The Hugo Awards short-list has been announced and the internet has melted down (again). For those who are unfamiliar with the Hugos, they are one of the major literary science fiction and fantasy awards. Whereas the Nebulas are industry voted, the Hugos are fan voted. The Hugos are named after Hugo Gernsback, founder of the science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, and not for example, after Victor Hugo, French dramatist and writer of the romantic movement. This preamble is really just intended to give some background. The Hugos have an American focus and a popular fiction focus. There are sometimes but very occasionally cross-over winners among the Hugos and the short lists of other literary awards. Slaughterhouse-Five by Vonnegut was nominated and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Chabon won a Hugo, but that’s unusual.
The current controversy (it seems like the world of genre publishing in the US needs at least one controversy every few months) has been driven by bloc-vote ‘slates’ (lists) under the names Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies. The argument from the Sad and Rabid Puppies people is that the Hugos are nominated by a small clique of elitist literary persons and the awards don’t represent the vast bulk of the readerships’ preferences. There’s also some chatter about reverse sexism and reverse racism against white male authors, but we can leave that to the trenches of comments threads elsewhere perhaps.
In any instance, the Australian’s Dilemma this year is that one of our own steady, faithful little genre magazines, Andomeda Spaceway’s Inflight Magazine (ASIM)*, has made it onto the Hugo ballot for the first time, but uncomfortably, it was put there by a bloc-voting effort that seems calculated to annoy rather than introduce readers to skilful and interesting work.
ASIM does have some international standing. When I was in a writer’s group in Dublin one of the authors sold a story to ASIM and was proud of the sale. It’s a small magazine but people are aware of it, albeit well below the usual level of fervour needed to get on the Hugo lists. One of them who work on ASIM, Simon Petrie, has already posted that they were unaware that the vote came via the ‘puppies’ campaign and has moved to distance ASIM from the vote, inasmuch as he has suggested voters should vote based on having actually read the works in question rather than vote for names from what appears to be ideologically underpinned lists.
Bloc-voting has been a curse of the Hugos for a long time now. Harlan Ellison ranted on the topic, and both John Scalzi and Charles Stross hosted discussion threads on their sites where readers suggested works that then made it into a sort of pseudo-bloc that swept the Hugos in their respective assaults. It is much the same problem that Eurovision has. In Eurovision, Baltic countries tend to bloc-vote for each other. Groups of Eastern European countries tend to bloc vote. This skews the results a bit (Western Europe, France, The United Kingdom, Spain, Netherlands, Germany etc do not tend to bloc vote for each other in Eurovision, presumably because of two world wars and centuries and past history… thus France, the UK and Germany stand a good chance of coming last each year). The underlying thing causing the bloc-vote problem in the Hugos is that there is a two step-process 1) nomination by readers, 2) voting for a winner by readers… and the difference in numbers between those who nominate and those who vote on a winner is vast. Sometimes only a couple of dozen nominations will push a work into the nomination list for what is supposedly a global award, but then hundreds of people vote on the final award.
My thoughts on fixing the problem run in the direction of encouraging more nominations**. Possibly, WorldCon attendees should receive a discount for nominating, or nominations should be open to attendees of the the hundreds of other literary genre conventions that are run around the world. There could be a special affiliate con status, or something. This has all been suggested before, though it’s unlikely to happen any time soon. Maybe attending any WorldCon ever gives a person the right to nominate (but not vote) for life? There are ways to try and get around the low nomination count problem.
That aside, the dilemma for the Australian attendee this year is whether to vote for ASIM on the basis of quite liking the magazine, or entering a ‘no award’ in the category as a protest against the whole bloc-nomination thing in general. I’m not going to give advice. I think it will depend on how you personally feel about the award nomination controversy and whether you feel you can honestly vote for ASIM having read and enjoyed issues in the past.
* Disclosure: I don’t know any of the current ASIM crew personally (I think), but I do know people in the general Australian SFF world so there may be some crossover. Also, I had a story published in ASIM years and years ago. It was written when I was very much younger, and probably isn’t the best thing I’ve ever written, but there you go. I think someone, somewhere reviewed my ASIM story and gave it a two out of five stars? Anyway, full disclosure and so on.
** There is a bit of back-peddling by some of the people involved in the ‘puppies’ bloc to the effect that this is what was intended all along. It was meant to cause controversy and attract new voters / stir up voting. Maybe. I suppose we can give the benefit of the doubt rather than raise suspicions of post-hoc rationalisation.
EDIT: This article mistakenly stated that Kafka on the Shore won a Hugo. It won a World Fantasy award. This has been corrected.