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.
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.