We’re now about three weeks until the close of voting for the Hugo and Campbell Awards, and by and large (and like the other Best Novel and Campbell nominees, at least) I’ve kept quiet about my thoughts on the matter. But if you don’t mind, I’d like to say something about it now, addressed specifically to those folks who are members of this year’s Worldcon. It’s a pretty simple statement:
Vote, damn it.
Here’s the thing. The Hugo Awards aren’t just about some chunky middle-aged white guy trundling up to a podium to get a rocket-shaped award (for one thing, nominee Robert Charles Wilson is fairly slender, and some nominees aren’t actually middle-aged white guys at all). More than the individual accolade, the true value of the Hugo and the Campbell is that they are the manifest form of the conversation that science fiction has with itself. It is the community of science fiction readers and thinkers saying to itself — and, incidentally, the rest of the world — “this is who we are; this is what we’re thinking; this is what’s important to us now.”
This conversation lasts through time; Hugo winners are, for better or worse, science fiction’s common culture. Over the last month there’s been a meme running through the blog world in which everyone checks off which Hugo-winning novels they’ve read; most people who identify as science fiction fans have read a significant portion of them. And a large reason for that is that people want to know for themselves why the Hugo voters thought those works were important to single out (we’re curious that way. Who knew?). I’m singling out the novels because, among other things, that’s the category I’m up for this year. But every Hugo winner becomes part of the science fiction conversation.
Which is why I think it’s dreadfully important that this conversation hold a multiplicity of voices. The not-so-secret secret of the Hugo/Campbell awards is that only a fraction of the people who can vote do vote; in effect, a tiny minority of the science fiction community gets to set the conversational agenda SF has with itself for all time. I don’t think this is right; if we acknowledge that the Hugos matter — and they do for our weird little clan — than we should make sure that what the Hugos say to us now, and to future generations of our geeky tribe, is a genuine and true statement about what we all feel is important in our genre, and what is important to our genre.
The administrators of the Hugos are doing their part: If you’re a Worldcon member you can quickly and efficiently vote online; all you need is your membership number and PIN code. You don’t even have to pay for a stamp. The authors who are up for the Hugos are also doing their part: For the first time ever, the majority of the Hugo-nominated novels are available for Worldcon members to read — free — in electronic form (they’re available through this very site in fact), and all of the nominees for novella, novelette and short story are available to be read online as well. It’s never been easier to make an informed and engaged Hugo vote. All you have to do is do it.
Having made a general argument as to why you should vote, let me make a personal argument as well. If I may put it bluntly, this year we’ve got a hell of a Best Novel ballot, precisely because it shows the width and depth of what science fiction and fantasy has to offer today. Charlie Stross’ Accelerando is an appallingly good joyride through a wildly-imagined near future, and it has more ideas per square inch than most entire shelves of SF books. Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin imagines an entirely different near-future, where the end times are nigh and humanity poignantly grapples with the possiblity of having no future. Ken MacLeod’s Learning the World reimagines first contact in ways that are gratifyingly surprising and gives us a whole new volcabulary for such an experience. George Martin’s A Feast For Crows continues and expands one of the hallmark series in all of fantasy. And then there’s Old Man’s War, which I think combines good old-fashioned SF storytelling with a modern style and sensibility.
The question before the voters is: which of these novel best reflects where we are, right now, as a community? I don’t know, personally, but I’m really rather interested in finding out, and I suspect the other authors of the nominated novels are too — not mention the nominees in other Hugo categories and the nominees for the Campbell. And as much as anything, whatever the final vote, I’d like it to reflect a broad consensus. One of the interesting things about Hugo voting is that the Australian ballot style it uses trends the vote toward consensus candidates. This runs counter to the typical American “winner take all” sensibility, but as an instrument of gauging where a community is as a whole, it’s pretty useful. The voting mechanism is designed to sample the community; it just needs the community to participate.
Don’t get me wrong: If I win either the Hugo or the Campbell (or — gaaaaaahohsoverynotlikely — both) I’ll take them, and worry later about how many votes were cast, if I worry at all. Yeah, I want to win. Sue me. But, you know: Really truly, just happy to be have been nominated, and if I don’t win I’ll be cheering on whoever does, because I think my fellow Hugo and Campbell nominees pretty fairly rock. What I’d hope for is that whoever does take home trophies genuinely represents as much of our tribe as possible.
But it’s not up to us, save to the extent that we vote. It’s up to you, dear Worldcon member. So: between now and the end of the July, won’t you please take just a little time to catch up on the nominated works and to cast your vote, online or through the mail? Your vote really does matter. It matters to us, the nominees; it matters to all the folks who read science fiction today; and it matters to all the folks who read science fiction in the years to come. This is your chance to take part in a conversation that has lasted for decades, and will last for decades, and if we’re lucky, even longer than that.
Your voice is worthy. Use it. Thanks.