Not much comfort in Hugo, Nebula Awards

hugo nominations 2014As almost any reader who ever logs on the Internet is probably aware by now, this year’s Hugo Awards have attracted more than their slice of controversy. For a start, there was the Hugo own goal with the alarmist Twitter campaign against Jonathan Ross hosting the Awards. Then there was an eruption on the right flank with the inclusion of work and recommendations from Larry Correia and notoriously bigoted commentator Vox Day in the Hugo nominations list. So far, this year’s Nebula Awards nominations have not stoked similar passions that I’ve noticed, but these are Awards voted on by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which is still in the shadow of last year’s controversy over ridiculously sexist covers and comments in the SWFA Bulletin. So not only will this year’s Nebula Awards be very lucky to escape any association with that upset, but the SWFA also may still be faced with big challenges to its credibility.

Former SFWA president John Scalzi has gone to considerable lengths to explain that “The Hugo Nominations Were Not Rigged,” and also has argued and Tweeted intensively in favor of “simply judging the works on their own merits,” regardless of the affiliations and opinions of their authors.  Many aren’t impressed with this argument. And in the person of Correia, we have a guy who has explicitly launched campaigns to stack the Hugo nominations rewarded by yet another stacked nomination slate.

And all the unwelcome stuff is not only coming from the right side of the spectrum either. The spirit of the Jonathan Ross Twitter campaign appears to live on in many of the responses from the other end too. Fangs for the Fantasy, for example, which covers “The latest in urban fantasy from a social justice perspective,” seems not only determined to castigate the Hugos for promulgating “apologetics for bigotry,” but also to yoke them together with other incidents, practices, etc., supposedly serving to marginalize … um, marginalised people from the SFF community as well. And there’s as much a whiff of ideological compulsion in the demand that “Science fiction needs to reflect that the future is queer.”

But the more alarming implication around the whole Hugo debacle is not that the SWFA or WorldCon harbors a faction of sub-Tea Partyist bigots, but more that there is a significant constituency within the science fiction community that either doesn’t care about Vox Day’s stance, or has deliberately swung behind him as a reflex response to the intrusion of wider concerns on its turf. This strikes me as probably the truest and worst signal that the Hugo slate can send to the wider world – that we’re dealing with an inbred, inward-looking cabal of closed minds. The Correia ‘Sad Puppies’ campaign railed against “the snooty literati.”

As Joe Sherry explains elsewhere, “each award, whether it is the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, or the Pulitzer, is reflective of who it is that nominated and votes on the awards. The World Fantasy Awards are a juried award, the Nebulas are voted on by members of the SFWA, and the Hugos are nominated and voted on by those who have either purchased a membership to attend Worldcon or have purchased a supporting membership which provides nominating and voting rights. So, despite being the most visible of all genre awards, the Hugo Awards are reflective of the opinions of those who have memberships to Worldcon. The other point to make is that if you look at previous years, it takes a relative few number of nominations to actually make the final ballot and the margin between making the ballot and not making the ballot can be extremely tight.”

The SWFA has been heavily implicated in all the recent ructions. Whether it’s become a political football is beside the point, because it definitely appears unable to appreciate or manage the tensions it’s dealing with. That hardly suggests that it can deliver credible quality benchmarks for science fiction and fantasy writing in future.

“It’s a Hugo slate pretty much any Hugo slate in any year. I plan to treat it exactly like I treat any Hugo slate in any year,” writes Scalzi. Quite a few others, however, may have concluded that that train has long since sailed.

6 Comments on Not much comfort in Hugo, Nebula Awards

  1. Significant constituency? Hardly.

    There were less than 2,000 total votes cast for the Hugos and with the “5% and you get on the ballot list” rule, it means that anyone hoping to make a statement would only need to convince 100-150 people to vote for them.

    This is not unlike the “straw poll primaries” many US states use where only a small number of voters participating can easily skew a “primary victory” in favor of some really obscure candidate that stands no chance in a general election when there are real numbers of voters participating.

    Sci-fi and speculative fiction as a whole are a vastly larger fandom than the less than 2,000 people who vote on the Hugos, it’s just that not many people in fandom are that interested in paying the registration fees to be eligible to vote on the Hugos.

    Personally, I read Correira’s “I’m the victim” appeal to get on the ballot — a combination of “it’s not fair,” “those evil liberals” (straight out of the Limbaugh, Beck and Hannity playbooks) while demonizing people who call him out for being a jerk. Beale’s opinions on race and women’s rights are deplorable.

    And Correira positions his campaign as a “let’s stick it to the Man (establishment)” appeal and his reactions are predictable enough. If he doesn’t win, his response will be a combination of “liberal bias,” accusations of voter counting fraud and “those mean evil liberals ganged up on us to stop us from winning.” If they do win, there will be a predictable blowhard-ish victory lap.

    But honestly, his “stick it to the Man” attitude reminds of the person who rages and rages against the evils of “big government interfering with their lives” and who, in response, finds the house of a guy who works for the Postal Service and proceeds to set a bag of dog poop on fire on his front porch.

    Technically, an attack against “The Man” (big government) … but woefully inappropriate, wrong-headed, feeble…and ultimately, kind of Nancy-Pants when you get right down to it.

    If you feel so strongly about bias and feel so discriminated against, have some courage of your convictions and go after a real target, not a small segment of fandom that just wants to have a good time celebrating the industry’s oldest and most important award.

  2. Ryan Bernacki // April 29, 2014 at 4:06 pm //

    It’s worth noting that John Scalzi is the past SFWA president, and his commentary on the award nominations is not necessarily that of the SFWA itself.

  3. That’s former SFWA president John Scalzi, the current president is Steven Gould, and if Gould has commented on this year’s Hugo nominees, I’m not aware of it. I’m not sure why you think SFWA is involved into the Hugo Awards stuff other than that some members of SFWA are also bloggers (and Worldcon attending or supporting members) commenting on the nominees, the nominated works, and the fact that several prominent SF author/bloggers either encouraged their readers to vote for specific authors/works or provided a venue for others to do so.

  4. Popularity contest is a contest for popularity, film at eleven. People complain about that aspect of the awards every year, especially the years when something at which “real” fans turn up their nose wins. (I remember there was a big stink a few years back when a Harry Potter book took Best Novel—not only a children’s book, but the first ever pure fantasy novel to do so.) That’s probably also why you don’t hear that many people complaining about it—they’ve heard it all before. Over and over again.

    But being a popularity contest is basically the entire point of the Hugo, in opposition to all the awards that are handed out by ivory-tower critics who judge a work on its “literary merit” rather than on whether it’s something people actually want to read. If something wins the Hugo, it’s generally because a lot of people really really liked it.

    Consequently, I don’t really think it’s much worth worrying about. There’s no way any of the “Sad Puppies” slate will actually win. There’s too much stuff that was nominated because it was good rather than ideological going up against it. (Let’s be honest, “Best Novel” is probably going to be steamrollered by all the Wheel of Time fans who buy in either to rock the vote or to get almost the entire series in e-book form and vote as a side consideration.)

  5. Paul StJohn Mackintosh // April 30, 2014 at 4:03 am //

    Thanks for the clarification on Scalzi, all – I’ll update and clarify immediately.

  6. I read Correia’s campaign too, somewhat after the fact.

    If you want to win an award, a good first step might be to rein in any impulse to publicly call all the judges a bunch of prejudiced jerks. At least until after the voting, you know?

    After reading that, I paid the poll tax to be able to vote, because I now have an opinion I want to express.

    I will say I’m not sorry I did–I’m glad to have read Neptune’s Brood and I’m really looking forward to Parasite, and Ancillary Justice, when my library can get it in.

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