07 August 2005

A Rant on Awards

The 2005 Hugo Awards were announced this evening (UK time). First of all, congratulations to the winners of the literary awards:

Best novel Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell
Best novella (17,501–40,000 words) Charles Stross, "The Concrete Jungle"
Best novelette (7,501–17,500 words) Kelly Link, "The Faery Handbag"
Best short story (<7,500 words) Mike Resnick, "Travels with My Cats"
Best related book (nonfiction) Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction
Best dramatic presentation, long form The Incredibles (Brad Bird, writer/director)
Best dramatic presentation, short form "33" (Battlestar Galactica) (Ronald D. Moore, writer; Michael Rymer, director)

One thing that pisses me off is the localism that is becoming prevalent in literary and entertainment awards. This is not unique to science fiction, by any means; look at the film industry! Two years ago, science fiction saw deck-stacking by Canadians, as the convention was held in Toronto (and the voting rules greatly favor the locality of the convention). This year, all five finalists for the novel award originated in the UK… and the convention is being held in Glasgow. That's not to say that they're all bad works; my vote would also have been for Clarke; but all five finalists? This sort of happy horseshit more than explains why nobody outside the speculative fiction ghetto cares about the Hugos.

I suppose, though, that after the last few years of National Book Award, National Book Critics' Circle Award, Pulitzer Prize, etc. nonsense, I shouldn't be surprised. And, really, I'm not; I'm just disappointed—even though I expected to be disappointed. Until publishing and entertainment stop trying to pretend that popularity contests, even among the "elect," are not good measures of what is "best," we're going to see the same thing. Frankly, I don't think one can judge "the best" until five to ten years later. Example: of the best picture Oscar finalists for 1979 (awarded spring 1980), only one of them is virtually never seen today—the winner. Then there's the notorious winner of the 1974 Pulitzer Prize for fiction—"No Award," as the organizers vetoed the committee's choice (Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow) on spurious grounds of "obscenity" (spurious because, under any legally defensible standard, Gravity's Rainbow is not obscene, or even indecent). That's sort of like going through a whole hockey season and then voting for the Stanley Cup winner. OK, maybe given what happened last year that's not such a great analogy… but at least the "no award" was honest: there weren't any entrants, either.