Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Genre Awards, For What Are They Good?

How important are genre awards? Every year when the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award nominations are announced, there always seems to be something “wrong” with the list of nominees with a certain segment of the genre reading public. At the very least, discussion of some sort is generated. The Philip K. Dick Award, which has a more specific criteria, doesn’t seem to suffer from that annual “the nominators just don’t get it.”

Aidan has an interesting post, which to be honest, inspired this very post you are reading right now. The thing I agree with the most, perhaps obviously, is Aidan’s point that these awards all but ignore the online community. Something the members of SFFWorld have bemoaned in the past.

The purpose of this post isn’t about any award nominees for this year, but awards in general. I've never voted on any of these three major awards, so I am putting that disclaimer of possible ignorance right up front. The other disclaimer is that this post is VERY stream of conscience.

Here’s the rundown on the three awards alphabetically, for those not in the know:

Hugo Awards

Nominations are open to members of the current year’s Worldcon and to members of the past year’s Worldcon. The final ballot is open only to members of the current year’s Worldcon. You do not have to attend the Worldcon in order to vote. A special category of Supporting Membership is available for people who wish to vote but cannot afford to attend the convention. Supporting Membership also entitles you to all of the official Worldcon publications for that year, and entitles you to participate in the vote to select the site for the Worldcon to be held two years hence. You can find details of the current Worldcon’s membership rates by following this link.

Voting for the Hugos is a two-stage process. In the first stage voters may nominate up to five entries in each category. All nominations carry equal weight. The five entries that get the most nominations in each category go forward to the final ballot. In the final ballot voting is preferential. Voters rank the candidates in order of preference. The system for counting the votes is quite complicated but it is designed to ensure that the winner has support from the majority of voters. There is a full description of the counting procedure here.

Generally speaking, works are eligible if they were published in the calendar year preceding the year in which the vote takes place. Some Awards are given for a body of work rather than for a single item, in which case it is all work produced in the calendar year in question that is considered. See the list of Award categories for full details of eligibility rules.

Nebula Awards

The Nebula Award is given each year by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), for the best science fiction/fantasy fiction published in the United States during the previous year. There is no cash prize associated with the award, instead the award itself being a transparent block with an embedded glitter spiral nebula with gemstones cut to resemble planets.

All Active and Associate members of SFWA in good standing are eligible to make nominations during the NOMINATION PERIOD.

World Fantasy Awards

World Fantasy Award winners are chosen by a panel of judges, which differs every year. Andrew Wheeler was a past judge and blogged extensively about his experience

So, do these awards mean anything to readers? I realize that’s a naïve question, but a certain segment of fandom sees these awards as one of the most important parts of publishing in Speculative Fiction, others think the awards are narrow-minded and don’t really speak to the genre as a whole. Of course the answer is likely somewhere in the middle.

For example, from what I understand of the Hugos, you basically have to pay a not so slim chunk of change just to vote on the awards. I think the Nebula is the same, since you have to be a member of the SFWA. In my opinion, the awards are more or less a barometer of what is going on in Speculative Fiction on a year-to-year basis. With the WFAs, you only have five people really judging the awards, from what I can see, so that’s something of a narrow view. Conversely, those five people change every year, so the flavor of the voting could change every year, which is interesting.

In terms of awards upon which anybody can cast their vote, the Locus Awards are probably the longest running and may give a more clear indication of what fandom as a whole is reading. The recently instituted David Gemmell Award, which focuses primarily on Fantasy of the secondary world variety, opens up voting to the entire world. I’ve voted the past few years for both of these awards, the Gemmell especially speaks to my subgenre of preference. Of course, when you open the gates so wide, there’s a chance of vote-loading, much like the MLB All Star game.

This post is by no means exhaustive nor should it be judged for any sense of completeness. Though I’ve been reading SF for over 20 years, I’ve only become heavily involved in the past ten years through SFFWorld, so by no means am I an expert on these, just a fan asking questions.

Feel free to discuss in the comments and let me know where I’m wrong.


Neth said...

Keep in mind that for the Locus awards, subscriber votes count more than non-subscriber votes. So, it's not exactly an open vote.

Frankly, the only awards that have any meaning to me are the juried awards like WFA. I know that a select group of judges whose identies are known spent a lot of time reading a lot of books and came to the decision. With all of the other awards it comes down to a popularity contest, and depending on the demographics of the voting and nominating population, that typically means next to nothing.

Frankly, I think that awards are overated, their influence an importance are overstated, and that they (generally) offer very little insight into what's going on in speculative fiction.

RobB said...

I hadn't realized subscriber votes count more. However, as a non-subscriber at least I don't have to pay to vote. Shouldn't the fact that we all paid for the books in the first place count for something?

I guess part of what I was getting at in my post, and I'm only now realizing it, is that these awards can be seen as VERY exclusionary.

At least the Gemmell Award opens it up to all of us.

Mark Newton said...

There are problems with the Gemmells, too, as Spec Horizons pointed out last year:


Aidan Moher said...

Oh god... the Gemmells. More problems than anything else.