Monday, April 21, 2014

Preliminary Thoughts on the Hugo Award Nominees

So, the nominees for the 2014 Hugo Award were announced this weekend.  You can find a list of the nominees right here, with links to as many of the nominated works as I can find. That list will be updated as more works are published online. Winners will be announced on August 17, 2014.

As with any year, there are controversies and excitement and disappointment and disgust and pretty much any other emotion that comes with stuff that people care about.  Everyone has particular perspectives they bring, works they value higher than others.  But, due to the nominations being announced during Easter weekend and the various family events and obligations I have had, I have not been in a position to actively engage in the first rounds of conversation on the nominees.  Sarah at Bookworm Blues is intentionally stepping back from the conversation so she can focus on the works and not the arguments.  There are arguments.

This is a long preamble to the fact that I am rather pleased, for once, that I had unplugged from genre conversation for a couple of years prior to rengaging this year.  I understand and have vague understanding that there have been various issues with Larry Correia and Vox Day, and that there are specifically some very strong opinions on Vox Day.  

But, all of that doesn't matter so much to me at this moment.  However any of the works made it on the ballot, they are on the ballot.  I wish to follow the thoughts of John Scalzi and take the works for what they are and consider them as such.  My goal in the coming months is to discover, understand, and discuss the relative merits of the actual works nominated. That's it. Now that this is the ballot, let's talk about the ballot itself.

Because of my reading for the Nebula Awards shortlist, I have read a number of the nominated works, so I am excited see the nominations for Rachel Swirsky, Sofia Samatar, and Aliette de Bodard in the fiction categories and I am even more excited to see how the nominations for Fan Writer and Fanzine have shifted. I have been arguing for years that the modern fanzine is the blog and the various fan writing that occurs in the online communities we see today, and that the more traditional 'zine format, while not dead by any means, does not necessarily reflect what is going on in genre today. Seeing today that most of the nominations for Fanzine and Fan Writer are for blogs and writers who are best known for the writing they have done online is remarkable and a relief.  At least in this part of the ballot, there has been a major shift in who fandom is recognizing.

This may be a good time to point out an obvious truth. Each award, whether it is the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, or the Pulitzer, is reflective of who it is that nominated and votes on the awards. The World Fantasy Awards are a juried award, the Nebulas are voted on by members of the SFWA, and the Hugos are nominated and voted on by those who have either purchased a membership to attend Worldcon or have purchased a supporting membership which provides nominating and voting rights. So, despite being the most visible of all genre awards, the Hugo Awards are reflective of the opinions of those who have memberships to Worldcon.

The other point to make is that if you look at previous years, it takes a relative few number of nominations to actually make the final ballot and the margin between making the ballot and not making the ballot can be extremely tight.  

One of the more interesting nominations on the ballot is that of The Wheel of Time as a single work, rather than the final volume A Memory of Light.  I remember reading commentaries earlier this year talking about how, because no previous volume had been nominated, the series as a whole was also eligible to be nominated and, obviously, sufficient people did, in fact, nominate it.  I'm not sure how I feel about that.  It works from the perspective of enough fans wanted to honor Robert Jordan for a series that they passionately love, but on the other hand, there are fourteen volumes in the main series, plus a prequel.  I'm not sure one can truly compare fifteen books to Ancillary Justice, but that is now what we are asked to do.  Or, other people are being asked to do this because I do not have a supporting membership this year (I expect to have one next year).

As a whole, I am interested to take the measure of this lineup of nominees.  I love awards season. Let's consider Sofia Samatar and not be bothered by shenanigans and just be in the zone with our books.  It's a good thought.  I like it. 


Carl V. Anderson said...

I'm not in favor of The Wheel of Time being included in the Best Novel category. While I do agree that the sum of a series can certainly be greater than its parts, I don't think a series with no novels nominated in a category should then get to be in said category. There should be either a special award or completely different category.

I also think it leads to the chance that really solid single novels could get trounced in such a small voting pool. I've read Scalzi's thoughts, and certainly lean towards still feeling Ancillary Justice will get it, but won't many feel that novel was robbed simply because of the weight of a series vs. single novel if WoT wins?

I could see this becoming a pattern that I don't like. And it is unnecessary. Allow voters to nominate series for a different award, one that need not be on the ballot every year.

Looking forward to reading the various short fiction finalists as most are works I missed during the year. I read more short stories than ever and it is still impossible to keep up.

Joe said...

I understand that the nomination for The Wheel of Time was perfectly within the rules (as confirmed by the nomination, because the administrators of the award don't rule on hypotheticals until they actually happen), but I share your concern.

I'm not sure how often this will occur, but given the relative small size of the nominating pool, it could only take 75 nominations if 1500 people nominate for novel (assuming the 5% barrier is all that needs to be reached). It doesn't take much to get on the ballot, so if you have new groups excited about the awards or excited about their favorite series coming to an end and they mobilize behind an idea - it happens.

It can't happen when George Martin finishes his series because three of them have already been nominated, but I see the risk with a mobilized bit of fandom.

And it isn't truly fair, because even a series that is truly serialized (versus discrete stories telling a larger story), isn't a single novel. It's not the same thing.

So, the more I think about it, the more I agree. Not a member this year, but I'm still going to consider all of the works fairly, and evaluate what I feel is best - but I don't think it can or will be WoT (because let's be honest - some of those middle volumes are rough).

But what I like best about the Nebula / Hugo / World Fantasy Awards is that they push me to new fiction that I never would have encountered - and you're right, it's hard to keep up. Sure, read everything on, Lightspeed, Apex, Strange Horizons, BCS, Clarkesworld, GigaNotoSaurus, and you're still missing stuff and spending so much of your reading time just getting through the new short fiction that you miss the novels.

Which is why I often power through near the end of the year when I'm nominating, hit up recommended lists where folks can curate for me a touch, and then come up with something that I still feel is woefully inadequate.