Explaining the Hugos

First, yes, I’ve impaled a headcrab on my Hugo. Because I had to impale it on something. Thing was trying to eat my skull.

Second, given the recent (yet, also, annual) contretemps concerning the Hugos and the shortlists thereof, and whether they truly represent the best of science fiction, and whether something needs to be changed in how they are selected and/or voted upon, let me give you an analogy that I feel explains what the Hugos actually are and how they work:

Let’s say you visit a friend of yours in a city you don’t live in. Your friend has lived in that city her whole life, and is always talking up the charms of the town to you. So you go and you visit and you’re hungry. And you say to your friend, “so what’s a good place to eat around here?”

And your friend says, “well, there’s this very nice and expensive restaurant that just opened up that’s getting fantastic reviews, we could go there.”

You shake your head. “No,” you say. “Take me someplace you go to eat. Someplace you and your friends really like.”

And your friend’s eyes light up and she says “I know just the place,” and then you go someplace in the neighborhood. And maybe it’s a really nice place, and maybe it’s a taco truck. Maybe you get something to eat that you recognize, and maybe you get something that you just have to assume is a local delicacy that you’d have to have eaten your whole life to enjoy. Point is, your local friend is showing you what she considers the local flavor. If you like it, great. If not, well, you’re from out of town, and it’s fine that you don’t like what your friend and her local pack of pals like. They’re still going to like it anyway.

That’s the Hugos.

There, that solves that.

128 thoughts on “Explaining the Hugos

  1. “Yo quiero una quesadilla con sesos y dos con Hugos — muy picante, por favor” rolls nicely off the tongue.

    Darn, now I’m hungry too … also mourning the demise of the Best. Taco Truck. Ever.
    <Homer>Mmmm, Hugos.</Homer>

    You owe us a description of how Hugos taste. Don’t make us ask the headcrab.

  2. Hrmmm…now I want to go to the taco truck, and that’s usually where the lunch crowd goes on Monday.

  3. If you come to Chicago, I can tell you the great holes in the wall to eat at… and if you want high-falutin science fiction where you eat, there’s “Moto” — food created with lasers, liquid nitrogen, etc.

  4. I would have thought an Amish taco would be sold to you upside down. Serving it so the ingredients stay in the shell is like….technology.

    No, I’m not an Amish-hater. I officially apologize to all Amish reading this on their computer screen.

  5. joelfinkle:

    The next time I’m in Chicago, the first place I’m going to eat is Harold’s Chicken Shack. The second his Gino’s East. And the third is the Billy Goat Tavern, because oddly I’ve never managed to get there.

  6. They’re entirely hand-made, for one thing, including grinding the corn on the spot for the shells. What they’re not is FAST food…

  7. Well explained, but those people that will always be grumpy or hateful will still not understand and still gripe. It’s a shame really.

    impaling crabs, wasn’t there some sort of lotion you could have tried?
    duh, my error, impaling is more fun.

  8. Good choices for Chicago, but you should also add the tamale cart at the Kedzie El terminal. Of course, he’s only there during morning rush hour, and leaves when he sells out. Darn, now I want a taco AND a tamale.

  9. All hail Harold’s Chicken Shack!

    Nice collage, John. And so much easier to do in digital than in the film era. I tried counting the rectangles — definitely some time spent cat waxing today (without the cat). (grin)

    Dr. Phil

  10. With all due respect, I think you’ve missed the point, good sir.

    P: The Hugos (and that fancy restaurant) proclaim “best.”

    p: The taco truck and your friend proclaim “favorite”… if they proclaim at all.

    These are not congruent sets. Mr Roberts (et al., including me) believe that something that calls itself “best” should make an effort to ensure that its process and selections resemble what can really be agreed upon as “best.” Fen and others (including you, good sir) believe that the Hugos are a fan award, and can do whatever the hell they want — if, that is, an award can do anything — so long as they represent fen desires.

    And, thus, as your friend in the neighborhood, I’m going to take what I know of your preferences into consideration before making restaurant recommendations. Since I already know that you already like tacos, I’m not going to have much trouble taking you to the taco truck. If, however, I know that you have somehow avoided all Tex-Mex cooking for your entire life — and, in fact, are a vegan* — I’ll end up taking you to a different (not necessarily more expensive) place to show you how great the food in my town is.

    As the warden says: What we have here is failure to communicate.

    * That term has always reminded me of a particularly incompetent group of aliens on a particularly bad episode of Dr Who, pre-Tom Baker. This diversion brought to you by the taco truck (operated by Daleks).

  11. “A behavior followed by a reinforcing stimulus results in an increased probability of that behavior occurring in the future.”

    It appears that some would argue that Hugo voters are nothing more than Skinner rats of Syfy’s Grand Experiment.

    “A behavior no longer followed by the reinforcing stimulus results in a decreased probability of that behavior occurring in the future.”

    Alas, there is [a new] hope . . .

  12. I think it’s a little more like . . . you say to your friend, “Take me where you like to eat,” and you end up at MacDonald’s.

    Even if I like MacDonalds, and I do, occasionally, I’d be surprised at the pick. The Hugos have seemed like that to me in the past. Really? That’s what you picked? But obviously, a whole lot of people like MacDonald’s or it wouldn’t still be around.

  13. C.E. Petit:

    “With all due respect, I think you’ve missed the point, good sir.”

    Well, you can think that, if you like. However, your assumption that “taco truck = favorite” as opposed to “best” is not an assumption that I would grant, not in the least because I know personally foodies who would argue until blue in the face how a taco truck they love is in fact a better representative of what is best about the local cuisine, rather than some high-end restaurant.

    Also, your theory of what I think is, in a word, wrong. Additionally, your theory of what fen think is, in two words, appallingly condescending. But this has been an endemic problem with the Hugo discussion: Quite a lot of condescension coming from people who apparently are under the impression they are qualified to condescend.

    Hope:

    I can’t think of a McDonald’s level nominee recently, personally, at least not in Best Novel. I can think of a couple where I would say “you really eat this?” but that’s not quite the same thing.

  14. What do you mean by “best”? What processes and selections are “best”?

    (staying with the food theme)

    the quintessence of high gastronomy, involving molecular foams, liquid nitrogen, and the ingestion of substances never before considered food?

    or a superbly crafted taco?

    Both can be “best” (or delicious, or life-changing, or unforgettable), because what it means to be “best” is different within each frame of reference.

  15. You mean I’m not qualified to condescend? I have certification in condescension and everything…

  16. Not to take away from the taco talk but how exactly “democratic” are the Awards if it costs US$50 and change to vote for them?

    And good luck in Montreal Mr Scalzi, it’s a wonderful city.

    Cheers

    Jordan

  17. Jordan:

    “how exactly ‘democratic’ are the Awards if it costs US$50 and change to vote for them?”

    Inasmuch as anyone can vote for the Hugos provided they buy a Worldcon membership, pretty democratic. If the objection is that there’s an imposition on the vote, well, you know. I can’t vote in Canadian elections, but I wouldn’t suggest they aren’t democratically run.

  18. “Best,” in fiction as in food, must by its very nature be a personal preference. There is no absolute standard for “best” food, certain snooty magazines notwithstanding. There is no absolute standard for “best” fiction, SF or otherwise, certain snooty reviewers notwithstanding. If the majority of Hugo voters determine that “Planet of Spam” is the best novel of the year, then it deserves a Hugo that says it was best. If an association of University Literature professors determines that it was total crap, who cares? They are welcome to present their own award for what they think is best.

    As for food, the best Mexican here, in my opinion, is a very small place within walking distance of my house. It has two tables, which may have been castoffs from a school that bought new furnishings. The only menu is completely in Spanish, and I have only once found an employee that spoke any English. The only thing iffy about it is the name — El Cabrito — The Small Goat.

  19. The trouble worth that word “best” is that lots of people then jump to the conclusion that if the winner of an award is not what they, personally think of as the best then the award must be WRONG!!! In fact, of course, all that has happened is that their personal taste doesn’t coincide exactly with that of the voters (as expressed through the method chosen for conducting the ballot).

    Now of course the Hugos could do something about this. They could change the title of the Best Novel award to be Best Novel As Chosen By Members of the World Science Fiction Society Using Instant Runoff Voting, or something like that. Or they could do that the Bram Stoker Awards have done, and called the awards “Superior Achievement in” instead of “Best”. However, a lot of people will find that silly or pretentious, or both. A lot of people will still use “Best”, because that’s what they expect from an award. And the people whose favorite book doesn’t win will still be upset.

  20. because I know personally foodies who would argue until blue in the face how a taco truck they love is in fact a better representative of what is best about the local cuisine, rather than some high-end restaurant

    And they’re often right. If you’re after a real Mission Burrito, or a tamale made exactly like one you’d get in a little village in Oaxaca, then you may well be better off with the taco truck than with fancy-pants restaurant La Llorona’s purple-corn burrito with organic sheep sweetbreads and a fusion sauce of pico de gallo made with lemongrass. I loves me some high-end cuisine, but it’s just as subject to whims, fads and Emperor’s New Clothes-ness as anything else.

    Now I want to go home and develop an edible strudel taco.

  21. I’ll be back in an hour to read more of the comments. By then someone will have figured out that your Hugo voter info packet made the Hugos really like a kind of Taste of SF where you pay admission and walk past a lot of competing taco trucks giving away free samples.

  22. First off, I now need to try the Korean-Hawaiian taco truck that makes the rounds here…. mmm tacos.

    John – While he might have come across wrong, I think @23 has a point in that best and favorite aren’t necessarily the same. “Show me the best food in your city’ and ‘show me your favorite food’ are probably different things – as good as the afore-mentioned taco truck is, it’s not in the same league as some of the top restaurants in the city. Of course, if I really want a burger, there’s a *different* best.

    The problem with best as a term is that it implies a linear scale from worst to best. Food, fiction and most things in life don’t line up so simplistically. Best taco? Best French food? Best breakfast? Best sandwich?

    We could always breakdown the novel award into small categories (Mil-SF, Near Future, Space Opera, etc) but all that does is cause the argument to move down a level. Some awards try to sidestep the issue by having a ‘best’ decided by pre-qualified judges and a ‘favorite’ decided by fans. At the end of the day, I think it’s just a given that people will always debate stuff like this and if it changed, they’d complain about how it changed.

  23. You look at the historic results of the Grammys, the Emmys, the Tonys, the Oscars, whatever. (All Trademarked, I assume.) Compare the Hugo winners to the winners of those awards. Not just one year, but over a decent period of time, say 40 years.

    I, for one, am satisfied that the Hugo voting process looks pretty damn credible in comparison.

  24. People who complain that such and such selection process doesn’t actually correctly label something the “best” seem to be under the impression that this is a concrete thing, and that there’s some book written in God’s hand up there in the sky with a list of what is actually the “best”, and that it is our job to figure out what that actually is.

    The very first step of any complaint about the improper selection of the “best” should be to define what metrics that are comparing under. Few ever do that, though, because it highlights the essential arbitrariness of the “which is best” game.

    The restaurant analogy is extremely good because often what are considered the “best” restaurants at the high end are really just the best of the limited subset of restaurants in the insular world of food critics and famous chefs. I’ve had some outstanding meals at the “best” restaurants in my area, but in the end, the two best meals I’ve ever had were both in restaurants that probably never saw hide nor hair of a food critic.

    Given that it is extremely unlikely that anyone has read a significant portion of the total mass of Fantasy/SF out there, the arbitrary selection of “best” by anyone, be it fans, critics or literary professors, is obvious and therefore it is pretty silly to get too worked about about “wrong” decisions.

  25. “I can’t think of a McDonald’s level nominee recently”

    And I can say, “Well, I have, nyah, nyah,” and we are pretty much back where we started. My generic fast food, may be your best taco evhar. I can all too easily imagine the two of us facing off in the fast food joint.

    You: This is not MacDonald’s this is IN-N-OUT! Can you not tell the difference, you buffoon?
    Me: Sadly, no!

    Better just not to go there.

  26. Rick:

    “I think @23 has a point in that best and favorite aren’t necessarily the same.”

    Oh, well, I certainly agree that “best” and “favorite” are not the same thing. What I’m not at all sure is in evidence is that in the case of the Hugos (or with the now-legendary taco truck), people are not willing and able to defend their choices as a “best” choice. Which is a point I don’t see a lot of the recent critics of the Hugo and its process acknowledging.

    Hope:

    “I can all too easily imagine the two of us facing off in the fast food joint.”

    I dunno. I’m not a fast food junkie. Of course, I don’t consider In-N-Out fast food either; I consider it THE BEST THING EVAR. Which is a totally different thing.

  27. And when you come to Seattle (we wish) we’ll take you across the street to Top Pot.

    (Tell Wil we miss him, if you would)

  28. I think that the fan nominators for the Hugos are voting for the best SF- in their understanding/experience of best. Maybe you’ve never gone to a gourmet restaurant, and your experience in picking the best place to eat is limited to the taco truck. It’s still the best- in your opinion- and you have the right to vote your opinion. If enough people who prefer gourmet science fiction to taco truck fiction nominate their choices, then that’s what the Hugo shortlist will contain. The Nebulas, being restricted to SF writers, and the Clarke, as a juried award, will trend towards the gourmet vote. However, there’s often an overlap, as demonstrated by Little Brother this year.

  29. Pam Adams:

    I think that’s correct, although as a practical matter I can think of years where the Hugo ballot was what I consider more “high-toned” than the Nebula ballot. Also, up until this year’s change in Nebula nominating procedures (which will go in effect for the next ballot), I think they Nebulas have been vulnerable to a whole lot of recommendation swapping and logrolling, so there’s that to factor in as well. And of course with juried awards, often the winner is not the best work, but the work everyone on the jury can agree on. There are vulnerabilities and kvetch-worthy elements about every process.

  30. John – my point was that it would possibly be more democratic if there weren’t a price barrier (or such a high one). If it was truly a measure of fandom’s preferences at the time (since these are seen as being favorites/best of the present) then it seems like the price point could be a bit lower.

    Everyone else seems caught up on the idea of ‘best’ but I did think your analogy appropriate to a friend showing you their preferred restaurants in a city. They’re a starting point for further exploration just like I feel many of those listed on the Hugos are. Funnily enough, Ebert touches on the subject of lists and bests on his blog today as well:

    http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2009/07/the_greatest_movies_ever_made.html

    -Jordan

  31. “Of course, I don’t consider In-N-Out fast food either; I consider it THE BEST THING EVAR. Which is a totally different thing.”

    And now, I live next to one and you don’t. Oh, the irony.

  32. Haha, I live in San Diego and had a big fat tasty breakfast burto at my favorite corner mexican joint for breakfast burtos. I have another favorite corner mexican joint for carnage assada. Buwahahahahaha!

  33. So what you’re saying is, the Hugos are awards given to books that will appeal to sci-fi tourists. They are the comfortable, neighborhood joint with reliably good food (to continue the taco metaphor).

    This is probably also why people who aren’t tourists, who live in the sci-fi neighborhood, get snooty about the award: they are the literary equivalent of a foodie.

  34. John,

    agreed. The Hugos aren’t the best novel in some objective sense, they’re simply the best novels as voted on by a certain set of people. Any process will have that qualification, i.e. “this is the best according to…” so I’m not sure why folks get in a tizzy about it.

    To the person who mentioned Top Pot… thanks a lot. Now I want a taco AND a donut…

  35. JM:

    “John – my point was that it would possibly be more democratic if there weren’t a price barrier (or such a high one).”

    Meh. The Locus Awards already cover that; freely votable to anyone who cares to vote. And while this is coming from someone who makes a fair amount of money, so factor that in, $50 for a vote on a literary award is not an outrageously high sum (especially when, for example, you get access to retail price multiple of that in reading material with the Hugo Voter’s Packet).

    Also, one could make a decent (if infinitely debatable) argument that the financial amount required to vote discourages people who in fact are only there to vote for the thing they like in abeyance of actual quality. $50 is a reasonable commitment; people really aren’t going to pay that much just to pack a vote.

    Poormojo:

    “So what you’re saying is, the Hugos are awards given to books that will appeal to sci-fi tourists.”

    Actually that is nothing at all like what I am saying. Please go back and try again.

    Hope:

    “And now, I live next to one and you don’t. Oh, the irony.”

    BITTER irony.

  36. John:

    Minor technical point. The instant runoff voting system is specifically designed to produce “the work everyone on the jury can agree on” when your jury is composed of hundreds or thousands of people. So the Hugos can’t really claim to be different from a juried award in that respect.

  37. Rembrant:

    I’m curious about your carne asada joint. Best I’ve had so far is Rudy’s Taco Shop in Solana Beach. But I still have a lot of carne asada left to audition. Anything really good in or near Pacific Beach?

  38. Also, one could make a decent (if infinitely debatable) argument that the financial amount required to vote discourages people who in fact are only there to vote for the thing they like in abeyance of actual quality. $50 is a reasonable commitment; people really aren’t going to pay that much just to pack a vote.

    Correct. I didn’t want to throw that point in myself as I was trying to play devil’s advocate for a bit but given the recent Adam Roberts v. Hugo debates thought it relevant to the discussion of how ‘democratic’ the Hugos are.

    Thanks for the response. And don’t fear the poutine.

    JM

  39. Huh, see this part:

    Let’s say you visit a friend of yours in a city you don’t live in. Your friend has lived in that city her whole life, and is always talking up the charms of the town to you. So you go and you visit and you’re hungry. And you say to your friend, “so what’s a good place to eat around here?”

    Sounds like tourism to me.

  40. To extend the restaurant metaphor a bit, what sometimes happens with the Hugos is this:

    You’re visiting T-town for a day and your local friends Albert, Betty and Carl each recommend their favorite restaurants A,B and C. Albert says A has the best food in town, but the others counter that it’s not all that representative of T-town cuisine, a bit too..well, “cosmopolitan” if you want to be nice about it, “hoity-toity” if you don’t.

    Betty claims B serves the most T-townish food there is, but while the others don’t disagree they do contend that B’s food isn’t all that much better than the average local diners’ offerings.

    Carl says C is not to be missed; some of their dishes are one-of-a-kind, and they also do things with ordinary dishes no one else has even thought of. “This is truly an eating experience unique to T-town!” The others chime in, “Yeah, if you don’t mind waiting forever to get your food!”

    After hearing your friends out, you ask what’s their next favorite T-town eating place, and they all pick restaurant Z–not up to the standards of their respective favorites, but they agree it’s got good food, good service, and doesn’t disgrace T-town. So you and your friends head over to restaurant Z, but you personally make a mental note to check out A,B and C next time you’re in T-town for more than a day.

    (This sort of thing, writ large, actually happens from time to time with the preference-based Hugo balloting. It’s how Galaxy Quest won over The Iron Giant, The Sixth Sense, Being John Malkovich and The Matrix, by getting more second-place votes from everybody who didn’t pick it or The Matrix as their favorite.)

  41. Poormojo:

    “Sounds like tourism to me.”

    Huh. Well, that sounds like “I’m going to not pay attention to the next two graphs, which make the point that the person is intent on not doing touristy things and instead wants to go where the natives go in their day to day lives” to me, personally. But have it as you will.

  42. Once went to a “native” bar in Niagara (on the Canadian side) by asking the concierge where she went to eat. Best time EVAR! And I don’t even like hockey on TV all that much (they had four TVs, all showing different games). The food wasn’t to die for, but the experience was great and more than made up for it. Much better than some chain restaurant.

  43. Good sir:

    I will be “appallingly condescending” (27) — and happily so — to any group whose voting put any of Star Wars 1–3 even close to getting onto the final ballot, and I don’t think too many people with much experience of speculative-fiction-that-doesn’t-go-boom will honestly be able to carp. I find the accusation itself “appallingly condescending” toward anyone with a substantial background in literary criticism. So there!

    But, in any event, I clearly failed to communicate, and for that I bear at least some responsibility. Let me try again:

    The problem that I see with the argument is that {best} does not have a specific definable meaning… except that whatever meaning it does have is not congruent with {favorite}. Hopefully, there will be substantial overlap. However, I do not need to be able to fully, completely, and accurately define {best} in an unimpeachable manner to point to a member of the set ({favorite}, {not best})* with pretty darned high assurance that I can identify {not best} because it’s so far outside the widest possible boundary of {best}.

    I’m not at all saying that there is no value to awards for “favorites.” I am saying that awards for “favorites” should not claim to definitively be for “best,” nor should they be treated that way. If wanting to recognize the difference — to celebrate the distinctions among them allowed by the richness of language that (to some) epitomizes the best speculative fiction — then I’ll accept the “appallingly condescending” label with pride; it can go on the shelf next to “liberal (in the classical European sense)”.

    And I still think you’ve missed the point of noncongruence and all that implies. But this is more a subject for a panel discussion than for hijacking your blog further, so I’ll take my preference for black roses off in a snit.**

    * Note, too, that the Hugos (and, for that matter, all of the nonjuried awards) do not provide any assurance that voters have even considered each candidate.

    ** Which, contrary to potential future advertising copy, is not the Yugo of hybrid vehicles.

  44. I fail to see the problem.

    I mean, yes, we all know the Hugo is a “fan based” award, and what gets named as “best” may not be “best” in categories different from “the fans that vote the Hugos liked it the best”

    So, again, whats the problem? I mean, there are other awards that use other criteria, and when I want to check a book out, I see “Hugo Award” and think something, see “Nebula Award” and think something else, and both and think something completly different.

    Are Hugo Best X the Best X in that year in all possible interpretation of the world? It mean is the Best representative of an effort to make SF break new frontiers, achieve mainstream recognition, provide accurate scientific data, or be cliche-free? No. Its going to bug me? No – cause I know it is an Hugo.

  45. C.E. Petit:

    “I will be ‘appallingly condescending’ (27) — and happily so — to any group whose voting put any of Star Wars 1–3 even close to getting onto the final ballot”

    Yes, well. No argument from this quarter about that one. Although apparently there’s an entire generation of younger SF fans who think those films are perfectly good. I wonder how we’ve failed them.

    “I am saying that awards for ‘favorites’ should not claim to definitively be for ‘best,’ nor should they be treated that way.”

    However, again, you’re making the assumption that people are voting for ‘favorites’ rather than for what they believe is the ‘best’ — an assumption for which you have no real evidence, I’m afraid. I would also suggest (while duly noting my own self-interest) that there is an excellent case to be made that the short list does in fact represent “best” for the year in science fiction, rather than merely “favorite.” One is free to agree or not, but of course that’s the nature of arguing about what it “best” when “best” is a matter of subjective criteria.

  46. A meta point on tourism, not associated with the Hugos criticism – Someone who “intent on not doing touristy things and instead wants to go where the natives go in their day to day lives” is still engaging in a form of tourism, at least the way I use the word, and the way I like to be a tourist.

    Getting back to Hugo voting, though, I don’t correlate high quality writing perfectly with popularity, but I do think people interested enough to vote on the Hugo awards have discerning enough tastes that what they think o as “good” will also correlate somewhat to quality.

    And as a former book seller Hugos are really valuable. If a book is popular and good enough to win a Hugo, it’s probably good enough to recommend to someone who wants to know what’s new and good with a likely return buy, as they’ll probably like it.

    If I want to know about books that make me think, address interesting social issues, and are out on the cutting edge, style wise, I can find out what’s getting buzz at Readercon of the ICFA. I don’t go to the Hugos for that. The City And The City probably won’t win a Hugo (it might, but Mieville’s work seems to get passed over a lot) but it did end up being the Readercon book cub book this year, which means that a lot of people who think deeply and critically about the genre thought it was worth talking about.

    The City And The City is not a book that’s representative of the status of genre as a whole. The current crop of Hugo nominees are. They’re good books, for sure, but I don’t think any of them are doing anything as interesting as The City And The City. And I pretty much expect that from Hugo nominees, because the metaphor that John uses is accurate. The Hugos aren’t voted on by people who’s job it was to tell us what the cutting edge stuff is. They’re voted on by fans who want to show you what their favorite book was. Favorite isn’t going to equal cutting edge very often.

  47. John Scalzi:

    “Although apparently there’s an entire generation of younger SF fans who think those films are perfectly good. I wonder how we’ve failed them.”

    I’m not a younger SF fan, but I still think those films are perfectly good. If, however, you compare them to the originals, they suck. Dong. But in their own right, they’re perfectly stately SF. Kind of like The Matrix was groundbreaking, but 2+3 were kind of like “That looks vaguely like The Matrix.” Had you never seen the original, the newer stuff doesn’t suck so bad.

    And dammit, we don’t have taco trucks here in St. Louis! We need them, and soon.

  48. C.E. Petit @63: I’m not at all saying that there is no value to awards for “favorites.” I am saying that awards for “favorites” should not claim to definitively be for “best,” nor should they be treated that way.

    I don’t think the Hugos claim to be awards for “definitively” the “best,” i.e. I don’t believe that they claim superiority over other awards that use the word “best” in a similar fashion. When I hear the phrase “Hugo Award for Best Novel,” I take that to mean the best novel in the context of the Hugo Awards, or in the opinion of Hugo voters.

    I think part of your problem, Mr. Petit, is that you seem to think that there should be some standard definition of “best” that should apply to all awards, whether popularly voted, juried or whatever. I don’t believe that it works that way. Each different group of voters (or judges) is always going to have different standards of what constitutes “best.”

  49. Jasper:

    “They’re good books, for sure, but I don’t think any of them are doing anything as interesting as The City And The City.”

    Well, but!

    a) TC&TC wasn’t eligible this year, so it’s not surprising it’s not on the list;

    b) China Mieville’s been nominated for Best Novel three times previously, so I would not be entirely surprised to see TC&TC on the ballot next year (I myself am very likely to vote for it).

    I think we do need to be careful of stereotyping the Hugos as an award which does not value literary merit. Recall last year’s winner (written by a Pulitzer Prize winner) was very highly regarded for its literary qualities, as was 2005′s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Other “lit”-y, challenging recent nominees include Brasyl, Blindsight, Learning the World, and of course the aforementioned Mieville. And, I don’t know. I think Anathem is a nice mental and literary exercise for most folks.

  50. Actually, while all the films in the original “Star Wars” trilogy (episodes 4-6 by current numbering) handily won dramatic presentation Hugos, not one film in the second trilogy (episodes 1-3) was even nominated. (The winners for those years in which those episodes were eligible were Galaxy Quest, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Serenity.)

    I don’t have the relevant figures at hand, but as I remember it The Phantom Menace came in 6th or 7th place among the nominating ballots, the other 6th-or-7th-place movie being Toy Story 2. (I don’t remember how episodes 2 or 3 did.) I suppose that’s “close to getting on the final ballot,” but I think the majority of Hugo nominators did well to nominate the films they did (see my comment #59 above) ahead of The Phantom Menace.

  51. I loved Anathem enough to read it twice, but it seems to be one of those novels readers either love or hate with little or no middle ground. No surprise that it topped the Locus poll among science fiction novels, but note that three Hugo novel nominees were classed as “young adult” fare and didn’t compete with Stephenson’s novel directly. I could easily see Anathem getting the most first-place votes and going on to lose to something that got more second-place votes.

  52. John @ 69 – TC&C will likley get on the ballot, but I don’t think it’ll win.

    I think the Hugos value literary merit and popularity. If it was *just* a popularity contest, we’d have seen Robert Jordan at least get nominated. Fortunately, Hugo fans have some literary standards.

  53. I miss Roberto’s. :-(

    I am voting for Anathem for the Hugo, because I value books that can stand vertical on their own, and Anathem is best at that.

    Seriously, if you define “best” as “gave the largest number the greatest pleasure” than it is pretty congruent with “favorite”. If you define it as “most literary merit”, then maybe not.

  54. Agree on TC&TC – China’s not the author you want to point to as someone too experimental to be popular or get nominated, given that he has a higher success rate (novel noms to books in genre) than anyone else I can think of recently.

    I think he’s the indication that Spec Fiction readers prefer intellectually experimental to literary experimental.

    Which may be the underlying dispute that keyed off the review of the Hugos that started all this, lo these many days ago, come to think of it. It’s not that we’re not interested in cutting edge stuff – it’s differently cutting edge than The Professor’s more literary speculative fiction.

  55. I think experimental stuff gets nominated, but I think nuts and bolts books end up winning more often than not. People recognize that Mieville is great, but he’s not hitting all of the buttons that the books that win in the years he’s nominated do. And from my perspective, it’s because he’s not writing what the majority of Hugo voters really find entertaining, despite (and this is subjective to me) writing things that stretch the genre and are cutting edge more than his co-nominees for the awards.

  56. This was my first year voting in the Hugos and I’ve had a lot of fun with it. I’ve always had fun reading the novels, it wasn’t until this year that I started following the blogs, fan sites, and fanzines, which has also been fun.

    There are some recurring themes out there. First is the very laughable $50 complaint. I give up a third of my income for the right to vote for presidents and school levies. How hard is it to come up with 50 bucks? Mow your neighbors lawn, If you’re a Guinness drinker switch to Bush beer for a couple weeks, sell some blood, take your aluminum cans to the recycling center, cash in that jar of pennies on your night stand… and voila you’re officially a supporting worldcon member. 50 bucks is a small price to pay for something you care about, and it supports the convention. If it were an all out free for all we’d end up with something like the baseball all star ballot. That would make the Hugo’s less meaningful not more.

    The other recurring theme is dissatisfaction with the nominees. Some don’t like the YA titles. Some think the internet has a negative impact, some feel it’s unfair that authors have fan followings that blindly support them. The nomination system isn’t really broken we just need more participants. So if you haven’t already, go sell some body fluids, pony up your 50 spot, and let your voice be heard.

  57. Frankly, i lost a LOT of respect for both the Hugo, and the Hugo voters, in 2004 when they voted “Gollum’s Acceptance Speech at the 2003 MTV Movie Awards” the winer of the best dramatic presentation (short).

    Talk about making a laughingstock out of your own award. Especially considering that some seriously good stuff was nominated (i.e. The Message episode of Firefly)

    The same year the voters gave “Palidin of Souls” the nod for best novel. Everyone pretty much agrees that this was really a “Lois deserves a Hugo” award.

    When I go to Worldcon, I vote on the Hugos. When I don’t go, I don’t feel like paying $50 for the privilidge.

    I still think Mieville is way overrated, even if he gets nominated a lot. Iron councel (nominated in 2005) was disjointed and just about impossible to read. It was also completely incomprehensible unless you had read previous books in the series. I personally won’t vote for any novel where one has to have read a different novel to understand the book. It’s an award for “best novel” not “best derivitive work that relys on another novel”.

    On the other hand, Iron Sunrise by Stross (to pick another novel nominated the same year) was eminetly readable (and damn good), and dispite being a sequel, one does not have to have read Singularity Sky to “get” it.

  58. John,

    quick question. Would Eifelheim (Flynn) be considered “literary”?

    I thought it was by far the best novel that year, but it fell victim to the “Verner Vinge wrote a novel this year” phenomenon.

  59. Mark -

    Gollum’s acceptance speech was excellent and inspired. Just because it was fundamentally a joke didn’t mean it didn’t take serious work in all the categories of acting, writing, and CGI. Serkis’ reactions as they advanced through the Gollum dialog was some of the best acting I’ve seen in years, in a fundamentally serious role or not.

    on an unrelated note, Eifelheim annoyed me because I read it in Analog lo these many many years ago, and it wasn’t really “new”. Good writing, sure, but new?

  60. The same year the voters gave “Palidin of Souls” the nod for best novel. Everyone pretty much agrees that this was really a “Lois deserves a Hugo” award.

    Well, *I* certainly don’t. Paladin of Souls was an excellent novel, IMHO.

  61. GWH @80:
    From Wikipedia:

    Eifelheim is a science fiction novel by author Michael Flynn, published in 2006. It was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2007. It first appeared as a novella in 1986, which was a nominee for Best Novella Hugo Award in 1987.

    So what you likely read lo those many years ago was the orignal novella, not the new, considerably expanded novel.

  62. Maybe you’ve never gone to a gourmet restaurant, and your experience in picking the best place to eat is limited to the taco truck.

    Or vice versa. If you truly believe that good food can’t be had for less than $20 an entree, you may have had your taste buds rather spoiled by sauces and infusions and be totally unaware of how very good a simple, no-frills item off a good taco truck can be.

    In classical cuisine, btw, this is the eternal snippery between “haute cuisine” and “housewife cookery”.

  63. Pam Adams: Except that “Ender’s Game” (the original novella) wasn’t shortlisted for the Hugo. Both iterations of Eifelheim were.

  64. I think I might be the first girl to respond…?
    They must be all busy off running the world somewhere.

    I’ll take a second look at Hugo winners and Hugo nominated books in stores. I pick them up off the shelves and turn to the middle and take a gander. But putting down cold hard cash depends on the STORY and sometimes the Hugo doesn’t pick the story I want to read.

    I don’t have anything against the Hugos, though, and last year in Denver I was plenty happy to see the big smiles on all the winners. ;D

  65. Hey! Betsy! Get back to running the world! Sheesh, you think taco trucks just happen on their own?? :)

  66. Betsy@91,

    Nah, a few of us have been jumping in and out of the conversation.

    No taco truck tonight, but I did stop the corn guy for an ear of roast corn. Only butter, lemon and parmesan, though. I’ve never liked mayonnaise on my corn.

  67. Let’s not talk crazy here. Mayo on corn is silly, and an abomination. Mayo on fries is just European, and actually pretty good.

  68. George @103: Not only that, I have it on good authority that the Japanese put mayo and corn on the same pizza.

    I don’t get it either.

    Pam @94: Lemon and parmesan on your corn? What are you, some kind of gourmet snob? Butter and salt is the only true way to eat sweet corn.

    ;-)

  69. Kevin @106:

    I only took a bite, once, not realizing that either the corn or the mayo were inside the otherwise innocuous looking pepperoni pizza.

    The second time there was no corn, but still mayo.

    After that I stopped eating pizza anywhere that I couldn’t see them make it.

  70. Mark Horning @ 78: The same year the voters gave “Palidin of Souls” the nod for best novel. Everyone pretty much agrees that this was really a “Lois deserves a Hugo” award.

    Just as an aside, I’m with John Dilick @ 81 on this one: Paladin of Souls is an excellent novel, in my opinion. I don’t remember what it was up against (I didn’t vote for any Hugos that year), but it was certainly a solid nominee. And I find it hard to believe that this was really a “Lois deserves a Hugo” award in too many people’s minds, give that by 2003 Bujold has already won–what, four Hugos? Maybe “Lois deserves another Hugo,” I suppose, but that doesn’t seem too likely a mind-set for the vast majority of votors to me . . .

  71. I think Lois had three Hugos prior to Paladin (91 Vor Game, 92 Barryar, 95 Mirror Dance), unless I’m missing a novella or short story one.

    Paladin was not as good as Curse of Challion – better characterization for the main character, as the setting was already set somewhat by Curse, but the story was not as compelling. Curse had the misfortune to be up against American Gods – which deserved its win – and I think that there was a feeling that Paladin was standing in for Curse’s not getting it a few years earlier.

    Unfortunately, Paladin was up against Singularity Sky and I think that was a mistake – Charlie deserved that one (and 2005, moreso). But I digress.

  72. George William Herbert @ 111: You missed “Mountains of Mourning” in the late 1980s–can’t remember if that was novella or what, but I think it’s a terrific story. And that makes four prior to 2003, unless I’ve missed a different one.

    Not that that changes your essential point, which does make the earlier comment a little clearer, though. I’m not sure if I agree–I have a great deal of respect for what Bujold accomplished in Paladin of Souls–but I do agree that Singularity Sky is also a wonderful novel and I had forgotten that it was nominated that year.

    Both solid nominees, certainly. Sometimes (as has been remarked) the short list has an embarrassment of riches . . .

  73. Just an FYI… if you have ever enjoyed a “creamy garlic sauce” on your pizza, you’ve had a pizza with mayo on it. Ask my friend who’s allergic to calcium disodium EDTA about that. She can tell you in great detail how she had to force herself to vomit after two bites of a pizza she had no idea had mayo-based sauce until after she noticed she was starting to swell up. One quick phone call later and she was practicing her usual life-saving technique when confronted with that ingredient. And that’s in the good old US of A, people.

  74. What self respecting pizzeria would sell a pizza with “creamy garlic sauce? Heresy! Abomination!

  75. A lot of ‘creamy’ items sold in food service have a mayo base. Still doesn’t belong on pizza though.

  76. It’s not the mayo base I object to so much as the mass of corn syrup and stabilizers that are inevitably incorporated into commercialized Americanized “mayo”.

  77. Mary Frances @112, GWH @111:
    2004 was my first Worldcon (in Boston), and my memory recollects that someone explained to me that that year, at least, there were two disticnt “camps” at that Worldcon: fantasy and science fiction. This person’s theory was that Paladin of Souls was the only real fantasy on ballot, so the fantasy camp all got behind Bujold, whereas the SF camp split their vote amongst the other four nominees. On the ballot that year were:

    * Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold (Eos)
    * Blind Lake, Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)
    * Humans, Robert J. Sawyer (Tor)
    * Ilium, Dan Simmons (Eos)
    * Singularity Sky, Charles Stross (Ace)
    (copied and pasted from the Locus awards index)

    Also helping to draw a large “fantasy camp” that year was the fact that Terry Pratchett was GoH and Neil Gaiman was Toastmaster (you could walk right up to most SF author’s autograph tables, whereas Pratchett and Gaiman’s lines seemed to stretch halfway to Fenway Park). Also, it certainly didn’t hurt that Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies were at the height of their popularity (Return of the King won that year for DP: Long Form in addition to the above mentioned Gollum short form piece).

    So I don’t think the Best Novel in 2004 was a matter of “Let’s give Lois (another) Hugo” (she already had four, after all) as much as it was simply a very good year for fantasy (as opposed to SF).

  78. Betsey @ 91: What am I, chopped liver? ooooh, chopped liver on rye bread with hard boiled eggs…scusi…

  79. Kevin@106,

    I forgot to mentiion the chile powder…..

    Gourmet- no, not at all. You buy elote from a guy who can’t afford a taco truck yet (and probably doesn’t speak English)- usually they push an old shopping cart with the corn and toppings loaded in. Costs about a buck.

  80. 118: “So I don’t think the Best Novel in 2004 was a matter of “Let’s give Lois (another) Hugo” (she already had four, after all) as much as it was simply a very good year for fantasy (as opposed to SF).”

    Or, you could look at it as a very good year for SF authors, since they dominated the nominations for the Hugo, and the one fantasy author nominated was better known for her science fiction work. Terry Pratchett is, for my money, a brilliant, literary satirical fantasy writer, but he’s never gotten a Hugo or nomination for one, despite all those fans at the convention who could have voted him for a nomination. On the other hand, fantasy writers do get the World Fantasy Award to themselves, whereas the Nebula and the Hugo face fantasy “invasions.” But it would be nice if fans stopped looking at it as invasions and two separate camps one day.

    Other people think certain things are better than you think they are. This is something that everybody should have down by the end of grade school. Maybe Scalzi’s food metaphor will help people visualize the concept. I’ve got to go get a taco now.

  81. KatG:

    “Terry Pratchett is, for my money, a brilliant, literary satirical fantasy writer, but he’s never gotten a Hugo or nomination for one, despite all those fans at the convention who could have voted him for a nomination.”

    This is not quite true. He was nominated for a Hugo for Going Postal and declined the nomination.

  82. MB @123: I sense you were trying to indicate italics without using HTML tags, rather than trying to show sarcasm or somesuch by using quotes. I’ve found that if you want to indicate italics w/o the HTML tags, you can use asterisks *like this*, or underscores _like this._

  83. Maybe you’ve never gone to a gourmet restaurant, and your experience in picking the best place to eat is limited to the taco truck.

    Or maybe you’ve eaten at all the expensive gourmet places in town, and still think the taco truck is the best place in town, because it makes damn good tacos, and you like tacos. (The LA Weekly’s food critic Jonathan Gold probably couldn’t pick a single “best place to eat”, but he’s a big fan of a good taco truck, and it’s not from lack of experience with expensive gourmet food.)

    I’m not quite sure what this has to do with the metaphor, other than perhaps that it doesn’t make all that much sense. Taco trucks versus gourmet restaurants depend on context, as does what I want to read. It may be that the notion of “best place to eat” and “best SF novel of the year” are both equally meaningless.

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