the way. It took that long to get anything approaching a consensus about what sort of change, if any, was needed, and the result was a compromise anyway, in the sense that it appears to have made everyone unhappy in some way.)

But if you're interested in tilting at the windmill and are a member of Anticipation, contact me directly and I'll help you through the process of proposing a constitutional amendment that would accomplish your desired goal.

Chad (and whoever else), you said Anathem was at the top of the list. I still can't decide whether to read that, because I've heard such mixed things about it. I thought I would pick it up, then I heard it was a bit disappointing, then started to hear good things about it, etc. Anyone want to chime in on whether this is a worthwhile read? I read the nominee, Little Brother, which was excellent, how does Anathem compare (besides likely being a very different kind of novel).

Chad: Including Peter Fucking Beagle is a sure sign that there's at least some bad taste on that Locus list.

Waterdog: Anathem is brilliant and excellent, but also has some major flaws. I think it's unquestionably worth it. However, I also think that Little Brother is a book so awful that time travelers are arguably morally justified in killing Cory Doctorow's great-great-grandfather, so I don't know that you should trust my opinion.

Didn't like "A Study in Emerald", eh? I thought it was pretty good, though I can see how that kind of pastiche can quickly fall into the too-clever-by-half category. (Cf. "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies")