Monday, April 27, 2015

Thoughts on the Hugo Awards: Part Four

This doesn't properly fit into my series of posts about the 2015 Hugo Awards nominees, but it is still part of my continuing thoughts surrounding the awards this year.  Specifically, I've been thinking about some stuff Eric Flint wrote about on his blog regarding what we give out Hugo Awards for.

Flint suggest that if the awards are to reflect what is actually being written in science fiction and fantasy, there should be up to four awards given for longer works of fiction.

Short novel (40,000 to either 80,000 or 90,000 words)


Complete multi-volume novels (often called trilogies, quartets, quintets—but which have a definite ending)


I could live with combining multi-volume novels and series into one award category, but it would be a mistake. Inevitably, it would tend to elevate huge, sprawling—and sometimes wildly popular—series over the more compact works preferred by authors who like to work in trilogies or quartets. They really are two quite different literary forms—I know; I’ve worked in both—and should be treated separately. There is at least as much difference between them in terms of the skills involved as the difference between a novelette and a novella.

As a whole, I like the idea, though I'm going to refine it a bit more to suit my taste. Also, I disagree with Flint a bit since he also writes that he doesn't want to touch the short fiction categories and my preference would be to combine "short story" with "novelette" because other than intellectually understanding that a novelette is a story written with 7500 to 17,500 words, I'm not really sure what the heck of a novelette is. A novella, sure, you know when you're reading a novella.  But the novelette?  That one needs to go. 

More to the point, though, I do like the expansion of the categories for longer fiction.  Since the Hugo Awards currently begins the Novel category at 40,000 words, Flint recommends adding a Short Novel category for that length because it would open the door for more YA and independent authors.  I'm less concerned about that, though I agree with Flint that most traditionally published novels are working much above 80,000 words.

I wouldn't add a Short Novel category. If you think about the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, a 150 page novel is as likely to win the award as a 700 page novel.  The Hugos are not the Pulitzers (for many reasons), but I don't differentiate too much with novel length, and sometimes a shorter novel can be much more appealing than a monster of a tome.  So, I'd keep novel where it is while recognizing that the minimum length for a novel isn't reflective of how novels are being written today.

What I'd like to play with is Flint's suggestions for "Complete Multi-Volume Novels" and "Series".  What I see Flint saying is that the skill required to write a complete series and stick the landing is different enough from writing an ongoing series that they shouldn't be compared in the same way (Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy compared to Jim Butcher's ongoing Dresden Files).  I don't completely agree.

That's not completely true. I agree with what Flint is saying about the skill and technique, I disagree with how he is viewing the categories. I would divide the categories like this:


Ongoing Series

Completed Series

So Joe, you ask, what the heck are these categories and how are they different than what Eric Flint suggested?  Great question, I reply, let me tell you!

Novel: This category only slightly changes from how it works today. It is for a single volume work of no less than 40,000 words. The change is that I would strike section 3.2.6 from the WSFS Constitution "a work appearing in a number of parts shall be eligible for the year of the final part". 2013's publication of A Memory of Light is how The Wheel of Time was nominated at the 2014 Hugos for Best Novel.  I'd strike this.  Novel is for a single volume, period.  That's it. A Memory of Light is eligible for Novel, The Wheel of Time is not.

Ongoing Series: This is where I start to mess with Flint's suggestion.  Ongoing Series is for ANY series that has not yet been completed. To be eligible for Ongoing Series, a series must have at least two volumes published. However, it does not matter for the terms of this category if the author is planning to write a trilogy with a definite ending (Mistborn) or is writing a potentially open ended series (Dresden Files, Discworld). To be further eligible for a nomination, a new volume must be published during the eligibility year.  Love A Song of Ice and Fire but George Martin hasn't published The Winds of Winter yet?  The series is not eligible for Ongoing Series at the 2016 Hugos unless he gets that book out during calendar year 2015. 

Further, because we need to close one potential loophole here, an Ongoing Series is eligible for nomination ONCE.  What I intend this to mean is that if Mr. Martin publishes The Winds of Winter in 2015, it is eligible for Ongoing Series.  If A Song of Ice and Fire makes the final ballot for Ongoing Series, it is no longer eligible to be nominated in a subsequent year. However, if A Song of Ice and Fire fails to make the final ballot, it will still be eligible for Ongoing Series provided a new volume is published.  A series is considering "Ongoing" until the author or the publisher states that a volume is the "final" or "concluding" volume in that series.

Completed Series: A series is eligible as Completed Series when the announced final volume in the series is published.  A series will not both be eligible for Ongoing and Completed Series in the same year.  Publication of A Memory of Light rendered The Wheel of Time ineligible for Ongoing Series, but eligible for Completed Series.  Something like The Dresden Files would not be eligible for completed series until Jim Butcher announces "this is the final Harry Dresden novel".  If Butcher published a Harry Dresden novel but then two years later said, "oh year, Skin Game was really the last book in the series, sorry guys" The Dresden Files will not be eligible for Completed Series because the series is only eligible in the year the final volume is published.  I don't see this as too big of an issue because most writers want folks to know that they are delivering the promised conclusion to a series.


Now, I know all of this would put a certain amount of onus on the Hugo administrators to verify whether a series is ongoing or completed, but I think they already have a responsibility to verify a work is eligible based on word count and year published. It wouldn't be too hard to look this stuff up.  There are grey areas still in place for situations like Glen Cook published the final Black Company novel in 2000 (thus ending the series eligibility) but hinting that there could still be two more books.  There is also the gray area of macro series and micro series. All of the Black Company novels are The Black Company, but there are also The Books of the North, The Books of the South, and The Books of the Glittering Stone. How would those situations be handled?  I think these are overall smaller issues, but worth noting.

In the instance of A Memory of Light, the novel itself would be eligible for Best Novel and could make the ballot for that AND The Wheel of Time could be nominated that same year for Best Completed Series.  I think that would be recognizing two distinct things as the book is not the series and given that very few series works will be nominated past the first volume, it is a small concern.

You could tweak this another way and have Ongoing Series and Completed Series awarded every five years because there are far fewer series being completed each year than there are novels published, so the pool of eligible work is very small and can be inconsistent in quality. I'd be open to that, but it could easily lead to worthwhile works published four years prior being completely forgotten about in favor of the Completed Series of just the last year or two.



Nathan (@reviewbarn) said...

How would novel work for a book the likes of 'City of Stairs?' Originally a stand alone but by the time awards season came around a sequel was announced.

I like the idea of an award for series but I feel that book one of most series would also fit the novel category.

Joe said...

I thought I covered that, but maybe it was just in my head. I thought about it, anyway.

Any individual work would always be eligible for Novel.

City of Stairs: eligible for novel
City of Blades: eligible for novel

If we have any inkling if Bennett is writing a series or just two novels, the publication of City of Blades would render "The Cities of RJB" eligible for Ongoing or Completed, depending on what RJB has to say about his plans.

Kendall said...

Interesting thoughts, but IMHO way too many problems, e.g., differences in how author, publisher, and any two readers may see a work (series! novel in many parts! OMG you just don't know how to edit; it should've been one book but now it's a series, tough! etc.) . . . putting way too much decision-making on the Hugo Admin's hands . . . plus you never know when a series is really over. ;-) Also, I have a problem with any category designed to award an incomplete work ("best ongoing series").

But the biggest problem is that most won't read a huge series (WoT! Dresden!) for an award. People vote their current favorite or one they heard was good - there wouldn't even be ATTEMPTS to read the works nominated because there wouldn't be time. It just isn't practical, IMHO. Yes, not everyone reads all nominated works now - but many, with the advent of the Hugo voteer packet, give it the old college try, at least.

Anyway, IMHO the Hugos do not need an award for everything, and not everything deserves a Hugo category. This doesn't mean I feel the current awards are perfect and must never change! But the Hugos can't cover everything, and coming up with an awards for series feels like a real stretch to me.

BTW you can't strike 3.2.6; this would leave out legitimate novels published serially (which does still happen). I feel like using this category to pretend a huge series was one novel was absurd (IIRC, I left WoT off my ballot for this reason, and put No Award last) - but I don't feel series therefore should have its own Hugo category.

Sorry if I'm not being very coherent here....

Joe said...

Part of that is why I didn't go with Mr. Flint's categories. Novel in Many Parts vs Series? That can be questionable.

Best Ongoing was my way to capture Mr. Flint's idea for series - which is stuff like Dresden Files, Anita Blake, Kitty Norville, Sookie Stackhouse / Southern Vampire - individual books more or less following a single character over time.

Those are a series that will never be done until the author just decides to write The Last Sookie Stackhouse novel. You know it's the end when the author says it is the end. If the author changes their mind later, it's not eligible for Completed twice.

But, I don't know how to award Ongoing for that sort of work and not include an incomplete "Novel in Many Parts" series like Mistborn or Wheel of Time. So even though I don't want to include an incomplete series with an intended fixed ending, you never know. Maybe it'll never end. How do you reward Discworld in a way that does not also include A Song of Ice and Fire prior to completion?

I'm less concerned about how voters will read all of the works. I expect voters to give all of it the old college try, with or without the voters packet (which is by no means guaranteed to happen in any given year).

Re: 3.2.6: I could go either way. Either no longer include serialized novels until they are collected into a single volume or just reword 3.2.6 to reflect that multi-volume "series" is significantly different than a serialized novel. I'm good either way.

I would like to see Series recognized somehow. But you're right, we don't need a category for everything. So let's get rid of Novelette! :)

That Guy Melvin said...

Just to point out, Butcher has repeatedly made statements to the effect that his 'Dresden Files' series will not be open ended, but will feature eight more novels.

Mr Butcher has stated at multiple interviews and signings that his plan, from the time he first laid out the overall plan for his world, during the writing of his first novel, was for a total of twenty 'case-file' books, each dealing with a bit less than a week from the main character's life, followed by an "Epic Apocalyptic Trilogy (because who doesn't love Apocalyptic Trilogies?)".

This would clearly categorize the work as an ongoing series --but not an open-ended one-- by your definition, and, I think would serve as a solid example in favor of your proposed scheme.

Joe said...

Huh, I did not know that, but to be fair I have never read Butcher's work (a character flaw, I understand). I've been known to start things late, sometimes only after everyone else in the world has known about it and the series (television or book) has been completed.

Good on him for sticking to the plan. Heck, Robert Jordan planned for three or six books and look how that turned out!

Kendall said...

Thanks for the response - sorry for the short follow-up (after my long ramble). BTW I'm all for rewording 3.2.6! ;-)

Kendall said...

Oh wait if I'm signed in, there's an 'email foliow-up comments'.... (checking box...)