Literary and Speculative Fiction: A Brief Follow-Up
In relation to our discussion of literary fiction and the Hugo and Nebula awards, try this little thought experiment:
If The City and the City, China Mieville’s post-modern tale about a mysterious dual city and ways of seeing, had been written by Cormac McCarthy, would it have won the Hugo Award?
If The Road, Cormac McCarthy’s hyper-violent post-apocalyptic tale, had been written by China Mieville, would it have placed 21st in the Hugo voting?
Your results may vary. Personally, I don’t think a Cormac McCarthy authored novel, no matter how speculative, would ever win the Hugo or Nebula. Likewise, I think if an author like China Mieville wrote a novel similar to The Road, with that level of emotional impact and that kind of memorable prose, he’d have a good shot of at least getting nominated.
In Hugo and Nebula voting, reputation matters as much as the content of an individual novel. This make sense: the awards are a popularity contest, and SFF authors are more popular with these voters than literary authors. This gives the Hugos and the Nebulas an inconsistent appearance, as speculative novels by “literary ” authors, no matter how well written, rarely make the final slates, while literary novels (and stories) by SFF authors do.
Ironically, this doesn’t make it harder to predict the Hugos and the Nebulas, but rather easier. Chaos Horizon can eliminate authors from contention based on literary reputation alone: that’s what the last 15 years of Hugo and Nebula voting reveal. Is this fair? Do you think it will change?