The Hugo Award nominees have been announced and, imagine this, there is Controversy.
I don’t have a dog in this hunt, as I have nothing on the list nor have I published anything in the last year or two that would be eligible. That will change this year, as I have a short story collection coming out soon which includes a number of Brand New Previously Unpublished stories, but for this year, I’ m not involved. None of this affects me.
But controversy, oh my.
First off, let me send a big congratulations to Ann Leckie. Her really excellent novel, Ancillary Justice, has made the short list on a scad of awards. She did not take the PKD, which kind of puts us in the same company. Both our first novels (counted as the first novel that was entirely our own original work—my first published novel was a franchise work) made the PKD shortlist and we both did not win. (I prefer that to “we both lost” but it may appear a quibble to some.) Ancillary Justice is a fine piece of work and I will be writing up a review of it any minute now over on The Proximal Eye. It’s on the Hugo ballot and for my money should take the award. Of course, it’s also on there against Charlie Stross, who writes my kind of skiffy as well, so…
Which brings me to controversy number one. Robert Jordan’s entire Wheel of Time series is on the slate as a single work.
Long ago there was a Hugo given for best series, which Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy won. (It was up against Lord of the Rings, which causes me to ponder which would win today, but I’ll leave that for another post or another blogger entirely.) Why they didn’t find a way to continue the award is one of the mysteries of the Hugo, especially since series always have been and today are even more prominent in the genre.
But this thing is 15 books, all of them massive. By sheer volume, the Wheel of Time makes Game of Thrones appear to be light reading.
Disclaimer: I tried to read the first book. Tried. Gamely charged at it three or four times. I realize there are fans out there who probably have named their children after characters in the series, but frankly this is really not my thing. To me, this is like reading a full genetic chart of category Fantasy and I found it mind-numbingly boring. I have since been told by people who read maybe seven or eight of them that basically they’re the same book over and over again and that this is indicated by the series title. Wheel, get it? But this is simply what I’ve been told, I did not make it past 50 pages of volume One.
To put a whole series up, though, directly competing with individual, standalone novels seems at base unfair. I’ve always had some ambivalence about single novels within a series winning awards, because how can they not be at least partly judged by what went before? So the award goes to a work that has an edge to start with. But I concede that it is entirely likely that a single novel in a series can rise above the rest, so…
But to intentionally nominate the whole series? No, I think this is a touch unfair unless it competes against other series.
This, however, brings us to the fundamental truth of the Hugo Award which many people tend to overlook. This award is not about the work, it’s about the fan. A work derives kudos, certainly, from what the fan decides, but the only metrics being time period (when was it published) and how many people liked it, it doesn’t matter about the work so much as it does about the reader.
Which brings me to the second Major Controversy. A writer who goes by the nom de blog Vox Day has a story on the ballot. This has caused consternation among folks who know something about this guy. He was expelled from SFWA last year, the first time a member has ever been ejected. He is a vocal presence on the internet and his opinions are, to put it mildly, eyebrow-raising in the extreme. His name popping up on the Hugo Ballot has caused a lot of noise to bubble up about “fixing” the ballot, as if he could not possibly have gained such a slot because he wrote a worthy story.
Gaming the Ballot has happened in the past. It’s based on membership to the world science fiction convention. Buy enough memberships, vote them all, whatever you want to see on the ballot can be there. (Yes, I know, it’s not quite that simple, since supposed safeguards have been put in place, but on the other hand, yes, it is that simple.) There have even been nominees in the past who were a bit embarrassed by their continued presence year after year because of the efforts of a group of dedicated (and presumably moneyed) fans.
As to Vox Day himself, I will only say that, based on what I’ve read of his posts (which fed into his getting ousted from SFWA), he and I do not share a world view.
But again, it doesn’t matter, because the Hugo is not about the story as much as it is about the reader. We can’t say to one group that their choice of nominee is invalid because this other group over here thinks the author is a world-class curmudgeon. (If that were the basis of qualifying nominees I can think of at least half a dozen off the top of my head who should never have gotten on the ballot.) Vox Day didn’t get on the ballot, he was put on the ballot. By readers.
Everyone has their own set of standards about what ought to be. There are other awards where such things matter more. This one—the Hugo—is based on reader reaction. The fans.
Which is not to say I undervalue it. I’d love to be nominated for one of those sleek rockets. More, I’d like to bring one home. It means people like the work.
Not me, so much. The work. That’s the part that matters. It’s not about you (me) it’s about the reader and how much he or she likes the work.
So as another season of controversy unfolds, maybe it would be a good idea to keep that in mind.
So good luck to the nominees.