Is the Emperor Naked?

SF Signal’s JP Frantz has posted Why I Stopped Reading: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon, an iconoclastic slam against the Hugo-nominated and Nebula-winning novel. (I won’t call it a review – he didn’t finish reading the book, remember?)

I’ve been waiting for the Best Novel Hugo debate to “go negative,” as it’s termed in election-year jargon. And that choice of jargon is no coincidence, for this category turned into a campaign the moment the other four nominees (McDonald, Sawyer, Scalzi, and Stross) offered free electronic copies of their novels to 2008 Worldcon members, an unprecedented move. (We still have to buy Chabon’s.)

That brilliant gamble can only pay off if people like one of their books better than Chabon’s, and I’m sure they’ve anxiously been waiting for any sign they’re gaining traction against the perceived front-runner (thus playing Obama to Chabon’s Clinton?)

And they ought to worry. These are the same Hugo voters who gave a Neal Stephenson novel the award a couple of years ago. Those people might do anything!

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12 thoughts on “Is the Emperor Naked?

  1. Speaking as the guy who spearheaded getting the e-texts to the Hugo voters, I can say the idea that this is a concerted “campaign” against Chabon or his book is nonsense. We collectively offered our books electronically to make sure the widest number of Hugo voters had access to the widest number of texts, for the most informed vote possible. I invited Chabon as I invited all the authors to distribute his book electronically to voters in a single package; if he had been able to (there were reasons he could not), I would have happily included the e-text along with the others.

    I can’t speak for any of the other nominees, but for my part, if the Hugo voters in their collective wisdom choose “Yiddish” as Best Novel, I think that would be fine; I’ve read the book and I think it’s excellent. I would also be pleased for Rollback, Halting State or Brasyl were to win, too; they’re all worthy nominees (I also wouldn’t mind if The Last Colony won, of course). We’ve got a good field this year for Best Novel — my hope (and goal) is to get as many of them read by the voters as we can, for the most informed Hugo vote possible.

  2. Doing nothing to win an award looks like… doing nothing! Taking steps to fully inform the voters by giving away books looks like… a campaign!

    I’m going to shock you — we’re not far apart at all on the substance of this issue. Yours is not the kind of campaign I have any problem with. I think your idea is great. As far as I’ve heard, there wasn’t a step wrong in the execution of it. It’s great PR with Hugo voters. It was great PR with me — thanks for my copies of the four novels! If I like yours the best I’ll vote for it. (Check back, I’ll be posting about this.) Whether or not the tactic takes money out of your pocket (the old media types assume it does, but isn’t your argument that it will generate greater net sales?), it’s still a bold gamble for anyone to put his work out ther and say take your best shot.

    Your campaign is, of course, FOR YOU, and the others’ for them, not against Chabon. But you are, obviously, competing “against” the other nominees, first, because that’s implicit in an elective process, and second, you’ve taken steps to advance your cause (why shouldn’t you?)

    The Obama/Clinton image suits the moment, too. For you — or Sawyer, or Stross, or McDonald — to win, you must succeed against the other nominees, of whom Chabon appears the most formidable because of the awards his novel has already racked up. The possibility that he is not really so formidable — that a science fiction fan might write an Emperor’s-New-Clothes putdown of his book — strikes me as both newsworthy and humorous. Threatening you with Neal Stephenson, though…well, yes, that IS nonsense… Even the selfless organizer of a voter information campaign isn’t above being kidded about it.

  3. Hmm, lots of mistakes in this. Neal Stephenson’s Hugo for best novel was in 1996, which is stretching the definition of “a couple of years ago” beyond its breaking point. The availability of free electronic copies of Hugo-nominated novels is hardly unprecedented — last year three out of five nominees (Blindsight, Eifelheim and Rainbows End) were available as free ebooks to anyone, not just Hugo voters. And The Yiddish Policemen’s Union can hardly be considered to be the front-runner for the Hugo given that it’s already been a nominee in an award for best SF novel where the winner is selected by popular vote (the BSFA Award), and it came dead last with five first-preference votes out of 103.

  4. And The Yiddish Policemen’s Union can hardly be considered to be the front-runner for the Hugo given that it’s already been a nominee in an award for best SF novel where the winner is selected by popular vote (the BSFA Award), and it came dead last with five first-preference votes out of 103.

    You keep citing this as if it’s actually relevant, Mike, but I don’t think it is. I just don’t think the population voting for the BSFA Award is a good model for the population voting for the Hugo (except, perhaps, in a year with a British worldcon — but even there, not so much. River of Gods won the BSFA, and Susanna Clarke took the Hugo). Far more relevant, I’d argue, are the Locus Awards, which have a much bigger voting base — and Chabon is one of the finalists. They’re clearly not an identical voting population — Scalzi and Sawyer are nowhere to be seen, for instance — but they picked the same winner as the Hugo last year.

  5. It is unprecedented that four novelist nominees organized their own electronic book giveaway. It’s also unprecedented that one of the nominees packaged and distributed all of the books given away. (That’s unprecedented — not unwelcome.)

    And if [Mike Scott] you’re implying that most fans won’t let their Hugo vote be dictated by the outcome of the Nebula Awards, that is certainly true. However, I still have to respectfully say that the Nebula is a lot better predictor of the Hugo winner than the BSFA Award. Always remember — pros vote too! There are probably hundreds of pro writers, editors and artists with Denvention memberships, and Chabon has already won SFWA’s award. On the other hand, the BSFA Award is selected by members of the British Eastercon and BSFA members. There were only 66 members of Denvention from the United Kingdom the last time I saw a number.

    Finally, the impression about who is perceived to be the front-runner comes from reading what people from all over the sf community have posted. The story is in speculating whether that perception is reality. In 1983, which is even longer ago than Neal Stephenson won a Hugo, everyone talked as if E.T. would dominate the Best Dramatic Presentation category while casting their lonely little votes for Bladerunner. And you know how that turned out. All the lonely little votes added up to a “surprise” win for Bladerunner. But if, a month before the 1983 Hugos, somebody had tried to deny that E.T. was perceived to have the best chance of winning they’d have been wrong. As is anyone would be who tries to deny the same about Chabon today in 2008.

  6. Being one of two people prior to the 1983 Hugo Awards Ceremony who knew the winners, I was surprised that Bladerunner won. Pleased, but surprised.

  7. What’s even more pathetic is that I voted for E.T. I liked it better than Gandhi, too, which beat it out for an Academy Award. Now I suppose I will have to change the name of this blog to Philistine 770…

  8. Reasonable?!!!? You? You used to think it was cruel and unusual.

    Next thing, somebody will be telling me Terry Pratchett has found God.

  9. “Reasonable?!!!? You? You used to think it was cruel and unusual.”

    Depends upon the “crime” … heh.

    “Next thing, somebody will be telling me Terry Pratchett has found God.” ”
    I didn’t know God was lost, but glad TP found him/her/whatever.

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