Redshirts and the Hugo

Redshirts cover

John Scalzi – Redshirts

Well, yesterday we learned that John Scalzi’s Redshirts has won the Hugo Award for best novel. I’ve read more than twenty books so far this year, and that was definitely the worst one. (In fact, it’s tied for the second-worst book since I started my blog, only beating out an artless ode to fascism.) I knew when I wrote my review that I was going against popular opinion, but it still baffles me how much some people like it. The people I’ve discussed it with generally found it light and amusing, and say they liked it because they also liked Star Trek. Fair enough – those elements were enough to get me through the first 75 pages or so, but even the people who enjoyed it don’t seem to be describing a Hugo-worthy novel.

If you’re curious, I stand by the complaints in my review. Scalzi tries for metatextual jokes about Sci-Fi characters who know they’re surrounded by “bad” science, which is fine. But their own science and logic, used in situations where the “bad” science shouldn’t take effect, are even less sensible! The main point of the story is supposed to be clever reactions to a weird situation, but every reaction is predicated on something that felt wrong. The character development, pacing, and tone are all poor, as are the rushed ending and its awkward “codas” that don’t feel like appropriate follow-ups to the story.

But I don’t mind the Hugo Award too much. I knew Redshirts was likely to win it, so I’d already dealt with that. The thing that really shocked me is that Patrick Nielsen Hayden won a Hugo in the editing category. As far as I know, the award doesn’t specify which book or books factored into the award. But I doubt it’s a coincidence that he won at the same time as one of the books he edited. And while I generally have a lot of respect for him and think he deserves his multiple Hugo wins, I still feel like Redshirts should have disqualified him this particular year. Most of my biggest complaints about the book were logical errors that should have been fixable given the flexible science that the book had available. I feel like a good editor should have been able to catch them. (For example, “If your characters are going to do this thing, cut out the conversation a few scenes earlier in which they decide it’s impossible.”) This book literally made me wonder whether John Scalzi had decided to start working without an editor. For the book and the editor to both win awards both seems wrong.

Let’s hope for better results next year.

Update: I worry that I may have sounded too harsh in my post. So let me clarify.

I am a big fan of Scalzi’s blog. I also think he has done great things for the SF community, both as president of the SFWA and through his personal quests to educate aspiring writers. He’s willing to make personal stands on issues even when they cost him readers. Basically, I’m a huge fan of just about everything BUT his professional writing. Usually, I just shrug my shoulders and accept that it’s not for me. But Redshirts seemed especially bad, enough so that I’m still perplexed by its reception.

Similarly, though I can’t say I pay as much attention to Hayden, I love what his company does and what I see of him as a person when I’m pointed to his blog or Twitter. I’m glad he’s won Hugos before. I just think this year’s Hugo is connected to Redshirts, and I can’t agree with that.

I still suspect this is some sort of Emperor’s New Clothes situation. Like I said at the start of this article, all the people I’ve heard from who liked this book seemed to find it light and enjoyable. No one makes it sound like a Hugo contender. I get the impression that a lot of voters just said “He sells well, he has a big fanbase, and he’s won Hugos before. This book wasn’t bad. I guess he gets another one.”

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  1. I praise you for this honest blog post. Someone needed to say it.

  2. Reblogged this on AmandaPandaDUH and commented:
    I’m so glad someone else said my thoughts for me. YOU ARE NOT ALONE

  3. “Basically, I’m a huge fan of just about everything BUT his professional writing.”

    Couldn’t agree more.

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