[ETA 5/3/15: It seems I was unclear that by a recommended reading list, I mean a large list with things added throughout the year that I can then winnow down myself. Not a short slate of nominees sized specifically to fill or partially fill categories. I have updated the post to reflect my position more accurately.]
I’ve been meaning to write this post for nearly a week, but work has been absolutely batshit and promises to continue to be so for another two weeks. So yay for the lunch break blog post, right? This is to say, if this is not particularly coherent or well-organized, please forgive me.
I was at Penguicon over the weekend, which was a fabulous convention, by the way, marred only by the fact that the assholes in the room next to mine would not shut the fuck up at four in the morning. But everything to do with the actual convention was lovely and full of chocolate glee, and I’m extra happy to have gotten to be on panels and then do karaoke with Steven Saus, Sarah Hans, and Michael Cieslak, to name just three of the many lovely people I met. (I met more lovely people, but their business cards are currently out of my reach and I’m complete shit with names. Sorry, everyone.)
By the way, karaoke? I still fucking kill it when I do Tribute. My demon voice cannot be stopped.
Anyway, on Sunday at Penguicon, I ended up setting off a discussion about Hugo nominations mostly because I was grumpy and wanted to go over what actually happened when the SFWA bulletin blew up (tl;dr version: “Haw haw ladies!” “Could you please not?” “Fuck you liberal fascists!” “No, sirs, fuck YOU.”) as opposed to what’s being incorrectly summarized everywhere, mostly by people fighting about the bullshit puppy slates. But anyway, after I got things going, two gentlemen started arguing about the Hugo nomination process, and I feel like a total asshole because I didn’t catch either of their names, but they both had extremely valid points.
Most Excellent Dude Number One has several working ideas on ways the WSFS constitution could be amended to de-fang slates so this bullshittery cannot happen again. (As I pointed out, well, in a couple years at best, since you can’t amend the WSFS constitution overnight.) Most Excellent Dude Number Two didn’t think that was any kind of solution, and that the only real way to fix things was some serious get out the vote effort.
Honestly, I’m not sure if either way works. I’d have to see some convincing math on any WSFS amendments and have a good long think about if it’s going to actually fix a problem or just make things worse. (Though I think there could be something to limiting nominations to three per category, say. That would shake things up a bit at least.) And it’s also a fact that the nominating and voting statistics for the Hugos are nothing short of embarrassing.
LonCon3, which I believe is now officially the biggest Worldcon ever, had 8784 attending and supporting memberships, which would be the people who could nominate and vote–and this doesn’t even count the attending members of the previous Worldcon, who could also vote! The most nominating ballots were cast for novel, with a total of 1595, just 18% of eligible members. The rest of the categories had far fewer nominating ballots, coming in at 3.6% to 11.3% of the membership. Actual votes cast tended to be about three times higher than nominating ballots. Still embarrassing, but slightly less so.
So yes, there’s definitely a get out the vote problem, though I’m left wondering just what WSFS can be expected to do about that, other than finding ways to make voting and nominating more accessible. I’d be in favor, for example, of severely lowering the price of supporting memberships, in order to open up the process particularly to people in non-US countries who are already getting screwed by the exchange rate. Education efforts? Maybe.
But as sad as the actual voting numbers are, the real problem is the nominating numbers. And I don’t honestly think that’s something that can be fixed easily by amending the bylaws.
Forgive me if I assume my personal experience can stand at something close to average, but I think the nomination issue isn’t really one of accessibility. There have been many years past when I haven’t nominated for the Hugos at all outside of dramatic presentation, because I quite literally had not read anything that had come out that year. There is a lot of good literature out in the field, and a lot of bad. I have only a very limited amount of time to read. The only reason I’ve been reading much newer stuff lately is because I’ve been trying to help with the occasional podcast for Skiffy and Fanty, or because I have writer friends who have new things coming out, so I make it my business to actually read them. (And I don’t do that nearly as often as I should, sorry guys. I’m such a shit.) But there’s also a very real reason why, on the podcast, you hear me mostly on movie episodes, and why here I mostly talk about movies. Movies are a much smaller time commitment, and I know I can sit down and get through one in normally less than two hours and still be able to have thoughtful opinions.
I’m not going to nominate things I haven’t read. I’d like to think most people who are interested in the Hugos are honest enough to not nominate or vote for things they haven’t read. So I’m thinking what we have is a big blob of voters like me, who have no idea what the fuck we’d even nominate because we haven’t really read that much, and in fact we’re waiting for the list of nominees to come out so we know what we should be reading.
Is that something WSFS can really fix? I guess you could argue for some kind of juried award, but then you’re only as good as your jury.
This is the point where I obviously speak only for myself, but what I need is help, to be honest. I don’t need someone breathing down my neck and telling me I need to nominate when I have no idea what the hell I’d even nominate. Some of it’s a self-actualization issue, where I need to just get off my ass and find the time to read more, and try to read things the actual year they come out. But it’s pretty overwhelming, guys. We are blessed to live in an age where your genre choices are not limited to what you can find on the spinny racks at the grocery store, or on that one shelf in your local library where the dude with the funny-smelling coat always hangs out. Which is awesome! But it also means that there’s so much coming out every day, at some point book mountain gets so high that you’re like fuck this, I don’t even know where to start so instead I’m going to make myself a cup of tea and play World of Warcraft while Captain America: The Winter Soldier plays on the TV in the background.
I’m sure this does not reflect on me well as a human being. I also know I used to read a hell of a lot more back before I didn’t have a full time job and a part-time writing gig and a daily commute during which reading tends to give me severe motion sickness. But here it is, the call for help. I seriously need some helpful soul, or maybe some kind of crowd-sourced thing that can tell me what I should be reading as things come out so I’m not floundering under drifts of pages on book mountain when the Hugo nomination period opens. Preferably some recommendation engine where my fellow writers, bless you guys I love you all but damn I know how we are, are not allowed to nominate or push their own books. I don’t want reviews, I don’t even want opinions, I just want a simple but large list of titles and authors and maybe a helpful link where someone can say hey, I think this book should totally get a Hugo and/or other award or is just awesome and you should read it anyway, and then other people who agree can maybe give it a plus one, and that’s it. Let me form my own opinions.
Does something like this already exist and I’ve just never seen it because I’m a failure at google? Is this something a complete computer incompetent like me could set up on her own site pretty easily? I’d do it in a heartbeat if I knew how.