The Hugo Window
One of the weird bits about my life is that from time to time people speculate about whether I, John Scalzi, will ever win another Hugo Award. Mostly the conclusion is that I won’t, although whether that’s about me in particular, or about general forces in publishing and/or society, is up for some discussion.
Today, speculation about my ability to win another Hugo Award comes from the Camestros Felapton blog, as part of a more general examination about who wins and/or is a finalist for Hugo Awards, and when they win them (and when they stop winning them, if they do indeed ever start winning them). The proprietor of the blog essentially argues that for every writer there is a Hugo window, during which they and their work are both popular enough and new enough to draw attention. But sooner or later that window closes.
I come up because I’m used as an example:
I am not saying John Scalzi will never win another Hugo Award but I don’t expect him to even though I think he’ll be writing good, entertaining sci-fi for many years. This is not because he’s not sufficiently left-wing for current Hugo voters but because we’ve read lots of John Scalzi now and sort of know what to expect.
It’s not about me, it’s about my Hugo window.
And do I think this is correct? Sort of, yes! And also sort of not.
To begin, in a very general sense I think it’s accurate that for most writers/performers who become notable, there’s a window where they are at the forefront of the collective consciousness of their field — they’re the flavor of the day/week/month/year — and then eventually they either fade from public view, or become “establishment,” which means they’re always there and taken more or less for granted, even as they chug along with perfectly good sales/public reputation.
(Anecdotally it seems that this window is correlated to relative newness in a field, but it’s possible to have that window happen later — one can plug along for years and then suddenly “hit” and then your window opens. I’ve seen it happen! With people I know!)
Does this correlate with awards presence? It can, especially if you fade. Most awards are popularity contests to one degree or another — the Hugos, an award given by fans, has popularity in its DNA — so to be considered you have to be noticed. If you become establishment you can chug along because you’re there, even if everyone basically understands your shtick. Sometimes you do your shtick real well, and people go, “oh, hey, I do like that!” And then there’s a finalist placing.
So let’s talk about me. From 2006 to 2013, I had ten Hugo finalist placings and three wins, including one for Best Novel (I also won the Astounding Award, formerly known as the Campbell). From 2014 onward, I’ve had a single Hugo finalist placing, and I did not win. Has my Hugo window closed?
Maybe! Certainly the “Hugo window” thing feels psychologically valid to me. I admit that prior to my Best Novel win for Redshirts, I was feeling apprehension that if it did not win, my time being able to contest the Best Novel category was going to pass. When the novel won, in addition to feeling elated, I also felt relieved. And having won the Best Novel category, which (for better or worse) is regarded as “the big one,” it’s entirely possible that Hugo voters have felt I’ve been rewarded enough, and are looking for other people and works to nominate. So there could be a window outside of my own neuroses on the matter, which could explain my relative dearth of subsequent nods.
On the other hand: Between 2013 and now we have the whole “Puppy” mess, which (to put it as neutrally as possible) altered the dynamic of the Hugo Awards in a manner that was both unique and, given the steps taken to correct the loophole that allowed slating, unlikely to happen again; I voluntarily removed myself from all awards consideration for work produced in 2015; and did not publish novels in 2016 or 2019. Since 2015 I have had four novels published; one came out this year and is not yet eligible for award consideration. One won the Locus Award and came in second at the Hugos behind the third part of a genre-shifting multi-volume work of art, and that was the correct placement. So one novel in three being a finalist for a Hugo in a year without active slating from people who unambiguously saw me as an enemy is… not a bad record?
Given that track record, I think it’s perfectly possible that The Last Emperox will be in contention for the Best Novel Hugo this next year; likewise The Interdependency for Best Series (an award, it should be noted, which explicitly privileges author longevity in the field). Will either win? Who knows? But in either case I don’t suspect anyone would find it notably unusual if that happened. Likewise it won’t be all that surprising if I keep showing up with finalist placements, as I’m a bestselling author in the field and have a long-term contract with a major publisher (two, actually, including Audible) contractually obliged to heavily promote my work when it comes out. Say what you will about me, I’m not likely to fade for a while yet.
(Also, the work generally is, you know, not bad. Which does not hurt.)
But if the book and series aren’t in contention this next year, and if I don’t subsequently make regular appearances on the Hugo finalist lists, I think both I and the Hugos will get along just fine. Looking at who have won Hugos since Redshirts, and particularly in the Best Novel category, I can’t argue that I’ve been particularly missed. It’s been a pretty remarkable run in terms of quality of work, and I feel pretty good that run of quality will continue with or without me as a finalist. If my fate is to be taken for granted for producing “good, entertaining sci-fi”… well, I mean, there are much worse fates in life, aren’t there?
I like being a finalist for awards, and for Hugos in particular. They’re my “home” award, as it were. It’s never not special to be a finalist. I like winning them even more! Rockets are fun! Please feel free to nominate me if such is your inclination. Thanks. Also, if I never win, or become a finalist for, another award ever, I will have won more than enough in this life. I will neither spend much time fretting about what it means, nor begrudging those who are finalists for, and winning, those awards currently. If there’s indeed a Hugo window, I got to have a nice long look through it. I’m happy to let others take in the view.