I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy a long time – most of my life. I think I encountered the 1970s reprints of the Heinlein “Juveniles” when I was 11 or 12, along with Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot”, but I’d argue that a lot of the children’s books I read were really science fiction, just aimed at a younger audience. I’d certainly been interested in science and space since I was really, really young – four or five. Some of my favorite toys were the “Major Matt Mason” line of astronaut action figures.
But despite reading prodigous quantities of science fiction and fantasy over the years, I’ve never voted for the Hugos before this year. The Hugos, for those who don’t know, are arguably the premier awards in science fiction and fantasy, named for Hugo Gernsback, the founder of many early pulp SF magazines and a major figure in early SF/F fandom. I won’t get into the background (see the explanation at the Hugo site here) but the nutshell version is that they’re voted on by the “members” of the World Science Fiction Convention, or WorldCon, which actually moves around from city to city and host convention to host convention each year.
So that was one big reason I’ve never voted – you had to either attend the WorldCon, or purchase a “supporting membership” that didn’t give you attendance privileges, but did permit you to vote for the Hugos. And while I’ve been attended many gaming conventions going back to Origins in 1982, I’ve only attended one science fiction convention, ever. I knew about the “supporting membership” thing, but for a long time was hesitant to drop a $60 or more simply to vote on the Hugos.
I didn’t realize that the number of people who actually voted on these storied awards was small. Really, really small. As in 1000 or less each year, out of the millions of people who enjoy science fiction and fantasy. That data point, plus two other events, pushed me over the edge to pay the fee to LonCon3, the host of this year’s WorldCon in London, and vote for the 2014 Hugos.
The first was the outcome of the 2013 Hugos. I’d actually read three of the five nominees for Best Novel: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (one of my all-time favorite authors); 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, who’s best known for his Mars novels; and my favorite of the pack, Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon, his debut novel. The winner turned out to be one I hadn’t read, John Scalzi’s Redshirts. So I picked it up and read it.
Now, I like John Scalzi as a human being. I read his blog regularly and follow him on Twitter. I like a lot of what he’s trying to do in making science fiction approachable, and in promoting diverse voices in the field. I’ve read several of his books.
But Redshirts wasn’t the best novel that year. Not by a long shot.* And that led me to digging around and discovering just how few people actually vote on these things.
The other event that prompted me to vote was the publication of Ann Leckie’s debut novel, Ancilllary Justice, which is flat-out one of the most inventive-yet-accessible science fiction books I’ve read in a long, long time. The protagonist is simultaenously a warship, the warship’s complement of soldiers, a unit of those soldiers, and an individual soldier. It’s a really remarkable feat of writing, but the book isn’t solely about this gimmick by a long shot. (Clearly, I’ll have to post a more complete review at some point.) It’s an excellent book, the best I read last year, and definitely Hugo-worthy.
So I decided that it was time to stop sitting on the sidelines, so I paid my $40 to Loncon 3 in time to submit nominations, and you can bet Ancillary Justice was on my list. (I also nominated The Incrementalists, Abbadon’s Gate and The Great North Road.)
The short list of nominees was released on Saturday, so I’ll be doing my best to read most** of the other nominated work prior to voting. In recent years the publishers have made these works available for the Hugo voters which should save some $$.
* I didn’t read Seanan MacGuire’s (writing as Mira Grant) book Blackout, but having read four of the five, my ranking would have been Throne of the Crescent Moon, then 2312, with CVA in a distant third place, trailed by Redshirts.
** There is apparently a novellette written by a person who is reliably described as a misogynistic, racist asshole, both in person and in his writing. I don’t think I can bring myself to read that. We’ll see; it promises to be in the Hugo Voter Packet.