The 2009 Hugo Nominees – Analysis

So, we have another raft of Hugo hopefuls. What are we to make of all this? Here are some thoughts.

I’ll start with the Campbell (famously not a Hugo but it is still on the ballot so I’m talking about it). The thing that struck me most about the nominees was that I had only heard of two of them. I know I’m a bit out of the loop these days due to having stopped doing Emerald City, but I think I’m still pretty much up to date with new novels. That must mean that the Campbell nominees include three people who have made it there because of their short fiction. And that means that a lot of people are reading short fiction. This is a good thing. I’ll have to check out those writers I don’t know. As for the other two, I love Felix Gilman’s work, but David Anthony Durham is a class act and I’m hoping he wins this time around.

The fan categories are a great deal of “same old, same old”. I’ve made my own apologies for that elsewhere. They also contain a lot of Bay Area folks. One of my first thoughts on seeing the ballot was that BASFA could get a clean sweep: me for Fan Writer, Chris Garcia for Fanzine and Frank Wu for Fan Artist. I don’t think it will happen, though. Dave will probably win again, and my hot tip for Fan Artist is Taral Wayne. He is Fan Guest of Honor for the convention, and how many other Canadians are on the ballot?

Fanzine is rather more interesting. Chris pumps out copies of The Drink Tank like the Amazon dumping fresh water into the Atlantic. Mike Glyer has done a fabulous job of re-inventing himself as a blogger. Claire & Mark, Guy and Steven have all being doing good work for many years. And then there’s the new kid on the block. I’m absolutely delighted to see Electric Velocipede on the ballot. There’s nothing to say that fanzines can’t publish fiction. (Heck, Chris published some of mine a while back). And, as Mike Glyer has explained, John Klima’s ‘zine qualifies as a fanzine even though it pays its contributors. I have no idea who is going to win this one.

I’m also delighted to see some new blood in the Semiprozine category, especially as one of the new magazines, Clarkesworld, is one I’m now involved in. I’m not listed on the ballot as I didn’t join the staff until January 2009, but I’m very pleased for Neil, Sean and Nick, and I very much hope we’ll get nominated again next year (provided WSFS comes to its senses and decides to keep the category). The other nominees are great too. I’ve written for both Locus and Interzone, I subscribe to NYRSF, and Ann VanderMeer is a good friend. I’m amazed that this is the first actual nomination for Weird Tales in all the years it has been published. I can see why people get irritated at Locus winning so often, but really, the best way to stop it winning is not to kill off the category. All we need to do is vote for something else. Please do so.

The Professional Artist category is very strong. Irene Gallo has helpfully posted some examples of each nominee’s work, but this is a good time to remind all of the artists and editors to get their entries at the SF Artists’ Wiki and SF Editors’ Wiki updated so that the voters can see what they have produced in the eligibility year. My vote, as ever, goes to Mr. Picacio, but I have no idea who will win.

Best Editor Short Form is a bit predictable. I would have liked to see some recognition for Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, and for John Joseph Adams, all of whom have produced some great anthologies recently. However, I’m very pleased to see Ginjer Buchanan and Beth Meacham on the Long Form list. When we first did the editor split, people complained that no one knew who book editors were. Clearly that isn’t true. Paula Guran points out that Ginjer is largely responsible for there being a sub-genre of urban paranormal fantasy, which just shows what a smart editor she is.

Proud as I am of Doctor Who, I think it is much healthier for the BDP Short Form category to have nominees from a range of shows. Dr. Horrible was a huge success and I think that Joss Whedon has a good chance of grabbing his crown back from Steven Moffat this year.

Long Form is a bit of a damp squib given that we have Coraline and Watchmen waiting in the wings to duke it out next year. Thankfully it has been livened up by the presence of METAtropolis. I’m delighted to see that non-movies can get nominated in the category. (That’s one reason why it is called BDP Long Form, not Best Movie). I suspect that Dark Knight will probably win, though.

What I’m not entirely sure about is why the ballot makes METAtropolis sound like a book. The only people credited are writers, and John Scalzi is listed as “editor” rather than “director”, which as I understand it would be more appropriate for his role. None of the non-writerly creative staff are listed at all, though Mike Glyer thinks that all of the actors should get rockets. Obviously there may be compelling reasons why this happened, but it doesn’t look good to me and I’m sure it is one reason why a some people have been querying the work’s eligibility.

Graphic Story had the smallest number of actual nominating ballots, but not by much, and it certainly got enough interest to convince me that the experiment is worth continuing. With folks like Jim Butcher, Phil Foglio and Joss Whedon involved, the final ballot should get plenty of attention. I’m disappointed not to see Captain Britain or Locke & Key in there, and something from Warren Ellis would have helped visibility too, but the main point is that the category should succeed, and I’m now very hopeful.

Related Book is another category with a strong year. I’m very pleased for Paul Kincaid. Being a science fiction critic is a pretty thankless task at times, and it is great to see all the good work Paul has done get some recognition. The book I want to win is Farah Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy. That’s not just because she’s a friend (heck, I was cat-sitting for her when I wrote this). Rhetorics is a genuinely groundbreaking approach to the categorization of fantastic literature and is likely to become a classic text on the subject. It deserves recognition. But I don’t think it will win, because when it comes down to it literary criticism, and art books like Spectrum, are minority tastes. Striding Godzilla-like across the category is John Scalzi’s Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, a selection of writing from his hugely popular blog, Whatever. I expect it to win comfortably.

I have read very little short fiction this year, so I can’t say much about the categories that cater for it. I’m disappointed that Clarkesworld didn’t get any fiction onto the ballot, but Short Story is always a tough category because there are so many eligible works. Besides, the ballot includes work by Mike Resnick, Michael Swanwick and Ted Chiang, all of whom are proven winners at short fiction writing. I see that several of the short fiction nominees are already available for free online. I need to go and read them.

And so to The Big One, and what must be one of the most competitive fields in a long time. Naturally I’m disappointed that there are no women in that category, and personally I thought that Ekaterina Sedia’s The Alchemy of Stone deserved to be up there. I’m also disappointed not to see Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World listed. But I’m not surprised about either. (I was outraged that Harkaway didn’t make the Clarke short list, but that’s a different matter.) The Hugos are a popular vote award, and just look at the bunch of heavyweights we have set before us. Charlie Stross was muttering last year that he figured his time was up, so he’ll doubtless be pleased to be hanging in there. He is certainly a Worldcon favorite. John Scalzi might look like Godzilla in the Best Related Book category, but he shrinks back to mouse-sized when placed alongside the sales records of Neal Stephenson and Neil Gaiman. And Neil’s legendary Journal is well behind Cory Doctorow’s Boing! Boing! in terms of readership.

Look, Neil is an absolutely huge name. He’s just seen his latest movie outstrip all expectations, and the book he has on the ballot won the Newbery Medal. Only a few days ago he was interviewed by Stephen Colbert. He’s a Guest of Honor at this year’s Worldcon. And it is by no means certain that he’ll win this category. That’s how tough a field it is.

And really, that’s the way that the Hugos should be. Much as I would like them to be contested by what I, in my hubris, consider the very finest fantastic literature around, they are fan-voted awards and they ought to be contested by hugely popular writers. This year that’s just what we’ve got in Best Novel.

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12 Responses to The 2009 Hugo Nominees – Analysis

  1. Steven says:

    I’ve had several people comment to me recently that they didn’t think that the Campbell-not-a-Hugo is only for novelists, and short story authors aren’t eligible. I point out that when Mary Robinette Kowel and Jay Lake (to name two relatively recent examples) hadn’t published novels when they won.

  2. Cheryl says:

    Steven:

    The world is full of people who believe all sorts of bizarre things about the Hugos (and Campbell). Apparently it is much more fun to believe that there is an evil conspiracy doing you down than to take any notice of the actual rules.

  3. Mike Glyer says:

    Great comments!

  4. Warren Ellis says:

    “something from Warren Ellis would have helped visibility too”

    I don’t think that’s really the idea, though, is it?

  5. Cheryl says:

    Warren:

    As someone who is a member of the Hugo Awards Marketing Committee I am always thinking about what helps the profile of the Awards. A lot of people were talking enthusiastically about your work in recommendation lists, and I was hoping that someone who is a big name in comics would get on the ballot because that would help our credibility with comics fans.

    Of course to get on the ballot you also have to write really good stuff. I think you do, and I have a sneaking suspicion that you had too many different good works out, which may have harmed your chances.

    Still, if all goes well you’ll get another chance next year. I’m sure you’ll be in with a shot. Although I gather that some guy called Gaiman has been writing Batman, which will make things interesting.

  6. Warren Ellis says:

    Bill Willingham, Joss and Brian are all bigger names in comics than I am. I imagine they serve your purposes perfectly well.

    Of the two awards I’m aware of having one this decade, one of them was for not having died yet. I don’t pay much attention to awards, and awards don’t pay much attention to me.

  7. “Graphic Story had the smallest number of actual nominating ballots”

    Perhaps you mean of the professional categories? 212 > 187 ballots that Best Fan Artist received. (This was the very first thing I looked at when the nominations were announced.)

  8. Cheryl says:

    Warren:

    I’ve heard of you, and I’m pleased you are not dead. 🙂

  9. V says:

    As an unabashed fangirl, I wish there was something from Warren Ellis on the ballot too, but for unabashedly selfish reasons.

    That said, Neil Gaiman’s high profile should help too, I would think.

    I hope we see more audiobooks in the Long Form category in the future; thanks to the ascendancy of podcasts and Audible and such it feels as if we were in a second golden age of audio (like the golden age of radio) and I’m sure this has been said.

    I admit I found myself wishing to see some audio short fiction in the short fiction category, problem is that at this point the big gorillas mostly put out republications . . .

  10. Cheryl says:

    Petréa:

    No, I’m just stupid. And I checked through as well. Fan Artist would have been my first guess at the category with fewest ballots. -sigh- Thank you.

  11. Oh, and while Frank Wu has since moved to Boston, for the period for which he was nominated, he was in the Bay Area, so we still claim him for this year’s Hugos!

  12. Frank Wu says:

    Also, I thought a membership in BASFA was for life – and beyond!

    Also, I am hoping that Taral Wayne wins, too!

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