Back to: Sitrep | Forward to: Flame bait

2009 Hugo nominations

It's that time of year again: members of the world science fiction association (basically folks who registered as members of last year's worldcon and this coming worldcon) can now nominate works for the 2010 hugo awards. The top five entries in each category go on a final ballot, voted on by members of Aussiecon 4. (If you want the details, you can find the Hugo rules here.)

If you're eligible to nominate for the Hugos? Please do so. We need breadth; in some of the minor categories only a few dozen nominations can put a work on the shortlist. If the Hugos don't receive a lot of nominations, they're prone to capture by a few favourites with a narrow clique of supporters. (Ahem.) If you're male? Please try to find the time to read and consider nominating works by women, people of colour, non-anglophone authors, and other groups you may be unconsciously avoiding. Seriously. There's good stuff in our field being written by people who aren't white anglophone males, and they don't get the visibility and recognition they deserve in the Hugo awards. This is a shame and reflects badly on the collective taste of convention-going SF fandom. It's up to us to fix it.

(And now for a shameless informational bulletin self-promotion hidden below the fold ...)

Having said all that, if you want to know what I've written that is eligible for the 2010 Hugo awards, here's the grisly story:

I had a quiet year in 2009, publishing one novel (The Revolution Business) and a short story collection (Wireless). "Wireless" isn't eligible for a best novel award (not being a novel) and there's no way in hell that "The Revolution Business" will find its way onto any of the shortlists (being #5 in the Merchant Princes series).

However, I did publish three eligible works in 2009. They are: Overtime (a novelette, on Tor.com, December 24th 2009), "Palimpsest" (novella, collected in Wireless[*]), and ... this blog.

Blogs are, it appears, eligible for Hugo nominations, depending on a few rules. Normally they'd go in the "best fanzine" category, but there is another category this one's eligible for: "best semiprozine". The semiprozine is an odd category, existing to sweep up those low-circulation outfits that are nevertheless too big to be a fanzine; the threshold for paper publications is over 1000 copies per print run. By long-standing tradition — at least, since 1998 — the shortlist consists of (a) "Locus", (b) "Ansible", (c) "The New York Review of Science Fiction", (d) "Interzone" and (e) something else. ("Locus" always wins, unless it's "Ansible's" turn.)

Anyway: as "Charlie's Diary" largely concerns SF and science fictional preoccupations, gets roughly 11,000 unique visitors per day (or somewhere north of 1.5 million HTTP requests a month — we get slashdotted monthly), and comprises a good chunk of my wife's occupation (for which she is paid), I'm declaring it to be a semiprozine.

[*] Final note: "Palimpsest" isn't available online. However, if you are a nominator, contact me via email with your membership number (remembering to say whether you are a member of Aussiecon 4 or AnticipationSF) and I'll see what I can do.

68 Comments

1:

I really wish I had a way to know even what books I read in '09 were eligible. (And I also wish the web page would let me nominate as items occur to me, rather than having to do it all at once.)

For your footnote, didn't you mean "if you are a nominator"?

2:

Sean: thanks, fixed.

It's fairly easy to tell if a given book is eligible; if it was first published in English in 2009, it's eligible. (See the earliest copyright date in the front matter. If it says 2008? Not eligible.)

I believe you can update your nominations subsequently? (Not sure, though -- haven't done this myself.)

3:

That would require me to be able to find the books I read 8-).

Looks like Locus hasn't updated the online forthcoming books, so I can cobble May - December possibilities that way. Also, I may as well take the time to ask about updating the nominations.

4:

Okay, I heard back from them: only the last ballot you submit is used, so you'd have to keep track of any changes yourself, and include them each time.

5:

I've been keeping track of books I read on GoodReads, and was pleased to discover an unexpected benefit (after reading your post): I can sort books by publication date. Let's see: there are nine books published in 2009, eight of which are novels, and all of which are SFF. I'm slightly embarrassed to say that of those nine, six are by white males, three are by women, and one of the latter is by a person of color. The male:female ratio quite different if all books I read in the last third of 2009 (when I started the list) are included: 23 out of 37 were by women, and 5 of those were actually multi-novel omnibus editions. Overall diversity is still pretty low: only 2 of the 37, both female, are known to me to be by non-white authors. (The caveat is because it's easier to guess gender than ethnicity from first names.) The gender balance is fairly normal for me, a female reader of SFF, but even that low ethnic diversity was due to an effort to find new authors.

Now to ponder who and what I should nominate... thanks for the reminder.

6:

I'd put your autobiography as a "related work" in its own right, in addition to the blog as a whole qualifying as a semiprozine.

7:

I've only read two novels that were published in 2009, which surprises me because I'm usually reading books from much earlier. I thought the McDevitt was much worse than his usual and won't nominate that, but I liked Jo's Lifelode so I can nominate that. I've read plenty of shorter 2009 pieces.

8:

I don't really care what gender or race an author is. I was a fan of Andre Norton for years before I found out she was a she. I've read lots of fantastic SF by both genders, and I mostly have no idea what color their skin is. Which is why I find a call to nominate authors based on race, or what's between their legs, just wrong, wrong, wrong. The quality of their work is what counts. Gender and race are not barriers to quality.

9:

Dorian, it's logical that female SF writers for the most part would include more material in their work that appeals to female readers than male writers would, and male readers are a much greater majority of fandom. Judging "quality of work" is therefore highly subjective and can be influenced by gender of the reader.

Perhaps Charlie should have called for more nominations by female readers, instead of asking people to nominate more female writers.

10:

Palimpsest deserves nomination.

I'm not going to the con.

11:

Hugos for blogs, whoda thunkit? I have been meaning to comment, tho, on the quality of the discussions on this blog. I think that they are in general head and shoulders above the normal drivel you find in online discussions (and my 30 YO son had the last word on this: "Yes, they're mostly idiots, and they always win in the end"). I feel bad that I don't spend the time in reading/analyzing/participating that it deserves. So much content to process, so little time.

I also wanted to mention: I was in my local library branch Sunday (picked up the latest Ian M. Banks "Transition" -- most of my Banks is in paperback and I don't want to wait that long to read this).

I counted 14 titles by Charles Stross -- about 2 feet worth. Woo-hoo!

Keep it up, Charlie! 3 feet by 2012!

Chris

12:

Dorian@8: It wasn't a call to nominate people based on gender or ethnicity, it was a clearly a call to go out and read something outside "the norm" (going by the standards of past Hugo nominations).

Then, if you like it, consider nominating it, just like you would any other book you'd liked.

There is a world of difference.

13:

I guess I'm frankly astonished at your call for overt racism, sexism, and linguism in considering Hugo nominations. You're gratuitiously insulting your readership by presuming that they're somehow less 'enlightened' than yourself, while at the same time arrogantly and unashamedly patronizing the authors in question.

Here's a news flash for you - condescending to lecture your readers, insulting their open-mindedness and literary tastes for no apparent reason, and trying to inject race/gender/language/whatever into what's supposed to be a purely merit-based selection process, isn't the way to open people's minds and wallets to your oevure. Not to mention denigrating the notion that your fellow authors are perfectly capable of generating works which stand on their own merits, without consideration of their skin pigmentation or chromosonal makeup.

This is your weblog, of course; I must say, however, that you're revealing an especially unappealing and, quite frankly, ugly side of your personality by lecturing us groundlings from atop your self-appointed post high atop the intellectual and moral Olympus you seem to believe you inhabit.

Your arrogance and apparently limitless self-regard, coupled with your disdain for your readers and your fellow authors, is truly breathtaking.

14:

Roland@13: Really, dude? Really?

15:

Roland@13: Wow, did you read the same post I did, because I sure didn't see any of that.

1. There was no call for any discrimination in nominations, there was no suggestion of anything but merit being considered regarding a nomination. Only an invitation to broaden reading habits.

2. No specific individuals were indicated as not having "broad" reading habits, only (fairly unarguable) implication from past nominations that people who nominate works for Hugos seem to select from a biased list. You can't argue with that: it's blatantly true. It doesn't not however make any statement about any individual, so if you want to feel insulted, the problem is with you, not the statement as made.

3. At no point does Charlie state that he isn't guilty of the same "sin", so any idea that he's claiming he's "superior" is wholely invented.

4. Suggesting that there's authors there whose work is worthy of a Hugo but don't get wide enough readership among the people doing the nominating isn't patronizing, it's almost inevitably true: some authors are more popular than others within different demographics. If someone wrote the greatest work of Sci-fi ever, in French, it's not going to have as many readers who are eligible to nominate it as a work in English. It's not patronizing to point this out, it's recognition of the reality that the predominant language spoken in aggregate among people who can nominate it is English. Individuals may speak many languages, with many different primary languages, but the one they most have in common is English, and the same thing goes with cultural reference points.

I suggest you reread the original post for what was actually said, rather than what you've assumed it said: it was a call for people in general to broaden their horizons, maybe they'll find something that they'll like enough to nominate. Being aimed at "people in general" you shouldn't take it personally, if you've got broad horizons already then have a gold star and a pat on the head (now that's being patronizing), but the vast majority of people don't.

16:

theFremen@14:

Yes, really.

Sam@15:

Messr. Stross wrote the following:

If you're male? Please try to find the time to read and consider nominating works by women, people of colour, non-anglophone authors, and other groups you may be unconsciously avoiding. Seriously.

That's about as condescending, arrogant, and sexist as it gets, IMHO.

First of all, he presumes that his readership - the males only! - are so blinded by prejudice that his gentle prodding to avoid 'other groups you may be unconsciously avoiding' is necessary in order to cure this moral defect that can only become aware of via the received wisdom of Messr. Stross himself. The totally unsubtle subtext here is that we simply aren't as broadminded, 'inclusive', 'tolerant', enlightened, and sophisticated as he believes himself to be.

Secondly, it's impossible to interpret 'and consider nominating' in any way other than as pure, politicially-correct, 'affirmative action' for authors he condescendingly doesn't think can stand on their own without his benign patronage. It is pure, unadulterated race-/sex-/linguistic-based advocacy, and neither you nor the other apologists in this thread can explain it away, much as you may try.

I find it hard to summon to mind a more explicit expression of contempt by an author towards his readership, in any forum, in any genre of literature. It is an affront, an insult, and a trenchant example of the most offensive sort of faux-moral grandiosity.

17:

Oh, and Sam@15:

You say this:

Being aimed at "people in general" you shouldn't take it personally, if you've got broad horizons already then have a gold star and a pat on the head (now that's being patronizing), but the vast majority of people don't.

Have you any idea how pompous, arrogant, and self-congratulatory your comments actually are?

Who are you to assert that 'the vast majority of people don't' have 'broad horizons'? Who do you think you are? Who set you up as the moral/spiritual/intellectual arbiter of all that is good and right and 'broad'?

18:

Roland@16:
"And consider nominating" means just that: consider nominating. It does not mean: "try to redress some supposed imbalance by giving a sympathy vote for". Any supposed subtext is entirely your own invention: it is not in the article.

Roland@17:
You're putting words in my mouth, at no point have I said anything whatsoever about "good and right". Nor have I made any moral nor spiritual nor intellectual judgements of worthiness. "Broad" means just what it says, that is having a wide range of experiences, it makes no value judgements whatsoever. Again, you're inventing your own subtext.

I'm sure this discussion is getting close to breaking the house rules, so I'll refrain from futher comment.

19:

Okay...

Putting aside the small flame war above, I was wondering if the 'problem' is that only convention attendees can nominate and thus it's the gender bias in those who go to conventions that's the issue.

e.g. If convention attendees are 90% white male then nominations are also 90% white male. However the broader set of sci-fi readers are not represented by the convention goers. Thus Hugo awards do not represent the broad category of readers.

The last convention I went to was Dragonmeet in 2003. It's a similar base and I would have said that there were very few people there who were not white males.

However my view may be inaccurate - what is the breakdown of worldcon like?

Or is it that sci-fi/fantasy is populated by a certain type of person? Maybe the root cause is that scifi needs to appeal to a wider audience.

20:

Charlie,

Will you be attending AussieCon?
Can I feed you (several) beers while you're there?

[Curses javascript - updates NoScript rules]

21:

"However my view may be inaccurate - what is the breakdown of worldcon like?"

Aside from male/female demarcation based upon first names (and you'll get errors due to unisex names such as Hilary) I don't believe anyone knows - it's neither asked for or recorded.

Several UK based cons I've worked tended to be slightly skewed one way of another regarding male/female ratio. The most extreme example was Accio back in 2005 which was approximately 90% female. Eastercons tend have slightly more males than females, but only if you look really closely. Yes there tend to be few non paneuropean physiological types at these but why that is I don't know. I've not seen/been aware of discriminatory bias. The most I can offer is anecdotal evidence of, for want of a better term, 'self exclusion' and that is less than compelling as serious SF readers of any colour are thin on the ground.

22:

Josh @9: men are over-represented in that part of fandom which votes on the Hugos (about 70% -- in trad fandom; much less of an imbalance in media/anime/other fandom). But women are the majority of readers in all fiction genres, including hard SF, and the majority of writers in most fields; fantasy, certainly, and if not in SF, then only because there's rough parity.

The fact that last year's novel shortlist was 100% male was disturbing -- to me, and lots of other people. Because it means about 50% of our authors aren't getting a look in, for some reason.

Dorian @8: that's the classic "colour blindness" argument. And it doesn't work. Refusal to acknowledge something is going on under your nose doesn't make it magically go away. Gender and race aren't barriers to quality -- but they are barriers to acceptance, and if you really believe in equality you should start asking hard questions about exclusion, marginalization, and social invisibility.

Robin @19: the 'problem' is that only convention attendees can nominate and thus it's the gender bias in those who go to conventions that's the issue. This is indeed the core of the problem. It takes about 200-300 nominations to put a book on the novel shortlist, and maybe 100-200 for one of the short fiction categories. Worldcon attendance is in the range 3000-6000 members, depending on location. There are many fans who go to every worldcon, worldwide. They're characterised by having a sufficient income to travel internationally (mostly from the UK or USA) on an annual basis, often to quite a distance -- Japan in 2007, Australia in 2010. A corollary of this is that they have well-paid employment with sufficient disposable income and vacation time to do this. I think it's fair to say that we're talking about a group who are 70% white, male, American upper-middle-class, in their 30s or older, with tech sector or professional jobs.

It is to these people, not my general readership (as Roland Dobbins seems to believe) that my preaching is directed. Because these are the Hugo nominators, and despite their travel habit, they're not very adventurous in their reading.

fvngvs: Yeah, I'll be in Melbourne. (I fit the stereotype above, dammit.)

23:

Hey Charlie, I'm out of touch with cons and so on, as despite closely fitting the profile above I don't consider myself a 'fan' and wouldn't attend Worldcon.

Are there any alternatives to the Hugos that are better represented, demographically speaking? Not trying to get away from your original point just asking around. Anyone have any suggestions?

24:

Robin: Start here (Science Fiction awards watch).

The trouble is, for better or worse the Hugos are the highest profile awards in the written SF field. So if they are un-representative, we have a problem.

Imagine if the Oscars completely ignored anything that wasn't produced by the Hollywood studio system in the English language for commercial consumption in America -- they'd be missing 90% of world cinema! No, wait a minute ...

25:

Silver Bullet Solution: Allow anyone to make Hugo nominations (with appropriate caveats/registration/etc)

p.s. Charlie, will you tell us the upshot of the suggestions for expanding your activities? Any new years resolutions perhaps?

26:

Robin:

Allow anyone to make Hugo nominations....
Politically, that's never going to happen. The Hugo Awards are the property of the World Science Fiction Society (the membership of which is "anyone who joins Worldcon"), and you're never going to see the members of WSFS vote to give away their own voting rights. Saying "let anyone vote for the Hugos for free" is roughly equivalent to saying, "Why should only members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Scicences get to vote for the Oscars?" (Although it's much easier to join WSFS than the Academy.)

Note that you do not have to attend Worldcon to be a member. A "supporting membership" (around USD50) gives you the same voting rights. Essentially, the membership dues to the World Science Fiction Society are $50/year (which gives you voting rights), while the "convention supplement" (allowing you to attend the convention) is extra.

It's not impossible that Worldcons might reduce the cost to vote, but there are some difficult issues involved that I won't detail unless you really want to know. It sounds nice and simple ("just make voting free"), but trust me: these issues have been discussed for years, and it's nowhere as simple as you may think it is.

27:

I did specify _nominate_ not vote. It seems that it's primarily the nominations that start the lack of representation ball rolling. If a wider range of products were nominated then the currently unrepresentative voters might expand their horizons.

I did also say that it's a silver bullet - i.e. a simple solution that is anything but simple to implement. Bit of a programming pun there.

28:

2:

It's fairly easy to tell if a given book is eligible; if it was first published in English in 2009, it's eligible. (See the earliest copyright date in the front matter. If it says 2008? Not eligible.)

I'm afraid not. There's a long tradition in publishing — particularly English-language publishing — that puts the (n+1) copyright into books published in the last few months of year n. This is very much parallel to periodicals almost always bearing the next period's date at the time they appear in stores or the mail.

There used to be some legal justification for this practice; under older copyright law (the US 1909 Act, for one) the "marking" in a publication determined eligibility for some remedies, and even whether a work might have fallen out of copyright.* Now, however, it's pure marketingspeak: As was explained to me (in my role as inside counsel) by the VP for Trade Publishing (with his marketing background), it's "better" to have the next year's copyright date in a book published in October or November so that it doesn't look out of date in January. Yes, he really did believe that consumers and bookstore buyers are just as stupid as that condescending meme makes them. Since he was the VP and I was a lowly employee, my argument that it might create liability issues concerning how current the safety standards (among other things) in the book really were went for nought.

* For those muttering about the iniquity of Yanks, keep in mind that it applied in the UK until 1971... and still applies in parts of Latin America.

29:

Charlie@22, you wrote:

The fact that last year's novel shortlist was 100% male was disturbing -- to me, and lots of other people. Because it means about 50% of our authors aren't getting a look in, for some reason.

I'm sure there are many reasons; some of them are articulated by a female author here.

30:

Robin: Charlie, will you tell us the upshot of the suggestions for expanding your activities?

There is, as it happens, something bubbling under ... but I can't discuss it in public. Let's just refer to it as $SEKRIT_PROJECT and leave it at that for the time being, shall we?

31:

If I look up the winners since 2000 for the most important awards I see:
Best Novel: 3 female winners (out of 9)
Best Novella: 4 female winners
Best Novelette: 3 female winners
Best Short Story: 1 female winner
In 2009 the winners were two female and two male authors, and the same was true in 2008.
So, a 30% ratio over the last 10 years, 50% over the last two years, I cannot see any strong discrimination against female writers.

32:

Would you be willing to make any reading recommendations from the categories you suggest? (Despite your best attempts, I do have to resort to other authors....)

33:

Dr. T @ 31: It's also worth noting that six of the last ten John W. Campbell Best New Writer winners have been women. This award is treated by most Worldcons as of similar stature to a Hugo but aimed at a newcomer to the art of SF writing, promoting a name to watch out for in the future.

34:

Look at last year's Hugo shortlist for best novel, and tell me with a straight face that no novels by female authors were published that year that were at the same level as the (all male) shortlist.

35:

I gotta agree with Roland above in all particulars. I flinched when I read the post. Though I'm convinced there was no evil intent...it came off ugly.

But. The idea of looking for new authors? I'm all over that. I'm always looking for new goodstuffs. I don't really care what the motivation of those doing the suggesting might be, as long as it works out that they're sincere in their recommendations, and if it happens that their tastes parallel mine...it's a gold mine. Thus, I can be manipulated rather easily.

So, I suspect a more useful approach exists. _Specific_ suggestions, maybe? Takes some work to make them, but is you is or is you ain't promotin' a cause?

Btw, I'm using "you" here just 'cause it amuses me. Charlie's not the only guy who could make specific suggestions. And thereby take over my brain.

36:

I've voted for two Hugos and will vote for a 3rd but have never been to a Worldcon. It really is fairly simple to vote.

I should say that, alas, I fit the rest of the "typical voter" profile - white American male in IT.

37:

Robin @27, when you have a supporting membership, you get to nominate twice -- the con you got the membership for, plus the next one. As you seem to know, you only vote in the con with the membership.

Finding out which books are good frequently means you need to define what you like and work from there. In general, I like pure SF, and I talk to other people who have similar likes. I also read short story anthologies like Gardner Dozois' Year's Best, David Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer's Year's Best, and Jonathan Strahan's The Best that will lead me to novels.

38:

Charlie @22: You're missing something, you see. Even though you may be a white male, _Palimpsest_ should still win because it's *sodding awesome* (in the literal sense). Its only fault is that it just *stops* without ever exactly having an ending.

So I will keep on whining until a Palimpsest novel turns up. :)

39:

I don't attend cons because (a) I don't see myself as that kind of fan, and (b) don't have enough disposable income AND vacation time (At any given time I tend to have one but not the other).

However, pace Roland, I took Charlie's post in the spirit I believe was intended by him, ie please widen your reading a bit and, if you CAN nominate for the Hugo's AND find something by a woman/person of colour/non-english speaker worthy of nomination, then think about putting it forward.

Having said all that there are counter-arguments possible, I also did not initially realise Andre Norton was a woman. Now that I do know, it makes no difference to my appreciation of the work, which is pretty good (for its time). James Tiptree Jr, Ursula le Guin, CH Cherryh are amongst those who can and do stand with any in the genre. Connie Willis has won more Hugos and Nebulas than any other writer and I only found her by accident last year. I strongly agree with the poster who argued that over the decade the Hugo winners do not in fact show an especially strong anti-female bias - it is about the same (36%) as the number of women on the "all time list" mentioned by Juliana Bagott quoted in the post linked by Charlie @29, above. This raises the possibility which no-one else has yet mentioned that the 100% men Hugo shortlist of last year could have been a statistical anomaly, and is probably unlikely to recur (time will tell).

More troubling is the fact that few, if any non-english speakers ever get nominated. Borges, how many short story Hugos did he win? How many SFF novels or short stories by non-english speakers are published in translation? Not many, I think. Even if your foreign author wins that lottery, they then have to fight the tidal wave of first-language english works for promotion, shop-space, recognition, etc and not many will ever get through. Charlie won the German prize, but has a German ever won a Hugo? A Japanese? Perhaps one solution might be for SFWS to consider introducing a "best translation" category, similar to the Oscars - yes, it is arguably a ghetto, but it could give recognition to worthy works that may not otherwise even make a nomination?

Also, my impression is that, on the whole, there are relatively few original SFF authors in languages other than english. Not that no-one writes SFF in French,say, but fewer as a proportion of total output than in the english-speaking world. Not sure why that should be. Of course, it is also true that the total output of works of literature in english, both SFF and generally, completely dwarfs the output in any other language, so bear that in mind too.

Non-white authors are, on the whole, the invisible segment. No one asks and few writers make a point of stating their ethnic origin. Plus, who gets included? It's a(nother) big question . . .

40:

Kevin@39: it seems to me that all these awards are, by design, popularity contests. The voters ought to select the works they like best. If a minority of them read SF in French, well, I don't actually see a problem with works in French failing to win the award. I agree with you about the sex/race thing--seems a non-issue.

Otherwise, for any who care to read on: All of this seems a non-issue to me. It's perfectly okay for a group of people to like whatever they happen to like. It's okay for anyone to be whoever he or she or it may be. The notion that it's somehow shameful to be classified as part of a group is only a whisker's-breadth from the notion that it's shameful to be an individual. Once shame is spread so thin...it's not even there.

Popularity contests are what they are, and always will be. Personally? I pay very little attention to 'em. I don't feel ashamed that non-me folk like stuff I don't. And I don't feel they should change their preferences to match mine. Or even to match preferences I think I ought to have.

Tempest in a teapot.

41:

David @40: the award is for works first published in English in a given year, so being able to read French is irrelevant. What's disturbing is the relative invisibility of French authors in English translation -- or German authors, or Italian, or Japanese, or Indian for that matter.

42:

Charlie @41: I stand corrected.

_Now_ I don't see the shame in failing to find translations superior to originals. Or in finding works written for other cultures less interesting than works that may be richer by virtue of shared experience between writer and reader. Why is this disturbing?

Here's how I see it--SF writers are, I think, doing two things: (1) writing material they like, and (2) writing for a particular audience.

Writing for a known audience is clearly a Good Idea, even if the audience is yourownself, as it gives you a way to evaluate what you've done. And possibly iterate from there, depending on medium and approach to same.

It would be a bit much to seek out a group of readers who like what you write, create an award with voting rules that might possibly favor voters in a given demographic--aka your market--and then blame the readers for voting for you and those like you, and imply they should be ashamed for so doing.

If SF has some divine mandate to reach out and pick up readers/voters of a different sort...well, it's not the readers who will make it happen. It's the writers. And, probably, publishers.

Then, if you write for a different audience: is it still SF? Can you bring the new audience in to experience/enjoy traditional SF fandom (and thus vote for awards)? Does the world end, or do we all lose karma points, if a subculture doesn't spread to a larger population without modification?

I guess I still don't get it.

43:

I think the SF/F genre needs as many different views/voices it can find, so opportunities to encourage those is something that shouldn't be passed up. Otherwise it risks turning into the horror genre. While it may not be true everywhere but every bookstore I go into over here in Wisconsin has has a horror section consisting of two racks. One is entirely Stephen King, the other is 3/4 Dean Koontz, 1/8 Lovecraft, and 1/8 bad vampire romance (and I'm not just taking a potshot at Twilight).

Luckily I don't see the SF/F genre ever getting that bad...but I can sure envision that hellish future...

44:

@11: ... latest Ian M. Banks "Transition"

Uh?
Just checked "Fantastic Fiction" - no mention.
When did this come out - and is it "Culture" or other?

45:

It's non-Culture, marketed with the M in the US but without in the UK. It reads more like a non-M Banks; I quite enjoyed it but prefer his earlier stuff.

46:

David @42: see the subsequent comment (43) for a partial answer. In a nutshell: the anglophone world is around 500 million people. The planet as a whole is pushing 7 billion. There's a lot of very good stuff out there that we don't see, because marketing non-anglophone works into the anglophone market is an uphill struggle: it costs extra money to commission a high-quality translation, and most American or British publishers see no reason to bother when they've got a pool of adequate-and-cheaper material to hand. As a result, we're missing stuff -- potentially lots of good stuff that we never see insofar as the publishers (who should be acquiring it) aren't receiving price signals that there's a demand for it.

Meanwhile our own little corner is becoming more and more of a self-defined ghetto ... which in the long term is an extremely unhealthy trend. Lack of diversity and innovation in a field is usually followed by consolidation and commercialization along the lines of the Billboard Top 20. And yes, there's a thriving small press horror scene, but that doesn't help the regular denizens of Wisconsin ...

I'd rather not see SF go the same way.

47:

I can not say that "there were no novels by female authors at the same level as the (all male) shortlist", straight face or not. That is because the major part of the shortlist is generic stuff that only made the list by having famous authors. They might as well have included some of the mediocre novels written by female authors instead. I took the time to re-check the longlist of the 2009 Hugo Awards (at www.thehugoawards.org/content/pdf/2009%20Nominations.pdf). I only found four novels I would have recommended for the award, and only two of those made the actual shortlist. In no particular order:
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Saturn's Children by Charles Stross
Valley of Day-Glo by Nick Dichario
Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory
Oh, lookee, no female authors. As I see it, the problem is not that mediocre novels written by men are favoured over those written by females. The problem is that the voters went for the big names like moths for the light. From attendees of a SciFi Con one would expect better.

48:

Wow, some spam got in Charlie.

49:

oz4me@48: Nuked now, thanks.

50:

Having read both the Spanish translations and the original English versions of tens of SF books... I have to say that a lot of quality is "lost on translation".

Even taking that into account, in the Spanish-speaking world the field is completely dominated by anglophone authors.

Sorry for my bad English.

51:

Mariano Chouza@50: The quality of translations varies widely, and a good translator needs to be a really good writer to begin with. The German awards mentioned earlier have two categories for translated works: one is for the best novel (which is available in German translation) which goes to the wirter; the other for the best translation of a novel and goes to the translator.

Your "bad" English contains no spelling errors, one minor error (it should be "lost in translation") and one bit of questionable style (the ellipsis) -- that's much better than most native speakers of English.

52:

Charlie @41: Precisely. Which is why I think it would be a good idea for there to be a Hugo for best translation . . .

And Charlie @46: As I also wrote, but you make the point so much more eloquently.

And I think Mariano @50 confirms my point (at least for Spanish) that the number of writers of SFF in Spanish is way smaller than in English.

53:

Part of the "diversity" problem, in the US anyway, is that the corner Grocery & Drug stores used to have a random selection of Paperbacks (also Digests like Analog). Nowadays if it's not on the Best Sellers List forget it!
Kudos on the site upgrade! I was trying to ask if there was going to be a Teabagging Troll in the next Laundry Book-that comment probably should have stayed lost in the transition.:-\

54:

Charlie @46: I have to take issue with you on the "anglophone world" point. It is around 1/2 a billion only if you just count native english speakers. In practice the market for literature in english (the "english-reading world") is probably well north of 1 billion, possibly near or even above 2 billion.

And in any case, as I said before, the _number_ of works of literature published in english in any given year is MASSIVELY larger than in any other language, including French, German, Spanish, Russian and Chinese. Here are some figures: The UK publishing industry ALONE accounts for somewhere around 1/3 to 1/2 of all works published in Europe (at least 200,000 publications a year out of about 700,000 for europe as a whole). US market is comparable in size to UK (also about 200,000 a year). Then you can add the smaller industries in Ireland, Aus/NZ (11,000 to 12,000 a year) and Canada and other countries output of original works in english. Total publishing in Africa is not much more than for Aus/NZ. Books published in Asia is in total about equal to the UK's output. Latin America's total publishing output is about 2/3 of the UK's (around 120,000 works per year). Do the math.

55:

Charlie,

You promote your own books in award ballots; I take it that this is not egomania, that it has an economic motivation: if it says 'Hugo winner' on the cover, it is more likely to go on the shelves and to sell. To the extent that you're trying to achieve the same result for authors who are victims of sexism, racism, homophobia, linguistic bias, und so weiter, I support you.

However, to the extent that the out groups produce work challenging to the in group, isn't this a doomed enterprise?

For example, Russ' The Female Man and The Two of Them were never going to win the Hugo for best novel, even if everyone eligible to vote had read them. The unthreatening Le Guin, however, managed 5 Hugos and 6 Nebulas to Russ' 1 of each. (I'm not saying that Le Guin is a bad writer, just that Joanna Russ, the ne plus ultra of SF writers, got less than her "fair share" of awards for reasons not easily overcome.)

If there were enough people in the out groups producing work palatable to the in group (and it seems to me likely that there are), you might win the numbers game, but that's not to say that convention-going fandom would then be able to boast newly unblemished taste, is it?

Best,

m

56:

Charlie @46: seems an entirely separate issue/argument to me. I even agree with you in that area, and nearly posted an agreement to #43 above as soon as I saw it.

57:

@54: "US market is comparable in size to UK (also about 200,000 a year" is correct, for number of book titles. But the US (technically, North America, as the market includes Canada) number is close to 100,000 original titles plus 100,000 reprints. Fiction is a subset. The largest subset is Romance Novels, which account for 1/6 of books sold in North America. There are an order of magnitude more members of RWA (Romance Writers of America) than there are members of SFWA. There are great Romance novels, men who are in RWA, women writing award-worthy fiction in SFWA, yet I suggest that the Romance market (which, by the way, overlaps SF, Fantasy, Horror) influences gender bias in Hugo and Nebula Awards.

58:

Not being a WorldCon person I can't nominate, but can I just put in that its really difficult to find new writers? I found you, Charlie, by happy accident; picking up the one solitary book in Borders, looking at the back and thinking "This looks fun".
Its not as if its easy to look on Amazon for different things to try out, you need the book in our hand so you can flick through the first few pages and decide whether the writing is for you.
There are plenty that just don't do it for me - Alastair Reynolds for example - great books but they just don't *excite* me by reading them.

The SciFi section of most bookshops are pitiful, loads of Pratchett, maybe some Rankin and a load of random stuff, then the TV tie-in novels.
Its terribly frustrating if you want to find different novels - Ken MacLeod I found through recommendation, but in the stores? Well, there was his latest but nothing before that. Or worse have book 2 of a series but not the first. That is frustrating. Its not as if the situation is temporary, that same part 2 will sit there for months without part 1 being beside it. Its poor management by the bookshop.
I love reading writers I haven't read before and their take on life, the universe and everything, but without the exposure in front of the buying public its really difficult to find them.

Apologies for the poor grammar - it was never good as a kid and I've never really worked on it.

59:

@57

"... I suggest that the Romance market ... influences gender bias in Hugo and Nebula Awards."

Well, perhaps it does, but what's the reason for thinking so, and what's the mechanism?

60:

Jonathon@57: Agreed that Romance is around 13-14% of the market and US produces around 100,000 originals in any given year. Your free extra factoid is that SFF is about 1/2 the Romance market. But UK also produces a comparable number of original titles. So I am not clear what point you are making.

I would think (knowing the market, but based only on my experience) that US produces more SFF original titles than UK. If number of titles is proportional to market share (it likely way less though) that could be 6,000 (US or UK only) to 14,000 (combined and highest likely market share) original SFF works in english every year. Thats a pretty crowded market, and if the hugo noms are say 5 ANY work has a pretty slim chance of making it, without more (e.g. brand i.e author recognition). Getting a translated work on the ballot would be a major acheivement.

My other point, going back to Charlies original post, is that AT LEAST 1/3 of the market for original fiction is for first-language english works (and in SFF it is probably higher), so the chance that something really great is being missed is a bit less than you might think if you just consider apparent "pro-english-speaker" in the Hugos/Nebulas.

61:

UriGagarin@58: Try Charlie's mate SFF author John Scalzi's Whatever blog for new authors:
whatever.scalzi.com
Also Baen Free Libary has a good selection you can gownload and see if you like:
www.baen.com
Also Tor is good:
www.tor.com
And Strange Horizons for reviews and shorter works:
www.strangehorizons.com

That should get you started.

Sorry don't know how to do the tagging thing.

62:

Try your library. They may not have really new books, but you can find authors you like.

63:

Kevin, click on Reply in the header of the post from the person to whom you want to respond. You'll be dropped down to the comment form with a ticky box for putting in "Replying to comment from XXX" where the comment from XXX has the link back to that comment.

64:

For those who may not understand the kind of good hardcore science fiction, or speculative fiction, that we may be missing out on by not reading translations of works from non-anglophone cultures, here's an idea.

Think of how good the best science-fiction anime you've ever watched has been. That's an example of Japan, a quite different (but still technology-drenched) culture, producing great works of SF, which, if they hadn't been translated, you might never have seen.

Now think about the great stuff you might be missing from Brazil, or India, or eastern Europe (to name three areas at random)? You could be missing something as good as Excession or Accelerando or Snow Crash, just because it was written in Hindi.

65:

Been thinking about it given that I'm able to nominate for the first time ever. It has been mentioned that cost is an obstacle to more people getting involved in the Hugos on account of the cost to attend WorldCon; even a supporting membership isn't exactly cheap.

As I go over stuff I have read with a 2009 publication date, it is apparent that I haven't read that many books. And the reason is mainly because I haven't purchased many hardcover books. And the ones that I have are usually by writers I know I am going to like. I'm much less likely to pony up for a hardcover book by a writer I've never tried before, on account of the cost; I'm more likely to wait for the paperback to come out a year later.

The only debut novel I read in HC in 2009 was Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Windup Girl". I got it on the strength of his short stories (collected in "Pump Six and other stories"). So yes, cost is an obstacle, not only to being able to nominate and vote, but also an obstacle to reading eligible works inside the nominating window.

66:

Russell, I'll give you anime although personally not to my taste. My impression is that mostly it tends towards the fantasy end of the SFF genre. Also, what category would an anime work be eligible for? How many get translated, as a % of total output? Of those, how many would be considered, content-wise, as SFF?

I don't dispute that there may be some (arguably) overlooked works of non-english SFF. I still doubt very much that there is a lot of undiscovered genius (note, I don't say none). Brazil publishes about 25,000 books a year, India, half that of Brazil. Probably considerably less than 5% of those are original works of SFF written in the local language. Size of the market is not = the number of speakers of the language. Russia is probably the best bet for an unheralded genius, they have both a reasonable sized publishing industry and a long and honourable science fiction tradition. But the barriers to entry onto a hugo ballot, say, for an author writing in russian, are more than formidable - and it is my belief that those barriers are mostly structural, not necessarily attributable to "bias".

67:

I do hope that there is a wider selection nominated as Charlie suggests, as I use the Hugo (& Nebula) shortlists for the basis of my new reading.

I try to then follow recommended books and sample other stories by the same authors etc, but when your passion is for transhuman scifi, it can be hard to find stories in that (sub)genre, mostly due to it not being labelled as a distinct category.

I do like to branch out (have read some John Irving, Ayn Rand and Warren Ellis this year) but sometimes the old addiction flares up for the really hard/weird scifi and you gotta feed the monkey.

68:

Actually, for that sort of thing, I already use the Hugo nominations long list (the 2009 version here(pdf)).

It's the list of all works that got five or more nominations, not just the five that made it into the final ballot. Consequently, it's a much longer and more diverse list.

Specials

Merchandise

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on January 4, 2010 8:03 PM.

Sitrep was the previous entry in this blog.

Flame bait is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog

Propaganda