Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

On The Hugo Kerfuffle

Fresh when it gets here from Julie Barrett
Thursday, April 9, 2015

Hugonaut, by Vincent Villafranca

That is the closest I'll probably ever get to having my own Hugo Award. Above is Vincent Villafranca's Hugonaut, a lovely little bronze that is based on a piece of the Hugo base he created for LoneStarCon 3 in 2013. I purchased that at a convention art show. If it seems I'm whining that I'll probably never have one of these on my mantle, it's not out of any conspiracy theory. Frankly, I'm not getting any younger, and the odds of producing something spectacular enough to even get nominated diminishes every year. I'm not whining, as much as I'm whipping myself. I'm not producing as much as I'd like, and well, that's on me, isn't it? (I also ran the ceremony at LSC3, which has nothing to do with voting, so I hope that gets the disclaimer out of the way.) (Also, this is my own opinion. I'm part of the conrunning community, but I own what I say here, and I fully expect I'll tick off part of that community. Whether or not you agree with me, just read through to the end before you hit that "comment" button.)

Every year when the award shortlist is announced, there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Yes, some deserving people don't make the cut. Some people decided to do something about it and put together their own slate and publicize the hell out of it. While I have nothing against that in principle, what does bother me is that the slate (well, two this year) came wrapped in a blanket of us-vs.-them politics. Liberal or conservative, politics ain't the way to honor deserving writers and artists. 

How do you fix this? Well, I don't know if there's an easy answer, but I'm of the opinion that this ship will right itself eventually. Let's start with a little background, for those of you unaware of how all this works.

The Hugo Awards are fan-run. Visit the link for a history of the awards and a list of nominees and winners from past years. In order to nominate, you have to have at least a supporting membership in the current, previous, or past World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon). Only members of the current Worldcon can vote. A supporting membership costs around $40. It's not a terribly high bar, but it's not something one might do casually. IMO, the fee is designed partly to help fight gaming the process, but it also benefits the convention. Those things ain't cheap to run. 

If you'll look at the list of nominations over the years, you'll see that names shifted from "old school" writers and artists to newer, younger people. Well, part of that is attrition. Asimov and Heinlein aren't exactly putting out books these days. Part of that is a shift to a younger readership, and, perhaps, part of it is that the younger authors and artists are more savvy at social media.

A big complaint I've seen by the people that put together the slates is that nominations are dominated by big publishers. I see a lot of finger pointing in the direction of Tor, but if you look at nominations, they aren't the dominant publisher. I think the finger pointing is more personal at an editor or two at Tor than the publisher.


The big publishers have traditionally had the money and the distribution engines to get their works in front of the public better than small presses. So the average reader is more likely to have read a book from one of the Big 5 imprints than from a small press. 

This is changing. But you must consider that it took several years for self-publishing and electronic distribution of books to gain a foothold. I strongly suspect the awards are going to be running behind that curve, but they'll eventually catch up. 

And gaming the nominations for political purposes isn't going to help. It's only going to serve to drive away fans who have discovered in the last few years that they can vote for these awards.

This is sad, because politics are tearing apart the community.

Forget the SMOFs. (Well, for a moment, at least.) They're a smallish community and their influence on nominations is really a drop in the proverbial bucket. Yes, they set the rules, but like many organizations, WSFS is volunteer-run and it seems a small group of core volunteers ends up making the rules. The process for making and changing rules is convoluted. In part it's to help keep a small faction from taking over the organization. (You're not paying attention to fannish history if you don't think that's ever happened to any fan group in the past.) However, most all-volunteer organizations are run by a core group of people who are passionate about the cause or the organization, or whatever. 

What can you do?

If you vote, do what you always do. Vote (and nominate) for those who you think are the most deserving. If you don't see someone you think is deserving, or if you're unfamiliar with any of the works in a given category, there's no shame in voting for Noah Ward. (Think about it. Say it out loud.) Read up on how votes are counted (they use Aussie rules), and cast your vote to make what you hope will do the most good. (And by "good" I mean "good" by your definition.)

Get involved with conrunning at the local level. Hell, volunteer to help at Worldcon if you're going. There's nothing like seeing how the sausage gets made to make you want to either dig in and help or run away screaming. If your beef is that the same insular group of people are running things, that's not going to change until you - and others - get involved. Starting at the local level is the way to do it. But you say, those SMOFs are all old! Well, think about it for just a minute. By the time you're 50-60, your child-rearing and tuition-paying days are behind you, and you (generally speaking) have more time to travel and get involved with things. This is why the group skews to middle age and up. Get involved in the local level and work your way up. Goodness knows local cons can use a lot of help.

Seek out and promote lesser-known writers and artists on social media. You don't have to be a promotion machine (or a self-promotion machine), but no one is going to nominate someone they've never heard of. If you're a writer or artist pimping your own stuff at the start of awards season, recommend deserving candidates in other categories, or even your own. The more of us who make recommendations, the more good names will get put forward.

This is how it starts. Change doesn't happen overnight, and giving up because someone gamed the process isn't going to help. If the Hugos are to be awards of the fans and by the fans, then the fans need to take them back. It doesn't require slates, and it certainly shouldn't involve politics. 

Thanks for reading through this. Please see the comment policy if you're new here before you post a comment. And I'll be monitoring Facebook comments as well. I know a lot of people are passionate about this topic, but keep it civil. Or as we say in Texas, what would your momma think if you said that?

Tags: Writing

Filed under: Writing   Conventions   Hugos      


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