On the “Best Saga” Hugo

Due to Enormous Real Life Events, I’m still way behind on the comments on my last Hugo post (ARGH! SORRY!), but, you know, if I made myself catch up on everything ever before saying anything new, my inbox would be empty but I wouldn’t have a writing career.

So, this Best Saga Hugo.

I instantly loved the idea, so I probed on Twitter trying to figure out why I was seeing so much negativity about it.  Some people said they supported it in theory but the devil was in the details of this proposal (which, I believe, is still in its revision stage, so I hope it gets thrashed out to people’s satisfaction (eta: revisions being discussed here!)).

But others brought up the same arguments I’d seen elsewhere: that we shouldn’t have this award because it would favor established and/or white male authors.

Now, a lot of people know both the Hugos and the field a lot better than I do.  For instance, when I first saw the suggestion, one of the ways it immediately appealed to me was that it felt like it would lead to a greater likelihood of urban fantasy and SFR nominations, two subgenres that are historically ignored (and have a lot of female authors writing them).  Twitter, unfortunately, told me I was naive about this, because girl cooties.  I admit Twitter does know more than I do about these things, just as lots of other people in the field know way more about the history of the genre and the awards than I do.[1]

So although I like the idea of Best Saga because it matches the way I read — I love series, and there are series I would nominate as a Saga at the drop of a hat while not feeling any installment deserves Best Novel — I don’t feel I quite have the authority to speak to whether such a category change would be advisable for the Hugos or beneficial for the field.  My instinct is that a demographic argument is not really a good one — and I’m honestly still confused as to why we wouldn’t want to honor established authors whose work may be hugely loved but doesn’t fit neatly into other categories — but on the whole I’ll leave those larger arguments to more knowledgeable heads than mine.

But considering that so much of the conversation is centered on this award favoring established, white, male authors, as an unestablished, POC, female author — and one whose first work has been part of a series — I feel I do have something to add from that perspective.

Which is: more awards mean more people talking about their favorite things.  And now that the axing of Novelette is no longer part of the proposal, the addition of another category means more people talking about more of their favorite things, which can be good for lots of people other than established white men.[2]

To demonstrate, let me tell you my experience as a person who was nominated for zero awards this year. Because there’s this thing that happens around awards season, which is that people start recommending stuff, and it’s pretty heady.  So here’s what happened to me:

  • Best Short Story is a category.  My eligible short story was on more than one person’s “best of” list. People were talking about it and reading it.  I didn’t get a nomination, but being talked about — AMAZING,  YAY!
  • The Campbell is a (not a Hugo) award for new writers.  I’m a new writer.  I saw myself get recommended . . . probably ten or twelve times.  Let me tell ya, could’ve knocked me over with a feather the first time it happened!  But the point is, if the Campbell Award weren’t a thing that exists, then people would not have been mentioning my name for it.
  • Best Novel is a category.  I don’t think I got a whole lot of votes for this — I think most people who like my novels thought of me for the Campbell (YAY! FEATHER! THANK YOU!) but I was mentioned a couple times, including in discussions of diversity in novel lists.  For example, when Kameron Hurley asked come awards season for people’s favorite 2014 novel by a woman of color, and HEY LOOK PEOPLE ARE MENTIONING ME.

In other words:

  • Zero women of color were nominated for Best Short Story this year, but the existence of the award still benefited me, a woman of color.
  • Zero women of color were nominated for the Campbell this year, but the existence of the award still benefited me, a woman of color.
  • Zero women of color were nominated for Best Novel this year, but the existence of the award still benefited me, a woman of color.

As a completely unestablished, non-white, non-male person writing a “Saga,” I admit it kinda makes my teeth itch that people are telling me the existence of this award would be bad for people like me.  Yes, I’m completely unlikely to be nominated for such a thing in the foreseeable future.  But hey, you want to know what would happen if we had a Best Saga award?

People who like my books would talk about them more.

People who are interested in making sure their reading and awards nominations don’t only privilege white men would start asking around for women and POC writing sagas, and my books would get talked about more.

like being talked about more.  And I, as an unestablished person, might even get more just out of being talked about than the Already Very Popular and Established Author who actually wins the award.  (But if he gets a bump too, who cares?  I refuse to believe publishing is a zero sum game.  The category benefiting someone else more doesn’t mean it still wouldn’t benefit people like me.)

And yeah — I said this in one of the footnotes, but it bears repeating — I get why people might think Best Saga is less valuable than an award category that might have a broader demographic bent, like Novelette or YA.  And if the proposal were coupled with one of those still, I’d understand people pushing against it for those reasons.  But now that it’s not, there’s no zero sum game here, either, is there?

Honestly, I’ve been trying to figure out why I feel so bothered by the above sorts of arguments, and I think it feels a little like the existence of POC and women writing series is being erased or ignored.  Which is . . . not a very nice feeling, you know?  Because we’re here, and we’re doing it.  Instead of completely shutting down the category that best fits our work, wouldn’t a better solution be to have the category . . . and then recommend the heck out of your favorite women / POC / more-unknown authors who are writing in it?  Rather than saying we don’t want a category unless it’s already more evenly demographically split, why not use the existence of the category to give word of mouth to your favorites who are overlooked in that form?  To help make the form more fair by getting people to read your favorites?  After all, the more they sell, the more publishers will support other series like them . . .

Again, maybe I’m naive.  Maybe there are bigger sociological arguments I’m missing.  I’ll freely admit there may be.

But I felt like I should share this perspective.  Because I’m the exact category of person these arguments are supposed to be defending, and I just . . . don’t feel very defended by them.


Closing comments because I am WAY behind on everything right now and I don’t have time to moderate at the moment (and I don’t want the thread to accidentally run away).  But please feel free to approach me on Twitter — @sl_huang — and tell me if I’ve got the wrong end of the stick somehow.  If convinced, I’ll happily edit this post.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Heck, it seems like every year my knowledge — and thus opinion — of the Hugo Awards changes.  It was only a few years ago that I realized they weren’t juried, and when I found out they weren’t, I was initially kind of indifferent to them.  Ironically, as the shenanigans of the past few years have unfolded I feel I’ve gained a great deal more respect for the Hugos, because I’ve seen so many stories of what they mean to people and of the amount of work put in by the volunteers who love the field enough to administer them.  I feel like I’m still gaining understanding and nuance of the conversations surrounding them, but I’m enthusiastically participating and listening now, because at the heart of the Hugos seems to be people’s love of genre — and I am so on board with that.
  2. I see why people would, given the choice, want other categories before Saga for demographic reasons — keeping Novelette, for instance, or adding YA — but I don’t think this is a reason not to add Best Saga on its own merits.

About the author

SL Huang (aka MathPencil)
SL Huang (aka MathPencil)

SL Huang justifies an MIT degree by using it to write eccentric mathematical superhero books. Debut novel: Zero Sum Game, a speculative fiction thriller.
Website: www.slhuang.com
Twitter: @sl_huang

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