Hugo Follow-up and Other Book Items

September 26, 2010

One thing I like about the Hugo awards is that they release the complete voting and nomination results–see them here. This particular year I think it’s interesting to see that the top two novels started out in a tie, shifted around a little bit as others were eliminated, and then ended in a tie again. It felt like justice was done, as both The City & The City and The Windup Girl are deserving winners.

(If you haven’t looked at the process before, basically each round the lowest-ranked candidate is eliminated and the votes are recounted for the ones that are left, until one gets over 50%)

I think you can also see fan-base voting in the numbers. Sawyer, for example, got a lot of first-place votes, but he didn’t go up very much in the subsequent rounds, meaning that he didn’t get as many high rankings from the other voters. There’s kind of a similar effect for Scalzi in the novella category and for Stross in novelette. Which doesn’t mean they aren’t good, just that opinions are divided on them.

Also, I said something about Dr. Who splitting votes in the short-form drama category, but in this voting system, as long as the Dr. Who fans vote all three of their choices on top, the split doesn’t hurt them and they still win.

Nomination counts I think also give an indicator of fan-base and of what people were reading when there wasn’t an award at stake.

Last week I went to a reading/book signing by William Gibson, for his new novel Zero History, and he made one comment that I thought was very interesting. Since he is known for predicting the effects of new technologies, someone asked him about the future of books, reading and writing. His answer was that when the Internet and HTML started to get popular, people predicted stories full of hyperlinks which would either take you to definitions and explanations of what you were reading, or would allow you to take multiple paths through the story. Nothing like that really caught on, but what did happen was the advent of search engines. Search engines have affected books because now there’s no terminology, idiom, landmark, or anything else so obscure that you can’t look it up on line. So books being written now tend to have less explanations of things because they assume that curious readers can Google. But what’s really interesting is that this affects all books retroactively, so older books are being looked at in new ways. And going forward, we can’t assume that some unknown future technology won’t affect books being written today.

And although Gibson didn’t pursue this idea any farther, the Internet also serves as a platform for fan sites which can also affect the understanding of a book. You can find interactive maps of Middle Earth, class schedules for Hogwarts, and just about any moderately popular book probably has some kind of fan site somewhere. So even writers working with completely made-up material can have their work fully analyzed and annotated on-line, and I wouldn’t be suprised if sometimes the fan’s version could become more “canonical” than the author’s.

To bring this back to the topic of Hugo voting, you also have the effect of on-line criticism. Between blogs, Amazon reviews, and who knows what else, there are lots of recommendations and reviews to be found on-line. Some are well thought-out, but many are just fans expressing their fan-hood, and some are amateur reviewers trying to be “right”, basically agreeing with the majority as a way to demonstrate that they are discerning reviewers (or along the same lines, the derisive trolls who go against the majority as a way to convince themselves that they are smarter than everyone else). The question is, do the same symptoms affect award voters? Do they form opinions based on whose fans shout the loudest? Do they vote for a candidate perceived to be a front-runner, just so they can say they picked the winner? Or maybe they vote more fairly because there’s more information about all of the nominees.

This year, I think all of the Hugo winners are deserving. Next year, who knows? Although even if there is an occasional glitch, I don’t think it will diminish the award overall. But I think the increased availability of information does impact the votes in ways we haven’t figured out how to measure yet.


One comment

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jugger Grimrod, Jugger Grimrod. Jugger Grimrod said: A Hugo follow-up blog post https://eskorp.wordpress.com/2010/09/26/hugo-follow-up-and-other-book-items/ featuring insight by William Gibson. […]

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