Hugos 2013: Short fiction

A couple of very unusual things happened in this year's short fiction nominations.

The most troubling thing to me is that there are only three short-story nominees.

This is not quite unprecedented, but the last time it happened was in 1968.

Normally, each category lists the top five nominees. But after the first three slots, a nominee needs to get at least 5% of the nominating votes that are cast in its category in order to appear on the ballot. This year, 662 people cast ballots in the short-story category (the third-highest number of ballots for any category this year, after only Novel and Dramatic Presentation Long Form), so apparently no more than three short stories got 34 nominations this year.

In other words, the category is in some sense the victim of its own success. The more people who nominate in a category, the harder it is to reach the 5% threshold. In a category where there's a relatively small pool of high-profile material, such as DP Long Form, nominations cluster. But in a category where there's a large pool—I have a vague idea that there are on the order of a thousand short stories published in pro and semipro magazines each year—it can be a lot harder for there to be anything that enough people have read and liked to reach the threshold.

My concern about this is that, after decades of having at least five short stories nominated each year, in 2011 there were only four. Last year there were five again, but dropping to three this year concerns me. I'm delighted at the steadily increasing numbers of nominating ballots, and I think getting more people involved in the Hugo process can only be a good thing in general—but if the short-story category is so fragmented that the increased participation is going to regularly reduce the number of stories on the ballot, I'll be sad.

There's another especially unusual thing about the short-fiction ballots: the venues that the works were published in.

Normally, the short-fiction categories are dominated by the Big Three print prozines: Asimov's, F&SF, and Analog. In 2001, 88% of the nominated short fiction came from those three magazines. From 2001 through 2009, the lowest that percentage ever fell was 60%. Sci Fiction and Interzone had some nominees over the years, and one each from SH and Infinite Matrix, and a few others from other venues, but the Big Three continued to hold a substantial majority.

And then in 2010, it suddenly dropped: only 18% of the short fiction (3 of the 17 nominated works) came from the Big Three. (All from Asimov's, actually.) But that year was something of a fluke: in addition to the record-high nominating numbers, there were a bunch of well-received original anthologies and standalone novellas, and and Clarkesworld had two noms each. In 2011, the Big Three were back up to 50%, and in 2012 it was 56%; no longer the total ownership of the categories that they used to have, but still a lot.

This year, though, that number dropped to 8%. Which is to say, there's one story (novella) from Asimov's, and none at all from F&SF or Analog. And I find that really surprising.

It looks like a couple of things happened:

First, the novella category is almost entirely standalone novellas, including two from Tachyon. That's awesome, in that Tachyon is a great press that I feel doesn't normally get enough attention. But it's also really unusual.

Second, four of the eight nominees in the other two categories are from original anthologies, and one more is self-published. That too is unusual, and the self-published one may be unprecedented (I haven't searched).

And third, Clarkesworld has gone from no nominated fiction in 2009, to one or two nominated stories a year in 2010 through 2012, to three this year.

It remains to be seen whether this is another unusual year like 2010, in terms of venues that nominators are looking at. It wouldn't surprise me if next year half the nominees are from the Big Three again.

But it would surprise me if more than two-thirds are.

2 Responses to “Hugos 2013: Short fiction”

  1. kastandlee

    It would have happened in 1993 as well, but we moved two short Novelettes into Short Story, which was controversial in a different way. It also happened in the short-lived Best Professional Artwork category once as well.

  2. Jed

    Interesting! And thanks for the historical perspective; I hadn’t known about that.

    Was that under the “committee can relocate a story as long as it’s within n% of the length boundary” rule?


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