hugo nominations 2014As almost any reader who ever logs on the Internet is probably aware by now, this year’s Hugo Awards have attracted more than their slice of controversy. For a start, there was the Hugo own goal with the alarmist Twitter campaign against Jonathan Ross hosting the Awards. Then there was an eruption on the right flank with the inclusion of work and recommendations from Larry Correia and notoriously bigoted commentator Vox Day in the Hugo nominations list. So far, this year’s Nebula Awards nominations have not stoked similar passions that I’ve noticed, but these are Awards voted on by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which is still in the shadow of last year’s controversy over ridiculously sexist covers and comments in the SWFA Bulletin. So not only will this year’s Nebula Awards be very lucky to escape any association with that upset, but the SWFA also may still be faced with big challenges to its credibility.

Former SFWA president John Scalzi has gone to considerable lengths to explain that “The Hugo Nominations Were Not Rigged,” and also has argued and Tweeted intensively in favor of “simply judging the works on their own merits,” regardless of the affiliations and opinions of their authors.  Many aren’t impressed with this argument. And in the person of Correia, we have a guy who has explicitly launched campaigns to stack the Hugo nominations rewarded by yet another stacked nomination slate.

And all the unwelcome stuff is not only coming from the right side of the spectrum either. The spirit of the Jonathan Ross Twitter campaign appears to live on in many of the responses from the other end too. Fangs for the Fantasy, for example, which covers “The latest in urban fantasy from a social justice perspective,” seems not only determined to castigate the Hugos for promulgating “apologetics for bigotry,” but also to yoke them together with other incidents, practices, etc., supposedly serving to marginalize … um, marginalised people from the SFF community as well. And there’s as much a whiff of ideological compulsion in the demand that “Science fiction needs to reflect that the future is queer.”

But the more alarming implication around the whole Hugo debacle is not that the SWFA or WorldCon harbors a faction of sub-Tea Partyist bigots, but more that there is a significant constituency within the science fiction community that either doesn’t care about Vox Day’s stance, or has deliberately swung behind him as a reflex response to the intrusion of wider concerns on its turf. This strikes me as probably the truest and worst signal that the Hugo slate can send to the wider world – that we’re dealing with an inbred, inward-looking cabal of closed minds. The Correia ‘Sad Puppies’ campaign railed against “the snooty literati.”

As Joe Sherry explains elsewhere, “each award, whether it is the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, or the Pulitzer, is reflective of who it is that nominated and votes on the awards. The World Fantasy Awards are a juried award, the Nebulas are voted on by members of the SFWA, and the Hugos are nominated and voted on by those who have either purchased a membership to attend Worldcon or have purchased a supporting membership which provides nominating and voting rights. So, despite being the most visible of all genre awards, the Hugo Awards are reflective of the opinions of those who have memberships to Worldcon. The other point to make is that if you look at previous years, it takes a relative few number of nominations to actually make the final ballot and the margin between making the ballot and not making the ballot can be extremely tight.”

The SWFA has been heavily implicated in all the recent ructions. Whether it’s become a political football is beside the point, because it definitely appears unable to appreciate or manage the tensions it’s dealing with. That hardly suggests that it can deliver credible quality benchmarks for science fiction and fantasy writing in future.

“It’s a Hugo slate pretty much any Hugo slate in any year. I plan to treat it exactly like I treat any Hugo slate in any year,” writes Scalzi. Quite a few others, however, may have concluded that that train has long since sailed.