The Hugo Awards are Irrelevant

Zauberwort - The EditorialThe Hugo Awards are Irrelevant

zur deutschen ÜbersetzungI'm going to ask you to ignore everything you've heard about the Hugo Awards for the last ten years. I know it will be hard. Make that probably impossible, but I'm going to ask anyway.

So, let's go back to the days of First Fandom - 1938 to be precise. Before 1938 there'd been no fannish activity. Well, yes, the Futurians technically predated First Fandom, but they didn't count since they all went on to be writers.


And yes, the Futurians were a spinoff of the Greater New York Science Fiction Club, but since the only listings on the net mentioning that club are about the Futurians, obviously it didn't amount to much.

Effectively what this means is that Science Fiction didn't exist prior to 1938. While Hugo Gernsback started Amazing Stories in 1926, it couldn't have been a Science Fiction magazine, because Science Fiction couldn't have existed without the fans...

Yes, I'm being sarcastic, but there's a madness to my method.

Because Science Fiction didn't exist before 1938, Jules Verne couldn't have written Science Fiction. Of note, the Science Fiction that he didn't write has never been out of print.

Nor could H. G. Wells have written Science Fiction. Curiously the Science Fiction that he didn't write has never been out of print.

Nor could Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have written Science Fiction. Curiously the Science Fiction that he didn't write has never been out of print.

Nor could Edgar Rice Burroughs have written Science Fiction. Curiously the Science Fiction that he didn't write has never been out of print.

Nor could H. P. Lovecraft have written Science Fiction. Curiously the Science Fiction that he didn't write has never been out of print (and the world owes August Derleth a vote of thanks for making it so).

When we add in Fantasy, since the Hugo Awards are also awarded for best Fantasy now, we have to had Clark Ashton Smith, William Hope Hodgson, Lord Dunsany, Robert E. Howard, etc. Generally Science Fiction and Fantasy are referred to Speculative Fiction when combined. The term also covers Horror with Science Fiction or Fantasy elements.

Then there's the peripheral works, like Doc Savage. Doc Savage was gadget oriented, and some of the gadgets weren't possible with the technology of the day, or would have been prohibitively expensive. It lies on the edge - possibly Science Fiction, and possibly not, almost forming a sub-genre of it's own, which would include The Shadow, Batman, James Bond (both book and film), Matt Helm (both book and film), The Man from Uncle (TV show), etc., but all could be subsumed under Speculative Fiction.

The point I'm making, is that historically there has been a lot of works that were not classified as Speculative Fiction at the time of publication/broadcasting, which in word count far outpace the works that are listed as Speculative Fiction (I'll use the term Speculative Fiction a lot from here on in, since the Hugo Awards cover both Science Fiction and Fantasy). 

There are enormous volumes of works that people have forgotten (in some cases would good reason). Many people are unable to name any televised Speculative Fiction show before the original Star Trek (1966), totally forgetting things like Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (1950), Lost in Space (1965), The Prisoner (1967), Thunderbirds (1965), Doctor Who (1963), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (Film 1961 - TV Show 1964), The Time Tunnel (1966), My Mother the Car (1965), Topper (1953), Mister Ed (1961), I Dream of Jeanie (1967), and Bewitched (1964) etc. I strongly recommend reading the list of 1950s Science Fiction Shows, the list of 1960s Science Fiction Shows, and this list of Fantasy Television programs on Wikipedia. The lists that exist often ignore foreign language works, which is unfortunate.

What does all this have to do with the Hugo Awards? The Hugo Awards are awarded at the so-called World Science Fiction Convention, an incredibly sad mis-naming (how can it be a World Convention when most of the world doesn't know it exists?)

Supposedly the Hugo Awards are for the best works of Science Fiction and Fantasy, aka Speculative Fiction. Supposedly. Most of the world doesn't know that the Hugo Awards exist either.

And that's why the Hugo Awards are irrelevant. The vast majority of Speculative Fiction fans don't know the awards exist. Seriously. In a discussion on Facebook the term Fan was bandied around. My original take was that a Fan attended conventions, because that's the part of Fandom I'm most familiar with. Someone else said that they thought a Fan was anyone who took part in Fannish activities. But how do you define Fannish activities? And why do you need to attend a convention to be a fan?

Of course we could define a Fan as anyone who enjoys Speculative Fiction. That idea would horrify a lot of TrueFen (a term for those who consider themselves real fans, as compared to the Hoi Polloi). But should be concern ourselves with the feelings of a few thousand people, and ignore the feelings of a few million people, people who love Speculative Fiction just as much, if not more?

That's why I've come to the conclusion that the Hugo Awards are irrelevant. They don't speak to the vast majority of Speculative Fiction fans. No Hugo has ever been awarded to a Star Trek or Star Wars novel, and from some sales figures I've seen more Star Trek and Star Wars novels sell every year than all of the rest of Speculative Fiction printed works combined.

So, forget the TrueFen. Forget the Sad Puppies. They are fighting over a rotting corpse (hey, sue me. I write Horror).

What they think doesn't matter, because the Award they are fighting over is totally irrelevant.

Regards
Wayne Borean

PS: For numbers of Worldcon attendees, I recommend the Long List of Worldcons. For most years there aren't decent Hugo Award voting numbers, for the years that there are, it appears that less than 25% of Worldcon attendees vote for the Hugo Awards, which for the year of highest attendance (2014) would be about 2,500 voters out of 10,000 memberships (about 7,000 were in physical attendance). The average sale of a paperback Speculative Fiction novel was about 70,000 copies at one time (twenty years ago), and one publishing how, Baen, usually publishes six novels per month (including hardback, paperback, and paperback reprints of hardbacks). Add in the other publishers, then consider comics (yes, the Super Hero titles are Speculative Fiction), Television (Lost Girl, Orphan Black, Doctor Who, Thunderbirds are Go), Film, Video Games, Role Playing Games, and who knows what else.

The numbers are huge. Comic Con has had attendance of over 130,000 in recent years, and that's just the people who can get to San Diego. Makes you wonder how many people would attend in say, Saskatoon?

The Hugo IssueThe HUGO Issue
Today on the Zauberspiegel: Three articles on »The Hugo Issue« (August, 21st, 00:00 CEST [Central Europe (Summer-)Time]).

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Kommentare  

#1 joe p. 2015-08-21 21:17
Zitat:
What does all this have to do with the Hugo Awards? The Hugo Awards are awarded at the so-called World Science Fiction Convention, an incredibly sad mis-naming (how can it be a World Convention when most of the world doesn't know it exists?)
Having had many problems with his view on the topic of modern Star Trek by J.J. Abrams, I happily agree with Wayne on this one. As a matter of fact, fans tend to consider themselves as the true representatives of all the readers and viewers out there, yet they aren't. Not at all. The best thing to do is to ignore them and enjoy reading whatever you want. No better way to put it:

"What they think doesn't matter, because the Award they are fighting over is totally irrelevant."
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#2 Lawrence 2015-08-23 21:15
Well, on the whole it's true: the Hugos are, in the great picture, totally irrelevant. But then one should go the whole way and say: All literary awards are irrelevant. How many books by literary Nobel prize winners have you actually read? Of how many of the winners have you actually ever heard of? And we could go even farther than that and say: books, at least works of fiction, are irrelevant. Mankind can survive without them. It can survive without books, without music, without movies or any other works of art. Mankind don't need them for survival. There are millions of people who don't read books, there are millions of people who can't read at all. So here we are, discussing an irrelevant award to an irrelevant thing - literature. Charming thought - charming *fact*, isn't it? And what a waste of time this all is ...
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#3 joe p. 2015-08-24 07:40
Zitat:
So here we are, discussing an irrelevant award to an irrelevant thing - literature. Charming thought - charming *fact*, isn't it? And what a waste of time this all is ...
Reading that one certainly was.
If I ever said that the opinion of a small radical political group was irrelevant, somebody might "explain" me that I have just said that democracy was irrelevant. No way to argue with that kind of "logic". *sigh*
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#4 Wayne Borean 2015-08-30 07:49
zitiere joe p.:
Zitat:
What does all this have to do with the Hugo Awards? The Hugo Awards are awarded at the so-called World Science Fiction Convention, an incredibly sad mis-naming (how can it be a World Convention when most of the world doesn't know it exists?)


Having had many problems with his view on the topic of modern Star Trek by J.J. Abrams, I happily agree with Wayne on this one. As a matter of fact, fans tend to consider themselves as the true representatives of all the readers and viewers out there, yet they aren't. Not at all. The best thing to do is to ignore them and enjoy reading whatever you want. No better way to put it:

"What they think doesn't matter, because the Award they are fighting over is totally irrelevant."
I've just uploaded a further take on the situation to Horst, which I hope explains how and why I reached that conclusion. Hopefully I've managed to simplify a complex situation in a manner which other people will be able to understand.

Wayne
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#5 Wayne Borean 2015-08-30 07:54
zitiere Lawrence:
Well, on the whole it's true: the Hugos are, in the great picture, totally irrelevant. But then one should go the whole way and say: All literary awards are irrelevant. How many books by literary Nobel prize winners have you actually read? Of how many of the winners have you actually ever heard of? And we could go even farther than that and say: books, at least works of fiction, are irrelevant. Mankind can survive without them. It can survive without books, without music, without movies or any other works of art. Mankind don't need them for survival. There are millions of people who don't read books, there are millions of people who can't read at all. So here we are, discussing an irrelevant award to an irrelevant thing - literature. Charming thought - charming *fact*, isn't it? And what a waste of time this all is ...


One argument I've heard is that Sales should be the ultimate indicator. I don't agree with that myself. Writers like Stephen King and David Weber deserve their sales, but sales is much a matter of advertising push, not quality. I think that having an award for quality is a good idea.

As to 'Literary' fiction and awards, literary fiction is a matter of taste. I happen to like some of it. And I hate some of it. Doesn't mean it isn't well written, and worth an award.

I'm also not saying that the works that have won the Hugo aren't well written. Some are, some aren't. But they also aren't representative of the field, which is the problem I'm trying to explain.
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#6 Wayne Borean 2015-08-30 08:00
zitiere joe p.:
Zitat:
So here we are, discussing an irrelevant award to an irrelevant thing - literature. Charming thought - charming *fact*, isn't it? And what a waste of time this all is ...

Reading that one certainly was.
If I ever said that the opinion of a small radical political group was irrelevant, somebody might "explain" me that I have just said that democracy was irrelevant. No way to argue with that kind of "logic". *sigh*
OK, let's take the Christian Heritage Party in Canadian Politics. They are running candidates in about half of the 338 ridings in the upcoming election. They will gather about 0.1% of votes cast.

That makes them irrelevant. Sad, but true.

That's the situation with the Hugo Awards. Most WorldCons run about 10,000 attendees. The Hugo voting is about 10% of that, about a 1,000 people vote. It is impossible to find the total number of Science Fiction and Fantasy book sales a year, or the total number of buyers, but I'm willing to bet that the English language market (United Kingdom, Canada, United States, Australia, etc.) is about 1,000,000 discrete buyers. of which maybe 10% of that buy multiple books per year.

That means that Hugo voters make up 0.1% of book buyers, which makes their opinion irrelevant, or maybe a better term is 'not representative'.
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