If you haven’t been aware of the latest SFF kerfuffle since the list of 2014 Hugo Award nominees was released this past weekend, be warned, because here there be… sad and rabid puppies, apparently.
The short version is that a group of folks in fandom decided to game the Hugo Award nominations process by putting forth slates of “acceptable” works because they’re convinced that the “wrong kind” of work has started to dominate and win the awards – too much “message” fiction, not enough ray guns and space ships and barbarians swinging swords (as if those things are mutually exclusive). It can’t possibly be that these writers and their works are winning because of the strength of their talents and because there’s a substantial audience that enjoys them. Nope, they must only be winning because they’re all leftist women, people of color, LGBTQIA, and that’s the way some super secret shadowy liberal cabal wants it.
Also, something about Hugo Awards going to SFF that’s “too literary” rather than “entertainment” – again, as if those two things are mutually exclusive, and hasn’t the lament of SFF for decades been that the genre wasn’t taken seriously enough and considered popcorn fare rather than real literary work? And now suddenly it’s a bad thing that some winning fiction is considered literary?
In any case, it’s made for a very disappointing Hugo Awards season. Last year was the first year I participated in the 2013 Hugo Awards, coughing up the $40 for the supporting membership that entitled me to vote (and nominate works for the following year’s round of awards). I wish I’d been aware that it was possible to do this years ago, because it’s rather amazing that there’s an avenue for fans who love SFF but aren’t able to actually attend a Worldcon to still participate in the process of what are arguably SFF’s most prestigious awards. The voter packet containing many of the nominated works is normally a great value for that $40 supporting membership (last year’s packet contained the entire Wheel of Time saga, since it had been nominated as a whole for Best Novel), but more than that, like the Nebula Awards nominees list, the Hugo Awards nominee list can serve as an excellent reading recommendation source. There’s more fantastic SFF being published now more than ever, and since it’s damn near impossible to keep up with it all, those nominations lists can act as (usually) reliable indications of what people are reading and enjoying, as well as what’s garnering critical acclaim. Last year’s Hugo Awards nominations list kept me in reading material for months and for the most part, I loved what I read and was introduced to a lot of work and authors I’d previously been aware of. In many cases, I ended up buying more of their work because I loved their nominated fiction that much.
Many of the nominated works and winners of the 2013 Hugo Awards list exemplified why I love SFF, and were the kind of stories that made me fall in love with the genre again because they were different, challenging, and indicative of how the genre was continuing to evolve and expand its boundaries. I was eagerly anticipating being buried in another pile of nominated work that I’d be burning my way through to read before the voting period was over.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case this year.
By now, there have been numerous thoughtful, impassioned, and critical responses to the whole mess that mirror many of my own thoughts on the matter. File 770 has an extensive collection of links and roundups. Matthew David Sturridge’s explanation about why he turned down being part of one of the slates in question is extremely detailed, very long, and very much worth the read. John Scalzi had a straightforward explanation of how to rank nominated works for the awards, as well as his own take on the issue. I particularly appreciated the perspectives of Charlie Jane Anders, Cat Valente, Jim C. Hines, Amal El-Mohtar, and Matthew Foster (in two parts). Even George R.R. Martin’s weighing in.
So I guess the question is, what do I do now?
Firstly, I’m still coughing up that $40 to vote for this year’s nominees, which also means I’ll be able to nominate for next year. I’m not happy with the list, but there are still some nominated works that I’m interested in reading, and I’m particularly pleased with the Best Graphic Story category:
- Ms. Marvel Vol 1: No Normal written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)
- Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery written by Kurtis J. Weibe, art by Roc Upchurch (Image Comics)
- Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate by Carter Reid (The Zombie Nation)
- Saga, Volume 3 written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
- Sex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird Trick written by Matt Fraction, art by Chip Zdarsky (Image Comics)
Seriously, just looking at this, I have no idea how I’m going to rank these works. I’ve read Ms. Marvel, Rat Queens, and Saga already and quite enjoyed them, and a good friend has been trying to get me to read Sex Criminals for months. I know nothing about Zombie Nation but hey, I’m willing to give it a whirl.
Besides, it’s important to me to continue participating and making my vote count. I can afford that $40, which is a luxury that not everyone’s able to take advantage of (so please, don’t use the fact that I and others are making this choice to shame others who aren’t buying that supporting membership), and as someone who is both a fan and now professionally involved with SFF, voting is just a responsibility that I can’t shirk.
Secondly, since my Hugo nominations reading list is unexpectedly light, I now have time to get back to my personal reading list, which includes perusing the works nominated for the Nebula Awards. I’m very excited that the awards are being held in my hometown for the next two years, and now I may actually get around to reading them all before the awards happen on the first weekend of June. I can’t actually vote for the Nebula Awards since I’m not a full SFWA member (yet – someday maybe!) but it’s an excellent list. For example, I’d never read anything by Alyssa Wong until “The Fisher Queen,” nominated for Best Short Story, and as soon as I finished, I went hunting for more of her fiction (seriously, read her work, it’s gorgeous).
Thirdly, since I’m a big believer in promoting the stuff you love and the things you’re excited about as a way to support writers, here are a couple of books that I read last year and thoroughly enjoyed:
- Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
- The End of the Sentence by Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard
- The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
- Lock In by John Scalzi
- The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan
- Valor and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal
My “to read” book list from the last year is just plain ridiculous, but here are some that I’m excited to finally get to:
- The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu) – nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel
- The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison – nominated for both the Nebula Award for Best Novel and the Hugo Award for Best Novel
- Maplecroft by Cherie Priest
- The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert
And here’s a list of books that came out this year/are coming out this year that I’m itching to get my hands on (a list which keeps expanding every time I talk to other SFF fans or read another “forthcoming” list):
- The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu (published)
- Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel Jose Older (published)
- Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan (published)
- Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal (4/28/15)
- Magonia by Maria Davhana Headley (4/28/15)
- The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor (5/5/15)
- Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older (6/30/15)
- Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor (7/14/15)
- The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (8/4/15)
- Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente (8/18/15)
- Updraft by Fran Wilde (9/1/15)
- The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard (9/1/15)
- Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (10/6/15)
- The Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley (10/6/15)
- The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu (11/3/15)
I’d list all the other books and stories from previous years that I want to get to, but suffice to say, I have more than enough for a lifetime (or more). Nevermind all the reading I do for Uncanny! Which, by the way, also has quite a bit of amazing and awesome SFF fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, plus a monthly fiction podcast!
As someone who has loved SFF since before she could even read (well, according to my parents anyway, and they would know since they were reading me lots of SFF in the first place), and for whom taking part in the genre as a professional is a dream come true, what’s happening with the Hugos this year is immensely frustrating, if not sadly unsurprising. As it’s been pointed out in numerous places, for a genre that ostensibly places high value on innovation, creativity, and a wide breadth of imagination, its fandom can be contradictorily insular, resistant to change, and rather determined to stay in a particular comfort zone. It’s upsetting and not a little angering, but then again, at least I get to protest and push back against this sort of reactionary nonsense in part by… recommending and reading more books and short fiction!
And occasionally posting pictures, gifs, and videos of happy puppies. Because happy puppies are the best kind of puppies.