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?
* * *
Subscribe to my newsletter!