It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

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Awards fixing


It’s that time of year again when blogs fill up with pimp posts for the Hugo Awards. I disagree with such pimping in principle – it becomes about personalities and not works. Nor do I really consider the Hugo Award especially significant. After all, the winners are chosen by popular vote by a small number of people of broadly similar tastes. For example, despite being an international award, the Hugo for Best Novel was been won by only nine non-US authors throughout its fifty-seven-year history. This is not unexpected – the great majority of Worldcons, at which the Hugos are voted for, have taken place in the US.

Having said all that, I suspect it may be time to retire the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer. Make it Best Blog, or something. Drag it into the twenty-first century, at least. Even as a catch-all term, Best Fan Writer is near-meaningless: most will take it to mean “nicest / most entertaining person related to writing about science fiction in some vague ill-defined way”. In other words, they’re voting on personalities, not writings.

The British Science Fiction Association Award, on the other hand, I hold dear. For a start, I am a member of the BSFA, and have been for more than twenty years. (The only time I have been eligible to vote for the Hugo was when I attended the 2005 Worldcon in Glasgow.) I also find that the BSFA Award shortlists align much better with my tastes in sf. However, I still think there is room for improvement.

As pimping is beginning to distort what is actually “best”, perhaps BSFA members should only be allowed five nominations per category. Given a limited number of nominations, members might be more discriminatory with them. It would certainly prevent occurences of “nominate me and I’ll nominate you”. On the other hand, this could lead to a wide spread of nominees with only small numbers of nominations, leading to difficulty in putting together short-lists.

All works, not just novels, should be UK-published only. For online fiction, non-fiction and art, this would mean the venue should to have a publication address in the UK; or, if no publication address exists, an editorial address. So, Strange Horizons – current editor-in-chief Niall Harrison is resident in the UK – is eligible. But Clarkesworld – editorial address in New Jersey, USA – is not. For non-fiction published on a blog or similar site, then perhaps the author’s residence is relevant. Nationality is always irrelevant. I also think there should be a minimum word-limit for non-fiction, say 1,500 words.

And perhaps the BSFA Award should be renamed. Arthur C Clarke casts a huge shadow over British sf, but he already has an award named for him. It occurred to me there might be a comparable British figure to Hugo Gernsback. So I googled… and found this excellent article by Rob Hansen on the beginnings of the BSFA. A few names stand out. Walter Gillings was an early editor of several early British magazines. Ken Slater did much to re-vitalise British fandom after World War 2 with his Operation Fantast. But, after some thought, I think it’s possible to commemorate two people. By renaming the BSFA Award the “Ted”, it honours the work of Edward ‘Ted’ John Carnell, editor of New Worlds, and EC ‘Ted’ Tubb, the first editor of the BSFA’s critical journal, Vector. Perhaps “winning a Ted” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as “winning a Hugo”, but give it time…


15 thoughts on “Awards fixing

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Awards fixing « It Doesn't Have To Be Right… --

  2. Awards are gifts.

    As a result, trying to get people to nominate you for awards is like bounding up to people and going “so what are you going to get me for Xmas then?”. There’s a sense of entitlement there that is genuinely avaricious and gross.

    I’m not so sure about replacing the best fan writer category with a best blog award because a lot of critics (for example) do not systematically self-publish on their blogs. A lot of them either don’t have blogs or write for so many dead tree publications that their blog doesn’t reflect their output. So I’m not too sure about that one.

    • I don’t like the fact that the actual quality of the work becomes completely immaterial to the process – such-and-such is my mate and they had two stories published htis year, so I’ll nominate both of them…

      Criticism surely would be chiefly covered in the non-fiction category? Best blog would replace Best Fan Writer, and I don’t see Clute, for example, ever being nominated for that…

  3. Hello,

    I’m wondering if this would work too… have to look at the maths.

    Off the top of my head, most people only managed to nominate one or two things in each category. There were one or two with longer lists, ironically one of whom is seemingly agreeing with you on this!

    Something for the AGM anyhoo.

    • I also wondered about the BSFA posting a list of all eligible works, from which members can nominate – providing there’s a mechanism in place for members to suggest works for inclusion, of course.

    • Asking nominators to rank their votes would help to produce more separation — a first place vote gets five points, a second place vote gets four points, etc. The Locus Awards do something along those lines, IIRC.

  4. Not sure about the online eligibility suggestion. I may be in the UK, but Strange Horizons is financially based in the US, after all.

    Non-fiction is something of an insoluble problem — you don’t want to neglect long-form or short form, but you probably don’t have a large enough nominating pool to support two categories, so you lump them together. Part of me would be in favour of a “best essay” award, ignoring book-length works altogether, as more in the spirit of the BSFA.

    • I was unsure about Strange Horizons, but I couldn’t find a publisher’s address on their website. So I went for the editorial address. But I don’t see why novels should be limited to UK, but not short fiction. All or nothing – and I prefer to see all as a balance to Hugos and Nebulas.

      • I suspect but don’t know that the historical reason was “not enough short fiction being published in the UK”; that’s probably not true now, but it would seem a little absurd to exclude online publications, readily available in the UK, on any basis.

      • But are the awards celebrating what those resident in Britain have access to, or what people in Britain have created?

  5. Surely the former. You don’t want to have nominators having to try to work out where the authors of the books they want to nominate live.

    • But if the BSFA maintains a list of eligible works…

      The internet has made the question of access irrelevant, so we might as well no longer limit novels to UK-published ones. Except, isn’t the award in part celebrating the taste of UK-based publishers? And if they no longer have a stake in it, the award becomes even more insignificant.

      • If the BSFA maintains a list of eligible works, you’ve still got nominators having to check against it. It’s still an extra step in what you want to be a simple process: people vote for their favourite books.

        I disagree that the internet has made access irrelevant. It’s made it easier, certainly for people who follow what’s being published quite closely. But for the majority of readers, no, I don’t think it’s made access irrelevant. Evidence: every year there are a few nominations for US novels — but only a few.

  6. Stellar.

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