Hugo Awards LogoOn the back of Justin Landon’s provocative thoughts on the 2013 Hugo ballot, the past 48 hours has produced several thoughtful responses, some in favour, some against and some carving their own path to find answers to the Hugo ‘problem’ (if such even exists). My thoughts are here. Here I’ve gathered together some of the responses complement and balance out Landon’s article and the resulting discussion (nearing a staggering 200 comments at the time of writing this).

In particular, Vixyish and Lavie Tidhar both encouragingly suggest that we should not be focussing on the issues of blockvoting and ‘the old guard’ (as the SMOF crowd is sometimes affectionately called), but rather on the ethnic and gender diversity that is beginning to appear on the ballot of what has traditionally been a very staid and conservatively white/male award. Lots of food for thought.

So, onward.

Vixyish, Hugo your own way:

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.)


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.

Lavie Tidhar, Editorial: The Hugo Awards:

I think a part of the sense of – disaffection – we get every year is the very real sense that science fiction [ETA: I’m using this as an umbrella term for speculative fiction, including fantasy] itself has profoundly changed over the decades. Some terribly ambitious novels had won the award since it began in 1953, a period during which science fiction was in a very real sense an avant garde literary movement. The first novel to win was Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man, and the 1960s saw such novels as A Canticle for Leibowitz, Stranger in a Strange Land, Dune and Lord of Light winning – surely some of the most remarkable and ambitious examples of American science fiction ever written.


And the thing is this – this is perhaps the first year in the award’s history (and the Campbell, a “Not a Hugo” award) where we see such a strong representation of international voices. I’m not sure I can highlight this enough. Saladin Ahmed‘s Throne of the Crescent Moon, for instance, is the first novel by a Muslim writer ever to be nominated for a Hugo. The first by an Arab-American, for that matter. (And this is when being Muslim in SF is still cause for a lot of nasty sniping, to put it mildly). Ken Liu, a Chinese-American author doing amazing work, amongst others, in translating Chinese science fiction into English, is nominated for Best Short Story. Aliette de Bodard, a French author of Vietnamese ancestry, is nominated for both Best Novella and Best Short Story, while Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt is a surprise nominee with a translated story in the Best Novelette category.


The Hugos are changing, I think. Or SF as a whole is changing. The surprise is not that popular American writers are nominated for a Hugo – but that diversity is increasingly represented on the ballots.

Robert Jackson Bennett, Some thoughts about awards:

The biggest award in SFF is, with little debate, the Hugo Awards, the nominations for which just got announced this past week. When I first got started being a writer, I knew very little about the Hugos, beyond that Ender’s Game had won it (because it had a big shiny silver star saying so on the cover of the copy I stole from my brother – it also had one for the Nebula, another big award I knew very little about when I first started writing).

The Hugo, like any award, has its own very distinct culture, and also like any award, every time the nominations come out, there’s a flurry of discussion over what does it mean? As if the nominations are an alien language, and we are trying to figure out their message.

However, I’m not sure this is necessary, because there are only about three different kinds of industry awards, and each kind tends to articulate and message three very different things.

The King of Elfland’s Second Cousin, ‘Tis the Season: What Good are the Hugos?:

This year’s paroxysms of disgruntlement, particularly the essays written by Justin Landon at Staffer’s Book Review and Aidan Moher at A Dribble of Ink, make me wonder about a more fundamental, heretofore unstated question: what good are the Hugo Awards? What is their purpose? What role(s) do they serve?

Every person who voices an opinion on the nominees, or the winners, or the awards process itself, has some presumptive answers to these questions. Are my answers the same as Justin’s? Are his the same as Aidan’s? Are ours the same as Kevin Standlee’s? Are Kevin’s the same as Hugo Voter X? Without exploring our unstated assumptions, it will be difficult to understand and contextualize either the complaints about the Hugo Awards, or the defenses of the same. Accusations of demagoguery and privilege are already flying in the comments to Justin’s post, and I suspect they stem from a disconnect in a basic question: what purpose do the Hugo Awards serve?

Ultimately, my hopes are that discussions like these, thoughtful and insistent on diversity, are important in driving forward change not only with the Hugo Awards, but with the SFF genre in general.

  • Carl Duzett April 3, 2013 at 11:55 am

    People are overreacting. The Hugo Award still means quite a bit today, and carries a lot of weight. It’s perfect for holding down a stack of papers, for example, or breaking up the monotony of “Participant” trophies from your kids’ sports teams on the living room shelf.

  • Paul Weimer (@princejvstin) April 3, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    There has been good discussion (and a lot of Kevin Standlee commenting) on the topic, spurred on by Justin’s post. Harry Connolly has a post, too, and there are likely others I have not seen and not linked here, either.

    Awards are something we discuss a lot in this little field. For their flaws, a stratum of people care a lot about them (and some who say they don’t doth protest too much)

  • Martin April 3, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    In particular, Vixyish and Lavie Tidhar both encouragingly suggest that we should not be focussing on the issues of blockvoting and ‘the old guard’ (as the SMOF crowd is sometimes affectionately called), but rather on the ethnic and gender diversity that is beginning to appear on the ballot of what has traditionally been a very staid and conservatively white/male award.

    I’m not at all convinced by this. Why should we be pleased that this time the sentimental shite that has pitched up on the ballot is from Ken Liu rather than Mike Resnick? Why is the fact a Dutchman rather than a Utahn gamed the system something to applaud? Diversity of the field is incredibly important and we should expect rather than hope that our awards reflect this. The fact the Hugo ballot is diverse is neutral rather than positive. The fact it is composed of poor quality work is the important issue: Seanan McGuire is no more an award worthy writer than John Scalzi and we should seek to replace both.

  • Shan April 3, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    ^ No more award worthy _in your opinion and according to your specific tastes_.

    People read different books. If they read book x and think it’s the best book ever, they’re not going to vote for book y, even if you think book y is the best book ever. The criteria for best you are using are different from the criteria that they are using – and it’s not “gaming the system” for someone to have different opinions and taste from you.

  • Martin April 4, 2013 at 3:20 am

    1) Not all opinions are equal.
    2) Opinions and taste are not the same thing.
    3) “Gaming the system” refers to neither opinion or taste but rather vote gathering operations (specifically from Thomas Olde Heuvelt and Eric James Stone).