Sunday morning award rant

So, most of you won’t know — or care — that the World Science Fiction Society, which administers the Hugo Awards, decided at the business meetings in Seattle and KC (which all WorldCon members may attend, and may also vote on proposals) that they’d give a Hugo for Best Series (written) a whirl and see what happens.

For those who haven’t already run away screaming, here’s the nut of the definition, from the WFCS:

An eligible work for this special award is a multi-volume science fiction or fantasy story, unified by elements such as plot, characters, setting, and presentation, which has appeared in at least three volumes consisting of a total of at least 240,000 words by the close of the calendar year 2016, at least one volume of which was published in 2016.

There’s never been a Hugo for Best Series, which might strike some as odd, seeing as series is, and has always been, the backbone of science fiction and fantasy literature.  The thought, for many years, was that A Good Book Will Out, no matter if it was part of a series, or a standalone, and, indeed, many books which were parts of series have won the Novel Hugo (The most puzzling being the “second” book in the “Cyteen Trilogy” — which really wasn’t a trilogy, but a single novel broken into three when it was published in mass market.  But I digress.*).  In any case, the system kinda sorta worked most of the time, for most of the works involved.

Sort of like Ankh-Morpork under the Patrician’s rule, really.

However, the idea of a Series Hugo had been kicked around for a number of years, and the Collected Wisdom of the Business Meetings decided to go for it, despite the very real difficulties in administering — or even voting on — such an award.

What difficulties, you may ask?

Well, the sheer volume of works written in series is one difficulty (remembering that series are the backbone of sf/f, despite the sudden numbers of people who are now shocked, shocked! to learn that there have ever been any series books published in SF/F before, oh, last week).  For instance, here’s a list of the series which are eligible for award consideration for the 2016 Hugos.

Scary, right?  The amount of reading facing a conscientious voter is just. . .horrifying.  Nobody can read that much, even if you (as said conscientious voter) decide to “only” read the qualifying novel for each series, and allow it to be representative of the whole.

The series definition as given by the Society strongly favors trilogies.  Longer series, such as the Discworld, or, oh, the Liaden Universe® — while employing repeating characters and a consistent setting, and which, in simple numbers, far exceed a paltry 240,000 words — do not tell a single story, but many, many stories.  (To put that 240,000 words into perspective, Steve and I have published over 300,000 words of short stories just in the Liaden Universe®.)

This suggests a way to thin the herd, and make it (a little) easier for conscientious voters to actually read the field — rename the Series Hugo the Trilogy Hugo, and keep all else the same.

Of course, that puts the rest of us — and according to the File 770 list, there are many of us — kind of back out into the Outer Darkness; and I can hear the screams and the gnashing of teeth from here.

Let me say here that I applaud the effort to acknowledge the form that has been (she repeats tiresomely) the backbone of our field.  And I appreciate the work and thought that the drafting committee obviously put into the project.

But I think that, in the search for a nice, simple, compact award, much nuance has been lost, and real world complexity ignored.

How do we produce an award for long works that’s more reflective of the actual world of publishing?  Heck if I know.

One thing that I do think would help the Hugo Awards overall is One and Out.  This would allow room for more works to be considered, rather than allowing entropy to rule, as it has in the past.  I believe that there is a difficulty when the same publication can reliably win a Hugo Award for 30 years.  And there is strong evidence that the winners cannot be counted upon to recuse themselves.

This would, of course, take some of the fun out of the collection and display of multiple Hugo Nominee pins, but I’m sure another game will arise that will be just as much fun for the participants.

So. . .a rant without a solution for your Sunday morning.

Time for me to go to work.


*Faulty memory department.  Thanks to Melita66 for straightening me out.

11 thoughts on “Sunday morning award rant”

  1. the most obvious solution to me would be to ignore the HUGOs altogether. After the most recent years’ controversies, I have completely lost faith in that process and I don’t buy books on the basis of their awards anyway. The whole thing is mind crushingly complicated…to what end?
    I DO, however, object strongly that your own works are not qualified to be considered.
    My Da’s “Dog philosophy” may apply here,
    “If you can’t eat it, chase it, or f#@k it, then Pi$$ on it”

  2. “There’s never been a Hugo for Best Series”

    Yes, but …. the 1966 Worldcon gave out, in a one shot category – a Hugo for:

    “Best All-Time Series

    Foundation series by Isaac Asimov [winner]
    Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs
    Future History series by Robert A. Heinlein
    Lensmen series by Edward E. Smith
    The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien”

    And one will note that there’s a very non-SF series on the list.
    Worldcon folks decided long ago trying to separate SF and Fantasy was a pointless idea.

  3. Under the current rule our books qualify for consideration. Among a field of thousands, but — qualified. It’s the field of thousands part that makes the whole thing problematic, IMNSHO.

  4. Perhaps you could “officially” split your books into multiple series? Many others have done it. I’m thinking of Dragonlance at the moment, which is one huge pile of related books but split into trilogies and duologies.

    I think you have three with Val Con and Miri. There’s two Jethri books. The two Crystal books. The two Theo focused books, and maybe the Ghost Ship books after that? Or those are perhaps a new series. Etc.

  5. Well…Audible originally split our books split into story-arcs, more or less, which was done in the service of preserving the throats of narrators. Their “series” are
    The Space Regencies (Local Custom, Scout’s Progress, Mouse and Dragon);
    Agent of Change (Conflict of Honors, Agent of Change, Carpe Diem, Plan B, I Dare);
    Theo Waitley (Fledgling, Saltation, Ghost Ship, Dragon Ship)
    The Books of Before (Crystal Soldier, Crystal Dragon, Balance of Trade, Trade Secret)
    . . .where they start getting into trouble is in the so-called Arc of the Covenant series, where threads from all previous books are being woven together. So, y’know, you get Dragon in Exile, which is, in terms of straight-line narration, Agent of Change #8, and Alliance of Equals, which would be Agent of Change #9. Or The Gathering Edge, which is simultaneously Theo Waitley #5, Arc of the Covenant #3, AND Agent of Change #10.

    No clean-and-easy, really. Which is why we so often try to explain what we’re doing to people by saying, “It’s a universe. Lots of stories happening to a particular but revolving cast of characters inside of a consistent scifi environment.”

    Sometimes, people even Get It.

  6. SF/F is so diverse and peculiar (in a good way) that no possible way of setting up an award system is likely to cover every type of things we write. There’s the trilogy, yes, but there are a fair number of tetralogies and pentalogies, and works that, like some of yours, are related-in-the-same-universe-but-not-the-same-timeline (or plotline, exactly…) And the effort of reading all the entries has been increasingly difficult to impossible. When I was in high school, I could have (if I’d had the money, and skimped on homework) read everything–long, short, in between–that came out every year. By the time I’d finished college, the amount of material had already bulged past possible for any but a full-time reader. And now…ye gods.

    As a series writer, I’ve long thought a series Hugo would be a good idea, but then–how to define it? And yet without one, *all* the books that are written in related groups, etc., are at risk of being overlooked because they aren’t true standalones. (I would love to vote for both your books and Cherryh’s Foreigner series–very different but both marvelously detailed and intelligent explorations of “first-contact” and “extended contact” situations.)

    Maybe what we really need (or think we need, or I think we need) is awards for NOS (not otherwise specified) that can list 5-10 works that are notable while evading easy labeling. (Our kid had an NOS tacked to his diagnosis for several years.)

  7. Steve and I were talking the other night about our experience as readers, and as readers of SF/F, growing up. Back then, if you were anything like a devoted reader, and even if you preferred SF/F, you had to read other genres; there just wasn’t enough SF to keep you going. Not only that, but you could be knowledgeable about several genres.

    Nowadays, people can — and some apparently do — live and read only in one genre, be it Romance, or Mystery, or SF — and there are Whole Countries of SF/F that are completely off my radar. I can’t read the field anymore, much less pretend any kind of expert understanding.

  8. I adore the Liaden Universe, and think it well worthy of such an award. It’s certainly going to be on my nomination list. But I can add some additional details.
    The folks working on the series Hugo have been doing so for several years. The proposal in its current state was ratified by the WSFS Business Meeting in Kansas City. It will be voted on again in Helsinki at Worldcon 75. As is the right of Worldcon 75, they are awarding a special Hugo, using the rules specified, for SF/F series. Almost certainly, the vote on the series Hugo will be delayed until the Business Meeting after the Hugos, when the results (and the long list) are published and people have a better idea of the data.
    The framers of the series Hugo weren’t aiming at just Trilogies–they wanted to be sure to include them, but also wanted to include things like 1632, which has far fewer entry points then the Liaden Universe. And Wild Cards. As you’ve so aptly pointed out, the series is the backbone of the field . . .

  9. The bias toward trilogies (as I see it) is very likely an instance of the workings of the Department of Unintended Consequences. Three books is much easier to consume (and keep track of) than is something like 1632, which covers the landscape. People who are trying to be conscientious, given a choice between reading three books from Author A whom they’ve never heard of, and reading, oh, nineteen, from Author B whom they’ve never heard of, will naturally (again, IMHO) choose to read three books.

    Also. . .I just figured out that the Archers Beach Carousel series is eligible for consideration for 2016, by reason of the two short stories published in that universe earlier in the year.

    So it seems. . .kind of complicated.

  10. List of eligible series…

    It appears to be a very partial list. The commenters on the list are adding more.

    The National Fantasy Fan Federation Awards …first issued in 1949 as the Laureate Awards, and given on occasion since…gave a best series award for 2015. Your mileage will surely vary. We also gave other awards:

    Best Paper Series Novel: Schooled in Magic—Chris Nuttall

    Other awards included (not a complete list):
    Best Editor: Toni Weisskopf (Baen)
    Best TV Show: Supergirl

  11. I had no idea that N3F gave awards. Good to know.

    Yeah, I should go over and add the Archers Beach Carousel series to the list, seeing as there were two new stories published in series this year.

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