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Hugo Aftermath 2011

August 29, 2011

Once again my Hugo predictions were wrong, wrong, horribly wrong. I did get Novella right, but that was a bit of a runaway. I could claim to have called Long Form Drama but Inception was a shoe-in if ever there was one. Obviously the buzz I was hearing was not coming from the right sources. But just like any sporting event, we don’t really know what we’ve seen until we go INSIDE THE NUMBERS (cue sports highlight show music). So here we go.

Just in case you don’t trust me, the link to the ballot statistics is on the Renovation home page. Also, just to be clear, I am not accusing anyone of stuffing the ballot box or any other unethical activity. I believe the voters honestly voted for what they liked best, and the winners are worthy. For any other discussion of what deserved to win, go back to my previous post to get my opinions. Still, in any voting situation, part of winning is getting your supporters motivated to get out and cast their votes. So my question here is what, besides writing good stories, did our winners do to get their trophies.

In the novel category, I mentioned that Connie Willis had momentum from the Nebulas, so I was on the right track there. I also said Feed was unlikely to win, which was completely wrong. I wondered where all of the new Hugo voters came from, and it looks like a good chunk of them came from the Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant fan club. Feed got the most first place votes, but as the field got whittled down Blackout/All Clear moved ahead. There seems to be a bit of an old school/new school split also, where most of the Jemisin voters landed in Grant’s camp, but the McDonald and Bujold voters leaned towards Willis.

This was the first time since I started this blog that I attended the Hugo ceremony in person (I attended in 2008 also, but the blog was in extra-silent mode back then). So I can add to my analysis the fact that Feed got the biggest crowd response when the nominees were read. On the last day of the convention, Seanan McGuire was at the autographing table at the same time as George R. R. Martin, and her line was nearly as long as his. Feed may not have been my favorite book, but obviously in the wider fan community she’s got quite a following, and since all of those readers will have nomination votes next year, I won’t be surprised if she ends up on the Hugo shortlist again.

In Novella, I don’t think there were any surprises in either the votes or the nominations. Chiang has established himself as a master of the short forms so he probably benefits from the fact that voters will seek out his work when choosing nominees. And since he puts out relatively few stories, he doesn’t have to worry about his votes getting split between several different nominees. Swirsky is starting to get the same kind of attention but she still has some catching up to do.

In Novelette, my pick of “The Jaguar House, in Shadow” came in a solid last place. On one of the panels that I went to at the convention, there was a discussion suggesting that it’s harder to sell stories based around “alien” cultures, whether it’s actual aliens in a science fiction story or non-western-derived cultures in fantasy. The Novella vote may be evidence to support that theory, and I wonder if that also contributed to The Dervish House coming up short among the novels.

In Short Story, “The Things” dominated the nomination votes while “For Want of a Nail” barely qualified. On the final ballot, however, the numbers switched around and “Nail” won fairly easily. So maybe another chunk of those new Hugo voters were Kowal fans. A couple of other possible factors are the fact that Kowal is a past winner of the Campbell award, so she’s established a degree of popularity with Hugo voters, and the fact that she’s from Oregon so this was as close to a home-court convention as she’s likely to get (both of those factors may have benefited Seanan McGuire also, with her being from northern California).

The other interesting aspect of the Short Story vote is that only four nominees reached the threshold of being on 5% of the nominating ballots. I heard some talk that the 5% rule may need some revision, and I think I agree with that. It seems like there are more short stories being published these days across a wide variety of outlets. My understanding is that the rule came about when there were fewer nominating ballots, and there was a chance something could get on the shortlist with only a few votes. But this year, for Short Story the 5% threshold was 26 votes, and the fifth place story that didn’t make it had 25. You could argue that it probably didn’t make much difference in the final vote, but the Hugo winner only got 29 nominations. The bigger issue is that if four votes were taken away from two nominees, then only two stories would have been eligible. I don’t know exactly what the best formula would be, but I think they need to make sure they keep at least four stories on the shortlist so the voters have a good selection to choose from.

Around this time of year the people who didn’t like the winners tend to speak up, and a common complaint is that the Hugo voters are a small, closed, old boy’s network that always votes the same way and is behind the times. But I don’t think you can make that case this year, even though the results did give us several repeat winners. With such a high number of ballots submitted, maybe it’s largely the same convention attendees but there have to be some new voters in the pool. And the votes were hardly unanimous, every candidate had support. It would only have taken a couple hundred more voters to turn any of the results around.

That said, I’m going to make a couple of predictions for next year based solely on fanbases and early buzz, even though I haven’t ready anything yet that will be eligible for 2012. I’m predicting that John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation and China Mieville’s Embassytown wil be on the shortlist. A Dance with Dragons seems like it will probably get votes too, but I think I saw that Martin declined a nomination in the past so he might keep himself off the shortlist. It could be a tight race for the last couple of slots on the ballot, so hopefully this year’s voters will be paying attention when next year’s nomination deadline rolls around.

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