I was up late last night waiting to see if Coraline would win in the Golden Globes. It didn’t — it lost to Up — but Neil and Amanda got to schmooze with the Hollywood glitterati and Amanda got to be dead on the red carpet in a totally speccy dress so I’m sure that the evening wasn’t a total bust,
Then I went to sleep. When I woke up I discovered that Avatar had won Best Motion Picture and people are now talking about it as a hot tip for the Oscar. That would be a first for a science fiction movie. But were the people I’m following on Twitter happy? No, of course not. They would have preferred to see another movie win than to have the prize go to an SF movie with a weak script.
It reminds me a lot of the interminable arguments over the Hugos. The bigger an award becomes, the less likely it is that quality writing will win out. And awards reflect the concerns of the people who give them. It didn’t surprise me at all to see Hollywood ignoring scriptwriting and giving one of their top awards to a movie with ground-breaking effects work that made a humongous amount of money.
I’ve not actually seen Avatar, and I probably never will, but I’m pleased for Norm Cates and the other folks at Weta that their awesome work is once again blowing Hollywood away. I also think that having a science fiction movie win major awards is yet another sign that we have won the culture war. It will help sell science fiction books.
People will, of course, still complain: about the Golden Globes, the Oscars and about the Hugos. I will mostly beg to disagree. I’m sure that there are plenty of people out there who think I only defend the Hugos because I have won two, and there’s nothing I can say that will disabuse them of that notion. For myself, however, I’d be quite happy to see my name expunged from the Hugo record if only it would stop people running the awards down all the time.
Of course it wouldn’t, so instead I put a lot of time and effort into promoting the Hugos, Worldcon, conventions, fandom and the science fiction industry. I do that partly because I love SF, and partly because I’m pretty much unemployable so I might as well do something with all of my spare time. And, as it turns out, once you get a reputation for doing hard work for free, there’s always a queue of people expecting you to do more. Often these are people in the industry who want me to work for free to help promote the work that they get paid to do.
So I spend a lot of time promoting and defending the Hugos because I believe that they are good for SF. There will always be plenty of things to complain about. The Hugos have a bunch of problems and the process of fixing them is long and tortuous. Also fans will never agree on what is “the best,” so there will always be complaints about who wins. Mostly they will be because the people in question care deeply about the works that didn’t win.
With industry professionals it is a bit different. Firstly they tend to have a much bigger audience, so what they say matters more. Secondly they often get paid for what they write, so if one digs up a tired old complaint about the Hugos that has been thrashed to death over the years and presents it as a shiny new controversy you are never quite sure if this is real or just someone shilling for eyeballs.
Also they should know better. It is not just that having a high profile set of awards is good for the industry in general, it is a question of understanding the process. These days industry professionals are very fond of complaining that fans and wannabe writers don’t understand how the industry works and make unreasonable complaints and demands for change. Mostly I support that. But in return if professionals want to criticize Worldcon or the Hugos or any other fannish endeavor they should at least find out a bit about how it works before lobbying for changes that have about as much chance of happening as tigers becoming vegetarians.
So if you are an industry professional and you are thinking of writing something that trashes the Hugos, here are a few things I’d like you to remember.
Firstly it won’t change anything for the better. The majority of Hugo voters will ignore you, and those who do like and admire you, or are convinced by your rant, will probably stop participating, meaning that fewer people who share your views will be involved in the process.
Secondly, having high profile awards is one of the best ways of getting the media to talk about your industry. By trashing the awards you are trashing something that is valuable to the industry as a whole.
And finally, when you trash the Hugos, you are making unnecessary and depressing work for me and people like me who give our time for free to promote the industry that pays your salary. You can be sure I’ll remember that next time you ask me to work for free on some commercial project of yours.