More thoughts on The Hugos

A couple of analogies:

Every year, around February time, the Classic Rock Society holds an awards ceremony in Wath-upon-Dearne in Yorkshire. Despite the name, the emphasis is on progressive rock, and the winners are almost entirely drawn from a relatively small and incestuous scene of grassroots bands either signed to small labels or who release independently. Bands such IQ, Magenta, Mostly Autumn and a handful of others at the same level dominate the awards. Indeed the award for Best Bass Player used to be known as the “Best John Jowitt Award” because he used to win it year after year, until finally he ruled himself out of contention so that someone else could win for a change. Nobody from major-league prog bands like Dream Theater or Rush ever win, nor prog-influenced mainstream acts like Elbow or Muse.

Were a large influx of people join the CRS specifically to vote for something like Noel Gallagher’s album about points failures at Stockport as album of the year, a lot of people would be highly unimpressed. But the CRS Awards has never held itself up as representing the best of all music, progressive or otherwise. It doesn’t have a generations-long history in which “In The Court of the Crimson King” and “Close to the Edge” were illustrious past winners.

Every year The Guardian does a readers’ poll for best album. Many years it’s dominated by the same corporate-indie mainstream as the end-of-year list complied by their own writers. But in 2012 the winner was “Invicta” by progressive rock stalwarts The Enid. A few people cried foul, claiming it was out of order that a band playing the sort of music that to them was the epitome of uncool could be allowed to gatecrash indie-rock’s party. But the consensus was “good on them”. The Enid’s fanbase broke no rules, and any other cult band with a devoted following could have done the same thing, but didn’t. Two years later the veteran punk satirists Half Man Half Biscuit repeated that success for their album “The Urge for Offal”.

If a dozen different bands with dedicated but non-overlapping fanbases were to do the same in 2015, it would make the readers’ end-of-year list an awful lot more interesting.

Not that either of these are exactly the same, but there are parallels with the hugely controversial results of the Hugo Awards nominations that are currently melting the internet.

My “fandom” is music. Being a reader of science fiction rather than a convention-goer I’m nowhere near as emotionally invested in the Hugos as many others clearly are, either as treasure to be protected or a prize to be fought over. Even so, the levels of triumphalism and of sour grapes I’m seeing from the two ‘sides’ are both predictably depressing. At the end of the day, it’s just an fan award, and the stakes are hardly a matter of life and death. But the Hugo Awards still ought to be bigger than any two warring cliques, neither of which is prepared to acknowledge that the other might have at least some valid points, however badly expressed.

The broader SF world needs to find a constructive way forward which doesn’t involve excluding significant sections of SF’s readership.

I’m leaving this post open for comments, but I’m going to be fairly strict on what I allow through. Keep it civil and be constructive if you want your words of wisdom to avoid the digital slushpile.

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5 Responses to More thoughts on The Hugos

  1. PhoenicianRomans says:

    “The broader SF world needs to find a constructive way forward which doesn’t involve excluding significant sections of SF’s readership.”

    “Finding a way forward” assumes that all parties have an interest in a constructive solution to problems. If, for example, there is a significant group that want to see the Hugos burn down to the ground for the lolz, or another significant group that would rather blow the Hugos up than give up an informal gatekeeping veto, then there’s no way to “find a way forward” that doesn’t involve exclusion or neutering their power to affect the situation.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Probably true that there are some people who just want to watch the whole thing burn, and there’s no point trying to make any accomodation with that camp. But I think they’re a minority.

  3. PhoenicianRomans says:

    The relevant question therefore is how large does a minority have to be before they can set a match to the thing. As far as I can tell, “two or three hundred” appears to be the answer demonstrated this year.

  4. Tim Hall says:

    That’s only because they’ve exploited a weakness in the voting system – they represent something like 10-15% of the actual voters.

    See my other post on voting systems.

  5. John P. says:

    Personally, I’m not sure that any awards are worth the paper they are printed on. The fact that something has won an award has never made me think “Oh, I’ll have some of that, it must be good.”

    It’s not just music or literature, a lot if industry awards are based on the votes of a very narrow electorate which means that they are pretty much worthless. Round these parts we always joke that the signs saying “Bury’s World Famous Award Winning Market” should have the subtitle “as voted for by Bury Market Traders Association”