The Hugo, the Hugo, the Hugo, oh, the Hugo. It’s the oldest award in science fiction and fantasy, it’s the most prestigious award in science fiction and fantasy, it’s washed out, it’s poorly organized, it’s as strong as ever; too much gender representation; not enough international flavor... and on and on goes the commentary. Well, I will add my two cents for what it’s worth, using the Best Novel award as the prime example.
Simply put, the Hugo Best Novel Award is not an award for the best speculative fiction novel of the year. It is an award for the most popular novel amongst the Hugo members who voted that year—an immensely more specific group than is implied by the hyperbole. In fact only a few thousand compared to hundreds of thousands, if not millions who read in the genre, the next question is: who comprises that specific group?
Being able to vote in the USA is not automatic. In order to step into the booth November 11th, you must meet a list of criteria, including citizenship, lack of a criminal record, etc. The Hugo is organized around the same basic principle: for those who want to vote, $50 is needed to get past the doorman and into the club. So, as much as idealists would like to think that only politically savvy people elect a president, the truth is that a wide variety of interests determine who becomes ”the most powerful man in the world” (note the superlative). And the same is true of the Hugo. Amongst award voters each year are real fans of sci-fi and fantasy who have been there for years and can offer an informed, contextual view of the nominees. At the same time, a large number of voters are in it for the fun, have only a minimal view of the field, or are simply fanboys who drool over scantily clad women warriors in bust defying armor—their $50 vote thought well spent.