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The Hugo Nominations, 2016; or, Sigh …

Friday, May 6th, 2016 | Posted by Rich Horton

2007 Hugo Award-smallI wasn’t sure I should bother writing this this year, as I’m not sure I have anything new or interesting to say that hasn’t been said, but I feel like getting some thoughts off my chest. This isn’t, I should add, my detailed analysis with voting thoughts … that will come later, after I’ve read the stories.

As most of you know by now, the Hugo Nominations for 2016 were dominated to an even greater degree than last year by the Rabid Puppies slate, organized by Theodore Beale (“Vox Day”). The Sad Puppies also put forth a recommendation list (“Not a Slate™”), and indeed they seem to have done so in good faith – openly gathered a set of recommendations from readers, and using that set put together a list of the most-recommended items in each category, a list longer than the nomination ballot. I don’t see anything whatsoever wrong with this. That said, their direct influence on the final ballot seems to have been minimal – which is, or should be, just fine: so was Locus’ influence, so was mine, etc.

The Rapid Puppies slate took over 75% of the ballot, and apparently the percentage would have been higher except that some nominees withdrew. There are very interesting analyses at Greg Hullender’s Rocket Stack Rank and Brandon Kempner’s Chaos Horizons. Using slightly different statistical models, they came up with estimates of 200 or so to 300 or more Rabid voters. (Vox Day claimed 750 adherents.) It seems likely that the Rabid nominators were much more disciplined in sticking to slate voting this year.

A cursory glance at the fiction entries on the ballot shows that there are some worthwhile, Rabid-supported, entries on it. In Best Novel, for instance, the two Rabid choice, Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves and Jim Butcher’s The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass seem pretty reasonable. Likewise in Best Novella, all four of the Rabid entries are at least decent.

Uncanny Issue 2-smallThe novelette case is less clear. I imagine the Stephen King story is fine – I haven’t read it, but, hey, it’s Stephen King. And “Folding Beijing,” by Hao Jingfang (from the Jan/Feb 2015 Uncanny) is very good – it was on my nomination ballot. The non-Rabid choice, Brooke Bolander’s “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” is also very good.

The other two entries seem less likely to be good, though I have not yet read them, and I may be wrong. (They were published in There Will Be War, Vol. X, published by Vox Day’s Castalia House but a continuation of a well-established anthology series with a respected editor, Jerry Pournelle.)

The short story category is a different animal. There is one more story from There Will Be War. There is a self-published story (since withdrawn). There is an obvious troll entry, Space Raptor Butt Invasion, by Chuck Tingle (an Amazon single, so again self-published*). There is a vile and quite unfunny “parody” of Rachel Swirsky’s “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” published as a blog entry. And there is a short-short from Nature’s long-running series of short-shorts – “Asymmetrical Warfare” by S. R. Algernon. I’ve read it – it’s publishable but rather trivial, not by the longest stretch of the imagination a Hugo-worthy story.

So we see Vox Day’s strategy in these categories. In the more prominent and longer categories (Novel and Novella), he chose some good stories that might well have been nominated anyway. These have been called “human shields” by some. In the shorter categories he chose a mix of stories he published, and troll entries, and one or two other entries that he may well have enjoyed, or that may align with his political or aesthetic views.

And he proved (in these categories and in the non-fiction categories) that putting together a slate and persuading a lot of people to vote with him in a disciplined fashion – certainly NOT choosing only stories they liked (as the presence of the troll entries shows) one can complete distort a ballot. Well, we knew that! It doesn’t seem anything to be proud of.

The shame, of course, is the various deserving nominees that were knocked off. Even in the categories with respectable entries, we can’t be sure if they’d have been nominated without Rabid Support. I suspect in Best Novel that Stephenson had a good chance. In Best Novella, Alastair Reynolds and Lois McMaster Bujold might have made it (though, for what’s it’s worth, they weren’t on my ballot (nor was Binti, which I found disappointing despite its broad support (and Nebula nomination)).

C.S.E. Cooney

C.S.E. Cooney

Indeed, this category was notable for two really brilliant stories in the major magazines, Greg Egan’s “The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred” and Carter Scholz’ “Gypsy,” which are each among the very best hard SF stories I’ve read in some time. (Not to mention C. S. E. Cooney’s lovely pair of fantasies, “The Two Paupers” and the Nebula-nominated “The Bone Swans of Amandale” – though admittedly Cooney is less well known than Egan (and probably Scholz too) and the stories were not published as prominently, so their chance at a Hugo nod was probably not that great.) There were numerous fine choices in Novelette and Short Story as well (my list can be seen here).

It’s hard on those nominees who were (often unwillingly) listed on Vox Day’s slate, as well. For one thing, many of them, as noted, might have made the cut anyway, and now they don’t know if they “earned” their slot fair and square or not.

In addition, the taint of Day’s recommendation may prevent them from winning if enough voters reject the Rabid entries outright. (In Novella, for example, I think both “Penric’s Demon” and “Slow Bullets” are quite a bit better than Binti, but I will predict right now that Binti will win. And it might have anyway – lots of people like it a lot more than I do – but we’ll never know what would have happened in a “typical” vote.)

This struck particularly close to home for those of us associated with Black Gate. Of course Black Gate was nominated as Best Fanzine last year, due to Rabid Puppies support, and John O’Neill quite rightly withdrew its nomination. This year we again were (unwillingly) on the Rabid slate, and again John has decided to withdraw.

We discussed what to do – though the choice was always John’s – and there was a definite split. Many of us – myself included – at first inclined to the notion that perhaps we should stay on the ballot. I had four reasons for this: 1) I am certain that Black Gate got a good amount of support from non-Rabid nominators (but we have no way, for now, of knowing how much); 2) I thought perhaps the point had been made last year; 3) I felt that withdrawing was ceding even more influence to Vox Day, and also was to an extent disenfranchising the non-Rabid nominators; and 4) I really do think Black Gate is a worthy choice.

Binti-smallerBut John made two very strong arguments in favor of withdrawing, arguments that now have swayed me so that I believe his decision is correct. First, and most important, by withdrawing it is guaranteed that there will be an entry on the Final Ballot not chosen by Vox Day. Second, in John’s estimation, it is likely that Black Gate wouldn’t have won anyway. I don’t think that’s nearly as important – but it’s probably true. (Alas, the very possible win for whoever replaces Black Gate will be somewhat tainted as well if it’s perceived that it won as a default choice.)

So, what’s a voter to do?

Well, that’s not for me to say. Last year I suggested that people read the stories, and vote for anything that seemed Hugo-worthy. Most voters didn’t do that, instead voting No Award above any of the slate choices (except in Dramatic Presentation). That wasn’t my choice (though certainly a number of very weak stories were behind No Award on my ballot), but I can understand the sentiment, and I can’t dispute it.

With an overall stronger ballot this year, and with a point having been made last year, I do rather hope that more voters vote on merit (which will still most certainly have some stories finish below No Award). But people may choose to hold the line on any slate nominee. I think to an extent that’s playing into Day’s hands, granting him, again, more power than he deserves (low bar, I know). But people can choose to do what they want.

I don’t know what the future holds. There’s a good chance that the E Pluribus Hugo proposal for a reformed nomination process will be adopted for 2017. That will weaken the effect of slates, but by no means eliminate it. (Greg Hullender’s analysis suggests that in some categories the Rabid Puppies would still have taken three places on the final ballot with EPH.) There is another proposal, called 4/6 (nominators can only list four stories, and the top 6 make the final ballot), which is a variant of an idea I proposed last year (5/10, basically). That would probably lead to a slate having 4 entries in many cases, and possibly more if they tried hard enough. (5/10 would probably lead to, in many categories, 5 slate entries and 5 others.)

As an alternative, I am intrigued by Kevin Standlee’s proposal, for a three-stage process (nomination as now, but leading to a list of up to 15 potential stories, then an up-down vote on whether a story was worthy, by current Worldcon members only, then the final ballot as now). The better solution would be for Vox Day to abandon his childish games, but that seems unlikely in the near future at least.

I do promise to read the short fiction entries at least, and hopefully the novels too, and to give my report on each story, sometime in the next few months.

(*Note that self-published stories can be just fine. It’s just not the way to bet, especially for shorter stories, which have a broader array of potential market slots.)


Rich Horton’s last article for us was a Retro-Review of the February 1972 issue of Analog. See all of his BG reviews here.

32 Comments »

  1. I want Hugo and Campbell awards to reflect the traditions of Hugo Gernsbeck and John Campbell; the tradition of Poul Anderson, Heinlein, Niven, Pournelle, Zelazny. Last year the best eligible book in that tradition was Larry Niven’s The Goliath Stone. This year the best was Saturn Run, John Sandford and Ctein. Neither made the shortlist.

    I was glad to see Riding the Red Horse stories and nonfiction on the shortlist last year. I’m glad to see Jerry Pournelle on the shortlist for editor this year. None of that would have happened without VD, so I like VD. As to outrage from Tor- well, Tor has burned the Hugo brand for thirty years. Scroom.

    But VD likes space opera and military SF and games. He’s not burning John Campbell’s brand, as your friends set up the Campbell award to do. But he’s not pushing the old pure quill.

    Comment by bruce99999999 - May 7, 2016 12:56 am

  2. I think VD made a mistake this year of nominating Chuck Tingle. That joke backfired hard on him:

    http://www.dailydot.com/lol/chuck-tingle-trolling-hugo-zoe-quinn-genius/

    Now there is a chance, that people vote for Tingle, wich is a bit of a loose-loose-situation. If he came above No award and the rest below it shows what to make of the slate. If he actually wins it he cant complain, because he nominated him. And the award will be presented by his arch-nemesis, which means he cant claim it as a win either.

    Its hilarious!

    Comment by peer - May 7, 2016 2:56 am

  3. As someone who lives in Germany and dont really care for the politics in your far-away-country: I wonder why Tor burned anything. So far I like reading them. By percentage bought and liked its the most succesfull publisher for ME. Thats what counts for me: The quality of the outcome. And Tors is excellent.

    Comment by peer - May 7, 2016 5:05 am

  4. Bruce … here’s a list of Hugo Winning novels from Tor in the last 30 years — tell me when they “burned” the brand:

    1986: ENDER’S GAME, Orson Scott Card
    1987: SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD, Orson Scott Card
    1993: A FIRE UPON THE DEEP, Vernor Vinge
    2000: A DEEPNESS IN THE SKY, Vernor Vinge
    2007: RAINBOW’S END, Vernor Vinge
    2012: AMONG OTHERS, Jo Walton
    2013: REDSHIRTS, John Scalzi
    2015: THE THREE BODY PROBLEM, Cixin Liu

    That’s it — 7 of the 32 winners since 1986. And which of those novels is outside the tradition of Gernsback? Maybe all of them except arguably Liu! Outside the tradition of Campbell, Anderson, Heinlein, Niven, Pournelle, etc? I’d argue they are all profoundly within that tradition, even obviously so! Even the fantasy in that list (AMONG OTHERS) is besides being a fantasy a loving paean to the SF its main character (and author) read growing up.

    And there’s plenty of mil-SF — the Card and Scalzi are centrally Mil-SF, and there’s military action in the first two Vinge stories as well, and in the Liu.

    Vox Day approved? He claims to have loved THE THREE BODY PROBLEM.

    Have you actually thought about your position, or are you just parroting Vox Day’s bleatings?

    As for your favorite books — I haven’t read them (I confess I find later Niven quite literally unreadable, at the sentence/paragraph level), but by all means, promote them, urge people to read and nominate them. I do have to note, however, that neither group of puppies chose either for their slates.

    Comment by Rich Horton - May 7, 2016 9:09 am

  5. @Rich—Tor is no doubt dominating and successful in its field. Tor brings out talented writers and crushes the competition–no question. Out of Tor’s list of Hugo winners I liked Ender’s Game and that was about it. For me, with regards to military sci-fi, Tor sucks Space Raptor eggs. Tor has also had huge failures over the years, chiefly the Conan series. My disgust for them precedes knowing who Vox Day was. How they could take the greatest iconic figure of sword and sorcery with some of the greatest writers in the field and tank the brand of Conan is beyond me. Most of the series stank on ice with a handful of good books in between. I used to buy a lot of Tor books but now unless the names are RS Belcher or Howard Andrew Jones I’m not interested. I’ve just bought too many gag worthy Tor narratives with boring as hell stories at top dollar prices to give them a go. I am still hacked at their editors who look down their noses at anyone who doesn’t share their insane cock eyed world views. The Tor brand is golden in many eyes but not mine.

    I thank you for giving the Sad Puppies their due. I’m stunned that you say that they had no influence. I’m assuming that you mean no undue influence. The Sad Puppies had around 24 picks which is pretty good. I’m also glad that you are going down the list just like you do every year and read it. Your tastes are about 120 degrees off from mine but I know you give every story its due and I respect that. I’m not brave enough to try Chuck Tingle but I’ve read his reviews and they are hilarious. I remember commenting on him last year. I compared his story to Swirki’s and said that at least those stories had dinosaurs featured in them.

    I think the gap that Bruce is talking about with regards to military sci-fi and Tor is difficult to explain to civilians. I don’t think they resonate with veterans. It isn’t because the stories or the writers are flawed it is that military guys have a different feel for things because they were there. I might be wrong but then I don’t think John Scalzi would know his generals from his privates or which direction a claymore needs to point towards. He comes across like a never-been-there-but-I-can-fake-like-I’ve-done-that kind of military sci-fi. But hey, he is a Hugo winner and my favorite mil sci-fi writers can’t even get a nomination. I suspect they couldn’t get past a liberal editor’s political filter either. Tor knows its target audience and it isn’t me. I’m not going to tell the biggest book business in sff. I’m sure their profit line is going through the roof right alongside Amazon’s.

    I’m just tired of the Perpetually Triggered crowd. I’d love to see an MMA match between Scalzi and Vox Day or a round of paintball with Correia and Sandifer. I’d pay to see that. Short of that I’m done with all the pink and blue nerd fights.

    Comment by Wild Ape - May 7, 2016 11:02 am

  6. >Rich ‘tell me when they burned the brand’

    Redshirts, a burn-the-brand Star Trek knockoff.

    ‘as to the books you like … I do note that neither group of puppies chose either of them…’

    Yes, that’s my point. Puppies are good at action SF and Mil-SF, but not at the rest of the tradition.

    ‘I find later Niven literally unreadable at the sentence/paragraph level.’

    Niven writes with the pure lymph of pellucid clarity. It is a sign of how badly your personal tastes are corrupted that you flinch from the pure quill.

    Comment by bruce99999999 - May 7, 2016 12:02 pm

  7. ” It is a sign of how badly your personal tastes are corrupted” sorry, but as a German I always flinch, when someone goes out of seperating “Right tastes” and “wrong tastes”.

    But Redshirts is not a problem of Tor, its a problem with the Hugo awards. And I dont mean any agenda that may or may not exists. Its just that a vote by fans means that if you right a reasonable good book about fandom, youll have a decent shot. Think Jo Walton and think Redshirts. Think Galaxy Quest (did they win?) This type will always goes strong. Not because its “Left” or what have you, its because the Hugo is a popularity award.
    But I wonder what Tor has to do with this? They are a business. They are making money, publishing books that sell. If it wins a Hugo it sells. So: What have they done wrong? Its not their job to be altruistic.

    Comment by peer - May 7, 2016 12:21 pm

  8. @peer—Chaos Horizon showed how closely matched the SWFA and the Hugo nominations are aligned. Some might call it a Hugo cabal and others would say that it is a natural consequence of like minded and connected people. Either way it is what it is and Chaos Horizon kinda took the guess work out of who will be highly likely to get the Hugo nominations with very little surprise. Tor has a big population of writers who head the SWFA. Is that Tor’s fault? The Hugo voting system is what it is. I find it comical that they are going to great pains to make sure that the Puppies will never win.

    Comment by Wild Ape - May 7, 2016 12:54 pm

  9. I am not in favour of the new changes. As you are probably aware from my previous posts I am not against the sad puppies. I understand their goals and I really appreciate their part of the debate this year.
    I do dislike the rabids, because they drown all other voices and debates out – including the sad puppies. But TBS I dont think that would be a problem for the far future. Tingle has shown how to deal with them and I think once people stop taking them seriously, VD would have trouble rallying his supporters (which, I feel, generally do take themselves very serious). And there wouldnt be any need for changes.

    The problem would be the writers and editors being left out, because of the slates. But in any award there are writers that are left out. Its part of the game.
    And that it is: A game (and I have won a “big” award for one of my games and I know how much it means to me. But I also know that there were others deserving in line as well)

    Comment by peer - May 7, 2016 1:27 pm

  10. So, Bruce, you claimed Tor has been burning the Hugo brand for 30 years. And all you can cite is a 3 year old book?

    Sure, REDSHIRTS is a weak Hugo winner. That’s been acknowledged any number of times by people like, well, me. Peer is correct — REDSHIRTS pushes fannish buttons. In fact, I’d argue, it pushes many of the same buttons the Sad Puppies, at least, seem to like pushed. Indeed, it’s a successful novel in that it does what it tries to do — entertain the audience. (With a bit of a thoughtful core.) I thought that was what the Puppies claim is missing from SF these days?

    I’d have been much happier with 2312, CALIBAN’S WAR, ASHES OF CANDESCE, THE ETERNAL FLAME, sure. But it’s not the first time, and won’t be the last, that I don’t think the best novel won the Best Novel Hugo.

    As for Niven, I gave him up with RAINBOW MAR. Perhaps he’s gotten better since then. He was definitely a lot better in the ’60s and ’70s, when I was lapping his stuff up. But, believe me, RAINBOW MARS is one of the most poorly written novels I’ve ever read.

    As for me understanding the “pure quill”, well, who can say. But I dare say I’ve read as much or more of the “pure quill” SF than most folks around here … And I’ll have review of issues of THRILLING WONDER STORIES and STARTLING STORIES posted here sometime in the next few weeks to (keep) proving it.

    Comment by Rich Horton - May 7, 2016 6:11 pm

  11. Ape … it’s not surprising that the SFWA nominations … I assume you mean the Nebulas … track reasonably closely with the Hugos. For one thing, the Nebula shortlist has a tendency to serve as a kind of recommendation list for Hugo nominators. For another thing, most writers are fans too …

    As for Mil-SF, I’ll take your word on that. I do read SF by writers who definitely have real military experience, David Drake (who sometimes writes for Tor, I should note) being one example, Elizabeth Moon another.

    Does Mil-SF get shortish shrift on award ballots? Maybe — as does, say, Urban Fantasy. There is a certain sense among many people of what “type” of story is an award winner, and quite possibly that drives a tendency to pre-emptively ignore certain categories. That’s an argument worth advancing, sure. Humorous stories are another such type — and look at the only non-Puppy story on the short story ballot. It’s funny!

    Comment by Rich Horton - May 7, 2016 6:16 pm

  12. I’m sure that Mil-SF gets shifted around as do a lot of subgenres of sf. What I discovered last year is a lot of authors who were not published by the major houses. I found a goldmine of authors and frankly, I don’t miss the mainstream SF much.

    I like Drake because he served in the same unit as I did later on. It was fun to see the 11th ACR in Hammer Slammers. Drake, like O’Brien was a draftee and so he has a different look than the professionals who saw combat during my time. I like Ringo and the like more. Drake is okay. He certainly was the been there and done that variety. I don’t know much about Moon. Service is not necessarily a qualifier. Richard Tongue, BV Larson, and Ian Douglas never served as far as I know but they are authentic from a Grognard perspective and I love their books. Tanya Huff is another who never served but she is pure Grognard in her writing.

    SFWA certainly has a strong presence and I’m okay with that as far as Hugos go. It stands to reason that they being mostly left wing produce left wing results. It is human nature. I think you are off a bit in your criticism of Bruce. I think I know where he is coming from. Before Amazon shifted the market quality Mil-SF was thin and Sword and Sorcery nearly extinct. The publishers are gate keepers and I don’t blame them for moving stories that will reap better profits. Amazon changed that and now there is a surge of the niche markets. I expect sword and sorcery to make a comeback as urban fantasy and weird westerns have. I think it is human nature to accept the stories that you like and that there remain only a few at Tor who liked Mil-SF so that would explain the thin product line of a few years ago. Plus, some of these area wax and wane so guys like Bruce and I who have a thirst for the Mil-SF felt left out–no pun intended.

    It is also important to note that people may not remember exactly what is said but they remember how people made them feel. Correia and others have been hounded by the left wing of fandom for quite a while and made to feel unwelcome and marginalized. I think you are wise to recommend that everyone just carry on and vote on the stories selected and ignore the fray. Humor is always critical and hurts someone. When the award ceremony awarded the ASS-terix it was pretty obvious what the joke was. Was it funny? Yes, but not to me. Was Chuck Tingle and the parody of “If You Were An Award My Love” funny? I thought so but there were many who were horrified. I do plan to read that non Puppy pick that you say was a humorous story. In recent history Sarah Avery recommended “Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma” and I thought the story was a riot. I’m sure there were Lovecraft fans who would like to feed the author to the Deep Ones.

    I do think Vox Day has good taste on Mil-SF. I wish he would come up with his own award for the field. I’m glad that Pournelle has finally got a nomination but I feel that the present state of Hugo fandom will not receive him well. Also I think Kukuruyo is by far the most humorous artist. He will not be received well but he matches art and humor even though it goes against the establishment humor. I think GRRM’s words were unkind and beneath him.

    I appreciate that you are here standing up in a positive way. We may not agree but I know that you will give each selection its due.

    I think fandom would be better served if they just shrugged off Vox Day. Black Gate deserves a Hugo nomination and the Rabids aren’t going to let go of their favorite chew toy. Perhaps Black Gate would lose out to File 770, so what. I think they can go toe to toe with anyone and I think John and the rest are stand up people who are a bit too humble in my view. They need to accept that the Rabids may have put up the notice of Black Gate but that would be inevitable. Black Gate is a magnet for talent and even if the Rabids were not around it would eventually have grown. Personally I think it already has and John needs to accept that he is successful and although he respects others in the field, he is no longer an amateur but a giant in the field. His spot on the ballot was legit and he ranks among his peers as the best of the best. Sustaining that is very difficult.

    All the best Rich.

    Comment by Wild Ape - May 7, 2016 9:46 pm

  13. I wonder if the push to start eliminating votes/nominations and memberships of “obvious trolls” (which I saw come up in more than one discussion in the last couple of weeks) will get stronger if Vox continues to live rent free in folks heads…

    Comment by TW - May 9, 2016 10:25 am

  14. >Rish, ‘He was definitely a lot better in the sixties and seventies, when I was lapping his stuff up. But, believe me, Rainbow Mars is one of the most poorly written novels I’ve ever read.’

    Since you’ve read it, you know it’s a combination of some Svetz time travel stories from the seventies with a new novella. The short stories were good enough for the
    Saturday Evening Post back when that
    meant something. The novella had a good new Big Space Thing, ‘plants are good at using carbon’ indeed. Good action scenes, good use of time travel paradox. Good evil UN. It’s a fast-paced action/ideas SF novel, at the opposite end from the long, slow-paced Kim whatsit Mars novels. If those are your idea of good writing, Rainbow Mars/b> must be bad.

    >TW- ‘I wonder if the push to start eliminating votes/nominations and memberships of ‘obvious trolls”-

    Tor’s Hugo admins have been acting on the assumption that only Nazis want the Hugo and Campbell awards to go to stuff in the Hugo Gernsbeck and John Campbell tradition for thirty years. They might as well formalize a rule.

    Comment by bruce99999999 - May 9, 2016 12:53 pm

  15. You realize, don’t you, that when you say things like “Tor’s Hugo admins[…]” you’re insulting everybody who has volunteered at every single Worldcon for the past 30 years and, just for good measure, everybody who’s been voting for the Hugos in good faith for the past 30 years.

    Comment by Joe H. - May 9, 2016 2:03 pm

  16. @TW—And they still deny that Correia pegged them. They are perpetually triggered.

    @bruce—I can’t think of any story that is universally liked. I think peer is right in that that Hugo is just a popularity contest. I wouldn’t take stock in those guys sneering at the stories you like. eReaders have made the whole market a level playing field. I think the best thing to do is to promote the writers that you like by spreading the word.

    Comment by Wild Ape - May 9, 2016 8:05 pm

  17. I loved the early Svetz time travel stories. The problem with RAINBOW MARS, the later novel, it not so much its plot or pace — I found the plot silly, but that was part of the point, and if I didn’t like it I could understand others liking it.

    The problem was the writing. The prose. The sentence/paragraph structure. The novel is quite frankly incoherent. And a comparison with the earlier Svetz stories ought to make it clear that something changed in Niven’s prose in the intervening 30 something years.

    Comment by Rich Horton - May 9, 2016 9:55 pm

  18. >’The problem was the writing. The prose. The sentence/paragraph structure. The novel is quite frankly incoherent.’

    You are criticizing Niven where he is strongest and almost everyone else in SF is weak. Name a writer who is, on the whole, more clear and coherent than Niven. I can’t.

    >’When you say things like ‘Tor’s Hugo admins’ you insulting everyone who volunteered and voted in good faith …’

    The John Campbell award was not set up in good faith to recognize writing in the spirit of John Campbell and take money in good faith from Campbell fans who wanted to buy stuff they’d liked from Campbell. It was set up to steal our money. You stole twenty bucks or so from me, back in the day.

    The Hugo awards, meh. I’d be okay with people outside SF winning Hugo awards now and then. But I want the real thing to generally appear on most ballots. This year, only Seveneves is really SF. I’d have liked to see John Sandford and Ctein’s Saturn Run win this year; it’s the first time anyone has written anything like the Niven/Pournelle collaborations from the eighties. First SF spaceship to consider the cooling problem that I’ve come across. I didn’t want the award to go to Sandford for his sake- the man’s a multimillionare with lots more important wins in his life. I wanted the Hugos to recover from thirty years of Tor burning the brand. So when libraries automatically buy this year’s Hugo winner, they get what people who browse the SF section want to read. I don’t see Tor’s people preaching down Sandford’s heart- he’s spent decades as the successful D party media flack these wannabees dream of.

    If I was a parasite on the SF tradition, I’d want the real thing to win a Hugo fairly often. Keep some tasty blood flowing through the carcass.

    Comment by bruce99999999 - May 10, 2016 12:58 am

  19. @bruce But thats the thing: Who defines what SF is and what its not? My favorite novels last year was Jeff Vandermeers Area X – Triology by a mile. Is that real SF? Does that matter and for whom?

    FWIW I am not particulary in favour of the last Hugo winners (havent read three-body-problem yet though -which is SF AFAIK), but I dont smell a conspiracy… I know WHY the last novels won:

    Ancillary Justice: Its great worldbuilding. Seriously – Im not a fan of the book (gave 3/5), but the world building is on par with Herberts Dune. The book has its problems, but it is big-scope-space-opera.
    Redshirts: As I said: Pushed all the buttons of geeks.
    Among Others: Basiccly the same – Its a bout SF novels and the author shows that she knows her game in that field. Also: Hasnt been done before (to my limnited knowledge)
    Blackout/All clear: You could argue its more a hiustoric novel than a time travelling and hence SF one, but it is very good.
    Windup Girl: Original SF
    The city & the city: Again, very original.
    Graveyard book: OK, this was more to award Gaiman. Shame that Anathem didnt win…

    So yeah, traditional SF is scarce. But that has really nothing to do with Tor. More with the crowd whos voting. If you blame Tor than you must blame them for the Chuck Tingle-Story on this ballott as well – same reason why its there, just different voters 😉

    Comment by peer - May 10, 2016 1:35 pm

  20. @peer—I thought the same about Ancillary. I think she did a superb job of world building but the story did not resonate with me. I have read other works of hers that were much better.

    Tor is what it is and it certainly markets to its target public. That is perhaps why I rarely read Tor titles. They are highly successful, just not with me. I haven’t found the courage to try Chuck Tingle but his reviews are worthy reading.

    Stay safe in Deutchland peer. Tchus!

    Comment by Wild Ape - May 10, 2016 8:41 pm

  21. Bruce … If you can read RAINBOW MARS — as opposed to, say, “Neutron Star”, which is much better — and don’t mind the horrible prose, well, so be it. I personally think you are interpolating your own meaning onto it, the way people do with Dan Brown. But whatever!

    For a clearer and more coherent writer, how about Isaac Asimov? Just saying.

    Which John Campbell award are you talking about anyway? I do remember lots of complaints about the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel, established in 1973 by writers and critics Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss “as a way of continuing his efforts to encourage writers to produce their best possible work.” The first Campbell Memorial Award went to Barry Malzberg’s BEYOND APOLLO, and, yes, lots of people said it was an insult to Campbell’s memory as it is not very Campbellian. (I like it, but I agree it’s not very Campbellian!)

    I don’t think the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer was intended in any sense to honor Campbell-style writers, except in the sense that Campbell always looked for new writers, even to the end, and often they didn’t seem very Campbellian — he was the first to publish Tiptree, the first to publish Stefan Chapman, maybe even the first to buy a Howard Waldrop story! (And he never published Niven.)

    You still haven’t mentioned a thread of plausible evidence of Tor “burning the brand”. That’s because a) there isn’t any; and b) you don’t care about evidence or logic, but about repeating talking points. So be it.

    Comment by Rich Horton - May 10, 2016 10:17 pm

  22. >’You don’t care about evidence or logic, but about repeating talking points.’

    Talking points to excuse putting John Campbell’s name on books to steal money from those of us who would not have bought your dull crap if we’d known? Or to excuse giving Tor author John Scalzi and Tor editors Teresa and Patrick Neilsen-Hayden, what, fifteen or twenty Hugo awards between them?

    >’If you can read Rainbow Mars, as opposed to, say, ‘Neutron Star’, which is much better- and don’t mind the horrible prose . . .

    ‘Neutron Star’ is better, but not hugely better. If you said you liked Niven when you were younger, but now you prefer a dense, complex not all that simple and clear style, OK. Macaualay and ‘State of Seige’ when young, late Henry James and the Grundrisse with maturity, fair enough. I’d disagree; when I was fifteen I liked James Fenimore Cooper more than Mark Twain and actually enjoyed the prose of Noam Chomsky- at fifty, Hell No. But I’d grok you.

    Niven’s clear, plain style will never look horrible because it just isn’t wilfully unclear enough to fail horribly. You know, like gender-ignorant pronouns. You can say with CS Lewis that it’s not fair that a plain style looks better over time. You can’t say Niven is not a clear stylist. You can say ‘Politics and the English Language’ or Lord Denning or the Wright Brother’s Notebooks or The Bible In English Like Jesus Talked are not to your taste, but you can’t say they aren’t clear.

    Comment by bruce99999999 - May 11, 2016 2:34 am

  23. You have absolutely no idea what my preferences in prose are, and your post makes that laughably clear. I am a great admirer of Orwell and of “Politics and the English Language”; also of C. S. Lewis, certainly of the KJV. I haven’t yet read much Henry James, though THE ASPERN PAPERS (early James, I know) is on the near horizon.

    I like, say, Rudyard Kipling. John Crowley. Michael Chabon. Charles Portis. Ursula Le Guin. With the possible exception of Chabon, and maybe Crowley in some modes (though I don’t think so), all of these writers are noticeably simple and clear in prose style.

    What I am talking about when I talk about RAINBOW MARS (and some other late Niven) is the prose in THOSE BOOKS. It is NOT clear. Niven in those books is not a clear stylist. I can say it, and I do.

    As for the Campbell — are you talking about Best Novel? — what does it have to do with Tor? Oh, that’s right, nothing. And what does it have to do with me? Oh, that’s right, even less. Empty talking points.

    Comment by Rich Horton - May 11, 2016 7:36 am

  24. “Talking points to excuse putting John Campbell’s name on books to steal money from those of us who would not have bought your dull crap if we’d known?”

    Sorry, you dont seem to incline of talking to me, but I have to ask: You do know that tastes are different, do you?

    Comment by peer - May 11, 2016 10:18 am

  25. I find it humorous that the Hugo establishment is wringing their hands on what to do about Vox and the Puppies when the answer is right before them. Take for instance the Democrat primary and follow the model of how they elect their nominees. This same model could be applied to the Hugo award. In the Democrat model the establishment as already chosen Hillary and although she has won 23 states at this point, Bernie has won 19. They would be nearly tied if not for the super delegates. So, if the Hugos could do the same thing. Make a selection of superdelegates that vote for Hugo nominations. That way the facade of a democratic vote is maintained and as a bonus it doesn’t matter if the Puppies make a slate or quit or become sadder and sadder, they will never win. And most important–it is in the rules and the “fan” award remains in the hands of the super delegates “experts” to all things of the narrative. Your super delegates would of course be “non bias” heavy weights of the publishing world. As a bonus they would never have to No Award something unless they wanted to drum up some drama and allow a Puppy nomination, because frankly the only drama of the Hugos have been the Puppies and Vox Day. I know the establishment gets great pleasure in sticking it to the Puppies. They could use the celebrity of the writers that fit the narrative and make them greater heroes in their own insular circle. It would be a win-win for the establishment.

    I should not have made the suggestion and just watched the antics from the point and screech crowd as they fret and whine about Vox Day. But imagine, just perfect message fiction and each year they can award the new brand of narrative message that the super delegates want. Who knows what they will write about in the coming years but then probably no one will care because it will have become boringly predictable as it has been for a long while.

    Comment by Wild Ape - May 11, 2016 6:32 pm

  26. >’Niven in those books is not a clear stylist. I can say it, and I do.’

    You can’t say it in good faith.

    >’Empty talking points.’

    I said Tor’s Hugo admins have treated those of us who want the Hugo and Campbell awards to go to the best stuff in the tradition of Hugo Gernsbeck and John Campbell like we are Nazis. I said the best book in that tradition this year, Sandford and Ctein’s Saturn Run, isn’t on the ballot because it’s not Mil-Sf so VD doesn’t notice it, and because it is in the tradition of Campbell and Gernsbeck so Tor’s Hugo admins won’t support it.

    If these are empty talking points, what am I hiding?

    Comment by bruce99999999 - May 12, 2016 11:54 am

  27. Again, there is no such thing as “Tor’s Hugo admins”, and when you say that you’re insulting all of the Worldcon volunteers and all of the Worldcon nominators. The reason Saturn Run isn’t on the ballot is because it got fewer nominations than the works that are on the ballot; nothing more, nothing less. (And I’d point out that it wasn’t listed on either the Rabid slate or the Sad recommendation list; so I’d recommend taking it up with them.)

    Comment by Joe H. - May 12, 2016 1:03 pm

  28. Of course I can call Niven’s writing in RAINBOW MARS awful in good faith, and when you deny that, you are calling me a liar. So gloves off, you dolt.

    RAINBOW MARS is truly dreadfully written. It’s possible, I suppose, that Niven’s more recent novels return somewhat to the form he displayed in his early work. I can’t say — I haven’t read anything solo, besides a few Draco Tavern stories, since RAINBOW MARS. His collaborations, such as those with Brenda Cooper, can be just fine. But I haven’t read a well-written Niven story since “Madness Has Its Place”.

    That really brings your reading comprehension into question. I honestly have to think you read like Dan Brown fans — Brown’s words sort of vaguely orbit the general direction of the meaning he’s trying to get at, and his readers pick a fairly plausible answer, and they go with it. Since Brown’s thinking is, let’s just say, not exactly original or surprising, readers aren’t too far off, and by the end of the book, they kind of end up where Brown intended. And the infelicity of all the steps on the way maybe don’t bother them. If that’s your thing, fine I guess, but it’s not anything I am interested in.

    As for the rest of your silliness … “Empty Talking Points” means, first, “Empty” — that is, what you say has no correspondence with truth. You keep saying “Tor’s Hugo admins”, but they aren’t Tor’s admins, and it’s idiotic to keep claiming that. So — empty, because it’s not true. And “talking points”, because those are phrases people keep repeating, without change, because they aren’t meant to be thought about, or analyzed, or revised when shown to be absurd — they are just meant to be repeated.

    This whole thing about the Hugo awards being in the spirit of Hugo Gernsback. What the heck does that mean? Do you KNOW what kind of fiction Gernsback published? Have you read it? Because nobody has written in that spirit for a very long time. That traitor Campbell abandoned the True Quill SF that the holy originator Gernsback decreed nearly from the start of his career! Crucify him!

    The Hugo was never intended to celebrate the sort of SF that Gernsback championed.

    It’s possible to make the arguement that the Campbell — for Best Novel — a juried award, I should note, and no relation whatsoever to the Hugo; was originally created as celebratign Campbell’s sort of SF. To be sure, from the beginning it diverged from that. But very soon the question became silly. Because who are we to judge what Campbell would have liked as he followed the evolution of SF since 1971? It’s pretty darn rude of us to assume he’d want endless recapitulations of Verge Foray’s work, but that, it seems to me, is what you’re asking for. He certainly didn’t approve of Larry Niven — at least, he never bought a Larry Niven story, as far as we know.

    Hey, I haven’t read SATURN RUN. Indeed, I never even heard of it. It might be good — as you describe it, it sounds worth a look. But it wasn’t Tor’s nonexistent Hugo Admins whoh denied it a nomination. It was the fact that there was no buzz for it. That might be a problem — that might be another symptom of the way our fractured community doesn’t notice everything — because there’s so MUCH. And that’s too bad. But it’s not a conspiracy.


    Rich Horton

    Comment by Rich Horton - May 12, 2016 10:51 pm

  29. Rich, I think its futile to discuss with someone who blaimes it on “Tor-Admins” that the rabid puppies didnt put Saturn Run on their slate (and hence it didnt get nominated).

    Im amazed anyway that people believe in Tor controlling the award, when the Tor-hating rabids were able to sweep the ballots twice in a row. What kind of control is that exactly?

    Comment by peer - May 13, 2016 1:51 pm

  30. >’Words sort of vaguely orbit the direction of the meaning he is trying to get to…’

    ‘+390 Atomic Era. Svetz was nearly home, but the snake was waking up.

    Gravity pulled outward from the center of the expansion cage as it was pulled toward present time. The view outside the cage was a jitter of color and motion. Svetz lay on his back and looked up at the snake. A filter helmet showed only as a faint golden glow around its head. It wouldn’t strangle on post-Industrial air, and it couldn’t bite him through the inflated bubble.’

    Short words, straight to the point. You can say it’s awful in good faith, if you hate that ‘prose like a windowpane’ stuff. You can’t say he’s vaguely orbiting the meaning he’s trying to get to in good faith.

    If Vox Day got his fans to vote him as the winner of an award named for James Tiptree, Octavia Butler, or Ursula le Guin, he’d be doing it for spite. He’s not writing in their tradition. When the Campbell award was founded it went to people not in Campbell’s tradition, not just for spite, but to steal money from people like me who trusted John Campbell’s name on the cover.

    >’Rich, I think it’s futile to discuss with someone why blames it on Tor-admins that the rabid puppies didn’t put Saturn Run on their slate.’

    I blame Tor’s people for not nominating the best SF novel of the year. I blame the rabid puppies and sad puppies for not nominating the best SF of the year.

    Comment by bruce99999999 - May 16, 2016 7:31 am

  31. Surprisingly, I don’t have a copy of RAINBOW MARS at hand from which to cherry-pick my examples. That single paragraph is at least tolerably clear, yet. One paragraph. And I’m not blaming you — I don’t think you need to cite the whole book. But there were sentences and paragraphs on end that simply failed to communicate meaning to me.

    As I’ve said before, I have nothing against clarity in prose. Read Charles Portis sometimes. I mean, read him anyway — TRUE GRIT is one of the great American novels. Heck, read Ursula Le Guin. Very clear writing. Also — with a real voice. Which is one thing Niven had as a young writer — an individual voice. (Not saying he doesn’t perhaps still have it, or another older voice, just that it doesn’t come through in that paragraph, and perhaps couldn’t be expected to in a short extract.)

    If your complaint is that SATURN RUN didn’t get nominated, I’ll take your word for it that it’s an excellent book. I did not hear of it last year. That’s just a small sample, and from someone who read very few 2015 novels (too many short stories, and too many ’50/’60s Ace Doubles and early 20th Century novels, to get to last year’s new stuff). But it looks like neither did the Puppies (either brand), nor many of the other Hugo nominators.

    As I’ve said, that’s an issue with the field today, and with awards — nobody can keep up with everything. In the ’60s, it would have been noticed. Now, it’s easy for something, especially something by a new writer, to get missed. That by all means is worth trying to address — by recommendations, by reviews, by enthusiastic support. Not by advancing conspiracy theories, by impugning the motives of people who disagree with you, etc.

    As for your issues with the Campbell, take it up with them. It’s a juried award, run now as I recall by the Center for SF studies at KU — is that right? But that’s a recent development. And my point is that complaints about the award in 1973 going to a fairly non-Campbellian novel seem at least an arguable point — and there were complaints, many and loud. Complaints in 2016 seem pointless — we know the field has changed, had to change, and Campbell would have changed as well, though likely in a different direction.

    Comment by Rich Horton - May 16, 2016 8:21 am

  32. SciFi/Fantasy came off the rails decades ago. The Hugo’s (at least for me) have no relevancy anymore. The whole genre seems to have come undone, it used to be you could pick up a Years Best Fantasy Collection and be sure of some good recommends and stories. No longer. I dutifully purchased Datlow and Windling’s Years Best Fantasy looking for good recommends and stories and always found them wanting. Likewise, the Hugo winners. At one time the Hugo winner/short list was a quality selection of works. Not so much anymore. I’m at a loss as to why Vox even cares about the Hugo’s. IMHO it would be better to start all over again. Firstly, recognize the difference within Fantastic Literature and award the best in the Horror, Fantasy and Sci-Fi genres.Start from say 1930 and recognize the best in each genre. As there would be little economic interest in the outcome pressure would be removed from publishers to affect outcome. Work toward the present time over several years. See then if Watchtower trumps Harpist in the Wind, Perfume…Soldier of the Mist. I won’t even mention Replay beating, On Stranger Tides, Seventh Son, Weaveworld and Aegypt. The awards system is a failure.

    Comment by Joe Keenan - May 22, 2016 8:22 pm


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