Best related work is another field in which all five nomination categories were taken by two overlapping slates: one, the “Sad Puppies”, who claim to exist in order to promote the kind of fiction I personally find tedious, but with a side-order of reactionary conservatism; and another, the “Rabid Puppies”, which had more effect, and which had that effect because its instigator, “Vox Day”, a neofascist rape apologist, got hate groups involved in his own petty revenge fantasy against the science fiction community that had wronged him by not seeing his genius.
For fairly obvious reasons, I am not going to give anything on those slates a ranking above No Award. Once again, however, I am grateful that my aesthetic instincts match my moral ones here — while these are (with one notable exception) much less incompetent than the fiction I’ve read so far, none of them are actually, you know, good.
Here’s how I’m ranking them.
Letters from Gardner by Lou Antonelli is half writing autobiography/how to break into SF manual, and half collection of short stories. Basically imagine The Early Asimov, but with Antonelli replacing Asimov and Gardner Dozois replacing John Campbell. Antonelli tells the story of how each of his stories was written, and how it was accepted or rejected.
The difference is, though, that Antonelli has had an undistinguished career, lasting roughly a decade, while Asimov was one of the greats of the genre (at least in sales and critical status). There is an intrinsic interest in Asimov’s juvenilia which there just isn’t for Antonelli. The stories were pedestrian, and there were no real insights, but this might be of interest to someone. It’s not *bad*, just also not *good*.
Why Science Is Never Settled by Tedd Roberts is, with the exception of one line that hints at climate-change denialism, a perfectly competent long blog post summary of the scientific method, the controversies around the current scientific culture, and so on. It’s baby-level stuff, and anyone who reads, say, Slate Star Codex (let alone any actual science) will laugh their heads off at the idea that stuff this basic merits any kind of award. But for what it is it’s a perfectly readable blog post. Sod all to do with SF though.
The Hot Equations by Ken Burnside is one of two pieces edited and published by “Vox Day” that have only got here because of his nasty little revenge fantasy. Of the two, this is clearly the better, having an actual point — it points out the scientific failings of much space opera and military SF, and tries to come up with more physically plausible ways of telling that sort of story. Unexceptionable, even though it’s in the same anthology as the execrable Turncoat story. Definitely not award-worthy, but it didn’t make me feel physically ill while I read it or anything, which for a work associated with “Day” is quite an achievement.
Transhuman and Subhuman by John C Wright is also edited and published by “Day”, and is more the kind of thing I’ve come to associate with him. This is a collection of critical essays about SF and fantasy, written from a conservative Catholic perspective, and pushing that point of view.
Mr Wright is clearly hugely influenced by G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, and goes out of his way to invite comparison to them. This is admirable as far as it goes — Lewis and (especially) Chesterton were true greats. However, what he has taken from them is not their wit, nor their largeness of spirit, nor their love of the world and its inhabitants. He doesn’t have Chesterton’s deftness of phrase or political insight, nor Lewis’ good humour, imagination, and willingness to include himself in his denouncements of sin.
Rather, what he has taken from them is their small-minded bigotries, their confusion of the conventions of the society they lived in with eternal spiritual verities, and their (at least Chesterton’s) willingness to twist logic to suit dogma rather than try to reconcile dogma with the world.
He’s a fundamentally dishonest disputant. Take for example this sentence:
The major objection honest atheists must level (and I was an honest atheist, back then, not merely a character assassin) is that religion is false; that even if true, it has no claim on our loyalty; that the reason of man, being reason, cannot be bound by dogma; and that the claims, true or false, are repellant to the dignity of free and rational beings.
No. The major objection of an honest atheist is, and is only, that they believe religion to be false. All that other stuff is irrelevant to an honest atheist, but is relevant if setting up a straw man.
Catholicism deserves better apologists than Mr Wright, even leaving aside his bigotry.
And finally, Wisdom From My Internet, by Michael Z. Williamson is simply a collection of the kind of “joke” your reactionary crank of a grandfather posts to Facebook. The first page has two rape jokes, and the whole is simply a collection of disconnected lines like “Hitler didn’t commit suicide over the gas bill” and “If we borrow money from China, will be we broke again an hour later?”
It’s not a book in any reasonable sense of the word, nor does it have anything to do with SF or fantasy. Its nomination (keeping off good, valuable, books) is a despicable act, and is both sets of Puppies trolling the awards. The other entrants, even the awful one from Wright, are at least attempting to say something. This had less thought put into it than my two paragraphs dismissing it had. I regret that I have but one No Award vote to place above it.