Here we come to the first of the difficult subjects for these Hugo blogs — what to do about works that aren’t in the Hugo Packet in full? One of the three (count ’em!) major controversies this year around the Hugos has been that some books (notably those by Orbit) are not included in the Hugo Packet in full, but only in part. That includes at least one book in this category.
Now, I have a limited budget of both money and time to spend on books, and generally speaking if a book’s been out a year and I haven’t bought it, it’s probably because I suspect it’s not my kind of thing, so I’m not going to buy those books just to give them a fair shake. On the other hand, I don’t want to punish either the authors or the publisher for this — the Packet is a privilege, not a right.
So what I’m going to do is simple. I’m going to read the portions in the Hugo Packet, and if they grab me enough to buy the full book, then I’ll buy it and rank it. If they don’t, I’ll leave them off the ballot altogether unless (as I strongly suspect will be the case in some categories) there are works that are so godawful that I’d rather anything win more than them, in which case I’ll rank books I haven’t read below No Award but above the truly dire. Make sense? OK.
The other problem with this particular category is that it’s comparing apples with… not even oranges but something like the concept of free will or something, they’re so different. The category contains three anthologies, a blog post and a podcast series. I’ve no idea how to judge them fairly, but I’m going to try…
As always, my thoughts on each, ranked best to worst:
Queers Dig Time Lords as with most of these Xs Dig Y books, too many of the pieces in here are the kind of short coming-of-age story that would make a moderately interesting LiveJournal post for those who know the authors, but which just become repetitive when collected into a single volume and read by someone who doesn’t know them. That said, though, the stuff in here that doesn’t read as generic — especially Paul Magrs’ essay on camp (and it’s noticeable that several other essays specifically reference Magrs as an inspiration) is well worth reading. I also agree totally with Magrs’ take on season 22, and that alone would push this up to the top of the ranking — there are far too few people willing to stand up to the fan orthodoxy and say “no, actually, there’s nothing wrong with Colin Baker’s time on the show”.
Writing Excuses Season 8 I listened to the first two episodes of this and… it’s not my thing, but I can see why it would be for other people. It’s writing advice, for people who want to write SF/F, and given by fairly successful writers, so it’s reasonably good advice as far as it goes, but it would easily be possible to get the same advice in text form in a tenth of the time. If you’re someone who wants to write, and who likes listening to discussion rather than reading, it might be valuable — and I might even listen to a few more episodes myself — but it’s not something I would find that useful, and nor is it done so fabulously that I’d listen to it for pleasure.
Speculative Fiction 2012 is a book collecting fifty blog posts from SF critics, fans, and authors, from the year before last. Some of the writing is very good, but all of it is presented without context (except sometimes for hyperlinks), and a lot of it is commentary on what X said about what Y said about what Z said about the trend towards “grimdark” in fantasy or representation of different ethnic groups in heroic fantasy or whatever. No doubt fascinating for those who are deeply involved in SF fandom, but out of context two-year-old Internet arguments are probably not something most people should choose to seek out.
“We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley is a blog post about why representation matters, and about how portrayals of history often miss out things like women fighting in Shaka Zulu’s army. It’s a very good blog post, but I really don’t see why it’s nominated separately rather than being part of the evidence for Hurley in the Best Fan Writer category. It also has very little — basically nothing — to do with SF/F. On its own merits, it’s good enough that I’d have included it in a linkblog roundup if I’d read it out of the Hugo context, but it’s got no place on the ballot.
Not ranking — Wonderbook Jeff VanderMeer and Jeremy Zerfoss. This is a guide to writing imaginative fiction, and the Packet contained several chapters of it. Sadly, it’s a book clearly designed for print, not PDF, and laid out something like a magazine, with illustrations and short extra essays breaking up the chapters, sometimes in mid-sentence. I found it simply impossible to follow in PDF form, given my own limited visual ability — and this was made worse by the fact that much of the writing advice was given in diagram form, rather than in text. Had I a physical copy, I suspect this would actually be ranked somewhere in the middle, but I couldn’t make a fair judgement based on what was there, and it didn’t grab me enough to want to buy a physical copy (I don’t buy many physical books at all any more, as the house is absurdly full of them anyway).