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May 29, 2007

The Hugos/Campbell This Year: A Discussion Thread

For the science fiction geeks out there: Is it just my imagination, or does there seem to be relatively little discussion of the Hugos/Campbell this year -- and particularly little discussion of the Best Novel nominees? Bear in mind this perspective might be skewed by the fact that last year a book of mine was a Best Novel nominee, so I was probably paying attention more last year. On the other hand, I am a Hugo nominee this year, too, so it's not like I'm entirely out of the loop at the moment. The only really substantive discussion was early on, discussing the dearth of female nominees in the fiction categories.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm interested in hearing folks' thoughts about the Hugos this year, since I really haven't heard as much out there as I usually do by this time of year, and I think some discussion would be good. I'm particularly interested in your thoughts in the fiction categories, especially the Best Novel category, which this year I think is interesting because I can plausibly construct scenarios in which four of the five nominees walk away with the award; last year I saw only two plausible scenarios (and no, me winning was not one of them).

So: Hugos! Campbell! Discuss! Don't feel obliged to discuss the Best Fan Writer category, however, as that smacks of self-serving-ness here on this site. Here's the nominee list again.

Also feel free to discuss whether there has been a lack of Hugo discussion this year, and if so, why. Because I'd like to know that, too.

Posted by john at May 29, 2007 01:50 PM

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Comments

Kellie Hazell | May 29, 2007 02:06 PM

I haven't seen much beyond the gender issues except for Abigail Nussbaum's site (http://wrongquestions.blogspot.com/search/label/awards%20discussion). But I haven't read but one or two from the entire fiction slate, so I haven't really been looking.

Kate Nepveu | May 29, 2007 02:31 PM

I haven't read any of the short fiction nominees yet and only one of the novel nominees. (Am working on Sarah Monette's novels at the moment, however, so I *am* doing my awards reading.) Thus, I don't have anything to say.

Rachel | May 29, 2007 02:33 PM

So, how about those Hugos?

Honestly: I didn't talk about the Hugos last year, and I probably won't talk about them this year. I find the conversation that has existed exhausting, since 1: I found out how relatively obnoxious the award processes are for the Neb and the Hugos, and 2: the gender thing.

But it's cool that Rosenbaum was nominated. He was, right?

Kate Nepveu | May 29, 2007 02:36 PM

I can, however, contribute a more useful nominees list which contains links to read online all of the short fiction nominees and three (!) of the best novel nominees.

Patrick Shepherd | May 29, 2007 02:57 PM

My thoughts on the Hugo novel nominees are here.

Rob Davies | May 29, 2007 03:03 PM

This is one of the rare years where I would not be upset to see any of the five nominated novels win. I am rooting for GLASSHOUSE, but I suspect HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON is going to win. RAINBOWS END is rather good, but I much prefer Vinge's space opera. I haven't read BLINDSIGHT yet; it's next on my pile.

JJS | May 29, 2007 03:10 PM

I have not been discussing them because I have nothing worthwhile to say. I read part of Rainbows End, didn't like it. I saw Pan's Labyrinth, thought it was OK but not anything I would consider Hugo quality. As chance would have it, I have not read or seen any of the other nominees. So what could I have to say that would be worth reading? I will now re-enter my no-discussion mode.

Mike Scott | May 29, 2007 03:18 PM

I shall restrict myself to categories where I have some knowledge of the field, and I've not read much of the short fiction.


In best novel, I had read four of the nominees before they were announced. I didn't much care for Rainbow's End, which is far from Vinge's best, with a confused and muddled ending where he loses control of his multiple points of view. Glasshouse is competent Stross, but not his best. His Majesty's Dragon is highly entertaining fluff. That leaves Eifelheim and Blindsight, which are both superb novels written by writers at the height of their careers. I voted for Blindsight, as its virtues are science fictional virtues, where Eifelheim has a more pedestrian premise although it's probably a better told story. Eifelheim also has some (superficial) similarities to Connie Willis's Doomsday Book, which was a (joint) Hugo winner in 1993, whereas Blindsight is like nothing else ever written. I also think that Blindsight will win.


Dramatic presentation long form is a bit of a mess, with the screw-up in the nominations. I've not seen Pan's Labyrinth or A Scanner Darkly, but of those I've seen I liked Children of Men best, but I suspect it's too English to win. It's a tough year to call, but my money is on V for Vendetta. (Although, ironically, if Pirates of the Caribbean 2 had stayed on the ballot I suspect it would have picked up a lot of second and third place votes and won.)


In dramatic presentation short form, it seems likely that Doctor Who is going to win.


For best fan writer, I think you're the most likely candidate in years to break Dave Langford's eighteen-year streak -- and I suspect no one will be happier than him if you do.


Best fan artist is another tough one -- I voted for Sue Mason, naturally, but I think Frank Wu will take it again.

Chad Orzel | May 29, 2007 03:23 PM

I haven't read any of the short fiction nominees, as usual, though I'm going to try really hard to actually read them this year-- maybe I'll take them with me next week when I go to Canada.

Of the Best Novel nominees, I've read three, and of those, I would probably give the nod to Vinge's Rainbows End. I thought Eifelheim was interesting but flawed, and His Majesty's Dragon was great fun, but not the sort of thing I think of as award-worthy.

I have a copy of Blindsight sitting on my desk, but I haven't felt an excess of will to live recently, so I haven't worked my way up to reading it. The jacket copy of Glasshouse combined with my previous experience of Charlie Stross suggests that I'm likely to hate it, but I may try to get it out of the library and give it a fair shot.

The Campbell is probably between Monette and Sanderson, because Lynch and Novik have another year of eligibility. I haven't read any of Lawrence Schoen's stuff, but if there's any online, I'll take a look.

PixelFish | May 29, 2007 03:26 PM

I wouldn't be sad to see His Majesty's Dragon win, but I was hoping for Blindsight. (I think it is the better book thematically, although I find HMD to be the more appealing book--the one I'd re-read multiple times for fun.) I have Rainbow's End, but haven't read it yet.

The Campbell thing is tricky for me. I want Brandon Sanderson to win, although I think Novik will take it, and again, I wouldn't be sad if she does, because I really enjoyed her books. I just enjoyed Brandon's a tiny bit more--I enjoyed both Mistborn and Elantris and felt they were new and fresh injections into fantasy. And Sarah Monette would be my third choice.

Now that Donato has ascended into the ranks of people who actually got the Hugo Pro Artist award, I would like either Stephen Martiniere or John Jude Palencar to get it. Stephen would be my first choice, because I have been coveting his art book all this year. (And will probably buy it once I am re-jobbed.) Palencar is another favourite artist, but I have seen less from him that has impressed me as Martiniere's work has done lately. (This category as well as the fan artist category are....really stagnant. Very little changes in the way of new artists being added to the roster, which leads me to think that a lot of the artists are being judged on overall careers by the voters and less on what they've done in the last year. That said, I was pleased to see Donato and Irene Gallo's discussions and propositions on the point last year.)

I'd also like to see more exposure in the Fan Artist category, as I have no strong opinion on the five nominees there. Nobody in that group is particularly exciting me--and at least two of the nominees web pages haven't changed from last year when I first looked them up.

Madeline F | May 29, 2007 03:30 PM

Oh, hey, thanks, Kate! That is useful! I'd heard good things about "Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter" from the Tiptree people.

For the Hugos, last year Patrick Nielsen Hayden pimped _Spin_ in a big way, and I went by Other Change of Hobbit in Berkeley and picked it up, though the guys there were like "Eh" and suggested that _9tail Fox_ was a much better book. Wish I'd followed their suggestion, as _Spin_ was very _Great Gatsby_, not appealing to me. Still haven't gotten around to _9tail Fox_.

This year, I recognize Vernor Vinge (beh. All his books have the same pattern [evil bad guy {proven to be evil because he rapes and tortures women} fools good guys {who are stupidly trusting} except for clever male who nigh-singlehandedly brings about scientific revolution] and it's got really annoying bits to it), Charles Stross (never gotten around to reading his stuff, though the non-Hugo-nominated Hellboyish stuff sounds interesting) and Naomi Novik.

The Nebulas fizzled (Jo Walton wuz robbed!)...

I got some chuckles out of the WTF no women posts, noted there was not a whole lot to root for, and turned my focus to 2008.

PixelFish | May 29, 2007 03:31 PM

Oh, and of the novellas the only one I have experience with is Inclination by William Shunn, and I do want it to win, but I suspect A) I am biased and B) I haven't read any of the others. But take a listen to the podcast.

Tumbleweed | May 29, 2007 03:41 PM

Discussing Hugo award nominations is about as useful to the average fan as discussing Academy Award nominations is to the average movie fan. It *may* get you to read a book you haven't already read, but that's about it. It's usually a list of stuff most people wouldn't *want* to read (with a few exceptions, of course), but in general, how many people actually went to see something like Brokeback Mountain? Or the latest Merchant Ivory pic? It's like classical music. Sure, there's a definite fan base, but it's not very large as it doesn't appeal to the masses. And I don't know how the Hugos are handled, but in the Academy Awards, the 'best' performance or picture almost never wins, as it's entirely political, and based on who won what other awards, how many awards they've won in the past (or how long they've gone without), etc, and has little to do with how good something or someone was in that year. Is the Hugo award similar?

I'd be more interested (MORE interested, not necessarily 'interested' :) in something that would make people more invested in knowing who the award nominees were. Something along the lines of, dare I say it, the MTV Movie awards type categories (best kiss, etc.) - how about for scifi/fantasy categories like Best Characters, Best Dialogue, Best Technology, etc.? Then, at least, you could check out something that might interested you if your thing is clever dialogue or great characters.

It would also be interesting to see some acknowledgement of major current trends in fiction. The _huuuuge_ amount of paranormal romance stuff is pretty amazing to me, but you'll hear a peep about it in something like a Hugo award nominee list.

If your awards have no relevance to what's going on in your own genre, I'm not sure what the point is.

David Chunn | May 29, 2007 03:51 PM

I am less likely to read a book that wins a major award, in pretty much any genre*. Why? Because most award winning books after 1990 have been disappointments to me. There's a trend toward the literary, toward writers' writers, toward books that want to be meaningful.

Is that fair? No. Most of the winners may not fit those categories, but it certainly seems that way to me. And the times I've tried, that's been the result (excepting a couple of occasions like Goblet of Fire). And I like good meaningful adventure fiction which rarely wins. I trust the World Fantasy Award a little better.

A lot of this is just my tastes, and I think some of it comes from having gone through a snooty creative writing minor in college. I have a distaste for literary pretension--in a book and in a process that awards a book.

My most favoritest authors fit into two categories. Old-schoolers who won tons of awards back in the day. And younger authors who never win awards because of the styles of fiction they write.

* Awards for first novels hold a little more sway with me. I find them to be less pretensious as awards go.

PixelFish | May 29, 2007 04:12 PM

Actually, I would be interested in an award system that has Best Dialogue, Best Premise, Best Characters, etc.

Most Fun To Be Had Legally in Fifty States....sure.

Sara | May 29, 2007 04:20 PM

I'm behind in my awards reading. I've read only 2 of the novels: Rainbow's End (Excellent, but I expect no less from Vinge) and I just finished Blindsight. I'm still rolling Blindsight around in my head like a wine taster might roll a fine wine around on his tongue to examine all the flavors... And this book has a lot of rich complex flavors to explore, most of them tending toward smoky and spicy.

I haven't read the other three novels, but through reviews and whatnot I'm somewhat familiar with them. I know this isn't really good enough, but I'm going to comment from my place of ignorance anyhow. All the novels look really good, however... Blindsight, Glasshouse, and Eifelheim are dense, challenging reads, and the first two may require readers to know the secret handshake of the SF initiated (bah!). Novik's book appears to be the token high fantasy nominee this year. If I had to recommend one of these five novels to some random person I'd just met, I'd hand them Rainbow's End. It's accessible, well written, entertaining SF that will leave the reader with plenty to think about. If I had a hugo vote, first I'd finish reading all the nominees, then assuming I find no surprises, I'd vote for Rainbow's End.

For the shorter stuff I can only offer two comments:
- "Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter" is a fantastic little novelette especially if you know anything about modern (post Khmer Rouge) Cambodia and their ongoing need for healing.
- I like Neil Gaiman but I wasn't impressed by "How to Talk to Girls at Parties". It's kinda cutsie and simplistic for my taste.

Steven H Silver | May 29, 2007 06:07 PM

Tumbleweed wrote:
"It's usually a list of stuff most people wouldn't *want* to read"

Any fan who is a member of the sitting or just past Worldcon may nominate for the Hugos, so this statement is strange since clearly, the fans who nominated the books/stories/movies/etc. have read/seen them.

Voting is open to anyone who is a member of the sitting Worldcon.

So, your implication that there is some panel that decides what people should be interested in is wrong. The Hugo nominations and winners are selected by the vox populi, at least as self-selected.

Tom Scudder | May 29, 2007 06:08 PM

Vernor Vinge (beh. All his books have the same pattern [evil bad guy {proven to be evil because he rapes and tortures women} fools good guys {who are stupidly trusting} except for clever male who nigh-singlehandedly brings about scientific revolution] and it's got really annoying bits to it)

I liked Rainbow's End (not sure about the hugo-worthiness though), but I have to admit that this is a reasonably fair plot-overview of the book.

Tumbleweed | May 29, 2007 06:24 PM

Steven -

"Any fan who is a member of the sitting or just past Worldcon may nominate for the Hugos"

By 'member,' do you mean someone who attended Worldcon, or something else?

And anyone looking at the list of Hugo nominees every year can see what most of the nominees seem to be the high-brow, very dense stuff. There are always exceptions (Scalzi and Novik come to mind this year), but it's generally much like the Academy Awards. Very rarely have I ever even read more than 1 or 2 of the nominee submissions, and even then, only in the novel categories. Most people don't even know the difference between a novelette and a novella, much less have actually *read* any of them.

The Academy Awards has lots of other problems that I'm more familiar with than with the Hugos. All I can go on is the list of nominees which I see every year and shrug at. And speaking of the category John's in, "Fan Writer," what the hell IS that?

Kate Nepveu | May 29, 2007 06:30 PM

_His Majesty's Dragon_ is not high fantasy; it's an alternate history of the Napoleonic Wars where dragons are an air force. It's very entertaining and I think it's got more depth than is usually being acknowledged.

As I said, I haven't read any of the other Novel nominees (and am not really excited to, though I'll make the effort) so I am not making predictions about how I'll vote. But one shouldn't skip it because one doesn't like high fantasy.

(And before we get into this argument again: fantasy of all kinds is specifically included in eligibility for the Hugo. Being science fiction is not required by the rules.)

Parenthetically, I would be very surprised if Novik wins the Campbell this year since it's her first year of eligibility and there are two authors in their second year of eligibility who have or will have published multiple novels to quite good notice, plus a well-regarded short fiction writer. I know that I will be restricting my choice to the authors in their second year of eligibility--though next year, between Novik & Lynch, will be a heck of a tough choice for me.

John Scalzi | May 29, 2007 06:35 PM

Tumbleweed:

Anyone who buys a membership for Worldcon (either attending or supporting) is a member. Basically, you pay your fee, you can vote. So it actually is a fan vote (assuming that the sort of people who will pay for a Worldcon membership are, in fact, fans of the genre). However, these fans are generally quite informed about the genre (and, of course, generally do know the difference between a novella and a novelette).

This is actually quite a bit different from the Academy Awards, as the Academy is a professional organization, whose membership is strictly limited to film professionals -- admission is through credentials and recommendations by other members (unless you are nominated for an award, in which case you are offered a courtesy membership).

If you're looking for an analogue to the Academy, you might be better suited with the Nebulas, which are run by SFWA, which is nominally a professional organization as well.

Kate Nepveu:

I'm not entirely sure how much the first year/second year thing matters, particularly when an author is nominated for both the Campbell and the Hugo. In both the previous times that an author was nominated both for the Hugo and the Campbell, that author walked away with the Campbell. I'll note that last year I was a first year nominee when I won, against a number of second-year nominees. I believe RA MacAvoy was a first year nominee as well.

Tumbleweed | May 29, 2007 07:02 PM

John - That's definitely a better way to make the nominations, but it still seems odd that the nominees wind up looking like they're chosen the same way as the Academy Award nominees are.

Perhaps the type of people who go to WorldCon are not indicative of the fanbase as a whole? I dunno.

Kate - That kind of talk (about Novik not winning because it's her first nomination) irritates me. Why should that have any bearing on the matter? Should Gone with the Wind not have won since it was based on Margaret Mitchell's first (and only, I think?) novel? Either it's the best or it's not. Sometimes all you've got is one great book in you. That's a hell of a lot more than most people seem to have.

I'm not sure the entire system is fair, or really *can* be fair, at least in the case of Academy Awards - don't the films have to be submitted for consideration in the first place?

With books, many novels never get read simply because they're not promoted well. If your book isn't promoted *very* well, how will people at WorldCon ever even hear of it, much less be likely to read it? Some of the most innovative and clever stuff I read last year hasn't made it on anyone else's radar. It's rare I read a book where I meet anyone else who has also read it (and oftentimes, hasn't even heard of the author). Definitely not a fair way to judge 'best of' anything, but I'm not sure that IS a fair way to do it.

Maybe that's my big problem with Hugos - my taste is too different from the typical WorldCon members, and that I read stuff that never gets on their radar. Whatever the case, I'm pretty happy these days with the amount and (finally!) the variety of things available to read. My to-read stack is so big it's now expanded to take over the backseat of my car, so whether I'm at home, work or out somewhere, I've always got access to something. This is a good thing with the Seattle International Film Festival going on now; I'm spending a LOT of time waiting in lines.

So, the question is: if you haven't read all of the books, are you really qualified to say which one is best? Obviously, it's not possible to read them all.

The voting system at the Seattle International Film Festival is interesting. You vote how much you liked a film after you see it, based on how much you liked it, not ranking it higher or lower than another film. When they count the votes, the highest scorer wins (at least, that's my take on how it works). This seems like the best way to do it.

And speaking of movies, I just saw a great Irish film that seems to have gotten limited distribution and should be out soon - it's called Once. Check it out if you can, everyone. I bought the soundtrack for it the instant I got home.

John Scalzi | May 29, 2007 07:08 PM

Tumbleweed:

"That's definitely a better way to make the nominations, but it still seems odd that the nominees wind up looking like they're chosen the same way as the Academy Award nominees are."

The solution is simple: you and a bunch of folks with similar tastes should buy Worldcon memberships for the 2008 convention (in Denver) and then nominate works you prefer. Given that it takes a relatively small number of votes to get on the ballot, if there's enough of you, you could get something on the ballot.

Tumbleweed | May 29, 2007 07:49 PM

John - Simple, yes. Cost-effective, not so much. I'm not sure what benefit I'd get out of nominating stuff when I don't require stuff to be nominated to be found. Perhaps the authors would benefit from the increased awareness a nomination would bring, but I'm not sure that would be enough justification to my pocketbook, since I'm not planning on attending WorldCon unless it comes within driving distance of Seattle.

I'm disappointed that it looks like I won't be able to go to the Heinlein Memorial in KC, though I'm still gonna try. It's where my family lives, so I can justify it by doing the familial duty of visiting at the same time, but I have class the night before, so I doubt I'd be able to make it. Maybe with some creative scheduling...

Der Wachtelschlag | May 29, 2007 08:30 PM

Personally, I'm supporting Blindsight by Mr. Peter Watts for Best Novel. I mean, if Mr. John Scalzi's incredibly fabulous novels didn't make it (sigh) than Watts should. As for Novella, if one of the noms have to get it, then it should be Mr. William Shunn. PS: Not a coincidence that they all have "Asimov's" in italics after their names. As for novellette: unenthusiastically, Mr. Resnick. Short story's difficult: the odds favor Mr. Gaiman, but this particular story doesn't represent the best of his ability. Related book's more difficult: it'll be a crapshoot, in my opinion. If Children of Men wins, and it won't, I'll eat my gerbil. Boiled. As for DramShortPres, Doctor Who will get the prize without doubt, but "Army of Ghosts and Doomsday" is the one to put your money on. As for the Big C--eh, I'm not sure I know too much about this one but I am guessing Mr. Scott Lynch, with Mr. Schoen maybe second. Maybe.

I'm surprised Mr. Alastair Reynolds isn't there, but he is on the "hard" end of the spectrum. Still, you'd think that maybe he'd be noticed.

I have to say, before I get my butt flamed by everyone who knows more about this than I do, that this is just what I think.

As for WorldCon's being an accurate representation of the science fiction community, I have to say that sci-fi is kind of like Shiva: there are so many arms that you don't know who's pulling the strings. I have a feeling Denver will have a bigger turnout than Nippon 2007, but hey, it's just a hunch.

Has anyone noticed how few women are Ns? That's interesting. That's verrrry interesting...

Lawrence M. Schoen | May 29, 2007 10:47 PM

I'm obviously biased with respect to the Campbell. Sure, I'd like to win (who wouldn't?), but in terms of sheer exposure I think the smart money is on either Novick or Lynch.


I'm not yet familiar with the works of any of my co-nominees, and other than exchanging a few words with Naomi over the weekend at Balticon, I've not met any of them. Still, they all seem to have novels out (grumble, grumble), while my novelty is that I'm novel-less.


Of course, I believe I'm the only Klingon-speaking nominee, and surely that ought to be good for a vote or two, somewhere. Right? Right?

Liviu | May 29, 2007 11:33 PM

I read 4 of the novels, (no Vinge since I do not like his style), and Blindsight is the odds on favourite in my opinion as Spin was like year, it's a book that defines sf, though Eifelheim and even Glasshouse and Vinge could win and I'd be ok with it. HMD is fun fluff, and could be substituted by lots of other books...

For the Campbell, I would like S. Monette to win but I think Scott Lynch the favourite with N. Novik second just based on popularity.

Malcolm Tredinnick | May 30, 2007 01:37 AM

This post reminded me I'd been intending to write up some thoughts about this books.

I've put my detailed thoughts over on my blog, but the capsule summary would be: Blindsight, then Eifelheim, then Temeraire/Her Majesty's Dragon (light weight in places, but it is fantasy in amongst a bunch of SF and I suspect it's intended to be more of an entertaining ride than a social commentary), then Rainbow's End. I've had trouble finishing Glasshouse, because it really doesn't work for me, which is a bit sad.

Kate Nepveu | May 30, 2007 07:12 AM

My Campbell voting will be influenced by the fact that I like Novik and Lynch's books a hell of a lot but I will have a chance to vote for them again next year, whereas Monette certainly and possibly Sanderson and Schoen (haven't read their work yet) are also very worthy of consideration and I can't vote for them next year. Other people obviously are free to do as they like.

Joe Sherry | May 30, 2007 07:19 AM

I don't think I've figured how to get a trackback ping this site, but after John's post I did a brief write up of the novels and Campbells here.

The short of it is that I've only read the Novik. Thought it was excellent, but it's hard to discuss the award when I simply haven't read the nominees. I downloaded Blindsight but haven't read it, I plan to read the Stross, never heard of the Michael Flynn, and I've heard muted but positive about the Vinge.

And the Campbells are obviously a two horse race (Novik and Lynch).

I never really discussed the short fiction nominees, though I read them all, posted the list of links and briefly mentioned which ones I liked more than the others. When I made this post there were a few stories I hadn't read. Now that I've read them all, nothing has changed. Paul Melko, Mike Resnick, Tim Pratt.

WizarDru | May 30, 2007 08:53 AM

To be honest, they're not really on my radar, other than "Oh, that book won a Hugo/Nebula, it must be relatively good". I've attended two worldcons and only voted in one...and I didn't vote on the one occasion because I'd read so few of the nominated works and seen only a couple of the dramatic presentations. I am not the sort of person who those awards are for, I suspect.

Those awards might be a tipping point for me, if I'm very close to making the purchase already....but by and large, friend recommended works tend to go over more for me (or results of my own experimentation). However, they still have only relative merits. I picked up Perdido Street Station based on numerous positive reviews...I found out it had been nominated for the Hugo/Nebula after I purchased it (that I've only managed to penetrate 100 pages in and stalled is another sign of why these awards, while indicative of relative quality, have no indicator for it's relation to my tastes). By the same token, I picked up Old Man's War before it had really been nominated for anything, primarily on the strength of John's blog material (which I discovered through Penny Arcade).

As time has gone on, I have found my desire to read Science Fiction has generally decreased, which my be a significant factor. I've grown away from the written version of the genre, perhaps. OMW was the right mix of fun story with SF concepts, light science, interesting characters and extremely readable style.

In fact, looking back, OMW may be the only SF novel I've read in years. I picked up and reread some of James White's Sector General stories...but other than that, I've either read Fantasy or non-fiction. I found "Devil in the White City" and "Ready Steady Go: The Giddy Rise and Smashing Fall of Swinging London" more compelling than a lot of novels I've read in the last decade.

Muneraven | May 30, 2007 09:51 AM

"how many people actually went to see something like Brokeback Mountain? Or the latest Merchant Ivory pic?"

*Muneraven raises her hand*

What can I say, I prefer a movie that makes me think to one that blows junk up over and over and over. If I am going to watch an action flick it HAS to have subtext or I'm bored.

As for the Hugos and almost all the other awards in this genre, I think they are horribly gender-biased and tradition-bound, and I don't see much point in paying attention to them until this is rectified. I really think almost all SF awards are without merit.

I mean at least the Oscars, which also have no real merit, have really good-looking people in outrageously expensive clothing. Perhaps The Hugos need to find a similarly shallow and silly reasons to get us to pay attention. . .

John Scalzi | May 30, 2007 09:52 AM

Well, the Worldcons usually do have a masquerade...

James Nicoll | May 30, 2007 10:33 AM

"Perhaps the type of people who go to WorldCon are not indicative of the fanbase as a whole? I dunno."

People who bother to vote for the Hugos are not even typical of the average Worldcon goer. As I recall, for most catagories, fewer than 10% of the con-goers can be bothered to vote at all.

Rob Davies | May 30, 2007 10:35 AM

Since I haven't kicked a wasp's nest in a while, I'll ask why some people are complaining about the lack of female nominees as though it is some fault of the award.

While I do agree that the gender ratio of nominees does not in any way match the ratio of quality male and female authors, I am not aware of any inherent bias in the nominating process/voting process that favors men over women.

So I assume the fault lies in the voters (which can be anyone willing to pay if I am correct) and not the award itself. Is there something that I am missing?

Cheryl | May 30, 2007 12:37 PM

A few of the comments here complain that the Hugo process is "not fair" or even "obnoxious". This is by no means unusual. Every year someone complains that the results are not fair, but their reasons for doing so often vary wildly. Some people have told me that it is not fair that you have to be a member of WSFS in order to participate. "You shouldn't have to pay in order to vote", they say. Other people complain that it is not fair that someone who has never read an SF book in their life can buy a membership and vote. So I'm wondering what would constitute a "fair" award. Anyone like to make some suggestions?

John Scalzi | May 30, 2007 12:50 PM

The Locus awards are pretty "fair," in that anyone can vote, provided they know about them.

Sara | May 30, 2007 01:10 PM

Kate Nepveu: When I said that Novik's work was the token high fantasy nominee for the year it probably read as a slight on the work. I didn't intend it that way and I know it's alt history in the Napoleonic era. I intended more of a dig at the trend I see in Hugo novel nominations. Seems like there's one high fantasy (or something that can be mistaken for high fantasy) each year. My mini-rant goes something like this: Those involved with the Hugos need to either embrace fantasy as one of their own or kick it to the curb. Quite playing around, get your tush off the fence, make up your collective mind here people.

There's a lot more emotion in that statement than I really feel about the whole thing. But there it is.

And, btw, I think the whole "lack of female nominees" stuff is kinda garbage. Show me the books and short stories published by women in 2006 that are better than those on the nominations list and perhaps I'll agree that there's something sexist happening. But, hey, face it ladies, we're in the minority both as readers and writers in this boy's club. That means we'll be a minority when it comes to the awards too. Too bad. That's just the way it is.

Cheryl | May 30, 2007 01:36 PM

Those involved with the Hugos need to either embrace fantasy as one of their own or kick it to the curb. Quite playing around, get your tush off the fence, make up your collective mind here people.

Why? I mean, this is a popular vote poll. There is no party line. Each person who votes is an independent being with their own view as to what is good and what isn't. Would you really be happier if there was a party line?

Abigail | May 30, 2007 01:36 PM

Kellie has already linked to my reviews of the short fiction nominees, which is where my primary interest in the Hugo lies. Overall, I thought the ballot was strong, Mike Resnick's nomination notwithstanding (why does this man keep getting nominated for awards? Has nobody noticed that he can't write?).

Of the nominated novels, I've read Blindsight and Eifelheim (not coincidentally, both are available online under a CC license). Both are very fine and significantly flawed - Blindsight because it prides itself on its opaqueness, and Eifelheim because it descends into melodrama towards the end (and, as someone here noted, recalls Connie Willis's Doomsday Book all too strongly). I'm not sure which one I'd pick for the win, but I suspect Blindsight will carry the day.

Rob (and I suppose Sara too):

So I assume the fault lies in the voters (which can be anyone willing to pay if I am correct) and not the award itself. Is there something that I am missing?

The Hugo has a history of favoring male nominees over female ones. Up until 2000, the award was holding more or less steady at a 1:2 ratio of female to male nominees. In the last seven years, the number of female nominees has dropped vertiginously. In that sense, we can say that the 'award itself', rather than any specific group of voters, is hostile to women.

Kevin Standlee | May 30, 2007 03:41 PM

Tumbleweed wrote:

Simple, yes. Cost-effective, not so much. I'm not sure what benefit I'd get out of nominating stuff when I don't require stuff to be nominated to be found.
I think this leads to a self-fulfilling cycle: You let other people make the decisions for you about what the field considers the best works.

I'm not trying to be offensive! It's just that it sounds like you're saying, "Other people who can be bothered to buy supporting or attending memberships to Worldcon should vote the way I want them to vote."

But criticizing the taste of the voters is an annual pastime.

(Note that I've been a Hugo Awards Administrator several times. That means that I and the others on the Administration Subcommittee count the ballots and confirm eligibility of nominees. It doesn't mean we select those nominees; our work is administrative only.)

I'm not sure that would be enough justification to my pocketbook, since I'm not planning on attending WorldCon unless it comes within driving distance of Seattle.
I'm genuinely curious as to what distance you define as "Driving Distance of Seattle." Tacoma? Portland? Vancouver BC? How about the San Francisco Bay Area or Denver or Calgary?

My wife drove from the Salem, Oregon area to Worldcons in Toronto, Boston, Anaheim, and San Antonio. (I couldn't afford the time and flew ahead.)

You may be interested in knowing that there is now a Seattle in 2011 Worldcon Bid. If they win the election to be held at the 2009 Worldcon, they will host the 2011 Worldcon. But you have to be a member of the 2009 Worldcon (which will be in either Montreal or Kansas City) in order to vote. Maybe you should look into joining the 2009 Worldcon (once it has been selected) so you can vote on where the 2011 Worldcon will be. You might want to also consider getting involved with the Seattle 2011 bid. I know from my own experience chairing a Worldcon bid (Bay Area in 2002, later ConJose) that bids always need more people to help with their time and money.

Kevin Standlee | May 30, 2007 03:49 PM

Abigail wrote:

In that sense, we can say that the 'award itself', rather than any specific group of voters, is hostile to women.
Your complaint is with the voters, not with the award process. It's not like the process is secret: Its rules are published in the WSFS Constitution. There are articles like this that talk about how the process works. Anyone willing to join the Worldcon as at least a supporting member can vote; that means you don't have to actually travel to the convention to nominate and vote. Others have (correctly) pointed out that most of the eligible voters (a pool of around 7,000 people or so) don't vote, but that's their choice; the right to vote includes the right to abstain. But I don't see anything in the awards process that says "no women allowed here, go away."

I know, speaking as a past administrator, that all nominees are treated equally for purposes of award administration.

I continue to say that people who think there are not enough women being nominated need to (a) nominate more women for the Hugo Award and (b) convince other people to join Worldcon and nominate more women for the Hugo Award.

Cheryl | May 30, 2007 03:50 PM

I'm always a bit wary about quoting statistics with regard to the Hugos because the sample size is so small. You could, for example, point to the fact that the Campbell, which is voted on by the same people as the Hugos, has produced 6 women winners out of the last 10 (and at least two of the four male winners have attended Wiscon). That makes it harder to claim that the electorate is biased against women.

If asked to explain the decline in women nominees I might point to the fact that Lois Bujold's fantasy is proving less popular with the voters than her SF, and Connie Willis hasn't produced a novel in some time. Those two between them are responsible for a lot of the female success in the Hugos.

There may be cultural explanations as well. I've heard people talking abut research that shows that men generally only read books by men, while women are normally happy to read books by either gender. If that is true, it is bound to influence the outcome of any popular vote award.

Nevertheless, the Hugos are a popular vote award with, as has been pointed out many times, quite a small level of participation. Individual votes can and do make a difference. If all of the people who have been complaining that the Hugos are biased against women nominated next year we could easily see the Best Novel shortlist including works by Nalo Hopkinson, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Elizabeth Bear, Karen Traviss and Elizabeth Hand. But I don't think we will, because I suspect a lot of them won't nominate.

Some, like Tumbleweed, will decide that the Hugos are not important enough to spend $40 on. That's a valid viewpoint, though if you hold it then you really shouldn't complain about who does get nominated.

Not being able to afford it is another matter. $40 isn't that much for many people here, I suspect, but getting hold of the books will cost rather more. If money is an issue, consider joining Tempest's very wonderful Feminist SF Book Exchange.

But sadly one of the most common excuses I hear for not participating is, "There's no point in voting, because X always wins."

X, in this equation, can take many values. I've heard it as "the Americans", as "SF books" (i.e. not fantasy), as "men" and, of course, as "Dave Langford." One day it may even be, "There's no point in voting because Scalzi always wins."

But this is a poisonous attitude, because it creates a positive feedback loop. The more people in any given group who say that the system is biased against them, the fewer of their friends will vote, and the fewer votes their preferred candidates get. If you don't vote, you help make the system biased against your interests.

Which is why all of this talk about the Hugos being biased worries me. I suspect it may result in fewer women voting, and therefore fewer women getting nominated. I'd much rather see people (like Tempest) get up and do something about it.

Kevin Standlee | May 30, 2007 03:52 PM

Abigail wrote:

...why does this man keep getting nominated for awards?
Because enough members of Worldcon who vote like what he writes.

Abigail | May 30, 2007 04:04 PM

I'm not sure I'd call the sample of Hugo nominees small - not if one includes the short fiction categories as well as best novel.

If asked to explain the decline in women nominees I might point to the fact that Lois Bujold's fantasy is proving less popular with the voters than her SF, and Connie Willis hasn't produced a novel in some time. Those two between them are responsible for a lot of the female success in the Hugos.

Very true. And not, in itself, something to be overjoyed over. I've said this elsewhere, but I don't think the small number of female nominees is directly attributable to sexism. Hugo ballots tend to feature the same names - male and female - over and over again. How much of this is due to the quality of the work these writers produce, and how much to conservatism and cliquishness?

Patrick Shepherd | May 30, 2007 04:10 PM

The history of female nominees versus men in the Hugos actually works out as follows:

1959-1967: 6 F 112 M
1968-1980: 41F 204 M
1981-1990: 41F 172 M
1991-2000: 59F 154 M
2001-2006: 20F 102 M

It can be seen from this that the actual ratio has been between 1:3 and 1:5 since 1968. The current impression of a drop off in female nominations may come from comparing the 90's (their best decade) to the '00s, their worst so far, except for the pre-feminist era.

I did not look at awards earlier than '58 as I can't get the nominee list for them, and the rules were somewhat different back then.

Note that this count is for the fiction awards only, and your count may vary slightly from the above (dual authors were counted separately, and there were a couple of them that I'm not sure what gender they were). I also did not include the 'Retro' Awards.

John Scalzi | May 30, 2007 04:13 PM

Cheryl:

"One day it may even be, 'There's no point in voting because Scalzi always wins.'"

Eh. I got on the Best Novel slate last year because Neil Gaiman decided he'd won enough and declined the nod; if one day I'm in a similar position, I'm planning to return the favor. "Don't bogart the Hugo" seems to be a good idea.

Nina A | May 30, 2007 04:34 PM

A lot of what it is due to is the failure of people who are whining to nominate other stuff.
Frankly,a very small percentage Worldcon attenddes bother to nominate and vote. A fairly large percentage of those who do,do it every year. In that sense,is there cliquishness? Maybe so,but the problem is easily solved-start voting and nominating yourself.
As far as bias in the procedure,or whatever Rachle is talking about in her comment,it doesn't exist. Anyone who is either a member of the current worldcon or the one from the previous year may nominate. It can even be done online. Yes,there are 5 lines per nominee,but nominations are not ranked,nor do you have to fill out all 5 lines,or even all of the categories-your ballot will still be tabulated. It is not the worldcon committee's job either to encourage voting or to provide lists of eligible works. It is just up to each individual.
Am I saddened by the lack of women nominees/winners? Yes. Do I think there is some sexism? Not really. Do I think it's sad that more people don't vote? Definitely. Do I think the process is flawed? Not really.
However,I nominate and vote.
With regard to conservatism-in a sense,yes. That is,a lot of the people who consistently nominate and vote have specific tastes,as we all do,and often,the lists reflect those tastes. Really,that's all it is.
Sorry to go on so long,but this is pushing my buttons.

Jim Henry | May 30, 2007 04:43 PM

Here's my weblog post on my nomination ballot, at which time I hadn't yet read Eifelheim, Blindsight or His Majesty's Dragon. Having since read all the novel nominees (but not yet the short fiction nominees that didn't appear in Asimov's or F&SF; will get to them soon), I would rank them

  • 1. Eifelheim
  • 2. Blindsight
  • 3. Glasshouse
  • 4. Rainbow's End
  • 5. No award.

His Majesty's Dragon was fun, but not of Hugo-level greatness. (As for fantasy I read last year, I would rank the new Tim Powers and Gene Wolfe novels certainly above Glasshouse and maybe above Eifelheim and Blindsight.

In the short fiction categories I favor "A Billion Eves" (wasn't very exited about the other nominees; none of my other favorite novellas of the year made the ballot), "Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy)", "Yellow Card Man", "Eight Episodes" and "Impossible Dreams".

"A Billion Eves" is mind-boggling on just about every level. Of all the short fiction on my nomination ballot it was the only one that was still sticking in my memory from when I first read it, and didn't have to re-read to decide to nominate it. Robert Reed is way overdue for a short fiction Hugo, IMO.

Cheryl | May 30, 2007 04:48 PM

Don't bogart the Hugo

Good on yer, mate. One of many reasons I took Emerald City up a weight band into the Best Locus category. (Though I note that many people were unhappy with Neil over that.)

Of course if you wanted to lose one you could always declare yourself as a candidate for the Best Dave Langford Award.

Oh, you already have... :-)

Cheryl | May 30, 2007 04:54 PM

Patrick: Not that I want to volunteer you for work, but I'm assuming your numbers are total nominations. I'm wondering what the ratios would look like if you counted each person only once (i.e. total men who got nominations v total women who got nominations).

Mishalak | May 30, 2007 04:56 PM

Chiming in with the previous commentator who liked Brokeback Mountain. And why the heck did Tumbleweed use that and Merchant Ivory pictures as examples? Brokeback Mountain DID NOT WIN the Oscar for Best Picture. Crash won that year. And as for Merchant Ivory go look at the winner for Best Picture for the last twenty years and tell me which one of those is MI pic or even like a Merchant Ivory picture. The closest would is probably Out of Africa and it was not produced by Merchant Ivory and it was more than twenty years ago anyway. Shakespeare in Love. Not MI, and if you think it was you need a smack. And repeat for the rest of the last 20 winners. Bah, bah.

Mishalak | May 30, 2007 05:00 PM

Oh and while I'm at it I've finally seen all the long form dramatic presentation nominees twice or more and I will be voting:

Pan's Labyrinth
The Prestige
V for Vendetta
Children of Men
No Award
A Scanner Darkly

Patrick Shepherd | May 30, 2007 05:39 PM

Cheryl: I'll take a stab at it, though it might take me awhile. The impression I got while making my counts is that the great majority of the female nominations have gone to a very small set of women, vs a much wider range of men, but I think finding out what the real numbers are might be interesting.

John Scalzi | May 30, 2007 05:57 PM

I'd be interested in hearing what you find out as well, Patrick.

Cheryl | May 30, 2007 05:59 PM

Thanks Patrick. Your impression concurs with my gut feeling. I have a suspicion that in years past there were very few women in the field for whom those who liked women writers could vote, consequently any votes for women writers were concentrated on them. These days the number of women in the field is much larger, and votes for women writers are spread over many more possible candidates. The total number of Hugo voters hasn't changed much in that time, so fewer women are getting the number of votes they need to get a nomination.

Steven H Silver | May 30, 2007 06:56 PM

To Tumbleweed:

I realize that no-one has answered your question about fan writer, a category in which our host and I are both nominated (as has been Cheryl).

It is one of the most nebulous categories, given to a science fiction fan who writes and doesn't get paid for it. This writing can appear in fanzines, on-line zines, blogs, etc. It can go to someone who gets paid for some of his writing (for instance, David Langford or John Scalzi), or someone who doesn't get paid for any of his writing (such as, I believe, John Hertz). The award is often (semi-)jokingly referred to as the Best David Langford Award since David has won it every year since 1989 (and one of those years, 2001, he also won the Best Short Story Award for "Different Kinds of Darkness."

To Mishalak:
I've seen four of the five film nominees, have "Pan's Labyrinth," but haven't watched it yet. So far I like "The Prestige" head and shoulders above the others.

My big problem with the nominees in that category this year is that the all seem so unremittingly dark. While "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" wasn't a great movie, at least for the brief span it was on the ballot, there was something with a sense of humor in the category. I'm not looking for another "Galaxy Quest," but a movie that has light-hearted moments would be nice.

To Jim Henry:
While I enjoyed His Majesty's Dragon for what it was (Patrick O'Brian on dragons), I have to wonder how the introduction of a second sentient race to Europe could have failed to have any influence on religion, philosophy, or culture in general. I think she did a better job of integrating her dragons in the second book in the series.

To Cheryl & Patrick:
In the count, I would suggest looking not just at the nominations, but also looking at the long list of nominations released after the Hugo Ceremony to give an idea about how many different books had a high enough total to make that list by gender. It would be interesting to see if women are just missing (which, I imagine, is where Jo Walton will see herself this year).

Cheryl | May 30, 2007 07:20 PM

Stephen: good suggestion, but the data isn't available for every year, and it is a lot more work.

This does remind me, however, that no one should make sweeping statements about the Hugo nominees until they have seen the long list. It may be that Jo, or indeed Karen Traviss or Ellen Kushner, or even all three, missed out on a nomination by a handful of votes. Right now we just don't know.

Jim Henry | May 30, 2007 07:49 PM

On His Majesty's Dragon: Good point, Stephen; and more generally, leaving aside the issue of creatures of that size flying (which Ms. Novik sort of addresses by suggesting that the dragons have helium or hydrogen sacs that reduce their effective weight), what really makes the book fantasy for me is the extreme implausibility of the alternate history: this world diverged from ours millions of years ago, long before the beginnings of human civilization, and yet we have a perfectly recognizable 19th century Europe with all the languages, cultures, religions, and nations in place and almost identical to those of our world, except for the limited role allotted to dragons. If it weren't for that, I would say this is the first all-science fiction Hugo novel ballot in some years. The hydrogen sacs may not make the dragons completely plausible, but they're more scientifically plausible than the dragons of Pern (which can also teleport, and in whose universe there is also FTL travel IIRC), which are generally considered sf.

Patrick Shepherd | May 30, 2007 08:57 PM

Some very preliminary results for the number of unique authors in the nomination lists:

1959-1980 17F 110 M
1981-1990 23F 74 M
1991-2000 26F 72 M
2001-2006 14F 54 M

I haven't had time to error check this, nor to do the combined list for all years.

Cheryl | May 30, 2007 09:54 PM

Thanks Patrick, that's fascinating. Looks like my idea about more women in the field is well and truly blown out of the water. However, there is something interesting about these numbers. For men only, and for combined genders, they show a consistent trend of fiction Hugo nominations being shared between fewer and fewer people. The voters appear to be getting more and more sheep-like (sequacious - my favorite new word of the year). I'm wondering whether this might have something to do with the decline in female nominees.

Tumbleweed | May 31, 2007 02:07 AM

re: # of female nominees/winners

These #s are only meaningful (and potentially something to get upset about) when you also have the # of published female writers. I may have missed some posting up above that has that #. If the ratio of nominees/winners is similar to the ratio of female/male writers, then the problem is somewhere else - how many write books in these genres compared to how many get published. Remember the saying about statistics. I probably read more fiction by women than by men these days.

re: costs of WorldCon attendance

The $40 'cost' of WorldCon is a silly thing to say. It would cost substantially more than that for someone who isn't close to Denver (as I am not). While I could easily afford to go to Denver these days (this is a recent phenomenon), I'm still in the mind-set that any travel requiring an airplane trip is too expensive for me to justify. If you take into account the only reason I'd go to WorldCon as opposed to something local would be to nominate/vote for the Hugo, then yeah, that becomes pretty silly to me. If the WorldCon were driving distance to me, I'd almost certainly go, and if I went, I'd definitely nominate and vote for Hugo awards.

Now, I'm still wondering *why* the types of books that generally get nominated for a Hugo are the vast majority of what gets nominated. I guess it comes down to why the people who nominate/vote for Hugo Awards are doing it, and why only people with certain tastes are the ones doing the nominating. I've not seen any kind of answer to that, and it's the only interesting question left in this discussion for me. :)

re: driving distance from Seattle

For me, easy driving distance from Seattle stretches from Portland to Vancouver, BC. Great towns, both, btw, if anyone out there hasn't visited them. My vote for best place to eat in Vancouver, BC: The Afghan Horseman. Yum! Food as good (or better) as Kabul in Seattle, but vastly superior atmosphere (okay, except for the 'unfortunate' bathrooms :).

I certainly can, and have, driven and flown much farther, but lately, the time off of work is the real deal-breaker for such trips. Plus I'm starting Japanese classes late next month, and my available time will be shrinking enormously. I'd still really *love* to go to the Heinlein Memorial.

I was unaware of the Hugos being fan nominated until we got into this thread, but the fact remains that, for whatever reason, the stuff that winds up on the nominees list is often not very accessible, at least to me, though I'll be the first to admit that my taste in fiction is fairly pedestrian. My favourite subgenre would be space opera, but I've quite the fondness for anything with sympathetic, humourous (preferrably sarcastic) characters, and great dialogue.

re: my mention of Brokeback Mountain, & Merchant & Ivory films.

Those were just examples of the type of films that tend to get nominated for Academy Awards (whether they win or not isn't the point; the winner is entirely a political process), as far as I can tell. I've not made a study of it or anything. I like the artsy fartsy movies, too, so please don't get upset. I just got back from a film festival documentary! (In the Shadow of the Moon, a great film on the Apollo program, and how the experience effected the astronauts. One of the Apollo astronauts actually showed up for a Q&A after the showing! :) When this thing comes out, I highly recommend it. The astronaut said it's the only documentary/movie about the Apollo program that he's really liked. That's kinda sad. (He said 'Apollo 13' (the movie) was more of a soap opera. Hmm.)

re: nominated movies

The Prestige for me, by far, though I really detested all the characters involved except maybe Michael Caine's.

Tumbleweed | May 31, 2007 02:21 AM

Oh, and Pan's Labyrinth, yeesh! If I had known what the movie was *really* like, rather than taken the trailers at face value, I would probably have liked it more, but this was a great example of one of those 'bait and switch' trailers.

This movie is *extremely* dark and depressing, and is mostly about a little girl's rather unpleasant life in one of Franco's military camps during WWII. Very (very!) little of the movie is set in the alternate fantasy world only she sees.

The lead actress was very, very good (well, as were all the actors, but hers was by far the hardest job). Great creature designs, what there were of them. They reminded me of the ones in Nightbreed (movie version of The Cabal, I think?).

Of the dramatic short form, I'd have to go for Doctor Who - "Girl in the Fireplace", though why *anything* from that season of SG-1 is nominated is very puzzling, and the need for 3 Dr. Who nominations and nothing for Heroes is also quite rather puzzling. I do think the best episodes of Heroes have been this year, though.

Now, best long form editor? I'd not normally know who to name or vote for here but for one glaring example in 2006 which should win a lifetime achievement award for editing: whoever edited the 6th Harry Potter book. Seriously, stop laughing. Check out the difference in editing between the 5th and the 6th, and you'll see what I mean. Five was a freaking mess, but six was a breath of fresh air as far as editing goes. I'd have to have to be the one to try to pick which stuff goes in the movie version of six. It's not going to be as easy as four (get rid of the entire house elf liberation stuff).

As far as Naomi Novik, I really enjoy the Temeraire books, but Hugo-class? Nah.

Cheryl | May 31, 2007 02:29 AM

The $40 'cost' of WorldCon is a silly thing to say.

Sorry Tumbleweed, you still don't quite understand the system. You don't have to attend Worldcon to nominate and vote in the Hugos. A "supporting membership" is all you need. And for next year that costs you just $40.

Bill Cunningham | May 31, 2007 02:34 AM

I realize this thread is creeping down the blogroll and may be on the edge of over, but it has been an interesting conversation and I feel I need to come to the defense of an author I quite like who was above maligned thusly:

Says Madeline F: Vernor Vinge (beh. All his books have the same pattern [evil bad guy {proven to be evil because he rapes and tortures women} fools good guys {who are stupidly trusting} except for clever male who nigh-singlehandedly brings about scientific revolution] and it's got really annoying bits to it)

Says Tom Scudder: I liked Rainbow's End (not sure about the hugo-worthiness though), but I have to admit that this is a reasonably fair plot-overview of the book.

I've read this book - how on earth is Madeline F's description even vaguely like the plot of this book?

Rainbows End was the first Vinge I've ever read, and though it took a bit of ramp-up time to understand the world (it certainly isn't Science Fiction for the casual reader, it is a bit secret-handshakey. That, for me, is not a bad thing), and though the climax was a bit of a muddle, it was indeed an award worthy, idea filled and exciting book. The "evil bad guy" was really doing his "evil" plot out of a misguided sense of moral necessity, the hero was just as much a super-intelligent junior-high school girl as it was a rejuvinated post-senile centinerian, NONE of the "good guys" were stupidly trusting in the least... the most deluded one, the rejuvinated old man, wasn't even a "good guy" for a while, until he started to realize the scope of what he was entagled in, and the least trustworthy character is more amoral than evil, and we don't even know by the end exactly what it was... a person? a collective of people? an AI? a delicious mystery?

And, brief potential spoiler here: Nobody gets raped - nobody is even threatened with rape - rape plays absolutely no part in the plot.

Funny thing, after this book I read one of Vinge's older Space Operas, A Fire Upon the Deep, and you know what, nobody is raped in that one either, nor threatened with rape, nor does rape play any part in the plot. Nor is everyone fooled by a bad guy (the villans in that one are obvious villans to everyone except the child they've raised in a bubble to be wholly ignorant of context).

Now, admittedly, I've only read 2 Vinge books, but neither of them match Madeline F's dismissive critique at all. Which books are you talking about?

I'm not saying anyone should read any books for any reason, life is clearly too short to waste reading fiction you don't like - but why the heavy anti-Vinge trip? His books, in my first hand experience, don't follow that formula at all. They have so far been quite enjoyable.

Cheryl | May 31, 2007 03:00 AM

I guess it comes down to why the people who nominate/vote for Hugo Awards are doing it, and why only people with certain tastes are the ones doing the nominating.

I've been trying to think of an explanation for this that doesn't just boil down to "because that's what people vote for." Here's hoping this works.

The starting point is that the nomination process is very much majority based. Each person gets up to five votes. The five books (or stories or whatever) that get the most votes get a nomination. Clearly this system favors the most popular works over minority interests. (The final ballot is quite different and aims at finding a consensus winner, but it is nominees we are talking about here.

Secondly I don't think that there is one single "Hugo voter taste". I know that the books I nominate don't always get on the ballot, or anywhere near it. I suspect that there are some people who vote for predominantly hard SF, some who vote for more literary SF, some who vote for fantasy, and so on. How many people nominated both Novik and Watts? They hardly seem to be in the same taste group.

Nevertheless, the core group of people who vote in the Hugos probably hasn't changed much over the past 10 years. They are mostly the people who attend Worldcon every year. They change their favorites - Stross in, Bujold out - but their tastes don't change much. To change the overall nature of the nominees, we would need a whole raft of new people voting. Like John said a while back, if you want to change things, you gotta vote.

Tumbleweed | May 31, 2007 03:11 AM

re: don't have to attend to vote

Awesome possum. That's a whole different thing, then.

re: the system

I still don't think it's anything remotely resembling fair, but certainly more fair than I would expect by looking at the typical nominees. The full list would be quite interesting, I'm sure.

The only system that I think would be 'fair' (or as fair as you're gonna get) is the one I mentioned above that the Seattle International Film Festival uses (and I'm sure they didn't invent it, I'm just sayin'...).

I attended my first con this year (NorWesCon), and it was pretty great (I mainly just went to a bunch of the forum discussions, and bought a bunch of Heinlein juvies in hardback form ($*ouch*)). I definitely need to start going to more of these things. The panel on RAH was interesting, but also depressing when I noticed the advanced average age of the audience. It seems RAH fandom is aging quite rapidly. *sniff*

I found it fascinating, though, that he was the only author that had a panel devoted to (not counting the authors doing readings of their work). That should say something.

Kevin Standlee | May 31, 2007 03:16 AM

Tumbleweed said:

For me, easy driving distance from Seattle stretches from Portland to Vancouver, BC.
I thought that might be the case, but couldn't be certain. I really have encountered people who live in the South Bay (San Jose) area for whom San Francisco was Much Too Far to drive.

Those of us who have been working to organize Worldcons for a while consider there to be these main groups of Worldcon attendees (other people divide them differently than I do):

1. If you hold it, they will come, or at least join. There are probably around 800 of these people. They'll join just about any Worldcon, no matter how improbable it might be for them to attend it. I'm personally in this group. I vote in the site selection every year (which includes an automatic supporting membership in the winning bid), so I'm always buying my membership for the two-years-hence Worldcon.

2. If they don't have to travel overseas, they will come. This includes people who are willing/able to fly, but will only go to conventions within the USA or Europe or something like that. Traveling overseas is out of the question for them, but flying from Boston to Anaheim (or Seattle to Orlando) is not a problem.

(There may be a subgroup here of "If they don't have to leave the USA, they will come." Even though Toronto is within a day's drive of a significant portion of the US population, they didn't draw as many attendees as did Boston the following year. I suspect many of my fellow Americans are unwilling/unable to travel outside of the USA.)

3. If it's within a day's drive, they will come. Practically speaking, WSFS has defined "one day's drive" as 500 miles (about 800 km), as part of a provision in the WSFS Constitution having to do with site selection eligibility. You appear to fall into this group, there being no other likely Worldcon sites within that distance of Seattle.

4. If they can go home at night, they will come. These are the people who will attend for one day or will commute from home. In places like Anaheim or Boston, it's a large proportion of the membership. At Aussiecon Three in Melbourne or ConAdian in Winnipeg, they are almost statistically irrelevant, although of course a disproportionate share of the convention's organizers are apt to come from this group.


I lived within commutable distance of one Worldcon -- the one I co-chaired. I never even considered commuting the twenty miles or so between my apartment and the convention, though.

Sorry, I'm digressing into Worldcon membership demographics, which is a bit off-topic.

Cheryl | May 31, 2007 03:32 AM

Re the Seattle Film Festival system - it doesn't seem particularly fairer to me. The ranking system attempts to reproduce, in a single stage, what the Hugos do in two - i.e. find a consensus winner. But it is very vulnerable to different styles of voting. There will be some people who try to vote honestly and use the full range of scores; others will vote 10 for a few favorites and 1 for everything else; there will be kind people who vote everything in the 8-10 range, and grumpy ones who vote everything in the 1-3 range. At least the Hugos try to get everyone to vote the same way.

And you haven't explained who gets to vote. Do you have to pay to attend the festival? Can you only vote for a film if you have paid to see it?

Kevin Standlee | May 31, 2007 03:35 AM

Tumbleweed wrote:

I still don't think it's anything remotely resembling fair, but certainly more fair than I would expect by looking at the typical nominees. The full list would be quite interesting, I'm sure.
If by "full list" you mean the they-also-ran information, I can find the 2005 Nominating Statistics, but not those for last year in Anaheim. (Not every Worldcon is good about putting those lists in easily-accessible locations.) Nippon 2007 will make their detailed lists, including how many nominations each work received, available after the Hugo Awards are announced.
The only system that I think would be 'fair' (or as fair as you're gonna get) is the one I mentioned above that the Seattle International Film Festival uses
Are you saying that you rank works, say on a ten-point scale, like gymnastic events? This can be made to work with a limited number of eligible works -- in this case I guess the SIFF determines what the eligible pool is by selecting the movies to show -- but I'm not sure it would work well at all for the nominating ballot stage, where every work of SF/F in the world published last year is eligible.

Now, it doesn't generally take an absurdly large number of nominations to make the final ballot, given the relatively small size of the electorate. This year, for instance, it took only 35 nominations to appear in Best Novel, while the most-nominated work received 58 nominations.

I'm not advocating "ballot box stuffing," but I don't think there's anything wrong in encouraging people who like the things you like to nominate works you like. Clubs like NESFA and BASFA do so with their Hugo Recommendation Lists.

By the way, the final selection is done using "Instant Runoff Voting," but it's probably not relevant to your initial concern about works you personally like being nominated in the first place. (I'll explain IRV here if requested.)

Eddie Clark | May 31, 2007 05:42 AM

What exactly is wrong with highbrow? A couple of the comments on the thread seem to all "why would you want to read a highbrow book". Well, first, I wouldn't class any of the books on the best novel list as self-consciously highbrow. Rather they're full of very hard science. Which is inaccessible in the same way as wanky literary games, but not at all the same thing.

Second, the reason a lot of "highbrow" (and I use the term not really liking it) stuff ends up on awards lists is, I would suggest, because it's GOOD. The best SF book I've read this year is Ink by Hal Duncan, and that's a fantastic meta-literary trainwreck. And I guess award time is the sort of time those books get recognised. Super large bestsellers get their recognition by being, well, on the bestseller list and promininetly displayed in bookshops. Thats how I tend to find and read good books of that sort. Awards (and bloggers) are where I hear about the more obscure stuff. So if it is indeed correct that awards favour "highbrow" stuff, then its a good thing.

After rant: I hope Peter Watts wins best novel and Sarah Monette wins the Campbell. She's a very original writer, but there's something about her well-written, character driven, mildly fu*ked up fantasy that reminds me of Robin Hobb. This is a good thing.

Oh and finally, and largely off topic, who saw brokeback mountain? Don't know about the states, but it was fairly near the top of the box office in NZ for a while, so quite a few people. Why did I see it? Nice to see a pretty, well-made movie with, yknow, gay people in it. Wasn't a perfect movie, but I'm glad it got nominated.

Steven H Silver | May 31, 2007 08:04 AM

Tumbleweed:

Just to clarify something Cheryl said above.

In the nominating phase (by anyone with a supporting membership or better), you can nominate anything you've read or seen. If, for instance, you want to nominate Clay Eals's Steve Goodman: Facing the Music for next year's Hugo, you can. Now, since it is a biography of a musician rather than speculative fiction, chances are very slim of it making the final ballot (and if it did get enough votes, I imagine the Hugo Administrator would disqualify it for not meeting the criterion).

A supporting membership, by the way, includes not only the right to vote in the Hugos and site selection (the latter costing an additional fee), but also copies of all the generally available publications of the con and a membership in WSFS (although a supporting member cannot vote at the Business Meeting). Publications include progress reports issued before the convention, the program book, pocket program (which lists the events), restaurant guide, and possibly a few others, depending on the con.

Finally, regarding the nature of the ballot. It is never (or very rarely) entirely to anyone's taste. But looking at the past few years, you'll see winners and nominees have included the following which could be classified as space opera
2000
Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign
Vernor Vinge, A Deepness in the Sky (winner)
2001
Ken MacLeod, The Sky Road
2002
Ken MacLeod, Cosmonaut Keep
2004
Charles Stross, Singularity Sky
2005
Iain M. Banks, The Algebraist
Ian McDonald, River of Gods
Charles Stross, Iron Sunrise
2006
John Scalzi, Old Man's War
Charles Stross, Accelerando

Other non-space opera nominees have included:
2 Harry Potter novels, 2 George R.R. Martin fantasies, 2 Lois McMaster Bujold fantasies, a couple books each by Robert Charles Wilson and Rob Sawyer which would probably appeal to fans of space opera, and a screwball comedy by Connie Willis. So, while this year's ballot may be more "high brow" than in most years, you'll generally find something (or multiple somthings) which aren't.

Just wondering, if you had been a member and eligible to support, what 5 books would you have nominated?

I don't have my list to hand, but I know that Max Brooks's World War Z was on my list this past year.

Steven H Silver | May 31, 2007 08:06 AM

Oh, another book from my list that I knew wouldn't make the ballot was Paul di Filippo's debut novel A Short Remarkable Life. As you can see, I nominate books I like, not books I think necessarily have a chance of making the ballot.

Patrick Shepherd | May 31, 2007 11:13 AM

Didn't have time to comment about the significance of the numbers I posted yesterday evening:

First, once we get beyond 1968, there is a remarkable consistency of the ratios between men and women nominations whether they are looked at in terms of total nominations or by individual authors - this is one case where my 'gut' impression was proved wrong by really looking at the data. The numbers basically say that the frequency of individual authors receiving multiple nominations is about equal between men and women.

Cheryl: I don't see where these numbers show a declining number of individuals getting nominated. There were 96 for 1981-1990, 98 for 1991-2000, and 68 for 2001-2006 (only 5 years! adjusted for full decade, that would be 136). The period prior to 1980 is a little more difficult to look at on an equal basis, as it seems the rules for numbers of nominees varied all over the place, some years and categories with only three nominations allowed, others with seven, and the number of categories varied wildly also.

Tumbleweed: you are certainly correct that these numbers don't say anything about acceptance and/or discrimination of women authors unless we know what the real ratio of active men and women authors is. This is a number that I have no clue about, nor do I imagine anyone does other than a very gross approximation.

As far as the age of RAH con-panel attendees, I'm afraid I'm one of that 'aging' group, and it does seem that fewer youngsters are being captivated by his works than when I first got hooked. Still, if you haven't already, come join the Heinlein Society, as at least one of its goals is promoting his works to school libraries.

Steven H Silver | May 31, 2007 12:00 PM

Teflon brain: The book I was referring to in my last post is A Small and Remarkable Life and the author is Nick DiChario. My mistake. It has now been nominated for the John W. Cambpell Memorial Award.

Cheryl | May 31, 2007 01:46 PM

Patrick: yeah, I think you are right. That will teach me to try to process numbers while I'm in the middle of writing code. I'll take another look later, but it being the last day of the month I have work I need to turn in first.

Madeline F | May 31, 2007 04:37 PM

Bill Cunningham: I'm sorry that you're reading a dissmissive heavy anti-Vinge trip where I meant to toss in an analysis. Many authors (some of my favorite authors among them) have set pieces they enjoy, and for some these hang together into basic plot skeletons that appear in nearly all of their books. It's not by itself a bad thing.

I've read most of Vinge's books, though given that I'm not terribly keen on his set pieces I haven't gotten around to Rainbow's End yet. From what I remember years after, in the order I read them, The Witling had the male actor solving everything, and the female ends in no condition to agree to the romantic life she's set to lead. Fire Upon the Deep had the kids stupidly trusting their alien rescuers, one of whom was an evil torturer; arguably the "internet" populace stupidly trusting of the anti-human crusade; and one of the female characters ending up a mindless baby machine. Marooned in Realtime was an excellent book I highly recommend: since it was a mystery, the "audience knows X evil thing but characters don't" bit was mostly dodged, and the sex slaves of the evil guy didn't come up until the end reveal. Deepness in the Sky is the poster child for the Vinge pattern I've pointed out. The Peace War had the one male actor with the technological renaissance, and the stupidly trusting supposedly smart woman.

Of all of Vinge's set pieces, the deluded fellow you and Tom Scudder see in Rainbow's End is the one that turns me off the most: the others are pretty typical of SF, but I can't stand plots that hang on characters being needlessly gullible. Everyone has different thresholds and finds different stuff appealing, though.

Tumbleweed | May 31, 2007 05:54 PM

Cheryl -

And you haven't explained who gets to vote. Do you have to pay to attend the festival? Can you only vote for a film if you have paid to see it?

In general, yeah, you have to pay to attend the festival. The vast majority of these movies haven't been released yet (and many will never GET released, or will only get released if they do well at the festival). If you see a film (however you get in; that's almost always by paying), you get to vote. Now, I'm guessing the vast majority of people have to pay to get in, though obviously there are some situations where people get tickets or passes by winning them, etc.

The caution about people rigging this system by downvoting everything else is a concern, and one I hadn't thought of. I think this would be less of a problem than people voting on things they haven't seen (or read, depending on what award we're talking about).

Cheryl | May 31, 2007 08:37 PM

Tumbleweed: thanks for the clarification. I think I now see where you are coming from. The majority of people who complain that the Hugos are unfair do so because they think it is wrong that you should have to pay anything in order to vote. You, I think, are saying that they are unfair because anyone can vote, even if they haven't read the works in question, simply by paying a fee. Right?

BTW, the IRV folks that Kevin referred to have a system for sorting downvoting - I think it was developed for ice dance judging and the like - but most people I know who've looked at it say it hurts your brain to think about it.

Tumbleweed | June 1, 2007 03:45 AM

Cheryl - I couldn't care less whether someone has to pay to vote or not. My only concerns are people voting on things they haven't read, and badly-promoted/obscure works not getting nominated. Well, and the political nonsense, of course. :)

Bill Cunningham | June 1, 2007 05:42 AM

Madeline F: Thanks for the clarification, but I still feel you are misrepresenting "Fire Upon the Deep", though now perhaps from having read it a long time ago and generally disliking the author.

Just for my own peace of mind I have to argue here that nobody in that novel believed anything stupidly. The two kids, if you remember, were split up when their family was killed in the raid, the very young boy fell into the bad guys' hands, and the teen aged girl went with the good guys. Only, the problem was, the little boy didn't actually see the attack, and the bad guys, recognizing the asset they had in him, kept him very well, treated him with love and paired him with an equally coddled alien child, so for all the boy knew he really was in the hands of benevolent benefactors. He had every reason to believe so. The girl, on the other hand, saw the attack and witnessed one of the aliens killing her parents. So she distrusts the aliens very strongly, especially since she at first doesn't really understand their pack-entity nature, and recognizes one of the individuals who killed her dad in one of the packs among the good guys. She doesn't realize that these individuals don't have full consciousness, that only the pack does, and that since this one was incorporated into a new pack, it wasn't really the same person anymore. She does eventually come to understand this, it's an important part of the book, and comes to trust her rescuers, very wisely.

One of the bad guys is an evil torturer. I could name 100 books off the top of my head in which the bad guys are torturers too. There's no particular emphasis on torturing women, and rape plays absolutely no part in the story at all, not as threat, suggestion, anything. It's just not there. Torture itself is not really a dominant part of the plot either.

The "internet" populace is engaged in constant debate over how much to believe in the legitimacy of the anti-human crusade. In fact, suspicion of this nature was not unfounded, as it turns out quite another species turns out to be every bit as dangerous and tied to the "Blight" as the humans were suspected of.

I don't know what you're referring to when you say one of the female characters becomes a mindless baby machine. Is it the skroderider who gets "planted" by the sea? The point that this alien race was by nature more or less mindless, having been artificially uplifted, and that this one, having helped to literally save the galaxy and redeem her species, would maybe want to bear her heroic, dead husband's children, hardly seems an unworthy end to her part in the plot.

I'm not trying to argue you into liking this or anything, it just seems like you are remembering very different novels from the ones I've just read, and are remembering them rather unkindly.

As far as my reading anti-Vinge dismissiveness into your original post, well, this is pretty dismissive:

(beh. All his books have the same pattern [evil bad guy {proven to be evil because he rapes and tortures women} fools good guys {who are stupidly trusting} except for clever male who nigh-singlehandedly brings about scientific revolution] and it's got really annoying bits to it)

The "rapes and tortures women" part was particularly distressing, as that suggests strongly that these books contain an anti-woman slant, and that is so far from the truth to be worthy of rebuttal.

You have, however, read far more of his work than I have. Maybe the rest is worse than what I've read... I'm working through Deepness in the Sky right now, so maybe I'll find more of what you've disliked in there.

I do think you're being unfair in your critique though. His books don't seem to fit the pattern you've used, really. Maybe one of them does, but the two I've read were so different and both so unlike what you wrote, that I suspect most of his books don't actually fit that pattern either.

Anyway, despite all that up there, I'm not looking for a fight or anything - just sticking up for some stories I liked.

What would you have rather seen nominated? Any books you read this year that really lit up the inside of your head?

micmac | June 3, 2007 12:23 AM

My humble, inventive opinion, and why

Novels

1. Eifelheim - well researched, inventive, fun etymology. Tough call against Blindsight, but better.

2. Blindsight - well researched, inventive. It's still monsters lurking around the corner.

3. His Majesty's Dragon - dragons, coulda' been unicorns.

4. Rainbows End - Not up to either Deep or Deepness. And a lieutenant colonel with control of nukes? cf Neal Stephenson's dazzling Diamond Age for hi-tech future.

5. Glasshouse - didn't post text on Nippon 2007. Learn from your misteaks.



Movies

1. The Prestige - Nicola Tesla, played by the man who fell to earth, how can you beat that? There was a side plot, something to do with magicians.

2. Children of Men - evil Christians have taken over Britain and are making everyone obey the Ten Commandments. Government minion accidentally runs afoul of the establishment - Terry Gilliam's Brazil comes to mind. At least it looks like it was filmed on location.

3. Pan's Labyrinth - evil Fascists have taken over Spain and are making everyone obey the Socialist state. Way too brutal for less than state of the art fairies.

4. Through a Scanner Darkly - Philip K Dick, with druggies and an inventive, daring computer rotoscoped style. Too bad inventive and daring don't alway work.

5. V for Vendetta - evil Christians have taken over Britain and are making everyone obey the Ten Commandments. Government minion accidentally runs afoul of the establishment by getting kidnapped, a textbook example of the Stockholm Syndrome. Ironic humor in killing the night cleaning crew by blowing up Parliament and having a gay character admiring the Koran, though admittedly too subtle to notice. Good production values.

Greg | June 5, 2007 02:35 AM

"Madeline F": Are you sure you've actually read the books?

Bill Cunningham did a nice job on Fire, so I'll skip that one. Read "The Witling" too long ago to remember. "Marooned in Realtime": when did "the sex slaves of the evil guy" come up? "Deepness in the Sky" is the closest to the "pattern" you've invented for Vinge, but even there it's not all that close (one "good guy" was overly trusting, in that she got her mind wiped every time she figured things out. The rest either knew what was going on, and were fighting it, or were far more "cowed" than "confused". We knew the bad guy was evil long before we knew he raped anyone, and he tortured and murdered people of both sexes).

The Peace War had the one male actor with the technological renaissance, and the stupidly trusting supposedly smart woman.

Delia Lu? The female astronaut?
Yes, Paul was a lead actor. But so was Willi W.

Of all of Vinge's set pieces, the deluded fellow you and Tom Scudder see in Rainbow's End is the one that turns me off the most: the others are pretty typical of SF, but I can't stand plots that hang on characters being needlessly gullible.

Again, what book were you reading / talking about? He's not "deluded", he's desperate. He wasn't gullible, he just didn't care. At first.

You don't like Vinge, fine. But don't make up excuses for why you don't like him. That's tacky.

Nick Winks | June 6, 2007 01:00 PM

I'm beginning to understand why these are so popular. I greatly enjoyed looking through everyone's comments. I personally thought the outstanding concept in Rainbow's End was simply that down to the wire, the rejuvenant made a non-personally profitable decision to protect his young relative based on enough knowledge and appreciation of his circumstances to perceive it as the best decision. I LOVE stories that show people making intelligent decisions, even if it may be rarer in reality than in fiction (how politicians survive!). Thanks for all the comments, which were very much appreciated by me! On one more hand, isn't Connie Willis currently the living person with more Hugos than anyone else?

Joshua | June 9, 2007 02:23 AM

Connie Willis has more Hugos (9) in the fiction categories (novel/novella/novelette/short story) than anyone else, living or dead.

However, considering all Hugo categories, the all-time leaders are Charles Brown and Dave Langford with 27 each.

Madeline F | June 9, 2007 03:51 AM

Come now, Greg, putting my name in airquotes when you don't even link to a website for yours? "Tacky."

Greg and Bill, I'm sorry that I've hit a nerve with you. This is the last time I'm going to point out that I don't dislike Vinge. Don't know him from Adam, got nothing against the man. I've just got the tools to analyze his books as a mass.

Bill, it's been useful laying it out for you: as the rape + torture comes up in only two books of his that I remember, it does make sense to dial that aspect of Vinge's continuing set back to the more foundational "cliched badnesses of bad guy" and the interesting Vinge-specific "significant female characters end up with (or in Marooned, start with and then work past) major brain damage".

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