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Hugo your own way

Ah, spring. The daffodils are up, the crows are nesting, and the annual Sour Grapes about the Hugos posts are going up.

This year's first one is especially nasty. I'm not going to link to it, and I'm not going to mention the author (I actually don't know who it is; there's just a first name on there). I just want to throw my thoughts out here.

(Obviously I'm biased by there being a number of people on the ballot that I consider friends. Take whatever quantity of salt you wish from that.)

So what's oddly telling to me about the blog post and the supporting comments that I read are the inherent contradictions.

We have a blogger vehemently and scornfully deriding various nominated works and writers as average, laughable, and quite a few other insults, and then turning around and saying virtuously, "oh, but I'm not criticizing the individual works! Just the broken system!"

Over the last few years we've had record numbers of women nominated in fiction categories, works of pure urban fantasy, works by trans* authors, and an increasing number of works by authors of color and presenting something other than western European viewpoints, and yet we have bloggers complaining "oh, it's the same nominees over and over again, it's always the old guard of SFF represented!"

We have the first ever self-published (online) fiction work nominated, several online works, fan writers and fanzines, and a freaking podcast category, and yet we have bloggers complaining "oh, the problem is we're nominating based on outdated publishing methods, the Hugos don't acknowledge online work!"

This is why I feel pretty confident dismissing these complaints as sour grapes. When your criticisms are either self-contradictory or just flat-out ignore the facts, I'm not going to take them very seriously.

I'm sorry if the stuff you like didn't get nominated, but some of the stuff I like didn't get nominated, either. You're upset that the Hugo Awards are a popularity contest? So are all awards. So is pretty much anything that's decided by a popular vote. That doesn't make it a "broken system". If we're looking for some kind of objective absolute value of "best", we're going to need a declared, agreed-upon and publicly-posted scoring rubric (and how we're going to get the entirety of SFF fandom to agree upon it is something I don't want to contemplate, let alone how you're going to ensure its reliability and validity), a jury of evaluators trained in that rubric, and some kind of financial support for the jurors, since they will be doing nothing all day every day but reading every single published work of sciene fiction and fantasy throughout the year and scoring each one according to that rubric. Ridiculous? Yep. So is complaining that not every work was represented. So is complaining that only the "popular" stuff ever gets nominated for any award.

But seriously, I want to focus on just one aspect of this topic for a moment. Science Fiction has, for a very long time, been the genre of, by, and for men. Women and girls were (and still are) told it wasn't for them, made fun of for liking it, or outright denied the right to participate. Tiptree (a female author) used a male pen name to get published, and female authors to this day get told that they should consider using male pen names to "appeal to a broader audience" (that's a direct quote). And we still have the myth of the "fake geek girl" going around. Women wearing science fiction shirts or costumes or merchandise still regularly get asked by male fans whether they know enough to have the right to wear those things.

Think about that for a minute. Today, not 50 years ago but right now, women science fiction fans actually get told that they don't have the right to like what they like.

And in that climate, we have a record number of female authors nominated for Hugo Awards, and the first female author to be the one to set an "x number of nominations" record. (i.e., previously all "first person to have x nominations in one ballot" records were set by men, and later had a woman match that number.)

And that's not even getting into the increasing recognition of authors of color, LGB and/or T authors, newly-explored subject matter, and very possibly other new things happening that I haven't thought of or addressed here.

This is a fucking exciting year, and a fucking exciting time for SFF. Things are changing. I want them to change faster, but they are changing. And anyone who can look at all that and claim that it's the same old thing over and over? I don't even have the words for how divorced they are from reality.

Originally posted at http://vixy.dreamwidth.org/782256.html.


( what 31 dormice said — feed your head )
Apr. 2nd, 2013 06:13 pm (UTC)
I'm spectralbovine, and I approve this message.
Apr. 3rd, 2013 01:13 am (UTC)
Apr. 2nd, 2013 06:19 pm (UTC)
Hi Vixy,

I do think there is a "turn the supertanker" sort of situation here. Things changed, are changing, will change, but its slow and some of the past remains firmly in place. It can frustrate someone like the aforementioned blogger and others for that reason.

That said, the gender issue as regard to nominations is an excellent counter point to the idea that there has been no change whatsoever.
Apr. 2nd, 2013 06:35 pm (UTC)
I realize that my choice not to link to the aforementioned blogger means that this post is occurring without context, so that's kind of my own fault.

Let me just assure you that the blogger and commenters in question were not expressing frustration over change not happening fast enough. That's a frustration I could well understand. The essay and comments in question were openly insulting a wide variety of the current nominees (including women, authors of color, and LGBT authors) and then stating that those nominees were wither the same authors over and over again, or somehow didn't count because they weren't deep enough/meaningful enough/good enough or were too popular with the aforementioned authors' fans. (That's not me reading interpretations into things, that's their actual words.)
Apr. 2nd, 2013 06:33 pm (UTC)

I also note that the Hugos are not the only awards out there. The PK Dick awards focus on paperbacks, and the Nebulas are voted on by SFWA members. Each tend to honor different things, and that's good.
Apr. 2nd, 2013 06:35 pm (UTC)
Good points all. The variety is definitely interesting this year...and that's been growing.
Apr. 2nd, 2013 06:38 pm (UTC)

The other sign of "quality" pushed by our society (and this is straying a little OT, OK? I do that.) is . . . drum roll . . . the almighty dollar.

I like to frame it this way: which of these 20th century authors was the better writer:

A. James Joyce.
B. Jacqueline Susann.

Valley of the Dolls made a lot more money than Ulysses, and sold a lot more copies. Does that mean . . . anything? I deliberately picked two authors who are not living, here, so as not to offend anyone. And if you want it all female, substitute Virginia Woolf for James Joyce.

That being said, the Hugo Awards represent the opinions of a fairly small number of fans and authors. I've always thought they were taken far too seriously; even so, I'm happy for those who have won and been nominated, and very proud that one of our own is doing so well.

Fandom tends to attract individuals who do not interact well with others. In particular, it tends to attract males who don't interact well with others. This still has a way of being scary to females, and some males go out of their way to make it even worse. (Not going to mention the R word here. Not.) Hooray for those who are persistent and able to confront those challenges. Oh, and one reason other than the music that I prefer filk fandom - my theory is that singing in circles and taking turns has a tendency to help those who have difficulty interacting with others overcome their deficiencies. Not 100%, but I think it helps.

And you make a lot of very good points here, so much so that I have no interest in reading whatever nonsense you were responding to.
Apr. 2nd, 2013 06:48 pm (UTC)
That being said, the Hugo Awards represent the opinions of a fairly small number of fans and authors.

Yeah... I think that's my other problem with the kind of criticism that inspired my post. The Hugo Award isn't pretending to be anything else. It's "here is the opinion of all the fans who cared to have a say in this particular conversation." As Jen pointed out above, there are lots of other awards based on different things; none of them claim to be anything other than what they are.

When people start complaining that X or Y shouldn't be on the ballot because they aren't deep/meaningful/good enough... well, that's their opinion, but that's all any award is-- a collection of opinions. And they're all (as far as I know) open about whose opinions are involved. (The NYT Bestseller List is an exception that occurs to me, but that isn't an award, exactly.)

So I just think it's disingenuous for these people to disguise their complaints that what they like didn't get on the ballot as some kind of objective criticism that "the system is broken". I mean, like what you like (the general "you", that is, not YOU) and complain all you want that it doesn't get the recognition you feel it deserves, but don't try to pretend you're doing anything other than that, you know? That's what bugs me about them.
Apr. 2nd, 2013 06:57 pm (UTC)
I like what one commenter said about the fact that, yes, the Hugos are nominated and voted on by fervent fanbases, but...that is also a meaningful indicator. As far as I know, it's not like anything actually shitty ever gets nominated for a Hugo. Yes, subpar installments of popular series may get on through inertia, but it also tells you what is making an impact in the SFF world. Who's reading what, and, as he put it, who cares so much that they will pay to give it recognition.
Apr. 2nd, 2013 07:09 pm (UTC)
Sad news. The world is full of creeps. Non illigitimati carborundum.
Apr. 2nd, 2013 07:25 pm (UTC)
Yes, YES, YES!!! Two points I noted that I don't think have been mentioned yet. First, the ability to nominate and vote online, especially if there is a digital reader packet provided again this year, resulted in an all time high of eligible ballots, and may also increase voting. I voted for the first time last year, and nominated for the first time this year. That I can watch the award ceremony live online only encourages me to participate. I predict participation will continue to increase with just your average fan participating more and more. If this means elite SFF readers no longer determine nominees I think that's great.

Second, I was very angry at that blogger's contention that some authors were tainting the results by rallying their fan bases. That is condescending on SO many levels. It implies I let favored authors tell me what to vote on, and that I don't have the discrimination to choose works I believe are worthy of the award.

The process works just fine, and I hope it continues to!
Apr. 2nd, 2013 08:14 pm (UTC)

The thing that annoyed me about the aforementioned blogger's comments (besides the obvious) was that it was so full of that particularly irritating sense of superiority/snobbishness that I loathe. Voters are not choosing the things that I deem worthy of recognition, ergo the awards are flawed. Boo.
Apr. 2nd, 2013 08:14 pm (UTC)
This wasn't really meant to be a reply to the above comment. Oops! :)
Apr. 2nd, 2013 09:31 pm (UTC)
So, no applause for me? *sad face* (kidding : -)
Apr. 3rd, 2013 01:13 am (UTC)
No! Applause for everyone! ;)
Apr. 2nd, 2013 11:16 pm (UTC)
As for this rallying business - here's why, although I usually attend Worldcon (8 of the past 9) I do not vote on the Hugos. I would not vote in a category without first reading or seeing the nominees. And I just don't have the energy or spare time for all that reading. So, even though I've met some of the nominees, I'm not going to jump in there and vote for my friends just because I know them. I think fans are pretty ethical that way. (I'm still convinced that certain authors win due to name recognition, like when Clarke won for Rendezvous With Rama. He definitely wrote some Hugo-worthy books in his career; that, IMHO, was not one of them. But, hey, SO WHAT!)
Apr. 2nd, 2013 08:32 pm (UTC)
Heck, there's a few disappointments I had, but so it goes -- I'd hoped The New York Review of Science Fiction would get a Semiprozine nomination (I help put the magazine together, so am definitely biased). But, this is the first year all the nominees in that catagory are for fiction semiprozines. Definitely not the Same Old.

I am sad that The Unwritten, vol. 7, didn't make it onto the ballot for Best Graphic Novel -- but look at those nominees. A lot of turnover from when I could say "Okay, it's going to be Girl Genius, Schlock Mercenary, The Unwritten, Fables, and Something Else". And this for a category that didn't exist six years ago.

I am sad that the footage of the NASA control room during the Curiosity landing didn't make it onto the ballot for Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form. So it goes. As I'm perpetually 3-4 years behind in Doctor Who, I have no usefully informed opinion of what did make it onto the ballot.

I am sad that John Carter didn't make it on to the ballot, but I am delighted that I have to watch Cabin in the Woods. This is Highly Unusual, as I feel about the majority of horror films what the stereotypical non-sf reader feels about sf, right down to a knee jerk reaction of "Oh, but that's not horror" when it comes to horror films I like.

I don't agree with several of the choices of nominees, but "same old people always getting onto the ballot" just isn't an issue I've got.
Apr. 2nd, 2013 08:50 pm (UTC)
Every year I hear about these things called the Hugos. It's an award in the SF community. The super big one, so I hear. Every year I ignore it.

However, this year, an author I know in person, who has pushed some limits, who is talented in multiple ways, and whom I have known long enough to have seen the *YEARS* of tireless work and dedication and struggle and tears and joy that have gone into taking the multiverse in that crazy brain and putting into all the formats that we, the public, can now access for ourselves, has been nominated.

She has been nominated 5 times.

Nuts to the sour grapes people. That's just really exciting, even for me, and I couldn't care less about the Hugos. I'm just psyched to see someone who has *earned* the right to be nominated get the accolades she deserves :)

(*Disclaimer: I'm sure all who have been nominated have done the work to earn it. I just don't know you personally. And also, congratulations to you each.)
Apr. 2nd, 2013 08:59 pm (UTC)
There are way too many people looking for excuses to tear down everything they don't like, and way too many others looking to tear things down out of fear of change.

Fuck that noise. The world is change, and stagnation is death. I'm glad to see my favorite corner of entertainment getting more diverse - would that the /rest/ of the things I deal with daily would do the same!
Apr. 2nd, 2013 09:00 pm (UTC)
I'm going to do something on the fly here. Let's see what happens. (But I'm betting it will fully support your post.)

I have the history of the Hugos open in another tab. To start with, I'll look at 1973, the first year I got into fandom.

Of all the nominees, what women do I see? Ursula LeGuin, for Novella (she won), James Tiptree, Jr., for Novelette and Short Story (and at that time, nobody knew who she was), and Joanna Russ, for Short Story. That's it. Everyone else is male, and to my knowledge, all white.

I'll jump ahead ten years at a time.

1983: C.J. Cherryh in Novel, Joanna Russ (winner) in novella, Connie Willis (winner) and Phyllis Eisenstein in Novelette, Ursula LeGuin and James Tiptree, Jr. in Short Story, Rowena Morrill in Artist, and a woman wrote the screen play for ET. For non-white nominees, Somtow Sucharitkul in Novelette.

1993: Connie Willis (winner) and Maureen F. McHugh for Novel, McHugh again for Novella, and female majorities in Novelette (4 of 5) and Short Story (3 of 5). One Related Work, 3 of 5 Editors, no Artists. Better representation of women, but no people of color that I'm aware of.

2003: The only female fiction nominees are Ursula LeGuin and Maureen McHugh in Novelette, and Molly Gloss in Short Story. (Wait, what year is this?) Women are also writers or co-writers on three Related Works, and are listed as writers (but never directors) in two Long and one Short Dramatic Presentation. Again, all the names I'm familiar with are white. This ain't good.

2013: Women are the writers of 2 Novels, 3 Novellas, 4 Novelettes, and 2 (of 3) Short Stories. Women are also involved with 4 of the 5 Related Work nominees, 1 Short Form and 3 Long Form Editors, and 1 Artist. The Graphic Story and Dramatic Presentation categories remain male preserves - not surprising, given those industries. Still, a great year.

In fact, I was curious enough to dig a little deeper, and found that the majority of fiction nominations have gone to women for three years in a row now, but that represents a *huge* change. Here are the figures since 2003, showing number of fiction nominations that went to women out of the total:

2003: 3 of 21
2004: 4 of 21
2005: 3 of 20
2006: 3 of 20
2007: 1 of 20
2008: 4 of 20
2009: 4 of 20
2010: 9 of 23
2011: 10 of 19
2012: 11 of 21 (including Charlie Jane Anders, who is trans and identifies as female)
2013: 11 of 18

So between 2003 and 2009 inclusive, out of a total of 142 nominated works of fiction, a grand total of 22 were by women. That's 15.5%. The current parity is a great improvement.

Among African Americans: Samuel R. Delany received multiple nominations and a couple of wins between 1967 and 1969, plus one other nomination in 1977. Octavia Butler won for shorter works in 1984 and 1985. Nalo Hopkinson has been nominated once, in 2001. And N.K. Jemisin has had a couple of nominations in the last few years. That's everyone I could find.

I know there have been various nominations for people of Asian descent, but I've run out of time to gather a list.

Saladin Ahmed is nominated for Best Novel this year.

Other than Charlie Jane Anders, Mark Oshiro, and David Brin, I couldn't tell you who among nominees past or present is LGB or T.

Obviously, in terms of diversity, we still have a long way to go.

In closing, may I add a brief plug? I'm on the bid committee for the Detroit in 2014 NasFic bid. I don't know who our guests will be (they won't be announced until/unless we win the right to hold the convention), but I was part of the nominating and voting process, and can promise you that diversity was one of the criteria we kept in mind during our discussions. Anyone who's a member of this year's Worldcon is eligible to vote on the NasFic.

Apr. 4th, 2013 03:50 pm (UTC)
Charlie Jane isn't even the first trans person to win a Hugo. You may not have known she was trans, though.
Apr. 4th, 2013 07:30 pm (UTC)
No doubt. And of course, in listing LGBT, I neglected to again list Samuel R. Delany.
Apr. 3rd, 2013 01:33 am (UTC)
*headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*

Two thoughts that pop into my brain. First, sure I'm disappointed that certain things missed the ballot (like all five of the short stories I nominated) and that certain things did. At the same time, I'm pretty sure every ballot I've read stuff from has had at least one story I didn't know about before but was glad to have read. Case in point, last year's "The Man Who Bridged the Mist", which was clearly written JUST. FOR. ME.

Second, if some folks out there want to see more old white guys nominated, tell their favorite old white guy authors to WRITE BETTER BOOKS. I can think of a couple of series that I do enjoy reading, but freely admit can be quite formulaic. No way am I nominating any of them for the Hugo. There are far more original things to nominate. Several of which are in fact on this ballot.

Apr. 3rd, 2013 04:14 am (UTC)
The topic of "a declared, agreed-upon and publicly-posted scoring rubric" inspired me to look up this:

Apr. 3rd, 2013 04:40 am (UTC)
Apr. 3rd, 2013 04:40 am (UTC)
Perspective...it matters.
First and most importantly, I applaud your post. As always you make your points well and with panache.

My own reaction to the article and comments was just a bit different.
I read the first little bit, which clearly indicated to me this was a position paper of sorts, set logic filters to mangle, and dove in.
Result? I was laughing at the intensity with which this person clearly feels he knows best, and yet misunderstands the provenance of the Hugo's. Laughing at the idiocy of taking a swipe at an award by attempting to (and failing badly to, in my opinion) denigrate new successful authors by comparing them to...older extremely well liked, well known and acknowledgedly talented authors/personalities. Protip, unless your audience is pure republican, using a swipe at Barak Obama to in-kind swipe at a Hugo nominated author is well beyond foolish looking.

I simply couldn't take the article seriously, and most of the Yea, me too comments were worse.

Perspective. Assholes and opinions, everyone has one.
And this is mine.

Apr. 3rd, 2013 01:55 pm (UTC)
So when are the Hugo's going to recognize Filk songs as a category? The Canadian SF Aurora Awards now do!
Apr. 3rd, 2013 11:04 pm (UTC)
The biggest problem is that it was tried before and failed (couldn't make the 5% threshold). The other is that the Auroras are structured very differently from the Hugos, and making a filk-ish award fit into the structure is tricky.

The best idea I've come up with so far is "best dramatic presentation (fan)." Which still needs a bit more work as a proposal idea (and in terms of supporting evidence).

Apr. 4th, 2013 03:54 pm (UTC)
It was tried and failed to get enough nominations to justify the category. If you think the field has changed sufficiently since 1995 that people would behave differently, you need to lobby individual Worldcon committees to use their Special Hugo authority to add Best Music again and see if there are enough nominations to justify the category. If that happens, you can then build a case to take before the WSFS Business Meeting to add the category.

Remember, there is no "them," no Board of Directors, no House of Representatives. There are just individual fans, all of whom can join Worldcon and propose things to the Business Meeting, which is structured like a New England Town Meeting, so you don't represent anyone but yourself. It's retail politics, not wholesale. And that means it's not enough to know that you are Brilliant. You must convince a majority of the people at the meetings two years in a row that you are right.
Apr. 4th, 2013 05:44 pm (UTC)
Hmm. Does it practically make more sense to try these things out as a Special Hugo and use that to justify a BM case -- rather than (as was done with Graphic Novel) getting things past the "one BM" level and using that to justify a Special Hugo the next year?

I guess it has some advantages in terms of having to convince a smaller group of people, although if you can get the votes at a BM, then you can.

[noting that practically speaking, I'm thinking Best DP(Fan), not "Best Filk" or "Best Music"]
Apr. 4th, 2013 06:34 pm (UTC)
The case you cite isn't actually a good one. The first Graphic Story Hugo was actually a Special Hugo, not a regular category. The Business Meeting gave first passage to a Graphic Story Hugo with the knowledge that the following year's Worldcon would put the category on the ballot as a Special Hugo, and then the Business Meeting could use the knowledge of what got nominated as evidence related to whether it should be ratified. Even then, they put a sunset clause on it that required re-ratification.

Now as far as creating a Best Dramatic Presentation (Fan) category, that's much more difficult, because you're trying to carve out portions of an existing category and make a new category out of it. The difficulty of doing this is why there were no BDP (Short Form) Special Hugos; anything eligible for this BDP (Short Form) would have been simultaneously eligible for the existing Best Dramatic Presentation category, and it's a principle of Hugo creation that it's unwise to create overlapping categories.

To do what you want, not only do you need a way of splitting the category that people understand (look at how much difficulty we have defining Semiprozine and Fanzine), but you had better include an automatic sunset clause that requires re-ratification after the fourth attempt to give the category, because if you don't, I nearly guarantee that the Business Meeting will put one onto it.
( what 31 dormice said — feed your head )


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