Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Just about ready to vote for the Hugo Awards

As you know, I’ve been wading through the Hugo selections for the past month or two. It takes a while, since I’m busy with other stuff, but since I got a voting membership – largely so I could vote for The Goblin Emperor in the “novel” cateogry — it would seem terribly wasteful not to vote for the short forms, too. Besides, there they are in the Hugo Voter Packet or whatever it’s called. So here we go:

Short stories
You probably remember that I am not super-fond of shorter forms and seldom to never go out of my way to read short stories. Well, stories connected to a larger work are an exception; see: Stories of the Raksura I and II. But basically short stories are not my thing. Also, I liked all the short stories I nominated and can’t help but feel it’s a shame none of those made it onto the ballot. Nevertheless, here we go:

1. “Totaled” by Kary English – Well written and solidly executed. The biggest problem I had with this story was that it is highly reminiscent of “Flowers for Algernon.” It’s impossible for any story to do it better than “Flowers for Algernon,” so the comparison can only hurt this story. Plus I am just inclined to downgrade any story that seems derivative of any famous work. Despite all that, I thought this was a solid story. Since I wasn’t too keen on any of the other stories in this category, it goes in my number one spot.

2. “The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C Wright – beautifully written if you don’t mind a kind of, hmm, let’s say a florid, flowery, over-the-top ornate style. That kind of style, in fact, suited this particular story. However, I didn’t much like the story. I vehemently dislike the idea that animals are less perfect than humans and should aspire to be more like humans. I assure you that lions and foxes and so on are quite well adapted to their ecological niches and have no need to be more like human people. I know this story was using this idea metaphorically or allegorically or something, but it was impossible for me not to read it literally and I didn’t like it. But it was still a good story.

3. “Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa – I thought the writing quality was acceptable and the themes were appealing – this story was about free will and the importance of choosing moral action.

4. “On a Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antenelli – to me, the writing was just all right. I thought what Antenelli was trying to do was interesting, but the story did not really work for me. The idea that the ghost is not really the soul of the person, but just a kind of echo, reduced the impact of the story to a kind of “Sure, but so what?” for me. If the ghost isn’t really a conscious entity, who cares what happens to it? And if it thinks it’s a conscious entity, isn’t it by definition truly a conscious entity? I thought the story might have done more with that.

5. “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond – I’m sorry, but to me this story did not seem to have adequate writing quality to be award-worthy. For me it was a fast DNF and I will probably put No Award as my last place vote in this category.

Novelettes

1. “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” by Rajnar Vajra – I thought this story was successful for what it was trying to be, which was a sort of cheerful parody of an old-fashioned Star Trek kind of world. I found it engaging and enjoyed its light-hearted silliness.

2. “The Day the World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Ole Heuvelt – I definitely would pick this story as the best written of the nominees. It was engaging and readable because of the high quality of its writing. It was also emotionally overwrought, disturbingly hopeless, and featured a thoroughly contemptible protagonist. Plus, although this would have been a completely different story, the outer and inner “world turning upside down” themes would have been more tightly linked if the world had turned upside down only for the protagonist, not for the rest of the world. I enjoyed reading this story, but I didn’t *like* it.

3. “The Journeyman: In the Stone House” by Michael Flynn – This story was hard to place. I found it well-written and engaging. I liked it. But it is plainly part of a larger work and does not stand all that well alone. As far as I’m concerned, that is a very significant flaw in a story that is supposed to be a self-contained novelette. That’s why I didn’t put it at the top of my list.

4. “Ashes to Ashes” by Gray Rinehart – I thought this story was decently written, moderately engaging, but rather contrived in terms of handing the aliens the one trait the author needs them to have to make the story work out.

5. “Championship B’tok” by Edward Lerner – Oh, for heaven’s sake. If you start with one protagonist in a tense situation and then switch away from him and do something else for a zillion pages and never actually come back to him, that’s a problem for me. Also, this was another so-called novelette that was quite plainly part of a larger work. On top of all that, I honestly did not find it particularly engaging – it never recaptured my interest after switching away from the opening scene. I wound up just skimming the back half of the story. It probably counts as a DNF, since I can’t really say I actually read it all the way through. For me, No Award might once again go in the last spot.

Novellas

When we hit novellas, I am more interested, because stories of this length appeal to me more than shorter works. I will say that the official Hugo definitions of novellas and novels seem crazy to me, with novellas being between 18,000 words and 40,000 words and novels anything over that. As far as I’m concerned, 40,000 words does not make a novel. I’d be fine with redrawing those lines. Even so, a novella does have enough room to stretch out a bit and do more with worldbuilding and character as well as plot.

1. “Pale Realms of Shade” by John C Wright – There’s just no question about it: This was by far my favorite of the novellas this year. This novella offered one of the few truly unlikable protagonists who has ever worked for me. Mind you, I like a lot of protagonists who are seriously flawed. But this guy was *really* unlikable. Which was necessary to the plot in all kinds of ways. Really interesting worldbuilding, really good characterization, tight plotting. Oh, and themes involving redemption generally appeal to me. So, yeah, an easy choice for first place for me.

2. “The Plural of Helen of Troy” by Wright again – This was an ambitious story involving time travel. It was clever, ornate, complicated, and used lots of allusions to historical stuff. I didn’t really like it, but I admire how it was put together.

3. “Flow” by Arlan Andrews – This was a good, engaging, straightforward story with a YA feel to it, about quest and exploration. I enjoyed it. The problem is, it is totally part of a longer work and does not really stand by itself. I believe I’ve mentioned how little I appreciate that in a nominee for a short-work category. Well, let me emphasize it again: I don’t think selected bits of longer works should ever be nominated for short-form categories. Honestly, I don’t. If you’re going to nominate a novella, find an actual novella to nominate.

But I did like the story, though.

4. “One Bright Star to Guide Them” by Wright – This story was written in an ornate, flowery style. I very much liked some of the detail work that went into it. However, I also found it rather tending to fall into the tl;dr category for me. It did not really engage my interest. The style might have contributed to that problem. For whatever reason, I barely finished it.

5. “Big Boys Don’t Cry” – This one was very grim and tragic for my taste; it was also highly reminiscent of the well-known Bolo stories by Keith Laumer. I actively disliked it and I also thought it was too derivative to be a reasonable contender for an award.

Novels

1. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison/Sarah Monette. Obviously. I thought it was very unlikely that anything would change my mind about this. Nothing came close.

2. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie. I never much care for seeing a middle book in a series go up for an award, but I guess that will keep happening till we divide the novel category into standalone vs series categories, and the sooner the better in my opinion. I see there is actually a proposal or two now on the table about this; see below for comments and a link.

Anyway, I have seen comments here and there from people who thought Ancillary Sword was terrible. I can’t quite wrap my mind around that. I thought it was excellent, in some ways better than the first book, and I can’t wait for the third.

3. The Three-Body Problemby Cixin Liu. It was very difficult to decide which book to put in third place. What I like about this one: it undeniably possesses ambition, concept, and scope. I think these are important qualities for the Hugo. It is doing really interesting things with physics. Its plot seems reasonably tight. The use of the computer game Three-Body Problem was actually fun to read about.

What did not work for me: the story’s unbearable beginning – on the advice of my brother, I skipped ahead to avoid the Cultural Revolution part so that I could stand to read the book. Besides that, to me, the characterization seemed simply poor. Each character served as a puppet to deliver the lines of dialogue necessary to move the plot forward. The characters seemed thoroughly wooden, offering no hook for emotional engagement. I never cared about any of them. Also, aside from this, the writing quality . . . and this surprised me . . . was not great. To me it seemed both clunky and boring. I have no idea whether this was caused by the original writing or the translation.

4. Skin Game by Jim Butcher. I came much closer than I expected to putting this one third. It has everything Three-Body Problem lacks: snappy dialogue, fast action, engaging plot, decent characterization. There is sometimes a clunky passage, but basically it is fun to read. It was also surprisingly easy to follow, considering I haven’t read the first 13 or however many in the series, although the opening scene was frankly baffling. I liked it much better than Liu’s book. But . . . the 14th book in a series? Also, I really did admire the concept of Three-Body Problem, even if I didn’t actually like the book. So . . . this is how they sorted out for me in the end.

5. The Dark Between the Stars by Anderson. I didn’t like it at all. Every chapter has a different protagonist and I never had time to get involved enough with any of them to even begin to care how the overall plot might eventually pull everything together. I read about fifty pages, maybe seventy, and then quit.

So, that’s exactly the way I expected the novels to sort out for me, but the reasons the latter three went 3-4-5 were not exactly as I expected.

Movies

I didn’t expect to vote in the movie category. I almost never watch enough movies to bother voting. However, this year I’ve seen three of the five and I guess that’s enough to justify voting. So:

1. “Live Die Repeat” – I just watched this, and I liked it a lot. I mean, the opening bit, when Cage (Tom Cruse) is such a cowardly ass, is a bit difficult to take. But we rapidly get past that. And Rita (Emily Blunt) is fantastic. There’s a lot to admire about this movie. Compressing the repeated part of the day has to be tricky to do well, and I think it was done very well indeed. Cage’s personal development was beautifully handled. Starting off with Cage such a wimp and making Rita into such a kickass soldier was an excellent reversal of standard gender roles and, wow, did Emily Blunt make that work or what?

I am not 100% sure the ending worked for me. But I don’t care. I’m putting this in the top slot regardless.

2. The Lego Movie – I watched this one recently, too. It was thoroughly charming. I can’t believe anybody actually gave this concept a Go, because seriously, a Lego movie? And I’m astonished that the producers went with the extraordinarily blatant deus ex elements of the plot, but then, those were SO blatant they turned out to be fun. Like everyone else, I really enjoyed Lego Batman. “I only use black. And sometimes very dark gray.” Hah!

Shifting to the live-action scenes was . . . okay, I guess? I thought the Moral Of The Story was shoveled on with a trowel. To me, that seemed the weakest element of the movie.

3. “Winter Soldier” – I saw this much closer to when it came out; ie, a while ago. So I don’t remember everything about it. But there were definitely aspects I thought were problematical. Some of this had to do with the Winter Soldier himself; I really did not like how that was handled. Anyway, I know a lot of people liked this movie, but though I didn’t hate it, it didn’t work for me as well as the first Captain American movie.

Movies I haven’t seen: “Interstellar” and . . . whatever the other one is. I hear “Interstellar” is pretty good. Maybe I’ll still have time to watch it between now and the close of voting.

Professional artists

Okay, having taken some time to check out the various artists’ galleries . . . it turned out this was a difficult category for me. I still like Julie Dillon a great deal. For example, this is one of hers:

cosmic_traveler_by_juliedillon-d8lzxkg

So, Dillon. I love a great many of her covers. But not only did she win last year, but also I turned out to really like two of the other artists as well. Here, for example, is a cover by Kirk DouPonce. I like this a lot.

Kirk DouPonce

And here is a cover by Nick Greenwood.

sidebar_grim_reapers_dance

I really like the subtle scrollwork in the background. In fact, it turns out that I like most of his mystery covers, even though I don’t much care for his fantasy covers. He also definitely had the single book cover with the weirdest title:

sidebar_anteater_of_death

The . . . Anteater of Death? Really? Actually, when I checked, I found that this book has a pretty decent rating on Goodreads, with quite a lot of reviews.

I didn’t like Alan Pollack’s work as well. I couldn’t pull out a picture to show here, so click on the link if you want to see his gallery. It’s not that I think he’s not doing a good job. The thing is, his style is often a pin-up-girl style that I hate.

In the end, I put the artists in this order:

1. Julie Dillon

2. Kirk DouPonce

3. Nick Greenwood

4. Alan Pollack

And then, I’m sorry, but a webcomic? With nothing but that to go on for Carter Reid, I think I must put No Award for last place. His work just does not seem to fit with the expectations for this category.

And that’s it for me! I don’t know nearly enough about the other categories to vote in them.

And, though of course I’m happy in an abstract sense for Jeff VanderMeer, who won the Nebula this year, I sincerely hope that The Goblin Emperor wins the Hugo. What with all the . . . bru-ha-ha . . . surrounding the Hugo this year, I don’t think anybody has a clue what is actually going to happen in the vote.

The best post I’ve seen about the situation with the Hugos this year, incidentally, is this recent one by Rich Horton at Black Gate. I think he is dead right about the desirability of reforming the Hugo Award so that any one person can only nominate so many works per category, and then the categories contain more works than that. I don’t think I would say that anyone can nominate up to five works and then there will be ten nominees, though. Ten is a lot. I think it is too many. My preference would be: you can nominate only four works per category, and there will be six (or, fine, eight if necessary) nominees. That should really help break the power of both bloc voting and over-the-top fan clubs to put one author on the ballot five times in a single year.

I would also be in favor of a more specific reform: No author can have more than two works up for a Hugo in one year, or more than one work per category. If more than that make the cut, the author must choose two total, one per category, and the rest must be eliminated from the ballot. No one – no one – ever has or ever will write one-fifth of all the best stories produced in a given year. It is absolutely ridiculous to allow a ballot that implies that is possible, and worse to deny exposure to other works that might otherwise be nominated

My two cents about the possible series award that has indeed been proposed: For heaven’s sake, decouple the suggestion for a series award from the suggestion to eliminate the novelette category. How ridiculous. Lots of people like the short forms.

Then, the proposal to make a “saga” eligible when it goes over 400,000 words? Are you kidding me? Who the blazes counts by words? Would anyone care to guess whether the Griffin Mage trilogy is over or under that limit? Even *I* wouldn’t know without looking! How would readers ever possibly know whether a particular trilogy made the cut or not?

If you want a series award, which I definitely do, then how about redrawing all the word boundaries, thus:

Short story: 10,000 words or under

Novelette: between 10,000 and 25,000 words

Novella: between 25,000 and 80,000 words

Stand-alone Novel: above 80,000 words

Series: three books, each not less than 80,000 words, the series to become eligible on the publication of the third book and to become eligible again on the publication of each additional book in the same series.

Here is Chaos Horizon’s model for a best case and worst case result from having a series award. Very interesting reading! Although people are suggesting various things, based on the comments at Chaos Horizon, it looks like there’s some agreement that 240,000 words in a series is more reasonable than the initial suggestion of 400,000 or whatever it was.

Me, I am optimistically confident that Hugo voters are generally savvy enough and well-read enough to go for a fantastic series like CJC’s Foreigner series over, well, a Sword of Shannara type of series, shall we say.

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14 Comments Just about ready to vote for the Hugo Awards

  1. Mike S.

    Re the movies you haven’t seen, Interstellar is a pretty and visually ambitious movie with a lot of plot logic problems and a core of pure woo-woo, while Guardians of the Galaxy is a rollicking space adventure featuring a raccoon with a gun.

    I don’t think there’s much danger of any of them snagging your top spot, but if you can only see one of them before the voting deadline, there’s an argument that GotG would be the more rewarding choice.

  2. Cat

    The problem I see with the “4/6” reform of the Hugo nominations is that it gives a slate 4 of the positions on the final ballot. If there are two slates, it gives the stronger slate 4 positions and the weaker slate the other 2.

    According to Chaos Horizon’s analysis, we are *already* effectively dealing with 2 slates. The stronger Rabid Puppies slate and the weaker Sad Puppies slate.

    I favor the E Pluribus Hugo proposal for nominations that are single divisible vote, least popular eliminated. The idea is that you nominate up to n (5, or 4 or whatever the max number is) works and your “nomination point” is divided equally between them. Nomination points for all works are counted up and the works with the fewest nomination points are compared to each other to see *which work is mentioned on the fewest ballots*–that work is eliminated from the running.

    It’s “scratched off” all ballots that mention it, and their nomination points are redistributed to be divided evenly among the remaining works.

    What this means is that as a nominator, I (for instance) nominate up to the allowable number of works. I can nominate my honest favorites, even if I think they won’t get very many mentions, because as the least popular works lose the elimination rounds and get scratched off my ballot, my nominations for more popular works count for more and more of my nomination point.

    In the meantime, slate nominators nominations don’t get concentrated as fast as mine because the slate works don’t enter or lose the elimination round as fast.

    In test runs on nomination data from a long-past Hugo nomination year, a slate (simulated state nominations added after the fact) gets 1 or sometimes 2 slots on the final ballot of five, and four of the nominations that would have won in the absence of the slate get the other places.

    This could be combined with 4/6 if desired. I’m hoping that it will be adopted by the WorldCon business meeting, but a bit worried, because, as you will no doubt have noticed, it’s pretty complicated to explain. 4/6 is much simpler, but since we’re facing two slates I’m afraid it won’t work, except possibly in categories that get a lot of votes like Best Novel or have only a handful of possible entrants, like Best Dramatic Performance long form.

  3. Rachel

    Cat, how interesting. I’m glad to see people putting plenty of thought into this. I think I see how this would work, but I had to read your explanation a couple of times. I do think you would need some data from the test runs and then you could say, “It’s complicated, but look, it works! See? In ninety-three out a hundred test runs, thus and so.” With evidence of how it worked, people ought to be okay with taking the method kind of on faith. I mean, I would be.

    I’m definitely hoping to see some major changes to the nomination methods in the near future. Also, I hope it’s not necessary to get it right the first time. If we went with the nominate-four-of-ten type of method and we did see a couple slates sweeping the nominations, I’m sure people wouldn’t be satisfied with that and would try something else.

  4. luagha

    With a numbered group of people, you can circumvent a 4-of-6 style proposal; it merely dilutes your numbers somewhat to have your first hundred people vote for 1234, your second hundred vote for 1256, and your third vote for 3456.

    As for limitations on the number of possible works one can have up, the problem is that it is based on publication date, not writing date. I’m led to believe that John C. Wright wrote those stories over a number of years but had no place to publish them until recently, when they all came out in a bunch. I’m certain this has happened in the past with other author’s story collections.

  5. Rachel

    Hi, Luagha — I don’t seem to have a sufficiently twisty mind to come up with things like that. I must say, it seems like an awful lot of work to go to, to get around the 4 of 6 or whatever limit was used. But I suppose a *really enthusiastic* fan club could do that. Perhaps the possibility is another reason to take a good look at Cat’s style of divisible votes.

    And honestly, speaking as someone who is also expecting to see titles stack up and come out in a bunch in the near future — I don’t care. I don’t personally feel that there is any reason good enough to ever have a single author take a quarter or even a fifth of all the slots available for nominees. Two, absolutely maximum. That’s plenty.

  6. mona

    This was a nice read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    My alma mater did student council elections via Cat’s outline. It seemed to work rather well.

  7. Linda S

    Thanks for posting this, and congratulations on making the File 770 Hugo roundup! As you know, I haven’t been happy with a lot of the nominees for short fiction in recent years, and I was hoping that I’d like the ones for this year better. Unfortunately, I found most of the short fiction pretty disappointing, and I didn’t really love any of it. I hope all of the current attention to the Hugos will give us a larger and more varied pool of nominators next year.

  8. Rachel

    Thanks for the links to Carter Reid’s covers — I’ll take a look.

    Linda, thanks for the pointer to File 770, which I wouldn’t have realized otherwise. I’m totally with you in hoping to see a larger and more varied bunch of nominators next year.

  9. Malcolm the Cynic

    Ah, I agree with you about “Pale Realms of Shade”, and my short story vote just about lines up with yours as well, though for slightly different reasons.

    Alas, I HATED “The Day the World Turned Upside Down”. Really hated it. The protagonist was a whiny loser, the speculative element is never talked about, explained, or really extrapolated on in any way, and the protagonist is really, really, annoyingly whiny. Get over yourself, dude.

    But I adored “Pale Realms of Shade”. The final scene where – SPOILER, I guess – the angel towers over Flint shouting “CONFESS” burned itself into my head.

    “The Plural of Helen of Troy” was great too.

    Basically, I’m a really big Wright fan.

  10. Rachel

    I have to agree about the protagonist of The Day the World Turned Upside Down. And yet the quality of the writing was so good . . . but I don’t actually want it to win. Maybe I will wind up dropping it lower in my voting order, just in case.

  11. Cat

    Just in case I somehow gave the wrong impression, while I am in favor of E Pluribus Hugo, I did not think it up. A very long set of comments on Making Light (I think they were past 3,000 comments) by multiple people (I didn’t even try to count) including a guy doing graduate work in election theory came up with this. I’m happy to explain it as best I can but can’t take credit for it.

    The link above goes to a post that has links to all the previous posts and comment threads for people who are interested.

  12. Rachel

    Hi, Cat — yes, I had the impression a group had worked it out, but you have credit for passing the idea to me. Thanks for the link! It’s an interesting method. I’ll be looking forward to changing the current method, for sure.

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