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2014 Hugo thoughts


Yesterday, I decided to have a bash at a draft ballot for the Hugo Awards. This will be the first time I’ve ever voted in them – although I attended the 2005 Worldcon in Glasgow, it was all a bit last-minute and I didn’t join the convention until a couple of months before. I am not a big fan of the Hugos – as I’ve said several times before on this blog. It’s a popularity contest dominated by a bunch of people whose tastes I do not share – nor even their opinions on what genre is or should be. I also think the awards reflect a situation in science fiction and science fiction fandom that has not pertained for over thirty years, and it’s long past time some swift and brutal changes were made. But I can’t make those changes, and it’s all set up in such a way that changes are near-impossible to implement… However, I can use my ballot to make my position clear…

There are at present sixteen categories of award: novel, novella, novelette, short story, related work, graphic story, dramatic presentation (short), dramatic presentation (long), editor (long form), editor (short form), professional artist, semiprozine, fanzine, fancast, fan writer and fan artist.

First, I don’t think any award should go to a person. It should go to a work. So my ballot for both editor categories and both artist categories will read “no award”. I would do the same for fan writer, but I have my reasons for nominating people for that – on which more later.

Second, the novelette category is a completely fucking stupid waste of time. It’s a hangover from the days when magazines offered different pay rates for different word-lengths. The only venues where novelette is still used are the Big Three genre magazines: Asimov’s, Analog and F&SF. Once upon a time, they dominated the short fiction categories, but their day is long past and they’ve become increasingly irrelevant. Kill the novelette, kill it dead. Anything longer than a short story and shorter than a novel, I will be nominating as a novella.

I have never seen the point of the dramatic presentation categories. The film industry has enough awards of its own, and it really couldn’t give a shit about an award handed out by a tiny bunch of sf fans who meet up in a hotel once a year. Kill both categories, no one will miss them.

The semiprozine category is a joke. Q: when is a magazine not a magazine? A: when the Hugo Award, with Tory-like mendacity, keeps on redefining what is eligible for semiprozine and what is not. You can count the number of genre magazines with salaried staff in existence now on one hand. If it publishes genre fiction to a schedule, it’s a magazine – no matter what medium. And let’s not forget that a lot of original fiction also appears in anthologies. We really should have a category for them too: Best Original Anthology.

If the semiprozine category is risible, then the fanzine one is a living fossil. Recent years have seen a small handful of websites nominated in this category – which, it could be argued, are the twenty-first century equivalent. Except most genre websites are single-author, so their content would also make them eligible for fan writer. Yes, there are collaborative websites, such as past winner SF Signal, but as far as I’m aware there is no distinction made in the rules regarding the number of contributors. And really, isn’t a fanzine – ie, a voice in the genre conversation – just as much a related work as a non-fiction book from a reputable publishing house? (Assuming, of course, it’s about genre and not just some old farts whinging about the “good old days in fannish fandom”.)

The one people award in which I will be nominating is fan writer. As a political act. It’s a people award, it should be killed. But it’s also time the Hugo Awards ditched the whole fanzine thing and took serious note of where the genre conversation now takes place. Fanzines – paper fanzines – are completely fucking irrelevant and have been for decades. I will be nominating five bloggers, because I think the Hugo needs to get its arse in gear and recognise that fandom has moved online.

The two artist categories… They should award it for a piece of art, like the BSFA Award does. Does it matter if it was done by a pro or a fan? With people sourcing cover art from and so on, any kind of distinction between filthy pros who do it for the money and grubby fans who doodle for the boo has long since evaporated.

The nominations for the 2014 Hugo Awards close on 31 March. I still have plenty to read if I want to make reasonably informed choices for the categories in which I plan to participate. I’ll post my draft ballot in a few weeks. But don’t be surprised if “no award” appears rather a lot on it…

I know, comments on reddit… But when I saw the comment here by JW_BM, I couldn’t let the stupidity go unchallenged. They write of my “utter ignorance to the boom in novelette self-publishing”. What boom? And it’s “ignorance of” not “ignorance to”. Could they possibly mean all those novellas that people have self-published? Perhaps they don’t know the difference between a novella and a novelette. Perhaps they spectacularly missed the point I was making. Actually, there’s no perhaps about it. Sigh. I know, comments on reddit… I won’t even bother addressing the stupid remarks about the dramatic presentation awards. Rabid Dr Who fans? At a worldcon? I think they’ll find most Dr Who fans don’t even know what a worldcon is, never mind a Hugo Award. Bugger. Looks like I did reply, after all.

10 thoughts on “2014 Hugo thoughts

  1. I agree with you regarding the mess of short fiction categories. I fear that a worthy work one of these days is going to get short shrift simply because of a category “error” and people nominating it at different lengths.

    I could see “short story” and “novella” to ease the blow, especially because, narratively, most novellas are much more like novels than short stories are. But novelette? Junk it. Don’t need it. Set a strict word minimum for a novella and let the novelettes and shorter works fight it out. Many years, I have no idea what to nominate for novelette unless an author specifically calls out their work as eligible in same

  2. I disagree about the novelette. I think a novelette as a long short story, and a novella as a short novel. When reading or writing one, it does feel like there’s a place for a novelette. It’s a good in-between length. In fact, I think many of science fiction’s most famous shorter length stories have been in the novelette range.

    I can read a novelette in one sitting – it’s merely 2-3 times a short story. But a novella takes a good bit of work to finish, and is really about half a novel.

    • The only place where novelette is used as a category is in the Big Three magazines and the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards. The rest of literature – in fact, the rest of genre – has got along without it fine. It’s a stupid arbitrary category and no longer serves a useful purpose. If it’s longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel, it’s a novella. Which is what you’re describing as a novelette – after all, “half a novel” these days would 50,000 to 60,000 words… which is actually a novel.

      • Then I’d say the rest of the world should adopt the novelette concept from the old SF magazines then. I generally skip novellas, but read novelettes. It’s a good length. The trouble is 40,000 words is a novel in my mind, but publishers consider that too short. In terms of reading a short story, in the digests, online, or in the annual best of volumes, 12,000-17,500 is about as much as I like to read. I consider what is currently called a novella as a novel, and just don’t like reading that length.

        Of course, what you are getting at is the word ‘novella’ has more literary history than the word ‘novelette’ – which was made up by the pulp publishers. But I find both labels useful. Like I said, when I see a story described as a novella I avoid them. Around 12,000 words is a very useful reading size. I’d miss the description distinction if it disappeared from table of contents.

        If I was a bear, the novelette would be just the right size.

        • You’re not persuading me. Novelette is completely meaningless – that’s why it shouldn’t exist. Your comfortable reading length just doesn’t factor into it.

  3. Completely agree about the novelette category. Another example of the rules-obsessive munchkin-orientated behaviour that sometimes gives our genres a bad rep. Ditch it. Go back in time and eradicate this category from history!

  4. I can see a strong argument to reconfigure the short category to something like under 20k and under 60k.

    But more important is that I think this is a very strong argument for a wholesale revision of the Hugos, and a motion to set up that reconsideration might get serious support from a number of groups.

    (My pet peeve is best Artist –pro or fan: you are right, it should be for work. We’d be better with Best Cover Art, Best Other Art).

  5. Pingback: Hugo Nominations – Best Professional Artist & Best Fan Artist | Everything Is Nice

  6. Pingback: Hugo Award Nominations 2014. Part IV. | Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

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