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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Why SF/F Awards Are Meaningless To Me

I used to care about the awards. Seeing "Hugo Award Winner" or "Winner of the Nebula Award" on a book used to excite me and make me want to pick something up and buy it. But not anymore. Things have changed.

In the last year or so, I've sort of lost interest in the awards (most of them, anyway). The Hugos, Nebulas, and Locus Awards haven't really made me excited about SF/F literature the way they used to. That's not to say that I'm not excited about SF/F literature, just that the awards aren't making me excited about particular works; those of you reading this are probably just as aware of my SF/F lit obsession as my closest friends. Adding to this, there are all these dozens of other awards (Clarke, PKD, Gemmell, and so on), and none of them seem to matter to me as a reader (as a writer is a different story).

With James Long over at Speculative Horizons stirring up the controversy pot, I don't feel particularly alone in the discussion of the value of SF/F awards. But what is it about the awards that I find meaningless?

For starters, as a reader with only one brain in this head and one set of eyes, I can't possibly read all the books and stories that are nominated for the various major awards. The result is that I feel completely out of the loop, as if somehow I missed the SF/F Cool Train and ended up on the SF/F Ghetto Express. I read a lot of great books, some of which have been nominated in the past, but the awards have a tendency to leave readers like me so far outside of the spectrum of recognition that I find it rather difficult to get excited about the vast majority of the stuff on the various nomination lists. Maybe that's normal (the result and not so much the reason leading to it), and it's likely something that can't ever be resolved, regardless of whether an award is voted on by the public or given out by committee.

Second, I get the feeling that the awards have been spread so thin by the Internet as to render them valueless. There are too many damned awards now, all with some level of prominence. There's the Hugo, the Nebula, the Locus, the Gemmell, the Clarke, the PKD, the Sturgeon, the Tiptree, the Campbell, and dozens of smaller awards, nationality specific awards (these seem reasonable considering what they are for), genre specific awards, and so on, all of which have some notoriety, if not the same pull as the big three (Hugo, Nebula, and Locus, which aren't really the big three anymore). The field is too full of these things (and I'm certainly contributing by hosting the WISB Awards here, the most useless awards ever). Who am I, as the reader, supposed to pay attention to? Why? Which awards matter? Which don't? Which are there to highlight authors for readers, and which are there to highlight authors to fellow authors? I don't know. Maybe someone that attends the ceremonies can; regardless, with so many awards, it's difficult to determine their value.

I'm sure there are other reasons swimming around in my head, but I'll leave the ending open for discussion. Whether you agree or disagree, I'd like to know your opinion. Are awards valuable to you? Why or why not?

Update: I mistakenly put Worldcon on the list, despite the reality that there is no such award. Worldcon is where the Hugos are presented. Thanks to Kevin Standlee for pointing that out.

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  1. Totally agree - way too many awards so that they begin to blur. Plus there is now a whole 'awards industry' - selling tables at awards ceremonies etc - whereby the awards 'business' has become more important than the awards they are dishing. Lets have a campaign for Meaningful Awards.

  2. Charles: I didn't know that the ceremonies had largely become capitalist ventures. That's more disturbing to me than the other stuff. I understand the need for funds and sponsorships and all that, but if the awards are slowly becoming more about the stuff you can sell for table space than the award itself, it seems to me like something is very wrong there.

    We should start the Meaningful Awards. That would be quite awesome.

  3. Dino Mascolo3:15 AM

    I look to the Nebula Awards for recommended reading. This year I decided to check out all of the nominated books. I liked "The City & The City". "The Windup Girl" is one of the best books I've ever read. Christopher Barzak's book is very well written and enjoyable. Right now I'm reading "Flesh and Fire" and it is wonderful. I can't wait to read "Finch" and "Boneshaker", since I've heard only good things about them. So, for me, the Nebula Awards have guided me to some of the best reading I've ever done. In the recent past I was concentrating on checking out classic SF&F.

  4. You probably aren't missing much by ignoring awards. I've read pretty much all short stories & novelettes on this year's Hugo & Nebula lists, & a few novellas too - not one 2009 story on these lists that really excited me, though there are some competent enough jobs (plus a lot of crappy ones too).

  5. Dino: Barzak is an amazing writer. I've loved both books he's written thus far.

    Tinkoo: Well, that's disheartening. What about them makes them less-than-spectactular?

  6. You refer to "the Worldcon" as if it were a genre literary award, since you list it along with the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, etc. There is no such award. The Hugo Awards are presented by at at the World Science Fiction Convention ("Worldcon"), but there is no Worldcon Award.

  7. Kevin: You're right. Excuse me. That was a ridiculous oversight on my part. It shall be corrected.