Before You Complain

Yes, it is Hugo Nominations season again, so we are getting the usual rash of posts about how the Hugos are completely out of touch with what SF fans are reading today. And in the first two I looked at today one was complaining that there was no really good hard SF in the Best Novel list, and the other was complaining that there was no blockbuster fantasy in the Best Novel list.

Now of course there could be both of those things. (I nominated Daniel Abraham and Paul McAuley.) But what the complainers really want is a ballot that solely reflects their taste, because that’s what they think is “good”. It ain’t gonna happen.

Firstly the Hugos are popular vote awards that cover the whole of fandom. These days fandom is very diverse. A list that has representatives of a wide range of different tastes would be a good result.

And secondly, I always wonder how many of these people who complain so bitterly actually sent in nominations. Yes, I know it is expensive. People like Kevin and I are working hard to both bring down the cost and get your more for your supporting membership. But when it comes down to it, if you don’t participate, the Hugos will represent other people’s tastes, not yours.

19 thoughts on “Before You Complain

  1. No complaints from me this year, as while I did want certain other books to appear on the shortlist, three of the books that did appear that I read I could easily see why they’d get the love. However, I’ve seen a different type of complaint, one that perhaps ought to be raised in the business meetings.

    There is no separate category for YA novels. While it’s tricky enough defining what constitutes “YA,” the Nebula Award committee has seen fit to create the Andre Norton Award for such novels and perhaps an analogue can be done to recognize those stories, just like the Graphic Novel category was created for that storytelling form?

    Curious to know what arguments, if any, have been made in the past in regards to having a YA category added.

  2. Larry:

    Basically it is what you said. WSFS can be persuaded to make splits or new categories where they are clearly defined, but not where they can’t be. There is no clear definition of a YA novel, and the Norton shows what a mess you can get into. Already SFWA has a situation where a book is allowed to win both the Nebula and the Norton, thereby admitting that they can’t distinguish between YA and adult fiction. And also they have books on the Nebula short list that are published as YA but didn’t make the Preliminary Ballot for the Norton. That’s crazy.

    People will doubtless argue that other awards do make the split, but they miss the fact that the awards they are pointing at are different in nature. If you have a submissions process then where a book gets submitted defines what is YA and what isn’t. If you have a situation where one person or a small group gets to decide what goes where, then again the decision is easy. But with the Hugos you have to come up with a rule that the majority of fans can understand and agree upon. I’m sure you can see how hard that is.

  3. Also, thinking about it a bit more, the complaints of this type I have seen have actually been the same thing I noted in the post. It isn’t that people see the need for a separate YA category. What they really are saying is, “the authors I don’t like don’t get nominated, and they write mainly YA, so if there was a separate YA category then they would get nominated.” The answer to that is, “your favorite authors don’t get nominated because you don’t participate in the process, and other people who like different authors do.”

  4. I thought YA and Children’s Science Fiction have (historically) a hard time getting on the ballot. I didn’t complain that no japanese animation got onto the ballot because I know that we have a ways to go before that happens. I was surprised that an audio novel got a nomination for BDP-Long Form. I didn’t complain about it though because it meets the rules as WSFS defines them.

  5. Tom S:

    Three of the five nominees in Best Novel this year were marketed as YA. The people who are complaining that “no YA” gets on the ballot are mainly complaining that no YA urban fantasy by women writers is on the ballot, which isn’t the same thing at all.

  6. While I have, in the past, said that I’d be happy to see a YA category, current publishing habits would make the separation quite complex. What do you do with books, like The Graveyard Book and Eon/Two Pearls of Wisdom, that had both adult and YA editions? Scalzi’s novel was not published specifically as YA, although it has a young protagonist and would qualify, because it was expected to appeal to both adult and YA audiences, but the Locus Recommended Reading List placed it in the YA category. And the current Nebula/Norton situation is indeed very odd. I agree that the separation is too hard to make. After all, WALL-E doesn’t somehow “not count” as “real” long form because it has a G rating.

  7. For me the list is pretty much what I would have predicted except maybe for Gaiman, though I know he is very popular.

    Scalzi, Doctorow and Stross dominate the Net in the Hugo-like audience, so they are guaranteed nominations whenever they have something passable.

    Anathem is just the essence of sf and Stephenson is a cult figure the way Vinge is so again either has a guaranteed place.

    It’s demographics/interests of the specific voters nothing more, nothing less, so there is no reason to complain.

    There is the Gemmell award for epics now and hopefully it will roll out smoothly, so there is an outlet there. We need a urban magic award and everyone will be happy.

    Outside of Anathem which I thought a rare, once in a decade novel, though I have to see how many times I get the urge to reread it in years to come, I only finished Saturn’s Children, barely, and I thought that my tastes and Stross’ writing diverged too much for me to profitably comment on it.

    Last Colony was the last Scalzi novel I think I will ever read for the same reasons as with Stross, while I never liked Cory’s fiction though I like his columns.

    I like the Campbell though – truly doing a great job of featuring new writers; I would love either Mr. Gilman or Mr. Durham to win since I loved Arjun’s tale in the Ararat duology as well as Pride of Carthage and Acacia despite some flaws in both

    In short fiction my readings were more outside of the “mainstream”, indies, anthologies, but The Tear is a great, great novella and I would love it to win.

    Of course as big fan of Emerald City in its heyday – it is still the model for reviewing sff for me – I would like you to win the nominated award 🙂

  8. Cheryl:

    My apologies about this. I have limited experience in what gets nominated for the Hugos and haven’t read any of the nominated Novels, Novellas or Novelettes. This is more due to being very busy and leaning towards media as a fan. YA urban fantasy by women writers is a different issue. More diversity in any awards process is a good thing and it is ashame that they don’t make that clear in their posts.

  9. And there’re people complaining that YA novels are on the Hugo ballot at all-because they can’t possibly be as good as the aduklt novels because they’re kids books-see the comments on’s pots of the ballot for an example.
    And most of the YA written by women is not YA.

  10. Nadine:

    And most of the YA written by women is not YA.

    So clearly you have a definition of what YA is, that is separate from how it is marketed. Would you care to elaborate?

  11. The problem with the “if you don’t participate, the Hugos will represent someone else’s opinions” principle—as I’m sure you know—is that since it already is like that for many and has been so for quite a while, why should people care about the Hugos enough to try to make them reflect their taste instead of just ignoring them.

    I appreciate Kevin and yours efforts to widen the appeal of the Hugos very much, and really hope you succeed, but at the moment I think saying the Hugos “cover the whole of fandom” overstates it a bit, and may even emphasize the notion (which I know you don’t subscribe to) that “the whole of fandom” means “people who attend Worldcons” and excludes the rest as not part of fandom.

  12. Tero:

    Yeah, I know, but there really is nothing that Kevin and I can do by ourselves. If people don’t care enough about the Hugos to want to help make them more representative of fandom then they are already dead, they just haven’t fallen over yet.

    Goes off to shoot herself.

  13. Don’t underestimate what even two people can do—not by themselves certainly, but by inspiring others to take an interest and effect a change. I think you’re doing an admirable job at that. I can’t tell if, to put in in bulk fantasy terms, “the dark forces opposing you” are too strong, but I hope not. But anyway it’s a long and uphill struggle, I’m afraid.

    For what it’s worth, I think your idea of adding more value to the Worldcon supporting membership, making it more attractive to new people who aren’t able or willing to attend the convention itself, and thus making more people eligible to vote in the process is an excellent one, and one that actually might have a chance to change the process and the way people view Worldcons and the Hugos.

  14. The trouble is that these days people want instant gratification, often for no work. So this year what happens is that everyone says there should be change, but hardly anyone is willing do do anything. The nightmare I have about Montreal is that Locus wins Semiprozine, Dave Langford wins Fan Writer, and the Business Meeting votes to scrap the Semiprozine category and not continue the Graphic Story category. At which point all of the people who wanted change say, “see, They fixed it again!” And there will be no point then in Kevin or I saying, “that’s because you let Them do it,” because no one will want to listen.

  15. I know what you mean. We’ve had a challenge for years to get fandom to nominate short stories for the Atorox award. The correlation between people who most vocally complain about the best stories not getting on the list and the people who actually nominate stories is surprisingly (or not) small.

    (The situation is improving, though: there have been a few new associations and net communities joining in the voting process in the past couple of years, so I’m hoping this will invigorate the award — even if I’m not personally that enthusiastic about getting a lot of new young voters who think Stephenie Meyer is the best the sf writing world currently has to offer…)

  16. That’s the trouble with popular vote awards, they tend to be won by people who are popular. I don’t mind that. The Hugos only rarely reflect my taste, and that’s OK. What annoys me are the people who claim that the Hugos don’t need fixing because they go to books that are popular with them and their friends, and are horrified that we might let people who like other sorts of books vote.

  17. I’ll be especially interested to see the list of nominations this year after the awards are given. I think the field of good work was wide this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a fairly large number of titles clustered just below the top five cut-off. Consensus, by its nature, pleases few people as much as we’d all like to be pleased.

    Attempting to increase participation AND broaden diversity in a process that leads to consensus is a pretty thankless task, although I’m convinced that it’s a highly valuable one. So thank you.

  18. Susan:

    One of the interesting things about the Hugo process is that it promotes diversity in the nominating stage and consensus in the final ballot. Unfortunately, if we don’t have a diverse electorate, the first part doesn’t work.

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