How You Should Vote for the Hugos This Year

(Warning: Hugo neepery follows. Ignore if bored with the topic.)

Now that the Hugo voter packet is out, I’m getting asked rather a lot, mostly with an air of confidentiality, how I plan to vote in this year, what with the actual democratic nature of the Hugo nomination balloting representing hundreds of individual viewpoints subverted by a couple of jerks who created interlocking slates (one prominently featuring work created by one of these jerks’ own publishing company) and encouraged people, either bluntly or with a wink and a nod, to vote a straight ticket rather than come up with their own independent choices. People are wondering whether I plan to put all the nominees pushed by the slates under the “No Award” option, or simply leave them off my final ballot altogether, after placing “No Award” below the works/people I feel are legitimate choices.

My short answer is no, I don’t plan to do that. I will detail my longer answer in a second. But before I do, some thoughts to the Hugo voters this year:

To the people planning to put everything/everyone on Puppy slates below “No Award” or leave them off your ballot altogether: This is a solid and totally legitimate choice to make, and don’t let anyone tell you any different. My understanding is that at least one of the head Puppies has been notably petulant on the subject recently, which is a matter of some irony. If you believe that slates are inimical to Hugo balloting, or wish to register your disapproval of the selections this year, or think that the Puppies are assholes who deserve to be smacked on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper, or any other reason you choose to No Award them, it is your right, and some would argue, your responsibility, to vote them below “No Award” or leave them off the ballot entirely (after having placed “No Award” below your last actual choice). If this is your path, then rock on with yourself.

To the people planning to vote on the nominees as if it were a completely normal year: This is also a solid and totally legitimate choice to make, and you should also not let anyone tell you any different. Because you might not think slates matter much one way or another, or you might think the individual nominees, no matter how they arrived on the final ballot, deserve to be treated with courtesy and respect, or you might simply think “cool, stuff to read” and just get to it, or any other reason you might have to read and rate. Again: This is your path? Cool. Rock on.

To the people somewhere in the middle, for whatever reason: Hey, you know what? That’s fine too. It’s okay to be conflicted. After all, not everyone on a slate asked to be there, or there might be some people on a slate who you think should have been nominated regardless, or in your reading you might find something on a slate that blows you away and deserves a shot, or (again) whatever — it’s your ballot and your choice for voting. Rock on with your choices.

The short version of all of the above: If you vote your own conscience, there is no wrong way to vote for the Hugos. There is, simply, your vote. It’s your own choice. Think about it, take your vote seriously — and then vote. No one can or should ask you to do anything otherwise.

With that as preamble:

I think the slates are bullshit, and I think the people who created them (and at least some of the people on them) are acting like petulant, whiny crybabies and/or obnoxious, self-aggrandizing opportunists. I’m also aware some slate choices were not made aware they had been put on slates, or were placed on them under false pretenses. Some of those so slated chose to leave the ballot, which I think is impressive and well done them, but I can’t really fault those who chose to stay, not in the least because for some of them it would be politically or personally awkward to withdraw, for various reasons. And, on the principle that a stopped clock can be correct twice a day, it’s entirely possible something or someone that is a slate choice is genuinely deserving of consideration for the Hugo, and I am loath to discount that, particularly if the person to whom the award would be given was also an unwilling (or misinformed) draftee onto a slate.

So here is my plan:

1. I am going to look back on my own Hugo nomination ballot, and identify in each category the work/person I nominated that I judged to be my “last place” choice in the category.

2. When confronted with a nominee on the final ballot who was placed there by a slate, I will ask myself: “Is this work/person better than my own ‘last place’ nominee?”

3. If the answer is ‘yes,” then I will rank that work/person above “No Award” on my final ballot, and otherwise rank them accordingly to my own preference.

4. If the answer is “no,” then I won’t put that work/person on my ballot at all, and I will put “No Award” below my choices in the category so it’s clear that I would prefer no award given than to offer the Hugo to anything/anyone I’ve left off the ballot.

This, for me, strikes the appropriate balance between fairness to the nominees on the slates, and registering disapproval for the concept of slating. This way, if the work is genuinely good in my own estimation, it gets a fair hearing. But if it’s not, out it goes — and not just out, but also suffering the existential ignominy of “No Award” being preferred over it or them.

As I think this is a decent plan, I naturally encourage people to adopt it for their own, or adapt it for their own purpose. For those Hugo voters who didn’t nominate this year, I would suggest either creating a mock nomination ballot to use as a guideline, or using another award final ballot as a substitute. Here’s this year’s Nebula ballot, and here’s this year’s Locus finalist list. Choose your least favorite work in each category and use that as the benchmark.

But remember: It’s your vote and your choice. With the Hugos, it’s a very good year to take both seriously. Don’t let anyone keep you from voting your own conscience.

The End of All Things: Starred Review at Kirkus

The first review of The End of All Things is in at Kirkus Reviews, and I’m very pleased to say that it’s received a star (i.e., notation for being especially good).

The full review has some spoilery content, so be warned; here’s the link to it. For those who just want the gist, here’s a relevant excerpt:

It’s classic crowd-pleasing Scalzi, offering thrilling adventure scenes (space battles, daring military actions, parachute jumps through a planet’s atmosphere), high-stakes politics, snarky commentary, and food for thought. Delightful, compulsively readable, and even somewhat nutritious brain candy.

Mmmmm…. brain candy.

Also, and because this is how my brain works, I’m relieved that no matter what else happens, review-wise, we have quote for the cover for the paperback release. One neurotic worry down! Many, many more to go.

Anyway, this is my good news for the day. Hope you’re having a good day, too.

The Big Idea: Wendy Suzuki

Science says: You have a hypothesis? Test it! And see if the results you get match your hypothesis? Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki has a hypothesis about the brain, and how certain activities and thoughts can influence them, which she expands upon in her book (written with Billie Fitzpatrick) Healthy Brain, Happy Life. How did this hypothesis come about? From an interesting personal experience.

WENDY SUZUKI:

Can I use my thoughts, intentions and beliefs to change my brain and make myself smarter and happier? That’s the question I have been asking ever since I inadvertently did an experiment on myself and noticed how much aerobic exercise combined with positive intentions transformed not only my body, but my brain and ultimately, my life.

After years of neglecting my body and focusing too much of my energy on my work as a brain scientist, I finally decided to begin a regular exercise routine. I started with a personal trainer and focused on increasing my overall muscular and cardiovascular strength. As I got stronger, I felt great and much more energized.

And then I found a class at the gym that shifted my workout routine into high gear. The class combined physical movements from kickboxing, dance yoga and martial arts with positive spoken affirmations like “I am strong!” or “I believe I will succeed!”. It’s called intenSati. And it’s hard. You have to master the moves and the affirmations that go with them and change moves every four to eight counts or so. Shouting out the affirmations increases the cardio load of the workout and makes it much more challenging than just doing the moves on their own.

I was already in pretty good shape when I discovered this class at my gym. I always felt more energized after any workout. But intenSati was different. After each class, I was full of energy, in a great mood, and felt like I could take on the world. Not only that, when I left the gym after class, I was already looking forward to the next time I could do the workout.

Over time I noticed something even better. As I upped my workouts with intenSati, it became easier to write my scientific grants. I seemed to be able to focus my attention better while writing and make more and better associations or links between the journal articles that I read in support of my points. I realized I had just done an experiment on myself and the results were these striking brain changes.

In fact, the shift was so noticeable that I decided to find out what we knew about the effects of exercise on brain function. I found a vibrant scientific literature focused largely in rodents showing profound effects of exercise on the anatomy, physiology and function of brain areas important for attention, memory and mood. In humans, there was good evidence that exercise improved mood and attention, and promising indirect evidence that exercise improved memory function as well. In my book Healthy Brain, Happy Life, I write about my transformative experiences with exercise, and also about the what neuroscience understands about the dramatic impact of exercise on specific brain areas.

In myself, I noticed improved mood, attention and memory functions with increased levels of aerobic activity. But I realized that with intenSati, I wasn’t doing just exercise alone – I was combining it with positive affirmations. And I wondered if the exercise alone that was causing the brain effects I was experiencing? Or could it be the combination of exercise together with the positive affirmations that was doing the trick? As a scientist, I knew I could not answer this question simply by introspection. Instead I went to the scientific literature to see if there were any studies on the brain effects of combining of exercise and affirmations, something I started to call “intentional exercise”.

No study had ever examined the effects of exercise combined with affirmations, but I did find studies examining the effects of affirmations alone, which indicated that reciting positive affirmations improved mood. This is not so surprising. Perhaps the affirmations were just adding additional mood boosting power to the workout.

Somehow that didn’t seem quite right. Then, I stumbled upon the psychological studies of something called mindset, defined as the established set of attitudes held by somebody. This is a hot area of research because of exciting findings showing that shifting a person’s mindset by simply providing information can have significant changes on people’s sensory experiences and physiological responses.

What does this mean? My two favorite examples from this area of study were done by Professor Alia Crum of Stanford’s Psychology department. In one study, she showed that people who thought they were drinking an indulgent high calorie milkshake showed faster declines in a hunger-inducing hormone than when they thought the same exact milkshake was healthy and low calorie. In another study, she showed that when hotel room attendants were told that, according to the surgeon general, their workload of cleaning rooms and changing sheets was considered a good amount of exercise, the workers lost significant weight and had lower blood pressure compared to the control group of hotel room attendants who were not given that information.

These studies are examples of how adopted beliefs can significantly change physiological responses including hormone secretion and metabolism/weight loss. Maybe that’s what the affirmations were doing to me. Maybe the affirmations shifted my mindset to a positive one that included belief in myself and my success. Maybe the affirmations are adding the key ingredient of motivation to my workout. And maybe we could actually modulate the effects of the affirmations to focus on attention or memory or happiness depending on what we actually said.

We don’t know the answer to these questions right now. But my “big idea” is that we can test these hypotheses systematically and scientifically in the lab. It could be that adding positive intention to exercise (any kind of exercise), could be the secret sauce needed to boost the effects of exercise on both our bodies and our brains to their maximum levels. That’s exactly the question I’m starting to answer with the experiments I’m doing in my lab.

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Healthy Brain, Happy Life: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.