Friday, July 13, 2012

The Hugo Awards - Questions & Answers

Prior to attending my first Worldcon in 2010 I didn’t really know that much about the Hugos. I think at the time my experience of the Hugos was a recommendation I would sometimes see on SFF books (ie: Hugo award winner of insert year here!), I knew it was an award that they gave out at Worldcon, and that George R.R Martin really wanted one.

It wasn’t until the 2010 Worldcon that I really found out much more about them. I didn’t nominate or vote in 2010, I didn’t even realise I could. I did attend the ceremony, and I think that’s when I found out more about the award and fandom in general.

I’ve become quite interested in the award since, and I participate by nominating and voting. We’re coming up to Worldcon 2012 (Chicon in Chicago) and I’ve seen some talk about the Hugos, and some questions about the awards themselves. So I thought I’d do a post talking about them. This post is mostly going to cover the award for best novel. Hugos are awarded for best novel, novella, novelette, short story, etc… The best novel award is considered by many to be THE award and it’s awarded last on the night. The John W. Campbell for best new author is also awarded at the Hugos and is nominated and voted on by the Hugo voters, but it’s not actually a Hugo (Jay Lake went into this last year at the awards, claiming that his Campbell even has a sticker on it proclaiming: NOT a Hugo!).

Some of the questions I’ve seen are how do you nominate and vote? Who nominates and votes? Why is there a cost involved? What exactly is the cost?

They can all be answered at once really. To nominate works for consideration for the Hugos you need to be a paid up attending member or supporting member of Worldcon. Attending membership (this gives you the right to nominate and vote for the Hugos, it also gets you admission to the convention itself and gives you access to all the panels and events, including the Hugo award ceremony) is roughly $215 US. The price actually alters. The earlier you sign up the less it costs, the later, the more. Supporting membership is $50 US. So why do you have to pay $50 just to vote for an award? You don’t just get the right to vote, all members (whether attending or supporting) receive an electronic voter packet, and this contains ALL of the nominated works: novels, novellas, novelettes, etc… That’s a lot of reading material for a fairly reasonable cost. There’s usually a reaction adverse or otherwise to nominations and winners. The more people nominate and vote, the more likely a favourable outcome will be had. I think it’s a product of any award, whether it’s something that is voted for by fans like the Hugo or a jury voted award like the Nebula.

I’m going to speak a little bit about the works nominated for Best Novel, and how I think they’ll fare, rather than my own reactions to them. That’s something I’ll cover after they’ve been awarded.

The 5 works nominated for Best Novel in 2012 in no particular order are: A Dance with Dragons by George R.R Martin, Embassytown by China Mieville, Leviathan Wakes by James S.A Corey, Deadline by Mira Grant and Among Others by Jo Walton.

A Dance with Dragons is the long awaited 5th book in George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Given the author’s profile and the popularity of the series, this one was always going to make the ballot. Two previous books in the series (A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows) have been nominated, and the loss of A Storm of Swords in 2001 to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is something that the author and many of his supporters are actually rather bitter about. George Martin has won Hugos before, but not for Best Novel, and he’s made no secret of his desire to get at least one.

Embassytown is China Mieville’s science fiction book. Mieville’s a popular author when it comes to handing out awards. Four of his earlier books (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, Iron Council and The City and the City) have been nominated with The City and the City tieing with Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl for the Best Novel in 2010. He’s popular with voters and critics alike.      

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A Corey is old fashioned space opera with a large dose of noir. James S.A Corey is a pseudonym and ‘he’ is actually two people: prolific author (The Long Price quartet, The Dagger and the Coin ongoing series and a handful of urban fantasy novels under the pseudonym M.L.N Hanover) Daniel Abraham and newcomer Ty Franck (previously known as George R.R Martin’s assistant). It’s Franck’s first novel and while Abraham has released a number of books this is his first Hugo nomination.

Deadline is the second book in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh  trilogy. Mira Grant is the pseudonym of urban fantasy author Seanan McGuire. McGuire won the Campbell in 2010 for her Toby Daye series, becoming the first urban fantasy author to do so, and to many people’s surprise the first book in the Newsflesh trilogy; Feed, was nominated for the 2011 Best Novel, narrowly missing out to the controversial winner; Connie Willis’ Blackout/All Clear. Seanan McGuire has been nominated in 4 categories in 2012 (Best Novel and Novella as Mira Grant, Best Related Work for her album Wicked Girls, the woman is multi talented and I don’t think she ever sleeps, and Best Fancast for the Squeecast along with her partners in crime on that).

Among Others by Jo Walton is probably 2012’s surprise nomination, although it did win the Nebula, and Walton is a popular author at the convention. Her 2004 novel Tooth and Claw also won the World Fantasy Award, but she’s never previously been nominated for a Best Novel award in the Hugos.

Now how do I think they’ll place? Note: this is just my opinion and it’s not how I’m voting, I’ll get to that after.

I can’t separate A Dance with Dragons and Embassytown for first place, it’s possible there will be another tie like in 2010. If that happened I think Mieville would have achieved a record (first author to have tied twice for the Best Novel award). Why do I think either or both of these books will win? There’s a few reasons. Both authors are regular nominees and they both have large fanbases that tend to vote (around 5,000 people attend Worldcon, and only about 1,000 vote, so having fans that do vote is important), in Mieville’s case he’s a past winner and that also tends to help. Martin’s a little different, I don’t think A Dance with Dragons is the best book he’s written, and I don’t think it’s the best book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, but the author has a large and fiercely loyal fanbase which has increased since A Feast for Crows and the HBO series based on his books, like Mieville’s fans, they’re largely rusted on and will vote for his work, whether or not it’s the best book nominated. He’s also a bit of a sentimental favourite in that there is a large amount of popular opinion that he was ‘robbed’ in 2001. Whether or not Martin’s supporters wish to admit this, it could be some time before the 6th book (The Winds of Winter) of A Song of Ice and Fire is released, if ever, so this could be the last chance to give George R.R Martin the Hugo for Best Novel award that he so craves. While I personally don’t think it’s the best book I don’t begrudge the author the honour. The Locus awards (another popularity vote) are also a good guide. A Dance with Dragons won Best Fantasy and Embassytown won Best SF.

I think Leviathan Wakes will get the next spot. It’s a fun read, the Martin association (Abraham is a close friend and Franck is his assistant) has helped the popularity of the book and I think a lot of Martin supporters will give it their attention. A few things hold it back: it’s written under a pseudonym, and it’s not as open as the Mira Grant pseudonym that McGuire uses, it’s not one person, it’s two, and neither of them have been nominated before. Hugo voters tend to be conservative and they tend to vote for people who have either been nominated before or won other popular awards.    

Then we have Deadline. Both the nomination of Deadline and Feed seem to have been met with surprise by a lot of those that comment on the Hugos. I do understand this. A lot of the commenters don’t read work like Deadline, but a lot of fans do. It’s a zombie book, zombies are very popular right now. I describe the Newsflesh trilogy as the zombie trilogy for people that don’t generally read zombie fiction. Seanan McGuire’s fanbase is also underestimated. It’s large, enthusiastic and growing. Last year at Worldcon Seanan McGuire managed to draw more people to one of her signings than George Martin did to one of his, that’s big, even taking into consideration that Martin did more signings over the convention.

Sadly I think Among Others will come in last. That’s not a reflection on the book. It’s a damn good book, it won the Nebula. Jo Walton, while popular and respected among authors and well read fans, does not have the built in fanbases of authors like Martin, Mieville and McGuire (Grant), nor could she call on someone else’s fans because of an association in the way that Abraham and Franck (Corey) could. I think Among Others did really well to get nominated, and I know I’ll be barracking for it.

How am I going to vote?

I’ll do this from 5 to 1:

5) Embassytown. I couldn’t actually finish it. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood, I’m not sure. It was my first experience of Mieville, and I have heard that there are people who don’t ‘get’ him, maybe I’m one of them. It just didn’t connect with me.

4) A Dance with Dragons. What? But you’re a fan! You’ve sung his praises, and that of this book on more than one occasion. Yes, I have, and I still think it’s a good book and worthy of nomination (mind you I didn’t nominate it. I think only one of my nominations made the short list), but there’s something lacking when I stack it up against the others.

3) Leviathan Wakes. I’m really not an SF person, and maybe this is because I don’t read much space opera, but I really enjoyed Leviathan Wakes, there was a sense of fun about it that often seems absent from works nominated for literary awards.

2) Deadline. My one nominated work that made the shortlist. I didn’t like it as much as Feed, which I rated as one of my top reads of 2010, but it was still an excellent read and carried on with the story begun in Feed. I’d like to see Seanan win, and one day I think she will, but I have to go with what I genuinely think and not just vote for someone because I like the author.

1)    Among Others. This one really surprised me. I didn’t think I was going to like it. I thought it was the novel that got a nomination because it’s literary cred. I guess there is an element of that about it, but it’s just so accessible. Embassytown failed to connect with me on any level, and Among Others pressed nearly all my buttons as a fan.

I’m not attending this year, but I will be voting and I will be keeping an eye on proceedings whether that’s through a web feed or just reading about it afterwards.


  1. A couple of factual things. First, the Nebula isn't a jury award. It's voted on by all SFWA members. It used to have a jury that put an extra work on the ballot, but as that extra work never ever won they sensibly abolished the jury a few years ago. The World Fantasy Award would be a better example, as that really is a jury award.

    Second, Daniel Abraham was nominated for a Hugo in the novelette category in 2008. And Martin has of course won in various short fiction categories. This really does count.

    I'm glad you liked my book. I don't know and won't until the totals are released afterwards how unlikely it was as a nomination, but I was certainly surprised and delighted.

  2. Among Others didn't resonate with me, but I think it and Dance with Dragons have the best chance of winning.

    Sorry Embassytown didn't work out for you, i feel it's one of Mieville's best works, but it is a terrible place to start with him.

  3. Jo, thank you so much for replying and clearing up a few points that I had either neglected to mention or got wrong. I really did love Among Others and it's my favourite read of the year thus far.

  4. Red, thanks for commenting. I kind of got the impression it wasn't the best Mieville to begin with. I think Dance has a huge chance, although my personal stand out was Among Others.