I am a reader and a librarian, and I read all kinds of things, including a lot of science fiction and fantasy. I am not a fannish type, I just really love to read. I am not a professional genre writer, so I watch genre writers’ organizations like SFWA and HWA from the sidelines, and I haven’t been to a convention in years. The politics of how awards like the Hugo and the Stoker are chosen haven’t been something I have been very focused on. For two years here we reviewed as many of the Stokers as we could, focusing on the quality of the writing. I have to trust that the writers with the opportunity to nominate and vote do that, too.
I haven’t seen much said about the current controversy over the Hugos in the library community, with the exception of a short article in Library Journal, with commentary from their regular columnist describing it (I’m paraphrasing) as a backlash against diversity in winning works. I would say that in the fan and author community a great many people view it this way– as a step back from representing the variety there really can be in genre fiction. If I’m wrong and there’s lots of fabulous writing out there on the effects this has on librarians and readers, tell me, please.
I can’t see how an award like the Hugo could be completely nonpolitical. Most people would like an award, and it’s reasonable for people to promote their own work or books they really like (George R.R. Martin promoted Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, for instance) However, nominating people to make a point, whatever that point is, does a disservice to librarians and readers, because most librarians choose books for their collections choose popular works already, but they also spend their limited dollars on books that have won prominent literary awards, believing that the awards are legitimate representations of the best of the best in their particular genre. See, here’s the collection development website EarlyWord. Scroll down and look along the right side column. There, under Best Books and Best Sellers is a list of awards. Oh, my goodness, there are so many. Do you think a busy collection development librarian is going to follow the politics of every single award? I think it’s reasonable to say that librarians and readers who DON’T attend WorldCon and DON’T follow the shenanigans of every writerly organization should be able to look at these titles and authors, knowing that they have been awarded because they are legitimately the best representations of the genre, given the criteria for receiving the award. That’s what people think they’re getting, and if they’re going to spend their money and time on a book, then they deserve respect, even if they didn’t shell out $40 to vote.
It makes me happy to learn about an author who has risen to the top because of the excellence of his or her work. But it frustrates me to no end to find that the choices were the result of an ideological battle. A controversy like this destroys a tool that all SF/F writers have available to them to promote their genre and their work.