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Mount Orégano
Sue Burke
My take on the Hugo-nominated short stories 
8th-Jul-2015 09:18 am
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I think there’s a point when a writer is more-or-less good but not great, which can lead to misjudgement. A writer who isn’t winning awards may conclude something must be wrong with the awards rather than suspecting he or she simply isn’t great.

While all awards are subjective, I think literary quality is a real thing: a well-structured plot, controlled prose, originality, emotional depth, vivid scenes, and effective dialogue, for example. As a Hugo voter, I believe my job is to pick the year’s best. My vote means I can recommend that work to others. In some years, in some categories, consistent high quality has made the choice difficult. Not this year in short stories.

“Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa
    Not bad but not great. The premise isn’t horribly original: an artificial intelligence decides to switch sides and become as human as possible during a post-human/machine vs. human war. An old idea can be made new by excellent execution, but in this case the storytelling lacks polish and doesn’t achieve the emotional depth it seeks. Too many numbers clutter the text and hide more important concerns than the exact count of each specific type of missile. Some references need anchoring, like “Benedict” – in such a far future, will everyone still know about a minor incident in US history? That detail needed to be set up first for it to work. And the title is a spoiler. This just isn’t one of the year’s best SF short stories, and I don’t believe it made it to the ballot on its own strength.

“The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C. Wright
    Man (sic) has disappeared, and after a long discussion between the animals and then the appearance of two angels, some of the animals take his place. It’s a Christian allegory, and leaving aside the poor quality of the story-telling, is this story science fiction or fantasy? The Puppies have argued that “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky wasn’t SFF (and although I loved the story, I’ll agree on that) so her story shouldn’t even have been on last year’s ballot. The same applies here – unless you want to argue that Christianity is a fantasy, and I’m not going there. It shouldn’t be on the ballot. So it gets no vote, not even below “No Award.”

“Totalled” by Kary English
    A woman dies in an accident, and her brain is used in an experiment. Not a bad story, but weak. The plot is distracted by side issues like an arrogant research director, who is a mere stereotype and supplies false conflict, while the real conflict – life and death – receives little attention. The story fails to reach the emotional height it could for lack of focus. Not bad, but not one of the year’s best, and not worthy of a vote.

“On a Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli
    On a planet where ghosts are real, a human dies, and a human pastor must conduct that ghost to its rest in keeping with the traditions of the native sentient life form. The story idea isn’t bad, but the storytelling style tells so much rather than shows that it reads at times like a chatty outline for a story rather than a story. This is another story that fails to reach its potential. Not one of the year’s best, and not worthy of a vote.

“A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond
    The idea is awesome: a monster the size of a mountain must be stopped, and a lone samurai has to take it on. The execution, though, fails to dramatize the idea. Instead we get a lot of back story, a lot of not especially philosophical inner dialogue, and little action or gripping descriptions of this amazing monster. A promising idea goes unfulfilled: not one of the year’s top five best short stories, not by a long shot.

— Sue Burke

8th-Jul-2015 07:22 am (UTC)
I agree with you on all these, which is interesting, because it indicates the level that personal taste gets replaced by "just not a very good story." In terms of personal understanding of one's own abilities, my short stories are definitely not Hugo-worthy and most of them are better than these. There are some amazing stories out there from last year, and I've very sorry that we are discussing this group instead of those other, more brilliant, tales.
8th-Jul-2015 05:58 pm (UTC)
And will anyone walk away from this with any sort of self-discovery?
9th-Jul-2015 10:34 pm (UTC)
I know people who normally rely on the judgement of others who are saying "Well, I need to make my own judgement." It's an unexpected benefit. I wish it had happened without the politics and etc, though.
8th-Jul-2015 09:57 am (UTC)
Insightful opening comments, Sue, though you may be being somewhat generous in how you put it!

You might be interested in Six-Degrees-of-Kevin-Baconing yourself over to Apex Magazine to read the thoughts of one of my online friends on the same subject:

20th-Jul-2015 03:16 pm (UTC)
Are you aware of the controversy surrounding this year's Hugos? Two blocs of essentially right-wing fans/writers who resent the recent diversification of the award nominees and winners teamed up to hijack the nomination process and hog the nominations for themselves. This is a decent summary of what happened. It doesn't mention the intimate involvement of one Theodore Beale, a.k.a. Vox Day, a genuinely evil person who got thrown out of SFWA for using its social media feed to spew racist invective at another writer. Charlie Stross talks about him and his publishing house <ahref="http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2015/04/the-biggest-little-sf-publishe.html">here</a>.

People are trying to clean up the Hugo voting process after them to limit the damage bloc voting can do, but the horse may be out of that barn for good.

In any case, keep this situation in mind when evaluating the Hugo nominees: a lot of them got where they are because of factors other than their quality.
20th-Jul-2015 05:39 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I've read more than I ever wanted to know about the Puppies, including those links when they first came out. In fact, on the night that the nominations were announced, I recognized a lot of names on the ballot and knew it was a disaster.

In my post, I was trying to be responsible (and keep my anger under control). I read the nominations and wanted to explain why I did not think any of those stories was Hugo-worthy.

I could say a lot more about the whole situation, but it's all been said, sometimes far better than I could say it. And I'm trying to keep my anger under control.

So this year is a disaster. I've seen some good suggestions for how to shield the nominations from bloc voting, but it takes time for rules to be implemented, so next year might be tough. I'll be watching for what I can do to make the process work as it should: identifying quality. No matter what the Puppies claim, that was not their goal, and I'm furious beyond words about that.
20th-Jul-2015 05:42 pm (UTC)
I see. I apologize if I sounded like Captain Obvious, and now I see you do in fact mention Puppies in the text of your post. My bad for skimming!
20th-Jul-2015 06:04 pm (UTC)
Don't worry. It's important to spread the word. You did the right thing.
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