Signs indicated that things were going to get ugly well before last night’s Hugo Awards ceremony. The Worldcon business meeting passed resolutions moving the deadline to register and nominate from January 31 to December 31 and limiting the eligibility to nominate to the current and past year Worldcons not the next year Worldcon. Both minor, but both clearing targeted as shrinking the pool of nominators. More striking, Dave Truesdale was kicked out of MidAmeriCon II. His crime? As moderator of a panel titled “The State of Short Fiction,” Truesdale opened with a monologue on . . . the state of short fiction. Supposedly this “hijacked” the panel. Which seems a little weird given that (1) it was directly on-topic and (2) that could be a fair description of most panels, sans anyone actually getting kicked out. MidAmeriCon II actually said this in explanation:
I would have explicitly thrown in doublethink and Newspeak and thoughtcrime, but I can appreciate a more subtle approach.
UPDATE: Audio from the State of Short Fiction panel Truesdale moderated is available here. Frankly, as panels go, it was a pretty good one. MidAmeriCon II comes off looking terrible. Not only did his actions not remotely rise to level of anything that should have gotten him kicked out, the Con made things much worse by amplifying the situation.
Before I move on to the Awards themselves, I should point something out about Worldcon, the “world science fiction convention.” It’s history dates back almost 80 years (much longer than the Hugos themselves). And it’s a long and storied history. After starting small (just a few hundred attendees), Worldcon peaked at 8,000+ attendees in LA in, appropriately enough, 1984. Membership numbers jump around a lot based on location, but since 1984 membership has been flat.
(I used attending members only, not the larger number of members who can nominate and vote but don’t attend. That is the y-axis. X-axis is the Worldcon number. That last big spike is Loncon 3 and the final data point is for Sasquan.)
I attended my first and only Worldcon at LoneStarCon 3. It was in many ways great. It was literary-focused but with more and better panels, more and better authors, and more and better parties than any of the regional literary cons I’ve attended since. But it was also obvious that Worldcon had a problem. More than one young author I talked to grumbled that the average attendee just wanted to talk about rereading Heinlein one more time instead of searching out new voices and new books. The crowd was old. Which is fine, in and of itself, but in the not-too-distant future Worldcon is going to need to replace those fans if it is going to remain viable. It’s against that backdrop, and against the backdrop of multimedia conventions such as Dragon Con with attendance in the tens of thousands, that the Worldcon members are voting to discourage membership.
This puts the lie to the oft-repeated but unsupported assertion that the membership wants to open up the field. Any laudable support for diverse voices and works-in-translation is vastly outweighed by narrow-mindedness regarding politics and style and sub-genre. I didn’t think it should win, but I thought The Fifth Season was a fine book. I actually talk about how good I think it is. The reaction to its Hugo win is almost entirely focused on who wrote it. Or, more pointedly, her gender, race, and politics. Similarly, Uncanny Magazine may be a fine publication. But I haven’t read it, in large part because I never see anyone talking about how good the stories are, just how important. I have more to say on what this means, but let’s talk about the winners, and then the voting stats, first.
The good news first. I didn’t vote for The Fifth Season or The Martian, but I very much enjoyed both. My pick for Best Novella, Binti, and my pick for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, Jessica Jones, both won. Only two categories, Best Related Work and Best Fancast, were No Awarded. The awards presentation itself was free from wooden asterisks and blessedly short.
Most of the bad is buried in the statistics. The low point of the ceremony was when Neil Gaiman, who was more than happy to accept his nomination and award, called the people who nominated and voted for him “sad losers” by letter (I heard “sad losers” on the livestream; I’ve seen “sad, pathetic losers” elsewhere). No Award prevailed in only two categories, but finished ahead of a book looking at the fiction of Gene Wolfe, Jerry Pournelle, Toni Weisskopf, Jim Minz, Larry Elmore, Pierce Brown, and Sebastien de Castell. It’s abundantly clear that this was driven by politics and animus, not quality. I read the winner for Best Short Story, Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer (available for free here), for the first time last night. It’s an otherwise utterly unexceptional story that is notable for only two reasons. 1) It makes a really stupid jab at Mormons based on the number of bars in Utah (NEWS FLASH: (a) there aren’t that many bars in Utah, relative to most of the rest of the country, and (b) many of the people in Utah aren’t Mormon). 2) It leans on the tired trope of a secretly gay conservative minister, i.e., using sexuality to attack an acceptable target.
So which side “won”? Which side lost? The Rabid Puppies/alt-right/Vox Day and the SJWs both won. That is, the people who wanted to hijack the awards to make it just another venue for their political fight (see the longlist of Best Related Works nominees for a good idea of the relative importance placed on politics versus reading). People who actually love to read and would prefer to think about books first lost. It’s probably been a foregone conclusion for many years now, but the Hugo Awards will continue to long decline into irrelevancy. Why would anyone who loves books talk about the Hugo Awards when they could talk about the Dragon Awards instead? We will lost what the Hugo Awards could have been at their best, though, and the Dragon Awards can’t replace that. E.g., providing a signal boost to a truly great book like Dune that hadn’t really been noticed by the general public yet. Worldcon will continue to wither away and, again, won’t be replaced.
F___ it, I’m just going to go read a book.