Monday, April 21, 2014

Everyone's Angry About the Hugos

John Scalzi has argued that the Hugo nominations shouldn't be announced so close to Easter since too many people are busy to get caught up in them. Cleverly, the voters circumvented that this year by nominating people that would piss everyone off.

The most outrage is about Vox Day's novelette, Opera Vita Aeterna, published in The Last Witchking. Everyone was furious without having read the story. Why? Because Vox Day is also a cartoonishly bigoted blogger, most famous for writing unforgivable things about N.K. Jemisin. Here his fiction has been nominated, not the person, but liberal voters have a difficult time extricating the two, or even seeing why they should bother. It's the most brazen example yet of Hugo voters copping to the awards not being exclusively about the works nominated.

The nomination presents a fascinating problem for WorldCon. We knew about 10% of SFWA members voted for him to be their president before he was kicked out of the group. Now we know enough WorldCon members are willing to vote in his work, and it feels like there's a reactionary element here, hoisting him up in retribution for his booting.

But what do we do about this? Kick out anyone who votes for him? Go make a new club that doesn't let "the wrong kind" of people in? For all the negativity flowing right now, I don't see any reasonable solutions proposed.

The Coode Street Podcast did an excellent job covering accusations of block voting when it comes to Larry Correia's Sad Puppy Ballot, which solicited people to buy memberships particularly to push a block of nominees Correia arranged. Correia is also nominated for Best Novel this year, for the first time in his career. At worst it's not nearly as gnarly as the Oscars get, but it's hard to get enthused.

I've got my gripes. Among them…

It remains silly that a group fearing for its age continues to refuse any YA categories.

I'd like the WorldCon community to figure out where Welcome to Night Vale belongs and vote it the heck onto a ballot already.

Oh yeah, and Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form remains Nerd's Favorite Blockbuster. While I respect the great craft that went into Gravity, it's onerous that Mamoru Hosoda's The Wolf Children has largely gone unwatched. Hosoda, also director of the sterling and unsung films The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars, is probably going to have to be like Hayao Miyazaki and have an absolutely titanic career internationally before the Hugo voters will recognize him. Or worse, he'll wind up like Satoshi Kon and die without Western audiences ever hearing of him.

The last big fight is about Robert Jordan (and Brandon Sanderson)'s The Wheel of Time being nominated for Best Novel. I wrote a lengthy essay about the silliness of this, then shelved it not wanting to pollute dialogue with negativity. I'm not a Wheel of Time fan, and don't need to be to respect other people's enjoyment. But an entire series that's already gained amazing success competing against any one novel written last year is ridiculous to the point of tanking the entire category.

I may have to dust off that essay.

Trust me: I want
to take this seriously.
Look, awards competition is generally stupid. Even a Best Novel, be it Man Booker or Hugo, forces readers to compare fiction that has drastically different goals and strengths. Are you supposed to be objective about something fundamentally subjective? Or are you just picking favorites, and we're supposed to be proud of the one of five nominees that the most people essentially clicked Like on? Neither of these is particularly helpful for the appreciation of art.

The great feature of any good award is its ballot serving as recommendation. Bestseller lists already let us know what's popular, and if a work has gotten on there then it already has a leg up. Nominating Jo Walton's Among Others rather helps the visibility of something that's not essentially commercial but has great value. Whatever you may say for the works, the ballot made me look up the new Ted Chiang novelette and sparked many discussions with Redditors about Ann Leckie and Larry Correia's fiction (response for both authors was markedly positive). Especially today, avenues for exposure are crucial.

That's exactly what a decades-long bestselling Fantasy series like The Wheel of Time doesn't need. The original author died a wealthy and famous man, and lived to see his influence reign over the industry.

Of course my view is flawed, as all awards are contests of popularity and anything that makes it onto such a list needs to have accrued some popularity to get there. Yet even if you're still convinced awards are about patting artists on the back, you still have to regard that Robert Jordan won't be there to get his rocket ship trophy.

So many people being unhappy with these awards have made them the most fun to ruminate on. It's easy to default back to awards-nihilism.

Now off to check the local library for a copy of Ancillary Justice.


  1. It is utterly ridiculous that an entire series can be nominated for "best novel." Leaving aside whether or not it's "worthy" or not... how is this even allowed? I've never seen a series nominated before. Does this mean I can nominate Bujold's entire Chalion series?--or her Vorkosigan series, even? (Does Bujold need more Hugos, tho? ;) )

    I don't have a problem with problematic people being nominated. They're awful, but their fiction can be read and judged on the same merits as anyone else's.

    In other news, I know nothing about Hosoda. I should check out his work, because I was a huge Satoshi Kon fan. (And since I did not know you at the time, I am now going to go read your epitaph for him, four years late).

    1. Based on the Vorkosigan Saga's success with individual Hugos, it'd be pretty funny if it didn't win for the whole series! Bujold came to mind for this, too, though it's been eligible for individual awards.

      I strongly recommend giving Hosoda a shot. As many of my favorite directors (domestic and international) pass away and retire, he's been a great spot of brightness, rising into the ability to make whatever film he wants.

    2. Apparently, since none of the individual books have been nominated before, the entire series is still eligible.

      I haven't read them, but I know people who were devoted to them. Of course, that was ~20 years ago, and the series was long in the tooth even then.

  2. The language of the Hugo nomination law/rule/whatever says that an entire serial work may be nominated in the year the final piece came out *iff* none of the individual works have been nominated/won (I forget). Which means it's not possible to nominate the entire Vorkosiverse (which isn't really a serial, anyway).

    I wasn't impressed with Wolf Children, and Girl didn't do much for me, either. The spouse bought Summer Wars, but I haven't seen it yet. (He liked it.)

    1. I think you mean 3.2.6, which is what Leigh Butler hung her argument on at "Works appearing in a series are eligible as individual works, but the series as a whole is not eligible. However, a work appearing in a number of parts shall be eligible for the year of the final part."

    2. Even given that language, that sounds really... cheese-weaselly.

    3. I'd much sooner support a Series Award. I understand wanting to honor beloved series, but I just don't think this is the category for it. "Cheese-weaselly" is proper language for it.

    4. Rules lawyers aren't just a D&D thing ;)

  3. Well, I suppose there's always that tension in any award between "best" and "most popular." Only one of them has an easily definable metric, and unfortunately it's the one that lends itself best to gaming the system.

  4. This reminds me a bit of the Oscars, where "lifetime achievement award" seems to mean, "Yeah, you got screwed all the times you were nominated. Sorry about that."

    Your analysis sounds solid (I'm more cynical about awards and haven't been following as closely as you have). I'd be into reading that other post you mentioned.

    1. The Lifetime Achievement Award comparison makes some sense, though I'd argue that Jordan was never screwed by voters during any of the years where I read his novels. The individual books did not hold up well against competition, which makes it feel fairer that the entire series gets to compete for something. But I still dislike the entire series being held up against individual novels.

      I'm a little less cynical about the Hugos in general because there is a significant and at least semi-fannish voting group. It can be manipulated, and the integrity is greater for, say, Best Editor than Best Drama, but there's a lot of honest emotion regardless.

  5. Well, it is legal and there is some precedent. But Blackout/All Clear was a duology and published in the same year.

    For such a long-running series? You can make the argument that it is one story divided into many, many parts, so it is really just one gigantic novel. I even agree with this (because it is not an episodic series like some others. Subsequent books would not make much sense without previous books.)

    All the same, I wish it hadn't been nominated.

    Though by this definition I would like to see Jim Butcher's fantasy series up for a Hugo, too.


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