The Hugo Nomination Problem or, I Am a Bad Reader 17

[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.

17 thoughts on “The Hugo Nomination Problem or, I Am a Bad Reader

  1. Reply embrodski May 1,2015 14:38

    I always spend a fair bit of time in January and February googling “List of Best SF Short Stories”, which has led me to such finds as http://www.acwise.net/?p=1746 As for +1’s and such… dunno. Would you participate in a Hugo Nom’s subreddit? People toss out works they like, vote up if you read and liked, vote down if you read and didn’t, and hopefully the really busy people will be able to cruise by once a month and check out anything that has double-digit likes?

    (Now I’m gonna have “Nay, we are but men – ROCK!” in my head all day)

    • Reply Rachael May 1,2015 15:14

      Something like a subreddit would actually work really well, if it was just titles, etc, no opinions. The only down side would be there having to go to reddit thing… I’ve had some unpleasant experiences there. And come on, that is the most amazing line in a song full of amazing lines. :)

  2. Reply Keeley May 1,2015 16:06

    So, what it sounds like you’re saying is, you’d like to be part of a book club that focuses on the reading aspect and less on the discussion?

  3. Reply Didi Chanoch (@didic) May 1,2015 17:37

    This is pretty much exactly why I created the Hugo Noms wiki: I always have a hard time filling in all the spots in my nominations, and a major reason for that is that I just don’t remember everything I’ve read, and surely miss some thongs. Which, in the normal course is fine, I remember enough to have some noms in all categories. But when the ballot is under attack, the more people filling in more spots helps.

    When I started the wiki, I created the categories and added one potential nominee in each. Since then, others have added works and people they find worthy in pretty much every category. I find that very rewarding, and if it continues throughout the year, the wiki should be a very useful resource by the end of it.

    http://hugonoms2015.wikia.com/

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  5. Reply kateorman May 2,2015 04:40

    IMHO, there needs to be a list of all Hugo-eligible material, maintained by the folks in charge of the award. It’d be the responsibility of publishers, writers, editors, and artists to make sure their stuff was entered on the list. But that would still leave you (and me!) adrift in a sea of reading material…

  6. Reply Rose Beetem May 2,2015 11:44

    Kateorman, as someone who has never been on a WorldCon committee (and avoided it twice) but has worked on a local con, you’re asking for an an incredible amount of extra work from people who are already doing a lot of work on a volunteer basis. Between the major paper publishing houses, all the small press, online, self-pub, movies, TV shows, podcasts, web series, etc., etc., there is an incredible firehose of material out there. The idea reminds me of the comments I get from members of the public occasionally at my job IRL that there should be a website somewhere that would list all the museums in North America and the exhibitions they have on view.

  7. Reply Kevin Standlee May 2,2015 12:41

    A juried award would have to be based on people submitting their work to the jury. (People already think you have to submit works for the Hugo Awards; that’s why we have Submitting Your Work FAQ linked from the top menu of the site telling people “You can’t submit works for the Hugo Awards.” I think you’d probably need separate juries for every category. The workload would go up exponentially. I suppose it’s not impossible (you could do something like what the World Fantasy Awards do, with a mixed jury/popular vote), but the resources are substantial, and you do just move the points of contention to who the jurors are. (I can see the claims of bias and payola now.)

    I’ve occasionally heard variations of “Someone [WSFS] should make a web site listing every eligible work of SF/F there is for a given year.” The mind reels at how difficult that would be. And WSFS (individual Worldcons) couldn’t possibly do the work. If you left anything off such a list (and you would), people would be screaming at you for showing official favoritism for the works you listed.

    Didi Chanoch (@didic): If you modify your Hugo wiki to a more generic name rather than tying it to a single year, I think we could add it to the Third Party Recommendation Sites lists on the Hugo Awards web page. (Right side menu bar, at bottom.) We don’t like adding sites that require us to edit the reference every year. I also suggest you might want to name it “Hugo Award Recommendations,” rather than “Nominations” because you surely don’t want it to be seen by sensible people as a set of marching orders, but of recommendations of things the wiki members have read and liked enough to consider Hugo Award-worthy. To that extent, it should be like the Hugo Recommendations LiveJournal, I think.

  8. Reply Sonia Lal May 2,2015 15:10

    Maybe SFWA could keep a public database?

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  10. Reply Kevin Standlee May 2,2015 17:40

    Not every piece of Hugo-eligible work is published by a SFWA member. Remember, a work doesn’t have to be published professionally, or in a paying market, or anything like that. I could publish a short story on my LiveJournal and it would be just as eligible as something appearing in this month’s issue of Analog.

    • Reply Rachael May 2,2015 17:43

      Yep. I mentioned the Nebula recommended reading list because that’s my ideal situation to have something *like* that I could refer to. But I daresay it’s not anywhere close to SFWA’s mission to do this kind of thing.

      I also don’t think it’s realistically something to be expected of WSFS, which is volunteer-run. I think it’s going to have to be a fan solution that will grow organically. I just wish I knew how to build something like the list functionality I want… and then would have to see if I could get people to use it.

  11. Reply Kevin Standlee May 2,2015 17:45

    I do sort of like the wiki approach, although it will need a strong editor to keep from being overrun by Wreckers. That’s why I’d be happy to get it added to TheHugoAwards.org if it had a fixed name/address.

    • Reply Rachael May 2,2015 17:49

      A friend of mine suggested something like a subreddit, which I think would have a good functionality as well; I mostly am focused on some kind of +1 or upvoting function due perhaps to my own laziness. That’s definitely something that would need firm moderation. And no anonymous posting.

  12. Reply kateorman May 2,2015 19:41

    I say again: it would be the responsibility of the people _producing_ the work to make sure it was on the list, not the responsibility of the con runners to chase up every possible eligible work. In fact, with an online form, it could easily be automated.

  13. Reply Vivienne Raper May 3,2015 00:32

    You need something like Boardgamegeek (https://www.boardgamegeek.com/), but for books.

    I don’t think Good Reads is as useful as Boardgamegeek because I tend to follow my friends and don’t have a clear idea of what other people are reading. Boardgamegeek allows you to have ‘GeekBuddies’ who are friends who enjoy similar board games to you, but you can also look at game rankings in particular categories, e.g. family games or party games.

  14. Reply SF2Concat May 6,2015 10:25

    There are a number of Best of SF lists by folk with (one reasonably presumes) no axe to grind including:-
    http://io9.com/the-best-science-fiction-and-fantasy-books-of-2014-1676427116
    http://www.goodreads.com/choiceawards/best-science-fiction-books-2014
    http://www.sfgate.com/books/article/The-best-science-fiction-and-fantasy-books-of-2014-5978348.php
    https://www.kirkusreviews.com/lists/best-science-fiction-fantasy-2014/
    and of course
    http://www.concatenation.org/news/news1~15.html#best_books
    …among many others.

    Locus magazine also lists forthcoming SF/F book titles and has a good trade focus
    especially with N. America.

    SF2 Concatenation lists books from the main commercial SF imprints in the British Isles each season (spring, summer and autumn)
    For example:
    SF http://www.concatenation.org/news/news4~15.html#a
    Fantasy http://www.concatenation.org/news/news4~15.html#b

    with a couple of lines heads up as to likely notable titles.

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