The Hugo Awards are among the most prestigious awards in science fiction and fantasy. The list of 2015 finalists was announced on 4 April. I must admit the feelings it evokes in me are mixed. An interesting article has been published on io9.com: “The Hugo Awards Were Always Political. But Now They’re Only Political.”
The Hugos now look more like political elections than literary awards – there are parties campaigning for their favorites and against one another. It’s no longer about choosing the best works of speculative fiction, but about making a statement, pushing an agenda.
To make a long story short, a group of people who were unhappy with the Hugo results launched a campaign called Sad Puppies 3 years ago. This is the Hugo slate they proposed this year. This campaign was surprisingly successful. Best Novel: 3 out of 5 books recommended by Sad Puppies made it to the list of 2015 Hugo Awards finalists. Best Novella: all 3 recommended novellas are on the list of finalists. Best Novelette: all 4 recommended by Sad Puppies made it. Et cetera, et cetera.
Sceptics argue that literary awards are always influenced by politics. True, but that doesn’t mean awards are meaningless. Look at the list of Hugo winners – you’ll find many science fiction masterpieces there (in chronological order): A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr., Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, Dune by Frank Herbert, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, Neuromancer by William Gibson, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Hyperion by Dan Simmons, to name just a few.
Now let’s take a look at the 2015 Hugo finalists in the Best Novel category.
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK)
This is the second novel in Leckie’s Imperial Radch space opera trilogy. Last year Ancillary Justice (the first book in the series) won an unprecedented number of awards: Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke, BSFA, Locus, and Kitschies Golden Tentacle for best debut novel. Ancillary Sword just won the BSFA Award and was also nominated for the Nebula. It was not on the Sad Puppies list.
The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
The first instalment of a space opera trilogy that continues The Saga of Seven Suns. Was on the Sad Puppies list.
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
Also nominated for the Nebula. High fantasy meets steampunk – a promising genre bender set in an original universe. It was not on the Sad Puppies list.
Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos (47North)
Another military space opera, a subgenre that seems to be appealing to the sci-fi fandom. Was on the Sad Puppies list.
Of note, 47North is a publishing company owned by Amazon. Some argue this is yet another nail Amazon wants to put in the coffin of the traditional publishing model. That would be a topic for another post.
Skin Game by Jim Butcher (Roc Books)
Was on the Sad Puppies list.
Now that’s a surprise. For two decades urban fantasy received little attention from the sci-fi fandom. Jim Butcher never received any major awards, and was seldom nominated. The same holds true for Kelley Armstrong, Patricia Briggs, Laurell K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison, and other best-selling urban fantasy authors. Charles de Lint and a few others (e.g. Seanan McGuire) seem to be an exception to this rule.
This year the wind turned: Jim Butcher was the guest of honor at the 66th British National Science Fiction Convention, Dysprosium, and now his latest addition to the hugely popular Dresden Files series is nominated for a Hugo. Does this mean that the fandom is ready to embrace urban fantasy – or at least admit that this genre has a role in the evolution of speculative fiction – or is this just a political game?
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Dr. Mauser says
Was the system broken? Look at your list of masterpieces. How long ago was the most recent one published? Has science fiction not produced anything great since then?
The problem was that in the last decade or so, participation and interest in the awards had fallen so low that the last clique standing believed it was their award to bestow how they saw fit, and they had a particular brand of politics that, well, didn’t seem to encourage masterpieces. Now controversy and competing ideas have renewed interest in the award, and participation has, er, Rocketed to record levels, and that can’t be a bad thing.
Thank you, this is a good point. I am not saying that Sad Puppies broke the system; maybe their campaign simply revealed an existing problem. Many sci-fi fans were even not aware of the issue. I attended Loncon3 and it seemed to me like a very successful convention. Same comment re. Dysprosium. There is a lot of enthusiasm and fresh blood in the fandom, therefore I am surprised to hear that interest in the Hugos was so low.
Protest Manager says
May I suggest that, if you want to measure the “brokenness” of the Hugos, you take a look at what’s won the last couple of years, and compare to what was out there? Also look at what did and didn’t get nominated? Pick a category you care about, and look.
Oh, and you implied, but didn’t state, that Jim was on the Sad Puppies slate. He was. And I’d ahppily bet you a good deal that without Sad Puppies, he would not have been.
Hello and thank you for your comment. I don’t want to take sides, I am merely raising the issue. In any case I am happy that Jim Butcher got attention from the sci-fi community this year.
Clara Bush says
Great blog! Thanks for such an honest opinion.
Glad you like it! Your blog also looks very interesting.
Tina Crowe says
It is about time Jim Butcher got some recognition. His books have made me laugh, cry and toss my Kindle in frustration over the fate of Harry Dresden. He has a great talent for making you care about his characters. It is sad that it took an effort by the sad puppies group to get his name on the ballot and even sadder that people are now making absurd accusations against him.
Said Dr. Mauser: “Was the system broken? Look at your list of masterpieces. How long ago was the most recent one published? Has science fiction not produced anything great since then?”
Yes but SF/F are very broad and traditional convention going Worldcon fans don’t run across the spectrum. The problem with Butcher is that no single book is one of those Masterpieces. “Skin Game” certainly wasn’t the top of his game.
But sure there have been Masterpieces. Promoting stereo types via science fiction and battling the Social Justice Warriers won’t get them nominated. To me the best SF/F in recent years was “11-22-63” by fellow social justice warrior Stephen King. Then there was that whole love fest of inclusiveness written by Deborah Harkness in her “All Souls” trilogy. “The Hunger Games” was a good dystopian romp.
I don’t see the puppies of tradition bringing these works to the Rocket, do you?
The Hugo is one of many that define SF/F in a way that is meaningful to the participant. They attend conventions and fellowship together and celebrate the latest. Nothing wrong with that. Puppies will snap and bark for a couple of more years and then go away and then it will return to what it was.
Thank you for your comment! I hope the Hugos still have a bright future.