My Twitter feed in a tizzy this morning because Orbit books, which has three of the Hugo Best Novel nominees this year, has decided not to put the full books into the Hugo Voters Packet, opting instead to put in “extended previews.” The ostensible reasoning for that is here; a joint statement from the authors of the books in question is here.
As the guy who created the Hugo Voters Packet in its current form, some thoughts:
1. It’s worth remembering that the Hugo Voters Packet is not, in fact, an entitlement of Worldcon membership — indeed, for the first few years of its existence, it was run entirely independent of the Worldcon, and run by a guy with more enthusiasm than sense (that would be me). Moreover, participation in the Voters Packet has always been voluntary and usually contingent on publishers. Neither I nor the Worldcons (once they took over the compilation of the packets) can force or compel publishers to offer the works. It’s nice when they want to offer the full works, but if they don’t, then that’s their call to make. It’s always been their call to make.
Which is to say that if you were (or are) thinking of the Hugo Voters Packet as something you were supposed to get, with full and complete versions of everything, please stop. It is, literally, a bonus, something you got (and get) because of the intentional participation of those in it, and the willingness of volunteers to put it together and offer it to you.
2. Remember that the choices of the publisher may be at odds with the desires of the author — but that the author may not have a choice in the matter. If you hold the decision of the publisher against the author in any way, you are doing the author a disservice. Likewise, if you won’t read a book simply because it’s not in the packet in the complete form, or vote it lower because it’s not, well. At the very least, I think you’re doing it wrong.
3. If you read the previews of the books and you want to read more, remember: Bookstores and libraries (and friends with copies you can borrow, etc). These are things that exist in the world! And they are what people used before the Hugo Voter Packet, i.e., not all that long ago. It is not difficult, in other words, to give these works a fair reading and consideration.
4. As to whether the Orbit books are now at a disadvantage when it comes to the voting: Possibly, but then again, maybe not. The year Yiddish Policeman’s Union was nominated (and won), it wasn’t available in the downloadable packet; people had to jump through an extra hoop to get a physical copy sent to them. It did just fine. It’s entirely possible the extended excerpts will likewise do the job for any number of Hugo voters. It’s also, of course, entirely possible that enough readers have already read one or more of the books in question that their inclusion in the packet is neither here nor there (I, a very likely Hugo voter, have read all three, for example).
Furthermore, it’s possible that one or more of the books comes in with intangible advantages: Charlie Stross’ book may benefit from him being the only UK nominee on the novel ballot in a year in which the Worldcon is in London; Ann Leckie’s novel may benefit from having already won the BSFA and Clarke Awards for Best Novel (and being nominated for the Nebula); Mira Grant’s fandom is likewise loud and proud.
Which is to say that let’s not already declare these books out of contention, as I have seen at least one person do (hopefully in jest) on Twitter. There are almost three months between now and the end of the Hugo voting period. More than enough time for people to get reading done.
5. On a personal note, I will say that I think Orbit’s statement on why it’s not offering the full books in the packet is at least 63% utter bullshit; the whole “we’re so concerned about an author’s right of determination about their work that we’ve decided not to give them the right to decide whether to participate in the Hugo Voters Packet” bit is a particularly nice touch.
What I think really happened is that Tim Holman, publisher of Orbit (or someone above him), a) knows that this Worldcon is going to be the largest one in decades, with more than 7k people expected so far, b) saw that Tor was going all in on the Wheel of Time series, which would increase the number of people downloading the Hugo Voters Packet, c) did the math and decided that the packet represented a net loss of possible sales (particularly in the UK market) rather than a net positive in terms of goodwill and a possible Hugo win of one of his three nominated books.
This, by the way, would be a totally rational decision on his part and on the part of Orbit, if indeed that is their thinking. Giving away up to 7K copies each of three books is a lot, and Orbit is in the business of making money for itself and (hopefully) its authors. Likewise Orbit, as a publisher, has calculus to do on how valuable a Hugo win will be for them and these particular books, a figuring that has to include the fact that only one of the three can potentially win.
Which is to say I think Orbit has made the determination that one possible Hugo win, and the benefits thereof, does not outweigh possible lost sales on three books. Which again, is a totally reasonable argument to make (even if I, speaking from no little experience, might quibble with the argument). I don’t think that’s the argument their announcement is offering, however, and I don’t appreciate the level of credulity Mr. Holman (or anyone above him) appears to believe I or any of the rest of us have on the matter.
In any event.
My advice: If you are voting for the Hugos (or even if you’re not, but just like genuinely good science fiction) read Neptune’s Brood, Parasite and Ancillary Justice. They are worth your time, and they are well worth your serious consideration. Speaking personally, these three books are why it’s going to be a very tough year for me to vote, when voting in the Best Novel category.