Bear on Brasyl

Elizabeth Bear has an excellent technical explanation as to why many people have been saying that Ian McDonald’s Brasyl is “too difficult”.

I, of course, love “difficult” books. I’m a Gene Wolfe fan. But not everyone likes to have to work hard when they are reading, and each author has to make a decision as to what sort of books they want to write. Typically a “difficult” book will get you critical acclaim but lower sales. A “difficult” book is more likely to win a juried award than a popular vote award. And so on.

But you know, the world would be boring if everyone wrote like Gene Wolfe, or everyone wrote like Naomi Novik.

6 thoughts on “Bear on Brasyl

  1. Good comments on the competitive merits of “difficult” books.

    Even if some of the Hugo nominees were more difficult than others, I’m a little surprised to see that surface as a topic of discussion. The Chabon novel wasn’t any more difficult than the Michael Connelly mysteries (all bestsellers) it rather resembled. Brasyl told a convoluted story, but was very strong on “showing” the story, instead of delivering it in frequent infodumps, which (if only in my mind) was the factor that ranked it ahead of some other nominees.

  2. One interesting thing McDonald said in the interview he gave to me was: if you want it easy, then watch TV.

    And just a comment. I’m OK with the idea that Brasyl didn’t win. But I was told it was the second least voted. That says something about Hugo judgment. Or am I overeacting?

  3. Jacques:

    It is complicated. Brasyl got more nominations than any other book. It also got fewest first-place votes, and finished fifth. There are reasons why things like this sometimes happen. I’ll write more about it when I get around to doing the Hugo analysis (and yes, I know I am very late on this). For now suffice it to say that Brasyl was a book that the voters either loved or hated, and that’s not a good recipe for winning under the Hugo voting system.

  4. I’m open to the loved/hated dichotomy being the reason behind Brasyl’s failure to be ranked at all on a lot of the ballots.

    Its disparate first place showing in nominations and fifth place in final voting is not unlike what I’ve seen happen occasionally over the years in Best Fanzine. Sometimes a lot of people agree that a work deserves a spot on their nominating ballot without feeling it deserves their support to win the award.

  5. It happens quite a bit in Best Novel. What appears to be going on is that there are two constituencies amongst the voters. Normally this is the fantasy voters against the SF voters, but in this case it was more like the literary voters against those who prefer more straightforward writing. The Chabon and McDonald books were in one map, and the Scalzi, Stross and Sawyer in the other. Of course the lines were not absolute, but they were are obvious enough when you look at how votes were redistributed.

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