The Continuing Feminization of Major SFF Awards?

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If anyone noticed, all four of the 2017 Nebula fiction winners were women. In 2016 William Ledbetter was the single male winner in the novelette category. In 2015 all the winners were women. In 2014 Jeff VanderMeer was the single male winner in the novel category. In 2013 all the winners were women. You have to go back to 2012 to find equity, when Kim Stanley Robinson and Andy Duncan won in the novel and novelette categories and Nancy Kress and Aliette de Bodard won in the novelette and short story categories. At least the 2017 Nebula finalists indicated an effort toward sexual diversity, as the list included at least one man in each category, with the total ending up at 5/25 or 20%.

For the 2018 Hugo, only the novel category has even the possibility of a male winner. In 2017 all the Hugo winners were women. Same for 2016. 2015 was a weird year, when No Award won two of the categories and Liu Cixin and Thomas Olde Heuvelt won the other two. You have to go back to 2014 to find equity, where Charles Stross won the novella category and John Chu won the short story category, while Ann Leckie won in the novel category and Mary Robinette Kowal won for the best novelette. For the 2018 Hugos this year, the number of men in the list of finalists is 2/24 or just 8%.

In 2017 the World Fantasy Award short and long fiction winners were all women. Same for 2016. In 2015, the winners were all men, and in 2014 there was a mix of 2 women and 1 man. You’ll never get equity in this one, as there are only three categories.

I’ve not done a statistical analysis, but just looking at the results, especially for the Nebula and Hugo Awards, suggests a definite trend for female winners. Last year I noticed a flurry of articles about the triumph for diversity in the awards because of all female winners in the face of continued prejudice, etc., but this year I haven’t seen much of that type comment, although one article did note that women had dominated “yet again.” Instead, the remarks seemed to be more about racial diversity and Jemisin’s third win in a row.

So, can I gather from this result that there’s a certain discomfort growing about the continued domination of women in the awards? Even Jemisin might be getting suspicious. She didn’t bother to show up to collect her third Nebula, apparently preferring to stay home and write on her current project instead.

In the early years of the science fiction awards, men always dominated, of course. So, why are men suddenly writing so poorly? Clearly this isn’t just a problem with white men, since in 2017 Asian, Hispanic, black and Native American men didn’t measure up, either. So, why not? Why is what the women wrote so much better?

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The problem of vision

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From the days of Jules Verne, science fiction has always been an inspiration for people looking for a direction in science and technology. In order for advances to happen, someone, somewhere, has to imagine it. In this way, the Hugo Awards could turn out to be an important method of rating popular ideas and directions in science imagination.

I’ve just listed the background of some important writers that have set us on the current path. Checking in Wikipedia, here’s a rundown of educational background for recent Hugo winners.

2015
• Cixin Liu – Computer Science?
• Thomas Olde Heuvelt – English Language and American Literature
2014
• Ann Leckie – BA Music
• Charles Stross – BS Pharmacy/Computer Science
• Mary Robinette Kowal – BA Art Education/Theater
• John Chu – Microelectronics?
2013
• John Scalzi – BA Philosophy
• Brandon Sanderson – MFA Creative Writing
• Pat Cadigan – BA Theater
• Ken Liu – AB English, JD Law
2012
• Jo Walton – BA Classics/Ancient History
• Kij Johnson – MFA Creative Writing
• Charlie Jane Anders – ?

Who would have thought Ken Liu was a tax lawyer?

Clearly the field has broadened. The really hard, theoretical sciences like physics and math have given way to more practical applications like computer science. Now men are also using the arts degree as an avenue into SF writing the same way women did in the early years. The humanities dominate in the background of these authors, not the sciences. The literary quality of SF has improved, as pointed out by the recent squabble over the Hugo Awards, but is the science still there?

Although these new, more literary entrants into the field are great writers, they just don’t have the theoretical science background that gave the Golden Age writers a vision of the future that’s still playing out in space exploration and colonization today. The loss of theoretical imagination in hard SF has implications for how our future might go. Without vision, how can we agree on a direction?

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