Tag Archives: John Scalzi

Hugo Award Finalists, 2013 – First Impressions

2312As always, the finalists for the Hugo Awards and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer are an interesting lot with a few surprises and a number of disappointments. The 1343 valid nominating ballots represent a record number, more than 20% above last year’s previous record. The winners will be announced Sunday, September 1, 2013, during the Hugo Awards Ceremony at LoneStarCon 3 in San Antonio, Texas.

As usual, I am looking forward to my yearly journey through the contemporary science fiction world, even if the Hugo Award itself is becoming more of a popularity contest among fan personalities than ever before. Here are my initial thoughts about the nominees.

Best Novel (1113 ballots)

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
Blackout by Mira Grant (Orbit)
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi (Tor)
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (DAW)

2312 appeared on almost every best-of list and should be the odds-on favorite to win. Saladin Ahmed’s first novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon, also received widespread accolades. John Scalzi’s Redshirts received some praise, but my guess, not having read it yet, is that readers liked its lighthearted premise of what it’s like to be a Star Trek crewmember more than its actual literary merits. Scalzi is also a popular fan personality, which helps his visibility. Lois McMaster Bujold is another fan favorite, having been nominated many, many times. My opinion is that her books are solid mid-list action-adventure tales, but mostly just comfort food for fans who relate well to her protagonist who overcomes major physical disabilities to become a badass soldier and politician. Blackout, by Seanan McGuire writing as Mira Grant, was on zero best-of lists and no other award short lists (at least, that I saw). But McGuire is a hugely popular blogger and podcaster whose celebrity within the fan community gives her a disproportionate advantage. The more of McGuire’s work I read, the less impressed I am. This is all the more disappointing because well-reviewed books such as Intrusion by Ken MacLeod, Jack Glass by Adam Roberts, The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin, The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan, and Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal, among others, were ignored.

Asimovs_Oct-Nov_2012Best Novella (587 ballots)

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications)
The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications)
On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats by Mira Grant (Orbit)
“The Stars Do Not Lie” by Jay Lake (Asimov’s, Oct-Nov 2012)

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall; On a Red Station, Drifting; and “The Stars Do Not Lie” were all well reviewed and all are on the Nebula ballot. Neither The Emperor’s Soul nor San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats appeared on any best-of or award lists that I saw. Here again, Sanderson’s and Grant’s fan popularity rather than the merits of their stories likely put them on the final ballot. The title of Grant’s story indicates it may be little more than fan fiction related to Joss Whedon’s hugely popular SF franchise, Firefly.

Best Novelette (616 ballots)

“The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
“Fade To White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
“The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
“In Sea-Salt Tears” by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
“Rat-Catcher” by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)

The love-fest for Seanan McGuire continues, incredulously including a self-published story. I’m not familiar with the other novelettes, so I am hoping that they will be decent. Certainly, Valente and Cadigan have produced top-notch work in the past.

Best Short Story (662 ballots)

“Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld, June 2012)
“Mantis Wives” by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
“Mono no Aware” by Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)

All these stories undoubtedly deserve to be on the ballot. The sad news is that there are only three nominees because no other works received the minimum 5% of the votes required by the World Science Fiction Society constitution. I suspect this is due to a large number of good short stories that spread votes wide and thin.

Best Related Work (584 ballots)

The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature Edited by Edward James & Farah Mendlesohn (Cambridge UP)
Chicks Dig Comics: A Celebration of Comic Books by the Women Who Love Them Edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Sigrid Ellis (Mad Norwegian Press)
Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who Edited by Deborah Stanish & L.M. Myles (Mad Norwegian Press)
I Have an Idea for a Book… The Bibliography of Martin H. Greenberg Compiled by Martin H. Greenberg, edited by John Helfers (The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box)
Writing Excuses Season Seven by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler and Jordan Sanderson

This is a hard category to say much about. The variety of potential works is vast, so almost anything can appear. Farah Mendlesohn has produced a number of well received scholarly works in the past few years, so I expect The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literatures deserves its place on the final ballot. Previous volumes of Writing Excuses were pretty informative, so I’m not surprised to see it nominated again. I have no idea what Chicks Dig Comics or Chicks Unravel Time are, but from the titles they must be part of a female-centric critical series. Martin H. Greenberg’s book sounds like little more than a list, so I’m not sure what value it has, other than to honor one of the great anthologists of all time. I’m a little surprised there are no art books on the final ballot.

sagaBest Graphic Story (427 ballots)

Grandville Bête Noire written and illustrated by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse Comics, Jonathan Cape)
Locke & Key Volume 5: Clockworks written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
Saga, Volume One written by Brian K. Vaughn, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
Schlock Mercenary: Random Access Memorabilia by Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (Hypernode Media)
Saucer Country, Volume 1: Run written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Ryan Kelly, Jimmy Broxton and Goran Sudžuka (Vertigo)

I’m actually pleasantly surprised by how good the selections are for this category, with the exception of Schlock Mercenary, a lightweight gag comic. It is a travesty that it is on the list and Batman: The Court of Owls is not. The voters have no trouble putting superhero stories in the Dramatic Presentation category, but for some reason resist them in their natural home, the Graphic Story category.

looperBest Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) (787 ballots)

The Avengers Screenplay & Directed by Joss Whedon (Marvel Studios, Disney, Paramount)
The Cabin in the Woods Screenplay by Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon; Directed by Drew Goddard (Mutant Enemy, Lionsgate)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, Directed by Peter Jackson (WingNut Films, New Line Cinema, MGM, Warner Bros)
The Hunger Games Screenplay by Gary Ross & Suzanne Collins, Directed by Gary Ross (Lionsgate, Color Force)
Looper Screenplay and Directed by Rian Johnson (FilmDistrict, EndGame Entertainment)

There are no surprises here, other than not seeing Game of Thrones, Season 2.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) (597 ballots)

Doctor Who:“The Angels Take Manhattan” Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
Doctor Who:“Asylum of the Daleks” Written by Steven Moffat; Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
Doctor Who:“The Snowmen” Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Wales)
Fringe:“Letters of Transit” Written by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Akiva Goldsman, J.H.Wyman, Jeff Pinkner. Directed by Joe Chappelle (Fox)
Game of Thrones:“Blackwater” Written by George R.R. Martin, Directed by Neil Marshall. Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (HBO)

As I predicted, there are the usual three episodes of Doctor Who and two other sacrificial lambs. My only question is why a single episode of Game of Thrones is nominated. As established last year, Game of Thrones should be considered as one ten-part presentation. Nominating a single episode is like nominating a single chapter from a book. In any case, it doesn’t matter, since it’s a foregone conclusion that Doctor Who will win.

Best Editor – Short Form (526 ballots)

John Joseph Adams
Neil Clarke
Stanley Schmidt
Jonathan Strahan
Sheila Williams

The usual suspects are nominated once again. My hope is that the retiring Stanley Schmidt will finally receive his due.

Best Editor – Long Form (408 ballots)

Lou Anders
Sheila Gilbert
Liz Gorinsky
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Toni Weisskopf

This is a category that very few people are really interested in. I certainly am not.

Julie-DillonBest Professional Artist (519 ballots)

Vincent Chong
Julie Dillon
Dan Dos Santos
Chris McGrath
John Picacio

A mixture of some old favorites along with some new faces. There are so many good professional artists that it is hard to pick a slate of nominees without offending some really deserving candidates. And picking a clear winner is nearly impossible.

Best Semiprozine (404 ballots)

Apex Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Jason Sizemore and Michael Damian Thomas
Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews
Clarkesworld edited by Neil Clarke, Jason Heller, Sean Wallace and Kate Baker
Lightspeed edited by John Joseph Adams and Stefan Rudnicki
Strange Horizons edited by Niall Harrison, Jed Hartman, Brit Mandelo, An Owomoyela, Julia Rios, Abigail Nussbaum, Sonya Taaffe, Dave Nagdeman and Rebecca Cross

It baffles me why this category should exist at all. Either you’re a professional magazine or you’re not. This wishy-washy half-measure should be abolished. For example, Clarkesworld published three Hugo nominees this year compared to one for Asimov’s and zero for Analog and F&SF. If that’s not a professional magazine, I don’t know what is.

Best Fanzine (370 ballots)

Banana Wings edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
The Drink Tank edited by Chris Garcia and James Bacon
Elitist Book Reviews edited by Steven Diamond
Journey Planet edited by James Bacon, Chris Garcia, Emma J. King, Helen J. Montgomery and Pete Young
SF Signal edited by John DeNardo, JP Frantz, and Patrick Hester

The Hugo voters inexplicably changed the eligibility rules this year to exclude virtually all online fanzines. Why supposedly forward-looking science fiction fans chose to regress to only printed periodicals is a mystery.

Best Fancast (346 ballots)

The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester, John DeNardo, and JP Frantz
SF Squeecast, Elizabeth Bear, Paul Cornell, Seanan McGuire, Lynne M. Thomas, Catherynne M. Valente (Presenters) and David McHone-Chase (Technical Producer)
StarShipSofa, Tony C. Smith

Although the Hugo voters have excluded online fanzines, they have embraced podcasts. However, the same titles appear year after year, and frankly, I have not been impressed with any of them. Episodes of news and opinion shows are almost always too long and often lack organization. StarShipSofa’s selection of audio stories is underwhelming. I’m still looking for a SF podcast with value-added information that’s worth my time. I suspect others feel the same way, since this category had the second-lowest number of nominating ballots.

Best Fan Writer (485 ballots)

James Bacon
Christopher J Garcia
Mark Oshiro
Tansy Rayner Roberts
Steven H Silver

Mostly the same names we see every year in the mutual-admiration society known as fandom.

Best Fan Artist (293 ballots)

Galen Dara
Brad W. Foster
Spring Schoenhuth
Maurine Starkey
Steve Stiles

Here’s another list of mostly familiar names. At least professional artist Randall Munroe did not make the final ballot this year.

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (476 ballots)

Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2011 or 2012, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award).

Zen Cho *
Max Gladstone
Mur Lafferty *
Stina Leicht *
Chuck Wendig *

* Finalists in their 2nd year of eligibility.

Mur Lafferty and Stina Leicht were both nominated last year, so I expect one of them will win this year. I am completely unfamiliar with the other three nominees.

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.

Chicon 7

Chicon 7, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention, was held in the Chicago Hyatt Regency from August 30 through September 3, 2012. The convention was the best attended Worldcon since L.A. Con IV in 2006, with almost 5000 warm bodies present.

Overall, I enjoyed Chicon 7 a lot, and didn’t have much to complain about regarding the Hugo winners (the nominees are a different story!). The number of nominations was generally higher than last year for Renovation, perhaps due to a rule change that allowed members of three years’ worth of Worldcons to nominate. However, the number of final ballots was generally lower, sometimes significantly, than last year. I don’t know if this was due to apathy about the quality of nominees, or whether Renovation did a better job of nagging members to vote.

Hyatt Regency – Chicago

The Hyatt Regency is a very large hotel with ample meeting space for a convention of this size. The problem is that the hotel is split into two towers with events in each tower. The way the escalators and elevators were laid out made for difficult navigating within and between the towers and their multiple, arbitrarily color-coded levels. There were a number of complaints from mobility-challenged fans about the inadequacy of handicap access. To confound attendees further, the con organizers somehow thought it was a good idea to include a nonexistent meeting room on the schedule. Apparently, this hoax room is a tradition with Chicago conventions, but the humor was lost on those not in on the joke.

2012 Hugo Trophy

Programming ran continuously from noon on Thursday to mid-afternoon on Monday. While there were plenty of panels worth seeing, and many time slots with multiple items of interest, there were very few “must see” panels. There were a handful of special events, such as the Masquerade and Hugo Award Ceremony, that were highlights. The opening night event at the Adler Planetarium was especially fun and interesting.

The Dealers’ Room was in a nice, large space. It took me a little over an hour to go through it the first time, and I dropped in a couple more times during the weekend. There were a few interesting vendors, but I didn’t end up buying anything. The Art Show was in a large ballroom and had plenty of space. There was the usual mix of professional and amateur 2-D and 3-D works ranging from the awful to the sublime.

George R.R. Martin, Mike Resnick, Joe Haldeman, Robert Silverberg

Panels were varied and well run, heavily weighted towards literature and space exploration, reflecting the strengths of the convention’s guests. There were a handful of panels related to TV and movies, as well as things like costuming and filking that I am not interested in.

Connie Willis, Robert Silverberg

Unlike many recent Worldcons, the only late night activities were filking and parties. Fun, late night programs such as “Just a Minute” and “Match Game” were absent. There were no anime or movie rooms operating at night, which I found strange. (The only film room showed mostly public domain cartoons, and only during the day, as far as I could tell.) There were no screenings of the Hugo nominated dramatic presentations. Apparently, attendance at convention film screenings is too low to justify the cost of renting films and paying technicians to show them. There was a film festival running during the convention which screened independent films; and while I am sure there were some hidden gems amongst the entries, my less-than-satisfying experiences with similar film festivals kept me from exploring this one.

From Dragon*Con: Toni Weisskopf, T.C. McCarthy, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

One of the innovations that the convention tried was to have a number of joint panels with Dragon*Con in Atlanta. I attended a couple of these panels, and for the most part they worked well. Video conferencing is often fraught with technical difficulties, but the technicians had it working smoothly. As long as these two large conventions share Labor Day weekend, it makes sense to do some cross-programming. I hope this will become a regular part of Worldcons to come.

David Brin and Tad Daley discuss the definition of democracy.

Nothing against younger writers, but the old-time raconteurs make the most entertaining and thought-provoking panelists. Examples were Connie Willis and Robert Silverberg riffing on each other, Guest-of-Honor Mike Resnick reminiscing about his career, gray-beards Gardner Dozois, Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Joe Haldeman, and George R. R. Martin recounting the silly things they’ve done individually and together, and David Brin ranting on science and politics.

John Scalzi interviews Story Musgrave.

The highlight of the convention was seeing Guest of Honor Story Musgrave. A veteran of six Space Shuttle flights, including a Hubble Space Telescope repair mission, Musgrave is a real-life Buckaroo Banzai. Surgeon, engineer, pilot, farmer, and poet are just a few of Musgrave’s accomplishments. At 77 years old, he could easily pass for 50. Musgrave’s boundless humor, enthusiasm, and optimism fuel his curiosity and drive. At the same time, he is humble and down-to-earth, and was clearly moved and honored to be recognized by the science fiction community. I was inspired, educated, and entertained by this remarkable person.

An all-volunteer-run event of this scale and quality and complexity is simply amazing. The con committee did an excellent job working in the background to ensure our enjoyment, comfort, and safety. I had a wonderful time, as did the people I talked with. This was a superb convention.

The Last Colony

The Last Colony by John Scalzi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Last Colony by John Scalzi is the third in a series depicting a future where senior citizens are shipped off Earth, reborn in enhanced bodies, and used to fight alien armies. This volume is self-contained, so you won’t miss much if you haven’t read the other books (I missed the second book in the series and didn’t have any problems with following this one). Here, retired soldier John Perry and his wife are assigned to lead a group of settlers on an uncolonized planet. Things quickly go wrong, and Perry finds himself in the thick of interstellar politics and war. The characters are not drawn especially vividly and the resolution depends a bit much on some coincidences and good fortune, but the story moves quickly; Scalzi knows how to write an enjoyable page turner. If you like Robert Heinlein or Lois McMaster Bujold, you will undoubtedly enjoy John Scalzi.

Scalzi rewrote this novel for young adults as Zoe’s Tale. If you read The Last Colony, don’t waste your time reading Zoe’s Tale, and vice versa, because there is very little difference between the two—certainly not enough to justify reading both.

Zoe’s Tale

Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Teenager Zoë Boutin goes with her adopted parents, retired soldiers John Perry and Jane Sagan, and a group of settlers to an uncolonized planet. Things quickly go wrong, and colony leader Perry finds himself in the thick of interstellar politics and war. If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is the exact same story Scalzi told in his 2008 Hugo nominee, The Last Colony. The only difference is that it is told from Zoë’s point of view. Zoe’s Tale is an enjoyable young-adult page turner that fills in a couple of plot holes from The Last Colony. However, if you’ve read The Last Colony, don’t waste your time reading Zoe’s Tale, and vice versa, because there is very little difference between the two—certainly not enough to justify reading both. Why this book was nominated for a Hugo over major works by Iain M. Banks, Greg Bear, and Ken MacLeod is beyond me. John Scalzi obviously has a passionate and vocal following.