Welcome to Smugglivus 2012! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2012, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2013.
Who: Renay, one of the writers behind one of our favourite blogs, the excellent Lady Business, a space dedicated to critique (of books, TV, Movies, Fandom, etc) from a feminist perspective.
Please give it up for Renay, everybody!
This, my friends, is a logo for the Hugo Awards which are kind of a big deal to me.
In 2012, I did something I had never done before by buying a Supporting membership to Chicon 7 so I could vote for the Hugo Awards. “Why’s that a big deal?”, you’re wondering. Well, it’s a big deal because I didn’t know I could vote for the Hugo Awards.
I can hear the protests now. “Renay, aren’t you a book blogger? Haven’t you been one since 2007? HOW DID YOU NOT KNOW?” and they’re all deserved. But I legitimately believed that you had to attend Worldcon to be able to vote and have any impact whatsoever on the outcome of one of the biggest science fiction and fantasy awards. Maybe I also believed that the nominees were chosen by dwarves, or space whales, or that the lists sprang magically from the heads of SF/F fandom BNF cabal. I HAVE NO IDEA WHERE I THOUGHT NOMINEES CAME FROM. This is an epic showing of cluelessness, no doubt.
There is a possibility that this is a failing of an established genre institution to actively court people like me and my friends (keyword: ladies who often read more young adult SF/F than adult SF/F). Or maybe I am just super oblivious because I’m too busy reading fanfic and got the Hugo Award confused with the Nebula. I assume gatekeeping at every turn!
Imagine my surprise when I realized the only actual gate that stood between myself and participating was a sum of $50! I’m at a point in my life where the ability to pay for this membership is doable, although I recognize it can still be prohibitive (I’ve been there!) The chance to get to provide my perspective on my favorite genre makes it worth it for me and opens everything up in exciting new ways: the thrill of debating what was the best; the excitement of the awards ceremony; the joyous and crushing reveal of the awards themselves; the rending of fabric and the shaking of fists about how the finalists reflect a fandom that’s still struggling to embrace diversity of voice, changes in technology, and failing to engage a younger population of fans. Also, I would be part of the group that would be ordered to get off people’s digital lawns because our terrible taste and letting riff-raff onto the forever-lists of award winners. MY FAVORITE PART.
It was so exciting! I said, “Self, you will read everything and make a fair decision. You will have a vote and get to represent your interests!”
That was a lie because I am very fond of lying to myself about projects. I didn’t read everything. Turns out reading everything is for people with time to read, like those who can sneak their e-readers into their desk jobs or commuters who listen to audiobooks or read. Someone would definitely notice me trying to read Leviathan Wakes and serve them food at the same time and then I would get fired. More time for reading, but probably less food to eat. Sigh, priorities.
However, I did my best! Because I registered so early not only did I get to vote, I got to nominate, which I didn’t expect. This is the point at which I learned that space whales were not, in fact, responsible for nominees. Neither was the SF/F cabal. (Who did I think was in that imaginary cabal of mine? I’ll never tell.) I got a chance to nominate people for the finalists list: authors I loved, projects I’ve followed for years, people who have changed my literary life with the work they do to promote science fiction and fantasy. It was awesome when the finalists were revealed and things I had nominated showed up. I had helped shape those lists and by doing so I discovered great new authors and artists and writers and podcasts I had never heard of before. I tapped into a shared experience around the Hugos, read all the posts I could find about things I should check out and consider nominating, then voted with all the knowledge I had at my disposal. It was so much fun and illuminating to finally get to see inside the process.
I also got to be a member of the enraged horde when the livestream of the awards ceremony was ripped brutally from my screen by Ustream. Ah, memories. People invested will also remember when SF Signal won, too. I believe we all looked a little like this:
The feelings are the best, especially in the fan categories. These are the categories where everything is done for free out of love for these fantastic stories and I am big on recognizing fan contributions. However, there will also be feelings when your vote doesn’t help translate a creator to halls of eternal Hugo fame. It’s okay; you won’t be alone in your personal avalanche of feels! It’s a risk, but a worthwhile one.
The truth comes down to this: I have so many friends who read science and fiction and fantasy who would gladly take part in this event, except like me, they didn’t know it was possible because they misunderstood or were ignorant of how the Hugo Awards work. They didn’t realize, as content consumers, that this is also their award, regardless of whether they’ve ever been or will ever go to Worldcon. The Hugo site (did you know? There’s a site!) says anyone can nominate and vote in the “I Want to Vote” section linked from their main page, but maybe the nature of awards, which in general aren’t by fans and for fans, make people assume gatekeeping. Like me, maybe they didn’t realize that there’s a (possible, not guaranteed but very likely! Seriously publishers, don’t stop now you beautiful, generous creatures.) voter packet full of stories/novels/art/writing provided by publishers so individuals don’t have to foot a huge bill to take part. Like me, maybe they often feel left out of a fandom so vastly different than the online communities they hang out in. Like me, maybe they feel intimidated or not knowledgeable enough about a genre they love.
What I learned in my experience this year is that there are different levels of Hugo participation and knowledge about this fandom. There’s no right way or wrong way to take part. Maybe you nominate. Maybe you just vote and trust the fandom to provide a nice slate and decide to learn more for next year. Maybe you nominate and vote in a few categories you’re passionate about, and leave the rest. Maybe you nominate all ladies in fiction categories or only blogs in the Fanzine category, or only Young Adult novels in the Best Novel category. Maybe you get to read everything, or maybe you only get through the short stories, so that’s the only fiction category you vote in. Maybe you discover a new fan writer you’ve never heard of and vote for them. Maybe you mainline Doctor Who because it’s eaten an entire category (PS please mainline Doctor Who and then come weep with me, gosh, THIS SHOW). Maybe you spend weeks reading and watching everything you can, debate until the deadline, vote in every category at the last minute, and then pass out for 12 hours to recover with all your clothes still on on the couch. Maybe it is a little daunting. Maybe there are tingles of “I’m a fraud! I don’t know enough to give opinions on all this stuff!” But wow, now that I’ve been a part of this and felt all the fear of Doing It Wrong and the doubts of Am I a Real Genre Fan?, do I ever feel like giving in to that feeling is the way the status quo is maintained.
There’s no wrong way to participate. There’s no wrong way to be a fan. There’s space on that rocket for everyone, if we want to get all sappy about it, and the more diverse the participants engaging in this fan award are, the more it becomes an inclusive, representative award that’s going to reach more people and bring them into fandom. No, it will never be perfect; no popular award can be. But we can make it better with as many perspectives as possible.
I highly encourage everyone, especially people who believe, like I do, that there’s space for YA recognition, more women, non-white, and international voices, to look at the membership options and if joining the process and the conversation around it is possible, give it a shot. See if it’s worth investing in each year. Nominate the people and things you love. Vote for the stuff you think represents the best of genre, the best of all the things that the future science fiction and fantasy fandom should remember.
And definitely remember that even the process of saying “these are my nominees/these are my votes” and explaining why in public does good, worthwhile things for creators, even if they don’t win. I’ve been swayed to check out a title or six in the past because people have talked about the Hugo slate and discovered new authors that way. So I hope to see you in 2013, talking about your nominations, or if you can’t take part, at least discussing things you loved in 2012 so people like me, who are often behind on reading and the fast-paced nature of fandom, can check them out.
Thank you, Renay.