My Hugo quandary
The World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention this year is in San Antonio, TX…practically my backyard…so for the first time I have the privilege of enjoying this yearly gathering of the best and brightest. There are certainly a myriad of things I’m excited about, but one of the coolest is that with a pass I gain voting rights for the Hugo, awarded to the genre’s finest offerings of 2013, along with a copy of every single nominated work. How I was unaware of this little bonus prior I don’t know.
That awesome tidbit (that you should totally take advantage of) is not the purpose of the post however. You see, I’m the type that takes voting fairly seriously. Running for 8th grade student council secretary? I want to know your platform. I don’t find this odd, though you may. If I’m going to help select a winner for anything, I feel obligated to know what I’m talking about. Therefore, I have been pouring through a stack of writing for the past several weeks. Short stories and novelettes are generally easy to manage, and lucky me I had already read several of the novella entries. Novels take time, but they are the best of the year, so should be well worth it, for no other reason than to learn from that which is judged excellent by my (hopefully) soon to be peers.
My issue lies in my responsibility as a voter. One of the great strengths of the genre is its’ amazing diversity, but it’s also one of the challenges when it comes to quantifying greatness. Do I judge based on creativity? Use of language? Simple entertainment value? What if its just not my thing? Does that make the work less deserving? It’s frustrating to explain. Put simply, some of the entries I absolutely hate. What now?
Hate is not a word I use often, but it is appropriate in this context. I’m a fast reader, tearing though an average novel in a handful of hours, yet there were some entries it took me 2 weeks to finish. Not for bad prose, or poor plotting, but from sheer disgust. So how do I rate a well written, clever and creative piece that made me want to gouge out my eyes rather than read another word? See my challenge?
Yet if we only rate things on how much we like it, we miss out as well. I don’t enjoy Jane Eyre, but I can appreciate her brilliance. I don’t read Horror often, but I can tell good from bad. If my Hugo vote is based on how much I enjoyed a book, my answer is an easy one. If my vote is based on clarity and sharpness of prose, that’s easy too, but not always the same answer. If my vote is based on most unique and creative, another answer still.
This may seem a small thing, but winning the award is a big deal to the authors, especially when it comes time to renegotiate their next deal. Maybe I’m making too much of this. In fact, I know I am, but it comes down to the responsibility of citizens. This year, I’m a citizen of WorldCon. Is it my job to vote based on what I like best, or what’s best for the genre? If giving an award to someone who breaks boundaries and opens eyes causes other new writers to see that being different can work, then maybe the fact I personally dislike it is irrelevant. Mabye. I’m not sure.
What I am sure of is this internal turmoil is one of the reasons I love this genre. Nobody is torn in this way by the next crime novel or legal thriller. If the story carried, that’s good enough. In science fiction and fantasy, you have to make the reader choose to live in your world, at least for a time, and when you do, you win a whole lot more than a trophy. So thank you all the writers who work in our strange corner of fiction. Thanks for not settling for what has come before…even if what comes next isn’t my thing. Now I just need to figure out how to let Scalzi down easy…