Possibly building on the panel discussion at Finncon (in which he made very similar points) Adam Roberts has taken a pot shot at this year’s Hugo nominees. It is an interesting analysis, and much of the subsequent discussion focuses on the fact that the Hugos are a popular vote award, whereas the Clarke, whose nominees Roberts prefers, is a juried award. (It is also the case that several of this year’s Clarke nominees were not widely available outside of the UK, and indeed the winner was published by a small press and was not widely available inside the UK). A couple of comments, however, stood out. It appears that the mysterious “They” who control the Hugos have been at it again. Abigail Nussbaum:
Adam, you’re assuming that SF fandom = Hugo voters. It’s clearly in the Hugo administrators’ interests to maintain the perception that Worldcon membership is representative of fandom at large, but that hasn’t been the case for some time
Nicholas Whyte adds:
primary responsibility lies with those who currently run and promote the Hugos to entice those potential voters to participate.
Leaving aside, for the moment, the fact the Hugo Administrators are different people each year, and that they generally have little or no PR function, where exactly is the evidence that anyone is trying to pretend that Worldcon membership is representative of fandom as a whole, as opposed to, say, trying to get more of fandom to participate in the Hugos? Can you say “voter packet” anyone? Is that not, perhaps, enticing people to participate?
It is clearly in Ms. Nussbaum’s and Mr. Whyte’s interest to maintain the impression that the Hugos are controlled by a mysterious and shadowy cabal, rather than by ordinary fans who are trying hard to improve the awards. That makes it so much easier to play victim and whine when the results of the awards don’t turn out the way you want. But actually pretending that people who have been tasked with promoting the Hugos are doing nothing, or are actively trying to cover up the lack of participation, is downright inaccurate. More than that, given the amount of time that Kevin and I, and John Scalzi, and several other people, have put into doing this, it is fucking insulting.
The irony is that this year’s Best Novel short list has attracted far more attention than most years I can remember. It has got that attention precisely because all of the people on the list are very popular: Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson, Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi and Charlie Stross. They are people that I would expect to see at the top of the pile if there was wider participation in the results. (Not vastly wider participation – that would bring in Stephanie Meyer.) And indeed the statistics (which Neil Clarke dug out and I quoted on SFAW recently) show that participation in the nominating stage of the Hugos rose by 65% from 483 last year to 799 this year. That suggests that some of what we have been doing has had an effect.
Like Adam, I wasn’t hugely enthralled by the books that made the short list. It could have been better. Like Adam, I would have liked to see The Quiet War on the ballot (and I very much hope that its forthcoming US publication means it will be there next year). But I recognize that my tastes (and Adam’s tastes) are somewhat different to those of fandom at large. Indeed, if the Hugos regularly reflected my tastes, rather than the tastes of several hundred people, I suspect that there would be far more suggestion that the results were unrepresentative of fandom as a whole.
(None of this, by the way, negates Adam’s point. He’s not saying that the nominees are unrepresentative of fandom’s taste, he’s saying that fandom’s taste is boring.)
I’ll continue to try to influence what other people read (go out and buy Palimpsest, all of you), but as far as the Hugos go I’ll hope for them to reflect which books are actually popular each year, not what I happen to think should get an award. And if The Quiet War and Palimpsest and The City and The City don’t make the ballot next year, I won’t go around muttering about mysterious conspiracies and complaining that those responsible for promoting the Hugos are failing in their task. That would be rather pointless, because I’d be complaining about myself.
And by the way, getting to be one of the people responsible for promoting the Hugos does not require knowledge of secret handshakes, massive bribes, or having been in fandom for the past 75 years. All it requires is that you should ask me, or Kevin, if you can help. Or indeed you can just do something yourself by talking about the awards an encouraging people to get involved.