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“That Game We Played During the War”, by Carrie Vaughn (Tor.com, March 2016)

Chess, two countries slowly developing a peace after a long war, two people from opposite sides tentatively renewing a friendship formed during the war, and one side is entirely telepaths. Generally pretty interesting. More thoughts below.

“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers”, by Alyssa Wong (Tor.com, March 2016)

Two sisters with magical abilities over the weather and alternate histories.

“Seasons of Glass and Iron”, by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)

Two fairytale protagonists rebel against their allotted labours and help each other escape.

“The City Born Great”, by N. K. Jemisin (Tor.com, September 2016)

A struggle to allow, or prevent, New York to become a living city. Really evocative, but I found it hard to get into.

“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies”, by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny Magazine, November 2016)

Likewise, doing something good but I find it hard to describe.

The john c wright one

In general, I'll vote any spam entries no award and not feel obliged to read them, but I checked some reviews. It talks about things I genuinely find interesting, like the relationships between asimovian robots and theology. But in rather horrible ways.

Some spoilers )
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I've entered votes for everything apart from the novellas. There's quite a few I wish I had to spend more time on: ideally I'd read more by the Campbell authors, and some of the short stories I'd like to read again, and some other things.

But I'd also like to talk about what I enjoyed, and see what other people thought, so I'm working my way through some of the categories this week. The deadline for finishing voting is 8am Sunday morning BST (I think).

A few years ago I didn't follow any graphic novels at all, I only recognised entries which were webcomics I knew. But a combination of random drift, me following some authors online, reading some of the earlier graphic novels (especially Ms Marvel and Saga) and having other things recommended to me, and of just getting into the habit of reading comics on the tablet at all, have made me recognise enough of the ballot to have an opinion on the category and want to see the entries I didn't already know.

Most of them had enough in the hugo packet to make a good decision, a first issue or first collected volume, which is pretty good. Although I wouldn't have time to read them all.

Vision was really interesting. It's about the artificial magical humanoid from the avengers I only know from the recent avengers film, but enjoyed there. I don't usually read comics from large continuities even if I like the characters, because it feels like they're too constrained by stuff I don't know. But I really enjoyed this; Vision and family lose their memories (or the emotional component of their memories) and try to fit into human society again by living in a house in the suburbs and sending the teenagers to high school. It hits a lot of interesting "learning to understand human interaction" things. Although there looks to be a fair amount of gratuitous death coming up.

Black Panther is about the prince of Wakanda fighting... a bunch of mystical stuff. It covers lots of worthwhile themes, of power and racism and so on and is very well done. I got confused because I was trying to skim and that didn't really work, but I definitely want to read it more slowly, and rated it pretty highly

Monstress, I'd like help forming an opinion about. I read the first issue a while back without knowing much about it, but my impression was, it was absolutely gorgeous, both in visuals and in tone, all about some mystical battle of enslaved people and spirits against someone, and lots of people being captured and bravely escaping; but it felt very male-gazey and I assumed it was going to be "interesting, but not developing the interesting themes further and getting hard to read". But what everyone else said about it was gorgeous, amazing worldbuilding, feminist themes, so it sounded like my first impression did completely underestimated it, and it was all the things I'd love. But I've not actually read any more to be able to form my own opinion about. Has anyone else read it more (or even just read the first issue more slowly?)

I postponed the saga and ms marvel entries. I assume they're good, but about as good as the previous series was, so I will take the risk of voting on that basis. (If either was exceptionally more standout than the rest of the series, let me know). And I will vote most of the other entries first, because I'm more excited by *new* series, even as I want the ones I like to continue.

Papergirls is about three teenage girls who deliver newspapers discovering some alien invasion or something... the write-up sounded interesting, but I couldn't get into the first couple of pages. I expect it's fairly good, but I'll see if I go back to it or not.

Has anyone else read any of the ones I've partly read and have helpful opinions?
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Background

I thought I wrote this last year, but I can't find it now. The Hugo Awards are decided by Instant Runoff Voting between all the nominees and the "no award" option to not let anyone win that year at all.

They have an extra step at the end, the "No Award Test", which says that in addition to the normal instant runoff vote, at the end, after the eliminations, if the final winner is one of the nominees (not no award), then all the original ballots are compared, are there more ballots which voted for the winner at all (ie listed them on the ballot, and listed "no award" lower or not at all) than ballots which voted for "no award" higher than the winner.

There is a detailed description at: http://www.thehugoawards.org/the-voting-system

Although I found I needed to look up the WSFS constitution and an example (pdf) of the hugo results step by step from last year to make sure.

Exmaination

However, I got to wondering, when does this extra step make a difference. If ever?

First note that, despite the controversies about nomination this year, even if people vote "no award" above many or all nominees in many categories, I think "no award" will just win the vote in the usual way, this post examining the extra "no award test" will be completely irrelevant. So I'm just interested out of principle if it ever WOULD be used.

My impression is, it would make a difference if the vote is quite polarised (ie. different people voting the same book at the top and bottom of the ballot), and with people voting "no award" more than half way up their ballot. Both of which seem quite unusual.

My favourite example is to recall the Drazi from Babylon 5. Suppose the candidates for Dictator For the Year are Chief Green Drazi, Head Purple Drazi, and Susan Ivanova who is likely to smash the faction urns and do away with the faction system for all time. "No Award" means not declaring a dictator this year and waiting for next year. No-one wants the opposite-faction leader in charge. Traditionally all Drazi voted for their own faciton leader, but now nearly half don't want EITHER faction leader in charge.

40% of the Drazi are sick of the fighting and prefer the human to anything else. Ivanova, then no award, then the two colours.
30% vote along faction lines and are randomly chosen as Green supporters, voting Green, then "no award", then the interloper human, then the hated purple faction.
30% vote exactly the same but are randomly chosen as Purple, so vote Purple, then "no award", then Ivanova, then Green.

What are the results under IRV? What result SHOULD an election system give that voting? When the preferences are a bit circular is a time election systems often find it hard to give meaningful results, as often no result is really what the electorate wants.

According to IRV, "No Award" is eliminated immediately as nobody actually wanted that more than anything else. Then one of the two faction leaders is eliminated, and because all their faction supporters voted Ivanova over the other faction leader, Inanova wins. Which is good, but isn't really what the electorate wanted, as 60% of them voted that no dictator at all was better than her.

What the no award test says is that in this case, Ivanova won the run-off, but because she's behind "No Award" on the original ballots, there's no dictator this year.

Conclusions

So, is that useful? It makes "No Award" slightly more likely to win. I think in something like the Hugo Awards, where it's fairly plausible to not award one one year, it works. It makes "no award" slightly more likely to win. And it ensures that if the electorate hates a candidate, they can't somehow slip through a split vote and win.

So I think it's a mild positive which is unlikely to come up, but will probably do the something worthwhile if it does. And probably isn't worth the extra complication of it existing, but isn't worth trying to remove. I hear it may be a watered down version of an earlier proposal that would have given no award more teeth?

I'm not sure if it should be used in other contexts such as national political elections. I would like to see more "none of the above" votes, since many people's preference DOES seem to be "I hate all of them". But there's usually protest parties you can (and should) vote for in that circumstance. The "no award test" would only make a difference if "none of the above" didn't win but everyone voted for it highly. And I'm not sure if that's ever likely to happen, or if it did, if re-running the election is likely to help...

Asides on No Award in general

I admit, when I went to worldcon, it didn't really occur to me to vote any of the generally enjoyable novels below "No Award", I just voted for the nominees in the order I liked them.

But now I think, I'd vote for books that I think actively deserve a hugo, but when there are books that are perfectly enjoyable, but don't really feel stand-out to me, I WOULD put them below no award. (With the exception that if I feel the author deserves a hugo in that category but didn't get one yet, I would vote for a less-outstanding sequel they wrote as long as I enjoyed it.)

ETA: I found someone posted a similar explanation last year: http://www.kith.org/journals/jed/2014/08/15/14938.html
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Novella, Novelette and Short Story

I need to read all of these. I would like to read more short fiction, but I find it harder to start than novels. I don't know anything about any of the entries, except that many of Ted Chiang's other stories were absolutely amazing.

BEST RELATED WORK

I've not read any of the other entries, but Kameron Hurley's we-have-always-fought essay was very good. (I liked some of her older essays even more, but that was justifiably prominent.)

BEST GRAPHIC STORY

I've not got to Volume #13 in Girl Genius yet, but the rest were very good.

I've not watched xkcd's time yet, but I think it's a very good thing that interesting stories in innovative mediums are nominated.

I've not read any of the others either, but I've heard generally good things about them.

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION

I've not seen Gravity, but I give it lots of props for being science fiction about the space program we actually have, rather than giving up on the actual future and imagining interesting futures we'll never reach, or retelling an existing story, or making up some nonsense about a comet. I know it's skating close to the edge of "science fiction", but I think some stories about cutting-edge science are fine. I need to see several films in this category to judge, but I provisionally hope to put this first.

Pacific Rim could have been a lot better, but half of it was awesome and half of it was ok. Someone made the point that it often succeeded in ways you didn't expect -- for instance, the Russian pilots had no lines, but they were well characterised simply by their appearance. I provisionally put this second.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I hear this was pretty good, but I've not heard it added significantly to the first film. Third.

Frozen. I hear this was really good, but I don't feel the good things about it were significantly fantasy. Fourth.

Iron Man III. I'm pleased to say that any of these films, I'd be happy to see win, but I'm putting Iron Man last. I love the marvel cinematic universe, but I'm bored by all the iron man films, even though many people loved them. What happened in this film? I don't remember. Iron Man whined a lot. The worldbuilding was retconned to give him uber-winning powers at the last minute, which he then gave up for no reason. The antagonist was based on a comic book about a racist chinese stereotype guy. The movie changed that to racist arab stereotype guy, who modelled himself after a racist chinese stereotype, and who turned out actually to be a completely fictional terrorist made up by a white guy. THAT'S NOT BETTER! I thought the arab terrorist was the only interesting character in the film. So, um, it was ok. But I liked everything else better.

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION

Blah blah blah doctor who blah. Some of doctor who is very good but I'm sick of voting for it now. The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot was sweet, but I'm not sure if it deserves to win or not.

GoT is great, and I hear this was a good episode, but I'm not especially excited whether or not we go on giving it more hugos, because I feel people have got the message already, and there's no way of enjoying this episode separately from enjoying the whole season.

I've not previously heard of Orphan Black but I should see it.

BEST FAN WRITER

I've already mentioned I like Kameron Hurley a lot.

I've followed Abigail Nussbaum for ages, with mixed feelings. I feel like she always says something interesting and clever, but often leaves me coming back annoyed after a couple of days thinking "but that actually wasn't right at all". I'm not sure if that translates into "very good" or not (although I hope it's seen as complimentary).

JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER

Max Gladstone wrote Three Parts Dead which deserves to be more widely known. Gods gain mana from worship, which is used to run cities. Gods are primarily defined by complicated magical contracts. The protagonists work for a magical law firm arbitrating those contracts, and investigating when a god is assassinated. Multiple female main characters with no love interests. I think I'd describe it as "urban fantasy but in a fantasy world" if you see what I mean. I love the world, but I don't think the novel will stick with me.

Wesley Chu wrote Lives of Tao, about ancient alien intelligences which form symbiotic relationships with famous, successful humans, and by accident the protagonist who's a bit of a nerdy slob. The book walks the line between "tedious humour at the protagonist's expense" and "witty banter between the protagonist and someone who used to be genghis khan" and comes down on both sides of it at various times. Again, I liked the setting, but wasn't that grabbed by the book.

I've not read the other authors, but I'd say both the above are above-average for a new author, and I'd like to read more Gladstone.
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Every sort of award has biases. With an award like the hugos, if you accept it as a popular award, the question seems to be, where is the right balance between favouring books which some people like a lot, and favouring books which everyone likes a little?

I don't know about the politics, but the current balance seems about right. It doesn't always produce the right answer, but it's not usually obviously wrong. The thing people fear is people signing up (especially with a supporting membership) in order to vote for a particular book. I agree this is a risk, and if it happens it has a tendency to destroy the system (because we already have a way of measuring "which book has the most fans" and that's how many people buy it, and that's not what the hugos are supposed to be about).

However, it seems this mostly doesn't happen yet, so if not we should probably go on with the status quo until it definitely becomes a problem.

So, what's the right amount of self-promotion without running into this sort of problem? I think authors announcing which of their books are eligible is clearly a good thing: if I'm eligible to nominate, I won't nominate a book just because the author says so, but if I liked it but didn't remember it might be eligible, I can do so. I think some people are unfairly criticised for this.

I felt Brandon Sanderson was a little too close to the wire in pointing out WOT was eligible, but at the same time reminding people they could buy a supporting membership in order to nominate. That seemed to come a little too close to suggesting that people should get a membership if they wouldn't have otherwise. However, he also wrote a blog post, exhorting people *not* to sign up specifically to vote for WoT, which is a good thing.

Some people have proposed a slate of recommended votes in each category, and urged people to buy a membership. With something of a suggestion you might just enter those votes without really having read any of the other entries. That seems harmful to the process: in small doses it does no harm, but if it becomes common it skews the award to "who can get the most people to sign up", which destroys either the usefulness of the award, or forces worldcon to stop allowing supporting memberships. That's bad for everyone, so no-one should do it.
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1. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

A series is eligible to be nominated if none of the previous books have been. Despite some people's objections, I think it makes eminent sense for Wheel of Time -- despite being ridiculously long, it clearly is one ongoing serialised story, rather than a series of connected novels. And much better to have it nominated once than to have lots of individual books nominated, cluttering up the ballot for decades. And the strength is in the whole thing, not in any individual book -- the first is probably the best, but the accumulated story is what most people love.

People also object to a popular book with evident flaws. But I think the best books very commonly are popular and flawed -- look at Tolkien! I don't want the popular book to always win, but I also think people are wrong to point to the series many flaws, while ignoring its many strengths: more memorable characters than hundreds of other novels put together; a coherent story over dozens of novels; a fascinating cosmology; many different engaging and rich (if annoyingly stupid) characters with a mix of social stations, genders and ages.

I wish it had won a hugo ages ago, because it's famous enough now it probably doesn't need it, and because it doesn't represent what I want to see more of in the immediate future. But I think it's the best novel, and should win.

2. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

This is the entry most interesting to me. Distributed intelligences. Sentient warships. Exploration of gendered and gender neutral pronouns. Morally complex dictators with metaphysically provocative history. More books like this please!

However, the book itself felt a little unfinished: the different strands were somewhat difficult to reconcile, and I didn't find the main characters memorable as characters at all. I love that it exists, but I feel it will be enjoyed and forgotten. I vote for it above everything else, but if the story had been better I would have put it above GoT too.

3. Parasite by Mira Grant

I've not read this yet. By default, I expect it to be similar to the Feed trilogy, which it sounds similar to (but is unrelated to). I hope someone can compare back if it seems to be a significant improvement.

On that basis, I rate it as "pretty good, but not the best". The flaws of those books REALLY, REALLY ANNOY ME (the plot only makes sense if everyone off-screen freezes in place until the Eye of Plot swings back and examines them again), but by the same logic as above, I don't hate these books for being flawed, even if the flaws annoy me a lot personally. I think some people hate them unfairly because they have a devoted fanbase, and come from an author more from an urban-fantasy-ish culture more than traditional-sf culture. I think the strengths (good characters, good disability awareness, interesting worldbuilding, etc) deserve recognition, and are as good as some hugo winners, but not as good as the best ones.

4. Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross

I've not read this yet. By default I expect it to be similar to "Saturn's Children", which it is set in the same universe as, and which I couldn't get into at all. I hope someone with similar tastes to me can report back if it's likely to show more of the parts of Stross I like best.

I wish I could give Stross a hugo award for Atrocity Archive or Accelerando, which he richly deserves. If it's that good, then I'll vote for it first, but I want to vote on the basis of the best novel, not the best author.

INF. Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia (Baen Books)

I've not been following the politics here. It seems Larry Correia has been complaining for years about how the Hugos work, with some valid complaints (it's really hard to get urban fantasy into best novel), some complaints everyone already agrees on (many of the smaller categories are somewhat incestuous), and some personal complaints (everyone refuses to give him a hugo because he's not liberal enough, rather than because they didn't especially like his books). And encouraged everyone to "stick it to the man" by getting him nominated, and if they didn't, puppies would be sad.

Regarding the books themselves, they seem to be the sort of retro urban fantasy steam-punk monster-hunters I like if they are well written, but I'm not very hopeful the books are especially good, rather than just written by someone who became a poster-child of a segment of anti-liberal fandom. I would be pleased to hear otherwise, but unless they're a LOT better than I think I vote this below "no award".

I would just leave it there, but he's also somehow associated with a much worse guy, a misguided shithead nominated Vox Day in one of the blogger categories who's actually pro-Nazi (yes, really), so I just don't want anything to do with this.