New Books and ARCs, 9/30/16

It’s our last stack of new books and ARCs for the month of September, and it’s a very fine one, I have to say. What here looks good to you? Tell me in the comments!

“Best Series” Hugo Category: A Trial Run in 2017 + My Thoughts On It

Here’s a press release I received today from Worldcon 75, next year’s Worldcon in Helsinki, Finland:

The 75th World Science Fiction Convention, (“Worldcon”) taking place in Helsinki in August 2017, announced today that a special Hugo category for “Best Series” will be included in the 2017 Hugo Awards.

The Hugo Awards are the leading awards for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy, and have been presented at Worldcons since 1953. They are voted on by members of each year’s Worldcon.

Fans voted in August 2016  to trial a new Hugo award for “Best Series”, which could be added in 2018. Each Worldcon Committee has the authority to introduce a special category Hugo award, and Worldcon 75 has decided to test “Best Series” in 2017. This follows the precedent of the 2009 Worldcon, which trialled “Best Graphic Story” before it became a regular Hugo the following year. Fans at Worldcon 75 will be able to decide whether to ratify the “Best Series” for future years and suggest revisions to the award definition at the World Science Fiction Society Business Meeting held in Helsinki during the convention.

Nicholas Whyte, Worldcon 75 Hugo administrator, said, “The proposed Hugo for “Best Series” is a big change, the first time that a new category may be added to the written fiction Hugo categories in fifty years. There is clearly a great deal of interest in how this new award will work, and what might be nominated.”

An eligible work for this special award  is a multi-volume science fiction or fantasy story, unified by elements such as plot, characters, setting, and presentation, which has appeared in at least three volumes consisting of a total of at least 240,000 words by the close of the calendar year 2016, at least one volume of which was published in 2016. 

My first thought, because I have an ego, is that this is a Hugo I won’t be eligible for, as I have no novels out this year, and therefore no eligible series. Unless, I guess, I quickly whomp up an Old Man’s War novella and make it available as a single volume before the end of the year — would that work?

Which is my other, really more relevant, question: What constitutes a “volume” in this case? I assume (for no particular reason) that a volume has to be released in itself and not as part of a larger publication, such as a magazine or anthology, but would a individually-released short story (or novelette, or novella) count toward a series credit? What about a graphic novel, set in the universe and part of the continuity? How about a song whose lyrics are written by a series author, set in the series universe? As long as all the previous criteria are met — at least three volumes, at least 240,000 words — where is the boundary line for a new volume?

Also, here’s another thought: Does this new volume have to be written by the author of the previous installments? If I hire someone to whomp up a new story in the Old Man’s War universe, and that story meets the criteria for a “volume,” whatever that might be, would it make the whole series eligible? And if so, who would accept the Hugo if it won? Me, or the new writer, or both? Or the editor of the series? Or the publisher? Or — and here’s a fun possible criterion — to the owner of the copyright?

(Combining both above: Would an anthology of short stories set in the universe constitute a new volume? And if so, to whom would the Hugo go?)

This isn’t to suggest I think a Hugo for series is a bad idea at all. But I do think it’s possible that unless the definition for “volume” is concretely defined, you might see a rush of shorter works tying into a series dropping into the stream of commerce between now and December 31. Electronic publishing makes that possible (let’s hope it’s a windfall for copy editors). After the hijinks of the last few years, let’s not pretend there aren’t people out there who will be happy to game the system if they can.

This “Best Series” Hugo is a trial run, to see how things work, and to see if it’s a good idea to continue such a Hugo. My own personal thought on a Best Series Hugo, if it were to continue, would be that I would wanted it handled as such:

  • It’s not awarded every year, it’s awarded every five years, with an eligibility window of five years;
  • If awarded every five years, the finalist slate is twice as long as the finalist slates in other categories;
  • It’s a “one time” win, i.e., once a series is awarded, it’s ineligible for further wins in the category (although individual works in the series would still be eligible for other relevant Hugos);
  • At least three volumes, at least 240,000 words total;
  • A “volume” is defined as a new, original story of at least 25,000 words, released individually and not as part of a collection, magazine or anthology;
  • The recipient for the Hugo would be the series author(s) and editor(s);
  • The current “Best Novel” Hugo criteria would be amended to take out the bit that allows a series to have been nominated if no previous volumes had individually been nominated.

Why would I do it this way? Because series are (generally speaking) a multi-year endeavor and should be considered as such and because the number of eligible series in any given year is substantially smaller than the number of eligible works in any other Hugo category for fiction; because I think if you don’t define “volume” as a substantial work then the category runs the risk of being gamed; and because I think while editing is important to individual novels, it’s especially important to series.

If I had to pick just one of those criteria to pass on to an official Hugo definition, it would be the “one-time win” one. The Hugos aren’t the Emmys. If a series has gotten “Best Series” once, I think it’s okay for the category to be closed to that series further.

I’ll also note that “Best Series” here is clearly appears to be geared toward novels, so my own fantasy criteria for the category weights toward additional work of at least novella length. That said, I think you could make a perfectly good and valid argument that a “series” could be a bunch of short stories all set in the same universe, or anthologies set in the same universe, or graphic novels in the same universe, etc, as long as they meet the “three volumes/240,000 words” criteria. I’m not going to make that argument, but I think you could make that argument.

Finally, I’ll also note that if the Series Hugo does pick up traction and becomes an annual award, then what’s really likely to happen from a practical point of view is that the Hugos will be awarding a second “Best Novel” award, which just happens to be going to series novels. That’s fine but maybe there should be thought given to that fact — perhaps by an additional rule that says if a Best Novel finalist is in a series up for Best Series in the same year, if the novel and series both win their categories then the author gets to go home with whichever of the two awards they received the most number of votes for, with the other award going to the next work in line. Otherwise I suspect you’re going to see a lot of Best Novel and Best Series awards carried off by the same authors, because the votes will be highly correlated — someone who votes for a book in a series for Best Novel is also likely to think highly of the series in general.

Tell me your thoughts on a Best Series Hugo, and your thoughts on my thoughts.