Did diversity really take a hit in the 2015 Hugos?

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A while back, I posted a blog to the effect that diversity had taken a hit at this year’s Hugo’s because of the Puppies’ mostly white, male slate of nominees. I notice that other people, such as Lynn E. O’Connacht, are calling it a win for diversity because Thomas Olde Huevelt and Cixin Liu turned out to be the winners. According to O’Connacht, diversity in the award isn’t just about gender and race, but also about the international flavor of the awards. She’s written an interesting blog here where she breaks down the award nominees in fiction categories by country. It’s a little unclear about what years this covers, but O’Connacht notes that lists of nominees from 1953-1959 are not available. She also mentions the difficulties of dealing with shifting categories, pseudonyms and multi-country ethnicities. Whatever, here’s what she came up with.

Best Novel nominees by country:
US: 82.2% (106 authors)
UK: 12.4% (16 authors)
Canada: 3.1% (4 authors)
China: 0.8% (1 author)
France: 0.8% (1 author)
Jamaica: 0.8% (1 author)

Original languages for Best Novel nominees:
English: 98.4% (127 books)
French: 0.8% (1 book)
Chinese: 0.8% (1 book)

Best Novella, Best Novelette and Best Short Story nominees:
US: 74.5% (205 authors)
UK: 10.2% (28 authors)
Canada: 3.3% (9 authors)
Australia: 1.1% (3 authors)
France: 0.4% (1 author)
Netherlands: 0.4% (1 author)
Unknown: 10.2% (28 authors)

It’s obvious that the US dominates the awards. Expecting that the innovation of the Internet and online submissions might have made a difference for international publication of short fiction, O’Connacht also looks at the recent short fiction awards. Clearly these skew even more heavily to the US.

Short fiction awards from 1996-2015:
US: 76.9% (103 authors)
UK: 8.2% (11 authors)
Canada: 4.5% (6 authors)
Australia: 2.2% (3 authors)
France: 0.7% (1 author)
Netherlands: 0.7% (1 author)
Unknown: 6.7% (9 authors)

So, is the result this year really a win for diversity? Is it a signal that the Hugos are less US-centric (regardless that it’s called WorldCon)? Or were these results just an accident of Sad Puppy strategy? Actually, the statistics don’t look promising for non-US writers.

David Levithan’s Every Day, take two

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A couple of days into thoughts about the Hugo nomination process totally missing fringe publications, I’ve come up with a good example. David Levithan’s Every Day is a book I reviewed on the blog a little while back. I gave this one five stars, which is hard to get out of me. I think it is totally and awesomely brilliant.

Every Day was published in 2013 and received the Lambda Award for Best LBGTQ Children’s/Teen Book. It went on to feature on the New York Times Bestseller List. This means my opinion isn’t unusual, either from the literary community or the fan community. However, this book never made a ripple in the SF&F community because SF&F isn’t something Levithan normally writes.

I’m seeing quite a bit of activity out there just now in trying to work out a better system to locate award-worthy works. Let’s not forget the fringes, folks. That’s where genius really lies.

Back to the Sad Puppy complaints

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The last couple of blogs have brought me back to looking at the Sad/Rabid Puppy complaints. The tendency is to get swept up in the histrionics about the Hugo slate and to consider Vox Day and the Puppies shrill low-lifes that have corrupted the awards just because of innate meanness. However, getting caught up in this means we’re not objectively looking at the situation and what they might be complaining about.

The Sad/Rabid Puppies are thinking they’ve been excluded from the Hugo Awards because of diversity vs. white men, or SJWs vs. conservative values. But, I’ve just pointed out Eugie Foster, an Asian woman who failed to make the ballot, according to some opinions just because her story was published in Daily SF instead of Asimov’s, Clarkesworld or Lightspeed.

Looking at things this way, nothing from Castalia House would ever be considered for an award mainly because the perception is that Castalia House is a loser publisher that doesn’t win awards. This same kind of cachet could be attached to a writer who normally does work for hire, or someone who normally does hack work but suddenly produces something earth-shakingly brilliant. The opportunity passes for nomination because of community expectations.

This is not to say that the Puppy slate this year featured high quality work. Now I’m wondering if they chose so many stories from Analog because of its status as a “big pro magazine.”

What is a big pro magazine, anyway?

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Edward Lear
Something else stuck out for me in Vivienne Raper’s recent blog here about what short stories she might have nominated for the Hugo Awards. Her first choice was Eugie Foster’s “When It Ends, He Catches Her.” This was a story published by Daily Science Fiction, and it does have a lot to recommend it. For one thing, Eugie Foster died September 27, 2014, the day after the story was published, from complications of lymphoma.

In the story, a lonely zombie woman dances on a theater stage, long after humanity has died in the apocalypse. After the fact, this can easily be read as a comment on the effects of Foster’s illness and her feelings of how it affected both her and other people around her. Foster was a talented up-and-coming writer, and as Raper comments, this was her last shot at recognition through a Hugo Award. The story received 44 nominations for the Hugo ballot, less than the 5% required. It’s true the Sad Puppies’s slate disrupted the process, but it’s likely the story wouldn’t have made it regardless of the slate kerfluffle. The interesting point, though, is the reason Raper thinks it didn’t rate. She says “…this story wasn’t published in one of the big professional magazines.”

At first glance, this statement is a head-scratcher. Daily Science Fiction is one of the big professional magazines. It receives about 800-900 submissions a month, pays pro rates, is recognized by the SFWA and publishes 365 stories a year. But now we’re down to what I blogged about yesterday. Regardless of its size and pro status, this is not a publication that is considered for awards. Because of its format, Daily SF publishes mostly flash fiction. It tends to vignettes and minimally developed short stories that it can deliver through e-mail subscriptions. It only reserves space for one longer story each week.

So, it doesn’t get any respect from people reading and making lists for possible Hugo winners. This is what Raper is really complaining about. This means publications like Daily SF don’t win awards because the perception is they don’t win awards. This will remain true regardless of the quality of stories they publish.

Slates and Hugo reading lists

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Edward Lear
I got a comment on the last blog from Greg Hullender about the difference between a “slate” and recommendations. Greg and Eric Wong operate a website called Rocket Stack Rank that reads, reviews and ranks stories from pro magazines including, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Apex, Tor.com, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Their express purpose is to make it easier for people to find stories to nominate for the Hugo Awards, and Greg notes in his comment that the Rocket Stack list only represents the authors’ tastes and not any political agenda. Because I am now a WorldCon member and faced with making a responsible effort to nominate stories next year, I really appreciate this. I also appreciate the annual Locus recommended reading list as a helpful aid, along with efforts from other well-known reviewers. However, as a writer, there is something about these lists that bothers me.

Like everyone else, the authors of the lists are swamped with the amount of material out there, which means they have to make choices. This is usually to read award-winning pro magazines and anthologies, expecting what Greg calls the top 10-15% of outstanding stories will be located there. Locus has a broader recommendation list than Rocket Stack, as presumably they have a larger staff to read. As the Sad/Rabid Puppies suggest, these listings can’t help but include the authors’ social and literary biases. The end result of using these lists to prep for nominations, of course, is that a large body of SF&F writing is totally eliminated from consideration. It also helps insure the same magazines win the award over and over again. Because some pro magazines have low scores on diversity scales, this also reduces the likely diversity of the awards and contributes to the likelihood the same winners will be nominated over and over, to the detriment of writers who may be off-beat and brilliant, but publishing on the fringes.

I don’t have any solution to this problem. It’s just bothering me.

Vivienne Raper on short stories and the Hugos: Another slate?

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55327_girl-writing_md I’ve been checking around today and found where Vivienne Raper has blogged about what short stories she might have nominated for the Hugo Awards, then compared her choices to the Sad/Rabid Puppy slate. You can read it here.

Raper notes how difficult it is to get any kind of short story nominated under the current Hugo system (where a nominee has to get 5% of nominations to appear on the ballot). This has been pointed out by a lot of bloggers in recent months–she’s right that it’s a huge obstacle for short story writers. I think Raper is also correct that a wide readership is necessary, meaning it’s nearly impossible to get nominated if you appear in a token payment magazine, for example.

Raper’s choices are her own, of course, but there’s some interesting discussion that comes up in the Comments section. There are some complaints about the shortcomings of current short story reviews. Also, if I’m reading the comments correctly, folks are proposing a system to make up lists of stories and rate them for possible nomination. I agree something like this would be very helpful, but isn’t this just the kind of slate the Puppies have been complaining about? Hm.

Review of Off World by Jonah Bergen

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Here’s another R-rated, adult type book. This one is billed as a “m/m romance.”

There’s been a war between humanity and the Witches, and humanity has lost. Human worlds are thrown into hard times. The girls are protected, but the homesteaders sell their boys as slaves. Taine is a Lowman who looks like a red-skinned “devil” and has spiritual powers. He feeds on life-force and he’s looking for boys suitable to be returned to his temple for training. Taine can sense the quality of life-force. He buys an unlikely slave that feels like Sunshine, but the woman prevails on him to take her son Tanner, as well, to train as an apprentice. Taine starts to take the boys back to the city of Longknife, but encounters problems in the journey—enough so that he starts to wonder if there’s not something else going on. Eventually his horse wanders away, carrying all his supplies and documents in the saddlebags. They find the horse has been captured by a Witch, who also captures the boys, and then Taine when he goes after them. Once captured and in the power of the Witches, Taine finds there are other things he needs to take care of.

This is mostly an adventure tale, set against a broader background of intrigue. The culture on this remote outback is clear, and Taine’s ongoing references to his home world, the temple and his mentor Shilandra are all suggestive, but I didn’t get a good feel for the Witches and the culture outside the local environment. This is definitely an adult novel, running to BDSM because of the slavery. Taine’s mysticism and taste for life-force lend a little strain of the occult. Although there’s a lot of sex, none of it is explicit. This is definitely written for a male audience. Three stars.

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