Hugo Thoughts, 2008

Some thoughts on this year’s Hugo nominations:

* First, I think it’s a pretty good year for the Best Novel nominees, but then I don’t suppose that’s entirely surprising, is it. You can do far, far worse than Charles Stross, Robert J Sawyer, Ian McDonald, Michael Chabon and whoever that other guy is. That said, I have to say I was surprised not to see Richard Morgan’s Thirteen (aka Black Man) on the final slate, and rather substantially surprised not to see Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind there, since in the latter case I think it’s one of the best fantasy debuts of recent years. If it doesn’t make the final slate for the World Fantasy Award, I think we can start muttering darkly about conspiracies.

As for Thirteen/Black Man, well, I just thought it was cool as hell is all. I remember that at the 2005 Worldcon in Edinburgh, I was briefly introduced to Morgan and someone suggested to me that I wrote a bit like him. I took it as a compliment then and continue to do so.

* I do find it interesting that the Best Novel category is entirely fantasy free; the closest to fantasy this year I suppose would be Chabon’s book, and it’s really alternate history, which is not quite the same thing. I would be wary of suggesting that it’s indicative of anything in particular; I think it’s just part and parcel with the vagaries of the Hugo nominators from year to year, and the fact it was a strong year in SF. But I’ll bet other folks, possibly more knowledgeable in Hugo lore than I, will read something else in these particular tea leaves.

* To go back to Charlie Stross, congratulations are in order for him, as he has bested Robert Silverberg with a record fifth year of consecutive nominations in the category of Best Novel. I’m really getting tired of noting that he’s the poster boy of science fiction for this decade, but what can I do? It’s true.

* I think the Hugo folks made an interesting choice to allow the entire first season of Heroes to be nominated in the long form category; I wonder what the reaction will be to it. I do know that if it wins, Denvention is going to have to shell out for a hell of a lot of trophies, since it lists eleven writers and thirteen directors on the ballot. I do suspect Stardust has the inside track in the category this year, however.

* I have a lot of friends on the ballot this year and I am happy for them all, but I am especially pleased for Elizabeth Bear, who makes the Hugo ballot for the first time the year with her short story “Tideline.” Likewise David Moles is a first-timer on the ballot as well with his novelette “Finisterra”; looks like he’s bounced back from that SFWA censure just fine. Finally, Jonathan Strahan also makes his first appearance on the ballot in the Best Editor, Short Form category; this pleases me because I’m currently writing a story for him, which is not quite late yet. Give it time, though. But special congratulations to them all.

* Also, let’s drag Lou Anders out here for a bow. Aside from getting his second Hugo nod for Best Editor (long form), I believe this is the first year a Pyr book appears on the Best Novel ballot (Brasyl). Pyr published McDonald’s River of Gods, which was also Hugo nominated, here in the US, but I believe it was published here after it had gotten then nod. So this is the one that counts. Not bad for a science fiction imprint that’s still in its toddler years. As you can guess I’m a big fan of Pyr, and of Lou, and I’m happy both are getting this sort of recognition.

* Campbell nominations: I think it’s a very strong year indeed, and I’m pleased to see my friends Dave Edelman, David Anthony Durham and Mary Robinette Kowal on the ballot. I think this year the ballot is harder to read than it was the previous two years (let’s face it, when someone on the Campbell ballot is also nominated for Best Novel, it does tend to make them a prohibitive favorite). I think Scott Lynch in particular is in good stead, but I wouldn’t call him a runaway favorite, given the high quality of this field. I think this is arguably the most interesting category on the ballot this year.

* But enough about everyone else, I hear you say. Let’s talk about your nominations. Well, all right. If we must.

First, I’m really pleased that The Last Colony made the ballot. I certainly didn’t think it was a given, considering it’s the third book of a series, it was a very strong year for science fiction, and also the fact that if you’re the sort of person who goes around thinking oh, yeah, my book is definitely on the ballot this year you’d sort of be an arrogant prick, now, wouldn’t you.

I think The Last Colony stands on its own merits as a novel (which validates my policy of writing all the books in the OMW series as books that can be read without having read the others), but I do also suspect it’s on the ballot because of affection for the whole OMW series to date, which if true is genuinely humbling. As I’ve noted before, The Last Colony completes the story arc of John Perry and Jane Sagan as the main characters in this universe, and when you’re writing characters people have come to care about, you want to send them off right. What this nomination says to me is that people think I’ve stuck the dismount. To which I can only say: Thank you, with all my heart.

Second, fan writer: Well, in a word: neat. I really really really wasn’t expecting ever to get another nod in this category, given how much dust got kicked up about my presence in it last year. And to be entirely honest I think it was entirely reasonable to see last year’s nomination as a bit of a fluke — basically a bit of a fan burp, or something. So to get nominated in the category for a second time is an affirmation: Yes, people really do think of me as a fan of science fiction, and they really do see what I do here on Whatever as fan writing.

And you know, I’m extremely happy about that. I like being a fan. I like talking about science fiction, and evangelizing for it, and generally making a nuisance of myself cheerleading for the genre and for the writers and other folks in our little corner of the cultural world. I really do believe these are great times for written science fiction and fantasy: We have so many excellent writers working today that it’s almost an embarrassment of riches, and I want to tell as many people as I can about them. I really don’t understand how you could not be a fan, basically.

Third, Best Novel and Best Fan Writer in the same year: Honestly? I think that’s totally WTF FTW awesome. The last time someone was nominated for Best Novel and Best Fan Writer, the book and the fan writing had been produced the same year I was. Which is to say that it’s been nearly 40 years since the last time it happened. One does like to feel special, and this certainly does the trick. I’ve been pretty much giggling incessantly since I found out. Also, you know. I think it makes a salient point about the science fiction community, which is that one can quite easily be a fan and a pro, simultaneously and without any division between the two.

Given that last year a number of folks pooped out some very large bricks at the idea of me being nominated for fan writer, I suppose me being nominated for fan writer and best novel at the same time may cause certain duodenums to spontaneously explode. If it does, well, that’s their karma. I’m happy to have been nominated in both categories, because I think both apply to me equally.

To everyone who nominated me in either category (or both!) all I can say is thank you, and I’m humbled by your appreciation.

55 thoughts on “Hugo Thoughts, 2008

  1. Congrats on the noms. Definitely a credit, especially when the categories are chock full of good work this year. It’s going to be very difficult to call this race.

  2. First, congratulations on both nominations, they are well deserved.

    Second, I too think that this was a rather good year for science fiction on many fronts, not just novels.

    Third, thanks for the whole OMW series. We were led to the first novel in the series by Larry Smith at one of the Chicago cons. We have been customers of his for a long time and trust his recommendations. He said if we liked Starship Troopers by Heinlein, we would like OMW. He was right and we’ve been fans ever since.

    Fourth, love Whatever and as a new blogger I constantly envy your wit and turn of phrase.

  3. Interesting bit about Morgan… I read you both, I like you both, but any similarity between you two never occurred to me — your style is nothing like Morgan’s, it’s apples and oranges.

  4. Peter:

    I think he and I handle action similarly, but otherwise there’s not too much in common. Which is, of course, not to say he’s not excellent. So even if the comparison is shaky, it’s still flattering to me.

  5. I realize that I didn’t complimented you for The Last Colony‘s nomination when I commented on the previous post. Well, what can I say? I was sleepy, and I did think it was a given: I haven’t read it yet (waiting for the paperback), but I read and loved Old Man’s War (would’ve voted for it in 2006) and The Ghost Brigades, and all the review I skimmed (vade retro, spoilers) are positive. So, congratulations, Mr Scalzi.

    Cambpell Award: Joe Abercrombie. Really really good press, both from professional/semiprofessional reviewers and from fans in forums (see the threads in ASOIAF forum). Loved the first book, waiting for second (f*cking Italian mail service), the third one only when the mass marker paperback will be released (in a year or so).

  6. Please add my congratulations to the growing heap.

    I was pretty struck by the strength of the Dramatic Presentation, Short Form category. It’s been a great year for SF television viewing as well.

  7. Sweet noms!

    I hope MRK gets the Campbell this year. Really, she’s a brilliant writer…won’t someone give her the dues she rightfully deserves?

  8. As one of those who pooped a small brick last year, I just wanna say I’m rooting for ya to get both, John. Not only do I think you deserve them (as for sticking the landing, there was that hand-wave with where the wolf thingies went, but both feet held tight and there was no hand touching the mat), I think it would be a good sign for the SF community if someone did win both.

    As for any fan out there who has never had the experience of sitting with writers, if you think you’ve heard totally geeky conversations about the dialectics of SF books and shows, you haven’t heard anything until you sit with writers as they discuss them.

  9. Also, you know. I think it makes a salient point about the science fiction community, which is that one can quite easily be a fan and a pro, simultaneously and without any division between the two.

    If it only happens once every forty years or so, I’m not sure how easy that is. :)

    Congratulations

  10. Does anyone know why there is only a category for Best Artist — which looks like it’s for a body of work — and not also Best Art, or Best Cover? Fine as the nominees surely are, doesn’t it exclude many who may be deserving, but not normally working in a SFF context (I’m thinking specifically of Shelley Eshkar for TAD last year and Will Staehle for Yiddish Policemen’s Union this year)? It’s also odd to me because there are both long and short form categories in writing and drama.

    Oh, and a hearty “Number 1″ foam finger and “Whooooo” to you, Scalzi.

  11. Congratulations on both! Your “Big Idea” posts keep me more up to date on new stuff coming out than just about anything else I read, so fan writer seems totally on point.

    And I cried like a big girl during Last Colony, so you’ve done well with the landing. I’m not sure what the Russian judge will say though… they can be tough on technicalities.

  12. For me the thing about Morgan was that Altered Carbon told me that it was finally worth reading SF again, checking out random authors that I hadn’t. I’d really been turned off by all of the Gibson/Sterling wannabes in the early 90s, most of them were just bad. That drove me over to reading Fantasy instead, and I worked my way through a couple of decades of the fantasy canon. If it was SF and it didn’t have the name Niven, or Pournelle, or Asimov, or one of the other grandmasters on it, I didn’t buy it.

    Then my brother handed it to me when I was visiting him in Prague. I think this was before it was even out in the US. I certainly hadn’t seen it in the stores. And it was great. So this let me know that the SF drought had ended. And in fact it had ended a few years before, but his book was my notification.

  13. Late to the game, but… as everyone else says, congratulations on the nomination for tLC. As I noted to Stross, both of your books are quite good.

    For the dramatic one… yeah, Heroes is interesting. I think it’s justified, given that each episode ended with “To be continued…” And both Stardust and Enchanted were simply lovely. But it’ll either be HP, or Stardust.

    It’s a good ballot year, I think. Nothing on it made me cringe.

  14. Many congratulations to you. :) I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.

    Honestly, I think the category of Best Original Art could be revived now. (It covered the years 1990-1995, right before the internet really started exploding.) For one thing, I think you could EASILY make a page where people could refer to all the art right next to each other. Before, it would have been prohibitively expensive to send out colour copies to all the voters, so you would have to seen the book in the store, and remembered it, or have it to compare to the other books. It would have been like voting for the small offices on a county level–chances were, this might be the first time you’d even had it brought to your attention, so you left the category blank rather than vote in ignorance.

  15. I hear tell one nominee once wrote about some antiquated gent’s conflict. It didn’t surprise me that someone would write 120,000 words about an elderly man and his run ins with the neighborhood kids, what surprised me is that somebody decided to publish it.

  16. Congratulations on The Last Colony hitting the Best Novel list, John! That’s awesome.

    And I loved reading your thoughts on the Hugos. Now I shall be able to prioritize my reading list. (Go Elizabeth Bear, my favoritist … slipstream is it? I don’t know what it is, I like it!)

    Nominated for best fan writer again, too. But you are always so cool. How could you not be nominated? Whatever is a great gathering point for SF fans, as well as for the conversion of non-SF fans or those on the fence (hi), and nobody has your visibility or your balance or your sense or your chutzpah. You are fan writer, man.

    Whatever FTW (which I always thought meant “For the World”, which seems somehow better than “For the Win”)!

  17. I do not get the impression that _Black Man_/_Thirteen_ was widely known or read. I heard less about it than, say, Valente’s _Orphan’s Tales_ duology, the second volume of which I nominated.

    I heard a lot about _Name of the Wind_, but not broadly, if that makes sense. (Haven’t read it myself; I’m pretty tired of epic fantasy and the voice wasn’t doing it for me.)

  18. Not only did you get a nomination for a great novel, you made the same list as Michael Chabon. If it were me, I’d be extra giggly today.

  19. Congrats on the nomination(s).

    The two nominations which I am most excited about are for two of my favorite working writers not named Scalzi: Elizabeth Bear for “Tideline” and Mary Robinette Kowal’s Campbell nom.

    The only thing I’d have been happier about is if Bear’s Whiskey and Water was nominated for Best Novel so I could write about my favorite 2007 novel having a smackdown with The Last Colony.

    It’s easy to just think of you as the professional writer, but it is clear from the blog that you are a fan and I keep coming back here, so there’s certainly no objection. :)

  20. I think the Hugo folks made an interesting choice to allow the entire first season of Heroes to be nominated in the long form category;

    Actually, given the way the voters nominated it, I think they pretty much had no choice. In areas that are not absolutely clear-cut in the rules, the Administrator is bound to stick with the voters’ decision, and in this case, the voters said, “That’s a single serialized work, not a set of individual stand-alone stories.”

    I do know that if it wins, Denvention is going to have to shell out for a hell of a lot of trophies, since it lists eleven writers and thirteen directors on the ballot.

    I wouldn’t be too sure about that. There really is very little precedent for issuing trophies to every writer, or even every individual producer and director involved. In 1993 at ConFrancisco, we gave Paramount two trophies, and when they came back asking for a third one so that the writer could have one as well, we charged them $500 for it. (Fortunately, we had one spare.) There is no hard-and-fast rule on this subject. Back in the older days of Worldcons, where the Hugo trophies were a significantly larger proportion of the conventions’ expenses than they are today, committees made one trophy per category, even for a Best Novel with co-authors. Those authors then got to argue over who got to keep the trophy.

    Peter Weston does a slide show about the construction of the Hugo Award rockets. (The company he used to own makes them.) He points out that the main reason the rockets are expensive (around $200 each) is because we make so few of them. If we wanted thousands of them instead of a handful each year, we could invest in the molds to crank them out by the case cheaply.

  21. I’m sure Patrick Rothfuss fell into that category of “He’s good, but he’s new.” We’ll give him a Hugo nomination later. When he’s broken in. Because giving it to him now on his first book would just spoil him and he’d become completely unsufferable, just like … Oh, forgot where I was. Never mind.

  22. Matt Jarpe:

    Try to look surprised when my crack team of elite assassins shows up at your door.

  23. You can do far, far worse than Charles Stross, Robert J Sawyer, Ian McDonald, Michael Chabon and [John Scalzi].

    One of these names is not like the others, one of these names is different.

    But I guess it wouldn’t be politick of you to slag off Sawyer. Even though he is the author of the worst book to win a Hugo award since THEY’D RATHER BE RIGHT and possibly ever. People who nominate Sawyer novels should have their credentials revoked. (Oh all right, they can keep nominating but I get to mock them every single year)

    If Lynch doesn’t win the Campbell just retire that award as irrelevant.

  24. First off I want to say Congrats, I do rather enjoy those words you put down in a most excellent order Scalzi.

    That being said, I am beyond pissed that M John Harrison’s Nova Swing is not up for best novel. That is in my opinion the best piece of Science Fiction literature that has come out in years.

  25. Congratulations on the nominations! And I promise that this year, I will put you #1 in Best Fan Writer.

    I do have one request. If you do win this year, will you please call Langford right away to tell him that he DIDN’T win this year?

  26. You want me to bring a cell phone to the stage?

    I suspect at this point Dave Langford would be just fine with someone else winning that particular award. And lord knows he was gracious enough to me last year when he garnered one more vote in the category than I. He’s a genuine mensch.

  27. Scalzi–you’re exactly right on the tiara, too. But all joking aside…I really, really, REALLY do hope she wins it. I just wish I had the spare dosh to buy a supporting membership so I could vote, too. Drat being a student! Maybe I can go tapdance for tips. “Fund me so I can vote for the Hugos!”

  28. I know that this in not the first time an alternate history novel with no science fiction or fantasy elements has been nominated for a Hugo, but has there ever been an alternate history novel with no science fiction or fantasy elements not written by an established science fiction or fantasy author nominated for a Hugo?

  29. Congrats on the nomination.

    Halting State is the only one of those I’ve read yet, it’ certainy Hugo-worthy IMO.

    The only thing I’ve read by Sawyer is Hominids, based on that I don’t think I shall be reading anything else by him… unless people think that was a particularly weak outing?

    I agree, Thirteen should have been on that list, one of the better sci-fi books I’ve read lately… in fact, one of the better books I’ve read lately.

    Michael Chabon… I think people like him get nominated in a vain attempt to prove to the outside world that Sci-Fi is in fact a ‘legitimate’ art form (“Look, we nominated this literary guy–even the New York Times Book Review likes him! If he wins this award, they’re sure to take us seriously!”). See also Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. This is not to take anything away from Chabon(or Susanna Clarke), in fact I quite want to read Yiddish Policemen’s Union. But I don’t personally feel like it belongs on this list.

  30. JGS: Or, you know, people who voted for Chabon or Clarke’s novels might _actually have liked them_.

    I personally thought _JS&MN_ was one of the best fantasy novels of recent years (though I neither nominated or voted that year). I know Chabon’s novel was on my husband’s ballot, along our host’s novel and books by well-established SF authors.

    I don’t get the impression that Chabon’s novel has been as widely read by genre fans as _JS&NM_ was, but you know, it doesn’t take a lot of nominations to get on the ballot. There’s no need to impunge the motives of people because you happen to disagree with them.

  31. JGS: If The Yiddish Policemen’s Union doesn’t belong on the list, it’s not because Michael Chabon is respected by the literati. It’s because it has no science fiction or fantasy elements. (My opinion is that alternative histories are not in and of themselves fantasies, though obviously some disagree on that point.) Now, if Philip Roth had been nominated for The Plot Against America, maybe you’d have a point. But with Chabon having written at least two works of fantasy, and being generally supportive of sci-fi and fantasy and other types of genre fiction, I can’t say I’m particularly surprised to see him among the nominees.

  32. @15
    For a while, there was that catedory. The problem was it never really got any significant number of nominations and the category was dropped. Kevin Standlee would know the exact years of this.

  33. @32, Did Rob Sawyer kill your dog or something? I thought Hominids was quite good. Was it the rape that offended you so much? Or perhaps the bisexuality. Maybe the survellience society.

    Something to keep in mind with Rollback, there’s no bad guy in the story and it still works. That’s an accomplishment right there.

  34. Yeah, bring your cell phone to the stage. If the Denvention people could arrange for both ends of the call to be heard, it might be the most surprising speech since Neil Gaiman won for AMERICAN GODS.

  35. John@43:
    “…it’s not because Michael Chabon is respected by the literati. It’s because it has no science fiction or fantasy elements.”

    Er, yeah–my point exactly. I’m not some sci-fi purist who thinks you should only get a Hugo if your book features spaceships, dragons, and dime-novel-quality prose. I wasn’t saying MC was *too literary* to be nominated… only that there might be some (perhaps unconscious) ulterior motive for nominating a “literary” author when the work doesn’t really fit the category. (And again, that’s based on hearsay… I haven’t read it yet).

    Obviously, I didn’t make my point clearly enough.

    Kate@42, apologies for impugning your husband’s motives. There are no doubt as many reasons for nominating a book as there are people nominating them.

    However, just because someone *liked* a book doesn’t mean it should be nominated for a Hugo. I’ve read plenty of stuff I liked this year that I wouldn’t nominate because it’s not, you know, sci-fi or fantasy.

    Call me cynical, but when one of the five final spots for arguably the biggest literary prize in the genre goes to a marginally (at best) “sci-fi” work by critically lauded “mainstream” author, I see some kind of subtext at work.

    I’m not suggesting fraud or conspiracy, or even bad intentions. But I do think it’s interesting, and I call ‘em like I see ‘em.

  36. crawling out of lurk …

    Hell yes you qualify for fan writer! I really like your books and that led me to your blog which I also really like. I’ve found more writers new to me in the last year through your blog than I have in any ten years of browsing bookstore shelves. So thank you for writing the books and the blog.

    Vicki

  37. I’m late to the party on this one, but I still want to say congratulations, John.

    So, uh, congratulations, John!

  38. JGS: past Hugo voters have certainly considered alternate history to be part of science fiction and fantasy, unless my understanding of _The Man in the High Castle_ is wildly off.

    People can disagree with your personal opinions *just because they disagree*, you know.

  39. JGS, I think we agree that Yiddish Policemen’s Union is only marginally a fantasy novel, and that it seems somewhat out of place on a list of Hugo nominees, but we have different interpretations as to what that means. You think it’s an indication that Hugo nominators are trying to curry favor with the literary crowd by nominating a Pulitzer Prize winner for a novel that is, as I said, only marginally a fantasy novel. Which is possible.

    But. Michael Chabon is an author who has written works of fantasy in the past, and who has been very supportive of the genre. It’s Chabon’s connections to the fantasy community that earned him the nomination, not his connection to the literary community. If Hugo nominators were concerned with appealing to the literary community, they could have nominated Philip Roth for The Plot Against America, which was just as fantasy-oriented (or not) as Yiddish Policemen’s Union, or Cormac McCarthy for The Road, which is arguably a science fiction novel. But — forgive the generalization, please — the kind of people who make Hugo nominations don’t read Roth and McCarthy. They do read Chabon, though, because Chabon writes about super-heroes and golems and magical baseball games, and that’s why he gets nominated for Hugos and Roth and McCarthy don’t. That’s my take on it, at least.

  40. JGS:

    Ultimately, it comes down to trying to define what “science fiction and fantasy” are. Long-established tradition of interpretation of rules says that a Hugo Administrator will never disqualify a work on the grounds that it isn’t SF/F; therefore, it’s up the voters to decide (in the way a jury decides whether someone is guilty or not) whether a work is SF/F. If they say it is, it is, and there’s no appeal.

  41. John:
    A fair point, fairly made. That I leaped to a more cynical interpretation will surprise no-one who knows me.

    FWIW I recommend everyone read The Road – sci-fi or not it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Pretty tough going though–definitely not the feel-good book of the summer.

    Kevin:
    “Ultimately, it comes down to trying to define what ‘science fiction and fantasy’ are.”

    You’ve hit the nail on the head… though that is one mud pit that I, for one, am not going to wrestle in right now.

    I think it’s a good thing the Hugo Admin doesn’t make that call either – it should be up to the voters. Who better? Even if I don’t agree with their decisions (or question their motives for making them).

    Anyway, thanks for the insight.

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