So before the political singularity happened, I was slowly reviewing this year’s Hugo nominations. For those who weren’t following my blog then and don’t know, this year, like last year, a group of fascists (and no, I’m not going to use euphemisms like “conservatives” and “traditionalists” — these are neither traditionalist nor conservative, but white supremacist fascists) calling themselves the Rabid Puppies decided to swamp the nomination process for the Hugo Awards, until last year (and hopefully again soon, once the rules have changed) the most prestigious award in science fiction.
The awards voting deadline is at the end of the month, and so I’m hoping to get reviews of all the fiction, at least, up here before that, along with my rankings. My rule is that I’m going to rank everything honestly, and then place No Award above the highest-ranking fascist pick, on the grounds that nothing on their list is on the ballot legitimately. (I’ve posted more about my thinking on this here).
So, from “best” to worst, here’s my ranking of the novelettes.
At the top will be No Award. The one non-fascist-nominated story simply isn’t very good, so everything goes below this.
Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu, is actually very good — the only one of these stories I can say that about. It’s genuinely well-written (as one would expect from works written or translated by Liu), has a strong central idea, and manages to use SF to comment on economics and politics without losing the central character.
The story was nominated by the fascists, so I can’t in all conscience put it above No Award, but I won’t be at all unhappy if it manages to win anyway.
Obits by Stephen King is a perfectly decent little story, as one would expect from King. It’s an effective-enough little thing about someone who discovers that if he writes obituaries for people, they actually die.
But the description of the workplace culture in a new media startup reads completely wrong to me, the first-person narrator is a decade younger than me but still thinks that “a young Joan Baez” would be a comprehensible cultural reference to other people his age, and the whole thing reads like what it is — a man in his sixties trying to write about a culture he doesn’t quite understand.
Also the story involves the death of an incredibly-thinly-disguised Phil Spector, and wishing real people, even repulsive ones, dead strikes me as unpleasant.
King obviously isn’t a fascist, and is usually a pretty decent writer, but this story would never have made the ballot without fascist support, so this goes below No Award.
Also, for those who’ve not read it yet, this comes with a trigger warning for rape and childhood sexual abuse.
And You Shall Know Her By The Trail Of Dead by Brooke Bollander is the only non-fascist nomination here. Unfortunately, it’s very much of the same aesthetic as the stuff the fascists like (and was on the Sad Puppy list, the list put together by fascists who try to pretend they aren’t fascists, but that list made no material difference this year).
A typical example of the kind of writing in the story:
“He was trying to crack it, you fucks. The fuck is wrong with you? He was coming out, he was going to try again, it was just a fucking hiccup! Jesus fuck, do you think you’re going to get your cunting kid back now?” Her throat hurts from screaming. Blood from her nose is backing up into her sinuses, half-choking her. She doesn’t care. “I’ll kill you, I’ll fucking kill all of you. You’re fucking dead, do you hear me? Let me go, let me fucking go — ”
“We hired you and your partner to finish job. Nothing was ever said about quitting,” the man says. His voice is heavily accented, breath reeking of onions and vodka. “If pretty boy couldn’t bring what we need out, pretty boy is useless, like tits on bull or useless cyborg bitch. His consciousness can stay inside box and rot for all I care. But! — ” he pokes Rhye in the forehead with one of his blunt fingers — ”I think you care. I think you care very much, yes? Yesyes?”
“I’m going to kill you, you fuck.” She says it slowly, pronouncing every word with deathly clarity. “I’m going to shove my gun up your ass and blow a hole so fucking wide a whale’s prick wouldn’t fill the gap.”
The whole thing’s like that.
What Price Humanity by David VanDyke is published by the ringleader of the Nazis, and follows the same themes as every other tedious pile of crap his company publishes. Refighting Vietnam but this time the “good guys” win? Check. Transhumanism is bad and wrong? Check. Angsty pseudo-moralising that boils down to “it’s OK to do evil if you’re the good guys”? Check.
Ditchwater-dull prose, an unoriginal story with a “twist” that you can see coming a couple of sentences in… this is simply not even a basically competent piece of work.
Flashpoint: Titan by Cheah Kai Wai is almost literally unreadable. It’s people expositing at each other in “as you know, your father the king” style, interspersed with space-weapons porn.
It’s all like this:
The Chinese continued to turn. Their hulls were long and vulnerable, but still too far away for Takao to target accurately. When the guard ships stopped turning, they fired their railguns. Projectiles sped towards Takao at twenty klicks per second relative to her velocity. They were guided shells, firing rockets to take them on an intercept course with Takao.
“It’s harassing fire,” Nakamura said. “They want us to expend delta-vee to dodge them, maybe even force us out of the Saturnian system. At this range, those have got to be flechette shells.”
“Very good. Nakamura, Sato, Tanaka, Subaru: develop a vector that will take us towards Chongqing and minimize acceleration and delta-vee expenditure. Priority is to set up a laser solution at standoff range. What flechettes we can’t dodge, we trash.”
I am told that not all “military SF” is like this, but every example the subgenre’s proponents push seems to be. This is also published by the ringleader of the Nazis (in the same volume as the VanDyke story), so would earn a downvote even were the writing actually competent.