John Scalzi on whether Heinlein could win a Hugo today

Brian G Turner

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Really? Every decent SF book that wins has "Hugo Award Winner" emblazoned across the cover somewhere - how did you miss this for 35 years? :confused:
To be fair, I've heard of the Hugo Awards, but I can't recall any single winner I've bought mentioning "Hugo" anywhere on the cover - if it did, I've just not taken any notice, because it never meant anything to me as a reader.

Just as I regularly enjoy watching films, but except for a famous handful, would not be able to identify Oscar winners, as this does not define my viewing habits.

Publishers see awards as potential sales boosters.
 

Nerds_feather

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That pre-supposes that excellence is the ticket to the award. Which as far as I can tell it isn't. I'm sure that a degree of excellence is a requisite, but you very clearly have to tick several other boxes as well. From my (admittedly rather limited) experience it seem that there's a Hugo type of book, that glad handing at conventions is a big bonus, and that having the approved social messages is another. I'm sure the 'type' changes slowly from year to year and that there are exceptions that have bludgeoned their way through the hoops by sheer popularity and quality but the fact that a couple of authors have won certain categories time and time again (I seriously had never heard of Lois McMaster Bujold before I looked at the Hugos a couple of years back ... and that's a name I _would_ remember) just shouts that it's a clique choosing the clique favorites over and over.
Absolutely. The Hugos are awarded to the most popular books as selected by WorldCon voters, and WorldCon voters have quite specific tendencies as voters. Not all voters, of course, but a significant chunk. Over the past two decades, at least, the "Hugo type" book would be one I'd describe as lighthearted on the surface, but with more serious undertones, and further marked by the kinds of snarky, teleplay-like dialogue found on, say, Firefly. Scalzi, McGuire and Bujold all fit this mold, so it's no surprise they are perennial nominees.

Nothing wrong with that kind of book (FTR, I quite like Scalzi's Old Man's War books, and while I didn't really care for the two I read, Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga is immensely popular for a reason). But I also think voting skews to this one kind of book, and the shortlists routinely ignore other kinds of books--including those that are as or more challenging. And several times in recent years voters have chosen books that are, essentially, in-jokes for specific subsets of fandom (Among Others, Redshirts).

But to be honest, I don't think the Hugos are really the interesting bit of the exchange between Wright, Scalzi and others--rather, it's the weird treatment of Heinlein as some kind of stone idol of the lost age to worship and resurrect.
 

Nerds_feather

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To be fair, I've heard of the Hugo Awards, but I can't recall any single winner I've bought mentioning "Hugo" anywhere on the cover - if it did, I've just not taken any notice, because it never meant anything to me as a reader.
Maybe you didn't notice, but it does seem to be common practice in the UK. Here are some examples from Amazon.co.uk:







 

J-Sun

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I realise that. I was just using your earlier comment as a hook on which to hang the point that you seem to be assuming the SF world was, before the Web, much the same in the UK as in the US. I'm not sure it was. It may still not be. (Not having visited the US since 1994, I couldn't say.)
Ah, I see. I wasn't assuming they were much the same (hanging out on this board has really underscored to me how radically foreign the US and UK are to each other when I'd previously believed we were more or less cousins) but I was assuming they were sufficiently the same for the purposes of being aware of Hugos. The UK has had Worldcons and the Worldcons have the TAFF (Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund, IIRC) and, as Nf just pointed out, the UK blurbs are much like the US ones - many US mags have had British editions; Americans knew about New Worlds and know about Interzone, etc. But you may be right that, however far apart I think the US and UK are, they're still farther. ;)
 

Nerds_feather

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There are some authors primarily read in one but not the other country (Ken MacLeod, e.g.) but I think there's more crossover than not. Of course not every author read in both countries is equally popular in both countries (I believe Bujold is much more popular in the US, for example; and Alastair Reynolds has a following in the US, but not to the extent he has in the UK).
 

Cat's Cradle

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Just a few thoughts about the Hugos...I grew up in the U.S. and started reading SF in the early 1970s...honestly it was a time when many (even most) of my friends did not read...and the few who did NEVER read SF...it was such a fringe genre, in my experience. And SF fandom seemed such a wonderful thing when I discovered it (primarily through the letters section of several magazines I read then).

And the Hugos were a huge thing to fandom...and clearly to authors at the time too. I remember, when the Hugo nominees lists came out, trying to read as many of the stories/novels as possible before the awards were given (much as I do with Oscar-nominated films now). And it was a joyful thing when one of your favorite authors won an award. It really seemed to me--as I recall from articles I read 40 years ago--that for SF & F authors, these awards were truly valuable recognition for work they did in a genre that even in the early 70s was kind of the ugly step-child of publishing (the majority of SF books at the time, if I recall correctly, were still usually printed very cheaply...poor quality paper, poor editing, etc).

Robert Silverberg has said that there was essentially no publishing of science fiction books in the late 1940s. In America at the time it was seen almost as embarrassing for a writer to publish only SF (and even then, the only market for most was magazines, which often paid next to nothing). So when the field began to flourish in the early 1950s, and then when the Hugos were initiated in 1953, I think it was, it must have seemed amazing to these fringe writers to actually be recognized by the reading public (and to be publicly adored at the nascent conventions)...I know there was a lot of politicking at the time, and the awards (like many awards) are issued in part by the relative popularity of the nominee, but still these authors were finally being recognized for creating work in a field that they cherished...it must have been such heady stuff to these writing outcasts!

So, there was a time when the Hugos were remarkably popular and important in the world of SF & F in the US...and when mentioning on its cover that a book included Hugo-award winning work was a surefire way of boosting sales. I'm not sure if the same is true now, I haven't kept up with the awards for the last 25 years or so.

And a final word on British SF & F...where I grew up, it was rare for books written by British authors (and even more so for, say, translated versions of Russian/French/etc SF) to be sold in book stores. Book clubs offered a slightly wider selection of work authored by non-US writers. The few books I was able to obtain in the 70s by Brits seemed very foreign to me...the writing style seemed very different from the mainstream US SF authors I was reading...it seemed more...esoteric, ethereal, I'm not sure now (Arthur C. was an exception...his work seemed very recognizable to someone growing up on Asimov/Heinlein/van Vogt, etc). I enjoyed the works, but never had the chance then to pursue these differences more completely.

Well, I am going on too long. Just a few thoughts on how one American saw the importance of the Hugos in the US.
 
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