Hugo and Nebula Thoughts

There's been a fair bit of discussion of this year's Hugo nominees around the Internets, most of it centering around the gender of the nominees (that link goes to a fairly civilized discussion, which includes links to a rather more heated argument). For those who haven't been following the controversy, only one of the twenty nominated works in fiction categories was by a woman.

What follows will be rambling and discursive and probably not terribly productive, but I've become accustomed to thinking by typing, so there you go. If you're not fascinated by squabbling over SF awards, scroll down and admire the picture of the dog being bemused by a robot vacuum cleaner, or pick a number to win a book.

This came up a while ago, but I was really busy, and had lots of other things to do. It came to my attention again via Bookslut, where Adrienne Martini called the Worldcon organizers bastards in passing on her way to giving a bad review to Eifelheim. She was corrected by a reader, who notes that the Hugos are not chosen by the organizers, but voted on by the fans attending the convention.

Which, of course, brings up questions of voting mechanics and statistics. I'm not sure whether the full nomination results will ever be made public (probably, as last year's results were), but there are some aggregate statistifcs in the full press release about the nominations.

The striking thing about this is how small the numbers are. A total of 409 people nominated something, and the number of people nominating in the fiction categories ranged from a high of 327 for the Best Novel category to only 167 for Best Novella. The number of nominations required to make the final ballot was also really small: the highest number of votes received by any fiction nominee was 58 (tops in the Best Novel category), while the lowest got just 16 votes (in the Best Short Story category).

With numbers that small, it really doesn't surprise me that the results are kind of screwy. Of course, they're pretty much in line with the totals from last year, when there wasn't as much discussion of the gender disparity (not that it was a whole lot better-- looks like 3/20 to this year's 1/20). I've always been aware that the Hugos represent the preferences of a small subset of SF fandom (because they keep giving the awards to books I don't particularly like...), but I hadn't appreciated just how small that subset really is.

It also suggests a rather simple and direct solution to the problem: get out the vote. If a broader gender distirubtion in the Hugo nominees is important to you, it won't take a whole lot to change things. A voting membership for next year's Worldcon is $130 until May 31, and that gets you the right to nominate works for the next two Hugo ballots. Thirty nominators voting for a particular work would get it on the ballot in almost any category, even if none of the people nominating this year voted for it.

If you want more works by women on the ballot (or more works by non-Americans, or more works by whatever category you favor), buy a membership and vote. And get your friends to buy memberships and vote. It won't take all that much to change things.

Of course, I'm in sort of an odd position regarding this, because I'm one of the 409 people who nominated works for the Hugo. I didn't nominate anything in the short fiction categories, simply because I don't read enough short fiction to have any idea what to nominate, but I did nominate several novels.

Only one of the Best Novel nominees (Vinge's Rainbows End) is a work that I voted for. I'm somewhat embarassed to admit that I can't quite recall what I did vote for, but I'm pretty sure there weren't any women on the ballot. I dithered for a while over whether to nominate Farthing, but decided not to, on the grounds that I didn't particularly enjoy it. I think it's an excellent book, and if it were on the ballot, I'd vote for it above some of the works that are on there, but at the nomination stage, I'm not going to put forward a book I didn't enjoy.

Of course, I didn't nominate the one book by a female author to make it to the ballot (Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon), either, despite the fact that I did enjoy it. It runs afoul of what I think of as the Bujold Problem (because I wouldn't've voted for most of her Hugo winning books, either)-- I never for a moment thought that anything genuinely bad might happen to the main characters, and that lowers the book in my estimation.

As for the rest of the ballot, it's hard to address the question of whether there should've been more books by female authors on the ballot without some concrete works in mind. The closest thing to a list of candidates I can think of is the Locus Recommended Reading list. Interestingly, if you tally up all the novel categories (they split it into SF, fantasy, first novels, and YA novels), only 26% of the books are by women, which is pretty close to the proportion of the final Hugo ballot.

This list is sub-optimal, because they review a fair number of things that aren't readily available in the US at the time, and so their lists frequently include a bunch of British books that I've never seen. Of the eight books by women on their list that I've seen in stores, I've read four, and three of the remaining four really don't look appealing to me (which can also be said of many of the novels by men on their list). Of those that I've read, Farthing is the only one I'd consider award-worthy, trailed closely by The Virtu (another well done book that I didn't enjoy enough to nominate). His Majesty's Dragon has already been discussed, and Magic Lessons is not only a YA novel, it's the middle book of a trilogy, and I'm not entirely happy with some elements of the story.

The one book that might potentially have made the ballot had I read it is The Privilege of the Sword, and, well, I still haven't read it. It's set in the world of Swordspoint, which was a beautiful book, but I need to be in the right mood to read that sort of thing, and I haven't lately. We've got a copy around here somewhere, and it's entirely possible that I'll kick myself after reading it for not getting to it in time to nominate it, but there's nothing to be done about that now.

Interestingly, The Privilege of the Sword did make it to the Nebula ballot, along with Farthing. Adrienne Martini (remember her?) suggests this as more representative of the true state of the SF field. Of course, it's a little difficult to evaluate this, given that the arcane eligibility rules for the Nebulas mean that four of the six books are from 2005, not 2006. I've also never heard of two of them (The Girl in the Glass and From the Files of the Time Rangers), so mostly what this suggests to me is that SFWA is weird.

Is there a point to all this? Ummm.... I'm not entirely sure. Probably not, other than that if you want to change the demographics of SF awards, you should buy memberships and vote.

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"the Bujold Problem (because I wouldn't've voted for most of her Hugo winning books, either)-- I never for a moment thought that anything genuinely bad might happen to the main characters, and that lowers the book in my estimation."


Apparently you have not read much Bujold.

By Christopher Gwyn (not verified) on 07 Apr 2007 #permalink

No, I've read pretty much all of Bujold's books, save for Falling Free and The Spirit Ring (well, OK, I didn't actually finish the most recent one (The Sharing Knife), because I didn't care for the romantic pairing).

The thing is, there's never a point in any of the Vorkosigan books where I didn't think that Miles would end the book in a better place than he started the book.

I discussed this at greater length, and with massive spoilers, in a booklog post a couple of years ago.

Chad: thank you for bring an important issue to your readers. As a White Male, my comments further are virtually superfluous. But I will say that yesterday, at a local hangout called The Coffee Gallery, while waiting for my son's car to be repaired, I observed a heated discussion about Octavia Butler (long a Pasadena resident), and whether she would have eventually won a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize. My wife's comments, as a professional scientist and professional science fiction author, might be on topic, but she doesn't spend any time on blogging.

Chad thanks for hitting the nail on the head about what is wrong with Bujold. I could never put my finger on why I liked Brust and did not like Bujold, but you did.

By Brad Holden (not verified) on 07 Apr 2007 #permalink

Two comments.

First, you wrote: "I'm not sure whether the full nomination results will ever be made public (probably, as last year's results were". The answer is not only will they be, but the release of the information is required by the WSFS Constitution:

"3.11.4: The complete numerical vote totals, including all preliminary tallies for first, second, ... places, shall be made public by the Worldcon Committee within ninety (90) days after the Worldcon. During the same period the nomination voting totals shall also be published, including in each category the vote counts for at least the fifteen highest vote-getters and any other candidate receiving a number of votes equal to at least five percent (5%) of the nomination ballots cast in that category."

Second, if one wishes to just nominate and vote - but not attend - then the current membership rate for the 2008 Worldcon is $40.00. See: By joining the 2008 Worldcon - even as a supporting (i.e. non-attending) - one also gets to vote for the site of the 2010 Worldcon.