A Hugo loser’s speech

The Hugo award winners were announced in London. I wasn’t there to see it. Having two stories on the ballot this year theoretically upped (or downed) my chances. As happened in 2012, I felt like something of an outsider to the final ballot, only more so this time because I’ve added “Baen author” to my list of credentials, along with a second Analog magazine AnLab readers’ choice award. Men with my kind of pedigree just don’t get to have Hugo awards very often these days. Maybe in 1970, when Larry Niven won for Ringworld. But not now. The Worldcon cotillion’s zeitgeist just isn’t there, for a guy like me to easily score a rocketship.

Which is not to say I didn’t score new readers. My mailbox tells me I got a lot of new people looking at my work for the first time, and enjoying what they saw. Enough for them to look for more from me in the future, and even backtrack and pick up some of my past work. All of this cheers me enormously, because I like to give readers a good time, and I like to find ways to put my stories in front of a potentially receptive, fresh audience. Being on the Hugo ballot helps that. So three cheers for new fans, and three cheers for new and old fans alike–and friends–who all put their votes in for “The Exchange Officers” and “The Chaplain’s Legacy.”

The cotillion itself remains problematic, from a numbers perspective; as it always has. When organized fandom staged the first Worldcon prior to World War 2 it might have been accurately said that Worldcon was representative of fandom in total. But this is 2014. We’re almost 40 years past the moment when Star Wars changed the popular consumer landscape in an irrevocable fashion. To snip a quote from the movie TRON, science fiction isn’t the business you built in your garage anymore. It’s a multi-billion-dollar international industry with over a billion active consumers. Throw in fantasy, and we more than double those numbers. The speculative and the fantastic saturate our lives like never before. These things are in our games, our television, our movies, and our books, to an unprecedented degree.

So it’s a little odd seeing the cotillion push the rocketship forward–as the most prestigious accolade in the biz–when barely 1 in 20 people at your nearest Comic Con can even tell you what that rocketship is, or what “Worldcon” is. Chances are they would not know what “fandom” is, historically, nor would they even technically label themselves as “science fiction fans” in an era when franchises and properties have become universes unto themselves. In other words, fandom also isn’t the business you built in your garage anymore.

Which is not to say the cotillion is bad. Heavens no. What I am saying is that the cotillion . . . has limited reach and relevance in an era when every child has a toy light saber in his or her closet, every teenager can quote you lines from Harry Potter verbatim, and middle-aged men walk around flashing each other the Vulcan hand sign at the office water cooler. Sci-fi didn’t just win the cultural battle, it became the whole culture in its entirety. To the point that football jocks on highschool teams flock to see the latest Star Trek movie, and don’t bat an eyelash cracking insider jokes about the latest science fiction video game title.

Thus a Hugo win or loss has limited traction, because only those within the walls of the cotillion recognize the award, and honor it. The rest of the universe . . . is too busy with its Venn circles of enthusiasm to notice when “fandom” gets together once a year to recognize the “best” in the genre.

I will say I was glad to stand with Larry Correia during his “Sad Puppies” campaign to bring new blood into the cotillion space, thus mortgaging his reputation (with those inside the cotillion who are averse to “outsiders” engaging the cotillion) for the sake of making the Hugos more applicable and representative of a wider sensibility. Larry knew (as many of us who participated did) that campaigning for the inclusion of neglected or otherwise non-zeitgeist works and authors on the ballot, would earn him (and the ballot members) scorn. Larry felt it was worth it, however, because as both a fan and a New York Times bestseller, Larry was hoping to see the Hugos display the kind of diversity that Larry (and myself, and many of the rest of us who walk beneath the Analog and Baen flags) felt had been lacking in recent years. I think Larry made his point well, despite the bellyaching and sniping which were directed at him. And I am content to have been a willing participant in “Sad Puppies” because the point Larry made–that Science Fiction and Fantasy are far larger and more broad in appeal than the Hugo ballots of late were indicating–is a point which cannot (I think) be made often enough.

So, the cotillion is ended for another year. And I may find my work on the ballot again in the future. “Sad Puppies” or no. It would be a delight to win, because many of my mentors and heroes are past winners. But it’s no great sorrow to lose, either. Because the readers are still reading, and buying, and I keep getting mail from new people who’ve discovered my writing for the first time, and are eager for more. There is no such thing as bad press, and this year’s awards season provided a good deal of signal amplification.

I’m grateful for all my friends and my editors in the business who rooted for me, and I hope I continue to produce stories which do honor and justice to both the Analog and the Baen legacies.

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17 thoughts on “A Hugo loser’s speech

  1. That is a far more gracious response than the antics from some of the cotillion (good word choice, btw). And I’m happy to count myself among the people who’ve become fans of yours through Sad Puppies. I don’t know if that counts for more than the Rocketship itself. But it has to count for something.

  2. That’s a very classy article, Brad. Much classier than some of the posts I’m seeing from the ‘other side’.

    You are writing some of the finest short Sci-Fi in the business right now. I have a feeling your Hugo will come sometime soon.

  3. The ‘cotillion’ may be a tiny subset of fandom, but it predominates amongst those who *read* SciFi. Most of the ComicCon crowd never crack a book, alas. This from someone who enjoyed your novella and rated it highly on my ballot, despite a general disapproval over the whole Sad Puppy affair (don’t like attempts to game the system – from any direction [ie WoT]).

  4. BiffBolt: I am going to gently push back on that assertion, mainly because I’ve stood at book tables at two successive Comic Cons (in Salt Lake City) and watched thousands of dedicated, enthusiastic readers make purchases, and walk off with bags full of books. This notion that Worldcon represents “real” readers seems self-referential and elitist. Plenty of Comic Con attendees read. They’ve just come to the table without passing through the traditions and culture of Worldcon first. I did the same, back in the day. And I don’t fault my fellow travelers for failing to pay heed to a society which increasingly builds walls between itself and the rest of the creative SF/F world. To the point that being commercially successful is a badge of shame in many Worldcon circles.

  5. I know you are doing your best to be polite and politic, as you hope one day to win a Hugo and/or a Nebula. Since I never will, I’ll lay it on the line: if these awards are being voted on by folk who believe it’s more important to choose “the right people” and spurn their ideological foes, regardless of the quality of their output; if the awards are chosen by those who have *publicly stated* that they will never read a book by a particular author on the ballot — then these awards are worthless. Let them spiral down into inbred irrelevance while you continue to make and keep new readers.

    Besides, there is no finer vote of confidence than when a new reader puts his hard-earned money down on the counter and takes a chance on your book.

  6. Soozcat: I agree very much, the vote that is voted with cash, is ultimately the vote that matters. Michael Crichton was, by any reasonable measure, one of the greatest science fiction writers of the 20th century. He doesn’t get his due in this regard because he a) did not seek out or try to work within the walls of the cotillion, and b) he was much too financially successful to ever appeal to the quasi-hipster attitude that some Worldcon members employ, when it comes to deciding which work(s) deserve recognition, and which do not.

    I try to thread the needle on this, because not every Worldcon member is a snob. But there are snobs at Worldcon. Not every Worldcon member is a politically fixated doofus. But there are politically-fixated doofuses at Worldcon. The concom of Loncon 3 was remarkably professional–insofar as my dealings with them are concerned–but some of the reactions which went up in the “professional” community, regarding the 2014 Hugo slate, were remarkably unprofessional.

    I agree: the path to irrelevance is paved by people who erect walls between their esteemed award, and the exterior commercial world. Too often, there are too many people in the cotillion who not only don’t want to acknowledge the wider SF/F cultural landscape, they actively work to ensure that the wider cultural landscape wants nothing to do with the cotillion, and vice versa. It’s a real shame, too..

  7. I feel like part of it was because your name was tainted by its association with Larry Correia and Vox Day.

  8. Michael Crichton, one of my faves, falls too close to that category I call technofiction, which would include The Hunt for the Red October and The Flight of the Old Dog. In some cases, the spec fic element is too close to speculating what is real but behind the black walls. I would call The Andromeda Strain SF, but is it SF because it has satellites? A secret base? The threat of nuclear detonations? A life form that can survive space? (The Russians claim that they just cleaned some plankton off the outside of the windows of the ISS, one of the Russian modules, and it was not a type of plankton from any local contamination at Baikonar — they’re speculating it came up from the atmosphere…)

    Anything that it hard to categorize is going to be a hard win.

    The Hugos are.

    Dr. Phil

  9. I kind of agree with you but note I have been buying SF books for 20 years, lived in London for 14 and only heard of Worldcon/Loncon by accident. No flyers in any of the comic or bookshops I visited. That was strange, so definitely a closed loop, you either know or you don’t and for the general public like me, even in London, there was nothing in the press until it actually started. I definitely do not use the Hugo awards as a reason to buy books. Instead most of my purchases are based on just seeing what is out there and reading their reviews

  10. I’m puzzled by Snoozcat’s comment ‘if these awards are being voted on by folk who believe it’s more important to choose “the right people” and spurn their ideological foes, regardless of the quality of their output …’. I was at Worldcon, and have talked to many voters in person and online. Most of those voters don’t follow the ‘political’ discussions at all, and of those that do the majority take the view that they should vote for work on its merits regardless of the politics of the writer.

    As for being a Baen writer being a handicap, there’s a Baen author with four Best Novel wins since 1990.

  11. Lois Bujold hasn’t won a Hugo in ten years. For that matter, when is the last time Mike Resnick won? Did either of these authors suddenly drop in quality, or is it that the zeitgeist of Worldcon has shifted? Not every Worldcon voter is politicized, but enough Worldcon voters are politicized for the proof to be in the pudding.

  12. The Hugo and Nebula winners this year are a microcosm of what happens when the ideology in question comes to rule the roost: it fixes what wasn’t broken and produces things that don’t work. Both instances are examples of affirmative action, pie-charting demographics and a quota but exaggerated to the point there are no other fish in the lake. That is combined with work that is a relentless purposeful ideological attack on a single demographic: straight white men, and also the West, and even English. Art becomes irrelevant. That’s no surprise since intersectionalism makes no secret that it considers it’s message to be paramount. They see literature to be a conduit for themes of social justice.

    Even the New Wave of the ’60s concentrated on prose and form and over content. They weren’t as concerned with themes as how those themes were told from a more expansive artistic viewpoint. Intersectionalism isn’t anything like that, and the pure awfulness of the stories reflects that. They are told in conformist prose and with derivative themes that shows they are putting the least effort into form and the most into using any old framework that will do to portray what their real interest is, and that is a specific racial and sexual demographic intersectionalists consider marginalized and who’s been doing the marginalizing. That is their be-all and end-all. Let’s be honest, most of the Nebula and Hugo winners this year struggle as writers, story-tellers and creative artists. Most of the work is simply boring and boringly told.

    I’ve seen some people comment the Hugo voters didn’t seem to be overtly political. But the consensus between the Nebulas and Hugos argues otherwise. The easy answer is this ideology is so mainstreamed and the cause seems so just that it’s simply natural to choose the stories they do. Remember, people in this movement claim there is no such thing as political correctness and that the term “social justice warrior” is weird. Think about that. So most of the followers are unaware they’re followers. As just a few examples, if you read the blogs of Jim Hines, Jonathan McCalmont and John Scalzi, they have been using intersectionalist cant without being the least aware such a thing even exists. Think about that too. To me that’s mind-boggling. Even today, and on the other side, people bewilderingly see this as conservative vs. liberalism or Marxism or some daffy thing like that when intersectionalists leading this movement are all but throwing an extremely formalized radical ideology right in your faces and using its actual name.

    The idea there was some artistic consensus between the Nebulas, Hugos and WisCon’s Tiptree Awards this year is insane to even think about. It’s Third Wave QUILTBAG intersectionalist feminism. They make no secret of that fact. The fact they see it as apolitical and natural means nothing, although I will say at least WisCon is more honest about what they do. The upshot is trying to imagine people that have absorbed the base principles of radical feminism and being unaware of it. That speaks to how successful WisCon’s ideology has been in mainstreaming itself into the core SFF community as just another day in the park.

    The Nebulas and Hugos trying to pass this year off as just good art even while the leaders never shut up about race and gender is just bizarre and speaks to the duality of awareness of those that lead and those that follow. And let’s remember why Jonathan Ross wasn’t at the Hugos, and that’s because he violated the precepts of core radical feminism, not “liberalism.”

  13. There’s the pretentious, insufferable Fail Burton with delusions of eloquence we all know!

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