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2014 Hugo Awards

Started: 2014-08-05 20:12:24

Submitted: 2014-08-05 22:27:32

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator summarizes his thoughts on the works nominated for the 2014 Hugo Awards

This year Kiesa and I purchased supporting memberships for Worldcon, which lets us nominate and vote for the 2014 Hugo Award. Voting closed last week, and we'll learn the final winners during Loncon3 in two weeks. Here are my final rankings in the categories I voted on. You may also be amused to compare this to Kiesa's Hugo ballot.

(The Hugo Awards use an instant runoff voting system; voters rank their choices, including "no award", and the voting system counts the number of first-place votes and eliminates the lowest-ranked candidates until one candidate emerges as a clear winner with more than 50% of the vote.)

Best Novel

  1. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. I read this book last year and nominated it, so I was pleased to see it on the short list, and even more pleased to see it win award after award. Go read it now; I'll wait.
  2. Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross. This was another of my nominations that found its way onto the final ballot. I liked the ideas and the setting, but at times the execution fell a little flat.
  3. No award.
  4. Parasite by Mira Grant. A bio-thriller with a Big Evil Corporation. Having actually listened to an entertaining and informative Econtalk episode about the link between intestinal parasites and immune disorders I had some trouble with the fictional biology -- instead of bioengineering tapeworms it's far more likely that science will isolate and synthesize whatever hormones the tapeworms generate as immune-suppressants. The alleged twist at the end was so obviously fore-shadowed that I began to wonder whether it had crossed over into being dramatic irony, or that the narrator herself was intentionally self-deluding to avoid the obvious but unpleasant truths in her life. And the whole thing seemed to have been executed with at least twice as many words as necessary.

Not on my final ballot:

  • Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Corriea. I knew at the outset that this book wasn't my thing. I tried to read it but gave up in the first chapter when I got to the sentence "She was unique."
  • The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. I don't care for epic fantasy, especially not with a total word count of 4.4 million words. I appreciate that many other people do, and that this series is popular and influential, but that doesn't mean I'm going to vote for it.

If I were betting on the outcome I think The Wheel of Time has the best chance of winning, but I wouldn't count out Ancillary Justice.

Best Novella

I spent much of June working my way through the short fiction ballot in the Hugo packet.

  1. "Equoid" by Charles Stross. I read this story last year, since I'm already a fan of Stross and his Laundry universe. It gets the first-place slot because I like Stross and I liked the story, though those without an appreciation for the series may find it inscrutable and/or insufferable.
  2. "The Chaplain's Legacy" by Brad Torgersen. I like the premise of the agnostic chaplain who brokers a cease-fire agreement with an overpowering alien race, and I thought it was executed well. The only thing that bugged me was the 'VR addiction', which felt like an intentional indictment of the Internet at large (but I might be a bit sensitive there).
  3. "Wakulla Springs" by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages. There's considerable debate as to whether this story was really 'speculative' or if it's just magical realism, and whether it really deserves a place on the ballot. It was the best-written and most literary story in its category, and I liked the descriptions and the sense of place and race and changing times.
  4. Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente. This was a fairy-tale retelling as a weird western, and while I appreciate the craft evident in the writing I couldn't get into the story.
  5. No award.

Not on my final ballot:

  • The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells. This was a media-tie-in with a game. I got bored half-way through and mostly skimmed to the ending. I didn't really see anything here that was particularly novel or well-done, and the constant jumping of time was just confusing.

I give Six-Gun Snow White the best chance of actually winning the award.

Best Novelette

  1. "The Waiting Stars" by Aliette de Bodard. I liked the clash of cultures and the powerful-but-indifferent imperialists trying to impose their own idea of "civilization" on the ignorant natives. Who have starships of their own.
  2. "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" by Mary Robinette Kowal. Having been excluded from last year's Hugo ballot by virtue of "stage directions" that made the audio recording a "dramatic presentation", this story is back on the ballot. It's a great story about choices and sacrifices for career and passion; it's Lean In transmuted into science fiction.
  3. "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling" by Ted Chiang. This was an interesting essay on the use of memory prostheses (both ancient and futuristic), and whether civilization is doomed because of it [spoiler: no.].
  4. "The Exchange Officers" by Brad Torgersen. This story is clearly tied into the drone zeitgeist, only moved into space with full-body waldos run from an Air Force base in Utah. (Unfortunately, light-speed transmission lags were not included; it's great when the low-earth-orbit satellite is right overhead, but not so good when it's on the other side of the planet.) I found this story amusing, but ultimately not compelling.
  5. No award.

Not on my final ballot:

  • "Opera Vita Aeterna" by Vox Day. There was an audible gasp on the video stream when this nominee was announced, because Vox Day is the loudest, most obnoxious, and most everything-phobic of a loud, obnoxious, and everything-phobic minority community within SF that wants to protect SF against women, minorities, gays, liberals, John Scalzi, and pretty much anyone who doesn't believe what they do. They got together and organized a voting block to promote works with the proper ideological purity, many of which were nominated. (The Correia, Torgersen, and Wells works above were proposed as part of the same block.) I read this story with some trepidation given its author's views, so I feel fully justified in panning this story because it's boring and I want my time back, not just because Vox Day is a dickhead.

If I had to bet I think "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" has the best shot at winning.

Best Short Story

  1. "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere" by John Chu. I quite liked this story. At some point in the recent past, the universe started dumping cold water on people who tell lies, and evaporating water off those who tell the truth (or state fundamental mathematical identities). This must make courtrooms a very interesting place, but not quite as interesting as the protagonist struggling with whether to come out to his conservative Chinese parents. The fantastic element provided grounding but the focus of the story was the family relationship. And I got a kick out of the Chinese language interspersed in the text.
  2. "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" by Rachel Swirsky. Short and sweet, it manages to tell a heartbreaking story of love and loss and intolerance through a series of hypothetical statements.
  3. "The Ink Readers of Doi Saket" by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. I thought this story was ok but didn't actually have much else to say about it.
  4. "Selkie Stories Are for Losers" by Sofia Samatar. I thought this story was well-written but there didn't seem to be enough there there. (Most of the other reviews I've seen liked the story.)

I have a hard time calling this category. I think it's a tight three-way race between "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere", "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love", and "Selkie Stories Are for Losers".

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  1. Gravity. This film should really have been called Microgravity, given where most of the action took place. I thought it was excellent, which is why I nominated it.
  2. Iron Man 3. I thought this movie was amusing.
  3. Pacific Rim. I wanted to like this one better than I did. Giant mechs fighting sea monsters makes for great set-pieces but the rest of the story couldn't support it.
  4. No award.

Not on my final ballot:

  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I can appreciate a good dystopia but this one was over the top, with President Snow as an easily-manipulate bumbling buffoon, which thwarted my suspension of disbelief. (I understand it's YA and all, which is fine, but I'm not in YA's target demographic so I don't have to like the angst.)
  • Frozen. For a Disney princess movie this was great. But this category is not "Best Disney princess movie". It did some interesting things with the "true love" trope, and was better than the usual Disney fare, but it was still still a little cheesy and very musical. I had some uncanny-valley moments watching it, especially when the characters were wandering in the snow, and I'd see a beautifully-rendered almost-photo-realistic snowscape and then cut to a stylized animated head.

This is a hard category to call. Every movie has its fan-base, but I think Iron Man 3 or Pacific Rim might end up on top in the end.

In addition to Gravity, I also nominated Ender's Game, which I thought was an excellent adaptation of the original Hugo-winning novel, even as I wished it had been an entire season of television so the Battle Room battles could have gotten their due. Despite being far more overtly science-fictiony than any of the final candidates, I suspect the movie was omitted due to the author's unfortunate social views. (Had I paid any money to see the movie I would have made an equal-or-greater donation to a gay-rights organization to offset the opposing contributions made by the author.)

Best Graphic Story

  1. Saga, Volume 2. Bounty hunters! Star-crossed lovers! A baby-narrator! What's not to love? The story did make a bit more sense after I read volume 1 (which won last year's Hugo in this category), but it stood well on its own.
  2. "Time" by Randall Munroe (XKCD). I enjoyed the story but the presentation was a bit hard to follow. And the artwork is so very XKCD.

I am not a regular comic/graphic story reader so I voted for the works I liked best but did not use "no award" to overtly snub the others, as I did in other categories above. I was amused by Girl Genius, Volume 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City but I confess I found the frenetic pace hard to follow.

Final thoughts

I have no profound final thoughts at this time, since this post is dragging on far longer than I expected it to. (I had notes, but those aren't the same things as comments.) I did enjoy my experience reading and nominating and voting, and the opportunity to dip deeper into SF fandom. I'm looking forward to seeing the final results in two weeks. I expect we'll participate again next year, and we expect to attend Worldcon in person, which ought to be fun.