Visions of Paradise

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Some observations on the Hugo Awards.

Rather than make subjective qualitative comments on whether I agree with the recent Hugo Awards, I would like to discuss the individual histories of the winners in 13 categories which lend themselves to repeat winners.

Best Novel: Connie Willis for Blackout / All Clear: This is Connie’s 11th Hugo Award, 4 more than any other writers. She is obviously very popular among Hugo voters, but does this large number of Hugo Awards indicate that she is the greatest living sf writer? Or has she been partly rewarded for her entertaining personality and popularity among worldon attendees?

Best Novella: Ted Chiang for “The Lifestyle of Software Objects”: This is his 4th Hugo Award, 3 of which have come in the past 4 years. Either he is peaking as a writer, or is merely on a popularity roll such as Michael Swanwick was from 1998-2003 when he won 5 Hugo Awards in 6 years.

Best Novelette: Allen M. Steele for “The Emperor of Mars”: This is his 3rd Hugo Award, the last one coming in 1997. His other two awards were both in the Best Novella category.

Best Short Story: Mary Robinette Kowal for “For Want of a Nail”: This is her first Hugo Award, making her the token new winner in the fiction categories. She previously won the Campbell Award in 2007 and had another Hugo nomination in 2008. The winning story actually tied for last in the number of nominations received, getting less than half of Peter Watts’ “The Thing,” which it beat handily for the award.

Best Graphic Story: Girl Genius 10, by Phil & Kaja Folio: This is their 3rd consecutive win in this category, all the years of its existence. I was glad to see they did the polite thing and withdrew from consideration next year.

Best Dramatic Presentation - Short Form: Dr. Who. This show has won the award 5 of the past 6 years, only losing one year to a sing-along blog, of all things. Dr. Who also dominates the nominations, having had 8 nominations in this category the past 3 years. Does this dominance speak for the quality of Dr. Who or the lack of quality of the rest of televised f&sf?

Best Professional Editor - Long Form: Lou Anders. This is his first award in a category which previously went to David G. Hartwell twice and Patrick Nielsen Hayden twice, both of whom declined nominations this year. This was a close vote between Anders and Ginjer Buchanon.

Best Professional Editor - Short Form: Sheila Williams. The is the 18th time the editor of Asimov’s has won a Hugo Award, George Scithers twice, Gardner Dozois 15 times, and this first win for Williams. A prozine is only as good as its editor and, at least in the eyes of the Hugo voters, Asimov’s has been very fortunate with its editors.

Best Professional Artist: Shaun Tan. After a considerable amount of publicity the past year, including an Oscar, Tan managed to squeak out a victory over Daniel Dos Santos. Previously this award was won 13 times by Michael Whelan, 10 times by Kelly Freas and 8 times by Bob Eggleton. Three of the last four years it was won by Donato Giancola.

Best SemiProzine: Clarkesworld. For years fans have complained about the dominance of Locus in this category, but for the last three years the award has been won by fiction zines: Weird Tales in 2009 and Clarkesworld the past two years. The latter winner is exclusively online, which might be more indicative of the future of this category than the fact that the winners have published fiction. Clarkesworld was actually trailing in the voting until Lightspeed, another online fiction zine, dropped out and its voters mostly favored Clarkesworld over Locus.

Best Fanzine: The Drink Tank. This is probably the most consistently-published fanzine, having had nearly 300 issues since its inception in 2005. The winner and its editor have paid their fannish dues, having had 8 prior nominations before winning this year. Although Drink Tank is the third consecutive online winner, it is a much more traditional fanzine than last year’s podcast zine StarshipSofa which offended so many people that there has been discussion about banning such zines from this category. It was beaten handily by Drink Tank in this year’s voting.

Best Fan Writer: Claire Briarly. Another winner who has paid her fannish dues, having had 8 prior nominations before winning this year in a close vote over Steven H. Silver. This category has been dominated in the past by a small handful of fanwriters, such as Richard E. Geis (7 awards), Dave Langford (21 awards) and Mike Glyer (3 awards), before going to two professional writers for their blogging 2 of the past 3 years (John Scalzi and Frederik Pohl).

Best Fan Artist: Brad Foster. Like Fan Writer, this category tends to go to a few repeat winners, such as Tim Kirk (5 times), Alex Gilliland, Bill Rotsler, Teddy Harvia and Frank Wu (4 times each). But Brad Foster is the most popular winner with his 7th award spread over a 25 year period, designating him as one of the best fan artists ever. This category was the closest vote of all, with Foster winning by a single vote over Randall Munroe, in spite of the latter barely making the final ballot by a single vote.

Overall, 6 of the 13 winners–Mary Robinette Kowal , Lou Anders, Sheila Williams, Shaun Tan, Claire Briarly and The Drink Tank–are first-timers, which is an unusually-high number for recent Hugo Awards. Next year is guaranteed to have at least one more newbie with the Foglios withdrawing from their category. Perhaps we’ll be fortunate and Connie Willis will not publish any stories this entire year, opening the door for other winners in the fiction categories. (Please don’t send me hate mail if you believe Connie Willis is the greatest writer in the history of science fiction. My reply to that is simple: sorry, she’s not.)


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