My Hugo Votes (2008)

8 07 2008

Tonight is the Hugo deadline, which means I need to stop procrastinating and actually figure out what I like best.

Hugo voting works on an instant runoff system. Here’s my order, and why:

1. Halting State by Charles Stross
2. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon.
3. The Last Colony by John Scalzi
4. Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer
5. Brasyl by Ian McDonald

Halting State is first because it was the most exciting story of the four I read. It was also the most daring, breaking literary conventions by narrating completely in second person—and yet was still readable, even enjoyable. Highly enjoyable. I don’t necessarily think it will win, but it’s my first choice, because Stross took real risks and managed to produce something worthwhile and insightful, as I said earlier.

I really liked The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, but it’s not science fiction. It’s speculative fiction, and the only thing that sets it apart, genre-wise, from plain ol’ ordinary boring literature is that it’s speculating about an alternate past with imaginary people, rather than just imaginary people. It’s not even fantasy! However, of the five books up here, it’s the only one that stands on real literary merit, and it was nominated.

What’s the difference between literary and non-literary? Most science fiction is rote description of events in some order, sometimes even delving into the complicated literary event of the flashback (note the irony), with some character development. Intermingled are usually plain descriptions and dialogue about various scientific ideas. But nothing transcends.

“Transcends?” What the hell kind of jargon talk is that?

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union—that book has a completely different relationship with language, description and ideas than the others. Chabon doesn’t just describe the world, he brings it alive. Take this character:

Rabbi Heskel Shpilman is a deformed mountain, a giant ruined dessert, a cartoon house with the windows shut and the sink left running. A little kid lumped him together, a mob of kids, blind orphans who never laid eyes on a man. They clumped the dough of his arms and legs to the dough of his body, then jammed his head down on top. A millionaire could cover a Rolls-Royce with the fine black silk-and-velvet expanse of the rebbe’s frock coat and trousers. It would require the brain strength of the eighteen greatest sages in history to reason through the arguments against and in favor of classifying the rebbe’s massive bottom as either a creature of the deep, a man-made structure, or an unavoidable act of God. If he stands up, or if he sits down, it doesn’t make any difference in what you see.

Make sense now? You just don’t find that in any of the other books. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is like that at every turn—not science fiction, but better fiction than all the rest combined. Number two.

A side note: The sad state of science fiction is that only one book on the Hugo nominees list reads like The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, and it’s not really science fiction or fantasy at all. For pure writing, that book was meat, the rest are candy. Let’s just keep that straight, alright?

(The other sad state of the Hugo awards is that all the nominees are old(er than me) white guys. But you know, let’s leave that one the hell alone for right now.)

This is where it gets hard:

The Last Colony doesn’t deserve a Hugo, because it’s not that great, but neither did Sawyer’s Hominids. I can only speculate that the other books that year (2003) were truly horrible or everyone was suffering from a bad case of mass hallucination. I like Scalzi’s writing in general better than I like Sawyer’s—even though I thought Rollback was a better book than The Last Colony. On the off chance that neither Stross nor Chabon wins, I’d like to see Scalzi walk away with a Hugo for the whole Old Man’s War saga, even though it’d be represented by the weakest of the three. If Zoe’s Tale is a good as everything I’m hearing, Scalzi will stand a chance to pick one up for Best Novel next year—his career is still rising. Scalzi third, Sawyer fourth.

Brasyl is number five because I was unable to read it. I sat down earlier today and tried—but I couldn’t seem to get into it. In the eleventh hour, that makes all the difference. Next year I’ll hopefully be able to get to the books earlier. I’m sorry, Mr. McDonald, if you ever read this, it’s nothing personal.

The only other place I feel qualified at all to make judgments on voting is the Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, because I’ve seen four of five of those:

1. Stardust
2. Enchanted
3. Heroes, Season 1
4. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
5. The Golden Compass

Quickly, The Golden Compass sucked in so many ways. I didn’t see Harry Potter, but it had to have been slightly better. Heroes was wonderful until halfway through the season, when they dropped one of the most important minor characters with… no explanation whatsoever. I know the mother of one of the stuntmen in Enchanted, and she speaks worlds of good things about him and the movie. Stardust was a beautiful book and a beautiful movie.

Done, and done. Now we wait.

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5 responses

8 07 2008
Molly

In the meantime, I would recommend a collection of post-apocalyptic short stories that recently came out called Wastelands. It includes a fantastic (of course) story by Cory Doctorow about what would happen if computer systems administrators were the only survivors of the apocalypse…

8 07 2008
Allie

I am currently nearly finished with The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, partially because of your review of it here, and I am so glad I picked it up. “Meaty” is really an excellent way to describe the writing, though I agree that classifying it as science fiction is not really correct.
I has been a long time since I read a book where I feel the urge to read a paragraph a few times in a row just because of how beautifully constructed it is, but it happens in Chabon’s book often more than once a chapter.
Now I’m wondering why The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay didn’t click with me at all when I attempted to read it a few years ago.

8 07 2008
Jacob

Molly — that sounds awesome! Thanks for letting me know.

Allie — I’m glad you like it!
When do you get home? I’m finally in Boston and you’re in… India?

2 08 2008
dymnmusy

I agreed with you

11 08 2008
A little link collection « Conventioneers!

[…] Hugo Awards — Remember when I put down my votes? Well, the winners have been chosen, and I wasn’t too far off. Next year, I promise more […]

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