The awards debate that won’t die

Yes, we’re still talking about the Hugo and Clarke Awards.

Let’s start with the Clarke Awards this time around. Regular commenter Estara points out this great post by another regular commenter, Australian SFF writer Andrea K. Höst who takes issue with the jury’s claim that a lot of the novels by women writers that were submitted to the Clarke Award this year are “technically fantasy” and points out that it’s perfectly possible for books to be both SF and fantasy or look like fantasy and actually be SF and that even some works by the award’s patron Arthur C. Clarke would fall into this category. And of course, Clarke’s Third Law states:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Andrea’s post also led me to writer Tom Pollock and his delightfully named blog Djinn & Tronic. Tom Pollock makes a similar point, namely that genres can coexist with each other and that it’s perfectly possible for a book to belong to more than one genre, an idea which will horrify genre purists everywhere.

And let’s not forget that some of the previous winners and nominees of the Clarke Award, such as the 2011 winner Zoo City by Lauren Beukes or the various China Miéville novels which have been nominated (and won) in the past or the Sherri Tepper novel whose nomination so enraged Christopher Priest (and others) last year or Time Powers’ Declare, which suffers from the same issue as G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen, that is the presence of Djinn*, were not exactly clear-cut SF either.

On to the Hugos: At The World in the Satin Bag, Shaun Duke points out that all of those who tell Hugo/Worldcon critics that they should attend the WSFS business meeting have missed the fact that attending Worldcon is prohibitively expensive for many of us. I’m not sure if I’ll attend next year’s Worldcon in London (or if I even want to), because even though Worldcon is on the same continent for once, getting to London still requires plane travel (and Ryanair is not a great option, if you want to buy something and have more than carry-on luggage) plus accomodation costs (and of course, the con is in the Docklands, where hotels are pricey and nowhere near any London friends where I could crash) plus the costs for the con itself, all of which adds up. Ditto for a possible Helsinki Worldcon the year after. And I’d still consider myself financially privileged. The situation looks much worse for fans from non-western countries.

The Skiffy and Fanty Show has invited Justin Landon and Jonathan McCalmont to expound on their isues with the Hugos in general and this year’s shortlist in particular. Once again, I haven’t listened to it, since I don’t do podcats.

*And other problems. I found Declare not just immensely disappointing, but also downright offensive – and I normally like Tim Powers a lot.

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4 Responses to The awards debate that won’t die

  1. Daveon says:

    I don’t think anybody has missed the fact that attending a Worldcon is expensive, not at all. The fact that it’s so expensive is why there’s an annual contest to pay for somebody to go.

    The less glib answer is that participation in a Global Body is expensive.

    I don’t honestly have a better answer than that.

    • Cora says:

      I think the issue was that some of the “Well, if you don’t like how things are done, then come to Worldcon and get involved” comments did sound a bit insensitive towards those for whom attending Worldcon is prohibitively expensive. Not your comments, since you explicitly suggested finding a way to give people voting rights without requiring personal attendance. Though the tickets for next year’s London con itself aren’t that expensive, at least not when booked now (yes, I checked). The transportation and hotel costs are a lot worse, at least for me, though probably doable, when booking ahead.

      And as I said, I am privileged as a white western woman from a EU member state. Non-western fans have it far worse, which is why it’s great that the SF travel fund exists.

  2. So, surprise, not commenting on Worldcon or Hugos…

    It’s hard to differentiate between SF and Fantasy.

    SF is futuristic and Fantasy is historical/nostalgic. But urban fantasy is modern, and in some cases futuristic. Steampunk, on the other hand, is retro-technology SF. So maybe this isn’t as good a test.

    SF is science-based, and Fantasy is magic-based. But a lot of SF takes major leaps into unsupportable technology. As Phil Foglio’s alter-ego in What’s New with Phil & Dixie once said, “The difference between fantasy role playing games and science fiction role playing games is the magic is all electric.” Some fantasy, McCaffrey’s Pern, for example, is built on a science fiction backstory. Some “fantasy” (and I’m looking at China Mieville and L.E. Modesitt) is more rigorous in its application of logic and worldbuilding than most “SF.” So maybe that’s not a good test either.

    I think if you applied craft-based analysis, you might be able to split all but the finest hairs, but the results would be unexpected. Fantasy is the modern child of myth and legend. SF is considered by some (and based on discussions, I’ve come to agree) an evolution of mystery where worldbuilding and peeling back and exposing reality is the “whodunnit?” So Mieville and Modesitt are rigorous worldbuilders. Star Wars and Star Trek, on the other hand, are vague and handwavy. A lot of fans (and maybe a few writers) would be disappointed that their “SF” is really fantasy by this reckoning. I’m not sure the fantasy fans would be similarly disappointed by the converse, though.

    • Cora says:

      I agree that the line between fantasy and SF is blurry and is getting blurrier by the minute with the introduction of subgenres such as Steampunk or urban fantasy. And defining SF is very difficult anyway (even though there were over thirty definitions at last count and a bunch more have probably been added since then), since many definitions of SF either exclude some text that everybody agrees is SF or include one that isn’t SF in most people’s views. For example, either Damon Knight or Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr. pointed out that Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis meets most definitions of SF, even though no one would actually classify it that way.

      And if we can’t properly define either SF or fantasy, differentiating between the two becomes even more difficult, particularly in borderline cases like China Mieville’s works or certain space operas that score low on the science scale. And factors such as the gender of the author also influence whether a given book is classified as SF, fantasy or something else. For example, books by women writers are far more likely to be classified as fantasy or as something else altogether such romance or YA, even if they actually meet many or most of the criteria for SF.

      And I agree that SF fans would probably be more disappointed to hear that a beloved SF work is actually fantasy, then fantasy fans would be to hear that a work is actually SF, while romance fans probably wouldn’t care.

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