On the Need for "Short Story Club"

So, the Hugo awards were handed out a little while ago, with half of the prose fiction categories going to "No Award" and the other half to works I voted below "No Award." Whee. I'm not really interested in rehashing the controversy, though I will note that Abigail Nussbaum's take is probably the one I most agree with.

With the release of the nominating stats, a number of people released "what might've been" ballots, stripping out the slate nominees-- Tobias Buckell's was the first I saw, so I'll link that. I saw a lot of people exclaiming over how awesome that would've been, and found myself with some time to kill, so I went and read the short stories from that list (all of which are freely available online).

And, you know, they're... fine. Really, the main effect this had for me was to reconfirm that short fiction is a low-return investment for me. I wouldn't object to any of these winning an award, but none of them jumped out at me as brilliant "Oh my God, this must win!" stuff.

(Aside: I spent a while thinking about why it is that short fiction at least seems to have a lower rate of return for me than novels. I think it's mostly that current tastes interact with the length limit in a way that works really badly for me. The stuff that's getting celebrated these days tends toward the "literalized metaphor" side of things-- the speculative elements tend not to be points of science, but supernatural reflections of the emotional state of the characters. The failure mode of that is "crashingly obvious," particularly when constrained to keep it under 7,500 words, and I really hate that. My reaction tends to be "Yes, I see what you did there. You're very clever. Here's a shiny gold star," and a story starting in that hole needs to be really good just to ascend to the heights of "Meh." Novels provide a little more room to work, and it's easier to hide the clever metaphors, so they're less likely to bug me in that particular way.)

This then leads to the fundamental problem I have with Hugo nominating, namely that the "just nominate what you love!" method really doesn't work for me when three-quarters of the awards go to low-return categories. Left to my own devices, I'm just not going to read much short fiction, certainly not enough to make sensible nominations. Which means I'm going to be one of those folks who nominates a bunch of novels and maybe a couple of movies, and leaves the rest blank. Which plays into the hands of the slate voters.

The one year recently when I actually read enough short fiction to make halfway sensible nominations was when Niall Harrison put together a "Short Story Club" of bloggers who all read a particular story and reviewed it online (you can find my reviews here). Working from a limited selection of stories by somebody with a really good grasp of the state of the field was a big help, and the obligation to say something about them on the blog was enough to motivate me to read them. (And, no, "keep garbage off the Hugo ballot" is not by itself enough motivation, especially in the absence of quality curation.)

Niall has since moved to a role where it wouldn't be appropriate for him to do that kind of thing, but I'd really love to see someone else take that up: picking a set of plausibly Hugo-worthy stories, setting a schedule, and collecting links to reviews. Even if it doesn't lead to finding stuff that I actually love and want to nominate, it would be interesting to read about what other people see in these stories.

I don't know that anybody reading this has the free time or standing in the SF community to do this kind of thing, but I know I would find it really valuable. So I'll throw it out there and hope for the best.

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Why not just scrap the Hugos altogether? If the puppies taught us nothing else, it's that the Hugos are easy to game, and this little debacle has totally tarnished them forever. Also, all the puppies need to be forever blacklisted. Not that any of them were any good, including Stephenson.

By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 31 Aug 2015 #permalink