Last night was the first time I stayed up late to watch the Hugo Awards Ceremony livestream, something I didn’t plan to do but ended up doing anyway. Strangely, Worldcon fell on the same weekend as Yukomicon, leading to a confluence of interests on local radio and the stuff I read on the internet.
I have been lukewarm about the Hugos in the past. This is mostly just a matter of taste–since I started following the Hugos in real-time (i.e. the past decade), the type of fantasy and science fiction I enjoy rarely makes the ballot. And that’s okay, my tastes are weird, and it was nice to have a reliable barometer of what was popular among sff fandom the previous year. This time, there was a concerted effort by folks calling themselves the Sad Puppies to push more “rollicking adventures” onto the shortlist via slate voting in the initial nomination process, but since their tastes aren’t aligned with mine either (many of the works nominated were in no way rollicking adventures), we ended up with a shortlist that I found even more unpalatable.* So why was I invested in the result?
The simple answer is, I wasn’t. I was invested in conversation around the coming result, and the larger-than life flame wars raging since nominations were announced. The Hugo kerfuffle proved an excellent way to spot whom I want to avoid engaging with in fandom. That kind of information is eminently useful.
And that all came to a head in an altogether polite ceremony made enjoyable by:
a) Wesley Chu announcing his intentions to run for President of the United States, and
b) Connie Willis telling the most delightful stories to fill out what otherwise would be an extremely truncated ceremony.
“No Award” took home five Hugos. Count ‘em, five. All the categories dominated by slate voting (Sad Puppies and “Rabid” Puppies, i.e., Theodore Beale’s similar but even more self-interested slate) were turfed, and nearly all works appearing on those slates finished below No Award in the final count. This is on the one hand unprecedented; on the other, completely predictable if you look at what happened during the trial run for slate voting the Sad Puppy movement leaders did last year. Their more limited-scale effort in 2014 ended with most of their selections not doing well in the final vote for the winners.
Immediately after the ceremony, the voting stats were released, allowing Tobias Buckell to compile a list of what the Hugo Award shortlist might have been had slate voting not taken place. Despite all the disruptions, this means I have the handy index that the Hugos served me before. Lock In is there, which I recently read and found…perfectly serviceable. I’m happy to see Robert Jackson Bennet is entering fandom consciousness; he’s an excellent writer carrying on the tradition of “great fantasy writers from Texas,” who’s been overlooked for many years. Pat Rothfuss would have made the best novella list, which doesn’t surprise me in the least no matter how hard I bounced off of The Name of the Wind (or, let’s face it, because of how hard I bounced off that book). And then there’s the most revealing entry: Andy Weir for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer. The Martian was a fun read, and massively popular with a film adaptation appearing in record time. It’s crazy to me that he got bumped off the shortlist in favour of a guy who has published exactly one short story in an anthology most people never heard of.
That last fact alone tells me that the Sad and Rabid Puppies were not, as they claimed, representing a “silent majority” of fans. I’ve spoken with many sff (and non-sff) readers this year and last outside of fandom who’ve spontaneously started raving about The Martian. It wasn’t eligible for best novel because it was self-published at an earlier point, but since the Hugos are a popular (as in, awarded by popular vote) award, Andy Weir should have definitely been a finalist for the “it’s not a Hugo but it really is” Campbell Award.
That brings a close to this year’s Hugo ceremony drama. I expect a lot of commentary on this one, a brief respite, and then for new controversies to emerge in 2016. I can’t say I’m looking forward to it, but I’ll be there. Watching.
*Especially bizarre to me was the assertion by the leaders of the push that works nominated for Hugos in previous years were too literary. I have…the opposite problem with the awards.