Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Thoughts on 2009 Hugo Nominees: John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Looking at some of my Hugo posts from last year, I realize I have been remiss in not writing about the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

First, here are the five nominees in alphabetical order and a little bit about what they have written.

Aliette de Bodard: A French / Vietnamese writer who lives in France and writes in English, her second language. That’s impressive. de Bodard is a short fiction writer who has been published in Interzone, Electric Velocipede, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Abyss & Apex, Coyote Wild, and Shimmer. One of her stories was reprinted in one Gardner Dozois’ yearly best of SF anthologies and she has received several honorable mentions. She has stories forthcoming in Talebones, Fantasy Magazine, Interzone, and Realms of Fantasy.

David Anthony Durham
. Best known in genre for his debut fantasy novel Acacia: War Against the Mein, Durham is also the author of three previous historical novels: Pride of Carthage, Walk Through Darkness, and Gabriel’s Story. Durham was nominated for the Campbell last year. The second Acacia novel is forthcoming this year, and a third is planned. David Anthony Durham has also been tapped to join the Wild Cards Consortium and work on a forthcoming Wild Cards novel (Fort Freak).

Felix Gilman
is the author of two novels: Thunderer and Gears of the City.

Tony Pi was born in Taiwain but currently lives in (and is a citizen of) Canada. He is a short story writer who has been published in On Spec, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Abyss and Apex. He has a story in Paper Golem’s forthcoming Alembical 2 and another forthcoming in the John Joseph Adams Sherlock Holmes anthology.

Gord Sellar is a Canadian science fiction writer currently living and teaching in a suburb of Seoul, South Korea. His fiction has been published in Apex Online, Interzone, Asimov’s, Fantasy Magazine, and Nature.

Except for Felix Gilman, the other four nominees are in their second and final year of eligibility for the Campbell.

This is a difficult category to write about this year, because unlike the previous two years, I’ve only read one of the nominees. Would it be unfair for me to say that David Anthony Durham deserves the Campbell over the other four nominees when I haven’t read the other four? Yeah, it would.

The two writers most folks will likely be most familiar with are Felix Gilman and David Anthony Durham. They have published novels. Jeff VanderMeer gave Gilman a goodly amount of word-of-mouth publicity to Gilman’s debut novel Thunderer and Durham has done quite well with Acacia.

Aliette de Bodard, Tony Pi, and Gord Sellar face potentially steeper climbs to claim the Campbell Tiara. They have only published short fiction. Now, this is by no means a bar to Campbellhood. Mary Robinette Kowal won last year on the strength of her short fiction. The fact that I was familiar with Kowal’s work and not de Bodard, Pi, or Sellar probably means nothing since I am not a Hugo Voter and I am, sadly, not the voice of science fiction and fantasy fandom. Whatever that means.

de Bodard has more name recognition in my world, but looking at the publication lists of the three short fiction writers, Sellar may have a stronger list of publications (though de Bodard’s forthcoming publications could change that – unless you hold to the view that as one of the Big Three, an Asimov’s publication trumps the rest). But even that doesn’t matter because Kowal wasn’t published in Asimov’s until AFTER she won the Campbell.

I don’t know that I have it in me to predict the winner with any sense of accuracy at all. If I was voting, I would vote for David Anthony Durham. I also think that Durham has the most name recognition with Acacia and George R. R. Martin’s announcement that Durham will be writing Wild Cards. If I had to guess, I would suggest that Durham picks up the Campbell in his final year of eligibility. If it isn’t Durham, I think this is a wide open category.

Previous winners
2008: Mary Robinette Kowal
2007: Naomi Novik
2006: John Scalzi
2005: Elizabeth Bear
2004: Jay Lake
2003: Wen Spencer
2002: Jo Walton
2001: Kristine Smith
2000: Cory Doctorow
(the list of winners stretches back to 1973)

The winner will be in good company.

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