Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Thoughts on the Hugo Award Nominees: Related Work

“The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF” by Ken Burnside (Riding the Red Horse, Castalia House)
Letters from Gardner by Lou Antonelli (The Merry Blacksmith Press)
Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth by John C. Wright (Castalia House)
Why Science is Never Settled by Tedd Roberts ( (Part I & II)
Wisdom from my Internet by Michael Z. Williamson (Patriarchy Press)

This may be the first year I have actually read all of the nominees for Related Work. As a general rule, I am less interested in the nonfiction category.  Further, I often have less time / patience to wade into Related Work than I do the rest of the fiction categories. This year is different. I have the time and I have the inclination. We'll see if that holds for next year.

The Hot Equations: While some of the math / formulas involved here ran right over my head, I appreciated Burnside's look into what combat in space might look like from a scientific perspective of what is actually possible based on technology and physics. If I were a writer of hard science fiction, I would keep Burnside's article in mind. Of course, if I were a writer of anything, it wouldn't be hard science fiction because of the technical depth required to do so. That's a different conversation, though. The main point here is that Burnside's essay is worthwhile, especially to those interested in hard SF.

Why Science is Never Settled: Here Tedd Roberts has a two part essay that, well, discusses exactly what the title of the essay says it does. It deals with scientific consensus, how it can come about, and some of the issues surrounding that. I've seen some commentary online suggesting that what Roberts is doing here is very entry level stuff, nothing deep or award worthy. I may agree about the entry level work, but what it also does by that very nature is make these ideas about science very accessible and understandable and I think that is something to be commended. There are just as many English majors reading science fiction as there are from the sciences. Probably more. I think The Hot Equations is of an overall higher quality and more valuable in this category, but Why Science is Never Settled is the next best here.

Letters from Gardner: Lou Antonelli's collection is an interesting one. It's part memoir, part short story collection, part writing advice, part I have no idea. It shows Antonelli's development as a writer, some of the revision progress, and how influential some of those early rejections from Gardner Dozois were. It's not necessarily my cuppa, but it's not bad.

No Award: No Award continues to rear its ugly head. I read half of Wright's Transhuman and Subhuman collection (approximately), and I bounced off of it. His essay on fiction writing directed at a nonfiction writing friend was fairly solid, but I had issues with the rest of what I read - mostly in that I disagree with much of what Wright has to say and his essay writing style does little to encourage me to continue reading even despite my disagreement. I can't get into specifics here because each time I bounced off an essay, I moved onto the next. That said, he's not wrong that Ulysses is a terrible book.

On the other hand, Wisdom from my Internet is truly a terrible book that has no place anywhere near this ballot. I can understand, more or less, why people may have enjoyed / appreciated Wright's collection. I'm not his audience, but many people likely are. Michael Williamson's collection of non-sequiturs and jokes is sort of organized by topic, but most are not at all entertaining and what, exactly it has to do with the field of science fiction and / or fantasy is completely beyond me. But it isn't so much the lack of relation to SFF that gets me, it's how bad the jokes are and how disinteresting the whole thing is. I may not think that Wright's collection is worthy of an Award, but I don't think Williamson's should have been considered for nomination. I may never understand how or why it was.

My vote:
1. "The Hot Equations: Thermodynamics and Military SF"
2. "Why Science is Never Settled"
3. Letters from Gardner
4. No Award

Standard 2015 Hugo Disclaimer:
In a typical year, I just jump right into whichever category I'm writing about and let my thoughts sort out the whole mess. This is not a typical year, so I'd like to start by talking a little bit about how I'm going to work through the various Hugo Award categories and how I am going to vote. Simply put, I am going to read everything. If I feel the work is strong enough to merit a ranked vote, I will vote for it in whatever order feels most appropriate. If I feel the work is not strong enough to merit ranking it above No Award, I will not do so.  But at no point am I making a blanket statement about Sad Puppies or Rabid Puppies or that I've heard Thomas Heuvelt may have been campaigning for a nomination or anything else that I am not aware of.  The ballot is what the ballot is and I will treat it as such.

I am also working with the same methodology as I have in the past, which is to say that there are frequently works and writers on the ballot that I simply and strongly disagree with. In most cases, I have still ranked those works above No Award. I don't believe I have always done this, and I know if I had participated last year, one novel would have been below No Award because I bounced so hard off of the first book in that series that I really can't understand how the second also managed a nomination - and that writer is a Hugo favorite. Most stories compare to works that have previously been on the ballot, so those works that meet my low-bar criteria will secure my vote. 

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