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Side Effects

A Lifetime of Science Fiction


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The Gernsback decision - 2011 edition
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It's amazing how the world focus on this simple, annual list of nominations and awards (the world of genre, of course - it's hardly CNN material), considering how narrow and diminute the number of real, concerned voters is - a little more than a thousand, this year. Given such a wide fan base around the planet, and the tens of thousands of stories written in several languages, it seems a big responsibility for such a small group to nominate what is considered to be the best genre fiction of the previous year. After all, will they hold the same quality criteria as you? Do they agree with your definition of 'science fiction'? Is your novel/writer among the nominees? - Of course, a (very) good argument can be made on why you didn't vote as well...

They're really questions without practical answers, since the logistics and effort of setting up a world award are too complex to overcome with the small means literary awards usually have. Who'd sponsor it? Who'd manage it? Language is a real barrier, and beyond language, let's face it, different people will have different opinions on what kind of fiction should be held in higher regard. A way to solve it could be to award the best stories by country/language first, and than, from this smaller lot, choose the "world best" - but how can you ensure fairness among such diversity? And will it agree more with your definition of 'science fiction'?

The truth is that, by the end of the day, having an award such as the Hugo - or any other - has a positive effect on the genre. It gets people talking, debating, reading, being interested. It's always important, first, to set some standards so that they can be followed or contested.

After a number of years aiming its little eyes at Fantasy fiction, the Hugo award has been showing, in recent years, a healthy (from my side of the pool) lean towards scientific rationality. This year, however, it's become a strange mix - in which texts about zombies (Feed) compete with a near future vision of a non-Western land (The Dervish House), time travel classic tropes (Blackout / All Clear), military space opera with all the traditional devices (Cryoburn) and a feminist fantasy with hints of Ursula Le Guin (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms).

The dominant themes of the current science and fantasy fiction stories published in the English language seem to be all here (not considering the vampire spectrum with its own audience and which seems to finally be declining). It's an eerie and surprising lot, almost as if chosen by a process of all-inclusive politically correct mandatory representation... (There's nothing wrong in being all-inclusive, except, of course, when it speaks higher than individual performances.) Given such diversity, it is hard to bet on a winning horse, and everything will now depend on the tastes of the WorldCon members, the only ones allowed to place a vote on the final ballot.

What can you do? Read all the nominated novels, short stories and essays because some of them, if not all, will be among the set of best fiction published in 2010. Afterward, informed, you can decide for yourself, or better yet, carry on reading other stories.

After all, literary awards are just a bonus. The real win is that science fiction carries on being written and published. A win for both the author and the reader.

PS - probably for the first time ever, a 2nd generation Portuguese has been nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer: Larry Correia. Strangely but gladly, Portuguese science fiction is thriving in other lands and other languages.

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