The 2012 Hugo Awards: It’s Okay To Be A Fan

The 2012 Hugo Awards have been announced, and you can see the winners here. Congratulations to everyone! There aren’t a ton of surprises here, but there are some interesting picks and a pretty clear trend of “fans voting for fandom.” That’s not a huge surprise, since fandom is what WorldCon, and to some degree the Hugos themselves, are all about, but the “It’s Okay To Be A Fan” mentality was higher this year than I’ve ever seen it, thanks in large part to books like Jo Walton’s AMONG OTHERS, the winner for Best Novel, which is by, for, and about science fiction fandom.

By the way, if you don’t know how the Hugo balloting process works, I did a detailed explanation of the process last year, and I suggest you go read it, but here’s the details in brief: Each voter ranks the nominees in order, assigning one to first place, one to second, and so on, including one slot for No Award. (The No Award slot is a way of saying “these works or people might be good, but they’re not goo enough to win a Hugo.” It’s one of the most important aspects of the Hugo voting system, and I should write an impassioned defense of it one of these days.) Once the ballots are cast, the system looks at all the first place winners for a category, drops the lowest, and adds those voters’ second place picks to the other voters’ first place picks. Then it drops the lowest and redistributes thosevoters second place votes, and so on until there’s only one nominee left, who wins. It’s a good system that gives the award to the most popular work, but which sometimes functions counter-intuitively, such as last year when BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR won best novel based on its second place votes rather than its first place votes. This year we saw a similar situation with the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, which Brad Torgersen had locked up at first, but which eventually went to E. Lily Yu when the other nominees’ voters were redestributed. The most-voted nominee won, but not necessarily in the way you expected. It’s a good idea to brush up on how the system works before you vote again next year; somebody remind me to do another write-up about that.

Anyway, let’s look at some specific results. The Hugos are awesome because they release full statistics for every category, and you can find them all here in a pdf; click that link and refer to it as we go along. The first thing I want you to do is scroll about 2/3 of the way down (page 20 of 28) to look at the nominations. This year had the second-highest number of voters and nominators ever, down slightly from last year, with 1101 nominations made. That’s not very many. Note that it only took 71 nominations to get on the ballot for Best Novel, and only 36 to clinch a nomination for short story. Everyone attending the convention, and everyone who attended the previous year, gets to nominate for the awards, so please, take this responsibility seriously. Your nomination matters. Look at that list of nominated books, and some of the amazing books that didn’t quite make it. READY PLAYER ONE, one of the biggest SF books of the year, missed it by six votes, possibly because its legions of fans just assumed someone else would nominate it. Vernor Vinge, who many people considered an absolute lock for the Best Novel win, missed the nomination by ten votes.

The reason I’m harping on nominations so much is because the numbers prove, in almost every category, that the nomination rankings are completely different than the final vote rankings; that is to say, the most popular nominees are rarely the most popular winners. Take a look at the nominations for Best Related Work (page 22), which is where I was nominated for Writing Excuses. The most popular nominee, with 52 votes, was ineligible; after that, the two biggest nominees were Writing Excuses and Jar-Jar Binks Must Die, tied with 47. Now scroll up to the actual voting (page 7) and you’ll see that those two came in at a solid fourth and fifth place. THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION scored a massive 603 votes, despite squeaking onto the ballot with a mere 34 nominations. What is happening is this: the nominations are made by dedicated fans, but the voting is done by the full spectrum of con attendees. Most of those voters had never seen or heard of any of the nominees before they were nominated–the fans got their favorite thing onto the ballot, and then the voters looked at all five and picked the best. That is good, because that’s exactly what the ballot is for. If you want something to be noticed, you have to spreadĀ  the word early and get it nominated, so that a wider range of people can see it and vote for it. THE WISE MAN’S FEAR by Pat Rothfuss received only 49 Best Novel nominations, but had it actually made it on the ballot would have gotten hundreds of votes. Nominating matters, is what I’m saying, so when next year rolls around, nominate your favorite works. Even better, start talking about your favorite works now so that people have time to read them and love them as much as you do, and can start spreading the word themselves. Here, I’ll start: THE MIRAGE, by Matt Ruff, is the best science fiction novel of the year so far, and I’ll be very surprised if I find anything better in the remaining four months. Go read it, love it, and tell all your friends.

Now let’s look at the actual winners. AMONG OTHERS by Jo Walton is one of the few winners which was also the highest-nominated in its category. My personal favorite was DEADLINE by Mira Grant, but if I were a betting man I would have bet my entire life savings on AMONG OTHERS–and I would have gotten horrible odds for it, since everybody and their dog could see it was a huge populist favorite from before it was even published. A friend of mine called it “Blatant pandering to SF nostalgia,” and whatever the positive version of that is, I agree; I don’t think it’s “pandering,” I think it’s the “It’s Okay To Be A Fan” mentality that swept the entire ballot this year. AMONG OTHERS is a book about a girl who doesn’t fit in and finds solace in reading science fiction, and it’s a thinly-veiled biography of the author only in the sense that it’s a thinly-veiled biography of 90% of the Hugo voters. It was written by a fan, about a fan, specifically for the fandom. We could see ourselves reflected in it, plus it was really good, and those two together made it an easy winner.

The Best Related Work category, which we’ve already discussed, was another fandom win, with THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION blowing its competition away. The Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form winner I’m also going to claim as a fandom win, because THE GAME OF THRONES TV show was a huge breakout hit that took “our” golden boy George R.R. Martin and made him even more massively popular with the rest of the world: It’s Okay To Be A Fan. The winner of Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form was a fandom win because it was essentially fan fiction: Neil Gaiman writing official Doctor Who fan fiction, yes, but fan fiction nonetheless. (Christopher Garcia’s acceptance speech from last year being nominated as a Dramatic Presentation this year is further proof that the “we love fandom” theme was well-represented.) The “Best Fan X” awards are all obviously fandom wins as well, but I want to single out Best Fancast because it went to the Squeecast, which is a bunch of professional authors getting together to rave about their favorite genre books and movies. It’s Okay To Be A Fan.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the awards this year. The first and most pleasing thing to me is that Seanan McGuire (writing both under her own name and Mira Grant) garnered four nominations, the most ever in a single year by a woman in the history of the awards. It’s a record that’s been too long coming, but I’m delighted (and not the least bit surprised) that Seanan is the one who set it. She won one of her four categories, for the Squeecast, and I’m sure she’ll do horrible, world-destroying things with her cool new rocket statue.

Also pleasing to me, believe it or not, is the fact that so many of our most famous authors–some of whom are good friends–did not win. John Scalzi’s short story, “Shadow War of the Night Dragons, etc. etc. etc.” was hilarious, and John is great, but the fact that he, as inarguably the most famous nominee, did not win, is a testament to the integrity of the awards. The single most common complaint about the Hugos (and, to be fair, about almost every award ever) is that people just vote for their friends, or for the name they recognize, but this year the voters proved that they actually read the nominated works, weigh their decisions, and vote for the one they like the best. In a similar way, I was pleased by the way that super-famous names did not rest on their laurels and rely on their fame to carry them even when they could have. Everyone knew Neil Gaiman’s Doctor Who episode would win, because the mere combination of Neil Gaiman and Doctor Who is like a black hole of awesome from which no vote can escape. To put it bluntly, that episode won the Hugo the day it was announced, before anyone had even seen it, essentially regardless of its actual quality, and Gaiman and Moffat could have phoned the whole thing in and still walked away with a trophy. But to their enormous credit they took it seriously, and produced a genuinely excellent piece of art, and while I think this is awesome it is not surprising: the only way Gaiman and Moffat have built the kind of reputation that can win awards through name recognition alone is by consistently turning out excellent work, day after day after day. Their win was an obvious gimme, but it was still deserved.

So yes, I think the awards are great this year. No, my picks didn’t win in every category, and no, I personally didn’t win either. Again. But I’ve been nominated for two Hugo awards in two years, and the little Danny Wells who used to live in the library and read every SF book he could get his hands on still can’t quite believe that. From the time I was a kid the Hugo has been a sign of quality to me, a clear marker that This Book Is Worth Your Time. It was also, not to put too fine a point on it, a clear sign that It’s Okay To Be A Fan. Just like everybody else I saw myself in that little girl from AMONG OTHERS, reading voraciously not just because the books were great, but because they were mine. Because reading them made me a part of something bigger. Now that I’m older (but not really “grown up”) I’m still a part of that, and I pinch myself every day because it feels too good to be true. Thank you to everyone who writes these stories and creates this art, and thank you to everyone who celebrates and promotes it through their votes, their blogs, their Recommended Reading shelves, and their tireless efforts.

It’s not just Okay to be a fan, it’s Awesome.

5 Responses to “The 2012 Hugo Awards: It’s Okay To Be A Fan”

  1. Jon Krupp says:

    You guys were ROBBED!
    Next year I guess I’m going to have to start killing off, I mean BUYING off those other voters.

  2. Moshe Fedet says:

    Even if I weren’t your Tor editor, I would strongly second what you’ve said about the importance of nominating — it’s a disgrace that Pat Rothfuss didn’t make the Best Novel ballot this year! — and the value of using the No Award option. I feel so strongly about the latter that some years ago I organized an ad hoc group to pay for a Worldcon progress report ad promoting No Award’s ‘candidacy.’ I regularly vote for No Award in some position in every fiction category. (It was a relief this year that it didn’t have to be first place in any category, which has happened in the past.)

    The basic thing to keep in mind is that the award should have an absolute standard of excellence — a standard each of us defines subjectively him- or herself — and not just go to a winner that is relatively good when compared to the other nominees. When you get below that point of excellence in ranking your preferences, it’s time to vote for No Award.

  3. Rob Wells says:

    For what it’s worth, I wasn’t a fan of Ready Player One. It seemed (in my opinion) to be a long string of pop culture references tied together with a very sloppy plot. But, I totally admit I’m in the minority.

  4. admin says:

    I actually haven’t read it. My point is that it was the best selling SF book of the year, and may have missed a nomination because it’s fans assumed everyone else would nominate it, so no one did.

  5. Josh says:

    Thanks for this write-up; I think you summarized everything I’ve been mulling about on since watching (most of) the Hugos last night.

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