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Proposed changes to Hugo Awards

Quite a lot of people just directed my attention to The Sasquan business meeting agenda, which will be discussing some proposed changes to the Hugo Awards. As a short fiction writer and a novel reader, I'm an interested party, sorta, I guess, but budget limitations mean that I won't be making it to Sasquan this year. So here are some initial, not necessarily well thought out thoughts.

The biggest item on the agenda is probably the E. Pluribus Hugo. I assume this proposal will get a number of reactions - complete incomprehension; a reasonable attempt to prevent future slate nominations/vote rigging (that is, groups of people all agreeing to nominate the identical lists of works, or, what happened with this year's Hugos); as an overcomplicated and doomed attempt to prevent future slate nominations; as evidence that wow, blocking slate nominations is really, really complex; as an argument that if you really need to go through this much trouble to block slate nominations maybe it's not worth it; as further evidence that the Hugo Awards are broken; or as the world's first effective cure for insomnia. I'll let others hash out these arguments.

I'm more interested in the proposal to eliminate the novelette category and add a Saga award instead.

The impetus for this appears to have been the Hugo nomination for the Wheel of Time books as a single novel, rather than a lot of books, and the thought that single novels within a series or saga can be difficult to judge as individual artworks. This has come up a lot, for instance, in discussions of the Jim Butcher novel nominated this year, which is the latest book in a very long series, but also with the Wheel of Time, with a number of voters arguing that the entire series couldn't possibly be worthy since no individual novel in the series was nominated, and Wheel of Time voters arguing that the work had to be judged as a whole unit, not by individual works.

I'm sympathetic to a lot of these arguments, while still thinking that Crossroads of Twilight, one of the many books in the Wheel of Time series, was a pretty bad book, and that while I thought Wheel of Time fans banding together to get their series on the ballot was awesome and exactly what the Hugos should be about, I couldn't exactly get excited about voting for a series that includes that particular book. But moving on. But it does raise a question or two for me:

How do you distinguish between series and saga?

When can you be sure that a series or saga is genuinely, completely over?

I'm thinking specifically of Jim Butcher's books, which I've usually heard categorized as a series of standalone novels, and which, in my one experience with listening to the audiobook of a later work in the series, do work as standalones. But I think The Dresden Files can also be considered as a saga, centered on a hero's journey, and as a series that will only end when Butcher decides to call it quits, and possibly not even then.

Even sagas with seemingly clear, obvious "endings" sometimes turn out to be not quite as "ended" as readers or even the author thought. The Belgariad springs to mind here: it made enough money that everyone involved in making it decided that it wasn't actually over even if it seemed really really over. Unless I'm really reading A Song of Ice and Fire wrong - and I may well be - I think a similar thing will happen there: some final seemingly ultimate battle/confrontation - with Westeros itself continuing, ready for another saga or at least a highly profitable HBO series.

Moving onto the "KILL THE NOVELETTE CATEGORY ALREADY!" question, well, I'm a short fiction writer, so I'm an interested party here.

First, I'll note that there's some precedence for this, with the World Fantasy Award which does not offer a separate category for novelettes. Second, I am deeply sympathetic with the complaints of voters who do not want to check the word count for the short fiction they've read, and that the dividing line between novelette and short story has issues because of where it lands (at 7500 words) and that really, novelettes are just long short stories and should be treated like that. Not to mention the complaints that the Hugo ballot is waaaaayyyyyyyy too long as it is. I've made that last complaint myself. My understanding is that the novelette category has historically gotten fewer nominations than other categories, so even as a short fiction writer, I fully get the keeeeellll it! keeellllllll it dead! feeling here.


The first problem is the number of eligible short fiction works versus the number of eligible works in most of the other categories. Novels possibly come close, and, with blog posts eligible for the catch-all category of Best Related Work (which this year includes a nominee that isn't even particularly "related"), that category does as well. Novellas are currently experiencing a resurrection, so those numbers might creep up.

Otherwise - the number of eligible podcasts is in the double digits. The number of semi-prozines and fanzines is also in the double digits; the same names keep popping up in those categories for a reason. The number of eligible graphic novels probably in the triple digits. Films are in the double, maybe triple digits. Television episodes, including cartoons, might pop up to a little over 1000.

The number of eligible short stories, in that category alone, is conservatively around 6000. Expanding that category to include works up to 10,000 words will just expand that number.

Again, I'm very sympathetic to "THIS BALLOT IS TOO LONG" arguments. But if we're going there, I can think of some other categories that could be eliminated. Best Graphic Story, for example, historically doesn't seem to have gotten as many nominations or votes as other categories, and the artform itself is pretty well covered by the Eisner Awards, and the argument I just made regarding series/saga also tends to apply to webcomics. The Best Editor categories were apparently meant to replace Best Publication, which, fair enough, but from a reader perspective, it's not necessarily all that easy to tell who edited what novel, making this a tricky category.

But wait, I hear you saying. Weren't you the person who went on Twitter to suggest various Best Editor nominations?

Yep, I did, because I'd been complaining that the nominations for the Best Editor, Short Fiction category hadn't varied much in years, and various people suggested that I try to do something to change that, so I did, and LOOK WHERE WE ARE NOW I'm genuinely sorry everyone.

So, those are the first, not really caffeinated enough, very biased thoughts.



( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 21st, 2015 04:29 pm (UTC)
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Jun. 21st, 2015 05:47 pm (UTC)
I actually quite like E Pluribus Hugo, and while the technical explanation of how it works is complicated, I think the non-technical version of "nominate as many things as you want, and then we'll run them all through a system like the one that gets used for voting until we have five left" isn't too bad (presuming, of course, that one is already familiar with the voting system).

Saga: my question is less "how do you distinguish between series and saga" and more, "where do we want to draw the line?" I can think of lots of criteria we might use to judge whether an array of books constitute a set or not, with the main difference between them being how many arrays-of-books are thus made eligible. And I'd be fine with a broad definition: the narrower it gets, the more it starts looking like Best Series of a Very Specific Type We Accord a Lot of Prestige to Because of Genre Politics. Just call it Best Series, and say it has to consist of at least three books which focus on the same central character or group of central characters throughout, and be marketed by the publisher as an identifiable series. Deal with "is it done yet?" by saying you can nominate a series for any year during which a qualifying volume has been published, but it can only make the ballot once: if the series keeps going and gets more awesome/popular later, too bad, that's fans' fault for jumping the gun. :-P

Novelette: I agree we should keep it. Yes, the word count thing is a pain, but some magazines identify the works they publish according to those categories; if other magazines want to do the same, they can. It'll raise the profile of the novelettes they publish and make it more likely somebody will remember to nom those in the correct category. As for the length of the ballot . . . eh, whatever. Maybe it's just that I haven't been doing the Hugo thing for many years, but it doesn't bother me.

Edited to add: I didn't realize that "Best Saga" had moved from online vaporware to a specific proposal with specific wording. I'll say that their definition is a little broader than mine (which is fine) -- it doesn't require a focus on central characters -- and I can see some merit to not ruling out repeated noms, though I think in practice that threatens to make the category really boring. What I do not like, however, is bundling the "let's get rid of novelettes!" into the same proposal. Screw that noise.

Edited at 2015-06-21 05:54 pm (UTC)
Jun. 21st, 2015 09:15 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I only responded to this after seeing specific proposals, apparently put forward now so people can parse them before showing up to the business meeting.

The E Pluribus Hugo made my eyes glaze over, but people seem to be enthusiastic, so, vote away, business meeting!

Regarding the length of the ballot - I only filled up maybe half of the nomination slots, possibly less. And I was still grumbling about how long it took. So my guess is that this Saga recommendation was bundled in with the novelette recommendation in order to avoid the "Oh, no, not ANOTHER category that we have to fill out," response. That's exactly how I will respond if a Saga category gets added but another category isn't removed.

Jun. 22nd, 2015 08:16 pm (UTC)
I think it's fine not to fill out every category. Next year when I nominate for the first time, I'll skip the entire Fancast section, because I don't listen to fancasts. I'll probably skip Fan Artist for the same reason: not well enough educated in the area to render an opinion. If I don't remember very many good novellas, I'll only nominate a couple. I don't feel obliged to do the whole thing.
Jun. 22nd, 2015 04:40 am (UTC)
In fact the Dresden Files had from the beginning a defined length and structure - twenty books followed by a concluding trilogy. As of this year's eastercon Jim was still saying he was pretty much on track within the original plan at book 15.

It's the overall structure of the series that makes it much better than the sum of its parts.
Jun. 22nd, 2015 05:12 am (UTC)
I didn't know that. But even if he told his publishers this upfront, I'm going to guess that some room for flexibility was left in there - maybe dividing one book into two or something like that.
Jun. 22nd, 2015 07:00 am (UTC)
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