Hugos, Hardcovers, and E-books

The last time I read a Hugo-nominated book in time to vote for it was 1997. I read three of five that year, including the winner Blue Mars, by Stanley Robinson. My vote had been for Holy Fire, by Bruce Sterling. While I liked Blue Mars, it bored me a little while Holy Fire grabbed hold of me and would not let go. Starplex, by Robert J. Sawyer, was the third one I’d read, and while it was interesting, it didn’t really do much for me. So, if I liked two out of three, why don’t I read the Hugo nominees every year?

Because to read them in time to vote means reading them in hardcover.

That hasn’t always been true. A few times the publishing schedules would work out so that the paperbacks came out in time to be read over the summer, but often enough, they came out too late to do me any good. Certainly, I’ve gone back and read a few, years later, but not in time to be part of the Hugo decision.

So, what do I have against hardcovers?

Most people would say cost, but that wasn’t it for me. I’m hardly made out of money, but a book provides hours of entertainment, and on the dollars-per-hour scale, even hardcovers do better than a trip to the movies.

No, for me it’s the qualities of the physical format.

  • I don’t like the actual hardness of the cover. It makes it harder for me to grip.
  • I don’t like the larger size. It’s hard to take with me, so it stays by the bed.
  • I don’t like the weight. It makes it hard to hold in bed or closer than my lap when sitting.
  • I don’t like the art jacket. The book is always slipping out of it, and it’s always getting torn, unlike the sturdier art-surfaces of paperback covers.


All in all, my reading enjoyment is seriously impaired by the physical qualities of a hardcover book. More than once, I said I’d be willing to pay a hardcover premium for an early-release paperback, but no one ever did. So I slogged along, waiting for the paperbacks. In the rare cases when I simply could not wait, I struggled through the hardcover, but it was always with the intent that someday I would replace it with a paperback in case I wanted to reread it.

Then, last year, I bought a Kindle. As I explained before, my reading experience on my Kindle is as good as a paperback, and in some ways, it’s even better. It’s light, durable, and small. It rests comfortably in my hand, and it goes places where even paperbacks were left behind.

So now I find myself looking at first-run e-books, and instead of squawking at their high cost, I recognize that they have finally provided me with a chance to pay that hardcover premium for an early-release paperback. I no longer have to wait a year to get the book in a format I enjoy reading. I can get it now at the click of a button.

So with no small irony, I realize that next year’s Hugo awards will be given out in San Antonio, at the first WorldCon I’ll be attending in over a decade, and once again, I’ll have a chance to vote on the Hugo award for best novel. The books that will be on that ballot are coming out this year, and thanks to my little Kindle, I could be reading them right now!

So, what are they going to be? I know Scalzi has a new book out called Redshirts, somewhere between military SF and Star Trek spoof. David Brin has been pushing a first contact novel titled Existence. Iain Banks has a new Culture novel out, and Jim Butcher will be releasing the next Dresden Files novel later this fall!  (Ahem, please pardon the fan-boy squee.)

What book are you dying to read this year, even at first-run prices?