So the Hugo Award nominations were announced this weekend. Yeah. . .um. . .hmm.
That’s a distressing response.
If you haven’t been following the award nominations—and you’re forgiven if you haven’t because I haven’t either—then you’re probably unaware of what has happened with this venerable award over the past few years.
The Hugo Awards have always had an element of “popularity contest” associated with them, but having read nearly every Hugo Award winning novel and many of the Hugo winning short stories, too, I would say it hasn’t affected the quality of the winning works. I’ve rarely read a Hugo Award winner and thought: “This was the best story of the year?”
Recently however, the awards have taken on a more political overtone; last year, questions about several nominees were raised because it appeared they got nominated through a coordinated effort by a small group of people (likely lead by one of the nominated authors) primarily to push their own political agenda. By most accounts, the stories nominated through that effort weren’t all that good (this is the opinions of others—I haven’t read them), and didn’t win, thus the system “corrected” itself, in a sense. I don’t profess to know all the details because frankly I’m not that interested, and I already think the science fiction field has become much too politicized, polarized and many other -ized, but that’s another story.
Now campaigning isn’t against the rules, and I would be naive to think it hasn’t been done in the past, but I’m not aware of such a coordinated effort to get an entire “slate” of works nominated, and to do it primarily to stick it some other people or ideologies in the field. While last year it resulted in only a couple of nominations (all of which were beaten out in the actually voting process), the effort was more organized this year and appears to have succeeded in getting almost an entire slate of nominations nominated. Now to be perfectly clear, I don’t care about the politics involved here; what bugs me is the process which potentially leads to the exclusion of worthy stories that don’t have the coordinated campaign behind them, and thus get lost in the number games of a crowded nomination field.
How can this happen, you ask? The way the Hugo Awards are set up, only a small number of people actually nominate and vote for the wards—attendees of WorldCon. The total nominating ballots is usually only a few thousand, so a relatively small coordinated effort by only a few hundred people can have a significant impact on the nominations. That appears to be what happened here, as the entire slate of nominees for novella, novelette and short story appear to have come from the coordinated effort. In addition, the coordinated effort got three of their five novels, all of their short form and long form editors, three of their best semi-pro publication (they only had three), and three of the Campbell Award nominees for best new writer (again they only pushed for three) onto the ballot. Interestingly, in past years, there has always been some overlap between the Nebula and Hugo nominations, but this year, not a single Nebula-nominated novella, novelette or short story got a Hugo nod. Not one.
All this makes me sad.
So be it, one side of me says, no Hugo rules were broken. But the other side of me wonders if this approach is going to bring the best work to the forefront? I don’t think it will because the coordinated effort has taken the entire slate of nominations in nearly every category, leaving no other options for consideration (other than voting “No Award,” which is possible if the voter deems the nominations to be unworthy), and I find it hard to believe that ever single story that has been nominated truly represent the best in the speculative fiction field—yeah, that’s my opinion, and other opinions obviously differ.
I must admit my confidence in the Hugo Awards has been incredibly shaken, so much so, I don’t have much interest in this year’s award, and any winners will forever carry an asterisk for me. That’s unfortunate because some of the nominees might actually deserve to be there, but because of the process, they all have become, for me at least, tainted.
I’m not going to bother to list the nominations—they feel like a sham to me–but if you’re interested, you can find them here.
I agree with your post 100%. Bloc voting sucks. However, when nominations and awards are based on a popular vote, this really is a quite logical way of trying to win. Every award that is given using these criteria suffers from this type of thing: the most glaring example is professional sports all-star teams. When something is simply a popularity contest, then that is exactly what it will be. And popularity contests do not reward the “best” product or person, they only reward the most popular. Or the one able to campaign for and organize their votes the most efficiently.
So true, but the main difference I see here is bloc voting across an entire slate to capture every nomination in every category, which I think is different than what has happened before–and, which under Hugo Award rules, is not against the rules. This wasn’t bloc voting for a particular piece because it was popular among the “masses,” this was bloc voting across a slate to make a (political) point. By all appearances, and even based on the words of some of the individuals involved, it has little to do with popularity and more with sticking it to some people in the writing community. Getting behind a particular story and promoting it is one thing, but I can’t honestly believe everyone who voted the slate really was of one mind with regards to all the stories? For me, that is what sucks about this, and I think it will fundamentally change the way the Hugo Awards work until the rules are changed.
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