RogerBW's Blog

Thoughts on the 2015 Hugo Awards 15 May 2015

As has been widely discussed, a group of science fiction fans and hangers-on managed to populate the 2015 Hugo Award nominees with many works from their preferred list. What is a reasonable response to this?

The politics of the group is tricky, in part because they're very wide-ranging (even within what individuals claim to believe), from explicit racism and misogyny to a stated preference for works of "the broad-chested heroes and buxom heroines, the laser blasters, the starships zooming at warp speed to save the day, etc." as distinct from self-consciously arty stuff with minimal SF/fantasy content.

That's the most sane end of the claim, that work like this is being ignored at the nomination stage, and it's one with which I have some slight sympathy: I voted No Award in several categories last year, where I didn't think any of the entries was good enough to merit a Hugo (and some of them had no fantastic content at all). But even that claim sets up a false dichotomy: there's plenty of middle ground between black disabled lesbians thinking about space and Nucilar Natomic Laser Rayguns (sic). The stories which were promoted by the slate team last year may have been actual science fiction, but they were also rather bad, and I wasn't sorry to see them not winning.

(And happily associating oneself with people who are prepared to state that women shouldn't be writing at all does rather discredit one's own claim to be making any sense.)

But forget about the specific politics of this case. What institutional slate voting gets you, no matter how well-intentioned or how much it is aligned with your own views, is political parties. Nothing can get onto the ballot unless it's part of a slate, so the people who run the slates become the kingmakers; any author who wants any chance at an award has to get in with one of them. (We've already seen popular works getting knocked off this year, and once the full nomination totals are revealed after the awards are made we'll have a better idea of what missed its one chance at a Hugo.)

For this reason I will be voting "No Award" over any slate-nominated work this year, and I shall probably not bother to read it either. I'm glad to see that some of the slate-nominated authors have had the grace to withdraw once they found out what had been done, and disappointed that so many of the others haven't.

In the long term, I don't believe changes to the nomination procedure are worth it: technical solutions to social problems rarely work. Getting more people to nominate seems like a worthwhile effort. Clearly not all that many people are actually reading SF short stories in magazines any more; should Hugos even be awarded for them at all now?

  1. Posted by Dr Bob at 02:00pm on 15 May 2015

    Not eligible to vote, but I am perturbed that the Hugos will implode if this carries on for a few more years. Will that mean Worldcon implodes too?

    A friend's blog pointed at this piece on the topic by Eric Flint, which can be summarised as "You're not being oppressed - there's simply TOO MUCH STUFF out there for the system to cope".

    I do like his suggestion of dumping the short fiction awards in favour of novel, really fat novel and novel in a series...

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 02:15pm on 15 May 2015

    Certainly I think that claiming a sequel by another hand, some years after the original author has died, should make an entire doorstop series eligible for nomination is disingenuous at best.

    I've loved many SF short stories, but I've almost always read them in anthologies, either single-author or themed. Perhaps the anthologies should get the awards rather than the stories, or the stories should be eligible in year of first book rather than magazine publication? They would at least have a wider audience that way.

    Very few people seem to agree on what the award is for, beyond "what the most members of the Worldcon voted for". I'm not sure anyone's even analysed the sales boost for a nomination or a win, though it's assumed to be positive.

  3. Posted by Happyturtle at 07:44am on 18 May 2015

    Were you referring to Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi? It features a black disabled lesbian dreaming of space, and while perhaps not a book I would nominate for a Hugo, is still a rollicking good read.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 08:39am on 18 May 2015

    I was aiming simply for a parody of the "this stuff I don't like is not real SF" attitude, but that book is on my to-read pile.

  5. Posted by MAD PROFESSAH at 03:36pm on 18 May 2015

    it must be repeated far and wide, due to the vagaries of Instant Runoff Voting (which is how the winners of the Hugos are selected) if you don't want to have your vote count towards slate-related works you have to leave those nominees OFF YOUR BALLOT completely and place NO AWARD somewhere ON your ballot if you think NO AWARD should be given in that category.

    So, if A, B, C, D and E are nominated and you think B is best, D is 2nd and everything else should not even have been nominated your ballot should look like:

    1. B
    2. D
    3. NO AWARD

    The reason is that if No award does not have enough support in the first ballot, it is removed from the ballot and then all ballots are counted with the remaining preferences included.

  6. Posted by RogerBW at 03:48pm on 18 May 2015

    Yes, I'm quite surprised by the amount of nonsense that has been talked about the voting system by people who haven't read the rules. It's all in the WSFS constitution.

    On the other hand said nonsense hasn't been talked here, so I'm a little curious as to why as a new reader you thought it worth mentioning.

  7. Posted by Danny in Canada at 06:51pm on 18 May 2015

    Worldcon won't implode because of this, because Worldcon is more than just the Hugos. That's why there's so many more people who're part of Worldcon than who nominate and vote.

  8. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 09:39am on 19 May 2015

    On the whole I agree with Dr Bob's post, and can recommend Eric Flints other postings on the Hugos. However, I would add that there are other blogs out there with equally valid posts on the Hugo awards, but that in general the comment threads are largely sound and fury, which has the tendency to lower the signal to noise ratio.

    For me, after reading a lot of arguments, all I see is prejudice, and the application of peer pressure, with a general tendency to group think. All of which I have to say appalls me for personal reasons, having been on the butt end of such things throughout my life. Therefore I have an aversion to the use of No Award in what is effectively a slate response, because choose reason: a) two wrongs don't make a right, b) the ends do not justify the means, c) insert other reason that makes sense to you etc.

    My recommendation is to read and vote for what one likes, don't vote for what one dislikes, and leave No Award out of the equation. However, I would acknowledge that YMMV and T&CA, and of course end with my usual disclaimer of E&OE.

  9. Posted by RogerBW at 10:33am on 19 May 2015

    Having now got the Hugo packet, I find only four works that (a) I haven't already read, (b) are in ePub format (which fair enough the Graphic Story or Artist submissions aren't going to be, but seriously if you're producing something that's primarily text there's no excuse not to support this; you may not be a techie but surely you have some friends who are), and (c) are non-slate nominees. So that'll make my reading life easier this year.

    Docx? Really? I wouldn't vote for someone who supplied their work only as docx even if they weren't slated.

  10. Posted by Chris at 11:10pm on 19 May 2015

    I cannot help remembering what "slating" a book has always meant to me: a reviewer criticising it severely and saying it is rubbish.


    I am eligible to vote in the Hugos; I have generally not bothered, but I feel somehow drawn to vote for books that someone else is not trying to force on me. I can make up my own mind without this sort of garbage being tried. And while I feel sorry for anyone whose work has been chosen to be part of this, I am not about to pay anything to buy what I am told.

    I suspect that I may be speaking there in much the same way that yeraverage fan would: we tend to be a stroppy, non-conforming lot, and dislike attempts to push us around.

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