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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…

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A short post on the BSFA Award short lists

Yesterday, Torque Control posted the short lists for the BSFA Awards – novel, short fiction, non-fiction, and artwork. Since I’m a member of the British Science Fiction Association, and usually attend the annual Eastercon, they’re the only awards in which I have any input. Congrats to all those short-listed.

The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (Orbit)
I bought a copy of this last week in Waterstone’s 3 for 2, so I fully expect to have read it by Easter.

Zoo City, Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot)
I’ve heard this is good; must pick up a copy.

The Restoration Game, Ken MacLeod (Orbit)
My review here.

The Dervish House, Ian McDonald (Gollancz)
Not read this. I was waiting for the paperback, and then I was almost certainly going to buy it.

Lightborn, Tricia Sullivan (Orbit)
Not read this, either.

Best Short Fiction
‘Flying in the Face of God’, Nina Allen (Interzone 227, TTA Press)
I remember reading this one and… I didn’t like it. It was about an astronaut, and the details didn’t convince in the slightest. That threw me straight out of the story, and as a result I didn’t care about the characters or the relationship between them.

‘The Shipmaker’, Aliette de Bodard (Interzone 231, TTA Press)
Have yet to read this. Will rectify that this week.

‘The Things’, Peter Watts (Clarkesworld 40)
This was one of last year’s stories in Torque Control’s Short Story Club. Most seemed to think it good, but I wasn’t so impressed. The conceit just didn’t seem strong for a story, and its unremitting grimness struck me as a poor reason to bother trying to write one.

‘Arrhythmia’, Neil Williamson (Music for Another World, Mutation Press)
The best story in a good anthology. And to my mind the only story which really belongs on this short list.

Best Non-Fiction
Blogging the Hugos: Decline, Paul Kincaid (Big Other)
This series of four articles I read as they were posted, and enjoyed. I also agree with Kincaid’s conclusions. And yet… In 2009 Kincaid was short-listed, but did not win, for What it is We Do When We Read Science Fiction, a much more substantial work – in fact, the posts above would likely have been no more than a single essay in that book.

Review: With Both Feet in the Clouds, Abigail Nussbaum (Asking the Wrong Questions Blogspot)
I have not read the book of which this is a review, nor was I especially interested in doing so. I’ll read the review now, but only because it has been short-listed. Which sort of misses the point a little…

Review: Wheel of Time, Adam Roberts (Punkadiddle)
Roberts’ reviews of eleven books of Jordan’s Wheel of Time may well have changed the way many people think about the series. I remember reading the books myself. They were pretty bad – derivative, flabby, badly-written, full of dumb writing tics – but the story pulled you through Jordan’s eye-burning prose. I’ve never really understood the series’ great popularity and while Roberts’ reviews didn’t explain that, they were certainly more entertaining than the books themselves.

Red Plenty, Francis Spufford (Faber and Faber)
I must pick up a copy of this, it does sound as if it would appeal to me.

The Notes from Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K Wolfe
An odd choice – not the podcasts themselves, but a list of the contents of the podcasts. Is that not a bit like nominating the contents page of an anthology?
EDIT: apparently the nomination is for the podcasts themselves, and just wrongly titled to refer to the notes giving their contents. That makes more sense.

Best Art
Cover for Conflicts, Andy Bigwood (Newcon Press)
Cover for Fun With Rainbows by Gareth Owens, Charlie Harbour (Immersion Press)
Cover for The Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Dominic Harman (Gollancz)
Cover for Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes, Joey Hi-Fi (Angry Robot)
‘A Deafened Plea for Peace’, cover for Crossed Genres 21, Ben Greene
Cover for Finch by Jeff Vandermeer, Adam Tredowski (Corvus)

And now a few thoughts: the novels show a good spread across the genre. Enough said. The short fiction… two from Interzone, one from an original (small press) anthology, and one from an online magazine. I’d have expected more from online sources. Perhaps BSFA members still prefer printed fiction. Except four of the five non-fiction short list are from the Web. Were there so few works of relevant non-fiction published in 2010 that only online reviews/articles were nominated? I would have expected something more… substantial to have made the cut.

I also think it may be time to limit BSFA nominations to UK-only published works. And perhaps even limit the number of nominations per member. But that’s a post for another day…