Should the Best Series Hugo Category Be Kept?

The Best Series Hugo category was added to the WSFS Constitution in 2017 with a sunset clause requiring a future re-ratification vote to remain part of the Worldcon Constitution. That vote happens next week at the DisCon III Business Meeting. If you were there, would you vote yes or no on keeping the category?

ORIGIN STORY. The impetus for the Best Series category came from a 2015 article by Eric Flint about the divergence between authors’ market popularity and awards recognition. However, for a number of reasons, including hostility towards the Sad/Rabid Puppies then-active slating campaign, and a desire to sustain a trend towards diversity among Hugo finalists, fans were not interested in finding ways to give more rockets to best-selling authors per se.

Those crafting the rules for the new category decided their goal would be “to provide Hugo categories more in line with today’s science fiction and fantasy publishing norms and to further create categories that compare like items” (2016 Business Meeting minutes), which was to be accomplished by “add[ing] a Hugo Award recognizing storytelling in the form of a series of stories” (2017 Business Meeting minutes).

The Best Series Hugo category received first passage in 2016. The Helsinki Worldcon committee ran the Best Series Hugo category in 2017 under the rule allowing committees the option to create a one-time Hugo category. Since then it has continued under the amendment to the WSFS Constitution passed again in 2017 — with a sunset clause now ticking down to its final minutes.

PERFORMANCE. Harlan Ellison persuaded fans at the 1972 Business Meeting to restore the fourth fiction Hugo category that had been lost when the 1969 Worldcon voted to combine the Novelette and Short Story categories. Ellison’s best arguments were that award-winners would benefit commercially, and have more incentive to stay in the sf field writing the kind of stories fans liked most. If you wanted to help writers, he argued, add back that fourth Hugo. They did.  

From that viewpoint – here’s another Hugo for writers to win – why would people ever get rid of the Best Series category?

Well, they might if it was dominated by authors who had already won Hugos for individual novels and stories in the nominated series – since those writers already have the benefit Ellison was arguing for.

That’s been on my mind all along. If the fans who gave Hugos to people in earlier years are now voting on Best Series, aren’t they going to pick series by writers they’ve already shown an affection for, resulting in a second bite of the apple for a collective work that includes a something that already won Best Novel or another fiction Hugo? You’d think.

And right out of the gate, Lois McMaster Bujold won the new Hugo twice, for her Vorkosigan and World of the Five Gods series. However, the third time around (2019) Becky Chambers’ Wayfarer series won. That was her first Hugo win ever. And in 2020, James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series won, also that author’s first win (though second time around as a Best Series nominee).

The 2021 winner will be revealed next week, but what about those finalists’ history as Hugo contenders?

Best Series 2021 Finalists

  • The Daevabad Trilogy, S.A. Chakraborty (Harper Voyager)
  • The Interdependency, John Scalzi (Tor Books) [1 book was a 2018 Hugo finalist]
  • The Lady Astronaut Universe, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books/Audible/Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction/Solaris) [Series includes 3 Hugo finalists and two wins]
  • The Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells (Tor.com) [Series has 3 finalists and two wins]
  • October Daye, Seanan McGuire (DAW) [Series has 2 finalists; this is its third time as a Best Series finalist]
  • The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager)

(Note: I’m open to correction here — I’m more familiar with some of the series than others.)

Interestingly, this is R.F. Kuang’s and S.A. Chakraborty’s first and only appearances on the Hugo final ballot.

VOTER ACCEPTANCE. Besides inspecting the track record of the finalists, it’s also worthwhile to look at how Hugo voters have responded to the Best Series category in terms of voter support.

Generally, the Best Novel category gets the highest degree of participation, and the fan categories the least. In 2020, there were 2,221 final Hugo ballots cast, with 1,873 for Best Novel, and 1,506 for Best Series. Voters are interested.  

Putting No Award in first place can be a sign of voter unhappiness with either a category or a habitual winner. Looking at the history of the Best Series category, the percentage of voters who put No Award in first place started at 4% in 2017, went up to 6% in 2018, but dropped back to 4%, then 3%, in each of the next two years.

The category is getting good participation, and doesn’t seem to have inspired any more entrenched resistance than most other categories.

CONCLUSION. Best Series shows some of the traits I expected, but overall seems to be working better than I predicted. What do you think?

Here follows a table of historic information about the category.


2017 BEST SERIES HUGO

Nominations: 1393 votes for 291 nominees.

Finals: 2340 votes cast in category. [No Award in first place = 93 (4%)]

  • The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen) WINNER
  • The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey (Orbit US / Orbit UK)
  • The Temeraire series, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey / Harper Voyager UK)
  • The Craft Sequence, by Max Gladstone (Tor Books)
  • The Peter Grant / Rivers of London series, by Ben Aaronovitch (Gollancz / Del Rey / DAW / Subterranean)
  • The October Daye Books, by Seanan McGuire (DAW / Corsair)

[JJ’s Best Series Hugo: Eligible Series From 2016 tracked info on 164 series, including several noted as ineligible.]


2018 BEST SERIES HUGO

Nominations: 1,000 ballots [# of nominees not reported]

Finals: 1,855 valid ballots cast in category. [No Award in first place = 103 (6%)]

  • World of the Five Gods, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Harper Voyager / Spectrum Literary Agency) WINNER
  • InCryptid, by Seanan McGuire (DAW)
  • The Memoirs of Lady Trent, by Marie Brennan (Tor US / Titan UK)
  • The Books of the Raksura, by Martha Wells (Night Shade)
  • The Stormlight Archive, by Brandon Sanderson (Tor US / Gollancz UK)
  • The Divine Cities, by Robert Jackson Bennett (Broadway US / Jo Fletcher Books UK)

[JJ’s Best Series Hugo: Eligible Series from 2017 tracked info on 214 series, including several noted as ineligible.]


2019 BEST SERIES HUGO

Nominations: 966 ballots for 244 nominees

Final ballot: 2,167 ballots cast in category. [No Award in first place = 76 (4%)]

  • Wayfarers, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager) WINNER
  • The Laundry Files, by Charles Stross (most recently Orbit/Tor and Tor.com publishing)
  • Machineries of Empire, by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris)
  • The October Daye Series, by Seanan McGuire (most recently DAW)
  • The Universe of Xuya, by Aliette de Bodard (most recently Subterranean Press)
  • The Centenal Cycle, by Malka Older (Tor.com publishing)

[JJ’s Best Series Hugo: Eligible Series from 2018 tracked info on 174 series, including several noted as ineligible.]


2020 BEST SERIES HUGO

Nominations: 676 ballots for 219 nominees

Final ballot: 1,506 ballots cast in category. [No Award in first place = 44 (3%)]

  • The Expanse, by James S. A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK) WINNER
  • InCryptid, by Seanan McGuire (DAW)
  • Planetfall series, by Emma Newman (Ace; Gollancz)
  • Winternight Trilogy, by Katherine Arden (Del Rey; Del Rey UK)
  • The Wormwood Trilogy, by Tade Thompson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • Luna, by Ian McDonald (Tor; Gollancz)

[JJ’s Best Series Hugo: Eligible Series from 2019 tracked info on 196 series, including several noted as ineligible.]


2021 BEST SERIES HUGO

Nominations: 727 ballots for 180 nominees

  • The Daevabad Trilogy, S.A. Chakraborty (Harper Voyager)
  • The Interdependency, John Scalzi (Tor Books)
  • The Lady Astronaut Universe, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books/Audible/Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction/Solaris)
  • The Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells (Tor.com)
  • October Daye, Seanan McGuire (DAW)
  • The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager)

[JJ’s Best Series Hugo: Eligible Series from 2020 tracked info on 161 series, including several noted as ineligible.]

14 thoughts on “Should the Best Series Hugo Category Be Kept?

  1. CONCLUSION. Best Series shows some of the traits I expected, but overall seems to be working better than I predicted.

    That’s kind of where I’m at now, but it took a few years to get there.

  2. CONCLUSION. Best Series shows some of the traits I expected, but overall seems to be working better than I predicted. What do you think?

    I fully agree. I think the Best Series Hugo is working just fine.

  3. Interestingly, this is R.F. Kuang’s and S.A. Chakraborty’s first and only appearances on the Hugo final ballot.

    Both are familiar to Hugo voters as Astounding Award finalists.

    I’ve enjoyed the category and would like to see it continue. It’s gotten me back into series reading.

  4. I admit having my doubts, but I think it has worked better than expected. If Sandy and I were going to be there, we’d probably vote to keep it.
    (not that we attend the business meeting much)

  5. I like the category, and yes, I would still be saying that even if I hadn’t been nominated. 🙂 Series are a major part of how SF/F operates, and there are definitely instances where I think the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Sure, there will be years where things double up; if (for not at all hypothetical example), N.K. Jemisin’s trilogy wins Best Novel three years running, then it’s hard to imagine it is not also one of the best series we’ve seen in that time frame.

    But you’ll note her series doesn’t appear in the listings above, and that (as I recall) is because she declined the Best Series nomination. I like the example that sets: by no means should it be required, but authors saying “let some other works have their moment in the sun” rather than “MOAR HUGOZ FOR MEEEE” is quite gracious.

    I aspire to have to make that choice someday. 😉

  6. I’m struggling with this, being of two minds. One the one hand, I do enjoy nominating and voting for this award. At the same time, i continue to feel there is something not quite right about it (although not as awry as the Best Related Works category), but I have not yet figured out what. I plan on being present at the Discon III WSFS Business Meeting and I’ll see what I hear.

  7. Dave Hook: Besides the things I mentioned in the post, one question about the category is whether people can genuinely be expected to read up and vote knowledgeably in the available time. One of the Hugo Award’s strengths is that the voters are trying to determine their favorites based on having read/experienced the various finalists. Even when the Best Series material is generously made available in the Hugo Voter Packet it takes a lot of time to read.

  8. “…one question about the category is whether people can genuinely be expected to read up and vote knowledgeably in the available time.”

    That’s my chief difficulty. This year, since I’d read so many of the books in the category and it was an extra long interval between announcement and final vote, it was a fairly easy six books. The previous year, I’d only read one series in full and one book from the other nominees. Too many pages and too little time stood between me and a thoroughly grounded vote.

    I like the idea more than the reality.

  9. I feel like it seems to work on paper, but it doesn’t really work (too much reading, voting on something that’s not just from that year, etc.). Plus I don’t feel the category should exist, but I don’t blanket-No-Award it: I vote in it (contributing to the fact that the numbers don’t really tell the whole story).

    I’ll probably vote against it, but I’m not 100% sure.

  10. Mike Glyer: I agree that the potential reading volume for this award is a challenge. I have been much more focused on reading short SFF in the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction Facebook group this year and last. This was great for nominating and voting on short fiction, but I never got around to some of the series books, even with the extra time. I did vote for series nominations I had read.

  11. The finalists and winners certainly are deserving. The downside of the category is it has the worst return on investment of all the categories. The honor for the authors is significant but it is not as great as a category where work is eligible only once. The workload for the voters and administrators is more than any other category. If we wanted to streamline and focus the Hugos on a smaller set of categories, Best Series would be the first one to cut.

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