Hugo Reading Report

I’ve accepted that I will probably not make it through all the Hugo reading before it’s time to vote. Uff da — what would I do in a normal year, when there aren’t chunks of the ballot that I’ve ruled out entirely? I have no idea. As it stands, I already kind of resent the amount of time I’ve spent reading things that aren’t what I would have chosen if left to my own devices. Possibly this means I am just not good Hugo voter material.

But anyway! I figure that before I make my (extremely belated) post about what I read in June, I should make a post about what I’ve read out of the Hugo packet. Not so much because I’m campaigning for people to vote in a particular way — rather, I want to work through my reactions to things, and my first attempt at thinking through “do I consider this to be Hugo-worthy material?”

If you need to refresh your memory on my personal Hugo reading rules, do so now. I did indeed end up reading some of the Puppy candidates, though I did not finish them all. I’m skipping over the Dramatic Presentations and the artists in this post.

Best Novel
Haven’t tackled this one. Made an executive decision to leave it until last, because one novel would eat up as much time as another entire category (or more than one), and because I’ve already read one of the non-Puppy nominees; of the other two, I haven’t yet read Ancillary Justice (therefore am reluctant to pick up Sword, because spoilers), and I know The Three-Body Problem isn’t going to be my kind of book, however well-written it may be.

Best Novella
Got to skip most of this category, thanks to the Wright/Castalia House skew. Started in on Flow by Arlan Andrews, Sr, but bounced right out of it. Had way too many italics for emphasis and Unnecessarily Capitalized Words for my taste.

Best Novelette
I may very well vote “No Award” on this one. To say that I found the sole non-Puppy candidate (“The Day the Earth Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt) rather underwhelming is kind: the effectiveness of the story depends heavily on how sympathetic you find the protagonist, and I wanted to drop-kick him off the planet. Gravity has reversed itself (sort of) and people are falling to their deaths in the atmosphere, but that’s the second time the world ended because the first was when your girlfriend broke up with you? Nope, nope, and nope. Plus Heuvelt admitted in the interview that he wasn’t really interested in the how or why of the gravity reversal, but was just using it as more of a metaphor, and that’s an approach I rarely enjoy. So: not impressed. Not inclined to say it’s Hugo-worthy.

The Puppy candidates ranged all over. “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” by Gray Rineheart) was decent; “Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” by Rajnar Vajra was almost quite good, but tripped over its own determination to be clever at the end. “The Journeyman: In the Stone House” by Michael F. Flynn drove me up the wall with the inconsistency of its diction; I would have liked the effect if the high-flown language mapped to the plavver dialogue and the folksy tone to the sprock, but it didn’t seem to. Then there was the female character who felt like she stepped straight out of Golden Age SF (and not in a good way). When I hit the point where one of the characters assured her that “babe” was a term of respect for women, I put the story down. Then there was “Championship B’tok” by Edward M. Lerner: I bounced out of it early on, wondered if maybe I hadn’t given it a fair chance, tried again, bounced out again, and could not tell you what it was about if you paid me. It made that little of a mark on my brain.

Best Short Story
All Puppies, all the time. “Totaled” by Kary English was the best of the bunch, insofar as I think it had an interesting idea at its core, but English’s writing (both on a prose level and a plot one) isn’t quite there yet, and didn’t pull off the concept as well as it might have. “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond fell in an awkward zone for me, partway between being not specific enough in terms of time and place and the character’s background, and not mythic enough in terms of being the sort of story that doesn’t need those details. Put down “On a Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli without finishing it; the story was just too infodumpy in its opening stages. Did not read the Castalia House candidates.

I should note that I did seek out Annie Bellet’s short story “Goodnight Stars,” which she withdrew from the ballot. For me, it fell firmly into the camp of “not groundbreaking conceptually, but made me cry” — so kudos to her for that. Has made me think thinky thoughts about what exactly makes me consider something “Hugo-worthy” or not.

Best Related Work
More Puppies. Letters from Gardner by Lou Antonelli had a semi-interesting concept, in terms of talking about his growth as a writer by discussing the crits and rejections he’d gotten, but ultimately the material which enacted that concept wasn’t very interesting at all. Plus, a distracting number of copy-editing errors. “Why Science is Never Settled” by Tedd Roberts was a perfectly cromulent piece, but not remarkable; I wouldn’t call it Hugo-worthy, in that I don’t really see why anybody five years down the road really ought to pick it up. Did not read the remaining entries.

Best Graphic Novel
Didn’t read the Puppy that wasn’t in the packet, but I read the rest. Ms. Marvel was decent, and I liked the different angle the “secret identity” concept gets when the superheroine is a Pakistani-American girl; the major flaw here is that I’m frankly really bored with origin stories. I’d rather read about her once she’s found her footing as Ms. Marvel. Rat Queens I bounced off initially, and only went back because I heard friends saying good things about it. Ultimately I ended up liking it, but I have to admit that initially the characters came across as a pack of abrasive sociopaths. Saga was the one I enjoyed the most, even though I was a bit at sea regarding the world and the characters (this being the third volume in the series). Sex Criminals was definitely the least interesting to me, because I just didn’t like the people in it, and the concept made me roll my eyes.

Best Editor, Short Form
Liked Jennifer Brozek’s sample reasonably well, though after a while I started getting bored with reading about robots. Haven’t finished Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s yet, but I’m skipping a higher percentage of the stories from that one. That’s all I’ve gotten through here. (This is, in fact, the category where I started to run out of steam.)

Best Editor, Long Form
Haven’t read any of the samples yet.

Best Semiprozine
Unsurprisingly, given my taste, I liked the Beneath Ceaseless Skies sampler the best. In the Lightspeed one, I ended up passing by the SF stories, but mostly enjoyed the fantasy ones. For Strange Horizons . . . I’ve known for a while that their taste is not mine. This continues to be true. The Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine sampler was a mixed bag; some decent stories, some I didn’t think should have been in there at all. Haven’t made it to the Abyss & Apex one yet.

Best Fanzine
Opened Journey Planet, went “omgwtfbbq that’s a lot of pages about Doctor Who,” and closed it in favor of reading something shorter first (I was not tackling the categories in order while reading). Haven’t yet made it back, and haven’t looked at any of the others yet.

Best Fancast
I’m a bad judge of these, because I look at them and groan “why are you an hour long???” I don’t have a commute, so I don’t have an easily-assigned span of time to just listen to things that demand my attention. I listed to The Sci Phi Show first because it was short, and thought it had an interesting premise. Then I tried Tea and Jeopardy, which was cute but not especially memorable, and I thought the sound quality needed some help. I appreciated that the Galactic Suburbia Podcast chose to showcase their discussion of GamerGate, but here I ran into my “I’m a bad audience for this” problem; it was too long (I didn’t finish listening) and not constructed tightly enough for my taste, with the speakers rambling on without a sufficient sense of direction. (Also, was one of the women blowing her nose into the microphone? Seriously, people: mute your mike if you need to do that. Or at least take off your headset.) Did not get to the rest yet.

Best Fan Writer
I know Laura Mixon’s stuff already, and think she has said some important things. The rest, I haven’t looked at yet.

Campbell Award
Haven’t gotten to these yet.

Not sure how much I’ll be able to finish in the remaining time, but I figured I would rather make this post now than hold off and possibly never make it at all. I’m going to have to think a lot, when it comes time to vote, about what it means to me for a work to be worthy of a Hugo. I don’t think it’s enough to merely say “this is the best of the available candidates;” the reason we have No Award is to provide an option for when you think the entire field is made up sub-par entries. So I need to decide how to rank things, and how to decide which ones don’t deserve to rank above No Award. I think my yardstick is a fuzzy one: do I think the story is one that should be remembered five or ten or twenty years from now? Or is it good but ultimately disposable, a mildly entertaining experience without much in the way of innovation or heft or staying power? It’s a whole lot of judgment calls to make, and some of them won’t be easy.

One Response to “Hugo Reading Report”

  1. Books read, June 2015 | Swan Tower

    […] It was revision/copy-edits/whatever, or it was material for a blurb, or it was research, or it was Hugo reading. There was nothing I finished this month that I picked up just because I felt like it. This makes […]

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