Today’s rant comes to us from this fellow (and the letter Q). If you read Scalzi’s blog, you’ve probably already seen it. Basically, it’s just a rant on how this guy’s not pleased with the mediocrity of the Hugo nominations for best novel this year, and how the voters are not going for, what he says is, the good, groundbreaking, experimental science fiction. He demands that we, the readers, need to broaden our horizons, and starting picking the right novels (which he conveniently lists for our convenience).
He also expressed disgust on how many novels were YA this time around, calling them monotonic and simple. He even tries to lump Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross in with the YA’s. This way, he can call them all YA (except for Anathem, which he frequently made exceptions for). Now I haven’t read Saturn’s Children, but I did read (most of) Accelerando, and I peruse the YA section of the bookstore, and have never seen Saturn’s Children there. Probably because it has something to do with space whores. I also don’t think Zoe’s Tale is very much a YA. Just because the POV is a kid, doesn’t mean it’s YA. Little Brother is enjoyable to any audience. And The Graveyard Book is The Graveyard Book. Based on this evidence, I call shenanigans on this argument. YA is a very subjective term, and it’s all based on marketing, not actual content.
Scalzi, who was mentioned in this rant, waved his hand dismissively and said something about how it’s not a good idea to insult your readers. True, true. But I think he neglected to mention how often this happens with any award system. You’re always going to find someone that gripes about how they don’t like the short list. And usually it’s because nothing original or interesting was nominated.
Look at this year’s best pictures. Frost/Nixon and The Reader – both political snoozefests. Milk – controversial tale about a politician (again, politics) martyred for trying to further civil rights for his group. Nothing I haven’t heard of there. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – a mild movie based on a novel written a hundred years ago that treads no new ground, and is basically Forrest Gump. Ned Flanders would enjoy it. And Slumdog Millionaire – the winner turns out to be the brightest and flashiest of the list, but also with a forgettable rags-to-riches plot. The saving grace is that it’s from mysterious India (which is serving the same purpose Africa did in the middle of the century), and it’s a life story framed around a quiz show. NOT ONE OF THESE IS AN ORIGINAL WORK. Each is either based on a book or real life.
Not that these are science fiction, but they are stories. And a story is a story is a story (unless it’s not a story). The same concept applies – the presumption that people want interesting, experimental, groundbreaking, good stories. I do not believe that. I believe that people want good stories. Whether it’s original is something left up to chance. It’s more the original execution, a fresh look on an old story, that people are looking for. And explosions.
My point is no one is ever going to like everything. Ever. And I find it terribly hackneyed to complain about nominations for anything, because it’s something that happens each year. Where was this guy’s rant when the nominations came out months ago? Only now, when its close to award time does he strike the match? I also call shenanigans here.
Any award voted on by normal humans is going to be based on what those people like. Not what’s good. There’s a distinct difference (Transformers 2, I’m looking at you). Usually, these awards go to something that’s pretty high on the “good” scale, at least. But none of my favorite movies have ever won a major academy award (except for something in the technical achievement category). I’ve never chosen a book based on the awards it’s won. I mean, look at the Emmys! Shows like “Arrested Development” and “The Ben Stiller Show” get multiple awards and then canned within two seasons. Awards mean nothing, but give you an excuse to have a big party.
I don’t know what criteria people use to judge the books they select. But for me, it’s how the book made me feel. If I remember the book fondly, if I was satisfied from reading it, then I’m giving it a thumbs-up. I’ve tried to read many a classic, and never got past the first quarter of the book. It’s all about Return on Investment. True, this is all subjective, but I don’t know how else you’d select a “best” of anything in the arts. That’s why it’s always a losing game to argue against what people choose. It’d be better just to make a shortlist of nominations and leave it at that. Say they all won an award for “one of the best” novels of 2008. But no, humans have to select a firm leader. The best of the best. The one. It’s in their nature.
Now, it’s in bad taste to say what I’m about to about a critic, because that denies a critic its nature, but since this guy’s a writer, I can say it: If you don’t like it, go write your own. Write your own groundbreaking, experimental science fiction. I can’t wait for your nomination.
One loud voice does not a change make. It’s like anything you vote for. I say you can go ahead and complain, but you won’t find much progress unless you seek to change it.
Me, I’m not changing nothing. I’m just trying to get published.