Tag Archives: Fantasy & Science Fiction

Hugo Awards 2012: Best Short Story

The Best Short Story category is one of the original Hugo Award categories. Short stories are defined as stories of less than 7,500 words. Good short stories are hard to find, as there is not a lot of room to develop big ideas. But when a good short story clicks, it can take the reader on an intense, powerful journey.

Best Short Story Nominations (611 ballots cast [compared to 515 ballots cast in 2011])
(The titles in bold are the ones I nominated.)

72 “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu (12.27%)
68 “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu (11.13%)
43 “Movement” by Nancy Fulda (5.63%)
36 “The Homecoming” by Mike Resnick (5.63%)
36 “Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” by John Scalzi (5.63%)
——————————————
25 “Her Husband’s Hands” by Adam-Troy Castro (4.09%)
24 “Unlimited Delta” by Robin Walton (3.93%)
23 “Tidal Forces” by Caitlin Kiernan (3.76%)
23 “The Bread We Eat in Dreams” by Catherynne M. Valente (3.76%)
22 “Younger Women” by Karen Joy Fowler (3.60%)
18 “After the Apocalypse” by Maureen McHugh (2.95%)
18 “Shipbirth” by Aliette de Bodard (2.95%)
17 “Mama, We Are Zhenya, Your Son” by Tom Crosshill (2.78%)
17 “Goodnight Moons” by Ellen Klages (2.78%)
17 “Tying Knots” by Ken Liu (2.78%)
17 “The Server and the Dragon” by Hannu Rajaniemi (2.78%)
16 “The Invasion of Venus” by Stephen Baxter (2.62%)
16 “The Drowner” by Paedar O’Guilin (2.62%)

Best Short Story Final Ballot Results (1615 ballots [compared to 1597 ballots cast in 2011])

My Ranking

Title

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

2

“The Paper Menagerie” (WINNER)

454

454

515

569

789

4

“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”

352

354

403

472

579

1

“The Homecoming”

310

311

359

439

6

“Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue”

266

266

281

3

“Movement”

185

187

5

No Award

48

No Award Tests:
• 1209 ballots rank “The Paper Menagerie” higher than No Award; 84 ballots rank No Award higher than “The Paper Menagerie”- PASS
• ((1615-48)/1922)*100 = 82% – PASS

The remaining places were then calculated to be:
2nd Place – “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”
3rd Place – “The Homecoming”
4th Place – “Movement”
5th Place – “Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue”

Analysis

Only five short stories made the 5% cutoff. Does this mean the category of short story is stagnant (only four short stories made the cutoff last year)? Or does it mean that there are a large number of quality short stories that split the votes? I’m not sure what the answer is, but the category seems to be weaker than it used to. The Nebula Award winner was “The Paper Menagerie”.

Mini-Reviews

“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld, April 2011)

This year’s John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer went to Yu, very deserving based on this story. Yu uses the metaphor of a wasp colony enslaving a bee hive in a thought-provoking, original way to discuss colonialism and rebellion.

“The Homecoming” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s, Apr.-May 2011)

This is a moving story of an estranged father and son who find reconciliation while caring for their wife/mother who is hospitalized with dementia. The SF twist is that the son has undergone radical surgical modification that the father disapproves of.

“Movement” by Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s, March 2011)

This is a beautifully written story about an autistic girl, the proposed treatment her parents are offered to cure her, and their mutual decision about it. One of the messages is that autistic people are not ill in a traditional sense, and that they do not necessarily need to be “cured” to have meaningful lives. It’s a story with food for thought from someone who obviously has had experience with an autistic person.

“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu (F&SF, Mar.-Apr. 2011)

This is an emotionally charged story of a young American-born Chinese man who mistreats his native Chinese mother, illustrating the struggle between language and culture that many first- and second-generation immigrants encounter. After she dies, he finds a letter from her hidden in a magical origami animal she made. From that he learns a heartbreaking, poignant lesson. Be prepared to shed a tear when reading this story.

“Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” by John Scalzi (Tor.com)

It was only after I read this story that I learned it had been written as an April Fool’s joke. That clarified so much about why I disliked it. This is an incoherent story that apparently was supposed to be humorous, but fell far, far flat. Only the power of Scalzi’s popularity with fandom, and the overall weakness of the short story category, explains how fluff like this gets nominated.

Hugo Awards 2012: Best Novelette

The Best Novelette category is one of the oldest Hugo Award categories, being around since 1955. Novelettes are defined as stories of between 7,500 and 17,500 words. The novelette is good length for science fiction and fantasy stories. An author can explore a single idea without a lot of clutter.

Best Novelette Nominations (506 ballots cast [compared to 382 ballots cast in 2011])
(The titles in bold are the ones I nominated.)

61 “Six Months, Three Days” by Charlie Jane Anders (12.05%)
56 “The Copenhagen Interpretation” by Paul Cornell (11.07%)
43 “Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky (8.50%)
37 “What We Found” by Geoff Ryman (6.81%)
37 “Ray of Light” by Brad R. Torgersen (7.31%)
—————————————————————————-
36 “A Long Walk Home” by Jay Lake (7.11%)
30 “White Lines on a Green Field” by Catherynne M. Valente (5.93%)
29 “Ghostweight” by Yoon Ha Lee (5.73%%)
23 “The Old Man and the Martian Sea” by Alastair Reynolds (4.55%)
21 “The Book of Phoenix (Excerpted From the Great Book)” by Nnedi Okorafor (4.15%)
21 “Laika`s Ghost” by Karl Schroeder (4.15%)
19 “Sauerkraut Station” by Ferrett Steinmetz (3.75%)
19 “A Small Price To Pay for Birdsong” by K.J. Parker (3.75%)
18 “The Choice” by Paul McAuley (3.56)
17 “Citizen-Astronaut” by David D. Levine (3.36%)
17 “The Summer People” by Kelly Link (3.36%)
17 “The Migratory Pattern of Dancers” by Katherine Sparrow (3.36%)

Best Novelette Final Ballot Results (1418 ballots [compared to 1469 ballots cast in 2011])

My Ranking

Title

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

2

“Six Months, Three Days” (WINNER)

369

369

419

494

637

1

“Ray of Light”

340

343

363

410

521

3

“The Copenhagen Interpretation”

271

273

301

384

4

“What We Found”

230

231

256

5

“Fields of Gold”

149

151

No Award

59

No Award Tests:
• 976 ballots rank “Six Months, Three Days” higher than No Award; 120 ballots rank No Award higher than “Six Months, Three Days” – PASS
• ((1418-59)/1922 )*100 = 71% – PASS

The remaining places were then calculated to be:
2nd Place – “Ray of Light”
3rd Place – “The Copenhagen Interpretation”
4th Place – “What We Found”
5th Place – “Fields of Gold”

Analysis

Only eight novelettes made the 5% cutoff. It appears that there was strong support for a small number of candidates, with shallow support for a very large pool of contenders. The Nebula Award winner was “What We Found”.

Mini-Reviews

“The Copenhagen Interpretation” by Paul Cornell (Asimov’s, July 2011)

This is an alternate history, the third in a series about a spy named Jonathan Hamilton. It is self-contained, but there are definite hints that it would be more enjoyable if one were familiar with the earlier works. The conceit is that in this world quantum mechanical devices exist which perform tasks that seem almost magical. I enjoyed this story, but felt like I was reading an excerpt from a novel.

“Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse Four)

This is a largely unmemorable story about the afterlife. New arrival Dennis meets various dead celebrities such as Cleopatra, Napoleon, Shakespeare, Jesus, and Alexander the Great, while lamenting his unfulfilled bucket list. As a character study this story is well done, but there is not much plot to hang it on.

“Ray of Light” by Brad R. Torgersen (Analog, December 2011)

This is a post-apocalyptic story where humanity is forced to live beneath the ocean to survive the complete glaciation of the surface after aliens block the sun. The plot focuses on a former astronaut searching for his runaway daughter and the serendipitous discovery they make in the process. Torgersen was the runner-up for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer this year, and I expect we will see much more from this promising writer.

“Six Months, Three Days” by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com)

What happens when a man who can see a single, locked-in future goes on a date with a woman who can see every possible future, branching out like infinite trees? They can’t both be right, or can they? This is a powerful meditation on the philosophical debate between predestination and free will. Some very nice dialog fuels this engaging character study about romantic relationships, showing that even knowing the future doesn’t necessarily help bridge the gender gap.

“What We Found” by Geoff Ryman (F&SF, Sept.-Oct. 2011)

In a near-future Nigeria, a boy grows up to be a scientist. The story’s science fictional element is tenuous at best, concentrating mostly on the Nigerian’s family life. I really would expect to find something like this in a literary magazine. It’s not a bad story, but it’s not terribly remarkable, either.

Hugo Awards 2012: Best Novella

The Best Novella category was added in 1968. Novellas are defined as stories of between 17,500 and 40,000 words. Many people consider the novella to be a perfect length—long enough to develop a detailed world and interesting characters, but short enough to avoid unnecessary padding. It’s a hard length to get published, though; often not long enough to publish on its own, but too long to easily fit into some magazines or anthologies.

Best Novella Nominations (473 ballots cast [compared to 407 ballots cast in 2011])
(The titles in bold are the ones I nominated.)

120 Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente (24.84%)
111 “The Man Who Bridged The Mist” by Kij Johnson (22.98%)
98 “Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal (20.29%)
76 “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu (15.73%)
47 “The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (9.73%)
47 Countdown by Mira Grant (9.73%)
———————————————————————————-
39 “The Adakian Eagle” by Bradley Denton (8.07%)
38 “The Ants of Flanders” by Robert Reed (7.87%)
27 “With Unclean Hands” by Adam-Troy Castro (5.59%)
22 Gravity Dreams by Stephen Baxter (4.55%)
18 “Martian Chronicles” by Cory Doctorow (3.73%)
18 “The Rat Race” by Cherie Priest (3.73%)
17 “The Alchemist” by Paolo Bacigalupi (3.52%)
16 “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies” by Diana Gabaldon (3.31%)
15 “Angel of Europa” by Allen Steele (3.11%)

Best Novella Final Ballot Results (1493 ballots [compared to 1467 ballots cast in 2011])

My Ranking

Title

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

Round 6

1

“The Man Who Bridged the Mist” (WINNER)

331

331

377

453

492

628

2

“Kiss Me Twice”

315

315

330

370

462

593

7

Countdown

252

252

264

300

372

5

Silently and Very Fast

249

249

255

283

4

“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary”

199

200

208

3

“The Ice Owl”

107

108

6

No Award

40

No Award Tests:
• 1037 ballots rank “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” higher than No Award; 82 ballots rank No Award higher than “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” – PASS
• ((1493-40)/1922 )*100 = 76% – PASS

The remaining places were then calculated to be:
2nd Place – “Kiss Me Twice”
3rd Place – Silently and Very Fast
4th Place – “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary”
5th Place – Countdown
6th Place – “The Ice Owl”

Analysis

Only eight novellas met the 5% cutoff. I think the reason was that there were a handful of strong contenders that dominated the best-of lists. Final voting was very close between the two frontrunners, both published in Asimov’s. Once again, we see that Mira Grant has a passionate following that nominates and votes for her without broad support from the mainstream voters. The Nebula Award went to “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”.

Mini-Reviews

Countdown by Mira Grant (Orbit)

This is a prequel to Grant’s zombie series (Feed, Deadline), recounting the details of how the zombie virus was created. For readers who are familiar with this world, there’s a lot of repetition from the novels. This novella mainly gives Grant an excuse to do a data dump of her detailed biological research. The characters and plot of the story are not very engaging.

“The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (F&SF, Oct.-Nov. 2011)

In the universe of this story humans have invented light-speed transport and primitive instantaneous communication. Rebellious teenager Thorn befriends a mysterious teacher, Master Pregaldin, to fill in some of the gaps in her knowledge and experience left by being dragged from planet to planet by her somewhat immature mother. Meanwhile, an immanent political revolution on the planet threatens to expose Pregaldin’s secret and tear Thorn’s life apart. I found the situations and characters to be interesting, but felt that the ending was a bit out of tune with Thorn’s personality that had been established.

“Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s, June 2011)

This is a police procedural that features two partners: human detective Scott Huang and his artificial intelligence partner, Metta, whose default persona is Mae West. When Metta’s chassis is stolen, Metta is restored from backup to a new chassis and the duo soon connects the crime to a larger conspiracy. I liked this novella a lot. The characters were well-rounded, with clear personalities. The mystery was satisfactorily resolved, although there was a bit of luck involved. The world was consistent and easily pictured. I could see this expanded into a novel; I definitely hope Kowal writes more about this future society.

“The Man Who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s, Oct.-Nov. 2011)

This story is a wonderful piece of world building, concerning an architect who is tasked with building a long bridge across a mysterious valley connecting two isolated villages. The mist that fills the valley has strange properties and is home to large, deadly creatures. One of the beauties of the novella is that Johnson’s descriptions of the mist and the creatures are from the viewpoint of the characters who are so familiar with them that no further descriptions are necessary, letting the readers’ imaginations fill in the gaps. In lesser hands this would have been disastrous, but Johnson deftly weaves the mysteries into her story, letting them take a back seat to the human relationships between the architect and the natives. I hope that there will be more stories set in this fascinating setting.

“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu (Panverse 3)

This is an emotionally charged story of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria during World War II, a brutal time that is ignored in most history lessons, and actually denied by many contemporary government officials. Liu posits a unique time travel technique whereby past events can be witnessed once, and then they are irrevocably erased. The time travelers in the story pick this particular period to study because they don’t want the world to forget a horrible chapter of inhumanity. But by watching history, they obliterate the very memories they are trying to preserve. This presents a terrific dilemma, because now the only records of the atrocities are unverifiable accounts from biased observers. Liu’s writing is very powerful, and although there are some minor flaws in the documentary-style execution and logic of the story, he succeeds in his goal of using science fiction as a tool to bring neglected history to life.

Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, WSFA)

Valente is a stylist who uses poetic imagery to evoke mood. It’s the kind of writing you either love or hate. I’m leaning towards the hate end of the spectrum. The story tells of the relationships between the evolving artificial intelligence called Elefsis and the generations of the human family that owns and operates it. This is very much a character study, told as a fairy tale wrapped with a science fictional covering. This is a metaphor for the chaos that is life and learning, and as such doesn’t provide tidy resolutions.

Hugo Awards: Best Fanzine and Best Semiprozine

The Best Fanzine award was first presented in 1955. Science fiction fandom is largely based on the amateur fan magazines that have been published since 1930. Fanzines predate the first science fiction conventions. Fanzines are forums for fans to write on all kinds of topics of interest to each other. Fanzines are labors of love, with editors typically not accepting any kind of paid subscriptions, instead trading letters of comment or postage with other fans. The earliest fanzines were generally mimeographed, then xerographed, and in the past few years websites and blogs have dominated. The podcast StarShipSofa won in 2010. This year’s winner, The Drink Tank, featured an amazingly heartfelt acceptance speech by its editor, Chris Garcia.

During the 1970s, Locus dominated the Best Fanzine award. Locus had clearly moved to a more professional level than typical fanzines, with paid subscriptions and providing its editors with a nontrivial income. At about the same time, other “semiprofessional” magazines, such as Interzone and Science Fiction Chronicle, were gaining popularity. As a result, the Best Semiprozine category was established in 1984 so that traditional fanzines could more fairly compete against each other. Locus has been nominated as a semiprozine every year since then, winning 21 times.

Because of the domination by Locus, an ad hoc committee was appointed by the Worldcon Business Meeting in 2009 to look at the rules governing semiprozines. Many people felt that Locus had become a wholly professional magazine and should no longer be qualified to compete in the semiprozine category, but that the rules as written weren’t specific enough to move Locus out of contention. A few fans just wanted to eliminate the category altogether.

The committee presented its findings and recommendations at the Business Meeting at Renovation. With some slight changes in wording, the Business Meeting approved the committee’s proposal. It now must be finalized at Chicon 7 to be implemented. The proposal will redefine several publications as professional magazines. Interzone, Lightspeed, Locus, and Weird Tales will no longer be considered semiprozines based on their employee’s income or their publisher’s owner/employee’s income. Clarkesworld will likely move out of the semiprozine category within a year or two.

In my mind this does not solve the problem, it just moves it elsewhere. There is no Best Professional Magazine category for these publications to move to. Best Editor is not the same thing as Best Magazine. An editor has a large part to play in defining a magazine, but by no means the only one. To maintain parity, there needs to be a Best Professional Magazine category—well actually, a Best Collection award might be a better definition so as to include original anthologies.

Moreover, semiprofessional is a wishy-washy definition at best. Publishers of semiprozines want to have their cake and eat it, too. If they are publishing professional articles and stories, it’s irrelevant to me as a reader whether they are making or losing money. If a publication sells subscriptions, is available for sale at newsstands, collects donations, or pays any of its staff or contributors, it is a professional publication. The semiprozine publishers claim they want to create a level playing field, but that is an idealistic dream. The awards don’t differentiate in other categories regarding financial support. Last year, the small film Moon won over behemoth Avatar. In fact, independent films have gone head to head with major studio productions many times. In the 1980s and 1990s digest magazines successfully competed with the well-financed magazine Omni. This year, Lightspeed and Clarkesworld had short stories nominated while longtime professional magazine Fantasy & Science Fiction had none. In addition, Lightspeed’s editor, John Joseph Adams was nominated as Best Editor, Short Form, and Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld and Ann VanderMeer of Weird Tales almost made the cut. So to say that semiprozines need a separate category is disingenuous. Good science fiction is good science fiction, no matter where it is published.

Another problem I have with the semiprozine definition is that it requires the semiprozine publishers to confirm that they are eligible before receiving the nominations (Yes/No answer). No other category is required to provide this kind of self-reported proof of eligibility. Do we trust the publishers to tell the truth about their finances without doing an audit? Would the Hugo Award Administrator be required to examine the publishers’ tax returns? I don’t think so. What if a publication is found to be fudging the truth after the nominations come out? After the final results are announced?

One good piece of news did come out of the Business Meeting this year. They passed a proposal to create a Best Fancast category, removing podcasts from Best Fanzine consideration, realizing that the printed word is different from audio and video broadcasts. Unfortunately, a parallel change to remove audio and video from the semiprozine category was defeated. Additionally, they didn’t define what constitutes a fancast, leaving open the possibility that a mixed-media publication could find itself in limbo. With the rise of Kindle and iPad apps, this is a significant possibility.