Hugo dust-up 2014 – earlier every year

Do you know how Christmas cookies, sweets and decorations seem to pop up earlier in the stores every year? Case in point: The weekly special offers flyer from the discount supermarket chain Aldi included an embroider-it-yourself Easter tablecloth – two weeks after Christmas!

Debates about genre award nominations seem to be like Christmas cookies and embroider-it-yourself Easter tablecloths – they begin earlier every year. Case in point: This year’s Hugo nomination dust-up has begun before the Hugo nominations have actually been announced. Indeed, the nomination period only just opened a few days ago.

So what on Earth can be so controversial before many people have even nominated?

The answer is the awards pimpage posts which are currently popping up everywhere.

Adam Roberts fired the first volley in this debate with this post on his blog.

I actually agree with much of Adam Roberts’ post, though I suspect that Adam Roberts and I would differ on what constitutes a good and awards-worthy work. But like Adam Roberts, I would like to see more works by women, writers of colour and non-anglophone writers on the awards shortlists. And like Adam Roberts, I believe that we should nominate on the strength of the work in question and not nominate a not-so-great work, because we like the author or the series or the TV show.

However, Adam Roberts’ main beef seems to be with the awards nomination pimpage posts that are popping up everywhere these days. Now I am of two minds regarding those awards pimpage posts. On the one hand, I find them a tad embarrassing and indeed the one time I wrote such a post, I felt extremely stupid*. On the other hand, as a Hugo nominator and voter, I like seeing lists of works which are eligible and also – for short fiction – into which category these works fall. Though I don’t think those lists need necessarily come from the author of the work. Lists of “Stuff by other creators I liked this year” are just as helpful and less problematic. Of course, it’s also possible to do a mix of both, pimp both your stuff and deserving works by other people.

Over at Whatever, John Scalzi responds to Adam Roberts and points out that most SFF fans are fans of many writers, that a lot of nominees and even winners are not avid self-promoters and that Adam Roberts is just annoyed that people are not nominating the sort of works he personally prefers.

As for Adam Roberts (whose academic study of The Riddles in The Hobbit may well end up on my nomination list for best related work, because this is exactly the sort of work I want to see in that category), he has a history of complaining about the nominees and winners of the big SFF awards, which suggests that he is annoyed that the tastes of the Hugo nominators and voters are out of line with his own tastes, so John Scalzi might well have a point there.

John Scalzi is also correct that writers with very little in the way of an online presence get nominated for Hugo awards, while avid self-promoters such as Larry Correia (who’s running another promo campaign this year) have nonetheless found themselves without a nomination.

Nonetheless, I believe that John Scalzi does underestimate the impact of self-promotion, if done by someone with a sufficiently big platform. Scalzi’s Whatever is probably one of the biggest author platforms in SFF and if Scalzi honestly believes that the size and reach of Whatever has nothing to do with the fact that Scalzi’s work regularly shows up on awards shortlists and “best SF books of the decade/century/all time” lists, he is kidding himself.

Though it seems John Scalzi is aware of the size and reach of his platform, because he specifically created an awards awareness post for others to mention their own eligible works. Inspired by Scalzi’s post, Charles Stross did the same thing. Personally, I think these “Use my platform to pimp your works” posts are a nice idea. Unlike Adam Roberts, I don’t find them patronizing at all. And as a matter of fact, I did post in the comments of John Scalzi’s thread in a mildly alcohol fueled attack of “Why the hell not?”. I didn’t post in Charles Stross’ thread, because considering my issues with Stross’ works, I doubt our readerships overlap.

Scrivener’s Error also weighs in and generally seems to agree with Adam Roberts. They also point out that eligibility and nomination period are too close together for people to have read many of the eligible works, particularly if they came out late in the year or if they received the work in question as a Christmas gift. If – like me – you don’t do hardcovers, a lot of books are difficult to read within the specified period at all. As a matter of fact, I often only get around to reading a book yars after it was first published. For example, my hands-down favourite read of 2013 – a book I would have nominated for a Hugo in a pinch, if I could have – was originally published in 1991.

Since I knew I would have Hugo nomination and voting privileges this year, I made a point of reading or at least sampling 2013 books closer to publication date. I also kept a list of potential nominees divided among the different categories. My list isn’t final yet (I really need to read more short fiction), though I already know that it will have lots of women and some writers of colour as well. In fact, the one thing I’m really short of in the fiction categories are men. There was one book by a male writer I would have nominated – alas turns out it’s not eligible due to being published on the wrong side of New Year’s Eve.

Will I eventually share my picks with the rest of the world? I’m not sure yet. From what I’ve seen around the web, most people keep their nominations to themselves. Though if there is a movement of “This is what I nominated for the Hugo” posts, I would probably join in.

*Should you want to nominate me, Mercy Mission is eligible in the novella category, The Hybrids in the novelette category, Acacia Crescent and Old Mommark’s Tale in the short story category. And should you enjoy my blog more than my fiction, I’m also eligible for best fan writer.

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6 Responses to Hugo dust-up 2014 – earlier every year

  1. Mark says:

    I kind of agree with Roberts, I’m just less passionate about this topic. I think that there are certain biases in favor of certain groups of writers in any award is a given. Nobel prize: just saw a quote from a German newspaper that said something like “Murakami puts the Nobel prize committee to shame”. I love Murakami, give him prizes, but I thought this statement was silly and meaningless. It’s not their kind of thing, and Murakami doesn’t need it: he is already popular and rich. German book prize: couldn’t finish the last winner (you were right about that novel btw. I hated it).

    Hugo? I assume some of the following biases have some kind of effect, I’m just not sure if it’s a terrible big one:

    – Fans voting for their heroes (George R.R. Martin, China Mievielle, Neil Gaiman, these kinds of writers, but I don’t think that group is that big).
    – Writers voting for writer friends (I have absolutely no problem with authors pimping their work, but I saw a couple of lists of recommendations for works from authors they frequently interact with or even are friends with in real life — which doesn’t mean that that work is not good).
    – Well-meaning voters voting for authors from specific demographic groups (petty votes) or authors who tackle specific themes in their stories.

    Some of these biases will also have an effect of what a voter has actually read, so they may indeed be voting for what they think were the best stories that were written in a given year, their sample was just too biased and not very diverse.

    • Cora says:

      I agree that all awards have their biases, hence the preference for middle class family sagas or tales of thirty-something middle class people in existential crisises at the German Book Awards, or the tendency of the Nobel committee to award aging writers who peaked decades ago or writers who have been victims of political persecution.

      Regarding the Hugos, a work should be nominated purely on its own merits, but that often doesn’t happen. Fan votes are why Doctor Who keeps getting nominated and winning in the best dramatic presentation category, even though it hasn’t been good in a long time, why John Scalzi’s every utterance gets nominated and why Larry Correia can come even close to a Hugo nomination. I strongly suspect we’ll see Scalzi on the shortlist again this year (and his second blog compilation may well win “best related work”) as well as Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane and probably his Doctor Who episode (which was – mildly speaking – not good) as well.

      The “writer friend” thing is definitely a factor as well, since certain well-connected writers keep popping up on awards shortlists with uncommon frequency. Besides, people are more likely to have read their friends’ work.

      As for demographic voting, I suppose it is increasingly a factor. Now I don’t think that a bad book or story should be nominated merely because it was written by a woman or writer of colour or GLBT writer. And just lately I read (or tried to read) a story, which ticked all the demographic boxes, international female writer of colour, non-European based setting, fluid gender roles and gender queer characters, and I still didn’t like the story and I’m not going to nominate it. However, if someone’s nomination list includes only straight white Anglo-American men, then it’s either time to broaden your reading horizons or ask yourself whether you really didn’t read a good book or story by someone who is not a straight white man. Actually, I am a bit concerned that my own preliminary list is almost entirely composed of women in the fiction categories, but then I really enjoyed those works the most, one man I wanted to nominate wasn’t eligible and others would be fangirl votes.

      However, I also agree with Amal El-Mohtar’s response to Adam Roberts (linked here) about how eliminating those awards eligibility lists won’t stop people voting for those with the biggest platform, but may hurt women and writers of colour and GLBT writers who don’t get a lot of support elsewhere. And personally, I find those lists useful merely to see what else is out there and what I may have missed, particularly in the short fiction categories.

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