Monday, March 24, 2008

Thoughts on Hugo Nominees 2008: John W. Campbell Award

Joe Abercrombie (2nd year of eligibility)
Jon Armstrong (1st year of eligibility)
David Anthony Durham (1st year of eligibility)
David Louis Edelman (2nd year of eligibility)
Mary Robinette Kowal (2nd year of eligibility)
Scott Lynch (2nd year of eligibility)

The SFF award I find most interesting is not specifically from one of the three major awards (Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy), and it has nothing to do with any individual story or novel. The award that is most interested is the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. The award is given at Worldcon with the rest of the Hugos, but it isn’t a Hugo. Not really.
The John W. Campbell Award is given to the best new science fiction or fantasy writer whose first work of science fiction or fantasy was published in a professional publication in the previous two years. (via Writertopia)
Past winners include Naomi Novik, John Scalzi, Elizabeth Bear Cory Doctorow, Ted Chiang, Jo Walton, Nalo Hopkinson, Jay Lake, Lucius Shepard, Orson Scott Card, and others stretching back to 1973 (Jerry Pournelle).

I’ll start with Jon Armstrong. Everything I know about Armstrong is that he wrote a novel titled Grey. It was published by Night Shade Books. It’s supposed to be good. I haven’t read it. I’m sure I’ll get to it, but for the moment Armstrong is pretty well taken out of the conversation for the Campbell. As an added bonus, Grey is available for free download. Thanks, Night Shade!

This brings me to David Louis Edelman. Edelman is the author of the much heralded Infoquake (which, naturally, I have also not read) and the forthcoming Multireal. While I haven’t read Infoquake, I have seen a great deal more buzz for Infoquake than I have for Grey. Obviously buzz does not equal quality, but the Campbell nomination does suggest it. Moreso than Grey, I definitely need to read Infoquake. Infoquake was published by Pyr.

Not having read either Jon Armstrong or David Louis Edelman, it is impossible to guess how likely either would be to go home with a Campbell in hand.

David Anthony Durham is a beneficiary of having written three prior novels but no fantasy until he brought us Acacia last year. Durham was able to hone his craft before we got our first taste. But, given that the Campbell is for new SFF authors, Durham qualifies. Lest I come across as being slightly petty or petulant, let me say that this is not my intent. I thought Acacia was a damn fine novel, one of the better releases of 2007, and Durham more than deserves his place on the Campbell list. I only hope that he will be able to turn Acacia II quickly so he is better able to build a readership. If I see Durham’s name on a new fantasy novel, I’ll be sure to read it.

Joe Abercrombie. What can one say about Joe Abercrombie without being assassinated? Thus far I have only read The Blade Itself and thought it was a very strong fantasy debut. Abercrombie is working with some rather stock characters (barbarian warrior, cripple, naïve lordling, etc), but writes the characters in such a way that they feel fresh. Plus, he is putting these stock characters into much grittier situations than we normally see, and given the character perspectives in the novel I think that Abercrombie is starting to twist these stock characters into forms and shapes we do not normally get. Inquisitor Glotka is no mere shade of Tyrion Lannister.

Then there is Scott Lynch. Mr. Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies. As much as I admired Acacia and enjoyed the hell out of The Blade Itself, I think that the two Lynch novels are good enough and popular enough that Lynch has the best chance of winning the Campbell in his second and final year of eligibility. But this is by no means a sure bet. I’m not one of the Hugo voters, so I can’t put down a name. Without having sales figures in hand, I don’t know who sold how many books, but the sense I have is that Lynch outsold the rest...but Durham may have put up solid numbers himself. So who knows? Scott Lynch is by no means a lock (get it? Locke!? Sorry...), but along with Abercrombie and Durham, I would say he is a solid contender. Because we don’t necessarily know the makeup of the voters for the Campbell, it is difficult to say who will take home the award.

I have not forgotten Mary Robinette Kowal. I just saved her for last. Mrs. Kowal is my sentimental favorite. The other five nominees are all novelists. Mary Robinette Kowal is a short story writer. If you have been reading this blog for the last year or so you will know that I think very highly of Kowal’s fiction. Kowal is probably as dark a dark horse as you can get in this category as the Campbell tends towards novelists (with a couple of notable exceptions), but I think Kowal’s short fiction is every bit as strong as the novelists’ in this category. If she comes out with a short story collection, I’d probably buy it. If she published a novel, I know I would buy it. My biggest hope is that MRK gains a wider readership for her fiction as a result of the Campbell nomination.

I would be tickled if Mary Robinette Kowal was awarded the Campbell, but my expectation is that Lynch or Durham will walk away with it. Abercrombie will likely draw the same readers as Lynch and I think that some of those who would otherwise vote for Joe Abercrombie will cast their votes for Scott Lynch. Durham’s the guy who I can see upsetting the proverbial apple cart. I think he has just enough popularity and notoriety to get through.

The most important thing here, I think, is the nomination itself. It gets people (me) talking about the writers and that provides greater awareness of their work...which can only help.

But how cool would it be if Mary Robinette Kowal won? Seriously.

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