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You kids get off my lawn. 

Hugo Nominees

The Hugo nominees were announced this weekend at Minicon (and I forgot to go to the announcement, even though I was there.) There's plenty here to fuel the ire of comment threads and blog posts from now until doomsday, most obviously being the inclusion of a work by Theodore Beale, who writes under the name Vox Day. I'm struggling how to put this politely, but Vox Day is an incredibly divisive figure in fandom, and you should just go google him yourself. Apparently, he and some other guy made open calls for nominating their works, which, as far as I understand it, isn't against the rules. And it doesn't violate the spirit of the rules, because, according to lore anyway, the Hugos have always been about backroom campaigning. So it happened in the front room this time, fine. 


It's also possible Day has written a novelette so shatteringly gorgeous and transcendent that it was just the very best novelette in the category. While I don't think this rule is hard and fast at all, many people think it more desirable to separate the writer from the written. I think the best example of this in fandom is Orson Scott Card, whose open campaigning against gay rights puts many readers off. Just as many call for objectivity: his viewpoint is not evident in the work, so don't judge the work by his viewpoint. For my own perspective, I think either strategy is legit, but then I also don't really believe in objectivity in my own response. I am not a robot, and I'm bound to bring my feelings about the author into my read, both good and bad. I'm able to compartmentalize with Card somewhat -- I like the older stuff and ignore the new -- but Day? I'm assuming you did the google. To douchily quote Yeats: who can separate the dancer from the dance? 


But the Hugos have always been a popularity contest, and I'm not saying that as a dismissal or a slag on them. They are voted on by the members of WorldCon, and in that way they are popular, well more located in fandom than the Nebula, which is voted on by members of a professional writers' association. I think it would be deeply embarrassing to have the science fiction and fantasy community laud an anti-materialist anti-science creationist's work. Day writes fantasy, so I don't think his novelette will address his anti-science views, overtly anyway, making calls for objectivity legit in this context as well. But science fiction and fantasy fandom has always been a coalition, equal parts magic and science. I myself enjoy both. It would be a grim example of the sometimes tenuousness of that coalition to have the combined SF & F community laud a man who rejects the very basis of the science fiction half of the genre. Popularity contests determine what's popular. SFF is a big tent, and Vox Day prefers to make it smaller. That's his prerogative, but I hope it's not a popular one. 


I super didn't mean to go on so much about Beale/Day, because mostly I think the nominations for him were a stunt designed to rile everyone up, and I don't mean to add to the riling. What I did want to complain about in the nominations was Wheel of Time. Apparently, due to a quirk in the nomination rules, if no single book in a series has been nominated ever, then the entire series can be nominated in one fell swoop. Wheel of Time is a fantasy series that was begun by the late, great Robert Jordan, and completed by Brandon Sanderson in a three book arc after Jordan's death. I'm going completely on hearsay right now, because I have never read all 20ish books in the series, but the series is both seriously beloved, and also incredibly frustrating, bottoming out in the last couple books written before Jordan died, and then rescued by Sanderson in the end. (There are those who think Sanderson ruined it more, but they seem the minority.) 


Who knows what will actually win, but a lot of people are just throwing up their hands and calling it for Wheel of Time, and I can see why. As a popularity contest, who's going to win: a foundational series which was started well over two decades ago by one of the big names of fantasy? That has had twenty years to build up a fanbase? Or a novel that was written last year by a possibly unknown writer? Please. (Plus, the idea that Hugo voters are going to read 20ish novels in addition to the other contenders is ludicrous.) Popularity contests can always be called unfair -- who gets to chose, and why, and for what reasons are always contested, and they should be -- but putting Wheel of Time up against singular novels which, by rule, cannot have been published more than a year ago is a whole new kind of unfair playing field. One of these things is not like the other ones. 


Plus, just to be a jerk for a minute, how come none of the individual Wheel of Time books were ever nominated before? "The whole might be better than the sum of the parts" avowedly is the reason -- in order to be nominated Wheel of Time is considered as a single novel made up of multiple books -- but this doesn't really fly for me. I can see Connie Willis's Blackout/All Clear, which won the Hugo in 2011, as single novel that was published in two parts. It was infamously bisected by her publisher, and doesn't really function as two standalone novels. But twenty books spanning decades of publication by two different non-contiguous authors? À la recherche du temps perdu this is not, nor was it conceived of being. This is, of course, arguable, but I'm still going to argue it. 


In the end, the thing I find so stupid about the nomination is that awards are, on some level, a way of getting new books and writers in front of people, shaking out what's new and groovy from the overwhelming torrent of newly published books. Nominating Wheel of Time does not service that. The timeliness of literary awards is one of the cool things about them, poling how we feel, as a community, about the current state of writing, publishing, fandom, and the like. Rolling though the nominations in years past can sometimes feel like digging through a memento box of boutique interests and blind-alley experiments, books that make you scratch your head in wonderment that they were ever nominated at all. God bless them, every one. We're not judging for the ages here; that's what the ages judge. We're running a popularity contest. People who have already graduated should not be eligible for class president, even if they were really great class presidents back in the day.