Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hugo Thoughts: Shiny New Campbellian Writers

I've been running through the nominees for the various 2011 Hugo categories over the past couple of weeks, in hopes that this -- coupled with the magnificent Hugo Packet, which has nearly all of the nominated works, as well as many works by nominated individuals in the "people" categories -- will help us all make more informed and smart voting decisions. (That's the dream, at least -- I've spent more than a decade complaining that Hugo voters pick their favorites every year in a thoughtless manner, and decided it was finally time to try to do something about it.)

Today I will not be writing about a Hugo category. I will instead be writing about the Not-a-Hugo category, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, which is administered and voted with the Hugos but is sponsored by Dell Magazines, and has always been officially Not a Hugo.

This is yet another "person" award, given to a new writer -- in the field less than two eligible years -- for the body of work produced to date. The definition of "in the field" has typically been very parochial, allowing (for example) David Anthony Durham to win in 2009 even though he'd published five novels over eight years by that point. (So there may be a competitive advantage to making your reputation somewhere else and then coming into SFF, if you really want a Campbell tiara.)

All of this year's nominees are in their second year of eligibility, and they are:
  • Saladin Ahmed
  • Lauren Beukes
  • Larry Correia
  • Lev Grossman
  • Dan Wells
Saladin Ahmed has been a short-story writer so far -- a novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon, is forthcoming -- which puts him in select company in this category. (It used to go more often to short fiction writers, back in the early days of the award in the 1970s, but only a few winners recently -- most notably Mary Robinette Kowal in 2008, Jay Lake in 2004, [1] and Michael A. Burstein in 1997 -- had only short fiction out at the time of their wins.) As one might guess from his name, he's of Arab descent, and has worked from that culture for most (maybe all?) of his published work to date. From his stories in the Packet, he still has a new writer's energy and focus, which makes up for the occasional new writer's shakiness. I think I've met him, actually -- SFF is a small world.

Lauren Beukes is a South African writer (journalist and editor, as well as genre fiction) with two novels out so far -- Moxyland and Zoo City -- and one major award under her belt already (the Arthur C. Clarke, for Zoo City). I've got both of those novels around here somewhere -- or maybe just the sampler for Zoo City in the packet and two copies of Moxyland -- but I haven't read her work yet. I'm pretty sure I've met her, too, at the Angry Robot party at the Montreal Worldcon.

Larry Correia is a writer I don't know; his first book is Monster Hunter International, and it looks like he's setting up his turf on the opposite (masculine) side of the territory defined by urban fantasy at their end. (And that novel is also in the big Packet.) Two Monster Hunter sequels are now out, and another series, "The Grimnoir Chronicles," is also starting up -- all from Baen, the SF publisher that really knows how to do books about guys shooting up monsters of all kinds.

Lev Grossman is what I think of as this year's ringer; he's been Time magazine's book critic for a number of years and his first novel, Warp, was published back in 1997. Yes, his first fantasy novel, The Magicians, only came out in 2009 (when I reviewed it), but why should that be the determining factor? If the Campbell Award already pits novelists against short-story writers, can't we at least insist that none of them have been publishing stuff for a decade already? In any case, Grossman's work is definitely strong, and he's otherwise a very strong candidate for the Campbell.

Dan Wells is another novelist; his first book, I Am Not a Serial Killer, is in the Packet. (It's a book I do want to read -- in part because my old bookclub friend Moshe Feder is his editor -- but I haven't gotten to it yet, either; I do hope to at least read some Campbell first chapters before I have to vote.) Two more novels have followed.

This is always a tough category to vote for, since it's the most difficult to read for -- to be really conscientious, a voter should find and read everything eligible that the nominees have published, and then try to decide which of them is "best." Add to that the question of predictive accuracy of this award for a writer's future career -- are you voting for the writer that's best right now, or the writer you expect to have the biggest, most impressive career later? -- and it's a real tangle. But, if you do get the Packet, you can at least read some prose by each of these writers, which can't hurt in your voting decision.

And, remember: the Hugo voting deadline is the end of this month, a minute before midnight, Pacific Time, on July 31st. If you're eligible to vote, please do so -- and spend some time this week thinking about what works and people are most deserving of your vote.

[1] Added a day later; see comment from Jay Lake for the reason why.

(And, once again, it serves me right for not checking things -- I have a copy of Rocket Science, which I just now checked to see it has a publication date of August 2005, though my fallible memory had it published before his Campbell win. He is another recent winner who notably did so despite the handicap of not having published any novels yet.)


Unknown said...

NB, I won the Campbell in 2004 as solely a short story writer


Andrew Wheeler said...

Jay: Sorry! I'd thought Rocket Science preceded your Campbell, but my memory was wrong. I've corrected the post.

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