Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hugo Thoughts: Related to What, Exactly?

This is the last of my "official" Hugo Thoughts posts, since I've now covered every Hugo category. (Plus the Campbell, which we are all obliged to point out is not a Hugo, even though it's nominated with, voted with, and administrated with the Hugos.)

As before, I must warn those of more sensitive dispositions that I am exceptionally cynical after a couple of decades of Hugo-watching, and that my tastes are often both odd and inexplicable. I try to be as factual as possible in these posts, but I'm also hoping to be entertaining along the way -- and the way I'm most entertaining, as has become clear over the last five years of blogging, is when I'm honest about the things that annoy me the most.

Today's very last category is Best Related Work, the portmanteau container that has been tampered with over the years without essentially changing its place as the spot to reward something that a lot of Hugo voters like but which doesn't fit into any regular category. (In my observation, it typically goes to a work by or about the oldest and best-liked fiction writer available, with pauses to honor really, really popular art books once or twice a decade and the occasional super-magisterial reference work.)

As usual, this year's crop of nominees mixes apples, oranges, crescent wrenches, and shades of the color mauve -- but, then, that's the whole point of this category:

Best Related Work

Wolfe's Bearings is a large book, containing nearly all of his collected reviews from Locus for those five years, and follows the similar Soundings, which collected reviews from 1992 to 1996 and was nominated for this category in 2006. I read Wolfe's Locus reviews for that entire stretch -- I fell out of the habit of reading Locus in the last few years, mostly because I'm reading very different trade magazines these days -- but did not re-read them in book form. Wolfe is a smart, interesting reviewer, and only slightly hampered by Locus's general habit of never running reviews that don't contain some positive mixed in with the negative. He's certainly a worthy nominee here, though this is the kind of work that -- in my experience -- never actually wins this category.

The Business of Science Fiction is another book, reprinting a very long-running series of essays in which Resnick and Malzberg entertainingly (and generally informatively) puzzle through various aspects of the publishing world, from their own inimitable points of view. As far as I know, those essays have all appeared in the Science Fiction (and Fantasy) Writers of America's house organ, the Bulletin, so this is probably the first time they're available to a non-SFWAn audience. (Though there are plenty of affiliate SFWA member and some pass-along readership as well, so I expect plenty of would-be writers have already read and gotten good advice from those essays.) I don't always agree with either Resnick or Malzberg -- in fact, I'd have to say that, at least half of the time, I thought that they seriously misunderstood the situation they were writing about -- but, since I was on the editorial side, I didn't expect to agree with writers talking about their end of the business. More serious, though, is the timeliness of the advice -- I haven't read the whole book (which was included in the Hugo Packet as a Word document, without any prior publication information), but, as I've poked through it, I've found a number of direct references to the late '90s. So I suspect that this book reprints their earliest essays, starting around 1998, and that's a big problem -- the field has changed so radically since then (particularly in the last two-three years) that professional advice for writers from 1998 is less than useless; it's likely to be actively pernicious.

Chicks Dig Time Lords, a book of essays by various women writers about Doctor Who, is a deeply fannish publication, in the best and worst senses of the word: it's informed by a vast and deep enthusiasm, which will leave cold anyone who does not share that enthusiasm. For example, I do not share that enthusiasm; I haven't watched Doctor Who since the early '80s, and I lack the gene for deep fannish enthusiasm to begin with. So all I really can do is point at this and say "these women really really like Doctor Who, and have taken a lot of time and effort to explain why," without entirely understanding their love.

I'm reading the Heinlein biography right now; I don't expect to get it done before the deadline, but I do want to have a sense of it before I have to vote. So far, I'm dubious about Patterson's incredibly expansive introduction, which claims responsibility in the name of Heinlein for nearly everything Patterson believes was good and right in the last fifty years of history. And I have noticed that his footnotes, so far, are entirely rooted in Heinlein's papers and in the recollections of his widow, Virginia Heinlein. (I trust I don't have to explain why a biographer, working up his subject's childhood, should cast his net wider than the memory of the man's third wife, who married him at the age of forty-one.) So the early tests of scholarship are not as promising as I might hope. But I can't say anything definitive from such small a sample, and this clearly is a big book about a major SF figure. If you're voting, take a close look at this book, and think about Patterson's work, rather than your opinion of Heinlein's writing, or his place in the SFnal canon.

Writing Excuses is the shade of mauve this year -- it's not a book; it's not even anything written. It is, instead, a free audio podcast, available on these here Interwebs. I break out in hives whenever I try to listen to spoken-word audio -- seriously; I can't stand podcasts, or books-on-tape, and I don't even like talking to people on the phone all that much -- so I can't evaluate this in any way whatsoever. I'm sure it's a really wonderful podcast, full of great writing advice, but I could only stand to listen to about five minutes of one episode, and even that was while doing something else.

And if you can judge among those five very unlike things, you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din. Good luck putting them into a coherent list -- though, again, I'll note that if you don't think something should get a Hugo at all, don't put it on your ballot.

Hugo voting closes at midnight (Pacific time) on this coming Sunday, July 31st, so you have just over 72 hours to decide and vote as I type this now. Please do vote, if you're eligible.

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