Over the past couple weeks I’ve been tempted at several moments to weigh in on the big brouhaha over this year’s Hugo Awards—an award which is of only vague import for the majority of the world, but is like life-blood to several people who are, perhaps, if such a thing is possible, the teensiest bit too deeply entrenched in the world of science fiction.
In the guise of preserving your sanity, I shall not link to any of it here. If, however, you have not heard of the issue, and you are interested in spending several hours of your time witnessing a community self-immolate, just go to Our Friend Google, and search on “Puppies” and “Hugo Awards.” From there on I figure you can create your own adventure.
I suggest, however, that the casual fan just stay out of the water.
There be sharks.
I, however, am not a casual fan. I am a writer working in the field, and have been for over twenty years. And on top of that, I tend to be a person who (as long as I can manage to avoid taking them too seriously) enjoys the whole concept of awards. As such, I admit that the Hugo Award does mean something to me.
So I have looked at the trench warfare going on within these waters (if I can be allowed to mix some metaphors) from a perch fairly close by, and have finally decided that while I am probably less intelligent than I look, I am not—and I repeat, not—a total sadist. Beyond that, I completely understand my place in this world. I understand I have no real mouthpiece or plank from which to give deep commentary that would have any chance of making a difference. (I am, however, also giving myself a self-serving pat on the back for thinking myself smart enough to assume there’s not a single person in this struggle who seems capable of providing any great commentary that has a chance to actually change anything. My opinion of human nature is that once a person digs a trench, it generally remains dug.) This doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions. Believe me. I’ve got plenty of ’em. I just don’t see how me pounding the table can help in much of any way.
Still, I want to do something, and I would like that something to be pointed toward the positive.
And after considerable thought on the matter, I’ve decided that the best thing I can do is to spend some time highlighting pieces published in 2014 that I’ve read and enjoyed, and that were clearly “overlooked” by the slate-based approach the Puppy tandem either (depending on your point of view) rightly or wrongly employed.
So that’s what I’ll do.
My intention is, about once a week, to use my little platform here to point out a work I thought award-worthy. I plan to do this until the Hugos are actually announced, though perhaps I’ll go on longer. We shall see. I may touch on stories that are actually on the ballot, but probably will not. I assume folks who care are already exploring those works. My intention is to use my little place in the world of Science Fiction to talk about work I would not have been surprised to see on the Hugo ballot, but were not. They will be stories that should be on ballots somewhere (and maybe even be on ballots for awards not named “the Hugos”). Because I tend to be a weird reader, my selections will likely be all over the spectrum. Regardless, I hope folks will enjoy them.
This is the best way I can think of to address this ongoing strife, and to help these stories and the authors thereof—to talk about the work, to highlight it, and to hold it up for people to see and think about.
Focus on the positive.
Focus on what I think is quality.
Given this, I shall be awarding this collective of stories I highlight the High Honor of “the Ron’s Good Reading Award,” or “the Rongo,” for short. It is an award of high acclaim indeed, and sure to grow to extreme import–certain to change the very essence of the lives of those to whom my fickle finger of fate shall at point.
Perhaps I’ll even go so far as to create a logo for them in my copious spare time. Or not. Why cheapen such a thing with a brand, eh? Anyway … I digress.
With only a little further hesitation, I shall now proceed to use this post to identify the first story on the list, to bestow the first-ever “Rongo Award,” as it were. Before I go further, however, I must reiterate that this is a list of stories I think are fantastic. I am not including anything here for any purpose beyond that. I admit to feeling the need of prefacing my first selection here because I am distinctly aware of how the very first story I anoint with the title “Rongo Award Winner” will be perceived in context of the Great Battle Being Waged. I understand that John Scalzi is essentially the Anti-Beale to one side of this global battle that has become the Hugos.
These are the Rongos.
In making these selections, I don’t care about the details that are being fought over one way or the other. This should, I expect, become more obvious as the weeks go by and the Rongos get passed around, but since this is #1, it has no context. Hence the disclaimer.
All righty, then…
With that out of the way, I am excited to point potential readers to my initial Rongo selection.
The First-ever Rongo Award goes to …
Rongo Category: Novella
Author: John Scalzi
This is why I love novellas. Just flat-out love ‘em.
Here is a piece of Science Fiction that is everything science fiction should be. It is a story, written in an oral history narrative, that brings to bear science, technology, politics, community, and fundamental human nature in ways that let us look into the near future and view who we are. Given that its basic core is built around a health crisis, I suppose it’s fitting that as I read it, my wife, my father, my mother, and my daughter were all hacking and wheezing with a flu variant that apparently wasn’t in the vaccine this year.
“Unlocked” is a prequel to Scalzi’s novel Lock in, but it clearly stands on its own. It’s deeply technological, but does not bear gizmodic burden. It’s deeply political, but represents its politics in open and straightforward fashion, and often delves into our past to support its viewpoints. With an investment of an hour or so, I walked away from reading it feeling like I had looked at the very complex issue of a country’s reaction to an immediate health crisis with a visceral sense of being there, and from a shifting series of perspectives that left me both upbeat and chilled about human nature.
In Scazi’s world, human beings are not one-note creatures. In this world, there is no one “humanity.” There is only each of us, and each of our views on how we would like to be or how we would like to live. It’s a world that matches our own—a strange collective of individuals that gather together to make a culture.
Given its structure, the story unfolds in layers and waves, its real purpose hidden underneath the surface of the report until rising up and taking you by the shoulders to shake you first this way and then that. Life is complex, it says. And choices, therefore, are no less. This is a deft piece of work, well done.
I’m really pleased to tag “Unlocked” as the first-ever Rongo Award Winner for being among the best novellas of 2014.