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The Joe Doakes Challenge

So John Wright posed a challenge to his readers the other day: were the Hugo winners for Best Novel in the first twenty years of the award better than their counterparts from the last twenty years?


Here's the first 20:
1953 Alfred Bester: THE DEMOLISHED MAN
1955 Mark Clifton & Frank Riley: THEY’D RATHER BE RIGHT (aka THE FOREVER MACHINE)
1956 Robert A. Heinlein: DOUBLE STAR
1958 Fritz Leiber: THE BIG TIME
1959 James Blish: A CASE OF CONSCIENCE
1960 Robert A. Heinlein: STARSHIP TROOPERS
1961 Walter M. Miller, Jr.: A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ
1962 Robert A. Heinlein: STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
1963 Philip K. Dick: THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE
1964 Clifford D. Simak: WAY STATION
1965 Fritz Leiber: THE WANDERER
1966 Frank Herbert: DUNE
(tied with) Roger Zelazny: THIS IMMORTAL
1967 Robert A. Heinlein: THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS
1968 Roger Zelazny: LORD OF LIGHT
1969 John Brunner: STAND ON ZANZIBAR
1970 Ursula K. Le Guin: THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS
1971 Larry Niven: RINGWORLD
1972 Philip José Farmer: TO YOUR SCATTERED BODIES GO
1973 Isaac Asimov: THE GODS THEMSELVES
(15/20)

Here's the last 20:
1995 Lois McMaster Bujold: MIRROR DANCE
1996 Neal Stephenson: THE DIAMOND AGE
1997 Kim Stanley Robinson: BLUE MARS
1998 Joe Haldeman: FOREVER PEACE
1999 Connie Willis: TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG
2000 Vernor Vinge: A DEEPNESS IN THE SKY (Tor)
2001 J. K. Rowling: HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE
2002 Neil Gaiman: AMERICAN GODS
2003 Robert J. Sawyer: HOMINIDS
2004 Lois McMaster Bujold: PALADIN OF SOULS
2005 Susanna Clarke: JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL
2006 Robert Charles Wilson: SPIN (Tor)
2007 Vernor Vinge: RAINBOWS END (Tor)
2008 Michael Chabon: THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN’S UNION
2009 Neil Gaiman: THE GRAVEYARD BOOK
2010 Paolo Bacigalupi: THE WINDUP GIRL
tied with China Miéville: THE CITY & THE CITY
2011 Connie Willis: BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR
2012 Jo Walton: AMONG OTHERS (Tor)
2013 John Scalzi: REDSHIRTS (Tor)
2014 Ann Leckie: ANCILLARY JUSTICE
2015 Cixin Liu: THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM (Tor)
(10/20)

I've indicated the books I read in bold; Wright marked the books produced by Tor as support for his argument that a clique dominated by Tor editors, and Patrick Nielsen-Hayden in particular, has been dominating the nominations until the advent of the Sad Puppies in 2013 and the Rabid Puppies this year.

Now, I read a lot more of the first twenty than the last twenty, and the only reason I didn't read the other five off the first list was because they were difficult or impossible to find in the years when I was devouring every Hugo and Nebula winner in sight (1968-82) and quite a few other works of SF/F that shouldn't have seen print, much less won any awards, but that's just my opinion. One thing I will note about them, though: with the lone exception of The Gods Themselves, these were all very readable books; I didn't have to drag myself through to the end of any of them.
The last twenty, though...let's take a detailed look at them. There's probably nothing wrong with the Bujold novels, and I'm told she writes quite well, but the Miles Vorkosigian novels never caught my interest. So much the worse for me. By the time Joe Haldeman got around to writing Forever Peace, I'd gotten tired of him riding his "if we could just communicate better there wouldn't be war" hobbyhorse and stopped paying attention to what he was writing. Ditto for China Mieville; I read his first three or four novels, got tired of reading unpleasant stories about unpleasant people, and never went back. Connie Willis' Blackout/All Clear bored me stiff, which is strange since I've liked pretty much everything else she's written, but I couldn't force myself to finish this one. As for Kim Stanley Robinson's Blue Mars, see my comment about Mieville - unpleasant things happening to unpleasant people. I forced myself to finish it to see if it improved, but it didn't. Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union is, to be charitable, the worst Jewish alternate-history tale I've ever read in my life. It was a dull, painful slog, every bit as enjoyable as having a long, slow root canal without benefit of anesthesia, but since the book had been so heavily hyped, I thought there must be something to it, a surprise cleverly concealed until the end, but no. Scalzi's Redshirts was an okay piece of Star Trek fanfic with the serial numbers painted off and fresh paint applied, but among these other works, it's a pigmy among giants.

I completely missed Sawyer's Hominids, Gaiman's Graveyard Book, Wilson's Spin ,Walton's Among Others, and Leckie's Ancillary Justice; in the last year or so, I have read comments from Ms. Walton on the Intertubes that seem to indicate I am not one of the customers she wants, and as for Ms. Leckie, her novel sounds like a rehash of topics covered long ago by Anne McCaffrey in The Ship Who Sang and its sequels, but with some PC word fiddling, and therefore not something of interest to me.

Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Bacigalupi's Windup Girl got hyped to death, and I am allergic to hype. Maybe I'll read them down the road and find out they lived up to it, but given all the times I've gotten burned by critics' praise for the flavor of the season, I rather doubt it. P. Schuyler Miller, where are you when we need you?

Based on my reading, I think Wright's argument that the nominees and winners of the Hugos over the last twenty years have become increasingly literary and less readable is one that can be made, especially if you agree with Eric S. Raymond (and I do) that SF has norms unique to the genre, and that a lot of what's been nominated/voted in in the last couple of decades isn't SF, and if it is, it's more literary than classical. Which isn't good for the genre, although nobody outside the tribes of Sad and Rabid Puppies seems able to recognize it - or if they do, they seem unwilling to take the steps that would bring them into conflict with the self-appointed tastemakers of the field.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
huladav8usa
Aug. 30th, 2015 07:12 pm (UTC)
I'd been looking forward to YIDDISH DECECTIVE, and was really disappointed.
wombat_socho
Aug. 30th, 2015 10:29 pm (UTC)
I thought it was an interesting concept, but the execution was terrible. If that's the way he normally writes, I'm not touching anything else of his.
(Anonymous)
Aug. 30th, 2015 09:51 pm (UTC)
Dammit, It's ME, David Cummer.
Here's what I've read, or at least tried to read.

1953 Alfred Bester: THE DEMOLISHED MAN
1955 Mark Clifton & Frank Riley: THEY’D RATHER BE RIGHT (aka THE FOREVER MACHINE)
**1956 Robert A. Heinlein: DOUBLE STAR
1958 Fritz Leiber: THE BIG TIME
1959 James Blish: A CASE OF CONSCIENCE
**1960 Robert A. Heinlein: STARSHIP TROOPERS
*1961 Walter M. Miller, Jr.: A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ
*1962 Robert A. Heinlein: STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
**1963 Philip K. Dick: THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE
1964 Clifford D. Simak: WAY STATION
1965 Fritz Leiber: THE WANDERER
*1966 Frank Herbert: DUNE
(tied with) Roger Zelazny: THIS IMMORTAL
*1967 Robert A. Heinlein: THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS
1968 Roger Zelazny: LORD OF LIGHT
1969 John Brunner: STAND ON ZANZIBAR
*1970 Ursula K. Le Guin: THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS
**1971 Larry Niven: RINGWORLD
1972 Philip José Farmer: TO YOUR SCATTERED BODIES GO
*1973 Isaac Asimov: THE GODS THEMSELVES
(*6/20) (**Maybe/Didn't Finish 4/20)

Here's the last 20:
1995 Lois McMaster Bujold: MIRROR DANCE
1996 Neal Stephenson: THE DIAMOND AGE
**1997 Kim Stanley Robinson: BLUE MARS
1998 Joe Haldeman: FOREVER PEACE
1999 Connie Willis: TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG
2000 Vernor Vinge: A DEEPNESS IN THE SKY (Tor)
*2001 J. K. Rowling: HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE
2002 Neil Gaiman: AMERICAN GODS
2003 Robert J. Sawyer: HOMINIDS
2004 Lois McMaster Bujold: PALADIN OF SOULS
2005 Susanna Clarke: JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL
2006 Robert Charles Wilson: SPIN (Tor)
2007 Vernor Vinge: RAINBOWS END (Tor)
**2008 Michael Chabon: THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN’S UNION
2009 Neil Gaiman: THE GRAVEYARD BOOK
2010 Paolo Bacigalupi: THE WINDUP GIRL
tied with China Miéville: THE CITY & THE CITY
2011 Connie Willis: BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR
2012 Jo Walton: AMONG OTHERS (Tor)
2013 John Scalzi: REDSHIRTS (Tor)
2014 Ann Leckie: ANCILLARY JUSTICE
2015 Cixin Liu: THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM (Tor)
(*1/20) (**Maybe/Didn't Finish 2/20)

Of the first twenty Best is a tie between CANTICLE and LEFT HAND

Of the last twenty, the ones I rear were "Meh".
wombat_socho
Aug. 30th, 2015 10:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Dammit, It's ME, David Cummer.
The only ones in the second twenty I'd recommend to other people are THE DIAMOND AGE and AMERICAN GODS; THREE-BODY PROBLEM is interesting but I think the unfamiliar cultural context throws a lot of people off.
jtrainor
Aug. 31st, 2015 02:32 am (UTC)
I've read a lot of the early stuff myself and at least recognize most of those authors. When I look at the list of newer authors, in many cases, my reaction is "who?"
wombat_socho
Aug. 31st, 2015 03:35 am (UTC)
Clearly your mother and I raised you well, at least to that extent. ;)
huladav8usa
Aug. 31st, 2015 03:25 am (UTC)
The one book of MHs that I had no problem with was SUMMERLAND, even if it dealt with baseball (which I find a completely foreign culture😜).

Edited at 2015-08-31 03:27 am (UTC)
wombat_socho
Aug. 31st, 2015 03:34 am (UTC)
I was thinking of having a go at that, but after the soul-killing experience of YIDDISH POLICEMENS' UNION, it just seems like too much effort. Besides, there aren't a lot of people who can do baseball fiction well, and most of the people with the reputation don't live up to it. The guy that wrote SHOELESS JOE (which became "Field of Dreams"), W.P.Kinsella, he does it well, but he's a rare good one.
huladav8usa
Aug. 31st, 2015 03:36 am (UTC)
I'll have to give that a try.

Why do you think baseball's so hard to write about? Out of curiosity, are baseball movies better?


Edited at 2015-08-31 03:38 am (UTC)
wombat_socho
Aug. 31st, 2015 04:50 am (UTC)
I honestly don't know why baseball fiction seems so hard to write well.
I do know that there have been a couple of movies that were better than the books they were drawn from - probably the best example is THE NATURAL, based on a book by Bernard Malamud which is a complete downer. I was going to say DAMN YANKEES, but the book it's based on, THE YEAR THE YANKEES LOST THE PENNANT, is pretty good as well. Maybe in order to be good, there has to be an element of fantasy to baseball fiction? Because Lord knows, baseball is often weird enough all on its own.
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