Hugo’s Hometown Heroes

SF Awards Watch is having a lively discussion about self-promotion for awards that now includes a tangential debate about whether non-U.S. authors are more likely to be nominated for Hugos at Worldcons outside the U.S. 

C. E. Petit took the affirmative side of the question. Kevin Standlee disagrees:

“If there really was such a ‘locals for locals’ effect, why did we not see a flood of Japanese works on the 2007 Hugo Awards ballot? …In addition, 2005 should have seen a disproportionate number of Canadian and 2006 a similar share of British nominees…”

That’s a misrepresentation of the Japanese example. The 2007 final report shows a nearly complete absence of votes for any Japanese work or person. When you look at Hugo voting reports for Worldcons in Australia, Canada and the UK, there is a very different pattern, lots of votes for locals (even if most don’t make the final ballot.) Kevin’s use of the Japanese example only works if he proves that they participated and voted for English language works, which surely is not what happened. (I hope eventually a Japanese fan will articulate for us why there wasn’t local participation.)

However, I feel this whole discussion goes amiss because there is an implicit assumption that if there actually is a “locals for locals” effect that must be assumed to be an e-vile thing.

The Hugos are democratically selected by the members, and when the Worldcon goes overseas a lot of people get involved who don’t join when it’s in the U.S.

I look at the 2005 Hugo ballot and see that the members of the Glasgow Worldcon have filled the Best Novel category with works by U.K. writers. That never happens when the con is somewhere else. Uh, could these events be related? But there being a relationship only matters if somebody can somehow argue the finalists were undeserving.

Long before the 2005 nominations came out, I was hearing American fans on convention panels heavily touting Susanna Clarke’s novel, which of course won. The authors of two other novel finalists had been nominated for a Hugo before (by a non-U.K. Worldcon), and a third, McDonald, has been nominated and won since (Nippon 2007). Banks was the only writer whose 2005 Hugo nomination is an isolated event.

As for 2003, that’s when members of the Toronto Worldcon voted the Best Novel Hugo to favorite son Robert Sawyer. Yet that was the sixth time a novel by Sawyer was nominated. It’s hard to say the people who voted for him are some kind of outlying opinion group doing something no other Worldcon would consider.

So I tend to think there is a local effect, but not one with insidious results.

(If I wanted to take Kevin’s side of the argument, I would start with the 2006 fan Hugo results. I’m still waiting for the local effect to kick in!)

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4 thoughts on “Hugo’s Hometown Heroes

  1. I think we are actually pretty much in agreement here, Mike. The “prevailing wisdom” seems to be that when Worldcon goes overseas hordes of local fans join up and vote for local writers, but Kevin and I don’t believe that, and it looks like you don’t either.

    We have no data on the nationality of voters, but the simple statistics of the make-up of the nominating electorate, which is overwhelmingly American for most overseas Worldcons, suggest that locals don’t have much effect on the vote.

  2. We’re in agreement about which evidence is relevant, and even that the evidence to actually prove things one way or the other isn’t available, but it does not seem that we come down on the same side of the argument.

    For instance, here are the Interaction nominating ballot statistics:

    The minimum number of nominations to get a novel on the final ballot was 33. It would not take a lot of locals to have a great impact in the nominating phase. And the 2005 results make a case for a local effect. But even if that’s so, it’s good writers they were voting for.

  3. OK, right, I see where you are coming from. How’s this?

    1. The majority of voters are always American.

    2. In the UK and Canada some local fans do vote, and they are more likely to vote for local writers.

    3. The effect of 2 can be to tip the balance in favor of local writers.

    4. But only because a bunch of the Americans also vote for the local writers, while they might not have done had the convention been in the US.

    5. The idea that hordes of local fans outweigh the votes of patriotic Americans (who only vote for American writers) is silly.

    6. It looks like the Japanese fans either didn’t vote at all, or voted for Western writers.

    (And, by the way, I’ve met many people outside the US who were convinced that the Hugos were only open to American writers.)

  4. I also read people complaining about the size of the Japanese worldcon’s program book, without realizing that the entire thing had to be done twice, once in Japanese, the second time in English. Japanophobes could, of course, just rip their copies in half, and throw away the Japanese half…

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