My last post on the Hugo award was quite sprawling and I jammed about ten points in there without working it out.
One of the finer points of why the Hugo doesn’t ultimately matter as a barometer of anything other than mainly authors and a few insiders passing awards is this scenario.
I am sure there are lots of ways people come across books: recommendation from a friend, television commercial (another one, Mr. Patterson?) emails from Amazon, etc.
But the #1 way I come across new books is standing in the science fiction aisle and scanning through books. I have also just started to do this with the Kindle browser, but you need a starting point. I look at covers, titles, something grabs me, I probe a little deeper, see if the prose strikes me, the first sentence, maybe first paragraph, the blurbs, etc. What may grab me on Saturday may fail on Sunday, I may never get to the book I do buy, or it can sit on the shelf passed over for a year or two. I confess I also have a reading list that goes past my natural life so new authors have to fit in. It is not like I go into a bookstore because I have nothing to read.
I am sure this is the way it goes for a lot of people – a lot of readers. The chances of me having run across any of the same books in the qualifying year as anyone else is very small indeed. What the Hugo award represents is the same thing it has always represented. The selection by a very small group of people of what they believe is the best work of a given year – by whatever standard they happen to be using in that era (more about this comment in a moment).
I would be willing to bet most of the WorldCon people that vote are people actually in the business and I bet there are a lot of people who vote for themselves. With nominating stats of 1827 for best novel in 2015, that is the conclusion one would have to draw. Most of the authors I’ve read commenting about the Hugo talk as if their voting for the Hugo is a regular thing. We can assume the same is true of the editors, publishers, artists, and, perhaps, a small group of really rabid fans that really want to be one of those groups (or like to pose as they are).
Or one has to conclude that the professional science fiction community does not comprise anywhere near 1800 some people, or that they do not participate. They participate.
I am willing to bet the nearly 4000 people that ended up voting in the Novel category (but couldn’t be bothered before or during the nominating process) spent most of the year reading Star Wars tie-ins, Twilight spin-offs/copies, or don’t even read science fiction at all.
Now consider what I said about the people that vote at WorldCon being mainly people in the business (numerically this has to be true – at least until very recently). If we remember George RR Martin’s definition of a “fan” that I posted yesterday. His statement is more shocking still.
A fan is not just someone who reads SF and fantasy. A fan is a member of a community called “fandom” whose roots go back to the 1930s.
Fans are tolerant, friendly, good humored, warm, welcoming. They love worldcon, they respect and value the Hugos, they honor fannish tradition.
Let’s remember the number of voters is usually less that 2000. The 5600 of this year were not even fans by Mr. Martin’s boys club definition. Else, where were they before?
The Hugo simply is not a popularity contest. Most of what the public reads is Star Wars tie-ins (there wouldn’t ten coming out a month if they weren’t stuffing some publisher’s pockets) and crappy teenage fantasy books.
Or, rather, they are a popularity contest, but not among the general public of fans.
And I am not sure I’d want it with the general public. They read a lot of shit. They sent R.A. Lafferty to the minor presses and eventually to utter obscurity. Fuck the general public’s ability to have standards or taste that do not terminate in the lowest common denominator.
But then, what about this subset of the core fans that make up WorldCon? Those that decide every year what is the best and what is not?
I have heard some of them make outlandish comments. The talk of the marginalization of women and minorities is simply crap as I pointed out in my last post. Mr. Scalzi’s charity of Con or Bust is, now that I’ve thought of it, is simply cynical or calculating, or he really believes that the lack of POC representation is through some form of white man’s oppression. Or he believes they don’t make it to cons because they be too po’. Makes me wish I was POC so I could be offended by his presumption.
I really hope it is not as cynical give em’ money get the votes. But it is the only one that is charitable, the others speak of delusion or indoctrination.
I also think a lot of this social justice garbage (and yes, it does exist, I’m not sure of its extent, but I am not blind to its presence) is the fact that most writer and editors now come from different cloth than yesteryear. I haven’t crunched the data, but I am willing to bet that a lot of them now do not come from the military nor from engineering nor from any real science. A lot of them come from writing groups such as Clarion. That would explain some of the softening of the awards in recent years. Soft as in softer in science.
But as far as message fiction getting in the way of story. I will have to withhold judgement on that. I will not pass judgement on something I know nothing about.