Hugos

by Henry on March 24, 2006

Via Patrick Nielsen Hayden I see that the Hugo nominees have been announced. They’re

Learning the World, Ken MacLeod (Orbit; Tor)
A Feast for Crows, George R.R. Martin (Voyager; Bantam Spectra)
Old Man’s War, John Scalzi (Tor)
Accelerando, Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit)
Spin, Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)

For once, I’ve read all of them, and liked each of them quite a bit – it’s a very good field this year. That said, if I had to pick, it would either be McLeod’s Learning the World or Wilson’s Spin. Both of these books see their authors reaching a new level of achievement. The McLeod book combines the political edge of his earlier work with a real degree of human warmth; it’s a little reminiscent of Vinge’s Deepness in the Sky in its setup, but more subtle in how its plot plays out. Spin strikes me as even more subtle, albeit chillier – using a gonzo science-fictional conceit and a slightly unreliable narrator to explore how we construct fantasies about an uncaring universe. As for the others, Accelerando is very impressive, but I couldn’t entirely warm to it – I found that I was reading it more for the infodumps than the plot development. I prefer his “Merchant Princes” series which has less bells and whistles, but does a better job in my opinion of combining plotline with sociological speculation. More on this series later. That said, Accelerando has some very nice sardonic touches. Most libertarian Singularities see the geeks inheriting the earth, but Stross’s version of the Singularity is dominated by feral intelligent financial instruments; hedge funds with stratospheric IQs run amok. A Feast for Crows is a not-entirely-wonderful installment in a mostly wonderful series of books – the next should be better (it’ll have Tyrion). Old Man’s War is great entertainment – I suspect Scalzi is getting a little tired of being compared to a modern Heinlein but there’s good reason for the comparison; he resurrects the feeling of golden age SF, but somehow manages to make it feel fresh. All good books in my opinion – feel free to agree/disagree in comments.

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03.28.06 at 11:37 am

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1

Ted 03.24.06 at 11:58 pm

Totally agree. Any of the 5 would make worthy awardees. Not a stinker among them.

My personal choice would be Accelerando.

The disconnected nature of this novel, along with its focus on everything but the protagonist, reminded me of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.

2

Gary Farber 03.25.06 at 1:35 am

“They’re….”

In one category. There are actually 12 other categories, and a heck of a lot of people you’re slighting by writing as if only the Novel category existed (though presumably it’s the one that matters most to you; but the rest are there for good reason, as well, and are no less of an honor).

(Plus there’s the non-Hugo Campbell Award for Best New Writer, also quite an honor; and then there’s the cancelled special category for this year, which I mocked here.)

3

Gary Farber 03.25.06 at 1:37 am

Whoops. Meant to link to all the nominees, but something went wrong with the link.

4

Cheryl Morgan 03.25.06 at 2:11 am

Oh, I think I can live with being ignored. There are, after all, some great novels in that list. If Henry had only mentioned the movies (and I have seem that happen) it would be a different matter.

On the other hand, Gary’s right in that there’s a lot of good material in the other categories. Novella looks particularly interesting. Kelly Link is brilliant, but I like Jim Kelly’s story too and, as Ian McDonald points out, he has a Father Ted joke in his story. Then there’s Connie Willis, who has a great track record in the Hugos.

5

Elio M. Garcia, Jr. 03.25.06 at 4:32 am

I do agree that it’s an excellent field. Right now, fandom seems to be wrestling with whether Accelerando or A Feast for Crows will get it.

Pros for Accelerando:

1) Charles Stross seems to be something of the posterboy for Singularity SF these days, and that’s popular.

2) He got his first Hugo last year, which shows that he’s reached enough Worldcon-attending readers.

3) What I think is going to be telling: Accelerando is available for free (legal) download. People often seem to make an effor to read the nominees they haven’t, and it’s going to be almost impossible for them not to take the free book up. If Accelerando wins (and my gut says it will), I think this is going to be the reason.

Cons for Accelerando:

1) Winning the Hugo for his story last year may make those who value “spreading the love around” stay away.

2) It is, apparently, a fix-up of nine short stories grafted together into a “novel”, and I’ve seen some reviewers comment that this doesn’t work particularly well.

Pros for A Feast for Crows:

1) George has a _lot_ of fans.
1a) A not insignificant-number vote at the Hugos, as witnessed by the near-miss of A Storm of Swords (considered by many the best book of the series, and by some the best epic fantasy since Tolkien (or even ever) in 2001 to the J.K. Rowling juggernaut.

2) It’s the only fantasy novel. Worldcon voters who don’t read much SF are likelier to put A Feast for Crows down than any of the others. Consider the fact that fantasy novels have four of the last five awards.

3) George is a luminary in the field, among the most-nominated and award-winning writers active in the field today, and there’s a lot of good will.

4) There’s going to be some who want to “make it up” to George for the the 2001 thing.

5) And there’s going to be some who’ll see this vote as an award for the series to-date, even if they don’t think AFfC is equal to the previous three others (or to the other four nominees), and will feel that the other nominees just can’t match two brilliant books and two “only” extremely good ones.

Cons for A Feast for Crows:

1) It’s the fourth book in a series. Third book in the series didn’t stop A Storm of Swords, but I think it may be a factor here, because those who pick it up without the other books (or, at least, without A Storm of Swords) may not grasp the more subtle pacing and the stronger focus on certain themes in this novel.

2) And speaking of those themes and pacing, some people just plain hated it. How many will be the sort of people who’ll leave it off their ballot, or at the bottom, when they once put it in at #1 or #2 in 2001 will be an open question.

3) It’s a fantasy. I see signs of an even greater “fantasy backlash” from some corners of SF fandom. There are those who really, really hate the idea that “their” Hugo awards are being given to fantasy rather than the SF it’s “supposed” to honor. I won’t be surprised by concerted efforts to get people to list the four SF novels and then No Award in hopes of stopping it.

So, the odds are in Stross’s favor, I think, but it’ll be close.

I could see Spin managing to sneak in to win, and I think in terms of sheer, individual quality, it’s probably considered the best of the five. I don’t think Scalzi or MacLeod have a chance, but I could be wrong.

6

Patrick Nielsen Hayden 03.25.06 at 9:14 am

Good though it is, Accelerando is not likely to remain the only one of the nominees freely available to Hugo voters in electronic form.

7

Elio M. Garcia, Jr. 03.25.06 at 9:56 am

PNH,

Really? I’ve never seen novel nominees (and their publishers) put their books out for free before, I think, but if it happens … woo-hoo? Yeah, I think that merits a, “Woo-hoo.” It’d be a different ballgame, I think. Especially if Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin were to go out there.

8

Cheryl Morgan 03.25.06 at 1:40 pm

Elio – you are right that George will do well on first preference votes because he’s got the only fantasy book. I expect him to be ahead on the first count. But as the SF books get elimited their preferences will tend to go to other SF books.

George’s best advantage, IMHO, is that he is a Worldcon regular. He goes to all of them, and is well known to most of the regular voters. Because of that even some of the SF purists may vote for him.

Patrick – go for it! I’d love to see a ebook of Spin made available.

(Fictionwise often have the novels available as ebooks, but they charge for them.)

9

Danny Yee 03.25.06 at 4:59 pm

The only one I’ve read is A Feast for Crows and I really don’t think that deserves to win — it’s by far the weakest of the series so far. (I have reviewed the first three books.)

10

Scott Eric Kaufman 03.25.06 at 5:08 pm

I admit it: Spin did absolutely nothing for me. Furthermore, as the aforelinked post notes, I’ve already cursed Henry vociferously for the recommendation.

Also, Adam Roberts’ has excellent review of all the Clarke finalists up at Infinity Plus. It deserves (another) link.

11

Gary Farber 03.25.06 at 7:27 pm

“1) George has a lot of fans.”

Not insignificant factor: George has been going to American conventions an awful lot longer than Charlie has.

But, as you note, also a lot of fans don’t like fantasy.

Myself, I think it would be nice for Steve Stiles to win a Hugo, finally, but I’m saying that on the usual “lifetime achievement” basis that a lot of the awards actually go to, and with no idea at all as to who the Best Fan Artist was last year. But, then, I’m also not a member of this year’s Worldcon, and not voting.

Digressing, I note with some slight sadness that my one-time provider-of-quarters, the most venerable Amazing Stories has once again (for about the 1,237th time) ceased existence. Anyone want to buy the title?

12

Maynard Handley 03.26.06 at 11:46 am

Maybe I’ve grown too old, but I just don’t get the excitement around both Accelerando and Spin.

Accelerando was just this weird rambling fugue around the idea that you can quantize a personality and run it in a virtual world. Not an especially original idea (we’ve all seen _The Matrix_), and not executed in a way that provided me with any new insights.

But Spin was even worse. The idea was so grand, the working out so limited. The novel presented this gloomy (but IMHO realistic) view of human nature till the very end where it all becomes unicorns and daisies. It felt like a Hollywood movie that had had its dark ending replaced with something more upbeat to satisfy the focus groups in Kansas.

Ken MacLeod appears to be something of a thinking man, so I should try him at some point, but I have to admit I’ve been rather disappointed by the SF I’ve seen recommend in blogs.

13

Danny Yee 03.26.06 at 5:03 pm

Having just read Accelerando, I’m with Mayndard. It’s fun and amusingly geeky, but sprawls pretty aimlessly and doesn’t have anything new.

So if it’s a choice between that and Feast, I’d give it to Martin and we can pretend it’s for the series rather than just the fourth book.

14

John Emerson 03.26.06 at 10:14 pm

well, Nielsen Hayden would say something like that. He works for Tor, you know. I question his objectivity.

15

Henry 03.26.06 at 10:28 pm

maynard – I had a very different reading of _Spin_; which I think is a rather tricky book.

spoilers follow

As I said, I think that the narrator is subtly unreliable – Tyler doesn’t relate to the universe in the same way that Jason does. It’s pretty clear from Jason’s final conversation that the aliens don’t care about human beings; they don’t _understand what human beings are_. Instead, they view them and the biological systems that they and other biological races are as something like computer programs which can assimilate each other, destroy each other etc. The worlds which open up at the end aren’t, in this reading, much more than a glorified Petri dish in which various biological cultures will battle it out for dominance. Tyler chooses not to focus on this – and the author doesn’t spell it out, but it’s there as a clear subtext for me at least. I think that the key to this book is Wilson’s previous (and greatly inferior) _Bios_ which is all about a bio-engineered orphan who is screwed up by her lack of roots so that she needs a family and father figure, and who ends up being absorbed into an alien biology that seems to promise some sort of holistic paradise. The point being, if I understand Wilson rightly, that our dreams of holistic paradise have to do with our insecurities and unacknowledged driving forces. I think Wilson is doing a similar trick here, but making the reader work much harder for it.

16

josh jasper 03.27.06 at 8:10 am

So stop comparing Scalzi to Heinlein. Compare him to Spider Robinson, who, like Scalzi, has a known intellectual debt to Heinlein. Also, compare him to Haldeman.

Sheesh. You people need some serious fans to ‘splain things to you, don’t you?

Amaterurs. Feh.

Anyhow, Old Man’s War is a *far* better book than Crows. And I say this knowing that, overall, Martin is a better author than Scalzi. It’s just that Crows was more of a bridge, and Old Man’s War was a brilliant first start.

OTOH, Ghost Brigades blows Old Man’s War out of the water. Scalzi is improving in leaps and bounds.

17

Elio M. Garcia, Jr. 03.28.06 at 11:46 am

PNH is a prophet. I think this is going to make the Hugo race much more exciting.

18

Daryl McCullough 03.29.06 at 1:59 pm

scott eric kaufmann wrote: I admit it: Spin did absolutely nothing for me.

Yet, on the linked web page, he wrote: I read and was impressed by Spin.

So which is it, Mr. Kaufmann? Did it do absolutely nothing for you, or did it impress you?

I think I’ve run circles around you, logically.

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