Who Deserves a Hugo?

Guest post by Tuomas Vainio: It seems to be a popular question today. Thus to determine the answer, I went to Amazon and searched for science fiction in e-books. As I scrolled down I noticed an option to refine my search to contain only the new releases from past 30 or 90 days. Respectively that is 2,472 and 6,807 works, which gives us the average of 82,4 or 75,6 new science fiction releases per day. Hence we can expect to have more than 27,000 new e-books released this year.

Then out of curiosity I did the same for regular books; I got 4,809 works for past 30 days, and 14,460 works for the past 90 days. That gives us the daily averages 160,3 for the former and 160,6 for the latter. Hence we can expect to have more than 58,000 new books released this year.

Naturally both electronic and paper based books will have overlap, not to mention that some of the new releases in Amazon could very well be; re-releases or even translations. Hence I suppose a rough annual estimate of 50,000 new works should suffice for argument’s sake. (I openly admit that I pulled that figure out my own arse.)

Both sides of this argument have made the claim how undeserving and deserving works are not being and being nominated for the ballot. Both sides are correct. Five possible nominations out of 50,000 eligible works? I mean, what certainty do we have that those five nominated works are superior to any number of the other eligible 49,995 works? Nor can any one individual read hundreds of works per day. Thus the decision of superiority falls onto the shoulders of the fans raised above the rest by their willingness and capability to spend at least $40 for the right to nominate and vote in the Hugo awards.

Whoever these fans are; they are likely to nominate the works they have read and liked themselves. Yet we have to consider how only a low percentage of those eligible to nominate and vote use their right. So if fans encounter a list of recommendations they deem favourable, then they might follow it out of their own volition. Therefore; if you contact your friends and families and share recommendations of eligible works on the blogs read by the wider audience, it becomes possible for anyone to affect the end result of the Hugo awards.

Now since these awards are something of an annual community highlight, you can check the various blogs of authors and see how they have listed their favourites year after a year. How they have shared their thoughts on if a work is deserving or not. Or more bluntly; who they think should win the award this year.

Thus I have to wonder what is so different this year, what sets the Sad Puppies 3 apart from the earlier attempts to game the awards? The most notable differences that I can see are that instead of having Brad’s and Vox’s recommendations we got Sad and Rabid Puppies’ recommendations, and both came with their own funny pictures. So for others to game the next year’s awards in their favour; it seems you only need a catchy name and a funny picture.

And frankly, if the Hugo awards were not gamed during previous years, then how can people make claims that the Puppies took the awards away from more deserving authors? And why has the awards literally exploded with varying degrees of online vitriol?

I mean; every year most authors do not get nominated, it is a fact. Thus, if the award is not gamed by anyone, no one can be sure who gets to the top. Hence there is no reason to be upset. Even if the Puppies were the only ones gaming the award, no one could be sure of their exact impact. There would be a reason to be mildly annoyed, but ultimately we would not know of their exact impact.

Thus the claims that there were more deserving authors pushed aside simply implies that there was pre-existing expectations on who would come out on top. Expectations that are not so unreasonable if you consider the effect of friends and family, the usual blog posts, and check what the combined effort amounted to on the years before in order to estimate the impact for this year. In a way it is almost like you had paid a boxer to go down on the fifth round, and when he does not, you have reason to cry out of the outrage.

So to sum it up; what we have is kettle calling the pot black during a school yard popularity contest with the associated level of immaturity.

And we get back to the question at hand; who deserves a Hugo? The only answer is as follows; it belongs to whoever that was nominated and voted for by those who were willing to fork out at least $40.

P.S. Oh, and I have not paid that minimum of $40. I ran into this whole thing by stumbling onto that original Entertainment Weekly article, which proved utterly nonsensical with just about 30 minutes of googling all the listed names, which in turn sparked my interest on this back and forth.

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59 thoughts on “Who Deserves a Hugo?

  1. As for that European CrossFit competitor who shares my name…
    JJ> Have you considered the possibility that people might have same names? You know, how some names are more common than others?

    As for my ever so incriminating twitter description; someone might notice how the whole thing is written with tongue in cheek. “Engineer, self-claimed author, Earth’s worst poet, artist of little talent, and a professional internet troll?” *Snort.*

    Anyhow, I thank Mike for posting the blog post.

  2. Tuomas Vainio:

    It seems pretty clear from what you’ve said that you’re not terribly familiar with the breadth of science fiction and fantasy literature — and that you know very little about publishing.

    And that’s okay. A lot of people don’t know much, or even anything, about those things. But… those people generally aren’t given an open mic in order for them to demonstrate how much they don’t know.

    Firstly, the fact that you think linking to Amazon for any sort of definitive information to support an argument such as yours indicates that you don’t have the knowledgebase to successfully make such an argument. Amazon is not a good source for meaningful data — apart from whether a book is available in printed or e-book form, and how much it’s going to cost you.

    Every single one of those books to which you linked is a self-published e-book (with the exception of one, which is a self-publishing middleman, whose physical books are print-on-demand through Lulu). In the olden days, this was called “vanity publishing”. People used to pay a good chunk of change to get their novel published by a printing company when no publisher was interested. It’s a lot easier and cheaper these days for anyone to get anything published, thanks to Amazon Digital Services. These days, anybody and their brother can get a book published — and the vast majority of it is crap.

    ISFDB is not intended as a repository for every single self-published book (which, as you pointed out, number in the many thousands). This is a feature of ISFDB, not a bug.

    The ISFDB is a curated database — curated by people who are big readers of, and quite knowledgeable about, books in the SFF genre. If books are added to that database, readers have some reasonable assurance that it is a book which has seen an editor and, usually a publisher; that it is fiction of at least a reasonable quality (as opposed to the horrible, cliched drivel my Uncle Joe bangs out on his laptop, while telling himself that he’s a brilliant author).

    When you say you can get 13 novels for $40 from Amazon, it would indicate to me that perhaps you’re more concerned with affordability than quality. That’s cool. You can read on any basis you choose. But I’m sure that you can also understand that many other people prefer to read based on quality — and I’ll take 10 random picks from the ISFDB over 10 from the Amazon Digital Services db ANY day. In fact, I would rather chew off my own arm than be forced to read 10 random self-published e-books.

    This is why your original post pretty much holds no credibility with the vast majority of people who’ve commented in this thread. Most of the people here are huge SFF readers, and their main concern is quality (as each of them defines quality in their own reading).

    The reality is that the number of quality SFF novels released each year is around 4,000. This, when coupled with recommendations of friends to friends, and reading reviews from trusted sources online, is actually quite a manageable number, in terms of whittling it down to identify high-quality candidates for Hugo nominations. In other words, the main premise of your original piece is hugely flawed.

    Of course, you’re entitled to have a different opinion, based simply on reading an EW article and doing some random searches on Amazon. But you know what they say about opinions.

  3. I know this blog post has already disappeared onto the older pages, but allow me to chime in for one last time.

    Should I start by listing every Science Fiction or Fantasy work that I have read to prove my breath of expertise, my breath of nobility and degree? Should I name drop and share stories of those I known to have failed and succeeded in getting themselves published? Should I speak of the long waits, or perhaps how published works get shovelled right into a dark corners of a bookstore to be promptly forgotten?

    I could spend hours to write it all down. Hours of my life spent in an effort to impress a faceless and nameless individual over the internet. An individual who has already show signs to belittle and disregard straight out of the bat. I have walked these roads before, duelled with my words, and I know when such effort will be for nought. Whatever evidence I would provide would not be enough, and any omission no more than a sign of falsehoods.

    What choice do I have but to plead ignorance? Or should I instead question your claimed, but not proven, expertise? Do you have any evidence to share, names to drop, or book lists to present? Or would you rather save your own time and effort by pleading ignorance?

    But let us finally get back at the matter at hand. Let us discuss Amazon and what is meaningful data. What I am interested in is the annual amount of new science fiction made available to the public. In other words, the only data we are interested in is the availability as that alone defines the number of works eligible for a Hugo award nomination for any given year. Any perceived pedigree of the publication or the method of publication is rendered irrelevant.

    Both Amazon and ISFDB offer their answers regarding the number of new science fiction works. Neither gets away without complaints. In Amazon’s case; a mere customer cannot easily clear out the repeated entries. So what you get with just few clicks is a rough estimate of the real figure.

    As for ISFDB; it is a community effort to catalogue works of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Hence the additions to the database rest solely on the shoulders of the community, and as a result the ISFDB is not up to date. The number of works it lists is only a fraction of what is actually available. Not to mention how the website seems to suffer from browser based compatibility bugs.

    Therefore, I find Amazon’s far more reliable when it comes to estimating the actual annual number of new works of science fiction.

    As for matters of quality, this is almost entirely a matter of opinion and preference. For example, if you were to consider the back and forth regarding this year’s nominations, then the differences should be evidently clear. I am not forcing you to like what you do not, but I expect you to realise that your own tastes might not be universally shared.

    This is definitely nitpicking, but even if you lower the number of works to ten, it might not be possible to get ten random works off from the ISFDB list for $40. Moreover, the statement was more about having better uses for that $40.

    Finally, I still firmly believe that whatever gets nominated and voted for the Hugo award, deserves the nomination and the award regardless of my personal preference. You can freely disagree, but it does not mean you can muster an argument that would change my mind.

  4. Tuomos Vainio: “if you lower the number of works to ten, it might not be possible to get ten random works off from the ISFDB list for $40”

    That was exactly my point. If all you’re reading are $3 self-published e-books from Amazon, then you’re missing a lot of great SFF — and more than likely, reading a lot of dross.

    “What I am interested in is the annual amount of new science fiction made available to the public.”

    And what many other people are interested in is the annual amount of new science fiction made available to the public that is actually worth reading.

    If all you’re using to narrow your choices for SFF reading with an eye to Hugo nominations is Amazon, no wonder it looks like a monumental, unachievable task to you.

    But other people have tried-and-true methods of identifying works which are likely to be good. io9, Kirkus Reviews, Tor.com, and Buzzfeed all have regular monthly columns about the new speculative fictions works which are being released each month. I check those regularly, and have discovered some real gems that way. I also have a number of online review sites I regularly read, by people whose opinions I have come to trust, to find works I like.

    A lot of other people do something similar to decide what they’re going to read. The fact that you apparently don’t, doesn’t make narrowing choices down for Hugo nomination hard for other people; it just makes doing so hard for you.

    Your original premise, that is impossible for people to whittle all the SFF novels released in a year down to a meaningful list of likely possibilities, is false.

    Therefore, your assertion that the Hugos must have previously been gamed is false. Your assertion that what the Puppies did was perfectly acceptable is false. And your assertion that the people who are unhappy about what the Puppies have done are hypocrites is false.

  5. One of the things I love about fandom is the old “People Talk To Each Other” principle.

    I don’t know why this very important human social activity gets so often overlooked.

    Sure, checking out all the new titles on Amazon, including self-published ones, is well-nigh impossible for any single person all by their lonesome.

    But no one is actually isolated and alone about books and finding them.

    There is an army out there of thousands of readers — not just active-in-fandom fans, but readers — and they talk to each other. Some of them blog and report and have book discussion groups. Some talk to their friends and family and coworkers.

    Interested people do a lot of work to find good new books and they share that work out of a love of books. It’s a kind of wealth for other book lovers.

    Mind you, much of the self-published work tends to be disregarded because an awful lot of it is rubbish and it’s too much for most people to wade through to pluck out the gems. But even there there are dedicated souls who comb through to find good works and tell people about them.

    As for trade-published works, well, in college I had a friend who read every new SFF mass market paperback release and clued us in on the best ones, and even today I don’t know that that’s an impossible task. New hardcover works are even fewer, and I suppose someone with the budget for them could get through much of the new hardcover titles if they read diligently.

    Maybe no one person can check out all the new books published every month. But a crowdsourced human search engine can.

  6. JJ, my premise is that it is impossible to determine whether the Hugo winning work was truly the best work of that year. The sheer amount new SFF in a year makes sure of that.

    And really, these days it is very easy to ask for votes. To nudge and advertise. And quite frankly, if you are not on personal quest to nominate and vote for what you yourself think it is best… If you see a recommendation… and you liked it… that is one more vote nominate or determine who gets the award.

    And simultaneously… we have people who no longer care for the award as nothing they like gets through the nominations anymore.

  7. Ya gotta love that Revisionist History, when the original post, with all of its false claims, is still right up there ^ for everyone to read for themselves.

  8. And I could be snarky snark snark about reading comprehension.

  9. How about reading comprehension of this? I read it as victims of internet stalkers are slackers who could put an end to all their suffering with just a few easy steps in “a day or two.”

    My gods.

    Tuomas Vainio on May 13, 2015 at 4:43 pm said:

    No one should suffer harasment of any kind.

    But when it comes to online harassments, while it takes a day or two to pull off, it is still reasonably easy to put a stop to it. All you need is new new email address, followed by termination of your old twitter account and the creation of a new one. Not to mention how you can switch your phone numbers, and finally you just inform of the ‘address’ change to your friends and family.

    And to limit possible real life harm done, only have the bare minimum of information available online. Because lets face it, if anyone says anything even mildly controversial, someone is bound to comment on it. The more controversial, the hotter the emotions.

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