Sunday, June 25, 2006

Gernsback a-go-go

posted by Tim Walters @ 3:36 PM

Here's the current state of my Hugo opinions, having read all the fiction. See also Nicholas Whyte's overview, which agrees with mine to a fair extent, even though I was careful not to read it until I had made my rankings.


1. Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. Here's what I said on Making Light:

Started Spin last night, finished it this morning. I liked it a lot, but unlike the Washington Post I felt that the "literary novel" half of the marriage didn't quite pull its weight. The characters are well-developed and credible, but Wilson achieves that with too much tell and not enough show for my taste, and he has a habit of summarizing conversations that should be written in dialog, which made me think of those Fifties movies that couldn't afford sync sound. I also think that he didn't give the narrator a distinctive enough voice to justify writing the book in first person.

These aren't serious problems, though, and the SFnal aspects are first-rate; once they kicked into gear about halfway through I put off everything else until I finished it.

2. Learning The World by Ken MacLeod. Quite engaging, but I felt that it needed, for lack of a better word, payoff. Still, a pleasant surprise, as I didn't really like The Cassini Division, the only other book of his I'd read.

3. Accelerando by Charles Stross. Good singularity scenario, if very trendy; it's going to seem dated even five years from now, but maybe that's part of the point. Not much novel to go with the scenario.

4. Old Man's War by John Scalzi. Glib Heinlein homage that wisely avoids most of Heinlein's worst habits, the main exception being the narrator's rather smug quality.

I decided not to read the Martin. Life's too short.

Category notes: it's a solid set, but none of them blew me away, or (except for Spin) gave me that frisson of new strangeness I want from the best SF.


1. "Magic For Beginners" by Kelly Link. Best in show. With her new collection, Link has gone from excellent to brilliant; I can't recommend it enough. I also can't explain what's so great about it. You just have to read it. This isn't even the best story in the collection (my vote is "Catskin"), and yet it makes everything else on the ballot seem a little ordinary.

2. "Burn" by James Patrick Kelly. Beautiful, exotic, original and morally complex--a very worthy winner if the other Kelly wasn't kicking so much butt. I will definitely be reading more by him.

3. "The Little Goddess" by Ian McDonald. The elements are a bit stock--the life of a young girl chosen for godhead, nanotech smuggling--but the combination is original, and extremely well done.

4. No Award

5. "Inside Job" by Connie Willis. Not disastrous, but thoroughly mediocre; the sort of story where the main character is an expert on a particular subject, which means both that that subject will, quite implausibly, turn out to be very important to the action of the story, and that the author will make sure that you know how much research she did. Connie Willis' popularity continues to mystify me.

6. "Identity Theft" by Robert Sawyer. Mid-seventies Varley given a radical pleasurectomy.

Category notes: Huge gap between the first three--any of which is better than any of the novel nominees--and the last two. I'm going to be somewhat annoyed if Link doesn't win, but I'm going to be extremely annoyed if Willis or Sawyer wins.


1. "The King Of Where-I-Go" by Howard Waldrop. Nothing new here--a fairly standard time-travel plot--but Waldrop gives us well-drawn characters and a strong sense of place.

2. "Two Hearts" by Peter S. Beagle. Many things to like here, but it's just a touch too sentimental for me to give it the top spot.

3. "The Calorie Man" by Paolo Bacigalupi. I have a bit of a bias against SF stories that seem inspired by current headlines, but this is well enough written that I can't really complain.

4. No Award

5. "I, Robot" by Cory Doctorow. I couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to swallow the premise, the plot twists are visible a mile off, and there isn't enough texture to make up for these problems. It's by no means terrible, but I just can't quite give it a vote.

6. "TelePresence" by Michael A. Burstein. Clunky, cliched, and useless.

Category notes: Seems like the novella is where the action is this year.


1. No Award. I feel like a big ol' curmudgeon, but I just can't get it up for any of these.

2. "The Clockwork Atom Bomb" by Dominic Green. A decent enough thriller, but he throws in a bit of gratuitous callousness at the end that put me off.

3. "Down Memory Lane" by Mike Resnick. Well-written, but doesn't get away with its dubious premise, and reminds one too much of a very famous, much better story.

4. "Singing My Sister Down" by Margo Lanagan. Given all the praise for this, it's very likely that I'm missing something... but if so, I'm still missing it after reading it twice. For one thing, there's no discernible genre content; that probably wouldn't bother me if it were a better story. Unfortunately, it seems both contrived and gloppily sentimental to me. What's the point of a slice-of-life story that doesn't have credible, or at least compellingly strange, humans in it? More than anything, this reminds me of a story I wrote in seventh grade about the last thoughts of a guy falling into a blast furnace. That's not a good thing.

5. "Tk'tk'tk" by David D. Levine. A story of human-alien miscommunication, very reminiscent of "The Moon Moth." Fatally, Levine lacks Vance's deft touch, and the story just plods.

6. "Seventy-Five Years" by Michael A. Burstein. I have a hard time believing this was even published. Now I know how much "multiple Hugo nominee" means on an author's bio.

Category notes: I can't believe these were the best five short stories of the year. I may have to start paying more attention, and nominating.


The only one I've managed to read is Storyteller by Kate Wilhelm, which was kinda meh, so I won't vote in this category unless I somehow manage to round up a reasonable percentage of the other four.


I've only seen two of these--Serenity (good, but not stellar) and Goblet o' Fire (not good). I seem to be immune to the charms of Wallace and Gromit, and Batman for that matter, but I should probably see Narnia before I vote. I'm told that the Harry Potter series gets better again after this one, but I'm not sure I care.

I don't know enough about the rest of the categories to cast a meaningful vote, and probably won't by deadline.


At 2:19 PM, Blogger Todd T said...

It is an honorable and generous thing that you do, taking an award seriously enough to do this much work to make one vote. I admire it.

It's too bad that the batch of work did not repay your efforts with more gold.

Having read none of the novels, I am nevertheless unfairly taking a rooting interest, in Wilson. I enjoy his work, and though I haven't cycled around to SPIN yet, I will. Never read any MacLeod or Scalzi (who?). Stross maybe writes too fast. Which may be excusable if you are popular as he is and presumably well paid to deliver work and the ideas flow that copiously to him.

In novellas, of course, Willis and Sawyer are the smart money bets. Immensely popular, frequent winners, not "weird" in any way. I like all three of the authors you preferred and I like novellas in general, so I hope your views prevail, but I am not enthusiastic about the chances.

There are enough good shorter works (novelette, short story) in any given year that finding five clearly deserving candidates should never be a challenge. But who knows what drives the nominators. Doctorow, for example, has a large profile on the web. Could this be a factor?

Haven't read GOBLET OF FIRE yet but saw the movie, and I did think it was the worst of the series so far. Part of this was story, and part wasn't; I thought the new Dumbledore was a big step down, but someone dying was probably not in the plans. I predict that as the characters mature my interest will not.

At 6:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I seem to be immune to the charms of Wallace and Gromit

I've never heard of such immunity, but to each his own.

At 11:09 PM, Blogger Tim Walters said...

It's definitely a not-quite-my-thing thing rather than a not-good thing. Actually, I always enjoy them at first, but succumb to whimsy overload before the end of the film.

It was better than Narnia, though. Except for Tilda Swinton, who rocked.

At 9:38 AM, Blogger Blue Tyson said...

You not alone, I ain't a fan of that Lanagan story either, for mostly what you say, as in 'got it in 5 seconds', boring.


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