Tuesday, July 08, 2008

It’s Official – All SFF Awards Are Useless

Ok, the title is a bit dramatic, but all SFF awards should be viewed with heavy skepticism. The Locus Awards were just released – these were the only major SFF award that anyone could vote for – as close to a true popular award as you could get in the SFF world. Well Neil Clark and Niall Harrison have voiced some very justified complaints about rule changes that were made by Locus after the votes were submitted. Apparently, subscribers to Locus are so much more important than the rest of us that their votes get to count twice. Yep, a subscriber’s opinion is worth double that of a non-subscriber.

So, the Locus Awards now join the ranks of the Nebulas and Hugos as awards that have results skewed enough to make them rather meaningless. The Nebulas have become little more than a popularity contest among writers with nominating rules that could confuse rocket scientists (but would probably make sense to the IRS). The Hugos have become a joke with such a small percentage of members of a club with membership fees actually voting that I have no idea who is deciding things. My feeling is that the results are heavily skewed by authors, editors, and over-weight, Baby Boomer trekkies that are most comfortable at home in a basement speaking Klingon.

The World Fantasy Award is at least transparent in that it’s a juried award whose judges are known. Perhaps this leaves the annual poll of the SF Site as one of the best judges of what may actually be award worthy with both an editor poll and reader poll.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I don’t take SFF awards very seriously and I’d recommend that others at least be skeptical.

Caveat Emptor!

10 comments:

Robert Walker said...

I agree with you about awards. Kind of reminds me of how utterly pathetic the Oscars have gotten. They're becoming as meaningless as the Grammys.

From your post, it seems that you're saying SFF awards are heading down the same road...

dragonb said...

I see what you are saying, and I mostly agree. And maybe only mostly because I went through the same disillusionment, and lowered my expectations accordingly.

I'm currently trying to read all the Hugo winners and maybe, someday the nominees.

I've found some wonderful books and authors, and I'm glad that I "forced" myself to read them.

I've also found some that I just really did not like. (Jonathan Strange and Rainbow's End being 2)

Anyway, I guess you are right. Take any award with a grain of salt, and never think of it as the "Best" books of the year.

Kevin Standlee said...

The Hugo Awards' process is at least transparent, and can be changed if enough members of the World Science Fiction Society want to change them. Keep in mind that if all you wanted to do is give awards for "most popular" work, you could just look at sales figures and give an award to whoever sold more copies. Your criticism of the Hugo Awards includes something that bothers me as well -- most of the people already eligible to vote fail to do so. From anecdotal evidience, I submit that most of these people aren't reading new material ("it's too expensive" -- and yes, I know of the free offers), and that they don't think they are "qualified" to vote unless they read/watch every item in every category, which is silly. I helped someone cast her ballot on Deadline Day. She freely admits that she doesn't read much new SF. There were only a few categories in which she felt at all competent to vote, but she did vote in those categories, leaving the others blank. That's the right approach; find a reason to vote, not to abstain.

(Of course, the right to vote always includes the right to abstain.)

You'll never see the Hugo Awards change their rules after the votes were received, if only for the structural reason that it takes two years to make any rule changes, and that everyone who cares enough to pay attention can find out about what proposed rule changes are with plenty of notice.

Neth said...

-Robert

either that they are heading down that road, or that they've already passed that way.

-Kevin

I agree, the Hugos would be better if more people voted, but since they don't have a real problem giving them any weight at all. As I indicated in the original post - I think that juried awards are really the way to go and as for popularity poles, SF Site currently has the best way going now that Locus has jumped the shark and started skewing it's votes (which is entirely within their right, though changing the rules after the votes were cast was not the best way of doing things).

Overall awards have become rather meaningless, but at least they means to foster some interesting discussion.

Kevin Standlee said...

What about when juried awards are presented to things you personally dislike?

I don't mean that sarcastically! It's the general question for all awards, and in my opinion, most people think "awards are good if they go to things I like, and bad if they don't."

Neth said...

I'm really interested in a process that is clear enough for me to judge my tastes against the award itself. With a juried award such as the World Fantasy Award, I can look up who the judges are and find out about what they are writing and what their generally tastes are. With this info, I can better judge whether those tastes are likely to line up with my own. This gets a little bit difficult with older awards since it can be really difficult to find out who the judges are. This is very difficult to do with anything that pole-based.

However, I really am skeptical about all awards.

Larry said...

I view awards as being markers, letting some know that certain books were considered to be interesting/good/etc. by X voter/s. If viewed as being just one of many recognition guides, any individual award is at worst merely harmless and at best a homing beacon towards some intriguing reads.

Joe Sherry said...

Larry: I agree. The awards for me are a great reading list and give me the opportunity to read some stuff I may never have heard of (World Fantasy Award nominated novella Dark Harvest by Norman Patridge is a GREAT example. Loved it.)

The Awards put writers on my radar and since most of the short fiction tends to be available online for the duration of the nominations, it provides exposure for various stories, novels, and writers.

I think for that reason alone all of these awards are valuable.

I do think that transparency is great (and while I'd wish for more Hugo voters, Kevin Standlee does a great job finding various posts and making sure the process is laid out so that even I can understand) and the biggest problem with these Locus awards isn't that they weighted the ballots from subscribers, but rather that they changed the rules at the end rather than before the voting started.

Carl V. said...

I always go back and forth with awards. I have a degree of skepticism and yet also have spent part of this year going back and reading some of the older Hugo, Nebula, and Locus award winners just to see what all the fuss, at that time, was about. When I see favorite authors win awards then I obviously feel good about them winning. But how can I really truly judge if I haven't read any of the other works. The only two winners I read in the locus this year were Witch's Headstone and The Arrival...both of which I really enjoyed. Yet I can't honestly judge them against their competition.

Because books and films are such subjective forms of entertainment I have always a degree of skepticism/cynicism about the process. It is hard not to. I am glad they still do these, however, as I for one have, at least in the last year, picked up books I may have never taken the time to pick up because I got the urge to read award winners.

Cliff Burns said...

I regard all awards with extreme distaste--however, genre awards tend to be particularly incestuous, popularity contests in which more difficult books are passed over in favor of offerings by "name" authors. If a dreadful scribbler like Robert J. Sawyer can win a major SF writing award, there's something terribly wrong with the world...

(somehow this was printed twice--please delete first message)

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