Bewildering Stories

What Did You Say Won the Hugo?

Alkaline Spudwort

The Hugo Awards, named after Hugo Gernsback, founder of the first science-fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, have been an annual tradition since 1953, with the exception of 1954. But is it still the great award it once was? Or is it now corrupted by the votes of people who haven't read any of the nominees? This year's winners certainly weren't excellent, in my opinion, but some of them certainly deserve recognition.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

This very popular 734-page tome won the Hugo for Best Novel . . . the first fantasy novel to do so, the first juvenile novel to do so, the first novel written by an SF "outsider" to do so. But why? Is it really that good? Or is it really horrible? Does anybody care?

Some people certainly do care. Many SF enthusiasts consider it a blatant gesture of disrespect for the genre. It doesn't deserve the award, they say. Appropriate for some children's book award, but not the Hugo! Piles of letters declaiming the decadence of the Hugo Awards and violently attacking the novel end up at many genre semiprozines and fanzines, and violent discussions and arguments ensue on message boards and in discussion groups around the world.

As for my opinion, I've only read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire out of all of the Harry Potter books. And now that I've finished it, I'm not planning to read any of the others. I read Goblet of Fire because it won the Hugo. Yes, I'm one of those people.

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Rowling takes us to the same setting as the previous Harry Potter books, a present-day world in which witches and wizards keep their existence secret from normal, non-magical humans, called Muggles.

The book starts with a gardener's discovery of the conspiracies of Lord Voldemort and Wormtail, to say nothing of the snake. The gardener gets killed, of course, as is done too often in this series. The second chapter opens with the first actual appearance of Harry Potter, the protagonist, an orphan who lives with disagreeable and paranoid relatives, the Dursleys. Unable to cope with the pain of a lightning-shaped scar, Harry writes a letter to Sirius, a wizard who has escaped from Azkaban, a prison. Harry's friend Ron's family, the Weasleys, invite the Dursleys to let Harry stay with them and attend the Quidditch World Cup at the end of the summer, after which Harry will resume going to school at Hogwarts, a school of magic.

The annual Quidditch World Cup excites Harry very much but is the beginning of a series of mysteries that are resolved at the end of the novel. Returning to Hogwarts for a fourth year of schooling, Harry Potter learns that this year a special event, the Triwizard Tournament, will be held instead of the annual Quidditch Tournament. Harry also meets this year's mysterious Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor "Mad-Eye" Moody.

After the Goblet of Fire, which appears in Chapter 16, announces Harry as one of the four champions who will compete in the Triwizard Tournament instead of three, Harry embarks on a journey of magic, mystery, and mayhem, facing the three tasks of the Tournament only to find that the world is not really what anybody expects. . . .

Anyway, it turned out better than I expected, but it was still kind of mediocre. I guess the other books on the final ballot were also mediocre. Compared to 2000, with several excellent books nominated, 2001 was sort of . . . ugh. With the exception of A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin, nothing really stood out. But Storm was quite long, and maybe that's the reason it got neglected so much. And it, too, is a fantasy novel, the third in a series, in fact.

To judge it by itself and not in relation to the other Harry Potter books (since it won for Best Novel and not Best Series Installment), Goblet of Fire had, in my honest and sincere opinion which no one respects much, a weak opening and an apparently unorganized plot at the beginning. It made sense later, of course, being, among other things, a mystery story. First 300 pages, halfway between horrible and mediocre. Pages 300-500, a little better. Pages 500-700, somewhere between mediocre and good. After page 700, ugh.

Well, the characterization wasn't very deep, and as far as I'm concerned, the so-called villains and otherwise evil characters in the book didn't have any motivations for acting the way they did. This is a serious fault, in my opinion. Everyone has a motivation. If the motivation isn't clear, then the reader will wonder why the "villains" act the way they do. Then again, this is a children's story (or it's supposed to be, anyway), but is this really what we want our children to think? Do we really want them to accept certain people as just being "evil," to view people who have done bad deeds as just "evil" rather than exploring their motivations (however mistaken or misguided), to condemn people as "evil" rather than understand why they have done the things they've done? Then again, I may be mistaken.

Well, faults aside, it was quite good. (Then again, when you leave the faults of anything aside, it becomes quite good!)

Please excuse my ramblings.

"The Ultimate Earth" by Jack Williamson

"The Ultimate Earth" marks Williamson's first fiction Hugo in a remarkable 73-year career. Unfortunately, however, this work from the December 2000 issue of Analog by itself doesn't quite meet the standards of Williamson's work in the past.

From what I could grasp of this novella, winner of the 2001 Hugo Award for Best Novella, the story takes place in a future universe in which Earth itself has been terraformed. Duncan Yare, K.C. Kell, and Pedro Navarro live on the Moon at Tycho Station and are visited by a person named Sandor Pen. Distraught by Sandor's departure from the Moon, Dunk, Casey, and Pepe, as they call themselves, manage to convince the ship to take them to Earth, which it isn't supposed to do. There, they encounter a strange new society in which people communicate with each other using artificial telepathy made possible by "nanorobs," molecular machines that transmit messages in the form of electromagnetic radiation. When a ship sent to colonize a distant planet returns without having colonized it, Dunk, Casey, and Pepe join Sandor to investigate the problem. . . .

Mostly mediocre, this story, although innovative, in my opinion, doesn't deserve a Hugo. Some of the other nominees were better, including Lucius Shepard's "Radiant Green Star," Catherine Asaro's "A Roll of the Dice," and Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "The Retrieval Artist." In fact, if "The Ultimate Earth" had received one less nomination that it had, it wouldn't have tied for fifth place with "The Retrieval Artist" on the nomination list and thus wouldn't have been on the final ballot. The fact that the author is a 93-year-old SFWA Grandmaster does not qualify this specific work for a Hugo. But, however, if the voters think it should win a Hugo, then they have the right to think so.

"Millennium Babies" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

This novelette is only one of two of Rusch's nominees for the 2001 Hugo Awards. The other nominee, "The Retrieval Artist," lost to Williamson's "The Ultimate Earth" in the novella category. Unlike Rusch's previous work like "Echea" for example, "Millennium Babies" does not rise to meet the standards of the Hugo Awards.

This story, winner of the 2001 Hugo Award for Best Novelette, from the January 2000 issue of Asimov's takes place in a near future in which the babies born to parents competing in nationwide contests for the first babies born in the year 2000 have grown up. Brooke Cross, a contest "loser," is approached by Eldon Franke, who is studying the "Millennium Babies" and what they have in common as a result of being born at about the same time. After initial refusal, Brooke decides to participate. The participants meet anonymously at TheaterPlace, a restaurant that was formerly a four-plex movie theater, where Brooke learns some unexpected things. . . .

It seems to me that this story was written simply because it could only have been written at that specific time. A story such as this could only be in the January 2000 issue. And not only that, it was the cover story. And just as Isaac Asimov's "The Bicentennial Man" and Joe Haldeman's "Tricentennial," both of which were published in 1976, the latter in the July 1976 issue of Analog, won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette and Best Short Story, respectively, in 1977, "Millennium Babies" is voted Best Novelette of 2000. There is something about stories published during a specific event in history related to that specific event that makes voters vote for them. I just don't understand it.

"Different Kinds of Darkness" by David Langford

Dave Langford, winner of Best Fan Writer Hugos and Best Fanzine Hugos for Ansible, now wins a fiction Hugo for Best Short Story. "Different Kinds of Darkness," from the January 2000 issue of F&SF, now makes Langford the person who has won the most Hugos overall with at least one fiction Hugo. Charles N. Brown claims the most Hugos overall but hasn't won for fiction.

"Different Kinds of Darkness" takes place in a near future in which deadly images formed using BLIT, the Berryman Logical Imaging Technique, are used by terrorists to kill people. The images cause the human brain to crash upon viewing them. Jonathan and friends, students at an elementary school, form a "Shudder Club," whose members see who can take the longest looks at BLIT patterns. They form theories about the "different kinds of darkness" that they see in the world around them, and soon Jonathan learns the horrible truth. . . .

This story, in my opinion, is better than the other fiction winners. This actually deserves the award. The characters are convincing, and the plot is logical and natural. Two tentacles up for this one.

Greetings from Earth: The Art of Bob Eggleton by Bob Eggleton and Nigel Suckling

Bob Eggleton, winner of numerous Hugo Awards for Best Professional Artist, is known for superb artwork. This book, winner of the 2001 Hugo Award for Best Related Book, showcases some of the excellent works of art by this master.

Revolving around the idea of a message for aliens from the people of Earth about what they think of the universe, Greetings from Earth puts on display the finest work of Bob Eggleton. From dinosaurs to dragons to landscapes to spacescapes, Eggleton makes the universe, both real and imaginary, come alive through visual effects. Employing a variety of styles, Eggleton explores the real and unreal aspects of the speculative universe around us.

Eggleton's brief descriptions of each painting or drawing further illuminate the works themselves. Accompanied by Suckling's detailed background information, the text serves to enhance the art itself.

Highly recommended, this book certainly deserves to win the Hugo. I expect to see more great artwork from Eggleton in the future.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

The most popular Hugo category, Best Dramatic Presentation, gives us its winner for 2001: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This work, however, is only barely speculative; its only fantastic element is the flying, and although it doesn't really enforce the plot or characters, it does have symbolic meaning.

Centered around the Green Destiny sword and the attempts to have possession of it, the movie vividly portrays life in China a few hundred years ago. Li Mu Bai, master swordsperson, decides to give it as a present to Sir Te, who lives in Beijing. Te shows the sword to Governor Yu, whose daughter manages to steal it, starting a series of swordfights, flashbacks, unexpected encounters, destructive behavior, thefts, murders, betrayals, raids, and insane action, to say nothing of flying around like intoxicated demon warriors. . . .

At times overly drawn out and pointless, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon manages nevertheless to provide the viewer with convincing characters and a plausible plot. It doesn't exactly deserve a Hugo, but I found its literary excellence deserving of some recognition.

Gardner Dozois

Gardner Dozois now wins a 13th Hugo for Best Professional Editor and deserves it, too. Dozois, editor of the fantastic Asimov's Science Fiction, which produced the 2001 winner in the novelette category as well as all of the short-fiction winners from 1997 to 2000, and numerous anthologies, all of which deserve recognition, certainly deserves to win another Hugo. In addition to editing, Dozois has also written many excellent works, many of which have been nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Awards, two of which, "The Peacemaker" and "Morning Child" have won the Nebula. Dozois also regularly participates on the Asimov's Forum online and occasionally signs form rejection letters to those who frequent the Forum. Perhaps the irony is that Dozois has won the seventh Hugo in a row in 2001, beating a six-Hugo record from 1988 to 1993, for editing the magazine that published the 2001 Hugo Award winner for Best Novelette, which was written by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who beat Dozois for the 1994 Best Editor Hugo. Perhaps Rusch will win another Hugo in six years.

Bob Eggleton

Eggleton not only wins the Best Related Book Hugo but also the Best Professional Artist Hugo! In addition to work published in Greetings from Earth, Eggleton's artwork in 2000 has been featured on the covers of the March and May issues of Analog and the December issue of Asimov's, all of which are spectacular. Eggleton truly deserves this award for being one of the best artists in the field.

Locus edited by Charles N. Brown

What can I say? Locus definitely deserved the 2001 Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine. Winning its editor a twenty-third Hugo, Locus regularly features news, reviews, interviews, and book listings. I highly recommend this magazine for anyone who writes SF or is an SF enthusiast.

File 770 edited by Mike Glyer

The winner of the 2001 Hugo Award for Best Fanzine, File 770 reports on fanzines, SF clubs, conventions, and other aspects of SF fandom, and certainly deserves this Hugo for its excellence.

Dave Langford

Langford not only wins the Best Short Story Hugo but also the Best Fan Writer Hugo! Langford deserves this Hugo for fan writing published in Ansible and elsewhere.

Teddy Harvia

Teddy Harvia wins the 2001 Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer for excellent cartoons and deserves it, too.

Overall, the winners were mediocre, with some being excellent and others being not so excellent. But as with any popular-choice award, the Hugos aren't given to the nominees that truly excel but rather to the nominees that the voters like. In spite of the mediocrity of the winners in the novel, novella, and novelette categories, the Hugo Awards will continue, year after year. We'll see if it really stays a great award.

A part of this work was first published online at the Asimov's Forum, 2001.

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Copyright 2002 by Alkaline Spudwort and Bewildering Stories.