So, I was very happy to see that SF Signal got two Hugo Nominations yesterday, for Best Fanzine and Best Fancast. As a regular columnist, a semi-regular podcast and Mind Meld participant, and occasional reviewer for the site, it was pleasing to see the site get some recognition. Of course, most of the accolades should go to Patrick Hester and John DeNardo for their hard work on the podcast and the site, but it was lovely of John to recognize the work of the blog crew too. I really enjoy writing for the blog and chatting about fantastic literature with the gang. It will be interesting to see the end result, particularly in the Fanzine category as SF Signal is grouped with four traditional fanzines.
As for the rest of the ballot. . . the Best Novel category is mostly unsurprising. Among Others was one of my favorite books of last year and is my personal favorite for the award. I found a lot to think about in China Miéville’s Embassytown but Walton’s book edges it out. It was obvious that Martin would be there. Not having read the other two nominations I can’t say much about them.
In the short fiction categories there is plenty of great work. Ken Liu got two nominations for a pair of excellent stories, and I am rooting from him with relish, although he has some excellent competition. Besides his work in the Best Novella category I have only read Cat Valente’s “Silently and Very Fast.” I would be pleased to see either one take it. In the Best Novelette category I put my quatloos on Rachel Swirsky’s “Fields of Gold.” I have read the Ryman and Anders stories too, but Rachel has conjured some fine word-alchemy in this story. Geoff Ryman’s tale is great also, but I find myself affected a bit more by what Rachel does here. For Best Short Story, I would love to see Ken Liu and Lily Yu split it. I really cannot raise one story over the other. I haven’t read the Resnick or Fulda, and the Scalzi story was amusing, but for me can’t compare to what the other two stories do.
For Best Related Work, it is difficult to see how The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Third Edition doesn’t take the prize. It is both an amazing undertaking and a rich resource for the literary field. [EDIT: I should note that I say this primarily because I did not read or hear any of the other nominees. Also, it took the BASF Award for Best Non-Fiction which has given it more visibility] I can’t say much about the Graphic Story and Dramatic Presentation categories; Captain America was horrible and Game of Thrones was entertaining with some excellent character moments, particularly from Peter Dinklage and Maisie Williams. I also felt a lot of nostalgia well up while watching it as I saw a parade of British character actors from my youth fill Martin’s fantasy world.
The Best Semiprozine and Editor categories have a litany of usual nominees, although for the Long Form Editor this year we see a few fresh faces, such as Betsy Wollheim. Apex Magazine would be a fabulous upset to win for Semiprozine. For the Editor categories it is hard to choose. The same goes for the Best Artist categories and Best Fan Writer. I have to admit I was a bit surprised to see Jim C. Hines on the latter list, not because of quality (his blog is perceptive and enjoyable), but because he is a professional writer. I had to look at the history of the award more closely to see that this is not unique, and it was refreshing to see a new name on this list too.
The Campbell list is pretty strong. Not much to say about that other than good luck to the writers who made it.
I’ve been wondering since the announcement if this year’s list is somehow better than last year’s. And. . . I don’t think it is. In most of the non-literature categories there isn’t much change in the rosters. The Best Novel category feels less diverse, while in the short fiction categories there seems to be a broader range of voices and perspectives. That’s really where the dynamism of the field seems to be these days, although writers often get little in return for their efforts.
Over at SF Signal there was a recent Mind Meld on the value of awards. The conversation there highlighted the assorted social effects that awards generate in the field, something that interests me a great deal. I see in the short fiction categories something different than in the rest in terms of value. There aren’t just new names on the list, but an air of unpredictability in the selections. It is not difficult to project the nominees in most categories, but in the short fiction rosters you don’t know what you’ll find. I think these are the most lively categories and a reflection of the literature’s vitality, in tension with the rest of the lists. They not only do the usual cultural work of awards, but they show us more of what the literature is capable of, and that there many more voices out there that should be read and re-read and discussed.
This is one of the elements of the awards process that I wish we as readers and fans would give more prestige and attention to, a revised valuation not just of social acknowledgement but of critical engagement. I mean this not in an academic sense, but in a readerly one. Awards are an emblem of appreciation and accomplishment as well as a ritual of bestowing prestige, but I think we lose sight of the products that inspire that investiture, particularly with short fiction. Because of the deep social significance of the awards, these smaller products get lost more quickly and seem less prestigious in the long term. That’s a shame, because they are valuable to the field and to readers in ways we do not often recognize.