The 2014 Hugo Awards have been given out and the slate of winners is highly diverse and overall very good (detailed voting and nomination breakdown here), which is even more remarkable considering that the 2014 Hugo shortlist was probably the most controversial in ages. For some background, see my posts here, here and here.
My reaction, when I saw the list of winners this morning (I spent Sunday night writing and didn’t follow the announcements live, deciding I didn’t need the grief) very much matters that of Natalie Luhrs from The Radish: Faith in humanity (and fandom) restored.
The Hugo Award for best novel went – highly deservingly – to Ann Leckie for her Ancillary Justice. Now Ancillary Justice has made an almost unprecedented sweep of this year’s SFF awards, winning also the Nebula, Clarke Award and Locus Award for best first novel, making it the standout SF novel of the year. And indeed, Ancillary Justice stood heads above all of the other nominees in this category. Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross finished in second place, which is not unsurprising, since he has many fans, even though I am not one of them (writing wise – I like Charles Stross as a person). Parasite by Mira Grant a.k.a. Seanan McGuire finishes in third place and the two most controversial nominees, the entire Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson as well as Warbound by Larry Correia finish fourth and fifth respectively, proving that even a rabid fanbase (and one focussed only on one specific work or author) isn’t enough to win a Hugo without broader fandom support.
Looking at the extended nomination list, it turns out that Neil Gaiman was nominated for The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but declined, which is a pity since I liked that novel much more than any of the other finalists except Ancillary Justice. However, we cannot blame Neil Gaiman for either Wheel of Time or Warbound, since the novel that snuck onto the shortlist instead was Parasite. However, if you eliminated both Wheel of Time and Warbound, the best novel nominees would also have included The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes and A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar, which would have made for a much stronger shortlist.
The short fiction categories look very good as well. Novella is a bit disappointing with Charles Stross winning for Equoid (sorry, but his work just doesn’t do it for me, even if it includes unicorns), followed by Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne Valente, my personal favourite Wakulla Springs in third place and the two sad puppy candidates finishing fourth and fifth respectively. Personally, I found best novella the most disappointing category this year and voted “no award” in second place.
After being disqualified on technical grounds last year, Mary Robinette Kowal wins in the best novelette category for The Lady Astronaut of Mars. This wasn’t my first choice in the category (that would have been The Waiting Stars by Aliette de Bodard), but it’s one I’m happy with. I didn’t much care for the Ted Chiang story, but I know he’s very popular. I’d also love to congratulate the oft nominated but never winning old workhorse “No Award” for finishing in fifth place.
The Hugo for best short story went, pretty surprisingly IMO, to John Chu for The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere. Again, this wasn’t my first choice (that would have been Selkie Stories Are For Losers by Sofia Samatar), but one I’m very happy with. Indeed, John Chu’s short story was one of only two pleasant surprises in this year’s Hugo voter packet, the other being The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who in the graphic story category. Rachel Swirsky’s Nebula winning story If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love, which was among the most divisive nominees this year with people either loving or hating it, landed in third place, Thomas Olde Houvelt (which I wanted to love, but didn’t) in fourth.
The Campbell Award goes – again well deservedly – to Sofia Samatar. I’m a bit disappointed to see Benjanun Sriduangkaew finish in last place, since I like her work a whole lot. But then she was probably disadvantaged due to being the only pure short story writer on the list.
This makes three women, two writers of colour and one international writer winning in the fiction categories with only one winner a white man. Coincidentally, it also means that a piece of non-binary gender fiction and a piece of GLBT fiction are among the winners.
The rest of the winning slate looks similarly good. Best related work and best fan writer go to Kameron Hurley, again highly deserved. But then there were no bad choices for fan writer this year and indeed every single nominee would have deserved to win. Both art categories were taken by women, which I think is a first, with the wonderful Julie Dillon winning for pro-artist and Sarah Webb, who is only 19 years old, winning fan artist.
The editing categories also go to two women, Ellen Datlow and Ginjer Buchanan respectively. Lightspeed wins in the best semi-prozine category, while A Dribble of Ink wins best fanzine. Personally, I would have preferred The Book Smugglers in that category, but it’s still an excellent choice.
In the short dramatic presentation category, the Red Wedding a.k.a. the Game of Thrones episode “The Rains of Castermere” knocks out umpteen reiterations of Doctor Who as well as Orphan Black. Judging by the nomination breakdown, the extended ballot would have included yet more Doctor Who, more Orphan Black, more Game of Thrones as well as Sleepy Hollow (didn’t work for me, but at least it’s something different), Fringe (Is that still on?) and Chris Hadfield performing “A Space Oddity” aboard the ISS, which would have been interesting.
Gravity a.k.a. Sandra Bullock moaning in space wins unsurprisingly in the long dramatic presentation category, since it’s exactly the sort of serious science fiction film that Hugo voters like. I’m surprised to see Frozen finishing in second place, but then I don’t get the love for this one at all. My personal No. 1 and 2 choices, Iron Man 3 and Pacific Rim, both finished lower than I expected, namely in third and fourth place. But then Iron Man 3 got a lot of backlash, though I personally enjoyed it quite a bit, and Pacific Rim, while fun, isn’t exactly deep. Looking at the extended nomination list, I’m a bit sad to see that my two non-mainstream nominations, Only Lovers Left Alive and The Congress didn’t even gather enough nominations for a mention, but then both movies didn’t get a US release until 2014.
Finally, the win for the XKCD strip Time in the graphic story category leaves me completely stumped, especially considering it knocked out such fan favourites as the excellent Saga and Girl Genius as well as the surprisingly lovely The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who. No I’m not the world’s biggest XKCD fan in general, though I find it amusing on occasion. But Time just left me scratching my head and wondering “What is the point?” In fact – and Randall Munroe can live with this, considering that he won – I voted Time under “No award”, because I had no idea what it was supposed to be about. I did place it ahead of Meathouse Man, though, cause the less said about that one, the better.
So overall what threatened to become the biggest Hugo embarrassment in decades turned out to be a good year after all. Fandom has spoken and it has decided that it wants to be a place for diverse voices, the it wants to see women and creators of colour and international creators.
Scotch Frye Samizdat pretty much echoes my views, particularly with regard to the many wonderful women nominated.
In the end, all the sad puppies achieved was heaving some works onto the ballot that wouldn’t have been there otherwise (Toni Weisskopf and Brad Torgersen would probably have made it, since Weisskopf is a respected editor and Torgersen popular with the Analog crowd) and pissing off the Hugo electorate so much (since Hugo voters really don’t like the award being gamed) that even nominees who did not endorse the sad puppy slate such as Dan Wells or Elitist Book Reviews as well as otherwise popular nominees like Brad Torgersen or Toni Weisskopf suffered by association. Though I have to admit that I placed all the sad puppy nominees low on my ballot – even those who distanced themselves from the campaign – because I just didn’t like the works in question very much. I was willing to give Brad Torgersen (whose previous Hugo nominated story “Ray of Light” I quite liked) and Dan Wells a fair shot, but I found that I just didn’t like the works of theirs that were nominated. I also tried reading Warbound and Opera Vita Aeterna and again, I didn’t even feel bad about placing them low on the ballot, because I just didn’t like the works. As for Toni Weisskopf, I find that I buy a lot fewer Baen Books (only Lois McMaster Bujold and Sharon Lee/Steve Miller) since she took over. Now of course the sad puppy candidates weren’t the only works on the ballot I didn’t like. I also didn’t like the two Charles Stross works or The Ink Readers of Doi Saket or Time or Meathouse Man or Frozen or Gravity or Orphan Black, even though I have no political disagreements with their creators.
Though it is interesting that the point of the sad puppy campaign – at least as far as I can tell – was to prove that works by rightwing and conservative writers were unfairly neglected regardless of literary merit. However, in order to make that point it would be helpful to – you know – actually nominate works that have literary merit beyond being written by people of the right political views or being liked by Larry Correia. And if you look at the nomination breakdown, you see how many bullets were dodged, including not just fiction by John Ringo and Sarah Hoyt, which might actually have turned out to be good, but also an RPG handbook by Larry Correia and an essay on training soldiers by Tom Kratman, which have no more place on the best related work ballot than the filk CDs and podcasts, which have infuriated me in previous years.
Of course, literary taste is subjective and it is possible that the sad pupy nominators really thought Warbound or Opera Vita Aeterna or The Butcher of Khardov (that sounds like the nickname of an East Ukrainian separatist leader) or The Chaplain’s Legacy or The Exchange Officers really were among the best works of the year. After all, the Wheel of Time nominators also seem to genuinely believe that that series of really derivative big fat epic fantasy is truly among the best the genre has to offer.
I also understand that it sucks if your taste is consistently out of touch with that of the Hugo voters. After all, a lot of my favourite SFF works and writers and even whole subgenres never were nominated for Hugos either, let alone won. I guess fans of grimdark epic fantasy or romantic urban fantasy or steampunk or paranormal romance or SF romance or Franco-Belgian comics or another of the many subgenres traditionally ignored by the Hugo Awards will sympathize with the grumblings of the sad puppies. However, ballot stuffing is not the answer. And besides, right-leaning SF already has its own award with the Prometheus Award (won by Campbell nominee Ramez Naan this year), though for some reason the Prometheus Award also regularly nominates and even is won by pretty hardcore socialists. Hmm, maybe they mistake utopias for dystopias and vice versa.
I find the lengthy Mad Genius Club quote at the end of Correia’s post also amusing in the way that particular mad genius claims that the “Left”, whoever that may be, shot themselves in the foot by not voting for the more moderate among the sad puppy slate. Because obviously people are obliged to vote for works they dislike just to disprove the paranoia of some rightwing writers. And because obviously, no one who voted for Ancillary Justice or The Lady Astronaut of Mars or The Water That Falls On You from Nowhere actually liked them.
Comments are screened and I’m not in the mood for trolls, so sad puppies, please cry elsewhere.