Aug. 20th, 2014

divisionsandprecisions: (dry)
The Hugo winners were announced a few days ago. For the members of my loyal audience who haven't heard, Ann Leckie won best novel for Ancillary Justice and Sofia Samatar won best new writer, both of which are very good choices. None of my preferred selections won in any other category. In my opinion, some truly deserving nominees got left behind, like "Wakulla Springs", which came in third in the novella category. I thought Wonderbook and Coode Street Podcast deserved awards as well.

The conservative ideological slate, known for some reason as "sad puppies", came in last in all the fiction categories in which they had a nomination. Only one of the authors was ranked below "No Award", the odious Theodore Beale who writes under a pen name which is a bastardization of the Latin for voice of God. This is consistent with the widely held opinion that the other puppies are serious authors, but Beale is barely literate.

Is there anything of interest to be gleaned from the numerical results? I think it is easy to see that there evidence that some voters made choices based on issues other than quality. Two stories, "Wakulla Springs" and "The Ink Readers of Doi Saket" did not do well in the voting, though I consider them to be of very high quality. They were widely criticized for not being properly in the genres of science fiction or fantasy, and I think they lost many votes because of that. Wheel of Time received the second most votes for the Hugo, but came in fourth in the final tally, suggesting many people voted it down because they thought it was gaming the system some how and not appropriate (it is also possible that WoT is the kind of thing you either love or hate).

The ideological conservative slate received from 6-11% of the first round votes in the fiction categories, so it would be hard to detect intentional downvoting by voters because these nominees didn't have much support to begin with. They think there is bias against conservatives among the Hugo voters, but it is just as possible that the stories they worked to get nominated weren't very good. The fact that Theodore Beale received half the support that Larry Correia did is an indication that most of the voters supporting Correia did so because they thought it worthy, rather than just voting a straight ticket. On the other hand, there are some odd patterns that suggest ideological voting. In the category for novels, Seanan McGuire was last in the first round, but managed to beat WoT and Larry Correia in the end, suggesting the possibility of "anyone else but..." voting. This pattern is not repeated in the other fiction categories. In the category for book editors, the nominee championed by the sad puppies is widely respected and received 25% in the first round, but ended up a weak fourth place, which is disturbingly suggestive of issue voting. (I can't see how to judge a book editor, so I didn't vote in the category and I wonder if many of the votes were really informed.)

Did I get anything out of this experience? I read more speculative fiction in the past 4 months than in the previous 4 years. Most of it I didn't like. I either have highly refined taste or I am picky and arbitrary. I might not have ever read Sofia Samatar or Aliette de Bodard, which would have been a great loss, and I would never have noticed "Wakulla Springs", an even greater loss. I would have read Ancillary Justice eventually, since it has won almost every possible award, and I read everything by Charlie Stross already. Carefully following the Hugo nominees does not seem to be an efficient method for finding good works--it feels more like a slush pile. The awards have a good track record for best novel, but the rest of the winners seem to be widely scattered in quality (meaning the things that I personally find most important). I suspect that rather than paying for a voting membership, I would be happier with a subscription to Clarkesworld and listening to some podcasts about SF. (The ones that are primarily fiction, like Starship Sofa or Escape Pod seem to have a limited stable of contributors.)

Writing up mini reviews after each work was a very good way to force myself to think about them more carefully and to help remember them when it came time for voting.

PS: For some reason I have continued to read Wheel of Time, and it is pretty bad. But like eating a bag of potato chips, I cannot make myself stop despite not enjoying it. The plotting is brilliant, but the writing itself is tedious repetition, characters that have devolved into caricatures, and some embarrassingly obvious copying from other works. There was evidence of engaging and interesting creativity around page 70 and some more at page 2400, but not much in between. But if you only care about plot and only enjoy conflict in literature if it involves swords, WoT is perfect.

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