Award me, baby, one more time

Yes, we’re still talking about the Hugos and awards in general, though by now the discussion seems to have moved on from general complaining and whining to constructive criticism of how the Hugos could be fixed, provided one agrees that they require fixing. One example is the post by Jonathan McCalmont to which I linked yesterday.

Here is another example: At Everything Is Nice, Martin Lewis responds to my question “What do you want exactly?” and explains how he wants to improve the Hugos and Clarke Awards. He seems to largely disagree with me, though I don’t think we’re that far apart in our views, e.g. with regards to actually exercising the right to nominate and vote for the Hugos and recommending worthy works rather than just pimping out own eligible works (which I did once and felt so stupid doing it that I never did it again).

Martin Lewis also takes issue with my observation that this year’s Hugo complaints overwhelmingly seem to come from British critics, so apologies if I accidentally miscategorised someone’s nationality in my round-ups here and here. Though the majority of the complaints do seem to come from people I associate with British fandom this year.

Daveon appears to agree that the majority of Hugo complainers seem “elements of British fandom”. He also has a bunch of other interesting thoughts on the Hugo debate here, here and here. In the comments to the first post, Kari Sperring points out that there have been plenty of complaints from Americans about Hugo nominations for non-American works in the past as well. I guess we can file many of the complaints about the dominance of Doctor Who in the short form dramatic presentation category under this, especially since those complaints are usually accompanied by calls why Battlestar Galactica/The Walking Dead/Grimm/Eureka/Insert US SFF-show here were not nominated.

Meanwhile, Jay Lake, one of the nominees in the best novella category and recipient of some of the Hugo hate (though far less than Seanan McGuire and Lois McMaster Bujold), offers his thoughts on the whole debate.

At The Hysterical Hamster, someone named Mondyboy has a three part series of Hugo thoughts. He (given the handle Mondyboy, I assume that the blogger indeed identifies as male – apologies if that is not so) also gives the example of another award nominated by popular vote, the Australian Ditmar Awards, where discussions about the nominees led to a more gender balanced shortlist. The 2013 shortlist is here and it looks quite good, as far as I can tell.

Mondyboy also offers a quote from a Hugo post at the web presence of File 770, the long-lived fanzine which could be found on the Hugo shortlist in the best fanzine category in 1980 and 2012, as I remarked yesterday. The quote is mind-boggling in its sexism, the actual post is worse. There are complaints that the fanzine category now includes blogs, complaints that two of the best fan writer nominees are names the folks at File 770 do not recognize, because they write online, complaints that at least one fan artist nominee never had art in any fanzine plus bonus digs that two anthologies of women writing about pop culture won nominations in the best related work category. What year is this again? Cause it sounds as if not just the fanzine was already alive and winning Hugo nominations in 1980, but as if the mindset of its creators got stuck at around the same time. I think we’ve got a nice illustration right here why so many people have issues with the nominees in the fan writer and fanzine categories. For the fanzine category, perhaps a split into one category for traditional hardcopy fanzines (provided there’s more than five of them left) and one category for online fanzines would help. No idea what to do about the fan writer category except nominate other names than the same three or four people with the occasional wildcard.

ETA: See the comments below for a clarification that the problematic comments at the File 770 Hugo posts came from commenters and not from contributors to the zine.

This year’s all-male Clarke Award shortlist is still under discussion as well. Niall Harrison offers his thoughts at Strange Horizons.

At Through the Dark Labyrinth, Paul Kincaid offers his thoughts on awards in general and the Hugos in particular. He notes that these discussions happen again every single year and that he’s tired of them and that he chooses to express this weariness by writing a lengthy post about awards and why they are broken. That said, in spite of my somewhat snarky summary, Kincaid’s post is actually quite good and makes a number of important points about the history of SFF awards. Though if he finds the lack of representation of British locations at Worldcon and of British authors and winners at the Hugos troubling, try being from a non-English speaking country. Germany only had a single Worldcon in the early 1970s and only one winner in any genre award ever.

At Paper Knife, Maureen Kincaid Speller states that getting emotionally invested in or upset about the outcome of various awards is futile, because there’s usually very little one can do about it, particularly when behind the scenes politics (she gives the Booker Prize as an example) are at work.

At The King of Elfland’s Second Cousin, Chris Gerwel analyses the different focus in the debates about the Hugo and Clarke Awards and how these differences in the discussion relate to the awards themselves. Though I do think that the reason why there is less discussion about the administrative aspects of the Clarke Award is simply because both awards and nominations are juried and there is less chance of changing or influencing the administrative system, whereas with the Hugos there at least is the theoretical chance of affecting change via nominations or the WSFS business meeting. In practice it’s not so easy, of course, as the so-called “Joanna Russ amendment” (which is admittedly problematic) shows.

Finally, over at Pegasus Pulp, I point out that there is one big indicator of change at the Hugos and BSFA Awards that plenty of people seem to have missed, namely that self-published works have made the shortlist (and in the case of the BSFA Award won) in the fiction categories.

I think the reason behind the many awards debates and why they seem to be getting louder of late is that the SFF genre is changing and that those changes are reflected in the shortlists for the various awards. Now most in the SFF community want to see more diversity on the shortlists, but even though this year’s Hugo shortlist contains a healthy percentage of women, writers of colour and international writers, a lot of people are still complaining. “Sure, we want more women, but not Seanan McGuire or Lois McMaster Bujold.” “Sure, we want more writers of colour, but not Saladin Ahmed.”

Some time ago, I read a post by a white male critic* in which he stated how he wanted to see more diverse voices in SFF, more women, more writers of colour, more international writers, how he wanted YA writers recognized. And as I read his well-argued post, I thought, “Well, that’s all very nice, but it’s still lip service.” Because based on having read previous judgments passed by said critic, it was pretty clear to me that he wouldn’t even like most works by women or writers of colour or most YA, because his tastes seemed to lean heavily towards white men and the sort of things white men consider important.

Take all the complaints – not just from men BTW – that Lois McMaster Bujold’s Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance was “fluff”, because it’s at heart a love story and – like much of Bujold’s work – about how to reconcile love with cultural clashes. Bujold is a classic victim of what Joanna Russ called “the double standard of content”. Subjects like love, relationships, family, domestic life, childbirth, etc…, i.e. subjects that women are likely to write about (and the subjects which lie at the core of the Vorkosigan series), are often considered as less important than subjects like war and politics, which are traditionally associated with men. And it is notable that Bujold’s many Hugo wins were far more likely to be for works heavy on subjects like politics and war and light on romance and family issues. Lois McMaster Bujold herself went into this issue in her Guest of Honour Speech at the 2008 WorldCon, wherein she called her decision to incorporate romance elements into her work:

a turn bound to horrify those who buy into reading choices as counters in a status game. You know, the ones who are always exhorting writers to push the boundaries of the genre, but for God’s sake not in those lowbrow directions over there!

We see something very similar at work in the debate about our changing genre, as reflected in awards. A lot of people – and I don’t even exclude myself there – want to see more diverse voices in our genre, but at the end of the day, many still want those diverse voices to sound just like straight white US/UK men. As a result, a lot of writing by women, writers of colour, GLBT writers, international writers, etc… is either ignored or dismissed, because it does not focus on the issues deemed important by straight white US/UK men.

*No link, because a) I can’t find it again right now and b) it’s not about this particular critic, but a general observation.

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11 Responses to Award me, baby, one more time

  1. Ian Mond says:

    Yep, I’m a guy. :-)

  2. Martin says:

    *No link, because a) I can’t find it again right now and b) it’s not about this particular critic, but a general observation

    Er, since that particular critic is the only evidence you put forward for your general observation, it is kind of important to actually show the evidence.

  3. Mike Glyer says:

    Seems to me like some version of the pathetic fallacy for you to assume that the commenters on the File 770 blog represent the zine’s character rather than my own writing. Has no troglodyte ever written a comment to your blog? Then lucky you.

    • Cora says:

      I’ve had my share of troglodytes here, though I don’t approve their comments, if they are really bad. Luckily, they’ve stayed away from the Hugo posts.

      Anyway, sorry if I mischaracterized you and your zine based on your commenters. I had no idea that these people were not contributors.

  4. Daveon says:

    Thanks for the mention, and good work… And even nicer to find some interesting blogs to add to the list.

  5. Thanks for the round-up posts. I’ve been reading all the awards-related posts linked in SFSignal’s daily “tidbits,” and you’ve got the best clearinghouse anybody has presented.

    I think you’re a little hard on File770. Mike’s post was just the list of nominees.

    Sure, Martin Morse Wooster’s quote Ian referenced is a bizarrely sexist comment. I think he was trying to be funny and failing miserably, which doesn’t make it less bizarre or sexist. It may be accidentally sexist (to riff on a truly awful country song taking America by storm), but I think Ian was right to ask if this was about the non-literary nature of the “Chicks” collections or the girl-cooties.

    Taral Wayne is at least beginning to admit he doesn’t know people because fandom is leaving him behind, even if he oozes bitterness when he acknowledges that he’s choosing to be left behind. Rich is just short-sighted and can’t see the commonalities between the old fanzine fandom and modern online fandom.

    But they’re all just commenters, not contributors. The only contributor involved here was Mike Glyer. Ian and Mike will have to speak to their own little exchange in the comments, assuming you’re interested.

    • Cora says:

      Thanks for the clarification, Andrew, and glad you liked my round-ups. Like I said to Mike below, I’m not familiar with File 770 and don’t know the people involved here, so all I have to go by are the comments to the post.

    • Daveon says:

      I’ll admit that there are parallels between the conversations I’ve been having with ‘newly interrested’ fans and one I had with Taral in Reno where he just couldn’t get who all these new people were and why people liked them.

  6. Pingback: The latest state of this year’s awards debate | Cora Buhlert

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