A Best Saga Hugo: An Imagined Winner’s List, 2005-2014

The proposed Best Saga Hugo has been generating a lot of debate over the past few days. Check this MetaFilter round-up for plenty of opinions. I find it hard to think of awards in the abstract, so I’ve been generating potential lists of nominees. Today, I’ll try doing winners. Check out my Part 1 and Part 2 posts for some models of what might be nominated, based on the Locus Awards and Goodreads.

Today, I’m engaging in a thought experiment. What if the a Best Saga Hugo had begun in 2005? I’ll use the 400,000 already 300,000 word count rule of the proposal (although it might get lowered in the final proposal). You have to publish a volume in your series to be eligible that year. I’m adding one more limiter, that of not winning the Best Saga Hugo twice. Under those conditions, who might win?

I’m using the assumption that Hugo voters would vote for Best Saga like they vote for Best Novel and other categories. Take Connie Willis: she has 24 Hugo nominations and 11 wins. I figure the first time she’s up for a Best Saga, she’d win. This means that my imagined winners are very much in keeping with Hugo tradition; you may find that unexciting, but I find it hard to believe that Hugo voters would abandon their favorites in a Best Saga category. I went through each year and selected a favorite. Here’s what I came up with as likely/possible winners (likely, not most deserving). I’ve got some explanation below, and it’s certainly easy to flip some of these around or even include other series. Still, this is gives us a rough potential list to see if it’s a worthy a Hugo:

2005: New Crobuzon, China Mieville
2006: A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin
2007: ? ? ?
2008: Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling
2009: Old Man’s War, John Scalzi
2010: Discworld, Terry Pratchett
2011: Time Travel, Connie Willis
2012: Zones of Thought, Vernor Vinge
2013: Culture, Iain M. Banks
2014: Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Edit: I originally had Zones of Thought for 2007, having mistaken Rainbow’s End as part of that series. Vinge is certainly popular enough to win, so he bumped out my projected The Laundry Files win for Stross in 2012. That opened up 2007, and I don’t know what to put in that slot. Riverside by Ellen Kushner? That might not be long enough. Malazan? But that’s never gotten any Hugo play. If you have any suggestions, let me know. It’s interesting that there are some more “open” years where no huge works in a big mainstream series came out.

Notes: I gave Mieville and Scalzi early wins in their careers based on how Hugo-hot they were at the time. Mieville had scored 3 Hugo nominations in a row for his New Crobuzon novels by 2005, and there weren’t any other really big series published in 2004 for the 2005 Hugo. Scalzi was at the height of his Hugo influence around 2009, having racked up 6 nominations and 2 wins in the 2006-2009 period. These authors were such Hugo favorites I find it hard to believe they wouldn’t be competitive in a Best Saga category.

Rowling may seem odd, but she did win a Hugo in 2001 for Harry Potter, and these were the most popular fantasy novels of the decade (by far).

I wasn’t able to find space for Bujold, although the Vorkosigan saga would almost surely win a Best Saga Hugo sometime (I gave Banks the edge in 2013 because of his untimely passing; the only other time Bujold was eligible was 2011, and I think Willis is more popular with Hugo voters than Bujold). I gave Jordan the nod in 2014 for the same reason; The Expanse would probably be the closest competition that year.

Analysis: Is this imagined list of winners a good addition to the Hugos? Or does it simply re-reward authors who are already Hugo winners? Of this imagined list, 5 of these 10 authors have won the Best Novel Hugo, although only 3 of them for novels from their Saga (Willis, Vinge, and Rowling had previously won for books from their series; Scalzi and Mieville won for non-series books). 5 are new: Banks, Jordan, Pratchett, my 2007 wild card, and Martin, although Martin had won Best Novella Hugos for his saga works. So we’re honoring 40% new work, 60% repeat work. Eh?

Overall, it seems a decent, if highly conventional, list. Those 9 are probably some of the biggest and best regarded SFF writers of the past decade. A Saga award would probably not be very diverse to start off with; some of the series projected to win have been percolating for 10-20 years. Newer/lesser known authors can’t compete. On some level, the Hugo is a popularity contest. Expecting it to work otherwise is probably asking too much of the award.

I like that Culture and Discworld might sneak in; individual novels from those series never had much of a chance at a Hugo, but I figure they’d be very competitive under a Best Saga. I’ll also add that I think Mieville and Scalzi are at their best in their series, and I’d certainly recommend new readers start with Perdido Street Station or Old Man’s War instead of The City and the City or Redshirts.

It’s interesting to imagine whether or not winning a Best Saga Hugo would have changed the Best Novel results. Would Mieville and Scalzi already having imaginary Best Saga wins have stopped The City and the City or Redshirts from winning? One powerful argument for a Best Saga Hugo is that it would open up the Best Novel category (and even Best Novella) a little more. Even someone like Willis might win in Best Saga instead of Best Novel. On the other side, people might just vote for the same books in Best Novel as in Best Saga, which would make for a pretty dull Hugos.

One interesting thing about this list, particularly if you weren’t able to win the Best Saga award twice, is that it would leave future Best Saga awards pretty wide open. You’d have The Expanse due for a win, and the Vorkosigan Saga, and the Laundry Files, maybe C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner, probably Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight/Cosmere, maybe Dresden Files, and then maybe Ann Leckie depending on how she extends the Imperial Radch trilogy/series, but after that—the category would really open up.

That’s what I think would happen with a Best Saga Hugo: it would be very conventional for 5-10 years as fandom clears out the consensus major series, and after that it would get more competitive, more dynamic, and more interesting. Think of it as an award investing in the Hugo future: catching up with the past at first, but then making more room in the Best Novel, Best Novella, and even Best Saga categories for other voices. Of course, that’s a best case scenario . . .

So is this a worthy set of ten imagined winners? A disappointing set? A blah set? I’ll add that, as a SFF fan, I’ve read at least one book from each of those series; I’d be interested to know how man SFF fans would be prepared to vote in a Best Saga category, or whether we’d be swamped with a new set of reading. I also feel like having read one or two books from a series gives me a good enough sense to know whether I like it or not, and thus whether I’d vote for it or not. Others might feel different.

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9 responses to “A Best Saga Hugo: An Imagined Winner’s List, 2005-2014”

  1. MadProfessah says :

    What’s the best Laundry Files book to read? Usually when I learn about a series (or “Saga,” I guess) I try to start with the first book so I can follow it along. But I bounced off the first Laundry Files book, hard. Some Stross, I get (like Neptune’s Brood ) some I most definitely do not (Accelerando).

    I haven’t read any Discworld yet either. With Sir terry’s death I’d love to get a recommendation for which is the best in that series. Someone mentioned the one that is an academic spoof?

    • chaoshorizon says :

      That’s Unseen Academicals, which has a mixture of soccer spoof/academic spoof. It’s a later Pratchett book, so it’s not as strong as his earlier work. Mort (Death’s apprentice) is a fun place to start with Discworld, but Guards! Guards! (city watch spoof) or Small Gods (religion satire) are also good spots to begin. The Pratchett books are short and easy to read, so it’s not much investment, and they really are 4-5 different series woven together. You can read all the Death books and ignore the Wizard books if you want, for instance.

      I’ve only read the first Laundry book, so I can’t help you there. For what it’s worth, I didn’t read the second one either . . .

    • Jon says :

      You asked for the best Discworld, not the best place to start. I don’t have a settled opinion on best, although I’d put Reaper Man and Men at Arms in the mix in any discussion of that, in addition to Small Gods. But my personal recommendation, assuming you’re reasonably well acquainted with fantasy as a genre, is to start at the beginning with The Colour of Magic. I can understand why most people consider it not as good as many of the books that followed it but it’s the one in which a great creative force was unleashed on an absolutely blank canvas, filling it with wild invention and screamingly funny humour playing with fantasy tropes.

  2. davidelang says :

    Part of the discussion is what is the purpose of the Hugo awards.

    > Is this imagined list of winners a good addition to the Hugos? Or does it simply re-reward authors who are already Hugo winners?

    Is the purpose to reward authors, or to point readers at great SF to read?

    If it’s to reward authors, then I agree that it’s going to have less impact (as you say, it will open up the Novel category and let some series that don’t qualify as individual books win so there will be some additional winners)

    But if the purpose is to highlight good reading for readers, then I think it’s a pretty clear win. If a series wins one (or more) Hugos, it should be because people think it’s good. and the “Hugo Winner” on future books in the series should be attractive to readers.

  3. NatLovin says :

    Pretty sure Rainbows End wasn’t part of Zones of Thought, unless there was something else in the world in 2006 that I missed.

    The setting/series division is the main issue with this laying out this category for me. Should Stormlight and Mistborn be seen as the same series? Should era 1 Mistborn (the trilogy) and era 2 Mistborn (Alloy of Law and the upcoming books) be seen as the same? Era 3 and 4?

    • chaoshorizon says :

      You are 100% correct! I don’t know my Vinge well enough—I’ve read Fire Upon the Deep and nothing else. I edited the post, and that actually opens up 2007 quite a bit. Kushner’s Riverside might work–she did win the Locus Award for Fantasy that year, and also grabbed a Nebula nomination–but I’m not sure it fits the length requirement. I’m at a loss of what else to find.

      • JJ says :

        The first 3 books in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik were all published in 2006. I think she’d have been a huge contender for Best Saga in 2007. However, that does come up against her Best Novel nomination that year for the first book.

        There’s also Steven Brust’s Dzur, the tenth book in his Vlad Taltos series; The Elves of Cintra, part of Terry Brooks’ Shannara series; and The Empty Chair, the fifth and final entry in Diane Duane’s Rihannsu series — which, although a Star Trek tie-in, contains a great deal of original worldbuilding, and is considered very high-quality.

        Personally, my pick would have been Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Retrieval Artist series, which had its fifth entry, Paloma, published that year.

  4. El Pistolero says :

    I hadn’t thought about it before, but one very nice result of a Saga Hugo would be to open up series like the Dresden Files for legitimate consideration. I’ve been a big Jim Butcher fan for years, I’ve thought that in the past he was very deserving of awards, but IMHO Skin Game isn’t nearly his best work, and in any other year wouldn’t have made the ballot. A Saga Hugo would give some authors the opportunity to receive the award for the larger bodies of their work. That seems to me to be a good thing.

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