Every year, the Hugo award nominees are announced, and every year we get to have the additional enjoyment of reading the traditional complaints about the Hugos.
(We also get to watch Kevin S and others who've actually been involved in the process try to clear up the same misunderstandings that always come up. Kevin does a valiant job at this; I'm impressed that he hasn't gotten tired of it yet.)
Anyway, here are some of those traditional complaints, and my responses to them, in most cases bolstered by things I've picked up from reading Kevin's responses to them over the years. As you will see, I don't mean to ridicule these complaints; in fact, I agree with some of them. The main point of this post is that the reason those works and people are on the ballot is that those are the works and people that the nominators nominated.
- The works I like aren't on the ballot!
- That's because not enough people nominated them.
- The cabal that decides on the Hugos picked the wrong things!
- There is no cabal. All attending and supporting members of the previous Worldcon and the next Worldcon are eligible to nominate. Generally, significantly less than 10% of eligible nominators actually participate in the nomination process. If more people participated, the results would be more representative of members' tastes--although they still might not be to your liking.
- It's impossible to get the work I like on the ballot!
- Although it's true that bloc voting is heavily frowned upon, there are several websites that let people provide lists of recommended works. In 2007, one of the best places for recommendations was the hugo_recommend LiveJournal community. I was sad that I didn't discover this 'til shortly before nominations were due, but that's because I wasn't paying attention; it was widely linked-to. Even the official Hugo page on this year's Worldcon site linked to that LJ community. Next year, I hope to read and post to that community well before nomination time. Even encountering it at the last minute, I found it a very useful resource.
- There are works of fantasy on the ballot, and there shouldn't be!
- The official Hugo rules say this: "3.3.1: Best Novel. A science fiction or fantasy story of forty thousand (40,000) words or more." (Emphasis mine.) Similarly with all the other fiction categories. Fantasy has always been eligible for the Hugo.
- The categories are bad!
- Changing the categories is possible, but it's very difficult, and you have to be pretty dedicated. The general idea is that you have to propose an amendment to the WSFS Constitution, which takes organization, persistence, and persuasiveness. It's particularly hard to do if you're not willing to take the time to learn about and participate in WSFS culture.
- There aren't enough women on the ballot, especially in the fiction categories!
- I totally agree. (And this year is even worse than usual in that regard. More on this later.) And the main reason there aren't enough women on the ballot is that not enough of the nominators nominated women and works by women. And one way to improve the situation is for more people to nominate works by women. (I'll add some other ways in a forthcoming entry.) There are a lot of ways to help address this issue, and it's a complicated and deep-rooted issue. But one of the easiest ways to help address it is to nominate and recommend more works by women.
- (Special bonus complaint for this year.) The people who run the award didn't put any works by Japanese people on the ballot!
- The people who run the award don't determine what goes on the ballot; the nominators do. I agree that it's unfortunate that more nominators don't nominate works published outside the US. Sadly, I'm part of the problem: like most Americans, I'm almost completely ignorant about Japanese science fiction. We don't know yet (and may never know) how many Japanese Worldcon members nominated this year, and we don't know (and will probably never know) how many of them nominated works by Japanese people. But it's clear that not enough nominators nominated works by Japanese people, or those works would appear on the ballot. As with the previous point, there are many ways to help address this general issue, but the simplest and most straightforward is for more people to nominate more non-American works, regardless of where a given Worldcon's being held.
- Nominating costs too much!
- I have some sympathy for this; paying $50 for a supporting membership simply for the right to nominate and vote in the Hugos (plus get some paper Progress Reports mailed to you) does seem like a lot of money. On the other hand, having a financial barrier to entry does help reduce the likelihood of casual cheating. And I don't think I see a better way to do it; allowing anyone and everyone to vote for free comes with its own problems. Under the current system, it's the people who care most about it who do the nominating--though it's also the people who can afford to, which brings up all sorts of difficult issues about class and wealth and such.
- Not enough people are involved!
- I'm entirely in agreement with this. I'm always distressed that only a few hundred people nominate, and only a few hundred more vote on the final award. It's true that there are (financial) barriers preventing many people from voting; but it's also true that only a small fraction of eligible voters actually do participate. (And the eligible voters have already paid for memberships, so this isn't a financial issue.) I would love to see more participation, but aside from my annual haranguing people to participate, I'm not sure what to do to improve things.