Archive for September, 2012

Playing SET with book titles:

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Since I haven’t blogged this week, and since I opened the can of worms on twitter/facebook, let’s talk about this: what will the name of the third Partials book be?

Obviously the short answer is “whatever I decide to name it, as approved by the Harper sales team,” but there are a lot of considerations to go through before we get there. And as part of those considerations, I get to talk about card games: one of my favorite card games is SET, which I was introduced to in college. You have a big deck of cards, and each card has an image with four traits: shape, number, color, and shading. You lay out a grid of three by four cards and then look for sets of three, with sets defined as “each trait must be the same across all cards, or different across all cards.” So, for example, a set could include three of one shape, or one each of all three shapes, but it can’t have one of one shape and two of the next. Each trait has to be all the same, or all different. This is a fantastic combination of “brain-burner puzzle game” and “quick filler game,” and I play it all the time. It’s one of the few games I brought with me to Germany. One of our favorite things to do in college was sit in a common area and start playing, and then watch as people stopped to watch. Most people would ask how to play, and that was cool, but the best thing was when people would stop, observe for a minute, and then figure it out all on their own and start collecting sets. That’s when we knew we’d met someone extra geeky/awesome.

So what does this have to do with book titles? The geeky/awesome ones have already figured it out. The titles (and covers) of a trilogy should follow the same rule of forming sets: every trait should ideally be either all the same or all different. (Within reason, of course; every rule has exceptions). The Bourne movies are a great example: the first is The Bourne Identity, and the second The Bourne Supremacy, so obviously the third has to be The Bourne [Something] as well. Calling the third one Ultimatum would have been dumb, because it wouldn’t feel like it fit, but calling it The Bourne Ultimatum was perfect.

(My first trilogy, you’ll note, did not follow this naming strategy at all, and that’s completely my fault and it’s always kind of bugged me. I Am not a Serial Killer and I Don’t Want to Kill You are both statements, they both start with I, they’re both denials, and then for some reason the one in the middle is nothing like them. This is because the original name for the third book was “Full of Holes,” which kept our set consistent, and by the time we decided to change it the second book was already in print. Alas. It doesn’t help that half the people I meet on book tours refer to the middle book as Mr. Murder instead of Mr. Monster. I still think Mr. Monster is a great name, but the fact that it breaks the set rules gets under my skin.)

So let’s take a look at the Partials series. We named the first one Partials because it’s an awesome name, and then for the second book I proposed two: “Fragments” and “Failsafe.” The sales team preferred the former, and it’s a great name so hooray, but it set us on a very specific path for book three: both titles have only one word, which are kind of sort of synonyms of each other, albeit with different connotations, and therefore the third one must follow the same format. The working title in my head for the past several months has been “Smithereens,” because it makes me laugh, but obviously we need something cooler than that. My two favorite runners-up have been “Splinters” and “Slivers,” and when I pitched the question on the Internet today those were definitely the most common suggestions, but neither of them really say what I want them to say. Also suggested, some in jest and some serious, were “Remnants,” “Shards,” “Pieces,” “Bits,” “Chunks,” “Ruins,” “Parts,” and “Dust.” I particularly like that last one (partly because it’s the name of my favorite X-Men character), but it a) isn’t plural, and is therefore different from our first two titles, and b) still doesn’t really say what I want it to say. I like “Remnants,” except then we have two titles that end with the same syllable, and that will bug me to death.

The hard part is not just choosing a cool synonym, but setting the right tone. “Partials” works for the first book because it conveys in one word not just the central science fictional element,but the attitude society has to that element. There are artificial people who are not “full” humans, and thus don’t deserve the same rights and considerations that we do. That arrogance is what ended the world and set up the whole series. Likewise, “Fragments” works for the second because it references not only their society (fragmented by war and dissidents) but the state of the characters (separated and alone) and the driving force of the plot (piecing together the answers to the first book’s questions). Both words mean “something that isn’t whole,” but they mean it in different ways.

What I’m really looking for with the third book is something with the right mix of hope and despair: pieces that are broken apart, but could maybe still be put together into something new and better. “Cells” has a great ring to it, implying both the building blocks of life and the semi-blind units of terrorism. “Bones” has a similar dichotomy, mixing life and death, but I’m not sold on either just yet. This will take some thinking.

And by all means, keep the suggestions pouring in. Just remember the rules of SET.


Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

As I said on Monday, I’m writing a book called EXTREME MAKEOVER: APOCALYPSE EDITION. It’s about a health and beauty company that accidentally develops a cloning technology, and it’s equal parts awesome and bizarre; a very big departure, stylistically, from anything I’ve ever written before. I create a playlist for every book I write, and this time around we ended up with a lot more metal than you would expect a book about cosmetics and cloning to produce, but there you go. In case you want to listen along, here’s what I’m listening to while I write my new book:

1. Pepper, by the Butthole Surfers
This is the core song that helped define the sound of the entire list. I turned to this song first because of the lyric “You never know just how you look through other people’s eyes,” which takes on a pretty cool new dimension in a book about cloning, but as I listened to it again I really fell in love with the distorted guitar part, which has a strange, almost alien sound to it. It gave me the feeling of walking through a bazaar and seeing unfamiliar, unexplainable crap all over the place, and that kind of cultural discomfort is a big part of what I wanted the book to capture.

2. Sabotage, by The Beastie Boys
Yep, I had this on my last playlist as well. What can I say? It’s an awesome song. There’s a particular action scene in the book that I always imagine with this song in the background; I’ll tell you which one some other time.

3. Sweet Emotion, by Aerosmith
One of the central sequences of the book, kind of a massive tentpole that holds up an entire section, is a cosmetics product launch. This scene was incredibly fun to write because I worked for many years at a variety of health and beauty companies, as well as some other non-cosmetics companies, and I helped plan and carry out some product launches. It was a cool balancing act to dust off those marketing skills and write something that was not only a good story, but was also a good corporate event–the speeches, the look and feel, everything. This song gets mentioned as part of that product launch, though this may or may not survive to the published version, depending on copyright issues. I especially love the layers of irony from lyrics like “Talk about things and nobody cares/wearing out things that nobody wears” in context of a corporate beauty event.

4. Gorgeous, by theSTART
theSTART is not a famous band, but if you like awesome music you absolutely need to look them up. I originally had two of their songs on this list, “Gorgeous” and “Death via Satellite,” but when I winnowed the list down to just one song per artist I kept “Gorgeous” for the obvious connection to beauty. It’s a fast-paced–almost recklessly-paced–song about someone being so good looking you can’t help but go nuts over them, and that was a perfect fit for some of the earlier parts of the book.

5. King Nothing, by Metallica
I felt very strongly that I needed some Metallica on here, and for a long time I had “I Disappear” from the Mission Impossible soundtrack. Once I took the time to really look at the other options, though, “King Nothing” was the perfect song for the book because it’s about a man who thinks he has everything, but it all falls apart and he has no one to blame but himself. What better sentiment for a book about destroying the world?

6. Sell Out, by Halfcocked
Halfcocked is another lesser-known band, which is an absolute crime, and now they’ve broken up, which is worse. They wrote the kind of rock songs you didn’t think people wrote anymore, and just like with theSTART I had several of their songs on this list before finally forcing myself to streamline it to one. “Sell Out” is a slower song than the others on the list, which was important for a change of pace, and tells the story of a girl getting ready for a prom; it’s all about beauty, popularity, and self consciousness, which makes it a great fit for the book.

7. Growing Old is Getting Old, by the Silversun Pickups
Obviously my favorite band has to make the list somewhere, and this is my new favorite song of theirs. It starts off slow and gets guitar-warpingly weird by the end, which is a nice mirror of the book’s overall structure. Plus the title is fantastic, tying directly to one of the central questions of cloning: if we can just rebuild ourselves constantly, will we ever die? What does the world do when nobody ever gets old?

8. Busted, by Matchbox 20
Yes, I realize the incongruity of putting Matchbox 20 on a playlist full of hard rock and heavy metal, but it gets worse: I originally had three Matchbox 20 songs on here, and only cut one of them. It’s the only band for which I kept two songs, but they’re both too perfect to miss. “Busted,” for starters, is their heaviest rock song musically, and includes lyrics that speak so perfectly to the book. The chorus repeats the line “The people we become will never be the people who we are,” and then the final verse is about the literal end of the world–not just the end of the world, but the degradation of reality and sanity. And the singer just “sat on my back porch and watched it.” I love it. Fun trivia fact: A portion of this song was, in a very early draft, the epigram for I DON’T WANT TO KILL YOU: “Oh how I want you to know me/Oh how I want you to know me/Oh how I wish I was somebody else.”

9. You And I And I, by Matchbox 20
This is one of their live-only songs, which I got off of Napster way back in the day and have looked for an official version of it ever since. iTunes doesn’t have one, or I’d buy it immediately. First of all, it has that great title, and then thematically it’s a break-up song: it’s about the things that separate us, and the non-physical distances between people who are physically right next to each other.

10. The Sharpest Lives, by My Chemical Romance
Ha, another goth song. I don’t care what you think of me. I love MCR, and I love this song, and on the list it goes.

11. The Man Who Sold The World, the Nirvana Version
This song hits the same theme as “King Nothing,” but in a soft, almost dreamlike way, plus it has some of that “alien bazaar” feel that “Pepper” has. I especially like the idea that the world is already sold, but life goes on, either because nobody knows or because the full implications haven’t come to light yet. And yes, as much as I love David Bowie, the Nirvana version blows me away.

12. Fake Plastic Trees, by Radiohead
Another duplicate from my last playlist, but an absolutely perfect inclusion on this one. The idea of being artificial, of living a fake plastic life, is a huge part of what drew me to tell a story about the beauty industry in the first place.

13. Hey, by the Pixies
I don’t know what to tell you about this one, except that you need to listen to the Pixies. They were a proto-grunge band, the group that inspired Nirvana (and countless others), and “Hey” is my favorite of their songs. The sound of it, and the feel of it, are impossible to duplicate in any other song. If I were to organize this playlist into an actual album, to be listened to in a specific order, this would be the first.

14. Death Day, by Alien Ant Farm
I keep asking why this one’s on here–not because I don’t like it, but because it doesn’t fit the book as closely as the others–and yet I find myself completely unable to remove it from the list. It’s sad, which I love, and slow, which the list needs, and looking back on disaster, which…just seems to fit. There’s a lot that vibe on the playlist, really.

15. The World You Love, by Jimmy Eat World
“Don’t it feel like sunshine after all?/The world we love forever gone./We’re only just as happy as everyone else seems to think we are.” This is the song you listen to when the sun is shining, and maybe the top is down, and you’re just driving away after the end of the world. Or sailing, as the case may be.

What is Dan Working On These Days?

Monday, September 17th, 2012

I post a lot of weird not-really-hints about my current writing projects on Twitter and Facebook, but what, exactly, are my current writing projects? There are a ton, so buckle up.

1) Extreme Makeover: Apocalypse Edition
This is, without doubt, the biggest chunk of my time these days. It’s a modern-day science fiction novel, half about cloning and half about corporate and social satire. If you’ve come to any of my signings or events in the past year or so you’ve heard me talk about it. I’ve had to back-burner it twice due to commitments with the Partials series, and I have now a very brief window between finishing Partials #2 and starting Partials #3, so I’m trying to get it completely finished. It’s a weird, weird, awesome book, and I hope you all love it as much as I do, and I hope I can somehow manage to finish it on time.

By the way: I create playlists for every book I write, and the playlist for MAKEOVER is awesome. I don’t know what, if anything, this music will tell you about the book, but I’ll post it for you later this week with some added commentary.

2) I.E.Demon
This is a short story I’m working on for the “Books for Heroes” anthology, being prepared by George Scott of Peerless Book Store as a part of his Books for Heroes charity, which sends books to men and women in the armed forces. It’s a great cause, and I was delighted to be invited, but my ignorance of military life and terminology is showing. Every story in the anthology is a military thriller of some kind, and despite having zero military background I want to make sure I get the details right. I spent a lot of time getting the story more or less intact, then sent the manuscript to friends and friends-of-friends who’ve actually served in Afghanistan. Their notes, when they come in, will inform the next draft significantly, and then I’ll send the story to some non-military writer friends to refine it further.

3) Unnamed Short Story #1
I’m writing another short for the anothology “The Crimson Pact Volume 5,” the only requirement of which is “put some demons in it somewhere.” I haven’t written anything specific yet, but I want to do something related to I.E.Demon, and maybe expand that world a bit.

4) Unnamed Short Story #2
I have the opportunity to participate in another horror anthology, though this one is still kind of up in the air, so I won’t reveal any details. Suffice it to say that it won’t be about demons or military personnel.

5) Unnamed Novella
I just signed a contract to write a novella for a very cool, very specific venue, which unfortunately I’m under an NDA about so I can’t tell you anything. But it’s awesome, and I’m a big geek.

6) Partials #3
Last of all we come to this, the major project that serves as a deadline to everything else. I have to start outlining this in November, at the latest, and writing it in January, so any of this other stuff I can’t finish in time will get crushed under the mighty treads of the Partials world. Or more likely, I’ll end up writing and editing and polishing several different projects all at once. I’ve never had this much work at one time before, which is awesome but kind of terrifying, because I’m really, really concerned about getting it all done on time. I will, I’m just concerned about it. Who needs sleep anyway?

New Swan Stone

Monday, September 10th, 2012

My family is very efficient with birthdays, holding three of our five children’s birthdays all within a three week span at the end of summer (and another one just a month later). (My 9yo is the only outlier, with a birthday in the Spring, and it drives him nuts to watch every kid but him get presents all at once.) Because two of those end-of-summer birthdays are girls, and because we live within a three-hour driving distance of approximately 5 million castles, we decided to celebrate with a trip to arguably the most famous castle in Europe: Neuschwanstein.

This photo is taken from the Marien Bridge, behind the castle, looking north.

The Disneyland-ness is easier to see from the front. I didn't take this photo.

The odds are good you’ve seen this castle before, at least in pictures. If you haven’t it might still look familiar because the Disneyland castles are overtly based on it, and with good reason: it was specifically designed to look like an amped up, epic version of a “real” medieval castle. Neuschwanstein (which literally means “New Swan Stone” in German, but really means something like “the new castle built in the Swan region”) was built by King Ludwig II, often called Mad King Ludwig because he was forcibly deposed under accusation of insanity. The history of the castle is kind of wacky, but I’ll distill it down for you: this ridiculously picturesque part of southern Germany, right in the foothills of the Alps, was the home of the Swan Knights, and called the region Schwangau (literally: Swan Region. Not a very imaginative name, but there you go). The foothills of the Alps are pretty steep, really just a few hills and then bam, gigantic Alp mountains, and on one of the tallest hills they built a castle, called Hohenschwangau (High Swan Region) because it was way up on a hill.

This used to be called Schwanstein but isn't anymore. I'm getting to that.

That castle eventually fell into disuse, probably because of the sheer difficulty of getting up and down the stupid hill, which had a great view and was amazingly defensible but was kind of far away from water and food and the people they were ostensibly supposed to protect. On a smaller hill below it, near two of the three lakes in the region, they built another castle called Schwanstein (Swan Stone).

Fast forward about 600 years, in the mid 1800s, when the various little kingdoms in the region have coalesced into a handful of larger ones, and Schwangau is now a part of Bavaria. King Maximilian II is supposed to live in Munich, the Bavarian seat of power, but he lives in Schwangau because come on, look at it, and his eldest son Ludwig had a perfect view out his window of the old Hohenschwangau ruins–except that somehow, in the intervening 600 years, the castles had switched names, so the “high” castle was now the low one, where Ludwig lived, and the ruins he became obsessed with were now called Schwanstein. When Maximilian died and Ludwig became King Ludwig II, one of his first orders of business was to tear down the Schwanstein ruins and build what he called “a real medieval castle,” which is a weird way of putting it because the castle he tore down already was medieval, and the one he built had running water and electricity. (This is, in its own way, another point of influence for Disney: a sanitization of the past to create a more easily-digestible version for modern audiences.) Ludwig was a wildly romantic person, obsessed with fairy tales and legends and larger-than-life drama (one of his best friends was Richard Wagner), and the castles he built were specifically designed to be fairy tales. For example: when the old Schwanstein was replaced with the New-Schwanstein (see where they got the name?), it contained an artificial cave accessed through a secret door off the king’s private chambers.

Except it was a king's private cave, so it was wired with electrical mood lighting.

And then, of course, Ludwig was declared insane. And the thing is, he may or may not have actually been insane; eccentric, certainly, but nothing pathological. What really happened is that he was deposed by the kingdom’s other leaders, who were sick of him and wanted him out of the way. Why? The first impulse is to assume that he was wildly building castles and opera houses and goodness knows what else–which is true–and in doing so bankrupted the country–which is not. Everything he built, and there was a TON of it, he paid for out of pocket, without once touching the kingdom’s coffers. More likely he was demonized for suspicions of homosexuality, and this theory makes a little more sense because his journals, revealed after his death, show that he actually was a homosexual, so: suspicions confirmed. In life he was super bestest friends with Richard Wagner, who was openly and ecstatically bisexual, so of course that didn’t help Ludwig’s reputation, and then there was his suspicious refusal to get married, which set a lot of tongues a-wagging. What angered his advisors more than anything, however, was not his orientation or or his spending but his single-minded obsession with building more stuff; not because he couldn’t afford it, but because he ignored everything else during a pretty amazingly tumultuous period of German and European history (including, but not limited to, the dissolution of his kingdom as a sovereign nation–that’s kind of a big deal). He designed so many buildings that eventually his architects just gave up making them feasible because they knew he would never have the time or support to actually build them. Bavaria needed a leader, and instead they had a fanatical fairy-tale fanboy obsessed with dressing entire mountain ranges in medieval cosplay. He only lived in Neuschwanstein 170 days (the interior wasn’t even completed) before he was dragged away, incarcerated, and died under incredibly mysterious circumstances: maybe an assassination, or an escape attempt, or a psychotic break, or some combination of all three.

In the end, Neuschwanstein is a whole bunch of paradoxes all jumbled together: it’s a newer version of a castle that it isn’t actually named after. It’s a “real” medieval castle that isn’t remotely medieval, and which destroyed a real medieval one as part of its creation. It’s the proto-typical princess castle and yet never housed a princess. It’s a the dream home of a man who only barely lived in it. It was considered a money pit for decades, yet today it’s one of the most lucrative tourist attractions in the country. It stands now as an emblem of an age it never came from, an ideal so empty they didn’t even have to move anything when they built a giant gift shop inside of it.

One last thing I want to mention: in the photo at the top you can kind of see some weird stuff around the edges of the castle. That’s scaffolding, as the whole thing is currently being restored, piece by piece. This final photo is a view of the back side of the castle, looking up from the trail:

How Many Books Will You Read Before You Die?

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

A few weeks ago I posted a formula on Facebook, calculating how many books you’ll read before you die. I’ve been getting some questions about it, so I thought I’d put it here so there’s a permanent link where people can find it. I heard this formula at the World Horror Convention in Brighton, England, from Scott Edelman, who got it from…I can never remember. He said it on a panel, and it’s haunted me ever since, and now it can haunt you.

I’ve simplified the formula a bit for maximum mathiness:
B = the number of books you read in a month
A = your current age
Y = your life expectancy
(Y-A)xBx12 = the number of books you’ll read before you die

So, for example, let’s say you’re me: I’m 35, I read about three books a month, and I’m from Utah (I currently live in Germany, but I just got here, so I’m going to use the Utah number). The American Human Development Project estimates the life expectancy of a Utahn at 80.1 years, which gives us:

(80.1-35)x3x12 = 1623.6 books

For worldwide life expectancy stats, based on country, use this table instead. I used the state-based one because I knew that Utah has a much higher life expectancy than the national average, which is 78.2 (and which drops all the way to 75.6 if you break it down by gender. Men always live noticeably shorter than women, on average). Using the worst possible estimate, 75.6, my number drops to 1461.6.

I was going to round 1623.6 down to 1623, because the thought of dying halfway through a book is pretty depressing, but the more I think about it, the thought of giving up before I reach the end is even more depressing, so I’ll leave the 0.6 on there. I will die with a book in my hand. But even this number isn’t super accurate, because today is not my birthday and I am not, therefore, exactly 35–I’m actually just a few days off of 35.5, which would give me (using the Utah data) 1605.6. I lost 17 books! Have I read those 17 books in the last six months? I’m not sure, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. Maybe my estimate of books per month is too high. If I drop it to two books per month my total becomes 1070.4. Ouch.

We could go on like this all day, tweaking the data, but consider two important things:
1) The number is not exact, and is not intended to be. The point is to give you a general idea of how many books you have left.
2) The only meaningful tweak you can make to the data is to read more books. Living healthier, moving to a country with a higher life expectancy; none of that will change the data as much as just reading one extra book per month.

Actually, consider one more important thing: the only possible reason for putting yourself through this grim mathematical ordeal is to scare yourself, not just into reading more books, but into reading good books. 1623.6 seems like a lot of books, and it’s certainly more than I have in my Goodreads library thus far, but…it’s finite. It seems obvious in hindsight, but I’d never really considered that there was an upper limit on my reading–I want to read everything. But unless I change my habits a bit I’ve only got 1623.6 books left. So yes, by all means, read more books and raise that number, but here’s the even bigger take-away for me: don’t waste any of those precious slots on lame books. Life is too short to force yourself to finish a book you don’t like. Whatever criteria you use, (I usually give a book two chapters before I give up, unless it’s been recommended by a trusted source), as soon as you know a book’s just not doing it for you, drop it and grab another one. Ever since I learned this formula I’ve been an aggressive book-dropper, and I’ve found that not only do I read a lot more, I enjoy the books I actually read a lot more than before. I’m reading more books, and better books, and a wider variety of books, because I’m always searching for my new favorite thing.

After all, if I still have more than half of my reading life ahead of me, the odds are good that my favorite book, and maybe my favorite genre, is something I haven’t even encountered yet.

The 2012 Hugo Awards: It’s Okay To Be A Fan

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

The 2012 Hugo Awards have been announced, and you can see the winners here. Congratulations to everyone! There aren’t a ton of surprises here, but there are some interesting picks and a pretty clear trend of “fans voting for fandom.” That’s not a huge surprise, since fandom is what WorldCon, and to some degree the Hugos themselves, are all about, but the “It’s Okay To Be A Fan” mentality was higher this year than I’ve ever seen it, thanks in large part to books like Jo Walton’s AMONG OTHERS, the winner for Best Novel, which is by, for, and about science fiction fandom.

By the way, if you don’t know how the Hugo balloting process works, I did a detailed explanation of the process last year, and I suggest you go read it, but here’s the details in brief: Each voter ranks the nominees in order, assigning one to first place, one to second, and so on, including one slot for No Award. (The No Award slot is a way of saying “these works or people might be good, but they’re not goo enough to win a Hugo.” It’s one of the most important aspects of the Hugo voting system, and I should write an impassioned defense of it one of these days.) Once the ballots are cast, the system looks at all the first place winners for a category, drops the lowest, and adds those voters’ second place picks to the other voters’ first place picks. Then it drops the lowest and redistributes thosevoters second place votes, and so on until there’s only one nominee left, who wins. It’s a good system that gives the award to the most popular work, but which sometimes functions counter-intuitively, such as last year when BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR won best novel based on its second place votes rather than its first place votes. This year we saw a similar situation with the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, which Brad Torgersen had locked up at first, but which eventually went to E. Lily Yu when the other nominees’ voters were redestributed. The most-voted nominee won, but not necessarily in the way you expected. It’s a good idea to brush up on how the system works before you vote again next year; somebody remind me to do another write-up about that.

Anyway, let’s look at some specific results. The Hugos are awesome because they release full statistics for every category, and you can find them all here in a pdf; click that link and refer to it as we go along. The first thing I want you to do is scroll about 2/3 of the way down (page 20 of 28) to look at the nominations. This year had the second-highest number of voters and nominators ever, down slightly from last year, with 1101 nominations made. That’s not very many. Note that it only took 71 nominations to get on the ballot for Best Novel, and only 36 to clinch a nomination for short story. Everyone attending the convention, and everyone who attended the previous year, gets to nominate for the awards, so please, take this responsibility seriously. Your nomination matters. Look at that list of nominated books, and some of the amazing books that didn’t quite make it. READY PLAYER ONE, one of the biggest SF books of the year, missed it by six votes, possibly because its legions of fans just assumed someone else would nominate it. Vernor Vinge, who many people considered an absolute lock for the Best Novel win, missed the nomination by ten votes.

The reason I’m harping on nominations so much is because the numbers prove, in almost every category, that the nomination rankings are completely different than the final vote rankings; that is to say, the most popular nominees are rarely the most popular winners. Take a look at the nominations for Best Related Work (page 22), which is where I was nominated for Writing Excuses. The most popular nominee, with 52 votes, was ineligible; after that, the two biggest nominees were Writing Excuses and Jar-Jar Binks Must Die, tied with 47. Now scroll up to the actual voting (page 7) and you’ll see that those two came in at a solid fourth and fifth place. THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION scored a massive 603 votes, despite squeaking onto the ballot with a mere 34 nominations. What is happening is this: the nominations are made by dedicated fans, but the voting is done by the full spectrum of con attendees. Most of those voters had never seen or heard of any of the nominees before they were nominated–the fans got their favorite thing onto the ballot, and then the voters looked at all five and picked the best. That is good, because that’s exactly what the ballot is for. If you want something to be noticed, you have to spreadĀ  the word early and get it nominated, so that a wider range of people can see it and vote for it. THE WISE MAN’S FEAR by Pat Rothfuss received only 49 Best Novel nominations, but had it actually made it on the ballot would have gotten hundreds of votes. Nominating matters, is what I’m saying, so when next year rolls around, nominate your favorite works. Even better, start talking about your favorite works now so that people have time to read them and love them as much as you do, and can start spreading the word themselves. Here, I’ll start: THE MIRAGE, by Matt Ruff, is the best science fiction novel of the year so far, and I’ll be very surprised if I find anything better in the remaining four months. Go read it, love it, and tell all your friends.

Now let’s look at the actual winners. AMONG OTHERS by Jo Walton is one of the few winners which was also the highest-nominated in its category. My personal favorite was DEADLINE by Mira Grant, but if I were a betting man I would have bet my entire life savings on AMONG OTHERS–and I would have gotten horrible odds for it, since everybody and their dog could see it was a huge populist favorite from before it was even published. A friend of mine called it “Blatant pandering to SF nostalgia,” and whatever the positive version of that is, I agree; I don’t think it’s “pandering,” I think it’s the “It’s Okay To Be A Fan” mentality that swept the entire ballot this year. AMONG OTHERS is a book about a girl who doesn’t fit in and finds solace in reading science fiction, and it’s a thinly-veiled biography of the author only in the sense that it’s a thinly-veiled biography of 90% of the Hugo voters. It was written by a fan, about a fan, specifically for the fandom. We could see ourselves reflected in it, plus it was really good, and those two together made it an easy winner.

The Best Related Work category, which we’ve already discussed, was another fandom win, with THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION blowing its competition away. The Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form winner I’m also going to claim as a fandom win, because THE GAME OF THRONES TV show was a huge breakout hit that took “our” golden boy George R.R. Martin and made him even more massively popular with the rest of the world: It’s Okay To Be A Fan. The winner of Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form was a fandom win because it was essentially fan fiction: Neil Gaiman writing official Doctor Who fan fiction, yes, but fan fiction nonetheless. (Christopher Garcia’s acceptance speech from last year being nominated as a Dramatic Presentation this year is further proof that the “we love fandom” theme was well-represented.) The “Best Fan X” awards are all obviously fandom wins as well, but I want to single out Best Fancast because it went to the Squeecast, which is a bunch of professional authors getting together to rave about their favorite genre books and movies. It’s Okay To Be A Fan.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the awards this year. The first and most pleasing thing to me is that Seanan McGuire (writing both under her own name and Mira Grant) garnered four nominations, the most ever in a single year by a woman in the history of the awards. It’s a record that’s been too long coming, but I’m delighted (and not the least bit surprised) that Seanan is the one who set it. She won one of her four categories, for the Squeecast, and I’m sure she’ll do horrible, world-destroying things with her cool new rocket statue.

Also pleasing to me, believe it or not, is the fact that so many of our most famous authors–some of whom are good friends–did not win. John Scalzi’s short story, “Shadow War of the Night Dragons, etc. etc. etc.” was hilarious, and John is great, but the fact that he, as inarguably the most famous nominee, did not win, is a testament to the integrity of the awards. The single most common complaint about the Hugos (and, to be fair, about almost every award ever) is that people just vote for their friends, or for the name they recognize, but this year the voters proved that they actually read the nominated works, weigh their decisions, and vote for the one they like the best. In a similar way, I was pleased by the way that super-famous names did not rest on their laurels and rely on their fame to carry them even when they could have. Everyone knew Neil Gaiman’s Doctor Who episode would win, because the mere combination of Neil Gaiman and Doctor Who is like a black hole of awesome from which no vote can escape. To put it bluntly, that episode won the Hugo the day it was announced, before anyone had even seen it, essentially regardless of its actual quality, and Gaiman and Moffat could have phoned the whole thing in and still walked away with a trophy. But to their enormous credit they took it seriously, and produced a genuinely excellent piece of art, and while I think this is awesome it is not surprising: the only way Gaiman and Moffat have built the kind of reputation that can win awards through name recognition alone is by consistently turning out excellent work, day after day after day. Their win was an obvious gimme, but it was still deserved.

So yes, I think the awards are great this year. No, my picks didn’t win in every category, and no, I personally didn’t win either. Again. But I’ve been nominated for two Hugo awards in two years, and the little Danny Wells who used to live in the library and read every SF book he could get his hands on still can’t quite believe that. From the time I was a kid the Hugo has been a sign of quality to me, a clear marker that This Book Is Worth Your Time. It was also, not to put too fine a point on it, a clear sign that It’s Okay To Be A Fan. Just like everybody else I saw myself in that little girl from AMONG OTHERS, reading voraciously not just because the books were great, but because they were mine. Because reading them made me a part of something bigger. Now that I’m older (but not really “grown up”) I’m still a part of that, and I pinch myself every day because it feels too good to be true. Thank you to everyone who writes these stories and creates this art, and thank you to everyone who celebrates and promotes it through their votes, their blogs, their Recommended Reading shelves, and their tireless efforts.

It’s not just Okay to be a fan, it’s Awesome.