Thursday, September 3, 2009

Toward Better Hugo Award Winners

As I have hinted in a couple recent posts (here and here) the Hugo Awards for fiction presented a month ago at Anticipation in Montreal, were a bit of a disappointment, and it’s far from the first year this has been true. In the four fiction categories only one Hugo went to a story that got my top vote (Best Short Story: “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang). None of the weakest nominees won, which perhaps is some consolation.

The final less-than-best result is foreordained by a nomination process that year-after-year places too many mediocre stories on the ballot. The process: whoever purchases a supporting or attending membership in the annual World Science Fiction Convention is eligible to vote twice, both nominations and final ballot, provided they bought their membership early. Why doesn’t it work? What would work better? I am open to suggestions. Hopefully the science fiction community is open to suggestions.

The problem has been expounded by Adam Roberts (Dear Science Fiction Fandom: Your shortlists aren’t very good) and Abigail Nussbaum (The 2009 Hugo Awards: The Best Novel Shortlist, Part 1 and Part 2).


  1. If the nominating process yields only the most widely read works, attempting to do otherwise would run perilously counter to the populism that is essential for the success of fan clubs. I jotted some further mediocre thoughts on the issue at Hugo Awards: Prestige or Popularity. Long story short:

    Take the Hugo Award for what it is — popular acclamation — with a grain of salt.

  2. I suppose it would be easy to dismiss the Hugo awards as just a popularity contest. My notion is that it can and should count for more.

    The quality and diversity of the Hugo nominees are issues worth taking seriously. Adam Roberts wrote, in the post linked above, “They reflect upon us all. They remain one of the most prestigious awards for SF in the world. These lists say something about SF to the world.”

    Over at Cheryl Morgan’s blog I commented on a post about the Hugo nomination process, asking: What if it was a hybrid? Six nominations in each fiction category: three from the popular vote, three chosen by a panel of judges, and which is which to be revealed only after the final vote.

    After being informed that my suggestion would be difficult to realize, Cheryl said that the World Fantasy Awards already use a similar hybrid approach. That gives me cause to hope.

    If the Hugo’s were just a popularity contest I doubt that Ted Chiang’s short story would have won a month ago. He doesn’t market himself in a popularity seeking manner, nor does his story pander to the popular audience. I think his story won because of its quality.

    As Adam Roberts wrote, many fans lack the breadth of reading experience that they should have to inform their choices. In addition, they need to test their notions of quality in discussions with people outside their circle of friends and outside the science fiction community.