Voting is open for this year’s Hugo Awards, and consequently I need to get back to dispelling the strange ideas about the Hugos that seem to proliferate at this time of the year.
This post has been inspired in particular by the latest episode of the Coode Street Podcast where Gary and Jonathan do their usual fine job, but don’t quite get everything right.
Something that they do get right is the “I haven’t read enough” myth. Every year people trot out the idea that if you haven’t read “everything” then you are not eligible to nominate. This is nonsense. Jonathan and Gary make two very good points. Firstly they talk about some categories in which they feel they don’t know enough, but that isn’t stopping them from nominating in other categories. Nor will it stop them from looking at the nominees in those categories once the finalists are announced.
Secondly Gary notes that he has not yet read a number of very high profile novels, including the latest books by Ann Leckie and NK Jemisin. Gary is a novel reviewer for Locus, and has been for decades. It is his job to read novels. But there are so many that he hasn’t had the chance to read these two obvious contenders. I have read them, but because of the Tiptree reading I haven’t yet read the 2017 novels by Cat Valente, Jeff VanderMeer, Kim Stanley Robinson or Nick Harkaway (sorry guys, I have bought them). Both Gary and I will still nominate in the Novel category. No one can read everything.
There is some discussion in the podcast of the Series category and the question of how many words have to have been published for a series to qualify. That limit is 240,000 words. I’m afraid that Nnedi will have to write at least one more Binti book for the series to be eligible.
The other new award is the YA Book. There is no word limit for this. That decision was made deliberately because many YA books are much shorter than books aimed at the adult market. Jonathan mentions the possible overlap between the YA award and Hugo categories. Yes, we know. One of the main reasons why the YA Book Award is not a Hugo is precisely because there was potential for overlap. That was done deliberately. So I’m afraid saying that you won’t nominate a book in both the YA Book Award and a Hugo category is a bit pig-headed.
Where there may be a possibility for overlap is between Novel and Series. NK Jemisin’s The Stone Sky is in line for Novel, and the Broken Earth trilogy is eligible for Series. It would be an amazing achievement if Nora was to win Hugos for all three books in a trilogy and for the series as a whole, but it is possible.
Finally we come to the bit where the podcast goes totally off the rails. Jonathan resurrects one of the best known zombies of Hugo lore, the idea that the Hugos were once for science fiction only and were later changed to include fantasy. This is not entirely Jonathan’s fault. He got the story from Justin Ackroyd. I have had this discussion with Justin before. He was wrong then and he is still wrong now.
The usual “proof” of this myth is that the Hugos used to be known as the “Science Fiction Achievement Awards”, and also affectionately as the Hugos. WSFS made the official name of the awards the Hugos because it was not possible to register a service mark for “Science Fiction Achievement Awards”. Quite rightly that was deemed too generic by the US mark registration people. The phrase “Science Fiction Achievement Awards” was later mostly eliminated from the WSFS Constitution as it was no longer relevant. (The official renaming was ratified in 1992 and, according to the Business Meeting minutes, was passed without objection.)
However, this change does not mean that the Hugos were once “officially” only for science fiction. The oldest version of the WSFS Constitution that we have available is from 1963. You can read it here. If you look at the definitions of the categories (Section 2) you will see that they use the phrase “science fiction or fantasy” (or, in the case of Amateur Magazine, “science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects”). This was long before “Science Fiction Achievement Awards” was dropped from the Constitution. There was, as far any anyone can remember or records show, never a time when the Hugos were exclusively for science fiction.
Of course this doesn’t stop people from nominating only science fiction if that is what they want to do. However, it is a bit disingenuous to compare the Hugos to things such as the World Fantasy Awards (which are exclusively for fantasy) or the Locus Awards (which have separate categories for science fiction and fantasy novels). The reason that those awards are able to make such distinctions is that they have management structures in place that can make those decisions. There is no “Hugo Committee” that is empowered to decide whether a work is science fiction or fantasy. The Hugo Administrators are just administrators and would run a mile from any suggestion that they should make such a decision. To have an award just for science fiction you would have to institute a process for deciding what qualifies, and that process must not devolve down to a popular vote.