Hugo/Campbell Retrospective

First, some quick housekeeping:

1) My old website, the Time-Waster’s Guide, is now officially defunct; nothing serious, it was just really old, and the code was really porous, and it became more trouble to maintain than it was worth. My new forums are now hosted at The 17th Shard, a Brandon Sanderson fansite, and my Community link in the left sidebar will point there soon.

2) Yes, I did do a poem for the final week of Poetry Summer, and you’ll get that post and my final thoughts on Friday.

Now: the Hugos. First of all, I live-tweeted the whole thing, and if you’re really curious and happened to miss that you can go back through. The winners are easy to find on any number of websites. The highlight of the evening, for me, was Mary Robinette Kowal’s well-deserved win in the short story category, a category Harlan Ellison called “The Big One,” because in the early days of science fiction that’s where all the energy was; all the excitement and innovation. I’m very proud of/excited for Mary, and I’m delighted that people are paying more and more attention to this excellent author.

Aside from Mary, though, Writing Excuses got slammed good and hard–not only did the hosts all lose, in every category where we were nominated, but pretty much everyone who’s ever been on the podcast lost (with the exception of Phil and Kaja Foglio). Even the Campbell winner, Lev Grossman, was the only Campbell nominee who’s never been on the show. Kind of hilarious actually. I talked to him about it, and we’ll get him on the show soon, and then he’ll never win anything again. Revenge! But no, I’m just kidding; I want to hate Lev, and everyone else who beat me, but they’re just all way too nice, and their writing is too good. Best of luck to all of them.

One thing the Hugos do every year, which I think is very cool, is post a full list of hard data after the awards are over: you can see not only who one, but how many votes they got, and how many nominations they got. Follow this link and scroll to the bottom to look at the nominations first, because there’s some really interesting stuff. This was a record year for both votes and nominations, and yet even with that it only took 78 nominations to get on the ballot for Best Novel. Take a look at what just barely didn’t make it: Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson missed by 18 nominations; Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay missed by 23. Never think that you nomination doesn’t count, because it totally does.

Interesting note about Writing Excuses: we got 63 nominations for Best Related Work, I got 59 for Campbell, Brandon got 60 for Best Novel, and Howard got 64 for Best Graphic Story. Just the same 60-ish people every time? Maybe. We had enough WE fans to get nominated in every category but the big one, which is interesting. I hope I’ve picked up a few more fans for next year in Chicago.

Also interesting: the short story category almost completely reversed itself from nominations to votes. Mary got the fewest nominations (out of the finalists) but the most actual votes. That’s also how she won the Campbell three years ago. This likely signifies that a core group of fans is nominating her, and then the wider audience of voters reads her stuff, likes it, and votes based on quality. Good for you, voters.

Now, let’s take a look at the voting itself. The Hugo voting system is kind of Byzantine, but easy enough to understand once you learn how it works. Scroll up in that document to the Campbell voting results, and we’ll walk through them. The top box, labeled “1st Place,” has several columns of numbers; the first column shows how many people voted each person in First Place. 263 voters marked Lev as first, 232 marked Lauren, 206 marked me, and so on down to No Award. (Quick aside about No Award: that’s the option you choose if you don’t think anyone was good enough to get the award in that category. It’s kind of sad that 67 people thought we all sucked, but I’m glad they voted. No Award is a vital part of what makes the awards meaningful, because they remind you that you’re not just comparing the nominees to each other, you’re comparing them to every past winner in the category. Sure, the novel you liked best might be better than the other nominees, but is it really as good as Ender’s Game? Does it deserve to win the same award as Neuromancer? Voting for No Award helps keep the Hugo a solid representation of quality.)

Okay, so: the first column is for first place votes. What are all the other columns for? What their system does is look at the nominee with the least amount of votes, drop it off the least, and add all of those voters’ second place votes to the first place tallies. In this case, for example, of the 67 people who voted No Award first, one of them voted me second, which is why my second column rose from 206 to 207. This one-vote bump happened to everyone but Saladin Ahmed. The voting system looks at the new rankings (which don’ actually change in this case) and once again drops the lowest nominee and adds all of those voters’ second place picks to the running tally. This was my biggest jump, because 60 of Larry Correia’s 175 first-place voters chose me for second place. This actually shot me up above Lauren, but I dropped back down in the next round, when Saladin’s votes were redistributed. That left me in last place, my votes we redistributed, and holy crap both Lev and Lauren shot up: Lauren gained 78 votes and Lev gained 90. This means that of the 206 people who put me in first place, 90 of them put Lev in second. See how it works? Awesome. Now let’s look at Best Novel, where things weren’t quite as straightforward.

Scroll to the very top of the document. As you can see from the first column of Best Novel votes, Feed has a clear lead on everyone else, with Blackout and The Dervish House jockeying closely for second. This doesn’t change much in the second round. In the third round, when The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms gets dropped, everyone shoots up in numbers but Feed maintains it’s lead; the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms fans were fairly ecumenical with their second place votes. Now it gets interesting. Cryburn is now in last place, and Lois McMaster Bujold shares a lot of fans with Connie Willis. When Bujold drops off the list and her votes are redistributed, Willis gains almost 150 votes and rockets into first place. The redistributed Dervish House votes are even more decisive, giving Blackout/All Clear nearly 200 new votes and sealing her solidly in first place.

Is this a good system? Yes and no. On the one hand, it stops what we call “The Twilight Effect”: rabid fans of a particular work can’t just jump in en masse and buy their favorite author a Hugo, or at least they can’t do it easily. By taking time to consider second and third and fourth place votes, the fan effect is normalized and extra weight is given to works that appeal to a broader base of readers. On the other hand, this system heavily favors better-known authors with a broad base of name recognition. The more people who say “X was best, but I’m putting Y in second because I like/know/have heard of the author,” the better chance Y has of turning around and taking first place.

Now I’m not saying Connie Willis won purely on name recognition–Blackout and All Clear were excellent books, and I’m happy to give them Hugos. But I am saying that people need to make sure to take their votes seriously: read everything in the category; rank every nominee instead of just voting for your favorite; use No Award the way it was intended. Consider that Connie Willis’s first place votes more than doubled by the time the second place votes were added in–that’s a pretty massive swing, and it says a lot about how the voting works. Remember that when you vote next year.

Speaking next year, let me pause a moment to talk about the Hugo voter packet: electronic copies of EVERY SINGLE NOMINATED WORK, delivered for free to every voter. (Credit where credit is due, this packet and everyone who uses it owes a huge debt to Kate Kligman, who’s spearheaded the project; thank you, Kate, for being awesome.) This packet is directly responsible for the record voting numbers, and every vote helps keep the Hugo award valuable and meaningful. Even if you can’t make it to WorldCon in person, you can pay $50 for a voting membership and receive hundreds of dollars worth of the best science fiction and fantasy in the world. That’s amazing. Every SF reader should be taking advantage of this. Just budget it in right now, and when ChiCon rolls around next year, you can be a part of one of SF’s greatest legacies.

6 Responses to “Hugo/Campbell Retrospective”

  1. Joe Vasicek says:

    Excellent voting system; I’ll be sure to buy at least a supporting membership next year. Now if only we elected our public officials this way…

  2. Holy cow. I never knew it was so complicated.

  3. Andrew says:

    Thanks for the explanation; I wish I had had a better understanding of the math before I voted. That also explains why old established favorites seemed to do considerably better than newer stuff. And other oddities as well– I figured the Doctor Who vote in “Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form” would be split up amongst the three Doctor Who episodes, and one of the other nominees would win, but in reality it doesn’t work that way at all.

    Also interesting to note Randall Munroe, who draws XKCD, fell short of the “Best Fan Artist” Hugo by one vote.

  4. bookwench says:


    Ok, so I just bought your book “I am not a serial killer” at worldcon. Imagine the look on my face when we got home, I opened it up and it was signed! Thank you very, very much for that random act of happy surprise to a stranger.

    I debated reading it or getting another copy, because signed copies are sometimes treated like precious gems – but books are meant to be read, and even if a book has no feelings at all about the matter it’s a shame to leave one untouched that way. So it’s been read, and then I went and got the others on Kindle so I could read the whole series, and it’s really, really good. I liked the end a lot.

    You could have gone very dark with it, which might be more realistic or more true to the noir genre – but I like hope a lot. So thank you.


  5. […] At File 770, there is a detailed breakdown of the Hugo voting stats. Dan Wells also does some detailed analysis. […]

  6. Lee Falin says:

    Hey Dan, now that the TWG forums are offline, is your contact email still the same? I wanted to make sure you received the answer to your email I sent.

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