Review: Hugo Awards 2016-Short Story nominees

Well, that was a waste of my time.

If you are following the Hugo Award ballot, the annual fan-nominated and fan-elected winners for excellence in sci-fi and fantasy writing, you are aware of the Sad / Rabid Puppy controversy.

If you aren’t familiar, or if you just want to read an outstanding article on the issue, Wired Magazine wrote a great piece last year, in the wake of Puppy Scandal 2015. It’s hard to boil down, but the Puppies claim the Hugos have been taken over by pretentious liberals who are pushing their “agenda” into the stories, while the rest of us, whether we think the Puppies have a point or not, are tired of crap being shoved into the Hugo Award balloting as a protest move. And these Puppies do seem hell-bent on shoving women and people of color out of science-fiction, in the name of “making sci-fi fun again.” (Did these guys read The Forever War? “Sandkings”? 2001?  Those aren’t “fun” novels…..)

The Culture Wars are raging at the highest levels (and all corners) of American society. Substitute weaponry for verbiage, and this could easily be the stuff of a sci-fi novel…..

Now, in the same year that the so-called mens’ rights movement was driven into a froth by Mad Max: Fury Road, in which Charlize Theron seeks to rescue a bunch of women from sex slavery (and Max is little more than a sidekick), another flashpoint emerged: Puppygate.

In our telephone call a few weeks back, Beale explained that his plan was a “Xanatos gambit.” “That’s where you set it up so that no matter what your enemy does, he loses and you win.”

Source: Who Won Science Fiction’s Hugo Awards, and Why It Matters | WIRED

Last year, many of the Puppy-nominated works were, to be frank, total shit. They were badly written, frothy, of little value literarily or conceptually. But the problem remains: Anyone who wants to shove crap into the Hugo ballot can do it if they’re organized enough. And the Puppies followers jump when they’re told.

*****

So that explains why I spent my early afternoon groaning at the short stories nominated for the Hugo this year. I will be voting “No Award” for this category, and here’s why:

  • “Asymmetrical Warfare,” by SR Algernon:  Cute. If this story had been written in 1931, it would be fresh and interesting. In 2016, it’s basically a copy of an idea that’s been written to death. I think I had middle-school writers who hit on similar ideas. This isn’t worthy of a major award.
  • “Cat Pictures Please” took the place of “The Commuter” on the ballot; I’m not sure why; some authors withdraw from the contest when they realize they’re being used as pawns in a political/cultural war. Aside from that, this was my favorite story of the set. But it, like the one above, is a familiar idea. No novel thinking here.
  • “If you were an award, my love” published on the Vox Day blog is a hate-parody of a winning story from a few years ago that the Puppy people despise. This entry is simply a puerile pot-shot at John Scalzi, a sci-fi author who’s happy to tangle with Puppy stupidity in public and reveal its foolishness. Nominating this for an award is like celebrating some junior-high kid’s dick drawing that he taped in Stevie’s locker just because he wanted to be an asshole to Stevie.
  • “Seven Kill Tiger” by Charles Shao: With a tone-deafness toward its racial stereotyping, this story also suffers from a decided lack of interest or even plot. He imagines a scenario in which China releases a super-virus to kill all the black people in Africa so they can take the land. Ummmmm….. I feel like this guy will probably vote for Donald Trump.
    …and that brings me to … I can’t even believe I’m writing this….
  • “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” by Chuck Tingle:  If gay dino porn is your genre, Chuck Tingle is your man. The fact that this was nominated is nothing but a slap in the face — or a dick in the face, if you will — to the people who actually want the Hugo Awards to be something that matters.

So there you go.  In past years, I might have read gems from the likes of Ursula LeGuin, George RR Martin, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Philip K Dick, Ted Chiang, and countless other great authors who put honest work and craftsmanship into their writing.

Instead, because some controlling asshat who just wants to watch the nerd-world burn is angry that there are too many non-male, non-white, non-straight people all up in his grill and competing against him for readers and sales, I had to spend waste an hour of my time skimming stories about dinosaurs banging a lonely astronaut or tired, worn-down ideas that have been floating around for decades.

The Puppies claim they’re just trying to prove that Hugo voters don’t care about quality, that we will simply vote for people we agree with.

No.  I want to vote for people who can actually write. And if these WASPy men can’t get their shit together and promote stories that might be worth my time to read, they sure as hell don’t deserve any place among the Hugo nominees.

Unfortunately, the Hugo ballot — like the American ballot in 2016 — is deeply broken.  I don’t know if we’ll ever recover.  And that’s pretty hella sad.

*****
Next up: Novellas and Novelettes. The slates of nominees are entirely dominated by works recommended by the Sad and Rabid Puppies, but many nominated authors had little to do with that. I’m hoping there’s some valuable reads here.

*****
If you’re looking for some good, recent sci-fi short stories, try subscribing to one of the fan magazines. Or grab the “Best of…2015” short story collection next time you’re at B&N or BAM.

I enjoyed several of the short stories that Microsoft released as part of a collection last year, Future Visions, especially the story by Annie Leckie that closes the book.

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