The 2011 Hugo Awards: The Winners
Well, here we are again. That day in late summer when SF fandom blearily pries open its sleep-glued eyes after a long and dimly-remembered evening, and looks dizzily about itself to see just how bad the damage is. Ladies and gentlemen, the Hugo awards.
- In a brave but probably doomed attempt to wring something positive out Connie Willis's Blackout/All Clear having been deemed the best genre novel of 2010, let me use that victory as a launching point for an intriguing question: is this the very worst best novel decision ever made by the Hugo voters? You could argue, I suppose, that Willis's victory over what must be admitted was an uninspiring ballot is nothing to her 1993 win (shared with Vernor Vinge for A Fire Upon the Deep) for Doomsday Book, over both Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars and Maureen McHugh's China Mountain Zhang. On the other hand, Doomsday Book is well-regarded by a lot of people who are not me, whereas Blackout/All Clear has been poorly received even by some of Willis's fans. Not to mention that nearly every reviewer who actually lives in the country where Blackout/All Clear takes place has taken it to task for its wildly inaccurate representations of that country and its history, and for treating that history as a theme park ride. And, of course, there's the fact that by treating the book's two separately published volumes as a single work and awarding them the genre's highest honor, SF fandom has essentially turned to the publisher who sold them a $50 book and said "thank you, sir, may I have another?" In other words, Blackout/All Clear's win not only rewards bad writing, it rewards cultural appropriation and exploitative business practices. It definitely has my vote for the worst best novel Hugo choice ever.
- On to the other fiction categories. Ted Chiang's The Lifecycle of Software Objects is one of his lesser works (praising with faint damns, but still), and I would have preferred to see the Best Novella Hugo go to Rachel Swirsky. Nevertheless, there's something to be thankful for in the fact that Chiang seems to have transitioned into that club of perennial Hugo favorites who are all but guaranteed a nomination and a win whenever they deign to publish (president: C. Willis): it means that there's at least one fiction category whose winner the fannish community has no reason to feel ashamed of. I wish I could say the same for novelette and short story. It's tempting to feel grateful that Eric James Stone's "That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made" doesn't have a Hugo to sit beside its Nebula (one wonders what role the outrage over the Nebula win played in denying Stone a Hugo), but let's not allow that to obscure the fact that Allen M. Steele's "The Emperor of Mars" is the kind of sentimental, backwards-looking, name-dropping pap that has been clogging up the award's works for too much of the last decade. There's been a lot of work in the last few years to broaden the Hugo nominator and voter base, and it seems to have worked, but when a story like "The Emperor of Mars" wins the award, it just seems as if no matter how much you increase the voting base, you'll still end up with people who would rather look to the past than the future. In short story, Mary Robinette Kowal picks up her first fiction Hugo, after winning the Campbell in 2008 and being nominated for "Evil Robot Monkey" in 2009, and thus cements my bewilderment at the popularity of her writing. Short story was a weak category this year, but there were better stories on it than Kowal's.
- Not content with the opportunities for stats geekery afforded by the nomination and voting breakdowns, Niall Harrison and Liz Batty have been checking how close the Hugo winners of the last decade came to failing the No Award test (at least 50% of the ballots must rank the winner above No Award). Blackout/All Clear's No Award score is 11.5%, making it the third most controversial win in the last ten years, following Robert J. Sawyer's Hominids in 2003 (19%), and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in 2005 (14.7%). The only other winner to score above 10% is The Yiddish Policemen's Union (10.2%).
- Now on to the official stats geekery: like last year and unlike 2009, when most categories were won outright in the first round of vote-counting, several of this year's categories switched winners as votes were redistributed. What's particularly interesting is that in most of these categories the switch occurs in the last or next to last round of redistribution. The impression that forms is of very distinct voting blocs. Randall Munroe, for example, had an impressive lead in Best Fan Artist all the way to the last round of counting. So did Locus in the Best Semiprozine category, but when Lightspeed's votes were redistributed, less than a quarter of them went to Locus, putting
Lightspeed 's sister magazineClarkesworld, whose former editor Sean Wallace now edits Lightspeed, in first place. Mira Grant's Feed was in the lead for Best Novel until the votes for Cryoburn were redistributed--62 of them went to Feed and 146 to Blackout/All Clear, putting Willis in the lead as The Dervish House's votes split evenly between the two remaining contenders.
- Of course, the best known voting bloc in the Hugos is the Who contingent, who have turned the Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form category into the least interesting of the night. What is interesting, however, is how the votes break down. "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury" started in first place and held that position until the third round of counting--not, in itself, a particularly encouraging statement about either the category or the state of genre television. Meanwhile, the highest-ranked Who episode was actually "Vincent and the Doctor"--a more deserving winner than "The Pandorica Opens"/"The Big Bang." Regardless of which of the nominees won, the entire voting fandom should hang its head in shame over the fact that The Lost Thing has an Oscar, but not a Hugo.
- The news from the Worldcon business meeting is all about the changes to the various publication categories, and there's been no word about whether the Best Graphic Story will live to embarrass us another year. Phil and Kaja Foglio, whose Girl Genius has just won the award for the third year running, have announced that they will decline a fourth nomination. Which is nice of them, but as I said last year when Patrick Nielsen Hayden made the same announcement about Best Editor, Long Form (which he acted upon this year), it shouldn't be the responsibility of the nominees to maintain the respectability of the award. Best Graphic Story was a good idea, but if the same work has won the category in every year of its existence, then it is clearly not working, and it is long past time it was retired.
- Not much to say about the nominations, except that three more votes to either Tobias Buckell's "A Jar of Goodwill" or Maureen McHugh's "The Naturalist" would have knocked Eric James Stone out of the novelette category, so that's a what if that will surely haunt us. There's little else beneath the cutoff point of most categories that makes me cringe at the thought of it missing a nomination--either 2010 just wasn't a very good year for genre, or Hugo nominators aren't finding the good stuff.
- In conclusion, I think this best sums up my reaction to this year's Hugo awards.