Weird Kitties: Best Novel Open Thread

(84 comments)

These'll be replacing Saturday Waffling for a while.

Right, so, the party continues. I'll sort this into a landing page and a self-contained website eventually; there's a whole site redesign coming, and Weird Kitties will get a clear place within it. Until then, you can track this tag. For now, let's get this show on the road.

Some of the Hugo categories are easier than others. Lots of people read enough new sci-fi/fantasy novels in a year to fill out a ballot. Best Novel was one of the few categories where the Puppies failed to get things on the ballot as opposed to leaving open slots; two, and ultimately three actual candidates made it all on their own last year.

So far, for my part, I've gotten through Seveneves, which I thought a good but not great Neal Stephenson novel, and am about a third of the way through The Vorrh, which is very much the sort of novel you'd expect Alan Moore to call "the current century’s first landmark work of fantasy and ranking amongst the best pieces ever written in that genre." The latter will almost certainly make my ballot; the former could be knocked off without too much trouble. I'll probably not get to The Shepherd's Crown, since I've not read a Discworld novel in decades, but may well nominate it just because a Hugo ballot without it would just feel wrong somehow.

So what novels have you read so far this year, and what did you think? Anything you've already pencilled in for your ballot? Any you've already penned in?

Here's the Hugo Nominees 2015 Wikia's list to get us started.

Next week's category for discussion will be short story, by the way. There was a Twitter hashtag a few days ago that listed several things one might have a glance at before then. I've got Charlie Jane Anders's latest in an open tab, personally.

And I'll be back tomorrow with the first bevy of reviews people have submitted, including one from me about Warren Ellis's eligible Novelette Elektrograd: Rusted Blood. It's not too late to send me one. Ones you've already posted elsewhere are fine; I'm happy to run them with links back to the originals.

Comments

Matt Marshall 1 year, 9 months ago

Just posting to say I really support what you're doing, though I have read no books published this year yet D:

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camestrosfelapton 1 year, 9 months ago

Joanne Harris's Gospel of Loki is a book I'd nominate
https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2015/07/23/review-the-gospel-of-loki-by-joanne-harris/

I reviewed Seveneves as well (I will be nominating it but I get the mixed feelings about it)
https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2015/08/07/seveneves-a-review/

Eligible books I liked, reviewed but won't be personally nominating are Charles Stross's Annihilation Score and Joe Abercrombie's Half a War.

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Tom Dickinson 1 year, 9 months ago

Eliezer Yudkowsky, author of the novel-length fanfic "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality", has asked readers to nominate it for best novel, if they think it deserving. I'm sure that some will, and while I'm not sure it deserves the award I think it's an interesting contender.

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Hélène 1 year, 9 months ago

The gospel was published February 13th 2014 by Gollancz. Isn't it too late to nominate it?

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arcbeatle 1 year, 9 months ago

I actually do think its worthy of a nomination at least. Its done something with the Genre of fanfiction no one has done before, and really broadened its possibilities in an utterly fantastic way. Maybe its not the best of the year, but leaving it off a nomination ballot for me feels wrong.

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Eric Rosenfield 1 year, 9 months ago

There's some stuff that's sure to make the ballot. Hugo-favorite Ken Liu (who translated this year's winner and won best short story at least once) has his first novel out, The Grace of Kings, for example. I haven't read it (yet), but having read Liu's short fiction I'm sure it'll be compelling. Likewise, NK Jemisin's The Fifth Season I think is a shoe-in for a nomination.

Personally, I'm currently leaning towards Last First Snow by Max Gladstone, who's been criminally overlooked by the Hugos so far, and should have taken home best short story this year for "A Kiss with Teeth" (which would have been on the ballot without Puppy interference). He's one of the best stylists in SFF and a master storyteller whose Craft series turns magic into commerce and contracts and gods into corporations. They're stunning books.

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Andrew Ceyton 1 year, 9 months ago

Thank you so much for doing this. I look forward to lurking on every word and compiling a lovely reading list.

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Daibhid C 1 year, 9 months ago

So much I haven't read. Awaiting Shepherd's Crown at my library, and somehow already started writing a review even though I haven't technically read it yet. Still haven't got round to The Rhesus Chart, so it'll be a while before I reach Annihilation Score.

I'm sure Ben Aaronovitch's The Hanging Tree will be excellent, but I should probably wait until it comes out...

I haven't read The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman properly, but what I've seen looks interesting and she has the best name for writing steampunk ever.

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Nicholas Whyte 1 year, 9 months ago

I have read The Shepherd's Crown, and am pretty sure that I will be nominating it - unless the Pratchett family indicate in public that they do not want it to be considered, or I read five more books that blow me away.

The Hugo-eligible novels I particularly hope to read are Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson; Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin; Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie; Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson; Touch, by Claire North; House of Shattered Wings, by Aliette de Bodard; Karen Memory, by Elizabeth Bear; Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho; and Luna: New Moon, by Ian McDonald. That's already quite a long list; I'll be guided also by the BSFA, Arthur C Clarke and Nebula nominations when they come out at the start of next year.

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

It was first published long before 2015, wasn't it? How is it eligible?

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

Indeed; first publication must be in 2015.

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Andy H. 1 year, 9 months ago

My one guaranteed nomination so far is Jo Walton's The Just City, which is a science fiction novel in which the science is applied Platonic philosophy, and a fantasy novel in which Socrates holds a dialogue with a robot. Walton's Republic (set up by time traveling Plato enthusiasts and the goddess Athene) is simultaneously a utopia and a horror story, just like the original, and she uses it as the basis for a prolonged meditation on the ethical importance of consent that builds to a stunning ending sequence which recasts everything before it as the blade of a very sharp knife. Content note for a couple of fairly explicit scenes of sexual violence, written matter of fact and not for titillation. I think that this is the best thing she's written, though I'm not as pleased with the sequel.

I'm still waiting for my holds to come in on Naomi Novik's Uprooted and NK Jemisin's The Fifth Season, but based on buzz I'm excited about both.

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BZArcher 1 year, 9 months ago

I am honestly not sure if John Scalzi's "The End Of All Things" is his best work (being designed as a serial, it's a little choppy in novel form), but I suspect it'll end up on a lot of nominations for obvious reasons.

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camestrosfelapton 1 year, 9 months ago

I may be wrong but I believe it's US publication was in 2015. Under the Hugo eligibility rules http://www.thehugoawards.org/hugo-categories/ the eligibility requirement is extended if US publication is later.

[see here for US publication date http://www.joanne-harris.co.uk/books/the-gospel-of-loki/ ]

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

Ah, yes, if it hadn't had US publication prior to 2015 than it is eligible; the same rules under which The Vorrh is, actually.

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

If you want to expand that to two or three paragraphs, I'd love to run it as a full review.

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camestrosfelapton 1 year, 9 months ago

I think it may be eligible (but again I'm not a hugo-lawyer). With serialized works the key date is when the last episode was published.
http://www.thehugoawards.org/hugo-categories/
" In such cases it is the publication date of the final installment of the series that counts for eligibility purposes." - if it is the whole of the serialized work that is being nominated.

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camestrosfelapton 1 year, 9 months ago

Yay! Loki cannot be bound by mere human rules!

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

Oh dear god, it's still been growing longer the past few years?

(I may have just tipped my hands on the likelihood of my nominating it. Though I'd *love* to run a review of it. Arcbeatle? Tom?)

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arcbeatle 1 year, 9 months ago

Well you roped me in it looks like :P

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arcbeatle 1 year, 9 months ago

pseudo related: are in-progress serialized works able to be nominated...?

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Zachary 1 year, 9 months ago

If I were nominating today: Uprooted by Naomi Novik, Seveneves by Neil Stephenson, Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, The Just City by Jo Walton, and The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin, although I'm not sure which I'd vote for. Maybe Jo Walton because she's the best writer of the five and deserves more love. My picks will probably change when I get to Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman, The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi, and a couple of others. Books definitely not making my list include The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (nicely written, but dull) and The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu (not for me). My only certain nomination for short fiction is ‘What Has Passed Shall In Kinder Light Appear’ by Bao Shu (from F&SF March/April) for novella.

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camestrosfelapton 1 year, 9 months ago

And...just added a review of The Mechanical which I liked so much I don't think I can be objective about it. https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2015/09/06/review-the-mechanical-by-ian-tregillis/

I haven't written a review of The Buried Giant - but I did truly love it and will consider nominating it. I think it packs a real punch as a allegory of how societies try to hide from their past. Ishiguro tackled those ideas with regard to Japan and WW2 in An Artist of the Floating World, I think there is a kind of genius to looking at those ideas but using the Matter of Britain as the context. Put aside the LeGuin/Ishiguro and what genre it fits in etc and read it as an Ishiguro novel that fits in with The Remains of the Day and other books but with an Arthurian context and I think it is genius...but I don't think I can write a longer review than that because 1. spoilers and 2. I'm still untangling what I think about it (which is a good sign I think that it is a very good book).

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camestrosfelapton 1 year, 9 months ago

Individual bits are - for example in the short story, novella or novelette categories. Several of the puppy nominated works this year were actually bits of stuff that are being written serially (which is why some of the not wholly awful works felt like they didn't entirely make sense).

The situation is similar to a TV series. Something like Game of Thrones can be nominated for Best Dramatic Long Form as a whole season or nominated for Best Dramatic Short Form for a single episode.

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John Seavey 1 year, 9 months ago

I'm about 150 pages through 'Fifth Season'; it's brutal and unflinching, to the point where I almost think it should have a trigger warning (page one is a woman cradling the corpse of her three-year old son, who was beaten to death by her husband, and it goes on from there) but it's also uncompromisingly brilliant and never exploitative in its brutality, which is more than can be said for a lot of fantasy novels. More when I've finished it.

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Jesse 1 year, 9 months ago

The only sf book released in 2015 that I've read is Douglas Lain's After the Saucers Landed. And while I wouldn't say I like it enough to nominate it for an award, I do like it enough to say, "Hey Phil, you might want to check out this book."

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Cdog Zilla 1 year, 9 months ago

Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora is the only eligible novel I've read so far this year. I haven't written a review of it yet, but I'd certainly nominate it and will reply back here if I get a review posted in time.

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

There's literally always time; whenever you get a review written, just send it to me and I'll run it.

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Sean Dillon 1 year, 9 months ago

I'm tempted to nominate Head of State. I loved the book a lot. Like I read the whole thing in one sitting. I just couldn't stop reading it. But I understand its nature as a spin off of a spin off and why most people wouldn't think nominating for best novel it would be a good idea (best related work?)... does unnoun have plans on doing a review on Liberating Earth, it's eligible.

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Sean Dillon 1 year, 9 months ago

I think fan fiction is allowed within the related work section, but I could be wrong.

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Nathaniel Lovin 1 year, 9 months ago

Fan fiction is allowed in whatever fiction category the fan fiction qualifies for on length. The author is probably also eligible for fan writer.

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scamander360 1 year, 9 months ago

Um, Mr. Sandifer?

"I'll probably not get to The Shepherd's Crown, since I've not read a Discworld novel in decades, but may well nominate it just because a Hugo ballot without it would just feel wrong somehow."

I'm really hoping you're joking here. Because declaring a campaign to make sure people nominate books they actually enjoyed reading, while simultaneously declaring your own intention to nominate a book without even reading it . . . surely I don't have to point out the logical disconnect there? Especially given the Puppies' oft-derided habit of nominating things they didn't bother reading, solely because they came from popular and well-loved authors?

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Tom Dickinson 1 year, 9 months ago

I could certainly write some kind of review. Not sure how lengthy.

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Ryan Alexander 1 year, 9 months ago

Thanks for creating a space for this!

I'd like to recommend the following books, all of which I've read and love and HIGHLY RECOMMEND. I think they'd all make worthy Hugo/Nebula/etc. recommendations:

The Book of Phoenix - Nnedi Okorafor
The Fifth Season - N.K. Jemisin
The Galaxy Game - Karen Lord
The Glittering World - Robert Levy
The House of Shattered Wings - Aliette de Bodard
Signal to Noise - Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The following books are on my current to-read list, so I have no opinion as of yet (but high hopes!):
Apex - Ramez Naam
Daughter of Gods and Shadows - Jayde Brooks
Dragonfly - Raphael Ordoñez
Grace of Kings - Ken Liu
Half-Resurrection Blues - Daniel Jose Older
The Liminal War - Ayize Jama-Everett
Regeneration - Stephanie Saulter
Somnalia - Sumiko Saulson
Sorcerer to Crown - Zen Cho
Time Salvager - Wesley Chu
Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights - Salman Rushdie

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

My objection is to organized slates designed to dominate the ballot with what is in effect a single person's choice. Put another way, my opposition is as it always has been: to Vox Day and Vox Day specifically.

In terms of my personal ballot choices, a PhD program in English involves a lot of reading secondary sources and criticism. To an extent that it is nearly impossible not to regularly form opinions of work you have not read based on the fact that people whose views and taste you respect have read it and written about it. I have read numerous such people on The Shepherd's Crown, and I have enough investment in Terry Pratchett as an author and a man that seeing in on the ballot would make me happy.

I don't begrudge anyone who judges books on different grounds than that, and who prefers to nominate only things they've read. Indeed, I admire it. But I'm comfortable with the standards I'm using.

In terms of what I do and don't object to, however, what matters to me is that the standards people use be their own, and be judgments about the work, not the marching orders of a fascist clown.

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Eric Gimlin 1 year, 9 months ago

I know I'll be nominating The Shepherd's Crown, even if I'm only half-way through it so far. The first third was one of the hardest things to read I've ever encountered; it's excellent but devastating for a fan of the series like myself. I had to put down the book for a couple days before I could finally continue today.

That assumes I can nominate anything, of course. A quick question, for Phil or anybody else: How does somebody who sat out the first round of this insanity go about registering for this year? Am I already too late to get in on nominations, or does joining for next year make me eligible to nominate as well as vote?

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Nicholas Whyte 1 year, 9 months ago

I should have mentioned The Just City, which I plan to nominate together with its sequel The Philosopher Kings (published this month) as they are really a two-part story. You'll find my name in the acknowledgements - I read them both in late 2013.

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Nicholas Whyte 1 year, 9 months ago

Yes, I got half way through and gave up, but a lot of people like his writing more than I do.

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

I am unlikely to run more than one Faction Paradox review; the material is ultimately too niche, and I do not wish to be seen as unduly favoring it.

Anthologies are not currently well-served by any category, it should also be noted.

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Andy H. 1 year, 9 months ago

It's the latter -- if you buy a supporting or attending membership for MidAmericon right now, that gets you nominating and voting rights for the 2016 hugos, as well as nominating rights for 2017.

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Ray 1 year, 9 months ago

If you think it might be good enough to nominate for the Hugo, why not read it and find out? The award is for Best Novel, not 'best novel by a recently deceased author and lets make this a lifetime achievement award, yeah?'
If you haven't read it, how can you think it is one of the best novels of the year? I'm sure your English study involved reading secondary texts _but also the primary text itself_ before forming a critical judgement.

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Paige 1 year, 9 months ago

Since no one has plugged Sorcerer to the Crown yet, and since I just finished it, I will. It's definitely going on my ballot.

For the first 10-15% of this book, I wasn't grabbed -- it felt less like the Zen Cho stories I've read before, and more like someone trying very hard to summon the atmosphere of Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. I was worried that I was going to be disappointed, and disappointed after really looking forward to reading.

I shouldn't have worried. One of the best things about Cho's writing is her ability to create characters so real that I can almost forget they're part of a story, and not real. (She's as good at characters as Max Gladstone is at worldbuilding.) Watching the characters' motivations and backgrounds unfold and jostle against each other is a delight.

There are inevitably going to be comparisons to JS&MN, so, yes -- this novel is building on what Clarke did; however, it's also working with very different territory. Clarke's storytelling was very much engaged with the intellectual traditions of the 18th & 19th centuries, and the circumstances surrounding the production of knowledge. JS&MN pokes, parodies, and interrogates those traditions and circumstances at various points in the novel.

In Sorcerer to the Crown, I would characterize Cho as engaging with gender, race, colonialism, and postcolonialism the way that Clarke worked with intellectual and knowledge production traditions. (Clarke worked with gender & race, too, but there are reasons that her novel wasn't titled "Stephen Black & Arabella Strange/Lady Pole.") In Cho's book, gender and race are much more central to the main plot, and the result is wonderfully satisfying. I don't feel any need to make comparisons about which novel is better; I wish more novels built on others the way that Cho builds on Clarke's, and I wish more novels were like Clarke's in inspiring such creations.

A few final notes: Sorcerer to the Crown is an adventure, and a not unserious one -- but at times it's tremendously funny, too, as it ought to be, since Zen Cho wrote it. If you haven't read her previous work, seek out her short stories post-haste.

Also, though this is the first book in a trilogy, it ends well, and doesn't feel like someone chopped a larger novel into separate parts for the sake of more publications.

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Paige 1 year, 9 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

If the number of hours in the day were infinite, I would read it. Ultimately, I doubt it's going to make it to the top of the priority list for what are ultimately idiosyncratic reasons. Put another way, it's Best Novel, not Favorite Novel; I'm confident in its quality based on the information I've seen, but not that I personally would enjoy reading it more than reading about it and admiring it from afar.

Ultimately, the critical judgment of basic quality just isn't that complex one. The sort of critical judgments that primary sources are required to do well are things like "here are the specific effects of Austen's use of free indirect prose," not "Pride and Prejudice is one of the best novels of 1813."

Or, to put it in terms more directly related to my work, you need primary sources to disentangle the precise mechanics of influence of the Charlton characters on Watchmen. Knowing that Watchmen is a great comic, however, is pretty darn easy. Indeed, I suspect almost everybody who has read Watchmen and thinks its great knew it was great before they read it.

Yes, sometimes this sort of judgment goes wrong; although I tend, personally, to conclude "I didn't much enjoy X" instead of "X wasn't as great as everyone said." But I think the risk that numerous critics and friends whose taste I respect are wrong about The Shepherd's Crown is low enough that I'm comfortable putting it on my ballot.

As I said, nobody is obliged to follow my judgments and process here. But I maintain quite adamantly that it's a reasonable and valid process.

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Daibhid C 1 year, 9 months ago

Oh, hey, I just realised The Long Utopia was this year, not last year. Don't know why I thought that. (Conflated with Long Mars, I guess.) So that's another Sir Terry novel on my list.

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Daibhid C 1 year, 9 months ago

I am going to read it, and I see the logic here. Like I said, I've already got a good enough grasp of it to have written at least the framework of my review.

And while I very much agree that it shouldn't be a lifetime achievement award, it is a bit of a shame Terry never made it in his lifetime. (For multiple reasons it is not, as one somewhat hysterical blog post I read by accident claimed, a screaming injustice that proved once and for all the Puppies were right about everything, but it's a shame.)

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Ray 1 year, 9 months ago

I see no difference between this and the Puppy habit of appealing to best seller lists instead of their own judgement. Or Brad's judgement - if he thought something should be on the ballot that was argument enough.
Why bother reading anything? Pick an esteemed critic and ask them what to nominate.
I was thinking of adding some reviews here but if your attitude is that books can be nominated unread this is not a project I can support

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

As I've said repeatedly, what I objected to about the Puppies was not that people nominated works they hadn't read, but that it was an organized effort to have a single person's critical judgment dominate the entirety of the Hugo ballot.

I'm not encouraging people to nominate things they've not read. I'm not discouraging it either. What I am encouraging is that people do whatever level of research needed for them to feel comfortable nominating a full ballot, and that the works on their ballot be individually chosen by them, not copied from a pre-written slate.

Why bother reading anything? Because there are works I love and enjoy. But honestly, I don't *want* a Hugo ballot consisting entirely of cerebral slipstream fiction about epistemic change. I don't think the Hugo ballot should reflect my personal interests entirely. And I don't want to use my ballot to try to push it that way. I want to include good works that aren't necessarily things I'm interested in spending several hours of my meager leisure time reading.

Which is the difference. I don't want to pick an esteemed critic. I don't want my ballot to be dominated by a singular vision of what SF/F should be. Not even by my own.

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Zachary 1 year, 9 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

Oh, come now Zachary. Don't post a rude and presumptive comment and then delete it so it only goes to my inbox. Own up to your accusation that, despite having been writing thousands of words about it a week for the past four years, I don't actually care about science fiction.

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Ray 1 year, 9 months ago

The Hugo ballot isn't going to reflect your personal interests entirely. But your contribution to the ballot should reflect opinions you formed yourself, not those you parrot from someone else. If you can't be bothered reading the books you shouldn't be nominating them. You might think you are protecting the awards but you are making a mockery of them, just like the puppies.

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

Even if it's true that that's the only acceptable way to nominate - and obviously I disagree - Weird Kitties is designed to serve many approaches to the Hugos, not just my own. Just as it's designed to serve many tastes in SF/F, not just my own. Yes, I'm building a tool that serves my own purposes, but I've consciously built it to serve other people's as well.

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

And more broadly, I'll be voting the way I vote with or without Weird Kitties, for the simple reason that it really is how I think about the ballot. If Terry Pratchett isn't on the final ballot, I will be terribly, crushingly disappointed, and so I'm going to nominate accordingly. I'm also not going to lie about that; that seems a far worse offence than having a different philosophy of nomination than some people.

But again, Weird Kitties is not designed to exclusively or indeed primarily serve my interests. It's designed to be a resource for people eligible to nominate for the 2016 Hugos to learn about eligible works. What you want to learn about them is really up to you, not me, and that's very much a deliberate choice.

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John Seavey 1 year, 9 months ago

I'd say that curating the positive reviews you get is a form of slating; deciding that you're going to pick and choose the material that gets recommended is a potent form of driving the nomination process, after all. I say this as someone unlikely to review any FP stuff, but ultimately everyone needs to be able to talk about the things they liked if this is to be anything other than a counter-slate.

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

I'm inclined to think of the FP line as a sort of single author, and thus to point to what I said in the first post, which is that I'll start to reject things with a lot of reviews already.

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Hiratha 1 year, 9 months ago

From the Hugo FAQ:
“Can I vote for something I have not read/seen?”

“No, don’t nominate or vote for something you have not read or seen, and don’t vote based on reputation — the Hugos are meant to honor your choices and judgments, not the rumor of someone else’s.”

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

*shrug*

I think describing making informed judgments based on critics you respect as "the rumor of someone else's judgments" is insulting and childish of whomever wrote that FAQ, and that they're probably the sort of person who takes concepts like "suspension of disbelief" and "escapism" seriously as well.

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

Put another way, the vision of what it means to love a book and want it to win an award expressed in that bit of Hugo FAQ simply doesn't resonate with how I engage with them.

I could read The Shepherd's Crown. Key scenes would mean nothing to me due to not having read any of the Tiffany Aching books, or indeed any Discworld in decades. I suspect even if I had the people noting that it wasn't his best and that you could tell he was in decline have a point. All told, I doubt I would enjoy reading it very much.

This doesn't particularly affect my opinion of whether it's Hugo-worthy. I probably will see The Force Awakens. I doubt I'll like it much. I may well say I think it's Hugo-worthy anyway. And so on. The differentiation between "what's good" and "what I like" is something I've internalized pretty deeply at this point. I honestly don't *want* the Hugos to reflect what I like separately from what I think is good.

And while I respect the Hugo rules, I can't really vote according to a conception of how art and literature work different than my own. I'm making no effort to impose my standards on anyone else, but... it's my ballot, and my view of what quality means.

I'd also point out that the FAQ is not the Hugo Rules. Those are at http://www.wsfs.org/bm/const-2014.html#article3 and make no effort to govern how someone picks what they vote for.

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Ray 1 year, 9 months ago

What I can't get my head around is the sheer LAZINESS of it all.
Hugo nominations open in 6 months, and you can't find the time to read one short paperback and form your own judgement on it? You'll nominate it because Cliff Notes said it was good? You'll be crushingly disappointed if a book isn't on the ballot, even though you don't want to read that book?

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Daibhid C 1 year, 9 months ago

Ray, it seems like what you can't get your head round is the idea that there's a difference between "What Phil thinks makes a good novel" and "What Phil personally enjoys reading", and therefore there has to be an explanation for his decision that is completely unrelated to the explanation he's given.

I'm a teetotaller. If all my friends who drink and whose opinions I trust told me that a bartender was really good, and I had the opportunity to nominate them for Bartender of the Year, I probably would. I would never taste their martini, and if I did I'd have nothing to compare it to and probably hate it, but that's because I don't drink, and has nothing to do with how good a bartender they are.

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John Seavey 1 year, 9 months ago

Authors (or in this case publishers) are not nominated for Hugos. Works are. If one person thinks 'Head of State' is Hugo-worthy, and another thinks that a story from "Liberating Earth" is Hugo-worthy, those are two separate nominations in two separate categories. Unless this is the Sandifer slate, you cannot substitute your own judgment for theirs. You have to respect those suggestions the same as you would two suggestions for two different works by Seanan McGuire or two different works by Tor Press.

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John Seavey 1 year, 9 months ago

But the key is that this is neither "what Phil thinks makes a good novel" nor "what Phil personally enjoys reading". This is "what Phil has been told is a good novel", which is against both the sprit and the letter of the Hugo nomination rules. You are not supposed to substitute the tastes and judgment of others for your own, full stop. Supplement, yes. Substitute, never. I like Phil tons, but he's making a huge mistake here if he thinks that he should nominate any book without reading it, even this one.

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Jesse 1 year, 9 months ago

I guess I'm a moderate on this question. I have no problem with rooting for something to win an award even if I haven't read/seen/listened to it, due to my feelings about the artists responsible. But I wouldn't actually vote for something I haven't experienced myself.

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camestrosfelapton 1 year, 9 months ago

/John Seavey: This is "what Phil has been told is a good novel",/

It isn't quite as sparse as that. It is "This is what Phil thinks is a good novel based on reasons other than him reading it."

Not a sound basis for a Hugo nomination though IMHO and a rhetorical own goal that unfortunately will get stuck to the Weird Kitties project like a unwelcome smell.

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camestrosfelapton 1 year, 9 months ago

//Daibhid CSeptember 7, 2015 at 10:19 AM

I'm a teetotaller. If all my friends who drink and whose opinions I trust told me that a bartender was really good, and I had the opportunity to nominate them for Bartender of the Year, I probably would. I would never taste their martini, and if I did I'd have nothing to compare it to and probably hate it, but that's because I don't drink, and has nothing to do with how good a bartender they are.//

This is all true but I think it misses the point. At some point you would need that information of people tasting what the bartender does and, in their considered opinion, saying 'this is a good bartender'. The point is that the Hugo Awards and nominations are (I believe) part of that first process (people evaluating the bartender directly) rather than part of the second process (people forming opinions about the bartender without experiencing their work).

The second process isn't crazy or invalid in general but it is misapplied for the purpose of the Hugo Awards which are intended to be the first process.

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

Ooh. I was so wordy I need to make a two-part comment.

It is, I think, difficult to quite communicate the ways in which graduate study of literature changes your basic perceptions of it. There are large numbers of things in my life I honestly don't know if I've read or not anymore. And that's before you start breaking down "read or not" into the many intermediate states that in practice exist: skimmed, read a few chapters, read but under circumstances ill-suited for remembering in detail, et cetera.

At the heart of it, though, is a sense that there are a lot of different questions one can ask about a book, and that primary sources are not necessarily the best way to answer all of those questions.

Camestros is, of course, correct that there's a rhetorical risk in admitting this, but it seemed to me preferable to making some sort of extended effort to deny it. It's not something I'm intending to make an extended point of. Indeed, I can't really foresee much beyond Shepherd's Crown it might be relevant to: there aren't a lot of books that are deep into the progression of series that I've long since fallen out of the habit of reading that I think are likely candidates for a Hugo. I waffled on whether to mention it for a bit - originally I had an apologia in the post itself, but I decided to see what the reaction was before I defended myself.

But for what it's worth, none of the analogies proposed quite describe the thought process I go through on things like this. What I'd suggest is something more like this: let us imagine that I am a reasonably experienced bartender/mixologist, and that I am talking to a friend from out of town. My friend mentions that a local bar has begun serving drink X with a squeeze of lemon juice. This is not a normal way to serve drink X, and I have never had it that way. But I know the ingredients of the drink and how they interact, and I know what lemon juice tastes like and does to drinks, and I can make a pretty good judgment of whether this is plausibly a good idea or not.

"What's that do to the drink," I might ask my friend. "It smooths it out a bit," perhaps he'd reply, or "it brings out the sweetness," or something. At which point I probably have enough information to imagine, with considerable accuracy, what the drink is going to taste like.

That's not enough information to write a review, certainly, or to describe it. But it's not based on my friend's judgment; indeed, I've never asked him how he likes it. But I have a sense in my head of this drink that's nevertheless an informed and reasonable judgment.

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

My reaction to The Shepherd's Crown is similar. I know it's a Discworld book. I've not read one in years, but I still know the basic shape and approach of that. I know Terry Pratchett's style and sense of humor. I know who Granny Weatherwax is, and what the significance of her death is, particularly in the context of this being Pratchett's last book. I know that Pratchett's decline is considered by many to be visible in the book, and that there are surely better Discworld books.

From these facts, I can see how they combine to a powerful artistic experience worth celebrating. I can see the weight and scope of that experience. I can see how a book shaped like that will generate those effects, especially for the many people for whom the Discworld series has been a part of their lives and identities.

Is that substituting someone else's judgment for my own? I don't think so. There's no individual review or judgment I'm saying "yes, I believe this." Nor is it a judgment based on ignorance - on not knowing what the book will be like. It's a judgment based on facts about the book and an understanding of the context for those facts.

I think the best description would be that I am engaging in a sort of readerly empathy. And what's unique about The Shepherd's Crown is that I think I'm stuck with readerly empathy, simply because I cannot retcon the last decade of my life to be the sort of committed Discworld reader who can actually experience the weight and impact of the book and what it means. I can only experience that one by imagining myself as a different sort of reader than I am. Even reading the book, I would not be someone for whom it carries the awful and beautiful weight of being a favorite author's last work.

At which point reading the book becomes fact-checking. And, sure, in a world where I have an infinite amount of time that'd be worth doing, but honestly, there's loads of Iain M Banks and China Mieville I've not read, and verifying that the basic facts I've learned about The Shepherd's Crown are accurate isn't a high priority comparatively.

Anyway, I'm aware of the implicit controversy there. But as I said, I can't really make books work differently in my head than they do, and lying about it seemed wrong, so I made the admission with regards to the relevant work and will get on with coordinating reviews and trying to paint a picture of the overall Hugo scene for interested voters.

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Nathaniel Lovin 1 year, 9 months ago

I also think there's enough chance that his estate will refuse the nomination (based on his previous comments about awards) that it's a waste of a vote, especially in a year like this.

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Daru 1 year, 9 months ago

I am realising that I haven't read any novels that will be eligible. I may or may not have time as I have lots of work/time pressures. Shame as I would have loved to have submitted a review - like others I will hang around and definitely will benefit from the sharing of info about interesting works out there.

I will hopefully be able to submit a review for other categories. Cheers Phil - good work!

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Ray 1 year, 9 months ago

"At which point I probably have enough information to imagine, with considerable accuracy, what the drink is going to taste like."
But if you go ahead and pronounce on what it tastes like _without actually tasting it_, or describe it as one of the best cocktails of the year _without actually tasting it_.... That's clearly lazy, since it would be so easy to make it yourself. And amazingly arrogant - "My tastebuds are so refined, my imagination so educated, I don't need to go through the mundane process of placing liquid in my mouth any more."
You're not the only person to have gone through literature grad studies, you know. But I think you may be the first one to have said that it has moved you to a more elevated plane, where "reading" "books" is no longer necessary, because your literary awareness allows you to recreate them whole in your imagination.
Well, you assume it does. Who has time for fact-checking these days?

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Anton B 1 year, 9 months ago

Many years ago a close friend expressed an interest in 'getting into some sci-fi' but didn't know where to start. Knowing I was a reasonably knowledgeable and well read sci-fi buff he asked me to recommend some books for him to start with. Off the top of my head I reeled off a short list of classic examples of the genre including, amongst others, Asimov's Foundation trilogy. Some weeks later he attempted an enthusiastic conversation with me, full of quotes and plot examples, about Asimov's Foundation trilogy which he declared to be one of the best things he'd ever read and was completely stunned when I admitted I, personally, had never read them. I explained that my recommendation was based on reputation, my knowledge of Asimov's other works and the testimony of people who had read the series. My friend considered this to be outrageous. Luckily he had a sense of humour and we spent a good afternoon laughing about it. He derived a great deal of pleasure for many years, however, letting mutual friends know that I was the guy who recommended books without having read them.

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Ray 1 year, 9 months ago

When I'm looking for new books to buy, I have to make an educated guess. Maybe based on reviews, a scan through a first chapter, author, publisher, cover... whatever. If I haven't read the book before, I can't know if I'll like it. So I have to think, given what I know about this book, and what I know about my tastes, is it likely that I will enjoy it? and take a guess.
If someone asks me for recommendations, the process is the same. Given what I know of their tastes, and what I know of books, what are some books I think that person will enjoy. They might be books I like, books I don't like, books I haven't read. If I've read a book I'll better understand its qualities, but if the person asking has different tastes, the kind of book I think they'll like might be the kind of book I don't often read.
But if someone asks me what I think the best books of the year are, I would reply, "the best books I've read are..." I might also say that book X looks interesting, and book Y is getting good reviews, and I hope to get to them eventually, but neither of those things are enough for me to vote for a book I haven't read as one of the best of the year.

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Matt Marshall 1 year, 9 months ago

I think what people are missing in all these back and forths is that the Shepherd's Crown has a massive extra weight to it by the very virtue of it being the last book published by Sir Terry Pratchett. Nominating a book you've not read because everyone else say it is good is dumb. But nominating something because it's the last work of a massively influential figure in literature is a different matter entirely, and frankly it would be rude not to!

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Ray 1 year, 9 months ago

well, in this case it would be rude to nominate because Pratchett said while alive that he didn't want to be nominated.
But anyway, if this is the last work of a massively influential figure, or the last testament of Jesus written in unicorn blood during his retirement in Arizona - WHY DON'T YOU READ THE DAMN THING IF IT IS SO GOOD? If you read and its great, cool, nominate it. If you read it and you don't think it is one of the best novels of the year, don't nominate it. It isn't a lifetime achievement award.

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Daru 1 year, 9 months ago

"Anyway, I'm aware of the implicit controversy there. But as I said, I can't really make books work differently in my head than they do, and lying about it seemed wrong, so I made the admission with regards to the relevant work and will get on with coordinating reviews and trying to paint a picture of the overall Hugo scene for interested voters."

I think the above comment is really open, friendly and very fair from Phil.

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Daru 1 year, 9 months ago

And I look forwards to reading constructive, interesting reviews over the next while and having my fictional horizons broadened.

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

Ultimately, because while the possibility that numerous independent accounts of The Shepherd's Crown have badly misrepresented its contents to me in a way that would invalidate my assessment, I'm a lot more worried about the possibility of some brilliant indie novel that's not even going to cross my radar, or that some tremendously polarizing novel is one where I'm firmly in the "this is brilliant" camp.

When it comes to reasons why someone's judgment that something is the best might be wrong, the question of what they don't even know is out there or aren't aware enough of to seriously think about worries me a heck of a lot more than whether there are people reading numerous reviews and going "this sounds really good but not my cup of tea, ah well, I think it probably deserves to be on the list anyway."

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Reuben 1 year, 9 months ago

Right now I am 100% in on The Fifth Season & Karen Memory, and strongly contemplating Half The World as well. Of other things that ping my radar, I haven't read Nemesis Games, Just City, or Last First Snow yet.

I'm deeply intrigued now by Gospel of Loki.

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Anton B 1 year, 9 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Anton B 1 year, 9 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Anton B 1 year, 9 months ago

Sorry, third attempt at posting -

There's a debate showing the other side of "I haven't read it but..." going on around this article in the Guardian -

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2015/aug/31/terry-pratchett-is-not-a-literary-genius

Tl:dr version - Jonathon Jones has never read any Pratchett but 'knows' the writer's 'genre potboilers' are not good enough to be considered 'great literature'.

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Philip Sandifer 1 year, 9 months ago

To be fair, Jonathan Jones is a fucking moron whether or not he's seen the thing he's talking about.

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Anton B 1 year, 9 months ago

Absolutely. Not in any way comparing his attitude to yours. For what it's worth I agree with your thoughts on nominating The Shepherds Crown despite not being, myself, a huge Pratchett fan.
Because - respect.

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John Seavey 1 year, 9 months ago

Thought further about this--your PhD in media studies may, I will grant, allow you the ability to determine whether a book is good without reading it. It may allow you to determine whether it is important, momentous, historically significant, all that. But it does not and will never allow you to determine whether a given work is Hugo-worthy without reading it, because the Hugo administrators have made "personal judgment upon reading the book" a component of the definition. They are awarding based on the personal judgment of the audience upon completion of the finished work--that is their definition of "good". You are using a definition that may be valid, and we can I'm sure have a long and fruitful argument about that later. :) But it's not the definition that applies here.

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