My Hugo Ballot 2013

written by David Steffen

I’ve spent the last several months reviewing award nominees. I decided to take it one step further and post the final decisions that I plan to post to my Hugo ballot with explanations (where I deem them necessary) about why I voted the way I did. I encourage anyone reading this to post discussion in the comments about how they voted, why I am wrong in my choices, etc.

What makes this more interesting is that the Hugo Awards use an instant runoff voting system. You rank your changes from 1-x, and can also set a number to the “No Award” category. You can find all the nitty gritty details at the Hugo Page explaining votes. I like the system a lot, much more than just a simple single-cast vote, because if your primary vote is for the least popular story, your other preferences still count for something.

If you are a nominee, keep in mind that I am just judging these based on my own preferences and, though I aim to not make my reviews mean, if you don’t want to hear my honest opinion of your work than you might want to skip this article.

For a full list of the nominees, see the original announcement on the Hugo site.


Best Novel

1. Redshirts, John Scalzi (Tor; Gollancz)
2. Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW; Gollancz ’13)

Reasoning: I’ve only had time to read one book and a partial so far. I finished Redshirts and reviewed it here–I enjoyed it quite well, though there were some parts I didn’t like it was huge amounts of fun. I’ve started Throne of the Crescent Moon but haven’t finished it yet. Throne of the Crescent Moon is a solid book so far, but even though it has the strength of being set in a non-European based fantasy world, it still lacks the novelty that Redshirts has for me.


Best Novella

1. The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications)
2. After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications)
3. San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats by Mira Grant (Orbit)
4. The Stars Do Not Lie by Jay Lake (Asimov’s, Oct-Nov 2012)
5. No Award

Reasoning: The only story that I disliked enough to prefer no award was “On a Red Station, Drifting” by Aliette de Bodard. See my Novella Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.


Best Novelette

1. In Sea-Salt Tears by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
2. The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
3. Rat-Catcher by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)
4. The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
5. No Award

Reasoning: The only story that I disliked enough to prefer no award was “Fade to White” by Catherynne M. Valente. See my Novelette Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.


Best Short Story

1. Immersion by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld, June 2012)

2. Mono No Aware by Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)

3. No Award

Reasoning: The only story that I disliked enough to prefer no award was “Mantis Wives” by Kij Johnson. See my Short Story Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.


Best Graphic Story

1. Locke & Key, Vol. 5: Clockworks, Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)

2. Schlock Mercenary: Random Access Memorabilia Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (Hypernode Media)

3. Saga, Volume One, Brian K. Vaughn, art by Fiona Staples (Image)

4. No Award

Reasoning: See my Graphic Story Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.


Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

1. The Cabin in the Woods
2. The Avengers
3. The Hunger Games
4. Looper
5. The Hobbit

Reasoning: See my Dramatic Presentation, Long Form Hugo 2013 Review for more detail. I didn’t regret the time spent on any of the movies, so I gave them all a rank.


Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

1. Game of Thrones, “Blackwater”, Written by George R.R. Martin, Directed by Neil Marshall. Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (HBO)

Reasoning: I’ve never seen an episode of Dr. Who (gasp!), so I can’t comment on the show in any way. I’ve only ever seen the pilot episode of Fringe, which did not inspire me to watch further even though I was excited about the show from the trailers. But my wife and I are avid watchers of the Game of Thrones series. The show is really solid throughout, great writing, casting, special effects, set design, costume design, everything is really stellar. And this episode was an especially awesome episode of a major battle, with great tension and great action all around. Even if I had been familiar with any of the other nominees, it likely would’ve come on top.

I don’t have anything against any of the other four winning the award, so I’m not casting a “No Award” vote for this category. I’m sure that one of the Dr. Who episodes will win anyway.


Best Editor, Short Form

1. Neil Clarke
Neil does great work at Clarkesworld, and I look forward to every episode of Clarkesworld. I tend to have a bit of a polar reaction to Clarkesworld stories. I either love them or don’t get them at all. But when I love them, the stories are well worth listening to the others to get to. Also, as a writer, I appreciate Clarkesworld’s lightning-fast response times.

2. John Joseph Adams
I enjoy listening to the Lightspeed podcast as well. I tend to have a polar reaction to Lightspeed stories as well, and a similar appreciation for lightning-fast response times, and it was hard to decide which to rank higher. He and Neil are ranked close enough in my mind that it’s almost a toss-up between the two and I just gave Neil the edge because he’s been a head editor longer. It’s for cases like this that I really appreciate the instant runoff voting.

3. Stanley Schmidt
I am often not a huge fan of Analog stories, often too nuts-and-bolts for me. But they’ve published some really great ones. I will immediately buy any issue with Juliette Wade in the pages, because her linguistics-based SF stories that have run there are among my favorites. There was a Wade story last year, too, a definite bonus. This was Stanley’s last year as editor so it would be neat to see him win, but I’d rather vote based on who I thought was the best rather than nominating for warm fuzzies about the guy who retired.

4. Sheila Williams
I don’t read Asimov’s very regularly, simply because they don’t have a podcast. I have read good stories in the issues that I’ve bought, so I’d have no complaints about her winning.

Reasoning: I’m not familiar with Jonathan Strahan one way or the other. I’m not going to cast a vote for him, but I’m also not casting a “No Award” either.


Best Professional Artist

1. Dan Dos Santos
Dan Dos Santos is awesome. I have a print of his depiction of Moiraine Damodred on my office wall. I love his other art as well, such as his Warbreaker cover. He just has a very skilled hand and great eye. I rarely enjoy others’ cover art as much as his. His character art in particular is really great–the examples in the Hugo packet are good ones, especially the baby-toting warrior woman, and the punk woman in the bathroom.

2. John Picacio
I picked for a large part because of the Hyperion cover with the elaborate mechanical monstrosity holding a human infant. His other covers are really good too.

3. Julie Dillon
I LOVE the “Afternoon Walk” image, with all the monsters being walked like dogs in the park.

4. Chris McGrath
I like the gritty style of these, almost like found photos of fantastical places.

5. Vincent Chong

Reasoning: They always say not to judge a book by its cover, but in this case I had to judge the artist by his cover. The only one I’m very familiar with is Dos Santos, so I had to judge based only on the samples. This was a hard category to pick favorites. I would not be disappointed for any of these five who won the award. But, I’ve gotta pick someone.



Best Semiprozine

1. Beneath Ceaseless Skies
2. Clarkesworld
3. Lightspeed
4. Apex
5. Strange Horizons

Reasoning: See my Semiprozine Hugo 2013 Review for more detail.


Best Fanzine

1. SF Signal

Reasoning: I’ve enjoyed going to SF Signal for various content for years, so I’ll happily give them my vote. The other four I am aware of, but have never read. I’m not using the “No Award” vote, because I don’t have anything against the other four.


Best Fancast

1. No Award
2. SF Squeecast
3. SF Signal Podcast
4. Galactic Suburbia Podcast
5. The Coode Street Podcast

Reasoning: This is the second year that the Best Fancast category has been running, and all five of last years nominees are nominated again. This makes me think that no one is actually listening to them and is just nominating past nominees as a habit. I think this may also have to do with confusion over the classification of podcasts who pay their authors, like Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Escape Pod, Drabblecast, and so on. By the word of the rules, these would all be considered Fancasts but many people might guess that they would be classified as Semiprozines. I asked the question of the Hugo committee long before the nomination period ended to clarify publicly the classification of these, but they never responded to me. This is hurting my favorite magazine’s chances of getting award nominations because anyone who wants to nominate them may be splitting across categories. I was very disappointed that the Hugo Committee didn’t respond to my question.

In large part to raise my small voice of protest about the Hugo Committee’s lack of clarification, I am choosing No Award as my primary vote. I would love to see a quality fiction podcast get award nominations, and maybe even win. No offense to the nonfiction podcasters who do good work, but if I wanted to listen to a conversation about SF I would just talk to someone about SF. It’s the stories that I’m here for. And if my favorite fiction podcasts aren’t allowed into the category, then I’m not interested in the category.

It also bothers me that StarShipSofa is the lone fiction podcast representative, because their constant over-self-promotion, Hugo vote begging, unfiltered content , lack of payment is just too many factors that bother me about them. And that’s even not including the aborted nonfiction project they had planned some years ago to supporting a plagiaristic audio adaptation–it was aborted when the moral problems were pointed out to Tony, but I felt that an editor shouldn’t need to have this pointed out to him. It may seem wrong to criticize a “fancast” nominee for unprofessional policies, but venues like Escape Pod and Toasted Cake have shown me that just because a podcast is staffed by volunteers in their spare time doesn’t mean that there have to be no standards.

So I’ve ranked the four nonfiction podcasts about StarShipSofa so that even if “No Award” gets eliminated as a possibility, I’ll be encouraging one of the others to get the award rather than StarShipSofa.


Best Fan Artist

1. Spring Schoenhuth
I love the jewelry designs of Schoenhuth, particularly the Robot Transformation, and the Four Electron Atoms designs. I don’t generally wear jewelry other than my wedding ring but those make me want to start.

2. Galen Dara
a really neat dreamlike style. I particularly like the Ghost River Red image. It feels like a story, and the vivid reds of the hero and the shadowy adversary are very eye catching and intriguing.

3. Brad W. Foster

4. Maurine Starkey

5. Steve Stiles

Reasoning: As with the Professional Artist category, I had to judge these by their samples and would not be disappointed if any particular one of these won, but again i have to choose.


The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (Not a Hugo)

1. Mur Lafferty

Reasoning: I confess that Mur is the only one whose stories I am familiar with, and I ran out of time to read the contributed works of the other authors. So, certainly no reason to use the No Award, but my lone vote is cast for Mur.



And that’s my take and my voting strategy on all of the categories where I picked up enough of the material to be able to cast votes. There are three categories that I didn’t touch at all: Best Fan Writer, Best Editor Long Form, and Best Related Work. In the In the Related Work category, I did not have time to read any of the nominees. In the Fan Writer and Editor Long Form, I am unfamiliar with these people’s work.

How did you vote? Care to share, drop a comment. I’ve enjoyed putting this together, and I think I’ll try to do the same series of articles again next year. Let me know if you enjoyed it, folks! Do you find it appealing to see how someone else spent his votes?

Review: Hugo Dramatic Presentation, Long Form Nominees 2013

written by David Steffen

You may notice that four of the five nominees here are also nominees for the Ray Bradbury award this year, which I also reviewed. So, yes, I did just move my review of those four into this article. If you read that previous article and you want to just read the new stuff, The Hobbit is the only nominee that was nominated for Hugo but not for Ray Bradbury, so you can skip ahead to that part.

Anyway, this was a very enjoyable batch of movies this year!


1. The Cabin in the Woods
When I saw the previews for this movie I didn’t know what to make of it. The vague impression I got was that it was tortureporn, of the same ilk as Saw and Human Centipede. So I didn’t see it theatres. But then I kept getting recommendations for it from people who have similar taste as me. And it got a Ray Bradbury nomination–surely my fellow SF writers would have better taste than to nominate something of that variety, I figured. So I decided to give it a try.

At the beginning, the main thread of the movie may seem familiar, stereotypical even. Five college students go to visit an isolated cabin in the woods for a vacation, each student a different archetype of such movies. A classic horror setup for anything from monsters to serial killers. But there are other scenes interspersed with this main plot that show scenes from what could be a typical dull government office, except that these guys in ties are controlling the events at the cabin in the woods and steering them toward some outcome. In the end it’s all explained and is extremely entertaining.

It’s full of action. It has some gore, but I thought the amount was reasonable considering the content–I trust Whedon to use gore effectively. Personally I found it more often funny or just plain awesome, but rarely scary, but I don’t think the classification of this movie as horror is inaccurate. It is meant specifically as a response to the stereotypes of horror film and there are gory parts and things that might be scary to other people but the way that it was presented put it in a completely different light for me.


2. The Avengers
I saw this one in theaters. I haven’t kept up with all the Marvel movies, but my favorite superheroes are all Marvel and it was such a fun idea to have a movie that takes all the recent big-hit Marvel movies and combines them with all the same actors. I’ve never seen anything put together quite like that, with Iron Man, Thor, Captain America already having their own feature films in their own right.

Although the Avenger Initiative has been canceled before the movie even begins, the group is brought together to counter a threat to the entire world. Thor’s brother Loki is trying to open a portal to another dimension to bring through an army to conquer Earth. The group must come together to try to stop them: Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk, Hawkeye, Thor, all organized by Nick Fury. My concern with the premise was that either just a few of the heroes would get the focus and the rest would be background characters, or they’d spread the attention so thin that you never felt like any character really got their chance to shine. But Whedon (again!) did a superb job balancing the characters in such a short period of time, while leaving me satisfied. Each character got plenty of chances to show their skills (though Hawkeye seems a little ludicrously unpowered in such a group). Each character brought something to the group, both in abilities and in dialog/character. Iron Man got all the best lines, while Captain America was the straight man, Banner was the skeptic, and so on.

Admittedly, much of anticipation was waiting for the next time that Bruce Banner would Hulk out, but that anticipation just made the smashing time all the more fun.


3. The Hunger Games
Heather and I heard the hype about this movie about a year before it came out, and we both read The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins–this movie is the first of the three adaptations.

The story follows Katniss Everdeen of District Twelve, one of the twelve districts that is little more than a prison colony of the totalitarian government of Panem, occupying the territory now occupied by the United States. The districts have risen up against the capital before, but the rebellion was crushed. To punish and remind them, every year the capital randomly chooses two tributes (a boy and a girl) under the age of 17 to fight in an arena. These 24 young people are put in a strictly controlled arena with limited resources, and they stay in there until all but one of them are dead–the district of the winner is showered with prizes (mostly extra food). Katniss’s 12-year old younger sister Primrose is the one taken in the random drawing, and Katniss volunteers to take her place. She is the sole provider for her sister, and she must find a way to survive to keep her sister alive. The game involves not just action, and wilderness survival, but politics as the games are watched by the public and controlled by the government to ensure the audience is satisfied.

I’d recommend the book to anyone. The movie is one of those rare movie adaptations that does its book justice in tone and content, though the book of course contains more of what you see in the movie. Being able to see the opulence of the capital is the best part because that was one of the parts of the book that I was looking forward to seeing the most.


4. Looper
Heather and I watched this one together before the Bradbury nominees were announced based on recommendations from friends.

Time travel is invented 30 years in the future, but it is primarily used by criminals. Other technologies will have progressed by that time, including technology which makes it almost impossible to dispose of a dead body without evidence of it being discovered by the police. So criminal organizations have developed a system using time travel to solve this problem. They hire people from 30 years before (a time before time travel was invented) to act as “loopers”. Their job is to wait at specific places at specific times for murder victims. The victim will come through with a hood over their head and their hands bound behind their back and all the looper has to do is kill the person and dispose of the body. Since neither the forensic technology nor time travel has been invented at this time, it’s much easier to dispose of the body. With each victim is a payout in silver. The looper continues this work, until eventually a victim comes through that looks like any other, and is to be killed in the same way. This victim comes with a gold payout, enough to make a person filthy rich. This victim is the looper from the future time, and the murder of that person “closes the loop”, destroying any chance for the future authorities to interrogate this older person, hence the name. Complicated, but interesting premise, for sure.

The protagonist, Joe, is a looper, but when his golden payout comes through, something goes wrong and his future self escapes. This makes them both fugitives from the criminal organizations that run the system. The young Joe wants only to kill the older Joe so that he can live normally again. Older Joe isn’t so keen on this plan, but he has to try to keep young Joe alive because killing him will make old Joe disappear.

It’s really a sign of the quality of the nominees that this is #4. This movie is great, and I’d highly recommend it. It’s action packed from start to finish. I was skeptical that Joseph Gordon-Levitt would seem plausible as a young Bruce Willis, but they managed to pull it off with the use of some facial prosthetics to change the shape of his face. It looks really real, though it’s disconcerting if you’re used to Joseph’s face from his other acting work. It’s not just a mindless action movie; they did a great job plotting it, putting foreshadowing in place that’s not too blatant but which makes sense in retrospect and the ending resolution totally makes sense while not being too obvious.


5. The Hobbit
I’ve been waiting for this one to come out for quite some time. I enjoyed Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies more than the books that they are based on because I’ve found Tolkien’s writing style to be rather impenetrable. When I first heard that Peter Jackson would also be working on The Hobbit, I was very excited. But my excitement dampened a bit when I heard that The Hobbit was being made into a trilogy of movies. And by the look of it they’re going to be long movies. I can understand why The Lord of the Rings needs to be turned into nine hours of feature film (okay I know the uncut trilogy is more like twelve, but you get my point). The one-copy collection I have of them is more than a thousand pages. Really, he had to cut out a lot of material to fit that in the way it was. But The Hobbit is a children’s book, is a very quick read. Where The Lord of the Rings needs to be cut drastically to fit into the space, The Hobbit really needs to be embellished to fit in the space.

And that was my main complaint about the movie is that it’s been expanded so much, shoehorning in characters from The Lord of the Rings that never graced the pages of The Hobbit, adding in fight scenes, side plots, lots of extra stuff. There are lots of fun special effects, good acting all around, I just felt it was too long for the actual content. The Lord of the Rings got away with it because the stakes are so much higher–Sauron is threatening to conquer the world. Here the stakes are not all important to the world as a whole–the dwarves want their home back, and the area surrounding the mountain would rather do without a dragon, but really they’re going and picking a fight that they don’t really need to pick. For a movie that’s fine, but an epic trilogy is a bit much for this, I thought.

But, if you liked The Lord of the Rings movies, and you want more, you’ll probably want to check this out. I thought Bilbo’s interaction with Gollum was very well done especially.

So, I liked it, but in general I thought it was rather over-embellished for its content.