With the deadline closing in at midnight on Friday July 31, I had three novels left so I decided to race them. The first to drop out was the Jim Butcher. I like urban fantasy, but have never really warmed up to the Dresden Files books, and this was no exception. The next to go was Ancillary Sword. I couldn’t really warm up to it, either, but the interesting SF ideas made it a stronger contender. The clear winner was The Three-Body Problem. I was completely sucked in by the cultural revolution stuff, fascinated by how much it resembled made-up dystopias from SF history.
Somewhere in the middle of the remaining nominees, it all turned to a big mush.
I’ll confess — I’m one of those fans who tends to sit in the Hugo awards ceremony audience squirming a bit, wondering “WHY are there SO MANY categories of things? And what the heck is a semiprozine anyway?” I usually think of the fiction categories as the “real” categories and gloss over all the ones for things like best editor, best fanzine, best fan writer, best professional artist, etc.
This year, it was explained to me that “semiprozine” originally meant “Locus, so it will stop winning best fanzine every year.” This year I also found out that Beneath Ceaseless Skies is apparently a semiprozine, so that easily got my top vote.
I was excited that Julie Dillon was nominated, after seeing her work at Norwescon. The other artists were slated, but unlike many of the fiction nominees, they didn’t strike me as a bad joke. Julie Dillon was still the best, though.
There were a couple more slated novelette nominees I didn’t mention in previous rundowns — Analog stories that I was pretty “meh” about, but they weren’t offensively bad. I read Analog sometimes out of a sense of tradition, because I’m nostalgic about the days when I was a teenager and my dad subscribed to all three major SF magazines. But Analog never produced my favorite stories of the bunch, and they still don’t. I think they’re going for a specific SF aesthetic, and it’s not one that appeals to me very often. (The sad-n-rabid slatemakers seem to like it, though.)
With the sad-n-rabid domination of the fiction categories this year, the short and novelette categories were disappointing, but the novella category was absolutely dire. I don’t know if that says anything about novellas specifically — are there fewer to choose from in a given year? — or if it’s totally random that the rabids decided to overload the novella category with an LD50 dose of John C. Wright.
I read most of his nominated work. But I couldn’t bring myself to even try reading the final novella. Whenever I contemplated it, I could feel a small vulnerable part of myself, the part that loves stories more than anything, cowering in the corner whimpering “no more… please.” No doubt, this image would please the author of the rabid slates, whose intent was clearly to force-feed us Wright’s fiction until we choked.
Well, okay. Here’s your victory: knowing that at least one Worldcon fan went from “I have no idea who this guy is” to “this guy acts like a jerk online and his stories are terrible.”
Why did I even try to read so many of the slated works? Two reasons. One, is that if I want to have an opinion about something, especially if I suspect it will be a negative opinion, I want it to be an informed opinion. I think of this as the Twilight rule. It bugs me when other people express strong negative opinions about a work based solely on reputation and the regurgitated thoughts of others, so I try to avoid doing that myself. The other reason, is that people reviewing and talking about the nominees incited my curiosity. Often, this curiosity was of the morbid variety — could it really be as dreadful as it sounds?
The answer is yes. Yes, it can. In fact, it can be even worse than it sounds. It can be a malign and revoltingly non-Euclidean loathsome perversity.
Even if they were well-written and non-offensive, having three “related works” nominations that are basically ego projects by writers of no particular distinction would be a travesty. But this year, we get not only the rather dull “Letters from Gardner” by Lou Antonelli, but also the execrable “Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth” by John C. Wright, and…
…and this — the wet, stinking bottom of the garbage barrel — “Wisdom From My Internet” by Michael Z. Williamson. It’s probably the laziest thing I’ve ever seen offered to the public as a book — an ugly assemblage of random dumb quotes from some guy who couldn’t be bothered to turn them into essays. Is the “Wisdom” part meant to be a joke? Is the “My Internet” part meant to be a joke? Is the “nominated for a Hugo” part meant to be a joke?
Maybe it’s supposed to make Wright’s stuff look better in comparison, but in that, it fails. Something genuinely good can shine out of a pit of dreck like a gold ring lost in a septic tank, but something mediocre-to-bad just looks like more sewage.
If Brad Torgersen — number one cheerleader for the alleged “merit” of the slated works — was truly hoping that this slate would convince the majority of Worldcon fans that we have been unfairly overlooking the brilliant work of more conservative SF authors, he has failed so spectacularly that it seems to require a recalibration of the notion of failure.
Instead, he seems to have demonstrated that conservative SF writers can’t write, and conservative SF fans have no taste. I don’t think that was his intent, and I don’t think it’s true, either. Rather, I think his view of what constitutes a “conservative” SF writer or fan is skewed and very narrow — you’re an unjustly ignored conservative genius if you’re part of his crowd, and a dirty social justice puppy kicker if you’re not. As many people have pointed out “cronyism” is the only explanation for the composition of the slates that doesn’t fall apart on the specifics.
In this, Torgersen’s decision not to openly distance himself from the even more narrowly defined rabid slate was a huge mistake. By broadly defending the “puppy” slating initiative, he creates the impression that he has no problem at all with one writer and one minor publishing house dominating the nominated works.
Let’s get real about that — if NEIL FREAKING GAIMAN had six whole works on the final ballot, it would look ridiculous, and he’s a rock star married to another rock star. How dishonest do you have to be in order to pretend it’s totally legit will-of-the-people stuff when one guy nobody’s really heard of squats in six of the slots, like a bulbous, beslimed toad?
I’m now convinced that the chief of R.A.B.I.D. knew all that, and never actually thought of this as anything but a mean-spirited joke. His intent all along was to de-legitimize the Hugos as an award, possibly an act of aggressive sour grapesing after finally realizing that he’s a lousy writer and worse editor who’s never going to get one in the usual manner. He has sometimes pretended that his intentions were originally something other than “burning down” the Hugos and that this is only something he is threatening to do in future years, as retaliation for “No Award” in slated categories this year. But I think “No Award” was always his intent, at least in novella.
Come on, just look at the stories he picked.
Finally, one thing I have learned in all this, is that most of the time I can trust my instincts and quick-flash impressions. If I start reading something and find myself inclined to toss it aside right away as garbage, if I later go back and read more carefully, I almost never end up changing my mind — I just assemble a longer and more detailed list of reasons for why I think it’s garbage.
Slush readers of the world, I salute you, in spite of all the times you’ve broken my heart. But reading the Hugo packet should not feel like reading the slush pile.