It’s Not the Cover

It’s also not the publisher. Or, for that matter, the medium by which the story is transmitted. I recently become aware of a kerfuffle involving the 2013 Hugo Awards Subcommittee and an author who was unfairly denied a chance at the 2013 novelette category.

The hairy details can be found here, but suffice it to say that by way of a novel application of the rules Mary Robinette Kowal‘s The Lady Astronauts of Mars was denied eligibility in the category where other stories, conveyed in a similar fashion, have been considered. If this was not lame enough on its own, it appears the that the Award Subcommittee further fumbled their handling of the story, waiting until the after-party to let MRK in on whole affair.

I would maintain that this is the result of humans handling things. It is likely that different humans were, for instance, responsible for managing the interpretation of the rules in 2008 to those that managed the whole affair in 2013.

Annalee Flower‘s post speculates this whole affair may the be the result of an unconscious “straight white male” selection bias. While this may be true, it is equally plausible that MRK’s unfortunate exclusion had nothing whatsoever to do with gender, race or any of the other all too common reasons for not letting others play.

The evidence should speak for itself.  The way the selection process worked this year was different than the way it has worked in the past.  I’m speculating that MRK’s The Lady Astronauts of Mars was incorrectly removed from consideration because the rules are vague about media and presentation. Obviously precedence was not a considered by this years subcommittee.

Tact and transparency were not on their list of requirements either. My suggestions are as follows. First, the Award Subcommittee needs to publicly acknowledge that mistakes have been made. Recognizing that Hugos have been, in the past, given to audiobook recordings of stories later published in print would be a good start. But acknowledging that consideration was incorrectly denied to MRK and others and then complicated by a failure to communicate would go a long way to resolving this mess once and for all.

Finally, that act of publishing, I feel, needs some reconsideration. Authors, those fine people who for some unknown reason feel compelled to spend endless hours penning entertaining tales for our amusement, are beholden to a backward, superannuated, somewhat parasitical industry that refuses change. It seems from here that Big Ink publication is antithetical, even aggressive, to process innovation.

Imagine, for instance, that you are an innovative, independent geneticist. You have spent countless hours in the lab working on a intracellular delivery method that could revolutionize modern medicine. What do you need to get this to market? Backing, and regardless of workability issues you might initially encounter, you can probably find a way.

In an industry like this, while you may at first be challenged to find that start up money, if your idea has merit, it is much more likely you will need to turn investment away. Not so in the world of Big Ink publishing. Regardless of the merits of your storytelling, if you are an undiscovered quantity, you are likely going to experience a long wait for recognition and compensation.

And, like it or not, authors who want their stories read are going to ever greater lengths to get them out to the public, bypassing the wait as much as they are able. I read more with my ears today, than I do with my eyes. Because these awards serve as a test bed for defining quality in writing, the Hugo needs to address these new methods for delivering good stories. The story, the quality of the story in fact, should be the primary concern of these evaluations. Not the gender of the story teller or the reputation of the company that did the printing.

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