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Archive for August, 2008

2008 Hugo Winners

Posted by hyperpat on August 11, 2008

Well, the results are in. And for the first time in a very long time, my choices were pretty much the ones that won – I mean, this just never happens! The Winners:

Best Novel – The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon

Best Novella – All Seated on the Ground by Connie Willis

Best Novelette – The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate by Ted Chiang

Best Short Story – Tideline by Elizabeth Bear

Best Fan Writer – John Scalzi

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form – Stardust

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form – Doctor Who, “Blink”

Best Related Work – Brave New Words, The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction by Jeff Prucher

Best Editor, Long Form – David G. Hartwell

Best Editor, Short Form – Gordon van Gelder

Best Semi-Prozine – Locus

Best Fanzine – File 770

Of the Fiction awards, these are all my #1 choices except for the Best Novelette, where my #1 was The Cambist and Lord Iron by David Abraham. The Ted Chiang story was my #2 choice. Stardust was also my #1 for best movie. Best Fan Writer went to my #1, John Scalzi, though I imagine this will kick up a little fuss, as he’s so much of a professional besides writing about everything under the sun in very fannish fashion. And he indicates over on his site that his entry in the novel category The Last Colony lost by just nine votes. I haven’t seen the complete breakout of all the voting yet – but this kind of indicates that voting in this category was extremely close. About the only category that wasn’t even close to my choice was the Best Drama, Short Form, as I just don’t see what all the fuss is about in the Doctor Who series.

It’s very rare that my taste corresponds so closely to the general sf fan’s. Many years I’ve been left wondering just how in the heck anyone could have voted for the obviously much poorer piece of work that won instead of my own choice. And it’s also nice to see that sf fans, this year at least, didn’t turn up their noses at a work by someone who is not an integral part of the sf community, Michael Chabon, and gave their votes based on its perceived quality.

All in all, it was a very good year for sf (apologies to Frank Sinatra).

________________________

Update:

I’ve now gotten a look at the complete voting results (available here). The best novel voting went like this:

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union 195 195 231 292 332

The Last Colony 158 158 170 219 323

Rollback 152 152 163 186

Halting State 115 115 148

Brasyl 110 110

No Award 15

After eliminating the ‘No Award’ ballots, in the second round YPU pick up the most votes (i.e, of those who had Brasyl as their number 1 choice, the greatest plurality of them had YPU as their #2 choice). This is not surprising; YPU and Brasyl are probably the two most ‘literary’ works here, and those who like that ‘literary’ style in one are likely to like it in the other. What is a little surprising is that Halting State picked up the next greatest number of votes in this round, as it’s probably the ‘geekiest’ work here.

Round three is also something of a surprise, with YPU picking up 63 votes and being the clear #2 choice of those who picked Halting State as their #1. By this point The Last Colony is badly trailing YPU. But the last round is perhaps the biggest surprise, as The Last Colony picks up 104 votes vs YPUs 40 – clearly those who liked Rollback had a clear preference of Last Colony over YPU.

So the final total with YPU and Last Colony separated by only nine votes is perhaps a little misleading – YPU clearly led throughout the various voting rounds.

That’s this year. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Scalzi’s latest, Zoe’s Tale (no, I haven’t read it yet, this is based strictly on how well I know he writes and the few clues he’s let slip over on his site about it), makes next year’s ballot, and probably stands an excellent chance of winning, absent any other blockbuster being published in the next five months (which just might already be out – Doctorow’s Little Brother). His fan base just seems to keep growing.

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The Pessimistic Heinlein

Posted by hyperpat on August 7, 2008

I originally posted this as a comment over on tor.com in response to Jo Walton’s musings on why so many of Heinlein’s juveniles seem to have a dystopian world/society as their background. Looking it over, I decided it might make a good introduction to something I’ve been working on for some time, a fairly detailed look at all of his juvenile novels, which many consider to be his best work, although personally I think that several of his adult novels are better. There has been little critical work done on these juveniles, with perhaps the most prominent example being Joseph T. Major’s Heinlein’s Children: The Juveniles, which unfortunately is not very good as a work of criticism, but does collect in one place a very detailed synopsis of all of these works. Part of my own investigation into these works is to analyze just why these works are so readable, still work well today, and have inspired so many people to choose a career in the sciences. Part of that analysis is below: just what drives and motivates his characters? At least a partial answer is his background societies which have obvious things wrong with them, often very dystopian in nature, driving his characters to do something about it.

For Heinlein’s stories to work, he needed to have his protagonists feel dissatisfied with the way things currently were. This shows up in a lot more than just his juveniles. Even in one of his very early works, Beyond this Horizon, where the portrayed society is one that most people would consider to be a utopia (no hunger, work only if you really wanted to, everyone healthy – well, except for the control ‘naturals’), Hamilton is driven to action because he feels that there must be more to life than just existing, that being a dilettante was not the proper role for man.

Even one of the least dystopian juveniles, Have Space Suit – Will Travel, shows a dissatisfaction with people as sheep, content to just get by (reference his comments about the education system, his parents decision to leave the academic rat-race to raise their son as a role model for non-sheep, his father’s methods of dealing with society’s regimentation via how he files his taxes – and with only such short strokes, defining what was wrong with the fifties conformist culture).

So the various dystopian backgrounds of many of his novels become part of the driving force for his major characters, helping to define why they take the actions they do, while at the same time serving as a strong warning of just what will happen “…If This Goes On”.

Heinlein was definitely a fan of the ‘restless’ spirit, the pioneer, those who drive to change the world, and it wasn’t limited to just his juveniles, but within them he set an achievement bar for all his young readers to try and reach. And that’s the message that I think resonates with young readers, that they can achieve their dreams if they just work at it. It’s a timeless message that runs across all cultures and societies, and is probably why he’s still so enjoyable to read today.

Many times I’ve seen Heinlein portrayed as a pessimist, based largely on these dystopian backgrounds for so many of his works. I don’t think this is really true; rather, he was very much an optimist, as his characters continuously managed to do things to improve at least their own personal situation and often improving the world at large, regardless of how messed up that world was. And this trait is most visible in his juveniles.

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Making Connections

Posted by hyperpat on August 1, 2008

Over at Tor.com, the new website tor has established for interactive discussion of all things speculative, Jo Walton posted a commentary on just what the difference is between sf and fantasy, and just how some books really can’t be pigeonholed into one category or another. Which leads to a problem for brick-and-mortar stores that try to shelve these two categories separately, as wherever they put such books, it will be missed by those expecting it to be in the other category.

The problem is really much more general than just the divide between sf and fantasy, and gets into an entire field of library science dealing with indexing and cross-referencing massive amounts of data, at least some of which is subject to highly subjective evaluation by those irrational and sometimes contradictory beings called humans. Coming up with at least partial solutions to this problem is important. Many, many times in the world of science today, a fact discovered in one field, say entomology, has great relevance to another field, say a search for cancer-curing drugs in the field of medicine. But this fact won’t be noticed by the medical researchers unless they have some tool that properly indexes the discovered fact as being relevant to their field.

The Google model for searches is great for topics of wide interest. What it won’t do is find data that is obscure and of importance to only a few specialists. It’s also completely mechanistic – it can’t get that “aha!” moment that humans do when seeing one data item that suddenly provides an answer to a problem in something apparently totally unrelated. Artificial intelligence probably won’t really be useful (or really ‘intelligent’) until it can make such connections. We’ve still got a long way to go before we get to “Computer! Tell me why these Acturians are blowing up all our grain silos on Deneb IV.” (certain Star Trek episodes to the contrary).

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