Alternative Hugo Ballot

by Henry Farrell on April 1, 2013

So the Hugo nominees are “here”: Outside of the novels, the only nominated work I’ve read is Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn’s _Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature_ which I am entirely happy to recommend you go vote for, or, better still, buy. As for the novels, they’re:

* 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
* Blackout, Mira Grant (Orbit)
* Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
* Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, John Scalzi (Tor)
* Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW)

I’ve read five of the six (and I got halfway through the first book in the series which Mira Grant’s _Blackout_ ends), and I’ve got a serious case of the mehs. _2312_ is the only one that I would recommend as doing something interesting. The other five seem to me solid, but not wildly exciting. Ahmed’s _Throne of the Crescent Moon_ is a lot of fun – good sword and sorcery from a non-Christian Europe-centric perspective. _Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance_ is perfectly fine, but while it isn’t the worst of Bujold’s books, it’s not close to being the best either. John Scalzi’s _Redshirts_ didn’t grab me, perhaps because I never particularly liked _Star Trek_, and so was underwhelmed by the pathos.

But in the end, the Hugo nominees are no more and no less than a prestigious crowdsourced recommendation list. Which means that if your taste doesn’t gel with that of the Hugos crowd, you shouldn’t get bent out of shape about it, but also you shouldn’t take it as gospel. CT readers are a different crowd than Worldcon attendees/supporters, and I imagine would generate a different list. If people want to namecheck the books they liked in comments, I’ll undertake to write a follow up post next week that tries to pull these recommendations together in a more useful form. I’ve already listed “some of my favorites here”: but take that as a conversation starter, not ender.



Ted Lemon 04.01.13 at 6:58 pm

Wow, amazing. Mira Grant’s zombie news series were absolutely riveting from my perspective. I devoured them as quickly as they arrived. Redshirts was amusing, but not Hugo-worthy. 2312 was good, but I liked the Mira Grant novels much better.


Anderson 04.01.13 at 9:22 pm

Here’s wishing for a “best SF of the last 20 years” thread, since that’s about how long it’s been since I kept up with SF.

(Though thanks to this blog, I did stumble upon Stross’s Laundry series, which along with Belle & Sebastian are Crooked Timber’s two great contributions to my life.)


shah8 04.01.13 at 9:58 pm

In general, this wasn’t a good year for singularly interesting new genre works. The strongest work I’ve read that was published in 2012 is probably A.M. Dellamonica’s Blue Magic, which is a concluding sequel to a weaker Indigo Springs. Even so, it took a few pages before it started going. The next strongest was Caitlyn Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl.

I will wait for the sequel to be out before attacking Valente’s Deathless, which would be in 2014, I suppose. 2013 is also a rather weak year for interesting stuff. So far, only Karen Lord has impressed, but April will have some pretty interesting books out–really looking forward to Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria, for example…


between4walls 04.01.13 at 10:13 pm

I was surprised Aliette de Bodard’s “Immersion” made the short story ballot rather than the much stronger “Scattered Along the Rivers of Heaven,” which I highly recommend. It follows the fallout of a revolution in space that seems based on the relationship between Vietnam and China or France, with lots of commentary on poetry and linguistic change.

Seth Dickinson’s short stories are also excellent (disclaimer, I know him slightly). “Worth of Crows” was published in 2012, but my favorite is from December 2011, so not exactly eligible. But get thee over to Beneath Ceaseless Skies and read “The Traitor Baru Coromorant, Her Field General, and Her Wounds.”


Daniel Franklin 04.01.13 at 10:29 pm

I have to say it did feel like a bit of a boring slate, & though I enjoyed Newsflesh Blackout was not its strongest entry. On the other hand some amazing fantasy was overlooked, including brilliant non-Western fantasy; N. K. Jemisin’s Dreamblood duology, The Killing Moon/The Shadowed Sun (both 2012) is incredible epic fantasy with great characterisation and from a very different perspective, whilst Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts takes the same kind of ideas as Ahmed’s Throne… and puts them into a more imaginative, more interestingly realised world. As for science fiction, that Dark Eden by Chris Beckett didn’t get a nod is a travesty that, with it’s upcoming US Publication in 2013, will hopefully be rectified for LonCon3; whilst Caitlin R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl was a brilliant slipstream novel that will probably remain depressingly overlooked.


thomas 04.01.13 at 11:22 pm

I’m surprised Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts didn’t make it; it’s also non-Euro (Central Asian) high fantasy, but with much more unusual detail. I had assumed it wasn’t eligible, but the publication date is March 2012.


Timothy Burke 04.02.13 at 1:51 am

I would have liked to have seen Kameron Hurley nominated last year. I thought 2312 was plodding though with Robinson’s interesting ideas throughout, and I would normally not agree with that assessment of Robinson. I’d go for Throne of the Crescent Moon, which really is tons of fun and deftly avoids the orientalism that it initially seems to be in danger of stepping into.


Henry Farrell 04.02.13 at 2:37 am

I’m surprised Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts didn’t make it; it’s also non-Euro (Central Asian) high fantasy, but with much more unusual detail

I liked Range of Ghosts a lot too, but somehow had the impression that it was a duology with Shattered Pillars, an impression which evaporated around 50% through the latter a couple of days ago when it became obvious that Things Were Not Going To Wrap Up neatly in the next 80 odd pages … Still recommended though.


between4walls 04.02.13 at 3:13 am

If anyone’s intrigued by the mentions of Range of Ghosts, Bear’s giving away copies of it and Shattered Pillars on reddit right now.

I bounced off Range of Ghosts but love a lot of her books- All the Windwracked Stars, Whiskey & Water, and The Stratford Man duology in particular. I should probably give RoG another try.


shah8 04.02.13 at 3:28 am

Given the nature of genre fandom, you really should not expect novels that do not really center white people, pro or con, to get nominated easily. In fact, you can list all of that sort of novel that got nominated, since, say, 1990.

China Mountain Zhang
Midnight Robber
The Years of Rice and Salt
Throne of the Crescent Moon

None of these have ever won (obviously other than that last), nor the ones that featured at least some non-white perspectives, like Ian McDonald’s books. I’m not inclined to give Bacigalupi much credit. Some of that exclusion is simply because blandly popular authors like Robert L Forward eat up slots on a regular basis. As you can see, Bujold is on there, yet again. Hugos aren’t ever about anything serious, you know.

Lastly, Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghost wasn’t really that good, in my opinion. Kate Elliot did a similar premise, which I thought was more interesting–not least because she spent more ink for depth.


between4walls 04.02.13 at 4:19 am

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms didn’t center white people (from what I’ve heard of it) and got nominated in 2011.


Slex 04.02.13 at 10:04 am

The best fantasy of 2012 in my opinion is Let Maps to Others by K. J. Parker. The novella is available online for free here:
and I strongly recommend it.

I find it strange that it is not on the list of Hugo nominees.


ajay 04.02.13 at 11:15 am

I’ve read five of the six (and I got halfway through the first book in the series which Mira Grant’s Blackout ends

Henry: Very minor nitpick, but I think this should be “I’ve read four of the five”?

Given the nature of genre fandom, you really should not expect novels that do not really center white people, pro or con, to get nominated easily. None of these have ever won (obviously other than that last), nor the ones that featured at least some non-white perspectives, like Ian McDonald’s books.

Just taking a quick look at the list, you missed – deep breath – Hyperion, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, Mother of Storms, Forever Peace, A Deepness in the Sky, American Gods, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and Rainbows End. All of those had prominent nonwhite perspectives – either first-person narrators or third-person viewpoint characters. Most of them won Hugos. There are a few other winners, and quite a lot of nominees, that I haven’t read; but I’m going to assume you don’t know what you’re talking about there either.


Nick Caldwell 04.02.13 at 11:49 am

Bujold is on there, yet again. Hugos aren’t ever about anything serious, you know.

Yes, it’s quite a useful diagnostic of a critic if they thoughtlessly dismiss Bujold, given her sophisticated treatment of reproductive politics and the societal impact of reproductive technology, disability, and, well, a whole range of other concerns.

Haven’t read the nominated instalment yet, and I can well believe it’s a lesser work in her oeuvre, but really it’d be nice if the critique were informed by some basic attention to the texts.


Trader Joe 04.02.13 at 12:16 pm

The only of these I have read was Throne of the Crescent Moon and I very much enjoyed it – a solid read, decent characters, plenty of action without it just being a sword-fest and a minimum of preachy philosophical pseudo-religious chatter…

It surely meets the definition of SF, but with just a few tweaks could be classified to more fantasy. I’ve never studied the voting bent of the Hugo, but this distinction might make it a somewhat lightweight candidate compared to a more traditional SF “future worlds” type story.

I wouldn’t have said “this is a Hugo candidate” when I read it, but I would heartily recommend it as an airplane read if you’re a fan of the genre in general and would even suggest it as a crossover book for people who’ve become intrigued by Game of Thrones and similar.


shah8 04.02.13 at 3:35 pm

I suppose I could expect this response.

Range of Ghosts did not have *any* white people in it, other than ocassional mentions of the Russian analogues.

And breathlessly mentioning some long list isn’t quite right. American Gods? Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel? Xenocide? Prominent minority perspectives (rather than characters)? Child, please.

I didn’t include Hundred Thousand Kingdoms because of the nature of the conflict and what the adversaries were.


Peter Erwin 04.02.13 at 4:29 pm

shah8 @ 10:
… nor the ones that featured at least some non-white perspectives, like Ian McDonald’s books

As in, McDonald’s River of Gods and Brasyl, both of which were nominated? (Even if you decide to exclude Brasyl because one of the three main characters is, gasp, Irish, I’m not sure why you think River of Gods shouldn’t be on that list .)

And, sure, if you arbitrarily exclude The Windup Girl and <The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, you can make the list look smaller, though you also missed Greg Bear’s Queen of Angels and Walter Jon Williams’ City on Fire.

… blandly popular authors like Robert L Forward eat up slots on a regular basis

I don’t believe Robert L. Forward was ever nominated for a Hugo, in any category.


ajay 04.02.13 at 4:38 pm

When you say something that’s obviously nonsense, then, yes, you can probably expect the response to take the form of people pointing out that it’s nonsense and listing a large number of examples that prove that it’s nonsense. You simply haven’t read enough SF to be able to make (correct) sweeping statements about the sort of book that gets nominated for Hugos; and I have.


ajay 04.02.13 at 4:44 pm

I don’t believe Robert L. Forward was ever nominated for a Hugo, in any category.

Correct. He won a Campbell for Dragon’s Egg. Probably got confused between Robert L. Forward and Robert A. Heinlein. :)


shah8 04.02.13 at 6:05 pm

Ah, excuse me, I meant Robert Sawyer, not Robert L Forward.

ajay, the chances aren’t very good that I’ve read less SF/F than you. I’ve read every book you mentioned, and still remember most of them well. Xenocide? Really? American Gods? Sure, if you count Starship Troopers as well!

Again, peeps, what we’re actually talking about is genre, that at the very least, does not offer whiteness, in person or culture, for the reader to engage with. Like Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts. And how that affects their chances to be nominees or win a Hugo. We don’t even have to go that far back. Ekaterina Sedia’s House of Discarded Dreams (perhaps you can put it in the same category as Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but I find it far more introspective than any strict contest with whiteness), is far, far better than any of the nominees for the 2011 Hugo that it would have been eligible for. Charles Yu’s How To Live Safely In a Science Fictional Universe or Kameron Hurley’s God’s War both should have rather easily been nominated. As far as adult novels go, how much credit did people like Nnedi Okorafor, Kij Johnson, Tricia Sullivan, G Willow Wilson, or Aliette de Bodard get for what are essentially fairly unique and quality works? Or, let’s put it another way–why do you think that the only novel by Catherynne Valente nominated by the major awards was Palimpsest? That’s not really the novel people really rave about among her works. Incidentally, I see that the World Fantasy Awards does a much better job of nominating the better works.

I’m not really a fan of Ian MacDonald’s work. While not as toxic as The Windup Girl or Song of Kali, his work still molds characters under a pretty heavy whiteness gaze and if Said read them, I imagine long, erudite rants would be forthcoming.

In general, literary fiction seeks out, talks about, and awards far more novels. I mean, do you see Arivand Adiga have the least bit of trouble bursting onto the scene with his debut novel? Genre can and should be better about this–and is, in a grudging, glacially slow way.


rf 04.02.13 at 6:44 pm

Anyone read Kevin Barry’s ‘City of Bohane’?..If so, any good?..I guess it’s in this genre, which I don’t know so well..but his short stories ‘there are little kingdoms’ was quite good (imo) so could be worth a look


Henry 04.02.13 at 6:54 pm

Like you have read There Are Little Kingdoms and enjoyed it a lot, but not yet City of Bohane. I particularly enjoyed the Kafkaesque-everyman-finds-peace-and-transcendence-running-a-chipper-in-Clonmel story.


MPAVictoria 04.02.13 at 7:01 pm

I quite enjoyed RedShirts. I thought post the concept and the prose worked very well. However I am a Star Trek fan so maybe that had something to do with it.


between4walls 04.02.13 at 7:27 pm

Aliette de Bodard is nominated this year in both novella and short story categories and was nominated last year for short stories, so I should think she’s getting credit. Her novels thus far are not as accomplished as her shorter works, though.


shah8 04.02.13 at 8:40 pm

People have never had trouble with getting recognition for the shorter fiction. We’re talking novels that’s out there, on the shelves, published by themselves and not in magazines or collections. Novellas like On a Red Station, Drifting or Silently And Very Fast are purely an online order phenomenon with a cool cover for fans of their authors. Heh, and oh yeah, really, you *can’t* go wrong buying either of them.

It’s also not the same to write a fully tight novel the same way you would a short story, and de Bodard was going for something quite ambitious when she wrote speculative fiction about a more of less dead culture.

On a different topic:
I don’t think of Redshirts as anything other than disposable, but I thought it was a really pleasant read, and was more satisfying than most of Scalzi’s work. The acidic commentary about being caught up in narrative (and screen writing) is slightly insightful as well. Better than Mira Grant getting another nomination.


MPAVictoria 04.02.13 at 9:56 pm

“and was more satisfying than most of Scalzi’s work”

Do you know how I know that we have very different tastes when it comes to science fiction? :-)
Scalzi is awesome both as a writer and as a human being. I agree with you that the idea of being “caught up in the narrative” was insightful.


AnyGuy 04.03.13 at 12:09 am


Enjoyed the free K.J. Parker novella. Thx. Bought the Folding Knife.


rf 04.03.13 at 12:24 am

“I particularly enjoyed the Kafkaesque-everyman-finds-peace-and-transcendence-running-a-chipper-in-Clonmel story.”

Yeah I liked that one a lot aswell. Not sure how his style is going to carry outside of short stories (which has been a complaint in some reviews) but I’m definitely going to have a look, when I’m in the mood.


Henry 04.03.13 at 1:18 am

It helps, of course, to have grown up 15 miles from Clonmel in an even smaller and more parochial town. But he’s really good at short story length. Martin McDonagh meets the Irish midlands version of Warren Zevon’s “Play It All Night Long” meets Bruno Schulz. When I’ve a couple of days that I can devote to it, I’ll be reading the novel.


ajay 04.03.13 at 9:06 am

ajay, the chances aren’t very good that I’ve read less SF/F than you. I’ve read every book you mentioned, and still remember most of them well.

Unlikely, since you said that novels that feature nonwhite perspectives never win Hugos, and seven of the most recent Hugo novel awards have been won by novels that feature prominent nonwhite perspectives (Forever Peace, A Deepness In The Sky, Jonathan Strange, Green Mars, Blue Mars, Rainbows End and The Windup Girl). How can you remember Forever Peace at all well and not remember that the narrator is black? How can you remember any of the plot of Jonathan Strange and not remember that one of the three main characters is a black servant? How can you not remember that pretty well every main character in Rainbows End is Chinese-American? Didn’t the fact that they all had the surname “Gu” tip you off?


faustusnotes 04.03.13 at 12:43 pm

The Guardian is reporting Iain M. Banks has cancer and will die in a few months. This is sad news.


ajay 04.03.13 at 1:23 pm



Ben Alpers 04.03.13 at 1:28 pm


shah8 04.03.13 at 4:45 pm

I believe, ajay, that you’re missing the point. NO WHITE PEOPLE. NO WHITE PERSPECTIVE.

I’m saying that genre only rarely honors novels that offers no person or perspective for the average white genre reader, to the extent that it’s stingier with praise or sales than other classes of books. There are borderline books, like the NK Jemison novel or Ian MacDonald books, and you can define either way. However…Windup Girl? It has a white protagonist among the other voices. Rainbows End is about as Chinese as Firefly. Let’s not get to the black servant in the midst of the great bromance!

All I really wanted to do was explain why Range of Ghosts didn’t really make it, and why it was unlikely to get a nomination. It wasn’t that good, anyways.

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