It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


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On awards eligibility posts

It’s that time of year again when the blogosphere is suddenly full of awards eligibility posts. Some people consider them useful and some people think they’re a bad thing. I used to believe there was something a little bit off about them, and I put that down to being, well, British. Blowing your own trumpet and all that. Bad form, you know. But my opinion on them has hardened of late. Having seen what a mockery the Hugo Awards were last year – which is not to say they haven’t been for many, many years – but in 2014 I was more than just an observer on the sidelines…

In 2014, I joined the Worldcon, which allowed me nominate works for the award. I took my vote seriously. I read novels I believed might be award-worthy, so I could put together a reasonably well-informed ballot. But the way everything worked out only brought home to me quite how corrupt is the culture surrounding the Hugos. And part of that culture is the awards eligibility post.

So why are they bad?

For one thing, awards are not about authors – they’re about what readers think of individual works. When an author enters a conversation about their book, they skew the conversation. We’ve all seen it happen. It usually result in authors bullying fans. When an author does the same with awards, they skew the awards.

It’s not a level playing-field. If Author A lists the eligible works they had published in 2014 and a couple of thousand people see that list, and Author B does the same but hundreds of thousands of people see their list… and if 0.01% of those people then nominate a work, guess who’s more likely to appear on the shortlist? Popular vote awards are by definition a popularity contest, so to make it acceptable for those with the loudest voices to shout across the room just makes a mockery of the whole thing.

Awards are fan spaces. Authors should not invade fan spaces. This is not to say that authors are not fans themselves. And there’s no reason why they shouldn’t behave as fans in fan spaces. But an awards eligibility post is an author-thing not a fan-thing. (This leaves posts where authors recommend others’ works in something of a grey area. Big Name Authors have Big Loud Voices, and their endorsement can still skew an award.)

Authors get no say in how their works should be received, and that includes whether it is deserving of an award. (Whatever they might think privately, of course.)

If fans are serious about voting for awards, then they should make an effort to stay informed. They shouldn’t nominate works because they were reminded of that work’s existence by its author. You don’t nominate on a fucking whim. Yes, the field is large, and it’s easy to miss something worthy of an award. But voters have a responsibility to make an informed vote, and while no one expects them to have 100% information – those days are long past – just waiting for their favourite author to provide a list for them to choose from is just plain irresponsible.

And, needing to be reminded of something you consider one of the best pieces of fiction of the year? Seriously? It’s so good, you’ve completely forgotten it a few months later? Awards, as a general rule, are supposed to go to the “best” of something – the Hugo Awards actually include that word in their title. You’d imagine a work which is the best to appear during a year would at least be memorable.

(The above, of course, applies to the nomination process. The actual voting usually settles things out. No matter how bad the shortlist, voters usually pick the right one – as they did last year. But the more shit the shortlist, the more the probability of an unworthy winner approaches one.)

bsfa2012

We’re currently in the middle of the BSFA Award nominating period – it closes on 31 January. This year, they’ve changed the rules. Now, we only get four nominations per category, instead of an unlimited number. It’s going to make for a very interesting award. Will the shortlists skew to popularity much more than they have done in the past? Or will they do the opposite… and end up with such a wide spread of nominations that only a handful are required for a work to be shortlisted? I guess we will find out in the months to come…


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Well, the Hugos… are not

So they went and announced this year’s Hugo shortlists last Saturday evening, and it was all looking quite good for a bit… and then it turned into a total bag of shite. My dissatisfaction with the Hugos over the past few years has hardly been much of a secret, and I was mentally preparing myself to be disappointed yet again. But for one brief moment there, as the fan categories shortlists appeared, I was actually hopeful. And then…

Three things happened.

hugo_sm

First, a bunch of right-wing scumbags campaigned to get some of their right-wing scumbag friends onto various of the shortlists. And they mostly succeeded – of the twelve people on their “ideal ballot”, seven made it onto the shortlists. What they did was perfectly well within the rules, and similar campaigns have taken place in the past – although none have been as successful as this one. Let’s be clear about this, however – this wasn’t because they wanted to see their friends on the shortlists, this was a direct attack on a part of genre fandom. And yes, it’s an attack on the part that exhibits the qualities genre fandom should exhibit – inclusivity instead of misogyny and homophobia, diversity instead of racism and marginalisation, progressiveness instead of regressiveness… you know, the qualities associated with civilised human beings.

Secondly, some bright spark discovered that the entire Wheel of Time was eligible for Best Novel as a single work. And enough people voted for it so it’s made the shortlist. That’s fourteen fat epic fantasy novels which vary in quality from mediocre to rubbish. There’s no denying they’re a notable genre achievement, but a Hugo Award for Best Novel is not the way to recognise that. The series’ presence on the shortlist only makes the award even more of a laughing stock than it already was.

And finally, despite some small victories which reflect the genre and fandom which interest me, the same old names appear, demonstrating little or no progression in the tastes of the bulk of the Hugo electorate. But then, I suppose, it has little to do with taste – and zero to do with “best”. Fandom is now partisan to an extent it never has been before, and becoming increasingly so each year. People nominate their favourite authors, irrespective of whether the work in question is award-worthy – because if you think Neptune’s Brood and Parasite are the best sf novels of last year, you need to read a hell of a lot more widely. There’s a reason they haven’t appeared on any other award shortlist.

The reason all this has taken place – or rather, the reason the shortlists are like this, is because so few people vote in the awards that blocs don’t have to be especially large to have an impact. The only way to prevent this from occurring again is to open the voting to a wider pool. But that won’t happen because the Hugo Award is heavily invested in protecting a model of fandom which hasn’t existed for decades and it has the bureaucracy in place to ensure change is either extremely difficult or impossible.

Given this, I think there are five possible responses:

1. Pretend it’s just a “blip” and treat this year’s awards just the same as other years. It isn’t the same, of course, and it would be either foolish or mendacious to suggest it is. Taking this option would require total blindness to the situation.

2. Vote “no award” in preference to anything by the right-wing scum. This at least would have the benefit of showing the right-wingers exactly what they’re worth. Likewise for the Wheel of Time. Nonetheless, it would still require treating the shortlists seriously – and I think the fiction categories are beyond that.

3. Vote “no award” in preference to everything on the shortlists. Doing this would certainly send a message – the 2013 Hugos were so shit, no awards were given at all. But while that may be true of the fiction categories, it isn’t for some of the others – and it’s unfair that they should also suffer.

4. Vote for the right-wing scum, in the hope they win and destroy what little credibility the Hugos have remaining. Again, like 3., this punishes everybody and not just those who deserve it.

5. Don’t vote, don’t attend the award ceremony; having nothing to do with the Hugos ever again.

According to the Loncon 3 website, 6786 people have purchased attending or supporting memberships for the convention. There will likely be a couple of thousand walk-ins too. Only 1923 people voted in the Hugo awards. The figures look even worse by category – 1595 for novel, 847 for novella, 728 for novelette and 865 for short story. So for best novel, I make that 23.5% of the membership. Over three-quarters of Worldcon members couldn’t give a shit about the Hugo Award for Best Novel. That number has just increased by one. Apologies to the people I know and like on the various ballots – I know it’s unfair on them – but I’ve had it with the Hugos. I will not be voting. Nor will I attend the ceremony. And if I’d been on any of the fiction shortlists, I would have pulled my story.

It goes without saying that my one vote will have zero impact on the final results, whether I choose to exercise it or not. I choose not to. I will do the same next year, even though I am eligible.

Finally, one last request: the Hugo needs to remove the word “world” from its constitution. It is not a world sf award, it is an American one. It should at least have the decency to acknowledge that.


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In which I gaze into a crystal ball

… although I’ve no idea why because it still hasn’t given me a winning number for the lottery. But now that the Hugo nomination period is closed, and everyone who was going to nominate has done so, what can we expect to see when the shortlists are announced over the Easter weekend?

There’s been quite an interesting discussion over the last month or so among (mostly) British fans, prompted by the fact the Worldcon is in London this year. We plan to attend, so for the first time (for many of us, anyway) we’ve made a serious effort to nominate works for the Hugo Award. And one point that has come out of this discussion, and the various draft ballots posted on blogs, etc, is quite how stupid many of the Hugo categories are. I mean, seriously, what bunch of idiots thought up “semiprozine”? What type of bulbhead defines dramatic presentations long form and short form with such specific language that long form is open to both tentpole summer blockbuster movies and the entire 26-episode season of a television series? As for the novelette… I accept that the term once had historical significance, but it’s now an anachronism and needs to be summarily dispatched. And let’s not talk about awards going to people rather than works… Or the fan categories…

Whatever. I saw a whole bunch of varied draft ballots covering a widespread of fiction and non-fiction in each of the categories. And the really sad thing is… I think the eventual shortlists will be full of the same old shit. The novel shortlist will be Gaiman and McGuire and Corey… and the novellas will be all Valente and Swirsky and Chiang… and the short stories will be all Liu. Though Leckie might well make it onto the novel shortlist, and Samatar to the short story shortlist.

In other words, it’s going to be fascinating seeing how much of an impact hosting the Worldcon in the UK will have, how much of a blip in the old guard’s voting us vocal online Brit-based (and other non-US-based) fans will have on the final shortlists. Having said that, in 2005 the Worldcon was in Glasgow and the Hugo best novel shortlist was entirely British – and only two of the books were published in the US during the preceding year. (The other fiction categories, however, were overwhelmingly American.) But that was nine years ago, and the online sf community is so much bigger and more vocal now. And more balkanised too.

Which may well be part of the problem. I’ve only seen draft ballots from those within my circle of friends and acquaintances, so I’ve no real idea of what the wider Hugo voting public has been nominating. The fan categories will be a good indicator of this. Do the old farts and their paper fanzines outnumber those from the online community? Will the fan categories join the twenty-first century or remain stuck back in the 1950s? Will a blog make it onto the best fanzine shortlist?

Like I said, I’m not holding my breath. The Hugo Awards, for all their claim they’re “world awards”, are resolutely American, with rules designed to maximise the visibility of works to US voters. The Worldcon, despite its name, is a US con. Even for Loncon 3, there are more US members than UK – although, to be fair, more UK-based members will be attending; but more US-based members have bought supporting memberships. Don’t forget, however, that members of last year’s Worldcon, which was in San Antonio, Texas, also get to nominate in this year’s Hugo Awards. As does anyone who’s bought membership for next year’s Worldcon in Spokane, Washington…

So that conversation we’ve been having online about the Hugos over the past couple of months? I suspect we might as well have not had it for all the good it will do. But I sincerely hope to be pleasantly surprised.


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My final Hugo ballot

I have spent much of the past half a dozen weeks or so catching up on my Hugo reading so I could round out the draft Hugo ballot I posted back in early February. Obviously, this didn’t mean reading every piece of fiction published in 2013, I had to choose what to read. And I made my choices according to a number of factors – authors I’d read before and appreciated, word of mouth, recommendations from friends and acquaintances, even other people’s posted Hugo ballots… Some novellas and short stories I wanted to read, but didn’t have access to copies since I don’t subscribe to the Big Three and I haven’t bought every original anthology published in 2013.

So there are some things to bear in mind about my choices. First, they’re limited by what I had access to. Second, I’ve nominated some of my my own works because a) I’m allowed to, and b) it’s not like they’ll get hundreds of votes anyway, and c) I wouldn’t have written the damn things if I didn’t think they were good. (And it’s not like I was massively prolific in 2013 anyway – only two novellas and two short stories.)

I should also point out that I don’t actually have much time for the Hugo Awards as awards. The results – or even the shortlists – almost never reflect my tastes, and its winners are by no means the “best” of the year in their categories (and that’s not just a “taste” thing). The Hugos are a popularity contest and I’m not in tune with the electorate in any meaningful way. (Although, to be honest, I’ve been somewhat surprised – and scared – that I noted Sofia Samatar’s ‘Selkie Stories are for Losers’ as a story worth nominating when I first read it back in January 2013, and I seem to be in agreement in that regard with a lot of people as it’s appeared on several award shortlists and Hugo ballots. On the other hand, it does demonstrate my belief that fiction can be objectively good, if so many people with different tastes have recognised Samatar’s story as award-worthy.)

Given my continual dissatisfaction with the Hugos – its categories, its rules, its shortlists and winners throughout the decades and years… – you’d have thought I’d refrain from nominating or voting in this year’s awards. Certainly I see no point in buying a worldcon supporting membership simply for the “privilege” of voting. But I will be attending Loncon 3, and I bought a membership to be at the convention not to vote in the awards. It’s a side… er, well, not “-benefit”; not really a “bonus” either. It’s something I can do because I’ll be attending the worldcon. And, since there are a few points I’d like to make about the Hugo Awards, I decided to make those points this year by nominating works.

novel
1 A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki (Canongate)
2 Empty Space: A Haunting, M John Harrison (Night Shade Books)
3 Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit)
4 Life After Life, Kate Atkinson (Doubleday)
5 The Machine, James Smythe (Blue Door)

There are several books I didn’t manage to read in time which were possible contenders: Shaman, Kim Stanley Robinson; Strange Bodies, Marcel Theroux; The Adjacent, Christopher Priest… And plenty I did read that didn’t make the cut (see here and here). But looking at other people’s posted ballots, I don’t think there are any other books I’ve missed I might consider award-worthy. (Although Larry Nolen did suggest some translated books which looked interesting – can’t find the damn titles now, though…)

novella
1 The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself, Ian Sales (Whippleshield Books)
2 Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above, Ian Sales (Whippleshield Books)
3 Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance, Paul Park (PS Publishing)
4 Spin, Nina Allen (TTA Press)

I like novellas, I think it’s an interesting length – both to write and to read. But I think it’s best-suited to book format. In other words, it takes up too much real-estate in a magazine, and is too long to read online. But not many small presses publish original novellas in hardback or paperback, and of those that do few of them are the sort of genre fiction that I like. In other words, I read very few novellas published in 2013. So I spent last weekend hunting around online for suitable candidates… without success. I bought only two novellas published last year, and both made my ballot.

Yes, I am ignoring the novelette category. Novelettes should die. There is no need for a category for “medium-length stories”. There is more difference between a 17,500-word novella and a 39,000-word novella than there is between a 1,000-word short story and a 17,400-word short story.

short story
1 ‘The Incurable Irony of the Man Who Rode the Rocket Sled’, Ian Sales (The Orphan)
2 ‘Selkie Stories are for Losers’, Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons)
3 ‘Golden Apple’, Sophia McDougall (The Lowest Heaven)
4 ‘A Bridge of Words’, Dinesh Rao (We See a Different Frontier)
5 ‘The International Studbook of the Giant Panda’, Carlos Hernandez (Interzone)

The first test of a good story is: did I make it through to the end? Most I give up on after only a handful of paragraphs. Of the stories I did finish, the above are the ones I thought the best. I note that another story from The Lowest Heaven has proven a more popular pick than mine; and the same is also true for We See a Different Frontier. Both are excellent anthologies, incidentally; and proof that there really needs to be a Best Original Anthology Hugo.

related work
1 Red Doc>, Anne Carson (Knopf)
2 Beyond Apollo, David SF Portree
3 The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, Peter Davison (BBC)
4 ‘A Genre in Crisis: On Paul Di Filippo’s “Wikiworld”‘, Paul Graham Raven (Los Angeles Review of Books)
5 100 Great Science Fiction Stories by Women (iansales.com)

Ah, I hear you cry, your choices make no sense! Red Doc> is fiction, Beyond Apollo is a fanzine, The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot is a dramatic presentation! Except… there is no category for poetry, so I’m putting Red Doc> here. Beyond Apollo is not about science fiction or fantasy or even fandom, it is about science and engineering, so I’m putting it here. The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot is not science fiction, it is about a science fiction programme and set very much in the real world… so I’m putting it here. Paul Graham Raven’s excellent review is about the most traditional item on my ballot. And I’ve given my last slot to the list of 100 Great Science Fiction Stories by Women I published – but which was contributed to by many – because it was an important project.

semiprozine
1 Interzone
2 Vector
3 Strange Horizons

fanzine
1 SF Mistressworks
2 Pornokitsch
3 Nerds of a Feather
4 Sibilant Fricative
5 Good Show Sir

fan writer
1 Liz Bourke
2 Jonathan McCalmont
3 Abigail Nussbaum
4 Jared Shurin
5 Nina Allan

Yes, I have ignored some of the categories. I will not be voting for them either. Yes, some of my choices are not obvious fits for the categories in which I’ve put them. But I profoundly disagree with the definitions of some of the categories – I mean, “semiprozine”? Who the fuck thinks its definition is even remotely sensible or workable? – and I have chosen to express this disagreement by nominating things where I think they should go.

I expect to be thoroughly disappointed by the eventual shortlists. Perhaps one or two of my fiction choices will make it onto the final ballot – Ancillary Justice is, I think, a shoo-in; likewise the Samatar short story. Nina Allan’s Spin is a possibility. But I’ll be bloody surprised if any of the others make the cut. As for the not-fiction categories… if every nominee for fanzine is a paper fanzine, or every nominee for fan writer is someone who writes for paper fanzines… then I’ll consider fandom officially dead.

Finally, Loncon 3 will also be awarding Retro Hugos, for works published 75 years ago in 1938. So not only are voters expected to be familiar with every piece of genre fiction published last year, but also for a year decades before they were born? Fuck off. Loncon 3 has provided a handy list of what was published in 1938, for those of you daft enough to take the whole thing seriously. I will say only this: I have read only one of the eligible novels, Galactic Patrol by EE ‘Doc’ Smith, and it was unutterably shit… and yet it and its sequels, the Lensman series, are still celebrated today as “classic” science fiction…


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It’s enough to make Hugo crazy

The Hugo Award is a world award – it says so on its website: “The Hugos are World awards”. They’re not, of course, they’re US awards. The electorate is overwhelmingly American, and the rules are set up to maximise visibility of eligible works to Americans. It is voted on by members of the annual Worldcon, but that too is American. In fact, since the first Worldcon in 1939, it has taken place in the following countries:

worldcons

So it comes as no real surprise to find that the Hugo Award for Best Novel has been overwhelmingly won by US authors:

hugowinners

In fact, during the six years when the Worldcon took place in the UK – 1957, 1965, 1979, 1987, 1995 and 2005 – a UK author won the Hugo Award for Best Novel only in 2005. This year, of course, the Worldcon is back in the UK: Loncon3. And the likelihood of a local author winning best novel is much the same as it has been in previous years.

The British Science Fiction Association Award, on the other hand, is a British award and makes no pretence of being otherwise. It is awarded by members of the BSFA and the annual British Eastercon. Books published in the UK during the preceding year are eligible. So the nationalities of the winners are not much of a surprise – although, to be fair, 16% US winners of the BSFA is only marginally more than 15% UK winners of the Hugo:

bsfa

(I’ve counted Michael G Coney as Canadian, because even though he was born in the UK he was resident in Canada; and I’ve counted Geoff Ryman as British, because he even though he is a Canadian he has been resident in the UK throughout his career.)

Because the Hugo Award is structured to give maximimum visiblity to US voters, books published outside the US are eligible a second time when first published in the US. Which leads to the farcical situation this year where last year’s winner of the BSFA Award, Adam Roberts’ Jack Glass, is eligible for this year’s Hugo because it was first published in the US in April 2013; but one of the books on this year’s BSFA Award shortlist, God’s War by Kameron Hurley, which was first published in the UK last year by Del Rey, is not eligible because it was first published in the US in 2011 by Night Shade Books. Perhaps this would make sense if the 2014 Worldcon were taking place in the US and not in the UK, perhaps this would make sense if the Hugos did not claim to be “World awards”.

On the other hand, perhaps it will never make sense…


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Drafting my Hugo

This is in the nature of a first pass through my ballots for the 2014 Hugo Awards, a work in progress. My reading is not yet complete for the various fiction categories, so I hope to have five choices for each of them by the end of March. As for the other categories, read on…

novel
1 A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki (Canongate)
2 Empty Space: A Haunting, M John Harrison (Night Shade Books)
3 Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit)
4
5

Eligible books I have yet to read which might take up those last two slots: Life After Life, Kate Atkinson; The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes; What Lot’s Wife Saw, Ioanna Bourazopoulou; Shaman, Kim Stanley Robinson; Martian Sands, Lavie Tidhar; On the Steel Breeze, Alastair Reynolds; The Disestablishment of Paradise, Phillip Mann; and The Machine, James Smythe.

Eligible books I have read which won’t be appearing on my ballot: Proxima, Stephen Baxter; Evening’s Empires, Paul McAuley; The Violent Century, Lavie Tidhar; Seoul Survivors, Naomi Foyle; and Swords of Good Men, Snorri Kristjansson.

novella
1 The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself, Ian Sales (Whippleshield Books)
2 Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above, Ian Sales (Whippleshield Books)
3
4
5

It has been brought to my attention that I’m allowed to nominate my own fiction – which is not allowed for the BSFA Award – so I thought, why the hell not? Both of my novellas were published in 2013 (January and November, respectively), and it’s not like hundreds of other people will nominate them. Plus, I’m also the publisher of said novellas, which arguably makes it all a bit blurry anyway. The reason the same old names always appear in this category is not because they write the best novellas every year but because most Hugo voters can’t be arsed to read around. If putting my novellas on my ballot encourages them to look beyond Asimov’s, Analog and F&SF, then all to the good. Meanwhile, I shall be reading around, checking out novellas such as this one (ta to Abigail Nussbaum for pointing me at it).

novelette
1 no award

I think the category needs to be dropped, so I’m not going to nominate anything in it.

short story
1 ‘The Incurable Irony of the Man Who Rode the Rocket Sled’, Ian Sales (The Orphan)
2 ‘Selkie Stories are for Losers’, Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons)
3 ‘Golden Apple’, Sophia McDougall (The Lowest Heaven)
4 ‘A Bridge of Words’, Dinesh Rao (We See a Different Frontier)
5

I’ll probably drop my own story from this ballot – I mean, I think it’s good, of course I do; but maybe that’s pushing it a bit. Although, again, if it prompts Hugo voters to read around a little… I’m still looking for a story to fill one, possibly two, slots.

related work
1 Red Doc>, Anne Carson

It occurred to me that Red Doc> is a poem not a novel, and so would better suit this category. I’m still thinking about other – perhaps non-fiction – works I might nominate.

graphic story
1 no award

I have no idea what to nominate and no real interest in finding out.

dramatic presentation (short)
1 no award

I think the category should be dropped. But if I were going to nominate something, it would probably be ‘The Five-ish Doctors Reboot’ (BBC).

dramatic presentation (long)
1 no award

Another category I think should be dropped. But if I were going to nominate something, it would probably be season one of Orphan Black.

editor (long form)
1 no award

Awards should go to works, not people.

editor (short form)
1 no award

Awards should go to works, not people.

professional artist
1 no award

Awards should go to works, not people.

semiprozine
1 Interzone
2 Strange Horizons
3 Vector
4 no award

The category definition is farcical, but these are the genre magazines I read regularly.

fanzine
1 SF Mistressworks
2 Pornokitsch
3 Nerds of a Feather
4 Sibilant Fricative
5 Good Show Sir

I’ve no real interest in fanzines per se, but I’m nominating five blogs/web sites here in order to point out that no one gives a shit about paper fanzines anymore and it’s long past time the Hugo Awards realised that.

fancast
1 no award

I don’t listen to podcasts.

fan writer
1 Liz Bourke
2 Jonathan McCalmont
3 Abigail Nussbaum
4 Jared Shurin
5 Nina Allan

Awards should go to works, not people – but I’m nominating five people here as a political act.

fan artist
1 no award

Awards should go to works, not people.

So there you have it. My thoughts on my ballot so far. I shall continue reading, and nearer the date I’ll post what my actual final ballot will be.


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The fandom & the fandom

I was reading a blog post recently which described YA fiction containing spaceships and other overt science fiction tropes as “hardcore” – as a means to distinguish it from other science fiction YA. Of course, in YA “dystopian” is a genre rather than a description of a setting; and now it seems “science fiction” is a setting rather than a genre…

And it occurred to me  – not so much that this was not what science fiction is, but more that it was a different way of looking at science fiction.

It’s an established fact that science fiction fandom is greying. Where once enough people joined each year for sf fandom to grow, that’s no longer true. And yet science fiction as a genre has become ubiquitous. Obviously a proportion of consumers of sf probably think of themselves as fans – but they’re not in fandom. Either because they’re not invested enough in science fiction to do more than passively consume it, or… they have their own fandom. After all, “sf fandom” as we commonly use the phrase refers to a specific group of people, it’s not just a generic term for all active consumers of the genre. It’s a community which traces its beginnings back to the early part of the twentieth century, when groups of like-minded people met up in various cities around the globe to celebrate a specific mode of literature. Over the years and decades, the community and its activities have formalised – resulting in conventions, fanzines, jargon, an entire support infrastructure for the category sf publishing industry, but also support for those who offer first-line support to the publishing industry…

But there are other sf-related fandoms now. And some of them are doing very well indeed – as Worldcon attendances have declined, so Dragon*Con attendances have risen. Which is why that blog post about “hardcore” YA sf put me in mind of China Miéville’s novel about two cities which occupy the same space but refuse to acknowledge that relationship.

This is not to say there are no crossover points – NineWorlds is a good example of one. (I’ve never been, it clashes with a music festival I’d sooner attend; and yes, I’d rather camp in a field and listen to lots of metal bands than spend a night in that awful hotel in Heathrow.) There are also a number of blogs which transit freely through various forms of genre fandom. But if there are those who do not restrict themselves, there are also those who police the border. The fandom & the fandom has its very own Breach: the Hugo Awards. To be fair, the Hugos were created as a celebratory tool by those original sf fans, but now it seems the awards do little more than help provide a structure badly needed by a decaying community which refuses to acknowledge its time is past. The Hugo rules have fossilised practices which haven’t been true for decades, but no one wants to change those rules. Or rather, those in the best position to effect change are too busy fighting against change.

It seems foolish in the extreme for sf fandom to ignore YA genre fiction. The biggest-selling genre authors of the past couple of decades are YA authors – JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins. And each of their series has gone on to become highly-successful film franchises. It’s not as if YA sf is some strange new never-seen-before creature. Back in the day, they called the books “juveniles” and both Heinlein and Asimov, much-lauded writers in traditional sf fandom, openly wrote them. But past attempts to create a Best YA Novel Hugo have all foundered. Some say YA fiction should be treated like other fiction – if it’s good enough, it’ll be nominated for best novel; and JK Rowling did win the Hugo in 2001. But that doesn’t hold water. YA, as noted above, looks at science fiction differently; it is shelved in its own separate section in book shops; it has its own separate fandom… And it’s that latter point where the problem lies. YA sf fandom cannot be subsumed into traditional sf fandom. That’s never going to happen. Nor do fans get “promoted” from YA sf fandom to sf fandom – that’s not how it works. Plus, there are plenty of career sf authors currently writing YA fiction, so to continue to ignore it just looks like sheer spite.

Personally, I’ve no interest in reading or writing YA sf. But that doesn’t mean I think sf fandom should exclude it. I’d say sf fandom, and the Hugo Awards, are in danger of making themselves irrelevant, but that horse has long since bolted. This year’s Hugos have prompted a conversation online about change, about what needs to be done in order to halt their decline. The sort of major changes that are needed will never happen – the system is designed to prevent it – but two indicators of the need for a change I do expect to be reflected in the 2014 shortlists…

If the best fan writer and best fanzine shortlists are comprised entirely of candidates from paper fanzines, then the old guard have won and the Hugos are dead. If they comprise only bloggers and blogs, then that’s a step forward and there’s a possibility the Hugos can save themselves. But I think I’d go a little further: if a YA novel makes it onto the best novel shortlist, then there may be real change in the air…

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