I have written before about the Hugo Awards. Now that the finalists are in for this year, I have some thoughts. Well… I have one thought, really. The Hugos are irrelevant. Go ahead and ask me about how I feel about being on the same side as the Rabid Puppies, in this respect. It’s icky. (For the record, I got nothing against Larry Correia and the Sad Puppies apart from thinking they’re wrong about a whole bunch of stuff. It’s Vox Day and his crowd who can fuck right off forever, as far as I’m concerned.)
So I’m going to elaborate here on the idea that the Hugos are irrelevant.
The problem, at its core, is that the Hugos are supposed to represent the best of the sci-fi and fantasy genre, from fan works to magazines… and it doesn’t. I knew what I’d see before I looked at the nomination list this year: title after title from mainstream publishers, with nary a self-published work in sight, except for one or two at most who got in because of Puppy-related shenanigans. For all that the Hugos do allow self-published works to be nominated, the reality is that the awards are entrenched with traditional publishing, and it shows. I’m not sure what this says about the genre as a whole, or about the Worldcon membership that votes on the Hugos.
I went to Amazon.com, and I took a look at the current bestsellers for sci-fi and fantasy in Kindle. I found a couple of self-published authors immediately. Let’s not hash out the same tired arguments that the indies are somehow less worthy or less talented, please. Clearly the readers don’t think so. Hugh Howey and Amanda Hocking probably have more readers than all the current Hugo Best Novel finalists put together, and they’ve never even been nominated.
Case in point: Andy Weir took the Campbell in 2016 for The Martian, a novel he self-published in 2011. The criteria for the Campbell award for Best New Writer is as follows:
The John W. Campbell Award is given to the best new science fiction or fantasy writer whose first work of science fiction or fantasy was published in a professional publication in the previous two years.
The Martian was picked up and re-released by Crown Publishing in 2014. All the time prior to that, when Weir was selling his book on Amazon and gaining fans, don’t count. The implication is clear that writing a popular, sellable book doesn’t matter unless you’ve got the nod from the publishing industry.
Although there might be other explanations, my take on it is this: the Hugo Awards exist in a sphere of authors, publishers, and readers for whom the majority of self-published works are invisible. On some level, I think the stigma of going it alone still hasn’t worn off. So for the vast crowd of indies out there, publishing their work on Amazon and building their readership, the Hugos are irrelevant, as if they’re awards given out for a completely different industry. They exist but… they are meaningless. They are outside of our concern.
Perhaps I’m being cynical, but I like to take the world as it is. And right now, it looks like it’ll be a long time before a self-published work winning a Hugo is completely normal.