I’ve previously talked about my thoughts on the Hugo nominees. Now that the Hugos have themselves been awarded, I feel it is worth talking about how those awards went. My initial thoughts, on the night and in the room, were rather too incoherent to transcribe other than sheer joy mingled with some slight disappointment; but with a few days distance, and with the statistics out, there are a few things worth noting.
First, the nominations game. Ancillary Justice, my favourite for Best Novel, not only got more nominations than anything on the ballot, it got exactly twice the nominations of the second-placed entry there; and more than the sole novel withdrawn from the ballot, too – Ann Leckie got more nominations for her debut novel than Neil Gaiman got for the novel he said may be his best. That, alongside the consistency of the sad puppies’ failure to get more than just their bloc onto the ballot, is the big story of the nomination figures – although individuals, such as Amal El-Mohtar of Goblin Fruit, also have reason to celebrate.
The awards themselves mark a new stage in science fiction fandom. The Not A Hugo award went to Sofia Samatar, a woman of colour of non-US origins, in no small part for a fantasy novel published by a small press that follows none of the established tropes of the genre and is simply a beautiful thing all its own, and an amazingly literary piece. That win is an applaud for the nontraditional, more interesting approach; while I’m disappointed the brilliant Max Gladstone didn’t do better, and hasn’t been appropriately recognised for his stunning body of work to date, Samatar’s win is one I am still more than happy to point to as what the genre thinks its next generation of writers should aspire to be.
The non-fiction, down-ballot awards tell a similar story. While largely same-old same-old, there was one name that came up time and time again; Kameron Hurley. Hurley is not only a nominee for a large number of fiction awards, she is also the first person to win a Best Related Work Hugo for a single blog post, and also won at least two more half-Hugos (Fan Writer, and Fanzine for Aidan Moher’s A Dribble of Ink as credited in Moher’s own speech). Hurley could not make it to LonCon, unfortunately, and sent in her place proxies with the kind of speeches the Hugos are said to have tried to avoid; Tricia Sullivan collected her award for Best Related Work while Kate Elliot collected the Best Fan Writer rocket. Each is a long-time inhabitant of the genre, outspokenly feminist, and perfect deliverers of the fiery white heat Hurley aimed at the conservatism and misogyny of the genre; from the stage she aimed a blast at all those who claim women can’t write, who try to silence women, who attack their work, their voices, their bodies and personalities. She has posted both speeches on her blog, and I strongly recommend you read them.
The fiction categories saw some more interesting things happen, too. John Chu’s short story rocket was a wonderful moment and a fantastic reward for an amazing story; a vindication of queer themes, racially diverse stories, and the use of not just dialect but straightforward non-English language in stories (‘The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere’ included dialogue in a dialect of Chinese, using the appropriate characters). That’s before we get to Chu’s tearful, amazing speech, in which he talked about the discouragement he got from numerous editors, always starting “I’m not racist, but…” or “I’m not homophobic, but…”; that the community has now rewarded him with a rocket is a well-deserved acclaim.
The novelette category was the one everyone was paying very close attention to, with Vox Day’s story vying for supremacy with Mary Robinette Kowal, Ted Chiang, and Aliette de Bodard. In the end, and predictably, Kowal won; not necessarily for the quality of her story, but rather because of the controversy over its disqualification last year on dubious grounds and the sympathy that the whole affair drew to Kowal. It’s undoubtedly a good story, but compared to the Chiang and the de Bodard it didn’t deserve to win; this ought not to have been Kowal’s year. On the other hand, the run offs tell us something else; that No Award does have a place. ‘Opera Vita Aeternae’ didn’t just lose the award, it placed bottom out of all the nominees, including No Award; a slap in the face to the toxic author who wrote it and his equally toxic fans.
We’ll brush over novella, where there’s not much to say, and move on to novel. Ancillary Justice was the clear, runaway winner, both in the voting statistics and the nomination statistics; a debut novel, a space opera with an interesting approach to gender and an inclusive attitude to sexuality, a critique of colonialism and imperialism… if it was fantasy, one might call it the anti-Hugo, and in a year with the full Wheel of Time nominated in the Novel category, everyone wanted Ancillary Justice to win but no one expected it to do so. That it did tells me a lot about the state of fandom; increasingly engaged in conversations around diversity, increasingly kicking back against the sad puppies rather than ignoring them or tacitly agreeing, increasingly willing to look at a wider variety of perspectives.
The Hugo Awards 2014, much as I am wary of saying it, give me reason to hope for our genre. They give me reason to hope for an increasing diversity, and widening discussions of what that means. They give me reason to hope for the slow death of homophobia, misogyny, ablism and ciscentricity amongst fans. And, most of all, they give me hope that people like Liz Bourke, Kameron Hurley and me represent the future of fandom, not Larry Correia, Vox Day and his ilk. Well done, fandom; give yourself a pat on the back.