Monday, September 06, 2010

The 2010 Hugo Awards: The Winners

The results are already available from many different sources, for those of you who weren't following Cheryl Morgan and Mur Lafferty's live coverage from Melbourne, which did an excellent job of building up excitement and anticipation for the results.  Some thoughts:
  • It's almost inevitable for any results to feel like a letdown at first, especially if, like myself, your taste diverges more than a little from that of the Hugo voters, so that even the best results feel like compromise choices.  Nevertheless, once that kneejerk reaction of disappointment wears off, this year's fiction winners are really quite heartening.  The only real disappointment is Doctor Who's win for "The Waters of Mars"--the worst of the three Who specials, none of which were particularly good--in the Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form category, but that's more than made up for by Moon's triumph in Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form.  I haven't read most of the nominated novellas, but I can think of worse winners than Charles Stross in that category.  And though I would have chosen different winners in the novelette and short story categories, both Peter Watts's "The Island" and Will McIntosh's "Bridesicle" are good stories and worthy winners.  Finally, I'm immensely pleased by the unprecedented and entirely unexpected tie between China Miéville's The City and The City and Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl for the best novel Hugo.  Between them, these two ambitious, interesting, flawed but fascinating novels have split the genre award scene--Bacigalupi won the Nebula Award, Miéville won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and both won Locus Awards in different categories--and I was at a loss to choose between them or to imagine how the Hugo voters would do so.  To give them both the award is, I think, a perfect way of acknowledging what a remarkable achievement each represents, and how remarkable 2009 was for seeing the publication of both.

  • Patrick Nielsen Hayden, winner of the award for Best Editor, Long Form, has asked Hugo voters not to nominate him in this category for the next two years.  In this, he follows in the footsteps of former winners John Scalzi (Best Fan Writer, 2008), Cheryl Morgan (Best Fan Writer, 2009), and David G. Hartwell (Best Editor, Long Form, 2009) who have made similar appeals, some from the winner's podium.  I understand and applaud their motivations, and indeed when Scalzi first announced that he would decline any further nominations for best fan writer I thought that this was entirely the way to go, but now I'm having second thoughts.  I share the distaste that many Hugo voters have developed for perennial winners.  While one's first Hugo in the fan or editor categories might be thought of as a lifetime achievement award, in subsequent years I think that voters should take a "what have you done for me lately?" approach, and vote according to the nominee's activities in the award year.  Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to happen.  Instead, one gets the sense that the awards are given for personality, popularity, overall career achievement, and sometimes just inertia.  That said, I think that this is a change that should come from the voters, not as a gift, however well-intentioned, from the winners.  At this point, with a consensus building against perennial winners, it might be time to consider a change to the Hugo rules, making winners ineligible in their categories for two or three years after their victory.

  • The Aussiecon 4 website reports 1094 voting ballots.  During the ceremony, awards administrator Vince Docherty revealed that 40% of the convention's membership had voted in the awards, but given that Australian Worldcons tend to be more sparsely attended than North American ones (~1,500 attendees in the last two conventions) and that Aussiecon's attendance numbers were reported to be in line with this, I assumed he meant that 600-700 ballots had been received.  The large number of voting ballots (in line with the number of ballots received last year in Anticipation, a much larger convention) suggests that many came from associate memberships, presumably purchased for the express purpose of voting.  For this, I suspect, we can thank the Hugo voter packet, a great project that has proven itself a real boon for the award, but I think it also helped that this year's nominees captured fandom's interest--that the best novel category included some of the most talked-about novels of the year, and that 2009 was such a banner year for SF film.

  • Aussiecon has also posted the voting and nomination statistics (PDF) so let the Monday morning calculations and obsessing begin!  Last year I noted that nearly all the Hugo winners took their categories outright in the first round of counting.  This year is the reverse.  In best novel, The Windup Girl and The City and The City started out neck and neck, but the latter quickly took the lead and held it until the final round.  The best novella nominees played pass the Hugo, with John Scalzi holding it for the first three rounds and passing it on to Kage Baker, before it settled with Charles Stross.  In contrast, Stross was the lead in the best novelette category right until the final round of vote distribution.  Only Will McIntosh won his award for short story right from the get-go.

    Other interesting revelations include Avatar coming last in the Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form race, cementing my feeling that this was a film more beloved by non-geeks than geeks.  Also, the Doctor Who block vote triumphed once again: Dollhouse's "Epitaph One" held the Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form Hugo all the way to the last round, but when the votes for "The Next Doctor" were redistributed, they went predominantly to "The Waters of Mars."

  • In the nominating statistics, what's notable is that in nearly every category there is a wide gap between the works that made it onto the final ballot and the next most-nominated work.  Helen Keeble's "A Journal of Certain Events of Scientific Interest from the First Survey Voyage of the Southern Waters by HMS Ocelot, As Observed by Professor Thaddeus Boswell, DPhil, MSc; or, A Lullaby," which I had been championing for a best novelette nomination, got twelve votes--less than a third of what it would have needed to make it onto the ballot, but still nice to see.  The series finale of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was just below the cutoff point for a Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form nomination, which is saddening.  On the other hand, it scored two more votes than the Battlestar Galactica finale.  On a personal note, I received 19 votes for best fan writer, ten short of a nomination and, which is more important to me, the first time that I can't name each of the people who nominated me.  Congrats also to Niall Harrison for his 22 best fan writer votes, and for the ten votes for Torque Control in the best fanzine category.

9 comments:

Jonathan M said...

Congrats on the nominations. I was glad to see you, Niall and Karen get nods.

I think that the tie is a genuinely fantastic result because it is such a double-edged sword. On the one hand the tie says that there were two great books published in 2009 but at the same time it acknowledges that neither of them was QUITE worthy of a Hugo to themself. Which is pretty much how I feel about the books given that I liked but did not particularly love either of them.

I definitely agree about putting a ceiling on eligibility for certain awards and I think that the argument for doing so is demographic : As has been said on Twitter recently, previous generations of fans were frequently rubbish at archiving their achievements. So by the time the internet arrived, bringing a new generation of fans with it, a huge number of names and achievements became inaccessibly locked into the memory of pre-internet fans.

This means that sometimes Hugos go not to the people who have achieved the most in a given year but to the people who have achieved the most over decades BUT most of those achievements are inaccessible to youunger fans. I mean, I like Ansible but if I were not aware of Langford's track record in fandom I would be quite alienated by the fact that he systematically gets well nominated for what is essentially putting out one blog post a month.

By putting a ceiling on nominations, you are clearing the way for younger fans and up-and-coming professionals and semi-pros and thereby keeping the Hugos relevant and fresh.

Mike Taylor said...

You have to be right about Doctor Who block-voting -- how disappointing. I love Doctor Who as much as the next man (more, probably), but there is absolutely no way that The Waters of Mars, or any of the 2009 specials, held a candle to Epitaph One.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Jonathan:

Thanks!

On the one hand the tie says that there were two great books published in 2009 but at the same time it acknowledges that neither of them was QUITE worthy of a Hugo to themself. Which is pretty much how I feel about the books given that I liked but did not particularly love either of them.

Yes, that sounds exactly right. The wisdom of crowds, huh?

The demographic issues you point out are just one manifestation of the demographic shift that Worldcon has been experiencing for the better part of a decade, for which the Hugos often act as a barometer. On the one hand, you've got complaints that younger fans are bringing topics to the convention that don't belong there (the uproar over Harry Potter's Hugo), and on the other you have a younger generation that doesn't feel that it is being given its proper space (the greying of Hugo winners, highlighted a few years ago).

Mike:

I didn't even like "Epitaph One" that much, certainly not after watching Dollhouse's second season. But I certainly would have chosen it over any of the Who specials, much less "Waters".

Alexander said...

For my part, looking at the voter statistics made him a little more pessimistic. I'd been hoping that trash like Sawyer's Wake and Resnick's Bride of Frankenstein only just snuck on the shortlists, but they made it in on a large margin. Also worth noting that Torchwood Children of Earth was sixth place for nominations--quite a few votes behind, but still. Would have been great to see it dislodge Avatar and make for a stronger shortlist. As is, it's still excellent that Moon pulled through on that, I didn't expect the voters to recognize substance over style in that manner.

It's interesting that in the short story nomination phase of the shortlist Spar got the most nominations and Bridesicle the least, but as you note in the voting the later was significantly ahead, and Spar was knocked out in the first round. Looking at those numbers one would assume that the story had a block of enthusiastic initial fans, but once the Hugo voters en masse read it in the packet many of them soured on it. Which, given Spar's content, seems rather accurate.

Here's hoping you can garner more votes next time, and even make it to the stage of receiving the award. You honestly deserve it more than anyone else I've seen.

And for all that Pohl is a good writer, his fannish blog posts over the past year have been lackluster at best, I hardly feel he deserved the award. So it goes.

Joe Sherry said...

This means that sometimes Hugos go not to the people who have achieved the most in a given year but to the people who have achieved the most over decades BUT most of those achievements are inaccessible to youunger fans. I mean, I like Ansible but if I were not aware of Langford's track record in fandom I would be quite alienated by the fact that he systematically gets well nominated for what is essentially putting out one blog post a month.

Jonathan: I think that's the case for the fan, editor, and artist categories. They're not as much in the public eye except for a few "names" that everyone recognizes.

"Everyone" knows PNH, and Tor is a solid publisher - and thus PNH. Actually, I bet PNH would pick up a nomination if Tor had a shitty year.

I'd like to see greater outreach in educating voters what work editors and artists did in a given year, before they make the final ballot. John Picacio does a great job on his website in listing out his work for the previous year. I don't know who would put together such a directory, but I think it would be a great resource - especially if it was linked / supported by the Hugo Awards, SFWA, and Worldcon.

Fan Writer and Fanzine will start to take care of itself. I think.

And I agree with you on Langford. His history in the field notwithstanding, it's not even a good blog post each month. I think you'll see a growing assortment of prominent bloggers and professionals taking that category (Jo Walton is due in a couple of years, if people are watching Tor.com)

chance said...

Finally, I'm immensely pleased by the unprecedented and entirely unexpected tie

Unexpected, yes; unprecedented, no.

Zelazny and Herbert tied for best novel in '66 and Willis and Vinge tied again in '93.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Alexander:

That the Resnick voting contingent is alive and kicking is something I take for granted at this point. And hey, it could have been worse: Resnick came within eight votes of having a story (a collaboration with Lezli Robyn) on the novelette ballot as well.

I think the lesson to be learned from the differences between the percentage of votes a work gets and the percentage of nominating ballots is that there are two different groups in play. There are the people who read enough to feel comfortable with nominating (and the ones who are nominating to get a specific work - by a favorite author or a friend - on the ballot), and there are the people who read the nominated works and choose their favorites among them. You'll get more cliquish voting among the former (who are anyway a smaller group), and more consideration among the latter, but they have to choose from the option presented to them.

Chance:

Yesterday afternoon when the results were announced everyone was saying that this was the first tie for best novel. Guess I should have fact-checked...

Alexander said...

chance: I would regard it as unique insofar as the two tied works are arguably in the same level of quality. Is there anyone now that would think Call Me Conrad is in the same tier as Dune? I suppose there are some Connie Willis fans, but I regard the Fire Upon the Deep/Doomsday split as equally wide in quality. This year, the two books under consideration are two of the most discussed, and while some people like one more than another there were a lot of split minds, and a number of posts of people hesitating to choose between the two.

Abigail: Indeed. Certainly the hugo packet seems likely to facilitate more informed decisions by letting people actually see the items under consideration.

Best Related Work isn't something I've see much commentary on yet. It was a strong list, so even the vote going to what I feel was the weakest item doesn't make it a real bad pick. I am disappointed that On Roanna Russ or the Clute reviews didn't make it, I'd say that both works have a much better picture for recent quality non-fiction genre writing than the Vance autobiography.

Kevin Standlee said...

Do note that a tie for Best Novel isn't unprecedented — it's happened before.

Aussiecon 4 reported in the Monday newsletter more than 2000 attendees at con, so it's larger than you thought it was, and there are of course the supporting members. You can generally expect non-North American Worldcons to have a fairly large number of supporting members relative to their North American counterparts on account of people not being able to make the trip but still wanting to vote.

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