The Hugo awards were presented Saturday, August 22, in Spokane, Washington. After four months of hyperbole and uproar the splinter groups achieved very little. They did not take a single award for original work. One thing they nominated, the film Guardians of the Galaxy, did win best dramatic form. Since nearly everyone loved Guardians of the Galaxy, that was no surprise, but I think we could put that down as a splinter group “win.”
In five categories, the fans voted No Award. This is an option that the Hugos have that most awards do not – so that fans aren’t forced to vote a meaningless “best” of a collection of bad choices.
The categories that received No Award were: Novella, Short Story, Related Works, Best Editor Short Form (stories/story collections) and Best Editor Long Form.
Xichin Cixin Liu’s hard science fiction novel The Three Body Problem won for best novel. This is a work translated from Chinese by Ken Liu (no relation). The other work of fiction that won, a novelette by Thomas Olde Heuvelt called “The Day the World Turned Upside Down,” was also a translated work. Before we all go haring off crying “trend! Trend!” let’s remember that there were relatively few (two) awards given for fiction this year.
Let me provide a bit more background to the outcome. To vote for a Hugo, you must become a member of the World Science Fiction Convention, the loose affiliation of fan groups which puts on WorldCon each year (skip this paragraph if you know this or you’re just bored). There are two memberships; Supporting and Participating. A Supporting membership costs $40 US. A Participating membership is your registration for that year’s WorldCon and gets you in the door. It’s quite a bit more, closer to $200-ish. Either type of member can vote (and nominate, that’s important).
This year’s membership broke all previous records. 11,330 people signed up. More than 6,000 of them chose to be Supporting members, like me.
5,950 members voted, the largest voter turnout in the history of the award.
Back in January thru March, 2015 the counts of people nominated looked somewhat different. The Sasquan committee got 2,122 valid nominating ballots. Only about 20% of the people who became the voting pool actually nominated work. Think of the difference in turnouts between a primary election and a general one.
Oh, but that’s not it! They saw the short list, they were appalled, and immediately registered so they could stop the splinter groups! Right? Maybe. And all of them can nominate work in 2016.
Let me take a moment to review the purpose of the Hugos, from the FAQs on the Hugos website:
“The Hugo Awards, to give them their full title, are awards for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy. They were first awarded in 1953, and have been awarded every year since 1955. The awards are run by and voted on by fans.”
The word in there is excellence, defined as containing the trait of being excellent: “outstanding quality or superior merit; remarkably good.” (Thanks, dictionary.com.)
What happened this year is that a small group of people, knowing the usual process of nominating versus voting, put together a list of work and got friends and like-minded people to nominate it. This pushed out all the other works. When some writers who were on the list withdrew their work, those vacanies let other works to move up onto the ballot. The winning novel was one of those.
The splinter groups counted on ignorance and apathy to let them pad the nominations, and they were right.
Where they miscalculated, I think, was in what they chose to nominate. If they had created a list of works that demonstrated excellence, they would not have seen the shut-out they got on Saturday night. One of the splinter group leaders has been yelling about the people he doesn’t like taking a “scorched earth policy to the Hugos,” which, he says, somehow, just proves his point. It wasn’t a scorched earth policy operating on Saturday. It was much simpler.
If you looked at categories like Best Novella, and asked yourself, “Is one of these the best novella I read in 2014?” the answer was no. If you asked yourself, “Do these novellas demonstrate outstanding quality? Are they remarkably good?” the answer was still no. One novella was good. Since the Hugos allow for No Award, voters actually tried to apply the principles of Hugo voting to the process, and the process worked correctly.
In the Best Short Story category, there was at least one good story. Again, it was good. It had a real character and was emotionally touching. The premise wasn’t necessarily new, but the writing was good. Was it excellent? Was it the best short story you read in 2014? Honestly, probably not. Hence, No Award.
So, I hoped someone learned a valuable lesson here. It won’t be the splinter groups. They aren’t interested in learning. I’m not sure what they’re interested in. It seems like some of them are really interested in acquiring a Hugo by any means possible. It seems like some of them have different desires. (“‘I wanted to leave a big smoking hole where the Hugo Awards were,’” he told me before the winners were announced.”)
If they had swept the awards on Saturday, they would double-down next year, slating up another list of poor work. Since they were shut out, they will… double-down next year, slating up another list of poor work.
No, it’s the rest of us, the people who just love to read fiction, talk about fiction, debate fiction, compare fiction, geek out about how well something is done, nitpick when things aren’t quite right… just, basically, us, who have learned a lesson. And that lesson is; if you want the works you loved in 2015 to have a shot at the ballot in 2016, you damn well better nominate them.
You do not have to nominate in every category. If you feel that you didn’t read enough short fiction in 2015, you don’t have to nominate in the short story category. But if you loved a couple of novels, and there’s a great podcast you like, or there’s a fanzine or review site, you can nominate in those categories. You can nominate your favorite science fiction or fantasy movie.
A couple of math geeks have already come up with “conclusive proof” that 6,000 people nominating is not a guaranteed vaccination against slateitis. Okay, but it’s got to help. The Hugo website provides lots of data about the nominations and the votes. Look at the nomination page and see what books you could have been voting for in 2015.
Some other things would be nice too; I think more and more novellas are becoming available in ways other than in the periodical that first publishes them. I know that Lightspeed has shared some. If you blog or have a podcast, share the ones you love, so other people can nominate them too. I think one of the good things that will come out of the Great Hugo Debate of 2015 is that the marketplace will be more conscious, more thoughtful and more talky about good work.
Start a “best of” list for yourself now! Look back (the year’s nearly over) and write down what stood out for you. Then add to it through the fall, so you’re set when January comes around.
Purchase a membership if you haven’t already.
The splinter groups will not change their tactics or moderate their yelling, because they are getting what they want; attention. Set them aside for a moment. What do we want? Well, probably, we want good fiction and related works of the Hugo shortlist. We can’t count on some nameless “other” to nominate the works we want to vote for. Speaking only for myself, I don’t want a minority of poor losers shaping my choices for me.
So get out the vote, but before that, get out the nominations!