Sunday, August 21, 2011

Hugos 2011: the shouting

The winners of the 2011 Hugo Awards have been announced, and just for future reference, I'm bad at picking them.

Actually, that's not really fair. Obviously when I was voting I went for the entries that I thought should win. If you'd asked me instead to pick the entries I thought would win, I think I would have guessed right in three of the four fiction categories (and I would have had no idea what to pick from the Best Short Story list). I really must remember to make predictions alongside my votes next year.

So here are my rapid-fire thoughts on the Hugo results, which I've had roughly an hour to digest. Let me get the facetiousness out of the way first: the Best Doctor Who Episode Hugo went to a Doctor Who episode, and the Best Girl Genius Story Hugo went to a Girl Genius story. To their credit, I understand the Foglios announced that they would be withdrawing Girl Genius from contention for the Best Graphic Story Hugo next year. It remains to be seen if that will turn it into an interesting category. My guess is if there's a Fables book eligible in 2012, it will win. Unless Neil Gaiman writes another comic book. 

Best Novel
Winner: Blackout / All Clear by Connie Willis
Where I ranked it: didn't read it
My pick: The Dervish House by Ian McDonald
Where it came: fifth

I'm trying pretty hard to resist the temptation to comment on this result, since I didn't actually read Blackout / All Clear. I liked the one Connie Willis novel I've read, a whole lot, but 1100 pages just seemed excessive. I kind of feel like I should give it a shot now, though, so I can have an informed opinion.

It's somewhat disappointing to see my pick -- The Dervish House -- come in last, particularly since I think it was overwhelmingly the best science fiction novel (that I read) on the ballot. That last place result is a little misleading, though, since the official stats show The Dervish House came third after the first redistribution of preferences, and was actually only three votes behind Blackout / All Clear after the first count. I think The Dervish House was the most challenging book on the ballot (that I read), so perhaps it's unsurprising that it got killed on preferences.

Best Novella
Winner: The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang
Where I ranked it: second
My pick: "The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen's Window" by Rachel Swirsky
Where it came: third

Okay, so honestly, I don't think I ever expected Rachel Swirsky's story to win. It's a fantasy story, for a start, and my feeling is that Hugo voters generally prefer the science fiction. There's also a bit of feminism about it, which is another thing that I think Hugo voters don't typically like. And to top it off, Ted Chiang is beloved of the Hugo voters: this is his eighth Hugo nomination, and his fourth win. I'm okay with this result. I don't think it's Chiang's best work, but it is an interesting story, for sure. 

It is also interesting to me that "The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerephon" by Elizabeth Hand came in last, fairly convincingly. I thought it was a pretty strong story, but it was (almost?) completely devoid of science fictional or fantastical elements, which seems to have ruled it right out of contention.

Best Novelette
Winner: "The Emperor of Mars" by Allen M. Steele
Where I ranked it: second
My pick: "Plus or Minus" by James Patrick Kelly
Where it came: third

I think the obvious love for the history of science fiction on display in "The Emperor of Mars" was a huge factor in its win, and you know, I can get behind that. It wasn't a challenging story, and to be frank I'd be surprised if it went down in history as one of the greats, but it did make me smile. I'm not sad to see it win.

The second place went to "Eight Miles" by Sean McMullen, which means the two stories paying direct homage to Edgar Rice Burroughs took out the first two places. Bodes well for the forthcoming John Carter movie, eh? I know I'll be going to see it, although I refuse to comment on whether that's because Taylor Kitsch is in it!

Best Short Story
Winner: "For Want of a Nail" by Mary Robinette Kowal 
Where I ranked it: second
My pick: "The Things" by Peter Watts
Where it came: third

I really don't have much to say about this one -- I've already commented that I thought the Short Story nominees weren't particularly strong this year. In general, I like Mary Robinette Kowal's stuff, so I'm happy for her that she's taking home her first Hugo.

So that's it for another year. I think if I have a closing comment, it's to encourage you to look beyond the winners to the list of nominees. Blackout / All Clear won both the Hugo and the Nebula this year, but if you read only that one you'll be missing out on some really great novels.

Oh, and congratulations to all the winners!

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