Monday, April 06, 2015

Thoughts on the 2015 Hugo Award Nominees, Part One

You may have noticed that the finalist's for this year's Hugo Award look significantly different than they have in the recent past.  There's a reason for that.  The reason is Sad Puppies 3, the latest iteration of a campaign to promote "entirely deserving works, writers, and editors — all of whom would not otherwise find themselves on the Hugo ballot without some extra oomph received from beyond the rarefied, insular halls of 21st century Worldcon “fandom.”"  (This is the intro to SP3, for what it is worth). 

Actually, there are a couple of reasons for why the final ballot has a different look, and according to Mike Glyer at File 770, the second reason, and perhaps the most prominent reason is actually not Sad Puppies, but the offshoot and only semi related Rabid Puppies, in which the architect of that slate states that "they are my recommendations for the 2015 nominations, and I encourage those who value my opinion on matters related to science fiction and fantasy to nominate them precisely as they are."  The result of which, if you follow Glyer's article, is that it appears that those readers of Vox Day, the man behind the Rabid Puppies slate, did value his "opinion on matters related to science fiction and fantasy" and nominated accordingly.  Possibly.  Glyer writes that the Hugo ballot "consists of 48 items recommended by both lists; 3 items only on Sad Puppies; and 10 only on Rabid Puppies," which to me (and I think to Glyer) that Rabid Puppies may have been the significant factor.

I fully respect the idea of wanting to see the sort of stuff you like to read represented on the Hugo ballot, especially if there have been a number of years you firmly disagree with meeting the standard of what you consider "Good" or even "Best".  Hell, I've been hoping to see one of Elizabeth Bear's novels on the Hugo short list for years and despite my nominations, it hasn't been enough. Not everyone shares my love of her fiction as much as I think they should. That's okay, but maybe one day. Of course, I didn't help matters by leaving her off my ballot this year, but that happens sometimes.

What I don't like is the organization.  Small "o", not large.  Maybe I am naive in thinking that a different way to accomplish similar goals is simply to encourage more people, your friends and readers, to participate. To suggest that the Hugo Awards are not perhaps reflective of the sort of science fiction and fantasy that you enjoy, but let's be part of the process.  Let each of us think about the books and stories we read last year, and nominate those we thought are best. Then, perhaps post what you personally think is excellent and intend to nominate. It is the slate building that I object to.  I also object to the campaign on last year to get The Wheel of Time on the ballot, and as much as I love that series, I don't believe that as a unified whole it represented the best of science fiction and fantasy for that year.

But I'm a very small fish. So, when I start posting evolving versions of my Hugo ballot, what I am saying is that "hey, here are a bunch of things that I think are pretty awesome and worth reading - and these are what I'm considering for my ballot". I think that how I view my commentary here is how it is received. Some people use it as a recommendation list, but my readership is small and those who do read and are engaged with the Hugo Awards were already working on their ballots.  If I have swayed anyone to participate, I'll be beyond shocked.  At best it is a light recommendation, at worst I'm shouting into the wind.

Where Sad Puppies is different is that Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia before him have significantly larger bases from which to work, and they are talking to a group of readers who love what they love, but have mostly not participated in the Hugo process. Correia and Torgersen have been looking to engage these individuals and bring in more active participation and nominating, to shine a light on excellent work that is overlooked by the awards. I know for a fact that there are many opposed to the Sad Puppies slate who would vehemently disagree with how I have phrased this, and decry the politicizing of what Sad Puppies is trying to do given that "they" disagree with the current Worldcon "fandom" as nominating lesser works for political reasons and not because "fandom" actually enjoys them.  Correia believes that there are "insider cliques" involved in the Hugo process, though I'm not sure if he is stating that there is organized voting blocs that aren't talked about publicly, or if because the actual number of people who nominate for the Hugos is so small and is, more or less, part of an insular community that it is easy for them to predict who will be on the slate.

For myself, that is 100% not true. Everything on my ballot is something I thought was awesome and worth nominating.  I nominate based on whether or not I enjoyed a book (or story, or whatever) and combined with that, whether I thought that work was of sufficiently high quality, whatever that means to me on that day.  Which is to say that there are plenty of books that I love, praise, and can't wait to read the next volume in the series, but still don't feel that they are quite "Hugo Worthy". If there are aspects of the previous Worldcon fandom community who are engaged in organized voting blocs, I believe it is wrong and should be condemned. I have never seen it, but I am a very small fish and I generally don't go to conventions (I think I've been to three or four, one of which I only attended for a single day because I did not have a good time and felt isolated).

At this point I have read far too many articles written on both sides of the debate, and while I'm not willing to say "I hate everyone equally", I can say that I'm fairly well annoyed by most people. I am not on the side of the Sad Puppies because generally, the sort of book and the sort of story I enjoy reading is already what is frequently represented by the Hugos (though there are certain authors I am very, very confused by how frequently they are nominated for stuff - but I've always chalked it up to different and divergent tastes and nothing more).  But, I do agree with one of their stated aims: which is that more people should be involved in the Hugo awards. Heck, the people who nominated and vote are only a small fraction of the people who actually attend Worldcon.  Get them involved, too, somehow.  Everything might look different if that happened.

So, what am I going to do? 

I'm going to read everything on the ballot and hope that the Hugo voter packet is inclusive of everything on it (minus the dramatic presentations), and then I'm going to vote accordingly. I look forward to the Hugo Awards every year and enjoy thinking about them, talking about them, occasionally writing way too many words about them. Before I knew anything about the awards, I believed that they were the premier award in science fiction and fantasy. The best of the best. The Oscar of the genre. Later I learned that the Hugos were nothing more than an award given out by a particular community, and only nominated and voted on by a very small subset of that same community.  The Hugos are reflective of a particular group of people, just as the Nebulas are, and the World Fantasy Awards are (the three I awards I care most about) - but the Hugos is the one I can participate in, which makes it special even knowing what I do about it.  So, I respect the process of the award and will treat all the nominees fairly and at face value - and I think it is disappointing that I felt the need to write that sentence.

This concludes Part One. Part Two will continue with my thoughts on the actual ballot, rather than what has surrounded the ballot.


Space Station Mir said...

I've never voted or been eligible to vote for the Hugo awards, but I've gotten to the point where I read enough modern sff that I can often predict what will be on the ballot. Sometimes I've wondered why a work made the cut, or why another work didn't, but I usually see something I like. I agree that there is a difference between stating your preferences (I always enjoy reading yours) and telling people what to vote for. I support advocating for people to inform themselves, not just be followers.

Joe said...

Well, you are eligible to vote if you are willing to join that year's Worldcon with a $40 supporting membership. The website is here. I'll admit, the registration page is a bit of a mess, but I think there is still time to become a supporting member.