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My Hugo & Nebula Awards Rant

By Galen Strickland
Posted February 4, 2001, with later edits

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I'm sure that everyone is aware that the Hugo and Nebula are the two most prestigious—and therefore the most sought after—awards in the SF community, but you may not be aware of the specific rules and regulations concerning the way works are nominated and voted upon. First of all, it might be appropriate to make comparisons, the Hugos being similar to the People's Choice Awards™ and the Nebulas equating to the Academy Awards™ of SF.

Anyone who pays the annual dues of the World Science Fiction Society is eligible to nominate and vote on the Hugos, even if they do not attend the annual Worldcon at which the awards are presented. Thus any SF fan with sufficient interest and funds can influence the outcome of the Hugos. Only members of the SFWA can nominate and vote on the Nebulas. Personally, I have always been of the opinion that the Hugos are more important, since a writer should be more concerned with pleasing his audience than his colleagues. I'm not saying it has ever been a factor with the Nebulas (and I'm not saying it hasn't either), but it has always been a criticism of the Academy Awards™ that the winners are at times more influenced by politicking and a general atmosphere of what the establishment thinks should win rather than the overall merits of the works in question (or am I mistaken, and did Saving Private Ryan win out over Shakespeare in Love?).

For many years, Worldcons had traditionally been held on the Labor Day weekend. A few recent years have seen the Con earlier in the summer, but since the Hugos are awarded to books and stories that were published in the preceding calendar year, most readers had ample opportunity to sample all of the nominated works. The Nebulas are awarded earlier in the year, usually in mid-Spring. In order to be elibible for a Nebula, the work has to receive at least ten nominations by year's end to make the preliminary ballot. If a particular story or book was released fairly late in the year it can sometimes happen that it may not have been read by enough people to get sufficient nominations. The SFWA, realizing this could disqualify a work deserving of consideration, has provided a loophole. A book or story's eligibility actually extends for a full year following the month it was originally published. Thus we can have a situation like Joe Haldeman's Forever Peace winning both awards, but in different years. Please do not confuse this with the fact that the two awards are dated differently, the Hugos by the year the award is presented and the Nebulas by the year of eligibility. In normal circumstances then, Forever Peace (published late in 1997) should have won the 1998 Hugo (which it did) and the 1997 Nebula. But it actually won the Nebula for 1998 since it did not appear on the final 1997 ballot due to lack of the required ten nominations. There are other examples that you will notice, but this is the most obvious since it is the most recent instance of this occurrence. [NOTE: Since this page was originally uploaded this has happened two other times, with Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Lois McMaster Bujold's Paladin of Souls.]

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Another thing of interest in these lists - just as many critics and film-goers have rated 2000 as a poor year for movies (at least of the mainstream Hollywood variety), it is obvious that the caliber of the competition for the SF awards varies considerably from year to year as well. That is why I included all the titles on the final ballots and not just the winners. Consider the Hugos of 1981, for which Joan Vinge's The Snow Queen won for best novel. Others on the final ballot were Lord Valentine's Castle (Robert Silverberg), The Ringworld Engineers (Larry Niven), Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (Frederik Pohl), and Wizard (John Varley). What the awards list does not show are ones that were on the preliminary ballot but did not make the final ballot - Serpent's Reach (C. J. Cherryh), Dragon's Egg (Robert L. Forward), The Number of the Beast (Robert A. Heinlein), Timescape (Gregory Benford), and The Shadow of the Torturer (Gene Wolfe). My personal choice from those particular titles would be either Timescape or The Shadow of the Torturer. It would be difficult for me to choose between the two since they are such different kinds of novels, but this is a perfect example of how some years can have many exceptional works from which to make a selection.

Even I learned some things I had not been aware of before. There are several books that were nominated over the years by authors not usually associated with the genre. Of course the three titles by Kurt Vonnegut (The Sirens of Titan, Cat's Cradle, and Slaughterhouse Five) definitely have SF elements, and they are from earlier in his career when he was still occasionally submitting stories to the genre magazines. It was not long after that though, that he made a conscious effort to distance himself from the literary "ghetto" which is SF. In other years books by other mainstream authors appeared on the ballots - Jerzy Kozinski (Being There), William S. Burroughs (Nova Express), Gore Vidal (Kalki), Thomas Pynchon (Gravity's Rainbow), Russell Hoban (Riddley Walker), and Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale). I have read the Vonnegut titles (as well as many others by him) and would recommend them to anyone. I have also read the Kozinski, Pynchon and Hoban entries, and while I think they are exceptional works, they are not ones I would suggest for just anyone. Other than the Vonnegut titles, all the rest were on the Nebula ballots, which seems to indicate the writers themselves are more attuned to the merits of style over content, whether or not it is actually SF. It also seems that the Nebula side of the chart has a few more titles that are more fantasy than science fiction, although you will see a bit of that on the Hugo side as well, especially in recent years.

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Another thing I noticed (although I didn't do any checking on it) is that the specifications for story length must differ somewhat for the Hugo and Nebula, since there are several Ellison and Tiptree stories that were in different categories for the different awards. You may be wondering why I included the winning and nominated entries for short stories, novellettes, and novellas. The main reason is that my intention was to make these pages somewhat of an SF history lesson. With very few exceptions, the genre writers all began with shorter works in various periodicals and original anthologies. Those on recent ballots who may not have yet produced novels, or at least not ones nominated for the awards, should surely be ones to watch for in the future. And as you go back in years you will be able to see a consistency of appearances by quite a few authors, thus indicating their work has been admired by both readers and other writers for quite some time. I think you will also get a lot of enjoyment from just the titles on many of the stories on these pages. I can attest to the fact that many of the stories are just as creative, if not more so, than the titles their authors chose.

I have provided amazon.com links for all available novels and non-fiction books, along with the film and television shows nominated. Many of the shorter works are probably available in book form but it would be an almost impossible task to track them all down. It has taken me long enough just to produce these pages, and I need to get back to reading and also writing some other articles. For now, and if you're interested, I would suggest you check out the annual "Best of the Year" volumes edited by Gardner Dozois and David G. Hartwell, and they have also edited many other antholgoies which might include some of the older stories. [EDIT: Sadly, both of these editors have passed away. Others offering year-end anthologies now include Rich Horton, Jonathan Strahan, and Neil Clarke.] Since almost all current writers began as SF fans themselves, and more than likely were influenced by the works that came before, I think it is very important never to lose site of the history of the field. And that is also the main reason I created these pages in the first place, to constantly keep our awareness on both where the genre has been and also where it is heading.

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It has long been touted that Harlan Ellison has won more Hugos than any other writer, his total being credited at 8½. I'm not sure whether the ½ is for his contributions to the film A Boy and His Dog, or for his script for Star Trek's "The City on the Edge of Forever," which as you should know by now was extensively re-written by D. C. Fontana at the insistence of Gene Roddenberry. He has also won 3 Nebulas and has been nominated a total of 33 times for both awards combined. In the last few years his claim on the title has been very nearly superceded by Connie Willis, who currently has a total of 8 Hugo wins. [UPDATE: A few years after writing that she has won some more, up to 11 Hugos now.] Adding her 5 Nebula wins, [now 7], she surpasses Ellison for these two awards. Of course he can still probably lay claim to being the most honored genre author, counting all his other awards which you can check out on this page. One thing that surprised me about Connie Willis though; she of course has won several recent awards for her novels Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog and Blackout/All Clear, but are you aware her first Hugo award nomination came nearly 30 years ago? [2015 Update: now 35 years, 1980.]

Again it was disheartening to discover that even though these are books that were nominated for, and/or won, the two major genre awards, that was not a guarantee of their being in print. We only have to go back nine years [at the time this article was first written that is], with 1995's Metropolitan by Walter Jon Williams being the first novel on the list to be unavailable at this time. At least we have to go back further to Elizabeth Ann Scarborough's The Healer's War, from 1989, to find the most recent winner (Nebula) to be on the out of print list. [EDIT: It's back in print now, and I have reviewed it.] There are a total of eleven titles from the 90s that are out of print, but as you get into the 80s and earlier, the ratio begins to grow.

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I have a particular pet peeve about this situation myself. One of my favorite authors is Robert Silverberg, who with his combined seventeen novel nominations (eleven different titles, seven of them nominated for both awards, including four years in a row on both final ballots!) beat out all comers in the race for recognition of his work. Combining his nominations in every category for both awards yields a total of thirty-eight. However, he has never won a Hugo for best novel (only three for shorter works), and just one of his novels, 1971's A Time of Changes, won a Nebula (two extra for shorts). Not only that, only one of those eleven novels is currently in print, and it is not the award-winner, but rather Lord Valentine's Castle, the last of his novels to make the final ballot for either award. I find it hard to believe there aren't enough fans around to keep most of those books in print. I mean, Silverberg is not a nobody! We are talking about some heavy-weight material here - The Masks of Time, Up the Line, Dying Inside, The Book of Skulls, and The Stochastic Man, among others. And it's not like he's washed up either. He is still very active in writing, as well as editing quite a few anthologies over the past few years. He is very prominent in fandom activities at various conventions, including the Worldcons. I myself was priviledged to meet him at the '97 LoneStarCon2 in San Antonio. He is a friendly, gracious man, with an obvious interest in furthering the broad appeal of the SF and Fantasy genres, and I think he deserves more support than he has been getting. Maybe he just needs to get a better agent, but something is definitely wrong with this picture. And I could make the same argument for Poul Anderson and Clifford D. Simak, as well as many others. Whether or not you agree with me about particular authors, I do feel it should concern every SF reader that so much of the genre's history is currently unavailable to so many.

Perhaps this is just a temporary situation, and there are book contracts pending for a lot of these titles, but I honestly don't feel too confident about that. For the most part I think the people who buy most of the new books don't know much about the genre beyond a few years ago, and thus don't know what they are missing. I may be fighting a losing battle, but it is going to be my intention to renew interest in the authors and books that have gone a long way to shape the genre into what it is today. As I have said before, I am lucky to have access to a lot of used bookstores here, but I know that is not the case with a lot of people. If a book is not currently in print then you're not going to find it at Borders or Barnes&Noble, or whatever regular bookstore you may have near you, and you're obviously not going to get it from amazon. What people do not see on the shelves they will not be able to buy, and what is most tragic, they may never be aware of that loss. What do you say about all of us pooling our money and going into the publishing business? I think I've got a couple of dollars I could contribute.

Since this article was originally written I have been both surprised and overjoyed to find there have been several Robert Silverberg titles reissued in either hardcover or paperback editions, including a few mentioned above - Dying Inside, The Man in the Maze, Up the Line - along with other older (and new) titles either already published or due soon. Check out the Books at Amazon page for a full list of his currently available titles, and if you have not read it yet, click on his name for my updated article on his writings.

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Related Links:
The Winning Novels—A page on all the novels that have won a Hugo and/or Nebula, with links on those that have been reviewed.
Dual Award Winners—A list of those that have won both awards.


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