Thursday, July 31, 2014

Aaron's Take on the 2014 Hugo Nominees for Fiction

Today is the day to cast your ballots for the Hugo Award. Since this seems to be the year for block voting, if you don't know how to vote, I will gladly tell you . . .

Aaron's Ballot for Best Short Story
1. Sofia Samatar - Selkie Stories Are for Losers
2. John Chu - The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere
3. Rachel Swirsky - If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love
4. Thomas Olde Heuvelt - The Ink Readers of Doi Saket

To me, this is a group of three well-crafted stories and one brilliant one. Selkie Stories Are for Losers is elegantly written and in only a few pages creates a memorable main character, a young woman who is hurt and fearful after being abandoned by her mother but who is brave enough not to give up on love. At the same time, the story is an insightful commentary on an entire sub-genre of fantasy stories. This is the kind of piece the Hugo Awards were created to recognize.

Aaron's Ballot for Best Novelette
1. Aliette de Bodard - The Waiting Stars
2. Ted Chiang - The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling
3. Mary Robinette Kowal - The Lady Astronaut of Mars
4. Brad R. Torgersen - The Exchange Officers
6. Vox Day - Opera Vita Aeterna

In the novelette category, my vote goes to Aliette de Bodard, one of the finest young writers in the field. The Waiting Stars exemplifies her work's excellent craft and striking empathy. The other nominees are all good, until you get to the last one.

It would perhaps be more fun if Opera Vita Aeterna were more amusingly bad than it is. Instead, it reads like a lot of stories sent round for critiques in writers' groups: an amateurish effort by an author with some ability who doesn't seem to know yet how to construct an actual story. Opera Vita Aeterna could not have sold to any professional market in the field, and it's doubtful it could have sold even to a semipro, because it's dry and dull and simply does not tell a story. Only one real event takes place in the entire piece and, incredibly, it takes place offstage, even though the primary viewpoint character is there when it happens. Shame on the block of voters who stuffed this turkey onto the ballot. I suspect few of them even read it, yet they nominated it for reasons that have nothing to do with what the Hugo Awards should be about. (And because I do respect what the awards are supposed to be about, my reasons for rating it below "No Award" are unrelated to the author's political views or the offensive way he expresses them.)

The good news is Opera Vite Aeterna is the only one of the Correia slate of nominees that is not written at a professional level, so the embarrassment is not so deep as it might have been. The Brad Torgersen story in this category, for example, is a solid example of the Analog style of writing, even if that style isn't much to my tastes. (Brad, by the way, can transcend that style when he chooses, for instance in his brilliant novelette "Ray of Light.")

Aaron's Ballot for Best Novella
1. Catherynne M. Valente - Six-Gun Snow White
2. Andy Duncan & Ellen Klages - Wakulla Springs
3. Brad R. Torgersen - The Chaplain's Legacy
4. Dan Wells - The Butcher of Khardov
5. Charles Stross - Equoid

Snow White as a Western is a great concept, and no doubt many authors could have done it credit. But could anyone else have turned it into something as striking and captivating as Six-Gun Snow White? Catherynne Valente is a marvel.

Aaron's Ballot for Best Novel
1. Ann Leckie - Ancillary Justice
2. Charles Stross - Neptune's Brood
3. Larry Correia - Warbound
4. Mira Grant (Seanan McGuire) - Parasite
6. Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson - The Wheel of Time

I hate to say it, but this strikes me as a lackluster group of best novel nominees. Ancillary Justice is by far my favorite, the most original, the best written, and the most thought-provoking of the group. But then, if we're using thought-provoking as a criterion, Neptune's Brood is the only other nominee to try. The Correia and Grant novels are entertaining but have little to say. I choose Correia over Grant because of the writing quirks in Parasite that annoy me: multiple passages that don't advance the story (minor character drove me home and told me about her dog for five pages), and the fact that the main character's dialogue and the same person's first-person narration are in markedly different voices.

I rate The Wheel of Time below No Award, because it was a terrible precedent to allow that entire series on the ballot at once. I already feel badly for whichever friend of mine writes a brilliant novel in the near future and gets stuck on the Hugo ballot opposite the entire Discworld series. Here's hoping the rule gets clarified to keep multi-volume series off the ballot in future.


Eric James Stone said...

I don't think the Discworld series would be eligible the same way the Wheel of Time is. The Wheel of Time really is one big story, following the same core protagonists from book 1 to book 14, and the main conflict set up in book 1 is finally resolved in book 14.

The Discworld books, on the other hand, are a bunch of different stories that share the same milieu.

A better example would be George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, except from what I've heard it won't be eligible when it is finished because one of the books was nominated for best novel on an individual basis.

Amy said...

I agree with you Aaron, that allowing the entire Wheel of the Series to be nominated was a terrible precedent. And I like the series.

In my opinion, there's already too many people who vote for the Hugo awards based on the author, instead of the quality of their nominated work.