Saturday, May 7, 2016

Oh no, not again! Preparing to read and review the Hugo nominations

“Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was 'Oh no, not again."

Douglas Adams, The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy

Douglas Adams' parable of unhappy recurrence seems a fitting enough way to begin some reflections on the announcement of the 2016 Hugo Award shortlist last week. 

There's been a whole lot of editorialising already on the news that (as with a similar case last year) the shortlisting process has effectively been gamed by block voting for a Rabid Puppy slate of nominations. 

The File 770 blog has produced a handy comparison of the slate versus the shortlist - but the short version is that if it was on the slate, it's probably on the shortlist.

And you can also see this Guardian article for reporting and context

I don't propose to add much to what's already been written. There's only so many times you can read that block voting may be within the letter of the Hugo Awards but it's against the spirit, that the vulnerabilty in the nominations process is hopefully being fixed in time for 2017, and that there's some problematic politics on display here. But I do want to set out for my own satisfaction what I will do as a reader and reviewer.

As a reader

First, I'm going to attempt to read everything in the voter's packet, which will probably be a more enjoyable exercise than you might think given the above. That's partly because anything that got onto the shortlist in spite of the block voting - Uprooted by Naomi Novik, say - is coming highly recommended by a lot of different people. 

Also - and such is the bizarro nature of the nominations this year - the Rabid Puppies slate itself contained a fair amount of work that might well have made the shortlist without it (permission was not sought before inclusion on the slate). Authors like Neil Gaiman, Lois McMaster Bujold, Alistair Reynolds or Brandon Sanderson, as well as those less known but well regarded, who will be well worth reading in their right. 

That does leave the remainder - a combination of work from the Rabid Puppy organiser's publishing press Castalia House and picks that are seemingly part of his Dada offensive in the American culture wars slash ongoing feud against the SF establishment. I don't have high hopes of this stuff based on last year's Hugo reading, but hey ho, I'll give it a go.

As a reviewer  

Second - I'm going to try and review as much of the shortlist as possible on this blog. Reviewing does help me work out my voting decisions, it's true, but it's also a way of exploring what science fiction and fantasy means to me and others.  

In reviewing the shortlist, we can't help but talk about and affirm what we value about the genre. We measure any given contender against the best from the past while looking at what it offers for the present. And I do hope you'll join me in this conversation too, as it rolls forward between now and August.

Inevitably, reviewing also means engaging with the intensely political nature of the Rabid Puppies. Given the inclusion of works on the shortlist like SJW's Always Lie - Taking Down The Thought Police - not to mention the rhetoric I see on the #hugoawards and #rabidpuppies hashtags - it would be a critical miss to review the culture war and Castalia House nominations shorn of this context.  

So reviewing has to include examining those politics - atttempting to understand them and where necessary subjecting them to critique - but avoiding the op-ed trap so common on the internet by starting from the work itself and moving outwards. Playing the ball, not the man, if you like.

But it's important not to lose sight of the fact that reviewing - and talking about what we value in the genre - is also contributing to a sorely-needed positive discourse around the Hugo Awards. Is it enough?  Probably not. But it might be part of a solution. And if other methods occur to me I'll add them here in the coming weeks. 

Helpful postscript - register to vote in the Hugos

You can help the Hugos work as well as is realistically possible in 2016 by buying a supporting membership and becoming a voter. The larger the electorate, the smaller the influence of any faction, the fairer the outcome. 

I'll be picking up my supporting membership in the coming days. And you can read my pitch for voting back in February here.

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