Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Best Related Work: Category or Collection of Categories?

Best Related Works category has been a primary focus of controversy at this year's Hugo Awards. Specifically, the inclusion and scope of ownership on a collaborative project has motivated some heated rhetoric. This is a shame, because it has to some degree obscured visibility for a remarkably great group of nominees.

Transformative Works Shine

The phrase, “Hugo Award Shortlisted Author” carries meaning and integrity accrued over decades, due in large part to the tireless efforts of World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) volunteers and members of the fan community.

It should therefore be understandable that members of the WSFS community might get their hackles up at those who spuriously claim this honour, in this case authors who have submitted a story to the Hugo-shortlisted online repository of fanfiction, Archive Of Their Own (AO3) but have not built or maintained the platform itself.

To be clear, those who manage the official Hugo Awards web page have stated that the nomination was for the platform, rather than for any individual story. They have also made it clear that claims of “Hugo-nominated” status by AO3 authors is not appropriate. Yet several authors persist in these claims.

It has been suggested that these claims are made in jest – though this assertion seems disingenuous to
Some of the commentary about AO3's shortlisting
does not imply any respect for the Hugo Awards.
us. If these authors are making such claims in jest, it might imply that the Hugo Award is a joke to them.

Despite the inappropriate self-promotion of a small minority of AO3 contributors, the members of this blog are enthusiastic in our support for the site’s nomination.

Not only have the volunteers behind this site created tools for the sharing and organization of fan works, and not only has the user base of AO3 built a vibrant community, the organization has promoted user rights by advocating for fair use, an important legal provision within our increasingly heavy-handed and overreaching copyright regime.

The work of AO3 benefits the entire science fiction community and society as a whole. We are very glad to see it on the ballot. The fact that we won’t have AO3 at the top of our ballots speaks more to the overall strength of the shortlist and the chaotic nature of the Best Related Work category, than it does any controversy over the nomination.

Bringing Mexico To Worldcon

One of the members of our book club has an interest in Latin American and Indigenous cultures, and the Mexicanx Initiative was an important part of their first Worldcon experience. There is a good reason why this effort to bring wider awareness of Mexicanx science fiction has been successful: it was positive, collaborative, thoughtful, and inclusive.
Marcela Davison Avil├ęs, Adrian Molina,
Ana Ramirez, and Julia Rios
at the Making of Coco panel.
(Photo by Kateryna Barnes) 

The project, which included items such as panel discussions, meetups, social media and an anthology, was based around bringing 42 Mexican and Mexican-American folks to the convention and creating a dedicated discussion of the culture within the convention.

What organizers John Picacio, Julia Rios, Libia Brenda, and Pablo Defendini accomplished through the Mexicanx Initiative had community-building implications for fandom, and could be a model for other equity-seeking efforts and groups. One hopes that the work that began in San Jose last summer will have long-term impact and implications.

Throwing Warner Brothers Into Mount Doom

Of all the shortlisted works, we were most dubious of The Hobbit Duology. At first blush, deconstructing mediocre movies seemed to us too slight a topic to merit three hours of YouTube
Lindsay Ellis' provides welcome insight
into the creation of The Hobbit trilogy.
(Image via YouTube)
analysis. These videos were, however, an incredibly pleasant surprise, and provided exactly the sort of meaty criticism that science fiction fandom needs.

Delving deeply into the production’s circuitous path, film critics Lindsay Ellis and Angelina Meehan trace the commercial forces, directorial decisions, pressures from fandom, and avoidable time constraints that led to the three Hobbit movies being such disappointments. Along the way, they consider Tolkein’s intentions for his most famous works and the questionable morals of the production companies who purchased the rights to tell his stories on the big screen. Using first hand accounts, they unpack the success of multinationals’ anti-actor lobbying efforts and the legacy it has left on New Zealand and its film industry.

Ellis and Meehan approach the subject as dedicated but critical fans, providing a nuanced, tempered analysis that highlights both the good in these films and their significant flaws.

We are very glad that this work received a nomination because we otherwise might not have watched it. At least one member of our book club is considering it for the top of their ballot.

Will LeGuin Three-Peat?

Having earned back-to-back awards in this category, it would be easy to think of Ursula LeGuin as the front-runner for the Best Related Work Hugo Award. That being said, this is an exceptionally strong year for related works, and LeGuin’s Reflections On Writing is fairly low on our ballots.

This year’s LeGuin shortlisted title is a collection of interviews conducted by David Naimon. At a scant 140 pages, this intellectual aperitif is the briefest work on the ballot.

As with everything LeGuin did, this is a thoughtful, nuanced piece. It examines three areas: poetry, fiction and nonfiction. The conversational tone is both a strength (in that it’s approachable) and a weakness (in that it occasionally meanders).

The Story Of The Hugos 

It seems odd to us that this is only the second time that Jo Walton has appeared on a Hugo Award
(Image via Amazon
ballot. It can be argued that several of her novels and non-fiction works warrant the recognition.

Her Informal History Of The Hugo Awards, based around the Tor.com blog posts of the same name that she wrote a couple of years ago, traces the history of the awards through their creation in 1953, through to the year 2000. True to its name, this is a subjective look at both the winners and the shortlists, livened with insight and personal anecdotes.

The book version adds significant material, additional essays and footnotes, as well as a curated set of comments from the blog. Walton has a deep and rich knowledge of science fiction and of fandom, and it shines through in essay after essay tackling controversies of years past, or years where she might disagree with the verdict of Hugo voters.

This is a work that we believe will have enduring value. In most years it would be a lock for the top of our Best Related Work ballots.

John W. Campbell: Good, Bad, and Ugly

Compulsively readable and deeply engaging, Alec Nevala-Lee’s group biography of major figures
Alec Nevala-Lee's book
Astounding explores the
lives of Golden Age SF
authors.
(nevalalee.wordpress.com)
from the Golden Age of science fiction is not just the best work in this category in 2019, but possibly the best work in any category this year.

Astounding delves into the lives of editor John W. Campbell and three of his protegees, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and L. Ron Hubbard. Nevala-Lee recognizes the success of these well-known creators, but also their flaws and failings and the resulting complications for the genre.

Having read the book a few months prior to it’s release, we’ve had time to mull over Nevala-Lee’s work, to ponder the themes of self-delusion, of ego, of wasted potential that his work lays bare. It’s the sort of book that stays with you, that informs your understanding of a genre, and that inspires discussion and analysis. We have been inspired to blog about it on multiple occasions.

Conclusion

This year, even more than most, Best Related Work has created difficult questions to adjudicate.

How do you compare the Mexicanx Initiative – a multimedia project with a time-limited scope – to Jo Walton’s collection of subjective essays about the history of the Hugo Awards? How do you compare Astounding – a richly detailed and engaging history of four of early science fiction’s central figures – to an online repository of fan fiction? These are fundamentally works for which success is measured on completely different axes.

It might be suggested that every single one of the shortlisted works deserve recognition for completely different reasons. It might even be suggested that in a rational world, they’d be recognized in completely separate categories.

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