Tuesday, April 4, 2017

On the Hugo Award finalists

     I thought I would write a very brief update to the comments that I posted on Tuesday, March 21st, while on spring break.  Within that post, I noted that I planned on writing about the upcoming Hugo Awards, notably discussing my voting process.  I also expressed my hopes that the award finalists would not be as affected by the chicanery of the Sad and Rabid Puppies, two groups of conservative fans who had previously attempted to manipulate the nomination process through slate voting.  Both groups attempted to present their manipulation as an effort to bring forgotten and suppressed works back on the finalists list, either in the name of traditional science fiction or in the name of a suppressed politically conservative science fiction, but both groups tended to create their lists based on group identity, nominating friends of the primary organizers of both groups.  The work itself ranged from mediocrity to abject failure with a small number of exceptions.

      I was fairly optimistic that we weren't going to see the same kind of influence that we saw in the past couple years.  The Sad Puppies had abandoned the slate process last year and embraced a largely ineffectual and unpromoted recommendation list  They even abandoned that pretense this year, and presented no recommendations.  The Rabid Puppies didn't entirely abandon the fight, but presented a list of recommendations that only included one or two recommendations per category.  With both groups ending their efforts to choose the entire slate of finalists, it was fairly probable that, barring some secret and highly unlikely cabal of slate organization, we were going to see a list of candidates that more faithfully represented the interests of science fiction fans and readers.  Now that the finalists have finally been released, we can see that the influence of the puppies is fairly minimal.  Only sixteen of the list of twenty-two Rabid Puppy nominees were nominated, and three of those were disqualified. (look here for a more thorough analysis)  Additionally, it would be easy to imagine that the work of a number of the endorsed nominees (for instance, China Mieville and Neil Gaiman) would have received nomination without the influence of the slate, which further reduces the impact of the slate.  A number of people have given credited the recent reforms in the voting process for the reduced impact of the slates, but if there was an impact, it was more in its encouragement to abandon the practice of slating than in its actual impact on the vote totals.

     The resulting list of finalists is fairly exciting, and I'm looking forward to the process of reading the works.  For the most part, it's material that I have not read yet, although I read N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season, which her recent nomination, The Obelisk Gate is a sequel, along with the first two books in the series by Cixin Liu.  I've also seen all of the nominated films, except Hidden Figures, and have been a fairly faithful reader of Ms. Marvel, which received another nomination. However, it's material that seems to have received primarily positive critical attention, and looks like a distinct step away from the tedium that defined too much of the last couple years of nominations.  I'm currently in process of placing the novels available at the library on hold.  Additionally, I'm hoping that this breadth of quality works will also translate into a more interesting competition.  My voting choices over the past year were also largely chosen by the majority of other Hugo voters.  I think that this is less a sign that my views are representative of that majority, and more a sign of the lack of meaningful choice among the nominees.  I suspect that the introduction of some real competition will lead to much less predictability in the winners, which will also make the process more interesting.

     You can still get involved in the voting process if you are interested.  You just need to get a supporting membership for $40 and you can vote.  Recently, voters have received electronic packets with some of the nominated material, a process which will probably be repeated this year.  You can find information here.

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