The OF Blog: Judging the Hugo Finalists Part I: Cover Art

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Judging the Hugo Finalists Part I: Cover Art

Since 2008 is a Presidential Election year here in the U.S., I have decided that I'm going to examine the Hugo Award finalists for Best Novel according to some of the strict criteria that American voters apply to their Presidential candidates. So first, I shall look at it from the viewpoint of which finalist's cover art looks most "Hugo-like."

Ian McDonald, Brasyl.

McDonald's cover art has some good features - it is dark, with "cool" purples and other neon-like effects highlighting the "differentness" of his view of mid-21st century Brazil. There are vehicles moving around, which is always a plus, but he might take a hit for there not being any rocket ships or guns on display. While some might argue that the helicopter-like things gives a sense of air and perhaps even space transport, it isn't quite phallic enough in appearance to compensate for the lack of cone-like projectile transports. The overall appearance is pleasing to the eyes, but it might be downgraded in the eyes of some Hugo voters because of the lack of the aforementioned "Hugo accessories."

Charles Stross, Halting State.

At first glance, Stross's cover might appear to be too "simple" and blocklike. However, judging based on past Hugo covers, the cover art for Halting State does give a sense of distance and yearning that some Hugo voters might find appealing. If one stares at the image long enough, one can detact just the barest hint of a cone-like projectile arising, which ought to meet the phallic vision test. Furthermore, there is a block-like entity in the foreground above the title which might be a play on Arthur C. Clarke's famous monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. In a year in which SF fans are mourning the death of Sir Arthur, it might be a providential stroke of luck that could prove to be the difference.

John Scalzi, The Last Colony.

Scalzi has long been a favorite of the WorldCon crowd, having won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer a few years ago. But with the cover art for The Last Colony, Scalzi might have found the recipe for insuring himself of a high finish in the Hugo voting. There are spaceships! Spaceships, I tell ya! All in this image! Plus there is more than just the requisite phallic imagery rising prominently, but there looks to be some sort of battle going on! What Hugo voter steeped in the genre's past couldn't look at Scalzi's cover art and think how favorably it looks compared to the previous great Hugo winners? This perhaps might be the most "Hugo-like" of all of the covers displayed here, but only time shall tell, no?

Robert J. Sawyer, Rollback.

Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer has won multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards before for his work, but some voters might be divided based on this cover art. Sure, the huge gear-laden watch-like thing in the background looks cool, especially with the black backdrop, and perhaps the fuzzy humanoid in the foreground is intriguing in his/her/its vagueness, but where are the rockets? Where are the other hints of gadgetry that might make the reader stare at the cover for a long length of time and perhaps influence his/her vote? This is a rather bland cover and for those voters who are swayed by the images in their head, Sawyer's cover art might prove to be too bland to make a lasting impression on the Hugo voters.

Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen's Union.

Sure, sure. We all know that Chabon has won a crapload of awards for his writing over the past few years and that he won the Nebula and Sidewise Award for this particular book. So while those who hold stock in things such as prosery and actual storytelling talent might be enamored with Chabon, those Hugo voters who take the time to judge the book carefully by its cover are going to take one glance at this and go, "Missile Command? In 2008?" But a further glance will show even a lack of any real cone-like projectiles that could serve to offset the first impressions of this cover. For those astute Hugo voters voting on the basis of the cover art, Chabon's likely would finish around the bottom, with even "No Award" giving it a run for its money.

And there you go, possible ways of judging this year's finalists based on the cover art alone. Later in the week, there'll be at least one more judging of the finalists based on other criteria. Hope this gave you food for thought.


Kristen said...

But... which candidate stands tallest on the bookshelf?

Lsrry said...

Chabon and McDonald I have in hardcover, the others in MMPB (gah!) or in the case of the Scalzi, not at all, so...

The first two? :P

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Good idea :) Of course, the McCain's of the SFF world would say that you can't actually let a book win that is popular among the voters :O That's not how democracy works. That's like being a Nazi...

Which is the One, though? Hmm. I think you're right with the Scalzi, actually :) I've heard that if Charlie Stross wins again, they're going to change the rules after the contest has closed... but a major SFF award wouldn't do that, would they?

Forgive the over-dose of irony ;) I linked to you, by the way, in reference to why I now hate Carlos Ruiz Zafon...

The Book Swede

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