The 2016 Hugo Awards: Initial Thoughts

The 2016 Hugo Award Finalists were announced this week and yes, it's another shit show, but maybe sorta not as bad as last year? I hope? Assorted thoughts below:
  • So the Rabid Puppies once again dominated the finalists, presumably due to their habit of generally following the slate laid out by their dark leader. In comparison, Sad Puppies seem ineffectual, but actually, this is probably what the whole Puppy effort should have looked like from the start. They got some things on the ballot without dominating the process. If we are to take them at their word that they just wanted to highlight works that traditionally get short shrift at the Hugos (I know it didn't start like that, but it did evolve into that), then this seems nice. The Rabid approach seems tailor made to hurt the award and just plain piss people off. As I mentioned last year, it's one thing to be more successful than expected, but it's another to experience that backlash and then just double down on your approach. In any case, it does seem as if their influence is centered around the lower-participation categories. As such, I expect anti-slating measures to end up in the rules for next year, which will hopefully erode attempts to game the system like this.
  • Fortunately, at least part of the Puppy success this year was driven by the inclusion of works from mainstream authors on the lists. The Rabids had folks like Neal Stephenson , Neil Gaiman, Alastair Reynolds , and Lois McMaster Bujold on their slate, which, well, these are all people who don't need any help getting nominated. In addition to those names, the Sads even included the likes of Ann Leckie, John Scalzi, Nnedi Okorafor, Naomi Novik, and Cat Valente, most of whom don't seem to exactly fit the puppy mold if they aren't actively hostile towards each other. I am, of course, not the first to mention this, but it does seem to have the effect of softening the impact such that the scortched-earth No Award response feels less likely this year. There are some who are calling these mainstream choices "shields" and coming up with elaborate conspiracy theories about their inclusion, but who knows? I mean, yeah, I could dig through the muck and try to figure out what the Rabid intentions really are, but jeeze, who wants to get into their head? I like a lot of these authors and hell, I even nominated some of them (completely independent of recommendation lists or slates, imagine that!). Of course, this has been my approach all along, but others, even strident opposition, seem to be getting on board that train.
  • This post will hopefully be the extent of my Puppy wrangling for the year. As usual, I plan to read the works and judge them accordingly. More thoughts on major categories below, but at an initial glance, there are most certainly some things I'll be putting below No Award (especially when you get to the lower-participation categories), but some of the categories are actually pretty exciting.
  • Best Novel features a pretty solid little lineup, three of which I've already read. A little heavy on the fantasy side of the award for my tastes, but that happens sometimes. Neal Stephenson's Seveneves is the clear frontrunner for me, though Naomi Novik's Uprooted isn't too far behind (i.e. there's a reason both of these novels were on my ballot). I wasn't a huge fan of Ann Leckie's Ancillary Mercy, so N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season or Jim Butcher's The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut's Windlass certainly has the chance to climb up the ranks. From what I know of these two unread novels, I don't expect them to overtake Seveneves, but I'm rooting for them. I should probably note that I'm a Stephenson nut, so it would take a lot to unseat him, even if I think this particular effort is more flawed than some of his others. One last note about the Puppies with respect to this category: I'm pleasantly surprised to see that John Wright's Somewhither didn't make the cut. From what I can see, it was very popular with puppies and John Wright has been a bannerman for the movement, so the fact that this didn't make it to the final ballot means that, for Novels at least, you need to have broad support (the one Puppy nom that didn't have a good chance to make it otherwise was The Aeronaut's Windlass, but then, Butcher is an incredibly popular mainstream author, so his book was probably bolstered by non-Puppy votes).
  • Best Novella is actually looking pretty good too. I've only read one (Bujold's Penric's Demon), but that one work was better than anything nominated in this category for the past few years (and a damn sight better than last year's John Wright dominated slate). None of the nominees fill me with the dread of reading dross, which again, is a big step up from last year. I'm kinda looking forward to reading something by Brandon Sanderson that isn't 1000 pages long. Binti, The Builders, and Slow Bullets sound pretty interesting too.
  • Best Novelette is less clear to me, but I don't see any major red flags (though I suppose having two stories from the same anthology is a bit gauche). The only author I recognize is Stephen King, an author you don't see in the Hugos very much to be sure, but I'm not complaining. This is the least popular of the major fiction categories, which probably explains Puppy dominance here. I'm as guilty as the next fellow here though, as I didn't nominate any novelettes this year.
  • Best Short Story is... bizarre. Where to start? The elephant in the room is, I guess, Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle (a writer of gay, science fiction erotica who would fit right in with my Weird Book of the Week series alongside our last selection, Lacey Noonan, author of I Don't Care if My Best Friend's Mom is a Sasquatch, She's Hot and I'm Taking a Shower With Her and A Gronking to Remember (first in a series of Rob Gronkowski themed erotica novels)). In some ways, this is an inspired choice. In other ways, what the fuck? Also of note, Thomas A. Mays has asked that his story, The Commuter, be removed from the ballot (for admirable reasons), which is a shame, because I really enjoyed his last novel (and even nominated it last year!) I will most likely still read his short story. After that, we've got two military SF stories (one from the same anthology mentioned above in Novelettes) and If You Were an Award, My Love, a clear reaction to Rachel Swirsky's infamous If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love, which, like, ugh. Really? It was written about a year or two too late and it's just an exercise in petty spite, filled with Scalz-hate-boners and the like. There is something wrong in Short Story land. I read plenty of decent short stories every year, but they never end up on the ballot, and I suspect the problem is that there's too much short fiction out there and none of us are reading all the things so our votes get spread far and wide, making the category vulnerable to slating and even very popular authors (even before the Puppies, witness the inclusion of John Scalzi's absurd April Fool's joke, "Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue", a funny little parody to be sure, but best short story of the year?). I don't know what the solution is here, though maybe the rules changes will have an impact.
  • Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) turns out exactly like I thought, with my three favorite nominees in addition to standards like Star Wars and Avengers... Still would have rather seen something like Predestination make the ballot, but I guess it's too much to expect for the Hugo voters to actually look for small, independent movies.
  • As for the other categories, ehhhh, we'll see. Few of these categories hold much interest for me, though I might be tempted to look at a couple of them because I like a nominee or two there. For instance, long time Kaedrin compatriot Shamus Young made it on the Fan Writer ballot this year, which is pleasant to see (another instance of Rabids glomming onto a popular writer, albeit one who primarily writes about video games). Despite a long history of awards, File770 probably deserves some additional recognition for becoming the defacto clearing house for fandom during last year's clusterfuck of a Hugo process. And so on.
As usual, I plan to spend most of my time reading through the nominees and judging them accordingly, rather than attempting to wade through the usual BS.