On Friday afternoon, I was taking a break from moving and refreshing twitter. The worldcon business meeting was happening, so I started following links to see how the YA Hugo proposal had gone. (As you may remember from previous posts on this blog, I have opinions on both the Hugos and YA inclusion in worldcon in general.) I then found that the proposal had been killed on an objection, before making it to debate. So I tweeted in frustration;
As you can see from the figures on that tweet, it is now the most popular tweet I have ever written, having been retweeted 36 times and favourited 14. Clearly what I said resonated with some people. However, I’ve also spent time talking to people on twitter who feel that they’re being called elitist and anti-teen for opposing a YA Hugo, no matter their reasoning. I’ve also spent time restating my position on the YA Hugo, and it struck me that twitter is really not the best venue for reasoned discourse, so I’d take the time to describe my actual position.
My thesis statement is thus: As they stand presently, the Hugo Awards do not reflect the full depth and breadth of the SF/F being written in the YA/MG genres. They do not consistently reflect the best, or even the most popular stories, and the signal sent is that the Hugos and Worldcon in general are still an adults-preferred club. I do not think it needs to be that way, and I’m interested in both segments of fandom cross-pollinating a bit.
In this blog post, I will address some issues brought up against a YA Hugo, and some reasons why I believe it would be an excellent idea to implement one.
One of the fact that kept being brought up in twitter discussions is that YA has made it to the Best Novel ballot in the past. Gaiman, Scalzi, Doctorow and Rowling all made the ballot quite recently with books which can be considered YA, therefore there is no need to adjust the current model.
However, Scalzi’s book was not marketed as YA, and Gaiman and Doctorow are both well known in adult fandom circles for work which is not aimed at a teen market. (Boing Boing, for example. And Sandman. Which most people would not try to argue is for children (though I have met some, may they rest in peace).) In examining the YA which makes it to or near the Hugo, a very convincing argument can be made that YA/MG works are only recognized when the authors are either already known in Fandom, as with Gaiman, Scalzi and Doctorow, or they are an inescapable cultural phenomenon that even people who do not read spec fic at all have heard of, as with Rowling. While the works thus recognized may indeed be awesome, it’s like only considering works for a mystery award when the authors are also well known in the romance world. Sure, you may get some awesome mysteries on the short list, but you’re also leaving out even MORE awesome mysteries. And that’s not really an award that you can call representative.
One of the most compelling arguments against a YA Hugo that I have yet heard is that the Hugo is designed to not differentiate by genre. If we start breaking out YA, should we also break out Horror, which is not adequately represented on the list? Or Slipstream, or Alternate History, or Military Fiction?
And while this is a valid issue, it was also pointed out that two existing awards do pull in a different pool of authors and works; the graphic novel Hugo, and the Campbell. For those who don’t know, the Graphic Novel Hugo was designed to recognize outstanding work in speculative fiction graphic novels and comics, and the Campbell was designed to recognize outstanding work in speculative fiction in the first two years of an Author’s professional career. The precedent has already been set for the Hugo’s to recognize work which is not being recognized, or which faces additional challenges to recognition.
So, What would be the benefits of recognizing YA authors with an award? I think there are three real benefits.
1.) It would be a talking point for teachers and librarians to use when giving out books, as the Norton and the Printz are. But instead of being voted on by professionals, this would be an award voted on by fans, so that librarians can say “this is the book a lot of people who love what you love think is awesome”. Award-winning books, almost regardless of the award, get more circulation and visibility, and this can only be good for SF/F.
3. It would send the signal to YA readers that there isn’t an insurmountable gulf between what they like and the “real” SF/F. While the cost of an attending or even voting worldcon membership would still probably be too much for teen fans, the fact is that a lot of YA readers are adults with disposable income. Telling the exploding YA blogsphere that they were welcome and wanted in London and Spokane is not something that I view as negative.
3. And the final argument I have for a YA Hugo or other YA award given at world cons, is the one which made me interested in this issue. I think leaving out all the books in the YA/MG section when you consider the best science fiction and fantasy is limiting. It is a poverty for the award and for worldcon to ignore these stories. And by golly, if it takes a few years of a special award for voters to realize the true awesomeness in the section that, in the words of a voter last year “we walk right by and go on to find our real books”, then I am all for a special award.
In closing, it is worth noting that about two hours after I sent out my initial tweet, the business meeting unanimously voted to convene a committee to study the question of YA recognition at Worldcon. This is still an active topic, which I am glad for. (I did volunteer for the committee, but it was already full by the time my email arrived.) Here is hoping for more fruitful discussion and inclusion of that other half of the speculative genre in future worlcons!
Note: I wrote this blog post in two bursts of attempted logic, and I think I’m running a fever, so it is entirely possible that I left out entire sections of reasoning. If something doesn’t make sense, then tell me and I will attempt to either edit or explain. Danke.