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July 14, 2006

Note to Worldcon Members: Vote, Damn It

We're now about three weeks until the close of voting for the Hugo and Campbell Awards, and by and large (and like the other Best Novel and Campbell nominees, at least) I've kept quiet about my thoughts on the matter. But if you don't mind, I'd like to say something about it now, addressed specifically to those folks who are members of this year's Worldcon. It's a pretty simple statement:

Vote, damn it.

Here's the thing. The Hugo Awards aren't just about some chunky middle-aged white guy trundling up to a podium to get a rocket-shaped award (for one thing, nominee Robert Charles Wilson is fairly slender, and some nominees aren't actually middle-aged white guys at all). More than the individual accolade, the true value of the Hugo and the Campbell is that they are the manifest form of the conversation that science fiction has with itself. It is the community of science fiction readers and thinkers saying to itself -- and, incidentally, the rest of the world -- "this is who we are; this is what we're thinking; this is what's important to us now."

This conversation lasts through time; Hugo winners are, for better or worse, science fiction's common culture. Over the last month there's been a meme running through the blog world in which everyone checks off which Hugo-winning novels they've read; most people who identify as science fiction fans have read a significant portion of them. And a large reason for that is that people want to know for themselves why the Hugo voters thought those works were important to single out (we're curious that way. Who knew?). I'm singling out the novels because, among other things, that's the category I'm up for this year. But every Hugo winner becomes part of the science fiction conversation.

Which is why I think it's dreadfully important that this conversation hold a multiplicity of voices. The not-so-secret secret of the Hugo/Campbell awards is that only a fraction of the people who can vote do vote; in effect, a tiny minority of the science fiction community gets to set the conversational agenda SF has with itself for all time. I don't think this is right; if we acknowledge that the Hugos matter -- and they do for our weird little clan -- than we should make sure that what the Hugos say to us now, and to future generations of our geeky tribe, is a genuine and true statement about what we all feel is important in our genre, and what is important to our genre.

The administrators of the Hugos are doing their part: If you're a Worldcon member you can quickly and efficiently vote online; all you need is your membership number and PIN code. You don't even have to pay for a stamp. The authors who are up for the Hugos are also doing their part: For the first time ever, the majority of the Hugo-nominated novels are available for Worldcon members to read -- free -- in electronic form (they're available through this very site in fact), and all of the nominees for novella, novelette and short story are available to be read online as well. It's never been easier to make an informed and engaged Hugo vote. All you have to do is do it.

Having made a general argument as to why you should vote, let me make a personal argument as well. If I may put it bluntly, this year we've got a hell of a Best Novel ballot, precisely because it shows the width and depth of what science fiction and fantasy has to offer today. Charlie Stross' Accelerando is an appallingly good joyride through a wildly-imagined near future, and it has more ideas per square inch than most entire shelves of SF books. Robert Charles Wilson's Spin imagines an entirely different near-future, where the end times are nigh and humanity poignantly grapples with the possiblity of having no future. Ken MacLeod's Learning the World reimagines first contact in ways that are gratifyingly surprising and gives us a whole new volcabulary for such an experience. George Martin's A Feast For Crows continues and expands one of the hallmark series in all of fantasy. And then there's Old Man's War, which I think combines good old-fashioned SF storytelling with a modern style and sensibility.

The question before the voters is: which of these novel best reflects where we are, right now, as a community? I don't know, personally, but I'm really rather interested in finding out, and I suspect the other authors of the nominated novels are too -- not mention the nominees in other Hugo categories and the nominees for the Campbell. And as much as anything, whatever the final vote, I'd like it to reflect a broad consensus. One of the interesting things about Hugo voting is that the Australian ballot style it uses trends the vote toward consensus candidates. This runs counter to the typical American "winner take all" sensibility, but as an instrument of gauging where a community is as a whole, it's pretty useful. The voting mechanism is designed to sample the community; it just needs the community to participate.

Don't get me wrong: If I win either the Hugo or the Campbell (or -- gaaaaaahohsoverynotlikely -- both) I'll take them, and worry later about how many votes were cast, if I worry at all. Yeah, I want to win. Sue me. But, you know: Really truly, just happy to be have been nominated, and if I don't win I'll be cheering on whoever does, because I think my fellow Hugo and Campbell nominees pretty fairly rock. What I'd hope for is that whoever does take home trophies genuinely represents as much of our tribe as possible.

But it's not up to us, save to the extent that we vote. It's up to you, dear Worldcon member. So: between now and the end of the July, won't you please take just a little time to catch up on the nominated works and to cast your vote, online or through the mail? Your vote really does matter. It matters to us, the nominees; it matters to all the folks who read science fiction today; and it matters to all the folks who read science fiction in the years to come. This is your chance to take part in a conversation that has lasted for decades, and will last for decades, and if we're lucky, even longer than that.

Your voice is worthy. Use it. Thanks.

Posted by john at July 14, 2006 02:55 AM

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Comments

Bill Marcy | July 14, 2006 06:08 AM

You know, being a middle aged white guy, I sorta get tired of hearing them used as the whipping boy for all that is wrong with the world.

Jon Marcus | July 14, 2006 08:29 AM

So Ken Lay = Jesus, no problem.

A middle-aged white guy suggesting that the rest of the world might not be that interested in the doings of middle-aged white guys? Now that's a problem.

Odd set of sensibilities you've got there, Bill.

John Scalzi | July 14, 2006 09:30 AM

I don't think middle-aged white guys are being blamed for anything in this particular article, other than writing a lot of the SF that gets published (and also, being nominated for Hugos). I don't know if that's exactly blame-worthy. I like to think not, anyway.

Be that as it may, as the youngest nominee for the Best Novel Hugo this year is 37, and all of them are male and caucasian, calling the lot of them middle-aged white guys isn't a value judgement, merely accurate. The only one of those nominees who ought really take umbrage at such a description is, well, me, because I could make the argument that I'm not yet middle-aged, although strictly as a matter of actuarial tables, I'd be wrong. But since I'm saying it, it would be silly for me to be offended by it.

Also, more to your point, middle-aged white guys actually do happen to be responsible for a lot of what's wrong with the world, because a whole lot of them happen to be in positions of power, particularly here in the US (old white guys also stack up a lot). At the very least, the presence of a middle-aged white guy correlates nicely with events that are messed up. This is what middle-aged white guys get for running the world. Yes, middle-aged white guys do good things too, lots of them, and who ever notices that? Really, life is unfair. The solution, of course, is for white guys to step aside and let other people run the world, and see how they like being blamed for all the crap that happens. But, yeah, I'm not holding my breath for that one.

(Also, apparently chunky white dudes are the new hot thing in Hollywood. Uh-huh.)

In any event, one white dude to another, Bill, try not to whine about being part of such an immensely privileged class. It's unseemly.

Also, what I really want is for this thread not to become a discussion of the privileges of white guys, or a discussion on how they're put upon, or whatever. What I'd like is to focus on getting eligible people to vote for the Hugos. It's not too much to ask.

Jon | July 14, 2006 10:35 AM

As one who has only voted once for the Hugo, I wish to explain why. First, I don't think it is fair for me to vote in a category unless I have read all (or all but one) of the nominees. This year, I would have the opportunity to do a better job of reading the material, but since I am not a worldcon member it is too late to worry about that. And no, I am not willing to pay a large fee now simply to vote. I know some who vote every time who simply vote for which author they like best, usually without having read any of the nominated works. I just can't do that.

For many of us a worldcon is a considerable expense, and becomes the only vacation for the year. So we don't go frequently, and don't buy memberships unless it is really likely that we will be able to go. Perhaps if voting membership could be expanded to those who attend worldcon or one of the recognized regional cons, it would help.

John Scalzi | July 14, 2006 10:48 AM

Jon:

"Perhaps if voting membership could be expanded to those who attend worldcon or one of the recognized regional cons, it would help."

I'm not really arguing about the need to expand the voting pool; It's a feature of Worldcon that you get to vote for the Hugo award, and I'm fine with that.

As for not voting because one has not read all the nominees; that's a perfectly legitimate reason -- I prefer people make an informed vote as well. But this year above all, the nominees are accessible to members: one may read the majority of all the fiction nominees, including the novels, for free.

The path to making an informed Hugo vote really has been paved this year; I just hope people use it.

JonathanMoeller | July 14, 2006 02:18 PM

Good speech! Now you merely need a bunch of garish "Scalzi 06" bumper stickers, a Machivelliean advisor, and a bizarre sex scandal, and victory is assured.

Mark | July 14, 2006 02:22 PM

I've read all the nominated novels and actually all the nominated fiction except two of the novellas. I'll read those by the deadline. I can cast an informed vote - even if my judgment on the merits might be lousy.

While reading every nominee is ideal, it's not necessary. A good sampling will work. If you've read three nominees out of five and one of them is really good vote for it and leave anything not Hugo worthy off the ballot entirely. If you've only read one nominee it's probably better not to vote unless you think it's overwhelmingly good. Most years no nominee is that good. There are purists who disagree.

BTW, there's no consensus on who is likely to win the novel Hugo. Some years there is - and it's generally right. (An old example - if Neuromancer had not won in 1985 it would have been a major surprise) Good nominees this year with none of them seen as obviously and clearly superior. If there is a favorite it's probably Stross. OMW has as good a chance as any other nominee and better than most.

And while voting is important you can have the most impact by nominating. The number of nominations to get on the ballot is much lower than the votes needed to win. Next March nominate and you may really make a difference. (Public Service Announcement)

William Lexner | July 14, 2006 05:40 PM

I must respectfully disagree that there is no favorite for the Hugo.

There is a certain book on the short list that had more preorders than the rest of the books had sales combined -- by a factor of 10, most like.

This certain book's author has a fan community that meets up at each Worldcon and throws the biggest and best parties. This year, over 100 members are expected, not counting spouses and friends. That is a lot of votes.

This book is also the only fantasy novel on the list. Fantasy has been kicking the crap out of SF at the Hugo's all decade. The SF votes will be split among a few very good books, but the fantasy votes will be concentrated in one single volume.

All of these facts add up to one certainty. Like it or not, A Feast For Crows was the Hugo Award winner the day the nominees were announced.

John Scalzi | July 14, 2006 05:50 PM

Maybe it's just me, but I find having a discussion about who is the front-runner for an award and who is not on the site of an actual award nominee a little weird, and also possibly inappropriate. So let's not actually have a Hugo handicapping discussion here. There are lots of other places to do it.

Tim Walters | July 14, 2006 10:05 PM

I have two more films to watch (both coming in Netflix today, probably), and then will vote. Anyone who cares about my opinions and isn't offended by this blatant blog-whoring can check them out here.

John, you're fourth, sorry. But you're above No Award, which I wield mercilessly. In other words, I think OMW is a perfectly reasonable Hugo choice, just not mine, given the nominees.

John Scalzi | July 14, 2006 10:08 PM

That's all right, Tim. Excuse me a second --

(notes the name "Tim Walters" for the day I rule the universe with an iron fist)

-- now, what were we saying?

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