Invasion of the Hugo-Snatcher: Or, How I wish I Were the Only One Deciding the Hugos.Posted: March 17, 2012
This summer, half my family was in South Africa, half my family was camping – and I was stuck at home working. I’m not bitter at all, can you tell?
Actually, I’m not that bitter. My family being away meant I had the house to myself, which was glorious. I did enjoy the solitude, particularly in late July when I had a most fantastic evening. I cooked myself a nice dinner, I dressed up (I am not even joking. There was makeup. I broke out the good eyeliner). I set my computer up on the table; I turned on the internet and I sat down on the (very comfortable) couch to watch the live-stream of the Hugo awards.
To a passerby, I must have looked nuts – a girl all alone in her house, wearing a poofy lace dress and occasionally jumping up and down like a maniac (I have no shame. I love Mary Robinette Kowal).
As you can tell, Hugo awards are a big deal to me.
When I realized I knew absolutely nothing about my favorite genre – Sci-Fi / Fantasy, in case you were wondering – I went straight to the Hugos, and started reading my way through the Best Novel shortlists.Thanks to this little exercise, I discovered most of my favorite contemporary genre writers. Last summer it was China Mielville and Catherynne Valente. This summer, it was Lois McMaster Bujold, N.K. Jemisin, and Mira Grant. Oh, and the fabulous Connie Willis.
The Hugo nominees were what got me excited about SF/F again. Before I started reading the shortlist, I was so entrenched in “classic” fantasy and SF that I was beginning to worry that the genre was stale. Or that I’d outgrown it. But no one who has read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Feed, Palimpsest and The City and the City in the space of two years could call the genre stale with a straight face.
This year, however, the Hugos are an even bigger deal to me. World Con is taking place in Chicago, which is only a two hour drive from my hometown. For the first – and possibly last time (at least until I stop being a poor literature student) – I can actually afford to go. I can go to WorldCon. Where there will be awesome people. And fans. And writers. AND THE HUGO CEREMONIES.
I can be there when they give the awards.
Excuse me, I think I need to lie down for a minute or two. I’ll be back.
I’m back. Sorry about that. The Hugos will do that to a girl.
Of course, if I was going to be at the Hugos, I had to buy a supporting membership so that I could NOMINATE for the Hugos. Got mine the day before the deadline, I might add – nothing like putting things off till the last minute!
For me, nominating is almost a bigger deal than getting to vote, in that I think shortlists are a better representation of the field than the winners. I’m in no way implying that the winners aren’t important, but when we make a shortlist, we make a statement about what we think our genre is and where we hope it goes. We reward the kinds of experiments – or the kinds of traditions – that we find valuable. We reveal the kinds of writing we think are worthy, and the topics we think are important.
A shortlist says something about who we are.
Now, I’m about to complain for a bit. And I realize there’s something unfair about complaining about a shortlist that doesn’t exist yet. But – I don’t care. I like complaining. And this way, if I’m right, I get to feel triumphant (especially since I can point to the blog and go “Look! I predicted this would happen in March! And it did!). And if I’m wrong, I get to feel relieved. It’s a win-win situation.
Last year’s best novel shortlist was glorious, but frankly, I’m a little worried that this year is going to let me down. The Hugo-related chatter I hear on the blogs and the interwebs is heavy on the white male authored, very classic fantasy/ SF. From this chatter, I would put money down on Patrick Rothfuss and George RR Martin both being nominated, and tentatively guess that Lev C. Grossman and China Mielville will round out the top four. The fifth seat is harder to judge, but Hannu Rajaniemi and John Scalzi both have a decent shot.
I’m not seeing any of the same momentum around female or non-white authors.
(It should be noted that I have not read either Hannu Rajaniemi or John Scalzi’s work (which is pretty pathetic of me), but I intend to remedy that forthwith. It should also be noted that my complaints about the Hugos is in no way a complaint against the individual authors I think will be nominated. I love Mielville. I love Grossman. I think Scalzi’s non-fiction is fantastic, and I’m sure I’ll love his fiction. I am not criticizing these people for being popular or well-liked. They deserve the accolades they get.)
Classic fantasy and SF is great, and far be it from me to condemn white male authors. Some of my favorite genre authors are white and male: China Mielville, Neal Gaiman, Lev C. Grossman, H.G. Wells, Bram Stroker etc. Hey, some of my favorite people are white and male! (Hi, little brother).
But last year’s shortlist was such a revolutionary statement about the state of our genre. It was everything I wanted in a list – recognition for some traditionally acclaimed writers who were still being awesome (Lois McMaster Bujold and Connie Willis), praise for writers who were taking risks and expanding the frontiers of the genre (N.K. Jemisin, Mira Grant, Ian McDonald); it had more gender and racial diversity (both within and without the books) than we’ve seen in a long time – I was ecstatic. Four of the five nominees were women (I KNOW). One was a black woman (two would have been black women if they’d nominated Nnedi Okorafor (No, I’m still not over it)). Two of the novels were dominated by characters of colour (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Dervish House). We had a post-colonial epic fantasy, a post-modern zombie apocalypse, cyberpunk set in Turkey, time travel, and a Vorkosigan novel. The only way I could possibly have been happier is if they’d also nominated Nnedi Okorafor, but I’m a perfectionist.
“Wow,” I thought. “All those people who say SF/F is a staid, conservative genre can go eat my copy of the Lord of the Rings. This is a popularly nominated shortlist, and look who and what is on it! And those people who say SF/F is a “male” genre? They can go jump in a lake.”
And call me crazy, but I was hoping that this would start a trend. I’m not saying that a year’s worth of reversion to the default white male will stop SF/F’s evolution in its tracks, but I was crossing my fingers for another surprising, interesting ballot, and right now I’m worried that it’s going to be “well, that was expected.”
We’ll see. I could be paranoid. But just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss aren’t trying to kill my shortlist.
(For the record, I do like George R.R. Martin’s work. I’ve only read Game of Thrones, so I’m not yet on the bandwagon. But I think he’s quite good. I do not like Patrick Rothfuss’s work, and I don’t understand the hype around him, which makes the fact that he’s probably going to get nominated and win all the more irritating. At the same time, it is entirely possible that I’m missing something important about Rothfuss. If so, forgive my idiocy).
Ah, my readers, I can hear the your complaints already. “Well, if you don’t like the shortlist, why don’t you nominate? Also, why are you complaining about a shortlist that doesn’t exist yet?”
I refuse to address the second question. We’ve already established that I’m a chronic complainer, and that no logic in the universe can stop me. But to the first question: Fair point! I thought of that myself. And having spent my hard-earned money to buy a supporting membership, I did, in fact, nominate.
But what did I nominate? Good question! I know you are all dying to know the answer, but if some of you would prefer not to die of boredom, turn back now, or forever hold your peace.
The Kingdom of the Gods by N.K. Jemisin: it’s everything I never knew I wanted from an epic fantasy series. For me, at least, this series has completely changed my idea of epic fantasy, and what I think the genre can do. It’s provocative. It’s got amazing characters. It’s got incredible diversity (Queers! Women! Almost everyone is a Person of Color! Gods! Humans! Demons!) It’s got a plot with twists and turns that actually manages to keep my attention (usually after the twelfth twist, I’m done). And it’s that rarity: a last book in a trilogy that actually manages to be the best book in the trilogy. Which is saying something, because The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms? Probably my favorite book published in 2010.
Among Others by Jo Walton: Another genre-bending work: it’s a story about a young witch who finds her place in the world by discovering science fiction. I have high hopes that this one will actually end up on the ballot. It absolutely deserves to be there. It’s a love letter to reading, coupled with a description of the awkward, horrible pain of growing up when you’ve already got a grown ups’ maturity and intelligence. It’s smart and insightful, and quietly moving, and you don’t even realize how good it is until a week later, when you have a “duh” moment.
Deadline by Mira Grant: The sequel to Feed. Or: what happens after you shoot your sister (who was transforming into a zombie). Hey, she did ask you to.
All zombie novels have some measure of social commentary, but none of them do it as subversively and intelligently as Feed and Deadline do. On the flip side, NOT all zombie novels have the depth of characterization that Grant’s do. Grant makes you fall in love with characters, and then she throws them on the ground and jumps on them over and over again and makes you watch, and it’s horrible. And wonderful. So wonderful. Deadline had me pounding at my brother’s door in the wee hours of the morning, because I just could not handle the pain Sean was going through (after major revelation 101). I never thought I would care so much about a book about zombies, but I did, and for that, Deadline got a nomination from me.
Embassytown by China Mielville: I’m a huge Mielville fan (he’s my designated male author-crush), but I actually didn’t enjoy Embassytown that much. I did, however, greatly admire it, and I think it’s got a chance to become a classic of the genre. It’s one of the most interesting alien stories I’ve read in quite some time, and reminds me of my all-time favorite sci-fi novel, The Sparrow. Both deal with similar themes – diplomacy, communication, colonialism. Except here, the conflict comes from the colonialism of language.
Embassytown has an incredibly claustrophobic feel to it. Humanity has abandoned the planet and its human inhabitants to the tender mercies of the indigenous aliens. The human inhabitants, meanwhile, have abandoned greater humanity. The characters are completely and utterly alone. And even in the lulls, the reader can feel the oppression of space all around you.
God’s War by Kameron Hurley: I knew I was going to like this novel before I read it, and I did. Correction: I loved it. Any novel that opens with the heroine selling her womb is going to be a favorite. Heck, the first twenty pages alone are worth a Hugo nomination: I certainly knew it was going on my ballot at that point. It’s set in a militaristic, muslim matriarchy, which seems like a giant oxymoron waiting to happen, but Hurley makes it work. It’s about an assassin. It’s got aliens. It’s got war. It’s got lots and lots of gender examination and body horror and an amazing central character who will sell her womb and seduce your women and assassinate your deserters, and she’ll break a sweat doing it (I love a hero who doesn’t pretend that hard things aren’t hard work) and then she’ll go get drunk.
There are also a lot of bugs. Which I thought I would have a problem with. But I didn’t. I love the bugs. Bugpunk = awesome.
“Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal.
Confession: I only read three novellas this year, and this is the one I thought was worth putting on the ballot. Kowal confuses the living daylights out of me. I discovered her through her novel Shades of Milk and Honey, which is essentially Jane Austen with Magic. But her short fiction is pure SF. Actually, it’s SF with a liberal application of hardboiled detective, two genres that are… very different from Jane Austen. “Kiss Me Twice” is absolutely fantastic – it’s about what happens when AI’s stop functioning in a society where police work depends on AI. A great examination both of AI’s as conscious beings, and of AI’s as human technology, which is a difficult balance to strike.
“Younger Women” by Karen Joy Fowler:
if you don’t like Twilight, you’ll like “Younger Women.” It’s Twilight from the perspective of the parent. It’s the story that goes: “Hey, what’s with all these thousand year old vampires and these seventeen year old girls?” And it’s fantastic.
“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu: Liu zeros into an oft-forgotten facet of magic: magic as a method of cultural transmission. Magic as something you share as a family. Magic as the way you communicate your culture to other people. The story is quietly, gorgeously emotional.
“The Cartographer Wasps and Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu: There are wasps. They make maps. They colonize the bees. The bees become anarchists. It sounds insane. In the hands of Yu, it’s completely and utterly realistic. And interesting. Oh, and also a little insane.
“The Bread We Eat in Dreams” by Catherynne Valente: Oh, Cat, how do you do it? Please, explain to me how you do it? Because I don’t think I’ve read anything of yours that isn’t absolutely exquisite and absolutely monstrous at the same time. I should have known that only you could take the salem witch trials, and puritanism, and new world colonization, and infused them with richness and warmth and canny sarcasm. You’re one of the few authors I know who looks at monstrosity – be it human monstrosity (femaleness, queerness, non-whiteness), or real monstrosity (demons, mermaids and griffins, oh my!) – and manages to look beyond the disadvantages of monstrosity. You write powerful monsters. You write the monsters we are, and the monsters we want to be.
Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form:
X-Men: First Class: I had so many problems with this movie, but it was still the best SF/F I saw all year. Especially the romance between Charles and Erik. And the makeout scene (listen, I don’t care that it didn’t happen. It did. Everyone knows it did).
Best Editor, Long form:
It’s surprisingly difficult to find out who edited what! Even the internet isn’t that helpful. I had to dig through author acknowledgments and industry blogs to come up with a list of names, but having done my research, I’m quite satisfied with this group of nominees:
Devi Pillai (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms trilogy, the Parasol Protectorate and Kate Elliot’s Cold Magic)
Jeremy Lassen (God’s War, Of Blood & Honey)
Anne Groell (Blackout/All Clear, The Game of Thrones series)
Kelly Link – I’m not 100% sure she’s eligible, but if she is, she should get a nomination for her work at Small Beer Press (The Freedom Maze)
There is a special Fancast category this year (what’s a fancast, you ask? A Podcast!), and I think we all know who I’m going to nominate for that: GALACTIC SUBURBIA, FOR THE WIN!
Man, I love that show. I’m going to write a post on it eventually. Because it is made of awesome. I hope they get a nomination – I’m pretty convinced they won’t, because it’s three Australian women talking about SF/F and feminism, which pretty much takes them out of the running. But they deserve it. Because they are awesome. And they make me read ALL the good books.
And that’s me done (for now). Any thoughts on my list? Any other Hugo nominators in the house? Will you be at WorldCon? If so, want to be friends? CAN ANYONE HEAR ME?