So What Is Hugo-Worthy Anyway?

Apparently what makes “good enough to be worth a Hugo award” isn’t all that clear.

To be fair – or rather, reasonable, since fair is one of those things that stops having any kind of meaning outside of preschool – it’s rather difficult to come up with anything resembling objective standards for fiction. For non-fiction, yeah it’s possible, but they won’t be everything – standards like “is factually accurate” are objective, but the prose is still going to be subject to personal opinion.

That said, I can say what my standards are and what I use to decide if something is worth nomination or awarding. Oddly enough, while I was considering what my standards are, I realized that they are almost independent of whether I like the piece or not. I don’t know if this is unique to me or not, but I’ve read books that ace every one of my standards and I’ve utterly loathed them.

Of course, I do use the term “Kate-normal”, so I may be the only person in the known universe for which this is true.

So. What I look for when judging quality in narrative fiction (this mostly doesn’t apply to poetry and non-fiction and it sure as heck doesn’t apply to art) is this (in approximate order, even):

  1. Early immersion – I read a hell of a lot, and I find it very easy to become immersed in a piece. The earlier it drags me in, the better. If I don’t get the immersion, the interplay of the technical factors (prose quality, characterization, plotting, foreshadowing, etc.) isn’t handled well enough to do it. I’ve read pieces where I liked the premise and characters, but the craft wasn’t good enough to generate immersion. I’ve also read pieces that I hated but were well enough done to hold me despite that.
  2. Immersion is maintained until the last word – This is important: if something throws me out of immersion, it’s a serious technical flaw (because, yes, I’ve actually analyzed this. It could be a plot flaw that runs the piece into a bridge abutment. It could be something that breaks a character. It could also be prose so damned obtuse it sends me running for a dictionary – and I read Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series without needing one.
  3. There is a plot – I wish I didn’t have to include this, but I’ve read a few too many novels that don’t have one. They have characters that have stuff happen to them. Note that a deliberately plotless piece can meet the grade if the characterization and prose is good enough and there is some other payoff in place of the plot.
  4. There are characters – Again, this should be obvious, but there are alleged novels where the alleged characters are nothing but ciphers being moved according to the author’s wishes. Again, it’s possible for a really skilled author to produce a work without any characters, but it’s bloody difficult and I’ve never seen it done well enough to justify a Hugo except in extremely short short stories.
  5. There is foreshadowing and it doesn’t jump up and scream “Look! I’m foreshadowing something.” – A plot twist where readers are all “WTF just happened here?” is not a plot twist, it’s bad writing. Similarly a plot twist you’ve watched approaching from chapter 3 is not a plot twist, it’s bad writing. Especially if you’re using mystery forms.
  6. There are no gaping plot holes. J. K. Rowling, I’m talking to you, here. The bandaid you taped over your plot hole in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was bad craft and your editor should have made you fix it. That alone was enough to throw me out of immersion in that book.
  7. The prose is invisible. This needs some explanation: the prose needs to be polished enough and reflective enough of the content and pacing that it helps maintain reader immersion instead of having clunky phrasing that throws a reader out of the story. The only really viable exceptions I’ve come across are in shorter works where the prose can sometimes serve as a character in itself. And Stephen Donaldson? In the Thomas Covenant books, the prose was invisible while I was reading it. If I can manage that, but your prose has me trying to parse out what the hell you meant by that sentence, then the problem lies with your prose.
  8. The pacing is appropriate. Appropriate is the key thing here. A gentle period-style romantic fantasy is going to have quite a different pace and rhythm than a sweeping space opera adventure. Which will be different again from a mystery. And so forth. Pacing mismatches lead to either “It’s boring” or “There’s too much going on”.
  9. The piece has an emotional payoff. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a happy ending, but it should have readers emotionally invested in what happens. If I finish a book and I don’t care about the ending, it failed. If I disliked the book, there’s a good chance the ending made me angry because at some level there’s a sense of “that wasn’t supposed to happen” – but that doesn’t mean I think it’s a badly written book.

So that’s the list of the things I consider go into a Hugo-worthy piece of fiction. Those of you who are more experienced with non-fiction, art, and TV/Film might like to add some suggestions of ways to judge in those categories in the comments.

And supporting members for Sasquan, don’t forget: review the WorldCon 2017 Site Selection bids and pay your $40 to vote for the one you prefer: you’ll get automatic supporting membership for WorldCon 2017 before the price goes up.

109 thoughts on “So What Is Hugo-Worthy Anyway?

  1. Well, FWIW, I’ve always figured that the phrase “not Hugo worthy” translated to “it’s a good book, but I don’t like the author, people who like the author, or some other group involved somehow.”

    Your definition for Hugo worthy is far more mature. 😀

    1. The interesting thing is that when I voted in last year’s Hugos, I liked some of the things I put at the bottom of my list and wanted to see more. I apparently have a definition of Hugo-worthy that does not necessarily track with “I like this a lot.” (Part of this is that I tend to rank partial works—things that are part of a series or obviously part of a larger narrative—as lower than complete stand-alones. Another part is that I look for a certain amount of originality.)

  2. > plot

    Phrasing and style are matters of taste, characterization is a matter of opinion… but you can fillet a story, extract the plot, and point at its skeleton. *That* is the plot.

    And… somehow, I keep coming across boneless stories that somehow made it through the levels of agents and editors and into my hands. Some just limp along and die. Some are full of fury and action. But none of it is *going* anywhere.

  3. I’m of the opinion that what makes a piece Hugo worthy is up to each individual voter, (and then I judge the voter by the criteria they choose) but those right there are pretty good metrics to use. If we all used those criteria, the Hugos would probably be of more value.

    I would quibble however, with #7. Prose does not need to be invisible. Sometimes the prose is the point…to not merely say something beautiful but to say it in a beautiful way. Read Fritz Leiber’s “Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser” stories. The prose is not invisible there; in fact, it’s crafted in such a way as to immediately grab your attention and transport you into another mental space. Reading it aloud gives it the cadence of song. It would be beautiful even if no worth were attached to its meaning.

    Does that mean “Ill Met in Lankhmar” isn’t worthy of a Hugo? I do not believe so.

    1. I have read them, and yes, the prose is beautiful – but within a few pages it’s invisible because it’s done it’s job and I’m utterly immersed in the story.

      See the difference? Beautiful prose that supports the story, hell yes. Beautiful prose that detracts from it, no way.

      1. “A Midsummer Tempest” by Poul Anderson had some truly exquisite prose. I kept falling into scansion when reading it. (Entirely appropriate given the story.) This was one of those cases, I think, where the prose itself was a character.

    2. Salamandyr, I’d argue that in cases like that the prose does become invisible… it is part of the setting. It is part of the mood. It IS the mood. There is a bard I know who wrote a piece of prose in the Norse Poetic style. It sets a tone and a feel that differentiates that piece and gives it a ‘more distant historical’ and rather ‘saga’ feel even though it is a relatively short piece about something that happened within the last 20 years. Another Bard didn’t use that style but instead used the more norse prose style to a similar effect. In both cases the words were part of the piece rather than distracting from the piece, which is part (to me) of being ‘invisible’. It is not that the prose has no impact, but that the prose itself never takes the focus. It may become an actor in the story every bit as much as the narrator (and often through a narrator.) But it controls the focus it does not receive it.

      1. David Palmer’s Emergence, Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring: I’m sure we can all think of examples of a highly artificial, even challenging prose style, which did not interfere with immersion, and in each case created a deeper immersion in the creator’s alternate reality by changing the shape of the language–albeit only for the length of the tale– in the readers mind.

        It requires consistency, skill, knowing when to ease up on the reader, and still risks losing him if you misjudge your word choice. I know one reviewer who couldn’t take Wright’s “Awake in the Night” because they only knew the modern meanings of some of the wrds he used. It would be hard to telegraph “deliberate archaisms ahead” more thoroughly than Wright, but it still threw this reader out of the tale (this was before the Hugo kerfluffle when people need to prove their tribal bonafides via negative reviews, so I quite believe the reviewer’s plaint. Not all of us cut our teeth on Vance or read the OED for fun 🙂

  4. Agree with the problem about “Objective Standards” for “Good” or “Best” fiction.

    Your standards are good ones no doubt about it (in my mind).

    On the other hand, too many people imagine that their standards are the Absolutely Best Standards and that anybody who disagrees are ignorant or bad people.

    IMO “this is a Great Book” is a matter of Opinion while “I enjoyed this book” is a matter of Fact. [Smile]

    1. There is a particular author whose best work (IMO) is far from my favorite. I’m not sure I’m ever going to read it again.

      But it is original, well-crafted, and one heck of a story.

    2. “This is a great book” is something that won’t really be judgeable for 50 or more years.

      My standards are my standards, and they’re what I use when I say worthy/not worthy. Others may do as they please.

  5. Interesting, and apropos. I have been dutifully working my way through the Hugo packet. The Goblin Emperor, for example, exemplifies some of the good and some of the bad. The writing is good, I was entertained for the whole length of the book and didn’t want the hours of my time back…and I kept waiting for the plot to show up. It was like a slice-of-life anime, only with elves 🙂 Oh, and I kept forgetting they were elves, too. I would propose a tenth criterion for the Hugos–there must be speculative content, it must be significant to the plot, and it must show up early enough that I know the work is speculative fiction. (I’m afraid as far as that novel went, it could have been set in the court of Louis XIV and been…pretty much the same.)

    1. Oh my. Wakulla Springs, last year. Exceedingly well-written; lovely prose. Every so often, I’d pause and wonder where the F or SF was. Oh, finally, it’s showing up… no, wait, it’s presented as possibly being a hallucination (and would not change the plot at all if it were.) Wait! Here it is! Here it… last page? Last PARAGRAPH? Um…?

      That story could have been published in the New Yorker with nary a raised eyebrow. It was good. But it wasn’t genre.

      1. I’d kind of hoped that “has actual speculative fiction in there somewhere” wouldn’t be necessary – silly me.

    2. I had pretty much the same reaction. I enjoyed the book well enough. There was no speculative fiction in it. There was very little plot. It felt like a character study of “how this abused goblin prince managed to find friends and allies and make a life for himself as emperor”. And of course he was a good feminist prince too, for extra points 🙂

      And as far as I can tell, there was no real explanation of what the difference was between elves and goblins except some visuals. It felt like the only reason she bothered having different races was to throw in some racial prejudice too.

      Smooth writing, etc. No inclination to reread. I kind of hope there’s no sequel, so I don’t have to make a decision about whether I’ll read it.

  6. Good definitions. Personally, for the Hugo’s, I would add sabrinachase’s 10th about it being speculative and also that I enjoyed it. I’m not likely to vote for something I didn’t actually enjoy reading.

    1. Actually being speculative, yes. As far as enjoyed, I’d vote a damn good work that I didn’t like over a mediocre one I enjoyed, but if the quality level is about the same, the one I enjoyed more is going to get ranked higher. I’m that much human, at least.

      1. It’s a work of fiction. Its purpose is to entertain me. I don’t have to wait for history to validate my opinion; I can pass judgement immediately.

        My money. My time. My opinion. If I like it, chances are the writer will get more of my money. If I don’t… he’ll have to hope his heirs can still squeeze some revenue from his copyrights after someone declares his writing worthy.

  7. I have a simpler test, of course I am not an author but a reader. It is “Is this book as good or better than books that have received a Hugo in the past?”.

    You may say “But truly awful books have received Hugos.”. I would reply that that is true, but what the awards are is defined by what won them (and how they were won), not by what we want them to be.

    1. If that works for you, so be it. I just got so much quibbling about it all being a cover for “did I like it” that I felt the need to explain.

      1. I was not trying to put you or your analysis down, just pointing out that you need to analyze it so you can duplicate it or better it. I just need to enjoy it.

      2. I was one of the visitors commenting and quibbling in a recent post, so I just wanted to pop in and say I appreciated this post very much 🙂
        It answered my questions very well and very precisely. Thank you!

  8. Let’s face facts. The Hugos are a popularity contest, and the entrants must pass through two wickets to win. Take all eligible SF&F and from that pool pick a select few for nomination, picking being done by WorldCon attending and supporting members, or those few who actually bother to nominate. Once the slate is complete that same voter pool selects the winners at that year’s WorldCon. Again, those that bother to vote.
    Large source pool of eligible product, small collection of gatekeepers controlling the nominations, same or slightly larger group actually voting.
    And when a few folks got tired of an elite cadre gaming the nomination process Sad Puppies was born.
    Kate is of course absolutely correct. Under due diligence her list would be a very good guide to follow. Unfortunately we are faced yet again with a situation where politics trumps measured reason.
    Wish I were wrong, but appears to me that the Hugos are either dead or dying. How else when the standard comment heard over and over is “Oh yeah, the Hugos. I used to look to them to pick new authors to read. But not for the last few years.” That’s not the fan’s fault. That’s all on the heads of gatekeepers with personal and political agendas having nothing to do with the quality of modern science fiction and fantasy.

    1. Sadly, yes. The little bit of optimist that hasn’t been squashed yet hopes they can be revived, but the cynic (who usually wins) is waiting to break out the popcorn and throw a few trailer loads into Mount Doom.

    2. I was at a writing group recently, where I’m sure everybody is to the left of me except one person (though thankfully most of them are pretty non-political), and the topic of the Hugo and Puppies came up. One person said “They’re complaining about women and minorities in science fiction.” I said “You’ve been listening to their detractors” and explained that the actual complaint was too much message fic, and everybody looked pretty blank. Then I added, “The Hugos haven’t been much of a sign of quality for the last five or ten years anyway,” and a number of them started nodding.

      If there’s no point in searching out Hugo winners when looking for a good book to read, the Hugo has no point.

      1. The Hugo means “This is a book you should read.” The leftists seized the award so they could say “This is a book you SHOULD read” not because it’s good, but because it makes their point for them.

  9. For me, your list lays out the basic requirements for a good/enjoyable work of fiction. There are many books that I enjoy (e.g., the early Anita Blake books, the Xanth books) and are wonderful stories, but those books are not Hugo award winning writing. Hugo award winning books need something more.

    I don’t need an award to find best-selling fiction. I don’t need an award to find a good read. I need awards to find that special book that stays with me for years. A book that brings more to the table than a fun afternoon by the pool.

    I’m looking for the next Hyperion in my life.

    1. I need awards to find that special book that stays with me for years.

      Do you really think that the Star Trek fanfiction piece “Redshirts” is going to be staying with people for years? And I strongly suspect the gimmick of “Ancilliary Justice” will pall soon enough.

      If you are looking for “that special book that stays with me for years” the Hugos of recent years are a poor place to look.

    2. The early Anita Blake books *are* Hugo-worthy compared to the standards of the recent winners, and frankly should have been in the list. The first three are close to perfect examples of pacing – I tell people to study them for the pacing.

      None of my “that special book” examples came from the Hugos: Barry Hughart’s books (whose titles I can never remember, but oh my god the demon’s flagpole). Anything of Terry Pratchett’s from Guards! Guards! to somewhere around Thud!

      The best way to find your next Hyperion is to read widely and hope.

      1. I’ve always enjoyed Laurel K. Hamilton’s books in spite of her apparent compulsion to delve into soft core porn. The last few in both of her major series seem to be returning to more action and less smut, so I have my hopes. Not that I have anything against smut in its place, but for me it gets in the way of a good story.

        1. The first three Anita Blake books rocked. I found the second one on the SF shelf at a used book store and thought, hey, what the heck. Then I bought copies and gave them to my friends. Anita Blake was basically Mike Hammer with a stake. Friends that liked Robert B. Parker and John Sandford liked the books. Holy moley, she consulted with Massad Ayoob for small arms stuff. That’s like calling up Bill Gates to ask him about computers.

          I’m pretty sure “reader feedback” happened. The series got slotted into the “romance” genre, and Hamilton’s writing changed to account for that. The guys who were into the monster-killing parts got tired of wondering why someone didn’t shoot whiny Richard in the face and gave up.

          Heck, it’s possible neither Hamilton nor her publisher ever realized how popular the early books were with that demographic.

    1. For me… re: the works I’ve already been able to vet:
      Jim Butcher’s work hits all of those criteria.

      Tom Kratman’s entry does so. So does Kary English’s and Steven Diamond’s.

      Having watched all of them, the Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form category all meets those points.

      1. Ancillary Sword is going to fail then, and not because of the gimmick (which is exactly the kind of thing that suits my taste. Feminist fiction works great in SF for the same reason “we have met the aliens and they are us.” Maybe she had better control of her gimmick in Justice, but three times now (in addition to all the times I had to stop, drop, and parse the sentence to figure out what the author was trying to describe) I’ve stopped and thought, (for example) wait a minute, why “siblings,” or “if you’re speaking a native language that has the word for “grandfather” why are you still calling him “her” in that language (and so on) I’d give her a B+ for cool aliens if she’d mastered readable prose.

  10. I like your list it puts in words what I’ve mostly been doing at a subconscious level when asking myself “is this a good book.”

    In many ways I dislike the underlying premise of The Lord of the Rings but it is an incredible book ranking high on pretty much all nine points(okay, gaping plot hole regarding the eagles–but fan theories exist that fix it without requiring actually changing anything in the text). For that matter, as much as some people sneer at Terry Brooks’ work, looked at in the terms of this list it becomes a lot clearer why he sells and sells and sells.

    Regarding “The Pacing is Appropriate” a good example might be comparing the breakneck pace of most of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Mile’s Vorkosigan stories with the much more sedate pacing of the Sharing Knife books. Radically different from each other but both work for their respective stories.

    1. My simple fan fix for the eagles is the fact that the council at Rivendell is stated to be much longer than the selection presented to us. So I figure that somebody said something along the lines of “we no longer have aerial reports because the Eagles state that it’s no longer safe to fly anywhere within X miles of Mordor,” which would be supported by their appearance in the Hobbit, where they’re wary of flying too close to regular civilization because of hunters with arrows.

      Easy. Obvious. And Tolkien probably never bothered to think about it, because nit-picking fantasy details is a trend that happened long after LOTR was published.

      1. Not to mention, Tolkein wasn’t writing “fantasy” – he *thought* he was writing the “missing” English mythos. And mythos doesn’t give two hoots about plot holes.

      2. My favorite is that the eagles were Gandalf’s plan. All the “we’ll walk into Mordor” was disinformation. Cross the mountains. Meet up with the eagles. Have eagles carry the ringbearer to mount doom. Have ringbearer drop ring in said mountain. If ringbearer won’t drop it (and considering before even leaving the Shire couldn’t toss the ring into his own fireplace that idea had to be in Gandalf’s head), drop the ringbearer.

        But first the mountain pass they were going to use was blocked so they got diverted to Moria. And in Moria Gandalf went down with the balrog. And Gandalf, being Gandalf, hadn’t told anybody the true plan.

        1. Or consider when the eagles did finally show up. Assuming the council got in touch with them at the soonest possible, and managed to convince them to participate, they still took too long to arrive. A plan that began with “we’ll hang out here in Rivendell until we find out whether or not the eagles will help” would have been foolish. And it’s not as if the Enemy didn’t have archers. Eagles showing up unexpectedly, rather than according to someone else’s battle plan, is probably something the eagles themselves insist on.

          1. BTW I know this is all ret-conning, since I’m pretty sure Tolkien never considered these points. This just goes to shoe that his story was so strong he didn’t really need to.

            1. Loved the Hobbit. But even when I first read it, back in 1968 (I was twelve) I noticed that. So no, Tolkien wasn’t so good you didn’t notice.

              But at the time he was magical, I’d never read anything like it. Sure as hell blew away Tom Swift Jr.

    2. Exactly. Different types of story demand different pacing.

      And yes, Brooks is pedestrian, but he has all the pieces in place and his writerly equivalent of “paint by numbers” does the job. Someone who does that can and sometimes does rise above the “writing-for-use” when they have everything click together into a synergy where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

      1. I consider Brooks worth studying because the man can tell a story that attracts people, lots of people, and he can do it consistently, again and again and aagain.

  11. If you dump the word “Hugo” from the title, you’ve got a good outline for a writers’ workshop.
    And at this point. I am all in favor of dumping the word “Hugo” in just about every context, except historical. At some point earlier this morning, I read a column that reminded me of C S Lewis’ work “Abolition of Man.”
    That made me think, and here’s what I thought:
    1. There was a group who loved science fiction back in the early 50s.
    2. Sixty-plus years later, we think of those individuals as Giants.
    3. The single undisputed legacy of the Giants was their power to grant an award, similar in shape to a V-2 rocket.
    4. The V-2 shaped award now confers Giant status, not on the recipients, but on those with the power to grant it.
    There are several more links in the chain, but I leave their statement as an exercise for the reader.

    1. It was higher for London ($50), so that’s not outside the realm of possibility. Especially if the 2017 Worldcon is outside the US, which is very likely given the list of bids. Not a huge increase, but every little bit helps.

        1. Don’t know. I may vote just for the Supporting Membership, but if I do, it will be based on who I think will do the best job, since I would not be able to attend regardless.

  12. I started reading Big Boys Don’t Cry… I thought, darn, he’s using “historical asides” pet peeve… Okay, here we go… Crap, now I’m crying… Skim… Skim… Stupid bawling… Ugh…. Skim lighter, get through it…. Ah, sh*t… Give up. I didn’t finish it. Probably never will. Some crabapple posting at Brad’s (I think) scoffed that it wasn’t “Hugo worthy.” What rot. It was compellingly written. Never mind I couldn’t finish it. It examined “big” Science ideas… How do we treat/interact/with machine intelligence, or might, and *allegorically* how do we value those people destroyed by our necessity?

    So anyhow… I went to read Lawyers of Mars… Finally! I needed something light hearted and read the first novella. I haven’t had that much fun reading science fiction in ages. It rocked!

    1. I last read the earlier version of the story years ago. Remembering it now almost brought a tear to my eye.

      Remembering some of his other stuff did.

      The story is also a disagreement with Laumer, and all of the leftists who think that man is a blank slate on which anything can be written.

      1. It takes a lot to top Keith Laumer.

        If anyone makes a list of “the best SF short stories ever”, I’ll put “The Last Command” up for the top of the list.

        …and Jack Vance’s “The Moon Moth” for #2, if anyone is interested.

    2. If you’ve ever been a parent and can read BBDC without getting at least a little misty you have a heart of stone.

      That said, it had one whopping great “stop the story! I need to preach a sermon” chunk about 1/3 in. Not a deal- breaker, as the story picked right back up and was long enough that reimersion was possible (unlike the Dino love story that dropped its clunker in at the Big Reveal.)

      The historical asides were critical to the story structure since we have two intersecting revelatory arcs: one from an unreliable narrator (mind-wiped tank person) and one from a “reliable” one (textbook / encyclopedia author(s). As the former gets closer to the truth, the latter gets farther, and the world-building and characterization takes place in the intersection between the two. It’s a truly ambitious story structure (ever bit as challenging as using “if you give a mouse a cookie” as a narrative frame for revenge fantasy. And less ridiculous)

      Myself, I don’t think Kratman pulled it off, but A+ for effort, and certainly ambitious enough for a nomination.

  13. Kate, respect for continuing to try to articulate this. It’s difficult and often thankless, but it will build bridges for many people, I’m guessing. It does for one person, at least. Cheers.

    1. I have this lamentable tendency to just come out and say what I think needs to be said. I saw the need and did what I could – thank you for your kind words.

    2. Way, way, way more patience than I have, that is certain. I skim the comments at 770 now and again and it has become nearly indistinguishable from ML. I saw than someone from there came here and asked the question about AJ (Going To Maine).

      Naturally, there was a group pile on both you and Sarah later in the thread. MG can have his echo chamber.

  14. I read Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series without needing one.

    Impressive! I learned lots of new words (“cerulean” is one I recall) from that. On the other hand, I was in eighth grade and you have to learn words somewhere/sometime (“wherefore” was sophomore year in High School and a very embarrassing moment for someone in an advanced class).

    1. Is this where my habit of reading the dictionary from cover to cover should be mentioned?

        1. I knew most of the words, but there was a list of several that I had to look up. Didn’t like his habit of repeating “vile carious” fifteen thousand times. It was like people who don’t like Tolkien think Tolkien is going to be like.

          1. The entire OED is online (the one that takes up walls of library shelves back when it was printed) and many library systems subscribe and so their users can go on it to play whenever they like. Good lord, but we live in a golden age of information! (it also allows one to mock SJWs with delusions of intellectual prowess who rely on dictionary,com for all their definitional needs 🙂

  15. Just watched Kung Fury. One commentator said that Sad Puppies IV will be the Saddenerning. Please tell me you won’t miss the opportunity to call it the Sadpaling.

    1. Well, I suppose there might be some Puppy supporters mocking Scalzi (what else is new?) but the top dogs (so to speak) haven’t weighed in at all.

      1. I see from googling that Vox has, but that’s hardly a surprise. Brad and Larry have said nothing.

  16. I am not really fond of that question myself. It is too similar to the age old question of what makes any work of art ‘good.’ For example I could point out Mark Rothko, whose most famous works can be summed up as boxes of colour. Yet I find myself drawn into the tattered edges, into the faint changes in hue, and into the marks the brush itself has left behind. I see something in those works, and I do not have the words to describe what exactly.

    Thus, a better question in my opinion would be; does a particular work deserve a Hugo? The words worthy and deserving are synonyms to a degree, but the fact remains that the Hugo awards are earned through people willing to cast their votes in the work’s favour. Thus whatever gained most votes deserved the Hugo.

    Which kind of brings up to the topic of: a worthy work does not automatically deserve a Hugo.

    Well, just thoughts on the evening.

  17. I don’t disagree (much) with your list, but my addition would be:

    10. Some great books break every rule and get away with it.

    1. They do – but never presume you can write one. Chances are if you think you can, you can’t.

      1. but never presume you can write one.

        Story told about a young composer coming to Mozart for advice on how to write symphonies. Mozart tells the young composer to start with small pieces, and gradually compose longer and more intricate pieces until he’s writing symphonies. The young composer objected “But that isn’t what you did.” to which Mozart replied “I didn’t have to ask for advice how.”

        [Inigo voice]I am not Mozart-handed.[/Inigo voice]
        (Okay, that’s kind of weak.)

      2. Ha! Not likely. I’m looking at your list as a reader, not a writer. For example, _The Three Body Problem_ breaks nearly all of those rules, but I think it’s a great book. I am still thinking of it, months after reading it – replaying scenes, reworking concepts.

        _The Goblin Emperor_ slipped in and out of my mind easily enough. I enjoyed it. I recommended it to a friend who I thought would also enjoy it. But I doubt I will still be thinking of it a year from now. It checks off more of the rules above, but it is not a great book.

    2. This is true. The ones that succeed in breaking rules usually have very good reasons for choosing to do so, coupled with brilliant execution. When one like that comes along, it tends to be Hugo-worthy 🙂

      1. With any rule it’s critical to know it exist AND why it exists before attempting to break it. Too many people don’t even manage the former, much less the latter.

        1. Yes, but again, I’m not trying to WRITE the next Hugo winner. I’m a READER. As a reader, I simply know that although many of my favourite books can check off all of the rules above, many books will follow all of your rules above and still do nothing for me. This set gives too many false positives and occasional false negatives.

    3. “By all means break the rules, and break them beautifully, deliberately, and well. That is one of the ends for which they exist.” —Robert Bringhurst

  18. Problem is, none of the Hugo Nominees this year is Hugo worthy.

    Maybe my standards are too high, but compared to books like ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ and ‘Dune’ this years list was terrible. Totally terrible.

    1. What should have been on it then? Or aren’t you responsible for offering alternatives?

      1. That’s a damned good question. I can’t think of anything that I’ve read over the last year that I would have nominated.

        In fact I’ve spent a god chunk of the last year re-reading favorites, because I’d start something, and dump it because it didn’t hold me. Maybe 2014 was just a bad year.

          1. Just looked it up. No, never read it. Don’t think I’ve ever read anything by John Wright yet.

      2. I should mention that the books that didn’t hold me included two of the Hugo novel nominees, The Dark Between the Stars (people keep telling me that Anderson is good – I can’t see it myself) and Skin Game (Butcher has been telling the same story since the first Dresden book and it’s gotten boring).

        Now admittedly I’m a tough sell. I’m the guy who took one look at the first preview for the new Star Trek (2009 film) and said on the spot, this is trash (because they were building a freaking starship on a planetary surface), and who hated the Lord of the Rings movies, and has said in public many times that Peter Jackson is an incompetent fool (he messed with characters that I’ve known and loved for over forty years – I don’t forgive things like that).

        But I’d usually find at least one diamond in a years worth of Science Fiction and Fantasy novel reading, and I didn’t last year.

        Which really sucks.

        1. Well now, that sounds like a personal problem. 😉

          Actually, and seriously… there are things that steal our joy. Being ABLE to enjoy an adventure or the glamour of a fantasy or a movie gets harder when we learn to analyze and tear apart and see what’s wrong instead of allowing the sensawunder to have it’s way with us.

          I thought that the Star Trek reboot was incredible. (They tried too hard on the second one, so it was merely “okay”.) The reason that I thought it was incredible was that it embodied hope instead of perfection. Star Trek has always been overtly utopic. But utopia, or perfection, is sort of the anti-hope. In the reboot Kirk’s childhood sucked… but he persevered (eventually). In the reboot they failed to save Vulcan… requiring Vulcans to persevere. It was just as silly as Star Trek ever is, but there were those little hints that it finally but on its big-boy pants vs. unlimited power that supplied all needs effortlessly by converting pure energy to tea, Earl Grey, hot.

          1. I’m a writer. Not as big as many of the people who post here, but hey, I’m persistent.

            One of the biggest problems with Science Fiction and Fantasy is the setting. If it is off, by even the tiniest bit, it can blow your ‘Sense of Wonder’ right out the window.

            Tolkien did a wonderful job on the setting of Lord of the Rings. He lived in an area where buildings a thousand years old were still in use. He also knew people, like the first archeologist to excavate an Anglo Saxon Feasting Hall (and now you know where he got his description of Theoden’s Hall).

            Gene Roddenbury spent a lot of time on the setting of the original Star Trek. He spoke to scientists about things like ‘where would you build a starship’ and came up with answers that are still valid. J. J. Abrams on the other hand, came up with ‘what would look neat’ and went with it, even though it didn’t make any sense.

            So, yes. I’m picky. If I’m going to spend good money on something, I expect that the creator will have spent enough time for it to make sense.

            1. You really can’t expect to make a “the original Star Trek had good science” argument and expect something other than (good natured) laughter. That was the whole premise of Galaxy Quest.

              I do hear you though. That one movie with Tom Cruise (Oblivion?) from the opening credits I’m all… They’re sucking water off the earth with humongous space craft and they can’t fix the problem or get it elsewhere? Wtf? And no. It makes no more sense for the aliens to do it. Ugh! Also, Inception was better when it was called Total Recall.

              1. It had better science than the remake, at least as far as the base setting.

                One of my complaints about ST:TNG was the number of times they nearly had a warp core breach. Obviously there was a severe problem with the system. The ships should have been pulled from service.

                Yes, you are going to screw up no matter who you are when you write Science Fiction. No one can keep up with all of the science and technology needed to get it perfect.

                But sometimes it’s less perfect than others.

                Some of the looser Science Fiction works better because of that. I’m thinking of James H. Schmitz and his Hub stories. There’s no explanation of the technology, just how the technology impacts on the characters, and the stories work well.

          2. Personally, one of the reasons why I loved the reboot was the sheer amount of personal effort that the actors themselves put into both keeping the original personal quirks of the characters, and at the same time, making the characters their own interpretation. Accents, speech patterns, body language… they did a fantastic job. (The only one I didn’t like was Sarek. Just didn’t have the dignity of Mark Lenard) That was more important to me than the special effects.

            1. The actors did a great job. Special effects weren’t bad either (though I thought they got pretty damned silly in places).

              Problem was the setting. They turned Star Trek into a dystopia, where poisoning the environment to build a starship was A-OK, and who cares if the warp core breaches on a planetary surface, after all, we’ve got more than one of them (we hope).

              1. Maybe warp cores are vulnerable to quantum fluctuations in an artificial gravity field… Or maybe the put the warp core in later. And why do you assume they’re ruining the environment? Earth looked just as sqeaky clean and polished as in any other Star Trek I’ve seen.

                1. Because of my background. I’m pretty well versed in chemistry (but not a scientist, and if you ask me to mix anything you’d better be wearing your protective suit) and I’ve dealt with the mining industry. Oh, and I’m currently living in a small town that was once the silver mining capital of Canada.

                  There’s this thing about mining. If you are lucky, you get 1 kilogram of ore out of ten kilograms dug. More often it is a hundred to one.

                  Dumping all of the spoil (that’s what they call it) takes up a lot of space. The spoil also can be pretty poisonous, never mind the processes used to refine the ore.

                  In Cobalt Ontario, most of the mines were shut down after World War 2. We still have enormous spoil heaps all over the place. And there are places where I will not walk my dogs – the groundwater is deadly poison in those areas.

                  So if you are mining (and you have to mine to get the materials needed) to build a starship, well, you are going to end up with one hell of a deep hole (or rather a bunch of deep holes since you won’t find all of the ores in the same place).

                  I did a write up explaining this, which is on Zauberspeigel in both English and German, which included the given weights for this ships, and the number of ships shown in the movie. We are talking a huge amount of ore, and an absolutely enormous amount of spoil.

                  That’s why I call it a dystopia – only in a dystopia would they be that careless. Any rational being would build the ships in space.

                  And yes, they can put the warp core in later, and try to lift under impulse power. But…

                  The ship isn’t streamlined or balanced. Try and lift it, and you’ve got an incredible load which is unbalanced. Make a tiny mistake, and you could end up smashing into the surface. Even a slow speed collision would do tremendous damage, because that freaking thing is HEAVY.

            2. Take Scottie’s insane transporter trick. Odds are you’d drown before they could pull you out.

              Never mind what happens if he gets a digit wrong. Can you say Sushi?

  19. I haven’t read a Hugo-nominated book for the past 20 or so years, as near as I can tell. “Hugo worthy” is purely subjective.. What I like to read and what you like to read are probably diametrically opposed.

  20. Let me guess: you just finished Ancillary Sword. I am 3/4 through and vastly amused by how much I enjoy the story and premise despite the craftsmanship being a primer on “how not to write.” Two chapters ago I downloaded a K. K. Rush title just to take a break from the slog. Plot! Characterization! Coherent narrative description! Sentence structure! Semi-colons! It was as if I had walked into a clean well-lighted space from Times Square at rush hour.

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