The Hugo nominations have led to conflict. Wheel of Time fans want to support Robert Jordan. Others are angry, feeling their space has been invaded. Recently I saw tweets with links to articles debating whether awards were worthwhile, which seems to be an annual debate.
Until the awards in question have as few works shortlisted and as many categories cancelled as the Chronos Awards in 2014, debating the worth of continuing awards is premature. (Only 1 work was shortlisted for each of 4 out of 9 categories. 3 of 9 categories were cancelled due to insufficient nominations. Eligible works not shortlisted for a Chronos Award this year include Lexicon by Max Barry, the Aurealis Award (national judged award) best Australian science fiction novel and Goodreads’ fourth best science fiction novel of the year, and Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff, shortlisted for a Gemmell Award.)
Awards can be recognition and a ‘thank you’ from fandom. Awards can open up career opportunities for winners. Last year I won an award that helped me get disability access (including large print photocopies for classroom exercises) so I can continue my studies at university, for which I thank each and every person who nominated and voted for me. Awards can be incredibly valuable.
The worth of awards is one thing.
Community in fandom is another topic altogether.
Brandon Sanderson is very classy in his post about the furore over Wheel of Time being shortlisted for the Hugo Awards this year. Brandon urges WoT fans to consider all nominees before casting their vote. Brandon goes on to remind SF fandom that they’ve sought new blood for years. New blood is now tentatively stepping into the fold in the form of WoT fandom. The SF community should welcome them not lambaste them for voting with their hearts.
“But Brandon,” you might say, “everyone says the Hugo Awards are a popularity contest. Shouldn’t we prove how popular Robert Jordan is?”
Well, yes and no. The Hugo Awards are a popularity contest—but they should be a fiction popularity contest, not an author popularity contest.
…[it is] unfortunate that some of you, including prominent voices in fandom, are responding with anger or frustration about the Wheel of Time nomination.
This is the problem with fandom awards. Awards can be divisive because they tend to be popularity contests – shoving matches – between fandoms and rivals rather than a democratic election based on the merit of a work.
Worse still is when people game the system.
A few weeks back I told a fellow student at RMIT how the Chronos Awards work. His FIRST RESPONSE was ‘Great. I’ll get myself nominated next year. I’ll probably even win [the fan art & fan artist awards that received insufficient nominations for any works to be shortlisted this year]‘.
Too much gaming the system.
Not enough honouring the awards with the intent of celebrating excellence.
As Brandon said, ‘It is only by holding ourselves accountable as honest and responsible voters that we will maintain the prestige of this award.’
Don’t cancel the awards. The awards may open doors – like disability access or publishing opportunities – for hard-working skilled people. Instead, make the awards a genuine celebration of excellence.
Don’t make the awards shoving matches between rival fan groups. Welcome the new fans into the fold. Help them see your vision. Learn from them. SF fandom can be enriched with fresh perspectives. SF fandom can be rejuvenated by the new blood. SF fandom can be expanded by the next generation creating, generating new content.
And so the wheel turns.