Wheel of Time; Hugo Novel Nominees; How I Read Nominated Works
Because you asked, that’s why.
* Tor has decided to place the entire Wheel of Time series into the Hugo voters reading packet, which has surprised many — that’s 15 books, which is a hell of a lot of reading — and I think has convinced some others that this year’s Best Novel Hugo race might be over before it begun. Well, I have a couple of thoughts here.
One, good on Tor for committing the entire series to the voter packet: The nomination is for the entire series, so voters should read the whole thing and decide whether, in sum, it is worthy. Having it available in the packet for those who have not yet attempted the series is going to be useful for that aim.
Two, I think it presents a risk to the series’ overall chances, as opposed to just placing A Memory of Light into the packet. First, because, Jesus: Fifteen books. I suspect some people who haven’t already committed to the series are just going to look at that mass of 4.4 million words and go, “uh, yeah, no,” and that will be that. Second, fifteen books are fifteen different chances for the series to fail for any particular reader. Again, if you’ve not already bought into the series, this will not necessarily be a positive.
Three, while having all the books in the series in the voter packet might be an impetus for people to get a supporting membership to the Worldcon (along with, you know, everything else in the packet), it doesn’t follow that those people will then automatically turn around and vote for the series. It’s reasonable to posit that the people who are most likely to vote for the series are already invested in the series, i.e., they already have the books, in which case their presence in the voter packet is nice but not necessary. New people coming in may be attracted by the sheer bulk of the series, but they may also decide it’s not their thing (see points one and two) and prefer one of the other nominees.
Add those up, and there’s an argument to be made that having just the final installment of the series in the packet would have been the less risky proposition.
So yeah, don’t assume having the whole series in that packet is a net positive for the series’ Hugo chances. Tor putting the whole series in the reader packet is the correct thing to do. It’s not a slam dunk, however.
* On the subject of Wheel of Time, Brandon Sanderson writes a very good piece on the series’ nomination, both to the fans of the series and to those who are coming to it from elsewhere, essentially asking both groups to set aside any prejudices they have for or against the series and to make a principled choice in terms of the Hugo. Good for him, because he’s correct; the series should be judged on its merits, and he’s the right person to make that argument to both assumed camps.
With that said, I think we need to be careful with the assumption that the only people who nominated Wheel of Time as a series are the people who are in the tank for the series and only the series. There are five slots for each category on the Hugo nomination ballot; very few fans, I suspect, nominate only one work in the novel category. I find it difficult to believe there is no overlap between WoT fans and fans of the Ann Leckie, Charlie Stross, Mira Grant and Larry Correia’s nominated novels — and if there is indeed no overlap at all, then that doesn’t bode particularly well for WoT’s chances, given how the Australian Rules ballot works.
So again: Let’s not assume a WoT slam dunk.
* Indeed, with regard to the novel, let’s recognize the strengths each nominee brings to the table: Ancillary Justice has been nominated for just about every major science fiction award this year — Hugo, Nebula, Clarke, BSFA, PKD — and is arguably the most talked and praised science fiction novel of 2013. Neptune’s Brood is classic Charles Stross, and a very good novel of hard(er) SF, which is always popular, and Charlie is also the only UK nominee on the novel ballot, which doesn’t hurt when the Worldcon’s in London. Parasite continues Mira Grant’s novel nomination streak, is scary as hell and a damn fine read. Warbound is the surprise in the field (which is not bad), entirely different from the other nominees (also not a bad thing) and, as has been established, has its own passionate set of fans.
So once more: Let’s not count the Hugo novel chickens before they hatch. We might all be surprised — and surprise here would not a bad thing.
* I’ve been asked if I intend to read all the nominees this year. I do — some I have already read, and the rest I will get to when the Hugo voter packet comes out, if not sooner. My own particular reading style for nominations is to read until I get bored, at which point I stop. If I get to the end, then it means I wasn’t bored, so that’s good. I then rank the works that did not bore me, by various criteria including (but not limited to, and not in equal amounts) story, writing quality and emotional impact. Sometimes this requires tough choices. Sometimes it doesn’t.
When I note that I don’t always read a nominated work to the end if it bores me, some folks question whether that strategy is fair. My response: Hell yeah. If a work is boring, it’s fair to put it down — fair to me, at least, since I didn’t sign on to be bored. I don’t care if it might “pick up at the end” or whatever; if the writer didn’t pick it up at the beginning, I’m not sure why I need to do all that heavy lifting. I get bored pretty quickly; nominated works shouldn’t give me the chance to get bored.
(Mind you, as I sow, so do I reap — which is to say that if someone reading my work for the Hugos, etc gets bored with it, I am perfectly fine with them chucking it and moving on to the next thing. That’s life, people!)
* Also, no, I don’t plan to publicly comment on what I think of each of the nominated works (other than the generally positive things I’ve said about the novel nominees above) until after the award ceremony at least, no matter how fun some of you might think it would be if I did. Other people can take up that task. I will merely say what I’ve said before: If you’re voting on the Hugos this year, consider simply judging the works on their own merits. I don’t think you’ll go wrong if you do. In fact, I’m pretty sure you won’t.