It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


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An honest vote is a wasted vote

It’s Hugo season once again. We’ve had the nominations and now we’re waiting for the shortlists to be revealed (which they will be on 26 April). This year, apparently, the award received over 4,000 nominating ballots, almost double last year’s 2,122 ballots (which was the highest number that had been seen since the award began in 1955). Of course, the big question is, how successful have the puppies been this year? They did well last year because the actual number of nominations needed to get a work onto a shortlist is surprisingly low. The short story category in 2015, for example, had 1,174 ballots spread across 728 works, and those on the shortlist received only between 132 and 230 nominations…

None of this should come as a surprise. The field is now far, far larger than it was when the award was created. There are so many novels and short fiction works being published in any one year it’s impossible to keep up. The Hugo awards claim to be for the “best” works, but voters can only nominate the best amongst those works they’ve actually read. And, of course, the term “best” has as many definitions as there are voters…

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Since I’m a member of next year’s Worldcon (in Helsinki), I was eligible to nominate works for this year’s Hugo Award. I didn’t, however. When the works I consider the best published in 2015, that I’d read, are likely to get no more than a dozen votes, there’s not much point in nominating. And I can be fairly sure of that as I nominated them for the BSFA Award, which has a much smaller pool of voters, and they didn’t make it onto the shortlists. But then, I know my tastes in genre fiction are out of step with most of the Hugo electorate’s – for example, while Kim Stanley Robinson is a writer I admire and whose novels I enjoy, I thought Aurora a weak book… but I appear to be in a minority on that. As for the authors who regularly make it onto Hugo shortlists (seriously, wtf? Redshirts was a better novel than 2312?).

Assuming most voters have only read a small portion of the eligible works, and that portion is likely different for everyone, then lots of works will get only a handful of votes each (this is more the case with short fiction categories rather than novels, of course). Which does sort of render the whole award pointless.

Assume instead that people vote for works not simply because – perhaps not even because – it was the work they thought best of those published in the preceding year. Perhaps they vote for a work because:

  • people they trust have told them the work is award-worthy
  • they’ve liked other things written by the person, if not this particular work
  • they like the writer (or their blog, etc)
  • they think the writer deserves an award (for any number of reasons)
  • the writer is a friend
  • the writer has helped them in their own writing career

Perhaps I’m being unfair, perhaps people really do vote for the story or book they think the best of the year (seriously, wtf? Redshirts was a better novel than 2312?). But I think people vote tactically, either consciously or unconsciously. If they’re part of a writer’s informal support network or fandom, then they’ll likely vote for that writer. If they hear lots of buzz about a particular work, they might well vote for that if they’re short on their ballot.

The Hugo Award is a popular vote award, it rewards popularity. It does not reward quality. Most voters probably don’t consciously vote tactically. Not unless they’re puppies. By definition, the puppy campaigns are overt tactical voting campaigns. And there’s not much difference between them and writers who mobilise their fanbases by writing eligiblity posts. It’s worth noting that John Scalzi has had to categorically state that he does not want to be considered eligible for a Hugo this year. When a writer has to do that, then you know your award is fucked.

I guess we’ll find out next week just what the future holds in store for the Hugo Award. It’s been useless as an indicator of quality for genre novels, or even as a barometer of the current state of the genre, for decades. On the other hand, there has never been so many people nominating for the award before. How many of those 4,000 are puppies? Or are they fans who have mobilised in order to combat the puppies? While it’s certainly true that the puppies have opened up the award such that the taste of the electorate has widened (the narrowness resulting from the success of the rabid puppies last year notwithstanding), having a couple of thousand new voters parachute in to  “save” the award from them is hardly going to shift the Hugo from the same old pool of favourites and writers du jour.

There is only one role in which the Hugo is still useful: it is a very public magnet for all the bad practices in which eligible nominees, their fanbases, or voting blocs might indulge. Similar stuff happens in local awards, of course – just look at the list of winners of any random provincial US sf award – but no one cares. They’re like those awards web sites invent so they can promote someone or other (who might have well paid for the privilege). Certainly the Hugo Award is run as fairly as a popular vote award can be run. Which doesn’t mean it’s not open to abuse. As was proven last year by the rabid puppies. But the infrastructure is not corrupt, and if the award results in any one year appear corrupt, it’s because the system is open to gaming… and, perversely, preventing that might well make the award more open to corruption.

I gave this piece a contentious title, but I have to wonder if it’s the only way voters can approach popular vote awards in the twenty-first century. If one of the great truths of our time is that the internet has allowed people to openly display their stupidity, it has also given “tribes” and “special interest groups” much more power in the domains in which they operate. The Hugo Award is a good example of this. It claims to be a world award, but has always been awarded by an electorate that is predominantly US-based, and the works it considers have been almost entirely published only in the US (eligibility rules for non-US works notwithstanding). Prior to the invention of the Web, its claim to world relevance was little more than a vainglorious boast, but since the award was chiefly limited to its country of origin it didn’t matter so much. Now its reach truly is global… yet it remains resolutely parochial in terms of the works and people it rewards. True, the Hugo electorate is self-selecting inasmuch as it costs money to vote (you have to buy a supporting or attending membership in the Worldcon, which gives you three years of eligibility), which at least means there’s nothing in the rules limiting votes to US residents… But that’s also a weakness, in that groups can “buy” votes. There’s an online “best science fiction list” somewhere in which several of L Ron Hubbard’s novels appear in the top ten – clearly the work of cultists, since Hubbard was a shit writer (and not even a very good inventor of religions). Even for a popular vote list, that’s pretty obvious vote-fixing.

I’m not going to make a call on what I expect to see in this year’s Hugo shortlists. I know which works I would have nominated, and I’ll be very surprised if any of them appear. I’m not even convinced Aurora. which I wouldn’t have nominated anyway, will make the grade. However, the one thing I can say with certainty about the Hugo Award is that it won’t bring to my attention works I had missed and would likely enjoy – something I’m happy to say the Arthur C Clarke Award and the Kitschies do quite successfully…

 


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The inaugural Sputnik Award

A few days ago, Lavie Tidhar tweeted a sarcastic comment, as he is wont to do, about libertarians having a science fiction award, the Prometheus, but there being no corresponding award for socialists. And while he likely didn’t mean it seriously, it did occur to me that perhaps there should be an antidote to science fiction’s notorious right-wingness (and by that I’m referring to the texts, not the authors). Where are the science fiction works which posit socialist, or communist, futures? Where are the sf books which celebrate left-wing political thought? And isn’t it about time we showed those right-wingers that: no, they don’t speak for all of us. In fact, they probably only speak for a minority.

Back in 2009, Mark Boulds and China Miéville published a  book of essays on “Marxism and Science Fiction” titled Red Planets. And Miéville has proffered a reading list of left-wing genre works. But this should be something which is ongoing, which grows each year, which is in conversation with both itself and the wider genre (yes, including its more fascistic elements).

So, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I thought it might be a good idea to, well, take Lavie’s idea and punt it out into public for discussion. And I decided to call this imaginary socialist sf award the Sputnik Award because it was the most obvious name for it – celebrating both the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth (you can’t get MOAR SPACE than that), the Russian for “fellow traveller” (used as code for “communist”), and named for a thing rather than a person (who might later prove divisive or contentious).

Sputnik, hanging in Milestones of Flight, National Air and Space Museum

Sputnik, hanging in Milestones of Flight, National Air and Space Museum

However… awards need shortlists. From which they can choose a winner. Who will then receive a trophy or something. But, well, socialist science fiction… Such a thing exists, it must exist, but where is it? Can anyone suggest any science fiction novel, novella, short story or graphic novel, published in 2015, which is both science fiction and socialist? There’s Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, although that posits a form of Athenian democracy (a political system much beloved in sf) rather than outright socialism; Carolyn Ives Gilman’s Dark Orbit certainly embodies the spirit of socialism, although the only political systems mentioned are anything but; and there’s Carter Scholz’s ‘The United States of Impunity’ which is only just sf and only just fiction and more of a critique of the current economic and politic climate in the US than anything else…

There must be examples out there. Any suggestions? Or is sf just too right-wing? Are we going to have to accept that science fiction exists only as a right wing genre? That even its left-wing writers end up writing right-wing stories? I hope not.

Because that would be really sad.


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Awards time again

This is not a post listing what 2015 works of mine are eligible for genre awards. I disagree with the practice, I think it badly distorts the award-space, and it’s bending the entire field out of shape thanks to the stupid wrangling over who and what each of the awards actually represent. I’ve refused to post lists of my eligible works in the past, and I see even less of a reason to start doing it now.

However, I do vote in awards – well, one of them: the British Science Fiction Association Award. And I’ve been doing so for over twenty years. This year, there’s been a change to the process. Voters have until 31 December to nominate four works in each of the categories – novel, short fiction, non-fiction and art – in order to make up a long list. During January, voters will get to nominate four works from that long list to generate the short lists. Which will be voted on, and awarded, at the Eastercon in Manchester on the weekend of 25 to 28 March 2016.

Eligible works must have been published during 2015. Novels must have been published in the UK – unless they’re ebook only, in which case country of publication is irrelevant. There are no geographical restrictions on short fiction, non-fiction or art.

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According to my records, I have read only nine genre novels published during 2015. One of them I would like to nominate – Carolyn Ives Gilman’s Dark Orbit – but it has yet to be published in the UK and so is ineligible. Of course, there’s no reason why I can’t nominate a book I’ve not read – I have until the end of January to read it, after all.

One novel I suspect will appear on a lot of ballots is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora. It’s certainly been one of 2015’s high-profile releases. And Kim Stanley Robinson is one of the genre’s best authors. The book has received a great deal of praise. But. It didn’t work for me. For all the work he put into designing the ecology of his generation starship, the characters were completely flat and, despite the interesting commentary on narratology in the AI narrative, it all read to me like Californians in Spaaace. However, there was another generation starship novel published during 2015, by an author better known for writing epic fantasy: Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky. While the narrative set aboard the spaceship was a little too trad to me, the spider-based civilisation which forms the core of the novel’s story was fascinating and brilliantly done. Children of Time will be taking one of my slots.

Then there’s Ancillary Mercy, the final novel in the Imperial Radch trilogy. I found this disappointing. I liked the first book, Ancillary Justice, very much – but it seems that was pretty much a prologue to the actual plot. Which, as resolved in Ancillary Mercy, was unsatisfyingly small-scale. There was also far too much talking about each character’s emotional state, to the extent it often overwhelmed the narrative. I won’t be nominating it.

David Mitchell’s Slade House was Mitchell being clever, which he does well, but was pretty slight – not to mention deploying a few too many horror clichés, or indeed being structured such that one entire section was pure exposition. Ilka Tampke’s Skin had much to recommend it, particularly its depiction of Roman Britain, but although not marketed as YA it read like it had been put together following YA story patterns – to its detriment. The less said about Christopher Fowler’s The Sand Men, the better. Claire North’s Touch was based on an appealing premise – so appealing, in fact, it seems to have spontaneously appeared half a dozen times in the past couple of years; something in the water? – but its weak plot scuppered it. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was much, much better.

Among the 2015 books on my TBR are Justina Robson’s Glorious Angels, the final book in Alastair Reynold’s Poseidon’s Children trilogy, Poseidon’s Wake, Dave Hutchinson’s Europe at Midnight, and Chris Beckett’s Mother of Eden. I also plan to keep an eye on the recommendations of several other people, and if anything they mention takes my fancy then I’ll read it. For this first round of the BSFA Award at least, it’s worth putting in a speculative vote – ie, for a book you’ve not read but think might be award-worthy – rather than letting the vote go to waste.

As for short fiction… Every year, it gets to this time of year and I realise I’ve not been reading the short fiction published in various places, so I go and skim-read all the various magazines until I find something which takes my fancy. This year, however, I have at least one dead cert: A Day in Deep Freeze by Lisa Shapter, a novella published by Aqueduct Press. That will be getting one of my slots. There’s also a David Herter story on tor.com, ‘Islands off the Coast of Capitola, 1978‘, and I’m a big fan of Herter’s fiction. But we’ll see what comes of my high-speed trawl through 2015’s genre fiction over the next week or so…

I have two candidates for non-fiction – My Fair Ladies by Julie Wosk, a study of “female androids, robots and other artificial Eves”; and Adam Roberts’s Rave and Let Die, if only because I don’t want him to give up his genre criticism. Jonathan McClamont has written some excellent ‘Future Interrupted’ columns in Interzone during the year. Likewise Nina Allan and her ‘Time Pieces’ column. And there was an extended conversation back in July across the blogosphere, about science fiction and criticism and the history of science fiction, prompted by an article by Renay published by Strange Horizons, ‘Communities: Weight of History‘… which then led to ‘The Weight of History‘ by Nina Allan… which then intersected with Jonathan McCalmont’s ‘What Price Your Critical Agency?‘ and resulted in Maureen Kincaid Speller’s ‘{and then} a writing life beyond reviews‘. In a genre space in which corporate marketing and support network advocacy is bending fandom out of shape, this is an important sequence of articles, and some, if not all, deserve nominations.

Finally, there’s art… another category I tend to look for suitable nominees at the last minute. One of my nominations will go to Kay Sales for the cover art to All That Outer Space Allows, not only because it’s a lovely piece of design but because I think the cover designs for all four books (the second editions of the first two, plus three and four) are striking and worthy of an award. Interzone has continued to publish some excellent interior illustrations for its stories. I particularly liked Richard Wagner’s illustration for ‘The Worshipful Company of Milliners’ by Tendai Huchu and Vincent Sammy’s illustration for ‘Songbird’ by Fadzlishah Johanabas, both in #257. I’ve had a quick look at my bookshelves, and online, for cover art from genre books published in 2015… and failed to find any which particularly stood out. Except, perhaps, the cover art to Hannu Rajaniemi’s Collected Fiction, which is by Luis Lasahido. But I shall continue to look, in the hope I find enough candidates for my ballot before the end of the year.


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I haz the award sad

Back in 2012, I self-published a science fiction novella, Adrift on the Sea of Rains. I had expected it to disappear without trace, so I was surprised and delighted when it was nominated for the BSFA Award. And it won!

Wow.

AQ2_2nd_edn_coverAdrift on the Sea of Rains was the first book of the Apollo Quartet, it said so on the cover. The second novella of the quartet, The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself, was actually published a couple of months before Adrift on the Sea of Rains won the BSFA Award. Some people liked it better than the first novella. The third novella, Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above, was published in November 2013. Like the other two books, it received some really good reviews. Even Adam Roberts, an extremely sharp and insightful critic, wrote of Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above, “excellence is here”.

A number of people I knew online told me they were nominating The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself or Then Will The Great Ocean Wash Deep Above, or both, for the Hugo. I did myself too (in hindsight, not the smartest thing I could have done).

Then the Hugo shortlists were announced. I wasn’t on any of them. I was disappointed.

But what I did not do was go home and start up a Sad Ian campaign to get myself nominated the following year. Oh, I wouldn’t have framed it as a “get Ian nominated for the Hugo” campaign. I’d have said there weren’t enough self-published works getting nominated: Sad Indies. Or perhaps I’d have complained there weren’t enough Brits on the shortlists, despite the Worldcon taking place in the UK that year: Sad Brits.

AQ3_2nd_edn_coverAnd then I would have got a bunch of people who like my fiction, or believed my lies, and persuaded them to nominate me and a few other random members of my clique. But I’d have made sure everyone knew it wasn’t about me or my inability to get nominated. It’s about indie writers! Or, it’s about Brit writers! And if the stats didn’t back up my position, well, I’d just lie, or point fingers at someone popular I could recast as the villain of the piece.

I spent half an hour this morning tallying up the gender balance of the Hugo Award fiction categories since 1959. It doesn’t make for pretty reading. In 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1971 zero women were nominated. Typically the percentage hovered around 85% male to 15% female, although in 1992, male writers were in the minority for the first time (48% male, 52% female). In 2010, things started to change. The percentage of women on the shortlists doubled to 39%. And in 2011, 2012 and 2013, women outnumbered men.

hugomf

But then the Sad Larries happened. And last year, the percentage dropped to 62% male and 38% female. And this year, they managed to drop it even further to 80% male and 20% female. And yet they claim they ran their slate to increase diversity! On what planet does more white men on the shortlists than before mean increased diversity?

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 3.46.35 PMThis year, I have three novels published – the final book of the Apollo Quartet, All That Outer Space Allows, from Whippleshield Books; and the first two volumes my space opera trilogy An Age of Discord, A Prospect of War in July and A Conflict of Orders in October (the final book, A Want of Reason, will appear next year). I don’t want to be sad next year because none of them were nominated.

VOTE FOR SAD IAN!

A VOTE FOR SAD IAN IS A VOTE FOR MORE IAN!*

(* For the record, I’m taking the piss. You know, just in case certain people decide to use this post as more ammunition for their sealioning.)


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My BSFA nominations

I’m not really a big fan of popular vote awards, but having been a member of the British Science Fiction Association for over twenty years, and having attended, on and off, the annual Eastecon for around the same period, I’ve usually voted in the BSFA Award. I’ve also found that the shortlists frequently align quite well with my own tastes in the genre – something, obviously, that isn’t all that surprising when you’re a member of the core constituency.

Recent years have seen several changes to the awards. While the categories have finally settled at four – novel, short fiction (ie, any length shorter than novel), non-fiction and art – rules on eligibility have been affected by the advent of the internet and ebooks. Novels have to be published in the UK in the previous calendar year, which is pretty straightforward. Unless – and this is a fairly recent change – they’re ebook-only, in which case, as long as they’re available to UK residents (except the new EU VAT rules on digital products may scupper that from 2015 onwards). Back in the 1990s, short fiction also had to be UK-published, but now there is no such restriction. Likewise for non-fiction and art.

This year, however, a couple of more fundamental changes have been put in place. First, voters can now only nominate four works in each category. Previously, they could nominate as many as they wanted. And novels don’t have to be published in the UK, providing the author is British. The BSFA has also begun crowdsourcing a list of eligible works – although the list could do with some serious curating as there’s a lot of ineligible and duplicated entries on it.

This is all a long-winded way of presenting my own four choices in each category. Which are these:

novel
1 Europe in Autumn, Dave Hutchinson (Solaris)
2 The Grasshopper’s Child, Gwyneth Jones (TJoy Books UK)
3 The Moon King, Neil Williamson (NewCon Press)
4 The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North (Orbit)

The first two were easy picks. I’ve spent this month completing my 2014 reading, but still failed to get to some possible contenders, such as Bête, Station Eleven*, Ancillary Sword, The Girl in the Road, The Echo, Wolves, Annihilation or The Bone Clocks – all of which sounded like the sort of novels which would appeal to me and might have made the cut. Novels that didn’t make it onto my ballot, though it was a close-run thing, include The Race, A Man Lies Dreaming, The Mirror Empire and Descent.

* Having said that, I find most literary post-apocalypse novels, no matter how beautifully written, extremely banal.

short fiction
1 ‘Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology’, Theodora Goss (Lightspeed, July 2014)
2 ‘Four Days of Christmas’, Tim Maughan (Motherboard, 24 December 2014)
3 ‘Diving into the Wreck’, Val Nolan (Interzone #252, May-Jun 2014)
4

I really went off short fiction in 2014. Everywhere I looked, the same sort of genre short stories were being published, and it wasn’t a sort I much cared for. As a result, I had to do some last minute reading, which meant some skim-reading of various magazines (I only read one anthology published in 2014 and it was poor; I didn’t buy any published during the year), some clicking through of links on posts of recommendations… and even then I couldn’t actually find four pieces of short fiction I felt were any good. The three listed above were ones that stood out for me during my headlong reading. It’s not the best way to pick something for an award, but then is there a best way?

non-fiction
1 Call and Response, Paul Kincaid (Beccon Publications)
2 ‘The State of British SF and Fantasy: A Symposium’ (Strange Horizons, 28 July 2014)
3 ‘Short Fiction and the Feels’, Jonathan McCalmont (Ruthless Culture, 6 October 2014)
4 Nina Allan’s “live blogging” of her read of The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women (The Spider’s House, November 2014)

Paul Kincaid has been an insightful genre critic for a long time, so a collection of his essays gets my first pick, especially since the book contains pieces on many of my favourite genre writers. The Strange Horizons Symposium I thought particularly well done, and I’m surprised it didn’t generate more comment. McCalmont has been writing some really interesting stuff about genre fandom for a while now, but I thought his piece on current short fiction was especially good. Allan is one of my favourite online genre critics, and her extended review, over some twenty posts, of The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women was a text-book example of the right way to review a large anthology.

art
1 Cover of Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall, Andy Potts (Egmont)
2 Hyperluminal, Jim Burns (Titan Books)
3 Cover of The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M Harris, Andreas Preis (Gollancz)
4 Cover of Wolves by Simon Ings, Jeffrey Alan Love (Gollancz)

mars_evacuees hyperluminal The-Gospel-of-Loki ings-wolves

My first choice was an easy pick. That really is a striking piece of cover art. I wasn’t sure whether Hyperluminal counted as art or non-fiction, but it’s a book about art, and I’ve always loved Jim Burns’s art, so I’m putting it here. I then spent one evening last weekend trawling through SF Signal’s forthcoming books posts for inspiration… and both The Gospel of Loki and Wolves jumped out at me. So to speak.

ETA: Apparently, the art award is for “single image” only, which means Hyperluminal is ineligible. So I need to find something else to nominate instead. I’ll update this post when I’ve found something, but for now I’ll Hyperluminal in place even though I’m not nominating it.


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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.