Modelling a Best Saga Hugo Award, Part 1
Recently, there’s been plenty of chatter in the blogosphere about the proposed Best Saga Hugo Award. You can go here to see the specific proposal that will be up for vote at Sasquan this year, but this is an idea that’s been buzzing around for years: many readers (most readers?) engage with SF and particularly Fantasy in the form of multi-volume series. The Hugo Best Novel award, on the other hand, steers away from ignore multi-volume works, privileging novels that are either the first in a series or stand-alones.
A Best Saga (or Best Series, or Best Continuing Series) Hugo would seek to solve that. While the current proposal makes you eligible after you publish 400,000 words in a series (how would readers know you’ve hit that word count? Why 400,000?) and once you get nominated you aren’t eligible again until you publish another 400,000 more, there are many ways to formulate a potential Best Saga award. I’ve heard proposals ranging from awarding it every 5 years, to only giving it once a series is finished, etc.
But what it such an award really look like? What kind of series would get nominated? Would it reward only famous authors? Would authors end up winning both the Best Novel and the Best Saga in the same year? Would this encourage publishers to publish more and longer series? Would ants destroy the earth? So many questions, so few answers.
I find it difficult to imagine an award in the abstract, so in this post and the next I’m going to model what a hypothetical Best Saga Hugo would look like for the past 4 years (2011-2014), using two different techniques to generate my model. First up, I’ll use the Locus Awards to model what the Best Saga would look like if voted on by SFF-insiders. Then, I’ll use the Goodreads Choice Awards to model what the Best Saga would look like if the Best Saga became an internet popularity contest. Looking at those two possible models should give us a better idea of how a Best Saga Hugo would actually play out. I bet an actual award would play out somewhere in the middle of the two models.
Lastly, I’m not messing with the complexities of the whole 400,000 word thing. In my model, I’m envisioning an extremely straightforward Best Saga award: your series is eligible once you published the THIRD novel in your series, and you are eligible again every time you publish a new NOVEL in your series.
First up, the Locus Awards Best Saga Model, 2011-2014. Since the 2015 Locus Awards come out this Saturday, I’ll update the model to include 2015 once the results are in.
Methodology: The Locus Awards are voted on by the subscribers of Locus Magazine and others on the internet to determine the Best SF and F novels of the year. They publish a Top 20 list for each genre, and their data is best looked at on the Science Fiction Awards Database. These are genre enthusiasts; if you have a subscription to Locus, you’re a very involved fan. These awards have historically been very closely aligned with the Hugo Award for Best Novel, often choosing the same books. The Locus Awards are friendlier to series and sequels than the Hugos, however.
To put my list together, I looked at the tops of the SF and F Locus Award lists for the year. Using the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, I checked to see if each of the winners was part of a series. If it was Volume #3 or later, it made my list. I went down both lists equally, and stopped once I found five series. The name of the series appears first, and the name of the individual book and it’s place in the Locus Awards comes after.
The Expanse, James S.A. Corey (Abaddon’s Gate, SF #1)
Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood (MaddAddam, SF #4)
Foreigner, C.J. Cherryh (Protector, SF #6)
Discworld, Terry Pratchett (Raising Steam, F #7)
The Dagger and the Coin, Daniel Abraham, (Tyrant’s Law, F #14)
Laundry Files, Charles Stross, (The Apocalypse Codex, F #1)
Culture, Iain M. Banks (The Hydrogen Sonata, SF #3)
Vorkosigan Saga, Lois McMaster Bujold (Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, SF #4)
The Expanse, James S.A. Corey, (Caliban’s War, SF #5)
The Glamourist Histories, Mary Robinette Kowal (Glamour in Glass, F #5)
A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin (A Dance with Dragons, F #1)
Zones of Thought, Vernor Vinge (Children of the Sky, SF #4)
Discworld, Terry Pratchett (Snuff, F #3)
The Inheritance Trilogy, N.K. Jemisin (The Kingdom of the Gods, F #6)
Jacob’s Ladder, Elizabeth Bear (Grail, SF #7)
Time Travel, Connie Willis (Blackout/All Clear, SF #1)
Vorkosigan Saga, Lois McMaster Bujold (Cyroburn, SF #2)
Laundry Files, Charles Stross (The Fuller Memorandum, F #3)
Culture, Iain M. Banks (Surface Detail, SF #4)
The Blue Ant Trilogy, William Gibson (Zero History, SF #5)
Projected Winners: Expanse, Laundry, Ice and Fire, Time Travel. Seems like a pretty credible list. Those have been some of the genre favorites of the last 4 years.
There were also some nice surprises. Iain M. Banks was only nominated for a Hugo once (for The Algebraist), but Culture showed up twice in this model. Culture was incredibly well-regarded, but also hard for new readers to jump into. I think Hugo voters felt it was unfair to ask someone to read Culture #7 or #8, and thus Banks didn’t get the nominations he deserved. Would a Best Saga award solve that problem?
Pratchett scored 2 nominations for Discworld, a nice end-of-the-career capper for his beloved fantasy series. There was a wide variety of authors in this model: Kowal, Jemisin, Gibson, Atwood, Bear, Abraham. Some super famous, some not. Maybe those would be squeezed out in an actual vote, but the Locus audience—and the Hugo audience—is fairly sophisticated. I find it hard to believe that the same Hugo voters who gave Connie Willis the Best Novel Hugo for Blackout/All Clear are going to turn around and vote Xanth or Drizzt as Best Saga every year. Who knows, though? These are only hypotheticals.
You only have one awkward year, with Willis predicted to win both Best Saga and Best Novel in 2011. Given that Willis has a staggering 11 Hugo wins already, I’m not sure that’s any more dominant than she’s already been. But I also think it possible that voters would have given Willis the Best Saga nod and someone else the Best Novel Hugo. Martin’s projected win in 2012 would be some much needed recognition for A Song of Ice and Fire: Martin’s decade-defining fantasy has only one Hugo win, a Best Novella for the Daenerys sections of A Game of Thrones. The Expanse winning is also nice: that’s become an incredibly popular and mainstream series, only to be bolstered by the TV showing coming out this December. By using the Best Saga award to honor such populist texts, would the Hugo increase its credibility?
It would probably take a few years for a Best Saga award to settle down, but this insider model shows some promise for such an award. What do you think of this projection? Would the WorldCon be satisfied with these kinds of nominees and winners?
Next time, we’ll imagine the Best Saga as an internet popularity contest using the Goodreads Choice Awards. Stay tuned for the terrifying results!