The fissuring of "fandoms" and the 2014 Hugo Awards finalists

April 19, 2014 § 8 Comments

Earlier this afternoon, the 2014 Hugo Award finalists were announced via Twitter and livestreaming of the announcements from some SF convention or another.  As I followed the announcements on Twitter, it was interesting to seeing the alternations between squeeing (I think that is the word for the juvenile squeaky gasp) and groaning as the categories moved from the lesser-known fan-oriented categories to the fiction categories.  For the most part, I remained unmoved, even when I saw some good people get nominated for their works, because I sensed that the fiction categories would be, in the parlance of certain people in my social circle, a clusterfuck.  And indeed it was a clusterfuck beyond my wildest imagination, as the Best Novel category alone is the epitome of everything that I despise about popular-voted literary awards.

I am more familiar with several category finalists than in years past, so I will have more to say on the lesser categories than in years past.  I will be blunt:  the types of works/people nominated illustrate this perception that many people have had in recent years that SF and its so-called “fandom”, never a monolithic entity whatever impression some people might have tried to give, is even more fissured and polarized now than even during contentious points (the 1930s and the red scare aftermath; Vietnam and the 1970s; third and fourth-wave feminism vs. MRAs) during the WorldCon’s checkered past.  Some occasional readers, myself being but one, are often left feeling disengaged after the spats have repeated themselves for the nth time.  The stories nominated show signs of bloc voting along the lines of thematic and perhaps socio-political ideologies more than for any literary/storytelling merits that these stories might contain.  When I look at the works/authors that have been nominated that I have read or at least sampled in the past, I am dismayed by lack of scintillating prose or anything that would be more profound than something found in a Dan Brown or Terry Goodkind novel.

Some of this doubtless is due to my own particular tastes as a reader, but some of it falls squarely in the laps of those readers who choose these works.  While I am likely never going to be a voter for these awards, as a critic I do feel that those who do nominate and vote for these awards should take greater responsibility for what is nominated.  Then again, considering how fractious “SF fandom” is, perhaps it is more a matter of LCD works being selected more for their non-offensiveness than for their true challenging of the status quo.  It is disheartening to see certain “progressive” voices praise certain stories for their themes when those so-called “progressive” elements were addressed more forcefully in works published before I was born…before 1974.  When even the “revolutionary” stories are praised mostly for their long-overdue inclusion of “minority” characters/perspectives, when these perspectives were becoming more commonplace in stories written for non-SF/F audiences a generation or two ago, then there is something broken in a literary area where some pride themselves on being “forward-thinking.”  The finalists for Best Novel are anything but “forward-looking” in their politics, in their themes, in their characterizations, or in their prose.  Much the same goes for the majority of the Novella and Novelette categories.

What can be done about this?  I perhaps am not the one best-suited to answer this, since I mostly observe from the periphery, reading what strikes my fancy, not esteeming those selected works more or less than what I read elsewhere.  Those who are the finalists for Fan Writer, Fanzine, and Fancast, most of whom are relatively new voices who are in their 20s and 30s, those are the ones who should be pressing harder for something different.  They should not be content to use their platforms just to praise works, but to criticize weaker elements even in the works that they enjoyed.  To them, which do excellent work, I would exhort them to not just “settle” for the “window dressing” of “progressive” elements within a stagnant story/theme, but to demand more, to note that those authors who are daring to do more should take greater chances, even at the risk of losing some readers or even publisher support.

Too often at times like this, SF/F supporters extoll the virtues of their beloved genre(s) by implicitly or even explicitly trying to create false comparisons between this genre and other literary genres.  As a reader of many fictional categories, I tend to scoff at these people, because I look at what is nominated and I think to myself, “these works are as ephemeral as mayflies.  The next generation will hardly glance at them without shuddering.”  Some believe that based on some of the nominees in the fan, Campbell, and shorter fiction works, that a newer generation of fans and writers is emerging.  Perhaps that is so.  But what is emerging?  Bland works?  Fictions that look backward too much without saying much that is new?  Stories that want more to be made into movies than those that take greater advantage of the literary medium?  Are these things that readers will want to revisit years from now?

So yes, another iteration of the Hugo Awards has been announced.  Some will find much to enjoy in them and a lot to dislike.  And others wistfully shall find themselves wishing that there was something more than a display of polarization over stories that leave the occasional SF reader feeling cold.  And with this somber comment, here are the finalists (and for full disclosure’s sake, two 2012 articles of mine appear in one of the finalists for Best Related Work):

Best Novel (1595 nominating ballots)

  • Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK) – My review
  • Neptune’s Brood, Charles Stross (Ace / Orbit UK)
  • Parasite, Mira Grant (Orbit US/Orbit UK)
  • Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles, Larry Correia (Baen Books)
  • The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books) – My reviews

Best Novella (847 nominating ballots)

  • The Butcher of Khardov, Dan Wells (Privateer Press)
  • “The Chaplain’s Legacy”, Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)
  • “Equoid”, Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)
  • Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean Press)
  • “Wakulla Springs”, Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages (Tor.com, 10-2013)

Best Novelette (728 nominating ballots)

  • “Opera Vita Aeterna”, Vox Day (The Last Witchking, Marcher Lord Hinterlands)
  • “The Exchange Officers”, Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jan-Feb 2013)
  • “The Lady Astronaut of Mars”, Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com/Tor.com, 09-2013)
  • “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”, Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2013)
  • “The Waiting Stars”, Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam)

Best Short Story (865 nominating ballots)

  • “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love”, Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine, Mar-2013)
  • “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com, 04-2013)
  • “Selkie Stories Are for Losers”, Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)
  • “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”, John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)

Note: Category had only 4 nominees due to the minimum 5% requirement of Section 3.8.5 of the WSFS constitution.

Best Related Work (752 nominating ballots)

  • Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It, Edited by Sigrid Ellis & Michael Damian Thomas (Mad Norwegian Press)
  • Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary, Justin Landon & Jared Shurin (Jurassic London) – here’s where my articles appear.
  • “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative”, Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)
  • Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, Jeff VanderMeer, with Jeremy Zerfoss (Abrams Image) – Need to finish reading it, but it’s a book I’d highly recommend to others.
  • Writing Excuses Season 8, Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Jordan Sanderson

Best Graphic Story (552 nominating ballots)

  • Girl Genius, Volume 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City, written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
  • “The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who”, written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Jimmy Broxton (Doctor Who Special 2013, IDW)
  • The Meathouse Man, adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Raya Golden (Jet City Comics)
  • Saga, Volume 2, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics )
  • “Time”, Randall Munroe (XKCD)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form (995 nominating ballots)

  • Frozen,screenplay by Jennifer Lee, directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee (Walt Disney Studios)
  • Gravity, written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films; Warner Bros.)
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, screenplay by Simon Beaufoy & Michael Arndt, directed by Francis Lawrence (Color Force; Lionsgate)
  • Iron Man 3, screenplay by Drew Pearce & Shane Black, directed by Shane Black (Marvel Studios; DMG Entertainment; Paramount Pictures)
  • Pacific Rim, screenplay by Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro, directed by Guillermo del Toro (Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros., Disney Double Dare You)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (760 nominating ballots)

  • An Adventure in Space and Time, written by Mark Gatiss, directed by Terry McDonough (BBC Television)
  • Doctor Who: “The Day of the Doctor”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Television)
  • Doctor Who: “The Name of the Doctor”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Televison)
  • The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, written & directed by Peter Davison (BBC Television)
  • Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere”, written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  • Orphan Black: “Variations under Domestication” written by Will Pascoe, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions; Space/BBC America)

Note: Category has six nominees due to a tie for the final position.

Best Editor, Short Form (656 nominating ballots)

  • John Joseph Adams
  • Neil Clarke
  • Ellen Datlow
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form (632 nominating ballots)

  • Ginjer Buchanan
  • Sheila Gilbert
  • Liz Gorinsky
  • Lee Harris
  • Toni Weisskopf

Best Professional Artist (624 nominating ballots)

  • Galen Dara
  • Julie Dillon
  • Daniel Dos Santos
  • John Harris
  • John Picacio
  • Fiona Staples

Note: Category has six nominees due to a tie for the final position.
Best Semiprozine (411 nominating ballots)

  • Apex Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Jason Sizemore, and Michael Damian Thomas
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by Scott H. Andrews
  • Interzone, edited by Andy Cox
  • Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Rich Horton, and Stefan Rudnicki
  • Strange Horizons, edited by Niall Harrison, Brit Mandelo, An Owomoyela, Julia Rios, Sonya Taaffe, Abigail Nussbaum, Rebecca Cross, Anaea Lay, and Shane Gavin

Best Fanzine (478 nominating ballots) – #1, #2, and #5 are published by people whose opinions I do like reading, even when I disagree with them.

  • The Book Smugglers, edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James
  • A Dribble of Ink, edited by Aidan Moher
  • Elitist Book Reviews, edited by Steven Diamond
  • Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Lynda E. Rucker, Pete Young, Colin Harris, and Helen J.Montgomery
  • Pornokitsch, edited by Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin

Best Fancast (396 nominating ballots) – Same I said above for #3 and #4, even though I rarely listen to podcasts.

  • The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
  • Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch
    (Producer)
  • SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester
  • The Skiffy and Fanty Show, Shaun Duke, Jen Zink, Julia Rios, Paul Weimer, David Annandale, Mike Underwood, and Stina Leicht
  • Tea and Jeopardy, Emma Newman
  • Verity! Deborah Stanish, Erika Ensign, Katrina Griffiths, L.M. Myles, Lynne M. Thomas, and Tansy Rayner Roberts
  • The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond

Note: Category has seven nominees due to a tie for the final position.

Best Fan Writer (521 nominating ballots) – Same again for #s 1-4

  • Liz Bourke
  • Kameron Hurley
  • Foz Meadows
  • Abigail Nussbaum
  • Mark Oshiro

Best Fan Artist (316 nominating ballots)

  • Brad W. Foster
  • Mandie Manzano
  • Spring Schoenhuth
  • Steve Stiles
  • Sarah Webb

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (767 nominating ballots)
Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2012 or 2013, sponsored by Dell Magazines. (Not a Hugo Award, but administered along with the Hugo Awards.)

  • Wesley Chu
  • Max Gladstone*
  • Ramez Naam*
  • Sofia Samatar* – I’ve enjoyed her works; haven’t read the others yet.
  • Benjanun Sriduangkaew

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§ 8 Responses to The fissuring of "fandoms" and the 2014 Hugo Awards finalists

  • Anonymous says:

    Looks like the Hugos are firmly on the path towards rewarding LCD garbage. The Wheel of Time, while it has its moments, is mostly just terrible.

    The Correia nomination genuinely made me laugh. Nothing wrong with pulp fantasy – it is what it is – but come on people, have some standards.

    The Nebula awards have been a much better indicator of quality for years, which definitely has to do with restricting who is able to vote. I think in order to vote, you need to have published at least two short stories. Just that barrier alone gets a voting base that has better taste than the Hugo Awards.

  • Larry Nolen says:

    I think it is three pro-paying market stories or a novel for the SFWA, but pretty much agree on the rest (except that I don't value the Nebulas much more than the Hugos, at least until recently).

  • David says:

    With vocal homophobes Larry Correia and Brandon Sanderson both nominated for Best Novel I'm quite disgusted the voting. What a shocking state for the Hugos to be in! I've always thought the SF/F community to be somewhat progressive. Clearly, I'm wrong.

  • farseer says:

    Your post is an oasis of sanity in the vast madness of ideology voting. I stopped believing in the Hugos years ago, although there was a time when they still meant something. Nowadays the lists look random, and it's getting worse because of the polarization of the fandom. You forget to mention that there are ideology nominees on both sites. It's not just lefties who are getting their ideological candidates there.

  • Larry Nolen says:

    David,

    I've never thought of SF/F readers or writers as being particularly progressive or conservative. More like a microcosm of Anglo-American societies than anything else.

    Farsser,

    I didn't forget as much as I tried to leave out political labels and leave it to readers to infer that I meant both. The vote canvassing of recent years does cut in more than one socio-political direction.

    But yes, these awards now seem to be destined to reflect even more than before the divides in Anglo-American societies (I exclude other societies only due to the preponderance of Anglo-American voices and writers in these particular awards).

  • Unknown says:

    If you don't vote, and don't nominate, I'm not sure why you bother to comment.

  • Larry Nolen says:

    Because I comment on a large number of books in various fields/genres and their awards?

  • Fail Burton says:

    I am also surprised how people celebrate a thing as “new and improved” that was old hat by 1970. Part of the reason for that is because, with a few exceptions based on identity, older writing is treated like a bad neighborhood everyone wants to negatively comment on but no one wants to see for themselves. When Jack Vance died last year a Nebula winner that year said they hadn't read him and asked if they should. If you don't know your own history, but nevertheless hate it, that's going to make for some boring and repetitive fiction in the larger evolution of the genre.

    As for the Hugos, it is nothing more than people who've arranged themselves around the false divide of morality and immorality and identity advocacy which hinges on whether you're a straight white male or not. To say that makes for some boring reading is an understatement.

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