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Monday, August 22, 2011

An Addendum: The 2011 Hugos

Eileen Gunn was kind enough to put me in my place on Google+ last night.  And let's face it, after a lot of what I said about categories I know nothing about, nor, obviously, have any connection to, I really should have taken my shoe out of my mouth and found a better place for it (or found a better use for my mouth?).  Ms. Gunn noted that I could bypass those categories rather than (and I'm paraphrasing and adding extra words here) malign them because of my lack of interest.

And that's what I'm going to do, because it's really not all that fair to the folks who are nominated in those categories.  In fact, I have nothing against fan artists or anything of the sort.  I don't really have anything against fanzines in the old PDF format either.  I just don't "get" them, which seems to me to be a problem I should try to understand.

Why don't I "get" fanzines and why do I feel like I'm so out of touch with whatever is going on in these various categories?  Is it because I can't attend many of the major conventions in my field (though I've been to small ones and anime conventions in the past; I simply can't afford to attend Worldcon, and it would be a stretch to afford Dragoncon and maintain my academic "career")?

I don't know who reads this blog in terms of fan engagement.  Maybe most of you are of the more "academic" side of things, for lack of a better word.  But I would like to know how people come to love fanzines or fan artists (or discover them before they show up on a Hugo nominee list).  Are there forums I don't hang out in?  Are these things discovered at conventions or through secret club meetings in a dungeon?  And why do you love them?  What about The Drink Tank or File 770 or what have you compels you to read?

I'll shut up now, foot covered in drool...

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  1. As I see it there are two schools of thought on the Hugos.

    1) The Hugos are a set of club-house awards based on the opinions of members of that club house. Because the awards reflect those opinions, they're skewed and are not representative.

    2) The Hugos are central to the field of written science fiction. To win a Hugo means something beyond the confines of the Worldcon membership.

    Now... as I see it, you can buy into one of these schools of thought but not both. I think Ms. Gunn is trying to have it both ways.

    It's fine to say that the Hugos are just a popularity contest and that it's not the end of the world if people you've never heard of win stuff that you should know about AS LONG as you recognise that the Hugos represent ONLY the opinion of the largely American Babyboomers who go to Worldcon.

    If, on the other hand, you want the Hugos to mean something for the rest of the field then it is utterly FUCKED that someone as engaged in the field as Shaun has not heard of any of the fan-writers or the fanzines. It means that the Hugos are not doing their job properly.

    The problem arises from two different sources:

    A) There was a time when school of thought 1 and school of thought 2 were the same school of thought. This is why the Hugos have that visibility and carry that cachet. Clearly, this is not the case any more. This leads us to the second problem:

    B) We live in a world of crumbling institutions and the fact that the Hugos have existed for as long as they have is undeniably a good thing. They are an institution created by a generation of SF readers that is now largely dead and they will be here when many of the current lot of Hugo voters are also dead. Given that the Hugos have lasted and have remained central to the field, there is something incredibly sad about the fact that they are marginalising themselves.

    The whole passive-aggressive "why are you being mean to us, we're just doing our thing!" is a good strategy when it comes to winning arguments and Gunn has silenced Shaun but that retrenched attitude has a cost and the cost is that the Hugos are going to be increasingly seen as meaningless convention awards handed out by old people to their largely elderly friends.

    I think that there is something incredibly sad about that.

  2. Hi, Sean. Wasn't intending to "put you in your place." I found your comments interesting, intelligent, and well-taken, except for the parts where you discounted your own interest in what you were saying. I was in fact reading parts of your post out loud to my partner (who wasn't at the Hugos), because I felt they reflected my own opinion so well. Sorry if I didn't make that clear.

  3. Hey Eileen,
    That's probably entirely my fault. I kind of meant "put in my place" jokingly, but I think upon closer inspection I just misrepresented how you brought it to my attention.

    It got me thinking, though, and that's good, right?

  4. Jonathan, your point seems to be couched in a number of misconceptions. No time to deal with them all, but I will point out that Shaun (sorry about that earlier misspelling, Shaun) has not been silenced at all, nor was it my intention to silence him. I simply felt that he was distracting the reader from his own well-taken analysis by including categories that he didn't care about.

    Your point seems to be that the Hugos should be revised to reflect only what you are interested in, and all those other people should get off your lawn. Good luck with that.

  5. Shaun, it can't be bad: it got both of us thinking.

  6. Eileen,

    I'm impressed that you managed to get:

    "Your point seems to be that the Hugos should be revised to reflect only what you are interested in, and all those other people should get off your lawn. Good luck with that."

    From my post given that I didn't say anything about what I thought the Hugos should represent.

    My point was simply that if Hugo people want to take on a defensive and insular posture then they can't also claim to be accessible and progressive.

    Either you are interested in the world outside worldcon in which case clearly there is a problem with a number of the categories OR you're not interested in anyone except people who are in the club, in which case the Hugos are completely unimportant.

    People cannot have it both ways.

    In truth, I don't care which way the Hugos go but I think a lot of the tensions around the Hugos come from the desire to have one's cake (be the main award for the entire field) and eat it (the role of the Hugos is solely to represent the opinions of the Worldcon membership).

  7. I thought you said interesting things, and I didn't especially mind your including categories that you have no opinion on or don't know much about.

    But I confess I was a little annoyed by your spending a paragraph bashing the Dr. Who book and then saying "But what do I know? I haven't read any of the books on the list and I don't know the rules for half these categories anyway." If you haven't read any of the books on the list (in that category), then how do you know that this book is "contributing information we've seen on the Internet and in fanzines of all shapes and sizes for decades"? And how do you know that the Heinlein book "contributes knowledge to the genre"? And how do you know that the Who book doesn't contribute knowledge to the genre? (Fwiw, the Amazon product description describes the contributors as "a host of award-winning female novelists, academics and actresses.")

    As for the categories' rules, they're not hard to find; see section 3.3 of the WSFS constitution. The Related Work category is for a work related to the field, and "which is either non-fiction or, if fictional, is noteworthy primarily for aspects other than the fictional text, and which is not eligible in any other category." It's a catch-all nonfiction category, and there's nothing that says it has to be an academic work.

    (PS: I'm not expressing an opinion here about what should have won that category; I'm just saying that I think there's a difference between "I didn't read these works so I have no opinion" (which is more or less what you said in other categories) and "I didn't read these works, but the one that won sucks, because it's obviously not serious enough to deserve the award.")

  8. I read a lot of reviews, poked around in the table of contents, and so on. Most of the stuff I learned by doing that didn't really impress me about the book. A lot of it was stuff I'd seen elsewhere. But that's my two cents.

    The Heinlein book happens to be about a figure who is important to the genre. Hence my assumption that the book contributed to the genre as a whole.

  9. Since you asked: "But I would like to know how people come to love fanzines or fan artists (or discover them before they show up on a Hugo nominee list)."

    I'd point to which hosts numerous modern fanzines, many of which also have paper versions.

  10. Silver: I've been there before, but there are so many fanzines in there, it's impossible to know where to start. There's no classification system. Some fanzines have fiction. Some have random stuff about conventions. Some have a little of both. It's very confusing (at least, that was true the last time I was in there; the number of different things, old and new, deterred me from actually sitting down because I couldn't find anything that interested me).

  11. SimonW6:00 PM

    @Jonathan M

    I'd say that both of your schools can be true, to some extent, in that not all Hugo awards are viewed equally.

    The general SF reading public will probably have some idea that the Hugo (& Nebula) awards for best novel exist. That's certainly where I was in my early teens, back in the early 90s. I didn't know what a Hugo award was, except that lots of good books had the fact they were nominated or had won printed on them. To me that said the awards were an indication of quality, both because the labels were attached to interesting books, and because multiple publishers thought it worthwhile to print that information.

    Conversely, I had no idea that best fanzine even existed, let alone who the winner was. These more fannish awards had no bearing on me as an SF reader.

    As long as the best novel awards are generally* given to good books, then the visibility of the winners of the 'club-house' fannish awards is immaterial.

    * I've not read the Willis novel, so won't comment on if this year got it right...

  12. Well, eFanzines is a great doorway, and yeah you're right about there being no classification system, which to me means I dive in and read everything, but that's part of my weirdness.

    I honestly can't tell you who reads the Drink Tank (I tend to believe that I have about 50 regular readers and maybe triple that when we do our special issues, though I have no real numbers on that) and I certainly can't tell you why they read it. I do the zine for a simple reason: because it's fun.

    I'd love it if folks would give various zines a chance. If I may recommend Journey Planet as a zine that is worth reading, along with eI and SF Commentary as good starting points with material that covers a wide ground from SF criticism to fannish articles about cons and zines and so on.

  13. I've been "put in my plance" before on my blog for wanting the Hugos to be awards that more accurately represent the best of popular science fiction to the world at large in ways that make sense to me, in contrast to people who regard them as just being exactly what the Worldcon membership has made them and sees no need to be responsive to the world at large.

    Not everyone agrees about what the Hugos should be. I personally think we need another major award that only covers science fiction (no fantasy) and only covers major well-defined areas (novels, stories, video games, non-fiction related to science fiction, movies, tv shows, book cover, etc.). I know I'm not going to spearhead that, and I'm not going to spearhead an attempt to turn the Hugos into that. They are what they are, and they're well defended.

    I kind of feel that this conflict, if that's even the right word, has arisen out of decades of success like a small company growing into a giant international business that goes public. There's sometimes a difference in vision between the founders and the investors, which is normal and ok.

  14. Jonathan and Eileen: Sorry I didn't get involved in the debate! I was really busy and didn't have the mental capacity to deal with it at the time. And now it's too late, I suppose.

    Journey Planet: I think the issue for me is that without a classification system or some way to know what's in a zine, it becomes a whole lot of work for me to go through things to find something I'm interested in. For a lot of fans, that's probably not a big deal. But I don't have the extra time to do that. I'd have to suck away time from something else that I already enjoy doing. I hope that makes sense...

    That said, I appreciate the comment. I do want to get a better understanding of fanzines, and you're helping me here. I will check out your zine and maybe beg you to let me contribute :).

    (A comment is on the way for you, Mike. Hang in there. Blogger has that space limit nonsense...)

  15. Mike: I think the problem is that we don't really have a major award which represents SF readership at large. Worldcon readership, sure. SFWA readership, sure. Except Locus supposedly represents readership, but do they still do the "non-subscribers are worth half a vote" thing?

    There are, of course, loads of tiny awards out there, but I think what we're missing is an award which brings fans together, from all segments. I'd even be happy to have an award which gives best X for fantasy and science fiction, split into two separate categories. That would be nice. And it would be even nicer if such an award could be voted on by readers at large.

    Will we get such an award? I doubt it. There are awards which try to do that, but there would need to be a big push to get such things out to everyone.

    But I'm rambling...