Late and Early Hugo Thoughts

August 17, 2014

I never got around to writing about last year’s (2013) Hugos, either before or after. I can’t say that I had strong feelings about any of the stories on the ballot, but on the other hand I didn’t have strong feelings about any stories that didn’t make the ballot either. So I can’t really say that the nominees were undeserving. I think that’s just the way it goes some years, for any award.

That said, I think Redshirts is a better book than a lot of people give it credit for (if a Hugo award winner can be said to not get credit). Most of the criticism seems to take the form that being a parody, it doesn’t have enough weight and meaning to be worthy of an award. It’s just a rehash of old ideas and old forms that everyone has seen. If it only consisted of the main story, I might agree with some of that, although I would still call it entertaining. But I thought the three codas (well, two of the three) made the difference between entertaining and thought-provoking. So I don’t have a problem with Redshirts as best novel.

That tended to be my view for the rest of the fiction categories too. My first choices generally didn’t win, but I didn’t feel like any of the winners were undeserving.

The biggest takeaway for me really was the realization that an individual voter has more influence during the nomination process than they do in the final vote (I think the same thing is true in political elections, but that’s a topic for another day). That’s where the power of a fan base really comes into play. A large-fan-base author like Gaiman, Scalzi, McGuire, Bujold etc. automatically gets some nominations just because a large number of people read their books, and some percentage of those readers will nominate them. But those authors also usually only account for one or two slots in a category, meaning that the other slots are up for grabs. So as a nominator, it’s worth trying to find books from other authors. If there are really good books out there, often this is how they can climb onto the shortlist.

Fast forward to 2014, and I look like a prophet. Or I would if I had posted those thoughts last year.

Rather than being a competition between fan bases, though, this year it seems to be a competition between groups wanting to make statements. One group wants to make this a lifetime achievement award for a certain author. Another group feels that their political viewpoint is under-represented in the science fiction community and decided to use the Hugo Awards as a way to get their views in front of people’s faces. And there are a few other frequently-nominated names who show up again. Whether or not there was outright campaigning in those cases, I don’t know, I tend to go with the assumption that their fans just happen to overlap with fans of WorldCon.

I will be very interested to see the nomination totals when they’re released, to see just how effective the various campaigns really were. I’m also wondering if any nominations might have been declined. I was really surprised that Neil Gaiman didn’t get nominated this year, and I also wonder if Sanderson might have declined an individual nomination in favor of the series.

I’ve said before that I don’t think winning or losing an award makes a statement about a book’s overall quality or significance. As far as personal preference goes, I would have liked to see Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls get a nomination. The fact that it didn’t doesn’t make me feel wrong for liking it. Along the same lines I don’t think having an occasional unworthy winner invalidates the award. But I would rather not see the Hugo Awards turn into something decided only by campaigns and voting blocs. Personally, my main reason for participating in the Hugos is just that I enjoy it. It forces me to read new books, in theory the best new books, and then I get to have a say in who wins. But if the Hugos turn into a competition to see who can mobilize the biggest fan base, I feel like that would take the fun out of it (and for one of these current campaigns, I feel like that’s their real goal: to take the fun out of the awards and make them less relevant so that they don’t have to feel bad about never winning).

My prediction right now is that none of these campaigned-for stories will win awards. They may get a lot of first place votes, maybe even the most, but because of the voting process the Hugos use, first place votes aren’t everything. The winners are usually the stories that get a lot of second and third place votes to combine with their first place votes. The campaigned-for stories I suspect will get almost no second place votes, and the other three stories will combine their votes behind one candidate which will win.

My hope is that whatever happens this year, it will motivate voters to participate, to read, nominate and vote based on what they read, not what some campaign requested. But it’s a big time commitment to be a really informed voter, every year I wish I had spent more time getting everything read. So I guess we’ll just have to see what happens. I had intentions this year of posting some reviews/recommendations/comments of things I had read. I think what the Hugos need is to have more information available to help readers discover the best stories, and while there are some sources out there, more wouldn’t hurt. I like to think I’ll be even more motivated to do that for next year’s nominations. Not that I’m likely to actually influence any awards, but I would like to think I can be a small part of a larger trend. In the end, whether or not the Hugos continue to work is, like everything else, in the hands of the voters.

And since I managed to post this mere hours before this year’s awards are announced, the winners will probably be known by the time anyone reads this. So I’ll try not to wait the whole year for a follow up.


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