I had not been to the Hugo Awards before (having never been to a WorldCon before). In fact I had only been to two award ceremonies before it (The British Fantasy Awards last year and the Arthur C Clarke Awards this year). I am glad I managed to get to go though as I had a pretty damn enjoyable evening and there are some things I want to talk about as a result.
One of the awards given out at the Hugos is something that is administered by the convention but is not a Hugo, which is the John W Campbell award for new writer. This year’s writer, Jeanette Ng, gave an amazing acceptance speech which has caused some controversy as a result.
You can watch it here and I do recommend that you do because it is quite something. There was a lot of cheering when she starting speaking and more at the end. But it has put some people’s noses out of joint as they feel she was lacking respect for the honour she was given. I say, fuck that. She has every right to use the platform she was given to speak about this issue. I love how diverse the genre is getting these days in terms of voices, but it was not always so. Go look at the award winners for all the previous years for the Campbell, or the Hugos (and other awards for the genre) and count how many of them are white men. John Scalzi wrote an excellent post in defence of Jeanette, which you can read here and it is well worth a look. I appreciate that he has used his platform to defend her.
For years getting anywhere in the genre if you were not a white man was nigh on impossible. John W Campbell would likely be horrified by the fact that Jeanette has been able to have a voice in the genre at all and she is absolutely right to call this sort of thing out. Even now, it’s not easy to get published if you are not male and harder still if you are not white. I have heard too many authors tell stories of being turned down, not because of the quality of their work but because they “already have one of those” meaning perhaps an Asian inspired fantasy, or an African one, as if after decades upon decades of fantasy rooted in our white, Western culture we can’t have too many books that don’t fit that mold.
Fuck that. Some of the best Science-fiction and Fantasy I have read in recent years has been written by people of colour and rooted in cultures that are not my own and I fucking love it. And looking at who won the Hugo Awards, I am not the only person who loves the diversity that we are getting. This isn’t to say I have stopped reading white men altogether, but they have to be more than mediocre to get my attention when there is so much other excellence around.
But as to the other winners, they were overwhelmingly women, many of whom were people of colour, all of whom deserved their place there. I was pleased that so many of my first choices won, though I do not begrudge the ones that weren’t from their win. Still it makes me really happy because the winners and nominees were chosen by fans. Fans overwhelming picked a short-list that was this diverse and included queer people in it. I watched Becky Chambers pick up her Hugo for best series wearing a suit (and looking fucking amazing as she did it). I watched the first deaf-blind person win a Hugo and also a fan archive set up to help diverse writing in fan-fiction win.
It was an incredible night for diversity, an incredible night that lifted up people who have long been ignored or passed over for others. It gave me hope for where the future of the genre is going and maybe, just maybe, the future of society as well.
And as for keeping politics out of the genre, politics have always been part of it, right from the start (and not always left-wing politics either). What people usually mean is they don’t want identity politics in it, they don’t like it that they see themselves less than they used to.
I want all of the voices. I want to read things written by queer people, by people of colour, by trans folk, by disabled people, by neurodiverse people. I want characters of all those voice too, written by people who either know personally what they are writing about or are willing to put the effort in to get things right.
As for the awards. Maybe we need to look at who we have named them after and if the person’s legacy is not one we want to support, perhaps renaming it would be a good idea. Where are the awards named after Octavia Butler, or even Mary Shelley? There’s a Bram Stoker award for horror, but nothing I could find for her.
Jeanette has challenged us to do better and I think we can do so, awards have been changed before now and they can be again. The genre is changing for the better and it would be good if the awards we give out could reflect that legacy too.