This is not the column I sat down to write last Wednesday. That one was full of the sort of ‘make do and mend’ pragmatic Brit pseudo-optimism that I spend a lot of time pushing back against. The crux was that, yes, the Hugos are broken again but that perhaps this fracturing will lead to an eventual and long overdue change. Not just to the voting system either but to the culture that has led to a nomination pool of 4000 or so being an all-time record and awards one author the same award 21 times. There was some good stuff in there. It was overlong and it was pretty much what a forced, polite smile would look like if it was words but still, it worked.
This is not the column I sat down to write last Thursday. That column was angry and pointed and full of that weird combination of Bartletian optimistic rhetoric and ‘THIS IS IT! ARMAGEDDON! NO FUTURE!’ Rage that sometimes bubbles up when something pisses me off. That one argued, passionately, that the Hugos as they currently exist are dead but they’ll take five years to notice. It advocated for the core awards to remain, the Campbell to be moved to any other awards ceremony and the Fan awards to be closed down. Again, the crux was the same; the Hugos are built on a Gormenghastian labyrinth of fan wisdom and accumulated rules. That’s killing them slowly, the slate voting is killing them fast and they are categorically dying. Let them and then build something better in the same place. This line was the best bit:
Clean the slate, build the administrative procedures from the ground up not from the fossilised bones of the first WorldCon and the tattered silver foil of a thousand long dead, never arrived utopian futures
Neither of those columns were invalid responses. Neither of those columns were under 1500 words. Neither of those columns worked.
The simple truth is there is no simple truth. The Hugos are a situation complicated not just by the actions of a man who is the dictionary definition of more money than sense but decades of assumption, perception and history. They are the most important awards in genre. They are the most irrelevant. They are a people’s vote. They are open only to people able to pay for a voting membership. They honour the very best in genre fiction. They honour only what most of those fee paying voters have read or seen. All of these statements are true. All of these statements are contradictory. Welcome to Hugoland.
So what the Hell do you do in a situation like this?
If you’re a nominee, do you decline the slot knowing full well that a slate put together for the worst possible reasons helped get you where you are? Do you grab with both hands at what may be the only time you register on this vanishingly small group of people’s radar? Do you turn the Internet off for three months and go on holiday? All three are valid responses but whether they’re good ones or not will depend on who you are or where you’re standing.
What about if you’re a voter? Do you vote for material you read or watched and liked despite it being on a slate? Say you loved Sandman: Overture. You vote for it because it was an amazing piece of comics and you wanted to give it the honour it richly deserved. That’s okay, right?
But what if you read it, and loved it but didn’t want to give the slate the satisfaction of an easy win. And besides it’s not like Sandman as a book or the team behind it are hungry up and comers desperate for recognition. So you loved the book but you don’t vote for it. That’s okay right?
To both of them.
Every response to this situation is valid to a point. Every response is wrong. For ever nominee proudly standing by their spot there are others, word is, who quietly declined. The roiling storm of perception and complex emotional response is already forming and based on last year it won’t ever full die down. Every season is Hugo season now. It’s like catastrophic climate change with relentless think pieces and added math.
So, like I said, what the Hell do you do?
Over to JOSHUA.
Don’t buy in, to anything. If you’re a voter, then your first instinct is almost certainly the right one. Vote the nominees you read and loved. Vote No Award for the numerous categories overrun by the slate. Vote a mixture of both. Do what works for you. Focus not on what other people are telling you to do but what your instinct is. Democracy is personal and in the end the only person you have to make peace with is yourself.
If you’re a nominee, especially a slate one, then I’m really sorry, this has got to be the definition of a poisoned chalice. Again, don’t focus on anything other than what’s going to help you get through this. The next three months or so are, chances are, going to suck. Listen to what you want to do, be honest with yourself and engage with people when you need to and on your terms. Whatever you do, a lot of people aren’t going to like. Make sure you’re not one of them.
If you’re a casual observer, stay that way. Please. I joke, through gritted teeth, about how Hugo season shaves 75 points off the collective IQ of the genre Internet and it does. The place is already drowning in horrifyingly wargame-y mathematical analysis, rhetoric, think pieces and the same information being rehashed a dozen different ways. It’s going to try and suck you in. It’s also going to bore you stupid and piss you off. Resist all of those things if you can and if you can’t, well, make sure you get up and stretch every 45 minutes.
And then there’s me. My relationship with the Hugos is defined by endless optimism and frequent crushing personal and cultural disappointment, it’s very hard watching people do brilliant, important work that goes completely unrewarded. It’s harder still to accept that the pinnacle of the genre has a pay gate and a vanishingly small central audience that, especially in the fields that I care about, is very nearly impossible to get in front of.
But not accepting that means playing the game, and, as we saw, JOSHUA has some strong feelings on that score.
So, this is me exorcising the Hugo demon for another year and getting back to work. I’ll read, I’ll vote but I don’t feel the need to write anything else on it. And that, more than anything else, is why the other two columns were worth writing.