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More today on Michael A. Burstein, who’s been nominated 10 times for a Hugo but never won. Just achieving the nomination shows he was a very popular author during these years. His nominations include the short story category, which requires at least 5% of the cast nominations in order to appear on the ballot. So what’s the problem? What was he missing that would have put him over the top?

Burstein has the requirements to write good hard SF. He’s a physicist and a graduate of the Clarion Workshops. He’s a thinker, and structures his stories around ideas. Besides his Hugo nominations, he won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1997 and received three Nebula nominations. But interestingly, I found one review that says Burstein favors “colorless” prose. The reviewer suggested this was in the style of earlier, traditional hard SF writers, such as, presumably, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, etc. Is colorless prose one of the requirements to write hard SF? Is it one of the requirements to be published in Analog?

What does it mean to have “color” in prose, anyway? Checking around, I find definitions like “to paint a picture with words,” or “to involve all the senses in your prose.” This has to do with characterization and description, in other words. It means the writer has spent a bit of time in presenting the setting and the characters so we have a mental picture of who’s who and where they are.

It’s true the most beloved authors from hard SF were trained on the technical writing side rather than the literary side, but with the entry of MFA’s into the SF market, the standards for writing style have changed. In 2004 Vernor Vinge got away with fairly colorless prose, but in 2005 Burstein didn’t. Instead, he lost to Mike Resnick’s little romance that gives us a endearing picture of Miss Priscilla Wallace and her two cats draped across Ethan’s porch swing. Colorful prose is now the norm for SF writing–and for the awards. It’s what everyone expects to read.

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