As much for my own future reference as anything else, some thoughts on the bits of the Hugo ballot that aren't Best Novel (which I've already talked about). At this point, I've probably read as much of the voter packet as I'm going to (though if I've left out something actually good, I could go back and pick it up...). That doesn't mean I've read everything-- there are quite a few things on there I'm not going to bother with because, you know, life is just too short-- but I've read those that seemed worth a shot.
In the short fiction categories, two of the longer nominees were weirdly incomplete. "Flow" by Arlan Andrews and "Championship B'Tok" by Edward Lerner are perfectly fine, but just... stop. I wouldn't object to reading more in either setting, say if these were the introductory chapters of longer novels, but as self-contained stories, they're kind of lacking.
"The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale" by Rajnar Vajra is a complete alien-contact story, and good enough in a Heinlein-pastiche sort of vein. It's maybe a little shaggy, but it's enjoyable enough. "The Day the World Turned Upside Down" by Thomas Olde Heuvelt is kind of stupid and pointless, featuring a world where gravity literally reverses itself after the narrator gets dumped. I'm not sure it's all that much more stupid and pointless than last year's "The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere," though, and that ended up winning, so...
"A Single Samurai" by Steven Diamond is built around the nice image of a samurai climbing up the back of a mountain-sized monster in an attempt to kill it, but doesn't quite pay off, and the bits where the narrator explains samurai stuff were kind of tedious. "Totaled" by Kary English may have been the best of the lot, a brain-in-a-vat story that had some genuine emotional content.
I don't think any of these are brilliant, but I didn't find any of them strikingly awful, either ("The Day The World Turned Upside Down" comes closest, but remained at "sigh heavily but keep reading" rather than "close the file and move on to the next thing"). I suspect there were probably better stories out there, but I say that almost every year that I read the short-fiction nominees, so...
I also read all four of the "Graphic Story" nominees, which mostly just served to remind me that I don't really care for most comics. People I respect speak highly of Ms. Marvel, but it's a superhero comic, an origin story, and reads like a Very Special Episode complete with thunderously obvious point-making, so I just couldn't get into it. Rat Queens reminded me of the comics that used to run in Dragon magazine back in the 80's; I guess it was pretty good for that, but I didn't care about anything that happened. Sex Criminals has a pervasive air of "aren't we clever?" which, yes, here's a gold star, go away.
The only one of the lot I might read more of was Saga, and that was at least partly because the included example was Volume 3 of a continuing series, so I didn't really understand what was going on. I did like the art, though, and what I could figure out was more interesting to me than the others.
I'll probably end up leaving that category blank when I do my ballot, because it's just Not My Thing to such a degree that I don't think voting would be useful.
And that's pretty much it for that.
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Do you think the quality of writing is declining, or are your standards (and the public's standards) for good SF increasing?
I'm inclined to think the latter, as knowledge of the sciences spreads more widely to the lay public via sites such as yours and others here and elsewhere. With that influence, the public acclaim for fiction, film, and television, becomes more selective in the way it elevates certain works to the status of classics or exemplars, and rejects others as implausible, stereotypical, etc.
This year is kind of anomalous because of the whole Rabid Puppy business, which put some stuff on the ballot for reasons that had nothing to do with actual quality. In general, though, I think the main issue is a matter of tastes-- I haven't been especially happy with the Hugo short fiction categories for several years now because the current voting population is looking for different things in their stories than I am. As a result, the ballot tends to be heavy on stories that do a very good job of doing a thing that I'm not particularly interested in.
This is a problem I'm having with a lot of pop culture right at the moment-- see my repeated comments about superhero movies-- but it's mostly a matter of my tastes. It's a little frustrating to have it engulf written SF, which has always been a comfortable retreat, but, you know, these things happen.