When awards are handed out, there are always people who complain the process is unfair or biased. Course, there is always a bias when a small group is claiming to be the ultimate authority on artistic quality. A growing number have noticed something odd going on with the Hugo Awards. A small group of authors seem to be nominated year in and year out. In response, a group of angry rival authors have started the Sad Puppies Movement, moving to nominate its own slate of novels. The controversy clearly demonstrates what it means to win a Hugo Award: nothing.
The Hugo Awards are awarded by paying members of the World Science Fiction Convention. While it claims to be the most prestigious of awards there isn’t much to back up that claim. Hugos for Best Novel tend to go to the same authors every year regardless of literary merit, commercial success or customer reviews. Charles Stross has been nominated 6 times in the last ten years! John Scalzi has been nominated 4 times, while Mira Grant, Lois McMaster Bujold, China Mieville, and Ian McDonald have been nominated 3 times each. That is 22 nominations among six authors.
Hugh Howey’s Wool was not nominated, despite its obvious merit. Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One and Andy Weir’s The Martian were not nominated either. Not a single book from the Hunger Games Trilogy was nominated. These are some of the best science fiction novels of the past decade but none got the attention of the World Science Fiction Convention.
One common rebuttal is that awards are for works of great literary quality, truly extraordinary prose. Only the wisest and most sophisticated Convention members can recognize such works, not the ignorant unwashed masses. Commercial success means nothing.
Really? Have you read a Mira Grant novel? How about John Scalzi? There is nothing wrong with their prose but they are far from extraordinary. Nor are their novels particularly insightful or provocative in theme.
I would strongly argue that some of the most provocative novels were ignored, while very average novels got nominated. John Scalzi’s Redshirts is a fine novel and a fun read, but not the best of the year. Neither was Connie Willis’s Blackout which won the award in 2011.
The Sad Puppies Movement believes the awards are handed out based on ideology, while authors with conservative leanings are black balled. Authors Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen claim that Convention members have actively lobbied for their works to be ignored in favor of more ideologically acceptable novels. So they got a group of their followers to buy membership and with it voting rights in the World Science Fiction Convention, allowing them to vote for their own works.
I don’t really have much sympathy for Mr. Correia or Torgersen. First, no one is entitled to an award nomination even if they’ve been wrongly discriminated against. To exploit the voting rules to your advantage and get your own slate of works nominated is equally despicable. If anything, they’ve demonstrated the Hugo Awards are worthless, something many of us already knew.
Second, they don’t need to win a Hugo to be successful. A number of novels with conservative oriented themes have become best sellers. The Hunger Games can hardly be described as left-wing when it accurately depicts a Soviet-style totalitarian state. There is also David Weber, John Ringo, and David Drake who have enjoyed tremendous success without winning a single Hugo.
It is unfortunate the science fiction community lacks an authoritative award to recognize excellence. The same novels get nominated by the Nebulas and Locus Award competitions as well. Their failure to acknowledge or recognize some of the best titles in the past decade is a clear sign their needs to be a changing of the guard.
We deserve better. Both the left-leaning Hugo voters and right-leaning Sad Puppies have exposed a serious problem with how we recognize excellence. Fortunately, the new era of ebooks and self-publishing has allowed great novels to find their way to the top. Maybe sci-fi doesn’t need a prestigious award after all. Maybe the marketplace can do it all on its own.