As some will know, I got heavily into the Hugo awards 13 years ago during my efforts at becoming an eBook publisher in the SF field. The Hugo award is voted on by the fans who attend the annual World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, a moderately small voting pool (under 1000 of the typical 4000 to 7000 attendees will vote.)
The most important award and 2nd most voted on is the one for best Novel. The least important, but most voted on award is the one for best movie.
But still, for a long time, though both SF and Fantasy qualified for the award, the best Novel went exclusively to Science Fiction (with one dab into alternate history by Phillip K. Dick) and usually to hard, ideas-based SF. This went on until 2000 when the superb hard-SF novel “A Deepness in the Sky” won. The drama award was also heavily into SF, though it had some deviations, such as the coverage of Apollo XI and a few films in the 80s.
But in 2001, for the first time, a Fantasy novel won the best novel Hugo. Not just any fantasy novel, but a children’s novel, Harry Potter 4. Of course, the Harry Potter series is the most remarkable success not just in fantasy, but in publishing, so this is not too shocking. What’s surprising is that in 2002, 2004 and 2005 a fantasy novel would win best novel. At the same time, fantasies won all the best movie awards and all of the new best TV episode award until 2005. (Read on…)
To top it off, the 2003 Hugo for best novel went to Hominids. I know Rob Sawyer, the author and he’s a good guy and a good writer, but this novel, while very good, just didn’t hit me as up to the standards of most of the other Hugo novel winners before it. Sorry Rob, but I think the hometown advantage played a role in getting you this award.
So where does that leave us? Why this sudden shift? Is it a shift in the taste of the fans? They are still voting for SF mostly in the short fiction awards, though fantasy is making its way up there. Is it a surge in the quality of fantasy combined with a drop in the quality of SF? Fans are indeed asking where the SF novels to challenge these fantasy winners are.
The radical suggestion? Revise the award and say it’s for science fiction, not fantasy. Of course, don’t be so insane as to attempt to define the difference. That’s up to the fans as they nominate. If they still want to nominate and vote for fantasy, so be it. Back when fantasy was shut out of the Hugos, the World Fantasy Award was created to recognize it. So let’s keep it that way and have two awards, and let people decide on their own wish of the winners of the two categories is better.
Added note, due to comments: I don’t actually think this theme-change would actually happen, it is partly tongue-in-cheek. I hope it’s realized the title “how about a Hugo for Science Fiction” is meant to be an ironic statement. (Not like rain on your wedding day.)