John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer 2011

The Hugo Voter Package includes five novels and five short stories by this year’s nominees for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. I don’t think I had ever cast a vote for this award before, so I found this tremendously helpful. I am a little uneasy that there is not a really equal basis of comparison – two novels, vs a novel and a short story, vs a novel, vs another novel, vs four short stories – but it’s difficult to imagine another way of doing it. I’m therefore listing the works on which I base my judgement along with, indeed before, the writers who are getting my votes (as usual, in reverse order).

6) Monster Hunter International, by Larry Correia. I do have little hesitation in putting Monster Hunter International last. It is relentlessly single-tone, derivative and predictable, and I can’t see how anyone could rank it above any of the other works included in the package. To an extent the John W. Campbell Award is about the future of the genre; books like this take us way back to the past, with the incidentals slightly jazzed up for the twenty-first century, and I think it would be embarrassing for the genre if Correia won on the basis of this.

5) No Award. I wavered about putting it higher, but there is enough originality in all the other four nominees to make me feel that, while I might be surprised, I would not be embarrassed if any of them won.

4) I Am Not A Serial Killer, by Dan Wells. Of the novels supplied, this is the furthest out of the mainstream of the genre, a YA novel about a boy obsessed with serial killers who discovers that the mild-mannered next door neighbour is in fact a man-eating demon. There is some unevenness in the execution, but I can see that there is a vibrant and suitably weird imagination behind it.

3) The Magicians and “Endgame” by Lev Grossman. A very ambitious project, picking up on the various wizard school stories and series (most obviously Rowling) and parallel world (most obviously Lewis) but with older and hornier students. Some readers complained that the protagonists were rather depressing characters; I don’t object to that myself, but I did think there were sufficient structural problems with The Magicians to keep it off either of my top two spots.

2) “Doctor Diablo Goes Through The Motions”, “Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela”, “Mister Hadji’s Sunset Ride” and “The Faithful Soldier Prompted”, by Saladin Ahmed. If this were a prize for the best title, Ahmed would walk away with it. The four stories supplied are very interesting, lucid short tales which bring the perspective of a culturally Islamic background to the wider genre. (I was a bit annoyed by the gratuitously variable fonts of the fourth story, but I don’t hold it against the author.) Ahmed may well be a better and more promising writer than my top choice, and certainly I found his writing much better than Correia or Wells. In the end, though, I don’t quite have enough to go on; at novel length, he might not be quite as good as Grossman, or he might turn out to be better than Beukes. Somewhat hesitantly, I put him between the two.

1) Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. (Moxyland is also included in the Hugo Voter Package, but I doubt that I will read it in time.) Zoo City is the only one of these books I had already read, thanks to its BSFA shortlisting. I thought it an assured and accomplished piece of work then, and I think the same now; none of the other nominees convince me that they are more deserving of the award, so my top vote goes to Beukes.

Previous Hugo category write-ups (though the Campbell Award is Not A Hugo): Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Novelette, Best Short Story, Best Related Work, Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form, Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form.