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Draft Ballot 2014 Hugo Awards – The Fiction Categories (Best Novel, Best Short Story, Best Novelette, Best Novella)

March 29, 2014

You can find my other nominations for the 2014 Hugo Awards here:

I left this category till last in an effort to give myself as much research time as possible but in truth, I am as pessimistic about the state of the field as I was this time last year when I struggled to pull together a list of stories and novels that I actually liked. This year, my defeatism was less pronounced in that I did at least try to read the stuff that people were talking about, just without actually enjoying any of it.

My alienation has quite a lot to do with the fact that I’ve used my Interzone columns as an excuse to re-examine how I approach the field and how I form judgements about what it is that I want to read. What I found is that I arrived on the shores of science fiction in search of a very specific affect: I wanted fiction that would peel back the skein of human comfort and expose the true mechanics of the world using a fictional world as its delivery vector. I’m not sure what it is about this desire for a greater understanding of real world events and processes that’s supposed to make me want to read whimsically deconstructed fairy tales, escapist power fantasies and hollow experiments in meta-fiction but I have definitely reached a point where I no longer trust the field to deliver works that I want to read. More on this when I get to the short fiction categories.

NB – As in my other nomination posts, I’ll be putting up links to other nomination posts. People should feel free to link to their posts in the comments but anyone putting themselves forward for ‘consideration’ will have their comments deleted.

 hugologo

My Nominations for Best Novel

  • Empty Space: A Haunting, by M. John Harrison – I nominated this last year as it was eligible by virtue of its having been released in the UK and I’m nominating it again this year by virtue of it having been released in the US. Less a series of novels than a mortuary slab, the K-Tract novels lovingly removes each and every organ from the body of science fiction and casually tosses them onto an enormous flaming pyre. Difficult to the point of wilful perversity, the novels use the trappings of science fiction to create a world so profoundly incomprehensible that even the most banal of personal truths assume the size and shape of religious revelation. Filled with experiments in narrative, character and thematic juxtaposition, Empty Space assumes that its readers will be familiar with both Light and Nova Swing but uses that familiarity against them by subtly messing with their memories of both books. The point is to set the counter back to zero, to rid science fiction of the complacency and nostalgia that have held it back for the best part of a generation. Cutting as he burns, Harrison strips science fiction of everything but a mystery and an urgent need to understand. This is a challenge. This is a struggle. This is the primal scream of a new science fiction waiting to be born. This is without a doubt the single most important science fiction novel of the 21st Century.
  • Love is the Law by Nick Mamatas – Much like Empty Space, Love is the Law is a book about the psychological pitfalls of genre literature. However, while Empty Space picks a fight with the principles and methods of science fiction, Love is the Law sets out to roll back the re-enchantment of the world. Set in the 1980s, the book follows a teenage punk as she tries to find the person responsible for killing the man who was teaching her about Trotskyism and the occult. The choice of these two ideologies is hardly accidental as both are incredibly rigorous and complex theories that purport to explain the world despite having only a tenuous connection to reality. Laden down with these two complex and mutually exclusive belief system’s the book’s protagonist wanders around her decaying neighbourhood finding nothing but incontrovertible and yet hopelessly ambiguous evidence that vast incomprehensible forces are at work in her life. This ambiguity is why I am choosing to nominate the book but the real delights of Love is the Law lie in Mamatas’s ability to capture a messed-up time, a messed-up character and the way in which she tries to use a messed-up belief system to make meaningful choices about her own life.

 

Alternate Lists of Suggestions

 hugologo

Best Short Story

The problem with short fiction is that there is a complete disconnect between the amount of short fiction that gets published and the amount of short fiction that gets discussed. Indeed, while the market for short fiction has grown exponentially in the ten years that I have been paying attention to the field, the number of venues paying active attention the stuff getting published has actually shrunk as all attempts to set up websites devoted to reviewing short fiction have been met with a deafening wall of indifference. The only explanation for the field’s complete lack of interest in short fiction is that genre short fiction is in the process of becoming its own field; a self-sustaining social structure in which the venues who pay to publish short fiction are kept alive entirely by people hoping to one day become short fiction writers. People who want to get published take out subscriptions, donate to fundraisers and pledge money to crowd-funded anthologies. People who want to discuss genre fiction write about novels. The fact that the 2013 Hugo Awards failed to field a full short fiction ballot only deepens my suspicion that nobody is actually reading this shit.

I genuinely don’t have a problem with any of this happening: If people want to turn the genre short fiction into a repository for their fruitless career fantasies then I say good luck to them as it’s less psychologically and economically ruinous than signing up for an MFA. My problem is that the lack of critical infrastructure surrounding the short fiction scene means that I have literally no idea where to begin looking for the kinds of story that I might want to read. In fact, the only short story that I’ve seen acquire any buzz this year is Sofia Samatar’s “Selkie Stories are for Losers” and I’m pretty sure that I don’t want to read short fiction about people who turn into seals.

It would be helpful for the future of this award if the people who fund anthologies and magazines took some of their Fantasy Career money and used it to fund the creation of a website devoted to writing about short fiction. Said website could be sold as an opportunity to receive real-world critical feedback and it would help markets, writers and readers find each other more effectively. It might even help to raise the level of the field’s many Year’s Best anthologies above that of complete creative exhaustion.

 

  • “Zero Hours” by Tim Maughan – It’s telling that my only short fiction nomination is for a story that was self-published on the website Medium. Like all of Maughan’s best fiction, “Zero Hours” takes an ugly truth about the world and combines it with an ugly truth about the Internet to produce something that feels a lot like reality. Here, Maughan looks at the evaporation of regular paying work and our growing dependency on apps to predict a future in which poor people use their phones to bid for shitty jobs. A simple idea beautifully executed, Maughan explores how shitty jobs create shitty work environments and how shitty work environments encourage shitty attitudes. It can’t be long before the moral dilemma at the heart of this story becomes an unavoidable truth about the workplace. How long before this App is the toast of SXSW?

 

Alternate Lists of Suggestions

 

Best Novelette

I’m not conscious of having read any novelettes recently. I understand that getting rid of fiction categories is absolutely impossible but I really do think that three short fiction categories is excessive.

  • No Nominations

 

Alternate Lists of Suggestions

 

hugologo

Best Novella

I’ve actually read a few of these this year!

  • The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself by Ian Sales – This novella forms part of Sales’ Apollo Quartet, an insanely ambitious and defiantly unfashionable piece of writing that seeks to reinvigorate Hard SF using a graft of high-brow literary DNA. The first book in the series Adrift on the Sea of Rains took the technobabble and info-dumping of traditional SF and reinvented them as defence mechanisms used by stranded astronauts to keep themselves from confronting their own misery and madness. Even more demanding than its predecessor, The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself juxtaposes damaged people and decaying institutions against a background of interstellar mystery and the resulting emotional textures are unlike anything I have ever encountered before. There is madness in the ambition of Ian Sales.
  • Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep Above by Ian Sales – The third part of the Apollo Quartet is arguably the most accessible thus far. Set in an alternate timeline where the Korean War raged out of control and sucked all of the men into battle, the book features a surreal journey to the bottom of the ocean and an alternate Mercury programme where the first American astronauts turn out to be women. Elegantly written and painstakingly researched, this book does something very clever and very important: It presents us with a world in which women were placed at the forefront of space exploration.
  • Spin by Nina Allan – Looking back over this list of nominations, I realise that one of the things I tend to respond to in genre fiction is difficulty. I do not want stories that surrender their goods on first reading but stories that are so demanding that you only really manage to put everything together a couple of months after you’ve finished reading. This may be true of Ian Sales’ Apollo Quartet but it has always been true of Nina Allan. Allan is a writer so talented and aloof that she continuously delights me with things that I really think I ought to hate. Allan’s collection The Silver Wind is an oddly brittle thing that clings and layers in ways that don’t entirely make sense. Though Spin is more straightforward and more obviously genre, it is another one of those works that dumps a load of ideas and images in your lap and allows them to slowly melt into one another. Set in a futuristic world where Hellenic culture never declined, the novella features deconstructed myths (that of the woman who claimed to be a better weaver than Athena and got turned into a spider), intricate worldbuilding, meditations on what it means to be a creator and a gleeful blurring of the lines between fantasy and science fiction. Given how fashionable these aspects of the novella have become, I think most people would find Spin incredibly engaging and incredibly easy to love but I am left simply scratching my head… I know that I should not like this story and yet I do, I guess my ideology is no match for Allan’s talent.

 

Alternate Lists of Suggestions

5 Comments
  1. April 1, 2014 4:38 pm

    I had briefly considered doing regular new-short-fiction criticism on my blog but then when I started regularly reading new short science fiction I kind of wanted to die, real quick.

    Like

  2. April 1, 2014 5:49 pm

    I get the impression that that’s a really common reaction.

    If you look at a Year’s Best anthology you’ll see that there’s maybe only 25% of the stories that are genuinely good and new while the rest are varying shades of weak. Then you step down to the magazines and websites and it’s even worse…

    Like

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