The latest state of this year’s awards debate

Apparently, we’re still talking about the Hugo and Clarke Awards, so here are the latest links:

At, Niall Alexander offers a summary of the uproar surrounding this year’s all-male, all-white Clarke Award shortlist. There’s not a whole lot in this post that’s new, but it’s a nice round-up.

Kevin Standalee of the WSFS attempts to answer the question, “Who owns the Hugo Awards?” I think part of the problem here is that because the Hugos along with the Nebulas are the best known awards in the SFF genre, a lot of people feel a connection to the Hugos that they don’t feel to – say – the Clarke Award or the BSFA Award or indeed any other genre award, hence the upset when the nominations and winners don’t reflect their personal tastes.

Daveon offers a few proposals of how the WSFS business meeting could be made more inclusive towards those who are unable to attend Worldcon on a regular basis. This is a very good post and one of the few which offers concrete solutions and suggestions. Meanwhile, the comment thread at Ruthless Culture seems to have taken on the quality of a particularly nasty trainwreck.

Seanan McGuire whose name repeatedly came up during this year’s Hugo debate as that of a nominee many disagreed with wonders why she is being accused of excessive self-promotion, while male writers are not, and suspects her gender has something to do with it, because women are always judged much more harshly than men whenever they dare to open their mouths. I think she’s on to something here. Besides, it is notable that the Hugo nominees who received the most vitriol in this discussion, Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant and Lois McMaster Bujold, both happen to be women, while John Scalzi got off a lot lighter, even though the people who felt that Blackout and Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance shouldn’t be on the Hugo shortlist generally feel that Redshirts doesn’t belong there either. Never mind that John Scalzi does have a very popular blog and occasionally uses it to promote himself among many other things, whereas I don’t think I’ve ever seen Lois McMaster Bujold do any online self-promotion at all beyond the occasional interview.

Of course, those that disagree with Lois McMaster Bujold’s Hugo nomination tend to claim that she’s only on the shortlist, because fans keep nominating her out of habit. Again, no one is claiming that Kim Stanley Robinson only got nominated out of habit, even though he has been writing professionally for about as long as Lois McMaster Bujold and received a whole bunch of nominations over the course of his career as well. So yes, there is a definite gender bias in this discussion.

Talking of which, here are two posts by Larry Nolan at The OF Blog that I missed during my last round-ups: First, here is a post where he shares his opinions about the best novel nominees and then there is another post wherein he responds to the ongoing Hugo debate and says that he has largely stopped caring about the Hugo and Nebula Awards, since the winners and nominees rarely match his tastes.

What I find notable about most of the Hugo complaints this year is that they always center on the same three books, namely Mira Grant’s Blackout, John Scalzi’s Redshirts and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, whereas hardly anyone has anything negative to say about Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 and Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon. Now in my initial Hugo post I wrote that I was quite satisfied with the nominations for Redshirts, Throne of the Crescent Moon and Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, even if only one would have been on my personal list, but didn’t care for 2312, since Kim Stanley Robinson does nothing for me, and Blackout, since I don’t like zombie stories.

Now I can understand why some people might not like Redshirts, because it does play on nostalgia and sf fan culture insider jokes, i.e. it’s a book that’s deliberately self-referential and designed to appeal to geeks. But what I don’t understand is why the same people almost unanimously like Kim Stanley Robinson and dislike Lois McMaster Bujold (often without having read her), since both are writers that deliver the big ideas SF fans love so much. Now I personally think that Lois McMaster Bujold is more successful at mixing the big ideas with great characters and good stories than Kim Stanley Robinson. But nonetheless I wonder why there is such a vehement dislike directed at Lois McMaster Bujold. Is it because she’s published by Baen? Or because she’s a woman?

Larry Nolan also states that while this year’s list of Hugo nominee may be diverse with regards to gender, race and country of origin, the stories are still “too conventional and safe” for his tastes, since they don’t challenge today’s social conventions as much as (his examples) Joanna Russ and Samuel Delany. Now I believe that Lois McMaster Bujold’s works in general are quietly subversive, though a lot of people fail to notice this (and indeed the dismissal of Bujold in certain corners of the SFF community confirms one of the points Joanna Russ made in How to Suppress Women’s Writing). What is more, this year’s Hugo shortlist contains a classic of Chinese literature retold as an SF novella (Aliette de Bodard’s On a Red Station Drifting) and a short story that would have been right at home in the feminist SF of the 1970s (Kij Johnson’s Mantis Wives). Even John Scalzi’s Redshirts, while conventional in subject and theme, does have a rather unusual structure with its three codas. Indeed, Nolan’s first Hugo post illustrates an issue I briefly mentioned towards the end of my last post, namely that a lot of people want more diversity in the SFF genre and its awards, but then are annoyed when the diversity they get doesn’t match their ideal of what diversity should look like.

Meanwhile, the winners of the Romantic Times Awards (which are awarded for various genres, not just romance) have been announced as well. There are a lot of SFF nominees and winners (they even have a separate Steampunk category, though I would have picked Meljean Brook’s Riveted over Karina Cooper’s Tarnished) including John Scalzi’s much maligned Redshirts in the SF category and two books many would have liked to see on the Hugo shortlist, N.K. Jemisin’s The Shadowed Sun in the general fantasy and Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts in the epic fantasy category. They also have a bunch of categories for small-press/self-published works.

And just because the Hugo and Clarke Awards don’t have a monopoly on generating debate, I also have a round-up of the latest indie publishing controversies and discussions over at the Pegasus Pulp blog, including a slugfest of sorts between Hugh Howey and Chuck Wendig. And I didn’t even get into Scott Turow and his “Death of the American Author” op-ed in the New York Times, which sparked a whole new round of controversy.

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6 Responses to The latest state of this year’s awards debate

  1. Andrea says:

    I think you have something suggesting the problem with the Hugos appears to be its prestige. Some of the stronger criticism toward the Hugos this time around appears to be from people who have no interest in the convention and don’t attend it, but who are…irritated? Bothered by the prestige of the Hugos and the tastes of the core voting contingent. An award that prestigious, it seems, should not be a populist award. If an award has prestige, it should acknowledge not the popular/the books most enjoyed/whatever criteria Hugo voters are using, but instead should reward the avante garde, the unusual, the “bleeding edge”.

    I guess that all comes down to what criteria for “best” you use. Mine tends to be “story I enjoy which includes women who aren’t irritatingly stereotypical”.

    • Cora says:

      A lot of the complaints this year seem to come from critics (since there are very few actual writer involved) who want SFF to become more literary and emerge from the genre ghetto. Which is a worthy aim, only that these folks tend to have a very narrow idea of what constitutes literary merit (avantgard, bleeding edge, challenging, experimental and for the love of Cthulhu, not nostalgic). The discussion has been going on since the late 1960s at least and the complaints of New Wave people like Thomas Disch about “those embarrassingly populist and unchallenging SF novels” which sell/get nominated for awards eerily echo those of today’s Hugo critics.

      So yeah, what’s got those critics’ knickers in a twist is that the most renown award in the genre tends to honour works which aren’t prestigious enough for their tastes, works which they cannot hand to their snooty lit-fic reading pals to prove that SFF is worthy.

  2. Estara says:

    Andrea Höst also weighs in on the Clarke Award controversy, specifically about the sf vs. fantasy idea.

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