Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Obligatory Hugo Awards Reaction Essay

The winners for the 2016 Hugo Awards were announced on Saturday night and I would like to offer a hearty congratulations to all of the winners. I've listed them below and for those who don't quite remember who all was nominated, here is a link to the full list of finalists.

Best Novel: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
Best Novella: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
Best Novelette: “Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, translated Ken Liu (Uncanny Magazine, Issue 2)
Best Short Story: “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer ( Clarkesworld , Jan 2015)
Best Related Work: No Award
Best Graphic Story: The Sandman: Overture written by Neil Gaiman, art by J.H. Williams III (Vertigo)
Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): The Martian screenplay by Drew Goddard, directed by Ridley Scott (Scott Free Productions; Kinberg Genre; TSG Entertainment; 20th Century Fox)
Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): Jessica Jones : “AKA Smile” written by Scott Reynolds, Melissa Rosenberg, and Jamie King, directed by Michael Rymer (Marvel Television; ABC Studios; Tall Girls Productions; Netflix)
Best Editor - Short Form: Ellen Datlow
Best Editor - Long Form: Sheila E. Gilbert
Best Professional Artist: Abigail Larson
Best Semiprozine: Uncanny Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trota, and Erika Ensign & Steven Schapansky
Best Fanzine: File 770 edited by Mike Glyer
Best Fancast: No Award
Best Fan Writer: Mike Glyer
Best Fan Artist: Steve Stiles
The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (not a Hugo): Andy Weir

There is one other link I would like you to keep in mind as we go through this, which is the final results and statistics. I'll be using the information contained there quite a bit throughout this essay.

First things first: The Fifth Season won for Best Novel and I am beyond thrilled. Novel was an overall strong category (my thoughts) and Jemisin's novel was my pick of the bunch. Here's my review of The Fifth Season.

This is really cool because, besides the fact that I loved it, all the predictors were going to Naomi Novik's Uprooted. Uprooted would have been a strong choice and Ancillary Mercy was an excellent novel, but The Fifth Season is really something special as a fantasy novel and I am so glad that this book won. It's so damned good I want to gush about it to everyone.

So, I'm happy, right? The night ended on a high note and it was an overall excellent list of winners (Binti!) that we can all mostly be excited about and thrilled for. Right?

There's a reason I started this by talking about how excited I am about The Fifth Season winning a Hugo. I don't want to lose perspective here that the best fantasy novel I read last year won the award I care most about.

Throughout my category by category coverage of the Hugo Award finalists, I made a choice to not focus too much on how any given work was on the ballot (see, Novel), except in the instances where doing so would be unavoidable (see, Short Story). I wanted to focus on the work itself, because even though the Rabid Puppies placed 64 works from their slate onto the final ballot (before any withdrawals), as I said back in April, "this year the Rabid Puppies presented a cross section of works that are legitimately good and worthy...and works that are quite obviously there to represent a giant middle finger to people who care about the Hugo Awards".

The one unspoken thing that went through my mind while I looked at the work that did make the ballot, much of it through Rabid Puppy means, was "I wonder what isn't on the ballot because of this damned mess"

That link to the voting and nominating statistics I mentioned earlier? This is where it becomes important.

Let's look at the Novelette category,

Best Novelette (1975 Ballots)
And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead”, by Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed 2/15)
Folding Beijing”, by Hao Jingfang, (Uncanny 1-2/15)
“Obits”, by Stephen King (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams)
“What Price Humanity?”, by David VanDyke (There Will Be War: Volume X)
“Flashpoint: Titan”, by Cheah Kai Wai (There Will Be War: Volume X)

 Four of the five finalists were on the Rabid Puppies slate, which is not news at this point, but what we didn't know for sure is that Brooke Bolander's story would have not been on the ballot except for Jonathan Moeller declining his nomination for "Hyperspace Demons", which would have made it 5/5.

So what happens if we take the Rabid Puppies out of the conversation?  Well, if we look at the nomination chart we use the 414 nominations Moeller received as our baseline for the category. King's "Obits" received 443, but it was also on my ballot, Cheah Kai Wai received 441 and David Van Dyke 437. I hesitate to say that Moeller would not have received any nominations on his own, but for the sake of this exercise we're going to use his number as the total number of RP nominators in this category.

Obits drops to 29, What Price Humanity to 23, and Flashpoint: Titan to 27. Folding Beijing, however, would still have 162 votes.

Novelette would have looked like this:
"Our Lady of the Open Road", by Sarah Pinkser (214)
"So Much Cooking", by Naomi Kritzer (196)
"Folding Beijing", by Hao Jingfang (162)
"Another Word for World", by Ann Leckie (157)
"The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild", by Catherynne M. Valente (157)

I'm not going to spend much time analyzing the category that could have been, but I will say that I loved the stories by Sarah Pinsker and Ann Leckie and nominated Pinsker's. "Our Lady of the Open Road" was also the Nebula Awards winner for Best Novellete. It's really damn good, folks. Go read it.

Whether you think this would be a stronger list of finalists than what actually made the ballot is up to personal preference, though my opinion is that this would have been a MUCH stronger category. When I wrote about the announced finalists in April, I said that I wasn't angry, I was just disappointed and this remains true. I am disappointed because a group of individuals are taking their nominating orders in lockstep from someone who has a stated goal of burning down and destroying the Hugo Awards and that he doesn't care about the awards.

For the most part, I don't play the game of deciding who is and is not a "fan" or a "true fan" or "any other kind of fan" of science fiction and fantasy. If you love these stories, even if they're not the stories I necessarily appreciate, you're a fan and you're as much of a fan as I am. We're just fans of different stuff. If you tell me that "What Price Humanity?" was your favorite science fiction story published in 2015, I believe you. It's not mine, but I believe you. Hell, "Obits" was near the top of my list and was the top of my Novellete ballot. Our tastes might not diverge as fully as you think.

But, and this is where I'm going to go against what I just said, if you're telling me that you nominated "If You Were an Award, My Love" for the Hugo Award was one of the five best fucking science fiction or fantasy short stories published in 2015...I don't think you're actually a fan of science fiction and fantasy. I don't think you can be. I don't think there is any way that "story" can be nominated for an award for "best" anything except as part of a concerted effort to tell Rachel Swirsky, John Scalzi, and anyone who gives a damn about science fiction, fantasy, and the Hugo Awards that we can all go collectively fuck ourselves because that's what the story is. It's a big middle finger to anyone who calls themselves a fan of science fiction and fantasy. And as much as you may legitimately hate and not understand the appreciation and love for "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love", nominating "If You Were an Award, My Love" is saying that you're not seeking the best of genre, you're seeking to get even, to get yours. It's not the same thing.

This is also where the divergence of the Sad and Rabid Puppies was this year. "Sad" Puppies came together to talk about science fiction and fantasy, participate in the process, nominate their favorites, and complain about the finalists like everyone else does. Sounds like a fan to me. Let's call them fans and perhaps dispense with the puppy nonsense, shall we? Unless they want to continue to claim it, in which case, okay. The Rabid Puppies came together to take over an award, nominate some stuff that actually is really good and also nominate some stuff for no better purpose than to take a steaming dump on someone else's lawn and they did it as a disciplined group. That doesn't sound like a group of fans, does it? It sounds like a group which enjoys trying to break someone else's toys and make others feel bad. 

Let's look at the Short Story category.

Best Short Story (2451 Ballots)
Asymmetrical Warfare”, by S. R. Algernon (Nature 3/15)
"Cat Pictures Please", by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld 1/15)
The Commuter, by Thomas A. Mays (Stealth)
“Seven Kill Tiger”, by Charles Shao (There Will Be War: Volume X)
If You Were an Award, My Love”, by Juan Tabo & S. Harris (voxday.blogspot.com 6/15)
Space Raptor Butt Invasion, by Chuck Tingle (self-published)

Once again, note that the declined nomination from Thomas Mays (after the announcement, this time) is what allowed eventual winner "Cat Pictures Please" to make the ballot. This time we're going to take 387 as the number of Rabid Puppies nominating in this category as that is the amount of the lowest RP nominee, "The Commuter". "Assymetrical Warfare" had 452 votes, "Seven Kill Tiger" had 424, and "If You Were an Award, My Love" had 398. I can make an argument than 398 is the number I should really use and that a number of Core Rabids were disinterested in Thomas Mays, but I don't think that 11 will make a huge difference.

Without RP participation, the Short Story category looks like this:
"Cat Pictures, Please", by Naomi Kritzer (367)
"Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers", by Alyssa Wong (253)
"Wooden Feathers", by Ursula Vernon (200)
"Today I Am Paul", by Martin Shoemaker (189)
"Tuesdays With Molakesh the Destroyer", by Megan Grey (181)

Again, I think this is a stronger category than what was on the final ballot as a result of the Rabid Puppies, but this time I think I am objectively correct because Short Story contained two stories intended as nothing more than a big middle finger to the genre community, such as it is. "Space Raptor Butt Invasion" was the other one, if you weren't sure. It's just that Chuck Tingle flipped the script by his good humor and positivity throughout the process. His story still ended up below No Award, as it should have been, but while the nomination remains a bit of a stain on the award if you look back from twenty years out, it is one that still backfired on the Rabid Puppies and gave fandom another ally (and one with a fantastic sense of humor). But talking about Chuck Tingle is an essay all on its own and really doesn't get into my overall wistfulness about the ballot that could have been.

I'm not familiar with "Tuesdays With Molakesh the Destroyer", though I remember it being discussed around Sad Puppies 4. Look! Participating and nominating stuff you love can get it on the ballot! Well, it can, but when an organized group comes in, you don't get to see any of your favorite things unless that group just happens to also nominate them (like grabbing Daniel Polanksy's excellent The Builders in novella - great story, got caught up in the damn RP slate).

This also serves as your annual reminder that every vote matters. To get to a category that is near to my heart, if you take out the RP slate, Fanzine looks like this:

File 770
Lady Business
Journey Planet
A Dribble of Ink (in its final year of eligibility)
Rocket Stack Rank

A scant two nominations behind in sixth place, the venerable and now defunct SF Signal. Four nominations behind SF Signal, oh, a little blog called Nerds of a Feather!!  We're number 7! We're number 7!  Two nominations behind us, Mad Genius Club. Nominating matters, people. Not slating matters. Also, Black Gate might have also been in the mix for that final slot (they declined, after being on the RP slate)

So what's the takeaway here? There's nothing really new, except that way the Rabid Puppies attempted to stack the ballot was different and this year they used some more legitimate "shield" targets and as a general rule, the voters could tell the difference and voted accordingly. Abigail Larson is an excellent artist and does fantastic work. Unfortunately, Matthew Callahan in Fan Artist took a big hit as part of a the RP slate, but his Star Wars Galactic Warfighters project is one of the best things I've seen in this or any other year of fan art. He had my vote and the eventual winner (not part of RP) honestly doesn't measure up or belong in the same conversation even though they work in very different media. I wish the voters would have looked past the RP connection here for Callahan has they did in other categories.

I don't know that there is a takeaway, except to wonder if there will be a mess next year and if so, of what size and shape. I hope not. I hope that the people who care about the award will stay and play and those who don't will take their energy and interest somewhere else. It's disappointing when the conversation has to be so much about everything else except for the nominees and finalists because one person has enough followers to change the whole thing. 

Also, thank you very much for every one of the 60 people who nominated Nerds of a Feather. Thank you. Thank you.

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Writer / Editor at Adventures in Reading since 2004. Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2015, editor since 2016. Minnesotan.