Awards to come

This weekend’s awards were the Hugos. (See the survey of initial reactions at Strange Horizons.) The UK and the UK SF community did fairly well out of them, even if this country-as-setting was, by many accounts, the weak point in the best novel winner of Blackout/All Clear. Still, between Claire Brialey, James Bacon, Dr Who episodes, and relatedly Chicks Dig Time Lords, Britain would not have done half badly, if this were a country contest. Which it is not.

But the BSFA awards are to some degree, and, although BSFA members can nominate year-round for them, we are coming up to that time of year when nominations are officially open for the awards: the beginning of September.

In the meantime, the rules and guidelines for the 2012 BSFA awards have just gone live over on the BSFA website.

The Hugos

The internet being what it is, even a post as marginally belated as this one feels a little redundant. Still, it would feel stranger not to set down my thoughts on this year’s winners at all, if only because I can’t agree with Cory Doctorow that these are “some of the best results in recent memory”; they seem to me, as usual, a mixed bag, and perhaps more than usual an inconsistent bag.

The only explanation I can come up with for, say, the two Best Dramatic Presentation results – setting the immensely pleasing recognition for the low-key, nuanced Moon against the downright distressing award for the bombastically nonsensical The Waters of Mars, not just the worst nominee and bad by the standards of all TV, but bad by the standards even of the Doctor Who specials – is that completely separate groups of people won the day in each category. (This is just about possible, although not very likely, based on the voting statistics [pdf]: from 1094 ballots cast, after redistribution of preferences Moon won its category with 418 ballots, while The Waters of Mars won with 350.) More seriously, Jonathan Strahan, who worked on two of the nominees for Best Novellette, loses out in Best Editor: Short Form to Ellen Datlow, who didn’t work on any nominees this year; and Juliet Ulman, who edited two of the Best Novels, only got as many first-preference votes as No Award in Best Editor: Long Form. You can, of course, say that the Best Editor categories are for consistency over a body of work, rather than acquiring a few standouts, but that doesn’t seem to explain the continued overlooking of Sheila Williams, whose Asimov’s has in recent years dominated the short fiction categories – 10 of 15 nominees in 2007; 7 of 15 in 2008 and 2009; and while 3 of 15 nominees this year looks like a slump, it’s still more than any other single publication managed – yet who has never won in her category.

It was satisfying to see a new Best Semiprozine – that is, the voters neither went back to their old Locus habit, nor settled into a new pattern with Weird Tales – and Clarkesworld certainly had a good year. (Although as Mark Kelly notes, it is a bit odd that Weird Tales dropped so far down the ranking.) I can only hope the award continues to move around, since I, like Abigail Nussbaum, am starting to feel a little bothered by the number of recusals. (My suggestion? The New York Review of Science Fiction, which is long overdue and having a good year.) Best Related Book was not a surprise, although This is Me, Jack Vance! is the only nominee in the category I haven’t sampled; neither was Best Graphic Story, to the point where it’s quickly becoming clear that voters don’t really know what to do with the category as it’s currently constituted. I’d be in favour of Liz Batty and Nick Honeywell’s proposal, in The Drink Tank [pdf], to change the category to Best Graphic Novel.

The winner of Best Fanzine, meanwhile, and for the second year running, is a winner within the letter of the rules rather than what I consider to be the spirit of them. Contra Jason Sanford, the only boundaries that StarShipSofa pushes for me are the ones I don’t really want to see pushed: ‘zines that publish fiction may be eligible within the current wording, but I don’t want to see them become the norm; ditto podcasts, if only because I’m too much of a written-word junkie; and nor do I want to see it become common for eligible ‘zines to campaign for their nominations. As Mike Glyer points out, however, the voting statistics don’t yet suggest that these two winners represent a sea-change in how the category is treated; and it’s good to see ‘zines like Journey Planet and group blogs like SF Signal bubbling under, not to mention Steam Engine Time, which I’d have dearly loved to see on the ballot.

And looming over everything else there’s that improbable tie for Best Novel, only the third in the history of the Hugos. As others have noted, it’s hard not to feel there’s a certain cosmic rightness in it, either because, like Jonathan McCalmont, you take it as a reflection of the fact that neither is quite polished enough to merit a full Hugo, or simply because these are the two novels that have been sharing out awards between them all year, and it’s appropriate to have that competition captured in this way. I tend to the latter view.

Final Hugo Ballot

So, deadline time at last. Here’s what I just submitted. And here are some other ballots.

Best Novel (“A science fiction or fantasy story of 40,000 words or more that appeared for the first time in 2009.”)

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade Books)
Flood by Stephen Baxter (Roc)
The Other Lands by David Anthony Durham (Doubleday)
Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson (HarperVoyager)
In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield (Del Rey/Jonathan Cape)

Depending on your point of view, it’s either a sad comment or a testament to greatness that Baxter’s on my ballot again this year, for the same novel as last year. But if nothing else, reading Ark reminded me how much I liked Flood. And I’ll be looking out for the voting stats when they’re released after the Worldcon, to see how many nominations In Great Waters picks up. I’m hoping at least ten.

Best Novella (A science fiction or fantasy story between 17,500 and 40,000 words that appeared for the first time in 2009.)

To Kiss the Granite Choir” by Michael Anthony Ashley (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
“Earth II” by Stephen Baxter (Asimov’s)
Wives” by Paul Haines (in X6, ed. Keith Stevenson)
Crimes and Glory” by Paul McAuley (Subterranean)
“Vishnu at the Cat Circus” by Ian McDonald (in Cyberabad Days, Pyr/Gollancz)

Completing this ballot was something of a struggle; I don’t think it’s been a terribly strong year for novellas. But I do think each of these has something to recommend them: the energy of “To Kiss the Granite Choir”, the ending of “Earth II”, the intensity of “Wives”, and the moments of flair in “Crimes and Glory” that set off a fairly meat-and-potatoes setting to good effect. “Vishnu at the Cat Circus” is the one I hope wins, however.

Best Novelette (A science fiction or fantasy story between 7,500 and 17,500 words that appeared for the first time in 2009.)

Sinner, Baker, Fabulist Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster (Interzone)
A Journal of Certain Events of Scientific Interest from the First Survey Voyage of the Southern Waters by HMS Ocelot, As Observed by Professor Thaddeus Boswell, DPhil, MSc; or, A Lullaby” by Helen Keeble (Strange Horizons)
“The Long, Cold Goodbye” by Holly Phillips (Asimov’s)
Eros, Philia, Agape” by Rachel Swirsky (Tor.com)
“The Island” by Peter Watts (The New Space Opera 2, ed. Dozois/Strahan)

I’m pretty happy with this selection, though I particularly hope the Swirsky and Keeble stories make the ballot.

Best Short Story (A science fiction or fantasy story of less than 7,500 words that appeared for the first time in 2009.)

“Microcosmos” by Nina Allan (Interzone)
Turning the Apples” by Tina Connolly (Strange Horizons)
All the Anne Franks” by Erik Hoel (Strange Horizons)
Spar” by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld)
“Useless Things” by Maureen F McHugh (in Eclipse Three, ed Jonathan Strahan)

Of the fiction categories, probably the one where I feel least informed; but I like all these stories a good deal. (I seem to be out on my own with respect to the Hoel, but never mind.)

Best Related Work (Any work related to the field of science fiction, fantasy, or fandom appearing for the first time during 2009 or which has been substantially modified during 2009, and which is either non-fiction or, if fictional, is noteworthy primarily for aspects other than the fictional text, and which is not eligible in any other category.)

Fifty Key Figures in Science Fiction ed. Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts, and Sherryl Vint (Routledge)
The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction by Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr (Wesleyan, 2008 with extended eligibility)
Imagination/Space: Essays and Talks on Fiction, Feminism, Technology and Politics by Gwyneth Jones (Aqueduct)
Canary Fever: Reviews by John Clute (Beccon)
On Joanna Russ ed. Farah Mendlesohn (Wesleyan)

Still several books that, frustratingly, I haven’t been able to get to in time; but all of these deserve attention.

Best Graphic Story (Any science fiction or fantasy story told in graphic form appearing for the first time in 2009.)

Don’t Split the Party by Rich Burlew (Giant in the Playground)
Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe by Bryan Lee O’Malley (Oni Press)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form (Any theatrical feature or other production, with a complete running time of more than 90 minutes, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during 2009.)

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Moon
Up
Torchwood: Children of Earth
Where the Wild Things Are

If, twelve months ago, you’d told me I would be nominating Torchwood for a Hugo, I’d have looked at you like you were crazy. But credit where credit is due. Speaking of crazy: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is bonkers, but very well done.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (Any television program or other production, with a complete running time of 90 minutes or less, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during 2009.)

“Season Two, Episode One”, Ashes to Ashes
“Epitaph One”, Dollhouse
“Born to Run”, The Sarah Connor Chronicles
“Pilot”, Caprica
“The State of the Art” by Iain M Banks, adapted by Paul Cornell (Radio 4, 5 March 2009)

Best Editor, Short Form (The editor of at least four (4) anthologies, collections or magazine issues (or their equivalent in other media) primarily devoted to science fiction and/or fantasy, at least one of which was published in 2009.)

Susan Marie Groppi, Strange Horizons
Jonathan Strahan, various anthologies
Scott H Andrews, Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Andy Cox et al, Interzone
Sheila Williams, Asimov’s

Best Editor, Long Form (The editor of at least four (4) novel-length works primarily devoted to science fiction and/or fantasy published in 2009 that do not qualify as works under Best Editor, Short Form.)

Jo Fletcher
Jeremy Lassen
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Simon Spanton
Juliet Ulman

Best Professional Artist (An illustrator whose work has appeared in a professional publication in the field of science fiction or fantasy during 2009. If possible, please cite an example of the nominee’s work. Failure to provide such references will not invalidate a nomination.)

Raphael Lacoste (The Windup Girl, The Caryatids)
Adam Tredowski (Interzone covers)
Stephan Martiniere (Desolation Road)

Best Semiprozine (Any generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction or fantasy which by the close of 2009 has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in 2009, and which in 2009 met at least two (2) of the following criteria: Had an average press run of at least 1,000 copies per issue; Paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication; Provided at least half the income of any one person; Had at least 15% of its total space occupied by advertising; Announced itself to be a “semiprozine”.)

Ansible
The Internet Review of Science Fiction
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Clarkesworld
Interzone

Best Fanzine (Any generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects which by the close of 2009 has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and which does not qualify as a semiprozine.)

Banana Wings
Asking the Wrong Questions
Coffee and Ink
Journey Planet
Punkadiddle

Best Fan Writer (Any person whose writing has appeared in semiprozines or fanzines or in generally available electronic media during 2009.)

Claire Brialey
Martin Lewis
James Davis Nicoll
Abigail Nussbaum
Mark Plummer

Best Fan Artist (An artist or cartoonist whose work has appeared through publication in semiprozines or fanzines or through other public display during 2009.)

Kate Beaton

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (Not a Hugo) (A writer whose first work of science fiction or fantasy appeared during 2008 or 2009 in a professional publication. For Campbell Award purposes a professional publication is one for which more than a nominal amount was paid, any publication that had an average press run of at least 10,000 copies, or any other that the Award sponsors may designate.)

Jedidiah Berry
Lauren Beukes
Kristin Cashore
Patrick Ness
Ali Shaw

And there we are. Roll on Easter, and the shortlists.

Draft Hugo Ballot

A little later than advertised, here’s my working draft Hugo ballot. As with Joe Sherry’s draft, at this stage I plan to definitely nominate anything marked with asterisks (***), and am considering the other items listed. I’ll post some thoughts on each category as a comment to this post [ta-da!], and I’ll be posting further comments and probably updating the post as I read more; recommendations welcome, although I’m probably not going to get through many more eligible novels.

Best Novel (“A science fiction or fantasy story of 40,000 words or more that appeared for the first time in 2009.”)

***The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade Books)
***The Other Lands by David Anthony Durham (Doubleday)
***Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson (HarperVoyager)
***In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield (Del Rey/Jonathan Cape)
Flood by Stephen Baxter (Roc)
UFO in Her Eyes by Xiaolu Guo (Chatto & Windus)
The Ask & The Answer by Patrick Ness (Candlewick/Walker)
White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi (Nan A Talese/Canongate)

Best Novella (A science fiction or fantasy story between 17,500 and 40,000 words that appeared for the first time in 2009.)

***”Vishnu at the Cat Circus” by Ian McDonald (in Cyberabad Days, Pyr/Gollancz)
Starfall by Stephen Baxter (PS Publishing)
“Earth II” by Stephen Baxter (Asimov’s, July 2009)
The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough (PS Publishing)
“Sublimation Angels” by Jason Sanford (Interzone)

Best Novelette (A science fiction or fantasy story between 7,500 and 17,500 words that appeared for the first time in 2009.)

***”Sinner, Baker, Fabulist Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster (Interzone 220)
***”A Journal of Certain Events of Scientific Interest from the First Survey Voyage of the Southern Waters by HMS Ocelot, As Observed by Professor Thaddeus Boswell, DPhil, MSc; or, A Lullaby” by Helen Keeble (Strange Horizons, 1 and 8 June)
***”Eros, Philia, Agape” by Rachel Swirsky (Tor.com, March)
***”The Island” by Peter Watts (The New Space Opera 2, ed. Dozois/Strahan)
“Problems of Light and Dark” by Deborah Biancotti (A Book of Endings)
“It Takes Two” by Nicola Griffith (Eclipse Three, ed. Jonathan Strahan)
“Seventh Fall” by Alex Irvine (Subterranean)
“Black Swan” by Bruce Sterling (Interzone 221)

Best Short Story (A science fiction or fantasy story of less than 7,500 words that appeared for the first time in 2009.)

“Microcosmos” by Nina Allan (Interzone 222)
“Turning the Apples” by Tina Connolly (Strange Horizons, 30 March)
“All the Anne Franks” by Erik Hoel (Strange Horizons, 23 November)
“Useless Things” by Maureen F McHugh (Eclipse Three);
“Unexpected Outcomes” by Tim Pratt (Interzone 222)

Best Related Work (Any work related to the field of science fiction, fantasy, or fandom appearing for the first time during 2009 or which has been substantially modified during 2009, and which is either non-fiction or, if fictional, is noteworthy primarily for aspects other than the fictional text, and which is not eligible in any other category.)

***Fifty Key Figures in Science Fiction ed. Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts, and Sherryl Vint (Routledge)
***The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction by Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr (Wesleyan, 2008 with extended eligibility)
***Imagination/Space: Essays and Talks on Fiction, Feminism, Technology and Politics by Gwyneth Jones (Aqueduct)
Canary Fever: Reviews by John Clute (Beccon)
On Joanna Russ ed. Farah Mendlesohn (Wesleyan)

Best Graphic Story (Any science fiction or fantasy story told in graphic form appearing for the first time in 2009.)

***Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe by Bryan Lee O’Malley (Oni Press)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form (Any theatrical feature or other production, with a complete running time of more than 90 minutes, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during 2009.)

***Moon
***Up
***Where the Wild Things Are
Monsters vs Aliens
The Road
Torchwood: Children of Earth
The Time-Traveler’s Wife

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (Any television program or other production, with a complete running time of 90 minutes or less, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during 2009.)

***”Season Two, Episode One”, Ashes to Ashes
***”Epitaph One”, Dollhouse
***”Born to Run”, The Sarah Connor Chronicles
“Pilot”, Caprica
“The State of the Art” by Iain M Banks, adapted by Paul Cornell (Radio 4, 5 March 2009)

Best Editor, Short Form (The editor of at least four (4) anthologies, collections or magazine issues (or their equivalent in other media) primarily devoted to science fiction and/or fantasy, at least one of which was published in 2009.)

***Susan Marie Groppi, Strange Horizons
***Jonathan Strahan, various anthologies
Scott H Andrews, Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Andy Cox et al, Interzone
Sheila Williams, Asimov’s

Best Editor, Long Form (The editor of at least four (4) novel-length works primarily devoted to science fiction and/or fantasy published in 2009 that do not qualify as works under Best Editor, Short Form.)

L Timmel Duchamp
Jo Fletcher
Jeremy Lassen
Betsy Mitchell
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Simon Spanton
Juliet Ulman

Best Professional Artist (An illustrator whose work has appeared in a professional publication in the field of science fiction or fantasy during 2009. If possible, please cite an example of the nominee’s work. Failure to provide such references will not invalidate a nomination.)

***Raphael Lacoste (The Windup Girl, The Caryatids)
***Adam Tredowski (Interzone covers)
Stephan Martiniere (Desolation Road)

Best Semiprozine (Any generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction or fantasy which by the close of 2009 has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in 2009, and which in 2009 met at least two (2) of the following criteria: Had an average press run of at least 1,000 copies per issue; Paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication; Provided at least half the income of any one person; Had at least 15% of its total space occupied by advertising; Announced itself to be a “semiprozine”.)

***The Internet Review of Science Fiction
Ansible
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Clarkesworld
Futurismic
Interzone
Locus
The New York Review of Science Fiction
The SF Site

Best Fanzine (Any generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects which by the close of 2009 has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and which does not qualify as a semiprozine.)

***Banana Wings
***Asking the Wrong Questions
Coffee and Ink
Everything is Nice
Journey Planet
Punkadiddle

Best Fan Writer (Any person whose writing has appeared in semiprozines or fanzines or in generally available electronic media during 2009.)

Claire Brialey
Karen Burnham
Paul Kincaid
Martin Lewis
James Davis Nicoll
Abigail Nussbaum
Mark Plummer
Adam Roberts
Micole S

Best Fan Artist (An artist or cartoonist whose work has appeared through publication in semiprozines or fanzines or through other public display during 2009.)

Kate Beaton

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (Not a Hugo) (A writer whose first work of science fiction or fantasy appeared during 2008 or 2009 in a professional publication. For Campbell Award purposes a professional publication is one for which more than a nominal amount was paid, any publication that had an average press run of at least 10,000 copies, or any other that the Award sponsors may designate.)

Jedidiah Berry
Lauren Beukes
Kristin Cashore
Patrick Ness
Ali Shaw
Kari Sperring [eligibility expired]

Awards Awards Awards

1. BSFA Awards

For anyone who didn’t see the note buried in the comments of the shortlist post, Hal Duncan has withdrawn his essay “Ethics and Enthusiasm” from consideration for the Non-Fiction Award.

With that in mind, now, admittedly I don’t think it has a hope in hell of winning, but then I didn’t think it had a hope in hell of making the shortlist, so on the off-chance that it does… I think it would be criminal for my exploration of modes of critique to be accorded more status and attention than the exploration of issues of representation and diversity carried out by Deepa D, especially when those issues are precisely born of a disparity of status and attention. It would, I feel, be validating the very situation that requires redress if the BSFA Awards were to valorise abstractions that bear only a passing relevance to the field over a commentary that bears directly on its practical, political realities, not least because of the disparities of privilege at play here. It’s awesome to have people take note of what I say from my platform, but in this case I’m going to use that platform to say, there are other voices you should be listening to first.
[…]
So, with the utmost gratitude to those who put it there, and more than a little reticence because of course I’d fucking love a BSFA Award for non-fiction, I’d like to respectfully withdraw “Ethics and Enthusiasm” from the running, and leave the contest to those works which bear directly on the field.

The Guardian has noted the shortlists here — “After Booker snub, Adam Roberts in running for SF honour” — with a soundbite from me, in which I say I think it’s hard to pick a front-runner in the Best Novel category. All four books have been well received: Yellow Blue Tibia seems to have a critical mass of momentum behind it, Ark is a consecutive nomination for a previous winner of the Award, Lavinia is considered by many to be a masterwork by a multi Hugo- and Nebula-winner, and The City & The City has tremendous word-of-mouth. If you put a gun to my head I’d probably pick Mieville as the winner (I think it may be his year for a Hugo, too), but I wouldn’t want to put a lot of money on it. Nader Elhefnawy also has some thoughts on the shortlists here, and there’s an io9 post here.

2. Hugo Awards

Speaking of Hugo Awards, nominations are now open, until 13th March. Cheryl Morgan has a guest post at the Feminist SF Blog about “Hugo voting on the cheap” — which sadly means how to become an informed voter without having to buy a lot of books, rather than actual cheap voting memberships — with lots of recommendations for potential nominees. Joe Sherry has posted a draft of his Hugo ballot. I think this is a good idea, and will probably follow suit later this week.

3. The David Gemmell Legend Award

Nic Clarke reviews last year’s inaugural Legend Award shortlist for Strange Horizons. Part one of the review can be found here:

What do they mean by “in the spirit of David Gemmell”? According to the same web page, what they are looking for is something that grabs the reader immediately, with pace (“you know, books that you’re STILL reading at three in the morning!”), characters to root for, and convincing world-building. Stories, in other words, that take hold and won’t let go until the final page—the reason we all started reading fantasy in the first place.

Quality of prose goes unmentioned, but I’m afraid it won’t in this review; writing that makes me want to stab my own eyes out tends to interfere with my desire to still be reading at three in the morning. I’m fussy like that.

Part two is here, and there’s a related post by Mark Charan Newton here:

This, it seems, is one of the only actual comparisons of the fantasy titles that were shortlisted. I made noises at the time that no one was talking about the content of the books, and so here we go at last.

I must admit to finding it bizarre that any award can have a shortlist where titles are barely compared to each other. How can you call a book the “best” without such an analysis? Getting as many people to vote online seems a spurious way to go about this, when clearly no one could have read so many titles.

I’m not being grouchy here – please don’t misunderstand.

This is where my arguments lie: we bitch and moan about why we – the fantasy genre – are not taken seriously. But when we’re not going to compare and contrast, and dig into the content of some of the big fantasy titles of the year, how can the fantasy genre expect to better itself year on year? How can it expect to gain more respect? (If you don’t care for respect, then I guess that’s the end to my argument.) But we all know that we posses rather self-conscious moments, we fantasy readers, if we’re honest.

4. The William L. Crawford Award

Press release at Locus Online:

Jedediah Berry has been named the winner of the 2010 William L. Crawford Award for first novel The Manual of Detection. The Award, presented annually at The International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, is for a new fantasy writer whose first book appeared the previous year. This year’s conference will be March 17-21, 2010 in Orlando FL.

The award committee shortlisted Deborah Biancotti’s collection A Book of Endings, Kari Sperring’s novel Living with Ghosts, and Ali Shaw’s novel The Girl With Glass Feet, and wanted to commend two other authors whose works were ineligible this year but were highly regarded: Robert V.S. Redick, whose The Red Wolf Conspiracy appeared in 2008 and whose The Ruling Sea appears in 2010, and Michal Ajvaz, whose The Other City originally appeared in Czech in 1993 but was first translated into English by Gerald Turner in 2009.

A good winner, and a strong shortlist, I reckon.

On Hugos

A quick post this morning, since I’ve got to catch a train to York (to visit two-thirds of Eve’s Alexandria). So I leave you with two perspectives on this year’s Hugo Awards. Abigail Nussbaum writes about the Best Novel shortlist here (Zoe’s Tale and Saturn’s Children) and here (Little Brother, The Graveyard Book, and Anathem). Her final judgment?

In the end, I placed Anathem above The Graveyard Book in my Hugo ballot. Though both novels are flawed, I think that The Graveyard Book‘s flaws would come to seem more irksome in later years if Gaiman were to win. It’s the better novel from a technical standpoint, but Anathem is the one that does something new and different and uniquely SFnal, as well as being the novel that engaged me emotionally when I first read it. If I had managed to read all five nominated novels before July 3rd, I still would have voted No Award in the third slot (followed, in case you’re interested, by Zoe’s Tale, then possibly another, more emphatic No Award vote, then Little Brother and Saturn’s Children). I think Anathem has a good chance of winning, though Doctorow and Gaiman also have strong fanbases among Hugo voters, and both of their novels have had a lot of buzz (Scalzi, meanwhile, is a long shot, and Stross probably doesn’t have a chance). It’s hard to work up much pleasure at that thought, however, as this year’s ballot has me rooting against the nominees I dislike rather than for the ones I like. I think it’s safe to say that my first experience reading all five Hugo nominated novels has not been a positive one. I’m going to hold on to the hope that 2008 was an aberration, both in the quality of books published and in the tastes of the Hugo voters, but I’m suddenly very pleased that this experiment in being a Hugo voter is unlikely to recur for some time.

Adam Roberts, meanwhile, has written an open letter to sf fandom:

Dear Science Fiction Fandom

I wanted to have a word about the Hugos. Science Fiction Fandom, these are your awards: the shortlists chosen and voted for by you. And because I too am a fan (though without Hugo voting privileges) they are my awards. They reflect upon us all. They remain one of the most prestigious awards for SF in the world. These lists say something about SF to the world.

Science Fiction Fandom: your shortlists aren’t very good.

I’m not saying the works you have shortlisted are terrible. They’re not terrible, mostly, as it goes. But they aren’t exceptionally good either. They’re in the middle. There’s a word for that. The word is mediocre.

The 2009 Hugo Short Fiction Nominees

Links to our previous discussions, for my ease of reference, and for anyone else who’s interested. And for members of Anticipation, you have until midnight tonight to vote; so go vote.

Best Novella

Best Novellette

Best Short Story

Concluding thoughts? Not many; I think I’ve said pretty much everything I could say at some point along the line. I’ve used No Award on all three of the above ballots, but there’s a potentially excellent set of winners in there, and I don’t even think it’s a terrible slate, all told, just a middling one; and I’m feeling quite trenchant tonight about what I do and don’t want to win, so No Award gets used. The novella category is probably the most interesting to me, the short story category the least; and as ever, it will be interesting to see what didn’t make the ballot.

All that aside, though, I’ve rather enjoyed the discussion process — not that there was much discussion in all cases, but when it did happen it was good! So I’m tempted to keep on reading short stories and rounding up discussion of them here, possibly on a bi-weekly basis, probably focusing on new, online stories (after all, there are next year’s Hugo nominations to think about). Good idea? Bad idea? And if the former, does anyone have suggestions for stories they’d like to put on the slate? I’ve been mulling posting something about Rachel Swirsky’s “Eros, Philia, Agape” since I read it, for instance, and I keep meaning to read more of Futurismic‘s fiction. Thoughts?

Hugo Nominee: “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled”

This is it: the final story. Read it here and comment below …
Rich Horton:

“From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled …” is fascinating SF about a human embassy to an alien city. The city is attacked, and everyone killed but one human, who escapes in the company of one of the aliens, wearing a spacesuit whose intelligence is based on his now-dead lover. The story deals with economics, with the biology and culture (and economics) of the aliens, and with the dangers of crossing an unfamiliar planet — it is intelligent, full of adventure, original, wry. This is really fine smart SF, and I particularly liked the economic slant to the whole thing. It’s not a breathtaking story, and I rank it behind most of this ballot, but it’s strong work.

Aliette de Bodard:

In “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled …” by Michael Swanwick, Quivera is a diplomat sent from Europa to a planet peopled with insect aliens—and most particularly to Babel, greatest of the alien cities. When Babel falls to the hands of other cities, Quivera and the alien Uncle Vanya have to carry the library of Babel—the only record of that civilisation—to safety, without being caught by the soldiers hunting them.

This is one of the two standouts of the issue. Swanwick keeps a taut pace throughout the narration as his protagonists try to rally the safety of another alien city, and he succeeds in making the aliens a fundamentally different species for whom the reader can still grieve. The ending is unexpected and a bit hard to accept at first, but in retrospect, it is perfectly in keeping with both the story’s theme and the various characters involved

Tpi:

Story starts straight away in action. Human station on an alien planet has been attacked, and sole survivor, his AI survival suit with a personality modeled on his girlfriend killed on the attack and an alien must make a hasty escape. The start of the story is a bit confusing, as fairly little back-story is given. The story improves a bit towards the end, when it comes a bit easier to understand just what the hell is going on. I wonder if this story is a part of some series?

Matt Hilliard:

Out of all the nominees this one is the most traditionally structured story, which these days is somewhat rare for this length (of course it just barely slides in under the novellette wire length-wise). The world was interesting and the writing was effective. In fact, pretty much everything was great except the story actually being told, which wasn’t all that interesting to me. Unfortunately I exalt plot over other things so this left me feeling vaguely disgruntled, but it’s worth still worth reading.

Best SF:

The opening paragraph is a doozy – it describes the titular city on Europa, and does so quite beautifully across several sentences, and then kicks into a higher gear as the narrator describes herself : a simulation of one of the humans killed in the destruction of the city, and then the story starts with a “Here’s what it was like…”

It’s an opening that you could use over the first month of a Science Fiction Writing 101 course, and the rest of the story lives up to that standard. The narrator, Rosamund, is embedded in the hi-tech suit of one of the survivors of the meteorite strike – Carlos, her lover. She has to care for him using the suit’s advanced medical capabilities to get him to the point of being in a state to be brought back to consciousness, and we follow them as she guides him, and one of the strange, definitely non-human race on the planet. In order to escape the armed warriors of his race, Uncle Vanya has to undergo the unkindest cut of all – “The first thing we have to do is castrate you..” is the kind of line you can only come up with after some years in the business. Swanwick takes the unlikely trio through an alien world, effectively getting across the alieness of Uncle Vanya through his speech patterns, and cleverly intertwining the action with backstory.

And the ending is just terrific – with Rosamund left embedded in the spacesuit, hanging up in a locker. It’s a story that is simply top class.

Russ Allbery:

Swanwick stories are often at a bit of an angle to the rest of the genre, and this one is no exception. The plot, once you dig it out of the story, is full of classic SF tropes of alien contact, diplomacy, misunderstanding, and cross-cultural confusion. There are some fun branching syntax diagrams of alien speech patterns thrown in, which I greatly enjoyed probably because they’re similar to, but more subtlely done than, something I played with in my own writing. But the story is told from the perspective of a protective suit worn by the nominal protagonist and is full of weird diversions and fun descriptions of how the suit works. It also has an unexpected ending that fits its viewpoint. Without the charming perspective, it’s a rather forgettable story, but the perspective makes it worth reading. (7)

John DeNardo:

“From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick starts with a meteor strike on a human city on an alien planet of millipede-like creatures. The human named Quivera is guided to safety by his armor suit AI, which is based on Rosamund, the woman with whom he had an affair. Quivera’s trek through the dangerous steam jungles of the planet with “Uncle Vanya” (a native millie with low social status) leads to several interesting discussions about their two economies: the humans based on information, the millies’ based on trust. As much as I usually dislike economics in my sf, I have to say this didn’t bother me a bit, as it offered up a nice contrast to the two characters whose relationship begins as one of mutual utility, but evolved in the face of their predicament and adventures.

Das Ubernerd:

Swanwick’s story also uses an ancient SF theme: two seperate aliens that cannot trust each other are forced together by circumstances to join together in order to cross dangerous territory. In this case it’s a human from a libertarian distopia joining with an alien from a society that holds trust as the highest virtue. Together they’re on the run from the destruction of the alien’s city which was betrayed and they carry with them a library containing information beyond calculable value. What makes this story work is the ambiguousness of it; while both character’s hold their society’s values in great esteem they also recognize the limitations of it even before the story begins. So while it plays with the “learning about other cultures” theme there is an undercurrent that both already know those lessons. It also helps that the story has a unique viewpoint: a ghost AI that runs one a spacesuit. It’s a subtle story that has some interesting layers and I appreciated it for that.

Abigail Nussbaum:

Johnson’s story makes for an interesting counterpoint to Michael Swanwick’s “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled,” which is good old fashioned Proper SF, set in the far future and on an alien planet, and featuring interplanetary intrigue, cataclysmic destruction, fights to the death, a mad scramble across hostile, alien terrain, and bug people. Swanwick is a pro at this stuff, and “Babel” finds him very much on top of his game. It’s exciting and well-done, cramming a hell of a lot of exposition, action and description into every single sentence until it draws a meticulously detailed portrait of two civilizations, their history, their cherished values, and the often fraught interactions between them. Still, given all the pyrotechnics and grand adventure involved in getting us to its end, “Babel” is somewhat underperforming.

Underpinning the story is a discussion of the economics of the two species–humans, represented by the diplomat Quivera, have an information-based economy, while that of the bug-like Gehennans, represented by the sole survivor of the recently destroyed Babel with whom Quivera flees its ruins, is based on trust–but Swanwick’s descriptions of of these systems are messy and difficult to follow, and I found myself unpersuaded by his conclusions. “Babel” ends with one half of its unlikley partnership sacrificing himself to save the other, and in order to safeguard the precious (in many different senses) cargo they are carrying, but it’s left to us to decide whether the survivor acted as an adventure hero would and honored his friend’s dying wish, or whether he cashed in on an unexpected windfall. Obviously Swanwick is trying to undermine the adventure plot, and remind us that in the real world, it’s cold hard numbers, profit and loss, that drive our decisions, but this feels like a petty sort of ‘gotcha!’ to the readers, whom Swanwick has worked hard to invest in the adventure aspect of his story only to snatch the rug out from under them at the last minute. I can’t help but compare “Babel” to last year’s Hugo-nominated novelette, “The Cambist and Lord Iron” by Daniel Abraham, which so much more intelligently and elegantly managed to fuse adventure and economics into a single, satisfying whole, without ever resorting to wagging its finger in the readers’ faces as Swanwick seems to be doing.

Hugo Nominee: “Evil Robot Monkey”

… aka the penultimate discussion. The story is here — and at 942 words, if you’ve got time to read this post, you’ve got time to read the story (is it the shortest piece ever to be nominated for a Hugo?).

Abigail Nussbaum:

Misunderstood robots also appear in Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Evil Robot Monkey,” which beats “Article of Faith” hands down in terms of prose and its ability to elicit emotion, but which also isn’t really a story at all but piece of one, a thousand-word vignette in which Sly, an uplifted monkey, rails against his handlers and their refusal to ackowledge his personhood. Kowal is a good enough writer that Sly’s plight is compelling, but that doesn’t change the fact that “Evil Robot Monkey” doesn’t do anything beyond establishing that plight, or that it does so in ways that are both trite and familiar. Once again, this premise, of artificial creations gaining a measure of personhood only to see it, and their desires and aspirations, denied, has been at the heart of a significant portion of classic science fiction, and in order to be worthy of a Hugo nomination I think a story ought to do more than simply tip its hat to these works and then stop. In a way, I find Kowal’s nomination even more baffling than Resnick’s. Hugo voters either like him or his particular brand of sentimental pap, but as far as I know Kowal hasn’t amassed that kind of following yet, and it’s hard to imagine a non-story like “Evil Robot Monkey” arousing enough passion to make it onto the ballot on its own rather flimsy merits.

Rich Horton:

At less than a thousand words this must be one of the shortest Hugo nominees ever. It’s about an uplifted chimp, doing pottery but forced to be on exhibition and thus driven to a rage by the taunts of schoolchildren. Quite simple, but convincing and bitterly moving.

Tpi:

Extremely short story about monkey working with potter’s wheel. Pretty good, but nothing special. I really don’t understand why this story was nominated over so many other good stories, I can’t find it special in any way. Nice little mood piece, but that’s it.

Ian Sales:

The title is a silly joke – the monkey in the story is a live Chimpanzee. A “smart” chimp, in fact. Who makes pots out of clay. The story is around four pages long in the mass market paperback Solaris anthology. It is mildly amusing and mostly inconsequential. It’s not even the best story in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction 2.

Matt Hilliard:

An unusally short story that despite being short manages to have a bit more to say than the other nominated monkey story. Like basically any story of this length, it has one thing to say. It does a pretty good job saying it. I don’t think that’s really award-worthy, though.

John DeNardo:

Mary Robinette Kowal’s “Evil Robot Monkey” (originally reviewed in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume 2 edited by George Mann) is an affecting snapshot in the life of a chimp with an implant in his head that increases his intelligence. Unfortunately for him, that lands him in the “hellish limbo” of being “too smart to be with other chimps, but too much of an animal to be with humans.” He becomes the subject of ridicule of children in what is presumably a school where he spends his time behind a pottery wheel. The interesting premise is delicately overlaid with emotion by having a single human show the chimp some compassion, resulting in a quick-and-dirty sf short story that is both charming and memorable.

Charlie Jane Anders:

…the story is awesomely depressing. It’s a great examination of art and the creative process, and what it feels like to be an artist who’s looked at merely as a curiosity or as a momentary amusement for child barbarians. And art as a containment device for impotent rage.

Joe Sherry:

Oh, this is a beautiful and heartbreaking story. In fewer than 1000 words Mary Robinette Kowal just killed me. The opening paragraphs paints a picture of a monkey in a pen trying to do nothing more than make pottery but because Sly is a monkey, people think it is okay to hit the glass walls of his pen. The pottery brings the monkey peace. The other aspect of the story that wrecks me is the conversation between Sly and Vern, the handler, about what happened and why and what the consequences are.

Damn, “Evil Robot Monkey” is good. It’s so short, but the story is exactly as long as it needs to be. The story lingers.

So: lingering, or forgettable? Inconsequential, or accomplished?

Hugo Nominee: “Article of Faith”

We weren’t keen on the last Mike Resnick story we discussed. Will this one be any better?
Lois Tilton:

Reverend Morris gets a new janitorial robot for his church, but this one is too logical; it takes the premise of religion to conclusions that the reverend is not prepared to accept.

“I wish to become a member of your church.”
“But you’re a robot!” I blurted.
“If God is the God of all things, then is He not also the God of robots?” said Jackson.

But faith is not a matter of logic, as Reverend Morris should have known.

This is a tragic tale that some readers might consider a bit sentimental, yet it asks some very apt and pointed questions about religion. I find the unanimous reaction of the congregation to the presence of a robot to be a bit extreme–or rather, a matter for which the setting has not prepared me. We see nothing of the place of robots in the society outside the church; most of the story is a dialogue between Morris and his robot.

Abigail Nussbaum:

We begin our odyssey with perennial Hugo nominee Mike Resnick. The narrator of “Article of Faith” is a priest who at the beginning of the story takes ownership of a new cleaning robot for his church, and, on a rather poorly explained lark, starts giving it religious instruction. When the robot asks to participate in church services the priest, and later his congregation, react with horror and confusion. The premise of “Article of Faith” begs comparison with a whole raft of Asimov robot shorts of a roughly similar ilk, and Resnick’s construction of the robot character–anthropomorphic, human-named, soft-spoken, deferential but insistent on puzzling out the logical inconsistencies in the narrator’s theology–is also heavily reminiscent of Asimov’s robots. Which means that on top of failing in the traditional Resnick ways–plodding prose, obvious and predictable plot, shameless and blatant manipulation–“Article of Faith” fails by falling so very short of Asimov’s standards.

Asimov was no great stylist, and his characters were paper-thin, but his robot stories had a lightness to them, an effervescent wit and gentle humor that are completely absent from Resnick’s clomping, heavy-handed immitation of him. Add to this a simplistic and borderline reactionary treatment of religion–when arranging the wedding of a pregnant parishioner, the narrator muses that “it’s not my job to judge them, only to help and comfort them,” which sounds plenty judgmental to me; when the robot questions why services are held on Sundays instead of Tuesdays, the narrator’s “first inclination was to say Force of habit, but that would negate everything I had done in my life,” which, oh God, I don’t even know where to start; then, of course, there’s the blatantly telegraphed ‘forgive them for they know not what they do’ (no, really, he uses the actual quote) ending. There’s been a discussion of Resnick’s nominated novelette “Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” at Torque Control, during which there’s been some attempt to pin down just what it is that makes him such a bad writer. A lot of good suggestions have been made, but to my mind his greatest failing is and has always been the one encapsulated by “Article of Faith”–his ability to take a subject that underpins some of science fiction’s seminal works, write his own spin on it which is neither innovative nor unusual nor particularly good, and send it out into the world without a hint of embarrassment or self-awareness.

Matt Hilliard:

It wouldn’t be a Hugo ballot without a horrendous short story, and here it is. For the life of me I can’t imagine how this could have been considered award-worthy. I think there need to be more SF stories that seriously examine religion rather than merely dismiss it, but this…this gives the religious SF story a bad name.

Rich Horton:

This story has a quite familiar plot. It’s told by a minister who has a robot that cleans his church. The robot shows some curiousity about religion, and the minister tries out his sermons on the robot. Naturally, the robot decides he has a soul, and wants to discuss religion — and he sees flaws in his pastor’s arguments, too. This really is a very 50s sort of idea, and the problem is, it’s not explored in an very original way. And indeed, I found the resolution inadequately set up, and quite unsatisfying. For all that we have seen plenty of “robot gets religion” stories before (including such famous works as the SF Hall of Fame story “The Quest for Saint Aquin” by Anthony Boucher, and also Robert Silverberg’s “Good News from the Vatican”) there’s no reason that the theme couldn’t still be used for a good story. And as far as it goes Resnick’s treatment isn’t awful, just unfinished, and too routine. So while I can see the story being published and all, I am rather puzzled by the Hugo nomination.

Ian Sales:

I thought this was appalling: dated, dull, and wholly predictable. A new robot joins the staff of a small-town church and ends up wanting to worship. Cue arguments on whether robots have souls. Yawn. And who writes stories featuring these sorts of silly pulp sf robots – because, let’s face it, if the robot is a stand-in for a foreigner, i.e., not-one-of-us, then why not actually use a foreigner and give the story more impact?

Tpi:

A robot working for a priest in a small congregation gets taste of religion. Another well written, pretty typical Mike Resnick story. The allegories a more that a bit heavy-handed, and there are some major problems with logic. A robot which is supposed to be absolutely logical (as stated in the story) doesn’t find anything contradictory or illogical in the bible? And falls for religion?

Joe Blaylock:

“Article of Faith” isn’t the most deeply moving Resnick story I’ve ever read or heard. That would probably have to be “Down Memory Lane”, a 2006 Hugo nominee. Still, this story struck a nerve. I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about the Bodhisattva’s Vow to aid all sentient beings. It sounds good, but it begs the question: What is a sentient being? Despite its trivialization as a trope of popular television series, films, and Hugo Award-winning short fiction, this moral conundrum has real consequences.

For example, it’s generally considered poor form to eat ones’ neighbors. So how do you decide what you can ethically eat? One could take the Genesis 9: 2-4 approach, and say, “Anything slower than me is food. Except for a few restrictions.” If one really wants to save all sentient beings, though, this might seem awfully selfish. Do you save them by eating them? I guess that depends on what you grok their purpose to be.

Of course, deciding who and what counts as having a soul (in popular parlance) doesn’t begin nor end with deciding what to eat. It informs every facet of how we choose to relate to the rest of the world. While Resnick’s written stronger stories, I think that he indirectly (accidentally?) captured this in “Article of Faith”. The fate of the robot, the minister, and even of the town, all seem intertwined with what the people choose to accept. To me, the story felt almost like an environmental piece.

But perhaps I’m reading into it over much.

Scott D. Danielson:

Mike Resnick has a way of revealing truths about ourselves that are often uncomfortable. That they are truths and that he can present them so well in fiction is why I like his writing so much. The Kirinyaga series of stories, “The 49 Antarean Dynasties”, and “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge” are three of my favorite Resnick stories. From the latest issue of Baen’s Universe, Resnick offers another story that left me shaking my head at the truth of it.

Janice Clark:

Can a robot have a soul? Is it capable of worship? Should it be allowed to worship with people? In “Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick, Reverend Edward Morris is faced with those questions when Jackson, his church cleaning and maintenance robot, begins studying religion.

It all starts innocently enough. Rev. Morris’s old maintenance robot has just been replaced by a new one, whose programming apparently makes him the ideal servant: courteous, attentive, and anxious to please. Bit by bit, Rev. Morris answers Jackson’s questions regarding religious practices, and eventually invites the robot to critique his sermons, pointing out obvious errors or logical inconsistencies. To facilitate this process, he has Jackson read the Bible. Shocked when Jackson expresses a desire to join the church, Rev. Morris tries unsuccessfully to convince Jackson that robots are soulless machines, different from humans. The pastor, a thoughtful and compassionate man, gradually comes to respect Jackson’s well-reasoned arguments:

“You can be switched off,” I pointed out. “Ask any roboticist.”
“So can you,” replied Jackson. “Ask any doctor. Or any marksman.”

There’s the meat of the story: who gets to decide who or what is acceptable to God? Unfortunately for Jackson, Rev. Morris’s parishioners are far less tolerant than their spiritual leader.

Aliette de Bodard:

In “An Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick, Reverend Edward Morris is faced with a problem: Jackson, the robot in charge of keeping the church clean, has decided that it believes in God and wants to be a member of his congregation.

Though this is well written and reads smoothly, the questions of faith and prejudice it addresses are not new (addressed, for instance, by Jack McDevitt in “Gus” or Isaac Asimov in “The Bicentennial Man”). In fact, they felt quite dated and didn’t offer a fresh enough take on the subject to be memorable.

John DeNardo:

“Article of Faith” concerns a subservient robot that works in a church and begins to question the pastor about religion. I’ve heard lots of griping about this story but I’m not exactly sure why. The worst that could be said about is that the “robot wants to be human” theme has been done numerous times before — even by Resnick himself in his wonderful story “The Big Guy” – but even that assessment depends on one’s personal reading history. As it is, Resnick’s dependable easygoing style delivers a story that doesn’t disappoint.