The Locus of Our Discontent.

Huh. Will you look at that.

Turns out Locus did a reader’s survey of the best SF and Fantasy novels of the 20th and 21st  Centuries (discussion ongoing over at Tor.com). Let us gloss over the fact that the 21st Century isn’t quite done yet, which kind of weakens the relative weight of that list’s winners; let us dwell instead on the happy fact that Blindsight squeaked into the Top Five (actually tying in raw votes with Altered Carbon by my friend and fellow Crytek-survivor Richard Morgan, although the weighting algorithm put me a little bit ahead in the final score).

I have no idea who did this, but it's fucking awesome. Also kinda seasonal.

What I find personally interesting about this poll is that the 21st-Century part of it echoes another one Tor put out last year (although Tor, more modestly, described their people’s choices as the best SFF of the decade) — a poll in which Blindsight got the #4 spot. Of course, that poll combined fantasy and SF into a single list; and I note that two of the fantasy novels that beat me on the Tor poll (American Gods and The Name of the Wind) also got more raw votes than I did in the Locus poll (and the third fantasy that outvoted Blindsight in the Locus poll — Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell — came in only three spots below Blindsight on the Tor list).

The top SF novel in both polls, of course, was Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, which I think is contractually obligated to come in at the top of any such list until its copyright expires.

Of course, such direct comparisons are pretty weightless. Folks eyeing separate SF and Fantasy lists are likely to allocate their votes differently than when smushing both genres into the same tally, and neither poll would pass peer-review in the Journal of Statistical Analysis anyway. Still, I seem to remember that I sent out a clarion call on Blindsight’s behalf back in 2011, whereas I didn’t know this Locus poll even existed until after it was over. And yet I ended up at pretty much the same spot on both lists (even the raw vote count was similar: 251 vs. 221). Which means at least one of two things:

  1. Blindsight has enough of a profile to make the finals even absent a campaign on its behalf; and/or
  2. Nobody listens to me when I explicitly ask for their votes.

Both results are gifts, of a sort. One makes me feel good about my book; the other keeps me humble.

Everyone have a terrific Christmas. See you on the other side.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Monday December 24 2012at 10:12 am , filed under writing news . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

13 Responses to “The Locus of Our Discontent.”

  1. Same to you.
    3. Your readers listen exceptionally well, Google Alerts- [Blindsight] [Peter Watts].I of course did not do that up until this moment so my thought comes uselessly after the fact. A future application hopefully.

  2. My goodness. I rise from the depth to claim responsibility for that image and cannot put into words how chuffed I am to find it here. (Much more so with ‘fucking awesome’ attached to it – thank you very much, it’s all too kind.)

    I have a larger copy in which discrepancies are easier to spot:
    http://i.imgur.com/GVBHT.jpg

    The original file is much larger and buried somewhere among other files of similar nature.

    It’s not tinsel wrapped feelers – which I feel would look better – but it might do for this year:
    http://i.imgur.com/CAFVI.jpg

    Thank you, and have the best possible Christmas.

  3. Um, am I missing something. How does “Old Man’s War” even make this list? It seemed like a hideously amoral Heinleinian fantasy romp, with smart phones. A couple of gestures towards self-awareness weren’t followed up… or is that unforgivability the joke?

    Anyway, congratulations and well deserved.

  4. On Peter’s recommendation (I think it’s a recommendation), I just amazoned a copy of Scalzi’s book.

    @Paul Harrison: Recently, as a former Gothic type person, I was astonished to be informed by one of my longtime online friends who is both deep into Fandom and the environs of the US military, that the band Cruxshadows was apparently very popular indeed among certain classes of the deployed. I didn’t get it. I mean, they’re an okay band but I would neither walk into nor walk out of any dance pub where it was being played by the DJ. I couldn’t see the attraction. But my friend helpfully posted some blocks of lyric text and pointed out that if you’re strapped in a chair in a technical bunker, waiting for orders to drop the sky onto the heads of some unsuspecting tribesmen, and you’re having an existential crisis in between moments of activity, quite likely the thoughts you’re having are already well expressed in the music in the earbuds, provided that it’s Cruxshadows playing.

    I thought he was having me on, then I recalled having been at some triple-bill show where Cruxshadows was one of the acts (I was there for Das Ich), and I recalled having wondered why all of the skinheads were at the show, as I couldn’t think of which of the bands could possibly have attracted them, and that club was not exactly skinhead territory. It seems they weren’t skins after all, but rather were military, not in uniform but not exactly wearing wigs to hide their haircuts.

    A lot of “civilian” readers think that “Starship Troopers” is rank fascism piled deep upon militaristic crap. Some literati rank Haldeman’s “Forever War” up there with the best of Sartre and Camus as a work of Existentialism capturing the absurdity and horror of war and military life. Yet both works are doted on by veterans and often by enlisted and pre-enlistment personnel alike. “Speaks to me,” is a common refrain. Maybe Scalzi does the same, hence the popularity.

  5. Congrats on making the list!

  6. I’m not convinced OMW can be reduced to that, particularly considering it’s part of a series. There’s more of a sense of “doing what we have to do so others don’t do it to us first” which is further confirmed throughout the series, and it even gets resolved in the end in a manner of speaking.

    Spoiler:
    In the end, the UN-like organisation that gets built, though unlike our UN with real force behind it, makes the constant warfare unnecessary, and it even requires betraying one’s own military and government for the sake of something greater than species interest.

  7. @Ki:

    Yeah, “fucking awesome” just about covers it. I’ve grabbed the larger files — it’s too late to use them in a Christmas post, but I’m using one as my wallpaper as we speak.

    If you’ve poked around elsewhere in the long-abandoned web 1.0 parts of this site, you may know I keep a gallery of artwork related to my fiction. That gallery is as moribund as all the other wings right now, but relatively early in the new year I hope to update the whole damn site in anticipation of Echopraxia’s release. Would you mind if I included ol’ Space Scrambler in the gallery at that point? If so, does “Ki” suffice for attribution or is there another name you’d rather I use? (Feel free to mail me off-list if you’d rather.)

  8. I’m going to stand up for Old Man’s War too. There seems to be a school of thought, particularly in academia, that “great literature” must A) be rooted in themes from Classical Greece and B) deeply depressing. OMW is mllitary / space opera, which isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it has more depth to it than is at first apparent.

    Having said that, I expect that in say 2030 OMW will have dropped out of the top ten, while Blindsight will still be in contention.

  9. I didn’t mind Old Man’s War, but found it terribly fast-food in nature. Scalzi’s a damn clever writer at his best, but plays it safer than I’d like. No doubt I’d do the same if I needed to pay the mortgage with my writing.

    At least OMW’s not actively evil in its worldview, which is more than you can say about some MilSF.

  10. Re: Scalzi: OMW does what it does and does it very well, which is give the reader a SF iteration on the ordinary material of human relationships and day-to-day struggles. As this is what makes a novel readable, one can hardly fault Scalzi for that</i Where my criticism would lie is with the tone—something which attaches to Scalzi's writing generally. Take his blog: I quite like it, and when he riffs off a serious topic, there's no better reading. However, its tweeness can drive me to distraction if I look at it too often. Similarly, OMW deals with big issues—a war of survival between humanity and its alien cognates—but does so in a manner that would have one believe that the war is being fought by a bunch of boy scouts out for merit badges. What I’d like from this scenario is some psychological penetration into the psychological horror that such a situation would visit on its protagonists. And this, precisely, is what I get from Peter’s fiction that I don’t get from Scalzi’s. Naturally, this is merely an expression of personal taste, and, given Mr Scalzi’s position as the king of every list, no doubt a minority one.

  11. I am looking forward to the Scalzi with increasing anticipation. And for Echopraxia as well, of course.

    What I really like about Peter Watts characters, having read mostly some of the shorts/semi-shorts on the website-v1.0 and Blindsight and the first two “Rifters” titles, is that he writes characters that are both deeply complex and generally pretty messed up, in psychology if not necessarily in their personal history. He makes them work, in my humble opinion, both in their own contexts and to some degree the context around themselves. Still a bit of a divided mind about Sarasti as I think he was both under-used in the plot, and left as pretty much a cypher in terms of his internal psychology, which is probably both narratively useful and in real life would be good, given what he is. Yet all sort of other characters are seriously fucked up by our standards, yet in their own context they seem to fit. I’m not sure if the talent is needed most in creating complex fouled-up characters, the context in which they can be more or less functional, or making it all believable.

    I’ll leave out of the heaping-on-of-praise after noting that the neuro and prosthetic and network tech elements are a big attraction, too.

    Yet as noted elsewhere, other writers have done really fine writing on the technical and/or general cultural elements, and populated the literary terrain with characters that are almost outrageously shallow, or are complex enough but don’t make much sense regarding their own ostensible history or their technical/cultural surround. Peter’s strange characters fit in their strange worlds, perhaps not well nor happily, but they make sense to the context depicted. That’s hard to pull off, even if you know exactly what you’re trying to do, which some writers seemingly don’t (mea culpa).

  12. It’s a reflection of the readership. The average age of sci fi readers has gone from 15-year-olds in the last century to, ehem, *mature* men this century, so a book like Old Man’s War, a fantasy for old men, has better traction.

  13. OMW reads like a retread of Heinlein, and really wasn’t too impressive. I have read the sequels deconstructed Heinlein tropes, but I really can’t work up the motivation to trawl through them. We can at least be glad Scalzi didn’t borrow too much from Heinlein. God forbid I ever read another novel where the protagonist sleeps with his mother and portrays it as an acceptable event.

    I’m not surprised at Blindsight’s performance. Aside from how goddamned good it was to read, and the impact it had on me, it has gained a lot of traction with the sci fi forums I read, to the point where it is pretty much the staple recommendation for anyone asking for recent sci fi novels to read.