Hugo Ballot Reviews: John W. Campbell Award & Dramatic Presentation

Winners and nominees of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer each receive this pin, which is a star made of fountain pin nubs.
Winners and nominees of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer each receive this pin, which is a star made of fountain pin nubs.
This is another post in my journey of reading the Hugo nominated stories before casting my ballot. By this point I’ve gotten through most of the story categories. I’ve probably gone on a bit too long about some of them. I’m not going to do full reviews of everything in the two Dramatic Presentation categories. You won’t have to wade through a lot to get to the Campbell Award, where I spend most of the post.

So, what did I think…?

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) is awarded to a dramatized production in any medium, including film, television, radio, live theater, computer games or music that is at least 90 minutes in length. Usually movies.

Some people always No award this entire category because they believe that movies and tv episodes don’t belong in the Hugos. I am not one of those people.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier — was the best movie of the year, in my opinion. I loved it each time we saw it in the theatre (yes, I went back), and have enjoyed it since. I have a few quibbles with the villains’ plot and choices the writer’s took there (I would have rather that they left Hydra out of it entirely, make the bad guys simply be people who are willing to sacrifice the liberty of others for a small increase in security and everything could have worked just fine). Among the things I especially loved was the that movies uses a lot of old fashioned action film tropes in new way. Black Widow, a woman, takes the role that in traditional action films would have been the best buddy of the hero (played by another guy). Falcon, a man, is treated the way a traditional woman introduced to become the love interest of the hero, instead of another buddy. Not that they ever explicitly have anything romantic, but who if nothing else, which character is it that is sitting by the hero’s bedside throughout his coma and playing music for him? I don’t see those as choices the writers and director made to reverse roles, but rather a subtle shift on some people’s parts to start seeing all characters as characters, not simply as genders.

The Lego Movie — it’s a little sad to say that this is the best movie featuring DC universe superheroes in the last couple of years, but it is. A good, fun, choice.

Guardians of the Galaxy — another movie I absolutely loved, and it would be my number two on the ballot if the Sad Puppies hadn’t had it on their slate. I still cannot fathom why they chose this one for their slate, and not Captain America… unless it is precisely for some of the reasons that I loved the Captain America movie.

Edge of Tomorrow — If I never see another Tom Cruise vehicle as long as I live, it will be too soon.

Interstellar — I have friends who absolutely love this movie. Too many bad problems in the set up and big mistakes in the physics of the black-hole orbiting worlds. Yes, they got the wormhole right, but that isn’t enough to overcome the other things.

I am going to vote No award above Edge of Tomorrow and Interstellar. I am still wrestling with my conscience about whether to No award Guardians in order to make a statement about slates voting.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) is awarded to a dramatized production in any medium, including film, television, radio, live theater, computer games or music less than 90 minutes in length. Usually episodes of television shows.

Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, written by Graham Manson, directed by John FawcettOrphan Black is the best show you aren’t watching. Not just the best science fiction show. Because it is on BBC America, almost no one has seen it. Ironically, it probably wouldn’t have survived on any other network. The first two seasons are available on Amazon streaming. Last time I checked, they are free if you have prime. If you like good writing, good acting, and a story that takes a single sci fi question and then extends it to its logical conclusion, you should be watching this show.

Doctor Who: “Listen”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Douglas Mackinnon — It should tell you something that I am willing to put this episode in second place, as anyone who has seen my complete collection of Sonic Screwdrivers and my enormous pile of DVDs of the original series will tell you I am a Doctor Who fanatic. Orphan Black is better.

The Flash: “Pilot”, teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, story by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg & Geoff Johns, directed by David Nutter — I love this show. It does not take itself too seriously, but it does not pull its punches in delivering full-on comic book gonzo experience. I am irritated that the Sad Puppies put this on their slate.

Grimm: “Once We Were Gods”, written by Alan DiFiore, directed by Steven DePaul — I hate Grimm. Why does anyone waste their time on this show?

Game of Thrones: “The Mountain and the Viper”, written by David Benioff & D. B. Weiss, directed by Alex Graves — I have deep philosophical objections to this show and the kind of storytelling it and it’s original employ.

No award will definitely appear above Grimm and Game of Thrones. I’m still deciding about the Flash.

The Campbell Award

The John W. Campbell Award is given to the best new science fiction or fantasy writer whose first work of science fiction or fantasy was published in a professional publication in the previous two years. The nominating process and voting is handled along with the Hugos, but the award is not considered a Hugo.

I have particularly strong feelings about the Campbell award in part because I personally know two of the people who have won it in years past. This is an irrational thing, I know, but it makes me feel extra protective of this award. I wish that somehow this category had been spared the piddling of the puppies.

Rolf Nelson — He had a short story in an anthology that was included with another category in the Hugo packet. I couldn’t get past the first page. I found several reviews of a “novel” The Stars Came Back. The first couple of reviews I found mentioned that it was supposedly originally a screenplay that morphed into a novel, except he didn’t. They simply published the screenplay in book form and called it a novel. I finally remembered that Amazon would let me look at a sample. Turns out Amazon lets you see a lot of the book. OMG, they really did just publish the screen play. And, OMG-er, it’s awful. Seriously, in the first few scenes just about every bad sci fi protagonist cliché is hit. Our hero is a man who has failed at everything he has ever tried, but dreams of a life in space. Except our aspiring space pilot crashes a flight simulator so badly, he damages it. How can you do that? I don’t know! The author never explains. He’s going to be stuck at the job he hates, except he was so certain he would pass the flight test, he didn’t sign his contract in time. But wait, his sister who lives on another planet calls and has a job for him with her husband’s company. Why is he qualified? We don’t know, but he pisses off a TSA-like screener at the spaceport and somehow loses his citizenship and the clothes off his back?

At least one reviewer compared this to Firefly, and I tell you sincerely, the very worst Firefly fanfic I have ever read is head and shoulders above this dreck. Definitely not the best new writer!

Eric S. Raymond — He also had a short story in the anthology. As far as I can tell, it’s the only fiction he has ever written. He’s published extensively about programming, the open source movement, and some political topics, but this one short story seems to be it. And man is it ever bad. I’m so tired of talking about the clichés these guys keep using. I don’t know if Raymond is actually ex-military, but this reads like those bad stories I mentioned earlier that I have read a boatload of as a fanzine editor. The same cardboard characters as every other ex-military fan writes, with the same bad dialog. It was actually a better short story than several of the other Puppy entries in the short story category, but not exactly brilliant. Definitely not an award-worthy story, and definitely not the best new writer.

Jason Cordova — The packet included a short story, “Hill 142” which was a not-badly written but wholly un-engaging tale, and a novel, Murder World: Kaiju Dawn which… managed to hit even more clichés in the opening 8 to 10 pages than the two previous stories combined. It even begins with a completely unnecessary prologue. If I had been holding a physical book, that alone would have caused me to throw the book across the room. Bad dialog, extremely clichéd setup, cardboard cut-out characters. It’s just awful. Definitely not the best new writer!

Kary English — She had a short story nominated for a Hugo, and it wasn’t exactly exemplary. There is a shorter story included, which at two pages is about a half a page longer than it should be. There is a long story about a very rich woman who plotted to leave her abusive husband by some scheme involving her clone that was created to be a nanny to their children. There’s a digression about all the celebrity moms in the world having clones made to take care of the children, which somehow (despite it being a big business) completely fools the paparazzi, who think all these celebrities are being doting moms. There is no rationale given for how the clone would be different than just hiring a nanny other than this fooling the cameras. That whole bit completely bounced me out of the story. I tried to get back in, but she’s stranded on a strange planet with no way to call for help, so she starts playing recorded memories to herself, which seemed to be a device to tell the bulk of the story in flashback, and I despise that device at least as much as unnecessary prologues, so I stopped. Definitely not the best new writer!

Wesley Chu — A person is eligible for the Campbell Award for two years beginning the year their first professional sci fi story is published. Chu’s first novel, The Lives of Tao was published year before last, and was so well received that his publisher moved up the date of the sequel, The Deaths of Tao. The sequel is included in the packet, and from the opening page I was hooked. It doesn’t matter that it’s a sequel, he pulled me into the story and I’ve been reading it as quickly as I can. It’s a story of spies and political intrigue and aliens secretly conducting a war. It’s fun, it’s interesting, if the first book is half this good, I understand why people nominated him. I’m going to have no trouble putting him at the top of my ballot.

My previous Hugo Ballot reviews:

Short Story
Novelette category
Graphic Story
Related Work
Fan Writer

4 thoughts on “Hugo Ballot Reviews: John W. Campbell Award & Dramatic Presentation

  1. I actually enjoyed Edge of Tomorrow precisely because I’m tired of Tom Cruise movies. I thought Emily Blount was superb (although a bit one note), and I loved the trope of killing the Major/Private over. and over. and over. 😉 I may have enjoyed that a bit much. I almost forgot who played him by the end, but not entirely, so in that respect, it was definitely still a Tom Cruise role.

    I’m currently fighting with the desire to see a few MI5 movies because Simon Pegg! But they have Cruise.

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