- Saladin Ahmed, The Throne of the Crescent Moon (reviewed it when it came out in 2012 and thought it was a good first novel)
- Lois McMaster Bujold, Captain Vorpatil's Alliance (sampled one of her Hugo-nominated novels about a decade ago, thought it was dreck, so no interest in reading/reviewing this)
- Mira Grant (Seanan McGuire), Blackout (third in a trilogy; the first I thumbed through, found it to be SOS-level story elements with writing that was rather underwhelming, so also no interest in reading/reviewing this)
- John Scalzi, Redshirts (again, have thumbed through some Scalzi books sent to me over the years as review copies, found none of them to be interesting enough to read more than a few chapters, so also no reading/reviewing this)
- Kim Stanley Robinson, 2312 (I've actually been meaning to buy this book for a while and I have enjoyed some of his writings – while finding others to be flawed conceptually as well as at a structural level – so this will be the other one that I'll be reading/reviewing).
When I think about genre fiction at the novel level (again, I leave aside commenting on other categories due to relative ignorance), I find this disconnect between what is "fresh" and "challenging" and with what garners award nominations. It's been said by divers people over the past half-decade or more that awards like the Hugos and Nebulas in particular (and to a lesser extent, the BSFA and Clarke Awards) have engaged in a sort of "fan service" in that works that address certain fan preconceptions (and yes, this can also apply to some juried and author association awards) of what a "genre" novel should be. There are the nudge-nudge-wink-wink-say-no-more! asides to kitschy pop culture (zombies, references to Star Trek, Star Wars, or anything "geek"-related) that do little more than just reaffirm certain tastes. I cannot help but wonder if in a generation, these "geek"-centered stories will have gone the way of leisure suits, eight-tracks, and disco balls and are viewed as shorthand for an embarrassing pop cultural moment. There certainly is very little to recommend most of these tales to any generation beyond a certain subset of the 40-65 year-old pale crowd.
Oh, doubtless some will counter this by noting the "diversity" of the nominations in other categories and to some extent this may be true. Yet for those who want to equate some of the writers today with Joanna Russ or Samuel Delany (just to name two of several women and non-white writers from the 1960s and 1970s – and later), I'm going to ask this question: which works challenge directly the social "conventions" of this day and age? Is there a rougher, less concerned with "niceties" group of writers on these ballots that question the direction of SF/F and the values present within those stories? Granted, one does not have to have a "political" message in order to be different, but if "diversity" is used to reference only the skin color or gender of the writer and not the stories that they write, then might there be an issue here beyond the typical mass fan votes tend to celebrate the "safe" and "conventional" at the expense of daring to say something different, something that might irritate people?
I do not know the answers to this question, but it is a question that I think should be asked whenever awards such as the Hugos announce their shortlists. If there is an uniformity to the stories and the approaches toward telling them (leaving aside the "genre" tag), then there runs the risk of such awards becoming not the celebration of "the best" but rather of "the most conventional" and "safe to market." That I fear has actually been the case for some time now and may continue to be so until the recent "geek" rage has receded in social consciousness and writers and fans alike feel the need to try something different.