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2015 Hugo Awards

Started: 2015-09-30 08:39:11

Submitted: 2015-09-30 09:40:14

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator reacts to final results from 2015 Hugo Awards, and looks forward 2016

The evening after I climbed Elk Tooth, Kiesa and I watched the announcement of the 2015 Hugo Awards, streaming live from Worldcon. We'd originally considered attending in person, but Spokane was not especially close to anything, and marshalling our entire household, which now includes five people (us, Calvin, Julian, and our au pair Montse), out the door to do anything sounded complicated. We thought about other summer vacations but ended up spending the money I'd earmarked for vacation on fixing the basement electrical system instead, at least until I managed to claw it back on the basis that I'd never agreed to the appropriation.

Instead of attending Worldcon, we purchased supporting memberships, which let us vote in the Hugo Awards. We nominated and voted last year, but this year I paid more attention to the short fiction I was reading throughout the year and nominated the best works I encountered there. I was disappointed when the nominations where released and it became apparent that a pair of small groups, identifying themselves as the "Sad Puppies" and their crazier kin, the "Rabid Puppies", had hijacked the nominations by advancing their own slate, rather than letting the community at large choose the works they enjoyed. Many words have been spilled elsewhere at the Internet, so I don't really feel compelled to repeat them all.

At the time the nominations were announced, I wrote:

We watched the live stream of the announcement of this year's Hugo award nominations while trying to keep Julian amused on the couch. I was disappointed to see that a small but shrill minority had hijacked the awards to promote their own agenda. I had hoped that I would be able to read a group of stories that legitimately reflected interests of a wide swath of fandom, and discuss those stories on their merits, but instead the discussion of the politics of the award drowned out any discussion of the year's best stories.

I waffled a bit about how I wanted to vote, and eventually decided to apply John Scalzi's stacked-ranking voting algorithm, with one tiny modification: I'll do this every year, in every category, instead of just categories where I feel the process was tainted. While I'll attempt to nominate the works I enjoyed, I expect the Hugo nomination process to reveal works I'll like even more. So in a good year every Hugo nomination should be better than the works on my nomination ballot, but if, for me, a work falls below the lowest work on my nomination ballot I'll feel free to vote for No Award above it, regardless of how the work appeared on the ballot.

Having come to that decision by the middle of July, I didn't have much time to actually read the slate-dominated works. I did read all of the short stories and was not especially impressed. "The Parliament of Beasts and Birds" was terrible; I would have wanted my time back after reading it if it weren't also mercifully short. I guess it was supposed to be some sort of spiritual allegory, but nothing says "message fiction" (an epithet the Sad Puppies use on works they don't like) faster than "spiritual allegory". The other stories were ok, and some showed distinct promise, but none of them were anywhere near as good as the "The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family", the lowest-ranked short story on my own nomination ballot. So I put No Award first in that category.

For Best Novel, I read The Three-Body Problem and Ancillary Sword in 2014 and nominated both of them. I worked my way through The Goblin Emperor, which had an interesting premise, and well-written prose, but it failed to grab my attention because I couldn't bring myself to care about the main character, and the book was not especially interested in performing any world-building to help me understand the context. To be fair, I am the sort of person who loves chapter-long world-building digressions, and I read academic histories of the real world for fun to try to figure out how everything fits together, so my personal preferences are somewhat skewed -- but I couldn't get through the book. I can see how many people like it but it's definitely not for me.

On Saturday evening, 22 August, Kiesa and I settled into the family room to watch the Hugo Award stream live from Worldcon. I plugged the video stream into the TV and pulled my laptop close enough to the couch so I could squint at the Twitter stream from TweetDeck, showing me the reactions in real-time from the list of authors and bloggers I've collected into my SF list. I popped popcorn to prepare for the spectacle. I was amused that one of the Worldcon administrators spoke about No Award and the history of denying awards in categories where the fans at large decided none of the nominated works deserved the award. I wasn't quite sure what to make of the idea that this Worldcon had a record number of registered voters, since that could go either way: if the Puppies were able to marshal (or, uh, fabricate) thousands of followers they could give the awards to whomever they pleased; but on the other hand if the fans at large thought the Puppies' slates were repugnant and voted them down, they could have finally decided to support the Hugo Awards to make their opinion known. There was only one way to find out, and that was to watch the awards in real time.

(Or, as it turned out, slightly-delayed real time; the video stream was a few seconds behind Twitter, probably because the video stream was buffering, so I'd see the announcement and the reaction on Twitter before it was actually announced on video. I ended up blocking my view of the Twitter feeds with my hand while I watched the video so I could savor the suspense and the reaction of the crowd.)

By the time the dust settled, and the awards were announced, every category where the Puppies' slate swept the nominations had been given No Award, usually by a large margin. In the history of the Hugo Awards, No Award had been given five times -- and tonight we saw history happen again when five more No Awards were given. As a fan of science fiction I regretted not giving an award, but given the choices available, and the process by which they were awarded, No Award was the least-bad choice. The fans at large proved that they cannot be manipulated by a small minority, no matter how loud and irritating that minority may be.

I was legitimately happy for Cixin Liu and his amazing book The Three Body Problem, translated from Chinese into English, winning Best Novel.

Now I can put the 2015 Hugo Awards behind me and look forward to next year. I've read some great fiction so far this year -- especially Seveneves and The Dark Forest and The End of All Things, with more to come before the end of the year -- and I'm looking forward to discussing the novel-length and shorter works in the coming months.