SF & Fantasy publishing needs industry awards

UPDATE : Friday 18th March 2016. As the mess that is the Hugo awards remains unchanged a year later, I’m republishing this post to re-iterate the same message. We need a PROFESSIONAL INDUSTRY SF&F award, not a fan driven bun fight. 

The controversy around this year’s Hugo awards continued to roll on through this week. Independent journalist Philip Sandifer added a small tome of research to the material on the issue, although it rather overestimates the importance of Theodore Beale as leader of the neo-fasicist revolution within sci-fi. Beale may be a fascist, but his actual role in this would be better described as attention bum. Beale hangs around the SF & Fantasy writing community, bumming spare attention off anybody he can harass, or who rises to the bait of whatever racist, homophobic bilge the attention bum has posted to his blog that day to score some attention. Poor Phil Sandifer has opened his wallet and given the attention bum his whole months attention salary. I imagine it made the attention bum very happy.

Read 2015’s best SF&F on Amazon.

There is always some controversy around the Hugo awards, and one of the main causes is that the awards simply don’t fit the expectations that people bring to them. The Hugo awards belong to the World Science Fiction Convention or WorldCon, an American SF & Fantasy convention with a long history that gives the Hugos an immense cachet. The problem is that the SF & Fantasy community tend to treat the Hugos as an industry award, when they are not.

The Eisner’s announced their shortlists today which, low and behold, managed to be interesting, diverse and relevant to the comic book industry they represent. The Eisner’s are in actuallity what the Hugo awards are often assumed to be – an industry award. The main purpose of the Eisner’s is to serve the comic book industry in the ways such awards do, primarily by raising the profile of the industry’s best work and expanding the audience for the medium overall. On a much larger scale, the Oscars have been fulfilling this role for the film industry for decades. So why doesn’t the SF & Fantasy field have a proper industry award?

The main reason is that the Hugos, and alongside them the Nebulas, come very close to being an industry award without quite fulfilling that role. The Hugos could do, and many people seem to be working to get them there, but they won’t achieve that without becoming much more international and overhauling their voting system. The Nebulas are voted for by industry professionals, of a kind, in the membership of the Science Fiction Writers of America. But the SFWAs membership does’t actually include the publishing professionals it would need to be an effective “academy” in the style of the Academy Awards.

I don’t know if or how this problem may be fixed. But it does need to be, The lack of a proper industry award leaves the SF & Fantasy writing industry without a centre that it badly needs. The industry’s major awards should be generating media coverage for the quality of their winners, not the intensity of the outrage they cause.

How do you balance complexity and simplicity in your writing?


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

6 thoughts on “SF & Fantasy publishing needs industry awards

  1. You say the Hugo voting system needs to be overhauled. Can you explain your thinking? Not that I don’t agree, but, well maybe I don’t. Seems to me the problem is not the voting system, but the small number of people who participate. This makes the Hugo awards less likely to represent the broader set of SF&F fans, and easy to freep. Not saying these fans are better than those, them, whatever. Just that the number of voters make them unrepresentative of the larger group that must exist, if we look at Comicon and Dragoncon as examples.


    1. To be an industry award, the Hugo don’t need to represent any group of fans. They need to represent the interests of the industry. If the Oscars represented the largest group of fans, Transformers would win best movie every year. But that doesn’t advance the industry.

      Liked by 1 person


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