The Puppy affair roused my slumbering patriotism in science fiction enough to prompt me to buy a supporting membership in the current Worldcon, so that I could vote a straight anti-Puppy slate in the Hugos. Over the course of my recent vacation, I read most of the Hugo voting packet on my elderly Nook, though to keep my reactions fresh I have avoided reading reviews of the nominees.
Now that I'm about ready to cast my vote, however, I can let you see my reviews if you'd care to. Here, for the categories for which I feel I have something substantive to say about the nominees, are my voting choices. I'm of the "Nothing from the Puppy Slates goes above No Award" school of thought, but that doesn't mean I don't have differential opinions among them if I don't get my way, so I at least looked at their nominees.
1. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. The opening section, the part set in 1969, I thought one of the most gripping pieces of fiction I'd read recently, though until the end of it I was uncertain what was going to be science-fictional about it. After that it rapidly dropped off in interest, though I still think this is the most Hugo-worthy of the nominees in this category. I wish authors wouldn't put lists of characters at the front: the thought that you're going to have to know who all these people are is disheartening, though in the reading I had no trouble. Oh, and by the way: As someone who's named his cats after literary characters, I'd just like to point out that Wang Miao would be a perfect name for a male cat.
2. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. I enjoyed this, though as the blurb says it's a novel of court intrigue. The sfnal and fantasy elements feel like window-dressing.
3. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie. Maybe it's because I didn't read its predecessor, but I found this impenetrable. After a few pages my eyes simply refused to take in any more.
4. No Award
5. The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson. Although I didn't get far into this, and my interest in the "folks roaming around on starships through already-existing universes that I don't know anything about" subgenre of SF is limited, this looks pretty well-written.
6. Skin Game by Jim Butcher. I actually read the entire 86-page excerpt that was included in the Hugo packet, but don't ask me to remember anything about it, or, indeed, to have understood the story at the time I was reading it.
1. No Award
2. "Flow" by Arlan Andrews. I recall this as being not bad, but on looking it over, I find my memory of it has been entirely overlain by Lou Antonelli's "On a Spiritual Plain."
3. "One Bright Star to Guide Them" by John C. Wright. If you're going to tell a story about characters remembering things the reader knows nothing about, you have to be a better writer than this. It would also help not to be so wordy.
4. "The Plural of Helen of Troy" by John C. Wright. This might have been a good story if it weren't so convoluted, talky, and all-around garrulous.
5. "Pale Realms of Shade" by John C. Wright. Sorry, stories that devolve into religious tracts don't do it for me. This is the sort of story that makes C.S. Lewis at his most didactic look good. (And Wright's "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus", the story removed from the Novelette category, was so bad in that way that it made this one look good.)
6. "Big Boys Don't Cry" by Tom Kratman. War war war war war. Of purely specialized interest to war buffs, and boring as hell to anybody else.
1. "The Day the World Turned Upside Down" by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. This is an exceedingly memorable story, I'll give it that, though it's pure whimsy, not even fantasy. (Why would a reversal of gravity - already an impossible notion - not work on air or water? Because everyone left would immediately suffocate, and there'd be no story.) The real problem is that this story is the perfect embodiment of what the Turkey City Lexicon calls "Squid on the mantelpiece." Heuvelt's narrator finds the upending of the world and the deaths of most of its populace to be a trivial concern next to the fact that his girlfriend had just left him. I can understand why he feels that way, but he can't expect me to agree with him. Worse, judging from the afterword included in the Hugo packet, the author intended this effect. Intending to write a story badly is no excuse for doing so. Nevertheless, it's memorable enough that, even in a non-Puppy year, I'd place it above No Award. Barely.
2. No Award
3. "Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium" by Gray Rinehart. Let me get this straight: This is a story about a dying man who plots (sorry) to have himself buried so as to offend the aliens living on the same planet who find burial sacrilegious. Yep, it's as dumb as it sounds.
4. "The Journeyman: In the Stone House" by Michael F. Flynn. Characters who make sophisticated sarcastic jokes while talking like Tonto.
5. "The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale" by Rajnar Vajra. I gave up on this one three pages in when the narrator introduces an expository lump with the words, "Lecture time, quick I promise." Why am I not tempted to stick around long enough to learn if you'll keep that promise?
6. "Championship B'tok" by Edward M. Lerner. I gave up on this one three pages in when the author explains that, though this universe has AI of human-level intelligence, it doesn't have intelligent robots because that would be creepy.
1. No Award
2. "On a Spiritual Plain" by Lou Antonelli. Another story about aliens trying to understand human funeral customs! Yet I actually liked this one. The ending was a particularly satisfying wrap-up. Yes, even Puppies can show good taste on occasion.
3. "Totaled" by Kary English. And another story about dead people! Having the dead person be the narrator made the story a little bloodless - you'd think she'd be more invested in the narrative - and the plot wasn't as clear, but it's not a terrible story. (English's Campbell nomination storypack consists of two stories about dead people and one about someone plotting to disappear: is she trying to tell us something?)
4. "A Single Samurai" by Steven Diamond. A story in which the narrator commits suicide at the end, taking the adversary with him/her, and in a Japanese setting? (More death!) Sorry, but it's been done already, and done a lot better than this, and it won a Hugo, which it deserved: this doesn't.
5. "The Parliament of Beasts and Birds" by John C. Wright. Ever read Lord Dunsany's "The Use of Man", which has a similar premise? I have. That one was simplistic enough, and I have no use for this one. And so garrulous it was hard to maintain the premise that it was animals speaking.
6. "Turncoat" by Steve Rzasa. War story. Obsessed with numbers.
1. No Award
2. "The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF" by Ken Burnside. This would be interesting, if I were at all interested.
3. Letters from Gardner: A Writer's Odyssey by Lou Antonelli. If you thought The Early Asimov was self-indulgent, get a load of this. It starts off with the stories Antonelli wrote that were rejected - and you can see why, and if you can't, he'll tell you what's wrong with them - while the "letters from Gardner" that the title promises are mostly just encouraging notes scribbled in the margins of rejection slips. What's most disturbing is the exceedingly hard-boiled attitude towards life that Antonelli shows in his stories, such as the one whose setting is a nuclear bomb explosion in the U.S. but whose focus is on the protagonist keeping his car running. It reads like Antonelli wanted to write a story about the car and merely stuck in the nuclear devastation for motivating background. Nevertheless, this author is serious about developing his craft.
4. Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth by John C. Wright. Wright's windiness as a writer made this essay collection difficult to read as a book; it was easier to tackle one essay at a time. Wright can actually be pretty insightful when he sticks to SF, especially on the theological side: he has some good strictures on the spiritual philosophy of Arthur C. Clarke, for instance. (But, considering how much he hated the second Hobbit movie and Philip Pullman's third Golden Compass book, why did he like their predecessors? He doesn't say.) However, especially towards the end of the book, his sweeping denunciations of What Feminists Think, What Modernists Think, What Progressives Think, are simply lunatic. They bear no discernible relationship to what any of those actual people actually think or behave, and not just because, pace Wright, none of these categories consist of identikit cadres. This is the true SFnal part of the book: it's from another planet.
5. "Why Science is Never Settled" by Tedd Roberts. There are far better articles out there explaining the scientific method than this one. I hope no anti-scientists come across this: they could use it maliciously to tear holes in any science-based viewpoints.
6. Wisdom from My Internet by Michael Z. Williamson. My ghod. This makes even Mallard Fillmore look like a model of wit and incisiveness. What made anybody, even the author, think that these witless and inane quips were worth collecting … it boggles the imagination.
Best Fan Writer
1. No Award
2. Laura J. Mixon. The only non-Puppy I'm putting below No Award. Look, I suppose Mixon performed a public service and all, but it's not an achievement I feel like celebrating, nor do I find there's anything about the quality of the writing as such that's award-worthy. Maybe not Mixon's fault, because she had a complex story to untangle, but it was a slog to get through.
3. Jeffro Johnson. If we were going to honor someone who writes about classic fantasy in an RPG context, we should have given a Hugo years ago to John D. Rateliff. Still, Johnson is a good writer, if somewhat condescending towards his topics, and though of crabby social views, he does not spend his time whining about SJWs, which sets him apart from the rest of this category.
4. Dave Freer. There's the shards of an interesting guy to talk with in here, but his mischaracterizations of the SJWs he repeatedly gratuitously brings up are dismaying, and worse is his appallingly clumsy attempt to prove bias in the Hugos by contrasting the results with mathematically random events. Totally inappropriate analogy.
5. Cedar Sanderson. I gave up on this person at the description of the fuss over the "shirtstorm" at the Rosetta comet-lander press event as "epic bullying."
6. Amanda S. Green. This person's mind is just filled with bile, and apparently nothing else. It's a very unpleasant place to visit, and I certainly wouldn't want to live there.