Friday, 20 March 2009

The 2009 Hugo Award Nominations

Every year this award gets more eye-openingly bemusing and seems to drift even further from the tastes of the general SF&F-reading public. It wasn't helped by 2008 not being the best year for the genre, but still, SF fans should really have been able to come up with something better than this.

Best Novel
Anathem by Neal Stephenson
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross
Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi

A bit of a lukewarm list, with the Hugo's blatant anti-fantasy bias in the face of the continued decline of quality SF becoming more tiresome. The absence of Terry Pratchett's Nation and Daniel Abraham's An Autumn War is naturally ludicrous, but Stephenson and Doctorow were always going to get nominated (even though Little Brother is a bit of a misfire, although enjoyable to read). The seemingly automatic inclusion of Charles Stross every year regardless is starting to get a little bit silly though, especially given the continued absences of the other British SF powerhouses of the moment, Peter F. Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds and Richard Morgan. The Temporal Void, House of Suns and The Steel Remains would all have been worthy inclusions on the list, but suffered from the traditional split publication problem (all three came out in the UK in 2008 and 2009 in the USA).

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
The Dark Knight
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Iron Man
METAtropolis
WALL-E

The massively overrated Dark Knight will no doubt walk off with this (although better than the so-bad-it's-brilliant Iron Man, for which Robert Downey Jr. deserves a special award for single-handedly preventing the movie from being totally unwatchable), although a nod to the far more SFnal WALL-E is possible.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Lost: The Constant
Battlestar Galactica: Revelations
Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along-Blog
Doctor Who: Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
Doctor Who: Turn Left

A better selection that other recent years, where the most SF shows on TV (Battlestar Galactica and increasingly Lost) have gone totally ignored. In a logical universe this would be a closely-fought battle to the death between BSG's best episode in ages, Lost's best episode ever and Doctor Horrible (proof that, Dollhouse not withstanding, Joss Whedon can still be one of the funniest and cleverest writers in television). In reality we know that Doctor Who will win. Even more irritatingly, whilst last year the genuinely best episode of new Who won, this year the best episode of the season (Midnight) was ignored in favour of the illogical and bitty Silence in the Library two-parter. Turn Left isn't too bad and proves that Catherine Tate can actually act, but it's a long way from batting at the same level as the other shows nominated.

Best Editor, Long Form
Lou Anders
Ginjer Buchanan
David G. Hartwell
Beth Meacham
Patrick Nielsen Hayden

It's understandable this is award is usually an Americans-only club, but it would be nice if one year some of the excellent British or international editors got a look-in.

14 comments:

hwm said...

Even sader are the nominations for the The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.
David Anthony Durham's Acacia is solid, but why is Felix Gilman on that list? And who the heck are Aliette de Bodard, Tony Pi and Gord Sellar?

kevin said...

I don't think I can agree with this statement:

"Every year this award gets more eye-openingly bemusing and seems to drift even further from the tastes of the general SF&F-reading public."

At least on the face of the nominations for the novel category. Seems to be me that Stephenson, Gaiman, Doctorow, and Scalzi (and maybe to a lesser extent Stross) are some of the most popular names for the current "general SF&F reading public". Anathem seems somewhat polarizing but reaction to both "Big Brother" and "The Graveyard Book" seems overwhelmingly positive critically.

As of your "Best of 2008" post, you had not yet read either "Graveyard Book" or "Anathem". Assuming that still holds true, it seems strange that you would dismiss them out of hand .

A more accurate summation would probably be "Every year this award gets more eye-openingly bemusing and seems to drift even further from the tastes of the posters on westeros.org"

Travel By Thought said...

Adam, could you elaborate on what you mean by 2008 not being the best year for the genre? Is this in terms of sales figures, or the number of SF works published, or the quality of SF overall?

Admittedly, I'm barely starting to get caught up with 2007's stuff, but it seems to me that SF is an incredibly vibrant and muscular genre right now, in print and on the screen (though *sniff* BSG ends tonight).

Although I have not yet read any of the Best Novel nominees (Stephenson and Doctorow are in the dugout), I am surprised by the Stross and Scalzi nominations, as I don't think I saw their books on any of the "Best Of 2008" lists, anywhere. (I'd have to check again, of course.) Such are the consequences of democracy? :-)

Adam Whitehead said...

"Every year this award gets more eye-openingly bemusing and seems to drift even further from the tastes of the posters on westeros.org"

Not at all. It's clear the the Hugo Awards have a bias against fantasy apart from the occasional lapsed nod towards it (Strange & Norrel, American Gods), at a time when the amount by which fantasy outsells SF continues to grow at a massive rate. The problem of split publication also continues to discriminate against non-US-published works (as I mentioned with Hamilton, Reynolds, Morgan and Banks) with no obvious solution to mind (without getting into the Nebula situation of having books winning awards 2-3 years after they came out).

The Hugos finally giving in and admitting they are a US-oriented, SF-centred award rather than trying to cater for all of speculative fiction would be a step in the right direction.

"Admittedly, I'm barely starting to get caught up with 2007's stuff, but it seems to me that SF is an incredibly vibrant and muscular genre right now, in print and on the screen."

I will clarify that the genre overall continues to grow and maintain a high level of quality (although SF continues to be massively outpaced by Fantasy). However, 2008 was less impressive than some recent years in maintaining that trend. There were some excellent books released in 2005, (particularly) 2006 and 2007 and we've already seen some brilliant releases for 2009, but 2008 definitely felt a bit quieter by comparison.

Longasc said...

I would split the Hugo in Science-Fiction and Fantasy. Sure, there are often huge problems to determine whether a novel belongs to the Science-Fiction or Fantasy genre. But it would still be better than what we get nowadays.

Peter F. Hamilton should never ever get any award, IMO. He is a prime example how one can inflate 2-3 meager storylines, connect them, stall them, just to fill a whole trilogy? By Ozzie, no. :)

Kevin said...

"
Not at all. It's clear the the Hugo Awards have a bias against fantasy apart from the occasional lapsed nod towards it (Strange & Norrel, American Gods), at a time when the amount by which fantasy outsells SF continues to grow at a massive rate. The problem of split publication also continues to discriminate against non-US-published works (as I mentioned with Hamilton, Reynolds, Morgan and Banks) with no obvious solution to mind (without getting into the Nebula situation of having books winning awards 2-3 years after they came out).
"

Does that really apply this year though?

If you want to pull out the sales argument- it might hold true in terms of the catalog as a whole, but the two biggest selling spec fic books in the last year were almost certainly Anathem and Graveyard Book, other than maybe Nation (but of course Nation isn't epic fantasy anyway).

And the biggest genre on the block right now is neither SF or epic fantasy but urban fantasy but I doubt anyone is clamoring for Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison, Laurel K. Hamilton, or Sherrylon Kenyon to get a Hugo.

As far as Peter Hamilton, Morgan, Banks, and Reynolds go- yes each has absolutely done Hugo worthy work for their key works but I don't think their 2008 output, while good, was particularly notable (though I haven't read the Reynolds book)in the context of their catalogs. Morgan deserved a Hugo for "Black Man" but "Steel Remains" wasn't even worthy of a nomination.

It just seems a weird argument to me- many people consider 2008 a somewhat lackluster year by epic fantasy standards but still get mad when the overwhelmingly well received "Anathem", "Little Brother", and "Graveyard Book" (which won the prestigious Newberry as well) get nominated, especially when most of the people I see criticizing the selections haven't even read most of them.

Adam Whitehead said...

I know many people who think Jim Butcher is well overdue for a major genre award. I'll see what I think when I get into his books later this year.

Also, epic fantasy on the contrary had an excellent 2008: The Ten Thousand and Last Argument of Kings are overwhelmingly superb novels, whilst The Painted Man was a very solid debut.

Little Brother is a mediocre book. Doctorow starts off by making some interesting arguments and then commits the classic elementary error of contradicting himself (adults are bad! Except when they are needed to come in and save the day at the end because the kids are in jail). 1984 for kids, which I have seen the book described as, this very definitely isn't.

If Anathem is as good as Cryptonomicon, then it is certainly worthy of a nomination. Gaiman is an excellent author. I have no issue with their of those nominations. But surely people cannot be seriously saying that Charles Stross - who is a long, long way from being one of the most discussed authors in the genre - has written what is it now, four Hugo-worthy books in a row? That would put him in the same league of quality and universal genre respect as Asimov, Clarke or Heinlein, and I'm not really seeing that.

Kevin said...

I love Jim Butcher but his work just isn't Hugo caliber IMO- it's all fluff (albeit insanely enjoyable fluff). Same reason that Scalzi doesn't deserve to be on the list every year.

"Last Argument of Kings" is probably a strong contender to most (personally, I like the series but don't love it like so many) and it also seems to hit the critical and commercial success criteria. But Kearney is perpetually underrated even within the epic fantasy community so is it any surprise that Hugo voters would overlook him? Same with Daniel Abraham to an extent.

Kevin Standlee said...

I do so wish I could put you together with the people who bitterly complained at the travesty of a Fantasy novel winning the Best Novel Award (the Harry Potter novel in that particular case) and what a crime it was, and how the Hugo Award Judges (?) should immediately withdraw the award and give it to a proper work.

Kevin Standlee said...

The Hugo Awards are voted on by the members of the World Science Fiction Society, which consists of the members of the annual World Science Fiction Convention. The Award thus tends to reflect their tastes. There is no question that is has a US-centric bias, because even when the convention is outside the USA, it's usually Americans who make up the largest percentage of members.

WSFS recognizes this bias by giving works originally published outside the USA an additional year of eligibility if they are published in the USA in a subsequent year.

Dr Plokta said...

Last century, zero out of 49 Hugo winners for Best Novel were fantasy. This century, it's four out of eight (and The Graveyard Book has a pretty good chance this year). It seems that there may have been a bias against fantasy in the past, but it's now gone.

tkunsman said...

Every year this award gets more eye-openingly bemusing and seems to drift even further from the tastes of the general SF&F-reading public. It wasn't helped by 2008 not being the best year for the genre, but still, SF fans should really have been able to come up with something better than this

I'm curious - did you nominate for the Hugo Awards this year? You don't state if you did.

Adam Whitehead said...

The lack of Daniel Abraham is more surprising because he is an active member of US fandom, goes to Worldcons, gets involved on discussion panels and blogs a lot, in other words he does the things that should put him 'in the club' as well as the fact he wrote a barnstorming, first-rate, critically acclaimed novel.

"I'm curious - did you nominate for the Hugo Awards this year? You don't state if you did."

Nope. Unemployed and can't afford it, especially with the dollar sky-rocketing against the pound at the moment. The paying-to-vote thing is a whole other matter which we really got into last year so I wasn't going to bring it up again this year.

Kevin Standlee said...

The paying-to-vote thing is a whole other matter which we really got into last year so I wasn't going to bring it up again this year.

Well, I will. The Hugo Awards are not "the awards presented by a survey of every SF/F fan in the world." They are the awards presented by the World Science Fiction Society. In order to participate in the club's awards, you have to be a member of the club. That's pretty simple, isn't it?

If you want awards in which you can participate without having to pay anything, there are still the Locus Awards, although even they have decided that votes from their own subscribers count double.

While I have stated before that I think WSFS sets its membership dues higher than it should, I have never advocated that the price should be zero.

Alternatively, I suggest that those people who think that it's Evil to Make People Pay to Vote should go forth and organize their own Freedom of Choice SF/F Awards. Don't be surprised if those awards aren't immediately hailed as the True Voice of Fandom and immediately eclipse the Nebulas, Hugos, and Locus Awards because Anybody Can Vote.