Awards For Works Should Be Judged By The Work Itself

It doesn’t seem like that difficult of a concept, does it?

When awards like the Dragon Award, the Helicon Award, the Nebula, the Hugo, the Oscar, et al, gather to select the best of the best in their fields this should be the standard. The work that was nominated shall be judged, not the personal life or beliefs of the person who created said work. Not their philosophy, their politics, their sex, their gender, their age, their religion, their race, etc. 

The work and only the work is all that should be considered.

Fortunately, the Dragon Awards and the Helicon Awards still embrace this concept. Sadly, the folks in charge of, and voting for, the Hugos and the Nebulas don’t. Which is why both the Hugo and the Nebula has become, for a majority of SF/F readers, a red flag. Even being nominated for one of those two is a warning to not waste your time and money on these works, especially in the literary categories. 

This problem began to manifest itself back in the early 2010’s and has progressively worsened every year since. But over, the last three or four years, the cancer has metastasized to the point where I doubt either the Hugos or the Nebulas can ever be redeemed. Let me point this out, to ward off the inevitable charge: I will never accept a Hugo or a Nebula if I won and I’d ensure I wouldn’t win one by demanding my name and work be removed if nominated. I don’t want my works stained by being connected to awards based on hate.  

To be honest, I’d washed my hands of both two years ago and never even bothered to look to see who’d been nominated, much less won. But recent events have managed to drag me back into the conversation slightly.

First, we have Jeannette Ng, taking a page out of N.K. Jemesin’s playbook, at Worldcon 2019 in Dublin, Ireland. Are you a talentless hack of a writer with no hope of getting published? Just go find an old white dude in SF/F to attack and the accolades will roll in!

Jemesin used Vox Day to propel herself to four Hugos that her writing was not worthy of – well, if you use the standards of giving awards to great writing that the Hugos used to have prior to 2010 that is. And Ng, despite getting the 2019 John W. Campbell Award for best new writer, decided she needed to do the same. Having read her writing, she was probably right to do so as her work is just as bad as Jemesin’s is.

So, Ng trots onto the stage in Dublin and “Wokely” trashes the hell out of a dead writer who cannot offer any defense against the charges posthumously brought against him. How brave, Jenny!

And what was her reward? Here’s the list of the 2020 Hugo’s finalist for Best Related Work:

Joanna Russ, Gwyneth Jones (University of Illinois Press)

The Pleasant Profession of Robert A Heinlein, Farah Mendlesohn (Unbound)

“2019 John W. Campbell Award Acceptance Speech”, Jeannette Ng (WorldCon 2019 Dublin, Ireland)

The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, Mallory O’Meara (Hanover Square)

Becoming Superman: My Journey From Poverty to Hollywood, J. Michael Straczynski (Harper Voyager US)

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin (Documentary Film by Arwen Curry)

Well, well. Looks like her hate-filled rant paid off. Oh, and that’s not all. Care to guess who won the 2020 Hugo for Best Related Work? Yep, Miss Hatey-Hate Ng walked away with the Hugo. For an acceptance speech that was anything but and over five other much-more worthy works. I myself would have gone with the Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin but any of the other four would have been fine too.

But no, the intelligence-limited folk that still bother to vote for the Hugo, went with hate instead. Still, I let this episode slide because I honestly don’t care about either the Hugos or the Nebulas. The Dragons and the Helicons are where you will truly discover the best of SF/F today.

Even when the rabid hatehounds went after George R.R. Martin, I couldn’t be bothered to care enough other than to shoot George a quick note. Even then I just pointed out the delicious irony of GRRM being fed to the same hatehounds he helped create back at WorldCon 2015. 

It seems at WorldCon 2020, GRRM mispronounced a few last names (total aside to those who got mad because he didn’t get your name right: Grow up. I quit worrying about the butchery of my last name back in high school!) and had the gall to defend John W. Campbell after last year’s assault. The hatehounds have been after him ever since and, as far as I am concerned, they are welcome to each other. 

But, there was a discussion today on Twitter that caught my attention regarding the other WorldCon 2020 controversy: The Retro Hugos.

Originally conceived in 1993 to be a one-off for WorldCon 1996 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the 1946 WorldCon held in the same city both years, the idea was to have a Hugo Awards for the 1946 works. Since 1996, they’ve held seven more Retro Hugos, including one this year, when they voted on the winners for 1945. Here’s who the winners were:

“Shadow Over Mars” (The Nemesis from Terra), by Leigh Brackett (Startling Stories, Fall 1944)
“Killdozer!”, by Theodore Sturgeon (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1944)
“City”, by Clifford D. Simak (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1944)
“I, Rocket”, by Ray Bradbury (Amazing Stories, May 1944)
The Cthulhu Mythos, by H. P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, and others
“The Science-Fiction Field”, by Leigh Brackett (Writer’s Digest, July 1944)
Superman: “The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk”, by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (Detective Comics, Inc.)
The Canterville Ghost, screenplay by Edwin Harvey Blum from a story by Oscar Wilde, directed by Jules Dassin (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM))
The Curse of the Cat People, written by DeWitt Bodeen, directed by Gunther V. Fritsch and Robert Wise (RKO Radio Pictures)
John W. Campbell, Jr.
Margaret Brundage
Voice of the Imagi-Nation, edited by Forrest J. Ackerman and Myrtle R. Douglas
Fritz Leiber

To my eye this looks like a pretty solid representation of SF/F in 1945. But the hatehounds spotted two names on that list: H.P. Lovecraft and John W. Campbell. 

“UNWOKE!” they yowled much the same way the crowds yelled “UNCLEAN!” when they burned witches at the stake in Salem, Massachusetts. 

And now they want to change the rules for future Retro Hugos it seems. No longer can the best work be nominated, they yowl, but if the creator behind said work does not pass the “Officially Acceptable Wokeness Test” they must be chiseled out of the SF/F historical record forever lest future generations ever hear of their vile “un-woke” creations!

Even John Scalzi jumped into the fray to declare that we really shouldn’t waste our time on the “old SF/F” stuff and only read the “modern (read: acceptably woke) stuff”.

HISTORICAL NOTE: I had the extreme displeasure of having to read his crap when it shot across the McClatchy Newspaper wire back in the mid-1990s when he was at the Fresno Bee and I worked the copy desk for two days a week at the Modesto Bee (thankfully the other three days I escaped that torture by working in the Sports department.)

When I heard Scalzi had jumped to fiction writing I pitied his poor editor. His stuff at the Bee was always the last we worked on and always need massive reworking to be suitable to run. Old Man’sWar, saved no doubt by said editor, was okay. Everything since? Well, the only reason why he isn’t the worst SF/F writer of all-time is thanks to the presence of Jemesin in the field.

But I digress. I also reject the argument that reading the classics is a waste of time as much as I reject judging those works by today’s standards. The world was different then. What is unacceptable now was accepted then. So to judge the creators that way is wrong. And judging a work by who wrote it is even more so. Judge the work by the work itself and by no other standard. That is the only fair way to do it.

In the aforementioned Twitter conversation, I brought up that I do this and the other person was stunned. It was a foreign concept to him (or her, there was no name attached to the profile). This person doubted anyone could separate the work from its creator like that.

Well, here I stand. And I don’t think I am the only one either. When I pick up a book I don’t care who wrote it, what their gender, sex, age, race, creed, politics, religion or anything else about them is. I want to know one thing: Is this a good story. When I am finished that is the only judgment I make concerning it.

Was it a good story or was it a bad story?

That is the only judgment that matters. That is the only judgment that should be used when deciding if a work is worthy of an award or not.

Everything else is unimportant. Which is why the Hugos and the Nebulas have become unimportant, save for being a large red flag, warning the potential buyer to steer well clear.


(* – About the featured image above? That’s a flaccid Hugo Award melting in the presence of The Dragon Award. This representation debuted in 2016 when the Dragon Awards were first announced. It was done in response to the minions of the Lord of the House of 770 Vile Aromas freaking out that someone had taken them up on the offer to make their own award if they didn’t like the Hugos. Seeing as how participation in voting for the Dragons has been running between 4 or 5-to-1 over that of the Hugos and the Nebulas, you can certainly understand their anguish.)

8 thoughts on “Awards For Works Should Be Judged By The Work Itself”

  1. They want to whinge about UnWokeNess? They missed the low-hanging fruit that is Fritz Leiber, founder and coiner of Sword-And-Sorcery fantasy. I recently finished the Fafhrd & Grey Mouser books, his noteworthy contribution to that genre, and let’s see:

    Advances “heteronormative” sex-stereotypes? Yes very.
    Presents violence and warfare as healthy, honorable professions? All the time.
    Has female villains whose wickedness is inherent to their characters, rather than a Tragic Stain of the Patriarchy? Every other story.
    Describes sexual situations in which male passion and dominance are positive aspects of the encounter? Bosoms!

    Are they great stories? Not really. They have their moments, but as a corpus they’re just all right. They’re pulp, and don’t aspire above that. They’re randy and unintellectual and would not do to be read aloud in any lady’s drawing room. But they’re rumpus and exciting stories (not even usually in the prurient way of “exciting”), and splendidly politically incorrect by today’s norms. I’m glad to see Leiber got the Retro Hugo nod.

  2. I tend to agree, but if the minions of wokeness have control over the Hugos and Nebulas, that’s probably never going to change. They aren’t meant to be indications of objective quality (well, maybe at one time they were). I wrote several recent blog posts critical of Ng and the 2020 Hugos but noticed that a piece I did on Robert Silverberg not being a racist was getting hundreds of hits. Turns out someone wrote a left-oriented piece at The Vulture and hotlinked to my Silverberg story citing it as an example of his racism, something I never said in my essay. I was shocked that I didn’t get even one hate comment, and on top of that, Ng has yet to block me on twitter, in spite of the fact that I “tagged” her when I posted a link to my story about her. In the end, these folks are going to do what they want, even as they wail that old, white, dead, racist men are ruining their lives. Go figure.

  3. You keep using the terms “sex” and “gender” when they are one and the same. It’s like saying “the male man.” Don’t use the language of the left.

    1. Your point is taken. But I added both only to head off the “yowls” that would have followed from the hatehounds that I was being… whatever -ist it is that covers the alleged offense.

  4. Let them scream. Don’t change your language just to appease people who would smother you in your sleep if they could get away with it.

  5. “Judge the work by the work itself and by no other standard. That is the only fair way to do it.” It’s not really that hard to do. I think the best summation of the concept came from composer/conductor Leopold Stokowski, who said of Richard Strauss, one of the musical darlings of the Nazi regime: “I take my hat off to Mr. Strauss for his music. For his politics, I put it right back on again ten times over.”

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