Various things in the real world have kept me from posting my thoughts about the Hugo awards this year, so here is me catching up.
* As will come as no surprise to anyone anywhere, I am delighted to be nominated for Best Novel this year, and am also delighted to be in the category with Kim Stanley Robinson, Lois McMaster Bujold, Seanan McGuire (aka Mira Grant) and Saladin Ahmed, all of whose books in the category are terrific. What I always say is that if there is no one in your award category you would be pissed to lose to, then you’re doing well. I am doing very well this year.
* And very specifically, I am delighted that Redshirts was nominated. One, it’s the first book of mine outside the Old Man’s War universe to get a nod, which provides me a certain psychological sigh of relief. Two, as far as I can see, it’s only the second explicitly comic novel nominated for a Hugo, the other being Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog (which won the Hugo in its year, to say nothing of the Nebula). I think it can be understood as read that Connie’s brand of written comedy and my own are somewhat different, however.
In short, I’m not sure that anything quite like Redshirts has ever made the novel ballot before, and, well. That makes me happy. I like writing books that do surprising things. To be clear, I think it was nominated because it also does other things than comedy (it’s got layers, man), but Redshirts went out the door as a comedy, and that’s what it is, in both the popular and formal sense of the term.
So, yeah, I’m not gonna lie. I’m really proud that this book made this year’s Hugo cut.
* And, oh, look, here’s the annual kvetching about the Hugo slate (that link goes to an article of links, with commentary, by Cora Buhlert). At this point, I would be shocked and frankly a little appalled if there wasn’t any sort of kvetching about the Hugos (or any award) when they came out, so the annual uproar doesn’t bother or annoy me much (with one exception I will detail in a moment). What I end up doing is sorting the uproar by genre and quality, along the axes of dismissiveness, outrage and calls for action (noting whether those calls for action are for other people because the original poster can’t be bothered). This years’ editions are pretty standard, with one or two tall poppies; I do like the one whose headline asks if we can stop talking about the Hugos and then goes on to talk about them for two thousand deeply exasperated words. Dude, that’s a headline foul right there.
(Actually, what I would really like to do at some not-too-distant point in the future is compile and curate these rants and kvetches about the various Hugo and other award slates and put them into a single volume, entitled Have We Lived and Fought In Vain? And then I would like for that compilation to win the Best Related Work Hugo, the announcement of which would be accompanied by the muffled sounds of certain aggrieved heads exploding. That would be fun.)
Look, people. The Hugos are the longest-running continuously-awarded accolade in the science fiction and fantasy genre, given out by a group of mostly mostly North American, mostly English-literate people who identify specifically with the science fiction and fantasy genre, some of whom are professionals in the field and are therefore in a position to promote the award as a genre standard. It is tied to the longest-running literary genre convention in the world, at which people who identify with the genre (many of whom are professionals) gather to socialize and do business. Which is to say the award self-selects to be voted on largely by North American English speakers who have a personal and/or professional interest in the North American science fiction/fantasy genre of publishing. As such, its nomination slate to a greater or lesser extent reflects the current state of what North American English speakers who identify with the literary genre are reading and thinking about.
That’s what it is, that’s what it does, and (short of a massive, organized insurrection promulgated by people with enough commitment to their cause to buy their way into nominating works over a number of years, and to both attending the Worldcon and participating in its business meetings for the multiple years it takes to amend the WSFS constitution) that’s what it’s likely to continue to do for a while at least. This is because, for better or worse, the North American English science fiction/fantasy publishing industry remains the primary driver for the worldwide economic and social engine of science fiction and fantasy literature. This puts its fans and professionals in an enviably influential position. Mind you, this is not about what one person or group would think is right, or correct, or desirable, or anything of that sort, merely about what is. Also, I think most people in the genre know this about the Hugos (most people outside the genre don’t really care).
The annual arguing about the Hugo lists is healthy, in my opinion — people care enough about the genre to ask why the works and creators they see as good (or at least important) aren’t represented. I think arguing that the Hugo nomination process is broken because what you want on the ballot isn’t there yields little return, however, especially if one is not clear what the process is and who votes. It’s also worth noting that the Hugos do evolve as the nominators change over time — ask yourself whether this year’s entire slate, with who is on it and how the works were brought to the public, would have been probable or even possible ten years ago.
People will always complain about the Hugo slates, because they are too [x] and not enough [y] or whatever — and often they might even be right (in my opinion). But declaring the Hugos “over” by fiat via pique is really unlikely to have an effect on either the actual influence of the award in the genre, or the desirability of gaining a nomination or win to those who work and live in the genre.
It annoys people when it’s said, but it’s actually true, so let’s say it again: change the Hugos by nominating, voting and participating, or (much more slowly and far less reliably) actively making your case to the people who are nominating, voting and participating. As a pro tip, explicitly or implicitly disparaging their intelligence, taste or standing to make choices when you try to do that is unlikely to persuade them to decide anything other than that you’re probably an asshole.
* On a personal note, I see that Seanan McGuire is getting a fair ration of crap from various quarters because she’s on the ballot a remarkable and record-setting five times, including in the Best Novel category, and twice in Novelette. What I’m seeing heavily implies that McGuire’s on the list because she has an apparently mystical ability to drive hordes of fans to nominate her for everything no matter what.
Hey, I have an alternate theory, which goes a little something like this: Seanan McGuire is a very talented writer! Who writes things that people like! Including the people who nominate for the Hugos! Seems the simpler explanation, all things considered.
Mind you, I don’t want to discount the theory that McGuire may have hypnotized, beguiled or blackmailed an impressive number of people to get on the ballot — I’m sure those who want to suggest that have their reasons — but I will note immodestly that many of the same people who seem to think McGuire holds fans in a mystical thrall also seem to think I have my own coterie of fans ever ready to do my dark bidding, at least when it comes to Hugo ballots. Well, if that’s the case, how come I’m not on the ballot more? I was also eligible in Short Story, Best Related Work, Best Dramatic Presentation (short form) and Best Fancast — and yet all I got was Best Novel (yes, I know. Poor me). I even “campaigned” for those slots! Some thrall I have, apparently. And yet, if I may be immodest again, I’m pretty sure McGuire’s ability to enthrall is not greater than my own. Maybe at Worldcon we’ll have a thrall-off and find out. That could be fun! And perhaps bloody. I hope the folks in San Antonio have liability insurance. And tarps for the seats.
But in the meantime, I think the best explanation for why she’s on the ballot five times is the simplest: She’s good at what she does, she works hard at what she does, and enough people who love science fiction and fantasy and also vote for the Hugos decided that her work this year deserved to be recognized. It’s not that hard to believe if you actually read her work.
She’s having a career year, people. Celebrate that.